Sunday, July 3, 2016
The Flag Waver: A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story
By Joanna Campbell Slan
~Dedicated to All Who Have Served Our Country~
I don’t much like Mr. Shelby, our neighbor across the street in Webster Groves, Missouri, but I have always respected his patriotism. Every federal holiday he raises an American flag. Other than that good quality, I tend to ignore him, because he’ll bend your ear with his rants about politics and world problems.
When he banged on our front door at 7 a.m. on the 4th of July, I opened it with a finger to my lips. “Our baby is sleeping. So are my kids. Please, keep it down.”
“Right, and your husband the cop is snoozing, too, I bet. Having a nice lazy morning while vandals disrespect my flag. Why on earth do we pay men like him good money? That’s what I want to know.”
“Mr. Shelby? Is there a problem?” Detweiler put a hand on my shoulder. His grip told me not to get upset; he would take care of the old man. Being a homicide detective, my husband is immune to most irritations. He’s seen real problems up close. He says that gives him a great perspective on what matters.
“Vandals took off with my flag. I hoisted it at sunrise. Now it’s gone. What are you going to do about it?”
I reached up and took my husband’s hand in mine. The flannel of his drawstring pants brushed my skin. We were dressed like twins, both in plaid baggy pants and grey tee shirts. “We’re going to walk over to your place and see if they left any clues. Honey? Close the door behind you quietly, please.”
Knowing our Scottish nanny, Brawny, was in the kitchen, gave my husband and me the option of walking away from our sleeping babes. Sure enough, Mr. Shelby’s flagpole looked like a white chopstick standing tall in the middle of his lawn. There was no sign of a flag. Last night, we had a light rain. Footprints indented the grass.
“Are those yours?” Detweiler asked our neighbor.
“Yes. Some are. See?” Mr. Shelby lifted his shoes, exposing the tread. It matched a partial impression in the damp soil. “The others are too big.”
He was right. I squatted and looked at the larger set and then back at Mr. Shelby’s. For a grown man, he had tiny feet. You would never guess the owner to be six feet tall.
“Any ideas who might do this?” Detweiler asked.
“The Morrissey boys. I called the cops on them two nights ago. Their parents are out of town, and I guess they think they’re grown-ups now, being at Mizzou and all. I don’t know what they teach them boys at University of Missouri, but it sure ain’t manners. Had their stereo cranked up too loud for me to think.”
Detweiler nodded. “Kiki, go on home. I’ll run over and see if the Morrissey boys know anything about this. Shouldn’t take long.”
In twenty minutes, he and the boys were standing in our kitchen, pouring themselves cups of coffee. Brawny was pulling muffins out of the oven. The tantalizing smell of vanilla, lemon, and butter scented the air. The boys were invited to stay and eat breakfast with us.
“Wasn’t us,” said one of the twins, as he took a huge bite from his muffin.
“That old man is a pain, but we never touched his flag.” His brother brushed off crumbs from the pastry he’d inhaled.
“Who else might have done this?” Detweiler wondered out loud. “He’s convinced it was the two of you.”
Brawny poured more coffee for everyone. “It isn’t like that man doesn’t have his share of enemies. Last week he talked my ear off, complaining about Brexit. Went on for donkey’s years about how stupid the Scots must have been to vote to withdraw from the European Union.”
One of the twins laughed. “But Scotland didn’t vote to withdraw.”
“Aye, but that thick lug wouldna listen to me.”
With a clank, I set down my coffee cup. “I know who took the flag. It was Mr. O’Malley.”
“How do you figure?” Detweiler smiled at me, and then winked at the boys. “Curly hair is a sign of superior intellect. My wife is proof.”
“One, Mr. Shelby is tall and it would have taken someone else tall, which Mr. O’Malley is. See, Mr. Shelby always ties the rope of the flag up high. I know because I once worried about a child getting tangled in it, and he showed me the cleat on the flagpole. Two, Mr. Shelby’s been bothering people about the Brexit vote to leave the EU—and Mr. O’Malley is Irish. Mr. Shelby probably bent O’Malley’s ear. Three, O’Malley lives right next door to Mr. Shelby. Can you imagine having to put up with Mr. Shelby all the time? I can’t.”
Brawny, Detweiler, and the Morrissey twins stared at me.
Finally Brawny broke the silence. “There’s more to it. Mr. O’Malley has served his country. He’s only recently back from Iraq. But he confided in me that Mr. Shelby has been telling him he was stupid for doing two tours of duty. Mr. O’Malley said to me, How dare he raise the American flag and then act disrespectfully to me about my service?”
Since Brawny served the Crown when she lived in the UK, I could well imagine Mr. O’Malley sharing his thoughts with her. And it hurt me to think of a serviceperson having to put up with a loudmouth like Mr. Shelby. Especially on the 4th of July, a day we set aside to honor another group who gave their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
We were quiet, each thinking our separate thoughts. I cleared my throat and appealed to my husband.
“What do you plan to do?”
“Mr. Shelby accused me of doing nothing. He seems to me like a man who enjoys being right.” And Detweiler smiled.
~ The End~
PS If you haven't read Glue, Baby, Gone (Kiki #12), you might want to grab it, because right now it's only 99 cents.