One Lump or Two - Chapter Seventeen

For Penelope, walking into the tearoom felt like walking into a twisted dream from the past. There were so many intense memories, both good and bad, created in a very short period of time. The venue was the place she earned Mrs. Morgan’s endorsement, where she met Hank—the quiet masculine presence who had disappeared from her life as quickly as it had entered—and it’s where the effervescent Dan Cooper had breathed his last.
It was less than three months prior that she and Zara first walked into the place and got the idea for AntiquiTeas. Now, they walked arm in arm toward the bathroom, bracing themselves for what they might find as the shop was still roped off and labeled a crime scene. To their relief, there were no stains, no evidence of any kind that would indicate a cold-blooded murder had taken place there. Instead, an inviting cascade of sunrays peeked through the organza curtains covering the room’s window.
As Zara made use of the water closet, Penelope headed to the kitchen. She opened the Kelvinator and gazed at its contents, not moving or speaking for minutes on end.
“Something in there have you transfixed?” Zara asked upon entering.
“Hmmm? Oh, yes, actually I was looking to see what food had spoiled in our absence so I could throw it out. I guess my mind must’ve wandered.”
“Shouldn’t you two be getting ready to interview witnesses instead of staring into the icebox?” Stella said, sauntering into the kitchen.
“Shouldn’t you be in school? Really, Stella, I must insist you go to school at once … either that or I’ll have to dismiss you,” Penelope said.
“Hang on to your bonnet. School’s closed today,” Stella said, helping herself to a pear from the still open Kelvinator.
“Don’t tell me you triggered the fire alarm again. Chief Harrison is going to hold me—”
“Yep, school’s closed today, and there’s nothin’ you can do about it,” Stella said, jumping up to sit on the kitchen prep table, taking a large bite of the pear and grinning contumaciously at Penelope.
“Z, are you just going to stand there and say nothing? Don’t tell me you approve of her truancy?”
“Well, as I recollect, there was a significant amount of truancy when the two of us were in school.”
“Yes, but that was all on your part. I never skipped class.”
“Oh … that’s right. And now here I am, up and it at bright and early, and by choice, no less.”
“Zara, say something to her!” Penelope pleaded.
“Stella, you have my blessing to not go to school today. In fact, why don’t you take tomorrow off as well.”
“Zara!” Penelope shouted, turning red with perturbation.
Zara and Stella broke out into laughter.
“That’s it! … You’re both … fired!”
The pair laughed all the harder, and Penelope slammed the Kelvinator shut and stormed out of the room.
“Stella, heat the kettle. Looks like someone needs tea,” Zara said quietly before following Penelope out to the tearoom where Penelope sat on one of the settees, looking out the window, her arms crossed in displeasure.
“Now there’s no need to sulk, P,” Zara said, taking a seat across from her. “We were only clowning around. Today’s Saturday, so there is no school.”
“Well I don’t find it very …” Penelope stopped and thought, then smiled. “All right, you two got me.”
“Kettle’s on,” Stella said, entering cautiously.
Penelope sighed. “I must remember to keep my wits about me when I’m with you. You’re far too clever for me.”
“Aw, don’t feel bad,” Stella said, perching on the arm of a chair. “I’m too clever for most everyone.”
Zara swatted Stella’s leg. “Since you know so much, tell us who we’ll be interviewing today and when.”
Stella produced a small notepad from the top of her stocking.
“Since when do you wear stockings?” Zara asked. “I thought you only wore tattered fishnets … or went defiantly bare-legged.”
“You’ve shown me how handy they are for hiding things … especially from my parents.”
Penelope threw up her hands in mild exasperation.
“And my mother is thrilled to see me being more ladylike, as she puts it.”
Penelope nodded in approval.
“But to answer your original question, Lily Cooper is coming in at ten, Vincent’s at eleven, and Hank will be in around noon or whenever he takes his lunch break. My godfather said just to stop by anytime you’re ready for him. He’ll be in his store next door all day.”
“Excellent work, Stella!” Penelope praised. “Z, is there anyone we’re forgetting?”
“Not that I can think of,” Zara said.
“Very well.” Penelope stood up and walked around the room, viewing it from different angles. “I think we should seat the witnesses here,” she said, pointing to a settee near the tearoom’s entrance. “This area gets lots of light. I’ll sit in this chair to take notes. Zara would you prefer to sit or stand?”
“I suppose I’ll find out when the time comes.”
“What about me? What do I do?” Stella asked.
“We’ll want to offer the witnesses some refreshment to put them at ease. So tea would be good, for starters,” Penelope said.
“Let George do it!” Stella said, waving her hand in irritation.
“Who’s George? Is he a member of the Bohemian Club?” Penelope asked.
“I’m talking about the noodle juice!” Stella said petulantly, putting her hands on her hips and huffing.
“She means she’s not thrilled about pouring tea,” Zara said.
“What detective would be thrilled about being demoted to waitress?!” Stella said, grimacing with arms folded.
“Looks like this one don’t know from nothin,’” Zara said, wagging a thumb toward Stella.
“Hey! What gives?!” Stella retorted.
“Dontcha get it? You’re our ace in the hole,” Zara said.
“Oh? Howdja mean?” Stella asked, dropping her arms and inching closer to Zara.
“Think about it,” Zara said, sneaking a wink at Penelope. “I’ll be searching for questions to ask in order to glean as much as possible from our interviewees. P will have her nose buried in her notes. We’ll need you to reconnoiter.”
“What’s that?”
“Your job will be to study each person, look for signs of nervousness or discomfort, ticks or tells … to determine whether they’re on the level or …”
“Or whether they’re feeding you a line?” Stella added enthusiastically.
“Now you’re on the trolley! While unobtrusively serving tea, you’ll be able to observe much more than P or I will. People will most likely let their guard down around you.”
“So basically, I’m a spy.”
“Basically, yes.”
“This job just keeps getting better and better,” Stella said, twisting her hips forward and back in celebration and causing the fringe on her dress to dance. “Can I add spy to my business cards?”
Penelope opened her mouth to deny the request, but Zara spoke first.
“Come now, would a spy actually advertise the fact?” Zara asked.
“You’ve got a point,” Stella admitted. ‘Stella, girl detective—hum drum waitress by day, super sleuth by night.’”
Zara chuckled. “Something like that.”
The bells hanging from the front door jingled.
“You know what to ask? And you’ll stick to the list of questions we discussed?” Penelope said to Zara, her hands quaking as she held a pencil over her notepad.
“I know how to get information out of people, P. Trust me.”
“Right this way, Mrs. Cooper,” Stella said respectfully, escorting Lily into the tearoom. 
  “Good morning, Mrs. Cooper. I’m Miss Price’s business companion, Zara,” she said, gesturing for Lily to sit. “May we offer you a hot cup of tea?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” Lily said, her gloved hands clutching her purse like a talisman. “Miss Price,” she said, noticing Penelope as she sat.
“Lovely to see you again, Mrs. Cooper,” Penelope said, a range of emotions fluctuating from woe to guilt to outrage threatening to crumble her composure.
Zara sat across from Penelope in the chair adjacent to Lily. “Mrs. Cooper, as you know, Miss Price here is determined to get justice for your husband. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions? It will help us begin to piece the puzzle together as to what actually befell him.”
Lily nodded.
“Dan was such a likeable man, always ready to help, always cheerful,” Zara said. “I can’t imagine anyone wishing him ill, but it appears someone did. Do you have any idea who may have been at odds with Dan—perhaps a disgruntled patron or supplier from his days owning the saloon? … Or maybe … someone unhappy about his more recent business dealings?”
Lily looked up at Zara in surprise at her last remark. Penelope struggled to keep her gaze on her notepad, fearful that she’d suffer an outburst of emotion should she lock eyes with Dan’s widow.
Lily gulped before speaking. “You’re right in every aspect, Miss …”
“Zara.”
“Miss Zara. Danny was beloved by so many. But when you own a saloon or … anyway, you’re bound to make a few enemies, whether drunken customers you remove against their will, or shady characters you refuse to do business with.”
“And regarding Dan’s career since the closing of the saloon?”
“Your tea, Mrs. Cooper. I brought milk and sugar just in case. Oh and lemon too!” Stella said, scrutinizing Lily while depositing the tea tray on the table.
“How thoughtful, Stella. Thank you,” Zara said.
“Yes, thank you,” Lily said, looking into her teacup for a moment before answering. “When the saloon closed, we lost everything—no one more so than Danny. He lost his dignity. After all, what value does a man have if he can’t provide for his family?”
Penelope’s mouth opened in objection. A look from Zara discouraged her from speaking.
“I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for him,” Zara said. “As I understand, he took up … a variety of jobs since then?”
“Yes.”
“Mrs. Cooper, I’m afraid I must ask you, in your opinion, were there people who expected—perhaps even demanded—that Dan continue purveying liquor, after Prohibition went into effect?”
“Yes,” Lily said quietly, sipping her tea and staring intently into the cup.
“What can you tell us about the Bohemian Club?” Penelope blurted.
“The what?”
“May I refresh your cup for you?” Zara asked, redirecting the conversation.
“Oh, uh yes, thank you.”
“I believe you told Chief Harrison that you expected Dan to be out late the night before the grand opening here, and up early the next morning to go get ice. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“And you have no idea whether or not he actually slept at home.”
Lily shook her head.
“And no reason to suspect he slept anywhere else,” Zara asked gently.
Lily looked pitifully up at Zara, tears filling her eyes. “No … never … Daniel was a faithful husband and father.”
“No one could doubt that. It was obvious he doted on you all,” Zara said, offering Lily a tea napkin to dry her eyes.
“He was a good man,” Lily said, her emotions bubbling over.
Zara instantly went to Lily’s side and enfolded her in a hug, mouthing the word fudge to Stella. Stella looked confused for a moment, then bolted from the tearoom. Penelope sat paralyzed, feeling helpless and blameworthy and doing her best not to cry. In less than a minute, Stella returned from her godfather’s store with a slab of dark fudge.
“Here, Mrs. Cooper, take this. It’s the most effectual curative known to man,” Zara said, breaking off a piece and handing it to Lily.
Lily smiled and put the candy in her mouth.
“There, what did I tell you? Feeling better already?” Zara asked.
“Yes, actually,” she said, breaking off another piece of fudge and following it with a sip of tea. “You ladies are very kindhearted. I’m most grateful for all you’re doing for my Danny.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Penelope said.
“And duty,” Zara added.
“We’re truth sleuths, Mrs. Cooper,” Stella said. “We’ll get to the bottom of what happened. Don’t you worry.”
Lily smiled wearily.
Penelope discreetly tapped her watch, alerting Zara that their time was up.
“It’s been an honor to meet you, Mrs. Cooper,” Zara said. “I hope we didn’t detain you too long.”
Lily shook her head no and primped to compose herself before departing.
 “Just one more thing,” Zara said. “Has a date been chosen for Dan’s funeral?”
“Not yet. We’re waiting for Miss Price’s awful court case to be concluded. I know you didn’t do it, Miss Price. Every bone in my body tells me as much!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cooper. Your trust and confidence mean very much to me,” Penelope said, becoming verklempt.
“I’ll walk you out,” Zara said, looping her arm gently through Lily’s.
Penelope finally dared lift her eyes and glanced at Stella who was already looking at her in eager anticipation of what Penelope might say.
Before Penelope could form words, Zara returned to the tearoom and sprawled out on the floor. “That was exhausting!”
“Zara, you were absolutely magnificent! Oh, better than that you were ducky, nifty, the cat’s whiskers!” Penelope exulted. “And Stella, you were … well … stellar!”
“What a fabulous nickname!” Zara said, lifting her head from her prostrate position.
“Stellar … I like that,” the girl said, nodding in approval. “I did what you asked, by the way, and observed Lily closely. My take is that she suspects Dan was involved in bootlegging. She may not know the specifics, but she sure suspects something.”
“I agree,” Penelope said.
Zara nodded. “I think you’re spot on! P, did you get anything we can use?”
“No, not really, but interviewing her was invaluable in a larger sense; and she was the perfect person to start with, to get our feet wet, so to speak.
The bells on the front door clanged and a voice called out, “Buongiorno!”
“Is that Paolo?” Penelope asked.
“Doesn’t sound like him,” Zara said.
“It’s just Vincent,” Stella said. “We’re back here!” she shouted.
“Ladies,” Vincent said, walking to the tearoom and bowing slightly, a buoyant smile on his face.
“Well if it isn’t the enemy,” Zara joked.
“Hardly, more like your inside man,” Vincent said, putting his hands in his trouser pockets and trying to look formidable.
“Oooh I like that!” Zara said. “So Mr. Inside Man, what can you tell us, or should I say, what are you allowed to tell us without losing your job?”
“Well I can tell ya right off the bat no one at the precinct thinks Miss Price did it.”
“What?!” Penelope shouted, rising from her chair. “Then why on earth—”
Vincent shook his head and cut her off. “I have no idea, really. I can’t figure the chief out on this one. You must’ve really done something to get on his bad side. Actually, he doesn’t have a bad side. But whatever you did, it must’ve been a doozy.”
“But I didn’t do anything!” Penelope began to pace and nibble her fingernails. “I’ve hardly ever spoken to Chief Harrison. He was gruff with me from the first moment we met! This is outrageous!”
“It is, P, and we will crack that nut one of these days. But for now, isn’t it comforting to know that the Chief doesn’t think it was you?” Zara said.
“Not when I’m scheduled to go to trial in less than a week!” she said, wheeling around to confront Zara.
“Well I’m determined to look at this as good news,” Zara said.
“Fine! You do that,” Penelope said, dropping into a chair and brooding with her arms folded.
“Vincent, I’ll be the one conducting our little chat, if that suits you,” Zara said.
“Fine by me,” he said, settling into an armchair.
“Aren’t you going to take notes?” Stella asked Penelope.
Penelope glared at her hard, her arms still folded.
“Okay, mental notes then,” Stella said to herself. “P, if it’s all right with you, I’m going to forego the usual questions with Vincent and just let him tell us what he knows.”
“Sure, why not? It’s only my neck that’s on the line,” Penelope said, tossing a pencil in the air.
“Pay no attention to the prime suspect,” Zara said to Vincent. “Now, tell us what you can.”
“Okay, well, the chief has pieced the forensic evidence together—that’s the information they deduce from the state of the crime scene. According to the coroner, whatever hit Dan was larger and more blunt than a gun handle. And when the chief asked if the weapon may have been an object from one of the shelves in the antiques store, the coroner said, yes, that was very likely.”
“Did the chief come up with a time that this attack might have taken place?” Penelope asked, her interest in the conversation growing.
“Yep, between eleven and midnight, about an hour or so after we all left.”
“And did the chief posit a motive or perhaps a scenario,” Penelope plied.
“He thinks somebody may have broken in to steal something and Dan walked in on them and they jumped him.”
“They, meaning more than one person?” Stella asked.
“Fine question, Stellar!” Zara said.
“Stellar?” Vincent said.
“That’s me,” Stella said, beaming.
“Uh, okay, and no, I’m pretty sure the chief thinks it was just one person,” Vincent said.
“We need to do an inventory,” Penelope said, getting up from her seat.
“Looks like all of your nitpicky recordkeeping is going to pay off,” Zara said.
“We bookkeepers are born detectives,” she replied, smoothing her hair in mock smugness.
“I don’t think I have time to help you look through everything right now. I have to get to work,” Vincent said.
“I didn’t know you worked at the police station on Saturdays,” Penelope said.
“I don’t. I took a weekend job—it’s just temporary—to help Mom and the kids,” he said, sitting up straight and shuffling his feet as he looked to the ground.
“We’re almost done here, Vincent,” Zara said warmly. “Just one last thing, for the time being. What do you know about the Bohemian Club? Did the chief mention it at all?”
“I know the same stuff everyone else does, I guess. It’s a bunch of artists and rich businessmen who get together in the woods and put on fancy pageants and feast like kings and sleep in luxurious cabins.”
“The chief didn’t bring it up in connection with P’s case?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Thank you, Vincent, you’ve been a wonderful help,” Zara said.
“Yes thank you, Vincent. I really value your assistance,” Penelope said. She then awkwardly approached him and hugged him. “It’s very good to see you.”
“Uh, thank you, Miss Price. It’s good to see you too. And don’t worry, I’ll be back here at the tearoom soon enough. ”
Penelope held her breath to avoid sniveling.
“Goodbye, ladies,” Vincent said.
“I’ll ankle out with you,” Stella said.
“What was that hugging business all about?” Zara asked Penelope, taking Vincent’s seat.
“I don’t know. I just suddenly became so emotional. To think Chief Harrison believes I’m innocent gives me hope, whatever his gripe with me might be.”
“That was some meaty information from Vincent, huh?”
“I’ll say! My head is swirling!”
“Your next appointment is here,” Stella announced in a sing-song manner.
“Who’s next?” Zara asked Penelope.
Before Penelope could consult her notes, a voice called out, “Good afternoon, Miss Price, Miss Zara.”
“Hank! What a pleasure!” Zara said, walking up to him and offering him her hand in business-like fashion, her flirtatiousness with him a thing of the past.
Penelope froze in place at the sound of his name, just when she was bending over to grab her notebook.
“How are you holding up, Miss Price?” Hank said, noting her hunched-over crone-like bearing.
“Uh … fudge?” Penelope said, regaining her mobility and holding out the candy dish toward him.
“Oh, umm no thanks. I’m just about to have lunch,” he answered, his warm eyes twinkling.
“Fine weather we’ve been having. Do you think we might rain any time soon?” Penelope said, bereft of rational thought, her hand shaking violently as she put the candy dish down.
“Oh P, you and your nutty sense of humor,” Zara said, feigning laughter as a means of glossing over Penelope’s social clumsiness. “Hank, would you like to have a seat? We just have a few mundane questions for you, nothing too provocative.”
“What can you tell us about the Bohemian Club?! What did my grandaunt have to do with it?! And how does it factor into Dan’s murder?!” Penelope spouted.
Zara opened her mouth to cover Penelope’s impulsive inquiry, but was rendered speechless by the blunt litany.
“Those are answers that may take more time than we have today,” Hank said diplomatically. “I’d be happy to discuss the club, another time. For now, wouldn’t it be most helpful to talk about Dan’s death? As I understand, you only have six days until your trial.”
“So then the Bohemian Club was not involved with Dan’s murder?” Zara asked.
“I can’t see how it would be,” Hank said.
“But you admit you’re a member?” Stella asked.
“Yes, I’m a member.”
“Tea?” Stella asked, eying him carefully, pouring him a cup without waiting for his response.
“And so was my grandaunt?” Penelope said, her flusteredness yielding to fascination.
“Yes, she sure was—a beloved member, actually—and one of the few women the club’s ever allowed in.”
“Is there anyone you can think of who would want to do Dan harm?” Zara asked.
“Yes,” Hank said, deftly lifting the teacup to his lips.
“Oh?” Penelope said.
“It’s nothing I can discuss around, Stella, I’m afraid,” he said.
“If you’re talking about The Pig, I’ve been there plenty.”
“Is that a fact?!” Hank replied.
“Yessiree, and I saw you there a couple of times to boot!” Stella said.
“Oh really!” Zara said.
Penelope gasped, dumbstruck.
“It’s not what you think,” Hank tried to assure her.
“I don’t know what to think,” Penelope thought aloud, stunned at the notion that Hank would patronize a speakeasy.
“Miss Price, if Dan were here to speak for himself, I’d say, ‘Go talk to him,’ but since he’s not …”
The three women leaned in, anxious to hear what he might disclose.
“You must understand …” Hank began. “Dan was under an unbearable amount of pressure. He’d been a successful businessman with a wife and four little ones. When he lost the saloon, he lost his ability to keep his family in the lifestyle he’d always provided. Even Lily was under pressure to keep living high on the hog to maintain her status in society.”
“Pressured by whom?” Penelope asked quietly, riveted by Hank’s testimony.
“By society women,” Zara said. “Am I right, Hank?”
He nodded.
“P, you have no idea how vicious those women can be. When you have the latest frocks and finest furnishings they clamor to sit at your feet. The instant you falter, they desert you, and hurl venomous aspersions—happy to ruin your reputation in a heartbeat,” Zara said.
“But surely you don’t mean the women of polite society,” Penelope said. “I would think that sort of thing would be … well … more like what would go on in the, how shall I say, courtesan ranks.”
Zara looked at her incredulously, swallowing to hide the pain Penelope’s remark induced. Stella, astute enough to pick up on any change in the emotional environment, was too focused on Hank to notice Zara’s wounded reaction.
“Zara’s absolutely correct,” Hank said. “I’ve seen society women tear each other apart like rabid dogs on a duck. The nouveau riche are the most vicious and have no regard for their victims’ families.”
“Surely, you don’t think any of that catty social warfare was involved in Dan’s death,” Penelope said, oblivious that she had aggrieved her most cherished friend.
“I don’t know enough about the circumstances to proffer an opinion,” Hank said.
“The coroner determined Dan was hit on the head with a large object here at AntiquiTeas between eleven and midnight,” Zara said plainly, shaking off Penelope’s unintended slight. “It’s been suggested that Dan may have walked in on someone who was in the act of stealing something from the antiques shop. Do you consider it feasible that the item may be somehow associated with the Bohemian Club?”
“Yes,” Hank answered.
“Indeed?” Penelope said, trying to fathom the gravity of Hank’s words.
“Based on what you’ve told me, very much so,” Hank said.
“But why specifically the night before the grand opening?” Stella chimed in.
“Excellent question, Stella!” Penelope said.
“That’s Stellar, if you please,” she replied.
“Look, if it really did have something to do with the club, then I would think that whoever stole whatever they stole would want to do it before your store opened for business,” Hank said.
The novice detectives looked at him blankly.
“… to ensure no one bought it!” Hank explained.
“Ohhhhhh/Ahhhhhh” the ladies said in unison.
“We really must conduct that inventory!” Penelope said, standing up and scuttling to the office to fetch her ledger.
“Can’t that wait ’til after Hank leaves?” Zara called after her.
“It’s gone!” Penelope shouted from her office, running back into the tearoom. “The ledger’s gone!” she shrieked, her skirt fluttering as her knees began to knock together.
“Calm down, P. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation,” Zara said.
“Of course there is. Someone stole it!” Penelope said, pacing and chewing her thumbnail. “You don’t suppose the thief struck again!” she said, her eyes wide in terror.
“Did you look in the pit of no return?” Stella said calmly.
“The what?” Hank asked.
“My carpetbag? No! Why would I look there?!” Penelope squawked. She stood for a moment, her eyes darting in thought; then she hurried back to the office to retrieve the massive tote. “I haven’t used this bag much lately. My goodness, it’s even heavier than I remembered! But if that ledger is in here I’ll eat my …. Well whaddaya know,” Penelope said, producing the logbook.
“You’ll eat what?” Zara said.
“… My pride … and maybe some dessert,” Penelope said, flipping through the book’s pages without realizing what she’d said.
“Well, ladies, I have to be going, so I’ll let you get to it. Glad you found the ledger. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate,” Hank said, putting his fedora on and tugging on the front of the brim in salutation.
By the time Penelope realized Hank was leaving, he’d already gone.
“Brilliant suggestion about the carpetbag, Stellar!” Zara said.
“Neh,” Stella said with a shrug. “All in a day’s work for a junior inquiry agent.”
“I would say let’s go visit Hubert next, but I know you want to—” Zara began.
“Do inventory!” Zara and Penelope said together.
* * * *
The three investigators combed the antiques store, with Zara searching through the floor displays, Stella up on the library ladder examining the hard-to-reach items, and Penelope comfortably seated with her ledger in her lap, rattling off item descriptions and their supposed whereabouts.
“I owe you an apology, P,” Zara said.
“Just the one?” Penelope scoffed.
“The horrible things I said about you in my head when you made that ledger list, logging which shelf we put what on. Today, we’d be up a creek without it.”
Penelope simply smiled, licked the tip of her pencil, and ticked items off in the ledger.
* * * *
“Well that’s the last of it,” Penelope said, closing the ledger and stretching. “And the findings are intriguing, in my estimation. Two things are unaccounted for.”
“A brooch in the shape of an owl and a bust of Mozart,” Stella declared.
Penelope gasped. “Exactly right … Stellar.”
Stella smiled, thrilled to hear her nickname as well as to know she was right.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Zara said, joining Penelope on the banquette sofa and stretching her back.
“I doubt it. My mind has never dipped to those depraved depths,” Penelope joked.
“Wisenheimer! What I meant was that—”
“That the thief hit Dan over the head with the statue and made off with the owl pin,” Stella cut in, getting down from the ladder.
“P, why do I get the feeling you and I have been rendered redundant?”
“Because great minds think alike; and because I wholeheartedly concur with Stella’s hypothesis.”
“We may as well just retire now and turn the business over to this stellar upstart.”
Stella beamed under the praise.
“Mees Price?” Hubert said, poking his head through the shop door.
“Hello, Mr. Allen. We owe you a visit this afternoon don’t we?” Penelope said.
“I’m afraid thee afteernoon eez long past,” he said.
“Oh gracious, look at the time!” Penelope said, jumping up as she checked her wristwatch.
“Yees, and now I must atteend to otheer matteers,” he said, looking at his watch.
“How thoughtless of us, Hubert. Please accept our apologies,” Zara said, sidling up to him and unleashing a modicum of her substantial charisma. “Can we offer you a cup of tea before you race off? What’s your favorite type?”
“Ireesh Breekfast?” he said.
Zara feigned a gasp. “Mine too! And that’s just what we were about to serve. Isn’t it, Stellar? Do sit down, Hubert. The tea will be right out,” Zara said, artfully lowering herself on the banquette sofa and patting the seat next to her.
“Weel, peerhaps just one cup,” he said, slicking back his few dozen hairs and smiling thinly as he accepted the invitation to sit beside Zara.
She nodded to Stella who turned and strode to the kitchen. Penelope retrieved a high-backed stool from the teller’s cage and sat with notebook and pencil at the ready.
“As you are aware, Hubert, our dear innocent Penelope has been charged with a murder we all know she didn’t commit. We believe we have determined both the means and the motive for the crime,” Zara said.
“Mees Zara, eef I were not impreesed with your taleents beffore …”
Zara rose and began to amble around the room, pausing and posing for maximum dramatic effect. “We further believe there might be a connection between the item stolen and the Bohemian Club.”
Hubert gulped loudly.
“My exact sentiments,” Zara said.
“But how?” he whispered, peering around the room for eavesdroppers.
“We don’t know just yet. That’s what we were hoping you could help us with.”
“I’m afraid I rehlly can’t,” Hubert said, standing. “Thee sancteeteh of thee club must beh prehseerved. I took a vow to—”
“Please, Hubert,” Zara said, placing a hand on his chest, “for Penelope.”
He shivered at her touch and sat back down.
“You see, your tea has arrived,” Zara said as Stella brought in yet another tray of tea accoutrements. “Milk? Sugar?” Zara asked, her hands dancing bewitchingly as she poured and prepared the tea. “Now what can you tell us … without breaking your oath?”
“I … you seh … Peerhaps if you told meh what has benn taken,” he asked, accepting the teacup from Zara.
“A brooch in the shape of an owl,” Penelope said.
“Covered in little diamonds with two big diamonds for eyes,” Stella added. “Thing’s gotta be worth a crate of clams.”
Hubert’s hands twitched, spilling his tea.
“You know this pin?” Zara asked.
“Of course. Weh all do. Eet eez priceleess.
“Expensive, I’ll grant you, but priceless?” Penelope said.
“Mees Price, eets significance far outweighs the matehrials from wheech eet was forged.”
“Go on, Hubert,” Zara said, removing a handkerchief from the lacy top of her stocking and blotting the tea driblets from Hubert’s thigh.
“Weel,” he began cautiously, his voice cracking as Zara applied her hanky. “Thee owl is thee reecognized symbol of thee Bohehmian Club and Bohehmian Grove.”
“Of course! I knew something about that owl seemed familiar!” Penelope exclaimed. “I saw a photograph of it in the Bohemian Jinks book I was just reading.”
“Thee club eez not jinnxed, and that book eez rubbish!” Hubert said jumping to his feet.
“That is why we need you, Hubert,” Zara said, placing a hand on his, “to give us the straight dope on the club and what might have transpired in relation to Dan.”
“And why,” Penelope added.
Hubert sighed, resumed his seat, and sipped his tea. “Thee brooch was geeven to Harry Eedwards, one of our most eellustrehious founding meembeers on thee occasion of heez dehparture to thee esst coast een pursuit of heez choseen vocation as a Shakesperreyan theespian.”
“I read about a Henry Edwards. Is that who you mean?” Penelope asked.
“Yees, Harry was the neekname by wheech weh all reefeered to heem. The date the peen was preeseenteed to heem was June 29, 1878—the same day Bohemmian Grove came eento eexeesteence.”
“Well if he went east, how did the pin end up back here?” Stella asked, eyeing him intently from behind the fragile display case on which she leaned.
“Another excellent question, Stellar!” Zara cheered.
“Heh deed not take eet weeth him. Heh entrusteed eet to thee club’s preeseedeent, stating heh would come back and colleect it later, as a way of promeesin heh would rehturn to the Bohehmians one day, you seh. It was keept for yehrs at the Club’s offeecees off Union Square.”
“In San Francisco?” Penelope asked.
“Prehcisely,” he said. “Harry made good on heez promeese and een 1888, on thee way back from conducting busineess in Australia, he came to Caleefornia to veeseet heez feellow Bohemmians. Eet was at that time heh gave thee peen to Mees Price’s grandaunt, Dorotheya Tate, thee club’s feerst fehmale member—honorareh meember, naturalleh.”
“Naturally,” Zara said, playing along.
“Jeepers,” Stella whispered.
“Are you getting all this, P?” Zara asked quietly.
“Not a lick,” Penelope said, leaning on her hand with her elbow digging into her thigh as she hung on Hubert’s every word. “I do have a question, though,” she said, snapping out of her awe-inspired reverie. “Why now? Why wait until I owned the shop to steal the brooch? Why not steal it years ago?”
“No one knew wheere Mees Deh keept it. Sheh deed not share your taleent for organeezation, Mees Price.”
Stella snorted. “Have you seen her carpetbag?”
“I am gueessing you put thee pin on display with thee reest of your aunt’s reeleecs, unaware of eets heestoreec value?” Hubert said.
Penelope nodded.
“Mees Price, eet eez of great importance to meh, as a Bohemmian, that thees objeect eez found. I weell asseest your seerch een any way I can.”
“Thank you, Mr. Allen. Your camaraderie means a great deal to me,” Penelope said.
“Mees Zara, eef theere eez anythin I can do for you … day or night,” he said, standing and looking her over from top to bottom in one long ravenous gaze.
Zara arched an eyebrow and nodded her understanding. Hubert exited, and Penelope locked the door behind him.
“Ladies, I do believe we’re getting somewhere,” Penelope said, clapping her hands.
“Yeah, but where?” Stella asked.
“Closer, Stellar, ever closer,” Penelope said, pacing and gnawing her thumbnail.
“So now what?” Stella asked.
“Phosphates, obviously,” Zara said, smiling.
Stella’s eyes lit up.
“A capital idea, Z. Ladies, collect your coats and hats. We’re going out to celebrate,” Penelope said, lugging her carpetbag over to the banquette in order to search for her keys.
“Celebrate what? We still don’t know who the killer is. We don’t even have the murder weapon!” Stella said, pulling a cloche hat down low over her eyes and donning crocheted gloves.
“Small victories, my dear,” Zara said, sliding her fingers into kid gloves.
“Ugh! This thing is heavier than ever!” Penelope complained. “And I just cleaned it out recently … What in blue blazes? Is that a rock?” she asked, her arm deep into the bag. “Is one of you playing some sort of joke on me?”
Zara and Stella shook their heads and looked to one another.
“Why, it’s enormous!” Penelope said.
“P! Watch your language in front of Stella!” Zara quipped.
Stella chortled.
“If only I could grab … There!” Penelope said, removing a bust statue of Mozart.
The three sleuths stared at one another, all too dumbfounded to speak.
* * * *
Stella was the first to form words. “It’s the weapon!”
“It looks that way,” Penelope said, excitedly inspecting the bust.
“And it also looks like you’re the one who used it, P. It’s in your bag!” Zara said, worry cracking her voice.
“Maybe the police can find some finger impressions on it to tell us who handled it,” Penelope said, turning the object in her hands.
“Yeah, and they’ll all be yours,” Stella said.
Penelope put the piece on a display case and backed away from it.
“You want me to get rid of it for you? Smash it to bits and scatter the pieces?” Stella asked.
“Yes,” Penelope said.
“P!” Zara said. “I’m surprised at you.”
“Well that is what I want. It doesn’t mean it’s what I think we should do.”
“You think we should turn it over to the police, don’t you?” Zara asked.
Penelope nodded, walking around the display to view the statue from all sides. “I don’t see any blood on it.”
“Probably wiped off … along with the finger impressions,” Zara said.
“Probably,” Penelope said automatically. She scurried over to the phone in the teller’s cage and lifted the mouthpiece. “Hello, this is Miss Price, from the AntiquiTeas shop … Yes, jail was very nice, thank you so much for inquiring. Why yes, I would indeed like to call Chief Harrison’s office. Thank you kindly … Yes, thank you, I hope I don’t hang also … Hello? Chief Harrison? This is Penelope Price. I believe I found your murder weapon … in my carpetbag.

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?”
“Yes.”
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.