Read Benny Uncovers a Mystery Online

Authors: Gertrude Warner

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Benny Uncovers a Mystery (2 page)

Mr. Shaw had a small magnifying glass over one eye. He pushed it up so that he could see the Aldens.

“It isn’t often that you two come in,” he said. “What can I do for you customers?”

“We aren’t customers,” said Benny. “We are looking for work.”

“Sorry,” said Mr. Shaw. “I haven’t room for another person. I lock up the store when I go to lunch or do errands. Your best bet is Furman’s.”

When they were outside, Benny looked unhappy. “I didn’t think it would be this hard to find a job. We should have gone to Furman’s first. Someone else probably has that job by now.”

“I don’t think so,” Henry said. “The paper just had the ad today. Let’s try.”

So the boys were off to Furman’s, the biggest store in town. It was not like a city department store, but it had most of the things people in Greenfield wanted to buy.

Furman’s Department Store filled nearly a block in the business part of Greenfield. It had been a much smaller store when Mr. Furman’s father had first begun it. Now it had new sections and two floors with many different departments.

Benny and Henry headed for the office as soon as they walked into the store. They knew where the office was, on a landing halfway up the stairs between the first and second floor.

Mr. Furman was in the office. It was a square room, something like a cage because the sides were built of open metal work. Mr. Furman could see almost all of the first floor counters when he looked out. Some people said he should make the store modern and put in glass walls. But Mr. Furman liked his office the way it was. It suited him.

He had seen Henry and Benny enter the store. He thought how big the boys were. He could remember when Benny had been so small that he came to the store with a note saying what he was to buy. The store people would make sure Benny had his purchases and the right change to take home.

Mr. Furman was surprised to see the Aldens pass the downstairs counters and come up the stairs to his private office. The worried look on his face changed to a smile.

Henry rapped on the door and Mr. Furman called out, “Come right in.”

Henry was just going to explain the boys’ errand when Benny said in a rush, “We boys want to work until school starts. We saw the ad in the paper. Is the job still open?”

“Yes, it is,” said Mr. Furman. “I’ve had trouble filling the job because it will only last from four to six weeks at the most. I need someone who can take the place of a salesperson when the regular worker goes on vacation.”

Benny looked at Henry and smiled. The job sounded just right for Henry.

Mr. Furman went on. “There will be a lot of variety, but it can be hard to change from one department to another. I think it just might be right for Henry, though.” He stopped and seemed to be thinking. “Yes, maybe you can do it, Henry. There will be some problems, I’m sure, but ...”

When Mr. Furman did not say anything more, Henry said, “Well, Mr. Furman, I’d like to take the job. I only need to work until I go back to school. But it was really Benny’s idea to go job hunting. He’s the one who wants to be busy.”

Benny and Henry looked at Mr. Furman and waited.

There was a long pause. Mr. Furman said thoughtfully, “Benny is a little young to work here full time. I’m afraid I have no work you would take, Benny.”

“What do you mean?” asked Benny. “I’d take anything.”

Mr. Furman laughed and asked, “You wouldn’t want to be assistant delivery boy, would you?”

“Oh, yes, I would,” said Benny.

Benny and Henry both smiled at Mr. Furman.

“Then it’s settled,” said Mr. Furman. “Come back after lunch and we’ll handle the paperwork to get you hired. I’ll introduce you to some of the department managers and salespeople. You’ll be all set to start to work tomorrow morning.”

The Aldens, still smiling, left Mr. Furman’s office. Some of the people behind the counters called out hello to them. But one man carrying an electric fan scowled at the boys.

“Can’t you see you’re in the way?” he asked. “If you aren’t buying something stand over there by the door, out of my path. This fan is heavy and my back hurts.”

Benny started to say something, then changed his mind. If he was going to work at Furman’s, he couldn’t talk back to the other workers. He’d have to learn how to get along with them. And Benny felt sure he could do that.

But Henry remembered Grandfather’s words about trouble at Furman’s and wondered.

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CHAPTER
4

A Mysterious Shopper

B
enny and Henry wondered how the first day at work would go.

That question was still on their minds as they entered the store the next morning at half past nine.

Toni was already there, sorting her change for the day.

“This is a good beginning. You’re early. I’m glad to see you both,” she said. “You’d better head downstairs, Benny. And Henry, you will be working with Mrs. Lester in the glassware and china department until the end of the week.”

The boys started off. Mrs. Lester showed Henry how to make the sales reports. She told him a little about the different kinds of china and glass.

“We try to carry as many different pieces of glassware as we can, but sometimes a customer wants something we don’t have. Then we send a special order.” Mrs. Lester showed Henry where the special order forms were kept.

“Be sure to get an OK before you send out any orders,” Mrs. Lester warned. “Mr. Fogg watches that. And there’s one more thing,” she said with a smile, “I want you and your brother to call me Doris.”

Henry was just beginning to feel comfortable behind the counter when he noticed that suddenly the store was strangely quiet. Talking had stopped, and all the salespeople were looking in one direction.

Everyone was watching a little woman who had just entered the store.

Henry could not see anything unusual about the woman. She was far from stylish. Her hair was pulled back and pinned up in a bun. Her clothes were plain. They were not the kind that anyone would look at twice. She carried a worn handbag and a large, flowered shopping bag.

Henry couldn’t decide how old the woman was. He caught Toni’s eye. She came to his counter and said, “You must want to know who that is.”

Henry nodded.

“She comes in every day. Her name is Maggie Douglas. She’s always buying something. Sometimes two and three kinds of the same thing. Benny will be busy with her deliveries, I’m sure.”

Henry and Toni watched the little woman climb the stairs to the second floor.

In a few minutes one of the salespeople from upstairs came over to Toni. “I have another ‘Maggie story’ for you. Miss Douglas just came to my counter and said she needed a blouse, a white blouse. When I asked her what size she needed, she said the size didn’t matter. It only had to be a white blouse. Now, isn’t that strange?”

Just then Mr. Fogg joined the group. He looked cross and asked, “That woman is in the store again, eh?”

The salesperson told him the story.

“You are foolish to sell a blouse to that woman,” said Mr. Fogg. “We’re going to have trouble with her sooner or later. I’m sure of it. Why didn’t she ask for a blouse in her size? She’ll bring it back to the store tomorrow and say it doesn’t fit. Besides, all she has to do is walk into the store and all work stops.”

With that, all the workers quickly left the counter. Henry was alone with Mr. Fogg standing right before him.

“I’m a little lucky so far today,” said Mr. Fogg. “At least you haven’t broken any glassware yet.”

Henry couldn’t think of anything to say. Just at that moment two women came to the counter and Mr. Fogg walked away.

The first woman said, “I need a wedding present for my niece. I think a glass vase would make a nice present.”

Henry lifted down several vases. The woman chose a small, graceful vase with a flower design.

“This is the only one in stock. I’m not allowed to sell this sample,” Henry explained when he could not find another vase.

The woman looked unhappy, and Henry said, “I can order the vase for you and have it here in four days.”

He took the order form from under the counter. “It’s a beautiful vase,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” agreed the woman. “It’s just what I want. You order it, and I’ll be back early next week.”

When the two women had gone, Henry filled out the order form for the vase. He filled in every blank and read the order over twice. He could find no errors. Doris approved the form and turned it over to Mr. Fogg.

Henry reported his first day of work to the family that evening. “I hardly saw you at all, Ben,” he said. “What was your day like?”

Benny smiled. “I didn’t see Mr. Fogg for most of the day. But I did meet Miss Douglas.”

“What did you think of her?” asked Violet.

“I don’t know. She came down the stairs to the basement. She said that she was lost. But somehow I think that she wanted to look around. She said she was happy to meet me because I’ll be delivering her purchases.”

Benny stopped talking for a moment and looked puzzled.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jessie.

“There was one strange thing about talking with Miss Douglas. She called me by my name, ‘Benny Alden.’ Now how did she know who I was? We had never met before. Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow when I go to Woodland Path, that’s where Miss Douglas lives.”

“Some of the store people don’t like her,” said Henry. “One of them told me she’s fussy and hard to please. Others won’t wait on her if they can help it.”

“That Miss Douglas is a mystery,” said Jessie. “Who would think there’d be a mystery in a department store?”

CHAPTER
5

The Hidden House

I
t was Wednesday morning, and Benny was busy unpacking notebooks and writing paper. Mr. Fogg came over to him.

“I have a delivery for Miss Douglas. It’s a special order, and she’s in a hurry for it. You know where Woodland Path is, don’t you? I don’t want you to waste time.”

Toni had given Benny directions. He started out on his bike, sure that he would have no trouble. But it seemed that Woodland Path was almost impossible to find.

Benny reached the woods quickly, but finding the Path was a different matter.

“This looks like a path,” Benny said out loud to himself. He took the box from his bike carrier. He left his bike out of sight, but close to the path. He started to push tree branches and blackberry vines away from his face.

Several times Benny thought he must be on the wrong path. How could a small woman like Miss Douglas come through such a tangle?

Just as he was thinking of turning back, he saw a house. It was not at all the kind of house he had expected to see. Could Miss Douglas live here?

Benny found that the path had taken him to the back door of the house. He followed a walk around to the front of the house. There he read the words “Woodland Path” carved on a small signboard hanging from a post. He saw a lane leading through the trees. The way he had come was probably a shortcut, Benny thought.

Benny went to the front door. He had to make his delivery and get back to the store. He knocked at the screen door. He could see inside because the front door itself was open. In fact, he couldn’t help seeing inside.

What he saw amazed him. The living room was square, with a soft green carpet. Sun shining through a window lighted gold-and-white wallpaper. How could Miss Douglas dress so plainly when she lived in such a beautiful place?

Benny knocked again. He stepped back because he felt someone was watching him from behind a curtain. But no one came to the door.

“This is strange,” thought Benny. Then he was surprised to see a boy come around the corner of the house.

“She isn’t home,” the boy said, as if he knew what Benny was thinking. “Nobody’s home. You can leave the package by the door. It’ll be safe. I’ll tell her you left it. You’re from Furman’s Department Store, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but how did you know?” asked Benny. He felt taken by surprise, and he didn’t like it.

“Easy,” laughed the boy. “First, the box says ‘Furman’s’ in big letters. And second, she’s always getting things delivered here. Only the deliveryman usually comes down the lane.”

“I’ve got to get back,” Benny said, and looked at his watch. “I’m working. Thank you for helping me.”

“It’s OK,” the boy said. “Don’t worry about the box.” He sat down on the front step.

Benny walked around the house. When he was out of the boy’s sight, he ran down the path. As he picked up his bicycle he wondered if Toni knew what kind of house Miss Douglas had. And who was the boy? Benny wished he knew.

By the time Benny got back to the store, it was almost half past eleven.

“I thought we were going to close without you,” said Toni. “The store is only open half a day on Wednesdays. That makes up for the evening hours we have.”

Benny said, “I had forgotten all about that.”

“Your sisters are here,” Toni told him. “I think they’re shopping until you and Henry can go. Mr. Fogg has something he wants you to do. You’d better see him right away.”

Violet was on the second floor of the department store, looking at blouses. She was trying to find a blouse to wear with her new skirt.

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