Moon signs, p.12
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Moon Signs, p.12

           Helen Haught Fanick

  Ivy had just driven into the parking lot at the Alpenhof when we arrived. She grabbed a couple of plastic bags out of the trunk of her car, which was a Chevy from the early eighties, and headed for the door without looking at us. We followed her in. It was nine-thirty, and Asbury was behind the desk. I wasn’t sure Asbury could read and write all that well, and I wondered whether someone had shown him how to work the credit card verification system. We could see Ivy in the kitchen, putting something in the refrigerator, as we went to our room.

  “How long are we planning to stay here?” I asked.

  “I don’t know. Are you in a hurry to get home?’

  “Not at all. I’m enjoying it, in spite of the murders . . . and the cold. Our mail and papers are being taken care of, so I can’t think of any reason to rush back to Pine Summit.”

  Andrea sat down on the bed. “I agree. I’d like to see the solution to these murders before we go, to be honest.”

  I suspected as much. “Fine with me.” I walked to the window. Snow was pouring down now, adding an even heavier load to the branches of the evergreens that swept away to the valley floor. “This will be a perfect day to stay indoors and check out the attic.”

  “We’ll go up there as soon as we’ve talked to the sheriff.”

  I couldn’t get over the feeling that Andrea was humoring Maggie and me concerning the Monets, but at least she was willing to search the trunks. “Did you bring your flashlight from the car?”

  “Yes, and we’ll take the one on the nightstand. We’ll each have one.”

  Someone pecked on the door, and I opened it to find Asbury there. “The sheriff’s here, waiting to talk to you.”

  “We’ll be right there.”

  We met Sheriff Ward Sterling at what had become our favorite place to relax, the sitting area in front of the fireplace. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked just as attractive as he had the other evening, when Olga had been killed. He took off his parka, which still had a trace of snow on the shoulders that he’d failed to shake off, and spread it on the arm and back of the couch beside him. Andrea and I sat on the chairs. I wondered if she was beginning to notice what a nice-looking man he was.

  We told him everything we remembered about the lift ride the previous evening and about our run-in with Eli Lynch at Seneca Rocks the day before. Andrea gave the sheriff the paper he left on our windshield this morning. I even discussed talking to the stranger in the Bear Paw Lodge and divulging our plans for the lift ride. He nodded thoughtfully and said nothing. He and Andrea would make quite a pair.

  When he had gone, we got the flashlights from the room and started for the attic. Andrea opened the door across from the ice machine, a door I hadn’t noticed before. We saw two washers and two dryers, and Ivy standing at a table to the side, folding sheets. “May I help you?”

  “We’re going up to the attic,” Andrea said. “There are a couple of trunks up there that belonged to our grandparents. I don’t know if Maggie told you, but this hotel used to belong to our grandparents many years ago. Stefan wants us to get the trunks out of the attic.”

  “You better wait till Stefan’s here. He didn’t say anything to me about this.” Ivy wasn’t looking at us. She stared determinedly at the sheet she was folding.

  Andrea had that look on her face she always gets when she’s ready for a confrontation. I was surprised that her voice was so soft and friendly when she spoke. “Ivy, I get the impression that you don’t like my sister and me. I can’t help wondering what’s wrong. Have we done something to offend you?”

  Ivy looked as if she might cry. I was sincerely hoping she wouldn’t. “I know you think Asbury killed Olga. That’s what’s wrong!”

  We both stood there with our mouths open for a moment, an unusual condition for Andrea. She must have been as stunned as I was. Then I managed to say, “Ivy, I assure you, we don’t think any such thing. Why would you say that?”

  Her voice was trembling now. “Asbury told me what he said on the way up here, about how none of us could stand Olga because she was so mean. He’s been sorry he said that ever since she was killed.”

  Andrea took a folding chair from beside the table and unfolded it, then gently eased Ivy into it. “Asbury is the last person we’d suspect of murder. We’ve known him since we were kids, and we know he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He wouldn’t be capable of killing anyone.”

  Ivy started sobbing. “I’ve been so worried. I was afraid you’d tell the sheriff what he said.”

  I knew that in Andrea’s mind, everyone was a suspect till the murders were solved; however, I was glad she was reassuring Ivy. I was beginning to wonder if Ivy was about to confess to killing Olga herself in order to save Asbury. Who would have thought Asbury would have a woman so crazy about him that she’d be this upset?

  Andrea handed Ivy a tissue. “We’re going upstairs now. Would you please put a pot of coffee on, Ivy? When you’re done folding clothes, of course. This is a perfect day for an afternoon cup of coffee. We’ll be down in a while and we can all sit down in the kitchen for coffee.”

  Ivy blew her nose on Andrea’s tissue and then dried her tears on the corner of her apron. “I’m not really supposed to socialize with the guests.”

  “Nonsense! We’re not exactly guests. We’re Maggie’s aunts. And we’re going to sit down together on a snowy afternoon for coffee. If anyone objects, let me know about it and I’ll deal with them.”

  Ivy went back to folding linen, and we opened the door at the end of the laundry room. Steep wooden stairs confronted us; they looked as if they’d been hewn from logs in our grandfather’s day. We clung to the handrail with one hand and held our flashlights in the other. We climbed to a landing that undoubtedly was on the level of the second floor, then did an about-face and went up another set of stairs. We were in the middle of the attic when we got to the top. It stretched the full length of the hotel, and the small windows on either end and the two windows at the front didn’t provide much in the way of light, at least not on a snowy day.

  The entire attic appeared to be bare except for shadowy shapes off to our right. Andrea shined her light on them. “Those are the trunks. Maggie said there wasn’t any light up here, but isn’t that a bulb hanging from the ceiling back there?”

  “I think it is.” I walked back to the light and saw that it had a string hanging from it. I pulled it, and a dusty bulb, which looked like a forty-watt, shed a dim glow over a small area. “Should we drag the trunks over here?”

  “I don’t think that bulb’s giving enough light to help us any. We’ll use our flashlights. Let’s see if there’s a key somewhere near the trunks.” Andrea went to the trunks and opened one, then looked at the lock on the other. “I wonder if the key to the second trunk could be in this one.” She started placing what looked like folded clothes onto the inside of the laid-back lid.

  From what I could see with my flashlight, the trunks were identical. They were made of light wood and had metal and leather strapping with heavy brass studs. The clasps were of brass. I shined my light into the trunk also. “These things smell awfully musty.”

  “You’re right. And it doesn’t look like there’s much here except some old pants and shirts.”

  We reached the bottom, and all it contained was a couple of bugs that had been dead so long they had no legs left. We put the clothes back. “Where would someone put a key, if they wanted to hide one around here?” Andrea asked.

  “And why would they hide it, unless there’s something valuable in the locked trunk?”

  Andrea smiled, again indulging my fantasy. She shined her light around in the rafters, which were within reach in the lowest part of the ceiling. “Let’s check the rafters and support posts.”

  “Check around the window frames, too,” I said as I looked up one rafter and Andrea went down another.

  Finally, in a corner of the long attic, Andrea found a key. I went to where she was standing and shining her light at the top of a post. “Th
ere’s a key here on a nail. Whether it’s the one for the trunk we’ll soon find out.” The key was within easy reach, since the sloping roof brought the ceiling almost to the top of our heads.

  She took the key down, and from the expression on her face, I thought Andrea was beginning to get excited about missing mystery Monets also. Or was it just that she was anticipating opening a trunk that had been closed and locked since our grandparents abandoned the hotel, no matter what was in it?

  We went to the trunk, and Andrea put the key in the lock. It unlocked with a gentle twist. I realized I was holding my breath in anticipation. Andrea lifted the lid, and we found more clothes. We started piling them on top of the other trunk, disregarding the dust that coated it. It was clothes, all the way to the bottom. Absolutely nothing else there.

  “If these didn’t smell so bad, maybe we could donate them to a museum,” Andrea said. “Of course we could wash them first, but then they might fall apart.”

  I didn’t want to think about museums, unless we could find one that wants to pay us millions for the Monets. “What do you suppose happened to those two paintings?”

  “No telling. Maybe they took them when they moved.”

  “But they bought them for the hotel. Surely they must have stayed with it. And if they took them, why wouldn’t we have seen them when we were growing up and visiting them so often?” I guess I was grasping at straws, which I tend to do at times.

  Andrea started putting the garments back into the trunk. “I don’t know the answer to that, but I want to take a closer look at the paper Maggie found. Maybe that’ll give us a clue.”

  It dawned on me that it wasn’t the Monets that were fascinating Andrea, it was the mystery of what had happened to them. Give Andrea a mystery, and she’ll run with it every time. But whatever, as long as she was interested in finding them, it was okay with me.

  We shined our flashlights all over the attic and found nothing more. It was time to abandon our search temporarily. We crept back down the stairs, clinging to the handrail, and were surprised to find that Ivy had put a tablecloth on a small table in the corner of the kitchen. A plate of store-bought sugar cookies sat in the center, and a cream and sugar set was beside it. Ivy was all smiles. She poured three mugs of coffee, and we sat down together.

  Andrea helped herself to a cookie. “Do you have any thoughts on who might have killed Olga?”

  Ivy shook her head. “It could have been a lot of people. No one liked her; no one except that deputy, of course. He was always hanging around.”

  “You mean Willard Hill?” I remembered how sad he had seemed about Olga’s death when we had breakfast with him at the lodge.

  “That’s the one. He was always mooning around, even though she wouldn’t give him the time of day.” Ivy looked thoughtful for a moment. “Of course, I suppose her brother liked her. They never seemed to have a lot to say to each other, though.”

  I thought about Willard Hill for a bit while I munched a cookie that was surprisingly good for store-bought. I couldn’t see Willard as a murderer, even if his advances were rejected by Olga. After all, he was a lawman. Even a lawman can be a stalker, though, but we had no proof that his actions could have been considered stalking. I couldn’t think of anything else to say about Willard, so I changed the subject. “Is Asbury working at the front desk?”

  “He’s out there behind the desk. I don’t know how much he’s working. All the guests who were here for the weekend left early to get out of the mountains before the snow got deep. Of course, a lot of them have them four-wheel-drive vehicles. But anyway, they’re all gone, and there won’t be anyone else checking in today. Unless someone without a reservation comes by, that is.”

  Andrea surprised me by taking another cookie. I’m the one with the sweet tooth. “So who else is left now?” she asked.

  “All the same ones as was here when you came. No, come to think of it, the people with the dog are still here. They decided to stay longer when it started snowing. Then there’s that funny little man, Mr. Bosch, who’s always reading the paper. Then there’s the Nicholsons. I think they’re here till Wednesday. And there’s the fancy-dressing woman. Her name is Maria something-or-other. That’s it, except for the two of you.”

  I doubted Ivy had seen Maria in anything but ski clothes, since she always stayed in her room in the evenings. But then, her ski clothes were pretty fancy, I had to admit. I took another cookie and noticed that the plate matched our mugs. All were the light brown of well-creamed coffee, with an adult black bear and two cubs in front of a stand of pines. I thought about the pictures over the beds in our room, which matched the stoneware we were using.

  “These mugs are neat,” I said. “I like black bears.”

  “Come back in the summer,” Ivy said. “They tell me the bears come around at night and get into the trash cans. There’s a lot of them around here, they say.”

  “I notice the paintings in our room are the same as the dishes. The mother bear and cubs in front of the pines.”

  “Yes, ma’am. There was a lady who come here to make a reservation for her cousin, and she told me some folks who bought this place way back had redecorated with a black bear theme, since there’s so many of them around.”

  Good Lord, I thought, that’s probably where the Monets went. Maybe they were in the attic of these previous owners, or hanging on their walls, or they had sold them for fifty dollars each.

  Andrea turned to me. “Did you notice the painting behind the registration desk?”

  I had to admit that I hadn’t, and said so.

  “It’s a different black bear print. Two adult bears beside a stream, with a mountain in the background.”

  We helped Ivy clear up the table, and she took a mug of coffee and a couple of cookies to Asbury. When we went to our room to get our books, we could hardly see out our window, the snow was coming down so hard. I had finished the Janet Evanovich, and I took Ben Rehder’s Flat Crazy, and Andrea took her copy of Justine. She was on her second reading of The Alexandria Quartet. When she was finished, I had no doubt she’d be back to some of her favorite international thriller writers, such as Le Carre, Alan Furst, and Daniel Silva.

  Ivy was behind the desk, and Asbury was bringing in a load of wood when we returned to the lobby. We turned on the lamp on the end table between us and settled down to read for the rest of the afternoon. Andrea opened her book but turned to me before starting to read. “We must talk to Stefan tonight.”

  “I wonder if Stefan and Maggie will be able to make it home without any problems, with all this snow.”

  “I guess Maria and Mr. Bosch are out there, too. And the Nicholsons. I heard something a while ago that I thought might be a snowplow.”

  “It’s coming down so hard, will it do any good to plow?”

  “Probably not. I do wish they’d get here early and we could know they’re safe.”

  I nodded. Worrying wasn’t going to do any good, so I put a log on the fire and settled down with my book. However, it wasn’t a half hour till Maggie and Stefan came through the door, laughing and brushing the snow out of their hair.

  Maggie came over to the fireplace. “I left my car there and rode with Stefan. They shut down the lifts because of the snow, and the wind’s getting pretty ferocious, too. What have you two been doing today?”

  Andrea laid her book on the end table. “We went to breakfast early, then came back and talked to the sheriff. We told him everything we could remember about the lift ride. After that we went to the attic. We found a key that opened that other trunk, but we didn’t find anything in it but more old clothes.”

  “Yes,” I said, “and Ivy told us that one of the previous owners had redecorated the hotel with black bear prints and dishes. No telling what happened to the other paintings.” I hesitated to say the word “Monet” with anyone listening in, which Ivy probably was.

  Maggie stood up. “I’ve checked all the rooms. Nothing but black bear prints in all of them.”
br />   “We’d like to talk to Stefan, and you, too,” Andrea said.

  Maggie looked puzzled. “Sure. Come on up to my room. I have an hour before I have to go on duty, and no one will be checking in anyway. I’ll ask Stefan to come over.”

  We followed her upstairs, and she rapped on Stefan’s door, three quick knocks. I wondered if this was some sort of signal.

  He opened the door immediately. I could see beyond him into his room. It was much bigger than ours and undoubtedly was intended for the owner. And it was neat. I was impressed with the fact that in addition to the bed being made, which Ivy probably did, there was total order in the room.

  “Come in,” he said, and I thought it probably would be better to talk in his room than Maggie’s. He had two comfortable-looking chairs beside a small table. At the end of the room, beside a window, stood a tall bookcase filled with books. I wasn’t close enough, even when we went in and sat down, to see the titles and see what language they were in.

  Andrea didn’t waste any time, as usual. “We’re concerned that someone might be trying to kill you, Stefan.”

  He and Maggie looked at each other and then back at us, blank stares on their faces. They had sat on the bed while insisting that Andrea and I take the chairs, but now he got up and walked to the window by the bookcase, his back to us. He stood there for a moment, and I couldn’t help thinking he was getting control of himself, or thinking what to say. Then he turned back. “What makes you think so?”

  “I think someone shot Franklin Stuart in order to stop the lift, thinking you’d be climbing down and walking down the hill for help. We saw motion in the woods just after we stopped. Of course, there’s no way to know what that was, but someone could have been there, communicating with someone else down the hill. This might have been the same person who shot Franklin Stuart. After shooting him, they could have come up along the path of the lift and waited with a high-powered rifle.

  “The sheriff told us this morning that Franklin was shot in the forehead, apparently with a handgun. He had no enemies, as far as anyone knows. His family is baffled. He was a loving father and grandfather, and had many friends in the valley. And then there’s the fact that Olga was killed. When one thinks of a brother and sister both being targets, the idea of money comes to mind. Maybe someone wants both of you out of the way because of an inheritance. I’m only guessing, of course.”

  They both continued to look at us with blank looks on their faces. I couldn’t help thinking that Andrea’s words weren’t news to them, that the possibility that Stefan was in danger had been thoroughly considered. This would explain Maggie’s distinctive knock on his door, a signal that it was safe to open up.

  Stefan stood up, so we did, too. “Thank you for telling me. I appreciate your taking my safety into consideration. Be assured I will be cautious.”
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up

Other author's books:

Add comment

Add comment