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A Time To Every Purpose XVIII
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter XVIII

As it turned out, Miranda had no intention whatsoever of asking me to sleep in what had been her husband's room. I was relieved when she sent me upstairs to a room at the other end of the house. It was just as small as the room whose closet had contained the pens and cartons, but it had more windows, allowing for a cross-breeze, so it felt less stuffy and claustrophobic.
I expected to have difficulty sleeping because I was worried about Betsy, but as soon as my head hit the pillow on the bed I'd made up, I was out. I know I dreamed of fountain pens that night. A lapis blue Duofold Senior featured importantly in my dream, but upon awakening at the all together reasonable hour of six-thirty in the morning, only the bright image of the pen remained in my memory. I smiled as I washed, brushed my teeth, dressed and wandered downstairs to find some coffee and breakfast.
The pot of coffee that Morris had brewed the night before was on the kitchen counter, half-full, but I was not the least bit tempted by it. I looked around, found ground coffee and even some beans and a grinder. It would have been simpler to use the ground coffee, but I had urge to grind my own fresh, so I did. Then I cleaned the pot and started the coffee brewing. Whistling softly to myself, I dug out some bread and butter and looked for a toaster. I found a toaster oven instead and decided that would do. After toast and coffee I'd phone Betsy, I thought. Although her medications disrupted her normal sleep rhythms and either made her insomniac or drowsy, depending on which dosage of which drug she was taking, I felt sure she wouldn't mind hearing from me early since we hadn't connected at night.
I was enjoying the quiet of the large house and the smell of toast and coffee when a voice it took me only a moment to identify called out, "What? Are you still here?"
I turned to see Mrs. Privett pushing her way into the house through the kitchen door. At that moment, the smell of toasting bread turned into the smell of burning bread and I quickly turned off the toaster oven and extracted my breakfast before it was burned beyond edibility.
"Good morning, Mrs. Privett," I said politely as I scratched a few black spots from one slice of toast. "It's nice to see you too this lovely morning."
She just snorted. "I'd have thought you'd have long been on your way."
"With your cellular phone?" I inquired innocently. "Miss Carswell would never do that."
"Well, for all I knew she could have left it here with old Mrs. Clegg," she replied with a sharp jerk of her head that caused her wig to list slightly to the right. Today she was attired in a black and yellow mumu with a verdant green shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her footwear was a pair of hot pink moccasins with little red bows on them.
"Why do you call Miranda old Mrs. Clegg?" I asked in as innocent a tone as I could. "I doubt that she's much older than you are, if she is, in fact, any older at all." I looked at her appraisingly. "How did you get in here anyway? That door was locked."
She flared her nostrils at me. "I've no time to be jawing with you. Ellen sent me over to pick up a few of her things." She waved a key at me. "Gave me her key, she did. She's going out west with Kevin on the next leg of his trip."
"Really? And are they leaving right now? Is that why she needs her things before seven in the morning?"
"Don't be ridiculous! They can't leave until the child is well enough."
"Oh, are they taking Needles with them then?"
She looked at me as if I were insane. "What the heck else would they do with her?"
I just smiled, amused at her sudden avoidance of the word "hell," and she stalked past me into the hallway. I heard her footsteps going heavily up the stairs despite the moccasins.
My toast was quickly getting cold and the coffee pot had turned itself off without my noticing. I poured myself a cup and sat down at the table to enjoy my breakfast. Somehow, though, it no longer seemed so enjoyable, so I gulped it down and took my dish, cup and knife to the sink, where I washed them carefully, dried them, and replaced them where I'd found them. I put the bread and butter away and gave the table a quick wipe. Then I headed off to phone Betsy.
I knew there was a phone in the room where Miranda slept, but I certainly had no intention of using it. The phone in the room right next to it, however, the room we'd occupied for so much of the previous day had a phone in it as well. I remembered that it was mounted on a wall that abutted on Miranda's bedroom, but I was sure the phone was portable. If I spoke at the other end of the room, perhaps my voice wouldn't carry so much that it would wake Miranda. I remembered her tale of how Morris had overheard her argument with Martin and wondered exactly how softly I'd have to speak to avoid disturbing her.
I didn't get a chance to find out right away, for when I walked into the room, Mrs. P. was already there. I didn't know how I'd missed hearing her tromp down the stairs, but I had. Perhaps the water running while I washed up had blocked out her footsteps. She was standing over the box Anita had left on the table and removing the pens methodically into a large orange tote bag. I hadn't noticed the tote bag when she came in. If it had been visible, I surely would have. It was fluorescent and it sported a large silhouette of Mighty Mouse.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, walking towards her and taking the tote bag out of her hand.
"You give that back, you thief," she hissed at me. "I'm collecting Ellen's pens just like she told me to do. Those belonged to her father, and she wants them now."
"They belong to Miranda Clegg," I replied. "Though not the tote bag, I'm sure," I added, removing the pens and replacing them in their box. I handed her the tote bag. "If Ellen wants those pens, she'll have to ask her mother for them. You can't just walk in here and take them."
"And just who are you to tell me what I can and can't do?" she hissed again. "You don't even belong in this town."
"I'm someone who just caught you in the act of taking something that doesn't belong to you," I replied.
"They belong to Ellen," she insisted. "I'm just getting her what's hers."
Rather than arguing the ownership of the pens, I took another tack. "And why should I believe you?" I demanded. "Maybe Ellen told you about the pens and you decided to steal them."
She stared at me, affronted. "Are you calling me a thief?"
"You called me one, and I wasn't trying to walk off with someone else's property."
Our voices had gotten progressively louder, but I didn't care if Miranda woke up. Let her come and deal with this. It really wasn't my business. I just hated the idea of the pens going to Ellen and her lout of a husband. Especially since Anita and Miranda had pretty much agreed to Anita's purchase of the Waterman 58.
"You have no rights here, Mister," she barked. "Ever since you got here, you've done nothing by get in my way."
"Well, I'm so sorry about that," I gave my sarcasm free reign.
"No, you're not," she said, "but you will be when Kevin finishes with you." And with those words, she turned on her heel and walked back to the kitchen. I heard the kitchen door slam behind her. It was at that moment that I realized I had company. Anita had entered the room.
"What was that?" she asked me, looking sleepy and disgruntled. "Miranda and I didn't get to bed until close to three. I hope you haven't awakened her."
My first impulse was to become defensive at her accusing tone, but I am proud to say that I didn't. Instead, looking at her tired face, I grinned and said, "Go get yourself some coffee. I made a fresh pot. There's bread in the cupboard over the toaster oven, so you can make yourself some toast too. Then come back here and I'll tell you about it. First I need to call Betsy though."
I was surprised to see Anita make her way to the kitchen. She was rarely so compliant. When I dialed my home number, I got a busy signal. That was unusual at such an early hour, but at least it indicated that someone was home, which was a relief. I put the phone back on the wall and sat down at the table holding the box of pens. Anita joined me a few moments later.
"Well?" she demanded, as she placed her cup on the table.
"You didn't make yourself any toast," I said.
"I'm quite aware of that, Robert. I don't want toast. I want one of those lovely pastries Mr. Diamant promised me when I spoke with him last night. We're going to meet him at nine."
She smirked. "First you tell me what the noise was about and then I'll fill you in on what happened after you went to bed."
I told Anita about finding Mrs. P. loading the pens into her Mighty Mouse tote. I resisted the almost overwhelming urge to taunt Anita about her having befriended and defended Mrs. P. Anita looked very serious.
"You did well to catch her, Bob," she said. "If she'd managed to get out of the house with them, I'd have had a hell of a time getting them back, I'm sure."
She nodded. "Yes, I bought them all from Miranda."
"You bought them all from Miranda," I repeated.
"That's what I said."
"How…Why…What were you thinking?" I asked.
She grinned at me. "I was thinking I wanted them and Miranda wanted to get rid of them. So I phoned Mr. Diamant and explained the situation to him. He agreed to find a buyer for the pens I brought with me and for a few more that I described to him. He'll be visiting me two weeks after the pen show."
I shook my head. "I told you he was sweet on you."
She snorted. "Don't be ridiculous!"
I folded my arms over my chest. "I'm not being ridiculous. I'm a guy, remember? I know when guy is interested in a woman, and he's interested."
Anita shook her head and changed the subject. "Did you talk with Betsy?"
I shook my head in response. "The line was busy."
"At seven-ten in the morning?"
"Yeah, it seemed odd to me too. But at least someone was home."
Anita shrugged. "Well, go try again!" she ordered me.
The line was busy again. Or still. I sat down again next to Anita. "Do you think we'll really get out of here today?" I asked her.
She looked at me sharply, but when she saw that I wasn't trying to pick a fight, she relaxed. "I certainly hope so," she answered. "I really and truly hope so."

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