This is the continuation of a series. To start at the beginning, click here.
The warm sudsy water washed over Norman’s tired body, erasing the dirt and sweat that had become like a cocoon that bound all his troubles to him. He could feel years of frustration beginning to dissolve. He felt lighter as the burden of anger and misery slipped off. He let out a soft sigh.
In the other bathroom, where Missy had just experienced the startling epiphany regarding the young man running away from the shack that evening, the mood was now tense – almost frantic. She sensed danger for Norman – perhaps for herself, as well. She dropped her washcloth and began pacing. What did Norman’s brother want? Would he tattle on Norman to the police?
“Calm down, Zsa Zsa!” she said to herself. “Clear your head and think this through! Norman never even said he has a brother! You could be imagining a problem where none exists!” She had to speak with her lodger as soon as he finished showering and got dressed.
A few minutes later, a well-scrubbed and relaxed Norman came down the hall wearing clean clothes and a contented smile. “It feels so good to be clean and warm!” he said. Then he noticed the look on Missy’s face. He couldn’t quite interpret it. She had a sort of wide-eyed expression that came across as part panic and part optimism. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Oh, probably not,” she answered. “Let’s sit on the couch and talk.”
The overstuffed sofa was covered in fluffy, wide-wale corduroy. It was laden with no less than eight big throw pillows, and Missy grabbed one of them to hug to her chest. She took a deep breath and asked quietly, “Do you have a brother?”
A hint of confusion registered on Norman’s face. He answered, “Yes. Why do you ask?”
Hesitating to discern how to word the next question, she finally said, “Could that man at the shack earlier tonight have been your brother?”
The color drained from Norman’s face. “Ruston!” he spoke hoarsely. “Could it be? But, why?”
“I don’t know why,” responded Missy. “But my Madame Zsa Zsa half is telling me that it was your brother. Now, you need to tell me about him. Will he be bringing you trouble?”
Norman grabbed up the nearest fluffy sofa pillow and hugged it hard to his chest. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen Ruston in a long time. I don’t know how he could have found me or why he would come. What if it’s bad news? What if it’s about Mama?”
“Let’s not assume the worst,” said Missy, patting his arm. “Before we overreact, I want you to tell me about your history with your brother. Then we will take things one step at a time.”
As late as it already was, they had both been shaken out of any feeling of sleepiness. Once Norman began recounting the long sad story of his family and the dysfunctional relationships between Ruston and himself, between both boys and their mother, and how he had always felt like most of their troubles were his fault, the night seemed to pass slowly by in a steady rhythm of oratory, dialog, and occasionally a lighter moment where levity helped ease the tension. Before he had talked himself completely out, the sun was creeping up. A warm glow cast a golden tinge to the room.
If only the night had resolved into a golden sunrise for poor Ruston…
The crackerjack police force of Warm Springs Village had all synchronized their watches and was settled into their places of concealment by five minutes before midnight, ready for the big take-down of the Village Marauder. Heart rates and blood pressures were high as they prepared to execute the most newsworthy operation that had ever been carried out in this gated community. All eyes were on Chief Middler as he raised his hand and waved it vigorously at the shack.
Marla Jo Maynard and Willard Biddle led the swift advance of Warm Springs Village’s Finest, but Chief Middler caught up and passed them, just in time to be the one to kick open the door to the shack and rush in yelling “Police! Put your hands up!”
The sudden hullabaloo terrified the field mouse who was nibbling on a dried blob of peanut butter that had been left stuck to the sleeping bag and he let out a pitiful squeal as he high-tailed it into the farthest corner.
Ruston jerked bolt-upright, struck speechless in shock. He did manage to raise his hands in surrender.
“Alright, Norman Wrigley, you are under arrest!” shouted the chief. “We know who you are and we know what you have done!”
Ruston stammered in sheer befuddlement, “I’m not Norman.”
“Ha! Son, don’t even bother trying to lie your way out of this. We ran your fingerprints. We know who you are!” Chief Middler was using his very most macho tone of voice. Looking at Willard Biddle, then, he said, “Cuff him and read him his rights!”
“I’m not Norman!” Ruston was pleading now. “I am not Norman!”
“Sure, you’re not,” Marla Jo Maynard chuckled. “You are just a traveling salesman who thought this shack was a Holiday Inn Express!”
Inside of five minutes, they had Ruston stashed in the back seat of a police car and were on their way to the jail. Chief Middler felt proud of his team. Good, solid police work had cracked the case of the Village Marauder. “I might as well go ahead and call the editor of the Warm Springs Village Gazette and wake her up when we get back to the jail,” he said to Marla Jo, who was riding with him and Ruston. “She will want to know about this as soon as possible. Shoot, they might even put out an extra edition – a ‘Special’ like they used to do back in the nineteen-thirties.”
“Are you the chief?” asked Ruston, timidly, from the back seat.
“Yes, son, I am,” replied the Chief.
“Well, Chief, sir, I need to tell you something,” said Ruston. “Sir, I am not Norman.”
“The heck you’re not,” Marla chimed in. “We spent time and energy on you. Not to mention money. And your fingerprints say you are Norman Wrigley!”
“Ma’am, you don’t have my fingerprints,” Ruston said, trying to sound polite. “I just arrived here tonight. You have never had any dealings with me, whatsoever.”
“Mr. Wrigley, save your breath,” the Chief cut in. “This isn’t our first case, you know. We have been investigating crimes and catching bad guys for a while. And you, son, are a bad guy.”
“I’m no angel, for sure, but I’m not a bad guy,” Ruston responded. “As a matter of fact, you are partially correct – you called me Mr. Wrigley. I am Mr. Wrigley. But I am not Norman.”
Something in the sincerity of Ruston’s voice was beginning to erode the Chief’s confidence. He squirmed just a little and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. “Well, then, tell me, Mr. Wrigley – who are you?”
“I am Norman’s brother. I am Ruston Wrigley. I just arrived here tonight. I was looking for my brother. I have some bad news to tell him about our mother. She passed away.”
Marla Jo gasped and nearly choked on the spearmint gum she was chewing.
The Chief felt his stomach twist into a hard knot. They had just pulled into the parking lot in front of the jail. He put the car in “Park” and shut off the engine.
Slowly he looked from Marla Jo to the image of Ruston Wrigley in his rearview mirror, then back at Marla Jo.
Simultaneously, the Chief and Marla Jo both muttered under their breath, “Crap.”
STAY TUNED FOR MORE TO COME…
Chapter 1 – Click here
Chapter 2 – Click here
Chapter 3 – Click here
Chapter 4 – Click here
Chapter 5 – Click here
Chapter 6 – Click here
Chapter 7 – Click here
Chapter 8 – Click here
Chapter 9 – Click here
Chapter 10 – Click here
Chapter 11 – Click here
Author Nancy Carlton
Nancy Carlton and her husband, Steve, have lived in the village for five and a half years. They have three children and three grandchildren. Nancy has been writing for many years, and loves to vary her projects between songwriting, authoring novels, and “cozy murder mysteries” and political commentary. Even poetry and the occasional short story are produced. She also sings with several groups in the village.
This chance to do a serial story in the Hot Springs Village Gazette is a fun and exciting new adventure!