Beneath The Brambles, Ch. 12
Emily closed the door behind her, and leaned against it. She was so lost in the experience of nearly kissing Harley that she almost didn't remember to disarm the alarm. She remembered at the last moment and jumped to do it.
It was so close. Sooooo close. Why didn't I just go ahead and kiss her? She brought her
fingers to her lips and took a breath, still smelling the officer's cologne. What is that scent she uses? I know them all, why can't I figure out what it is. She took another breath as the scent left and only the memory of it lingered. Whatever it is, it's wonderful.
She's wonderful. Perfect. There's that word again. Ah well, she is, she's just perf...
Her musings were cut off by a knock at the door and she turned in gleeful anticipation to answer it. Her enthusiasm was only mildly diminished to find Twyla on the porch with a box and smile.
The lasagna, salad and garlic bread were delicious. Just the kind of comfort food Emily needed to occupy herself with, until the pain pill kicked in. Twyla was as charming and attentive to her needs as she had been that morning, and their conversation sparkled.
Now that Emily had a chance to meet and see some of the locals, it was much easier to picture them as Twyla talked. She nibbled at the peach cobbler as she listened and watched. She noted the woman never gossiped, just shared common information about the folks here. She noted too, that she was not the least bit reticent to talk about her only daughter, which pleased Emily greatly.
"She's headstrong and heartstrong and smart as all get out. I could write a book on how to live with a manic-depressive, schizophrenic, cat burglar and survive, just from having endured her teen-age years."
"Was she awful?" The writer grinned excitedly as she leaned on her hand with her elbow on the table, getting as close to the woman as she could. She felt like, somehow she was seeing that wonderful woman grow up in Twyla's stories.
"Oh dear goddess, yes! She was, very much like you, ya know?" She cocked her head and looked at the writer as though she had found out all her secrets.
"What?" The blonde replied. That look made her nervous. Just whom has she been talking to? "What do you mean, like me?"
"Well, Harley's awful smart. They tested her in first grade and she was all but off the scale. They fairly begged us to put her in a gifted children's program, but that meant she would have had to go Santa Barbara, and she'd be on the road for more than two hours everyday, so her Dad and I said no. Then Josh put his mind to it, and found out everything he needed to know about how to keep her from getting bored and feeding her constant curiosity. He just pushed and pulled and bullied until we got what we wanted. Harley got to stay here and lead a normal life, but she also got all the extra help she needed to keep that fine brain of hers occupied and learning. Boy, that did take some doing." She let out a deep breath and gazed off as she remembered. "So you see, I do know what you were like. Being the parent of a prodigy isn't a walk in the park, you know. And when those hormones kick in, whoooooeeee. It was never safe, then. The arguments between my smart, stubborn teen-age daughter and her furious, stubborn mother are still the topic of conversation at the dinner table some nights. Geesh, that girl could be loud!"
Remembering her own volatility at that age she could more than sympathize with the woman. She felt the need to pat the woman on her hand when she could see the look of sadness pass over her face.
"I'm sure it was very hard."
The older woman patted the hand that rested on her own and said, "It was. The worst part is that she was always right. We fought over stupid little things and her logic and reasoning was impeccable. Josh finally had to take me for a walk one night and explain to me what everybody saw, but me. He finally told me that I wasn't arguing to get my way. I was just arguing to maintain control over my daughter, because when all was said and done, I just didn't want her to grow up." She looked up at the younger woman. "And he was right. Don't get me wrong; I love my boys, all of them. Each one is special and bright. Unique in their own talents and sweet as can be to their Momma. But Harley was my only daughter and it's different with her. I guess I just wanted to maintain some kind of control over her for as long as I could. I knew fairly early she was going to have a rougher than usual time of it, and I just wanted to spare her that hurt. I guess I thought if I kept her home and cloistered a bit, she would have some time to... build a shell against the things that would wound her." She took in a deeper breath and said, "I should have known it would never work. She's always been strong. Not just physically, but
emotionally strong. Oh, she took her hits in high school when lots of the kids went out of their way to make her miserable, just because she was... different... but as much as I wanted to shield her from that, I couldn't, and she got over it. I'm pretty sure it affected her a lot less than it affected me. She's very special." She ended, and smiled tenderly at the young woman next across from her. "Dont you think?" she asked, with the merest hint of a grin lingering on her lips.
"Yeah," Emily answered. She knew that Twyla guessed her feelings for her daughter. She didn't seem bothered by it and, as her answer came she thought she saw a spark of something in the older woman's eyes.
"Research, Bramble California. September first. My impressions." She stopped speaking into the tape recorder briefly as she put her thoughts in order.
Twyla left a few minutes ago and now that she was alone she had some time to try to put her restless thoughts down on tape about this fascinating little town, and it's wonderful citizens.
After she droned on long enough and changed tapes twice, she realized how tired she was. The pain had been wearing on her and the pill, the heavy meal, and pleasant company made her long for her bed.
As she got under the covers, her always-active mind began to slow down as it reached for sleep, leaving only one thought with her as she drifted off. The scent, the softness of her skin and the tingle she felt as she stared into those luminous blue eyes were what followed her down into her dreams.
The dream was so pleasant. Comforting in a way she hadn't felt since she was a child, as the warm strong arms held her and soft breath whispered against her skin. She stirred a bit as the feeling began to fade and reached out for her but felt nothing but cold sheets and flat empty blankets. A part of her wanted to just fall back into the dream but a tiny other part of her mind was telling her she had to wake up. She fought it for a long time, but finally gave into the part that needed her to wake and looked around, knowing what she would find, but disappointed anyway.
As she stretched and yawned her way to wakefulness, she twisted her lower back a bit and saw something odd between her squinting eyelids. She stopped movement instantly and found her vocal cords frozen as she saw the large knife imbedded in the pillow beside her.
Harley tried mightily to quell the anger that pushed at her as she waited for the phone to be answered. She stood at the side of the bed holding the phone that Emily used to call her.
Her breath was still short but she was struggling hard to get it under control after the terrified writer woke her only five minutes ago. Her senses came alive the instant she heard her voice and she headed out of the station to Stephanie's house at a speed, that by no one's standard, could have been called safe.
The young woman met her at the door and as soon as she saw how pale her face and lips were, she rushed her to the couch and ran to the kitchen. She returned with a glass of scotch and instructions for the small woman to stay there. After running into the spare room, she returned and wrapped the comforter around the writer and then went to see what had frightened her so much.
Her back was to the knife, which was still imbedded through the pillow and into the mattress of the bed Emily slept in. An expensive, and by the looks of it, very sharp hunting knife, entrenched more than five inches into the pillow and mattress beneath it. It was just inches from the depression in the pillow, showing where the small woman's head rested. The thought of what might have happened chilled her and urged the release of that anger she was trying so desperately to suppress. Dammit Gunny, answer the phone!
The blonde sat sipping the scotch and trying to still the shaking that was causing the liquid in the glass to dance. Okay, Emily. You're fine. It was scary, but you're fine. Harley's here and she'll fix it. Just breathe and calm down. Another tremor rocked her, nearly spilling her drink and she determined it would do more good inside her than on her lap. She downed the rest of it in one large swallow, and felt the effects begin to lessen the grip of her fear.
"Gunny will be here in an hour or so, and Mom and Cole are on their way." The Sheriff stopped and kneeled at the younger woman's feet. Taking the now empty glass from her hand and setting it on the table behind her, she continued. "Emily, do you think you can tell me what happened now?"
The smaller woman ran a shaky hand through her hair and shook her head slightly. "I don't know what happened. I went to bed last night and when I woke up, there it was. Just there, in the pillow next to me. That's all I know." She took a breath and said, "I got out of bed and grabbed the phone and hit the button that said Sheriff."
"Do you remember setting the alarm last night?" The dark woman looked at her intently.
"Yes. I'm sure I did." She was sure, wasn't she? She tried to go over the end of last night in her mind but was getting lost to that fearful feeling again. The sheriff must have sensed it because she took her hands into her own and held them firmly. The feeling made her feel safe and grounded, and she could clearly see herself in her minds eye as she locked the door behind Twyla and then turned to the panel and activated the alarm system. With more surety in her voice, she said, "Yes. I'm sure of it. I remember clearly doing it just after I locked the door when Twyla left. I know I did."
"Okay, do you remember deactivating it for me when I got here?"
"No, wait... no, I didn't." That realization brought her up short and she could feel her heartbeat begin to pound again. "Jesus, Harley, what's going on?"
Seeing the tears start in those beautiful green eyes allowed the Sheriff to just go with her instincts. She sat on the couch next to the frightened woman and pulled her into her arms. "I don't know yet, Emily, but I swear I'm gonna find out. Don't worry, Ill get to the bottom of this and I won't let anything happen to you. I promise." She nearly snarled that last bit, as the anger that was pressing on her for release nearly overwhelmed her. It was seeing that look in those eyes that sealed it. I don't know who you are, you son of a bitch, but Im coming for you.
Just being in Harleys arms felt so good that the feelings fled and she felt safe and warm again. Just like before. I love this. She sighed once as the rush of misery eased. Wonder what I can do to get this feeling again without having to be in pain or in danger. It wasn't the fear of death as much as the fact that someone who must know her, wanted her frightened or maybe, dead. Despite the situation she found herself taking advantage of the arms which held her and allowed herself to create a small fantasy of the two of them as they were now, but adding a roaring fire in the fireplace they were facing, and soft jazz playing in the background.
The small woman hadn't realized that the sigh she released was so expressive but the Sheriff heard and understood. Just what is going on behind those pretty eyes now, Em? And what's with the sudden change in body language? The sheriff felt certain that the woman she was holding was no longer in need of comfort, as she felt her begin to cuddle a little more intimately than before. Quite without her permission, her hands began rubbing the woman's back in circles and her cheek started to nuzzle the crown of the blonde's head. The blonde slowly raised her head. Their eyes locked and their lips were only inches away from each other.
Then the doorbell rang.
Close. Thats the second time in two days? What am I doing here, and why am I so angry to be interrupted? This just isnt like me. That woman she just affects me. I still dont know if thats a good or a bad thing.
Her ruminations stopped as she opened the door and allowed both Cole and her Mother to enter. Twyla placed a quick kiss on her cheek and clasped her arms tightly as she motioned toward Emily with her eyes.
"Shes shook up, and she has a right to be. Go see about keeping her company until Cole and I can get some work done around here, okay?"
The older woman just nodded and took Harleys place on the sofa next to the writer, speaking in low tones.
"Bring the kit into Stephs bedroom." She told Cole as she began to walk down the hall.
"You dont want me to dust the door for prints?" He was surprised that with a case of breaking and entering, the Sheriff hadnt asked him to do one of the most basic of investigating jobs.
She stopped and turned to him. "There wont be any." Before he could ask her about it, she was gone into the bedroom.
He followed as quickly as possible with the large suitcase containing their equipment.
"Pictures first, everywhere in this room. The only place the perp needed to be was the alarm panel, but Ill bet you free Danish for the next month you wont find a thing there but Emilys and my prints." She scanned the room and felt her ire rising again. "Ill start on the prints. I dont thing well find a thing, but I just know they entered from either this room or the sliding glass doors in the living room." She crouched down to the open valise and started removing the items she knew would be needed.
"When is Gunny due?" Cole asked, as he wandered from area to area taking long and close range photos of the crime scene.
The Sheriff checked her watch and said, "About twenty minutes or so." She grinned a little remembering how furious the trooper was when he heard of another attack on his favorite author. "Unless theres a rock slide or earthquake, we can expect him to be early."
"So," the deputy continued, "just for the sake of curiosity, can you tell me why youre so sure I wont find prints on the front door?"
"Sure. Two things. Whoever did this intended to scare her. Not hurt her. She would be dead now if they intended her harm. The first thing I did was check with Gunny and he assured me that Mr. Bell is safely in the arms of the New Mexico jail system, so it couldnt have been him. Emily hasnt met anyone here who would want to harm her. I know, cause I was with all her day yesterday. Therefore whoever did this, did it with the intent to scare her. Warn her away somehow. As to why or what from; Im still working on that one." She continued talking as she carefully dusted the sliding glass door for possible fingerprints. "Two, someone turned off the alarm from inside the house."
Cole nearly dropped the camera. "What!" He didnt mean to be as loud as he was, but the shock of it disturbed him. He saw his sisters face cloud with anger and tried to apologize.
"Okay, Im sorry. You just surprised me." The thrill of cold fear ran down his back as he realized the implications of what must have happened here in this room while Emily slept, all alone.
"How can you be sure it wasnt disengaged from outside? Are you even sure that Emily armed it? Was it disarmed or just disconnected?"
They were all honest questions, and if she had been anyone else any where else she would be asking them herself.
She made her way to the door and shut it firmly, and then, turning to her brother kept her voice lowered as she answered all his questions in one sentence.
"Because I designed it."
Ohhhhh. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. She was going to kiss me! I just know she was going to kiss me. Well, I could have just no, maybe I couldnt have. Somehow I just know she has to be to the one to do it. But she almost DID! She huffed out a little annoyed sigh. It would have been sooo good. I just know it.
By that time the guests at the door came in and after a brief whispered conversation, Twyla came to her side.
"Hey there, hon, how ya doing?" The older woman put her arm around her and looked her over with intent.
"Ill be fine, although Ive been better." She managed a small laugh. "Boy, for such a nice quiet little town, you sure know how to show a girl a good time."
Twyla only smiled with her and asked her if she could tell her what happened. She related the little bit she knew and then, like the true earth mother she was, Twyla suggested she make her something to eat.
"Let me just go check with Harley to be sure I can fiddle in the kitchen, then Ill make you something to fill you up and calm you down."
When she returned a moment later she looked a little annoyed.
"Harley says she thinks it would be a good idea if I took you over to my place for a few days."
Emily was many things, and she had experienced things in the last two days here that would make her much more cautious in the future, but she had never been one to take being attacked lying down. Her rational mind shut down at the common sense of leaving a house where she had nearly been skewered, and her natural tendency to meet adversity head on asserted itself. She knew that Twyla was not the person she needed to take her anger out on, so she deliberately softened her tone of voice when she answered.
"I think Ill be fine here, really, Twyla. I know it may not seem that way, but Im not totally helpless and I wouldnt think about imposing on you." She hoped her smile looked as reasonable as she was trying to sound.
"Im sorry Emily, but you really have no choice here."
She turned her head and followed Harleys entrance to the room until she stood at the end of the sofa.
Harley watched as the pretty face in front of her hardened into obstinance and knew she had to get a little tough. She hoped it wouldnt be the end of what was happening between them, but she had to take the chance. Her safety was at stake. Please, Emily, just listen to reason and go along with me. I really dont want to fight with you.
"Mom, I think itll be alright if you fix us all a pot of coffee, okay?" She came around the coffee table to stand facing the blonde. "Emily and I need to talk for a few minutes."
After Twyla prudently left the room, the small war began.
"If you think Im just going to "
"Its just too dangerous for you to be "
They both stopped as they realized that talking over each other wasnt getting them anywhere. Before the writer could begin again, the Sheriff held up her hand and said, "Please, just let me explain first, then you can tell me whats on your mind."
Emily had to take a deep breath and grab the reins of her galloping temper in both hands before she nodded.
"Okay, its like this. One, you are injured and therefore less likely to be able to defend yourself than you were before. Two, this house is very isolated. The nearest neighbors are more than a quarter mile down the road. Three, you cant even drive to get away if someone should come back and want to chase you down. And four, whoever got in here knew what they were doing. They knew about the alarm and they knew the code to disable it. They knew where you would be and they got in without waking you. Most importantly, they bypassed the alarm in order to gain entry and I have no idea how they did that. Simply put, Emily, you just arent safe here. Its my job to see that you are. Please, for my sake, go stay with Mom for a few days. At least until Stephanie gets up here this week-end, okay?" She looked at the belligerent woman facing her and saw her start to hear the voice of reason, finally. Gods, I hope shes not as stubborn as she seems to be. I know I said I love a challenge, but it could be I spoke too soon. Please, Emily, see it my way and dont put yourself in danger. "Besides, with all of us out of that big old house of hers, Mom could use the company for a few days." She hoped the chance to pick Twylas brain for all the minutia about the town and its residents would give her further incentive to stay with her.
What she was thinking must have shown on her face as the young woman began to soften her expression and the look of defiance began to fade.
Dammit, shes right. Emily now gained an appreciation for the misery Twyla must have felt when fighting with her smart, stubborn, teen-age daughter all those years ago. It griped her. She hated feeling helpless and needy and shed been feeling that way almost since she stepped foot into this town. The injury to her arm took on a new meaning as the pain of it was replaced by the awkward position it put her in. She had to be taken care of, looked after, and that thought conflicted with the way she saw herself. She tried in vain to find a way out of this, but was just too flustered by all the internal stuff she was going through lately and the unmistakable logic of what Harley just said. Trying to maintain a shred of dignity, she steeled herself to give in, - again!
"I can see your point." She said quietly, and started to stand. She felt the need to be on her feet and not have the woman she admired looking down on her as she told her what to do. "Ill be happy to stay with Twyla as long as you can assure me I wont be in her way. I know she has a restaurant to run and all, so I want you to promise me, she wont be babysitting me instead of taking care of her business, okay?" She slowly walked over to the glass doors and just stared at the forest.
I have the feeling I lucked out with that one. The Sheriff took in and released a relieved breath as she said, "I absolutely guarantee it. Im sure shell love your company and before you know it, Ill have this cleared up and youll be back here again. Besides, this way youll be able get to know the town a little better. Mom has a full schedule of people she visits and places she goes and youll be able to get to know us one on one." She smiled to assure the smaller woman that her time would be well spent and tried to think of something else to sweeten the stay as her mother walked in with the coffee.
"Thats true Emily, Ill be delighted with the company, truly I will. That big old house only gets to be full on Sundays when the kids come over for dinner. The rest of the time its just me and Josh, and with him out of town just now, Id be glad to have someone to help pass the time." She turned to her daughter as Cole came out of the bedroom. "Are you done in there enough that we can pack some things for Emily, now?"
The Sheriff looked to Cole who nodded and then said, "Sure, Mom."
The door was shut and the big Cadillac turned out of the driveway toward the older womans home when the little blonde finally asked the question.
"Okay, Twyla, are you ready to tell me now just why everyone here has been so anxious to avoid telling me that my editor is a member of the clan Ravensdown? Auntie?"
The older woman blanched and swallowed before she began nervously, "Now honey "
TBC in Chapter 13
Return to Main Page