Heroes Are My Weakness(4)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips



The door blew open. She dragged the suitcases inside and, with the last of her strength, wrestled it shut again. The air wheezed in her lungs. She collapsed on the closest suitcase, her gasps for breath more like sobs.

Eventually she grew conscious of the musty smell of the icy room. Pressing her nose to her sleeve, she fumbled for the light switch. Nothing happened. Either the caretaker hadn’t gotten her e-mail asking him to have the generator working and the small furnace fired up or he’d ignored it. Every frozen part of her throbbed. She dropped her snow-crusted gloves on the small canvas rug that lay just inside the door but didn’t bother to shake the snow from the wild tangle of her hair. Her jeans were frozen to her legs, but she’d have to pull off her boots to remove them, and she was too cold to do that.

But no matter how miserable she was, she had to get her puppets out of their snow-caked suitcases. She located one of the assorted flashlights her mother always kept near the door. Before school and library budgets were slashed, her puppets had provided a steadier livelihood than her failed acting career or her part-time jobs walking dogs and serving drinks at Coffee, Coffee.

Shaking with cold, she cursed the caretaker, who apparently had no qualms about riding a horse through a storm but couldn’t summon the effort to do his real job. It had to have been Shaw riding the horse. No one else lived at this end of the island during the winter. She unzipped the suitcases and pulled out the five dummies. Leaving them in their protective plastic bags, she stowed them temporarily on the sofa, then, flashlight in hand, stumbled across the frigid wood floor.

The interior of Moonraker Cottage bore no resemblance to anyone’s idea of a traditional New England fishing cottage. Instead her mother’s eccentric stamp was everywhere—from a creepy bowl of small animal skulls to a silver-gilded Louis XIV chest bearing the words PILE DRIVER that Mariah had spray-painted across it in black graffiti. Annie preferred a cozier space, but during Mariah’s glory days, when she’d inspired fashion designers and a generation of young artists, both this cottage and her mother’s Manhattan apartment had been featured in upscale decorating magazines.

Those days had ended years ago when Mariah had fallen out of favor in Manhattan’s increasingly younger artistic circles. Wealthy New Yorkers had begun asking others for help compiling their private art collections, and Mariah had been forced to sell off her valuables to support her lifestyle. By the time she’d gotten sick, everything was gone. Everything except something in this cottage—something that was supposed to be Annie’s mysterious “legacy.”

“It’s at the cottage. You’ll have . . . plenty of money . . .” Mariah had said those words in the final hours before she’d died, a period in which she’d been barely lucid.

There isn’t any legacy, Leo sneered. Your mother exaggerated everything.

Maybe if Annie had spent more time on the island she’d know whether Mariah had been telling the truth, but she’d hated it here and hadn’t been back since her twenty-second birthday, eleven years ago.

She shone the flashlight around her mother’s bedroom. A life-size mounted photograph of an elaborately carved Italian wooden headboard served as the actual headboard for the double bed. A pair of wall hangings made of boiled wool and what looked like remnants from a hardware store hung next to the closet door. The closet still smelled of her mother’s signature fragrance, a little-known Japanese men’s cologne that had cost a fortune to import. As Annie breathed in the scent, she wished she could feel the grief a daughter should experience following the loss of a parent only five weeks earlier, but she merely felt depleted.

She waited until she’d located Mariah’s old scarlet woolen cloak and a pair of heavy socks before she got rid of her own clothes. After she’d piled every blanket she could find on her mother’s bed, she climbed under the musty sheets, turned out the flashlight, and went to sleep.


ANNIE HADN’T THOUGHT SHE’D EVER be warm again, but she was sweating when a coughing fit awakened her sometime around two in the morning. Her ribs felt as if they’d been crushed, her head pounded, and her throat was raw. She also had to pee, another setback in a house with no water. When the coughing finally eased, she struggled out from under the blankets. Wrapped in the scarlet cloak, she turned on the flashlight and, grabbing the wall to support herself, made her way to the bathroom.

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