by Guy Belleranti
Deceptive Appearances was 0riginally published in June 2002 by Orchard Press Mysteries.
“Was that wise, Mary?” asked the statuesque, gray-haired woman sitting beside her.
Mary Callison widened her blue eyes. “Was what wise?”
“Bringing that cash box out here and opening it in front of the grocery delivery man like that,” Hazel Finch said.
“Oh, I can always tell an honest face and that man had as honest a face as I’ve seen.”
“Well, perhaps…” Hazel turned to the third woman in the room. “Jean, have you told Mary about the recent rash of burglaries in this neighborhood?”
Jean Jacobs nodded her dyed red curls. “Yes indeed. Naturally, I understood her wanting to rent this cute little place, but I thought an apartment complex might be safer. A place like the one you live in. At least there you share common walls with neighbors.”
“And have to put up with their noises as well,” Mary said. “I may be a “sixtyish” widow, but I can take care of myself.”
“We’re all sixtyish widows,” Jean said. “Which is what worries Hazel and I. Each of the Brentwood Burglar’s victims have been women of our age.”
“Brentwood Burglar?” Mary smiled.“What a silly name.”
“Well, at least he’s a non-violent thief, and I do really doubt that delivery man was him.”
Hazel locked the deadbolt on her door upon returning to her apartment. Never could be too careful. No telling who might walk in when one least expected it. She hurried into her bedroom, closed the blinds and removed the bottom drawer of her dresser. Then she reached into the empty space, found the secret compartment and drew out her stash, a bag heavy with jewelry taken from the five burglaries.
“Wish I could sell some of you beauties,” Hazel murmured, “but I don’t dare, at least not locally. No, I have to take you all out of state, and that’s why I need Mary’s box of money. With my measly waitress income I can’t spend what I’d like on fine clothing and dining, much less the cost of a trip.”
Hazel fingered through the glittering pieces and sighed. Too bad Mary was Jean’s friend, but that couldn’t be helped. She shouldn’t have waved all that cash around, shouldn’t have been so smug and sure of herself. Mary also shouldn’t have poked fun at my nickname, Hazel thought. She’d grown quite fond of being known as The Brentwood Burglar, believed even her dear departed husband would have liked it.
Indeed, as Hot-handed Hazel and Easy-in Ed, the two of them had made their mark. Then Ed had died, and she’d had to work solo. Within a month she was caught in the act and sent to prison. However, it wasn’t long after she got out before she found herself missing the money and excitement of her old life. “One more job,” Hazel murmured.“Then, I take a vacation and get top dollar for these little beauties.”
She let the last of the jewelry slip though her fingers and into the bag, then placed it back into its hiding spot and slid the dresser drawer into place. Tomorrow night was her night off from the restaurant and Mary and Jean were going to the symphony. Yes, that’s when the Brentwood Burglar would strike again.
The following day arrived bright and sunny. Hazel ate a light breakfast, then took her morning walk.
“Hazel! Just the person we want to see.” Jean Jacobs bore down on her, with Mary Callison right behind.
“Yes,” Mary said. “I’m having Jean over for lunch at noon today and we’d like you to join us.”
“Oh.” Hazel thought quickly. Should she beg off or…no, of course she shouldn’t. Lunch at Mary’s would give her another chance to examine her target. “Why, thank you, Mary. I’d love to come.”
The get-together went wonderfully. The three exchanged gossip and small talk, and Hazel noted again the cheap front door lock. Mary, you should’ve added a deadbolt, Hazel thought, smiling to herself. Then, as she paid a visit to the bathroom, she noticed an even better way in. The window in the spare bedroom came down to within two feet of the floor and looked out on a vacant house. Perfect! Hazel slipped into the room, opened the window’s latch and was out again within seconds. When she left an hour later she could hardly wait for evening to come.
Hazel waited until 7:45 to call Mary’s landline. No one should be home, but she had to be sure. The answering machine came on and she hung up. The concert began in fifteen minutes and by then it would be dark.
At eight on the dot Hazel set out. She reached the small house within minutes and cut around to the side. The window to Mary’s spare bedroom slid open easily and she dropped inside.
Now to find that cash box.
Hazel snapped on her flashlight and moved down the hall to the master bedroom. Mary had come down here for it the other day, so that’s where it must be. She spotted Mary’s jewelry box, emptied the contents into a pillowcase, then began opening dresser drawers. There, in the second one, under some lingerie. Stupid, Mary. Hardly hidden at all.
Hazel snapped open the box’s lid and froze. Empty!
The lights flashed on and she spun around. Mary and Jean stood there, Jean looking a little sad, Mary triumphant. And in Mary’s hand…a gun.
“When I found that bedroom window unlocked I knew you’d try it tonight, Hazel,” Mary said. “Or do you still prefer to be called Hot-handed Hazel?”
“Oh, that’s right. You don’t know. Jean and I were once partners. She’s since retired and I will be as well come the end of the year. But until then I’m Detective Sergeant Mary Callison.”
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