Moon signs, p.1
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       Moon Signs, p.1

           Helen Haught Fanick
Moon Signs



  Helen Haught Fanick

  Book 1, Moon Mystery Series

  Copyright © 2011 by Helen Haught Fanick

  Cover photo copyright © 2011 by Ben Rehder

  Cover art copyright © 2011 by Becky Rehder

  All rights reserved.

  This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

  For Karl and Ossy


  I want to express my gratitude to the many people who have helped me in my writing career, especially to my many family members who are also writers, and who have given me their unending encouragement and support. To those who have read my work and suggested changes and corrections, I’m grateful. They are all extensive readers, and their suggestions have improved my novel immensely. Included are Ben Rehder, Ed Fanick, and Vernon and Marguerite Shettle. I’ve done extensive research while writing Moon Signs, but if there are any errors in the book, they are mine.

  I hope my high school English teacher, Louise Hall, realized how much she influenced my love of literature before she died. Her enthusiasm for fiction and poetry of all types was boundless, and I hope some of her passion rubbed off on me and shows up in my work.

























  My sister Andrea thought mingling with a bunch of foreigners would be an enlightening experience for both of us. It would broaden our horizons, she said. Andrea always has been the one in favor of broadening our horizons, while I’m the one who’s content to stay home with my plants and needlework.

  Mingling with foreigners wasn’t what persuaded me to leave home in the dead of winter, however. A much more intriguing idea for me was searching for two lost Monets in the old hotel once owned by our grandparents. Andrea, skeptical as usual, couldn’t believe we were going to find paintings worth millions. So for different reasons we loaded our suitcases into Andrea’s car and left for a long weekend in the Potomac Highlands.

  The roads and sky were clear; otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to go into the West Virginia mountains in winter. I was eager to find the paintings, but not at the risk of my life. It was mid-morning when we started. Our town, Pine Summit, is in the hills, and we began to see deeper snow in the woods beside the highway as we approached the mountains. Pine branches sagged almost to the ground under the accumulated load. We hoped to make it to the Canaan Valley by mid-afternoon, before snowmelt that had run onto the highway had a chance to freeze into icy patches.

  Andrea’s a skeptic about a lot of things, and I feel it’s my duty to convince her of the possibilities of certain situations, such as finding two of Monet’s water lily paintings. “I can’t wait to see the papers Maggie found.”

  Andrea nodded and smiled the same Mona Lisa smile she always gives me when she’s waiting for more evidence before she makes up her mind. A math teacher, that’s what she is . . . or was. My sister retired three years ago after teaching for forty years at Pine Summit High School. I’ve noticed that math teachers want evidence before making decisions about even the smallest matters.

  I persisted, wondering if Andrea had any romance in her soul at all. “It’s lucky Maggie found Grandpa Flynn’s records.” Maggie is our niece. Her big thing these days is genealogical research, and she’s found out a lot since moving to the Canaan Valley.

  Andrea shifted into fifth as we reached cruising speed. “I think Maggie has a big imagination. It’ll be good to see her, though, and to see the hotel.”

  Mama always said our grandparents, Samuel and Abigail Flynn, owned a hotel in the Canaan Valley at one time. No one in the family ever took the trouble to locate the place until Maggie started digging into family history. I think working in the valley is what got her started. Now she lives in the hotel and works for the owners. I tipped my seat back a notch and wondered how long Grandpa and Grandma had owned the place.

  I also wondered why, if they bought two valuable Monets at the turn of the twentieth century, no one in the family knew about them. Our grandparents had a reputation for extravagance, but it was hard to believe they ever had enough money to buy two of Monet’s paintings. Maybe Maggie’s records would shed some light. She had been insistent that we come for a long weekend, and I had agreed immediately but conditionally, depending on the weather. Well, we were on our way now to what I considered a great adventure.

  Andrea had been eager to go, too, because she loves to travel into the mountains any time of year, and she considers meeting people from foreign countries a bonus. The Potomac Highlands has become a popular ski destination for a lot of folks along the Eastern Seaboard, including many Europeans who are living more or less temporarily in the Washington area.

  Troublesome times have followed us in the past when we’ve gone exploring together, and I’ve tried to convince my sister that Grandma Flynn was right when she maintained we should arrange our affairs by the signs of the moon. Andrea can’t see this, even though murder and mayhem have dogged us in the dark of the moon, and even at half-moon, a time of turbulence and trouble.

  I was truly annoyed with myself, because I hadn’t looked at my calendar before we left to see which phase of the moon we were in. The reason I hadn’t checked was that Maggie called us in the middle of the day Wednesday and asked us to come on Thursday. I was so busy packing, arranging for neighbors to water my plants and pick up mail and papers, and double-checking my outdoor faucets to make sure they were thoroughly wrapped against the freezing nights that I just didn’t think of it.

  Now I was hoping we were near the full moon, when good luck and prosperity can shine along with the moon’s glow. I rarely forget to look at the calendar before a trip, but the excitement about the Monets was something else that had occupied my mind. I pointed this out to Andrea, that I had forgotten to check the calendar, and she merely smiled that mysterious smile of hers again. I wasn’t about to ask her whether she had noticed where we were, moonwise. She never has set any store in living by the phases of the moon.

  The sun was shining through the windshield, and the heater had finally warmed the car enough so that my fingers were thawing. The temperature had gone down to fifteen degrees last night, and it had taken the car quite a while to warm up. I persisted with the subject of the paintings. “Do you suppose Daddy and Mama knew about the Monets? They never mentioned them.”

  “They probably didn’t know anything about them.”

  “And considering how much time we spent with our grandparents, I’m surprised they never mentioned buying paintings in Paris for the hotel.”

  “They never talked about the hotel at all. After all, they went bankrupt. They probably were embarrassed to bring up the subject. How about pouring some coffee? I put the thermos behind my seat.

  I said Andrea was the cautious type, but that’s only when it comes to jumping to conclusions. She’s prone to whizzing around the curves on our West Virginia highways with a cup of coffee in one hand and the steering wheel of her Honda Accord in the other. I gave up years ago trying to talk her into driving sensibly. I always just buckle up and hope for the best. I was warm enough now that I wanted to take off my parka, but it would have meant unbuckling, and that was a chance I didn’t want to take. I sighed and poured the coffee.

  “How much do you suppose two Monet water lily paintings would be worth?” I ventured as I put her cup in the holder. I was reluctant to shut up on the subject; after all, it was the main reason I agreed to go to the Canaan Valley.

  She laughed and shook her head. My question was too ridiculous to deserve an answer. I sniffed. “You and Maggie and I are the only heirs, you know.”

  “To be heirs, there has to be something to inherit. Grandpa somehow managed to pay for Grandma’s funeral. Then he died with five hundred dollars in the bank for his burial, which just about covered it back then.”

  “Maybe he didn’t know the value of the paintings. Maybe Monet sold them to someone when he was a young starving artist. The owner fell upon hard times and put them on the market later, not realizing Monet was becoming famous. Maybe our grandparents bought them at a flea market when they went to Paris. You see people on the Antiques Roadshow all the time who’ve found something worth millions on a garage sale table for three dollars.”

  “Dream on, Kathleen” Andrea said. Now and then she uses a phrase she learned from her students, and it’s usually something irritating. I ignored it.

  I sat back and sipped my coffee. It would be well to change the subject. I would simply wait until we discovered the paintings, and then I would allow myself the pleasure of gloating. “Do you think we’ll meet many foreigners at the hotel?”

  “When Maggie and I talked on the phone, she said a lot of people come from the Washington area for skiing. Some of them are diplomats and employees of European governments. She said the house down the road from the hotel is rented to Germans for the season. The husband’s a member of the Ski Patrol. And, of course, the new owners of the hotel are from somewhere in Europe. The Czech Republic, I think.”

  We rode for a while without saying anything. Andrea turned on the radio, and strains of Schubert’s Serenade floated from her favorite National Public Radio station. She turned down the volume. “Do you plan to ski?” she asked.

  I snorted. We hadn’t even discussed this, because the idea of skiing at our age was unthinkable, at least to me. “You must be joking. At my age, I’d break my neck. You would, too. I hope you aren’t . . .”

  “Maybe one lesson, on the bunny slope.”

  “You don’t have any ski clothes.” I thought that would deter her. I should have known better, because Andrea is impossible to deter when she makes up her mind about something.

  “I’ll wear my jeans, and my parka, of course. I brought some water repellent to spray on my jeans to keep them dry. I read somewhere that it’s a good idea. I think you should take a half-day lesson, too.”

  “I’ll watch you.” I didn’t really mean this, because I intended to be inside somewhere warm during our entire visit to the valley.

  Andrea always was the venturesome one in our family. She was daring enough to remain single and work her way through college. And she did this without any loans. College loans were unknown back then, at least they were to our family. She did receive a scholarship that paid her tuition for four years at the university. I did what young women in our small town usually did—I finished school and married my high school sweetheart. John died year before last, and ever since I seem to be involved in one of Andrea’s adventures. It occurs to me at times that she probably feels sorry for me and wants to put some excitement into my life.

  “How about brunch? I see a McDonalds at the crossroads ahead. Traveling always makes me hungry.”

  We wheeled into the parking lot and stopped at the curb. I knew without looking when I got out that the white lines defining our parking space would be the same distance from each side of the car. That’s Andrea. She’s a stickler for symmetry.

  A young girl with spiked purple hair, a lip ring, and a sullen look took our order. No, I take that back, the part about the hair. I’d say it was more mauve than purple. We took our tray and sat near a window with a wonderful view of the parking lot. Andrea was the first to notice Asbury McGee as we ate our Egg McMuffins and drank orange juice. He sat in the corner and appeared to be having coffee. Andrea nodded to him. “I think that’s Asbury over there,” she said.

  “You’re right. What’s he doing way out here?”

  “Maybe he needs a ride somewhere.” Andrea beckoned for him to join us.

  “I wish you hadn’t done that,” I murmured as he approached. Asbury didn’t always smell good. I think people who live in big cities usually know only folks within their own narrow range on the social scale. When you live in a small town like Pine Summit, you get to know all kinds. And of course this isn’t all bad. It’s a broadening experience in itself.

  I blinked in surprise as Asbury approached. He was clean and trimmed right down to his fingernails. Even his red plaid flannel shirt and jeans were spotless. He had on a pair of heavy-duty work boots that looked as if they’d been given a good coating of saddle soap to keep out moisture. He nodded and took off his baseball cap with the West Virginia Mountaineers logo. He hung his jean jacket on the back of the chair and set a plump plastic bag underneath.

  “Sit down with us,” Andrea said. “Would you like something to eat?”

  “No thanks, ma’am. I ate my breakfast and was just finishing my coffee.”

  “Do you need a ride?” Andrea knew Asbury had no car, had never had a car, and probably never would have a car.

  He turned his hat nervously in his hands. “Well, it depends on where you’re going. Did you ladies know I got married?”

  “No!” We both said it at the same time, in the same astounded tone of voice.

  “Married a lady from up in Pocahontas County.”

  I wondered how far out of our way we’d have to go to give him a ride. “So you’re headed there now?”

  “No, ma’am. I’m trying to get to the Canaan Valley.”

  “We’re going there,” Andrea said. “We can give you a lift.”

  “I’d appreciate it. Me and Ivy, we been working at a hotel there.”

  I nodded. Asbury certainly was getting around these days. I couldn’t imagine him ever leaving Baxter County. “Which hotel is this?”

  “The Alpenhof, they call it now. I think I’m saying that right, Alpenhof. Used to be the Valley Hotel, I hear tell.”

  Andrea raised her eyebrows. I could see she was musing about the coincidence. “Yes, you’re saying it right. We’re going there, too.”

  He nodded. “Lucky I run into you. I caught a ride with a fellow going through Pine Summit, but he turned off here. I was down there moving some stuff out of the little trailer I been renting. You know the old home place finally fell in. The roof just collapsed on me, so I rented a trailer that stands behind Cecil Anderson’s house. You know Cecil, don’t you? I did some yard work for him and got his wood split for the winter, and they fed me.

  “I took my stuff over to my brother’s till I can get a way to move it to the house where Ivy and me live. That’s my wife. She was Ivy Hawkins, married to a Hawkins from down near Montgomery. He went to prison for manslaughter, and she divorced him. Not about to stay married to a jailbird, she wasn’t.”

  Andrea nodded slowly. I could see by the look on her face she was giving some thought to Ivy’s taste in men. I was too, for that matter. We had finished breakfast, and Andrea took her purse from the empty seat. “Do you have a suitcase?” she asked.

  “No, ma’am. Just my bag.” He brought the plastic grocery sack from under the seat where he had stowed it.

  We were underwa
y in minutes, with Asbury buckled in behind us. His fringe of downy white hair shone in the morning sun coming through the side window. “How long have you and your wife been working at the hotel?” I asked.

  “Two weeks now. She cleans the rooms and I’m a general handyman. I’ll be in charge of the grounds, too, when summer gets here. Everything’s snowed under now. I try to help her with the cleaning when I can. When it snows real heavy, I clear off the parking lot. They say they’ve been real busy since the first snows came. Now that the holidays are over, it’s mostly on weekends that we get a lot of folks in.”

  “You know Maggie, of course,” Andrea said.

  “I sure do. She works behind the desk in the evening. She does something else during the day over at the ski place. She’s your niece, ain’t she?”

  “Yes, she’s our brother’s daughter. He died last year, so it’s just the three of us left in the family—except for our cousin, Alice Marie, that is. But she’s a cousin from our mother’s side, from up on Four Mile. Maggie works at the hotel in the evenings and gives ski lessons during the day.”

  Asbury shook his head. “Imagine strapping a couple of boards to your feet and sliding down a mountain.”

  I could see he found the idea astounding. I thought about the team of mules he and his father used to hitch up for plowing their tiny hillside farm each spring. Life hadn’t been much fun for Asbury. I wondered about his wife, whether she was making life better for him. At least he smelled better. I had even caught a whiff of aftershave as I passed him when he was holding the door of the McDonalds for us.

  “I’m going to try strapping a couple of boards to my feet and sliding down a mountain,” Andrea said.

  Asbury chuckled. “You, ma’am?” It was obvious he thought Andrea should have better sense.

  “Of course they’re not boards any more. Skis are made of fiberglass.”

  Andrea must have been on the Internet again, researching skis. She’s never satisfied with skimming the surface of things; she likes to dig into them.

  Asbury shifted in the seat and crossed his legs. “The owners of the hotel, they’re good skiers, I understand. I guess most of them foreigners are, with all the mountains they got over there.”

  I nodded and turned to look at him. “What are the folks like who own the hotel?”

  He thought about the question for a bit, and I could see he was trying to decide how to answer. After a couple of minutes, “Him, he’s okay. A big guy that works hard. He treats us all okay.”

  “What about her?”

  “That’s a whole different story. She’s…I won’t use the word in front of you ladies. She’s mean to us. Not when he’s around, but when she’s alone with us, she’s mean as a snake.”

  “They’re husband and wife?” I asked.

  “Brother and sister, Maggie says.”

  Andrea shifted down to take a hairpin curve near the top of a hill. “How many employees does the hotel have?”

  “Me and Ivy, and Maggie of course. The lady that owns it, she works the desk during the day. Ivy cleans, and I help her. And there’s David, of course. When he’s not in school, he helps his mom and me.”

  “He must be Ivy’s son,” I said.

  “That’s right. He’s thirteen and thinks he knows it all. I guess he’ll grow up some day.”

  “And the owners?” I pressed on. “What are their names?”

  “Lordy, miss, I couldn’t begin to tell you what their last name is. He asked us to call them Stefan and Olga. I guess he knows I’d never be able to pronounce the rest. You ask Maggie about their last name when you get there. Maggie’s got a college education. She understands them foreign names a lot better than I do. She’s one sharp young lady.” He reflected for a moment. “At least I hope she is. I hope she knows what she’s doing.”

  Andrea slowed a bit. I could sense her ears perking up. “Maggie isn’t in any sort of trouble, is she?”

  Asbury shrank into the back seat. He must be wondering if he said too much, I thought.

  “No, it’s just that…don’t tell her I said so, but I think she’s sweet on the man there.”

  “The one who owns the place?” I asked.

  “That’s the one.”

  “Would that be so bad?” Andrea asked.

  “It would if you had a sister like this guy has,” he said. “She hasn’t said anything, at least not that I’ve heard, but I can tell by the way she looks at Maggie she don’t like it a bit. There’s murder in her eyes.”

  I swallowed a growing tightness in my throat. Asbury was more astute than I gave him credit for, noticing these things. I thought about the calendar on my kitchen wall, and wished again I had looked at it before we left Pine Summit. Now I was really feeling annoyed with myself. I had been thinking we were closing in on the full moon, but now I wasn’t sure. I felt as if the warm glow of peaceful times was slipping away, and wondered if we were entering the turmoil of the next phase—a waning moon.

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