Friday, June 5, 2020

The 1st Clue: Dog Tags

by Sherry Morris

Holy smoke ‘em if you have ‘em. Dog tags were hidden inside my skein of yarn. The dead sailor’s tags were missing. These are his. I just know it. Why are dog tags stuffed inside my mother’s yarn?

As I flipped them around to read the name, I heard the clang and whoosh of the doors opening behind me. I stuffed the dog tags back into the skein, picked up the ball, knitting needles, my handout and pencil and glanced innocently at the reverend and my brother. They were walking and whispering and didn’t acknowledge me. I jumped out of my seat. It rolled back, bouncing off the wall and back to the table. I slipped past them and made a dash for compartment A.

I arrived and fastened the door behind me. Good, Mini Mary Agnes was gone. I heard the toilet whoosh. Oh poop. Now what?

I flipped the lid off my cooler and shoved the yarn inside, stuffing the loose tangle down into the water. I replaced the lid just as the bathroom door slammed into my back. I winced and rolled out of the way as best I could in the confined space.

Mary Agnes huffed and offered her unwashed hand to help me up.

I instead grabbed the ladder on the converted bunk bed and hoisted myself up, kicking the cooler under the chair all in the same swift movement. I heard the water sloshing.

“God punishes those who sin.”

“Excuse me? Are you saying I got hurt because I’m bad? And furthermore, you are the one who injured me. Do you think you are Lady God or something?”

“The holy Mrs. Donaldson paired you heathen writers up with us chosen ones to save your wicked souls.”

A knock at the door caused us to look out the corridor window at the reverend and my brother the conductor.

Mary Agnes glanced in the mirror, primped her hair and then opened the door.

“Sandra. Leave,” said Andy.

“What?” Was this be-mean-to-Sandra-night or something?

“We need to speak with Miss Starr privately,” said Pastor Donaldson.

Whatever. I squeezed past everyone and loped down the hall and into the parlor car. It was empty. I could see Tabloid Tilly out on the vestibule with her camera snapping away. I wondered how she could take pictures with just the little light outside.

I poured myself a cup of hot water and plunked sugar cubes and a teabag into it.

Settling onto the rounded sofa, I stared out the window into the blackness.

“You can’t go back to your room,” said Andy.

He had startled me. “What?”

The reverend will be staying with Miss Starr for the rest of the night.”

I shook my head in incredulity. “That’s too twisted. Do you mean that Reverend Donaldson is taking my place?”


“That’s kooky. He and Rosemary surely have a huge suite. What is going on, Andy?”

“The body you discovered this morning. He was her brother.”

The train pitched hard to the left. Scalding tea slopped onto my lap. I whimpered.

Andy pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and tossed it to me. I blotted and waited for a believable explanation.

“Mary Agnes Starr is a regular member of Donaldson’s congregation and he says she’s a little bipolar but rarely takes her meds. So with that information Hernandez decided not to interview her until morning.”

“Wait. William is on the train? Or will he get on in the morning? Why didn’t they just take her off the train? Isn’t this a bizarre way to conduct an investigation? What do they think she knows?”

“I don’t question the brass. Just do as told. But this seems quite irregular to me, too. Anyhow don’t disturb them.”

“So where am I supposed to sleep then?”

“Curl up here. I’ll find you a blanket.”

“My back will be all out of whack in the morning. It’s injured anyhow. Mary Agnes slammed the bathroom door on me. Let me stay with you.”

“Jimmy Tamales is snoring in my bottom bunk.”

“Fine. I’ll go to Mom’s room.”

“Her top bunk doesn’t have a mattress.”


“Gross story from the last crusade. Believe me you don’t want to know…”

I sighed and pursed my lips. “Hey, the other speaker didn’t get on yet. I can take his room.” Thank goodness I remembered. Cool. I’d be in Tony O’Rourke’s room before he was. Maybe there was some sort of telepathic muse waiting.

“The lieutenant is holed up in there. Made it into a mobile command center.”

“Of course. Lieutenant Hernandez is the ever efficient investigator. Always leaving me in the lurch.” I wished I hadn’t said that out loud.

“I’ll be back with a blanket.” Andy exited toward the sleeper.

The back door clanged shut as Tabloid Tilly stomped inside. I flinched. She shuffled past me in a haze of cigar smoke. Her huge camera dangled around her Olive Oil neck.

I opened my mouth to greet her but she didn’t meet my eye. I don’t think she’d ever spoken to me before. An odd one, that Aussie. An air of I’m better than you about her. I’d noticed that with Australians. The women I’d encountered were aloof and the men were really cute but took stupid chances.

When I was fourteen Mom had an Australian e-pal come to stay with us for three weeks. They’d met in an internet knitting room. The woman was visiting North, Central and South America one winter. She was ping-ponging her way across the continents cheaply because she invited herself to stay with other online knitters. Well, okay so I never figured out how they knitted online but apparently Mom enjoyed it.

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