One Lump or Two - Chapter Eighteen

“Does this mean I’ll be going back to jail?” Penelope asked as Chief Harrison took out his handkerchief to lift the bust and inspect it.
“I’m afraid not, Miss Price. That has proven to be too distracting for our personnel,” he said, giving a knowing look to Zara.
She smiled modestly and tucked her hair behind her ear.
“No, you remain out on bail; and your turning over this bit of evidence is a good faith gesture of your cooperation,” he said.
“But not of my innocence,” Penelope lamented.
“Unfortunately, no. Bag the evidence please, Caruso.”
Vincent put on a pair of white cotton butler’s gloves and deposited the statue in a drawstring canvas bag.
“Would either of you like some tea? It should still be hot,” Zara offered.
Penelope glared at her. As far as she was concerned, the sooner Chief Harrison left, the better.
“I thought we were going out for phosphates!” Stella cried.
“I do love a good phosphate,” the chief said, putting his hat on. “Shall we?”
“I don’t understand what is happening here,” Penelope said.
“Just go with it, P. This is one of those present moments we discussed,” Zara whispered, swaying through the door as Chief Harrison held it open for her.
Vincent gave Stella a peck on the cheek that she rubbed off in feigned disapproval. In retaliation, he took her hand and led her out.
“I still need to find my keys,” Penelope murmured, plunging her arm back into the carpetbag. In the absence of the bulky statue, she found them in seconds, and locked up.
“Don’t dawdle, Miss Price,” the chief called back to her as he strolled alongside Zara.
* * * *
At the soda shop, Penelope sat in silence, sipping a chocolate soda and watching in wonder as Walter Harrison joked and laughed with Zara and the young couple.
“Cat got your tongue, Penelope?” Stella asked.
“Blink if you can hear us,” Zara said.
Penelope opened and shut her eyes several times as she continued to sip. After an exceptionally long shlurp, she worked up the nerve to address the lawman. “Chief Harrison, do you really think I killed Daniel Cooper? And if not, why are you painting me as public enemy number one?”
All other conversation stopped.
Walter took a long drag on his phosphate and responded, “Why, Miss Price, you know I can’t discuss the case with you.”
“But nothing, Miss Price,” he replied.
Zara inconspicuously extended her hand in a stop gesture, admonishing Penelope to drop the subject.
“Ahhhh, that hit the spot,” Walter said, finishing off the last of his drink. “Caruso, you and I need to get back to the station. Ladies, will you excuse us?”
He scooted out of the booth from his seat next to Vincent and lay down a dollar bill, covering the cost of all five phosphates as well as a hefty tip.
“Awfully generous for a civil servant,” Penelope commented once the men were out of earshot.
“He’s always been generous like that. That’s how he got the nickname Santa,” Stella remarked.
“Curious,” Penelope remarked, sliding out of the girls’ side of the booth to sit across from Zara and Stella.
“One needn’t be a Rockefeller to be generous, P,” Zara chided.
“So what’s the plan now, P?” Stella asked.
Zara snickered loudly at hearing Stella address Penelope by only her first initial.
Penelope lifted an eyebrow in response. “Well, I’m not exactly sure, to be honest.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of answers today. That must be of some comfort,” Zara suggested.
“Yes, it is. Though I seem to have more questions than ever! I want to look through that book from the library on The Bohemian Club … and we should probably consider expanding the scope of our interviews … as well as revisit a few—Mr. Edwards, for starters,” Penelope said.
“Oh really!” Zara said, smirking.
“Yes, really,” Penelope said, not daring to make eye contact. “He was the most forthcoming, and, as you recall, he offered to tell us more about the club.”
“What about Lily?” Stella asked, leaning in.
“I sense she’s told us about as much as she knows,” Zara said.
“Let’s leave her be for now,” Penelope said.
“I had a thought … and it’s not a particularly pleasant thought,” Zara said, also leaning in. “Shouldn’t we batten the hatches and take a crack at that reporter Elsie Davies?”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Penelope whispered, huddling with the others.  “But I’d rather not unless it becomes absolutely necessary.”
“Best watch your back around her. She’s a real snake in the grass,” Stella slurred, using her tongue to tie a maraschino cherry into a knot.
“Agreed,” Zara said in a low voice, “on both counts.”
“You’re not sitting down on the job, are you Miss Price?”
All three turned to see Florence Morgan standing beside the booth.
“Mrs. Morgan? I didn’t know people like you drank phosphates,” Stella said, surprised to see the matriarch of Pacific Grove at a soda fountain.
“Miss Parker, I would venture to say there is a great deal you don’t know about people like me. But I am not the person you should be investigating, now am I?”
“No, ma’am,” Stella said.
“Is this how you’re spending the money I paid you, ladies?”
“No, Mrs. Morgan,” Penelope said. “This is not … we were just … my apologies, Mrs. Morgan. It won’t happen again.”
“Miss Price, you really must learn to discern when someone is speaking in jest … especially those with dry humor,” Florence said.
“Oh … I …” Penelope stammered.
“We’ve made some headway, Mrs. Morgan,” Zara began. “We believe we’ve found both the murder weapon and the motive for the crime. A valuable object was taken from the shop.”
“Excellent, Miss Zara. This news pleases me greatly. I imagine you will now want to revisit that last critical day before the tragedy. You’re sure to find something in the way of a clue leading up to Daniel’s demise.”
“That’s actually our next step, Mrs. Morgan,” Zara said.
“It is? I thought we were going to interview Elsie Davies,” Penelope said.
“Dry humor,” Zara said to Florence, attempting to override Penelope’s statement.
“I see you’re catching on, Miss Price. Do be careful when it comes to questioning Miss Davies. She’s a member of the press, you know. Chances are she’ll get more out of you than you will out of her,” Florence warned.
“Yes, Mrs. Morgan,” Penelope said.
“Now if you ladies will pardon me, I’m quite in the mood for a chocolate malted,” Florence said with a trademark double tap of her parasol.
The trio collected their things and began walking back toward AntiquiTeas.
“Where do you want to go from here, P?” Zara asked. “Do you want to interview Elsie Davies? Or Hank? Or read your Bohemian Club book? Or try to work out a timeline of what took place the day before the grand opening?”
“Yes,” Penelope answered.
Zara chuckled. “Well, it’s getting late—”
Penelope stopped and shook her head.
“What is it?” Zara asked, halting and turning to face her.
“I never thought I’d see the day when Zara the goodtime gal would call eight in the evening late.”
“I meant late for the people we might interview, of course,” Zara said, resuming walking, “So we should probably pick up the interviews tomorrow.”
“Nuh unh,” Stella commented, trailing her.
“Why not?” Zara asked.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” Stella and Penelope said in unison.
“And?” Zara asked.
“And civilized people don’t do things like interview murder witnesses and suspects on the Lord’s day,” Penelope said.
“No, I suppose not. They most likely go to church and have dinner with their families, don’t they?” Zara thought aloud.
“Yep, dullsville,” Stella said, extracting a cigarette from the top of her stocking.
“Stella, really!” Penelope said. “Put that thing away!”
“Relax, P. I don’t usually light ’em unless I’ve got some hooch to go with it,” Stella said.
“I’ll never understand you flappers,” Penelope replied.
“Here’s what I suggest,” Zara began. “Let’s all go home and get a good night’s sleep. Stella, no speakeasy for you tonight. Agreed?”
Stella nodded reluctantly.
“That reminds me, what’s become of The Blind Pig in Dan’s absence?” Penelope asked.
“Beats me. Guess I’d have to go visit it to find out,” Stella commented satirically.
“Good point,” Zara said.
“Very well, but no drinking liquor!” Penelope said.
“Why not?!” Stella protested.
“Because first off it’s illegal, and second, you’re underage,” Penelope said.
“Never stopped me before. Ya know, if I wanted another mother—”
“Because you’re on duty,” Zara interjected. “You’ll need to be extra keen … especially since you’ll be engaged in an undercover operation and all.”
“Ohhhhh … okay … makes sense,” Stella said, tucking her cigarette back in her stocking.
Zara crinkled her eyes at Penelope. “As I was about to say … P, tonight you can bone up on the Bohemian Club, and tomorrow we can have a nice family dinner at home. I’ll cook.”
“You’ll what?!” Penelope balked.
“Oh, how hard can it be?” Zara retorted.
“What has this town done to you?” Penelope said, shaking her head in dismay.
“It’ll be nice,” Zara said, disregarding her friend’s taunts. “And it will give us time to talk through the events that took place on the day before it happened.”
“And it will give us time to get our stomachs pumped, you mean,” Penelope moaned.
“Hush, you. Stellar, I’m sorry we’ll have to miss you tomorrow. I’m sure your mother will want you at home on a Sunday,” Zara said.
Stella frowned and nodded.
“Count your lucky stars,” Penelope whispered.
Zara glared at her. “Your humor? Not so humorous. By the way, Stella, before I forget, does Chief Harrison attend church?”
“Mmm hmmm, every Sunday.”
“Protestant or Catholic?” Zara asked.
“Methodist. Vincent almost turned down the job at the police station because of it. You know how those Italian Catholics are.”
“Oh no!” Zara shouted.
“What is it, Z?” Penelope asked, her heart instantly racing in concern.
“Poor Paolo!” Zara said, holding her hat on her head as she began to run the last block toward the antiques shop. “I forgot all about him. I really must do something about him. We can’t … I need to get home, P. Drive me?”
“If I ever catch up to you!” Penelope gasped, her petite legs racing as Zara pulled away into the distance.
“The end,” Stella said in farewell as she trotted home.

* * * *
Once they’d parked at the Victorian, Zara dashed into the house in search of Paolo. By the time Penelope got to the parlor, a full-scale argument had broken out behind closed bedroom doors with a great deal of shouting in both English and Italian.
Penelope quietly took a bath and dressed for bed. She’d just burrowed under the covers and cracked open Bohemian Jinks when Zara tapped lightly on the door, opening it without waiting to be invited in.
“Z, what’s wrong?” Penelope asked, scooting up in bed and noting Zara’s tear-streaked face.
“We had an enormous row,” Zara said sniffling.
“Oh? I didn’t notice,” Penelope said.
Zara smiled. “You’re an awful liar, you know.”
“Tell your pal Chief Harrison that! But for now, tell me what happened with Paolo.”
Zara got into bed with her. “Amazing what anger will do for your communication skills. Somehow we got across what we wanted to say loud and clear.”
“What is it he wanted to say?”
“That I never spend any time with him or pay any attention to him and basically, that he’s leaving.”
“And what is it you wanted to say?” Penelope asked, lying on her side to face Zara.
Zara turned over on her side as well. “That I was sorry for being so distracted, but that surely he must understand that your life is at stake here.”
“And did he understand that after my case is settled, one way or the other, things can get back to normal for you two?”
“No … I don’t know … You see … I didn’t give him a chance to even discuss that … When he told me he wanted to leave I told him that was fine with me and that I wanted him to go.”
“Surely he must know you only said that because you were hurt and upset and that you didn’t really mean it.”
“Didn’t I?” Zara said, looking dolefully into Penelope’s eyes.
“Z, I’ve never seen you like this. Something’s really wrong, isn’t it?”
Zara looked away and rolled out of bed. “I suppose I’m just overly sensitive, leaving the lifestyle behind and all … and settling into hometown USA. I’ll be fine. Goodnight, P,” she said as she walked toward the door.
“Minnie Clark, don’t think for one moment I’m buying that malarkey. Something is wrong. Now spit it out!”
“That’s just it. I don’t know what it is … truly,” Zara said, exiting the room and weeping softly as she walked down the hall to her room.
* * * *
Penelope slept in later than she would have liked. “Darn! How the devil did I miss church?” she said aloud as she stumbled through the motions of making coffee.
“Buongiorno,” Paolo said sheepishly, walking into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Paolo. What has you up so early in the day?” she asked, pointing to the kitchen clock.
He thought for a minute then gestured, making the sign of the cross.
“Ah, good man. I was supposed to be at church myself. Think God will forgive me?” she said with a smile.
He looked at her vacuously.
“I really have to work on my sense of humor,” she mumbled to herself. “Coffee?” she asked, holding out a fresh pot.
“Si,” he replied, smiling as he took a mug off the shelf.
“I wish you would think twice about leaving. Zara really is awfully fond of you, you know. She’s just consumed with my situation at the moment. She’s a very good friend, you see.”
Paolo sipped his coffee, staring absently into his cup.
“You probably don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” she said.
Paolo looked up and gasped. “Ritardo!”
“I beg your pardon!” Penelope said. “I called you no such thing!”
He hurriedly drank the rest of his coffee and pointed to the clock.
“Ohhhhh, do you mean you’re late?”
“Ciao,” he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek and racing out of the house to attend mass at San Carlos Cathedral in neighboring Monterey, the closest Catholic church in the area.
Penelope held the side of her cheek, a twinge of melancholy overcoming her as she watched him leave. She prepared a pair of poached eggs and rye toast and let her mind wander, pondering the vastly different paths she and Zara had trod since their school days.
Zara had seen far off countries, exotic peoples, and several of the famed wonders of the world. Penelope had seen little more than a never-ending procession of balance sheets and a handful of motion pictures. Zara had known physical intimacy with a variety of men, whereas Paolo’s peck on the cheek was one of the few kisses Penelope had ever experienced. Zara lived each day like it might be her last on earth, Penelope lived each day carefully so as not to jeopardize the future.
She’d noticed a change in Zara recently though—a mellowing, a domesticating. Zara truly seemed ready to settle down, whereas Penelope’s life was just getting started. Unintentionally, her thoughts drifted toward Hank, and she again caressed the side of her cheek where Paolo had planted his friendly kiss. She sighed and got up to wash her breakfast dishes, not even realizing she’d eaten.
After dressing, she grabbed Bohemian Jinks, which she’d failed to read the evening before, and descended the stairs to the parlor, determined to dive into the book at last. Just then the front door opened.
“Good morning, lazy bones,” Zara said, smiling with flushed cheeks.
“Good morning to you too! Are you all right? Your cheeks are red. Do you have a fever?”
“Not at all. I feel marvelous. I just walked briskly home from church is all.”
Penelope shut her book and regarded Zara in astonishment as Zara removed her hat and gloves.
“I don’t know which terrifies me more—to hear you went to church or that you walked all the way home.”
“All the way there too.”
“It’s settled. This has all been one very long bizarre dream. Aunt Dee never died and I’m home in my bed in Mrs. Holcomb’s boarding house back in San Pedro. My best friend, Zara, is off in Europe somewhere living the life of a duchess.”
Zara pinched her hard.
“Oww! What was that for?!”
“Proof you’re not dreaming. Now, tell me how to make a pot roast.”