Reading a Facebook page called “Forsyth – Then and Now” has caused plenty of reminiscing. Looking at old photos posted and reading the comments, making many myself. It has all stirred lots of memories and has been a pleasant diversion. It also got my creative juices flowing!
I love to write. I always thought I might write a novel someday. I read somewhere once though that a novelist is just a “failed short-story writer!” I liked that. That suits me just fine. I have several short stories on this blog now. Here’s another one!
It is what you would call historical fiction. I made the main story up but based it on some real places, people, and events. The story takes place in 1967 Forsyth, Illinois – my hometown. It’s a crime mystery. Though the main plot is a work of fiction, much of the story is based on truth.
For instance, the main characters were my family members, and the places and locations were real. The names have been changed to protect the innocent though – and maybe even the guilty! Grandma’s name was Effie – for real, not as a nickname like in the story. Hobos rode the rails back then and we did find a campsite along the tracks.
My Granddad really did fall asleep with a lit cigar and burned a hole in a living room chair. He did eventually get sick and had to live in a nursing home in Decatur gradually losing control of his faculties, as they say. Grandma did keep the store going for a while and we did all try to help her. I worked in the store sometimes and my older brother Mark, younger sister Cinda Kay, and I took turns sleeping over.
Granddad did have a stash of old coins – a five-gallon bucket full of old pennies and a jar of Indian head pennies worth quite a bit more than face value. In truth, they were stashed on the back porch out of sight and as his mind began to get bad, he believed people were out to steal his coins, though there was never a real attempt like in my story. However, the incident with Grandma and the would-be burglar at the window really happened!
Forsyth didn’t have their own police force back then and did have to rely on county and state law enforcement. Rumor mills in small towns have always been fact!
I did watch Perry Mason reruns with Dad late at night and have always liked solving mysteries, puzzles, and such. So, yes, I am the hero of this story. Hey, it’s my story. If you want to be a hero – write your own story! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading a little about life in Forsyth in the sixties with a little murder thrown in for good measure!
– Terry E. Walters
There was always something going on in the town of Forsyth, IL in the 1960s. Well, actually, there was hardly ever anything going on but the usual, so people made things happen out of sheer boredom. The sleepy village just north of Decatur boasted nearly five hundred people but was not much of a business mecca anymore. It was mostly a residential community, but it had what the folks needed to get by – a gas station, a lumber yard, its own post office, a grade school, a cabinet shop, a wholesale warehouse-style grocer, and a mom-and-pop grocery store. As far as Ted Walden was concerned, it was a “grandma and granddad” store. Walden’s Grocery Store was owned and operated by his grandparents and Ted lived next door.
His dad, Ralph “Buckey” Walden and his wife Felicia Ann were raising their four children next door to the store where Buckey had been raised. The store was in the front half of the old building on the corner and the residence was in the rear half and above the store. Wilton Halverson Walden and his wife Florence Elizabeth had raised five children there while running the grocery store, as well as an ice delivery service in days gone by.
Buckey bought the property next door north and built a house there to raise his four children in the same town where he had been raised. His oldest brother Harold lived across the street with his wife Marjorie Mae. Their two kids were married now and had left Forsyth. Buckey was 15 years younger than Harold. The next son older than Buckey had passed away in the early 1950s. The other brother and sister had moved away several years earlier. Most folks called Wilton “Bill,” but his wife called him by his initials W.H., which sounded like “Dubya H.” He returned the favor by calling her Effie (F.E.). The name Effie stuck and most everyone in town called her that. By the late sixties they were getting on in years and business was grinding to a halt. Wilton was no longer healthy, and his mind was starting to drift away from him. He eventually had to go to a nursing home in Decatur.
Effie tried to keep the store going for a while with the help of Buckey and his three older kids. Harold helped some, too, but the store’s days were numbered. Buckey’s three older kids, Mac, Ted, and Kay took turns spending the night with Grandma. She was a tough old bird and fearless, but everyone felt better if someone was with her through the night. You know, just in case.
It was on one of those nights in the fall of 1967 when the first of several things did happen in the sleepy little town of Forsyth that began a season of fear for the town. It was Mac’s turn to sleep over at Grandma’s but for some reason couldn’t and neither did anyone else, so Effie was alone that night.
There was an empty lot just north of the store that separated Buckey’s home from the store, the place he had grown up in. From the outside, one couldn’t tell where the store ended, and the residence began. All along the north side of the building was one long room inside and finally the bathroom in the northwest corner. The long room held Effie’s bed along the north wall by the first set of windows, then a living room space, followed by a dining area by the second set of windows. Then came the bathroom.
That particular night, Grandma was asleep in bed with her head not more than three feet from the windows. In the wee hours of the morning, Effie was startled awake by someone outside trying to pry open a window! She sat up in bed to stare right at the man, nearly face to face, and yelled! The man dropped the knife he was using to try to pry the window open and ran for the hills!
Effie rushed to the phone to call Buckey. He called Harold and rushed right over. All was well. The man had not gained entry to the house and Effie was just fine. Not scared – just mad!
Harold had called the county deputy and he and Buckey scouted the area for signs of the intruder. They found nothing but the knife which they left for the deputy to deal with. There was no local police protection in town, and it took time for a county patrol car to respond. He took Effie’s report and packaged up the knife for evidence but was unable to do much more. He was pretty sure there would be no prints or tangible evidence that would lead to an arrest. Everyone figured the man probably thought he was breaking into the store and was just as surprised as Effie when she sat up in bed and stared right at him!
It was the talk of the town for a few days, but things soon settled down. What the rest of the town did not know was that THAT was the second incident in less than two weeks! Only Effie, Buckey’s family, and Harold and Mae knew about the first one.
It was a couple of weeks before, after a couple of days of heavy fall rains, that it had happened. Grandma Effie was gone that afternoon with a couple from her church. The store was closed, the house was empty. Ted had been dispatched to go to the store for a grocery item or two, which happened a lot in those days. He discovered the incident or the evidence of it and ran back home to get his dad, who called his brother. Mac and Teddy accompanied their dad back to the store.
Absolutely no one but Effie, Harold and Mae, and Buckey’s family – not even Kay and Greg because they were too young – knew this! Bill had some old coins stashed in the bottom of a cabinet that sat along the west wall of the bathroom in their residence. Hundreds of coins- Indian head pennies, Buffalo and Indian Head nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and even some silver dollars! Several new ones, mostly old ones – some very old. It was a well-kept family secret that there even was such a stash, much less where it was kept.
What Ted saw when he entered the door to the back porch which led to the back door of the kitchen, was that the door was ajar and muddy footprints led through the house. Careful to avoid the smeared prints, Ted traced the smudges to the bathroom and back. Nowhere else, just straight to the cabinet in the bathroom and back out. The cabinet had been rifled and after Buckey checked it out, he stated that the tins were gone!
Brother Harold soon arrived and followed the muddy steps and voices to the bathroom. “Deputy’s on the way,” he affirmed as he cautiously stepped around the drying mud spots. Buckey informed him that the coins were gone. The boys pointed out that someone came straight to the cabinet and left. They had to have known where the coins were stashed! Harold said, “Well, where they used to be stashed. They didn’t get them.” Buckey and the boys were dumbfounded.
“What do you mean?” Buckey asked.
“I was gonna tell you but forgot to, but just the other day I felt like this wasn’t a good place for the coins, so I came in and moved them,” explained Harold.
“You mean they’re still here?”
“Should be. The steps don’t go anywhere else,” he said, pointing to the muddy footprints. “They should be stashed away behind the upright piano for now. That’s where I put them.”
The brothers moved quickly to the piano, moved it aside, and there sat the two coin-filled tins, safe and sound. “What possessed you to move them?” Buckey queried.
“I don’t know. I just had a feeling. You know, we talked about having them appraised and locked away somewhere. I don’t know – I just got to thinking about them and came over and moved them!”
The deputy arrived, Ted gave his statement, and the two boys headed home after being instructed not to tell anyone about the incident. The sheriff took pictures, but the footprints were smeared, and the intruder had likely worn gloves so there probably wouldn’t be any evidence. The brothers decided on a plan to safeguard the coins until they could be properly protected. Everyone keeping quiet about the incident would hopefully keep Effie safe from a repeat burglary attempt.
Buckey cleaned up the mess after the deputy left and before his mom returned. He assured her that the coins were safe, and the thief would likely not try again, realizing the coins would not be there after this. Now that there had been a second attempt to break into the store, everyone in the family had their guard up. No one in town was the wiser about the coin incident and things were quiet for those few days after the attempt at the window.
It was about a week later, just a block down the street from the store, that another attempted break-in occurred. One block to the south and a half a block east was the office and store of the Forsyth Lumber Company. The son of a neighbor, home from college for the weekend, was awakened by the sound of breaking glass. Their house was just south of the entrance to the lumber yard. Jerry VanAllen quickly sprang out of bed and looked out his bedroom window. He thought he saw movement over by the lumber yard but wasn’t sure. He called out to his dad who called the County Sheriff’s Office.
Twenty minutes later, Arnold Jones was roused from sleep by a loud knock on his back door across town. Arnold pulled on some pants, turned on the porch light, and seeing the officer, opened the back door. “What’s wrong?” asked Arnold.
“It appears there’s been an attempted break-in at the lumber yard. You’d better come along,” the deputy said. The manager of the lumber yard grabbed a jacket and his keys and drove over to the yard, following the deputy.
When they arrived, Jerry VanAllen and his father waited with another deputy. Jerry explained to Arnold what he had heard and thought he had seen. The deputy showed Arnold the broken glass on the ground near the front door to the store. The window of the door was broken in the bottom corner near the lock, but the door was still locked. Whoever it was must have spooked at the sound of the breaking glass and ran away.
Arnold nodded in agreement and added, “First the grocery store – now us. What’s going on?”
“Not sure, but we’ll beef up night patrols and look into it. You can go ahead and fix the window. We’re done here for now.”
Everyone eventually dispersed and by noon, nearly everyone in town knew about the latest incident. No one had been hurt and nothing had been taken, but “What?” they all wondered, “was happening to their sleepy, safe little town?!”
It was all anyone could talk about for the next week, but then it began to die down. No new evidence, no suspects, nothing. But the very next weekend, on a Sunday night, there was another break-in! This one was successful.
Faithful, trusted employee of C&R Pumps, Alfonso Staggs reported to work early Monday morning to find the rear door of the business, located near the north entrance to the lumber yard, had been jimmied open. A quick look around told Alfonso that a box of tools was all that was missing. He alerted his boss, who in turn called the County Sheriff, who quickly dispatched a deputy to the scene. Pictures were taken, the place was dusted for fingerprints, and an inventory of the stolen tools was made.
The rumor mill started up around town immediately and once again fear gripped the tiny town. Kids talked about it at school. Sunday School classes at the Methodist and Baptist churches discussed stealing. The few businesses in town found it hard to mind their own business! Everyone was asking the same questions – who is doing this and are they ever going to catch them? Theories abounded, but few solutions were offered. Ted Walden decided to set his mind to the task. After all, he watched “Perry Mason” reruns every night before bed and usually figured them out. He watched all the Sherlock Holmes movies and had read Doyle’s books. He loved solving mysteries and puzzles and was good at it. And he was privy to two of the crime scenes- one of which few knew about.
Ted decided to talk to his grandma after school on Thursday. When he entered the store, she was talking about the robberies to a man he didn’t know. He drifted around behind the counter but listened to the conversation. The stranger seemed very interested in the robberies, but especially in the attempt at the store. It seemed to Ted that the man was probing as if he suspected there had been other attempts or at least there was more to the story of the incident everyone knew about. Finally, learning nothing new, the stranger left.
“Who was that?” Ted asked his grandma.
“Well, you know Burl Cutler, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I used to deliver his paper until he took sick. Why?”
“That man is his nephew Carlton,” Effie explained.
“He seemed pretty interested in the burglaries for a stranger. Don’t you think?”
“It’s all anyone who comes in the store wants to talk about!”
“I guess.” Ted paused, then went on. “Have you thought more about that night you scared off the burglar?”
“Some,” his grandma said. “Why?”
“Just wondered if you had any ideas about the guy now that you’ve had time to think about it. You know – what he was wearing, how he ran when he left, stuff like that.”
“Well, I have thought that he seemed to look a little like the hobos I’ve seen in here before. Kind of dirty, baggy clothes – he wore a cap like I’ve seen some of them wear.”
“A hobo, huh? Makes sense, I guess. All three of the break-ins happened right here near the railroad tracks.”
“More than one customer has suggested it. Maybe they gave me the idea. I can’t say for sure,” Effie went on to explain.
Ted looked around the store to make sure he hadn’t missed seeing anyone else in the store. Then he quietly commented, “But that wouldn’t explain the attempt at the coin stash. How would they know?”
Effie thought it over. “They wouldn’t. Maybe they’re not related.”
“You mean two different crooks?” asked Ted. “I guess that’s possible.”
Ted thought about that for a moment and then said goodbye and headed out. Exiting the store, he ran into a couple of friends on their bikes and mounting his, said, “Follow me!” He led them over to the railroad tracks near the north entrance to the lumber yard. As the three of them stopped up on the rocks near the tracks, one asked what was up. Ted explained the theory that the burglary attempts could have been done by a hobo or hobos from the trains. He thought they might scout around a little.
The railroad right-of-way between the tracks and the fence bordering farmland to the east was completely overgrown. There were small trees and saplings scattered around. Tall grass – taller than the boys even – tall reeds everywhere. It was a jungle all along the tracks. They dismounted their bikes and headed south along the tracks looking for anything out of the ordinary. One of the boys picked up some rocks and randomly tossed them into the underbrush as they sauntered along looking for clues.
Presently, one of the rocks hit something that clanged like metal! “What was that?” asked Ted. “Where did you throw that last rock?”
“I don’t know. Just over there somewhere,” Chet said, pointing to the weeds.
Ted started down into the weeds in the direction Chet Roberts had indicated. The other boys followed. Just ahead of them, Ted stopped and called out, “Hey! There’s a path cleared out down here!”
By the time the other boys got to the path Ted had followed the path into a clearing cut out in the middle of the weed patch. You couldn’t see it from the tracks, but once inside the boys saw a campsite. There was a clearing about eight or ten feet in diameter. A fire pit had been constructed out of large rocks and the remains of burnt wood lay in the middle. There was a pot and pan and some utensils lying around, a beat-up old duffel bag, and an old pair of rubber boots. There was trash strewn around – paper goods, empty food cans, and other assorted trash.
“A hobo camp!” they all said at the same time.
“Yeah,” Ted said, “and look at this!” With his toe, he poked at a box of tools marked C&R Pumps. “It’s the tools stolen from C&R!”
One of the boys said, “Let’s get out of here before they come back. Let’s go call this in.”
The boys hustled out of the camp, back up the embankment to the tracks, and back down to their bicycles. They quickly rode around to the front entrance of C&R and burst into the office, excited and short of breath. Alfonso was there. Surprised, he said, “Whoa, there! What’s up?”
The boys started to blurt out the news together, but Mr. Staggs calmed them down. He knew Ted the best, so he asked him to explain. After hearing of the discovery, he called the Sheriff’s Office to report it. About a half an hour later, the boys took the deputy and Alfonso to the campsite. The deputy had the boys’ information and knew Ted from the Walden Grocery incidents, so he told them to head on home and he would process the scene.
Naturally, the boys told their parents and anyone else who would listen, and the news spread like wildfire. There were no hobos in sight, so no arrests were made – yet. The deputies would stake out the area and see who might show up. By the time a train or two had passed by, they figured the word had spread up and down the line and didn’t expect anyone to return to the camp. A few days later, they abandoned the stakeout.
Then it happened! Having been alerted by the Sheriff’s Office, the railroad had become more diligent in watching for hobos riding their trains. They had cracked down some and run a few riders off but had no reason to suspect anyone in particular of being Forsyth’s burglar. But on Saturday evening that next week, one of the railroad detectives who had been tasked with patrolling the tracks along the east side of Forsyth, spotted a man on top of one of the cars as the train slowed to a crawl past the lumber yard. He noticed because the hobos seldom risked riding on top. He watched as the man stood up to run on top of the train, stumbled, and fell off! He cried out, but the cry was cut short!
The detective radioed to the engineer to stop the train. He ran toward where the man had fallen. By the time he got near the place, the train had ground to a stop. He climbed between two of the cars to hop down on the other side of the train. Quickly scanning the area, he saw the man lying on the ground about three or four cars back- pretty close to where the campsite was located. He ran to the man who had made no moves whatsoever.
He called out as he approached but got no reaction. As the detective knelt beside the fallen man, he saw blood and noticed the awkward angle of the man’s head. It appeared that the hobo had broken his neck and died. A quick search revealed no ID, a few dollars and change, and a screwdriver in his coat pocket with “C&R” etched in the handle!
Soon, the area was filled with sheriff’s deputies, state police, and onlookers, including Ted and his friends. No one was allowed close enough to see much. The railroad cars were processed quickly and released, so the ambulance drivers could get to the body. The whole thing was done quickly, and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the burglary cases had been solved.
Ted wasn’t convinced though. Others couldn’t know, but he did not believe that man had anything to do with the initial attempt to steal his grandparents’ coins. It seemed obvious that the hobo had done the other break-ins, but Ted wasn’t sure at all that this thing was over. However, he couldn’t discuss it with anyone but his family. No one else could know about the coins nor the attempted robbery.
The next day, Ted was in the store after school when Carlton Cutler came in again. Ted was helping his grandma around the store, so he waited on the man. Carlton got a pouch of pipe tobacco, some matches, and a couple other things. He wasn’t in any hurry and began to talk to Ted about the accident the day before that seemed to have solved the recent crime spree.
Ted played along as he totaled up the man’s purchases. There was something about that pipe tobacco that bugged Ted, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Carlton paid, but continued to talk about all he had heard, playing up Ted’s part in the crime solving. Ted tried to pass it off and changed the subject to Carlton himself. What was he doing in town? How long did he plan to stay? How was his uncle? Anything to keep the man talking about something other than the hobo and the break-ins. Ted was suspicious of the man but had no idea why. However, his questions got nowhere.
A few minutes later, the deputy that had been in on the death of the hobo and both the attempts at the store walked in. Carlton took the opportunity to get his purchases and slip out as the deputy held the door. The deputy asked Ted how he was doing. Ted replied that he was fine and asked if there was anything new in the investigation. The deputy said it seemed all wrapped up. Ted shook his head. When the deputy asked what his problem was, Ted told him he didn’t believe the hobo was the one who had tried to steal his granddad’s coins. He just could not have known about them, much less have known right where they were kept. The deputy admitted that didn’t make sense, but there was surely no doubt that he had done the other crimes. Ted agreed but said there had to be more to it. The deputy agreed with that and offered that maybe the coin case was unrelated, which would mean there is still a thief out there somewhere. Ted said, “I agree that there is another thief, but I think it’s all related.”
“How so?” asked the deputy.
“I don’t know,” Ted answered, and then thought a bit. “Maybe the real thief hired the hobo to pull the other jobs to divert attention and suspicion away from the coin caper.”
“OK, I’ll buy that. Then what? He just catches a big break when the hobo falls off a train and breaks his neck?!”
Ted’s face lit up. “He killed him!”
“Whoa! Wait a minute.” The detective waved his hands to slow Ted down.
“That’s right,” Ted continued. “Think about it. He waited until the hobo finally stole something – positive proof he was guilty. Then our guy set up a meet to pay him off. He grabbed him by surprise and broke his neck. Took off the hobo’s coat and hat and put them on.” Ted was on a roll now. “He headed down the tracks a ways, knowing a train was due that would slow down by the lumber yard where the body lay. He hopped the train when it slowed and climbed up on top where he would be spotted. When he saw the detective, he stood up to run, faked a trip, and dropped off the car near the body. He put the hobo’s coat and hat back on him quickly and slipped off into the brush and got away. The rest we know for sure.”
Ted was beaming with pride. As far as he was concerned, he had him nailed! “Wow!” The deputy admitted he liked the story. Maybe even believed it himself. “But who did it and how did he know about the coins?”
“Well, I have an idea who, but I have no idea about the coins.” Ted paused a moment, then asked, “What all did the hobo have on him, besides the screwdriver?”
The deputy thought a second or two, then answered. “A few dollars and some change and a box of matches.”
Ted turned to the shelf, picked up a box of matches, and laid it on the counter. “Like these?” he asked.
“Exactly,” replied the deputy, “but so what?”
“Did he have any cigarettes on him?”
“Come to think of it, there was a pipe in his coat pocket.”
Ted brightened up again. “Did he have any pipe tobacco on him?”
“No, he didn’t. A new box of matches and a pipe, but no tobacco.”
“At the campsite,” Ted hurried on, “I remember now.” He turned to the shelf, got a pack of tobacco, and laid it on the counter with the matches. “There was a partial bag of tobacco just like this there by the fire pit.”
The deputy thought a moment, then replied, “Yes, there was – same brand.”
“The most expensive brand we have,” Ted added.
“What are you getting at?”
“The man who just left here. He just bought a fresh pack of this tobacco and a box of matches, but he already bought the same thing last week.”
“And you think he gave the others to the hobo?”
“Exactly! The hobo wouldn’t buy the best and this guy wouldn’t be out yet!”
“Sounds plausible, but you can’t prove it,” said the deputy. “Who is this guy?”
“Carlton Cutler. He’s a stranger in town – been here about a month, visiting his dying uncle. He’s been hanging around, asking lots of questions.”
“And you think he’s the killer?”
“I know it. I can feel it.”
“How did he know about the coins? How could he possibly have known where they were? We’re back to that.”
“I know,” Ted said. “And I have no idea. But I’m telling you, he did it. He came in here after those coins and couldn’t find them. He hired that hobo to divert attention until he could make a new plan. Then he killed him to shut down the investigation.”
“But you can’t prove any of it.”
Ted replied, “Not yet, but I will. And it will need to be soon.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Think about it. His uncle is dying. He’ll have to leave soon. There will be no more nightly patrols. No more of everyone being on their guard now that the thief is dead.”
Effie came into the store from the residence. “Hello, officer,” she said. “Is Ted talking your leg off about the case?”
“No ma’am, but we have had an interesting conversation.”
Ted was thinking, and then turned to his grandma. “Grandma, how long since you’ve seen Burl Cutler?”
“Oh, over a year, I guess. Not since he got sick. Why?”
“Just thinking. When would Granddad have seen him last?”
“Longer ago than that. Why?”
“Who buys his groceries? Who took care of him before this nephew came around?”
“Sofia Cornthwaite – you know her. She buys his food, fixes his meals, and cleans his house. Why are you so interested?”
“Any chance you ever hired her here?”
“I just thought perhaps she might have found out about the coins and for some reason mentioned them to Mr. Cutler.”
“Oh. No way she would do that even if she knew. Besides Burl knows about the coins anyway.”
“What do you mean he knows?!”
Effie explained how Burl Cutler knew about the coins. There are five special silver dollars among the coins that used to belong to him. Back before the turn of the century, when Burl and Ted’s grandparents were born, Burl’s grandpa was a captain in the union army. He led a squad of soldiers protecting an army payroll being transported from Saint Louis to Springfield. The convoy was attacked by outlaws – some even said maybe The James Gang! Well, they fought off the outlaws and saved the payroll even though only Burl’s grandpa and four others survived.
The army gave the five men each a newly minted silver dollar as a memento – only one hundred like them had been minted. The men made a pact that they’d keep them no matter what and then pass theirs to another survivor upon their death. Burl’s grandpa was the last one, so he had all five coins and eventually they passed down to Burl.
“So how did Granddad get them?” Ted interrupted.
Effie continued her story. She said that during World War II, lots of people got into financial trouble. It was hard on everyone but worse for some. Burl was sick for a while and lost his job. They couldn’t pay their bills, so she and Dubya H carried them on the books for quite a while. Burl hated it but had little choice. Then one day he came to the house with those five silver dollars and told them their story. He gave them to Dubya H to hold until he could buy them back. Years passed and Burl never quite recovered financially, so he wrote a note to say the coins were theirs to do with as they wished. The note is in the bottom of the canister with the coins.
“And Granddad put them in the canister that day and Mr. Cutler saw where he stashed the tins, didn’t he?” Ted asked.
“Why yes, I guess he did at that,” Effie said.
The deputy added, “And now I bet his nephew knows, too.”
Ted looked at the deputy and nodded. “What do we do?”
The deputy said, “We’ll figure something out. Some way to catch him in the act. I’ll be around tonight to make sure nothing happens and give it some thought. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
The next day, Buckey came home from work a little earlier than usual. He had taken the afternoon off to spend time with his dad at the nursing home. He usually visited with him after work several times a week, but with all the crime drama going on, he just had not had the time lately.
Ted was at the store helping his grandma close up when his dad came by. Ted had noticed before that his dad usually wasn’t all that chipper after being with granddad. The fact that his dad no longer recognized him took a toll on Buckey. It was hard for him to deal with emotionally. But that day was different. “You seem in a better mood than usual after seeing Granddad,” Ted said. “Was he better today?”
“No, not really,” his dad replied. “But we sat out on the back patio with Sam, the orderly, and Sam and I had a good long visit about Dad.”
Buckey explained that as they talked, Sam shared that every once in a great while Will – that’s what Sam called him – would seem to have moments where he was almost lucid. He could recall stories of his past, talk about his kids by name, talk about his Effie. Buckey said it made him feel better about his dad. He remembered and laughed about Ted’s granddad setting the chair on fire once when he fell asleep with a lit cigar in his hand and woke up to a small fire by his leg! Ted remembered it, too, and they shared another laugh. Buckey said he thought of it when Sam dropped his pipe on his dad’s robe there on the patio and had to douse it with his glass of water. He said, “Dad just laughed. It was good to hear him laugh.”
Effie kissed her youngest son on the cheek and headed into the back, to the kitchen, to fix supper. Buckey helped Ted close up the store and Ted filled him in on the plan he had devised that day with the deputy to try to catch Carlton Cutler stealing the coins.
Buckey wasn’t sure they could pull it off but listened anyway. They would need to wait and watch for the right time to set the trap. Surely the man would come snooping around the store for more information soon. Meanwhile, the deputy would keep watch at night, and everyone should go about business as usual, just as if it were all over, like most of the town thought.
The next time Carlton came into the store, they should try to steer the conversation somehow to the crimes. Then they could let it slip that they had a few things in the house they thought they should move out for safekeeping. They would do it on a Sunday afternoon, the next one after Carlton’s next visit to the store. They’d take Effie out for an afternoon drive and wind up at their house for supper. While she was there for supper, Buckey would slip out and meet Harold at the home place to take care of business without upsetting their mom. At least that was how the plan would sound to Carlton.
The real plan was to make sure Carlton knew the house would be empty all afternoon so he would make his move. A couple of deputies would have the place staked out. One would watch the Cutler home and the other would watch the Walden home. It sounded good. They decided instead of just a drive they’d all go with Effie to see Dubya H at the nursing home.
A few days later Carlton came into the store and the plan was hatched. It was easy to steer the conversation in the direction they needed it to go because Carlton was genuinely interested in the criminal activity of this small town. It seemed that he had taken the bait. That Sunday afternoon the family picked up Effie and headed for Decatur and the nursing home.
When they got there, Sam, the orderly wheeled Will out to the patio so the family could have a visit, then left them alone. They visited for more than an hour so as to give Carlton plenty of time to feel secure that the house was empty. Counting the drive into Decatur and back it would be at least two hours before they would return to Forsyth. Hopefully by then, Carlton would have made his move and the deputies would have him. The deputies had the number of the nursing home to call Buckey when it was done.
After about an hour’s visit, Buckey was called to the phone. The deputy said it looked like a bust. Carlton had just loaded his uncle into his car and headed north out of town. Looks like everyone thought it was a nice day for a drive. They would wait just a few more minutes to make sure Carlton didn’t double back and then they would call it a day. Buckey said they would head home shortly and went to relay the news to the family. Ted was puzzled. It was the perfect time to slip into the store and search for the coins. Why wouldn’t a man who had made such elaborate plans to steal those coins pass up this golden opportunity? Could he have been wrong? What was he missing? If not Carlton, then who?
He turned it all over in his mind – over and over again as they said goodbyes. An orderly named Alice had come to wheel Dubya H back to his room. Ted noticed her because his granddad always flirted with “Big Alice.” They loaded into the family car and started to pull away when the answer came to him. “Stop the car, Dad! It’s not Carlton!”
He asked his dad for the number to the Sheriff’s Office and after getting it, ran back inside the nursing home. He grabbed the desk phone and called. He told the dispatcher who he was and asked her to relay a message immediately to Deputy Johnson. He ran back to the car, got in and said, “Let’s go – fast! I’ll explain on the way!”
Buckey careened out of the driveway and sped out of Decatur toward home. Traffic was light since it was Sunday afternoon and Buckey set a new record for the five miles back to Forsyth. They hoped and prayed that the deputies had gotten the call from the dispatcher in time. As they raced down Ruehl Street in Forsyth toward the store on the corner, the flashing lights of the two sheriff’s cruisers came into view, but were they in time? As Buckey skidded to a stop in front of the Post Office just behind the store and his old home residence, Deputy Johnson came out of the back door of the store with the suspect in tow, hands cuffed behind him.
“Looks like you were right Ted,” Buckey said. “They’ve got Sam!”
Effie added, “And I always liked Sam. He was so good with Dubya H.”
They put Sam in the patrol car and Deputy Johnson came over to the Walden family. “How did you know, Ted? What tipped you in his direction?”
Ted explained to the deputy what he had already told his family in the car as they raced home from Decatur. Buckey was telling his brother Harold in the backyard at the same time.
When Buckey had returned to the family at the nursing home saying the deputies were giving up on Carlton, Ted began to question his conclusions. All the clues were there, he just hadn’t seen them because he was so sure it was Carlton Cutler. As he replayed conversations in his mind certain things popped out at him. He remembered his dad saying that Sam had told him that Will had moments of lucidity and recalled lots of details of the past. He could easily have talked about the coins. And then his dad said Sam spilled his pipe on his dad and nearly set his robe on fire – Sam smoked a pipe, too! He knew the address from the nursing home records, got the details from one of Granddad’s lucid moments, and had tried to steal the coins earlier, but failed. Sam was certainly young and agile enough to have climbed around on the train and plenty strong enough to break the hobo’s neck. Then, when the whole family showed up that afternoon at the nursing home, Sam suddenly left work. It all fit.
The crime spree was truly over! Ted was the hero – after almost missing it. He had had all the right ideas, just the wrong culprit. Buckey and Harold eventually got the coins appraised and sold to a collector and used the proceeds to take help care of their mom now that she would be unemployed. Walden’s Grocery Store would officially close for good the next year after a big closeout sale! The town could go back to sleep!