"Are you up for a visitor?" Elsie Peabody approached Lillian Marshall's hospital bed, carrying a large bouquet of red snapdragons and white matricaria. "I'll just ask the nurse to put these in some water, shall I?"
"Oh Elsie, they're beautiful. Thank you."
"A little something from my garden. I thought they looked cheery."
"They do. Again, thanks. I'm going to miss tending my garden this summer," Lillian said wistfully. "I can't believe I feel down the steps to my very own front door." She lowered her voice. "Elsie, when you break a hip, it means you're old, doesn't it?"
"Absolutely not!" Elsie sat down in the chair next to her friend's bed. "Lillian, I don't know what those doctors have been telling you but sixty-two is not old. I don't think of myself as old. In fact, I figure I have another thirty or forty years left in me."
"Elsie Peabody," Lillian laughed, "I'm so glad you came to visit me today. I needed to hear that."
"We'll have no more talk of getting old, all right? Now, can I do anything for you? Do you need me to look after your plants?"
"Oh, could you? Would you mind checking in on my violets and giving them a water now and then?"
"Of course I don't mind. I'm offering."
Lillian pointed to the little table standing next to her bed. "My house keys are in the top drawer."
Elsie stood up and walked over to the table. She rummaged around in the drawer for a bit. "Lillian, I don't see any keys in here. Just your reading glasses, a couple of magazines and two ten dollar bills."
"That's odd. I'm sure they were there." Lillian thought a moment. "Never mind. My neighbour Beatrice Tate has a set. I'd ask her to look in on my violets but Beatrice can't tell the difference between an aphid and a ladybug."
Bright and early the next morning, Elsie walked over to Beatrice Tate's house, where she picked up the spare set of keys, and then on to Lillian's. She went around to the back door and inserted the key in the lock. It opened easily.
Elsie inspected the violets. They wouldn't need water for another day or two. She made a mental note to return on Thursday. Turning to leave, a noise upstairs made her stop dead in her tracks.
As quietly as possible, Elsie made her way to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, she stood for a moment, listening for further sounds. Nothing.
Elsie walked down the hall, peering into each room as she passed. Nothing appeared out of place in either of the two spare rooms or the bathroom.
She looked into Lillian's bedroom. Seeing an open window she thought aloud, "I had better shut that in case it rains. It has probably been open since Lillian was taken into hospital." Elsie breathed a sigh of relief as she realized that the noise she heard likely came from the window. A gentle breeze was causing the curtains to rustle.
When leaving the room, she noticed that Lillian's jewelry box was out on the dresser, open. "And I'll just close that and tuck it away in a drawer. Silly of Lillian to leave it out."
Elsie was finishing up Thursday's breakfast dishes when her friend Tom arrived at the door. "Mind if I drop in for a cup of tea?"
"Of course not," answered Elsie. Smiling to herself she thought, "although it's more likely to be homemade cookies you're after than tea."
With a cup of tea in one hand and a cookie in the other, Tom informed Elsie of the latest news about town. Although retired from the police force, he still liked to keep an ear to the ground.
Tom was working on his fourth cookie by the time he mentioned the missing jewelry. "In the last four months, three women have reported jewelry stolen after being released from hospital."
"Really!"exclaimed Elsie. "That's a bit of a coincidence, don't you think?
"Yeah. Robert King's mother was the first to lay a complaint. Bob told me the police didn't take it very seriously. Mrs King is pretty old - in her nineties, I think - and she was only missing two rings. With no evidence of a break-in, the police assumed she had given the jewelry away to someone and forgotten. You know what old people are like."
Elsie pursed her lips and scowled at Tom's remark.
"But now with two more complaints, almost identical in nature, it's beginning to look like old Mrs King was right."
"Tom," Elsie began, "I have to stop by Lillian Marshall's house this afternoon. Afterwards, I'm going to visit her in the hospital. Would you come with me? there's something I think you should see."
That afternoon, Elsie and Tom both went to visit Lillian in the hospital.
"Lillian," Elsie asked, "may I take another peek in the drawer of that side table?"
"I suppose so. What are you looking for?"
"These!" and Elsie pulled out Lillian's house keys she had not been able to find a few days earlier.
Tom removed Lillian's jewelry case from the paper bag he was carrying. "Lillian, take a look inside. Is there anything missing?"
Opening the case, Lillian ran her fingers down where the rings sat. "Yes, my emerald ring is gone. The ruby and diamond one isn't here, either. What's going on?"
Elsie sat down next to her friend. "Lillian, has anyone, other than me, been in that drawer?"
"No. Well, no one except that nice orderly, Billy Banks. He offered to get me some magazines from the gift shop. My money was in the drawer so I had him reach in for it. He's such a sweetie. Billy offers to shop for all the ladies in the ward."
Elsie took Lillian's hand in hers. "I think that nice orderly, Billy Banks, has been shopping for a little more than magazines. Tom is going to call the police and I'll fill you in on all the details."