One Lump or Two - Chapter Fourteen

“Pssst, Miss Zara … Psssst … Pssssssssssssst.”
Penelope awoke to the sound of Jimmy Matlin hissing.
“Who let the air out of that tire?!” Zara groaned as she put a pillow over her head.
“Wakey, wakey … Yooohooooooo.”
 “We’re awake, Constable Matlin, thank you,” Penelope said. “We’ll be up in just a minute … Come on, Z. Time to get a move on.”
“For cryin’ out loud. It’s the middle of the night,” Zara whined.
“No it’s not. It’s morning—the time of day when most people wake up.”
“But I’m not most people.”
“Do you want Florence Morgan to catch you pouting in that whisper of lace you call a nightgown?”
“I dunno. Might do her a world of good,” she said, smiling at the thought and rousing from her drowsy daze.
 Penelope dressed quickly, then began assembling the items brought by Hubert. “Z, there’s no milk or eggs. How can I make those cannibals without milk or eggs?” she said, her anxiety rising.
“It’s too early for a panic attack, and besides, they’re called kanelbulle,” Zara said, walking to the door. “Oh Constable Matlin, we need youuuuu,” she called in a melodious tone.
She’d scarcely gotten the words out of her mouth when Jimmy Matlin skidded up the hallway.
“Be a pet and get the eggs and milk Mr. Allen delivered, won’t you?” Zara said, poking her head between the cell’s curtains. “I believe they’re in the station’s icebox. There’s a good fellow.”
He ran dutifully to fulfill his charge.
“See? Another problem solved. That’s what I do, solve problems,” Zara said, changing out of her nightgown and into a celadon, sleeveless drop-waste tunic, and wrapping herself in a fringed Oriental shawl before sliding open the draperies and unlocking the cell door.
Jimmy was back in an instant, lithering into the cell and hitting the bowl of eggs against the bars of the door.
“Careful! You’ll break them!” Penelope shouted.
“She’s a little on edge,” Zara confided to Jimmy.
“Heck, I would be too if I was on trial for murder,” he replied.
Penelope snatched the bowl of eggs from him and said, “No one’s on trial yet. And even if I were, one is innocent until proven guilty.”
“Can I help?” Jimmy asked. “I still have two more hours left on my shift and sure wouldn’t mind having some of whatever it is you’re making for breakfast.”
“No, thank you,” Penelope said. “Yes, we’d love your help,” Zara said simultaneously.
“Hot dawg! Where do I start?” the constable asked.
“With this,” Zara said, seductively tying a ruffled apron over his coat shoulders and around his waist as he wilted in pleasure at her touch.
“Oh, all right,” Penelope snapped. “Just make sure not to get in the way.”
“Yes, miss,” he said.
“P, don’t forget the flower petals on top like last time. That was a big hit with the ladies,” Zara added. “A splash of lavender would look lovely, don’t you think?”
“What I think is that I first need to bake something on which to sprinkle them,” Penelope snapped.
“Coffee … that’s what’s missing,” Zara said, turning to make a pot.
The coffee pot percolated, filling the cubicle with its aromatic welcome to a new day as Penelope tossed ingredients into a bowl, grumbling to herself and checking and rechecking the recipe. “How can this be? It doesn’t say how long to let the dough rise,” she worried.
“That’s because it’s a yeastless recipe. You just roll it out and throw it in the oven,” Zara said.
“Z, you’re a mastermind!”
Zara raised her coffee cup in acknowledgement.
“All right then—I think that’s everything. Time to make some cannonballs,” Penelope said, mopping her brow.
“What can I do?” Jimmy asked.
“How about you stir it all together while I make myself a cup of coffee,” Penelope said, starting to relax.
“Builds strong arm muscles,” Zara said with a wink.
Jimmy began stirring furiously, and shortly thereafter proudly announced, “It’s all mixed together.”
“Good, now just roll out the dough, making sure to sprinkle a little flour on the board as well,” Penelope directed, sitting down and putting her feet up on a spare chair.
Jimmy carried out his instructions just as he heard them, and sprinkled a little flower on the board—specifically, the tiny petals from a sprig of lavender. “Done!” he exclaimed.
“That’s fine. Now just spoon out that bowl of cinnamon filling on top of the dough … nice and even, please,” Penelope said, enjoying her temporary respite from care and labor.
“You’re doing beautifully, Jimmy—a real natural,” Zara said, smiling and crinkling up her nose in a beguiling way.
“Okay, now what?” Jimmy said, working up a sweat in his heavy uniform and apron.
“Now we roll it up and cut it,” Penelope said, finishing her coffee and getting up to wind the dough.
“Good heavens! What have you done?!” she shouted, noticing the lavender bits on the bottom of the dough as she rolled it.
“I did just what you said,” Jimmy pleaded.
“But what is this?!” she said, pointing to the lavender.
“You said to be sure to sprinkle a little flower onto the board … and Miss Zara suggested using lavender,” he explained, perspiration dripping from his temples.
Penelope looked aghast at Zara.
Zara burst out laughing. “It’s true, P. We both did say that.”
“We don’t have enough ingredients to start over,” Penelope said as she frantically looked through the items on the table. “I’m ruined,” she said, dropping into a chair.
“Baloney. Just say you meant for it to turn out like that. I’ll tell Mrs. Morgan I’ve seen it done that way in Paris. Cinnamon lavender buds, we’ll call them.”
“Why buds?” Penelope asked indifferently.
“Because when you roll them they look like a flower bud. They’ll be a smash, you’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right,” Penelope said, returning to roll the dough.
“Aren’t I always?”
Penelope lifted an eyebrow in response.
“I notice you didn’t try to refute me—’cause you can’t,” Zara said with a grin.
“So then everything’s gonna be okay?” Jimmy asked, wiping his worried brow.
“Of course it is,” Zara said, patting his knee.
Penelope rolled up the lavender-crusted dough, sliced it, and tucked the rounds in a pan then placed the pan on the hot plate Hubert provided, covered the pan, and turned on the heat.
“Is that it then?” Jimmy asked, eager to be done.
“Just need to make the icing,” Penelope said, pouring confectioner’s sugar into a bowl.
“Would you like some coffee, Jimmy? You look like you could use it,” Zara offered.
“Never touch the stuff. Stunts your growth,” the below-average-height constable answered.
“I believe Mr. Allen brought some fresh orange juice as well. It should be in the ice box if you’d like some,” Zara said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, trudging down the hall still wearing the ruffle-edged apron.
“I think you wore him out,” Penelope said, smiling as she cut bits of butter and cream cheese into a bowl.
“Well if that’s all it takes,” Zara said, winking. “You doing all right, constable?” she asked as Jimmy slogged back into the room holding a frosty glass bottle of orange juice. “Here, let me pour you some. Why don’t you sit down?”
“This cooking is hard work,” he said, dabbing the moisture from his sideburns. “I don’t know how you womenfolk do it?”
“Neither do I,” Zara said. “How do you do it, P?” she said with a wry smile.
“With a very large wooden spoon,” Penelope said, threatening Zara. “Now where did I put the vanilla?” she said quietly, looking around the table.
“Here it is,” Jimmy offered enthusiastically, reaching to grab it and inadvertently toppling his orange juice flute into Penelope’s mixing bowl.
“For crying out loud, Jimmy!” Penelope barked. “Now you’ve wrecked the icing with your orange juice!”
“There was only a little left. I can try to spoon it out,” Jimmy said apologetically.
“Breathe, P. Breathe.”
“I’m fine,” she said with a huff, pushing the bowl away. “I don’t have my corset on yet.”
Zara giggled. “Well, you know what they say, ‘If you have a lemon, make a lemonade.’”
“Yes, but this is an orange,” Penelope replied, pouting. After a moment, she leaned forward and continued mixing the icing, sampling a little from a spoon when all the ingredients had been incorporated. “Not half bad,” she said, her eyes widening. “Try some.”
Zara put a finger in and licked the icing off salaciously for the benefit of Jimmy on whom she took pity. “Scrumptious! Try some, Jimmy,” she said, handing him an icing-coated spoon.
“Wow, this really is good!” he said, smiling brightly.
“Cinnamon lavender buds with orange icing … Yes, you’re sure to have Florence Morgan eating out of your hand … literally,” Zara said with a dimple-accented smile.
Jimmy and the jailbirds enjoyed a casual conversation as the buns baked on the hotplate, filling the stationhouse with their warm and inviting aroma. By and by, Penelope excused herself to the bathroom to don her corset. The table was cleaned off and a fresh cloth lain, and all was in readiness for Florence Morgan’s visit.
The tap of a parasol on the bars of the cell door indicated she’d arrived. Penelope and Jimmy jumped up, and Jimmy saluted, still wearing the apron.
“As you were, constable … Is this a new addition to your uniform?” Florence asked dryly, lifting the apron with the end of her parasol.
“No ma’am, I was just … My shift is over actually,” he said, removing the apron and tugging down on his coattails. “You won’t tell the chief, will you, Mrs. Morgan?”
“I don’t see there’s anything to tell,” she said matter-of-factly. “Now what is that enticing smell I noticed upon entering the building?”
* * * *
The interview with Florence Morgan went relatively smoothly, owing in great part to the beneficence and determination of Mrs. Morgan herself who spoon-fed Penelope the questions she should ask. Zara was tasked with taking notes, and Penelope was in charge of interrogation. Neither was particularly competent in her position. Zara became far too engrossed in Florence’s answers to write anything down, and Penelope lacked diplomacy, often asking questions that were indelicate and making statements that were blunt and off-color. All was forgiven thanks to the success of the breakfast buns.
“Miss Price, you are a savant!” Florence said as she accepted the basket of leftovers Penelope wrapped up for her to take. “Lavender … and orange! Who would’ve concocted such a pairing with the humble sweet roll. I am mightily impressed.
“The board of the YWCA is meeting at my house this morning to vote on a matter close to my heart, and I believe your pastries may be the very thing needed to swing the vote in my favor. In fact, I think I shall use them as tools of bribery, or would it be blackmail?” She tittered to herself, shocked at her audacity, then whispered, “Not the thing one should say in these environs.” She then saluted with her parasol and snuck out of the cell, still giggling.
A few moments later, she returned. “One more thing—a piece of advice, if you’ll allow me. Miss Price, I am aware you’ve been employed as a bookkeeper and have an eye for detail when it comes to facts and figures.”
“Yes, Mrs. Morgan?” Penelope queried.
“And you, Miss Zara, while I don’t know if you have ever been employed, or in what capacity, I notice that you possess tact along with keen and subtle powers of persuasion … especially where the opposite sex is concerned.”
Zara nodded tactfully.
“I believe you, Miss Zara, would be best suited to asking the questions and Miss Price to logging the answers. That is my advice … as a paying client. Good day, ladies,” she said, tapping her parasol twice on the floor and turning on her heel.
Penelope and Zara stamped their feet and squealed in celebration until they heard the words, “Good morning, Mrs. Morgan,” from a male voice down the hall.
“Oh no! The chief!” Penelope said, feverishly trying to hide the evidence of their breakfast meeting.
Chief Harrison read the Tea and Sympathy Investigative Agency sign hanging on the cell door, looked to the ground, and covered his mouth for a moment, striving with all his might not to laugh. 
“Good morning, Chef Harrison,” Penelope said as she stood at attention, looking painfully guilty.
“Chef? Looks more like you’re the chef,” he said, taking in the myriad changes in décor since his last visit.
Zara handed him a pastry and a cup of coffee laced with a splash of milk.
“You read my mind,” he said, accepting the treats. He then looked into the cup and asked, “How did you know how I take my coffee?”
Zara shrugged enchantingly and sat down, acting more modest and demure than she normally did around men.
Chief Harrison, I can explain—” Penelope began.
“Save your breath, Miss Price. You’ll get to do plenty of explaining to Judge Houston. He’ll be returning from his fishing trip mid-day.”
Penelope took a deep breath, stood tall, and extended her wrists for shackling. “I’m ready.”
He chuckled. “Well Judge Houston is not. He’ll see you at his bench at nine tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, sir,” Penelope said, placing her unmanacled wrists behind her back before the chief changed his mind.
“You’ll need a business permit for that you know,” he said, raising his coffee cup toward the Tea and Sympathy sign.
“For the sign?” Penelope screeched.
“I believe he means for the business, P,” Zara said.
Chief Harrison nodded while taking a swig from his coffee cup.
“Yes sir, right away,” Penelope said. “Shall I make an appointment with you now?” she added nervously.
“Just come down the hall when you’re ready … which reminds me, do either of you have Jimmy Matlin’s keys?
Zara produced the key ring and held it out for the chief.
“Why don’t you hold onto them, Miss Zara. You probably keep better track of them than he does … Ladies,” he said, holding his cup aloft and moseying back down the hall.
Zara sat down and began touching up her makeup and hair.
“Whew, that was a close one,” Penelope said, fanning herself with a tea towel.
“Not at all, I told ya he’s a teddy bear.”
“More like a grizzly, if you ask me … Where are you going?”
“To get that business permit, of course. We want to prove we’re conscientious businesswomen who handle things promptly, don’t we?” Zara said, dropping her shawl just below her shoulders and sashaying down the hall.
Penelope looked on in bewilderment, then set to cleaning up the multi-purpose table that served as a kitchen, dining area, and detective office. A few moments, later Stella showed up.
“What’s cookin’?” the junior detective asked, inhaling the lingering scent of the baked goods.
“Cinnamon lavender buds with orange icing,” Penelope said absentmindedly, handing one to Stella.
“Whats? … Say, where’s Zara,” she asked, her mouth full as she devoured the pastry and helped herself to another.
“In with Chief Harrison.”
“He giving her the third degree?” she asked as she poured a mug of coffee and sat Indian style in one of the folding chairs.
“Beats me.”
“I was kidding. I don’t even think he knows what the third degree is.”
“I can’t figure him out,” Penelope said, shaking her head bemusedly.
“Don’t you have other things to figure out … like who killed Dan?”
“Good point, Stella. You know, you’re a very level-headed young lady.”
“I am? Gee, no one’s ever called me that before,” she said, smiling through a mouth ringed with orange icing. “So … where do we start?”
“I’m guessing you start by going to school. Aren’t you late for class?”
She shrugged. “It’s a science class and since our teacher Mr. Gould says time is relative, I decided to take him at his word.”
“You’re too clever for your own good,” Penelope said, folding a piece of paper into an envelope on which she wrote the words: Mr. Allen. “Here’s something you can do—take this to your godfather, please.”
“What is it?”
“It’s sealed, that’s what it is,” Penelope said, giving Stella a cautioning look.
“And what do I do after that?”
“You go to school. You may come visit after all of your classes today, if you like. I should have something that will be of interest to you by then, but not before then. Do you understand?”
“Yes, commander,” Stella said half-heartedly, holding the envelope up to the light to try to make out its contents.
“Stella,” Zara said with a nonchalant nod as she entered the cell, fanning herself with a folded sheet of paper.
“Zara,” the girl mimicked.
“Stella was just leaving for school,” Penelope said.
“Get her!” Stella said, pointing to Penelope.
“Good!” Zara said.
“Don’t tell me you’re becoming a fire extinguisher too!” Stella said to Zara.
“Nothing of the sort. We need eyes and ears at the school. Take note of anything unusual your classmates say about the night Dan perished.”
“Oh … well when you put it like that …” Stella said.
“Remember, anything unusual,” Zara said, swiping her forefinger across her nose in solidarity.
“Gotcha,” Stella said, returning the gesture and departing.
“Mrs. Morgan was right,” Penelope said. “You have a knack for this work. What was that you were fluttering in your hand, by the way?”
“Oh, nothing—just the business permit for the Tea and Sympathy Investigative Agency,” she said with an exaggerated air of superiority.
“So fast? How did you—”
“Nothing to it. I told Chief Harrison what I wanted, he filled in the paperwork, we chitchatted about this and that, and voila!”
“Voila, indeed!” Penelope said, viewing the document with admiration. “Excellent work with Stella, by the way. I think she believed every word.”
“So did I! Once I said it, I realized it actually made sense!”
“Now, let’s see who we can interview today. I want to get as much done as possible before I appear before the judge tomorrow.”
“P, you do realize he’s only going to set your bail tomorrow. It’s not your trial.”
“Yes … I just want to be prepared is all.”
“Cara mia!” Paolo gushed as he breezed into the cell and covered Zara with kisses.
“Not in front of Penelope,” she said awkwardly.
“Dove … tu?” he asked, holding his hands in the air and shaking his head in confusion.
“Where have I been?” Zara translated. “Why here, of course. I couldn’t get home. You have the car, you know.”
He looked at her enquiringly. She pointed to him and then made the gesture of steering a car, “Tu … auto.”
“Ohhhhhhhh,” he said, at last comprehending she’d been stranded at the police station without him or the car. “Bacio,” he said, placing a finger on his cheek, requesting a kiss.
She kissed his cheek in what Penelope regarded as a sisterly sort of way.
“Notizie?” he asked.
“Notizie? I’m afraid I don’t know that word. Non capisco,” Zara said loudly.
“Uh, informazioni?” he said.
“I think he’s asking if we have any news … new information?” Penelope said.
“Si!” Paolo said, pointing to Penelope in confirmation.
“A little,” Penelope said.
Zara made a hand gesture with her forefinger and thumb to indicate a small amount.
“Chi,” he said, then made a slash across the throat gesture, “Dan?”
“Who killed Dan? We have no idea,” Penelope said, shaking her head.
Paolo pulled Zara in close to him and squeezed her, indicating he would keep her safe. She stood rigidly in his arms.
“What say we get back to work, eh?” Zara said.
“Yes, let’s. Now, who’s on our list of interviewees? … Zara, I can’t read these notes at all.”
“All the more reason you should be the scribe and I the voice.”
“Why do I suddenly feel like Watson to your Holmes?”
“Because I smoke a pipe, would be my guess.”
* * * *
The ladies worked diligently to piece together what they knew about whom and how it all tied together. They didn’t get far.
“We need to get our questions down pat,” Penelope said. “We want to ask where each person was between the time I last saw Dan and the time he was found dead at the tearoom.
“I wouldn’t lead with that,” Zara cautioned. “You’ll make people defensive out of the gate.”
“Fair enough. That’s where your diplomacy comes in. We should also ask how each person knew Dan, what their relationship was like, if they knew of any reason anyone would want to harm him or if he had any enemies.”
“I’m with ya.”
“We should really practice. Shall we start with Paolo?”
“We can try, but I wouldn’t expect too much.”
Zara did her best to pantomime the questions to Paolo as Chief Harrison noted when returning his empty coffee cup to the cell. He took his time, remaining for a moment to observe her entertaining antics as she mimed wildly and to no avail.
“He knows bupkis,” Zara finally said, collapsing in a sweat from her inquiries and attendant gymnastics.
“Mangia?” asked the ever-hungry Paolo.
“Yes, si, mangia, why not!” Zara said in frustration.
“Z, why don’t you and Paolo swing by the tearoom and collect the perishables. We’ll see what we can throw together here on our hotplate.”
“But what if you need me? We can just send Paolo, and I can stay here with you.”
“No, no. I’ll be fine. I’d like to have some time alone to cogitate anyway.”
“All right … if you’re sure.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now you two lovebirds run along. I have lots to work out.”
“Venga,” Zara said, beckoning Paolo to follow—more in the manner of a master commanding his dog than a lover inviting her paramour to steal away with her.
As Zara and Paolo exited, Penelope gleefully took out her yarn and knitting needles. “I’m going to figure you out, and I’m going to figure this case out. Mark my words,” she informed the spool.
Penelope pondered a variety of topics as she sat and knitted. The ones that kept creeping to the forefront of thought were the Bohemian Club and Hank. She hadn’t seen much of Hank in recent days, following weeks of seeing him daily, and she unreasonably feared that during the interim he might have forgotten who she was altogether. Her stomach knotted, and she presumed she was in need of food. Her contemplations did nothing for her knitting that began to take the shape of a short twisted ladder of haphazardly woven overworked wool.
‘Knit one, pearl two … more like knit two, unravel one,” Penelope said aloud as she wrestled with her project, pulling it this way and that in an effort to flatten the stitches into submission.
“Back so soon?” she asked as she heard Zara and Paolo approach.
“We’ve been gone well over an hour,” Zara said. “I tried to explain to Paolo that he could go home if he’d like since you and I will just be talking shop and he’d be bored to distraction. But whether the language issue or the lure of a hot meal, it looks like he’s staying.”
“Tu … cucina … mangia ... Italia?” Penelope said to Paolo in very broken Italian. “You cook Italian food?”
“Italia?! Si!” he cheered, his eyes lighting up at the prospect. Immediately he tied on an apron and began peeling tomatoes.
“Looks like you’re not the only problem-solver in this company,” Penelope crowed.
“Not bad, P,” Zara said approvingly. “So, any revelations in my absence?”
“Yes, I can’t knit,” Penelope said.
Both chuckled.
“While I was gone I did some thinking as well,” Zara said. “And I believe the sooner we get to the bottom of this business with the secret society, the better.”
“I agree. I wonder who else in town is a member.”
“So far we know about Aunt Dee, Hubert, and Hank. We should really interview Hank,” Zara said.
“I wonder if Dan Cooper was a member,” Penelope said, trying to change the subject to hide her excessive interest. “Perhaps his death has something to do with the club.”
“You mean maybe he let leak that they sacrifice virgins or something of that ilk?”
“I certainly hope not! Euuuff! You gave me the chills!”
“Sorry, P. I’m just being dramatic.”
“Unless they actually do do that sort of thing.”
“We definitely need to interview Hank … and soon.”
* * * *
After preparing a Bolognese sauce, Paolo made pasta noodles from scratch, kneading the dough, cutting it, twisting it and pulling it into long tendrils that he dropped into boiling water. He then prepared a simple salad of greens, cucumbers, and cheese with an oil and vinegar dressing he carelessly tossed together. When he was done with the preparations, he lit the candelabra, laid the food out, and drew the curtains in order to cut down on the amount of light in the room, beckoning the ladies to join him at the table.
“Oh Paolo, this is beautiful!” Penelope said. “I wish I had a photograph.”
“I wish I had a jug of wine,” Zara said wistfully.
After the meal, Penelope surreptitiously collected her toiletries and said, “I know you two haven’t had much time together the way you’re accustomed to. I apologize for that. Why don’t you enjoy some privacy and the candlelight. I’m going to take a bath.”
“Don’t let us run you out, P,” Zara called out as Penelope walked down the hall to the bathroom.
The police station boasted several showers in one room and a single bathtub in another. Penelope was grateful to have some real privacy away from the steady stream of visitors and even Zara. She knew she should be worried that she was in jail and about to be arraigned on murder charges, but somehow, it didn’t faze her. What weighed far more heavily on her mind was the thought of the Bohemian Club and their rituals—rituals in which Hank may have participated.
When Penelope returned to the cell she found Paolo had gone.
“What, no dessert?” she joked.
“Not tonight,” Zara replied. “I told Paolo my head was killing me and sent him home. I don’t think he was too happy about it.”
“Everything all right, Z? You haven’t seemed like yourself the last couple days.”
“I must be catching something. I feel a little off … Like I said, headache and all. Mind if we call it an early night? It’s been a long day.”
“Oh … ehrm, by all means. I forgot you’re not used to getting up when the clock points to the single numbers in the morning.”
“That’s when I’m used to getting my night started,” she said with a wan smile.
“I’m actually rather tired too. Will you want to sleep in late tomorrow morning to get back on your usual slugabed schedule?”
“No. I think it’s time for me to try a new regimen. Besides, your arraignment is at nine.”
“It certainly is,” Penelope said with an apprehensive sigh.
After performing their evening constitutionals, both crawled into their cots and turned off the lights.
“Aren’t you forgetting something, Z?”
“Ah yes, that’s right,” she said, getting up to draw the curtains for maximum coverage, and locking the door of the cell.
A few minutes later, Penelope spoke. “You still awake?”
“… Maybe.”
“I just wanted to tell you … I love you, Z.”
“You’re okay in my book too, P.”
The friends closed their eyes and enjoyed the silence.
About ten minutes later, Constable Matlin arrived on the scene, trying the cell door. “Pssst, Miss Zara … are you in there? … Yoohoooooo.”
They both held their breath until his fading footsteps suggested he was gone, then burst into a short fit of giggles. Soon they were quiet again and both drifted off to a deep sleep.