He nodded. Unsure why he was so comfortable sharing with her, he admitted, “Yes, I found the body. I wasn’t there looking for her—whoever she is. I came down here to look for a girl who disappeared a year ago. The police aren’t officially connecting her disappearance to Winona Hart’s—not yet, anyway—but I’m sure there’s a link. Actually, I don’t think the cops even believed they had a possible serial killer until I found the body yesterday.”
She nodded knowingly. “Too often we don’t see what we don’t want to see, I’m afraid.”
“Well, what I’ve discovered so far is that the two girls who are still missing were both fascinated by ghosts and the occult. They were both looking for more than the usual ghost stories. So far, I have no idea where Jennie Lawson, the girl I’m looking for, was when she went missing, but Winona Hart disappeared from a beach out on Anastasia Island. No one saw her leave. The police have pretty thoroughly investigated the other kids who were out there that night, and I don’t believe any of them had anything to do with Winona’s disappearance. The only possible suspect I’ve discovered so far is a woman calling herself Martha Tyler of Cassadaga who was talking to Winona earlier in the evening.”
“And you don’t believe I was out on that beach that night?”
He cast her an apologetic smile. “You don’t look like a hippie in your thirties or forties.”
“I’m ninety,” she said, smiling. “My last birthday party was a hoot.”
“I’m sure it was,” Caleb said. “But this is serious. That woman was handing out your cards, with your address here in Cassadaga.”
“Business cards are very easy to print. And I suppose it’s still a point of amusement that there’s a Martha Tyler in Cassadaga.” When he looked at her curiously, Martha gave a decisive nod and explained. “My name is the same as that of a ‘witch’ who lived in St. Augustine over a hundred and fifty years ago. She didn’t call herself a witch, of course. In fact, I don’t think she called herself anything at all. Back when I was a little girl, kids up here in the north of the state had a nursery rhyme of sorts about her. ‘Martha Tyler, Martha Tyler, trust me, child, there’s no one viler. One, two, three, four, whatever you do, don’t open her door or she’ll see you buried far under the floor.’”
“That’s quite a story. I appreciate you helping me,” Caleb said, finishing his tea and dusting cookie crumbs from his fingers. “Thank you,” he said, taking her hand to say goodbye.
She smiled, then surprised him by turning his hand over to look at his palm. “Looks like I’ll be doing a palm reading after all,” she said, laughing. Then she turned serious and looked closely at his hand. “You need to stop doubting yourself,” she told him.
“I’m actually known as a pretty confident guy,” he said lightly, but he didn’t pull his hand away. Her grasp was unexpectedly strong for a woman her age, he realized.
She looked up into his eyes and smiled. “It’s the fear in you that’s holding you back. No, no—don’t get defensive,” she said when he started to object. “You’d risk your life for someone else. What you’re afraid of is risking your mind, but you shouldn’t be. Let your imagination go. Don’t demand a logical, provable explanation for everything. If you…just open your mind, you’ll find the answers you need. Don’t be afraid of being judged, don’t be afraid of the opinions of others. Let yourself be you.”
“Thank you. Good advice,” he said.
“It’s only good advice if you take it,” she told him, then frowned suddenly, and her grip on his hand tightened. “Someone you care about is…in danger. She’s very close to the situation. Too close. And you need to stay near her. Everything is connected. She’s treading too close to the truth, and…you need her if you’re to see this situation through.”
He pulled his hand away, startled by the wave of electricity shooting between them as she spoke.
“Look, Martha, I’m not the doubter you seem to think I am. I work for a man named Adam Harrison, who—”
“Adam Harrison?” she said, clearly delighted. “I don’t know him myself, but I have friends who speak very highly of him and the work he does.”
“Good. Then you’ll believe me when I say I know a number of people who…who believe they communicate with spirits, and I have to admit, they’ve solved some pretty impossible mysteries through whatever it is they do. So—”
“Her name is Sarah McKinley,” Martha said.
“The woman. And don’t worry, it’s just a simple deduction,” Martha said. “In the nineteen hundreds Martha Tyler was the housekeeper at a mortuary. Sarah McKinley owns the old place now. I’ve seen it on the news—they found skeletons in the walls,” she said. “You do know the young woman, right?”
“And you’re close to her.” It wasn’t a question.
It was impossible to be closer, he thought, then wondered how Martha had known. Definitely more than simple deduction going on there.
He gave himself a mental shake. This was getting a little too weird.
“We’ve become pretty good friends,” he said, wondering just how much this woman saw with her brilliant blue stare.
“The future is always and only what we make of it,” Martha said. “So please open your heart and soul to everything that’s possible—and even impossible. I believe that there’s a deep evil sweeping over us right now. Be careful, very careful.”
She stood, and he realized that she had said her piece, had done what she could for him, and now she was done and ready for him to leave.
He rose, as well, both glad that he had come—it was interesting that this woman’s name was the same as that of the long-ago witch but more crucial to know that she wasn’t the woman who’d been on the beach that night—but also sorry he had come, because she had unnerved him by urging him to open his mind and explore his abilities further. And by making him afraid.
She wasn’t a blonde and that made her safe, she’d joked, but the woman whose body he had found on the beach had been a brunette.
This was not a killer—and now there was, beyond a doubt, a killer—who selected his victims by the color of their hair. He was selecting them by his—or her—ability to charm them into the woods or into a back alley…or off the side of the road.
He was selecting victims with an interest in the paranormal. Women who wanted to be afraid.
“Martha, it was a true pleasure to meet you,” he said. “Thank you. And since I did make an appointment and take up your time, of course I’m happy to pay you whatever you normally charge for your time.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” she said. “But I hope I’ve helped you with your investigation, and I can’t charge you for that. I would feel guilty.”
“Then I sincerely thank you again,” he said.
She watched from the porch as he pulled away. Even as his car rounded the corner, he knew that she was still watching him.
And he couldn’t forget the electric current he had felt when she held his hand. It was almost as if truths hidden in the shadows of his own soul had come surging forward, drawn by her words, her power.
Open your mind, she had said.
He really didn’t want to.
And he didn’t want to feel so…unnerved by this encounter. At least it hadn’t been a total dead end, even though she clearly wasn’t the woman he was looking for, a woman who had somehow known that this Martha Tyler existed—and probably also about the odd coincidence that the name of a modern-day Cassadaga medium was the same as a so-called witch who had lived almost a century and a half ago.
As he drove, he realized that he needed to call Jamison; he had promised to keep the lieutenant up-to-date on what was going on with his investigation, which was only fair, since the police had given him every bit of assistance possible.
But when he picked up his cell phone, he felt a strange chill shoot along his spine.
Sarah was in danger. He was sure of it.
He punched in Sarah’s number, glad that he’d thought to copy it from her cell that morning, but she didn’t answer, and the chill came back, more powerful than before.
Martha Tyler’s words haunted him.
Someone you care about is in danger.
He told himself it was probably nothing, but he couldn’t help it. He needed to make sure she was all right. She’d been at the library, but the library would be closed by now. So where was she, and why wasn’t she answering her phone?
Was it possible to care so much about someone when they weren’t even in your speed dial yet?
Maybe she had already gone to Hunky Harry’s, and she couldn’t hear the phone over the noise in the bar. Maybe she’d forgotten to plug in her phone, and her battery had died.
There were a dozen perfectly logical—and perfectly safe—maybes, and he told himself he was being ridiculous to panic because of the words of a medium he’d never even met before today.
He called Tim Jamison, who was out of the office on personal time, though he could be paged if there was an emergency. Caleb passed and tried Will.
But Will hadn’t heard from Sarah yet, and since he and Caroline were already at Hunky Harry’s, that put paid to one possible explanation of her whereabouts.
“Will, can you try to find her?” Caleb asked.
“Sure, but where are you?”
“On the way back, but still a ways away.”
“Where have you been?”
“I’ll explain later. I’m just uncomfortable, not knowing where she is.”
“Does she usually give you her schedule?” Will asked.
Caleb almost smiled at Will’s protective alpha male persona, then said seriously, “Will, I can’t reach her, and I’m worried.”