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Labor Day Misadventure

            It was really too hot to be ironing. Janelle lifted her long hair off her neck and twisted it into a bun. Yes, definitely too hot, but if she wanted to get the quilted table runner completed before the entry deadline for the Central Wisconsin State Fair, she had to keep at it. She smiled to herself. Amazing really, how quickly this city girl had transformed into a country mouse. Just two years.

                Two years ago, Janelle moved from her rented duplex in Wauwatosa to her very own home in Marshfield. The move had been traumatic, after unwittingly becoming involved in an international, industrial espionage case in which her own life had been threatened. Janelle had been rescued by a police detective and his family who had not only taken her in but had found her a new place to live and a new career. Two years since she had begun teaching Technical Writing and English 101 at North Central Technical College. That had been fun. Scarcely had she taken the job than the pandemic hit and past the first three weeks, her first two semesters teaching had been entirely online. Now, she was permanent faculty and traveled to the main campus in Wausau on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the satellite campus in Spencer on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She also conducted an evening, online class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even adding in office hours, Janelle had considerably more free time than she’d had as a technical writer for Carter Laboratories. Plus, it paid better, allowing her to purchase a small house. So, she had taken up quilting, and the table runner would be her very first entry in a county fair that ran for six days, concluding on Labor Day.

            With the last patch ironed, Janelle shooed Roscoe, her Maine Coon cat off the pile of squares and sat down at her sewing machine. She plugged in earphones, started her favorite playlist, and began to stitch. It wasn’t long before she became aware of a tapping which was not part of the music. “Why is it the phone rings or there’s a knock at the door only when I’m in the middle of something?” she muttered to herself as the knocking became more insistent. “Coming!” she shouted as she turned off the music and hurried for the front door. “Probably Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she thought. Anyone she knew would use the side door. Janelle could see two figures through the lace curtain. “They always come in pairs.” But when she opened the door, she was surprised to see one familiar face.

            “Officer, I mean, Detective Kieffer! What brings you here?” Janelle did not recognize the man with him, but the vibe he projected was similar to the Homeland Security agent she had encountered two years ago.

            “Sorry to disturb you, Ms. Walker,” Detective Kieffer began. “Could we talk to you for a moment? It’s important.”

            Puzzled, Janelle cast a backward glance at the scattered scraps of fabric and the partially pieced quilt top littering every piece of furniture in the small living room. “Uh. Sure. Just let me find you a place to sit.”  She snatched up the material and bundled it into a large wicker basket, grateful that the sink full of dirty dishes was not visible. Indicating the men should sit on the sofa, Janelle took a seat in her easy chair. “What can I do for you, Sam?”

            The other man’s gaze hardened at the familiarity. Sam spoke, “Well, obviously you know me.” Tilting his head, “This is Special Agent Osric Fitzwilliam of the Milwaukee office of the FBI.” The man showed his badge for a millisecond before snapping the case shut.

            “Osric,” Janelle mused. “Your mother must have been a fan of Ellis Peters.” If anything, Janelle’s attempt at levity appeared to further harden his gaze. FBI in her living room! Nervous now, Janelle cleared her throat and asked again, “What can I do for you?”

            Special Agent Fitzwilliam spoke, “Would you know the whereabouts of Jordan Lewis Walker and where we could find him?”

            Janelle choked. With raised eyebrows, she looked from one man to the other and back again. Detective Kieffer appeared concerned. The FBI agent registered only hostility. After the shock, Janelle’s own countenance hardened. “I have a nephew by that name. And you can find him in the Evergreen Cemetery in Kenosha County, just off Highway 31. And before you ask, he’s been there the last 23 years. If you had any research skills at all, you would know that. Now. Is there anything else I may help you with?”

            “Are you certain?” the Agent asked.

            “Of course, I’m certain. I was in his hospital room just before they turned off his life support. But I suppose parts of him are out there. My brother donated his son’s organs. Now unless there is someone else with my nephew’s name or someone has stolen his identity, I think we’re done here.”

            Detective Kieffer shuffled his feet and looked away as the FBI agent persisted with his questioning. “Do you know the circumstances surrounding his demise?”

            Janelle glared. “Yes. He wrapped his car around a tree. It took him ten days to die.” She was not about to volunteer that Jordan was high on meth and liquor when it happened.

            “And what were the family circumstances at that time?” Fitzwilliam pressed on.

            “Unbelievable!” Although she did not voice that thought, Janelle snapped, “I fail to see why that is any of your business.”

            Kieffer intervened, earning him an icy stare from the agent. “I know this must seem strange, Ms. Walker, especially after all this time. But we do have an active case before us, and every bit of information is important whether it seems relevant or not.”

            Janelle looked at him. He was actually blushing. Somewhat mollified, Janelle spoke only

to Kieffer. “My brother and his wife divorced when Jordan was three. My former sister-in-law was working on her fourth marriage. My nephew was living with his father after one of his stepfathers threw him out.”

            “And why was that?” The Agent.

            Janelle stared him down. After several moments, she said, “I don’t know. You would have to ask him or Jordan’s mother.”

            “That would be hard to do. She’s dead.” At Janelle’s startled expression, Fitzwilliam asked, “You didn’t know?”

            “No. My sister and I have had no contact with her since my brother died five years ago. She wanted several of his personal possessions and half the profit from the sale of his house. It got messy.” Now why on earth had she said that?  “When did she pass?

            “Two months ago.”

            Janelle made some calculations. “So, she would have been 73.”

            “She may have been 73, but she didn’t die of old age.”

            “Well, since my brother and nephew are gone, and I wasn’t even aware of her passing, I didn’t have anything to do with it. So why the subterfuge about Jordan?”

            Kieffer said, “Wasn’t my idea, but we needed a reason to talk to you.”

            “Sam, how many cups of coffee at church have we had together? You could have just asked.”

            “Still blushing, he said, “I know.”

            Looking back at Fitzwilliam who was again glaring at Detective Kieffer, Janelle said, “So my former sister-in-law did not die of natural causes. My sister and I did not like her for the heartbreak she caused our brother, but that was a long time ago and neither of us held a grudge. Neither do any of our aunts, uncles, or cousins if they even remember her. So why me?”

            “Your sister and her husband are in Florida, and we have an agent speaking with them at this moment. You, however, are still in state and just a short drive away. Your sister-in-law was a member of a prominent family, but there is virtually no mention of her since her marriage to your brother in 1974. Why is that?”

            “Because Kirsten’s grandfather disowned her mother.”

            “Would you know the story behind that? We could find no record of that beyond the fact that Mr. Holz secured guardianship of your sister-in-law and her sisters after their parents’ death.”

            Janelle sighed. “This is going to take a while. Would either of you like coffee or tea or water?”

            Sam nodded. The agent did not. Janelle smiled at Kieffer. “Just a dash of milk, right?” She walked into the kitchen to pour a couple cups, hoping the men would stay seated and not follow her into the messy room. Though he hadn’t asked for anything, Janelle added a bottle of water to the tray and carried it back to the men.

            “So, it’s the Holtz’s you’re really investigating, then? I’d be careful if I were you. Not only are they a prominent family, they do not take kindly to having their family name impugned.”

            “So, you know the backstory?”

            “Oh, I know it. The part you probably already know is that Sigmund Holz was the son of a Swiss immigrant. The parcel of land Sigmund Senior settled on was just beyond what were the city limits of Kenosha in 1890. But as the city grew, his 40 acres were surrounded on three sides by urban development. Rather than passing that property on to his son, Sigmund sold it to an Italian family for far more than it was worth and purchased 100 acres three miles west of the city. Sigmund Junior eventually inherited that. But he saw that money could be made in buying land cheap and selling it high. So that’s what he did – and all that without any interference from the Kenosha mafia.”

            Fitzwilliam interrupted, “Yes, we have that information. All but the mention of organized crime is mentioned in public documents.”

            “Oh, Sigmund would not have had any dealings with the mob. He was much too upright for that – a strict Lutheran who only consumed Communion wine – and beer.”

            “So, what about the daughter?”

            “Sigmund and Bettina had four children; three sons followed by a daughter, Birgitte. All the sons were sent to boarding schools, and then college, out East. Whether Sigmund didn’t consider educating a girl important or whether Bettina just wanted her daughter nearby, I don’t know. At any rate, just like some medieval romance the eldest was destined to inherit the property. He studied law. The second went into medicine and the youngest became a Lutheran minister. Birgitte attended local public schools. In high school, she fell in love with the son of a Danish immigrant who worked at the Nash Auto Plant – later, American Motors. Grandfather Holz did not approve of the relationship. When Birgitte graduated from high school, she and Nils eloped. Grandfather Holz disowned her and banned her from ever setting foot on his property ever again. Birgitte and Nils had three daughters: Gertrude, Kirsten and Marta. They lived in the upper flat of Nils’ parents’ house. On their fifteenth wedding anniversary, Birgitte and Nils went out for dinner, leaving the girls at home. They were hit by a drunk driver on their way home. Nils died instantly and Birgitte a week later. Gertrude was fourteen, Kirsten was ten and her younger sister Marta was six.  

            I think the girls would have been happy to live with Nils’ parents, but Sigmund was not a man to be seen not doing the proper thing. He had the money. He had the prestige. And he gained custody of the girls. I swear, it was something like “Flowers in the Attic.” He had a huge, six-bedroom, four-bathroom mansion, but instead of putting the girls in those rooms, he had the attic transformed into a dormitory and bath for the four of them. In a way, I suppose it was a kindness for them to be close together in their grief.”

           Janelle paused for a sip of coffee. “In some ways, they had an ideal upbringing. The Holz property was adjacent to a large county park. The estate had a tennis court, swimming pool and horses. The girls were expected to be proficient in the use of all three. But they also grew up with the understanding that as soon as they graduated high school, they would be expected to be out on their own. Holz set aside $1,000.00 for each of them which they would receive upon being accepted into a college or getting married, but otherwise, they would inherit nothing. Their parents’ life insurance was placed in trust, and each would receive a settlement upon turning 25. On Sundays, the family attended the Lutheran church Kirsten’s uncle preached at and then returned to the estate for a command family dinner. Kirsten’s uncles, aunts and cousins were quick to impress upon her and her sisters that their place at the table was only temporary.

          When Kirsten graduated, she found an apartment and enrolled in beauty college. She was allowed to take her bedroom suite and clothes with her when she left her grandparents’ house.

She got a job in a salon and met my brother when he went there for a haircut. They were married a year later. My brother was 21 and Kirsten 22. Jordan was born two years later. My brother had a good job, they had a nice house, but it didn’t compare to what Kirsten had grown up with. She had an affair with a much wealthier man and told my brother she wanted a divorce. As soon as the divorce was final, her lover dumped her.

         There! Now you know all the family’s dirty secrets. Satisfied?”

         “And what was the Holz family reaction to her marriage and divorce?” the agent asked.

          Janelle stared at the man. “How should I know? The only contact I had with Kirsten’s extended family was at her wedding – and I was twelve. I met her sisters and their families, of course at parties and such, but I never knew any of the others. I only know as much of her history as I do because Kirsten used to tell me about it when I babysat my nephew.”

         “You mentioned that Kenosha was a mafia town, and that Sigmund Holz had an extremely successful real estate business there. How do you suppose he managed that in a city controlled by the mob?”

          “I just told you; I had no contact with Kirsten’s family other than her sisters. And neither did my brother and sister. I don’t think she even knew anything about her grandfather’s business.”

           “Why do you think your sister-in-law was so eager to go through your brother’s possessions after he died?”

          Janelle sighed. “I don’t know. She just…well, she just always seemed somewhat entitled, entitled to everything. And, at the time, she was between husband number three and husband number four. Apparently, her uncle relented somewhat because she was living in the carriage house on her grandfather’s estate. I imagine she wanted the profits from the house because she needed money. My brother was a photographer, so my sister and I went through all his photo albums and gave her the ones that had pictures of her in them. She was also an amateur artist, and we returned a couple of paintings she had done when she and my brother were married. But she wasn’t satisfied, kept saying she needed to see for herself. When my sister and I refused, she got nasty. But really, they were only married for five years, and she hadn’t been part of my brother’s life, other than to share custody with my nephew, for decades. So, she had no legal standing. And since then, I have neither seen nor heard from her. And as little contact as I had with Kirsten, the contact with her family has been nonexistent. So, if you’re investigating the Holz family, I have nothing to give you.”

          Agent Fitzwilliam’s phone beeped. He retrieved it and looked at a text message. “It appears your sister has much the same to say about your sister-in-law and the Holz family.”

        Fitzwilliam looked at Detective Kieffer. To Janelle, it seemed that Kieffer was trying to silently encourage the agent to say something else. Fitzwilliam glared at Kieffer. Janelle thought back to the Homeland Security agent, Carbajal, she had encountered two years earlier. Was this some sort of mask all federal agents had perfected? The two men reached an unspoken agreement. Fitzwilliam’s expression softened. He turned back to Janelle.

         “Whoever murdered your sister-in-law was looking for something. They didn’t find it. We interviewed all three of her former husbands. They are all in the clear. But ex-husband number four indicated that you might know something. You have convinced me, and your sister has convinced my fellow agents, that this is not the case.”

          “So, do you have any idea what Kirsten’s killer was looking for?” Janelle asked.

        “According to our research, as you have said, Sigmund Senior sold 40 acres, during Prohibition, to a connected family for sufficiently more than its market” value such that he was able to parlay that into the purchase of 100 acres and the construction of a mansion. Then Sigmund Junior was able to conduct a lucrative business in a city with a prominent organized crime presence. Why do you think that was?

        “Sigmund Senior must have had something on the people he sold his land to and passed it on to his son,” Janelle guessed.

          “That’s what we think,” Fitzwilliam agreed.

          “But why go after Sigmund’s granddaughter? Wouldn’t it make more sense that information like that would have come down to his sons who still hold the estate? And besides, Prohibition was 100 years ago. Anything from that era, anything criminal, the statute of limitations would have long ago run out.”

          “Well, that’s the thing. Sigmund III died six months before your sister-in-law. The estate was put up for sale. I believe the asking price was 1.8 million dollars. When your brother and sister-in-law first got married, where did they live?”

          “Janelle thought. “The carriage house. But it was only for two months, and our family never visited there.”

          “After Kirsten divorced husband number three, she lived there again until she married husband number four. And we know that when the estate was listed, she visited it and toured the mansion and the grounds. We think she found something. We also think she may have told her killer that whatever they were looking for was among your brother’s possessions, which you and your sister now have.”

          “That timeline does not add up,” Janelle protested. Jack died five years ago. If Kirsten found something at the estate less than a year ago, there is no way it could be among Jack’s things.”

          “That may be, but your sister-in-law’s ex-husband thinks you might have whatever the killer is looking for…and more importantly, the killer may think so.”

       “Detective Kieffer broke into the conversation. “You do have a reputation for being in possession of incriminatory documents.”

        “One time, Sam! One time. That’s hardly sufficient for me to have a “reputation!”

      “So, what possessions of your brother do you have?” asked Fitzwilliam.

     “I have copies of the family photographs, his guitar, and half his coin collection. Judy has the original photographs, the other half of the coin collection, and his guns. I have copies of his will and the documents from the sale of his house. We sold everything else at the estate sale and all his tax forms and receipts we burned. There is nothing of interest to anyone but us in all that.

      Kieffer said, “I believe you. But there is someone out there who may not. Someone who was willing to kill to find whatever it is. That means your life may be in danger. We can run extra patrols down your street, but with the fair coming up in two weeks, there will be thousands of people in town. We will do what we can, but you will need to be especially vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t go places alone. Perhaps contact your friend in Wausau about added security.”

         With that, Fitzwilliam rose to leave and Kieffer joined him a heartbeat later.

     “That’s It?” Janelle was incredulous. That’s it? You waltz in here and tell me my life may be in danger and all I’m supposed to do is ‘be vigilant’? And what about Judy? If I am in danger, isn’t she also?”

          “Well, if you’d had whatever it is the killer is looking for, we could place you in protective custody,” the agent said. “As it is, since you don’t have it and we don’t know what it is, there’s nothing else we can do. As for your sister, the ex-husband didn’t mention her, plus, she is in Florida and has been for several decades. I do hope you will stay safe.”

          Rattled, Janelle showed the men to the door. Roscoe curled around her legs. Once the door closed behind them, Janelle sat heavily on the sofa. Her cat jumped onto her lap and began kneading her thighs. “Thanks Roscoe.” Janelle scratched his ears. Then she picked up the phone and called Pete. Two years ago, Pete and Martha Christensen had taken Janelle in when she had been attacked while on assignment for her boss. Together, they owned and operated a bed and breakfast in a Victorian mansion. Pete also had a sideline – running a security company. Janelle had remained friends with them even after moving to Marshfield.

          Pete answered on the third ring. Janelle related all that had happened that afternoon.  “Are your doors locked?” was his first question.

         “No.”

         “Go lock your doors. Martha has guests, so she needs to stay home, but Benjy and I will be down as soon as we can. Should be about an hour. Stay indoors and keep your phone on you.” Janelle heard the sound of a car engine. “We’re on our way.”

       After calling Judy and hearing of her experience with the Florida agents, Janelle returned to sewing quilt blocks. She needed something to distract herself. Ten minutes later, her phone rang. It was her pastor. “Pete called me. We’re right outside. If you want, we can come in or we can stay here until he gets here.”

        “You might as well come in.” She unlocked the door and ushered Arlen and Vonda in.   Vonda said, “We brought supper,” and before Janelle could stop her, headed for the kitchen. As she indicated Arlen should have a seat on the sofa, the next sound she heard was water as Vonda filled the sink.

         Just as Janelle thought she might die of embarrassment, her phone pinged again. She looked at the text only to find she was now on the church prayer list. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, Vonda joined her husband on the sofa. Janell was obliged to recite the afternoon’s visitation by law enforcement again. She was just finishing up when she heard a vehicle pull into her driveway. She went to the door to let in her friend and Pete scolded her for opening it before she knew who it was.  In the back of Pete’s truck were three doors. Before she could protest, Benji began removing her front storm door.   

          “There’s another door for the back and one for the garage,” Pete said. “While the glass isn’t exactly bullet proof, it is impact resistant and the locks are deadbolts. I may have to drill out your door jambs. By now Arlen was helping Benjy. In forty-five minutes, both outer and garage doors had been replaced, security cameras, window alarms, and motion detectors installed. Also in that time, Vonda had Janelle’s kitchen sparkling and supper on the table. The five of them crowded into the dining nook and as Arlen finished saying grace, the doorbell rang. Janelle started to rise, but Pete stopped her. “Look at your phone,” he said.

          Janelle took out her phone only to see the face of Sam Kieffer, now in civilian clothes. Pete nodded and Janelle went to the door. “Just in time for supper,” she said. Turning her head, she could see Vonda setting another plate. Janelle thought, “It’s a good thing spaghetti and salad stretch.”

          Sam stammered, “Oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt your meal. I just knew you must be upset by all that you learned this afternoon, and I…”

          “Oh, come on in. You might as well join the party.”

          “Lock the door!” Pete called out.

           Janelle sighed but did as she was told. “Sam, you know Pastor and Vonda. The short guy is Pete Christiansen and the big guy is Benjy. Sorry, I didn’t get your last name. Pete, Benjy, this is Detective Sam Kieffer.” The men acknowledged each other.

         “Sit down and eat before the food gets cold,” Vonda commanded. Space was made at the table and Sam joined in. He was about to say something when Vonda said, “Eat now. Talk later.” The food was delicious. “I hope you saved room for dessert,” Vonda said. Blueberry cheesecake. “Janelle, why don’t you and your guests have seats in the living room. Arlen and I can clear things up here.” She protested but was overruled. Once seated, Vonda served them cheesecake and coffee, then she and Arlen disappeared into the kitchen.

         Pete filled Sam in on the security measures he and Benjy had installed. Sam whistled. “You guys work fast!”

         “Hey, if our Janelle is at risk, you better believe we work fast. I’d like it even better if she came to the B&B and stayed with us until everything is settled.” Sam nodded.

       “Oh no. Oh no you don’t! I have three more days to get this quilt finished on time and entered in the fair. And classes start on Monday. I’m not going anywhere. Besides, I am not in Kenosha. I’m not even in Wauwatosa anymore. Almost no one from my past knows where I am. I appreciate all your efforts, but now that I’ve had time to think things through, I doubt I’m in any real danger. Whatever is going on has to do with the Holz family and I’m not part of the Holz family.”

         The three men looked each other and shared a group shrug.

         Darkness began to blot out a spectacular sunset as Janelle’s company took their leave. Before he left, Pete handed Janelle a medallion on a lanyard. “It’s a personal alarm. Press the button and you will be connected to an answering service.”

        “Oh, so in case I fall and can’t get up?”

        “Well, that, too.”

        “Goodnight, Pete. Say hello to Martha.” She was careful to lock the door since Pete did not move until she had done so. “What a day!” she sighed. Without any motivation to work on her quilt, read, or watch television, Janelle sank into her easy chair and prayed, with Roscoe a comforting weight in her lap.

         The next morning, Janelle was wakened by a ringing phone. Who would be calling her even before Roscoe was demanding his breakfast? It was Martha, checking in. After assuring her friend that all was well, Janelle yawned and stretched. The easy chair really wasn’t a bad place to sleep. Realizing she was awake, Roscoe now let her know he was starving. Janelle fed her cat, showered, and dressed and wondered about breakfast for herself. Vonda had worked her magic; the kitchen was spotless. Not wanting to disturb the cleanliness, Janelle settled for a protein bar, orange juice and coffee. Leftover spaghetti and salad were neatly stored in her refrigerator, so she needn’t worry about lunch or supper.

          Janelle had a lot to tell God about her experience of the previous day. After a half-hour quiet time, she felt at peace. The rest of the day, she worked on her quilt…and the next day, and the next. Friday, she delivered it to the fairgrounds. Looking at the other entries, she was awed by the craftsmanship. Her table runner was nice but was nowhere near the quality of some of the other pieces. Yet, there were also quilts not quite as nice as her own. Then again, she was just a beginner.

          Sunday, Janelle was mobbed in the fellowship hall. People let her know they were praying for her safety, but she could tell they were also curious for the entire story. Vonda thankfully rescued her and Janelle was able to enjoy worship in peace.

         Monday, classes began. Janelle was happy to get back into her routine. Although she continued to be vigilant about locking her doors and checking her surroundings when she got in her car, each day the sense of peril lessened. By the end of the week, she was certain she had nothing to worry about.

     The fair began the following Wednesday and would run until Labor Day. The flexibility of Janelle’s schedule allowed her to attend the quilt judging on Thursday. She was surprised and pleased when her table runner received an honorable mention. That afternoon, she ran into Sam Kieffer as he patrolled the grounds. He wasn’t happy that she was wandering about unattended. When he got off shift that evening, he sat with her in the grandstands as they enjoyed a concert by the Oakridge Boys. Janelle returned to the fair on Saturday, this time with Pete, Martha, Pastor Arlen and Vonda. She assured them all that she was taking appropriate safety measures and showed them she even had the personal alarm tucked into her jeans pocket. They all enjoyed fried cheese curds, cream puffs, and root beer floats along with the draft horse competition.

       Sunday at church was back to normal, and Janelle was relieved. Sunday afternoon featured motorcycle races and Sunday evening a demolition derby at the fair, but neither of those events captured Janelle’s interest. She settled down with a good book, and even from a mile away could hear the roar of the engines as cars smashed into one another.

         Labor Day, Janelle decided she would like a Lion’s Club breakfast, so she drove to the fairgrounds. One good thing about having an entry in the fair was it came with a season pass. Even though it was officially September, temperatures were summery, the humidity was high, and the hazy blue sky sported only wisps of clouds. Early as she was, there was already a line. Most of the people waiting were exhibitors and had spent the night in the various barns, sheds, and motor homes so they could be near their cows, horses, llamas, chickens, and other livestock. By the time Janelle secured a seat at the counter, her hair was already limp and sweat trickled down her spine. But the eggs, bacon and home fries were tasty and the coffee strong. Refreshed, she noticed the clouds rolling in as she walked to her car. She would return in the evening to retrieve her table runner and ribbon. No one was supposed to pick up their entries before 5:00 PM, but she knew impatient exhibitors would be lining up by 4:00. She figured if she waited until 5:30, she could avoid the press.

         Back home, the day grew dark and the wind picked up. Attendance would be down for the last day of the fair. Janelle reviewed lesson plans for the next day, did laundry, had a light lunch, and took a nap. Thunder woke her. Rain would certainly keep most people away, but the exhibitors would be on the grounds. A few minutes before 5:30, Janelle left for the fairgrounds. She was able to park just a short way from the exhibition building and was surprised to find so few people about. Inside the building, she inquired about that and was informed that due to the inclement weather, officials had relented and allowed exhibitors to retrieve their entries beginning at 2:30. Janelle and two officials were the only ones left. Just as she showed her ticket to retrieve her table runner, the tornado sirens began to wail. She was handed her quilt, which she stuffed into a tote bag, and shown quickly to the door. Darkness, with an eerie green tint, had descended and the wind howled. Speed walking, Janelle made for her car but her progress was halted when an arm wrapped around her throat and a gloved hand covered her mouth. A cold cylinder pressed into her back. “Where is it?” a voice growled in her ear.

         Janelle dropped her tote bag. She bit down on the gloved hand and stomped hard on the instep of the man behind her as she reached in her jeans pocket and pressed the personal alarm button. He cursed and released her, but before she could take two steps, he had grabbed Janelle by the arm. She fought and he tackled her. Janelle’s shoulder hit the gravel hard, knocking the breath out of her. Her lungs cried out for air but she could take only tiny sips of it, as though through a straw. In an instant, the man was on top of her, and his fist hit her face. “Where is it?” he growled again, waving the gun before her eyes.

         Just then a voice called out, “Hey there! That ain’t no way to treat a lady. Get offa her!” Janelle’s assailant turned toward the voice. The gun came up. Though her arm was not working, Janelle still had command of her legs. She kicked out and connected with her attacker’s knee. The gun went off. The voice roared, louder even than the tornado siren, “Hey Rube!” Doors flew open on a half dozen campers and carnival workers poured out into the rain. The first voice yelled, “Gun!” The carnies spread out, circling Janelle and the thug. The next sound Janelle heard was a shotgun being racked. When her attacker turned toward the sound, two carnies hit him and he went down. “Told ya that ain’t no way to treat a lady.”

          Janelle would have giggled if she’d had the air to do so as a tinny voice came from her pocket, “What is the nature of your emergency?” Pain pulsed from her head, through her shoulder and side, and down to her hip, then began the run all over again…and again. “Lady, you okay?” the voice asked.

         Janelle managed a weak, “No.”

         “Don’t worry. Help’s comin’.”

         Another voice spoke from her pocket. Pete. “Janelle, what’s wrong? What’s happening?”

         Her rescuer startled, then responded, “The lady got mugged. But we got the guy. He ain’t goin’ anywheres.”

         Pete answered, “I’m on my way. Good thing there’s a location tracker on this thing.”

        Janelle closed her eyes. It didn’t help. Between the wailing tornado siren and crackling thunder, she could make out the higher pitch of police sirens that mingled with the roaring in her head and became one with the pain. But the raindrops were no longer hitting her face. She looked up to see an umbrella and the tattooed face of the carny. “Hey lady. Don’t you go passin’ out on me. I’m Robbie. Stay wit’ me. Help’s comin’.”

        When Janelle next opened her eyes, a uniformed officer had replaced Robbie. He was soon joined by two paramedics. The woman asked where she hurt. “Everywhere,” Janelle squeaked. Pete and Detective Kieffer showed up as the paramedics were rolling Janelle onto a backboard. She would have screamed but her lungs still weren’t taking in enough air. Then she was loaded into the ambulance. Before the doors closed, she heard Detective Kieffer. “Better call for another bus. This guy looks like he’ll need it and I don’t want him riding with the victim.”

       It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that Janelle became aware of her surroundings. Her nose itched, but she couldn’t move her right arm to scratch it. Some weight was holding it down. Janelle found she was in a cast from her shoulder to her wrist. “Ah. There you are. Dr. Singh smiled at her. “Welcome back. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”

          “Best go with the bad news,” Janelle muttered through parched lips.

          “The bad news is you have a broken radius and a cracked rib. You also have a torn rotator cuff, which will need surgery down the road. The good news is that the break was clean and has been set. You’ll feel miserable for a while, but you will make a full recovery. Now. There is a police detective and an FBI agent here to see you. Are you up for it?”

          Janelle nodded.

         Special Agent Osric Fitzwilliam did not present as hostile a countenance as he had at their first meeting. He actually looked as concerned as Detective Kieffer. “Do you think you can answer a few questions?”

         “Sure.”

         “First of all, what were you doing out all by yourself? Weren’t you told by your security team to not do that?”

         “I wasn’t expecting to be by myself. I expected to be in a crowd of people. How was I supposed to know things would close up early. Besides, it had been two weeks and nothing had happened.”

          “Fine. Do you know the man who attacked you?”

          “No. But you have him in custody, so now there’s no more danger.”

         “I didn’t say that. He’s hired muscle. Probably the same hit man who killed your sister-in-law. We’ll know when the DNA comes back. But he’s not the brains. And he’s not talking. What did he say to you?”

         “All he said was, ‘where is it?’”

         Fitzwilliam released a frustrated sigh. “And you have no idea what or where ‘it’ is?”

        “No.” Janelle winced as she shifted in the hospital bed.

        “Well, that will be all for now. But I will be wanting a complete statement when you’re feeling better. Listen to your security team, won’t you? We’ll go, but there’s a whole line of people out in the hall wanting to see you.”

         The two men departed, to be replaced by Pete and Martha and Pastor Arlen and Vonda. Pete’s first words were, “What were you thinking?” He didn’t get any further as Martha elbowed him.

          Martha said, “I’m glad you will be all right. By the way, I contacted the Dean and told him about the attack. You’re off the hook for your classes this week and next. And, thanks to the pandemic, systems are in place for you to teach remotely until you are able to drive again. You also made headlines.” She handed Janelle the morning newspaper. The headline read, “Carnival workers Prevent Mugging.” Vonda read the article. “Carnival workers often have a bad reputation, but Tuesday, ACE Carnival’s employees were heroes as they saved local college professor Janelle Walker from a mugging at the fairgrounds. The carnival workers rescued Ms. Walker and held the culprit until police arrived. Though hospitalized, Ms. Walker is expected to make a full recovery. Detective Sam Kieffer stated there was no apparent motive for the attack. ‘Ms. Walker simply appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ The alleged attacker is incarcerated in the Wood County Jail pending arraignment.”

         “Thank you,” Janelle said. Then Pastor Arlen and Vonda took Janelle’s hands and joined with Pete and Martha in a prayer of thanksgiving and for healing. Then the nurse bustled in and shooed them all out, telling them Janelle needed her rest.

          Two weeks later, Agent Fitzwilliam and Detective Kieffer, along with Pete, were once more ensconced in Janelle’s living room. Her sparkling clean living room. Vonda and several other women from church had descended upon Janelle’s house while she was hospitalized and cleaned and organized it to within an inch of its life. “I’ve had a lot of time to think,” Janelle told the men. “Perhaps we are looking at this missing object all wrong. We have been thinking Kirsten found something when her uncle’s estate went up for sale. But what if we’re wrong. What if Kirsten took something long ago, like when she first moved out of her grandfather’s house. What if she didn’t even know she had it, and it was only when she heard something during the estate sale that she realized what it was?”

          The FBI agent said, “I already asked you what possessions of your brother’s you had and those items don’t seem to be of importance.”

           “But you didn’t ask me if I had any of Kirsten’s possessions. When she walked out on my brother, she took their bedroom suite, but left behind the furniture from her room at her grandfather’s. When I moved into my first apartment, my brother gave me that set. Since it was after their divorce, Kirsten would not have known that I owned it.”

         Kieffer asked, “Do you still have it?”

         “Well, not the bed. But I do have the dresser and the nightstands.” She nodded towards her bedroom door.

          The three men were on their feet in an instant and headed that way. Pete paused and said, “May we?”

          Janelle chuckled. “Go ahead.” She was happy her bed was made and laundry put away. They tackled the dresser first, removing the drawers and checking every surface. Then they tipped it over to look at the bottom and the back. Nothing. Next they turned to the nightstands. The first one also yielded nothing. But behind the drawer of the second nightstand, they found an envelope taped to the inside. The envelope was once pink and featured flowers and 1960s  era peace symbols, though they were also faded and the cellophane tape holding it in place was curled and brown. Fitzwilliam laid claim to the object but Janelle interrupted him. This is my house. My furniture. And my envelope. I am not letting it out of my sight until I see what it holds.”

       “But…” the agent protested.

       “But nothing. If I don’t get to see what’s inside, you’re going to need a warrant to take possession of it.”

         “She’s right,” Kieffer and Pete said together. 

        Janelle fetched a pair of rubber gloves from beneath the kitchen sink and carefully removed the envelope. She slid a knife under the flap to open it. Inside was an even older piece of paper, folded in quarters. Janelle handed the gloves to Fitzwilliam. “I’ll let you do the honors.” Carefully, he unfolded the yellowed and brittle document. “It’s a plat map,” Janelle said. Four pairs of eyes examined the page. “And I know where it is! It’s Sigmund Senior’s original 40 acres. See. Here’s Highway 50.” A rectangle and several small squares indicated buildings in the lower right corner of the map. “This must have been Sigmund’s farmhouse and outbuildings.” But the most curious feature was three tiny skulls and crossbones an inch away from the house.

         Pete said, “I’ll bet those are graves. Did Sigmund Senior lose any family members?”

        “Not that I’d heard,” Janelle replied. But look at the date scribbled below them. Isn’t it before Holz sold the property?”

         “We’ll have to research that,” Fitzwilliam said. “But for now, may I take possession?”

         Janelle nodded. “Of course. I wouldn’t want to impede your investigation.

         Three days later, Detective Kieffer and Agent Fitzwilliam were back on Janelle’s porch. She let them in and Fitzwilliam said, “It goes against policy, but Kieffer here insisted we let you know what we found. You said Sigmund Junior was too upright to have anything to do with the mob. I don’t think the same could be said about Sigmund Senior. You were right about the dates. The map precedes the sale of the property by a week. Most of the 40 acres were sold off for development, which Sigmund Junior handled. But a portion, next to the two acres the Gambini family retained for themselves, became a city park. We didn’t have enough evidence to get a warrant to search that property, but we did bring ground penetrating radar to the park. The graves were just over the property line into the park. Three skeletons…each with a bullet hole in the back of the skull. No telling if it was Gambini or Holz who executed them, but as you said, it was a century ago. Anyone involved with the crime is long dead.”

         “But why then, was there such urgency to get a map that only revealed a cold case which couldn’t be prosecuted?” Janelle asked

         Here, Fitzwilliam actually grinned. “Because the bodies weren’t the only things we found. A short distance away was a locked trunk containing more than 500 gold, $10.00 Eagle coins, along with some gems. On today’s market, they’re worth about a half million dollars. Somehow, the knowledge of that treasure was lost until recently. Members of the Gambini family learned that Sigmund Senior, and probably Sigmund Junior held the secret of it and they wanted it.”

          “But how did the map end up in my nightstand?”

         “Well, that’s an interesting story. It seems that Kirsten and her sisters liked to play a game of hide and seek with little “treasures.” With one hundred acres on the estate and 500 acres in the county park next door, they would put a few pennies in a bottle and hide it. Then the one who hid it would draw a map and the others would see if they could find it. We had a talk with the youngest sister, Marta. Making the maps fascinated her. Since her grandfather was a real estate agent, he had plenty of maps in his office. Although they were forbidden to enter Sigmund’s office, Marta would sneak in to study the maps. One day, she thought she heard someone coming so she hid under Sigmund’s desk, the one he inherited from his father. She bumped her head which opened a secret drawer. The map was inside and she took it. Gertrude and Kirsten insisted she return it, but she wanted to keep it. So, she hid it in an envelope. But rather than hiding it in her own nightstand, she put it in Kirsten’s. As she grew up, she forgot all about it until we questioned her. She said she never told Kirsten about it, but she thought somehow Kirsten knew, but believed it was only one of Marta’s own maps. We believe Kirsten heard something about a valuable secret and had a hazy recollection of what it might be, but she didn’t remember what it was nor where it was. And that got her killed.”

       “Do the people who were looking for the map know the FBI has it and that the treasure has been found?”

        “Yes, they know. The discovery of the murder victims and the treasure made quite a splash. I suspect the story will turn up on one of those explorer shows a few years from now. And that’s good news for you. You’re off the hook and should be safe from now on.”

       Sighing, Janelle said, “Good.” She showed the two men to the door. “See you at church on Sunday, Sam,” and locked the door behind them. Turning to Roscoe, she scooped up her cat with one arm and murmured, “and now things can get back to normal.

           

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By kathykexel

I've been writing from close to the time I learned to read. Fortunately, almost nothing exists from those days. Throughout my working life, I've jotted down bits and pieces here and there. But now that we m retired, I've run out of excuses not to write.

2 replies on “Labor Day Misadventure”

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