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The Dog Who Ate the Crossbow, written by Edward J. Coburn, is a story of murder and mayhelm.

It's been snowing in Canary Corners for three days and, basically, everything has ground to a standstill. Even Marti's school closed it's doors. This gives Adam and Marti the perfect opportunity to go snowmobiling. Unfortunately as they are traversing a valley, Marti hears a gun shot and a deer stagers down the hill and drops dead right in front of them. While helping the game warden, park ranger, and sheriff figure out who the poacher was, another killing takes place and this time it is not a wild animal that is killed but an animal of the human species and now it is up to Bagel to give Adam and Marti clues to help them ferret out the guilty party.

Here, read the first five chapters of The Dog Who Ate the Crossbow. Then, if you like the book, you can order the ebook in Kindle format at Amazon.com .




Chapter 1

     Everyone in Canary Corners, West Virginia knew Adam Martin Swope as Ram, the acronym he used as an occasional columnist and blog writer for the local newspaper, the Tweet. He wanted everyone to know him as Robert Adam Madigan, or Ram, because he was hiding. Not hiding from anything illegal or even bad, but rather hiding from a past he no longer cared to live. He’d been hiding behind the name Robert Adam Madigan, because, even though he’d originally gloried at the notoriety of winning two lotteries and being a finder, he’d grown tired of the emotional strain being a finder cost and didn't want to be a finder anymore. Therefore, he’d moved from his hometown of Chicago, to Canary Corners, West Virginia to work for his longtime friend, Larry Archibald. Larry had left Chicago for his health and bought the Canary Corners newspaper, the Tweet. Thus far, at least, he’d been able to make a go of it. Larry freely admitted having Adam “work” for him had definitely given a boost to the paper’s circulation. “Work” in this case turned out to be a bit of a misnomer considering Larry had not been paying Adam for his writing. They’d agreed that because Adam had won $80 million and $50 million in two successive lotteries, that whatever Larry would be able to pay him would almost be an insult and the newspaper could put the money to better use.
     Early November had brought the snow. It had been falling steadily for two days into this, the third. Fortunately, no wind drove the snow so the storm couldn’t be called a blizzard, and drifting didn’t seem to be a problem. Yet at the rate of a quarter inch an hour, more than a foot of snow had accumulated virtually everywhere. The plows had cleared the street in front of Adam’s rental house for the second time fifteen minutes earlier. That would’ve surprised no one, considering the mayor's house sat a couple of blocks farther down on Political Drive. Adam had decided to rent the house he'd used for a few days to trap the burglar who had been plaguing Canary Corners and had killed a prominent citizen and his bodyguard. Thus, he became the grateful recipient of the same road services lavished on the mayor.
     The burglar’s victim, Mathew Trimble, had been old and ill, but Adam felt, like most people do, nobody deserves to be murdered. Mathew’s large fortune had been derived from the sale of a gold mine discovered and worked by Mathew’s father before his father’s death in a cave-in. Mathew had been donating a lot of that fortune anonymously; therefore, when Adam interviewed him for the Tweet, he changed his will and left most of his considerable estate to the Rambling Foundation.
     Adam had started the Rambling Foundation to distribute much of his wealth to those in need who he and his foundation’s manager, Debbie Harvard, considered worthy. Now that the foundation had been infused with more than $130 million from Mathew's estate, the foundation had been funding even more requests.
     Adam had been sitting on the couch reading his playbook for A Christmas Carol to Bagel and Butter, his two beagles. They seemed to like the sound of his voice, regardless of what he read aloud. His mother, who’d recently died of cancer, left Bagel, a male, to him. Butter, on the other hand, a female, had been rescued from one of the local restaurants called the Mason Jar. Butter had occupied a permanent position beside the cash register and it had become a tradition for customers to feed her any butter left over from their meal. When Adam convinced the owner of the Mason Jar, Darla Harrison, to let him take Butter as a companion for Bagel, he immediately put Butter on a regime of half the normal dog food ration and, of course, stopped feeding her butter. He’d also made sure she got as much exercise as his busy schedule allowed. Bagel helped with forcing Butter to exercise. It had taken a while, but he’d finally started to see the results of his and Bagel’s efforts.
     About eleven thirty that Thursday morning, his cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID.
     Oh no, not today, he thought. But he said, in his normal, pleasant voice, “Good morning, Chief, what can I do for you?” The call was from Daniel Stibbens, the county sheriff and the police chief of Canary Corners.
     “I know you’ve told me in no uncertain terms that you don’t want to be a finder anymore, but we have a situation.”
     I knew it had to happen sooner or later, Adam thought. “Oh,” was all he said. He’d told Daniel, soon after moving to Canary Corners, about his abilities as a finder, under the condition that the sheriff would keep his secret. Thus far, the sheriff had been able to live up to that promise, even though Adam had helped him solve a number of crimes over the past few months. That’s why Adam had told the sheriff his secret in the first place. He enjoyed playing a part in solving crimes and was good at it because of his special finder abilities and his one skill that even most finders did not have: his ability to tell when someone told less than the truth.
     “Yes, we have a missing person and, considering what the weather is still doing, I have a hunch if we don’t find him soon, we won’t find him until spring.”
     “Who’s missing?” Adam had been listening to the radio earlier but they hadn’t announced anything about a missing person.
     “Not anyone you know, I don’t believe. His name is David Miller and he’s fairly new to the area. He bought the Hansen ranch north of town about two months ago.”
     “Well, what’s the story?” Adam went to the desk for a pad of paper and pen in case he needed to take notes.
     “According to his wife, he’d gone out to feed and check on some cows sometime around two yesterday and never came back. As you might imagine, she’s becoming a bit frantic.”
     Odd, he thought. “So he’s been missing all afternoon and all night in a snowstorm and she finally decided to report him missing at,” he looked at the clock, “almost noon the following day?”
     “Apparently she hadn’t started worrying until last night. She said that sometimes he’d be gone for hours if a cow got out of a pasture or a fence got damaged, or anything else had gone wrong, so she wasn’t concerned until he’d missed supper. Then she’d been waiting for him to come home last night but fell asleep and didn’t wake up until about seven this morning. Since then, she’s driven their snowmobile out to the pasture area and found his pickup, but couldn’t find any trace of him. Any footprints there might have been were probably covered over by the snow, so she didn’t have any trail to follow. Apparently, she spent several hours driving around the fenced-in pasture area with no luck. She says she thinks she found where he fed the cattle, but there wasn’t any indication of where he went from there. Do you think you might be able to help?” Daniel pleaded. Adam could detect a bit of concern in the chief’s normally calm demeanor.
     No, no, no, I won’t do it, Adam thought, shaking his head vigorously. Instead, he said, “Okay, I’ll try to help under two conditions.”
     “Which are?”
     “That you send whoever else is in the search party off on their own so you and I can look by ourselves. I want no one around but you when I do what I can do, if I’ll actually be able to do anything at all. And that if we do find him, I’m left totally out of it. Supposedly, I'm only going along to interview the wife and David, did you say?”
     “Yes, David Miller. And I can live with both of those conditions,” Daniel said. “How soon will you be able to leave?”
     Adam glanced at the clock again. “That depends.”
     Adam heard Daniel sigh. “What now?”
     Relax, Adam thought. “Nothing much. I just need to know how we’re going to search. On foot?”
     “Some, probably, but we’ll start out, at least, on snowmobiles.”
     “Okay, what do you think would be appropriate to wear then? I don’t know that I have anything to keep me warm on a snowmobile.”
     “Waterproof clothes are always best when doing snowmobiling, especially as it’s still snowing. But, if you don’t have anything like that, I’d say just wear the warmest clothes you have.”
     “Okay, thanks for that. But I also haven’t eaten lunch yet, so I’ll need to go grab a quick bite. I can meet you at your office in about a half hour or so. Have you eaten?”
     “Actually, I haven’t and I only had a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut for breakfast. Are you offering?” He sounded hopeful.
     Adam never minded buying lunch or any other meal for anyone. He preferred not eating alone. “Sure, why not. Is Canary Burgers okay?” Not my favorite, Adam thought, but not terrible. He knew they served fairly quickly. He also thought that street would probably be clear.
     “Okay by me. How about I meet you there in about fifteen minutes, if the street is clear, of course?”
     “Okay, see you there.”
     Adam knew he didn’t have waterproof clothes for the adventure before him so he did as Daniel suggested and put on the warmest clothes he had.
     When Adam drove up, Daniel was already there, standing beside his car. Adam parked and they walked into the restaurant together. Adam hadn't been to Canary Burgers for a while, so when he walked up to the counter, he recognized the thirty-something woman taking orders, but couldn't place her. “Don't I know you?” Adam asked.
     “You do, but I know you better than you know me. I'm Monica Swarthmore.”
     “Of course you are. I remember meeting you out in front of Canary House. How's Britney doing?” Britney Swarthmore was the first person helped by the Rambling Foundation. She’d had operable cancer and the foundation paid for her surgery and gave the Swarthmores $20,000 extra to help them with their expenses.
     “She's doing much better, but it's still a struggle. She has to go in once a week for chemotherapy for at least another year. But the good news is the doctors don't think she'll have further problems with cancer.”
     “That's really good to hear. But now I think the sheriff and I need to order because we have somewhere we need to be.”
     “Yes, of course. What would you like?”
     “I'll have a Canary single and fries with a bottle of Sweetwater.”
     “I'll have the same,” Daniel said, “except I'll have soda to drink.”
     When Adam and Daniel got their food, Daniel led Adam to the farthest corner of the small restaurant to a booth. “Who else is in the search party?” Adam asked quietly, though there wasn't anyone else in the restaurant.
     “George and Eugene, of course, and Poppy Seed. I think you know him, don't you?”
     “Yes, I know Poppy. He’s an electrician and a member of the theater troupe. He’s in A Christmas Carol.” Adam didn't mention that Poppy was there during the fire when the theater burned because he didn't want to open that topic of conversation. Adam had gone into the burning building to rescue a small boy who’d been separated from his mother in pursuit of his favorite teddy bear.
     “The last person we could round up on the spur of the moment is Jeremiah Kinsman, who’s one of the DJs on WVST, West Virginia Star radio.”
     “I also know Jeremiah. He interviewed me on his afternoon show once. I'm surprised he volunteered. Isn't he on the radio virtually every day?”
     “Apparently he's off on Thursday. Somebody had called him and told him David was missing, and he called me to volunteer. I guess he knows David and his wife because he was friends with old man Hansen before he died.”
     “Good for him, to volunteer, that is. But we'd better get our lunch eaten. Where are we meeting the others? At the office?”
     Daniel took a big bite of his burger and nodded as he chewed.
     When they finished, they both drove their cars to the sheriff's office where a pickup waited with a trailer attached. Three two-person snowmobiles were on the trailer. George was cleaning the freshly fallen snow from the windshield. Adam and Daniel each greeted the four men and then they were off, Adam and Daniel in the pickup and George, Eugene, Poppy, and Jeremiah in a SUV that belonged to the sheriff’s department.
     Daniel and Adam drove in silence until they arrived in front of David Miller's ranch house. They’d barely stopped the pickup when a young, attractive woman came out of the front door. Adam could see her red rimmed eyes even at a distance. She walked right up to Daniel as he got out of the pickup.
     “You’re Sheriff Stibbens, I presume? I’m Molly Miller.”
     “Yes, Mrs. Miller. We talked on the phone. Do you have any news?”
     She shook her head. “Nothing more than what I told you on the phone. I've not heard from David and try as I might, I could find no trace of him being in the pasture.”
     “Well, if you can either point us to the pasture or guide us there, we'll begin our search as soon as we can get our snowmobiles off the trailer.” I hope you haven’t messed anything up, Daniel thought.
     “I think I’d better guide you to the pasture. While you get your snowmobiles off the trailer, I'll go get mine.” She turned and walked toward the garage next to the house.
     “Works for me,” Daniel said to her back as she walked away.
     As George, Eugene, and Daniel drove the snowmobiles off the trailer, Molly drove up on hers. “Are you ready?” she said.
     “Wait one minutes,” Daniel shouted above the noise of the snowmobiles. Then, turning to Poppy, he said, “Why don't you join Eugene on that snowmobile?” He pointed at Eugene. Then, looking at Jeremiah, he said, “You can ride with George.”
     Adam got on the back of Daniel's snowmobile. “All set?” Daniel asked. When Eugene and George both nodded, he started his snowmobile and upon seeing him do this, Molly revved hers and started toward the back of the house, following an existing path.
     They followed Molly to the back of the house, where she turned left and followed what looked to be a dirt road covered with snow. There were tire tracks and the track of a snowmobile on the road as far as Adam’s eyes could see. The tracks were slowly being obscured by the still falling snow. Every so often, a snowmobile track led off the road, stopping by the gate that allowed access to that particular pasture area. Molly continued to travel down the road for about a mile and then turned right, where she went about fifty yards farther until she stopped beside an orange pickup. There she shut off her snowmobile and got off. Daniel stopped his, and George and Eugene did likewise. Everyone gathered around the pickup, noticing there were no footprints or other proof that anyone had been there other than the snowmobile track that passed by the driver’s side of the pickup. Must be her track from when she searched for David earlier, Adam mused.
     Daniel voiced what Adam was thinking. “I presume this track is yours from this morning.”
     “It is.” She nodded. “You can see where it goes through the gate into that pasture.” She pointed at the gate about ten yards away. About twenty cattle were in the pasture, huddled close to one another for warmth.
     “Okay,” Daniel said. “You can go back home and we can take it from here. You’re certainly welcome to stay and help us with the search if you want, but I don’t think it’s necessary right now. And you…”
     “I do need to get back home,” she interrupted. “I need to make lunch for Sammy. He’s my four-year-old and he’s alone right now.” She looked in the direction of the house.
     “Then by all means, go make lunch for your son. We’ll be sure to let you know if we find anything at all.”
     “Do you have my phone number? I presume you have a cell phone.”
     “Yes on both accounts.” Daniel pulled out his cell phone and showed it to her.
     “Please make sure not to let any of the cattle out when you open the gate.”
     “We’ll be careful.”
     “See you later, then,” she said, starting up her snowmobile and giving a small, sad wave before driving back in the direction of the house.
     

Chapter 2

     “All right,” Daniel said, looking directly at Eugene. “Why don’t you guys drive into the pasture, carefully, and see if you can see anything at all. I presume he walked into the pasture because the pickup was left out here. He must’ve taken some hay or something into the pasture to feed the cattle, so look for any signs where the cattle may have gathered to eat. Maybe there’ll be some footprints from that point. Just be very careful as you drive around that you don’t inadvertently run over some footprints or other indication.”
     All of them nodded and Eugene said, “We’ll be careful. What are you going to do?”
     “Adam and I’ll hang back for a few minutes to see if we can find anything here that might give us a clue about where he might have gone.”
     “Okay,” Eugene said, turning to Poppy. “Are you ready?” Poppy nodded. Eugene settled himself on the snowmobile and Poppy got on behind him after brushing the fresh snow off the seat. George and Jeremiah did likewise and all four of them drove quickly away. When they stopped in front of the gate, Poppy jumped off and opened the gate so the two snowmobiles could drive through. When they were on the other side, Poppy re-latched the gate and got back on behind Eugene before the two snowmobiles moved slowly forward, everybody scanning the ground for any signs David had passed that way.
      “I presume you want me to see if I can sense anything from the pickup,” Adam said, looking seriously at Daniel. I really hope I can, Adam thought.
     Daniel nodded. “I do. I know you’ve told me in the past that your visions generally only come if there has been some strong emotional event associated with whatever you touch and, in the case of the pickup, I can’t see how there could have been, but it’s worth a try. After all, we don’t have anything else.”
     “Agreed,” Adam said. “I can certainly try.” Walking to the pickup, he cleaned a small spot, took off his glove, and placed his hand on the door. He left his hand on the door for more than a minute before taking it away, shaking his head. “No. Sorry. Nothing.” Too bad, Adam thought, it would’ve been nice.
     “I thought not,” Daniel said, “considering your face didn’t turn red.” When Adam experienced a vision, his cheeks got fiery red and his shoulders twitched slightly. His visions could be representative of some event from the past, present, or future. He never knew which type would overtake him or when.
     “Well, what now, Chief?”
     “I think we should do as I said and look the pickup over to see if David left some clue behind to indicate what he might’ve had in mind.” Adam nodded, brushing the snow away and opening the pickup door. “Wait,” Daniel said. “Perhaps I should climb in the cab.”
     Adam nodded and moved aside. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to intrude.”
     “No worries,” Daniel said, stepping on the running board and looking in the bed of the pickup. “There are remnants of hay in the back, mostly covered by snow. Maybe that’s what he was feeding the cattle.”
     “Probably,” Adam agreed, looking over the side into the bed of the pickup.
     “Why don’t you scout around the area while I look inside? If you see anything at all, just holler.”
     “Okay, I can do that.” Adam walked to the back of the pickup carefully, watching his step lest he disturb something. On the passenger side of the pickup, Adam did see some boot prints under the edge of the pickup, as if David had stood there to get something out of the back. A few small pieces of hay were sticking up through the snow, like small spears. Adam surmised they must’ve fallen from whatever feed David had pulled from the pickup. Any tracks that had originally led to or away from the prints under the edge of the pickup had been filled in by the snow that had fallen since the tracks were left. Adam could see no trace nor could he see any pieces of hay beyond the few beside the pickup.
     Adam waited until Daniel came out of the cab. Daniel carefully walked to the front of the pickup, watching the ground. “Anything?” Adam asked.
     “Unfortunately, no.” Daniel shook his head. “And I haven’t seen any tracks.”
     “There are some impressions under this edge of the pickup, and a few pieces of hay on the ground,” Adam said and waited for Daniel to arrive at his location before he pointed. “Unfortunately, the snow has covered any other prints or pieces of hay there might’ve been.”
     Daniel leaned down and brushed some snow away from the edge of what appeared to be another print. “Here’s the trace of another print, but it really doesn’t tell us anything. There’s no clue of directionality.” Daniel subtly moved some more snow near the tracks, but after a few seconds got back up. “It’s no use. The snow’s just too powdery. There’s no way to move it aside enough to uncover a print and whatever prints there might have been had to have been filled in.”
     “Too bad,” Adam said. “What now?”
     “I guess we’ll go out and join the others in the pasture. There doesn’t seem to be anything for us here.”
     “Just a second, Chief. Let me try…” Adam took off his glove, brushed the snow off, and placed his hand on the side of the pickup bed. He closed his eyes. Suddenly, his face got red and his shoulder twitched slightly, as if he had a nervous tic.
     Good, Daniel thought, I hope he’s seeing something that’ll help. When Adam opened his eyes, Daniel said, “What did you see?”
     “Nothing much, I’m afraid. I saw someone’s hands, David’s I’d presume, pulling a bale of hay from the back of the pickup and then the vision faded. All we can surmise is that the boot prints under the edge are David’s and the pieces of hay on the ground came from the bale he took from the back.”
     “I’d say those are reasonable conclusions. But now,” he sighed heavily, walking to the snowmobile and getting on, “I guess we’d better go see if the guys found anything in the pasture.”
     Adam nodded and got on behind Daniel. When they reached the gate, Adam unlatched it, waited until Daniel had driven through, and then re-latched it before rejoining Daniel on the snowmobile. “Looks like they’ve found something.” Daniel pointed, shouting to be heard above the noise of the snowmobile.
     Adam nodded and Daniel started out again. He drove to where the other four seemed to be examining the ground, pulling up behind the other snowmobiles before he stopped. “Got something guys?” Daniel asked.
     George pointed to an area of indentation on the other side of the fence. “We think maybe he crossed the fence here for some reason. There aren’t any tracks leading up to this spot, but they were probably covered over by the snow. I think the spot on the other side is visible because some grass was exposed and one of the cows was eating it through the fence. You know the old saying, ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’” George smiled slightly.
     “That may be true,” Jeremiah said, “but that grass is brown.”
     “All right, enough of the chin music. We need to find whatever there is to find, and I’d agree with your assessment,” Daniel said. “It does look a bit like someone stood there.” Daniel turned to Eugene. “Eugene, why don’t you and Poppy stay here so we’ll know where this spot is? The rest of us will go to the other side of the fence so we can examine whatever’s there more closely.”
     “Okay,” Eugene said. “Then, I presume, we’ll join you out there.” He pointed at the indentation.
     “Unless there seems to be some clue out there pointing back inside the fence.”
     With that, Daniel and Adam got on their snowmobile and George and Jeremiah got on theirs. George followed Daniel to the gate where they both stopped. Adam got off, opened the gate, let Daniel and George drive through, and then closed the gate again.
     Daniel drove along the fence line until he found another gate beyond the boundary of the first pasture. “We ought to be able to go in here,” he shouted over his shoulder before stopping. After he did, Adam repeated the gate-opening process on this one. A few minutes later, all four of them were examining the spot that had been found.
     If that doesn’t beat all, Daniel thought. “I don't know about the rest of you,” he said, scratching his head, which wasn’t easy with his heavy gloves on, “but I see two distinct boot patterns here.”
     “I agree,” George said. “What do you make of that?”
     “I don't know what to make of it,” Daniel said. “It almost appears as if someone met David here.”
     Daniel walked around the area, watching the ground and then said, “There aren't any other prints that I can see.” He looked up at the sky. “Stupid snow.”
     “Shall we spread out and see if we can find where the other guy came from?” George pointed at the trees beyond where they were standing. “That's forest service land behind the pasture and there are lots of trees. Maybe we'll find some tracks under them. The trees probably will have blocked at least some of the snow.”
     “I guess that's about all we can do,” Daniel said, sitting astride his snowmobile again. “Eugene, you and Poppy come around and then you can continue off to the west. Be sure to come in and stay within the fence. George, you and Jeremiah go to the east, and Ram and I’ll go north. I presume you two have your cell phones.”
     “I do,” Eugene said.
     “As do I,” George said.
     “Good. Call if you find anything and we’ll do likewise. Now, let's get going.” With that, Daniel started his snowmobile again and drove away from the spot slowly, keeping his eyes on the snow in case there were any tracks.
     It wasn't long before Daniel's cell phone rang. “Yes, Eugene.” He listened for a few seconds and then said, “Maybe you'd better, then you can guide them to your location. I'm pretty sure I can find you by following the fence line. We'll be there shortly.”
     Daniel shut off the snowmobile so he didn't have to shout. “Eugene found a trail that led from the edge of the trees to a spot where he's fairly certain a pickup was sitting. He thinks that whoever David met must’ve come in the pickup and then they left together. We'll go to where they are and see for ourselves. I'll drive down to the fence and follow it. The pickup was apparently parked just beyond another gate.”
     “Works for me,” Adam said.
     
     “Well,” Daniel said when he and Adam arrived, “sure looks like pickup tracks to me.”
     “And there’s obviously two sets of footprints leading to where the pickup was sitting.”
     “There is indeed,” Eugene said.
     “What now?” Adam asked. I really wonder what's going on, he thought. “Who in the world would want to be out on a night like last night?”
     “I haven't the foggiest,” Daniel said. “I think there's more to this missing person business than first met the eye and I think we’d better talk to Molly again.” Maybe she knows more than she let on, he thought.
     “I think perhaps you're right, but shouldn't we follow the tracks of the pickup to see where it went?” Eugene said, pointing at the pickup tracks.
     “Of course,” Daniel said as George and Jeremiah drove up and George shut off his snowmobile.
     “What's happening?” George asked.
     “Eugene was right. David and someone else walked up to this pickup and left. You can see where they drove in a circle and went out the gate.” Daniel pointed to the set of tracks obviously left by the pickup. “All right, let's follow the pickup tracks. Jeremiah, you want to do the honors at the gate?” The gate was only about twenty yards away so it was easy enough for Jeremiah to walk there.
     “Glad to oblige,” Jeremiah said, walking toward the gate.
     After the three snowmobiles were on the other side of the fence, Jeremiah closed the gate and got on behind Eugene. They followed the pickup tracks even after they turned toward the main road, but there the trail ended. There had been too much traffic on the highway to be able to follow a single vehicle’s tracks.
     Daniel turned his snowmobile around and followed the road back to the house. Molly came to the door almost the instant Daniel knocked.
     “What did you find?” she asked.
     “We didn't find David, but we did find his and someone else's tracks that led to a pickup that had apparently been waiting for him. Our guess is that he left with whoever came in the pickup. We lost the trail of the pickup when it got on the highway.”
     “So you don't have any idea where David might have gone?”
     “We were hoping you might have some idea,” Daniel said.
     She shook her head and the corners of her mouth turned down. “Oh no, he wouldn't have been that stupid, would he?”
     “I'm sorry?” Daniel said.
     “When he was stuck in the house the day before yesterday because of the snow, he thought he’d clean out some of the boxes in the attic. He’d been meaning to do that but there had always been too much work.”
     “What’s that got to do with his disappearance?” George asked.
     “When he was looking through the boxes in the attic, he ran across some very old papers. In them, he found a map that he said would lead to a lost gold mine. I told him that was silly. I’m sure you all know someone in this area is always coming up with a map that supposedly leads to a lost gold mine.”
     Daniel nodded. “And no one's ever found even a hint of gold using any of those maps.”
     “But David was excited when he found the map. Apparently, he called a friend and the friend must have picked him up to go look for the gold mine.”
     “What friend?” Daniel asked.
     “I don't know. He didn't tell me and I had no idea he had anything like this in mind, especially not in a snowstorm.”
     “So you don't know anything other than what you've told us so far?” Daniel asked.
     She shook her head. “No, I only wish I did. I really can't believe he would do something so stupid. Are you going to mount a bigger search party?”
     “Would that we could.” Daniel shrugged and shook his head. “But without some idea of where the pickup went, there's no way we can search. We wouldn't have any idea even where to begin. You didn't happen to get a look at that map, did you?”
     “No, David wouldn't let me see it.” She started wringing her hands in frustration.
     “It would have been useful if you’d seen it. Maybe you’d have recognized something that might have given us some clue where David and his friend might’ve gone.”
     “Okay, if you’re not able to search, what's your next step? Surely you're not going to give up.” She spread her hands in a submissive gesture.
     “No ma’am, we're not going to give up. But the only thing I can think to do right now is put the word out that David is missing and ask if anyone knows anything. Perhaps his friend will come forward to tell us where David went.”
     Molly brightened a bit. “Do you think there's any chance that might happen?”
     “Anything's possible,” Daniel said. “But I wouldn't get too excited. If David had been hurt or something, I would think the friend would’ve already come forward.”
     “One would think so,” Adam said.
     “If there's nothing else you can tell us, Molly, we'd better be on our way so we can inform the newspaper and radio stations that David is missing.”
     “Okay, thank you for trying. I'll stay by the phone in case he calls or you find out anything. You will call if you find out anything, won't you?”
     “Of course we will,” Daniel said.
     
     When they got back in to town, the first thing Adam did was go to the Tweet office to give Larry the whole story. Larry said they could still make Friday's edition and put Alex on the story.
     

Chapter 3

     Adam had just brought the dogs in from the porch when a call came from Marti Blossom, his semi-constant companion virtually since the day he moved to Canary Corners. Livinia, her great-aunt, had introduced them. Livinia had been his next-door neighbor at the Canary House apartments where he’d first moved when he came to town.
     “Hello, Sweetheart,” Adam said.
     “Hello yourself. You'll never guess what.”
     “What?”
     “They’ve decided to cancel school.” Marti was an English teacher at the high school.
     “I thought we talked about this and you told me it was doubtful they would.”
     “To be honest, I’m surprised. However, it's almost four on Thursday and it hasn't stopped snowing, so they decided it was prudent to shut school down, especially since the day is basically over anyway. They certainly don't want to risk anybody's life and driving is a bit treacherous.”
     “Yes it is, but to be honest, I haven't hardly ventured out since Tuesday.” He didn’t think it necessary to tell her about his helping with the search for David. She didn’t think much of his penchant for helping the police.
     “Do you have any food left in your house, then?”
     “I do. They’d been saying they expected a big snow, so I stocked up on the essentials. I have a number of TV dinners, plenty of dog food, and about a dozen bottles of Sweetwater.” Sweetwater was a local mineral water that, over a century ago, two sugar beets had fallen into, making the water sweet.
     “Sounds yummy. I make a great dog food casserole. Would you like some company?”
     What am I going to say? No? he thought. “I don't know. Bagel and Butter are keeping me occupied... Just kidding. You know, I’d like nothing better than to have you come over. With any luck, we’ll be snowbound until Monday.”
     “If that's going to happen, I'd better stop by the grocery store and get some real food.”
     “Maybe you'd better. TV dinners are okay for a while, but even a bachelor like me doesn't want a steady diet of them.”
     “Well, how about some canned spaghetti?”
     “Come on. I know you can do better than that. I remember more than a few wonderful meals that I’ve eaten at your house and others you’ve fixed for me here. Besides being beautiful, intelligent, witty, and sexy, you're also a wonderful cook.”
     “Thank you, sire.”
     “I only speak the truth, exactly like in my columns. Will you be able to get here? According to the radio, many of the streets in Canary Corners are not opened yet.”
     I certainly hope so, she thought. “My house is close to the school, so my street is usually one of the first ones to be plowed. It’d been cleared by the time I came to school this morning, though it hasn’t stopped snowing. My street to downtown may not be plowed, but if I go back to the school from my house, I should be able to get from the school to downtown without any problems. They always plow all the roads around the schools. I assume Political Drive has been cleared.”
     “You presume correctly. It’s actually been plowed twice today.”
     “That's not a surprise. The surprise would have been if they hadn’t cleared Political Drive.”
     Yes, it would have, he mused. “Yeah, I suppose the mayor does have a bit of pull in Canary Corners.”
     “Not to mention the importance of one Robert Adam Madigan to this town. Not to change the subject or anything, but what’ve you heard about the construction of the new theater? I thought the troupe might have gotten an update last night at practice, but, as you know, practice was called off because of the snow, so we didn’t hear anything.”
     “I thought it was nice of Larry to put the cancellation notice on the front page of the Tweet. I was surprised to see it.”
     “I don’t know why you were. After all, Judy’s a member of the troupe. She makes sure whenever there’s news about the theater troupe, Larry places the news in a prominent position in the paper.” Judy was Larry’s wife of many years and receptionist at the newspaper. Adam was best man at their wedding.
     “I’ve never thought about it, but I guess that makes sense. I know Larry would do just about anything for Judy. Seldom have I seen two people more in love.”
     “Present company excepted, I presume.”
     “Well, I can’t see us right now. Besides, I did say seldom, not never.”
     “I’ll accept that. Shall I come over, then?”
     Absolutely, he thought, idly looking at the ceiling. “If you don’t, I’ll have to hunt you down.”
     “You know, I’m sure glad you’re in the Christmas play. You really need an outlet for those dramatics you keep spewing.”
     “Spewing? Isn’t that a bit harsh? Or do you not like my playful verbiage?”
     “Come on. You know I do. I guess spewing wasn’t the nicest word. Maybe I should have said those dramatics you keep voicing.”
     “Okay, I’ll accept that. When will you be here?”
     “Just as quickly as I can finish up here, get home to throw a few things in a bag, and make it to the grocery store.”
     “Okay. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to your being here. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to find out about the progress of the theater construction.”
     After he hung up, Adam called Debbie. “Debbie, what are you doing in the office?”
     “I still work here, don’t I, or did you forget to tell me something?”
     Not her too, he thought. “Why is everyone I know a comedian? You know very well what I meant. You can’t be getting a lot of requests right now, so again I ask, what are you doing there?”
     “Relax. I only came in to check the mail and email. I’m going back home as soon as I’m finished.”
     “All right. Actually, I’m glad you’re there because I want to know if you’ve heard from Rupert.” Rupert Nichols had been hired by the foundation as contractor to renovate an old mining warehouse into a new theater after the existing theater had burned down.
     “I just got off the phone with him a few minutes ago. He said everything is progressing nicely, storm notwithstanding. Remember one of his timelines took such a possibility into account. It shouldn’t interfere too much unless it keeps snowing for several more days. The last I heard, the snow should be ending tonight.”
     “That’s what I heard, too. But they said even if the snow ends tonight, there’ll probably be a few more inches at least. Therefore, I’ll let you go so you can get home.”
     “Rupert did tell me they’ve gotten the roof on the dressing room addition. They hurried to get it done when they heard it might snow.”
     “That’s good. That’ll leave them mostly inside work, which they can do regardless of what the weather does.”
     “True, but they’ll still have to get the construction material to the site. The snow can still be a problem.”
     “I’m sure they’ll do what they can. Thanks for the update. Marti wanted to know. I did, too, of course.”
     “Oh, I almost forgot. We got a letter from the hospital. Apparently, Trimble had been donating a million dollars a year—anonymously, of course. As a matter of fact, they just realized where the money had been coming from. Naturally, they’re hoping we’ll continue the donations.”
     “We will because, I presume, Trimble would’ve wanted us to. However, you and I need to talk about this a bit more. I’ve been thinking about funding a new cancer wing for the hospital, with at least half of it dedicated to children.”
     “That’s a marvelous idea. Do you want me to start researching what it might cost?”
     “I was going to suggest it, but I want you to go home.”
     “I can still do it. You know I have a computer at home.”
     “You can do it if you want to. But you can take the rest of today and tomorrow off. I have no problem with that.”
     “I feel guilty being so generously paid by the foundation when I’m not working.”
     “No need. Your integrity is one of the things that makes you such a value to the foundation. It’s not as if the snow is your fault.”
     “But if I can work at home, I think I might as well. Remember, I like to work and I especially like to do the foundation’s work. I can’t imagine a job I’d enjoy more.”
     “Enough. If you want to work when you get home, I won’t try to stop you. But remember it’s your own idea. I don’t want your husband, Paul, telling me I’m a slave driver.”
     She giggled slightly. “I’m sure. Will I see you in the office on Monday?”
     “You will if it quits snowing.”
     “Okay, see you then.”
     “Bye.”
     
     When Adam woke up Sunday morning, Marti had left the bed. He wandered into the living room to see her curled up on the couch, reading.
     “What are you reading, dearest?”
     “Your old high school annual.” She looked up at him expectantly, closing the book, with her finger marking the place. “I hope you don't mind.”
     Boy, I’m glad I thought ahead, he mused. “Why should I mind? I must warn you, though, I wasn't much back in the day.” Adam had no need to worry about Marti finding out the truth about him from looking through the annual. He’d planned for that possibility and had a printer redo his annual, putting Robert Adam Madigan under or beside each picture. Because he’d already explained to Marti why a lot of people called him Adam, the autographs written by his classmates that addressed him as Adam were okay. When he and Marti visited his sister Sarah and her kids in Maine, to see his nephew Ryan's play, the kids had called him Uncle Adam. He had explained that away by telling her when he attended grade school, a lot of his friends were called Robert or Bob so he started using his middle name. Everybody had adopted the middle name, including Sarah and then, later on, her kids.
     “I think you were cute,” Marti said, opening the annual again. “Especially as Mortimer.” He’d told her about his high school stint as Mortimer in the play Arsenic and Old Lace.
     He walked to the couch; she put her feet on the floor to give him room, and he sat and glanced at his picture in the annual. “The makeup they used almost made me look like a ghost.”
     She nodded. “I noticed that. Who was the makeup artist?”
     “Our drama teacher. Some of us thought she was half blind.”
     “She certainly wasn't very good at makeup. As you said, you look a little bit white, and as far as I'm concerned, your brother Jonathan doesn't look scary enough.” In the play, Jonathan should have been made up to look a bit like the Frankenstein monster.
     I definitely agree with that, he thought. “That was my impression, too. Being in the play was still a good experience, though.”
     “A lot of fun, was it?”
     “Absolutely. But enough about Arsenic and Old Lace; we have a play to practice for ourselves. Unless you'd rather just go back to bed,” he said with a wink.
     “No offense, but I think I'd rather have a shower.”
     “Party pooper. I'll simply have to practice my part without you then.”
     “I presume you mean your part in A Christmas Carol.”
     “Of course, what else would I have…” The light dawned and he smiled at her. “With that being said, you'd better take your shower before I attack.”
     “Yes, sir.” She gave him a small salute and headed into the bedroom.
     Adam started to follow her, but then he heard a whimper behind him. He turned around. “Alright, you two. I'll take you outside. Let me get my robe on first.” Finishing his trek into the bedroom, he picked up his robe off the chair where he’d tossed it the night before. He accompanied the dogs to the back porch. They went outside on their own. The door from the porch to the backyard had a dog door in it that allowed them to come and go as they pleased. He sat to watch them struggle through the shoulder-high snow, although they both seemed to enjoy playing in it. Bagel jumped from one previously made hole to another while Butter simply strolled between them as well as she could. After a few minutes, they let themselves back in, shook themselves, and walked to where he sat on the porch chair.
     “You guys ready for breakfast?” He led them into the kitchen and put food in their bowls. Bagel got a full portion while Butter got only a half-portion, as he was still trying his best to slim her down. He watched them eat as he always did. It hadn't happened yet, but he felt he should watch them to be sure Bagel didn't leave some of his food for Butter or Butter didn't push Bagel away to get at what may be remaining. They seemed to be very friendly companions, but Adam knew enough about animals—wild, domesticated, or human—to know that friendship sometimes went by the wayside when food became the most important consideration.
     

Chapter 4

     Adam was sitting in one of the chairs, reading his playbook aloud while the dogs snoozed on either side of the chair when Marti walked into the living room after her shower.
     “What would you like this morning?”
     Adam raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised by the question. “I thought I’d already expressed my opinion about what I wanted this morning.”
     “I mean for breakfast, smart guy. We can save the other for later.”
     That’s okay. Actually, I’m hungry, Adam thought. “Promises, promises. But for breakfast, how about one of your fabulous ham and cheese omelets?”
     “Your wish is my command, sire.”
     “That's not what you said a while ago.” He swatted her playfully as she walked by his chair on her way into the kitchen.
     “Enough.” She gave him a stern but halfhearted look. “Why don't you make yourself useful and play colors with Bagel?”
     “All right, I will.” He gave her his best hangdog look.
     “None of that look now.” She smiled in spite of herself.
     He got up from his chair to move to the couch. “Bagel, red,” he said. He’d been told about Bagel's skill in determining colors before he brought Bagel back with him to Canary Corners from Maine after his mother's funeral. Since that time, Bagel had proved to be adept at the game.
     Bagel nosed through the pile of his toys and brought a red, rubber alligator to drop at Adam’s feet. “Good boy. Bagel, yellow.” Bagel returned to the pile, nosed through it for a few seconds, and then brought a rubber, yellow canary and dropped the toy at Adam's feet. “How about blue, boy?” Bagel looked up at him expectantly. Bagel had learned to fetch only when the proper phrase had been used so Adam said, “Bagel, blue.” Bagel came back in a few seconds to drop a soft, plastic, blue bird at his feet.
     “How's he doing?” Marti called from the kitchen.
     “Three for three. I guess I'll try Boggle now.”
     “Not right now. I want to play if Bagel finds some words.” In the past, Bagel had upset the Boggle dice shaker many times before separating out a few dice from the rest. When Adam and Marti had made words from the letters on the dice, at least one of the words they found had always been a clue to some mystery that Adam had been trying to solve.
     “All right, I'll study my play script instead.” He got up from the couch to return to the chair he’d been in before.
     “By the way, have you ever called Audrey Leech about the Undress Inn?” Marti asked. Audrey was a resident of the Sunset Village nursing home whose mother, in her younger days, had been a prostitute at the Cat House. That had been the original name of the Canary House where Adam lived when he first came to Canary Corners. Audrey’s mother and another prostitute had snuck into the Undress Inn, when it had been called the Snowbound Inn, and performed a striptease to drum up business for the Cat House. Their performance proved so popular that they were invited back and were then hired as full-time entertainment. Adam had found out about the Undress Inn when he’d taken the veterinarian Dr. Maggie Ridley out for dinner as a thank-you for her helpful suggestions and checkup when he first got the sadly overweight Butter from the Mason Jar.
     “Not yet. I haven't had time. Now might be a good time. She’s sure to be there. I can't imagine someone from the nursing home being allowed out in this weather.”
     “I'm sure you're right. Do you have her number?”
     “No, but I can call Sunset Village. I'm sure they’ll be able to connect me.”
     “I'm sure they will.”
     “I'll look up the number on the Internet.” He walked to his desk and turned on the computer. In short order, he had the number of Sunset Village.
     “Hello,” he said. “Would it be possible to speak to Audrey Leech?”
     “What do you want with her?” the soft voice on the other end said.
     I know that voice, Adam thought, though he couldn’t place it. “My name is Robert Adam Madigan, and I’m a reporter for the Tweet. I’d like to interview Audrey about her mother and the Undress Inn.”
     “Ram. It's nice to talk to you. I’m Amy Frisco, remember me? I'm a member of the theater troupe, and you rescued my son Bobby during the fire.”
     “Amy, of course. I knew I knew your voice. Might I say you're doing an excellent job in the play. You’re very believable. Bobby’s doing a good job, too.” He’d learned long ago it never hurt to say something nice to someone from whom you wanted a favor.
     “That's very nice of you to say, Ram. Bobby had been a bit traumatized for a few days, but he got over it. And might I say you’re doing a great job in the play, too. Also, I read your column every time it appears. You’re one heck of a writer. Where do you come up with all the stuff you write about? I've lived here a lot of years and, I've never even heard most of the stuff you write.”
     “Most of it comes from simply talking to people. That's why I want to talk to Audrey. I’ve heard a little of the story of the Undress Inn and I’d like to write a column about it if Audrey would consent to an interview.”
     “I'm sure she would. She talks about the Undress Inn at every opportunity and to anyone who’ll listen. Unfortunately, she no longer talks on the phone. She has a lot of trouble holding the receiver. She has arthritis pretty bad. Why don't I talk to her and find out what time would be good? What day would you like to come?”
     “There's still a lot of snow right now, but I’m thinking it should be cleared up enough by Tuesday or Wednesday if either day would be all right with her.”
     “Might I suggest Wednesday? She has therapy on Tuesday and it always seems to wear her out.”
     “Wednesday’s fine. Why don't you talk to her and find out what time she’d like me to come?”
     “I'll do that. If you give me your number, I'll call you back.”
     He gave her his number. With that, Adam got up and walked into the kitchen.
     About an hour after they’d finished their breakfast, Adam’s phone rang. Amy had called back. “Got a time for me, Amy?”
     “Indeed I do. Sorry it took me as long as it did to get back to you, but Audrey was sleeping and, at her age, she needs all the rest she can get.”
     “No problem. I was eating breakfast, anyway. What time did she want me to be there?”
     “Together, we came up with one o’clock. She will have barely finished her lunch and should be wide awake. I do have a request, though.”
     “What’s that?”
     “If she seems to be getting tired, I’d appreciate it if you’d cut the interview short and come back again some other time. As I said, she needs her rest.”
     “Of course. I understand. I’ll try not to make the interview too taxing and I’ll cut it off the first moment she seems to be waning.”
     “I’d appreciate that. I’ll see you about one on Wednesday.”
     “You will. I’ll come a few minutes early. If I have to wait for her to finish lunch, that’ll be okay.”
     “That’s a good idea. Then you can start the interview as soon as she’s done.”
     “Okay, see you Wednesday.”
     
     On Monday, Adam kept his promise and walked into Debbie’s office at the Rambling Foundation at nine o'clock. Debbie looked up. “Good morning, Ram.”
     “Good morning, Debbie. Have you got some numbers for me about the hospital?”
     “Just some preliminary numbers. I'll be able to get more precise numbers when I get a chance to talk to the architect that helped design the hospital in the first place. Believe it or not, his grandfather designed the original hospital that’s been shuttered since the new one was built.”
     “So he already has a vested interest in this hospital.”
     “He does. I talked to some friends of mine in Charleston and Parkersburg who were on committees that helped develop hospitals in each of their towns. I told them what you had in mind and their estimates were reasonably close to each other. One of their hospital wings cost twenty million and the other cost twenty-five million. I think it's safe to say we can expect the price tag to be at least twenty million. But, as I said, I'll have a firmer figure for you when I get a chance to talk to the architect.”
     “Honestly, that's less than I expected.”
     “That will be to build the wing and equip it with beds, televisions, nurse stations, linen closets and the various types of equipment and supplies necessary for the specialty. Of course, there’ll always be ongoing expenses for supplies, doctors, nurses, and research specialists.”
     “I would expect nothing less. I want you to continue your research and talk to the architect. I’d really like to get the whole thing finalized so the process can be started sometime in the spring. I don't expect to be able to start any sooner than that. Now, what requests do you have for me today?”
     “I only have three I think are worthy. Since the initial flood of requests, they’ve slowed down appreciably. But that's what I’d expected would happen.”
     Adam glanced at the pile of papers as she picked up several. “It doesn't surprise me, either. Now what’ve you got?”
     They talked about the requests for about an hour before Adam decided all three requests deserved funding. He also told her to go ahead and give the hospital the million dollars they’d requested.
     “You're going to give them one million dollars and then build the wing?” Debbie seemed surprised.
     I wonder why she’s so surprised, Adam thought. We’ve already talked about giving the hospital the money. “I am. I assume the hospital needs the million dollars for ongoing expenses such as equipment upgrades and new equipment purchases. And that need has nothing to do with a new wing.”
     “I'm sure they do. It's only that I'm still flabbergasted at all the money that the foundation is putting out.”
     It’s only money, he thought. “Remember, $135 million of that came from Trimble. I'm sure he’d approve at how were spending some of that money.” They expected another two million from the sale of the Trimble mansion, but that hadn’t happen yet.
     “I'm sure you're right.”
     “I have one more question. Does Canary Corners have a food pantry?”
     “You mean to dole out food to the needy?”
     “I do. Do they have one?”
     “Yes, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t received any request from them. I would’ve thought they’d be one of the first with their hand out.”
     I’m surprised too, Adam thought. “Well, I’d like to beat them to the punch.” Adam idly picked up a piece of paper from Debbie’s desk and then put it back down without even reading it. “I want you to give them a check for $100,000. That should keep them funded for the foreseeable future.”
     “I’m sure it will. That should fill a lot of stomachs, especially young stomachs. I tell you, Ram, you make me so proud and happy I can’t even begin to express myself.” She got up and hugged him.
     “Oh,” her cheeks began to flush, “I’m sorry. I got a bit carried away.”
     “Nothing to be sorry for. As I’ve said many times, I’m just happy to help in any way I can and I can’t think of a nicer thank-you than what you expressed a moment ago. But you’d better not let Paul see you expressing your gratitude that way. He might get the wrong idea.”
     “Not a chance of that. As a matter of fact, given the opportunity, he might hug you, too.”
     “On that note, I think I'll get out of your hair to let you do your work. Unless there’s something else?” He stood.
     “I don't know of anything else. If anything comes up, I'll be sure to call.”
     “You do that,” Adam said as he left the office.
     
     Adam arrived at Sunset Village at twelve thirty on Wednesday. A lot of the snow had melted, leaving all the streets clear. He had to go through a double door with a waiting room where, after hours, residents had to enter a password to gain entrance. During the day, however, the second door remained open. He walked right up to the front desk.
     It took a few moments for Amy to finish with the paper she’d been reading and notice him. “Ram, nice of you to come. Audrey should be finished eating soon. I’ll take a quick look in the lunch room to see how soon.” She got up and strode with an actress’s purposeful gait through an open door to a room, he guessed, housed a lunch room. It did, because a few moments later, she wheeled a corpulent woman with long, straight, white hair to the desk. Both ladies smiled.
     “Audrey, this is Ram. He’s here to interview you about the Undress Inn.”
     “I know that,” she said in a high, squeaky voice that belied her bulk. “I ain’t totally around the bend yet. Would you mind wheeling me to my room, young man?”
     “Of course not, Audrey,” Adam said, grabbing the handles of the wheelchair Amy relinquished to him. “It’s all right if I call you Audrey, isn’t it?”
     “If we’re going to be friends, you’d better call me Audrey.”
     “Certainly, Audrey.” Adam turned, pushing the wheelchair down the long hallway Amy indicated.
     “This is my room,” Audrey said after they’d traveled through about half the hallway.
     “Would you like me to help you into bed or, perhaps, one of the chairs?” Her room had several upholstered chairs that looked reasonably comfortable.
     “Not necessary. I’ll sit here. But you can sit there.” She pointed a frail hand with bent, obviously arthritic fingers to a chair that would allow Adam to face her. “Now, what would you like to know?”
     He took out a pad and pen and set his small, digital recorder on the arm of the chair. “Is it okay if I record the interview?” he asked.
     “That’s all right. What would you like to know?”
     “Why don’t you start at the beginning? I heard your mother, her name was Ivander, I believe…” He looked at her and waited for her answer.
     “It was, but everyone called her Ivy.”
     He wrote the name down. “Okay, so Ivy and another woman took it upon themselves to drum up business for the Cat House in a rather daring way.”
     She nodded and smiled. “It wasn't totally their idea. Business was down so Thomas, the Cat House owner, told them to think of something. My mother suggested advertising their wares in the Snowbound Inn. He thought it was a good idea so they did it.”
     “Who else was with your mother?”
     “Her best friend, Kitty Sheridan. That’s only what Mom called her. Her real name was Kathryn.”
     “So your mother and this Kathryn snuck into the Snowbound Inn dressed as waitresses.” A glimmer of a notion had started to jell in Adam’s mind, but, until he could find the time to concentrate, it would no doubt remain unformed.
     She nodded. “Their boss had dresses that made them appear to be waitresses. I wasn’t ever told where he got them. I’m not sure if Mom even knew.”
     “Okay. They’re in the inn. What happened then?”
     “The inn had a stage for shows because they sometimes held reviews, had a singer, and the like. Without any announcement, the two of them simply went up on the stage and started taking off their clothes.”
     “Didn't anyone try to stop them?”
     “It was mostly men who were in the restaurant. Mom told me there were only two women. Apparently they threw food at my mother and Kitty, but they didn’t try to stop the show.”
     “So your mother took off all her clothes?”
     “She did. It wasn’t the first time the two of them had been naked in front of most of those men. Most were customers from before. Mother was real pretty back then. She wasn’t fat like me.”
     Adam didn't know what to say to that comment, so he ignored it. “So, most of the customers had visited the Cat House before. Is that what you're saying?”
     “Yep.”
     Adam waited a beat for her to continue and then asked, “So now Ivy and Kitty are standing on the stage naked. What happened next?”
     “John, the owner, came out and took them to a room behind the kitchen.”
     “Was he upset?”
     “No. He was happy. He asked them to do it again the next night. He paid them what a customer normally would have paid.”
     “May I ask how much that was?”
     “Two dollars. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a long time ago. Besides, they didn’t have to share with Thomas, the Cat House owner.”
     Adam nodded. “So they went back the next night.”
     She nodded. “And there were more men than the first night.”
     “Did they keep going back?”
     “John hired them away from Thomas and they went back every night. He paid them six dollars a night. Plus, they were still doing their other business on the side.”
     “And Thomas let them do that?”
     “Mom said she didn’t think he knew. She thought he would’ve been mad if he’d known.”
     “So what finally happened?”
     “The women in town got mad at the men. They didn’t care if the men visited the Cat House, but they didn’t want their men to see Mom and Kitty in the restaurant.”
     I honestly don’t see the difference myself, Adam thought. “And,” he prompted.
     “John was told to either fire them or he’d be shut down.”
     “So the ladies got fired?”
     She nodded.
     “Did they go back to the Cat House?”
     She shook her head. “Kitty had a steady customer that asked her to marry him, so she did.”
     “So she married one of her customers?”
     “Yep. His name was Arkin, Frank Arkin.”
     The light suddenly dawned as bright as any morning sunrise. The name Kitty had been tickling his subconscious and now he knew why. Kitty Arkin was the original owner of the house he now rented.
     “Did they move away?” Adam knew the answer to this question, but he believed in being thorough.
     “No. Arkin was rich and he had a fine house in town. Besides, he didn’t want to leave my mother.”
     “What do you mean? Was he still visiting her on the side?”
     “No, but he liked it when Kitty and Mom danced for him. He paid her to keep dancing until he got tired of her.”
     That’s an interesting tidbit, Adam thought. “Then what did she do?”
     “One of her customers heard she was on her own and, consequently, he asked her to marry.”
     “So she married one of her customers, too.”
     She nodded. “Daddy was Nathan Leech and he was a wonderful man.”
     “What happened to him?”
     “He died about twenty years ago. He left me a house, but I had to sell it to come here.” She leaned over slightly and whispered, “I don’t really like it here much, but Amy’s a nice girl.”
     “What's wrong with this place, if I may ask?” He took her lead and whispered as well, although there wasn’t anyone around to hear. “Don't they take good care of you?”
     “The care is okay, but I’m used to a big house. I don’t like living in such a small space. But I guess it’s alright for now ‘cause I probably won’t be around much longer.”
     He shook his head. “Now let's not have that kind of talk. You look quite healthy to me.” He didn't feel a little lie would do any harm. “By the way, did Kitty have any children?”
     She nodded. “She had a son. He died in a coal mine a long time ago. She also had a daughter who had a son, Kitty’s grandson. I hear he lives in Charleston.” She whispered conspiratorially again, “She wasn’t married.”
     “So her grandson would be an Arkin?”
     “That’s right. Steve Arkin, I think.”
     “Did you have any children, if you don’t mind my asking?”
     “I did. I had a daughter.” She tittered slightly. “She lives in Canary House now. I think it’s funny she lives where her grandma used to work.”
     “Oh? I used to live in Canary House. What's her name? Maybe I know her.”
     “Her name is Dolly. She’s kind of fat, like me.”
     “I do know her.” He knew that Livinia's friend Dolly was Audrey’s daughter since she’d been introduced to him originally as Dolly Leech and Marti had told him Dolly was Audrey’s daughter.
     “She’s a nice girl but I don’t see her much now. She has problems getting here. She doesn’t have a car anymore. Any more questions? I’m getting kind of tired.” Adam had noticed her head had started to droop a bit. True to his word, he would conclude the interview. Besides, he thought he had all he needed to write the column.
     “No, ma'am. I think I have all the answers I need. Is there anything else you want to add?”
     “Not that I can think of.”
     “If there should be anything I think of that I need, might I come see you again?”
     “Of course. I won’t be going anywhere, at least not as long as I remain among the living.”
     Once again, he didn’t feel comfortable bantering words on that topic, so he left it alone. “Okay, I'll be going now, then.” She waved slightly as he exited the room. He thanked Amy on his way out of the building and told her he’d see her at play practice.
     Adam spent the rest of the day writing up his notes on the Undress Inn. It had been an interesting tale, to say the least. He had to admit, the thing he found most interesting turned out to be that he now lived in the house once owned by Kitty Arkin. He edited and reedited his story until he felt satisfied. Stopping at the Tweet, he tossed the copy on Larry’s desk. Larry quickly scanned the copy with his practiced editor’s eye.
     “Cute story. It ought to make a good column. You got it posted on your blog yet?”
     “No, I thought I’d do that tomorrow. I have play practice tonight and I’m on my way to pick up Marti.”
     “Can I hitch a ride with you?” Judy had stuck her head in the room. “My car’s in the shop.”
     “Sure. Are you ready?”
     “I am.”
     They walked out of the office together.
     
     Adam made sure Debbie updated everyone that night about the progress of the theater. She mentioned that Rupert had emphasized he still felt the theater could be finished on time for the Christmas presentation.
     
     When the people of Canary Corners and surrounding areas opened their papers or went to the Tweet’s website the next morning, they immediately saw, and no doubt read, the following article:
     “Ram's Ramblings on the Undress Inn”
     The following story was given to this reporter during an interview with Ms. Audrey Leech. It was related to me that the inn that is currently known as the Undress Inn was originally known as the Snowbound Inn and its new name was coined because of a rather unique event.
     In a previous article written by this same reporter, the story was told of the Canary House that originally was the Cat House, a bordello. Apparently when business at the Cat House was slow, the owner asked two of his ladies to come up with some way to perk up the business. These two ladies, Ivy Leech, Miss Audrey Leech’s mother, and her friend Kitty Sheridan, thought advertising their wares in a public forum might be just the thing to bring business back to the Cat House.
     Thus, the two dressed up like waitresses and snuck their way into the Snowbound Inn during a men’s meeting one evening. The inn did, and still does, have a small stage, and much to the men’s surprise, amusement, and delight, suddenly they were being entertained by Ivy and Kitty taking off their waitress uniforms. Many of the men had been customers of the ladies in the past, so they might have been surprised by these antics, but were probably not shocked.
     The owner of the Snowbound Inn enjoyed the show himself and invited the ladies back again and again until they became a fixture at the inn. Naturally, wives being what they are, they put pressure on their husbands to get the show stopped and eventually the city council proclaimed that either the show cease its run or the inn would be forced to close its doors. The owner of the inn was enough of a businessman to know you don’t fight City Hall, especially when the force behind the scenes is made up of angry wives.
     The owner of the Snowbound Inn had been searching for a new name for the inn because of the negative connotations the name evoked. Thus, during one of the last nights the show was still being performed, a man in the audience jokingly suggested the name be changed to the Undress Inn and from that day forward, the Snowbound Inn was no more and the Undress Inn was born.
     Respectively submitted for your edification and reading pleasure by Robert Adam Madigan.
     

Chapter 5

     On Thursday afternoon, Adam called Addison Marsden, the realtor who’d originally gotten permission for him to temporarily move into his rental house. “Good afternoon, Addison,” Adam said.
     “Ram, nice to talk to you. Is there a problem?”
     “No. I simply have a question.”
     “Shoot.”
     This isn’t the real question, Adam thought. “Did you read my column in the Tweet this morning?”
     “I did. I’d heard about the way the Undress Inn got its name, but I didn’t know the whole story.”
     “My question relates to one of the people mentioned in the column.”
     “I think I know where you’re headed and, to answer your question, yes, Kitty Arkin was the original owner of your house. The last owner was Rebecca Arkin, her daughter. Rebecca was never married, though she did have a son. A bit of a scandal back in the day, as I understand it.”
     Adam nodded. He knew about Kitty’s grandson because Audrey had mentioned him. “Correction. She was the original owner of the house I’m renting.”
     “No. I spoke correctly. As a matter of fact, I’m glad you called because I was just about to call you. I received some paperwork I’d been expecting from Charleston. Steve and Miranda Arkin have signed the house over to you. Or, more precisely, they’ve signed the house over to the foundation. Steve is Rebecca’s son.”
     “Why in the world would they do that? The house was up for sale for $350,000, even though I think it’s worth a lot more.”
     “That’s precisely what I asked them when they called on Monday. It seems that Steve did quite well in business and they don’t need the money. They didn't have any children, so there would be no one to leave an inheritance to. In addition, Miranda is very religious and she, as you might expect, doesn’t approve of what Steve’s grandmother did for a living before she married Mr. Arkin. Not to mention that Steve was born out of wedlock. Thus, she thinks any money that comes from anything owned by Kitty or her daughter is tainted, so she wants to receive nothing for the property. As a matter of fact, she was donating the rent you’ve been paying to charity. In addition, she’s heard about the good work you’re doing with the foundation, so she wanted the foundation to get the proceeds from the sale of the house.”
     What an odd thing for anyone to do, Adam thought, regardless of the reason. “That’s rather…”
     “I know,” Addison interrupted. “It’s pretty unbelievable. But I’ve got the paperwork in front of me to turn the house over to the foundation. All it needs is your signature. Of course, that’ll obligate the foundation for the taxes on the property.”
     Adam looked around the living room. I like this house, he thought. His eyes came to rest on the dogs. Bagel would really miss the backyard. I think I’ll stay for now. “That’s all right. The foundation will be able to cover the taxes and then some, because, at least for the time being, the foundation is going to continue to rent the house to me. But the one in charge has suddenly decided the rent will be going up.”
     Addison chuckled slightly. “So you’re raising your own rent?”
     “I am. I think it should’ve been higher to begin with.”
     “Out of one pocket, into another, as it were.”
     “I guess you could look at it that way, but I never touch the money once it’s been given to the foundation. And Debbie earlier let me know she’s received a couple of rather large donations in today’s mail.”
     “That’s not surprising. I guess word is getting out about all the good the foundation is doing.”
     That’s it, Adam mused. “I guess it is. But I’ll let you go. That way you can come over here and I can sign the papers. If that’s okay, of course?”
     “Sure it is. Be there in a few.”
     
     Marti answered the phone on the first ring. “I was just getting ready to call you. What’s up?”
     I’m going to love this, Adam thought. “You mean besides the fact that I love you.”
     “Yes, besides that. By the way, I love you, too.”
     “I’m glad. You remember when I told you that I had ‘sort of’ bought this house?”
     What now, she wondered. “I do.”
     “Now I ‘sort of’ own it.” He really did enjoy teasing her.
     “Again with the ‘sort of.’ How does one ‘sort of’ own a house?”
     “Believe it or not, the Rambling Foundation owns it, or will in a short time.”
     “So the foundation’s buying it?”
     “Not exactly.” He smiled to himself.
     “Will you just come out with it and quit beating around the bush?”
     “Don't want to play, huh?”
     “I've got papers to grade so, no, I don't want to play.”
     “Sorry. I didn't realize it was Petulance Day. I didn't mean to waste your time.”
     “All right. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be short with you.”
     “Okay. What happened is that the foundation was given the house, free and clear. At least it will be as soon as I sign the papers.”
     “Oh really. How did...I'm sorry. I really would love to hear all about it, but I've just got so much work.”
     “All right. I'll let you go. I'll talk to you tomorrow night.” He hung up without giving her an opportunity for more comment. He knew that had been rude of him, but he couldn't help himself. She’d made him at least slightly mad. He found it a tough pill to swallow, knowing that her work seemed to be more important to her than he or the information he had to impart.
      A few minutes later, Addison arrived with the papers for Adam to sign. In short order, the foundation had become the new owner of Rebecca Arkin’s house. After Addison left, Adam called Debbie to make sure she hadn’t left the office yet. She hadn’t, so he told her he’d be right over with a surprise but wouldn’t give her any more information than that.
     A few minutes later, he walked into Debbie's office.
     “So, what's up, Ram? You were rather evasive on the phone.”
     “The foundation is now approximately $400,000 richer.” He liked to play verbal games with Debbie, too.
     “In addition to the $300,000 I received in the mail this morning?”
     “Absolutely.” He sat in the chair in front of her desk.
     “And exactly where did this money come from? Did you get a check that wasn’t in the mail?” She looked at him, confusion wrinkling her brow.
     “Did you read my column this morning?”
     “Of course I did. I thought it was a requirement of the job.”
     “Very funny. You know, of course, about the house in which I'm living.”
     “I do.”
     “Well, as it turns out, the house had been originally owned by Kitty Arkin, one of the ladies responsible for the new name of the Undress Inn.”
     “One of the two—um,” she looked at the ceiling, “shall we say, strippers?”
     He nodded. “That’s right. Kitty had a son but he died long ago. She also had a daughter who wasn’t married but had a son. When Kitty’s daughter died, she left the house to her son. Apparently, Kitty’s grandson and his wife don't need the money. Besides which, the wife is religious and thinks, based upon what Kitty did for a living originally, anything that had been owned by her is tainted. So, she doesn't want anything to do with any of the money that might be realized from the sale of the house. They’d heard about the foundation and how Trimble had given his money to us; consequently, they decided the best thing they could do is donate their house.”
     Debbie shook her head, picked up a check, waved it in the air, and dropped it so it floated back to the top of the desk. “I guess the old saying ‘when it rains it pours’ is true. This time it's raining money.”
     Cute display, Adam thought. “And you have a problem with that?”
     “Of course not. That only gives us that much more money to do good with.”
     “It does.” Adam tossed his copy of the papers Addison had him sign on Debbie's desk. “I guess I'll need you to file these mortgage papers. Can you take care of the property taxes and all that?”
     “Of course I can. I know the assessor and all the people in the county tax office. There won't be a problem.”
     “I'm going to continue to rent the house for the time being. Rent is two thousand dollars and is due at the beginning of the month. You can transfer the money out of my personal account into the foundation’s account on the first of every month.”
     “Two thousand a month? Isn't that a bit steep, especially when you're the one who sets the amount of rent?”
     I think I can afford it, he thought. “It's twice what I was already paying and I’m happy to pay it. It's not as if I can't afford it and I like what we're able to do with the foundation's money. So, I thought a little more might be useful.”
     She spread her hands as if in submission. “You're really unbelievable, Ram.”
     “I'll take that as a compliment.”
     “I certainly hope so. That's the way it was meant.”
     “Got anything else for me, Debbie?”
     “Not right now. If something comes up, I know you're only as far away as your cell phone.”
     “Okay, then, I'll leave you to it. I'll go see what kind of mischief I can get into.” He used the edge of her desk for balance as he got out of the chair.
     “Oh sure. That'll be the day.”
     I think I could manage quite easily, he mused. “I'll give you a holler on Monday to see if there's anything I need to come into the office for.”
     “That'll be fine. Have a great weekend.”
     “You, too,” Adam said over his shoulder as he started down the stairs.
     
     Adam didn't talk to Marti that evening because she didn't call him and he didn’t feel it was his place to call her. He knew he was probably being foolish and he certainly didn't want to lose her; he’d realized he really did love her, but he couldn't help how he felt. He didn't sleep well that night, tossing and turning because of the guilty feeling about how he treated Marti, though he still didn’t feel totally unjustified.
     He waited until seven thirty to call her. He knew she’d be up and ready to go to school. She let the phone ring four times before she answered. “Hello.” Her tone could only be interpreted as cold.
     “I know you’re getting ready to go to work, but can we talk for a minute, please?”
     “I wasn't sure you'd want to talk to me after your attitude last night.”
     He almost snapped back at her, but he’d prepared himself. “I'm sorry about that. It was I who was being petulant. It's the male in me that thinks I should be the center of everyone's universe.”
     “So, we’ve discovered another way that you’re a typical male.”
     “Guilty. Now can we get past this?” Please, he thought.
     “If you can forgive me for not making you the center of my universe.”
     “What will be my reward if I do?”
     “We'll just have to see about that now, won't we?”
     “Can I bribe you with some roses? It worked once.”
     “That really isn't necessary, Sweetheart. But I’ll never say no to roses.”
     His heart soared when he heard her call him “Sweetheart” again. He hadn’t been sure whether that would ever happen again after the previous night. Perhaps it had become time to put aside his male paranoia and realize she really did love him and, like all people in love, they were bound to have their minor disagreements and arguments. Such things went hand in hand with being in a relationship.
     “Necessary or not, I want to salve my conscience.”
     “I was just as guilty as you were. Should I buy you some roses?”
     “You can. But I'd rather you apologize in a more physical way. Not that I’m saying you have anything to apologize for.”
     “That's all right. I do. But you do have to understand that my work in important to me. Just as reporting is important to you. So important, in fact, that you’ve risked your life several times. At least my job doesn't require putting myself in danger.”
     “I don't know,” he joked, “I’d consider getting in front of a room full of students every day a rather brave thing to do.”
     “Only if you don't know how to handle the situations that’ll inevitably come up.”
     “I guess that's good training for being with me or any other man.”
     “Perhaps you're right. Men are rather dangerous. And speaking of danger, I'm going to tread dangerous waters and tell you I've got to go because I've got to finish getting ready for school.”
     “Touché. But, before you go, can I see you tonight?”
     “Are you asking me out on a date, sire?”
     “I am, my lady.”
     “In that case, I’ll expect you at six thirty.”
     “I shall be there with alacrity.”
     “Just be sure you’re here on time. Bye for now.”
     “Bye.”
     
     Adam stopped by Flo's Florist about four thirty. He didn't want to get the flowers too early, but he didn’t want to wait too long and miss Flo altogether.
     “Hello, Ram,” Flo said when he walked in. Flo belonged to the theater troupe and had become a member in the cast of A Christmas Carol. She was also Monica Swarthmore’s sister. “What did you do wrong?” She smiled.
     “I want you to know it's not true that the only time men buy flowers is when we do something wrong. Although, this time, you're right.”
     “Want to talk about it?”
     “No. But you can give me some advice. What color rose symbolizes ‘I'm sorry’?”
     “That opinion varies by person. I've heard that yellow is supposed to be for that, but it all depends on who you talk to. I do know that red symbolizes love, so I don't think you can go wrong with red.”
     “Okay. Do you have two dozen red?” Love symbolization should work, he mused.
     “I'm sorry, I don't. Not nice ones that are fully opened, at least.” She remembered he liked to buy ones that were fully opened.
     “How about a dozen red and a dozen yellow then?”
     “That I have. Personally, I like red and yellow together. I think it makes a nice bouquet. Let me see what I have.” She walked to the cooler, coming back with a vase containing a dozen yellow roses, which she sat on the counter.
     “Very pretty,” he said.
     “Just a minute and I'll add the red.” She disappeared into a back room and returned with a dozen dark red roses that she added to the vase. Then she took some baby's breath and ivy from another vase on the counter.
     When she’d finished with the arrangement, he said, “You really are an artist. I'm sure Marti will love them.”
     “I hope so. As I said, I think they go well together. Do you want to add a card?”
     “Of course.” He picked one with a red rose on the front and wrote the following verse inside:
     
     Partly yellow and partly red
     I'm very sorry for what I said.
     I love you more than words can say
     I hope these roses my feelings convey.
     
     All my love, Ram
     
     She put a holder in the vase and handed him the tiny envelope for the card. He put the card in the envelope and handed it to her to put in the holder.
     He handed her a hundred dollar bill. “Keep it.”
     She looked slightly embarrassed. “I couldn't. This is way too much.”
     “Please. I really appreciate your help.” He didn't bother mentioning the fact that the money meant almost nothing to him.
     “Okay, if you insist. But...”
     “No buts. I'm just happy to help struggling business people, especially pretty and friendly ones.”
     “Now stop that or I'll tell Marti.”
     
     When Marti answered Adam's knock, she smiled when he handed her the vase of roses. She sat it on the table, and hugged him fiercely.
     “There's a note,” Adam said.
     “I noticed, but this was more important.”
     “I can't argue with that logic.”
     “Come in and I'll read the note.” He did and she did. She wiped a small tear from the corner of her eye. “You don't need to give me roses to convey your feelings for me. As they say, 'Actions speak louder than words.’” She grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the bedroom.
     Now what do I do, he thought, but he plunged right in. “Now I'm going to tread dangerous waters. I love what you have in mind, but I hate to admit that I'm hungry. This time for food. I'm hungry for you, too, but if I'm going to expend a great deal of energy, I figure I’d better eat to fortify myself.”
     Now she tried for a hurt look, which she betrayed as false by her small smile.
     “I told you I was swimming in dangerous waters, but I really am hungry and I promise to make it up to you later in spades.”
     “Okay, if you're sure.” She gave him her most provocative look.
     “That kind of look may cause me to change my mind.”
     “You're not getting out of Sweetwatering and dining me now.”
     “And where would you like that dining bribe to be done?”
     “How about shrimp at the Mason Jar?”
     He didn’t even have to think twice about that suggestion. “Sound good to me if I get to have a piece of coconut cherry pie as well.”
     “Darling, you can have anything you like.” She gave him a come-hither look again.
     “Now cut that out, at least until later.”