Aunt Ellie’s Inheritance

Part Three of Three

In case you missed them, check out Part One and Part Two before you proceed. 

Having survived a dangerous chase after the perpetrators of a holdup, outwitting an overly inquisitive reporter seeking information our hero had no intention of disclosing, and mourning the loss of a close personal friend who inspired his own commitment to saving the Delta, the Delta Detective now returns to action with three challenging mysteries. 
Who or what is troubling office manager Iris Noire? Can kitchen queen and wise woman, Yolanda Maria Miranda Peralta, be persuaded to offer insight on the case? And what is the meaning of the riddle left by a legendary Delta lady as a clue to the location of a legacy that may benefit his late friend’s widow? 
We take you now to “somewhere in the Delta” and invite you to play along, putting your own detective skills to the test in this third and final episode of “Aunt Ellie’s Inheritance.” 
(Note:  This story is published with the permission of the detective, the office manager, the widow and of Senora Peralta, who has stipulated that visitors to this website should take all necessary precautions, or as she expressed it in her own words, “Desinfectas te de manos! Usa mascarilla! Y manten una distancia de seis pies!”).

Iris Noire was not herself.

That was the first mystery of my workday. 

The second was the mystery I posed to myself: what had happened to alter her?

The third presented me with a professional challenge. What, if anything, could I do about it?

As office manager and assignment director, Iris presides over Delta Detective Services with professional aplomb, spritely efficiency, a dollop of charm, and a wry sense of humor you seldom see coming. To borrow a term from the theatrical word, she is always in character. But not this day.

I had noticed small changes in her as summer gave way to fall and falling leaves began to herald the approach of winter. I noted a decline of her usual snap and vigor, perhaps natural in one who had chosen to go without a vacation for most of the year. But more recently, I began to see signs of some underlying malady, exhibiting as she did an increasing sense of fatigue and melancholy. 

On this day, I studied her carefully to assess the problem. My detective instincts led me to suspect it was something more than a bad hair day. If the Iris we knew had been replaced by an Iris we didn’t, what had caused the transformation?

I wanted to ask her the cause of her condition and see what I could do to remedy it. But to do so would have called attention to her mysterious ailment—the last thing Iris might wish. Diplomacy and tact were required.

As a detective who has mastered the art of observing without being observed, I pretended to take no notice of Iris while subjecting her to close scrutiny. I consulted office assistant Marybeth Blaylock, whom I ordered to keep a sisterly eye on her afflicted boss and do what she could do to lift her spirits. I then went to lunch and shared my concern with Yolanda Maria Miranda Peralta over a dish of pollo mole at her riverside café. I described Iris’s altered state and asked the wise woman’s advice.  

“Oh, yes, I think I recognize what is wrong,” Yolanda responded, “but I don’t know that I can tell you.”

“Because you’re not sure you know? Or is it because you don’t want me to know?”

“It is not easy for me to put into words. Even if I could, you—being a man—would not understand.”      

 “Maybe I could. With your help, dear lady, I could at least try to understand.”

“Even so, I am not sure I can find the right words—or be comfortable with my choice of them.” 

“In English, you mean? Why not render it en Espanol? I have, as you know, a grasp of the lingo.”

“But you must promise me not to tell her what I tell you. I don’t want to stir up the embers.”

“Embers? What embers?” The words gave me hope that Yolanda knew what I needed to know.

Yolanda Maria Miranda Peralta envisioned by Parker Roth. (see below)

Reluctant at first, she gave me a soul-searching look, nodded, and set to her task. The words did not come easily. Leaning forward, lowering her voice and halting as she searched for the correct expression, she pieced together a reply:  

  “Hay pasiones que son….incendios….hasta—-hasta que las ahoga….el destino de un…un zarpazo….”

  “Passions like fire?” I responded. “Got it! But wait. Something about drowning? And destiny? What?”

“Passions drowned by a blow of fate,” she explained, lapsing into English for my benefit and returning to her preferred language, again searching for words to convey her diagnosis of the Iris mystery.

“Y aun asi quedan….brasas calientes….. brasas calientes listas para arder….apenas se les da oxigeno.”

She had me there. Problem is, I can’t speak like a native or think like a woman. Even so, I hazarded a translation. “And even though drenched? They keep on burning? Or smoldering?” 

I was beginning to see daylight, but I was not sure I caught the meaning of it all. And what about the  oxygen at the end of it? It was no use trying to disguise my translation limitations.     

“The embers are ready to flare into fire as soon as they are given oxygen,” Yolanda explained. ”You understand now? A past passion ignites again.”

“This is getting to be one hot story. What else can you tell me?”

“I can’t say more. You wanted me to tell you, and I have tried to do so, to the best of my ability.”

 “But what do you think is the matter with Iris? She doesn’t seem anything like a flaming ember.”

 “The malady may take several forms. The form of the malady depends on the woman.” 

“I was wondering what it was I was seeing in her. Women are a bit of a mystery to me, I confess.”

“Please excuse me,” Yolanda said, rising hastily to return to the kitchen where her assistant was signaling frantically that the demands of cooking had overwhelmed her abilities. “There’s nothing more I can tell you now, my friend. Finish your meal and we will talk again when I complete my cooking.”

Her explanation left me wondering. Her lunch less so, given the fine balance of spice and chocolate in my pollo mole.  I praised it when she returned to my table and reassured her that I had the best interests of Iris at heart. Sharing my concern, she expanded on her diagnosis.

“I would say an old flame she did not expect to come back into her life has come back, to her sorrow.”  

“Oh, I get it now. A busted romance. She thought it was over? It wasn’t? And now she’s in turmoil?”

 “It is not easy for her to extinguish the flame. She needs to find peace within herself to do that. She is working, hoping work can rescue her, revive her, but you can see it has not. Instead, it increases the fatigue, the weariness you see. She is struggling to dampen the embers—and dismiss the lover!”

“Well, thank you. It’s hard for me to see a woman as centered as Iris become so—so—vulnerable.”

“Ah, you say that because you yourself have never felt that anguish. It is like a forest fire. You think it is over and ended; and then El Amante comes back into your life and steals your heart a second time. The embers ignite once more and you can scarcely draw a breath. It is like trying to breathe in a forest fire.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Give her time off, a holiday to rest, relax and—what is that word? You know the word I mean?”

“Recuperate?”  

“Ah! If you will be so kind. Now that you know all there is to know, please do your best to help her.”

She blessed me with “Vaya con dios” and I returned to the office, ready to play the good angel. One fact was clear to me. The bewildering and sometimes wounding tangle of human relations that presents itself in so many of the cases we see at Delta Detective Services is not always confined to our clients.

Iris was nowhere to be found, but Marybeth had the situation well in hand. 

“I asked her if she was feeling all right and if anything was wrong because she looked distracted, and she said she’d felt this way before at certain times, but never like this. So I suggested she call her doctor to see if he had any time open today. He had a cancellation, if she could come right over, so she did.”  

She’d felt this way before? So Yolanda was right about a case of heartbreak. But if this was a case of renewed heartbreak, would a doctor really be of any use? Was there a pill for this sort of thing?

“She left me in charge until she gets back,” Marybeth continued. “I’ve had some phone calls for you.” 

“You handled it like a pro, Betsy. So who called?” 

“It’s Marybeth, not Betsy, despite what some folks around here like to call me.”

“My apologies. Marybeth it is and will be. Now about those calls?”

“A Mrs. Smithers wants you to find her missing dog–Fluffy the Runaway Puppy–who’s gone missing again. Why are you making a face, sir? You know the dog? The owner? Well, Mrs. Smithers was quite upset and wondering if—”  

“Get Zoe on to it. She’s an animal lover. Tell her to follow the pawprints and check the pound.”

“Check. You also got a call from a Mr. Wallender, who believes his spouse is cheating at something besides cards, and wants to know for certain before he instructs his attorney to file for divorce.”

“Get Stu Woo on it. He’s a natural when it comes to finding someone who doesn’t belong in the marital picture. Did you know he has a degree in surveillance from the Feng Shui Academy of Investigation?”

“And a Mr. Oliver J. Barnwell. He’s giving you an option on your request for a meeting. Who’s he?”

“Friend and attorney to the late Mrs. Eleanor Edythe Greenarden. Had a busy practice and plush office in Sacramento until he decided to go pioneering in the Delta. Relocated and set up a new office near his new residence in the exclusive shoreline community of Tidewater Cove. What’s that about an option?”

“He wants to know if you can come down to see him Friday or Saturday. It’s your call.”

“Friday or Saturday?”

“Yes, sir. If you come down Friday, you get the office tour and a talk. If you come down Saturday, you get the house tour and a talk. Just phone his secretary and let her know your preference. She’ll give you instructions on how to get there by auto—unless you decide to take the Delta Dazzler down there?” 

“I will. Tell the secretary I want the home tour. I need the location of the nearest marina where I can tie her up.”

“You’re going to tie the secretary up? I don’t think I like the sound of that, sir.”

“Not the secretary, silly, the Dazzler. Tie up means making the boat secure. I’ll need a code to get inside the gate unless he’d like to send someone to meet me at the dock. That would be convenient.”

“All right, sir, I’ll make the arrangements. Is there anything else?”

“Thank you, Marybeth. You’re doing splendidly. Keep it up and I may have to raise your salary.”

“In that case, sir, you may call me Betsy.”

“In that case, Betsy, I may have to offer you an office perk. How about dinner tonight?”

“Given my mostly empty refrigerator, I may have to accept. What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, how does Windmill Cove or Paradise Point sound to you?”

“I’m not dressed for sailing and I don’t have a sweater.”

“Well, closer to home then. Give our friend Yolanda a call and find out what she has on the menu.”

“The entire menu?”

“She only makes one evening entrée. She’ll tell you what it is because she has no menus.”

“No menus?”

“She makes it up as she goes along. I believe that’s called creative cookery.”

I retired to my office, went through mail, updated a memorandum and welcomed Marybeth’s knock.   

“Yucatan chicken street tacos,” she said, announcing the evening special at Yolanda’s.

“What in the world is that?” 

“I wondered about that, sir. She said she makes it with—let me see, I wrote it down as fast as I could because she was in the middle of a brawl with a guy who said her cooking wasn’t as good as some woman’s on TV– lime cream, cojitas, pico de gallo, arroz espanol, frijoles pintos and quackamole.”

“Quackamole? Don’t you mean guacamole?”  

“Maybe I misunderstood her. I thought it was something like, you know, wild duck.”

“Well, knowing Yolanda—and what friends bring her from their hunting and fishing outings—, I can’t say that would be beyond the realm of culinary possibility. And tell her she is better than any dame on TV.”

“Maybe I can ask her politely to leave out the duck,” Marybeth suggested.

“It’s probably already in. Besides, no one ever tells that amazing woman what to do in her kitchen. And if that TV bon vivant knows what’s good for him, he’d better watch his mouth or get out of there pronto before Yolanda loses her temper and reaches for her iron fry pan. There’s such a thing as a creative temper, you know.”

It was west toward Bethel Island and Brentwood that I set sail one fine Saturday, wondering what Barnwell could tell me about the Greenarden riddle. His right-hand woman, Veronica (“call me Ronnie, everyone does,” she explained) Van Skjold, met me at the dock. I secured the Dazzler, and the two of us proceeded to Tidewater Cove. 

“So you’re a private detective,” she said, as we motored a bumpy country road to the Barnwell enclave.

“Is it that obvious? The gum must be sticking to my shoe.” 

“Mr. Barnwell told me to ‘go get the shamus, he’s at the marina unless his boat sank on the way here.’ ”

“Mr. Barnwell has a wonderful sense of humor.”

“He has something even better than that. Wait until you see his house.”

“Is it sinking?” I asked with a straight face. 

“It’s a showplace. Imposing, but relaxing. Luxurious without being pretentious. One of those new dream houses on the Delta, with all the amenities you can imagine, and a few that you can’t.”

“Good for him. With all his ex-wives, I figured he might have to be sleeping in a tent. So what do you do,  Ronnie?”

“Whatever Mr. Barnwell needs done. He’s a very busy man what with all his clients and business ventures and a big new house to care for that he doesn’t have the time or energy to spare. That’s where I come in.”

“You give the place a woman’s touch? That’s convenient. Cooking and housekeeping, too?”

“If it doesn’t interrupt my waterskiing and sunbathing.” 

The all-purpose housekeeper and sportswoman looked like your average All-American Girl with freckles and a feisty intelligence. She said she had a law degree from Vanderbilt, was a junior member of the firm, and kept a copy of “How to Turn Ho-Hum Meals into Epicurean Wow” beside her stove for ready reference whenever her employer wanted more than a sandwich. 

“For cooks like me, fear is the secret ingredient,” she explained. “When it comes to the kitchen, I have two options: face it or run away. But enough about me. Tell me what it’s like being a private detective?” 

“I think I’m going to get a new lesson today,” I said as we approached the gates of Tidewater Cove.

“How’s life treating you, kid?” Barnwell welcomed me on the doorstep of his riverside mansion, thanking Ronnie with a love pat for her service and sending her off to do grocery shopping. He then gave me a guided tour of the premises, from the landscaped rooftop lounge down to the temperature-controlled wine cellar, with a look-see at his movie theater, wood-paneled library, and spa with sauna and steam room. We then stepped outside for lunch at a table set by his designer swimming pool.

It wasn’t your typical conference setting. We sat within a pergola whose classic Roman columns and adjacent cypresses lent a touch of the old world to the new estate. Seated there, you had your choice of staring at the river and its passing boat traffic or the plumes of a nearby Roman fountain thrusting higher than you supposed water could reach. That ambitious ascent, checked by the force of gravity and dissolved into vaporous mist, seemed to me to contain a subtle warning about ambition.  

“Thanks for the house tour and splendid meal,” I told my host. “May I ask why you’re spoiling me?”

“So you can help me help Gwen Garnett solve the mystery of her legacy. You and I both want to help the kid, don’t we? We don’t know everything, but each of us knows a thing or two, and the two of us together might know just enough.”

“Enough to know what Ellie had in mind for the Garnetts? She never told you that?”   

“I wish she had. I was her attorney, and I can tell you that I never had a more interesting and engaging client. But I never knew half of what that busy woman was doing—or thinking. She could be a puzzle.”

“You probably knew her as well or better than anyone.”    

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m an attorney, not a psychologist.” 

“Your way of saying that auntie was playing without a full deck?”

“Not at all. What I meant was that we really don’t know everything about the people we serve, even if we assume we do. Even when they share what you believe is every detail of their savings, income, property, and investments, they may hold back on you, keep something to themselves.”

“Something Ellie didn’t want you to know?”

“It may not have been anything I needed to know. But for whatever reason, clients do sometimes keep secrets. That, of course, is their privilege, unless the secret can harm them legally, in which case I urge them to confide in me. Mrs. Greenarden was reluctant to make a will, which isn’t a crime. If there was something else, I wasn’t informed. I had no inkling of a legacy until she handed me the riddle. She instructed me to give it to Gwen when she was no longer competent or breathing.”

“Did you ask why?” 

“She preferred to keep the secret.”  

“Were you able to make anything of the riddle?” 

“We wouldn’t be talking if I had,” Barnwell smiled. I returned the smile.

“Whether or not it relates to a legacy is the issue. I tried my best to make her see reason and make a will to give her intent clear expression. It’s not wise for one her age to be without a will, but she was superstitious about doing so. Some people equate making a will to inviting their demise.”  

“Which leaves us with the mystery of what it was she laid aside.”

“I looked for a clue in the history of her assets. Most of the farmland and orchards created by her first husband were expanded by her second, who added vineyards. Along came the third, who’d made his fortune in textiles and had no use for farming. He began selling off the land and used the money to acquire art and other collectibles. He enhanced the mansion to impress his guests and kept enough of the original estate to access his favorite sport–duck hunting. After his passing, Ellie began selling or auctioning off the collectibles to supply an income for herself and provide for her—shall we call them houseguests?”

“Her old and indigent friends. Yes, I met a few of them on my visits there with Josh.”

“She took them under her wing. None paid rent, or needed to worry about food or lodging, but all of them provided what they could in terms of service to their benefactor, to whom they were grateful.”

“A one-way street, financially speaking?”

“Her third husband’s collectibles kept her in the easy. She spent it prudently, believing she had many years ahead of her. It’s what she wanted to believe. It’s what we all want to believe, isn’t it? Believing that time is on our side. The question is what Ellie wanted for the Garnetts. And the riddle is all she left. Gwen and Josh turned to me when they couldn’t make sense of it. I drew a blank. How do you read it?”

“Something about money. The challenge of money, the mystery of money, the psychology of money. It might also apply to time. You know, time is money, money is in the timing?”

Barnwell shook his head. “She took the secret with her. Didn’t want to leave a will, but left something like a clue to something undefined. Maybe a last bit of wisdom was her idea of a legacy, but I think she meant something tangible. The problem is how to find it. The riddle’s ending is no help. Here, have a look. I kept a copy.”

I read aloud: “You will find abundance if you turn the present to the past and grasp the key.”   

“Turn time around? How do you do that? And what key are we talking about? The key to what?”

“I wish I knew. Gwen is going to need help if she hopes to hang on to that house and the folks in it. I’d like to think that was Aunt Ellie’s intention.” 

“When I asked if she wished to put a gift in writing, she said she would have something when the time came. And now the time has come and gone and this bit of paper is all we have. It isn’t enough, unless we can make sense of it. That’s where a detective comes into it. Any questions?”

“Yes. Was Ellie fond of puzzles?”

“A devotee. Word games, logic games, card games of all sorts. Said it kept her brain healthy.”

“From what I could see, it certainly didn’t do her brain any harm.”

“She was always inviting me to play. I never won. And it doesn’t look as if I’ve won her latest challenge.”

“Besides being a brain-sharpener, did she say anything else about this passion of hers?”

“I recall her telling me how to be a winner. She said you have to play the cards you’re dealt in life, but you can choose who is sitting at your table.”

“So leaving a legacy wrapped in a riddle didn’t come as a complete surprise to you?”

“What an old woman may or may not do in the absence of a will comes as no surprise. But whatever this old woman meant by leaving a riddle instead of a will has made her choice of a legacy obscure to the one who deserves it. She made no secret of approving the good work Josh and Gwen were doing. I think she would want Gwen to continue it.”

“It would be a shame if Gwen missed out because Mrs. G. was a little too clever.” 

“I think it’s unlikely Josh’s widow can carry on at the old house without a healthy financial infusion.”        

“How about I get out there and talk to some of her guests? I wonder if one of them might have some idea about the meaning of the riddle. Maybe it played on some idea Ellie mentioned. Might ring a bell.”

“Well, good luck and let me know if you find out anything. Hope you liked the house? It’s over the top, of course, but I deserve to be spoiled. Ronnie will be back in plenty of time for you to catch the tide. In the meantime, may I offer you a glass of Lodi’s finest red wine, which also happens, not coincidentally, to have been voted best in the nation?”

Bordered by low herbage and high shrubs, the Greenarden mansion was set in an extensive stretch of semi-cultivated open land. It lay in the middle of nowhere, unless you viewed the heart of the Delta as somewhere. A classic mansion in a wide-open landscape seemed lost in time unless you saw it and its surroundings as belonging to a long tradition of irrigated cultures dating from ancient Mesopotamia.  

The aging but imposing mansion sat in one of the state’s foremost but least-known commercial and recreational regions. Ellie’s plan to turn her old farm property into a tour destination was a way of inviting the public to get better acquainted. Although the plan had to be put on hold when the pandemic struck, Ellie was already making preparation for the day when, as she told me, “The sun comes out again and ag tours bring us busloads of tourists.” Was this bright future only wishful thinking?

Gwen met me at the mansion, made the necessary introductions and showed a copy of the riddle to her houseguests, to see who knew what, if anything. The first guest shook her head. As did the second. The third said he’d never heard her say a thing about a will. But the fourth recalled that Ellie once told her that she was selling her late husband’s collections. but “saving a few umbrellas for a rainy day.” 

“Nice figure of speech. She didn’t happen to say where she was putting the umbrellas?” I asked.

 “Oh no, sir, I don’t expect she’d tell me that. And it certainly wasn’t my place to ask.”

“You see, dear,” Gwen interposed, “we’re trying to find out what Ellie’s intentions were. She didn’t tell  anyone and all her lawyer has to go on is this riddle. It points to some sort of legacy, if we can find it. It’s not the usual way these things are done, but it was her way. In the absence of a will, we have to respect her wishes. And with a clue like this, we might just have what we need to find out what she meant.”

“Well, since you put it like that, you might want to go have a little look around her garden.”

“Her garden?” Gwen asked.

“She was out there most days–planting things, growing them and tending them.  Maybe she buried what you‘re looking for out there.” 

I shook my head at the idea of buried treasure, but Gwen took me out to meet Luke Sundland. A retired gardener who resumed his trade when Ellie installed him in her household, Luke said the idea of buried treasure was “A bunch of nonsense. Something not practical wouldn’t have appealed to her.”

“But gardening was her favorite recreation, wasn’t it?”

“I suppose it was. I do most of the work out here, but she kept an eye on everything and she grew some nice squash and tomatoes. She’d come out to see how things were growing, pick flowers for her table and ask my advice on planting.”

“There we are,” I nodded, assuming the garden was a dead end. I stopped short when Luke added, “What she did in her secret garden was her own business, but that was nothing much….” 

“Secret garden?” 

“Not much of a secret. The gate wasn’t locked. She’d invite me in to come in and supervise what she felt needed attention. Here, I’ll show you. Take that winding path on your right and follow it to the back.”

I followed the path to a low arch that led into a neat but unremarkable little preserve of flowers, potted plants and kitchen herb favorites such as basil, cilantro, dill and thyme. A weathered pedestal stood in the middle of the grounds. I glanced at it in passing and noticed a sundial topped by a sturdy ornamental figure with a Roman beard and two faces, each pointing in a different direction. 

“Who’s this?” I asked Luke, putting my hand on the Roman mystery man. “What’s with the two faces?”

“I asked her about that once. She said it was—I don’t remember his name, some old god–who looks at the past and present at the same time. I guess a god can have double vision if that’s what he wants.”

Gwen took my sleeve and asked, “Didn’t Ellie’s riddle mention turning the present to the past? What would happen if we—?”

I got the message, grasped the head of the little god and gave it a twist to the left. Nothing happened. Then I tried the other side. The man of two faces obliged by dividing himself in two. Therein lay a key. 

“What’s this doing here?” I asked, giving it to Gwen. Then I remembered the riddle saying something about grasping a key. lf this was the key, where was the lock it fit? There were no locks in the garden.

“Maybe over there,” Gwen suggested, pointing to the old ranch house and barn whose roofs lay just beyond the garden wall. Both structures had been repaired and repurposed to bring back the days of Ellie’s youth on the farm and create a tourist attraction for modern day visitors.                                                                               

“There’s past and present for you,” Gwen nodded. “I think we’re on to something.”   

But disappointment awaited us. The ranch house had no locked rooms, closets or cabinets. The barn remained, but why would anyone need a key in a barn? The door to it was latched, not locked. 

“Well, as long as we’re here, we might as well try,” I suggested. 

“There’s only hay bales and old farm equipment here,” Gwen said as we entered the musty interior whose dim was alleviated only by a slanted shaft of sunlight shining through the loft aperture. I  scrambled up the ladder to the loft, found nothing and came down, noticing as I did a portion of the back wall arranged with neat bales, with one stack visibly higher than the rest.

“What’s behind these bales?” I asked Gwen.

“Just the rear wall. The barn ends there.”

“Does it? Seems to come up a bit short when you look at the barn from the outside.”

“From the outside?”

“Just something I noticed. It seemed to me to extend farther than it does in here.”

“Maybe your eyes were playing tricks.”

“Or my detective instinct is working overtime. Mind if I rearrange some of the hay?”

As I did so, the top of a frame came into view. Then a door. The door was locked. I motioned to Gwen, who took the key out of her pocket and tried the lock.

“Looks like you were right,” she said as it swung opened with a noisy creak. “A little storeroom here.”

But once inside, our expectations fell flat. The content of the small room was nothing like a treasure chamber. It was filled with useless bric-a-brac, odds and ends, dusty books, faded vases and household relics from Ellie’s childhood, no doubt saved for use in an exhibit of historic farm life. I was fingering a broken toy when Gwen called my attention to a clean canvas sheet neatly draping a side table. 

“And what have we here?” She removed the canvas gingerly in case paint cans should overturn. But there were no cans. Just a row of old clocks, each carefully wrapped and looking like they hadn’t ticked or tocked in ages. Our hunt had come to an end without the legacy we were seeking.

“A bunch of useless old timepieces. Sorry to get your hopes up, Gwen. You must be disappointed.”

“Disappointed? Are you kidding? I’m elated! I’m ecstatic! Don’t you see what’s here?”

I looked again, in bewilderment, wondering what the joyous woman saw that I

“They’re collector’s items,” she explained. “Celestial clocks, automaton clocks, English skeleton clocks, Cartier mystery clocks, Augsberg and Bavarian clocks, a Ben Franklin colonial and a Swiss masterpiece that revolutionized timekeeping and rewrote the rules of precision. Jackpot! Bless you, dear Ellie!”

On and on she went, marveling at the collection. That collector husband of Ellie’s must have had some eye for value. Whether these old relics could keep time in the twenty-first century didn’t even matter.

The riddle was now clear. Time was elusive. Time was precious. And rare timepieces were money in the bank. 

And so they proved, fetching a fortune from private collectors and public museums. Which is why Ellie’s heir and her lingering houseguests continue to live and thrive in that happy Delta mansion in the middle of nowhere. Gwen is now thinking of additions to the tourist farm that was Ellie’s dream.   

“All I need is a petting zoo, a bee colony with homegrown honey for sale, a melon and pumpkin patch, and a refreshment stand. We can open for business after next summer, or whenever enough folks get vaccinated and ag sightseeing becomes popular again,” she explained, laying out her plan. “It’s what Ellie would have wanted, and you better believe we are going to do the old gal proud!”

As for Iris, she returned to us in short order, her old self revived far more than I thought possible. I welcomed her back to work and congratulated her on her rapid return to health.

“I’m glad to see you got over your—sadness,” I said, assuming her broken heart had mended and that Yolanda had been correct in her diagnosis of an old love returning to rekindle the embers of passion.

“Oh, it was nothing,” Iris said, waving the problem aside. “The doc said it was Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short), brought on by the change of season and change of weather. There isn’t much you can do about it except hope for an early spring; but the doc gave me a new medication he said would perk me up and put me back in the ball game. It did. He encouraged me to cheer up and do whatever makes me happy. Which is why I’m here. Delighted to be back!”

“So that was—all it was?” I asked, exchanging a glance with Marybeth. 

“I’ve had little touches of it before, but nothing like this. Blame it on 2020, with the Covid, the fires, the  riots and the election. No wonder my SAD kicked in. But I’m feeling my old self now. It’s a wonder what modern medicine can do, isn’t it? Well, Betsy, thanks for filling in. I think I owe you a martini. Have you heard about the new martini created for folks eager to escape lockdown?”   

“You can do better than a Lockdowntini,” I said. “I’d recommend something more exotic and substantial. May I offer you ladies a Trinidad Tropicana Temptation at Yolanda’s after work tonight?”

“Don’t fall for that, kid, the boss is teasing us,” Iris cautioned Marybeth. “Unless Yolanda’s got herself a new barista with a creative touch, she’s limited to bottled beer and tequila that knocks you flat.”

“Is she?” Marybeth asked, scanning our faces as if unsure which of us was correct. Her puzzlement ended when Iris and I ceased comic banter and exchanged a fond look that words couldn’t express.

“I get it,” Marybeth said. “Count me in for a Temptation—-unless I’m interrupting something?”

###

Parker Roth, artist and Los Angeles fan of the Delta Detective, has shared with us his iconic conception of the sleuth, capturing his jaunty, wisecracking and sharp-eyed personality.  Now, Mr. Roth adds to his portrait gallery of memorable characters with Yolanda Maria Peralta, the jovial owner and operator of the Delta’s least-known cafe and favorite retreat of the detective. Yolanda has won her share of fans including those who have asked us how to find her place of business. Yolanda’ s utterly personal and original approach to cooking (sorry, no menus) and her motherly sensitivity to the risks of the detective profession have earned her the friendship and respect of our hero, not to mention his appetite. Her method of engaging and satisfying customers presents a novel business model for potential investigation as Mr. Roth pursues his studies at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder. 

Leave a Reply

2 Comments

  • Once again, the delta detective has hooked me on his misadventures through the enchanting delta river system. I always place myself in a different period while reading your stories but then you always insert something that signals our present age. I enjoyed meeting the new office character Marybeth (Betsy). She seemed like a young and independent woman holding the truth of life over the detective. The clocks at the end of the story reminded me of the clocks found in the blind old women’s apartment in the Agatha Christies novel The Clocks. Keeping on writing!

  • Oh my gosh what fun on the delta in part three. Enjoyed your use of the Spanish language, plus the food, and the antique clocks found in the barn. Also loved Parker’s wonderful artistic portrayals of the detective and Yolanda. What a great addition and the boy has talent!

Leave a Reply