Mom Chaucer And Me

Bad things don't happen in small towns, or do they? Author Harley Jane Coleridge is beginning to wonder. When her seventy-eight year old neighbor and dear friend is found dead under suspicious circumstances, only Harley Jane knows who killed her and why. With what she knows, nabbing the killer should be easy, but small town politics being what it is, the police chief refuses to believe someone they've known forever could be a killer. And to make things worse, if she doesn't find proof, other seniors will die.

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.I woke when the alarm sounded at three, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t go back to sleep after Andy left at 3:40. Admitting defeat a short time later, I got up and made a pot of coffee, filled Longfellow’s food and water dishes, then suddenly stood at attention as an idea took root in my head.

I could use the remaining hours of darkness. I smiled, took my coffee upstairs and dressed hurriedly in black sweats. I unearthed the key to Greenier’s Hardware, stuffed it in my pocket along with a tiny penlight, swallowed the last of my coffee and locked the house behind me.

Stealthily, I strode through the alley behind the Main Street buildings, unwilling to be seen by Mike Miner, our grumpy ancient night duty police officer, as he sleepily cruised the area on the hour.

 A brisk winter wind whipped my hair into a bird’s nest as I fumbled with the key in the dark alley. Finally inside the hardware, I flipped on my penlight and headed toward the west wall, shared with Drucker’s Pharmacy. I studied the wall, certain I had seen a common door, but shook my head in frustration when I found nothing but a wall of pegboard, lined with small bubble-wrapped screws, nails and fasteners of every description.

 While Drucker’s had been remodeled, little had changed inside the hardware since I was a child. The worn black and white checked floors, as grubby as ever, were covered with footprints and littered with crunchy gravel. Maybe I should clean up while I’m here. I shook my head. That would be a dead giveaway.

 Standing still for a time, I considered my options and shortly recalled seeing a drawer full of keys in the office desk.

 Scrounging through the unlocked desk, (no one ever locks anything in our small town), I found a key attached to a round silver-tone medallion inscribed with the fancy letter D, and I knew instantly I had hit the jackpot. After checking the time, I stuck my penlight in my pocket. With less than two hours before daylight, I raced toward the back door and let myself out into the alley.

My heart beat faster as adrenalin took over, when, with the key in my shaky hand, I unlocked the alley entrance to Drucker’s and stepped inside. I was in foreign territory, having never before set foot in the back room. I also had little experience with breaking and entering until now.

 Through the door to the display room, I watched the police cruiser meander slowly past, knowing our crack lawman scanned the darkness with his trusty night vision goggles. Not. The vision of Mike as super cop made me smile. At his age, he has trouble negotiating flat surfaces.

 Shining my light around, my gaze took in floor to ceiling metal shelving, neatly filled with sundries, school supplies, gifts and a variety of over the counter cough preparations and other medications. A short conveyor belt led from the door to a long sorting table in front of me, and an enclosed office and separate restroom shared the far end of the space.

 Getting down to business, I shined my penlight around the office and realized I probably wouldn’t find anything noteworthy there. If he had any brains, he would leave no trail of evidence, but if he did, where would it be?

 I pulled my jangling house keys from my pocket and set them down, worried that I would bump them and maybe give myself away. Then I searched the drawers of a large, battered metal desk and pulled out a ledger, which he had clearly quit using when even the prescription drug business went computer. Shoving it back in its place, I closed the drawer and headed toward the pharmacy cubicle.

 A locked half door barred entry to the space, requiring another trek back to the office to once again dig through the drawers. After a dead end search, I finally bumped a set of keys hanging on a wall hook and in only minutes, had let myself into the inner sanctum of his dinky drug empire.

 Shining my light around the sixteen by eight space, I was surprised by how many bottles, numbering in the thousands I guessed, could be housed behind the glass wall.

 His computer blazed shooting stars just like mine at home, so I pushed the space bar and watched as his home page sprang into focus. I wondered if a physical search would net me better results, and decided that if I were he, the pc would be where I would stash a wealth of incriminating evidence. That way he could dump it all with a simple click the delete button.

 Scanning the files, I saw one called Miscellaneous. When it opened, I scanned a list of customer names, all covered by Medicare or Medicaid. I book-marked the page before reading on.

 After a time, I checked the time and realized it would soon be daylight. Frustrated at finding nothing noteworthy, I began scanning bottles of meds on the shelves. Two large boxes of cornstarch, one opened, one still sealed, stared back at me. What would it prove, even if I could get Ray to confiscate them? As far as I knew, there was no law against owning the stuff.

 My curiosity was piqued when I saw the bottom shelf with a locked door. I dug in the drawer and pulled out a key ring, hurriedly going through several keys before I found one that fit. Opening the cupboard, I got an eyeful. Several huge boxes of pills, including the familiar green and yellow capsules, indicating Prozac, filled the boxes. Carefully pulling one box out, I read the label. It was clearly labeled Made In Mexico. I read on, “Capsules contain consumable cornstarch, with no medicinal value.”

Aha. Incontrovertible evidence as far as I was concerned, but still not enough, by itself, to convince a jury he was guilty of tampering.

 In a quick glance, I noticed a stack of bagged prescriptions ready for delivery and found one for Dill Fisk. I briefly considered taking it, but changed my mind. In order to make it stick, I needed Ray to get a warrant and find this stuff for himself in a legal search.

 With my cell phone in my hand, I dialed the speed call for Ray’s home. His wife, Carolyn is one of my old friends, and we still try to get together for lunch occasionally. It hadn’t worked out lately.

 I could hear the squawk of a weather radio in the background when Ray picked up the phone.

 “And what do you need at such an early hour, Harley J.?”

 “Listen, I’m at Drucker’s, and I think you need to get a search warrant and check it out ASAP. It’s clear he’s substituting prepackaged cornstarch capsules for prescription drugs.”

 “Harley, it’s 6:30 a.m. And my question is, what are you doing in Drucker’s at this hour of the morning? He’s not even open yet….” After a pregnant pause while he gathered steam, he bellowed, “What did you do, break in, in the middle of the night?”

 “Shhh…keep your voice down. Hugh may show up any minute.”

 “Woman, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll hightail it out of there immediately. He could have you arrested for breaking and entering, you know.”

 “So you’re not coming?”

 “I can’t do that without a warrant, and those take time. Now vamoose, kid, before you land yourself in hot water. And I mean it when I say this—if you get yourself into legal trouble, I won’t be able to do a thing to help you. Friend or no friend, if you break the law, you pay the piper. Got it?”

 Discouraged, I murmured, “I got it.”

 I hung up just in time to hear the back door slam shut. God help me. I’m in trouble now. 

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