Patrick O'Mally and Grace Johnson, senior citizen spies extraordinaire, have just completed their first caper
as a team.
Patrick, retired Irish cop, and Grace, who ran away from home to avoid being put in a retirement home by
her children, are finally relaxing in Grace's apartment at the homeless shelter, which provided her with not only a job but
a real sense of self-worth.
Even Grace's children have accepted Grace's instincts as the perfect partner for Patrick's experience after
the pair of super sleuths solved what was perhaps the Big Apple's most unusual kidnapping. The fact that they just happened
to solve the one murder which plagued Patrick's career didn't hurt anything, either.
Now, with all of that behind them, can they settle back into a life of leisure watching old reruns of Perry
Mason on TV?
Patrick collapsed in the big overstuffed chair in Grace's apartment. He removed his shoes and began to rub
"You know, Gracie," he said, smiling at her, "I'm not as
young as I used to be."
"Boy!" Grace said sarcastically. "That's deep!"
"Oh, come on," Patrick said. "You know what I mean."
"I think it's only your feet that have gotten old," she teased.
Patrick didn't argue. If she wanted to think he was still young at heart, who was he to protest?
Patrick O'Mally, retired New York Police Department detective, had survived an escapade with his new partner:
Grace sat on the sofa facing him. "Sorry you took me on?" she asked. She had never known anything as fulfilling
as solving the mystery she and Patrick had just finished. St. Patrick--or at least the facsimile of him--was safely back in
its niche at St. Patrick's Cathedral and they could relax.
Grace studied the apartment. So much had happened that it seemed like ages had passed since she had moved
into the homeless shelter. She did love her work there; it was such fun to be around the people who congregated there daily.
"A penny for your thoughts?" Patrick asked.
Grace reached out and put her hand on Patrick's knee. "I was just thinking how lucky I am," she said. "I
have my work here. I have my own little apartment. My kids have finally accepted the fact that I really do belong here. But
best of all, I have you. Thank you, Saint Patrick."
Patrick grinned at her use of the nickname she had given him. He doubted he would ever tell her that Margaret,
his first wife, had called him that, too.
"Want a cup of coffee?" Grace asked.
"No," Patrick answered. "I just want to sit here and look at you."
Grace couldn't help herself. She blushed like a young schoolgirl.
* * *
A knock at the door interrupted them, much to Grace's relief.
"I have a letter for you," Juan, one of the residents at the shelter said with his strong Spanish accent.
"Which one of us?" Patrick asked. He assumed, of course, that it was for Grace, since this was her apartment.
"Both of you," Juan said, handing the letter to him. He closed the door behind him as he left.
Grace went over to Patrick and perched on the arm of the chair.
"Who's it from?" she asked.
"I don't know," Patrick said. "There's no return address."
He studied the envelope carefully.
"Go on and open it!" Grace said, her voice filled with exasperation. She hated surprises! "You'll never find
out any other way."
Patrick, ignoring her, said, "Hmmm. Postmark is from someplace in Nebraska. Albany. I thought Albany was
in New York."
"Silly!" Grace shouted at him. "Are you going to open it? Or do I have to do it for you?"
She grabbed the envelope away from him, ripping the corner off in the process.
Patrick craned his neck to see it, too. It was only one page long, and at the bottom of the letter it was
signed, "Sincerely, Walter."
"It's from Walter!" Grace said excitedly.
"Okay, now we know who sent it. What does it say? What is he doing in Nebraska?"
Walter Schmidt was a former resident at the homeless shelter. He had been in charge of the kitchen when Grace
first came there. They had spent many interesting times over a cup of coffee in the morning before they began preparing breakfast
for the other residents. One morning when Grace went to the kitchen, he was nowhere to be found. He hadn't said a word to
anyone, just up and took off. Of course that wasn't so unusual. Lots of the residents were just drifters--there one day and
gone the next. But Walter had seemed different. He belonged.
"Seems to me he said he hailed from Nebraska," Grace said. "Someplace on the east side. Could have been Albany.
Yeah, I think it was."
"So, are you going to read it?" Patrick asked. "You were in such a hurry."
"Dear Patrick and Grace," Grace read, squinting at the writing. His penmanship left a lot to be desired.
"Sorry I left without saying anything to you. My mother called, and my father had just died. I had to go back home. Hope
you are both OK. Did you ever find that little girl and the statue? I hope I'm not putting you out too much, but I need a
favor, and I don't know who to ask but you. I found a real recipe to success, but somebody doesn't want me to have it. If
anything happens to me, take the key I'm sending you and go to First Bank in Norfolk. You'll find the secret there. Grace,
you'll know what to do with it. If I don't make it, good luck! It can make you millionaires. Sincerely, Walter."
Patrick picked the envelope up from the coffee table and shook it. A small silver key fell out.
"What do you suppose that is all about?" he asked.
"I don't know," Grace replied, "but let's try to find out." She stood up and walked to the phone. She dialed
"Could you get me the area code for Albany, Nebraska?" she asked.
She dialed 402, followed by the number for information.
"Yes," she said in response to the operator's offer of help. "Or at least I hope so. I am looking for someone
named Schmidt--that's spelled S-C-H-M-I-D-T--in Albany, Nebraska."
"No, I'm sorry. I don't have a first name. How many are there?"
"Well, if there's only one, let's just pretend that's the right one, shall we?"
Grace was usually pretty level-headed, but she had to find out if Walter was all right. She didn't have time
to waste on useless chit-chat right now.
Grace repeated the number out loud, and Patrick wrote it down in his trusty little notebook he always carried
in his inside breast pocket.
Grace hung the phone up and then walked to the sofa, where she sat looking at Patrick. For some reason, she
felt uneasy about this whole thing.
"Did you get a name, too?" Patrick asked.
"Oh, yes. Nelda. I remember Walter saying one time that his mother had the phone listed in her name because
his father wouldn't pay for all of her long-distance calls."
"So you are going to call Nelda?" Patrick asked, making her seem somehow like a friend rather than a stranger.
"In a minute," Grace said.
"What's the matter?" Patrick asked. "You look scared."
Grace hesitated. Finally she confessed, "I guess I am. I don't know why, but I have this awful feeling in
the pit of my stomach. Maybe it's a premonition or something."
Patrick laughed at her. "Or women's intuition?" he scoffed. "In the department we called it a gut instinct."
His expression suddenly assumed a somber appearance. "Trouble is, call it what you want, it was very seldom wrong."
Grace took the notebook from Patrick and walked, slowly, to the phone, dialed the number and waited while
it rang. Once. Twice. Three times.
"Maybe nobody's home," she said hopefully.
"Hello," came the soft voice on the other end of the line in Albany, Nebraska.
"Is this Nelda Schmidt?" Grace asked.
"Yes," came the reply. "Who is this?"
"We are looking for a Walter Schmidt. Do you know where we could find him?"
"You...you know Walter?" the surprised voice asked. "Who are you?"
"We are friends of his from New York. Is Walter there, please?"
"He was," Nelda answered, then Grace thought the phone must have gone dead. Or Nelda had fainted. Or something
dreadful had just happened.
"Nelda!" Grace yelled into the phone. "Nelda! Mrs. Schmidt! Are you still there?"
Patrick jumped to his feet and ran to Grace's side.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"I don't know," Grace said, holding her hand over the mouthpiece for privacy. "She was just there. She said
Walter was there. Then there was this awful, dead silence."
"I'm sorry," the voice finally said. "I didn't mean to startle you. Who did you say you are?"
"My name is Grace Johnson," Grace said. "Walter and I are friends."
"Were friends!" Nelda snapped. "Nobody is his friend any more. Never will be."
"What's wrong?" Grace asked, feeling sick to her stomach. So her gut instinct was right. Something terrible
had happened to Walter.
"Is...Is Patrick there with you?" Nelda Schmidt asked. "Walter told me about both of you. He thought you
were just wonderful the way you were trying to find that poor little girl and all..."
"Yes," Grace said, "Patrick is right here beside me."
By now Grace had tilted the phone receiver far enough away so Patrick could hear too.
"I'm right here, Mrs. Schmidt," Patrick said. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nelda, please," she said. "I hope you don't mind, but I feel like I know you. Walter talked about you so
Nelda blew her nose loudly, causing both Patrick and Grace to jump back from the phone until she had finished.
"It's Walter. I know he didn't do it. I went out to the shed this morning to get some apples. He'd been keeping
all of them this year. I told him we needed the money from the orchard, but he said he had a plan that would make us a whole
lot more money than I could imagine. He wouldn't sell a single one."
Grace and Patrick listened silently for her to continue.
"That's when I found him. He was...hanging there by a rope from the rafter."
Grace turned white. She sank into the nearest chair, the phone still in her hand but the cord stretched to
the limit. Patrick moved right along beside her.
"How did it happen?" Patrick asked.
"The sheriff was just here. He said there was no question. He said it had to be suicide."
Grace couldn't believe it. Walter was always so cheerful; so upbeat. Had it all been just an act? Was he
really capable of taking his own life?
"And what do you think?" Patrick asked.
"I know it wasn't!" Nelda insisted. "I knew Walter. He was a good boy. He'd never do anything like that.
And especially not right after Charlie..." Her voice trailed off into oblivion.
"Don't let them do anything to the body," Patrick said, barking orders at the bereaved mother. "Gracie and
I will be on the first plane we can get. Just hold tight until then. Oh, and one more thing. Don't tell anybody we're coming.
Just in case there is foul play."
"There was," Nelda said matter-of-factly.
Grace smiled at Patrick. He always knew what to do.
"And Nelda," Grace added, "I don't believe Walter committed suicide, either."
The conversation ended, and Patrick and Grace sat staring at each other. They both knew there was more to
this than met the eye. There had to be.