I sit on the front porch, unsure if I’m allowed to go back inside Baneberry Hall. Even if I can, I don’t want to, despite being in desperate need of cleaning up. My hair is powdered with dust, and my face is a grimy mess. I also smell. Like sweat. Like drywall. Like puke, because that’s what I did a few minutes after seeing what slid out of that sack. Which was canvas, by the way. I learned that a few hours ago. A canvas duffel bag into which the body had been stuffed.
I’ve learned a lot of things in the six hours I’ve spent on this porch. I know, for instance, that Baneberry Hall is now considered a crime scene, complete with yellow tape stretched over the front door and a state police tech van parked in the driveway.
I know that when a skeleton plummets from the ceiling onto your kitchen table, you’ll get asked a lot of questions. Some you’ll be able to answer. Like, “What caused the ceiling to collapse?” Or, “After finding the skeleton, did you do anything to the bones?” Others—such as “How did a skeleton get into your ceiling in the first place?”—will leave you stumped.
And I know that if two of you happen to be present when bones inexplicably drop out of your ceiling, you’ll be questioned separately to see if your stories match up. That’s what happened to me and Dane, who was taken to the back of the house for his interrogation.
Now Dane is gone, having been sent home by Chief Alcott. I remain because this is technically my house. And when human remains are found inside a house, the police make sure the owner sticks around for a bit.
Chief Alcott, who has been entering and exiting the house for hours, emerges wearing rubber gloves on her hands and paper booties over her shoes. She joins me on the porch, snapping off the gloves and wiping her hands on the front of her uniform.
“You might want to start thinking about finding a place to stay for the night,” she says. “It’s going to be a while. The crime scene guys have finished gathering all the remains, but there are still rooms to be examined, evidence to be collected, reports to be filed. The usual red tape. Hopefully after all this, we’ll be able to figure out who it is.”
“It’s Petra Ditmer,” I say.
She’s the only person it could be. The girl who’s been missing for twenty-five years. The girl who never came home the same night my family left ours.
The girl who most definitely didn’t run away.
“I’m not jumping to any conclusions,” the chief says. “Neither should you. We won’t know anything for a day or so. The remains will be going to the forensics lab in Waterbury. They’ll sort through everything, check dental records, try to make a positive ID.”
It would be nice to think I could be wrong. That those bones belonged to someone else and not a sixteen-year-old girl. A particularly loathsome member of the Garson family, maybe. An unknown victim of Curtis Carver.
But I’m sure it’s Petra.
“Were you able to tell how the body got into the ceiling?” I say.
“From above,” Chief Alcott says. “We found a section of loose boards on the first floor. Four feet by three feet. They could be lifted right up and put back into place without anyone noticing. Add in the rug that covered it, and you have yourself a perfect hiding spot.”
I know. My father had mentioned it in the Book. Until now, I thought he had made it up.
So many thoughts run through my head. All of them horrible. That there were human remains inside the house the entire time I’ve been here. That those remains used to be Petra Ditmer, Chief Alcott’s wait-and-see approach be damned. That her body had been stuffed into a duffel bag and shoved under the floorboards. That I probably walked over her dozens of times without even realizing it.
“What room was this in?” I say.
“Second one from the front. With the green walls and the fireplace.”
The Indigo Room.
The same place Elsa Ditmer was roaming when I returned to Baneberry Hall. Maybe she’s not as confused as we all think. There’s a chance that, despite her illness, she knows more than everyone else and is struggling to find the right way to tell us.
“Listen, Maggie,” Chief Alcott says. “I’m going to be honest with you here. If this does turn out to be Petra Ditmer—”
“If it’s her, well, it’s not going to look very good for your dad.”
She says it gently, as if I haven’t been thinking the same thing for the past six hours. As if my father’s last words haven’t been repeating themselves in my skull the whole time, like an echo that refuses to end.
“I understand that,” I say.
“I’m going to need to ask you this sooner or later, so I might as well do it now. Do you think your father was capable of killing someone?”
“I don’t know.”
It’s a terrible answer, and not just because of how noncommittal it is. It’s terrible because it makes me feel like a shitty daughter. I want to be like those children of suspected killers I’ve read about in tabloids and seen on Dateline. People who are certain of their parent’s innocence.
My father wouldn’t hurt a fly.
He’s a gentle soul.
I’d have known it if he was capable of murder.
No one ever believes them. I never believe them.