One Lump or Two - Chapter Twelve

“Back so soon?” Penelope asked as Zara, Paolo, and Constable Matlin neared the cell, the latter two buckling under the cache of household items Zara deemed necessary for her friend’s comfort.
“Don’t forget that extra cot,” Zara said to Constable Matlin, touching the end of his nose with her gloved index finger and smiling beguilingly.
Paolo gestured that he was going out for a smoke, and walked back down the hall, griping all the way.
“Extra cot?” Penelope asked.
“For me, of course,” Zara said.
“Are you even supposed to be in here?” Penelope asked.
“It’s a free country. And I should think the police would be more worried about people trying to break out of this place than breaking into it.”
Penelope thought about Zara’s comment and nodded in agreement.
“You seem awfully subdued. What have you been up to in my absence?” Zara asked.
Penelope held up a mass of tangled yarn. “Knitting!” she announced with unbridled pride.
“What in the world?” Zara said, turning the knotted mass in her hands.
“It does sort of look like a world, doesn’t it?” Penelope said, admiring her handiwork.
“I didn’t know you knitted.”
“Neither did I. But one must start somewhere,” Penelope said, her tongue creeping out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrated on producing another stitch.
“Get a load of you—cool as a cat. I would’ve expected you to be writhing on the floor in a frantic frenzy. What’s gotten into you?”
“It’s what I’ve gotten into … knitting.”
“Oh I see, you’ve gone insane, that’s it.”
Penelope chuckled. “Have you ever been through something so awful that it doesn’t even faze you because of how unreal it seems?”
“I was a courtesan for fourteen years, what do you think?” Zara said to Penelope in a low voice.
“Well, that’s how I feel now. I started knitting and it dawned on me. It’s just like knitting.”
“What’s just like knitting? Being accused of murder?”
“Sort of. Here’s the thing. It’s like the stitches when you knit. Each one of them looks inconsequential, unimportant. But when you put them all together they add up to something substantial … like a hat or even a sweater.” Penelope put down her knitting and took her friend’s hands in her own. “Z, I’m going to stitch together what happened to Daniel Cooper and get justice for him.”
Zara searched Penelope’s face for a long moment. “You know, I think you will at that … There’s something that bothers me though, truth be told.”
“What’s that?” Penelope asked, trying to unravel the swarm of yarn she’d tangled.
“Why you?”
“Why me as in why do I want to get justice for Dan?”
“No, why are you the one who’s been arrested?” Zara asked, her face showing concern.
“Apparently, it’s because I was the last known person to see him. If you ask me, it’s a matter of divine intervention. If I hadn’t been arrested, I wouldn’t be so keen to get to the bottom of his heartrending situation,” Penelope said, her eyes clear and bright.
“I’ve never seen you so invigorated! You didn’t squirrel away a flask did you?”
“I can’t explain it, but I feel exhilarated in a way I’ve never known. It’s thrilling, really.”
“If you say so,” Zara said, scoping out the hallway as she stole a swig from her own flask.
“You certainly made easy work of winding that young officer around your finger,” Penelope remarked.
“Saying, ‘Boo’ would be enough to hook that little fish … which reminds me, he should’ve been back by now with the cot I requested. I’m going to see what’s taking him,” Zara stood up, smoothed her hair, and waltzed out the cell door that had been left open at her request.
Penelope returned to her thoughts and yarn, determined to make sense of both.
“Creating modern art, are we?” a male voice said.
Penelope looked up to see Hank leaning against the cell door and smiling.
She gasped and stood up quickly, causing her to experience tunnel vision and feel faint … a situation that often occurred when he was around.
“Mr. Edwards!”
“I hear you’ve been busy shaking things up in our quiet little town,” he said, walking into the cell and toying with his fedora.
“May I … uh … offer you a seat?” Penelope said, motioning to the cell’s small, weathered cot.
“Thank you, I can’t stay long.”
“Oh,” she said looking at her knitting needles and fidgeting with them. “Well, it was good of you to come,” she said, trying hard not to pout.
“Sick of me already?” he said with twinkling eyes as he attempted to perch on the edge of the cot’s frame, upending it in the process and causing him to scramble to resume standing.
Penelope pursed her lips so as not to giggle.
“Careful or you’ll hit the—” Boom “—wall,” Zara called from the hallway.
Hank went to the aid of Constable Matlin who was beet red and dripping sweat from his battle with the metal-framed cot.
“Let me help you with that,” Hank said, effortlessly lifting the cot and putting it against the wall adjoining the existing berth.
“Why, Hank, whatever brings you here?” Zara said, looking brightly at Penelope.
“I’d heard what happened to Miss Price and just wanted to offer my condolences,” he said.
“Condolences?” Penelope repeated, her enthusiasm dampened by the sound of a word that brought to mind Dan Cooper’s tragedy.
Realizing his blunder, Hank shook his head and looked at the ground. “Looks like I put my foot in it this time.”
“P, you haven’t looked at any of the things I brought for you,” Zara said, changing the subject.
“You know how we knitters can be,” Penelope said, taking up her needles and yarn in hopes of impressing Hank with her skills. Instead, she ended up getting yarn wrapped around her wrist so tightly that its blood flow was cut off, and she put both hands behind her back in order to extricate her wrist unobserved.
Zara rolled her eyes and began unpacking.
Hank said, “Looks like my cue to leave.”
“Nonsense. Take the load off, Hank. I even brought cocoa,” Zara said.
Penelope knelt on the floor next to Zara to unpack. The first thing Penelope pulled out was a nightgown that she immediately stuffed back into the box. “We really shouldn’t keep Mr. Edwards, Z,” she said, mortified at having her unmentionables on public display.
“Yes, I should get going,” Hank said, equally abashed. “Ladies,” he added as he pulled his fedora down over his brow.
Penelope just stared at him, saying nothing, still mulling over the nightgown incident.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Zara called after him.
* * * *
The two friends, along with harried Paolo, poured through the boxes and turned the cell into a cozy dormitory. They hung a curtain along the bars for privacy, and dressed the cots with feather beds, pillows, and linens from home. They even had a pair of Tiffany lamps and a radio that they plugged into an extension cord running to the front desk. For dinner, they enjoyed their take-away order from the Butterfly Café while seated in folding chairs at a card table outfitted with a cloth, utensils, a vase of flowers, and a small candelabra.
When Penelope began to doze off mid-dessert, Zara whispered goodnight to Paolo and sent him back home. An hour later, all was quiet in the jail cell, save the sounds of restful sleep in goose down comfort.
* * * *  
Zara roused Penelope just after dawn so they could freshen up and dress prior to greeting any potential visitors. Zara never allowed a man to see her first thing in the morning without her going to great lengths to make it look like she woke up fresh and fabulous. Once the ladies had fixed themselves up, they returned to their bunks and chatted while waiting for Paolo to bring breakfast.
“How did you sleep?” Penelope asked.
“All right, I suppose,” Zara replied. “I don’t know the last time I slept without a man next to me. It felt strange, like something was missing.”
“Sorry to hear that, Z. Though I’ll have to take your word for it,” Penelope said, punching her pillow to get it just right.
“I sometimes forget what an angel you are.”
“I don’t think angels are held on suspicion of murder, generally … other than archangel Michael I suppose.”
“Buongiorno!” Paolo said cheerily as he entered the converted boudoir, carrying a picnic basket and the morning paper. “Ciao, amore,” he added, kissing Zara passionately, the breakfast things threatening to elude his grasp.
“How did you sleep?” Penelope asked him, miming a gesture of sleep.
He frowned and feigned crying, putting a hand over his heart and nodding at Zara.
“Aww, he missed me too,” Zara said, tucking an arm through his.
Penelope opened the newspaper and gasped.
“What is it?” Zara asked, rushing over to look. “Surely it can’t be worse than what’s already been printed.”
Tragedy to Triumph or Confection to Conviction?
Miss Penelope Price’s tearoom and Daniel Cooper’s legacy
A select few of Pacific Grove’s society elite congregated in secret yesterday at AntiquiTeas, the town’s newest hot spot. The Daniel Cooper Memorial menu was lavish and inventive, served in avant-garde splendor rivaling the most elegant European cafes.

This writer was among the privileged set, accompanied by Lillian Cooper, Daniel’s childhood sweetheart and now widow. Miss Price is assured a triumph-deluxe, provided she escapes the noose for Daniel’s murder.

On behalf of the Butterfly Bugle, this reporter will be keeping a close eye on the legal proceedings to keep our readers in the know. Will Miss Price receive her just deserts? Or has she gotten herself into water too hot to escape?

Penelope looked up to see Chief Harrison standing in the doorway, surveying the cell. She jumped to her feet and froze, trying desperately to come up with an explanation.
“Bear claw, Chief Harrison?” Zara asked, offering the chief a pastry.
He accepted it and ate in silence, walking around the cubicle to scrutinize the contraband filling the space.
“It’s much nicer now, don’tcha think?” Zara said, trying to appear nonchalant though she feared she’d gone too far with the decorating. “It just needed a woman’s touch.”
“Get comfy, you three,” the chief said, walking out and closing the cell door without bothering to lock it. “I want to talk to each of you … Thanks for the bear claw.”
Penelope dropped onto her cot, exhaling for the first time since the chief’s arrival.
“Whew!” Zara said, dropping down next to her.
“Zara, you’re a sorceress,” Penelope said. “You saved us again.”
“Holy cow, I thought we were sunk for certain.”
“I can’t make out Chief Harrison. He runs so hot and cold. One moment he seems unreasonable and rigid, the next, he’s accepting breakfast pastries and leaving the cell unlocked.”
“He’s definitely complex. I find that fascinating.”
“I find it unnerving,” Penelope replied, pulling out her knitting and searching for the ends of the yarn.
“Is this how you plan to spend your day?” Zara asked.
“Knitting, or should I say knotting, helps me think. And I have a lot of thinking to do. But to answer your question, today we start to solve the case of what really happened to Dan Cooper,” Penelope said, yanking a section of yarn and revealing its end.
“Oooooh, what should I do?” Zara said, excited by the prospect of playing detective and using her mind instead of her body.
“Take notes.”
* * * *
The knitter and scribe started their investigation by making a list of everyone who was at the tearoom the last night Dan was alive. Paolo busied himself with calisthenics in the cell’s only undecorated corner.
The sleuths then compiled a series of questions about Dan they intended to ask the people they knew. What were his business and personal relationships like with the townsfolk? Was he really as beloved as he seemed? Did he have any skeletons in his closet? Did he have any enemies? Did anyone see where he went after leaving the tearoom that ill-fated night? What time was he killed, and most important, why?
“Now what?” Zara asked.
“Now we talk to people,” Penelope said. “You know, if we were smart, we’d bone up on Chief Harrison’s findings.”
“Fortunately, we are smart,” Zara said, chewing on the end of her pencil and smiling.
Penelope pontificated while Zara scribbled. Penelope’s thoughts were a jumble resulting in Zara’s notes being mostly indecipherable. As Penelope paced the room knitting, she created a labyrinth of yarn around the space that took several minutes to step over and around if one wished to extricate oneself and leave.
“I’ve got an idea!” Penelope suddenly announced.
“Good, because what we’re doing now is a muddle. I feel like I’m living inside your carpetbag!”
Penelope wound up her yarn and pulled the table Paolo had brought from home into the center of the room. “There … we’ll post our findings here,” she said, nodding at the depressing, grey cinderblock wall.
“Okay …” Zara said, uncomprehendingly.
“Let’s start by affixing to the wall pages bearing each person’s name who may have seen or been involved with Dan the day he died. We can then use my yarn to show who was connected to whom.”
Zara nodded, mulling the idea over as she wrote names on sheets of paper and handed them to Penelope. Within a few minutes they had a handful of names taped to their grid.
“Surely a likeable fellow like Dan knew more people than just our little opening day work band,” Zara said.
“Exactly! That’s why we’ll need help. We need to know what the chief knows.”
“Paolo Rossi, come with me, please. The chief would like to speak with you,” Vincent called out, approaching the cell and avoiding eye contact with Penelope and Zara.
Paolo stood up, crossed himself, kissed his crucifix, and blew a kiss to Zara as he followed Vincent.
“Such a shame Vincent’s not permitted to speak to us,” Penelope said.
“But Stella is,” Zara replied. “We can get Stella to run interference for us!”
“Oh you are good, Z.”
“I do my best,” she said, flashing her dimples. “I’m sure we can also get some information from dear young Constable Matlin.”
“Did you call me, Miss Zara?” the officer said, jogging to the cell.
“My my, aren’t we Johnny on the spot?” Zara cooed.
“Actually, my Christian name’s Jimmy.”
Penelope looked at Zara blankly, finding the constable’s intellect less than promising.
“Tell me, Jimmy,” Zara said. “What are you doing here so early? I thought you worked the night shift.”
“I do. I just swung round to make sure you slept all right.”
“Like babes in arms,” Zara said. “Will we see you tonight then?”
“You bet you will! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Well then, until tonight, Jimmy Matlin,” Zara said, dismissing the love-struck youth.
“Stella! Stella!” Penelope whispered to Zara, pointing at the officer.
“Oh Jimmy!” Zara called, “Before you go, would you do me the teensiest favor?”
“Sure thing, Miss Zara.”
“Can you arrange for Stella Parker to come visit us? We have a few questions for her.”
“Gee, I don’t know …”
“You don’t know Stella or you don’t know if you can ask her to come see us?” Zara said, controlling the conversation.
“I … it’s just … the chief says I need to be careful around you ladies and not let you ‘ensnare me’ … Those were his words.”
Zara chuckled good-naturedly. “Your chief is sharp! But not to worry, Jimmy, I won’t be ensnaring anyone, I assure you. Now, be a good boy and fetch Stella, won’t you?” she said, batting her eyes and inching up her skirt to adjust her garter.
“Yuh … yeah … sure thing, Miss Zara,” Jimmy said, bumping into the cell door before racing out of the precinct.
“Won’t be ensnaring anyone, Z? Now we both know that’s a lie.”
“No it’s not … all the ensnaring I need to do has already been accomplished.”
“Oh? You mean you’ve already wound Chief Harrison in your web?”
“No, and I don’t intend to. He’s a man of integrity. Those types don’t fall for my antics … rather like Hank.”
“Hank!” Penelope said, jumping up in astonishment at the mention of the name.
“Did I strike a nerve, P?” Zara said, returning to her worktable and notes, casting a knowing sideways glance at Penelope.
“Don’t be silly … I just had an idea is all.”
“Oh I bet you have all sorts of ideas when it comes to Hank,” Zara teased.
“What I mean is, I think we should talk to Hank first. He was Dan Cooper’s best friend and all.”
“Uh huh … Perhaps you’d prefer to interrogate him alone.”
Penelope threw her wad of yarn at Zara.
“Oh look. You knitted a ball,” Zara said.
“Hush, you. Let’s get back to it … Now what can our wall tell us? You, me, Paolo, Stella, Vincent and Hank—I think that’s everyone who was part of our little team.”
“Should we add Hubert Allen?”
“Good idea. And we should probably include Florence Morgan, Lily Cooper and that Elsie Davies woman.”
“Surely you don’t think any of them were involved in Dan’s death.”
“No, but they may have a kernel of information that can help us start to unravel this case.”
“Case?” Zara said, surprised.
“Yes … Being in the clink really helps put things in perspective. I am no longer just a tearoom and antiques shop owner—”
“Well, you have yet to really be either one—”
“Nonetheless, I am going to dedicate my spare hours to serving this community as the voice of truth … as a truth sleuth!”
“Isn’t that the job of the police?”
“They can’t do it all … especially when they are bound by jurisprudence and legal procedures. We are bound by nothing other than conscience and truth!”
“Surely, the newspaper satisfies that need.”
“For dispensing the truth?!”
“You’re right, what was I thinking?”
“Zara, we have the opportunity to be of benefit here, far more than we could be by just pouring tea.”
“That’s where I think you’re wrong, P.”
Penelope looked at her questioningly.
“Think about it,” Zara said. “Think how people share the most scandalous private details with their hairdresser.”
“Yes, so?”
“So, imagine what confidences people might divulge when plied with a pot of tea and a sympathetic ear.”
“Tea and sympathy—Zara, I think you’re right!”
“Oh I know I am!”
“So what do we do first?”
“Get cards printed, I should think. The Tea and Sympathy Investigative Agency,” Zara said, fanning her hand out in panorama.
“We sleuth for truth!” Penelope added.
The friends giggled.
Paolo returned to the cell in silence, followed by Chief Harrison.
“Miss Zara, I can’t tell if your friend here doesn’t know anything or really doesn’t know anything,” the chief said.
Zara suppressed a smile as Paolo sat, wiping the sweat from his brow. “He doesn’t speak much English.”
“Or much of anything,” the chief replied. “Granted, Caruso’s Italian isn’t the best, but still, Mr. Rossi was like a … It was as if … Has he ever undergone any medical procedures … perhaps a partial lobotomy?”
She pinched herself hard to keep from laughing. “Well, conversation is not his strong suit.”
“I certainly hope you can be of more help. Will you follow me, please?”
“Certainly, Chief Harrison,” she said, tidying her hair and re-applying her lipstick. “Paolo, be a dear and get us lunch.”
He looked at her in bewilderment.
“Mangia,” she said, miming the gesture of putting food in her mouth as she followed Chief Harrison to his office.
Paolo wasted no time in departing the precinct in search of sustenance.
Penelope stood staring at her wall of witnesses for some time, getting nowhere in her ponderings. Despite her knack for logic, the circumstances of the situation clouded her sense of reason. She decided it would be helpful to reflect on the days leading up to Dan’s death, but found it difficult to do so. Every time her thoughts went down that path, she became too emotional to continue.
She likened her inner turmoil to the idea of making toast with a toaster that keeps short-circuiting. Her grief continually short-circuited her ability to rationally work through the events of Dan’s final days. If anyone had been watching her, they would have witnessed Penelope at turns weeping, chuckling, mumbling to herself, talking to Dan, and for all intents and purposes, carrying on like a madwoman. Yet for all her erratic conduct, she was no further along in her thought process. Eventually, her inertia was relieved by the arrival of Stella.
“Here she is, Miss Zara, just as you asked,” Jimmy Matlin said, reeking of catchpenny cologne and holding a daisy intended for Zara.
“Nice digs!” Stella said, nodding in approval as she surveyed the posh cubicle.
“Thank you, Constable Matlin. Zara’s with the chief. I’ll let her know you were here,” Penelope said, holding a napkin over her nose to mask the overpowering odor of the cologne and taking the flower from the crestfallen constable.
“Thank heavens you’re here,” she said, hugging Stella, much to the young girl’s discomfiture.
“Sure. Umm … how are you?”
“Never better!” Penelope said, her eyes bright and tone buoyant. “Stella, how would you feel about being a junior inquiry agent?”
“What’s that?”
“You’ve heard of the legendary Pinkertons?”
“Who hasn’t?!”
“Well that’s what it is,” Penelope said, her mood having shifted to the joyous end of the emotion spectrum—the part bordering on ecstatic insanity, she feared.
“Holy smoke! You mean a female detective like Kate Warne?”
“Precisely!” she said, pacing hurriedly and unwittingly plucking the petals off Jimmy’s daisies.
“I’d be all in, of course! Why do you ask?”
“Because we are going to figure out who killed Dan Cooper!”
“Before the police figure out you did it?”
Penelope stopped in her tracks and glared at her.
“That didn’t come out right,” Stella said.
Penelope noted the mass of petals marking her steps and put the remaining flowers in a glass on the table before resuming pacing. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us, naturally,” she muttered, thinking aloud.
“So whaddawe do now? Do I take some sort of oath or something?”
“What was that?” Penelope said, returning to their conversation. “An oath? No, no, that won’t be necessary.” Noticing Stella’s look of disappointment, she immediately amended her answer. “Oh where’s my head today? I meant to say I believe an oath to be absolutely necessary! Uh … here, put your hand on this teapot and repeat after me: I, Stella Parker, do pledge myself to the ideals of the Tea and Sympathy Investigative Agency as a truth sleuth.”
Stella did so. Penelope continued. “I promise to serve tea and justice to all who call on me for aid and to ferret out—”
“Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead, Penelope.”
“Good idea. Consider yourself duly sworn in. Now, I want you to take a look at the sprawl wall.”
“The what?”
“That’s the name I came up with for this wall of information. The grid we’ve created shows all of the people who we know were involved with Dan Cooper. Catchy name, don’t you think?”
Stella waffled her hand in a so-so gesture.
“In any event, we’re trying to pinpoint who was in contact with Dan that fateful night. We’ll want to establish what sort of relationships Dan had with these people in order to come up with motives they may have harbored for wanting to do him ill. We already know he was killed with a blow to the head by a heavy blunt object. But we need to know who may have been in the shop that night …”
“And why,” Stella added.
“Yes! Oh I can tell you’re going to be a marvelous detective.”
Stella beamed.
“Mees Price, I came as soon as I heerd,” Hubert Allen said, holding his hat in his hands as he stood outside the cell, his plaintive countenance making him appear softer and kinder than usual. “This alleegations are reedeeculous, of course. Eez theere anihthinn I can do to beh of aid?”
“Mr. Allen, what an unexpected pleasure!” Penelope said, striding over to him and shaking his hand energetically. “You’re a breath of fresh air, to be sure. May I offer you something? Coffee? A bear claw?”
Stella grinned to see the expression of flummoxed shock on her godfather’s face as Penelope welcomed him into the cell as if she were receiving him for a celebratory social call at home. “What’s wrong, Uncle Hubert? You look like someone just goosed your keister.”
“No, I … Meess Price, I’ve ehteen, thank you,” Hubert said, trying to compose himself and disregarding Stella’s comments as he eyed the table adornments and food spread. “I seh they are trehtihn you weel?”
“One makes do,” Penelope said with a smile, sitting and gesturing for Hubert to do the same. “Mr. Allen, there are a good many things we require, and you, of course, are just the man to get them for us. First and foremost, I’ll need a sign for my cell.”
“A sign? For your ceel?! I don’t undeerstand.”
Penelope grabbed a sheet of paper and quickly scrawled the words: Tea & Sympathy Investigative Agency ~ We Sleuth for Truth.
He looked at her in puzzlement.
“You, Mr. Allen, are looking at the first female detecting agency in the land,” Penelope said with unbridled delectation, gesturing around the jail cell with sweeping arms.
Stella posed next to the sprawl wall as if she were a merchandise model showing off the latest new and improved product. “And I’m a junior inquiry agent … like Kate Warne of the Pinkertons!”
Hubert stammered in a failed search for a response.
“Of course, we require a number of tools for our trade,” Penelope went on. “Would you like to write these down, Mr. Allen? … Mr. Allen?”