Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7) (4 page)

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
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“A fire?”

“No ma’am. Wiring’s all safe, I done told you that.”

“Then what?”

“We couldn’t get a hold of you.”

“Yes, I know. My cell phone is––well, not operating right.”

“Because you don’t charge it,” said Nina, quietly.

“Be quiet,” said Margot, not so quietly.

“We knew you was down on the coast. But we couldn’t––”

“I know, I know. Just open the gate, Ben. We’ll drive on up to the house.”

Ben did open the gate, which was a marvelous feat, Nina remarked, for a creature devoid of tissue and dependent on the stalky remains of harvested grain.

Margot drove through.

“They’ll be waitin’ for you once you get up there. They been tryin’ all morning to get you but––”

“I know I know”, shouted Margot at the rear view mirror, accelerating slightly and cursing not so slightly.

“Well,” said Nina, “at least we know they tried to get in touch with you.”

“Yes. And we’re going to know why, too. We’re almost there.”

And they were.

Forest forest forest––

Sharp turn to the right––

––and there it was.

The Candles.

All they had to do was cross a perilous little wooden bridge which spanned a fast-moving creek about ten feet wide.

“Is that bridge safe?” asked Nina.

“It is now.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it wasn’t always so safe. We had to have it worked on.”

“When?”

“Just after it collapsed with one of the limousines. Thankfully the water in the stream isn’t too deep. The ladies––”

“Ladies?”

“Yes, a group from the D.O.C.”

“What’s that?”

“Daughters of the Confederacy. Anyway, they got pretty wet. But we managed to get the thing settled without a lawsuit. The bridge is fine now.”

“I want to go home.”

“Nonsense, you worry too much. Come on, just close your eyes and we’ll be on the other side before you know it.”

Nina closed her eyes as tightly as possible, and gripped the arm rest beside her.

In no more than six hours they had crossed the rattling-timbered bridge.

“Thank God,” she whispered.

She opened her eyes.

And there was the main building of the plantation, all spread out before them.

As Margot pulled into the driveway and parked the car, Nina found herself struck again by the non-magnificence of the structure that surrounded her. She remembered the Robinson Mansion from Bay St. Lucy. This was the exact opposite. The Robinson Mansion, both in its original state, its run-down state, and its now resurrected state, had been built to intimidate. Its arches, windows, balconies, trellises, canopies, chandeliers, gutters, shutters, and butteries—all looked down on something, even if they had been built at ground level so that nothing could, at least physically, be beneath them.

It did not matter; everything was beneath them anyway.

Wherever one was in or around the Robinson Mansion, a part of it was frowning.

This building smiled. Every part of it. The color of its exterior walls—a soft and mellow off-peach which was the precise color of slanted sunlight on a late Friday afternoon—this color smiled. The broad porch smiled at the white and motionless rocking chairs which sat upon it, while they smiled, in turn, at the dilapidated outbuildings, which smiled at the rusted farm machinery and antiquated carriages that sat within them. And from the well in the middle of the back yard, its wooden frame apparently on the point of disintegrating with age and dropping into water far beneath ground level, the bucket which hung gleaming in the mid afternoon sun—from the very moss-covered stones rising above this well, there emanated a kind of benevolence, as though coming out of the deep earth itself, seeping over the lawns and fall gardens, and settling quietly at dusk into the not very recently mown grass.

Margot and Nina got out of the car.

There was no movement anywhere, no sound, except for birds chirping in the trees.

Then, finally, something came around the house and began approaching .

Nina turned quickly.

She saw a white form lumbering toward them, its tongue, like an obscenely red garden hose, hanging halfway to the ground and spraying saliva as though it were an extremely slow flying crop dusting plane with long white hair.

The animal looked occasionally from side to side but kept its attention riveted for the most part on a particular patch of ground that happened to be beneath it at the time, and that needed both watering and stepping on.

The dog sidled up to Margot, who laid one of her broad hands upon its much broader back, the effect being something like a cargo plane landing on an aircraft carrier.

“Borg,” she said. “I don’t know how old he is, or why he was named that. He just came with the place.”

“Ms. Gavin!”

Nina realized, upon hearing this exclamation, that the house had been strangely inverted on its grounds, or that, more precisely, the grounds had been inverted around the house. Because the driveway she and Margot had approached the building on had led them to the back of the plantation and not the front entrance.

So that the creature now making its way toward them—woman, not dog—was coming out of the back door and clattering over the back porch.

Clattering was exactly the correct word.

For if Ben Danielson––handyman, plumber, etc.—was the scarecrow, this woman was the Tin Man.

Her body was composed of two metallic cylinders, each covered over with a thin film of skin-colored paint, the entire assemblage bouncing along a series of interlocking cans that functioned as legs.

“Mildred? Mildred, what’s happened?”

Mildred kept coming, rattling off the porch now and onto the grass, which, had it not already been browned by the late August heat, would certainly have been crushed to death by the half-ton weight of each of her feet.

“We couldn’t get hold of you!”

Margot, who had already heard this statement now from two or three hundred other people, tried to hide her exasperation by taking a few futile steps toward the building.

“I’ve been down in Bay St. Lucy! You knew that, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but we tried to call you there, and you never answered.”

“I forgot to charge my cell phone! What’s going on?”

“We tried to get hold of you, but nobody answered!”

“I forgot to charge my cell phone!”

“You see, we called you. But we couldn’t get no answer!”

“I forgot to charge my cell phone!”

“We kept trying to call you, but…”

“What,” asked Nina, realizing that she would be driven insane by even one more repetition of the same lines, “is the matter?”

Everyone—Mildred, Margot, Borg, and several other younger people who had appeared on the eight-foot wide blue-painted board porch that surrounded the house—stared at her.

The world stopped.

“This,” said Margot, starting it again, “is my friend Nina.”

Thousand one thousand two––

“You see we tried to––”

“Let’s go inside, Mildred,” said Margot.

And they did.

So that a few minutes later they were, at least three of them were, sitting around a small breakfast table in the kitchen, adjacent to the entrance hallway. This house seemed topsy-turvy to Nina, with the front door really opening to the back of the place.

It was a homey room though
, she thought.

All the stuff for baking. Pans hung neatly on the walls. A stove tucked into the corner. A big open-faced clock smiling down on them from the west wall.

And Margot, taking a deep breath, then exhaling calm words with the same demeanor she would have used to exhale tobacco fumes, when she still smoked.

“I know, and Nina now knows too, that you have all tried to contact me. I’m sorry that I did not have my cell phone on. It’s clear that something has happened. It’s also clear that the plantation has not burned down, because we are sitting in it right now, as we speak. It’s also somewhat clear that no one has died, since there are no police cars, no ambulances, and no yellow tapes marking a crime scene. So what, Mildred, the heck is going on?”

The holes that were ’face’ in the upper can of Mildred that was ‘head’ dilated slightly and flashed, leading Nina to wonder where her power source was.

“You said it wouldn’t happen again, Ms. Gavin! You promised us. You promised all of us. You did!”

There were at least four other people, all teenagers, three girls and one boy, who were flitting about just outside the kitchen, ascending and descending the stairways, carrying pasteboard boxes, frowning, almost running into each other, running into each other, cursing softly, and looking over their shoulders as if expecting the nearest door to them to open and disgorge trouble.

“What wouldn’t happen? What did I say wouldn’t happen?”

“Those people!”

“What people?”

“We tried to call you but––”

“Mildred––”

Air hissed into the larger can that was Mildred’s thorax.

She let it do its work inside her machinery, then allowed some of it to escape through a ventral screen, and went on repeating herself:

“You said you wouldn’t let them come again!”

“Who?”

“You promised all of us that––”

“Who?”

“Because after the last time, when they––”

“Who?”

“And we begged you. We was all gonna quit, right then and there, but––”

“Who?”

Somebody tripped on the stairs, fell down a few of them, cursed as a box of dishes shattered, cursed again as she or he—it was pretty much indistinguishable at this point—got up and kept doing whatever was being done, and then tripped again.

“It was yesterday. About six in the evening.”

“All right. Now we’re getting somewhere. What happened yesterday about six in the evening?”

“We had everything all cleaned up and locked away. Lights was off. All the doors and windows locked up good.”

“Right.”

“We were all getting ready to head into town. Two cars was here to take us.”

I wonder
, Nina found herself musing,
if we will ever come to the end of this story? If we will ever find out what really happened? Or if we will simply sit here almost finding out, hearing a bit more and a bit more of the build up to it, until we die. People die. We ourselves are dying. What if the Lord has not given us sufficient time to get to the heart of this, the substance of it? What if we are taken before we are enlightened?

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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