Lisa and Ashish had to show their identification at the front door just to get into the building. They had to show them again to the receptionist and a third time to the director’s secretary. The last took an especially long time scrutinizing them before she said, “Since you don’t have an appointment, I’ll have to see if he is available.” She was gone a long time.
“She has been here a long time and is one of our best. I hope there isn’t anything wrong,” the man sought to cover himself. He was permitting himself to be surprised and shocked in case there was something wrong. When Elena Montrose came in, however, it was not what Lisa and Ashish expected.
“Have you come about my purse?” the woman said with a warm smile on her wrinkled, old face. This Elena Montrose had gray hair, was short and frumpy and had colorless stubs for nails. They looked like the nails of a woman who bit them regularly.
“Your purse?” Ashish was the one who was able to speak.
“It was stolen, yes. Let me see. That was about a year ago now.”
“Your purse was stolen?” Lisa asked.
“Uh-huh.” The woman nodded.
“Oh, at church. I sing in the choir every Sunday.” The woman looked at Lisa, but Lisa shook her head.
“Froggy voice. You wouldn’t want to hear.”
“It was Sunday, and funny that mine was the only purse stolen. We used to leave them in the choir room during the service. Now we lock them up.”
“Wise,” Ashish said.
“Why was it funny?” Lisa was curious now.
“Well, because I didn’t have anything with me, no money or credit cards. All the thief got was some old lipstick, some tissues and my driver’s license, oh, and my I. D. for work, but no money.”
“Generally when a thief doesn’t find money or a credit card, they discard the purse some blocks away in the nearest trash bin or dumpster,” Ashish explained. “Odds are slim you will ever see that purse again, unless by chance it fell behind a bookcase or something at the church.”
“Oh, no. The choir, that is, the men tore the room apart, looking. It was definitely stolen.”
“I see,” Lisa said. “So where do you go to church?”
Lisa fretted while Ashish drove. “You look worried,” he said.
“I can’t help thinking we should be focused on finding that lab, not tracking down a social worker impersonator.”
“The girls are going to be just fine.”
“I know that, but still. There were a bunch around that dorm and they were all wired to do maximum damage. That seems the real threat. Imagine if they set one off in the mall or at some concert or sporting event.”
“I don’t know. I’m wondering if this fake social worker is taking young children out of their homes, what is she doing with them? She may be selling kids into slavery on the black market. Maybe she is an ogre and eating them.”
Lisa turned her frown on Ashish, but his eyes were on the road.
“Besides,” he continued. “I thought we were doing this for Libby.”
“We are,” she said. “We are.”
Ashish stopped the car in front of a picturesque Tudor home with a white picket fence that looked to go all the way around the property. There was a lovely garden out front. Of course, nothing was growing just yet. It was all still green, but Lisa identified some of the greenery and she could imagine the flowers well enough. She knew it would be spectacular when she saw the woman out front toiling away in anticipation of spring.
Lisa walked up to the gate, but waited while Ashish came around the car. She reached for the latch, but Ashish caught her hand. Two Dobermans came roaring around the corner of the house, barking and growling, and Lisa took an involuntary step back. She did not like big dogs.
The woman in the garden looked, stood, squinted and yelled. “Boys. Boys, in the house. Now.” The Dobermans made a last look, bark and growl before they ran to their mistress, tongues wagging. She held the door and they went straight in, after which she came to the gate. As she walked, she pulled a pair of glasses out of a pocket and Lisa thought that this was the last choir member, the choir director and church organist herself, and if this was not the fake Elena Montrose, they had reached a dead end. She did not remember Latasha’s mother mentioning anything about glasses, but she would see. When the woman arrived, Lisa sighed.
Dorothy Guiness had red hair, what she had of it. When the woman pulled off her hat, it was clear she was going bald. True, she looked to be in her mid-fifties and had the red nails, but the nails were chipped, no doubt from the garden. Besides, the woman’s eyes were blue, and a very light blue at that. After they explained who they were, Dot invited them in. Ashish went first. Lisa followed with her eyes wide open.
“I remember Elena’s purse. It was a little blue number. I felt just awful when it disappeared.”
“No, it only had some lipstick and some tissues with Elena’s identification,” Dot said, and with a look at the detectives, she added, “At least that is what Elena told me. Was there money?”
“Lovely garden,” Lisa changed the subject. “I bet it is spectacular in bloom.”
Dot’s face filled with pride before she whispered her secret. “It’s all in the fertilizer. Only the best and freshest will do.”
“Wonderful. I should try that on my lawn. What do you use?”
“Dear, no. It is my own special blend and a family secret. But it would work wonders on your yard. I grow vegetables out back in the summer, and if I am careful to preserve what I grow, I can eat from my garden all year long.”
“I bet your husband likes that idea,” Ashish suggested.
“Ed?” Dot looked surprised. “No, he had an accident and died years ago. To be honest, he was never much for making money, but his insurance helped. When we were young, I went many a time to the kitchen only to find the cupboard bare, but these days I get along just fine on S. S. I., the church and my garden. Me and my boys.”
As Lisa and Ashish walked back toward the front gate, Dot picked up the bone and yelled. “Boys. What have I told you about your bones?” She opened the front door, and the dogs raced out. Ashish and Lisa had to run. They got to the gate and got it closed before the Dobermans arrived, but it was close. They left to the sound of Dot yelling, “Boys. Boys, get back here.”
“Well, I guess that brings us back to square one. Anyone could have walked off the street and taken that purse,” Ashish complained as he started the car.
“I’m not so sure,” Lisa said, but she said no more because she was honestly not sure what she was feeling.