“In New Orleans, and in most of the United States, the real practitioners of any religion abide by the laws of the nation. Any religion, established religions, creates offshoot fanatics, Senator Holloway,” Jackson said mildly. “And it was my impression that you believed that your wife had been murdered—that she hadn’t committed suicide.”
“Even if it was suicide,” Holloway said, his head lowered, “I have to know. I just have to know the truth, that’s all. Hell, if you tell me that the house is full of ghosts, I don’t think I’ll buy it, but I’ll have nowhere else to go. Half the city believes that she was killed by ghosts. I just have to know.”
“We’re following every lead and every possibility, Senator Holloway. I have one other question for you, for the moment,” Jackson said gravely.
“Yes, fire away,” Holloway said.
“Were you being blackmailed by anyone?”
“Blackmailed?” Holloway repeated, staring at Jackson. “No!”
Jackson nodded. “Okay, then were you cheating on your wife?”
“I think it’s ridiculous if we all go down there,” Whitney said. They were watching the screen, and watching nothing at all. They were back to real time, and they might as well have been looking at still pictures.
“Why?” Will asked her. “There’s safety in numbers.”
“It was a shadow. Just a shadow,” Jenna said.
“It actually takes a solid object to cast a shadow,” Will pointed out.
“Right, so a shadow might have been a ghost,” Whitney said.
“I don’t see a solid object that could have created the shadow so…yeah, why not? It could have been a ghost,” Will agreed.
“I know what she’s saying,” Angela said, interrupting the argument at last.
“You do?” Will asked, surprised.
Angela grinned, nodding her head. “A lot of people are shy. If you were shy in life, and—if ghosts do indeed exist—might they not be shy in death, too? If we all bombard the place, nothing will happen. That’s what Whitney is saying. One of us should go down, and someone else could linger in the kitchen, and someone else keep watch on the screens.”
“Precisely,” Whitney said. “And we should do it before Jackson comes back.”
“Hey, he’s on this team, head of this team!” Jenna said. “He’s obviously sympathetic to what we’re doing.”
“Yes, but we know how he feels about people playing games, and pretending that they see things they really don’t,” Whitney said.
Angela glanced at her, bemused by the young woman’s perception.
“And he’s worried about our safety,” Will said.
Angela uncurled her legs and rose. “I’m going down. Will—you wait up in the kitchen, and that way, you’re not even a few seconds away. Jenna, Whitney, you two man the screens. Or ‘woman’ the screens, you know what I mean.”
“All right,” Will said, rising. “I know about illusion, but trust me, that shadow on the screen was no trick, right, Whitney?”
“I swear we didn’t alter the film. We didn’t play with it. It wasn’t a trick,” Whitney said.
“Maybe our fearless leader is right,” Jenna said nervously. “Maybe safety comes first.”
“We’re here to investigate. We have to investigate,” Angela said.
“But…” Jenna said, still sounding unhappy, her voice trailing.
“But what?” Angela asked her.
“You found the body down there. Or the skeletal remains. You might be susceptible,” Jenna reminded her.
“All the more reason I should go,” Angela said. “Come on, Will, let’s do this.”
Will rose and walked with her through the hallway to the kitchen. He paused, waiting by the top of the stairs. She met his eyes.
“I’m here. I’m right here,” he told her.
“A ghost isn’t going to hurt me,” she said gently.
She walked down the stairs to the basement level. The ground she had dug up—with assistance from Jackson at the end—remained disturbed. There were still pegs in the ground with tape wound around them to preserve the area in which they had been digging.
She decided to sit cross-legged on the floor near the location. She closed her eyes.
Her ghosts came to her in dreams; she was learning that. Dreams that could come when she let them, whether she was sleeping or awake.
She had to let go of reality, and remember the past.
She sat still, just breathing, thinking about some of the yoga mantras she knew.
This was not, however, she told herself dryly, a state of Zen.
She opened her eyes, and she nearly froze.
A single, naked bulb allowed for light in this area of the basement. It cast shadows into the corners and over the relics of life gone past, the everyday things that were part of the humdrum—tools and mops and sweepers, cleaners, more.
Shadows were creations of light. Light was energy. Life was energy. Death somehow changed energy.
She saw him at last. A man dressed in a waistcoat, frock coat and stovepipe hat, looking nervously at her from the shadows cast beneath the stairs. He looked at her, as if he was afraid of her reaction to him.
Tentatively, he stepped out.
It’s all right, she said silently. It’s all right.
She didn’t know if she was trying to assure him, or her self.
Her eyes were open, she realized. She was staring at him, really seeing him.
She realized that she was surrounded. Men and women in Victorian attire were all around her, looking down at her. And there were more people, she realized. A man who might have been in Edwardian attire. A youth in a T-shirt, a fellow with shaggy hair, who looked as if he might have just walked in from the street…except that he hadn’t.
She was certain a woman touched her cheek.
These are his victims, she thought. These are the victims of Madden C. Newton. He killed them all, some here, some elsewhere, but he buried them down here, and most had their bodies discovered, but some did not, and perhaps they have lingered, trying to help those who had not escaped the heinous man’s hold in death.
The light, the one bulb in the room, suddenly burned with a brilliant explosion. The entire room was suddenly aglow; dust motes danced like silver in the bursting-nova gold that seemed to glow.
“Angela! Angela! Angela!”
She heard the cry; for a moment, she didn’t realize that it was coming from the great ballroom. Whitney and Jenna were shouting to her.
“Angela! Get the hell out of there!”
Senator David Holloway lowered his head and looked to the left.
That was usually a sign that someone was going to lie.
“No,” he said, and the sound of his voice was a rasp. “I wasn’t having an affair. I loved Regina.”
Jackson sat still for a minute. He leaned forward then, keeping his voice low and evenly modulated. “Sir, a man can love his wife and find a time when he needs the solace of another woman.”
Holloway looked up at him. Jackson noticed that he had a pencil in his hand and that the pencil was about to snap.
The senator stared at Jackson and spoke with a harsh voice of authority. “Mr. Crow, I did not have an affair. I was there for my wife every second that she needed me. My God! I lost my son, too, that day. But I understood. I understood a mother’s love. I had my constituents. I had a world in which to immerse myself. My wife had always been that, an amazing and brilliant aid to a politician, and a wonderful mother to our son. She was lost but, I’m telling you—I was there for her. And I want you to find out what happened, and I guarantee you, it had nothing to do with me having an affair!”
“Thank you, Senator Holloway. I’m sorry. I apologize. I needed that from you. You asked for a thorough investigation, after all. Had she started to believe in ghosts? Did someone get into the house and kill her? Or did she kill herself because she could no longer bear the pain of her life?”
Holloway stood. The pencil snapped. “She didn’t kill herself because of me! She didn’t kill herself. She might have been…scared to death, and if so, it’s because that damned house is tainted. Something is there. You need to find it.”
Shakespeare rattled through Jackson’s mind. The lady doth protest too much, methinks—except that it was no lady speaking, it was Senator David Holloway.
He kept emphasizing the word affair. Jackson was pretty sure that meant that he hadn’t engaged in any sexual activity that had meant anything to him at all.
He wondered how Lisa Drummond would feel about the denial, if, in fact, she was the woman with whom he had had an affair.
Jackson stood. “Thank you for your time, Senator Holloway. Please understand, I wouldn’t be asking you these questions unless we needed to find the tiniest detail, and when we talk, little things may come out.”
“Of course. But if you think that I’d have harmed my wife in any way because of an affair with another woman—it’s ludicrous.”
“Probably. But, Senator Holloway, did it ever occur to you that someone else might have wanted to keep your wife from ever letting the world know it—if she had believed that you had engaged in an affair?” Jackson asked him. He didn’t expect an answer. He just reached out and shook Holloway’s hand. “Again, thank you for your time.”
He headed out of the office, waving a cheerful goodbye to Lisa Drummond, who stared back at him, pasty white and unresponsive. He paused outside with Blake Conroy.
“Where would I find Martin DuPre?” he asked.
“Out, somewhere. He was running errands for the senator,” Blake told him, grinning as he studied Jackson’s face.
“Ah. So, would Grable Haines take him around town when he’s out doing errands?” Jackson asked.
“Sometimes,” Blake told him. “Not always.”
“Very helpful. Thank you, Blake.”