The Very First Snoop and the Case of the Black Gold
By Mister Mistoffelees
1 The News Cycle
Mrs. Nancy Morgan Dwight Miyazaki hardly considered herself a news junkie. The business of maintaining Snowden State University on a budget that was resembling shoestrings more and more each daynot to mention the everyday insanity of raising a bunch of Snowden Snoops (or Darius Allen Detectives, as Abbie insisted on being called)left little time to sit and watch cable news. She considered herself lucky to get an occasional glance at the online version of the Center City Intelligencer
But babies have a way of forcing parents to change their routine, and the stomach bug which had suddenly waylaid her twin three-year-olds Mia and Michael forced her out of the Snowden State facilities director's office to the couch at Passmore Street, nursing two mewling, whimpering toddlers with very upset tummies. Mercifully, the medicine prescribed by the Miyazaki family doctor worked to good effect; if not easing Mia and Mikey's bad tummies, at least easing them to a fitful sleep which allowed their harried mother a moment of relaxation
Spent in front of news channels blaring the news of a major mine explosion in West Virginia, with angry recriminations about poor mine safety already being flung. And Nancy's able assistant nursewith her own sleeping toddlerscouldn't resist a gibe
"Maybe they ought to send us down to investigate," Mrs. Abigail Giles smirked, dandling a sleeping Aidenn on her lap. She'd just leaked the news that very day that Penny, Ella, and Aidenn would have another sib in about seven months, which oddly contributed to Abby's garrulous mood. Abby's sister Tricia liked to tease Abby that she obviously liked being in chronic pregnancy
"Our luck and the CEO would try to burn us up in a house trailer again!" Jim Altonthe perpetrator of that notorious attempt to extinguish the Dwight familywas rapidly using up his appeals in his death-penalty case
"As I recall," Nancy chided her eldest daughter, "I told you kids to leave that case alone! I knew it was just a disaster waiting to happen!" She shook her head, her mood darkening. "What that man tried to do to uswhat he did do to Russell and Patty and PollyI was sure he was capable of that. That's why I told you kids not to"but the sudden anguish on Abby's face at the memory of the murdered Baldwins cut short her budding jeremiad. But if Nancy decided to be merciful to Abby, the third matron in the room wasn't about to show the same mercy to Abby's mother
"Don't let her bully you, Abigail," Lorelei Swickartindeed once again Ms. Lorelei Swickart now that the divorce had been finalizedrallied Abby with a wry scold in her blue eyes directed at her lifelong friend Nancy. "I'm willing to bet that your mom hasn't bothered to tell you about the first time she got into that sort of mystery! And as I recall, it nearly ended up killing her then too!" Nancy had turned red-faced at Lorelei's scolding, but after a moment managed a twinkling smile.
"True," she admitted, "but it ended up having its rewards too! In a sense," she sighed, resigning herself to telling yet another tale from her Stoneville youth laying the groundwork for the eventual Snowden Snoops, "one of those rewards is sitting in this very room with me! Four," she smiled, "if you count Penny, Ella, and Aidenn."
Abby's perplexity hung fire a moment, then evaporated in an agog stare. "You mean
Daddy?" she stammered. "You met Daddy in one of your cases?" Richard Dwight would always be Daddy to Abigail
"It wasn't exactly the plan," Nancy admitted. "I was just after a bad guy! But yes, I ended up catching a good guy along the way
Times were tough all over in the late spring of 1981, Stoneville among the rest. Unemployment was up despite the recent inauguration of President Reagan, which meant that there was adult competition even for jobs at the still-young Stoneville McDonald's and Dairy Queen. Fortunately, some Stoneville youth were spared the competition
The local or national economy was not a burden on the mind of Nancy Morgan as she busily re-stacked books in the Stoneville public library. The fact that her earnings as a summer assistant to the librarian, austere but knowledgeable and helpful late middle-aged spinster Miss Henry, hardly even rose to the level of pittance mattered little to the slim, trim seventeen-year-old brunette; Dad's allowance was munificent enough to meet all of her modest social needs, so the twenty dollars she earned each week being Miss Henry's able helper was a modest bit of extravagance to the bright, frugal young lady. Of much more immediate burden was the sartorial obligation Miss Henry had put on Nancy to "dress professionally"; not that Nancy intrinsically had an issue with the white short-sleeved top, just-above-the-knee gray cotton skirt, modestly sheer pantyhose (she kept the plastic eggs her favored L'eggs came in for saving coins), and low-heeled loafers the edict had taken the form of that early-June day, but dressing for work as if she was dressing for church was nevertheless an inconvenience for her. The edict against outlandish jewelry was easier to live with; Nancy had not yet had her ears pierced, and her quiet nature naturally disdained the fashion extravagance of the friend sitting nearby chatting under the watchful eye of Miss Henry
"I don't know how you don't go crazy here, Nance!" Lorelei Swickart huffed as she primped her teased-out blonde mane and straightened her hanging gold earrings. Quietude was not a comfort for the angel-faced goddess of the Stoneville High School juniorsoon to be seniorclass. Perhaps in a reaction from her mother Mrs. Swickart's overbearing propensity for forcing doll-baby cuteness on her eldest daughter, Lorelei had turned brash and brassy in her teens, a trait which perfectly befitted the newly-ordained cheerleader captain of the Class of 1982 but sat ill in a public library.
"Nancy's not you," the third of the small group of three smirked above the book lying before her on the table. Seeming to appreciate the humor of Lorelei Swickart trying to function in a library, the small thin girl smiled wryly as she adjusted the slightly-out-of-fashion glasses perched on her nose, brushed a lock of her shoulder-length mousy-brown hair back over her ear, and suppressed a traitorous giggle. If the fast friendship between brazen Lorelei Swickart and studious Nancy Drew-wannabe Nancy Morgan was a source of bemusement for the youth of Stoneville, the friendship between Lorelei and quiet, mousy, hand-me-down Mary Catherine O'Doolan was even more bemusing. "She actually passed 11th grade, for one thing."
"I passed too!" Lorelei expostulated heatedly, then cringed against a warning shush from Miss Henry.
"And should I ask Mr. Bailey how you passed chemistry?" Cat retorted in a wryly smiling undertone which instantly flushed Lorelei's cheeks an angry scarlet. Nancy's nervous titter suggested to Cat that she had crossed a definite line with Lorelei
"Now, Cat!" Nancy quietly reproved her sniggering friend, as much to keep Lorelei from killing her as anything else, "Lorelei's not the type to do something like that!" Lorelei lifted her nose a degree or two for Mary Catherine's benefit"She likes football players better than teachers!"
"Nancy!" Lorelei shrieked back in mortified anger which Miss Henry's angry shush did little to quell. Nancy flashed an apologetic cringe to Miss Henry frowning angrily at the circulation desk
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" Nancy whispered to Lorelei, pouting over the unsavory teasing. "We have to be quiet! I don't want Miss Henry to fire me!" An easy act for Mary Catherine, who simply steered her attention back into her book, but a more challenging act for Lorelei, not naturally quiet; she fidgeted, instinctively teasing at her hair, her earrings, the daringly low-cut collar of her topthen a low rumble filtered through the walls of the librarya slight tremor in the floor
"Thunder?" Nancy mused, casting a quick glance out the window at the sunshine still peeking cheerfully through the blinds. "On a sunny day?"
"That's what it sounded like," Lorelei affirmed, her nose quizzically crinkled the same it always did at one of Mr. Bailey's chemistry problems.
"That doesn't make any sense," Mary Catherine mused, instantly cringing in fear she had been too loud for Miss Henryshe turned, cast an apologetic glance back at Miss Henry at the desk
Only to see the iron-faced mistress of the circulation desk staring wide-eyed at nothing, her face ashen"It can't be
" And suddenly the spooling-up up the Stoneville Volunteer Fire Department's klaxon made any worries about too much noise inconsequential
"In other words," Abby, mistress of narrative structure, smirked, "that wasn't the first time you'd had a mine explosion down there."
"It wasn't like it was an everyday thing!" Nancy protested. "But yes, there had been several accidents at the mines around town."
"I didn't think Stoneville was coal country," Abby mused.
"Not the heart of it," Lorelei volunteered, "not like further downstate, but it's sort of on the edge of it. Some of those old mines are still working, according to some of my friends who still live down there." Yes, Lorelei Swickart was a Facebook junkie
"Mining is dangerous," Nancy observed soberly. "You know that first-hand, Abigail."
"I know that crossing mine operators who cover up safety violations is dangerous," Abby corrected, a certain astringency in her voice. "Daddy was more worried about his coworkers than about Jim Alton's blessed profit margins, and that was what was dangerous!"
"And when people have their livelihoods threatened, they do what they need to do to protect themselves," Nancy countered. "The Sunny Hill people didn't know they could have had better, they just knew what your daddywhat we did threatened them. The possible change scared them." Abby was about to make her own counter-argument when a knock on the Passmore Street door paused themNancy glanced out the window"What's Tim doing here in the middle of the day?" she wonderedjust before she saw the gravity of his face
"It would mean taking Mia and Michael along," Nancy temporized, pacing the Miyazaki family bedroom while Dave sat philosophically watching. This wasn't easy for his bride at all
"And almost certainly Abbie-Faith and Richie. They really don't need to be unsupervised for that length of time!" Especially not when Jaden Ross and Paula Ryan intersected with summer vacation
"You should still go," Dave cautioned in a gentle a voice as he could muster under the oppressiveness of Nancy's nervous distress. "Yeah, all that bad blood, I know. But still, you should go. She's still your mother, you know."
"Not according to her," Nancy answered bitterly. "You know how it was, DaveI never held any of that back from you." How marrying Richie left her disowned by her family
"Besides, Janiece is there. Making a martyr of herself, no doubt. They should have named her Joan instead of Janiece!" Relations had never been completely smooth between the two Morgan sisters
"And that's the wounded middle child talking," Dave philosophized to an angry glare from Nancy. "I'm no stranger to family theatrics, hon! You know how much crap I took from a few of the old biddies in the clan for marrying a gaijin? You're still Nancy Round-Eye to some of them even after Mia and Mikey!" She flounced away, pouting at the night-darkened window. "If your mom didn't mean anything at all to you," he pointed out, "you wouldn't be wearing down the floorboards in here; you'd have told Tim so-what and been done with it. You still want her to take you back, and not going to see her when she might end up in a nursing home isn't going to help that!"
"I don't know what I want," Nancy muttered, still pacing.
"What I want," Dave opined, "is for you to go down and give her a chance. I'd take Abigail and the whole bunch too, if I could. Take 'em all." Nancy glared at him, a swirling commingling of anger, confusion, and dejection"And one more thing," he added"I'd like to get some sleep tonight! Come to bed!" With a grumpy huff, Nancy complied
"Now," he smiled, wrapping an arm around his wife to settle her in the bed, "Abby said you were telling her about another one of your mysteries back there at home. Something about a mine explosion. You know, I shouldn't let you watch CNN!"
"Well," Nancy sighed, "just seeing the news today got me thinking about that one case
Among the many emotions catastrophe causes, numbness has its place; pain too great to feel without driving its subject insane can find relief in it. As the initial shock of the explosion at the Pine Brach Mine wore into days of tunneling for potential survivorsseventeen miners had been trappedand digging out the seven miners known dead, the horror of injury and death in such magnitude was more than the community could digest. None more so than Nancy; friends and classmates had lost family members, others still unaccounted for in the blocked portion of the mine. She had tried to be solicitous and helpful, but her strength was tried badly by a week of it, and she found refuge in the most unusual of placesat least for those who were not Nancy Morgan. The library
Miss Henry would not speak of it, obviously distraught by the ongoing catastrophe. She maintained her iron grip on the library as usualbusier than usual with so many people poring over the newspapers to see how the world was telling their storybut Nancy saw the edginess, a sense that something was nagging at her. The words Miss Henry had said that day of the explosion haunted hernot again
Everyone in town, of course, knew about the old explosion in the nearby Trailhead Mine forty years ago, but Nancy was not sure how it could have been so traumatic for Miss Henry. But armed with what knowledge she had of the old event, Nancy determined to find out. So when Miss Henry decamped as usual for her midday lunch at homethe Stoneville Public Library was traditionally closed from noon to 12:45 punctually every operating dayNancy, staying in on pretext of straightening the fiction shelves, fairly dove into the microfilm records of the local papers to learn what she could of the disaster. Leaving one odd mystery
"Miss Henry," Nancy asked as soon as Miss Henry had unlocked the door on her return from lunch, "something's bothering you aboutwell, everything lately. The mine thing. And
well, you were around when the Trailhead blew up, and"
"Miss Morgan, I really don't wish to talk about it," Miss Henry dismissed curtly. Which only piqued Nancy's interest the more, as Miss Henry should have known by then
"You didn't lose anybody, though, did you?" Nancy persisted, running the risk of dismissal to solve her mystery. "I looked up the records in the papers, and no Henrys died in it. Did you lose an uncle or something? Why else are you so upset about it?"
"Miss Morgan," Miss Henry reiterated slowly, "I really do not wish to talk about it. Please mind your business!" Her hands were clenched into little fistsno, Nancy decided, she wouldn't be that upset over an uncle
"Do I have to send you home, Miss Morgan? Pleasedropthe subject!" Nonplused but not deterred, Nancy returned to the fiction shelves more bemused than ever