4. Harry Hogan - The Missing Madonna
Harry stamped the snow off his boots as he unlocked the door of his new office and stepped inside. Much better, he thought. He had returned home two days ago, after spending Christmas and New Year's with his daughter and two sons, just as he had done every year since his wife had passed away.
Retirement was good in some ways but there were some drawbacks too – or at least Harry thought so. He enjoyed the freedom but most days he missed having a regular routine.
Then he had an idea which he thought might fill the gap. He mentioned it to the children Benji [Benjamin], David and Moe [Maureen]. They thought it was a great idea and told him to go for it. Then came the next part - he needed an office. Since this wasn’t a money-making venture, he did not want to rent. So he devised a plan and enlisted the help of his former partner, Bruce Parkins.
Bruce had turned out to be a pretty good carpenter and Harry’s formerly unused garage was quickly turned into an office space that would have pleased even the great Sherlock Holmes – at least in Harry’s opinion. Heating had already been in place which was good. The back end was partitioned into a small washroom and a storage room. Best of all, he alone determined how many days and hours he worked. And it also gave him the perfect setting to work on that detective novel he’d always wanted to write. Or perhaps he would just write his memoirs for the kids.
Furnished with desk, chair, bookshelves, and several chairs for visitors or prospective clients, it looked perfect to Harry. The only thing he hadn't come up with yet was a name to go on the door.
After making a pot of coffee, Harry sat down at the desk and booted up the computer. He doubted if anyone knew he actually had an office yet, except for his former co-workers and the kids. So he didn’t expect any interruptions and that was good because it would give him a chance to start that novel. Moe said if he wanted to do this he actually had to sit down and write. It didn’t matter if he erased it all again later. The key was to get words on paper, to write stories like he told them and when he was satisfied with what he had written then he had something to build on.
However, it wasn’t as easy as Moe had made it sound. Harry stared at the screen and then the keyboard. His hands remained still because nothing came to mind. He was actually glad when he heard the knock on the door and moved quickly across the room to open it.
“Good morning, Detective Hogan.”
“Good Morning, Mrs. Thorne, but you know I’m retired so I’m not a detective anymore.” How had she found out? He groaned inwardly. Then he saw that she wasn’t alone. “What can I do for you ladies?”
“Oh, I’m not here for me,” she assured him. “This is my neighbour, Ella Johnson. She is missing a valuable family heirloom and she feels sure it was stolen.”
Harry stepped back to let them in. “Then I guess you had best come in and tell me about it.”
Mrs. Thorne was looking around. “I like what you’ve done,” she said. “It’s comfortable but still business-like.”
“Thank you. Now, Mrs. Johnson, please tell me what you think has happened.”
“It’s not really valuable, sir... not financially anyway... but it does have a great sentimental value.” She twisted her hands nervously.
Harry nodded encouragingly. “Nothing wrong with that. Tell me about it.”
“My great-grandparents, who were farmers, brought it from Sweden. It belonged to my great-great-grandmother, Ingaart, who was a midwife. A family once gave her the statue to hold as collateral until they could pay for her services during the birth of twins. Apparently, they never paid the fee or came to claim the statue.”
“It’s a statue of the Madonna and child, Detective Hogan,” Mrs. Thorne added. “And it’s gold-plated.”
“I doubt that Ingaart’s fee would have been very high so it probably wasn’t worth much,” Mrs. Johnson said. “That might be why no one ever claimed it.”
“Or it might be that the family never had the funds to reclaim it and never mentioned it to anyone. It might have been forgotten,” Harry said. “How big is it and where did you keep it?”
Mrs. Johnson thought for a minute. “About ten to twelve inches high, I suppose. And I always kept it on the dresser in the spare room because that was my grandmother’s room when she lived with me. It was always handed down to the oldest girl in each generation of the family.”
“Is there any chance it might be more valuable that you were told? Could someone have got into the house and stolen it sometime when you were out?”
She shook her head. “No one outside the family knew I had it. Not until yesterday when I told Nellie about it.”
Harry rubbed his chin. “I see. Have you had any visitors who might have had the opportunity to see it? Perhaps someone who thought it was worth something?”
“That’s what worries me,” Mrs. Johnson’s voice lowered to a whisper.
‘What do you mean?”
“My granddaughter, Amy, spent a few days with me during Christmas. She had her fiancé with her and they slept in Grandmother’s room. It was the day after they returned to the city that I discovered the statue was missing.”
“Did you call your granddaughter or report the statue missing?”
She shook her head. “I fear the fiancé might have taken it and I don’t want to embarrass Amy. If you could look into it maybe we can keep it quiet.” She looked at Harry. “I don’t know what you charge, Mr. Hogan, but I will find the money to pay you.”
Harry shook his head. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Johnson. Unless I get stuck in the city by bad weather, the only thing you will owe me is gas money for the trip.”
“When will you go?” Mrs. Thorne asked.
“Probably tomorrow, weather permitting.” He stood up and looked at Mrs. Johnson. “I’ll be in touch after I make the trip.”
After the women left, Harry went back to his desk. He looked at the computer, shook his head, and shut it down. Perhaps this writing thing was not for him after all. Maybe he would stick to writing his memoirs for the kids. Taking a trip down memory lane might not be so bad. Locking the door behind him, Harry walked the few steps that took him home.
Harry left for the city early the next morning. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he felt sure he could do what needed to be done and get back home again before bedtime. Mrs. Johnson had given him her granddaughter’s home address as well as the work places of both young people.
It was about mid-morning when Harry reached the city and his first stop was to get a coffee at Tim Horton’s. After that he went to see the fiancé at the engineering firm where he worked. Barry Smith was a tall, thin young man with dark reddish hair, who claimed to know nothing about the statue, said he hadn’t seen it.
“Perhaps you saw it but didn’t really take notice of it. It might be worth a few dollars because it was gold-plated.”
Smith suddenly began backing away with his hands out in front of him. He showed signs of beginning to sweat and then started to tremble.
Harry was getting a bit suspicious. “Are you sure you didn’t see it?”
“You don't understand,” Smith said in a hoarse whisper. “'I... I would never touch g-g-g...the stuff. Never! G-g-g... it terrifies me.” He twisted his hands together nervously. “I can't even say the word without getting the shakes.”
Harry was a bit sceptical on that one. If the kid was putting on an act then he was in the wrong profession. “Are you trying to tell me that you're afraid of gold? Really?”
His head moved up and down like a bobble-head. “It's a real thing, a phobia. I go to group sessions but it's not making any difference so far.”
“Really?' Harry shook his head. “I guess you really can learn something new every day. Have you always had this... condition?”
“Since I was a kid but I don't know why. Doc says something traumatic may have happened and I blocked it from my mind.”
“All right, then... I'll just go talk to Amy. She might have seen it.”
Amy was a receptionist at a private clinic and Harry caught up to her just as she was coming home.
He stopped her at the door, told her who he was and what he was there for.
“Oh dear,” she said, her shoulders slumping. "I forgot all about it." Then she started to explain about her fiancé’s phobia.
“I've already talked to him,” Harry said. “Do you know where the statue is?”
She nodded. “I wrapped it in a towel and put it at the back of the linen closet where I knew he would not see it and then I forgot all about it. I will call Gran immediately and explain everything.”
The day after Harry returned home, Ella came to thank him and pay for his services. “I am so happy at the way things turned out, especially for Ella’s sake. Now I understand why her fiancé seemed so nervous all the time. Imagine being afraid of gold. I never knew there was such a thing.”
Harry laughed. “Neither did I but I was pretty sure he was telling the truth. The kid was terrified just talking about it.”
"Thank you again, Mr. Hogan, and if I hear of anyone needing help, I will definitely tell them to come to you."
© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, Jan 2020
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