Gone Grandpa, Part One
This month’s story is the beginning of a brand new adventure with our pal Delphine Lougheed! Hope you enjoy it…
Delphine Lougheed should have been cleaning her bathroom. Instead, she sat in her back yard, warmed by springtime morning sunshine and doing a New York Times crossword puzzle on her phone. A Saturday puzzle, no less; those took forever. It was possible she was procrastinating.
Delphine was expecting visitors to her modest Pasadena home later in the day. Her granddaughter Griffin Beckett’s other grandma, Marge Flanders, and her new gentleman friend Willard were coming to Southern California for a visit; apparently, Willard was a huge Disneyland fan. Even though they lived in Florida and lived within driving distance of Disney World, Marge’s boyfriend had insisted on making a trek to the original, California theme park. And of course they’d invited themselves to be her house guests for the duration of their stay. She’d tried her best to get excited about the visit, or at least to feel neutral about it, but it wasn’t working.
It wasn’t that she disliked house guests. Her friend Detective Roland Magnusson had stayed with her for a while several weeks earlier, and that had been nice. He was a little rough around the edges, but had been respectful of her home, and pleasant company to boot. But for the most part, she liked her privacy and her quiet, tidy home. It was one reason she’d never remarried after her husband Charles died.
But a loud, flamboyant woman like Marge Flanders, plus her new boyfriend? Delphine wasn’t sure she was ready for that. Marge was a nice woman, but also boisterous, and never seemed to run out of energy. Delphine was not elderly by any means; she got around quite well and still knew at least seven different ways to kill a man with only her bare hands and a few office supplies. But these days, now that she was in her seventies, she had little tolerance for loud energetic people overtaking her house, unless it was her granddaughter Zooey.
When a text notification popped up on her darkened phone screen, she realized her mind had wandered away from her crossword. Damn! That would screw up her finishing time in the rankings for sure. With a sigh of resignation she opened the text—it was from Kenji Yamamoto, her neighbor from across the street and former partner at the top secret spy agency they had retired from.
KY: What up, D?
Delphine knew this was technically a lie, but she had her reasons for fibbing to her best friend. Less than a minute later, Kenji appeared in the yard, having let himself in through the side gate. How he knew she was in the backyard was anyone’s guess, but he was crafty like that.
“What is next?” he asked, raising a huge sponge with a rubber-gloved hand.
“Guest bathroom,” said Delphine.
Kenji gave her a thumbs-up and race walked into the house.
The man loved to clean, bless him. She would never outright ask him to help of course, but if he knew she was doing housework, he could never resist coming over. Delphine smiled and promised herself she would make up for her sins sometime soon. Reluctantly, she joined him inside.
“What time are your illustrious guests coming to visit?” Kenji asked as she entered the small guest bathroom with a mop in one hand and a bucket in the other. He was already at work scrubbing the sink.
“Let’s see, it’s 10:30 now, and I think their flight gets into LAX around noon,” said Delphine. “But then they have to deal with their luggage and finding a rideshare.”
“Good thing you don’t have to pick them up,” said Kenji. He made a sour face. “Why does anyone fly into LAX in the first place?”
“Most of the time because it’s cheaper,” she said. “Much cheaper than Burbank, though also much less convenient. I told them flat-out I wasn’t picking them up.” In hindsight she felt a little bad about that, but after several recent trips across town when Detective Magnussen was helping her with a case, she was in no mood to do it again anytime soon. She liked her little corner of LA just fine.
“Hmm, so they will be here about six tonight,” said Kenji, and they both laughed.
The two of them made short order of the guest bath, and were so inspired they went over the guest bedroom once more and also the kitchen. Delphine’s office was off-limits to all visitors, even Kenji. They may have shared a work life together, and even a bed for a short while, but her office was sacrosanct.
When they finished up, Delphine made them lunch, after which they drank some tea and she gave Kenji a few freshly baked cookies that she’d made for her house guests. They sat at the kitchen counter chatting, when Delphine’s phone buzzed with an incoming call. It was 1:15 pm and Marge was calling.
“She could just text me that they’re on their way,” said Delphine, feeling less excited about her visitors by the second.
She picked up the phone, answered the call, and put it on speaker. “Hello?” she said, pretending not to know who was on the other end.
“Delphine, he’s gone!” shouted Marge. “He just disappeared! I just—he—oh my!”
“Slow down Marge. What do you mean he’s gone? Who is gone?”
“Willard!” said Marge. “We got to the baggage claim area and he needed to use the facilities, you know how men are with their prostate and whatnot…”
Delphine looked at Kenji, who shrugged.
“Then what?” asked Delphine.
“We were supposed to meet at the carousel, but he’s not here, he hasn’t shown up!” Marge sounded frantic.
“Maybe he had some other things to attend to in the restroom,” suggested Kenji.
“What?” said Marge. “Who’s that talking? What kind of business?”
“Is she for real?” Kenji whispered. Delphine motioned for him to be quiet.
“Did you go into the bathroom to check if he’s there?” she asked Marge.
Marge paused before answering. “Me? Go into the men’s room?”
“Yes,” said Delphine.
She and Kenji waited on the line while Marge reluctantly checked the men’s bathroom in the Delta Airlines baggage claim area for signs of her boyfriend. Much jostling of the phone could be heard, along with a few not-so-polite male voices telling her to get out, and at least one voice that sounded intrigued. At one point Marge’s hand covered the phone, there was more talking, and then finally she came back on the line.
“He wasn’t in there,” she said. “I did get an invitation to dinner though. Oh Delphine, this is terrible!”
There was another pause as Delphine pinched the bridge of her nose and waited for what she knew would be the next words out of Marge Flanders’ mouth.
“You need to come right away, I need your help!”
Kneji was not thrilled to be stuck in Saturday afternoon traffic on the 110 en route to LAX. At least they were in Delphine’s Mercedes E Class, which was always a treat. He had an electric Volvo, which would have been a better choice for their journey, but he wasn’t going to make the trip easy on her. She had pleaded for him to go, and he couldn’t say no to his dearest friend, even though he’d wanted to. He’d left some sourdough bread dough to proof on the kitchen counter, and he hoped he would make it home before it rose too far.
“Tell me why I’m here again?” he asked.
“Because if something really has happened to Willard, you’ll need to keep Marge distracted so I can take a look around.”
“But our access to the area is limited,” he pointed out.
“And she is an adult. Surely you don’t need me to babysit.”
“You’ve never met her, Kenji. I love her, but she’s a handful and gets into trouble faster than you can say ‘grand theft.’”
Kenji pointed at finger at Delphine.“You just don’t want to be alone with her.”
She looked at him for a second before turning back to the snarl of traffic in front of them. “Let’s just see what awaits us.”
What awaited them was construction at the airport and a ten-minute walk from a parking garage on the outskirts of the terminal. What awaited them in front of the baggage claim area was one frantic Marge Flanders. Her short, white hair looked like she’d just woken up—an intentional look, Kenji assumed—and she stood next to two rolling suitcases, wringing her hands. He thought the red jumpsuit emblazoned with huge bird of paradise flowers was quite spiffy, and the oversized dark sunglasses were a nice touch. She was cute, in a Miami-meets-LA kind of way.
“Oh thank goodness,” said Marge, rushing up to hug Delphine. She glanced at Kenji, and he nodded a greeting.
Delphine extricated herself from the hug. “Have you found him?”
“Well of course not! You think I’d be standing here worried to death if he was accounted for?”
“It’s just that you have two suitcases,” said Kenji. “One of them is his, right, and it appears that you are waiting for us to pick you up. Is he in the bathroom again?”
Marge looked at the bags, then at Delphine.
“Who is this guy?” she said. Then she addressed Kenji directly. “How do you know both of these aren’t mine?”
“Are they?” he asked.
“Well, no. But just ‘cause I have his bag doesn’t mean I have him! He’s gone, I tell you!” She sat down on the top of one of the suitcases, took off her sunglasses, and rubbed her eyes.
“I guess I haven’t formally introduced you. Marge, this is Kenji, he used to be my business partner before we retired. He’s usually very tactful, but today I think he’s in a bit of a hurry.” Delphine glared at Kenji and he felt bad. It was true.
“This is my Willard we’re talking about here,” said Marge, who stood up and walked up to Kenji. “So whatever else you got going on can wait.”
Kenji stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Marge’s eyes went wide and she jumped. Kenji frowned—was he really that scary? But then she reached into the pocket of her red jumpsuit and pulled out her phone.
“A text!” she said.
“Let’s see that,” said Delphine, and she and Kenji crowded around Marge so they could all read what it said.
444-555-8008: WE HAVE WILLARD. IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE HIM ALIVE EVER AGAIN, YOU WILL PAY RANSOM
“Oh my lord,” said Marge. “He’s been kidnapped?” She put a hand over her heart. “Oh, this is just too much!”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” said Delphine.
Kenji rolled his eyes at that one. They could most definitely jump to conclusions about what happened. But not about who did it.
“Do you know that number?” she asked Marge.
“No, I don’t think so. If it was someone I knew, I’d have them in my contacts.”
Delphine took the phone from Marge and tapped out a reply.
Marge Flanders: Who is this?
A minute went by as they waited for a reply.
444-555-8008: NONE OF YOUR BEESWAX.
Delphine tapped some more.
Marge Flanders: What is it that you want?
They waited for several minutes, staring at the phone, but no response came through.
“Hmm,” said Kenji. He had been expecting the kidnappers to be ready with their demands, but they didn’t seem to want to continue the conversation. “Let’s get out of here. Nothing more to be done but wait.”
“Don’t we have to call the police or something?” asked Marge. “Should we check the bathroom for prints, or have airport security show us the surveillance video?”
“While I’m impressed that you’ve picked up so much information from crime shows, those are not things we’re going to do right now,” said Delphine.
Kenji nodded, that was the right call. They had other means at their disposal, and this wasn’t their first rodeo, by a long shot.
“This is probably gonna ruin our Disneyland trip,” moaned Marge. “We had tickets for three whole days!”
“Shouldn’t that be the least of your worries?” asked Delphine.
Marge glared at her, hands on hips. “Easy for you to say, you’ve probably been there before! But I’ve never been and I know Willard was sure looking forward to it. He likes to go every few years, he says. And those day passes are not cheap!” Then she covered her face with her hands and it sounded like she was crying. “I really wanted to ride Space Mountain…” More crying.
Kenji’s eyes went wide; he could handle a lot of things, but a crying woman left him feeling powerless and more than a little bit scared.
Delphine put a hand on Marge’s shoulder as she looked at Kenji, her face seeming to suggest that he do something.
“Umm,” said Kenji. Delphine’s look grew harder. “How about we let Delphine search the baggage area one more time, and you and I will go back to her car with the suitcases.” Both he and Delphine knew there was no point, but the gesture might make Marge feel better.
“Well, okay then,” she agreed. She fished a Kleenex out of another one of her jumpsuit pockets and blew her nose with gusto.
They both took hold of a suitcase and started rolling them toward the distant parking lot while Delphine headed back inside.
Be sure you’re signed up for the Ace Writes Newlsetter to catch the next installment in May 2023!
Copyright 2023 by Andrea C. Neil