Ask Sam

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Joanna Avery’s friends, family members and acquaintances have varying opinions about her friend Sam. Her Aunt Polly defends him. She sees him as Joanna’s protector. Her friend Melanie Soames refers to Sam as the mysterious stranger who shies away from publicity. Rhonda West labels him a warlock and Logan Cox sees him as a problem solver. If Joanna’s dad Charles has an opinion, he keeps it to himself. Sam can be useful, or so say the people who use his services. If you want to find out who-done-it or who is planning to do a dirty deed, contact Joanna. Her friend Sam is an avowed snoop. Be advised, Sam isn’t a licensed PI. If he uncovers a crime, he relies on Joanna to make an anonymous call to the police. As he sees it, his job is to provide the leads; someone else has to do the paperwork, question the suspect, and make the arrest. Joanna is a reluctant helpmate. She resents Sam’s tendency to show up uninvited. Sam’s obsession to rid Fairview of vandalism and petty crime is admirable but unrealistic. She prefers to give back by using her teaching skills and artistic talent. Sam doesn’t pay a whit of attention to her when she reminds him that she’s fresh out of magic wands. The plot thickens when Joanna’s high school nemesis, Rhonda, barges back into her life. She accuses Joanna of harassing her.

Drama / Mystery
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Joanna Avery opened her aunt’s front door and shouted, “Aunt Polly, It’s Joanna.”

Polly Sherman’s head popped through the archway that led to the kitchen. “Come on back to the kitchen, sunshine. I’m in the middle of a baking project, and the timer just went off.”

Joanna sniffed the air. “My mouth is watering. If I had known I was being invited to a party, I would have worn my party hat.”

Joanna’s eyes widened when she entered the kitchen. “Holy moly, Aunt Polly, are you baking for the entire neighborhood?”

Her aunt’s eyes twinkled as she slid a baking pan onto a cooling rack. “My Sunday school class is raising money to help pay for a new addition to the church. You know me, sweetie. Give me an excuse to bake, and I go bonkers.

“I was hoping to be have the loaves out of the oven, cooled and packaged before you arrived, but I overslept this morning.”

“I could have helped if you had asked.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I volunteered my services, not yours. Besides, you have enough on your plate with the end of school right around the corner.”

“Every day in the life of a teacher is a juggling act, but your life is as hectic as mine and you manage to stay attuned to everyone else’s needs. I get busy and forget everything except the current project I am working on.”

Polly frowned. “You are comparing apples and oranges, Joanna. You are working. I’m retired. You have a room full of students who demand your attention in and out of the classroom. Since I’ve been there done that, I am aware of the emotional, mental and physical effort the job takes.

“Now that you are here, you can take the cream out of the fridge. The teapot is on the table. I hereby designate you as my taster for today. I tried a new recipe, and I need to make sure the banana bread is fit for human consumption.”

“My pleasure.” Joanna strolled across the room to the refrigerator. Her outreached hand hesitated before opening the door. She frowned as she stared at a list attached to the side of the refrigerator with a magnet. She turned and asked, “What’s with this Stolen Items list?”

Polly sighed. “Oh darn. I meant to take the list off the fridge. I knew if you saw it you would start asking questions.”

“Please don’t tell me that your house was burglarized!”

“Nothing so drastic. I had a few food items disappear.”

Joanna’s eyebrow shot up. “What’s your definition of a few, Aunt Polly.”

“Let it alone, Joanna. Nothing significant is missing.”

Joanna ignored her and scanned the list.

“Hm-m. The list resembles a kid’s camp list, not a thief’s. Flashlight, pillow, wash cloth, crackers, cookies, apples, Band-Aids . . .

“Or a homeless person’s list. There are not any children living in the neighborhood and none of the residents have noticed a stranger lurking.

Polly chuckled, “So, maybe we should name our thief the “hungry camper.”

Joanna took a carton of half and half out of the fridge and put it on the table. “Is this your list, or a neighborhood list?”

“Don’t use that tone with me, Joanna Avery. I’m not losing my marbles just yet. I did consider the possibility that I was experiencing a senior moment when I noticed a roll of paper towels and a box of sandwich bags missing two weeks ago. Then, last week a jar of peanut butter and a jar of homemade strawberry jam disappeared. That same afternoon I mentioned the missing items to Gladys Baucom. Lo and behold, she admitted that she accused Brett of sneaking midnight snacks when she found cookies and crackers missing from their pantry.

“She put him on diet a month ago, but she has caught him cheating a couple of times. He denied being the thief, so she assumed the grand kids were the culprits. After comparing notes, we canvased the neighborhood and learned that there has been a rash of thefts. Gladys and I compiled a list of all the reported thefts. It’s possible that other items have been taken. Janice Culpepper and Doris Franks don’t do their own shopping so if items are missing, they wouldn’t know. We haven’t checked with the folks on Spruce and Elm.”

Joanna rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t anyone in Briarwood lock their doors?”

“The first Briarwood homes were built fifty years ago, and about half of the Briarwood residents bought their homes new. Up until now, there has been no reason to lock our doors.”

“Unfortunately, times have changed, and all of you folks need to adapt.”

“Long-held habits are difficult to break, sweetie. Gladys has been a trooper. She’s been making nightly calls to remind the residents to lock their doors. If we are lucky, the thief will move on when he finds out we are on to him.”

“You should call the police before your family heirlooms disappear.”

“We considered making a call but decided to handle the situation ourselves.”

Joanna said, “Will you at least keep me informed?”

“Yes, but please don’t worry about the thefts. I promise to call the police if locked doors don’t discourage the thief. Now, I think it is time to change the subject. I didn’t invite you to drop by to talk about crime. I am curious about your plans for the summer. Will you be teaching in Jamaica during summer vacation?”

“Not this summer. As much as I enjoyed the experience last year, I promised Judy Malone to do the illustrations for her next children’s book. She will be on a book tour until the end of May. When she comes back to town, I promised to meet her for a planning session.”

“Will the illustrations take all of your time or will you look for a part-time job?”

“I will have available time, but interesting part-time jobs are next to impossible to find.”

“Maybe I have a solution. Do you remember Betty Allen?”

“Harold Bessemer’s daughter?”

Polly nodded. “Ed and Betty grew up in Fairview but have resided in Richmond for years. After Harold, Betty’s dad, died they returned to Fairview to close out the Bessemer Estate. Betty’s dad did his own books for years. As he aged, he either did not have the time or mental acuity to keep accurate records, but he stubbornly refused to seek help. He owned rental property, had a large portfolio of stocks and bonds, and owned a home on the historical register. He also owned several valuable collections. The records were in shambles. Bill collectors were demanding payment. Because of the time involved in straightening out the mess, Ed decided to take an early retirement package. Betty was onboard because her photography business is portable. They sold their condo in Richmond and moved to Fairview.

“They are both organized, so it only took a few months to get the kinks worked out. Betty remained busy with her photography, but Ed began searching for another challenge once the estate matters were settled. An opportunity presented itself when one of their renters on McFarland Street retired. After brainstorming with some of their friends, the couple decided to open a combination community center and book shop.

“Ed hired an architect to redesign the interior of the building. When the remodel is complete, they will need a person who has an eye for display to help set up the inventory. When I mentioned that you are an artist, Betty asked if you would be interested in a part-time job.”

“The job sounds interesting, but I need to know more about Judy’s schedule before I even consider taking a job. When is their projected opening date?”

“Not until June 15th.”

“I hope they know what they are getting into. Personally, I love bookstores, but most people are looking for a bargain. Why pay thirty dollars for a hardbound book when you can buy an eBook or paperback for under five? Are they aware that Calhoun’s Books went bankrupt last year?”

“They are, but they have several things going for them. The Crow’s Nest, that’s the name of their shop, will not be your typical bookstore. Betty is a photographer, a good one. She plans to teach photography, and Ed plans to work with seniors who need help using the internet and operating electronic gadgets. They also plan to sponsor a book club. Ed wants to bring back civil conversation. He is convinced that social media is damaging relationships. I tend to agree.”

“So do I. Social discourse has become vile. I saw a quote last week that said. ‘A lot of the problems in the world would disappear if we talked to each other instead of talking about each other’. For the life of me, I don’t understand the current trend to call people names and berate their accomplishments.

“As for the Allen’s, I don’t know if they can pull it off, but the business plan Ed showed me looks promising.”

“Retail shops can’t survive without a product to sell, and if the product isn’t new or a necessity the change of success is extremely low.”

“The Allen’s own the building. If they can pay operating expenses and the taxes, they will consider the shop a success. There main objective is to provide a friendly atmosphere for people who are interested in staying abreast of the times. They envision, customers who prefer fact to fiction, and reality to fantasy. Young people flock to coffee houses. Ed and Betty hope that retirees and intellectuals will flock to a place where they can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, read the local newspaper, or play a game of chess.”

“I can’t make any promises, Aunt Polly.”

“Before you say no to the opportunity, I think you should go online and read Betty’s blog. Unless I miss my guess, you will be impressed.”

“What kind of books will they be selling?”

“The largest part of their inventory will be first editions and rare books. Ed has collected both for twenty years. He has decided to sell his collection. I know nothing about the market for rare books, but Betty says that his collection is worth a small fortune. He will also sell a few best sellers and paperbacks.”

“You mentioned computers. Will customers be able to re quest computer time?”

“I’m not sure, the computers might only be available for classes. People who want computer time can go to the library. My understanding is that Ed will discourage the use of laptops in the shop.”

Joanna took another bite of the banana bread. “You’ve outdone yourself with this banana bread, Aunt Polly.”

“Whew. Glad to hear it. I’ll wrap up the rest of the loaf for you.”

“Thanks for telling me about the Crow’s Nest opportunity. I promise to talk to Betty. I will let you know what I decide.

“Now, before I head for home, let’s put your kitchen back in order.”

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