By H.A. Sillman
PART 5: A NEW THEORY ON A MISSING MOM
No sooner had I ushered out the judge and the deputy, then Sally showed up, bearing a large plate of apple-spice cookies. Undoubtedly, she had seen Harry and Jack driving away in the deputy’s SUV. And undoubtedly, I’d be subject to her third-degree questioning about their visit. However, since I hadn’t been cautioned not to speak about the Wyders, I felt Sally might be rewarded with a few pertinent details. I made a fresh pot of coffee and re-plated a half dozen cookies and set them down for our little chat. The rest went into the cookie jar because I knew the kids—even Richie—would be happy to find it full, and I set some aside for the construction crew.
Settling herself at the kitchen table, Sally said, “Can’t imagine why they stopped by. “They don’t bake!” she chuckled. “Actually, I’m here to invite you on a mission. I’ve been visiting Mack Boyd at the convalescent hospital in Truckee. Naturally, it’s a bit of a drive. I’m wondering if you’d come along next time.”
This was news to me. But as Sally had trained as a nurse, I wasn’t surprised. She is known around Two Rivers for her rescue efforts: bringing soup to the sick, driving folks to clinics. She had helped mastermind the food kitchen at the Church of Peter and Paul during the recent flood scare in April.
“How’s Mack doing?”
“As well as can be expected,” she said. “He really poisoned himself drinking that old bottle of elixir he found. Apparently, the concoction was full of heavy metals. Damaged the kidney and liver. They’re monitoring him closely, so that’s why he’s in the nursing home. Mack’s really weak and will need help when he gets out.”
Just then, Rex drove up with his crew and they came inside. Today, they were pulling in new wiring on the main floor of the house. I gave them a small bag of Sally’s cookies. For a few minutes as his men set up, Rex joined us at the table for coffee.
“What’s the talk today?” he asked. “I’m playing poker at the Pick & Pan tonight and can spread it around for you.”
Sally told him about our upcoming visit to Mack and that she was waiting now to hear why Judge Fergulia and Deputy Jack had just paid me a visit.
So I told them about Barbara Wyder—that she hadn’t been seen around lately.
The Wyders, living up the ravine near Canton Flat, kept to themselves. Even though Don had sold insurance, his only foray into town life was as a Rotary Club member. Barbara, who apparently played golf most days miles away at The Red Eagle, didn’t mix in too much besides church, ergo, gossip was in short supply.
“I can’t imagine old Don whacking his wife,” Rex said. “Insurance guys don’t do anything where they can’t spread out the risk.”
“What does Richie say about all this,” Sally asked. She turned and her eyes burrowed into mine, waiting to catch me withholding. Her round, cherubic face and dimples gave her an aura of innocence, but she was sharp.
“Not a word. I haven’t asked. He hasn’t volunteered anything. The judge and Jack want me to start poking around. See what he says.”
“That’s not going to be fun,” Rex said. “Kid might fall apart on you.”
“That’s my worry. He’s doing well now. Occupied with delivering the Ledger. Does his homework every night. Perfectly normal behavior.”
Rex and I agreed that Richie would speak up if there had been anything untoward that happened that he’d known about. So far, he was taking his mom’s absence as just another incident in a string of happenings.
But to Sally, that seemed very odd, indeed. “The boy’s mom has been gone for—what—months now? Not a word from her. The father claims he spoke to her, according to the boy.” She took a cookie from the plate, broke it apart, crumbs falling, which she picked up on her fingertips and licked. “There’s more there, I tell you. You know, according to Noel, hubbie Don drank. In the mornings, he’d slip into the Pick & Pan Saloon through the back door. A secret drinker always has other secrets.”
About this time, Rex excused himself. His crew were ready for him, and with luck, I’d have modern wiring in a few days. I hoped to have The Golden Gables Inn open for business by the annual RiversFest during Fourth of July—just weeks away.
Before she left, Sally and I set plans to visit Mack Boyd the next day. We’d leave early and be back just before the dinner rush at the deli—the time when folks stopped in to pick up take-out.
On the way out the door, she said, “On our way back, I want to stop by The Red Eagle Golf Course.”
“Well, I’m working with the catering folks on supplying desserts, but something occurred to me.” She lifted her eyebrows. Sally loved being mysterious. “Talking about Barbara Wyder just now. All the time she spent golfing. Was there about every day. Doesn’t that seem strange to you?”
To me, a single mother raising two kids by herself, it didn’t seem odd at all. It sounded wonderfully refreshing. Time for myself!
“I could see trading places,” I said.
“What I’m saying is that maybe there’s another reason Barbara disappeared. Not murder at all. A deputy will naturally be inclined to think a crime occurred when someone’s gone missing. It could be something more prosaic, more mundane: Maybe, she was having an affair!”