After the fog lifted Bert and Ernie (Wood & Laney’s pooches) made some new friends!
Fetch was their go to game….
Clearing the cobwebs and remnants of subterfuge from my mind I studied the materials I’d brought with me – tablet, official map, an unaugmented map, camera, and a manilla envelope (filched from the front desk). I set to work.
I decided that specificity was crucial to my Misdirection Scheme.
Specificity would kill multiple birds with one stone. Creedence and curiosity find fertile ground when easily established facts are systematically laid out. All Ranger Lade had to do was take a walk to determine their accuracy, and I bet he’s sick of staying inside on desk duty working on paperwork. Plus it would help prove he isn’t afraid of some mountain.
I held high hopes for Ranger Lade.
If he didn’t investigate, I would send packets off to cold case detectives, missing persons, reporters at the Daily Harvest or KARB – until someone finally took a look.
Specificity would benefit me as well – it would misdirect most scrutiny from my direction. Who would suspect a person so wholly unconnected to the case having insider information? I’d given Mr. Grindle precisely one roundtrip thru FLYT and vacationed in the vicinity of his wife’s cairn – an ephemeral bond at best.
Closing my eyes, I took three deep breaths to settle myself down then started to assemble the necessary documents. I took a picture of the new unaugmented map with my tablet, then used an app typed an ‘x’ and the GPS coordinates onto the image and printed it. Using my camera’s wireless feature for the first time ever, I printed the pictures I taken of the cairn, the glade, and the unofficial campsite – so the Ranger knew for certain where and what to look for. Adding to the pile, the printer spit out a scan of the newspaper article which mentioned the location of Tiffany Grindle’s abandoned car (highlighting the sentence in green for emphasis) and her missing person’s poster.
I decided not to include her initial accusation, that Mr. Grindle murdered her, I’d found no definitive facts corroborating her statement. If any linking evidence existed, it would be found underground, and the police would unearth it themselves.
In any case, the simple fact of finding his wife inhumed will cause uncomfortable questions. They won’t need my help in casting Mr. Grindle as the chief suspect.
With that last momentous decision made, I arranged the documents into a sensible order – then peeled the adhesive stripe off the flap and sealed up the envelope. Turning it over I was oddly proud of figuring out how to use the printer to print the address on the front of the envelope – neatly avoiding the handwriting dilemma. Slipping the entire packet into a cheap paper bag I’d procured from the gift shop, I placed the whole thing into my backpack.
With this step finished I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt immensely grateful to Sam not only for the printer but for the privacy he’d inadvertently given me. Why?
Because I couldn’t work out a single plausible story (or removing the candy coating – the lie), to explain why I was handling my correspondence while wearing latex gloves. Kinda screams suspicious, even to those who aren’t in possession of a devious mind.
With my report complete, I stuffed my materials back into my pack – making very sure I left nothing behind. Retrieving any forgotten item from Sam’s room seemed even less likely than climbing Pumpkin Mountain a second time. Unless I wanted to besmirch his reputation with management and get him fired.
I really didn’t want to cause a Dirty Dancing moment, I’m not coordinated enough to pull off a charismatic dance number, and Sam cannot pass for Patrick Swayze.
With a few minutes to spare I debated whether or not I should delete the information from my tablet and in the end, I decided not. If Ranger Lade didn’t follow up, it was better to have subsequent communiques match precisely.
With twenty minutes left in my four-hour allotment, I parked myself in the desk chair to wait on Sam’s return and my clandestine exit – feeling as happy as a silverfish on a shelf of old books.
Okay – so not the best danish I’ve ever eaten, but the dollop of raspberry jam is always delicious! And helped chase away the bitter taste left in my mouth…
I cracked the code!
Range Lade will not be receiving a slightly disappointing batch of apologetic maple bacon scones from me.
Instead, I will give Ranger Lade first crack at excising The Pink Lady from her mountain. Solving a twenty-year-old mystery while literally coming to terms with your own personal demon? That should cover all abominable behavior.
Making my excuses, I left my friends to their bridge game. Since I was coated with powdered sugar and raspberry jam, they didn’t protest my exit too much. Especially since a grand time was being had by all. Beatrice and Sarah decided to make up their own “better” rules to bridge – claiming theirs was a little-known variant. Laney and the kid (who did score one of Wood’s danishes) were actively working against Wood – completely disregarding the fact that he was on their team. While Wood attempted to keep the entire game from sinking into complete chaos. Leaving them to their fun, I exited the game room, my head awhirl.
Strictly speaking my experience with this sort of thing is remarkably limited. I rarely run across Errants, i.e., people inhumed outside sanctified ground. While nearly (but not quite) all possess a criminal genesis point, usually that detail doesn’t matter by the time I encounter them. Either they’ve reconciled to what happened, or they’ve burned out – the former I meet when they are transplanted to Nevermore.
I’ve never seen anyone like this particular Woman In White.
So dealing with her means I’m treading over new ground. The one universal wish of the transplanted Errants I’m acquainted with? Unsurprisingly, that the deeds of the guilty party were known to the world before they went toes-up themselves. Unhappily for them (and ambivalently for me), I never needed to fulfill this particular desire.
I’m starting to regret this lack of experience.
How on earth am I going to get her off the mountain without compromising my secret, jeopardizing my friend’s anonymity or exposing Nevermore to corrosive influences? And alert authorities to the crime?
While sipping my coffee, I’d toyed with the ideas of creating a macabre treasure map, an unfortunately placed geocache, a tactless campsite sign, distressing the trailhead marker (i.e., carving the coordinates to the cairn on it) or putting an ominously worded note on the map in the hotel lobby. But each idea featured more cons than pros.
Which is how I landed on my master plan, an old chestnut, the anonymous letter.
It would direct the attention of the authorities onto the contents of the cairn and the crime while misdirecting their attention from me. Hopefully, my grand design wouldn’t turn cliche and allow Miss Marple (or the police) to suss me out.
Not able to rest upon my laurels with a plan of action devised, I headed to the front desk (after going outside to deposit my shirt crumbs for the birds) and found Sam still at his post, “Hey! Does the hotel have a computer I can use?” My head so filled with my plans I went straight to the point of the conversation. His answer wasn’t entirely unexpected (after I thought about it for a second), “No, sorry. Hilltop’s unplugged from technology, it’s why people come here.”
“Crap. Okay. Thanks anyways.” Trying to smile I turned away from the desk, deflated, not wanting to wait to enact my Misdirection Scheme.
“What did you need to do?”
Turning back, “Honestly, all I need is a wireless printer and a quiet corner.”
Clearly torn between Hilltop’s mission statement and a generous tip he knew would come his way (or perhaps sensing a damsel in distress vibe), “Is it important?”
“Yes.” Holding my breath.
“Grab your stuff and meet me back here.” Elation and relief warred inside me while I scurried to my room.
Quicker than a rabbit can steal a carrot, I found myself following Sam through the warren of utilitarian corridors used by the staff (the cheap linoleum and beige walls were a dead giveaway). When we stopped, I figured we were somewhere in the back of the hotel, Sam used a key to open a door. He ushered me into the dark room where my nose detected the scents of old fries, dog, and Douglas fir.
“Wasn’t expecting company.” Sam started tidying up, which wasn’t really needed – it looked lived in – not sloven.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. You are doing me a huge favor.” And he was – because just to the left of the cracked open window stood a computer with a rather lovely printer.
He turned on the printer, made sure my tablet paired off with it and headed towards the door, “Extra printer paper is under the desk. Ink is in the top left drawer. My shift ends in four hours. I’ll come and get you then. If you could wait for me to lead you out, I would appreciate it.”
“Trust me, that will be perfect.” I waited for him close and lock the door before turning towards the desk.
Sarah and Laney (and the boys) were sitting outside on the veranda sipping coffee when we returned. The three of us (and an amused plus two) headed straight into the dining room to snag our favorite flavor of danish before the breakfast bar closed.
On the walk back to the hotel our conversation devolved from the apologetic maple bacon scones to our general favorites among the pantheon of baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies – we covered them all. So when reached the hotel we were more than ready for second breakfast (which completely undid all the health benefits of our morning walk).
The fog continued to cling to the treetops, and from the small specks of sky we could occasionally glimpse, rain looked likely. So instead of heading back outside for another hike, we trooped to the game room with plates of danishes in our hands.
Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones with this diversion in mind, the room was filled to the brim with people putting together puzzles and playing games (with a very few were reading books). Claiming a table nearest the window Wood went in search of an unclaimed board game which still possessed all its pieces.
Which, at this point, was as likely as finding the Marx Brothers’ missing first film next to the Yahtzee box (containing four of its’ five dice) on the top shelf.
Never one to give up, Wood won the day when he ferreted out a full deck of cards wedged in the back of the games closet and decided to teach the others (plus one kid who was hanging around our table hoping to score a danish) how to play bridge. (Wood and I acquired a taste for bridge from my Aunt Pearl and her cronies – our love of pastries rose from his Gran’s kitchen).
Since only four can play at a time, I sat the first rubber out – which as much as I love playing – worked for me. Pulling the armchair closer to to the fireplace I propped my feet up on the hearth and took stock of all the good things surrounding me – a raspberry danish & coffee at my elbow, a warm fire toasting my toes and my friend’s laughter ringing in my ears.
My Stalker is The Pink Lady who is a Woman In White.
Despite the denting my calm took under this progression, I forced myself aboard this uncomfortable train of thought.
After a few moments of watching the flames dance, I closed my eyes and threw my head back, rhythmically bouncing it against the top cushion of the chair. All the while making a concerted effort not to let loose a string of profanities (there were kids around after all) when I figured out exactly where I stood.
My quandary placed me directly on the corner of Bitter & Sweet.
They say all roads lead to Rome. Perhaps that’s true. But I am starting to suspect some masochistic engineer figured out a way to steer travelers repeatedly thru this junction on the way to the heart of the empire. Or maybe these crossroads are scattered at alternating intervals along the road, so you don’t realize where you stand until you look up and read the sign. Either way, I find myself here with disturbing regularity, a corner I do not want to frequent.
This damned corner with its’ loathsome words is where Romeo and Juliet find love but are forever separated by a name. Where dreamers can follow their dreams but are required to make money. This is where my opposition to the Woman In White has placed me.
No one would ever know if I just left her on the mountain.
Even with her increased vita, chances are she didn’t possess enough energy to actually kill Mr. Grindle (and didn’t he deserve a broken leg every now and again?). Clearly, the locals know about the Woman In White and have taken measures against her. So the odds of her coaxing anyone else off the path are pretty low. And the salt will render the cairn inert eventually. Probably.
Walking away would allow me to avoid all risk of discovery.
So much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.
But it’s not the right thing to do.
Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.
Found this guy on our after breakfast hike! Which reminds me, I should Read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again…
(I make rectangular scones with bacon in the batter – when I make them.)
Fortunately Wood and Beatrice didn’t require any conversational contributions from me when we left the Ranger Station.
The Pink Lady is a Woman In White.
Beatrice (holding the maps against her chest): “How did you figure out Ranger Rick followed the Pink Lady?”
I’d mislead myself by focusing on the silliness of Sam’s story and the color pink while ignoring the deeds he’d attributed to her.
Wood (laughed): “He reminded me of Gertrude from Hamlet.”
Merging what I knew of Women In White with Sam’s tale and my first-hand encounter a chill snaked down my spine.
Beatrice: “The Ranger doth protests too much?”
I recalled what lead me to my initial conclusion of Stalker, her extreme focus, constant shadowing, and formulaic recitation.
Wood (smiling): “Yup, his derision seemed out of proportion for an urban legend.”
Instead of taking her claim of injuring Mr. Grindle seriously, I’d dismissed it as a sign of her descent into madness. Something which, in the end, always engulfs Stalkers.
Beatrice (nodding): “People do tend to ridicule others for things that scare the pants off them. And the leg?”
She merely stated a fact.
Wood (counting the reasons on his hand): “Speaking from experience Bee? Anyways. The leg didn’t appear to bother him until we mentioned The Pink Lady. If you noticed his boots, they showed distinctly uneven wear – so his limp’s been around for a while. However his screen saver featured pictures of him mountain climbing – so the leg hasn’t always been a problem.”
I hadn’t place enough importance on her ability to shift focus.
Wood (continuing on, never knowing I’d interrupted him): “Then there’s his face, it lacks any kind of color – even in November a summer tan should still linger. So what would keep a ranger from working or playing outside when the weathers nice? A cast. If it were his knee or ankle he’d still managed to get some sun, but a broken femur – he’d get out very little, so six months in a cast. It takes another six to lose a limp, his was noticeable but not sever – so I placed his injury occurring sometime last winter – when there’s plenty of fog around here…”
A Woman In White pursues power and vengeance above all else.
Beatrice (summing up): “Add the bit about Hamlet in and you guessed he broke his leg following The Pink Lady.”
Knowing what she was cleared up one troubling detail, why her cairn susurrated so strongly under my hand.
Wood (smiling): “I took a shot in the dark. I suppose it isn’t nice to use my doctor powers like that – but he called Morticia stupid, roundaboutly.”
It also asked and answered a question I hadn’t occurred to me earlier, ‘How was she able to wander so far from her genesis point?’.
Beatrice: “What an odious little man. But he did give me some new maps…”
She’d done exactly what Sam and his friends feared, she’d stripped the vita from all those men, to fuel her vengeance.
Wood (turning to me): “Why did you wind Ranger Rick up Morticia?”
What will happen when her revenge on Mr. Grindle is complete? The vita she’s stolen makes her too powerful to merely evanesce, it will take years for her to fade. How much havoc could she wreak in the meantime?
Me (dread settling in my bones): “Salting the cairn won’t work fast enough.”
Wood (standing stalk still studying me): “Why?”
Me (meeting his eyes): “She can probably wait out the salt until it melts away then replace the leeched vita and start the cycle all over again.”
Beatrice just stood and watched our exchange, her forehead creased in concentration.
Wood (eyes narrowing): “You know what you need to do then?”
Me (shaking myself): “Yes.”
Beatrice: “Umm…what are you guys talking about?”
Wood (shrugging): “Morticia wool gathers out loud sometimes – I help her focus.”
Me (laughing, feeling a touch better): “Other times he completely derails me.”
Wood (rolling his eyes at me): “So why did you wind up Ranger Rick?”
Me (trying to keep things light): “An idea sparked, and I needed to grab hold of it before it went away again. I’ll figure out a correct apology; Dear Abby must cover this situation somewhere.”
Beatrice: “Does etiquette really cover the situation when strangers are simultaneously rude to each other? Honestly? I think overall you canceled each other out.”
Me (walking down the trail again, channeling my fretting into something silly): “Muffins? Cookies? Scones. Maple bacon scones – simultaneously savory and sweet, while being ever so slightly disappointing.”
Wood: “Apology thru baked goods?”
Beatrice (dissecting my answer): “Why would a scone be disappointing?”
Me: “Because it’s not a maple bacon doughnut, of course.”
Beatrice: “And why would you not send those instead?”
Me: “Because he was rude too.”