I dont think so, Jake.
Sofirst thingI negotiated the use of the old family cabin instead of agreeing to stay at the lodge. The lodge was awesome but the cabin was cozy, and it felt like home. Jake had owned it forever, long before he bought Tall Trees. It was where my family had vacationed, and now it seemed like the perfect place to stay. It was a mile away from the lodge, on the road that led to Madd Mountain Ski Area. In his heart, Jake would understand my choice. He went there himself from time to time, to hide from hotel bustle. And that was what I wanted to dohide out, escape, not be on call twenty-four hours a day, andmost importantnot be where Ella could grab me any time she felt the need to nag and be generally unpleasant.
Second thingI planned to show up a day early. Id told Jake Id arrive Tuesday but Id get there Monday. It would give me time to settle in. And maybe time to take a lovely, quiet walk in some snow. A storm was due.
The best laid plans
It was only November, and the storm that arrived was too warm for snow. Instead it produced torrential rain. Turbulent, wet, sloppy stuff, it drummed on the roof and whiffled down the windshield of my old car as I drove through the town of Cougar Pass at seven p.m. I watched for the well-remembered fork in the road. The left-hand choice would lead to the timbered gateway of Tall Trees Lodge. If I turned in there Id see an imposing old stone hotelturrets, mullioned windows, massive oak doorsstanding in front of a towering cliff. Id see the gaping black hole of Ezras Cave in the cliff face. Id hear the muted roar of the river behind the hotel. It was all very wonderful but that wasnt what I wanted tonight.
So at the fork I turned upmountain and watched for the old wooden mailbox that marked the footbridge over the creek and the short path to the cabin. On its side would be faded white letters that spelled SPEER, Jakes last name. And my mothers maiden name until she married James OConnor. Maren OConnor, thats me, unattached at forty-plus and pretty much O.K. with that.
The mailbox appeared through the murk, and with it the cabins parking space alongside the road. As I pulled in and stopped the engine the rain became a deluge. Wind whistled, water twisted in channels down the windshield, and trees dipped and bent beyond it. The old bridge that spanned the creek and led to the cabin was barely visible. I squinted through the gloom and plotted the trip from car to cabin. How many sprints to move a suitcase, a bag of groceries, and a box of San Francisco frozen specialties? Id be wet as a channel swimmer by that time. Maybe if I waited
Bad idea. It might get worse. It might last for an hour. Who knew? Grabbing keys, purse, and the suitcase, I splashed across the footbridge to the shelter of the porch. I shook off some water and fumbled for the old house key Id had for so long. It slid into the lock, then I stopped in surprise. The door swung open at my touch. Not only was it not locked, it had not been completely shut.
Without even thinking, I moved aside and put my back against the wall beside the door. Why do hollow, black doorways always seem menacing? Too many scary movies? Too many crime shows? Ortonightwas it the weather? Whatever the cause, I could feel a pulse begin a strong beat in my throat and wasnt that nonsense? There was nothing to be afraid of. No one was lying in wait for me because no one knew I was arriving. And Jake had said the cabin was empty so people werent asleep inside. I was being stupid.
I moved to the edge of the doorway, reached around the doorframe, and turned on a light switch. The redwood-paneled room was empty. Of course! I stepped inside. And all the hair on my arms stood straight up!
From The Madd Mountain Murders by Lana Waite. Copyright 2004 Lana Waite. All rights reserved.
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