When they reached her property, she turned on him again. “Just admit that you did it. I promise I won’t call the police.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he told her. “Now, tell me why you’re so convinced this was something more than a dream. Was the door open after your…visitor left?”
She looked away. “No. But you’re a private investigator, and you have…skills, maybe some kind of a key.”
“A key that opens the lock and the dead bolt?” he demanded.
“It’s possible,” she said defensively.
He stepped past her with disgust. “I don’t have a magic key, okay? So would you be so kind as to open the door?”
She did so. “Be careful where you walk. I don’t want you to mess up the evidence.”
“The mud and grass you—someone tracked in. See? At the foot of the bed.”
He hunkered down and studied the rug. There were indeed bits of mud and grass on the floor, as if they’d been tracked in by someone who had come through the door, circled the sofa to stand at the foot of the bed, and then…vanished.
He stood, puzzled. “You do need to call the cops, I think.”
She sank down on the arm of the sofa, staring at him. He was sure she was feeling desperate, still wanting it to have been him, wanting the mystery to have a solid answer.
“They’ll think we tracked it in when you walked me home last night. They’ll think I’m crazy. Especially when I tell them that he was dressed in period clothing.”
“Is anything missing?” Caleb asked her.
She shook her head. “No…it was…I’m telling you, it was you. In costume.”
“And I’m telling you, it wasn’t,” he said firmly.
She looked lost—still prickly and defensive, but lost.
“Sarah, it really might have been a dream.”
“Explain the dirt and the grass.”
“Maybe we did track it in last night.”
“We walked on the sidewalks. The driveway is paved and the walk is stone. Neither of us stepped off the walk onto the lawn,” she said.
“All right, what did this person say or do? Did he just stand there looking at you?” Caleb asked.
“No. He kept saying he ‘didn’t do it,’ that he had loved her,” Sarah told him, getting up and pacing agitatedly.
“I see,” he said consideringly.
She socked him on the shoulder. Not hard, but enough to make her point.
“Don’t you dare patronize me. I’m not crazy.”
“I didn’t say you were,” he protested. “Sarah, it had to be a dream. There’s no other explanation. Unless you think I have a doppelganger with a bad sense of humor hanging around the area? Because I swear to you, I wasn’t here. I wouldn’t play that kind of a joke on anyone. Ever. So…it wasn’t me. We can call the police, if it will set your mind at rest. In fact, I was heading to the station this morning anyway. You can come with me and make a report, and they can search my room again, my car, anything that you want. You can have them dust for prints, too. Of course, you will find mine, along with yours, but…maybe they’ll find someone else’s, too.”
She shook her hear. “It wasn’t anyone else,” she said stubbornly. “It was you.”
He hesitated. “Look, when you came into the bar last night, you were already upset, because of Mr. Griffin showing up at your house. I think he said more to you than you shared with the others. Want to tell me now?”
She sat down again, deflated, staring at the floor. “I have to admit, he looks kind of scary, very old and very skinny. He talked about the history of the house, and he kept saying it was evil. That part’s crazy, but I have to admit, he had the history right. Before the Civil War, the house was owned by a family called MacTavish, and the father was a mortician. The son, Cato, went off to fight when the war started. He came back wounded, only to find that his father was dead and his fiancée had disappeared right after he left. Then other young women started disappearing. He ended up being accused of murder, so he just took off, abandoning the house. His housekeeper—who supposedly practiced voodoo and magic—left right after he did. A man named Brennan had been living here with Cato, learning the mortician’s trade, and he ended up buying the house for back taxes after the war. The Brennans hung on to it for generations, and then—like I was saying last night—Mr. Griffin’s daughter disappeared on her way to meet a friend here back in the nineteen-twenties. Cary said a bunch of girls disappeared at the same time. Anyway, Mr. Griffin is convinced the house itself is evil. I think he heard about the bones being discovered, and now he believes that people’s souls have been caught here.” She hesitated. “He thinks I can communicate with them, and that I have to talk to them and find out…something, or else women will keep disappearing and…dying.”
“Wow. He laid a lot on you,” Caleb said.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, or that a house can be evil,” she told him.
“I don’t believe it, either. But I believe that human beings are capable of some pretty hideous things, and that madmen can walk around looking like saints. And if there’s a legend that goes with the house, some bastard may find it useful in carrying out his own crimes.” He lifted her chin, looking into her eyes. “Look, Sarah, you don’t have to believe in ghosts to have been subconsciously influenced by what Mr. Griffin said. You had a dream, and I was the last person you saw before you went to sleep, so…”
“So…” she repeated softly, staring at him. “So where did the mud come from?”
“We tracked it in somehow.”
She stood. “I’ve got to call the museum and leave a message. Caroline’s parents suggested that I take a few days off, and I’m going to. I want to look at the historical records and whatever newspaper files I can find. I want to see what went on in the house over the years. So you can go on to the police station without me.”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” Caleb asked her.
“I’ll be fine. So go do whatever you have to do,” Sarah said.
“I’m going to help hunt for Winona Hart,” he said.
“What about Jennie Lawson?” she asked.
“Jennie was here. I found someone who saw her. She wanted to go on the spookiest ghost tours she could find.” He hesitated. “When I showed her picture around yesterday, a lot of people thought I was showing them a picture of Winona Hart, so logic says that the same person snatched both girls. If we can find Winona, I’ll find out the truth about Jennie.”
“Do you think Winona might still be alive?” Sarah asked. “She hasn’t been missing that long.”
“We can hope. But I want to get moving quickly. That means a trip to the station to tell Tim Jamison what I learned yesterday and find out everything the police have on Winona, and then I need to follow up on every last person who was near her and every possible clue.”
“I hope you can find them both. Alive.”
He nodded. “I hope so, too.”
“You don’t think it’s possible, though, do you?”
He shrugged. “I saw Jennie’s mother. She said she knows that her daughter is gone. And Jennie was a good kid. She wouldn’t have just disappeared. She wouldn’t have run away with a man. So…quite frankly, it doesn’t look good. But people need closure. They need to bury their dead, and they need to grieve.” He stepped toward the door. “Maybe I should walk you wherever you’re going.”
She smiled. “Thanks. But it’s broad daylight now. Someone will be by to get into the house soon—Floby left me a note that they still had some things to do. And I can walk to the library on my own when it opens. It’s a whole three blocks away—maybe.”
He paused at the door, looking back at her. “You believe me, don’t you?” he asked her.
She nodded. “Yes, it’s just that…it was so real.” It took her a minute but she finally gave up. “I’m sorry,” she said slowly. “I’m sorry about your room and your stuff. I can go clean up if you want, since you’ll be busy.”
He shook his head. “No, that’s all right. I can manage. But, by the way…”
“By the way…what?”
He grinned. “If you ever show up at my room again, it had better be for sex.”
She flushed, and her lips parted, but she didn’t speak.
He let himself out.
Sarah knew that legal documents would only back up what she already knew.
What she needed were newspaper articles, diaries and letters from the period. Such things existed, she was sure. St. Augustine had been occupied by Union forces long before the war’s end, and it had never been burned to the ground. Many of the old houses had attics, and those attics often yielded treasures offering insights into the past. Even now, despite the intervening years, people often found old trunks in crawl spaces, or stashes of Confederate bills stuffed into cubbyholes or under old floorboards. Even Spanish coins still surfaced now and then.
It wasn’t a hopeless case.
Vicky Hind, one of the librarians, was happy to assist Sarah.
“Those old bones got you thinking, huh?” she asked sympathetically. “Well, legend and history are often one and the same, you know. Here’s a memoir written in 1908 by a woman whose father came down after the Union established command of the city. She was born in 1860 and came here with her mother when she was just two years old. She self-published her journal in 1908, when she was nearly fifty. She died a few years later, so we’re lucky she got it out there. Anyway, take this and have a seat in the General’s Room, and I’ll see what else I can find for you.”
Sarah thanked her and took a seat in the room that had gotten its name because a Confederate general had been born there. He hadn’t surrendered when Lee had. Instead, he’d gone to Texas, hoping to lead his unit into Mexico to establish a new order. His mother had remained in the house until her death, a feisty old woman who reveled in causing trouble for the “damn Yankee invaders,” as she called them.