Harry Hogan Series

13. Harry Hogan - Double Duty

Bertie looked up as the door opened. "Good morning, Mrs. Walker. Please come in. Can I get you a coffee?"

Mrs. Walker sat down and glanced around the office. "I was looking for Mr. Hogan."

"Harry's out this morning, but he'll be back after lunch. Why don't you tell me what your problem is and I'll pass it on to him."

"Do you know much about genealogy?" Bertie shook her head and the woman continued. "Never mind. I don't suppose it matters. I need to find a journal - or perhaps several journals - that could shed some light on a mystery in the family history."

"And you want us to locate it for you?"

"I'm getting nowhere on my own."

"I see. Tell me about it."

Mrs. Walker nodded. "I recently learned that Samuel Jones was a distant relative and, while trying to contact him, I came across his obituary online. He died almost 14 months ago. Apparently there were some journals sold as part of his estate sale. I located his sister and she told me that, apart from a few souvenirs she and her children collected, everything else was sold or auctioned before the estate itself went up for sale."

"Were the journals sold before or after the estate sale?" Bertie asked.

"As far as she knows, the books were sold before but she isn't sure if the journals went with them or not. He travelled a lot and kept detailed journals of his travels. But she said he was interested in genealogy and shortly before he died, he was quite excited about a recent discovery, something about possible ties to a slave plantation in the southern United States."

"But, he didn't tell her what it was."

"No." Mrs. Walker shook her head. "She didn't share her brother's interest in genealogy and didn't know if the journals had gone with the books, or if they had been thrown out."

"Interesting. Do you know who handled the estate sale?" Bertie asked.

Mrs. Walker handed Bertie a card. "She called and gave them permission to talk to me about it. When I get home, I'll call and tell them Hogan's Investigations is handling it for me." She rose from her seat. "I do hope we can find them."

"I'll pass this on to Harry and we'll get back to you as soon as we know something."

As Bertie was about to close the door behind Mrs. Walker, Harry pulled into the driveway. She left the door open and waited. "You're back early," she said. "Fish not biting?"

He walked in and headed for the coffee pot as she closed the door behind him. "Who was that? Someone needing help?" He took his mug over to his desk and sat down.

"Mrs. Irene Walker," Bertie said, and told him what she wanted.

Harry shook his head. "I'm going out of town. Moe's mother-in-law has a problem. Someone is stealing the painted rocks from her front yard."

"Painted rocks?" Bertie echoed.

"Not just ordinary painted rocks. This lady is a professional painter, a real artist."

"I see. So, what about Mrs. Walker? I could call and tell her we'll look into it when you get back."

Harry rubbed his chin. "You could... or you could take care of it yourself. It sounds to me like it will be mostly research and that's more your thing than mine."

Bertie was silent for a minute as Harry watched her, head tipped to one side.

"I suppose I could try," she said. "I do enjoy research. When are you leaving?"

"As soon as I shower and pack a bag." He tossed her a key. "You'll need a key to the office. It's about time you had one anyway."

"Thank you."

He drained his mug and stood up. "I'll check in to see how things are going but call if you have any problems." She nodded. "Enjoy your visit with Moe and the kids, and good luck with the rocks."

After Harry had gone, Bertie called the Auction House. Their records showed that all the books, journals and papers belonging to Samuel Jones had been purchased together. They could not give out personal information but agreed to forward her request and contact information to the buyer.

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

It was fairly late when Harry arrived in the city and he put off visiting Dorie until the next morning. When the kids had gone to school and Moe was at work, he drove to Dorie's house. After parking in the driveway, he strolled around the front yard, looking at the rocks on display. They were all different sizes and each was a small work of art. It wasn't long before he heard the front door open and close. He paused and waited until Dorie came up to him. "Good morning, Dorie."

"Nice to see you again, Harry. What do you think of my display?"

"Very impressive. Where did you get all the rocks to begin with?"

I went to the beach with Shawn, Moe and the kids one day. The rocks were all along the beach, high up past the tidal point. Shawn didn't care how many I brought back so I stocked up. The kids helped out for a while but they soon grew bored and went off on their own adventures."

"Typical kids." Harry laughed. "And now someone's stealing them from the yard."

She nodded. "Come on inside. We'll talk over coffee."

"What made you decide to start painting rocks?" Harry asked, when they were seated at the kitchen table.

"I'd seen a few ideas online, but hadn't seen many painted rocks around here. Several people had painted some to look like ladybugs... I saw a line of rocks that looked like a caterpillar... things like that. But no one had done any rocks with actual art."

"And you decided to fill the gap."

"Sort of." She sipped her coffee. "Then, several weeks ago, I noticed that one of them had been replaced with a new, clean rock. So I brought it in, painted it and put it outside when it was dry. The next day another painted rock had been replaced. Now it's several times a week."

"Have you looked for them at all?"Harry asked.

"Where? I haven't seen them in any front yards and I don't intend to go snooping in anyone's back yard. If someone wanted one, all they have to do is ask. I don't mind others having them but I'd like to know where they are."

"Is there any particular time of day when they're taken?"

She shook her head. "Not certain but, around ten every morning, I go to a friend's for at least an hour. The only thing is, I go out the back."

"Okay, then I will be here in the morning before you leave. I'll park back the street a ways, and we'll see what happens."

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

The next morning Bertie received a call from Professor Ben Hynes, a former colleague of Samuel, who had bought his books.

Bertie explained about Irene's interest in Samuel's journals and gave the man her contact information. He said he would contact her.

Just over an hour later, Irene called to inform Bertie that she and the Professor had agreed to meet at his home at one o'clock, to sort through the journals, and she hoped Bertie could go with her.

"I'll pick you up at one-thirty," Bertie told her.

They arrived at the Professor's house a few minutes early. He met them at the door and led them into his living room where there were stacks of boxes piled everywhere.

He waved a hand. "The boxes on the far side are all books," he said. "Sam once said he'd like them to go to the university so they will be donated in his name."

"At your expense," Bertie said. "That's very generous of you, Professor."

"I got the entire collection at a bargain," he replied. "Few people are interested in old books these days." He smiled and pointed to a smaller pile of boxes. "These eight boxes here are all journals. I don't yet know their contents."

Bertie nodded. "So how do you suggest we do this?"

"I thought if we take a box each and begin sorting through them, the work would go much faster."

"I agree." Bertie looked at Irene.

"I'm sure that would work quite well," she agreed.

"Then shall we get started? We'll set aside any journal labelled genealogy, ancestry or family history and return the rest to the boxes. Is that okay?"

Both women nodded their agreement and they all set to work. Nearly ninety minutes later the Professor called a halt to the process and invited his guests to join him in the kitchen for a short break away from the dust; they chatted as they shared coffee and tea buns. "I have a friend a few blocks away, whose wife is always baking something," he explained. "They can't possibly eat it all themselves so, they share with their friends and neighbours."

Three hours later, the Professor saw them off. Irene had six of Samuel's journals clutched tightly in her arms and was very anxious to get home and start reading them.

"I hope you find what you're looking for," he said to her. "Will you keep me informed?"

Irene nodded and smiled at him. "I certainly will."

"You had better keep me informed too," Bertie said as they drove away. "You know I'm curious about all this."

Irene laughed. "I do... and I will."

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

Meanwhile, when Dorie left for her friend's house, Harry was sitting at the kitchen table, with a clear view of the driveway. She had just put out a new rock the previous day. He sat there, sipping coffee... and waiting.

Shortly after she left, a tall, thin man wearing a Blue Jays ball cap walked into the front yard, looked around for a few minutes, chose a rock, picked it up, replaced it with a clean one and calmly walked away.

Harry followed him at a distance until the man placed the rock carefully in position among a number of others. "Nice collection!"

"Oops! Caught red-handed." The man grinned as he turned and faced Harry.

"I watched you take that rock from Mrs. Adams' front yard. Who are you and why are you doing this?"

"Maurice Payne. I live across the street from her." Then he went on to tell Harry why he'd been replacing the painted rocks with new ones.

Harry chuckled. "While I don't agree with your underhanded method, I think I understand your purpose. However, it's up to Mrs. Adams to decide what she wants to do about it."

Payne nodded. "That's fair. I'll do whatever she says."

Harry went back to the house and waited for Dorie to return from her visit. "Don't take your shoes off yet. We're going somewhere."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see when we get there."

When he parked the truck and got out, Dorie looked at him, puzzled. "The Seniors' Care Home? What are we doing here?"

"You'll see." He led her around to the back of the building.

As they turned the corner, she stopped in her tracks. "My Rocks! What are they doing here?"

"I can explain, Mrs Adams."

Dorie turned around. "Maurice? I don't understand."

The man in the Blue Jay cap stepped closer. "My wife and I were admiring them one day we were out walking. She mentioned hearing you say that you had run out of rocks and wished you had brought more back from the beach."

"Oh my, yes. I need many more to keep me busy."

"Well, I got to thinking and mulling it over, and came up with a way I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I could provide you with more rocks to paint and, at the same time; bring a little beauty into the lives of the people living here."

Dorie was quiet for a moment, and then she said. "I'm flabbergasted, Maurice, and also flattered. It's a beautiful idea and it actually gives me an incentive to paint more."

"I can provide you with an endless supply. I make frequent trips to beaches looking for driftwood."

"Driftwood?" Harry asked.

"Maurice does some beautiful carvings from driftwood," Dorie said.

Maurice nodded. "I know how important a hobby can be, especially for us retirees who have more free time on our hands. So I started switching one rock at a time, giving you time to paint each one."

"And you knew I would be at Ethel's every morning because Marjorie was there too. But she never mentioned it."

"She didn't know," Maurice said. "I always waited until she left the house and I knew I had half an hour to make the exchange and be home again before she returned."

"Well, you old coot," Dorie said. "I never would have guessed."

"I'll bring them all back if you want me to."

Harry had been quiet. "You know, this could be the start of something good," he said.

"I think it already is," Dorie said, nodding. "Maurice, if you keep supplying me with new rocks, you can continue to bring them here. If my work gives others a little pleasure, that's all the reason I need to continue doing it."

"Just one detail," Harry said, "did you check with the building management for permission?"

"I did," Maurice replied. "After I brought the second one, and realized Mrs. Adams was going to continue painting the new rocks that I left."

"And they were okay with it?" Dorie asked.

"Yes, ma'am. They even gave me permission to construct a display stand for them running alongside the walk here to make for easier viewing. And there is space to move them into the basement during the winter."

"Sounds good to me," Harry said.

"Mr. Dunne, the CEO, actually said it would add an interesting feature to this area for both the residents and staff who spend time out here. Apparently they have some of your paintings on display inside too."

"In the dining room and lounge area," Dorie added. "I donated them when the place was built... to free up some space in my little studio."

When Harry dropped Dorie back at her house, he refused to accept payment for solving her little mystery. "I don't charge family," he said.

"In that case, I know just the thing." She went to her studio and came back with a painted rock. "I hope you'll take this."

"Perfect." He waved and pulled the truck out onto the street.

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

Early the next afternoon, Mrs. Jones came to the office to pay her bill. "I think I am just as excited over this as Samuel was."

"You sound excited." Bertie replied.

"I'll give you details another time but, in a nutshell... the original name seems to have been Jonesboro. They are said to have owned a rather large plantation with many slaves. Our ancestor, Alfred Jones, is thought to have left after a disagreement with the family over what he considered unfair treatment of the slaves. He apparently came to Canada, shortened his name to Jones, and had no further contact with them. My husband and I are going to Louisiana on vacation, to see what we can learn about it."

"Wow. That's quite a story. Have you told Professor Hynes about this?"

Irene laughed. "He was thrilled, wants to borrow the journals, and wants to know what I find down there, so he can add it to Samuel's biography for the University."

"That's nice. I'm glad it all worked out."

"Me too, and I wanted to pay your bill before we leave. Thank you so much for your help."

"When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow." She walked towards the door, paused, and looked back. "This is beyond finding skeletons in the closet. I'll tell you all about it when I get back."

"I'll look forward to it. Enjoy your trip."

Harry's truck pulled up behind Bertie's battered jeep as Mrs. Walker was leaving. He waited a minute, reversed, and then pulled into his usual spot. Getting out of the truck, he walked into the office and laid Dorie's 'payment' on the desk.

Bertie looked at the rock, and then looked up at Harry. "Did you solve the mystery?"

"I did, and that's my payment." He saw the puzzled look on her face. "I told her I don't charge family and she gave me this."

Bertie picked it up and examined the painting of a fisherman standing at the edge of a pond, holding up a rod with a fish dangling from the end of the line. "Beautiful work indeed," she said. "Where are you going to put it?"

He took the rock, stepped outside, and placed it on the bridge beside the door. "Her work deserves to be seen and admired. How did things work out for you?"

"Terrific. I'll tell you later." She frowned. "How come you're back today? I thought you might spend another day or two with Moe and the kids."

He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "Tomorrow is Saturday and the forecast is promising a great day for fishing." Then he chuckled. "The kids have some sort of school debate thing going on. They'll be tied up most of the weekend. Lock up when you leave."

For a minute, Bertie was puzzled. Then she laughed and shook her head. I should have known, she thought. He came back because the kids were tied up and fishing was the next best thing.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, July 2021

Harry Hogan Series

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