By L.E. Gibler.
After a long day at work, all I wanted was to sit down on my couch and let my mind wander. What I got instead was a wealth of flashing red, white, and blue lights up and down my block. I am not, by nature, an overly curious creature, but so many cop cars had to be investigated. Not to mention, half the block was doing just the same.
I slipped into the crowd and began to hear the words bounce around me.
“What?” I asked, “Mrs. Murchison was murdered?” My sweet, loving neighbor who always made me pumpkin pie for the holidays?
“Where have you been, Clara?” asked my other neighbor, Mr. Thomas. If fate had to choose one neighbor to be taken, why not him?
“I work, Mr. Thomas, have you tried it lately?” I asked with a well practiced smile.
Even as he began to prepare for what would no doubt be a remarkably forceful rebuttal, I noticed something odd across the street. An old lady with an arthritcally bent frame was watching us all from under the brightest umbrella I had ever seen. I didn’t even known pink could come in that shade. Just as Mr. Thomas began to unleash himself, I stepped across the street towards this strange intruder. We might not all like each other on Magnolia Drive, but we all knew each other by name, age, and typically even shoe size. It was odd, the shoe size bit, but most of the residents were ardent bowlers. They were state champions three years running. I was a good thirty years younger than the average resident of Magnolia Drive, and the idea of spending my precious free time at a bowling alley had yet to appeal. As I dropped down from the curb, I nearly flattened into the street. Looking back, I noticed a pair of bowling shoes. Cautiously, I turned one over. Size 7, women’s, they were Mrs. Hutchinson’s. Curious, I was about to pick them up when a strong hand reached out to stop me.
“Sorry, miss,” said the police officer above me. “But I’m afraid that’s now evidence.”
I was speechless, and not just because he was good looking with that sweet southern drawl I simply had not been born with. I could mimic a good attempt, but I was a transplant, and my neighbors all pitied me for it.
“Here,” said the officer, offering me a hand. “You should probably go by the ambulance, your knees are bleeding pretty bad.”
I finally had the presence of mind to look down. “Oh. I hadn’t noticed.” I looked back at the shoes. “I tripped.”
His mouth quirked. “So I noticed. You didn’t seem the clumsy type, thought I’d come see what the fuss was about.”
I blushed scarlet. “You noticed how I walk?”
His cheeks darkened as well. “You stand out around here, Miss Mason.”
I smiled wryly and dusted myself off. It was surprisingly dry for a cool October in Alabama, and the red clay was sticking to every available surface. “Please, call me Clara. I feel like an old maid if you call me Miss Mason.”
He smiled in return. “Pleasure to meet you, Clara.”
Someone called out to him, and he turned back before he could introduce himself.
I was not so totally lost to the moment that I didn’t fail to notice that the old lady had disappeared. I glanced around for her, finally spotting that garish umbrella on the far side of my own house. Without really knowing what I did, I began to edge to my own property. On Magnolia Lane, we were all the proud owners of historic antebellum houses, and mine was no exception. Mine was, however, a work in progress, and most of the progress part was left to the back end. I hastened my steps, even as my bleeding knees finally lodged a formal protest. I could hear the kind officer calling out my name, but I was overcome by an insane curiosity. Just as I reached my back yard, a white creature streaked out in front of me. I would have screeched if I hadn’t recognized it. Mrs. Hutchinson was endearing in many ways, but her pet ferret had to be top of that list. Clasped in his little jaws was a sailor rubber ducky. I couldn’t help a giggle as he scampered away. But then I remembered he stood no chance against the wilds of Alabama, and I went running after him, all thoughts of the lady and her pink umbrella left behind.
I am deathly afraid of snakes. I paid most of my home improvement budget on the eradication of those poisonous specimens that had lived anywhere near my house. It had been the first run in I had had with Mr. Thomas. Still, little Ramses needed saving, and so I swallowed my fear and hurried after him. Lucky for me, he had stopped just inside the brush that was the far reaches of my back yard. I scooped him and his rubber ducky up.
“You silly little thing,” I crooned. “Who knows what a timber rattler would have made of you?” Ramses was deaf, I was talking for my own benefit. But I had had one too many shocks to be perfectly reasonable. I turned back only to come face to face with the pink umbrella.
“You found Walter,” said the old lady. “How thoughtful of you. Now, if you would be so kind as to hand him over?”
“He is my dear sister’s possession and will need to be cared for.”
“You are Maribell Hutchinson’s sister?” I asked incredulously. “She never mentioned you.”
“And yet she mentioned you, Clara Mason. Now, the ferret?”
But for some crazy reason, I had the overwhelming desire to keep the ferret and run. “You called him Walter.”
“His name is Walter.”
“No, it’s Ramses.”
She just shook her head. “You should truly read more. Now, the ferret?”
“No.” I looked into tiny little black eyes. “I’ll take him back to the police. You don’t need to bother yourself.” But when I glanced back, even the pretense of friendly old lady was gone. Instead, the pink umbrella was pointed at my chest. It had always seemed out of place with no rain.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Miss Mason, so just hand over that rat.”
“He is not a rat, he is not even a rodent,” I replied staunchly. “So again, no.”
She sighed and pulled the umbrella back, unsheathing a thin rapier.
“I truly do regret this. That ferret was supposed to be my ticket to freedom, but Maribell decided she had grown too fond of him and decided to renege on our agreement. So, you seem at least less than an imbecile. Put the pieces together.” She pointed the blade at me, pushing until there was a tiny trickle of blood. “I’m only going to say this one more time. Hand over that ferret.”
Why a sudden attachment to a creature I knew nothing about? I had no idea, but for some crazy reason, I had taken a stand, and I was going to stick with it. I weighted myself onto my heels and separated ferret from toy. “How about a compromise?” I asked, tossing the rubber ducky at her and spinning away as fast as I could. There was something to be said for being the youngest person on the block. I was halfway to my house when the police came crashing around the corner.
“Freeze!” When someone yelled to put my hands in the air, I raised poor Ramses as well. But they weren’t interested in me. Instead, all their focus was on my attacker. The friendly officer cuffed her while another took the rubber ducky.
“All this for a bath toy?” one asked incredulously.
“It’s not the toy but what’s inside,” said the friendly officer even as another began to read the Miranda Rights. “There are dozens of those all over the house. Little weasel hid them behind the dishwasher.”
“He’s a ferret, not a weasel,” I corrected. Every officer looked at me, no one sure if they should laugh. “Ramses liked to hide rubber duckies. I gave Mrs. Hutchinson two for Christmas.”
“Yes, well it seems she was hiding black market diamonds in them for her ferret to stash so no one,” the polite one nodded to his prisoner, “would find them.”
“This is all about diamonds?” I asked.
“And a ferret.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Who would have thought?” I asked.
“Who indeed,” he agreed, pushing the old lady and her umbrella-rapier off to the other officers who had all come to congregate in my backyard. He came over to the base of my porch. “I’m Ryan, by the way, Ryan Halbrooks.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” I said, unable to keep the smile from spreading. “And this is Ramses, a master thief, apparently. Oh, what a title for a book.”
L.E. Gibler has been riding and writing since she was five. Born in Germany, she currently resides in Washington State where she endeavors to make both passions a reality.