Something next to Baby’s pillow caught my eye. I got to my haunches and carefully picked up a red barrette.
A red barrette with one blonde hair.
“Looks like one of your visitors was a woman.” I gestured to the open window near Baby’s bed. “She probably heard you coming in and made a hasty exit. Lucky she was on the ground floor.”
“The bedroom used to be upstairs,” said Mr. Bear, “but that’s another story.”
There was nothing more I could do there – now it was just a matter of pawing the pavement and asking questions. I tried to reassure the Bears that the perps probably weren’t going to return, and that they should go about their normal routine while the investigation continued.
“Thank you for all you’ve done,” said Mrs. Bear gratefully. “Please, have some honey cookies. A peanut butter and honey sandwich. How about some tea with honey?”
“No thank you, honey – I mean Mrs. Bear,” I replied, and quickly walked out to my car.
A guy could get cavities just talking to her.
As I drove back to town, I thought about the last time I arrested a woman. It was that Hansel-and-Gretel case: some old witch giving a couple of innocent kids a song and dance about a gingerbread house. The kids made out OK, but not before turning up the heat on the woman.
By the time I got back to town, I was thinking that I should have taken up Mrs. Bear on that honey cake offer. My stomach was growling like my Uncle Oscar when someone gets too close to his dinner bowl. I decided to make my usual lunch stop at Goldie’s Diner.
I took a seat at the counter. A waiter appeared. “What’ll it be?”
“Burger on pumpernickel – very rare.”
“It sure is,” he said. “We usually serve ‘em on rolls.” That was a real howl.
As I looked over my notes, I felt a woman’s hand on my shoulder.
“Is that your car outside or has the junkyard moved to my block?”
That was Goldie for you, always a wisecrack for the regulars. Goldie Locks, that is, the owner of the diner.
“What’re you talking about?” I said, playing along. “My car’s only three years old.”
“In dog years!” She threw her head back and laughed.
No one enjoyed a joke as much as Goldie. Her real name was Irene, but when your hair is the color of the sun on the 4th of July, there are only so many appropriate nicknames. And we were already calling the Mayor’s wife “Lemon Head.”
Suddenly, her laughter gave way to several sneezes.
“You feeling OK?” I asked.
“Caught a little cold. Ought to be gone in a day or two.” She yawned. “Sorry. Working on a case?”
“Mm-hm. Some joker out in The Woods decided to use an empty house as a bed-and-breakfast…”
Goldie took a breath and looked away.
That was when I noticed a red barrette on one side of her hair.
It was identical to the one I found at the Bears’ house!
You could’ve knocked me over with a rubber bone. I had known Goldie a long time – and if she was a criminal, then I was a Mexican hairless.
That was my second mistake.
(Tomorrow: Chapter Three)