In our last episode, Dolly, Lois, and Pamela discovered that Mrs. DeWitt has a mysterious daughter. Just as Dolly rallies the Magdalena Arms tenants to search for the missing heiress, Angelo and Lon emerge from Angelo’s shuttered hair salon, where Angelo has given Lon an illicit trim.
The Magdalena Arms Rallies ‘Round
“Lon! Angelo! What were you thinking?” Dolly scolded. She had to force herself to assume a severity she didn’t feel; she envied Lon their professional cut, and by the look in Pamela’s eyes, she wasn’t alone.
“What’s wrong? Is someone sick?”
It was Phyllis, bursting out of the basement stairway in response to the breakfast gong. When she caught sight of Lon and Angelo she stopped so abruptly that Laura, just behind her, nearly crashed into her civil-service colleague. “Lon—Angelo!” Phyllis cried in dismay. “What were you thinking?”
“What happened?” Maxie skittered to a stop on the landing overlooking the hallway. “What did Lon do?”
Above her, heads poked over the bannister on the third, fourth, and fifth floors.
“They got themselves an illegal haircut,” Dolly told Maxie grimly.
“Oh!” said Maxie. And Dolly could have sworn that her old friend gave a sigh of relief under her mask.
What did she think Lon had done? Dolly wondered.
Phyllis was lecturing the guilty pair. “”These rules exist for a reason. You two have endangered the whole building!”
“Plus visitors!” Lois added.
“We wore masks!” Angelo defended himself. “I’m bleaching my scissors now!”
“It’s my fault,” Lon spoke for the first time. “I pushed him.”
“I’m sure Lon’s very very sorry,” Maxie called from above, like Juliet defending Romeo.
Lon stayed mum, but their face above the mask showed no signs of remorse.
“The fact remains, Lon, that you’ve made Angelo liable for eviction.” Laura’s gentle voice was grave.
“That can’t be true!” Angelo’s voice was high with alarm.
“If you want to kick someone out, kick out me—”
“I’m not saying he should be, I’m just pointing out—”
“Now everyone, calm down,” Dolly’s voice carried to the fifth floor and drowned out the confused clamor of contending voices. “This isn’t a public hearing! I didn’t ring the gong because Angelo gave Lon a trim—which is very serious, and will certainly be dealt with— but because we’ve got Mrs. DeWitt’s missing heir to find!”
“Missing what? Missing hair?” Sue asked from the third floor. Sue had just gotten home from a stressful supermarket shop, and was both bushed and bewildered by the unexpected hullaballoo.
“Heir, missing heir,” Dolly repeated. “Or heiress, I should say. Turns out Mrs. DeWitt left a daughter!”
Dolly waited until the hubbub of exclamations had died down before continuing, “The way I see it, we might as well take advantage of the fact that most of us have empty hours to fill, and put our heads together to find this girl—well, not really of course,” she added hastily. “Putting our heads together, I mean. I just meant—”
“We know you were speaking metaphorically,” Maxie called down. “But how’ll this work? Should we just all do internet searches for ‘Harriet DeWitt’ ‘Bay City’ daughter or something? The libraries are closed, and the city offices…”
Pam held up a hand. “Lois and I will be coordinating efforts.” Even with a plaid mask and butchered hair, she commanded attention. Next to her Lois had whipped out a steno pad and was taking notes. “As Dolly pointed out,” Pam continued in her carrying contralto, “There’s a lot of unused talent in the Magdalena Arms. You—” She pointed at Maxie—“You can work your old press contacts; maybe Mamie—” here, Pam couldn’t help wrinkling her nose in distaste as she named Bay City’s notorious gossip columnist—“will have heard something.”
“Of course!” said Maxie. “If anyone’s got the dirt on Mrs. DeWitt it will be Mamie!”
“I’m putting down Janet for legal research,” Lois said. “Surely there will be a copy of the birth certificate somewhere, and perhaps other legal documents.”
“I can help with public records!” “—with city files!” Phyllis and Laura chorused, then laughed self-consciously as they exchanged a look.
“What can I do?” Kay’s query floated down from the fifth floor. “I’m just a clarinet player. I’ve got no detecting expertise.”
“You know the music world,” Pamela called back, her face turned up, hands cupped around her mask-covered mouth. “You can work on Mrs. DeWitt’s days as a chanteuse!”
“I have some contacts in Berlin,” Maxie put in.
Lois scribbled furiously, “And there’s Jackie, too, for the theater side. Perhaps Mrs. DeWitt confided to one of her friends in the Bay City Shakespeare Society.”
Sue was conferring with her fellow third floor tenants, who were evidently hanging back in the hallway. She turned back to the stairwell. “Terry and Sylvia want to know, what can they do?” Before anyone below could respond, she held up a hand, “Wait a second—what? Oh, okay.” Turning back she reported, “They said that Patricia said she doesn’t have time to help out because she’s still in school.”
“That’s fine!” the response from below was universal.
“She should concentrate on her studies,” Angelo added.
For the time-being, Pamela announced, after conferring with Dolly and Lois, the rest of the tenants would be assigned to help Dolly sort through Mrs DeWitt’s belongings. “With a fine-toothed comb!” Dolly said. She figured that given Mrs. DeWitt’s penchant for saving, and given the higgledy-piggledy state her possessions were in, this would take a least a few weeks.
“This will be a wonderful project for the unemployed tenants,” Phyllis said to Laura in a low voice, as Pamela shouted up assignments to the tenants overhead. “This sort of distraction is tailor-made for relieving stress.”
Laura nodded her agreement. “We’re really very lucky, here at the arms, that that’s our main problem.”
“You don’t think…does Angelo need money?” Phyllis blinked earnest eyes behind her gold-rimmed glasses. “I’d hate to think that he broke the rules out of financial need!”
The two friends glanced at Angelo, who was still standing a little too close to Lon, his expression defiant.
“I think he’s just fidgety,” Laura diagnosed. “He kind of hinted he could give me a trim the other day. I doubt it was for grocery money. No,” she continued, “Everyone here has a roof over their heads, enough food to eat…” Her face was sober as she thought of the growing demand at the Bay City Food Pantry, whose efforts she’d been instructed to aid.
The social scientists had no way of knowing that on the second floor, just over their heads, the Magdalena Arms’ newest tenant was rummaging desperately in her kitchen cupboard and coming up empty.
Who is that girl with the rumbling stomach on the second floor? Will she manage to find a bite to eat? And when will the rest of the Magdalena Arms crew remember the overlooked new tenant who’s been hidden away by the confinement?