Harry Hogan Series

8. Harry Hogan - The Hay Thief

Harry had just come into the office following an early morning fishing trip when they heard footsteps coming up the driveway. He looked at Bertie, who was preparing to leave. "Perhaps you should wait and see who this is," he suggested.

"Only a few minutes. I have errands to run." There was a knock on the door and she went to open it. She showed the woman inside and closed the door again. Then she returned to her seat.

"My name is Lucy Walters," the woman began, "and I need help."

Harry pointed to the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Mrs. Walters."

"I called the police station and spoke to that nice Detective Parkins. He suggested that I contact you since they are kept pretty busy every year with Halloween pranks. He also said you have a knack for this kind of thing."

Bertie snickered and Harry shot her a stern look. "I'll bet he did," he mumbled. "Tell me what's going on, Mrs. Walters."

"Someone is stealing the little hay blocks from our Halloween display."

"Kids playing a prank, probably." Why had Bruce sent her to him, he wondered. There didn't seem to be much of a mystery here.

"I'm not so sure," Mrs. Walters said. "Would they just take the hay and leave everything else untouched?"

Harry rubbed his chin. "Hmm... that is a little unusual. Nothing else is ever touched? Not tipped over or maybe rearranged?"

"Nothing. Just the hay." She shook her head. "It's strange. Paul and I have no children and we always enjoyed doing Halloween displays for the kids in the area. Always had lots of treats on hand too. Now we're down to one display and this happens."

"You had more than one display in past years and nothing was touched?" Harry asked.

"Never," she said. "There are fewer kids now but I didn't really want to give it up entirely."

"Why did you cut down to one display?"

"Paul had an accident several years ago which required some reconstructive surgery on one leg and he has to use a cane for support. It's difficult for him to get around on an uneven surface like the lawn. He didn't want me to do too much on my own so I compromised and just did the one display."

Harry nodded. "Sounds like a sensible solution."

"Do you have a full display in place now?" Bertie asked.

"Yes, I just replaced the two hay blocks that were stolen last night."

"Mrs. Walters, what time do you and your husband go to bed?"

She gave Harry a puzzled look. "Paul is usually in bed by ten at the latest but I am always up until midnight."

"Midnight... okay... what time do you both get up in the morning?"

"Paul gets up around five and leaves at five-thirty to drive to the city for work. I get up around seven."

"Do either of you check the display first thing in the morning?"

She nodded vigorously. "Oh yes! Ever since the second time we both check it as soon as we get up. Nothing is touched when Paul leaves for work but it's gone by the time I get up."

"So the theft occurs sometime between five-thirty and seven in the morning."

"Not likely to be young kids at that hour," Bertie said.

"No," Harry agreed. "And most teenagers aren't out and about that early either. If they're up, they're getting ready for school."

"So all you have to do is park on the street and keep a lookout early in the morning," Bertie said.

Harry shook his head. "Won't work. A strange truck on the street would look suspicious and most likely scare the thief away."

"Our next-door neighbour, Hank Steele, has a double driveway. I'm sure you could park there."

"That would work."

"So when you see the thief with the hay you can just grab him."

"Or her," Harry added. "But I want to know why the person is stealing hay. So I'll follow him - or her - and find out." He turned to face Mrs. Walters. "Check with your neighbour and if he agrees I will be there tomorrow morning, before your husband leaves for work."

Mrs. Walters got to her feet. "It will be nice to put an end to this. It's getting so I dread picking up new hay. Some of the staff members are beginning to look at me strangely, like maybe I have a screw loose or something."

"I'm sure that's not the case, Mrs. Walters. They probably just think that you're adding to your display, perhaps wondering how big it will be," Harry said. "We will see what we can find out."

"Thank you, Mr. Hogan. I will leave it in your hands." She gave a little nod, then turned and walked out the door.

"Or they might be wondering if she's building a straw house for the first little pig and wondering when she's going to start on the brick one," Bertie said softly as they watched her leave.

"Shame on you, Bertie." Harry shook his head and tried to keep from smiling. "It must make them wonder though, an older lady coming in every day to buy these little blocks of hay."

"Maybe they think she's substituting it for shredded wheat cereal," Bertie quipped. "You won't need my help with this so I'm off to run my errands."

Just over an hour later, Mrs. Walters called to tell Harry that he could park in Hank's driveway. Hank would make sure to leave plenty of space for him. Harry thanked her and said he would be around in the morning.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

There was a light mist but no wind when Harry backed his truck into Hank Steele's driveway the next morning. The man had thoughtfully left the side closer to the Walters' driveway free for him. There were a few small shrubs along the property line between the two lawns but they didn't obstruct Harry's view of the Halloween display on the Walters' lawn.

It was still dark and with the tinted windshield, no one would know he was in the truck. Light spilled out onto the front step from the entryway indicating that Paul Walters was up. Thirty minutes later Harry watched as Walters drove away, headed for his job in the city.

Harry continued to watch the Walters Halloween display as the morning started to lighten up. Finally, just before six-thirty something caught his eye. At first he thought it was a dog, perhaps a stray. But something didn't look right about the way it was moving. Could it be injured? It stopped beside the display and Harry's eyes widened... then he smiled and shook his head. Clever! The kid was crawling on his hands and knees in an effort to remain less noticable.

The boy carefully extracted two of the neat little blocks of hay without disturbing anything else, wrapped straps around them and secured them on his back. Then he crawled back down to the road.

Harry eased open the truck door and slid out. When he reached the street he saw the kid speeding away on a bicycle. He went back to the truck, pulled out onto the street and followed at a distance. Fifteen minutes later the kid turned onto a dirt road. Harry turned the truck onto the dirt road and stopped and got out. He knew there was a farm just up past the trees, belonged to someone named Smith, and he suspected that's where the kid was going.

Harry walked up the road until he brought the house and barn into view. There didn't appear to be any activity but the barn door was open so he decided to head that way. When he had almost reached the door, he stopped and listened.

"I have to go to school now, Sam, but I'll be back again when school gets out. Don't you worry. See, I told Mr. Smitih I would take care of you and I will. I know the hay isn't much but I'll bring you some more carrots and an apple after school."

Harry was pretty sure who the voice belonged to so waited silently until the kid appeared in the open doorway. "Good morning, son. Is Mr. Smith around?"

"N-n-n-no sir. Mr. Smith is sick and I'm taking care of Sam for him. That's his horse."

"And this is why you've been stealing the hay from Mrs. Walker's Halloween display. Do you steal the carrots and apples too?"

The boy hung his head. "No sir. I buy them. But after I used up the hay that was in the barn I didn't know where to buy more."

Harry coughed to hide a chuckle. "What's your name?"

The kid swallowed hard, like there was a lump of fear in his throat. "Felix, sir. Felix Brown."

"Does Mr. Smith know what you're doing?"

"He knows I'm taking care of Sam." He looked at Harry. "I didn't know what else to do about the hay. I'll be glad to pay for it."

"We'll see about that. Meanwhile, when you get out of school this afternoon, you'll come to my office. We'll go pick up a load of hay for Sam and then we'll visit Mrs. Walters."

The boy shuffled his feet and looked at Harry with a frown. "Are you for real?"

Harry laughed and gave him a card with his office address on it. "Don't forget." He watched Felix sling a backpack up on his back, pick up his bike and head off down the road.

It was nearly seven and farmers were used to getting up early... Harry walked over to the house and knocked on the door.

After several minutes the door was opened by a very tall, thin man. He had a fringe of snow white hair but the top of his head was bald. He also had a full white beard. He peered at Harry through thick round lenses in gold frames. "Can I help you?"

Harry introduced himself and told him about Felix and the hay.

Smith told him to come inside. "He's been coming around for a while now. He came one day when I was feeding Sam just after I got this dang flu. And he offered to come feed him while I was sick. I guess I forgot to tell him there was hay in a little shed round back of the barn."

"Well, he stuck to his word. I'll take him to get some hay after school... you'll need what's in the shed when you start getting out and about again... and then I'll take him to apologize to Mrs. Walker."

Smith nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Hogan. It's a good thing Felix was around because this flu really took the good out of me for a while. I'm much better now but I'll still appreciate his help."

"No one can help getting sick and the boy did the best he could. Stealing the hay was wrong but it was the only way he could think of to keep the horse fed."

"I did worry about poor old Sam. He served me well over the years but he's a bit long in the tooth now. He's not able to work as hard as he once did but neither am I. We suit each other and the truth is - I don't have the heart to part with him."

Harry nodded. "I understand, but what happens next time you get sick?"

"All taken care of," the old man replied with a grin. "Young Felix is eager to help take care of him all the time. I spoke to his parents yesterday and they're fine with it. Turns out they used to live on a farm before they moved here and he misses being around the animals."

"That would explain the way he was talking to the horse. He seems like a good young lad."

Smith laughed. "That he is. Talks to old Sam like they were best friends. He offered to help me gather the rest of the crops and get them in the root cellar too. But I can't have him coming around here to work for nothing. I will pay him but I want to work it out with his parents."

"That's very kind of you, sir. I'm sure they'll appreciate it."

"I know he's only 13, but... well, this flu has got me thinking about a few things but we'll see how it goes. He does seem to have the heart of a farmer." He stroked his beard as he looked at Harry. "You see, I never married, got no family in these parts and, well, I got no one to take over the place when I'm gone, so..."

"You take care, Mr. Smith." Harry smiled and walked away, shaking his head. That kid could get lucky if he played his cards right.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Well," said Bruce when he dropped in the morning after Halloween to share a cup of coffee with his former partner, "did you find the hay thief?"

"Yes, I did," Harry replied and proceeded to tell him the story.

"Glad it all worked out okay." He paused to sip his coffee. "By the way, did you hear any ghost shots last night?" He never missed an opportunity to remind Harry of the famous 'Ghost Shots' he'd heard on a previous Halloween.

"Not a single shot," Harry replied with a straight face. "But you know, I think I missed a party or something because there were ghost leaves all over the lawn this morning."

Bruce frowned as he turned to look out the window. "What...? There's nothing on your lawn."

"Not now. I raked 'em up already."

"There's no such..." Bruce stopped in mid-sentence, grinned, and then continued. "You got pranked last night, didn't you?"

"Nope, it was no prank," said Harry.

His friend frowned. "You're pulling my leg."

"Maybe," Harry conceded and then laughed. "They looked like the real thing though."

“So what was it?” Bruce asked.

"Leaves from the trees on my lawn. They turn white on the underside before they fall. A lot of them fell last night, mostly bottom-up, and they really did look like ghost leaves."

Bruce grinned and shook his head. "I can hardly wait to see what turns up next year."

Harry leaned back in his chair. "It isn't just Halloween, Bruce. Odd things happen all the time around here as you well know. You've sent a few people my way."

"Because I know you're good at these unusual things and you have the patience to sort it out." He stood up and laid his mug on Harry's desk. "Break time's over... time to get back to work. Be seeing you, Harry." And he walked out the door, muttering, "Ghost leaves indeed."

Harry just sat there and chuckled to himself.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, October 2020

Harry Hogan Series

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