Chapter 4 Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery

Prior chapters are in the Murder Mystery category.


I got in the car and took a quick peek inside the purse, hoping to find a cell phone or address book.  A driver’s license would be nice.  There was such a jumble of junk that I knew I couldn’t dissect the contents in such cramped quarters.  I headed back to Ralph and Fanny’s.  They had closed the restaurant for the night, but as usual they had left a key under the birdbath in the back yard, and when I entered through the back door, there was the card table with a note, “Sandwich in the fridge, coffee on the stove, see you in the morning or whenever you resurface.”  Ralph had taken off the top of the puzzle and slipped it under the bottom so that the picture remained hidden.  We had both agreed that people who did jigsaw puzzles while simultaneously looking at the picture missed the whole point.  I moved the puzzle over to the bar, since I knew I would need the whole card table to spread out the purse contents.

I just turned the purse over and shook it.  There was no cell phone, address book or keys, but there was an astonishing amount of junk – paper clips, a plastic spoon or two, nail clippers, and many scraps of paper.  When I came across a used Q tip and a half rotten cherry tomato, I realized that Penny had probably emptied the contents of a wastebasket into her purse.  I separated out the routine items in one pile and then tried to sort the different scraps of paper – some were on yellow lined paper and some on plain white paper.  There were also a few ripped up receipts.  It was going to be a monumental task to try and reconstruct the paper scraps, but the rest of the junk wasn’t speaking to me. 

Just then I heard Ralph’s heavy footsteps in his apartment upstairs as he trudged to the bathroom for his late night pee.  He must have seen my light on, since I then heard him creaking down the stairs.

“Is this the meeting of the insomniac society.  Can I join you?”

“I have the mother of all puzzles here.  I could sure use your pattern recognitions skills and I don’t have much time.  I need to drop this purse off at the police, it belonged to the dead girl – she was the Dessa’s room mate – the girl who originally called me.  For the moment it looks like she was the victim of a hit and run accident over in town.  I happened to discover that she worked at that coffee shop near the university and the other waitress there gave it to me.  So I think that I just have the rest of the night to see if there is anything of value in this mess.”

“Poor kid, but that solves your dilemma.  You don’t have to work for the underdog anymore, since dead clients don’t pay.”

“Skip the sarcasm, Ralph, I know that you don’t like the Todds, and I probably won’t either, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that Dessa is the underdog here.”

We now had the little scraps of paper separated into piles and were beginning to work on fitting the pieces together.  Ralph had gone upstairs to get an iron and was gently steaming the curled pieces so that they would be flat.  “Sure would help if we could use some scotch tape.  What are we going to do, reconstruct all of this and then crumple it up again?” he said.

“Well I assume that the police will eventually figure out Penny’s name and where Penny was working.  When they stop by there the waitress will tell them that she gave me the purse.  So I’ve got to get it back to them by the morning – I need to work with those guys you know, but I don’t need to do their job.  So no scotch tape, and yes we will recrumple.”

“Hey look here,” said Ralph, “this pile is beginning to come together.  It looks like a list of phone numbers or addresses here.  This looks like a phone number because it is the 215 area code.” 

“I’m not having much luck on my pile,” I said, “it looks like it is a handwritten letter – maybe a very old letter because this scrap has a date on it that says February 19, nineteen something.”

My back was stiff and sore, and I got up and walked over to the window.  It was just getting light outside and I could hear the traffic picking up.  “Ralph, I am sorry that I have to leave you for the moment.  I need to go home, get a little bit of rest since I see a long day ahead of me.  I am supposed to meet the Todds at noon, and I can’t arrive looking like total shit.  I’ll stop by here afterwards, and I might be able to put a few more hours in until I need to deliver the purse to the police.”

“Take off Liza, you do look like hell, and I agree, the Todds will certainly expect a more professional look – I assume that you have the usual outfit of black slacks and white top.  You still have an extra set of clothes here, so you can take off what you have on now, and Fanny will wash it in the morning.  In the meantime, I am up and running and I can try and keep working on this, and I will recruit Fanny as well, but it will depend on the kind of breakfast traffic we get.”

“Thanks Ralph, you’re the best.  Don’t know what I would do without my family.”


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