Tuesday, February 7, 1899
“She’s gone,” Virgil Follmer said.
Virgil’s head shot forward, his face going red as he rose up on the toes of his boots in an effort to appear taller than he actually is. “Dammit, Tilghman,” he bellowed, “open your ears. Don’t make me repeat myself. Time’s a-wastin’.”
Virgil’s our town undertaker and generally the most docile, quiet man you’d ever want to meet. So, seeing him get this excited, I knew something terrible must have happened. “Calm down,” I told him. “I’m not a mind-reader. You’ll have to explain if you want my help. Now—who’s missing?’
“Why Mrs. Arbuckle, of course. Somebody’s stole her body. Zimmerman’s gonna have a fit.”
The late Mrs. Arbuckle was Nathan Zimmerman’s mother-in-law. Zimmerman is burgess of Arahpot, which makes him my boss. This news imposed a bit more urgency on my response. “I’ll get my hat and coat and be right with you,” I told Virgil.
I’d just returned home and was heating up a pot of soup Doc Mariner’s wife had sent over when Follmer commenced pounding on my door.
He waited impatiently by the door while I took the pot off the stove and got my garments. “If you’d subscribe for phone service a body wouldn’t have to go runnin’ half way across town to fetch you,” Virgil snarled.
I’m the third of my family to hold the job of sheriff here in
Jordan County, , and I take
my responsibilities seriously. But I have enough people yammering at me during
the day at the office and prefer not to make it so convenient for them once I’m
home for the evening. Of course I didn’t explain this to Virgil. Instead, as we
strode down the hill toward town, I asked, “Didn’t you stop at the office?
Cyrus should be there.” Pennsylvania
Virgil huffed. “If I’d wanted your deputy, I’da gone there. Thought this was important enough for your attention.”
I couldn’t dispute his remark.
Slush from the last snow made walking precarious and we had to concentrate on where we stepped to avoid slipping. It didn’t prevent Virgil from continuing to harp on the subject of the telephone.
“I’m sure Miss Longlow would have seized the opportunity for the telephone contract if she’d known about it in time,” he said.
I couldn’t argue the point. Lydia is one of the most astute business women I know and she certainly would have added the telephone to her various enterprises if McLean Ruppenthal hadn’t got the jump on her with prior knowledge—one of the benefits of being on the borough council, I suppose. He got the telephone franchise and has his sister Cora operating the switchboard. That makes him privy to many of the secrets in town—another advantage I’m certain he hasn’t overlooked.
Still, this wasn’t the subject on my mind at the moment. “Never mind all that for now,” I said. “Why don’t you fill me in on what happened before we get to your place and I have to face Zimmerman.”
Virgil gave me a look like a startled deer. “God, I haven’t told him yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Well, you haven’t told me a thing so far—other than that the old lady’s body is missing. How’d it happen?” I drew my collar closer round my neck against the damp chill of the evening, wishing I’d have thought to bring the nice warm scarf
has knit for me. Lydia
Follmer heaved a sigh and skipped his short legs in an effort to catch up to my longer pace. “I wish to heaven I knew how it happened. We had her all laid out nice in the coffin, set to deliver her for the viewing. Before goin’ out for supper I stepped in to make sure all was in readiness. The casket was empty. Syl, I know that old lady didn’t get up and walk out of my place on her own.”
“That don’t make a bit of sense, Virgil. Why would someone steal a body?”
“I don’t know. But they sure as heck did.”
‘I take it Floyd helped with the layin’ out,” I said, referring to Virgil’s assistant.
“Course he did.”
“Maybe he moved the body and you looked in the wrong coffin.”
He peered at me as though my remark was the most idiotic he’d ever heard. “Why would he do that? I know which casket I put her in.”
I shrugged. “Just a thought.”