Chapter 11

Two blocks down the street from the deli, where Spoke Street hit the east end of town, sat Saint Zita’s Church. Saint Zita’s was old and sturdy, but there was something silly about the the way it was made of gray rocks which were so clearly too big for it that it looked like a toy built from the leftover scraps of a mighty cathedral. Square windows of stained glass were set evenly along the exterior, three per side, and double doors of heavy oak were positioned at the base of a short, squat bell tower at the southwest corner of the building. A flagstone path led from the street to the door, with a branch veering off to the left that wound around the back to a churchyard covered with gravestones and wildflowers.

“So,” said Ari, pausing at the edge of the churchyard. “Where did Yumigawa come from anyway?”

“I guess we’d better check out the chiseled stones,” replied Arden with a smile.

Ari was feeling increasingly glad that Arden had come. Anytime Flossie Beemis was nearby he felt like he was choking on a powder puff, but Arden was funny, smart, and could do an impressive spoof of their teacher, Mrs. Kirkle, describing fish anatomy.

They walked around the church to the cemetery, and Ari started scanning headstones. “Spanky Hankins, Nelly Pastori, Marvin Puck…” he read. “Hey, you want some food?”

“Thanks,” said Arden. She took an apple from the bag as he held it out, and moved to the next row. “Sally Anne Sosa, John Pitcher…you know what? I don’t think any of these people are ancient enough to have been the old neighbors of Miss Samms the librarian.”

All the stones in this row were of shiny polished granite, and according to the dates on them, most of these people had died within the last twenty years.

“What about over there?” Ari pointed toward the back of the cemetery, where the wildflowers were growing out of control, and many of the headstones were leaning at awkward angles.

“Yeah, maybe,” said Arden. She ran toward a group of grave markers which were dull and splotchy. The inscriptions were weather-worn and harder to read.

“Caroline Pill,” she read. “Huey…Friedrich Carter, Sarabeth Carter-Smith…”

“Who?” said Ari. “What was that last one?”

“Sarabeth Carter-Smith,” replied Arden.

“No,” said Ari, “just before her.”

Arden crouched down and ran her fingers over the letters whose edges had been blurred by the years.
“Huey Friedrich Carter,” she read. “Born August 15, 1875. Died July 12, 1876. The apple of our eyes you were, when pulling out the kitty’s fur, And still we loved you even more when you threw oatmeal on the floor.” She paused thoughtfully, then said, “It’s sad. He was a baby.”

“A bad baby,” said Ari as he pulled the poem out of his pocket and smoothed it out. “Baby Huey, little love,” Ari read, “What was he the apple of?”

“Their eyes,” said Arden, opening her notebook and beginning to write. “He was the apple of…our…eyes.”

“So we’re looking for a book about eyes?” said Ari.

“We’re looking,” replied Arden, “for a bunch more names.”

“Five more names,” said Ari, looking at the rhyme, then scanning a row of headstones until one in particular caught his eye. “Five more…like…Myrtle Mutt!”

“What does it say about Myrtle Mutt?” said Arden scrambling between two headstones to have a look at the note.

“You’re an oldie Myrtle Mutt,” read Ari, “Let the angels be your what?”

Arden squinted at the skinny, crooked headstone, which was greenish-gray with lichen.“Myrtle Mutt,” she read, “Born June 2, 1800, Died June 1, 1920.”

“1920?,” said Ari. “They weren’t kidding about the oldie part.”

Arden continued to read: “’We learned to seek, we learned to hide, we learned to swing and use the slide, and eat the chicken that you fried. Let the angels be your guide.’ Your…guide,” she said, making an entry in her notebook.

They scanned several more rows of headstones. Some were overtaken by ivy, and a few were lovingly groomed and decorated with fresh flowers, but nothing seemed familiar about the names as Ari read them off.

“Donald Barker, Carol Binker, Beebe Black, Davy Black, Cindy Black, Nancy Black, Abby Black, Charlie Black…that’s a lot of Blacks…Randy Black, Betsy Black, Carlyle Black, Veronica Black, Royroy Black, Lettie Black, Suzette Black…and then these last two are on one big headstone…maybe they’re the parents…Charlotte Black and Royston Black.”

“That’s thirteen kids,” said Arden, “in the Black family.” She crouched down to read the large double marker. “’Rolls and pies and flaky pastry, everything so good and tasty. Cookies or a French baguette, Roy’s were fresh as you could get.’ Wow,” said Arden, looking down at the unusually large plot she was standing on. “Looks like Royston wasn’t exactly a small guy.”

“He was big? Wait a minute,” said Ari, pulling out the note. “he was a baker, he was chubby…”

“He had thirteen children,” said Arden, reading over his shoulder, “that’s a baker’s dozen.”

“And his wife’s name,” said Ari, “was…Charlotte?”

“Which,” said Arden, “can be shortened to Lottie!”

Ari picked up the note and read: “’Look for Lottie and her hubby, (I’ve heard rumors he was chubby,) no baker’s dozens anymore…’”

“’What name stood above their door?’” read Arden over his shoulder.

“Black,” replied Ari.

“Black,” repeated Arden, writing it in her notebook. “Okay…so…so far we have ‘eyes, guide, and Black.’”

“Eyes, guide, black,” repeated Ari. “What do you think Miss Samms can do with that?”

“Probably nothing,” said Arden. “Let’s keep looking. We still need Effie, Yumigawa, and Charlie Krew.”

“You want to eat first?” said Ari, who had just spotted a comfortable looking marble bench in the overgrown section of the cemetary, under an apple tree.

“Yeah,” said Arden. She sat down, and Ari handed her a cheese stick, a bag of trail mix and a lemonade.

“Aren’t you wondering why I’m trying to solve the riddle?” asked Ari.

“Because it’s an old mystery, and you like old mysteries?” suggested Arden. “Although, now that you mention it, you’ve always seemed like more of the kickball type than the old mystery type.”

“That’s true,” replied Ari, “but it’s more complicated than that. See, my uncle…”

But the words which he meant to say next were drowned out by a long blaring honk from a black car trying to pass a vegetable truck on East Street, just beyond the low stone wall of the cemetery. But the vegetable truck showed no signs of speeding up or pulling over, and the black car–surprisingly, considering what a hurry it had been in seconds earlier–stopped abruptly beside the stone wall.

Ari’s stomach sank like a bag of rocks. It was a feeling he was getting used to by now, so it was no surprise when Wilton Daylatch stepped out and peered intensely at him from the other side of the wall.

“Young Mr. Soffit,” called Wilton Daylatch with his usual spidery smirk. “What might you be looking for in such an unlikely place as a graveyard? And, pray tell, have you found it yet?”

“It’s a school project,” replied Ari, suspiciously. He wondered now, as he’d wondered when he’d seen Daylatch studying the dog statue, whether Daylatch might know something about the mystery he and Arden were now working on. The clues were, after all, planted by Daylatch’s great-grandfather.

“Interesting,” said Daylatch. “Well, enjoy your picnic. And give my regards to your uncle when you get home. My secretary just informed me that he’s accepted my offer.”

“What?” said Ari, wondering if he should believe anything Daylatch said.

“The boxing match,” said Daylatch. “Wise choice. For everyone. Nothing like a little sports action to pump some excitement into this town, don’t you agree?”

Ari just stared. What he really wanted to do was throw a rock at Daylatch, but he knew that that was not only uncivilized, but it was the kind of behavior that was likely to get him enrolled at Daylatch Academy.

Daylatch chuckled, and Ari had the uncomfortable feeling that Daylatch was reading his mind as he got back in his car and drove away.

Arden said, “What in heck was that all about?”

Ari looked at the treetops and, with a bewildered shrug, spilled almost the whole story. Somehow he still couldn’t quite bring himself to tell Arden about Dewey Daylatch.

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