October 13, 2010

Inherit my Heart Chapter One

For Becky, without whom we would not be where, or indeed who, we are today. Thanks a million!
Chapter One
Katrina fumbled with her key chain, trying to stuff the key into the lock before the phone stopped ringing. In her haste, she dropped her keys, the late afternoon sun glittering on them as they fell. She grabbed them up, located the door key, and inserted it into the lock. The mechanism didn’t work. Again. "Oh, please," she moaned, jiggling the key so it would function properly. "Don't choose now to be obstinate. Please open. Please!" With a final jog of the key, the tumblers slid into place and the lock turned. She pulled the door open, scrambled through and slammed it shut. She flipped the deadbolt into place and raced across the living room for the phone. Breathless, she yanked the receiver off the hook. "Hello, Katrina speaking." There was silence for a moment. Then a deep voice said, "Is this Katrina McSwayne?" Few people called her from work; great-aunt Monalee called every few months, but this voice didn’t belong to anyone she knew. She really had expected it to be her aged aunt. Puzzled, she hesitated. "Well?" The voice was slightly caustic. "Um, yes, this is she; with whom am I speaking, please?" "Gavin Browning. I understand you are, or were at one time, married to Charleston Beardsley. One Charleston Werner Beardsley. Is that correct?" Fear tied knots in her stomach. Katrina shivered. She hadn’t told anyone here about that disaster, so who could this man be? Time. She needed more time. 'Think, Katrina, think,' her brain demanded. She swallowed hard. "What did you say your name was?" "Browning. Gavin Browning.” “Who did you say you’re looking for?” “You. You are Charleston’s wife, aren’t you?” His tone sounded curt. “Where did you get wild information like that?” Katrina tried to sound off-hand, but her voice wasn’t cooperating. It just sounded squeaky, even to her own ears. “It doesn't matter where I obtained the information, Ms. McSwayne. Please just answer if it is true and correct." Katrina's heart felt like a huge ball of ice. Her throat was suddenly dry, preventing any words from escaping. The silence stretched. "Ms. McSwayne, answer the question. Are you now, or have you ever been married to Charleston Werner Beardsley?" The sound of his impatience lashed her nerve endings. Dismay shook Katrina to her very bones. Was this person after her to pay her husband's debts? He had been such a scoundrel. It wasn't the first time he’d told someone to collect from her, but she didn't think he knew where she had fled. Had he found her at last? ‘Please, no,’ she prayed fervently. Katrina took a deep breath. "I...I don't have any money. Please, go away," she said. The sudden bark of laughter from the telephone startled her. "Oh, Katrina McSwayne, you are priceless! You’re just what he described. No money." Again the deep laughter boomed in her ear. Katrina gripped the phone's earpiece so hard her upper arm ached with the strain, her fingers nearly numb. His laughter made her angry, and the anger gave her strength. "I didn't realize it was so funny, Mr. Browning. I'm glad you’ve had your laugh for the day. I'll thank you not to call and bother me anymore. Goodbye." As Katrina put down the phone, she heard him call out her name. She didn't want to talk to him. She didn't want to know what trouble Charleston was in this time. She stood in shock by the telephone. It had been six years since she had heard Charleston's name. It hadn't been long enough. The phone rang, making her jump. She just looked at it. It rang again, the shrill noise hurting her ears. It rang a third time. Gingerly, she picked up the receiver. "He…Hello?" "Don't try that again, Katrina Lee McSwayne. You didn't answer my question. Now, were you, in fact, married to Charleston Werner Beardsley?" Katrina felt as if she were choking from the terror boiling through her. Her pulse pounded in her ears so loudly she felt sure he could hear it through the telephone lines. She tried to think. Was this a prankster, trying to hassle her? It couldn't be; absolutely no one here in Spencer knew about Charleston. The thought gave her an idea, though, and with the idea, courage. She took a calming breath. "I don't know you, and I don't owe you any money. You have no right to call and pester me. There are laws against harassment. I don’t have to answer any questions from you, Mr. Browning. Drop whatever ploy this is and leave me alone. Good-bye." Katrina slammed down the phone and took a step back, feeling as though the instrument had become a monster and would strike if she didn't move from its near vicinity. It rang again. Terrified, she stared at it, listening to it ring. She didn't pick it up again…couldn't have answered it right then, even if her life had depended on it. She’d used her one brave moment with her argument about being harassed. It was all she had. She didn't want to answer the question Mr. Browning was asking her. How could she, when she didn’t know the answer, even for herself?