Okay, this goes on where I left Burkand Hare.
The hours seemed to become days as I waited for the cock to crow. Knowing that they’d come around at dawn to avoid suspicion.
Finally the first light of day graced the horizon. With it came the rhythmic sound of horses’ hooves on the cobblestone road leading to the entrance of the inn.
I walked to the small window to confirm who it was. A fancy black carriage with four matching strong horses came to a stop before the entrance. The driver wore a long top hat and a suit.
I didn’t need to wait and see who climbed out of the carriage, but still I stood and waited.
A short man with balding grey hair climbed out of it. A long top hat was tucked underneath one arm. He leaned heavily on a black cane with a golden knob. I didn’t need for him to look up and stare critically at the cheap inn. Didn’t need for his beady black eyes to meet my green ones to know who he was.
“Nathan wake up,” I said, crossing to his bed and shaking him lightly by the shoulders.
“What?” he said groggily as he sat up.
“Dr. Burns is here,” I declared.
“G’day Doc,” Nathan greeted Dr. Burns cheerfully. I could see he was eager to get the money.
“Yes, yes, good day,” Dr. Burns replied impatiently. He was staring at his golden pocket watch waving his hand intolerantly.
“Do you have her?” He inquired.
Her? I thought. How does he know it’s a she?
“Right up stairs sir,” Nathan said smugly. “First door on your right!” he added to the two men already heading for the stairs.
“Are you sure it’s her?” a deep voice asked slowly as a man stepped into the foyer.
Cropped black hair framed a formidable face. A face that was as pale as the corpse up stairs. I tried to look anywhere but his murky grey eyes. It felt as though they pierced me, reading every thought and desire that crosses my tired mind. My eyes fell instead on the long black cloak covering all his other clothes. It swayed slightly as he moved.
“Yes sir,” Nathan said. This time his tone was more respectful, more fearful.
“She had the birthmark on her back.”
“Very well,” he said in the same bored drawl.
The clunking of heavy boots on the old stairs reached our ears as the men returned, carrying the body of the young girl between them.
As soon as the whole body moved into view, the man swept to its side, examining the cross across its face.
“She was supposed to be undamaged,” he said. He sounded calm, but there was an undertone in his voice that spoke of rage.
“Other than being dead?” I asked silently. As soon as the words escaped my mouth I wondered what had made me say them. As I stood there I was scared to death of this mysterious man.
He glared at me furiously. For the first time I looked directly into his eyes. I wanted to turn and cower, but his gaze immobilized me.
“Still,” Dr. Burns interjected, “it’ll come out of your pay.”
Nathan started to protest, but a look from Dr. Burns silenced him.
He nodded to the men, who quickly made their way to the door.
Before they crossed the fresh hold and the body was completely out of sight, a flurry of movement at the top of the stairs caught my eye.
“Annabelle,” I groaned softly, as I recognized the figure in the pale nightdress.
I saw the man’s head snap to where I had been looking. By now the body was being loaded into the carriage, safely hidden from view. I rushed up the stairs to crouch next to her. She was pale and frightened, and I realized just how little she really was.
“What happened to that lady, Ephram?” she asked shakily. She sounded as though she was on the brink of tears.
She gave a gasp of surprise when her eyes fell on the mysterious man. “And why is the reverend here?” she gasped.
“Reverend?” I breathed in shock. I knew Mrs. Forbes took Annabelle to church whenever she could. I also knew Annabelle feared the reverend. She always talked about the great ugly bat who preached to them.
The reverend stepped forward, putting his hands behind his back and adopting a much softer expression. I put a protective hand on Annabelle’s shoulder, not that it would help much.
“Annabelle,” he said gently, “the lady fell a few minutes ago, and we are taking her to a doctor.”
“But I didn’t hear,” she started, but I quickly hushed her. I knew Annabelle was smart, smart enough to know the lady didn’t fall.
“You were probably sleeping,” Dr. Burns chipped in harshly.
“I want you to go back to bed Annabelle,” I told her softly. “I’ll come and read to you in a while.”
“But I,” she started.
“Annabelle, please,” I begged her urgently.
She turned reluctantly and walked slowly down the hall. I heard her door slam closed and breathed a sigh of relief.
I looked back down at the others. Dr. Burns was busy digging our pay out of his coat pocket. Nathan looked at him keenly. The reverend stared after Annabelle menacingly, and I shuddered to think what was going through his head. I walked down the stairs slowly.