This is the third instalment of the mystery story Smiling Palms. You can read part one here and part two here. Please note this is fiction and any similarity between real people and places is purely coincidental.
SMILING PALMS PART THREE
At this, Aunt Mary burst into tears and shook uncontrollably as Shannon held her in a firm embrace.
Shannon promised to take her elderly aunt home with her, never to return. All she needed was a few days to find a place, having given up her rented house when she left for Canada. Once they were safely out of the village, they could try to organise an official investigation and attempt to sell the unit without the usual penalties for selling before the agreed-upon 12-year contract, Shannon promised.
Aunt Mary pulled herself together and began the calming process of making tea and sandwiches. Shannon could see how hard it was for the old woman to accept that their roles had been reversed. After years of being strong and comforting for Shannon, Aunt Mary was now the one seeking help and refuge.
Shannon decided to leave soon after so she could start looking for a place for them to rent, but she promised to return for dinner and stay with her aunt until they could move together. Even so, Aunt Mary clung to her with such desperation it was heart-breaking.
Shannon was gratified that after only three hours of searching, she found what she thought was the perfect cottage for them. The quaint little fibro house was on a quiet tree-lined street near Shannon’s old school where she would begin work in a few months. She was so happy after filling in the paperwork that she decided to celebrate with a bottle of champagne and some takeaway.
Armed with these goodies, Shannon was once again waiting nervously outside her aunt’s unit. She could feel eyes burning holes in her back.
At first, she was annoyed that her aunt took so long to answer. She chastised herself for an intolerance that was the luxury of youth and strong bones. Then Shannon started to worry. She knocked louder; still, there was no answer. The only explanation was that Aunt Mary was taking her daily stroll. Bad as her arthritis was, her doctors had advised she work through the pain with some exercise and the flat roads around the village were easily negotiable. Shannon decided to search the grounds before raising the alarm.
Leaving the food at the door, Shannon began to walk along the narrow, deserted streets of the village. She was once again struck by the beauty of the place. The springtime smells of dusk – honeysuckle, gardenia, evening primrose, made her feel glad to be alive. When she ran out of roads Shannon retraced her steps to the village centre she had passed earlier. She guessed the office would also be there. The office was unattended but there was a bell on the counter. Before ringing it, Shannon decided to look around the centre. It was a vast room with lounges, tables and chairs and two pianos. Running off to the right was an industrial-sized kitchen and to the left were the men and ladies’ toilets. She looked in the ladies’ but still no sign of her aunt.
Finally, she decided there was no alternative but to ask at the office. She rang the bell, which she gathered was wired to the manager’s apartment as it took several minutes before anyone arrived. A tall, thin woman in her mid-thirties, who appeared to be the essence of efficiency, greeted her.
“Yes, I’m the manager, Miss Davies. How can I help you?” she asked
“Hi, I’m Shannon Murphy, Mary Murphy’s niece. I’m a bit concerned about her as she was expecting me for dinner but isn’t answering her door.”
“I wouldn’t worry. She’s probably on one of her walks, she never misses a day. Personally, I don’t know why she bothers, it takes her so long with the arthritis and all, but you know how the old dears are – not much to do with their time anyway.”
“All the same, maybe you could use your master key to check that she hasn’t fallen or something. I’ve already checked the grounds and she’s nowhere to be seen.”
“It’s not usual for us to resort to using the master key except in emergencies. There are privacy issues you see; however, I can tell you’re worried so I’ll bend the rule just this once,” said Miss Davies.
With that, she turned, sighed dramatically and searched through the drawer for the master key. Shannon dutifully followed her as the manager swept out of the office. It was easy to see why the residents were scared. This woman, so tall and stern, was completely intimidating.
As it was late September, daylight savings had not begun and the sky was getting dark fast. Still, Shannon could feel those eyes on her.
The unit was empty when they arrived and Shannon’s concern turned to alarm. She knew her aunt would not stay out after dark. Aunt Mary would be scared of the ‘young hoodlums’. She looked around for a note, a clue, anything and realised that something was wrong. It took her several minutes to realise the cherished crystal castle was missing. Panic overtook her and she knew she would find other missing valuables if she could just concentrate.
Miss Davies was speaking, but she couldn’t make out what she was saying. Shannon realised she was hyperventilating and would pass out if she didn’t calm down.
“I’m calling the police,” she announced.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Miss Davies replied with a smirk. “She’s probably on her walk.”