No, this killer had taken a chance. He’d injured scores of people in that accident—just to kill Sarah Vining.
When he opened the door, he saw Sean watching the screens by himself.
“She’s in the attic with Logan and Kelsey, going through papers,” Sean said. “I’m guessing it’s not good news.”
“Sarah Vining is dead.”
“The crash killed her?” Sean asked.
“That—combined with a copperhead bite.”
Sean sat back. As he did so Allison came running down the stairs. She knew from his face that the news was bad.
Logan followed her down more slowly.
“Well?” he asked.
Tyler shook his head.
Allison stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “She’s dead? Sarah Vining is dead?”
Shaking, she sank onto a step. “But it was an automobile accident. We saw it on the news. It couldn’t have anything to do with what’s happening here.”
He walked over and sat beside her. She wasn’t crying; she just stared ahead, dazed.
“Allison, it wasn’t an accident.”
She looked at him. “I saw it. I saw it on TV. Dozens of cars and people were involved.”
“There was a snake in her car.”
“She was bitten by a copperhead.”
“Yes, but you can survive a snakebite! People survive them all the time.”
“Allison, between the snakebite and the trauma of the crash, she died. She caused the crash—because she’d been bitten by a snake. That’s not an accident.”
“I’ve never heard of a copperhead being in anyone’s car, but I have heard of people finding them in their basements or garages,” she said. Then she gasped, taking in the reality of another death. “Oh, poor Sarah. She was always such a sad little creature.”
“Julian and Sarah. Three days apart. We need to be vigilant. Someone is trying to keep some kind of information from being discovered,” Logan said. He walked around in front of Allison. “I’m so sorry. I know you’ve lost a friend, and now another coworker. This is far more painful for you than we can begin to understand, but the harder we work at learning the truth, the better our chances of saving others.”
“You think someone is trying to kill everyone associated with the house?” Allison asked him bluntly.
“Only people who might know something,” Tyler said. “Of course, we’re speculating, but we’re pretty good at sorting things out. This morning, Sarah was talking about getting back into the office. Maybe she came across some kind of information in there the day Julian died. The board was meeting up there, right?”
The word sounded like a sob. He put his arm around her shoulders, thinking that she might well push him away again—but she didn’t. “Allison, you’ve been hit with a lot. Two friends dead, the ghost of a friend, the appearance of a ghost that looks like you and a man in a coma saying your name. It’s too much to take in. We understand. But I believe you are on to something about the house that someone doesn’t want the world to know. Someone who didn’t care who they killed in that accident.” He paused. “It has to be an employee—or one of the board members.”
“And we’re down one board member and one employee,” Logan said.
“What about the tour groups that were in the house?” she asked. “We might have had someone on one of the tours who was just crazy, or had some bizarre agenda? We can’t watch every person every minute they’re in here. Someone could have slipped away. And that person could have gotten out, too. I hadn’t set the alarm when I found Julian’s body.”
“It’s possible,” Logan told her.
“But unlikely,” Sean said from behind the screens. He came over to them and spoke to Allison. “From what I understand about the boy whose dad is in a coma, the kid’s convinced that the ghost of Beast Bradley likes you, Allison. I think we should try to coax either Lucy Tarleton or Beast Bradley into appearing to you. If you can get close enough to one or even both of them, they might be able to help. You never know what a ghost might know.”
The door opened; Jane and Kat had returned. They were followed by Julian, who was arguing with Kat.
“That was horrible—and completely undignified!” he said.
“Julian!” Kat set her handbag on a side table and turned to him. “If I hadn’t asked that they shave your head, we wouldn’t know that you’d formed a hematoma. A bruise. Someone had cracked you on the head to get your chin into that blade.”
“I told you what happened,” Julian said. “Good Lord, doesn’t anyone listen to me?”
“We all listen to you. And we believe you, Julian,” Jane said, trying to calm him down. “But we can’t go into a courtroom and tell a jury that your ghost told us what happened!”
“As if it wasn’t bad enough to see myself with that…that Y incision!” Julian moaned.
“I told you not to come with us,” Kat said.
Julian saw that the others were watching him. “Okay, so I shouldn’t have gone. But I felt I had to.”
“And,” Kat continued, “we’ve proven that what you said is true. If I hadn’t done what I did, the medical examiner might still be thinking it was an accident.”
“You asked him not to let anything out to the press yet?” Tyler asked.
Kat nodded. “Of course.”
“A sound and decent guy?”
“The M.E. on Julian’s case was a woman. She’s about sixty, and I believe she’ll be extremely discreet,” Kat said.
Julian walked over to Allison. “See? I told you I was murdered.”
“I didn’t disbelieve you,” Allison told him.
“We’re going to solve this,” Jane assured Julian. Then she paused, looking at the others. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“I called you. Didn’t you get my message?” Logan asked.
Jane fumbled in her pocket. “We didn’t have our phones. I didn’t think to check for messages.”
“There was a huge pileup on US1,” Logan said. He went on to explain that he and Tyler had gone to the site, and that Tyler had accompanied Sarah to the hospital.
And that Sarah had died.
And the way she’d died.
“We have to move fast on this,” Jane murmured.
“You’ll have to get me in to the autopsy,” Kat said urgently, addressing Logan.
“Sarah is…dead? Too?” Julian asked. “And it was made to look like another accident. With a snake. Lord, someone’s pushing it. I’m really sorry about Sarah. I’m still really sorry about me.”
“My condolences, Allison,” Jane said. “But…we need to figure out what’s going on. I can play with the different paintings and pictures, and see what I can learn by doing that.”
“Are you going to get started now?” Logan asked Jane.
“Yes, unless you need me for anything else?”
“No, I’d like to see what you discover.”
“What do you think you’ll discover?” Allison asked.
“The truth,” Jane told her.
Allison smiled at that. “The truth about…”
“The past owners of the house and those who dwelt within,” Jane said. “You’ll see, and I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating.”
“Do you need help setting up?” Sean asked her.
“You can grab the box with the printer and scanner,” Jane said. “I’m going to set up shop in the grand salon.” She turned to Allison. “Please don’t worry. I have protective covers for the table.”
“You know, I’m not worried about artifacts anymore,” Allison said.
“I’m going to do some sketches, photos and comparisons of the paintings in the house. If anyone wants me, that’s where I’ll be.” She shrugged, smoothing back her hair. “Well, whether you want me or not, that’s where I’ll be.”
“Kat, get Kelsey—she’s out in the yard. If we’re lucky, you can reach the records office before they close and at least start seeing what you can dig up. I’ll spell Sean at the screens so he can get some rest.” Logan looked at Tyler, and Tyler looked at Allison.
“We have to get back into the office and sort out those papers,” he said. “But before it’s too late and too dark, I’d like to see the rest of the grounds—through your eyes. I’ve been wanting to do that and circumstances keep getting in the way. Let’s do it now. I’d like you to show me the stables and the family graveyard.”
“All right,” Allison said slowly.
Julian shuddered. “Graveyard! I think I’ll sit with Jane for a while.”
“As long as you don’t drive me crazy!” Jane warned him.
Julian grinned at Allison. “I woulda had a big crush on her!” he said. He spoke lightly, but she saw the sadness in his eyes. She wanted to give him a warm hug filled with comfort but, of course, she couldn’t. And he bent down instead as if he was trying to hug her. “It’s going to be okay, Allison. Maybe Sarah…maybe she’ll be like me. She’d love to stay in this old place forever. She adored the house.”
“That’s not helping me, Julian,” Allison said.
“Whoa, I’m sorry, not the right thing to say. Okay, well…hmm. I guess I’ll go ‘haunt’ the gorgeous Jane.”
“You were gorgeous yourself, my friend,” Allison told him. “You were.”
He smiled wistfully at her and turned to head into the salon. Sean stood and stretched, and Logan took over his seat.
“Shall we see the property now?” Tyler asked.