LINGUISTIC FINGERPRINTS EDITION: 2020
Compilation copyright ©2020: Barbara J. Becker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Illustrations ©2020 Susan Berry
Oprah Winfrey 2002. O Magazine.
Worry is a misuse of imagination.
BARBARA J. BECKER writes and edits stories. She lives in Winnipeg. Recent works are the Measured Words trilogy, and assorted articles to the Manitoba Genealogical Society magazine, Generations, editor David Farmer. Barbara did the same introduction to both of the Covid Caper stories and then let them happen.
SUSAN BERRY is a poet and writer of books for children. Recent publications are The Little Pink Pig, and I Can Be Anything (what could you be?). She is currently working on several new books.
RON VERT a retired clergy member, originally from the United States of America, has turned to writing fiction, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.
PHYLLIS CHERRETT, an esteemed poet, turned her hand briefly to this project.
FRANCES H. BEATTY lives and writes in Winnipeg and has published an anecdote in Reader’s Digest and her short story, Dog Days of Winter in Measured Words: second helpings, and Justice Denied in Measured Words: third course.
ROBERT WOOD originally from rural Saskatchewan, lives and writes in Winnipeg. His story, Ice Jumpers, received Honourable Mention in the 2012 Winnipeg Free Press/Writers Collective non-fiction contest, and was published in the Free Press. His short story, Forbidden Fruit, was published in Measured Words: third course.
The new neighbour moved in a month post pandemic. Normally speaking, I’d have scooted over to welcome her to the neighbourhood, but with social distancing and masks, and all, I never quite got around to it. My first thought was that she was retired. She looked fairly sprightly but with the grey hair and all, I put her somewhere past her prime. Now you must understand, I’m not a nosy busybody, but with time on my hands, I became fascinated with discovering who she was and more importantly where she went every day. You see, I quickly noticed that she went out on a regular basis. Odd behaviour for seniors in a pandemic. Leaving and returning varied a bit, but often she left before 8:00am, and returned early to late afternoon. This was seven days a week. Was she working? Was she visiting? Was she shopping? What on earth was she up to?
As the tedious months rolled past, and the weather improved into a warmish summer, my curiosity grew. What if, I thought, I got up and ready to go, and followed her? Could I be discrete and unnoticed? Well, I could sure try.
This thought came to me one Sunday evening in late August as I was sitting in my sunroom enjoying a nightcap. As I said, these days away from others except the few in our assigned circle had been growing longer, my garden was all but done, save for a few pumpkins, and I was restless.
As I pondered these thoughts the phone rang. Dorie. She called every night.
“Hello, Dorie. Yes, all fine here. How about you?”
“I’m wondering if you’d like to get back to our morning walks now that our gardens are done and the weather’s cooler,” she said.
We were on the same wavelength.
“And how’s the neighbour situation?” she chuckled.
I’d kept her posted on the daily comings and goings and my increasing curiosity.
“Well...” I said, and that’s when we hatched our plan.
Dorie arrived just after 7:30 the next morning, and handing her just half a cup of
coffee, I said, “Drink up, she’ll leave anytime now.”
I turned off the pot, locked the back door and then we hurried together to the front window. Sipping the last of our brew we peered at the house across the street. No movement yet.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said. “We have to get to the far bus stop before she sees us.”
I grabbed my keys and the bag holding my wallet, bottled water, and a snack just in case, and we headed out together.
“Got your bus money ready?“ I asked.
“You bet!” Dorie replied with an enthusiastic grin.
We were both breathless as we arrived at our stop.
“Be cool,“ I said, noting Dorie’s excitement. I jerked my head to indicate our person of interest crossing to the bus stop in front of my place.
She was wearing her usual slicker jacket, and she carried an umbrella though it hadn’t rained in weeks. Her hair was pinned up neatly, and even from a distance we could sense a certain eagerness in her steps.
Within minutes the Grosvenor bus arrived. She ascended the steps surprisingly easily, CoVid mask in place.
Dorie and I climbed on as it arrived at our stop and, feeling only a bit sheepish, we moved to the back seats marked with red tape for proper social distancing.
“I’m glad we’re wearing masks,” I breathed close to her ear.
The bus heaved forward and soon we were heading east and then north past homes and strip malls.
“She must be going all the way downtown,” I mumbled through my mask.
“Downtown!“ I repeated through my mask with closed teeth. Who knew if sound carried!
Dorie gave me a knowing look, her eyes expressive above her mask.
But as the bus lurched to a stop over and over again, letting others off, and on, we soon realized we were in the North end of town, and that my neighbour and we were the last ones still travelling.
Well, this could be awkward, I thought. What on earth was out here anyway?
The bus lurched its way up Main Street. My thoughts were lost in pondering ideas as to what my neighbour might be doing in this area. Dorie gave me a nudge.
“She’s getting ready to get off.”
“Ok, when she is off, we will walk in the opposite direction, but don’t lose sight of her.”
My neighbour was in a hurry. She exited the bus to begin walking south on Main. We turned north giving a quick glance towards the woman. She didn’t appear to notice us.
Dorie asked, “Where are we?”
“We are at Boyd and Main according to the street sign,” I chuckled, “You need to be more observant if you’re going to be a detective.”
“If we are going to be Shakespeare and Hathaway, I get to be Shakespeare,” laughed Dorie as she started south.
“What are you saying, Dorie? I...I… look like Hathaway,” as I hurried to catch up to her, “I just had a facial yesterday.”
“Come on,” urged Dorie, “She’s crossing Redwood. I think she’s going to the nursing home.”
As we crossed the lights turned green allowing cars to turn on to Redwood. A car was honking at us. We ran to finish our crossing. The woman never turned to look to see why the car was honking. She continued her steady pace down main.
“Dorie, what is this woman up too. Why would she go to Boyd, exit the bus, then walk back to a point where she could have exited it the first place. This doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re right, Shakespeare, it doesn’t,” replied Dorie with a smile.
“When we are done with this escapade you and I are going to have a talk on this Shakespeare and Hathaway thing,” I was laughing when I said it, “You’re watching too much Prairie Public TV.”
We maintained our distance as we crossed Burrows. The woman stopped to pull out her phone. Dorie pushed me into a doorway inset. It was an abandoned tarot card reading room; at least I think it was abandoned. There was a hint of incense at the entryway.
“Why did you push me?” I snapped.
“I wanted to see how she was using her phone. She could be calling somebody. Look, she’s holding her phone up. She must be taking a picture.”
“Look how she is angling the phone and the heights. What’s worth a picture in this area other than the Orthodox Cathedral in the distance?”
My neighbour put her phone away to continue her urban trek. Dorie grabbed my arm pulling me down the street.
“Dorie, I think you’re more curious about this woman than I am.”
“We have to keep up we didn’t come this far only to lose sight of her.”
“She’s stopping again. Hide, she may look in our direction!
We entered a small office with two desks cluttered with paper. Dorie and I were watching the neighbour when a woman’s voice asked, “May I help you?”
Dorie and I looked quizzically at each other, wondering who is going to speak. Dorie indicated for me to continue watching as she approached the woman, “I was wondering if you had need of a part-time typist and file clerk. You see, my husband left me a couple of years ago and I need something to do.”
The woman was about to answer when I said, “Dorie we have to go, now!”
“Sorry, my friend has a problem. I’ll be back,” said Dorie.
The two of us were almost running as we continued to follow the neighbour. “What did you mean, I have a problem? That woman probably thinks we both have a problem.”
“What was I supposed to say? It was the first thing that came to mind,” replied Dorie. “I’ll go back and see if I can get a job.”
“Did you notice what the office was about?”
“Well, no, I was distracted trying to keep you out of trouble.”
“Me, out of trouble? The office was a bail bondsperson. An office that deals with people in trouble.”
Dorie and I continued following our quarry down Main. A man stopped the woman at Selkirk Avenue. He held out his hand. She shook her head, no, then crossed Main Street on to Selkirk Avenue. We hurried to the corner. The same man approached us. He didn’t say a word. He held out his hand. I was about to ask the man if he’d let me buy him a sandwich and a coffee when Dorie got my attention, “Look...No...don’t look that woman is on the corner with her phone out. It’s aimed in our direction.”
“Well, stop looking at her. Turn your back. This man may need us to buy him a coffee.”
The man batted his hand at us and walked away. He never said a word.
“She’s gone!” I said to Dorie.
“Let’s hurry across. I think she’s walking down Selkirk.”
The traffic light seemed to take forever to change. We must have been a sight. Two senior women running and holding on to each other in a crosswalk. As we were crossing, someone yelled, “The Senior Olympics are next year!”
“People sure think they have to comment when two ladies are trying to get across the street,” I said.
“Forget that yahoo. I think I see her at the corner of King St.”
We kept up our hurried pace, and then Dorie said, “I think she’s going to Gunn’s bakery.”
“That’s a possibility. Hurry let’s get a bit closer.”
“No...wait...she’s pulling out her phone again.”
Dorie pulled me into the alley. We were both trying to peer around the corner to watch her when we heard a man’s voice, “What are you two doing? Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Standing behind us were two cops and several members of the Bear Clan.
I dropped my bag and grabbed Dorie’s arm. “What, I mean, what do you mean? Are you speaking to me, young woman?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I am speaking to you. No, leave the bag where it is.”
I was completely taken aback, but in for a penny, I suppose. “How may I help you? Is something amiss?” “Dorie, stop that and pay attention!” I pulled on her wrist.
Dorie shook my hand off her wrist and yanked her arm free with a jolt. It caught me off guard and struck me as odd. Why was she being so aggressive? Free of my grasp, she began tugging at the clasp of her cavernous handbag. She was making things worse.
The officer stepped forward and placed a hand over Dorie's arm. "Drop your purse to the ground ma'am, and put your hands where we can see them," she ordered.
"B u u t ... b … bbut I …," Dorie stammered.
"Do as you're told, or we will be forced to detain you," the other officer commanded.
Dorie shrugged and dropped her bag, rolled her eyes at me, and shrugged again, grimacing. I had the impression that she was not taking this seriously.
"They can't do that," she muttered under her breath.
"Several establishments in the area have been under surveillance for drug trafficking and you ladies have been observed by the patrol exhibiting some suspicious behaviour. Would you mind telling us what you're doing here?"
"Well ... we just ...," I began, "We were ... ahh ... following our neighbour to make sure she's OK," I stammered. With all the adrenalin coursing through my veins, the lie came easily. Then, gaining confidence, I added, "She's very independent; we didn't want her to see us ...."
"Yeah," Dorie chimed in, "this is not a very nice neighbourhood. We live in River Heights, you know."
"Does this neighbour of yours have a name?" the male officer asked.
"Um, yeah," I responded, "but ....” I was stumped and looked over at Dorie for support.
She stood tall, pulling herself up to her full height of 5'1" lifted her chin and said, "We can't tell you." Her defiant demeanour got an immediate reaction ....
"And why would that be?"
"I believe it would be a violation of her privacy."
"Now, where was this friend of yours headed?" he asked. And ... why is she walking back down Main Street to Selkirk Avenue having exited the bus several blocks back on Boyd? There are at least a couple of bus stops closer to Selkirk Avenue than that.
Emboldened by Dorie's assurance, I ventured, "She must have missed her stop."
"So, where was she headed?"
Bewildered we both shook our heads. "We don't know," we said in unison.
I was stunned; the Bear Clan had done a good job of tailing us and we hadn't even noticed them before we were stopped.
"We'll need to see some identification. If you ladies have a photo ID; we need to see something
with your picture on it."
"Are we under arrest?" Dorie asked.
Ohh, that shook me up. Alarmed, I turned away, covering my mouth, stifling a gasp. To my surprise, I saw my new neighbour going past the alleyway on the opposite side of the street. She stopped short, then looked quickly away when she saw us talking to the Police. How... why... who was this woman? Had the Police or the Clan been watching her, as well? She turned on her heel and headed through the gate into the yard of the nearest house - a derelict two-story with boarded up windows. She followed the walk around the side of the abandoned dwelling to the back of the property and disappeared.
I gulped but didn't say anything. Had anyone else noticed her? I was sure Dorie had not. She was busily clawing through the contents of her handbag spilled out onto the lid of a trash can at the request of the Police.
This was a lot more than I bargained for when Dorie and I, out of frivolous curiosity, set out to follow my neighbour on her daily excursion early that morning.
Well, I was close to panic after all that confusing dither. And panic does odd things to you. When adrenaline hits, everything speeds up, especially your thinking. You start having a thousand thoughts a minute, mostly incoherent nonsense, but you also notice things normally overlooked or ignored. I noticed these officer’s uniforms didn’t seem to be the exact proper colour. Then I noticed the shoulder patches weren’t sewn on quite straight. Also, I realized there were no police cars around.
These aren’t real police! The thought hit like a hammer blow. They’re impostors- probably criminals- well, definitely criminals because impersonating a police officer is a legal offense. I nearly fainted from fright, but, when I recovered, my panic was replaced by a cool, calculating calm. I watched carefully, noted their demeanours and expressions were not those of genuine officers.
About the Bear Clan crowd, I wasn’t so sure. They wore vests and badges, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the Clan to know if they were authentic or not. Probably not, I figured.
Dorie was still rooting through her handbag stuff, looking for ID amid the accumulated tonnage she hauled around. Nobody asked for my ID and I didn’t volunteer. Good, because one pseudo-cop, becoming impatient, told us, “You two look pretty harmless. I think you’re just old snoops, so we’ll let you go home if you promise to behave.”
We promised. They left for parts and reasons unknown. We left, but needing a snack to calm us down, we walked over to Gunn’s Bakery, got some pastries, then sat on a transit bench to eat. Dorie was still pretty wound up, but calmed some when I told her the “police“ were phonies. She was relieved, then got rewound at the realization we had been in the hands of criminals. “My God, Isabel! You don’t know what they might have done to us.” Sometimes she seems to enjoy being frightened; I think this was one of those times.
I was calm and wanted to get things figured out, so I steered Dorie’s agitation in the same direction. I told her I had seen our quarry- called her “Lady X”- go into the yard of the derelict house. “We should check the place out. See who or what is there. Maybe we can catch her at something.” The appeal to adventure worked, or maybe it was just snoopiness. In any case, we finished our pastries and headed for “The House of Lady X”.
To be sneaky and furtive, we skulked up the back lane, pushing a commandeered grocery cart left by some street person. For authenticity, we put in some stray cans and bottles, tousled our hair, affected limps and slurred our speech. As we approached, we saw through the back hedge that Lady X was leaving. Excellent timing for us. She headed back toward Main Street, and disappeared.
The house looked better from the back, painted, grass trimmed, flowers blooming, and windows not boarded over. The back door was locked- not a surprise- but through the windows we could see beds in some rooms and dishes in the kitchen sink. We could even hear a television somewhere. In whispers, we agreed the place was “lived in”, if only by transients. Then we decided to get out of there; someone might be inside checking us out or even recording us.
We went back to the lane, left the grocery cart, straightened our hair, stopped limping and slurring and became River Heights ladies again. Lunch time was approaching, and we felt we’d had enough excitement for one day: we should go home and discuss it over tea and cucumber sandwiches.
We went to Main Street, got on a #11 bus, so we could transfer on Portage Avenue. We wanted privacy so we could talk, so we went right to the back. After two blocks, the bus stopped and Lady X got on. She sat near the front and didn’t notice us. She transferred at Maryland to the #29 southbound. That was where Dorie and I would have transferred, but now we went one more stop, walked back, took the next #29 south and got home undetected.
Chatting over tea at my house, we decided we should talk to the police. With Dorie on the extension, we reported what we had seen. I was pretty calm, but Dorie was all keyed up and blurted, or bleated, all sorts of irrelevant observations, information, and speculation. In the end, since no actual crime had been committed or even attempted, all that interested the police was somebody impersonating an officer, and if the disguise was as obvious as we said, not that much of a big deal. The officer sounded amused and I thought heard someone snicker “crazy old gals” (or “old bats”) in the background. We were angry with the police: this morning’s experience had been a big deal for us, and they just laughed. We concluded we were on our own to solve the mystery.
We put our heads together to figure it out. First question was: why did she overshoot her destination and double back on Main Street? Conclusion: She knew she was being followed, and our doubling back behind her proved it. Having her phone out was likely to verify and get a record. What made her suspicious of being followed? She might have recognized me and thought it strange that I got on further down the street. ”Was there anything else,” Dorie asked “that would have alerted her to our curiosity?”
“Well,” I admitted reluctantly, “she might have seen me watching her through the windows.”
“Indeed,” said Dorie, with a raised eyebrow. “That could explain a lot.” I let that go by and she went to the next question. “Remember when the panhandler approached first her, then us, at Selkirk. You were going to give him something, but he just walked away. Think that’s connected?”
“Could be,” I told her, “like maybe he was a lookout or a guard or something.”
“Next item, did she go to Gunns Bakery and why? Was she meeting someone- or just getting bagels or bread?”
“Just getting bagels sounds pretty good!” Dorie loves bagels so I let that question go. We couldn’t answer it anyway.
“Next question,” chirped Dorie, “what were the fake cops and ‘maybe Clan’ bunch doing there? Were they meeting her or planning to ambush her or were they there for something else entirely? And why were they hiding in the alley?”
“Beats me,” I admitted, “but I’m getting steadily more curious.”
Just then Dorie noticed Lady X leaving, striding purposefully down the street. I was surprised; Lady X must have come home early; perhaps her morning had been as odd as ours. If it had been, she should have been home for the day, unless she had obligations.
“Let’s follow her again!” Dorie was eager, but I vetoed that idea.
“Too obvious,” I told her, “could get us in trouble for harassment. Instead, let’s stroll around her house and check it out.”
We were out the door in a minute, crossed the street at the end of the block and sauntered up the back lane behind Lady X’s house. We let ourselves into her back yard and looked around.. The yard was neat, with mown grass, shaped shrubs, and nice flower beds. Dominating all was a newly built gazebo that looked too large for the yard. As we walked and gawked, a sweet voice inside the gazebo startled us by saying, “Well, ladies…what can I do for you?”
We jumped guiltily “Oh, um, hi,” I stammered, “we were just admiring your gazebo. It’s very pretty.”
She was hidden behind a lattice so we couldn’t see who it was. We’d seen Lady X leave a few minutes earlier, so we were sure it wasn’t her. We walked around the gazebo and found ourselves face to face with Lady X, or so it seemed. The face smiled sweetly, then said, “Hello, Isabel. C’mon up. We’ve been wondering when we’d make your acquaintance.”
“We?” I said, “who’s the “we?” And how do you know my name?”
“Easy now, dearie! We looked you up on the internet. It’s easily done.”
“Sure, but why were you checking on me? That’s being snoopy.”
“Because, Isabel Spencer, we saw you gaping at us all the time, so we returned the favour.”
Dorie had been quiet through this brief exchange, but now piped up, “So who’s the ‘we.’ Are there two of you?”
“Come up into the gazebo,” said our “host”, stalling us a bit, “and you’ll see.” We now noticed a ramp up to the gazebo, then that the “host” was in a wheelchair. A quick glance revealed another ramp on the back of the house. A few light bulbs went on in our heads, but a lot of darkness remained. She asked me, “Who’s your friend? Is she from the neighbourhood?”
“This is Dorie Parsons. She lives a few blocks away. Uh, we’re both widows.”
“We’re a little different. My sister and I are both divorced, a long time ago.” So she had a sister, presumably Lady X.
“So that’s why you look so much alike- you’re sisters!” Sometimes Dorie is a bit slow on the uptake, but she gets there.
“Not just sisters; identical twins. We say that we started as womb mates, became roommates and will probably end as tomb mates.”
We chuckled at that line and any remaining tension between us ended. Dorie, emboldened, asked, “So what is your name? And your sisters?”
“I’m Stella Anderson and my sister is Astrid Harper. We were originally Wilsons.”
Now Dorie got curious, perhaps discourteously so. “So what is it you and your sister do,” she asked, “with her gone every day to who knows where?”
“Look, ladies, nothing bad is going on here,” Stella assured us, “and I know you’re harmless, so let’s go in the house and talk over tea.”
We helped her down the ramp and into the house. Tea was made in minutes, biscuits and cookies appeared and we sat down to talk. Well, Stella talked, and we listened. First, she told us that a car accident a few years earlier had left her disabled. Astrid had helped a great deal, but living several miles apart made it difficult. So they had sold their houses, pooled their resources to buy in our neighbourhood, installed ramps and moved in. She, Stella, could travel only by car from the rear driveway. Consequently I had not seen her coming and going.
This was interesting. But much curiosity remained. Where did Astrid go nearly every day and what did she do when she got there? Stella was patient, gracious and informative: “Well, you know, you are our neighbours and I know you’re well meant, so I’ll talk freely with you. As well as caring for me, Astrid works almost every day in a women’s shelter in that house you went into. It’s quite secret as many of the clients are in great danger from ex-spouses or boyfriends or even relatives bent on honour killing. Clients are from white, black, brown and Indigenous backgrounds. The Bear Clan provide protection to them and Astrid and other workers. They keep a close eye on the place. Oh, and the pseudo-cops you saw, they’re Clan guys. They dress like that to deal with people less observant than you. The police wink at it, cause it serves a good cause.”
“I help too,” Stella told us. “I do all the office work for the place, keep the books, write the correspondence and a lot more. Sometimes I feel like I live on my computer. Keeps me useful and busy.”
So many things were clear now, so with heartfelt apologies for our nosiness and snooping, Dorie and I left. Back at my house, we sat around, feeling quite foolish, but also feeling a lot of respect and admiration for our neighbours. We both said we would like to help out such a worthwhile endeavour.
About 5:00PM, the phone rang. It was Stella, saying,” Astrid is home. We’re having a laugh over the day’s events. Come back over and we’ll chat about it.”
We went, chatted, got further informed, made more apologies, and ate pizza. It was a good few hours. Astrid told us that she had known she was being followed, but didn’t recognize us. She had taken out her phone to photograph us and to alert the Clan that she was being followed, but didn’t know what was going on till she looked down the alley and recognized me. She didn’t want to sort things out then, so, knowing Dorie and I weren’t in danger, just went directly to the shelter.
The next week both Dorie and I started volunteering two days a week at the shelter. The stories are heart rending, but we are both so glad to feel useful and needed. Of course, this cuts into my snooping time, so I’ve narrowed my focus. Instead of aging ladies, however nice, I think I’ll concentrate on Fred Hawkins down the block. He looks like some companionship and a few home cooked meals would mean a lot to him. I think there’s a real possibility there ….