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   Chapter 3 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 17438

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:20


Chapter 3

I winced as the doctor cleaned the dried blood from my scalp. The sharply astringent odor made my nose itch and the doctor made an odd humming sound under his breath as he worked. Every now and again I thought I could detect a tune, but then he would shift and I would lose the thread. Either his humming was random or he only half knew the song he was trying to replicate.

"I think we can do without stitches, " he told me, abandoning his humming. Actually, the words were addressed to Swift instead of me. I felt a bit like a puppy being taken to the vet; a familiar feeling, in this office sadly. Dr. Harding knew who Swift was and had treated me for pretty much every injury I sustained while consulting for the Company. Hell, he had even treated me for strep throat and chicken pox. Never once had he managed to address me directly. Since he was officially a coroner, no one but me complained of his bedside manner. Like the official record, I had learned to simply accept him as part of my reality.

"Did she lose consciousness?" Dr. Harding asked.

"No, " Swift replied.

"Was she dazed for more than twenty minutes?"

Swift glanced at me. "No, " I told him. Dr. Harding nodded, but continued to address Swift.

"Then I doubt she had anything more than a Grade 1 concussion. She should be fine. Let me know if she gets dizzy or confused." Dr. Harding turned away, took his surgical gloves off and placed them into the trashcan.

"Will do Doc, thanks, " Swift said. I slid off the exam table and followed Swift out of the room. I was always happy to leave the discrete medical practice of Dr. Harding. The building may have looked like an off-shoot of a strip mall outside, but inside it smelled of pain and secrets. The air was heavy and nauseating. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to be treated by a doctor who at least pretended to care about his patient's comfort.

As Swift pulled out of the parking lot, I frowned. I had been to and from Dr. Harding's place enough to know how to get home. We weren't heading towards my apartment.

"Um, Swift where are we going?" I asked.

"You are going to a hotel." He told me.

"A hotel?"

"Yes, " Swift replied. His face was set into grim lines. "You were taken outside your apartment, which means someone knows where to find you. Until we figure out who and how much they know, you will stay at the hotel."

I sighed. The look Swift wore was one I was intimately familiar with. Its appearance meant that there was little point in arguing. I also knew there was little point in asking how long I would be at the hotel as the answer would be 'as long as needed'. Like stall and admit nothing, as long as needed was one of his stock phrases.

"I'll have to call work, " I said, knowing that calling in and telling Mr. Hanson I would not be in, but I couldn't say how long I would be out would result in yet another firing. I sighed heavily. I had enjoyed working in the flower shop. But then again I had also enjoyed working in the jewelry store, the three bookstores, and the Putt-Putt Palace before landing the job at the flower shop. Serving as Swift's asset tended to wreak havoc on my ability to hold a normal job.

"I'll call, " Swift said.

"I will need to call Dave too and let him know I made it back safely since he saw the whole kidnapping thing."

"I will deal with Dave as well, " Swift told me. "Until he is cleared of involvement, you will have no contact with him."

I sighed again, but restrained myself from comment as we drove. I should have known better than to try and have a life.

We got to the hotel. It was not high end, as expense accounts were always tight, but it wasn't a low rent motel either as those were known for their shoddy security. The hotel Swift chose was comfortably in the middle. It looked like the sort of place someone rolling through town on business would stay for the night and had security that made anyone from middle class America feel safe and protected. I had my doubts, but Swift approved.

Swift got me checked in and walked me to my room. Like the economic range of the hotel, the room was located more or less in the middle. It was on the third floor of the six storey hotel and located equal distance from both the elevator and the stairwell. It was Swift's preferred location.

I had once asked him why he didn't get a ground floor room nearest to an exit since to me that seemed like a better option. He told me that his choice not only gave him more options in dealing with the situation, but that the room I suggested would be the first suspected and therefore the first target. He then told me that he always paid for the obvious room as well as the one he actually used. The obvious room served as an early warning system. I then received a lesson in the type of surveillance equipment he placed in that room. While the conversation had been an informative lesson in how Swift's mind worked, I decided there were some things it was best not to question in the future.

I made note of the nook containing the soda, snack and ice machines as we passed. Swift opened the hotel door and motioned me inside. It was a relief to be inside the privacy of the room. The desk clerk had failed to hide his surprise at my appearance.

"Um Swift?" I said as he turned to go.

"Yes?"

"I'm going to need a change of clothes, and some pajamas or something. I can't wander around in a torn dress until you clear my apartment." Swift blinked and let his eyes scan me from head to toe.

"Make a list."

I nodded and walked to the small desk provided for hotel customers with laptops. In the small drawer I found a pen and a square notepad emblazoned with the hotel logo. I sat down and jotted down the basics; clothes, toothbrush, deodorant and my prescribed vitamins.

Hoping Swift was in a decent mood when he picked up my stuff, I added exercise clothes and sneakers since I had seen signs for a fitness center as we came in. Swift may want me holed up in the hotel room while he sorted things out, but I doubted I could stare at the four walls for very long without some sort of break. Besides, the hotel's cleaning staff would need access to the room at some point.

I added band aids and ointment for my blisters and crossed my fingers as I put my laptop bag with its current contents on the list. I handed the list to Swift and watched his eyes scan down the items.

"Laptop?"

"My laptop bag has my e-reader and my i-pod as well as my laptop. I won't go on-line until you tell me it is safe, " I told him, figuring that was what he would object to the most.

"Is your phone in there too?"

"No, " I said and then swore. "My phone was in my purse, which I was carrying when they grabbed me. My wallet is in there too. I'll need to call the bank and credit card companies."

"I think your purse was recovered at the scene. I'll check." Swift folded the paper and tucked it into a pocket. "I'll be back in an hour. Don't leave the room."

I snorted. My dress was torn, my hair matted with dried blood and my feet were killing me; I wasn't going anywhere. My stomach rumbled and Swift shook his head.

"I'll pick up something for you to eat as well."

"Thanks, " I said.

Swift waved away my thanks and let himself out of the room. I heard the door snick shut, but went to check the knob anyway, putting the chain on for an extra measure of security. With Swift only planning to be gone an hour and nothing to change into, I wasn't quite ready to take a shower. I was however more than ready to lose the shoes. I took the shoes off and sighed with pleasure as my feet sunk into the soft carpet. The room had two queen sized beds and I picked up the television remote, settling myself delicately on the edge of one of the beds.

I flipped through channels, figuring I would get my bathroom shocker done in one fell swoop after Swift brought me my clothes. That way I could strip off the dress, bathe, assess and deal with the damage all at once. I could already feel what was sure to be a bruise along my ribs and I wondered if I had the imprint of a tire iron, a jack or whatever else was stashed in the trunk with me on my flesh.

I stopped the channel flipping when an old Looney Toons cartoon flashed on screen. I set the remote to the side as Daffy and Buggs engaged in a battle of wits. The shaking started in my hands and seemed to sink deep into my bones. It was as if my very bones were vibrating as I finally let myself think about how wrong things could have gone.

I tried to take deep calming breaths as my body shuddered uncontrollably and my mind told me soothing r

ational statements to calm the rising panic. Swift would figure out what was going on. He would figure out who knew about me and what they wanted. And then my life would go back to normal. I let out a short bark of laughter that echoed in the clean smelling hotel room and sounded slightly hysterical. My life hadn't been normal in a long time, if it ever had been.

They guessed my age at about six months when they found me. I had been placed in a plastic basket, the kind used at grocery stores when you only need a few items and didn't want to bother with a cart. I had been swaddled in a dove gray blanket with red trim. To keep me steady or perhaps warm, paper had been stuffed around me. The paper turned out to be pages torn from the Oxford English Dictionary. The title page had been clutched in my fist as I slept, unaware of the change in the world around me.

The paper had been searched for a note, but none was found. There was no secret code in the pages either. The pages bundled around me had included the front piece, which I clutched, the pronunciation guide and list of symbols used, a blurb about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary or OED and a substantial chunk of the A section. It was as though someone started at the front and continued ripping until enough pages had been added to serve as adequate insulation against the world.

The social worker who was the first to take charge of me saw my small size and pallid, slightly jaundiced skin and had been reminded of fairy tales her Irish-born grandmother had told her about changelings. Since changeling was not an acceptable name, Brownie had been used.

Even though the doctor pronounced me healthy, my small size and somewhat sickly appearance turned prospective parents off. After all, if you were going to handpick a child, would you go for the one who didn't look long for this world? Time after time, I was cleaned up, trotted out and then sent back to the group home, rejected like a bruised peach tossed back in the bin.

It wasn't until much later that the doctors, namely Dr. Harding, reached the conclusion that my appearance was due to a fluctuating chemical imbalance. After three months of specialized vitamins, I looked as healthy as any other child. Of course by then I had passed my adoption expiration date. Most people wanted children younger than me.

After a childhood of foster home bouncing, long stays at the Riverdale Girl's Home and rejection at every turn, it had seemed like a miracle when Swift and his people wanted me. I was sixteen when Swift discovered me and my special abilities.

I had once again been returned to Riverdale like an overdue library book. The family I was staying with had broken up due to a barely hidden affair and a growing inability to hide a prescription drug addiction. Swift found me in the cemetery talking to the shadowy form of Mrs. Ellison.

Mrs. Ellison had been high society in her day, which had ended with a bout of yellow fever August 18th, 1793, and loved when I brought her gossip. While she distained the lurid tales of the Hollywood crowd, Mrs. Ellison loved hearing about visiting foreign diplomats, university scandals and civic celebrations. Riverdale luckily had been gifted with several magazine subscriptions designed to improve our minds and social consciousness. As they were never as popular as the other magazines, I was easily able to search them to ferret out details for her fairly easily.

A few days earlier, I had happened on an article about the current White House Chef which thrilled Mrs. Ellison to no end. She had nodded her approval of the listed menu for a recent dinner for visiting dignitaries and was in the process of regaling me with tales from her own long ago dinner parties, as well as tips for managing kitchen staff during formal events, when Swift put in his first appearance. I never did learn why he was in the cemetery that day. Once he accepted that I could call the spirit of a person from the grave and speak with it as though it were a live person, it didn't take him long to think of a million ways for my skill to be useful.

I never found out who he called or what strings he pulled, but Swift managed to get a ruling that kept me at the Riverdale until I turned eighteen instead of sending me out to yet another foster home. While Riverdale was not an ideal place to live, it was familiar. I knew the rules and the temperaments of those who ran it. I was familiar with what was allowed and could avoid trouble. Staying also eliminated the fear and worry that came from being placed in yet another new home. While some of the homes had been good, some had been bad and each had their own separate rules that had to be learned. Swift's ruling melted a lot of that worry and uncertainty away, for which I was grateful.

Swift couldn't ask me to assist with anything until I turned eighteen, so for the next two years, he and various others tested my abilities determining their range, strength and reliability. The others at the home were told I had a part time job and I was even paid a small stipend so it would seem credible. Even at the beginning, Swift wanted to keep my abilities and involvement a secret.

He was relieved that I had never told anyone what I could do. I never pointed out that since my most consistent friends were ghosts and more or less in on the secret, there was no need to confess anything to anyone. Besides, telling people that you can raise the spirits of the dead either gets you your own television show or a trip to the shrink's office. I doubted Riverdale had the authority to sponsor a television series, but I knew quite well they had a shrink waiting in the wings. Dr. Ferriday and I had already had several run-ins. He thought of me as difficult.

Two days after my eighteenth birthday, I received my high school diploma and moved into a small loft apartment. Swift got me a job as a waitress and listed me as an asset who would consult on an as needed basis. Each consult would result in a fee being transferred into my bank account. In all fairness to Swift, he may have seen the usefulness of my skills, but I don't think he envisioned using my abilities more than once or twice a year and tried to set me on the path to a normal life.

Mrs. Ellison and her love of gossip took a backseat as I was forced to converse with host of dead and mostly unsavory characters. Con men and thieves were the best of the lot. They left me feeling greasy and in need of a bath when the inter-dimensional interview was over. The human traffickers, murders and rapists made me physically ill and unable to assist with anything else for a few days.

The occasional victims left me heartsick and increased my range of nightmares dramatically. Sometimes it was hard to remember that there were good people in the world, and that all of the good people who did exist weren't fated to become victims. Swift's plan of one or two consults a year became lost. It seemed there were a lot of dead that needed to be questioned.

A knock on my door startled me from my memories and I looked through the peep hole to see Swift returning from his gathering expedition. I unchained the door and let him inside.

He handed me my laptop bag and tossed a large duffle on one of the beds. I set the laptop bag down and sniffed appreciatively at the scent of fast food wafting from the paper sack. I rarely indulged in take out as the repercussions weren't worth it, but tonight seemed like a good night to indulge. The sickly, slightly jaundiced look that turned off prospective parents when I was a child, was mitigated by both the vitamins and the self-imposed dietary restrictions.

Both the Riverdale doctor and Dr. Harding were big proponents of chemicals and drugs to solve medical problems. Any problem could be fixed with a pill. However, since I had been on my own, I noticed certain foods helped me take fewer pills and I had been keeping track. I had also noticed that the more I used my gift, the more important the pills became. It wasn't something Swift and I ever talked about, but I was certain that Dr. Harding had some suspicions and that any suspicions would be passed to Swift.

Confident that I was settled for the night, Swift left me with my illicit hamburger and fries. Figuring the fast food would be better hot, I sat down and ate while Elmer tried to decide if it was rabbit or duck season. The light headed and vaguely nauseated feeling dwindled and I felt a little better. I dug out the toiletry bag from the duffle along with a faded t-shirt, yoga pants and clean underwear. Thus armed, I walked into the bathroom.

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