She was surprised when she reached out to touch the picture, as if she were actually reaching out to touch Winona Hart’s face.
And she was even more surprised by the electric sizzle that streaked along her arm when she made contact with the paper.
“I’m so sorry,” she caught herself saying aloud. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t know how I can possibly help you.”
Then, feeling like a fool, she looked around and hurried down the street, walking quickly now, since her lunch hour was definitely over.
A year ago, the usual had all been done. Jennie Lawson had made a cell phone call to her mother when she had landed. That was the last call she had made, though her cell records and voice mail showed a long list of calls coming in, from her mother—growing more frantic with each message—and various friends who had hoped to make it to St. Augustine to meet up with her. The friends all had alibis; none of them had ever even come to St. Augustine, because they had never been able to contact her.
She had last used her credit card at the car rental agency, and no one had accessed her bank account since her disappearance, so presumably she hadn’t been killed in the course of a robbery for financial gain.
She had left with her rental car and, as Harold Sparks had suggested, disappeared as thoroughly as if she had been beamed up by an alien spaceship.
But that hadn’t happened. Which meant that someone, somewhere, had to know something.
Caleb stopped at a few gas stations on his way back down to St. Augustine, but she had left the rental agency with a full tank of gas, so it was unlikely she would have stopped at any of them. Still, despite what she’d told Mina Grigsby, she might have stopped for a soda or a cup of coffee, even something to munch on or a more detailed map of the area than the rental agency had provided.
A tedious and time-consuming canvas of local businesses was likely to get him nowhere. Still, it had to be done.
If he were visiting St. Augustine for the first time and was anxious to find out the best things to do, the local tourist agencies would be a logical place to start. There were several, not to mention the booking offices for all the hearse tours, carriage tours, tram tours, walking tours and train tours.
He pounded the pavement with Jennie’s picture in hand, and at each stop he was told that no, they hadn’t seen Winona. Each time he explained patiently that this was a girl who had disappeared a year ago.
Finally, toward the end of a long and frustrating day, he entered a booking office offering a variety of tours and went through the usual spiel.
“This isn’t the girl who just disappeared. This girl’s name is Jennie Lawson. She came down a year ago on vacation and disappeared. We think she might have been looking to take a ghost tour,” he explained for what felt like the thousandth time.
The young guy manning the place frowned, taking the picture again. He looked at Caleb, then studied the photograph again.
“Wow. They really could be the same girl, except—” He broke off, his face wrinkled in concentration.
“I can’t tell you how many tourists come through here,” he said apologetically.
“It’s okay, I know that. I appreciate you trying,” Caleb said.
“I’m thinking about what she might have looked like with her hair up, and I’m thinking I just might remember her. Because she was asking about the scariest, spookiest thing it was possible to do. Naturally I told her all our tours are great, it just depended on what she was looking for.”
Caleb waited, tension filling him at the possibility of a break in the case, as the kid remained silent, studying the photo.
At last he said, “I think I do remember her, but her hair wasn’t down like this. She’d put it up, because of the heat and all.”
“Do you remember what tour she decided on?”
“She didn’t. She took all the brochures and said she’d be back, that she’d probably take several of them. It really is uncanny. Those two girls, they really could be the same person.” He looked up at Caleb again. “I’m sorry. I wish I could be more help.”
“You have helped. More than you can imagine,” Caleb told him. “Thanks.” He gave the guy his card, asking him to call if he thought of anything else, and left.
The sun was setting, and his feet hurt; it felt as if he had been walking around forever. But thanks to the kid at the tour office, at least he had some new information and an avenue to explore. Because the kid was right. The missing women didn’t just fit a general type. They looked so much alike that it was uncanny.
Whoever had taken Jennie Lawson was the same person who had just snatched Winona Hart. He was sure of it. And the trail leading away from Winona’s last known whereabouts would be much warmer than that of the one leading away from Jennie’s.
He was going to find the person behind Winona’s disappearance, and when he did, he would also find out what had happened to Jennie.
He started back toward his B&B then changed direction.
Five o’clock had come—and gone. Businesses—and museums—would be closed.
And the locals would be headed for Hunky Harry’s.
Caleb stood still for a long moment, remembering, as he watched people moving past him on the sidewalk, how Adam Harrison had asked him if he’d gotten a feel for anything. The tram was running a block away, and he could hear the conductor talking about Henry Flagler and the beautiful hotels he had built.
A cannon boomed from nearby Ft. Marion.
A horse-drawn carriage clip-clopped by, and a cloud slipped over the sun, casting the area into shades of silver and gray. The facades of the old Spanish buildings seemed to catch hold of the resulting shadows and recede back in history.
Had he gotten a feel for anything…?
Yes, Adam, I have.
I have a feeling a very old house whose walls have been hiding hundreds of bones is somehow connected to what’s been going on here.
Not only that, but I have a feeling that its very beautiful owner is somehow—innocently, I’m sure—connected to the mystery, too.
Hunky Harry’s it was.
Sarah was tired and aggravated, and longing to get home.
While the morning had gone well, everything seemed to have gone to hell while she’d been gone for her lunch break.
The news about her house had gotten out, turning her world upside down.
The bones had been pretty much the only topic of discussion that afternoon. The receptionist had done nothing but field questions and interview requests from dozens of radio and television stations, not all of them local, which really amazed her. Even the visitors to the museum had heard about the discovery and wanted to talk about it; local history had flown right out the window.
When the first reporter had called, Sarah had taken the call. The man’s questions had all been about ghosts and haunted houses, and how did she feel about living with ghosts and wasn’t she afraid? After that she’d refused to come to the phone and ended up with a stack of messages that were all variations on that original theme.
She opted to work in the bookstore, leaving the lectures to Caroline, Renee and Barry, because that way, at least, when she faced the same ghoulish questions over and over again, she wasn’t interrupting history to answer.
“We’re heading to Hunky Harry’s, just for drinks,” Caroline told her as they closed the doors at last. “And you need a drink more than any of us. My parents said you should take a few days off, by the way.”
Sarah stared at her friend, dismayed. “They don’t want me here?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Caroline assured her. “They don’t want you pestered to death.”
“Well, tell them thanks, but I don’t want to take any time off,” Sarah said, then almost immediately thought better of it. She did want time off. She wanted to uncover the truth. She didn’t want other people telling her about her house. She wanted to do the research herself.
“Come have a drink and then see how you feel,” Caroline suggested.
“Okay, but I’ll have to meet you there. I just want to run by the house, see what’s happening,” Sarah said.
“I can go with you,” Caroline offered.
“No, I’ll be all right. You go with Barry and Renee. You should be with people—preferably including a big strong guy—right now.”
“Why?” Caroline asked, startled. Before Sarah could answer, she said, “Oh. Right. You’re worried because I’m a blonde with big blue eyes, and the hair and eye color of both girls were the same—as noted in the news reports.”
“It never hurts to be careful,” Sarah said.
“And,” Caroline added, a smile teasing her lips, “you want to be alone with your precious…mortuary.”
“It’s not a mortuary anymore, and it’s not likely I’ll be alone,” Sarah told her. “I just want to see what’s up. You go on, and I’ll be right there.”
“You’ll bail on us,” Caroline said.
“I won’t. I swear,” Sarah promised.
Oddly enough, Sarah found herself hoping that the people prowling her house would be done for the day and really, they should be. After all, what needed to be done had mostly been done the night before. They had brought in Floby, they had taken a thousand pictures of the bones in situ, and they had used special equipment to check the rest of the walls to see if they, too, were hiding something, so they wouldn’t have to tear her entire house apart.
“Okay, okay. I’ll walk over with Renee and Barry, swear,” Caroline said.
“Is Will going to be there?” Sarah asked.
Caroline blushed, nodding in answer to the question.
“I feel like kind of a fifth wheel,” Sarah said.
“Never. So don’t you dare bail,” Caroline told her.
“I won’t, I won’t, Scout’s honor,” Sarah said.
“As if you were ever a Scout,” Caroline countered.
“If I had been a Scout, I’d have had tons of honor badges. I’ll be there, promise.”