5. Harry Hogan - Found, Not Lost
All nine members of the Board of Directors were gathered around the long table in the Reference Room of the public library. They were in the process of packing everything in preparation for the installation of new windows, flooring and paint. Other things were needed too but their budget would only stretch so far. Further fund-raising would be done for the remaining work in phase two of the project. There were government grants to apply for but even that didn't cover one hundred percent of the cost.
To reduce any unnecessary strain on the budget, they had all agreed to pitch in and do the packing and storing themselves. Today, however, they were discussing business of a different sort, a little mystery that had popped up during the clearing and packing. Sam, the Chairman, sat at the head of the table. Bertie, Sarah, Carl and Joe were on one side; Lionel, Lily, Martha and Roma on the other.
"Does everyone think Ms Blackett's idea is a good one?" Sam asked.
"Come on people, we've been sitting on this long enough. I, for one, would like to get to the bottom of it if possible and put it out of our minds. Does anyone disagree?"
"So I take it everyone is in agreement?"
Seven hands shot straight up, accompanied by a chorus of "Agreed!"
"The motion is passed. Bertie, the matter is now in your hands. Could you see to it as soon as possible, please?"
"I will take care of it tomorrow if Mr. Hogan is home."
Every member of the local Library Board was familiar with the now retired police detective but Bertha Blacket, former Librarian, was the only one who had actually met the man. So she had been chosen to approach him with their little mystery.
The following morning when Harry Hogan stepped through his front door, the first thing he noticed was another vehicle parked in the driveway behind his truck. A faded black Jeep Wrangler, not new by any stretch of the imagination, and a bit dinged up.
"Move it, Hogan. Don't dawdle, man. I have other places to go and things to do."
Harry looked towards the sound of the voice. Leaning against the door frame of his garage - now his office - was the Librarian. She was wearing faded black track pants - to match the jeep maybe? And a bright green sweatshirt that said 'Don't wait for tomorrow - do it today!'
"Then don't let me stop you," he said.
"Are you always this chipper in the morning?" she asked, frowning.
"Pretty much, especially when I find a visitor waiting by the door." He grinned. "Good morning, Ms Blackett." He continued walking the dozen or so steps to the door at his usual pace. "To what do I owe the honour?"
"Do you have coffee inside?"
"On a timer, so it's ready." He unlocked the door and stepped back, allowing her to enter first. He shut the door behind him and went to the coffeepot. "Cream or sugar?"
She shook her head as she sat down across from his desk. "No, thank you." She took the mug he handed her, took a mouthful and sighed. "Sorry. I know it's a habit but I need coffee to wake me up in the morning and my coffeepot died last night."
Harry chuckled as he leaned back in his leather desk chair and sipped his own coffee. "So what can I do for you, Ms Blackett?"
"First of all," she said, "cut the formality. The name is Bertie, as you well know, and what you can do is help unravel a little mystery for the Library Board."
"If it's for the Board, why did they send the Librarian to ask for help?"
"I'm not the Librarian anymore," she said. "I recently retired and at present I'm helping to clean out the reference room in preparation for renovations."
"I read about that in the paper," Harry said, with a nod. "So what's the problem?"
"We found a letter, or at least we think it's a letter. It probably fell out of a book but we don't know which one and we'd like to find the owner."
"Is it in an envelope?"
"Yes. It's sealed and has the name Emma written on it but no surname. We posted a notice on the bulletin board and on the library Facebook page, but got no results."
"Maybe the right person just hasn't seen it yet," Harry suggested.
"Maybe not," she agreed, "but that was several weeks ago. Our patrons check the page often to keep up on new books being received and I think someone would have seen it."
Harry rubbed his chin. "Since you don't know which book the letter fell out of, you have no way of knowing how long it was there, do you?"
"Not a clue."
"Are you sure it fell from a book, or might it have been tucked between the books on the shelf before it fell?"
Bertie's eyes widened. "I doubt if anyone thought of that but it is possible, isn't it? Oh, my goodness."
"What are you thinking?"
"Well... Harry, what if it was someone setting up a secret rendezvous?"
Harry groaned. "You read too many romance novels. It could be something as simple as a grocery list, or someone's long-lost research notes."
"But that wouldn't be sealed, would it?"
"Probably not, but you don't know how long it's been there and humidity could have caused the envelope to stick over the years."
"Or it could have been a spy passing secrets during the war."
"Oh, come on, Bertie. Do you really think so? Passing information that way only happened it novels, not in real life. It would have been too risky."
"I suppose so." She sighed. "It's kind of like the 'Lost Letter Mysteries,' isn't it?"
Harry frowned. "The what?"
"TV movies about the dead letter office. Although, I don't know if their dedication to delivering the 'lost' mail that ends up in their hands is actually very realistic. But it does make for some interesting and light-hearted entertainment," Bertie said.
"Okay, let's be practical here. The envelope is addressed to Emma, right?" She nodded.
"Does it look as if it was put there recently, or does it look old?"
"Well... it's a bit yellowed and the ink doesn't appear to be fresh."
"Is there something inside or is it empty? An empty envelope could have been used in place of a bookmark."
"Oh, you have no idea what people will use as bookmarks sometimes, even cards and photos."
"So?" he prompted.
She frowned. "I... I'm not sure but I think it felt like there was something inside."
"Now we're getting somewhere. We'll start by putting a notice in the paper."
"Really? That's it?" She sounded disappointed.
"It's a starting point. We'll give it two weeks and if there's no reply, then we open the envelope."
"Wouldn't that be like an invasion of privacy or something?"
Harry shook his head. "If no one comes forward to claim it, that's the next logical step. And even that will only solve the mystery if there’s something inside with a name on it."
"Hmm, that's true, I guess."
"I will check the lost and found to see if an envelope addressed to Emma was reported lost within the past few months. You get the notice in the paper. If there's no result, we meet again in two weeks."
"And bring the envelope with you next time."
"I will, and Harry... thank you."
"It's no problem." Harry closed the door behind her and went back to his desk. Would he ever start that novel, he wondered.
Exactly two weeks later Harry opened the front door of his house and the same faded black Jeep Wrangler was parked behind his truck again. He looked across to the office and there she was. What was it with this woman and early mornings? She was wearing the bright green sweatshirt again but with a pair of snug-fitting jeans this time.
"Make it snappy, Hogan. I need coffee."
"You and me both," he grumbled under his breath, then asked: "Don't you have a coffeepot yet?"
She laughed. "Yes, I do, but I'm eager to get started."
Within minutes they were inside, seated, and sipping coffee.
"Any response to the ad in the paper?" he asked. She shook her head. "Nothing in the lost and found for the past year either."
She handed him the envelope. "So now we open it?"
"That's the only other option now... unless you want to just forget about it."
"No way! I have to know what's inside now. I mean, it could be something important."
"I rather think if it was important, someone would have been looking for it."
"Maybe," she agreed, "but it could be old and maybe someone did search for it a long time ago."
Harry grinned and shook his head as he picked up a letter opener and slowly slit the envelope across the top. He withdrew a single sheet of notepaper and glanced at it briefly.
"What is it?" Bertie asked. "Is it important?"
"See for yourself." He handed her the paper.
Bertie took it and scanned the contents thoughtfully. "Harry, I think I know who this belongs to."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Really? How can you tell?"
"While I was still working, Mrs. Evans would often come and borrow books for her grandmother who had a keen interest in history and biographies."
"You mean those tell-all books written by celebrities, things like that?"
Bertie shook her head. "No. She read biographies of historical figures, adventurers, scientists, people like that. This lady was not into what we would call 'light' reading."
"Okay. But what makes you think this belonged to her?"
"Because," Bertie said with a smile, "Mrs. Evans's grandmother's name was Emma Riley. It must be nearly twenty years since she died."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "Is this Mrs. Evans still alive?"
Bertie nodded. "Yes, she most certainly is. You may very well have eaten some of her baked goods over the years. Her first name is Janet."
"Janet Evans... do you mean Janet's Bakery, that Mrs. Evans? Her molasses-raisin buns are the best I've ever eaten."
"The same," Bertie said. "Her father, who started the bakery and named it after his only daughter, was Emma's son Bert Riley. Janet worked alongside her father and took over when he retired."
"Okay, it's time to pay a visit to the bakery. I'm pretty sure I'm getting low on buns."
The young girl working the front counter was all smiles as they approached. "What can I get for you?" she asked.
"Some... " Harry began, his eyes on the contents of the showcase, but Bertie interrupted him.
"We'd like to see Mrs. Evans, if she's in."
"Yes, of course. I'll get her." The girl disappeared into the kitchen and returned a minute later. "She'll be out in a minute."
Janet Evans appeared as the girl finished speaking. "Thank you, Dulcie." She looked at Harry and Bertie. "Ms. Blackett, nice to see you. Are you enjoying retirement so far?"
"Never a dull moment," Bertie said.
"That’s nice to hear. What can I do for you?"
Bertie began by introducing Harry. "Mr. Hogan has something which we think might belong to you."
"Hogan's Investigations, yes I'm familiar with the name," Janet said. "Something that belongs to me? I can't imagine what."
Harry handed the piece of paper to her. "Do you recognize this?"
Janet looked at it. "This is my grandmother's writing," she said as she unfolded the paper. "Oh dear Lord! It's her prize-winning recipe for molasses bread. She promised to give it to me just before she died but I thought she hadn't got around to writing it down. And I never found it among her things. Where did you find this?"
Harry explained it all and then said: "There was no way to tell which book it fell out of so all we had to go on was the name Emma, until after we opened the envelope."
"Gram sometimes used old envelopes as bookmarks. I guess that's what she did with this one and forgot there was something in it."
"I'm glad we found it for you," Harry said.
"Thank you, but it wasn't really lost because I didn't know she had written it down. It's a wonderful surprise."
"I remembered hearing you talk about your grandmother's recipes, how she had them in her head and didn't write them all down. And I was sure you would want this," Bertie said.
There were tears in Janet's eyes as she looked up at them. "Oh yes! I am putting together a collection of Gram's oldest recipes and this is the most important one. I can't thank you enough. What can I get you? What's your favourite baked goods?"
"Multi-grain bread," Bertie replied.
"Molasses-raisin buns," Harry said, "though I'll be eager to try the molasses bread when it's made too."
Both women laughed as Janet bagged the items and passed them over the counter. Harry and Bertie both expressed their thanks.
"One question," Harry said. "If the recipe was meant for you why wasn't it addressed to you?"
"It was," Janet said. "My full name is Emmaline Janet and Gram always called me Emma."
As they left the bakery, Harry already had one hand into a large bag of buns. He considered he was well paid for helping to solve such a simple thing.
"This has been interesting... and fun," Bertie said as they walked across the parking lot.
Harry chewed and swallowed slowly. Where was she going with this?
"I'd like to volunteer my help anytime you need research done, or perhaps to keep the office open when you go fishing."
He shot her a puzzled look.
"I saw your 'Gone fishing' sign," she said. "All I'm saying is that is you ever need a little help, I'd be happy to give you a hand."
"I'll keep it in mind," he said but he was thinking that it would never happen.
© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, March 2020
Harry Hogan Series
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