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       Moon Signs, p.2

           Helen Haught Fanick

  Asbury gave directions, and we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Alpenhof. The hotel was a disappointment. It didn’t look anything like I thought a hotel named Alpenhof should. I had imagined a sleek chalet with an enormous lobby highlighted by a stone fireplace, one of those where massive stones reach all the way up to a cathedral ceiling. Something rustic yet continental.

  The actual Alpenhof was a three-story white frame building with porches on the two lower floors, porches supported by Doric columns. The top floor, which I thought must be an attic, had only two gabled windows. I counted six windows across the front of the bottom floor, divided equally by the entrance. The door was a large wooden affair and looked as if it had been there since the hotel was built. The second floor was a mirror image of the first. Flower boxes in the windows were bare and mounded with snow, but I imagined they would be full of geraniums in the summer. A chimney was putting out smoke near the center of the building, so I figured there had to be a fireplace.

  The roads had been clear, but the parking lot was covered with packed snow. The roof of the hotel and the hillside behind were white. When I got out of the car, I noticed a thin sliver of moon near the horizon. That put an end to my hope that we were near the full moon.

  As we walked in, I could see that the fireplace stood against the far wall of the lobby; unfortunately, it was made of red brick and not the huge fieldstones I had imagined. On our left was a hallway, and a stairway immediately in front of us led to the second story. The registration desk stood against the back wall, off to the right, and farther over, near another hallway, the fire burned. Cozy, at least, I thought.

  Two chairs on one side and a couch on the other faced each other in front of the fireplace. An empty coffee table stood between them. A striking young lady stared at a computer monitor at the registration desk. As we approached, her stare moved from the computer to us. Her golden brown hair slid onto her shoulders as she raised her head. A smile would have made her face truly beautiful, I thought, but a brisk “May I help you?” was the only greeting we got.

  I couldn’t help noticing the impressive diamonds she was wearing. One was on her right hand, and the other, also in a solitaire setting, hung from a chain around her neck and highlighted the blue sweater she was wearing. They sparkled with the same cold intensity as the icicles that hung from the roof as we came in. At least two carats each, I guessed.

  I wondered about her accent. Living in Pine Summit all my life, my only exposure to accents had been in movies or television, and I couldn’t place hers. Andrea had said she thought the owners were from the Czech Republic, so that must be it.

  “We’re Maggie Flynn’s aunts,” Andrea said. “I’m Andrea Flynn. This is my sister, Kathleen Williamson. We have a reservation.”

  She asked for Andrea’s car license information and clicked away on the computer. Then she asked us to sign a guest register which lay open on the counter. This was something different for me, and I figured it must be a European thing, the guest register.

  “Room 10, just down the hall,” she said when we had finished. She motioned to the hallway on our right. “Do you need help with your bags?” She handed Andrea a key.

  “Thanks, we can manage,” Andrea said.

  After helping us into the lobby with our bags, Asbury had disappeared into the woodwork, and I wondered who would have helped us. I shifted my cosmetic case to my left hand and picked up my suitcase with my right. It was only when we started toward the hallway that I noticed a man sitting near the fireplace. He seemed to be cowering behind a fake ficus tree that stood between the two chairs, which faced us.

  Andrea had already spotted him. “Good afternoon,” she said as we passed.

  “Good afternoon.” He nodded curtly and went back to reading the paper. His accent was even thicker than that of Miss Iceberg, and I couldn’t place his, either.

  Our wing was made up of four rooms, and ours was toward the back of the hotel, a corner room. We had two windows that looked out from the side of the building, and one looking toward the back. Maggie must have arranged a corner room for us, and I couldn’t help wondering if the rooms in our wing were bigger than those in the other hallway.

  Not that our room was large, but the size was no surprise. The hotel had been designed to accommodate the loggers who came to the area decades ago to cut West Virginia red spruce. Loggers probably didn’t have many possessions and didn’t need a lot of room. In addition to two twin beds we had a small chest of drawers between the two side windows and one nightstand between the beds. There was no television or phone. An alcove beside the bathroom had space for hanging a few things and a rack for a suitcase. I imagined the original hotel probably had one bathroom on each floor, and somewhere along the way several rooms had been sacrificed to create a private bath for each room.

  “Put your bag on the suitcase rack,” Andrea said. “I’ll keep mine on top of the chest.”

  Andrea’s an inspiration to me. She takes everything, even cramped hotel rooms, in stride. I did as she suggested, then walked to one of the side windows. The hotel sat on a knoll in the middle of the Canaan Valley, and the view of the valley rolling away to the east and the surrounding snowy mountains made up for any shortcomings in our lodging. “Look at this,” I said, and she joined me.

  We stood for a moment just soaking up the view. Then I couldn’t resist asking, “Did you notice those diamonds?”

  “It would have been difficult not to notice them. Very showy.”

  If there was one thing Andrea isn’t, it’s showy. Not that she isn’t attractive. She’s tall and has never had a weight problem, while I struggle most of the time to keep my weight down. Her hair is streaked with gray now, but she always wears it in a chignon and looks classy. Yes, “classy” is the best word I can think of to describe Andrea.

  We heard a tap at the door. “Can that be Maggie already?”

  Andrea looked at her watch. “It’s almost four. She didn’t say what time she gets off.” She opened the door.

  Maggie overwhelmed us with hugs. “I’m so glad to see you! When did you get here?”

  “Just minutes ago,” Andrea said. “Why don’t we get something to eat…or do you have to go to work now?”

  “I don’t have time to eat. I take over the desk at four. Stefan usually brings me something when he comes home. He—“

  “And Stefan is the owner of the hotel, according to Asbury,” Andrea said.

  “Actually he’s buying it, along with his sister, Olga.”

  “Olga must be the one who was behind the desk when we came in.”

  “Yes, that’s Olga. I have to replace her every day as soon as I can get here when afternoon lessons are over.” She reached for the door. “I guess you’ve already seen Asbury, then. I forgot to tell you he’s working here now. I’ve been too excited about what I’ve found, but I’ll have to show you later.”

  “We saw Asbury at the McDonalds at the crossroads,” Andrea said. “We gave him a ride.”

  This didn’t seem like the time to tackle the question of Maggie’s relationship with Stefan, and why Olga was so disturbed about it. I reached over and fluffed Maggie’s short, auburn curls. “You’ve been wearing a hat.”

  “I have to run to my room and get ready for work. Not that anybody will check in tonight. Except for the weekends, it’s been very quiet since the holidays.”

  Andrea reached for her purse. “Is there a restaurant here? We haven’t had anything since brunch.”

  “No, but you can go to the lodge. It’s just minutes away. Turn left out of the parking lot and go straight down the road in front of the hotel till you come to a sign for the state park. I can’t remember exactly what it says; I’ve been by there so many times. Anyway, turn there, and you’ll see signs directing you to the lodge.”

  “We’ve been there several times,” Andrea said. “It’s been a while, but I’m sure we can find it.”

  “Can we bring you something?” I asked as
I took my coat from the alcove.

  “No. Stefan will bring something. I don’t have time to stop between ski school and going on duty here, so he brings me a sandwich. See you in the lobby later.” She dashed out the door.

  We found the lodge easily. Okay, I’ll admit it, Andrea found it easily. I’m never sure which way signs are pointing, but her ability to locate places is unerring. We had eaten at the state park lodge several times on previous trips to the Canaan Valley, and we were looking forward to a quiet supper this time. But as we walked into the lodge, we were met by three men, and judging by the look of them, something was wrong. The man in the center was tall and thin, with a wild, disheveled look about him. On both sides of him were earnest-looking young men who were escorting him out. The trio seemed to be oblivious to us as we stood to one side to let them pass.

  We were soon seated beside a window in the Hickory Room, and we enjoyed a leisurely supper. I had grumbled a little about the increase in prices since we were at the lodge last, but I forgot price when I tasted my wonderful chicken picata. Andrea had the duck breast, and she said it was fabulous, too.

  We drank decaf coffee and watched as the early dusk turned the snow on the hillside below us to shades of purple and gray. Snow began to fall in a soft, leisurely manner, and I wondered if Currier and Ives could have designed a more peaceful scene. We were so content and full of good food, having one last cup of decaf, that we had forgotten the incident at the lodge entrance. Then one of the young men who had been involved approached our table and introduced himself as Jeff Cooke, the lodge manager.

  “I want to apologize for barging by you at the entrance a while ago. We were so intent on getting rid of an unwanted guest that I’m afraid we forgot our manners. Your dinner is on the house, and I hope you’ll have dessert, too.”

  “Thanks, but that isn’t necessary,” Andrea said. “As for dessert, I couldn’t hold another bite.”

  I wished she’d speak for herself, but I was embarrassed to admit I could always find room for dessert, so I kept my mouth shut.

  “Well, I insist on taking care of the bill. As a matter of fact, it’s already taken care of.”

  “The man who was being led out…is he a local person, or just a visitor here?” Andrea’s always been one to pin down all the facts.

  Jeff pulled out a chair and sat down with us. “He’s Eli Lynch, one of our local eccentrics. As a matter of fact, he’s just about our only local eccentric. In his place he’s okay, but when he comes in here bothering our guests, we have to get rid of him.”

  “He looked like somewhat of a fanatic,” I said, hoping he’d explain why the man was persona non grata.

  “That’s exactly what he is. He thinks the valley should be for locals and West Virginians only. He’s always campaigning to keep foreigners out. He wants to keep things the way they were years ago, before the valley became a popular ski destination. He passes out leaflets he makes up on his computer to anyone who’ll take one. He even tries to pass them out in here, and our guests come from all over the world. He’s bad for business.”

  “We appreciate your taking care of the dinner,” I said. “It really wasn’t necessary. We weren’t bothered by the incident.” I looked out the window again. “I think we should go. It’s coming down harder out there, and the roads might be slippery.”

  Jeff walked us to the entrance, invited us back soon, and told us goodnight. We put our hoods up and tied them under our chins, and then held onto each other for the walk from the lodge to the car. A layer of snow had accumulated on the road, but Andrea forged ahead, fearless as usual.

  We were about a quarter of a mile from the hotel when we saw a woman walking toward us. It was impossible to tell whether she was young or old, she was bundled up so, but somehow she did give the impression of being a woman. Before we reached her, she turned into a driveway. I could see the lights of a house through trees that lined the drive. “Did you see that woman?”

  “Of course. Not the safest thing, to be out walking on the highway after dark, with snow on the road.”

  “She must live in that house back there. At least she’s home. Maybe she’s on her way home from work and doesn’t have a car and has to walk.”

  Andrea turned into the Alpenhof parking lot. “That may be the house where the Germans are staying. The ones Maggie mentioned. They’re probably healthy outdoor types who go out walking in all kinds of weather.”

  “Let’s warm our toes by the fireplace and chat with Maggie before we go to our room,” I said as we got out of the car. “If she isn’t busy, maybe she can tell us about the Monets.” I opened the door to the hotel and walked in ahead of Andrea. Maggie wasn’t behind the desk, and the lobby was empty. A mound of glowing coals was all that was left of the fire that had been burning when we went out to eat.

  I walked to the desk, wondering why our niece wasn’t at her post. Andrea was right behind me. I put my elbows on the counter, looking for a bell to ring, and that’s when I spotted the feet and legs sticking out from under the desk.

  I gasped. “My God! Maggie!”

  Andrea had already yanked the swinging door into the reception area open and was striding toward the figure on the floor. Then, “It isn’t Maggie,” she said. “It’s Olga. And it’s seven-thirty-seven.”

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