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People Of Interest - Part Three

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As you will recall, the mystery of Amy's disappearance seems to have been solved. No sooner had this happened than another elderly woman had vanished and a woman's finger - as yet unidentified - had been found.

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Hazel's walking group decided to meet twice a week. This gave them a comfortable feeling of togetherness, and also a chance to discuss the latest news. Unfortunately the news was not comforting. Nothing had been heard from Cindy Clements, and the new findings concerning the finger were more alarming. The finger had been surgically cut from the rest of the hand.

To deflect from this unpleasantness, Bert came up with a bit of cheering news. The walking group was to have a new member, another male. His name was Herb Portman. He was younger than the rest of the group, having suffered from some sort of nervous disorder that forced him into early retirement.

The group were only to happy to discuss this news. How old was Herb? What did he retire from? Was he disabled? Would he be able to keep up? Ed did his best to answer all the questions but had little information other than that Herb had seen the walkers pass and later, meeting Ed in the market, asked if he could join. He would meet them next Monday.

Monday rolled around soon enough and along came a tall, slim, dark-haired man, obviously much younger than the rest of the group. Introductions were made and the group set out. Their new member was friendly enough, casually asking questions of the other walkers, and cleverly deflecting any questions addressed to him. When the walk was over, the group separated, a bit puzzled by their newest member.

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Shortly after Hazel arrived home, her phone rang. It was Mabel wanting to discuss Herb. Did Hazel think he was odd? Why did he ask so many questions, but never answer any of theirs?

Hazel had no desire to gossip about Herb, but her ears pricked up when Mabel said, "He was asking about you..."

"What do you mean, asking about me?"

"He wanted to know if you were the one who taught school, and if you were married. Here's your chance Hazel. Don't let a good one get away," teased Mabel.

"Don't be a silly old fool." Hazel said angrily. "Someone's at the door. I have to go."

As soon as she disconnected, Hazel felt guilty. Nobody was at the door. I shouldn't have called her a fool. she thought. But that's exactly what she is - a fool, and a silly old one.

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To distract herself from the foolish phone call, Hazel turned on the television. The news was just ending with a report on local affairs, a somber reporter describing an elderly local women, who had left her home several days before, and had not been seen since.

Hazel stood transfixed, as the reporter described the woman, who had planned to meet a friend for their usual Sunday lunch. She had never arrived at the restaurant, and had apparently never returned home. As the woman's picture appeared on the screen, Hazel gasped. She knew the woman. She had taught with her many years ago, as had Amy.

Hazel sat absolutely still. What should she do? Surely it was a coincidence - another teacher, another teacher she had known, gone missing.

Hazel did little that evening, and as dusk fell, she found herself automatically closing curtains and checking locks.

Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow it will all be explained. I'll just sleep on it. Tomorrow will be better.

At that moment a scream from behind the house split the air. "Police! Police!"

It was Mabel. Hazel rushed to the back door and threw it open, only to see Mabel at hers. "It's him again. It's him. I told you before. He was sneaking into your yard."

"Well, he's gone now." Hazel answered in a shaking voice. "Go inside, lock your door and call the police."

Moments later, the police arrived, taking names and asking questions. The whole affair pushed aside all thoughts of the missing teacher, and when the police finally left, Hazel finished locking up and then, to settle her rattled nerves, made herself a cup of hot chocolate. As she drank the steaming beverage, Hazel thought over all the troubling details of the day, which resulted in a night of tossing and turning, and little sleep.

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As soon as the walkers next met, Ed spoke up.
"I know you ladies are worried by what's going on, but I have a couple of ideas that may help. First, if you're willing, Herb and I would like to install chains on the doors of any of you who don't already have them."

Murmurs, of assent, went through the group.

"Great," said Ed. "We'll start installing tomorrow. My other idea is this: having been in the armed forces, I know a bit about self defense. How would you ladies like to meet tomorrow on that soccer field across the street, and I'll give you a few pointers?"

Lucy, who everyone knew had a 'thing' for Ed, was the first to squeal her approval. Others followed and soon the whole group found themselves committed to the idea.

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As planned, the woman gathered the next day, and the training began. A few kicks and punches were demonstrated. The ladies' kicks barely left the ground, and Ed quickly moved on to the punches, with minimally more success.

Meanwhile a group of onlookers had gathered, some with admiration and others with barely suppressed grins. Even Archie, tied to nearby tree, seemed to have a doggy grin on his sweet face. Behind the onlookers a hooded figure watched.

"Oh yes, that will definitely stop me", he chuckled as he turned to leave.

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The next morning, Hazel decided if her days were to improve, she would have to do something to improve them. First she practiced her kicks and punches. She was surprised to see that, with practice, she could actually kick a bit higher, and she felt her punches were gaining more power.

Pleased, Hazel next moved to the phone and called the local police. Speaking to the detective in charge of missing persons, she asked if he had noticed that two of the missing women were teachers. Did he think this might be significant?

The officer said he would consider the information, and thanked Hazel for her call.

Next Hazel dug out her old address book and looked up the number for Tessa Thornton, who now resided in a nearby town. Hazel had taught with Tessa for many years, and knew her to be a fount of information.

After a hasty greeting, Hazel asked Tessa if she had heard about any missing woman, especially any missing teachers.

"How timely that you called," Tessa said. Three elderly woman had gone missing in the last couple of weeks. Tessa was not familiar with any of the names, but that didn't mean they weren't teachers - just that she didn't know them. After learning what had been going on in Hazel's area, Tessa was intrigued. She said she would check out the names and get back to Hazel. Pleased with the progress she was making, Hazel ended the conversation.

Moments later, Hazel was struck by a memory - the name Cindy Clements. She now remembered who the woman was - a behavior specialist consulted when needed, to deal with challenging students. Now why had her school needed Cindy?

And then she remembered.

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To be continued.