Note: We've had so much fun with serialized stories that I'm trying my hand at one again! Here's the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.
"Notice that it says ENTRANCE rather than WELCOME," Skye snarled. "Jail was nicer than this. I mean it. We kept the grounds tended and had a garden. This is a crime.
Kookie had started bobbing and ducking his head, while making little clicking noises with his beak. At least he was showing signs of life. I found that mildly comforting. The sliding doors opened with a wheezy hiss, revealing an industrial strength floor mat designed to keep you from slipping and sliding even in rainy weather.
The inside was actually...nice. The colors were a blue-gray, teal, and bright green. Soothing music played over a sound system. A low nap carpet with a pebble design led us in various directions. Dead ahead sat a white-washed gray reclaimed wood desk attended by a woman dressed in a long skirt with a vivid floral pattern, white blouse, and glasses. Her hair had been pulled back neatly into a cap, a sure sign she belonged to one of the more strict Fundamental Christian sects that make their home in Stuart and Hobe Sound.
"Hello. What a lovely bird! May I help you?" Getting gracefully to her feet, the woman extended a hand. "I'm Alyssa Cartwright, the receptionist. Do you have a family member here? Or are you inquiring about availability? How might I be of assistance?"
"Um," I intended to answer quickly, but my eyes were drawn to the marvelous shape of the place. It was as if the architect had envisioned a hug, an embrace, because the wings of the building formed a large half-circle around a central courtyard. Broad expanses of glass windows overlooked the outdoors. Those expensive window shades, the kind that allow you to see out but can be darkened, covered the windows, blocking the glare. Rather than respond directly to Alyssa's greeting, I hurried past her, through the clusters of furniture, and right up to the windows. There I pressed my face against the cool glass.
A sea of brown mud, decayed palm fronds, and torn up weeds provided the landscaping. Before I could open my mouth to protest, Skye had moved closer to the desk. Once there, she reached for Alyssa's hand and gave it a friendly shake. "We're here to see a friend, Helen Berger. This is her pet, Kookie."
"Helen?" Kookie's crest of feathers stood straight up. "Helen? Kookie loves you! Helen? Where is Helen? Hello???"
"My!" Alyssa's hand flew to her mouth. "We don't allow pets, but I can certainly see that this is an unusual situation."
I hustled back to the desk. "This is NOT an unusual situation. This is a crime! How can you plonk people down in a setting like this? This is ugly. Horrible! If I had to look out on this mud puddle all day long, I'd curl up in a ball and cry. To think that people are paying good money for this...this warehouse! It's a scam and you should be ashamed of yourself!"
I was so angry, so filled with indignation that I didn't hear the clip-clap of high heels behind me. A gentle hand touched my elbow. I whirled around and faced a woman wearing an inexpensive but elegant navy suit and a pastel blue button-up blouse. "I'll take it from here, Alyssa. I'm Greta Morgan, the administrator. And you are?"
"Cara Mia Delgatto and my friend Skye Blue. That's Kookie. Helen Berger's bird. We came to visit Helen." I stuck my jaw out, hoping to look as determined as I felt. "And I won't leave until we do."
Greta Morgan nodded. Her eyes were brown with amber flecks and her hair a dishwater blonde. The laugh lines around her mouth suggested she was well into her fifties, but her classic features would allow her to age gracefully. She studied me as I gave her the once over. As I did, she softened her stance, whether instinctively or to put me at ease, I couldn't tell.
"Of course, and so you shall. But first, could I get both of you a cup of tea? In my office? We can chat there. I'd love to hear more about Kookie, and about your involvement with Helen. I was under the impression she has no family."
"That doesn't mean no one cares about her," I snapped.
Skye nudged me forward. "Sounds wonderful. Lead the way."
I was still grumbling, but Alyssa leaned in and whispered, "Greta is wonderful. She'll listen. Honest she will. That woman has the patience of a saint."
~ To Be Continued ~
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