Time out for Misty
By lunch time I needed a break. What I’d have really liked would have been about a forty eight hour nap, but I’d settle for a little time with Misty. I hadn’t seen her while she was awake since night before last. Aunt Hilda would be putting her down for her nap at two, so I’d at least have an hour or so.
When I drove up, Pop was out on the front porch of our big old house. The house had been in the Barton family practically forever. It was a two (or three, depending on if you were looking at it from the front or back) story white house with great white columns holding up the wide porch that ran down both sides and across the front. A long ramp for Pop’s wheelchair covered one side of the half dozen steps up to the porch. The house front also had four large windows on each floor with long black shutters. Pop had inherited it from his Dad when Grandpop was killed in the Big War. When Mom dies, Aunt Hilda moved back in from her small apartment downtown to help take care of Pop and Me, but she continued teaching fifth grade at Roseville Elementary until she retired three years ago.
For once, Pop wasn’t in his wheelchair. He was in the porch swing carving a jack-o-lantern from this season’s biggest pumpkin. Carefully he had sorted out the seeds for drying, and gutted the meat for another of Aunt Hilda’s Blue Ribbon pies. Now he was starting on the face.
“Hi, Pop,” I called from the sidewalk. “I’m playing hooky for a couple of hours.”
“Oh, yeah, why?” He looked up and smiled, but his knife never missed a stroke.
“Guilt, I guess. I’ve been so busy playing P.I., I haven’t had any time at all for playing M.O.M.” I moved the empty wheelchair aside so I could inspect his work.
“You losing confidence in your old man?” he asked. “You don’t think I can even help take care of a three year old?”
I kissed his stubbly cheek. “Don’t be silly, Pop. Misty couldn’t be in better hands than yours and Aunt Hilda’s. You know that.’ Even as I spoke, Misty came bounding out the screen door, and threw herself into my arms. I twirled her around a few times, then sat on the step with her on my lap. At least she started on my lap, then she proceeded to stand on my knees, and crawl up onto my shoulders. Between moves, she planted little kisses on my face and head. The tickling session that followed had all three of us in tears.
“What’s going on out here?” Aunt Hilda said from inside the screened doorway.
“Come on out, and join the party,” I called over my shoulder. “I’m just catching Misty up on her tickling lessons.”
“I see. And how’s she doing?” She came out and stood behind Pop, checking his progress on the pumpkin. “That left eye needs to extend a smidgeon further out, Bill.”
Misty rolled back down onto my lap. “Gonna be a pro, aren’t you, girl?” I blew on her tummy, and she squirmed in another fit of giggles. When she had calmed down enough, she tried to reciprocate. Laughing, I asked, “How’s your day going, Aunt Hilda?”
“Berta came over,” she replied. “She’s wondering how long it’s going to be before she can reopen the shop. Now raise the right corner of the mouth, Bill. Yes, that’s it. Perfect.”
“I don’t know.” I answered, giving Misty another dose of tickles. “Tell her it might be another couple of days. I just want to make sure the lab boys haven’t missed anything.”
Her hands found their familiar resting place on her hips. “Missed anything? Those lab boys of yours haven’t been anywhere near the place since Saturday!”
I winced. “I know. It’s just that I have a dreadful feeling we’ve overlooked something. Something important. Since I had the early shift, I dropped you off for your appointment when I went back to the office after lunch at a little after twelve-thirty. Everything seemed perfectly normal then. Can’t you think of anything at all out of the ordinary that happened before Kit was found?”
“No, nothing. Corinne fixed my hair since Trudy had so many other appointments, but I didn’t mind that. They both do such a good job. M.J., Berta needs that shop. She’s going crazy sitting at home worrying.”
“I know, Aunt Hilda, but you’ve got to realize this is a murder investigation, and the shop is the scene of the crime. If it’s the money…”
She nodded almost imperceptibly. “That’s part of it,” she admitted. “At one time, the Bensons were one of the wealthiest families hereabouts. You know that. But nowadays, Berta needs every penny. You can’t keep her shut down forever.”
“I know. I’ll let her know as soon as I can. But right now, can we please skip it? I just want to spend a few minutes playing with Misty, and not think about this mess until I get back to the office.”
That did the trick. If anything in this world could divert Aunt Hilda from her determined track, it was Misty. To be honest, she didn’t really believe there could be anything more important in this world than my pudgy cheeked darling.
“You’re right, of course, Melody. I’m sorry for bringing it up.” She came and sat down on the step beside us. Misty climbed over into her lap, and stuffed her plump little finger into Aunt Hilda’s ear. Aunt Hilda laughed. Her commandant voice was for the rest of the world, not Misty. “You should have heard her reading to me this morning. She’s got that storybook so down pat, you’d swear she really was reading the words.”
I kissed the tips of Misty’s fingers. Maybe she is.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Melody. She’s three years old. Even a mother couldn’t believe a three year old is reading just because she knows the words to her favorite storybook by heart.”
“I was kidding you, Aunt Hilda.” I held out my hands, and Misty came back to me. “I know she wasn’t reading. But, you know, that’s the same feeling I get about this case.”
“What do you mean?” Pop asked. He handed down the grinning jack-o-lantern for me to show Misty.
“I mean somebody’s “reading” for me. Really putting one over on the rookie.” I set the pumpkin on the top of my head. “Is Mommy Jack Pumpkinhead, Misty?”
She clapped her hands and nodded.
I totally agreed.