One Lump or Two - Chapter Sixteen

They stood outside the lovingly maintained Mission style building, erected just 12 years previously, and surveyed its arched portico and welcoming arched windows.
“Do I really have to go in there? What if someone sees me?” Stella protested.
“You may as well get used to it now. Research is a big part of an inquiry agent’s duties, junior or otherwise.”
The moment they entered the edifice, they were greeted by the apple-cheeked, smiling face of Mrs. Hume, the town’s librarian. She’d held her post since the first library was opened in 1886 as part of the Reading Corner of the Old Parlor, just a few blocks from the library’s newer Central Avenue location. She nodded to them with lively eyes, her hands folded on the counter before her.
“How do you do?” Penelope whispered reverently. “I’m Miss Price—”
Mrs. Hume’s eyes widened and her lips flapped without producing sound. Penelope’s reputation had preceded her.
“… and this is my assistant, Miss Parker.”
“Just Stella.”
The woman tapped her nametag and adjusted the sweater draping her shoulders.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Hume,” Penelope said nearly inaudibly.
Mrs. Hume put a finger to her lips, adjuring Penelope to be quiet.
Penelope nodded in understanding. “We’re looking for information on the Bohemian Club,” she said in the tiniest whisper possible.
Mrs. Hume cupped her hand around her ear.
“We’re looking for information on the Bohemian Club,” she repeated, just a fraction more loudly.
Mrs. Hume tapped her forefinger to her lips several times and scowled, indicating Penelope was being too noisy.
When Mrs. Hume failed to give an answer, Penelope tried again, in a voice as low as the first time. “We’re looking for information on the Bohemian Club.”
Again, Mrs. Hume put a hand to her ear.
Stella turned her back to Mrs. Hume and stared at a gum spot on the ground in an effort not to laugh.
Finally, Penelope wrote down the request on a scrap of paper.
“Yes, I heard you the second time,” Mrs. Hume whispered deafeningly. “Right this way. You’ll find what you’re looking for in the newspaper section. We pride ourselves on the accuracy of the Butterfly Bugle.”
The patrons seated in the library covered their ears as Mrs. Hume passed.
Remembering how she herself had been depicted in that publication, Penelope whispered faintly, “Are there any other sources we could consult? Perhaps a book or two?”
Mrs. Hume raised her finger to her lips. “Just one. Bohemian Jinks written by Porter Garnett in 1908,” she rasped.
Penelope nodded affably, following Mrs. Hume as she wound a serpentine trail around the library stacks.
“Here it is,” Mrs. Hume shouted, her voice reverberating through the aisles.
“Thank you,” Penelope mouthed silently.
Mrs. Hume frowned and furiously tapped her forefinger to her lips.
Penelope found a table at which to sit and gestured for Stella to do the same. As Penelope flipped through a few pages to determine if the book might be of merit, Stella fidgeted in her chair, pulling her eyebrows out as a show of dissent. Finally, Penelope turned the book toward her to get her to stop wiggling.
“Look, Stella! A description of a place called Bohemian Grove, where the club’s clandestine meetings are held. What do you think? Should we borrow the book?”
“Does it mean we’d be getting out of this mortuary?”
Stella grabbed the tome and sprinted to the front desk.
“Your library card, please.” Mrs. Hume bellowed so loudly Penelope heard her from back in the study room.
“My what?” Stella said.
Penelope strode to the desk, producing one of her new calling cards. Mrs. Hume opened drawers, wrote in notebooks, and engaged in a variety of clerical tasks that were requisite to complete the copious amounts of paperwork needed to obtain a Pacific Grove library card.
“Would you like me to get that notarized?” Penelope asked sarcastically, putting a finger to her lips thereafter to preempt Mrs. Hume’s shushing of her.
Mrs. Hume looked to the heavens to ponder the notary question for a moment, then shook her head no.
Several minutes later, Penelope and Stella emerged from the building, book and library card in hand.
“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Penelope asked.
“The worst!” Stella objected. “I’m scarred for life.”
“Nothing a fruit phosphate can’t cure, I should think.”
“I have heard tell that phosphates may contain much needed medicinal properties,” Stella answered drolly.
Penelope regarded the exchange as a victory in getting Stella to warm to her.
A short walk later they were seated at the local soda fountain. They sat elbow to elbow in rapt silence, sipping their drinks as they scanned for interesting passages in the Bohemian Jinks book.
“Looks to me like a bunch of grown men pretending to be gods and fairies and putting on plays in the forest,” Stella said.
“They do seem to do a lot of that,” Penelope responded, flipping ahead through the pages. “I find it fascinating how it all began with men in the arts. I wonder how my grandaunt fit into it all.”
“You really think you can learn enough about the club to figure out who killed Dan before your trial next week?”
Penelope shook her head. “No, definitely not. I sense there is a great deal more to this club than Mr. Garnett may have described in his book,” she said, closing the volume with a discouraged sigh. “Come on. We better get you home before your mother objects.”
* * * *
“How did it go?” Penelope called as she walked into the house. “… Hello?”
“Huh? Oh, ciao,” Paolo said, rousing from a deep sleep on the parlor chaise.
“Zara?” Penelope asked.
Paolo shrugged.
“Zara, you here? … Probably taking a bath,” she said to herself as she walked up the stairs in search of her friend. “Where the deuce can she be? Certainly it can’t take that long to ask a policeman a few simple questions.”
Her search proving fruitless, she went to her own bedroom to change out of her courtroom attire. She was about to put on a casual day skirt and blouse when she decided to go straight to her nightgown.
She didn’t realize she’d fallen asleep while reading Bohemian Jinks until she heard the front door close. Bleary-eyed, she careened down the hallway and stairs to see who had come or gone and what she’d missed.
Zara stood in the entryway, removing her cloche, tousling her hair, and swinging her fringed shawl off her shoulders and onto the hall tree.
“Surely it can’t be as late as that,” she said, noting Penelope’s bedwear.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of putting in the energy to change twice. I’m simply exhausted from this whirlwind we’ve been caught up in. Where’s Paolo? Did you two go out?”
“Wasn’t he here when you arrived?”
“Yes, but that was hours ago. Are you two not just getting home?”
“From where?”
“From wherever it is you’ve been.”
“I was interviewing Chief Harrison. Remember?”
“Yes, but that was eons ago. What have you been doing since?”
“Nothing. I just got home.”
Paolo knocked over an empty bottle as he rolled over on the chaise where he’d been sleeping unnoticed by Penelope and Zara.
“Should we wake him so he can go up to bed with you?” Penelope said.
Zara sat on the hall tree’s seat and removed her shoes, stretching her feet and moaning appreciatively. “Actually, we had a talk, and Paolo agreed that he should sleep downstairs for now … Don’t want to risk the appearance of impropriety while you’re fighting for your life.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you two,” Penelope said, picking up the empty bottle and inspecting it. “Looks like Paolo already broke your pledge of propriety.”
Zara got up and took the bottle from Penelope, giving it a hearty sniff. “Whewy that is strong! I’m betting he’ll be out ’til morning.”
Paolo let out a long whistling snore and rolled over the other way. Penelope motioned for Zara to follow her into the kitchen.
“You mean Paolo wasn’t with you?” she said, opening the Kelvinator to take out a bottle of milk. “I’m confused.”
“You know for someone so smart,” Zara said, sliding into one of the kitchen chairs. “I went to interview the chief … and just got home. That’s all.”
Penelope’s eyebrows elevated. “Oh? Based on the hour, I take it he had a lot to say?”
“Not so much really,” Zara replied, gazing far off and playing with one of the crystals that dangled from her ear as Penelope retrieved a tin of dark chocolate powder from a cupboard and placed a saucepan on the stove to prepare hot cocoa. “We laughed most of the time … and talked about our favorite moving pictures and music. He even sang to me a little,” she added, tilting her head and clasping her hands to her chest, a look of innocent delight softening her glamorous features.
“Why, Minnie Clark!” Penelope exclaimed, leaving off stirring the cocoa to regard her friend.
“Oh hush … and keep stirring,” she replied, adopting her usual world-wise demeanor. “Now tell me how you made out with Stella.”
“You mean Stella who has dispensed with her last name, just like you?”
“Has she now? I knew I liked that girl.”
That girl, as you call her, idolizes you. So you better mind your Ps and Qs and set a suitable example.”
She poured the cocoa in a pair of mugs and put them on the kitchen table, making sure to check she’d turned off the gas burner. She then sat down, then got up to re-check the stove, twice.
“I’m trying,” Zara said with a demure smile, holding the cocoa mug in both hands and blowing on the dark creamy liquid to cool it.
Penelope narrowed her eyes and stared at her oldest friend, convinced Zara was up to something.
“Now, tell me, did you find anything at the library?” Zara said.
“Surprisingly, yes! A book about Bohemian Grove.”
“Ooh, Bohemian Grove—I like the sound of that.”
“It’s a secluded area in the redwoods where the artistically-inclined members of the club stage theatrical presentations.”
“P, you just have to get me into that club!”
“I have to get myself in first … or I should say, I have to ensure I’m not going to prison, first.” Involuntarily, Penelope yawned.
“You’re awfully blasé about going to prison!” Zara jested.
“Hardly. I just don’t think I can keep my eyes open any more.”
“Let’s turn in then,” Zara said, getting up from the table as Penelope checked the stove burner one final time.
“Have you made any plans yet for tomorrow?” Zara asked as they ascended the stairs.
“I thought we’d head into the tearoom. It feels like years since we’ve been there. I hoped we could conduct our interviews there. Unless you think it odd.”
“Makes sense to me. I don’t know if you were planning on opening the tearoom back up for regular business—”
“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea until the case is settled.”
“Good to hear, because Walter said you’re not allowed to under the circumstances.”
“Who said that?”
“Walter … Chief Harrison.”
“I see. You know, you needn’t cozy up to the chief of police on my account, Z.”
“Who says it’s on your account?” Zara said with a grin, turning on her heel to enter her bedroom.
* * * *
Just as Zara had predicted, Paolo was still asleep on the chaise when the ladies met downstairs for breakfast the next morning.
“Should we wake him?” Penelope asked.
Zara nodded. “Absolutely. I’m betting we could use his help at some point. And I don’t want him to drink the day away.” She then called to him, gently nudged him, shouted at him, and roughly shook him.
“Incredible,” Penelope said, looking at the unfazed sleeper.
“I know what will work,” Zara said. “I’ll be right back.”
She put on a pair of mule slippers and walked out the front door, still wearing her red silk kimono robe.
“Zara, you can’t go out dressed like that!” Penelope cried.
Zara slid the kimono off a shoulder.
Penelope gasped and covered her eyes. When she heard the door close she opened her eyes again and turned to regard Paolo “Still asleep.”
While waiting for Zara, Penelope prepared a pot of coffee and started composing a list of food items to purchase for the house. Zara walked in a minute later.
“Frying pan, please,” Zara said, smiling mischievously. “This should do the trick.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to hit him with it!” Penelope said.
“Hit him with it? The way your mind works … You sure you’re not a murderer?” Zara said, slapping into the skillet half a dozen rashers of bacon that she’d borrowed from the house next door.
As the meat began to sizzle and its odor fill the downstairs, Paolo stirred and made wake-up sounds. By the time the bacon was fully cooked, he was fully awake.
“Buongiorno!” he said, rubbing his eyes and smiling as he entered the kitchen to pour some coffee. “Mmmmm, bacon.”
“Now there’s an English word he knows,” Penelope said.
“Not exactly. It’s the same word in Italian,” Zara corrected.
Penelope chuckled and shook her head. “What are you going to do with this fellow?” she said jokingly, looking on as he burnt his fingers in his haste to extract the still bubbling bacon from the pan.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately,” Zara said, her tone serious.
“Oh! I didn’t realize …”
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Paolo yelped as he sat down at the kitchen table, tossing the searing bacon from one hand to the other.
“I’ve also been thinking about what you said about our living arrangements,” Zara said.
Penelope sipped her coffee wordlessly, wondering where Zara was taking the conversation.
“Now that I’m going to be a businesswoman,” Zara continued, “my lifestyle will be very different from the one Paolo signed on for. Poor thing is so bored, but he never complains. Still, it really isn’t fair to him …”
“Well, it’s nothing you need to solve today.”
“You’re right. The case is the thing we need to solve. Once that’s settled we can … reassess other things.”
“How very sensible of you, Z.”
“Don’t get excited. This doesn’t mean I’m going to run off and join the temperance league or lower the length of my hemline.”
“The thought never crossed my mind,” Penelope said, marveling at the unexpected changes in her friend.