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Wednesday Morning

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

IT WAS SUCH A GLORIOUS FALL DAY THAT I DECIDED to walk the half a dozen blocks to the office. Three blocks later, I was sorry. Twice, I'd stumbled over rough places in the sidewalk where tree roots had heaved the pavement up. And it was hot, much hotter than an October day should be.

I passed a church with a bulletin board out front that said REPENT IT'S HOT IN HELL. Not much hotter than this, I bet. Under my gold corduroy blazer, my beige T-shirt was already sticking to my back.

At the corner of Maple and Elm, which was the beginning of the downtown commercial district, all three blocks, I came to the Lucy Lock-it Shoppe. Through the plate-glass window I saw the owner, Lucy, talking to a single customer. This would be a good opportunity for me to ask her some questions about the locks at the college and the key that didn't open what it was supposed to.

The shop was barely big enough for the three of us, but thankfully the paying customer soon left with his new key.

Have a safe day, Lucy called to his departing back. Hi, Tori, she said with a cheerful smile. Do you have some more keys need made?

As a matter of fact, I found the missing ones, so now I have two sets. The day after I'd started work at the Chronicle, I'd lost my entire key ring, including the keys to Garnet's house and P. J.s car, and the office key that Cassie had given me with obvious reluctance. In response to my panicky call, Lucy had visited the Gochenauer residence and the office and made me a set of new keys. The next morning, I'd found the original ring under the bed, along with a small wedge of cheese, Garnet's favorite tie tack, two of Greta's scarves, and a lot of dust bunnies. Fred lay next to his hoard, looking smug. Some hunter you are, I'd said, scooping the things out. I wonder how brave you'd be if they could fight back.

From the back room came the whine of a machine. I have a lot of work to do, Lucy said.

I took the hint and got right to the point. It's about the Lickin Creek College for Women. I understand you have a contract to do all its locksmithing.

Right. Not too unusual, considering I'm the only locksmith in town.

Do you recall putting a lock on a basement storeroom for the PR department?

Storeroom-is that what they call it? More like a closet if you ask me. Yes, I did. About three months ago. Why do you ask?

I was wondering about the keys. I was over there yesterday and one of the two keys didn't work in the lock.

Then you used the wrong key, Lucy said.

But I couldn't have. They were the only keys on the ring labeled storeroom. I just wondered if you might have made a little mistake and given Janet Margolies the wrong key when you put the lock on.

She bristled, and I realized I'd offended her professionalism. Look, Tori. I don't make mistakes. The lock came packaged with two keys. I put the lock in the door. Made sure both keys worked. Handed them to Janet. End of my involvement. Got it?

Okay. Thanks.

Without saying so much as you're welcome, Lucy spun around and disappeared through the beaded curtain that concealed her workshop area from the public part of the shop. Who recently said that I often left my tact at home?

I was so anxious to escape the heat of the street, I didn't even pause to take my ritual swipe at the smudges on the brass plaque next to the Chronicle's front door. When I hung my blazer on the hook behind the door, Cassie looked at my damp T-shirt and asked, What did you do, swim over? She, of course, looked terrific and cool in a cotton shirt of fall colors.

I collapsed into my chair and fanned myself with last Saturday's newspaper. It didn't help. Wish we had air-conditioning.

We don't need it in Pennsylvania, Cassie said.

Save that propaganda for the tourists. I know better. What's on the agenda for today?

Cassie opened the calendar that lay on her desk. A ribbon cutting at the new pizza shop on Main Street at eleven-thirty-you might be interested in covering that event, they're offering all the free pizza you can eat. A pro-life rally at Saint FX School-students in grades five through eight will hold up signs on the steps of the school during their lunch break. And there's an icecream social and craft show at the Sigafoos Retirement Home this afternoon.

I can do them all in one fell swoop, I said. And if I can get the camera to work, I'll even take some pictures.

Be sure and get one of Marvin Bumbaugh, the borough council president, cutting the ribbon at the pizza shop. He's been complaining we don't give him enough press.

We had two grip and grins last week, if I recall. One of Marvin and the new director of the Scene of the Accident Theatre and another of Marvin and the president of the downtown development council.

I know. I know. But please keep him happy and quiet and take his picture again. We need all the good will we can get. She pointed to a stack of mail on her desk.

More cancellations?

I'm afraid so. We may have to cancel the paper route on Lepper Road. We only have one subscriber left out there, and she's on vacation. One other thing, you got an invitation to a baby shower for Janet Margolies. I put it on your calendar.

Thanks. I browsed through the wire releases, looking for items of local interest. Do you think our readers will want to know that opening the Susque-hanna floodgates dumped a ton of nonbiodegradable trash into the Chesapeake Bay?

Maybe. We can use it as a filler if we don't get enough local stories. But with Macmillan's death taking up the entire front page, we probably won't need it. She cleared her throat and looked sideways at me, and I was sure I knew what was coming.

Tori, I heard you're scheduled to have surgery Friday morning. Is there anything I can do?

The Grapevine had been working overtime. Rumors flew at lightning speed in Lickin Creek, but this was amazing. I only learned yesterday I was to have a biopsy done on Friday morning, and Ethelind was the only person I had told about it.

Who told you? I asked.

She shrugged. I don't really remember. I think it was someone at the grocery store last night. Is it very serious?

I shook my head. Just a simple outpatient procedure. I'll probably be here by ten to help you proof the paper.

The Creekers are playing Chocolatetown tonight. If you like, I'll cover it.

I'd appreciate that. Cassie knew how I felt about high school sports. She also knew I never got the names right.

The phone rang, and Cassie answered, listened for a moment, then gestured for me to pick up the extension on my desk.

I immediately recognized the voice of Luscious Miller, Garnet's temporary replacement. I couldn't bring myself to even consider that he might become the permanent Lickin Creek police chief.

What's up? I asked.

Big robbery, Tori.

In Lickin Creek? What's there to steal? I picked up my pencil. Tell me about it.

Someone broke into the volunteer fire department's headquarters last night.

And?

And stole their trumpet collection.

I put my pencil down. Could you explain to me why a fire department would have a trumpet collection? Do they have a jazz band or something?

His exasperation was audible. Not that kind of trumpet. These were antiques-fire chiefs trumpets, like megaphones. In the old days the chiefs used them to give their men orders at fires. The chief says they are irreplaceable. And very valuable. He gave me some photos of the collection. Maybe if you'uns ran a couple in the paper, somebody in a pawn shop would recognize them.

Good idea, Luscious. I'll drop by and pick them up this afternoon.

Major crime wave, Cassie, I said after hanging up. The fire department's trumpet collection was stolen.

No need to be sarcastic, Tori. I've seen the collection. It's priceless.

I stand corrected. Guess I'd better get going if I want some free pizza.

See you later. She didn't look up.

Reluctantly, I put my blazer back on and went outside. Lickin Creek's Main Street sparkled today. The bright autumn sunshine cast a soft golden glow over the charming Early Victorian pastel brick buildings with white gingerbread trim. If you didn't look too closely, you wouldn't notice the flaking paint or realize that at least half the stores were empty and most of the others sold used books or secondhand furniture. At the Pizza Joint, Marvin Bumbaugh was impatiently waiting for me. I snapped two pictures of him outside the shop, holding an enormous pair of ceremonial scissors that didn't work, and one of him cutting the red, white, and green ribbon with his pocket knife. After that the entire crowd of six spectators and I entered the shop for free pizza.

Still savoring the flavor of pepperoni, I walked to the next block, where several dozen preteens were waving their pro-life signs in front of the parochial school. Once I'd taken a couple of pictures and written down all their names, they went inside, leaving me on the street with nowhere to go until time for the ice-cream social.

I didn't feel like returning to the office, since there really was nothing for me to do there. And I'd had so much pizza at the Pizza Joint's grand opening, I couldn't even go to lunch. Then I thought of the Lickin Creek Public Library, always dark and cool, and always a good place to kill some time, especially on a hot day like this. I was particularly fond of Maggie Roy, the overworked but always pleasant librarian. Since my best friend Alice-Ann MacKinstrie had gone to Seattle to stay with her mother after the tragedy at the Apple Butter Festival, Maggie had become my closest friend in town.

I climbed the granite steps of the library building. Carved in stone above the double doors were the words POST OFFICE. Maggie once told me the building had been purchased by the Friends of the Library in the early 1950s, when the post office moved to newer and more efficient, but less interesting quarters. While it might have been an adequate size back then, it was now bulging at the seams, and there was no relief in sight. As is so often the case, whenever the borough council or the county commission needed to save money, they cut the library budget.

Maggie was standing on a stool arranging objects in a glass wall case when I walked in. I greeted her and she smiled and jumped down.

I recognized some of the things in the display case as daguerreotypes, but the cases weren't the usual leather and metal ones I was used to seeing. What kind of display are you making? I asked.

It's a collection of jewelry and daguerreotype cases made of gutta-percha, Maggie told me. From the collection of Gerald Manley. When I looked blank, she continued. He's the borough's unofficial historian. I'm going to put up a display of Civil War books to go with it.

I hate to sound stupid, but I guess I am when it comes to Civil War collectibles. What is gutta-percha?

It's a compound that's a lot like rubber but with more resin in it, made from some sort of Malaysian tree, I think. The Victorians were very fond of it. She held up a gray hexagonal bracelet set with seed pearls so I could admire it, then slipped it on her wrist. This is my favorite. It fits really well. I do wish Manley would sell it to me. She took it off and reluctantly placed it on the bottom shelf. Manley tells me the daguerreotype cases are very popular with collectors, especially if they have pictures of uniformed soldiers in them like these. By the way, your book went out twice last month. Have you had lunch? She looked disappointed when I said I had.

In that case I guess I'll eat my nonfat yogurt. Want to watch?

After she locked the case, I followed her through the door that said STAFF ONLY into the small, cluttered workshop she liked to call her office. She removed a cup of strawberry yogurt from the tiny refrigerator, and we moved aside some plastic book covers and sat down facing each other across the paper cutter.

I don't understand it, she moaned, opening the cup. I eat like a bird and can't lose a pound. Want some homemade cookies? They're really good-one of the staff brought them in.

No thanks, I said, then noticed they were peanut butter cookies.

How's your fiance? I asked. He'd been in a bad accident last month when his van went off the Deer Tick Ridge Road.

He's fine. Back at work already. How's your arm?

I rubbed it where the break had been. The soft cast was off now. Neatly healed. Aches a little when it's damp out.

My grandmother gave me a recipe for a poultice that really helps with arth-ur-itis.

My doctor gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. And I don't have arthritis. I changed the subject to something that had been on my mind since yesterday afternoon's visit to the Hostettler farm. Do you have any books or magazines about carousels?

You mean like merry-go-rounds? Probably. She looked ruefully at her half-empty yogurt cup.

I'll check the catalog while you finish lunch, I said, to her obvious relief.

If you find something, bring it back here, she called as I left the room.

I thumbed through the card catalog, glad that the library was too underfunded to afford computer cataloging. There's something about reading the cards that I like.

In about ten minutes, I was back in Maggie's office with a small pile of books, which I spread out on the worktable. While she finished the last of the peanut butter cookies, I flipped through the pages of one.

Look at these pictures, I raved. I had no idea carousel animals were such works of art. There's all different kinds. Standers, prancers, jumpers

Maggie leaned over, but didn't touch the book for fear of getting grease on it. And menagerie figures- look at that sea horse. Isn't it beautiful.

Hippocampus, I corrected her, thinking of the one I'd ridden yesterday.

I turned some pages in a magazine devoted to carousel horses, while she looked on. Amazing! Will you just look at some of the prices people are paying. Maggie pointed at a picture. It says this carousel sold for one million dollars in 1989.

How about this, Maggie? Here's a single horse made by Marcus Illions that someone paid forty thousand for. Thinking of all that money made us both sigh.

Have you ever ridden one, Tori?

I almost blurted out Darious's secret, but remembered just in time I'd promised not to tell anyone. Only a small reproduction one at the mall.

Why the sudden interest in merry-go-rounds?

No particular reason. I think I must have seen a picture from the wire service that made me wonder about them.

There are two really gorgeous old ones at Knoebel's Groves Amusement Resort near ShamoKin. You ought to get Garnet to drive you down there someday. Oops! Sorry. I forgot he's gone.

I nodded. He'll stay in D.C. for a few weeks while he brushes up on his Spanish at the Foreign Service Institute, so I'll probably get to see him on weekends for a while. I've got to get back to work, Maggie. Do you want me to reshelve these books?

She shook her head. That's a job best left to the professionals.

I couldn't tell whether or not she was pulling my leg.

Maggie walked with me to the front door, and there I noticed a piece of paper had been taped to the glass announcing that the start of the sign language classes taught by Charlotte Macmillan had been postponed for a week.

Sign language is something I always thought I'd like to try, I said. Is Mrs. Macmillan good at it?

My, yes. Charlotte taught signing before her marriage.

I thought she was a horse trainer.

That, too. She met her husband when he came to her to learn how to sign after he suddenly lost his hearing.

She's a lot younger than Mack. I wonder what she saw in him?

Who knows what attracts one person to another. Maybe Charlotte had a thing for powerful men. He was still in Congress when they met.

Give some thought to signing up for our classes, Tori. They're free.

We hugged good-bye, and I walked down the street to cover the Sigafoos Retirement Home's ice-cream social and craft sale to raise money for a senior citizens center.

I bought a crocheted doily, snapped a few pictures, wrote the subjects names down in my notebook, and headed to the One-Hour Photo Shop, where I dropped off my roll of film. According to a long-standing agreement, the owner would drop the prints off at the Chronicle office on his way home.

By now, I really wished I had my car, but I only had a couple of more stops to make, so I pushed on. When I appeared at Hoopengartner's Garage on foot, I was subjected to curious stares by the locals who hung out in front of the station.

Fill ya up? one wag asked.

Very funny, I muttered and continued inside. With tongue firmly clenched between her teeth, the teenage receptionist du jour was concentrating on applying black fingernail polish and barely glanced up. He's in, she muttered.

The Lickin Creek Police Department rented the back room of Henry Hoopengartner's garage. Since the garage offered round-the-clock towing service, there was always someone there to answer the phone, which saved the borough council the money it otherwise would have spent on a dispatcher.

Luscious Miller, red-faced and distracted-looking as usual, was sitting at the back desk where Garnet usually sat, but he leaped to his feet when he saw me enter. He had three thin strands of blond hair carefully combed over his forehead to hide his receding hair line, and the blue and white uniform of the Lickin Creek Police Department made his long, lanky body look like a scarecrow.

Tori. Good to see you. Please sit down. He politely pulled out a chair that looked like something the Goodwill had rejected.

Soda?

No thanks, Luscious. I've got a lot to do, I fibbed, so I can't stay long. I'll just take the pictures of the stolen trumpet collection and be on my way.

Luscious opened a manila envelope and let some photos spill onto the desk's plastic laminate top. I picked out two that showed the most detail.

Are these things really worth money? I asked him.

Chief Yoder says there's collectors of fire department memorabilia who'd pay lots of money for them.

Some of them actually are attractive, I admitted. This one's really quite ornate.

Chief Yoder says the bigger the chief, the fancier his horn.

I stifled a giggle when I realized Luscious had spoken seriously.

I put the pictures inside my notebook and dropped it into my purse. Okay, Luscious, I'll see that at least one of these gets into the paper. Maybe some pawnbroker will recognize them.

More likely an antique dealer, Luscious said. I guess you know there's been a lot of old stuff stolen in this area lately.

I haven't paid much attention.

Over to Gettysburg, the park people found big holes where robbers been digging up shallow graves on the battlefield. And last year some things went missing from the museum.

Would they be valuable?

Good Lord, yes. The thief even took General Meade's sword.

But that doesn't make sense. What antique dealer would buy something that recognizable?

No reputable antique dealer would. But there's private collectors who'll pay big bucks to own a piece of history.

Thanks for the information. I'll check it out. Maybe there's a story in it somewhere. By the way, Luscious, I have the names of some people who work at the Penn National race track. I opened my purse and pulled out my notebook. Mrs. Macmillan says they can verify that she was there all night Friday and most of the day on Saturday. You might want to check them out, just to be on the safe side.

I already did, Tori. They all said the same thing: She spent the night at the stable with a friend whose horse was running on Saturday.

Good for you, Luscious. I was surprised he'd thought of doing that.

Luscious opened the top drawer of the gray-metal army surplus desk, pulled out a folder, and handed it to me. Here's the coroner's report on Mack Macmillan's death. As his face reddened even more, something I hadn't thought possible, he said, Henry has declared it an accident.

I nearly flew out of my seat. An accident? That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. Does Henry Hoopen-gartner think the bullets crawled into the guns by themselves?

Must have been a mistake on the part of that big guy who loaded them. He don't look none too bright to me.

I had to agree with him on that point, but when it came to guns and bullets, I was sure Woody Woodruff knew exactly what he was doing.

I gotta go with Henry's report, Tori. As far as him and me is concerned, the investigation is over. He didn't look me in the eye. It's not like I got people to put on this. With Garnet gone, there's just me and one part-timer.

That's what you get for electing a gas station owner as coroner, I said unkindly. Accident, my foot. I opened the folder and skimmed the report. The only thing I learned that I hadn't known before was that the medical examiner had determined Macmillan had prostate cancer.

On my way back to the office, I dragged myself into the drugstore on the square, which still had an old-fashioned orange-and-blue Rexall sign out front, and picked up the prescription Dr. Washabaugh had called in for me. My shirt was drenched, my feet were aching, and I hoped I'd never have to wear or even see my ghastly gold blazer again.


Tuesday Afternoon | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Thursday