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  • [This is a short story with multiple episodes. The seed of this one is That Driving Sound.]

    Ted navigated the Jeep up the long one-lane dirt road and turned right onto the two-lane highway leading to town. Budapest, Maine didn't have a lot going on, but at least it had a decent clinic along with a vet, a library, a supermarket, two schools, several restaurants and a tavern.

    I asked them what had happened at the town meeting this afternoon. Ted said it had been postponed until after supper once word got out that two children were missing. Rather than have search parties comb the woods in vain, he told everyone that the kids had taken a canoe down to the river and that we were in pursuit, but did not elaborate on their mission.

    Tammy added that she had taken Pete and Marjorie aside and told them that the children were had found the container of drugs and were probably bent on disposing of it. At lunch, Annie and I had already mentioned to them that someone had found it, but hadn't fingered Trevor and Iris.

    "Did you get a reaction from them?" I asked.

    "Marjorie was worried for the kids. Pete was still upset about being raided and that things were way out of control," she replied.

    Trevor piped up. "We did the right thing, didn't we?"

    Ted glanced over his shoulder and said "maybe, maybe not. There might have been important evidence in that bag that could help us identify who was responsible. Anyway, if the police had found it, we wouldn't have had a chance to inspect it. Try to remember exactly what you saw inside the bag. Was there anything in it besides the packages of drugs?"

    "I think there was a towel under them, said Trevor, closing his eyes. "It had red and yellow squares on it, like a dishtowel, but we didn't take it out."

    "How about the bag itself? I asked. "Did it have a tag or any kind of lettering?"

    "No tag," replied Trevor, "but I think it did have something printed on it, in gray."

    "Try to remember," said Ted. "It could be a clue!"

    "Hmm ... something about a horse, I think."

    "A horse?"

    "Yeah! Now I remember. It said Stallion Fitness, whatever that is."

    "Well that's at least something," I said. "A black gym bag with Stallion Fitness printed in gray letters."

    We arrived in beautiful downtown Budapest. Ted dropped me at the post office and I asked him to meet me at the public library in about an hour. The Jeep headed out and I went inside. Unlocking my mailbox, I found about eight forwarded envelopes, most of which were bills that I promptly tore up. I opened a letter from our lawyer to see that our title challenge was still in administrative appeal that could wind on for more than a year. That hadn't stopped the mortgage company from sending the sheriff to evict us. Filthy buggers.

    I had received a cheery postcard showing folk dancers in fancy outfits from my buddy Bruce in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, saying he would be back in the States for good in September. That probably meant we should clear out of his cabin before he comes home.

    Coincidentally, my sister Kate in Cincinnati had written after not being able to reach me by email, and wanted us to know that we were welcome to come live with her and her three kids. I felt grateful and confused at the same time. It was nice to have that option, but I didn't know how to react. I made a mental note to get some writing paper and envelopes.

    I sauntered three blocks to the library, where I had used a computer a couple of times. The librarian, a pretty but sad-faced redhead, remembered me and we exchanged greetings. Seated in front of a PC with a faded pixels and a well-worn keyboard, I logged on to my email account.

    My inbox was almost full, so I spent 15 minutes triaging messages and killing junk email. There were messages from my sister from 10 days ago. I dashed off a reply saying I had received her letter and was so grateful but we needed some time to sort things out. No point going into detail.

    An email alert from Huff Post caught my eye. Collateral Group In Hot Seat for Faking Losses. Seems that this private bank claimed to be losing money in order to qualify for lower borrowing rates. (Apparently, this works oppositely for banks than for other businesses, which normally have to pay more for credit in such circumstances.) In fact, the bank was doing just fine, and unreported revenues were siphoned off to the executives through phony accounting. The story named the bank president and several other officers, who vehemently denied their culpability.

    The article struck a chord. I recalled Ted telling me that Wellconomy co-founder Pete had worked for such a bank and had parachuted out with a large package after threatening to expose the officers' assorted scams. Just in case it might turn out to be relevant, I printed out the article.

    My lovely librarian indicated that it was closing time, so I paid her for my printouts and told her I'd see her again. She gave me a nice smile and a weary look that sort of said "Well, back to my life."

    I went out to the sidewalk to wait for Ted. Five minutes or so later, the librarian came out. She locked the door, turned and came down the steps. When she saw me standing there she said, "Do you need a ride somewhere?" I thanked her and let her know a friend was picking me up. She told me to have a nice evening, waved, walked down the block, and turned down a side street.

    I was still thinking about her when Ted's Jeep showed up ten minutes later.

    Concluded in That Uncertain Sound.

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map.]

    @image: Kittery, ME Public Library
    @audio: Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca "Of all the gin joints..."
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