Beans has saved my life … twice, and he likes to remind me. He conveniently forgets, however, that he was the reason that I needed to be saved in the first place.
Beans is my cat, and he solves mysteries. Or, more technically, he leaves me clues that allow me to solve crimes, and sometimes gets in trouble, which is why I am hiding on a loading dock, hoping the Porch Package Bandit doesn’t find me.
It started simply enough. Beans and I were watching the news and a story came on about someone who was stealing packages from people’s porches. Beans started growling at the television. As soon as the story ended, he crawled up on my legs and settled in for the night. When I got up later to go to bed, he gave me that look that let me know how disappointed he was that I felt the need to abandon my job as his bed, especially since he had saved my life … twice.
The next morning, Beans climbed onto my pillow and draped himself over my head. He wanted something.
“Okay, Beans, I’m getting up.”
I got up and walked into the kitchen and there on the table was a red toy pickup truck. I recognized it as belonging to the little boy who lived next door, who I had seen playing with it on the sidewalk out front, which is where Beans probably found it.
The fact that it was sitting on my dining room table meant it was a clue. I’m guessing that Beans wasn’t trying to tell me that the boy next door was stealing packages … he was seven. Most likely, it meant that the package thief drove a pickup truck. In this town, that didn’t narrow the field a whole lot, although if they drove a red truck, that helped a little.
I made a note of the clue, and another to return the truck, and went back to bed. I still had ten minutes before I had to get up for real. Beans let me sleep for eight minutes before starting his “feed me” cry.
“Give me a couple of minutes, Beans, I promise I will feed you.” But Beans apparently was very hungry because he didn’t stop, so I got up and stumbled into the kitchen again.
Beans was standing on the counter, looking out through the curtains. I instinctively followed his gaze out to the street, where a truck was slowly driving down the street. I leaned over the sink and watched until it got to the yellow house at the end of the street, where it turned right and disappeared.
I wasn’t fully awake and didn’t notice if there was a license plate or any distinguishing features, except that it was red. And, it was driving slowly, so it could have been trolling porches for packages. Or not. I put a new pod into the coffee maker and pushed the button. I thought about the red truck while I was waiting for my coffee to finish dripping into my cup – which took just short of forever.
Someone driving a truck slowly this early in the morning could be delivering papers, or trying to decide which houses had the best chances of ordering expensive stuff … or they could be looking for packages that have been left on the porch overnight, which could indicate that no one was home, making it easy o walk off with a package without being questioned.
But, the packages had disappeared across town, so there was no reason to think this truck had anything to do with it. Besides, I had no other information to work with.
As I drank my coffee and read the morning paper, Beans jumped up on a chair and then onto the table and slowly walked over and stared at the paper, which was a little unusual for him.
When I got to page six, he growled and stepped on the paper. “Beans!” I pushed him aside and saw that he had been standing on a small article about how the downtown merchants were upset about losing business to online stores.
I have no idea how Beans knows this stuff, and he won’t tell me, but he always seems to find a way to help me understand what he wants me to know.
I thought about the article and proving that delivery services for online purchases is unreliable could be a motive for one of the downtown stores that is losing business, but stealing deliveries seemed pretty harsh. And, I had no way of knowing which business might be involved, so I pushed the idea to the back of my mind.
That night, I was in the kitchen when the news came on and Beans started making a racket. I walked into the living room as the roving reported was interviewing Mr. Hollister, who was representing the Downtown Markets Association. He was talking about Small Business Saturday that was coming up and was designed to get people into the stored downtown and support local business. It was a good idea, and I thought that I should take part, it’s shopping after all.
I walked back into the kitchen and Beans stopped making noise. Mr. Hollister was the owner of Dodson’s Department Store. He bought the store when I was in high school. I remember because hs son, Jeremy, was in my class, and he suddenly became a minor celebrity because his dad owned the biggest store in town and he just got a brand-new truck for his birthday. A new red truck.
It probably didn’t mean anything, but there was a reason Beans was attracted to the story. Could the thefts be related to the small business event? Was Mr. Harrington involved? What did Jeremy have to do with it? Did he even sill have his red truck? As usual, I had a lot of questions, and no answers. Maybe Beans knew, but he wasn’t talking.
As I fell asleep, something about Jeremy Harrington was bothering me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “Beans, what does Jeremy have to do with all of this?” He just curled up by my feet and purred.
I woke up suddenly the next morning. Something had clicked in my head while I was sleeping. I remembered Brenda Benson saying that Jeremy was working at one of the big delivery services – the one whose packages had been taken from people’s porches.
Beans started whining from the other room as if I had disturbed him by waking up.
“Relax, Beans, I’m coming.”
I pulled on some sweats, shoved my feet into my sneakers and padded into the kitchen, where Beans was once again standing on the counter by the window. Out on the street was a red truck that could have been Jeremy’s, but was pretty beat up.
I watched the truck move down the street, and I grabbed my coat and keys. “I’m going to check it out, Beans, do you want to come?”
Beans beat me to the door and jumped into the car as soon as I opened the door. I wasn’t sure it meant anything, but when Beans gets worked up about something, I’ve learned to take it seriously. Besides, I could stop and get a donut while I was out, or two.
I backed out of the driveway and drove down the street in the direction the truck had gone. When I got to the corner by the yellow house, I looked both ways and saw the truck stopped down the street to the left.
Trying not to be too obvious, I turned left and drove down the street at a normal speed. As I passed the truck, I saw several packages in the back, and Jeremy Harrington was standing on the porch, looking through several boxes.
He was wearing a uniform from the delivery company, so I thought he might be making deliveries or checking up on another delivery person. Beans started meowing and put his paws up on the window, looking out at Jeremy. I sped up, hoping that Jeremy didn’t notice us. “Very subtle, Beans.”
I didn’t want to stop anywhere close, so I drove to Donut Delite and got two chocolate bars, a coffee and a milk for Beans. I sat in my car trying to figure out what it all meant. If Jeremy was stealing packages, he would know which ones to take because he worked for the delivery company. But, was he just greedy or was he working with his dad. And why?
Beans meowed loudly, and I looked in my mirror just in time to see Jeremy drive by. I started the car and drove off after him, not knowing what I might do if I caught him. I followed him until he pulled into the alley behind Dodson’s. Beans had been standing with his paws on the dashboard watching the red truck and turning occasionally to look at me as if to say, “Aren’t you going to do anything?”
I drove past the alley and parked on the side of the street in front of what used to be Frank’s Fluff-n-Fold. I sat and waited to see that was going to happen. After about fifteen minutes, and my second donut, Jeremy’s truck pulled out of the driveway and turned toward Main Street. After and almost stop, it turned right and sped off. If it had been newer, the tires might have screeched.
It was still early, and the shops were all closed, so I got out of the car and walked down the alley. When I got to the loading dock at the back of Dodson’s, the large roll-up door was open, and no one appeared to be around.
I walked slowly over to the opening and looked inside. In one corner was a pile of boxes with a green tarp over them. All of the other boxes were on shelves or stacked neatly against the wall. I thought I could see a part of the logo of the delivery service under the edge of the tarp, but it wasn’t enough to call the police. I had to confirm. I walked over to the pile and lifted the tarp. All of the packages had the same label, but I could tell from the labels that they were all addressed to different people – Jeremy was the Porch Package Bandit.
I reached into my pocket for my phone and I heard a truck coming down the alley. I looked around and there was no place to hide, so I ran to the back of the pile, ducked down and pulled the tarp over me.
The truck pulled up next to the loading dock and I could hear the driver get out. I could also hear someone coming down the stairs from the furniture showroom on the second floor.
“I’ve done what you wanted, but I think we should stop for a while. People are starting to get suspicious.” It was Jeremy’s voice.
Mr. Harrington answered. “We’re not going to stop until Saturday. I want people coming to the store on Saturday thinking about the fact that if they order something from the computer it could get stolen, but if they pick it up at Dodson’s, they will have it in their hands.”
“Dad, you’re not going to convince people to stop buying things online by stealing a few packages.” Jeremy was right.
“Then we will steal a lot of packages.” Mr. Harrington was upset. “You will steal as many packages as it takes, or I will tell my attorney to let them throw you in jail for stealing from the company.”
“I wouldn’t have had to steal if you hadn’t cut me off.” Jeremy sounded whinier than I remembered him.
“And I wouldn’t have had to cut you off if you hadn’t gotten caught selling drugs.” Well, that explained a lot.
I shifted slightly because my foot was starting to hurt, and the noise filled the silence following Mr. Harrington’s statement.
“What was that? Jeremy and his father stood quietly waiting to see if they could hear anything else. I heard them step slowly toward the pile of boxes. I stopped breathing and listened as they came closer.
Just as they reached the pile of boxes, there was a large crash from the other side of the dock, as if things had been thrown off the shelves.
Mr. Harrington yelled at Jeremy. “You go that way and I will circle around the office side.
I gave them time to get around the shelves and then raced out the open door and down the alley and turned right to my car. I pulled open the door and Beans jumped past me. I climbed in after him and started the car and dialed the phone.
“911, What’s your emergency?”
“I know who the Porch Package Bandit is …”
Beans curled up on the passenger seat and purred while we waited for the police.