"Fine, Cinda, have it your way. Okay, Lynn, there are some parallels between my folks murder and your mom's. We had been to a funeral that day also. I had been sleeping when they were killed. There was a storm that night and a power outage. Yeah, I never heard a thing. And there was a child kidnapped and murdered the same time. Like Connie Shaw -- she was pulled from her grandmother's. Only it was a little migrant worker's child and nobody cared. I only found out about it later. So there is something familiar with all this between my circumstance and yours. But the thing is there is no evidence it is an FBI case. We don't have any reason to be poking in the works other than Harry said we needed to check it out. I think he knows my history and wants me to see that not everything is so mysterious."
She laughed mirthlessly, "And instead of solving it we have a mystery within a mystery here too. He isn't helping just dashing from catastrophe to catastrophe. We still need to find out who killed the Shaw girl and your mom. New in the mix is that someone is looking for you. That is something I didn't have happen. Nobody gave a damn about me."
She was revealing her pain calmly for us and it was then I noticed that Misty began to fade. The pain of Erika's words were sinking in and the 'fun' was over for Misty. Cinda blinked her presence and tried to pretend she hadn't lost time again. She did look happy to be eating the cake left on the plate. I sat there frozen and waited for the rest of the story.
"After a month of hell during which I had no time to come to terms with my folks' deaths I began to notice that my town was becoming very odd. People had moved out and fell deathly ill and basically nobody acted normal around me. It didn't help when I started noticing that the police chief was following me everywhere and finally I decided it was time to leave. I changed my name and moved to Chicago and never looked back." She tapped her cup with a fork distractedly and Louella refilled the coffee cup automatically. Erika thanked her and handed her money for all of our checks. I noticed she gave her well over double the cost of our meals and Louella beamed and said, "You all can stay as long as you want." With that she abandoned us.
"Thank you," I said at Erika's unexpected gesture. I was prepared to buy my own meal but it seemed she needed to keep us here to tell us more. Given what she was telling me I didn't demure too much.
"It was only a few years later I found out that the town pretty much went into a decline shortly after I left. I drove back there about four years ago and found it completely empty. All the storefronts were painted over or boarded up and the sidewalks had grass nearly as high as the covered windows. I saw not a single soul in my meandering drive through town. After about fifteen minutes of looking for anyone and no one I gave up and drove out of there as fast as possible." She shuddered and looked at me.
"Lynn, I admit there are similarities between our stories but still think we will find out who they were that killed your mom. I just can't get permission to investigate it as an FBI agent. Harry seems to feel we can get to the bottom of it without calling anyone else here. And the Shaw case had a major break last night. There was someone who said they saw a teenage boy along the river late that night that may have been from here." Erika smiled weakly at me.
I was busy trying to keep the goose bumps down to a minimum.
I noticed Cinda had somewhat spaced out our conversation while she was working over something in her mind. Finally she ventured out with, "So, Erika, what you are saying is that you know you and Lynn have all these things in common yet you thought she had done it? You actually thought she had killed her own mom? And what-like she had two strange guys terrorize my mom to cover it all up or something?"
Erika looked momentarily ashamed and she said, "Well, yes -- I mean no, but then remember she had that blood soaked gown she had removed and hidden in the garage." That was all she said.
I tried with some difficulty to keep my food down. Nice of her to remind me of the horror of finding my mom and the sensations I felt while kneeling in her blood when next to her dead body -- real good way to connect with me. All in all Erika wasn't making me very happy much less feeling like there was anything she could help me with on my mom's murder. Hell, she couldn't even solve her own parents' murder and ran from it as far as I was concerned. But then I remembered my thoughts in the past few days of how soon I could leave and not be considered odd or unmentionably rude. I still wanted to run away from all the shocking things I had seen and been dealing with since this whole nightmare started.
Cinda retorted, "Excuse me. Didn't you just finish telling us how much you hated when that police chief accused you of killing your parents and yet you did the same thing to Lynn? Isn't that hypocritical at least?"
A flash of anger then Erika answered a bit more subdued, "Yes. But you have to understand---"
"Actually she doesn't have to understand anything. Good God, how could you even think she did it knowing how you felt? You haven't even begun to explain the two crazy men running around brutalizing my mom and looking for us!" A bit of Misty was leaking back into Cinda. The wrath of both was similar but still I could see it was Misty getting warmed up to lash out some more at Erika. I pondered for a minute if Misty was not a ghostly haunting for Cinda but instead part of a split personality. I didn't want to figure it out just now but knew soon I would have to figure a way to test that theory. So far I had enough on my plate without adding to the fun by accusing my best friend of being a schizophrenic or having some other mental illness. Life was getting far more complicated than I needed that was for sure. I was trying to just get out of all this mess with my sanity and I certainly had no business accusing my best friend of being less than sane.
Erika looked at the now full ashtray and saw that her last cigarette had burned out while she had eaten her cake so she lit up a new cigarette and said, "Let's go. Too many of the natives around here are getting restless with us just sitting at a table." She was right but I didn't know where we were going. It was not like either Cinda or I had a home to go to currently. We both had been told we would be notified when we could return but I personally had no desire to go back to my house. With Margie still in the hospital I doubted Cinda would be comfortable in her home right now either.
We struggled to get out the door without attracting too much more attention. That was cut short by the arrival of the two policemen that seemed to be shadowing my world lately accompanied by the innkeeper, Tina. Again we were the focus of the whole crowd. I wanted to disappear and my back was throbbing from the lack of moving and those unexplained bruises. The last thing I needed was to be tense and yet I could feel my shoulders heading upwards as I nearly cringed at the look in Tina's eyes. She was furious.
"See here they all are," Bobby said as he and Gary met us middle of the busy diner. Tina hung back by the door. Louella caught sight of her sister in trouble and did a double take. That pretty much confirmed for me the transformation of Tina was very recent. Cinda was again clenching her jaw at the same time trying to smile sweetly at Bobby. It looked a bit odd but Bobby didn't seem to notice.
Erika strode forward saying, "Why are you looking for us? Did you find out something?" Her face was interested and she looked too perky for my comfort. She may not have solved her parents' murder but she certainly thrived on the rush of finding out things about death and dead bodies I thought.
"No, not us. Tina here," Gary looked for Tina and then saw her lingering on the threshold, she was still frozen in the doorway. "Tina, get over here. Why are you hanging back so?"
Not telling him what kept her in the entry way Tina hung her head and said, "Yes, Uncle Gary." And she reluctantly shuffled into the diner. She had lost some of the perky glowing look she had last night at the inn.
I hadn't realized that they were related but I could see from Cinda's smirk there was more to the story than just that. I shrugged as she caught my eye and figured she would tell me more later. Louella was near us and I over heard her say to a nearby cluster of customers, "Some people!" I didn't think that was directed at me but figured it was a comment for Tina. Since Tina was now a bright red I was pretty sure I was correct. Cinda snickered slightly next to me unheard by anyone because of a sudden increased din in the restaurant as everyone tried to act like they weren't watching the floorshow that was the new story of my life. This was getting far too old and completely scary for me. I didn't like being the center of attention and cause for gossip.
Gary said, "Tina here called me a half hour or so ago when she didn't find any of you in your rooms. She had prepared her famous pancake breakfast and went up to find you all and nobody answered. When she went into Cinda's room she said it looked like it had been ransacked and called me to investigate." Here it was Cinda's turn to blush a bright red.
Having known Cinda's lack of housekeeping skills personally from all the years of sleepovers I could see how Tina would misinterpret the cyclone that Cinda left in a room as a possible crime scene. I found it interesting that Tina went into Cinda's room first to snoop. Oh, excuse me, to 'check on us'. It dawned on Cinda about the same time that she had been singled out for special treatment from Tina. I guess Cinda's crush on Harry hadn't gone unnoticed by Tina either. Louella walked up to us and interrupted with, "Okay, you guys take this to a booth or outside." I guess we weren't helping her tips any by stopping the folks from eating while they gaped at us and shamelessly eavesdropped.
Looking around seeing no booths available we all quickly exited to the currently hushed crowd. Once the door started closing the volume swelled and I could hear the yammering of conversations start up discussing what they thought they had just seen. I stifled a shudder knowing I was again part of the local color and folklore and quietly trailed after the group. I pulled out a cigarette and found I had no taste for it. At all. That was odd. In the past half dozen years I don't think I went more than an hour or so without a smoke. Puzzled I stuck the pack back into my purse.
None of them had spoken to me since Louella kicked us all out. Bobby was flirting with Cinda a few feet in front of me. Erika was in front of them talking with Gary and trying to see if he had something else to share that he had held back when in the diner. Tina was next to them trying to look like she was okay with her mistake. I wanted to just walk quickly in the opposite direction.
It was then I caught sight of the Winters sitting in their car. Neither of them saw me but were in some sort of heated discussion. Leo's hands were flailing about and his face was angry. Maria was seated holding her purse firmly on her lap with her shoulders arched about her ears as she glared pure hatred at the man. They suddenly stopped and turned as one towards our group as we walked past the old couple. Maria's eyes caught mine and she hissed softly something out of the side of her mouth to Leo. He focused on me then his eyes shifted down and he muttered something to her and with a quick motion cranked his engine on and slammed the gear shift jumping the car away from us into the street with a screech. Cinda exclaimed, "Hey, isn't that illegal or something, Bobby?"
Bobby shook his head and said, "He's not worth the trouble. That is one of the meanest men I have ever met."
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