The Garden of Dead Dreams
up four rows of dining room chairs behind the couches.
    “Hi Carl,” Amanda Watson called from the sofa.
    The chef strode in from the dining room. His cowboy hat was tipped forward, and he had a wooden chair in each arm. His cheeks were ruddy above his five o’clock shadow—perhaps chapped by the wind? He set the chairs down, and his face eased into his boyish grin. He tipped his hat at Amanda and winked.
    Etta stepped back into the entry hall, rubbed her hands together, and ran them down the front of her wool sweater. Didn’t Carl know what a snob Mandy Watson was? She’d written her entire novel in verse. Of course, he could tip his hat at whomever he pleased if he wanted to listen to Mandy prattle on about how a lot of people wrote novels and a lot of people wrote poetry, but she’d decided to try her hand at doing both at the same time.
    “Hi Loretta. Whom are you hiding from?”
    Etta spun around and met Petra Atwell’s gaze. The resident author had on a knee-length wool cape, which matched her cherry-red lipstick. Her foundation was even more caked on than usual. She held an unlit cigarette between her claw like-fingers.
    “It’s Etta.”
    “Oh yes, how soon I forget. If it’s a comfort, I had a hell of a time remembering my third husband’s name. Always called the poor bastard Dick. That was number two’s name. But come to think of it, Dick was a fitting name for number three too.”
    Etta managed a polite smile, and Petra stared at her for a long moment.
    “I hate to break off such an edifying conversation . . .” Petra waved her cigarette in the air. “But I have a feeling I’ll need this before our little get together. What I’d really like is a drink, but that Texan’s so stingy with his whisky, I may as well have water.” Petra reached for the iron door handle.
    “Ms. Atwell?” Etta said.
    Petra spun around, and her coat fanned out around her. She was so petite that for a moment she looked like a child, like Little Red Riding Hood. “Jesus, don’t call me Ms. It makes me think of all that Gloria Steinem, 1970s crap. White ivy league Playboy bunnies liberating us from our bondage and all that shit.”
    Etta stared at her.
    “You had a question?”
    “Oh, yeah, do you know what this meeting is about?”
    Petra shook her head. “I’m not in Edwin’s inner circle, but the man canceled a compulsory writing session, so it must be paramount. Vince didn’t cancel one in all the years he ran this place.”
    “You knew Vincent Buchanan?” By the time Etta’s words were out, the heavy door had slammed closed behind Petra, and Etta was standing in the foyer alone.
    The door creaked open again, and Etta stepped toward it. Maybe Petra had heard her question after all? Opal Waters stepped inside, and the smile froze on her lips when she saw Etta.
    Etta stepped out of the way and tried to think of something to say, but words tangled on her tongue.
    “Hello.” Opal unbuttoned her apple green pea coat and thrust it toward Etta. Etta reached for it, gathering the wet wool in her arms, and frowned. Did the poet think Etta was a door person? Opal’s heels clicked against the wood floor as she strode into the great room.
    Where had Opal been? All of the visiting and resident authors had rooms on the fourth floor of the lodge. It wasn’t exactly nice weather for a walk. The wind was still howling and tiny raindrops had started pelting from the sky.
    Etta slung Opal’s coat onto a bare hook and then glanced over her shoulder and slipped her fingers into one of the pea coat’s satin-lined pockets. It was empty. She found the other pocket and slipped her hand inside. She fingered the contents: a key, a pen, a crumpled piece of paper.
    Edwin Hardin’s deep voice echoed into the foyer, and Etta yanked her hand from Opal’s pocket. The meeting had begun. Etta pulled the crumpled piece of paper from Opal’s pocket and stared at it. She considered returning it. Instead she walked to her own raincoat,

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