She was glad of Kelsey’s company.
“If I’m not heading to Valley Forge today,” Allison said as they reached the attic office, “I’d like to stop by my place for a few more things, if someone can come with me. And, maybe, a long, hot shower.”
“I’ll walk over with you.”
“Thanks.” Allison sat down at the computer and keyed in a search for Martin Standish articles. She found the second one he’d written on Lord Brian “Beast” Bradley and printed it out. Then she called Martin, but had to leave a message.
“I’ll have to wait for him to call back,” she said.
But even as she spoke, her phone rang. She was surprised that Martin Standish had called her right back—and that he was angry. “Allison Leigh, from the Tarleton-Dandridge House!” he spat out. “If you’re calling to tell me you plan to embarrass me with some kind of news story or sue me for slander, you’re full of it!”
“What?” Allison said, stunned. “No, no, Mr. Standish, we’ve only corresponded on email. Do you remember? I admire your research very much. I’m eager to see you and learn more about the letters and information you have.”
There was a distrustful silence on the other end. Then he asked, “You didn’t call me and threaten me?”
“Never! I swear it,” Allison said. Kelsey was looking at her, perplexed.
“Mr. Standish, I take it that someone did call and threaten you, but it wasn’t me. When did this happen? Do you know who it was?” Allison asked.
Kelsey was watching her, trying to hear both ends of the conversation.
“It was a woman. I thought she was you,” Standish muttered. “She said she was with the Tarleton-Dandridge House and she was appalled by the traitorous slant I was putting on the patriots of the house. And if I didn’t stop, she’d see that I did.”
“Mr. Standish, I’m sorry. I guarantee that call didn’t come from anyone with the right to make it or to say such things. You and I have corresponded, and you know I’m intrigued by your information and theories. Actually, I was calling because I was hoping you’d take a few minutes to see me tomorrow,” Allison said. “You have to believe me. That was no official stance taken by anyone at the Tarleton-Dandridge House.”
He sniffed over the line. “Well, I didn’t think it was you—not based on our email correspondence. I hear you’re having all kinds of trouble there. A guide killed himself on a bayonet like an idiot, and one of your board members died in that awful accident yesterday.”
“We need your help, Mr. Standish,” Allison said simply.
“Everything I’ve written is online.”
“Yes, but your letters aren’t. And I’d like to see the other objects in your collection.”
He was silent a minute. “All right. Two o’clock. I’ll give you the address to my shop and my little museum,” he told her. “Be on time, or forget it.”
Once she’d hung up, Allison repeated the conversation to Kelsey.
“He said it was a woman who called?” Kelsey asked.
“Sarah Vining is dead.”
“Yes. That leaves Cherry Addison,” Allison said.
“Or Annette Fanning,” Kelsey reminded her. But she didn’t press it.
* * *
Officer Alfred Crosbie from animal control had the snake in a terrarium.
A big terrarium.
It was a big snake.
“I’m sorry to say we’ll have to kill the creature and do a necropsy if we’re going to tell you anything about it. Not that I can tell you much—just what kind of food it’s eaten, such as wild catches or pet-store-bred mice or rats. I do believe, however, that we’re looking at a copperhead someone managed to catch in the wild,” Crosbie told Tyler. “See, look at the snake closely. The skin’s a little rough. An animal kept for research or as a pet—don’t know anyone who keeps a pet copperhead, but some people are crazy—wouldn’t be as beat-up as this.”
Crosbie looked mournful at the idea of killing any creature. But by now, the police had concluded that there was something suspicious about the snake being in the car.
“Where did you find it?” Tyler asked him.
“Coiled tight under the driver’s seat,” Crosbie said. “We’re lucky he didn’t get out and slither away in all the commotion. But a snake has instincts, and he just hid. That’s what creatures do. Shame to kill this one, but I’ll let you know as soon as our vet gets the necropsy done.”
Tyler thanked him. As he left the impound area, he started back toward the house but then paused.
He made his way to Ethan’s grand old mansion. Oxford’s housekeeper showed him into the study and he waited there for Ethan to arrive.
The older man wore a casual sweater, apologizing for his appearance. “Forgive me. I’ve been on the phone. I’m devastated by Sarah’s death and, I’m afraid, she had no family. She asked me ages ago to be the executor of her will. Her body’s still at the morgue, but I’ve been receiving calls about the legal status of her property.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Oxford. And actually, Sarah’s death is why I’m here to see you.”
He sat down at his desk, suddenly looking very old and confused.
“Sarah died in an accident,” he said. “She nearly killed dozens of people. I can’t begin to imagine what happened to her.”
The hospital had not released the results of Sarah’s death. For once, it seemed, there’d been no leaks.
“Sarah caused the accident and died because of a snakebite,” Tyler explained. “And I’ll ask you not to share that information.”
Oxford looked even more confused. “A snakebite?”
“Yes, sir. There was a copperhead in her car. And we believe it was put there intentionally.”
Oxford stared at him as if he were speaking another language.
“You and the board members are friends, obviously, since you’re handling Sarah’s estate,” Tyler said.
Oxford nodded, waving a hand in the air. “We have many similar interests. We all love the house and Philly and…art, music and so on.” He sighed. “When I agreed to be Sarah’s executor, I never figured I’d outlive her.”
“What do you think of your fellow board members?” Tyler asked.
Oxford was offended. “I think they’re fine human beings! I know I’m the one who asked Adam Harrison to bring in a team, but you’re way off base if you believe any member of the board might have anything to do with this. I’ve known them for years.”
“And they’re all fine, upstanding citizens of Philadelphia, ardent supporters of the history of the city and the city itself,” Tyler said mildly.
“Yes!” Ethan exclaimed. “There was a tour going just before Julian Mitchell was found dead. You need to be looking at outside sources.”
“We are. But outside sources don’t know the house the way your board members and guides do. If you’re right, you can help me clear those people, and then maybe we’ll find another direction to go in.” There was no other direction; he knew that. Oxford didn’t.
Ethan let out a long sigh. “What did you want to ask?”
“Is there anything you can tell me about the board’s activity in the past few weeks?”
“Yes. Such as, has anyone been on a hunting or hiking trip out in the woods? Has anyone become involved with a magic shop or illusions of any kind?”
The man’s face seemed to grow red as Tyler spoke.
“Yes,” he said, “actually, someone has been on a hiking trip.”
“Me,” Oxford told him.
* * *
Kelsey tended to be soft-spoken, but Allison was pretty sure she had a strong, tough edge, since she’d been a U.S. Marshal before joining the unit.
She wished she was as strong.
“I think I’m going to take shooting lessons,” Allison said as they left the attic.
Kelsey grinned. “It’s not a bad idea to be acquainted with firearms, but it’s a skill that came along with what I wanted to do. Hopefully, the world isn’t so horrible that we all need to spend our days at a shooting range.”
As they headed along the second floor landing to the staircase, Allison said, “I hear you’re engaged. Congratulations. Is it hard working with Logan?”
“Thank you, and no, we work well together. We’ve had a few bumps along the way, of course. I remember thinking that I wasn’t happy about the ‘unit’ situation when it first came up, but then…things happened. When we’re working, we’re working. Our private time is private. But we’re kind of like the marine corps in our philosophy. No man—or woman—left behind. So we’re all protective of one another. Logan and I…we manage.”
“What about the others?” Allison asked. “How do they manage their relationships?”
“Sean was in special effects before he joined the unit, so he and Madison have a great deal in common—and they can both sleep on a plane. Which is good, since they’ve been a continent apart. Things are easy enough for Kat, since she and Will have an apartment in Virginia.”
“Jane was in love with a cop who was killed in the line of duty a couple of years ago. She dates casually, but I think it’ll be a while before she’s ready for another serious relationship. She’s seeing a suit in Washington now.”
“Another federal agent—but he’s in the tax division,” Kelsey said, grinning.
“Oh. How does that work? I mean, does he have your…skills?”
“No. We don’t say much when we’re around him,” Kelsey told her.
“So, you all live a pretty normal life?”