Strange Memories – First Chapter

Chapter 1

I thought California was supposed to be warm!” George Fayne exclaimed, pulling her leather jacket tighter around her tall, athletic frame.

Nancy Drew laughed. “That’s southern California,” she said, correcting her friend. “San Francisco is a whole new experience in cool and damp.” She was glad she had worn a white turtleneck and an oversize blue angora sweater. It was Tuesday, the girls’ first day in town, and the two eighteen-year-olds were hiking through the Presidio, a wooded park near the Golden Gate Bridge. Turning toward George, Nancy gave her red-gold hair a mischievous toss. “If you didn’t bring warm enough clothes for this vacation, we’ll just have to hit the department stores tomorrow!”

“It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it,”

George agreed, her dark brown eyes twinkling. “Besides, Bess made me promise to bring her back something.” Bess Marvin was George’s cousin and a close friend of Nancy.

“I’m glad Bess’s family reunion wasn’t on your side of the family,” Nancy said. “It wouldn’t be nearly so much fun to be in San Francisco all by myself.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything!” George exclaimed. “But you wouldn’t have been alone. Your dad’s here, too.”

“He’ll be busy with his conference,” Nancy predicted. Carson Drew was a criminal attorney in River Heights, the midwestern city where the girls lived. “But it was nice of him to invite us along for the trip.”

“I’ll say,” George replied.

“It’s getting dark,” Nancy said. “Maybe we should head back.”

“But we’ll miss watching the sun set over the water,” George pointed out.

“We have ten days in San Francisco,” Nancy said. “There’ll be plenty of other sunsets.” She stopped and craned her neck to see around some tree branches. Her backpack dropped to the ground beside her.

“What is it?” George asked. “Is something wrong?”

Nancy smiled. “Not at all,” she assured George, her voice low. She gestured through a break in the pines. “Just look what a beautiful, peaceful scene that is.”

George pushed aside a pine bough. Beyond the stand of trees was a rocky field starred with wildflowers. At the far end of the field, a black-haired woman sat under a tree, sketching by the last rays of the sun. She wore a flowing skirt and a loose blouse that glowed fuchsia against the green-black trees.

“She looks so intent on what she’s doing,” Nancy said.

“I’ll bet she’s talented,” George said, shoving her cold fists into the pockets of her pants. “Only a real artist would freeze to death for art’s sake. Come on, Nan, let’s go back to the hotel, where the temperature isn’t subzero.”

Nancy swung her backpack onto one shoulder and headed back down the path, away from the sunset, followed by George. A few minutes later she stopped in midstride and stood perfectly still.

“What’s — ” George began.

Nancy cut her off with a whisper. “Listen! Someone’s yelling.” Her blue eyes were wide. She turned and began to retrace her steps.

“I suppose it’s useless to suggest we mind our own business,” George ventured.

“It might be that woman we saw before,” Nancy said. “What if she needs help?” She hurried along the path with George following. Up ahead, she noticed the western sky growing dark, with only a tinge of peach remaining. Then a woman’s scream pierced the twilight.

Both girls began to run. They burst through the row of pine trees that stood between the path and the field of wildflowers. It was dark beneath the trees on the far side of the field. Nancy could make out the shape of a man standing over the woman they’d seen sketching. Something gleamed in his hand — a gun.

The man caught sight of Nancy and George racing toward him, and for a second he froze. Then he swung his gun around and slammed it against the side of the woman’s head. He picked up a tote bag and took off through the trees. The woman in fuchsia slumped to the ground.

George leaped to the injured woman’s side. Nancy tossed her backpack on the grass and raced into the dim woods after the man.

The man was well ahead of Nancy, tearing through the brush at a speed she knew she couldn’t match. There was no path through the shadowy woods, and Nancy soon had to stop to determine in which direction the man had gone. The evening air burned cold in her lungs as she searched for signs of his passage. She spotted a bent twig and sprinted off again. After a few minutes she could hear his ragged breathing up ahead. She jumped over a fallen log; pine branches snagged her sweater and caught at her hair. Then she tripped over a root and landed facedown in the dirt.

As Nancy picked herself up, the sounds of the man’s frenzied flight receded into the distance. She had lost him, and it was too dark to track him any farther in the unfamiliar landscape. She leaned against a tree and brushed the dirt off her pants as she tried to catch her breath. Then she hurried back toward George and the injured woman.

“He got away,” Nancy admitted, panting, as she emerged from the trees. She looked down at the unconscious woman, who lay very still under George’s leather jacket. “How is she?”

“Bad,” George replied. “This head wound looks serious, and her breathing’s shallow. We need to keep her warm so she won’t go into shock.”

“I’ll run back and find a phone to call an ambulance and the police,” Nancy suggested.

George shook her head. “No, let me go,” she said. “You look beat. Stay with her.”

Nancy nodded. As George sprinted across the field, Nancy wrapped the jacket tighter around the unconscious woman. “Don’t worry,” she said, though she doubted the woman could hear. “You’re going to be. okay.”

Nancy gazed thoughtfully at the victim, wondering why she’d been attacked. The woman was about Nancy and George’s age, with Asian features and translucent ivory skin. Her short, straight hair was a glossy black, except for an area above her right ear that was matted with blood.

Nancy reached into her backpack and pulled out a red bandanna, which she pressed against the woman’s head wound. As she held it in place with one hand, she checked the pockets of the fuchsia skirt for a clue to the wearer’s identity. Unfortunately, the pockets were empty. The woman’s driver’s license and credit cards must have been in the tote bag the man had taken.

Her outfit was kind of offbeat. but it must have been expensive, Nancy decided. The flowing skirt and blouse were made of pure silk, Nancy saw when she checked the label of the blouse.

There might be clues in her drawings, Nancy thought, picking up the sketch pad that lay nearby.

She opened the sketchbook and slowly let out her breath. George had been right: the woman was a real artist. The detailed pen-and-ink drawings of San Francisco’s attractions were exquisite. Nancy carefully leafed through the pages:

the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and a beautiful Victorian mansion. She flipped to the next page and stared, mesmerized. The drawing showed the prison island, Alcatraz, rising forbiddingly from San Francisco Bay. Even in the black-and-white drawing, the grim aspect of “the Rock” rolled off the page.

Unfortunately, the sketches were unsigned. Nancy guessed she wouldn’t know the identity of the woman until she woke up.

An hour later Nancy and George sat in a hospital waiting room while a young police officer questioned them about what they’d seen.

“You said you chased the man through the woods,” Officer Rhonda Hayes said to Nancy. The policewoman’s eyes were dark and intent in her coffee-colored face. “You must have seen more of him than your friend did.”

Nancy shook her head. “I tried, but I couldn’t get a good look at him,” she explained. “He had dark hair, I think. He was about six feet tall, with a medium build.”

The officer sighed. “The doctor says the victim will be awake in the next hour or so,” she replied. “Maybe she’ll give us a better description of the man who mugged her.”

“This was no simple mugging,” Nancy said confidently. “That woman knew the man who attacked her.”

Officer Hayes shook her head. “It’s unlikely that the victim was anything but a random target,” she said in a reassuring voice. “We’ve had a string of similar incidents in and around the Presidio.”

“But, Officer, we heard the man arguing with her before he hit her,” Nancy said.

“The lieutenant who’s handling the mugging investigation will be here soon,” Hayes said. “When he comes, I’ll pass on everything you’ve told me. But I’m sure this case will fit the pattern of those other muggings.”

“But what if it wasn’t random?” George asked. “That man was trying to kill her!”

“He might try again,” Nancy pointed out.

“You can’t let your imagination run away with you,” Officer Hayes said sympathetically. “This was just a simple mugging. Can the two of you stick around until the lieutenant arrives?”

“No problem,” Nancy said. “We won’t leave the hospital until we know that poor woman is going to be all right.”

A few minutes after the police officer left the room, the girls looked up to see a nurse walk in.

“Dr. Kopek said a policewoman was here,” the nurse began. “Is that one of you?” she asked tentatively.

Nancy and George looked at each other. Obviously the doctor meant Officer Hayes, but they couldn’t pass up a chance to see the victim for themselves — and to learn more about what had happened.

George pointed to Nancy. “She’s a detective,” she said truthfully. Nancy had solved many cases in their hometown of River Heights.

Nancy nudged her friend. “We’d both like to see the patient,” she added quickly. “Is she awake?”

“Not quite,” the nurse replied as they followed her down the hall. “But she seems to be coming out of it.” She led the girls into a room where the injured woman lay surrounded by tubes and instruments. The patient’s eyes were closed, but she moaned softly as the nurse checked her pulse. “I’ll leave you with her for a few minutes,” the nurse said. “The doctor will be back shortly.”

The injured woman looked even frailer than she had at the scene of the attack. Her complexion was nearly as pale as the snowy sheets, and her face was dwarfed by a thick dressing on the side of her head. Nancy sat down beside her and carefully held her hand.

Ten minutes later the door opened. The girls heard Officer Hayes’s voice in the hallway out side. “Until she wakes up, or until we hear from her family or friends, this woman is a Jane Doe,” she said. The officer walked into the room, followed by a gray-haired man in a white lab coat.

The doctor raised his bushy eyebrows and stared at the two girls. “And you are . . . ?” he asked.

“These are the young women who found the victim and called nine-one-one,” Officer Hayes explained. She introduced the girls to Dr. Gregory Kopek. “I think they’ve adopted your patient,” she concluded.

“Doctor, will she be all right?” Nancy asked.

“It’s too early to tell,” said the doctor. He turned to Officer Hayes. “She didn’t lose too much blood, thanks to the efforts of her rescuers here. But her head injury is potentially serious.”

“How serious?” George asked. Nancy noticed that George was nervously twisting a lock of her own short, curly hair.

“It might just be a mild concussion,” said the doctor. “But there is a possibility of brain damage. I’ll know more as soon as she’s awake.”

“She’s waking up now,” George said breathlessly. Everyone turned to watch as the woman’s head moved weakly from side to side. Nancy lifted her hand and squeezed it gently. The patient’s eyelids fluttered open. She winced and then closed them again.

“Can you hear me?” the doctor asked softly. “You’ve been injured. You’re in the hospital, but you’re going to be just fine.”

“Injured?” the woman whispered, blinking rapidly. The pupils of her almond-shaped eyes were dilated.

“Somebody hurt you,” said Officer Hayes. “Hurt me?” the patient repeated, her voice barely more than a whimper.

“A man attacked you,” Officer Hayes continued gently. “It’s important that you tell us any thing you can.”

“I — -I don’t know,” the woman said. “It’s all so . . . confusing.”

The officer patted her shoulder. “Take your time,” she said softly.

The woman closed her eyes. “A field of wild flowers,” she said softly, as if she were seeing the scene in her mind.

“What happened in that field?” asked Hayes, her pen poised to take notes.

A tear rolled down the woman’s face. “I don’t remember,” she whispered. “Except that . . . there was a man.”

“What man?” asked Hayes.

“He was . . . I don’t know!” the woman cried. Her hand was trembling in Nancy’s. “A man was there, but I don’t remember what he looked like.”

The doctor smiled reassuringly. “That’s perfectly normal,” he told her in a soothing voice. He turned to the others. “It’s common for victims of head trauma to temporarily block out the incident in which they were injured.”

“You don’t understand,” the woman cried. “I don’t remember anything! I don’t know who the man was.” She bit her lip. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I don’t even know who I am!”

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