General Fiction posted January 17, 2024 Chapters:  ...21 22 -23- 24... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Miranda gets two surprises.

A chapter in the book Miranda's Trouble In Paradise

Another Call


Miranda Jessup Buckley has decided to find out what happened to Dougie Wilcox.
So far, Miranda has persuaded Mitch into helping her find out what happened to Dougie Wilcox. She has a sleepless night and tells Carrie Tate, her therapist, that Dougie called her.


Rita is swamped when I walk in. A tour bus from Northern Virginia has taken up most of our parking lot. I see a swarm of silver and gray moving around the store. There must be forty senior citizens milling about. There are five women standing by the bathroom door.

"You work here?" A balding man, doused in Old Spice cologne grabs my arm as I'm about to round the corner to help Rita.

"In four minutes I do," I say, gently pulling my arm free.

"I used to come here as a kid. There was only three stores in Patterson. And they had a sign at the edge of town 'Welcome to the town of Patterson. Be courteous," he pauses long enough to wink at me. "And no coloreds after sundown'." He throws his head back and laughs.

"Well, now, isn't that something." I've never heard that before, and quite frankly, could have lived my life quite happily without knowing it.

"Times were simple then," he says reaching for my arm again.

I step back. "Is there something I can help you with?"

He leers, his tongue darts out against his lips. "Now we're talking."

I swallow the bile that creeps up into my throat. "Okay, Hugh Hefner, you are barking up the wrong tree. Why don't you move along and let me get to work."

His fingers run across his thinning hair. "I like you, girlie. You've got spunk."

"I got herpes, too, but I don't go around sharing it with everyone. Now hit the bricks."

He shuffles off, his attention moving to a group of senior women."

Rita shakes her head. "Herpes?"

"Hey, it worked, didn't it?" I laugh as she nods towards the door. "He's back."

I look over. Mr. Starling is walking into the store. "He blends right in," I mumble. "I don't think he's seen me. I'm going to run to the office for a few. If he asks for me, tell him I had to run out for a while."

I slip out, weaving between tourists. I step into the office and quickly close the door. I watch the monitors. Mr. Starling looking down each aisle. Looking for me. I can't do this today. I'm not Dougie. I'm not, in any way, shape or form, a part of what Dougie did. He approaches Rita, she shakes her head. Slowly, he shuffles back to the door and leaves. I watch him make his way to his car and he climbs in. But, he doesn't leave. Just sits in his car, watching the store.

I've had enough. I'm not someone who hides. Hiding draws things out. It makes you look like you're guilty. Makes you look scared. I'm none of those things.

I leave the security of the office, move through the sea of oldies and march out to his car.

"Oh, good, Miranda. I just came in to see you. The young lady told me you were out running errands. Tsk, tsk. I don't like liars."

"Mr. Starling, you cannot just drop by anytime you want. This is a place of business. My job, my livelihood is at stake."

He smiles, as if I've been asking him how he is doing. "Tell that young lady I don't care for liars, will you do that?" He puts his car in reverse and slowly backs up.

I step back on the curb, my heart hammering in my chest. I turn around and barely get two feet in the store before that old geezer grabs my hand and starts trying to tango with me. "Back off, Fred Astair. I've got one nerve left and you are on it."

He blanches before shrinking back.

Rita looks over, her eyes wide with surprise. "What happened? "

"Remember that comment you made about Mr. Starling? About a bad feeling?"

She nods.

"I think you're right. There is something very dark about him."

"Call Mitch."

"No. He'll think I'm being silly. I think I can handle an eighty five year old man."

Rita nudges me. "Speak of the devil."

Mitch walks through the double doors, and I swear, in my mind, it's in slow motion. His aviators hiding his gorgeous eyes and a half smile turning his lips.

"Are you here to arrest someone?" I tease. The tension melts as he comes over to lean on the counter.

"Who do I need to arrest?" he asks, pulling his glasses down far enough to peer over them. "Looks like a rough crowd."

I search for the handsy old guy. "That old fart by the sunglass rack, for one."

"What'd he do?"

"He took a shine to Miranda," Rita says.

Mitch frowns. "Sounds like he needs a commendation for good taste, to me."

"Not funny." I fold my arms across my chest.

"Want me to rough him up?"

"I'm glad you find this funny." I sigh heavily for effect but Mitch and Rita laugh it off.

"I came by because I did a research on Mr. Alvin Starling."

"He was just here. He creeps me out, Mitch. I feel like he holds me personally responsible for what Dougie might have done."

"He's a good law abiding citizen. No children. His wife, Laura, died of liver cancer almost two years ago."

I stop trying to do the math when he says the word cancer.

"He told me she died of a broken heart. She had cancer. It wasn't Dougie. Had nothing to do with him. Why would he try to put the blame on Dougie?"

"Grief does strange things to people. Maybe he just needs to blame someone." Mitch reaches over and cups my hand in between his. "I could pay him a little visit, would that make you feel better?"

"Maybe. Hopefully, he won't bother me anymore."

Mitch pushes his glasses back into position then nods at both Rita and me. "I'll swing by later. Call me if you need me."

Twenty minutes later the octogenarian bus was pulling out of the parking lot.

I pull a quarter from the register and flip it in the air. "Heads or tails?"

"Uh, tails, I guess. What are we flipping for?" Rita asks.

"Loser has to go clean the bathrooms."

Apparently, my luck continues to suck. I draw in one final lungful of good air before entering the women's restroom, and make a mental note to ask Matt for combat pay.

An hour later, as I'm dumping the mop water out back, Rita comes to the door.

"Miranda, phone."

"Who is it?" I ask, watching the dirty water roll down the pavement towards the grass.

"I don't know. They said it was urgent."

Hurriedly, I leave the bucket and run towards the door.

I grab the phone in the office. "Hello?" I say.

"Miranda, it's me. Don't hang up."


"I'm in deep shit, Babe. I'm in some real trouble."

I close my eyes. It's him. Dougie is alive.

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