Chapter One - Wariness at the Warehouse
“What’s going on out there?” Connie Beatrice Wright set her computer case on the chair near her father’s desk.
He rounded the desk and gave her a brief kiss on her temple. “They finally sold that tire graveyard next door. Summer isn’t ever going to smell the same, thank the Lord.”
“But the police?” What would they want with a tire dump?
His chin sagged as he moved back to his desk. “Are they still there?”
“As best I’ve learned, they uncovered something when the bulldozer started clearing out that huge pile of tires behind our warehouse.” He sat in his chair and propped his elbows on his desk. “Had a coroner car over there a bit ago.”
A coroner car? “Someone was dead?”
“I know that look, Connie. This is not a lark or a game.”
She ran her finger over the marble nameplate on the edge of his desk that read MacKenzie Wright. “A death is not a game, Daddy.” She knew what he was thinking by the grim set of his mouth. “I’m not doing a Nancy Drew thing.”
“It has nothing to do with us.”
Someone tapped at Dad’s almost-closed door. “Mr. Wright?” The warbly voice belonged to Mrs. Hodges, the long-time volunteer who worked as their receptionist most weekdays. “A policeman here to see you.” She nudged the door open a little wider.
“Come in, Officer.” Dad got up and met the man at the door.
But he wasn’t a simple police officer. That was clear. He wore a sport coat and khaki pants instead of a uniform.
“Detective Rainey, Mr. Wright.” The man opened a wallet with a card and shield inside. “You own this property and the warehouse behind it?”
“The foundation owns it. The warehouse is used to store the supplies we donate to the local shelters in the area.”
Dad had left out the many shelves that housed their various displays, decorations, and activities that they used to put on all of the fundraising events. Those shelves were cloaked with her mother’s dreams, brainstorming, and sheer imagination.
But that wouldn’t interest Detective Rainey.
“I’m afraid we’ll need to limit access to your warehouse until further notice.”
“Why in the world—” Connie took one look at her dad’s stern face and halted her comment.
“I understand, Detective.” Her dad reached out his hand. “We’ll certainly be praying that you can quickly figure out what happened to whoever you found.”
The man shook Dad’s hand. “As to that, have you heard of any strangers lurking around here? A man, maybe a few months ago?”
The man had been dead that long? Not that they would have noticed with the strong stink that already filled that side of the property from the tires. Connie’s left eyebrow arched on its own before she caught herself and forced it even with the other.
“Not that I remember, but I’ll ask around. Especially to the volunteers who help us in the warehouse.”
The detective nodded and left without even glancing at Connie.
“Has anyone been lurking?” She leaned over with her hands flat on the desk when Dad took his seat again.
“You heard me tell the detective that I hadn’t seen anyone.”
“Uh-huh.” Her father wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, or about anything else for that matter, but Connie could smell a mystery in the making – or already made as the case may be.
“I think you should forget about all of that and go on to Mama’s office. Your office.” He gave a sad sort of smile, then stood and took one of her hands. “Your very first day as an employee of the Wright Foundation. We are so glad you agreed to come on board so quickly after finishing your business degree. Your mother's arthritis is advancing to the point that it is very difficult for her to type, or write, or even craft the decorations. I know handing the reins to you will relieve her mind a great deal."
Connie chuckled. "Well, after all, it is what I was raised to do, and I will love every minute!" She kissed Dad's cheek and then Mama stepped down the hall toward the reception center.
“Well, a proper good morning to you, Miss Connie, and congratulations on your graduation.” Though trim, almost petite, Anna Hodges’s vibrant smile and confident carriage made a formative statement. It was why she was chosen to be the first face and voice that prospective donors encountered. Wearing her signature red blouse and purple scarf, she set down her skinny latte and reached out as Connie crossed the main lobby.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hodges.” She gave the frail woman a side-arm hug, then helped herself to a cup of coffee. “Have you seen my mom around?”
“In her office, my dear.” She snapped her fingers and pointed up with a tilt of her head. “I mean your office.” She gave Connie a wink.
“You have a blessed day, now.” Mrs. Hodges waved to her as she turned to greet an entering volunteer. The woman glowed pure joy.
Connie had always wanted to be just like her. She straightened the gray jacket over her short navy dress and slipped back down the executive hallway until she came into what had always been her mom’s office. The name plaque on the door still read Eleanor Wright.
“Well, there you are, sweetie.” Mama’s lively voice cracked a bit. “I was afraid you got lost.”
Connie smiled and shrugged. “Redirected by the police out there.”
“I heard about that from Mrs. Hodges. Seems they found a body.” Mama tsked and put a lid on top of a box. She eyed Connie. “Did you talk to your father?”
Connie stiffened and met her mom’s stare. “About?” Had they changed their minds about letting Connie take her mom’s place with the fundraising? “You’re not having second thoughts?”
Mama shrugged. “I am, but then it doesn’t matter really.” She held up her crooked fingers. “I can’t even tie shoelaces anymore. How am I supposed to decorate for banquets?” She flattened her mouth as tears filled her eyes.
“Mama, you know your own limitations, but that doesn’t keep you from the brainstorming that you’ve always done to set up perfect events. You have a gift for matching the exact activity to the charity and the donors who will be the most interested in supporting it.” It was uncanny.
Mama glanced to the carpet.
“Just because you can’t hang drapery or organize all the details anymore doesn’t mean you can’t contribute, and in a big way.” And Connie was counting on Mama’s input.
Mama laid a blue-veined hand on Connie’s. “Thank you, sweetie. That’s more credit than some of your siblings would give me.” She reopened the box and added a photo of their large family to it.
Connie didn’t want to think about family right now. Of her seven siblings, only Paul and his wife Maggie, with their toddler Teagan, had attended her graduation on Saturday. Of course, Paul lived the closest and was the nearest in age to her. Though, since she had been an oops baby, ten years separated their births.
“I did talk to Dad, but not about anything in particular.”
Her mom paused for a moment. “All right then.”
“Shall I help you pack up your books?” She eyed the tall shelves filled with Mama’s Bible studies, cookbooks, decorating manuals, and photo albums. Lots of photo albums full of every fundraising event the Wright Foundation had ever sponsored.
“Oh, no. I think you’ll need all of those more than I will. I’m only moving over the bare minimum.”
Hmm. Connie had hoped to move some of her own things in, but it looked like the office would still be Mama’s even if the person behind the desk had changed.
Mama toted the small box to the open door and called out over her shoulder, “Oh, and Clint should be here soon.” She poked her head back around the corner with a cryptic smile. “Make sure you meet him.” She gave Connie a nod.
Connie painted on a benign smile. “Okay.”
Clint Rutherford. The golden boy by all accounts if Mama and Dad were to be believed. He’d only been around for a couple of months, yet they hung on the man’s every word.
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THE VISITOR MISSES A VISIT.
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