Then, in the late eighteen hundreds, Mr. and Mrs. Braden had been killed in the house, as well. A historical parallel of the Menendez case? From the books, movies and court records that had come down through time, it appeared that a disgruntled son had killed his parents for the money. And, of course, similar cases had been suspected elsewhere. The Braden case was similar, too, to the Lizzie Borden murders. Both Lizzie and the Braden boy had been acquitted, but nobody doubted that each of them had murdered their families.
Just like today’s case.
Sam told himself over and over to get the hell away from his computer. He was not involved.
But he was.
He’d found the kid in the road.
And, he’d grown up in Salem. He could still remember being a school kid, and the rhyme every school kid in the area had learned. Oh, Lexington, he loved his wife…
A good attorney, of course—even a hack—would go for an insanity plea. The kid had grown up in what everyone in the area termed a haunted house—a really haunted house—which, in a city like Salem, was saying something.
Any attorney could defend the boy. It was too easy.
He forced himself to leave the computer screen and walk around the house.
His parents had been dead for nearly two years; he’d returned for the funeral, and he hadn’t been back since. The house, however, was in excellent shape. His father, until his death, had seen to it that no electrical wires frayed, that the heating system was state-of-the-art and that every board that even seemed slightly damaged was replaced. His father’s friend and contractor, Jimmy Chu, had kept the house in good repair during the two years. His dad had come from old Puritan stock, and he’d considered it an honor to care for the home that his parents had owned, just as his grandparents before them did. It wasn’t one of the oldest houses in the area, but it ranked right in there with many of the homes surviving from the turn of the eighteenth century all the way into the twenty-first.
He smiled suddenly, shaking his head and taking a sip of the coffee he still held, untouched. “Darn you, Dad. You knew that I won’t be able to sell the damned thing!”
A house—in a city in which he no longer lived—was a pain in the ass, no matter what. He guessed that his father had always figured he’d come home one day.
Well, he’d managed to, but on the wrong damned day. He dropped his head. He didn’t want to be involved with a legal situation here.
But he couldn’t blink without seeing in his mind’s eye the blank brown eyes of the naked boy covered in blood and shaking on the road.
“Jenna!” Uncle Jamie drew her to him, giving her a warm and emphatic hug.
She hugged him in turn. She loved Jamie. She loved her family in general. Despite their long history of warfare, the Irish were an exceptionally warm, passionate and profuse people. They were full of magical tales, and they seldom felt obliged to refrain from speaking their minds.
“Uncle Jamie!” she said.
He pulled her away for a moment, holding her at arm’s length to study her. Jamie had brilliant green eyes and graying auburn hair. He was her mother’s younger brother, and had always had a mischievous side to him, making him very popular among children. He was so devout that he’d nearly gone into the priesthood, but had decided at the last minute that he didn’t really have the calling. He’d attended medical school and become a psychiatrist instead.
“You look good, my girl, aye, that you do! Pretty thing, you always were. Beautiful eyes, green like Eire, and hair like fire—you got my sister’s temper to go with it, eh?” Her own accent had become little more than a hint of a different place, but she had come to the States when she’d been a young teen. Jamie had been a grown man.
“Mum’s temper isn’t that bad, Uncle Jamie. She’s a lot like you—opinionated.”
He grinned. “Come over here, I’ve a booth for us,” he told her. He slipped an arm through hers, leading her toward a corner booth. “Lovely, lovely, isn’t it? I’ve always loved this city. You have the Wiccans with their wonderful shops—and their Wiccan gossip and squabbles, of course! You’ve got the immigrants and the old Puritan families, and all of them getting along—and not. But fall here is the most wonderful season in the world—everyone loving life and creating cornucopias and carving out pumpkins.”
“Yes, I love it here, too, Uncle Jamie.”
He looked around and motioned to the waitress. “What will you have, niece?”
She was surprised to feel a sudden chill. Jamie was hedging, and he usually just spoke plainly. It was unusual that he’d dawdle by ordering like this, but she decided she’d let him talk at his own speed. “Something warm,” she replied.
“An Irish coffee?” he suggested.
“Why not?” she said.
Their waitress was wearing a cute, short-skirted pirate costume. Jamie asked to make sure that the bartender used Jameson Irish whiskey, and that they didn’t go putting a wallop of “white stuff”—whipped cream—on either drink. The waitress smiled. “Jamie, you order the same thing every time you come in.”
“So I do,” Jamie told her, grinning. “But, still, a man’s got to be careful when he orders his drink.”
Laughing and shaking her head, the waitress moved on with a swish of her short skirt.
“They do get into Halloween early, don’t they,” Jenna murmured.
“Well, you know the whole pumpkin-carving thing is Irish, of course,” Jamie said.
“I know, Uncle Jamie…” she said to the familiar information, knowing it wouldn’t stop him. She thanked the waitress as she delivered their drinks. Jamie didn’t seem to notice.
“It all came from Stingy Jack,” Jamie said, studying his cup, and speaking to himself more than her.
“A myth about a man named Stingy Jack,” Jenna reminded him.
He waved a hand in the air.
“The devil invited old Jack to have a drink with him, and Jack, he wasn’t about to pay for the drinks, but then neither was he about to turn one down. So, our Jack, he tells the devil that he must turn himself into a handful of coins to pay for the drink. But, thirsty though he was, Jack was a clever boy, and put the coins in his pocket, around his silver cross, and the devil, next to that cross, couldn’t turn himself back into the devil, not next to the holy relic! Finally, though, Jack let the devil return to his old self—long as he didn’t bother Jack for a year and a day—and would not claim his soul if he should die. There are stories of Jack playing a few other tricks on the devil over his lifetime. Eventually, of course, he did die. And when he did, the Good Lord would not let him into Heaven, and the devil could not claim his soul, and so he was sent into the dark of the night with only a burning lump of coal to light his way. Well, Jack found a pumpkin, carved it out, and carried it about endlessly through the darkness of the night. And so he was called Jack of the Lantern, and finally, Jack-o’-Lantern.” He paused to take a gulp.
“It’s not a bad tradition—especially for those who scoop out the pumpkin and make pie and then carve the pumpkin to burn with an eerie—or happy!—face throughout the night,” he finished.
“Pumpkin pie is delightful,” Jenna said, leaning toward him and touching his hand. “But I’m pretty sure this story isn’t why I’m here, Uncle Jamie. Talk to me. Why did you want me here? I’m delighted to see you, you know that. But you called me and said that you needed me.”
Jamie nodded, running his fingers over the varnished wood of the table. “It may be too late,” he said softly. Then he looked up at her. “They think they have him dead to rights. They say that the blood of those he murdered was all over him, and that his fingerprints were on the ax. But he didn’t do it, Jenna. He didn’t do it.”
She frowned. He was talking now, but he was beginning in the middle.
“You asked me here…about the murders that occurred? But…the family was just killed last night. You called me two days ago.”
Jamie shook his head. “I called you about two murders that had happened earlier—and then last night occurred…and now they have the boy…and I just don’t believe he did it. He’ll be railroaded into a mental hospital for the rest of his life—but he’s not crazy! People started saying that it was the house—that it’s Lexington House, and that he lived there and started killing because he was listening to ghosts. Thing is, I know that by what seems like obvious evidence he looks guilty as all hell, but that’s only what it looks like. He didn’t do it.”
She shook her head. “All right, back up. You called me because of the two previous murders. The radio mentioned those on the way up here, too, but only bits and pieces and suppositions. I don’t really know details. Tell me about them.”
“Six months ago, a farmer in Andover, Peter Andres, was killed in his barn—with a scythe. The police had no suspects—the scythe was in the barn, but there were no fingerprints other than those of Andres. Everyone was baffled. Andres was known as an affable man. But the rumor mill got started—the rhyme about Lexington House doesn’t tell it all. In the nineteenth century, a scythe was supposedly used on the Braden father before he was given the final blows by the ax. So, the police started looking at people with an interest in Lexington House, and then at Lexington House itself. Malachi was always the subject of some rumor or other—he’s a strange lad. But he tells me that he prays, and he believes deeply in God and in Heaven.”
“Many killers find Jesus,” Jenna said softly. “How did you know all this about him?”
Jamie shook his head. “They find Jesus in prison— Malachi has always had him.” He sighed. “The boy came to me three years ago. His parents brought him to me—they were forced to, by children’s services, after a few incidents at school.”
“Like what—he attacked other children? Threw rocks at birds…set cats on fire?”