THE INCIDENT IN SCUTTER'S MARKET
Carrying the five bags, Phoebe, Penny, Glenda and Tiny returned to the truck. Glenda unlocked the trunk and stowed the treasure away. Overcome with curiosity, Phoebe squeezed into the cab beside Penny. Tiny, working on the last of her lemon cuke, sat in Penny’s lap. Glenda put the old standard transmission into gear, took a slow U-turn, and they rolled down Cemetery Lane.
“Where to?” asked Glenda.
“Our next stop will be more boring,” Penny said. “Just Scutter’s Market.”
Deep in the giant box of a store, as they piled juice into a cart, they were surprised to hear raised voices emerging from a back office. An indignant male voice shouted, “But I’m the buyer! You’ve got to tell me the source of these goods!”
To Phoebe’s shock Abby suddenly appeared, moving quickly into view while speaking back over her shoulder. “You don’t own me,” she said coldly. As Abby hurried by her eyes met Phoebe’s for a moment of recognition, and she was gone.
Scutter quickly followed Abby up the aisle, trying to make himself heard without attracting attention. “I’m sorry,” he pleaded. “Please! You can understand. We don’t run across products like these everyday. Our customers are interested, and so am I. Come back! Please…”
But Abby continued walking out of the store without a backward glance. Scutter was left standing at the sliding door, uncertain of what to do next. He looked well-dressed but out of place in penny loafers, pressed slacks, a well-ironed pale yellow shirt, and a dark blue blazer with a college emblem on the side. Despite the intense air conditioning, he wiped the sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, and pushed his hair back into place. He looked around with embarrassment. A security guard hurried to the scene but Scutter waved him away. Seeing Penny approaching with a full shopping cart, he tried to smile and said, “Good to see you, Penny. Rumor has it you’re having a party. Glad to see you’re buying here.”
Penny was staring vaguely into space, her face white as a sheet. The awkward silence grew longer.
Penny’s eyes suddenly focused. She managed a smile and said, “of course – and please come by tomorrow evening.”
At that moment a very tall, thin older man in a dark suit walked up the aisle and said, “There you are, Scutter. A quick word privately if I may.” He nodded at the others with his long, narrow, balding head. His thin lips smiled, but his dark eyes stared at them with smoldering ferocity. His long nose looked predatory, like the beak of a hawk. The man seemed to take Scutter into custody, placing a hand on his back and leaning down to Scutter’s ear for a few quiet words. He walked him back toward the office.
Glenda, with Tiny sitting in the back of the cart, quietly joined the checkout line. “Poor Abby,” she whispered to Phoebe and Penny under her breath so Tiny wouldn’t hear. “It’s getting harder to stay out of this stuff.”
“I saw that man a few days ago,” said Phoebe in a low voice.
“Milton Morphy,” whispered Penny.
“So that’s him,” said Phoebe, just mouthing the words.
The line moved forward and Glenda began to unload the containers onto the counter.
The young cashier looked up and said, “Hi Glenda.”
“George!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t know you worked here. Aren’t you over at the toy store?”
“Oh, Gilligan doesn’t have enough business to keep me,” replied George in an embarrassed whisper. “I wish he did.”
“Hey George, how’s things?” greeted Penny.
“Oh, okay I guess.” At that moment George noticed Phoebe further back in line. “Phoebe!” he cried. “I heard you were coming back.”
“Hi George, I’ve missed you.” Phoebe could find no more words.
Penny jumped in and said, “We’re having a party tomorrow night. At my house, 12 Main Street, across from the big field.”
“I know, I’ll be there. Your mom called.”
As Penny counted out the money and George packed up the items, Phoebe stole a glance at him. He looked different, a bit taller and thinner than before, his cheekbones more prominent. His brown hair no longer fell to his shoulders. His button down white shirt was nothing like the ragged tee shirts he used to wear.
George looked up and caught Phoebe’s gaze. His blue-gray eyes tried to smile, but the pain of long ago was still evident. The new lines in his face conveyed more suffering, and more character. They could not tear their eyes away from each other. To ease the embarrassment George waved, and she waved back and smiled.
A few minutes later Penny, Glenda, Tiny, and Phoebe were again piled into the truck, heading for home.
“I want Abby to come back,” announced Tiny suddenly. Her high, wavering voice broke the tense silence. “Can we ask Abby to come back?”
“Of course we can,” returned Glenda. “We’ll do everything to find her.”
“I’m going to help,” Phoebe reassured her. But the manner of Abby’s departure left a cloud of gloom and worry over them all.