A brief character exposure where the apparent solution makes the situation worse.
|EIGHT HOURS HEADING WEST into the afternoon sun was taking its toll. I had to keep moving. That cop back in Zanesville hadn't seen my license plate, but he had a good description of my car, and me too. Somewhere around St. Louis, I pulled into a rest area to give my eyes a break and search the internet for a place to hole up.
The Cedarville Bed and Breakfast in Cedarville, Missouri touted its green trees, little furry critters, and that it's off the beaten path. It sounded like just the place I needed. Off the beaten path? Hell, I didn't even know there was a Cedarville in Missouri.
I logged onto their website, rented a room for a month, and paid for it with a credit card I'd stolen in Pennsylvania. Of course, I can't stay a month, by that time, that credit card will hit the fan.
I patted the bank bag in the seat beside me. No need to touch that until I'm ready to disappear. If the B&B gives me a couple of days, I can come up with a new plan and be off in an unexpected direction. So, it's back on the road with two hundred fifty miles to go. At least the sun will be down before I get there. When the old Victorian's bright pastels showed up in my headlights, it was both cheerful and inviting. But when I stepped out of my car and locked it, I had an eerie feeling like there was something seriously wrong.
Sensing someone watching me, I turned to find a woman staring at me from a second-floor window. When she saw me looking in her direction, she didn't turn away.
For a moment, I wondered at her apparent curiosity, but then, I was a stranger here, and checking in so late could be reason enough for some people to be suspicious. Ignoring her, I pulled my suitcase from the trunk and made my way up the front steps and inside to find a quaint, old-fashioned foyer with a small reception counter on one side. The shelves of books on the opposite side gave it a homey feel. To the right, a staircase led to the second floor.
I heard a grunt from behind the counter and move to where I could see over the top. A heavyset woman in her mid-forties crouched behind it, searching the floor, all her concentration on whatever she was doing.
I cleared my throat and the woman jerked up bumping her head on the underside of the center drawer, still pulled out above her. Sucking in a breath, she touched the large bun of hair, coiled on top of her head, in surprise.
"Oh, my," she said. "You scart the tar outta me."
"Sorry, are you OK? I thought you would have heard me come in." I gave her one of those 'everything's going to be okay' kind of smiles.
"I was looking for something," she said, getting to her feet. "I had a bundle of rubber bands, right here. You wouldn't happen to have one on you, would you?"
I patted my pockets and shook my head. "Nope. One thing I musta forgot today," I said, trying to fall into her vernacular, as best as I could.
"I can't imagine where they coulda went. I always keep a bunch, right . . ." She glanced at my suitcase and frowned. "Who are you, anyway?"
It was my turn to be surprised. "Butterworth... Rick Butterworth," I said, giving her the name from the credit card I'd used. "I have a reservation?"
The woman took a moment to make the connection, then raised her eyebrows. "Didn't you get my message?"
"Message?" I replied. "I've been on the road all day." "I told you we was not taking any guests right now."
"What? Why not?"
The woman was about to respond when her gaze shifted to a spot behind the counter. "There they are!"
She reached down and brought up a bundle of various size rubber bands. She pulled a large one from the pile and wrapped it around a stack of envelopes,
"I didn't get any message," I said. "And I need a place to stay." The woman tossed the envelopes into a file tray on the corner of her desk.
She stared at them for a moment, as if she had forgotten all about our conversation.
The woman looked up, her lips pursed. "I know you came a long way," she said, sounding almost apologetic. "But if you had good sense, you'd turn around right now and go back home."
"Is that so?"
She lowered her eyes and leaned forward, gesturing for me to come closer.
I wasn't sure the woman was all there, but after a moment, I did what she asked and she whispered, "It's for your own good, young man. This place isn't safe. She won't rest until we're all dead."
"She?" I prompted.
The woman straightened again, forgetting all about the apparent need to whisper. "You haven't heard about her?"
"The ghost that's . . ."
"All right, Edith, that's enough," a voice out of nowhere said.
I turned to find a startlingly beautiful young woman, in jeans and a light tan work shirt coming down the stairs. She appeared to be around thirty, dark and alluring, with the word "Sheriff" embroidered above her left shirt pocket, which got my attention.
"Quit scaring the guests," she said to Edith. "How do you expect to make a living, if you chase customers away?"
"He needs to know what's going on around here."
"That's my job. There's nothing going on that a little old-fashioned police work won't take care of."
She turned to me and held out a hand. "I'm Chenoa Eaglefeather, the sheriff. Most people around here just call me Noa. I'm staying here while my house is being..." She paused, cocked her head to one side and frowned, withdrawing the hand. "Your name sounds familiar to me. Do I know you?"
"No, I don't think so." I was pretty sure that if I'd met this woman I'd remember.
"Wait." She crossed to the bookshelves and searched for a moment, then pulled down a worn paperback. I don't read much, but I'd seen it somewhere before.
A Perilous Path, a novel by Rick Butterworth.
The sheriff studied the photo on the back for a moment, then looked me in the eye.
"Tell me this isn't you.”
"Hmmmff," I muttered.
The guy did look a little like me, but not enough to fool anyone for long. I was relieved when the sheriff tossed it back on the shelf.
"You're here about the murders, aren't you?"
"Don't be cute." Sheriff Eaglefeather moved closer. "That's why you picked this place. You thought you could pry a little inside information out of me."
Holy Crap! It looks like I picked the wrong place to use that guy's credit card.
"I'm just here for a little rest and relaxation," I told her. "Nothing more."
"Uh-huh. I'll bet." Skepticism dripping off her every syllable. She took a jacket from the closet under the stairs. "I admire your talent, Mr. Butterworth. You write a good book. But I'm gonna say this just once, okay?"
"Okaaay..." I arched my eyebrows and waited.
"It says here," she said, and tapped the back of the book for emphasis, "that you used to be a police officer."
"Yeaaah?" I muttered.
"Then you know better. I've got enough problems without you nosing around here and muddying up my investigation."
"I just told you, I'm here for a vaca . . ."
"Edith," she said, to the innkeeper, "I have to go over to the office for a minute. Charley says there are some new APBs just in. I'll see you in a few minutes." She slipped on her jacket with the word "Sheriff" embroidered over the pocket and left, without looking back.
A cold sweat started forming on my upper lip.