The Tangled Web
A Mother’s Secret
A Jenny & Pete Mystery
Another story of adventure and friendship
for kids who love dogs, ghosts,
angels and best friends
Beaver Bayou Publishing
Copyright © 2013 Hays Williams
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Printed in the United States of America.
Although the town of Hamilton is loosely based on a real town, this book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
After saying farewell to Miss Luna, Jenny, Pete, their moms, Bobby, Uncle Rudy, Amos, and Dr. Ferguson returned to Bonner House. Bobby got on his bike and was about to leave when his mom drove up. Pete helped him load the bike into the back of her SUV.
“See you guys tomorrow,” he called from the car.
Sam stayed close to Jenny as she said goodnight to everyone and headed upstairs. She brushed her teeth and crawled into bed. At one-thirty the phone rang and she jumped to get it before it woke her mom. It was Pete, and he could hardly talk.
“Jenny, please come to the back porch. Something awful has happened.”
Jenny threw on her robe and ran downstairs. Pete was sitting on the porch steps, crying. She threw her arms around him and waited. He finally regained his composure and looked at her.
“Bobby and his mother had a bad accident. Oh, Jenny,” Pete’s voice broke. “Bobby’s in the hospital. He’s hurt bad, and his mom is dead.”
Jenny and Pete sat on the back porch and talked until the sun came peeping through the oak trees. Sam snuggled against Pete, comforting him. Pete hugged the big German shepherd and buried his face in the black and gold fur on Sam’s neck.
Jenny’s heart ached. She thought of Bobby’s comical impressions, and she wondered how long before he’d feel up to entertaining anyone again. She remembered Katie’s remark at the Sanders’ barbeque: “I'm not sure, but I think Bobby’s had a hard time most of his life. Probably covers up with his comedy act.” Tears ran down Jenny’s face and she wiped them on her pajama sleeves. Bobby had become part of her world. He proved he could be trusted and he’d worked hard to help them with the dogman mystery, and with Amos’s problem. Pete loved him as if they were brothers. And so do I, Jenny thought.
“What in the world will Bobby do, Jenny? His mom was all he had.”
“We can’t think like that, Pete. Bobby has us and he has Uncle Rudy. He’ll have a home for as long as he needs it.” Jenny hesitated. “And you know what we need to do while he’s recuperating?”
Pete managed a smile. “I know. We have to find his dad, and we can’t waste any time doing it.”
Jenny nodded. “We’ll find him, Pete. I’ve got an idea or two, but let’s talk about it later. Right now we need to get dressed and have breakfast. Soon as Uncle Rudy is up, I’ll call him and break the news. He’ll want to see Bobby, so we’ll skip school and ride with him to the hospital. Amos may want to go too. He really likes Bobby.”
Jenny thought about all Bobby had done to help clear Amos of the recent robbery charge. Discovering the hidden door in her basement and learning a man was living in the secret rooms that were connected to Bonner House had unnerved her. After she and Pete became friends with Amos and heard his story, he became the main suspect in a robbery. Bobby helped them figure out who the real robber was. Then, with the help of the Internet, Pete managed to locate Amos’s mother and sister and the family had a joyous reunion. Jenny felt amazed when she thought of all that happened in the past month. Some of it seemed unbelievable.
Pete stood up. “I guess I’d better go take a shower.”
At seven-thirty Jenny called Uncle Rudy and told him about the accident. He became so quiet Jenny thought the phone went dead. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded muffled and Jenny knew he cared about Bobby as much as she and Pete did.
“I’ll pick you and Pete up around eight-thirty. Before we leave the hospital, we’ll need to make a list of what Bobby needs so we can go by Benson’s. And we have to go by the office where Mrs. Roland worked. She probably had some insurance through her employer, so that should cover the funeral expenses and take care of Bobby’s medical bills.”
On the way to the hospital no one spoke. When they reached Bobby’s room, Jenny went straight to him and hugged him gently.
“I’m so sorry, Bobby. I know how much it hurts.”
“I know you do, Jenny, and you too, Pete.” Tears spilled from Bobby’s dark eyes and onto his cheeks.
Amos patted Bobby’s shoulder and squeezed his arm. “Bobby.” Unable to continue, he turned away to the window.
Uncle Rudy took Bobby’s hand. “Son, I want you to know you’re not alone. When you leave the hospital, you’re coming home with me. We’ll talk more about it later. Right now, we’re going to help you do what needs to be done. Jenny, find some paper and a pen.”
When they left the hospital, Uncle Rudy drove to the office where Bobby’s mother worked. Miss Quinten, Director of Human Resources, led him to her office and closed the door. She quickly informed him that privacy laws would not allow them to release insurance information. Then she opened a file drawer and pulled out a folder. Flipping through the file she pulled out a document and scanned it. “Victoria was an organized person. She gave this to me several years ago and asked me to keep it in the event it was ever needed. According to this, her attorney will handle everything. I spoke with him just before you arrived. Here’s his name and phone number if you’d like to call him.” She handed a piece of note paper to Uncle Rudy. “I believe she also left instructions for the funeral with him. I’ll give the hospital business office a call to let them know Victoria had medical insurance. Mr. Mitchell, please let Bobby know how sorry we are. When I got the news this morning it broke my heart. His mother was special to all of us.”
On the way home Uncle Rudy told Jenny and Pete what happened. “You kids give me an hour or so to hash out the funeral details with the lawyer. Then we’ll handle everything else.”
Jenny shook her head as she and Pete climbed out of the truck. “Why does it have to be so complicated?”
“That’s just the way it is, Jenny. Be back in a little while.”
Two hours later Uncle Rudy tooted his truck horn from the back driveway. Jenny locked up and they headed for Hamilton High to give funeral details to Miss Oliver. At Quality Respiratory & Medical Supply they picked up a wheelchair and a pair of crutches. The next stop was Sammy’s Men’s Shop on Cherry Street where one of the clerks found a nice suit and a pair of shoes in Bobby’s size.
“No need to worry too much about the suit, Uncle Rudy. Mom will have to split the right leg of the pants because of the cast.”
“Guess you’re right, Jenny. Bobby might need to recuperate in some old pajamas to keep from ruining all of his clothes. Good thing one of the nurses found his door key in his pocket. We can go ahead and move some of his personal things to my house. I’ll call the landlord and arrange to move the furniture and other stuff to a storage area later.”
Because Bobby assured them he had all the necessities at home, they skipped the stop at Benson’s. Instead they went to his home and packed what was needed. Jenny noticed he only had one pair of pajamas, so she made a mental note to pick up two or three pair the next day.
When Uncle Rudy dropped Jenny and Pete off at the back porch, he turned and headed back to town. “Got to go check on something, Jenny. Be back in an hour or so.”
Amos went home to Uncle Rudy’s house to study. He planned to take exams in June to receive his degree and teacher’s certificate, and he hoped to become Hamilton’s newest elementary teacher by September. Knowing he planned to study, Jenny was surprised when he called her five minutes later.
“Jenny, can you come over here for a few minutes? I want to talk to you, alone.”
He sounded strange and Jenny wondered if something was wrong. When she walked into Uncle Rudy’s kitchen, Amos was pouring soda into two glasses.
“What is it, Amos?”
“Probably nothing, Jenny, but I have to ask you something. I know Bobby will be okay, and I know his mother is gone. But what about the other lady? No one’s mentioned her.”
“What other lady?”
Amos finished pouring the soda and glanced at Jenny. “Why, the one who was in the back seat when they drove away. Was she killed too?”
“Amos, there was no one else in the car with Bobby and his mom. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“But there was, Jenny. A very pretty lady. I can’t believe you didn’t see her. There was something about her.”
“I’ll ask at the hospital, Amos. I can’t imagine why they didn’t mention her when we were there.”
Jenny went home and two hours later she heard Uncle Rudy’s truck in the driveway. He walked in the back door with a big smile and grabbed her in a bear hug.
“Well, I got temporary custody of Bobby. Mrs. Roland’s attorney and the child services people said he can stay with me when he’s dismissed from the hospital. I had to convince them that I had plenty of help, so they took down names—you, your mother, Pete, and Daniel. Seems they think I’m a bit too old to handle a teenager by myself. Then I told them about my time in the army when I helped the medics take care of wounded soldiers, sort of like a nursing assistant. Gave them baths and all that other stuff that nursing assistants do. That convinced them. I did learn something interesting. Seems Bobby’s mother named two people as possible guardians for him—me and Miss Quinten. For personal reasons Miss Quinten can’t accept the responsibility right now, so she asked the attorney to check me out. So, if all goes well, I may end up as Bobby’s permanent guardian.”
“I didn’t realize you knew Mrs. Roland,” Jenny said.
“Actually I didn’t, Jenny,” Uncle Rudy said. “The attorney told me that Bobby talked to his mother about working for me and she got curious. So she had him check me out. When she read the report she told him to put me down as a second possibility, if I was willing. She said ‘I want my son to grow up under the influence of good people and Mr. Mitchell sounds like one of the best.’” Uncle Rudy beamed and his eyes grew moist.
“The funeral is Wednesday morning?”
“That’s right, Jenny. The director suggested a small graveside service, with Mrs. Roland’s pastor in charge. Said it would be easier on Bobby than having to go to two different locations. I went by the hospital again and saw Bobby’s doctor. He’s going to release Bobby Wednesday, so I asked him to do it early before the funeral. He suggested we get a seatbelt for his wheelchair, so I went by Quality and got one. The director has arranged for a burial plot on a nice level spot at the cemetery. Should be easy to get to with the wheelchair.”
“Pete and I can pick up some pajamas, slippers, and a robe. Looks like Bobby doesn’t have much in the way of night clothes. I’ll try to find some of those soft stretchy lounging pants like my dad always loved. They have wide legs, so they’ll be perfect for him while he’s healing.”
A knock at the back door interrupted them and Pete joined them.
“You kids will have to give me lots of help over the next few weeks. One of the nurses had a private talk with me as I was leaving. Said Bobby’s having bad dreams and he keeps asking about his dad.” Uncle Rudy stopped in mid-sentence. “I thought he didn’t know his dad, so that puzzled me.”
“You’re right, Mr. Mitchell,” Pete said. “Bobby’s mom would never tell him about his dad, but he wants to find him.”
“Not much chance of that, with his mother gone.” Uncle Rudy said.
“Maybe not, but Jenny and I are going to try to find him. The Internet should be a big help.”
“Afraid I can’t help with that, Pete. I’d be afraid to touch a computer. All that modern technology is beyond me. I’m still using my old manual typewriter. Like me, it’s probably an antique by now.”
Jenny laughed. “Uncle Rudy, you’re not an antique. You’re one of the youngest people I know. I realized that when I danced the jitterbug with you at my party. I couldn’t keep up.”
Uncle Rudy turned serious. “Jenny, why don’t you get your mom to drive you and Pete back to the hospital around seven. Spend an hour or so with Bobby before they sedate him for the night. Tell him I’ll be up there tomorrow morning and visit for a while.”
“Okay. Then Pete and I can go by and see him tomorrow afternoon. I’m going to work on that new suit right now. Mom showed me how to use her seam ripper to undo the seam in the right leg without ruining the pants. That way the pant leg can be sewn back together when he’s well and his suit will be good as new.”
“Great idea, Jenny. It would be a shame to ruin a brand new suit.”
On Tuesday afternoon Jenny and Pete parked their bikes outside the hospital and chained them to the ramp. When they reached Bobby’s room they were surprised to find three nurses hovering over him. One of them turned and waved them back into the hallway, then followed them.
“Poor kid is having terrible dreams. Almost scared us to death just now with his screaming. I think he was reliving the accident. The EMTs who brought him in said he knew his mother was gone before they got him out of the vehicle. They said only a miracle could have saved Bobby because they couldn’t imagine how anyone survived that accident. Had to sedate him on the way in.”
“Can we see him before they knock him out?” Jenny asked.
“I think so. Come with me.” The nurse led them back into Bobby’s room. After whispering something to the other two nurses, they left the room.
Bobby opened his eyes when Jenny touched his arm. He looked at her and Pete. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without my mom. She was my best friend.”
Jenny leaned over and placed her hand on his forehead. “I know, Bobby, but please remember you have me and Pete, and you have our moms and Uncle Rudy. We’re going to take care of you and we’ll be your family now.”
“Thanks, Jenny. You and Pete are the best.” Bobby’s voice trailed off.
“Pete, can you wait here for a minute? I need to ask the nurse something.”
Pete nodded and Jenny stepped into the hallway. She spotted one of the nurses and motioned to her.
“Can you tell me anything about the lady who was in the car with Bobby and his mother? Was she killed too?”
The nurse gave her a curious look. “There was no one else in the car. The EMTs report clearly stated two passengers, one woman and a boy. Why do you think there was another woman with them?”
“I’m not sure what I think,” Jenny said, as she returned to Bobby’s room.
Bobby appeared to be asleep. Jenny leaned toward Pete and whispered, “I think they gave him a shot. We need to leave and let him rest.”
“Not yet,” Bobby struggled to talk. “Pete, remember your promise.”
Pete leaned close to Bobby’s ear and Jenny barely heard what he said.
“I remember, Bobby. I promise we’re going to find your dad.”
On the way home Pete shared his research on Bobby’s dad.
“There’s not much to tell you, Jenny. I don’t have a name, so the Internet isn’t much help. What we need may be gone, along with Bobby’s mom.”
“I know. I just don’t understand the secrecy. Every kid has the right to know who his parents are.”
“That’s my thinking too, Jenny, but Bobby said he gave up asking his mother about it. Said the last time they talked about it she started crying and told him something he hadn’t heard before, but it was no help at all.”
“Care to share it with me?”
“Sure. She said his father was the most special man she’d ever known and his work was even more special. Said he’s really making a difference for the world, and learning about Bobby might ruin everything. She got so emotional that Bobby promised her he’d never ask about his dad again.” Pete hesitated. “Jenny, how could she tell him that knowing he has a son might ruin his dad’s life? That really hurt Bobby.”
“She probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Something tells me she really loved that man, whoever he was. There must be some way to figure this out. Maybe there’s something in their house, a clue of some kind that would give us a starting point. Right now all we have is Bobby’s resemblance to Senator Morgan.”
“Yeah, I know. Maybe we need to research the senator and see what he’s done since he was elected. Maybe he’s into some kind of work that’s special.”
“I suppose. Why don’t you handle the Internet research on him while I try something else?”
“Well, I have an idea, but first I’ll need to see if Mr. Ziegler will let me join the journalism class and work on the school newspaper. If he says yes, then I’ll suggest that my first story should be an interview with the senator.”
“But Jenny, this semester is close to half over.”
“I know,” Jenny interrupted. “But I have some previous experience that might convince him to let me in. And I don’t mind doing extra work to make up for lost time.”
“I’m not sure. Guess I’ll play it by ear.”
“I’ve got it!” Pete stopped his bike so quickly that he toppled to the ground.
“Be careful, Pete! I can’t handle you and Bobby both laid up with broken bones.”
“DNA! Jenny, that’s the only way to see if Bobby and the senator are related.”
“And how do you propose getting a sample of the senator’s DNA?”
“You get into that class and land your interview, and leave the DNA analysis to me. I just learned the college is offering a course on DNA testing, with lab work included.”
“So all we need now is a sample of the senator’s DNA.”
“Yep,” Pete grinned. “Let’s hope the senator keeps a pitcher of water and glasses in his office and has a used water glass on his desk. Then, after we’ve been in his office for at least five minutes, someone will need to create a loud disturbance. When the senator goes to check on the noise, we’ll grab a clean glass and switch it with the one he’s used.”
“I get it,” Jenny laughed. “So I need something in my tote bag to hold the used glass and keep it hidden.”
“Right. And be ready to finish your interview when the senator returns.”
“Okay. I’m going to read the senator’s website and list of accomplishments so I can come up with interview questions.”
“If there isn’t a water glass, we’ll have to get hair samples. Two or three hairs will do the trick, but we need to get them without his knowledge. Any ideas on how to handle that?”
Jenny looked thoughtful. “I can use a lint roller to gather some hair from his chair or the floor underneath his chair.”
“A lint roller . . .?” Pete looked puzzled.
“You’ve seen them, Pete, those sticky rollers people use to pick up dog hair.”
“I have one at home, Pete. I’ll show you how it works. We can do the same thing for Bobby’s DNA. What about the testing? Are you planning to take that course at the college?”
“After we get both DNA samples, I’ll take them and visit the instructor of the class. I’m hoping I can persuade him to use the samples as a class project and let me know the results. I’m going to tell him my friend needs to know if a certain man is really his father, and I won’t give any names.”
“And if the samples aren’t a match, what then?”
“Let’s wait and see, Jenny. I think they will match. Bobby looks too much like that man for us to be on the wrong track.”
“He certainly does.” Jenny parked her bike in the garage behind the special partition Uncle Rudy built for them after hearing about some bicycle thefts.
“I wish the Wilsons were still in town. That would solve the problem of getting someone to create a diversion in the senator’s office.”
Jenny laughed. “Yes, it probably would, but I think I may have someone else for that job, Pete. Remember that last big rain we had?”
“Yeah, I thought Hamilton would get washed off the map. What about it?”
“Well, I was talking to Lucy Mayfield about it. She lives in an area that floods easily, so I asked if her house was okay. She got pretty emotional talking about it. Said the water covered the yard and almost got into her house. Her mother keeps calling the mayor’s office about the drainage problem, but no one does anything. I suggested she might write the senator a letter and ask him for help.”
“I don’t follow you, Jenny. What could Lucy do?”
“It depends on how good an actress she is. Give me a little time to talk to her. If she agrees to help us, our problem is solved—and it might solve hers too.”
After fixing some sandwiches, she grabbed the phone and called Lucy. “You haven’t mailed a letter to the senator yet, have you?”
“Not yet, Jenny. I’m doing a sketch of my neighborhood to send with the letter, so it’s taking longer than I thought. I want him to really see the drainage problem.”
“Good. Don’t mail it yet. I have an idea that might help you, and also help someone else—someone who needs a different kind of help. I’ll explain tomorrow.” They made plans to meet after school the next day. She turned off the phone and felt a twinge of guilt. Lucy sounded so happy to hear her voice. Jenny made a silent vow to pay more attention to her and include her in some activities.
On Wednesday morning Jenny and Pete went with Uncle Rudy to pick up Bobby for the funeral service. Bobby’s doctor said he could go home but he’d be out of school for a while. Jenny waited in the hallway while Pete helped Uncle Rudy dress Bobby in his new suit.
Their entire class showed up at the cemetery. At the end of the service when the pastor finished with a prayer, Bobby burst into tears. Uncle Rudy knelt down and held him and the rest of their classmates gathered around, giving support. Jenny heard one girl speak for all of them: “Bobby has kept all of us laughing for years. I hate what he’s going through.”
At home Jenny and Pete helped Uncle Rudy get Bobby settled in his new room. Sam laid his head on Bobby’s leg. As Bobby stroked Sam and scratched him behind the ears, the tears stopped and he smiled at Jenny. “He’s some dog, Jenny. Wish he was mine.”
Jenny looked thoughtful, then touched Uncle Rudy’s arm and motioned for him to follow her into the hallway.
“Uncle Rudy, would you mind if Sam stays here with Bobby while he’s recuperating? Sam has a way of making people feel better.”
“Of course not, Jenny. I think that would be great therapy for Bobby, if you’re willing to do that.”
“How can I not be willing? Did you see the way Bobby calmed down? I’m going to ask him what he thinks. If you can take Sam outside each morning, I can come over each afternoon and take him home for his dinner and a nice run. Then he can come back and stay here at night. Nights are the worst after you lose someone.”
“You got that right, my girl. They really are.” Uncle Rudy hugged Jenny and they returned to the bedroom.
Bobby grinned when Jenny proposed leaving Sam with him. “Gosh, Jenny. I don’t know what to say, except thanks a million.” He reached down and hugged Sam. “Hear that, boy? You’re gonna keep me company for a while.”
Sam looked at Bobby and thumped his tail.
On Thursday morning Jenny took her school transcript from Boston and went to see Mr. Ziegler. He reluctantly agreed to admit her to the journalism class. After explaining that she wanted to interview the senator, he gave her a spot on the paper as a reporter. Impressed with her grades, he asked her to email him some examples of her writing.
That afternoon Lucy met Jenny at her locker. Pete walked past and waved goodbye. He agreed with Jenny that she needed to talk to Lucy alone.
“Let’s get a soda and go sit under the big maple tree. We need to talk.” Jenny stashed part of her books in her locker.
Lucy glanced down the hallway. “We can get sodas from the teacher’s lounge if we hurry. It looks empty.”
“Here, Lucy. You get them and meet me at the tree.” Jenny handed Lucy money for two sodas, and then rearranged some things in her locker.
As they walked to the tree, Lucy started questioning her. “What’s going on, Jenny?”
“Well, Lucy, I’ve been thinking about your flood problem. Maybe a letter isn’t the only way to get the senator’s attention.”
“What do you mean, Jenny? You think I should go see him?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, but it won’t be an ordinary visit. What you need to do is really make him feel sorry for you and your mom. Did you say your mom is sick?”
“Yeah, she is. If we got flooded, I don’t know what I’d do. My mom couldn’t handle it and we’d have no place to go.” Lucy got quiet. “Jenny, I wouldn’t know how to talk to a senator.”
“Lucy, I think that might be a good thing, if you’re willing to go along with my plan. And one more thing, you’ll have to trust me on this. You might be helping someone else who really needs it. Are you a good actress?”
“Actress? Jenny, what in the world are you planning?”
“Seriously, Lucy, do you think you can do what I tell you? It might do the trick and get something done about that flooding problem.”
“In that case, yes. I can do whatever you say.”
“Okay, here’s the plan. Listen carefully.” Jenny explained how she would write a script for Lucy to memorize. It would tell all about the flooding problem and how sick her mother is. “But you won’t be performing in front of the senator, at least not at first.”
Lucy looked puzzled. Jenny finished explaining and Lucy’s eyes grew wide with surprise.
“So you see why I asked if you’re a good actress. You’ll have to be loud enough to upset the secretary and get the senator’s attention, so he’ll run out to see what’s going on. That’s when you’ll start crying and talking about your sick mother and how she could never cope with a flooded house. You’ll need to keep his attention for at least three or four minutes before you give him the letter and the sketch. Keep the tears flowing while you apologize for upsetting everyone.
That should give Pete and me enough time to do what we have to do.”
“And what is that, Jenny?” Lucy gave her a worried look.
“Lucy, please try to understand. I can’t tell you that right now, but if it works out I’ll tell you everything when it’s over. Can you trust me and do that?”
“I’ll do it for you, Jenny, ‘cause whoever you’re trying to help is lucky to have you for a friend.”
“Thanks, Lucy. Do you have the letter with you, and the sketch? I can write the script tonight and print it out. I want you to have a few days to memorize it. I still have to get some things done, but I’ll let you know when we’ll do this. And, Lucy, thanks so much, I really appreciate your help.” They stood up and Jenny gave Lucy a hug.