Tyler said hello to the two men, both of them friendly in their response. Obviously, Ethan had decided that any disagreement had no place in a social situation of this kind. Cherry smiled benevolently.
“Cherry’s husband is talented, isn’t he?” Pierson said.
“Very,” Tyler agreed. “He makes me think of the paintings at the Tarleton-Dandridge House. Both of those oils of Beast Bradley were painted by men with real skill.”
“George loves those two paintings,” Cherry said. “You have to tell him you see something similar in his work.”
“Just curious, but I’m sure you read in the paper that the young boy whose dad is still in a coma believes Beast Bradley came alive in that painting in the study,” Tyler said. “Have you ever felt or seen anything unusual about it?”
“It reveals a lot of bitterness,” Ethan said. “But then, it was painted by Lucy Tarleton’s brother-in-law, who had reason to hate Beast Bradley. Apparently, Tobias had been an up-and-coming artist before the war, but that was his last painting. He was injured in the right arm by a musket ball just before the battle of Yorktown. That painting was done immediately after the British left Philly, and he never painted again. There are a few of his prewar pieces in museums, mostly in New York.”
“But it’s just a painting,” Cherry said. “I was saddened to hear about the man and his son. When something terrible happens, there has to be a reason, even if we don’t understand it. To a young impressionable boy, I can easily imagine it might be that painting.”
Tyler nodded and changed the subject. None of them seemed convinced that the painting was evil. He thought they were genuine; he could usually sense an outright lie.
“Cherry, do you know Martin Standish?” he asked.
She flushed slightly. “Who?”
“A historian named Martin Standish.”
“I’ve never met him,” she said.
“Have you ever spoken with him?”
The others were glancing from Cherry to him in confusion.
“Yes, I’ve spoken with him,” she said defiantly. “He writes dreadful articles about the Tarleton-Dandridge House and my family. I’ve called him and warned him to stop.”
“Cherry!” Ethan admonished.
“Ethan, the man is a fruitcake. He has some deluded idea about being an expert on the Revolution and he writes a lot of nonsense with no evidence whatsoever.” She faced Tyler. “Why?”
“Oh, I was just curious,” he told her. “I’ve read a few of his articles.”
“They’re trash. And lies,” Cherry insisted.
He smiled at her and turned back to the others. “Did you know that Sarah was actually killed by a snake?”
Ethan Oxford looked at him gravely. Of course he already knew.
“A snake?” Pierson seemed skeptical.
“What are you talking about?” Cherry asked. “And please, hush, this is uncomfortable as it is. We should have canceled tonight, but we couldn’t.”
“There was a snake in Sarah’s car. It bit her. That’s why the car went out of control,” Tyler said.
“A snake—in her car?” Cherry shuddered. “What kind of snake?”
“A copperhead. And yes, please keep this quiet. The police aren’t letting out any information about the cause of the accident yet. It’s still under investigation.”
“Copperheads are plentiful in the woods,” Nathan Pierson said, shaking his head. “I’ve heard of them getting into people’s homes, but a car? How unusual.”
Cherry shuddered again. “The poor dear! I can’t imagine.... Oh, I’m so sorry.”
With a quick farewell, she walked away. “Have you ever had an encounter with a copperhead?” Tyler asked the men.
“Yes,” Oxford said stonily. “I’ve told you. I’m a hiker.”
Pierson laughed. “Me? No. If I found a snake, I doubt if I’d even know what kind it was. I’d call the animal experts in a flash!” He sobered, looking at Tyler. “Poor Sarah. She was such a timid little creature. It’s even more horrible to think about how terrified she must have been before she died. Excuse me. I’m going to go and say hello to that group over there.”
As he left them. Ethan Oxford frowned at Tyler with open hostility. “My friends don’t go around planting snakes in people’s cars!”
“I apologize if I’ve offended you, Mr. Oxford. But you did call Adam in.”
Ethan sighed. Tyler walked with him as he moved toward one of the paintings; to a casual observer, it would look as if they were discussing it. “Yes, I called Adam in,” he said quietly. “But I thought you people could…perform an exorcism or something.”
Tyler shook his head. “We don’t perform exorcisms, so I don’t know what you were really hoping for. Truth? Well, it’s hard to fathom what’s happened in this house. The first ‘more recent’ death occurred in the late seventies. Accident? Who knows? A man fell down the stairs and broke his neck. But eight years ago a college student was electrocuted by a system that should never have failed the way it did. Three years ago, you had a guide die in the study, someone who died in exactly that same place as Julian Mitchell. And now a man has fallen into a coma after visiting the house. There’s a pattern here and it has to be stopped.”
Oxford turned to him. “It’s the ghosts, don’t you understand?”
Tyler was startled, taken aback by the man’s desperate appeal.
“The ghosts there kill people. They do. I’ve heard from others…who’ve told me the painting of Bradley is evil. I couldn’t say that in front of Nathan and Cherry. And I certainly couldn’t tell it to the regular cops. But you know the ghosts are there, and you have to…make them go away.”
“Mr. Oxford, the ghosts may be there. I pray they are, and that they help us. Because a ghost didn’t go out in the woods, capture a snake and put it in Sarah’s car. And a ghost didn’t smash Julian Mitchell’s head down on a bayonet. Someone living, probably in this room right now, did those things. And we’ll find out who it is.”
Tyler nodded politely and excused himself, walking back to where the guides were gathered with members of his Krewe.
“I wish Sarah was here. I’m going to miss her,” Jason Lawrence was saying. He raised his plastic wineglass. “To Sarah.”
“To Sarah,” they all repeated, raising their own glasses.
As they spoke, Tyler noted that Julian, a ghost still clad in Colonial attire, was in the gallery, wandering in their direction. Allison saw him and smiled.
“And Julian,” Allison added.
“And Julian,” they all chorused.
“An entertaining guy, even if he was an irresponsible ass,” Jason said.
Julian frowned. He waved a hand, which went right through Jason’s glass. But he tried again, and this time, Jason’s champagne spilled on his shirt.
“Wow, that was clumsy!” Jason said.
“Julian!” Allison remonstrated.
The ghost grinned. The others stared at Allison.
“Julian, uh, he was a good guy,” she said.
“Yeah, and maybe he really would’ve gotten us all backstage passes to some really great musical acts,” Annette said.
“I can’t believe I’d just left the house when Julian died, and that I was walking around with a tray of beer mugs when I saw the news about Sarah on TV,” Jason said. “It all seems so…hard to grasp. That I missed Julian’s death by minutes and that I was doing something so…ordinary when Sarah died.”
“I was asleep, mourning my lack of work,” Annette told them.
“It’s a wonder no one else was killed in that accident,” Logan said, “and a blessing.”
Adam Harrison arrived then. Tyler noticed that he spent most of his time with Ethan, although in typical Adam fashion, he moved around the room and seemed to make everyone in it feel comfortable.
Tyler’s mind raced. Cherry had made the call to Martin Standish. Ethan had been in the woods.
Jason had been at work. But how long had he been there? Had he just started his shift? He wasn’t going to ask Jason; he’d ask Evan McDooley.
Nathan Pierson denied any knowledge of snakes.
Annette didn’t have an alibi; sleep had never been one.
Allison and the Krewe went back to the Tarleton-Dandridge House, where they discussed the evening, pointing out the merits of the various suspects.
It came time for bed at last. Tyler reminded Allison to keep her door ajar so he could hear her and watch out for her.
Kelsey gave a loud sigh of exasperation.
“What, you think we’re all blind?” she demanded. “Keep Allison really safe—stay in the same room. Don’t bother with this pretense. Lord, please, spare us from those who think we’re idiots and don’t know what’s going on!”
Tyler looked at Allison.
She laughed. “I don’t think any of you are blind or idiots. I’ll get my things,” she said to Tyler.
He felt like a college kid. But Sean had already waved good-night, and Jane and Kat had gone into the room they were sharing.
“See you in the morning,” Logan said, shrugging as if to disavow any connection with his fiancée’s outburst.
He walked into Lucy Tarleton’s room. A moment later, Allison joined him.
And all he could do was smile.
Allison caught herself humming as she went down to shower the next morning. Everyone knew where she’d been all night, but they all seemed pleased that she and Tyler were happy in each other’s company, or they didn’t consider it any of their business.
She met Logan in the kitchen after her shower. He brought her a cup of coffee and asked, “Allison, what’s in the second article by Martin Standish?”
“I printed it out after I talked to him yesterday,” Allison said. “It’s an interesting piece on the conflict of loyalties in the colonies. Many people wanted to stand up for their rights—no taxation without representation—but they didn’t want to split from the mother country. Of course, most schoolchildren know that a lot of those Loyalists either returned to England or went to Canada. The article talks about the way we tend to think of Philly as a city that was occupied. We forget that there were people here who accepted it, saw it as a done deal. They gave up their loyalty to the fledgling United States and welcomed the British. Angus Tarleton was no spring chicken when they occupied the city. According to the Standish article, he was old and tired and wanted to live out his life in peace. Most of their friends tended to sympathize with the patriot cause, and, whether it was official or not, Lucy had been with an ardent patriot, Stewart Douglas, who’d left to fight with the American forces. But, as Standish points out, there’s no mention of Stewart Douglas having been at Valley Forge. Some historians suspect he was going in and out of Philly, stealing supplies, listening for information and secrets. But whether or not he saw Lucy before her death, no one knows. The article hints that Lucy might not have been pretending her affection for Beast Bradley. There’s no question that she started out using him for whatever information she could gather for the forces, but she might have fallen in love with him and suffered serious conflicts because of it.”