3. Harry Hogan - Size Nine
It appeared to be a fairly quiet morning when Harry arrived. His first stop was the lunchroom where he got a cup of coffee and tasted it - strong enough for the spoon to stand up in as usual, just the way he liked it. The second stop was his office. Budget restraints had meant cutbacks in the clerical side of things and the detectives now had to do most of their own paperwork. Needless to say, Harry was behind and if he didn't do something about it the Chief would be on his back. He sighed as he sat down and pulled the top file folder from the pile in his desk drawer, preparing to tackle his least favourite part of the job.
Harry could talk up a storm and had a pretty good memory for the cases he worked on but he detested having to put things on paper. Granted, the computer and printer meant that no one had to try to decipher his chicken scratches anymore, but his spelling and grammar weren't top notch either. He'd never been much of a scholar in that area. However, this had to be done because at the end of the week Harry was retiring.
"Just write it as if you were telling a story, Dad," his daughter had told him. "It's not a scholarly article." Easy for her to say. Moe was a high school English teacher. Christened Maureen, after her maternal grandmother, her brothers had shortened it to Moe when she started following them around as a young child and the name had stuck.
"Hey!" His partner, Bruce Parkins, paused in the open doorway. "I should be back in an hour, dental appointment."
Harry nodded. "No problem. We'll compare notes on some of these reports when you get back."
When Sharon, the receptionist, came in minutes later Harry was still staring blankly at the single unopened file on his desk, apparently lost in thought. She tapped lightly on the open door and he looked up, feeling a bit guilty to be caught day-dreaming on the job. "What's up?" he asked eagerly, hoping for an excuse to postpone the reports again.
"Mrs. Thorne said she has an unusual problem and she wants it investigated."
His excitement turned to disappointment. "Tell her I'm out of the office... tell her I'm busy catching up on paperwork... tell her... anything."
Sharon raised her eyebrows as she looked at his almost empty desk "Really? All of one file, huh? Must have been a real big one."
"Come on, Sharon, you know that woman gets under my skin."
"So? She's a very attractive woman."
"And very nosy..."
"Very community-minded and..."
"Yeah, maybe too much. She's always there, got her fingers – and her nose – into everything." He sighed. "Can't you get me out of this?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Then tell her I'll be there as soon as I can... I'll wait till Bruce gets back from the dentist." At least he wouldn't have to deal with her alone.
As she was leaving, Sharon paused in the doorway and looked back. "Coward," she said softly, with a hint of a smile on her face.
When Harry and Bruce pulled up beside Mrs. Thorne's house later, there was what looked like a heap of rubbish on her front lawn.
"Looks like she's doing some fall cleaning," Harry said.
"That's what's on my agenda for the weekend," Bruce said. "Can't say I'm looking forward to it but..."
"There you are, Detective. I've been waiting for you."
"The thorn in my life," Harry muttered under his breath. "What seems to be the problem, Mrs. Thorne?" he continued as Bruce started to chuckle and faked a cough instead.
"Right there beside you." She came towards them, hands encased in gardening gloves as she pointed to the heap on her lawn.
Bruce had regained his composure. "What exactly is it?"
"See for yourself." She pulled several items from the pile and tossed them on the ground separately.
"Old shoes?" Harry asked. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't. I haven't told you the story yet."
"I mean, what's unusual about old shoes?"
"They aren't just any old shoes, Detective. You see, my dog has been finding them and laying them on the back porch. They've obviously been dug up somewhere because they're full of dirt. But I don't know where or how he's getting them," she explained.
"You don't think your dog is digging them up?" Bruce asked.
"The only time Brewster is outside of my own back yard is when I take him for a walk. We always use the boardwalk around the pond. So I can't see how Brewster could be digging them up and I can't figure out where he's getting them."
"Maybe someone else is tossing them over your fence," Harry suggested.
"But why? What would be the purpose?" She shook her head. "But that's not the only thing."
"Oh? Is he finding other things too?" Harry asked.
"Not exactly. Look closely, Detective. These shoes are all for the left foot. Don't you think that's a bit unusual?"
"I suppose it is," he agreed. "Bruce, get a couple pair of evidence gloves from the car."
"There seems to be a variety of footwear here," Harry said as he and Bruce put on the gloves. "Let's sort them out." They sorted the heap into three smaller piles: dress shoes, sneakers and slippers.
"You know," Bruce said, "none of them show any sign of wear."
"Hmm, you're right," Harry said. "No frayed laces, trodden-down heels, no wear on the soles. Except for the dirt, they look new. And strangely enough, they're all size nine."
"Could it have been some sort of packing or shipping error and the extra shoes were discarded?" Bruce said.
Harry straightened up. "So what do we have? A variety of men's footwear that don't appear to have been worn, all for the left foot, and all the same size." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"A bit odd," Bruce commented.
Harry nodded. "Mrs. Thorne, when is your dog usually outside in the backyard?"
"Well, we usually go for our walk right after lunch and when we get back I leave him outside for an hour or so. Oh! And I usually give him a bone to chew on."
She nodded. "Yes. I buy them from the butcher to make broth. Then I give Brewster the bone."
Harry grinned. "Does he by any chance bury them?"
"Oh, I don't know. I have never seen him digging and I have not seen any holes in the backyard."
'Do you have any flower beds back there?"
"No, just a few trees and a patch of rhubarb in one corner."
"May we take a look back there?" Harry asked.
"Of course. There's a gate back here at the end of the driveway." She led the way.
“Nice spot,” said Bruce.
"Who mows the grass?" Harry asked.
"A high school student has been doing it for the past three years. But I don't think he knows anything."
Harry shook his head. "No, I simply meant that if the dog had been digging holes out here, anyone mowing the grass would have noticed."
"I see, yes. But even if Brewster was burying bones out here, that still doesn't explain where the shoes are coming from," she said.
As he talked, Harry had been walking slowly along the fence. Suddenly he bent down. "I think I've solved part of the puzzle. See this?" He pointed to a dip in the ground near the end of the rhubarb patch. "I would say this little opening provides just enough space for a small dog to squeeze through. What's on the other side?"
"A walking park, mostly for seniors," she said. "Many of them also help out with the mowing, tending the flower beds and raking the leaves in fall."
"Dogs don't generally go too far from home to bury their bones and it looks to me like Brewster has the perfect spot right next door to his own backyard,” Bruce commented
Harry nodded. “Right. We'll come back tomorrow and watch what he does when he gets the bone. What time will that be?"
"Around two-thirty," she replied.
"We'll be in the park shortly before that," Harry said as they walked towards the gate.
“Interesting,” Bruce said when they were in the car. “She gives him a bone and he brings her back a shoe.”
“Payment for the bone, perhaps,” Harry replied with a shrug.
The next day Harry and Bruce found a park bench from which they could observe the gap beneath Mrs. Thorne's fence and sat down to watch for Brewster the dog. It wasn't long before they spotted him wriggling under the fence, soup bone firmly gripped in his jaws. He ran straight to a bed of flowering shrubs and within seconds the dirt was flying.
"Man, I should have had him around last month when I was digging post holes for the fence," Bruce said.
“He’s a digger, all right.” Harry laughed. “No question about that.”
Bruce suddenly sat up straight and spoke quietly. “Did you see that? Did he just hook something out of the hole?”
“I saw it,” Harry said. “Now let’s see what he does with it.”
As they watched, Brewster picked up his bone, dropped it into the hole and pushed the dirt back over it. Then he picked up the object he had dug out of the hole, ran towards the fence and squeezed under it into his own backyard again.
“You go tell Mrs. Thorne what we learned while I talk with some of the people here and try to find out who tends that particular bed. Take the car and we’ll meet back at the park entrance.”
Bruce nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll let her know that we’ll follow up on it and get back to her when we know more.”
Harry was waiting when Bruce returned. He got into the passenger seat and told Bruce what he’d found out. “Norah Small, widow, tends the bed where the shoes are. She’s at 33 Oak Circle.”
“Bruce turned the car around and headed out again. “That’s a senior’s division, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and it’s within walking distance from the park. Convenient, I guess.”
Minutes later they Bruce brought the car to a stop in the driveway of 33 Oak Circle. The cottage-style units were in a circular arrangement, all facing a circular street. At the centre was a perfectly round park, featuring benches, picnic tables, flowering shrubs and what looked like young oak trees.
“First time I’ve been here since it was finished,” Bruce said. “Doesn’t look bad at all. Ever picture yourself living somewhere like this, Harry?”
“Not until I can find nothing to keep me occupied and get tired of my own company. It’s fine if a person decides it’s what they want but I’m not there yet.” He raised his hand and knocked on the door.
The door opened a fraction and a round smiling face, surrounded by a mass of snow white curls peeped out. “May I help you?” she inquired.
Both men pulled their ID and she immediately swung the door open. “Please come in.”
Seated in the small but cosy living room, Harry explained why they were there.
“Oh my!” She clapped both hands over her face. “I am so sorry. I never meant any harm.”
“We realize that, ma’am,” said Harry. “But can you tell us why you were burying shoes, all for the left foot, and all looking as if they had never been worn.”
“That’s because they weren’t.” She chuckled. “My late husband, Jim, was in an accident many years ago and his left leg was badly crushed. He never regained full strength of the leg and had to wear a custom-made knee-length boot for walking, though he still couldn’t walk very far. He always tossed the store-bought left footwear in the back of the closet. After Jim passed away just over two years ago, I sold the fairly large house we had and moved here. During the moving process I decided something had to be done about all those shoes because I now have much less storage space. So I ‘adopted’ one of the flower beds in the pack and began burying a shoe every time I set out a new plant or digging out weeds.”
“That’s very resourceful,” Bruce said.
'I'm not sure burying the shoes like this is such a good idea, Mrs. Small. In fact, I'm not even sure it's legal.'
'Oh dear. Then how am I to get rid of them? I can't donate half a pair of shoes to Goodwill.'
'Put them in the garbage,' Bruce suggested.
'In which bin?' she asked. 'They aren't plastic, glass or cardboard; they're not household waste... where do I put them?'
Harry rubbed his chin. 'The only thing I can suggest is to call City Hall. They might be able to tell you how to dispose of them.'
“Thank you, detective. I will try that.”
On the way back to the station, Bruce said: “by the way, Mrs. Thorne was very interested in the fact that seniors can ‘adopt’ a flower bed, a few shrubs or a patch of grass to care for in the park.”
“I bet she was,” Harry mumbled. “One more way to poke her nose into someone else’s business.”
Bruce laughed. “She plans to put a flowering shrub on both sides of the fence to cover that hole so Brewster can’t get out there again.”
“Now that’s a good idea! Maybe she’ll meet a man in the process to keep her from being so nosy.”
“He might even wear size nine shoes,” Bruce quipped.
After parking the car, they walked up to the station. Bruce opened the door and held it for Harry to precede him.
Harry stepped inside and was immediately greeted with a loud cheer of “Happy retirement, Harry!” This was followed by a boisterous, off-key rendering of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow.’ Harry grinned as he thanked them. He was going to miss these guys.
“Hard to believe I won't see your ugly mug at that desk anymore,” Bruce said. “I'm gonna miss you, partner.”
“We'll all miss you,” someone else added.
“Are you really ready for this?” Sharon asked. “How will you keep busy? Surely, you can’t go fishing every day.”
“Who says I can’t?” Harry demanded. “There’s no better way to relax than to get out in nature with a fishing rod.”
Bruce shook his head. “Didn't you know? Our Harry is setting up his own private office.”
“Really? When I retire I'm going back to the farm and live the simple life,” one of the others said.
“It won't be all work,” Harry said. “I’m not advertising. I'll just relax and let the work come to me and if it's something I don't want to do then I don't have to do it. I'll have plenty of days to go fishing.”
“And with that in mind,” Bruce said, “we all chipped in to get you this.” He handed Harry a new fishing rod and basket and a ‘Gone Fishing’ sign.
Harry was touched by their gesture. “Thank you doesn’t seem adequate but I really appreciate this. I rather think the sign will get lots of use.”
Amidst the laughter and applause that followed, the Chief shook Harry’s hand and said, “We all wish you good luck, Harry. You're well known in the community and that may be all the advertising you need.”
“Time will tell,” Harry said, “and if it doesn't work out, I can always go fishing.”
© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, Nov 2019
Harry Hogan Series
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