Tag Archives: Woman In White

1.70 Nevermore

 

(Before and after pictures of my state of mind after KARB’s news report.)

Mr. Nelson sat quietly next to me, clutching his seat, while I channeled my inner Lewis Hamilton (world champion F1 driver). The Princess was more vocal in her protests against my rather cavalier attitude towards her right now. She is many things but a Formula One car? Not even in her wildest dreams. 

I willed the lights ahead of me to turn green since stopping for reds wasn’t going to happen. 

When I finally passed thru Nevermore’s side gates, I rued the day I’d persuaded Little Ben to install these forking speed bumps. Their existence was currently hindering me from taking the lanes at speed. However Lady Luck was with me when we finally came within sight of the main building, everything looked buttoned up and empty. 

Perfect.

Even better? The assortment of marshmallows presently in the Princess, coupled with an effervescent historical mystery, read by book light in such a unique setting provided more than enough entertainment for Mr. Nelson’s Monday night. Or so he assured me. 

The Princess was parked between a retaining wall and the recycler.

Seems he really didn’t want to owe my Uncle a favor anymore.

Didn’t matter.

What did? The fact I told Joseph we had five days before the Woman In White was supposed to arrive.

Slipping from my parking spot around to the back entrance I used my keys to let myself in (it took four tries to get the key in the lock). After carefully punching in Big Ben’s security code into the alarm panel with a shaky hand (the last thing I needed to do was get that wrong) I headed straight to the maintenance closet.

Opening the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seems Sam (our admin) had placed the winter supply order I’d put together before Little Ben laid me off. Which meant I could head straight over and heft a twenty-five-pound bag of rock salt off the shelf. Not the highest quality of salt but the sheer quantity should suffice. Exiting the supply closet, I headed further into the building towards Sarah’s Domain & Depository. Where I knew I would find the Woman In White’s bones. 

My one fervent hope? That she’d elected to maintain her vigil over her husband rather than her remains.

When the electric current arched over my toes my heart sunk to their level – she was in Nevermore. The only upside was the fact she wasn’t running around the grounds yet. Bouncing quietly on the balls of my feet down the rest of the hallway, my heart nearly stopped when I spied the seam of light leaking from under Sarah’s door. My ears detected muffled voices emanating from the other side. I set the bag of rock salt down softly against the wall. Then very slowly pulled down on the lever handle opening it just a sliver.

“He needs punishing!” she screeched at Joseph.

Well, that explains why she wasn’t pursuing the Residents yet.

“He will be. You followed him to the police station, watched his interrogation, and witnessed his confession.” Joseph answered in a flat voice, stepping forward he inadvertently gave me a better angle to watch him from. It also revealed the plain cedar box to his right. I didn’t need to read the small brass plate to know what resided inside, the susurration gave its contents away.

A wind whipped thru the room scattering forms, print-outs and general papers left out in its wake. 

Won’t that be fun to straighten up later.

With her frustration vented and Joseph unmoved by it, she changed tactics. Her voice melted into a mellifluous timber, and her movements turned languid while she slowly closed the gap between them. “He murdered me. I want to punish him. Me, not someone else, you understand…” On her last words, she reached up to his collar and traced the parallel lines of his lapels down his chest.

Trying to play the siren to lure him into complying with her wishes? 

I couldn’t see her face, but Joseph’s looked unimpressed.

When her hands reached the middle of his chest they disappeared from my view – but her arms gave her away – the split second prior to the punch she tensed.

Hurry, hurry, hurry! I knew her aim. If she grasped his heart, she could use it to find his bones and siphon away the energy held within. Lurching sideways I fished for the knife in my pocket. Finally grasping it, I quickly slit the sack sitting next to me halfway open. 

The simple latch on the brass-bound box would take a single moment to open. Then I could finish what I started on Pumpkin Mountain. Picking up the sack of salt with one hand and reaching for the door with the other I prepared to confront the Woman In White myself.

However, Joseph’s bored tone stayed my hand on the handle, “Are you finished now?”

1.69 Marshmallows Mountains

You should have seen the general store/diner/butcher/post office owner’s face when I asked for fifty bucks worth of their homemade marshmallows at seven a.m. 

Sarah’s order filled an entire box. 

Their marshmallows are sold by the pound and it turns out fluff & stuff doesn’t weigh much. It took full pans of raspberry, chocolate, ginger, cherry lime, poppyseed, vanilla, pineapple, pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon to fill the fifty dollar favor. Adding to their legendary start to a random Monday morning, I also purchased another fifty bucks worth of assorted brightly colored homemade hard candy.

The Princess smelled like the weirdest fruit basket ever. 

A half-hour, one hundred dollars, two bemused clerks and many empty trays later the Princess and I were bopping along and listening to the tunes Mrs. Schmit (librarian extraordinaire) had recommended I check out. While they didn’t fall within my usual musical preferences, I found myself enjoying them none the less. In any event, the cd’s were preferable to the white noise my radio currently wanted to pump out.

Silly mountains.

The tunes, the road, and the scenery accomplished what my pillows were unable too.

Quiet my mind. 

Opening my window the chilly air smacked me in my face and made me feel refreshed, despite last night’s fitful sleep (and when I say chilly I mean single digits – I was lucky not to have snow swirling thru the window). So with a song in my heart and candy in my mouth, I wound my way to work.

The problem with putting your worries on the back burner? Small things can slip past you.

Just past seven pm Mr. Nelson, my last scheduled fare of the day, brought the errant detail to my attention, “Would you mind if I flipped the radio over to the news?”

Huh. I’d been enjoying Mrs. Schmit’s musical selections so much that I’d never switched over to the radio when I’d descended from my marshmallow mountain expedition (and since it was only slightly warmer in the lowlands, in the teens, I’d left the candy in my car all day. I’d cut my timing a bit fine this morning. The aroma elicited some entertaining commentary from my passengers). 

Pondering which of Mrs. Schmit’s selections was my favorite, I listened with half an ear to the deep timber of KARB’s news reader starting on today’s headlines: “The Rye city council approve the University’s expansion project. The Rye Art Museum rediscovered a Renoir painting lost since 1928. But first, Rye police released the remains of Tiffany Grindle today. No word yet if her memorial service will be open to the public. Her body was discovered…..”

The buzzing in my ears drowned out the rest of the story. Gripping the wheel with sweaty palms, my seat belt tightening against my chest as I barely stopped in time for the red light in front of me. 

She was in Nevermore. 

The Woman In White was in Nevermore. 

And I had a fare.

Crapity, crap, crap, crap! 

“Are you okay? You are very pale and breathing hard…” Mr. Nelson’s question broke thru the sheer panic enveloping me in a way the blaring horns behind me hadn’t. It seems the light had turned green again.

I have to get to Nevermore.

“Do you have any plans tonight?” Spinning the Princess’s wheel, I made a u-turn in the intersection and put my foot down hard on the accelerator. 

Mr. Nelson hesitated a moment before answering, “Nothing special….”

Aiming for cheery, “Fantastic! How would you like to eat some marshmallows and read a book while I take care of an emerg…urgent matter? And your next six trips are free.”

“Marshmallows?”

Violating Rye speeding laws, I cut a corner to shave a few seconds off my travel time to Nevermore, “Yup marshmallows and the new Deanna Raybourn mystery.”

Not sure how a seventy-two-year-old army veteran would enjoy a historical mystery featuring a lepidopterist – but it’s what I got.

“Your Becker’s niece aren’t you?” His voice filled with speculation.

Wrenching the steering wheel, taking a hard right, “That’s me.”

The Princess is many things, but high performance she isn’t. Maybe if I invest in some good cornering tires….

“You tell him we’re even and I’ll wait in the car for you.” 

“Fantastic! You don’t spook easily, do you?”

1.50 Dealing

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We’d both employed the same cunning strategy – waiting. Perhaps my “plan” wasn’t as lame as I’d previously thought. 

The coffee seemed to need a few more minutes to seep into my system to bad I didn’t have the time. Even in this deluge maintenance would be working (death doesn’t wait for a sunny day) and I really didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask if they ran across me sitting in my car. I had a feeling my hair would give away last night’s sleeping arrangements. 

Which meant Joseph and I had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.

Joseph (still looking amused): “So why were you waiting for me?”

Me (taking another swig straight from the thermos): “The Stalker, isn’t a Stalker, she’s a Woman In White.”

Joseph (his gaze sharpened): “Tell me.”

Me: “I found her genesis point when I went up into the mountains…”

While I laid the relevant events from the Fall Foliage Tour into a coherent narrative, Joseph sat in the passenger’s seat listening, his fingers tracing the inside band of his grey fedora over and over while I talked. 

Joseph (enunciating each word): “You think she will come here, at some point.”

Me (nodding): “Yes. After I got back I asked Aunt Pearl about the whole affair, she told me Tiffany’s father still lives in Rye, so I expect she’ll come to Nevermore. When she does, we’ll need a plan.”

Aunt Pearl also hinted at some other old gossip about Tiffany, but wouldn’t repeat it, “not wishing to speak ill of the dead.” 

Joseph: “A plan?”

Me (nodding): “If she’s allowed to wander the grounds she will find a Resident then hunt down the others. She won’t hesitate to increase her own power at their expense. With my odd hours and the uncertainty of when she’ll arrive we need to coordinate. You can contain her until I get here and salt her bones directly, right?”

Utterly oblivious to my companion, I failed to notice his amusement and continued to spout off half-formed ideas.

Still Me (spacing out for a moment): “Sarah would call me the moment she arrives if I asked…. Though if she’s cremated that would eliminate all our worries since fire purifies everything… I could ask Sarah to try to steer things that way…Then there’s the rubber ducks, work, sabotage, and I’ll need to shower sometime…”

Joseph (interrupting my revery, amused): “Phoebe.” 

Me (fretting): “I could sleep in my car here after she’s found so I could be on hand more.”

Joseph (plonking me in the forehead with his index finger): “Phoebe. The Residents and I can manage her. What do you think happened before you came here?”

Me (puzzling): “I never put much thought into it.”

My brain jumping the tracks, how did they cope? The first burial happened in 1840, Nevermore (as it is now) came about in 1846, and I’ve been coming here for twenty-seven years, so that leaves one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-years unaccounted for. Something to think about later…

Joseph (catching my attention again): “…Woman In White.”

Me (my mind reversing from its derailed state): “Pardon?”

Joseph: “I will handle the Woman In White.”

Me (nodding, my head still not entirely on this portion of the conversation): “Okay, I’ll leave her to you…”

Joseph (a hard look creeping into his eyes): “You have a handle on Little Ben’s expansion? I assume there’s a problem.”

Me (nodding, diverted by the small opening he’d given me): “Yes to both…How did the Residents cope before I came?”

Joseph (his hands finally still): “They have me. I protect Nevermore and the Residents from all threats.”

Me (slowly sinking into the quicksand of the conversation): “Like Women In White, Stalkers, Walkers, and Soldiers?” 

Joseph (somber): “And anything else.”

Me (feeling small): “So Nevermore doesn’t really need my help.” 

Joseph (his tone commanding me to meet his eyes): “You value those who’ve been forgotten. You find the lost and bring them home. You protect those who undervalue you – no matter the cost. You are Nevermore’s most unique Resident because you choose to be here. You are needed, never doubt that.”

Not know what to say and trying not to cry – I moved on – Joseph doesn’t do tears. 

Me (blinking rapidly): “Since I’m not here as much right now, how can I find you if I don’t want to ask a Resident to pass on a message?”

Joseph (looking at me thoughtfully, pausing for a beat longer than I’d anticipated): “Knock on a gate, Toby will lead you to me.”

Me: “What’s a Toby? And any gate?”

Joseph (smiling): “He’s shy. But I think he’s ready for you to meet him. And yes, any gate in Nevermore.”

Me (startled into dry eyes): “Wait, there’s a Resident I haven’t met yet?” 

Joseph smiled, put on his hat an exited the Princess, the rain (plus his grey suit) erased him almost instantly from my sight. So many layers to the conversation, but no time to consider them if the clock on my dash was correct. I had precisely forty-five minutes to get home, shower, change and eat before my shift starts. 

Aspirin, I also needed to take many aspirins, not being able to turn my head right – due to a stupid crick – won’t make my day any easier.

(Unsplash Picture Credit Here)

1.46 ‘X’ Marks The Spot

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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.

1.45 Tips

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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.

1.44 All Roads Lead To Rome

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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. 

Again. 

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.

Damn it.

Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.

1.43 Dueling Conversations

(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?

Wood: “Morticia!”

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.”

1.42 Ranger Lade’s Pet Peeve

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Ranger Lade did not appear to appreciate the interruption (which was a bit rich since I’d bet my eye teeth he’d been eavesdropping). With an eye roll, “Urban legend.”

Beatrice looked up from her maps, cocking her head to one side, “Pink Lady? Worried about some wild woman living in the mountains attacking you Wood? Don’t worry Phoebe and I will keep you safe.”

I laughed, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Wood, shaking his head and smiling, agreed that we were fierce indeed when riled. He then went on and gave Beatrice the shorthand version of the Pink Lady Legend. With Ranger Lade contributing his own opinions by huffing at every feature of interest.

Deciding to poke the bear I asked the grumpiest Ranger a question, “What about the two local kids who went over the cliff? They grew up here and knew the area. You don’t think they followed her?”

Ranger Lade’s lip curled up, “No I don’t. They’d been drinking, and the weather was bad. That’s all that happened.” After answering he immediately started typing again on his computer again. But the niggling feeling I’d had when Sam told us his tall tale begun bothering me.

Ignoring his hint, I pressed a bit harder, “Do you know how her legend started?”

Trying to put me off, he answered dismissively, “She’s just a story locals tell to scare tourists.”

He seriously thought a pat explanation like that would stop me? Especially when I was so close to catching hold of the idiot idea earworm? 

“But really, did a woman ever go missing up here?” 

He endeavored to ignore me for a moment, rubbing his leg, but I moved to stand directly across the counter from him (channeling my inner Morticia Addams – no one ignored her). Realizing I wouldn’t let him off the hook he opted for condescension when finally answered. Glancing between Wood and Beatrice, trying to enlist their support, he finally responded, “No female has ever been reported missing from the Pumpkin Mountain area. The Pink Lady is just an urban legend that refuses to die. Locals use it to scare the tourists. Tourists use it to look less stupid when they get lost, ‘ It’s not our fault. We were following the woman wearing the white dress.’ They don’t even recount the story correctly. That should tell you all you need to know about its validity.” Viewing my stunned silence as confirmation of his verbal victory, he aimed a celebratory sneer at me – in his crowing he forgot about his potential recruits.

“Well, isn’t it nice that you’re here to set us straight Ranger Lade,” Beatrice replied while gathering her carefully sorted stacks into a single pile in front of her, “I’ll take these off your hands.” With the entire set of old maps in hand, she turned and marched out the door leaving the Ranger gaping in her wake.

He started to say something when Wood cut him off, “Try sitting with a heating pad on your thigh, should help the aching left over from that break.” With that sensible bit of advice Wood and I headed towards the door when Ranger Lade’s suspicious voice stopped us, “How did you know, I’d broken my leg?” A small smile played over Wood’s face, “I made an educated guess.” (I’d already walked thru the door but turned back to watch)

Ranger Lade nodded, uncertainty written on his face (since Wood’s helpful tone diametrically opposed Beatrice’s), “Thanks for the advice. I’ll try it.”

Wood nodded, “No problem. But tell me exactly how far did you follow The Pink Lady last year before you broke your leg?” 

Ranger Lade turned beet red and got the word “How” out before he shut up and channeled his inner thundercloud. 

“Never mind. You followed her just far enough.” With Wood’s parting shot hanging in the air he closed the door, and we started retracing our earlier rambling route back towards the hotel.

I was grateful they’d lept into the conversational fray since Ranger Lade’s answer had sucked the breath from my lungs. Not due to the rudeness of it, though that was breathtaking (I wasn’t exactly blameless I know), it was his actual words which caused my brain to combust.

A woman in a white dress….a Woman In White….oh god.