Copyright © 1997, All Rights Reserved.
"When will you stop naggin' at me, fer cryin' out loud!"
"Hubert, I just don't think we should be doing this," Emma Cavendish frowned at her husband of fifty-three years.
"Why not? You're being a silly old woman," he muttered under his breath as they stood in line. The grocery store was crowded, as usual. First of the month and double coupon day.
Emma glanced around seeing several of her friends from the Senior Citizen's Center. Emma would be embarrassed right down to the roots of her blue-tinted white hair if caught.
Hubert and his gang, as he called them, wheeled four over-flowing carts further into the queue. The checker glanced up and audibly groaned, immediately calling for two box-boys. Shutting her eyes for a brief moment which looked suspiciously like a heavenly plea for deliverance, she let her fingers start flying over the keys.
They specifically chose this old fashioned store because it didn't have automatic scanning machines and they always got into Clara's line moments prior to her shift ending. Clara didn't pay close attention when she was tired.
The other seven in the gang scurried through the line ready to start pushing carts out once they were filled. In case Clara wanted to check an item before entering the coupon's discount into the register. Hubert and Emma remained at the pay counter with the stack of coupons clutched in Hubert's fist.
"Hubert, I really don't want to be here." Emma hated being dragged along on these trips. None of the other wives had to come. Hubert insisted it was her wispy, little-old-lady look that made them a success.
"You look addle-brained and innocent. And when you say stupid stuff like that, you are," he hissed through his loose, clacking dentures. Hubert often said unkind words.
Perhaps Hubert was right. It had been her fault this whole thing had started in the first place. If she hadn't been so careless, she would have noticed. She didn't mean to give the clerk all of the coupons in her wallet, only the ones on the things she'd purchased. Hubert had entered the receipts in his little account book and when he saw the error by the store and the reason Emma gave him, he had smiled.
Emma's years with Hubert made her distrust that smile.
The rest of the gang met Hubert and Emma as they pulled into the driveway at their home twenty minutes later. The women were already in the house.
Emma didn't like them casually making themselves at home in her house. She wondered if the women snooped while they were away at the store. They knew way too much about what she owned. Emma hadn't known any of these people in the gang prior to her mistake at the grocery store all those months ago. They were drinking and gambling buddies of Hubert's.
Emma's dresser drawers were always a little mussed after the `girls' had been there alone. Come to think of it, Emma thought, there were a couple of pieces of jewelry missing. She was positive the pearl earrings now hanging from Gracie's ears were the ones Hubert insisted Emma had lost months ago and claimed on the insurance.
The gang never gave Emma credit for a mind. Not a one of them. They always tut-tutted or smiled as if she wasn't all there. Emma was much more all there than they suspected. She couldn't help the speech impediment from the stroke. Her vocal chords failed her at the worst times.
Emma glanced at the calendar. Three more days and they'd be going through the same old procedure. She wrung her hands wishing she could stop this thievery. The gang had just left and Hubert was busy making up the shopping list, matching similar brand coupons.
Gracious, Emma thought, that was more than usual. When she had the temerity to question the enormous stack, Hubert told her about an article in the paper saying Copper's Grocery was putting in new scanning machines in four months. They had to make big killings until they could locate another store and another overworked clerk. Hubert and his pals weren't going to give up their gambling money without a fight. Emma just shook her head and mumbled that she was going to bed early. Hubert ignored her.
Emma lay awake for hours, listening to Hubert's hideous snoring echo off the walls of their bedroom. An idea began to develop in her mind as she recalled another article in the paper that Hubert hadn't bothered with. When she was finally able to drop off to sleep, she was smiling.
It took dropping into her sweet little-old-lady-who's-had-a-stroke act, but Emma managed to get hold of the necessary items. The main ones she had kept hidden in trunks since the thirties; a small legacy from an uncle who'd spent most of his declining years in the federal penitentiary.
The only thing that worried her was Hubert finding the little shop she had set up in the upper room of the garage before she could put her plan into action. Carefully placed items with the gang's fingerprints were all over the cramped little room. Emma surveyed her handiwork, closing the door to the little room, reminding herself to put the only key back in Hubert's pocket. She buried the latex gloves in the bottom of the giant geranium tub. That TV show had mentioned being able to lift prints from the insides of gloves. Time enough later to destroy them. As she got ready for bed that evening, she felt the tensions ease out of her body. For the first time in months -- no, she sleepily smiled, for the first time in years she could sleep peacefully.
Emma was released into the custody of her niece, Gloria. The federal agents were positive Emma didn't have anything to do with the counterfeiting ring. She'd put up a good front and had babbled about her childhood and imaginary things until she thought the agents were going to go crazy. Emma felt a twinge of guilt at the deception. Only a small one, though.
Hubert knew she was faking, and had cursed her fiercely as he, along with his friends were being led off in handcuffs. The agents patted her sympathetically on the shoulder and sent her home with Gloria.
She'd been careful not to put more than one bill in Hubert's wallet each month, until this last trip when all the money had been counterfeit. Emma hadn't run the old style press since working in her uncle's printing shop, long before she married Hubert. But it had all come back to her. Thank goodness Hubert never knew about her uncle's notoriety.
Nor did her uncle ever find out Emma was the one who had turned him in -- she'd only meant to keep the prototype set of plates as a souvenir.