Words for Wednesday stories

Lost and Found (originally Tom's Memories)

Chapter One:

It was a warm autumn evening in late May when Tom stood above the dunes staring at the picturesque scene below. The sun had finally set and a million stars had begun to glitter in the midnight blue canopy overhead. A cooling breeze from the ocean seemed playful as it brushed across his face and was gone. 

Tom stood still and let the spark of recognition grow as he began to remember. The jetty stretching out into the ocean was the same as the one in the dreams he'd had as a small child. Those forgotten dreams had resurfaced recently, with no clue as to why. Then just last week, a tiny earthquake, no more than a tremor, shook the walls of Tom's shack at the edge of his foster parents home. The divisive bickering of Robert and Vanessa had grown to almost argumentative proportions and Tom had left the main house in a fit of temper, making the announcement as he slammed the door, that he would be living in the shack from now on.

The tremor had lasted only a second or two, but was enough to dislodge the nail holding a picture on the wall, sending the antique frame crashing to the floor. As Tom picked up the mess, a photo lodged between the enigmatic Mona Lisa and the backboard fell to the floor. It was a late evening photo of the jetty Tom now stood looking down upon. An address was printed on the back, in a handwriting unknown to Tom, yet somehow familiar. This photo was about to dictate the direction of the rest of his life. 

The next morning, Tom had packed a few things into his battered old jeep, told his parents he was taking a holiday away from the constant bickering, he'd be back in a week or so and maybe by then they'd have sorted out whatever had started the arguments. He'd bought maps at a service station, along with petrol for the jeep and set out to find the address on the photo. He stood now, watching the fluid black silk of the ocean wash against the sturdy supporting pylons as a memory began to surface.

Running along the sand with a puppy, a man calling, with a laugh in his voice, "I'm coming to get you." Squeals of delight as Tom ran faster on four year old legs. Building sand castles, watching as the ocean crept in to knock them down, eating ice cream cones in the darkening dusk as a woman took photos. Another spark of recognition as he remembered her voice. His mother, he was sure of it. His real mother, lost to him after sounds of a scuffle, then the terror of being bundled up in a blanket and carried away from his bed.  These memories had faded throughout the following years as Tom had been passed through home after home after home, before finally arriving at Robert and Vanessa's small home farm, where Tom had finally begun to settle down. 

The area Tom now stood in was not familiar, only the sand and the jetty were firm in his mind. He decided on a strategy. A week here at the beach, then home to Vanessa and Robert, with a long list of questions about his minority years. Where had he come from? Where were the documents with the details that must be on them? How had this photo of this jetty come to be stuck behind the Mona Lisa in an antique frame?

Tom left the beach area and walked to the Cove Hotel where he was staying. On his way through the lobby he collected several brochures detailing interesting sites to see in the town and surrounds and took them back to his room to read while he had coffee and a snack. A few were probably obsolete he thought, as he noticed dates that were twenty years ago. He set those aside and sat in the overstuffed chair by the window to read through the rest, then used a pad of paper and a pen from the bedside drawer to make a list of the places he wanted to see.

Number one of course, was the town Library, if it was open. He'd learned it was off-season here right now and thought maybe the librarian was also taking a holiday while the town was near empty. Number two was a blanket list of local area Hotels and Pubs, there weren't many, but he could ask around and possibly find out how old the places were, how long they'd been in business, was there anyone around who had been there from the beginning? His cover story would be research for a photographic coffee table book, a little information to go with each photo. He would say he was working towards becoming a photographic journalist if anyone asked what he did for a living.

Perhaps someone would remember or had stories about a holidaying couple with a four year old son who went missing.

One brochure advertised a "Scenic Retreat" for hire. Tom decided that was a blatant lie since he had driven past the retreat on his way in and it looked in no way scenic to him, from the road at least. "Maybe the scenic part refers to the view on the other side," he thought, as it was situated high on a cliff overlooking the ocean, "but I still don't think anyone would want to rent such a rundown shack." The lone store in town was a combination market-general store- Post Office-public phone, and after making plans to go there first thing in the morning, Tom climbed into the big soft bed and fell asleep. 

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast of toast, bacon and scrambled eggs, Tom walked to the Post Office section of the general store and asked for a local phone book, which he took to a shaded table under the spreading peppercorn tree. He didn't have a name to go with the address on the back of the photo, but the listings only filled a half dozen pages and Tom was happy to read through them all to match an address to a name or place.

He was surprised a few minutes later when Bill Money, the Postmaster, gave him directions to the Scenic Retreat. "Speak to Mr and Mrs Saunders," he said. "They've been caretakers since Stephanie's parents bought the place. Used to own it before that. They're about as old as Adam now, but still spry and they love to chat. Sad thing what happened to Miss Stephanie though." Tom opened his mouth to ask about that, when a customer rang the service bell at the market counter and Bill rushed off with apologies. He ran the whole establishment alone during the off season. Tom called a "Thank you" to him and went back outside.



Chapter Two:

Mobile phone reception could be iffy in this part of the country, so Tom used the payphone to call home. Vanessa answered, sounding a little worried as she asked, “Where are you Tom? Are you okay? We’re a bit worried, is there anything we can do?” “I’m alright Mum,” Tom said. “I wanted to get away for a bit and your fighting was just the excuse I needed. I’ve been having dreams like I had long ago, long before I came to you and Dad, then I found a photo behind the broken Mona Lisa, it’s a picture that matches the scene in my dreams. This address was written on the back so I came here, to Shark Cove. I need to try and find out more.”

“We’ve been expecting you to want to find things out, we were hoping it might be later, but it seems fate has stepped in. Can we help at all?” said Vanessa. “We could drive down, there’s something we need to talk about, that’s what Dad and I have been fighting over, deciding when would be the right time mostly.”

Tom said, “I’d like to face the first part of this challenge on my own Mum, how about a compromise? Give me a couple of days, then you and Dad drive on down the South coast to Shark Cove. That’s the address on the back of this photo. It’s a jetty stretching out into the ocean and now I remember playing here on my fourth birthday. There’s a two-storey Hotel called the Cove Hotel, that’s where I’m staying and I’ll book you a room, okay?”

“That will be wonderful,” said Vanessa. “I’ll tell Dad as soon as he comes home. He’s in town picking up some papers we want you to see.”

“Papers from my past?” asked Tom. “I thought they’d all been lost, and I have a list of questions now, but if you’ve managed to find some, they could explain a few things for me.” “Lost is what we heard,” said Vanessa, “but these papers are more to do with your future. We need to sit down and talk this over. Even though you are over legal age now at twenty, Dad and I have decided we would like to formally adopt you if that’s possible.”

The full gamut of emotions ran through Tom at hearing these words.

Adoption! A family and home he would properly belong to! He already felt far more at home with Robert and Vanessa than he ever had anywhere else and considered them his family, but to have it made legal would really be something.

It was a little embarrassing to find himself crying, but through happy tears he managed to say “Yes! Yes!” to Vanessa before saying goodbye and hanging up. He felt as warm inside as he had the first time he’d felt a soft hug from Vanessa and Robert Moore when he arrived at that small farm all those years ago, aged twelve.

Looking up at the brilliant blue above, Tom took a moment to acknowledge his current level of sky-high happiness was a little ludicrous, but still he couldn’t stop grinning. Vanessa and Robert wanted him as their son! Legally! He was sceptical, just as Vanessa was, about adoption being possible at his age, and even without that formality, Tom would be proud to be known as their son. Perhaps some other legal arrangement could be made. 

For the past eight years they had stood by him, teaching him the world wasn’t such a bad place, raising him with love, steering him through his rebellious teenage years, talking him out of a foolhardy plan to drop out of school and just work with Robert on the farm. They stressed the importance of education. 
His mood sobering, Tom recalled vague, long ago moments of panic at being lost and alone, not knowing where his parents were or what had happened to them. He remembered years of being shunted from one foster home to another, each time rejected because of his fear-driven tantrums, nightmares and sleepwalking. Growing out of those, Tom became sullen and socially withdrawn, taking advantage of every opportunity to steal money or food and skip school. 
Robert and Vanessa had turned all that around almost from the first day. Instead of talking at him, laying down rules and punishments for breaking them, they talked to him and with him, encouraging Tom to speak freely. More importantly, they listened.
They took him shopping for new clothes that hadn’t already been worn by countless other boys before him, asked him to help with selecting groceries, and didn’t begrudge him second helpings at the dinner table. Robert took him around the farm, showing Tom every aspect of self-sufficient farming, the tractor, the principles of permaculture: the chickens that laid their breakfast eggs and supplied the manure that fed the orchard that supplied their fruit. 
Tom grew, physically and emotionally, flourishing under their care, regaining the happy nature he’d been born with. He rarely mentioned his parents. Requests made by Robert to obtain Tom’s earliest paperwork brought the discovery that nothing before the age of eight could be found. There’d been a fire in the office building and the records of many children had been burned.
Putting aside those thoughts, Tom went back to his room, picked up a knapsack pre-packed with notebooks and pens, picked up his camera and set out to find the trail Bill Money had told him would lead to the Scenic Retreat. There were two trails, one more easily accessible for walkers and drivers, most tourists used that one Bill said, and a narrower goat track for those wanting a more challenging activity. There was a little turn-around halfway up with a seat where Tom could rest and Tom thought this lesser track would give excellent photographic opportunities.
He checked his watch, Bill had said the climb might take as much as an hour, depending on how fit someone might be, saw there was plenty of time and set out to meet Mr and Mrs Saunders. He’d leave the Library and Pub searches for another day.

Chapter Three:

Tom stopped for a while at the halfway point, taking photos from every direction and angle, even lying full length on the ground to take a shot through the dried grass to the ocean several metres away. He had switched to black and white film then and taken every shot again, mentally thanking Mr Roscoe for discouraging him from using only colour film. As his photography skills grew, Tom began to see why. Many of the black and white images showed a moodiness that just couldn’t be captured with colour film.
Tom grinned at the memory of following a pretty girl with flawless to the photography class when he was supposed to be going to philosophy. The minute he’d held his first camera, Tom had been hooked. Reaching the top of the path, Tom was surprised to see the Scenic Retreat was not as rundown as he first thought. He briefly wondered about the decrepit cabin he had seen from the road the day before. Two solid buildings with a glass covered walkway between them stood before him and he instantly saw the attraction of the view and the privacy of the remoteness.
This was a place for fantasy and romance and Tom saw it would look very mysterious on a dark evening with a storm front rolling in off the ocean. He packed his camera back into its bag, took a deep breath and started towards the door with the brass knocker. One last look around, then he lifted the knocker once, twice and heard the echo of it before hearing the slow shuffle of footsteps on the other side of the door. A key turned in the lock and the door swung inwards. An elderly face, surrounded by snow white hair turned up to see him, then the bright blue eyes widened in surprise as she gasped. “Frank! Oh it can’t be, but you do look so much like him.”
“Mrs Saunders?” Tom said. “I’ve been sent here by Bill Money, he said you might be able to tell me some stories of the past and about this area.” “Of course, of course, come on in. I’ll get Ed. Come in here and sit down, would you like a cup of tea?” “I’d love one,” said Tom and Mrs Saunders took off down the short hall, calling “Ed, Ed! Come and see who’s here. He looks just like Frank, I just about fainted away when I saw him standing at the door.” A man’s gruff voice answered. “What are you on about now Sara? What’s this about Frank? Frank’s been gone almost twenty years, I’d say by now he probably isn’t ever coming back.” “Well of course it isn’t Frank,” said Sara. “It’s a young man who looks almost exactly like him Clean up and go into the sitting room while I make us all a cup of tea.” Tom heard the whole exchange clearly and wondered who this Frank was and about his own resemblance to him. A glimmer of hope fired in his mind. His father? Could the mysterious Frank be Tom’s real father?
Tom’s commitment to finding out as much as he could of his past grew exponentially. The process might be daunting, but after what he’d just heard, there was no going back. If Mr and Mrs Saunders had answers for his questions, he’d be grateful for the rest of his life. Ed Saunders entered the room, wiping paint spattered hands on a scrap of old towel and stopped dead in the middle of the room as he caught sight of Tom’s eyes. “Frank,” he whispered, and backed up to sit in a chair by the window, opposite Tom. He stared for just a moment, marshalling his thoughts and trying to hide his emotions. “Sara was right,” he said. “You do look just like Frank. Who are you?”
Sara bustled in just then, setting down a tray with teacups and a plate of buttered scones, a dish of strawberry jam alongside. “I’ll just bring in the teapot,” she said. “Then I think a good long chat might be a good idea.” Tom said, “My name is Tom, I arrived in Shark Cove last night. I’m a photographer and part time journalist.” “Wait until Sara gets back with the tea, son,” said Ed. “She needs to hear this too.” As Sara poured them all cups of tea, Tom thought briefly that Bill Money had been right. In spite of being almost ninety, these two were as spry as a pair of sixty year olds. He felt again the familiarity he’d noticed looking down at the moonlit jetty the previous evening. He looked forward to spending the rest of the afternoon chatting with Ed and Sara Saunders.
He began by repeating what he’d told Ed, then denying apprehension, brought out the photo of the jetty that had started him on this journey. Tom found himself telling them about his dreams, finding the photo, driving to Shark Cove and seeing the jetty for himself and the memory that had come back to him. Sara held the photo and began to cry. “This is Cherie’s work,” she said. I remember when she took it, she developed a whole roll of these in the dark room out back.” “Cherie?” asked Tom gently. Sara came to sit beside him, looking intently at his face, his hair. “You must be the little boy,” she said. “You look so much like them, I thought you were Frank when I saw you at the door, you’d be little Tom, who disappeared the night Cherie was killed.
Tom felt suddenly like he’d been punched in the chest. His voice was hoarse when he said “Tell me everything you remember. Please, I have to know.” “Wait a minute,” said Ed and went into an adjacent room, coming back with a shoebox sealed with duct tape. “I think we need to start right from the beginning and in this box is everything Frank and Cherie left behind when they stayed here. With you Tom. You’ll stay for dinner now, of course, and Sara will make up the bed in that room for you. This is going to be a long story and you’ll probably hear things you might not want to know. But I look at you in this light and all I see is Frank and Cherie. Sara is right, you must be Tom. You’d be about twenty now?”
“Twenty just last week,” said Tom. “Can you tell me my last name?” “Kendall,” said Sara. “Your parents were Frank and Cherie Kendall, you are Tom Kendall. There was a huge search when you vanished, the police are going to have to be told you are here, but that can wait while we talk all this through.”

Tom said,” My foster parents, Robert and Vanessa Moore, are coming to Shark Cove in a couple of days. They’re sure to want to hear all the stories too and I’d like them to meet both of you as well, if you don’t mind.” “Of course not,” said Ed. “They’ll have more to add to the story I’m sure.” “Maybe not too much,” said Tom. “I’ve only been with the since I was twelve and most or all of my early childhood records were lost in a fire.” He smeared jam on a couple of scones and ate while thinking. Arriving at a definitive moment, he said, “I’d like to hear first how Cherie, my mother, died. What happened that night? I didn’t remember anything before, but now I remember hearing a noise, then someone came into my room and wrapped me up in my blanket so I couldn’t see anything, then carried me away. After that I only remember being lost and alone in a big city.”

Chapter Four:

Ed asked Tom, "did you see the face of the person who wrapped you up and took you away? Or did you notice anything at all about him that you remember?
"Not a thing," said Tom. "He seemed big, but I'd only just turned four, everyone grown up seemed big to me. I do remember it was a man and he didn't say anything, it was very quick I think."
"Must have been a stranger then, you'd have known if it was your Dad," said Sara. "The thing is, no one has seen or heard of your Dad since then, he vanished just like you did."

"Your Mother's body was found by young Stephanie," said Ed. "Well, we say young, but she must be just over forty by now. Around forty-two do you think Sara? We should have kept track of the years better."
"I think she is forty-two," said Sara. "I'm pretty sure her birthday is in July, it's May now and Stephanie was twenty-two when she helped with baby-sitting. Do you remember that Tom? Stephanie would watch over you when your Mum was out with her camera and too far away for you to go along, then she kept you bust when your Mum was in the darkroom to print her pictures too."

"Nothing comes to mind," said Tom. "But you said Frank and Cherie stayed here? In that room just off to the side? I thought we were at the Hotel, I remember now that I loved being on the balcony there, it was so high."

"Yes, that's right," said Sara and Ed together. Sara continued, "you were all at the Hotel for a day or two, then we met your parents and we all got on so well, they came to stay here a lot, the views were great for Cherie's photography and when it got late, we'd all eat dinner in the kitchen here, then you would all sleep in that room. We put an old Army cot in one corner for you Tom, you thought it was fun. We all ended up feeling like one big family."

"So what happened?" asked Tom. "Where was my mother killed? Was I taken from here?"

"No," said Ed. "Your Mum had finished developing her photos and gone to the post Office to send a good selection to the buyer, she took photos to be used for calendars and tourism books, then she decided to stay one last night at the Hotel with you and pack up everything she had left there, ready to leave in a couple of days. She said you'd all spend your last night here with us, but early next morning, poor Stephanie had the misfortune to find your Mother's body and discover you were gone from the room."

"She was hysterical," said Sara, "and she's been a bit neurotic ever since. Always checking every shadow before she goes into a room. She was admitted into a psychiatric ward for a while, just couldn't seem to calm down from her hysteria. We think she heard or saw something on her way back to the Hotel the previous night. She'd been to an audition for a part in the Christmas Play, they were doing a Christmas in July fund-raiser thing, and she wanted to tell Cherie about it if I remember right. She was so full of fire, Stephanie was, always in a rush, dashing here and there, no limit to her energy. It's been really hard all these years watching her creep around, nervous and afraid."

Ed said, "the psychiatric people haven't been able to help either, they say all we can do is help her keep calm and take notice if she starts to talk about it. I've been helping her learn to paint, as therapy. It's what I was doing when you knocked on the door. Steph's become really good at landscapes, especially the almost empty kind, with lots of space and maybe a cactus or two. I think it represents the way her mind is now and Dr Jones thinks so too. He wants us to let him know if Steph starts to paint anything different with more detail."

"Would it help if I met her?" asked Tom. "Maybe shake up something in her memory?"

"I don't know, you look so much like Frank, it might be a shock for her. She had a bit of a crush on your Dad, loved his voice she did." "Where was Frank everyday anyway? You've said Cherie was out taking photos and I was here a lot, but where was Frank that I couldn't be with him?' asked Tom. "Down on the jetty mostly, fishing and scuba diving, there's rumored to bits of an old wreck out there and it wouldn't have been safe for you. He did say he was going to teach you to dive in another year or so," said Ed.

"I don't remember any of that," said Tom. "You might be right that Stephanie shouldn't see me just yet though." 
Sara said, "I want her help to get sheets on the bed in there, make it nice for you, so you two go down to the kitchen now and she won't see you from there. You and Ed can open up that shoebox and have a good look through everything, see if any of it jogs your memory."

"Come on then," sad Ed, "we'll go and freshen up the teapot while your room gets made ready. You don't mind staying here?"
"No, it's fine. I'd love to stay," said Tom, "but I'll need to get some things from the Hotel before dark. Do you need anything from town that I can pick up while I'm there?" "Nice offer son, but we have everything we need for now," said Ed. "You could leave a message with Bill at the Post Office, tell him I'd like Dr Jones to drop in as soon as he can, Bill has the doc's mobile number and then Doc can advise us about you and Stephanie meeting. He's a good doctor, seems to know what he is doing at least. Tell you what, you go down and get what you need, bring everything if you like and just stay here instead, we'd love to have you and while you're gone, Steph won't accidentally see you. We'll open the shoebox when you get back. Let me just check with Sara, see if she needs anything from town. 

Ed walked a short way into the hall and called out, "Sara love, Tom's going back to get his things. You need anything from town?" Sara's voice came back," nothing I need immediately, but could Tom stop in at Curly Cuts and make an appointment for me for a haircut?" "I can do that Mrs Saunders," said Tom, "any particular time and day?" "Make it for next Thursday if you can, your parents will still be here by then I hope and Vanessa and I can have a good natter about you while we get beautified. Make an appointment for her as well."

"That's a great idea," said Tom. "Mum loves a bit of pampering and she doesn't get much of that back on the farm."



Chapter Five:



After making the appointments at Curly Cuts, Tom packed up his things in his Hotel room, stood a moment on the balcony wondering why he hadn’t remembered before about being up there, then went downstairs to ask the receptionist to hold his room for his parents who would be arriving in a day or so. She mentioned the extra days would go on his account and Tom said that would be fine. 


He took his time walking back up to the Scenic Retreat, enjoying the spectacular evening light and taking more than a dozen photos. It occurred to him that maybe his love of photography was inherited. Sara had said Cherie took photographic assignments to make money, but clearly loved her work and was very good at it. Tom’s heart swelled a little with emotion; something from his mother had been handed down, something more than the colour and waves of his deep chestnut hair and the shape of his mouth. Sara had mentioned both were exactly like Cherie’s had been, while the rest of tall Tom was all Frank. Cherie had been petite.

While Tom was down in the town, Ed went back to his studio and asked Stephanie to clean up and please help Sar with making the spare room nice for Tom. Her head lifted at the name and she said, “I knew a Tom once, a long time ago. A little boy, then he was gone suddenly.” A look of confusion crossed her face then Stephanie’s expression was blank again. Ed made a mental note to tell Sara and Dr Jones of this, then took a look at Stephanie’s work.

The background had been wide swathes of yellow-brown-orange and over that had been a few smudges of a particularly virulent shade of green. With just a few masterful strokes of her brush, Stephanie had transformed this into a desert sunset scene with several clumps of cactus standing behind long shadows. Ed was astounded. This was so much more than he had taught her, it seemed that Stephanie had some latent skill that was now showing itself. This, plus her moment of awareness, made Ed hope a breakthrough would be forthcoming. He couldn’t wait to tell Sara. It might soon be time to bring back the calendars and clocks. He’d speak to Dr Jones first about that move though. 
Years ago, when Steph had had the breakdown, time was very confusing for her for some unknown reason and all clocks and calendars had been removed from the Retreat in order to help Stephanie’s waking hours flow more smoothly. Both Ed and Sara had become used to never mentioning what time it was or what day of the week they were in. Many of Stephanie’s days were still spent in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital, but in the past year more and more time was spent at the Scenic Retreat with Ed and Sara. Until now there had been no indication of Stephanie’s memory returning. The catastrophe of that ghastly night was still buried deep.
Ed finished cleaning up the brushes and scrubbed paint from around his fingernails, Sara was particular about clean hands at the dinner table. On his way down to the kitchen, Ed glanced out of the landing window to see if Tom was on his way back yet. A familiar figure was cresting the hill and Ed thought immediately of Frank who’d walked the same way Tom now did. Long, easy strides, no wasted movements; the apple hadn’t fallen very far from that particular tree. Ed noticed that Tom had his camera out and decided to ask he would like to use the darkroom here to develop his film as Cherie once had. He was rather pleased to see Tom had an older style film camera, instead of a modern digital one. 
Sara and Stephanie wasted no time getting the room ready for Tom, fresh sheets on the bed, pillows plumped, window opened to let in the soft evening air with its faint ocean scent. Sara made light conversation, not really expecting much from Stephanie, but watching closely in case something triggered a reply. “You’re looking very well today Stephanie, you have a little pink in your cheeks, have you been walking in the sunshine? It’s lovely out there now the heat of summer has gone.” Stephanie looked up from smoothing the bedcover and for a moment there was something in her eyes, a shadow of the younger Stephanie. She seemed about to say something, but instead turned away to place an extra blanket at the end of the bed.
“We have a guest staying here tonight,” said Sara. “A young man who is a photographer, I don’t think that’s his job, more of a hobby, but he takes his camera everywhere.” Sara wasn’t at all sure of this, having met Tom just that morning, but wondered if the mention of photography might bring back that glimpse of awareness she’d seen so briefly in Stephanie’s eyes. She would have to tell Ed what she had seen. “It’s almost time for you to go back to the hospital, is Mrs Jones coming for you today?” A tiny head nod from Stephanie was enough for Sara. Any communication, no matter how small, was progress.
As a car came along the tourist trail, Ed went out to met Tom. “Just stay back a bit Tom, the car is Mrs Jones, the doctor’s wife, she’s here to pick up Stephanie. I’ll have a word with her, tell her about Steph’s latest painting. Did you pass the message to Bill at the Post Office that I’d like to see Dr Jones soon? I probably could have telephoned, but he’s often out and takes his mobile phone and I feel as if I’ve known you longer than I have and the request just slipped out. I don’t mean to impose.”
“It’s fine Ed,” said Tom. “I didn’t mind and if I’m truthful I feel very comfortable with you and Sara too. It’s the strangest thing, we only met this morning, but you feel like family.” Ed said, “it may be that we are all feeling the memory of long ago when you stayed here and had so much fun. We felt then that your parents were our family too.” Just then, the sun sank low enough to illuminate the ocean from horizon the shore in a wide band of pink and gold and Tom turned to take several photos. “Sunset over the ocean,” he murmured. “Just like when we watched my sandcastles get washed away.”


Chapter Six:
Ed heard the soft murmur and watched as Tom took photos, wondering just how much Tom remembered. “There must be an awful lot in his mind,” he thought. “Not just from his time here either. His awakening might be as traumatic as Stephanie’s.”
They turned towards the house and heard a cacophony of crashing metal that made them both start running. Tom reached the kitchen first and saw Sara sitting on the floor surrounded by pots and lids, with baking trays strewn across the floor. “Sara! Are you alright? What happened?” Ed stepped in to help her up as she answered. “I was carrying the cookie sheets to put away and bumped into the saucepan stand with the toe of my shoe. The whole thing just came down around me.” “Are you hurt?” asked Tom and Ed together. “I don’t think so, everything seems to be working, but I think I’ll sit in my chair for a while and catch my breath. It was a bit of a shock to find myself suddenly on the floor like that.” Ed helped Sara to her favourite armchair while Tom picked up trays and pots, then put the kettle on for a cup of tea. “I’ll get you into a nice warm bath a bit later and I’ll rub some Arnica oil on any bruises that show up,” said Ed. “Can’t have you looking like you went five rounds with Mike Tyson now, can we?”
“Oh, I hope I don’t bruise,” said Sara. “Not with Tom’s parents arriving soon. I’m so eager to meet them.” “They’ll be just as eager to meet you too,” said Tom, handing Sara a cup of tea. “Do you need anything else?” “Just pass me that notebook over by the sink please Tom, I’m checking the shopping list. I think I need more cinnamon after that last batch of snickerdoodles. Ed likes them with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.” Ed said, “Why don’t I go and get that shoebox again, we haven’t had a look through that yet, now seems like a good time.” “Could we wait until Mum and Dad get here? There’s something else I’d like to clear up,” said Tom. “Well alright, let’s all sit here in the kitchen and talk. What is it you want to know?” “It’s the time difference,” said Tom. “You said Frank’s been gone almost twenty years and that’s about right, it’s been sixteen years, close enough to twenty, but then you said Stephanie must be forty-two soon, in July, and she was twenty-two when she was my babysitter, that’s twenty years, but since it’s only really been sixteen, Stephanie should be thirty-eight next July. Where has the time difference come from? Why the confusion?”
“That’s our fault,” said Sara. “Stephanie suffered a lot of confusion and the passing of visible time seemed to make things hard for her, so we removed clocks and calendars and just sort of avoided telling her what the date was and the seasons all sort of ran together for her.” Ed said, “You see, what happened the night you disappeared wasn’t her first head injury.” “She was injured?” asked Tom. “Knocked out cold,” said Ed, “had a huge bump on her head and we don’t know how long she was out before she woke up and found your mother.” “Her first head injury was a few years before that,” said Sara. “She lived here with her parents, they’d bought the place to run as a bed and breakfast. Jim and Melissa Hammer they were. The Scenic Retreat used to belong to us, we lived in that rundown old cabin at the back, the one visible from the road. Of course it wasn’t so run down then. Anyway, we thought since we were getting on a bit, selling it to them would be a good idea. They kept us on to help out.”
“That was part of the deal,” said Ed. “We have no desire to live anywhere else, we love this clifftop, it’s been our home almost since our honeymoon. We wouldn’t have sold it to anyone who would ask us to leave.” Sara continued, “Anyway, Melissa heard about a tour of a ceramics factory over in the next town and thought maybe they could buy some pieces to put around here, on side tables and in the dining room. They all went together and there was an accident. The kiln exploded.” Tears came to her eyes and Ed took over the telling. “A lot of people were hurt, Jim and Melissa were killed by the blast and Stephanie got a few cuts and bruises as well as a large cut above her ear. She was unconscious when they took her to hospital and she went into shock when she woke up to find her parents had died at the scene.”
“Dr Jones wasn’t here then, he didn’t treat Stephanie that time, but he got all the records from old Dr Wurtzel, so he knows the whole history. Stephanie’s trouble with accepting time passing began back then,” said Ed.  “But she recovered?” asked Tom. “You said she’d been to an audition the night my other was killed” “So she did,” said Sara, “and it’s getting late now, why don’t I serve dinner and we can talk while we eat. There’s been a lot happening since you showed up and it’s only your first day.” “I am hungry,” said Tom. “Let me help you. Is dinner that wonderful stew I smell on the stove there?”
“That is our dinner for sure,” said Ed with a big grin. “Sara makes the best beef stew for miles. We’ll get out a loaf of her homemade bread too and eat right here in the kitchen where the light is brightest.” They all settled at the table with bowls of stew and hunks of bread torn right off the loaf. No one spoke for a few minutes as the first mouthfuls of stew were savoured. At Ed’s direction, Tom got up and poured them all glasses of apple cider. “The audition was for a part in a Christmas play,” said Sara. “The program is on the wall over there by the window. Stephanie co-wrote the play and wanted to be in it too. It was to be “The Lament of The Elves” and all about Santa’s Elves being grumpy because Christmas is always about Santa and the Reindeer, while The Elves got hardly any recognition.” “Sounds like a great play,” said Tom. “Did it still go on?”
“It had to,” said Ed. “All the tickets were pre-sold, it was a school production and the kids had sold tickets to their families.” “We don’t know who took Stephanie’s part or even if she had a part,” said Sara. “How about we leave the rest of the story until tomorrow. When your parents get here, we’ll have to go over it all again too,” said Ed. “We’re all a bit tired I think and I’d like to get Sara bathed and in bed after that fall.” “I think that’s a good idea,” said Tom. “Why don’t you go ahead with that and I’ll clean up the kitchen. Do you want the stew leftovers in the fridge?”

Chapter Seven:
“In the fridge? Yes please Tom. I’ll use the meaty gravy to make a pie for our lunch,” said Sara as she limped away supported by Ed. “A nice shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes on top.” Sara yawned then and Tom noticed how much more tired she looked since the fall. Ed said, “A warm bath first love, and I’ll check for bruising.”
“That pie sounds wonderful Sara, now don’t worry about a thing here, I know how to clean up a kitchen, Mum taught me well.” As Tom washed up and searched for the right places to put things away, he listened to the muted sounds coming from Ed and Sara’s rooms and wondered again why he felt so comfortable here. After just one day, he loved Ed and Sara as much as he did Robert and Vanessa.
A cursory glance around the kitchen to see things were shipshape and Tom noticed the duct-taped shoebox where Ed had placed it on the big old oak bookshelf in the corner. Such an innocuous item, yet one that held such promise. Tom lifted it, feeling its weight, then placed it back on the shelf. He’d been eager to open it at first, now he wanted all four of the others around him when he did so. Tom went to bed wondering if he would be able to sleep, but almost immediately felt the black velvet creeping in. “Must be the sea air,” he thought as sleep claimed him.
In the morning, Tom surprised Ed and Sara with a bacon and egg breakfast and was pleased to see Sara eat a healthy portion. He asked their plans for the day, mentioning that he could stay around if they felt they needed help with anything. “We’ll be fine love, you go and do whatever you want. I’ll be spending the morning in my kitchen making that shepherd’s pie and Ed will be around if I need help with anything,” said Sara. “I’m glad to see you’re okay after that fall,” said Tom, “so I’ll do as I first planned and go down to the town. I’ll phone Mum and Dad, see how close they are and I’ll drop in at the Library, see if I can look up old newspaper articles from sixteen years ago. Maybe I can stumble onto something that will help us find out more about what happened. I had planned on doing the rounds of Hotels in the area to see if anyone remembered anything, but I feel I don’t need to now that you’ve told me who I am. I’ll leave the shoebox until Mum and Dad get here. I’m itching to know what’s inside, but I can wait. It’s been waiting for me all these years, another day or so won’t make any difference now.”
As Tom walked the goat track back to town, he noticed the doctor on the tourist trail, on his way up to speak to Ed about Stephanie. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation,” he thought. He had no memories of Stephanie, perhaps they’d come back with time, or if anything else triggered them. Like seeing her. So much of his past was hidden from him, the years between four and six a gigantic sea of faces, places and confusion, until he started school. Tom remembered the early school days well enough, his jealous feelings of the other kids who had family and a home they’d known all their lives. The following six years had been rough, then he’d been taken to Robert and Vanessa Moore and had his life turned around.
Reaching town, Tom went first to the Post Office where he phoned Vanessa from the public phone box, calling their mobile phone since he knew they might have already left the farm. He was surprised to hear they were already at the Hotel. Vanessa answered the phone. “Rob didn’t want to waste any time,” she said. “In between naps we took turns driving and arrived late last night. Thanks for holding the room for us, can you come and see us right now? Where are you?” “I’m at the Post Office just down the street, I’ll be there in five minutes!” A joyous reunion followed, with many hugs and exclamations over Tom’s new tan and how well he looked. They all went downstairs to the Hotel’s café and Vanessa briefly mentioned the paperwork they’d brought along, then Tom filled them in on everything that had happened the previous day. “It’s the strangest thing,” he said. “After only one day with Ed and Sara, their name is Saunders, I feel as comfortable with them as I do with you two. And I think they can tell me much more than I might find out through official channels. They remember my parents being here all those years ago. Their names were Cherie and Frank Kendall and Cherie was a photographer. They’re very eager to meet you so we can all talk together.”
“We’re keen to meet them too,” said Robert. “Vanessa here insisted on buying a small gift too, to thank them for their kindliness to a stranger at their door.” “But you aren’t exactly a stranger to them, are you Tom? Do you have any memories of them like they do of you?” “No, I don’t,” said Tom. “But there’s something. A familiarity with the kitchen and sitting room up there. I can’t put my finger on it, but Sara said I spent many hours there and we all even slept up there for a while, my other parents and me, that is, in the same room I slept in last night.” “How about you show us around the town a bit before we all go trooping up there,” said Robert. “Anything interesting to see?” “Not a lot right now, it’s the off season for tourists, and I don’t really know what makes the ‘on’ season, why people come here for the summer. But I can show you the Post Office, which is also the General Store and Market with fresh produce from some of the surrounding farms. And Curly Cuts. That’s a hairdresser-beauty parlour and Sara asked e to make appointments for her and you Mum, on Thursday, she thought you’d like a bit of pampering after a long drive.”
“That’s very sweet of her,” said Vanessa. “I’d love a salon treatment, it’s been a long while since anyone washed my hair for me and a professional manicure is long overdue too. Let’s go off and find Curly Cuts before we do anything else.” They left the café and asked the receptionist for directions, even though Tom had been there the day before, then walked in the opposite direction from the Post Office and turned left at Cove Street to find Curly Cuts almost immediately. “Well that was easy enough,” said Robert. “Do you want to go in and have a proper look Van?” “I think I’ll wait until I go with Sara, now that I know how easy it is to find,” said Vanessa. “She can introduce me to the girls who work there. Let’s have a look at the Post Office Market place and anywhere else Tom wants to show us.” Tom said,” I haven’t seen much of Shark Cove myself yet. My first stop was the jetty the night I arrived, the one I told you was in the photo I found behind the Mona Lisa. Right there is where I remembered being four and running along the beach with my father and making sandcastles that got washed away when the tide came in. There was a puppy too, I don’t know what happened to him. I can’t even remember his name. We ate ice creams because it was my birthday.”
He turned to see Vanessa looking apprehensive, her delicate features a mix of joy and worry. Immediately understanding why, he reached to hug her close, saying, “Nothing can change the fact you’re my Mum and Dad now, and always will be as far as I’m concerned. I love you both so much. I’m just so excited to finally be finding out things about myself, things I thought I’d never want to know. Before I came to you, I spent so many years pretending I didn’t care about myself, or what happened to me. I was just getting through day by day, then you two took me in and made us a family.” Robert joined the hug, saying, “We’re proud to have you son. You’ve done us proud too, since that first day, when you looked so beaten down by life. After you’d gone to sleep, we talked all night, Van and me, decided to treat you like a son, like you’d always been with us. We’d ignore all the bad reports so we wouldn’t be biased and just get on with it.”
“It seems to have worked,” said Tom with a grin. “Let’s go to the Post Office and I’ll introduce you to Bill Money who runs the whole place on his own until tourists come in for the summer.”



Chapter Eight
Bill Money was pleased to meet Tom’s parents and very happy that Tom had got on so well with Ed and Sara Saunders. “They could use a new young face around there,” he said. “They’ve been looking after that place for Stephanie Hammer since her parents died, but that girl just isn’t the happy-go-lucky spirit she used to be. She’s been real quiet, traumatised they say, since that happening here all those years ago. Used to be a bit quirky, and a real flirty type, but a good girl, nothing slutty about her.”
“What happened?” asked Vanessa. “Well, I don’t remember so much about it, but a woman was accidentally killed and her husband hasn’t been seen since then either. I heard it was a violent argument going on, but can’t say for sure. I was away at the time, doing a marketing course at the college in the city and studying management too. I wanted this job when I got back, the old manager, James Edison was looking forward to retiring. They say a little boy went missing, maybe kidnapped by the lady’s husband.”
“Oh, that’s just awful,” said Vanessa. Bill said, “Things have been pretty quiet around here since then, a lot of the tourist trade didn’t come around after the ceramics factory blew up over in the next town. It’s picked up in recent years, people are starting to forget I suppose.”
“We’re interested in history like that,” said Robert. “How can we find out more about these things?” “Well, the Saunders, Ed and Sara, up at the Retreat, they know a lot I think, Tom went up and met them yesterday, and there’s probably old newspaper files at the Library, but that’s closed this week. Mrs Gardiner who runs it, she’s in the city visiting her daughter and a new grandbaby, little girl it is.”
“Do you have a map of the town at all?” asked Tom. “Like you’d give out to tourists so they can find their way around, you know, to restaurants and a museum maybe. Places of interest.” “There should be a few left over in the cabinet here,” said Bill, going over to a cupboard under the window. “We’ve sent away for new ones, now there’s a few new places around and that new street off to the east, past the old football oval, that isn’t on the old maps, but I can draw it in for you.”
“What’s on the new street?” asked Robert. “Nothing much yet, it’s still under construction, but word is there’s going to be a little fun fair thing with a miniature train ride and a small merry-go-round, things like that. It’s going to be for kids, for birthday parties and such.”
“That sounds wonderful,” said Vanessa as Bill drew the new road onto a couple of maps and put a yellow star sticker by the Library building, then handed them to Robert and Vanessa. “Should be,” said Bill. “At least it might bring new tourists to town.” Tom led the way into the market area of the Post Office and they shopped for fresh fruit and some of Vanessa’s favourite instant coffee, then Tom suggested they head up the hill toward the Retreat. “I know it’s early yet, but I know you both want to meet the Saunders and there’s going to be lots of conversation, probably hours of talking in between cups of tea and you’ll want to look around on the way there too.”
Robert and Vanessa both nodded and looked at him during this sudden show of enthusiasm and Tom grinned. “Alright,” he said. “I have an ulterior motive. I want to be back up there well before nightfall, the sunset over the ocean is the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen and I want to get more photos from different angles up there.” Robert said, “You said Cherie, that’s your mother? You said she was a photographer too?” “That’s what Sara said,” said Tom. “No wonder you’re so comfortable with cameras,” said Vanessa.
“I thought that right away,” said Tom as they walked back to the Hotel. “It’s nice to know some of the things I got from them. Ed says I look a lot like Frank, I have his height and Sara says my hair and smile are all Cherie.” “Now I’m really looking forward to meeting them,” said Vanessa. “Can we drive up there? Is there a good road?” “There is a road,” said Tom, “let’s have a look at the map here and see where it starts. I’ve only seen the Retreat end of it, I walked up the ‘goat track’ yesterday.” “Goat track?” said Robert with raised eyebrows. “Easy or hard?” “Depends how agile you are and how much time you have I suppose. I think you could do it Dad, but not Mum. We’d better drive today and I’ll show you the track tomorrow. We need to find the Police Station too, Sara said, now that I’ve been “found” they’ll have to know, but there’s no rush. We can all sit down and talk everything out first.”
“Well alright then. Let’s not linger, we can always come back and look around once we settle in a bit. We’ll just get a few things from our room and get going,” said Robert. “There’s something else,” said Tom. “Ed brought out an old shoebox, sealed with duct tape, he said it was everything left in the room where Frank and Cherie and me stayed when we were all up there. I didn’t open it yet, I wanted to, but then Sara had a fall and I forgot about it until later. Now I want all of you there when I open it.” “Is Sara alright?” asked Vanessa. “What happened?” “She caught her toe against the saucepan stand and it crashed over on her, she seemed alright this morning though.” “Let’s get up there,” said Robert. “I want to meet them, they sound like a wonderful old couple.”
They talked about home then, how things were and who was minding the farm. “Gary Johnson,” said Robert. “He really enjoyed learning about stuff when he stayed with you that Christmas, wants to be a permaculture farmer now.” “He’ll be good at it, he’s got a feel for it,” said Tom as they neared the hotel. “I’d like to drive the jeep up to the Retreat, get a feel for that road, you can follow me up if that’s alright with you?”
“Good idea,” said Robert. “That way we can all come and go as we please. We’ll just collect a few things for now.” “Do you need any help?” said Tom. “No love,” said Vanessa. “We haven’t unpacked a single thing yet, we were just about to when you phoned, so we locked up the cases and then you were at the door.”

Chapter Nine
Dr Bruce Jones knocked at the Retreat door and was let in by Ed. They chatted a while and Bruce asked about Sara, learned about the fall, and wondered if he should take a quick look at her. Ed said,” there’s no need Bruce, she’s just as she always is, no damage at all, a little bruising where a pot landed on her shin, but she’s getting around okay and her head is clear, eyes are sparkly as always.”
“Good to hear,” said Bruce. “Bring her in if anything changes, okay?” “I will,” said Ed. “You’ll see her for yourself a bit later anyway, she’ll bring us a cup of tea and some cake I’m sure. Now, about Stephanie. She’s been doing okay with the painting therapy, lots of canvasses with big empty desert spaces, I imagine that’s how her mind feels, empty. But just yesterday…well come in and see.”
They entered the sunlit studio, with floor to ceiling windows looking over the ocean, and Ed brought Bruce over to the easel where Stephanie’s latest work stood drying. “Look at this now. The desert, with a few cactus, but look at the shading, the detail, this is extraordinary compared to what Stephanie usually does. There’s so much more in this.” “Hmmm,” said Bruce. “Has she always used colour for her painting? This certainly is an excellent piece, it seems she has a real talent hidden away there.”
Ed said, “well, in the beginning, the paintings were mostly brownish, like a dull ochre, I’d say a desert in a windstorm is a good description, look at this one here,” and he pulled a canvas from the back of a stack leaning against a wall. “See what I mean?” Bruce nodded, then asked,” When did the colours begin happening?” “Within a month,” said Ed. “We ran out of brown and Steph just stood looking at her canvas for quite a while, then suddenly picked up the yellow and grey and made a mix to cover the canvas, just thin, like a wash, then she started with the dull green and I thought she was doing trees, but they became cactus.”
“And then this?” asked Bruce. “Not right away,” said Ed. “She did empty scenes for weeks and this one here looked just like those at first, then I went out to see who had come calling, Sara was a bit excited about this young man, seemed like someone we knew long ago. I got back to the studio and mentioned Sara wanted Steph to help make up the guest room for Tom, that’s the young fellow who came visiting, and Steph actually said something. Spoke a bit dreamy like, said she knew a Tom once but he went away, then she had that blank face again and went off to help Sara with the sheets and things and I came over and saw this. Took my breath away with the beauty it did.”
Bruce looked shocked at this news. “She spoke? I’ve been treating her for years and there’s never been one word and now she’s said a whole sentence?” “That’s right,” said Ed. “Sara said she almost said something to her later as well, when they were making up the guest room and Sara saw a bit of the old Stephanie just for a moment.” “That’s interesting, the speech as well as the painting,” said Bruce. “You know I’ve bought paper and pencils for her at your suggestion, but she’s never done anything like this down at the clinic. Andrea has seen her at the easel there, says Stephanie gets quite feverish, scribbling furiously with her pencil, but always just the black one and there’s never a picture. Just black right across the page until the pencil wears down, then she stops and seems exhausted. It’s quite disturbing to see the difference between here and there.”
“She’s never chosen the black here,” said Ed. “Always reached for the brown first, then one day, after the brown was gone, I mixed up the tubes instead of laying them out and she looked through and made her choice like any normal, sensible person would, chose the yellow and grey to make a wash, I thought she must have been watching me and learned to do it that way.”
Sara called up just then to ask if they were ready for afternoon tea, the chocolate cake was iced and sliced and how many pieces would they like? “Up here or down in the kitchen?” said Ed. “In the kitchen,” said Bruce. “There’s more chairs and I like to sit at a table. I can watch Sara too, see how she is after that fall.” Ed led the way down the three steps from the studio, along the short hallway into the kitchen where a cheery tablecloth was laid out with teapot, cups and plates of cake. Bruce watched Sara bustling about and was convinced she was fine, then asked about Stephanie. “Stephanie seems just fine,” said Sara, pouring out the tea. “I noticed a little pink in her cheeks and asked if she’d been walking in the sun. I thought she was about to say something, she looked right at me, but then she just got a blanket for the end of the bed and that was that. Moment gone.”
“Ed told me she spoke up in the studio, a whole sentence. That’s a real surprise. There hasn’t been a single word from Stephanie for years, although she occasionally muttered ‘Frank’ in her sleep. I don’t know about recently, we stopped monitoring her sleep when the nightmares stopped, it seemed like an invasion of her privacy,” said Bruce. “There was one time she said ‘eclipse’ instead of ‘Frank’, which seemed odd at the time, but reading through Ben Wurtzel’s notes I found she got that knock on the head on the night of an eclipse, but nothing makes sense about the ‘Frank’ or her drawings which are just deep black scribble.”
“Just scribble?” asked Sara. “But her drawings here are actual pictures, the paintings I mean, yesterday’s one is lovely. More cake?” “No thanks Sara, I’d better not. If I’m not hungry at dinner Andrea will know I’ve eaten cake and you know she doesn’t approve of sweet things before dinner.” “I’ll put it away then,” said Sara. “We can have the rest of it for dessert.” Ed said, “I’ve been thinking about what you said, the difference between here and the clinic. Maybe it would help if Stephanie spent more time here? There’s plenty of room, her parents were planning to run this as a bed and breakfast place and it is Steph’s real home after all. She might be happier here.”
“It’s something to think about,” said Bruce. “We’d have to proceed with caution, I’d have to brief you on her regular routine and how she copes generally. I don’t see any evidence of senility in either of you and you aren’t weak physically, but you are getting on in years and Stephanie is quite young still. If something should happen that you can’t cope with, we’d need to have a plan in place. “How about we all get together next week and hash this out,” suggested Ed. “That’s a plan,” said Bruce. “I’ll have Andrea get on the old typewriter and print up Stephanie’s routine, she still prefers it over the computer, says she likes old-fashioned things better. Now tell me about this visitor you’ve got.”
“A lovely young man,” said Sara. “A photographer, although I think that’s just a hobby, he got a bit excited about the scenery here and phoned his parents, he’s having a bit of a holiday away from their farm, and they decided to come down and see for themselves. He’s down in the town now, he phoned while I was icing the cake. His parents arrived earlier than expected and they’ll come up here for dinner tonight.” Ed was silent while Sara prattled on and wondered why she was leaving out important parts of the story. Protecting Tom’s privacy perhaps? Things would be out in the open soon enough when the Police were told he’d appeared out of nowhere, but keeping it quiet for now might be the best idea.

Chapter Ten
Ed glanced at Bruce and wondered suddenly if mentioning Tom’s name had been a mistake. Not many people knew he was here, the Police certainly needed to be told soon and with Sara being deliberately evasive, Ed realised he should be too. More so now that he knew Stephanie had been having nightmares about Frank. Then again, they only had Bruce’s word about the nightmares, they could have been ordinary dreams. What did they really know about Dr Bruce Jones and his wife anyway? Ed didn’t recall hearing anything about where they had come from or how long they had been planning to spend at Shark Cove. They weren’t seen around town either, Andrea had never been to Curly Cuts, nor had either of them shopped at the local Post Office market.
“A photographer?” asked Bruce. “Where is he from?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” said Sara. “There’s a home farm somewhere upstate, his parents grow fruits and vegetables, they have a few chickens for eggs. Oh, look at the time!” She pushed her chair back and moved towards the fridge. “I really must get the vegetables started.” Bruce recognised the signal and also stood. “I should be getting back too, I told Andrea I wouldn’t be long. She’s making plans for a trip to the city soon and needs my input. Interesting to hear about Stephanie’s paintings and her use of colours, that’s definitely a change for the better. I should review her case and think about new approaches to her treatment. Like staying here more, as you’ve suggested. I’ll see myself out. Thanks for that wonderful cake Sara.”
Ed and Sara listened for Bruce’s car leaving, then looked at each other. “You thinking what I’m thinking?” said Ed. “That we should keep Tom out of sight for a while?” said Sara. “Yep. But that’s not going to be easy, he’s already been seen in town and he’s there now, bringing his parents here.” Sara said,” I’ve got a funny feeling about Bruce now. We’ve never known him or Andrea well, they don’t socialise and he never mentions anything about that hospital, not even any gossip about the staff. I don’t think anyone in town knows any more than we do either.” “You’re right,” said Ed. “All we know is that he’s treating Stephanie.” Sara said, “So different from Ben Wurtzel and Matron Kathleen, they were always around and visitors were always welcome at the hospital. Now nobody seems to go there, we don’t even know if there are still patients beside Stephanie.” “Or staff,” said Ed. “I get the feeling there isn’t any.”
Sara pulled vegetables from the fridge and began peeling and chopping. “Would you check on that roast beef Ed? It should be about done, you could move it to the bench near the carving knife and cover it with some foil to keep it warm and turn the oven up a bit for the potatoes to be roasting.” Ed knew Sara was prattling on as away to close off an unknown fear, she’d let her subconscious sort things through and there’d be an intense conversation later. He had his own thoughts to sort out and thought that talking to Tom and his parents would help. The sound of unfamiliar cars made him look out the window and see a battered old Jeep driven by Tom, followed by a dark green sedan driven by a man who was clearly Robert going by Tom’s description. Tom helped Vanessa out while Robert removed a suitcase from the back seat, then Tom took his camera bag from the Jeep and they all came to the door. Ed and Sara were both there by then and opened it before they could knock.
“Hello, hello,” with big smiles. “Come in, Tom’s told us all about you, I feel as if we know you well already,” said Sara. “Good of you both to come,” said Ed. “I’m Ed Saunders, this is my wife Sara, come into the sitting room and rest a bit. I have a feeling we’re going to be doing a lot of talking.” “It’s very lovely to meet you both,” said Vanessa. “I’m Vanessa, but please call me Van, it’s what I’m used to.” “I’m Rob,” said Robert, exchanging a firm handshake with Ed. “We’d love a sit down, been wandering around the town a bit, Tom’s shown us the Post Office and where Curly Cuts is.” “I’ll make a pot of tea,” said Sara. Unless you’d prefer coffee? We only have instant right now, that fancy cappuccino machine has broken down. Lucky for us it isn’t tourist season for a few months yet.”
“Tea would be wonderful,” said Vanessa. “Can I help bring in cups and saucers?” “Oh, would you?” said Sara. “It’s been a long time since I had a woman’s help in the kitchen. Not since Melissa died. There’s been a girl or two from town to help out when people stay, but that’s not the same. They’re like chattering magpies those girls, all gossip and no substance it seems.” “I know what you mean,” smiled Vanessa. “They’ll grow out of that though, the years between school and steady jobs go fast enough. Tom himself has only recently been more man than boy.”
Sara set a plate of shortbread on the tray alongside the cups and saucers and Vanessa carried it to the sitting room while Sara followed with the teapot. Ed and Robert looked up as they entered and both smiled at the women they loved. “Look at those happy faces,” said Robert. “Ten minutes in a kitchen and they’re best friends already.” “Where’s Tom?” asked Vanessa. “Putting away his camera,” said Ed. “He’ll be right down. I feel I’ve made a new friend myself Rob. We’re looking forward to hearing about Tom’s earlier years from you two.” “We only know what Tom has told us,” said Sara, “and of course the time he was here as a small child.”
Tom entered carrying the duct-taped shoebox of memories and placed it on the sideboard before pouring himself a cup of tea. “What is that mouth-watering aroma coming from the kitchen?” “Roast beef,” said Sara. “I do hope you’ll all stay for dinner, I’ve prepared extra vegetables in case.” ”We’d love to,” said Vanessa. “Rob loves a good roast dinner.” “He sure does,” said Tom. “I’ve seen him eat until he couldn’t stuff in another mouthful.”
Big grins from everyone and it was decided. Right then a new family was formed. Conversation flowed like a waterfall. The home farm, Rob and Van’s drive to the coast, “closer than we thought,” laughter about Tom’s first attempt to drive the tractor, tales about the Scenic Retreat, “I love the name,” said Vanessa, the story of how Jim and Melissa Hammer died before their dream of a Bed and Breakfast could be realised. “This is the Melissa you mentioned in the kitchen?” asked Vanessa. “Yes,” said Sara. “They bought this place from us and kept us on as help, we never wanted to leave here anyway, so that was the original plan and they were happy with it. Their daughter Stephanie had a breakdown when they died and another on the night Tom was taken.”
“Where is she now?” asked Robert. “There’s a small private hospital just one valley over, Steph’s there under the care of a Dr Bruce Jones and his wife, Andrea,” said Ed. “She comes here quite a bit,” said Sara. “This is her rightful home and Ed is teaching her to paint as part of her therapy, but she doesn’t talk at all, has an emptiness about her, almost as if Stephanie has gone away and just the shell is here. I’m sure she knows who we are though, she seems comfortable being here.” Tom said, “She used to babysit me sometimes, but I don’t remember her at all. Of course I haven’t seen her yet, that might help.” “We’re not sure how Stephanie will react though,” said Ed. “She was very friendly with Frank and Cherie, that’s Tom’s parents, his other parents, and Steph was broken up so much over what happened that night. She hasn’t been able to speak of it, not one word. It was her that found Cherie dead and with Tom looking so much like Frank, we don’t know what seeing him might do. Will it shock her into further retreat or will it wake her up?”





Chapter Eleven

Dr Bruce Jones drove away from the Retreat seething with anger, his mind roiling with possible problems. Stephanie Hammer waking up, becoming more aware, was the biggest of them. “Out of the question,” he roared, thumping his fist on the steering wheel. The car swerved sharply and skidded in the gravel on the verge. Bruce corrected the steering and drove on. He’d bet his last dollar Andrea had been taking some of the pills meant for Stephanie. He’d have to lock them away and take over administering the medication himself. Andrea’s weak conscience must be stirring again. “This has to stop,” he thought. “I haven’t come this far just to go back to prison.” He had no idea what was in the pills, getting them off the black market from a friend who had a friend who ‘knew someone’, all he knew was they did their job and kept Stephanie hopelessly dazed during the days and restless in her sleep. He had convinced her the pills were to help stop nightmares, so she took one each night without question.
Bruce, with his usual dogmatic nature, resolved to pay more attention to Andrea, watching her moods in particular. If her conscience was rearing its head, he’d have to remind her that she was an accessory and had just as much chance as he had of being tried and sentenced, then riding in shackles on that big black bus to prison, where her passions for shoes, theatre, and other city excitements would be denied her. And would there be a visitor to come and see her on visiting days? Of course not, since he would most likely be in a prison far, far away from hers. It didn’t matter one bit that the whole thing had been a series of horrible mistakes from the beginning. Too many years had passed and the law did not look too kindly on those who held back information, especially if they were also the guilty parties. Not the only guilty parties, but Andrea’s brother Barry had died from a heroin overdose and although his mate Lindsay was never seen again, that didn’t mean he might not pop up at any moment.
“The optimum outcome,” Bruce thought,” would be to have Stephanie stay just as I have her for another few years. As for Andrea, I’ll just have to see how things pan out. Stephane staying at the Retreat more often sounds good on the surface, but if she doesn’t get the medication and starts remembering more, things will go downhill faster than a runaway train. I’m going to have to make new plans and keep them fluid. Thank goodness Frank Kendall never got found. It’s a good thing too, that Andrea never knew what Barry did with the body.”
He rounded a corner and stopped on the side of the road to look at “his” hospital. There were no patients now except Stephanie, the others had moved on once it was known Dr Wurtzel wasn’t coming back. No one new had been admitted since then and it was widely assumed the hospital had closed. It was so isolated it was easy to let people think that and keep his operations secret. He just needed a couple more years. He’d forgotten completely that most of the townspeople still remembered the hospital, even though none of them came there anymore.
He drove on down to the clinic, as he preferred to call it, still seething. He knew he needed to calm down, but with things possibly beginning to unravel, it wasn’t easy. Those black market pills weren’t easy to come by and the price had increased threefold in the past couple of years. If Andrea had been nicking one here and there…well, the horrifying consequences didn’t bear thinking about. He had to keep Stephanie under his thumb. She simply couldn’t be allowed to remember. Some sort of story would have to be fabricated to keep Ed and Sara Saunders satisfied too. They would be only too happy to see Stephanie recover.
He locked his car and stormed inside, buzzing down the hall like an angry hornet. He yanked open his file cabinet and searched for the number he needed to call his friend, the one who had a friend who ‘knew someone’. He’d order a double batch of the pills this time and keep them locked in his office, away from Andrea. She’d damaged his plans enough already.  Bruce didn’t like the fact people were now staying at the Retreat either. His plans for an accident to the old couple would have to go on hold. More time wasted. He headed to the living room, searching for Andrea. New rules were about to be laid down, plans were about to be changed. If she didn’t like it, that was just too bad.
Bruce found Andrea mindlessly watching television, some silly thing about Godzilla Brides, Bridezillas, whatever they called themselves. He grabbed the remote control and turned it off, forcing Andrea to look up at him. He could see in her eyes she’d taken something to numb herself while he was out. His anger spiralled higher and he forced himself to take a couple of deep, slow breaths. In a chilling voice he asked what she had taken. “Just a couple of Valium, that’s all,” she said. “I was feeling antsy, you’ve been charging around like a bull in a china shop lately and you won’t tell me what’s going on.” “You know what’s going on,” he said. “Stephanie needs to be kept sedated, you can’t keep pinching her pills. She’s beginning to talk over at the Retreat and painting proper pictures too, none of that black scribble she draws here! Her mind is not as dull as it should be if you’re giving her the proper doses. Well, no more! I’m taking over giving her the pills now. There’s only a couple of years left, then she comes into her inheritance and we need her to sign everything over to me before that happens! Bad enough the whole thing was botched all those years ago. Your stupid brother and his dimwit mate taking out the wrong couple really put a spanner in the works. Not to mention saddling me with that kid! Now get yourself to bed and sleep off that chemical overload. I need you on full alert tomorrow.”  He briefly wondered if full alert was even possible anymore where Andrea was concerned.
“What happens tomorrow?” asked Andrea. Bruce said, “There are people staying at the Retreat. I need you to go to town tomorrow, see if you can find out who they are and how long they’re staying.  A young man and his parents.” “I wouldn’t know who to ask without seeming nosy,” slurred Andrea. “You know I don’t go down there, it’s such a tiny nothing of a place, people might think it strange if I start asking questions after ignoring them all these years.” “Well that’s your problem isn’t it?” said Bruce angrily. “I told you to make friends, but no, you had to keep pining for the big city. Just go down to that Post Office-General Store place and buy a few things, hover around listening in, say hello to a few people. Tell them you haven’t been well if they ask where you’ve been. That part’s true enough with all the pill popping you’ve been doing lately, you look like you’ve been seriously ill for months. Visit a café, get your hair done at that Curly Cuts place, it’s the only hairdresser in town anyway, people always talk while their hair is setting or drying or whatever goes on in there. And dress down a bit, leave the jewellery at home. There’s no need to drench yourself in diamonds every day.”

“Alright then,” said Andrea through a huge yawn. “But I want a trip to the city soon. I’m almost out of my favourite perfume and you know I can only get it at that little boutique “Friends of France”, and I want us to have dinner in a restaurant or nightclub where we can dance You can’t just keep me stuck here in the sticks like this!”

Chapter Twelve
Tom sat near the end of the jetty, arms wrapped around a support beam, bare feet dangling mere inches above the water. The crashing of each wave resonated within him and seemed to amplify each beat of his heart. The opening of that shoebox and his immediate reactions had placed him well and truly in the spotlight. All thoughts of trying to be casual, blasé, disappeared the minute the lid was lifted and he saw a child sized blue cotton sunhat with postage stamp images printed all over the brim. As if a valve had opened, his tears poured forth while he held the hat and remembered that day.
Sara and Vanessa sat on either side of him, each with an arm around his shoulders as Tom wept for things long gone. The hat had been part of a ‘beach set’, picked up in a bargain store. Packaged in something resembling a fishing net was the hat, a bucket and spade and a miniature fishing rod. Tom had worn the hat the day they’d made sandcastles, his Dad had promised one day they’d fish together with his new little fishing rod. Only the hat remained.
Once the tears subsided, Tom had set the little hat on his head where it promptly fell off, and reached into the box again. Inside was a smaller box, where he found his Dad’s gold watch and his own little plastic toy watch, packed away carefully so they wouldn’t get lost or damaged by the ocean. He placed his Dad’s watch on his own wrist and noticed how perfectly it fit. Next out of the box came a plastic bag of seashells Tom had collected and near the bottom of the shoebox was a small leather-bound album, filled with pictures Cherie had taken.
The same moonlit shot of the jetty which had started Tom on his road of discovery, a photo of Frank sitting in a giant armchair made of sand, Tom himself upending the castle-tower shaped bucket. Photos of Frank chasing Tom, photos of scenery that Cherie had taken for her assignment. Some had been taken from the same halfway point of the goat track and were similar to the ones Tom had taken just two days ago. Others appeared to have been taken from higher up the cliff and down into the valley beyond. A photo of Tom’s puppy as he jumped onto a sandcastle and collapsed it. “I remember you,” said Tom quietly. “Buster. What happened to you? Where are you now?” He pushed the photo into his shirt pocket. The last two pages held photos taken by Frank, of Cherie and Tom paddling ankle deep in the waves, splashing each other, Cherie pointing out a ship on the horizon.
“I remember some of these,” Sara said. “Cherie showed them to us after she developed them in the old darkroom out the back, remember that Ed?” “I do,” said Ed. “We’d not long finished setting up that room and Cherie put it to good use while she was here.” “Why have a darkroom way out here in the Retreat?” asked Robert. “It was Jim’s idea,” said Ed. “Stephanie’s Dad. They’d planned on making this a Bed and Breakfast with the idea of honeymooners also staying and he thought developing their holiday snaps while they were here would enhance their memories of a great time and generate a little extra cash too, maybe even some return business of “second honeymoons.”
“The whole idea fell flat when Jim and Melissa were killed,” said Sara. “We closed up the darkroom and only opened it when Cherie expressed an interest in seeing it. She helped us with the necessary things needed to develop film, telling us what to buy and where to get it, even rigged up the red light over the door, so we’d know not to open it while she was in there working.” “I’d like to have a look at that room myself, if you don’t mind. I could develop my film there too,” said Tom. “What a great idea,” said Robert and Ed together. “You’ve been wanting a darkroom of your own,” Robert stopped, a little embarrassed remembering Tom didn’t actually live at the Retreat.
“We’ll find the key in the morning,” said Sara, who knew exactly where it was. “Tom looks a bit wrung out, too much emotion all at once I’d say. I think a good sleep will help, then we can go on with this tomorrow.” Turning to Vanessa she said,” Would you and Robert like to stay overnight or go back to the Cove Hotel?” “We’ll go back to the Hotel,” said Robert. “We didn’t bring anything for an overnight stay. Perhaps we can discuss arrangements after breakfast?” Hugs were given, goodbyes were said and Tom’s parents drove back down the tourist road to the small town. Vanessa carried a small basket on her lap, within lay half an apple pie, the remains of dessert, for a late supper snack before Vanessa and Robert went to bed. Sara had promised cold roast beef sandwiches for lunch the next day, with home made bread and sweet pickles. “I’m looking forward to that,” said Robert as they slowly made their way downhill. “Me too,” said Vanessa, “it’s nice to have someone else do the cooking, but I think I may put on a ton of weight, Sara is such a good cook.”
Tom said goodnight to Sara and Ed, but soon found himself unable to sleep. The moon high in the sky let down plenty of light and he made his way easily to the jetty to sit and think, to remember, to try and settle his thoughts and calm his emotions. The turmoil within him promised to return as each memory surfaced and had to be dealt with. Tom was grateful for the support he knew he would receive from his parents, from Ed and Sara and hopefully, eventually, from Stephanie, who held so much locked away in her mind, just as Tom himself did. When the incoming tide sloshed each cold wave up to his ankles, Tom withdrew his feet and stood to walk back along the jetty. With a trick of moonlight and gossamer cloud, Tom imagined he saw Cherie, camera in hand, looking towards the stars. He returned to the Retreat and made his way to his room, where he opened the window wide to allow the soft evening air inside as he settled to sleep. He dreamed again of running along the beach with Buster, jumping onto sandcastles, splashing in the shallows.
Chapter Thirteen
Detective Inspector Stanley Grace saw the large, bright pink envelope on his desk even before he stepped through the doorway. To his partner at the other desk, he said “I see the madwoman up in the mountain lake area has sent us another of her predictions.” Irene Fargo’s lips twitched upward with amusement. “Every year for how long now?”  “Fourteen years now. You weren’t here for the first few,” replied Stanley. “Are we going to follow up as usual or give someone else a chance to meet the old dear?” said Irene. “Let’s see what she has to say before we decide.” Stanley opened the envelope addressed to him *and no one else*, heavily underlined, and withdrew a single sheet of paper faintly scented with lilac perfume.
“He is back!” declared the page, in uneven blocky print. “I been saying for years I see him coming. Now he is here. I seen him myself. You better come quick!”
“Irene, I think we’d best approach this ourselves, this isn’t the usual prediction of things to come.  She appears to be quite upset this time” He showed her the paper and suggested she go down to the vaults and collect all the relevant files on this old case. “We see them every year, so they should be close enough to find quickly. I’ll get on the phone and book us a couple of seats on the next plane going that way. I’ll ring the Chief first and let him know we’re going again.” Reminding himself to also pack a box of surgical gloves (the madwoman, Bernice, had a fear of bacteria), his mind drew forth the last time they’d been there. The exterior of the tiny hut had been freshly painted in a rainbow of pastel colours, but sloppily, as if done by hand by someone who knew nothing about painting. He’d come to realise over the years that Bernice wasn’t truly mad, just a little different, a person who ‘saw’ things much the same way a clairvoyant might. But she had spent many years locked in a psychiatric ward at that old hospital up in the valley behind that Scenic Retreat, back when people believed that sea air, exercise and fresh vegetables could help a lot with stabilising certain types of mental illness.
Stanley was just thinking they’d never yet visited the Retreat, when Irene came back with all the files on a wheeled cart and parked it midway between the desks, they would take the two most recent folders with them to refresh their memories as they flew to the nearest airport to Shark Cove, then a hired car would take them the rest of the way. Each of them had a “go-bag” with a change of clothes and emergency cash, stashed in a locker, so they’d be ready to go anywhere at a moment’s notice. Irene pulled hers out and checked it for toothpaste and brush, then dragged out Stanley’s bag. They didn’t know how long they’d be gone, but the Cove Hotel was nice, she remembered from last year and the post Office Market and Store could supply anything extra they needed. Irene pulled out a photo of Bernice and studied it. She had come to the case only six years ago, but a flicker in her memory said there was something about Bernice that looked familiar.
Their late afternoon flight was uneventful and the car they’d hired was clean and mechanically sound. Irene marvelled again at the change in scenery from the city to the cliffs region. Trees and grasses were more lush, more deeply coloured, with the changing colours of autumn evident in most of the trees. Pines were as green as always, standing straight and tall on either side of the road for several miles. As they neared the sea, the air cooled noticeably, Irene and Stanley both heard the faint sounds of waves crashing against rocks at the base of the cliffs a few hundred metres away. They arrived at the Cove Hotel too late to be hiking up to Bernice’s hut, they would catch a ride with the mail truck in the morning. As Stanley carried their go-bags upstairs, Irene spoke to the receptionist about calling them in time to get the ride. The receptionist, Karen, mentioned with a little surprise that Bernice had only recently come to town, catching a ride home again with the mail truck as Irene and Stanley were about to do.
“Isn’t it a little unusual for her to do this?” asked Irene. “A couple of times a year now, she comes down. I think she makes at least an effort to wash herself clean these days. She comes to the market for supplies she can’t grow or make for herself. Soaps and her supply of pink envelopes. She always steals a bottle of white lilac perfume too, but it isn’t a popular item, no one else buys it, so Bill usually ignores the bulge in her pocket. She always has a few coins, but we don’t know where she gets her money from.” Karen was quite the chatty one, thought Irene. “The pink envelopes are why Detective Inspector Grace and I are here,” she said. “Bernice sends us letter each year, warning of dire things to come, but this year’s message was different.” Irene hoped she wasn’t saying too much to a civilian. “Can you tell me about how Bernice appeared this year, was she calm or was she upset in anyway?”
Stanley came back downstairs then, joining Irene by reception and asking about the dining room. “Yes, the dining room is still open until eight o’clock,” said Karen. “Detective Fargo and I were just discussing Bernice, how she’d been to town recently, and now here you are looking for her.” “We’re grateful for any information you can give us, Karen,” said Stanley, moving towards the dining room. He and Irene had stayed at the Cove Hotel before, so he knew where the dining room was and hoped the menu still carried his favourite mashed potatoes with sausages and onion gravy. There was something about the way they cooked them here, the taste and texture was so much better than what he got regularly in the city. Perhaps it was simply that the vegetables were grown right here in the yard of the Hotel.
As they walked to a table, Karen told them that Bernice seemed well enough, a little wild in the eyes, like she’d seen a ghost, but no longer roamed the small town ranting and accosting people to warn them. “She’s also learned to stay away entirely during the tourist season, which most people are happy about. They all remember how kind Dr Wurtzel was to her, how he was helping her adjust to life outside of the ward. I think the new doctor doesn’t even know about her. Not that he comes here anyway, nor his wife. We’ve never seen her even once, only heard about her from the Saunders couple.”

“Saunders?” asked Stanley. “The old couple who are managing the Scenic Retreat,” said Karen. “Back to Bernice,” said Irene. “A little wild in the eyes? Like she’d seen a ghost?” “Yes,” said Karen, “and looking over her shoulder, turning around every few steps like she was expecting someone to be there, maybe thinking someone was following her. These days she waits for the mail truck to make the late run and gets a ride home, I think she’s getting on in years and can’t make it back up again on her own now. She was quite impatient waiting for Chaz, but didn’t want to wait inside in case she missed him. I took her out some water and a sandwich, actually got a smile from her.” Irene and Stanley ordered their dinners and discussed Bernice for a while, Stanley commenting how glad he was that small town people were much less furtive than city folk, much more likely to chat openly about anything and everything going on.


Chapter Fourteen



Detective Inspector Stanley Grace and Irene Fargo were just finishing breakfast when the morning receptionist, Vicky Applebee, came to tell them the mail truck was waiting for them by the Post Office. The driver introduced himself, “Charles, but everyone calls me Chaz,” and saw they were safely buckled in before starting the motor. “Goin’ up to see Bernice I hear,” he said. “She writes a letter every year to you people, brightens up the mailbags a bit, those pink envelopes. Won’t take long to get up there, not much mail to deliver either, no one between town and Bernice and only one small package for the Browns on the other side of the valley.”


“Have you been delivering the mail for long?” asked Irene. “Got the job right out of high school,” said Chaz proudly. “Arthur used to do it, and he knew I know the country here like the back of my hand, so he handed the truck keys over as soon as I had my licence. Now he just does the run when I have to be somewhere else, he grows the vegetables in the yard out back of the Hotel now. He’s got a bonza crop of pumpkins going, there’ll be pumpkin soup on the menu soon and roasted pumpkin too.”

“What can you tell me about this mountain lake area then?” asked Stanley. “Well it’s a series of valleys, the deepest one back beyond Bernice is actually a caldera, that’s the crater of an extinct volcano, and it’s got a lot of growth in it now, trees and grasses and such, the centre is filled with water, no one knows how deep it is, and there’s a stream comes from that, springs out about halfway down the outside of the mountain and runs past Bernice’s field, she gets her water from that since her well ran dry a couple of years back. The view across that lake is stunning around about sunset with the light glinting off the water and the shadows around the edges making a good contrast.”

“Sounds like you’re a bit of an artist,” said Irene, “your description paints a good picture.” Chaz said, “I do like to paint, but don’t do it so much anymore. I used to sit up in one of the caves and paint what I saw, then I got the mail run and now I spend a few days each month in the city. I’m doing a course in mechanics, so I can keep this old truck running like new. Wouldn’t be too good if I got a problem while away from town and no way to get help, so I carry the manual and some tools with me all the time too.”

“Very sensible of you,” said Stanley. “How much further to Bernice’s?” “Just about there,” said Chaz. “I heard you’ve been here before, but I didn’t take you, I’d remember that. Anyway, the hut looks a bit different now, the rainbow’s got patches where the paint don’t match. When it cracks or peels or something, old Bernice just slaps on a bit of new, but she ain’t particular about matching the colours anymore.”

The truck puttered around a wide bend and there was Bernice’s hut, the pastel rainbows now patched with differing shades of greens and browns, almost as if she was deliberately trying to camouflage it. Given the urgency of her latest communication, perhaps she was. “We’ll have to be a  bit delicate,” said Stanley, “she might be a bit spooked with whoever it is she’s seen, we should approach slowly, give her a chance to hear us and look out the window.” “Sounds like a plan, boss,” said Irene, as they both got out of the truck and waved goodbye to Chaz making his way further up the track. They stood for a minute appreciating the sights, then made sure to walk on the gravel path so Bernice could hear them coming.

“Should we have brought her a little something from town?” asked Irene. “She might think we’re a bit thoughtless coming to visit without something. I remember every time my mum visited the older women she would always take a cake or a packet of biscuits for when they had cups of tea.” “We never did bring anything before,” said Stanley, “so I think we’ll be okay on that score. Bang that knocker a couple of times, she’s had long enough to see that it’s us, she’s sharp enough to remember us still, I reckon.”

Bernice opened the door right away. “I seen you through the window,” she said, “knew you from the last few times, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on. I brought a fruit cake from town the other day, we can have some of that.” She put down the large book she had been reading, it was labelled mythology on the spine and Irene saw it was opened at a picture of the legendary Merlin with King Arthur and a few of the Knights. All held crossbows, but none were aimed at the unicorn they were watching as it drank from a stream. Irene already knew unicorns weren’t part of King Arthur’s story, but they had dragons in the television movies so why not a unicorn in a book?

Irene picked up the Mythology book asking, “Are you interested in all mythology or just certain stories?” “I like all the stories,” said Bernice. “I started reading from the first one, they’re alphabetical and I’m up to Merlin now. He’s a favourite.” She took the book and wiped the cover with a damp cloth then dried it carefully. Irene realised her mistake and apologised for not wearing gloves. “Not to worry,” said Bernice. “I’ve got these sanitising wipe things now and I can see you’re a clean person anyway. Not sick or anything, like some you see, sneezing and coughing everywhere. I’m relieved you’ve come so quickly this time. Come in and sit down, I’ll bring the tea and cake. I remember you like your tea black Inspector Grace, Detective aren’t you, that’s right.” Bernice wandered towards the kitchen muttering to herself. “Gotta tell about the man, don’t forget.” Stanley and Irene let themselves into the small living room and made sure notepads and pens were ready. It was obvious Bernice had a tale to tell and they wondered what was at the beginning of it all. All they had to go on were the roughly penned letters that came every year in the pink envelopes.

“Has to be about something that happened here, in this area,” said Irene. “What do you know about things from that long ago?” “Not much,” said Stanley. “There’s some cold cases back in the old files room, we may be able to link to something there, depending on what Bernice has to say.” “Hmm,” said Irene. “All we really have is the letters that have come every year, nothing in any of them to suggest a link to anything else, so really there’s nothing to go on, unless Bernice has seen someone specific that we can connect something to.”

Bernice came in just then wheeling an old tea-lady style trolley and laid out cups and saucers. Waving expansively across the table, she suggested Stanley and Irene come over and help themselves. “This ain’t no hotel and I’m no waitress,” she declared. “You make your tea the way you want it and slice the cake thick as you like.” When they were all settled with tea and cake, Stanley asked about the urgency and who it was Bernice had seen. “The man! I seen the man! The one what was here a long time ago and did something bad.” “How long ago did this bad thing happen?” said Stanley. “How can you be sure it is the same man? He has probably changed a lot since then.” Bernice rose from her chair and stalked about rather theatrically, waving her arms, mumbling, then started, “Years and years ago, I was in old Doc Wurtzel’s hospital, looked after me good he did, old Doc. Anyway I was allowed to go out for walks and stuff, so one night I’m walking down around the town, looking in windows to see clocks, ‘cause I have to be back in time for late supper, and I saw this same man, was running out of the Cove Hotel with a blanket over his shoulder, like a fireman carries someone out form a fire.” She stopped and thought for a while. “Didn’t see all his face, it was dark, but saw enough to see, was that man was sweet-talking young Stephanie. She really got took in that poor girl. I seen him with her a few times, asking all about who was staying at the Hotel, wasn’t interested in Stephanie, I could tell, just using her.” Bernice fell silent and Stanley wrote down what she had said.

Irene gently brought Bernice back into the story, “What year was this, do you remember? And what was it about him that scared you, do you remember that?” “Oh,” said Bernice, “I was just rememberin’ that was about the time when Stephanie got hit on the head and woke up to find a dead woman and got all crazy like, and come to live with us in Doc’s hospital. I miss old Doc.” Muttering to herself again, Bernice appeared to be disconnected from the current conversation, then suddenly refocusing, carried on where she had left off. “That man,” she said, “he’s got a big crooked nose and a purple spot on his cheek, like them marks you get born with, that’s how I know it’s the same one I saw him when I went to the stream for water, he had a illegal campfire goin’, singin’ a bit he was.”  “Is he still here now?” asked Stanley. “I didn’t see him after I got the water that time, I was scared to go back, he’s got crazy eyes, I saw when he was carryin’ that blanket that time, leavin’ the hotel he was, all in a hurry. I think he was the one killed that person and stole something and carried it out in that blanket.”
Chapter Fifteen
Irene and Stanley left Bernice’s hut, promising to return the next day, dressed for a hike. Bernice had something to show them. They returned to the Cove Hotel, to mouth-watering aromas of garlic and pasta sauce. The evening receptionist, Karen, greeted them saying “I hope you like Italian food. Once a month we have what we call Italian Night, the menu has pasta with a choice of sauces, pizza in a couple of varieties and garlic bread of course.” “I can’t speak for Stanley, but I love Italian food,” said Irene. “My family is mostly Italian.” Stanley said, “I eat anything, just lead me to the table.”
Karen smiled, “Dinner will be in the Red Room at 6.30pm, so you’ve plenty of time to get ready.” The two detectives walked up to their rooms, wondering along the way what Bernice had in store for them tomorrow. Irene also wondered which of the rooms the dead woman had been found in and why no one else in the hotel had heard anything. By 6.30 they were in the Red Room, where platters of antipasto were laid out along with loaves of crusty bread and small bowls of virgin olive oil for dipping the bread in. They took a loaf to share and a bowl each of the oil and sat at a table by the window. As they tore chunks off the loaf and dipped into the oil, Stanley said, ‘Can you imagine a world without the varieties of foods available these days?” “Unimaginable,” said Irene through a mouthful of bread. Karen came in to take their orders and Irene chose the pasta with a Bolognese sauce, Stanley opted for a pizza with everything on it and serves of garlic bread for both of them.
As they ate, Irene said, ”Did you notice the footrest by Bernice’s armchair? It looked like it was covered in a cat’s fur coat, reminded me of a neighbour near my Aunty Marie’s house, I don’t remember her name now, but she had a lot of cats and used to spin the shed hair from them into cord and knit blankets for them to lie around on.” “Is that what that was?” said Stanley. “I thought it was a fake fur cushion.” “Mmmm,” said Irene, her mouth filled with pasta. Swallowing the deliciousness, she said, ”What time are we heading up there tomorrow?” “Right after breakfast,” said Stanley. “We’ll see if the kitchen here can pack us a lunch and hop on the mail truck again. I’m kind of in a hurry to know what she has up there. We’ve only seen the hut each time we came up, doesn’t look like there’s much of anything else up there.”
They both passed on dessert, preferring instead to get comfortable for the night and hope their sleep wasn’t disrupted by the ringing of their phones.
On reaching Bernice’s hut next day, Bernice showed them where to stash their packed lunches, then asked if they were ready for a fair sized hike around the side of the mountain. Both replying yes, Bernice locked the front door with a large padlock, “can’t be too careful,” she said and led the way through the field to the east of the hut where a dusty dry path appeared through the grass. “I was walkin’ along here one summer,” she said, “ and storm clouds had been gatherin’ all mornin’, when the first fat raindrops hit the ground, the petrichor was wonderful. I’ll never forget it. I got real wet that day, soaked to the skin, but I was on my way home so it didn’t matter.” “What was that you said?” asked Stanley. “Pet something?” “Petrichor,” said Bernice. “It’s the name for that distinctive sweetish smell in the air when it hasn’t rained for a long time and the first drops hit the parched earth.” “How about that Stanley? We learned something new today,” said Irene. They followed Bernice for about a half an hour through grass and trees, then suddenly the vista opened up and they were looking across a valley to an open quarry. Eyes squinted at the sunlit rocky surface, Irene and Stanley looked at each other with surprise on their faces. “How did we never know about this?” said Stanley. “It’s not an active quarry,” said Bernice. “Nothing has been cut from here for fifteen years. I think of it now as my own personal space, I come here when I need to make decisions.” She sat down on a flat-topped rock and told them, “I’m not so crazy as I make out to be. I’m different, I know that, as a child I saw and heard things no one else did, so I was taken from hospital to hospital getting tested until I learned to hide my gift. I knew when things were going to happen before they did. Scared the hell out of my parents. They thought I was possessed and wanted nothing more to do with me. I eventually came to stay at Dr Wurtzel’s clinic, where I was accepted for who I was and just lived there until old Doc left “
“Why did he leave?” asked Stanley “No one knows for sure,” said Bernice, “but that new Doctor started changing things and most of us there left because we sensed he wasn’t a nice person, something suspicious about him, in spite of all his smiles and promises.” “His name?” said Irene. “Bruce Jones is what he tells everyone, but I snooped around a bit and found his books had Bryce Johns written in the covers. I came up here to this old shepherd’s hut Old Doc told me about and cleaned it up. Been here ever since. But I was walking one day, down the track that leads across the quarry and I found some old maps, wrapped in a sheet from the Hotel, they showed where seams of granite went across towards the ocean. It’s a peculiar type, very rare apparently, copper coloured granite and it runs in a widening seam right under that Scenic Retreat just up from town. I read all the notes that were rolled up in the maps.”
“Is that so?” said Stanley. “Did no one ever think of digging that way?” “I’m not sure how much I should say,” said Bernice. “I listened a lot and heard some things, but I’m scared now that man is back, he hung around a lot with that Dr Jones, when he wasn’t hanging around young Stephanie that is, and I think I heard plans for an accident to the people around there because they didn’t want to sell the land.” “I see,” said Stanley as Irene wrote all this down. “This puts a bit of light on all the letters you’ve sent over the years, we may be able to find out more when we get back to the city.” “That’s why I brought you all the way out here, it’s too far from the hut and from town, I don’t think anyone would hear what I say out here. But when we go back, I have to pretend to be a bit crazy again, you understand that?” “Of course,” said Irene. “Your secret is safe with us. Just like with any other confidential informant, we never reveal things that might cause problems for them.” “Do you still have the maps?” said Stanley. “Of course,” said Bernice. “On the way back to the hut, I’ll show you where that man had his campfire, right by my creek, near some big rocks.”
Chapter Sixteen
Detective Stanley took the maps Bernice pulled out of her rusty, long unused stove and carried the unwieldy package down the hill back to the Cove Hotel. They’d shared their packed lunch with Bernice and gave her what was left after they’d all eaten their fill. The Hotel had packed plenty of food and Bernice was grateful to have something for her dinner later that night. Along the way, Irene Fargo mentioned that Bernice seemed familiar and wondered about old cases that Bernice might have popped up in. “She isn’t a criminal, but maybe she was a witness somewhere for something,” she said. “I don’t have any recognition there, possibly she is someone you knew of before you came to us. You’d have to search old cases back in that precinct.” Irene nodded, saying, “I can contact someone there and have him search for me. I’m dying to get a look at those maps though. In high school I thought for a while I might like to study geology, mostly because I had a crush on Trevor Bratton, who already knew for sure he wanted to be a geologist.” Stanley laughed at that and confessed a similar crush on a student who wore only flowery dresses while everyone around her lived in jeans and t-shirts. “She wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher and I thought she already looked like one.”
They had the package of maps locked in the hotel safe and decided to explore the town a little, knowing they would be back in the city within a few days.  Previous visits to Bernice had been round-trip only, with no time for sightseeing. There wasn’t much to see, it was a small town and not busy this time of year. “The city will seem like a zoo after this peaceful little place,” said Irene. They strolled through the Post Office-General Store without buying anything, then explored the streets behind the Hotel. “I remember hearing about a hairdresser back here named Curly Cuts, when it first opened the manager was an expert in cutting curly hair, apparently there is a skill involved, it’s harder to cut than straight hair,” said Stanley. Irene ran a hand over her own wayward curls and said, “Maybe I should pop in and see if they have any time free this afternoon, this mop could use some taming.” She pulled open the door and stepped aside to allow another woman out.
The clothes and understated jewellery marked her a wealthy woman, but the sulky face and thin body didn’t seem to fit with that.  She glanced at Irene in passing, then catching sight of Detective Inspector Stanley Grace, a frightened look crossed her face. Hurrying away from him, Andrea Jones began to scratch at her arms, her skin felt like it was crawling, she needed another dose of those pills she’d been pinching from Stephanie’s bottle. Bruce had locked them away and taken the key with him this morning and Andrea was already nervous about having to be in town, trying to appear only mildly inquisitive while asking about tourists and the price of haircuts etc. She wasn’t sure anymore exactly what Bruce was asking of her. Was she meant to ask about the Hotel or that Scenic Retreat place? Both? Neither? Andrea’s thoughts were now focused only on how to get something to ease her jitters. Spotting Stanley Grace only made things worse. Had he recognised her?  A worried frown creased her brow and Andrea thought perhaps a drink or three would help steady her before going back to the clinic.
Irene Fargo came back out of Curly Cuts, saying she had an appointment in a couple of hours and had met a pair of delightful women while inside, “Sara Saunders, who is one of the caretakers of the Scenic Retreat, and Vanessa Moore, a visitor to the town.” Stanley said,” The Scenic Retreat is the place Bernice mentioned, where that copper coloured granite seam is underneath. We should take a look up there before we leave. Let’s walk along that jetty and feel the ocean air for a bit, maybe we can see the Retreat from there too. I’ll speak to the Hotel receptionist and find out the best way to get up there while you’re having your hair cut.
Several hours later, Stanley told Irene about the available tracks up to the Retreat. A safe road they could travel by car, or a goat track which would test their stamina. “Are you feeling fearless?” he asked. “Would you like to try the goat track?” “I would,” said Irene, “but I’m thinking we should also take that package of maps with us. Those old caretakers, Sara and her husband Ed, might just know something about the areas on them, we could learn more about why the maps are so important.” “Your intuition at work again?” said Stanley. “I do have a fairly strong feeling,” said Irene. “Just not sure why or what about. I do think Sara and Ed might have something to do with all of this. Maybe they know Bernice. And why have the maps surfaced suddenly after all these years?”
Later in the evening, Bernice lay in bed in her cabin up on the mountain, listening to the unexpected heavy rain as it fell. Soon she would sleep, lulled into dreamland by the sound. Bernice thought of many things as she lay waiting for sleep, but foremost in her thoughts was Detective Inspector Stanley Grace and his partner Irene Fargo. Cold cases in the file room, he’d said to Irene. That meant all the notes the coppers had taken on that night so long ago when she’d seen that man, the one who had been hanging around young Stephanie. Bernice was glad she’d decided to show them the old quarry and give them the old maps. Maybe something good would come of it. Seeing that crooked nosed man again had given Bernice quite a fright. If the old notes had pictures in them, she could possibly point him out if Detective Stanley brought the pictures up here. “I don’t want to be going back down to the city,” she thought as her eyes began to close.
At the same time, Stanley and Irene were listening to the same rain, each in their room at the Cove Hotel. Irene’s mind wandered back many years, hearing her mother’s voice saying, ”It’s going to rain today, make sure you and Charlotte take your umbrellas when you go to watch the trains.” “But it’s so sunny, and we’ll be under the shelter of the platform roof,” Irene complained. They took the umbrellas anyway and were glad later when they had to walk home in a sudden downpour. Their Dad was a porter at the station and he often walked home with them after they’d spent a couple of hours watching the trains and passengers…Irene’s eyes snapped open. Right there in her memory she saw Bernice. Younger for sure, but definitely Bernice. So she wasn’t connected with any of the cases Irene had first worked on before joining Stanley Grace. She was simply a passenger on a long ago train.
She closed her eyes again and the rest of the story came back to her. Bernice had been wearing some odd clothes and Charlotte had mentioned it within their Dad’s hearing. He’d told them, “she’s an odd duck that one, bit of a charmed life I reckon, always on the long journey trains, chasing storms she once said, Joe over there told me. Never had much luggage, just always going where the storms were, always muttering something about a crooked nose.


Chapter Seventeen


Detective Inspector Stanley Grace was propped up against several pillows re-reading his notes, which were filled with revelations, as the rain hammered on the roof of the hotel. They’d gone up to find the Scenic Retreat and had a lovely long chat with Ed and Sara Saunders. Ed in particular had been very interested in the maps and the possibility of a granite seam under their section of the cliff. “Where did you get these?” he’d asked and when Stanley told him about Bernice, the quarry and a crooked nosed man, Ed had said they both knew Bernice, although not well, Bernice being a cousin, possibly a second cousin, to Sara’s mother and believed to be the only surviving member of that branch of the family. While Irene was in the kitchen helping Sara with slicing cake and gathering cups and plates, she glanced up at footsteps on the short flight of steps from the studio and caught a glimpse of Stephanie. “I’ve seen that face before,” she thought and was even more determined to get out every old file she could find from this area, as soon as they arrived back at headquarters.


Once Sara and Irene had carried in the tea and cake, Ed told Sara that Bernice was still alive and living in an old shepherd’s hut up on the mountain behind Shark Cove. “So that’s where she disappeared to!” exclaimed Sara. “We lost touch when she left the old hospital, Dr Wurtzel had said she would manage just fine away from there, she’d never needed all the medications and treatments her family had insisted on, so off she went and didn’t tell anybody where.” Stanley mentioned Bernice had been to town several times, at least once each year and both Ed and Sara wondered why they had never seen her on their own trips to town. “There is only the one General Store,” said Ed. Stanley then again mentioned the crooked-nosed man with a purple birthmark that Bernice seemed very afraid of and much consternation ensued when Stephanie, still standing on the stairs, overhearing that part of the conversation, gasped and dropped a tray of paintbrushes. Sara rushed to help her pick them up, worriedly asking was she alright, what was the matter? and Stephanie, white as a sheet, tried desperately to say a word or two. As Sara took Stephanie to the front room to sit down, Irene mentioned quietly to Stanley that she looked familiar and her plan to drag out every single file on anything at all pertaining to this area as soon as they got back to the city. “There might be something attached to even just one file that could throw a light on all of this,” she said.


After teacups had been refilled, Stanley asked about Stephanie and learned some of   her story, with Irene asking if perhaps mention of that man had awakened a specific memory that frightened Stephanie. “Keep an eye on her Sara, and maybe try to coax her into saying what she was trying to say. It’s possible she knows who this man is.” “Now that you mention it, there was a man around these parts all that time ago,” said Ed. “Can’t recall his name or anything but he looked like his nose had been broken rather badly at some point. You remember him Sara?” Sara herself had gone quiet at the memory. “I do,” she said. “The one that was sweet-talking Stephanie, taking her out and about, turning her head, while always trying to find out about the Retreat, how many people would come into town for tourist season, how many would stay up here, things like that.” “That’s right,” said Ed, as Stanley wrote furiously on his notepad. “He did spend a large amount of time with her, which I thought odd as they didn’t seem the type to be together, if you know what I mean, but they were always out in the open, never going off by themselves, just always he had questions about people living or staying here or in town.”

Inspector Stanley read through his notes out loud and again the granite seam popped up in conversation. “Has anyone ever mentioned anything about that?’ asked Irene. “Can’t recall,” said Ed. “There were surveyors back in the hills a bit, beyond the old hospital and in the old quarry behind Shark Cove, but as far as we know nothing ever came of that.” Irene said, “The old quarry isn’t far from Bernice’s little hut, that’s where she said she has seen that man recently, she showed us where he had a cooking fire near the creek where she used to get her fresh water from, but she’s afraid to go back there now, on her own that is.” “One of the advantages of having a partner,” said Ed. “There’s always someone who can help out with things that might trouble you.”  Sara said, “I think we should go to town soon and get up to Bernice to talk to her. Do you think she would remember us and open her door?” “Can’t hurt to try,” said Ed. “We could go after Rob and Vanessa have gone home.” “Rob and Vanessa?” asked Stanley. “Visitors from a little way upstate,” said Sara, wondering if she should continue. At a little nod from Ed, she continued. “Their son has been staying here for a few days and they came down to see for themselves why he got so excited about the scenery here.” “He’s a photographer,” said Ed. “They’re out right now, they’ve hired a small boat to get out to the reef, so he can take photos of the spray as the waves crash up onto the rocks.”

“I remember reading something about that reef,” said Irene. “An old shipwreck that attracts scuba divers?”

 -------

Back in the valley at the old hospital, the pitiless glare Bruce levelled at Andrea had her cringing back into a corner of the sofa. She managed to stammer,” I didn’t know he was in town. How could I possibly have known?” “So you’d have me believe this is all circumstance? You haven’t been communicating with any of the old crowd at all?” “No,” Andrea whined. “Not even once. I don’t even know where they are. But I don’t think the Inspector noticed me, he was with another Officer, a woman who went into Curly Cuts as I was coming out. I turned away the second I saw him, probably he didn’t even see me, but I was all jittery by then and just had a few drinks to calm down.” “A few!” yelled Bruce. “You got back here all glassy-eyed and staggering! How you managed the car I’ll never know!”

A blazing argument erupted over who should have done what and how it wasn’t fair for Bruce to expect Andrea to suddenly be friends with people she’d been avoiding for the last few years. “I never wanted to leave the city in the first place,” she shouted. “This is all your fault anyway, this hare-brained scheme between you and what’s his name! All over a bit of ground with a little Bed and Breakfast on it!” Bruce barely controlled himself, stating “That bit of ground is sitting on top of a seam of rare copper coloured granite. It’s worth billions if it can be mined and I want my share!” He immediately regretted telling Andrea so much, she hadn’t known about the granite, only that the land was worth quite a bit to a certain developer who had paid Bruce a fat advance to get those Retreat people to sell to him. He turned away, saying he would make a pot of coffee and suggested Andrea wash the tear-stained make-up off her face.

“We’ll talk more when you’ve settled down,” he said. “You can tell me if you learned anything in that hairdresser place. Right now I’m going to make us that pot of coffee.” Walking into the kitchen, he glanced at several tiny bottles on the window ledge, each holding a shimmering fragment of copper granite. They reminded him of why they were here, and how everything seemed to be against him lately. People turning up to stay at the Retreat, Detective Stanley Grace turning up out of the blue and Stephanie…well, Stephanie presented a whole new slew of problems now. Bruce’s mission had been to somehow get the owner, Stephanie, to sell him the Scenic Retreat and the land, then there could have been a convenient accident with her and that Saunders couple. They were old, a nice kitchen fire or something similar would have done the job.

Bruce poured himself a cup of black coffee, then one for Andrea, adding plenty of sugar to hers, just as she liked it, thankful the sweetness would hide the taste of the sedative he also dropped in there. For a moment he contemplated extra sedative, Andrea was becoming quite the nuisance, but then hid the rest of the sedatives in a secret compartment at the back of a drawer and carried the coffees into the living room where Andrea sat slumped in a wing chair, staring vacantly at the fireplace, her tired face now cleaned of make-up. He decided any discussion could wait until tomorrow, by morning Andrea might have forgotten his mention of the granite. His plans for a new routine for Stephanie’s medications he would keep to himself. He had to make sure her mind would stay clouded even through possible sleepovers at the Retreat. He wondered if he should mention to Andrea that Stephanie had spoken and seemed to be remembering things, but decided not to. Andrea should know as little as possible, given her current state of anxiety. 



Chapter Seventeen


Back in the city, Stanley and Irene had commandeered an incident room and filled it with boxes of files dragged up from the cold cases storage room. Everything dated up to sixteen years ago and from the area enclosing Shark Cove, Littleton, and Braytown. Pushing two tables together, they sat one on each side, reading files, making notes and swapping thoughts and ideas. Irene was the first to find a connection, with the explosion of the ceramics factory in Braytown, where a couple had been killed and their daughter Stephanie hospitalised for several days before being released to a hospital under the care of a Doctor Wurtzel. The hospital being the one in the valley behind the Scenic Retreat where the file said Stephanie had been staying with her parents who had recently bought the Retreat from the previous owners. After reading this to Stanley, he said, "The previous owners, are they named? I wonder if that might have been the Saunders couple?" "I think it might have been," said Irene, "they did say they've lived there since their honeymoon and I got the feeling they meant the Retreat not just the general area."


"What else does it say about Stephanie?" asked Stanley. "Not much," said Irene. "She recovered from her head injury and the shock of finding her parents had been killed and went back to live at the Retreat. Somehow that doesn't tie in with the mental shutdown we've seen in her." ”You’re right about that,” said Stanley, “keep looking, there must be something else that happened. Maybe something with a man that had a crooked nose.”


“Do we have any files at all about the Scenic Retreat?” said Irene, looking at the two dozen boxes stacked next to the tables. “Not the Retreat specifically,” said Stanley, but there may be a mention of it if we can find the file about The Cove Hotel where Ed mentioned a murder, he said about sixteen years ago, but I think he knows more. I didn’t press him at the time, you were watching Sara help Stephanie with the paintbrushes. He just said something real quiet like and I scribbled it down.” Irene marked the page she was reading in the current file and stood up, saying, “I’ll get us some more coffee and see if the bakery has sent any danishes yet, for the morning tea. Do you want one?” “I’d like one with the cherries in it if there is one, but a custard danish would do if there aren’t any cherry ones. It’s almost time for the regular day shift to begin too, we should be in the room and hear the signing off and handing over of current cases by the night crew I suppose. How about we lock up and take our morning tea with everyone else?”

“Sounds good,” said Irene, adjusting the hairclip that had come loose. “I’m going a bit cross-eyed from all the different handwriting in these old files.” They collected fresh coffee and a danish each, Stanley was happy to find one with cherries, while Irene settled for apple. In the big community room, fresh faced day staff were finding places to sit while the duty Sergeant called out rosters and handed out cases, while the night shift staff handed over phone messages and new files of cases that had come in overnight. One in particular caught Stanley and Irene’s attention. A skeleton had been found in the back garden of a house a little way outside Littleton, the home owners, Harry and Eleanor Cooper had recently bought the place and were just beginning landscaping the yard. Statements had been given from them and from the local police up there, the skeleton was now on its way to Clarence Kirby’s lab in hopes of some DNA being extracted, but there wasn’t much hope of matching it to anyone currently on file anywhere. The file was handed to Jerry Morgan with instructions to follow up as much as possible, then a question was asked, “Does anyone here know anything at all about someplace called The Merry Moose?” Apparently a pink plastic tag stamped with that name had been unearthed along with the skeleton. Lots of mutterings and head-shakings followed the question, so Jerry Morgan was instructed to also call up some of the retired cops who might have been around fifteen to twenty years ago. “Look up Sam Simpson first,” said the duty Sergeant. “He’s working at the Riverside Brewery now as night security. Used to know most of the night clubs back then, his brother being in the security business and all.” Jerry took the file and headed out stopping at the doughnut table to get the last danish and a couple of doughnuts as well.

Irene and Stanley thought perhaps any connection to Stephanie, Bernice and the old quarry was probably insignificant, but they both wrote down the information anyway. Littleton was in the general area of their search after all, so they might as well keep themselves in the loop. They rinsed their coffee cups and went back to their incident room and all those files. “We may have to do a bit of old-school detecting ourselves,” said Stanley, “tracking down the cops who wrote these files, seeing if they remember anything at all that might help us.” “We should probably read a few more files first,” said Irene, “see if any of them connect with any others. And we don’t want to release any of our findings just yet, do we?” “Hell no,” said Stanley. “Where we are now, we don’t know anymore than what we’ve heard and read, we’d look like fools if we said we had news on anything. The only new thing we know is the granite seam under the cliff, we need to find out more about that too.”
“I still want to know about the wreck out by the reef at Shark Cove too,” said Irene. “Probably doesn’t have anything at all to do with the case, it may just be the reason Shark Cove gets humming with tourists every summer. Lots of scuba divers practising treasure hunting and teaching new divers.”


Part Two


Chapter One

They stood on the back porch staring at the sagging pergola that framed the backyard view. “What’s your great idea Dad?” asked Harry. “I recommend you employ a gardener to mount a full scale raid on that rampant weedy thing in the corner, trim back the overgrown fruit trees, perhaps espalier that one nearest the fence, then lay those stacked pavers on all the areas where the lawn doesn’t grow. Keep that centre patch and get it weed free as quickly as you can,” said Laurence. “You can always lift a few pavers later if you want to plant something.”

“What do you suggest for that corner once the weed is gone?” asked Harry. “That open-sided gazebo that sits in the corner of my yard,” said Laurence. “You know Mum and I are downsizing next year, the mini-villas in the new retirement village will be ready by Easter and we plan to move in as soon as we are allowed. Mum wants the garden stuff to go to you and Eleanor, and that corner of yours is the perfect size. The gazebo will add a whole new dimension to this yard.” “It will for sure,” said Harry. “It will be a champagne garden done on a beer budget. We can afford the gardener for a weekend, maybe two, but everything else will have to be done on the cheap. Shoestring budget.”

They went inside to discuss the plan with Eleanor who expressed her admiration with a squeal of excitement as she finished laying out the afternoon tea. “I love that gazebo,” she said. “Let’s contact the gardening company right away,” she said. “Then hope for a few weekends of sunshine so it all comes together. We can focus on the inside when it’s too cold or wet to be outside.”  “Strawberry jam for your scones Dad?” said Harry. “Thank you son,” said Laurence. “Set an extra cup would you please Eleanor? Maxine should be about finished at the hairdresser now and she said she’s coming straight here to measure your windows. If our drapes fit, that will save you a few extra dollars, until you decide exactly what it is you want your rooms to look like.”

Eleanor set out the extra teacup and a plate for scones, then asked, “Which opera are you and Maxine going to see tonight?” Laurence said, ”The local high school is putting on a version of Madame Butterfly, we thought it might be interesting, see if there is any real talent among the youngsters.” “Let me know later how it was,” said Eleanor.

A couple of days later, Harry and Eleanor were sitting by the fireplace, discussing the paradise their new garden would eb, listening to the hum of machinery as a winch was employed to haul that troublesome large weedy shrub out of the corner. They heard the gardener, Bob, suddenly shriek like a little girl, then come running towards the house. “Harry! Harry! Come quick! You have to see this! Eleanor, I think you should phone the Police right away.” “Whatever is the matter Bob?” asked Eleanor. “There’s a skeleton all tangled up in the roots of that weed,” said Bob. “No wonder it grew so sturdy, with all that natural fertiliser. Get on the phone Eleanor, tell them we’ve found a body!” Eleanor immediately phoned the nearest Police Station and asked that someone be sent out as soon as possible. She then ran outside to find Bob and Harry erecting the old canvas awning over the area. Harry motioned her to stand well back. He’d read plenty of crime novels and knew about not contaminating the scene of the crime.

“But it may not have been a crime,” said Eleanor. “Maybe someone had an accident and just never got found. This whole area was very sparsely populated long ago and isn’t much better now.” “Oh, it’s a crime alright,” said Bob. “Look over here, there’s a noose around the neck and only one shoe. The clothes are pretty much rotted away, and I’d say he’s been here a long while.” “Good thing Mum’s not here,” said Harry. “She’d start in on how this is some sort of omen and we’d better start throwing salt over our shoulders and covering mirrors and all that rubbish.” “Where does she get these ideas?” asked Eleanor. “Probably those trashy voodoo novels she likes to read, says she likes to scare herself a bit now and again,” said Harry. “I’d say this will give her enough of a scare to last quite a while,” said Bob, who had known Maxine through school. She’d been best friends with Valerie, who was now Bob’s wife.

Harry leaned over to get a look inside the hole where the weedy shrub had been, taking care not to bump his head on the skeleton and roots that still hung over the edge, dangling from the grappling hook attached to the winch. “There’s a fragment of something sticking up, it’s pinkish,” he said. “We’d better leave it all for the Police to uncover though.” After making sure the awning cover was secure, they all trooped inside to wash their hands and start a pot of tea going. Until the Police arrived, all they could do was sit around wondering who the unfortunate person had been and what had happened. “I’d say murder or suicide,” said Bob. “There is the noose on his neck, rotted mostly, but recognisable.”  “I’m going to phone Dad and let him know, he’ll break it to Mum and I bet they’ll be over here before I can hang up the phone. They’ll probably stay for tea too, will there be enough Ellie?” “I can make up a packet of that instant French Onion soup as a starter, then there’ll be enough, but why don’t we wait and see. I hear a car,” she said, going to the front door, hoping it was the Police.

It was and they soon had calls in to the Crime Scene technicians to come out and keep uncovering what they could and collect evidence in those little plastic bags they had a never-ending supply of. While the Senior Sergeant began questioning Bob and Harry, Eleanor carefully turned over the big antique hourglass by the stove and just stood there a moment watching the sand begin to run through. When it was finished it would be time to take the meat out of the oven. She kept an eye on the driveway too, looking out for Maxine and Laurence. They arrived quite quickly after hearing the news and right behind them was a white Crime Scene van and another Police car.  Maxine came bustling into the kitchen, ”Oh Eleanor, you poor dear, how are you feeling? Is this an awful shock?” “I’m fine Maxine,” said Eleanor, “just surprised and wondering who that is out there and of course what happened to him.” “The Police will take care of everything dear, there’s probably nothing else for you to do but keep out of their way,” said Maxine. “And maybe make them all cups of tea in a little while.”




Chapter Two

Laurence and Harry had followed the Crime Scene techs to the site and were watching the carefully controlled movements as the team began to dig and brush at the dirt surrounding the plastic something that Harry had noticed sticking up from the bottom of the hole. They had already removed a substantial layer of soil from where the body had been. Once the pink plastic item was brushed clean and bagged they could see it was an entrance token for a place called The Merry Moose. No one in the yard had ever heard of such a place. They strolled over to the side of the yard where a table had been set up for documenting all the evidence bags and shook hands with a young technician, Jack, who appeared to be high school age, though he professed to being thirty-five. He indicated several bags of dirt that had been directly under the skeleton and said they may contain traces of blood and bodily fluids, adding that all family members may also be asked to provide samples in case the victim was a relative and also to rule them out should there be any blood trace from whoever perpetrated the crime.

Laurence mentioned it appeared to be a hanging, so there shouldn’t be any blood, whereupon Jack reminded the not everything is as it appears and there may have been some sort of scuffle beforehand, perhaps a fight with broken skin on knuckles that would bleed. “You’re right of course,” said Harry. “I watch enough TV that I should have remembered that.” He picked up a larger bag that now held the partly rotted black leather shoe that had been on the skeleton. “Do you think they’ll find the other shoe?” he wondered. “It can’t be too far away, surely.” “What are all these other bits in bags,” asked Laurence, noticing Maxine and Eleanor watching from the window. Jack replied,  “They appear to be some of the victims belongings, things that would have fallen from his pockets as the fabric rotted, You can see there are several coins and a belt buckle. We always hope to find some kind of identification, like a driver’s licence. I hope that you don’t mind that we will be here for quite a while.”

“Not at all,” said Harry. “It’s all a bit exciting actually, the techs down there remind me of the archaeology digs I’ve visited in the past. You do what you have to do and take all the time you need. “Thank you sir,” said Jack. “It’s all routine work for us, but if we don’t need to be hurrying, we’re more likely to uncover something useful. This Merry Moose tag, for example. It’s an unusual piece and finding someone who knows about The Merry Moose could lead to other clues. In the meantime, could I trouble you for a bucket of water for my dog? His name is Shadow,” Jack pointed to where a sheepdog was sitting near the white van, keeping out of the way as he had been trained to do.

Later that night, Eleanor stirred restlessly in her sleep. In her dream, the ship was surrounded by something deeper, oilier, more smoky than a fog. A thick miasma hung around, making it difficult t see and breathe. The ship was on fire and she inched forward with the other passengers, towards the lifeboats. Somewhere ahead, a deep male voice was shouting. “Women with children first, women without children and elderly women in the next boat. See to it, Lance and don’t let me down. I’ll see about getting the boats ready for the men.”

With a shiver, Eleanor rolled over and suddenly the dream shifted to a small lifeboat with a dozen women, watching through a breeze driven rift in the fog as the ship upended and sank beneath the waves. The name painted across the bow was clearly visible. “The Merry Moose”. Dotted about the ocean to either side were more lifeboats, filed to the brim with passengers and seamen.

Eleanor woke with a start, finding herself drenched in sweat. She’d never had any type of psychic dream before. Waking Harry, she told him about the dream and he agreed they should go to the Police first thing in the morning. Perhaps The Merry Moose ship had something to do with that token found under the skeleton. They both wandered down the hallway to the kitchen where Eleanor started the heater going while Harry made cups of tea. “Fancy a biscuit love? I know it’s the middle of the night, but after a bad dream, something sweet seems in order.” “Thanks Harry, a couple of those chocolate biscuits would be lovely. I feel a bit foolish now that I’m wide awake, I didn’t think a body in our yard would have any effect on me. Now I’m even more keen to find out who he was and what happened.” “I can think of one thing,” said Harry. “He was buried there before the shrub existed and I’d say it just grew from seed thrown down. If anybody dug there to plant something he would have been found then. As it is, the plant grew in and around, did you notice how intricately the roots and skeleton were intertwined?”

“I did, but didn’t take all that much notice,” said Eleanor. “Another thing to mention to the Police I suppose.” “Maybe we should also look into more about this house and its history,” said Harry. “All we know now is it was built back in the nineteen twenties by a plumber. Over the site of an original powerhouse, one of those places with all the electrical reactors and conduits and stuff that sends electricity along the lines to homes and businesses.” “I’d forgotten about that,” said Eleanor. “I hope that doesn’t mean the ground is unsafe for growing vegetables and fruit trees. It wouldn’t still be contaminated or anything like that?” “I think maybe we should find out,” said Harry. “Get it tested as soon as we can. It wouldn’t do to go ahead and plant, then find out we have glow-in-the-dark carrots and potatoes.”

Eleanor laughed at that, then said, “Maybe we should turn this place into more of a resort style home. Have a courtyard out the back, with a small swimming pool between that and your Dad’s gazebo. Then put a foyer inside the front door with palm trees like hotels have.” Harry sighed as he sprawled along the couch. “It’s a nice dream, that one, but we really don’t have the money for it. I could sell the car and pedal that old pushbike to work for years and we still wouldn’t save enough to have a swimming pool.” “I know,” said Eleanor. “I’m just taking my mind far away from that bad dream, instead of writing it down so we don’t forget any details the Police might want to know. Where is the Police Station anyway?” Harry handed her a notepad and pen as he said, “It’s in that small brick building next to that Monastic looking place in Littleton. I asked once if it was a monastery and Mum said she thinks it was a Nunnery.”
Chapter Three
After going back to bed for a couple of hours, Eleanor and Harry stood in the backyard sipping hot chocolate and wondering what to do with the weedy shrub that still lay discarded by the fence. The roots had all been taken to the Crime Lab along with the skeleton, only the above ground portion remained, huge and scraggily untidy by the pear tree. “It hasn’t rained in a while,” said Harry. “The shrub is probably quite dry. We could have a bonfire.” Eleanor said it was a good idea, adding “your Mum could do one of her cleansing rituals over that whole empty space too, like when she walked around inside with a bunch od smouldering sage before we moved in.” “I remember that,” said Harry. “Banishing negativity, she said. It seems to have worked, the house has a lovely feel to it.”
“Let’s suggest it to her later,” said Eleanor. “It’s time to get to the Police Station and tell them about my dream. That “Merry Moose” has to have some meaning to someone somewhere.” “And we can find out if there’s any news on who that skeleton was and how the murder happened,” said Harry. “Why would be nice to know too,” said Eleanor, “although we may never know that part.” They drove along the main highway, noticing a small causeway they hadn’t seen before, a small faded sign pointing towards the sea read “Scenic Retreat”. “Sounds nice,” said Harry. “Might be a place to explore once we get truly settled in.” “Maybe there’s a beach where we could take evening walks,” said Eleanor, “or maybe the causeway only leads to a lookout spot and the cliffs go right down to the waves with no beach at all.” “Wait and see, eh?” said Harry.
Senior Sergeant Nathan Turner took notes as Eleanor told him about her dream and said he would make enquiries about any shipwrecks, or indeed anything at all about the name ‘The Merry Moose’.  He’d get to work on his computer and send all the currently known details of the case to city headquarters. “They have huge files of known criminals and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ll send you through to young Jack now, I believe he has a few things to tell you about what we’ve found.” The young evidence technician welcomed them to his large office which had reasonably comfortable chairs by his desk, along with several tables, brightly lit and covered with the small evidence bags he had taken from the scene. “I’m happy to tell you there is quite a bit of evidence in those soil samples,” Jack said. “We even found strands of hair that may have been the victim’s. If we can get DNA from those and match it to any part of the skeleton we’ll know for sure the hair is his. These bags will all be going to headquarters in the city, they have a forensics lab there, run by Clarrie Kirby, he’s a wizard with his computer and little bits of things he uses to drag DNA from things such as this.”
“Clarence Kirby?” said Harry. “About fifty with curly ginger hair?” “Yes,” said Jack. “Do you know him?” “I went to school with his brother, Richard,” said Harry. “Young Clarence got called Clock by his peers because of his initials. He never seemed to mind, always had his nose buried in science books. Won more than a few ribbons at science fairs, I recall Richard telling me.” “Small world,” said Eleanor. Jack began packing up his bagged evidence in a sturdy cardboard box, while Eleanor related the dream she had just told Senior Sergeant Nathan about. “That’s interesting,” said Jack. “I’ll be sure to get a copy of that once he’s typed it up and I’ll include it with all this when it goes to the city. They can pass the word around and see if anything comes to light about ‘The Merry Moose’. It does sound an odd name for a ship though. It’s possible your mind fixated on the name and added it to the ship in your dream.” “Yes,” said Eleanor. “The mind does find unusual ways to unload things. I once dreamed about a small clown playing a concertina and after all these years I still don’t know what that meant.” Harry looked at her in surprise.  “You’ve never told me about that dream,” he said. “Oh it was long ago,” said Eleanor. “I was about twelve when I had that particular dream.”
Jack moved a pair of tagged candlesticks that had been sitting on the small table just beside the door and placed the box of evidence bags in their place. “I’ll leave this unsealed for now,” he said. “I’ll get a copy of your dream from Nathan, then he can check the contents here and sign off the paperwork stating the contents and dates.  There’s a thing we call “chain of evidence” where everyone who comes in contact with this box has to sign and date the paper.” “I’ve seen that on the crime shows I like to watch on television,” said Harry. “It’s a safeguard against evidence tampering.” “Right,” said Jack. “Now, is there anything else you can tell me? How long you have been living in the house? When you first came to this area? Why you suddenly decided to rip out that shrub?”
“That wasn’t a hard decision,” said Harry. “We’ve only lived in the house about a month and have been making decisions about the yard since then. My Dad, Laurence, said he and Mum are downsizing to a smaller place soon and we could put his old gazebo in our yard, with that back corner being the perfect spot. So we had a gardener rip out that shrubby weedy thing, we don’t even know what type of plant it is, and he found the skeleton. “We haven’t lived in this area before,” said Eleanor. “Harry’s parents have been here for several years and every time we came to visit, we’d say how lovely it was and we wouldn’t mind finding a house here. Maxine actually found the house for us. She became friendly with a realtor when she visited a hairdresser in a small local village.”
“It might be something we should look into ourselves,” said Jack. “The nearest small village we know of is a place called Shark Cove, through the hills a bit and closer to the cliffs and a small beach area.” “The name rings a bell,” said Harry. Mum said the hairdresser shop was called Curly Cuts, does that sound right?” “We’ll find out,” said Jack. “I can see Nathan about sending someone over there later today. Can’t be me though, I was up all night with this lot and need a bit of sleep.”
Chapter Four
As they left Jack’s office, Harry and Eleanor decided that since they had the rest of the day on their hands, perhaps they’d have a look at this “Shark Cove” place themselves. They asked directions from the desk clerk who gave them a map and pointed out the turns to make along the main roads. It didn’t look so far away, only four inches on the map, but that would translate to at least an hour or two by car. Harry studied the map and declared the place to be closer to their home than to Littleton, where they currently were.
“It might be nice to wander around near the beach, it will take our minds off that skeleton for a while.” “You’re right,” said Eleanor, and off they went. They filled up with petrol before turning on to the main highway and heading east. The flat road soon began threading through low hills that became higher as they neared the coast. Rounding a bend, they spied high cliffs over on their right with a very small town almost directly below them. Harry shifted to a lower gear to make the descent while saying, “The other entrance to the town looks less steep, see it over that way? Perhaps we should come in that way next time.” “I see it,” said Eleanor, “but this way is far prettier with the cliffs and that long pier stretching out into the cove. I wonder why it is named Shark Cove? Do you suppose there are sharks in those waters?” “We’ll find out soon enough,” said Harry, as they drove into the main street of the town. “Look at those lovely old-fashioned street lights! There’s one with seagulls on it, see there?”
“Probably waiting for a family to come picnicking so they can get lunch,” laughed Eleanor. “I bet those lamps look nice in the deepening dusk of evenings, quite romantic, I’d say. And look at the shimmer on that water, there must be just enough breeze to make ripples all the way in to shore. Should we stop in at the General Store first? The desk clerk said the manager there knows more about this place than anyone else.” “Good idea,” said Harry. “ I thought about asking at the Hotel, but he said the General Store is also a Post Office and they’d be quite knowledgeable about the area. You could ask about Curly Cuts too and make an appointment, you did say Mum’s hair was nicely done and you need a cut yourself.”
They parked the car and strolled towards the General Store. Looking around they noticed how quiet it was and wondered if it was always so. “Maybe it gets busier in summer?” said Eleanor. “We’ll ask,” said Harry as they entered the store. A Post Office section was over to the right, with the manager serving a customer. While waiting in line, Eleanor noticed an unusual picture on the wall. “Look at that Harry,” she said. “It looks like someone double exposed an image on one of those old film type cameras. It looks good printed in grey tones like that.”
They soon found out that Shark Cove had been named because at very low tides the rocks ringing the beach looked like shark teeth when viewed from the clifftop, but there were no real sharks in the area. “Is there a story about that unusual photograph?” asked Eleanor. The manager, who introduced himself as Bill Money, said it had been given to him by a photographer who’d stayed in the Cove Hotel some years ago. “Her name was Cherie Kendall, she was here with her husband Frank and a young son, Tom, I think, taking photos of the area. She used to sell them to calendar and postcard manufacturers, also those people who print up tourism brochures, stuff like that. She didn’t think this one would sell, not being in colour and it isn’t from this area anyway, so she asked if I would like it after I’d said I was looking for something to put on that wall. Terribly sad what happened next. She was found murdered a couple of days later, her husband and son haven’t been seen since then either. They were gone when her body was found early one morning.
“Oh no! How awful,” said Eleanor. “Truly horrible. Did they catch anyone for it? Did they suspect the husband?” “No,” said Bill. “No one was ever caught. I don’t know if they suspected Frank, but if you ask me, there’s no way he did it. That little family loved each other, they were a very cohesive unit. The one person who might have seen anything had a mental breakdown and now has a blank slate where her memory should be. She’s the one who found Cherie, still lives around here, in the old hospital, but spends a lot of time with the caretakers up at the Scenic Retreat, they know her very well and Stephanie, the girl with the memory loss, is the actual owner of the Retreat.” “That’s the name on that old weather-beaten sign near that causeway close to home,” said Harry. “I remember,” said Eleanor, “we said we might take a look at it one day. Can we get to it from down here?”
“Yes, of course,” said Bill. “Here, I’ll show you the way on this old area map.” He drew over the tourist route with a red marker and then said, “You’re the third couple who wants to get up there in the last week, although the first was actually just one, a young man…” Bill’s eyes and mouth opened wide as he thought for a moment. “He said his name was Tom and he did look a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I’d only seen the family once, then Cherie on her own when she gave me that photo. The next day I’d gone to the city, for a few weeks of study, business management and so on. I heard about the murder when I got back. Now I’m wondering if the Tom I met four days ago is the same little Tom who went missing.” They all stood for a moment, thinking about this possibility, the Bill said, “I’ll close earlier today and get around to the Police, they have just a small office here, but they might still have a copy of the “missing” poster from sixteen years ago.”
Chapter Five
Harry and Eleanor discussed the things Bill Money had told them as they walked along the short Main Street of Shark Cove. They turned and had a good look at the General Store-Post Office- Market and decided to come back another day and do a little grocery shopping. “It will make a nice change from the Supermarket at Braytown,” Eleanor said.
“Why do we never shop at the Littleton one?” asked Harry. “They don’t have the brands I prefer for most things,” said Eleanor, “and no organics section.” “We can’t be sure they have that here either,” said Harry. “Oh I think maybe they do, I saw a sign that said Fresh Local Produce, so that sounds likely,” said Eleanor. A little further on they came to the side street where Curly Cuts was situated and Eleanor went in to make an appointment for the next week. “We can kill two birds with one stone that way,” she said, “a haircut and some grocery shopping.” “Smart thinking,” Harry said, “which day?”
“Wednesday,” said Eleanor, “the hair appointment is in the afternoon, at two, then we can walk around a bit again, shop, and go on home.” They read the restaurant menu in the lobby of the Cove Hotel, peeked around to se where the red and the green dining rooms were, then thought it was time to explore further up the street. A small bluestone building with a brass plaque declaring it to be a Bank, opened in 1909, a couple of cottages with pretty gardens behind picket fences, and glimpsed down a side street, the vegetable patch belonging to the Hotel.  “The meals must be wonderful, with the veggies fresh from the garden there,” said Harry. A sweet little Bakery attached to a café on one side and a “casual bar” behind, was set back a bit off the street and a sign reading ’Café closed, Bakery and Bar open 10am to 5pm’ was posted in the front yard where furniture for patrons would be in the spring and summer. Going down the lane to the bright blue door, they entered the Bar area which was decorated this week with toy fluffy ducks holding tropical style miniature parasols. The bartender explained this week’s half-price cocktails were the very popular fluffy ducks and next week the theme would be different.
Harry and Eleanor ordered lemon squash with ice and sat at a table by the window just in time to see a grim looking city Police Inspector and his partner come up the lane and enter. He fronted up to the Bar while his partner rushed for the bathroom. Inspector Stanley Grace acknowledged them with a nod, then pulled out some paperwork and asked the bartender if he had a few minutes to look at some photos. ‘And do you have any lunch menus? We have several questions as well and might as well eat while we’re here.” The bartender offered a plasticised menu saying the pizza was on special today and fresh too, “no frozen pizzas here.” Irene returned from the bathroom, declaring herself ‘starving’ and was pleased to hear pizza was on the menu. “I haven’t had a pizza in ages,” she said. “I’ve been trying to eat a healthier diet, but I think today a pizza is just what I need.” She came to sit at the table next to Eleanor and Harry, introducing herself and Stanley. She checked her phone in case there were any messages and found one from Jerry Morgan saying he had found someone who knows something about The Merry Moose. Irene tapped the screen to talk to Jerry who said the old man’s memory was a bit sporadic, he was in a nursing home, sometimes remembering things and other times laughing at cartoons on the television. Jerry had shown him the Merry Moose tag and he’d seemed to remember a Canadian themed club, before falling asleep suddenly. Irene relayed the message to Stanley who gave instructions for Jerry to follow up as much as he could, but tread warily, not to barge into it like a bull in a china shop. Elderly people were often more frail than they appeared. Overhearing, Harry approached their table and told their tale of the skeleton and the pink plastic Merry Moose tag. “Another piece of the puzzle getting fitted into place,” said Inspector Stanley. “We were coming to find you tomorrow, but since we’re all here together today, how about I take your statements?” He helped Harry push their tables together and they decided to all share a pizza before wading through all the details either party knew so far. Eleanor was wondering if they should bring up the ‘Tom’ that Bill Money had mentioned, but thought maybe not. It didn’t seem to have any bearing on the skeleton and Merry Moose case.
While Stanley wrote down Harry’s statement, Irene and Eleanor discussed Shark Cove, Irene saying they came up about once a year to visit someone, leaving Eleanor to wonder. They talked about how Shark Cove got its name, why it was so quiet this time of year and what brought the tourists in spring and summer. Eleanor declared she knew nothing at all apart from what Maxine had said about Curly Cuts. Irene said it was an excellent establishment, clean and the girls were friendly. “I had my hair trimmed and tamed there just a few days ago,” she said. “It’s next to an old Church, no longer used, but the tourists like to wander around the headstones in the tiny burial ground behind it.”



Chatting stopped momentarily as the pizzas arrived and everybody filled their mouths with yumminess. After finishing a slice each, Inspector Stanley Grace reached for the basket holding several slices of garlic bread and handed it around. Only Harry declined, being already halfway through a second pizza slice. Without discussing too much of the case, Irene and Stanley agreed that after their lunch they would stop in at the small Police Station here in Shark Cove, the bartender, Christopher having been so kind as to offer directions. “It’s only fair that we keep the locals in the loop,” he said, “we’d expect the same if they came into ‘our’ territory.”  “We could also ask if they know anything about Bernice or the Scenic Retreat,” said Irene, quietly, while Harry and Eleanor were at the bar ordering more soft drinks and paying for their pizza. “Perhaps with reference to a seam of granite?”
“Granite?” said Harry overhearing as he came back to the table. “In police work it’s wise to never take anything for granite,” joked Stanley, which made them all laugh. Irene signed her name to Harry’s statement under Stanley’s and Harry’s names, then Harry wrote down everything Eleanor could remember about that day. Paperwork was then packed away into Stanley’s briefcase and he and Irene set off along the avenue that led off the small lane to find the Police Station, which Christopher had said was the front section of an old school building. Chris had also said a large playing field beyond the old school had occasionally served as a helicopter landing spot a couple of decades ago, when overseas tourists had come to Shark Cove “all puffed up with self-importance’” declaring their intention to shoot movies here. They had tried to bluff their way into free lunches and beer and Chris had put a stop to that foolishness right away. The supposed film producers hung around for a week or so, he’d said, but took off pretty quickly when the locals made it known they were clearly unimpressed by their complete lack of ability to even take a decent photo. He’d added, “June Gardiner, she’s the librarian here, told them where they could stuff their passports, and they were gone right after that.”
Irene had asked about the library and they learned it was in one of the old school buildings, behind but not attached to the main building where the Police Station took up the front three rooms. Finding the building with no trouble at all, they walked in the front door and dinged the bell on the counter. A slightly overweight balding man came hurrying in and looked very surprised to see Inspector Stanley, who was equally surprised. “Roger!,” he exclaimed. ‘So this is where you ended up. I’ve been meaning to find out and come and see you, but you know how that goes, something happens, then something else comes up.” “I know that so well,” said Roger. “How have you been Stan? And who is this lovely young detective you’ve brought with you?” Stanley introduced Irene, adding to her that Roger Stevenson had once been Stanley’s partner on a case where it seemed they did nothing more than sit in their car and stare at jewellery shops for weeks, after information from an informant had said those particular shops were targeted.
Roger said, “Just let me get rid of this bucket of bleach, I’ve been mopping out the toilets, then I’ll be right back and we can get down to business. I take it you are here on business? That skeleton up at Littleton?” “That’s the one,” said Stanley,” and maybe some information on a couple of other things from years ago. There may be a tie-in that could break the case for us.” “Righto,” said Roger, pushing the mop bucket back through the door.






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