Moon signs, p.21
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       Moon Signs, p.21

           Helen Haught Fanick

  “Stefan wants to join us,” Maggie said when Andrea and I were settled on the couch with our sandwiches and drinks. She went to the desk and rang his room. “He doesn’t answer. He must be in the shower. I’ll try again in a few minutes.”

  “He has a phone in his room?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed when we were there to discuss our concerns about his safety. My sandwich lay on the coffee table, but I was too excited to eat. I’d have to ignore it for the moment.

  “Yes, it’s the only room with a phone. He took that room because it’s where the owner usually stays, and he’d be there to answer if anyone calls after we leave the desk at ten. It’s just an extension of the phone at the desk that the previous owner had installed. We’re not too sophisticated here.”

  He didn’t answer his door when we went to his room on the night of the ski lift ordeal, and that was after ten that we tried to talk to him, but I didn’t say anything. Maybe he’s been reluctant to answer his door or respond to the buzzer or phone until the murders are solved.

  Andrea and I finally started in on our sandwiches, and Maggie tried Stefan’s room again. “He still doesn’t answer. I’ll go check.”

  We heard her knocking on his door, the same three sharp raps she’d used before. After a few minutes she came back downstairs. “The door’s locked, but I have a key. I went in and checked, and he isn’t there.

  “He brought my food and went on upstairs, so I can’t imagine where he is. I didn’t see him go out, but I was away from the desk for a minute. I used the bathroom in an empty room down the hall. Maybe he went out then. He’ll probably be back shortly, but I can’t be sure, so I’ll go ahead and tell you about Olga and him. He just wanted to be here. He’s concerned about what you think of him because, as I told you before, he wants to marry me.”

  We both sat there looking at her for a moment. As her aunts and only relatives, we should have some comment on this, but I didn’t know what to say. When the murders were solved, and if Stefan survived that long and it turned out he wasn’t guilty of anything, then I’d be happy to hear they were getting married. On the surface, he seemed like a terrific young man. But we’d have to wait and see.

  Andrea broke the silence. “You had said before that you’re in love with each other.”

  “I’m crazy about him. I want to marry him, too. But first, we have to clear up some complications.”

  I cleared my throat. “He seems like a very nice young man. Tell us about the complications.”

  “To begin with, Olga wasn’t Stefan’s sister. They had an affair in the past, and ended up running for their lives.”

  My mouth fell open, and Andrea, pragmatic as usual, said, “Start at the beginning.”

  Maggie took a deep breath. “They met in Grenoble. Stefan’s father’s a diplomat, and they lived all over Europe. Stefan was a ski instructor at Grenoble, working during the holidays before going back to college in Heidelberg. Olga and her husband came there for Christmas. Stefan was only nineteen at the time, and Olga was three or four years older. To put it simply, they had an affair. They managed to meet at various places for the next couple of years. Olga was thinking about divorcing her husband and marrying Stefan, but she was afraid of him. The husband, that is.

  “One day when they had met in Paris, Olga’s husband, Bruno Vanacek, walked into their hotel room. He was supposed to be in Geneva, but it seems he had become suspicious of Olga and was having her followed. Stefan was just buttoning up his shirt, and Bruno pulled out a pistol and started firing at him. Olga slipped out the door and disappeared. Stefan managed to leap from a second-story balcony and escape. He had a flesh wound on his shoulder and a sprained ankle from the jump, but that was all.

  “Bruno caught up with Olga somewhere and beat her severely. The story she gave police was that she fell down a flight of stairs. She was afraid to tell the truth. She was in the hospital for several days, and Stefan came to see her when Bruno wasn’t around. Just before she was discharged, he came to get her and they sneaked out together. They spent the next few months on the run in various European cities. Then someone told them about the Canaan Valley, and they thought it sounded like the perfect hiding place. Now it appears they were badly mistaken.”

  I was shaken by this story and sat there for a minute, trying to absorb it all. “Of course, no one is sure at this point who murdered Olga. It’s possible it didn’t have anything to do with their past. We talked before about how no one liked her.”

  Maggie didn’t look as if she were convinced. “Who else could it have been? I don’t think disliking her would be a reason for murder.”

  “No one knows yet who killed her except the murderer,” Andrea said. “The sheriff doesn’t say much, but he seems to be considering all possibilities.”

  Then it occurred to me to wonder how Stefan got involved with Maggie with Olga still on the scene. “So, how did the affair end? They must have maintained some sort of relationship in order to go into business together here.”

  “Olga wasn’t happy with their life hiding in Europe. She was used to the good life with a rich husband, and they were getting by on what they could earn on the run. She became very bitter and blamed Stefan for the situation, but she was afraid to go back to Bruno. Stefan felt responsible for her, even though he no longer felt any affection for her. I think they felt that if they stuck together, they would be safer. They finally agreed to become partners in the Alpenhof enterprise here. She resented me, even though they were no longer close. She was a very unhappy woman.”

  I sat there feeling limp. Life in Pine Summit never left me feeling limp. Maybe limp wasn’t such a bad thing, now and then. In addition to being nervous, anxious, and worried, I was shot through with excitement. Then my nerves tingled all over my body when the door opened and Stefan walked in.

  He came over and nodded to us. He put another log on the fire and sat down beside Maggie.

  She looked at him. “Where have you been? I’ve explained everything to them. I know you wanted to be here, but I didn’t know where you were or when you’d show up.”

  “I’m sorry. Something came up, and I’ll explain it. But first—Maggie has told you all about my true situation?”

  We both nodded and said yes.

  “I hope you can find it in your hearts to sympathize with my situation. I was young and foolish then. Now I’m in love with Maggie and want to marry her. The good will of her family is most important to me. I hope you can understand that.”

  “We understand,” Andrea said. “I believe you and Maggie would make a fine couple. You have such similar interests. But first, the murders have to be solved so we can be sure you’re safe. And be assured, Stefan, all young people make mistakes. Even people our age make mistakes.”

  I couldn’t imagine Andrea making a mistake at any age, but I didn’t say so. Or was she thinking that she might make a mistake by getting involved with Sheriff Sterling? I hoped that wasn’t the case, but with that ever-present look of composure on her face, it wasn’t possible to tell for sure what she was thinking.

  Stefan was looking more relaxed now. “I’ll tell you where I’ve been. When the sheriff came to talk to me the other day, we were standing outside the Bear Paw when I saw a man who looked familiar. I told the sheriff I thought it might be Bruno Vanacek. I had already explained our situation, mine and Olga’s, to him. As usual, the sheriff didn’t say anything. I thought maybe I was being paranoid. The only time I ever saw Bruno was when he was pointing a pistol at me. I’m afraid I was looking at the hole in the end of the barrel rather than at him.

  “This stranger in the ski area had on ski goggles and a cap, so it was only a vague feeling, maybe you could call it an intuition. Anyway, just after I gave you the sandwich and went upstairs this evening, you transferred a call to me, remember? It was the sheriff. He said the man I pointed out was staying at the Canaan Valley Lodge, and that he had just gone into the dining room. He wanted me to come over and take a closer look at him
from the entryway into the restaurant. Of course, he was no longer wearing goggles and a cap.

  “I was going to tell you as I left, but you weren’t at the desk. I didn’t want to take any time looking for you for fear he’d leave the dining room and I’d miss my chance.”

  “So what happened when you got there?” Andrea asked.

  “He was there eating, alone. And I did get a much closer look at him. It’s very frustrating, but I still wasn’t sure. I was looking at his profile most of the time, but he turned to look at the waitress once. I still couldn’t tell if it was Vanacek or not. If only I had gotten a better look at him in that Paris hotel.”

  “Probably not the easiest thing to do when someone’s shooting at you,” Andrea said.

  Andrea certainly was being sympathetic with Stefan. Was it genuine, or was she considering, as I had in the past, that he could be considered a suspect in Olga’s death? Now, with learning of their true relationship, it seemed even more likely. If they were partners in the Alpenhof, he undoubtedly would be the full owner after her death. Also, she wouldn’t be making trouble about his marriage to Maggie, who was the potential owner of a share in two valuable Monets. Then I thought about the blowout. Maggie would be the full owner of the paintings if Andrea and I were out of the way. I hadn’t discussed my suspicions of Stefan with Andrea, but when we got to our room tonight, it would be time to do so. He seemed like such a nice young man, but one never knows.

  I couldn’t help wondering whether the man Stefan had seen was the mysterious stranger from the Bear Paw Lodge. However, he was such a constant presence around the ski area, it seemed to me that he would have been concerned about Stefan recognizing him if he were Vanacek. On the other hand, Stefan stays busy all day with his students and with taking care of whatever is necessary at the ski school office. We hadn’t even seen him at lunch. And if the stranger knew this, he may have felt free to come and go as he pleased. Then there was the possibility that the man Stefan saw wasn’t Olga’s husband after all, but some innocent skier enjoying a day on the slopes.
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