Attired in a natty men's three-piece tan seersucker suit, George strutted into the tiny lobby area of the High Road Inn. She and Bess had decided that Nancy's next customer had better be a single person, preferably male. They did not want to set any too obvious pattern. So George's hair was slicked back on her head, almost like a 1950s pompadour. She wore the wire-rimmed spectacles that Bess's mother had fixed up for her when she had played Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman last year. In her breast pocket she carried a salesman's spiral notebook.
Seeing no one in the lobby or restaurant area, George impatiently pounded on the bell that perched on the reception desk. To her surprise it was not Nancy who emerged from the kitchen, but Mrs. White. The elderly lady seemed to be fairly crippled as she hobbled over to the desk.
"Yes?" the proprietress inquired rather impatiently.
"Is this place open?" George asked.
"Through the door you came, I would guess," countered the feisty ogress.
George felt somewhat discomfited by the fact that she was greeted by Mrs. White. Where was waitress Nancy?
"Do I seat myself?" George asked thinly, trying to recover her masculine poise.
"As you wish," said the lady dismissively. "In a minute with you I'll be."
That was not what George had expected to hear. She hesitantly seated herself at a table facing the kitchen door then waited impatiently for Mrs. White to reappear. From time to time, she looked over towards the phone booth on the back wall. George wondered if she should make an emergency call right away. She decided to wait a few minutes and to try to pump the old woman when she came to take the order. As the minutes ticked by and Mrs. White failed to reappear, George began to regret her decision. What if something was happening to Nancy right now? Every second could be vital if George were to orchestrate the rescue of the intrepid detective.
Mrs. White reemerged just as George had finally determined to get up and go to the phone booth. She adjusted herself ostentatiously in her seat to cover up her aborted intention.
"You all alone here?" inquired George casually.
"Why? To rob me you came here?" challenged the formidable waitress.
"No . . . of c-c-course not," sputtered George. "I just wondered how you manage all the tasks of a restaurant by yourself. You should have some help, especially with that leg."
"The likes of you I can manage serving, right enough. It isn't your business, how I does," reprimanded the surly hostess. "Are you ordering or just my time trying to waste?"
George gave up the interrogation as a bad job. She ordered a cup of coffee and a piece of blueberry pie with whipped cream. After the harridan had clumped off, George quickly rose from her seat and dashed over to the phone. Since the booth was not enclosed, she took her sales book out of her breast pocket, turned to a page where she had earlier written a series of scripts, and prepared to address Bess in code.
First she dialed Bess's fax number. That would cause a double ring, but no fax would appear. Bess would know to expect bad news. George counted ten, then punched in Bess's voice number. It was answered immediately.
"What's wrong?" said Bess breathlessly.
"Hello, is this the Statewide Express Package Desk?" inquired George, at the same time glancing over her shoulder. She seemed to be alone in the dining room, but couldn't be sure about the location of the shifty proprietress. She guessed that she had better keep up the coded chatter.
"I want to know what happened to the delivery I was supposed to receive at the Mill's Corner office. I was told it was going to be there today, but when I hiked over there, there was nothing. The clerk over there couldn't give me any information. No tracking. Nothing."
"Stay there," advised Bess. "Stall. Someone will be over soon to create a distraction. When you get the chance look around. Nancy's room is at the end of the back hall past the rest rooms. Maybe she is tied up in there! Be careful! And don't go in there until reinforcements arrive."
"Okay," answered the "salesman." "I'll come back tomorrow. But it had better be there this time. I hate making wasted trips. Next time I'll call the head office."
With this threat George hung up the phone. Turning, she started as she noticed Mrs. White, only a few yards away, laying out the coffee and dessert on her table. Muttering imprecations under her breath against the incompetence of package delivery services, salesman George made her way back to the beckoning spread.
She thanked her server, but Mrs. White limped away without any acknowledgment.
While sipping the coffee, which was really quite brackish and foul, George pretended to study her sales book. For verisimilitude, she made occasional arcane notations on the edges of the pages. She ate the pie absentmindedly. As a consequence she got indelible purple stains on her suit jacket, shirt, and tie. After fifteen minutes, which passed like hours, and during which time George memorized everything in her notebook, Mrs. White returned to collect the cup and dishes.
"Another cup of that excellent coffee, Madame," effused salesman George jovially. "I can't remember when I've ever had better. No, I'm certain that I've never tasted a better brew than this in all my life. I must have another."
The server looked at George dubiously. George wondered what thoughts were running through Mrs. White's mind behind those wizened and crafty eyes. Hopefully, she thought, Mrs. White just thinks I'm a cretin. With this in mind George threw in an additional idiotic grin. The proprietress shrugged and hobbled back for the requested refill. George hoped that, on her way back, the injured lady would spill some of the bitter-she suspected soapy-fluid, so that there would be less for her to have to ingest.
But it wasn't until George was halfway through her fourth cup that the "distraction" walked in the door. She didn't have to guess if it really was help on the way or just another hapless customer. For it was Carson Drew himself!
Drew did not spare a glance for the salesman nursing his coffee in the dining room. He walked straight up to the counter next to the cash register and rapped on the bell. When Mrs. White emerged Carson flashed a badge in her face.
"Officer Stanley, Secret Service."
The lady shrugged. "His majesty over there we already got," she said nodding her head towards George. "The President, too, she might as well come."
"Listen, sister," said the impatient lawyer, "you had better not be disrespectful about our President."
Mrs. White conceded that she had nothing against that august personage.
"I am here to ask you a few questions relating to some counterfeit money," Drew announced. The old lady, who had been cocky up to that moment, suddenly appeared to be at a loss.
"Don't worry, lady," Drew reassured in his best "good cop" manner. "We just want to help you. We have been advised that a shady couple traveled down this way a day or two back. An Indian couple, Asian Indians, at least they looked like Asians. But we have information that their real names are Derek and Sandra O'Malley and that they are quite desperate criminals. Did you see an Indian couple?"
"About two days ago, a dark man and a woman in here there was," conceded the proprietress. "I didn't know what nationality they were. Peculiar they acted. And just like Ronald Colman the guy sounded."
'That's him!" Drew exclaimed. "Did they pay with a large bill?"
"Can't say," answered the old lady with apparent honesty. "On the register then I wasn't."
"Is the money still in there?" pursued the bogus Treasury Agent.
"I suppose," she answered. "Much custom lately we haven't had."
"Open it up," commanded Drew. "I think I had better inspect all the money."
As the register was being opened, Carson Drew looked at George and gave her an impatient nod of the head. George quickly got up and made her way towards the gents.
"Nothing larger than a twenty," said Mrs. White in triumph. "Out of luck you are."
"Let me be the judge of that," responded Drew. "Just to be safe, I think I will check every bill that you have."
As Carson pulled out a large wad of ones the proprietress let out a long sigh that George could still hear as she strode down the back hall. George looked wistfully at each lavatory she passed, ladies and gents, the first three cups of coffee having made their way through her system into her bladder. But she realized that the opportunity provided by the lawyer's distraction would not last forever. She had to pursue her investigation right away.
Nancy's chamber, she knew, was right at the end of the hall. George opened the door without hesitating, entered, closed the door behind her, and flicked on the light. She looked around quickly. The room was entirely bare!
To all appearances the room looked like it had been unoccupied for some time. The bed was devoid of blankets and sheets. There were no objects lying about, not even a discarded lipstick or a crumpled receipt. She checked the drawers in the chest, but they were all empty. There was nothing but dust under the bed. The closet had only a gaggle of wire hangers. They were all covered in a faded paper, bearing the name "Crawford's Brite Cleaners."
George was about to leave when her sharp eyes spotted a series of marks low on the wall and just past the end of the bed. Looking closely she saw that they had been made with a finger nail. And the marks were just where you would expect them to be, had they been made by someone tied up and laid against the wall!
Tearing out a page from her sales book, the concerned girl quickly made a rubbing of the marks with her soft pencil. After pocketing the message, she extinguished the light and escaped back into the hall, carefully and silently closing the door behind her. She was relieved to hear the voices of Mr. Drew and Mrs. White in the distance.
After using the facilities in the men's room-and not merely for verisimilitude-George loudly flushed and then made her way to the register. The fake agent and the proprietress were still discussing the currency. Carson Drew held a ten dollar bill in his hand and was pointing out anomalies in the engraving.
"Do you see this blob at the base of the Masonic pyramid?" he asked. "On a genuine bill it would be crisp and neat."
The lady was skeptical. "Sherlock, look. A ten-dollar bill from my purse this is. That same blob it has. That blob they all have. With any of this money nothing wrong there is."
"That bill is counterfeit too! Anything with the blob is counterfeit!" shouted Drew.
"But this one at the bank I got!" protested Mrs. White.
"The O'Malleys must have visited the bank too," claimed the sly lawyer. Mrs. White did not answer and Drew thought it a bad sign. His act was evidently running on too long. If he had not already done so, he was on the verge of making a mistake.
Just then George, who was waiting behind the proprietress, tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Ma'am, if you please, I'd like to pay my bill."
While the old lady processed the transaction Drew worked out an exit strategy. As George walked out the front door he conceded that the blob on the ten-dollar bill perhaps was not as pronounced as he had thought at first. He was not absolutely sure that it was counterfeit. Just to make sure, however, he would need to make a photograph to take back to the Treasury Office. He pulled out what appeared to be a tiny spy camera (it was really a refrigerator magnet) and ostentatiously postured with it, leaning over the bill which he had draped on the counter. Fortunately the magnet made a quite satisfactory clicking noise.
"That's it," he announced. "I won't have to bother you any more-for the time being. Sequester the tens until late tomorrow. If it turns out to be bogus, I'll be back. If you don't hear from me in twenty-four hours, feel free to circulate the tens."
As Carson was extricating himself from Mrs. White's presence, George was driving around the bend just down the road. When she was satisfied that she was out of sight of the High Road Inn, she pulled over to the side and got out. She crossed the road and located the marker that she had been told to expect. From that point she walked directly into the woods for twenty paces and found a small clearing surrounded by low shrubs. She had been instructed that this was the place where the detective who was disguised as a hobo was camping out. George was prepared to be angry at this man, for Nancy had clearly been abducted right under his eyes and he had made no effort to intervene!
But there was no one there. George found the campfire quite cold. She pushed aside some bushes, hoping to find him lurking there. It took only a minute to ascertain that there was no one anywhere around. Angrily George kicked at a rock laying in the clearing. As it rolled over she noticed what appeared to be a dark stain. She then picked it up and inspected it closely. Blood!