“Local tradition has it that tossing pennies on Ben’s grave brings financial good fortune.”
Logan grinned. “Well, that kind of contradicts that proverb of his—a penny saved is a penny earned.”
They all laughed. Tyler asked, “Did you have a great-great-great-whatever fighting in the Revolution?”
She nodded again. “William Peter Leigh. He survived the war and lived to the ripe old age of eighty-seven. He’s at Christ Church with his two wives, several of his children and their children. My mother’s from a more recent wave of Irish immigrants. They came to New York during the Famine and then made their way over to Philadelphia.”
“It would be interesting to find out more about your family,” Logan murmured.
Allison shook her head. “I know what you’re trying to do, but as Tyler said, I’m a historian, and I’m familiar with my own family background. I am not related to the Tarleton or the Dandridge families. The Philadelphia Department of Records has my dad’s family history generation by generation—and a lot of what’s in the Department of Records can be verified by church records. Same with the Tarleton family. Angus Tarleton had two children, Lucy and Sophia. Lucy died, and you can trace the Dandridge family, as well. The name died out with Cherry Addison’s mother.” She sipped her iced tea. “But I’m not sure why this is relevant. You tell me that what was done to Julian wasn’t done by a ghost. So how can the past matter so much?”
“It might and it might not,” Logan said vaguely. “We’ll see.”
“When we get back into the office, I’d like to keep going through the papers and records that were thrown around up there.” Tyler smiled at her. “I’d also like a better tour of the property.”
“You mean the stables and the graveyard?” Allison asked.
“Yes. I looked around quickly when I first arrived, but there’s nothing like a good tour—with a knowledgeable guide.”
As he finished speaking, Jason and a few other servers appeared with their meals. “Careful if you’re driving out on the highway,” he told them. “There was a massive accident on US1.”
“That’s awful,” Allison said.
“They’re just showing it on the television up at the bar,” Jason was saying. “It looks like at least ten cars are involved and two trucks have turned over. I’m afraid there are going to be some fatalities.”
Allison slid out of the booth and followed Jason over to the bar. A reporter was at the scene of the crash, and she saw a twisted mass of steel on the road. One car had flipped and fallen on another. One truck was on its side, another stretched across the road, forming a barrier.
Staring at the tangle, she gasped. “Jason, that car—it’s a blue Volvo.”
“Yeah,” he said.
They were thinking the same thing.
Sarah Vining drove a blue Volvo.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Jason said. “There must be a lot of blue Volvos in the Philly area.”
“Sarah said she’d always drive a Volvo because it was the safest car on the road,” Allison whispered.
“Yes, and it is a Volvo, so even if Sarah’s in that car, I’m sure she’s going to be okay.”
Allison noticed Tyler standing next to her and saw that he had his phone out. He was speaking to someone who could zero in on the license plate and pull up the vehicle records.
She and Jason waited anxiously as he spoke. He grunted replies, finished with a terse “Thanks,” and snapped his phone shut. He looked from Jason to Allison.
“The car does belong to Sarah Vining,” he said. “From what the police have determined so far, Sarah was the one who caused the accident.”
While Logan spoke with officers at the accident scene, Tyler found the ambulance bearing Sarah Vining to the hospital. After showing his I.D., he was permitted to join the EMTs. The siren was blaring but he could make out what they were saying behind him.
The EMTs were troubled, speaking urgently with doctors while en route, doing their best to save the woman.
The Volvo she had so depended on had stood her in good stead; she had slammed into one of the trucks and her air bag had inflated to protect her.
But while cars continued to slam into one another around her, Sarah had done the unthinkable—she had stumbled out of her car. She’d been hit by another vehicle and hurled several feet in the air.
Sarah lay bruised and broken with an IV in her arm—unresponsive to anything that was said or done to her as the medical techs strove diligently to keep her alive.
When they reached the emergency room, she was immediately wheeled in.
Tyler wasn’t allowed entry, but he identified himself to the emergency room doctor and told him he’d be waiting for any information or any possibility of talking to the woman. While the doctor seemed surprised that a federal agent was so determined to see a vehicular accident victim, he agreed as he hurried off.
Tyler paced the waiting room. He’d been suspicious of the woman just before this happened. And he was still suspicious—although no longer of Sarah herself.
He wanted to know what would cause the woman to lose control of her vehicle as she had. And why in God’s name would she crawl out of the car?
More victims from the accident arrived at the hospital. It was controlled chaos as those with the severest injuries were treated first and the triage nurses worked at a record pace to see that everyone was taken in according to need.
Tyler followed one of the EMTs outside, where the man had just leaned against a wall to draw a deep breath.
“Is everyone in?” he asked.
The EMT nodded. “Twenty-four people. I’m praying they all make it. One guy was bleeding like a sieve. There were a few children…but I think they’re going to be okay. A broken arm, a few bumps and bruises, trauma from air bags. It’s been a rough day.” He offered Tyler a weak smile. “No one at the morgue yet, though, and we thought we’d see a lot of dead.” His eyes narrowed. “You have a family member involved?”
“A friend,” he said. “I’m glad to hear that, so far, everyone’s hanging in.”
He went back to the emergency waiting room and sat down beside a woman with her arm in a makeshift sling, hoping for a chance to ask her what she’d seen without looking like an ambulance chaser or a voyeur.
He didn’t have to worry; she just started talking. “It was unbelievable!” she said, turning to him with wide eyes. “The woman in the blue Volvo was in front of me, driving, and then she threw her arms up and started screaming. A few seconds later, she veered into the next lane, crashing into a truck and spinning into me! Then another car hit the truck and another car hit me.... Why on earth would she suddenly do that? Oh, my God, I’ll never forget the sound. It was awful, just awful…the screeching of brakes, the cars all slamming together. Were you there?”
“No, I wasn’t. I’m so sorry for everyone who was hurt,” Tyler told her.
“I’m alive!” she said. “It’s a miracle.”
“But you did see the woman driving. And she was fine at first, and then…”
“It was as if she went crazy. As if she was struck by lightning or possessed by a demon or something. I knew to get away from her but it was too late—it all happened so fast!”
Tears appeared in her eyes. Tyler placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Thank God you’re all right,” he said sincerely.
He saw the doctor who’d been with Sarah Vining when she was wheeled in.
Tyler excused himself, stood and walked over to him.
“I’m sorry to tell you this. Ms. Vining was declared dead about four minutes ago,” the doctor told him.
“Her injuries were that extensive?” Tyler asked, feeling deep pity for the woman, and a sense of loss. He also felt the tension of needing to find out how she’d died.
He knew she hadn’t just “gone crazy” and caused the accident. Waiting to hear what had happened was like waiting for a hammer to fall.
“Snakebite,” the doctor said.
“What?” Tyler asked. “Snakebite?”
“The EMTs were at a loss because they couldn’t see the bite. There must’ve been a snake in her car. A copperhead? They’ll know for sure when they’ve finished the autopsy. She was bitten. The bite probably caused her to lose control of the car. Her other injuries led us astray at first, and between the trauma of the accident and the poison…Ms. Vining succumbed.”
“Thank you. Where will she be taken?” Tyler paused. “You’re sure? She was bitten by a snake?”
“Look, I still have people here to see, but check it out for yourself.” He nodded to one of the nurses in the hall. The young man came forward to direct Tyler into the room where Sarah Vining lay on the operating table.
Tyler touched her—she was still warm. But she looked dead. Her face was ashen and gray, and bruises were beginning to show on her flesh. She’d been a tiny woman; she now looked shrunken, almost as if she were being mummified with each second that passed.
“Bite is just above her knee on the inner thigh,” the nurse told him.
Tyler moved the sheet. There was no doubt that she’d been bitten by a snake. The wound had begun to blacken and go raw before she’d died.
“Thank you. She will go to autopsy, right?” Tyler asked.
“It’s the law.”
He left the hospital and returned to the Tarleton-Dandridge House, suddenly anxious to be with Allison again.
He knew there was a killer now. A killer who had procured a copperhead—easy enough in the woods nearby, or even in barns and basements—and put it in Sarah’s car.
The killer had taken chances. Sarah might have seen the snake. If she’d been able to speak long enough, she might have told the emergency rescue personnel she’d been bitten. And if they’d given her the antidote along with their other life-saving techniques, she might have survived.