“When I said to trap him, I didn’t mean in here,” Mildred meowed as soon as Garret was inside the camper.
Stepping inside, I quickly closed the door behind me so that the squirrel couldn’t change his mind and bolt.
“I should poke your eyes out with my spear!” Garrett yelled at the cat.
She licked her paw to signal her disinterest in his threat.
“Ignore her,” I told him. “You’re probably hungry. I think I’ve got some peanuts in here.” I began to rummage through the cabinet.
“Tell me how you’re going to cure me,” he demanded.
I glanced over at the Siamese who was watching our exchange through narrowed eyes. “Answer him,” I ordered.
When she remained silent, I picked up the water gun and brandished it at her.
“Violence,” Glory shrieked. “I hate violence.”
“A hod!” Mildred leapt off the bed and charged toward the pot who I’d put on the table.
With my free hand, I snatched up Glory and clutched her to my chest, with the other, I shot the cat right between her blue eyes.
“Aaaaaahhhh!” Mildred yowled, swiping at me with her paw. “It burns!”
Her sharp nails sliced the back of my gun hand open.
“Ow!” I shot her again for good measure as I began to bleed.
A matching wound appeared on the back of her paw. “I hate you,” she howled.
“The feeling’s mutual!” I yelled back. “You’re a—”
Three knocks on the door to the camper interrupted my list of insults. I froze and stared down at the pot I held. What if it was Welmont, back to search for it? I’d be caught red-handed…literally since the gash was aggressively oozing.
There were three more knocks.
“You gonna answer that?” Garret asked sullenly.
“Hide it!” Conroy said.
“Where?” I asked.
She was too tall to fit in the kitchen cabinet.
I ran over to the bed and stuck Glory behind the pillow. “Sorry. Sorry,” I apologized.
I didn’t even have time to smooth the bedclothes as more insistent knocking began.
I rushed over to the door and threw it open, prepared to physically fight Welmont off if need be.
Instead I found myself staring at fellow camper Joe.
“You seen Norma?” he asked.
I shook my head. If I had seen the woman who was spreading lies about me, I was pretty sure the whole camp would know about it.
“She’s gone,” Joe said worriedly.
“Maybe she went for a walk,” I suggested as he tried to peer around me to see if I was hiding his drunken wife inside.
Even though I was inclined to keep everyone out, I stepped aside so that he could see for himself that she wasn’t there.
“She can’t have been gone for long,” I told him, remembering that they’d been arguing about burnt toast when Welmont had tried to search my vehicle. “But I can help you look for her.” I moved to step outside.
“You’re not leaving me alone with Bloodworth,” Garret said, streaking out of the camper past a startled Joe.
The man with the missing wife looked at me for an explanation, but I offered none. Instead I climbed out, closed the door and locked it. “Where do you think she might have headed?”
“Well why did you think she was with me?” I asked, trying to sound patient, even though I had better things to do than mount a search for someone who seemed to wish me ill.
He shrugged again.
“Maybe she’s playing with Richie,” I suggested.
“No, I checked at Ernie’s place first and the kid’s there telling him some story about a dragon or something.”
“Maybe she’s with Tess in the office?” I began to move in that direction.
“Maybe she’s left me.” He collapsed to his knees and began to wail. “She’s left me. My Norma’s left me.”
“Tell him he’s better off without her,” Garrett said.
Looking around, I spotted the squirrel in a nearby tree.
“My heart,” Joe continued, clutching his chest. “I think it’s broken.”
He listed to the side, slowly lying down. “I’m dying.”
If this was the way he reacted to most problems, I couldn’t fault Norma for leaving him.
I just stood there watching him writhe around moaning, hand to his heart. I didn’t tut-tut. I didn’t offer him reassurance. I didn’t tell him to snap out of it. I was rooted to the spot, just watching. I had the impression I’d seen this scene play out before, but it kept shifting in my mind, every time I tried to focus on it. I felt like it was important, so very important to remember it exactly, but try as I might, I couldn’t pin the memory down.
“Joe!” a voice called out, ruining my concentration.
I turned to see Norma and Marco hurrying toward us.
“Did you kill him too?” Norma screeched.
“I didn’t kill anybody,” I said calmly. But even as the words left my mouth, I found myself questioning them. I hadn’t killed Joe or Keith, but was I really as innocent as I claimed? I couldn’t know. Everything was so fuzzy.
I stepped out of the way so that Norma and Marco could fuss over the fallen Joe.
“It’s a miracle!” Joe declared, grabbing his wife’s hands. “You came back to me.”
“I never left, you old fool.” She shook off his grip and turned on me. “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing.” I was fascinated that her shimmer, which was usually the shade of orange sherbert was almost neon orange.
Behind her, Marco helped Joe to his feet and attempted to wipe some of the dirt and pine needles off him.
“You told him I’d left him?” Norma accused.
I shook my head. “I told him no such thing.”
“Then why was he beside himself?” she shrieked.
I shrugged. I didn’t understand his reaction either.
“Tell her he loves her,” Conroy suggested.
“He loves you,” I parroted dryly.
She blinked, taken aback. “You think so?”
“Of course I love you,” Joe muttered. “Why else would I put up with you?”
She turned and stared at him. “You mean that?”
He nodded, opened his arms and enveloped her in a bear hug. “Silly woman. You gave me a fright.”
They wandered off together arm-in-arm.
Marco wiped his brow. “So much excitement around here lately.”
I looked more closely at him and realized his shimmer was ringed in neon orange. I didn’t know what that meant, but I made a mental note to ask Conroy.
“That Nightway fellow seems intent on retrieving his family heirloom,” Marco continued.
“I hope he finds it,” I lied smoothly.
Marco nodded. “A treasure like that should not be lost.” He flashed a big smile at me, “And you, my dear, probably want your privacy.” He doffed an imaginary cap at me and strode off.
I walked over to the tree the squirrel was in and squinted up at him. “Ready to come back inside?”
“You didn’t tell me she was a cat,” Garrett groused. “How did that happen?”
“A spell backfired.”
“Serves her right,” he chortled gleefully. “Now she knows what it feels like.”
I nodded. “Come back in and we’ll figure this out.”
“No. I have to go say good-bye to Tess in case this doesn’t work. I’ll find you once it’s dark.” He ran down the tree and headed toward the office.
“She can’t understand him,” Conroy said sadly. “Imagine being close to your beloved, day in and day out, but having no way to communicate. It’s so sad.”
I thought I heard him sniffle.
I gave him a moment to compose himself before I asked, “What does neon orange mean?”
“A heightened emotional state in a human,” he replied after clearing his throat.
“I could have guessed that,” I told him.
I unlocked the door and stepped back into the camper. Mildred was on the bed, licking her injured paw. Glancing down at my hand, I realized I was still bleeding. I wrapped it in a paper towel and sat down at the table.
“You lost the squirrel, didn’t you?” Mildred asked.
“You scared him off,” I countered weakly, my heart just not in the argument.
Then there were two knocks at the door.