By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction  The Happy Store – The Mystery of the Missing Wallet

Clementine puts on her Sherlock hat in her 32nd adventure at The Happy Store.

 

With very few exceptions, The Happy Store’s customers are conventional. They dress nicely in go-to-the-office clothes, and they have perfect hair, makeup and nails. Even male shoppers (often husbands) look as if they are on their way to play golf or buy yachts after negotiating million dollar deals. For the most part, they are also kindly people with benevolent dispositions. But their worlds do not include house parties to which pretty girls are invited that have tattoos on their arms, backs, necks, or wrists.

Which is why, after her wallet went missing, Mrs. Olivia Pembroke – fiftyish with silver blonde hair, a patrician nose, and a personal-trainer body – did not hesitate to cast an accusatory eye on Terry Stitz and Lynette Williams, who worked part-time on delivery days and helped to unload the truck.

Terry was nineteen-years-old, tall and thin with lank blonde hair and watery blue eyes. Having spent her senior year at the American Academy of Delinquent Dissipation, she did not finish high school. But she soon saw the error of her ways, entered a twelve-step program, and to celebrate her sixth month of sobriety, decided to get an image of Bugs Bunny tattooed on her upper right arm.

Lynette, also nineteen, was short and plump with acorn-brown skin and sparkling gold eyes. After she was accepted in college, she had a purple iris tattooed over her left wrist. If anyone asked her “Why an iris?” she answered that “in the Language of Flowers, the iris signifies wisdom.”

When Lynette was not unloading trucks or attending night school, she met with Terry at the library to help her prepare for her General Education Development (GED) exam. Terry, with Lynette’s help, intended to get her high school diploma before the end of the year.

Everybody at The Happy Store liked both girls. They were honest and hard-working. When she had time, Athena Eliopoulis, the assistant manager, showed them how to work the cash registers at the checkout counter, and when Athena was unable to do so, Betty Davis and Clementine Fraile pitched in.

Walter Graybill, the store manager, knew the lyrics to every song ever written, and he always sang along to the music being piped into the stockroom. Sometimes Lynette sang, too. Terry was much too shy to sing, but she often hummed as she opened cartons and unpacked pillar candles, ornamental vases, metal pelicans, and small boxes covered with sequins and fake pearls.

That morning, Clementine and Athena were occupied elsewhere when Mrs. Pembroke walked in.

To clear up any misconceptions, Olivia Pembroke was not born with a malevolent disposition. If it were possible to scan her body with a cruelty-detector (the spiritual equivalent of an MRI), the composition of her soul would reveal 95 percent “compassion” and five percent “other.”

In fact, she was a very nice woman. She over-tipped waitresses, paid her cleaning lady on the books so that the woman would get social security, and belonged to a tennis club that anyone could join.

However, that five percent of “other” proved problematical, as it allowed for occasional spates of intolerance and … yep. Let’s face it … prejudice. Olivia was far too civilized to discriminate against someone because of his race or religion. But if an individual offended her sense of style or propriety, her blue eyes would ice over and her jaw would clench.

Men who wore their pants so low that their butt cheeks showed a crack were “savages.”

Teens who purchased jeans with holes in the knees or painted their fingernails black were “contemptible.”

And women who disfigured her bodies with tattoos – how could one do that to smooth and beautiful skin? – were “depraved” and “disgraceful.”

Nonetheless, until the day that she lost her wallet, Mrs. Pembroke was a pleasant enough customer at The Happy Store, popping in once a week to buy a pillow, a birthday present, or a faux potted plant.

It was particularly busy in the showroom on that morning, though, as Clementine was assisting a new homeowner to pick upholstery for six dining room chairs, and Athena was helping a wedding planner to find twenty ornate white lanterns for centerpieces at an elaborate reception.

Which left nobody to man the cash registers and wrap customer purchase except Terry, with Bugs Bunny tattooed to her right arm, and Lynette, with a purple iris tattooed to her left.

Although the girls were a little disheveled from unloading a huge truck, they wore clean red Happy Store aprons over T-shirts and (untorn) blue jeans. Neither had black polish on her nails.

Nor was Mrs. Olivia Pembroke in a bad mood.

At least, not at first.

Terry rang up the woman’s purchases - 14 pastel striped cloth napkins, 8 cobalt blue water glasses, and one white ceramic serving bowl - while Lynette wrapped and bagged. However, after Terry asked “Cash or charge?” and Mrs. Pembroke began to search through her purse for her wallet, things got ugly. Fast.

Mrs. Pembroke said uncertainly, “I was sure I put it here on the counter.”

So Terry scrutinized the space behind the cash register to see if the wallet had slid in there, and when she leaned forward, Mrs. Pembroke noticed the Bugs Bunny tattoo on her arm. And when Lynette walked around to counter to do a grid-search for the wallet with her eyes, she bent to examine a suspicious shadow under a chair, and Mrs. Pembroke saw the tattoo of an iris on her wrist.

Suddenly, the older woman’s lips compressed. She stabbed at the air with a rigid forefinger like Emile Zola about to proclaim j'accuse,” and announced, “My wallet was right here.   And now it’s gone.”

She straightened her whippet thin body, narrowed her ice blue eyes, and added, “I want to speak to the store manager.”

Terry began to shake. Head to foot, like a rag doll standing on a vibrating machine. But Lynette remained calm. She said, reasonably, "Have you checked inside your purse?”

Olivia Pembroke bristled. She opened her purse, lifted it high in the air, and abruptly turned in upside down. Lipstick, a mirror, a cell phone, keys, and half a dozen more this and that cascaded onto the counter.

But no wallet.

“Store manager,” Olivia repeated coldly. “NOW!”

Whereupon Lynette took a gulp of air, turned, and ran to the stockroom.

Meanwhile Athena, who had learned from Walter how to hear things whispered three rooms away and see things occurring behind her back, told the wedding planner – “I’ll be right back” – and hurried to Terry’s and Lynette’s aid.

Clementine, also aware of the altercation at the cash register, gave her customer a thick pile of fabric samples to examine, excused herself, and moved toward the front of the store, her eyes all the while searching the floor. She continued out the front doors. She walked up the sidewalk to Grandpa Moe’s Sweet Shop, down the sidewalk toward the street, and then into the parking lot where, after just two minutes, she located a bulging leather rectangle about the size of a wallet on the ground beside a silver Lexus.

She bent to pick it up.

By the time she returned to the checkout counter, tears were streaming down Terry’s cheeks and Lynette, who was normally self-possessed and unflappable, had begun to hyperventilate. Athena put one arm around each girl, and with the self-possession of the goddess that Clementine believed her to be, she calmly led the two girls out of the room.

Then our favorite sales associate crept up to Walter. His attention, as always, was on the customer. He was saying to Olivia Pembroke, “And as soon as we find it…”

Clementine hissed. “Psst.”

Her boss did not turn. “…we will contact you, and…”

Clementine shouted, “Walter!” Then, not waiting for a response, she bellowed, “Is this what you’re looking for?” And she dropped the wallet on the counter in the middle of their irate customer’s purse debris.

Mrs. Pembroke’s gasped. She grabbed the wallet, flipped it open, and began to count the money. “Where did you find this?” She snapped without looking up.

Clementine asked, “Do you drive a silver Lexus?”

Olivia raised her head. “Yes. That’s my car.”

“Well,” Clementine leaned against the counter. “Your wallet was on the ground, just outside its door.”

At which point, the 95 percent compassion that comprised most of Mrs. Pembroke’s soul kicked in. Indignation vanished from her face and her blue eyes melted. Shaking her head with disapproval, but this time of herself, she asked Walter if she could please, please, please apologize “to the two young women whom I have treated so badly.”

Walter responded that she could not, because, Athena had already sent them home.

The next day, a huge bouquet of chocolate dipped edible flowers was delivered to The Happy Store to the attention of Miss Terry Stitz and Miss Lynette Williams. It was accompanied by a hand-written note that said: “Please forgive my unforgivable behavior,” and signed Olivia Pembroke.

However, clearly unable to resist, Olivia had also paper clipped a business card to the note advising:

 

MIDDLE VALLEY PLASTIC SURGERY ASSOCIATES

POWERFUL LASER SOLUTIONS

FOR REMOVING TATTOOS

 

 

Copyright © 2020, Shelly Reuben - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com