I scooted up on the edge of the folding chair. Milton was trying to remember who he'd loaned his coats to. I hoped he'd come up with at least a few names. And, I really hoped that one would end up being the thief.
I still didn't like Officer Dayton, but at least she'd stopped accusing me. She bit at her bottom lip and sat back in her chair as Milton thought.
"Let's see," Milton said, "Veronica - she sells candles; she borrowed one a couple days ago."
"That's a good start, Mr. O'Brien, but according to Carolyn the last time she saw the pendant was yesterday afternoon. She locked the item in her cash box at about noon, she thinks. Did you loan a coat to anyone since yesterday afternoon?"
Milton shook his head slowly. "I'm certain no one else has worn this coat. I'm certain."
Suddenly, their attention was back on me.
"You picked Ms. Robins up from the airport and brought her directly here, right?" Officer Dayton asked.
"Yes," Milton and I said together.
"Did you ever leave her alone?"
"Only for a few minutes at my stall, long enough for me to help Vinnie unload some tangerines."
"So, long enough for Ms. Robins to find the cash box and steal the pendant."
"Oh, for goodness' sake, I didn't steal anything. I sat in your stall and waited for you to come back. I wouldn't have known about the pendant. I wouldn't have known about the cash box." I sat back in the chair.
"Milton!" Shannon said. "I think you'd better come over here and bring the police."
As we approached the stall, Carolyn did everything she could not to look me in the eye.
"I made a mistake," she said quietly.
"Excuse me?" Officer Dayton said.
"Freddie just called. He's the one who took the pendant. He was here last night, working after closing. He'd taken the pendant out of the cash box - we were recently robbed and he's been concerned about it and wanted it in his possession. I kept telling him he was being silly. Anyway, he was cold - he found one of your coats, Milton. While he was here, he got a call from our insurance agent. The items that were stolen are going to be fully covered. He was so relieved that . . . well, he forgot he had the pendant."
"I thought you said he was looking for it," Milton said.
Carolyn nodded slowly. "He just called me back. He didn't know I would call the police so quickly. He was going to come down and get it out of the coat and bring it to me. He was embarrassed he'd forgotten about it. And, now I'm embarrassed about everything else."
I was so relieved, I couldn't even be angry. I did take the coat off, though. I was plenty warm by that time.
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket - my overalls' pocket. I excused myself and stepped away from the crowd to answer it.
"Sis," I said. "How's everyone?"
"We're fine," Allison said. "How's San Francisco? Is the market amazing? How about the vendors?"
I laughed. "All is well. The market is amazing and the vendors are . . ." I looked at the group and thought about how much they were like Bailey's vendors. They would do whatever they could to protect each other. They'd probably even do whatever they could to make sure a fellow vendor wasn't falsely accused of something. "They remind me of home. I miss you all."
"We miss you, too. And, tomorrow's Valentine's Day. Make sure you spread a little love from all of us."
I laughed again. "I promise. Gotta go, Al. I'll talk to you later."
I put the phone back into my pocket and got to work.
Thank you all for participating in the "Which Way" story! I had a great time with it.
Tomorrow, February 14, isn't only Valentine's Day, it's also the day for the two contests. Don’t forget to send me your February 14th FRUIT OF ALL EVIL pre-order email/receipts. Here's the email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Someone will win an iPad!
Also tomorrow: On this blog (10:00 AM PST, 1:00 PM EST) I'll post ten questions from the above "Which Way" story. The first five to answer the questions correctly on my Facebook page will each win a $20 bookstore gift certificate. I'll put a comment on my page that says something like: Answer questions here. Number your answers 1 through 10. Just give me answers, no need to repeat the questions.
If you have any other questions, send them to me today.