“Thank you,” Caleb said. He knew that the police had been here; he knew that the manager and the poor clerk had been through it all before. And he didn’t think he was going to learn anything new, but that was half the job, doggedly repeating what had been done, always searching for whatever little bit of information might have seemed insignificant at the time but now just might become a clue.
Mina Grigsby was one of those thin, nervous-by-nature people, but she didn’t seem to have a problem talking to him. She nodded when her manager explained that Caleb was a private investigator, and she quickly perched on the edge of her boss’s desk, looking expectantly at Caleb as Harold Sparks excused himself.
Caleb smiled reassuringly. “I’m sorry,” he began. “I know you’ve been asked about Jennie Lawson before.”
“Oh, it’s okay. Really. I’m glad to hear that someone is still looking in to what happened to her. She was very pretty and very sweet. And polite. I think that’s why I remember her so clearly. We didn’t have the exact car she had requested, but she wasn’t nasty about it, the way some people are. I mean, the rental forms say ‘a certain vehicle or its equivalent.’”
Caleb agreed. “I’ve rented plenty of cars, and you’re certainly right about that, Miss Grigsby. Mina. I know that she came in, got the keys and left, and that her agreement for was two weeks. And I know that you two just met to transact business, but I was hoping she might have said something, given you an idea whether she was meeting up with friends or what her plans might be. Something that might have come back to you in the time since she went missing. If I had anywhere to go from here, it would be very helpful.”
“Well, let me think…I mean, she didn’t say where she was staying. She did say that she wasn’t leaving the state with the car.”
“Did she say anything about her plans? Anything at all?”
Mina was thoughtful for a moment; then she smiled. “Well, to be perfectly honest, people don’t always get too excited about Jacksonville. They’re all heading somewhere else—down to the beaches, or St. Augustine, or Daytona, the space center…even the theme parks. But Jacksonville is a great city, with a really nice river walk and lots of history. It’s old, too, you know.”
“Of course. Was she planning on visiting Jacksonville?”
“Yes—but on her way back. She was anxious to see St. Augustine. She said that she’d be heading straight there. I told her where there were some very good restaurants…but she wasn’t planning on eating for a while. She had a bottle of soda in her purse, and some Power-Bars. She wanted to get started seeing things right away.”
“Did she say what things?”
Mina shook her head slowly again. “No, not exactly.”
“Not exactly? Think, please, Mina. What exactly did she say?”
“Well, she said that she was going to take a ghost tour—but that wouldn’t have been until that night.”
“Did she say anything about a hotel reservation? Or maybe a B and B?”
“No. She was going to head into Old Town and find a place that appealed to her—I do remember her saying that.”
Caleb waited, because she appeared to be thinking with intensity. She let out a sigh after a moment, and he decided he had gotten all he could from her, and that it wasn’t terribly helpful. He could—and of course would—speak to the ghost tour operators, guides and ticket vendors, but since Jennie Lawson’s picture had been up all over the city and no one had come forward, he didn’t think that avenue would take him far, either. Still, he had to follow where the trail led.
“There was one more thing,” Mina said, surprising him.
“I’d forgotten all about this. She told me she was going to get a reading. You know, a palm reading or the cards or something. She wore a pentagram around her neck, and I asked her if she was a witch. She said no, she just liked it. There was a ruby set in one of the points of the star. She said she wasn’t a believer, but she liked the stories. I guess that’s why she was going to take that ghost tour.” She fell silent, then sighed again, shaking her head as she looked at him. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t think of anything else.”
“Do you remember what she was wearing?” Caleb asked.
“Yes. Jeans and a red T-shirt, and she was pulling a black, white and purple suitcase. She said it was wonderful—she could always find her luggage at baggage claim.”
“You’ve been very helpful,” Caleb assured her.
“Really?” She seemed genuinely pleased. “It’s terrible. And sad. And now another girl’s missing, and she looks…so much like Jennie Lawson.”
“Yes, she does,” Caleb acknowledged.
“I hope you find her. Jennie Lawson, I mean. And the other girl, too, of course,” Mina told him, then stood and offered her hand. He thanked her again as they shook, and then she left and went back to work. He would have thanked Harold Sparks again, but the man was behind the counter, pretending to be busy. He nodded Caleb’s way, so Caleb nodded in return and left.
He had learned something new, something no one had mentioned, something that wasn’t in any of the police files. Jennie Lawson hadn’t been on her way to explore Ft. Marion. She hadn’t been planning to explore the bar scene or seek out a dance club.
Jennie Lawson had been in search of something scary.
Sadly, it seemed that she had found it.
The United States took control of Florida in 1821, and it became a territory in 1822.
Sarah already knew that her house had been built that year as a home for Thomas Grant, a statistical consultant advising the politicians and military men intent on making Florida a state. Apparently he’d been talented enough with numbers to parlay his own earnings into a small fortune. The home had originally been built to accommodate his wife and seven children, and he’d owned it for thirty years, after which it had been sold to the MacTavish family. It had remained in their possession through the Civil War, after which it had been abandoned when Cato MacTavish had suddenly left the state.
Sarah had always known the basic facts and figures that went with the house, and she’d heard the rumors that it was haunted in the way all old places were supposedly haunted. There was a rumor that Cato’s father had a woman working for him who was the child of a Haitian—descendent of refugees from the Haitian revolution—and an Indian, though no one knew exactly what tribe. There was a white man somewhere in her genetic background, as well—a plantation owner or an overseer. She had been the “spell queen” of the area, selling love potions and other such supposed magic.
There were stories, too, that women had died and disappeared during those years, and that Cato MacTavish had killed his wife, or possibly his fiancée, and that he had abandoned the property rather than face justice and the hangman.
What she knew for a fact was that the MacTavish family had used the house as a mortuary at the beginning of the Civil War, and that it had been abandoned after the war, then bought for back taxes by the Brennan family—who had used the house as an address both before and after the sale, which was very strange, unless it was an error in the record keeping. They had used it as a mortuary again, and it had remained in the family until it had been more or less abandoned once more, before finally being then purchased by Mrs. Emily Douglas, who had eventually sold it to Sarah.
What she wanted to do was hunt down the truth behind the rumors, to see what was smoke and what was fire. She knew how to dig through old records—she had a master’s degree, after all—and the historical library was very good, so she didn’t expect to have too much trouble.
The first thing she came across were a number of blueprints showing the changes that had taken place in the house over the years. She was immediately grateful to the person who had put the kitchen in at the turn of century—one of the Brennan clan—and even more grateful that the house had been built from the start with full plumbing and bathrooms. Electricity had gone in during 1904.
None of that seemed to have anything to do with the bones in the walls, other than the fact that she discovered that nothing had been done to the walls in the library where the corpses had been found—not on record, at least—since 1857, when some cosmetic work had been done after a fire had damaged the plaster. Of course, then as now, people had often done whatever they wanted to inside a house, despite codes and regulations. These days St. Augustine had a very strict historical preservation policy, but even so, and even by those who honored it when it came to the exterior of their houses, inside work was generally at the discretion of the owner.
The guilty mortician must have been one of the MacTavishes or the Brennans, since it was highly unlikely that an outsider could have sauntered in with a string of bodies and walled them up. Now all she had to do was find the criminal in question.
Sarah glanced at her watch and realized that an hour wasn’t nearly enough to finish her digging. It was time to return to work.
She left the library—a historic building itself—and headed back to the museum. On her way, she saw that flyers had been posted everywhere.
Have you seen this woman?
The picture was of the missing local girl, Winona Hart. She was smiling and bright-eyed in her photo, a beautiful young blonde whose innocence and zest for life had been captured by the photographer’s lens.
Sarah felt a tightening in her heart, and she wished there was something she could do to help find the girl, but she doubted that a master’s in history qualified her to be of much help in a missing persons case.
Caleb Anderson was here to search for another woman. Could the two disappearances be related? She wished she knew more about the psychology of crime. Would a serial killer hang around a city like St. Augustine so he could kidnap and most likely kill two women a year apart?
She realized that she was still staring at the picture. It was one thing to read about the girl in the paper, see a grainy photo and impersonally hope for the best. Now, looking at such a lifelike image, she felt as if she had somehow become involved. Those big bright eyes seemed to stare at her. Winona was so young, so pretty, and so full of life and laughter.