Mary stared mindlessly at the rivulets of rain streaking down the dark bus window. The rain had started as a light drizzle shortly after the bus left Boston and grew stronger and steadier as they passed through New Hampshire and crossed the Maine state line. The rivulets made wavy distortions in her reflection, but she could still make out enough of her features to realize she wasn't holding up well to the journey. The whites around her brown irises were red with sleeplessness; her eyeliner had run down her cheeks from tears her prescription medication could not hold back, and the flip in her brunette hair had flopped so that it hung in limp strands about her shoulders. Now was probably a good time for repairs, she thought.
The bus driver and nearly all the passengers had just disembarked at the Portland station for a half hour layover. Mary had declined the opportunity to leave behind her cozy seat to purchase a hamburger or popcorn in the neon-lit cafe at the far end of the station. Her coffee thermos was still half full and she had one more package of diet wafers. Two other passengers remained behind with her on the idling bus. A young man in an army uniform slept across the aisle from her, and an elderly woman in a fox stole slumped in the back of the bus, sipping from a thermos of her own. On her way to use the toilet Mary had passed the woman and had smelled something rather stronger than coffee wafting about her. Bourbon was Mary's guess.
Mary pulled a brush and elastic band from her purse and swept her hair up into pony tail. She centered it near the top of her head so she could still lay her head back against the seat. Next she pulled out a tiny jar of cold cream and a tissue and wiped off all the make-up. It was too dark on the bus for anyone to notice how professional she looked, besides most passenger would sleep at this hour. She slipped on her sunglasses to hide her red eyes, but when she looked down at the magazines and newspapers in her lap it was too dark to read them. She slid the sunglasses back into her purse with the brush, cold cream and dirty tissues.
She set the magazines aside and tried once again to focus her attention on the newspapers—six issues of the Danielsport Record. It was not exactly the New York Times, but the New York Times hadn't snatched up her resumé when they had the chance.
The Danielsport Record was a local weekly. The front page featured the town hall arguments about how to spend tax dollars. Crime reports were few and relegated to the inside. The gossip column never said anything mean. The paper's gardening articles could be recycled from year to year. The inside was packed with advertisements and captioned pictures of girl scouts selling cookies, fisherman with big fish, prom queens, and basketball teams. Like most local newspapers it was sponsored by the local merchants, most notably two car dealerships and three real estate dealers and an insurance company. The chamber of commerce bought up a two-page spread dedicated to things tourists should see, most especially the antique shops, diners and gift stores. Since the town had a fairly decent port there was a column devoted to the shipping news and one to the fishing and weather conditions and a little box on boat safety tips.
The glossy covers of the magazines on the seat beside her featured pictures of an art show in Paris, the war in Viet Nam, great cats of Africa, a well-known novelist in Hollywood. Unfortunately, with zero years of experience she would not be reporting on any of these stories. She pictured herself now trying to punch up an article on summer cottage break-ins by juvenile delinquents or discover how the church pancake breakfast funds were really spent.
"You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war," she quoted William Randolph Hearst under her breath. There had to be plenty of good stories for an ambitious reporter, she just had to find them. She flipped through the pages again. The Daniels family might be an interesting place to start investigating. They were about as old as money got in this country. They'd founded the town. They owned the lumber mill, the shipping yard and the bank. They'd recently closed the town lumber mill and foreclosed on some old man's fishing boat. A more careful review of the gossip column revealed that one son kept returning from different private schools and an elderly aunt seemed to keep checking into and out of a hospital in Bangor for unspecified illnesses.
The soldier in the seat across the aisle muttered something unintelligible. Mary glanced over. He appeared to still be asleep. "Stay down!" he whispered urgently.
Mary looked nervously about the bus. The woman with the fox stole and bourbon appeared unconscious. The bus driver still had not returned.
The soldier, his eyes still closed, banged his fist into the seat back in front of him and cried out, "No! NO!"
Mary leaned over and reached across the aisle. She lay her hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle shake. "Wake up, sir," she whispered. "Please, wake up."
The soldier started awake, with one last cry of "No!"
"It's okay," Mary insisted. "There's nothing there. You were having a nightmare."
The soldier exhaled deeply, not quite a sigh. He looked down at his hands for a few moments before looking up sheepishly at Mary. "Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to disturb you."
"That's okay," Mary said. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, fine," he answered. "Excuse me." He got up and walked to the toilet in the back of the bus.
Mary glanced at the khaki army duffel bag propped up against the window across from her. The name O'Doul was stenciled on the side.
The front door of the bus opened and the driver climbed the steps and swung into his seat. It was a different driver than before. The previous one must have ended his shift.
Four very young woman in matching bowling jackets bounced back up the steps and took seats all together in the front of the bus. They were factory workers who'd spent the weekend in the big city partying with college boys. Mary knew this because they'd laughed and joked about it rather loudly with three sailors on the way north. The sailors did not return to the bus; Portland had been their destination. Now the young women were teasing and flirting with the driver, who was younger than his predecessor, and kind of cute.
One more young woman got on. She carried a newborn baby and a diaper bag. She sat behind the other young women whose attention then shifted from the driver to the baby. Mary heard the baby's mother explain they were visiting her family down east.
Another sailor and young woman boarded the bus together. They sat down two seats in front of Mary. She presumed they were married to one another. The woman was wearing a wedding ring. As close as they seemed to be getting in the seat Mary hoped they were married to one another.
The last passenger to board was a well-dressed, elderly man carrying a shoe-box with air holes about the sides and top. He took a seat very near the back, then moved a few seats forward, no doubt having smelled the lady with the fox stole and bourbon. Mary wondered what was in the box.
The driver closed the bus door and pulled the lumbering vehicle out from the station onto the road. Mary stood up and slipped up the aisle to stand just behind the bus driver.
"Excuse me. Can you tell me how much longer until we reach Danielsport?" she asked.
"Before morning, ma'am," the driver replied. "Get some sleep. By the time you wake up we'll be there. You've got nothing to worry about."
No doubt the first bus driver had warned him what a pest I was, she thought. They were already an hour behind schedule. Mary had informed the first driver that she had to be in Danielsport before eight. Feeling patronized, she turned about and walked slowly back down the aisle. Nothing to worry about, indeed. How little you know about my life, Mary thought.
The soldier, O'Doul, was back in his seat when she returned to her own.
"The driver probably has no idea when we'll hit Danielsport," O'Doul whispered with a wink. "With the rain, he can't make any guarantees. We tend to be a bit casual about schedules down east," he added.
"Down east," Mary repeated the curious phrase. "Why do they call it down east when we're heading northeast? Why not up east?"
"We're a downhill run from Boston," he replied.
"A downhill run. The prevailing winds are astern any boat heading northeast along the coast. It's an old sailing term," he explained.
"Oh," Mary said, and smiled shyly. She felt hesitant about introducing herself to a complete stranger, even if he was a rather good-looking stranger. He had hazel eyes, dark hair, cropped very short, a deep tan and a tall, lean, muscular body. Mostly she liked his smile. He had dimples.
"So you're heading to Danielsport," he said. "So am I. That's my home town," he said. "Justin O'Doul," he introduced himself.
"Mary Wellington," she replied, taking the hand he held out and giving it a friendly squeeze. "I've just gotten a job on the Danielsport Record."
"A reporter?" he looked surprised.
Mary nodded. "It's a dirty, outdated job, but someone's got to do it," she joked.
"Hey, that was my line," he teased. "I was just surprised because you look awfully young."
"It is my real first job," Mary admitted without giving away her age. She sat back down in my seat. "Are you home on leave?" she asked.
"Home for good," he replied. He shrugged. "My dad just died. I'm an only child, and my mom . . . she's not able to look after herself," he explained.
"I'm sorry," Mary answered.
O'Doul shrugged again. "So, where do you hail from?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Philadelphia. Or was. I've been at school in Maryland. My father lives in Philly. My mother died last year," Mary explained, her voice cracking ever so slightly.
"Thank you," Mary whispered as she averted her eyes back to the rain splattered window. She wasn't able to shrug about her mother's death yet. Maybe never. She blinked back the tears.
"Picking a far place to fall from the nest, aren't you?" O'Doul asked more softly.
Mary turned back to face him. "I wanted to prove I could make something of myself without my father's help," she explained. "We don't get along very well, my father and I." It was impossible to keep the venom out of her voice when she said it.
"With your mother gone, that didn't bring you closer?" he asked. He sounded surprised, unable to comprehend the circumstances.
"My mother died six months ago. My father has already remarried," Mary said bitterly. It didn't explain everything, but it was usually enough for people to grasp she did have a grievance.
"I see," O'Doul said softly.
Mary tried taking a deep breath, but it didn't help. The tears came gushing out, and the pain in her stomach flared up. For several moments she was unable to speak as her grief and guilt overwhelmed her reason.
O'Doul set a handkerchief in her hand. It was clean and pressed. Mary opened it up and blotted at her eyes.
"I'm very sorry," Mary apologized. "I've been a little hysterical about my mother's death. I'm supposed to be on medication for it, but I packed it in my suitcase, so I've been weepy since the last pill wore off."
"You're taking pills so you don't cry?" O'Doul asked with some confusion. "Why?"
"Well, it's . . . it's just not done. Crying, that is. Wellingtons are supposed to have a stiff upper lips."
"Sounds rather like trying to put a cork back into a bottle of champagne," O'Doul aid with a disdainful snort. "Where I come from women are supposed to cry when their mother's die. Hell, back in the last century people went into mourning for a year or more."
"This isn't the last century," Mary pointed out.
"Maybe they knew something we didn't. Maybe if you just did all your crying for awhile, really hard, you'd get it out of your system, and you wouldn't need pills."
"Maybe," Mary said. She wasn't prepared to explain that there was more to her emotional state than just grief.
"Really. You should try it. Just cry. Hard. Go on," he urged with a gentle smile.
Mary's gave a little laugh in spite of herself. "I can't now. Not if I try. Isn't that silly?" She held up the handkerchief. "Do you always come so prepared to deal with weeping damsels in distress, Justin O'Doul?"
"Yes, ma'am," O'Doul said with a grin
Mary laughed again and relaxed in her chair.
"So why did you decide to become a newspaper reporter?" O'Doul asked.
Mary looked down at the newspapers on the seat beside her and wondered just how to answer. It was a complicated question, but she didn't want to sound too idealistic or, worse, pompous. Who, what where, when and how didn't cover it. She looked back up at O'Doul. "I believe in it," she replied. "People should be informed. They should know what's going on around them. They should know the whole story."
"Are you any good at it?" O'Doul asked.
"The best," Mary declared, smiling at the arrogance of her own reply. "What about you? What made you decide to become a soldier? Or were you drafted?"
"Volunteered," O'Doul replied matter-of-factly. "Thought I might be able to help."
"Were you in Viet Nam?" Mary asked.
O'Doul nodded without comment. His expression was more serious.
"So what do you think about the war?" she asked.
O'Doul made a five word comment which could not be printed in any newspaper.
"So you're glad to be out," Mary remarked.
"Not really," O'Doul replied. "I feel like I've left the job unfinished."
"Oh," Mary answered. There was an awkward moment of silence, then she asked, "What will you do now?"
"My parents own an antique store in Danielsport. I'll help my mother run it."
"Do you know a lot about antiques?"
O'Doul nodded. "You couldn't grow up around my parents without learning something about antiques. It's all they talked about. Mostly though I did refurbishing work. I have a knack for fixing things."
"Do you do evaluations of antique jewelry?" Mary asked thinking of all the trinkets her mother had left behind.
"My mom's a little better at that. You should stop by the shop after you get settled. It's on Main Street. O'Douls' Old Things."
"I will," Mary promised. Then she had to stifle a yawn. "Excuse me. I've been up since eight this morning."
"Maybe you should take the bus driver's advice and try to get some sleep," O'Doul suggested.
"I guess," Mary agreed half-heartedly. She began to pick up the litter of magazines and paper on the seat beside her so she could make herself comfortable. "Hey, you want to have a look at your home town papers while I'm sleeping?" she offered O'Doul.
"Yeah, thanks," he replied taking the newspapers.
Mary stuffed the magazines into the side pocket of her purse and rolled her raincoat into a pillow. She lay down and closed her eyes. She fell asleep to the sound of O'Doul rustling the newspapers and the rain on the roof.
"Mary? Mary, are you all right?"
She awoke feeling disoriented. It took her a good half minute to realize where she was and who belonged to the hand on her shoulder and the voice in her ear.
"I figured one nightmare rescue deserved another," O'Doul said. "You O.K.?"
Mary nodded groggily. She'd been dreaming about her mother. Dreaming about all the hysterical calls her mother had made to her dorm in the middle of the night when her father was out with the woman he later married. Dreaming about the last call when her mother had been too drunk and too doped from all the pills she swallowed to make any sense. Dreaming about making a call to the police. In reality she hadn't made a call to the police. She hadn't been convinced that this time it was for real. So in the dream the police didn't believe her either. Warned by hindsight, she grew hysterical trying to convince them to check on her mother.
She sat up and rocked herself gently. No tears came this time, but the ache in her stomach was as terrible as the guilt.
She pulled out her thermos, poured herself a little coffee and sipped it slowly. The rain had stopped, leaving the bus shrouded in a blanket of dense fog. A sheen of steam covered the inside of the windows. Mary wiped hers with her sleeve and peered out. She could not even make out the side of the road. Most of the passengers had disappeared. The factory girls, the young couple, and the mother with her baby were all gone, leaving Mary, O'Doul, the woman in the fox stole, the elder man with the box full of air holes, and the driver.
"How long have I been asleep," Mary asked O'Doul.
"Couple of hours. We're nearly there," he replied as he turned the page of the Danielsport Record he held out in front of him.
Mary finished her coffee and brushed out her hair again.
O'Doul muttered an oath under his breath. "This doesn't make any sense," he said with a scowl.
"What doesn't?" Mary asked.
O'Doul folded the paper so that the article he'd been perusing was centered. He handed it to Mary. It took her a few moments to pick out what had disturbed him. Buried in the crime reports was a paragraph which read:
An unidentified female tourist was charged Thursday with the theft of an antique Chinese urn from O'Doul's Old Things. Co-proprietor Sylvia O'Doul brought the charges, and the police took the suspect into custody. Shortly thereafter, Marcus O'Doul, Sylvia O'Doul's business partner and husband claimed there was a misunderstanding and asked Sheriff Brassenwait to release the suspect. Sylvia O'Doul declared there was no mistake and insisted on pressing charges. Marcus O'Doul paid the suspect's bail. A search of the suspect's hotel room has not yielded the urn in question. Sheriff Brassenwait said the matter would have to be investigated further before they could be sure if any crime had been committed.
"Are these your parents?" Mary asked.
"Could it be a squabble over how much to charge for this antique urn?" Mary suggested. "Or maybe your mother had promised it to a different buyer? Or wanted to keep it for herself?"
O'Doul shook his head. "You don't understand. My mom and dad were this perfect couple. They never disagreed about anything. They were like one person."
Mary glanced at the top of the page. The paper had come out on a Thursday, a week and a half ago, the day of the alleged theft. The story had just made the weekly issue.
"When did your father die?" she asked O'Doul softly.
"Last Sunday, I think. I don't know any of the details. On Tuesday my lieutenant told me that my dad passed on, so I was going home. I don't think he knew anything else either."
"Hand me that paper," Mary asked, pointing to the issue of the newspaper which had come out last week. O'Doul handed her the paper, and Mary turned to the obituaries. There were only five deaths listed. Marcus O'Doul's was very brief. It revealed only that he was 59, survived by his wife, Sylvia, and an only child, Justin, and was a respected member of the business community. Services were to be held on Tuesday at St. Patrick's church.
There was no mention of the cause of death. Mary scanned through the paper for another reference to Justin's father. She found it, rather unexpectedly, under the box on boating safety tips. A single paragraph reported that Marcus O'Doul had drowned. According to Sheriff Brassenwait, O'Doul had been partying Friday night aboard a yacht, when he'd fallen overboard, into choppy seas, without a life jacket. The yacht's owner had immediately reported the accident by radio. The coast guard was dispatched, but it was two days before the body was discovered, washed up on the coast north of Danielsport. There was no evidence to suggest the drowning had been anything but an accident.
Mary showed the article to Justin O'Doul.
"This makes even less sense," O'Doul growled. "My father hates boats. He gets seasick. He'd never get on a yacht unless it was in dry dock."
Mary didn't know what to reply. When she'd returned from school she hadn't recognized the person her own father had become, but she was sure that was not a comparison Justin O'Doul would welcome. "I'm sure your mother will be able to explain everything," she said with as much reassurance in her tone as she could muster.
O'Doul did not reply. He turned his head and stared out into the fog. The mist was brighter now. The sun had risen, but seemed inadequate to the task of burning off the fog.
The bus tires rumpled at a higher pitch for a moment.
"That would be the drawbridge over Daniels Sound," O'Doul said, turning back to face Mary. "We've just crossed into Danielsport." He had a smile on his face. Whatever his griefs and troubles, he was glad to be home.
"At last," Mary said, smiling back. Suddenly she shivered uncontrollably. The air in the bus had become inexplicably chill. The steam on the windows turned to frost as she watched. "Is this some sort of ocean effect?" she asked O'Doul.
O'Doul did not answer. His eyes appeared as glazed over as the icy windows.
Then he clutched his hands to his temples and bent over in his seat with
"Mr. O'Doul? Are you all right?" Mary asked, reaching out with her hand to touch O'Doul's arm.
"Get the hell out of my head," O'Doul growled.
Mary withdrew her hand uncertainly. An uncomfortable thought occurred to her that the army may have dismissed O'Doul for reasons having more to do with his psychological state than his father's death. Perhaps he, too, was on some medication that had worn off on the long bus trip. He might even be dangerous. At the very least, he might not appreciate a stranger muddling in his affairs.
Her conscience niggled at the back of her brain. Whatever was wrong with him, he still needed help. She reached out with her hand once again, though with more hesitation.
O'Doul began hyperventilating, puffing like a frightened, injured cat.
Mary lay her hand on O'Doul's fingers as they dug into his short hair and pressed at his skull. She gasped. It felt like she was touching a corpse. There was no more warmth in O'Doul's hand than there had been in her mother's at the funeral when Mary had reached out to touch her. There was a rigidness to O'Doul's fingers, to his whole body, that suggested rigor mortis to Mary's startled mind.
To Be Continued…