Frustrated, Joanna drummed her fingers on the steering wheel while waiting for the white Toyota to pull out of the parking space.. Then, before she could pull into the space, a red Mercedes whipped in front of her Honda missing her car by inches. A woman wearing sunglasses and an outfit that cost more than Joanna’s monthly paycheck, got out of the car and sashayed in front of her without so much as a glance in either direction. As tempting as it was to shake her fist at the woman and shout a few choice words, Joanna slowly counted to ten. She had two options. She could drive around the parking lot waiting for another space to become available, or she could park two blocks away and hoof it to Henri’s. She chose the latter. By the time she reached the restaurant, she was disheveled and feeling frazzled. She stopped at the entrance of the restaurant, tucked her blouse back in place, and ran her hand through her hair.
The hostess greeted her with a smile. “How many will be dining with you this evening?”
“I’m with the Soames party.”
“I see that your party has been seated. Marilyn will escort you to your table.”
When she reached her friends’ table, she apologized profusely. “Sorry. Today was one of those Murphy’s Law Days.”
Melanie smirked, “Poor baby. Relax. We all have them.”
Joanna snapped, “I’ll return your sympathy the next time Jimmy Kelso puts tacks in your chair. When did parking downtown in the evening become a nightmare, anyway?”
“Since the downtown revitalization project breathed new life into the business district. In the past six months, two new restaurants opened on this street alone. Even the mall walkers are trading inside walking for walking outside.”
“I suppose parking issues go hand and hand with increased foot traffic. Ed and Betty Allen will welcome the shoppers. They are opening a bookstore over on McFarland Street.”
Melanie mused, “They must be moving into the building that used to be occupied by Joe Halloran’s shoe store. I heard he retired.”
“Terrific. I love bookstores. When is the opening date?”
“June 15th. The name of the shop is Crow’s Nest. I am considering working there part-time.”
Shock registered on Melanie’s face. “Seriously? I assumed you would be teaching in Jamaica again this summer.”
“Not this year. Part of my contract with Judy Malone states that I need to be available when she finishes her latest manuscript, and she is currently doing the second draft on her second book.”
“After your last experience, I wondered if you would take on the illustrations for another book.”
“The experience was far more difficult than I expected. By the time I finished the illustrations, I was a physical and mental wreck.”
“But look what happened. Your illustrations were published!”
“True. Judy’s book was my first attempt at book illustrations, so I had a lot to learn about what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully, the second time around will go more smoothly. I had almost nixed the idea of a part-time job when I heard about the opening at Crow’s Nest. I like the idea of working in a bookstore if the hours are flexible enough.
John mused, “Crow’s Nest? What an unusual name.”
“Ed’s mother was a Crow. When her dad retired, the family kiddingly referred to him as the old crow who guarded the nest. Ed and Betty envision Crow’s Nest as a temporary nesting place for customers.”
Melanie said, “I think the name is a clever choice. It will be interesting to see what kind of ad’s they run. You could do some nifty illustrations for them.”
“Possibly. The columnist, Alex McCord interviewed Ed and Betty last week. The article will either be in this Sunday or next Sunday’s Fairview Times.”
“Great. I will look forward to reading Alex’s column. He is a super nice guy. A few of the motivational speakers I have heard are irritatingly bombastic, but Alex is down to earth and engaging.”
“Columnist and motivational speaker? That’s quite a resume the man has.”
“He also trains speakers. His column is a side job.”
Joanna said, “I had no idea. I have never met him, but I am a fan of his columns. John, what was your impression of him as a speaker?”
“I’ll put it this way; if he was the prosecutor, I wouldn’t want to be the defense lawyer.”
The conversation about Alex ended when John nodded toward an approaching server. “Are you ladies ready to order?”
Joanna scanned the menu. “What do you recommend?”
“The tuna is exceptional and tonight it’s the special.”
“You sold me.”
John and Melanie passionately believed that stress and heartburn were related, so all unpleasant subjects were banned during a meal. When the table was cleared, and coffee ordered, troublesome issues could be addressed. In deference to her friends, Joanna stuck to non-controversial issues. She was pleasantly surprised to find that their policy made dining more relaxing.
As usual dinner was a delight. Later over coffee, John and Melanie listened with rapt attention when she briefed them on the situation facing Briarwood residents. “The residents are sympathetic because of the boy’s age.”
John wanted to know how Danny Porter was identified.
“A friend of mine agreed to surveil the neighborhood. After Sam witnessed the teen leaving one of the neighborhood homes, he trailed the boy to the tobacco barn. Sam kept an eye on him for two days. Danny spent both afternoons at the library. Two of the librarians called him by name, but there is no guarantee that Danny is his birth name. You would expect a runaway to avoid making friends, but Danny goes out of his way to speak to the people he deals with. He must be confident that he will not be recognized.”
John zeroed in on Sam. “Is your friend a licensed PI.”
“No, but a licensed PI does not seem appropriate for this particular situation, John. In a way, the residents on Briarwood are complicit. Even though they have been advised to lock their doors, they don’t. For someone who is in survival mode, an unlocked door is practically an invitation to enter. Danny is a teen, and teens are typically curious and sneaky. I speak from experience. I vividly remember sneaking into the kitchen to snitch a second piece of pie that Aunt Polly denied me at dinner.
“I don’t like coincidences, so I don’t buy that Danny just happened to know that the Briarwood residents were lax about locking their doors. Maybe he doesn’t live here, but I’ll bet he has a connection to Fairview.”
There were tears in Melanie’s eyes when she said, “I can’t imagine having to forage for food. If I were hungry and didn’t have the money to purchase food, I would probably turn to theft. How can anyone judge a mere boy when he’s hungry?”
John grimaced. “I didn’t mean to come on strong. The lawyer in me would be remiss if I didn’t ask tough questions. Regrettably, there are too many runaway teens these days. Every story is different. Some are foster kids, some abused youngsters, teens on drugs and a few teens who try to control their parents by making them worry. Let me talk to Logan Cox, our youth pastor. He is more familiar with the rules and regulations of the social service agency and the laws concerning underage children. I will get back to you after I talk to him.
“What about your friend Sam? Will he consent to being at the meeting?”
“No. Sam and I have an arrangement. He shares information with me, and I pass the formation on to individuals who have the authority to correct the situation.”
Melanie’s eyes twinkled. “I should have known that the mysterious stranger I’ve heard so much about would be involved.”
Melanie was one of the people in Joanna’s life who questioned Sam’s existence. Occasionally, she introduced Joanna as her psychic friend, Joanna.
John frowned. “I can’t promise Logan will get involved unless your investigator is willing to talk to him.”
“Forget the law for a second, John. All I am asking for is a chance to help a young teen who has potential. As caring adults, isn’t that our responsibility?”