A moonbeam-lighted figure stood in my bedroom doorway. I sat up as she stepped forward in the pale light and I could see it was Nan, the gray-haired Trac Inn manager. She sat gingerly on the end of my bed and whispered. “She’s going to kill you.”
I sat up with a start, realizing Nan was talking about the waitress, Brita who I had picked up in Magdalena, New Mexico and then dropped off in Roswell. I was driving from Arizona to Vermont for two weeks on Lake Hortonia. Inexplicably, Brita had shown up in Vermont waiting tables at the Trac-Inn.
Nan edged down the bed, leaning forwarded. “Brita is staying across the road at the old Hunter place in the marsh.”
She was referring to the cottage that was slowly disappearing in the encroaching swamp. “That place is deserted and inhabitable.” I said. “No one’s stayed there for 20 years.” Nan shook her head. “No matter, Brita’s not from here.”
“Brita is Scandinavian.” I said. “I think Norway.”
Nan gazed out of the window and looked at the night sky. “She’s from out there.”
I followed Nan’s gaze out of the window and realized she was looking at the stars. “Come with me.” Nan whispered. “We have to check on Brita. You’re in danger.”
Dressing quickly in running shoes, jeans, and a sweatshirt, I followed as Nan led the way with her flashlight. We walked the peninsula dirt road to Route 30, the black macadam that runs north and south. It was three in the morning and there was no traffic as we approached the ramshackle cottage that was listing in the bog waters.
“Listen.” Nan commanded. We stopped and my skin prickled. It was quiet except for the frogs and crickets singing in the night. We proceeded slowly to the narrow path that wound through the undergrowth to the bleak cottage; Nan touched my arm and looked at me. ”Let me check. I’m friends with Brita. I’ll signal you with the flashlight.”
Nan kept her light down on the path and disappeared into the reeds and brush. Only a swamp creature could live in that old place, I thought to myself as an owl hooted. A cloud covered the moon, leaving me in darkness of the edge of the swamp.
Nan’s flashlight beamed through the cottage windows and then the stillness was broken by a shrill scream, then quiet. Even the marsh denizens paused and only only the loon cried from the southern end of the lake. I waited holding my breath, but Nan’s light had gone out. A cloud covered the moon for a few seconds and the trees and brush seemed to creep closer.
The realization slowly dawned that Nan was gone, vanished. It was time to for me to retreat and leave Vermont, return to Arizona. What had Nan said about Brita? “She’s not from here.” And then Nan pointed at the stars.
What had I gotten into? Martha Blake of Scottsdale had hired me to analyze her murdered spouse’s tangled finances, which ran into the millions. Martha had agreed I could take 2 weeks in Vermont to assess her dead husband’s complicated transactions. To my surprise Brita, the backpacking hitchhiker, had appeared at the Trac-Inn and waited on me for dinner. After taking my order, Brita had whispered that Martha had hired her to… “Take care of me”.
It was too dangerous to search for Nan. Better to leave Vermont and head back to Scottsdale. I had to focus on Martha and try to understand what was going on.
Time to go.