(After the slaving author has taken a short Christmas Holiday)
Her eyes widened and her mouth fell. “You found…Gold Lake?”
He nodded wearily. “That’s part of our deal. You keep the watch. You keep your lip buttoned about all of this.” He waved his hand around. “Agreed?”
Annabel nodded. She wanted to agree. She asked suddenly, “I gotta know: How could you stay underwater an hour? How did you do that?”
He shook his head. “There’s a cave that goes under, a long ways under. There’s lots of gold. For some reason I can’t remember what happened. It’s blanked out–actually–blazed out. It’s called The Luminah. Don’t ask me what that means. I can’t remember. Don’t tell anyone.”
She was thinking: Looks like Petr, sounds like Petr, acts like Petr–but what about the glasses? “Don’ cha want your specks?” she asked innocently.
He picked them from the sand, blew on them, and pocketed them. “I don’t seem to…to need them anymore. Pretty funny, huh?”
Yeah, that was real funny, a great answer. Proof Number One. She sought more of the same damaging proof. “Where ‘ja get the funny old knife? It looks like black glass.”
He sat like Papa after a long hard day. “It’s none of your beeswax business, little Bee-bee. You already know way too much.” He rubbed his arms as if he were real flesh and blood.
She thought: That’s right, I do know too much–as much as you–if you really were Petr. The haunt didn’t look like a creature from Jack’s tales, just a tired, wet man. Could it be Petr? She reviewed her strange dream. Water Pony took her into a hole in the lake, a cave into the mountain. Was it a real place? The real Petr…could he have…just possibly-maybe might have…if it were real…swum into? Could he have breathed–inside what he calls The Luminah? Could he….
Keeping low, she approached him as if he was a hot furnace, slowly, carefully–while he was absorbed tying his boots. Would a haunt even know how to tie laces? She stared into his big whiskey eyes. He had a new sparkle in his right eye. She inched closer. He stared without needing to blink. There was a sparkling speck and it was a real humdinger.
A tiny gold star. Right there in his right eye. Wow.
This was new. The old Petr Valory had no such speck. Not to mention it. Not on your life. It might set him off. But she grew crazy bold. She touched his cheek. He was on fire! Did dead men have hot skin? She withdrew quickly. She said in a small wary voice, “Why’s there no second ‘e’ in your first name? Why’s it spelt funny?”
He tied his boots. “Because Mama said it would save ten dollars worth of ink, over my lifetime, not having to write another ‘e’. It’s her idea of economy.”
And that was true. But there was a bigger, more important burning question in the world. She blurted, “Who’s your favorite sister? What’s your nicked-name for her?”
He laughed, turning to her tenderly, “Oh Annabel. Oh Little Fifty-pounder. Our Little Puzzle-puss. We have dozens of names for you.” He tousled her hair–and she let him.
“But you’re my little Rocky. You’re my favorite sis. The one I love the best.”
Annabel threw her arms around his neck, gasping, “Oh! Petr, I thought you was dead! Oh Petr, oh God, oh Petr! I thought…I thought…” Tears spilled down her face.
Petr swung her around in a circle until her feet flew outward, until she giggled, until she said, “Oh, is it really you?”
“Rocky, don’t you worry. I’m more alive than you’ll ever guess. And don’t ever doubt I love you the best.” She clung to him looking up at him. He shook his head. “You’re due a good spoon-beating from Mama for ruining your dress, but first things first.”
He glanced left and right. “Let’s get down this mountain before grizzly’s suppertime.” Petr turned modestly away tucking the gold moon under his shirt, halfway down into his pants, cinching his belt. He grimaced and smiled. “Finding gold is hard, painful work. But the Valorys are rich now. You’ll wear a silk dress and be riding a fine big horse very soon.”
He hoisted Annabel onto his shoulders. “Okay, whirly-girl: You keep the pocket watch and we keep our big secret. Now let’s get home.”
The watch chinged six o’clock in Annabel’s pocket. She said, “I found a good path from home. Can we take it? I’m a good pathfinder.”
Petr laughed. “You are–unfortunately. Point the way, Rocky Pathfinder.”
She gripped his ears and prodded him with her toes for speed. “Giddy-up, horsy! Then he carried her down the mountain towards the Valoryvale.
But their day was not done yet.