I nudged Cinda to shut her gaping mouth. Harry spoke out before Tina was fully in place. "No need to rush, Miss Tina, the ladies are not going anywhere." There was a thread of humor in his voice that Tina missed.
We certainly had missed Tina's transformation. Gone was the heavy black lined eyes with dark green eye shadow and those extremely spiky black lashes that had been so much a part of the Tina look and in their place were softly shaded eyes with a light frost blush on her cheeks. Her ruby red lipstick was missing and instead there was some pale coral colored shade that made Tina's mouth soft and pretty. Her light brown hair was no longer big and sprayed out in an unmoving helmet but delicately curled and pulled back gently from her face. Tina looked like a golden woman in love. Before she had been just this side of a working girl in her dress and makeup, Cinda had remarked more than once that Tina was 'easy' and her old self pretty much gave that information out at a glance. Now Tina had this sparkling look to her that was stunning. The tight cheap clothing had been replaced with a lovely dress that was very similar to one Cinda had worn to church. That hadn't escaped Cinda's notice. I could hear Cinda grind her back teeth just a bit.
"Mister Harry, thank you so much. It is ever so nice you are worried about little old me." Oh, damn, she had the hots for Harry. Her tone was tinkling and sweet and she blushed a bit. Maybe this transformation was a bit more recent than we knew. That could go far to explain why neither Cinda nor I knew about the new and improved Tina.
Cinda found her voice, "Tina, when did you open up an inn?"
Tina cast her eyes down and softly said, "Just last month. Mister Harry here is our first customer." Okay, that is pretty recent. Still I was puzzled how the inn got renovated and opened without anyone mentioning it at the diner or hair salon. Cinda came back with, "Okay, Tina, who's the 'our' part? Your daddy come back in town?" That was pretty spiteful but it was well known that Tina's dad had run off about a dozen years ago with Louella Morton's mother. Louella and Tina found a common hate with their parents desertion and Tina was ripe for Louella's tutorials. Come to think of it both Louella and Tina did tend to dress similar and had 'dated' many of the same folks. I shuddered as it dawned on me that the mayor may have helped set up the inn. I sure hope my bed had not been part of the christening process. But then Tina didn't seem to be in mourning. More like mooning over Harry. Cinda was glaring at Tina for the imagined poaching. If life hadn't been so horrible lately I would have found it a touch funnier.
"No, my father is still with that woman." Tina held a grudge impressively and her voice was not as sweet as before with the mention of dear old dad. Tina visibly shook herself and purred, "So, Harry, you going to be down for breakfast tomorrow? I make wickedly good pancakes." Syrup laced voice, yes, I could see that.
"Regretfully I have some matters to attend to and I won't be there. But I know you will take good care of my two guests here." He smiled and Tina whimpered.
Surprisingly Harry had booked us each into our own rooms. I appreciated the thought but was not planning on sleeping much. Cinda had not let up on Tina as we filled out the necessary papers.
"So Tina, new look for you. You have another audition for a lounge singer act?" Cinda really wasn't that fond of Tina and picked up her insecurities easily. It was an ugly trait but Cinda had her share of problems so I didn't see it was my place to point out that her poisonous manner was less than nice. Cinda had that nasty smile on her face that was all her own and had nothing to do with Misty as near as I could figure.
"Cinda, you are a stitch. You get out of high school yet?" Tina could hold her own I was glad to see. Cinda blushed because her school record was less than stellar and it had been a battle for her to get out of high school. Small town stories traveled fast sometimes.
They both glared their disgust with each other. Sensing the mood, Harry asked for the keys disrupting the girls. Soon we parted ways in the hall. There were a half dozen doors with numbers on them. I found my number and used the key to open the door. I went into the room pleasantly surprised by the size and the features. I had my bathroom with my own shower and a nice sized bed. The decorating colors were soft peaches and dusty rose. I would never have guessed Tina had such good taste. Sleep was as always ever elusive and I had come prepared. I grabbed out from my overnight bag a large book I had been working my way through for the past few nights. All too soon I was sucked into the Charles Dickens work and immersed in another century. The inn settled down and the various sounds from the rooms grew more silent as Cinda fell off to sleep and I imagined so did Erika and Harry. The house had grown very quiet and I began to nod off in the armchair where I had been curled up in reading.
I fell asleep and the book clattered to the floor waking me up. I didn't feel right. My head was cloudy and my eyes didn't seem to want to focus. I checked the time on the clock on the nightstand and saw it was about 3 a.m. I would never get back to sleep without showering first. I had a crick in my neck from how I had fallen asleep. Slowly I stretched. My neck was killing me so I quickly undressed and went to shower.
The water took a few minutes to pass from the ice cold temperature into the lukewarm range. I took the time to pull out my shampoo and soap. I put my hand in the stream of water and found it chilling so I quickly got in the small shower. Obviously Tina hadn't wasted any money with refitting the water heater to accommodate all the paying bathers. I briskly washed and soaped my body.
I slowly began to shampoo my hair when I felt something odd on the back of my neck. I worked the shampoo out quickly and was pained by whatever it was on the back of my neck. The showerhead took that moment to decide to spray erratically and soap washed into my eyes. Frustrated I rapidly got all the soap off of me and headed out of the shower stall. I stubbed my big toe in my rush to exit the icy blast. Turning off the water I began to slough off the excess water. Tina had supplied some large towels and I used one to dab at my chilled body. Once I had most of my body dry I used another spare towel to make a turban and get my wet hair off my back. While bending over and twisting the cloth I felt that pain again on the back of my neck just above my left shoulder. It annoyed me I needed to see what it was. I pulled out a compact from my overnight bag and turned my back to face the mirror.
All my eyes could see was my white skinned blurry back shadowy in the reflection. Condensation from the moisture in the air was not helping my view. I turned around and swiped a hand cloth over the slick surface. Water beaded and spattered down the mirror. I could see my face clearly now so I turned around with my compact held up over my head. The turban was tilted to the right and then I could see.
I had a large palm sized bruise at the base of my neck and shoulder. Cautiously I poked it with my forefinger and saw the blue black lump imprint with a white fingerprint. I felt the answering pain shoot down my body. How the hell did I get that bruise? It looked a day or so old. There was nothing that I did that could have given me that size of bruise without me noticing I thought. I backed up a little and thought I saw something lower on my body. I couldn't get the angle of the mirror aligned with the compact to see what it was. So then I had to turn back around and wipe off more steam from the mirror. I opened the bathroom door and walked away a bit from the room. There were more of blue black marks just above my left hip near the base of my ribs. They looked like a few finger prints on my pale skin. I gently tapped them and found they were also sore and achy. Shuddering I turned back to the bathroom. Slowly I continued my normal routine and tried to shut off my mind. After carefully brushing my teeth I went back into the room and put on a pair of jeans and t-shirt.
I knew there was no chance of sleep. Insomnia wasn't the reason now for my lack of sleep but total mind numbing fear. How could I be so severely bruised and not have a clue how it happened? Without much thought I pulled out a cigarette. Tapping it for a moment I tried to wrap my brain around all I had seen. Finally I lit up and pensively smoked it down to the filter. There was something very odd happening.
Propped up on the bed in the dark room I kept running through all the possibilities where I might have been hurt without my knowing and couldn't think of anything. I smoked slowly with the burning ember on the tip of my cigarette keeping me company while I tried to puzzle it all out. The night my mom was killed I had weird dreams. I was restless and my sleep was off somehow but I don't remember hitting my self on the head board. And I couldn't see how that would have bruised me in those spots. Dawn crept over the horizon and filtered through the thin window shade. My eyes rebelled the bright sunlight's invasion of my semi dream state on the bed. I was exhausted. And unfortunately still completely unaware of why I would have such marks.
There was a heavy handed knock on my door. I reluctantly went to find what new horror was waiting on the doorstep. I knew nothing good came from knocks at dawn. Erika was there with her hand poised to bang some more when I pulled the door open.
"Oh, you're up," she said. Not a hair was out of place and it was only minutes after dawn. That was pretty obnoxious on its own. My jeans and t-shirt reflected my lounging on the bed for a few hours. Still holding a lit cigarette I exhaled and said, "So if I wasn't up you were what, planning on waking me?"
She met my eyes steadily and said, "Of course."
Oh fun, she was a morning person. She had a different suit on than the charcoal one I saw the first time we met. Her new black suit was cut tighter and she dressed it up with a small pearl and gold lapel pin. Her shirt was off-white and looked precisely ironed moments ago. The dark haired woman had a gleam in her eyes that made me a bit nervous.
I hadn't invited her in or even turned on a light but she seemed perfectly happy to stand there and wait for an invitation. Feeling a bit mean spirited I grabbed the room key and my purse saying, "Okay, let's go find some coffee." With that I hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside of the knob, flipped the lock on the door and walked down the hallway. Reluctantly Erika followed. I heard her mumble something softly. Deciding it was better not to ask I went down the stairs and to the inn's front door. Tina didn't lock up after we had arrived last night or someone had gone out before us. I saw and heard nobody as we headed out.
Winter was getting ever so much closer I noticed when we got outside. I nearly went back to my room to find a sweater but didn't think Erika would be as patient hanging around in the hall a second time. Her business suit was obviously made of wool and she didn't even blink when her breath came out nearly frozen as she asked, "So you found Margie last night?" Seemed like I was going to be interviewed yet again.