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Brownie Oxford and the Seabridge Surprise: Brownie Book 4 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 17697

Updated: 2019-06-11 15:06


Chapter 3

The dream left me shaky and sweaty. It didn't feel like a dream. It reminded me of the tricks Cecil Matheson used when trying to get me to go into his tower of doom. The first of those dreams left me shaking as well. It also let me wake with the petals of red poppies in my bed. Hands shaking, I gripped the edge of my blankets.

Slow peek or quick like a band-aide?

I opted for quick and flung the covers back, sitting up quickly and pulling my knees to my chest so that I was practically sitting on my pillow. The sheets were white and slightly rumpled. They smelled like my fabric softener. I sagged against the headboard.

'I don't know what I would take from that dream anyway, ' I thought as I turned and dangled my feet over the side of the bed, toes brushing the floor. 'There weren't any flowers, just asphalt.' Remembering the feeling of the rough surface against my palms I turned my palms up and looked at them. My hands looked the same as always. 'See just a dream.'

I slid further out of bed and winced, sucking in air as my foot pressed down on the floor. I lifted my foot up cautiously. I looked down at the floor and saw nothing that I could have stepped on. I lifted my foot to my knee and looked at the sole. On the bottom of my foot I had a crescent shaped scar. The scar had been with me for as long as I could remember. I couldn't remember getting the cut, but the scar was a thick band of hard tissue, so I knew that whatever made the cut went deep.

When I was little, I studied the scar, making up stories for myself to explain how I got it. The stories varied from slicing my foot open when playing in the yard with the family dog, to a ritual scar marking me as an alien princess in a far off galaxy. Regardless of which version, there was always someone there who cared enough to patch me up and worry over my pain. As an adult, I rarely thought of the scar. As it was located on the bottom of my foot, it was mostly out of sight and out of mind. The last time I even thought of it was before I ran away from Swift.

'After Ashland, ' I thought. 'In my first dream of the poppy field and tower.'

The Ashland cemetery was where Cecil Matheson's merry band of mercenaries took me to test my abilities. Swift rescued me and once I was safely scrubbed and tucked away in a safe hotel room, I expected to have nightmares of the evening. Instead, I dreamed of a field of poppies and a tower. Stepping into the tower, I cut my foot in exactly the same place as my scar, creating a lake of blood where something hungry lurked just below the surface ready to gobble me up.

In later dreams, Cecil Matheson's voice tried to coerce me back into the tower, but I managed to fight his suggestions off, causing him to throw temper tantrums. 'But my foot didn't hurt then, ' I remembered. 'Just in the first dream.'

The scar, when I remembered to look at it, was a thick band of hard white tissue shaped more or less like a crescent moon. 'Or like the edge of a broken glass bottle, ' I told myself automatically looking for the mundane. This morning, the scar was red. I touched a finger to it and hissed with pain. It was like touching a fresh burn.

'It wasn't burnt last time. Why would my scar be burnt now?'

I had no answer. I gingerly eased myself out of bed. I stood, more or less on tiptoe, to keep the injured part of my foot from touching the floor. I gathered my clothes for the day and took them and myself to the shower. By the time I was clean, the sweat from the dream washed down the drain, my foot no longer hurt. I was surprised as I expected the water to make the burn feel worse. I slipped on the loose cotton dress I planned to wear and began the process of sorting out my hair. I said goodbye to Brownie's curls and welcomed back Bonnie.

Before leaving the bathroom, I smeared burn ointment on my no longer throbbing foot, just to be on the safe side. The scar was already back to its normal white and no longer hurt at all. I frowned and pulled on thick socks to wear around the apartment like slippers. The socks covered the scar, but even after I washed the excess cream from my hands and went to the kitchen to start coffee and make breakfast, I could see it in my mind.

'There is no reason it should be burned, ' I said. The fact that it no longer was burned just made my scowl deepen. 'I know I didn't imagine it.' I stared at the toe of my fluffy green sock.

'Think of something else, ' I ordered myself.

I lifted my gaze from my toes and let my eyes scan the room as I pulled my coffee filters and coffee grounds from the shelf above the coffee pot. My small kitchen was more or less open to both the living room and my small dining area. This gave me a good view of my three main rooms at once. In the dining area I saw the garment bag Ricky left. It was still draped over the back of one of my kitchen chairs.

I added water to the carafe, set the coffee on to brew and decided the garment bag would serve nicely as a distraction. Inside of the bag were the last of the extra clothes I made in preparation for a potential website business. This semester I was taking the required marketing and business classes and I thought of the website as a possible business. While most of my classmates dreamed of the red carpet and their own line promoted during fashion week, my dreams were much quieter.

I wanted to find someplace where I could do something I liked and still pay rent while managing to go unnoticed. Due to outside interference, I was having issues with the going unnoticed part. As for the paying rent, I repaired or created garments for an assortment of folks from drag queens to cosplay and historic reenactors. My business plan was to create a website that showed off samples of what I could do and let people order similar in their sizing, or order the excess that I posted.

To that end, Ricky photographed most of the garments in my personal wardrobe as well as the extra garments I created solely for the site. A few weeks prior, during one of my flea market trips I found what looked like an old hotel luggage rack. It was mostly a flat cart on wheels with a rack for garment bags arching above it. The caster wheels squeaked a little, despite the oil I squirted into them, but it still suited my purposes and was wheeled up to my apartment.

If any of my neighbors noticed the squeak, they didn't mention it.

Leaving my coffee to brew, I walked over and picked up my garment bag. I then took it to my spare bedroom, which served as the headquarters for my fledgling sewing empire. When I arrived, it was little more than a space to put my sewing machine and the headless dressmaker's dummy I named Martha. Both Martha and the sewing machine remained, but they were no longer alone.

The sewing machine lived on a battered wooden table I once planned to refinish, or at least have someone else refinish, but never got around to. Against one wall was a small book case containing various boxes I picked up at flea markets and thrift stores. Each one was unique and something I liked the look of. They contained a variety of odds and ends from spools of thread, bits of ribbon and lace to straight pins and bias tape. The one Ricky used to bash Noah over the head was slightly dented, but still in use.

Against the opposite wall was my reupholstered fainting couch. I thought it added a little something glamorous to the sewing room and I noticed that my more dramatic clients tended to favor lounging on it while the rest perched uneasily on the edge as though afraid it might protest, despite being a very solid piece of furniture. It was fast becoming my litmus test for whose personality fit into what category. While sometimes the results were surprising, they were, thus far, never wrong.

While the room was fitted with the unique, the closet was another story. Stacked neatly, and filling the space, were plastic drawers picked up from a local big box store. While they were nothing special, they did a fantastic job of holding the various materials I kept on hand. I also didn't feel bad about putting a strip of masking tape on the front of each drawer so I could use a sharpie to label it. Sometimes I picked up fabric merely because I liked it and it would stay in its assigned space until I found the design it was destined for. Most of the time, the fabrics didn't linger long. The masking tape let me change out the labels easily and the plastic of the drawer fronts had no issues with tape being peeled off and put back on.

'And if anyone objects to the not so spiffy storage, I can close the closet doors, ' I reminded myself.

Of more interest at the moment was my ad hoc clothing rack. While my clothes went back into the closet when Ricky finished photog

raphing them, the other clothes went here. I unzipped the garment bag and let it slide to the floor as I lifted the hangars. The rack was almost completely filled. I managed to hook the last hangars onto the end, but if it weren't for the metal knobs on either end of the rack, the hangars would have slid off the rounded end.

It's amazing how much you can get done when your closest friends are arrested as serial killers and you stay indoors a lot to avoid the Feds.

I toyed with the idea of getting a storage unit for the clothing and any extra purchases I made at the flea market, but thus far, I hadn't made the leap and done it. Since the storage unit with the books the Matheson spirits sent with me, along with anything else that would mark me as Brownie instead of Bonnie, was already stashed in a storage unit, I thought I could get another one for my Bonnie business in the same area and then sneak off to see the books when I needed to. I thought it would be one way to side step John's reluctance to teach me anything, but shielding training.

Now, I was having second thoughts.

The problem wasn't the books, or the business or even the money, as I still had some of the Matheson funds hidden away. The problem was Swift.

'Isn't it always, ' I thought as I studied the rack.

Renting a new unit in a storage area that already had one of my storage units, reminded me strongly of some of Swift's lessons in subterfuge. Despite viewing me as an asset to be used as situations demanded it, Swift tended to give me lectures when we were in the field. He just didn't seem to be able to stop himself. While many of his lectures were, oddly enough, proving useful in things like helping me spot people following me, this one made me re-think my plan.

'People choose places for a reason, ' I reminded myself.

When I learned this, we were in a small town in a country we had no legal right to be in. If we tried to arrive in the normal manner we would have been turned away. Instead, we arrived in a neighboring country. Swift was dressed as an academic doing research in a local archives and I was his hapless assistant. During the three days it took to establish our cover, I carried books, fetched maps and arrived every morning with Swift's coffee in hand. Once we were alone in the archives with papers and books piled around us, Swift would map out our upcoming adventure.

"But why would he go there if people knew he had family there?" I asked as I perched on the uncomfortable wooden chair across the table from Swift. A mountain of books shielded the map from casual observation, a notebook and a list of long dead landholders was stationed at the ready for concealment purposes. Already twice, the map was slipped beneath them when the guard made his rounds. I estimated we had another twenty minutes before the guard circled back again.

"Because it is familiar to him, " Swift replied.

"Wouldn't that be a reason why he wouldn't go back there?"

Swift sighed, folded the map up and slipped it into his pocket, arranging the books as the guard would expect them. "Familiarity can be useful. If he knows the area, he will have an advantage. He will know who does not belong and he will know what resources are available to him. While this familiarity protects him, it also lets him get comfortable. Because he is in a place that he knows is safe, he will feel safe. People who feel safe let their guard down."

"But if he knows that, why wouldn't he go someplace unfamiliar to him?" I asked. Swift's explanation made sense but I still wasn't sure the guy he wanted wouldn't just flee to somewhere remote and unknown.

Swift shook his head. "If he had chosen some place unfamiliar, there will still be something that drew him there. Whether a distant family member or a long ago vacation, something will be familiar to him. People rarely choose places to run, or really anything for that matter that is completely random. If it looks random, look harder. There is probably something you don't see. There may even be something they don't realize connecting them to the spot. Sometimes it is subconscious, but there will always be something."

A few hours later, word came that the man had been found and was found dead in a small town where his aunt lived. It wasn't much of a surprise. Since Swift brought me along odds were pretty good everyone expected him to die. I was never brought in to question the living, there was no point to it. I was only good with the dead. After word came down, we spent a very uncomfortable night sneaking across the border to a shack hidden in the middle of nowhere so I could interview the man they found dead.

'At least I was told he was found dead, ' I thought.

Even then I suspected that whoever found him made him dead rather than finding him that way. I even suspected that was the plan all along and not just an accident. Otherwise why bring me in at the start? Usually I was the court of last resort.

While it bothered me a lot to think that he might have been killed specifically so that I could question him, given the intense… nastiness of his spirit and his actions in life, my conscience settled quickly. The memories of him gave me nightmares for months. The things he did were inhuman. It was almost a relief to know that once I stopped questioning him, he was put in a dark hole in the ground and would no longer be able to interact with the rest of humanity.

Ever.

It was only when I was back home that I realized I was still uneasy. It took a further two days of thinking before I realized that while it didn't bother me that he ended up dead, I didn't want it to become a habit. I didn't want people to die so that I could question them to become a habit. By that point everyone knew the dead couldn't lie to me. They could be vague or confused, but they couldn't lie. It was a rather strong incentive not to spare the bad guys. Thinking about it then, I realized I was being brought in early on more and more cases. It was when I put this together that I started to think I might need to find a way out.

'I'm out of it now, ' I reminded myself as I felt the dark thoughts in the back of my brain begin to rise. 'So if they want to question people, they have to do so while they are alive. I am no longer an option, ' I reminded myself. I shoved thoughts of the past away and concentrated on my own present life.

One of the reasons I kept my interest in sewing and fashion away from Swift was due to his tracking. I knew when I left, he would compile a list of everything he knew about me to figure out where I would run. He could find out what books I checked out from the library fairly easily, but the topics ranged far and wide. While I did check out the history of silk while I was hiding in Mayenfield, I also checked out books on forts, earthen windbreaks and dream regression therapy, as well as a host of books from the fiction section.

An older woman, named Maryann, owned a minivan and served as Mayenfield's only taxi. A discrete questioning of her would tell Swift I often went to the fabric store. I ran from Mayenfield leaving Swift and the questioning of the unsavory dead behind. I had no destination in mind at the time. When I chose this place, I trusted in the fact that there were hundreds if not thousands of fashion design programs across the country to help conceal me. If there was something that drew me here intentionally, it was definitely subconscious.

'None of which matters now as they found me despite that and now know I'm doing fashion. But it could matter with the storage unit.'

If I chose the storage facility with my unit in it, I suspected Swift would investigate every unit in the place to make certain none had any connection to me. 'People always choose the familiar in some way shape or form.'

While I was willing to argue the absolute, in this case I had to admit defeat. If I chose the storage area it would have a reason. 'So how do I make certain to choose something that can't be linked to me?'

My coffee pot beeped, letting me know that my morning brew was ready for consumption. As I fixed my first cup I thought about subverting my subconscious. I only had a link to one storage facility. 'So theoretically it shouldn't be that hard to choose one with no link to me.'

I just had to avoid choosing that one.

Why did I think it wouldn't be that simple?

I sipped my coffee and leaned against the counter. 'Maybe I'm over thinking this. What would be the best way not to choose something familiar to me?' I blinked in surprise as a thought surfaced in the sluggishness of my brain. 'Let someone else choose it.' I turned the thought over and decided it would work. A slow smile spread across my lips.

I knew exactly who to ask.

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