A demented wail sounded across the lake as the sun set reflected on the gray waters. It was the call of the loon, which usually heralds a storm. Sipping a glass of Otter Valley Shiraz on the lakeside cottage deck, I looked at the crumpled note the hitchhiking blonde had passed me in Roswell, New Mexico. She had printed, “Vermont”.
Looking at the paper I wondered how Brita knew I was traveling to Vermont. Or was she traveling across country to Vermont and letting me know her destination?
Lake Hortonia is east of Whitehall, New York, a small upstate NY town known for past UFO sightings and Sasquatch encounters. Perhaps Brita was pursuing her own UFO research, as she had previously visited Nevada’s Area 51 and then Roswell.
The next morning I rose at 7 and the lake was becalmed, like a mirror. I noticed the road-side door was ajar. Had someone entered during the night? I look around the cottage, but nothing seemed disturbed. The cabin is set on a finger peninsula that ran north to south and I was alone as the Nature Conservancy owned the rest of the land jutting into the lake, just south of Lake Champlain. I checked the screen porch, looking up and down the dirt road that bisected the peninsula, but no one was about.
I devoted the morning to the financial analysis of a young widow, Martha Blake, whose husband had been murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The case involved many millions and was unsolved. Martha had agreed I could continue my work of analyzing her husband’s complex investments in Vermont. Just before I departed Arizona, I had noted oddities in her finances and pointed them out, but my client became agitated at my discoveries so I let them be.
Taking a break after lunch, I walked up Route 30, and then bore right on a dirt road. The area was thinly populated and I saw no one. At one point on the ridge road, a fawn bounded out of the woods, glanced at me, and then vanished in the dense foliage. As I walked it struck me the financial oddities appeared as thinly disguised payments, two withdrawals of $50,000 just before her husband’s killing. I also noted a more recent payment of $100,000. Had Martha paid someone to murder her husband? Was someone else to die?
That night I went to the Trac Inn, an Innsbruck-style building that was set back from the road. The gray-haired manager greeted me at the door, introducing herself as Nan and led me to a small, lake-view table. Nan left a menu and I studied the array of offerings. I sensed a presence and looked up to see Brita, the backpacker from Roswell, dressed in a white blouse, black skirt replete with a dainty white apron. Smiling she curtsied, her blonde pony tail bobbing, and noted she was my server. I was stunned, but pleased to see her.
Brita bent low and told me she was on a sabbatical from the University of Stockholm studying unexplained phenomena and otherworldly happenings. But she had taken a side job since she had arrived in Vermont. She nudged me, saying she was happy to see me again.
I wanted to ask about the note she had given me in Roswell, but the manager bore down on us, so I gave Brita my order of seared scallops in lemon sauce and she departed. I felt a sense of well being. Trac Inn would be a convenient place for dinner. Brita looked to be in early 30s and seemed interested. Perhaps a meal together across the street in the cozy Palms, a chic Italian Restaurant.
There was a commotion in the rear and I watched as the manager strode to the back of the restaurant. Brita suddenly appeared and she bent down, whispering in my ear.”My Vermont assignment is you. You stuck your nose where it doesn’t belong and Martha Blake is unhappy. ” She paused and I looked up startled.
“It’s a shame.” Brita continued, massaging my shoulder. “Another place, another time… who knows? But business is business.” And then she left, darting back to the kitchen.
My dinner came via another server, who told me Brita was indisposed. I ate a few of the scallops and pushed the rest around on my plate in confusion. I asked for the bill and paid in cash with a reasonable tip.
Back at lakeside, I secured the cottage as best I could. Then I crawled into bed, pulling the covers to my chin. It was pitch dark on the peninsula and the frogs croaked in the cove, an owl hooted, but the loon was quiet.
What to do?
Brita intended to kill me.