Chapters 10 – 12  Paola learns more about her past and Robin intensifies surveillance

Previously in Hold Gently the Shadows: Preface, Chapters 1 – 3, Chapters 4 – 6Chapters 7 – 9

             

                                                                                                           

Chapter Ten

Mentally willing the younger woman to answer the phone, Robin impatiently twisted a strand of hair around her finger as she paced in her hotel room. “Pick up, pick up!”

“Hello,” said Raven breathlessly.

“Where were you?”

“In the greenhouse. I couldn’t locate my phone in the poinsettia plants.”

“Poinsettias in a cold greenhouse?” Robin knew that Raven took great pride in operating a cool greenhouse relying on the natural temperatures of the changing Canadian seasons. She was also teaching online university horticultural classes supplemented by onsite practicums.

“My students and I are experimenting with varieties known to do best in colder temperatures,” said Raven. “It’s a lot of trial and error work, but we expect to have some good specimens for Christmas.”

“My little herbist,” said Robin fondly.

“I have you to thank for that,” said Raven. “Any news on your end?”

“There have been some developments here,” said Robin.

“You’ve located the baby?” asked Raven.

“Not yet, but I’ve seen Paisley.”

“Paisley! In Creekside?”

“She’s attending Black Springs Academy not far from here.”

“What were you doing at the abbey? ”

“Looking for our lady. Instead, I ended up seeing Paisley and a man I assume is her father.”

“It could complicate things with them on the scene.”

“I thought you were going to suggest we snatch Paisley along with Lady and the babe,” said Robin.

“Wouldn’t I love to! I’d be afraid we’d be poking a hornet’s nest though,” said Raven. “Do you have anything else for me?”

“Well, I know for certain that Lady’s apartment is on the third floor of Briarfeldy Manor.”

“I was really hoping you’d have more for me by now,” said Raven, making no attempt to hide her impatience.

“I’ll have you know, I’ve been very busy driving back and forth between Creekside and Black Springs as well as walking the streets at night,” said Robin.

Hearing the irritation in her mentor’s voice, Raven lightened her approach. “So you’ve become a lady of the night,” she said.

“There’s enough devilment in this town right now that they don’t need me to spice it up,” said Robin.

“What kind of devilment?”

“Voyeurism and murder for starts.”

“Are you serious?”

“Last night our lady didn’t go walking with her friend, Paola, so I went on a stroll by myself and witnessed a double murder attempt. One of the victims did, in fact, die, and the other remains in critical condition.”

“You witnessed this? I hope you didn’t get involved with the police.”

“I managed to slip away before anyone noticed me.”

“I’m certainly glad to hear that. Do they have a suspect?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Focus on our own mystery, Robin. Find the baby and get out of that town as fast as you can. We’ll look after the extractions.”

I have two mysteries to solve, not one, before I leave Creekside, thought Robin. Aloud, she said, “No need to lecture me on focus.”

“Sorry, I was simply afraid you’d get caught up in a police investigation.”

“No danger of that. Nonetheless, I’m prepared to stay here as long as necessary,” said Robin firmly.

“Do you have a strategy?”

“My strategy is multi-location and multi-person surveillance. I’m keeping watch over the occupants of Briarfeldy Manor along with the people living in the convent and condos of Black Springs Abbey. Any or all could provide clues to the activities of the lady and our baby.”

“I hope this isn’t going to go on for long,” said Raven, sighing.

“Only as long as necessary,” said Robin, ending the call before she said too much. It was hard not telling Raven of her interest in another woman, one calling herself, Maggie Crosby.

Whenever she wasn’t keeping surveillance on the manor or the abbey, Robin was subtly engaging townsfolk about their populace. Acting the curious tourist, she tossed questions about as she visited shops, restaurants, parks and points of interest. She learned that the young woman attacked was Maggie’s granddaughter and the man, the son of Crawford Quinn who lived, as luck would have it, in Briarfeldy Manor.

She had no trouble getting people to openly talk of the town’s oil heritage of which they were immensely proud. But whenever she hinted at the town’s reputation for having sensointuitive families amid their citizenry, they became notably reticent. Or they’d laugh it off, saying she must have heard tales about mutative genes caused by fumes from early oil fires and nitroglycerin explosions.

“It’s not true?” asked Robin.

“Nah, though rumours of strange happenings and sensointuitive powers make for a good tourist draw.”

Briarfeldy Manor Residents

Every now and then, Robin would luck into clusters of more talkative types who would dispense pieces of information. She met one of these, an elderly man and two women, at the Farmers Market early one Saturday morning. They acknowledged that the town did have families with exceptional abilities.

“Can you name any of these families?” asked Robin.

“Galvinstons, Moonstoreys, Weathertons,” said the man.

“Tennysons, Deleaneys,” contributed one of the women. “They excel at everything.”

“Do they seem to be unusually intuitive?” asked Robin.

“Oh, yes,” said the other woman. “People go to them for advice. That’s where the old witchcraft ideas came from.”

“Witchcraft?” asked Robin, urging them to continue.

“Nonsense, of course!” said the man. “It’s just that many of them are drawn to the healing arts. You know, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, herbs.”

“What about the visual arts?”

“That too. A few are gifted artists whose pieces sell internationally. Their work has uncanny depth and beauty.”

Uplifted by witness accounts of sensointuitives alive and well in Creekside, Robin celebrated by purchasing a jug of apple cider before returning to her hotel room.

 

Chapter Eleven

Paola pushed through the doors to the Neurosurgical Recovery Unit and uneasily approached the nursing station. “I’m here to see Alistair Quinn,” she told the nurse at the desk.

“He already has two visitors with him,” said the nurse. “Are you family?”

Paola paused. “I’m Alistair’s sister,” she said.

The nurse gave her an appraising look. “Five minutes,” she said. “I’ll be asking the others to leave soon too.”

Although Alistair was connected to tubes and beeping machines, his eyes swollen shut, and his head bandaged, Paola was relieved to see that he was breathing on his own. Crawford rose from his chair beside his son’s bed and introduced Paola to Alistair’s fiancée, Gwen.

“Crawford told me you might be coming,” said Gwen. “Is it true you might be Alistair’s biological sister?”

“We’re looking into it,” said Paola, surprised that Alistair had already shared this information.

“Alistair was so excited by the possibility, he had to tell me right away,” said Crawford. “And he said there might be another sister somewhere.”

“He has a better memory of things than I do,” said Paola.

“You and Alistair have the same dark hair and eyes,” said Gwen, coming to stand next to Paola at the patient’s bedside.

“Hey, Alistair,” said Paola softly. “It’s me, Paola.”

“Paola …” he murmured, turning his head slightly in her direction.

“Nice to hear your voice,” she said.

“He’s been in a medically induced coma for the past few days,” said Crawford. “Today is his first day back in the world and he keeps drifting in and out of wakefulness.

“Why the coma?” asked Paola.

“Insurance,” said Crawford. “The doctors told us that when you’re in a coma, your brain doesn’t need as much oxygen and nutrients as it normally does.”

He went on to relate that Alistair suffered a depressed skull fracture and needed surgical intervention to correct the deformity. The surgeon also removed an epidural hematoma, a blood clot beneath the skull and the dura, the tough membrane covering the brain.

“Now we have to await the long term outcome,” he said.

“I’m here,” said Alistair faintly.

Crawford chuckled. “I know you are, son, and I’m not saying anything the doctors haven’t already told you.”

Although shocked by the extent of Alistair’s injuries, Paola had, in fact, been doing her own research. She’d learned that the skull is strong and difficult to break because it has no bone marrow. On the negative side, the skull’s hardness makes it unable to absorb the impact of a blow, thus allowing the brain to jostle about. Brain injury can produce ongoing headaches, lightheadedness, vertigo, nausea, confusion, memory loss, seizures and even partial paralysis. Hopefully, Alistair would be spared the worst of these.

“Is it floggly?…No…no,” said Alistair, flailing in frustration at his inability to articulate what he meant.

“It’s okay, honey,” said Gwen, rubbing his face gently. “A little practice and you’ll get your words sorted out.”

“You’re actually doing extremely well,” said Crawford reassuringly. “The docs say you can go home soon if you stay with me.”

Alistair incoherently mumbled something that might have been, “Lucky me.”

“You’ll be getting homecare and physio while staying with your dad,” said Gwen.

“Bedder ‘n’ bedder,” said Alistair, his words slurred and slow.

At that moment, a nurse came in to check on her patient and tell his visitors they had stayed overly long. Crawford patted his son’s arm and Gwen gave her fiancé a careful kiss. Paola bid Alistair a quiet goodbye and set off for Briarfeldy to finish an overdo editing assignment.

While turning into the manor’s driveway, she noticed a woman walking slowly along the sidewalk. Paola vaguely recognized her from somewhere. Brown hair, big glasses. Oh, yes, she was at the library the day of Paola’s workshop and left before the presentation ended.

The woman stopped to watch the car pull up to the manor’s windowless garage. Paola noticed but was unconcerned. The garage was as secure as the manor itself, its vehicle doors automatically opening and closing, and its man door exiting into the secluded back garden.

 

Chapter Twelve

On the following day, Paola invited Owen and his son for dinner. Colin insisted on bringing the dog rescued from the recent crime scene.

“She gets lonely and cries if I leave her,” explained the boy. “She’s very well behaved and she won’t be any trouble,” said Colin.

“Is she vicious?” asked Paola, drawing back in feigned fear.

“Not to me,” said Colin seriously, “but Dad says she will make a good watch dog.”

“Does she have a name?”

“Polly. She’s a standard schnauzer, and she has a beard even though she’s a girl.”

The dog wagged her tail at mention of her name, and looked at the boy with soulful eyes. In the prime of dog life, her wiry black coat glistened, and beneath bristly eyebrows, her alert, dark eyes took in the unfamiliar surroundings.

After dinner, Colin and Polly went to the living room to snuggle together on the sofa. Owen stayed in the kitchen while Paola cleared away dishes.

“Garth Mayfield and I dropped in on Genevieve and Maggie this morning,” said Owen.

“How were they?” asked Paola.

“Understandably distraught. Janine was Genevieve’s only child and Maggie’s sole grandchild.”

“Such a tragedy,” said Paola.

“We didn’t get far with the interview because they burst into fresh sobs with every question we asked,” said Owen. “So I’m not breaking confidentiality in telling you Genevieve and Maggie mentioned their move to Creekside ten years ago by which time they were both separated from their husbands.”

“Common knowledge,” agreed Paola.

“I can update you on the dog though,” said Owen. “Janine got the dog against their wishes, and neither of them want anything to do with it.”

“Are you keeping her then?”

“I’m letting the humane society handle the legalities. That way, Janine’s family can neither accuse me of stealing their dog nor break Colin’s heart down the road by reclaiming her.”

The conversation drifted to Paola’s memory-dreams and yesterday’s visit with her parents in Toronto. The dreams were increasingly transforming into gloomy memories where she and other children endured abuse and neglect. Punished for crying, they learned to withdraw mutely, taking comfort in each other’s presence.

Happiness came from irregular visits from the Grandma person who took them for car rides and ice cream cones. She brought them playthings and clothing as well, but after Grandma left, the children were only allowed to keep clothing. Toys and stuffed animals became property of the daycare because they ‘wouldn’t want to become selfish children who never shared’, would they?

“Were your parents able to shed any light on things?” asked Owen.

“They were told very little about my pre-adoption years,” said Paola, “and my dream recollections made them sad.”

Blanche and Walker Crispo told their daughter the period surrounding her adoption had been one of joyful confusion. They had almost abandoned the hope of ever having a child of their own when they received a call from a licensed private agency. The agency person referred them to a lawyer who was seeking clients with completed homestudy assessments.

Since the Crispos fit this criterium and were willing to pay the lawyer’s exorbitant fees, the adoption process moved quickly and smoothly. The lawyer told them the child had been born of teenage parents four years earlier and been recently relinquished from the custody of an older relative. He was insistent they change her name immediately to finalize the adoption process.

The following day, she was brought to their home by a worker who promised to visit from time to time. The worker returned once more, and satisfied that the Crispo household was an ideal placement, concluded his visits.

It didn’t occur to Blanche and Walker to question the lawyer’s speedy name-changing directive or to ever ask the child about the life and people she left behind. Instead they showered their new daughter with books, games and lovely clothes. They exposed her to global travel and lessons in music, dance, swimming and tennis. She excelled at many things and had no conscious recollection of foster parents, or Doris and Dwight, or Grandma.

Blanche and Walker offered to show their daughter her birth certificate and help her investigate her parentage. Paola asked them to give her the certificate in a sealed envelope. For now, she would wait until Alistair progressed further in his rehabilitation and recovery program. Then the two of them would search the past together.

“I’m almost jealous,” said Owen.

“Of Alistair?” asked Paola, surprised.

“Of the time you’ll be spending with him rather than me.”

Paola bent over the dishwasher to hide her smile. She was unable to conceal the blush creeping across her face.