I quiet her with a raised hand. “He’ll want to talk to me.”
Hearing my voice, Brian pops his head out of an office conspicuously marked EDITOR. “Maggie,” he says. “This is certainly a surprise.”
I can’t argue there. I’m just as surprised as he is, especially when I say, “I need your help.”
Brian’s smirk is brighter than his bow tie. “With what?”
“I want to search your archives.”
“Everything the Gazette has published in the past twenty years is archived online,” he says, knowing full well that’s not what I’m looking for.
We stare at each other a moment—a silent face-off. I blink first. I don’t have much of a choice.
“Help me, and I’ll give you an exclusive interview,” I say. “Nothing’s off-limits.”
Brian pretends to think it over, even though his mind’s already made up. The ruthless glint in his eyes gives it away.
“Follow me,” he says.
I’m led to a door in a back corner of the newsroom. Beyond it are a small hallway and a set of steps that go to the basement.
“This is the morgue,” Brian announces as we descend the stairs. “All our old editions are here. Every single one.”
He flicks a light switch when we reach the basement, brightening a room the size of a double-wide trailer. Running along the two longest walls are rows of metal shelves. Bound volumes fill them, each the height and width of a newspaper page. Printed on the spines are the years of publication, beginning with 1870.
I go straight for the one marked 1889. The year Indigo Garson died.
“What other years are you looking for?” Brian says.
I’ve read the Book so many times that I’m able to rattle off all the dates my father mentioned. Brian collects them all. Five volumes from four different decades—a load that leaves him red-faced and huffing.
“When are we going to do that interview?” he says as he plunks them down on a metal desk at the far end of the morgue.
I sit and open the first volume—1889. “Now.”
While a clearly flustered Brian Prince runs upstairs to retrieve a pen and notebook, I page through brittle copies of newspapers a hundred years older than I am. Because the Gazette has always been a weekly paper, it doesn’t take me long to find an article about Indigo Garson—TOWN MOURNS GARSON HEIRESS.
I bristle at the headline’s many indignities and implications. That heiress had a name, and it would have been decent of them to use it. Then there’s how the headline pulls focus away from Indigo and directs it at Bartleby itself, as if a dead sixteen-year-old doesn’t matter as much as the town’s pain.
The article is equally frustrating. It reveals few details about how Indigo Garson died, yet takes great pains to mention that her father remained locked in his bedroom, inconsolable. The meat of the story doesn’t arrive until a few issues later, with the shocking report that a maid at Baneberry Hall claimed to have seen William Garson carry the house’s namesake berries up to his daughter. Two weeks after that was the headline my father had mentioned in the Book.
GARSON DEEMED INNOCENT IN DAUGHTER’S DEATH
He hadn’t been lying. All of this was true.
I’m already moving to the next volume—1926—when Brian returns to the morgue. Leaning on a shelf with his pen and notebook, he says, “Are you ready to begin?”
I nod while flipping through pages filled with ads for ladies’ hats, Model T cars, and the latest motion pictures playing at the town’s Bijou Theater. It’s not until I’m well into May that I see an article about a Garson family member killed in a car accident.
Truth number two.
“Do you think your father killed Petra Ditmer?” Brian asks.
“I hope he didn’t.”
“But you do think he did it?”
“If I do, you’ll be the first to know.” I open the collected newspapers from 1941. “Next question.”
“Do you think Petra’s death is why your family left Baneberry Hall so suddenly?”
I find the article about the bathtub drowning that occurred that year. A third truth. The four and fifth ones come a few minutes later, while I scan the volumes from 1955 and 1956. Two bed-and-breakfast guests died, one in each of those years.
All the while, Brian Prince keeps lobbing questions at me. “Do you know of another reason you and your family fled the house?”
“It was haunted,” I say while reaching for the papers from 1974. “Or so I’ve been told.”
I’ve just found the article I’ve been looking for—FATAL FALL AT BANEBERRY HALL—when Brian slams an open palm across the page, blocking my view. It doesn’t matter. Just seeing the headline confirms that my father hadn’t been lying about any of the deaths at Baneberry Hall.
“You’re not upholding your end of our deal,” he says.
“You’re interviewing me, aren’t you?”
“It’s not an interview if you refuse to answer my questions.”
I get up and leave the desk, heading to another shelf of newspaper volumes. “I am answering them. I truly hope my father didn’t kill Petra Ditmer. And, yes, maybe her death was why we left. If you want specifics, you’ll need to talk to someone else.”