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The Heinz Ketchup American. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 4.

IMG_1454“Not always, Mrs. P. Not always.”

Ti Jean was mad. He’d knocked over two of the begonia pots, then pulled tissues from my bathroom tissue box, and had shredded them all over my bed cover. Maybe September 30 couldn’t come fast enough.

“But I fed you, you bad cat! And I was only gone two hours!”

Maybe he saw the Applaws Senior can in the trash bin. Ti Jean walked out of the room, tail high, message successfully communicated.

I emailed Dinnis that I was going to miss the Beatnik reading group the next night. I had to give myself time to do research on this annoying mystery man. His hat was one clue. So I sat on the shredded tissues, pulled my computer onto my lap, then Googled “Dakota.” There was a Sioux Indian tribe, the two states of course, an art supplies company, and an apartment complex in New York City.

But I didn’t have time to click through onto the sites since it was time to leave for my writing class at the adult learning center. Every semester I’d promise myself I’ll stop teaching Introduction to Creative Writing, but then something pulls me back in. Like the pitiful stories I’d read for the first assignment, and then by the third or fourth assignment, suddenly these poignant, dramatic pieces start coming into my email box.

Some of my students had gone on to publish their stories, memoirs, and some biographies of their grandparents. The Imperial War Museum had even contacted me once about the biographies, wanting photographs and maybe love letters for their exhibit on World War One.

I set my Thermos of tea on my table at the front. Opening my notebook, out slipped a note on McDonald Randolph Hotel stationery. Wow. That’s the hoity toity place by the Ashmolean. Whoever this was had much better taste than me with the money to go with it. The handwriting was scrawled in a backward slant. “Meet me after.” That’s all. “Meet me after.” Where? Who? After class? “Meet me after.” And who’s “me”?

John Good Morning from Ghana was first to arrive. Even though he was always first to class, there was no way he could have left the note. His writing was precise and slanted to the right. He had on his trademark blazer and tie, trying so hard to be British.

“Good evening, John, how are you tonight?” He loves it when I’m kind of formal with him.

“Been better, Mrs. Perhaps. Been better. My sister has written that she is coming to London.”

“That’s great, isn’t it?” She’s been trying to leave Ghana for years!”

“Not so great, Mrs. Perhaps. Not so great. She’ll want to come to Oxford and move in with me.”

“Well, you do want to help your sister, don’t you?”

“Not always, Mrs. P. Not always. She is older than me and very, very bossy.”

“Oh, now, John. I’m an older sister myself. She can’t be that bad.”

“Oh, she is, Mrs. Perhaps. She is. And she’s a terrible cook. She once burned – ”

He looks down suddenly at his notebook as other students start filing in. They read their new pieces and then hand them in so I can look at them again later at home. I just hope I can hand them back without Ti Jean’s shred marks this time. I’ve now been asking them to send me the same pieces by email just in case.

Stuffing their essays and my notebooks into my tote, I suddenly remember the mystery note. Will it be Black Trench Coat Man or that creep from San Sebastian? Or the creep from San Sebastian in a black trench coat? But that creep wasn’t an American. I never did exactly figure out what he was—Greek? Turkish?—and he couldn’t have made it to England anyway unless maybe he’d snuck in through one of those camps in Calais or something. I shuddered. “Meet me after” pounded in my head like a durge as I made my cautious way to the car park, but there it was totally empty except for my MINI.

Before I can start the ignition, my cell rings. It’s Robert.


“Hey, Ophelia. It’s me.”

“I know who it is.”

“Yeah. Okay, well, I wondered if you could keep Ti Jean a few more days. Till maybe Monday.”

“It’s Wednesday now, Robert. Maybe Monday?”

“Well, till Wednesday. At the very latest.”

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