Excerpt: Welcome to Fugitive Inn
A huge thud woke me. I was in the midst of a dream about a gorgeous blond man feeding me chocolate-covered strawberries and plying me with glasses of champagne in the back of a private airplane. Whoever or whatever made that noise to wake me up was going to pay. Dreams like that were hard to come by for any woman over forty.
I sat up in my bed. Another noise came from outside and I heard talking. "No," I whined. "Not now. I don't want more guests in the middle of the night."
"Miss McMurray," a woman said in a low tone from outside my door. "I think da mobs are going to kill us." She had a German accent and I knew right away that it was Mrs. Jones. Her parents had been prisoners in Auschwitz, and the paranoia they'd taught their children was astounding. Her husband, though, was from America. His father had fought the Nazis in World War II, meeting Mrs. Jones' parents when he rescued them. The elderly Mr. Jones had brought them all home to America with him.
The 'younger' Mr. and Mrs. Jones were now staying in a room at my inn. Mr. Jones was 72 and the missus was 70. I'd gotten their whole story—whether I wanted to hear it or not—when they'd checked in.
I lowered my feet to the floor, thinking chocolate-covered strawberries would be much better than the current taste in my mouth. I stood up and headed to the door, wondering why the clock even bothered working in the middle of the night, because no one in their right mind cared.
The door lock was cold in my hand as I flipped the metal to the side, making me realize it was early May, which in my mind, was still winter in the Pine Tree State. I threw the door open to see Mrs. Jones in front of me with her husband hunched over beside her, holding onto his walker.
"Miss McMurray," the woman said. "Da mob's outside. I think dey found us." Her eyes grew in size, looking more than terrified. "Where can we hide to get away from these peoples?" Her German accent was mild enough to understand. "I'm sure they're sent here from Hitler himself."
Probably right on that point. The entire universe seemed to be out to get me lately.
But I wasn't about to deal with this. Granted, I'd be worried, too, if I'd heard of the horrors of Auschwitz firsthand, but this was Maine. We didn't usually have mobs hunting us down, and ghosts usually didn't require that much noise to attack people. Everyone knew ghosts and mobs seemed to like stealth attacks. No, this was probably a drunken guest and not a mob.
"I'm sure they're not here for you," I said. "And I'm sure Hitler's ghost is asleep, just like everyone else. Who knows…it may be someone from the town. They may not like me because I'm from Philly." I ushered the couple out toward the hallway. "Just go back to your room and lock your door." I pushed up the long sleeves of my sweatshirt and went into the hallway. "I'll handle this, Philly style." And I meant it. Mr. Blond Man of my dreams needed me. I could almost hear him calling me back to the chocolate-covered strawberries.
"I have a shotgun," Mr. Jones said. "I don't go anywhere without it."
I stared at him. Maybe they were fugitives and I should install metal detectors at the front door? Who were these people, anyway?
I studied the elderly couple. They were no threat, each of them having one foot in the grave. "I don't think…"
The old man took off, pushing his walker in front of him. I didn't know he could move that fast, making me just watch him in admiration. I hoped I could move that fast at his age.
The banging got louder at the back door. I ran into my room and shrugged on some sneakers and a jacket, figuring I could handle the people before Mr. Jones came out with a shotgun. The thought of a shotgun at my inn boggled my mind. The guy seemed blind and would probably hurt someone if he had any type of ammunition.
I turned toward the door. "Yeah, I'm coming!" I glanced at my watch. Two in the morning? What was going on? If it was a guest, they were paying for the entire night. No one woke me from a dream like that and got away with it.
I turned on the lights in the living room and moved to the back door, which was close to the cliff overlooking the beach. Before I opened it, I flipped on the lights, pulled back a curtain, and looked out. A sea of people stood in front of me. It looked like reporters with cameramen, microphones, and news trucks off to the side. Had I finally won the lottery or something? If not, I'd throw the entire lot of them into the Atlantic Ocean. This was the Rockbridge Inn, a respected landmark on the coast of Maine, not a place for a college party.
"I'll help," Mrs. Jones said, holding onto my arm. "If my parents could live through the camps, I can help with dis." She grasped the neck of her long flannel nightgown and buttoned the top, then straightened it out. "If I'm taken to a camp, I have to be dignified. My mudder told me dat."
I fought off the urge to roll my eyes as I ran my fingers through my short hair, hoping I looked good for their cameras. If these people weren't here to give me money, then they'd better leave and let me get back to my incredible dream.
I lifted the cordless phone beside the door, with my fingers ready to call for help. I didn't know any cops I wanted near the inn, so I might have to call in some undesirable favors from said cops if this crowd turned unruly. The thought made me shudder.
I took a deep breath, unlocked the door, and swung it open, just as a volley of questions were yelled at me.
"Did he do it?" some man yelled.
"Is he here?" another woman screamed.
"What's your relationship with your ex-husband?" a snotty-looking woman asked. "And is he available so I can date him?"
Huh? Nate, my ex-husband, wasn't anyone's type. Who would ever ask for him? He was a major loser with an invisible 'L' on his head that I seemed to be able to see clearly, now that we were divorced.
Mrs. Jones and I stepped onto the slightly elevated porch, staring at the sea of people illuminated in floodlights used for television stations.
I raised my hands, waiting for them all to stop talking. They immediately quieted. I still commanded respect from my elementary school teaching days. I'd obtained the inn after divorcing the loser, Nate, who'd called himself my husband.
I stared at their faces, all waiting for me to speak. But before I could say anything, Mr. Jones pushed his walker between Mrs. Jones and me, holding an old shotgun in his hand. I couldn't believe my eyes. The man was wearing an old bandana as a headband, appearing like a Vietnam-era vigilante ready to take on the world…with a walker and a pre-WWII shotgun.
"Be gone, you Nazis!" he yelled, then lifted his gun and aimed. People ran in every direction. However, one stunned distinguished, good-looking man in front didn't move one inch. Instead, he slipped his hand in his pocket. I nicknamed him Mr. Good-Looking.
A thought flashed through my mind. Maybe I could confiscate one of the videos the cameramen continued to shoot for their feed. I could use it for an advertisement, which might bring in more guests…especially gun enthusiasts.
Before I could stop Mr. Jones from shooting, a van pulled up onto my lawn and a younger man jumped out. "I'm here now. You're allowed to start the interviews." The man pulled off his shirt and moved into a bodybuilding pose. Granted his muscles definitely weren't defined, but I was more impressed that he would do that in such cold weather. I guessed it to be around forty degrees. What a way to wake up.
Mr. Jones lifted his gun higher, aiming at the man. "Who are you?"
Mr. Good-Looking kept his hand in his pocket, just watching the half-naked man and Mr. Jones, while all the other reporters cowered at the edges of the scene, closer to the cliff.
Mr. Half-Naked dropped his pants, and was completely naked. "I'm Norman the Naked Newsman." No one said a word as he dropped his arms in defeat. "Come on. Everyone knows me. My ratings are way up and you must've heard of me."
Mr. Jones cocked his gun. "Didn't we fight you in the sixties? I must've missed one of you dingbats back then. You're just like them Nazis."
I reached over and lowered the gun barrel. "Mr. Jones. They're not Nazis. They're with the press." I nodded toward Norman. "Even the naked guy. He's trying to get publicity because he can't do his job otherwise."
Mr. Jones' face showed extreme confusion. "Press? Not Nazis?"
"Not Nazis." I glanced out at the crowd, who were now returning to their spot.
Norman ran closer. "I'll have you know I can do my job." He crossed his arms and stared at me.
I didn't even look downward, because I knew what I'd see. Nothing, since it was so cold outside. Instead, I stared at his face. "Then why is your hair moussed up and you're wearing makeup? Women's makeup, no doubt." I really wasn't in the mood for this guy.
He shook back his hair. "I like blue eye shadow. It goes with my pecs."
Yeah. Pectoral muscles blue from the cold.
Norman raked his eyes down over me, a smile covering his lips. "You taken?"
I shot him a look that he'd better not question. Instead of answering him, I moved my hands to gather the crowd again. "Okay. Back to the topic at hand. Ignore the idiot without clothes. Just let him freeze."
Norman huffed and stared, but didn't say anything.
I returned to Mr. Jones. "Let me have the gun and if they get out of hand, I'll give it back to you."
He leaned closer to my ear. "It's not loaded, but don't tell anyone. I forget where I put the shells."
I nodded. Good to know, but everyone could've heard him. He was half-deaf and spoke loudly.
Mr. Good-Looking removed his hand from his pocket, still looking rather stunned. He was about my age, but seemed very confident and able to hold his own.
After I took the gun from Mr. Jones and stored it by the door, I turned toward the group again. "Now that we're sure you're not Nazis…" I glanced toward Mr. Jones, but he had no clue I was talking about his comment, just from the smile he wore. "…I have some questions. Given that it's two in the morning, you'll have to bear with me. I won't answer any questions if they're yelled at me, and I expect you to raise your hands and use your inside voices, even though we're outside. Before any questions can be asked, though…" I was sure I looked confused. "Why are you here?"
They all started to speak at once and I raised my hands once again. "No, you didn't follow the rules. Hands."
Norman raised his hand with every other member of the group. "Oh! I know!"
I ignored him, because he didn't follow the rules. Instead, I focused on Mr. Good-Looking. He didn't have his hand up, but from the way he stared at me, he wanted me to call on him.
I knew his type—probably recently divorced and wanted to date again. Couldn't hurt my chances. He also didn't have a camera or even a pad of paper, so he seemed to be the least obnoxious. With graying hair on the sides, dark hair around the gray and on top, and the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, I decided he wasn't that bad looking. Granted, I only had the assistance of the small light of the back porch and the huge camera lights set up around the property. Regardless, he'd do, considering my dream man in that plane feeding me chocolate-covered strawberries wasn't real and could've been Norman's age. Maybe I could have Mr. Good-Looking feed me strawberries at ten thousand feet. Interesting concept.
I pointed right at Mr. Good-Looking. "You."
"Not fair!" Norman said.
"You didn't follow directions." I crossed my arms. "Besides, you're too cold to talk." I glanced downward. "And it shows, too."
The idiot glanced downward and covered himself. What a loser.
I returned to Mr. Good-Looking's face. He grinned a very white smile and winked at me. That was as a good as an apple for the teacher, in my book.
"Well, Ms. O'Brien…" he said.
"It's McMurray. If you can't get your facts straight for my maiden name, I might have to call on someone else." Or take him inside and 'debrief' him, with strawberries and chocolate.
"Want me to shoot him?" Mr. Jones asked, holding onto his walker. "I have ammo in my room, I think."
I felt my mouth open, knowing everyone had heard him. Mr. Good-Looking bit back a smile, so I knew he'd heard, at least.
"No," I said to the Mr. Jones. "I'll handle this without hurting anyone."
The crowd chuckled as the cameramen continued to shoot pictures. I didn't even care, because Mr. Good-Looking Reporter was clearly amused. He smiled at me with his blue twinkling eyes. Even at my age, I could've melted.
"Sorry," Mr. Good-Looking said. "I think I even knew that, but my assistant was on vacation and she told me the information over a bad phone connection. Ms. McMurray, your ex-husband, Nate O'Brien, is on the run after being a suspect in the murder of his wife and mother-in-law, Senator Beckett's wife."
Time stopped and my eyebrows rose. It hit me that meeting with the press was a bad idea. But I couldn't just shut the door on these people. No, I had to save face, because I really wanted the name of Mr. Good-Looking, a potential mile-high-strawberry man.
"Want me to shoot your ex-husband?" Mr. Jones asked me. "I'm a good shot, even with my bad eyes." He scanned the crowd. "Where is he, the murderer? Is he in with that naked man? I really want to shoot him."
It was tempting to have him carry out the deed, but I figured murder was still against the law, or these people wouldn't be so interested in the deaths of Nate's current wife and his mother-in-law. Maybe it was a family reunion that got heated over a roast that was overdone. Nate hated overcooked meat.
I turned toward Mr. Jones. "No, I think we'll just see how this plays out. But I'll keep you on speed dial for my ex, at least."
I watched Mr. Good-Looking smile while I tried to rein in my shock of hearing about Nate. What was I going to do? I wanted to get to know this good-looking reporter and there was only one way. If he turned out to be a dud, I'd just sic Mr. Jones on him. He was the closest thing to a pit bull that I had at the inn. Although, I was certain Norman would do whatever I wanted him to do, just for the story.
I faced Mr. Good-Looking. "I think you just won the lottery, sir. Won't you come inside for some coffee?"
"And not me?" Norman said. "What about me? I want the story."
"Go take a picture of yourself freezing," I said. "That'll be your story." And his viewers would be able to see a living breathing idiot in the meantime.
He just wouldn't stop, jumping up and down with his arms crossed, probably trying to get warm. Considering he was naked, everything was bouncing, but I certainly wasn't impressed. "I'm not going anywhere until you meet with me," he said.
"Then it's going to be a long, cold, small night for you." I motioned for Mr. Good-Looking to join me on the porch while the rest of the reporters laughed. Yeah, Norman was the comic relief.
That's when it hit me. What was I thinking? I was asking a reporter inside?
Ah, but he was a very handsome, classy reporter. Need I say more? Besides, I was sure Mr. and Mrs. Jones would be close by, because this was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to them since the aftermath of the big war.