I resolved to speak to Anabel first on this matter, as she was the closest thing I had to a friend in the area. I didn't expect her to blow the lid off a conspiracy for me, but I've always found it's best to start where one is most welcome. With this in mind, I began the now familiar descent from my cottage to the town below. It still took a great deal of focus to make the walk without seriously injuring myself, but I couldn't help but look around at my surroundings as I walked. Ever since I saw

(waiting)

the man in the blue coat looking at me, I had been compulsively watching for any reappearance among the rocks. It had not yet come. I did see a young, red-headed man climbing into a skiff. I gave him a hearty wave, thinking of him as my neighbor in this strange part of the world, a kindred spirit in some small way. I received not even a curt nod in reply, though the man certainly saw me. It was beginning to seem like certain people about the channel simply looked through me to the other side, or as if I were a piece of the bluffs themselves.

I expected Anabel would be as pleased to see me as ever, pulling out a chair and patting it, insisting that I sit right on down while she filled a carafe for me. I had come to look forward to these mornings. For all my struggles with writing, I found that sitting down deliberately to drink my coffee, doing nothing else: no reading the paper or perusing a book, was a delightful departure from my usual routines, and one that stewed creative juices in a most natural and pleasant way.

The bell that hung above Anabel's door had all but ceased its ringing and the proprietor of Hertledge's finest coffee house was still nowhere to be seen. Usually, the door was barely opened before I was beset by her kindness and spirit of welcoming. I stood in the main sitting room of her establishment, finding it empty and eerily quiet. But not...entirely quiet. I could hear an occasional whimper coming from the kitchen. I made my way through the maze of circular tables and once reaching the door to the kitchen, the door I had so often seen opened by Anabel's shoulder or behind, and pushed it with the flat of my palm.

On the floor, her back to the low cabinets, a sack of flour ripped and spilling out on the floor next to her, and crying fiercely, was Anabel. Her body heaved up and down with effort, her hands balled into fists rubbed at her eyes. Flour was caked to her face and run through with rivulets of tears, a sight that would have been worth a few chuckles were it not for the circumstances.

"Oh, Mr. Grady, for you to see me like this. I could just die."

"Come now, it's nothing. Tell me, what has happened."

"..."

"Anabel, whatever it is, I'm certain it's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I've been robbed!" she shrieked with sudden, uncontained emotion. "The scoundrel took my seeds. My seeds!"

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand. He didn't take your money."

"Oh, he took that well enough. But I don't care a whit about the money compared to my seeds. They're my positive joy. Gone."

"I'm afraid I'm still a bit in the dark."

"Seeds to grow things, Mr. Grady. I've the finest garden for miles around. Everyone knows it. It's damned hard to grow things in this place, but I know all the secrets."

"Do you know the man who robbed you? Did he wear a mask?"

"Never seen him before in my days. Redheaded fellow."

"He had red hair?"

"I've just said that haven't I?"

I sprung into action more quickly than I ever have before. I was determined that I would do something to help Anabel. This crook had ruined the magic of the most idyllic place for miles and I'd not forgive him for it.

"Are you alright, Anabel?"

"I'll recover, Mr. Grady. There's no need to worry so much on my account."

"I'm going to get your seeds back."

"Mr. Grady surely..."

Her words were lost on me, as I set out on a rash course of action, the likes of which I had never taken before, and likely haven't since. I fairly sprinted to the docks, untying my rowboat as I hopped aboard. He certainly had a head start in his skiff, but he'd not expect anyone to be following him. If I could get him within view on the horizon, I'd not let him disappear. Not for the world.