Then a bell rang.
Not at the very end but on the other side, second from the left.
The bell immediately to its right chimed next.
I exhaled—a long, heavy sigh of relief in which another question occurred to me. One I’d never considered because I thought I knew the answer since before we even moved into Baneberry Hall. But after seeing those two bells tilt out their song, I began to doubt that what I’d been told was true.
“Curtis,” I said. “Did you kill your daughter?”
Again, there was a pause. Then two bells rang—the last sounds any of them would make for the rest of the day. But it was enough. Curtis Carver’s answer was absolutely clear.
I didn’t know you wrote the original article about Curtis Carver,” I say.
“I did.” Brian Prince grins in a way that makes my stomach turn. He’s proud of this fact. “It was my first big story.”
I return my gaze to the article, preferring the picture of the Carver family over Brian’s morbid smugness. “How much do you remember about that day?”
“A lot,” Brian says. “Like I said, I was fairly new to the Gazette, even though I’ve lived in Bartleby my whole life. The paper was bigger then. Every paper was bigger in those days. Because a lot of the older, veteran reporters were still around, I was relegated to fluff pieces. Dog shows and baking contests. I interviewed Marta Carver a few days before the murder. She took me on a tour of Baneberry Hall and told me all the things she planned to do with the place. I wanted to do a similar story with your mother, but your family wasn’t there long enough for me to get the chance.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t see any ghosts on your tour,” I say.
“Not a one. Now that would have been a story.”
“What was Marta Carver like when you interviewed her?”
“She was nice. Friendly. Talkative. She seemed happy.” Brian pauses, a thoughtful look settling over his features. For the first time today, he looks almost human. “I think about that day a lot. How it might have been one of the last happy days she ever had.”
“She never remarried? Or had another child?”
Brian shakes his head. “Nor did she ever leave town, which kind of surprised everyone. Most people thought she’d move someplace where no one knew who she was or what had happened to her.”
“Why do you think she stayed?”
“She was used to the town, I guess,” Brian says. “Katie’s buried in the cemetery behind the church. Maybe she thought that if she moved, she’d be leaving her daughter behind.”
I look to the photo on the page in front of me—Curtis Carver standing apart from his family. “Curtis wasn’t buried with her?”
“He was cremated. At Marta’s request. The rumor is that she dumped his ashes in the trash.”
The urn carrying my father’s ashes sits in the back of a closet at my apartment in Boston, still in the box the funeral home handed to me as I left his memorial service. The plan was to scatter them in Boston Harbor at some point this summer. If it’s proven that he killed Petra Ditmer, I might abandon that idea and take a cue from Marta Carver.
“It’s got to be hard on her,” I say. “Even all these years later.”
“Every town has that one person something bad happened to. The one everyone else pities,” Brian says. “In Bartleby, that’s Marta Carver. She handles it with dignity. I’ll give her that. What she endured would have crushed most other people, and the town admires her for it. Especially now.”
It’s something I hadn’t thought of—how the current news surrounding Baneberry Hall also affects Marta Carver. Another dead girl was discovered in the very house where her own daughter died. That’s got to dredge up a lot of bad memories.
“My father wrote that she left most of her belongings inside Baneberry Hall,” I say. “Is that true?”
“Probably,” Brian says. “She never went back to that house, I know that. After she found her husband and daughter dead, Marta called the police in hysterics. When the cops got there, they found her in a daze on the front porch and took her to the hospital. One of her friends told me she’s never set foot inside Baneberry Hall since.”
I lean in, getting close to the photo, studying Marta Carver’s face. There isn’t much to see. Her features are blurred. Nothing but dots of aged ink. But she has a story to tell.
“I need to go,” I announce as I get up from the desk, leaving behind all the bound volumes of newspapers from the past. “Thanks for your help.”
“Thanks for the interview,” Brian says, putting air quotes around the word to underscore his sarcasm.
I pretend not to notice. I have a more pressing issue. One I’d hoped to avoid. But there’s no getting out of it.
I need to talk to Marta Carver.
About Baneberry Hall.
And how I suspect her story is closer to my father’s than anyone realizes.
* * *
Because it’s lunchtime, there are quite a few people out and about. A man enters the sushi restaurant on Maple Street as, next door, a woman exits the vegetarian place with several takeout bags. But it’s Marta Carver’s bakery that draws most of the attention. Outside, people crowd café tables, checking their phones while sipping iced coffees. Inside, a line forms just beyond the door and snakes past the wall of birds.