Copyright © 2011 by Helen Haught Fanick
Cover photo copyright © 2011 by Ben Rehder
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Becky Rehder
All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.
For Karl and Ossy
I want to express my gratitude to the many people who have helped me in my writing career, especially to my many family members who are also writers, and who have given me their unending encouragement and support. To those who have read my work and suggested changes and corrections, I’m grateful. They are all extensive readers, and their suggestions have improved my novel immensely. Included are Ben Rehder, Ed Fanick, and Vernon and Marguerite Shettle. I’ve done extensive research while writing Moon Signs, but if there are any errors in the book, they are mine.
I hope my high school English teacher, Louise Hall, realized how much she influenced my love of literature before she died. Her enthusiasm for fiction and poetry of all types was boundless, and I hope some of her passion rubbed off on me and shows up in my work.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My sister Andrea thought mingling with a bunch of foreigners would be an enlightening experience for both of us. It would broaden our horizons, she said. Andrea always has been the one in favor of broadening our horizons, while I’m the one who’s content to stay home with my plants and needlework.
Mingling with foreigners wasn’t what persuaded me to leave home in the dead of winter, however. A much more intriguing idea for me was searching for two lost Monets in the old hotel once owned by our grandparents. Andrea, skeptical as usual, couldn’t believe we were going to find paintings worth millions. So for different reasons we loaded our suitcases into Andrea’s car and left for a long weekend in the Potomac Highlands.
The roads and sky were clear; otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to go into the West Virginia mountains in winter. I was eager to find the paintings, but not at the risk of my life. It was mid-morning when we started. Our town, Pine Summit, is in the hills, and we began to see deeper snow in the woods beside the highway as we approached the mountains. Pine branches sagged almost to the ground under the accumulated load. We hoped to make it to the Canaan Valley by mid-afternoon, before snowmelt that had run onto the highway had a chance to freeze into icy patches.
Andrea’s a skeptic about a lot of things, and I feel it’s my duty to convince her of the possibilities of certain situations, such as finding two of Monet’s water lily paintings. “I can’t wait to see the papers Maggie found.”
Andrea nodded and smiled the same Mona Lisa smile she always gives me when she’s waiting for more evidence before she makes up her mind. A math teacher, that’s what she is . . . or was. My sister retired three years ago after teaching for forty years at Pine Summit High School. I’ve noticed that math teachers want evidence before making decisions about even the smallest matters.
I persisted, wondering if Andrea had any romance in her soul at all. “It’s lucky Maggie found Grandpa Flynn’s records.” Maggie is our niece. Her big thing these days is genealogical research, and she’s found out a lot since moving to the Canaan Valley.
Andrea shifted into fifth as we reached cruising speed. “I think Maggie has a big imagination. It’ll be good to see her, though, and to see the hotel.”
Mama always said our grandparents, Samuel and Abigail Flynn, owned a hotel in the Canaan Valley at one time. No one in the family ever took the trouble to locate the place until Maggie started digging into family history. I think working in the valley is what got her started. Now she lives in the hotel and works for the owners. I tipped my seat back a notch and wondered how long Grandpa and Grandma had owned the place.
I also wondered why, if they bought two valuable Monets at the turn of the twentieth century, no one in the family knew about them. Our grandparents had a reputation for extravagance, but it was hard to believe they ever had enough money to buy two of Monet’s paintings. Maybe Maggie’s records would shed some light. She had been insistent that we come for a long weekend, and I had agreed immediately but conditionally, depending on the weather. Well, we were on our way now to what I considered a great adventure.
Andrea had been eager to go, too, because she loves to travel into the mountains any time of year, and she considers meeting people from foreign countries a bonus. The Potomac Highlands has become a popular ski destination for a lot of folks along the Eastern Seaboard, including many Europeans who are living more or less temporarily in the Washington area.
Troublesome times have followed us in the past when we’ve gone exploring together, and I’ve tried to convince my sister that Grandma Flynn was right when she maintained we should arrange our affairs by the signs of the moon. Andrea can’t see this, even though murder and mayhem have dogged us in the dark of the moon, and even at half-moon, a time of turbulence and trouble.
I was truly annoyed with myself, because I hadn’t looked at my calendar before we left to see which phase of the moon we were in. The reason I hadn’t checked was that Maggie called us in the middle of the day Wednesday and asked us to come on Thursday. I was so busy packing, arranging for neighbors to water my plants and pick up mail and papers, and double-checking my outdoor faucets to make sure they were thoroughly wrapped against the freezing nights that I just didn’t think of it.
Now I was hoping we were near the full moon, when good luck and prosperity can shine along with the moon’s glow. I rarely forget to look at the calendar before a trip, but the excitement about the Monets was something else that had occupied my mind. I pointed this out to Andrea, that I had forgotten to check the calendar, and she merely smiled that mysterious smile of hers again. I wasn’t about to ask her whether she had noticed where we were, moonwise. She never has set any store in living by the phases of the moon.
The sun was shining through the windshield, and the heater had finally warmed the car enough so that my fingers were thawing. The temperature had gone down to fifteen degrees last night, and it had taken the car quite a while to warm up. I persisted with the subject of the paintings. “Do you suppose Daddy and Mama knew about the Monets? They never mentioned them.”
“They probably didn’t know anything about them.”
“And considering how much time we spent with our grandparents, I’m surprised they never mentioned buying paintings in Paris for the hotel.”
“They never talked about the hotel at all. After all, they went bankrupt. They probably were embarrassed to bring up the subject. How about pouring some coffee? I put the thermos behind my seat.”
I said Andrea was the cautious type, but that’s only when it comes to jumping to conclusions. She’s prone to whizzing around the curves on our West Virginia highways with a cup of coffee in one hand and the steering wheel of her Honda Accord in the other. I gave up years ago trying to talk her into driving sensibly. I always just buckle up and hope for the best. I was warm enough now that I wanted to take off my parka, but it would have meant unbuckling, and that was a chance I didn’t want to take. I sighed and poured the coffee.
“How much do you suppose two Monet water lily paintings would be worth?” I ventured as I put her cup in the holder. I was reluctant to shut up on the subject; after all, it was the main reason I agreed to go to the Canaan Valley.
She laughed and shook her head. My question was too ridiculous to deserve an answer. I sniffed. “You and Maggie and I are the only heirs, you know.”
“To be heirs, there has to be something to inherit. Grandpa somehow managed to pay for Grandma’s funeral. Then he died with five hundred dollars in the bank for his burial, which just about covered it back then.”
“Maybe he didn’t know the value of the paintings. Maybe Monet sold them to someone when he was a young starving artist. The owner fell upon hard times and put them on the market later, not realizing Monet was becoming famous. Maybe our grandparents bought them at a flea market when they went to Paris. You see people on the Antiques Roadshow all the time who’ve found something worth millions on a garage sale table for three dollars.”
“Dream on, Kathleen” Andrea said. Now and then she uses a phrase she learned from her students, and it’s usually something irritating. I ignored it.
I sat back and sipped my coffee. It would be well to change the subject. I would simply wait until we discovered the paintings, and then I would allow myself the pleasure of gloating. “Do you think we’ll meet many foreigners at the hotel?”
“When Maggie and I talked on the phone, she said a lot of people come from the Washington area for skiing. Some of them are diplomats and employees of European governments. She said the house down the road from the hotel is rented to Germans for the season. The husband’s a member of the Ski Patrol. And, of course, the new owners of the hotel are from somewhere in Europe. The Czech Republic, I think.”
We rode for a while without saying anything. Andrea turned on the radio, and strains of Schubert’s Serenade floated from her favorite National Public Radio station. She turned down the volume. “Do you plan to ski?” she asked.
I snorted. We hadn’t even discussed this, because the idea of skiing at our age was unthinkable, at least to me. “You must be joking. At my age, I’d break my neck. You would, too. I hope you aren’t . . .”
“Maybe one lesson, on the bunny slope.”
“You don’t have any ski clothes.” I thought that would deter her. I should have known better, because Andrea is impossible to deter when she makes up her mind about something.
“I’ll wear my jeans, and my parka, of course. I brought some water repellent to spray on my jeans to keep them dry. I read somewhere that it’s a good idea. I think you should take a half-day lesson, too.”
“I’ll watch you.” I didn’t really mean this, because I intended to be inside somewhere warm during our entire visit to the valley.
Andrea always was the venturesome one in our family. She was daring enough to remain single and work her way through college. And she did this without any loans. College loans were unknown back then, at least they were to our family. She did receive a scholarship that paid her tuition for four years at the university. I did what young women in our small town usually did—I finished school and married my high school sweetheart. John died year before last, and ever since I seem to be involved in one of Andrea’s adventures. It occurs to me at times that she probably feels sorry for me and wants to put some excitement into my life.
“How about brunch? I see a McDonalds at the crossroads ahead. Traveling always makes me hungry.”
We wheeled into the parking lot and stopped at the curb. I knew without looking when I got out that the white lines defining our parking space would be the same distance from each side of the car. That’s Andrea. She’s a stickler for symmetry.
A young girl with spiked purple hair, a lip ring, and a sullen look took our order. No, I take that back, the part about the hair. I’d say it was more mauve than purple. We took our tray and sat near a window with a wonderful view of the parking lot. Andrea was the first to notice Asbury McGee as we ate our Egg McMuffins and drank orange juice. He sat in the corner and appeared to be having coffee. Andrea nodded to him. “I think that’s Asbury over there,” she said.
“You’re right. What’s he doing way out here?”
“Maybe he needs a ride somewhere.” Andrea beckoned for him to join us.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” I murmured as he approached. Asbury didn’t always smell good. I think people who live in big cities usually know only folks within their own narrow range on the social scale. When you live in a small town like Pine Summit, you get to know all kinds. And of course this isn’t all bad. It’s a broadening experience in itself.
I blinked in surprise as Asbury approached. He was clean and trimmed right down to his fingernails. Even his red plaid flannel shirt and jeans were spotless. He had on a pair of heavy-duty work boots that looked as if they’d been given a good coating of saddle soap to keep out moisture. He nodded and took off his baseball cap with the West Virginia Mountaineers logo. He hung his jean jacket on the back of the chair and set a plump plastic bag underneath.
“Sit down with us,” Andrea said. “Would you like something to eat?”
“No thanks, ma’am. I ate my breakfast and was just finishing my coffee.”
“Do you need a ride?” Andrea knew Asbury had no car, had never had a car, and probably never would have a car.
He turned his hat nervously in his hands. “Well, it depends on where you’re going. Did you ladies know I got married?”
“No!” We both said it at the same time, in the same astounded tone of voice.
“Married a lady from up in Pocahontas County.”
I wondered how far out of our way we’d have to go to give him a ride. “So you’re headed there now?”
“No, ma’am. I’m trying to get to the Canaan Valley.”
“We’re going there,” Andrea said. “We can give you a lift.”
“I’d appreciate it. Me and Ivy, we been working at a hotel there.”
I nodded. Asbury certainly was getting around these days. I couldn’t imagine him ever leaving Baxter County. “Which hotel is this?”
“The Alpenhof, they call it now. I think I’m saying that right, Alpenhof. Used to be the Valley Hotel, I hear tell.”
Andrea raised her eyebrows. I could see she was musing about the coincidence. “Yes, you’re saying it right. We’re going there, too.”
He nodded. “Lucky I run into you. I caught a ride with a fellow going through Pine Summit, but he turned off here. I was down there moving some stuff out of the little trailer I been renting. You know the old home place finally fell in. The roof just collapsed on me, so I rented a trailer that stands behind Cecil Anderson’s house. You know Cecil, don’t you? I did some yard work for him and got his wood split for the winter, and they fed me.
“I took my stuff over to my brother’s till I can get a way to move it to the house where Ivy and me live. That’s my wife. She was Ivy Hawkins, married to a Hawkins from down near Montgomery. He went to prison for manslaughter, and she divorced him. Not about to stay married to a jailbird, she wasn’t.”
Andrea nodded slowly. I could see by the look on her face she was giving some thought to Ivy’s taste in men. I was too, for that matter. We had finished breakfast, and Andrea took her purse from the empty seat. “Do you have a suitcase?” she asked.
“No, ma’am. Just my bag.” He brought the plastic grocery sack from under the seat where he had stowed it.
We were underway in minutes, with Asbury buckled in behind us. His fringe of downy white hair shone in the morning sun coming through the side window. “How long have you and your wife been working at the hotel?” I asked.
“Two weeks now. She cleans the rooms and I’m a general handyman. I’ll be in charge of the grounds, too, when summer gets here. Everything’s snowed under now. I try to help her with the cleaning when I can. When it snows real heavy, I clear off the parking lot. They say they’ve been real busy since the first snows came. Now that the holidays are over, it’s mostly on weekends that we get a lot of folks in.”
“You know Maggie, of course,” Andrea said.
“I sure do. She works behind the desk in the evening. She does something else during the day over at the ski place. She’s your niece, ain’t she?”
“Yes, she’s our brother’s daughter. He died last year, so it’s just the three of us left in the family—except for our cousin, Alice Marie, that is. But she’s a cousin from our mother’s side, from up on Four Mile. Maggie works at the hotel in the evenings and gives ski lessons during the day.”
Asbury shook his head. “Imagine strapping a couple of boards to your feet and sliding down a mountain.”
I could see he found the idea astounding. I thought about the team of mules he and his father used to hitch up for plowing their tiny hillside farm each spring. Life hadn’t been much fun for Asbury. I wondered about his wife, whether she was making life better for him. At least he smelled better. I had even caught a whiff of aftershave as I passed him when he was holding the door of the McDonalds for us.
“I’m going to try strapping a couple of boards to my feet and sliding down a mountain,” Andrea said.
Asbury chuckled. “You, ma’am?” It was obvious he thought Andrea should have better sense.
“Of course they’re not boards any more. Skis are made of fiberglass.”
Andrea must have been on the Internet again, researching skis. She’s never satisfied with skimming the surface of things; she likes to dig into them.
Asbury shifted in the seat and crossed his legs. “The owners of the hotel, they’re good skiers, I understand. I guess most of them foreigners are, with all the mountains they got over there.”
I nodded and turned to look at him. “What are the folks like who own the hotel?”
He thought about the question for a bit, and I could see he was trying to decide how to answer. After a couple of minutes, “Him, he’s okay. A big guy that works hard. He treats us all okay.”
“What about her?”
“That’s a whole different story. She’s…I won’t use the word in front of you ladies. She’s mean to us. Not when he’s around, but when she’s alone with us, she’s mean as a snake.”
“They’re husband and wife?” I asked.
“Brother and sister, Maggie says.”
Andrea shifted down to take a hairpin curve near the top of a hill. “How many employees does the hotel have?”
“Me and Ivy, and Maggie of course. The lady that owns it, she works the desk during the day. Ivy cleans, and I help her. And there’s David, of course. When he’s not in school, he helps his mom and me.”
“He must be Ivy’s son,” I said.
“That’s right. He’s thirteen and thinks he knows it all. I guess he’ll grow up some day.”
“And the owners?” I pressed on. “What are their names?”
“Lordy, miss, I couldn’t begin to tell you what their last name is. He asked us to call them Stefan and Olga. I guess he knows I’d never be able to pronounce the rest. You ask Maggie about their last name when you get there. Maggie’s got a college education. She understands them foreign names a lot better than I do. She’s one sharp young lady.” He reflected for a moment. “At least I hope she is. I hope she knows what she’s doing.”
Andrea slowed a bit. I could sense her ears perking up. “Maggie isn’t in any sort of trouble, is she?”
Asbury shrank into the back seat. He must be wondering if he said too much, I thought.
“No, it’s just that…don’t tell her I said so, but I think she’s sweet on the man there.”
“The one who owns the place?” I asked.
“That’s the one.”
“Would that be so bad?” Andrea asked.
“It would if you had a sister like this guy has,” he said. “She hasn’t said anything, at least not that I’ve heard, but I can tell by the way she looks at Maggie she don’t like it a bit. There’s murder in her eyes.”
I swallowed a growing tightness in my throat. Asbury was more astute than I gave him credit for, noticing these things. I thought about the calendar on my kitchen wall, and wished again I had looked at it before we left Pine Summit. Now I was really feeling annoyed with myself. I had been thinking we were closing in on the full moon, but now I wasn’t sure. I felt as if the warm glow of peaceful times was slipping away, and wondered if we were entering the turmoil of the next phase—a waning moon.
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.”
“There’s no pulse, and she isn’t breathing,” Andrea said.
I sat on one of the chairs beside the fireplace and put my head between my legs. I could hear noises and imagined that Andrea was dragging Olga out from under the desk and starting CPR.
“See if you can find someone—she isn’t breathing, and we need professional help here,” she said between breaths. Andrea has no patience with fainting.
I moaned and raised my head, and then I stood up tentatively, steadying myself with one hand on the back of the chair. I started down the hall and pounded on the first door I saw. The man who had been lurking behind the ficus tree earlier opened the door and peeked out.
“There’s a problem with Olga,” I said. “She’s stopped breathing. My sister is giving CPR, but we need help.”
He pushed past me and started toward the desk. “Get Stefan. Upstairs, first door on the right.”
I was breathless by the time I reached the top of the stairs. I banged on the door marked 16. A young man pulled the door open.
“It’s Olga,” I gasped. “We found her at the desk. She isn’t breathing.”
Stefan raced down the stairs two at a time and disappeared around the corner toward the desk. A padded bench stood against the wall, and I slumped down there and tried to control my breathing. I was shaking all over. I knew I should go back downstairs, but what help I could be there, I couldn’t imagine.
Finally, I caught my breath and felt that my heart rate was slowing. I stood up and walked with wobbly knees to the stairway. I made my way down slowly, clutching the handrail. When I got to the desk, Stefan had taken over the CPR and Andrea was on the phone, telling someone where we were and what had happened. The man who sent me to Stefan’s room was nowhere in sight.
I sat down in the chair again and did some deep breathing. Andrea finished her phone call and came and sat down opposite me. “Where do you suppose Maggie is?” she murmured.
My heart rate zoomed again. “Oh, my God, I forgot all about Maggie. She was supposed to be at the desk.”
Andrea nodded. “She didn’t give us her room number, so I don’t know how to check and see if she’s in her room.” She got up and went back to the reception desk. “Can I relieve you?” she said.
“I’m okay,” came from behind the desk.
I heard a siren in the distance, coming down the highway. The sound faded in front of the hotel, and I heard a car door slam. The man who barged through the door appeared to be a deputy. He was short and scrawny, with an Adam’s apple that bobbled up and down as he talked to Andrea. She directed him to the registration desk, then came and sat beside me.
We heard more sirens, and more vehicles began showing up. A fireman came in next, followed by an emergency medical technician. Then the door popped open and Maggie rushed in. She grasped the top of a bag of ice in one hand and her purse in the other. She looked around the lobby, and then she came over to us. “Are you two okay?”
“We’re fine,” Andrea said. “Something happened to Olga. She’s behind the desk. She wasn’t breathing. They’re working with her now.”
It occurred to me that Maggie’s first thought on seeing the emergency vehicles was that something had happened to one of her elderly aunts. We’re really not that elderly—I’m sixty, Andrea’s sixty-four. But to Maggie’s way of thinking, I suppose we’re ancient.
“I have to get rid of this ice before it melts.” She walked to an alcove off the lobby and dumped it into the bin of an ice machine.
“Where have you been?” I asked when she came back.
“Olga sent me for ice. I had to drive to the store that’s on past the entrance to the park. The ice machine’s out of order, but it hasn’t been a problem since it’s so cold—no one’s wanted ice. Then this evening, someone asked Olga for it, and she took over the desk while I went to get it. She knows how to delegate, big time.” The last was whispered. “Do you have any idea what’s wrong with Olga?”
“I don’t know,” Andrea said. “She was lying there, not breathing, when we found her. I started CPR, and then the young man took over. I assume he must be Stefan.”
Maggie looked toward the desk, where Stefan was standing and watching the activity on the floor. “It’s Stefan.”
Andrea got up and picked up a couple of logs from a huge brass tub beside the fireplace. She put them on the coals, and they flared up immediately when their bark ignited. “Who asked for the ice?”
“I have no idea. She didn’t say.”
Someone was taking photos behind the desk, and a tall man in a suit came out through the swinging door. At that moment two other men behind the desk stood up. They held a stretcher between them. Olga was on the stretcher, covered by a blanket. Completely covered. Her shoulder-length hair slid out from under the blanket and off the stretcher. Stefan gripped the edge of the desk, his face white.
Maggie went to where he was standing. I heard her say, “Olga’s not—”
“My God! What happened?” Her voice was shaky.
“They don’t know yet.” He held onto the desk, looking as if he were completely overwhelmed by the situation.
Andrea took charge, as usual. “Kathleen, find a kitchen and make some coffee. There must be a kitchen if the owners live here. I have a feeling more officers will be showing up, and they’re going to need coffee. I’d do it myself, but I need to stay here and keep an eye on the ice machine.”
I saw Asbury hanging out at the edge of the room, trying to be inconspicuous. I hurried over to him. “Can you tell me where the kitchen is? Andrea thought we should have some coffee for the officers.”
“Ivy’s in there right now, making coffee and sandwiches. They keep plenty of stuff on hand here, in case the guests get snowed in and can’t get out to a restaurant.”
“I’ll see if I can help her. Can you show me the way, please?”
I followed him through the alcove where the ice machine was located and into a kitchen beyond. A tall, rawboned woman stood at the counter, preparing sandwiches. Asbury introduced us.
Ivy looked like a no-nonsense woman, and she obviously was. She had whipped Asbury into shape, which must have been no small task. I guessed her age at around forty, considerably younger than Asbury. She went right back to spreading pimento cheese on brown bread.
“Can I help?” I asked.
“Styrofoam cups in the cabinet there.” She motioned toward a door. “Get those out, and get some creamer and sugar from the second shelf.”
I did as she said, and put everything by a twelve-cup coffee maker, which was gurgling away on the counter. “Should I invite the officers and emergency workers in?”
“Yes, but not the guests. Some of them are moochers and may wander in here anyway, but they should have eaten out earlier. Meals aren’t included here.”
“I didn’t see any guests in the lobby as I came back here, so we shouldn’t have a problem. I’ll spread the word with the others. And I want you to know I’m sorry about your boss. I didn’t know her, of course, but I’m sure this is a shock to all of you.”
Ivy gave a curt nod and went right on making sandwiches. Asbury stood in a corner, looking as if he wished he had never mentioned Olga earlier today. I went back to the lobby, where I couldn’t help noticing the man who was just walking in the door. He had a face chiseled out of granite and a physique to die for in spite of his gray hair. He must be the sheriff, I thought. Momentarily forgetting the somber circumstances, I couldn’t help wondering if he were married.
I wasn’t thinking of myself. John was the love of my life, my childhood sweetheart who remained my sweetheart till he died. My memories are all I need. No, I was thinking of Andrea. She never married, and I wonder at times whether she’s lonely. I was thinking all this as I directed everyone to the kitchen, the sandwiches and the coffee. The big man didn’t have a ring on his left hand.
Andrea was sitting on the couch by the fireplace, looking at the ice machine. I walked over and joined her. “I don’t think anyone’s going to get ice, with all this chaos going on,” I said.
“I wonder whether anyone wanted ice in the first place.”
“I don’t understand.” This was a fairly frequent thing, my not understanding Andrea’s pronouncements.
“We don’t know yet what happened to Olga, but I noticed a small smear of blood on the floor when I moved her so I could start CPR. It’s possible she was murdered. Maybe someone said he wanted ice, knowing she’d send Maggie . . .”
“And he’d be able to get Olga by herself in the lobby. But why wouldn’t he just go to her room?”
Andrea shrugged. “She probably would have her door locked. Maybe he didn’t know her room number, or maybe she has a peephole in her door and wouldn’t open it to just anyone. Of course, all this is conjecture. But I noticed something else. The pen holder and pen that were on the desk when we signed in had been knocked to the floor.”
“Sounds like there was a struggle. Or maybe she just fainted and knocked it over when she fell.”
The first deputy to arrive, the short, scrawny one, approached us. “I’m Willard Hill, with the Tucker County Sheriff’s Department. I understand the two of you found the body.”
“I’m Andrea Flynn and this is my sister, Kathleen Williamson. We found the body at seven thirty-seven when we returned from supper at the Canaan Lodge.”
“Miss Flynn, the sheriff would like to talk to you upstairs. There’s a sitting area just beyond the stairs. He’s waiting for you.”
Andrea disappeared up the stairs, and Willard Hill took a note pad and pen from his pocket. “Can you tell me what you saw, Miss Williamson?”
“That’s Mrs., but you can call me Kathleen if you wish. We came in the door and didn’t see anyone at the desk. I went over, looking for a bell to ring. It was then I saw Olga’s feet and legs sticking out from under the desk. Andrea went behind the desk and started administering CPR. She told me to get help, so I knocked on the door there and a gentleman told me to get Stefan. I went upstairs and got him.”
“He was in his room?”
“Yes. He went downstairs right away, and when I came back down he was working with Olga and Andrea was on the phone.”
“Did you notice anything unusual?”
“Other than Olga on the floor and Maggie not behind the desk, no. Maggie came in later with a bag of ice. Olga sent her for it. There’s something else I should mention, although I don’t know if it’s of any importance. As we were driving back from the restaurant over at the Canaan Lodge, we saw a woman walking along the road. She was coming from the direction of the Alpenhof. She turned in at a house just down the way.”
“That was Eva Weiss. She and her husband are renting that house for the winter. I understand they’re from Germany. They’re always out walking in the evenings. Of course, they ski during the day. It’s not unusual to see her out after dark. We’ve mentioned to her that it’s not entirely safe, but she keeps doing it.”
“I don’t know anything else, but if I think of anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you, ma’am. That’ll be all for now.” He handed me a card, and I put it in my purse. “If you think of anything else, be sure to call me.”
I went to the kitchen for coffee. An EMS technician and the tall man in a suit who had been behind the desk earlier were standing by the coffeepot, chatting. The tall fellow must be the medical examiner, I thought. They stopped talking when I walked in.
“How do you do?” I said. “I’m Kathleen Williamson, a guest here.”
They introduced themselves, and sure enough, the man in the suit was Harvey Davis, the local doctor and medical examiner. He looked like a competent type who could handle everything from legs broken on the slopes to determining cause of death.
I decided to be bold. “Do you know what happened to Olga?”
Dr. Davis smiled the same kind of smile I get from Andrea when she’s being mysterious. “Not till we do the autopsy. Well, I must go. Tell Ivy thanks for the coffee and sandwich. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, with a sprain and a broken leg in addition to my usual patients today.”
I helped myself to coffee and went back to my seat on the couch by the fireplace. Andrea joined me right away. “What did the sheriff have to say?” I asked.
“He simply asked me what we had seen when we came back from supper, and I told him everything I could remember. I also mentioned the woman we saw walking along the highway as we were approaching the hotel.”
“I talked with the deputy. I told him everything, too. He said the woman we saw was undoubtedly Eva Weiss. She and her husband are renting the house down the road. They must be the Germans Maggie mentioned.” I took a sip from my cup. “The sheriff’s a good-looking man, isn’t he?”
“I suppose so.” Andrea got up and took the last log from the tub by the fireplace. She stood there for a moment with the log in her hand. “I wonder how many guests are staying here.” She tossed the log on the fire.
I sighed. It really is no surprise to me at times that Andrea’s remained a spinster. “I have no idea. I don’t even know how many rooms they have here.”
No one was near the desk. “I’m going to check the register.” Andrea went to the desk and started leafing through the guest register on the counter. When she came back: “There’s a man named Gunter Bosch, a couple named Wes and Staci Nicholson, and another guest with such flamboyant handwriting, I couldn’t make out the name.”
Andrea was starting to solve a crime when we didn’t even know if one had been committed. Maybe Olga hit her head on the desk when she collapsed, and that accounted for the blood. But I’d let Andrea have her way; she has a will of steel and can’t be deterred. I did talk her into going to our room. I was exhausted; as usual, she was full of energy, as if she hadn’t driven into the mountains and then spent the evening dealing with the death of our hotel keeper.
As we went down the hall, I said, “If Olga was murdered, I’m sure that fanatic from the lodge had time to get here between the time he was thrown out of the restaurant and our discovery of her body. He would have had plenty of time to murder her and get away. After all, she was one of the foreigners he hates so much.”
Andrea nodded. “Yes, he would have had time. And then there’s Eva Weiss, who was walking down the highway, away from the hotel.”
“Still, we don’t even know Olga was murdered.”
When we were finally in bed in our flannel pajamas, snuggling under comforters, and Andrea had just turned out the light, I sat up in bed. “You know what we forgot?”
“We forgot to talk to Maggie about what she discovered in Grandpa Flynn’s papers. We completely forgot about the Monets!”
The sun was slanting through our window when I woke up. I turned on my side to look at our travel alarm and noticed that Andrea wasn’t in her bed. It was eight o’clock. “Are you in the bathroom?” Silence. I got up and went to the bathroom myself to get ready for the day.
By the time I dressed and went to the lobby it was eight-thirty, and I was getting hungry. Andrea was there on the couch by the fireplace talking to a striking, dark-haired woman who was dressed in lavender ski pants and a deep purple sweater. A parka that matched the pants had been tossed onto the coffee table.
“Kathleen, this is Maria Borodin. My sister, Kathleen Williamson.”
She stood up and took my hand. “It’s a pleasure.”
Her accent was even thicker than the two we had encountered last night. “Likewise,” I said, and sat on one of the chairs. “Any news from the medical examiner this morning?”
“Nothing,” Andrea said. “The sheriff was back here this morning, though, so I imagine they’re thinking her death was not from natural causes. He talked to Asbury and Ivy in the kitchen.”
Maria looked concerned. “Do you suppose there’s a murderer in our midst? Not a likely place for a murder, is it, here at this little hotel in the mountains?” Her English was excellent, in spite of the accent.
“It certainly is peaceful here. I have a feeling they’ll find her death was an accident, or from natural causes,” I said.
“Do you ski here often?” Andrea asked.
“This is my first time. My husband is attached to the Russian embassy in Washington. I drove up a few days ago. I must go now. I don’t want to use up my ski time. It was very nice talking to you.” She picked up her parka and headed for the door.
“Are you skiing today?” I asked Andrea.
“Not today. I want to talk to Maggie about a lesson tomorrow. You should come with me to the ski area. Bring a book, and you can read in the Bear Paw Lodge. There’s a food court, and we can have breakfast there.” Andrea had been doing more Internet research, obviously.
“That sounds appealing. If I can sit by a fireplace and read, I’ll be perfectly happy. Do you realize it’s five below zero this morning? There’s a thermometer outside our window. You’re going to freeze if you’re planning on wearing a pair of jeans tomorrow.”
“I brought some thermal underwear. And I might splurge and buy some ski pants. I’ll ask Maggie’s advice.”
“How about some breakfast? I’m starving.”
“Good idea. Let’s go back to the Canaan Lodge and see what they have.”
“Did you notice there’s no one behind the desk?”
Andrea put on her parka. “I guess that’s a problem now, with Maggie giving lessons and Olga gone. Maybe Ivy or Asbury will fill in if someone shows up. It may be they don’t expect anyone till later today, but I’d think they’d have several people checking in for the weekend.”
Ivy came through the lobby as we were leaving. “If you’re going out, I’ll take care of your room now.”
“We’re going for breakfast. This would be a perfect time, thanks.”
I got my parka from our room, and then we went to the car and sat there with the motor running, letting it warm up. “Maria Borodin must be the guest with the name you couldn’t read,” I said.
“She’d have to be. She seems to be a rather sophisticated woman.”
“I’d think so, with a husband in the Russian diplomatic corps. Her ski outfit had that look—expensive. She’s exotic-looking. She could be a model—she’s so tall and thin.” I was beginning to feel uncomfortable in my polyester pants and acrylic sweater, and I wished I’d given some thought to what people would be wearing. Andrea backed out and turned toward the highway. “I’m surprised she wouldn’t be staying at one of the fancier resorts. But maybe she couldn’t get a reservation. Or maybe, since she’s never been here before, she just picked something at random.”
I had expected Andrea to consider all the possibilities. “Well, you’re right about the Alpenhof. It isn’t fancy. It doesn’t live up to its name. Maybe they’re planning some renovations.”
“It wouldn’t be easy to turn it into a Swiss chalet. But who knows what young people can do, given enough energy and money.”
We went around a curve and were just out of sight of the hotel, when just ahead, a young man stuck his thumb out. “He looks harmless enough,” Andrea said as she whipped off the road.
“Oh, dear!” I hated it when Andrea picked up hitchhikers. And now, with a murderer running loose, it was more than scary.
The kid ran to the car and jumped in the back seat. I turned and looked at him. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, and he had sandy hair and big blue eyes. He looked like a typical country kid. “What’s your name?”
Andrea looked at him in the rearview mirror. “David Hawkins. You’re Asbury’s stepson. Why aren’t you in school?”
“Where are you heading?”
“To the game room, over at the lodge.”
Andrea put the car in gear and pulled back onto the highway. “Where do you go to school?”
“Over at Thomas, but I ain’t going today.”
I could read Andrea’s thoughts—should we drive over to Thomas and march him into the school? I was hoping she wouldn’t—I was too hungry to wait that long for breakfast.
I was relieved when she said, “We’re going to the lodge, too. We’ll take you to breakfast with us, but we’re calling your mother to let her know what’s happening. Parents need to know where their children are at all times.”
David’s answer was to give the back of Andrea’s head a disgusted look and to pull a cigarette from an inside pocket of his parka. Andrea must have been watching in the rearview mirror. “No smoking in my car, David.”
Math teachers, even retired ones, have that air of authority that’s effective against the Davids of the world. I would have lectured him, but Andrea just told him how it was going to be. He slumped back into the seat and looked nonchalantly out the window.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“How do you like it here in the valley?”
“I hate it.”
“Why is that?”
“There’s nothing to do.”
I would have suggested that going to school and learning things was something to do, but decided I’d follow Andrea’s lead and not lecture. “Have you tried skiing?”
“Hell, no. That don’t look like any fun.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Andrea said. “I’m going to have a ski lesson tomorrow. It’s Saturday, and you won’t be in school. I’ll pay for a half-day lesson, and ski rental and lift ticket for the day, if you’ll go with me. I might need some help.”
David looked annoyed that he was being asked to consider something that might overcome his determination to be bored and hate the valley. “I have to help at the hotel on weekends.”
“I’ll talk to your mother. And Asbury, of course. I think they’ll agree that you need something to do around here. You could do your chores at the hotel in the evening.”
I was considering David as a suspect in Olga’s murder, if it was a murder, and Andrea was inviting him to spend a day skiing with her. My sister and I have been best friends since we were toddlers, but there are times when I can’t fathom her mind. Then I went back to thinking about how hungry I was as we pulled into the parking lot at the lodge.
Andrea called Ivy on her cell phone as we were waiting for our order, and David had just finished off a stack of three whopping pancakes when his mother walked into the restaurant. She spotted us at a table by the window and came over. “What the devil are you doing skipping school?”
“I didn’t feel like going.”
She marched him out of there and, I assume, on to school. I nibbled on a piece of toast and sipped my second cup of coffee. “He strikes me as a juvenile delinquent. Do you suppose he murdered Olga?”
“We don’t know yet that she was murdered. And he has a long way to go before he could be considered a juvenile delinquent, by today’s standards.”
We were trying to decide how to spend the day when Deputy Willard Hill walked up to our table. “Good morning, Kathleen and Andrea.”
“Good morning, Willard,” we said in unison. I could tell by the look on his face that he was busting at the seams to tell us something. Andrea removed her purse from the chair beside her. “Would you like to join us?”
“I’d be delighted,” he said as he sat down.
“Any report from the medical examiner?” Leave it to Andrea to get to the bottom of things.
He frowned, as if he were seriously considering whether he should divulge what he knew. Then he leaned over and started to open his mouth when the waitress appeared at his shoulder. He glanced up. “Coffee, please, and a couple of biscuits.”
As soon as she left, “Don’t say anything about this, but Olga definitely was murdered.”
Andrea again: “Do they know how it happened?”
He nodded slowly. “Knife between the ribs. Right into the heart. Looks like a professional job.” The look on his face said he’d seen hundreds of professional jobs.
Andrea pressed on. “Have you found the murder weapon?”
“No ma’am, but we will. We’re back there combing the hotel right now.”
The rest of the crew was back combing the hotel, I thought. Willard Hill was having coffee and biscuits and trying to impress two older women. I couldn’t help wondering what he would have divulged if we’d been twenty and gorgeous. Andrea was asking questions, so I ventured to ask one, too. “How did the employees at the hotel feel about Olga?”
Willard’s expression changed from knowing to somber. “I haven’t heard any bad reports. She seemed to be such a lovely lady . . .” His voice trailed off in a wistful manner.
I decided to pursue the subject of Olga. “She certainly was beautiful.”
Willard nodded sadly. “Very beautiful. Such a shame . . .”
“Could the murder have been the result of a robbery?” Andrea asked.
“Nothing was taken from the cash register, but those diamonds Olga always wore were missing. Her neck was cut when someone yanked the chain to get the diamond from around her neck.”
The waitress interrupted with his order, so we decided on another half cup of coffee—and a biscuit. After all this was a vacation, if you could call searching for lost Monets amidst a murder investigation a vacation, that is. Of course, this idea brought my mind back to the Monets and my interest in the murder began to flag.
But just then Willard spoke again. “We’re trying to find out about Olga’s next-of-kin so they can be notified. It seems strange, but her brother seems to be reluctant to give us any information about their family.”
“That does seem strange,” Andrea mused. I was sure she was taking every bit of information into that mathematical brain of hers and processing it, storing each bit into its proper place.
“He undoubtedly wants to let the family know himself, rather than having the sheriff do it.” I bit into my biscuit, thinking that I surely had supplied the logical answer to the puzzle.
“That may be so, but we need the information in case there are family members we need to question.” Willard tipped his cup and downed the rest of his coffee. “I must be on my way to the hotel. Have a good day.”
We sat there for a moment, each thinking our separate thoughts. “Do you think Willard was supposed to tell us all that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but I’m glad he did. Let’s go back to the hotel for a while and hang out in the lobby. Then if everything is quiet, we’ll drive to Seneca Rocks this afternoon for some sightseeing.”
When we got to the hotel, we were surprised to see Stefan there, talking to the sheriff behind the desk. Hadn’t Maggie told us he was the manager of the ski school? Surprising that he’d be at the hotel, especially since it was Friday and the weekend skiers would be showing up. They didn’t look up as we came in, and try as I might, I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
I hadn’t noticed with all the excitement last night what a good-looking man Stefan is. I guessed he’s six feet tall, about the same as the sheriff. The maroon v-neck pullover he was wearing showed off his muscular physique. His hair is light brown, and I couldn’t see his eyes as we walked toward the fireplace, but I imagined they’re green. He and Maggie do make a good-looking pair. She has auburn hair and freckles, and her eyes are bright blue.
The man who was sitting by the fireplace, hidden by the ficus tree, when we arrived yesterday was sitting in the same place today, looking at a newspaper. Andrea strode to the couch opposite him and sat down. “Good morning. I’m Andrea Flynn, and this is my sister, Kathleen Williamson.” She extended her hand across the coffee table. I was sitting by this time, and he stood and shook both our hands, then returned to his seat.
“I’m Gunter Bosch. I am happy to meet you.” He leaned back against the chair and went back to his paper, not looking at all like he was happy to meet us. He was repeating something he learned in a phrasebook.
I found myself staring at Mr. Bosch, trying to get a handle on his appearance. He was the most nondescript person I’d ever seen. I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to recall his face if I looked away. He had straight wispy hair that obviously had been blond at one time, but was now turning gray. He had blue eyes behind little reading glasses in a very ordinary face. Even his clothes were ordinary-looking. He was wearing a tan sweater and khaki pants. I leaned forward. “Do you ski, Mr. Bosch?”
“Yes. I ski.” He said the words without looking up from his paper.
“Andrea will be taking to the slopes tomorrow. Do you think we’ll have plenty of snow?”
“I’m sure we will. If you’ll excuse me . . .” He got up with his paper and disappeared into his room. I could hear the lock click behind him.
I sighed. So much for conversation with this foreigner. Maybe he didn’t understand English that well. Or maybe he was simply antisocial. Or maybe he was hiding something. Maybe Andrea has me considering all possibilities like she does, but everyone becomes a suspect in my mind when there’s a crime. I looked at Andrea and shrugged.
She nodded her head slowly. “Not too friendly, was he?”
“Definitely not. So far I don’t feel my horizons have been broadened any by meeting the foreigners here. And of course he disappeared into his room just when I was hoping to get a look at the weather page of his paper.”
“To see if more snow is coming?”
“I wanted to check the phases of the moon, to see which phase we’re in now. I noticed a thin crescent moon when we arrived yesterday, but I don’t know if it’s waxing or waning.”
Andrea smiled and looked as if she were about to say something, but we were interrupted when an elderly couple came in the front door and walked to the registration desk. She had a tiny poodle under one arm, and her husband trailed along behind her with a bag over each shoulder and a huge suitcase in each hand. Was all this for a weekend?
Stefan turned from his conversation with the sheriff and greeted them. They talked for a while, and even though I couldn’t catch what they were saying, I guessed the woman was persuading Stefan to allow the dog to stay. Stefan didn’t look happy, and the husband looked apologetic. Finally, they appeared to be signing in. Stefan handed the lady a key and turned back to the sheriff.
“Some people have a lot of nerve, coming here with a dog. Obviously, they didn’t check first to see whether it would be allowed,” I said. “I got the impression that Stefan was giving them a hard time about it, but finally agreed.”
“I guess he didn’t want to turn them away. Every hotel in the valley is probably booked up for the weekend. She probably convinced him the dog is civilized. He looks very sophisticated.”
The couple walked past us without speaking, and we could see that the little poodle had a pink hair ribbon and rosy toenails. “I guess it’s a ‘she,’” I whispered. Then I heard her call the dog Cherie as she nuzzled its neck. I wasn’t sure if that was her name or a term of endearment, but I supposed I’d think of the dog as Cherie for as long as she was around. The poodle’s owners went on down the hallway in our wing of the hotel, the husband still trailing along behind the wife with his load of baggage. “Wouldn’t you hate to get out in the snow and cold and wait around for a dog to do her business?”
Andrea nodded. “I have a feeling the husband will get that chore. Did you see the way he was loaded down?”
“How could I not notice, the poor man. I suppose they’re the first of several weekend skiers who’ll be arriving today,” I said. “They looked older than I am, and I suppose they’re here for the skiing. Oh, well, if I don’t want to ski, I don’t have to ski.”
“You’re here to enjoy the weekend. Don’t worry about it.”
“What do you suppose they do with the dog if they’re going skiing?”
Andrea shook her head. “No telling. Maybe there’s a kennel in the valley, or maybe they aren’t here for skiing.”
The dog people came back by us at that moment. She was looking at the key as they headed down the other hallway. “They’re having trouble finding their room,” I whispered.
“The hallways are rather dark.”
“I’ve been thinking—we still haven’t met the Nicholsons. We’ve met the other two who were guests at the time of the murder, but we haven’t met the Nicholsons. I wonder where they spend their time.”
“They may spend the day skiing till the last run and the evenings in their room. Maybe they’re honeymooners.”
“Do you remember what room they’re in?” Knowing Andrea’s voracious mind for details, I was positive she’d know.
“They’re in nine, across from us.”
“Maybe David can point them out to you tomorrow, while you’re on the slopes. He’s probably seen them, since he helps his folks here at the hotel.”
Willard Hill came from the kitchen and nodded as he passed us. He was accompanied by another deputy, and they walked on out the front door, followed by the sheriff. Everyone looked rather grim.
“I wonder if they found the murder weapon,” I said.
“From the look on Willard’s face, my guess is they didn’t,” Andrea said. “Why don’t we drive on over to Seneca Rocks and hike a bit before it starts to get really cold again?”
We went to our room, where Andrea took her digital camera from her suitcase and put it in a deep pocket of her parka. Andrea’s fascinated with gadgets, and she’s always trying, without any success, to get me interested. I still have an old Brownie camera from the fifties, and I rarely take pictures with that. She had her laptop with her, too. It was hard to imagine why she brought it, but I was sure she’d think of a reason eventually.
I checked the thermometer outside our window. It had warmed up to seventeen degrees. I snapped the hood onto the new red parka I bought for this trip, and we were on our way.
“Something has been bothering me since last night,” Andrea said. “I was so concerned with trying to revive Olga that it slipped to the back of my mind.” She shifted into third as we started up a hill.
“What is it?”
“There was a ball point pen on the floor near Olga. I noticed it when I knelt down beside her. It was one of the stick type, red with a black cap. It had some writing on it. I just remembered it while we were sitting in front of the fireplace earlier.”
“You mentioned that the pen holder and pen we used to sign in were knocked to the floor.”
“This was a different pen, on the other side of Olga.”
“The sheriff was there, talking to Stefan. Maybe you should have mentioned it to him.”
Andrea took a long breath. “The deputies undoubtedly found it when they were checking out the crime scene. I’ve been trying to remember what it said on the pen. I think it was a pen from a bank. Let’s look as we go through Harman. Maybe we’ll see a bank there, and it’ll come to me.”
We drove around the town of Harman and found only one bank—the Grant County Bank, housed in a rectangular building with three windows and a door spaced out across the front.
“That’s not it,” Andrea said. “I’ll know the name when I see it.”
I had no doubt she would. That’s Andrea.
We drove on to Seneca Rocks, where we saw only a Toyota that looked to be from the early 90’s and an ancient blue pickup in the parking area. “It seems to be very quiet here today,” I said.
Andrea pulled in beside the pickup. “I’m sure they have a lot more visitors in the summer.”
A young couple approached us as we got out of the car. They were good looking young folks—he was tall and muscular, with dark hair and eyes; she had fair skin and blonde hair.
“Aren’t you staying at the Alpenhof?” he asked.
“Yes, we are,” Andrea said.
“We’re Wes and Staci Nicholson. I came out of our room to get some ice yesterday evening, and I saw you sitting by the fireplace, talking to a deputy.” He was looking at me.
I nodded. “I’m Kathleen Williamson, and this is my sister, Andrea Flynn. The deputy was questioning me about Olga’s death. Andrea was with the sheriff upstairs. We’re the ones who found the body.”
Staci gave a little shudder. “Terrible, wasn’t it? From what I heard today, I understand she was murdered.”
Andrea was looking at them with a noncommittal expression on her face. “Had you asked Olga earlier to get some ice?”
“Yes, we did,” Wes said. “We wanted to have a drink in our room. We bought some bread and cheese at a market in Davis on our way to the lodge, and we were planning on eating in our room. When I saw the commotion going on in the lobby, I figured Olga never got around to getting the ice.”
Andrea nodded. “So you didn’t go and look in the ice machine?”
I couldn’t help smiling. She was checking to see if someone had slipped by her as she kept watch.
“No, I didn’t. We decided to have some wine without ice.”
“Have the deputies talked with you yet?” I asked.
Staci nodded. “They came by our room this morning. We had decided that we’d come down here rather than go skiing, and that’s the only reason we were still there. If we’d gone skiing, we’d have left earlier. There wasn’t much we could tell them, though. We were in our room and didn’t see anything. We’re from Charleston, and this is our first time to stay at the Alpenhof, so we didn’t know anything about the owners or anyone who works there. We’re just here for a long weekend.”
“Have you been doing some climbing?” Andrea asked.
“No, we only walked back to where the trail begins to get steep.”
“That’s probably all we’ll do,” I said. “It’s still mighty cold out here, even though it’s warmed up a little. The wind is cutting.” My feet were beginning to get numb, just standing there by the car.
Andrea pushed the lock button on her remote control. “We’d better go. It’s too cold for standing around.”
The Nicholsons agreed and got in the Toyota and then waved to us as they drove away. “What do you think?” I asked. “Could they be murderers? He did ask Olga for ice. And he’s a mighty big guy—certainly big enough to overpower someone her size. Of course, he talked readily about asking for ice. If he did that to get Maggie out of the way so he could attack Olga and take her diamonds, would he admit it?”
“Maybe he thought Olga told Maggie who asked for it and she had told us, so he decided it would be best to get it out in the open and act innocent about it.”
I tied the string to my hood under my chin. “He had no way of knowing Olga would send Maggie for the ice and take over the desk, especially if they’ve never been at the Alpenhof before and didn’t know anything about Olga.”
“I suppose it could have been an attempt to get Olga alone, thinking that since she’s one of the owners, she’d send someone else. What did they have to lose? If Olga went, at least they’d have some ice for their drinks.”
“They’re a nice looking couple. They look honest.”
“They don’t look like they’d murder anyone, but then who does?”
“The little man who hides behind the ficus does. He’s creepy!”
“We’ll keep an open mind. The Nicholsons may be wondering whether you and I are capable of murder.”
I threw back my head and laughed. “You must be joking.”
“Not at all,” she said, with a look that told me she was dead serious.
My feet had begun to feel like chunks of ice while we stood around talking; now the circulation began to return as we walked along the trail and admired the formidable rock mass before us and the pretty little creek we crossed on a wooden bridge. The stream was nearly frozen over, but we could hear it gurgling under the ice. The sound is the most peaceful in the world, guaranteed to take your mind off murder and even the mercenary attempt to find lost masterpieces.
“Who do you suppose the truck belongs to?” I asked. “We haven’t seen anyone else around.”
“Maybe there are some climbers up there. Or maybe it’s someone who works here in the park. Can you see anyone on the rocks?”
“I don’t see anyone up there. Do you suppose people climb in this kind of weather?”
“If they climb Mount Everest, I suppose some hardy souls would climb Seneca Rocks at seventeen degrees.” She took her small binoculars out of one of the pockets in her parka and focused on the rocks ahead. “There’s something on the cliff up there. On the left side. It looks like a banner.”
“Does it say something?” Then, thinking that if it’s a banner it must say something, I didn’t wait for her answer, “Can you tell what it says?”
“Not from here. Maybe when we get closer.” After scanning the rocks for a couple of minutes, she put the binoculars back in her pocket. “There’s no one up there.”
We reached the part of the trail that went up steeply into the rocks, and Andrea took out her binoculars again. “FOREIGNERS GO HOME. Sounds like the work of Eli Lynch, doesn’t it?”
“You’re kidding! That banner says ‘FOREIGNERS GO HOME?’ I wonder why he’d put it up there. I can’t even read it, so what good is it doing?”
“I can barely read it with the binoculars. Either he’s a rather inept activist, or it’s aimed strictly at climbers.”
My feet were beginning to get colder, standing still. “I’m surprised the man we saw in the restaurant would be capable of climbing up there. He was as skinny as a rail. Let’s walk back. I’m getting cold again.”
Andrea put the binoculars away, and we started back to the car. “He may have had help putting the sign up there. Maybe he’s recruited some followers around here. He looked like a bona fide fanatic, and I imagine he’d be capable of most anything he set his mind to.”
“That remains to be seen.”
The Visitor Center was closed in winter, according to a nearby sign. This was something we hadn’t anticipated; we’d hoped to warm up and check out the displays and literature. Andrea snapped a few pictures as we stood by the car.
“I see by your license plates that you’re West Virginians.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin at hearing a voice close behind us. I turned and saw Eli Lynch not five feet away. I wondered where he had materialized from.
“I see by your license plate that you’re natives of our state,” he said.
“Yes, we’re from West Virginia,” Andrea said.
He was holding a stack of papers in his hands. “I don’t know if you’re aware of the flood of foreigners coming into our area now. I have a petition here that I intend to present to the county commission asking that they reserve the entire Canaan Valley for West Virginians only. Would you care to sign?”
Andrea had a look on her face like a thunderstorm brewing, which wasn’t a good thing since we were here alone with a potential murderer. “Mr. Lynch, we live in the United States of America. Citizens and visitors are allowed to go anywhere they want. The county commission can’t close an area like this to visitors.”
The man was not only a fanatic, but “teched” as well, as our grandmother used to call the mentally unbalanced. He now had a belligerent look on his face. “Where does it say in the Constitution that this area can’t be reserved for the natives?”
“It doesn’t have to say it in the Constitution. It just can’t be done.” And that was Andrea’s final word on the matter.
“Mr. Lynch,” I said, “have you ever had to show papers to cross a state line, or been refused entry somewhere because you weren’t a native?”
He drew himself up and looked down his nose at me. “I’ve never crossed a state line, and I never intend to.” He turned and stomped toward his truck.
I was relieved that he hadn’t pulled a knife on us and that he was now getting into his truck and driving away. “He’s a real nut case, isn’t he?”
Andrea nodded. “He seems to be.”
We got into the car, and it was a few degrees warmer there than it had been outside, due to the sun hitting the windshield. Andrea shifted into reverse, then backed and turned. ‘Let’s stop at the ski area on the way back. It’s right on the way. We can get something hot to drink and some food, if you’re hungry by then.”
Something hot to drink definitely appealed to me. I didn’t think I’d be hungry after a big breakfast topped off with a biscuit. “Some hot chocolate would be wonderful.”
The car had warmed up nicely by the time we reached the ski area and the Bear Paw Lodge, a large building with a green roof partially covered by snow and countless windows facing the parking lot. We walked over packed snow and went in to what turned out to be a food court. The place was brimming with athletic-looking types clomping around in ski boots and carrying trays of food. I spotted an empty table in a secluded corner and hurried over to grab it while Andrea searched for hot chocolate.
She came struggling back through the crowd with a tray and two cups. I stood up to help her get the chocolate onto our small table, but instead of helping, I stood there staring. “Isn’t that Maria Borodin over there?”
Andrea didn’t turn to look. “I believe it is.” She had already seen the elegant lady.
The reason I was staring wasn’t Maria Borodin, but the man who sat across the table from her. Even sitting, he looked as if he’d be tall. He had steel-gray hair and a ruggedly handsome face that drew my eyes toward him and kept them anchored there. The two leaned toward each other across the table, talking. No doubt in a foreign language, I thought.
“Who do you suppose the man is?” I asked. “He’s rather attractive.”
Andrea leaned back and sipped her hot chocolate. “It might be her husband.”
“She didn’t mention that he was coming. I assumed she’d come alone for a weekend of skiing.”
“Maybe we’ll see this evening. If he shows up at the hotel with her, we’ll assume it’s her husband.”
I smiled. “Maybe she’s having an affair.” Nothing like a little intrigue to keep the pulse racing.
Andrea nodded solemnly. She had already thought of more possibilities than I could ever conceive.
I felt a nasty thrill of pleasure as the two of them got up and started for the door, because they were moving along just as slowly and awkwardly as the rest of the crowd in their heavy boots. Now I didn’t feel so bad about my polyester and acrylic outfit. “I guess he’s a skier, too. Miss Borodin doesn’t look so graceful and elegant in those boots, does she?”
Andrea smiled, indulging my moment of nastiness. “She probably makes up for it on the slopes.” My sister doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body. And she’s always confident in any situation. She’d be perfectly comfortable and not the least envious with the Queen of England herself.
It was so warm and comfortable in the lodge that I hated the thought of going back outside, but Andrea finished her hot chocolate and started to put on her parka, so I did the same. It would be a short drive to the Alpenhof, and then we’d be warm again. Then I thought of my main reason for making this trip, and I was determined to talk to Maggie this evening about those long lost Monets.
We were sitting by the fireplace in the lobby after napping and reading the afternoon away when Maggie rushed in to replace Ivy at the registration desk. Ivy, morose as always, strode away down the hallway that led in the opposite direction from our room. After spending the afternoon on the desk, she probably still had rooms to clean. I wondered where Asbury was. We hadn’t seen him since last night. And David. He should be home from school by now.
I got up and started toward Maggie, determined to talk about the paintings, but the door opened and a young couple came in and started to register. Both were in black ski outfits, and I figured they came in to register after spending the day skiing. I sat down again.
I was facing the alcove where the ice machine was located and the kitchen beyond, and through one of the windows at the back I saw a dilapidated truck drive up and park next to the hotel. Asbury and David got out and started to unload something from the back of the truck. I was curious, so I got up and strolled back to the window. It was firewood. They were stacking it in an orderly fashion on a narrow porch that ran across the back of the hotel, at least as far as I could see from the kitchen.
When they finished, they moved the truck to a small house under the trees behind the hotel. It was a white frame structure, one story, with a chimney on the right side. Was this where the three of them lived? Asbury opened the door and they went in, and I could see lights coming on through the early dusk. I heard a sound behind me, and turned to see Ivy standing in the doorway.
“Guests aren’t allowed in the kitchen.”
I wasn’t about to argue with a woman who looked as stern as she did. “Sorry. I was just curious about what’s behind the hotel.”
She stood aside, and her meaning was clear. I walked on past her and scurried to my seat by the fire.
Andrea chuckled. “Don’t mess with Ivy. She may turn off the heat to our room.”
I was feeling a bit huffy and embarrassed, and I didn’t answer. I sank deeper into the couch and looked at Maggie, who was checking in a man in a black and red plaid mackinaw. He leaned his skis against the desk and signed the registration form.
“I don’t suppose we’ll get a chance to talk to Maggie this evening, with all these people checking in. Shall we go get something to eat?”
Andrea looked at her watch. “I’m getting hungry, what with no lunch. Shall we go back to the Canaan Lodge? It probably gets crowded on Friday nights, but maybe we’ll be early enough that there won’t be a big crowd.”
“Let’s do. The food was good last night.”
Maggie had finished checking in the latest guest. “Are you going out to eat?”
I walked over to the desk. “We have to get our parkas first. When can we get a chance to talk about Grandpa Flynn and the Monets?”
“Come to my room at ten. I get off then. If anyone comes after that, they ring a bell outside the front door that Stefan hears in his room. We’ll be able to talk after ten.”
“Where’s your room?” Andrea asked.
“Upstairs. Turn left, and it’s the first door on the left. Number eleven. I’ll leave it unlocked.”
“That’s not a good idea. We’ll knock, and you can let us in.” Andrea was clearly more worried about the murderer running loose among us than she had previously indicated.
We took our time over dinner and then wandered into the gift shop. Andrea looked at books, and I looked at West Virginia glass and other gift items. I should buy something for a few friends, I thought. Eleanor was especially fond of West Virginia glass, and Nellie would love some of the local maple syrup. So would I, for that matter, and I decided that I’d get some for myself also. Then there was my neighbor Frank, who was picking up my mail and paper. He loved maple syrup, too. I carried a small cranberry glass vase and three tins of syrup to the cash register. Andrea came along with a couple of books.
By the time we left the lodge, it had started snowing again. We put up our hoods and went carefully, checking for slippery spots, on the way to the car. Andrea turned on the wipers to clear away the fine, powdery flakes. “This will make for good skiing tomorrow if it keeps up,” she said.
“I hope you’ll be careful. I don’t know if I could handle the driving if you break a leg. The roads might be slippery, and you know how I feel about slippery roads.”
“I’ll be careful. Probably stay on the bunny slope the whole day.”
Yeah, right, I thought, but I didn’t say anything. Showing my skepticism would only encourage her to go to the top of the mountain. I decided to change the subject. “What do you think of Ivy?”
“She seems to be a rather stern person. Maybe grim would be a better word.”
“Do you think something’s bothering her? Do you think she could have killed Olga?”
“Not if our friend the deputy was right, and this was a professional job. If she’s a professional killer, she has a good disguise. Of course, an amateur could have struck a lucky blow and killed her with that knife between her ribs and directly into her heart.”
I thought for a minute. “Maybe she knows something. After all, Asbury did show a lot of animosity toward Olga. And then there’s David. I still think he might have criminal tendencies, skipping school and trying to light a cigarette in your car.”
We pulled into the parking lot at the Alpenhof now, and Andrea shut off the engine. “My guess would be that no one in that family is capable of murder except under the most extreme conditions. I can’t see that any such conditions have occurred in their lives. On the other hand, do we ever know what someone else is capable of?”
We hurried inside to stand by the fireplace for a few minutes to warm up. Maggie was on the phone behind the desk, so we went to our room to relax till she got off duty at ten. And by the time we came back to the lobby, she had left the reception area. We climbed the stairs, went to her room, and heard voices that were obviously coming from inside. I would have hesitated, wondering if we were intruding, but Andrea gave a sound rap on the door.
Maggie appeared in a wedge of light. We could see Stefan behind her, looking good in a blue turtleneck sweater and jeans. “Come in,” our niece said. “Have you met Stefan?”
“Not really,” I said.
He came forward and took my hand without waiting for Maggie to say anything more. “You’re the lady who knocked on my door last night and informed me about Olga. I appreciate your prompt action.”
The man had an accent to die for. “I’m just sorry the result wasn’t better. I’m Kathleen Williamson and this is my sister, Andrea Flynn.”
“You’re Maggie’s aunts,” he said as he shook Andrea’s hand. “She told me you were coming for a long weekend.”
“We’ll be here till Sunday or maybe a little longer,” Andrea said.
Was she thinking of staying longer because of the murder? But then we were here to talk about two long lost Monet paintings. I wished we could forget about the murder.
“We’re happy to have you here, for as long as you wish to stay,” Stefan said. “And now I must go to my room so I can hear in case a guest arrives and rings the bell. Till tomorrow.” Maggie shut the door behind him.
Andrea spoke first, before I had a chance to start talking about the paintings. “He’s a nice-looking young man. Very well mannered, too.”
“I agree,” Maggie said.
“When we gave Asbury a ride yesterday, he mentioned that you and Stefan appear to be interested in each other, and that Olga didn’t seem to approve.”
I’d been wondering since yesterday about how to bring up this subject with Maggie. I should have known Andrea would use the most direct approach possible and would do it before I ever figured out what I wanted to say.
Maggie looked for a moment as if she didn’t know how to respond. Then, “Olga didn’t like me from the start. I never understood why, and I tried to be pleasant to her since she and Stefan were related, but it didn’t seem to help.”
“According to Asbury, she was cold to everyone. He said she was ‘mean as a snake,’” I said
Maggie laughed. “That’s a pretty good description.”
“Do you think she could have been killed for those diamonds she was wearing?” Andrea asked.
Maggie looked as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her. “According to Stefan, those were CZ’s, not diamonds.”
“What’s a CZ?” I asked.
“It’s a cubic zirconia. They’re man-made stones that look like diamonds. I don’t think anyone would have killed her for those. They probably cost thirty dollars apiece, at most.”
Andrea looked thoughtful. “Unless they didn’t realize they weren’t diamonds. We certainly didn’t.”
We were here to talk about paintings that would make us rich, and Andrea was determined to talk about murder. “Excuse me, but we came up here to discuss the Monets, remember?”
Maggie had been sitting on the bed, and she got up. “To answer your original question, I suppose she could have been killed by someone who thought she was wearing diamonds. I have no idea why Olga was killed or who killed her. I suppose it could have been a simple robbery, although the only thing missing was her CZ’s. Nothing was taken from the cash register. Stefan doesn’t have any ideas either. We’re both baffled. In the meantime, let me tell you about what I found in the attic here. When I told Stefan that my great-grandfather used to own this hotel, he mentioned that there were a couple of old trunks up there. He told me to go up and look through them and see if anything in there belonged to Grandpa Flynn. He’d like to get rid of them and wants to put in more windows and partition off some extra rooms up there this summer so they’ll be ready for the next ski season.”
I was hanging on every word now. “And so you went through the trunks?”
“Not entirely. What with teaching at the ski school all day and working the desk in the evenings, I haven’t had a chance. I’m supposed to have Monday and Tuesday off from teaching, but when someone else doesn’t show up, which happens frequently, they call on me. Anyway, I did find a few minutes to go up there one afternoon when they closed the lifts because of wind, and I had a couple of hours off. There are two trunks. One of them has a padlock on it. I looked in the other one, and it was piled full of old clothes, and in the bottom were some ancient papers pertaining to this property. Tax statements, receipts, things like that. But the one item that caught my interest was a list of purchases Grandpa and Grandma Flynn had made on the trip they made to Paris.”
Maggie went to her chest of drawers and opened the top drawer. She brought out a folded, yellowed paper and opened it. Andrea and I moved to either side of her. She pointed to the fourth item on the list. “Two water lily paintings” was written in neat script. Out to the side the writer, probably Grandma Flynn, had entered the amount of $30 each.
Our grandparents weren’t known for their frugality. They had invested most of their savings in the hotel; then they went off to Paris to buy some new outfits for Grandma and a few things for the hotel. The other items on the list were clothing, shoes, six mirrors, a vase, and two light fixtures. They could have bought such things locally, but as I said, they weren’t frugal. The hotel didn’t make a go of it, and they were bankrupt within a few years.
“The list isn’t dated, but from old photos in one of our family albums, I think they made that trip in 1905,” Andrea said. I could tell she was about to make a discouraging pronouncement, and I was right. “I don’t want to dash your hopes, but I think Monet was well-known by then. His paintings would have sold for much more than that. I haven’t researched this on the Internet, but I will.”
I had no doubt she would. “Possibly they bought the paintings from someone who didn’t realize their value. Whatever, I think we need to find them so we can know for sure.”
Maggie nodded. “I’ve been thinking they might be in the locked trunk, but I didn’t have any way of opening it.”
Andrea, always practical, said, “We’ll have Asbury cut off the lock. Unless we can find a key up there somewhere. How do we get to the attic?”
“There’s a door across from the ice machine,” Maggie said. “It leads into the laundry room, and there you’ll find another door that opens up to some stairs that lead up to the attic. I doubt anyone had been up there in years until Stefan went up the other day and found the trunks. There’s a heavy coat of dust on everything. And there’s no light up there, although there are some windows that let in light during the day—not a lot, though, as they’re covered with dust also.”
“Have you looked in the rooms?” I asked. “The paintings might be hanging on a wall in one of the rooms.”
Maggie shook her head. “I’ve checked them all. They’re not here.”
I was ready to rouse Asbury, grab flashlights, and head for the attic immediately, but I knew Andrea wouldn’t be. She changed the subject abruptly as if to discourage me from even considering a late-night trip to the attic. “I’m skiing tomorrow,” she said. “I asked David to go with me, and Ivy and Asbury agreed that it might be a good thing for him. Do you think I should buy some ski pants, or will jeans work as well?”
Maggie didn’t hesitate. “Get some ski pants. You’ll stay a lot drier and be more comfortable. Downstairs in the lodge, you’ll find what you need. I have some old ones David could wear. They’d be too short for you.” She went to her closet and brought out a pair of black nylon pants with suspender-like straps that crossed in the back and hooked in the front. “Give these to David in the morning. Tell him he can keep them. I’ve been thinking of putting them in an equipment sale, but he might as well have them.”
“I told David I’d pay for a half a day lesson for him and a whole day lift ticket and rental. I’ll be doing the same for myself.”
“The ski school will be packed tomorrow. It always is on weekends. I’ll arrange for the two of you to be in my class. You aren’t going to try it, Kathleen?”
“No, thanks! I’m going to take one of my fun mysteries—Janet Evanovich, Ben Rehder, or Kinky Friedman, I brought all three with me—and find a nice quiet corner near the fireplace. While the rest of you are freezing and spraining ankles, I’ll be warm and cozy.”
“Maybe we can arrange a ride up in the chair lift for you at the end of the day. Then at least you could see the view from the top. Be sure and bring a scarf. The wind can be ferocious, especially coming down, and it helps to be able to cover the lower half of your face. Just leave your eyes exposed so you can see the valley below. It’s neat at night, with the lights twinkling all over the area. You can see the outline of the mountains in the distance against the starry sky.”
I wasn’t so sure about a chair lift ride, but I didn’t want to be perceived as a complete wimp. “I’d enjoy that. Would someone be going with me?”
“Sure. We’ll all go. Stefan could ride with you. He’ll help you on and off the lift. He’s in the Ski Patrol, and believe me, he’s very capable on the slopes.”
I couldn’t help noticing how her face lit up when she talked about Stefan’s capability, but I didn’t mention it. Instead I said, “So when are we going to check out the attic?”
“We’ll go up there tomorrow night, after the lift ride. I have a flashlight in the car and one in the room, so we can use those. We’ll look for the key first, and if we can’t find it, we’ll ask Asbury to cut off the lock Sunday evening.”
It was obvious we wouldn’t be going home Sunday, which was fine with me. Neither of us had anyone waiting for us back in Pine Summit, neighbors were picking up the mail and papers, and I was enjoying the stay. And I certainly didn’t want to leave before opening that second trunk and going through its contents. I went to bed feeling as if we were at last making progress in our search for the Monets.
I found a seat on the periphery of the dining area in the Bear Paw Lodge. Andrea and David went off to buy Andrea some ski pants, to rent skis and boots, arrange for classes, and get lift tickets. It was a sparkling day, and with a sky that had cleared during the night, our thermometer said ten below this morning. I thought about home, where the temperature was probably in the twenties.
This was not the kind of climate to take risks in, and I had cautioned Andrea and David about staying on marked trails and coming directly to the lodge if it started to snow. I’d seen too many of those shows where skiers got lost in a snowstorm and were found weeks later, frozen stiff. I couldn’t help thinking about that Jack London story about the man who tried to start a fire, but couldn’t because his matches kept blowing out. Best to concentrate on my Janet Evanovich mystery; worrying wouldn’t do me any good, and Andrea said Stefan told her this morning that it wasn’t going to snow.
I took a break from reading after a couple of hours and got some coffee, then walked to a window where I could see the slopes. I tried to spot Andrea, David, and Maggie, but there were so many skiers whizzing around and so many brilliant colors in their ski outfits I couldn’t be sure. Andrea had a cobalt blue parka, and David’s was deep brown. He was wearing Maggie’s black pants. Oh, well, they’d be breaking for lunch at noon. I’d find out how their morning went when we all sat down for lunch together.
The table I left a few minutes before was still unoccupied, so I started back toward it. Sitting two tables away, and alone, was the man who had been talking so earnestly with Maria Borodin yesterday. He was reading a newspaper; I could see that it was the Charleston Gazette. He was wearing ski boots again today, so he must be taking a break from the slopes.
I went to the table next to him and sat down with my coffee, and when he looked up, I said, “Good morning! How’s the skiing today?”
“It’s very good. It snowed quite a bit last night before the sky cleared, so the runs are perfect. You’re not skiing?”
Another accent that I couldn’t place. “No, I’m not skiing. But my niece Maggie teaches here, and she promised me a ride up in the chair lift tonight. We’re going after the skiing is over for the day. That way I’ll get to see the view from the top, which Maggie says is impressive, even in the dark.” I downed the last of my coffee. Why was I rattling on like one of those lonely old folks who never has anyone to talk to? Probably it was because the man across from me seemed a rather charming and sophisticated type who was listening with interest when I spoke.
“You’re not going up there alone, are you?” he asked.
“Oh, my, no! Maggie and David will go along. He’s a kid that works at our hotel. My sister Andrea will go, and I’ll ride with Stefan. He’s the owner of our hotel, and he’s quite a skier. He’s a member of the Ski Patrol, so I feel very safe with him.”
The stranger stood up. “Would you like the newspaper? I must get back to skiing.”
“Yes, thanks. Have a good day.” This would be my chance to check out what phase of the moon we were in. He laid the paper on my table, smiled, nodded, and walked away.
I turned to the weather page first, and there was plenty of weather news there, but no moon signs. I scoured the rest of the paper and still didn’t find any information on the moon. I was getting nervous about going on the lift without knowing what phase of the moon we were in. Could I back out? Maybe I could have an imaginary headache. Then I sat back in my chair and got control of myself. I gathered up my courage from where it was hiding somewhere deep within me. Andrea was my role model when it came to courage—I’d try to think like she does, forget the moon, and determine to enjoy the lift ride.
I read and drank more coffee, and at twelve-thirty Andrea, Maggie, and David came clomping in. Andrea was able to walk just as well as the rest of them in her boots, and what was even more amazing, David was actually smiling.
“How was the lesson?” I would not mention the moon, no matter what.
“They both did great,” Maggie said. “They’ll have all afternoon to practice.”
David inhaled a sub and a Dr Pepper while the rest of us were deciding what to have for lunch. “I’m going to meet a friend of mine and ski with him this afternoon, unless you need me to help you, Miss Flynn.”
“No, I’ll be fine. Go on and enjoy the afternoon. Just remember to meet us here when skiing’s over. We’re all going up on the lift.”
David rushed out the door and grabbed his skis from where they were leaning against a railing outside, and then disappeared from sight. “He ran into a classmate named Jeremy as we were coming to lunch, and Jeremy asked him to ski with him this afternoon,” Andrea said.
“That’s excellent,” Maggie said. “He’s been needing to get involved with some kids his own age. I’ll see what I can do about getting him a season pass for the lift. Occasionally they discard skis here because the insurance won’t cover older skis, so I’ll try to find him a suitable pair. If that doesn’t work, Stefan or I can lend him a pair.”
“It would put a permanent smile on his face,” I said, “having his own skis.”
I ate a salad and drank a cup of hot chocolate for lunch. Andrea and Maggie found soup and sandwiches somewhere in the enormous food court. After eating, Maggie left us, saying she had an afternoon class and would be back later for our ride in the chair lift.
“You remember the man we saw with Maria Borodin yesterday?” I asked.
“Of course. Did you see them again?”
“I just saw him. He was in here having coffee and sitting right over there. I chatted with him a bit, but I didn’t get so far as finding out whether he’s Maria’s husband.”
Andrea stacked our empty food containers. “What did you chat about, then?”
“Oh, I asked him about the skiing, and he asked me whether I was skiing. I told him about our chair lift ride. That was about it. Then he got up and went back to the slopes.”
“I suppose I’d better get back to it, too. You should try it. I think you’d enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I think the chair lift’s going to be all the fun I can stand for one day.”
It was almost time for the others to come in and collect me for the lift ride, and my joints were stiff from sitting so long. I got up and wandered around in the food court, checking out the menus at the various stalls. The crowds were quickly clearing from the Bear Paw and the ski slopes.
Andrea came in first, and then Maggie. “Stefan talked to the lift operator earlier, and he agreed to give us one last ride. I sent David over to the lift to wait with Stefan. I’m glad you wore your snow boots, Kathleen. I forgot to mention it last night, but you’ll have to walk on snow to get to the lift. Did you bring your scarf?”
I brought it from the pocket of my parka, which I had put on by this time, and showed it to her. “It looks windy out there. I think I’ll need it.” I pulled my hood up and tied it under my chin.
We trudged through the trampled snow to where Stefan and David were waiting by the stationary lift. “It’s a lot easier to get on with it stopped,” Stefan said. “You and I can get on in the first seat, and then the others can catch it on the fly.”
We sat down on the slatted wooden seat, and Stefan lowered a metal bar across our laps, making me feel more secure. The lift lurched forward, and I looked back to see Andrea and David getting into the next chair. Maggie was waiting behind them. We glided upward with a faint rumbling sound, past deciduous trees that were bare of leaves but had branches piled with snow; even the slimmest twigs had a thin coating. Deep green evergreens were loaded, their branches sagging nearly to the ground.
“It’s beautiful up here,” I said, and Stefan smiled and nodded. I turned and waved to the three behind us, and they waved back. I was surprised at how comfortable I was feeling. Then behind us, I heard the softest of sounds. It was so muffled, I couldn’t even describe it. Stefan turned an ear downhill, but didn’t say anything.
I realized my face was freezing, and I removed my hood and tied my scarf over my mouth and nose, then raised my hood again. We were over a spot where the lift was high above the ground when we stopped with a jerk. My stomach did a little flip as our chair swung back and forth with the force of the sudden stop.
I turned to look back at the others and caught a glimpse of something moving across a snowy patch in a stand of pines on our right. Although there was no moon, the Milky Way and a million other stars above us were shedding just enough light on the reflective snow that it was fairly easy to see the area around us. I imagined that what I’d seen was a deer. There certainly were plenty of them in the area. Andrea had turned back toward Maggie, and they were talking, although I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
My feet and legs were beginning to feel the cold. I wiggled my toes. “I wonder what’s wrong.”
Stefan looked completely relaxed. “I’m not sure why Franklin would have stopped the lift, but he knows what he’s doing. He must have had a good reason.”
“And Franklin is . . .?”
“Franklin Stuart, the lift operator. He’s worked here for years. He’ll start us up again in a minute.”
I had a feeling that we should have reached the top and started on our way back down by now. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. I was wearing gloves, but my fingers were getting cold. I put my hands in my pockets. Maybe some conversation would take my mind off the creeping chill. “So how long have you lived here in the Canaan Valley, Stefan?”
“I’ve been here for almost three years. Olga and I saw the opportunity to buy the Alpenhof shortly after we came, so we decided to stay.”
“And where did you live before that?”
“All over Europe. My mother is German, my father Czech. He’s a diplomat, so we were stationed in various places. We were visiting Grenoble for the holiday season when Olga and I decided to try the skiing in the Eastern U.S. But you must tell me about your little town of Pine Summit. Maggie tells me she grew up there.”
“Yes, we all did. It’s a very small place. Nice and quiet, if you know what I mean. One of those places where you can leave your doors unlocked at night. Not that I do, living alone, and Andrea doesn’t either, but there’s virtually no crime.”
“It sounds idyllic.”
“It is. The first settler there built a house on top of the hill and named it Pine Summit. Gradually, other houses were built and the town spread down to the river. Lots of pine trees there, as the name implies. We don’t have a theater or much opportunity for shopping. We have to go to our county seat of Martindale for that.” I was rattling on and on again, forgetting that we were sitting here in cold that was well below freezing.
Stefan pulled something from his pocket which I thought at first was a cell phone, but then decided it must be a walkie-talkie. “Franklin—what’s happening?”
I could hear static, but there was no response. I was beginning to get a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, and it wasn’t from the chill that was creeping into my bones. “He doesn’t answer?”
“Franklin—are you there? Talk to me.” Nothing.
“Do you suppose something broke down? I thought I heard a faint noise before we stopped.”
Stefan was trying to look nonchalant, but I suspected that underneath that façade he was getting worried. “I heard that, too. I can’t imagine what it was…maybe a car backfiring somewhere in the distance.” He turned and yelled back to the others, “I can’t rouse Franklin. I have no idea what’s going on. We’ll wait a little longer.”
“And then what?” I asked.
“I’ll have to climb down. Franklin will be contacting the Ski Patrol if he can’t get the lift started, but since I can’t contact him, I’m wondering whether something has happened to him. Maybe he’s had a heart attack or something. Whatever has happened, we can’t stay up here all night. We’ll die of exposure. Hypothermia. With the clear sky, and this high on the mountain, it’s going to fifteen or twenty below tonight. The wind won’t help, either.”
“You can’t climb down from here!”
He shrugged and gave me a look that said he didn’t see that he had a choice. The thickets on either side of the cleared area for the lift were dark, but the snow reflected enough light from the stars that the pathway under the lift was visible all the way to the bottom. I could barely make out the light glowing in the lift house far below.
We sat for another ten minutes. Stefan turned to me. “I’m going to climb down in a minute. I’ll take my skis off and drop them to the snow below us, along with my ski poles. You can throw my boots and gloves down to me after I reach the bottom of that post back there.”
“How are you going to climb down? How do you plan to reach the post?”
“I’ll go hand over hand on the cable to the post and slide down.”
I didn’t know what to say, but before I could say anything, we heard Andrea making a fuss behind us. We looked back, and David was standing on their seat. He reached for the cable.
“David, no!” Stefan shouted. “Get back in the seat. I’m going down.”
David grabbed the cable and started inching his way downhill. My stomach was tied in knots, and I gripped the armrest as if I could somehow help him hang on. It looked in the dim light as if he had taken his boots and gloves off, and I could see his skis and poles on the snow below. He had been able to throw them crosswise of the downhill slope, so they hadn’t slid on down the mountain. Andrea was looking back, watching his progress. He stopped for a moment with his feet on Maggie’s chair; then he continued along the cable. One more chair between him and the post.
“Jesus. If he gets hurt. I should be the one going down, but there’s no sense in both of us going.” Stefan’s voice was grave.
I patted Stefan’s arm. “He’s going to make it just fine.” I tried to sound more optimistic than I felt.
He reached the post, and I could see him swinging a leg out to catch it as he maneuvered his way across the crossbar at the top. He was sliding down now, slowly, stopping and going until he reached the bottom. I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, and I brushed it away with my glove. This was the kid I had considered a juvenile delinquent, and he was trying to save us all.
Andrea threw his boots and gloves, and I could barely make them out on the snow. I could see him brushing snow from his socks and putting the boots on. He straightened and put on the gloves. The procedure seemed to take forever, but he finally got the skis attached to his boots and picked up his poles.
“Be careful, David,” I yelled, and everyone else joined in, cheering him on. He waved back at us and started gliding down the slope, and we watched him for several minutes. After a while, I wasn’t sure whether I could see him or not. He must be near the lift shack, I thought.
My toes were numb, and wiggling them didn’t seem to help. I resolved that if I got to the bottom of the hill with nothing frozen, I’d buy two pairs of wool socks to wear with my snow boots and never travel to the Potomac Highlands again without them. We waited quietly. I hugged myself to help keep out the bitter chill that was creeping through my parka and polyester pants, helped by the wind. I’d borrowed a pair of Andrea’s thermal underpants, but they weren’t helping all that much. I covered my entire face with my scarf and then went back to hugging.
I don’t know how long we sat there, but it seemed like hours. Then the lift started, and the reassuring rumble of the gliding cable brought more tears to my eyes. I turned and waved at Andrea and Maggie, and they waved back.
“I asked Franklin to stop the lift when we got to the bottom so you could get off more easily,” Stefan said, “but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. If it doesn’t stop, I’ll help you off. When we get on the ground, just start walking to get out of the way of the chair. I’ll help you.”
“My feet are so numb, I’m not sure I can walk.”
“We’ll make it, one way or another. And if Franklin is okay, and the lift is okay, he may stop it for us.” He sounded doubtful.
The wind was even more ferocious after we made the turn at the top and started down. It had been blowing against the back of my parka on the way up, and the hood provided a lot of protection. Now it was blowing directly into my face. Even so, I brought my scarf down below my eyes, and I could see lights twinkling throughout the valley below, and as Maggie had said, the mountains were silhouetted beautifully against the star-filled sky. I was positive I’d never ride on a lift again if I lived to be a hundred, so I wanted to make the most of the experience in spite of the cold.
Then I noticed flashing lights on the highway far away. Were police cars, or an ambulance, on their way to the ski area? Maybe Franklin had had a heart attack and David had called for help. “I wonder what’s happening,” I ventured, but Stefan only shook his head.
As we neared the bottom, Stefan raised the bar that had been across our laps. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to stop. Remember, just keep walking.”
I hated to remind him that I wasn’t at all sure I could walk. Maybe if I fell down flat, the chair would miss me and he could drag me out of the way. He grabbed my right arm with his right hand and put his left arm around me with his left hand under my arm. He lifted me, and somehow, even though he had skis on, managed to maneuver me out of the way of the chair. Then he turned, obviously to help Andrea if she had trouble getting off in the faint light of the unloading area. She came off the chair and got out of the way, and Maggie did the same.
“Maggie, take your aunts over to the lodge and see if the cleaning crew is still there. You can warm up in there if it’s unlocked. I’ll see about Franklin.” With police cars and an ambulance on the way, if my guess was right, he obviously felt that we shouldn’t see what had happened in the lift shack, at least not until he had checked it out.
I could see through the window that David was in the shack, however, along with another man I didn’t recognize. David came out and walked toward Stefan as we headed for the Bear Paw Lodge. The door was unlocked, and some lights were on at the far end of the food court, so we went inside. We could see a woman running a vacuum sweeper in the lighted area. “I think I’ll go to the restroom and see if I can manage to run some hot water in the sink and put my feet in it,” I said.
Maggie shook her head. “Don’t do that. The pain will be terrible if you do. Just walk around and let them warm up gradually.”
I wondered if Maggie knew how difficult it was to walk on numb feet, but I took her advice and stumbled around the perimeter of the food court. In a few minutes Stefan and David came in, both looking grim.
“Franklin was shot,” Stefan said. “He didn’t make it, and whoever shot him must have stopped the lift. David figured out how to get it going again, and then one of the cleaning crew from here in the lodge joined him.” He was silent for a moment, then continued. “This is unbelievable. I don’t know what else to say.”
I felt a need to keep the conversation going, to try to make sense of what had happened. “That must have been the shot we heard from up there. Didn’t the man who was cleaning hear it, too?”
“He thought it was a car backfiring. It’s not often you hear shots around here—it’s only during the day in hunting season. The sheriff and a couple of EMT’s are over there now.”
Andrea headed for the door. “I need to talk to the sheriff.”
My thoughts returned to my half-frozen feet, so I didn’t wonder what she was planning to talk about. The feeling was beginning to come back, along with a gradually increasing ache. If putting them in hot water would have caused them to hurt worse than this, I was glad I hadn’t done it. I began to wonder why anyone would have wanted to kill Franklin Stuart. Maybe a jealous wife or a neighbor with a grudge. I kept walking, and as I passed by David sitting quietly in a corner, I stopped and gave him a hug. He had just found the body of a murdered man, and I didn’t know what to say to him. “Thanks for saving us. You were very brave,” was all I could come up with.
He grinned, bravely, I thought. “All in a day’s work for a mountain man.”
“We’ll be recruiting him for the Ski Patrol one of these days,” Stefan said. “Did you see him skiing?”
I had to admit that I hadn’t been able to pick him out from the mass of skiers on the slopes, but he skied down the area under the lift like a pro, or at least like I imagined a pro would ski. Stefan put a hand on his shoulder. “He did well.”
Andrea and Sheriff Sterling came in. “I want all of you to go on to the hotel and warm up. I called Ivy and asked her to have some hot soup and sandwiches ready. That way you won’t have to find something to eat on the way, and you can stay inside the hotel and be thoroughly warm and comfortable. I’ll be there in the morning to talk to all of you.”
“Okay if I ride with Stefan?” David asked.
“Certainly,” Andrea said. “We’ll see you at the hotel.”
I made a mental note to ask Stefan to talk to David about his smoking as I walked to the car on feet that were feeling considerably better. I could see that he was going to have much more influence with David than Andrea and I would. The Accord started right up, as usual, but it was going to take a while before the heater put out anything. “What were you talking to the sheriff about?”
“I told him I believe someone is trying to kill Stefan.”
“I don’t suppose that theory would be much comfort to Franklin Stuart.” Right away I felt bad about being flippant. “Ignore that remark. Why do you think someone’s trying to kill Stefan?”
“He and Olga were connected—brother and sister, right?”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“I don’t know at this point. But why would the person who killed Franklin stop the lift if he was the intended victim?”
“Maybe to give them more time to get away before we came back down.”
“Good point, sister! I hadn’t thought of that.”
I began to feel a little warm glow. It wasn’t often that Andrea praised my detecting skills, and the glow was produced by her praise. The heater wasn’t putting out any heat yet. “If someone is trying to kill Stefan, why would stopping the lift have helped?”
“I’ve been trying to think of the possibilities. If we had stayed there on the lift, we probably would have died of hypothermia in that wind, at fifteen below. And if Stefan had tried to climb down and fallen, he would have been more vulnerable to attack, even if he weren’t killed by the fall. But I have a feeling someone was waiting in the woods, partway down the hill, with a high powered rifle and a night scope.”
“I saw something move in the woods near us just after we stopped.”
Andrea pulled into the parking area at the Alpenhof. The car had finally warmed up, and the heater was pouring warm air over us. Andrea left the engine running while she said, “I saw that too. I’m thinking someone was there, on a cell phone to the person who shot Franklin, and telling them when we were at the highest point above the ground.”
I felt a chill in spite of the heater. “My God, do you suppose the man I talked to in the lodge this morning had anything to do with this? I told him I was going for a last ride on the lift, and he asked me if I was going alone. I told him who was going. Now I wish I’d kept my mouth shut.”
Andrea shut off the engine. “There’s no way of telling at this point. It’s not your fault, in any case.”
“What was the sheriff’s reaction to all this?”
“He’s a man of few words, but he seemed to be giving the idea serious consideration.”
I reached for the door handle. “I think we should warn Stefan.”
“I agree. After we all have something to eat, maybe we can catch him alone. It’s not the kind of conversation David should hear.”
Maggie pulled in beside us, and then Stefan and David, and we all got out and went into the lobby where a fire was crackling in the fireplace. David brought a chair from behind the reception desk, and there was room for all of us to sit by the fire while Ivy brought mugs of tomato soup and a stack of grilled cheese sandwiches. Canned soup never tasted so good. Asbury came through the back door and joined us, standing near the fire with a cup of soup, and we explained to Ivy and him what had happened on the lift. We were generous in our praise of David’s heroic actions, and they both seemed pleased.
Stefan finished first, said “Excuse me,” and walked away. Instead of going upstairs, as I supposed he would, he went back through the alcove where the ice machine was located, on through the kitchen, and out the back door. I looked at Andrea, and then at Maggie.
Maggie shrugged. “There’s a storage room out back. It’s attached to the little house back there, where David and his family live. Stefan must be getting something he needs from the storage room.”
I wasn’t about to go back out into the cold to warn anybody about anything. Then Andrea got up, we said goodnight, and headed for our room. “Let’s get our showers,” she said. “Then we can put on our robes and see if Stefan’s in his room.”
The hot water felt so good, I had to force myself to turn it off. I put on my flannel pajamas, my fleece-lined slippers over socks, and my quilted robe. Andrea got ready, and we headed down the dimly lit hall, past the unattended reception desk, and up the stairs. We stopped in front of Stefan’s door and Andrea rapped lightly. I remembered from the time that I rushed to get him when Olga had been stabbed that he was in No. 16.
I stood there looking at the room numbers in the hallway as we waited. They were similar to those in the lower hallway and were of crudely carved wood, very rustic. I couldn’t help wondering whether our grandfather had carved them.
Andrea knocked again. “Let’s try not to wake anyone else.”
Dead silence. I could hear the ticking of the big mantle clock that sat on a shelf behind the desk downstairs. “Do you suppose he’s moved into Olga’s room?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not sure which room was Olga’s. And I can’t think why he’d move, anyway.”
I hesitated a moment. “You don’t suppose he’s in Maggie’s room.”
Andrea shook her head. “We have no way of knowing where he is, since he isn’t in his room. Or maybe he’s in there, but doesn’t want to answer the door for one reason or another. Let’s go to bed. Maybe we can catch him in the morning.”
Someone knocked on the front door of the lodge as we started down the stairs. It was a soft tapping sound, the kind that sends chills up the spine. I froze, clutching the handrail, and knew I’d never be willing to open the door with a murderer running loose. Andrea, however, marched right on down the stairs. I could hear the deadbolt turning, and she yanked the door open.
There, in the dim light from the lobby, I saw the nondescript little man who often sat by the fireplace reading the paper. He was wearing a black trench coat and a black hat with the brim pulled low on his forehead. He strode in, mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, and went straight to his room.
“Did he even say thanks?” I asked as we went down the hallway.
“I’m not sure what he said.”
“Do you remember his name?” I could count on Andrea for remembering all kinds of details.
“Bosch. Gunter Bosch.”
“You have to wonder what he’s been up to. It’s almost midnight.”
Andrea didn’t answer. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a wistful look that said she wished she knew the answer to that and a whole lot of other puzzles.
By the time we got into bed, my feet were almost warm. “You know what we forgot?”
Andrea yawned. “What?”
“The paintings! The Monets!”
“Tomorrow,” she mumbled, already half asleep. “We’ll look for them tomorrow.”
I woke at eight, feeling stiff and sluggish. At least I was warm all over. Andrea was nowhere in sight. The light coming in the window was gray; it looked as if it would be a gray day altogether. I dressed in my standard outfit of polyester pants, acrylic sweater, and snow boots, and went out into the lobby. I found Andrea there seated by the fireplace, across from Miss Fashion herself, Maria Borodin.
“Good morning,” I sang out, as if I were as stylish as the next person.
Andrea moved her purse from the chair beside her to the floor, and I sat down. As I’ve said before, Andrea doesn’t hesitate about getting to the bottom of things. “I was just asking Miss Borodin if her husband has joined her for the skiing.”
“No, unfortunately, he’s much too busy in Washington. He rarely can get away.”
I decided to try to do my part. “We saw you at the Bear Paw Lodge—I think it was Friday. You were talking to a very nice-looking man, and we thought it would be so pleasant for you if your husband had come to ski with you.”
“Ah, no. The man was a stranger. The food court was so crowded that he asked to sit at my table. He’s from Romania, and we discovered we have a lot of travels in common. Grenoble, Aspen, even Sarajevo, back in the old days. I’ve forgotten his name. I meant to write it down, but by the time I got around to it, I’d forgotten.”
Somehow, I didn’t think Miss Fashion was that disorganized. She struck me as a woman who would write down all kinds of names if she wanted them written down. And I resented the fact that she was so darned sophisticated and had been to all those fancy places for skiing. I turned to Andrea. “Are you planning to ski today?”
“I’ll skip it today. I saw Asbury earlier, and he said it’s going to start snowing later this morning. It’s supposed to be a heavy snow and go on all day.”
Maria smiled—condescendingly, I thought. “That makes for great skiing. I must be off. See you later.”
“The woman has an answer for everything,” I grumbled after she had gone out the door. “Somehow, I can’t believe that man was a stranger. Their heads were so close together over that table, I think they were discussing more than the places they’ve skied.”
“Everything remains to be seen. Meanwhile, let’s go have a big breakfast. If it snows as much today as Asbury indicated, we may not want to go out again. Maybe we can get something for later and put it in the fridge in the kitchen. If we can sneak in there without Ivy seeing us, that is.”
We got our parkas from our room, and when we got back to the lobby, Asbury was behind the desk. In addition to his usual cheerful plaid flannel shirt, he wore a bright red cardigan. It must have been a Christmas present from Ivy and David. “Good morning, ladies.”
“Good morning,” we both said at the same time. I continued, “We haven’t seen much of you since we arrived, Asbury. It’s good to see you again.” I meant it, too. It really was good to see Asbury, especially since he’d started wearing such nifty clothes.
“I’ve been busy getting in firewood and doing some work on the house where we stay, behind the hotel. I wanted to thank you for taking David skiing yesterday. He seems like a whole different kid. He even got up this morning and started on his homework without being told. He usually puts that off till late Sunday night, and only does it then with a lot of fuss from me and Ivy.”
“I think David’s going to be okay,” Andrea said. “He’s basically a good kid.”
“Where’s Ivy this morning?” I asked.
“She hurried out to restock some groceries, since we used up the food last night. She wants to have things in for this evening, in case we’re snowbound.”
“We’re going out to breakfast,” Andrea said. “We were planning to bring something back for later.”
“Don’t bother with that. We’ll have soup and sandwiches here if you don’t want to go out in the snow.”
“That would be nice,” Andrea said. “It’s fun eating around the fireplace with the rest of the group.”
I just remembered that the sheriff was coming this morning to talk to us. “Do you suppose we should wait till after the sheriff’s gone? He was supposed to be here this morning.” I was hungry, as usual, and hoped we wouldn’t.
“He told me he’d be coming by around ten. Let’s have a quick breakfast at the lodge, and we’ll be back before he gets here.”
“Did you see Stefan this morning?” I asked when we got in the car.
“No. I got up at six and went up to his room. He still didn’t answer. Maggie must have heard the knock. She came out into the hall and asked me what was going on. I told her I wanted to talk to Stefan. She said he’d be at the hotel this evening, for sure. He left early to take care of some business at the ski school. She asked what I needed him for, and I told her we’d discuss it with her this evening. I think we should talk to her about this, as well as Stefan.”
“I agree. We don’t want her in any danger if there is something going on between her and Stefan. I think that’s something else we need to clear up.”
We went to the state park lodge again and asked for a seat by a window. A few flakes were drifting down as we ordered our breakfast. Scrambled eggs and biscuits were just what I needed after the light supper last night. I washed my morning pills down with orange juice, then settled back to enjoy my coffee. I was getting accustomed to the idea that we were going to be driving in the snow, something I never do in Pine Summit. I keep a well-stocked pantry, and when it snows, I stay home.
“This would be a good day to check out the attic,” I said.
“I agree. If we can’t find a key to the locked trunk, Asbury’s there. I’d think he’d have a bolt cutter or something to cut the lock.”
“I’m dying to see what’s in it. I’m dying to see what’s in the one Maggie opened.”
I kept expecting Deputy Willard Hill to pop into the restaurant and fill us in on all kinds of details about Franklin Stuart’s murder, but no one we knew showed up. After a second cup of coffee, we paid our bill, tied our hoods under our chins, and left the lodge.
When we got to the parking lot, we noticed that someone had put a letter-size sheet of paper under the windshield wipers of all the cars. Then we noticed a man at the far end of the lot, putting a sheet under the wiper of the last car in the lot.
“Isn’t that Eli Lynch?” I asked.
“Looks like him.” Andrea grabbed the flyer and unlocked the car. She started the engine, and we sat there with it idling as we read.
THE LAND OF CANAAN
God created our precious valley for our local residents. Why have we created ski areas and housing developments that draw in outsiders who are not well versed in the path of righteousness? The answer to that question is simple: mammon! Greed has gotten the best of our people, and we are being overwhelmed by the hordes from the east coast, and many of those overwhelming us are from Godless foreign countries. If you accent the last syllable when you say Canaan, you’re probably one of us. If you accent the first syllable, you’re an outsider.
If you agree with me, sign one of the petitions I’m circulating throughout the valley. Only a movement created by our God-fearing Canaan Valley residents can stem the flow of unwanted invaders. I look forward to your support.
“What do you make of that?” I asked.
“We agreed the other day that he sounds a trifle unbalanced,” Andrea said as she backed out of our parking space and headed for the Alpenhof. “This confirms it.”
“He sounds to me like a real nut and a candidate for the murder of Olga, in spite of his overly religious rhetoric.”
“But if the murders of Olga and the lift operator are connected in some way, how does that add up?”
I thought about this for a minute. “The lift operator had been hauling all those foreigners up the mountain for years. Maybe Eli Lynch thought of him in terms of the greed he sees in this area.”
“We’re to see the sheriff shortly. I’ll give him this paper, if he hasn’t seen it already.”
“Good idea. Let him solve the murders, and we can concentrate on finding the Monets!”
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. “There’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.”
“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, or 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.”
We helped Ivy make turkey sandwiches while the vegetable soup heated. When we brought trays of food to the lobby, I could hear a noise from upstairs. It sounded like a drill, but who would be using a drill on a snowy Sunday evening? I walked over to the desk. “What’s going on upstairs?”
“Stefan’s installing a peephole in his door,” Maggie murmured. “He got the tools from the shed last night, but it was too late for drilling then. He didn’t want to wake anyone.”
So, he knew he was in danger before we talked to him. Otherwise, why would he be installing a peephole in his door after being here for three years with no peephole? Somehow, I thought there was a lot more going on than Andrea and I were aware of, but I didn’t think Maggie was about to reveal any secrets. And I was glad that explained his disappearance out the back door last night. He was going to the shed to find the drill. “When he’s through, buzz him and tell him food’s ready. We’ll eat when he comes down.”
Ivy had gone to get David and Asbury, so Andrea was alone at the fireplace. “Stefan’s installing a peephole in his door,” I told her. “I’ll bet he was in his room last night, but he didn’t want to open the door without knowing who was there.”
The others came back in after stomping off the snow at the back door, so Andrea didn’t have a chance to say anything. Asbury and David brought folding chairs from the kitchen and completed a circle with them at the fireplace. Then Stefan came downstairs and said something to Maggie at the desk. As usual, I couldn’t hear. “Come and eat,” I called to them.
None of the other guests had taken advantage of the offer of free food. Were they in their rooms, or out roaming somewhere in the snow? Maggie and Stefan got soft drinks from the machine in the alcove for themselves and David. Andrea, Tillie and I brought coffee from the kitchen, and we all dug in. When we finished, Andrea and I helped Ivy clean up, then she went to the house with Asbury and David, reminding of school tomorrow if the roads were clear.
By the time we got back to the lobby, Stefan had disappeared. Andrea, Maggie and I sat down by the fireplace. I was sitting there wondering how I could pry some more information from Maggie when we heard a noise at the front door. It sounded like someone else stomping snow.
The door opened and a woman walked in. She threw back her hood, and as she got closer I could see she was a striking blond. She came to the couch and sat beside Maggie. She unzipped her coat, a gorgeous red number with a fur-lined hood, but left it on.
“Hi Eva,” Maggie said. “This is Eva Weiss. These are my aunts, Andrea Flynn and Kathleen Williamson. Eva’s staying just down the road.”
She stood up and shook our hands. “I’m very glad to meet you.” She remained standing and turned to Maggie. “Is Stefan in?”
“Sure. I’ll ring him.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll go on up. I want to offer my condolences on the death of Olga. I just heard about it.” She went to the stairs and started up.
Somehow, I suspected she wanted to offer a whole lot more than her condolences. Her bright blue eyes had a sparkle that said, “My husband’s away and I want to play!”
“I wonder where her husband is,” I whispered after I heard her knock and a door open and close. Stefan had made the first use of his peephole.
Maggie was looking grim. “I heard he had to return to Germany on business. He left a couple of weeks ago, and I’m not sure when he’s coming back.”
Andrea didn’t look all that happy herself. “Does she visit Stefan often?”
“She’s done it a few times,” Maggie said. “I think she does it just to irritate me, and believe me, it does.”
“Take it easy,” I said. “She’s married, and it’s undoubtedly innocent.” I wasn’t at all sure this was true, but Maggie looked like she needed some consoling.
She sat back, looking as if she were embarrassed by letting us know Eva got to her. Would this be the time to question her more closely about her relationship with Stefan? There was too much tension in the air, and I decided against it.
“Did we tell you that we saw Eva walking on the highway on the evening Olga was killed? As we were returning from the lodge, we saw her turn into the driveway of the house down the road. Then we came in and found Olga.”
“I didn’t know that,” Maggie whispered. Her eyes were wide. “Are you thinking she might have killed Olga?”
“It’s only one of many possibilities,” Andrea said. “If Franklin Stuart’s death is connected, what reason would she have to kill him? For that matter, what reason would she have to kill Olga?”
We heard the door open upstairs, and then saw Eva coming down with Stefan at her side. Well, she hadn’t stayed long, and that should make Maggie feel better. She came over and told us goodbye, and Stefan walked her to the door. He came back and sat by Maggie.
“Have you known Ms. Weiss long?” Andrea asked.
“For years. She and her husband went to school with me. It was quite a surprise when they showed up here in the Canaan Valley. They had decided, like we did, that it would be a good place to spend some time.”
I’m not sure why this bit of news gave me a chill. Probably because there was obviously so much going on around here, and Andrea and I were out of the loop.
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 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 Blackwater.”
“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.”
Andrea decided to ski that afternoon if she could get a half day lift ticket and equipment rental. I scanned the sky as we got out of the car at the Bear Paw Lodge. The crescent moon was up there, and it appeared to be about the same size as the one I noticed on the day of our arrival. We must have passed the dark of the moon, and it was now waxing. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising if the dark of the moon had occurred on the night of the lift ride and Franklin Stuart’s murder. It’s the worst of all the moon phases.
Andrea left me sitting near the fire at the lodge with my book, and when she didn’t come back, I assumed she had worked out the half day deal. I settled down to read with a cup of hot chocolate. I hadn’t seen anyone I knew and was engrossed in my book when someone pulled out the chair across from me. I looked up. It was Sheriff Sterling. He put a cup of coffee on the table. “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Certainly not. Are you here on official business?”
“Just taking a quick break.”
Somehow I didn’t see the sheriff as a man who would take breaks, at least not with two murder investigations facing him. Could it be that he saw our car and was there hoping to see Andrea? That probably wasn’t likely, either. Of course, I never had established whether he was married or not. He wore no ring.
He took a sip of coffee. “Have you recovered from your bad experience on the lift?”
“I think so. One thing I’m sure of, though—no one can ever talk me into getting on that thing again.”
He smiled. “I can understand that.” Then after a slightly awkward moment of silence, “How are things at the Alpenhof? I know Asbury and Ivy are new there. Are they fitting in well?”
I couldn’t help wondering where this was going. “They seem to be doing well. Ivy is cleaning and doing laundry all day, and sometimes working the reception desk. Since Olga’s death, keeping the desk staffed has been a problem for Stefan. I suppose they’ll hire someone to do the job soon. Asbury stays busy clearing snow from the front walkway and parking area and bringing in firewood, and he helps at the reception desk also. They’re both hard workers.”
“I understand Asbury is from the Pine Summit area.”
“Oh, yes, we’ve known Asbury for years. We all grew up and went to the same schools in Pine Summit. We were on our way here on Thursday and stopped at a McDonalds. We were surprised to see Asbury there, and even more surprised to hear that he was hitchhiking a ride to the Alpenhof. It was quite a coincidence. Of course, we gave him a ride. Asbury’s had a hard life, but I think he’s doing well now. I think Ivy’s been good for him.”
“By a hard life, you mean…”
“His family was very poor and uneducated. He didn’t go to school much. He and his father were kept busy trying to scratch out a living on their little hillside farm. In spite of that, he’s a likeable person . . . a good person.”
“Your niece has been doing well here, too, with her work at the ski school and helping out at the hotel. I understand she’s one of the best instructors at the school. She and Stefan make quite a pair on the slopes.”
I couldn’t ignore the feeling he was fishing for information. His last remark seemed not at all characteristic of him. I thought about what I wanted to say before I said anything more—something that’s not always characteristic of me. “Maggie loves it here. She’s been skiing for years. Our brother used to bring her up here several times a year before he died. I think she’s a natural at skiing.”
He nodded slowly, and then downed the last of his coffee. He was back to being a man of few words, as Andrea had labeled him. “Is your sister skiing today?”
“Yes, she is. She seems to be enjoying it a lot. I prefer to sit by the fire and read.”
“I must be on my way. It’s been good visiting with you, Mrs. Williamson.”
Somehow, the conversation seemed like more than just “visiting.” Was it possible that he was suspicious of Asbury? I hadn’t told anyone about Asbury’s attitude toward Olga, and I was certain Andrea hadn’t said anything, either.
It surely wasn’t possible that he was suspicious of Maggie. Then I thought again about the conversation in the car on the way to the valley. I couldn’t remember the exact words, but Asbury had said something about being concerned that Maggie was “sweet on” Stefan. Andrea asked him if that would be such a bad thing. He said something like, “It could be with a sister like he has. She looks at Maggie as if she wants to kill her.” Now I was wondering just how much the sheriff knew about the relationship between Maggie, Stefan, and Olga. Probably a whole lot more than I did.
We picked up sandwiches before we left the Bear Paw Lodge so we wouldn’t have to go out again. Maggie was already behind the desk when we returned to the Alpenhof, and she let Andrea use the phone on the desk to call Birdie Lancaster. Just as I had feared, there was no answer. I wondered if she had gone to spend the winter with the sister in Charleston that Willard had mentioned.
Stefan came through the front door right away with food for Maggie, said hello to us, and disappeared up the stairs. Maggie worked at the computer for a few minutes. She picked up the sack that contained her supper and came to the couch across from us. “I don’t think anything’s going to be happening this evening, so I’ll desert my post and eat with you. Anyone want a drink?”
“I’ll take a diet Coke,” Andrea said.
“I want an orange drink of some kind.”
Maggie came back with the drinks and we ate in silence. I was hungry; all I’d had since breakfast was a hot chocolate, and I’m sure the others were starving after skiing. But it was more than hunger that was keeping us quiet. I sat there munching on my sub and trying to think of a diplomatic way to get some information. Maggie and Stefan had been so mysteriously poker-faced when we talked about our concern for Stefan that it had aroused these nagging suspicions in both Andrea and me. They both obviously knew more than they were talking about, and the question was, how do we get them to talk about it?
I had taken my last bite and Andrea had finished. She looked at Maggie. “So who is threatening Stefan, and why?” Diplomacy has never been Andrea’s strong suit.
Maggie looked as if she might choke on a bite of sandwich. When she regained her composure, she said, “I’m really not at liberty to say.”
“Why is that?” from Andrea. I was sitting there looking from one to the other and taking it all in.
“I promised Stefan.” Maggie’s voice quavered a little on this.
“If you or Stefan can’t talk to us, I think it must be something serious enough that he should talk to the sheriff.”
“He did finally talk to the sheriff. I insisted. He asked the sheriff to come by the ski school at noon today and they went outside and talked.”
“What was the sheriff’s reaction?”
“Stefan said he seemed to have a hard time thinking that an international thriller was taking place here in Tucker County.”
I almost laughed, and would have if the conversation hadn’t been so serious. But an international thriller, here in Tucker County? And yet, a lot of foreigners did seem to be hanging around here. I spoke up for the first time since the conversation began. “I was having hot chocolate in the Bear Paw Lodge this afternoon, and the sheriff came and sat down at my table with a cup of coffee.”
“Really?” Maggie said. “Did he say anything about the murders?”
“No, he just asked me how I was doing after the ordeal on the lift. He also asked some questions about Asbury. I couldn’t help thinking he might be suspicious of Asbury.” I didn’t mention the fact that he had questions about Maggie also. No need getting her worried at this point. Or should I say more worried.
Maggie took a sip of her drink. “He told Stefan he wanted to keep an open mind until the case was solved.”
The man sounded more like my sister all the time. “He also asked about you, Andrea. Asked if you were skiing.”
Andrea looked as if this were something of no importance. I wondered what was going on inside that head of hers, but as usual, there was no telling. Then she surprised us both by saying, “I saw him as he was leaving the lodge and I was skiing over to the lift. He asked me to meet him for lunch tomorrow at the Sawmill Restaurant over in Davis.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I’d have thought this would be the first thing she’d mention when we got in the car to come back to the hotel. “Is this a social or a crime-solving event?”
“Since I’ve talked to him a couple of times now about the murders, I’m sure he has some more questions for me.”
The phone at the reception desk rang, and Maggie jumped up to answer it. “It’s Birdie Lancaster. She noticed our number on her Caller ID.” She held the receiver toward us.
Andrea got up and went to the phone. “Hello, Miss Lancaster? My name’s Andrea Flynn…yes, that’s right, I’m related to the Flynns that used to own the Valley Hotel years ago. My sister and I are staying at the hotel this week, and we’re doing some research on the history of the place. We’d like to come and see you, if you’d be willing to talk to us.”
Maggie sat down again, and she put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “Asking Birdie Lancaster if she’s willing to talk is like asking if the Pope’s Catholic.”
“That would be fine,” Andrea said. “We’ll come by your house Thursday at ten. We’ll be looking forward to it.”
I finished the last of my orange drink. “We thought she might know what happened to the Monets, since she used to work here. Ivy told us she’d heard that all the old paintings in the place were replaced by the black bear prints. No telling what happened to the old ones.”
Andrea joined us. “I suppose it’s possible that Grandpa and Grandma Flynn took the water lily paintings when they left here, but if that’s the case, I can’t imagine what happened to them. We don’t remember seeing them when we visited, and don’t remember that they ever said anything about them.”
That was a gloomy thought, and one that we had discussed earlier, but not with Maggie. If they had taken them, then where were they? Considering the amount of time we spent with our grandparents, why hadn’t we seen them on their walls, or at least heard something about them? No one in the family had ever mentioned the paintings until Maggie found Grandpa Flynn’s records. “Maybe Birdie Lancaster can shed some light on what happened. I wonder whether she was working here when Grandpa and Grandma left.”
“We’ll find out Thursday. She invited us for coffee,” Andrea said. Then she turned to Maggie. “I think you should talk with Stefan. Tell him we could possibly help, if he’s in danger. For all we know, you could be in danger, too.”
“This doesn’t involve me at all, but I’ll ask him.” Maggie went back to her sandwich.
Andrea put a log on the fire and sat down again. “How serious is your relationship with Stefan?”
Maggie swallowed a bite of sandwich and sipped her Coke, obviously deciding how much she should tell us. “We’re in love. We’re considering getting married, especially now that the monster woman’s out of the picture.”
I was chilled by her words. I should have made some appropriate comment on her admission of love for Stefan, but all I could think of was shutting her up about Olga. “Don’t let anyone else hear you say something like that. It would be construed as a motive for murder.”
“She hated me. She seemed to hate everyone except Stefan. And she was jealous. But you’re right. I wouldn’t let anyone else hear me talking like that.” She sat there for a few minutes, looking into the fire. “The two of you surely don’t think . . .”
“Of course not!” I interrupted. I couldn’t let her finish that sentence. Then I decided to talk about something else that had been on my mind. “Do you suppose these murders could have anything to do with the Monets?”
Andrea laughed. “It’s just the three of us and Stefan who know about them. I don’t see how they could possibly be involved, if they even exist.”
Maggie turned to me. “You’re not thinking that Stefan . . .”
I interrupted again. “No, of course not. After all, he was on the lift with us when Franklin Stuart was killed. And I couldn’t possibly be suspicious of someone who seems to be as wonderful as you say he is.”
“He is wonderful. Strong, sexy, honest, compassionate . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she had a dreamy look on her face.
I didn’t want to hear about the sexy part. After all, we didn’t discuss our boyfriends’ sexiness in my day. We tried not to even think about it. I felt the need to make some comment about their relationship, though. “Have you made any wedding plans?”
“Nothing definite yet, but you two will be the first to know. After all, you’re my only relatives. We’ll probably decide on a date after the murders get solved and the excitement dies down around here”
An awful thought entered my mind. What if Stefan had murdered Olga so that she wouldn’t be around to object to his marriage to Maggie? Then he and Maggie would be the owners of the Monets—if Andrea and I were out of the way. Perhaps an automobile accident would be arranged and blamed on icy roads. I shivered in spite of the fire. Should I discuss this idea with Andrea? She might laugh, since we didn’t know if we’d ever find the paintings. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind, and the three of us settled down to read for the rest of the evening.
We were back at the Canaan Lodge for breakfast. Andrea was having only a bowl of cereal, since she was going to lunch with the sheriff. I ordered French toast with a side order of bacon. We were having coffee and waiting on our food when Mr. Predictability, Willard Hill, walked in. Was he following us? Surely he didn’t think . . . but we hardly knew Olga! My mind was running wild, and I reined it in. “Good morning, Willard.” Did he spend half his day having breakfast?
“Good morning.” He looked at Andrea. “I understand you’re having lunch with Ward today.”
Andrea looked miffed. “Word certainly gets around in this part of the country.”
“He asked me to cover for him in the office since he was having lunch out, and I pried until I found out what he was doing.”
“I expect he wants to ask me a few more questions.”
Willard gave her a knowing look. “I’ve never known him to ask someone to lunch to ask questions.”
By this time I was dying to ask Willard whether the sheriff was married, but I thought better of it. Andrea probably would have killed me. Instead I said, “How are the investigations going?”
“No new leads.” He looked disappointed that he didn’t have any big news to impress us with. He wasn’t the only one who was disappointed.
The waitress brought our food, and Willard ordered. “Please go ahead and eat while it’s hot.” Andrea’s breakfast wasn’t hot, but that was beside the point. We both dug in. Willard sat there looking as if he wanted to say something and didn’t know how to begin. Finally he made a foray into the subject of his many long breakfasts. “I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell the sheriff how often you’ve seen me having breakfast. In theory, we’re supposed to have breakfast before we come on duty, but I’m not hungry that early. I consider this time I’m taking right now a break.”
Andrea looked as if she were about to say something, but he continued before she got a chance. “You have to understand that there are some days we’re so busy we never get a break, not even for lunch. I figure it all evens out.”
Andrea nodded. “No problem.” Willard need not have worried. Talking to the sheriff about him wouldn’t be Andrea’s style. “We saw you going into the bank over in Davis yesterday. I hope there wasn’t a robbery or something serious going on there.”
“Nope. Just depositing my paycheck. Didn’t get around to it last Friday.”
So he did have an account there. Of course that wasn’t proof of anything. Probably half the population of Tucker County had an account at the bank in Davis. But obviously none of the out-of-town guests did, which was something else to think about. The waitress came with Willard’s food, and Andrea and I asked for more coffee. Willard gulped his food down, trying to prove to us that he was eager to get back on the job. He left while we were finishing our second cup of coffee.
Andrea wasn’t one to get dolled up, but I noticed she put on the pearl earrings she inherited from Aunt Libby last year. She also abandoned her snow boots and put on a pair of sharp-looking, deep brown boots that I didn’t know she had with her. I didn’t say anything because if I had, she would have assured me that she wasn’t getting any more dressed up than when she went to lunch at Nell Flannigan’s in Pine Summit with her retired teacher friends.
I walked to the lobby with her and sat down on one of the chairs by the fireplace after she walked out the door. It seemed strange not to have Andrea there beside me in the other chair. She would never admit to being lonely, but I couldn’t help wondering. My life was very different from hers. I have my memories of John to keep me company, and it’s enough. I live beside the Trinity Methodist Church, and friends are always stopping by before our quilting sessions or Bible study. Andrea has lunch once a month with a few retired teachers, and except for the time we spend together, that constitutes her social life. But she’s always been a loner.
I’ve tentatively suggested a time or two that the two of us move in together, but she’s shown zero interest in that proposal. She’s always been the smart one in the family, so she probably knows best about where we should live. I picked up my book from the coffee table and opened it to the bookmarked page where I’d left off.
Ivy was shuffling through some papers at the reception desk, and I found myself wishing she’d come over and chat. Or better yet, that she’d invite me to the kitchen for coffee and cookies. Not that I needed them after the breakfast I had earlier, but it’s always fun sitting in a kitchen and chatting over cookies and coffee. Maybe she’d know some interesting gossip. I just wasn’t in the mood for reading.
She did come over after a while. “I need to clean a couple of rooms, and Asbury had to go for a load of wood. Would you mind keeping an eye on the desk, and if anyone comes in, come and get me? If the phone rings, the machine will get it, and I’ll call them back later. I’m going to the Nicholson’s room first, and then Mr. Bosch’s.”
“I’ll be glad to watch the desk. Do you mind if I put some coffee on? We could have a cup when you get through.”
“That would be nice.” Ivy smiled, something she never used to do when she thought we were suspicious of Asbury. She went off down the hall toward the Nicholson’s room, and I went to the kitchen to make half a pot of coffee. Maybe Asbury would want a cup too when he finished with the wood.
I settled down to read while the coffee dripped and Ivy cleaned. No one came in, and the phone didn’t ring. I kept wondering what was going on with Andrea and Sheriff Sterling. I put my book down. Were they talking about the murders, or was it something more. Neither was a flirty type person, for sure. If they were interested in getting to know each other better, they’d be absolutely straightforward about it. Oh, how I longed to be a fly on the wall of that restaurant!
I felt a little chilly and got up to go to our room for a sweater. I could see something moving in the dim light of the hallway, and as I got closer I could see that it was Cherie, the poodle who belonged to the dog people staying in the east wing. She trotted to the edge of the hallway and squatted down to make a puddle. “Stop!” I shrieked. She turned and scampered back toward their room, and looking down the other hallway, I could see that the door was standing slightly ajar.
I wasn’t about to let her mess up the carpet in Stefan’s hotel, a hotel that Maggie would undoubtedly be sharing soon. I chased Cherie down the hall and grabbed her as she hit the door to her room and started to wiggle through. I picked her up and held her upside down, hoping gravity would work in my favor till I could resolve the situation.
I held her against my body with one arm and pecked on the door of her owners’ room with the other hand. There was no answer. I pushed the door open a little and peeked inside. The room was an absolute chaos of suitcases, clothing, and other possessions strewn all around. No one was there. Obviously the owners had gone off somewhere and left Cherie in the room. Somehow the door had opened and she got out.
I rushed down the hallway with her and headed for the front door. Ivy was nowhere in sight, so I couldn’t inform her that I was leaving my post, but I figured getting Cherie outside was more important than keeping an eye on a desk that was quiet and had been quiet since I’d been sitting in the lobby.
I wished I had a leash, and there probably was one in Cherie’s room, but I didn’t want to go rummaging through her owner’s stuff to find it. I’d hold onto her collar while she took care of business, then I’d hustle her back inside and shut her in the room. And I certainly intended to tell her owners what had happened. The nerve of such people!
I set her down in the snow at the edge of the parking area, and she squatted down and made a puddle that dissolved a hole in the snow. Then her head went up, and she looked off toward the back of the hotel. Maybe it was because my fingers were freezing at this point, with no gloves on, that they slipped out from under her collar as she lunged forward and streaked toward a distant stand of pines behind and to the side of the hotel.
I trotted after her, yelling “Cherie” as loud as I could. She paid no attention to me at all. My heart was thumping, partly from the exertion and partly from the fear that she was going to disappear into the distance and be gone forever. I lost sight of her as she entered the pine grove.
When I finally reached the trees, she was sniffing around in the snow as if she’d been tracking some quarry that was now lost to her. I was huffing and puffing, and I took a minute to lean against a tree and catch my breath, thankful that she had stopped. I’m not an expert, but I could see tracks in the snow that were probably made by whatever she was chasing. My guess was a rabbit. After I began breathing normally, I started walking slowly toward her. “Good girl, Cherie. It’s time to go back to the hotel.”
She turned her back to me and continued with the sniffing. As I got closer, she started digging in the snow. By the time I reached her and put my hands down to pick her up, she had uncovered something that was shining in the sunlight slanting through the trees. I blinked. It looked like a knife blade. I grabbed Cherie and lifted her, and she twisted and turned, trying to get out of my grasp. She was determined to get back to digging, but I pulled her to me and petted her, and she finally calmed down.
Could that be the knife that had killed Olga? It hardly seemed likely, back here in the snow. However, it might be wise to mention it to the sheriff. I suddenly realized how cold I was without my parka and hurried back to the hotel with Cherie. I got some paper towels from the kitchen and wiped her feet. Then I pushed her back into her room and closed the door firmly in spite of the fact that by this time she had decided she wanted me to hold her. When I got back to the lobby I used the phone to call the sheriff’s office and told some unidentified deputy what I had seen. I was assured they’d send someone right out.
I found Ivy in Gunter Bosch’s room. “The dog was about to pee in the hallway. The owners aren’t there, so I took her outside and she got away from me. She went back to that grove of pines behind the hotel and started digging. She found something there that looked like a knife. I called the sheriff’s office.”
“The owners aren’t there? They went off and left that dog shut up in their room?”
“I guess so. She managed to get the door open somehow, or they didn’t have it shut right. Anyway, she was out in the hall. I’ll go wait in the lobby for someone from the sheriff’s office.”
A tall, skinny deputy who looked about sixteen showed up right away. I got my parka and took him back to the pines to show him where Cherie had been digging and then returned to the hotel and warmth. From the front window of the lobby I saw two more official cars drive up and park. The deputies got out and walked toward the back.
Ivy finally got through cleaning, and we went to the kitchen. She stacked some oatmeal-raisin cookies on a plate while I poured coffee. We moved back to the fireplace so Ivy could keep an eye on the reception desk. I took a cookie. “I wonder when they’ll hire someone to replace Olga.”
“I’m hoping they’ll replace me, and let me replace Olga on the desk. I’m glad I’m getting a chance to show Stefan I can handle it.”
“Have you said anything to him?”
“No, but I’m planning to. Of course, there’s not a big labor pool around here to choose from. They might have a hard time finding someone who would like to clean the rooms.”
I was surprised Ivy would use a term like labor pool. Maybe she was sharper than I gave her credit for. I couldn’t help wondering how she and Asbury ended up here, with her being from Montgomery and him from Pine Summit. I didn’t dare ask questions, for fear she’d think I was suspicious of them.
I thought it best to change the subject. “Andrea and I are staying on longer than we planned. We’ve gotten interested in the history of the hotel, since our grandparents used to own it. We’re meeting with Birdie Lancaster Thursday. She used to work here, and her mother did, too.”
“I don’t know her, but we haven’t been here that long.”
“How long are the other guests planning on staying?”
“The Nicholsons said they’re leaving Wednesday. The fashionable lady and Mr. Bosch are scheduled to stay through the weekend. And the dog people haven’t said.”
“I suppose the sheriff hopes he can solve these murders before the guests leave. The guests who were here when Olga was killed, that is.”
Ivy took our cups and refilled them. “That Mr. Bosch is an odd bird,” she said as she set the cups on the table.
“He’s not very friendly.”
“He carries some odd things in and out with him. He has something that looks like a laptop computer that he has with him most of the time. None of our other guests ever carry a laptop computer around. He acts mighty strange.”
I took another cookie. “The other night Andrea and I went upstairs late to talk to Maggie. It was after ten, and the front door was locked. We were coming back down the stairs, and we heard someone knock. Andrea opened the door, and there was Mr. Bosch. That was the night we got stuck on the lift.”
“I wonder why he didn’t hit the buzzer that rings in Stefan’s room. That’s what guests usually do when they’re out late.”
“Maybe he doesn’t realize there’s a buzzer, or maybe he heard us on the stairs. Anyway, he was knocking, and Andrea let him in. I wouldn’t have had nerve enough to open that door, with a murderer running loose.” I didn’t want to mention that we actually had gone upstairs to talk to Stefan and he didn’t answer our knock, which probably meant he wasn’t there to hear Gunter Bosch ringing the buzzer. Either that or he wasn’t answering anything with people being murdered left and right.
“It may be two murderers, now that the lift operator was killed.”
“You’re right. It could be two. Then again, it’s hard to believe there are two murderers in Tucker County. It’s usually so quiet here.”
She sipped her coffee quietly for a moment. “With all these foreigners running around, there’s no telling what’s going on. It was just the natives up here in this area when I used to come here with my folks.”
I remembered that era, too. “Times have changed a lot. There’s a major influx from the Washington area now. I hear that some people from down there own property in this area now and use it for weekends and vacations. I’m sure it’s much cooler here in the summer than it is on the coast.”
“I don’t know what an influx is, but we’ve been getting a lot of skiers from over there since I’ve been working here, that’s for sure.”
I took a third cookie and decided I simply must stop right there. “You wouldn’t happen to know what phase of the moon we’re in, would you?”
“I sure would. The moon’s a waxing crescent now, but it was the dark of the moon the night the lift operator was killed.”
I was surprised by her reply—not by the fact that it had been the dark of the moon when Franklin Stuart was killed, but by her description of the phases in progress. “Do you believe in the signs of the moon, Ivy?”
“Certainly. My mother taught me all about the signs of the moon. You know the worst time is the dark of the moon, don’t you?”
“Oh, absolutely!” It was refreshing to find someone who agreed with me. “Our grandmother, the one who had the hotel here, always went by the signs of the moon, and I believe in them, too.”
“Asbury does, too. He says they always used to plant according to the moon. Harvested that way, too. There’s something to it, I know there is.”
I finished my coffee and put my cup on the coffee table. “If the moon’s a crescent now, we’re heading for the halfmoon, I guess this weekend. That’s a time of turbulence and trouble, according to Grandma Flynn.”
“Oh, I agree. It’s a time of turbulence, alright. It’s not always bad, though, not always troublesome, especially when the moon’s waxing. That’s what we’re going to have this coming Saturday. You can count on a right smart of commotion then. I check the moon signs on the calendar all the time.”
“So it’s only the waning halfmoon that brings on serious trouble,” I said
“That’s the way I was taught.”
I was glad to hear Ivy’s theory that the halfmoon wasn’t such a bad time, if the moon is waxing. I’d have to keep an eye on halfmoon events from now on and see if this checked out. I was thinking about this when Asbury came through the kitchen and into the lobby. His nose was red and he looked as if he were half frozen. “That coffee sure smells good. What’s going on back there, with the deputies and all?”
I had gotten so involved in our discussion of the moon phases that I’d forgotten all about the deputies. We explained what Cherie had found, and Ivy got up to get him a cup of coffee while he took off his parka. “I’ve still got a load of wood to stack, but it’s time for a break to warm up. Stefan probably thinks I should work faster around here, but it don’t make me no never mind. I just do what I can, with a break now and then, and hope I’m earning my keep.”
“He seems to be a pretty understanding fellow. Unless he’s said something, I’d assume he’s pleased with your work. It seems to me you and Ivy are busy all the time.”
Ivy came back with the coffee just as the dog people walked in. I stood up as they approached the sitting area. “Your dog got out of the room today, and she was about to make a puddle on the carpet of the hallway. I took her outside, then put her back in your room and closed the door.” I didn’t think they deserved to know that Cherie was somewhat of a heroine for finding what I imagined was evidence in a murder case.
Mrs. Dog Owner had a big smile on her face. “Oh, that naughty darling. I can’t imagine how she got the door open.” Her husband was standing behind her, looking as if he’d rather be somewhere else.
I wanted to say something that would wipe the smile off her face. She seemed not the least concerned that Cherie had almost made a puddle on the hall carpet. “It’s a good thing she did get out of the room, or she would have made a puddle there and you’d be walking in it. I don’t think it’s very considerate of you to go off and leave the dog here where she might damage hotel property.”
She continued smiling. “What we do, and what our dog does, is none of your business.” She gave a little bob of her head as if that ended the matter.
Asbury sat on the couch with his coffee, looking as if he thought he should help but didn’t know how. Ivy stood up. “From now on you’ll take the dog with you when you leave the hotel. Otherwise you’ll have to check out. And for heaven’s sake, take the dog out for a potty break several times a day.”
Mr. Dog Owner took his wife’s arm and practically dragged her, sputtering, toward their room.
Ivy had a satisfied smile on her face. “About time he showed some balls.”
Asbury looked shocked and amused at the same time. We calmed down, cooled off, decided we should tell Stefan about the incident, and went back to coffee and cookies. Then Andrea came in the front door. I looked at my watch. She left before eleven, and it was now three o’clock. Even counting time to drive to the restaurant in Davis and back again, that was a mighty long lunch. There was still a cup left in the pot, and she sat down to have coffee with us. I knew better than to ask her about the lunch in front of Asbury and Ivy. Best to wait till we got to our room—and she might not tell me anything then.
I started to tell her about my escapade with Cherie, but she already knew more than I did because of a call the sheriff received. The deputies had found not only a switch-blade knife, but the broken chain that undoubtedly had held Olga’s cubic zirconia pendant.
“So how was lunch?” I asked when we finally got to our room.
“Interesting. Most interesting. The sheriff asked for my help.”
“In what way?”
“This is strictly confidential, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. He asked me to call the Russian Embassy in Washington and pretend to be an acquaintance of Maria Borodin. He asked me to say I wanted to get in touch with her.”
“What if you’d found there was no such person there?”
“I’d act as if I had a wrong number. Anyway, the point of this was to try to get a description of her, to compare with our Maria Borodin.”
“Did the sheriff say why he’s suspicious of her?”
“He didn’t say, and I assume he has more information than he thinks I should know. Or maybe he’s suspicious of everyone who was near the hotel when the murder happened, and she was the one he figured out how to check on.”
“So what happened when you called?”
“I spoke to a young woman who didn’t speak very good English. She said Mrs. Borodin wasn’t there. She wasn’t at liberty to say where she was or when she would return. I tried to get chatty and said I’d met Maria a few years ago when my husband was part of an agricultural delegation to Russia. She might not remember me, but I enjoyed meeting her and just wanted to say hello. Then I asked whether Maria was still a beautiful blond, trying to get some kind of description. The woman on the other end said she really couldn’t answer any more questions, and she hung up.”
“At least we know there is someone named Maria Borodin. If the woman said she wasn’t there, that would indicate she exists.”
“That’s what Ward and I thought.”
Ward! How delightful! They’re on a first-name basis. I couldn’t resist any longer. “Did you find out whether he’s married?”
“I didn’t ask him.”
Did that mean she didn’t know, or did it mean she didn’t ask him, but he told her anyway that he’s a lonely widower who would like to get to know her better? Getting information out of Andrea can be like pulling teeth. I decided to drop the subject for now. “I’m surprised the sheriff wouldn’t have asked one of the women on his staff to make that call.”
“He only has one female employee, a dispatcher, and she’s on maternity leave. He thought it would be better for a woman to call and inquire about another woman.”
“Ivy and I had a chat while you were gone. She said the Nicholsons are leaving Wednesday, and the ‘fashionable lady’ and Mr. Bosch will stay through the weekend. She thinks Mr. Bosch is kind of weird. She said he carries something that looks like a laptop back and forth to and from his room. Do you suppose he has a gun hidden in a laptop case and he brings it to his room at night and takes it back to his car in the morning?”
“I’ve never seen him carrying anything.”
“No, I haven’t either. He did come in late the night we were stuck on the lift.
I told Ivy about that, and she wondered why he hadn’t just rung the buzzer in Stefan’s room. I didn’t tell her we’d knocked on Stefan’s door and got no answer, which would have explained why Mr. Bosch had to knock to get in. Anyway, he wasn’t carrying anything then, unless it was under his coat.”
“Maybe he didn’t want Stefan to know that he was coming in after ten and hadn’t actually tried the buzzer. Maybe he was hoping someone else would hear him knocking and let him in.”
I nodded. “Yes, maybe he was hoping for a couple of older ladies who wouldn’t be suspicious of him. Little did he know . . .”
Andrea laughed. “If he thought that, he must be a bachelor. Little did he know is right—that older women are the most suspicious people in the world.”
Wednesday dawned bright and clear. I woke up and saw an empty bed beside me. Andrea must have gone to the lobby. I went to the side window and looked out at the snow sparkling in the fields and on the trees. Two does and a buck made their way along the side of the hotel. I went to the back window and watched them disappear into the pine thicket where Cherie found the knife. Visiting the Canaan Valley in winter could get to be a habit.
I got ready for the day and went to the lobby. Andrea was there alone in front of the fireplace, reading a paper and drinking coffee. Ivy was behind the desk. She was getting more generous with her coffee, it seemed. I said good morning to both of them, and Ivy invited me to go to the kitchen and help myself to a cup.
I sat down with my coffee. “What’s on our schedule for today?”
“I’m going to ski again. It’s a nice day, and we see Birdie Lancaster tomorrow, so I won’t be able to ski then.”
“Do you have any further engagements with the sheriff?”
I could see she was debating about how much to tell me. “Well . . . he did say he’d like to spend a day skiing with me, but he can’t take a day off till these murders are solved.”
A big smile crossed my face, but I didn’t get a chance to say anything. Maria Borodin walked into the lobby at that moment. “Oh, I’d love some of that coffee, too. Where did you get it?”
Ivy spoke up. “It’s in the kitchen. Help yourself.”
Maria had worn a different ski outfit every day we’d seen her, and today was no different. She was wearing black ski pants, and under her suspenders a red turtleneck. She had tossed a gray parka over the back of the couch. I couldn’t help admiring the luxurious dark fur trim around the hood. It probably was mink. I remembered reading somewhere that the Russians are famous for their minks. Or was it their ermines? She came back with coffee and sat beside the coat. I wondered how many trunks full of clothes she had in her room. And what else might be in those trunks.
“Are you skiing today?”
“Andrea is. I’ll be sitting in the nice warm lodge and reading.”
“You should learn to ski. Take a lesson. I guarantee you’d love it.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said. “I’d break something for sure.”
“Are you here for the week?”
Andrea set her cup on the coffee table. “We’re not sure when we’re leaving, but I did extend our reservation through this weekend, just in case. We’re both retired, so we don’t have to get back. Will you be here till the weekend?”
“I’m leaving Sunday. There’s s dinner party at the embassy Sunday night that I must attend.” She set her cup on the table and got up and put her coat on. “I must be on my way. I don’t want to waste a bit of my skiing time.”
I finished my coffee. “Let’s take these cups to the kitchen and wash them before we go.”
Andrea put her fingers inside Maria’s cup and tipped it over, then slid her other hand under it. She picked it up that way and started for the kitchen. I followed with the other two cups.
“I’ll take care of those,” Ivy yelled after us.
“It won’t take us but a minute.”
Andrea was looking through shelves. She pulled a freezer storage bag from its box and held it out for me to open. She carefully maneuvered the cup into the bag and slid the zipper. We washed the other two cups quickly, not saying anything, and put them in the cabinet. Several of the black bear cups were stacked on the shelf; Ivy wouldn’t notice that one was missing.
By the time we got into the car with the cup carefully stashed in my purse, I was beginning to feel our visit was turning into a real cloak and dagger affair. Andrea headed away from the ski area. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’ll have to make a quick trip to Parsons first. I want to deliver that to the sheriff, if he’s at his office. I guess I’d better call him.” She wheeled off the road in a wide spot and pulled out her cell phone. She was searching through the numbers stored in her phone; she must have entered the sheriff’s number there.
“Is Sheriff Sterling there? Do you know how long ago he left? Thanks.”
She tried another number. “It’s Andrea. I have a cup that Maria Borodin drank out of this morning. Yes. I’ll meet you there. I’ll just wait outside. Okay.”
We bounced onto the highway and turned back toward the ski area. I sat there, not knowing what was going on. Finally I got my thoughts together. “Do you know something about Maria that I don’t?”
“No. I only know the sheriff asked me to call the embassy about her. I just figured he might like her fingerprints. He’ll meet us at the parking lot by the Bear Paw.”
The sheriff was already there, waiting beside his car, when we arrived. Andrea pulled in beside him, and I withdrew the cup from my purse. Andrea lowered her window and handed him the plastic bag. He nodded, thanked us, got in his car, and drove away. If Andrea got involved with this man, it wasn’t going to be the most communicative relationship in the world.
We went inside and Andrea went off to rent equipment and get a lift ticket. I got some coffee and a muffin and spotted the mysterious stranger I’d talked to before the ski lift incident. He was sitting at a table in the corner where I usually sat. I walked over and sat at a small table next to his. “Good morning!”
“Good morning. You’re still not skiing?”
“No, it’s not for me. I prefer to sit here and read my book.”
“I heard about the ordeal on the lift last Saturday. That was quite a tragedy, with the death of the lift operator. Have the authorities solved the crime yet?”
“I haven’t heard anything.”
He looked sincerely sorry about all the problems in the Canaan Valley. “And that poor lady at the Alpenhof. That was a tragedy also. Did the authorities find that she was robbed?”
“She had a diamond pendant and ring that were taken. The sheriff hasn’t said much. He seems to be on top of both situations.” I said the last so that if the mysterious stranger were involved, he’d be worried. He didn’t look the least bit worried.
He stood up, opened the flap on a nearby trash receptacle, and pushed his cup in. “Well, I must get back to skiing. It’s been good talking to you again.”
“Good talking to you.” If Andrea could play detective, so could I. I waited until he went out the door then walked over to the trash bin. No one seemed to be paying any attention to me. I pushed the flap back. His cup was right there on top of a jumble of plastic containers and napkins, just waiting for me to grab it. I didn’t know whether fingerprints could be obtained from a foam cup, but I’d take it and we’d find out later. I reached in and put my fingers inside the cup, spread them, and started to draw it out. Just then I got a cold feeling on the back of my neck that told me someone was watching me. I turned.
The mysterious stranger had a less than mysterious smile on his face. “I believe that’s what’s called dumpster diving in this country.” He came close and reached down and took the cup from my hand. He crushed it slowly and thoroughly with one hand, and I wondered if he’d like to do the same to my neck. He put the cup in his pocket. “I’ll take care of this for you.”
“I was . . .” I mumbled. “I was looking for my bracelet. I just noticed . . .” I began to believe my heart had stopped.
He nodded knowingly. “And you thought it was in the trash can.”
“It’s not on the floor or on the table.”
“Well, good luck. I came back for my camera. I left it hanging on the chair.” He retrieved his camera and headed for the door.
I collapsed into my chair and put my face in my hands. I was shaking from the encounter, and I was embarrassed, wondering if anyone had seen the exchange. I looked around, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to me. The people nearby were skiers on break, and they were chatting in groups or sitting alone and watching the skiing through the windows.
My body slowly returned to, well, almost normal. I tried to calm myself by thinking, So what if the stranger realized I was trying to take his cup for fingerprint purposes? So if he were guilty of murder, then he’d probably try to murder me, too, for my suspicions. I’d be embarrassed to tell Andrea what happened, but I’d have to. And after all, I’d only done what she did. It just hadn’t turned out so well.
I returned to my coffee and my book, and when Andrea came in for lunch, I explained the situation to her. “It’s okay,” she said. “At least you tried.”
“Now I’m worried. Do you suppose he’ll try to do away with me? He undoubtedly knows I’m suspicious of him.”
“Only if he’s a vicious murderer, and we have no reason to think that. He looked like a perfectly harmless person who just happened to be chatting with Maria last weekend. There’s no reason to think anything else.”
“But I did see him later, and told him all about our lift ride. And you know how that turned out.”
Andrea pondered all this for a moment. “We’ll be cautious. That’s all we can do.”
Just then Maria came up to our table with a tray in her hands. “Do you mind if I join you? It’s getting crowded in here.”
“Not at all,” Andrea said, and I nodded. The two of us got up to get some lunch. When we returned, Maria was halfway through a salad, one of those with deep greens, reds, and every other healthy looking color I could think of. Here I was with a burger, still wearing polyester and acrylic. The woman was making me feel absolutely inadequate.
I read for a while after they went back to skiing. I’d been resisting the idea of going to the ski shop to check out sweaters, but I decided the time had come. The shop had oodles of sweaters, all in wool or blends of cotton and other natural fibers. I spotted one right away—a Norwegian-looking lamb’s wool number in avocado green—my color—with rows of flowers across the top in beige and tomato red. I tried it on, and it was perfect. I left it on, and the clerk cut the tags off for me. We put my old one in a bag. I’d surprise Andrea.
She skied until the lift closed; she was getting to be a real enthusiast. Then she came in and exclaimed about my sweater, and we picked up sandwiches and started to the Alpenhof. We were halfway there when we heard a loud bang and the Accord veered off the road and down a steep embankment. Andrea managed to stop it just before we smashed into a large oak.
My heart was thumping like all get out, and I couldn’t say anything at all for a while. Andrea just sat there gripping the steering wheel. I finally managed to speak. “If not for your excellent driving, we’d have crashed right into that tree.”
She nodded. Not often did I see Andrea shook up, but this got to her, I could tell. After a while she laughed. “I don’t think I can call AAA in this area. But then again, maybe I can.” She pulled out her cell phone and then put it back again when we saw lights flashing on the highway above us. Within seconds Willard Hill was peering through Andrea’s window. She lowered it and shut off the engine.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It sounded like a blowout. I think it was the right front tire, and I couldn’t hold it on the road.”
“You were lucky you managed to stop.”
I couldn’t help wondering if Willard really was upset that Andrea had managed to stop, rather than thinking she was lucky. It seemed like too much of a coincidence that he happened along so quickly. He must have been right behind us. Had he found out about Maria’s cup, and decided Andrea was getting too interested in solving the murders?
“I was just getting ready to call AAA.”
“Don’t even think about it. I’ll give you a ride home, and we’ll see about your car. We have a wrecker we use in this area. I’ll have him drag the car out, and we can check it out and make sure nothing’s damaged. Except for the tire, that is. We can’t have the guests in our area inconvenienced. Let me have your keys—I’ll take care of everything.”
He was really laying it on thick. Maybe he didn’t want us to see what really happened to that tire. I wondered if there was a bullet hole in it. Andrea handed him her keys, and I wondered what she was thinking.
We struggled up the snowy embankment and got in the cruiser with Willard. We were at the Alpenhof in minutes. “Do you think the car will be ready by nine-thirty tomorrow morning?” Andrea asked Willard. “We have an appointment with Birdie Lancaster at ten, but I can call her and postpone it if necessary.”
I was hoping this wasn’t going to happen, so I was delighted when Willard said, “I’ll have it back here before then so you can keep your appointment.” He was still sitting there, calling the wrecker, as we went into the hotel. Maggie was sitting by the fireplace, eating her supper. “I’m going to the room for a minute,” Andrea said. “I want to call the sheriff.”
“Be sure and tell him about the incident with the cup at the Bear Paw,” I murmured before I walked on over and joined Maggie.
I told her about our blowout. I didn’t tell her about the cups; I’d leave that to Andrea if she wanted to talk about it.
“Sit down,” Maggie said. “Where’s Andrea going?”
“She went to the room for a minute. She’ll be back. We brought some sandwiches.”
“Stefan said it would be okay if I tell you and Andrea about his past, and about why we think his life’s in danger.”
I was all ears. “I’ll get Andrea!”
“You’ll have to promise . . .”
“Of course, of course!” I yelled over my shoulder as I whizzed down the hallway.
“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.
At last we were back to tracking down the lost paintings. I woke at seven, thinking Andrea would still be asleep, but she had left the room. I got up slowly, still thinking about Stefan and his relationship with Maggie. I had even dreamed about him last night, and the dream hadn’t been good. He was hiding, keeping something from us, and no matter how hard we all looked, he eluded us.
By the time we got showers and went to bed last night, I was too sleepy to discuss my thoughts about Stefan. In addition to that, I thought the car might be a better place to talk about him, away from prying ears. After all, the walls of the hotel weren’t all that thick. I dressed and went to the lobby. Andrea was having coffee, and I joined her. Ivy came and sat with us and brought a plate of Danish pastries. I was beginning to hope the Alpenhof was working its way up to a Continental breakfast.
I had barely taken a bite of my pineapple-cream cheese when the door opened and who should walk in but Willard Hill. Of course, we were expecting him, but just not this early. Willard wasn’t in uniform, but wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans under a sharp-looking black leather bomber jacket. I swear, I think the man smells food from miles away. “Good morning.” He handed Andrea’s car keys to her. “You’re all set. Two new tires on the front, everything checked out.”
“Thanks so much. Where do I go to settle the bill?”
“I left the bill on the front seat. Just send a check when you get back to Pine Summit.”
Andrea put the keys in her pocket. “I’ll certainly do that. And I appreciate your taking care of the car for me.”
“No problem.” Then Willard just stood there staring at the Danish like a well-trained puppy who knew looking was acceptable, but waiting till food was offered was a must. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask him if he’d like some Danish and coffee, and Andrea felt the same, I’m sure.
Ivy didn’t look too happy about it, but she finally said, “Would you like some coffee and a sweet roll? We appreciate you taking care of our guests.”
“Thanks. I think I will.” He went to the kitchen and returned with a cup of coffee, then helped himself to a pastry.
The phone rang and Ivy went to answer it. “Have you heard the latest?” Willard murmured between gulps.
“What’s happening?” Andrea asked.
“There’s a rumor going around that Franklin Stuart’s wife was involved with some guy from over at Parsons. Mum’s the word, of course. It’s only a rumor. You know how it is in small towns. And we’re not even a town here in the Canaan Valley.”
“We won’t say anything, of course,” I said. He could count on us to keep our mouths shut, just as we could count on him to blab about everything he knew.
Ivy returned and Willard helped himself to another pastry. He wolfed it down, excused himself, and left. “That man’s a bottomless pit,” Ivy said. “I’ve never known him to refuse food.”
“Is he married?” I asked, wondering if he had a wife who cooked for him at home, and if he did, how his obvious infatuation with Olga would have impacted on that relationship.
“No, Willard’s not married. Who’d have him? You remember I told you how he used to hang around here all the time, mooning over Olga. She snapped at him every time he spoke to her, but he just kept coming. Of course, she snapped at all of us.” Then Ivy stopped talking. She was probably thinking she’d said too much.
I thought I’d ease her mind by agreeing with her. “She certainly wasn’t very pleasant to us when we checked in. I couldn’t help thinking that she wasn’t the friendliest hotel clerk I’d ever seen. Maybe she had problems that no one knew about.”
I had been fishing, but my remark brought an inadequate response. Ivy shrugged her shoulders. “None that I ever heard of. She had it made here, with her brother running and doing everything for her. She ordered him around just like she did the rest of us.”
Finally we were in the car on our way to Birdie Lancaster’s. I was so excited, thinking of talking to a former employee of the Alpenhof, that I was inclined to forget the murders and look forward to our visit. My better judgment prevailed, though, and I decided to mention my doubts about Stefan.
When I finished telling Andrea what I’d been thinking about the murder of Olga and how that, and finding the Monets, could profit Stefan, she nodded and continued driving. After a while she said, “I’ve had those thoughts, too, but I’m having a hard time believing he’s anything but a sincere young man who wants to marry our niece. And if the murders of Olga and Franklin Stuart are connected, it couldn’t have been Stefan who killed them. He was on the lift with us.”
“Of course, we don’t know they’re connected. His story about Olga’s husband trying to murder him in Paris and thinking he saw him at the ski area could be a cover-up, something he made up to put the blame on someone else.”
“I realize that. My intuition tells me it isn’t, though.”
That was the first time in my life I ever heard Andrea mention intuition, and I was flabbergasted. Reasoning was always her big thing. I simply said what she always says: “It remains to be seen.”
And as I said this, we were pulling into Birdie Lancaster’s driveway. Her house was surrounded by snow, but I could tell she had a yard full of flowers in the summer. It was just that type of place. It was a two-story frame house with a picket fence out front. A flagstone sidewalk was clear of snow, although at least a foot covered the yard. We didn’t have time to knock on the door when a smiling lady opened it. She was small and chipper-looking with gray hair cut in what we used to call a boyish bob.
I speculated about Birdie’s age—she appeared to be about our age, in her sixties—as she urged us to come in out of the cold. We introduced ourselves as she ushered us to a couch beside a stone fireplace and a fire that was burning merrily along. She excused herself and went to the kitchen for coffee. In addition to the three cups of coffee in classy-looking china on a large wooden tray, there were cream and sugar in the same china and a similar plate stacked with chocolate chip cookies that were obviously homemade. This certainly was a fine climate for eating cookies, here in the mountains. I just hoped I wasn’t gaining weight as I helped myself to one. I wouldn’t have to worry about it if I had agreed to try skiing, but that wasn’t about to happen.
“Thanks so much for seeing us,” Andrea said. “We’ve been collecting information about the hotel since we got here. We knew our grandparents had owned a hotel in the valley at one time, but we never knew exactly where it was. Then our niece, Maggie, started working there and discovered some records from the time they owned it.”
“Oh, I know Maggie. She’s a sharp girl. I stop by the hotel now and then for a chat with whoever’s working the desk, since I worked there myself for so many years.”
I added what looked like Half and Half from the flowered pitcher, and then took a long drink of Birdie’s excellent coffee. “We’re not exactly sure when our grandparents left this area, but I suppose that was before you started working at the hotel.”
“Yes, your grandparents were gone from here before I was born. When I started at the hotel, working on weekends as a teenager, it was owned by a man named Evans. He owned it for several years, and then Harley Wainwright bought him out. He operated the place for several years. He retired, and no one else in his family was interested in running the hotel. It was closed for a few years, and I think the present owners bought it from the Wainwright heirs.”
Andrea had pulled a steno pad from her purse and was taking notes. “Do you know Mr. Evans first name?”
“I believe it was Everett. Yes, I’m sure it was. He was a drinker, but he did do a pretty good job of running the hotel. I was real sorry to hear about the death of one of the present owners. Have you heard—has the sheriff made any progress in finding out what happened?”
“We haven’t heard anything,” Andrea said.
“And poor Franklin Stuart. That was a real tragedy. There isn’t a nicer family in the valley. We go to the same church, and his wife and I have done volunteer work together for years. The sons are a real plus in this community, I can tell you. I don’t know what this world’s coming to.”
I saw an opportunity to get some information about the sheriff. “Sheriff Sterling seems like a really competent man. I expect he’ll get to the bottom of things before long.”
“Oh, he’s an excellent sheriff. He gets re-elected time after time with no problem. No one would think of going up against him. Even after his wife died, his interest in this community has kept him going. We all think the world of him.”
Aha! I just couldn’t help pursuing the matter further. “I guess he’s a widower, then. He’s such an attractive man; I’m surprised some lady from this area hasn’t won him over.”
Andrea gave me a sidelong look that told me to cease and desist with this line of questioning. “We found a list of items that were bought by our grandparents when they went to France. One thing on the list was a vase they brought as a present for your mother.”
“My, yes, I still have that vase and use it all the time in the summer, when my flowers are blooming. I keep cut flowers in the house all the time.” Birdie went to a what-not shelf in the corner and took down a medium-sized opaque glass vase. She handed it to Andrea, who looked it over and passed it on to me. All four sides of the vase had lovely young girls in profile molded into the blue glass.
I looked at the bottom but couldn’t find any markings. “Do you think it could be Lalique?”
“I think their trip over there would have been a little early for Lalique.”
“What’s Lalique?” Birdie asked.
“He was a French glass-maker,” Andrea explained. “His work became pretty well-known. If you ever get a chance to go to the Antiques Roadshow, take the vase and have an appraiser look at it.”
“Or you might have a chance to have a reputable antique dealer appraise it,” I said.
“I certainly will. Of course, I’ll never sell it. It’s for my niece, Flora.”
“Of course you’d want to keep it in the family,” Andrea said. “Another item on the list was two chandeliers. There was no description of them, but we thought probably they were the ones in the lobby and the kitchen.”
Birdie nodded. “I’m sure they’re the ones. That kitchen used to be the dining hall for the lumberjacks who boarded there. That must have been a job, cooking for them. I wouldn’t have wanted it. I always thought that chandelier in the dining hall was a little fancy for a bunch of lumberjacks.”
“I wondered about that, too,” I said. “Our grandparents had champagne tastes, it seems.”
Birdie laughed. “They had that reputation. Not that I knew them, of course, but folks in this area still mention them occasionally. It seems they liked living high on the hog.”
Andrea was working her way up to the paintings, and I was getting impatient. Finally, she said, “The list also mentioned two paintings. We’re curious about them, but haven’t been able to locate them.”
Birdie looked puzzled. “I don’t know. There were a few paintings in the hotel, but not all rooms had them. Then Mr. Wainwright bought all the black bear pictures and dishes. That was while I was still working there. He made all the frames for those pictures himself. Well, that isn’t exactly correct. In the rooms that had pictures, he just used the old frames if they fit his pictures.”
I took another cookie, but just sat there holding it. “I wonder what he did with the pictures that were in those frames.”
“I’m not sure, since it’s been a long time ago. I think he just put the new pictures over the old ones. He probably didn’t know what to do with the old ones, and didn’t want to throw them out.” She got up to bring the coffee pot.
“If our Monets had frames that were right for the new pictures, they could still be under the black bear prints,” I murmured to Andrea.
Birdie returned and poured coffee for all of us. “Please help yourselves to the cookies.”
“They’re delicious,” I said.
Andrea took another. “You mentioned that the present owners of the hotel bought it from the Wainwright heirs. Did he pass on some time ago?”
“Yes, and his wife died shortly after. His children have left this area.”
“What happened to the Wainwright home place?”
“It’s been sold several times. The last owners remodeled it completely. We have so many new folks moving into this area, you know. Everything’s changing, but that’s the way of the world.”
I wondered if they did all that remodeling with the money from the sale of two Monets. If the paintings weren’t under the black bear prints, it looked like we’d be at a dead end. At least I couldn’t think of anything else to try. Maybe Andrea, with her nose for digging into mysteries, could think of something.
We spent another fifteen minutes finishing our coffee and commiserating with each other about the changing world. At least Birdie and I commiserated. Andrea always adapts to changes better than most folks our age.
I couldn’t think of anything else to ask, and Andrea obviously couldn’t either. We got into our parkas and said goodbye, promising to come and see Birdie on our next visit to the Canaan Valley. She was nice, and it was fun to have a friend in the valley. In addition, she made wonderful cookies and had insisted we take a bag with us. We certainly would plan to visit her again, if I had anything to say about it. We’d have to think of something to bring her from Pine Summit. She even gave me her cookie recipe:
BIRDIE’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unpacked brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, unbeaten
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup pecan pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stirring after each addition. The batter will be thick. Shape dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10—12 minutes. Watch cookies carefully, as ovens may vary.
Andrea backed out of the driveway and started down the road. “We’ll go back to the hotel and check the pictures in our room. Maybe it won’t be too much trouble to get them out of the frames if Mr. Wainwright did the framing himself. We can start with the ones in our room, and if the paintings aren’t there, we’ll check the other rooms when we have a chance.”
“I wonder what condition the paintings would be in if another painting has been stuck on top of them all these years.”
“Stuck is probably right,” Andrea said, “if they’re oils. Considering the heat and cold, and the age of the varnish, there’s no telling. Oils can be cleaned and restored, though, so all won’t be lost if we find them.” I tingled with excitement all the way back to the hotel. It would be a stroke of luck if the Monets were under the black bear prints in our very own room. I could hardly wait. Asbury was behind the desk, looking at a newspaper, when we arrived.
“Hi, Asbury,” Andrea said. “All quiet here today?”
“Quiet as a cemetery.”
“No one checking in or out, I guess.”
“Not a soul. We’ll have a rush tomorrow, with folks arriving for the weekend, but no one’s supposed to check in today. I’m just here to answer the phone while Ivy cleans.”
As we went down the hall, Ivy was just opening the door to Gunter Bosch’s room. “Did you have a good visit with Birdie Lancaster?”
I was too impatient to get to our room and check out the back of the pictures to hang around in the hallway, talking. “It was very good. We’ll tell you all about it when we have a chance to sit down for coffee.”
Andrea opened the door to our room, and for a moment I completely forgot the Monets. Sitting on top of the chest was a bouquet of peach-colored roses. Andrea’s face lit up like I’d never seen it before. “Would you look at that!” I said, dying to know what the card, sitting on a pronged holder amid the roses, said about who had sent them.
Andrea was smiling as she read the card. Was it from the sheriff, or was it from Stefan, buttering us up so we wouldn’t be suspicious of him? Finally I could stand it no longer. “What does it say?”
So, the sheriff. That made me happy, but I couldn’t help wondering what he was thanking her for. She had made the call to the Russian embassy, she had taken him the cup with Maria’s fingerprints on it, and she had called and given him information about our blowout. Was any of that enough to merit these gorgeous roses, or would he simply think she was a citizen doing her civic duty by doing those things? She had spent quite a bit of time with him when they met for lunch on Tuesday, but I couldn’t imagine Andrea doing anything more than shaking hands on a first date, if you could call meeting the sheriff for lunch a date. She certainly wouldn’t have done anything to cause the sheriff to send such a bouquet. It must have been Maria’s cup that really impressed him with her initiative.
“They’re absolutely beautiful,” I said, moving toward the black bear prints.
“Aren’t they? It was nice of him to send them.” She joined me and we reached up together and took down one of the pictures.
A rusty wire stretched across the back. It was attached to screws with rounded hooks on the end, screws that were sunk deep into the sturdy wooden frame. Fortunately, the back wasn’t finished the way it would be if it were done in a frame shop today, with brown paper glued over the entire area. A neatly cut piece of cardboard was held in place by small nails driven into the frame. Andrea went to her purse and pulled out, of all things, one of those multi-tool gizmos. Truly, the woman is always prepared for anything. “You brought that, thinking . . . what?”
“I always carry my Leatherman with me.”
She had those nails yanked out in no time. She slid one of the implements along the edge of the cardboard and lifted it out. I was holding my breath at this point. She gently lifted what was under the cardboard and turned over a black bear print. No concealed water lily painting, unfortunately.
I closed my eyes and let my breath out in a long sigh of disappointment. “I was hoping so much that we’d find the paintings in our room. It seemed like fate would have made it so, that we’d be staying in the room where they’d be found.” I sat down on the edge of my bed.
“They were no more likely to be in this room than any other.” Andrea, always the realist, said as she put the picture back together and pressed the nails back firmly with the side of the Leatherman. “I suppose it’s useless to check the other painting. If we find the water lily paintings, they’ll undoubtedly both be in the same room.”
“We can’t be sure. Maybe the Monets were in different rooms to begin with.”
“Of course, if he made frames for some and used old ones for others, the frames are probably going to be different if there’s a hidden painting underneath.” She reached for the second picture anyway, and I helped her take it down.
She went through the same process with this one, with the same results, and we put the picture back on the wall. She put the Leatherman in her pocket. “Let‘s go down the hall and talk to Ivy. Maybe we’ll check out Gunter Bosch’s room.”
Ivy was still cleaning Bosch’s room. She was bent over the bathtub, scrubbing it with a long-handled brush. The tub was one of the old-fashioned kind, with claw feet that held it off the floor. I made a mental note to request this room next time, Number 8. I hadn’t had a long, soaking bath in a tub like that since I was a teenager and still living at my parents’ home. By the time I married John, everyone wanted the new style of tub that rested snug on the floor. A bath in the tub in Gunter Bosch’s room would be a real nostalgia trip and would feel so good when the temperature outside was ten below.
Andrea went to the bathroom door. “We’d like to check out the pictures in this room. We’re trying to locate some of the things our grandparents brought from Europe for the hotel. Stefan told us to go ahead and check out everything.”
“Sure, go ahead. I still have to clean upstairs. I’ll be through here in a minute, but you can lock up as you leave.”
Ivy was being amazingly agreeable now that she understood we didn’t think Asbury was a murderer. We took one picture down and took it apart with no luck. We were putting it back on the wall when Ivy left. The other picture turned out to be just as unproductive. “This would be a good time to look in the empty rooms, before the hotel fills up for the weekend,” I said.
“We’ll do that, but first, go stand watch at the door. I want to check something.”
Andrea telling me to stand watch was more than enough to make me nervous, thinking she was up to something extremely hazardous, but I went to the open door and leaned against the jamb without saying anything. In the periphery of my vision I could see Andrea removing the bottom drawer of the chest and looking into the opening where the drawer had been. Andrea sometimes hides valuables under the bottom drawer of her dresser, and she obviously thought Bosch might have hidden something under his chest. I was so intrigued by what she was doing that it took a moment for my mind to register the fact that Gunter Bosch was coming down the hallway toward me, full steam ahead.
“Psst,” I hissed toward Andrea. I could see her sliding the drawer back and standing up.
He stood there looking from one of us to the other. “Is there any reason you’re in my room?”
“We’re just leaving,” Andrea said. “We’ve been checking the paintings in all the rooms, trying to locate some family pictures that belonged to our grandparents. They owned this hotel at one time.” I was glad she was doing the talking, because with my heart in my throat, I wouldn’t have been able to speak.
“There are no pictures in this room, or any of the others, except for the black bears.”
“We were told by a former employee of the hotel that the black bear pictures were sometimes put in the frames of our family pictures, and our pictures were left behind the new ones. We’re taking the backs off all the pictures and checking them.”
“Are you through in here now?”
Andrea leaned down and picked up the Leatherman from where she had dropped it on the floor when she knelt down. “We’re through.”
He stood aside and we walked out. I tried to look more confident than I felt, confident that he believed us. We went straight to our room. “That was close,” I whispered. “I don’t think he saw you looking under the drawer. I don’t suppose you found anything.”
“On the contrary. I did find something under there.”
Was she going to tell me? With Andrea, I couldn’t be sure. “So what was it?”
“A handgun and a holster. I believe it was a shoulder holster.”
“What do you suppose that means? What’s he doing with a gun? And I found it interesting that he said there were no paintings except for the black bear pictures in his room or any other room. Does that mean he’s been snooping in all the rooms?”
Andrea looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure what it means. Mr. Bosch is one evasive and unapproachable man. I can’t imagine why he’d have a gun in his room, either.”
“Do you think you should tell someone about it? The sheriff should know that someone in his territory has a gun hidden in his room. I wonder if it’s legal to have a handgun here.”
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit I was snooping in another guest’s room.”
I couldn’t help laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’ve never known you to be embarrassed before. It just struck me as funny.”
She looked a little miffed. “I’m embarrassed occasionally. I just don’t make a big deal of it. I’m going to have to think about this. Maybe I should tell Stefan. He’s the one who seems to be in danger here, and in addition to that, he owns the hotel.”
“I think you should tell Stefan and the sheriff.”
“You’re probably right.”
And that probably was another first—Andrea admitting that I might be right. She took her cell phone from her purse and started pushing buttons.
We found Ivy upstairs cleaning Stefan’s room, and she assured us that the vacant rooms were unlocked. We had decided we’d better check those rooms next, since they’d be filling up tomorrow. We wanted to get Stefan’s permission before we checked his room. Ivy assured us that if Stefan had said it was okay, we should feel free to check out the paintings in as many of the unoccupied rooms as we wanted. We started with the rooms in the wing opposite ours, which were all unoccupied since the dog people checked out, and found nothing. Next, we went to the room the Nicholsons had checked out of and had no luck there, at least not as far as the paintings were concerned.
Andrea was on the side of the bed nearest the windows, putting up the last of the prints, and she stooped to pick up something from the floor. “That’s interesting.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a slip of paper that was under the bed. Just the edge was sticking out under the spread. It’s a phone number.”
“What’s the area code? And is there a name, or just the number?”
“It’s 304, and it’s only the number.
I walked over and looked at the slip. “Would that be a Charleston number?”
“There’s no telling. The whole state has the same area code. I’ll try the number when we get back to our room and my cell phone.”
Since we’d already checked our room and that of Gunter Bosch, the only room left to check in our wing was that of Maria Borodin, and that would have to wait till Ivy was cleaning in there.
We crossed the lobby and went upstairs. Maggie’s was the only occupied room on the west side of the landing; we checked the others without finding anything. Maggie had pointed out Olga’s room to us earlier; it was across the east hallway from Stefan’s. Andrea tried the door and found it locked.
“Her things are probably still in there,” I said. “Maybe Stefan can unlock the door for us later.” We walked down the hallway and discovered there was only one other room beyond Olga’s. Stefan’s room obviously took up one entire side of that wing. We noticed immediately when we entered the unoccupied room that the frames were different there, and my hopes began to soar.
Andrea removed the cardboard backing from the first one we took from the wall, and I felt as if my heart were in my throat as she removed a picture. It was a glossy print of a still life, complete with fruit and flowers cascading from bowl and vase and onto a table. I sighed. “Drat!”
“Let’s check the other one, just to be sure. And we still have Maggie’s and Stefan’s rooms…and Olga’s, of course.”
“And Maria Borodin’s.”
“Yes. We have a ways to go before we give up.” She was actually encouraging me now. She removed the other painting from its frame. It was a similar still life, with roses instead of dahlias and heavy on the purple grapes. We put everything back as we had found it, turned off the light, and went to our room.
Andrea took her cell phone from her purse and dialed the number on the slip of paper from the Nicholson’s room. She said nothing for a minute and then said, “Sorry, I must have the wrong number.”
“Could you tell who was on the other end?”
“The person who answered said ‘Henry’s Pawn Shop.’”
“Sounds like a perfect place to get rid of the CZ’s, which Nicholson undoubtedly thinks are diamonds.”
“A possibility. One more item I need to give the sheriff. In the meantime, let’s think about getting some supper.”
As we were driving back from the Canaan Lodge, Andrea said, “I think we should use the computer in Maggie’s room, and do an Internet search for a couple of people.”
“Fine with me, as long as you’re doing it.”
“I’ll be doing it.” Andrea has little patience with the technologically challenged. She has a laptop, a digital camera, a cell phone, and a PC at home. Then there’s some kind of gadget she uses to play music when she’s taking her daily walk around Pine Summit. And she knows how to use all of these things; at least, it seems to me she does. Now and then she pulls a manual from one of the shelves in her study, goes to her recliner, and reads up on something, but that doesn’t happen often.
Maggie was looking at a magazine behind the desk when we got back to the hotel. I put my elbows on the registration desk, eager to tell her what we’d learned from Birdie Lancaster. “We talked to Birdie this morning. She said the previous owner before Stefan and Olga had bought all the black bear prints for the rooms. She thinks he put the prints over some of the pictures that were here. We’ve been checking the vacant rooms, and we checked ours and Gunter Bosch’s because Ivy was cleaning in there. We haven’t found anything yet, but in one of the empty rooms upstairs, we did find some other paintings under the black bear prints.”
Maggie stood up. “I’m impressed with all you’ve done. How about checking my room?”
Andrea spoke up. “We’d like to use your computer, too, to check on a couple of the guests here.”
Maggie looked slightly amused at her two elderly aunts playing detective. I don’t think she was taking us too seriously. She gave us the keys to her room and told us to help ourselves. When we got upstairs, Andrea turned the computer on, and I watched over her shoulder as she went through a procedure that was a complete mystery to me. I would have preferred she check the pictures first, but since she was the one doing it all, I’d let her have her way without saying anything.
I was watching what Andrea was doing, but I couldn’t help thinking about how Maggie’s room was tidy as could be. I remembered back to when we were in Stefan’s room, explaining why we thought he was in danger, and how I noticed that his room also was neat. That would be a good thing—two neat people marrying each other and keeping a neat house. I supposed they’d live here at the hotel, probably moving into Stefan’s room, since his was the biggest in the hotel and took up one entire side of the east wing. Life would be exciting for them, if only things worked out the way I hoped.
“Look here,” Andrea said. She must have realized my mind was wandering.
I peered at the screen and saw some printing on one side and a photo of two women on the other. I didn’t recognize either of them, but then it wasn’t the clearest photo I’d ever seen. “Who is it?”
“The caption says it’s Maria Borodin, the wife of a Russian diplomat, on the left. She’s with Greta Longbower, the president of the Holly Grove Women’s Club. Maria was a speaker at one of their meetings. This is from the Washington Post. Does either of those women look like Maria to you?”
I leaned down closer to the screen. “It’s a rather dark picture, but no, I don’t think either of those women is Maria. The woman on the left has blonde hair, and Maria’s is dark. I suppose she could have changed her hair color. My, isn’t it amazing what you can find on the Internet.”
“Of course, just because she doesn’t look like our Maria Borodin, doesn’t mean ours is a murderer. It’s possible the Post got the wrong caption on the picture. And even if Maria is pretending to be someone she isn’t, it doesn’t mean she’s guilty of murder.”
“When was the picture taken?”
“It’s from two weeks ago, so we know she couldn’t have been in this area more than two weeks. If the photo is actually our Maria Borodin, that is.”
She typed in the name Gunter Bosch beside a little blinking thingie, and a whole list appeared on the screen. “It appears Gunter Bosch was a tennis coach. Or is a tennis coach.” She clicked on one of the items in the list, and something appeared on the screen that looked like an article with a picture beside it. “The tennis coach is definitely not our Gunter Bosch.”
“He’s much better looking.”
“Do you remember Stefan’s last name?” Andrea asked.
“I don’t remember. I’m not sure we ever heard it. Did Maggie introduce us? We were all distraught about Olga’s murder, and I think we just gradually got to know Stefan without ever being introduced to him.”
“We’ve just heard Maggie call him Stefan when she talks to us about him. I agree with you, I don’t think she ever introduced us.”
“I’ll go down and ask her.”
“No, don’t do that. She’ll know we’re checking him out on the Internet, and I imagine she’d be upset about that. We’ll think of another way to find out.” She entered Stefan Alpenhof into the box by the blinking line, and a list came up. Andrea clicked on one of the items.
“It’s a hotel in a German-speaking country, with a manager or owner named Stefan. Here’s a picture of him and his family. It’s definitely not our Stefan.”
I leaned toward the screen. “No, that’s not him. I suppose Europe’s full of guys named Stefan and hotels named Alpenhof.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I don’t know what else to search, but I’m going to check my email.”
“How about Wes Nicholson?”
She typed his name into a box on Google. “There’s an author named Wes Nicholson, but I doubt it’s the one who was here. Let me try something else.” After a few more clicks and some waiting, “Hmm…look at this!”
I leaned down and peered at the monitor. “What the heck! That looks like some sort of criminal record.”
“It is. It appears our friend Wes has been convicted of burglary and breaking and entering. He’s on probation right now.”
The pawn shop phone number had given me doubts about Nicholson, but this was too much. “Are you sure it’s the same one? He seemed like a nice young man.”
“Look at the photo. It has to be him.”
“Maybe he killed Olga to get those diamonds. Or CZ’s, or whatever they are. He might have thought they were diamonds. Or maybe he took them when he went out into the hall to get ice and found her, already dead, behind the desk. If he has the CZ’s, that may be how he got them. I think you need to tell the sheriff about finding his criminal record.”
“Remember, though—the knife and Olga’s chain were found together. It’s obvious that whoever killed her also took the CZ’s. As for telling Ward, he probably checked out everyone who was staying in the hotel at the time of the murder. But I’ll mention it to him, in case he doesn’t know.”
“Do you suppose he checked us out?”
Andrea shrugged. “Probably.”
I sat down on Maggie’s bed. “Let’s not forget to look at the paintings in here before we go.”
“We will. I brought the Leatherman.” She said this as she clicked away on the keyboard. Then after a while she shut off the computer, and we took down first one picture and then the other. There was nothing under either of the black bear prints.
We started to leave the room when I heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was footsteps in the attic above us; it could have been nothing else. “Did you hear that?”
Andrea nodded. “I heard it. Let’s go down to the drink machine and see if someone comes down from the attic.”
“That was spooky. I’m not sure I want to see. I want to go jump in my bed and cover up my head.”
“It’s okay. It’s just someone walking up there. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.”
If there’s a logical explanation for anything, you can count on Andrea to find it. “Well, okay. Let’s go.” I wasn’t so sure about checking out eerie noises, but I always have the feeling that if you’re with Andrea, you’re going to be okay. That’s what having an older sister does for you. I followed her out of Maggie’s room and turned out the light and locked the door behind us.
She handed Maggie’s key back to her when we got downstairs. “Nothing but black bear prints in your room. Would you like something to drink? We’re going to have something.”
“Sure. I’ll take a Coke. Thanks.”
I found it interesting that Maggie didn’t ask what we’d found on the Internet. She obviously didn’t put much faith in her aunts’ detecting skills. We went to the drink machine, and I was trying to decide what I wanted, when Ivy came out of the laundry room where the door led to the attic. “Hi, Ivy. Is everything okay?” Andrea asked.
“I felt a cold draft in the laundry room, and I went up into the attic to see if a window was open up there. They were all closed. This old place is drafty as a corn crib. Maybe now Stefan will have time to caulk up some cracks around here.”
I simply looked at her questioningly, and she volunteered the information. “Olga always kept him so busy running errands and doing things for her, he never had time to take care of the basic repairs that are needed here at the hotel. And Asbury’s so busy shoveling snow and getting firewood, he hasn’t had time for fixing things.”
Andrea put coins in the drink machine. “Would you like a drink, Ivy?”
“I wouldn’t mind an orange soda.”
“I’ll take one of those, too,” I said. “Do you have enough quarters?”
“I’ll need a couple more.”
I dug in my purse for change as she got the orange drinks. When we had four cans, we went to the lobby and gave Maggie her Coke. “Let’s sit here by the fire and drink these so they won’t make us cold,” I said.
“Did you have any luck with the pictures?”
“Not so far,” Andrea said. “We haven’t checked them all yet. We did find a couple in one room that had other pictures under them. The ones underneath were still life prints, and we left them where they were and put the black bears back on top.”
I wondered if Ivy knew what a still life was, but she didn’t say anything, and I didn’t either. I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about, so I turned to Ivy and asked, “How’s David doing? We haven’t seen much of him since last weekend.”
“He’s doing fine. He comes home every day and does his homework while I’m getting supper. Then I come back over here to finish the laundry and he cleans up and does some other chores around the house. He does what he’s supposed to now because he wants to ski on the weekends. Stefan and Maggie got him a lift ticket for the rest of the season, and Maggie found him some skis. She had a pair of boots he can wear, so he’s all set.”
“He’s a good kid,” Andrea said. “All he needed was to get involved with something he feels passionate about. For him, it’s obviously skiing.”
“I appreciate what you’ve done for him, getting him involved in that. I didn’t realize it could make such a big difference. That, and getting Olga out of his life.”
“I suppose she was just as bossy and demanding with him as she was with everyone else,” I said.
Ivy didn’t say anything for a while. She looked as if she were deciding just how much to say. “Yes, she was that way with everyone,” she said.
It was obvious to me that there was more going on with Olga and David than Ivy was willing to talk about. I felt a little sick at my stomach, thinking about thirteen-year-old David and the beautiful and sophisticated Olga. Was it possible? If so, was it enough to drive a mother to murder? And was she really checking for an open window in the attic, or had she somehow overheard us talking about the Monets and was snooping in our trunks?
I awoke to another day of bright sunshine coming through the opening between the curtains. I pulled one aside and was dazzled by the brilliance of the sun on the snow that blanketed the entire valley. The outdoor thermometer was hovering at five below, even with the sun striking it.
Andrea came in, snapping her cell phone shut, just as I was heading for the bathroom. “What’s happening?” I asked.
“I was just talking to Ward. He has a request for you.”
“What’s the request?”
“Stefan and Maggie have something special planned for tomorrow night. It’s usually done during the holidays, but since we’re here, they want to do it again this weekend. Also, there’ll be all the weekend guests from the hotel who might want to come.”
“What is it they’re planning?”
“When the ski area closes, just after nine o’clock, all the instructors and some members of the Ski Patrol will come down the mountain carrying torches. Apparently it’s quite a sight. They’re going to ask David to ski with them. They think he’s learned enough to be able to ski without poles.”
“So what’s the sheriff’s request?”
“I’m going to be skiing today, and while you’re in the Bear Paw, he wants you to talk with the mysterious stranger we keep seeing there, and tell him about the special event. Tell him Stefan will be the last to come down, to make sure everyone else makes it safely.”
“You’re talking about the man we saw talking to Maria, the one who saw me digging for his cup in the trash?”
“That’s the one. Just keep it casual, as if you’re making conversation. Stefan’s going to print a flyer about the event and put a copy in all the rooms. They’ll post it in the Bear Paw, too.”
“I guess the sheriff’s hoping to flush out the murderer, if it’s someone who’s trying to kill Stefan.”
“That’s the plan.”
“Is this safe for Stefan?”
Andrea sat down on the edge of the bed. “It probably isn’t, but the whole thing was his idea. He’s determined to go ahead with it, even though Ward tried to talk him out of it. Part of this is that he wants us to see this spectacle while we’re here.”
“I’d hate to think he’s putting his life in danger to put on a show for us.”
“I think a larger part is that he’s hoping to reveal the murderer and end this situation. No one wants to feel threatened all the time.”
I nodded. “No problem with passing the information to the stranger. If he shows up, that is.”
“He’s been there every time we have. I hope he’ll be there this morning. Just remember to keep it casual.”
“That’s easy. I’ve chatted with him in the past, and I’ll do it again today.”
My usual table in the Bear Paw food court was taken, so I sat at another nearby with my sweet roll and coffee. There was no sign of the stranger, but, predictably, Willard came over to my table with a tray loaded with scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, a Danish, coffee, and orange juice. “Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” I said, hoping to hear Willard’s latest gossip before the stranger showed up.
“Is your sister skiing?” he asked as he spread jelly on his toast.
“Yes, she’s really taken to it. She keeps trying to get me to try it, but I’m not the athletic type. Just walking in those ski boots looks like a major challenge to me. I don’t know how I’d cope with the boots if they had skis attached to them.”
“It’s never been my thing, either. It’s mostly people from the big cities who come here for the skiing. You won’t find one in ten of the skiers to be local. Oh, the young people are getting involved, but in my age group, it isn’t popular. The sheriff’s an exception. He took to it when he was young, when they used to have a rope tow and only a couple of runs. Most of the locals who’re involved are in the Ski Patrol also.”
“David—he’s the son of Ivy at the Alpenhof—he seems to like it a lot. He’s doing really well at it. I understand they’re going to ask him to be part of the special event on the slopes tomorrow night.”
“What special event is that?”
Oh, dear. Perhaps I’d said too much. Yet I would have thought Willard and the other deputies would be the first to know what was going on if the sheriff knew about it and there was possible danger to Stefan. Was I going to create a problem if I told him? And how could I not tell him, now that I’d brought it up? Then I thought of a lame way around the situation. “Maybe it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
He finished chewing a mouthful of eggs. “There aren’t any surprises here in the valley for the staff at the sheriff’s office. We’re kept up on happenings all the time. Maybe the sheriff hasn’t gotten around to discussing it yet. Of course, yesterday was my day off, and I haven’t been in the office yet this morning.”
“That probably explains it.” I really felt the need to go ahead and tell him about it. “There’s supposed to be a special torchlight procession down the mountain with the ski instructors and Ski Patrol taking part. I’m looking forward to it, in spite of the cold. I’m going to the shop in a while to see if I can find some really warm socks.”
First chance I got, I’d tell Andrea about my conversation with Willard, and she could relay the information to the sheriff, let him know I’d told Willard what was going on. He was making headway on his Danish now and finishing his coffee. He hadn’t told me a thing; I’d been the one to give him the latest. “So what’s new with the investigations?”
“Not a lot, really. I think I mentioned to you that there’s a rumor going around that Franklin Stuart’s wife is having an affair from someone over at Parsons. Now folks are saying that’s nothing more than a rumor, started by an old gossip who lives near the Stuarts. I’m feeling bad now that I ever mentioned it to you and Miss Flynn.”
“It’s okay, Willard. We always like to be kept up on the latest information and to be informed when you find out it isn’t true. As for Mrs. Stuart, I’ve never met the woman, but from what Birdie Lancaster said about her, she’s a very nice person and not likely to be involved in an affair.” I said this to make conversation more than anything else, since I could see I wasn’t going to find out anything useful. Maybe it was Andrea he was trying to impress all those other times he gave out information so freely. Or maybe he was miffed because he had to find out from me about the special ski event.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the mysterious stranger come our way with a tray and take a seat a couple of tables away. It was the closest table available. Would the fact that I was sitting with a uniformed officer have an effect on my credibility when I told the stranger about the event?
Willard gathered up the debris from his breakfast and took it to the nearest trash bin. He came back by the table. “I hope to see you and your sister again before you leave.”
“We’ll be here till at least Monday. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again before then.” Running into Willard was no problem. All you had to do was go someplace where food was being served, and you’d be sure to see him. To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe that’s his way of networking.
As I watched Willard leave, I noticed Eli Lynch, the crackpot Canaan Valley activist, passing out flyers near the door. Willard walked up to him, took him by the arm, and walked out with him. I could tell Willard was talking all the way out, but couldn’t hear him from where I sat. I wondered again if Mr. Lynch was more than just a harmless crackpot, but I had more important business than wondering about Eli Lynch.
Right away the stranger looked at me and gave a little wave. He was too far away, and there were people seated at the table between us, so talking wasn’t possible. If I got up and went to his table, I’d appear too eager to tell him about the torchlight event. I just waved back and smiled.
He immediately picked up his cup and started toward me. He grinned as he pulled out a chair at my table and sat down, “Been digging in any trash cans lately?”
I think my heart skipped a beat. At least that’s what it felt like. I was hoping he’d forgotten the trash can incident, and his remark was totally unexpected. I lost the momentum I had built up for starting the conversation. I could do nothing but stare at him for a few seconds. Then I managed a forced chuckle. “Oh, you’re talking about…yes, I found my bracelet. I’d put it in my purse. I guess I forgot I put it there.”
He had a rather insolent smirk on his face as he nodded. “I see.”
“By the way, my name’s Kathleen Williamson. My sister and I are here visiting my niece, Maggie. We’re from Pine Summit.” I held out my hand.
“I’m Alex Dubek.” He took my hand, and I gave him a nice, firm shake to show him I wasn’t going to be intimidated, no matter how many trash cans he found me looking in.
I was getting my confidence back now. “Do you live in the area, Mr. Dubek?”
“No, I’m just visiting.”
It was obvious that he wasn’t going to volunteer any information. Not that it mattered—if he were up to something, he wouldn’t tell me the truth anyway. “This is a good time to be visiting. I hope you’re staying through tomorrow evening. There’s a special event at the ski area.”
“Oh? What’s happening?”
“There’s to be a torchlight descent from the top. All the ski instructors and Ski Patrol members are taking part. It should be spectacular.” I decided that the best way to convince him I was just making conversation was to give him a lot of details. “They’re asking David to take part also. I don’t suppose you’ve met David. He’s the son of the couple who work at the Alpenhof. He’s only learned to ski, but he’s very good already.”
He was nodding as if he couldn’t care less, but I went on. “My sister Andrea took him under her wing. She’s good at that sort of thing. She’s a retired math teacher. Of course our niece Maggie will take part in the descent. She’s an instructor. She’ll lead the way.
“And Stefan, the owner of the Alpenhof. He’s an instructor and a member of the Ski Patrol. I think he must be an excellent skier. He’s to bring up the rear of the procession, in case anyone has a problem coming down. You really should try to attend.”
He was staring at me, not saying a word. I couldn’t tell whether he was still digesting the barrage of information I had fired at him or whether he was trying to think of the most diplomatic way to get away from a garrulous old lady. Finally he said, “Thank you for letting me know. I most certainly will be there.”
He drained his cup, and I got a whiff of chocolate. Is it possible that a man taking a break from skiing with a cozy cup of chocolate can be an evil person? I found it hard to believe. To me, hot chocolate equated with Christmas tree trimming, after-school cookies, and long evenings reading in front of the fireplace.
“I noticed that you were talking to a man in uniform,” he said. “Have they made any headway in discovering who murdered the lady at your hotel?”
I couldn’t help noticing he didn’t ask about the murder of Franklin Stuart, the lift operator. “I asked him about that. Of course we’re interested, since we’re staying in the hotel where it happened. My sister and I found the body. The man I was talking to was Deputy Willard Hill. He recognized me because he interviewed me the night of the murder. He said they have nothing new on the case.”
“I certainly hope they find the murderer. This is a lovely area—not the type of place where one expects violence to occur.”
I wondered why he had a slight and mysterious smile on his face as he said this. Not the sort of smile I would associate with a hot chocolate drinker. “I hope so, too. We’re not accustomed to murder in the small towns of West Virginia. It’s a rather peaceful state altogether.”
“I must get back to skiing now. I’ve enjoyed our conversation, Ms. Williamson. And I’ll count on seeing you at the torchlight event, if not before.”
I nodded and smiled like the friendly but not-too-bright elderly woman I hoped he’d think I was. As he walked away, I couldn’t help noticing that he took his cup with him.
I started to the ski shop to buy myself some wool socks, and as I passed the windows along the side of the building, I could see Stefan just outside talking to a woman. Her back was turned toward me and she was wearing a stocking cap, so I couldn’t tell who she was. It couldn’t be Maggie—the colors of her ski outfit were all wrong.
Stefan looked angry, so of course I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. If only I could read lips! The woman turned and walked away, leaving him standing there. As she went by the window where I was standing, I saw that it was Eva Weiss. Reading lips probably wouldn’t have done me any good anyway; they were undoubtedly speaking in German.
She was coming in the door as I went to the shop for my socks. She didn’t see me, and I was just as glad she didn’t. However, when I came back to my table with my bag of wool socks, she was sitting nearby. She looked at me. “You’re Maggie’s aunt, aren’t you?” And without waiting for my answer, she picked up her cup and came over to my table.
“Yes, I’m Kathleen Williamson.”
She sat down without being asked, which I found quite rude. She took a long drink of coffee and didn’t say anything for a minute. Finally, “I wonder if you and your sister know as much as you should about Stefan.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I shrugged and didn’t say anything.
“He was having an affair with a married woman for a few years. I think you should know that, since your niece seems to be romantically involved with him.”
She certainly was sounding like the infamous woman scorned. How to answer? She and Stefan were obviously angry with each other for some reason, and she was trying to get even with him. At least this was an indication that Stefan’s story about his affair with Olga and being shot at in that Paris hotel probably was true. I had doubted it before, thinking he made it up to put the blame on someone else for Olga’s death. I was sitting there looking at her, and she hadn’t said another word. “I know,” I said.
“You know this, and you’d allow your niece to get involved with him?”
“Maggie’s an adult. And people have affairs all the time. It’s the twenty-first century, after all. Stefan’s one of the nicest young men I’ve met in a while.” I was beginning to sound as broadminded as Andrea.
She finished her coffee. “I’ve known him since school, and he’s not nearly as nice as you think he is.”
“I don’t care to hear any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll find another table.” I’ve always wanted to say that and never had the opportunity before. I stood up, gathered up my things and headed for another cup of hot chocolate. I found a seat as far from Eva Weiss as possible. Then I happened to think, if I’d played it a little cooler, I might have found out why they were so angry with each other.
We stopped and picked up sandwiches on the way to the hotel. I told Andrea about talking with Willard and about seeing Stefan’s conversation with Eva and her conversation with me. We decided not to say anything to Maggie, who was already behind the desk when we got there. She was checking in a young couple who carried their skis with them, and when she was finished, she brought her sandwich and joined us at the fireplace. “I asked Stefan if it was okay for you to check the paintings in Olga’s room, and he said it was. I don’t think anyone has been in there except the police since she died, but I guess he’ll clear it out soon so it can be rented. We can always use more rooms on weekends.”
“All the empty rooms were unlocked when we were up there, but that room was locked,” Andrea said.
“He keeps it locked, but I have the key at the desk.”
“And what did Stefan say about his room?” I asked.
“He said that would be fine, too. I don’t have a key down here, but we’ll work something out. The three rooms that are occupied permanently—his, mine, and Olga’s—are kept locked all the time, and the spare keys aren’t usually kept at the desk. I brought Olga’s down in case you wanted to check. Stefan isn’t in right now. He went with some Ski Patrol friends to have a beer and discuss the torchlight procession, but I’m sure you can catch him in sometime soon.”
“Or maybe we can check the paintings while Ivy’s cleaning his room.”
“That would be fine with him, I’m sure.” She smiled. “He’s a most agreeable person.”
There’s nothing more wonderful than young love, I thought, as I finished my sandwich. Andrea was through, too, so we took the key to Olga’s room and went upstairs. I was surprised to see such a mess in the room when we opened the door. Had the police turned everything upside down, or had Olga grown up with a personal maid who looked after her possessions? The bed wasn’t made, and clothes, papers, and books were strewn all over the place.
“Do you suppose the police did this?” I asked.
Andrea had her Leatherman out and was headed for a picture. “I have a feeling Olga was a spoiled rich woman who wasn’t accustomed to looking after her things.”
“No wonder her relationship with Stefan fell apart. His room was so neat.”
“I noticed that, too.” She had the first picture down and was working on the back.
I realized I was holding my breath as she lifted the cardboard and took out the black bear print. That was it, just the black bears. She tried the other picture, and it was the same.
“Well, there’s still Stefan’s room, and Maria’s. I just feel sure we’ll find the Monets in Stefan’s room.” I was trying to sound more positive than I felt.
“You were sure they were going to be in our room.” Occasionally Andrea reminds me that hunches aren’t to be trusted. She looked around the room. “Do you suppose the police missed anything in here?”
“I doubt it.”
Andrea got down on one knee, looking through some books that were stacked in the bottom of the night stand.
“Are those in English?” I asked.
“Some are, and some are in a foreign language. It doesn’t look like German. I’m not sure what it is. Aha, here’s something!”
Andrea rarely spoke in exclamation points, so she must have felt she found something significant. “What is it?”
“I think it’s a photo album.” She maneuvered it from the bottom of the stack and stood up with it. It was a small, leather-bound album, one of those with a place on the cover to display a photo. In that spot was a picture of a couple and a pretty young girl. Olga and her parents? We sat on the edge of the bed, and Andrea opened the volume.
We leafed through several pages of snapshots, obviously family pictures: The young girl with a giant long-haired dog, the young girl in a swimming pool, more of the girl with parents and others, probably family members. Houses in the background of some of the shots looked as if they belonged to wealthy people. The girl began to look more like Olga as we proceeded through the album. At least, she began to look like what we remembered of Olga from the brief encounter at the registration desk.
There were pictures that obviously were from school and photos of her with other teenagers. There were no pictures of Stefan, so anyone looking at the album would have wondered why photos of her brother weren’t included. Anyone who still thought Stefan was her brother, that is.
It wasn’t till we reached the last picture that we found anything that really caught our attention. Olga was standing beside a man, smiling broadly, in front of what looked like a ski lodge. Both were wearing parkas and ski pants, and there was snow on the ground and the roof of the building behind them. Unfortunately, the man in the picture was waving at someone, and his hand covered most of his face.
“That doesn’t look like Stefan. Do you suppose that could be Alex Dubek? That he is the same person as Bruno Vanacek, her husband?” I asked
Andrea stood up and carried the album to the window. She studied the photo for a minute. “I can’t tell. His hand is covering too much of his face. But come here and look at this.”
Through the window of the lodge behind them we could see a man standing, looking out. He appeared to be wearing a trench coat. His face was somewhat obscured by reflections in the glass, but I was almost sure I was looking at the face of Gunter Bosch. “Can that be—“
“I think it is,” Andrea interrupted.
“What do you suppose he was doing there, standing at the window and looking out at them?”
“I definitely would like to know what he was doing there.”
“Do you suppose he was stalking her? Or maybe he’s a hired killer who’s looking for his chance, but didn’t get it until he found her here in the Canaan Valley. He does have a gun in his room.”
Andrea closed the album and sat on the bed. “I can’t imagine why anyone would have wanted her dead at the time this photo was taken. If that’s her husband beside her, then obviously he hadn’t discovered her affair with Stefan at that time and would have no reason to hire a killer.”
“Maybe it had to do with money. An inheritance, possibly. Her family looks prosperous in those photos.”
“I think this whole puzzle will be solved, and soon, I hope. We can’t stay here forever.”
I sat down beside Andrea. “Don’t you think you should show the photo to the sheriff?”
“Oh, dear. I suppose I need to confess again that I’ve been snooping in other people’s rooms.”
I didn’t say anything. I was simply thinking that Andrea was going to be embarrassed for a second time, and since I’d never known her to be embarrassed before, I was beginning to wonder if this had to do with Sheriff Ward Sterling and what she wanted his opinion of her to be. If so, it was a good sign.
After thinking this over, I said, “I think he’s grateful for your help, and probably doesn’t give a second thought to your snooping. After all, you’re furnishing clues.”
“You may be right. I’ll tell him what we found. Maybe he’ll tell me whether he thinks it’s significant or not.”
We locked the door and went downstairs. Maggie wasn’t behind the reception desk, and I was just as glad. It occurred to me on the way down that she might be wondering why it took us so long, and then we’d have to explain to her, too, that we’d been snooping in Olga’s room. We returned the key and went to our room, where Andrea called the sheriff to explain what we’d found.
“What did he say?” I asked when she hung up.
“He wants to see the picture. He’s coming by the lobby in a little while, and I’ll take him upstairs. We’re going to have to explain to Maggie what we found, what with taking the sheriff up there.”
“I’ll tell her while you take him upstairs.”
We went to the lobby with our books. Maggie had returned to the desk, and within a half hour the sheriff arrived. Andrea went to the desk. “I need the key to Olga’s room again. There’s something up there I want to show the sheriff.” They started upstairs, and I went to the desk, took a deep breath, and started explaining.
Saturday morning, and the hotel was full. Two young women sat at the fireplace, looking at the notice about the torchlight descent, the same notice that had been slipped under our door. A flood of guests had checked in yesterday before we got back from the ski area, and Ivy was behind the desk, answering questions and giving directions. She motioned to Andrea and me when we came into the lobby. “Go on to the kitchen. There’s coffee and rolls, but you need to have them there. They’re not for this crowd, just for our special guests.”
We thanked her and went to the kitchen. “I bet Asbury’s going to take over the desk, and she’s going to start cleaning right away. Maybe, if she goes to Maria Borodin’s room, we can check the pictures in there before we go to the ski area,” I said.
Andrea poured coffee, and we sat down at the table in the corner with apple-cinnamon Danish. “That’ll only leave Stefan’s room, if we find nothing in Maria’s.”
I sipped my coffee and thought about that for a moment. “I’m going to feel really let down if we check every room and don’t find the Monets.”
“I’m afraid we’ll be at a dead end if that happens. I don’t know where else to look.”
“I don’t either. But you know, it seems reasonable that the Monets might be in Stefan’s room, since that obviously was the living quarters of the owner from the beginning.”
Ivy walked in and went to the coffeepot. “I’m going to have a quick half cup before I start cleaning. Asbury’s taken over the desk.”
“Where will you start cleaning first?” Andrea asked.
“I can do your room, if you’d like. It doesn’t matter where I start, just so long as I start. It’ll take me all day to clean all the rooms.”
“We were thinking that if you were cleaning Maria’s room, we could check the paintings in there before we leave for the ski area.”
“No problem. As I said, it doesn’t matter where I start, as long as I get all the rooms done before the guests get back from skiing.”
“Does David need a ride to the ski area today?” Andrea asked.
“He got up early and caught a ride with Stefan. You’ll probably see him there.”
I hid my impatience as Ivy drank her coffee, and finally we went down the hall to Maria’s room. The small space for hanging clothes was jammed with ski clothes of many colors. Underneath the parkas and ski pants were two enormous suitcases. The woman didn’t believe in traveling light. I imagined the rest of her things were in the drawers of the small chest that stood between the windows, but I didn’t dare look.
It took Andrea no time at all to whip out her Leatherman and remove the back from the first print. Nothing there except for the black bears. She tried the other one, just to be sure, and it came up the same. My heart sank a little as we were left with only one room to check.
Ivy had started cleaning the bathroom, and I went to the door and looked in. An array of cosmetics stood around the lavatory. These were expensive cosmetics, department store cosmetics, and not the drug store type I use. Even her makeup was making me feel inadequate.
“Any luck with the pictures?” Ivy asked.
As I turned, Andrea was looking at a photo on the night stand by the bed. I walked closer and saw it was a good-looking man who was dressed in a suit with a white shirt and tie. He had been smiling at the camera when the picture was taken. It must be her husband, I thought. I figured that a woman who keeps a picture of her husband on the night stand while traveling couldn’t possibly be involved in anything criminal.
I read Ben Rehder’s Flat Crazy as I sat in the Bear Paw Lodge, trying not to laugh out loud and arouse the curiosity of the people around me. The stranger didn’t show up, and I wondered: Is he too busy skiing to take a break today, or did he find out all he needed to know yesterday and wouldn’t bother coming in to talk to me?
We’d only seen Maria in the food court twice—once when she was talking to the stranger, and once when she sat at our table for lunch. And it occurred to me to wonder about Gunter Bosch. If he were here for skiing, why hadn’t we ever seen him? I’d have to remember to ask Andrea whether she’d seen him on the lift or the slopes. Maybe he wasn’t the type to take a break. Still, he’d surely come in for lunch.
Just as I was thinking about Gunter Bosch and lunch, Andrea came in with David and his friend Jeremy trailing behind her. She handed David a bill—I couldn’t tell the denomination—and the boys rushed off toward pizza. “I told them I’d buy them lunch,” she said, unwinding the scarf from her neck. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes, but first, I wanted to ask you—have you ever seen Gunter Bosch on the slopes?”
“I saw him once. I can’t remember what day it was. Why?”
“It’s just that I’ve never seen him in here, and since he’s supposedly here for skiing, I’ve been wondering . . .”
“Of course, there’s another ski area near here, called Timberline. Maybe he goes there. Let’s get something to eat.”
We wandered along the food kiosks, trying to decide what to eat. “What about Maria Borodin?” I asked. “Have you seen her?”
“I think she’s here every day. I catch a glimpse of her now and then, but I think she skis the most difficult slopes. I’m not ready for the more advanced ones yet. I’ve seen David as he was coming down a couple of them, though. He’s doing well.”
I was dipping a bowl of chicken noodle soup that looked and smelled homemade. “Do you think we should ask Ivy to come with us to the torchlight event tonight, since David’s going to be in it?”
Andrea pondered this for a moment. “I think that would be good. She can stay with you when I have to get on the phone to the sheriff.”
“You’re going to be on the phone to the sheriff?”
“Don’t say anything, but he wants me to give him a rundown of who’s standing around at the bottom of the slope, getting ready to watch the procession.”
“Really? And where will the sheriff be?”
“He and some of his deputies are going to be in the woods along the ski run. I can’t stress this enough—don’t say anything to anybody.”
We sat down with our soup. David and Jeremy were already at the table with their pizza and soft drinks. I couldn’t discuss the situation in front of the boys, but it was obvious that Sheriff Sterling and his men would be keeping an eye on the procession to make sure no one was hiding in the trees to ambush Stefan. I had asked Andrea to relay the information to the sheriff about my conversation with Alex Dubek and also with Willard, when I informed him about the torchlight procession. I couldn’t help wondering if Willard would be out there in the woods. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine the sheriff turning him loose with a loaded gun in a situation like that. The only thought scarier than that was that someone might be out there, hidden by the evergreens and gunning for Stefan.
We left the ski area at five. I suggested on the way home that we take Ivy to dinner at the lodge before going to the torchlight event. Since Andrea had mentioned to me earlier in the week that the sheriff might want to ski with her on Sunday, this might be our best chance for a nice dinner in the Hickory Room. And Ivy had done a lot for us, what with the coffee and rolls in the morning and the soup and sandwiches on the night we were marooned on the lift, and also on the night we were snowed in.
Andrea agreed with me. “I think that’s a good idea, if Asbury’s available to work at the reception desk. I’ve learned to like Ivy a lot since she got over the antagonism she felt toward us at first.”
“Me, too. It was really kind of touching, the way she was so upset because we might think Asbury had murdered Olga.” I couldn’t help laughing. “She’s obviously mad about Asbury. Must be a match made in heaven.”
Andrea laughed, too. “There’s no accounting for taste, as somebody-or-other once said. Actually, Asbury is looking pretty spiffy lately, now that he has a wife to look after him. She must have seen him as a diamond in the rough. He’s wearing those nice flannel shirts, great-looking jeans, and new work boots. He’s never had it so good.”
“I hope everything works out for them. It’s great that you got David involved in skiing. It’s made a big change in his life, and I’m sure that makes life easier for Ivy and Asbury.” In spite of our growing feelings toward the little family, I couldn’t keep some doubt from creeping into my mind. As we parked at the Alpenhof, I said a little prayer that no one in the family was guilty of murder.
Asbury was behind the desk. When we asked about Ivy, he told us she was upstairs cleaning Stefan’s room. This news jolted me back to thinking about the Monets. Murder or Monets, I couldn’t seem to keep both in mind at the same time. I almost dreaded checking out our last chance for finding the paintings.
Andrea looked at me. “Shall we go upstairs and talk to Ivy? We can check out the paintings in Stefan’s room at the same time.”
“Let’s go,” I said, revving up my courage to tackle this one last room.
Ivy was just finishing up when we went into Stefan’s room. “Could you get away for the evening?” Andrea asked. “We’d like to take you to supper, and then you could go see the torchlight skiing with us.”
Ivy looked for just a moment as if she might cry. Then she found her voice. “I’d be honored to go with you. But I want to pay my own way. I can’t let you pay for me.”
“We absolutely insist,” I said. “You’ve done so much for us here, and we want to show our appreciation.”
“It’s nothing, really, but if you insist. I’ll ask Asbury to watch the desk. I’d really like to see David ski down that mountain. No one in my family has ever done anything like that.”
The sheriff had insisted that David be as far from Stefan as possible, in case of trouble. Actually, Stefan and Maggie had already planned to put him near the front of the procession. “Maggie will be the first one down, and David will be right behind her.”
“Be sure to wear your warmest clothes, and especially your warmest socks and boots. It’s going to be cold out there. We’re going to eat at the Hickory Room, and I’m not sure what the dress code is there on a Saturday night, but I imagine they’re used to a lot of heavy winter gear this time of year. It’s been pretty casual when we’ve been there during the week, and I doubt tonight will be any different.”
Andrea looked at the two paintings on the wall opposite the windows. “While we’re here we’re going to check out the paintings. This will be our last opportunity to find the pictures our grandparents bought in Europe. We’ve checked all the other rooms.”
Ivy had quite a smile on her face. “Help yourselves. I’m going downstairs and give Asbury his orders, and then I’ll get ready. Just lock the room when you’re through. What time do you want to leave?”
“Why don’t we plan on six-thirty?” I said. “That’ll give us plenty of time for a leisurely dinner. We don’t want to be standing around at the ski area too long, or our feet will start getting cold.”
“That’s fine,” Andrea said. She already had her Leatherman out and was taking the cardboard off the back of a painting. Ivy said she’d meet us in the lobby at six-thirty and went on downstairs.
I couldn’t remember exactly what the frames in the other rooms looked like, but I was almost sure these were different. I realized I was holding my breath, and I wondered how many times this had happened since we arrived at the Alpenhof. As many as there are rooms here, I thought. I crossed my fingers. “Is there . . .”
“Yes, there is something here under the black bear picture.” Andrea pulled it out.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “My God! It is a water lily painting.” I felt as if I were suffocating.
“Let me hold it under the light.”
“Is there a signature?” I was barely able to whisper the words.
Andrea sighed. “Yes, there’s a signature. It looks like Kurt Schreckendorf.”
“Oh!” I couldn’t say anything more. I was fighting down an urge to laugh and cry at the same time, fighting it down because Andrea would never be able to put up with hysterics.
Andrea was putting the picture back together, minus the water lily painting. She went right on to the second one. I can always count on Andrea to get on with business, no matter what pitfalls we encounter. The second picture turned out to be a slightly different water lily painting, also signed by Kurt Schreckendorf. The paintings were watercolors with old, discolored and stained mats around them.
Andrea gave a helpless little laugh. “Well, at least we found them, and the mystery’s solved. Stefan said he wanted us to have them if we found them. You take one and I’ll take the other. We’ll get them cleaned up with new mats and have them framed. They’ll be a memento from our grandparents, and also a significant souvenir of our trip.”
I finally managed a laugh, too. Not a hysterical one, but the helpless kind that tells the world you’ve done all you can, and it’s better to laugh than to cry. Then I said, “You’ll have to check out Kurt Schreckendorf on the Internet and see what kind of fortune they’re worth. They really are lovely paintings.”
Andrea was putting the second black bear picture back together. “I’ll check him out. Something tells me he’s an unknown, but there’s a date by his name—1903. They probably have some antique value, but of course this is the kind of thing that needs to stay in the family. We’ll pass them on to Maggie some day.”
Oh well, I wondered, what would I have done with all that money if the paintings had been Monets? My life was complete as it was; I had everything I needed, plus a little left over for travel, which I didn’t want to do often. I’d have to ask myself when I had a little time to contemplate the situation just why I’d been so excited at the thought of finding paintings worth millions. We went carefully down the stairs, both gripping a painting in one hand and the handrail in the other.
It was dark when we reached the Canaan Lodge, and the moon was still up—a perfect halfmoon. We were going to experience an evening of turmoil, and I hoped Ivy was right about it not being a bad sort of turmoil, since it was the waxing moon.
We asked for a window table in the Hickory Room. It was pleasant looking out and seeing twinkling lights in the valley spread out before us, and we wanted Ivy to see it. She seemed to be thrilled with the opportunity to have supper at the lodge, and it was fun having her with us.
We had stopped to take a look at the buffet on our way to the table, so when we placed our order and went back to fill our plates, Andrea and Ivy chose the prime rib. I decided the ham with Bing cherry sauce looked tempting. We had barely sat down with our food when, predictably, Willard Hill was standing beside our table. He was in jeans again, and the good-looking leather jacket we’d seen him wearing on his day off.
“Three lovely ladies, out on the town…or should I say, out on the country, since we’re not really a town here?”
Andrea looked up. “Hello, Willard. Would you like to sit down?”
“This place is too rich for my blood, except for a couple of biscuits in the morning. Besides, I already ate. I saw you driving in from the highway, and thought I’d follow and say hello. I’m on my way over to the Alpenhof.”
We’d given Asbury Andrea’s cell phone number with specific instructions for reaching us, so we knew there was no emergency at the hotel—unless something had happened to Asbury. “What’s going on there?” I asked.
Willard gave us his confidential look. “Just a little plain-clothes operation. I’m assigned to work the lobby, stay in touch with the sheriff on the phone. Give him any info he requires.”
Thank goodness Willard wouldn’t be running loose in the woods with a gun. “Asbury’s in charge of the desk this evening,” I said. “We’re going to the ski area later for the torchlight procession.”
“I hope you enjoy the evening. I’ve seen many of those processions, while on duty of course. But for tonight, duty calls at another place. We’re all out there, keeping the county safe so you ladies can enjoy these events.”
“Thanks, Willard,” Andrea said. “We appreciate what you do to keep us safe.”
He nodded, gave us a little salute, and walked on out.
I shook my head. “He’s really playing it to the hilt tonight, isn’t he?”
“Plain-clothes!” Ivy sputtered. “You’d think we were in Chicago or somewhere. Why would the sheriff’s department need someone in plain clothes at the Alpenhof?”
“It must have something to do with Olga’s murder,” I said.
Andrea merely shook her head as if she didn’t know. As always, it was impossible to imagine what she was thinking, so I didn’t try. Instead, I continued eating the ham that I had only taken a few bites of before our conversation with Willard. When we finished, we got up to get dessert and coffee.
We were on our way back to our table when Ivy said, “That gentleman over there—he came to the Alpenhof a while back to check out our rooms. I guess he decided to stay here instead.”
I looked where she was looking and there, among the crowd of diners, was Alex Dubek. “You mean the tall, good-looking man in the blue sweater? The one who’s alone at that table?”
“That’s the one. I thought sure he was going to rent a room, he asked so many questions.”
After we sat down, Andrea asked, “How long ago was this?”
“It must have been a couple of weeks. It was just after I started working there.”
I was mulling over the complications of Alex Dubek showing up at the Alpenhof if he really were Olga’s husband when Ivy said, “He wanted me to show him a room, but I wasn’t supposed to leave the desk. I hadn’t been working there that long, and I’d never worked the desk before, but Olga wanted to take off shopping, so she asked me to fill in. He asked me about a weekly rate, but I didn’t know, so he asked how long till the owner got back. She had left a few minutes before to go to Davis. I told him at least a couple of hours. Asbury finally came in the back door. He’d been stacking firewood out back. He showed the man one of our rooms. I guess he wasn’t that crazy about it, because he never came back.”
If Alex Dubek was Olga’s husband, I thought, he must have been spying on her and watched her leave. Otherwise, if he was her husband and was planning to murder her or have her murdered, he surely wouldn’t have wanted her to see him. My head was going round and round with these thoughts.
Andrea hadn’t touched her apple pie. She had simply been listening to Ivy. “How soon after that did Maria Borodin check in?”
“I thought it was strange. She called about an hour after he left and made a reservation. She asked specifically for the room that the man had taken a look at. That’s why I remember it was that same day, because she asked for the same room. It seemed strange—you know what I mean? But the reservation was for later. A week later, I think, or maybe it was more. She showed up right on time and checked in and been there ever since.”
I was virtually sure that Andrea was thinking what I was thinking—that Maria’s room was the only one in the hotel where, from the doorway, the registration desk could be seen. Maria had told us that this was her first visit to the Canaan Valley. Why would she have asked for that particular room? It must have been that Alex Dubek suggested it. I tried to imagine the fashionable, mink-collared Ms. Borodin, the expert skier, as a murderess. It was beyond my imagination.
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.”
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 been 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.
I stood at the window, coffee in hand, and watched Andrea and Ward Sterling come down the Lower Timber Trail. They were gliding along easily, chatting and smiling at each other as they descended. He had taken Sunday off so they could spend a day skiing together before we headed back to Pine Summit.
What if things worked out for them? What if they became a committed couple, married, and she moved to the Canaan Valley? Pine Summit wouldn’t be the same without my sister. I didn’t even want to think about such a possibility. And yet, I was always wondering whether she’s lonely, so now I’m wondering whether Ward Sterling would make her life complete. I hadn’t thought about any of this when I was encouraging her to get to know him, and it wouldn’t do to worry about it now. Time will tell, as Andrea always says. He invited both of us to supper tonight, which I thought was a nice gesture.
Maria Borodin, or whatever her real name is, is in one cell in the Tucker County Jail, and Bruno Vanacek is in another. The sheriff says they’ll be tried for the murders of Olga and Franklin Stuart and the attempted murder of Stefan, or some combination of those, right here in Tucker County. From what he said, they’re both giving a flood of information and blaming each other. I don’t think a jury made up of these tough mountain people is going to be very sympathetic. Chances are the two of them are going to spend the rest of their lives in a West Virginia prison, since our state doesn’t have the death penalty. I think it’s going to be difficult for Vanacek to hire another killer from the confines of a cell. Stefan told us he believes Eva Weiss’ husband tipped Vanacek off as to where he and Olga could be found. Eva had been chasing Stefan, and her husband left the valley in a jealous huff. I don’t suppose it’s a crime to run into someone and mention that you’ve seen someone, somewhere. But maybe it ought to be.
Olga’s body was cremated and her ashes shipped to her family, along with her other possessions from her room, including the photo album. Maggie, Andrea, and I helped Stefan pack up her things, and Andrea checked the album and noticed that the photo that included Gunter Bosch had disappeared, probably taken by the sheriff to protect Bosch’s anonymity. The deputies searched Maria’s room and car for the CZ’s, but they haven’t been found. Maybe Wes Nicholson broke into Maria’s room and took them. It would be fitting if he went into Henry’s Pawn Shop and found they’re worth only a few dollars.
And then there’s Ivy. I explained the entire situation to her on the way back to the Alpenhof last night. It’s interesting how she changed from being an antagonistic, raw-boned country woman to a friend to Andrea and me. We like her a lot, and I think she likes us, too. Maggie and Stefan haven’t told her yet, but they’re going to make her the daytime registration clerk and hire someone else to do the cleaning. She was certainly right about the waxing halfmoon being a time of turbulence, but not necessarily of trouble. After all, two murderers had been caught, which was a good thing.
Maggie came to our room last night and gave us the news about Ivy being chosen for the registration job. She also talked about the paintings—told us to take them home, have them framed, and put them on our walls. We’re to take the trunks, too. Stefan and Asbury will bring them down from the attic when we’re ready to leave tomorrow. One of them will fit in the trunk of Andrea’s Accord, and the other in the back seat, and our luggage will be stuffed in around them. Maybe we can find a museum that will accept the old clothes. We’ll air the trunks out, and they’ll make wonderful blanket storage.
Maggie’s biggest news was that she and Stefan are planning to get married in June. They’ll hold the wedding in the shade of the big sugar maple beside the hotel. We simply can’t wait. We’re going to buy new dresses and wear the jewelry we inherited from Aunt Libby. We’ll lend some of that to Maggie, too, for something old and something borrowed. We’ll help Ivy prepare a reception in the kitchen of the hotel. Like I said, we simply can’t wait. Ivy and I noticed that there’s a full moon on the last Saturday in June, and Maggie agreed that the wedding should be held then.
I got some hot chocolate and sat down where I could see the slope and saw Andrea and the sheriff coming down again. I wondered if she’d ask him to visit in Pine Summit. I’d ask her, but she’d probably give me that Andrea look that tells me, politely, to mind my own business.
I looked up and saw Willard coming toward me with a tray. I couldn’t help smiling; I was even learning to like Willard. I hoped he’d fill me in on the latest while we shared a table and had hot drinks. Then it occurred to me that with the murders solved and the valley getting back to normal, there probably wouldn’t be any “latest.” Then again, maybe Willard could be enticed to speak of his take on the relationship between the sheriff and my sister. Of course, the last thing I’d want would be to seem nosy, but getting Willard to talk without prying was the easiest thing in the world.
I didn’t have to do any enticing at all. Willard started right in, “It’s good to see the sheriff looking so cheerful. Two murders solved, and he’s taking a day off for skiing with a nice-looking lady. We’ve all been thinking it’s about time he had more of a social life.”
“How long since his wife died?”
“It’s been five years now. He stays so busy with his work, and he’s in the Ski Patrol, too. He hasn’t taken time for a social life, but it looks like that’s about to change.”
I finished the last of my chocolate. “They both seem to be enjoying getting to know each other.”
“It’ll probably be a good thing for both of them.”
We continued chatting while Willard finished his coffee, and then he told me goodbye till our next visit. I sat there for a moment before getting my book from my purse. A bittersweet feeling had come over me—wishing with all my heart for my sister’s happiness, yet already feeling the loss at the possibility of her leaving Pine Summit. But I was thinking too far ahead, as usual. Maybe they’ll always be long-distance friends, I thought, as I opened my book. As Andrea says, only time will tell.
Helen Haught Fanick’s short stories have appeared in Women’s Household, Midnight Zoo, Vermont Ink, and in various anthologies and e-zines. Her articles and photos have been published in Texas Observer, Stepping Stones, and other periodicals. Her poem, Leaf Fall, appeared in Nature’s Gifts, an anthology published by Vanilla Heart Publishing to benefit The Nature Conservancy. She has won several local and state awards, and two national awards in the Writer’s Digest Competition. She is a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio with a degree in English and lives in San Antonio with her husband.
Watch for Moonlight Mayhem, Book II,
Moon Mystery Series, coming soon!
Keep reading for a Book II excerpt.
Helen Haught Fanick
Book II, Full Moon Mystery Series
Grandma Flynn believed in living life according to the signs of the moon, and she taught my sister Andrea and me everything she knew. Andrea, being a natural skeptic, never believed a word of Grandma Flynn’s wisdom, but I’ve always been sure she was right. The dark of the moon is a time of trouble. The waning halfmoon means turmoil and disaster, and the waxing halfmoon means change, but sometimes a positive change can occur in that phase. The twenty-four hours surrounding the full moon are when good luck flourishes; we experience harmony, peace, and good fortune. That’s why it’s so hard to understand what happened on the night of the full moon, that last Saturday in June, the night of the wedding.
Ivy McGee and I talked my niece Maggie into getting married that particular Saturday evening rather than some other date in June. Ivy works at the Alpenhof Hotel in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley, and Maggie works there, too. In addition to that, Maggie’s engaged to the owner of the hotel, Stefan Novacek. Ivy believes in living by the signs of the moon, just as I do, so when Maggie told us in January that she and Stefan were getting married the following June, we immediately checked the calendar and found there was a full moon on the last Saturday of that month. It seemed like the perfect time for a wedding.
Andrea and I live in the little town of Pine Summit, and we drove to the Canaan Valley a couple of days early in order to help Ivy and Maggie get ready for the wedding, which would be held under a large sugar maple on the side lawn of the hotel. Asbury McGee rode with us—he’s Ivy’s husband—since he’s a native of Pine Summit and had hitchhiked to his brother’s house to pick up some things he’d left there.
Asbury sat behind us with the sun turning his fringe of silver hair into what looked like a halo that had collapsed around his head. “I think Maggie and Stefan are gonna make a fine couple,” he said as soon as we got started. “Ever since the ski season ended, they’ve been working together like a couple of beavers to remodel the attic and add some more rooms up there. She works right along with him, and they done made a lot of progress.”
“Are any of the rooms in the attic ready for guests?” Andrea asked.
She was thinking what I was thinking, that the hotel would be full of wedding guests. Well, our room was reserved well in advance, and I made sure it was our favorite—on the corner, at the back of the hotel, east wing. We had the room when we were there in the winter, and it provides a lovely view of the valley sweeping away toward the mountains, and out the back window, we could see the beautiful woods. I was hoping that area would be full of rhododendron bushes in bloom.
“Stefan put some rollaway beds in the attic for some of their ski school friends who’ll be coming,” Asbury said. “The two lower floors should fill up if everyone shows up that made a reservation. There’s more than enough room for all the relatives on the two lower floors.”
Andrea pulled into a McDonalds at a crossroads. “How about some breakfast?”
“I’m ready,” I said.
We sat down with our Egg McMuffins and coffee, which Asbury insisted on paying for. In spite of his rough upbringing, he has an inherent chivalry which isn’t that uncommon in our Appalachian Mountains. I’m not sure how much he makes as a handyman at the Alpenhof, but he wouldn’t listen to our objections, so we let him pay.
“Are preparations for the wedding already underway?” Andrea asked.
“Ivy and the new hired girl been busy cleaning up all the rooms. Giving them a good going-over, they are. Everybody’s been real busy, what with the kids working in the attic, too. Now and then we get an interruption from that woman named Eva that lives down the road.”
“Is she still there?” I asked. “I’d have thought she’d be back in Germany by now.”
“Oh, she’s still there. They’re saying her husband and her are getting a divorce. If you ask me, she’s way too flirty with Stefan, and him about to be married. I hope she don’t cause trouble at the wedding.”
We met Eva Weiss when we stayed at the hotel in January, and we were very much aware at the time that she was making a desperate play for Stefan. Her husband had returned to Germany, and we heard rumors even then that he was getting a divorce. Bad as I hate to, I have to admit the woman’s a true beauty, with her long blonde hair and ice-blue eyes. And I’d never admit it aloud, but she truly outshines Maggie in that area. Maggie’s the girl next door, with her short auburn curls and a few freckles across her nose. Pretty, yes, but not a great beauty. The news that Eva was still in the valley cast a shadow on my previously sunny mood. I decided it was time to change the subject.
“Had any of Stefan’s relatives arrived from Europe before you left for Pine Summit?” I asked. Andrea thinks mingling with foreigners is a broadening experience for us—me, I’m just nosy about what Stefan’s relatives are like, and I freely admit it. After, all, they will be Maggie’s in-laws.
“Nobody had arrived yet, but I think Stefan’s parents were supposed to come the next day after I left.”
“Stefan told me when we were here before that she’s German, and his father’s Czech. I wonder what they’ll be like,” I said.
“Not too hoity-toity, I hope,” Asbury said.
Andrea smiled. “They’ll be fine, I’m sure. Look how nice Stefan is.” Andrea is totally comfortable with anyone and in any situation. She’s a retired math teacher, a spinster, and she’s always been brimming with self-confidence since the day she was born. She struck out on her own right out of high school and worked her way through the university. As soon as she had her degree, she began teaching at Pine Summit High School, where she taught for forty years.
I, on the other hand, am a widow. My husband, John, died two years ago, leaving me fairly well-off. I miss him, but I’m content with my memories. I quilt with a group of my friends—we’re all members of the Pine Summit Methodist Church—and I go to lunch frequently with one or another of them at our local Nell Flanagan’s Restaurant.
When we went to the Alpenhof in January, Asbury was riding with us then, too, and he helped us find our way. This time, Andrea didn’t need any help. That’s Andrea. Her sense of direction is unerring, so I always let her drive. She scares me, whizzing around our mountain roads in her Honda Accord, but she always gets us there.
We pulled into the Alpenhof parking lot about four in the afternoon. I was surprised to see they had painted the place. When we first saw the hotel in January, It wasn’t what I had expected. I had imagined a sleek but rustic chalet with a huge stone fireplace in the lobby. Instead, we saw a boxy rectangle, a three-story frame structure, painted white, with porches on the two lower floors. The third floor was the attic I mentioned earlier, the one the kids are converting into additional rooms.
Now the building was painted a deep brown, with window boxes full of geraniums at all the windows. “I like it,” I said, and Asbury beamed.
“Stefan and me did it,” he said. “We had some help from David, too, once school let out for the summer. He helped us finish up.” David is Ivy’s fourteen-year-old son from a previous marriage.
“It looks much better,” Andrea said.
We got out as Andrea popped the trunk, and Asbury insisted on carrying our bags and coming back afterward for his three plastic grocery sacks full of possessions. I wondered what was in those bags; if it were clothes, Ivy would undoubtedly give them to some local charity the minute he took them from the bag. Asbury’s life has improved considerably since he married Ivy; he wears clothes that are clean and new-looking now, and Andrea and I are happy about the change.
He took our suitcases from the trunk, and Andrea and I got our cosmetic cases. “They put you in Room 10 again, just like you asked,” Asbury said.
As we approached the hotel, I could see four Adirondack chairs and some tables on the porch. I had a pleasant mental image of sitting there with an early-morning cup of coffee. On the second floor, I was able to see more chairs and tables through the railing. This was another change that made the place look inviting. We walked into the lobby, which is located in the middle of the building, and saw that it had been painted, too. It was a soft spring green, perfect for the woodsy surroundings. Ivy was behind the registration desk, and she came out and hugged us. “I’m so glad you’re here. Maggie and Stefan went to Parsons to see about the flowers for the wedding, but they’ll be back shortly. Thanks for giving Asbury a ride.”
“We enjoyed his company,” Andrea said. She filled out a registration card and also signed on a large registration book which lay open on the counter. I signed, too, thinking as I had in January that this must be an old world custom, the registration book. I couldn’t resist the impulse to look at the other names on the page. Three had signed in yesterday—Franz Novacek, Erika Novacek, and Laszlo Novacek. Franz and Erika were Stefan’s parents, but I hadn’t a clue who Laszlo was. Stefan’s an only child. An uncle, maybe?
We went to our room, and I plopped down on one of the twin-size beds. “Did you notice the signatures on the registration book?”
“Yes, I noticed.”
“I wonder who Laszlo Novacek is.”
“He’s Stefan’s uncle.”
Andrea amazes me. I’m the nosy one, but she’s always the first to know everything. “How did you know that?”
“Maggie told me on the phone the other day that Stefan’s Uncle Laszlo was coming. He’s Franz’s brother, of course. I called her to see how wedding preparations were going, thinking we could come earlier than we’d planned if we were needed.”
I decided I’d better get up off the bed and get organized. “We’re going to be here a while, so why don’t we unpack and put everything in the chest and closet? Our suitcases will fit under the beds.”
“Good idea,” Andrea said. She immediately began putting things in the two lower drawers of the chest. She’s four years older than I am, but I have to confess she’s in better shape, so I was glad she’d be the one doing the bending. While I’m quilting or watching TV, she’s out hiking around Pine Summit, which is built on a hill.
Our room was small, but we had adjusted to that idea when we were here during the winter. There was no phone or TV—just a four-drawer chest between two side windows, two twin beds, and a nightstand with a lamp between the beds. The hotel had once been a boarding house for the loggers who cut West Virginia’s red spruce, and I imagined at that time there had been one bathroom per floor. Somewhere along the way, changes were made, rooms were sacrificed, and now each room has a bath.
I finished unpacking, putting the plastic-bagged dress I’d wear for the wedding in the closet with a few other things. I went to the side window and looked out over the valley. Then from the back, looking into the wooded area, I could see the rhododendron bushes were blooming under the trees. In January, two feet of snow had covered the ground, and the pine branches were so loaded they sagged to the ground. “It’s just as beautiful in summer as it was last winter. Everything’s so green.”
Andrea joined me. “It’s lovely. Makes me want to find a trail and go hiking.”
“Makes me want to find a bench under a tree and read a book.”
“I guess what we need to do is check with Ivy and see if there’s something we can do to help get ready for the wedding.”
We went to the lobby, where Ivy was talking on the phone. On the east side of the lobby, a brick fireplace stands against the wall. Facing the front of the hotel, two newly-upholstered chairs flank the fireplace. Opposite them, a couch covered in the same dark green fabric stands. A round coffee table sits between. A tall man who was dressed in jeans and a tweed jacket was seated on one of the chairs, and he looked up as we came in. It was impossible not to notice that, even though he looked to be in his sixties, he was incredibly attractive. He had green eyes like Stefan’s and dark hair with just enough unruly curl to give him a roguish appearance.
We approached the couch to wait for Ivy to finish on the phone, and he gave us a smile that indicated he was delighted to meet not just one, but two women. “Ladies,” he said, as he got up with a little nod and shook hands with both of us.
“We’re Maggie’s aunts,” Andrea said. “I’m Andrea Flynn, and this is my sister, Kathleen Williamson.”
“I’m Laszlo Novacek, Stefan’s uncle.”
He shook hands with both of us, and we all sat down. “Did you just arrive?”
“We got here at four. I understand Stefan’s parents are here, too.”
“They’re out exploring somewhere. They’ll be back later, and we’re planning to go to the lodge for dinner. Would you care to join us?”
The Alpenhof has no restaurant, so we usually go to the lodge at the Canaan Valley Ski Resort for meals. I was getting hungry already, and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the party got on the road.
Before I could say anything, Andrea said, “We’d like that.” She looked at me to make sure I agreed.
“Fine,” I murmured. It would be a chance to get to know Stefan’s family. “We’re in Number 10. Would you knock on our door when everyone’s ready to go?”
“Certainly. You can ride with me. I have a rental car. Stefan and Maggie can go with Franz and Erika.”
I wasn’t so sure I wanted to ride with the suave Laszlo Novacek. In spite of his good looks, or maybe because of them, he was a mite too suave for me. I didn’t want to rock the boat, however, so I didn’t say anything. Ivy was finished with her phone conversation, so we excused ourselves and went to the desk. “Is there something we can do to help you get ready for the wedding?” Andrea asked.
“Not at the moment. I don’t know if Maggie told you, but they hired a new woman to clean rooms when they promoted me to handle the desk. Her name is Angie Ferguson, and she’s a part-time student at Davis and Elkins. Maggie and me pitched in and helped her, and we gave all the rooms a good cleaning. Got everything spic and span for the wedding guests.”
“There’s nothing to do in the kitchen?” I asked.
“No, we went through and washed everything and even scrubbed the cabinets while we were at it. We don’t have enough china and glasses for the wedding supper—we’ll use paper and plastic—but we washed what we have in case some folks want to have breakfast here, or in case it’s rainy at night. You remember how we used to have soup and sandwiches when we were snowbound. We do the same if it’s raining hard.”
“Do we know yet how many guests will be here?” Andrea asked.
“It’s not going to be a big wedding. I think they invited fifty at most, and you know how it goes—probably thirty will show up.”
“I suppose they invited everyone from the ski school, since Stefan and Maggie both work there, but I imagine a lot of the instructors have gone elsewhere for the summer,” Andrea said.
“Some are working at the lodge and at restaurants around the valley, I hear. Then Maggie said some college friends of hers will be coming.”
“Thank goodness, since Andrea and I are Maggie’s only relatives,” I said. “She’ll have some folks on her side of the aisle.”
Andrea nodded. “That will help. But what about chairs for the ceremony?”
“Stefan came up with a bunch of folding chairs from somewhere. They’re all stored in the kitchen right now, but of course they’ll be moved outside for the wedding. We’ll be serving the food in the kitchen after the ceremony, so the men will bring the chairs back in for the reception.”
We stressed the idea that we were available to help with whatever was needed and then retreated to our room, where I hoped to take a short nap. Andrea put on her hiking boots and said she’d be back in time for supper.
Retirement is a time for knitting, gardening, and an occasional quiet lunch with friends, according to Kathleen Williamson. Her sister Andrea has an altogether different point of view. When the sisters go to the Canaan Valley to search for paintings mentioned in a document found in an old hotel once owned by their grandparentsâ€”paintings that might be Monetsâ€”Andrea immediately becomes involved in tracking down a murderer. Kathleen would much rather be looking for the paintings, but she goes along with Andrea, since the victim was their hotel-keeper, murdered just down the hall from their room. The question is: Does the murder have something to do with the elusive paintings? There are many clues and many suspects, including hotel staff, valley residents, and the mysterious foreigners who come from the Eastern Seaboard for skiing. There are also many types of dangerâ€”icy roads, sub-zero temperatures, and a killer who doesnâ€™t care how many people die in the attempt to make sure the right ones do.