April 9 Through the End of the Month
Jack returned later that afternoon.
“I’m sorry, but this is the busiest time of the day, and I’ve got to re-supply the café with three day’s worth of shipment.” I pushed the cart into the café.
“That’s alright, Ms. Madison. I’ve finished my interrogations,” he stopped. “I’ve finished my interviews. I thought I’d just sit here and observe for a while.”
I shook his hand and began unloading the cart.
“That’ll be nineteen dollars and sixty-nine cents.” Henry, manning the café in Mrs. Abercrombie’s place, smiled at the middle-aged man who had just purchased an inspirational book from the Christian Living section and a mug of coffee. Henry’s face was devoid of make-up. Her chestnut hair was straight and held behind her in a ponytail. She wore no jewelry and the only adornment on her apron was the nametag identifying her as “Henry, Paperback Specialist.” Despite her outward plainness, Henry had a haunting beauty that caused women to look twice at her in admiration and men to look twice at her in longing.
“I hope you don’t mind breaking this bill.” The man smiled apologetically at Henry and handed her a one-hundred-dollar bill.
She sighed, took the bill, and began gathering change.
“I tell you what, I hate to take all of your change.” He pulled a wad of ones out of his wallet. “Why don’t I pay for my purchase with these twenty ones?”
He spread out the twenty ones on the counter and pulled the hundred dollar bill back from Henry’s hand.
“Oh, I forgot! I’ll need a five dollar bill. I always put a five dollar bill in the offering at Sunday School.” He pulled a five dollar bill from the change in Henry’s hand and pushed five ones from the pile of twenty ones on the counter toward her.
She cocked her head, a slight smile on her face.
Jack White was sitting at the café. He bit the inside of his bottom lip and watched the hustle.
“Well, if you need fives, why don’t I give you change for that twenty I saw in your wallet.” Henry smiled sweetly.
The man hesitated.
“That would be a month of Sundays for you!”
The man pulled the twenty out and handed it to her. Henry pointed at the five in his hand. “Five.” She pulled a five out of her hand and waved it, “Ten.” She slapped it on the counter, “Fifteen.” She pulled another five from her hand but hesitated, “Twenty.” She waved the five between them. “But if I give you these four fives, I won’t have enough for closing. If you give me that five back, I’ll give you ones for it.”
The man blinked helplessly. Henry took the single five out of his hand and scooped up the remaining fives and ones on the counter. “Oh no! I can’t open the cash drawer unless you buy something. How about a pack of mints?”
“Uh, I just have a hundred dollar bill left.”
“That’ll work. I’ll give you change.”
He handed her the bill with a puzzled look on his face. She began counting his change into his hand. “Three ninety-nine and a penny makes four, five, and five is ten. And ten more.”
“Uh, and if I could get change for this ten?” The man floundered.
“Why certainly.” She took back the ten and spread the rest of his change on the counter. “Five and five more is ten.” She pressed the two bills into his hand and pocketed the rest. “Sugar and milk are on that table over there.” Henry pointed across the café.
As he walked past, Jack winked at him. “A word to the wise, Mister.”
“What is it?” The man stared helplessly into his empty wallet.
“Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.”
The man looked shocked and then embarrassed. He set his coffee on the table and left Perky’s Books & Gifts.
White peered at Henry over the top of his notebook. Henry came around the counter and stood in front of White’s table.
“Are you still running that youth center, Jack?” Henry glared at him. He nodded. She plopped the one-hundred-fifty dollars she’d scammed from the would-be conman on the table in front of Jack and turned away.
“What?” She turned to face him, fists on hips, ready for a fight.
“I’m glad you’re out.”
“I’ve been out almost a year now.”
“I know. Mom told me.”
“She wrote to me every week.”
“I know.” Jack patted the bills on the table top. “She read me your letters, too.”
Henry drew a breath and looked away from him. “You never wrote.”
“Didn’t think you’d appreciate it. I’m the reason you went to jail.”
“No you’re not, Jack. I’m the reason I went to jail. I was guilty. You had to do your job.”
“So, you forgive me?”
Henry scoffed and turned away.
“Bethy,” Jack picked up the wad of bills.
She glanced over her shoulder at him.
Henry nodded and went back behind the counter.
I put on my apron and walked with a till to the front counter. I could feel—more than hear—a disgruntlement among our morning patrons. No one was ready to buy a book, so I closed the cash drawer and walked toward the café.
“I just think it’s in poor taste,” a woman in an embroidered denim jumper and tennis shoes shook her head. “It’s only been two weeks.”
Henry patted her arm. “I know, Ruth. I’m sure Jack hasn’t given up. Maybe this is just a police tactic. Jack will solve this. He doesn’t give up on anything.”
“Or anyone,” Ruth squeezed Henry’s hand and walked away, revealing an eleven by fourteen inch poster glued to the counter. I could read the title: Cold Case, and saw a picture of Mrs. Abercrombie with a few details about her life and unsolved (or as Henry’s faith in Jack White’s detective skills asserted—yet-to-be solved) murder.
Perky’s Books and Gifts
© Evelyn Rainey 2013