The voice on my phone that early Sunday morning was cranky and bossy. Jake wanted me at Tall Trees now, this instant, shake-a-leg! "I need you, Maren, dammit! Dont argue!" He was almost shouting. "Ellas giving me fits with her lame leg, Charlies disappeared
Lame leg? What was wrong with Ellas leg? And Charlie had disappeared? "Whos Charlie?" I asked. It was hard keeping up here. I was still bleary-eyed, in pajamas, yawning.
Jake ignored my question. He was good at that. "The police are threatening to dig up the entire cellar. Its all too much. Were no spring chickens anymore, you know."
"Dig up the cellar!" That woke me up. "Jake, you have to tell me whats going on. Why should I just pack up and leave here without some idea of what Im getting into there?" I began to feel cranky myself. Being single, female, and a relative should not make one available at a moments notice.
Jake was my eighty-year-old uncle, my mothers brother. He owned Tall Trees Lodge in the mountains of California. I hadnt seen him for three years and I was beginning to think another three would be just about right. ExceptI had to admit thishis voice was hoarse and a little shaky. I was very much afraid he really needed me. That ubiquitous family loyalty thingit rears its head at the least excuse.
I gave evasion one more try. "And I'm certainly not interested in getting involved with police."
"Dont be silly. The police wont give a hoot about you. I dont want to sit here and explain all this stuff over the phone. Just come on. Ill tell you about it when you get here." There was a short pause. His voice became huskier. "We can forget all that stuff that went on before. You can get along with Ella for a little while, cant you? She apologized, didnt she?" Yes, she did. And then acted as if she had never hurt me. Ive noticed its very easy to dismiss someone elses pain.
"Shes not going to like me any better now than she did then, Jake. Will the strain be worth it to you?"
"Hell," he murmured, almost too low to hear. "Ive never figured out why she treats you like Cinderella. Cant you just ignore it? I need some help here."
Ella was his wife, his second wife. Hed married her when I was eight and she had seemed to take an instant dislike to me. Id never known why. Now she had broken her leg in some odd accident and couldnt run Tall Trees Lodge as she usually did. I could do that for him if hed let me do it my way. Id grown up at a Southern California inn. I knew policies and procedures. The fact that Id escaped to San Francisco and opened a steno/graphics shop did not lessen my ability to run a hotel.
And certainly, if I put my mind to it, I could ignore Ella. At least I could try. I wouldnt have to defend my work, it would be excellent. Perhaps the rest of the time I could stay out of her sight.
Sodid I want to go to Tall Trees now? It wouldnt be easy. I no longer caredat forty-plusto answer to other people, in this case Jake. Being ones own boss is addictive. Still, he was family and Id always loved him. Hed made childhood vacations in the mountains lots of fun. In additionand this was inevitableI could feel my curiosity growing. Curiosity is one of my most assertive traits and I never apologize for it. According to Samuel Johnson its a permanent characteristic of a vigorous mind. And now, the thought of someone called Charlie disappearing, searches, digging up cellarsall that really teased me. Harriet and Irma, my shop associates, could get along fine without me for a whileI hoped.
From The Madd Mountain Murders by Lana Waite. Copyright 2004 Lana Waite. All rights reserved.
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