The moon was waning, but it still seemed to be full. And beneath that light, in the middle of the yard between the kitchen and the stables, he saw a horse. A majestic animal, huge, black and sleek.
He walked over to the horse and the animal gazed at him. He felt a cold sensation as a large black head nuzzled his chest. He stroked the cool air, seeing the animal’s dark eyes and fine brow.
“Hey, fellow, still pounding the beat, eh?” he murmured.
The horse whinnied but couldn’t answer any questions for him. A ghost horse couldn’t speak any more than a living one could. But he was encouraged. If the horse was here, the house itself was opening to him.
He heard another sound—whining. He glanced down. There was a dog by his feet. a hound, large and tawny in color, with huge brown eyes that looked up at him trustingly. He hunkered down to touch the dog, feeling air, but aware that the hound knew it was being stroked. “Thank you, boy. Thank you for coming to me,” he said softly. “If I can help, I will.”
He was so involved with visions of the family creatures that he was startled when his phone rang.
“Montague,” he said quickly, grinning to himself. The ghost hound had pushed him—nothing but a blast of air or imagination, but it had almost knocked him over.
“Agent Montague, it’s Allison Leigh. I’ve, uh, had a nap. If you want to talk, I’m willing.”
“I’ll be right by to get you,” he said.
* * *
Allison had managed to convince herself that she was totally sane; she was just under intense pressure.
And she was going to do the sane and intelligent thing. See a shrink.
Annette Fanning sat on a stool at the counter, looking at her with concern.
She was grateful to Annette. Her friend had arrived just as she’d come to, and when she’d let Annette in and continued to run through her house searching for a sign that someone had been there, Annette had kept quiet and helped. Now, she stared at Allison.
“You’re making more tea? What you need is a good shot,” Annette told her sagely. “And if you won’t have one, I will. You’d barely gotten off the floor when I got here. You could have hurt yourself! I still don’t understand what happened. You saw someone in your house, or you think you saw someone?”
“I don’t think anyone was really here. I’m sure I’m just mourning Julian, which is something I wasn’t able to do before. I mean, I found him, and then the rest of the night I was with the cops and at the station and back at the house, and then we found the office trashed....”
“You need a good shot of whiskey,” Annette said again, getting up and going to the cabinet.
“I don’t want any whiskey. I just called that agent and said I’d go out with him.”
“Now that’s a plan. He’s really hot-looking, Allison.”
Allison frowned at her. “I don’t mean go out in that sense. I’m going to answer questions for him and tell him about people. It’s not a date.”
“That’s a pity,” Annette said. She was tiny and blonde and struggled to reach the bottle shoved at the back of the cabinet. “You should get a real life, you know. You can’t spend your life in the past.”
“I don’t spend my life in the past,” Allison said, getting the bottle for her. “And I don’t want a shot, really.”
“I do—really!” Annette accepted the whiskey bottle and poured herself a measure. “You haven’t gone out since you were dating Peter Aubrey, right? I thought you two were great together.”
“When he was clean, we were great. I cared about Pete and it was fun being with him. But I didn’t have the power to change him. I picked him up from various gigs three times when his friends called to say he’d passed out and needed help. And I went back to him twice when he said he’d kill himself if I left him. I learned. It has nothing to do with me—he has to find a way to face his demons. I went to Narcotics Anonymous and learned that I can’t change him. Only he can do that. If he ever gets cleaned up, goes into rehab and is serious about it, I’ll consider seeing him again,” Allison told her. “I’m not antisocial. I’m not lonely. And now is not the time to worry about my social life. Julian is dead, Annette, and the house is in the middle of some investigation....” She let her voice fade away; Annette’s big brown eyes were moist again.
“I still can’t believe it,” Annette said. “I can’t believe that Julian’s dead.”
“I’m sorry, Annette, I didn’t mean—”
“No, no, I know.” She let out a long sigh. “I called Nathan to find out if the board knew anything about funeral arrangements but no one’s heard anything. The family wants the body shipped back to Indiana, but the morgue isn’t going to release him until…until whatever, I don’t know. There are still tests being done, I guess. Do you think he’d been drinking or that he was high or something? This is all so mysterious. Oh! Nathan did say he’d make sure we have a memorial in the next few weeks, no matter what. Julian had a lot of fans in the city.”
“He was a decent musician and he had a great stage presence. I guess that’s why he made a good guide,” Allison said.
“When he showed up,” Annette agreed. She walked back into the living room. “Hey, where’s your broom? I’m going to sweep one more time. You walk around barefoot—don’t want you cutting your foot.”
“Drink your whiskey. The floor is fine. I cleaned it over and over again,” Allison said.
The doorbell rang, and Allison looked at Annette. “Not a word, okay? Not a single word.”
“Not even ‘hello’?” Annette asked. “And here I’d been thinking about adding something like ‘nice to meet you’!”
Allison went to the door, flashing Annette a warning frown. Annette grinned.
Tyler stood there, so tall he nearly filled the doorframe.
“Hi,” she greeted him. “Come in.”
He entered. Allison quickly introduced him to Annette, who giggled, offering him her hand.
“You’re really tall,” Annette said.
Tyler nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Annette!” Allison whispered. “That’s…rude.”
“Not at all, Ms. Fanning,” Tyler said with a laugh. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m sorry it’s under such circumstances.”
“Yes. Julian.” Annette shook her head. Denial would be with all of them for a long time, Allison thought.
“Actually, I’m glad you’re here,” Tyler told Annette. “I wanted to talk to you about the Tarleton-Dandridge House and about Julian.”
“I spoke with a police officer, but I’m happy to talk to you, too. I last saw Julian at lunch. I didn’t think about it much. I had to leave early myself. Root canal,” she explained. “But I’m not surprised he ducked out for an audition. Music was everything to Julian. Oh, he liked his job and he was good at it. But he did want to be rich and famous. A rock star.”
“Mind if we sit?” Tyler asked Allison.
She indicated the parlor. Her house, which had been built in the early 1800s, wasn’t quite as old as the Tarleton-Dandridge. The original owner’s grandson had sold it to her great-grandfather in 1890. Originally, the kitchen had been outside, and the counter had been put in somewhere around 1910, when the kitchen became part of the house. A lot of her furniture was pre-Civil War.
Her sofa, however, was a purchase she’d made just a few years earlier. It was plush and soft and nice, like the massive armchair to the side of it.
Tyler Montague took the chair; Annette sat close by, on the edge of the sofa, clearly fascinated. She rested an elbow on one arm of the sofa as she stared at him.
“What do you think happened at the Tarleton-Dandridge House?” Tyler asked her.
Annette blinked. “Do you mean about Julian—or someone trashing the office?”
“Both, either,” Tyler said.
“I’m sad, of course, and horrified. We talked about Julian all the time. He knew it and didn’t really care. He held on to his job at the house because he was good, very dramatic. But he wasn’t responsible. We all liked him. It was hard not to. He was just…ambitious. He wanted to be a rock star, like I said. But he did love history.” She paused. “And he loved to play online games—Words with Friends—all kinds of stuff. He acted like a blowhard sometimes, but he was very smart.” Tears welled up in Annette’s eyes. “It’s sad. It’s so, so sad. But it was an accident, wasn’t it?”
“That’s what we’re trying to determine,” Tyler said.
“But…he was alone in the house with Allison, wasn’t he? She would never have hurt him. She won’t even put out poison to kill rats.... I think she gives half her income to societies that save animals. Of course, it’s true that people who love animals don’t always love people, but to suspect that Allison could have hurt Julian in any way—it’s crazy! Okay, he’s made us so mad at times that she might have wanted to smack him. And he did try to pick her up when he first started working there a year ago. She was seeing Peter Aubrey back then, and besides, she isn’t the type to play around at work and—”
Allison finally interrupted her rambling. “Annette. I think Tyler wants to talk about the house.”
“All impressions are important,” Tyler said smoothly. “So, you do believe Julian Mitchell was intelligent?”
“Julian was definitely smart,” Allison replied. “He was brilliant with the English language.” She hesitated and then admitted, “He and I did have a competition on Words with Friends. His ability was uncanny.”
“I didn’t even bother to play with him, I was so bad,” Annette said.
“Would Julian have trashed the attic for any reason?” Tyler asked.