Authors: Mia Caldwell
“Grandma doesn’t remember how long they talked,” Ophelia
continued. “Grandma definitely remembers that right before noon, when it was
time for her leave for the day, Sylvia got a call from her son’s school. There
had been an accident on the playground and they wanted Sylvia to pick him up
and take him to the doctor. Grandma agreed to stay late and watch the office
while Sylvia was gone. Sylvia left and when she wasn’t able to return, Grandma
stayed until closing. Did I get everything right, Grandma?”
Jada made notes on a pad. Knowing the details she had gotten
from Marina about Sylvia’s meeting with the mystery woman, Jada didn’t want to
forget any of Mrs. Nell’s recollections.
“You helped with Sylvia’s work, too. Isn’t that correct?”
Ophelia asked Mrs. Nell.
“That’s right. I felt bad about her little boy, so I covered
for the dear. That way she wouldn’t have so much to make up when she came
“Make a note of that and we’ll return to it later,” Ophelia
said, cryptically. “The next morning, Sylvia called and asked to use some leave
time because she had to stay home with her injured son. She said she’d need
Thursday and Friday off. Grandma agreed to come in and work all day Thursday
“Yes,” Mrs. Nell said. “I didn’t mind. And anyway, it was
slow, and the girls in the city clerk’s office took turns coming down and
helping me when I got busy.”
“Have you spoken to any of those helpers about what they
saw?” Jada asked.
“I did,” Ophelia said. “They weren’t there when it
“When what happened?” Jada asked.
“From what I can tell, it was business as usual in records
until late Friday afternoon. Grandma was alone in the office when another tall,
thin woman arrived and asked Grandma what she had on Ian Buckley. Grandma
didn’t actually remember Ian’s name when we first discussed this today, but she
remembered it was a man’s name, and all things considered, you’ll see it had to
have been Ian when you hear the rest.”
Jada and Ian shared a look.
“Could this woman have been the same one who came on
Wednesday?” Jada asked.
“Huh,” Mrs. Nell said. “Let me think about that. I don’t
know. Maybe. No, I don’t think so. This woman was loud and rude as anything, so
I probably would have remembered that. Probably. Let me tell you, this skinny
blonde was a real how-do-ya-do. I would have told her to get her nasty self on
out of there, except I try to be a professional.”
“How was she rude?” Jada asked.
“The way she said things. ‘Get me this now, I’m in a hurry.’
‘I haven’t got all day you know,’ and so on. She kept asking me to hurry up
when I was printing out what she wanted and tapping her long nails on the
counter clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Had my nerves jumping.”
Ophelia continued the tale. “So, the woman asked for a
record about Ian Buckley. Grandma searched the computer and got two hits, one
referencing a marriage license with Ian as the groom, and another referencing
Ian as a witness to someone else’s wedding.”
JADA’S BROWS SHOT UP. “TWO records?”
“That’s right,” Ophelia answered. “But Grandma got a little
flustered by the woman’s complaints and—”
“I wasn’t flustered,” Mrs. Nell interrupted, shooting a
severe look at her granddaughter. “It got stuck in the printer.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ophelia said. “The woman only got the
printout for the record that listed Ian as the groom, and never knew a second
“I didn’t realize it myself,” Mrs. Nell said, “until after
Miss Snooty Pants was gone and I found it in the printer tray. Serves her
right, I say.”
“How did the woman react when she read the printout you gave
her?” Jada asked.
“She got excited and even louder and bossier. She wanted me
to get her a copy of the actual marriage license.”
“The records department is still behind, technology-wise,”
Ophelia explained. “When someone files a document with the department, the first
thing they do is enter the information into the main computer, which makes it
part of the official, searchable database. The actual paperwork is then stored
in a filing cabinet until enough documents build up to send them off for batch
scanning and processing by a contractor. Before those files are sent off for
scanning, the only way to search for and copy the actual document is to
physically find it in the filing cabinets.”
“It’s a terrible chore, let me tell you,” Mrs. Nell added.
“You have to bend over those drawers and it takes a long time to hunt through
it all. Hurts my back something awful. Worse than washing dishes, or mopping.”
“Which is why you ...” Ophelia prompted.
For the first time, Mrs. Nell looked chagrined. “Well, I’m
not proud to admit it, but that’s why I lied to the rude woman. I told her the
license wasn’t in the office and that it would take a few days to get it from
somewhere else. I shouldn’t have lied, Lord knows it, but I was tired and I
didn’t want to get an aching back for someone who would be nasty when it took
me a while to find what she wanted.”
“I don’t blame you,” Jada said. “I’d have done the exact
same thing if I’d been you.”
“Me too,” Ian added.
Mrs. Nell reached across the table and tapped Jada’s and
Ian’s hands in turn. “Thank you both. That makes me feel a little better.”
“Did the woman argue with you when you told her you couldn’t
give her what she wanted?” Jada asked.
“No. She paid for her printout and ran off. She was in a
hurry like all you young people.”
“I’m a little confused,” Jada admitted, thinking the
interview had raised more questions than it had answered.
Ian looked thoughtful. “Ophelia, you said there’s a hard
copy of the license and an electronic entry in the official database which
states Jada and Sasha were married. There’s also an entry in the official
database which says Jada and I were married, but there’s no physical document
to support it. Is this correct?”
“It is,” Ophelia said.
“So the next question is, where’s the actual marriage
license that claims Jada and I were married? Could someone have stolen it?” Ian
“No,” Ophelia answered. “Grandma, will you tell them the
rest, or shall I?”
Mrs. Nell made a scrunched-up face. “Oh, I suppose, if we
have to. Go on and do it yourself. I’m worn out. I probably need a nap.” She
let her crocheting drop onto her lap, clasped her gnarled hands over it, and
closed her eyes.
Ophelia opened the manilla folder, pulled out a sheet of
paper and slid it across the table. “Take a look at this. It’s the printout of the
computer entry from the allegedly-missing license.”
Jada’s heart thumped when she got a glimpse of the document
which had turned her life upside down. She and Ian scanned it together.
It was a simple printout, a compilation of the pertinent
info on a typical marriage license: the date, names of the bride and groom,
witnesses, who performed the ceremony, where the wedding took place and so on.
There it was in black and white. The groom was listed as Ian
Buckley and it was followed by his address, which Ian pointed out was
incorrect. The bride was listed as Jada Howarth, also followed by her address,
which also was incorrect. The person listed as performing the marriage was Fred
Smith of Everywhereville. Ridiculous, Jada thought. That couldn’t be anything but
But what particularly drew her up was when she read the
witnesses: Trey Russell, which she expected to see, and someone named ... Fanny
“Oh come on,” Jada said when she read the name. “That’s
obviously as phony as the officiant.”
“Surprisingly, Fanny Blue is real,” Ophelia said, “It took a
while to work it all out, but I’m confident I know what happened.”
Mrs. Nell shifted slightly, leaning back in her chair and
sighing gently. It appeared she actually was going to take a nap.
Ophelia continued with hardly a sideways glance at her
grandmother. “Like I mentioned before, after Sylvia left the office on
Wednesday, Grandma wanted to help her out with her work, so Grandma took some
of the new documents from Sylvia’s inbox which hadn’t been entered into the
system and did it herself. Apparently, when she came to this marriage license,
she didn’t understand. She got confused.” Ophelia reached into the folder and
slid another sheet of paper across the table.
It was a copy of a marriage license, not just a computer
entry. The license listed Jada Howarth as the bride, and Sasha Brimgore as the
groom. The officiant was Fred Smith of Everywhereville again, and the witnesses
were Trey Russell and ... Ian Buckley.
“What?” Jada said aloud. “This makes no sense.”
“It will,” Ophelia said almost apologetically. “When Grandma
saw this license listed a woman as the groom, she thought it was a mistake.”
Mrs. Nell opened one eye a tiny slit and peeped around. “Two
women can’t get married,” she said, then shut her eye again.
Ophelia shrugged. “What are you gonna do? She’s right, two
women can’t get married, not in this state. But this license is from a
different state where it’s legal.”
“Never heard of it before,” Mrs. Nell grumbled under her
Jada grinned in spite of everything. Ian cleared his throat.
Ophelia continued. “So, Grandma thought she’d fix it up and
correct the error.”
“Nothing wrong with fixing mistakes,” Mrs. Nell mumbled.
“I thought you were taking a nap, Grandma, and you were
going to let me tell them what happened,” Ophelia said.
“Fine, but tell it right.” She peeked at her granddaughter,
then snapped her eyes shut when she saw Ophelia’s scowl.
“Anyway,” Ophelia continued, “Grandma decided that probably
what happened was that the groom’s name was accidentally switched with one of
the witnesses’ names. For whatever reason, she picked Ian’s name as the groom
and entered it into the computer, then some time between doing that and when
she entered in the witnesses’ names, she forgot what she was doing. Instead of
swapping in Sasha Brimgore’s name as the second witness, she entered Fanny
“Out of curiosity,” Ian said, “who is Fanny Blue?”
“Grandma’s best friend in second grade,” Ophelia answered
with an expression that silently, but clearly said, “She’s old and there’s no
explaining it so we might as well not try.”
Jada might have laughed, but Mrs. Nell opened an eyelid a
crack and spied on them. They pretended to look casual until the eyelid dropped
“If Mrs. Nell made the entry that created the confusion
about Ian and I being married,” Jada said, “who made the entry that was
accurate, according to the license anyway, which says Sasha and I were
“That’s a good question,” Ophelia said, “but I can’t answer
it, unfortunately. I’ve asked everyone who helped out on Thursday or Friday and
no admits to doing any data entry. They put all incoming documents into
Sylvia’s box so she could deal with them when she got back.”
“Could Mrs. Nell have made a double entry and not changed
the groom the second time around?” Ian asked gently.
“No,” Mrs. Nell mumbled, her voice sleepy-sounding.
“I don’t think so,” Ophelia says. “Grandma says she didn’t
do any more data entry after that little bit on Wednesday afternoon. Nothing’s
impossible, but I bet that if she made changes the first time she saw that
license, she’d have made them the second time, too.”
Jada and Ian nodded. Seemed pretty likely.
“The system doesn’t have a time stamp so we can’t know when
the other, accurate entry was made,” Ophelia said, “but entries are keyed to
particular workstations, and it shows that both were made from Grandma’s.
Systems down here are very basic. Computers in the records office aren’t even
connected to the internet, so it couldn’t have been done remotely, if you’re
thinking in that direction.”
Jada had definitely been thinking in that direction. “What
about from another computer in the courthouse?”
“No. The entry would have been keyed to that computer.”
They sat quietly, each lost their own thoughts.
“Seems like there’s one person who could answer this
question,” Jada said.
Ian said aloud what Jada was thinking. “Looks like you and I
need to talk to Sylvia Watson.”
“Don’t we all,” Ophelia said with a steely look.
Mrs. Nell began to snore lightly.
IAN PULLED INTO A PARKING space in front of the small park
that Jada had guided him to. It was a quaint little place, complete with
benches, wooden picnic tables and leafy, giant oak and maple trees. He turned
off the engine and reached into the back seat for the bag of burgers and fries
they’d picked up at a drive thru.
Jada looked up from the folder of documents Ophelia had
given them. “I wish we could take our food to one of the picnic tables.”
“Best not risk it,” Ian said, handing her a paper-wrapped
burger and a small container of french fries. “There’s quite a few people out
there. Someone would recognize you.”
“Or you,” she said. “You’re way more famous than I am. Wait.
I’m infamous. You’re famous. Never mind. Let’s just eat. Are the windows in
this rental car dark enough for me to take off my glasses?”
“Go ahead,” Ian said, thinking that as long as they were in
the car, they could always speed away if anyone recognized them.
They ate in silence for several minutes. Ian contemplated
what they’d learned at the courthouse.
“You were right about Ophelia Wyatt,” he said. “She was a
great help. I don’t know how we would have gotten the whole story from Mrs.
Nell without her.”
“I’ve always like Ophelia. But that isn’t why I called her
in on this. I figured she’d have a vested interest in finding out the truth:
one, she’s the DA and there could be a fraud case here; and two, she’d want to
make sure her grandmother was okay.”
“Do you think everything we heard in there was the truth?”
“I do,” Jada answered with confidence, squeezing some
ketchup onto a thick fry. “You?”
“Good. And do you think the blonde woman who was so mean to
Mrs. Nell and got the printout on Friday afternoon was Piper Sandy from CGTV?”
“I do,” he said, following Jada’s cue and squeezing some
ketchup on his own fries.
“I’m surprised high and mighty Piper would come all the way
to little old Springers Glen to check out Marina’s tip. I would have thought
the network would send someone lower in the pecking order, like you did.”
“I wish I would have sent someone more capable,” Ian said.
“Maybe that’s why Piper came herself.”
“Do you think we should contact her and ask her about this?”
“No, not yet.” Ian watched a pair of children in the park
fight over a rubber ball. “Let’s hold off on confronting anyone at CGTV until
after we find Sylvia Watson and learn what she knows.”
Ian took a bite out of the hamburger, surprised at how good
it was. Jada had recommended the burger shack and he’d been less than impressed
with the shabby exterior. He had to admit though, the food was good. How long
had it been since he’d eaten a burger from a drive-thru joint? He couldn’t
“So here’s a rundown of what we think we know,” Jada said
briskly, setting her hardly-nibbled food aside and leafing through the folder.
“Some time before noon on Wednesday, a tall woman in a disguise came to the
records department and bribed Sylvia to accept a fake, out-of-state marriage
license and to call CGTV to tip them off to the document’s filing.”
She studied the copy of the license. “This thing is
obviously fake. It looks like something you’d print out off the internet as a
prank. There’s no official seal, no notary, nothing. And the signatures look
like they were all done by the same person.”
Ian swigged down some soda then held out his hand. “I
haven’t gotten a good look at it yet. Let me see.”
She gave him the license and he studied it. Everything she’d
said was true. It couldn’t have looked less official if it had a red stamp
across the top of the page declaring, “Not an actual license.”