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Suzie Caruthers sat in the family’s den, allegedly her den but for the heaps of laundry in baskets and Rex’s files from work which he’d been promising to go through and dispose of. Cardboard banker’s boxes lined all available floor space, so he had at least gotten that far.
She had been meaning to get around to creating some system, for they had heaps of Christmas cards. Suzie thought it would be nice to pull them out next year. It would make the job of finding names and addresses easier, especially if she kept a rubber band around each year and kept them all in one place.
“I know.” Aunt Muriel’s cookie tin would be just the thing.
Up until now it had been entirely useless.
Kicking around the house for years, a gift of course, the blue and gold metal box had decorative flowers on the lid. She’d been meaning to use it for herbal teas or something. Counter space was at a premium in their kitchen and she’d never gotten around to it.
It would have to be in the back of the bottom kitchen cupboards or maybe up on top somewhere. She kept big juice pitchers and stuff that wouldn’t fit anywhere else on top of the cabinets. It was just a waste of space otherwise. It wasn’t for display—it was all very utilitarian and you couldn’t really see much up there anyway.
The slender thirty-six year-old mother of three left the den in its turmoil and went looking for the cookie tin as it should probably hold a couple of big bundles and it was about the right size.
She spent ten minutes pulling open cupboards, closing them, and opening them up to check again, finally looking under the sink. Suzie tried to recall when she’d last seen it.
Going out into the living room where Rex was firmly planted in his armchair, reading all the Sunday papers and making a fine mess of her coffee table, she asked him.
“Have you seen Aunt Muffy’s cookie box?”
“Huh?” His mouth opened and his head swung and he stared at her.
The look of pure bewilderment on his face was priceless, and then she burst out laughing and had to explain it all right from the beginning.
Alison Martin, a nine-to-fiver down at the Monolith Insurance company head office, one of the town’s major employers and not far from the health center where she worked out almost religiously two or three times a week, pointed triumphantly at the top shelf of the oaken wall unit on the far end of her mostly brass and glass living room.
The thing was jammed with books, hard-covers on the lower shelves and paperbacks on the upper three layers, all romance writers Bill had never cared for. There was a cleaner spot on the shelf and she just knew she hadn’t moved it.
“What, what?” She was always going on about something.
“Justice is gone!”
He threw the financial section down in disgust.
“Alison. What in the hell are you talking about?”
It all came out in a rush and he wondered if she’d had her noon pill yet. She was such a good woman and he still loved her, still found her surprisingly good in bed after all these years.
“My little bronze figure—remember, the scales went up and down and stuff like that?”
Bill got up and gravely took her in his arms.
“Uh, not really.”
Apparently she was referring to a small bronze figure of a well-known Roman goddess, complete with working scales, the scales of justice, something that had uncomfortably suggested drug deals and illicit cash to Bill, but he’d never mentioned that. Their house wasn’t that kind of place.
Belinda Davies had a list of gripes.
“And that’s not the only thing.”
Brad Davies held her and tried to get to the bottom of what was really bothering her.
Their reflection, ghostly in the hallway mirror, mocked him in its enigmatic reflection of his tired, shopworn face and her back, and long red hair. She was a bit lumpy around the hips and thighs but she was all paid for and had a lot of good miles in her yet.
“No, what else, honey?” She’d been pretty good lately, but a relapse wasn’t unheard of in times of stress, although he couldn’t think of anything major in their lives presently.
Her distant cousin Sheela’s wedding couldn’t have anything to do with it, if anything it gave her purpose, something to look forward to and even meddle in. But Belinda had always been special. Her vulnerable neediness had appealed to him as a somewhat stodgy sophomore without a date, and, in the end, he really couldn’t have been happier.
Every family had some kind of a problem. Theirs had several.
“I can’t seem to find my meat grinder.”
Meat grinder. Meat grinder. Then Brad recalled.
“Oh, yes, the meat grinder.” He thought for a moment. “And you can’t find it?”
There was nothing unusual with that, not in this house, not with two teenage boys walking off with all of his tools all the time and never putting them back. He’d taken to keeping all the good stuff at work, where his job box was permanently locked and off-limits in terms of lending and borrowing. When he needed something, he brought it home in his lunch bucket and did whatever little job he had to do. Then he took it back to work.
“I could have sworn it was there just a month or so ago. It was in the back of the end drawer, by the back hallway.’
Belinda had bought the meat-grinder for twenty-five dollars at some garage sale and a long-suffering Brad had clamped down hard on his tongue and said not a thing about it. He knew the odds of her actually using it to grind meat were infinitely small. The grinder was all cast iron, or possibly aluminum, shiny and grey, and it clamped onto the end of a table or something. You fed in chunks of meat and turned a big handle and voila, you had ground meat for making meatballs or meatloaf.
Brad pondered the significance of all this. It seemed just so unlikely to turn out well. Every once in a while Belinda started looking through recipes in magazines, asking him over and over again what he thought of this, and that, and the other, and then look out.
“Well. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Why don’t you just go to the market if you need some, ah, ground pork, or lamb or something.”
She looked at him uncertainly.
There was no trace of sarcasm, and now, she realized, he would probably be expecting something good for supper.
“Never mind.” It’s just that it was right there, right in the back of that last kitchen drawer, only now it wasn’t.
It was gone, for all intents and purposes vanished into thin air, and no one cared to wonder why.
As for her husband’s innermost thoughts, they were perhaps a bit clearer than he might have known, which only tended to irritate Belinda further.
But that bloody meat-grinder had to be somewhere.
They were proceeding east down Pine Street in the Toyota, having just left the three-way stop at the intersection with Empire Circle, when Belinda grabbed Brad’s shoulder and bellowed in his ear, her stabbing arm pointing off to the left through the windshield.
“Stop! Stop the car!” Her voice was shrill and commanding, like some termagant in a TV commercial but she really wasn’t like that and it really must be an emergency.
He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary in a quick sweep where she was pointing…
Brad jammed on the brakes wondering what the problem was, although there were a lot of parked cars and people moving about…some sort of garage sale going on at that address, and yet there were no kids or dogs or people in the street. Mystified, he turned to inquire politely just what exactly was up and why was she yelling?
His wife whipped off her seatbelt, threw open the door, and as Brad stared in some oddly objective fascination, nipped around the front end of the vehicle, and she charged over there into that crowd of people and started yelling. He threw the car in park and went after her on sheer reflex, rather than any strong desire to get involved.
She was his wife, he loved her dearly, and something was up, mostly likely with her.
He’d been dreading this for some time. It was like things were going too well in the last couple of months or so.
With a deep sigh, Brad stepped up to the better half and gently tried to catch her elbow, which she flung off without a glance and then she lunged for the other woman, who, as a sick sense of what was going on settled over Bill, was clutching a cast-iron meat-grinder for all her stout arms were worth. Both ladies were screaming and shouting and the language coming out of his wife was distinctly troubling in front of all these nice people.
“Honey! Honey! Let’s not make a scene here.”
Sergeant Ed O’Herlihy stood by the back end of the cruiser as Patrol Officer Angie Marrietta recounted her observations. Real trouble in this upscale suburban neighbourhood was unusual, although people always had concerns. This looked like one big mix-up and not much more.
“So you were just talking to the caller when this other woman steps up?”
“Yes. Mrs. Caruthers She says she thinks this other thingy belongs to her—some kind of brass figure. It’s like Lady Justice or something. She swears it’s a carbon-copy of one that went missing from her bookshelf.” That one wasn’t really insisting on charges, but it helped to build a picture.
“So what do we have?” The idea of the homeowner, Steve Maynard, a Navy vet with an artificial leg, pensioned off for thirty years, going around burgling homes for knick-knacks and bric-a-brac seemed a bit far-fetched, and yet murder had been committed for fifty cents or a pack of smokes in some places.
Those places were some ways off, but you never knew.
“All right, let’s have a word with the man.” Sergeant O’Herlihy went up to Officer Marrietta’s cruiser and she opened up the door and stood aside with her hand on her weapon.
“So. What’s going on here, sir?”
Turns out Mister Maynard was hopping mad and had a vocabulary that was extensive.
After being held all night and going before a judge, Steve Maynard vehemently denied theft and insisted he’d bought all of the items in question. It turned out there were a lot more than just two suspicious items on those tables when bystanders and passers-by really started looking. He said he’d bought them all at garage sales.
The crowd jeered when they heard that. It’s a good thing they had backup, two more cruisers rolling up at just that instant settling the crowd of early-morning garage-sale shoppers right down.
It was a small town.
It was like the crime of the century around here. They just wanted to be helpful. They were being tough on crime. The moral stance was easy enough, but opportunities were few and far between.
It seemed half the people in town were sort of missing things, small things, and the sergeant himself had been a bit perturbed to find a gnarly old wooden lamp, broken, needing a new socket assembly and a shade perhaps, and it would be as good as new. That lamp looked awfully familiar. It was the spitting image of one he’d had in the recreation room for ages. The last time he’d seen it, it was maybe sitting on the end of the workbench in his two-car garage, just waiting for inspiration.
To go out and buy a shade and a new socket was a low priority, but undoubtedly he would get around to it one day.
Could it be?
When the sergeant called home and had his wife look in the garage, she told him a bit breathlessly over the phone that she couldn’t find it. But the garage was a mess and the lamp disassembled. He settled for thinking it could be there. It could be that she just didn’t recognize it.
“Honey, have we ever had a garage sale?”
It turned out they had, last summer or the summer before, she thought. All of this was pretty inconclusive, as the sergeant wouldn’t put it past her or Jinny, his fourteen year-old daughter and very snarky she was these days, to put that out on a table, in all cynicism, and try and get fifty cents for it. Why not, after all? It was just a piece of junk. The fact that his father once told him he had carved that in high school wood-working shop would mean nothing to them, would it?
Someone was claiming some crummy old wooden cigar box was theirs, and another person was looking through all their old photo albums, hoping to identify a maple end table, with a broken leg re-glued in an amateur fashion and with knife gouges in the top made by someone’s undisciplined child, perhaps the previous owner…
The sergeant sighed.
With a bit of luck they would get a murder or a big bank robbery, or something, any day now and then they could quietly drop the whole thing.
Otherwise, it looked pretty bad for old Maynard.
All in the name of justice, they would run him through the meat grinder.
The sergeant drummed his fingers on the desk top and looked at his coffee, already going cold.
He had the luxury of time, and a good dose of discretion. He would think on it.
For no particular reason, the sly look on Maynard’s face when leaving with his lawyer, released by the judge on his own recognizance, kind of bothered him. He couldn’t really say why, it was just an impression.
The words of a familiar nursery rhyme came to him. He’d sung it to his own daughter often enough.
“With a knick-knack, paddy-whack, give the dog a bone. This old man came rolling home…”
In the quiet background hum of the station, a small shiver went up and down his spine and the hairs prickled on the back of his neck.
Three more years until early retirement.
He rubbed his eyes and looked blearily over the squad-room through his glass partition.
Small evil lurked in small places. He mustn’t forget that. A cop could never forget that.
Right about then the sun went behind a cloud, his office seemed dimmer and it was like the temperature dropped three or four degrees—just enough to be a little spooky.
Ah, well. Maybe they’d get their murder after all.
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