“Sean, the big case is the camera equipment?” Tyler asked.
“Yes, I figured we’d put the computers and the screens somewhere central, like here in this hallway. I can set up the cameras in whichever rooms you want,” Sean told him.
“Have you discovered anything? Can you bring us up to speed?” Logan asked.
“Wait, wait, please!” Kelsey O’Brien held up one hand. “Ms. Leigh, can you show me the restroom? It’s been a long drive.”
“These guys don’t like to stop once they’re on the road,” Jane Everett said.
“I would’ve stopped!” Logan protested.
“If he’d actually noticed that one of us was speaking.” Kat smiled at Allison. “Logan gets into think-mode the minute we’re on our way anywhere.”
“A public restroom was put in right there, beneath the stairs,” Allison said, directing Kelsey. “There’s also a small restroom in the break area—used to be a pantry—and there’s a shower stall in there, too. That’s it—oh, except for another small restroom out by the stables. We only have the one shower. But, of course, any of you are welcome to spend time at my house for a longer shower or a better night’s sleep, if necessary.”
“That’s very kind of you, Ms. Leigh,” Logan said. He looked at Tyler, slowly arching a brow. “There’s one introduction you haven’t made. Is Ms. Leigh aware…?”
“Of Julian Mitchell?” Tyler asked. “Julian, I’m pretty sure you just heard all the intros. Want to become a little more visible?”
To Allison’s amazement, she heard Julian’s voice, almost like a distorted echo—and almost shy.
Julian! Suddenly shy.
“I’m not that good at this yet,” he said. “But, um, yes, how do you do? And welcome to the Tarleton-Dandridge House.”
“Hello,” Logan murmured, and the others did the same.
“You’ve been perfectly good at showing yourself to me and scaring me out of my wits and sanity,” Allison said. “Please,” she told the others, “don’t get the impression that Julian is any kind of shrinking violet.”
“Ally!” Julian said. His form began to appear.
“You were killed here, Julian?” Logan asked quietly, glancing at Tyler.
“Julian and I met just before you arrived,” Tyler explained.
Logan nodded. “Five-minute bathroom break,” he said. “Everyone back in here, and we’ll talk to Julian and get set up.”
“Ah, the one benefit!” Julian now appeared fully before them all, still in his Colonial splendor.
“What’s that?” Sean Cameron asked.
“I don’t need a bathroom break anymore.” Julian tried to say the words jokingly. It didn’t work.
There was such sadness in his voice that they were all silent. Tyler stood close to him, setting a hand lightly in the air where Julian’s shoulder seemed to be. It was evident to Allison that Tyler had known the dead before. His movement was in no way awkward; his hand didn’t sit there lamely, but really seemed to touch the spirit of the dead man. “The human body is fragile, Julian. And with it comes frailty and pain. The soul is on a higher plane and yet it can still feel the torture of grief and loss, but there’s a place of peace and beauty, too. We’ve learned that, we’ve seen it. And we’ll get you there.”
“Please, yes,” Julian said softly. Then he grinned and stepped back as if embarrassed by his weakness. “Bathroom break! Then I’ll tell you what I know!”
“You know who did this?” Kelsey asked him.
“Yes—no. I heard a voice and I saw—”
“You saw what?” Tyler broke in.
“The painting. It was Beast Bradley. I saw him come alive in the painting, and I heard him speak to me.”
Paintings don’t speak! Allison longed to cry.
But she remained silent.
“What did he say?” Tyler asked.
“He said, ‘It’s time for you to die, boy. It’s time for you to die.’”
* * *
Tyler’s team was efficient. After Julian spoke, they moved about, Kelsey running for the restroom, Sean opening equipment and Tyler himself directing the others so they could rearrange the foyer in a way that would allow them to gather there. He thought Allison seemed tense as they shifted things around; Logan noticed and assured her that they were being very careful.
She laughed. “We’re trying to solve the death of a dear friend and I’m worried about historical preservation. I am crazy.”
“We respect that,” Logan said with a glimmer of a smile.
Allison, Tyler was glad to see, had relaxed. She’d accepted the fact that she did see Julian—and that others saw him, too.
That was kind of a pity, he mused. It was nice when she’d seemed to need him for strength. Now, she had her self back. She was confident again. Maybe this was the best scenario; she’d lost the hostility she’d had toward him and his crew. She was part of the investigation now, and that was good. They needed her.
Still, it was really nice when she’d clung to him!
He shook off the thought. Sean had nearly completed their setup of a video monitoring system. And a place where they could all talk had now been arranged. The sofa Allison had slept on was part of the circle, along with a few of the chairs brought in from the dining room and a big wingback that stood near the stairway. Julian Mitchell had chosen that chair. He was either being courteous or playing his part as a colonist; he waited until the women were seated to take his own chair.
Logan nodded toward Tyler, since he was the lead investigator here.
“Julian, what exactly happened? I went to check out the painting. It’s a strange portrait, done by Tobias Dandridge. He must have been an accomplished artist, and he also hated Beast Bradley, that’s for certain. But I didn’t find anything about the painting that would make you think it was alive or that it had moved,” Tyler said.
“I’m telling you, the eyes were looking at me. Of course, the way the damned thing is painted, it always seems to be looking at you. But that afternoon when I sat down, it was…more than that. He was staring at me. And then I heard him speaking,” Julian said.
“Where the hell had you been all day?” Allison asked.
He shrugged apologetically. “Okay, so there was an audition to open for a major concert coming to Philadelphia. They wanted a local band, and we’d made it past the first auditions. I didn’t know until that morning, I swear!” he told Allison. “So I snuck out after lunch. I came back in at the tail end of your last tour, and while you were with one of the kids, I went up to the attic to wait until it was over. I heard everyone leaving and I knew you were locking up, so I slipped down to Angus’s study to talk to you and apologize and suck up. If I could get you to forgive me, the others would, too.”
Tyler saw that Julian gazed at Allison with yearning and hope, praying she’d forgive him, even now. Apparently, she was always the “nice guy,” the one the others turned to, the responsible one.
“Everyone’s forgiven you every single time, Julian,” she said quietly. “This time, of course…well, everyone wants to tell you how sorry they are.”
Julian let out a little sound that was like a sob.
Allison reached over to touch him, but she wasn’t accustomed to ghosts and her hand fell—heavily—through the air. She flushed and said, “We do love you, Julian, no matter what. And remember, none of us is meant to stay on this earth forever.”
“What then, Julian?” Tyler asked.
“I was sitting back in old Angus’s chair, just waiting, and I saw something in the painting. The eyes were alive, and then the painting spoke.... That was when I felt my chin go over the bayonet and I felt this raw agony. My head felt like it had been hit by a hammer. I remember trying to scream but it was impossible. I was cold and then I realized that I was staring at myself and that I wasn’t actually in myself anymore… The room was silent and I looked at the blood on the floor and I knew it was mine. Then everything went black.” He paused for a minute, inhaling on a deep breath. “I heard Ally scream. And I watched as she sank against the door. Then she fumbled in her pockets for her phone and called 9-1-1 and just sat there, crying.”
“Did you see anyone else?” Tyler asked. “After your chin fell on the bayonet and you started bleeding to dea—” He stopped abruptly. “Was there anyone else in the room with you?”
Julian was thoughtful. “Bleeding to death. I’m dead. No way out of it. No, I didn’t see anyone. It was as if I couldn’t look away from the painting.” He frowned. “Wait! I think—I could be wrong—I think I sensed some kind of movement. Someone…skirting around the desk to the door into the music room. There was someone with me!”
“Any idea who it was?” Logan asked him.
Julian nodded. “Well, I guess it had to be Beast Bradley, right? I was looking at his picture.”
“Pictures don’t kill,” Allison insisted.
“Nor do the spirits of those who haunt a house,” Tyler said. “They can create ill will, they can make a place uncomfortable, but they can’t come out of a painting and force your head down on a bayonet. Not that I know of.”
“In our experience,” Logan explained to Julian, “it’s human beings using ghost stories who do the killing.”
“There was something about that painting,” Julian said stubbornly.
“Let’s get the painting,” Allison suggested.
Tyler looked at her, surprised that she was going to condone taking down a historic piece of art.
Then again, sitting next to a ghost could change a person’s mind on what was the right thing to do.
“I’ll go get it,” Sean said. “Carefully,” he added, smiling at Allison.