The expensive black leather pouch lay open on the floor. Its satin ribbon ties were undone and lay as waves on the sea of blue wool carpet.
Ginny stared wide-eyed around the untidy room. The drawers from the oak sideboard were empty, their contents had been strewn across the floor. The oak box sat on the television, its lid lay on the floor. The contents, tiny china ornaments, had been scattered on the carpet. The oil painting leaned at an odd angle against the wall. The edge of the canvas was torn; it hung loosely from the frame.
An anguished tear fell as Ginny realised the painting was irreparable. Her best friend, Josh, had given her the painting after she had admired his portrayal of the snow-covered mountains she loved.
Ginny dropped the brown paper bag of groceries, bent, then looked at the pouch. It was the most important item in the room. It was empty. The precious treasure it contained had gone.
Such a thing had never happened before in the sleepy rural town of Huntsville. At least it hadn’t happened in Ginny’s 30 years of life, that she could remember.
But then, Ginny could only remember the last 6 months. She’d awakened in a white starched hospital bed one afternoon and had not been able to remember anything of her past.
Doctor Josh had told Ginny that her amnesia was temporary. He had told her time would heal her wounds and her memory. Nobody had seen the car that hit her. They had assumed it was a freak accident by a person passing through the area.
When she looked around her untidy sanctuary, Ginny had been unable to think why somebody would break into her home. She had no enemies in her new life. She wondered if the theft related to her invisible past.
She picked up the empty pouch, then slipped her hand inside. There had been nothing to feel except the warmth of the leather skin. The broach had gone. She sat down on the floor, closed her eyes against the tears, then visualised the broach. It had contained an inexpensive gem, a garnet. The garnet’s setting had been gold filigree. It was a beautiful ornate piece of jewelry.
It was the only tangible piece of her past that she had. Her wallet had gone, the doctors had told her when she asked about it. But they had found the broach in the pocket of her jeans. She smiled as she remembered the caring doctor Josh had been. Then she recalled the day he had entered her hospital room, the day he had bought her roses. She had been delighted when he had told her he had handed her hospital file to another doctor. She was overjoyed when he had asked to marry her barely a week later, she had accepted without hesitation.
She squeezed her eyes tight shut. She closed out the disarray of the room; then stopped the tears as her hand squeezed the pouch.
“Yoo-hoo anybody home?” The high pitched screech of her neighbour echoed through the hallway. “Are you there dear?”
Ginny cringed, then quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, stood and walked to the front door.
“Hello, Mrs Faulkner.”
“Oh my dear! What on earth has happened? Are you all right?” The plump granny in a bright pink tracksuit stepped into the house, then checked Ginny over with her hands.
“I’m fine Mrs Faulkner. No broken bones this time. But it looks as if I’ve been broken into.”
“Oh no! Oh dear! Has anything been stolen, dear?”
“Nothing of value. Just the broach.”
“Oh no! Not the broach! Oh dear. I’m so sorry! Have you called the Police Department yet, dear?”
Ginny smiled a tiny smile then at Mrs Faulkner’s use of the Police Department term. Huntsville’s Police Department consisted of one part time constable in his late 50s. Happy Harry was everybody’s friendly local cop.
“I’ve only just arrived home. I’ve just walked in and seen the mess myself.”
“Have you checked the rest of the house, dear?”
Ginny turned frightened eyes to her neighbour. “No.”
“Come along then, dear. We’ll do it together.”
Within minutes they were back in the lounge. The rest of the house had appeared untouched.
“I guess they just wanted the broach,” Ginny slumped into her cream upholstered armchair.
“Well, I think it’s time to call Harry. You make the call dear. I’ll put the kettle on.”
Ginny watched as her neighbour left the room. Her new white running shoes squeaked on the polished wooden floorboards in the kitchen as she busied herself with first the kettle, then the coffee mugs.
Ginny telephoned Harry who arrived as she took the first sip of revoltingly sweet coffee. She grimaced then put the cup down as Harry walked into the kitchen.
“Hello, Ginny. What’s been happening here then?” His cheerful voice boomed into the room. “What have you been getting up to now, young lady?”
Ginny smiled. “I’ve been broken into Harry. Take a look at the lounge. Nothing has been taken except the broach.”
Harry poked his head through the door. “Ah, it looks more of a mess than anything else, eh? Just the broach you say?” He turned back to Ginny.
“Yes. Everything else seems to be still here. Nothing has been touched in the rest of the house.” She sipped at her coffee, grimacing again at the unexpected sweetness.
“Mrs Faulkner, did you have to put so much sugar in the coffee?”
“Yes dear. You’ve had a nasty shock. Sugar is good for sorting out shocks.”
“I’m fine. I can’t drink this though, I’ll make myself another cup. Harry would you like one?”
“Hmm. Yes Ginny, I’d love one. Been on the job since 5am this morning. Nearly fell asleep at the desk this lunchtime.”
As Ginny busied herself making coffee, Harry and her neighbour quietly talked.
“So, Betty, what do you make of it?”
“Sounds like it was a very purposeful break in to me Harry. Sounds like they just wanted the broach. Must have known it was here.” She raised her left eyebrow as she spoke.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking too. Will you do me a favour and keep a close eye on Ginny. There’s something real odd about this theft. Like, whoever did it must have known Ginny before the accident.”
“Don’t you worry about Ginny, Harry. I’ll keep my eyes on her day and night. I don’t want anything happening to this lovely girl.”
“Ehm,” Ginny cleared her throat from behind them. “Here’s your coffee Harry.” Ginny passed Harry his cup, then watched as he juggled his notepad and pen. She took them from him, placed them on the table, then bade him to pull up a chair.
“Have you had any memory recalls yet, Ginny?” He carefully watched her expression over the top of his cup.
“No, nothing tangible.”
“Well, there’s only been one brief picture come to mind. I think it was probably just a dream though.”
“What was it?” He sat forward in his chair, eagerly listening.
“Nothing much. Just a picture. It was of the broach actually. Somebody was wearing it.”
Harry’s pencil flew over his notepad. “Did you see who it was?”
“No, just a person.” She closed her eyes willing the image back. Nothing. “I think it was a woman though. That’s more of a feeling than anything. It looked like the broach was attached to some folds of deep blue velvet.”
“You’re sure it was attached?”
“Yes, the broach was upright. There was shadow at the bottom.”
“Hmm. Okay, well that’s a start. When did you have this recollection?”
“It happened during the night about a week ago. I woke up and well, I thought I’d had a dream actually. I’m still not sure if it was a flashback or a dream,” she shrugged.
Harry wrote more in his notebook, then stood up. “Well, you know to call me if anything odd happens again. Don’t touch anything in the lounge, I’ll have the forensic people here shortly. You never know, whoever took the broach might have left us a fingerprint or two. It would be a good idea if you stayed the night at Betty’s house. Just can’t tell if they might come back or not.”
“Yes, of course, dear. Harry that’s a great idea! Go pack a few things up Ginny and stay the night at my place.”
An hour after that, Ginny found herself standing in her neighbour’s house staring out the heavily lace edged window back at her own home. The forensic people had come and gone. There had been no signs of fingerprints, other than her own and those of her eccentric neighbour.
She turned as Mrs Faulkner came into the room, then brushed a tear away before the older woman saw. She didn’t need reminding again that she would be safe because the whole town would look out for her.
“Here we are, dear. A nice hot cup of tea will do us both good. Sit yourself down.” She handed Ginny a plate piled high with sandwiches. “There, I thought you might be hungry. It didn’t look like you’d had anything for lunch.”
Ginny’s stomach rumbled on cue. She hadn’t felt like eating earlier, but now she was ready. “I don’t know why everyone’s fussing around me so much. I’m quite capable of looking after myself you know.” She picked up a dainty sandwich, then put the whole thing in her mouth. The second one was finished before her kindly, if over protective, neighbour had given Ginny her cup of tea.
“Now, who on earth could that be?” Mrs Faulkner waddled off to answer the door, as the bell chimed out the beginning strains of Elvis’ Love Me Tender. Ginny chuckled as she listened to the chime, then straightened in shock.
“Hello, I’m from the Council Survey Committee. I’m here to ask you a few questions.” A deep voice vibrated through Ginny’s body. Recognition was intense, but nonetheless elusive.
“No thank you, dear. I don’t want any today.” Mrs Faulkner had begun to close the door, then “Please take your foot out of my doorway, young man. That’s most rude of you.”
“Are you sure you won’t answer a few questions? It’ll only take five minutes of your time, Mrs…?”
“Yes I am a Mrs, and no, I won’t be answering questions. Now get along with you. I have things to do. What are you doing? Hey, come out of there!”
The man pushed her aside, then strode into the house. Ginny looked up, her eyes wide.
“Hello, Ginny. I thought you might be in here.”
“Who are you?” Ginny stood, then backed up behind the sturdy armchair. “What do you want? How do you know my name?”
“Oh, we’re going to play it like that, are we?” His snarling face frightened her more than anything else ever had.
“I don’t understand. What do you want with me?” The cup in her hand rattled on the saucer.
“You’re coming with me. As my fiancé, you are mine.” Hard steel eyes stabbed the air between them.
“Fiancé? We’re engaged? When? I don’t even know you!”
“That I find very hard to believe.”
“It’s true. How do I know we’re engaged?”
“You don’t know me? You don’t remember?”
“No, I don’t remember anything beyond about six months ago.”
“I was in an accident. I have amnesia.”
“An accident? What kind of an accident?” His eyes narrowed again as he waited to hear her reply.
“I was hit by a vehicle, a car I think. I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up I was in hospital here in Huntsville. I couldn’t remember who I was, or where I’d come from.”
He helped himself to an overstuffed chair. His eyes had become thin slits as he looked at Ginny. “And you expect me to believe this?” He sat. His elbows rested on the arms of the chair, his fingertips tapped knowledgeably as he watched her.
“It’s the truth,” she shrugged, but still wasn’t able to place his voice in her memory. She knew him; that thought bounced around in her head, but his memory stayed elusive.
“Well, no matter. I will take you with me now and look after you until your memory returns.”
“She’s going nowhere young man! She is perfectly safe here with me, thank you very much. At least until I have some kind of proof you are her fiancé. Does she have any family?” Mrs Faulkner had finally sorted her spluttering teeth and spoke coherently to him.
“No, she has no family. I am her only family.”
The sense of foreboding Ginny felt increased. She looked at her left hand, “If we’re engaged, where is my ring?”
“You didn’t want a shop one. You said it could wait. We were having one made.”
That was a feasible answer, she thought. “Who is making it? Where is it being made?”
“Lincoln! But that’s 600 miles away!”
“That’s home, Ginny. That’s where we live.”
Ginny had thought that when her memory had been jogged, everything would come rushing back. But she felt nothing. She looked from him to her neighbour in confusion.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Why would I be here if I lived in Lincoln? Why would I have traveled 600 miles from home?”
Her neighbour’s fluorescent pink tracksuit rode up over her belly as she shrugged. The white blouse underneath had huge yellow polka dots.
“I don’t know. I had hoped you’d enlighten me as to why you didn’t meet me for our luncheon date with my parents. They were most upset and not the least bit impressed, when I had to cancel our lunch.”
Ginny felt a stab of guilt. She hadn’t normally let people down; at least she hadn't let anyone down in the last six months. What he had said didn’t feel as if it were something she would normally do.
“I’m finding all this very hard to take in. I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Maxwell. Maxwell Blackburn.”
The cold chill that ran down her spine didn’t come from the light breeze that blew in through the kitchen window. It was a direct result of his name.
“Are you all right dear? Here, come and sit down for a moment.” Mrs Faulkner took the cup from Ginny, then led her gently to the chair. She sat, dazed.
“Maxwell. Maxwell Blackburn?”
“Yes,” he sneered. “Yes, that’s me. Does the name ring a bell, Ginny?” He leaned forward in the chair.
“Oh, yes. It rings a bell.” Her grip on her neighbours wrinkled hand tightened.
“Are you all right dear? Please tell me what’s wrong?”
Ginny stared into her friend’s concerned face. “I’m okay Mrs Faulkner. It’s just that…”
“What, dear? It’s just what?”
“It’s just that Maxwell Blackburn is the man who caused my father’s death.”
“Ah, so you do remember.” He stood; his black suit loomed above her as he pushed Mrs Faulkner away.
“Get up. It’s time for us to go.”
“But she can’t go.” Her neighbour pushed him back.
“She is coming with me. Get used to the idea. Ginny, get ready.”
“This isn’t right. I’m calling the Police!” Mrs Faulkner ran into the kitchen, grabbed the telephone, then dialed Harry. Before she could finish dialing, Maxwell had wrenched the phone from her, pulled it from the wall, then smashed it down on the kitchen bench.
“You will not make any phone calls.”
“But nothing. Now sit down and be quiet or I’ll have to tie you up. Do you understand, old woman?” He held her chin between two fingers, then squeezed until she nodded in fright. “Good, now sit.” He moved back to Ginny. “Get up. It’s time to leave.”
Ginny stood. “I’m going nowhere with you,” defiantly, she faced him.
“You’re coming with me Ginny. There’s no choice in the matter.” He grabbed her elbow then pushed her forward.
“I don’t want to go anywhere with you,” she struggled against his grip. “Let me go!” she shouted.
The huge crash beside her made her swing around. Mrs Faulkner stood grinning, a cast iron fryingpan held in both hands. Maxwell had slumped to the floor. He had gone down like a lead weight.
“Oh, Mrs Faulkner. Thank God!” Ginny rushed over to the old woman, then hugged her tight.
“Come on, Ginny. Let’s get out of here.” She dropped the frying pan, grabbed Ginny’s cold hand, then pushed her out the front door ahead of her. Daylight stunned them both momentarily.
Harry walked towards them. “Hello, you two. Going out for a walk?”
“Harry! Boy, are we glad to see you. Maxwell is inside. He was going to take Ginny. Quickly, you have to go cuff him! He’s dangerous!”
“Whoa, slow down Betty. What’s this about cuffin somebody? Who is Maxwell?”
“Harry please just go and tie the guy up. He’s laying on the floor in the lounge. He’s unconscious. Just tie him up before he wakes up.” Betty pushed Harry in through the front door. “Hurry!”
She grabbed Ginny by the arm, then hustled her along the footpath to the letterbox. They stood anxiously waiting, ready for flight if Maxwell emerged from the house before Harry.
“Okay, he’s tied. Come back in here and tell me what you two ladies have been doing.” His amusement crinkled the wrinkles on his face. He scratched his forehead with his fingertip, then he grinned at their obvious relief. “What on earth did you do to him Ginny? He looks like he’ll be out cold for a month!”
“She didn’t do anything, you old badger. It was me. He came in and was practically dragging Ginny by the hair and she didn’t want to go! He broke my telephone!”
Maxwell woke with a groan, just as the two women finished telling Harry their story. Harry left them for a moment as he radioed from his squad car to the station, then let his boss know what had happened at the Faulkner house.
“You bitch!” Maxwell spat at Ginny. “I’ll get you for this.”
“I got your father. And I’ll get you. Believe me on that one.”
Ginny spoke breathlessly, “I knew you thought you had killed father. I knew it when it happened. That row you had, then Dad gripping his chest in agony. I saw him fall to the floor. I saw you panic, then run. I remember it like it was yesterday, not five years ago. Was it too much for you to handle when you knew he had seen you stealing from the Blackburn Foundation? From your own family safe? Is that why you fought with him? Why you argued?”
“I knew he’d seen me and he’d call the police. I knew he’d have me jailed. He never liked me. He always stood in judgement of me. Even when I was a little kid in school. I was never able to please him.” Max was trying hard to explain it away.
“You didn’t have to try to please him. He always thought you were a wonderful kid.”
“What do you mean?” Maxwell rubbed his aching head with his palm. “What are you saying Ginny? That the old man liked me?”
“He loved you Max. He loved you as if you were his own.”
“No, I don’t believe that for a second. He never wanted anything to do with me, or my family.”
“Maxwell,” her voice softened. “Listen to me.” She waited until his eyes met hers. “Father knew you weren’t a bad guy. He knew you’d knuckle under and learn the company business. And he knew you would run the company one-day. He was bitterly disappointed when he caught you in that safe. That piece of jewelry belonged to grandmother. It held special memories for him. That’s why he had to tell your father you’d stolen it. Rightfully, it belonged to Dad. Uncle Zac knew that. He had planned on giving it to Dad on the anniversary of Granny’s death.”
“It was meant to be mine.” The stubbornness of the Blackburn family was etched in the anguish on his square jaw. “I worked damn hard in college, it should have been left to me! Damn it Ginny, when I get out of these handcuffs you’ll be sorry you ever knew me.” He rolled around on the floor, managed to crawl up onto his knees, then stood.
The broach fell from his pocket to the floor. Ginny stared at it. “It was you! You broke into my house and took the broach! Again? Didn’t you learn anything that first time, Max?” Ginny swooped down, picked the broach up from the flowery carpet, then stood.
“That broach is mine, Ginny. Put it back into my pocket.” His voice echoed around the room, deadly in intent.
“What’s going on here?” Harry bounced back into the room. “Ah Ginny, you found your broach.” Josh walked in behind Harry, he went straight to Ginny’s side, then put his arm protectively around her shoulder.