Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Three

It’s Monday and you know what that means… another installment of Jen Winters’ story. Whoo-hoo! And, of course, you can always visit her blog here.

Margaret had just made it to the kitchen when her phone rang. “What is going on?” she asked the security guard who had taken James’ place.

“The police are here,” he informed her. “The officer is driving to the front now.”

Margaret gave her sister a wrinkled nose. “Did you invite the police?” she asked curiously.

“No. Do you want me to handle it?” Gretchen asked as she got the canning jars ready for the apple jelly she had made.

“No, darling, I’m the face of this operation. I will deal with it. I suppose it’s about Peggy anyway.” She sighed and left the wondrous smells of the kitchen to attend to the guest they were about to have.

The doorbell rang throughout the house, a chiming mantra of health and vitality, before Margaret had time to walk to the foyer. One of the house staff invited the officer in, giving Margaret a chance to see him before he saw her. He was dressed in creased jeans, black hiking boots, a pressed blue button-up and a bolo tie. He had kind brown eyes and gave the servant a charming smile.

“Hello, officer,” Margaret called, approaching him in her always ethereal manner. “What can I help you with?”

“Detective Don VanCamp, and you are?” The officer asked, holding out a firm hand to her.

She shook his strong, calloused palm. “Margaret Dragonswan. Are you new to the department?”

Don nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I just moved here from Arizona. We had a domestic disturbance call at the station. A man claimed you kidnapped his wife right in front of him about half an hour ago.”

Margaret laughed. “You must mean Peggy. We did not kidnap her, she cut herself and I offered to have our house doctor have a look. She’s pregnant and I didn’t want to take any chances with her. So, she and I left the kitchen. Apparently her husband created quite a row when we left and we had to escort him off the property. Peggy is still here. Would you like to see her?”

“Yes, ma’am, I think that would be for the best right now.” Don’s straight-laced demeanor didn’t change with Margaret’s laughter or explanation.

“Follow me,” she invited, momentarily pulling on his shirt-sleeve as she turned to the stairs that led to the second-floor guest suite.

He walked silently behind her, the only accompaniment to their walk the brisk echo of their footfalls. She knocked on the door to the guest rooms and waited, giving the detective an airy smile. “I imagine the doctor is still with her. She may need a moment to compose herself if something was amiss.”

Don acknowledged her with a nod and knocked again. “Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.”

Margaret shrugged her small shoulders. “I am suspect, of course.”

The door opened and Peggy appeared, tying the strings of a robe around her belly. “Sorry. I was just redressing. Come in,” she said, stepping back for them.

Margaret followed Don in, noticing that Maggie was gone already. There was very little evidence of her visit, in fact.

“Are you Peggy Rugner?” Don inquired, pulling out a notebook and pen.

“Yes?” Peggy looked confused, but Margaret gave her hand a little squeeze.

“This is detective VanCamp. Your husband reported you kidnapped by me,” Margaret explained.

“Do you have an ID to confirm your identity?” Don continued undeterred by Peggy’s confusion or Margaret’s introduction.

“Um, yes, in my purse over there.” Peggy started to move for it but Margaret stopped her.

“Sit down, love. Let me get it for you.” She turned on the detective and gave him a hard look. “You too, Mr. VanCamp. Sit.”

Without waiting for his compliance or reply, she walked across the room to get her guest’s purse.

“Are you here of your own volition, ma’am?”

“Well, I don’t know what that means detective.”

“Are you here willingly? Did this woman take you without your consent?”

“Of course I’m here willingly. My husband over-reacted. They were just looking out for me.”

“So you were not, in fact, kidnapped. Did your husband know you went willingly?”

Margaret handed Peggy her purse and sat next to her as she answered. “He was there. I walked away from him—I wasn’t dragged.”

“Are there any witnesses to this that would confirm your story here?”

“Well, sure. We were with a whole tour group. I bet they are still here. The tour wasn’t supposed to end until three and then we were supposed to get a late lunch in the courtyard.”

The detective turned to Margaret. “Is the tour group still here?”

Margaret nodded. “Yes, as she said, they will be in the courtyard at three. Would you like to wait?”

Don stood. “Yes, ma’am, I think need to. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Rugner. If I have any more questions is there a phone I can reach you at or will you be here?”

Margaret squeezed Peggy’s shoulders. “Peggy is under our doctor’s care at the moment. I believe that she will be staying with us for the foreseeable future. I will give you the direct number to the phone in this room and also my cell should you need us.”

“Oh! You don’t have to do that!” Peggy exclaimed surprised.

Margaret shushed her. “Now, now, Peggy. Your health and safety are our number one concern right now. I don’t think I could live with myself if something happened to you because I turned you out. Please stay here with us. We will keep you and the baby safe for as long as you let us.”

Peggy’s eyes brimmed with tears and she crumpled into Margaret’s embrace. “Thank you, so much!”

Margaret stroked her back and held her until the tears subsided. Detective VanCamp stood stoically looking out the window, steadfastly ignoring the female mess in front of him. When it finally ended, Margaret pecked Peggy on the temple and stood with the detective. “Rest my dear. I will be back after Mr. VanCamp is satisfied with his investigation. If you need anything, just pick up the phone and dial zero. It will connect you to the house manager and she will help you with anything you require.”

Peggy nodded, wiping her freckled, red face with her shirtsleeve. “Thank you.”

Margaret pshawed her and led the detective out of the room again. Once the door was closed and Margaret felt reasonably certain that they would not be overheard, she addressed Don again. “Are you satisfied that she has not been kidnapped or otherwise detained against her will?”

“Yes, ma’am. I will still need to interview the witnesses, but mainly I see myself filing charges against Mr. Rugner for filing a false police report.”

“Will he go to jail for that?” she asked hopefully.

Detective VanCamp shook his head. “Not likely. Community service and probation.”

Margaret sighed. “I see. Let me show you to the courtyard.”

Detective VanCamp grabbed her elbow. “Wait. What’s bothering you?”

Margaret gave him her airy smile again. “Detective, surely you were cognizant of the bruising around her neck? Who do you think is responsible for that meaty, ham-handed imprint on her? Is it a wonder that we invited her to stay here? She needs a safe place to be away from that terrible man.”

“If you can document the abuse and convince her to press charges, we might be able to put him behind bars,” Don said, absently pulling her arm through the crook of his.

Margaret smirked at his innocent gesture and guided him to the courtyard.

Upon seeing a veritable feast being prepared for the tourists and the staff preparing it, Detective Don VanCamp dropped Margaret’s arm, slightly embarrassed by his professional faux pas. He rubbed his chin. “My mother always insisted I act like a gentleman. Sometimes, her training overrides my professionalism. I apologize.”

Margaret slipped her arm through his again. “I prefer a gentleman to a professional,” she insisted, pushing him toward the tables awaiting the visitors.

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Two

Continuing from last week’s post, I have chapter two from Jen’s short story. You can visit her blog here. PS, Jen has titled this Long for Freedom, but I’ll keep calling it the Dragonswan Sisters just to mess with people. 😉

The fifth floor of the Dragonswan Mansion had been remodeled when the girls had turned seventeen. Their mother’s special needs required the change. A stairway from the ground floor led directly to the fifth and opened into a wide space filled with arts, crafts, books, and many collections of things her mother valued from dolls and stamps to comic books and coins. She had her own kitchenette, a bath tub, toilet, and sink, and a bunk bed, because, as their mother once told them, sometimes it’s nice to have a fort, and sometimes it’s nice to sleep in a tree.

Margaret entered the room without knocking to find her mother sitting at a card table playing go fish with her sister, Maggie. Maggie was the middle child between her and Gretchen and cared for their mother during the day. She was also a physician, the genius child who finished medical school and her residencies before she was legal to buy beer.

“Maggie, dear, we have a guest in need of your attention,” Margaret announced leaning over her mother and kissing her cheek.

“Margaret. How are you?” her mother asked loudly.

“I am very well, Mother. The tours started today and we are making apple butter and apple preserves in the kitchen. How are you?”

“I am well, too, thank you for asking. Did you know that I got a new doll today?”

“I did! I gave the package to Maggie, remember?”

“No. Sorry. I do not have a very good memory.  Do you want to play with us? We are playing gold fish.”

Margaret smiled gently at her mother and petted her straight light brown hair. “Maybe I can later. Right now, Maggie has to go look at a woman who hurt herself earlier. Do you mind if I steal her away for a little while?”

“No, I do not mind, thank you for asking. Do you want to play when you bring her back?”

“I’m not sure, Mother. How about if I promise to come play with you at seven this evening?”

“That is an hour before I go to bed.”

“Yes it is. We can play until bed time, okay?”

“Okay. See you then.”

Margaret gave her mother another kiss and smiled at Maggie, nodding toward the door. Her sister stood, another exact copy of Margaret and together they left their mother’s room. Once they were out, Margaret sighed. “How is she really?” she asked.

Maggie shrugged. “She’s the same. The medication wears her out, but she has been a real trooper about it anyway. Her oncologist says she has another good year if all goes well. If not, it could be less than three months. Her hair is falling out now, but she doesn’t seem to mind.”

“How are you?” Margaret stopped Maggie on the stairs and took her hand.

Maggie’s small smile didn’t reach her eyes, and she held tightly to her sisters palms. “I’m sad and I’m angry, and I’m tired. I want to be with her, but it’s difficult. I love her so much, but she wears me out.”

Margaret squeezed her sister’s fingers. “Maybe Gretchen and I should each take a day too. You need a break if you are feeling like this. Let us help you.”

“Ha! As if Mother would let you. You know she only wants me to help her like she needs. Besides, you and Gretchen do so much for this household; I could never replace you, even for a day. It’s fine. I will be fine.” Maggie wiped unshed tears from her eyes and squared her shoulders. “Take me to your guest.”

Margaret sighed and led her on. When they reached the first floor, the tour had made it all the way to the art gallery so they were able to make it back to the guest suit without any interruptions. At the door, Margaret knocked, waited a second and then opened the door when Peggy called to them.

The poor pregnant girl was sitting at the table where she had managed to make quite a dent in the offerings. She had a guilty smile on her face, but for the first time since Margaret had laid eyes on her, she wasn’t carrying a burgeoning weight on her shoulders. Instead of hunched as she had been, she was sitting up straight. “Thank you for this, it was so delicious!” she waved at the table as she cumbersomely stood to greet them. “I’m Peggy,” she offered to Maggie, who took her hand and squeezed it.

“Look at you!” she said with a happy smile. “You look about thirty-six weeks on. How are you feeling?”

Margaret surreptitiously stepped out of the room to give Peggy some privacy and went in search of her other sister. On the way, she was accosted by a tourist who’d managed to break away from the group.

“Hi, I’m Ann Hitch, reporter for the Bay, mind if I ask you a few questions?” the woman abruptly said, getting between Margaret and the kitchen.

Margaret gave her a whimsical smile. “Absolutely, Ann. Please walk with me.”

Margaret turned toward the kitchen again as Ann began questioning her. “Rumors in town say that your house and grounds are haunted, any truth to those rumors?”

“Personally, I have never seen a ghost in my life, but they could be true. Who knows what lies on the other side of death?”

“Rumors also say that you and your sisters are practitioners of dark magic, any truth to that?”

“Have you seen any evidence of magic on these premises?”

“The legend of the athame certainly implies magical capabilities.”

Margaret laughed as she entered the kitchen and winked at her sister. “Did you not see the pregnant woman who cut herself on the athame?”

“True. What about the apples? Your apples are famous and have made Littleton famous, is there something special about them that the world doesn’t know about?”

“Darling Ann, our apples are absolutely special—that’s why they are famous! If we had run-of-the-mill apples, do you think you would be interviewing me?”

“True again. What makes your apples so special?”

Margaret grabbed a fresh apple from a barrel and rinsed it in the sink. Taking it over to the cutting board she sliced it in to eight spectacular, mouth-watering pieces. “Eat,” she said, handing Ann a slice and taking one for herself.

Ann smiled and ate the piece she was given. “They are probably the most flavorful apples I’ve ever had, but I’m from the city so that’s not saying much. We get our apples from the cheapest possible places.”

“Well, Ann, give me your address and I will personally see to it that you stay stocked with fresh apples all year—on the house.”

“Really?” Ann said surprised. “I—I can’t. I still have more questions and you might not like the rest.”

Margaret smiled and handed her a pen and paper. “I don’t mind your questions, Ann, and even if I don’t like them, I still like you and I want to give you apples for your home.”

Ann gave Margaret an awkward smile and wrote her address down. “Why do you all have the same name?”

Margaret tucked the paper away and turned, leaving through the back door with Ann on her heels. “Our mother loved the name Margaret, and planned to name her daughter—me—Margaret, so when I came and then Maggie came, and then Gretchen came, she didn’t have any other names picked out. So she just stayed true to her plan to use Margaret and named the three of use variations of the same name.”

“She didn’t know she was having triplets?”

“Dearest Ann, don’t you know? Our mother is autistic. She refused to let the doctors anywhere near her. She had us in the bathroom tub in her room. She didn’t even tell our father that she was in labor. She called him after we were born.”

“Your father? If she’s developmentally disabled doesn’t that constitute abuse? Shouldn’t she have been protected from him?”

Margaret had made it to the security gate and waved to James, the man on duty. “My father loved my mother and she loved him, in her own way. She was the only Dragonswan descendent and with permission from her parents before there was such a diagnosis as autism she married him when she was sixteen and he was thirty-two. They tried for eighteen years to get pregnant and then finally, after years of failure, they had us. My father loved our mother with all his heart until the day he died. She has been a wreck since then, deteriorating in both her body and mind. It’s not really a matter of abuse or not now. Now it’s a matter of two souls who were desperate for each other in this life, being separated and there is nothing anyone can do for them.”

“Is your mother dying?” Ann asked quietly for the first time.

Margaret smiled sadly. “We all are, aren’t we?” She turned to James again. “Darling, will you please see to it that this lovely woman makes it back to her hotel room?” Before Ann could protest Margaret tisked her. “Tut, tut, Ann. You came here under false pretenses. We have a form for reporters to fill out and get passes to the grounds. Please take the time to submit it on our website and I promise, tomorrow when you get here there will be a pass waiting for you.”