Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 17
Once again, reality reared its head and the moment was lost. Still smiling at the unexpected and moving words the Sheriff said, the writer felt the need to bring up the mundane, rather than blurt out her thoughts.
"So, why are we here?"
"Were here to see Rita McKinney." She answered, as she shifted her gaze to watch for the girl.
""And she is ?"
"Oh yeah. Sorry. Shes the girl Steph has take care of her house when shes gone. Ritas one of the few people with the code for the alarm, and Im not sure she told me the whole truth when I asked her if shed given the code to anyone else. " The skin around her eyes crinkled into small hard lines and before her eyes, Emily saw the lawyer emerge. She remembered being young herself and thought that if she was pushed into an interrogation by this women, shed have just shut up. At that age, I was as stubborn as an ink stain on white silk, and if I thought I was being pushed they would have needed a laxative to get me to move. Then she had another thought.
"Harley, why dont you let me handle her?" She could see the woman begin to form an immediate objection to the idea, and rushed to supply her reasoning behind the request.
"Wait a minute, before you say no, just hear me out, okay?"
Feeling as though she had nothing to lose and knowing she held the reigns of decision, Harley acquiesced. "Okay, shoot."
"First, she doesnt know me and has no preconceived notion of what I want from her. I can approach this from the house guest-who-needs-some help from the resident expert on Stephs place and you cant. Next, I get people to tell me stuff they dont know theyre telling me all the time. Third, I remember vividly what it felt like to be a teenager and I can relate to her." She smiled a bit at Harleys look of indignation and quickly followed with, "Im not saying youre an old woman Harley, just that you have a fairly overwhelming presence." Noting the look of surprise on the womans face she added, "Oh dont tell me youve never been told that before, and that has a tendency to put people on the defensive. Finally, Ill be coming at her from a blind corner. She wont know to be on the defensive with me, because shell think Im after something else altogether." She paused and assessed the officer. Feeling the need to add one more argument, she said. "Come on, Harley, what can it hurt? If I dont get what you need, you can always talk to her later. Ill even hold the spotlight on her while you use the rubber hose." She grinned and hoped a little charm would sway the woman.
It did. "Okay, writer, youre on. Shes coming out of that room over there in a few minutes. She stays after on Thursday as an aid to the teacher. If you want to play it like you said, youd best get out of this car and find a way to make your pitch." She started the car as the blonde, removed her seat belt and tried to open the door with her left arm. Harley leaned her long body over her and pulled the handle for her. "Youre on your own, then. This," she pointed at the street they pulled off of to enter the lot of the school, "is Prospector. Just follow it back down the road to Bender and turn left. Thats where the Bulletins office is. Ill be inside waiting for you. I need to speak to JD anyway." Without another word, she took off and left the writer in the school parking lot, trying to decide on the right approach.
Then, realizing she had no idea what this girl even looked like, she stepped forward.
"Well, I better get over there before shes leaves and I dont even know Ive missed her."
The look and smell of the classroom brought back distinct memories for the writer and she was pleased to see that one wall was lined with tables of computers. Above the wall was page after page of typed papers with A+ boldly displayed in red ink. They seemed to be short stories or articles as each had a title and the closest ones showed quotation marks in many places. Maybe a writer will get a better audience than a houseguest. Lets see.
She saw a gray haired woman standing next to a young girl on a ladder who was stapling a jack-o-lantern banner above the blackboard. At the end where the banner began, she saw a large color picture of three witches stirring a caldron. Feeling around for an opening line, she stepped into the room and quietly cleared her throat.
The sheriffs car was parked directly in front of the front door to the small newspaper office. Harley grabbed her hat, went up the two old brick steps and smiled to herself at the smell of the place. Since she was little this was always one of her favorite places in town. She instantly recognized the sound of the old paper press in the back room. JD could have replaced it long ago, but he felt, as she did, that it was a part of the town, and so he just kept maintaining it.
She followed the sound and found her brother wiping his hands and staring intently at the drum as copies of newsprint disgorged from its end.
"So, have you stared it down yet? Personally, if it was me, Id be cowed into performing by now." The wide-eyed look of innocence was completely wasted on her brother, who knew both sarcasm, and his sister, very well.
Without making eye contact and still staring hard at the machinery in front of him, he said, "Go away, Harley, if you didnt bring me news or food, I dont have to talk to you until Sunday at dinner. Mom said so."
"Well now, if you arent the grumpiest editor Ive ever met. A person comes in to see you and compliments your obvious intimidation skills and all she gets is the brush off. You better be nice or Ill tell Daddy."
He finally deigned to look at her, noticed a tiny tension around her eyes that told him this was more than a social call and acted on it. "Lets step into my office and talk."
The woman and girl turned from their decorations and looked her way. Emily was glad beyond measure that this was a creative writing class as it gave her an automatic pass. As they turned and Emily got her first good look at the young girl she was to interrogate, she spotted her in and had a moments epiphany as it all came together for her. Plan your work and work your plan. This is gonna be easy.
"Hi. My name is Shasta Cutter and I was looking for Rita " Thats as far as she got before the older woman interrupted her.
"Oh, my, Miss. Cutter it is an honor to meet you. Ive been such a fan of your work. I have every thing youve written. Please come in and have a seat." The woman hurried over and pulled the large chair from behind her desk to the area in front of the black board.
Like taking candy from a baby. She noticed the slack jawed stare and the nervous fidgeting of the younger girl and realized that, in this instance, her fame was going to do half the job for her.
"Thanks, Uh, Miss.?"
"Oh, my, I am sorry. How rude of me. Im Mrs. Johansson, English and Creative Writing." The older woman extended her hand as Emily approached the chair. As the author got closer she realized what she was doing and quickly switched hands to offer the woman her left in deference to the cast on the right one. She remembered somewhere in the back of mind, that her mother had told her years ago that offering your left hand was considered rude and she didnt want to offend the woman. Having another second thought she partially dropped her hand and looked at the writer with the flush of embarrassed confusion on her face.
After the introductions, it was easy. Shasta insisted that Mrs. Johansson take the chair and she sat in a front row desk, facing her. She allowed the woman to go on and on about her and her books and discussed plotline and character development with her much longer than she normally would have. She was setting the stage so to speak, and it was working fine. She kept her attention seemingly on the teacher but her real concentration was on the developing look of adulation on the girls face. Rita continued to stand at Mrs. Johanssons side, only moving when her teacher asked her to retrieve two of the authors book from the small bookcase behind the large desk. Shasta obediently signed the copies, adding an appropriately sweet tag and then felt the time was right and her victim primed enough to make her move.
Shasta started to rise and said, "Mrs. Johansen, it was a pleasure to meet you and I cant tell you how much I enjoyed talking with you, but I came here to talk to Rita for a few minutes, if thats okay." She stopped and gave her most winning smile to the teenager who found herself blushing in response.
"Not at all, Miss. Cutter. It was my pleasure, I assure you. Thanks for the autographs and the wonderful conversation and please, if you find yourself free of an afternoon while youre staying here, do drop in again anytime. I would love for my class to have a chance to ask a few questions of such a fine writer."
"Well, if that isnt one of the nicest invitations Ive ever had. You can count on it, Mrs. Johansen. Ill be sure to give you a call one day soon and well arrange it, alright?"
"Now, if I can borrow your helper for a few minutes " She turned to Rita and indicated they should step outside.
When they were out the door, Shasta turned to the girl and said, "I hope I didnt take you away from anything important. I promise Ill only keep you a few minutes." Her smile was still there and she could tell it was having an impact on the teenager.
"NO." She cleared her throat and looked down, totally abashed that she had all but shouted her response to the celebrity. "I mean, uhm, no, you ah, you werent interrupting anything." She gave her own brief smile to the author and then continued to walk slowly beside her.
"Thanks so much Rita, May I call you Rita?" The blonde put on her most charming look. The one she knew always got the old ladies and the young people to smile back.
"Oh, yeah. Sure." The small brunette pushed a small lock of hair back over one ear and stammered as she smiled back quickly. Then she ducked her head again to stare at the ground as the lock fell away and once more covered her face from view.
"Thanks. Anyway, I dont know if you know this, but Ive been staying at Stephanie Crofts place for a few days." She was fairly sure that no rumors of the incident this morning had made their way to the young girl. The only ones who knew were the Ravensdowns and Connie and Toni. Her attention was now completely focused on the young woman. She was watching everything about her but the young girl had no idea she was being so keenly watched.
"Oh. So youre the guest she told me about. She called and said she was expecting company and to leave the alarm off when I came by to water the plants on Tuesday. I didnt know it was going to be you. She said I should just take a vacation until further notice because she didnt want you disturbed. Is there something you need?"
They stopped next to the bicycle rack at the front of the school. The writer hoped her intuition was right and just decided to follow her plan. "Well, as you can see, I had a little accident the other night." She brought her right arm up and watched the teenager look at her cast, and make the connection. She saw it in her eyes when the light went off.
"Oh my god! Youre the one that was attacked at the Nest, huh?"
Before she had a chance to do more than nod, the girl hurried on.
"Gosh, Im so sorry. That really sucks. Are you all right? Is there anything I can do to help?"
It took her just a moment to get back in the game and recover from once again, being surprised by the willingness of the Bramble citizens to put themselves out for a total stranger. She couldnt, however, keep the grin from her face as she realized it was a characteristic of even the youngest residents. I wonder if its something in the water.
"Well, yeah. Kinda. That is if you wouldnt mind. I do kind of need some help."
"Well sure. What can I do?" Rita leaned into a new looking blue bike and waited.
"Well, you see its like this. Since my, uh, accident, I dont really have two arms anymore. Stephanie called and shes planning on coming up this weekend for a visit and normally, that would be no problem. But right now, Im using her bedroom and Id like to move my things into the guest room and change the bed linens before she gets there. I was just uh, hoping that maybe you could give me a little help. Im not normally this bad a guest but Im not really" she lifted her sling again, "equipped for housekeeping just now, if you know what I mean."
The girl laughed and said, "I see what you mean."
"Id be more than willing to pay you for your time. Whatever you think is appropriate, is fine with me."
"No, thats okay. Miss. Croft pays me to do things for her like that every month."
"Uh uh. I insist. Now, how about you meet me at the house a little later and well get ourselves started to put things in order. Does that sound all right? Do you have plans for tonight?"
"Nah. Nothing going on tonight. How about we make it, say around six. Would that be okay?"
"Sounds fine with me. Ill see you then, Rita. Thanks."
"Hey, no problem, really. Im uhm, glad to do it." She smiled shyly and pushed that same strand of dark brown hair behind her ear again.
They waved at each other as Emily started back down the street and Rita began to unlock her bike from the rack. Less than a minute later, they waved again as the teenager passed her by on the way home.
As she watched the girl pass her by, she eyed the backpack she wore and compared it to the T-shirt the girl had on. Her smile grew as she realized she had just the right bait for this. With any luck by seven tonight, Rita would have her reward, Harley would have her answer, and she would have a grateful Sheriff on her hands.
The editor stopped by the old-fashioned soda machine on the way to his office. He gave the machine the obligatory two punches just above the Coca-
Cola logo and waited for it to discharge the small bottle of soda. He retrieved it, repeated his actions, and entered his office where Harley had already taken a seat in front of his desk.
Opening the first bottle with the wall mounted bottle opener under his window, he handed it to his sister and then sat as he opened his own.
He waited a moment until they both had time to take a few sips before he opened the conversation. "Okay, spill it. Whats got you so tense?"
The woman took a deep breath and slouched down a little in the large comfortable leather chair. She crossed her legs at the ankles and stared at the toes of her boots as she formulated what to say to that.
"I take it you heard about what happened at Stephanies this morning?"
J.D. just nodded and waited for her to go on.
"I need you to do a little investigative reporting. Only I need you to do the reporting to me alone. You up for it?"
"You know I am. Silly question. What do you need and when do you need it?"
She had to smile at that. Of course he was. She knew it and he knew she knew it.
"I need to know everything I can about a couple of people. People I would ordinarily, not give a rats ass about, but I think I cant afford to feel that way anymore. Someone pulled that stunt with Emily this morning, and I need to know who and why and theres only two people I can think of who would get a kick out of it." She drew in and let out a deep breath. "I think the why will tell me the who, but that means I need to know what theyve got going on. Everything. Financial records, police files, real estate holdings, business permits. Absolutely everything, like they were applying for a top-secret clearance. The only reason either one of them have for doing this is revenge, profit or power."
J.D. knew instantly to whom she was referring and agreed whole-heartedly. "Or D, all of the above or any combination thereof. How soon do you need it?"
Harley finished her Coke and leaned forward to place the empty on the editors desk. "Soon. Right now, Emilys staying with Mom, but Stephanie will be up this week-end and Emily will probably go back to staying with her for a couple of days. If this wasnt directed at Emily, than one of the alternatives is that it was a personal attack on me through Emily." She leaned further over and rested her elbows on her knees. "I just dont know enough to keep her safe right now, and it bothers me."
Yeah, it does, doesnt it Harley? Its a lot more than just a puzzle to solve this time, isnt it Mongoose. Well, only one way to know with her and thats to ask. "
"Okay, fair enough, but now are you going to tell me what has you so bugged, because its more than this, isnt it?" The editor pinned his sister with his most uncompromising look.
If she had been nearly anyone else, it might have worked, but she wasnt. Her first inclination was to brush it off with an excuse about her being tired or concerned about a visitor to Bramble, but J.D. and she had always enjoyed a really close relationship and she rethought it.
The walk up Prospector to Bender gave the small woman a few minutes to let her mind wander, and, as was usual for it the last couple of days, it wondered in the Sheriffs direction.
Ive really got to stop this. How can I even begin to consider how I feel about her until I start to figure out just whats been going on with me. I havent been myself since that first night here and dont know if its because Im trying to be something Im not or because and this thought disturbed greatly, its because this is the real me the one I always should have been. Have I been living a lie so long that I never really gave a thought to it?
The ringing of her cell phone interrupted her musing. She awkwardly retrieved it from her right jacket pocket and answered. It wasnt until the voice replied that she regretted not having checked the caller ID to see who it was.
"Shasta, sweetie, where have you been? Derek, Tony and Giselle have been beside themselves with worry. They had to recruit some tourist to finish the match at the club, and Dolly was livid when you didnt attend her opening." The well-modulated voice was underplayed with just a touch of the Boston upper crust accent the woman had, and the petulance at having to remind the author of her social responsibilities.
Suddenly, the author was annoyed that this supposed friend of hers hadnt even opened the conversation with a simple, "How are you?" before she began to berate her. She suddenly remembered all those people here shed met who wouldnt have dreamed of behaving that way and her annoyance began to morph into irritation. Allowing it to show in her voice she answered, "Teddy, Im fine. I have a broken wrist but other than that, Im just fine. How are you?"
"Thats good dear." She replied absently. Shasta could tell by the sounds in the background that Teddy, AKA Theodora Cunningham Foxxe, was in her well appointed home gym on her treadmill. She always listened to the Beastie Boys when she exercised, and they were playing as loudly as ever in the background. Teddy had music for everything and she kept them separate. The Beastie Boys were exercise music. She dressed and made up to Enya. She said it made her calm and kept her from perspiring. "Well, Ill tell you. Im furious. I was never so insulted in my life! Did you read that snide little comment about my party last week in the columns? They said "
Thats where Shastas attention to Teddy left off. Her emotions were rolling over her like rain and she wasnt sure which one to hang onto. The strongest one was anger. She wasnt as sure about who she should direct it to. She was angry with Teddy for dismissing her injury so out of hand, but she felt equally angry for realizing it was something she had come to expect of her. Teddy was egotistical and vain and it was something for which she made no apology. The anger she felt at herself was because she put up with that from her so-called friend for so long. Why did I? This isnt what friendship is all about. Then she began to remember all the times she and Teddy spent together. Every one, she realized had been social. They were seen together. They stroked each others egos. She the celebrated author was often in the company of the eastern debutante and it served both of their purposes. She gave the stuffy family name of Foxxe a certain edge of racy rebelliousness due to her novels, and Teddy gave her an unauthorized entree to the acceptance of the old money families who pretended to read nothing racier than Balzac. The other emotion she felt underlying the anger was hurt, and that surprised her. She was hurt that her obvious injury was not only dismissed by her friend but also eclipsed in Teddys mind by the insult done to her by one of the society columnists. Funny. A week ago if I was asked to name who, beyond my sister, was my best friend; I probably would have said Teddy. That brought her up short and she stopped walking all together as she realized how far from what she knew now, was the woman she knew herself to be just a week ago.
Interrupting Teddys diatribe of the abuse she suffered was never easy, but this time she did it without the slightest hesitation, not even bothering to pretend to be polite. "Teddy, I have to go. I wont be in touch for a while. Ill let you know when I get back to town. Good bye." She clicked the end button on the phone and snapped it shut. Her emotions were still racing along and she flip-flopped around in the current of them. Anger. Hurt. Fear. Then the one thing that seemed to calm them was the thought of Harley. Suddenly that long conversation she meant to have with herself for the last two days became crucial. She determined to reclaim the Sheriff and ask her to take her someplace where she could just sit and think for a while. I have no idea who I am and I have no idea what I want. She remembered what Stephanie told her on the phone. "Just calm down a little and see where youre going, cause girl, just between you and me, where youve been lately is ugly." She was right. She set her resolve in stone and started walking again. This time with a purpose that included more than just solving the puzzle of the person who invaded her bedroom; she needed to find herself.
When Harley said nothing beyond "Its Emily", the editor tried to prompt her. "Emily?"
Harley got up from the chair and started to pace slowly back and forth in front of his desk. The office wasnt large and she would stop each time she got to the window next to the chair and look out. She opened her mouth to say something several times, but then thought better of it. She knew J.D. was the right one to talk to about this. She had a good relationship with all of her brothers, but each of them had their own strengths and weaknesses. Cole was just not people oriented. He had great compassion and that need that all healers had to help was strong within him, but he just couldnt relate well to person-to-person interactions. Hobie, also a doctor, had that. As well as compassion and understanding and vast amounts of patience, but he also saw Harley as his personal hero and as such, she knew he would find a hard time thinking anybody was worthy of her. Emerson was far too pragmatic. Hed carefully list for her all of her options and then ask the question she didnt want to face yet, "Have you talked to Emily about it?" Wilson was the real problem solver in the family. He took after her Dad so much that it was easy to see him following him in the business. He would list all the pros and cons in the situation and then tell her, if it looked like it would be good deal or not. Nope. J.D. was the one. His natural penchant for journalism left him with all the right questions to ask and the ability to look at the issue inside and out, but the writer in him, the one who created with words would see the danger and the romance in it, and give her his best opinion.
"She I Im very attracted to her." She said quietly.
He very nearly gave into his habit of teasing her with a comment about that, but held his tongue when he saw the look of confusion and intensity on her face.
She blew out a long breath and it all seemed to tumble over itself in a rush to get out. "I cant stop thinking about her. I think about her all the time. I miss her when she isnt with me. I keep having theses little flashes of us together in the future. They seem so real and clear. I almost kissed her, twice now. You know me J.D., thats just not like me. Ive only known the woman for three days now and shes all I can think about. I dont know what to do. Shes just a tourist. Shes going to have her little holiday and go back to her life in L.A. and I cant see myself living anywhere but here. I know that long distance romances have hardly any chance of working. I dont know what to do. I just . Ive never felt this way before and Im confused and I just dont know what to do." She stopped and plopped back down into the chair; leaning forward she put her elbows to her knees and held her head.
J.D. was pole axed. Hed never seen his eloquent and brilliant sister in such an obvious dither before. It shook him a little bit. Harley was always so on top of things and the thing she was the most on top of, was herself. She never seemed flustered or surprised or worried. She was all of that and more now. He wished hed had a few more minutes to get to know the small woman that had his sister in such a state when theyd met the other night. She must really be something to have Harley so bent out of shape. Since it didnt look like that was going to happen just now, he felt hed better say something to her to find out why this woman was getting to her so much. Maybe it was just lust.
As he opened his mouth to speak, he heard the bell chime on the front door and saw Harley shoot to her feet and look through the window in his door toward the front of the building.
"Its Emily. Lets talk about this later, okay? Maybe Ill call you, or you can call me or something, ya know? " She took a deep breath and tried to assume a look of only polite interest as Emily appeared at the window in the door and knocked quietly.
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