Author photos taken by Robert Abrams in Paris, France.



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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chapter One of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW

MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW


Chapter One
Rachel O’Neill swiped the tears from her eyes in protest and blinked back the next wave that threatened to follow. She couldn’t understand why the crying jags kept coming. It had been nearly a year since Pete had been killed. This was ridiculous. She should be able to deal with it by now. The proverbial ‘should vs. would vs. will’. Okay, she would—WILL deal with it.

She grabbed the wad of paper towel she’d used to wipe her mouth after devouring her toast, opened it and blew her nose. She had to stop letting her emotions take over like this.

“That’s it! No more crying! I’m done with it!” She scrunched up the towel again and threw it at the table. It bounced off and landed on the grass. For a moment she stared down at it lying in its spiked green nest. A sigh escaped her lips before she bent over and picked up the towel, placing it on the table.

She drew in a deep breath and inhaled the cool, crisp June morning air that smelled of the sea and flora surrounding her, then leaned back in her garden chair and gazed out across Mount’s Bay towards Saint Michael’s Mount.

Saint Michael’s, sitting majestically atop a rocky mound off the coast of Marazion, was once a Benedictine monastery granted to the famous Mont St. Michel in France. But in all its treasures of its past life, and since the Seventeenth Century, the medieval castle belonged to the St. Aubyn family of Cornwall.

Her thoughts shifted to her friend Margaret St. Aubyn, one of the descendents, who had recently married a Spanish nobleman and who still owned and managed the Godolphin Arms in Marazion where Rachel had first met her. From the Godolphin restaurant the view of Saint Michael’s was perfect across the causeway.

As it turned out Margaret and Rachel shared a belief in reincarnation; they both felt strongly that they were connected in a past life. They both felt they were part of a group traveling together from one lifetime to another, Pete included. When they first met, a strong familiarity existed between them. Rachel had felt the same familiarity with Pete who had also been a believer of the past life theory.

Since she moved to Cornwall, Rachel had spent many hours traveling and visiting the towns and villages in the south of England, from the west to the east coast, meeting the people with whom she felt a previous connection. She truly believed she had lived in Cornwall in the Seventeenth Century. Even her dreams hinted at it, as well as investigations confirming it.

Sounds of a distant car horn broke her train of thought.

She stood and moved to a nearby stone wall where she kept several of her favorite potted plants and lifted a small pot of hyacinths to her nose. A decorative pot she’d forgotten to place on the white wrought-iron table that morning as she had her morning coffee and slices of toast. She was all about setting the scene as beautiful as possible, whether she was alone or had guests.

The sweet aroma of the hyacinths soothed her as usual. Smelling flowers always made her feel better. Lifted her spirits.

When Rachel first traveled to England, she immediately fell in love with the abundant gardens. So she worked diligently to create her own blossom-filled space in her own little corner of England.

Her garden was picturesque with the milky-white magnolia blossoms on the tree branches above her, emerald grass and multi-colored flower beds stretching to the edge of the bluff … the blues of the sea and sky beyond … the fishing boats bobbing in Newlyn Harbor below … her own picture-perfect world. She liked it that way.

Rachel loved Newlyn. It was a charming town at the southwestern tip of Britain claiming to have the largest fishing port in England, where winters are wild and raging, summers are mildly engaging - she’d written the rhyming description of Cornwall in one of her feeble attempts at writing poetry.

She wondered if Birch had ever painted Newlyn Harbor. He must have, he’d painted thousands of pictures of Cornwall. She knew he had been in Newlyn early on in his career when Newlyn was known as an artist colony. His painting of Mount St. Michaels was hanging in her dining room. It had been a priceless find one day as she rummaged through a quasi antique shop that was mostly filled with cast-offs nobody wanted. A view of the Mount from a hill in Marazion. She’d found the exact spot from where he must’ve sketched the scene. She loved his use of muted shades of golds, browns, blues, and greens and often thought if she were a painter she would capture all of Cornwall’s glory on canvas just as he had. Samuel John Lamorna Birch. He’d taken on the name of Lamorna, the village where he lived when he returned to Cornwall after a year of study in Paris. The assumed name was to set himself apart from another painter called Birch. She could understand why he would return to England to live out his life.

It had been seven years when Rachel had first seen Cornwall’s seacoast with her good friend, Ethan Philips. During the Christmas holidays. Several years before his tragic death.

Two deaths in three years.

Dammit! Here it comes again!

She muffled the thoughts in her head by singing at the top of her lungs, “Oh what a beautiful morning … oh what a beautiful day … I’ve got a beautiful feeling … everything’s going my way.”

It worked. She hoped no one had heard her outburst. But it definitely worked this time.

She poured another cup of coffee from the Cafetiere that sat on the table, hoping the coffee would still be warm. While sipping she let memories of that first trip to Cornwall slip back into her conscious mind. The good memories.

She and Ethan had arrived during one of the most violent storms that had hit the region in five years. It pounded the Penzance coastline the entire week before Christmas and continued on through New Year’s Day.

Rachel loved the romance and drama of stormy weather - the high seas, the waves crashing over the granite boulders and pebble-strewn beach up onto the coastal road. Philip hated it. He wanted to go back to London and spend the holidays with his sister and mother.

But Rachel couldn’t pull herself away from the Cornwall coast, she was drawn to it. It felt good. So she remained at the Queen Hotel in Penzance and he returned to London. It had been one of the best Christmas Eve’s as well as New Year’s Eves she’d spent up to that point in her life. Both with the locals at the Ship Inn pub in the tiny village of Mousehole.

Now seven years later she was living just two miles from Mousehole and one mile from Penzance – in between the two towns, in Newlyn. Her dreams had come true, literally. This was where she belonged. She knew it the moment she first arrived seven years ago with Ethan.

Her reverie was momentarily interrupted by sounds of lines beating and clanging against the pleasure boat masts below in Newlyn Harbor. The winds were picking up. Sounds of squawking seagulls as they pillaged for food filled the atmosphere, mingling with the returning memories of that first visit and of Ethan. She didn’t know why she was thinking of him so much lately, but at that moment she could still see his face as he lay in the hospital morgue.

Dammit!

She lifted the bottom edge of her chambray shirt and wiped emerging tears from her eyes.

Stop it now!

Every once in a while voices and laughter would waft up the steep slope to Rachel’s ears, interrupting her daydreams, distracting her. Right now she was grateful for the intrusion.

The voices steered her imagination to visions of the Mayflower pulling into the harbor for fresh water as it had centuries before.

This was how her mind worked … jumping from one topic to another, from one imagination to another. She’d given up trying to tame her fleeting thoughts, it wasn’t conceivable or even plausible.

Again she poured coffee in her cup as she thought about the historic Mayflower when it had anchored in Newlyn to take on water because the supply in Plymouth was contaminated. She’d read that the journey from Plymouth, England to Plymouth in Cape Cod Bay on the eastern coast of North America took two months.

She visualized Captain John Smith and John Alden—of the Priscilla Mullins and Miles Standish love triangle. Alden had been a member of the crew on the Mayflower, a barrel-maker. Priscilla was seventeen years old when she boarded the ship. Being the military advisor of the new colony in Plymouth, it was said that Miles Standish’s unrequited love for Priscilla never came to fruition. According to Longfellow’s famous poem, whether it was true or not, it was Standish who convinced Alden to propose to Priscilla for him, only to have Priscilla tell Alden to speak up for himself. As it turned out, John and Priscilla were the third couple to be married in Plymouth and they had ten children.

In Rachel’s imagination she saw the story and history unfold that had begun right there in the bay below. She saw the men, women, and children on the ship. She saw John Alden and all the eager, hopeful faces starring up at the hills and cliffs of the bay around them, not realizing the dangers ahead on the long and grueling journey they were about to take. They lost two lives at sea and more than half of the remaining settlers that first year while anchored in Cape Cod.

Sighing once again, she set her Lady Carlisle china cup in the saucer and stood up, stretching her arms, reaching for the sky. Then she bent over and touched her toes. She put her hands on her hips and turned from side to side to the count of twenty. One of the hardest things for her was to take time away from writing to do exercises. She loved gardening and walking, but that wasn’t enough to keep her in shape after spending such long hours, thinking and writing. Her thought processes were as much a part of her writing as the actual physical act of putting pen to page. Her imaginings played a big part in the concepts.

She walked to the edge of the cliff and did more stretching and bending.

Because it was a clear day, she could see all the way to the horizon where the sea and the sky merged into one, and she could see the silhouette of a passing ocean liner. She wondered about the stories of the people on the ship, where they were going, who they were.

Might be a good story there.

Her cell phone rang and she hurried back to the table.

“Hello?” She sat in the garden chair.

“Rachel, it’s me, Maxim!”

“Oh my goodness, how are you? What are you doing?”

“I’m calling you, of course.”

Rachel took a deep breath. “So, are you in Brussels or Moscow?”

“I’m in London on business and I thought I might come down to see you afterwards, if you don’t mind? Do you?”

“When?” She stood up and began pacing, running her hand through her hair, panicking.

“I can be there tomorrow, if that is all right with you.”

“Oh. Sure. That’ll be all right.”

“Good! Then I will call you early in the morning to let you know when I will arrive by train.”

“Okay.” This was catching her off guard.

“I’ll call you in the morning then. Bye.”

She couldn’t believe that Maxim Balanchine was coming to Cornwall. They’d met the previous New Year’s Eve in Brussels; Maxim a widower, Rachel in the throes of her own grief. She’d spent the holidays in Brussels with her friends, Mandy and Richard Miller.

She couldn’t believe Maxim was coming to visit.

Oh God! I need to make a list.

She went to the table and picked up her pen and notebook. Quickly she sat and jotted down what she needed from the market and what she needed to do in preparation for his arrival. As soon as the grocery opened that morning, she’d go.

That done she leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to calm herself and relax. Visualizing a color with her eyes closed was a good trick. She’d think of a color until all she saw behind her eyelids was that color, bright and sparkly. The concentration would eradicate all thoughts. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

It wasn’t working.

Sighing, she shielded the ocean’s glare from her eyes as she looked out at the panoramic view of the sea stretching from Mousehole to the right and Saint Micheal’s Mount to the left.

A school of sailing boats were hugging the shore, making their way to the east side of Mount’s Bay, past Penzance towards the Mount.

Again she stood up, this time heading towards her cottage. She stopped and pinched off a few stalks of tiny, pink rose buds from a climbing vine, inhaling the handful of fragrance as she passed through the open French doors that led into the master bedroom of her small, cozy cottage.

It had been four years since Pete had discovered the cottage and told Rachel about it in an email while she was in Montana.

Four years.

She plopped down onto her pink satin bedspread, lying face down, crossways, her nose breathing the bunch of roses. Her bedroom walls were covered with wallpaper of pink and pale yellow rosebuds, chintz draperies to match, lacy curtains covering the window panes. Her room was clad in pink and crème hues. Pete had called it Rachel’s cotton candy world.

Yes, four years since her dear mother had died. Four years since Rachel had gone to the Blackfoot Indian reservation for the service honoring her mother and the contributions she’d made to her native Indian nation.

Rachel was half Blackfoot and half Irish, her father being the O’Neill side of the family which explained her auburn hair. Her olive skin inherited from her mother.

Both of them dead.

Okay, you win!

She yanked the locks of her mind and the thoughts flowed over the dam. There they were, all the loved ones she’d lost in the past eight years: first her father, then her mother, Ethan, and her adorable fiancé Pete Bell. The love of her life. Her soulmate.

Since Pete died, she had the same recurring nightmare of dead bodies piled up in a heap. In the nightmare she would tug and pull at each of them, trying to separate them for proper burial, to no avail.

The nightmare began the night she’d received the news that Pete had been shot and killed in Brazil by poachers. He had been there on assignment to collect plant life for the Eden Project, his dream. He and Rachel were to be married that Christmas in Paris, her dream.

Now it was almost a year after his tragic murder and all the deaths seemed to be tied together; one sparked by the memory of the other, layer upon layer of heart hurt. Dead bodies on a heap.

She squeezed her head with both hands, trying to rid herself of the visuals and emotion, trying to remove it once and for all.

She jumped from the bed and hurried into the dressing room to splash cold water on her face. She stared into the mirror. Who was this haggard, red-eyed, red-nosed, sad-looking creature standing before her? Whatever happened to the happy-go-lucky Rachel, the one who could suppress her feelings, always showing a bright smile and a happy face, no matter what? That had always been her claim to fame. Where was she? She was looking old.

That had to be it. Her age. She was approaching 50.

Maybe her problem was the proverbial change of life, the chemical changes that were going on in her body.

Oh gawd! Get over it, will you?

She wiped her eyes and nose with her shirt tail, grabbed the bunch of roses on the bed, and went into the kitchen to get a vase.

The kitchen wall- phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi. What are you doing?” Belinda Newland asked.

“Taking a break from writing, putting some roses in a vase. How about you?” She sniffed and blotted her nose on her sleeve.

“Are you crying?”

“No, I just had a sneeze attack.”

“Well, I was thinking maybe you’d like to go to an early lunch with us in Penzance? Mama’s visiting, she’s at home with the boys, so we thought we’d take advantage and go into town for some R & R. What do you think?” Belinda grinned at her husband, Paul, who was standing on the bottom stair of their workshop galleries in Mousehole, his gallery upstairs, hers downstairs.

Cradling the phone against her shoulder, Rachel ran water into the vase. “Sure. Sounds good to me. When are you going?”

“We’ll pick you up at half past eleven.”

“Okay, works for me.” Rachel looked at her watch. “I’ll be ready.”

She put the roses in the vase and set them on the country French kitchen table. Resting her hands on the back of a chair, she remembered when she and Pete had found the white-washed table at an antique shop in St. Ives, along with a wall mirror with the same fanciful carvings. Pete had hung it on the wall next to one of the heavy pine ceiling-to-floor bookcases that he had built for her.

Rachel turned and darted to her bedroom.

She changed into a clean pair of faded blue jeans, black sandals and a black T-shirt. Decided that the chambray shirt she had been wearing and had used as a handkerchief all morning just wouldn’t do. She tossed it into the wicker hamper.

After splashing more cool water on her face, she brushed her reddish-brown hair straight back from her face.

I can’t believe Maxim is coming.

She searched through her drawer of scrunchies, grabbed a black and blue plaid one and fastened the pony tail at the nape of her neck.

Maxim is coming tomorrow?

For the final touch she added a touch of orange frost lipstick. It never took her long to get dressed and put on her minimalist makeup.

She went back out to the garden, cleared the table, and grabbed the shopping list she’d made. After plopping the Cafetiere and the dishes into the sink to soak, she headed for her car in the small detached garage near the lane. She drove the walkable distance to the Newlyn market to stock up on the provisions she figured she’d need for the weekend, and then returned to the cottage—total trip thirty minutes.

While she was waiting for her best friends, she straightened the living room, returned books to bookshelves, restacked magazines, and fluffed the pillow cushions on the floral chairs and sofas.

She’d just finished vacuuming when she heard a car coming up the lane, so she grabbed her bag and out the door she flew. She was exhausted. It had been a grueling morning.

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