Quest for Tamsin — Two.
What Louis Didn’t See at Bobbie Jo’s
Louis usually liked his coffee black, but now, tucked into a back table at Trilby’s Diner, he impulsively swirled some milk, then two sugar cubes, into his mug. It had been a cold and blustery day; they’d had a long drive across the Ozarks to Hadleyburg, and then a hike at the end, and he was chilled to the bone. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling now that he was in Joan’s warm eatery, but milky sweet coffee seemed like the right prescription for the remaining chill.
Joan had seated them in the coziest table in her roadside diner—which was less glass-and-chrome interstate highway fast-food emporium than historic dark-wood-and-old-style-sampler-on-the-wall scenic-byway diner. They were next to the pellet stove, and Louis felt agreeably tired after their long day. Following Joan’s directions, they had tracked down Elle’s old friend Bobbie Jo in her gated community by a lake just past Hadleyburg. Elle and Bobbie Jo had conferred, and then Louis had driven Elle back here—with one stop on the way at the mysterious waterfall she had shown him the day before. Neither of them had slept a full eight hours for two nights running. His bones were weary.
Joan came over to clear away their food. Trilby’s food was good: both of them had eaten everything before them—the prime rib plate for Louis, broiled fish with cabbage for Elle, hot rolls roughly the size of Louis’s head. She slid the plates out and carried them to the kitchen, then slid herself in next to Elle. “It’s a slow time, and I can take a break because I’m the owner,” she said.
“Yes,” Elle said. “And you’ve also made the place invisible, haven’t you?”
Joan blushed easily, and did so now. “Just for a little while. I want to have time to hear what you found out,” she said “So dish about Bobbie Jo so I can get back into business.”
Louis looked up at Joan. She was trying not to act excited, but she was clearly eager to know what they’d learned. She’d told Elle earlier that she’d been a bridesmaid at the wedding but that Bobbie Jo had moved away with her new husband very soon after, and then … nothing. The gleam in Joan’s eyes reminded Louis of the look in Elle’s when one of her girlfriends brought her a particularly juicy piece of gossip.
More and more, in fact, Louis could see the family resemblance between Joan and his wife. Joan was dark where Elle was fair, plump where Elle was toned; but otherwise she seemed like a kind of over-ripe, even more buxom version of Elle. Elle’s mouth could be stern, or sardonic, but it always seemed kissable, and Joan’s was…also… sexy ….
Feeling suddenly guilty, Louis turned his eyes toward Elle, who at the moment was regarding him with fond amusement, one eyebrow raised as if reading his thoughts. He looked back down at the coffee, by now smooth and milky. He dropped in two more sugar cubes, as much to avoid Elle’s gaze as because he needed more sweetness in the drink. “Bobbie Jo was—interesting,” Elle said. “Louis, you can keep stirring. Watch the spoon go around and around and around, watch the milk swirling, go deeper into the cup and … good boy … tell me what you remember about her?”
“She had a grandfather clock,” he said.
“A grandfather clock?” Joan asked in a puzzled tone.
“Louis, a grandfather clock?” Elle echoed.
“Yes,” he said. He went on absently stirring his coffee while his eyes took on a faraway look. “It was made of cherrywood. Very handsome. Early 19th Century, I think.”
Elle reached forward and touched his hand. “Louis, that’s wonderful, darling. What else do you remember?”
“It was well over seven feet tall. Eight feet is the maximum for most grandfathers, I suspect this a little shorter than that, maybe 7′6″. The face showed Roman numerals and had icons that displayed the phases of the moon. I think it was an eight-day model, though the keyhole might have been false. Some 30-hour clocks had them so they looked like eight-days for prestige purposes but this was a very nice piece and so it was probably a genuine eight-day movement, and probably the original works too. Almost certainly American workmanship, New England at a guess. It used the Whittington Quarters to strike the hour, not the Westminster. The Westminster is a lot more common.”
“Louis, how often did it strike while we were there?” Elle asked.
Joan began to make gestures at Elle, and sounds like a strangled cat, signaling that she wanted to step away from the table to ask her something.
“No need for that, Joan,” Elle said. She nodded at Louis, still stirring his coffee. “He can’t hear you at all, and he won’t hear me unless I use his name. What did you need?”
“Is he … okay?” Joan asked.
“Is who—oh, yes of course, Joan, he’s great. Why do you ask?” She turned back to her husband. “Louis, darling, stop stirring and listen to me. You’ve told us what you remember about Bobbie Jo’s. What do you not remember?”
The spoon stopped circling. Louis’s gaze remained focused on something invisible in the distance. “She’s pretty, but she’s so skinny,” he said. “I think she has an eating disorder. It was almost like she doesn’t eat at all. No, actually, it’s almost like something was eating her. She was very—afraid of you, Elle. She pretended to be glad to see you, but she was terrified that you had found her.”
“Louis, was she afraid that her husband would come home and find us there?”
“That’s what she said, but I don’t think so. I think he was out of town.”
“Louis, that’s fascinating. Why?”
“They have a two-car carport, and both cars were in it. Most likely he had a limousine take him to the airport. In addition, when she showed us around, he had no clothes left out in the bedroom, as there would have been if he’d dressed at home that morning. There were no men’s toiletries in the master bath. So it was you she was scared of, or something you might find out.”
“Louis, do you not remember what we talked about?”
“Yes, I don’t.”
“What was it?”
Louis gave no answer, simply continued gazing in the distance.
“Call him ‘Louis,’” Joan whispered. She was staring at Louis as if he was the latest episode of her favorite TV show.
Elle gave a musical laugh. “Of course—silly me. Louis, can you tell us what you don’t remember us talking about?”
“She was very eager to distract you, Elle. She talked a lot about the house and made us take a tour of the master suite and the pool house and the gourmet kitchen. She told us a lot about her tennis club and reminded you she’d been on the varsity back in school. The kitchen had a lot of amazing equipment—including that machine that ground the beans and made one cup at a time—but nobody had cooked an actual meal there for a while. I’m not sure there was any food in the fridge or the cabinet—that was another sign that her husband was away. And she didn’t have cream or milk, remember? When we finally sat down with coffee, she almost jumped out of her skin when you asked her about Tamsin. She said Tamsin had RSVPed for the wedding and said she was sick and couldn’t come and that after that she hadn’t heard a word from her. She didn’t remember where Tamsin was writing from but thought it might have been Houston or Gulfport. She said she didn’t have an address or number but that Tamsin was fine. It wasn’t clear what that was based on. But she said it three times. Fine.”
“Louis, that’s great—take a break.”
His eyes remained fixed and distant.
“She told me Tamsin never RSVPed,” Joan said. “We all wondered if she’d hear from her but she never said she had.”
“Well, she insisted she was out there somewhere,” Elle said. “I’m trying to figure out whether to head to the Southwest to search for her, or just to ignore everything Bobbie Jo told us.” She turned back to Louis. “Louis, what else didn’t you hear?”
“She hugged you and told you to be careful. That was surprising. She said to take good care of yourself. She said it twice. She seemed worried about something.”
“Louis, do you see anything else?”
“Nothing,” he said absently.
Elle turned back to Joan, who was opening her mouth to speak when Louis continued. “Do you want to know what I didn’t see her not see?”
The two women gaped at him in confusion. “Louis, what do you mean?”
“She was not thinking of something because it was what she was afraid you’d find out about but she saw it in her mind.”
“Louis, please tell me what it is.”
“Tamsin is dead,” he said.
“WHAT?” Joan broke in. “Elle, what’s going on?”
“I don’t really know,” Elle admitted with some reluctance. “Louis, tell me what you mean.”
“You told me to see the clock and remember what I didn’t see and hear,” he said in a reasonable tone. “You didn’t tell me to forget what Bobbie Jo wasn’t saying because she tried not to see it because didn’t want me to see it but I didn’t see it too and now I can’t not remember not seeing it.”
“That don’t make a lick of sense—” Joan began, but Elle silenced her with a finger on her lips.
“Louis, what did you not see?”
“It’s the place where she’s buried. It’s a hill—no, it’s a butte, or a small mountain—anyway, it’s next to a river in a range of mountains—not around here, the trees and plants are very different. The mountains are the wrong color too. I have never seen mountains that color. I saw an eagle—or a hawk—a big bird—and the sun wasn’t where it belonged, it was next to the mountains, I thought it should be behind them, but anyway Tamsin is there. It’s a pretty place. There are animals there, made of stone. No one sees it from the road. Bobbi Jo thinks her body has been hidden or buried somewhere around there, maybe near a huge old tree, some kind of … fir? It’s an evergreen, I haven’t seen one like it before, and it’s a place that people maybe … used to live?”
“Louis, do you know where it is?”
“North. And west. Where the sun shines next to the mountains and there are animals made of stone. She’s there. Bobbie Jo says she’s dead. Maybe Bobbie Jo buried her there? Someone else?”
Joan started to speak again but Elle held up a hand. “Louis,” she said. “What happened after that? What did you hear or see?”
“We said goodbye to Bobbie Jo. She seemed glad to let us go. Then we headed back here. We stopped by the waterfall—it was a little chilly but you said you wanted to see it one more time for some reason, and when we got inside you said the cave was invisible and we were safe and so you told me to take off my clothes and knee—”
“Louis,” Elle broke in with some urgency, “you are feeling very sleepy and tired. Take a little nap right now.”
Louis blinked, then his eyes sagged shut and his head dropped forward on his chest. He began snoring softly.
Joan was avoiding Elle’s eyes. “Ellie Murphy, what have you done? You were the one who always told us that it was dangerous to use our powers on a man!”
“Use my powers? What are you—oh, this?” Elle said, waving a hand at Louis. “This isn’t witchcraft, Joanie—it’s just good old hypnosis! It’s what I do for a living. I work with Louis to help his writing. Like a lot of writers, Louis is great at listening and remembering. He’s always paying attention, especially to me, but if he gets emotionally distracted by a scene he’s like the rest of us, he will just remember how he felt and miss a lot of what actually goes on. I knew that seeing Bobbie Jo would be hard for her and for me and I wanted someone to remember what actually happened. If I hadn’t programed him to look at the clock he would have gotten very protective of me and I didn’t need that.”
“You hypnotize him and tell him what to do?”
“What’s your point?”
“Well, is that all right with him?”
“Oh, yes, sweety—like a lot of men, Louis was just a puddle of yearning, waiting for a woman to take over the decisions in his life.”
“And you hypnotize him and he does … whatever you tell him?”
“Yes, Joan. He’s happier that way. A lot of husbands are that way—and studies show that the happy marriages are the ones with obedient husbands. And let’s face it—that’s what most wives want, isn’t it?”
“Well, sure, Joan. Imagine it—you pick out a man—you do it because you love him, you find him attractive physically, you want him to be with you and care for you and focus on you. Imagine for a moment that there are things you could do that would make him and you happier and more relaxed, more at ease, more comfortable, would let you let go of your cares and concerns like balloons floating into a blue sky—visualize in your mind what it would be like to know that he would be there for you whenever you need him, imagine having him always at your side—picture speaking a few words and having him do whatever you needed, close your eyes and think about how sexy it would be to know that whenever you wanted to—have—him, you could just take him however and wherever you wanted, it’s a great feeling, isn’t it?”
Joan’s eyes had grown distant and her face was flushed even deeper.
“Joanie?” Elle said, with a faint smile.
“Oh, um, I—” Joan said. “I need to check that pellet stove, aren’t you hot in here?”
“Just a little,” Elle said.
“So you give . . . lessons? You can teach… anyone?”
“Anyo—Oh, I see what you’re asking. Joanie, you could certainly learn, you’re a natural. I’ve written a new book called HYPNOSIS FOR GIRLFRIENDS. How about if I send you a copy?”
“Oh—well—of course I’d always love to see anything you wrote—”
“That’s settled, then. I give seminars too. Oh my god—you can come up and stay with us and take the seminar, we have plenty of room! We can watch movies in our pajamas, the way we used to! Do you like the FAST & FURIOUS movies? Louis is a great cook and he won’t bother us after dinner, this will be such fun!”
“And the other stuff—your husband sees into people’s minds and sees what they don’t want him to see, that’s hypnosis too?”
“Of course, it’s textbook—” Elle stopped, a puzzled look on her face. “Well, no, it’s not—he’s actually never done that before—I—I guess maybe—well, to be honest, it seems a little … witchy. I am not sure where it came from—”
“Really?” Joan said. “I think I know. Seeing things we shouldn’t see is one reason we stopped going to the Falls, Elle. Have you brought something out of there with you?”
Elle didn’t answer directly. “Louis, wake up!” she said. “Go check the weather for driving, darling.”
Louis walked to the front of the diner and looked out at the evening. “It’s starting to rain out there,” he said. “What should we do about a place to stay?”
“We’re heading west, darling,” Elle said.
“Not going back home?”
“Not yet—I need to track something down. But as it happens, I know the sweetest little bed-and-breakfast a hundred or so miles west of Hadleyburg—if we hit the road now we can be there in time for bed.”
“But y’all can’t leave yet!” Joan said. “Andy said he would stop by after he finished at the job site—he wants to say hi to you before you go, Ellie. Oh, I have to make the place visible again—just a second.” She made a curious motion with her left hand.
Elle directed her raised eyebrow at Joan. “Haystack—I mean, Andy Tobin? Are you telling me he’s still—in the picture?”
Joan’s lush face blossomed fiery red. “Well, Ellie—he’s never really been out of the picture.”
“Oh, my god, he’s your boyfriend, isn’t he? Joan, you’ve been holding out on me! That’s SO cute! He was always so into you—I remember you wearing his football jacket back then—it was so big it almost trailed on the ground!” She gave her friend an appraising glance. “You don’t even need my book on boyfriends—if he’s still like he was back then, he’s already putty in your hands, there’s no limit on how far—”
At that moment, they heard the roar of what sounded like a huge motorcycle arriving outside. Joan darted to her feet. “I asked the cook to wrap up some sandwiches for y’all,” she said. “It’ll save you stopping at some dump on the highway.”
As soon as she had gone, the door burst open and in walked the closest thing Louis had ever seen to a giant from a fairy tale. Andy Tobin was probably no taller than 6′6″, but his arms looked as thick as sequoia logs and Louis was surprised the floor didn’t shake as he walked. He sported a long black mountain-man beard shot through with only the faintest traces of grey; his face, though, was so open and friendly that the overall impression was not alarming at all. He reminded Louis ever so slightly of Treebeard in LORD OF THE RINGS. Now the giant’s eyes locked onto Elle’s and he covered the distance between them with a few huge strides.
“And is it really herself, Ellie Murphy, my own darlin’ rose of Tralee?” he roared. He scooped Louis’s wife up like a toy and implanted a tiny, ridiculously chaste kiss on her cheek. “Sorry I’m late, I got lost for a minute or two, do you believe that? Sugar dumplin’, do you know how much we’ve been missing you? Your cousin Joan is fairly pining away—”
Joan appeared with two mammoth wrapped sandwiches and a thermal jug of coffee. “Hush, Andy. These two have to get on the road right now, don’t you?”
“Well, not really—” Louis began.
“We sure do, Andy,” Elle interrupted. “But we are going to be back here on the way home, maybe we can all go for a hike or something?”
“As long as it’s not the Falls, darling, I’ll hike anywhere with you!”
“Louis, you drive safely now,” Joan said. Her body language was silently but urgently moving them toward the door. “Elle, call me from the road. Andy, I need some help with something in the back.” And then Joan and Andy were gone.
“Hmm,” Louis said. “I wonder what she needed in the back.”
Elle smiled knowingly. “I imagine she wanted some help… adjusting the couch in her office. If it’s the one her mother had, it’s strong enough to withstand nuclear attack.”
“Nice,” Louis said. “Do you think they have another office with a couch?”
“Louis Wentworth!” she said. “That’s very naughty. You need to be thinking of your chauffeur duties—no, wait.” She held up one red-tipped finger. “Look over here,” she said. “Look right here. Don’t look away. Look at my finger while I talk to your unconscious mind.”
Louis’s eyes fixed on her finger as if someone had suddenly smacked him between the eyes with a plank.
“You can think about nothing while I talk to your unconscious, Louis. Consciously you are my chauffeur and you are wide awake and eager to drive me to Hadleyburg. While you do it, your unconscious is going to be working behind the scenes on ideas of what you’ll do with me when we get to the inn. Picture a gas fireplace, a queen-sized bed, a cozy dim room, me at your mercy . . . let those imagesu work in your mind, you’ll think of something fun. Okay! Louis, come back!” She snapped her fingers and he blinked. “Are you ready, Louis?”
“Yes, Elle,” Louis said cheerfully as he followed her into the night. “Whatever you say.”