Moon signs, p.14
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       Moon Signs, p.14

           Helen Haught Fanick

  I woke up and was surprised to see Andrea still in bed. She was sitting up, leaning against a couple of pillows, and looking at a paper she held in both hands. It was the paper we got from Maggie last night, the record of Grandpa and Grandma Flynn’s purchases in Paris. I sat up and put my feet on the oval-shaped rag rug beside my bed, then fumbled for my slippers. “Are you finding anything interesting there?”

  “There’s one item here—vase, gift for Sarah Lancaster. I wonder who Sarah Lancaster was…or is.”

  “No telling. I wonder if she was someone who worked here. Maybe the sheriff would know.”

  I wasn’t interested in a vase for Sarah Lancaster. I was interested in Monets. I got up and opened the curtains to a sunny morning. “The snow stopped, but it looks deep out there. The sun’s shining. Unless the roads have been plowed, I don’t suppose we can get out today.”

  Andrea was still looking at the list. “Did you notice the chandeliers in the lobby and kitchen?”

  “No, can’t say that I did.”

  “I wonder if they’re the two light fixtures mentioned here. I’ll bet the kitchen was once used as a dining room. I’ll bet this was not just a hotel but a boarding house, back in the old days.”

  “It probably was, considering how many lumberjacks and railroad men worked in this area.”

  “Take a look at the chandelier when we go to the lobby. It’s pretty nice. The one in the kitchen’s just like it.”

  When we got to the lobby, the first thing I did was to look up to the high ceiling. The chandelier was pretty spectacular—it was bronze, with six globes that appeared to be made of alabaster or marble. They were cream-colored, with streaks of brown running through them. And they were all lighted. I found it surprising that in that ceiling, which must have been at least twelve feet high, someone had made sure all the bulbs were burning.

  Asbury came through the front door. “They’ve plowed the road early this morning. The bus just picked up David. I guess Miss Maggie and her feller will be going to teach skiing. I brushed some of the snow off your car. If you start it up and let it sit a spell with the heater on, the rest will melt off and the windows will clear.”

  “Thanks, Asbury,” Andrea said. “Maggie and Stefan aren’t down yet?”

  “I haven’t seen nothing of them.”

  Andrea started for the stairs. “I’ll check on them. They may have overslept.”

  I walked to the bottom of the stairs and heard her knocking, I supposed at Maggie’s door. I heard her calling to Maggie, and then I saw Maggie and Stefan come out of his room, dressed for the slopes.

  “We’re ready to go,” Maggie said. “We were waiting for the plow to clear the road.”

  “Be careful out there,” was all I could think to say as they passed me and went to the door.

  They both turned and nodded, as if they understood my meaning loud and clear. When they were gone, I sat down by the fireplace and murmured to Andrea, “They were both in Stefan’s room. What do you make of that?”

  She looked at me as if I were a little nutty. “Nothing at all. She probably went over there this morning to make sure he was ready. And if not, so what? They’re adults.”

  Andrea could be surprisingly broad-minded at times. And I had to agree with her—they were both adults. Besides, I thought it very likely they were in love. Stefan would be a good match for Maggie. Both interested in skiing, a man involved in the Ski Patrol, a man who sees to it that all the lights in his chandelier were burning, welcoming guests. And another big bonus—a man who keeps his room neat. She could do worse. She could fall in love with a ski bum who’d be here today and gone tomorrow.

  Andrea stood up and went to the front window. “I’m going out to start the car. How about driving over to Davis, and then we can go to Blackwater Falls and see the falls. The area should be spectacular with all this snow. We’ll have breakfast somewhere along the way.”

  I knew without any doubt that we’d end up having breakfast at the Blackwater Lodge. It’s one of our favorite places. We always talked about having breakfast ‘somewhere,’ but somewhere always turned out to be the lodge when we were in that neighborhood. “That sounds wonderful. I wonder if they clear the snow from the stairs down to the falls.”

  “We’ll find out. If they don’t, maybe some early risers will have trampled it down for us.”

  Andrea would never consider the handicapped access route that overlooks the falls. And we do need the exercise. “I think we’d better see the falls before we eat. It’s difficult to hike all the way down and back on a full stomach.”

  Andrea nodded. “Okay, let’s go for a drive around Davis and see if there are any new shops or restaurants since we were here last. We can always go back if we decide we want to eat there.”

  Snow was piled high along the sides of the road as we headed toward Davis. As we drove through town on Highway 32, we passed the National Bank of Davis. “That’s it!” Andrea yelled. She pulled over to the side of the street and stopped.

  “That’s what?”

  “That’s the name that was on the pen behind the desk when Olga was killed.”

  “Oh. Did you mention that pen to the sheriff?”

  “Yes, and he has the pen. They dusted it for fingerprints, but found nothing but smudges. It may have fallen out of someone’s pocket, or possibly someone just left it on the desk and it got knocked to the floor. I suppose the murderer might have put it there to cast suspicion on someone else.”

  At that moment we saw a sheriff’s car drive up and double park in front of the bank. Willard Hill got out and sauntered into the bank as if he owned it.

  “That’s interesting,” Andrea said.

  “Yes, isn’t it? And double parking. What nerve!”

  We drove around town for a bit, and then went on to Blackwater Falls State Park. We stopped at the parking area for the hike down to the falls. A few sight-seers had been there before us, and the snow was trampled into a V-shape in the center of the wooden stairs. I followed Andrea down the tunnel of snow-laden evergreens.

  “I keep thinking about Willard Hill,” I said. “We noticed that he seemed disturbed by Olga’s death, and Ivy mentioned that he was always mooning around, and Olga wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Now we see him going into the bank, the same bank where someone got a pen that was dropped at the scene. What do you make of all this? Do you suppose he was stalking her?”

  “I’m wondering, too. But someone shot Franklin Stuart, and we’re thinking their aim was to kill Stefan. Would Willard have a reason to kill Stefan? Or Franklin Stuart, for that matter? Or maybe there’s no connection between the two murders.”

  We had reached the bottom and walked out onto the platform for viewing the falls. All thoughts of murder were driven from my mind by the beauty of the ice palace before us. Huge sheets of ice hung over the falls, with the water running under and between them. The trees in the gorge were covered in crystals created by the spray. It was all sparkling in the morning sunlight of a cloudless day. I was breathless, as I always was when I stood in this spot, summer or winter.

  We stood there in silence for a while, and Andrea took out her digital camera and snapped some shots of the falls and the gorge. We heard voices, people coming down the stairs, and we looked around to see the young couple from the lodge. Or I assumed they were still staying at the lodge. The only time we had seen them was at Seneca Rocks. They must be hibernating in their room, or maybe staying out late at night and coming in after we went to bed.

  They seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see them. Andrea snapped some photos of them with the falls in the background, took their email address, and promised to send the pictures when we got home.

  We started the climb back to the top. “What’s their name?” I asked.

  “Wes and Staci Nicholson.”

  “Funny, you saw their name on the guest register, but the only times we’ve seen them is the other day at Seneca Rocks and now here at Blackwate

  “They must stay out late at night. Davis has some night spots now.”

  We were running out of breath and couldn’t talk any more. Or rather I was, so Andrea took pity on me and we stopped at a landing for a brief rest and then struggled the rest of the way to the top where I collapsed in the car.

  “Going down’s the easy part,” I gasped. “Let’s eat at the lodge. I’m starving.”

  Andrea had caught her breath by this time. She’s in better shape than I am, even though she’s a bit older. But then she walks most days around Pine Summit while I’m busy with church activities—the weekly quilting session, our Bible study group, and so forth. Not to mention that I hate exercise in any form.

  When we got to the lodge, a sheriff’s car was parked outside. I looked at Andrea. “Something tells me we’re going to have breakfast with our friend Willard again.”

  “I think you’re right. Let’s be friendly, no suspicions showing. Maybe he’ll be a blabbermouth again.”

  “I wouldn’t be surprised. Most of our information, we get from Willard.”

  It was Willard, of course, and he was just walking into the restaurant as we came in the front door of the lodge. By the time we got to the restaurant door, he was seated. He motioned to us to join him. “Good morning. Have you recovered from your evening on the lift?”

  We both said good morning, and I added, “Yes, we’re okay now. It was quite an experience. Especially sad about Mr. Stuart being shot.”

  The waitress came and took our orders for eggs and bacon after pouring coffee. I added half and half and passed it around. “We hear that Mr. Stuart had worked at the resort for years, and was well-liked in the community.”

  He nodded, giving us a look that said he didn’t know whether he should divulge the important information he knew. Of course, we had no doubt he was going to. “It’s a real mystery at this point. But I have a theory about Franklin’s murder. Strictly between us, I suspect Franklin was killed to give the murderer an opportunity to get to Stefan. I haven’t sorted it all out yet, but there’s no reason in the world anyone would want to kill Franklin. And the fact that Olga was killed, and she and Stefan were brother and sister…” His voice faded out, and he looked downright depressed.

  Andrea nodded and changed the subject. “Interesting. Did Franklin Stuart have a family?”

  “He had a couple of sons and some grandchildren. And his wife, of course. They’re all devastated by his death. I’ll be going to the funeral tomorrow. The sheriff asked me to go as a representative of our office. With two murders being investigated, only one of us can go.”

  I couldn’t help wondering if the sheriff was trying to get Willard out from underfoot while the rest of them tried to solve the murders. Then my thoughts were interrupted by the waitress with our food. She came back with more coffee and left.

  We ate for a while in silence, then Andrea said, “Did you know that our grandfather owned the Alpenhof years ago? It was called the Valley Hotel back then.”

  “Maggie told me that a while back. Small world, isn’t it?”

  “We’ve been digging into the history of the place a bit. I wonder if you knew someone named Sarah Lancaster.”

  “Sure. She worked at the hotel for years. I think she started when she was very young. She died, oh, probably fifteen years ago.”

  “Did she have relatives here in the valley?”

  “Yes, her daughter Birdie still lives on the home place. She never married. She worked at the hotel too. My guess is she’s in her seventies.”

  “Where does she live? We might enjoy talking to her.”

  “She lives over on Cortland Road. She visits her sister a lot in Charleston, but you might catch her at home this time of year. I expect she’s in the phone book.”

  We finished our breakfast and had a third cup of coffee, but Willard left after finishing his second. We paid our bill and wandered out onto the patio behind the restaurant to look into the snow-filled gorge of the Blackwater River. “Interesting,” I said, “that Willard has the same theory about Franklin’s death that you do. That he thinks the killer was trying to get Stefan.”

  Andrea laughed. “Willard may be smarter than he looks. On the other hand, he may be trying to make sure no one is suspicious of him for Olga’s death. He does seem like somewhat of a stalker where she was involved.”

  “And what do you think about Birdie Lancaster, who also worked at the hotel. And she’s living in the same house where her mother lived. I’ll bet our Monets are hanging on her walls!”

  “That’s something else that remains to be seen. We’ll visit her later this week if she’s home.”
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