Authors: Patricia Fry
“What are you talking about?” Ernie asked, now sounding frustrated.
“At some point, Ernie, he turned to killing. We think he’s become a serial killer.” Craig thought for a moment before saying, “They’re already calling him the claw-hammer killer.”
“What? No!” Ernie protested. “That was Amos Sledge. You’ve got it all wrong.”
“Amos Sledge was a victim, Ernie. He became a legend up here and your father evidently grabbed onto Amos’s coattails and hung on tightly. He got tired of playing in the shadows; he wanted to be front and center. Well, he will be…in a courtroom and then in a prison cell.” Craig put his hands on Ernie’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, kid. We all count on our parents to be our heroes, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.”
Dazed, Ernie walked around in circles for a few moments, then strolled into the kitchen and sat in a chair at the table, resting his head in his hands. Maribelle stood behind him with her hand on his back as he spoke—his voice full of emotion. “I tried so hard to please him. I followed
passion instead of my own and I guess I even fostered his underground life as a—my God—a murderer?” He raised his head and asked into the room, “Is it true? Could my father have done this?”
“Something snapped, Son,” Maribelle said. “He’s needed help for a long time. Now maybe he’ll get it.”
Suddenly the lights dimmed and went out. “What the…?” Craig exclaimed.
“Power’s out,” Maribelle said. “Happens up here all the time.”
“But we have a generator, dammit,” Craig huffed.
“Here’s a flashlight, Craig,” Savannah said, turning it on and handing it to him.
He took it and asked, “Iris, did you put gas in the generator?”
“Ohhh no, I guess I didn’t. I forgot, Craig. I’m sorry.”
“I wonder if Skip’s still at the boathouse. Maybe we can get some from him.”
“I think he’s off for a few days,” Maribelle said. “Phyll’s taking over, but she doesn’t come until eight tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah, and it was starting to rain when I drove up,” Ernie said. “There’s a big storm predicted. If the river rises any higher, we’re apt to be stuck up here for a while.”
“Oh no,” Savannah said. “I’m so ready to go home.” Choking back emotion, she said, “I miss my baby.”
“I know, I know,” Iris comforted. She took a ragged breath. “It’s been a rough few days. I think we’re all ready to ease back into our comfort zone.”
“But we’re safe and dry,” Colbi said from the other side of the room. “We’re okay.”
Craig smiled in her direction as he slipped into his heavy jacket. Before Craig could walk out the door, he heard Ernie say, “You know, I saw something on my way up here and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“What is it?” the women asked. Craig stopped at the door to listen.
“Well, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was so eager to get here. But I’m almost positive I saw someone about a mile down the road. It looked like a woman.” He shook his head. “I decided it was my imagination. I live in such a world of fantasy and illusion in the theater that sometimes it threatens to take over my mind. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if…”
“If what, son?” Craig asked.
“If it really was a woman out there in distress.”
Craig let out a sigh. “Where was this woman?”
“Down near the fork.”
“Was she trying to flag you down?”
“No, it was more like she was hiding from me. I caught her face in my headlights and she looked terrified. If she was real, she’s out there in the rain now.” He picked up his heavy coat. “I’d probably better go back and see if she’s still there.”
Craig stood in place contemplating the situation for a moment, then said, “I’ll go with you. Help me light these lanterns; I’ll get a couple of slickers and some rubber boots.” As he gathered the lanterns, he said, “When we get back, I’ll see if I can start the generator. If we’re lucky, I have more gas in the shed.”
“My God,” Margaret said, “what more can happen? This is…”
Before she could finish her sentence, a loud clap of thunder caused the women to squeal and cower.
“The spirits are restless tonight,” Iris said from the green sofa, pulling a blanket more tightly around herself.
Forty-five minutes later, Iris happened to take a look out the kitchen window while getting a drink of water. “Oh my gosh!” She moved closer to the window and squinted, then turned to the others. “I think it’s that missing woman.”
“Again?” Margaret said sarcastically.
“No, really; I think it’s her.” She moved to unlock the front door, reporting, “Craig’s carrying her.”
As Craig stepped into the room, Savannah and Colbi stood up from the green sofa and motioned for Craig to place her there.
“She’s sopping wet,” Craig said. “Can you get those clothes off her and put her in something dry? Ernie, come with me to check on the generator, will you?”
Ernie glanced at the woman, then followed Craig back out into the rain.
“She’s waking up,” Iris announced.
“Good, she can help us get her into some dry clothes,” Savannah said, digging through her suitcase. “I don’t have anything clean,” she complained. “Does anyone else have something she can wear?”
“I do,” Maribelle said, “in my van.”
“Here, let me hold a flashlight for you and an umbrella,” Savannah offered, as the two women stepped out into the darkness.
They returned in time to hear Colbi ask the groggy woman, “Can you sit up so we can get you out of those soggy clothes?”
In response, the woman quickly pulled her fists up under her chin, a look of panic in her face.
Colbi covered the woman’s hands with hers and spoke softly. “It’s okay. We’re here to help you. You’re okay,” she crooned.
At that, the woman sat up a little, her eyes darting around the room.
Savannah approached her. “Hi, I’m Savannah.” Holding up Maribelle’s sweats outfit, she said, “We have something cozy for you to wear.”
Colbi continued the introductions. “That’s Maggie over there, and Iris. This is Maribelle and I’m Colbi. Can you help us get these clothes off?”
The woman pulled off her oversized tee shirt and Savannah immediately helped her into the sweatshirt. She then stood with help and changed into the sweatpants. Savannah supported her as she lay back on the pillows, then covered her with two heavy blankets.
“Can I make you some tea?” Margaret asked.
The woman nodded.
“You may have to use hot tap water if Craig can’t get the generator started,” Iris reminded her.
When Margaret returned with the tea, the woman sat up, held the mug tightly in her hands, and sipped eagerly.
“Are you hungry?” Iris asked.
“Oh yes, I sure am,” she said, rather weekly, “if it isn’t too much trouble. Just anything is fine.”
“What do we have?” Colbi whispered.
“Yeah, what are we going to have for dinner?” Margaret asked.
“I have food,” Maribelle offered. When everyone looked at her, she said, “I didn’t know if I’d be back, so I took what might spoil. I just had a delivery yesterday, for heaven’s sake.”
“Great! Can you get something for her to eat, then?” Iris asked.
Maribelle put on her heavy jacket and she and Savannah headed out the door again, returning with a couple of tote bags and a large pot. “How about some homemade soup? It’s hearty.” Maribelle looked around the room. “There’s enough for everyone.”
Iris winced. “But how will we heat it?”
“Over the fire,” Maribelle suggested. She pointed out a wrought-iron hook extending from the sidewall of the fireplace. “That’s what this contraption’s for. Do you have a Dutch oven with a hanging handle? We can heat it right here.”
“Yes,” Iris said, heading toward the kitchen. “I just saw one the other day. I’ll wash it.” She looked at her watch. “I guess it
“Past dinnertime,” Margaret grumbled. “I’m sure ready for some of that hearty soup.” She stood. “We still have half loaf of bread, don’t we?”
Once Maribelle and Iris had the soup heating in the fireplace, the woman glanced around at everyone and said, “I’m Ann, by the way.”
Colbi smiled and patted her hand. “Yes, I know.”
“How’d you know?” she asked, her eyes wide.
Colbi spoke more quietly. “I wrote a newspaper story about you.”
Ann sat forward a little. “You’re…” she struggled to think. “…Colbi…uh, Stanton, right?”
Colbi nodded. “So you saw the story?”
“Yes, the headlines and your byline is all, before they blindfolded me again.” She seemed to lose her energy for a moment as tears crept out from under her lids. She wiped at her eyes. Then, containing herself, she asked, “What are you all doing here? Do you live here?”
Colbi motioned toward Iris. “The cabin belongs to Craig and Iris. It’s her birthday and the three of us…” she gestured, “…came up to celebrate with her. Craig came today because of the murders.”
Ann choked a little on a sip of tea, repeating, “Murders?”
Margaret offered her more tea. “Oh yes, it’s been quite the crazy vacation up here with people going around scaring innocent women, people getting murdered…” When Savannah flashed her aunt a look of warning, Margaret glanced sheepishly at Maribelle. She then said, “Why, we even had someone come here who was impersonating you.”
“What?” Ann asked, furrowing her brow.
Colbi, trying to make light of it, waved her hand in front of herself. “Oh, some crazy claiming to be you, came knocking on our door last night, but the cops said she was a phony cuckoo.”
“Yeah,” Margaret said, “didn’t even know your middle name. That’s how she got caught.” She looked suspiciously at the woman. “What is your middle name, anyway?”
Ann chuckled a little. “Grace. What did she say it was?”
“I don’t know.” She turned to the others. “…what was it?”
“Marie.” Colbi changed the subject. “So who took you, do you know? And how did you get away?”
Savannah joined the others who sat near Ann. “My gosh, you could have died out there on that mountain road in this rain. Listen to that. It’s really coming down.”
“Yeah, where’s Craig and…” before Margaret could finish her question, they heard the generator start and the lights came back on.
Iris clasped her hands together. “Oh good. Thank heavens. It would have been a long night without lights.”
“You’d be sleeping anyway,” Margaret reminded her. “What does it matter?”
“Sleep?” Iris said. “Who can sleep after all that’s happened? I’m so wired.” She looked at Maribelle, who was stirring the soup. “I guess we can finish it on the stove now.”
“Why?” Colbi asked.
“Yeah,” Margaret said, “I’d like to have the wilderness experience. I’ve never had anything cooked in a fireplace like that.”
Savannah agreed. “It’ll taste better cooked over an open fire.” She started to move a twig around in an attempt to play with Dolly. “Hey, do we have marshmallows and chocolate? We could make s’mores.”
Iris chortled. “Girlfriend, if we had chocolate in this place with the four of us, it would surely be gone by now.”
“I have some in my van—chocolate bars, and, I think a bag of marshmallows,” Maribelle said.
“Graham crackers?” Margaret asked hopefully.
Maribelle frowned. “I’m not sure about that.”
Iris quickly stood. “Hey, I brought some cookies—sugar cookies and oatmeal-raisin.” She grinned. “I like dipping them in my coffee—but we’ve been too busy to do any dipping.”
“Yeah, they might work for s’mores,” Colbi said. “Cool.”
“Let there be light,” Craig joked when he and Ernie trudged into the cabin.
“So you found some gas?” Iris asked.
“Yeah, but not much—so we’ll have lights-out early tonight.” After removing his rain coat and boots, Craig drug a kitchen chair up next to Ann. “I see you’re awake, young lady. How’re you feeling?”
“Good, compared to…” she started.
“Glad to hear it,” he said, patting her hand. “Now, do you think you can answer a few questions for me? We want to contact authorities as soon as possible and get you to a safe place.” When he saw fear in her eyes, he said, “Oh, don’t worry. You’re safe here. I’m sure you want to get home to your family and we want to get word to them that you’re okay. Can you tell me what happened?”
She cleared her throat and took a sip of tea. “I was showing homes to a couple. I was surprised when they began demanding more and more of my attention, but I wasn’t concerned.” She shrugged. “Some people just need more hand-holding than others when buying a home.” She took in a deep breath. “They confided in me that they wanted a baby, but they couldn’t have one and couldn’t afford to go through a fertility treatment. They’d evidently been shopping around for a surrogate mother. One day, out of the blue, they told me that I was their choice. They wanted me to be their surrogate.” She teared up then, attempting to control her emotions, continued. “When I told them I was not interested in being any sort of surrogate, I guess that’s when they decided to take things into their own hands.”
She winced. “I should have known something was wrong when they began grilling me on such things as abortion. When they were satisfied that I was against it, they decided to impregnate me and take the baby from me. They said if I refused to give them the baby, they would swear that I’m the one who manipulated the situation because I wanted
baby. They said they would go to court and get his child, if they had to.” She shook her head. “It was all so ridiculous, but I guess they’d worked for weeks or months perfecting their plan. So they grabbed me, blindfolded me, and took me to an apartment in another city, I think. I was kept in a room without windows. I had a bathroom, but it, too, had no windows—no way to escape or even get my bearings.”
She took a deep breath. “One day they blindfolded me and took me for a long ride, partly on a rough road. That was evidently the road up here. They tied me to a bed most of the time.” She grinned slightly. “My saving grace, believe it or not, was a rat.” She glanced around at the others as they each responded or reacted to her comment. Then she explained. “The first time I saw it, I was frightened out of my wits, especially when it came close to me. One night I saw him chewing on the rope that tied my wrists to the headboard of the bed. I was terrified.” She chuckled a little hysterically. “I watched a movie once where rats attacked people.” She glanced around at everyone. “Then one day I saw him eating a piece of bread crust that had fallen from my plate. That’s when I realized he was coming for food.”
“How’d you eat with your hands tied?”
“Oh, they’d untie me and watch me eat. She’d accompany me to the bathroom, monitoring me closely for my cycles so they’d know when he should…” She started to cry, then took a few breaths and continued. “When I realized the rat wanted food, I started using every opportunity to drop scraps and push them under the blanket near where they had me tied. I’d get my hands greasy and rub them on the little nooses they tightened around my wrists. The rat actually started chewing on the rope—I just hoped to heaven he didn’t bite into my skin. Maybe he needed the fibers from the rope to make his nest, I don’t know. But he gnawed and gnawed until early this morning, when I was able to slip a wrist out and I sneaked out without being seen.”
“Wow!” Colbi said. “What a creative and gutsy gal.”
Ann grinned weakly before continuing. “I didn’t know where I was or where to go, I just wanted to be as far from those people as I could get. I’d been walking for hours when I found a place to hide, then I rested. I headed out again this evening, still without a plan. When I saw a car approaching, I tried to hide, but I was terrified that the driver saw me.” She looked at Ernie. “I guess that was you.”
She gazed at Craig. “Then he came back with you, Detective.” She wiped at her eyes. “If you hadn’t called out to me like you did and let me know you would help me, I might still be out there.”
“Do you know where you were being held? How far is it from here?”
“Yes. I think so. I took a good look as I left, even though it was dark outside. It’s right along the river’s edge. It’s red wood. I mean, someone painted it red. It’s kind of run-down, like no one has lived there for a while. It seems like miles from here—but then, I walked a long way down the road before you brought me back up here—so it could be close to you.” The thought of the cabin and its occupants sent shivers through her and she pulled the blankets up under her chin.
“The old Gillett place,” Maribelle said. “It’s been abandoned for years.” She turned to Craig. “A couple came in a few weeks ago asking about places to rent or buy in the area. He was tall and dark, wore one of those chin beards—you know—all shaved except for the point of his chin.” She looked at Ann. “She was about your size…same coloring, only kinda heavy.”
Ann sat upright. “That’s them.”
“Mrs. Baker, where is this place?” Craig asked
“They’re practically your closest neighbors,” she said, “about a mile and a half downstream.”
Craig sighed deeply and ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, I think I know the place. I’ve done some fishing down that way.” He glanced at everyone. “Well, it’s going to be a long night.”
“What are you thinking, Craig?” Savannah asked.
“I’m afraid this storm has decided our fate. It’s too dangerous to try crossing the river at night when the water could be rising.” When the women looked puzzled, he said, “You know, the river crosses the mountain road a few times. Didn’t you notice that?”
“No. But it was dark when we drove up.”
“And dry,” Iris added.
“We might try rowing to the other side of the lake to make a call—get someone up from the other side to take Ms. Schultz to safety,” Craig suggested.
“The rangers usually head for low ground when it rains like this,” Maribelle said. “In the worst of rains, whoever’s left up here is stuck up here until the rain stops and the river stops swelling.” She perked up. “The good news is, the soup’s hot.”
“Sun’s out,” Savannah said, opening the curtains on the kitchen window the next morning around eight.
Iris yawned. “Yeah. Let’s hope we can get out of here today. I’ve had enough of the rough life.”
“Rough life?” Savannah repeated.
“Yeah, roughing it.” Iris finished filling the coffee pot and turned it on. “I’ve had to wear the same clothes all weekend. Boring.”