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“I did not do that!” Bartholomew whispered.

She shook her head impatiently and stepped in.

The once beautiful hardwood floors did need work, she noticed. Workmen had been in and out through the years, and their boots had done some damage. The gate area still boasted an old-fashioned cash register, but the mahogany desk, where an attendant sold tickets, was beautiful. It had been bought from an auctioneer and had once been the captain’s desk in an old sailing ship. The swivel chair behind it was equally old, handsome and still comfortable. Katie was familiar with everything; she had walked through with Liam Beckett just a few days earlier.

The light that she had seen from the street had come from the entry. It was the muted light of the foyer’s chandelier, and it cast a gentle glow over the place.

Katie opened her mouth, about to call out, but she didn’t. She chose not to twist the turnstile-the noise here would be like an explosion. She sat atop the old mahogany desk and swung her legs around, then stepped to the other side.

Looking up was eerie. Figures of Papa Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, were posed coming down the stairway. They had always been a big hit at the museum, with eighty percent of those going through the place having their pictures taken with the pair.

“Don’t you dare go up those stairs,” Bartholomew commanded sternly.

Katie almost smiled, grinning at him. “Bartholomew, you’re scared. A ghost can’t be scared. My God, Bartholomew. You were a pirate.”

“Privateer. My boat was authorized by the government,” Bartholomew corrected irritably. “And don’t be ridiculous, I’m not frightened. Yes, wait, I am frightened for you, foolish girl. What is the matter with you? I know your family taught you better. Innocent young ladies do not wander into dark alleys.”

“This isn’t a dark alley.”

“No, it’s worse. You can get trapped in here.”

“I’m not going upstairs,” she assured him.

She walked to the side, realizing that she was going in the wrong historical order. She wasn’t going up the stairs; she just wanted to see what was going on.

“Katie,” Bartholomew warned, following her.

She turned and stared at him. “What? I’m going to be scared silly? I’m going to see ghosts?”

“Ghosts will seldom hurt you. Living people, bad people, criminals, rapists, murderers and thieves-they will hurt you,” Bartholomew said sternly.

“Just one more minute… We’ll check out the downstairs, and I’ll call the cops. Or Liam. Liam is a cop. All right? I just don’t want to cry wolf.”


“I don’t want to create an alarm when there’s no need. Maybe Liam was here earlier and left the light on.”

“And the door open?” Bartholomew said doubtfully.

Katie shrugged.

She walked to the left, where the tour began once visitors reached the first floor. The first room offered one of Key West’s most dramatic tales-the doll story. As a little boy, Robert Eugene Otto had been given a very creepy doll, supposedly cursed by an angry family servant who knew something about voodoo. Robert Eugene Otto became obsessed with the doll, even naming it Robert, after himself. Robert the Doll moved about the house and played pranks. In later years he drove the real Robert’s wife quite crazy.

From the somewhat psychotic, the history in the museum became sad and grimly real with a memorial to the sailors who had died aboard the battleship Maine when it had exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898. The museum’s exhibit showed sailors working on the ship. From there, curtains segued into an area where dancers moved about at the Silver Slipper. World War I came and went. Prohibition arrived, and bootleg alcohol made its way in an easy flow from Havana to Key West.

A pathway through the pantry in back led around to the other side of the house. It was dark, with little light from the glow in the foyer seeping through. Papa Hemingway made another appearance as 1931 rolled in and Pauline’s uncle bought them the house on Whitehead Street as a wedding present.

Katie knew what she was coming up to-the exhibit on Count von Cosel and Elena de Hoyos. Just a small piece of the museum, really, in a curtained sector through an archway. It had always been a popular exhibit. Until, of course, the re-created figure of poor Elena had been replaced by the strangled body of a young Conch woman. The beginning of the end.

People liked the bizarre, the romance and even the tragedy of history, but with this event fear had suddenly come too close. It was one thing to be eccentric in the Keys.

Real violence was not welcome.

There was more, she thought, so much more, to the museum. It was sad, really, that the story got so much attention.

There was fun history. Sloppy Joe moving his entire bar across the street in the middle of the night, angry over a hike in his rent. Tennessee Williams, working away at La Concha Hotel, penning the words of his play A Streetcar Named Desire. Another war, soldiers and sailors, the roadblocks that caused Key West to secede and become, if only for hours, the Conch Republic.

The rest of history paled beside the story of von Cosel and Elena. So it had always been.

Morbid curiosity. Had he really slept with the corpse? Ooh, Lord, disgusting! How?

Katie knew the story, of course. She’d heard it all her life. She’d retold it at college a dozen times, with friends denying the truth of it until they looked it up on the Internet. It was tragic, it was sad, it was sick, but it always drew people.

As it had tonight. She put her hand out to draw back the curtain leading to the exhibit.

“Don’t, Katie, don’t!” Bartholomew whispered.

She closed her eyes for a moment.

She was suddenly terrified that she would draw back the curtain-and stumble upon a corpse herself.

And yet…

She had to draw back the curtain.

She did so, and screamed.


David nearly jumped, he was so startled by the sudden scream.

That irritated him. Greatly. He was thirty-two, a veteran of foreign action and a professional who trekked through the wilds and jungles of the world.

He was not supposed to jump at the sound of a silly girl’s scream.

Of course, it had been stupid to come here. He had thought that he’d come back just to sign whatever papers he needed to settle his grandfather’s estate. But he had come home. And no way out of it-the past had called to him. No matter how far he had gone, he had been haunted by that night. He’d had to come here.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected to find.

There were no fresh corpses in the old museum.

Elena Milagro de Hoyos rested in robotic finery-as sadly as she had, years ago, at the real funeral parlor.

But he could remember the night they had found Tanya. He could remember it as if it had been yesterday.

She hadn’t been killed here, she had been brought here. She had been positioned for the shock value. It was something certain killers did. This fellow wanted to enjoy his sadistic exploits and wanted his handiwork to be discovered.

The killer had never been caught. No clues, no profile had ever led anyone anywhere, even when the local police had pulled in the FBI. There hadn’t been a fiber, a speck of DNA, not a single skin cell to be analyzed. That meant that the killer had been organized. The Keys had even braced for a wave of such murders, because such killers usually kept killing. But it seemed that Tanya’s murder had been a lone incident. Despite the fact that he had been cleared, he had been the only person ever actually under suspicion, no matter how they worded it.

The Keys hadn’t been crime-free by any means. Accidents occurred far too frequently because people overimbibed and still thought they’d be fine on the highway-often two-lane only-that led back to the mainland. Crosses along the way warned travelers of places where others had died, and the police could be fierce on speeders, but deaths still happened. Gangs were coming in, just as elsewhere, but they were seldom seen in the usual tourist mainstream on Duval Street. Domestic violence was always a problem, and now and then, as Liam seemed to believe, “outsiders” came into the state to commit their crimes.

But there was nothing like the strangulation death and bizarre display of Tanya Barnard. Not in the decade since David had been gone.

When it had happened, Craig Beckett had tried to hold his head high. He knew, of course, that his grandson was innocent because they had been together during the time it had happened-only a small window of opportunity. The museum had closed late on Friday night because there had been a festival in the city-and Craig Beckett had agreed with his fellows in the business association that his museum should remain open until midnight. David had come in with the first tour just after nine the next morning.

And Tanya’s body had been discovered.

David understood that, to many, he might well appear guilty as all hell.

But he had an alibi.

He’d been at the museum the night before, filling in for Danny Zigler then, too. But it was a small museum. It was only open for tours. There had been times between tours, people reckoned, when he might have slipped out. Or, according to others, the coroner might have been wrong. He might have left the museum and gone to quickly kill Tanya before returning home.

Think about it. Just how long did it take for a tall, muscular man to strangle the life out of a small, trusting woman?

Luckily, the coroner wouldn’t be called wrong. He insisted on the time of Tanya’s death.

And there were enough tourists to swear that David couldn’t have gone far in between the tours.

And after? David and his grandfather had stayed up until nearly four, engaged in a chess match. Then they’d even fallen asleep watching a movie in the den; his grandmother had come in to throw blankets over the two of them. By seven in the morning, the family had been engaged in breakfast. David knew many people believed that his grandparents had just been covering for him, but the one thing that gave David strength was the fact that he had been with his grandparents, and they did know that he was innocent.

Craig had tried to maintain the museum. But when everyone coming in had wanted to know about Tanya and little else about the history of the island, he had given it up at last. He had cared for the place, but he had closed its doors to the public. He had dreamed of the right time to reopen it.