BY: A H Scott

Agatha-Josephine and Nicky Charle suspect their school janitor is murdering all of the women he takes down to the cellar at their high school. Especially, after they find the corpse of an unrecognizable woman in the furnace burnt to a crisp. This leads the two of them on a campaign to solve the crime before her grandfather Bill Gannon a retired detective, Joe Friday (special agent), and the local police.

Agatha-Josephine Friday Noonsday and Nicky Charle, Amateur Sleuths, are high school students in Woodinville, Washington. These two amateur sleuths are thrown into a murder investigation and the calamities of others by being in the wrong place at the right time. Agatha-Josephine expects everything to come out OK. Unless, her suspicions of events surrounding her and Nicky’s discoveries leading to murder get the best of her imagination.

death comes to its victims unexposed
with the crackling of the neck
hindering one’s last breath
the hallow eyes closes to numbness, set forever
screams are never heard
                                          ash

CHAPTER 1

You know Jo, hiding here in plain sight in front of the door leading down into the cellar makes us look suspicious to anyone who might walk pass by,” Nicky said, lurking behind the trashcan flanking the entrance to the cellar at Abraham Lincoln High School. “And us stalking poor old McCrumb isn’t too different from when you hid in the back of your pops squad car when you were seven years old. Remember?”

“Sure enough, but this is a little different. I’m not a child like I was back then,” Agatha-Josephine said, biting at her nails.

“You know I’m still not too sure how you were able to get out of your house without your pops knowing. Boy did you dodge a bullet,” he said.

“Oh, I used to be able to scoot into all kinds of places without being seen.”

“For sure, I’m betting your pops was really angry with you.”

“Nah, not really,” she said.

Agatha-Josephine stared ahead at the door leading down to the cellar, absentmindedly.

“It was like this. My daddy received a Code-3 alarm call from one of his deputies, at least I think it was a deputy,” she said nonchalant. “Yeah, I’m sure it was a Deputy Jenkins who called. I used to know all of their names over at the station. My daddy used to let Gramps bring me down. That was before.”

“Jo, but why were you hiding in the backseat of your daddy’s squad car anyway?” Nicky said.

“I just wanted to be in the excitement and show him that I was….”

“Especially at that time of night, weren’t you scared?”

Agatha-Josephine Friday Noonsday shrugged her shoulders.

“I would have been scared out of my tookus.”

A slight smile slid up Agatha-Josephine’s face. “Sure enough,” she said.

“Of course, you had no idea how dangerous it was,” Nicky continued.

“My daddy was not scared of danger.”

A disdainful look of defiance crossed Agatha-Josephine’s face. Her eyes shifted from watching the door of the cellar and bore into Nicky’s direction.

Nicky’s face was expressionless. His demeanor was targeted on watching the door of the cellar. To insure no one would be able to pass in or out without him seeing them.

“I did not say your pops was scared of danger,” he said.

His nose crinkled.

“But you put your pops in danger.”

Agatha-Josephine scrunched her nose back at him.

“What the heck were you thinking?” he said.

Agatha-Josephine hunched her shoulders. She released her gaze on Nicky and returned watching the entrance to the cellar door.

“Well, you see I was covered with this blanket daddy kept on the seat. I guess it was for emergencies or stakeouts. I don’t know.”

A sense of recognition dawned on her face. She scratched at her right elbow.

“Anyways, besides I was a kid,” she said.

Nicky shook his head from left to right. He looked over at her as though he was about to laugh.

“I was—I was too little to be noticed,” she said. At least I thought I was.

“You didn’t think your pops would notice his blanket was moving in the back seat of his car.”

“I suppose I thought daddy wouldn’t see me until it was too late for him to turn the car around and take me home.”

“So, your pops heard you sniffling in the rear of his squad car and that’s what stopped him,” Nicky said.

Nicky’s face was etched in the direction of the cellar’s door.

“Well, something like that.”

Agatha-Josephine twirled her fingers. She swept a string of hair from her face.

At the time it didn’t sound so stupid, she thought.

“So, if I understand this right, you were shrouded by the emergency blanket your daddy kept in the back seat?” his voice traveled off.

“Well, not quite that way.”

“What were you doing there?” his voice rose. “I know just squatting between the front and rear seat on the floor of your daddy’s squad car, right.”

Nicky wiped sweat from his brow. He rubbed his hands down his pant legs.

The corner of Agatha-Josephine’s eyes wrinkled.

“Oh fudge, it’s just like we are hiding right now,” he continued. “I wish I were there when your pops hollered at you. I bet that really scared you. I know you never did that again.”

“I just wanted to go out on the ride-along with my daddy,” Agatha-Josephine said. She sighed. “I really miss him.”

“You know Agatha-Josephine Friday Noonsday, you are insane! That was not the time for a ride-along. When a robbery is in progress, and gun shots being fired,” Nicky squealed. “What were you thinking?”

“Shush Nicky.”

“Nah and that’s with a ‘big n.’ I’m sure you weren’t thinking like you’re not thinking right now. Jo, if we get caught…”

“I know better now.”

“Seriously,” Nicky said.

“Believe me Nicky. That was my first and last unofficial police pursuit with my daddy. You know that was the last time.

“Sorry Jo.”

“I had a hard time living that one down at home,” she said.

Tears glistened in Agatha-Josephine’s eyes. She opened them wider to hold them back from falling. She leaned outwards from the back of trashcans to catch a breath of fresh air.

Chief Inspector Pauley O’ Hannon Noonsday received a Code-3 alarm phone call while at home, with a 10-80 in-progress from a Seattle Police Department dispatcher. This phone call stimulated his daughter, Agatha-Josephine into action. She was listening to Pauley’s one-sided phone conversation from the hallway of their home. Rather than going to bed for the night as she did each night in the safety of their home, Agatha-Josephine decided to tag along. This was unbeknownst to Chief Inspector Noonsday.

Filling the darkness of the night with a single beacon blue and white light flashing and siren screaming, Chief Inspector Noonday barreled through the streets of Seattle. He drove his off-blue Chevy squad car as though a charge of African animals stampeded during a bush fire. To most people this unassuming car was just that, but once the flashing strobe light was placed over the roof of the car anyone near knew to steer clear. Noonsday eagled eyed each and every traffic signal he drove through. Feeling tense, his left eye twitched when he arrived at the scene; this was normal.

The sound of gun shots blasted in the cool night’s air echoing across the top of houses and buildings. Pulling up behind an empty squad car, Noonsday pushed the gear shift to park. His right hand fingered the Beretta M1951 on his left shoulder given to him by his father-in-law Bill Gannon some years back. Kicking the car door open in a single movement, his breathing slowed.

Chief Inspector Noonsday was ready to respond. Straightaway on his guard, his body quaked. Pulling his gun from his shoulder harness he leaned over the console in the middle of the car. He reached behind his seat and tugged on the plaid blanket he kept on the rear seat; he paused with gun in hand.

Being more of a tomboy at times was hard for Agatha-Josephine’s family. She was ‘as hard as nails’ some folks would say. She would be muddier than any boy playing cops and robbers in her neighborhood. Getting dirty was more to her liking than wearing frilly dresses, as she pleased. If there was a case needing to be solved, you can bet Agatha-Josephine’s stuck her nose in. You had better believe she would be there, following clues of any type all the way to exhaustion.

“For sure, I see why you earned the namesake Jo after your grandfather’s best friend Joe Friday. And of course, you are proud of it,” Nicky said.

He covered his nose with his left hand.

“Sure enough,” she said.

“Jo, you have a knack of getting into trouble,” he murmured. Nicky shook his head. “…and pulling me right in the mix, yep right dab in the middle.”

“Nicky why are you talking so much?” she lowered her voice. “We are supposed to be on a stake-out.”

“I know this.”

“I warned you that we would have to be quiet, but no you keep on talking,” she said.

“As long as I have known you, you have pulled me into so many of your schemes. And this one is no different.”

“You know you can leave anytime you want, you know,” she said, a scowl crossed her forehead.

“Always a dilemma and everyone looks at me when your name comes up. Yep, that Nicky is involved, too. Even when I deny knowing anything, I am still guilty by association,” he said, his face set in a serious gawk.

Agatha-Josephine snickered. She leaned further back against the wall.

“Well, it’s your fault that you like to hang with me,” she said.

“Sure enough, if I don’t watch out for you who else will?”

“You can leave when you want. I done told you this before. Besides, I don’t control your life Nicky Charle.”

“Really…really Jo,” he continued.

“Well, you know I can do this alone.”

“Yeah right, you know what my folks call us?”

“Two great kids,” she said, smiling.

“Not really, nope.”

“Hmm…for sure, we’re not great kids?”

“Nope, you are the Lone Ranger, and I am your reluctant Tonto.”

“Well, that’s pretty cool.”

“Oh, there’s more. You’re Superman with a repentant alter ego Clark Kent, that’s me.”

“Hmm, I like those analogies. We are superheroes, and I’m the lead.”

“Yes, thank you very much Agatha-Josephine. You are the so-called leader, and I am the come along to sorta keep you out of trouble, or at best I think I will save you from yourself.”

She laughed. “Well, nobody forces you to come along.”

“Agatha-Josephine this is another cold case,” he said.

His voice cracked. He scratched his head while peering out from behind the trashcans.

“Nicky, what did you say?” Agatha-Josephine whispered.

“Oh, forget it Jo. It’s not important,” he said. Oops, good she didn’t hear me. I feel awful bringing up the past.

“Whatcha mean?” she said, her jaws clinched.

Agatha-Josephine’s eyes moved away from watching the cellar door to looking at Nicky.

“Not on your life Nicky Charle, what did you mean this is another cold case?”

Nicky’s shoulders hunched. He stared down at his hands.

“You mean like my dad’s case.”

A muscle in Agatha-Josephine’s neck twitched. Her glaze moved from staring at the cellar door to glaring in Nicky’s direction.

“That is what you meant,” she said.

Nicky went stone-faced. His eyes never left the direction of the cellar door.

“What’s the other one then?” she said.

“Shh Jo,” he said.

Nicky’s eyes lowered down toward his feet. He wiped the sweat that had settled on his brow with his left hand. He rubbed his sweaty palms down the sides of his pants legs.

“Why do you always have to be so pushy?” he said.

He bent his body down behind the trashcans onto his haunches.

“What’s the matter with you?” she continued.

“Nothing Jo, there’s nothing the matter with me.”

He fiddled with the laces of his tennis’s shoe.

Agatha-Josephine stared at him. “You know you’re itching to tell me, so what gives?” she said.

She followed Nicky and knelt down behind the trashcans.

“Umm, well…you remember last year when Miss Dauwood disappeared?”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding in the affirmative. “She was our English teacher last year. What about her. Did she disappear?”

“No, I mean when she left school so unexpectedly.”

“You think she left unexpectedly…oh yeah, she did,” Agatha-Josephine said.

She trained her eyes back to watching the cellar door.

“Well, she didn’t come back?” Nicky said.

“Sure enough,” Agatha-Josephine said.

“Remember.”

“She left before the end of the semester. That’s right.”

Agatha-Josephine scratched her head. She turned back in his direction.

“And some of the other kids thought she just walked out on us,” Agatha-Josephine said.

Her eyes moved away from watching Nicky back to the door of the cellar.

“What about it?”

Nicky frowned. “Remember how some of the kids said that something bad must’ve happened to her.”

“Yeah, I was one of them who thought it was suspicious that Miss D didn’t return to school. She liked us a bunch. But if I remember correctly you told me there was nothing suspicious about a teacher leaving before school was out.”

“I know,” he said, sighing. He let out a deep breath. “Anyways, Miss D would never have left us that way. Right? Remember you saying so.”

“I agree.”

“Well, I thought—that maybe,” he said, looking about their surroundings.

“Hold the phone, Nicky. You don’t think that shoe we found behind the furnace down in cellar the other day belongs to Miss D? No way. Miss D would never go down there,” Agatha-Josephine said.

Nicky stared at the cellar door in deep thought. “Do you think?” he said, mesmerized.

“How do I know if she would or wouldn’t,” Agatha said, shaking her head. “You are so—right. Miss D would never leave us kids.”

She rubbed behind her ear and scratched her head.

“I hate it when your eyes get bright,” Nicky said.

“You know she and McCrumb didn’t like each other.”

“Yep, I hate it when the wheels in your head start to turn.”

“No, they really did not like each other.”

“Here we go again,” Nicky said.

“No really.” Agatha-Josephine pulled on her right ear. “Remember McCrumb used to always come to our classroom. He would say terrible mean things to Miss D,” she said.

Nicky nodded.

“You actually think that could be Miss D shoe, where’s the other one? McCrumb must have done something with her,” she said.

“And I hate it when you start that pulling on your ear…I know we are about to get into more trouble,” Nicky said.

“Remember that time he busted…” Her eyes widened. “Into the classroom swearing that Miss D stole from him?” she said.

“Yeah,” Nicky said. I cannot believe I opened my big mouth, what am I thinking?

“Remember, I told you about that?” She became excited. “If I recall right, Miss D just stood there all shocked and looking kind of funny. Strange like. She sorta went all pale in the face.”

“Shush Jo. Keep it down,” Nicky said, moving in farther behind the school’s trashcans. His eyes trained toward the cellar’s door. “You’re gonna get us caught,” he whispered.

“Alright already,” she whispered. “Well anyways Miss D always did dress nice. She wore the prettiest shoes.”

Agatha-Josephine scratched her head again. Her nose wrinkled.

“Come to think about it. That shoe we found down there is familiar to me,” she said, pulling on her left ear.

“Jo, you did say when we were in the cellar last…that it was a nice shoe.”

“Yep, I did.”

“You think it could be Miss D’s shoe? I never notice shoes.”

Nicky scratched behind his ear.

“Well, at least not girl’s shoes,” he continued. He tried to stretch out his legs. “Only females do stuff like that. Guys don’t care about shoes, purses, stuff like that.”

“Is that so,” she said.

“We men don’t care about stuff like that, now I do like a nice pair of kicks you know the ones with the stripe around the trimming the shoe with…” he said.

Agatha-Josephine rolled her eyes towards the ceiling of Abraham Lincoln High School.

“Nah, we guys just like our kicks and move on from there.”

Nicky looked down at his tennis shoes, he wriggled his toes.

“Yep, I’m more than positive that I think it could be Miss D’s shoe,” she said.

Nicky hunched his shoulders again and nodded. Yeah, you would know.

“Yep, I’m closer to being sure that it is her shoe, than not. Well, at least the type of shoe Miss D would wear say if she was…”

“It just looked like an old woman shoe to me,” Nicky said. “…something my mother would never wear.”

He dug in his pocket and pulled out a Bazooka bubble gum. He opened the paper around the gum revealing the pink double serrated bubble gum. He broke the gum down the serrated middle.

“You want half?” he whispered, handing a piece to Agatha-Josephine.

“That wasn’t an old shoe Nicky. Nah…no thanks,” she said, shaking her head. Why would McCrumb have Miss D’s shoe down there!

“Suit yourself. More for me,” he said.

Nicky opened his mouth wider. He pressed the one-half of the gum between his jowls. He stared at the other half of the gum.

“You are for later.”

Nicky pushed the other half of the gum back into its original wrapper and dropped it into his pants pocket.

“You think he could have done something to her?” Agatha-Josephine said.

“Well, umm, I don’t think so,” Nicky said.

He attempted to move the hard gum between his teeth and tongue. His jaws ached.

“Um, no one commits murder where kids are,” he said, smacking down hard on the gum.

“Gee golly my tongue feels as tired as a donkey pulling a load of lead up Mt. St. Helen.”

He blew out a thick bubble.

“Do they?” he whispered, sucking the gum bubble in. “Especially, not on the school property—right?” he said, smacking in between words. He tried to soften the gum in his mouth.

Agatha-Josephine nodded.

“Well, you’re no help,” he said.

“Well, I know murder can happen anywhere. Gramps always said that just because you look innocent, that don’t mean you are, or something like that.”

Agatha-Josephine moved about on her haunches.

“My legs are trying to go numb. I can feel the numbness in my calf going down to my feet,” she continued.

“Yeah, mine too. Kind of strange like dying. I hate those stinging feelings like needles sticking in my thighs and feet. Why are we here again, I forget? You know Jo, I could be at home playing on my X-Box and waiting for the release date of the new one, but no I’m here behind trashcans.”

“You know, we can’t leave until we investigate further,” she said. This is all I need to prove to Gramps that I can do investigative work. I’m a great detective just like he and Uncle Joe used to be, even though I’m only fifteen and three-quarters.

She wiggled her left leg.

“Watch out Jo,” Nicky said.

He moved from behind the trashcans, trying to avoid Agatha-Josephine’s leg shaking in his direction.

“Gramps will see we are just as good as he and Uncle Joe. Oh, sorry didn’t mean to hit you.”

“As good as what, investigate what?” Nicky whispered with a raspy voice. “…but I thought that we were just going to watch who went down to the cellar, not go back down there. Uh-uh! Not again.”

Nicky wrapped his arms about his legs. His body shook in his sweater, even though the weather was not chilled.

“Look Jo, the next time we might not be so lucky,” his voice lowered. “McCrumb might come back and catch us. Or worse, there might be a reason why those women never come back out.”

Nicky waved his hand before his face.

“I don’t think we really want to find out,” he continued.

“Are you scared? You’re not a Freddie cat are you, Nicky?” Agatha-Josephine said, teasing. “I thought you were more mature than me.” Her voice rose. I’m not about to tell him that I really don’t want to go back down there either. I’m just as scared as he is or more.

“Look Agatha-Josephine, I am not about to let you force me into doing something that I do not want to do.”

Nicky never calls Agatha-Josephine by her christen name. Unless he needed her attention. Or if she was being too pushy—as usual. Or if she needed to be aware of what was going on. Like if something really bothered him. And this was one of those times.

She smiled over in his direction.

“Besides, I’m the one who is sixteen now,” he declared.

“For reals, you’re only four months older than me,” she said.

Nicky pushed his back harder against the wall.

“Nah, I ain’t no Freddie cat. But I know McCrumb is meaner as anybody I have ever known. He will skin us alive if he catches us.”

“But we are not going to get caught. I’m more sure of this than I have ever been,” she said, crossing her fingers out of his sight. McCrumb just might get us.

“Jo, you have said that more than two times before. And where did that get us?”

He glanced at the cellar door again.

“I’m still not convinced that we should be doing this,” he said.

“The plan is to make McCrumb leave. We can do that. We will call the fire department.”

“Jo, that is against the law. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“We will tell them there is a hazardous something or other in the cellar.”

Nicky shook his head.

“No, that is against the law. We are going to be in so much trouble.”

Agatha-Josephine ignored his objection. “McCrumb will have to leave for maybe two days. That will be enough time for us to search and find clues.”

“And how are we to do this?”

“Easy.”

“Look Jo, I know you don’t care about sitting in detention or even being expelled. But my parents will mind. They frown on delinquent behavior. I am sure your gramps will not like it again—that you’re in trouble, again. You think?” he said.

He leaned out from the trashcans where they were huddled together watching the door of the cellar.

“Besides, what can be so interesting down in that old dark place? My feet are numb.” Nicky shook his right foot trying to bring it back to life. “It’s not like Miss D would have gone down there. Especially, she would never have gone down there willingly with McCrumb,” he said.

Agatha-Josephine frowned.

“They don’t even like each other,” he continued.

“Nicky that’s the whole idea. Now you have given me the M.O., I knew there was something stank about McCrumb. You done solved that part of the equation. That reminds me, did you finish the Geometry homework?”

“Yeah, it’s done. But, what’s this mo business?”

“Fool, not mo. You know the Modus Operandi, the motive, the method. McCrumb’s motive to hurt Miss D.”

“You cannot think the disappearance of Miss D has anything to do with the janitor. The equation does not mix?” A strange look crossed Nicky’s face. “Jo, you and your technical terms.” He shook his head.

“Nicky, are you sick or something?”

“Nah, I just keep catching a breeze of cool air,” he said, shivering. “You know what you want to do is illegal. We both can go to Juvi, if we are caught calling in false reports. No matter who your gramps is or what connections he has. Besides, my folks won’t be too happy either.”

“Oh, right,” she said, lowering her head and smiling.

“Whatcha mean, oh, right? You know that type of comment annoys me.”

Gazing into Nicky’s hazel eyes Agatha-Josephine giggled.

“You know my Gramps always said to pay attention to all details. And right now I think you are sick, or you are scared. Which one is it going to be?”

“A little of both, I suppose,” Nicky said, wrapping his arms about his knees.

“Well then all right. I can work with that.” She smiled. “Be a little sick but move that fear into a positive push of finding out the truth. That’s what I’m doing.”

“Jo, you really think Janitor McCrumb really murdered all those women?”

He stretched out his legs and tried to control the nervous jumping in his kneecaps.

“You know all those women he took down into the cellar,” he continued. “My calves are on fire.”

Agatha-Josephine stared at the door of the cellar in silence.

“You think all those late-night rendezvous with those women he planned to kill them all? That’s like a serial killer, or something.”

“I don’t know for sure, Nicky. The cellar is old, dilapidated, but in an antiquated sort of fashion. Why anyone in their right mind would want to go down there is beyond me,” she said.

“Don’t you think the cellar is nice?” Nicky said with sarcasm.

“I didn’t say that, but old things can be interesting.”

“Jo, you are strange liking old stuff.”

His eyebrows furrowed.

“Why the sudden change of heart? Yep, you are very strange,” he said.

“Nah, I ain’t got a change of heart. I didn’t say the cellar was the bomb. But I do like old stuff. I cherish the beauty of old things. Old stuff can be beautiful if you look hard enough. Nicky, it is called the power of observation and recognition of beauty.”

“Girl, you are weird! Abraham Lincoln High is one of the oldest and smelliest schools in the State. If it weren’t for—forget it.”

“Whatcha talking about, Nicky?”

“You know, the school is really smelly, and the cellar is nasty,” he said, moving his arms in the air for emphasis.

“I know, but there are some women who like that sorta stuff. Anyways, that is not why we are hiding behind these trashcans.”

“For sure,” he said, thumbing the calf of his legs with his thumbs. “Feels like stinging bugs.”

Agatha-Josephine rolled her eyes and pursed her lips.

“It’s up to us to figure out why anybody besides McCrumb would go into such a dingy place.

“Why us?” he cried, staring at the door to the cellar. “It’s not our business, you do know this. Why do we need to care?”

“And, then disappear once they go in. How do you think he gets the bodies out?”

Nicky shrugged his shoulders.

“You know when I was seven years old—I secretly wanted to be a detective like Gramps and Uncle Joe. Remember Nicky, I did solve the Myer’s cat disappearance.”

“Yeah, I recall something like that,” he said. I don’t get it why you always bring up that stupid cat on the roof, in a tree. I suppose it happened. We were kids then. I really do not remember it the same way.

“If it was not for me and my detective skills, little Cindy Myers would still be crying for that cat,” she said, trying to chuckle. “…and.”

“Yeah, and we wouldn’t be here hiding behind these smelly trashcans, neither. Why are you talking so much, you’re just as nervous as me,” Nicky said.

“Nicky, you know sleuthing is in my blood, sorta innate in my DNA. I have to solve mysteries, no matter who’s involved.”

“Sure enough,” Nicky said. “Jo, can’t you just shad up for a moment!”

“Whatever.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Let me say…”

“Right Jo, whenever or wherever there’s a problem or something, you… I mean you always bring me into the mix.”

“But that’s good detective work.”

“No, that’s getting into stuff where we should never be. Yep, always in the thick of whatever is going on.”

“Well, how else are you going to be a great detective someday like my Gramps and Uncle Joe? Can’t you see your name in the newspaper and maybe in books or television?”

“Nah, all I see is the disappointing looks on Pops and Moms face,” he said. Or maybe the two of us could be caught both lying face up on a cold blue slab. Praying and hoping neither one of us are not dead or something.

“You know I can extrapolate scenes of crimes as well as any other trained investigative officers. At least that is what we’re going to prove to Gramps.”

“Jo the only real case you ever solved was that caper when you were ten, and I was nearly eleven. Yep, the disappearance of little Wendy Myer’s cat, that was found in a tree right in-front of her house. And that other thing, we won’t mention.”

“Gosh Nicky, you don’t have to be so harsh, do you?” Agatha-Josephine cried. “…and her name was Cindy, not Wendy.”

“Whatever.” His eyes rolled to the top of his eyelids. “Does it really matter?”

“Of course, you must keep the names of your clients separate. And, correct, especially the dead ones.”

“Look Jo, I know you come from a long line of cops, and you love whodunits, also to the fears of your gramps. Whenever or wherever there’s trouble you put your head right in the thick of stuff, in the middle…and you bring me along.”

“Nicky, you really have to admit that it really was epic. No one else could find the kitty. Besides the kitty was afraid. I was the one who climbed the tree. That was a pivotal feather in my cap and the turning point for me. Who else searched all the trees in the neighborhood listening for the purring of a little bitty baby kitty.”

“I know Jo. You grew up hearing all types of stories from your dad, from your brother Michael and Mister Gannon,” Nicky said. “But they were their stories. They are trained crime fighters; we are just kids.”

“I know this, but Gramps and Uncle Joe’s life is my life.”

“Touché,” he said.

“I know I can do all the things they did no matter how outrageous and fabulous, or implausibly fanatical and sensational their cases were.” Her eyes became misty, filling with tears. “We can do this, Nicky.”

“Shush up Jo, McCrumb will hear you.”

“Remember when I told my family I was going to be a detective just like Gramps and Uncle Joe.”

“Yeah, and your grandfather made fun of you in front of your daddy.”

“Nicholas Charle that is not the way it happened. I was eleven standing in front of the kitchen sink, doing those dog-gone dishes. I hate pots and pans.”

“I know.”

“Well.”

“Go on with the story Jo. I know I can’t stop ya.”

“Do you want to hear it or not.”

Not really, he thought, shrugging his shoulders together.

“Anyways, I said I wanted to be a public servant and pursue a career in law enforcement. I figure anybody who knew me already figured that was where I was heading.”

“Yep, just like me being a scientist or a doctor like Pops. Not.”

“Oh Nicky, you crack me up. I think you would be a wonderful doctor that is if you like blood and that sorta stuff. Studying all hours of the night, not having any fun. You wouldn’t be able to hang out with me, and stuff. Nor play those video games.”

“Yeah, yeah…I know, go on with the story Jo.”

She scrunched her face at him. “Everybody assumes I will figure into law enforcement. That is the next natural step in my life.”

Nicky nodded his head in agreement.

“See even you agree. I was not paying attention to what I was doing. You know pots and pans. So, Gramps came up with an investigation.”

“A what?”

“You know a kind of a case for me to solve. Right there in the kitchen. I was sorta dripping stuff all over the counters. The dishrag was dripping. I hate it!”

“Okay Jo but calm down. We are going to get caught by McCrumb and then we both will be on KP duty or worse.”

“Gotcha. Since all of my family dedication is to the badge, Gramps came up with this case like I said a minute ago. I told Daddy that I was going to be the greatest detective there was in the world. At least the greatest girl detective in the world, I’d be better than that Nancy Drew person.”

“So, I got the scene. You are in the kitchen with pots and pans, dripping water and stuff everywhere…right.”

“Yes.”

“And your grandfather comes up with an idea for you to solve something or other…right.”

Agatha-Josephine nodded.

“Move on Gunga Din.”

She frowned.

“That’s from the movie I saw with Pops the other night,” Nicky said.

“My daddy said something like how can I be an investigative detective if I didn’t even notice that I had left dried food on the plates. Those were the ones I had put over in the dish drainer to dry.”

Nicky snickered.

“Well, they were clean at the time when I put them there.”

“Sure enough Jo,” Nicky said.

“I hate doing women’s work,” she cried. “I am not cut out to clean dishes and mop floors. I know you don’t like doing those chores either.”

Nicky nodded in agreement.

“I really do hate when Moms tells me to clean up. I think it is a woman’s job to make sure the house is clean and ready for her family to come in. I agree Jo with you.”

Her eyes began to water.

“You are not that typical kind of woman. No, you are a career woman. So, none of that stuff for you…see I agree with you.” He smiled. “I even hate loading and unloading the dishwasher.”

She blinked back the tears that had built up in her eyes.

“Sure enough,” she said, shaking her hands out in front of her body. “Yuck. I had to move all of the clean dishes from the drain-board rack back into the sink. You know that water was greasy.”

She sniggered in an undertone like groan.

“It was nasty. I can see it as though it was right here in front of me.”

Agatha-Josephine’s eyes glazed as though mesmerized.

“You had better be watching for McCrumb,” Nicky said.

“I am. I am watching.”

She closed and reopened her eyes.

“Go on with your story. I can’t believe you are telling me a story while we are hiding behind these old smelly trashcans, and watching for something or nothing to happen,” he said.

She wrinkled her nose in his direction.

“Anyways, I was exhausted. Ah,” she sighed.

She dramatically placed her hand over her brow in a comical manner. She tried to imitate someone that was worn out.

Nicky shook his head, staring at the cellar door.

“Gramps and daddy look sullen, but I saw Gramps wink at him. They thought I did not see. But a good detective sees all.”

Pauley O’Hannon Noonsday’s eyes twinkled when he heard his daughter’s desire was to follow in his footsteps. Had he lived long enough he would have helped Agatha-Josephine pursue her dream.

“Alright Jo, you see all. I hope you see McCrumb before he catches us.”

“The beginning of the make-believe investigation I had to pay attention to everything. To every detail. Gramps smiled at daddy and my daddy nodded. I saw that too. They asked me if I had any questions before I was to begin.”

“So, did you?” Nicky said.

“Did I what.”

“Have any questions.”

“What?”

“Go on Jo.”

“Oh yeah, I said nah. You know Gramps corrected me on that.”

“Yeah, I know. He’s sorta of a stickler about using proper terms. I mean the right words.”

“Sure enough. I told him I loved playing what-ifs crime games with him and the whodunits. Number one question was why would I place half-cleaned dishes in a sink of greasy water?”

“See, oh your gramps is smart. I was wondering the same thing,” he said, chuckling.

“Shad up Nicky, you were not thinking that, right.”

“Well, I was getting there.”

“Gramps said if this were an actual crime scene the half-washed dishes would indicate what? I was a little stumped at first.”

“Hmm, interesting scenario,” Nicky said.

“And, you know the answer?”

“Yep, I do know the answer. But I’ll wait until you figure it out,” Nicky said.

“Sure enough. Anyway, I jumped as though a light bulb was switched on. I said, ‘Oh that makes sense. See if I followed you and daddy around, I would learn so much more. Not stay in the house and do stuff like this.’ And, I said, ‘learning comes from action. And action comes from surveillance. And surveillance comes from examination, didn’t you tell me that Gramps’ I said, and he was so taken back.”

“Well, I would be too.”

“Yeah right. Anyways I looked with hope into Gramps’ eyes. He and daddy’s mouth were wide opened, but no words came out. So, I kept on talking. I supposed I was on the right trail. I said ‘And examination comes from investigation. And investigation comes from learning.’ You see, I let my hands rise up towards the ceiling like I was preachin’ in the Sunday school or something. I said, ‘Such a vicious circle we live in—right? So, if the dishes were half-washed, then the other side the dishes would be half-cleaned—right? Not to say the backside of the dishes were cleaner than the front-side or vice-versus or versus-vice,” she said taking in a deep breath.

“You told your grandfather and daddy all of this.”

Agatha-Josephine nodded.

“And they did not tell you that were a piece of bonk.”

“No. But, I think they were flabbergasted.”

“Sure enough, I’m there already. Okay, so go on.”

“I said I learned all this by watching the three of them. You know Mikey too.”

“Actually, what did you learn?” Nicky said, wiping his hands across his brow. “This is confusing to me.”

“You are stupid Mister. I learned the art of deduction from him and daddy,” she said, smiling. “My daddy got up from his seat and cleared his throat. Gramps said, ‘Pauley I think she got us.’ And daddy said, ‘surely, I am at a loss for words.’ That is when I knew I had it. I found out years later after my daddy’s death he walked out of the room because he was proud of me. He never thought I paid attention. He was encouraged that maybe someday I could be one of the first multiracial female head detectives in Seattle. I was told the road would not be easy. But I had the right moral fibers and determination needed to make it through rigorous times as such needed to be successful.”

“Jo, I know it is going to be hard for a girl, but especially you.”

“Why me, Whatcha mean.”

“You know, your gramps is well known in the law field. And your pops is a legend. Not to say any less about your brother. You come from a well-oiled law-enforcement family. And I’m proud to call you…”

“I know. I have to break into an all-boys club. Nepotism is not the game according to daddy and Gramps. Even after what happened to Mikey.”

“It might be hard, but I know you can do it. I mean we can do it. Look at us now.”

“I even had a chance to ask Gramps about my mom.”

“You did. Wasn’t that hard for him?”

“Yep, but he was talking. And so I asked if she was domestic. I never want to be domestic. I want to be out in the world making a difference. He told me my mom made a difference at home. She raised Mikey and I’m sure she would had loved to raise me. She loved my daddy. And she loved Gramps. She volunteered wherever she could. She made people feel good.”

“You had a great mom, sure enough.” He continued in a lowered voice, “and a pretty awesome daddy.”

“Yeah, I think so. Gramps said she was happy.”

“You have a great family. My Moms and Pops say so all of the time.”

“Whenever Gramps talks about my mommy his eyes tears. You know he still tells us stories about her. Not as much now that we are older, but Gramps keeps my mother alive.” She looked over at the door to the cellar. “Yeah, mommy was happy being a housewife.”

“I hate you never got an opportunity to know her. Life stinks sometimes. I heard she was an amazing person.”

“I want to be like her, but I am not cut out to be somebody’s wife and do nothing else. I mean I guess it’s okay to have some kids. But, not now, maybe when I’m really old, say thirty. I just don’t want to be domestic; you know like a dog trained to take orders.”

“Hold up Jo. If you were in the corps or being trained for missions, you would have to take orders. Even police-officers take orders.”

“Well, that’s different. You don’t get what I mean. I hope we both never find out.”

Nicky nodded.

Agatha-Josephine did the same.

“There’s a lot of work to get there. Anyways, I had to rewash all of the dishes. Clean. I come from hardy Irish stock too, stiffness; this is bred. I am determined, even though I am clumsy and a little lazy. See I can admit this. I do not like physical education and sweating. But I can make the sacrifice. Umm, that is when the times come.”

“Jo, shush. I think I hear something,” Nicky said.

*****

“You shush up,” Agatha-Josephine said, sticking her head out from behind the trashcans.

“Jo, you are the one who wanted to pursue this shoe thing. Yeah, sure enough I could be hanging out with the guys. No I’m here stuck behind some smelly trashcans. Waiting for you to say enough is enough.

“Alright,” Agatha-Josephine said, taking in deep breaths. “If it weren’t for that shoe, I mean Miss D’s shoe. I could be doing my nails or something. If only we had not found it. Why was it stuck behind those old newspapers down in the cellar last week? More than likely we probably would’ve left McCrumb alone, With all of his women and stuff,” she said.

Agatha-Josephine covered her nose with her hand.

“If only it wasn’t Miss D’s shoe.”

“Yeah, right Jo. You have been suspicious of McCrumb ever since you saw the lady wearing the green sweater and black hat go into the cellar with him. You thought then something wasn’t right. It’s ironic you know you’re always seeing stuff you have no business seeing.”

Her nose wrinkled. “I know Nicky. Maybe if we saw the last lady come back up. We probably would not even care. But she is like all the other women who went down there. I think.”

“What’s this about ‘we’? How long have you been watching McCrumb?” Nicky wiped at his brow. “I never saw anyone go down there.”

“I don’t know.”

“Forget it Jo. And, we had to find that ole shoe.”

“I just want to know where they went. They go in, but they never come out.” She paused. “I sound like that mouse commercial on TV,” she said, laughing. “At least not through that cellar door,” she continued, pointing at the cellar door. “I really believe he kills them or something like that.

“Yep, something likes that.” Nicky mimicked. And there are piles and piles of women corpse over there in the cellar.

“Well, whatever that something is. You know I am determined to find out. And so are you.”

“But Jo, when we got down there, we didn’t find anyone. There was no sign of life.”

“I know, but we only went down that one time. That is why we are going back—right? There has to be another way out.”

“Sure enough.” Nicky rubbed his hands together. “Yeah, I suppose there has to be another way out. And then we are done.”

“You know Nicky, females who hang out in dark despicable places like McCrumb’s in the cellar, they have to be pretty nasty or something,” she whispered.

“What?”

“What clean female that you know of would ever want to climb down those rickety stairs? With those dim lights flickering all the time and eat dinner with him?”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Nicky said, lowering his voice. He moved from the trashcans and stood behind some boxes standing outside of the door of the cellar. “This smell better.”

“Where are you going?” Agatha-Josephine said, leaning from behind the trashcans.

“Look Jo, I don’t see where that’s a problem,” he whispered from behind the boxes. “Some chicks like that sorta stuff. You know Matrice, she and I would—.” His voice trailed off. “If McCrumb comes out, he won’t see me here.”

The boxes were stacked high enough for Nicky to stand straight up. They were filled with textbooks and were ready for distribution to the different classrooms. He pushed harder against the wall. Agatha-Josephine followed him behind the stack of boxes.

“But that was sophomore year.”

“Hey boy, I don’t want to hear about your past conquests,” Agatha-Josephine said. “That Matrice as well as Dotty are just as foul as those females of McCrumb. They are all disgusting.”

Nicky’s eyebrows flew upwards. Okay, so maybe if I won’t say anything this conversation will be over soon, he thought.

“Well, I thought they were younger, well, aren’t they?”

“Jo, there you go again.”

“This is a better hiding place. I can’t smell those trashcans over here. Good idea Nicky,” she said, shaking her legs out.

“Those trashcans’ smells are sorta rancid,” he said, his nose wrinkled

“I know it feels good to stand. My feet fell asleep.”

He nodded.

“I didn’t know you could see the door better from here.”

“Well yeah. Why you think I moved over here?” he said.

“You know I was always annoyed by Matrice and Dotty’s high-handedness.”

“Really Jo, you’re back at that.”

“The only difference between you and McCrumb is that your friends are younger.”

“You’re always thinking that sorta stuff about me.”

She stared ahead at the cellar door. “I know Gramps always say, ‘Jo you can beat a rag until there’s no life in it.’”

“You know I work hard for the money I have. Pops holds on to money tight. You would think I need to learn some lesson about money and trees,” he said.

Agatha-Josephine scrunched her nose in his direction.

“I mean money growing on trees,” he continued. “You know what I meant, Jo. What he meant—anyway you cost me a lot. And, I don’t have time and energy to see anyone else.”

Agatha-Josephine’s cheeks flamed. You’re right as usual, but you just infuriate me with those other girls. I know I always get you mixed up in all of my hair-brain schemes. You like it I know. She moved her shoulder bag to her other arm.

“The other day we heard from my godfather, Uncle Joe,” she whispered.

“That’s great. I really like him. What did he want?”

“He was calling from out of the country somewhere. I couldn’t hear where Gramps said he was calling from. But their conversation sounded important. Gramps kept grunting instead of saying words whenever Uncle Joe spoke. I tried to hear what was said at the other end of the line, but—.”

“What were they talking about?”

“I wasn’t sure at first. At one time Gramps face lit up like a Christmas tree.”

“Interesting.”

“You think. Well, anyway I heard my father’s name mentioned.”

 “But your father died with that spy dude—what was his name? Mister Noonsday wasn’t in the line of duty.”

“I know Nicky.”

“That’s really a cold case,” he murmured, a thick lump of something rose up in his throat.

The subject of the murder of Pauley was a subject no one in the Gannon-Noonsday family spoke of. The circumstances behind his death were still pending as for as Bill Gannon was concerned.

“I know, but Gramps won’t quit till the guilty ones pay.” She grunted, trying to clear her throat.

“Shh Jo, McCrumb might hear us.”

It’s hard sometimes to believe my daddy is dead, no not dead, my daddy was murdered. Till this day daddy’s case remains unsolved, but Gramps won’t let it die. I know he won’t, she thought.

“Sure enough,” Nicky said.

“It’s been about three years since my daddy went on that secret mission with his friend, Jasper Reilley. His so-called covert partner,” she said, anger filled her being. “The pain of my daddy’s death is still fresh in my thoughts. The sting is as though it was yesterday. I wish daddy never went with that man. He would still be here with me today. Nicky, I really miss him.”

Nicky reached out and touched her shoulder. “You know you can always talk about your pops with me.”

“You know everyone call my daddy Pauley, even today. Except for that Lieutenant. You know my daddy’s old friend Lieutenant Jasper Reilley. He called my daddy by his middle name O’Hannon.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, well anyway you know they were off on a mission. A secret mission. No one knew where they were going. They were somewhere in the North Sea, as far as I was told. That was where my daddy’s body was located.” A tear rose up in her eyes.

“I didn’t know exactly where everything happened,” Nicky said.

“You know the government never really told us exactly where. Always, somewhere in the North Sea…where the heck is that. I tried to locate an exact place on a map, but, how could I? That has always burned me. You know the not knowing where it all happened.”

“There’re a lot of countries surrounding the North Sea. Why were they so far from the United States?”

“I have no idea, and neither does Gramps. I think the government wouldn’t give an exact location. Maybe because of reprisals or other governments’ involvement. I heard Gramps say daddy’s death was more than murder, a possible cover-up. I don’t know anything about that. That’s why I sorta listened to Gramps conversation with Uncle Joe.”

“What did you do, Jo?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“That don’t sound right, you do nothing, right.”

“Well, not really.”

“You got my curiosity up. Whatcha do?”

“You know the public was given limited information. I mean our family was given limited information. A murder viewed as just a death. A possible cover-up. This is what Gramps, Uncle Joe, and daddy’s friends think. Only a few governmental agencies were privy to the actual particulars of my daddy’s death.”

“I had no idea,” Nicky said in deep thought. “Jo, what do you think?”

“I don’t know. All I know for sure is that I miss my daddy.”

Nicky nodded. He stared at the door to cellar.

“Whatever the cover-up was the information is kept sealed. My daddy was assassinated, and Lieutenant Reilley disappeared.”

“Disappeared, assassinated…I thought Mister Noonsday death was random. You know in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Agatha-Josephine shook her head.

“You have been holding this information for the past three years.”

She nodded.

“And you didn’t tell me. I thought we knew everything about each other.”

Water filled Agatha-Josephine’s eyes. She sniffed and turned her eyes towards the door of the cellar.

“Is he ever going to leave,” she said looking over at the cellar door.

“It’s okay. I understand. But this isn’t good,” Nicky said.

“Sure enough,” she said.

“How? What happened to Mister Reilley?”

“It has never been proven if he is dead or not.” She wiped her hands across her eyes. “I told you the files are sealed, and out of the reach of inquisitive eyes. Uncle Joe’s contacts within the Department of Justice and other agencies are all hushed mouth.” She took in a deep breath. “My understanding is that whenever the name of Lieutenant Jasper Reilley is brought to the forefront of any conversation or any document no one says a word, as though he is a ghost.”

“Wow, like a ghost.”

“Yeah, Gramps and Uncle Joe always hit a dead wall whenever the discussion of the death of my daddy is investigated. But you can bet that won’t stop Gramps and Uncle Joe from seeking the truth. And someday the truth will come out.”

“Jo, so you’ve been listening to their conversations all of these times when they talk?”

“Not really. Gramps told Mikey and me most of this. He gets really frustrated and begins to talk. I just listen.”

“For sure,” Nicky said.

“I think my daddy and Reilley were being shadowed before they left Washington. Gramps found a note just after daddy left from a phone call he and Reilley were having. Well, he really did not find a note. He scratched the information from the imprint left on the notepad my daddy used. It read, ‘under the grass to the left of the slide, run to the middle and back, back to the middle, slide right to home’ this what was written on the note pad.”

“Wow, that’s real espionage,” Nicky said, wiping his forehead.

“There’s more.”

“This is real spy stuff huh,” Nicky gasped. “This is so cool.”

“I know.”

“Wow.”

“Gramps did hear my daddy say over the phone a 10:4 and the words ‘Being shadowed. Unsubs. Roger that. Stay safe.’ Gramps then said daddy paused. Daddy said, ‘he knew a place.’ Gramps said daddy was more than obligated to help Reilley. ‘An old debt is still a debt,’ Gramps said daddy told Reilley.”

“Whoa. So, your dad owed a debt to this Reilley and he was collecting,” Nicky said.

“That’s the light of it. I’m sure my daddy did not go in blind. He trusted this man.”

“So, because of your pops murder this is why you won’t let McCrumb off easy?”

“If he is doing something illegal, this will affect the school.”

“Sure enough,” Nicky said.

“Besides Miss D was our friend, not just a teacher.”

“Sure enough.”

“Gramps heard Reilly through the receiver say that there was trouble brewing all around him and no one can be trusted. Gramps supposed Reilly meant no one in the agency could be trusted. The matter was sensitive. Gramps said there was a sound of desperation in Reilley’s voice. You know Gramps never trusted him. I don’t think he ever liked Reilly.”

“I didn’t know any of this,” Nicky said.

“Well, yeah. As far as Gramps knew my daddy never questioned Reilley’s motives and what kind of trouble, he was in. Just the mention of the Eastern Bloc was more than enough for my daddy to trust Reilley. Gramps never understood any of that and he was in the military too.”

“Wow.”

“My daddy would never question the one who saved his life. Anyway, they were to meet at their old haunt inside the Gold Gate.”

“What’s the Gold Gate?”

“Heck if I knew at the time when I heard the name. Anyway, since then I found out that it’s a public place somewhere. I don’t even know if the place still exists. There was to be no shake-ups or step-ons, something about 14:50.”

“This is so interesting. I love spy talk. So, what’s a 14:50?”

“The Gold Gate was an old discotheque, back in the 70’s.”

“Hey, that sounds suspicious. A Chief of Police meeting at a party house, what goes on?”

“Nicky, I don’t know. I’m just relaying information. My daddy’s reputation stood on its own. There has never been a question of his integrity. Plus, he had friends he trusted.”

Bill Gannon did not believe his son-in-law’s meeting with that of Agent Reilley was purely accidental. Pauley and Reilley had not spoken to each other in years, nor had they any mutual contact since long before the birth of Pauley and Winifred’s children.

Through judicious chasing of leads and paper-trails hunted after and uncovered by Gannon and Joe Friday located after the death of Pauley. It was revealed Pauley and Reilley had a secret encounter outside of Washington State months before his fatal death. This clandestine meeting was agreed upon lest either one of them were followed by some unknown person or persons.

Gannon on the other hand never accepted the report of Pauley’s death as accidental or that of mistaken identity as the State Department tried to have Gannon believe. He always felt that there was more to Agent Reilley than others knew or were willing to make known. He never trusted the man. This distrust went back to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

According to Reilley an incident occurred that placed him in the role of Pauley’s knight-in-shining-armor. Allegedly, Reilley sacrificed himself to save Pauley’s life. Things did not add up. Gannon kept his suspicions between himself and Friday.

Gannon questioned why would a seasoned operative need a retiree on a covert mission, considering Pauley had been inactive for years? Gannon was able to piece certain events together through the information given to him by other unofficial means, and with the help of Joe Friday. Pauley had left his work cell phone locked in his desk at work. His pager was never recovered.

It was thought Reilley was actively involved in undercover work infiltrating an Irish Republic group. He had gotten himself involved in some trouble once before. Friday wasn’t sure if the incident was domestic in nature or what, since Reilley always thought himself to be the ladies’ man. Reilley’s superiors knew he was a renegade. He had become entangled in foreign government affairs with a lady while doing surveillances. There were other interest groups involvements, but Gannon was not sure of all of the associations. Friday’s connections confirmed the corpse of Pauley.

Pauley was poised in a postpartum fetal position when his body was discovered. He had been shot execution style, point blank to the head. Whereas two bullets had penetrated the left temple of his head and exited to the right. The bullets then entered into three mattresses pushed against a wall. His death was instantaneous. There were no fingerprints to be found in the room or on the body. The emptied cartridges were taken by the assailant(s).

It was never reported if the bullets were ever located. It took days for the government’s recovery team to clean-up all of the raw tissues that walled the place. There were no signs of footprints or fingerprints in the room, on the mattresses or outside of the room. There were no signs of life anywhere near the room.

The body of Reilley was never recovered. The only thing found other than the corpse of Pauley was a detached right index finger. The index finger was identified that to be that of Reilley. The index finger was discovered underneath the chest of Pauley. The index finger was a clean cut. No other genetic material discovery. The cut was severed straight, not jagged. No other identifiable markings.

Agatha-Josephine lowered her head. “You know Nicky, Gramps never thought it was an accident. My dad was murdered execution style and in a foreign country.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. She used the back of her hand to wipe them away.

“At times I feel lost, even though I have Gramps and Mikey. The death of my daddy has left a permanent break in my heart. I don’t think it will ever be mended or replaced. If only my mother was here.”

“Yeah, I know.” Nicky stared at the door to the cellar. “You know, I never understood why he was there.”

“Gramps kept me in the dark for years. I found out much later that this was a mission that Jasper Reilley requested my daddy on. I don’t think Gramps knows all the information or all of the details leading up to my daddy’s execution.” She sniffed up. “He really doesn’t know.”

“Oh, you think Lieutenant Reilley is still alive?”

“I dunno, but Gramps is still working the case every day and from every angle. I don’t think he will ever let go until he knows the truth and…”

“I know you won’t give up either,” Nicky said, pushing back farther against the wall of the stacked books. From where he stood, he had a clear eye view of the cellar door without being seen.

“Heard told, my daddy and Reilley were cohorts during the Cold War. And Reilley had jeopardized his life during one of their missions—to save my daddy.”

“I remember you telling me this. Hey that would had been between 1947 and 1991. I remembered that from history class.” He smiled.

“Sure enough, Daddy never forgot. It’s apparent Reilley never forgot either, even though they had not seen each other’s for decades.”

“But what kind of mission could he and your dad work on? Your dad was not, what’s that word—oh yeah an operative, right?”

“Right. Daddy was not an active operative, any longer, but Reilley said he could not trust anyone else.”

“What except for your pops?”

“I suppose so,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “You still looking out for McCrumb?”

“Yeah, aren’t you?” Nicky eyed the cellar door again.

“Yep. Anyways, Gramps don’t know I heard him repeat the words Uncle Joe stated from the other end of the phone line. He said cartel,” she whispered.

“A what?” Nicky’s mouth flew open.

“Lower your voice, Nicky.”

“Whoa.”

“That’s the words Gramps said. ‘A cartel, but I don’t know what that mean. Do you?” she said, pushing back against the wall.

“Jo, everybody heard about cartels.”

“Really, what did you hear?”

“Let me think. Well, they are not the good guys. I kinda remember, they are you know—really bad dudes.” He sucked in a deep breath. “You know, I have a hard time remembering Mister Noonsday clearly. We were just kids when he left. And we didn’t hang-out with each other every day as we do now. This sucks!”

“Bad men, uh, so my daddy was mixed up with bad men.” Agatha-Josephine repeated Nicky’s words. Her eyes widened. “I don’t think so.”

“Hear tell they kill people—um, I’m not saying that’s what happened to your father. What do I know, I’m just a kid?” Nicky said.

“Yeah, well I heard you—my daddy was killed by monsters.”

A single tear ran down her face. She wiped it away with haste before Nicky could see it. “We need to concentrate on McCrumb, for now.”

“Sure enough,” he said.

Nicky rubbed his hands hard across his face.

“We got other pressing problems,” he continued.

“And, what’s that?”

“What if the fire department won’t come? You know they are busy. And they don’t like pranks. They hate prank calls…and I can’t make the call—I don’t sound like a man.”

“Alright, alright I will do it,” Agatha-Josephine shouted.

“It’s not that I won’t do it, but I really do not sound like an adult. They would know I was a kid, and the next thing I’m being hauled in for prank calls. My Pops will be so irate when that happens. You know how he gets. Just the littlest thing sets him off. And, Moms, she will probably start to cry something about her baby-boy being a criminal and all that stuff…”

“You really do get on your wick sometimes, Nicky,” Agatha-Josephine said.

She sucked in a deep breath.

A heavy footstep sounded against the floor.

“You will do what?” McCrumby said, pouncing on them. “Miss Joey.”

He glared at Agatha-Josephine.

“…you up to no good as usual?”

McCrumby reached forward. He tried to grab Agatha-Josephine’s hiding behind the stacked books. She moved just in time for a near miss.

“Why ya lurking behind these stacked boxes?” he barked.

McCrumby’s glare turned into a sideway smile. A contemptuous look crossed his face.

“Gotcha,” he yelled. “Always up to doing no good. You Joey always busy, busy, causing problems for everybody. You trouble Miss Joey. Whatcha up to now sitting outside my door.”

He pounded his right fist on top of the stack of books located across the hall from the cellar.

The sound of McCrumby’s voice caused Nicky and Agatha-Josephine to jump. Nicky grabbed Agatha-Josephine by the arm and pulled her closer to the side of the boxes where he was standing.

“Of course, and you too Mister Nicky, you be here too. Nicky Charle of course. The pet rat,” McCrumby said, grinning.

He leaned heavily on the stack of books.

“Of course, wouldn’t be one without the other,” he said.

Nicky did not look into McCrumby’s face.

“I—I’m just waiting here for Jo,” Nicky said.

He held in his breath, trying not to breath in.

Mack McCrumby’s breath reeked with alcohol.

“You startled us. Um, Jo had…had to stay late in Mr. Humbery’s class—for talking. Right Jo,” Nicky cried. How the jumpin beans did he get out of that room? The door has not opened.

Mack McCrumby towered over everyone he encountered, especially the children. He was like no other father, let alone a grandfather that any of the children of Abraham Lincoln High ever had the notion to call family. He was in his late fifties and stood at least six-feet-four inches tall in his stocking feet. Grubby was the term used in polite society for the over four-hundred pounds he carried. His waist was thicker than a forty year old Oak tree. His arms were the size of three baseball bats glued together. Greasy black hairs stuck out of both sides of his face and head.

McCrumby’s clothes looked as though they had not been washed in at least two weeks. Even though his clothes are uniformed issued through the school district, it is his responsibility to wash his own clothes. It also seems as though he never changed them out. His body was unhygienic as though germ-infested. His face, neck, and hands were smeared with lubricant and filth ground into every visible crease in his skin. His large hands were also stained with smut as though they worked hard on a furnace, and never washed.

McCrumby loved alcohol. He loved it just as much as he did the ladies. He knew, if he ever got caught drinking on the school property, as well as entertaining his lady friends down in the cellar he would be canned. But he liked taking risks. He also liked working at Abraham Lincoln High this was a good job, too. Let him tell you his job was cush. No one paid much attention to what he did. As long as the doors to the school opened by six-forty-five in the mornings, Monday through Friday, and locked by five-thirty in the evenings, There wasn’t a problem. The rest of the time on-campus was his. He had nights and weekends to do whatever he wanted. Unless there was an event—which was not a usual occurrence at the high school. Different if it was homecoming, or some pep rally.

No one bothered to worry about if McCrumby lived in the cellar or not. Sure, the Superintendent of North Shore District knows there is a makeshift cot in the cellar, back over in the corner of the room. But no one ever thought any further or went any farther to investigate what went on after school hours. All that was important was that when the school needed to be opened, McCrumby was the man to make sure it was done.

It was rare that anyone saw McCrumby work. If there was ever an incident that needed cleaning, a call would be made to the cellar and within an hour all was well again. But no one ever saw who actually did the work. It wasn’t that McCrumby liked kids, to the contrary—he didn’t like them at all. ‘Kids were an abomination to the world.’ McCrumby made sure he knew who the troublemakers were by their name at Abraham Lincoln High. And who were the nosey ones. In this case Agatha-Josephine was a leader. If she used half of her brain, she could get about any kid to follow her. She was her own person and McCrumby paid close attention to her.

“Ugh,” McCrumby grunted. “Boy you better stop letting that gal pull you round by your nose. She’s gonna get you in lots of trouble—you see. You the ones who told the principles, hmm for sure…I takes—no can’t be you two. How could you know?”

McCrumby scratched his head. Wobbly, he tried to stare into Agatha-Josephine and Nicky’s eyes.

Nicky and Agatha-Josephine pushed farther away from McCrumby.

“Nah, no you. Anyways I go my way to the District Offices. There some kind of mix up. It won’t take long. I be back before the clock strikes six.”

McCrumby staggered away from Agatha-Josephine and Nicky.

“You be gone before I come back. You leave now Miss Joey,” he said.

I hate when he calls me Miss Joey, my name is Jo, or Miss Noonsday, she thought.

McCrumby swirled and swerved walking down the school hallway. When he reached the doors to the outside of the school, he stopped short. “And you too Mister Nick.”

He took in a deep breath. He coughed and stood as straight as a board descending the stairs, holding onto the stair handrail with both hands. Taking little steps at a time he headed north.

“Hallelujah,” Agatha-Josephine hollered.

She pulled her arm free from Nicky’s hold.

“This could not have worked out any better. This is good for us.”

Nicky nodded.

“We don’t have to call the fire department.”

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “Now, the least of my concern.”

“Now we can go down in the cellar without a bother,” she said.

She searched in her shoulder bag.

“Nicky, do you have your torch with you? I got mine somewhere in this pack.”

She pulled her flashlight from her shoulder bag.

“Here is mine,” she said, waving it.

She slid on the switch of the flashlight. She examined the strength of the light.

“It looks strong enough.”

“That’s my other concern,” he said.

Agatha-Josephine hunched her shoulders.

Nicky let out his breath and coughed. He inhaled another deep breath.

“McCrumb mouth is foul.”

He blew out a deep cleansing breath.

“He’s ill-mannered and I don’t think he’s afraid of anything or anybody.”

“Sure enough,” Agatha-Josephine said.

“Especially, he’s not afraid of anyone at this school. He doesn’t care if people know this. I thought for sure he heard us talking.”

Nicky wiped his hand across his brow. He rubbed his hands down the side of his pants legs.

“I think mine is in here, I know I brought it.”

Nicky searched his pack for his flashlight.

“Yep, got it.”

He switched on his torch.

The beams of light from both of their flashlights were dim.

“It’s sorta not too bright either, but it’ll work,” he said.

“I think so.”

“Sure enough. I’m so thankful I didn’t have to make that prank call to the fire department.”

“Nicky, the call to the Fire Department would not have been a prank call. It’s all business. I had to get McCrumb out of the cellar, didn’t we? Besides, I thought I was the one to make the call.”

Nicky lowered his head. “Yeah, I suppose.”

“Come on let’s go before someone else turns up,” Agatha-Josephine said.

She checked the beam again on her flashlight.

“My torch beam is getting a little dim. But it’ll be alright. Sure enough.”

Nicky nodded slowly.

“You think we will find Miss D down there?” he said, searching the corridor for McCrumby to return. “You know McCrumb might come back sooner than we think.”

“Nicky, if we find Miss D she might be gone. Look, we will be out and gone before McCrumb comes back,” she said.

She crossed her fingers behind her back.

“Nah, besides if we did find Miss D, she might be tied up or something. We can save her.”

“Heroes, huh,” he said.

“Yeah, and I bet that’s where she’s been all school year. All tied up. Maybe that’s why McCrumb takes his food down there.”

“Sure enough, Jo. How’d you figure that?”

“Well, we never see him eating in the cafeteria.”

“I suppose.”

“It’s true.”

Nicky looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Anyway, McCrumb will be gone for a while. At least until we look around for a brief moment,” he said.

“Ah huh,” Agatha-Josephine murmured. “Come on let’s get on down the stairs,” she said.

She looked back over her shoulder towards the entrance to the school.

“Be careful Jo.”

©2021 by A H Scott

[/wptab]