The Pretty Princess

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Justice and cookies

The Pretty Princess

When I opened my door to the policeman he looked fourteen. He had peach fuzz whiskers on his upper lip and brown eyes like maple syrup. When he held up his badge I thought last month he was playing policeman, and now  he is one.

“Miss Henley, I need to talk to you about Willie Jenkins,” he said.

“Why, yes, of course,” I shuffled him into my sitting room. My pink afghan lay on the sofa where he sat down. “This is the granny square pattern,” I held it closer for him to see. “I’ve made these for all my nieces.”  

“That’s nice, ma’am,” he said politely, then he pulled out a pen and gave it a little click. “Miss Henley, since Willie Jenkins died last week we’re asking some questions. It’s just routine to close out our files.”

“I’ve been expecting you,” I said and by then, I’d limped back into my kitchen. “But wouldn’t you want a sandwich first? You probably don’t get time to eat.”

“No, ma’am,” he called. “Just a few questions.”

My cookies were piping hot out of the oven so I hobbled back with a plateful and set them on the coffee table. “I bet you like cookies,” I beamed. “I put in the chocolate chips.”

He bit into one grinning, “Thank you, ma’am. They’re delicious.”

I squinted through my glasses at his name tag. “Timothy Barnes,” I read his name in my old lady voice. I was trying to place the Barnes’ but I couldn’t. “Are you from around here, Timothy?”

“Yes, ma’am, but please, call me Tim.” He helped himself to another cookie with such an open face it was all I could do not to get him a glass of milk. Then he cleared his throat and nodded toward me, “Miss Henley, is it true that Willie Jenkins lived with you for thirty years?” I laughed outright, doubled over completely as his face got red. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

I wiped my eyes with my apron. “I know you didn’t, Tim. It’s just that if you knew Willie or me either for that matter, you’d know how ridiculous it was. But yes, it’s true that Willie lived in my garage for thirty years.” I clasped my hands together like a prayer. “My dear father loved to work in his wood shop. So, he fixed up the garage out back in the garden and had this room with a cot and a little bathroom, sort of like a workplace. And it wasn’t long after my father died that I was walking down the lane to visit my friend, Mildred. Do you know Mildred, Tim?”

Tim shook his head, “No, ma’am, I don’t know her.”

“Well, it was a cold day and Willie was roasting a hot dog on a stick. He’d made this little fire in the field and was hunched down over it. So, I said, ‘Why don’t you go home to do that, Willie?’ And he hung his head because he had no home to go to. So we worked out this agreement. He worked in my garden, cut the grass and things, and lived in my garage.”

Tim made a little check-off with his pen and scrolled down to the next question. I edged the cookies closer and he took another one. “Miss Henley, I guess you knew that . . .” Tim seemed to be searching for the kindest words, “well, that Willie was accused, quite a few times actually, of breaking into homes and stealing people’s jewelry.”

“Yes, I did, Tim, but that was never proven. Still, Willie couldn’t get a job or keep one. If a paper clip went missing he was accused of it.”

“You felt sorry for him?”

“Yes, I did, Tim. I knew Willie long before he moved into my garage. He was in my first grade class. We sat at this big long table and he sat beside me. Oscar Fromwell sat on the other side. And Willie stuttered something awful then, especially when the teacher called on him and he got nervous. He’d start that st . . st . . . stuttering, you know, and Oscar would lean across me mocking him. I’d I kick Oscar under the table to get him to stop.”

Tim took another cookie and held it, “Is that the same Oscar Fromwell who’s the big court judge now?”

“Yes, and isn’t that funny, Tim? Two boys sit on either side of you and one ends up being a big court judge and the other one ends up living in your garage.”

“Were you aware that Oscar Fromwell accused Willie of breaking into his home and stealing his wife’s diamond necklace? It was a rare pink color. What was it called?”

“The Pretty Princess. Yes, of course, I remember. It was a big thing around here thirty years ago. Long before your time, Tim, but again, it was never proven.”

He made another quick check. “One last question, Miss Henley, and I’m off. I believe you were the last one to see Willie alive?”

“Yes, Tim, I took him some potato soup and tried to get him to eat. He never would go to a doctor. Anyway, when I saw how bad he was I came in to call the doctor and when I went back out he was dead.”

“Did he say anything to you before he died? Sometimes, people confess before they die. Did he say anything about hiding jewels or anything?”

“My goodness, no, Tim. Willie never had any money and wore old hand-me-downs. But he was a sweet soul, even if people accused him his whole life and teased him because he stuttered. I took up for him then and take up for him now, but people twist that around.” I put my hand on my heart and gasped, “They said Willie and I were lovers for thirty years. Can you believe  that?”

Tim nodded. “Yes, ma’am, they can say awful things, but we’re closing the file on Willie and laying him to rest.” He clipped the pen inside his pocket and smiled his sweetest boy smile.

“Take these cookies home,” I said. “Take them right on the plate. I’ve got a thousand plates. What’s an old lady to do with a thousand plates?” I patted his arm as the tears just sprang in my eyes. “Being a policeman’s a scary job, Tim. You have to be careful.”

* * *

As the door shut behind Tim, my chest tightened. My breath came in short ragged spurts. I headed straight out the back door and into my garden. It was this wild overgrown tangle that Willie planted full of towering pines and azaleas and rhododendrons. I ran deep inside until I felt swallowed up and safe. The breeze caressed my pounding head. I had to stay calm. I had to stay quiet.

The branches swayed gently. I felt the soft, kind wind like it was whispering and knew that Willie was with me. Just as he was in life, except now he was beyond the branches. Grinning right over the hedge. Don’t panic, my love. Don’t panic.

“Easy for you to say,” I hissed. “You’re dead and out of it; I’ve got the police here. This time they sent Tim, next time they might send a grownup.”

Sit tight, my love. Don’t do anything rash.

My nerves ticked like a time bomb. I rushed all the way back to the bench that Willie had carved so beautifully.

I felt underneath the armrest and released the hidden latch. The secret door popped open and the - The Pretty Princess - fell into my hand. The rare pink diamonds dazzled in sunlight. They sparkled and shone as I pressed them against my cheek. So exquisite. So, wonderful. My necklace - mine! Willie got it for me like all the rest.

Put it back, babe. Keep it calm.”

I clutched my necklace all aching and hurting. “Oh, Willie, our wondrous nights, our rainy afternoons in the garage.” I closed my eyes breathing him in, feeling Willie right there beside me, then I heard a cough on the other side of the trees and saw a movement. “Willie, Willie,” I cried running around the trees.

It was Tim. “I brought your plate back,” he said looking a good deal older than I remembered. His warm eyes twinkled on the necklace. “It is beautiful,” he said. “I see how you love it.”

He read me my rights in a clean professional voice and took out the handcuffs. He snapped them onto my wrists with the sweetest smile. “I’m used to the old lady bit, but you’re the first one to bake cookies.”

“Go to hell,” I spat.

“Yes, ma’am,” he laughed as we headed towards the squad car. “I probably will.” 


Submitted: June 13, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Suzanne Mays. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Vance Currie

I am sure that you must know by now that you are a talented writer, Suzanne, and a good storyteller. I enjoyed this clever story and in particular the way it ended.

Sun, June 13th, 2021 10:08pm

Suzanne Mays

Thank you, Vance. I love to write short stories. It's fun and even more fun when someone enjoys it. All the best to you on Booksie.

Mon, June 14th, 2021 2:33pm

D Mays

Good one. I did not see that coming. Well written.

Mon, June 21st, 2021 9:14pm

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