I spent the night on the floor of the Raven’s Nest office. Welmont had declared that my camper was a crime scene and I wasn’t allowed back in it.
Part of me had wanted to argue with him, to point out that Keith’s cause of death was the gaping hole in his forehead and not my vehicle, but I knew that it served my best interest to not antagonize the cop.
He had offered to allow me the chance to return to retrieve Mildred, but I was happy to get the break of a night without the cat’s presence. It served my former mother-in-law right that she had to spend the night in the woods alone and I was grateful for the silence.
She tends to harp on me incessantly in her nasty, disapproving way and I was glad to be rid of her.
Tess, having an apartment off the back of the office, slept in the next room. I wasn’t too alarmed that I was slumbering so near a suspected murderer. From the way he publicly interrogated her, Welmont made it clear that he considered her to be the prime suspect based on Karen’s accusation about Keith getting what he deserved. I didn’t believe it. The older woman was quirky, sure, maybe even grouchy, but she didn’t strike me as the killer type.
Besides, I knew that I could take her in a fight if I had to, so I slept easily.
Once everyone had cleared out, she was kind enough to bring me a spare blanket and pillow that smelled of a perfume so sweet it almost made me gag. Still, I was grateful that I could put them on the floor and get some rest.
“Give a holler if you need anything,” she offered before closing the door to her place.
You would think after having thump-thumped over a body and facing the prospect of sleeping on a hard wood floor, in the presence of a could-be murderer, that I might have had trouble dozing off. I had none. I was exhausted from all the driving and my struggles to save the white rabbit from the trio of Filchers. I was asleep almost the moment I closed my eyes. I didn’t awake until the next morning when the birds started singing and rays of sunlight began to wash through the grimy office windows.
I stretched and had to swallow a moan. I hadn’t found it difficult to sleep on the hard floor, but my body obviously had not enjoyed it. I gingerly got to my feet, feeling stiff and sore.
The door to the room of my gracious hostess was still closed, so after I folded up the blanket, I tiptoed out the entrance of the office. Taking care to avoid the rotting step, I shuffled a few yards away from the building and surveyed the surrounding woods. I searched for a sign indicating a restroom, but there was none.
Hearing rustling in the underbrush, I followed the sound of the noise down the road a bit to a clearing. I hoped to see the tailless squirrel, Garret, but he was nowhere in sight. Instead I was surprised to spot a white rabbit.
I squinted at it trying to determine whether it was the same one I had saved the day before.
“What are the chances there’d be another?” I muttered under my breath.
“Another what?” Conroy asked.
I pulled the owl necklace out from beneath my shirt so that he could get a view of the rabbit.
“Oh…another white hare. Highly unlikely,” Conroy opined. “Unless of course there’s a magician in the area who’s breeding them.”
For a brief moment the top hat that I’d seen the night before came to mind.
“Hello,” I called softly to the bunny, hoping that it wouldn’t insult me and run off the way the tailless squirrel had the night before.
The rabbit didn’t reply. Not a word. I took that to mean he was a reticent male. He also didn’t run off. I took thatas a good sign.
“What’s your name?” I asked crouching down. I didn’t dare take another step toward him for fear of spooking the animal and having him disappear into the woods.
Again, the rabbit stayed silent.
“Do you remember me?” I asked. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The rabbit held his ground, twitching his nose, not making a sound.
I frowned wondering if I’d lost my touch. There are a few things that I can do fairly well. I can see shimmer, I can fight in a way where time somehow slows down for my opponents, and I can talk to animals. But for some reason, this particular animal didn’t want to speak to me.
I considered calling my friend Maggie Lee, who can also talk to animals to see if she had any advice. She lives with an entire menagerie, but none of the animals that make up her family are rabbits.
“Maybe rabbits don’t talk,” I said to Conroy.
“You say with all seriousness while you’re talking to a pendant,” he drawled sarcastically.
“Maybe he’s traumatized from yesterday. Too scared to speak,” I suggested. “Maybe he thinks I’m one of the bad guys.”
“Are you sure you’re not?”
I shook my head, not wanting to even consider that possibility.
The rabbit’s ears swiveled toward the sound of tires rolling down the gravel road toward us.
“Wait,” I implored, sensing that he was about to bolt. “I just need to talk to–”
Before I finished my sentence, the rabbit dashed into the woods and was gone.
“That went well,” Conroy observed.
“So far you’ve been insulted by the squirrel and ignored by the rabbit,” he said. “maybe you’re not the person for this job. Maybe you should have called in Maggie for help.”
I shrugged and stood up slowly, feeling the aches and pains from having slept on the wooden floor throughout my body.
Instead of replying to him, I turned to face the beat-up pickup truck that was approaching. I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath, worried that it was Welmont returning until my chest began to ache. I exhaled shakily and watched as Ernie parked the truck in front of the office and slowly slid out of the driver seat, using his carved walking stick for balance.
“Morning, Smoosher Queen” he cackled.
“Morning ,” I replied. “Can you point me in the direction of a bathroom?”
He waved his arms expansively, indicating the trees surrounding us. “Help yourself to all the all-natural, non-processed TP you need.”
“There isn’t a public restroom around?” I asked, not relishing the idea of relieving myself in the woods.
“Afraid not.” he squinted at me. “Welmont still won’t you let you into your camper?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t checked with him yet.” The truth was, I didn’t want to ask Corporal Welmont anything that I didn’t absolutely have to. I knew that the less I dealt with him, the better off I’d be.
But nature was calling and I couldn’t avoid that. I eyed the treeline.
“I’m sure Tess would let you use hers, Ernie said, seeing my discomfort.
“I’ve already imposed on her enough.” I waved in the direction of the old man and made a beeline for the trees hoping that the cop wouldn’t come along and charge me with indecent exposure or relieving myself on public property.
I was so busy searching for the perfect tree to hide behind, that I wasn’t watching where I was going.
Blindly, I stepped into the trap, slipping, twisting my ankle, and sprawling flat on my face.
With the air knocked out of me, I gasped for breath as I rolled over onto my back.
I was so relieved to realize I’d managed to not wet myself as part of my undignified tumble, that I was totally unprepared for the next wave of the attack.
A primitive spear was headed straight for me.