Chapter Nine – Revelation from Niece #2

Introducing Skye from Book 5 by Dena Netherton

If you’re still here, you must love mysteries as much as I do. Welcome to day nine of The Visitor Misses a Visit. Dena Netherton authored this chapter that introduces another sibling, Skye Wright. She’s had an up-close encounter with someone that put her off. As you read, consider this, what do you think of the guy so far? Do you agree with Skye’s opinion?

Skye Wright lounged in a chair on the patio of Our Kids foster care home. She breathed in the scented air and shaded her eyes to get another look at the lovely gardens surrounding her. It hadn’t taken Skye more than two days visiting the nearby town with her parents to decide that when she grew up, this beautiful town would be her forever home. What could be more exciting than a college town with lots of fun eateries, coffee houses that invited singers and guitarists to perform, and real-life college guys? Even the weather suited her with its clouds and the mists that shrouded the tall, tall trees overshadowing the town. It thrilled her romantic soul.

Too bad her parents had to spend so much time talking business with Jon and Elaine Carpenter, the current operators of the Our Kids foster care charity. Her mom and dad had the idea to make Our Kids another one of the charities that Grandpa Mac’s foundation could help support.

At first, Skye had thought, what a bore. Especially since that creepy accountant, Clint Rutherford, had insisted on coming along to help check out Our Kids financial statements on behalf of the Wright Foundation. Her dad seemed to think the world of him. But she had taken an instant dislike to the man. Maybe it was his eyes. Always checking around himself like he expected someone to draw a gun and start shooting. And anyway, she didn’t understand any of that financial stuff he did. But why was the guy so curious about a little charity like Our Kids? It’s not like the foster care home made tons of money.

Not that Clint Rutherford skimped on anything. He’d flown first class while they sat in economy. And he’d taken a room at a fancy hotel near the waterfront while she and Mom and Dad shared a room here at the home. But this place had as nice a view as any hotel. And she’d had a blast when they took the tour.

Maybe Mom and Dad would even let her go to college here. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

But first she had to start high school this fall.

And do well in school.

And graduate.

Skye checked the time on her cell phone. Almost noon. She hauled herself out of the chaise lounge and headed for the back door of Our Kids. Mom had said they’d be eating lunch downtown, close to the University. Then maybe, they’d walk around and do some shopping for souvenirs.

As soon as she stepped inside, the phone on the kitchen wall rang.  Mr. Carpenter and his wife were both out this morning, visiting a potential donor. Should she answer? Maybe Mom or Dad would pick up. But the phone continued to ring. On the fifth ring, she decided to answer.

Before she could identify herself, she heard her dad’s happy voice echoing through the line. “Hi, sis. Good to hear your voice.”

Aunt Connie! She hadn’t seen her aunt in months. Aunt Connie had been away at college and had just graduated. They’d missed her graduation ceremony. Skye had wanted to go, but Mom and Dad had to be out of town that weekend.

Aunt Connie’s upbeat tone sounded like she was in the next room. “Frank, how’s it going out there?”

Her father said something about the weather being “just fantastic” and blah, blah, blah. Skye was about to hang up, but then Aunt Connie’s voice took on a serious tone. “Frank, I’m not being nosy. Just curious, and it’s a long shot, but I wondered if you’ve spoken to Clint Rutherford recently.”

Skye held onto the receiver and covered her mouth so her dad wouldn’t be able to hear her breathing. Anything about the creepy Mr. Rutherford was worth hearing about.

“Why, he’s with us now. We’ve traveled to meet with a charity and some of the financiers of it,” her father said. “Initially we thought we’d come out all by ourselves to meet Jon and Elaine Carpenter. They’ve been running Our Kids foster care for about ten years now and I’ve heard such good things about the charity that I thought Calista and I should check it out.”

“And Skye? Is she with you?”

“Oh, she wanted to go visit with Mac while we came out here, but we insisted she sample some of the culture. I think she’s starting to enjoy herself.”

“And you said Mr. Rutherford did as well?”

Why was Aunt Connie so interested in finding out if the creepy guy had come along?

“He called me last week to let me know that the foundation was interested and he would be joining us. But he’s not with us right now. We’re staying at Our Kids for the week. Clint’s gotten himself a fancy room at the Inn and Spa down by the water.”

The sigh on the other end of the line told Skye that her dad’s answer was not satisfactory for Aunt Connie. But her brilliant aunt was not going to give up easily.

“Did Clint say why he wanted to join you guys? Seems like a waste of valuable time and money to fly out, and stay in some fancy hotels for a little charity like Our Kids.”

Her dad made a kind of grunt noise like he pondered Aunt Connie’s words. “He, uh, said it was always good to thoroughly check out the financial books of any charity the foundation was considering donating to.”

“I see,” was all her aunt said in reply.

“Connie, you sound kind of concerned. Is there anything you need to tell me? I mean, so far, I’m really impressed with Our Kids. They run a tight ship. I’ve met all the kids and you can tell they feel loved and secure. And I’ve talked with lots of people who live in the area. They all know about Our Kids and can’t say enough good things about it. And Jon and Elaine are super people.”

“That’s great to hear, Frank. No, I’m not concerned. Just dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s, so to speak.”

“Okay, sis.” He chuckled. “I’m sure you’re already putting that new degree to good use.”

Aunt Connie laughed good-naturedly. “You bet, Frank. Well, thanks for telling me about Our Kids. And please tell Skye to take pictures and write about her visit in her journal. I’ve a feeling she’s going to want to explore more of that area when she gets older.”

“Will do, Connie.”

Skye silently replaced the receiver. So, Aunt Connie wanted information on Clint Rutherford. Interesting. Did she feel the same dislike Skye felt for the man? Her aunt was only about ten years older than Skye. Almost like a big sister. When Skye got a rare chance to spend the weekend with Aunt Connie, they did fun things and spent hours just talking. Maybe next time they had a weekend together they could gossip about that creepy Clint Rutherford.

She left the kitchen and mounted the stairs to the bedroom she shared with her parents. Lunch in town close to the university was gonna be so much fun. And later, she could call Mac and tell her about all the cute college guys she saw downtown.

***

“Well, I found Clint Rutherford.” Connie sauntered back out to the reception desk.

“With your brother Frank?”

“I’m not sure why he felt the need to go out there and investigate the financial situation of Our Kids, but that’s what he did.” And staying at a fancy hotel to boot. No wonder there wasn’t enough for Connie to join Mama and Dad at the fundraising event.

Mrs. Hodges tilted her head as she regarded Connie. “Is something else bothering you, my dear?”

Connie sighed. “I probably overstepped my bounds, but Dad told me that the foundation is having some financial trouble.” Maybe she shouldn’t have shared that with the woman, but she needed a sympathetic ear.

“I have heard.”

“Dad told you?” That didn’t sound like her father.

“Oh no, no. Diana Carson told me about it. She said that the accounts were already under pressure because of some unexpected unbudgeted expenses this year. But then she only handled the fundraising expenses, you know.”

“What changed?” Besides the hot water heater and the roof. Of course, those problems couldn’t have been expected.

“Oh, you would need to speak to a far smarter person than I am to answer that question. Mr. Rutherford would be your best bet, or someone else who has the sort of financial background that he has.” She frowned and then scurried around the counter in bright red high heels and reached out to envelope Connie in a brief hug. “Don’t worry, dear. God has proven time after time that He is working through the Wright Foundation. He will prove it again. You wait and see.”

Connie gave her another tight hug. “Thank you, Mrs. Hodges. You have always been such an inspiration to me.”

“Oh fiddle. You, with that stellar smile, make an impact wherever you go. And God is using you, Little Bit.”

Her use of the childhood nickname made Connie rather wispy. “I don’t know.” She certainly hoped that she was stepping down the path that God had for her.

“Oh, yes, you do. He has put a passion in your heart for this and has led you all along. You don’t have to do things the way your mom always has. You’re the head of fundraising now. Put your own stamp on the position and everything involved.”

Mrs. Hodges was right. And it started with Connie unapologetically getting to the bottom of these financial problems. They affected her activities and her position since she wasn’t even able to attend this week’s fundraising event. So even if she wasn’t an accounting type, she had every right to stick her nose fully in.

She smiled at the older lady and touched her shoulders. “I’m gonna do that very thing.”


Did you know you can already preorder my book, THE VISITOR Has a Ball?

Connie B. Wright is summoned to help her sister Eva Grace Carr emerge from the isolation she’s indulged in since her husband died the year before. Samantha Carr has held so much guilt about moving away from her mom, but she’s determined to try to help her return to the land of the living.

She doesn’t bargain for a burglary to happen just before her aunt’s arrival. But then, Aunt Connie always has an odd effect on her mom anyway. Hopefully, between the two of them, there can be some restoration.

Unless there are repeats of the burglary.

Match wits with The Visitor as she unearths an unexpected thief before he or she does real damage.

–The Visitor Has a Ball by Betty Thomason Owens

Get it at this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BL6M7T6C

Chapter Eight – Passion from Sib #3

By Marji Laine

Welcome back for day eight of The Visitor Misses a Visit. Marji Laine wrote this pivotal chapter as our protagonist noses around looking for dirt on the new guy. Is he the culprit? Keep an open mind and enjoy today’s offering.

Her phone rang and she glanced at the number. “Oh, Peter. You’re timing is perfect as usual.” She made her way back to her office and shut the door behind her.

“And how is my favorite baby sister?” The man’s fifty years and hard living in the dry environment near the Sahara left his voice crackling.

“Frustrated.” Peter didn’t really have much to do with the foundation, but being a widower, he’d taken as active a part in the family as possible, calling her every week without fail. “The foundation is having some financial trouble, apparently.”

“Apparently?”

“I can’t see the bank accounts to check them.” She told him about what Dad had said and about her failed efforts on the computer. “But he and Mama are at an event so I don’t want to bother them.”

“What about that new man?” Peter must have spoken to Mama or Dad about Clint.

“He only volunteers here. I don’t have any way to contact him, and I haven’t seen him for a few days.”

“Oh that is frustrating. Things are still running like normal?” Of course her big brother would focus on the facts.”

“I guess so.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes. I’m just making snakes out of spaghetti, aren’t I?”

Her brother chuckled through the line. “Now I didn’t say that. If you are concerned then there’s reason to look into it. You’re doing the right thing. But I also know that mystery-conjuring mind of yours.”

He didn’t know the half of it. She’d only told him a few of her tales. “That was a long time ago, bro.”

“Once a sleuth . . . but seriously, you might consider talking to someone. Maybe someone there at the foundation or some accounting type.”

“Probably a good idea.” She would consider it anyway. “What’s the news?”

Her brother shared about an intricate operation that he was able to perform, a facial reconstruction that would allow a child to look as normal as all the others. “Children who have birth defects here are terribly mistreated.”

“I can’t imagine the type of bullying they must experience.”

“Beyond bullying. Children who are different are targeted, regularly beaten, and often killed. Like open season.”

“That’s horrible.” And shocking.

“So, you can imagine how important this surgery was to the little boy and his widowed mother.” Peter’s voice resonated with compassion.

It reminded her again of why she did what she did. It wasn’t the family. Not even her parents. She did what she did to help the children who benefitted from their many charities and learned that God loved them in a real and personal way.

***

When she got off the phone with her brother she decided to take his advice and continue to pursue this issue with the finances.

And the first issue was to find Clint. She hurried across the reception room to the opposite wing where most of the rooms were used by volunteers. Mrs. Hodges waved at her, absently, as she spoke on the phone with someone.

She made her way to the large office for those volunteers tasked with desk work, typing and such. Clints office was at one end of it. She tapped her knuckles just below his nameplate. “Clint?”

She’d not really expected an answer and bumped her hip lightly against the door. Sure enough, it opened. It hadn’t latched well since her brother, Paul, ran into it when they were playing chase a dozen years ago.

The space had been Connie’s when she served as an intern a few years back. She flicked on the switch, and the bare surfaces of the office showed before her just as she remembered them. The only homey effect in the entire office was a large Wright family portrait on the opposite wall. Connie had only been ten, sitting cross-legged on the ground with red bows in her dark hair and a matching sweater over her plaid dress.

So, she had worn red at one point. More like Mama had dressed her in the color. But maybe this weekend she’d shop a little. Maybe some red accessories, like a belt. Or shoes

She rounded the edge of the desk. The least she could do was leave Clint a sticky note requesting that he come see her. His computer’s screen saver danced around like some ancient video game that her brother, Paul, had taught her how to play.

A yellow pad perched on the edge of the desk. She picked it up and reached for a pen but caught the feel of deep indentions under her fingertips. She gave the surface of the pad a long look. Clint had probably used a pen that was low on ink so had pressed down hard.

She set the pad back down and picked up a pencil from the cup beside the monitor. Yeah, she was being a little on the nosy side, but her policeman brother Paul had showed her this technique once. Her curiosity drove her to see if it really worked.

At least, that’s what she told herself. She lightly ran the side of the pencil across the sticky note pad. The top of it had several letters, both caps and lowercase. Looked like a password for something, though there weren’t any numbers. But the line underneath it was all numbers and no letters, but a gap splitting the line.

She kept shading the rest of the page. Her eyes widened at the last notation, 1.5M. Something itched the back of her neck. Was that million? As in dollars? Surely it was something silly like meters? Or maybe it was 1.5 million people.

Still, what seemed to be the impression of a dollar sign appeared in the space in front of the one. Her imagination might be running away with her, but either way, she wasn’t about to leave the evidence behind that she’d even been in this office. Pulling the top few sheets from the pad, she returned the pencil to the cup and exited the office, flicking off the switch as she went. She pulled the door almost closed again and scampered in her flats back to her own office. She stuck the pages onto the surface of her desk and jotted down a note on her own blue notepad.

Mr. Rutherford,

Please come see me in my office.

Connie Wright

She trotted back down the hallway and stuck the note on the doorframe of his office. Surely, he would see it if he’d missed the emails she’d sent.

***

Back in her office, Connie stared at the shaded page. She probably indulged in too many Perry Mason episodes, but her gut bothered her about this note.

With Mama and Dad at Margaret’s visiting her family, though, she really didn’t have anyone she discuss it with. She slipped the pages into the pocket of her brown pants and strolled down to the reception desk.

“Well, there’s the beautiful girl.” Mrs. Hodges gave her a glowing grin. She was a picture of professionalism. Mama probably had her in this position for that exact reason. “What can I do for you, dear?”

“I wonder if you’ve seen Clint Rutherford this week?” If anyone had, it would be Mrs. Hodges.

She pursed her lips for a moment and her forehead wrinkled. “You know he works at another office.”

Connie had gotten that vibe when he mentioned his freelancing gigs.

Mrs. Hodges continued, ”He usually comes in on Mondays and Thursdays. But I don’t remember seeing him at all this week.”

“Is that normal for him?” Maybe he had a habit of working from home since her parents were out of town. “Have you heard from him?”

“No. It’s really rather strange. The only other time I remember him missing a day he had scheduled to work, he called because he had a doctor appointment. Very conscientious young man, there.”

Sounded like she thought well of him, too. “Was he scheduled for Monday and today?”

She opened the book on the counter behind her. “Yes for today.” She flipped back several pages. “Yes on Monday as well.”

“And you haven’t heard from him?”

“No.” She drew the word out and turned another page in the planner. “Oh, there’s a note here that he spoke to Frank last week.” She glanced up at Connie. “Could that by your brother?”

“I can certainly find out.”


Check back tomorrow for Part Nine of

THE VISITOR MISSES A VISIT!

Chapter Seven – Avoidance from Sib #5

Introducing Eva Grace from Book 6 by Betty Thomason Owens

Today is my day, it seems. I wrote this chapter, when another of the Wright sisters does her best to avoid baby sister’s call. I hope you are enjoying the story and will return for tomorrow’s installment. Remember, if you missed one, use the “Previous” button at the bottom of the post.

“Oh, good heavens.” Eva Grace clicked the off button on her cell phone as her husband entered the room.

Jim sat on the stool at the foot of the bed and untied his shoes. “Who’s calling so late?”

“Kimberly.” Eva Grace puffed out a sigh.

“Your sister?” Jim rose and stepped toward the closet. “I’m listening.”

“Connie called her, all upset about the foundation.”

Jim turned back and stood in the doorway a moment, looking at her. “Connie? Didn’t she just graduate from college?”

“She’s back home now and snooping around. She thinks something is off with the books.” Eva Grace rearranged the blankets. “As if Mama and Dad would ever let that happen.”

Jim disappeared again.

Running water told Eva Grace he had started his nightly routine. She picked up her abandoned novel and turned a page, but it didn’t hold her attention. “Kimberly said Connie doesn’t like the new accountant. She told Kimberly he was snooty. Or was it snotty?”

Jim shut off the water. “You don’t think she’s right about the books, then?”

“Of course not, and neither does Kimberly. I think she’s just being a brat again. She asked for something. The accountant refused. That rankled her.”

Jim flipped the light switch and headed for his side of the bed. “Well, it’ll all iron out. Could be a misunderstanding. But, if Connie has concerns, I’ll be happy to talk to her. Why don’t you call her in the morning—find out for yourself what’s going on.”

Eva Grace curled her lip in mock disgust. “Maybe I will.” After she talked to Mama and Dad. And maybe Polly.

Jim leaned in for a goodnight kiss. “You should. Now, let it go and get a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams, hon.”

Eva Grace glowered at his sleeping form. How did he do that? After another failed attempt to concentrate on the novel, she closed it, laid the book on the bedside table, and then turned off the lamp. She settled in and stared at the ceiling. Ugh. Why did Kimberly have to call tonight? It wasn’t that important—it could have waited until morning.

***

Jim’s alarm beeped. Five-thirty. Eva Grace’s eyelids creaked open. She dragged her sluggish body out of bed, slipped her toes into her fluffy, pink mules, and shrugged into her housecoat. As she headed down the stairs, the coffee maker gave a final sputter. Thank you, Lord, for automatic coffeemakers.

By the time her husband joined her in the kitchen, Eva Grace had his breakfast ready and his newspaper waiting. Two eggs over easy, three links of maple-flavored sausage, and a slice of buttered toast. The usual.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Good morning, sweetheart. Thanks for breakfast.”

While he ate and read, she watered her houseplants and mentally planned her day. Call Mama and Dad. Or maybe she should call Polly first. She bent over an African violet, testing the soil. She straightened and glanced out the window. Maybe she wouldn’t call anyone.

That settled, she returned to the kitchen in time to wish Jim a good day before he left for work. On the way out the door, he paused. “Don’t forget to call Connie. Tell her I’ll be happy to talk to her if she needs advice.”

Right. She smiled and nodded. “Sure.” Now, she felt obligated. But Chicago was on the central time zone, so she had at least an hour or so before making the call. Happy thought. Throughout the morning, she procrastinated, pushing aside pangs of conscience as she struggled to get Samantha dressed and ready for her riding lesson. They were halfway to Briarbeck Farm when her phone buzzed.

Samantha raised her head from the book she’d been devouring for the last two days. “Mom, your phone’s ringing.”

“It will keep. I’m driving.”

She reached inside my purse. “Oh, hey, it’s Aunt Polly. Want me to answer it?”

“No, I don’t—” she sucked in a breath as her daughter grinned and punched the green button. “Samantha Jean Carr,” she hissed at her daughter.

“Hi, Aunt Polly. How are you?”

Dear Lord, give me strength. Biting back angry words, Eva Grace pulled into the drive at the horse farm and did her best not to floor it, scatter gravel, and frighten horses.

Samantha clicked her seatbelt open. “I’m fine. Having a horse-riding lesson. Here’s Mom.” Samantha held the phone out with a final grin before leaving the vehicle.

After a deep, cleansing breath, Eva Grace put the phone to her ear. “Good morning, Polly, dear.”

“Do I detect a note of sarcasm? Have I caught you before coffee?”

“Hahaha. Aren’t you funny. I suppose you’ve heard from Kimberly?”

Polly exhaled. “Yes, so I called Connie. Not that I don’t trust Kimberly, but you know how emotional she gets. Anyway, Connie thinks the new accountant, Clint Rutherford, has something shady going on. Can you believe that?”

“Embezzlement?”

“She didn’t actually use the word, but it had all the earmarks.”

Eva Grace shook her head. “I have difficulty believing anyone could put something over on Mama and Dad.” Both were astute in business. They had built the Wright Foundation from the ground up.

“Eva, you know how tired they are. It is possible something is going on.”

“Well, Jim said he’ll talk to Connie. Maybe he can help.” Her stomach cramped at the thought. She loved her baby sister, but Connie could be such a . . .

“Mama!”

She looked up as Samantha jogged her way.

“Gotta go, Polly. Samantha needs me.”

A reprieve. Eva Grace did not want to think anymore about the Wright Foundation or what’s-his-name who may or may not have pilfered money.

***

Connie’s call came just after Jim walked in after work that evening. Eva Grace had expected the call but had half-hoped it wouldn’t happen. And she barely had time to exchange niceties with her sister when Jim joined her in the kitchen.

“Oh, Connie, here’s Jim. Why don’t you tell him what’s going on?”

Before her sister had a chance to respond, Eva Grace passed the phone to her husband.

He switched it to intercom. “Hello, Connie, you’re on speaker so we can keep your sister in the loop. What’s this I hear about funds missing?”

“Hello, Jim. Great to hear your voice. No missing funds, as far as I know. Clint Rutherford is being high-handed, like he owns the place.”

Eva Grace’s nerves twisted into a bunch. She walked into the Florida room and looked out the window as Connie’s voice droned on.

“I confess, Jim, I told Dad I would keep my nose out of it, but at the very least I can look at the accounts, right?”

Jim stepped through the doorway. “I would, starting with the bank accounts. Your dad is set up on that new online banking program, isn’t he?”

“Yes, I have a password for it myself.”

Jim smiled. “Then, that’s your next step. Do that, and if anything looks off with the bank accounts, find a good outside accounting firm to do the external audit. If you find funds missing or even mis-appropriated, you’ll need a forensic audit.”

“Oh, Jim, thank you so much.”

“Keep me posted, Connie. We’ll be praying—and hey—congratulations on your graduation.”

“Aww, thank you and thanks so much for the prayers. You know I’ll need those. Give Samantha a big hug and kiss from me.”

“I’ll do that.” He ended the call and smiled at Eva Grace. “Well, let’s hope no money is missing. That would be the best-case scenario.” He held out his hand to Eva Grace. “I told her we’d pray. No time like the present.”

***

Why hadn’t Connie gotten on to the fancy website right away?

The next morning, as soon as she’d taken Mama and Dad to the airport for their flight to the event Mama had planned, she made a beeline back to the foundation. Maybe she could catch Clint in his office.

After greeting Mrs. Hodges, this time wearing a purple pant suit with a read bolero belt, Connie made her way to her office and booted her computer.

She stared at the little circle going round and round and reflected on her favorite receptionist.

Maybe Connie needed to adjust her wardrobe a little. All of her business clothes were bland—browns and grays with a few dark blues thrown in. She didn’t own anything red, though she always liked the color.

In fact, she really liked that color. And Mrs. Hodges always made a statement with it.

She sat at her desk and opened the link to their bank, then clicked in the details of her username and password. The notice that she’d used an incorrect password appeared. “For pity’s sake.” She sighed and typed in the details again. This time one key at a time.

Still wrong.

What was up with this? She checked her tab lock and then typed in the password again only to see the error message once more. Had Dad changed the passwords? Probably a good idea, but she needed access. Why wouldn’t he have told her?

Giving in, she put in her email address to request a password update. She’d be sure to let her mom and dad know that they had accidently locked her out. And she would be thoughtful enough to share the new password with them.

Another error message popped up. Her email address wasn’t associated with an account? Since when?

Connie trotted into Dad’s office and opened her dad’s computer. She clicked through the protection and pulled up the bank website. As she expected, her dad’s username and password were already on the login page. She clicked the submit link and received the same error she’d gotten on her own machine.

Something was dreadfully wrong. She checked the password list on her dad’s computer. The password was exactly as she remembered it. But it still didn’t work. And when she tried to change the password, her father’s email address registered as unknown, too.

Now what?

And where was Clint?


Where is Clint?

And why does Connie have such anxiety about him?

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode.

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you can get the full story!

And you’ll also get the lowdown on some fun contests with prizes that we’ll be sharing.

You can join my newsletter at this link:

Join HERE

Chapter Six – Encouragement from Sib #4

Introducing Polly from Book 2 by Fay Lamb

Everyone loves the baby, right? Not so much, in this story. But family friction often results in riveting fiction. (That’s an original truism. If you borrow it, please give me an attribute—LOL!) One of my personal faves, Fay Lamb, authored today’s chapter. She’s a writer of suspense and romance. Fay introduces us to Polly Reagan, sibling #4, and a bit more “family friction.”

Polly Reagan glanced at the caller ID on her house phone as she rushed by. A local politician, asking for donations. She didn’t have time. As it was, she needed to carve out a few moments to call her little sister.

Kimberly had mentioned in their conversation yesterday that Connie was insisting that something was not quite right with the new accountant her parents had hired for the foundation.

Polly pondered getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth as it were. Now, though, she needed to get busy. Saturdays were always busy. Her four-year-old son, Ethan, had a group tennis lesson in less than fifteen minutes. Tennis was important to her kid, and even though he was the youngest in the group, she made it a priority.

Even so, she had an apology to make to Connie. She’d let her sister down. After years of being out of the law office, she still hadn’t learned to schedule. She’d relied heavily upon her secretary to keep her free of conflicts. Her faux pas in agreeing to help with her nephew’s birthday party on the same day as Connie’s graduation had created not only a scheduling conflict but a very big personal conflict with Connie.

“Mama, we gotta go!” Ethan called from the door. “Dad’s gonna leave us.”

Polly laughed. Yes, Marc would do that. Being on time was an important lesson to teach their only son. “You have your racquets, water, your towel?”

“I got it all.”

Of course, he did. At four, he was better at preparation than she had ever been. “Have. You have it all.” She hurried behind him, closing and locking the door. The call to Connie would have to wait until Ethan settled into the lessons and stopped looking back at her.

A half-hour later, Polly gave Ethan a thumbs-up as the larger than usual red ball used for his age’s tennis lessons sailed over the net, showing off her son’s excellent backhand. At four, the kid showed promise.

She cast a glance to Marc. Her husband’s face showed his intent interest in the lesson.

Ethan stood in the line with his friends and chatted.

Now was her chance. Polly pulled out her mobile phone and dialed Connie.

“Hey,” Connie answered after the first ring. “I almost didn’t answer. Have you ever called me on your mobile phone?”

“Ha. Ha. I don’t like talking on these things.”

“You do know that people are getting rid of house phones, right? Who uses a house phone these days?”

“I do.” Polly smiled at her sister’s teasing. “Listen, I owe you an apology for not attending graduation. I had already agreed to help with our nephew Jimmy’s birthday party. He holds a special place in my husband’s heart. Not that you don’t . . .”

“You aren’t the only one who didn’t attend.” Connie’s words fell soft with a sense of disappointment.

“Connie, I’m sorry, and I don’t have an excuse.

“You’re forgiven.”

“Kimberly called me.” Polly put the truth out there.

“Figured she would. Did she tell you what she thinks is going on or did she tell you what I said is going on?”

The kids on the court began a new game. Ethan took his place at the shortened service line. Polly held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t look to see she wasn’t being an attentive mom. “This is Kimberly we’re talking about.”

Polly somewhat agreed with Kimberly about giving Connie the responsibility of fundraising for the foundation, but Mama and Dad had the right to do just that. Besides, Polly felt that Connie had to be given room to prove herself—not something the entire family agreed upon. Especially Kim. “What’s going on?”

“I’m really uncomfortable with the accountant Dad hired.”

Kimberly had said as much. “What do you mean when you say uncomfortable?”

“Call it a spidey sense.”

“So, tell me what exactly raised your antenna?”

“My very first conversation with him was off. I don’t know how to explain it. All the sudden, Dad says Clint has decided we don’t even have money to work a fundraiser for one of Aunt Fanny’s causes that I want to champion. Mama and Dad shut me down when I tried to tell them my concerns. Polly, what should I do?”

Mama and Dad had always been too trusting. So far, their trust had not been betrayed. Connie was wet behind the ears, but she wasn’t one to cast dispersion without reason. Even when she’d tattled on her older siblings, she’d always had truth on her side. Connie sounded truly worried. Polly sensed there might be some truth to her youngest sister’s reaction. “What do you mean they shut you down?”

“They don’t seem inclined to believe me. Kimberly dismissed my fears. Apparently, if a man dresses well, looks you in the eyes, and says all the right things, he’s to be believed. Though Phil took my side.”

Polly would have laughed with a description that fit Kimberly to a T, except Connie seemed sincere—and that caused worry to wedge into Polly’s heart.

Still, this was a learning opportunity. “First of all, you’re doing a great job.”

Connie’s exhale of breath did not go unnoticed. “You—you really think so. Kimberly disagreed with everything I said.”

“Kiddo, Kimberly cares about you, but she’s hurting. She wanted the folks to ask her to help. They chose you. Not your fault. I’m trusting you to do what needs to be done so far as your responsibilities for the foundation and the family.”

“That’s just it, Polly. I don’t know what to do.”

“Come on. You’ve already taken steps. You’re following your instincts, and you’ve reached out to others. Keep pressing forward.”

“And what about the foundation’s reputation? How do I protect it if what I suspect is true?”

Polly remained silent for a long moment, trying to think of the right words for her sister.

“You still there?” Connie’s voice softened.

“Yes. I was thinking of how to put this. Dad would never purposely let the foundation fail. Follow his lead, but continue to follow your instinct, and keep him apprised of things you learn even if he balks at you.”

“Okay . . .”

“And if Dad drops the ball despite your best efforts, it will be on him. He’s the head of not only the non-profit, but also our family. That means the responsibility to protect the family and the foundation is his until he passes it on. Your only duty in that regard is to alert him of possible troubles. What he does with that information belongs to him.”

Connie whistled. “Thank you for that. I’ve been carrying this weight on me, but you’re right. And thank you for believing in me.”

The twacking of balls hitting the court reminded Polly that she was missing Ethan’s lesson. “Whatever you decide, I’m with you.”

“Thanks for that, too.”

“Unless you do something stupid. If you do something stupid to make Dad mad, I’m outta here.”

Connie laughed, a good sound to hear. “I don’t do stupid.”

“Yeah, you do. You just get away with it better than the rest of us.” And Connie, the baby, had often been the one who called her siblings’ stupidity to the attention of their parents. “Call me and let me know what you learn.”

“I will. Thanks, again, and I love you.”

“You’re welcome and back at you.” Polly hung up and stepped back to stand behind her husband.

Ethan, his fingers wrapped around the racquet’s handle, swung with all his might, hitting the large red ball over the net and past his older opponent. Her kid had a winning forehand to complement that excellent backhand.

Marc stood and stretched. “That’s our boy. He’s got the skillset to do well.”

Polly nodded. She prayed her little sister had her own skillsets to get through this difficult situation. The foundation, and her family’s reputation, were at stake.

***

It had felt good to chat with Polly. She and her sister didn’t always see eye to eye, but Connie respected her judgment.

And the fact that she thought Connie was in the right place and doing well warmed her heart.

Still, going behind Dad’s back was not something she was accustomed to doing. She picked up her purse and strolled toward Mrs. Hodge’s counter. “I think I’ll go for a sandwich. Would you like for me to bring you something?”

The woman wrinkled her nose and shook her head lightly, but then she smiled. “You’ve been mighty busy, my dear. And you look a little worried. Is there something I can help you with?”

Connie shrugged. “I’m a little confused with the changes that I’m seeing.”

“Ah, yes. There have been some changes indeed, but I think they will be good ones in the long run.”

“You think so?”

The woman nodded and got a serious look in her eyes. “Take the reimbursement process we’ve always had. Anyone involved with the foundation simply turned in a slip with an amount on it. It didn’t even have to be itemized. Diana would cut a check for them the next time she was in office—no questions asked.”

It certainly wasn’t a good business practice, but the volunteers here were like family. Or was that naïve of her to think so? “You don’t think anyone has taken advantage of that do you?”

“Not on purpose. But yes, I’ve heard of folks rounding up and giving about amounts. Your dad had wanted to require itemized receipts, but Eleanor talked him out of it. And in truth, the people that purchase for the events find things all over, from places where formal receipts just aren’t available, you know.”

Mama’s crew had a special talent for finding the most amazing and unique items. Hopefully, they would do that for Connie as well.

The door chimed and Diana Carson herself waddled in on her cane. Diana had been the volunteer at the foundation who took care of most of the administrative items. Including the bookkeeping when it was needed. She’d been there almost as long as Mrs. Hodges had been working the front desk. “Is there any word about the murder yet?” She leaned over on the counter that was almost too tall for her. “I don’t mind telling you that it has me all a-shiver. Someone buying it like that. And right out there, not thirty yards away. There’s someone up to no good.”

“There’s very little information, even in the papers.” Mrs. Hodges lifted a folded newspaper to the counter. “You’re welcome to look, dear.”

“Thank you.” The woman picked up the day’s edition.

Connie hung onto the other subject, though. Not that the crime behind their building wasn’t intriguing, but the issues at hand tended to affect them even more. “We were discussing the reimbursement policy that Clint Rutherford has put together.”

The woman scowled. “I think it’s completely unfair of Mr. Rutherford to treat the volunteers like that.”

“So he is requiring receipts, then?”

She nodded, “More than that, he has some sort of list of what items will be reimbursed and what sorts of things won’t.”

Like the storage fees for Connie’s furniture.

“No one knows what an acceptable purchase is until they bring it to him. And if he says no.” She waved her thumb away from her as she blew a raspberry.

Mrs. Hodge’s mouth puckered as though she suppressed a laugh. And on most days, Diana Carson could make Connie chuckle with her direct manner and her no-nonsense style. But her concerns about Clint Rutherford weren’t a laughing matter. And while Connie had no evidence of anything out of sorts about him, she had a bad feeling about all of this. Maybe her next call could give her an idea of the next step she should take.


Watch for Episode 7 tomorrow!

Chapter Five – Murder from a Friend

“Did you say murder?” Hmm…welcome to the fifth installment of The Visitor Misses a Visit. Our heroine is getting in a little deeper and so far, her siblings haven’t been much help. If you are enjoying our story, I hope you will let us know by leaving a comment and/or using our share buttons to invite others. Happy reading!

Connie took Phil’s advice and contacted one of her former roommates right away.

Gretchen had majored in journalism, and she doggedly pursued a job as an investigative reporter. Though she only had an entry-level position, her job at the Tribune connected her with all types of information retrieval systems.

Thankfully, she wasn’t too busy to dig into Clint Rutherford’s past. “I’ll give it a shot. And I heard you had some excitement out there the other day.”

Her graduation hadn’t really been all that exciting. “It wasn’t that big a deal.”

“I think murder is a big deal.”

Oh, she was talking about the dead man. Wait. “Did you say murder?” She’d been right all along?

“Sure thing. The report I got said he was shot three times at fairly close range with a small caliber pistol.”

“I can’t imagine . . .” How come no one heard gunshots?

Gretchen scoffed. “That happens all the time in the city.”

“I was more deducing than asking. It must have happened at night or on a weekend when none of the volunteers were here. It’s close enough to the offices that, barring a hailstorm, anyone would have heard gunshots.”

“So, nobody heard anything?” Gretchen clearly pressed for a story, but Connie had nothing to offer.

“No one’s said anything. And I think, considering that the police were here for two solid days, they would have said something.” Especially Mrs. Hodges. And she’s at the foundation almost every day, right there by the front door.

“Well, I’ll let you know what I hear. Right now, they’re moving heaven and earth to try to identify the dead guy.”

Connie could certainly sink her teeth into the mystery like Gretchen seemed to be doing, but she’d already promised Dad that she wouldn’t do a Nancy Drew. “I want you to dig into the past of someone for me.”

Okay, maybe she would do a little Nancy Drewing, but clearly her promise had no bearing here since the issue dealt with matters within the foundation itself.

Her friend hummed into the receiver. “Well, I’m between gigs as it were, so I can probably swing it. Who are you investigating? New boyfriend?”

Why did everyone always go directly to that assumption? “New accountant here at the foundation.” She gave Gretchen his name. “I want all the deets.”

“Is there a problem?” Possibility rang in Gretchen’s tone.

“This is strictly off the record, Gretchen. There isn’t a problem. I just want to know a little more about him. That’s all.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can get the worms to wiggle.”

Connie half-scoffed a chuckle. Hopefully, her friend wouldn’t find a can of worms at the bottom of this.

The thought kept niggling at her. She had a terrible time avoiding the discussion with her dad that evening.

Thankfully, he was focused on their upcoming trip to support a charity near her oldest sister’s home,  “I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen Margaret?”

Connie hadn’t seen her since she’d been in high school, though even then her sister rarely spoke with her. “I’m so looking forward to meeting your namesake, Dad. I’ve spoken on the phone with Little Mac, and she is just adorable.”

“She is.” He gave her a sidelong look. “And she looks exactly like you. But you won’t be coming along this time.”

“What do you mean I’m not going with you?” Connie sounded like a five-year-old in her own ears, but she’d been looking forward to visiting with her sister’s family, even if her oldest sister didn’t usually acknowledge her. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she laid her napkin in her lap.

“The money isn’t there right now.”

Connie glanced at Mama.

She served herself some potatoes, clearly not wanting to be part of this conversation.

Something was going on. First Aunt Fanny’s charity, and now this fundraising trip. “Dad, you’re going to need to explain this to me. You ask me to be the new head of fundraising, but you don’t let me go to the first scheduled event? That doesn’t even make sense.”

He lifted his chin. “There’s no need for you there. The group has plenty of volunteers. We’re only making it officially part of the Wright Foundation by making an appearance. The rest of the trip is meeting with financiers. Not part of your area of expertise.”

“And spending time with Margaret’s family?”

“You hardly know your oldest sister.”

She shut her eyes and took another breath. “Does this have something to do with the pregnancy center we talked about?”

He shook his head and held out his hand. “One thing at a time, Constance.”

She swallowed her ire at hearing her formal first name. Dad had only ever used it when she was in trouble. Hearing it as an adult didn’t fly but calling him on it wouldn’t help anything.

Still, if her father was going to treat her like a child, this job might not be such a great fit after all. She lowered her tone. “It seems to me that this is all connected. Otherwise, why wouldn’t we take on the pregnancy center. It is exactly the type of charity we support. You know the people Aunt Fanny meets.”

“I just don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” All of her patience fled out the nearby window. After all, this was Aunt Fanny they were talking about. Not some idealistic group trying to do something they’d never heard of.

“Well to be honest.” Her father slathered some butter on a roll. “Clint’s been highly concerned about some of the extraneous expenses this year. A few of our best donors have drastically lowered their giving.”

What donors? And why was she only just hearing about this? “So, how will that affect the day-to-day business and our outreach?”

Her father locked eyes with her. “I’m afraid we might have to let some people down. I’m indebted to Clint for finding the problems. But I’m just not sure what to do about it all. It seems that this is going to end up being an extremely lean year even though we’re only just learning about it.”

Connie needed to talk to Clint Rutherford. “So, what unexpected expenditures have you had to deal with?” She took a bite of her mom’s roast beef and tried to focus on the analytical details that her father began discussing, but the emotion knotting the pit of her stomach made it hard to focus.

“We ended up buying essentials for six different shelters in the area instead of only the one we had pledged to support. I originally understood that we had the backing to cover all of that, but when Clint got here, he informed us that we did not indeed have that backing. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg.” Dad continued to explain other situations. Something to do with an unexpected roof replacement at one charity and a broken water heater at another.

The bottom line was, they were upside down in the financial department.

“Mind if I look into it a little?” Connie picked up her tea glass and gave her father an innocent look as she took a sip.

She needn’t have gone to the trouble of trying to look innocent. His eyes narrowed. “Now don’t go looking for mysteries and hooligans where there aren’t any.” His chiding voice was only a little on the gruff side.

She set her glass down and lifted her hands in surrender. “Only to get a better feel for what’s going on, so I know how I need to move ahead.”

“I’m sorry about the trip. I know you were looking forward to it.”

Shrugging, she took another bite of the roast. “I’ll miss finally meeting Mac, but I’d rather dig into this problem and see how I can help.”

More like uncover, learn, ferret out. It was all the same, but she couldn’t really use any of those terms around her dad.

“I’m sure Clint can guide you in that.”

“Guide me?” Didn’t the man work for her?

“He knows what he’s doing, dear. It would not be of help to anyone for you to come in and begin stirring up the muddy water that he’s been able to settle.” Her father picked up the last bite of his roll and ran it through his leftover gravy. “Besides, you have enough on your plate with the coming Louisville event. No sense wasting time duplicating someone else’s job.” His voice became crustier than normal.

“All right.” She said it, but instantly knew she couldn’t just turn around and pretend nothing was wrong.

He ate his final bite, pulled his napkin from his lap, and laid it on the table as he stood. “Things will work out. They always do.”

Dad had said that all her life. But he was wrong. Things didn’t work out. People worked on them and the Lord worked them out. But things didn’t just magically jump up and right themselves.

And she wasn’t about to sit by and watch to see if some shoemaker’s elves were planning to come solve their current problem.


Have you ever hoped for those magical elves to take care of overwhelming issues (or the dishes in the sink)?

Come back tomorrow to see what Connie does next!

And be sure to watch for the first book of The Visitor Mystery Series,

THE VISITOR MAKES A RETREAT

releasing on February 10!

You can preorder the first book right now at THIS LINK!