Gone Grandpa, Part Two

Delphine and her pals are back! If you need to catch up on Part One, go here!


Delphine dropped Kenji off across the street in front of his yard and took Marge home to her house. They pulled the Mercedes into the garage, and lugged the two suitcases inside.

“I need a snack,” said Marge. “I gotta eat something or I’m not gonna make it.”

“There’s some things already made in the fridge,” said Delphine, and watched as her guest made a beeline for the kitchen. After taking Marge’s suitcase to the guest room, she wheeled Willard’s into the living room and placed it on the coffee table.

“What’re you going to do with that?” asked Marge through a mouthful of pasta salad.

“We’re going to open it,” said Delphine. She knelt to inspect the bag and located a small lock holding the zipper pulls together.

Marge set down her bowl and hurried to join Delphine. “We can’t look in there, that’s private!”

“If it saves Willard’s life, I don’t think he’ll mind.”

Delphine retrieved some bolt cutters from the garage (because of course she had bolt cutters), and they sat down on the couch and made short order of getting into the suitcase.

What they found was perplexing.

“Didn’t you watch him pack? Did you realize what he put in here?” Delphine asked Marge.

Marge peered into the open case again. “I did his laundry for him and stacked it on the bed so I assumed he packed his clothes…”

The two women stared down at the contents of the suitcase. One pair of elastic-waist, pleated men’s shorts (beige), two undershirts, a Hawaiian print shirt, one dopp kit bag, and twenty-two bags of Trader Joe’s smoked roasted almonds. Delphine pulled out the dopp kit and unzipped the small naugahide bag. Toothbrush, toothpaste, and another bag of almonds.

“He likes almonds,” Delphine said.

“That’s the funny thing,” said Marge. “He doesn’t.”

That’s the funny thing here?”

“You know what I mean. Anyway, I love them.” Marge picked up a bag, tore it open, and started munching. “Stress hunger,” she explained.

Delphine heard the fridge swish closed and looked up to find Kenji eating a bowl of pasta salad at the bar counter.

“One of your better batches,” he said.

“I’ll say!” said Marge. “That stuff is delish, DL. You’ll have to give me the recipe!”

Delphine nodded, but remained silent. It was a secret family recipe, and she would never, ever give it away. And if there was anyone alive who could keep a secret, it was her.

“We got a ping on Willard’s phone,” said Kenji.

“And?” asked Delphine.

“You’re not going to like it.”

“Just spit it out!”

“Huntington Beach.”

Delphine’s shoulders drooped. The only thing she disliked more than driving across Los Angeles was driving into Orange County.

“Well what are we waiting for, let’s go!” said Marge, who bounded to her feet and went for her purse, stuffing the open bag of almonds in it.




It took an hour and twenty minutes to make it from Pasadena to the Huntington Beach Pier, and Marge talked for at least ninety-five of those one hundred and twenty minutes. She rode shotgun, while Kenji fell asleep in the back. Delphine was envious.

It wasn’t that there was anything fundamentally wrong with Orange County, yet there was. The energy was different, and Delphine felt the change the closer they got to their destination. The only redeeming thing about the trip was that they would be at the seaside. Everything felt better when she was near the ocean. However, Huntington Beach would have been her last choice of California beach towns. Figured.

She parked her Mercedes in a brand-new concrete parking structure that overlooked the water and they all stretched when they got out.

“It kinda feels like we’re on another planet,” said Marge, shading her eyes as she looked out at the ocean.

“We are,” said Delphine.

Marge laughed. “Isn’t it amazing how this is all one big country, with real distinct sections, but then it ends up being such a small world after all! Orange County’s different from LA, California’s different from Florida, Florida’s actually not so different from Orange County…”

“Yes,” said Delphine. “This is a big place.” She thought about all the other countries she had visited and worked in over the years. Quite a few, truth be told. Was this going to be the one she would choose to spend the rest of her retirement in?

Kenji walked to the edge of the parking garage and took a deep breath of salty air. “Waste of a view,” he said. “I don’t get this place. All concrete, no charm.” The parking garage was next to a new mall that ran along PCH. More grey concrete and signs for fancy shops. “City council’s on the take.”

Delphine wasn’t sure if he was asking a question or stating a fact, but it did seem plausible.

“I think it’s fantastic!” said Marge. “Do we have time to do some shopping? I could use a new jumpsuit.” She pulled out a handful of almonds from the bag and popped them in her mouth and crunched.

Delphine put out her hand and Marge poured some nuts into her palm. “Have you forgotten why we’re here?” Delphine asked.

“Nooooo,” said Marge. “Come on team, let’s go!” She marched away from the car a few steps and then turned back. “Where are we going?”

They descended to the ground floor of the parking structure and walked toward Pacific Coast Highway and the world-famous pier. Fortunately there was no surfing competition going on that weekend, so the crowds were limited to the usual Orange County loons plus a generous sprinkling of tourists.

Kenji checked the screen of his tablet. “This way.” He led them toward a two-story surf shop that was as big as a department store.

Marge pointed at Kenji’s tablet. “What kind of program is that?”

Kenji looked at Delphine, who answered for him. “Best not to ask, dear.”

“Does that mean Willard is close by?” asked Marge, wringing her hands again.

Neither Delphine nor Kenji said anything. Instead, they walked into the surf shop with Kenji and his tablet leading the way.

They got stares from the store’s patrons as they slowly made their way deeper into the store. The three of them huddled together, staring at a screen and shuffling down the aisle was surely a sight to behold, thought Delphine. Marge in her jumpsuit, Delphine in her linen slacks and blazer, Kenji in jeans and MIT sweatshirt, and all three of them with snow-white hair in various states of dishevelment. The only time people like them visited a store like this was to buy gifts for grandkids … Or so she thought until she spotted an octogenarian surfer dude with damp scraggly hair looking through wet suits along one wall.

They took the elevator to the second floor.

“Maybe there are some apartments on the third floor,” said Marge, trying to make sense of the situation. Delphine had to admit that it wasn’t making any sense to her either.

“Here,” said Kenji, and he stopped by a display of Billabong bikinis.

“Willard!” shouted Marge.

A tanned teenage girl in a sun dress looked at them as if they might attack her.

But that was all that happened. No Willard.

Kenji scrutinized his tablet, turned to his left, and walked three steps to stand in front of a trash receptacle, the kind with a lid that swung on a hinge. He moved the lid to peer inside, reached in, and pulled out an iPhone 7. When he turned it over, there was a sticker on the back that read, WTF: WELCOME TO FLORIDA.

When Marge caught sight of the sticker, she gasped. “He’s got to be here somewhere!” She frantically began to search the women’s swimwear section of the store.

Marge looked in every nook and cranny on the top floor, disturbing several people in changing stalls and barging into the staff break room, but no sign of Willard or of anyone Delphine would consider to be a kidnapper. Just young people browsing the latest beach styles, and a few old surfers browsing the young people.

There was no third floor, and after going over the lower floor with a fine-toothed Marge, the three officially declared the building was Willard-free.

“I need food,” declared Marge.

“Eat your almonds,” said Delphine.

“I’m hungry too. Let’s find a place to eat,” said Kenji, and that settled it.

The three walked down Main Street, looking at menus posted on windows as they tried to decide on a place where each of them could get something to eat that they liked. Kenji wanted sushi, Marge wanted barbecue. Delphine didn’t care. After ten minutes of arguing outside Wahoo’s Fish Taco, they went in, ordered, and sat down at a wobbly table covered in stickers for surfboard and skateboard brands.

The walls of the restaurant had the same decor as the tabletops, and Marge pulled out her phone and started snapping photos.

“Smile!” she said to Delphine and Kenji, who looked up to pose for the picture, but did not smile.

After inhaling tacos, slaw, and rice and beans in total silence, they leaned back in their chairs and let the food settle. Delphine was drained from the day’s events—the anticipation about her visitors, all the driving … The fact that Willard was missing wasn’t too stressful to her for some reason, probably because of all her experience with kidnappings. She’d located plenty of people who thought they were smart enough to kidnap someone, but who’d ended up not being smarter than her. And on more than one occasion, she and Kenji had done the abducting. They’d been on both sides of the equation.

Kenji pulled out Willard’s phone from his pocket. “What is the password?” he asked Marge.

“Heck if I know!” said Marge. “We didn’t have that kind of relationship.”

Delphine silently related. If for some reason she started seeing someone, it was unlikely—no, it was certain—that she wouldn’t give them her password either.

“That makes this more challenging, but not impossible,” said Kenji. “But I won’t be able to work on this until we get back.”

“Why would he throw away his phone?” asked Marge.

“He probably didn’t,” said Delphine. “Someone might have made him dump it, or they stole it and then tossed it.”

“Maybe we should call the FBI now,” said Marge, using a toothpick to get carnitas from between her teeth while Kenji watched with fascination.

“No,” said Delphine.

“Why not? You have a better plan?” Marge’s tone turned snippy. “Alls we got is his phone. He could be dead, right down the street!”

“She has a point,” said Kenji.

Delphine glared at him. “You’re not helping.”

Just then, Marge jumped in her chair. “Oh my,” she said. “These chairs are interesting. Oh wait! That was my phone!” She leaned to one side and pulled her phone out from under her. Her jumpsuit must have had back pockets, or so Delphine hoped.

“It’s a text from that same unknown number!” Marge yelled. A few other diners looked their way.

“Let me see,” said Delphine.

“Huh,” said Marge, staring at her phone screen.

Kenji held out his hand. “Hand it over please.”

Marge looked at him, and gave him the phone. Delphine leaned closer to Kenji so they could both read the text.


“Curious,” said Kenji.

“What part?” asked Delphine.

“Why wait two whole days before wanting to meet?”

“That’s easy,” said Marge, leaning back in her wobbly chair. “They want to give us plenty of time to get all that money together.”

“Plausible,” agreed Kenji.

“Should we write back?” asked Marge.

“Perhaps we should go to the authorities instead,” said Kenji.

“No, I changed my mind!” said Marge. “No cops. Now we make a plan.”

“Do you happen to have half a million dollars lying around?” Delphine asked her.

Marge squinted at Delphine and then looked at Kenji. “No, but I bet you guys do.”

Kenji laughed, a hearty guffaw that Delphine hadn’t heard him use often. “She’s too much,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Delphine took Marge’s phone from Kenji and started tapping on the screen. When she was done, she set it down and leaned forward, putting both elbows on the table. “Well, if we do this right none of us might have to come up with the money.”

“That’s the spirit!” barked Marge. “Wait, what?”


Ready for Part Two? Go here!

Be sure you’re signed up for the Ace Writes Newsletter to get more free stories!

Copyright 2023 by Andrea C. Neil