This morning, as I walked into the building, I had the pleasure of encountering Ms Ball and Mrs Flaherty on their daily stroll to the kitchen for coffee. With recent events in mind, I approached them warily, keeping my eyes open for clues and suspicious signals. Ms Ball, with eyes agleam and wisps of silver hair glinting in the early morning light, walked right up to me in the boldest manner and, although I was startled by this, I planted my feet firmly on the ground and braced myself for combat.
Instead of launching into a series of accusations, or a litany of denials, as I half-expected, Ms Ball smiled and spoke loudly, with great enthusiasm (as is her habit):
"I just want you know, Dr Nygaard, that I left a gift on your desk this morning, so don't be alarmed!"
"Oh! Th-th-thank you!" I stuttered in surprise.
"I didn't want you to be frightened," she continued; "Nor did I want you to suspect me further in this most perplexing affair."
Still startled, I nevertheless managed to gather my wits and muster enough forethought to reply with a challenge:
"Does this mean you're willing to confess to placing the Advertisement on my vehicle?"
"Oh, no," she said, with the utmost certainty; "I'm not making any such confession!"
Though I was certain of her guilt concerning the Advertisement, I decided to take firm hold of the opportunity before me: I met her parry with another thrust.
"What, then, about the Photo in Question?" I demanded, looking up into her bespectacled eyes: "What do you know about that?"
Turning away, she smiled, took the uncharacteristically-silent Mrs Flaherty by the arm, and sauntered down the hall in the most self-congratulory way, like a cat who had just swallowed a canary!
I continued on my way to my classroom, pondering this intriguing exchange, when who should I encounter but Mr Diener! He had bicycled to school (13 miles!) and was just walking in towards the Middle School. What a coincidence that I should run into two of my suspects in such a short time!
We bantered about bicycling in general, and I purposely avoided any mention of the Case. --Perhaps if I took an indirect approach with this suspect, I might lull him into complacency; maybe he would incriminate himself, without any badgering from me...
I patiently asked Mr Diener how long he would continue to bike to work, especially since the weather promised to turn cold soon. He declared with confidence that he would persist until the roads became icy. Suddenly, he broke away in a quick turn, explaining that it was his duty this morning to make coffee in the Middle School Teachers' Lounge, and his colleagues must not be disappointed! I began to grow suspicious...
As a farewell, he said over his shoulder, "I hope you make progress with your Case! It is most interesting!"
"Yes, it is!" I said, but I added under by breath, not sure if he could hear me, "I still suspect you!"
He laughed and rolled his bicycle on towards the Lounge.
By the time I reached my classroom, I was so preoccupied by suspicious (and perhaps even paranoid) speculations that I completely forgot about the gift awaiting me there.
|The Curious Gift|
On my desk, there stood a curious and antique frame attached to a kind of pedestal. In this frame was a lovely photograph of a group of Yellow Lady Slippers.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Curious Gift. I turned it round and carefully removed the photo from the frame to see what, if anything, might be written on the back of the picture. In Ms Ball's famously regular and legible script were these words:
"Early June, 1998, Jay Cooke State Park." I wondered whether this inscription might offer a clue to the whereabouts of the Slippers in the other photo, the Photo in Question.
|The Photo in Question.|
I have spent many an hour peering with my magnifying lens at the Photo in Question, attempting to deduce the location it depicts. From the angle of the camera, which appears to be aimed up at the blossom, and because of the position of the trees in the background, I have always felt that the Photo in Question was taken from the mid-point of a steep slope just off the White Pine Trail at Jay Cooke State Park. But is this hunch of mine correct? I do not know...
Turning my attention again to the Curious Gift, I shook my head, as if to clear my baffled faculties, and realized that this new object was merely a Red Herring; pretty though it was, it would not--indeed, could not--help me solve the original mystery, the identity of the Lady Slipper Stalker.
After a long day, I made my way home...and when I got there, I checked the mailbox to see what the Postal Carrier had brought me: several bills, The Walking Dead (Season 4: Disc 4) from Netflix, and...a friendly missive.
|The Friendly Missive.|
Could this be a clue?! I burst out laughing as I turned it over and read it! This postcard, featuring a photo-collage of "Minnesota Lady's Slippers," was from my DNR-intern friend. She informed me that she had been in Ely, Minnesota, since August 25 and thus had an alibi. Although she had been out of touch for a time, others had informed her that she was a suspect in the Case; therefore, she felt a need to clear her name. She assured me she would never leave anything on my vehicle without attaching "a short note of greeting." I was relieved to hear that, but the Friendly Missive was no clue; rather, it was just another Red Herring, and it brought me no closer to a solution.