Here is Part 4 of my slightly ghostly mystery, Winter Trifle. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 4 starts now…
By Catherine Mesick
Swift footsteps rushed into the kitchen as Hannah ducked behind the counter.
Another shot rang out.
“Just give me the money, and I’ll let you go!” Lisa shouted to the darkness.
“Yeah, I don’t think she means that,” Hannah whispered.
“What are we going to do?” Alex whispered.
“I’ve got an idea,” Hannah whispered back.
She tapped Alex on the shoulder, and by the light of the microwave clock she motioned him to follow her to the stove.
“I can hear you moving around,” Lisa said. “This is your last chance.”
“Grab on to the towel on the stove,” Hannah whispered to Alex.
“What are we going to do with a kitchen towel?” he whispered back.
“It’s not a kitchen towel,” Hannah whispered. “Just grab it.”
Alex reached out for the beach towel that hung from the front of Mrs. Mumford’s oven.
“Oh,” he said softly.
The two of them pulled the towel off the stove as quietly as they could. In the dim light they could see Lisa coming toward them.
“Together?” Alex whispered.
“Together,” Hannah replied.
As Lisa’s shadowy form walked around the corner, Hannah and Alex gripped the beach towel tightly and then launched themselves at Lisa in one swift movement.
They wrapped the towel around her as the gun went off once more.
“Are you okay?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” Hannah said. “Are you?”
“You won’t be in a minute,” Lisa shouted.
The gun went off again.
“I think I’ve got it,” Alex said. “Let go of the towel.”
Hannah released her grip on the towel, and Alex wrenched it and the gun out of Lisa’s hands.
Then he ran for the door.
“Get after him!” Lisa screamed at her brother.
Hannah heard a few scuffed footsteps in the darkness. Then a heavy body rushed past her and pounded after Alex.
Alex reached the front door and wrenched it open. Then he ran outside into the snowy night.
A moment later, Hannah could see Jonah rushing out after him. She started toward the door herself.
She had only taken a few steps when a hand grabbed her coat collar and wrenched her backwards. Then her feet were kicked out from under her.
“Give me my money!” Lisa shouted.
Hannah saw Lisa’s dark shape looming above her, holding what looked like a lamp.
Hannah had just enough time to put her arms in front of her face before the lamp came crashing down. The impact was heavy, and shivers of pain ran up both Hannah’s arms. Then the lamp slid off her arms and shattered on the floor.
Hannah rolled away from the broken shards and then scrambled to get up.
Moments after she reached her feet, another object came hurtling toward her. It struck her on the shoulder and then shattered on the ground.
Considering the weight of the object, Hannah had a feeling it was Mrs. Mumford’s prized Waterford vase.
A moment later, yet another heavy object smashed near her feet.
Hannah turned and ran as fast as she could for the door.
She made it outside just in time to hear sirens and see a whirl of lights as three police cars pulled up in front of the house.
“What a night,” Alex said, sitting back in his plastic chair. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Yeah,” Hannah said.
They’d both been to the hospital and then to the police station, where they were still sitting. The two had been cleared to go some time ago.
“Thanks for calling the police,” Hannah said, standing up.
“I texted them, actually,” Alex said, standing, too. “When I first hid behind the counter. I’m just glad we actually made it out of there. And I’m glad you thought of the towel thing.”
“Thanks,” Hannah said.
The two of them walked toward the door and out into the night.
“What do you suppose Mrs. Mumford did with the money?” Alex asked. “Offshore account?”
Hannah couldn’t help but smile.
“I think it was something simpler than that,” she said. “Mrs. Mumford liked things she could understand. Like auctions and the town bank. Stuff she could see every day.”
“Well, at least she didn’t have to see her niece and nephew go to jail,” Alex said. “All that fuss, and they didn’t even get the money.”
“Even if they had found it, it wouldn’t have gone to them anyway,” Hannah said. “Not legally at least.”
“So then after they shot up the house, they would’ve had to go on the run if they did find it,” Alex said. “I’m sure that would’ve gone well.”
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “Not a great plan.”
“And now they get jail time, and the library gets a house with bullets in the walls.”
“Yeah,” Hannah said. Her voice trailed off.
She stopped walking and began to search in her bag.
“I can’t find it,” she mumbled. “It must be on the floor in the house. I don’t think Lisa took it with her.”
She began to walk toward her car quickly.
“Wait,” Alex said. “Where are you going?”
“I have to go back to Mrs. Mumford’s house,” Hannah said.
Hannah stopped and looked at Alex. “You’ve had a really long night. You should go home. I’ve got to do this tonight, though. Considering what happened earlier, I don’t think this will wait.”
“Fine, I’m coming with you,” Alex said. “But you know the house is like a crime scene or something now.”
“I know,” Hannah said.
“What are we—”
“I’ll tell you when we get there.”
Hannah drove through the snow to Mrs. Mumford’s house. By the light of the headlights, she could see that a line of yellow police tape now cordoned off the front yard.
“I told you,” Alex said.
Hannah got out of the car and hurried up to the front door. Alex quickly followed her.
The key was once again under the frog where it had been earlier in the evening. She unlocked the door and went in.
Alex followed, switching on the lights.
“I see they got the power back on,” he commented.
Hannah shut the door and then rushed over to pick up a piece of paper that was lying on the floor. She read it over quickly.
“Now that we’re here, you mind telling me what’s going on?” Alex asked.
Hannah turned as Alex came up beside her.
“I was right,” she said.
“About?” Alex said.
“The recipe,” Hannah said excitedly. “The answer is right here. Mrs. Mumford literally spelled it out.”
She pushed the recipe into Alex’s hands, and he glanced over it.
“I don’t get it,” he said.
“Read out the first letter of each line,” Hannah said.
Alex looked down at the recipe again.
“‘W,’” he said, “‘A,’‘L,’‘L.’”
He looked up at Hannah. “Wall?”
“Yes, ‘wall,’” Hannah said excitedly. “And then Mrs. Mumford tried to send the message again through the last fortune cookie.”
Alex frowned. “She sent you a message about a wall?”
“Not so much the wall,” Hannah continued. “But the wallpaper. It’s snowflakes. And it’s new. Mrs. Mumford put it up just before she died. Here, I’ll show you.”
Hannah grabbed Alex by the arm and pulled him into the kitchen. She switched on the light.
Alex squinted at the wallpaper. “It’s new? It’s kind of lumpy, isn’t it?’
“Yes, exactly,” Hannah said.
“I’m not following.”
“The last fortune cookie message said ‘when the snow comes,’ and I thought that was referring to actual snow,” Hannah said. “But it wasn’t. Or actually it may have been both. But the really important snow is right here on the wall.”
“You mean the snowflake pattern on the wallpaper?” Alex said.
“Yes,” Hannah replied.
“And how is it important?”
“Because it’s a covering,” Hannah said. “I realized how important it was when you said the bullets were in the wall.”
“Still not following.”
“The bullets are in the wall,” Hannah said. “And so is the money. It’s behind the wallpaper. She did it herself.”
“Let me get this straight,” Alex said. “You’re saying Mrs. Mumford put four million dollars in the wall and then covered it over with wallpaper?”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “And that’s why it’s lumpy. And that’s also why she was so proud of herself when she was telling me about it the last day I was here. I knew it was something simple.”
“So what do we do?”
“We get the wallpaper off,” Hannah said, heading for the kitchen counter.
“And how do we do that?” Alex asked.
“With a knife,” Hannah said, opening a drawer.
“Wait,” Alex said. “Why don’t you just tell your theory to the police or whoever and let them take care of it. We shouldn’t be here as it is—you don’t want to go tearing up the house, too.”
Hannah approached the wall with a small serrated steak knife.
“I don’t think we can wait.”
“Because Lisa and Jonah were just here with a gun looking for the money.”
“You think they’re going to escape and come back here?” Alex asked.
“No,” Hannah said. “It’s just that they knew about the money, and if they knew about it, then some other people might know about it and come looking for it, too. The sooner the money’s in safe hands, the better.”
“And that’s an excuse for vandalism?”
“We’ll be forgiven if we find the money,” Hannah said. “I’m going to start where the wallpaper is lumpiest.”
She ran a hand over the wall and then got to work.
As Alex watched, Hannah scored the wallpaper several times with the knife and began ripping off large swaths of the snowflake-printed paper.
“This can’t be good,” Alex mumbled into his hand.
“What was that?” Hannah asked.
“Nothing,” Alex said.
After a moment, a larger-than-usual section of wallpaper gave way and with it came a cascade of little objects.
One of the objects bounced on the floor and rolled to a stop at Alex’s feet. He stooped to pick it up.
Hannah paused in her work. “What is it?”
“It’s money, all right,” Alex said. “It’s a whole penny. And it’s none too shiny at that.”
He bent down to pick up the other coins that had fallen.
“It’s a collection of pennies and nickels,” Alex said.
“But it can’t be,” Hannah said.
“There isn’t even so much as a quarter here,” Alex replied. “See for yourself.”
He held out one of the coins, and Hannah took it.
In her hands she held a nickel with a ‘V’ on the back. On the front was a woman surrounded by stars. On her head was a crown that read ‘liberty’ and beneath her was a date.
“It says 1913,” Hannah said.
“So it’s a really old coin,” Alex said surveying the ripped up wallpaper. “Are we done here?”
“I think we are,” Hannah said.
On Sunday, both of Hannah’s parents returned home, and they were understandably appalled by what had happened in their absence.
On Monday, Hannah stopped by Mr. Schaal’s office and gave him the handful of coins she had collected from Mrs. Mumford’s house.
On Tuesday, he gave her a call.
“Thanks for stopping by my office yesterday,” Mr. Schaal said.
“You’re welcome,” Hannah replied.
“It’s a funny thing about old coins,” Mr. Schaal said. “Sometimes they can go for a lot of money at auctions. If I can believe what I’ve read online, pennies like the ones you gave me have been sold at auction for as much as eighty thousand dollars.”
“Wow,” Hannah said.
“But the real prize here could be one of the nickels. There’s one with a woman on the face wearing a crown that says ‘liberty.’ The date on it is 1913.”
“I remember seeing that one,” Hannah said.
“Well, it turns out that this is very likely to be a 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel. There are only five known to exist in the world. One of these sold at auction for a little over four million dollars.”
“Wow,” Hannah said again. “Mrs. Mumford did like her auctions.”
“Of course, such a thing would need to be authenticated and appraised. And of course it’s not actually worth anything until it sells.”
“That makes sense,” Hannah said.
“Ordinarily, something like this would have to go through probate. And that would make it eligible to be named in a lawsuit if Lisa and Jonah find themselves in a position to sue. After all, we don’t know how Lisa and Jonah’s current legal troubles will play out.”
“Oh,” Hannah said.
“But, seeing as this is just a handful of coins at the moment, and seeing as the house and all its effects go to the library, I don’t see why I can’t just give them the coins right now. You did say you found them in the wall, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Hannah said.
“Well, then, in that case, I propose that I turn the coins over to the library immediately, and they can then sell them—or not, as they see fit. What do you think? I wanted to check with you before I did anything.”
Hannah thought she could hear a smile in Mr. Schaal’s voice. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
“I thought you might,” Mr. Schaal said. “In that case, I will take these over to the library tonight. I’ll make sure the director gets them. Thanks, Hannah. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Schaal.”
Several weeks passed, and Hannah eventually forgot about the coins.
Then she received a phone call one Saturday.
“Hello, Hannah,” said the voice on the other end. “This is James Whittaker. I’m the director of the Hollyhock Public Library.”
“Hello,” Hannah said.
“I understand that we have you to thank for our receiving the 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel.”
“Mrs. Mumford’s really the one who gave you the nickel,” Hannah said. “I just found it. And my friend Alex helped a lot.”
“Quite so, quite so,” Mr. Whittaker said. “But we’re grateful all the same. And because of this, we thought you might like to see what we’re planning to do.”
“Sure, I’d love to,” Hannah said.
“Excellent,” Mr. Whittaker said. “Would you be free to stop by the library tomorrow at two o’clock? And please bring your friend along if he’s available.”
“Yeah, sure,” Hannah said. “Okay.”
“We’ll see you then. And thanks again.”
Sunday afternoon found Hannah and Alex climbing up the three short steps to the Hollyhock Public Library, and a few moments later, they were greeted by Mr. Whittaker, who’d been waiting for them in the lobby.
“Thank you very much for coming, Hannah, Alex,” Mr. Whittaker said, shaking hands with each of them in turn. “Please come this way.”
He led them to a display case that was about waist high and covered with a purple cloth.
Mr. Whittaker cleared his throat. “We’re not big on ceremony here at HPL, but in light of what the two of you have done for us—recovering valuable property that was left to us by our late esteemed patron, Mrs. Mumford—we would like you to have these certificates.”
From a folder in his hands, Mr. Whittaker produced two pieces of paper bordered with laurel leaves. He gave one to Hannah and one to Alex.
Hannah looked hers over. It had her name, and then underneath it said ‘for valuable services rendered to the library and the community.’
“We’ve had the items appraised,” Mr. Whittaker said. “And they are indeed as valuable as Mrs. Mumford’s attorney believed. Or, at least, they will be if they are sold at auction. The items should bring in nearly five million dollars.”
“So what will you do with the money?” Alex asked. “I bet you could build a really nice library with that.”
“Well, that’s just the thing,” Mr. Whittaker said. “We’ve got a generous community here. And our patrons, including Mrs. Mumford, who will be sorely missed, have always supported us well above and beyond anything we could wish for. There really isn’t anything we need at this time.”
“So then what will you do?” Hannah asked.
“It seems to me,” Mr. Whittaker said, “that what Mrs. Mumford gave us is a valuable thing—a special thing. All of the coins are rare. But that one in particular—the Liberty Head Nickel—is especially rare. There are only five of them in the whole world. It would be a shame to trade away something as special as that—it’s something few people get to see.”
Mr. Whittaker was quiet for a moment and then glanced at the two of them.
“So what we’ve decided to do is to keep the coins here on display for the entire community—sort of here in trust. That way they can be enjoyed by everybody. And then of course, if there are darker times ahead when we lose funding and we need to sell the coins, well then, we’ll have them.”
Mr. Whittaker pulled off the purple cloth to reveal a glass case with all the coins from Mrs. Mumford’s house neatly arranged on a black background. Underneath each coin was a little placard describing the coin, its origin, and its rarity. And at the bottom of the case was a sign with gold letters:
Anna P. Mumford Memorial Fund
In case of emergency, break glass.
Thanks very much for reading!
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