The next day at Oleander Gardens, there was a major disaster, and that was before anyone even knew the police were coming. Ben was on a rampage looking for his keys. He stomped around the corridors, going into each of the rooms, asking the terrified residents where they were. Ray stomped around after him.
Nora stopped her cleaning work and followed them. They stormed into Mrs. Tillynaught’s room.
“If you have them, you old bitch, so help me…” Ben squeezed his sausage-esque fingers into a fist and shook it under Mrs. Tillynaught’s trembling chins. Meanwhile, Ray yanked out Mrs. Tillynaught’s drawers and thrust his fingers into her personal belongings.
“Nothing here,” he grumbled. They went on to the next room.
They were heading in the direction away from the Edwards’s room, which meant they had at least had the mental capacity to remember a kerfuffle in there a few nights previous and had started there. Perhaps. Or maybe it was just pure, blind, dumb luck. Either way, they obviously hadn’t thought to stoop down and look under anything.
Ben slammed into Mrs. Balanafeel’s room, Ray hot on his tail.
Mrs. Balanafeel gave a little shriek. By now the old people who had already been searched were beginning to crowd outside, in their dressing robes and slippers or house clothes, wringing their hands and looking from one to another. And then to Nora.
Nora squeezed into Mrs. Balanafeel’s room with Ray and Ben. Ben did the same thing to Mrs. Balanafeel as he had done to Mrs. Tillynaught, while Ray plunged his fat fists into Mrs. Balanafeel’s drawers.
“Keys?” asked Mrs. Balanafeel.
“Yeah, keys. Didn’t you hear me? Do you need me to turn that hearing aid up?” Ben brought his big paw menacingly up in a clenched fist at Mrs. Balanafeel’s ear. She flinched away.
Nora couldn’t stand it anymore. The police were coming anyway; she might as well do something to stop this tyranny.
“Excuse me, Ben,” she said.
He turned and glared at her, his nostrils daintily working their ways in and out as he breathed. “What?”
“Well, I’m sure you already thought of this, but is it possible you dropped your keys while, I mean, in Mr. Edwards’s room, when he was having the heart attack?”
Mrs. Balanafeel said, “Nora, I thought we weren’t–”
Nora gave her a very strong look, and then returned her gaze to Ben. She batted her long black eyelashes as cutely as she was able.
Now Ben menaced her. He swung his body away from Mrs. Balanafeel and towards her like a refrigerator with arms being maneuvered on a moving dolly. “Yeah. I thought of that. I thought, that’s prolly when one of these old farts nabbed my keys off me, perhaps thinking they could get some extra medications of which they all seem to be so fond. Because, Nora, I don’t drop my keys. My keys are secured to my belt by a clip, same as Ray’s. Show her, bra.”
Ray got all up in Nora’s face as he pulled the keys out on their line with a zzzwwiiiiippp and then let them zerp back in again.
“Oh,” said Nora. “Wow, that’s really neat. But I mean, it’s possible, isn’t it?”
“Sure it’s possible. But guess what, Nora. I already checked in there, and those old coots don’t have ’em. So now I’m asking the other residents. And somebody better ‘fess up!” He turned and bellowed the last two words, and the gathered old people made little squeaks of surprise.
“Okay, well you seem to be pretty angry at this point, so maybe I can help you out with the search.” Three heads are better than one and a half, right?
“Oh, like you’re gonna find some’fin we didn’t,” Ben said, but they followed her out of Mrs. Balanafeel’s room, through the parted sea of old people, and down the hall to the Edwards’s room.
“Told you, we looked here.”
“Well, you looked in the drawers and stuff, but if the keys actually just fell down, somehow, then they wouldn’t be in the drawers, would they?” Nora tried to maintain a patient voice, as if she were a kindergarten teacher explaining to a kid who’d eaten too much sugar why he couldn’t put the watercolour sets into the fish tank, while at the same time bending down and sweeping her arms under the desk, the beds, the easy chairs, and finally, the bedside tables.
“Ah-hah!” Nora fondled the keys when she found them, exactly where she knew they’d be, a little bit to make them jingle, and then pulled them out and held them up. “Ta-dah!”
Ben swiped the keys from her and examined them. Maybe he was counting to make sure they were all there and none were missing. Could he count that high? Then he gave Nora an angry bull glare and said, “So someone swiped them off me and then stashed them in here. An’ whoever it was,” he bellowed, looking at each and every one of the old people in the eyes as he clipped the keys back on his belt with a snap, “is gonna hear about it!”
The two apes stomped out of the Edwards’s room, pushing old people aside like shoppers at Black Friday sales,and Nora glanced around at everyone to try to calm them down. “Everything’s going to be okay,” she said. “Don’t worry.”
“Oh, we try not to worry,” said Mr. Edwards. “But we have no way of knowing who’s going to be next! Many of us have been here for a few years now.”
“You don’t remember who came when?”
Mrs. Edwards smirked. “Nora, we don’t remember what we had for breakfast.”
“It was pancakes with sugar-free syrup,” said Mrs. Balanafeel. “And orange pekoe tea.”
Ryan showed up at four. The police didn’t show up at all.