Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 13

It was really only a matter of time before the search for Sylvia Meisner became more serious. Oh, not that folks haven’t been serious already, they are. They’re serious about a lot of things like taking care of all the visitors to Maple Valley that arrive, literally, by the trainload every day. They’re serious about making sure no one else in Maple Valley knows more about Sylvia than they do.

In spite of our many flaws, the folks in Maple Valley do really care about Sylvia and we wish her back. But with everything that has happened in town since she disappeared, I wonder what kind of place Sylvia would return to if she walked back into town today. There have been arguments with participants almost becoming physical. Rumors became gospel. Some close friends are distant because they don’t agree on what steps should be taken to bring Sylvia home. I don’t understand how they can argue about bringing her home when they don’t know where she is!

The Burthrap twins, Ver and Vee, were at it again yesterday, but this time Sheriff Terkinberry left them alone even though Nona Merthon called him four times while the twins were screaming at each other. Nona couldn’t tell the sheriff exactly what they were arguing about, she just assumed it was about Sylvia again. For all she knew, they might have been fighting about whose turn it was to do the dishes or clean the toilet.

Things have been pretty quiet at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe. Shorty and Hannah work very hard to keep up with all the patrons who come in on the Old General. It seems the first thing folks do is head for the cafe. Maple Valley has succeeded in creating a mystical sort of feeling that makes visitors want to stay, and staying always includes eating, or maybe just drinking coffee. I happen to believe Hannah Cloverton makes the best coffee anywhere in Kertok County.

The cafe is a favorite spot for townsfolk, too. It’s not very big, but then nothing in Maple Valley is. Except for the railroad. The cafe sits in the middle of town where it was built as a saloon in 1892. The saloon closed in 1907 and the Ya’ll Sit Cafe opened the following year. Shorty’s great grandfather, Morris Cloverton, was the first owner and cook. The Cloverton family has owned it ever since. The tables are square, seating four. There are three long tables with room for eight, and, oddly enough, those are the ones preferred by customers. The walls are a light blue, the curtains are red and white checkered. The floor is the original wood boards. The kitchen is not hidden in the back but is open for everyone to see. Shorty enjoys talking to patrons as he prepares their orders. Hannah waits on customers and pours coffee. A favorite among customers is Shorty’s pancakes and eggs breakfast. He doesn’t share his recipe with anyone. I eat breakfast at the cafe every Monday morning because it’s the best way to start the week.

You probably noticed Beulah Filden and Lulane Hilvertosh in the photo. The two seem to create trouble, or at least talk about trouble, wherever they go, and it’s not surprising they showed up at Sylvia Meisner’s house. (In case you don’t know, they’re the two are standing over on the left, and you can tell just by looking at them they’re gossiping. Beulah is wearing the red hat. Lulane is filling her ear to the brim.) Beulah hasn’t been seen outside much since she tried to pass a petition to postpone the start of tourist season. Maple Valley folks were pretty upset about that. Evidently, enough time has past so Lulane and Beulah are back to their old habits.

The news of the day and the reason so many people are standing around Sylvia’s house is Sheriff Terkinberry went to court in Kertok County for a search warrant so he could enter Sylvia’s home. While he would have preferred to keep that news quiet, search warrants are routinely published in the Kertok Weekly. The sheriff’s plan was known throughout Maple Valley before he had a chance to search the house. True to every characteristic of Maple Valley, folks were outside the house waiting to get the inside story before anyone else could.

Sheriff Terkinberry wasn’t surprised to find the front door of Sylvia’s house unlocked. Folks in Maple Valley don’t often lock their doors, but in this case the sheriff felt an intense concern. If Sylvia planned to be gone for a prolonged period of time, she certainly would not have left the door open. At first glance, nothing seemed to be out of order. Everything in the living room was undisturbed. A hardcover novel on a table caught the sheriff’s attention. He carefully picked up “Death Calls at Midnight,” by Shander Noffsin, and opened the front cover. Inside was written, “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” “Who is the special friend?” the sheriff thought, “and why was the book signed that way? Does special mean ‘secret?’ Does special mean ‘admirer?’ Does Sylvia know who this special person is, or was he or she a mystery? And why capitalize special friend?” The thoughts racing through Terkinberry’s head only made his job more difficult.

He walked into the kitchen and his concern increased. In the sink were several knives. It appeared they had been used and washed, dried, but then left in the sink. A folded towel was lying nearby. The sheriff noticed a plant on the window sill was beginning to wilt and thought it strange the plant was still alive when Sylvia has been missing for a month. He looked back into the living room and noticed another plant in the same condition. Still alive.

A feeling of dread crept over his body as the sheriff opened the refrigerator. He knew the contents would clearly reveal Sylvia’s intentions when she left home the last time. Inside was an unopened container of milk, some fruit, a small jar of jelly, and something very strange. Lying on the bottom shelf was what appeared to be a fresh rose, with a note beside it. “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” The dread the sheriff felt was turning to full alarm.

Sheriff Terkinberry climbed the stairs to examine the bedrooms. One bed was neatly made but with no pillows. The other bed was made but several pillows were piled up. He assumed, because of other furniture in the room the first was the main bedroom. Why did Sylvia have so many pillows piled up in the second bedroom?

The bathroom produced even more questions. The medicine cabinet was completely empty, which calmed the sheriff a little because Sylvia would have taken most of the items if she was going on a planned trip. The bathtub, however, caused more questions. It was filthy. It looked as if someone bathed a dog with a terrible shedding problem. He couldn’t explain it.

The place he dreaded the most was saved for last. Swallowed by the dark and wet basement, he stumbled over something as he tried to find the light. This was the first time since becoming sheriff Pete Terkinberry wished he had chosen another job.

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