The Farewell Clue
"I'd forgotten until just now, but he did it on the ‘bus the day we arrived! It was Al Jolson, although I didn't know it. I haven't seen a talkie yet. But Kit said it was an exact imitation of Mr. Jolson. Then the other day on the beach, he did one of George Burns. He mimicked him perfectly. I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference if I hadn't seen him in person-"
Artie's grin had been spreading broadly with each word and now he said triumphantly, "So that it could have been Steven, not Dick, who Mrs. Whatley heard speak! You're brilliant, kid."
She remained so excited about the revelation she forgot to correct him.
He straightened then, scanning the road ahead, talking more to himself than to Betty. "If Stevie-boy is our culprit...and you saw him in Providence...then there's not a lot I can do here any longer. A perfect cue for getting the devil out-"
Betty, now glancing back toward the house in concernshe fancied she could see Kit leaning out the window looking for her interrupted impatiently, "What?"
Her voice brought him back to the conversation at hand. "I'm saying that it sounds like I've done all the snooping I can do here. If the bully boys were after Steve in Providence, he probably did his 'business' there, or near there. The necklace may still be there somewhere." A calculating expression crept across his mottled features. "Maybe all I need to do is find Tony or Patsyor someone who knows where they are."
Realization dawned on her face, followed by horror. "But if you go looking for them, they might hurt you."
His response was a derisive snort and his initial response was offhand. "Don't worry about me. I've dealt with fellows like that since I was in short pants."
She realized with some regret that she'd begun to enjoy his friendship and his departure meant she might never see him again, but she merely asked steadily, "What will you tell Aunt Aurelia? About your leaving?"
He lifted his shoulders diffidently. "Hadn't planned to say anything." He smiled thinly as Betty pressed her lips together in disapproval. "I can always tell her my aunt is sick, the one who nursed me through this." and he indicated his scalp with a flick of a finger. "I suppose I owe your aunt thatshe reminds me a lot of my aunt, now that I think of it, for all that mine is a little more rough around the edges. But they're both widowsand as tough as nails and as sweet as pie when you need 'em to be."
He finished with a jaunty salute. "You might tell your aunt I mentioned mine was feeling poorly. I'll do the rest. I still have a job to quit. Better get in to your breakfast."
She told him stubbornly, "I want to know what happens."
This time when he smiled the expression was wolfish. "Don't worry, Elly. When I find outand what I find outthe news'll be all over this burg."
And without another word he wheeled and headed for the road, his stride filled with purpose. Betty glanced at the flowers, recollected both breakfast and her original errand, and pelted back to the house as fast as her legs could carry her. In the kitchen, taking a breath against Maureen's critical stare, she took the pretty vase from the drainboard where she had left it, poured a liberal dollop of water in it from the tap, then moved into the dining room with her bouquet as if it had been the only thing on her mind.
The oatmeal bowl had already stopped steaming, she noticed in embarrassment as she sat down and put her napkin over her lap. "I'm sorry I was so long getting the flowers. I stopped to talk to Mr. Dale."
She could see Kit's curious eyes darting to her, dancing in amusement.
Betty added, "I'd been meaning to tell him thank you for the fresh clams. They've been deliciousand made Dad feel a lot better."
David Roberts arched an eyebrow, but continued eating his breakfast.
"Actually, we were talking about you, Aunty," Betty added as she helped herself to the scrambled eggs.
"Me!" the older woman said in wonder. "What on earth did that young scamp have to say about me?"
"That you reminded him of his own aunt," said Betty, her eyes fixed on her plate as she poured maple syrup on the two hotcakes she had taken. "He said you were a lot alike." She wrinkled her brow. "I think he was worried about her. He mentioned he ought to telephone her as she had been feeling poorly when he came-" and she almost said "down," but amended hastily as she rethought her geography, "up here to work."
"Did he say what was wrong with her?" her aunt asked, genuinely concerned.
"No ma'am. I suppose he'll find out if he telephones," the girl responded, hoping desperately the questions would end. So far she'd managed to tell only the truthshe had, after all, intended at some point to thank Artie for the clams, if only for Dad's sake!
For once she was glad for Kit, for the girl spoke up brightly, "It looks as if it's going to be a lovely day. Please, Mamma, can't we let the polishing go for this once and let us spend all day on the beach? Cousin Elly and Uncle David will be leaving soon..."
Her aunt Aurelia might have been house-proud, Betty thought to herself in relief, but she was also fond of her brother-in-law, and the subject of Artie Dale's presumably invalid aunt was forgotten in the warm war of words between mother and daughter. In fact, at the moment Aunt Aurelia almost seemed like an elder version of Kit as the two bargained. Finally it was determined that the house probably would not suffer once if the furniture wasn't given its usual shine on a Saturdayalthough they were still required to dust before they left for the beach!
Kit, knowing it was her best choice, agreed.
It was only a little later as the two cousins were attacking the carved legs of the Chesterfield that Kit whispered, "So, tell me. What were you and Artie really talking about?"
Betty started, then sighed in exasperation. "Exactly what I told your mother, goosey. What did you think we were doing, planning to elope?"
Kit laughed. "That would at least be romantic."
"If we don't finish dusting," Betty reminded her, "maybe we'll be romantic, but we won't be out on the beach!"
* * * * *
Next morning Betty found her aunt perturbed by a scrawled message left tacked to the back door; Artie had written that his aunt had been taken ill and he was going home. He apologized for leaving her without a fresh supply of clams, but suggested contacting a young Italian boy he had met selling fish on the wharf one day.
The boy, it seemed, was available, and Betty knew her aunt was relieved. A regular supply of fresh quahogs meant she could keep offering the chowders that the boarders loved and that she wouldn't have to make a thrice-weekly excursion to the fish market, interrupting her schedule as well as paying higher prices.
Life at Surf House returned to the routine set weeks earlier when Betty and her father had first arrived. Although she missed her family at home, as the days continued to pass so swiftly Betty knew she would be sorry to leave the shore. She had become used to the soothing sound of the surf, the cry of the seagulls, the cool breeze blowing off the Atlantic. Now into July, the air in Indiana would be hot and torpid; her neck prickled simply thinking of the heat and the perspiration to follow.
Midweek she resigned herself to the fact that she probably would not see any solution to the mystery of Mrs. Carlisle's pendant. She was certain by now that Steven had stolen it, and pawned it just as Artie had speculated. She only hoped that if there was some proof to the accusation, it could be found before Dick Burrows made his decision to go West.
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young