“It was just like any other day,” Ted began, looking at them through weary eyelids, “I showed up for work at the jewelry store, surveyed the shop and kept watch. The owner had told me about a shipment some days prior, and I was to receive the parcels when they arrived. I had been informed by him, that I was the only one who knew of that particular shipment; and to store it securely in the safe immediately.”
Reliving the situation in his mind clearly put strain on his features, and he took a swallow of his drink before he continued.
“Shortly after lunch break, while the owner was still away; the phone rang in the back office. Naturally, I left my post to answer the phone, and was detained there for at least twenty minutes, when I heard the sound of the delivery vehicle departing. It was so unusual, that the vehicle should roll up silently and speed off without having left the shipment that I threw the phone down and leapt for the backdoor. When I opened it, I caught sight of the license plate as it turned the corner, and noticed that it wasn’t our usual delivery van. If only I could remember the license plate!”
Jane leaned forward, listening intently and resting her elbows on the table; she said:
“Did you see anyone else in the alley behind the shop, on the sidewalk, or perhaps in the store?”
Ted Hayden shook his head remorsefully,
“Not a soul. It was a quiet time of season, only I and the owner are there at this time, and to be honest; the day was even quieter than usual. I checked my watch, and it matched up with the appointed time of the shipment; and I suddenly became uneasy. It was then that I realized, someone must have stolen it! I promptly phoned the police, and recounted the whole affair to the shop owner when he returned; all the while I had a feeling that they didn’t believe me.”
Ted Hayden pushed his chair back from the table and sighed.
“When I went home that night… the police showed up with a warrant, and insisted that they search the place. They found several pieces of jewelry from the shipment; a diamond bracelet, necklaces, and ear rings; and confronted me with them. I – I didn’t know what to say, I had been framed! I panicked, I burst through the nearest window out onto the lawn, cutting my hand and running into the streets. I don’t remember much after that; only that I kept running.”
Jane Darcy shook her head.
“They caught up with you, then?”
“No. I hitchhiked my way to Salem Massachusetts, and booked myself a room in a cheap motel. My back was to a wall; I had no escape. I wasn’t there more than a few hours, before the police showed up and handcuffed me. I tried to resist them, but it was to no avail.”
Margaret had sat as stiff as a statue while she listened, and now she relaxed her muscles and laughed.
“We read that bit in the papers! You really are in a pickle then, aren’t you?”
Ted Hayden looked grim, and continued on after running a hand through his thick hair:
“At the trial, the driver testified that he saw me sign the receipt. I swore my signature had been forged; but they didn’t believe me. They even called in a specialist; and after examination they concluded that it was my handwriting.”
“Did the jeweler really believe you were guilty? How long had you worked for him?” Margaret inquired.
“I think – I think he wanted to believe I was innocent. I had worked for him for several years and he trusted me; enough to ask me to receive the shipment while he was away. But the evidence was too strong against me.”
“You broke jail; what prompted you to do that?” asked Jane.
“I had to,” he answered, pale to the lips, and he waved his arm in a sweeping gesture. “Sadie came to visit me in prison, and told me that she saw a man wearing a ring that had been stolen from the same shipment. What providence! I thought, with luck I could catch that man while he was in town; and prove my innocence. Sadie then helped me to escape in a laundry truck (I’m not entirely sure how she managed it), and gave me a change of clothes at her home.”
He relaxed from his tense, detailed recount; and crossed his leg over his knee.
“What I uncovered next surprised me. I located the man with the ring, and discovered he was part of an organized group. They met regularly in that small shack in the woods, when one night I followed him to the museum; and watched as he went inside.”
Jane drummed her fingertips on the tabletop, and cut in with a short question.
“We found a small scrap of paper outside the museum, completely shredded. It looked like it was part of a newspaper; was it yours?”
The man nodded his head,
“Seeing that goon infuriated me; my life was turned upside down, and because of him and his pals. I was wrongly accused, imprisoned, punished; and for a crime I didn’t commit. My blood was boiling, and I vaguely remember tearing apart that paper from my back pocket; but now that you mention it, I did. When the man came out from the museum, I interrogated him. It wasn’t smart of me, I know; I forced him to hand over the negatives at gunpoint. We had a disagreement, and it ended with him darting off into the forest and I following him. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the woods, when I noticed my faithful friend and companion had followed me from the museum grounds.”
Trooper had meandered over to his side, and sat down on his haunches. Ted patted him on his head lovingly, and looked back at his listeners.
“I guess I’ve only made one bad decision after another; I thought I could solve it on my own, I was wrong. I scared you outside Sadie’s house; I broke into your room to get back the photos, and ultimately I was captured by those felons. If it hadn’t been for Trooper, there wouldn’t have been any hope for me.”
There was a sense of mutual belief that he was telling the truth; and Jane’s thoughts were bristling with unanswered questions. The puzzle pieces had begun to fall into place, and yet; there remained a thousand tiny mysteries, as well as a plan for moving forward.
“Now, about that-“ Jane began, but she was interrupted midsentence by the lights blinking out; leaving them in pitch darkness.
The storm had long passed, and they all realized: the power outage was deliberate!
…To be continued, next week on Sunday, October 3rd! Jane Darcy needs your help to solve the hair-raising mystery surrounding Pinecrest; keep your magnifying glass handy, and don’t miss the next exciting chapter!