Woman's World

Mini Mystery

Sheriff Jones saw through the ruse of a thief!

- — John M. Floyd

Q. What did the fruit tree say to the farmer?

A. Stop picking on me!

At 9:30 p.m. Sheriff Charles “Chunky” Jones bought a ticket, entered the almost-empty lobby of the Cinema Four and found an old friend working the snack counter.

“Ray Garner?” he said. “I thought you were teaching high school English.”

“Cutbacks.” Garner shrugged. “Now I’m scooping popcorn.”

“I’ll take a large,” the sheriff said. “Buttered.”

“Comin’ up. Hey, you ever see our old teacher?”

“Ms. Potts? All the time. I wish I loved police work half as much as she does.” The sheriff snorted. “Heck, I wish I was half as smart as she is.”

“Wish I were half as smart,” Garner corrected.

“Me, too.” Sheriff Jones was reaching for his popcorn when he heard a woman scream. Both he and Garner froze, then headed for the inner hallway.

They found rich widow Martha Dooley standing wide-eyed in one of the doorways, clutching her heart. Across the corridor stood young Wesley Beale, Ms. Dooley’s driver. Everyone else was obviously inside the four theaters.

“Somebody stole my purse!” Ms. Dooley was bellowing. “I saw him,” Wesley said. “I was coming out of the rest room and saw a guy run down the hall. He pulled open the fire door and ran out into the parking lot.”

Garner was already headed toward that exit, so Sheriff Jones asked, “Descriptio­n?”

“I didn’t see him,” Ms. Dooley said.

“He was short, dark, midtwentie­s,” Wesley said. “Tan overcoat, like mine.”

“To hide my purse in, probably,” Ms. Dooley moaned.

Where were you when this happened, ma’am?” the sheriff asked her. “Watching the movie. Wesley had been sitting beside me. It was dark, and Wesley had gone to the rest room. I suddenly realized my purse strap was gone from the arm of my seat! When I ran out here—” “I had just seen the guy running away,” Wesley said. Garner returned, panting. “Whoever it was is long gone, Sheriff.” “With my money,” Ms. Dooley wailed. She explained to the sheriff, “I’m leaving tomorrow for a trip, so this afternoon I had Wesley drive me to the bank.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I withdrew almost $5,000.” “Did anyone else know you were carrying that much cash?” “Just me,” she said. “And, of course—”

“Wesley,” the sheriff gave him a hard look, “who I think is lying.”

“Whoa there, Sheriff.” Wesley unbuttoned his overcoat, pulled it open. “I got no purse on me. If I was a robber, I’d have robbed her at home.”

“If I were a robber,” Garner corrected. Everyone ignored him.

“No,” the sheriff said. “There, you’d be the prime suspect. Here, you’d have cover.

Wesley gulped aloud. His face had lost its color. “If you really saw someone running away, and Ms. Dooley came out yelling ‘purse snatcher,’ why didn’t you chase the man?”

Wesley was sweating now. “I’m innocent. The guy you need to look—”

“What I need,” Sheriff Jones said, “is to search the men’s room.” Keeping his eyes on Wesley, he said to Garner, “Would you mind doing that, Ray?”

Moments later Garner came back out holding a leather purse. “It was in the trash can.”

Ms. Dooley gasped. Wesley’s shoulders slumped. The sheriff said, “Look inside the purse.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t,” Garner said. “What about fingerprin­ts?”

The sheriff studied Wesley’s fancy driving gloves. “Don’t worry about prints.”

A quick search produced no cash. It did, however, produce an empty bank envelope.

The sheriff pointed to Wesley’s now-unbuttoned coat. “Your turn, Mr. Beale.”

Wesley groaned. Within seconds, the money was found—in his coat pocket.

An hour later, with young Wesley in jail, the sheriff came back, picked up his popcorn, and was headed off to catch the last of his movie when he noticed Garner smiling at him. “What?” he asked. “Ms. Potts would be proud of you,” Garner said. “How’d you know Wesley was lying?”

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