“A Thief in Monkey Junction,” by Deborah-Zenha Adams

Dec 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Miss Virginia Fryar’s breakfast was all but spoiled by the sight of the corpse in her back yard. Miss Virginia spotted it as she crossed the dew-wet lawn, carrying a tray that contained her usual morning Danish and coffee.

In spite of reflexes slowed by seventy-three years of life experience, she managed to juggle the tray with its rattling china so that there was little spillage. Setting the tray on her new wrought-iron lawn table, she contemplated the situation.

The late gentleman sprawled across her annuals had a pickax planted firmly in the back of his head. Miss Virginia glared at the body, hoping it would disappear. When it didn’t, she eased her delicate frame into a chair and pinched off nibble-sized bits of sweet pastry, popping them into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully.

Miss Virginia recognized the deceased, of course; he was—or had been—the earnest young fellow who’d knocked on her front door the previous day and introduced himself as Perry Hampton, a writer of regional histories.

“I’ve been told,” he’d said, with a dimpled smile, “that you have some fascinating stories.”

Miss Virginia’s elderly heart beat that much faster and her wrinkled face flushed. These were sensations she’d given up for dead many years before and now came this handsome boy with an impish grin implying that Miss Virginia might be as fascinating as her stories. Which she was, but no one had noticed for a good long time.

She’d invited him in for ice cold lemonade and cookies fresh from the bakery, and the two of them had passed a pleasant afternoon together. “Oh, yes,” she’d told him. “I’ve always lived here. Why, I remember when the only business hereabouts was a little filling station. Papa used to take me there to see the monkeys. Of course, back in those days…”

Miss Virginia went on to relate her well-worn family tales: the Yankee who’d died on the roof just before the fall of Fort Fisher; the mysterious Gray Man who had saved the Fryar home from a hurricane that leveled all the houses around; even the scandalous escapades of an ancestress who had taken up with Blackbeard the pirate then broken his heart.

Young Mr. Hampton beamed and said, “So there’s more than one femme fatale in your family!”

Once upon a time such a comment would have been rewarded with fluttering lashes and an expertly-cultivated blush. Miss Virginia was no longer susceptible to such blatant flattery, however much she enjoyed it, and so Mr. Hampton got only a grandmotherly smile for his trouble. Miss Virginia had shown him family photographs and Bibles, and even taken him to the attic for a tour of six generations’ worth of memories. Oohing and ahing over yellowed newspaper clippings that chronicled the lives of numerous Fryars, Mr. Hampton’s attention was suddenly and sincerely drawn to a tattered sheet of paper that escaped Miss Virginia’s grasp and fluttered to the dusty attic floor.

“What’s this?” he asked, retrieving the wayward scrap.

Miss Virginia cocked her head for a closer look. “One of Grandpapa’s doodles, I expect,” she said. “He was quite artistic, wasn’t he?”

“Indeed.” Perry Hampton studied the sketched circles and squares and squiggly lines intently for a moment. Then, as if slapped in the face by reality’s hand, his gaze returned to Miss Virginia.

“Now what is it you have there?” He indicated the packet of documents she’d pulled from the old sea chest in the corner.

“Well,” said Miss Virginia, “My mother was a very thorough amateur genealogist. Would you like to hear about some of my maternal ancestors?”

For an hour or so, Miss Virginia regaled her visitor with tales of her many deceased relatives and the parts they’d played in the social and political scheme in and around Wilmington. Eventually even she grew tired of dead kin, and when her voice cracked from fatigue, Mr. Hampton hurriedly apologized for taking so much of her time.

As he stepped out the front door, Perry Hampton declared himself enchanted by Miss Virginia and her family, and begged an invitation to return, which Miss Virginia graciously offered.

She hadn’t counted on him turning up in such an undignified and troublesome position, however.

A shift in the wind’s direction caused Miss Virginia to twitch her nose in distaste. She sighed and rose to cross the tidy lawn, looking around to be sure no one traveling down Carolina Beach Road could see her through the ancient iron fence before she squatted by the body. Running her still-graceful fingers lightly over the earthly remains of Perry Hampton, Miss Virginia found nothing of interest in his soiled tee shirt. (On his first visit, he’d been properly dressed for a social call. His current attire suggested to Miss Virginia that he’d not expected to encounter anyone of worth in her backyard.)

There was a fair amount of dried blood on the back of his head, and an odor she chose not to identify. In the right back pocket of his denims, Miss Virginia found a wallet containing the usual no-nonsense assortment most men carried—driver’s license, social security card, and so forth—and five ten-dollar bills. Miss Virginia replaced it all except forty dollars, and tucked the wallet back into the pocket of Mr. Hampton’s trousers. She ran her hand into his left back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of tattered and yellowed paper—Grandpapa’s doodle!

Obviously Mr. Hampton was not the gentleman she’d assumed he was, for gentlemen didn’t steal from elderly ladies—and there was no doubt in her mind that Perry Hampton had stolen the scrap, although she couldn’t imagine why he’d want the thing. She wrapped the paper around the four ten-dollar bills and tucked the resulting packet inside her bodice.

As soon as she had carried her breakfast tray back into the house, rinsed the dishes, and set them to drain, Miss Virginia called the police. Then, not wanting to face what was to come without moral support, she made a second call to dear Captain Lambdin, explaining her dilemma. Captain Lambdin, ever thoughtful and compassionate, promised to start for Miss Virginia’s immediately.


“Now, Ma’am,” Officer Allen said after introducing himself and his partner, “you called in a report about a dead body?” His tone implied that he found this unlikely.

“Indeed.” Miss Virginia eyed the two officers, wondering if they were old enough to cope with such a profound emergency. “You’ll find him in the back yard. I’ll be glad to show you the way if you’ll give me a minute.”

“Good morning, Miss Virginia!” Howard the mail carrier jiggled all over as he rocked up the steps. “Everything okay?”

“Yes, thank you, Howard.” Miss Virginia held out her hand for the day’s mail. “There was a difficulty but the proper authorities have been notified. Now they’re here and all is well.”

She wasn’t about to go into it further. Everyone knew that Howard gossiped like a biddy, and Miss Virginia fairly shuddered at the thought of being the subject of the inevitable speculation to come.

She retrieved her morning’s mail, then stepped inside ahead of the openly amused police officers and slammed the door in Howard’s face. “We can go through here,” she said, leading the way to the back door.

“Let me make sure I’ve got this straight,” said Officer Baxter, who was sandwiched between Miss Virginia and his partner. “There’s a dead body in your yard?”

“That’s correct,” Miss Virginia told him. “Watch your step there. There’s a bad spot in the Linoleum. I really must have some work done on this kitchen.”

Miss Virginia led the officers through the kitchen and out the back door. “He’s right over there, in the impatiens.” She pointed, lest the officers fail to notice Perry Hampton’s lifeless form atop the crushed blooms.

“Holy sh—cow!” Officer Allen whispered. He stepped around Miss Virginia and made his way gingerly across the grass, followed closely by his partner.

“His name, I believe, is Perry Hampton.” Miss Virginia held her ground by the back door.

“You knew him?” Officer Allen looked at her in disbelief. “Miss Virginia, you didn’t…?”

“I didn’t kill him, no,” Miss Virginia replied. “I merely found him. As it happens, Mr. Hampton had visited me yesterday. He’s a writer of regional history books and I was able to provide him with a few anecdotes for his research. I did invite him to visit again—I have quite a few stories left to tell—but I certainly expected him to call ahead!”

“We’re gonna have to get the coroner out here, and somebody from homicide,” said Officer Baxter. “Hell, I figured at most we’d find a dead dog.”

“Watch your language,” Officer Allen reminded him, with a nod toward Miss Virginia.

“I can see you have work to do here,” she said. “Please make yourselves at home. I’ll keep out of your way.” With that she melted into the cool dark house, gathered her reading glasses from the desk, and sat down at the kitchen table to open her mail.

The letter on top bore a return address she recognized as that of a distant relative. Miss Virginia put it aside to answer later. She wasn’t sure just which relative this was, but that was unimportant. The great disadvantage to living on the coast, she’d decided, was not the effect of salt air on one’s skin or tourists or even hurricanes, but rather that one’s landlocked kin tended to think of one as a very affordable vacation inn.

In her younger days, when Miss Virginia was still convinced of the basic goodness of her fellow human beings, she had welcomed the assorted cousins, nephews, and twice-removeds. They came in droves, like stampeding cattle, to graze on her food. They thundered through rooms she’d cleaned in their honor and left behind mildewed towels and enough sand to build a full-scale replica of Wrightsville Beach. They gorged themselves at the Oceanic and Buddy’s Oyster Bar, but never once invited their hostess along or even brought her a doggie bag!

Miss Virginia was tired of boorish relatives who never bothered to send a bread-and-butter note, much less remember her with a small token of affection. Still it would have been unthinkable to deny family, so for the past few years Miss Virginia had resorted to what she thought of as Mannerly Self-Defense; she replied to all those invitation-begging notes with reports of her lingering and highly-contagious illness. No one ever wrote or called to inquire after her health, but they didn’t turn up on her doorstep, either.

Miss Virginia deemed her solution a success and made a mental note to add some new symptoms in her reply to these moochers.

The rest of the mail was far more exciting, and Miss Virginia’s eyes lit up as she shuffled through it. Two bulb catalogs promised an afternoon of contented browsing. Miss Virginia had recently taken on the task of restoring the landscape around her home and ordering dozens of exotic perennials gave her a tingle of excitement that she suspected bordered on sin. Fortunately she was too old to worry about her immortal soul, reasoning that, at her age, she could claim senility as an excuse for anything and even God would have to believe her.

The final envelope contained Miss Virginia’s new credit card. She’d been preapproved for credit, 6.9 per cent interest for the first six months, and no annual fee. Technically, it was her late mother who’d been preapproved, but Miss Virginia was certain that Mama wouldn’t mind that her only child indulged in a wee bit of honest forgery.

Papa had never approved of being indebted to man or business, and Miss Virginia had subscribed to the same philosophy most all her life. Finally, when the Frigidaire and the Buick ceased to function on the same day that Miss Virginia withdrew the last of her savings to buy groceries, she thought for the first time to question Papa’s financial strategy.

Thanks to the generous offers of lending institutions across the country, she had since replaced the vital appliances, refurbished the sitting and dining rooms from the Sears catalog, added a central heating and cooling system to the house, and purchased a few unpretentious niceties for herself.

She’d been surprised how easily credit could be obtained. Why, it wasn’t necessary to possess good character or assets, it wasn’t even required that the credit card holder be either alive or human! So far Miss Virginia had collected four accounts in her own name, one in Papa’s, one in Mama’s and one in the name of her dear departed cocker spaniel, Tillie.

No one had noticed that each signature on the many accounts was written in the same hand and no one had ever asked if Tillie and her parents were alive and well. Miss Virginia certainly would have answered truthfully, for she prided herself on her honestly and high ethical code.

By using her seven (now eight! she noted with glee) credit cards equally, she had kept the monthly payments on each quite low. This allowed her to make the payment on one with her social security, and to use the handy checks provided by credit company A to pay the monthly fee due credit company B, and so on.

The charges for interest did not concern her; Miss Virginia planned to leave that problem for her thankless heirs to handle after her death. The total amount, if there was any justice in the world, would exactly equal what they would have spent on food and hotels during their visits to the ocean.


Officers Allen and Baxter were zealously guarding the body and awaiting the arrival of the coroner when Captain Lambdin finally knocked on the front door. Miss Virginia welcomed her longtime friend with a cup of still-fresh coffee and an offer of pastry.

“Gratefully accepted!” the captain boomed. “Love a Danish in the morning, what?”

Miss Virginia allowed him a peaceful moment in which to take the first bite, then explained the cause of her upset. “There’s a dead man in the back yard,” she said simply. “The police, of course, have the situation in hand, but all the same…”

“I should think!” the captain agreed. “How on earth did this happen?” He finished his pastry in two bites and gazed hopefully at the remaining sweets on the counter.

“The young man was bashed in the head with Papa’s pickax,” Miss Virginia explained. “I really should have kept that tool shed locked, but who could have predicted…?”

“Quite,” the captain agreed. “And what was the deceased doing skulking around your yard at all hours? Just the sort of behavior that leads one to a bad end.”

“All I can tell you for certain,” she said cautiously, “is that the deceased is Perry Hampton, a writer of—”

“Regional histories!” the captain finished. “Thor’s thunder!”

Miss Virginia cocked her head to one side, puzzled. “How long had you known him?”

“Met the lad yesterday, in fact,” the captain replied. “Knocked on my door, introduced himself and said I’d been recommended to him as ‘a storehouse of history’s facts and follies, a man who knows legends of the sea and the land, of neighbors and strangers.’ Pretty speech, eh?”

“Mr. Hampton had many fine speeches, it seems,” she said to the Captain, “For all that, we are waiting for someone to tell us the young man is dead.”

“Ah,” replied the Captain. “Let’s proceed on the assumption that he is dead. Have you any thoughts on that?

It was typical of the Captain to gather information before forming an opinion. He was a man who enjoyed knowing as much as he enjoyed sharing what he knew.

“Here is what I think,” said Miss Virginia. “I believe that Perry Hampton came here looking for more than family history. I don’t know what it could have been, but he filched one of Grandpapa’s doodles from the attic, then came back here for… well, for what remains a mystery.”

The two of them finished their coffee in contemplative silence, ignoring the bustle of activity in Miss Virginia’s back yard. There would be no end to the rumors, she realized. She’d simply have to hold her head up high and ignore the curious gawkers. That was how Mama had handled the earlier scandal and eventually that had been all but forgotten. Except by Mama, who had created yet another tempest when she’d up and disappeared.


Miss Virginia’s sleep was seldom deep or steady and, as might be expected, a body in one’s yard did not entice slumber. It was nearing 2 a.m. when she gave up on Morpheus and descended the squeaky old stairs. Hot milk, she’d learned, was of no use at all; a bit of rum was much more effective.

Through the window above her chipped enamel sink, Miss Virginia spotted shadowy movement. “Honestly!” she muttered with disgust. She wrapped a houserobe around her slender body before snapping on the yard light, then jerked the back door open and shouted, “Who do you think you are?”

Captain Lambdin spun around at the sound of her voice, dropping his heavy-duty flashlight right on the spot where Perry Hampton’s body had lain that morning. “Apollo’s apples!” he cried. “You took a good ten years off my life. What are you doing up at this hour?”

While her attic was cluttered and dusty, the same description could not be applied to Miss Virginia’s mind, and she said as much to the Captain. “The question, sir, is not why I am standing out in the damp air, but rather why are you traipsing about a crime scene? I hope you aren’t planning to sell pictures to a tabloid or—”

“Certainly not!” the Captain assured her. His pride was wounded; that much was clear. “Although I suppose an explanation is in order.”

Miss Virginia felt this statement was throbbing with accuracy and therefore she made no comment, only waited to hear how Captain Lambdin would acquit himself.

“Fortunately, you see, Mr. Hampton came directly to me after his visit here. I say ‘fortunately’ because I am the one person—yourself excluded—who is likely to remember the live oak.” The Captain gestured toward the far corner of Miss Virginia’s back yard.

“The oak?” Miss Virginia asked. It had been a magnificent old tree, steadfast for decades. Half the county mourned its loss when the grand sentinel succumbed to Hurricane Hazel.

“Yes, the very one!” the Captain exclaimed. “And so when Mr. Hampton showed me the map, I was able to decipher it based on the location of the tree!”

“Map?” Miss Virginia said. She thought it odd that Mr. Hampton hadn’t asked her to look at any map, given that it directed one to her own home—if the Captain were to be believed.

“Your grandfather’s map!” he explained. “Young Hampton tried to pretend lack of interest, but it was clear he was after the treasure.”

“Treasure?” Miss Virginia asked.

“I suppose Hampton thought he’d found Blackbeard’s stash.” The captain chuckled at such gullibility. “Trash and nonsense, and the lot of ’em fall for it! I expect what we’ll find here is the missing Confederate payroll, hidden away by our loyal men who defended Fort Fisher till the end.”

The captain’s face beamed in the moonlight.

“What is it you’re babbling about, Captain?”

“Your grandfather’s map, of course. Imagine that boy uncovering it after all these years. And thank goodness he considered me a doddering old fool.”

“Captain, if you’re searching for treasure on the basis of that doodle dear Mr. Hampton filched, then you are a doddering old fool! Why, it’s nothing but one of Grandpapa’s silly notions.”

“Ah… but…”

“Grandpapa was never a genius,” Miss Virginia confessed, “and in his later years he was exceedingly confused. Why do you think we kept him in the attic? Of course, he didn’t mind. Just happily whiled away the hours drawing blueprints for his proposed moon base. And maps to imaginary treasure.”

She gave him a Look.

The Captain’s pudgy jowls quivered. “But… but… if there’s no treasure, I killed him for nothing!”

“You killed Mr. Hampton?” Miss Virginia exclaimed. “Captain, what were you thinking? Have you no sense of propriety? Don’t you realize what a murder in the neighborhood does to property value?”

“You will turn yourself in to the police, won’t you, Captain?” Miss Virginia certainly hoped his fine upbringing and integrity would not fail now. Of all the difficult situations she’d weathered in her long life, this was the most daunting.

“Suppose there’s nothing else to be done,” the Captain agreed. He placed a hand over his heart and shook his gray head. “All that digging. The great hopes. Fancied myself a hero of the Confederacy, saving the gold and what from a Yankee.”

He steadied himself against the kitchen counter.

“I can see remorse setting in. Something medicinal?” Miss Virginia suggested, reaching into the cabinet for a bottle of rum. “We can both use a calming beverage.”

Behind her the captain slid gently to his knees, then toppled face-forward onto the floor. Miss Virginia turned to find him sprawled face down on the faded Linoleum.

“Gracious!” she cried and hurried to the fallen gentleman’s side.

Miss Virginia was familiar with CPR, even though she’d never practiced it on a human. The question she asked herself was not about breath-compression ratio, but rather about the wisdom of employing life-saving techniques. If the captain were revived, he was doomed to face the humiliation of a murder conviction.

Miss Virginia thoughtfully and carefully weighed the options. By the time she’d made her decision, the Captain was far beyond caring one way or the other.

Dawn was peaking when Miss Virginia made a complete tour of her house, making sure that all the doors and windows were securely locked. It had taken only a few minutes to cover the captain’s body with a good percale sheet, a few more to pack a small suitcase and she was ready to go. Two dead bodies in the space of a day—well, it was just more than a lady should have to bear. What years were left to her, Miss Virginia vowed, would be enjoyed in the company of strangers, in some foreign place such as Pittsburgh, where no one knew her or her scandalous history.

With her credit cards tucked safely in her purse, Miss Virginia was ready to leave. On the way out of town, she would mail the letter she’d written to those beggarly relatives, extending a warm invitation and suggesting they use the spare key hidden beneath the welcome mat. ‘Should I be away when you arrive,’ she’d written, ‘help yourselves to whatever you find in the kitchen.’


Deborah-Zenha Adams is often lost in the woods without a paddle, snapping pics of natural wonders and curiosities. In addition to being a flaneur and a saunterer, she is an award-winning author of novels, short fiction, CNF, and poetry. You’re invited to read samples of her work on her website, where everything’s free and the dress code is “whatever.” www.Deborah-Adams.com

“A Thief in Monkey Junction” was originally published in Magnolias & Mayhem, presented by Jeffrey Marks, Silver Dagger, 2000.

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