Anita Louise

Part Eleven

(c) copyright 1/02 

Anita's web site

  Chapter Twenty Nine

Sheriff Burgess stood in shock as he listened to the woman.  It was easy to see he was taking her words in and trying to figure out just what was going on.  "The FBI?  You say you work for them.  I have not sent for anyone, no one in my office has asked for your support.  If Skylar Richmond took it up on herself to do this, that is her not me.  Woman had no right to involve any outside agencies without running it through me first."

Jeanne gazed past him to the woman that was leaning forward listening and taking everything in.  Smiling toward Meg she turned her attention to Ben Burgess.  "Sheriff, I'm a friend of Skylar Richmond.  I am on my way to Washington and thought it would be nice to stop in and see her.  There is no big secret, no need to run anything by you.  The attache case you have been eyeing like it contained some big secret, is my itinerary and work I am going to do in Washington.  I was told not to let it out of my sight.  I apologize if I got too cautious and perhaps hurt you."

Limping toward the water cooler the man muttered,  "Little thing like you, hurt me.  Just  my lumbago kicking up.  Not used to being tossed first thing in the morning."

"Well if it is any consolation Sheriff, I am not used to being manhandled first thing in the morning either.  If I am under arrest, then read me my rights, let me make a phone call and I will go quietly."

He filled a cup with water, drank it then crushed the paper cup in his hand before turning to gaze at the woman.  "No need.  You can go about your business.  That is after I see some sort of identification."

She quickly pulled out a small black wallet, walked toward the man, flipped it open allowing him to gaze at her FBI identity.  "I take it this meets with your approval?"

He nodded, waving a hand toward the door.  "Go, do what you have to.  The sooner this is done the better.  Don't need word getting out the FBI is in town."

"I am merely one person Sheriff, hardly the FBI.  My course is to visit an old friend, then I will be on my way."

"Since your old friend is not around, I hope you decide to leave sooner than later."

She smiled and replied,  "You two have a nice day. I will take your words to heart Sheriff."

The two watched the woman walk from the room.  Meg could tell by the look on the Sheriff's face, he was not through with the woman.  "Sheriff, do you still want me to radio?"

He gazed at the woman and answered,  "No.  All we need is the FBI sticking their nose here.  I will keep an eye on Randolph, make sure she is who she says and that she is only here to visit.  I have a feeling there is more to this visit than meets the eye."

Meg put a fresh stick of gum into her mouth, looked at the Sheriff and asked, "I can go get the doughnuts now, if you want?"

He shook his head.  "Have to go home, change and take something for this ache in my back.  Doughnuts can wait."   With those words, the man grabbed his hat and walked from the building.

Jeanne was happy to leave the confines of the Springfield Police Departmental headquarters.  The air out was brisk but felt much better than all that hot air that was circling the room she had just left.  Sky never mentioned any problems with the Sheriff, so she assumed this happened later.  Springfield was a small town, most of the people she had come in contact with being laid back.  All that is except the Sheriff, who seemed to have a vendetta against Sky as well as his Deputy Parker.

"Pardon me Ma'am, could I help you find something?"

She turned to gaze into the blue eyes of Charlie Atkins.   "And you would be?"

"Charlie Atkins at your service Miss.  I couldn't help but see you come out of the Sheriff's office.  Anything important go down in there?"

Throwing her head back, Jeanne laughed and replied, "Is everyone in this town so nosy, Mr. Atkins?"

He turned a shade of red, and mumbled, "Sorry if I come off that way.  I run the Atkins tow service and garage.  Been a resident here since birth.  I couldn't help noticing the look on your face when you walked out of the office.  Thought perhaps something had happened.  Really none of my business.  But I would be happy to help you."

Glancing around the area, Jeanne said, "Perhaps you can point me in the direction of The Tucker Hotel."

He smiled, reached up to nervously comb back hair that had fallen upon his forehead.  "Sure, do you better than that, I'll walk with you to it."

"Really Mr. Atkins, I am capable of finding this myself.  If you would be so kind as to point me in the direction."

"Go up two blocks, take a right, walk past Kelly's Barber shop, can't miss it, biggest building in town.  I meant it though, you need any help, call me, I will be happy to help."

"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."  Turning she walked away from the man who stood, running his fingers through his hair, muttering under his breath.

Tucker Hotel was easy to find, the man's directions were a great help.  The one thing she hated to do was ask for assistance.  Entering the main lobby her eyes caught sight of a man standing behind the check in counter.

  Walter had been busy dusting when he saw the woman.  Stopping what he was doing he smiled.  "Welcome!  You are in luck, there still are a few rooms available."

Jeanne approached, placing the attache case on the counter she sighed,   "I am tired, hope you have a nice quiet room."

His eyes took the woman into them, not missing a thing before he placed an open book in front of her.  "I think I can fit you, if money is no object.  Just sign in, name, address, and I need a credit card."

Suddenly she felt tired, as if her body would collapse on the spot.  It had been a long plane ride, the confrontation with the Sheriff had not helped and finding out that Skylar had disappeared was not a comforting thought.  Scribbling her name, she gazed at the ledger and said,   "No need to put down my address. And in so far as credit card, you do accept cash don't you?"

He nodded then asked,  "How long will you be staying?"

"I'm not sure.  I have some business to take care of, so I guess until then."

"Credit card, is needed."

Jeanne placed a five hundred-dollar bill on the counter.  "This enough for now.  I'll pay you more later, if I am here longer."

He reached for the money only to find her hand on his.  "Don't go doing any funny business.   I want a receipt for this, now."

He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and muttered,  "Sure lady, give me a sec."

She turned, leaned against the counter, and gazed around.  It was quite uptown for the area.  The chandelier caught her eye immediately.  "That is an extraordinary chandelier, someone around here make it?"

"Nope, came from someplace oversea, remarkable that it is still in one piece."

She turned to gaze at the man.  "Remarkable why?"

"That crazy redhead and Deputy Parker, had quite a playday in here at one time, chandelier was used to swing to the top of the stairway."

Her eyes widened, as a grin crossed her face.  "`Crazy redhead.'  Could that have been Skylar Richmond by any chance?"

He laid a key in front of her answering,  "The one and only   Woman has sure got this town hopping.  You know her?"

She reached for the key and nodded.  "My receipt.  I hope you have hot water, can't wait to take a nice long bath."

Clearing his throat, he glanced away.  "Receipt coming up now.   There was hot water last I checked.  Lots of people in the hotel now, sometimes this runs out for a short time."

Grinning she took the receipt from the man's trembling fingers.  "Thanks.  By the way, Bernie Herbella is staying here, can I leave a message for him?"

He handed her a sheet of paper.  "Sure, he is out now, should be back by this evening.  Usually eats in the dining room or goes to Belle's Tavern."

She quickly scribbled out a message, folded the paper, and handed it to the man.

"This is for his eyes only."

He took the paper, and placed it in a box.  "His eyes will be the only one that sees this, you have my word.  Have a nice stay, Miss Randolph"

She waved a hand in the air and took two steps at a time.  Once on the top landing, Jeanne took several steps, then crept back.  Exactly as she thought, the man was reading the note.  Shaking her head, she turned and walked up the hallway to room 104.  Her mind mulling many things, one being, what had Skylar gotten herself into.

Stepping through the swinging door, Jeanne found herself gazing at an old west saloon, piano and all.  It was fascinating in this day and age to come upon something like this.  There were a few people sitting at tables.  Some in deep conversation, some laughing and many drinking.  Noticing the woman standing behind the counter, she headed in this direction.

Belle just poured several draft beers and set them in front of two thirsty looking men.  She smiled as the woman approached.  "Howdy.  You must be new in town.  I know everyone."

Sitting on a stool, Jeanne placed her hands on the counter.  "Yes, new to most.  Guess I came to the right place."

Taking a sip of something in a shot glass, Belle made a satisfied sound then asked,  "Right place for what Honey?"

"Name's Jeanne.  I was hoping you might be able to give me some information regarding Skylar Richmond and possibly Bobie Parker?"

Her eyes lit up as she leaned over the counter.  "You a friend?"

"I came here to pay a quick visit to Skylar Richmond.  I understand she and Deputy Parker are close.  Thought wherever she was, I might find Sky."

Belle pointed to a small table near the exit sign.  "Come sit with me.  We can talk.  What is your poison?"

At first Jeanne was confused but after watching the woman pour herself a drink, she answered,  "Whatever you are having."

"Loaded answer Honey.  I could be having anything."

"That is fine.  I think I can handle it."

Belle smiled and poured another glassful then handed it to the woman.  "On me.  Shall we?"

Jeanne stood and followed the woman to the table.  After Belle sat, Jeanne pulled out a chair and followed suit.  "Nice place.   Always wondered what it would be like to step into the past."

Belle leaned back in her chair, her eyes taking in the woman.  She was trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted with the town's two elusive people at that moment.  The woman was a beauty, and yet had a sort of skulduggery about her.  "Just who are you?   What do you want with Sky and Bobie?  Friend or foe?"

Jeanne just took a sip of the drink and when she heard the woman's rapid fire questions, gagged.   She wasn't sure if it was the questions or the drink.  It was a powerful one, she felt it clear to her toes and it seemed they might even be curling up.

"You all right?  Didn't mean to floor you."

Catching her breath, Jeanne looked around the room, then leaned over, coughing several times.  "What did you give me?"

Belle walked around the table and patted the woman's back.  "You don't drink much do you?"

When Jeanne finally sit up, her face was red, and she was still wheezing.  "Nothing like that.  You kill all your clients?"

"Like I said, you must not drink much.  It was nothing special, just a mixture of several alcohols and my secret ingredient.  Supposed to warm your stomach, give you soothing sensations.  Not supposed to kill you.  Stay right there, I'll go get you a glass of milk, or sarsaparilla."

Jeanne's right hand was on the woman's wrist, her eyes narrowed for an instant.  "Don't you dare.  I am sure I made a big enough fool already, don't need everyone to see me drinking milk or sarsaparilla.  Sit, let's do this talking thing."

Belle walked back to her chair.  "You eat anything yet?"

Shaking her head, Jeanne leaned forward.  "I would hate to see what you serve for food, if your drink is anything like it."

"Food is the best in the state.  You look like someone that eats salad, drinks herbal tea, walks, jogs, stays away from red meat.   Am I getting close?"

Surprise shown on the woman's face as she nodded.  "How did you know?"

"Sweetheart, you are a beautiful woman, a little on the thin side and from your color it is apparent you do not treat your body all that well."  She motioned for a man standing near the bar to come over.

"What are you doing?"  Jeanne asked the woman, as she held up the shot glass and stared at the remnants.

The man approached and smiled.  "What can I do for you Miss Belle?"

Reaching for the woman's glass, she replied, "Take this back, bring the woman some milk, put it in a beer stein.  Then bring two filet Mignons, with all the trimmings."

"Right away."  He turned and hurried back to the counter, then to the kitchen area.

Jeanne ran her fingers through her hair and tossed her head back.  "Why did you just do that?"

"Cause you look like you need a good meal.  If you are going to even attempt to find Skylar and Bobie, you are going to need your strength.  Just relax, let old Belle take care of you. I will make sure you are in top shape."

"Case you haven't noticed, I am alone.  I prefer being alone.  I prefer ordering my own food, eating my own food by myself."

Belle was fiddling with her empty glass, trying to figure this woman out.  "I see you are alone.  I am getting the message you want to be alone.  Yet you came in here, looking for answers.  Want to tell me just who you are lady?"

"Where is the music when a person needs it?  Anyone ever play that piano?"

"Yup, we have special nights for this.  You play?"

"No.  Just curious."  She leaned back in the chair, stretched out her long legs.  "My name is Jeanne Randolph, I am a friend of Skylar.  Haven't seen her in a long time, I wanted to drop in and say, hi."

Belle smiled, her eyes lit up as she said, "Seems to me the two of you are much more than friends.  You knew she was here.  The sheriff has tried his best to keep this from the news.  I am a pretty good judge of character and I feel you are hiding something.  Sure hope you are not here to cause either of them trouble."

"As I have said, just want to visit.  Touch bases.  Skylar leads an enatic life, never in one place for long.  She is always on the trail of something or other.  Knowing she was here, gave me a good opportunity to actually  visit.  About that meal you ordered, hope you can eat two."

"Nope.  I will sit here all night, until you actually put some real food in that stomach.  Probably why you got so ill before."

"We shall see.  I will eat the meal, drink the concealed milk.  But you must promise me something."

"What's that?"

I have realized this town holds many secrets.  I don't even want to know.  I just want to find my friend.  I also know that the way things are here, I will never get two steps in the right direction before someone does or says something to change this.  I need help.  Do you know anyone that I can trust to do this?"

"Sure, me.  I know this area like the back of my hand.  I would be happy to help.  That is once you tell me the entire truth.  And something else.  You need different clothes."

The two women were standing outside Bobie Parker's cabin staring at the police tape that surrounded it.  Jeanne's hands were on her hips as she muttered, "What goes on here?"

"I know that Bobie had a burglary.  All of Skylar Richmond's findings in regard to the murders, strange goings on at Devils Mesa were taken.  Heard they left the place in quite a mess. Or maybe this is because the two of them have disappeared.  Sheriff suspects foul play."

Making a clucking sound with her tongue, Jeanne  stepped up to the tape.   "Sometimes people jump to wrong conclusions.  You say, `they left the place in quite a mess.'  How do you know it was more than one person?"

"Don't, figure of speech.  But from all I have heard, the place was a total mess inside.  What say we leave before one of the Sheriff's men sees us."

"Not afraid of the sheriff.  You can stay out here, I'm going inside.  See anyone coming, whistle."

"What if I can't whistle?"

"Holler, do a rain dance, something.  I have every confidence in you Belle Gardner."

She watched the woman duck under the tape and head for a side window.  Nervously glancing around the area, subconsciously Belle began to pace and skip and pace and skip in one spot.

Jeanne had little trouble opening the window and crawling into the room.  It was modest but well furnished.   Her eyes surveyed every nick and corner of the room.  She stopped to gaze at a picture of a young woman and a man who looked to be in  law enforcement.  Smiling when she noticed the inscription.  "Bobie you will always be my light, Dad."

Skylar had mentioned Bobie Parker and her father in some of the brief e-mails they had exchanged.  It was a strange feeling to be walking around an area the woman had talked about.  She never knew Skylar to want to sit still for even a moment. Always on the trail of mystery, the next case and from all she had said, the woman seemed to be enamored with the area as well as Deputy Bobie Parker.   Surely she was under some sort of spell.

It didn't take long to travel the entire cabin. Stopping to gaze at the bedrooms, she allowed her mind to wander for an instant.  When she made her way back out the window.  It was a very happy Belle Gardner that jumped up and down to see her.

"You act like I have been away for ages, I don't think I was gone long."

"It is just, I was so afraid the sheriff would come by or his men."

"You act like he is some big bogeyman, he is just a man."

"How would you know?  I live here, I have seen what Sheriff Burgess can do."

"Met him. Went there first.  Thought the sheriff's office would be the best place to go. After all, she was working with his deputy."

"Right.  From the look on your face, you and the sheriff did not hit it off right away."

Chuckling Jeanne pointed to the pickup they came in and said, "Let's get out of here.  Don't really want to cross paths with Sheriff Burgess this day."

Once they were in the pickup, Belle tapped the steering wheel with her left hand and asked,  "Where to now?"

"Leaning against the soft leather backing, Jeanne stretched and replied, "How about this Devil's Mesa?"

Belle's crystal blue eyes were filled with surprise as she gasped,  "It is closed to the public, been this way for a while.  No tourists allowed."

"You're not a tourist, you live here.  Besides, I don't want to take a tour, want to see what things, Skylar was looking at.  Take the area in myself, see if I sense anything."

"You might feel something.  Like a bullet or an arrest warrant placed in your hand."

"Come now Belle, you just don't strike me as the kind of woman to fall into a shell.  You are more the adventurous type.  If you don't want to go, stay in the truck.  I'll take a flashlight, some rope and be back in about an hour."

"An hour?   I'm not sitting in the truck by myself for an hour.   Coming with you."

Their eyes met for an instant, blue falling into blue.  Arching an eyebrow, Jeanne posed,  "Sure?  This is a climb and also a descent into the rooms.  Don't want you getting hurt."

"Hurt!   I'll have you know I used to party there.   Lots of nights, we held our own meetings, away from family, away from life.  Drank, ate, made out, and just enjoyed.  So I've made the climb, made many descents."

"But . . ."

"Oh, you look at me, my size like it will be a deterrent.  Perhaps I am not a string bean like you, but I am very capable darlin.   Let's get this show on the road, before we both end in Sheriff Burgess's cells."

"Read you loud and clear.  Come on.  Grab a rope and a light."

The climb was steep and they stopped many times to take a breather.   Jeanne was not used to the high altitude or so she said and Belle welcomed the stops to catch her breath.  Once they were at the top, the plateau stretched out in many directions.  The Kiva's were well marked as was the rock trail leading to all the finds.

"Belle, where was the man found?  Pete I think was his name?"

"Follow me.  Just watch your step, sometimes the shell becomes loose and a person can slip."

As she walked behind the woman, Jeanne couldn't help but be amazed at her stamina.  She was a true Mountain Woman, one of a kind.  Sometimes, telling a joke, sometimes telling a very scary story.  She could not figure Belle Gardner out, when she thought she had, the woman threw her a curve and left her dangling.   The one thing she did know was the woman knew a lot more than she was letting on.

Belle stopped and pointed to the area.  "There, rain washed any signs of whoever did this away.  A cryin shame, Pete was a good man.  Must have gotten in with the wrong person or persons.  Skylar and Bobie came here, checked the area out.  They didn't find anything, though both were shot at."

Perking up her ears, Jeanne hurried to catch up to the woman.  Feeling her right foot slip once, she realized the woman's warning about the loose shell was on target.  "Shot at?  That is something. While I look, would you tell me all you know about this?"

Jeanne was thorough, she left no stone unturned.  As Belle related the events to her, she listened intently still focusing on the area and what happened there.  When she finally stood and walked toward the woman she said,  "Sounds like they had quite an interesting time.  From all I have heard, sounds like the two have a good relationship.  There is nothing here.  Sky mentioned something about a cross, where is it?"

"Sheriff has it.  Can we go now?"

"Nope, we have done the ascend part, now it is time for the descent part.  First tell me, is there an area that contains petroglyphs, in particular a picture of The Dark Angel or Avenging Angel, some might call it?"

"Wow!  You are amazing.   `Dark Angel, Avenging Angel,'   You sure know your petroglyphics.  The picture you are talking about I think is about a mile from here.  Hope the batteries are good, we need light."

"Batteries are fine, you lead the way, I'll follow."

Both women were tired when they reached the area.   Jeanne removed her canteen and offered it to Belle.  "Drink, neither one of us needs to get dehydrated."

She accepted the canteen and took a long drink.  Then handed it back to the woman.  "Thanks.  I forgot to bring water.  I don't do things like this very often."

"You are so knowledgeable, I am surprised.  By the way, thanks for sending me to the store for clothes.  Forgot to bring a suitcase, since I was only going to be here for a short time."

"Thank you.   For getting me out.  Does a person good to get out, get in tune with nature again."

Jeanne grinned.  "Don't see any signs of people being here.  It's off the beaten path.  Come over here and shine your light on this."

Belle Gardner watched the woman step cautiously up to the rock.  It looked as she had last remembered seeing it those many years before.  "Right.  Now that you are seeing it, what do you have in mind? "

Jeanne set her knapsack down. Her hands brushing the area lightly before she reached into the knapsack and took out a brush and some sort of light.   "Shouldn't take long.   I thought I noticed something in the picture . . . "  Once the words were out, Jeanne wished she had bit her tongue.

"Picture?   What picture?  Did Skylar Richmond send you a picture?  What else did she send you?"

Lightly brushing the area, Jeanne mumbled,  "Nothing.  I recall seeing pictures of this in magazines.  Wanted to check this out for myself."

"Unk uh . . .   Been no pictures of this in any magazine that I know of.  Very few people even know this is here.  So give?"

"Step back, I'm going to shine this on the area.   Like I said, I saw this in a magazine. I'm sure this picture has been found in other places besides here."

"You don't fool me for a second Jeanne Randolph, it is obvious you knew this was here and that is why you are so hell bent on seeing it.  Don't know what you are hiding but . . ."  The woman's words faded as she gazed at the rock.

It looked like a ghost or something standing behind the Dark Angel.  As Jeanne stepped closer, the brightness of the light she was using brought the features out and it was then Belle Gardner let out a scream that echoed through the area.

Jeanne stared at the transformation, it glowed and seemed to want to reach out and touch them.  It was a half man half ape looking creature, hair was a dark color; had hair-covered face and hair from head to toe.  Somewhat hunched or bent over, with long arms.  The eyes were dark, almost like coal.  It was grotesque, making it even more so were the sharp teeth that protruded from its mouth.

"What . . . What . . . did you do?"   Belle rambled as she stepped away from the rock and the frightening picture.

"Wish I had brought my camera."   Jeanne turned off the light and the picture went back to just being The Dark Angel. She put the light in the knapsack then turned to stare at the ashen face of Belle Gardner.   "It's all right, Belle, it is just a picture.  Come on, I've had enough for today, need to get back, take a hot shower, change.   Actually right about now, that drink you make, sounds really good."

Jeanne, drove back as Belle was a bundle of nerves.   They  had been on the road for twenty minutes before she finally said,  "What got you so shook up back there?  It was just a picture.   Someone's imagination playing overtime."

"No.  Not imagination.  Just never really believed it."

Glancing toward the woman, Jeanne asked,  "Believed what?"

"Can we go any faster?   I want as much distance between us and that, that thing as possible."

"Whoa, you now have chills running up and down my spine.   I've seen a lot, never anything like this.  So give, we are in the truck heading for town, what was it you saw that I did not?"
"It is real.  The Windigo--the human who is transformed into a cannibalistic monster by tasting human flesh."

"Someone been watching the Sci-Fi channel?  Really.  I thought you were old enough to know things like this just don't exist.  You don't really believe this cannibalistic talk, do you?"

"It is said the fearsomeness comes from his very closeness to humans."

"So I need to be on the lookout for a very hairy tall man that might think I am dinner?  Come on Belle, this is a story told to children to keep them in line by an angry parent."

"I don't want to believe it's real.  The story goes, if a creature is spotted, something is going to happen.  The Windigo  is sometimes compared to the "forerunner" coming to warn people of impending disaster if they don't cease the destruction of nature and humankind."

"Old folk's tale.  It was just a picture.  Only to come out in certain light.  Nothing evil or forbidden, just a picture.  Besides the Dark Angel is in front and that would mean the `Windigo' is confined to that wall."  Shaking her head at the woman's reaction, she chuckled.

"Don't get so uppity, Jeanne Randolph, don't know anything about you or where you come from or even what you believe, but I do know about folklore and about the seven-foot hairy beast that is seen from time to time in certain areas of the state."

"Really?  Are you telling me this thing has been spotted in certain areas of this state?"

Nodding, Belle began to nervously tap her fingers on the dash.  "Yes.  It has been seen near campgrounds, once at night actually  stepping over a corral fence to take a young colt."

Holding up her hand, Jeanne exclaimed, "Stop!  Enough.  Keep talking like that and I won't be able to sleep tonight.  I will however look into this."

Seeing the lights of the town come into view, Jeanne tried to change the subject.  "Looks like we are almost there, you can get back to the tavern and I will go see if I can find Bernie Herbella before I turn in."

"You are welcome to stay with me, I have a spare room and promise not to bother you."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes.  I could use the company.  For some reason this has shaken me more than anything has in a long time.  Afraid, I have to admit, I am not brave."

"I think you are, Belle Gardner, brave.  You went with me and that takes real courage, neither of us knew what we might find.  Sometimes I just dive in without thinking about anyone else.  Forgive my blunder back there.  And if you will still have me, I would be delighted to be a guest in your home."

Entering the hotel, she headed straight for the desk and the man she came to know as, Walter.  "Thought I would check and see if any messages have come in for me."

He set down a folder, turned to look at her, and smiled.  "Miss Randolph, hope you had a pleasant day.  Just a sec, let me check."  He turned to walk away, a bounce in his step.  Before long he returned.  "There is a note from Mr. Herbella and someone called Tiger.  Guess you would know who this is."

Holding out a hand, Jeanne asked, "Won't know till you give them to me.   And yes, I had quite a day."

He fumbled with the papers but they did end up in her hand.  "Sorry bout that, can't blame the paper, just me.   Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Glancing at the messages she gazed up for a second, replying, "Yes, get my bill ready.  I am checking out."

He seemed surprised.  "Is it something I have done? Is there something more you need?"

Grinning, she tucked the notes in her shirt pocket then turned her attention to the man who was bouncing back and forth on the soles of his feet.  "No to both questions.  Belle Gardner has been kind enough to invite me to stay with her.  Could you see that the small suitcase in my room is sent to her place?"

He nodded and walked toward the computer. "Just be a few seconds and I will have your bill ready."

"I'm going up to the room, take a shower, change, then I will stop by here on my way out.  Take care of anything else I owe."   With those words, she turned and headed for the stairs.

Chapter Thirty

The man, Walter had charged for things she didn't even remember getting but was in no mood to argue with him.   Heaving a sigh of relief as she left the hotel, Jeanne was happy to be away from the place.  It gave her the creeps and she had not been able to put a finger on why.

Didn't take the woman long to reach Belle's Tavern.  A smile crossed her face as she entered the room.   Quickly glancing around hoping to spy the cheerful face of  the woman that had become an ally.  She was nowhere in sight, and now was trying to decide what to do when  she heard someone walking up from behind.

 "If you aren't a sight for sore and very tired eyes!"

Turning, she gazed into the twinkling eyes of Bernie Herbella.  "Bern, wasn't sure we were going to touch bases.  You look like someone that has been run ragged."

He flashed a smile, glanced past her for a moment then asked,  "Did you come in here to meet up with Sky?"

"Never anything subtle about you.  No to your question.  Can't a woman walk into a place of business without looking for the ever elusive, Skylar Richmond?"

He nodded.  "Yes, except I happen to know you and Sky are good friends.  There would never be a reason you would be in this town if not for her.  Want to tell me what is going on?"

Spying an empty table, Jeanne replied,   "Let's go sit, order something to drink, then we can talk."

He stepped back, leaned forward and with a sweeping motion of his right hand said,  "After you my dear."

"Always the gallant gentleman Bern.  I won't break you know."

His eyes lit up as he reached for a chair and held it out for her.  "You deserve the best, always wondered why someone has not taken you off the available list."

Sitting, she watched the man walk around and spend several minutes picking out a chair then finally sit.  "What makes you think I am available?   We haven't seen one another in a long time. "

Leaning forward he asked,  "Are you telling me you are married?  Who is the lucky man, do I know him?"

Shaking her head she replied,  "Bern, I have never been on an eligible list.  Anyone thinking I am will find themselves with egg on their faces."

"Sorry.  It's a guy thing.  Guess you wouldn't grasp it."

"Did you want to talk, just so you could upset me?  If so, we can just forget we met.   Guy thing or not, I don't want anyone putting me on their list, single, married or whatever."

He glanced around the room.  "Gotcha.  Doesn't seem to be anyone taking orders, what do you want?   I'll go get our drinks."

Shrugging she answered,   "Doesn't make any difference. I think the big thing here is beer."

"What no exotic drinks, no New York cuisine?  Be right back, do you have a preference in the beer?"

"Whatever you get is fine with me."   She watched the man stride toward the bar and smiled.   Even in blue jeans, boots and western shirt, the man stood out.  He could have been an actor, a model, he had the looks and the way about him.

"Hon. You day dreaming?"

Turning, she realized Belle Gardner was gazing at her.  "No.  Just . . ."

"It's all right dear, I see you are with a hunk of a man.  Someone like that gets a person's hormones talking, you know what I mean?"

Grinning she pointed toward a chair, and said,  "Sit, join us."

The woman pulled out a chair and sat, leaned back and stared at Jeanne.  "Did you get things squared away at the Hotel?"

Nodding, Jeanne replied,  "All done. Asked to have my one piece of luggage taken to your place.   A good thing you referred me to the small store here.  I was able to get the luggage and some clothing.  Teaches a person never to leave without this, regardless how quick the trip is going to be."

"You're welcome.   I have been caught without a few things before, not a pleasant experience.  I am sure you felt that your friend Skylar would let you wear something.  This man you are with, Bernie Herbella, works for Bengal Corporation, are you connected with Bengal too?"

A flicker of surprise flashed across the woman's face for an instant.  "Guess you know everything that is going on.  If that is the case, then you have probably already looked into my past as well as Skylar and Bernie Herbella, am I right?"

"Never hurts to know just who people are.  I do have my resources.  I know about your friend, Bernie Herbella because he has been all over the area, looking for Skylar and Bobie.  He has left little for anyone not to know.  I don't know anything personal about the man, just that he seems to head up Bengal.  And for some reason wants Skylar Richmond to go back with him."

"And me?  If we are going to continue to work together and I will be staying with you, I think you should come clean."

"I only know what little you have told me.  I don't go snooping into someone's business unless it involves me or my family.   I run a tavern, do not run some sort of covert operation.  You are a lovely lady.  Very meticulous, at the same time very caring.   I caught this just from being in your presence.   Hope I have not overstepped my bounds."

"It's fine.  I am glad you are so alert.  I now know I have picked the right person to help me while I am here and the right person to call, friend."

Tears welled up in Belle's eyes as she reached up to brush them away.  "Keep talking like  that woman and I will be sniffling all night.   I see your man is on his way back.  See you at my place, door is open, so come over whenever you want."  She reached out and slipped a piece of paper in the woman's shirt pocket.  "Here is the address."

She just missed running into Bernie who was now approaching the table.  He placed a mug of beer in front of Jeanne, then sit.  "What business you got going with Belle Gardner?"

Taking a sip of the beer, then sitting the mug down she answered, "Really none of your business.  But to set your mind at ease, she has offered to help me.  I have found that most people in this town are not a big help.  Mostly hindrance.  Your friend Sheriff Burgess seems to think he is some sort of king, likes to dictate."

After taking a long drink and sitting the mug down on the table he leaned forward and said,  "You have met the illustrious sheriff of Springfield I take it.  Guess it was not a pleasant meeting.  He seems to be an all right guy to me.  Has been doing his best to help me find Skylar as well as his buttinski, Parker."

"My, my, you do have it bad.   `Buttinski, Parker,' do I detect a little green eye in your tone, Bern?"

"Don't get so uppity on me Randolph, I simply need Skylar back at Bengal, that's all."

She was running a finger around and around the top of her beer mug as she smiled,   "I think it is more than that.   For some reason you see this woman, Bobie Parker as a threat of some kind.  We both know that once Sky gets involved in a case, she is there till the end.  There is no way the woman will leave until the murderer or murderers are uncovered and the whole spirit thing is cleared up."

"She will if I can ever get hold of her, talk some sense into the woman.  In so far as Parker, she is just a small tumbleweed Sky has picked up along the way, won't be long she will toss the woman to the roadside."

Sitting against the chair, tossing her head back and forth she grinned.  "You got it bad, Bern.  All these years, there has been nothing between the two of you and now you think you can just drop in here and be Sky's Knight in Shining Armor.  Doesn't work that way.  She is stubborn, defiant and will never do what someone wants or demands.  Red hair may have a little to do with it but Skylar Richmond can make up her own mind and does.  You keep trying to push and the woman will push back.  Especially if you keep talking about Bobie Parker this way.  It only brings out your jealousy and by the way, it's not pretty."

He grunted, took another drink then muttered,  "And you Miss Randolph?  Your reason for coming here has got to do with Skylar and no one else.  Just what is your business with Sky?  She works for me, I want to make sure she is all right.  That someone hasn't put some sort of spell on her.  I think once we talk she will see things my way."

Jeanne finished her drink, crossed her legs and stared at the man.  He was so sure of himself, so cocky, she almost wanted to kick out sending the chair out from under the man.  "What I'm doing here, is my business.  As for Sky well, she will do what she wants.  You get more bees with honey than with lemons.  With that I have to go, don't do anything I wouldn't."

He reached over and grasped her right arm.  "Don't go just yet, please."  Blue met blue as their eyes locked for an instant.

"All right, but I need another drink if I am going to have to listen to you for any longer."

He smiled, jumped up, grasped her empty mug and headed for the bar.   Twiddling her fingers, her mind went to Skylar Richmond.  Where was she?  Had she run into some sort of trouble this time, which she could not get out of?   Her friend, Bobie Parker had disappeared also, was she with Sky?  Were they all right?  Feeling a shiver she gasped, "The Windigo!  God help you if you two have met up with this creature."

Continued in Part Twelve

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