Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 13

The color scheme and furnishings were… unexpected. She’d finished putting away the few things she’d packed for the days she would be spending at the Ravensdown home, and now she just stood, taking in the room where Harley grew up.

It was red. Fire engine red. Turn of the century, brothel red, with a queen sized brass bed, as it’s focal point. Not that curley-que, lyrical, fleur de lis brass either, these were heavy rods of real brass at each corner and smaller ones in between with another bar surmounting them at the head and footboards.

No accent colors disturbed the scheme. The windows were covered in wooden blinds to match the floor and the few pieces of necessary furniture. All were in a rich golden oak and nearly matched the brass in hue value. No brick a brack or memorabilia on the walls or the clean surfaces of the desk or dresser, and no cozy throws over the wooden rocker next to the window gave a hint as to the state of mind of the girl who grew up here.

According to Twyla, with the exception of removing her clothing, tapes, CD’s and books, her room was just as she left it when she moved out and for all the years she lived here.

Red. Now, what does that say about you Harley? She tried to form a picture of a younger Harley in her mind. From what Twyla said she was logical, smart, stubborn and volatile. Remembering her own teen years and the emotional roller coaster she rode and put everyone around her on, maybe red was appropriate. Nonetheless, she still wasn’t quite clear in her mind about what this said about the Sheriff. She was so complicated. Remembering the soft, natural shades of the woman’s living area and the muted, almost redundant neutrals of her bedroom and bath in comparison to this room made her more sure than ever that there were many more of those hidden doors leading to sides of her friend she had yet to discover.

The ride to the Ravensdown home had been informative and aggravating. She was instantly angry when she was informed that Stephanie had phoned ahead and told all her relatives to watch out for her when she arrived. The comment about her being a ‘trouble magnet’ didn’t go over very well and her sense of independence bristled at having total strangers to her, asked to keep an eye on her. It only lasted a moment however, when she realized that in this instance, Stephanie had been right. When Twyla told her about being asked to keep their relationship to the publisher quiet, she didn’t have to be told the reason. She knew, that Stephanie knew, she would be furious. She was glad, after thinking it over for a minute, that she hadn’t been told. Her temper and her own over blown sense of independence would have made her avoid these people, and that would have been a tragedy.

The Home Ravensdown was, like Harley’s, set on a dirt road away from the town proper. Twyla told her that Josh had designed it and oversaw every aspect of its construction. She was delighted to see it come into view at the end of a long winding driveway. The place was huge. It looked like an antebellum plantation had been uprooted and plunked down in the middle of the California Mountains. The trees in the back and on the farthest fringes were native to the area, but the obvious Magnolia’s flanking the wide porch steps had to be introduced to it. The only thing missing here was the Spanish moss and the smell of swamp gas. Emily’s first impression was of Tara from Gone With The Wind. She was just about to speak of it, when Twyla told her that it was as close to a replica of the house in the movie as Josh could build it. It was his favorite movie and he’d always dreamed of living in a house like it. He’d gone so far as to use his contacts in the film industry to track down the original stills of the mansion, inside and out.

She had the impression from all that Harley and Cole told her that Josh made a good living. After all, he sent six kids to college, but it wasn’t until she stepped into this house that she really put it together. They were rich! Big time rich. Very, very well to do. Emily had grown up surrounded by people her family would classify as ‘well to do’ but she hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the really rich and famous until her books began to sell.

Hitting the best sellers list and having the attending notoriety it afforded, offered her a free pass to the houses of the people whom the rest of the world envied. She acquired an education of a different kind then. Now she knew how to tell the imitation from the original.

This place was all originals. That wasn’t veneer on the floors here; that was real tongue in groove oak. The antiques scattered throughout the lower floor were just that, and not reproductions. She couldn’t wait to meet this man.

Somehow, Twyla gave her the impression that having this house and all it contained was commonplace to her, but she was glad for it because it made Josh happy. She wondered if Harley’s complexity was a genetic inheritance from her mother.

She was really glad, however, to know, that Stephanie and Harley were cousins. She almost took a breath in relief when she heard it. Getting just a little possessive now, aren’t we, Emily? She asked herself, and after just a moment more, yeah, I sure am. I admit it freely. I want that woman… on a whole lot of different levels.

She took a few more minutes to record some of her thoughts about the house and the news about her publisher’s relationship with the family, and then headed downstairs to see if she could help Twyla out.

She deliberately put aside any thoughts about the knife in her bed and who put it there. She knew she just wasn’t ready to go there yet.

She didn’t even realize she was singing part of a song from The Unsinkable Molly Brown as she made her way down the staircase.

"And if that room is red

And has a big brass bed,

I’m living there"


Gunny left just minutes ago and Harley was still staring at the inside of the alarm control panel.

His usual jovial banter was missing and the all business attitude he presented matched her own. He was mad and he was determined to find the person who did this. Gunny hated bullies. He collected all the fingerprint evidence and the film from the camera and then sat with the officers to fill in the blanks.

"I know it’s procedure. That’s why we did it, but I’ll tell you now, you won’t find anyone’s prints on those but Emily’s, Rita’s, Mom’s and mine."

"Who’s Rita?" the trooper asked as he finished his coffee.

The sheriff finished her fourth cup and answered, "She takes care of the place while Stephanie is gone. Keeps the yard mowed and dusts, vacuums and feeds the plants, you know, that kind of stuff. She is by no means a suspect. She’s the McKinney’s youngest daughter. She lives down the road and she’s only fourteen."

"Okay. Got anyone else in mind as the perp on this one?"

Cole just looked at his sister and waited. If anyone could figure this out, it would be her. Just look at that face. She’s got her teeth in it already. She never was one to let anything go until she got a handle on it. He remembered when he got that Rubik’s cube for his birthday. He left it on the table with the rest of the gifts and came back an hour later to find it solved. He didn’t have to ask who did it. He just had to look at her face.

"Maybe an idea of where to find one. I’m gonna go and talk to my friends at The Village. " She smiled and narrowed her eyes as another thought occurred to her. "There’s only one permanent resident of Bramble I wouldn’t put this past, but there is one semi-permanent one I want to find out about." She paused and tilted her head. "The stumper is, the reason why. It can’t be Emily, but I’m sure there was a purpose behind it. I’m betting good money right now that whoever did this wasn’t betting on getting this kind of a reaction."

After he left she resumed her study of the interior circuitry of the alarm panel. To the best of her knowledge, only five people on the planet knew the code. The interior of the box was pristine and working just fine, so no tampering with it occurred. That only meant that one of the other four beside herself had given the code to someone or that Emily was wrong when she said she remembered setting it. Harley wasn’t willing to believe that. The woman was upset this morning, but her certainty about her actions after locking the door seemed genuine.

"Well, there’s nothing for it but to start asking." She closed the panel and picked up the phone. Pushing the buttons from memory she waited for the call to be answered.


Emily found her way to the kitchen just as Twyla was putting a covered roasting pan into one of the three ovens. She started to say something then just stopped and twirled around. This was every cook’s dream kitchen. There was everything in here. She noted a pastry station complete with a marble counter for piecrusts and three separate sink and counter stations, not to mention the ovens, and an eight burner professional stove, with grill and rotisserie. There were warming drawers and bins and baskets. There were professional French copper skillets and pots hanging from racks overhead. There was… everything.

This time, Twyla gently lifted her chin to close her mouth.

"I know it’s a little bit much, especially now that the kids are gone, but Josh bothered me and bothered me until I told him everything I ever wanted in a kitchen. I didn’t tell him all of this, though. He did his research and spoke to several chefs who are friends of ours, and this" she twirled around and held out her arms, "is the result. I have to admit it it’s my favorite room in the house."

Before the writer could begin to gush about it, Twyla continued. "Feel free to use anything in the house, including the kitchen. I’m not proprietary about it unless I’m cooking at the time. That means anything, Emily. You’re our guest."

She started to leave the same way Emily entered and said, "I’ll give you a proper tour when we get back, but just now I have to run some errands. Can I ask for your company while I do?"

"Ah, yeah." She tried to stop staring and had to shake herself to follow the woman.


So far, they’d been to the gas station, where Emily met the Bramble version of Romeo and Juliet’s Capulet the father. She was predisposed to dislike Carl Rimshaw due to Harley’s description of him trying to thwart the true love of his daughter for Hank Stevens. Also, truth be known, because Emily was at heart, a confirmed romantic. It was a deep, dark secret she was sure no one else knew about her. She had pictured him as a sour faced curmudgeon and was a little disappointed to see a gentle looking man in his mid fifties, with soft, brown hair going to gray here and there, and quiet brown eyes. He greeted Twyla by name with a huge smile, and told Emily that he was very glad to meet her. She had to believe he meant it. Oh well, I can always give him a pointed chin and squinty eyes in my story. I need a villain, and so far, he’s the closest I’ve got.

Next they stopped at the Food Emporium where Emily made sure to buy a carton of cigarettes while Twyla picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables. She was again introduced to several people and remembered a few from Twyla’s early morning expose on the residents. She was glad to finally meet Ellie Gravitz and to manage, in her own charming way, to wrangle an invitation to drop by for tea "any afternoon next week". She was already making a list of questions for the former aircraft plant worker and trying to find a way to question her about the grapevine presumption Harley gave her.

As they exited, they nearly, literally, ran into a woman who seemed to be almost running into the store.

Emily nearly felt the older woman tense beside her. She eyed her briefly before returning her attention to the woman in front of her. She was taller than Emily by a few inches, very well dressed in an expensive black suit and silk blouse and her short, very blonde hair, was spiked with little curls of it falling around the corners of her eyes. She had three piercings in each ear containing graduated black pearl earrings that got larger from top to bottom. Every finger and both thumbs sported large heavy rings. The eyes were odd. They were a rich, deep brown, but what should have made her feel warm, due to their color, left her feeling very cold and a little frightened. They seemed vacant and preoccupied. Madness. That must be what it looks like to see insanity in someone’s eyes. Before she had the opportunity to study that immediate and visceral response the woman spoke, and her words and tone of voice made the impression she had even stronger.

"I beg your pardon… Mizz. Ravensdown. I hope your weren’t…injured." The voice was lilting and cold, and the look in her eyes belied any sense of sincerity her words intimated.

"We’re fine, … Darla."

The writer was stunned at the tone of voice the woman she liked so much was using. Until now, she had never heard her speak to, or about anyone without kindness. She knew the words may have been accurate and that she hadn’t said anything wrong, but she could swear what she was really saying was ‘Drop dead, bitch.’

She suddenly recognized that tone and remembered how Harley spoke to the man who attacked her. Her words too had been polite and informative, but they were threaded though with enmity.

"I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know who you are."

There was that tone again. Although the words could have been more polite, they were true and it was the tone, that said more than anything, that the spiked haired blonde wanted to chastise Twyla for her lack of courtesy in not making an introduction.

It appeared however, that the older woman had herself firmly in hand and refused to rise to the bait.

"Emily Cutter, this is Darla Dunhem." Twyla’s words were flat. Without expression and for the first time, without her companionable smile accompanying them.

Emily took her cue from that, and with as much demure reserve as she could, she said, "How do you do, Ms. Dunhem"?

"Well, I do just fine, Dearie. What a pleasant accident running into you has been." She looked pointedly at the cast on the writer’s arm and the smile on her face was nothing less than vicious. She turned to Twyla and kept the smile on her face as she said, "Always a pleasure to see you again, Mizz. Ravensdown." She tilted her head to the right just a bit and slipped around them and into the store, trilling out a too-jovial "TTFN", and then she was gone.


Harley made a point to circle the parking lot and look for the black Masserarati she knew belonged to Valerie, before she pulled to a stop in front of The Village’s main doors.

Her calls confirmed what she felt, and none of the other people who had the code to the alarm panel had given it away. At least not voluntarily. She wasn’t quite so sure about Rita McKinney; she was very vocal in denying it, but that by itself, made her a little suspicious. She didn’t want to scare the girl, so she just dropped it for the time being. She knew she’d get back to her if nothing else turned up.

During the drive to The Village her mind wouldn’t rest, trying to determine the reason. That was the key to the ‘who’ of it. If she could figure out the ‘why’, she’d be more than halfway home. It can’t be Emily. She has no one here who wants to see her hurt, unless…Since she and Valerie broke up, there hadn’t been anyone in her life romantically. At least not here. The woman was just vindictive enough to have seen them together and made assumptions. It was a long shot, but she had to be sure.

Not finding the Masserati didn’t put her mind to rest as she entered the building. She had to talk to her friends for the real story.

She brought her head up and saw Paris behind the desk and started to smile until she took in the bloody bandage on her temple and her gray skin.


They pulled away from the parking lot and turned down Bender. Emily really wanted to ask about the woman she just met, but something told her to let Twyla bring it up on her own.

So, the village has a villain after all. Trying to put together the pieces she already knew, she remained quiet as Twyla drove them to their next stop.

She isn’t much older than I am, maybe around Harley’s age. The only other time I saw that kind of reaction from Twyla was when she was telling me about the kids. She said "…but I can only be grateful that we never had to pay for any broken bones. Well, except for that one time. Of course, that had nothing to do with name calling. Nope, different matter altogether." She remembered watching the woman’s jaw clench, very much like it did today, and she saw the same instant anger in her eyes. If it wasn’t the same woman who caused both reactions, I’d be surprised. Which means, she wasn’t a visitor but a permanent resident. She was well dressed and well groomed. That haircut may be a little outré for the residents here, but it was a fabulous cut and the suit was expensive and well tailored. Well, that shouldn’t surprise me. So far everyone I’ve met here over the age of twenty-one has a college degree, some of them two or three. The animosity was clearly mutual and that was odd. The Ravensdown’s practically own this town and the residents seem to universally love them. Hating one of the primary pillars of the community must put you in a kind of awkward situation. Why does she stay?

Before she could continue the thought they arrived at the Ravens Nest and Twyla asked her to come inside for minute.

As before, she took Emily on a quick tour of the place and introduced her to all the staff, then escorted her to a table in the bar and brought her coffee.

"I need to do a quick inventory and give the cook his instructions for tonight’s special. Just have a little rest and read the menu and when I get back we’ll have lunch, okay?"

"I’ll be fine Twyla, just take your time. I’ll be here when you’re ready."

The restaurant just opened minutes before and only a very few customers were seated at the small tables in the lounge. The writer took a few minutes to decide on lunch and then sat back to sip her coffee and look around.

Suddenly, she knew she was being watched. She felt the hairs on her neck rise and shuddered. Trying to remain as calm as possible she turned casually and laid a hand on the back of the chair, ostensibly just taking in the furnishings and décor.

Her eyes slid past his table as though it wasn’t of any importance and he never lifted his eyes to make contact with her, but she knew it was his eyes that had been boring into her back. She knew, as well, from the intensity of the feeling, that it was more than just a casual observation of a stranger to town.

She had a sudden intense wish that Harley was there, as she tried to slow her breathing and catch the bartender’s eye.

TBC in Chapter 14

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