I hesitated, knowing I was about to say something that sounded colossally stupid. Insane, even. Not to mention completely insensitive to the plight of the woman who sat across from me.
“Your husband told me.”
Marta shot out of her chair like an arrow. She looked down at me, her face twisted by both anger and pity.
“I knew you were naive, Mr. Holt,” she said. “That was clear the moment I learned you’d bought Baneberry Hall. What I didn’t know—not until right now—is that you’re also cruel.”
She turned her back to me and started walking. Away from the table, out of the reading room, and, finally, out of the library.
I remained at the table, feeling the full, guilty weight of Marta’s words. Yes, it was cruel of me to burden her with my questions. And, yes, maybe I was also naive about the intentions of Curtis Carver. But something was about to happen at Baneberry Hall. Another remembering and repeating. Naive or not, I believed Curtis Carver was trying to save us from the same fate that befell his family. In order to avoid it, I needed to know who was responsible.
After ten more minutes spent stewing in guilt and worry, I left the library. On my way out, I passed the plaque dedicated to William Garson and, across from it, the kinder, gentler portrait than the one in Baneberry Hall.
Pausing at the painting, I noticed that Mr. Garson’s softer appearance wasn’t the only difference between the two portraits.
In this one, gripped in his right hand, was a walking cane.
I zeroed in on it, taking in every detail. The ebony staff. The silver handle. The tight way William Garson gripped it, his knuckles knotted, as if he never planned on letting go. Seeing it brought to mind a sound I’d heard several times in the prior days.
Coldness shot through my body. As frigid as the night I first heard the record player.
No, I thought. You’re being ridiculous. The ghost of William Garson isn’t roaming Baneberry Hall, his cane tapping up and down the halls.
Yet the cold stayed with me, even as I stepped outside into the July heat, the tapping sound echoing through my thoughts the entire way home.
Marta Carver arrives just before sunset, bearing a shy smile and a cherry pie.
“It’s from the bakery,” she explains. “We bake fresh every morning, so I like to give leftovers to my friends.”
I accept the unexpected gift, genuinely touched. “Are we friends?”
“I hope we can be, Maggie. We have—” She pauses, unsure how I’m going to react to whatever’s coming next. “We have more in common than most.”
I take that to mean she thinks my father is guilty. She may be right, although I’m starting to doubt it. The fact that the Book has proven itself to be true at almost every turn suggests someone else caused Petra Ditmer’s death.
Or something else.
Something that frightens me to my core.
Had someone told me last week that I’d start to believe the Book, I would have said they were crazy. But for the first time in my life, I suspect my father knew something that I’m only now on the cusp of understanding.
I’m hoping Marta Carver can help me cross that line.
“It looks delicious,” I say, gazing at the pie. “Come on in and we’ll have a slice.”
Marta doesn’t move. She stares at Baneberry Hall’s front door. Behind her round spectacles, her eyes burn with fear. In a guilt-inducing way, seeing her apprehension makes me feel better. It justifies my own fear.
“I thought I’d be able to go in there,” she says. “I want to go in there. To show this house that I’m not afraid. How are you able to do it, Maggie?”
“I told myself what happened here wasn’t real.”
“I don’t have that luxury.”
“Then we’ll talk out here,” I say. “Just let me take this inside.”
I carry the pie downstairs to the kitchen and return with two bottles of beer. Although I don’t know if Marta drinks, it’s clear she needs something to get her through this visit. Back on the porch, she accepts the bottle and takes a tentative sip. I notice the rings on her right hand—an engagement ring and a wedding band—and remember how Brian Prince told me she never remarried. I can only imagine how lonely she’s been the past twenty-five years.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Marta says after another, longer sip of beer. “I thought I was brave enough to go inside. But this house has a power to it. I can’t stop thinking about it, even though all I want to do is forget everything that happened here.”
I raise my beer in a grim toast. “I know that feeling well.”
“I thought you would,” Marta says. “It’s why I was glad you stopped by the bakery today. In fact, I was expecting it. I almost reached out to you, but after everything that’s happened in the past few days, I didn’t know if you’d want to talk. There’s much to discuss.”
“Let’s start with my father,” I say.
“You want to know if that book of his is true. At least my role in it.”
Marta gives me a sidelong glance, checking to see if I’m surprised to learn she’s read the Book. I am.
“I read it on the advice of my attorney,” she says.