Ancora Io, (Part 20) Annapurna II
(this is a continuation of a novel, Ancora Io, started here. The full text can be found here.)
The knocking came again.
Annapurna heard herself call out, "You can come in; the door is open."
The door opened, and a pool of darkness entered the room. Annapurna felt herself half rise, trying to make out who had entered. Try as she might, the image kept slipping into a blurred shadow as the person stamped the snow off boots and walked to a chair on the other side of her desk.
"No names," said the visitor as she sat.
"How can I help you?"
"I am having trouble. Trouble with a man in my life. Could you follow him? Find out what you can. He is doing bad things. He is trying to sell the Town Library."
Annapurna felt herself take a deep breath, unsure of how to deal with the situation. She wanted to know who was sitting across the table. But then her voice started, showing no hesitation, "It will not be cheap, but the more information you can give me, the less cost to you. With this type of investigation, if the man is local, we can meet for an oral report at the end of each day. My terms are $80 cash paid after each report, plus any agreed expenses, starting tomorrow."
"Is that usual for you detectives?"
"No. I am not your usual detective. Listen, you are asking me to do the sorts of things you are frightened to do yourself. I understand that, and the payment represents the risk I am taking. I am not sure what you are looking for yet, but with each report, you will be able to refine the questions you want to be answered."
"I did not expect..."
"Well, now you know. If you want to proceed, I will start asking questions, and we can get this investigation started."
"Do I have to pay for tonight?"
"No, just report nights. You can end the investigation any time you wish after a report."
There was a pause, and the shadow became less substantial.
"Ask away, but no names."
"I know who you are."
"Don't write that down, please. This town is small. Word gets around."
"Who is the man you want me to investigate?"
"Bruce. The Town Counsellor."
"And what is he doing that concerns you? Please give me as much detail as you can. Remember, this will save you money and time."
Annapurna pricked up her ears, but the scene was starting to fade.
"I want to know if he is seeing other women. And. I think he is trying to sell the Town Library for his benefit. Something about redeveloping the parking lot at the rear of the Library..."
The scene faded, and the woman's voice became indistinct.
Annapurna found herself in darkness, and for a moment, started to panic yet again.
Then she heard her house furnace kick in and felt a breath of warmth touch her. She felt herself shivering as the lights to her study flickered on. She shook her head, trying to knock the cobwebs out.
Sitting in front of her was her notebook. She found two new pages in her novel, written by a hand she did not know.
She sat back in her seat, feeling her body warm in her clean clothes and trying to relax.
This was a most unexpected ending to a day that had thrown up all sorts of new challenges. But, she thought sternly, it had ended on a good note with the snacks and meeting her personal goal of completing two more pages. She let that rattle around in her mind for a moment and frowned.
Her mother woke her early with a cheery smile, and they went for an early morning walk and to find breakfast in the crisp air. There had been a fall of snow, and a sheet of ice covered the little stream across Main Street.
"Did you do your writing last night?"
"Yes, thank you, Mother, I did. I think I did. At least, there are two new pages complete."
"I do not understand you Girl, enlighten me."
They avoided a roped-off area with a fall of bricks outside Toni's Diner and found their usual table.
Toni's face appeared around the corner, and he smiled, "Be right out folks."
As they sat, Annapurna sighed and set out the strange events of the previous night. "I explained to Maxwell the type of story I wanted to write, and Maxwell drew a dragon as I spoke. I might be able to use it on the cover of my book. It is perfect. On the way home, I showed him the gargoyle on the top of the Library. He hadn't noticed it before. In the moonlight and clouds, it too was life-like and appeared to move. He hurried us away. I came home and had your delicious snacks. And I sat, wanting to write but unsure how to start. Then, for a little time, I imagined myself in the story. Completely. It was most unsettling. A bit like going to sleep in Boston and waking up on a dusty path with horses in New Mexico with cowboys wandering around. When finally I woke from the dream, my eyes opened, and I was sitting at my desk with the new pages written. But, and please do not scold me, I do not recognize the hand that wrote the pages."
"That is a most strange evening. I take it you are not saying you ended up in New Mexico for a while?"
"No. I think it was a place near to us. Perhaps near the train station or the shunting yards."
"And you were not transported back in time to the days of Billy the Kid and police officer Garrett?"
"No, no. I apologize; I have distracted us with an irrelevant analogy."
"Not at all. Sometimes a fanciful analogy prompts questions that would go unasked. What time did you dream sequence happen in - during the day, or at night, or the same time you were dream-writing?"
Annapurna looked at her mother and smiled. Toni bustled in with their usual order steaming, and they settled to their meal.
"It was night, and the train yard was shunting interstate freight."
"What season was it?"
"Winter, one of the people in the scene brought snow into the room."
Her mother asked, casually, "And did the scene touch on the great battle between the modern internet and the old library you and I are so fond of?"
Annapurna felt a shiver through her body, "Perhaps. Perhaps, after all, my detective is my tool for exploring this great mystery." She felt a flush of heat pass through her body.
Her mother chose to ignore her excitement, "A most unconventional way of writing a story. But, I daresay, after a long day, it must have been gratifying to finish all the tasks you set yourself."
Annapurna tried to contain her excitement, "I confess that I wondered what you had put in the bakarwadi for the words to come so easily."
"It is based on an old recipe, not those concocted by fashion seekers. It has been in our family for many generations of the women and came to them from the tribes that roam the great deserts but save for the magic of love, there is nothing unusual. Except perhaps for the poppy seeds. You can never have too many poppy seeds."
Annapurna raised her eyebrows, and her mother burst into laughter.
"A harmless joke, no. The poppy seeds that are sold in packets here lacked the bite of those when I was just a child."
"You tease me."
"You are looking for explanations for writing your novel with your eyes shut in a careless hand. I am just happy to hear that you are finding your way of writing."
"My writing leaves me feeling disturbed and excited. I want to go back to my desk right now and work on it."
Her mother shook her head, "You have a day of untangling the affairs of the Farmer Ned Francis, put your novel to one side, let a little of your mind turn over your story so that tonight you can write." As an afterthought, she asked, "Would it help to read it to me?"
"Perhaps tonight, thankyou. I must prepare for work."
Just then, her phone rang. It was Maxwell, checking on her, as promised.
She clenched her teeth and told him that all was well.
Her mother watched her as she spoke.
After she hung up, she chided her daughter quietly, "Why not tell your friend that you are feeling uncomfortable?"
"I want to keep our relationship just about books, not uncertain moments with dragons or confessing strange things to him. What an impression I would leave were I to start to confess all my weaknesses and uncertainties to him?"
"It helps to talk to friends."
"No. Maxwell will write it all down. Before I know it, I will be reading about myself in his love stories..."
She felt a moment of disconnect, as though she had just stumbled over something that could explain her discomfort. But the moment left.