summary of the previous episode: After Dickerson figured out that Bowler wanted him to be at the Franklin statue the next night at 8 o’clock, he and Kittie went back to the hotel and ordered dinner from a carryout menu. While they waited for their meal to arrive they talked about more clues and concluded that the mysterious message was packed with hints about Benjamin Franklin, his famous kite flying experiment during a thunderstorm, and the shriners. Then Kittie said there was something she needed to talk about.
The food arrived from the carry-out in about 45 minutes, and soon Kittie and I were merrily munching on sweet and sour chicken, jumbo chicken wings, steak-and-cheese egg rolls, and a huge order of fries drizzled in mumbo sauce. As we finished our main courses, still nibbling on the fries, Kittie spoke up.
“Bill, I really didn’t have an appointment to see my aunt today,” she confessed.
“I know,” I responded. My body language must have screamed ‘guarded’ at that point. My mind raced at about a billion miles an hours, preparing myself for the worst.
“Now before you go thinking that I just abandoned you today,” she began, “I want you to know that I did go my aunt this afternoon, I just didn’t have an appointment”.
“Really now,” I said. A level of irritation finding its way into my voice, “so you decided in the middle of everything that’s going on, to just up and walk out on me and just go and visit your aunt in the spur of the moment?! And what, pray tell, inspired you to do that?!”
“The guy, with the bowler hat”, she said flatly.
“Yeah, the guy you said was British but you’ve never seen him before in your life!” I responded maybe a little more hotly than I intended. “I never said I never saw him before!” she yelled back at me.
And then the world in all its glory stood absolutely still for me. In all my self-proclaimed genius and knowledge, that was the one conclusion I had never even considered reaching. “Huh?!” was all I could get out, emotionally deflated, and confused as all hell.
“I said ‘I never said I never saw him before’” she repeated softly, and more slowly.
I took a few deep breaths and completely out of instinct, reached over and lit a cigarette. “Ok” I said, as if those were the first intelligent letters I ever spoke, “so. . .you know the guy?”
“Not exactly, but I’m getting ahead of myself,” she began. “First, let me tell you something. I’m a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.” I waited for a loud thump signifying my jaw hitting the floor. The Order of the Eastern Star is the sororal organization formed to be a sister group to the Freemasons, emulating the feminine heroes of the Bible like Esther and Ruth, the way the Masons emulated men like Hiram. They had avoided a lot of the controversies that had formed around their Masonic brethren, so a lot less was written about them, hence I didn’t know nearly as much about them as I did the Masons.
“OK,” I responded, “and you didn’t think to tell me this when a mysterious ring of masonic origin gets plopped right into my lap?” I tried to keep my tone of voice lowered as I spoke.
“Until today, I haven’t even set foot in the old lodge for over a decade”, she said. “But I saw a picture of the guy back when I was a lot more active, and he was described to me as someone dangerous, someone to avoid.”