I’m sorry. I couldn’t go through with it. No matter what the Faulks lead you to believe, I didn’t do it. Find Miriam Miller. She will explain and give you the rest of the money.
That’s all the note said. I was definitely becoming wrapped up in some mystery novel or thrilling movie that couldn’t possibly be real. This couldn’t be real! Only in books or films did dead people leave such vague notes with only a hint of information or more clues for you to have to figure out.
In real life, Mr. Sook would have told what it was he didn’t do and he would have kindly left Miriam Miller’s address or phone number. I paused and looked around the diner after reading it, wishing I was asleep and that none of this was real. But there was no need to pinch myself. I knew I wasn’t dreaming.
Since Mr. Sook apologized and said he “couldn’t go through with it,” I was pretty sure the money was a pay off for something criminal. It definitely wasn’t for farm work. And Mr. Sook was worried the Faulks would place blame on him. And just as I had thought back at the bank, there was more money involved that wasn’t in the cigar box. But why hide it with someone else? That wasn’t too important right now though, because this wasn’t about the money. The more important question was who was Miriam Miller?
“Do you have a phonebook I can borrow?” I asked the waitress when she returned with my check.
“White or Yeller pages?” she asked.
I should have waited and read the note after eating lunch. I probably would have enjoyed the BLT and potato chips a lot more. Either way, my heart was racing. I had to know what the note said so there was no way I could have waited until after I ate.
Now, after reading the note, not much had changed. I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. The sound of my blood racing was like a white water river through my ears. I took a big drink of the iced tea, finishing it off, and swallowed in one hard gulp. I let out a deep exhale, holding my hand to my chest. I’m sure to others I looked like I was about to faint or have a heart attack. I felt like I was.
“Here you go, Sugar,” the waitress said, putting the phonebooks on the table. “Are you okay? Usually only Jack’s chili has that effect on people.”
“I’m fine, thank you,” I managed to say. “Just swallowed too much tea. It went down the wrong way.” I gave her a ten dollar bill with the check and told her to keep the change.
“Thank you, Sugar. Come back and see us again soon,” she said, sauntering off to the next table.
The Monroeville white pages was extremely thin, as were most small town resident listings. Everyone knew everyone and every housewife had them on speed dial, so I wasn’t sure why they even bothered printing it.
I opened it up and thumbed to the M’s which surprisingly took up about twenty pages. And, just my luck, half those pages were for ‘Miller.’ No Miriam Miller though. Not even an M. Miller.
“Excuse me, Miss?” I said, catching the waitress when she walked back by.
“You need something else, Sugar?”
“Just a question. Do you know a Miriam Miller in town?”
“Madam Miriam Miller. Everyone knows her.”
“She’s a Madam?” Great, I thought. I’m off to visit a whorehouse to inquire about a dead man and to retrieve his money.
“Well, that’s what she calls herself. She’s a psychic. Tells fortunes, reads tea leaves, things like that. She’s got a full page ad in the yeller pages there,” the waitress explained through some heavy gum chewing, pointing to the phone book.
“Oh! Okay. Thank you.”
I opened the “yeller” pages and thumbed to the P’s. Sure enough, there was a full page ad. In bold letters at the top it announced, “Monroeville’s Only Mystique and Psychic: Madam Miriam Miller. Call for rates and to schedule an appointment. In and Out Calls available. Now offering Paranormal Investigation. No Exorcisms Please.”
That last bit seemed strange. Did she get a lot of calls needing assistance with that sort of thing? I’d certainly had my share of crazy today, but I hoped it wasn’t because people were possessed by the devil. If so, they were out of luck when it came to Madam Miller’s assistance.
I tore the page from the phone book and stuffed it into my pocket as I left the diner. I hurried back to the car, pulling out my cell phone on the way but still couldn’t get a signal.
Luckily, there was a pay phone across the street outside the courthouse. I was once again thankful for the hospitality of a small town because I had not seen an actual pay phone booth around Mobile in years. Now I just hoped it worked. I dug in my pocket to find a quarter and pulled out the yellow page ad.
The phone did work but Miriam Miller’s phone number didn’t. It had been disconnected and no forwarding number was known. I almost went back into Jack’s diner to ask the waitress if she knew Madam Miller’s new number, but since I had defaced their yellow pages I decided against it. Since there was a street address also listed on the ad, I decided to give it a try instead. I’d seen a display of local maps on the drug store counter, so I decided to go back there to get a Monroeville street map.
“Back so soon?” the cashier said.
“Yes, I need a map.”
“Oh? What’cha lookin’ for?”
If someone in Mobile had asked me that, I would have thought they were being pretty nosey. Since this was Monroeville, I dismissed it as just kind curiosity and decided to tell her.
“I’m actually looking for this address,” I said, showing her Madam Miller’s ad. “The phone number doesn’t work.”
“Oh, that address ain’t right either. Mama moved shortly after them yeller pages was printed. Everyone who lives around here knows where she is anyway,” the cashier said.
“Did you say Mama?”
“Yep, Madam Miriam is my mother,” the cashier said with a big grin.
“Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe this. What were the odds of this happening? If my day had not already consisted of a talking cow and two ghosts, I would have thought this was very strange.
“Yes, sorry the ad isn’t up to date.”
“That’s okay, can you help me get in touch with her? I can make an appointment if needed.”
“Oh, you don’t need an appointment. Give me one sec. I’ll be back.”
She left me standing there at the counter and disappeared to the back of the store. I opened one of the maps and took a look at it, pretending to look busy with something as I waited for her to return. Luckily, the store wasn’t that crowded and no one came up to get in line to check out. After what seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably only a minute or two, she returned.
“You can go up now. The Madam will see you.” She stressed that last bit like some kind of circus ring master or magician, but without the puff of smoke or “Step right up!”
“Yes, Mama’s parlor is above the drugstore now. Just go to the back of the store. There’s a flight of stairs next to the public restrooms. Go on up. I left the door open for you, and she’s waiting for you.”
“Wow! Thanks,” I said. I held up the map letting her know I wanted to buy one anyway.
“It’s okay. Take it. It’s on the house,” she said, waving a hand for me to go.
“Thanks,” I said with a shrug and turned to go. I hurried along one of the aisles, probably looking like someone in desperate need of the restroom.
Truthfully, I didn’t want anyone to see me going up the stairs to see Madam Miller. There wasn’t anyone around, and I’m sure no one really cared, but I still felt like this was some covert secret operation. That, and I was growing nervous. My heart was pounding again. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and took a quick look around. No one was near, so I hurried up the stairs like a kid at Christmas who’d tip toed down to see if Santa came yet.
The stairs were very narrow and wound around in a spiral as they went up to the second floor. I had to put a hand against the wall to keep my balance, and also had to duck down because the ceiling overhead was pretty low. It opened up to the second level where there was a long narrow hallway leading back toward the front of the second floor. There were three doors down the right side, and the last door was open. I walked down the hall, and stopped briefly to look out at the street below through the tall open windows at the front of the building.
Although the door was open, I still gave a knock. I could hear a TV playing from somewhere inside. The sweet smell of incense wafted through the door by a gentle breeze of a table fan I could hear whirring inside. I heard the click of a remote and the TV snapped off right after I knocked.
“Hello? Madam Miller?” I said.
“Yes, dear. Do come in,” a pleasant voice called out from somewhere beyond the door.
I stepped inside, taking slow steps as I entered the room. There was a wall extending in to my right with a door, probably a closet. As I reached the end, the room opened up to what appeared to be a studio apartment. There was a small white dining table in one corner with four chairs. A bowl of bright yellow lemons sat in the middle of the table. There was a small open kitchen just beyond it. On the other side was a large green sofa and plaid colored chair, with an old coffee table nestled in front of it. An array of different sized white candles were burning on the table. A small TV sat in the corner. A neatly made day bed was against the opposite wall. The fan I had heard was oscillating on the nightstand by the bed. I spotted the incense cone burning on the kitchen counter. There were no windows inside, but bright colored silk fabrics sewn together in patchwork designs covered the walls and were draped over the back of the furniture. Even the bedspread was a ornate sari of pinks, greens, teals, and reds.
Sitting upright on the sofa was a busty woman also dressed in gypsy colored silks with a shiny wrap around her head. She definitely had the look of a fabled fortune teller, complete with long fake eyelashes and a fat round mole on her cheek. Her eyes were closed and a baseball sized crystal ball was in her palm. It made me think of Ms. Skully. The women of Monroeville were strange indeed. Madam Miller appeared to be meditating.
“Madam Miller?” I asked softly, not wanting to intrude.
“Yes,” she said, elongating her S and keeping her eyes closed.
“Mr. Sook sent me.”
Just then, Madam Miller’s eyes popped open wide and bright as the eyes of an owl.
“Mr. Sook?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, trying not to look or sound nervous.
She reached forward and sat the crystal ball down in a marbled holder on the table. The light from the candles flickered in the glass giving it the appeal of a snowglobe.
“Come. Have a seat, dear,” she said pointing to the chair.
I started to take a step forward and that’s when the door slammed shut behind me. I froze, turning to see who had come in behind me but no one was there. I turned back around to look at Madam Miller.
“No worries, dear. Mr. Sook was just closing the door.”