July 23, Midnight
I sat at my open bedroom window, staring at the stars. The soft breeze blew across my face and made the cream curtains flutter. This feels good. A smile tugged on my lips. Cool air always felt more refreshing in the summertime. My hand rubbed my aching limbs, the price of doing yard work. It’s nice to just to sit here and relax.
My nose wrinkled as the wind started to blow hard. That’s weird. Outside the towering trees shook back and forth. What is that? In the distance a faint light moved toward my neighbor, Miss Benson’s house. Wait Miss Benson? What? Her house was just behind mine. Uh oh. I clutched my knees to my chest. A figure clad in black carrying the light crept up to the house. What is happening? Why would someone come to cranky old Miss Benson’s house in the middle of the night? Should I wake Dad? My heart pounded inside my chest as the wind stilled, holding its breath like it knew something I didn’t. A sudden scream echoed through the forest. Coldness swept over me. Oh no! Miss Benson? Then the light was gone and everything was still, deadly still. My vision began to blur. I need to get…my head dropped into the world of sleep.
Frowning, I focused on the burnt piece of toast in front of me. That had to have been a dream last night, it just had too. Nothing scary happened at Miss Benson’s house last night. Except my window was wide open this morning and I was sleeping right there on the window sill. Hmm…I dismissed the thought. And what’s so weird about that? I must have opened the window before I went to bed to cool myself off and I just fell asleep. That has to be it. Despite my reasoning a lump formed in my throat.
“Emerald, I am talking to you.” An insistent voice called.
My head snapped up and I met Dad’s amused eyes. He stood across the kitchen island while I shifted on my stool. My cheeks turned pink. Great, he was talking to me and I was oblivious. Now I am going to be teased.
Dad stared at me for a few seconds, smirking. “Well, anyway”…His ringing cell phone interrupted him. He answered and I noticed his face drain of all color. “Okay Henry, thank you for calling.” Dad put down the phone, and stared at nothing.
Henry? Uncle Henry, the police chief? Uh oh. Something must have happened. My mouth went dry. What if that something happened at midnight? Dad took my hand in his, I flinched but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Emerald, there is some news from Uncle Henry.” Dad cleared his throat. “This morning a neighbor found Miss Benson on her porch, injured and unconscious. She had a big gash on her head, and a broken arm. She is at the hospital now, being taken care of.”
“What?” I gasped and pulled away. So that wasn’t a dream? I rubbed my hands together, seeking warmth. This is scary. What if that had happened to me?
Dad went on. “Police are at the scene right now, there are footprints leading up to her porch.”
My eyes sought his. “Who would do this to her?” My knuckles turned white as I clenched my fist. This person has a lot of explaining to do.
Dad shook his head.“I don’t know.” He looked troubled. “Why don’t you go over to Bella’s house. She’ll get your mind on happier things.”
Oh I won’t think of happy things! I will get to the bottom of this crime for Miss Benson’s sake. “Okay. Are you good?”
“Yep.” He smiled at me although his eyes were clouded.
I squeezed his warm hand and gave him a hug. “Can I take the truck since Bella’s house is a few blocks away?” Bella and I are going to investigate this. In that moment I was too preoccupied to think of how dangerous this could be.
“Sure. I will call you if I need it.”
“Alright.” Picking up my cell phone, I headed for the front door and grabbed the car keys from the entryway table. “I’ll see you later Dad. Bye.”
Dad’s red truck was parked on our sloping driveway. The engine rumbled to life as I turned the ignition key. I love this truck. Backing out I headed towards Bella’s house. Neighboring homes blurred as I drove.
Bella had been a lifeline for me when my mom died, and now we were inseparable. But can we solve a crime together? Is this realistic?
Bella opened the front door to her family’s pale green two story house, and scurried over as I drove up. She must have seen me through the window. When I got out she gave me a tight hug. “Hey,” I said, losing air, “can’t breathe here.”
Bella let go. “Emerald! What a pleasant surprise, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Her green eyes twinkled in merriment.
I leaned in close. “I have some news.” Bella fidgeted as I told my tale about last night and this morning. Is she nervous?
Bella’s face was serious when I finished. “We have to figure out who did this to her and why.” She said, determined.
I glanced around a bush. My foot crunched against dead leaves as I took a step and Bella followed behind me. Well we’re here. We were a few feet away from Miss Benson’s house which was old fashioned and painted yellow with white trim. We had thought it a good idea to come to the crime scene, to see if we could find any clues about the person who hurt her.
It looks pretty normal. I studied the area some more. Well except for the orange security tape and blood?! My breathing became labored. On several of the porch floorboards, there were red splatter stains. I don’t remember those being there before. I gulped. Could that be blood? Miss Benson’s blood? I closed my eyes against the image.
Then Bella screamed. “AHHHH!” I jumped around. IS THERE A KILLER?! “WHAT? WHAT IS IT?” I searched for a threat.
Grabbing my shoulders, Bella hid behind me. She pointed at the ground. “Look.” She grimaced.
Oh Bella. On the ground a little black spider scurried for its life and hid under a rock. At least it wasn’t some bad guy. That was frightening. “It’s gone now.” I covered my mouth.
Bella slapped my back. “Don’t laugh! Spiders are gross, I hate them.” She cringed.
I shook my head at her. I don’t get you sometimes. “Come on let’s go.” We crept around the house and up to the back porch. Bella went ahead of me and opened the slider door which led into the spacious living room. “Wow,” I stated, “this is a mess.” We both stared. Her old oak table and flower printed chairs were turned upside down and broken pieces of glass were scattered everywhere on the floor. My nose twitched. Why does it smell like smoke in here?
“Someone was looking for something. I’m guessing something valuable” Bella said picking up a piece of a broken teacup, “And they must have been angry and not cared for anything but what they were looking for.”
“Yeah.” I walked over to Miss Benson’s beautiful china hutch. What a bummer. All the precious things that were once inside were destroyed. Hmm. Something valuable.
“Oh.” The ring. Spinning around I grabbed Bella. I led her down the gray hallway which was oddly absent of pictures. All of her memories, just gone. We entered the sunny yellow guest bedroom which was also a mess. The mattress was all the way off the bed and on the floor was its blue and white checkered bedspread. Someone was angry.
“When I was little Miss Benson showed me a ring that had belonged to her mother. At the age of six I didn’t have much of a filter, so I asked her if it was valuable. And she said that it was. She had led me here,” I gestured around the room, “And sitting on an old dresser there was a black box with beautiful carving that had a lock…” I sucked in a breath.
Sitting on the dresser in the corner of the room was the black box, broken open. I walked over and looked inside it. There was no ring but there was a piece of crisp white paper folded neatly inside. Oh. Did someone plant this here or could it be from the intruder? I rubbed my forehead and reached for the paper. My hand shook as I opened it up and read aloud.
Hello Kelly, its me, Teddy. Did you cringe at my name? You should. You didn’t think that you would hear from me did you? You thought that I was gone for good and wouldn’t make your life miserable. But you were wrong! I have not forgiven the injustice you have done to me and you shall pay!! I have your precious ring and if you value your life then meet me on fourth street, tonight, with $10,000. And if you don’t show up I will come after you with deadly intentions!! You have been warned!
Tears dripped down my face. “Who would leave such a note?” I whispered to Bella.
Bella’s face was wet with tears too. “I don’t know,” she croaked, “someone horrible.” We were silent. “Do you think Miss Benson would know who wrote this?” She asked.
I wiped my tears. “Maybe.” But if she does know who wrote it would she tell us? Of course she would tell us; whoever this person is they are horrible and she wouldn’t keep their identity to herself. “We should go and see Miss Benson.” Bella nodded as I handed her the paper.
At the hospital we walked into the Miss Benson’s room. I sniffed. What is that smell? Maybe disinfectant? The room was small with one chair in the corner. The floors were shiny white and clean.
Miss Benson laid on the bed, her eyes closed. Her gray hair was sticking up. I noticed a large bandage on her forehead, and a cast on her arm. We approached the bed. “Hi Miss Benson,” my lips forced a grin, “how are you doing?”
Miss Benson’s tired eyes fluttered open and she grinned back.“Oh! Hello girls.”
Well I hadn’t expected her to be pleasant. Maybe it’s her medication. I cleared my throat. “How are you doing Miss Benson?”
“Oh other than some bumps and bruises and this here broken arm,” She glanced down at her cast, “I’m right as rain.” She smiled again.
This is weird. How can she be so happy? Someone hurt her last night.
“Miss Benson,” Bella said sweetly, “we found something rather unusual at your house today and we were wondering if you knew something about it?” Miss Benson’s smile faltered and she forced a chuckle.
“You girls being nosey again? Well I will take a look at whatever it is.”
Bella took the folded paper out of her pocket. Miss Benson took it in her trembling hand. Could she be afraid? Does she already know about the note?”
She opened it up and read. Her face drained of color and she dropped the paper. “That is nothing,” she said, irritated, “That’s just a silly little note that someone planted in my house as an evil prank.” Her voice rasped.
She’s afraid. But who is she afraid of? I leaned towards her. “Miss Benson we found it in the black box with the lock in your guest bedroom, it was broken into and…”
“That is enough!” Miss Benson’s eyes practically bulged as she shouted.“Like I told the police, I know nothing! It was dark and I couldn’t see a thing last night! I have no idea who did this and why they wrecked my house! Okay? Is that enough evidence for you?!”
Wow that was a change in personality. Her angry outburst surprised me. Bella’s mouth was open when I looked her way. “But…” I persisted.
“I’m tired.” Miss Benson cut in “Go or I will have to call the nurse to come and remove you.”
If that’s what you want. Motioning to Bella, we went out into the hallway. It was filled with busy doctors and nurses scurrying back and forth. I wonder what they would do if they knew what I know? Probably call the police.
I leaned against the wall. “Maybe we’re in over our heads. We should just hand the note over to the police and forget all about this. This is real life, not something from a book.” Why did I think we could investigate a crime? I sighed and Bella was silent. She must agree.
“No, no.” Bella stated. “We can’t give up. Miss Benson could die if we do, remember what he said in the note?” Her voice quivered.
Oh yeah, but I’m scared. “Well…but it will be dangerous.” Maybe that will deter her.
A brave smile stretched across her face. “Danger, ha! I laugh in the face of danger!”
Some much for deterring. I cracked a smile. “But Bella…” She grabbed my hands and started dragging me down the hall. Suspicious nurses raised their eyebrows as we went by. I wish I could stay here with you guys. Because I’m going to regret this, I just know it.
It was starting to get dark as we walked down Fourth Street side by side. There were closed shops to our right and the street to the left was absent of cars. He picked just the right place, there is no one here at this time of day. A cold wind started to blow and I pulled my sweater tight against my body. We could just turn around now; no one would…
Suddenly, a voice cackled from behind us.
We both jumped around and came face to face with a menacing figure holding a knife in his hand. TEDDY. My brain screamed at me to run but my legs refused to obey.
Teddy stepped towards us, waving the knife in the air. “So Kelly sent two little girls to do her dirty work. Well that’s just cruel!” His voice dripped with sarcasm. He smiled at us with rotten teeth.
That’s Teddy alright. My knees shook. I think I am going to faint.
Teddy’s face darkened. “We don’t have all day here! Where is my money?!” He pointed the knife at us.
OH NO! Bella and I glanced at each other. I couldn’t speak past the lump in my throat. Oh Lord please help us!
“And what if we didn’t bring the money?” Bella squeaked.
Teddy mumbled something under his breath. Then lifted his knife at us to strike.
I screamed and we both lifted up our hands in an attempt to shield ourselves. Am I going to die? Then I heard the click of guns being cocked and a familiar voice which shouted.
“Don’t you dare lay a finger on those girls! You are surrounded! Put up your hands and don’t even think of running! We won’t hesitate to shoot!”
Uncle Henry? Teddy immediately dropped the knife and put his hands up. Bella and I followed suit. My mouth dropped open as dozens of police officers came onto the scene from dark street corners and police cars pulled up to the roadside with flashing lights. I can’t believe this. Two police officers came up to Teddy, handcuffed him and led him away.
Bella’s parents called to her and she ran to embrace them. I stood as still as a statue. How did they know about this? Dad came running towards me. Oh Dad. I clung to him and laid my head against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry Dad. How did you know?” My voice shook with tears.
Dad pulled back. “You didn’t think I would let you go out by yourself after what happened did you?”
I stared at him. “What?”
Dad went on. “We have been following you guys everywhere today. After you had left the house I called Uncle Henry and told him that I thought you were up to something. Knowing you, he agreed. Didn’t you find it odd that there weren’t any police officers at Miss Benson’s house?” Dad gave my shoulder a little shake.
I have such a great Dad. I broke down then and got his shirt all wet as he hugged me.“I love you Dad.”
“I love you too honey.” He rubbed my back.
I wiped my cheeks, pulling away. It’s all over now. I’m okay, it’s okay. “Anyway,” I said, trying to be light, “did you find anything else out about Teddy and all?”
Dad nodded. “Teddy, is Miss Benson’s brother. He has been in and out of prison and is mentally unstable. He held a grudge against her. He is going back to prison for sure.”
Wow. “Miss Benson’s brother? That is crazy and really sad.” I jumped when a strong hand patted my back. Uncle Henry stood beside me, smiling.
“So is this going to be a routine Emerald?” Uncle Henry teased. “Are you going to partner up with me solving crimes and catching bad guys?” Dad shook his head and I laughed out loud.
I have such an amazing family; thank you for them Lord! I probably won’t be solving another midnight mystery anytime soon or will I?