Laura stood at the kitchen sink washing the dishes from the children’s dinner. She and Hog (as all his close friends and associates called him, including his wife) would have their own meal when he got home later, probably after the children were in bed. They always liked to have some time together late in the evening; that was Laura’s favorite part of the day, especially during the week when he worked late with Foil and Arms. She knew he had some kind of office job that his friend Arms had secured for him, but she didn’t quite know what he did. Life had always been like that with Hog, stable and secure, but a little vague on the details. She felt a man deserved his privacy in life, and she never had any need to ask questions, or at least felt that she did not need to.
And now as she looked out the kitchen window and thought about the day’s little events, for some reason her mind wandered back to her wedding day. “What made her think of that day?” she wondered to herself, as she dried the last plate and put it away. She hadn’t thought about that day in years, what with the new house and the children coming so quickly, life seemed to move forward in leaps and bounds and her days were filled with the joys of motherhood and being a good wife to her devoted husband.
But now she let her mind wander to that beautiful day, and she remembered how she had stood outside the church after the ceremony feeling radiant in her mother’s cream wedding dress, altered to fit her perfectly. She held a bouquet of pink roses, gifted to her by her father for the occasion. She had chosen daisies, but he had insisted on the best for his only daughter. Oh, she was so in love and happy. She had just married the man whom she cared for and loved more than anyone in the world and she was waiting to take pictures, but Hog was nowhere to be seen. Standing at the sink, it was suddenly like she was back there on the day, thinking to herself once more, “where was her man?”
She remembered looking up at the sky, and feeling the warm sunshine on her face on that February day in Los Angeles in 1949. Her family was gathering around her for pictures, but she couldn’t find Hog and she had been a little bothered. He was just next to her moments before, and now she couldn’t see him anywhere. She looked around and had begun to ask her mother where he was when he appeared right by her side and took her arm to take the first pictures. He looked quite flushed, like he had been running and one of the top buttons on his jacket was missing. Memories play tricks on us, but she knew she had wondered to herself, “What had he been up to” but then in the rush of the pictures and the car arriving to sweep them away on their honeymoon she had not thought about that moment again.
It was an amazing whirlwind of a week in Las Vegas, and when they returned, they moved into a tiny apartment, where they would live until Hog put the down payment on their first new home together. Laura only remembered to ask him about where he had been in that moment before the pictures when she was unpacking from their trip and she found the suit with the missing button. “Where had he been?” she asked him, but he had just shrugged it off and said he had been talking to an old friend. He didn’t say who or give her any more information. It wasn’t like he pretended it didn’t happen at all, he just seemed evasive about the entire matter. But the moment of his absence still puzzled her. There was the missing button and she remembered that not only did he look like he was flushed from running, but memories reminded her that she smelled a little bit of gasoline in his clothes later. She didn’t think he had been gone very long; she remembered coming out of the church with him, and being propelled along by all her happy relatives, her mother and father wanting to see her right away and Hog’s sisters, Jane and Violet were so happy for her. People crowded around her to admire the beautiful wedding ring he had given her, his own mother’s, sized down to fit her hand. She loved it because he loved it, and it did sparkle in the LA sunshine that day.
There was so much laughter, and many hugs, and tears, and just a little bit too much chaos for Laura’s liking, and when she turned Hog wasn’t there. At the time she just thought he was off with his own parents being congratulated. But then when everyone was assembled and he still wasn’t there, she suddenly felt sad and lonely. It was such a brief feeling because there was so much happiness in her life, how could she feel either sad or lonely? The wave passed over her and in moments Hog was by her side again and all was well. “Well, I haven’t thought about that day for years,” she said to herself, but again that little wave of sadness and loneliness passed over her as she thought of Hog not being there in the moment when he should never have left her side.
Laura was a practical woman with a sensible nature, and she was not prone to over excitement, or worry. She certainly was not a jealous woman, nor someone who was spiteful or vindictive. She was a stable presence in Hog’s life and he in hers. They didn’t fight or quarrel; they respected one another and took care of each other. They had fun together and were also serious when they needed to be. They held the same core values of kindness to others, and the good of the family. They believed in the same God, and although Hog had certainly lapsed a bit in the last couple of years, she forgave him for that because he was so devoted to her and the children; he managed to get to Sunday church every once in a while and certainly when it counted for the children the most.
They made a good match, and people noticed this right away when they were out with other couples. There was a calmness about them both and it was very clear that they loved each other deeply. But despite all of this, there was a little niggle that Laura could never quite push away about her wedding day; where had he gone and why had he returned looking like he might have just run a marathon. And what in the world happened to that button on his suit? And the smell of gasoline? Well, maybe she imagined that bit but she wasn’t prone to imagining things so she really didn’t know.
She looked out the window at their pretty backyard, and sighed. And then Lilly ran in to announce that she had a lost her first tooth, and wouldn’t Daddy be so happy because it had been loose for weeks and he had told her that it was about to come out if she just said a little prayer to the tooth fairy, and it had come out that very day. Oh, Laura had so much to do that she just pushed the little niggle out of her mind and heart, and returned to her life of getting the children to bed and waiting for Hog to come home so that they could spend some much-anticipated time together.
Hog Receives a Package
Mildred stood in the Swine’s Detective Agency office sorting mail, as she did every Monday morning at the start of the week. There was a large pile to go through today, and she had barely made a dent in it when Foil walked in wearing a smart brown tie, and waistcoat and looking particularly pleased with himself. He was always ready with a little bit of jocular flirting with Mildred; oh, she liked this young man teasing her, it didn’t bother her at all. She just handed him a glazed donut, his favorite, and smiled at his playful banter. She was used to him by now; used to all three of the detectives by this time, having worked for them for at least 6 or 7 years now. She had lost count; it seemed like she was always meant to be there looking after the office and looking after them.
“How could they really do without her,” she thought to herself often enough; they didn’t know themselves, though as usual they never said. Next Arms arrived, sliding past Mildred, at first refusing a donut as was his wont, but later accepting one out of what seemed like sheer politeness, but really it was because he actually wanted not one, but two donuts. This was a little game that they played, a back and forth about manners and conveniences. In the end, Mildred always managed to slip him an extra something sweet in the day, and this made her happy. Hog was last to arrive, which was typical of the arrangement of the detectives. He rolled in later than the other two because he was the only one with children, and so needed some extra time in the mornings. By the time he arrived, there was one donut left, and he grabbed it before Foil sauntered back around to Mildred’s desk and snatched it for himself.
Ah, the life of the detectives. On the streets everything was chaotic, but the morning rituals of men who arrived at work always stayed the same. Or at least Mildred made sure that they stayed the same, for she was nothing if not a consistent presence in their lives. This morning’s mail was sorted and passed out to the three men and Mildred had just sat down to address the many bills to be paid, when she noticed a small package that had slipped among some papers and landed just behind her chair. “Now how did I miss that?” she said aloud to no one. She reached down and picked it up. It was a rather non-descript package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with a bit of twine. She looked at the label to see who it was addressed to and saw that it simply read: “To Mr. Hog. Please deliver promptly.”
She turned the package over and looked at the other side, which was blank. “Hmmm,” she thought, “this is a strange one.” But being the ever dutiful and responsible person that she was, Mildred marched right down the hall to Hog’s office to deliver the forgotten package to him. He was on the phone, and clearly busy, when she knocked and quietly opened the door. She placed the package on his desk and left quickly, as Hog acknowledged her with a nod. Mildred never felt underappreciated by the detectives, even though they said little to her about how much they valued her. She just knew and was glad of it. She did, of course, wonder about the package, but as the day moved on, she didn’t have time to think of it again.
Back in his office, Hog got off the phone and looked at the package on his desk, and read the label just as Mildred had done: “To Mr. Hog. Please deliver promptly.” The label was handwritten, but he didn’t recognize the penmanship. He picked the box up and it felt very light. He shook it and something moved around inside. He was wary of packages that arrived without a delivery man attached to them. Any crack pot in the city could put something in a package, send it through the mail, and bang, there goes your head, but this one didn’t look or feel dangerous to Hog. As a final test he smelled it, just to be safe. Nothing. It just smelled like the brown paper in which it was wrapped. He undid the twine and unwrapped the paper. Inside was a white cardboard box, something like cheap jewelry is put in at a fair. He lifted the top off and found himself looking at a small silver key attached to a red ribbon.
He stared at it. He knew exactly what this key was for and why it had been sent. He was sweating now, and felt unsettled. He never thought it would arrive, and definitely not to the offices. Sent to the detective’s offices, “what nerve!” he thought to himself. So, it was time then. So soon? It had hardly seemed that long since his wedding day, and now here he sat looking at the key that could and would upend his entire life, his marriage, his children, and everything that he held dear if he didn’t follow through on his promise. “Why had he even agreed to something so dangerous?” he wondered. Such a foolish promise, he knew, but he never thought the day would arrive or he would even be found again. “How was he found?” he wondered to himself. He was almost scared to touch the key, but felt compelled to handle it. He picked it up, looking at it, and turning it over in his hand. He would have to face the consequences of his decision and follow through on what he said he would do. He was a man of his word, after all.
He looked at the box again, not really seeing the small piece of paper folded into a neat square at the bottom. Now he registered what was there and pulled it out. It was a simple white paper with no distinguishing features. He unfolded it carefully and slowly. He knew it would be part of his first task; something that he had agreed to in haste and which on the day of his wedding seemed so far away and remote; an old friend, a story, a quick bargain, a handshake, and then forgotten until now; it all came flooding back to him and his heart sank into his gut. He stared at the words, printed in neat, unrecognizable handwriting: “Warehouse 1: 3rd floor.” He turned the paper over and on the other side was written in the same neat hand: “Good Luck!” Upon reading these words, he felt a shiver run down his spine.
What he regretted most in this moment was that he could not tell his partners about this at all. No, he was on his own with this case, the most important one of his life.
Convent of Angels
Foil had received his pile of mail from Mildred with the usual reticence. Mostly, this meant simple enquiries about lost dogs, misplaced sentimental objects, and straying husbands, all cases that had to be turned down delicately. This was Mildred’s job, among the many that she did for the detectives. She could write a nice rejection letter, a hard task indeed, but she did it well and with finesse. Today, Foil had an unusually large pile of rejection letters for Mildred to write. What remained of his mail was one large envelope, and a slim letter, which he set aside to open last. The large envelope was a possible case having to do with a banker, house security, and a pile of stolen jewels. This suggested money, and the boys were all for money these days. Cases were a little slow at the moment, so Foil put it on the keep pile and made a mental note to talk to Arms and Hog about it. Then he turned to the slim envelope that seemed to contain almost nothing. A single sheet of thin paper was inside with just a few lines. And they ran along like this:
I am writing to ask for your help, we have had
some trouble at the convent and don’t know
where to turn. I am asking as your Aunt, if you
will come and give me some guidance.
Foil read the letter not once, but three times. He recognized her handwriting and remembered sitting at the dinner table while she taught him how to write his name in beautiful cursive letters. She was his mother’s oldest sister, and had always been special to him growing up. As the youngest of three brothers, he often got left behind when the two older boys went off on adventures. His aunt was there to help make that time a little more bearable, and he found her to be very comforting and kind. She always arrived to their home in her nun’s habit, but she wasn’t a very formal woman and she told wonderful stories as well, and made him laugh. Oh, how she could make him laugh.
He loved his Aunt Eleanor, and thought of her with pain in his heart now as he looked at the letter with just a few lines written on it. He hadn’t seen her in years even though they lived in the same city, but she knew enough about him to send a letter. Of course, he would go to her at once and find out what she needed. It did not occur to him to say anything but yes; that old feeling of devotion welled up in him, and he suddenly missed her and hadn’t even known that he could miss her as much as he did.
Foil drove up to the Covent of Angels and parked his car just outside the gate. He had only been there a couple of times many years ago, and now he felt a little trepidation. He was somewhat of a lapsed Catholic since the advent of his detective work, and he certainly hadn’t lived the best life as a man; maybe there had been a little too much drinking and a few too many women passing through his life. But he was here at his Aunt’s request and so he took a deep breath and rang the bell that alerted those inside that there was a visitor. He waited, looking through the bars at a wide-open court with large pine trees standing over the building, which was imposing and grand. Then he saw someone striding towards him, and he recognized his Aunt Eleanor immediately. He felt a wave of love for her, but also guilt for not visiting.
She came up to the gate smiling, opening it and letting him into the courtyard. He walked through and suddenly he was in another world. There was an immediate sense of peace that he had not felt in a long time; he breathed deeply and could smell the pine scents in the air and he was back in his youth with just his aunt by his side, holding her hand and feeling cared for and loved. Foil was not a man to run away with his feelings, but he recognized how hard and steeled against emotion he had become in his detective’s life and he regretted not coming to see his aunt more often. All of this passed over him quickly, and when he turned around to greet Aunt Eleanor for the first time in so many years, he saw in her green eyes a flicker of fear and heartbreak that he had never seen before. Although she looked much older than he remembered, she was never a weak or frail woman. She was still as tall and strong as ever. They stood looking at one another and his heart went out to her. He felt he wanted to hug her and hold her, but he refrained, afraid that she might not like such a gesture from a grown man.
But he was wrong; she walked right up to him and wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged her back and when they broke a part, he could see that the heartbreak, but not the frightened look, had dissipated somewhat. And then she spoke, her familiar voice reaching his heart just as it had when he was a child. “Oh, Seán it is good to see you, my boy! How healthy and grown up you look. Your mother has kept me up to date with all your life doings, the detective work, the famous cases, she tells me about it all with such pride and joy. You’ve done well for yourself, young man! I am so proud of you, and here you are now to help your old Aunt with her troubles. It is so kind of you to come to help me and the Sisters. We are so frightened and have no idea what to do. We really do need your help, my boy. But you know that we have so little money.” And here she stopped and paused, looking rather ashamed to even be discussing such worldly things. But Foil immediately came to her rescue, “Aunt Eleanor, I am here to help you. I don’t want any money. I would never take any from you, even if you offered.” Foil paused because he felt the strangest feeling; that old devotion rising up in him and he didn’t want to profess too much for fear she might hear in his voice the regret he felt at not visiting her and keeping in touch.
It was an awkward moment for both of them. The young man who loved his aunt deeply, but who had strayed so far from family life and his childhood. The woman who stood in front of him, his aunt, who missed loving and caring for her nephew, but was clearly in turmoil over her present state and the state of the Sisters. It was best for both of them to move forward into action, for this was definitely a family trait and certainly a strength of Foil’s; action was preferred to him over feeling too much. “Okay,” he said to his Aunt, “tell me what is going on or show me what you need me to do and I will try to help.” “Yes, that is best,” replied Aunt Eleanor briskly, hoping in her heart that he was there to relieve her and the Sisters of their burdens. “Yes, let’s go through the kitchens, and I’ll show you the first of many problems that we have encountered in the last several months that we do not understand and have no idea how to resolve.”
Through age and habit, she almost took his hand, but remembered at the last moment that he was no child. He did not see this gesture, and simply turned to follow her as she led the way into a side building off the courtyard, and down a long hallway and through a door at the end. They moved into a warm space that turned out to be a lively hub of activity. The kitchens were clearly the main sanctuary for the nuns who lived there, and here Foil felt just a little out of place and slightly overwhelmed by the many older women who suddenly turned and looked at the young man in their midst. They all wore their nuns’ habits, but many had aprons on over their dress, and it was clear that they were in the middle of baking. The smells in the kitchen wafted towards Foil and he felt the warmth and comfort of the space. When the women saw the Reverend Mother, for Aunt Eleanor was the head of the Convent of the Angels, they knew that this must be the important detective and nephew that she had told them about and they stopped everything they were doing to listen. “Sisters,” she said matter-of-factly, like it was an everyday occurrence, “this is my nephew Seán Finegan. He is going to help us with our problems, as promised.” There was a pause, as Foil took in the group of women standing in front of him, all looking at him expectantly and with that little bit of fear in their eyes that he had first seen in his aunt’s.
He was suddenly very concerned, and he sensed that there was danger lurking in the convent that he did not expect. He realized then that he was not sure what he had expected when he received the letter from his Aunt Eleanor. He supposed that maybe this would have been simply a case that could be solved quickly, but it seemed that was never the situation at the Swine’s Detective Agency. For after all, they never took the easy cases, did they? No, their cases were always the difficult, the weird, the odd, and the strange, and he knew that this was going to be one of those cases. He could see it in the eyes of the women looking at him now. A woman does not have fear in her eyes because she is weak, but because she sees the peril ahead. And in that kitchen with those ten women and his Aunt looking directly at him with high expectations, he felt the peril in his heart, too, and knew that he was in for some strange times ahead, indeed.