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   Chapter 11 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 23982

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:25


Chapter 11

I came awake slowly, stretching and looking at the unfamiliar ceiling. At some point in time someone had sprayed the ceiling with a popcorn finish. It had aged long enough that there were odd cracks running through it and my eyes wanted to pick out recognizable shapes from the shadows. I picked out an elephant balancing on one leg and something that looked like it had sharp teeth before I decided it was time to get up.

"I left the lights on, " I said as I sat up. The room's overhead light was burning merrily behind a frosted glass cover the match for the light in the bathroom. I rubbed sleep from my eyes and tugged on my discarded clothing. After all everything else was still packed and I was not comfortable enough with this new place to go walking around mostly unclothed while I unpacked.

"Besides I need to find a laundry, " I told myself. "That would be a good Paul question, " I decided.

Unpacking took a depressingly short amount of time. The clean clothes were quickly shoved into the dresser drawers and the dirty ones placed in the empty duffle. All of the extra pills Swift had obtained for me went in the bottom drawer of the dresser. I added the extra pills I had collected to the lot, while the opened bottles went into the bathroom.

For a long moment I stared at the drawer filled with drugs. As long as I was tied to them, I was tied to the NCS. Even if I could manage to find out the formula that comprised the drugs, I couldn't manufacture them on my own. I was pretty sure there was a way to search out pharmacies and track down anyone I got to supply me with replacements.

"A pharmacy would require a prescription as well and that would mean a doctor, " I reminded myself. I didn't know who besides Swift and Dr. Harding knew about the drugs, but I had the feeling it was in my file, which meant Dave and possibly Matheson would know of them. Even though I reduced the number I had to take and possessed a large supply, sooner or later I would run out.

"All Matheson would have to do would be to bide his time and have his people lay low until I need to restock." I was certain that if I was still in hiding when Swift needed to bring me a new supply he would probably bring me another large supply. The large order would be noticeable, even if they weren't certain of the drug composition. I sighed as I thought of the various community college, university and technical school files in my computer. Even if I succeeded in carving out a normal life and avoided those who wished me ill, I would be tied to the NCS.

"Unless I can stop taking the drugs completely." My thoughts turned to the rather substantial file of data I had accumulated over the past three years. While I noticed some trends, I had not had time to pull everything together and come up with anything solid.

"I have time now, " I said. I stood up and pushed the drug filled drawer closed with my foot. At the moment there was nothing I had to do except stay hidden. I didn't have a regular job. Even without touching the cashier's checks from my account closeout or the stash of cash from my safety deposit box, I had an envelope filled with my payment for speaking with George Whittaker. Swift had given me the fee in cash so for a while I would be fine without even touching my reserves. Swift would not be swinging by to take me on any unexpected trips in the near future.

I placed my jewelry box on the top of the dresser and the items I had taken from the safety deposit box in the night stand and my laptop bag next to the bed. My running shoes and black heels I left on the floor next to the dresser. Remembering the shoebox I had picked up I opened it and found that due to Swift's fingerprint worries I now possessed a new pair of shoes.

I took one out of the box and for a moment, I could only stare at it. The shoes were a shiny green patent leather that I was almost certain was called poison apple green or at least it deserved to be. The heel was three inches high and the toes were rounded. Over the toe had been attached what looked to me like a rhinestone bow, possibly a butterfly, I wasn't sure and somehow I doubted the designer had been either. The regular rhinestones were interspersed with green and blue ones in a random pattern. I set them on the floor next to my black heels and running shoes. They looked quite spectacularly out of place and made me smile.

I shook my head and looked around, realizing that I was now completely unpacked. "Not exactly burdened with an overabundance of worldly goods am I?" I said looking around. I shrugged.

In addition to the small clutch I had taken on my date with Dave, I had a messenger bag that Swift had thrown in with my clothes. Figuring it went better with the jeans and long sleeved t-shirt combo I had settled with, I transferred items from the beaded clutch to the messenger bag, stuffing a bit of the cash Swift had given me into my wallet before tucking the rest away in the night stand. I realized that at some point I would need to sit down and actually count up the cash I had with me and plan out how long I could make it last.

"Probably better check in with Paul, " I told myself as I swung the strap of the bag over my head so that it crossed my body. The light bag fell against my hip and I felt the few items in it roll as I walked to the door. I dug out the keys and headed downstairs, making certain all doors locked behind me.

I found Paul in the front of the shop, ringing up a customer. The customer was dressed in full camouflage with an orange vest flapping around his upper body. I waited while the man took his purchases and left the store. Paul smiled at me as I walked over. The smile didn't reach his eyes. I figured that was all right. He didn't have to like me to keep me safe. Besides, I had some doubts about him as well. Most of the people Swift worked with, and Swift himself if I was being honest, had traits and skills I didn't want to get too close to. It was yet another reason to find a way to a normal life.

"All refreshed?" he asked.

I nodded. "Do you know what time it is?" I asked. "The clock wasn't set." I didn't add that I had forgotten to look at my watch.

"It's a little after three, " he told me.

"Great, " I replied, not quite sure how to deal with him. Even though he was more or less of the same ilk as Swift, I had known Swift for years and knew he adjusted for my sense of humor and personal preferences. Paul didn't know, or didn't care, that I found his pleasant demeanor mixed with his hard eyes disconcerting. His appearance made me nervous and made me think about the beginning of my time with Swift and my introduction to some of the darker parts of life.

"I have your map, " he told me when he realized I was not going to elaborate from my simple response. He pulled a folded map out from under the counter. He unfolded it and laid it on the counter. I stepped forward for a better look. The map showed a simple line drawing of the streets of Mayenfield. There weren't many.

Paul had taken a pen and marked several items on the map in blue ink. A blue star marked

to the bathroom and sighed. Nope, no toilet paper.

"I guess I'm going back out now, " I told myself. Dishtowels I could do without, toilet paper, not so much. I pulled the small notepad I had taken from the hotel and jotted down the items I thought I would need and once again picked up my bag and keys, this time to head out to the pharmacy. I locked my doors behind me and strode quickly down the street. The wind had picked up as the day's shadows lengthened and I tucked my hands into my pockets, deeply regretting drying my hands on my jeans.

The pharmacy seemed like a haven of warmth and light. I took a small cart from the front of the store and, having no need to rush back I took my time strolling down the aisles, adding the items that I needed and lingering over items that interested me. I added a couple of interesting magazines and a couple bottles of nail polish to the cart. After adding the nail polish, I realized I should probably add nail polish remover and cotton balls to my purchases and aimed my cart in their direction. I bent to the bottom rack and picked up a bottle of nail polish remover and, as I straightened I caught sight of Wendy, basket over her arm, walking straight towards me.

"Well hi there, Betty isn't it?" Wendy said. She was still wearing her name tag, so even if I had forgotten her, I would be reminded.

"It is, " I said with a polite smile. Wendy glanced over to my cart. "I just needed to pick up a few things to settle in." I told her.

"That's right you're in the apartment over the B&T, Paul's place?" She asked.

"Yes, " I said.

"Have you known Paul long?" she asked as though settling into the conversation.

"He's an old friend of the family, " I told her, hoping I didn't sound too brusque.

"That's right, he and your father did look awfully chummy together today. And let me tell you Paul is not the chummiest person in the world, " she chuckled. "Although the customers seem to like him and there is more than one lady around here who wouldn't mind taking a crack at that hard exterior of his. I bet he has just deliciously gooey insides like one of those Cadbury eggs you get at Easter-time."

I laughed at the image and realized that Wendy was definitely one of those ladies who wanted a crack at him. I was also amused by the fact that she thought Swift was my father. Somehow, I thought he'd be less amused. "I'll have to take your word for that, " I told her. Her phone began to ring and she tugged it from her purse.

"I have to take this, " she told me. "If I send Mandy to voice mail she'll assume I am dead in a ditch somewhere and call out for search and rescue. Besides, I'd best leave you to finish up so you can get settled before dark. I'll see you around." I nodded as she answered her phone.

"Well hi Mandy, " I heard her say as she stepped away. "Sorry it took me so long to answer, I was just chatting with Betty." I heard a pause. "Betty, you know she just moved into the apartment over the B&T. Her father and Paul go way back and she is down here for a while getting over a bad break up."

I shook my head and added a bag of cotton balls to my cart marveling at how Wendy managed to turn our short conversation mixed with overheard snippets from the diner sound like a much more detailed and plausible story then I could have come up with. I supposed it didn't really matter if I never figured out what Luke had done to be considered so horrid. I could just drop a few words in Wendy's hearing and she could spin the tale from there.

The thought put me in mind of a cotton candy machine I had seen when I was much younger. All of the kids from Riverdale had been trucked out to a circus and I remembered marveling at how a few bits of candy dust could be sprinkled into a machine and spun out in a swirling mass. I imagined Wendy to be the human equivalent of the cotton candy machine spinning the seeds of my cover story into a textured concept.

Thinking of cotton candy, I checked out at the cashiers and took my bundles back to the apartment. Once my new purchases were unpacked and scattered into place around the apartment, I found that I felt much more settled. Seeing dishes, even if they were few, on the shelves, a towel tucked into the door handle of the fridge, and magazines placed on the coffee table made it seem a little more like a place one could live in if one tried. It gave me a sense of normality and I felt myself steady a little inside.

I settled myself on the couch with my new, beat up compendium of tales from the Land of OZ and read until my eyelids felt weighted. I yawned, set the book aside and went to bed feeling much better about the world than I had when waking. This time, I turned out the lights before slipping into bed.

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