Linda Weaver Clarke

The Mysterious Doll

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Amelia smiled as she wrote "Case Closed" on a manila folder. She felt pleased as she put it in her file cabinet. It had been a difficult case and she was happy it was over. She glanced at her watch. It was almost time for her ten o'clock appointment.

Pauline Jones had called yesterday and was quite distraught. She needed help in finding her boyfriend, Sam Whitaker. He had disappeared without a word. But that was not all. He had also been accused of theft.

Amelia had heard about the theft at the museum. It had everyone stumped. No one could figure out how the thief had gotten inside. There was no sign of breaking and entering, and the burglar alarms had not gone off.

As she closed the drawer, a young woman walked through the door with red-rimmed eyes. It looked as if she had been crying, and Amelia could tell she was upset.

"You've just got to help me," said Pauline as she pushed her thick dark hair out of her eyes. "Sam's innocent. He didn't do it." With a look of despair, she softly said, "Sam didn't steal that porcelain doll. He's not a thief. He's been framed."

As Amelia sat down, she motioned to a chair in front of her desk. "Please have a seat, Miss Jones."

Pauline walked to the chair and sat down. She then took a calming breath and said, "A porcelain doll was stolen from the museum."

Amelia nodded. "I read about it in the paper."

"Well, the very day it disappeared... so did Sam. The police think he took it." She wrung her hands and said adamantly, "But it's not true."

"Tell me why you think he's innocent," said Amelia.

"Because I know him. He wouldn't do such a thing. Not Sam. He's too smart for that. Besides, why would he become a thief just before asking me to marry him?"

Amelia raised a curious brow. "How do you know he was going to propose?"

Pauline leaned forward and said, "It wasn't hard to figure out. A woman can tell those kinds of things. Lately we've been talking about a more serious relationship. But that isn't all. I accidentally found an engagement ring in his glove compartment. Of course, I didn't tell him. I didn't want to ruin the surprise.'

When Amelia laughed, a slight smile tugged at Pauline's lips.

After a moment, Pauline became sober as she asked, "Miss Moore, will you please find him for me?"

Amelia nodded as she clasped her hands upon the desk. "Tell me about him, Pauline. What does he do for a living? What is he like?"

The young woman sat back in her seat and relaxed. "Sam is the kindest man I know. He's always interested in what I have to say. He's shy and doesn't talk a lot, but I make up for it. I'm quite the opposite. My friends told me that he's boring and too quiet… that he is not meant for me. But they were wrong."

"I hear that opposites attract," said Amelia. "You have to listen to your heart."

Pauline smiled and continued. "Sam is the financial clerk at the museum and has been there for five years. He takes his job seriously and never misses work. When he didn't show up at the museum, and was not available for questioning, that made him a suspect."

"I'm sure the police have some sort of evidence against him or he wouldn't be a suspect, Miss Jones."

Pauline's eyes widened. "He would never do such a thing. He's too honest. I was with him when a clerk gave him too much change. When he corrected her, she was so grateful because she might have lost her job over that mistake."

"What do you mean?" Amelia asked curiously.

"It was a difference of fifty dollars."

"Oh." Amelia's brow rose with respect. "He is honest, isn't he?"

Pauline nodded. "But that's not all. He never goes out of town without telling me. I called his family to see if he was visiting them and they didn't know where he had gone. But they did say he seemed anxious the last time they spoke to him. This is not like him to disappear and not tell anyone where he's going."

"Do you think his life is in danger?"

"I'm not sure." Pauline bit her lip at the thought. "Mabel, the curator at the museum, said he's been acting sort of funny... like he was stressed out about something. Then, out of the blue, he told her he was going to use some of his vacation days up without an explanation." She sighed and shook her head. "He's been gone for three weeks and I'm worried sick about him. I need to find him before the police do."

"How many vacation days does he have?"

"Sam told me he has accumulated four weeks."

Amelia pursed her lips in thought. "Hmm. Did he mention how long he would be gone?"

"No. Mabel figured he was going to use all of it."

After Pauline left, Amelia picked up her phone and dialed her partner. After a few rings, Rick Bonito answered.

"Rick here! What's up?"

"Hi, Rick. If you're not busy, I need your help with a new case."

"Sure. Be glad to."

"This case involves an item that was stolen from the museum. I read about it in the paper. As I remember, it has the police perplexed."

"I remember seeing that, too," said Rick. "It was some sort of doll, wasn't it?"

"That's right. Well, apparently the financial clerk didn't show up for work the day it was stolen. He's been gone for three weeks and is now a suspect. When are you free so we can discuss it?"

"I'm in the middle of something right now, but I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thanks."

After Amelia hung up, she wrote down a few things to ask the curator of the museum. She needed to be prepared.

~ * ~

Rick tucked his phone in his backpack and then grabbed his camera and continued taking pictures for his client. He was positioned behind some shrubs and was peering through a tall wrought iron fence. Behind the fence was a large two-story home, which was situated on an acre of land with a huge front lawn.

He smiled as he took a few more shots of the eight-year-old boy. Rick was told the boy's name was Thomas, but went by Tom. He was a cute kid. The boy was playing fetch with his dog while a nanny watched him from a distance.

Tom had a beanbag in the shape of a bone. He threw it toward a grove of trees and said, "Go, Max!"

His dog promptly ran after it. After grabbing the bone, he romped back to his master. Max's tail was wagging wildly as Tom struggled to take the toy from him, but Max held on tight. The boy tugged and tugged, but Max stood his ground and would not let go. This made Rick chuckle because it seemed like the boy and his dog were playing tug of war.

When the beanbag slipped out of the dog's mouth, the boy fell backwards onto his backside. Max then leapt toward him and began licking the boy's face. Rick smiled when Tom broke into laughter.

It was hard to not chuckle as he snapped one shot after another. When he heard a noise in back of him, Rick froze. He usually was very cautious, but he had gotten distracted.

When he turned around, he found two broad-shouldered men standing before him with their arms folded. Both men had a crew cut in the army style. As he observed their stance, Rick realized these men were here to stop him from taking pictures. One man acted calm while the other spread his feet apart in a belligerent manner, as if getting ready for a fight.

The calm one held his hand out and said, "Hand it over."

Rick looked at his camera and shook his head. "Uh-uh! This camera cost me a pretty penny. I can zoom in and zoom out. I can even…"

"Hand over the camera," demanded the henchman.

Rick looked at the man's partner. He was clenching his fists and glaring at him. Rick let out a deep breath, knowing what was coming next, but he was not worried. He knew how to handle men like this.

With a sigh, Rick said, "So if I don't hand it over, then what?"

Mr. Belligerence gave an insolent smile. He acted smug as if threatening people were second nature to him.

Rick smiled back as he quickly tucked his camera in his backpack and tossed it aside. He then said calmly, "I really don't want to hurt you."

Mr. Belligerence immediately stepped toward him in an aggressive manner and swung at Rick.

When Rick saw it coming, he quickly jumped aside. He could see the over-confidence in the henchman. Rick instantly feinted to the left and the henchman moved aside to miss the hit, but was surprised when Rick gave him a right-cross to the side of the head, whipping it to the side like a rag doll. His sneaky maneuver worked.

Before the henchman could get his wits about him, Rick firmly set his feet apart and punched him in the mid-section, causing him to bend over and grunt with pain. Rick immediately gave an uppercut to the man's jaw, whipping his head backwards and causing him to crumple to the ground in excruciating pain.

Just at that moment, Rick felt the second henchman grab him from behind. He wrapped his arms firmly around Rick's upper body in a powerful grip, holding him tightly so he could not move. Knowing exactly what to do, Rick jerked his head backward with great force, smashing the back of his head into the henchman's nose.

With a roar of pain, the man relaxed his grip. Rick pulled himself loose and whirled around, but realized the man was not in any condition to fight. His nose was bleeding furiously as he groaned in agony and shrank to the ground beside his partner.

Rick dusted himself off and then grabbed his backpack.

"Wow!" exclaimed Tom from the other side of the fence. "Where did you learn to fight like that, mister?"

Rick turned around and saw Tom's wide-eyed expression.

"You're as good as the Karate Kid, mister," exclaimed Tom with amazement.

"The Karate Kid, huh?" Rick smiled. "Now that's quite a compliment."

Tom laughed. "I used to watch that movie with my grandma. She told me that one day she would give me karate lessons when I turned eight, but I haven't seen her for a long time."

"That used to be one of my favorite shows, too."

The boy looked at the two men lying on the ground. "You're going to be in trouble. They work for my dad."

Rick nodded. "I know."

Giving a cocky smile, he turned around and strode toward his truck. An hour later he pulled up to his client's home and knocked.

When a short white-haired lady came to the door, Rick said, "Hello, Mrs. Allen. I have some pictures for you to see."

The woman's eyes brightened as she smiled. "Come in. Please, come in."

She escorted Rick into the living room and they sat down on the sofa.

Rick opened his laptop and pulled up the digital pictures he had taken. "Is this your grandson, Mrs. Allen?"

The woman put her hand to her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh my! That's my Tommy all right. Where did you find him?"

"They moved to Phoenix, about a half hour's drive from here."

When he clicked on the next picture, Mrs. Allen exclaimed, "Wow! That's a big home. Fancy! And that lawn? I bet it's a real bugger to mow."

Rick laughed. "I bet it is!"

He showed her the rest of the pictures, including the ones with Tom and his dog. He could tell that she enjoyed seeing the photos of her grandson.

When Mrs. Allen was done, she glanced up at Rick and said, "I miss him."

"I know," said Rick with tenderness. "That's about it. I'll have them printed up and give you a copy."

"Thanks. I appreciate your hard work." Mrs. Allen became sober as she said, "When my daughter passed away two years ago, that scoundrel of a husband just took off, taking my grandson with him. He wasn't thinking about anyone but himself. Didn't tell a soul where he was going."

"I'm sorry about that, Mrs. Allen," said Rick with sympathy. "What did she die of?"

"A weak heart. She was born with it."

Rick nodded. "I bet it was tough to lose her."

"It sure was. We were very close. Her husband didn't care for me, though. He didn't like how close we were. I think he was a bit jealous because we spent so much time together." She turned back to the photo of Tom and smiled. "I'm going to ask for visiting rights. He can't take my grandson away. That's not fair."

Rick handed her the address where the boy lived and said, "Good luck!"

After writing a check to the Moore Detective Agency, Mrs. Allen handed it to Rick and said, "Thank you, Mr. Bonito, for finding my grandson."

Rick smiled. "It was my pleasure, ma'am."

"I'll be sure to recommend your agency to others." As she led him to the door, Mrs. Allen said, "My! You're a good-looking young man. Sure wish my daughter would have found someone like you."

Rick felt his face warm up with her compliment. "Thanks, ma'am."

With that, he strode toward his truck and took off down the road. He was headed for the Moore Detective Agency. Rick was elated. He couldn't help it. He enjoyed working on cases with his partner.