Read Benny Uncovers a Mystery Online

Authors: Gertrude Warner

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Benny Uncovers a Mystery (3 page)

She took a blouse off the rack and put it back. She was looking at a peach-colored one when she heard someone say, “No, no, my child, that style won’t do! And the color is all wrong.”

Violet turned around and faced a tiny woman. At first Violet wasn’t sure the woman was talking to her. But there was no one else in sight.

A salesclerk came over to help Violet. “This one should fit you, and it’s a good match for your skirt,” she said.

“No, don’t buy that blouse either,” said the small woman, who stepped between Violet and the salesclerk. “Not that blouse,” she repeated. “Look at those seams—that blouse won’t last more than a few washings.”

Violet didn’t know what to say. She could now see that the blouse was not well made. But why should anyone stop her from buying a blouse? And to look at this woman, no one would think she knew anything about clothes.

“Well, Miss Douglas, what should I get?” Violet asked, for by now she was sure who this was.

Maggie Douglas did not seem surprised that Violet knew her name. She just began talking, “You had the right idea in the first place. Get a pale lavender blouse to go with the darker lavender skirt. I’m surprised that Furman’s has been selling blouses that are so poor. I will have to talk to the manager about this.”

Just as suddenly as the woman had appeared, she was gone.

Violet looked at the salesclerk and they both laughed. Jessie heard the whole story when she joined her sister a few minutes later.

Jessie laughed, too. “I can see that the boys were telling the truth about Maggie Douglas. Let’s go downstairs and get the steam iron. It will be a surprise for Mrs. McGregor when she comes back from vacation.”

Just as they reached the counter with the irons, Violet tugged Jessie’s arm. “Look! There’s Miss Douglas. She’s the one talking to that man.”

The conversation grew louder. Miss Douglas was saying, “... but I want the Perfect toaster that does two slices, not this model that does four.”

“I’m sorry, it’s this or nothing,” said the man.

“You needn’t be rude with me, Mr. Fogg! If you really wanted to make a sale, you’d show me the catalog. It has several kinds of two-slice toasters. But never mind. I’ll see if you’re in a better mood when I come to the store tomorrow.”

Jessie was going to ask about the steam irons when Benny came up the stairs with a package. “This is for your department, Mr. Fogg,” he said politely.

“No, Alden, you’ve made a mistake,” said Mr. Fogg impatiently. “These are skillets, but they’re not electric ones. I wouldn’t have thought anyone with your family name would make a mistake like that. Take the box to the end of the next aisle. You’ll see the right place.”

Benny didn’t say a word, but his cheeks were red.

The two sisters looked at each other.

A buzzer made a loud sound. The girls heard a nearby clerk say, “Ten minutes until closing time.”

“Let’s buy this iron,” said Violet, pointing to one on the counter.

“I’m not sure,” Jessie answered. “We’ll have to talk to Mr. Fogg.” She quickly ran to where Mr. Fogg was standing. She did not let his cross look stop her from asking, “Can you help us choose an iron?”

“No, young lady. It’s closing time. I have to close out my sales book, and you should be leaving the store.” And with that, Mr. Fogg walked away.

Jessie turned around helplessly and started to walk back toward Violet. Mr. Furman came up to her and asked, “Do you need some help?”

“I guess it is pretty late to be shopping, but I do want to get a new steam iron today,” Jessie explained.

“That’s no problem,” said Mr. Furman. “Here’s your brother Henry. I’ll send him down for a new iron that just came this morning. You’d do me a favor to test it.”

Benny was waiting near the front of the store.

Mr. Furman laughed. “It takes the whole Alden family to make a purchase.”

Jessie paid for the steam iron and the Aldens were on their way home.

“I must say your Mr. Fogg is difficult,” said Jessie. “But I can see that Miss Douglas is even more of a character. Things can’t be dull at the store.”

“That’s for sure,” said Benny. “I like the work. I never know what will happen next. Most of the people have been pleasant, even when I make mistakes. They know I haven’t worked at the store very long and it’s easy to forget things. But you know, I never knew there were any problems in a department store. I thought the manager just ordered things and the customers came in to buy them.”

Jessie nodded. “I guess you have to work at a job before you know how much there is to it.”

“You can see Mr. Fogg is always grumpy,” Benny added. “I’m not going to let him get me down, though. That might ruin my appetite, and it’s lunchtime.”

The other Aldens laughed. They knew that it would take much more than Mr. Fogg to stop Benny from being hungry.

While he ate lunch, Benny thought about Miss Douglas and her house in the woods and about the boy he had met. Were these all pieces in a puzzle? Benny couldn’t make up his mind. He decided to keep his eyes and ears open, but nothing happened during the rest of the week—nothing except that Benny and Henry got their first pay envelopes.

“Now this makes it a real job,” Benny said with a smile.

CHAPTER
6

Who Wrote the Letters?

M
onday morning was almost gone before Henry remembered the order for the glass vase. He checked with Mrs. Lester.

“No, Henry, I haven’t seen any package,” Doris said. “You might ask the other clerks. Sometimes a package is taken to the wrong department.”

Henry checked with almost everyone in the store. No one had seen his order. There was no extra package of any kind to be found.

Doris could see that Henry was worried. “I think I’ll call the company and see if the order has been sent out,” she told him.

“Thank you, Doris. I’m certain the customer will be in. I promised she would have the vase today.”

Benny came by. “I’m going to get the mail for the departments,” he said. By now, handing out the mail was one of his regular jobs.

“See if you can find a glass vase for me,” Henry said.

Benny laughed and answered, “I’ll try.” But of course Mr. Furman gave Benny only letters, catalogs, and advertisements to deliver throughout the store.

Usually Benny did not stop to look through the mail before he began to give it out. But this time he glanced through the letters as he left Mr. Furman’s office.

Benny stared. To his surprise there was a letter addressed, “Benny Alden, care of Furman’s Department Store.”

Benny turned the envelope this way and that. It was an ordinary post office envelope with a printed stamp. Benny carefully tore open his letter. He found a sheet of blue writing paper. The written message was short. It said, “Your work for Furman’s Store has been excellent. It is noticed and it is appreciated.”

“What in the world?” thought Benny.

He was pleased, but he was more puzzled than pleased. Who could have sent him this? He thought to himself, “It must be somebody who is in the store, because who else would know? Mr. Furman? Toni? Doris? This is a mystery!”

He thought of showing the letter to Toni, but suppose she had written it? She might think Benny wasn’t very smart to ask her. So Benny carefully put the letter in his pocket. He passed out the mail as if nothing had happened.

He had just given a thick envelope to Mr. Fogg when someone said, “Hi, Benny! Remember me?”

Benny turned around quickly. “Sure,” he said. “You were at Woodland Path when I took the package there.”

“That’s right,” said the boy. “I told the lady you brought it. You came through the woods, so I guess you rode your bike away.”

Benny was going to say, “You’re a good detective. How do you know my name?” when Mr. Fogg spoke.

“That’s enough standing around, Alden. Go down and help the man in the basement. See if he has those bowls for the electric mixers. I need them.”

“Yes, sir,” Benny said and hurried off. Some people said Mr. Fogg was hard to get along with because he had a painful back. If that was so, it still did not make Benny like to be bossed around.

Benny thought about the boy whose name he didn’t know. And yet the boy knew Benny’s name. That was another puzzle. He felt as if the boy was teasing him. But there was no time to think about that.

Benny was so busy the rest of the day that he did not think about anything but work. He forgot about his mystery letter until dinnertime. Then he showed it to his grandfather.

“Well, Benny,” said Mr. Alden, “this is very good. I like to have my grandchildren appreciated. Who sent it?”

“I haven’t any idea,” Benny replied. “No one signed it. I never saw writing like this before. But anyone could buy the envelope.”

Jessie said, “Let me see.” She took the letter and read it. “It’s nice writing and it looks strong, somehow. It could be either a man’s writing or a woman’s. I can’t tell.”

Violet looked at the letter, too. She laughed and said, “Now you have a small mystery, Benny. You should like that.”

“I have a mystery, too,” Henry said. “But not like Benny’s. I ordered a vase for a customer. It should have come by now, but it hasn’t.” Henry told the Aldens about the order.

“What did Mrs. Lester tell you about her phone call?” asked Jessie.

“She told me that the order had been sent.”

“How could the box get lost?” Violet asked.

“I asked Doris the same thing,” said Henry. “She said that it wasn’t hard. The store once lost a bass drum.” Everyone laughed.

“Did she order another vase?” asked Jessie.

“Yes, she did. It should get here in time for my customer. But I had to call the woman so that she wouldn’t make a trip to the store for nothing.”

“That was a thoughtful thing to do,” said Mr. Alden.

“Was it Miss Douglas who ordered the vase?” asked Violet.

“No, the woman’s name was Mrs. Allen,” Henry said. “She seemed satisfied that Furman’s was doing the best it could.”

“But you’re not satisfied, are you, Henry?” asked Grandfather. “What’s the matter?”

Henry took a long breath and said, “Grandfather, you don’t suppose that Mr. Fogg has anything to do with this? He seems to want to make trouble for Ben and me. He keeps saying that Aldens shouldn’t make mistakes.”

“Don’t worry, Henry,” Mr. Alden said. “I’m sure the vase will turn up, and I doubt that Mr. Fogg has anything to do with it.”

The next day when Benny handed out the mail, he gave a letter to Doris. The envelope was exactly like the one Benny had received.

Doris said what Benny thought she would. “Who can be writing to me in care of the store? Why wasn’t the letter sent to my house?”

“You’ll never know unless you open it,” Benny said, and he tried to sound mysterious.

Doris tore open her letter and took out a sheet of blue writing paper. She blushed.

Benny couldn’t help asking, “What’s the matter?”

“I can’t read this out loud. You read it,” she said. “Is this a joke or something?”

Benny read aloud, “You are the kind of salesperson who always keeps your customer’s likes and dislikes in mind. Good.”

“This is true,” said Benny. “But I wonder who is watching us. See—I got a letter, too.” And he pulled the blue notepaper out of his pocket.

This was beginning to be exciting, at least to Benny and Doris. They weren’t surprised when the next mail brought a letter for Toni. It read, “You are a fine cashier. You’re never too busy to say ‘Thank you’ as you count out the change.”

Henry received a letter, too. It said, “Do not feel upset about your work. You are thoughtful about your customers.”

“Now this is too much!” exclaimed Benny. “Who would know something has been bothering you? We’ll have to do some detective work and find out who is sending these notes.”

“I know one person who didn’t write this,” Henry said grimly. “Mr. Fogg!”

Some of the other workers also had notes. One person teased Benny by saying, “Are you doing this, Benny Alden? Nothing like this ever happened before you came to work.”

Benny shook his head. “There was a letter for me, too,” he said. “I’m going to keep it in my locker. Then it will be handy to read after Mr. Fogg scolds me.”

“Well,” laughed the salesclerk, “you’re a smart boy. Maybe you wrote one to yourself just to fool everyone.”

“I want to be smart enough to find out who really sent these notes,” Benny answered.

“Let me know when you find out,” said the clerk. “I think it’s a big joke of some kind.”

But it was no joke when a note came for Mr. Fogg. Benny didn’t want to give the letter to him. He handed the envelope to Henry. Henry handed it to Toni. Toni handed the envelope to Doris.

“All right,” Mrs. Lester said. “I’ll take this to Mr. Fogg. But I wonder what nice thing the mystery writer can say about Mr. Fogg.”

Mr. Fogg grunted as he took the envelope from Doris. He opened it and frowned. He did not show the letter to anyone. He just crushed it in his hand and threw it toward the wastebasket. His toss missed. The crumpled ball of paper fell at Mrs. Lester’s feet.

“It’s nothing,” Mr. Fogg said, trying to sound as though he didn’t care about the letter. “Someone around here is playing practical jokes.” He glared at Benny, who was standing near Henry’s counter. “And if I catch whoever is sending these crazy letters, there’ll be trouble.” Mr. Fogg turned around to arrange the stock on his shelves.

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