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       Moon Signs, p.35

           Helen Haught Fanick

  After five minutes my toes began to get cold as we stood on the snow, waiting for the torchlight procession to begin. After ten minutes, they were getting numb. This in spite of the expensive wool socks I’d bought in the shop at the Bear Paw. I stamped my feet and walked around in circles; Ivy did the same. Andrea had insisted that we get there early, and she was now on her cell phone somewhere behind us and behind the crowd that was milling around behind the Bear Paw. I couldn’t help wondering how Andrea could talk to the sheriff when Willard was at the Alpenhof talking to him also. They must have worked out shifts.

  “Isn’t Andrea going to watch?” Ivy asked.

  “If she’s still on the phone, she’ll be watching from back there.” I was tempted to tell Ivy that Andrea and the sheriff might be about to catch a murderer, but I was afraid she’d be concerned about David being in the procession. I couldn’t see how he would be in danger, since there would be many skiers between him and Stefan, but then I wasn’t his mother. I hadn’t seen Alex Dubek or Maria. He said he definitely would be there, and I had scanned the gathering outside the Bear Paw, but he was nowhere in sight.

  Is it possible for feet to hurt and feel numb at the same time? That’s what I was experiencing now, and I couldn’t help remembering the misery of the ski lift ride. Then I was encouraged by a faint glow I saw far up the mountain. “I think it’s starting.”

  Ivy stopped walking in circles and looked up the mountain. “I see it!”

  We both stood there and forgot about our feet as Maggie came into view, torches in both hands. David was close behind her. At least we assumed it was Maggie and David—it was impossible to tell at that distance, and by torchlight. Tears were forming in my eyes—whether from the cold or the beauty of the spectacle before us I couldn’t be sure. Maybe it was both. A whole line of skiers was visible now, weaving back and forth on the slope, and Maggie reached the halfway point. The snow seemed to be on fire from the glow of the torches.

  Ivy put her hand on my arm and squeezed. “Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  Maggie was almost at the bottom now, but the end of the procession wasn’t in sight yet. Where had they found so many skiers? Then I heard a faint popping sound from somewhere on the mountain, a sound that reminded me of the one we heard the night we were stuck on the lift. I shivered and felt the most overwhelming mixture of excitement and fear.

  “What was that?” Ivy asked.

  “I’m not sure,” I murmured. By this time Maggie, David, and a few others had reached the bottom, and I could see Maggie looking up the mountain. She obviously heard what we heard. Andrea was still on the phone, but of course we couldn’t hear her for the exclamations of the spectators.

  David came over to us. “That was neat!”

  “You did great, David,” I said. “That must be difficult, skiing without poles.”

  “No problem at all,” he said with a big grin as Ivy hugged him.

  We could see the end of the procession now, and I said a little prayer that Stefan would be there as the last skier. Maggie came over to where we were standing. Her cheeks and nose were red from the cold, but beneath that redness, she was pale. “What’s Andrea doing? Do you have any idea what happened on the mountain?”

  “We haven’t heard anything. Maybe Andrea can tell us something in a minute. She’s been on the phone with the sheriff.”

  Ivy looked puzzled, but didn’t say anything.

  The last of the skiers were arriving now, and Maggie smiled. “There’s Stefan,” she said. “Why don’t you all go into the Bear Paw? The Ski Patrol is furnishing hot chocolate and cookies in there. You’ll have a chance to warm up.” She took off, skiing toward Stefan, and as I turned to go into the lodge, I could see that she was hugging him as if she’d never let him go.

  Andrea had put her phone away, and she joined us as we went into the Bear Paw. We found the cookies and hot chocolate, being handed out by a couple of women in red parkas. Then we found a table and sat down. Ivy was still looking confused; she had heard me tell Maggie that Andrea had been on the phone with the sheriff, and I wondered if it was time to explain what had been happening. Best to wait for Andrea to tell us what she learned on the phone. David saw Jeremy, who had been in the crowd, and left to join him.

  Before taking a sip of the chocolate, I said, “Do you know what happened on the mountain? We heard a noise and wondered what it was.”

  Andrea just opened her mouth to say something when Stefan and Maggie came over from the chocolate and cookie area. They made a big production of moving another table and rearranging chairs so we all could sit together. Finally, we all sat there, eating cookies and sipping the chocolate, which was rich and hot. We thanked Stefan and Maggie for the spectacle we’d seen, but otherwise, no one said anything.

  Then Andrea leaned back and unzipped her parka. “The sheriff didn’t ask me not to say anything, and I think you deserve to know what happened this evening, Stefan. The sheriff and two of his deputies are bringing Maria Borodin down the mountain right now, in handcuffs. Fortunately for her, she’s an expert skier, so she should be able to make it down with her hands cuffed behind her back. I don’t know if you heard it, but she took a shot at you tonight.”

  Stefan looked just about as somber as a person can look. “I heard it.”

  “Willard Hill has been working in and around the Alpenhof, and he found Maria’s rifle in the middle of the night last night in the trunk of her rental car, stowed in the spare tire compartment.”

  “How did he get into the car?” I asked.

  “He used an old car-thief acquaintance of his from Elkins to get in. He didn’t find anything under the seats, so he popped the trunk and found the rifle there, broken down and in a case. He took the shells out and loaded it with blanks.”

  I couldn’t believe it. All this time, I had been thinking Willard was a buffoon who somehow had managed to get a job with the sheriff’s office. Maybe I’d have to reassess my opinion of him. Ivy was sitting at my side, looking stunned and confused by what she was hearing. I couldn’t help wondering whether breaking into Maria’s car was legal. This was just one of the many mysteries of law enforcement that I didn’t understand. Somehow, I didn’t think Maria was going to be filing any complaints.

  Andrea continued, “The sheriff and his deputies were hiding up there in the woods. They had gone up before dark and saw Maria arrive and hide in the evergreens right beside the ski run. Then when she fired the rifle, they rushed in and grabbed her.”

  Stefan was looking puzzled. “But why would the woman want to kill me?”

  “She’s a hired killer, paid by Bruno Vanacek. That’s the man who introduced himself to you as Alex Dubek, Kathleen.”

  Stefan shook his head. “Then it was Olga’s husband I saw on the slopes, and in the Hickory Room.”

  “Yes, it was.”

  Now Maggie was looking uneasy. “Do we know what’s happened to him?”

  “Gunter Bosch picked him up as he was leaving the Canaan Lodge with his luggage. He must have thought Maria couldn’t fail to do the job this time, and he was heading for Charleston. He obviously planned to fly out of there tomorrow. It seems he’s wanted for questioning about something in Europe, too, and so is Maria.”

  I set my cup down and stared at Andrea. “Did you say Gunter Bosch picked him up?” He really was my pick to be the guilty one; he was such a creepy little guy.

  “Yes.” Andrea hesitated. “He’s an officer of the law, from Europe. He’s been collecting evidence against the two of them for some time.”

  Interpol, I thought. What intrigue! Or does Interpol send agents out into the field? He was some sort of officer; that much was clear. That explained the photo in Olga’s album. The man beside her was undoubtedly Bruno Vanacek, and Bosch was keeping an eye on him, not Olga. He probably was working with the sheriff all along. And I wondered how much Andrea knew, and when she knew it. I suppose she had been sworn to secrecy, and hadn’t bee
n able to share. Maybe when she told the sheriff about seeing the gun in Bosch’s room, he had told her Bosch was law enforcement.

  “They’ll both be taken to the Tucker County Jail in Parsons until all this can be sorted out. In the meantime, Stefan, I think your problems are over.”

  He put his arm around Maggie and they both smiled and didn’t say anything. Ivy was looking more puzzled than ever. “I’ll explain all this in the car on the way home, Ivy,” I whispered.

  The night took on the feeling of a celebration. We helped ourselves to more hot chocolate and cookies and chatted for another hour until the Ski Patrol women eased us out so they could lock up. My toes were warm by then, and so was my heart.

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