One Lump or Two - Chapter Thirteen

“Well hello, Hubert,” Zara called as she passed him in the hallway when returning from her questioning session with Chief Harrison. “Were you expecting him?” she asked Penelope as she entered the cheery cell.
“No, but per usual, he was absolutely invaluable. How ever would I get on without him?”
“Hiya, Zara,” Stella said casually, hiding her giddiness about her appointment to the detective team.
“Will ya look what the tide washed in,” Zara remarked to Penelope, wagging a thumb toward Stella.
“I’ll thank you not to mock my junior enquiry agent,” Penelope said.
“So she dragged you into this too?” Zara said to Stella, taking a seat and lighting a cigarette.
“Yessiree. Took an oath and everything.”
“How did the interrogation go?” Penelope asked, fiddling with her fingernails in nervousness.
“I had a ball. Did you know he is an avid gardener? He grows his own fruits and vegetables and blue ribbon flowers. He even sings in a barbershop quartet! Isn’t that the quaintest thing?” Zara said, smiling wistfully.
Penelope stared at her, dumbfounded. “You do know I was referring to your talk with Chief Harrison.”
“Mmmm hmmmm,” Zara vocalized as she took a long drag from her cigarette wand.
“As in grumpy, curt, volatile Chief Harrison,” Penelope said.
“Actually he’s exceptionally jovial and convivial,” Zara said, her dimples fully activated.
“Everybody in town loves him. He’s just unpleasant with you,” Stella told Penelope.
Penelope sunk into her tufted armchair. “How did I get so fortunate?”
“Miss Price?” Vincent said, approaching the cell and gesturing for Penelope to walk with him.
Penelope stood and smoothed her skirt. “Time for the Spanish Inquisition. Wish me luck.”
“Luck!” Zara said, still smiling.
“She’ll need more than luck,” Stella whispered.
To Penelope, the walk down the short hallway to the chief’s office was never-ending. She found the fall of her feet to be uncommonly loud, and she noticed her steps kept time with the rhythm of her pulse. The pounding of her heart became ever louder, and she was certain Vincent could hear it too. She wondered if it made her appear guilty. The story of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart came to mind, causing her heart to race ever faster, and she convinced herself she was headed straight for the firing squad.
Unable to corral her crazed fear, she came unhinged and dropped to the ground screaming. “Vincent, I didn’t do it! I swear on my parents’ graves! Tear up the floorboards in my house and you’ll see … there’s nothing there!”
Cringing with embarrassment, Vincent lifted her by the arm and spoke quietly. “Of course not, Miss Price. No one thinks—”
“Chief Harrison does,” Penelope blathered, backing up against the wall in the foyer and working her tongue to produce saliva so she could speak. “But I didn’t chop up Dan and bury him under my floor. You have my word. God strike me dead if I’m lying!”
“Thank you, Mr. Caruso,” the chief said, coming out of his office to subdue Penelope. “That will be all.”
“Yes sir,” he said, walking away quickly should Penelope undergo another outburst.
“Actually, one more thing, Caruso,” the chief called out, holding open his office door for Penelope. “Won’t you take a seat, Miss Price,” he said gently to her. “I’ll be right in.”
Vincent stood up straight and turned around, nervous as to what might be asked of him. “Yes, sir?”
“I think we’ll be needing some tea … and some of those little English biscuits I like … Do you like English biscuits, Miss Price?”
She nodded from her chair.
“Extra biscuits, Caruso … and chocolate. I recently read that dark chocolate can pacify any crisis. Perhaps our soldiers should have shot chocolate balls instead of cannon balls in the war. I dare say we’d be a sight better off today.”
Vincent smiled. “You got it, sir.”
Chief Harrison’s calming tone and light remarks helped Penelope to breathe normally again. He was an enigma in her eyes, soothingly warm one minute, icy cold the next, and she never knew whether to expect—a Jekyll or Hyde—when she faced him.
He waited for Vincent’s return before entering the room in order to give Penelope time to compose herself.
“I see you’ve been making the most of your stay with us, Miss Price,” he said, carrying the tea tray delivered by Vincent. In the absence of a clear space to set it, he placed it precariously on a tall stack of papers on his small desk. “You’re sure to win the Department of Corrections’ blue ribbon for most attractively decorated cell,” he joshed, endeavoring to put her at ease.
“You really think so? Why that’s the best news I’ve heard in, well, far too long,” she said, the timber of her voice rising in joy.
He smiled sympathetically at her—the way one does when dealing with the gullible and clueless.
“The credit goes to my dear friend, Zara,” Penelope explained, considering herself exceptionally cunning for shifting the blame for the unconventional cell décor to Zara since the chief and Zara appeared to have established a rapport.
Chief Harrison opened his mouth to respond, but decided against it. Instead, he took to reading and flipping pages in a folder labeled with Penelope’s name. For the first time, she really looked at him. He was middle-aged, balding, had a bulbous belly, and his eyes laughed rather than smoldered—not at all Zara’s type, and yet, he had made Zara smile in a way Penelope had not seen in a very long time—maybe ever. By all accounts, Walter Harrison was one of the most admired and beloved citizens of Pacific Grove, the man who played Santa Claus at the yearly Christmas festival and took in stray animals.
He never married, as the love of his life had broken his heart, and for years he’d devoted himself to his beloved widowed sister who lived in town. Just a year prior, she came down with an extreme case of dropsy that rendered her bedridden for months until she succumbed to congestive heart failure. The chief took off work to be by her side, nursing her, feeding her.
Since arriving in Pacific Grove, Penelope had heard nothing but worshipful praise for Chief Harrison. So then why was he always so gruff and nasty with her?
“Do you know why you’re in jail, Miss Price?”
“Because Dan Cooper was the last person to see me alive.”
“Excuse me?”
“I mean, I was the last person to see Dan Cooper alive … As far as you know.”
He lowered the file and looked at her over the rims of his reading spectacles. “Tell me again about your last conversation with him.”
“Well,” she said, clearing her throat exaggeratedly as she tried to recall. “Everyone had just gone home the night before.”
“The night before what?”
“Our grand opening. We’d all had a long day and knew we had another one ahead of us come morning.”
“Fascinating. Pray tell, is there more?”
“Well … Mr. Cooper hung back to go over the plan for him to pick up ice in Monterey the next morning …” Penelope stopped, remembering their conversation, her nervousness turning to sorrow.
“Anything else, Miss Price?”
Penelope gulped back her emotions. “He told me how thankful he was for the job and how much it would help his family get back on track.”
“Just what do you mean by ‘back on track?’”
“I believe he had been having difficulty finding work following the closing of his saloon.”
“Is that what you believe?” the chief said, his words colored with mistrust.
“Yes, sir. That’s all I know. I’ve only been in town for about two months—”
“Sure have stirred the pot a whole lot in only two months. Tell me, why did you have to leave San Pedro? Did you run into trouble with the law there too?”
“No! Just the opposite!”
“Are you suggesting you were above the law?”
“Not at all! Chief Harrison, I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You seem to have a view of me that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
“That’s too bad. I viewed you as a respectable businesswoman. Are you saying that’s not the case?”
“No, I’m saying I … I plead the fifth amendment of the United States of America,” Penelope declared in desperation.
“Chief?” Vincent said, knocking on the office door and poking his head in.
“What is it, Caruso?”
“Mrs. Jarvis called. Little Georgie got his head stuck between the bars of their wrought iron fence again.”
“Can Bill at the firehouse handle it?”
“His wife said he’s taking a nap.”
The chief looked at his wristwatch. “Like clockwork,” he said with a chuckle. “Tell Mrs. Jarvis not to worry. I’ll be right there … oh and tell her to rub some lard around Georgie’s neck and ears.”
“Yes, chief,” Vincent said, closing the door again.
“Looks like duty calls,” the chief said. “I would ask someone to escort you back to your cell, Miss Price, to ensure you didn’t try to escape, but with that Taj Mahal setup you’ve got going, I doubt you’re in a hurry to leave.”
He then opened the door and walked out, leaving Penelope in his office. She yearned for nothing more than to rifle through the paperwork on his desk in search of clues, but she knew she’d just be digging her own grave if she were caught doing so. After glancing around the room hunting for clues, and finding none, she trudged back to the cell.
“Isn’t he a teddy bear?” Zara gushed.
“A real sweetheart,” Penelope said sarcastically, more confused than ever by the paradox Walter Harrison represented.
“Did he ask you about your hobbies and what books you like?” Zara said.
“Didn’t he ask you about Dan Cooper or the night of his death at all?” Penelope responded.
“Sure he did! He asked me how I knew Dan, how I know you … how I know Paolo and how Paolo knew Dan et cetera … and all the other things he’d tried to ask Paolo but couldn’t because he got fouled up by the language barrier.”
“And what did you tell him?” Penelope pried.
“Stella, be a peach and grab me a glass of cool water from the station’s icebox?” Zara said.
“Sure thing, Z,” she answered, skipping from the cell.
“Whaddaya think, I told him, fraidy-cat?!” Zara said quietly. “I told him we’ve been like sisters since we were toddlers. I told him how I came to know Dan when you employed him at your shop a month ago or whenever it was. I told him that I didn’t see Dan after I left the night before the grand opening. I told him how I met Paolo in San Francisco a few weeks before coming to town and how he and I literally bumped into one another in Little Italy and how he offered to buy me a drink to make up for running my stocking … how Paolo had just arrived in America days before I met him and since he was looking for work and I was looking for a driver, we pooled our resources, so to speak, and have been together ever since.”
“I didn’t know that’s how you met Paolo.”
“It’s not,” Zara said with a sweet smile.
“But that’s perjury!” Penelope whispered loudly.
“More like banana oil … Okay, so maybe I embellished the truth a little regarding Paolo, but the real story is no one’s business, and it really has no bearing on Dan’s murder.”
“Incredible,” Penelope said, shaking her head. “Did the chief ask you anything else?”
“Yes, he also asked me how well I knew Hubert Allen and Elsie Davies, you know, the gossip gal from the local paper. I found that odd.”
“Uncle Hubert is odd!” Stella said, delivering the water.
“Thanks, doll,” Zara said, accepting the glass.
“Stella, if you don’t mind my asking, what exactly is the source of his accent? I’ve never heard anything quite like it,” Penelope said.
“Simple. It’s not an accent at all,” Stella said.
“Coulda fooled me,” Zara said, handing the glass of water to Penelope.
“It’s like this—Uncle Hubert was deaf as a kid, and when he learned to talk he got the sounds ee and eh ferhoodled. When he was older he got hearing aids, but he’d already locked in the weird way he talked and it stuck. Just a few years ago some doctors fixed him up with some sort of new surgery and now his hearing’s better than a bat’s. Gotta be careful what you say around him; he hears everything!”
“Interesting,” Penelope said, pondering. “I wonder if he’s heard anything that can help us determine what happened to Dan … Did you two get anything out of Vincent?”
“Not a blasted thing,” Stella said, pouting. “He’s so annoyingly professional—such an eagle scout.”
“How are we ever going to find a suspect in this town of fine upstanding citizens?” Penelope fretted.
Stella snorted. “Are you kidding? There are more dirty secrets in this town than tea leaves in China.”
“Really? Do tell,” Zara said, pulling a chair close to Stella and handing her a bear claw.
“Not until after you’re sworn in as an agent,” Stella said with a puckish smile, tearing a large bite off of the pastry.
* * * *
Having grown up in Pacific Grove, Stella had a lifetime of opportunities to become privy to the confidences and scandals of the town’s residents. Zara and Penelope were so rapt by Stella’s tittle-tattle, neither thought to take notes, which was just as well since the information was too damning to risk leaving in print, casually laying around.
First off, the neophyte junior detective had plenty to say about Dan. “He was one real egg. And things were just ducky for him and Lily before Volstead. They were hittin on all sixes alright. Then everything got all balled up and he more or less went the way of a bindle punk and Lily threatened to take the ankle biters and blow. It’s not like Dan was a lollygagger—not at all! He just couldn’t find anything to bring in kale the way he used to, to keep Lily sitting pretty. It was that high hat Elsie Davies who gummed up the works—she was always grungy when it came to Lily. Lily practically got the bum’s rush for running up PG tabs without scratch. That’s when Dan became grummy but bad. And so, finally, he started up a drum to bring in the clams.”
Zara nodded, taking it all in.
Penelope sat motionless for a moment or two, then at last said, “I beg your pardon?”
Stella mentioned a few more details and Penelope asked for an aspirin. Zara explained to Penelope the gist of what Stella shared: that Dan Cooper was just as fine a fellow as they believed him to be. When Dan’s livelihood dried up with Prohibition, and he was unable to find steady work, Lily threatened to take the children and move in with her parents back in Missouri if he didn't do something—not just anything—but something that brought in enough money for her to live the quality of life to which she’d become accustomed. She refused to economize and charged up outrageous debts with the local vendors—especially Allen’s General Store. Everyone knew that Lily’s attitude was a product of Elsie Davies’ insidious influence. Lily wasn’t greedy or uppity, but she was weak, and fell prey to Elsie’s machinations. Desperate, Dan did the only thing he could think of to save his family. He opened a speakeasy.
“Are you certain all of this is true?” Penelope asked. “Or just frivolous clishmaclaver?
“Of course, I’m sure! I used to sneak into The Pig—”
“The Pig?” Penelope interrupted.
“The Blind Pig,” Stella and Zara said in unison.
“The Pig was what he called his speakeasy,” Stella said.
“Whatever for? That’s an awful—”
“It’s a common term in the trade,” Zara said as Penelope looked at her with concern. “I’ll explain it all later. Go on, Stella.”
“Like I was saying, I used to sneak into The Pig every Saturday night after my parents knocked off for the night. What was Dan gonna do? Tell ’em he’d caught me at his illegal drinking hole?”
“Bootlegging, that’s a serious charge!” Penelope admonished.
“So’s murder,” Stella deadpanned.
“Touché, Stella, touché,” Penelope said. 
In Stella’s estimation, what was perhaps most upsetting to Dan was the fact that someone had died at his speakeasy from the lethal effects of home-distilled alcohol that was smuggled into the club unbeknownst to him. Though Dan was in no way culpable, the memory of a 22-year-old flapper expiring in his arms haunted him. Stella was there that night and witnessed the tragedy.
“White lightning killed that dumb Dora, pure and simple,” Stella opined.
“Lightning? Indoors?” Penelope said. “How is that possible?”
“Ya know, coffin varnish, busthead,” Stella clarified.
Penelope looked at her vacantly.
“Come on … horse liniment … strike-me-dead?” Stella continued, becoming exasperated by Penelope’s lack of comprehension.
“She means dangerous, probably homemade, bootleg liquor,” Zara translated.
“At first I thought she’d just had a few too many belts and was blind,” Stella recounted.
“Good heavens! Dan served liquor to a blind girl?” Penelope said.
“No … blind as in bent … ya know … zozzled?”
“Drunk,” Zara told Penelope.
“But then she just up and croaked,” Stella said. “Butt me, Z?”
“Not a chance. Chief Harrison would most likely throw a fit if he caught you with a cigarette in your hand under his roof.”
Stella folded her arms and scowled.
“And no doubt he’d blame me,” Penelope added.
Zara and Stella both nodded in concurrence, and Zara turned her cigarette wand toward Stella. “Just one puff,” the seasoned flapper said to her subordinate.
Stella took a long drag, then divulged how after the fatal incident with the girl at the speakeasy, she had ongoing rows with Dan every time she showed up on site. Dan feared for Stella’s safety and was insistent she stay away from the place. 
In the course of Stella’s report, it came out that Florence Morgan had been drinking on the sly for years—more so since the constitutional ban on intoxicating beverages passed. Florence had enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner from the time she came of age and wasn’t able to get to sleep without it—and didn’t intend to try. The wine drinking in itself would not be deemed reprehensible were it not that she had been a vociferous advocate for the temperance movement, and that sort of hypocrisy would seriously undermine Mrs. Morgan’s standing as matriarch of the community.
Stella further revealed that Elsie Davies suffered from a condition called bulimia, though Stella had never heard it discussed. She’d simply witnessed Elsie emptying her stomach on several occasions without Elsie’s knowledge. As for Elsie’s relationship with Dan Cooper, she had been his chief champion when he owned the saloon. He made a lot of money at the time and was able to provide nice things for Lily, along with footing the bill on extravagant dinners and outings for Lily and her best friend Elsie.
Additionally, he was able to provide the reporter an ongoing supply of loose-lipped, liquor-induced confessions from late night patrons—just the sort of thing a gossipmonger like Elsie thrived on. But when the saloon closed its doors, and Dan was no longer a top businessman or of use to her, Elsie changed her tune and reviled him, encouraging Lily to leave him for her own sake and reputation. Elsie’s behavior was, in short, superficial and self-serving.
Throughout the course of the conversation, Stella mentioned that Vincent had inadvertently become a track star when in high school. She divulged that his incentive to run fast had nothing to do with excelling in sports and everything to do with escaping the clutches of his hot-tempered, violent father.
With each new seed of information Stella shared, Penelope and Zara inched their chairs closer toward her until they were practically sitting atop her.
“What can you tell us about Hank?” Zara asked when Stella ran out of things to say.
“That Joe Brooks plays it close to the vest,” Stella said.
“What about how he’s dressed?” Penelope asked.
“All right, little bearcat, what say ya bring it down to a flat tire level, so Penelope can follow along, huh?” Zara suggested.
“Posilutely,” Stella said, giving Zara a knowing nod and wink.
Penelope sensed she may have been insulted, but didn’t want to bring it up and risk diverging from the topic of Hank.
“Most of the women in town are in love with him, but he hasn’t pursued any of them,” Stella disclosed. “If ya ask me, he has some sort of sadness hanging over him. I’ve never found out what it is. Your grandaunt Dorothea Tate most likely knew. They were thick as thieves.”
Penelope perked up. “Oh?”
“Yep, he talked to her more than he talked to anyone else in town … and of course they were in the Bohemian Club together … don’t tell him I said that. He doesn’t know I know. The club supposedly doesn’t exist.”
“The what?” Zara asked, her eyes alight with interest.
“It’s a local thing.”
“My sweet old grandaunt was in a secret club?”
Stella guffawed. “I don’t know what sweet old lady you’re talking about, but in Pacific Grove, your grandaunt was known as an explorer and adventurer. She was a real darb. Women were intimidated by her, and men wanted to be like her. That dame was one tough cookie! And boy, the stories she could tell! What a life she lived.”
“But I always thought those stories were pleasant fictions … works of her fanciful imagination,” Penelope said.
“Boy, you really didn’t know Dorothea at all, did ya,” Stella said.
“I knew there was a reason I always liked Aunt Dee,” Zara remarked, jumping up to ravage a bear claw as excitement coursed through her veins.
“Aunt Dee an adventurer? … And part of a secret society? …This is all too much to take in,” Penelope said, holding her head in her hands.
“Well better unloose that corset of yours, Penny. The road ahead is unpaved,” Stella proclaimed.
Penelope’s chin dropped, and Zara burst out laughing. No one had called Penelope Penny since she graduated high school. Penelope too began to giggle, and Stella joined in and laughed along with them, though she hadn’t the slightest idea what was so funny.
* * * *
Paolo returned from the Butterfly Café bearing a relish tray, Waldorf salad, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches, and triple berry pie just as Zara and Penelope were winding down their hysterics. He laughed along too, as he was used to doing whenever he didn’t understand what was being said.  Hubert Allen walked in shortly thereafter, bearing the sign Penelope had requested.
“My goodness, you’re efficient,” Penelope said, her mood ebullient after all Stella had imparted. “The sign looks marvelous, Mr. Allen. Won’t you join us for lunch? There’s plenty to go around.”
“That would beh spleendeed, Mees Price. I haven’t ehteen all day,” he said, taking advantage of the opportunity to keep company with Zara.
“But earlier when I offered you a bear claw, I thought you said you’d just eat—” Penelope began.
Zara cut her off so as not to embarrass Hubert. “Stella, go grab another chair from the waiting room, won’t you?”
Paolo dug in before Penelope had a chance to parcel out the food, while Zara supervised Hubert’s hanging of the Tea and Sympathy sign.
“Simply smashing, Hubert!” Zara said, clapping in approval.
Hubert gave her a pleased but uninviting grin, licked his palm, and smoothed down his few remaining strands of hair.
“What is it, Stella?” Zara said quietly as Stella returned with a chair, looking to the ground and wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
“Men,” Stella said under her breath.
“Did something happen between you and Vincent?” Zara asked.
“He says we’re making a mockery of the law,” Stella answered.
“I knew all of this decorating would get us into hot water,” Penelope remarked, getting up to strip the room of its ornaments.
“You know what Eleanor Roosevelt said,” Zara told Stella. “‘A woman is like a tea bag—you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.’”
“No, it’s not that,” Stella said, sniffing.
“No?” Penelope asked, ceasing her décor removal.
“Vincent says setting up shop as female detectives is an affront to the men and laws that protect our streets … and that we’ll just get in the way and officers will have to drop important work to ensure our safety.”
“Oh does he now?!” Penelope fumed, standing defiantly.
Zara burst out giggling.
“Just what’s so funny, Zara? He meant you too!” Penelope said.
“P, if I had a nickel for every time a man told me I couldn’t do something … We’ll get far more bees with honey than vinegar, trust me. Let ’em think we’re weak and ineffectual. That’ll make our jobs all the easier.”
“How so?” Penelope asked, sitting back down and taking a bite of her sandwich, the other half of which had been appropriated by Paolo when Penelope wasn’t looking.
“The men will let their guard down around us and possibly even do our bidding if they don’t view us a threat. Isn’t that right, Hubert?”
“Yees, Mees Zara. No man could say no to you,” Hubert said.
“Ya see, P?”
“All you have to do is appeal to their egos and they’ll sing like canaries and jump when you call … Say, Hubert, I just noticed what a fine suit you’re wearing today. Why, the cut makes you look so … ooh, what’s the word … virile … P, I’m having a sudden craving for an egg cream. Do we have the makings?”
Penelope shook her head no.
“Not to worreh, Mees Zara. I know wheere to geet one. I shall rehturn shortleh.”
“Aww, you really are a knight, Hubert. Thank you … and better make it four!” she cried out as he rushed from the building. “… See what I mean?” Zara said, leaning back in her chair with her hands behind her head.
“Remarkable,” Penelope whispered.
Stella applauded.
“Now, back to that secret society you mentioned,” Penelope prodded, eager to hear more about the town’s mysterious subculture.
“Oh yes, let’s hear more about that. Spill!” Zara said.
“Can’t right now. The warden at home will wring my neck if I don’t get back to do my chores. But I’ll come ’round tomorrow. There’s loads more to tell,” Stella said, ecstatic to know she was able to impress the ladies with her knowledge.
“Can't you stay ’til Hubert returns with the egg creams?”
“Nah, but that’s okay. I pass by the Butterfly on the way home and I’ll extort one from Uncle Hubert while he’s picking them up.”
“Smart girl,” Zara said to Penelope, nodding in the direction of Stella who disappeared down the hall.
“Smart and informed,” Penelope said, jotting down notes on the day’s conversation as Paolo quietly snatched the rest of her sandwich.
The intelligence Stella shared provided Penelope more questions than answers. From the time Penelope arrived in Pacific Grove and received the antiques store keys from Bernard Beekham, she had been on the go nonstop, never really taking time to assess or reflect on her new life or the new people in it. The conversation with Stella gave her much-needed insight into the inner-workings and motivations of the folks she’d been laboring alongside, and she desperately yearned to find out more, especially about the Bohemian Club and her grandaunt—and Hank.
A loud thud roused Penelope from her contemplation. Paolo had dozed off in his chair and fallen to the floor. He cursed under his breath as he stumbled to retake his seat.
“Poor thing. He’s not used to me getting him up before mid-day … well, not dressed anyway,” Zara said.
Penelope gurgled in disgust at the lascivious implication.
“Paolo, why don’t you go on home. I know this must be awfully dull for you,” Zara said in the loud voice she always used with Paolo, whose hearing was just fine.
He looked at her quizzically and raised his hands to signal he didn’t understand.
“Tu,” she said, pointing to him then pantomiming the steering of a car. “Casa.”
“Casa,” he repeated with a smile and hearty stretch. “Ciao, bella.” He grabbed the car keys, kissed her mouth rapaciously (as was their custom) then swaggered out the jail cell.
“Well if that isn’t catawampus,” Penelope said. “Paolo’s going home to our house to sleep while you and I spend the night in a jail cell.”
“And what a cell it is!” Zara cooed, jumping backward to sit on her cot, its featherbed enveloping her on either side.
“I’m with Paolo. I’m spent,” Penelope said, curling up on her cot and closing her eyes.
“Miss Price!” a woman’s voice boomed.
Penelope jumped with a scream and an involuntary flailing of limbs to see Florence Morgan standing at the cell door, her parasol firmly planted.
“I expected more of you, Miss Price!”
Penelope smoothed her skirt and hair. “Mrs. Morgan, I assure you, I had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of Dan Cooper.”
“Pull yourself together, Miss Price, and focus on the issue at hand. Your innocence is obvious—at least to me. I’m certain you understand I cannot patronize an establishment run from prison and owned by a felon convicted of capital crimes and facing the gallows.”
“Not to worry, Mrs. Morgan, I’m sure to be released eventually.”
“Eventually is not good enough! I will not have the proprietress of the town’s only tearoom incarcerated when she should be preparing for a coming-of-age tea dance I intend to host for Daniel Cooper’s eldest daughter, Margaret.”
“But isn’t she only twelve?” Penelope asked sheepishly.
“The fact that the reception will be held four years hence is not the point, Miss Price! The fact that I require your exoneration is the point. Now, I understand you are moonlighting as an investigative agent,” she said, tapping the Tea and Sympathy sign with the tip of her parasol.
“Yes, but I assure you it won’t interfere with the tea—”
If I may be permitted to finish?”
“Yes, of course, Mrs. Morgan.”
“You may have gleaned that your grandaunt, Miss Tate, and I disagreed on many points … many, many points.”
“No, I had no idea—”
But, we were both staunch promoters of the fair treatment of women. A single woman or widow should have the right to earn a living as much as a man.”
“Yes, ma’am?” Penelope said, having no idea where Florence was going with the conversation.
“That said, I would like to employ you and your Tea and Sympathy agency to investigate the death of Daniel Cooper, which I am aware has been determined conclusively to have occurred as a result of murder … Murder … here in Pacific Grove!”
“Don’t you think Chief Harrison is up to the task?” Zara asked, goading Florence into proffering her opinion of the man.
“I insinuated no such thing, young lady! I have nothing but the highest regard for Chief Walter Harrison. He is a man of uncommon decency, uprightness and charity. It is for that very reason I wish to employ you ladies.”
“I don’t understand,” Penelope said, her eyes glazing over.
“P, I think what Mrs. Morgan means is that Chief Harrison must uphold the letter of the law and adhere to strict rules of conduct … whereas … well … we, as civilians, may take far greater liberties.”
“But what—” Penelope interjected.
“Penelope was suggesting much the same thing just before you arrived,” Zara told Florence.
“Ohhhhhhh,” Penelope said, nodding slowly as comprehension dawned on her.
Florence opened her dignified pocketbook and produced a check already made out to Tea and Sympathy Investigative Agency.
“Oh, Mrs. Morgan, that’s very generous of you, but I can’t take your money, really,” Penelope said.
“Nonsense! I have made my thoughts on single ladies in business quite clear. And I fully intend to be your first paying customer. In fact, I insist on it. It’s the Panglossian in me, you see,” she said, holding out the check.
“I really don’t know what to say, Mrs. Morgan.”
“Say thank you, and that we’ll solve the case, P,” Zara said as she gracefully took the check from Florence’s outstretched hand and passed it to Penelope.
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Morgan. We’ll get you out of jail just as soon as we can,” Penelope said, her mouth going dry.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Not to worry, Mrs. Morgan,” Zara said calmly. “When she’s on the verge of a brilliant thought her mind outraces her mouth and she makes no sense.”
“Oh … I see,” Mrs. Morgan said, looking sideways at Penelope.
“Sign of a true genius, they say,” Zara added, escorting Florence from the room.
“One more thing,” Florence said, turning and facing Penelope.
“I am aware Judge Houston will be back in two days and that he will determine your bail. Rest assured, I will cover that cost, to ensure you are released and can vigorously attack the case. Until that time, we must see to it you have all that you need to work from here. I note your creature comforts have been handled,” Florence said, looking around the cell that increasingly resembled a bordello. “I will be here promptly at eight tomorrow morning for you to question me. At that time, I hope you will give me a list of the others you wish to interrogate and I will see them brought to you.”
“Oh … yes … that would be very helpful … uh … would you like any sort of refreshment?”
“Miss Price—”
“No, you’re right. A murder investigation is no place for tea and scones.”
“On the contrary. We are not huns, Miss Price. I suggest you wield some of your esculent magic and produce something worthy of my faith in you. I wish to inform my circle of your ongoing success, even while caged. Now I really must go.”
“Playing auction bridge with the mayor?” Penelope asked with a jaunty smile.
“Hardly. I will be reading to our incapacitated boys at the veteran’s convalescent home. They’re keen to hear what happens next to Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller … and so am I,” she said as she tapped her parasol twice on the ground and perambulated off.
“My my, who woulda thunk it,” Zara said.
“Do you ever feel like you’re living in a fool’s paradise?” Penelope said.
“Only every day of my life since I left San Pedro at eighteen … So, what can we expect in the way of interrogation edibles tomorrow?” Zara said, lying on her stomach on the cot and pulling a pillow under her chest.
“I have no idea! You know I can’t cook!”
“You certainly bamboozled Florence Morgan. She believes you possess esculent magic,” Zara said with an amused grin.
“All I did was combine things already prepared by Dan Cooper. The closest I ever came to actual cooking was making macaroni over my hot plate!”
“Well you better think of something fast. You’re a tearoom owner now.”
“Whose cook is dead … How in heaven’s name could anyone think I killed him? I’m lost without him!”
“Leave everything to me,” Zara said casually.
Penelope snorted. “But you’re even more inept at cooking than I!”
“Depends what you mean by cooking … What I’m cooking up is a plan. I’ll be back in a minute,” she said, gamboling off her cot and strutting down the hall with a hitch in her step, the way she always did when she felt on top of the world.
In Zara’s absence, Penelope looked over the notes her partner had taken during their meeting with Florence Morgan.
“These are dreck!” she said aloud, turning the page this way and that, trying make out recognizable words and phrases. She then transcribed the bits and pieces of information as best she could, filling in the gaping holes while the material was fresh in her mind.
A few moments later Zara returned, still in full swagger.
“These notes on Mrs. Morgan are woefully wanting!” Penelope said.
“Never mind that. Culinary help is on its way.”
“Z, I need to learn how to do this on my own. Mrs. Morgan is expecting it. I can’t call in a ringer.”
“Who said anything about a ringer?”
“Zara, tell me what’s going on!”
“Oh, hold your water. You’ll thank me later.”
Several minutes later, Constable Jimmy Matlin arrived, walking slowly and carrying three egg creams. “Mr. Allen said to tell you it will take him a couple of hours to get everything on your list,” he relayed, looking adoringly at Zara instead of at the egg cream dripping down his sleeve.
“Good boy, Jimmy. And one other thing,” Zara said.
“Anything!” he said, putting the drinks down clumsily and creating a puddle of cream on the table.
“I’ll need your keys,” she said, gliding over to him and gazing dreamily into his eyes as she unclipped the key ring from his trousers’ belt loop. He opened his mouth to remonstrate, but she put a finger to his lips. “We girls need our privacy. You wouldn’t want some lout creeping in here in the middle of the night and doing God knows what, would you, Jimmy?”
“Golly, no!” the infatuated constable protested.
“Now you run along and wait for Mr. Allen. Toodle-oo!”
He jogged off, whistling.
“Hubert Allen? I don’t understand,” Penelope said, becoming agitated.
“If Mohammed can’t come to the kitchen, the kitchen will come to Mohammed,” Zara said with a smile.
“A whole kitchen?!”
“Just a few things to help you whip up something for Florence Morgan in the morning.”
“And just what is it I’ll be ‘whipping up?’”
“Kanelbulle, if you must know.”
“Canalbool? I don’t even know how to say it, let alone know how to make it … whatever it is!”
“You’ll be fine. It’s the original cinnamon roll, originated in Sweden.”
“Another something you learned from that Swedish telephone inventor you mentioned?”
“From his housekeeper, Alva, actually.”
“But I don’t have a Swedish cookbook … and even if I did, I don’t read Swedish!” Penelope said, pacing and wringing her hands, her breath labored.
“Easy, girl! You’re working yourself into a state! I’ve left instructions for Hubert to bring a copy of Mrs. Beeton’s, the book your mother used to swear by.”
Penelope looked at her blankly for a moment, then opened her arms to embrace her. “Oh, Z, you remember that?”
“How could I forget?” Zara said sentimentally. “Hanging around the kitchen baking with your mother …”
“You mean dipping our fingers into the batter and having them whacked with a wooden spoon while Mother did all the baking,” Penelope corrected.
“Exactly,” she said, disengaging from their hug. “Now, what do we do in the interim?”
“Well … I suppose we should go over the treasure trove of information Stella supplied.”
Zara set the jail keys on the table.
“Say, what was that all about?” Penelope asked, nodding at the keys.
“Last night I caught sight of young Jimmy hovering over me in my sleep.”
“Saints preserve us!” Penelope exclaimed, standing up to peer down the hall and close the cell door.
“No reason to call in the saints. I know the type. He’s harmless … a tad creepy, but harmless.”
Penelope shuddered and sat down to make notes on Stella’s testimony, all the while, keeping a wary eye on the door. “Let’s discuss Stella’s disclosures, shall we?”
They tried to recount all Stella had said, often coming back to the topic of Pacific Grove’s secret society. Both were intrigued and couldn’t wait to find out more. Soon enough, Hubert Allen arrived bearing baking supplies.
“What’s all this?” Penelope asked, her eyes lighting up.
“You’re a prince, Hubert,” Zara said, blowing him a kiss.
He snickered salaciously as he unpacked boxes from a hand-pulled wagon.
“Oh, Z, look! There’s even a hotplate!” Penelope gushed.
“Of course!” Zara replied casually.
“But why did you have poor Mr. Allen bring all these unopened ingredients? We could’ve just had Paolo collect things from home.”
“I rang him first, but he didn’t answer. I forgot how terrified he is of answering the telephone.”
“Yees, heez language leemeetations are a probleem,” Hubert said.
Zara bit her lip to keep from laughing.
Hubert made quick work of the unpacking and prepared to leave.
“Thank you, Hubert—sincerely,” Penelope said.
He put his hat on and bid them goodnight.
“Say, Hubert. You wouldn’t know anything about a secret society called the Bohemian Club, would you?” Zara called as he walked down the hall.
He stopped in his tracks and stiffened, then returned to the cell.
“Wheere deed you her of that?” he said in a low, tense tone.
“Your goddaughter, Stella, mentioned it,” Penelope said.
“Sheh shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
“So, then you do know of it,” Zara said, pulling out a chair for him.
“Yees,” he said curtly.
“Is it true that my grandaunt was part of it?”
“Yees,” he said, looking unconsciously around the empty cell as if to see if someone were listening.
“And Hank?” Zara asked.
“You would have to ask heem.”
“Hubert,” Zara said, gently placing a hand on his forearm. “Stella was not the first person to tell us about the Bohemian Club. Aunt Dee’s personal notebooks are full of details on the club’s activities, and history … and members. Isn’t that right, P,” she said, encouraging Penelope to play along.
“Yes,” she said, sitting up straighter. “My grandaunt left me copious notes on the subject.”
He scrutinized her face for a long moment. “I find that hard to behlehv,” he said, sitting back in his chair and folding his arms.
Penelope looked to Zara for help. Zara gave a negligible shake of her head to indicate she had nothing to say to persuade Hubert. Penelope took a gamble and went on the offensive.
“Mr. Allen, I assure you I take this matter quite seriously. Frankly, I hadn’t even mentioned the B.C. to Zara. Your goddaughter did. My grandaunt Dorothea stipulated I maintain the antiques store for a reason. That reason has much to do with the B.C.”
Zara leaned forward, engrossed by Penelope’s oration. Penelope glanced up at Hubert and saw him stroking his chin. Her tenacity increasing, she pushed on. “There are a great many artifacts housed in the shop that are particular to the club. My grandaunt entrusted them to me … and expected me to follow in her footsteps as a member. I trust you will honor her wishes.”
Zara’s mouth dropped wide open as she gawped at Penelope’s boldness. Hubert continued to stroke his chin, scrutinizing Penelope’s expression and carriage.
“Why have you not brought thees up sooneer?” he asked.
“Good heavens, Mr. Allen! First I was trying to launch my business and now I’m trying to get out of jail … for murder!”
He sat silent again. “Your meembeership would have to beh approved by thee leddeership counceel—”
“May I join too?” Zara cooed.
“There eez only room for new meembeers wheen one passees, as is your friend Mees Pricee’s case.”
“He’s right, Z,” Penelope said, talking out of her hat.
“You undeerstand that your meembeersheep—eef approved—would beh of an honorareh nature. You would not have thee same preeveleegees as males weeth full-fleedged meembeersheeps.”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Allen, I am well aware,” Penelope answered, feigning annoyance. “However, I don’t think we should discuss this further while in the company of …” She tilted her head toward Zara, hinting to Hubert that they should cut the conversation short in front of her.
“Leet meh seh what I can do,” he said, getting up to leave. “Again, goodnight. Thee ehveenin has benn, shall weh say, eenlighteeneng.”
Penelope gave him a stately nod, her face stoic. Zara got up to pull closed the drapes she’d had installed in the cell. She then crept down the hall to confirm Hubert had gone. When she saw him exit the building, she ran back to the cell. There, the two friends took to jumping on their flimsy cots in giddy amazement.
“Penelope Price, you missed your calling!”
“As a thespian?”
“As a poker player! Never have I seen such bluffing! You were sensational!”
“I don’t know what came over me, actually,” Penelope said, descending from the cot.
“Maybe you were channeling Aunt Dee.”
“Maybe … I’ve never felt like that … I rather liked it,” she said, pacing as her heart raced.
“Brava, my friend … Brava!”
“Whew, I feel like I just won the sweepstakes. Look, my hands are shaking … What should we do now?”
“I would say let’s eat dinner, but I think it’s a little late for that,” Zara said, consulting the clock figurine on the scarf-draped end table by her cot.
“I don’t think I could eat anyway,” Penelope said, still pacing in figure eights and trying to catch her breath.
“What about nibbling some of the leftover tri-berry pie?” Zara enticed.
“That’s a different story.”
Zara held up a pair of forks and the friends dug in, giggling, whispering and nibbling the night away.

.... to be continued