Gertrude Reece pushed open the door to the Green Room. To the relief of her already bounding curiosity, she discovered WENN's head writer seated at the big table, eating a sandwich while reviewing musical selections with the station organist, Eugenia Bremer. "...for a finale. At least that's what he told Mr. Sherwood."
"He certainly is a go-getter, isn't he?" Eugenia said brightly.
"Mr. Merrick?" Betty Roberts asked, confused.
"No, sillyMr. Sherwood."
Gertie smiled as Betty rolled her eyes and sighed, "Oh, he's a real pistol." Their new station manager was taking a lot of getting used to. He reminded Gertie a lot of a firecrackeryou were never quite certain when he was going to explode, and with what. Now that the furor over his latest idea, a game show, had petered out, Gertie wondered just what was going to happen next.
But in the meantime there was this new matter... "Betty! Excuse me!"
Betty looked up. "Oh, I'm sorry, Gertie. I thought I heard someone say my name."
Gertie cleared her throat. "A letter's just arrived, but I'm wondering if it's not misaddressed. It's for a Miss 'Elly' Roberts-"
"Postmarked from Rhode Island?" Betty asked instantly, her eyes alight. "From a Catherine Albright on Shore Road?"
Gertie looked shocked. "Why, Betty, all I saw was the name. You know I don't snoop at private letters."
Eugenia smothered a laugh with her hand, but Betty chuckled aloud, for both of them knew Gertie would have read anything on the envelope that might have allowed her to deduce something more about it.
Gertie pursed her lips at the evident amusement. "Middletown, Rhode Island," she further admitted. "Postmarked October 24 from Newport."
"It's from my cousin Kit," Betty said, taking the letter from Gertie's outstretched hand. She neatly slit the envelope open at a corner with the tip of a fingernail, opened it, and pulled out a letter written on ivory stationery in bold blue ink. "That's her nickname for me..."
Her voice trailed off as she read the letter, then her face glowed once again. "Oh, swell! She says she'd be tickled pink if I used the story-" When she met both women's confused eyes, she laughed again. "I'm sorry. I was so excited- Let me start from the beginning. Before Victor left, we talked about expanding our children's programming. We have adventure stories, but I thought perhaps we could do something a little bit different, a girls' mystery story. I broached the idea to Mr. Sherwood a week ago, and back then he was a little wary, but...after the debacle with Brainstorm he said he trusted my judgment and I could try something for Saturday mornings."
"That's swell, Betty," Eugenia ventured, "but I don't see what it has to do with your cousin."
"Well, you see," and Betty lowered her voice, "when I was twelve, I was visiting Kit and her sister Priscilla when we ran into an honest-to-goodness mystery involving one of their neighbors. I thought it might make a good story, so when I initially came up with the idea, I wrote Kit asking her if she thought it was okay if I used the story as long as I changed the names of the characters. Kit thinks the whole idea is a lark and even says she and her sister would be flattered if I used their real names."
Eugenia was glowing. "Oh, Betty, that does sound like fun!"
Gertie looked slightly more dour. "So why does your cousin call you 'Elly'?"
Betty explained, "When I was born my Aunt Aurelia used to show Priscilla the photo my mother had sent her and call me 'Baby Elizabeth.' Cilla was about four years old and had a bit of a lisp. She couldn't pronounce 'Elizabeth' properly and said 'Elly- bet' instead. Eventually they shortened it to 'Elly' and that was how they always referred to me."
She smiled reflectively and added, "Back then I liked it. I loved mystery stories and it made me feel as if I had an 'alias' and was someone very mysterious. I suppose that sounds terribly silly now."
"Oh, no! But then I've always loved mystery stories, too!" Eugenia enthused, then paused, dismayed. "Well, except those really terrible ones where people are killed. This isn't one of those, I hope."
Betty put a little chill into her voice. "Oh, no one was killed but...an innocent man almost went to jail..."
"Tell us more, Betty!" Eugenia proposed eagerly.
Betty arched her eyebrows at Gertie, who was trying her best to look disinterested. "How about you, Gertie?"
"I suppose I could use a break," the older woman shrugged, but immediately pulled up a chair.
"Well, it started in the spring of 1928. My dad's always had a tendency to overwork and then get a bad case of bronchitis each winter, and always Mother would nurse him and he'd get well. But this particular year he caught pneumonia as well, then lost a great deal of weight. Mother was at her wit's end. Our doctor finally frightened her, saying he must rest for a few weeks, have a change of scenery. Since summer was approaching, he recommended the seashore or the mountains. Dad said we couldn't afford it, then Mother remembered Aunt Aurelia.
"This part gets a little complicated. You see, my grandfathermy mother's fatherwas a bit footloose when he was young and ran away from home when he was fifteen. He married at eighteen; his bride was a New England girl named Prudence whom he met while taking odd jobs along the East Coast. Her parents were fond of him and her father thought he was bright and likely, so agreed to help start him in business, in a chandler's shopthat's a store that caters to seafaring men. Grandfather realized early on that he hated the seashore and had only stayed put for the sake of his wife, so when she passed on he left their small daughter with her grandparents and went looking for work elsewhere. He kept in close touch with the daughtermy Aunt Aureliaand sent as much money to her grandparents as he could afford from his earnings, but after a year of working here and there he realized he needed to settle down for her sake. He'd already met the woman who'd be his second wife, my Grandma Annemother of my own mother and my uncle Georgein Indiana. But when Grandfather went back to fetch Aunt Aurelia, she was so happy living with her grandparents that he couldn't bear to take her away.
"We've always sent letters back and forth to Aunt Aurelia and her children. Once we visited them at the seashore, but I was too young to remember, and once Aunt Aurelia and her husband Elias brought Kit and Cilla to IndianaI was about eight and we had a grand time, except I hurt their feelings laughing at their funny accents.
"So Mother asked Aunt Aurelia if Dad could stay with her for a month to recover. That way all we'd have to do was scrape up the train fare and some money for our own expenses and to help out with the housekeeping. Dad hated the idea of leaving work, of course, but I was wild to get out of Elkhart if just for a little while. I'd only read about the ocean and was dying to see it. And of course I used to write to Kit and Cilla from when I was old enough, so both of them asked their mother if I could come with Dad.
"I'm not sure where all the money came from. I had some money I'd saved from doing chores for a neighbor when she got sick, and a few silver dollars that had been Christmas and birthday gifts. My Uncle Elias had passed away a few years earlier, so Aunt Aurelia didn't have much money, but he'd left her a small monthly pension which kept the girls in school and she was making a fair living running a boarding house. Actually, Mother was hoping to send both us girls, my older sister Patricia and myself, but Pat decided to stay behind. So off we went, Dad and I..."
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young