Trading Bad for Good – A Deviled Yeggs Mystery

I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs.  I work homicide in the big city of Tracy.  My partner is Jim Wednesday.  Poached Yeggs, homicide detective and my nephew, has been working with Jim and me.

For those who have been keeping up with these reports, you might have seen a pattern.  Most of my days are spent in the office doing paperwork, double-checking everything and triple-checking those cases that are not solved.  I also get involved in the strange cases.  I get involved in the cases of political or newsworthy importance.  And I serve as the taskforce coordinator when several departments are involved.

On this day, it was something of political or newsworthy importance in a very unlikely part of town.  Jim and Poached were working a simple, although maybe not that simple, case of extortion that got out of hand.  At least, that was what they were guessing.  The neighborhood had one of those closed-mouth policies.  They told the police as little as was possible.  But one of the people interviewed had said that if a rich person had not come by regularly, Hazel would still be alive. “She might not have killed her, but it was as if she’d put a gun to her head.”  Hazel was not shot.  She was strangled or her neck was broken.  The M.E. would let us know that.  The neighborhood could identify the assailant, but no one would talk.  We could probably bet good money on it being a family member.

But with there being a rich woman involved with a maid named Hazel Connolly, the simple case of trying to take money by force and accidentally killing the person became a big deal.  Thus, I arrived late to the party.  And although it was accidental, the death occurred during the commission of a felony, and we could push for first degree murder.

Guy Weiss, known as Wise Guy, greeted me at the crime scene boundary and welcomed me to the crime scene.  I had not taken three steps toward the house when I heard a blood-curdling scream from behind me.  “Noooo!  No!  Not that house.  Detective, go somewhere else.  You have no right to be at that house!  Not Hazel, please, no, not Hazel!”

I recognized the voice.  It was Amy G. Dala.  I turned to find Wise Guy wrestling with her and losing the fight.  She was all arms and legs.  Wise Guy was trying to be gentle with this lady, but at the moment she was like a cat that does NOT want to take a bath, and Wise Guy was unable to subdue her.

I said, “Wise Guy, let her go.”  Wise Guy looked at me as if I was crazy.  He would get in trouble if she disturbed anything at the crime scene.  “Wise Guy, she’s focusing her anger at me.  She will attack me and not go in the house.  Let her through.”

At that point, Wise Guy looked relieved.  Besides, he had very little left to hold.  She flew at me with her fists pounding my chest.  Her sobs came with deep gasps as she used every ounce of her air in each breath to heave out the sobs.  She kept repeating the same things.  Along with a myriad of “No,” she said thing like “Go somewhere else.  Another house.” And “It can’t be Hazel, not Hazel.”

I gripped her in a tight bear hug, allowing her to hit me, but not allowing her to escape.  The blows never hurt, but after a couple of minutes, the punch in her punches diminished.  Her screams became softer.  Her sobs became silent, although the tears kept flowing.

Then the fists stopped entirely and she started to hug me back.  She softly said, “I now know what your wife, Naomi, meant when she said your bear hugs were why she married you.”

I pushed Amy away.  I did not think she would dash for the house, but if Amy was getting frisky, I needed distance.  I retorted, “My wife, Glyce, or Naomi as you and a few other call her, married me for my charm, handsome looks, and fancy dance moves.”

Amy finally snickered, “That’s not the way she tells it.”

I groaned.  I was working a homicide case and a friend of the family was involved in some kind of odd way, as one witness said, “If the rich lady was not spending time here, Hazel would be alive.”  This was not going to end well.

Amy then added, “Can you teach Ralphie how to do those bear hugs?”

I replied, “Tell Ralph E. that the hugs are one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Apostle Paul did not get around to putting on the list.”

Amy shook her head, “From what I am learning lately, that does not sound right, Dev.”

She had calmed down.  “Detective” was now a familiar, shortened version of my name, “Dev.”

“Is this learning at the church where I go?” I asked.  “Are you and Ralph E. planning a church wedding and taking pre-marital classes from Rev. C.S.L.?”

Amy sputtered, “That was all in confidence!  We go to a different service from you and Naomi.  How do you…  Oh, you are some detective, aren’t you?”

I laughed, “Not much of one.  Easter is engaged to Jemima, although they are not getting married for another couple of years.  She walked by her father’s office and saw the two of you.  She had seen you at the early service, sneaking out the back before Sunday school.  She figured it out without her father betraying your trust.  But my main question is why a church wedding?  Aren’t both you and Ralph E. agnostics or some such?”

Amy said, “I have been complaining lately that this homicide detective that I know was having some influence on me.  I think Hazel had even more influence.  Hazel had nothing but her love for Jesus.  But the church wedding was Ralphie’s idea.  He thought of me as a princess and there was no more fitting way for a princess to get married except in a nice church with the gown and the cake and all that stuff.  The pastor is a good apologist.  He explains all our concerns about Christianity and the Bible, but neither of us are there yet.  But to be honest, with Hazel gone, I need a rock to build my faith upon.

I added, “That’s where Jesus comes in.  Now, since Hazel was a maid, did she clean your apartment?”

“Yes, but not what you think.”

“She either did or she didn’t.”

“She cleaned my apartment as part of a software development project.  She was a contributor.”

“She programs the computer?!”

“No, a contributor, not a programmer.” Amy said with disgust.

“Amy, start at some kind of beginning with words that a non-computer nerd can understand.”

Amy nodded, “When I started the company, I hired a lot of people, but I knew that to keep them hired, I needed additional projects.  I asked the employees for their ideas.  If they ‘contributed’ an idea that our analysis team, in the beginning me, myself, and I, but if the analysis said we could make good money, we gave the contributor ten percent of the gross for the first release only.  If the project was adequately managed, they basically got the profit.  But the way it worked for the company was rapid expansion into a variety of fields, since the employees had come from all over the place.  It is the way Ralph E. became a millionaire on his own merit.  I am not marrying a struggling software developer.  He runs one of my divisions, but it was a division that started with his ideas in the first place.”  Amy took a deep breath. “About a year and a half ago, I did a full media blitz in Tracy.  I wanted to share the company’s success with the city.  Now, anyone can contribute an idea, but it has to have a marketable worth.  One of my first contributors was Hazel, but her idea did not seem to be a cash cow.  I decided to take it on personally, because her first letter was heartwarming. And our first meeting was wonderful.  I basically adopted her as my new mother.  Her idea was to have a customer take pictures of their home, each room, and then have the computer provide any one of three prices: a basic cleaning, a more in depth cleaning, and then the detail cleaning with the toothbrush and inspected with the white glove.  Technical issues were all over the place and we thought that the big companies would already have a formula.  But the big maid-service companies had nothing that gave an accurate lump sum estimate.  Their customers either paid so much per hour and suffered the cost, or the set rate led to the work never getting the house really clean.  Hazel is due…  was due a tidy sum of money, well into the six digits.”

“Why due the money?  You had not paid her?”

“Hazel lived in this community.  She refused to move.  She gave a third of her money from me each month to the local library, a third to the community center, and she kept the rest, that is if she didn’t give it to the church.  She was still cleaning houses to put food on the table.  When she cleaned my apartment, she was making great money, but we filmed her and timed everything she did to confirm that our estimations were on the money.  So, yes, she cleaned my apartment.  But why the money was due her is because she has always been poor.  I set up an investment account.  She had two nephews, Randy and Andy.  She thought Andy was salvageable, but Randy was a bad character all around.  I knew that if Hazel had a few thousand, much less tens of thousands of dollars in a desk drawer, Randy would steal it.  And a little at a time would keep Hazel from spending it too quickly, but I doubt if she ever would have.”

Our conversation was interrupted by Wise Guy wrestling another fiery female.  “That’s the one.  She done it.  If she would just had stayed with the rich folk, Hazel would be alive.  I know!  I visited Hazel every day.  You just as good as killed her, woman!”  Okay, she said a naughty word other than woman, but I cleaned it up.

But Amy seemed to be in a daze.  She walked to this woman who was cursing her existence, and she said, “You must be Mabel.  Hazel spoke of you often.  She loved you like a sister, and the two of you sat next to each other in church.  My advisors helped Hazel with her will and you are prominently mentioned.”

“I don’t want your money.  I want Hazel back.”

“We can talk when this is all worked out, but Hazel wanted you to keep making contributions out of her earnings to go to the library and the community center here, and you would get the rest for your own needs.  She knew Randy and Andy would simply squander the money.  I begged Hazel to move in with me.  I would build her a home of her own in a safer neighborhood, but she loved this place.  Please, accept my condolences.”

Mabel softened, “I know what you mean about Randy.  I was walking up to the house and I heard him yelling at Hazel.  He said, ‘I know there is more.  Give it to me!’  I hesitated.  Then I went in the house and found her dead on the kitchen floor.  As I entered the front door, I heard Randy go out the back in a hurry.  I called an ambulance, but she was already gone.  That’s why I said that if it wasn’t for the money she got from you, Randy would not have pressed her for more than she usually gave him.  Although, every penny was wasted.  Randy gambled.”

I suddenly had the hairs on my neck standing up.  Mabel, in talking to Amy, had said more than Jim and Poached could get out of the entire community.  I would have to call in Organized Crime and figure out how much Randy owed.  I am sure he did not make legal bets.  Randy was desperate.  He knew his aunt had earned more than what she had in her purse.  And now there was two reasons to protect Mabel.  Randy would think that Hazel could trust her best friend, maybe with the money, and Mabel had just talked where a policeman could hear.  Randy would be after her.

As I snapped out of my idea of what might have happened, I saw these two ladies hugging each other and crying.  Wait.  One wanted to kill the other one for having her best friend killed.  But sometimes grief shows no boundaries.

Amy said, “Mabel is a baker, and she thinks your brother’s bakery is going to put her out of business. Aren’t they looking for more help?”

Mabel protested, “Now, look, honey child, I would never work for the person who is running me out of business.”

I shook my head.  “Mabel, when my Dad failed to appear in court, my mother’s bakery went up for sale.  She had a lien against it in order to have my Dad out on bail.  She lost the bakery but kept working there until she died.  She just worked for someone else.  You do what you have to do.  My brother, Scrambled, still uses her recipes.  Since you have been seen here talking and Hazel might have given you some money, not that she did, I think you need to be somewhere safe until we catch Randy and maybe Andy too.  I’ll make some calls, but Pink Lady will give you a place to stay until it is safe to come back home.  While you are at Lily the Pink, fix some apple strudel and let Pink Lady and Scrambled have a bite.  You probably won’t need to have an interview.”

“But I ain’t leaving here.  This is my community.  My prices are lower, something these people can afford.  I don’t want to leave.” Mabel protested.

Amy gave her a hug.  “Deviled isn’t saying that.  It is just temporary while the person who killed Hazel is still running loose.”

“I need to get a few things from my house first.”

I protested, “Mabel, I do not think that it is safe.  When Pink Lady has someone new, at the spur of the moment, she loves going on a shopping spree.  Toothbrushes, shampoo, a few changes of clothes, she loves doing that stuff.  You go to church.  Remember Zacchaeus?  Pink Lady has the money, and she is giving it back fourfold.  Trouble is that every new business venture makes her more money.  And once she tastes your apple strudel, it won’t be charity.  You’ll be hired.”

“But what if I want to stay here and bake here?”

Amy said, “My lawyers will work out a contract.  You can work there when you need to use more ovens and then work here most of the time.  They are starting to cross-train some of their people at Lily the Pink as delivery drivers.  They can pick up here and then deliver.”

Mabel grinned, “Looks like I’m going on a little vacation and I’m baking apple strudel.  I make mine with a soul food flare.”

I chuckled, “All the better, something she hasn’t tasted before.”

I called Jim and had him come out to join us.  I caught him up on what I had learned.  Jim got the search for Randy and Andy.  There were photos in the house and Mabel put a name with each of them, but Andy had grown a beard recently.  Jim got the artist at city hall to digitally add a beard.  Andy was easy to find, but Randy was hiding.

I called Pink Lady, and she answered her cellphone from Washington state.  She and Zuzka were hiking to waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, but officially they were getting a firsthand look at the construction progress on Lily the Pink – West.  They were disappointed with several things.  Sometimes construction people just put it in place, and it makes it hard for the operator or a key valve is upside down and the oil would drain from the actuator motor.  Pink Lady knew the equipment from a maintenance view better than Zuzka.  Of course, to make everything head-bumping proof for Zuzka, everything would have to be out of reach for anyone else.  She made sure she had her hardhat.

Pink Lady told me that she would call Scrambled and if they did not have everything Mabel needed, Sandy Beech would go with Mabel to do the shopping.  Pink Lady then suggested a different bakery item to get Scrambled sold on Mabel’s talents, but she added, “Does she make banana pudding?  I know, it is not a usual bakery item, but the Hoity Toity club had us fixing a huge dessert section for a reception.  They are hosting a Southern comedian, and he loves banana pudding.”

I asked Mabel if she could make banana pudding.

She got both excited and irritated, “Child, if that comedian heard you say banana pudding, he probably wouldn’t even taste it.  He’d know it wasn’t fit to eat.  Where I come from it’s ‘nanner pudd’n.’  Forget the recipe, that down home fellow will be in heaven.”

I think we had her sold on working for Scrambled, at least part time.

I turned to Wise Guy and gave him advice on how to detain a distraught friend of the deceased.  It was all about leverage.

Wise Guy said, “But I’d like to know how you do bear hugs.”

“Sorry, it comes with the training for Detective Staff Sergeant.”

Wise Guy scratched his head and said, “I am not buying that answer, Sgt. Yeggs.  But in my defense with the women.  They bit me.  Both of them!”

I called George Evident, and he worked through his informants to find out that Randy was in deep to the Rotten Apples.  The Rotten Apples had a leg breaker out looking for Randy.  Randy, being as dumb as a board, would think he was going to be killed if he didn’t produce the money.  The Rotten Apples rarely killed anyone for a bad debt.  It’s harder to get money out of a dead person.  They might need to send a message, but Randy had a steady source of income by roughing up his aunt Hazel.

After a thorough search of where Randy usually hung out, Randy was hiding at Mabel’s house.  I looked up and said a prayer of thanks when they found him there.  He would have killed Mabel too.  In asking him why he was at Mabel’s house, he incriminated himself for the murder.  He said that his aunt Hazel didn’t have enough money, so he came to Hazel’s friend to see if he could get Hazel’s money from her.  When we asked when he last went to Hazel’s house, he said right before she died.  And then, how did you know she was dead, since you have been at Mabel’s house ever since?  He just blinked a few times, and then said something about how he knew she had money hidden away and he needed it and she knew that when he needed money, she had to give it to him.  A confession came soon after.  Maybe not dumb, but not smart enough to keep his mouth shut.  We had mirandized him, so we had him for murder, while he was making excuses to avoid a simple breaking and entering charge.

When I told Mabel that she could go back home, she was hesitant.  I think she was wanting to work out a deal of using her house as a satellite bakery shop and work fulltime for Scrambled.  She had never seen more brand-new ovens in her life, and she was the first hire after they had cut the ribbon.  And if she could sell the idea to Pink Lady, she knew who she could hire to run the shop, that is her ‘former’ home.  She might even teach them how to bake.

And as for Amy’s contributors program, she started having team meetings in her conference room on the subject.  When you are trying to do something good and give back to the community, they needed some safeguards to prevent someone trading the good that Amy’s company had done for bad, especially murder.  And in memory of Hazel, you can go to the community center where an anonymous donor gave money to build a computer lab for the community, named the Hazel Connolly Computer Lab.  There was even money left over to keep the computers maintained and updated for at least ten years.

Credits

Hazel Connolly is a combination of Hazel Burke, of the television show Hazel, a live-in maid played by Shirley Booth and Ruth Connolly, who was James Earl Jones’ mother, and a maid.

And it was said about Andrew Carnegie that when he got the idea of giving his money away, he found it impossible as he was making it faster than he could build things with the names like “Carnegie Hall” or library or such.

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