The trip back to Mountain Ridge was quiet. Lisa had been sedated. Dorothy felt as sad as her mother. She was too plain; her uncle, new aunt and new cousins were too elegant. Though she knew those two girls had done their best to be nice, they were still ashamed of these hick relatives. Dorothy had noticed the awkward glances around the restaurant to see who might be looking. At least she didn’t think anyone had ever told those girls that she was born with a tail.
They dropped Vonnie off at Almasy House. “My goodness the place is still standing,” Vonnie said trying to sound cheerful. “I was afraid it would fall down without me here.” Her car stood in the driveway. She would get home to her farm later that day or if Almasy House needed her she would stay. This trip to Jack’s wedding had been her first vacation since she took the job of managing the restored house.
Lisa broke her silence as soon as Dylan and Dorothy were inside their house.
“My brother, the jigolo. Who would have guessed?”
Dylan ignored her.
“No wonder he’s so wealthy. She supports him. All that nonsense about being a consultant. He just lives off the Nigger.”
“Stop it. I won’t have you talking like that.” Dylan finally had it.
“It’s the truth. And he’ll bring danger to us all. Wait until the Klan burns our house down.”
“They treated us decently,” Dylan reminded her.
“They were ashamed of us. I didn’t go to the wedding, did I?”
“You caused a scene.”
“Huh. They took one look at us, at our cheap clothes and run down shoes, and they didn’t want us there. Dorothy’s a freak. If you can’t see that you’re the only one.”
Dylan went to her and shook her. He wanted to slap her face.” Never call that little girl a freak again. You understand.”
“She’s a freak like her daddy.” Lisa yelled.
Dylan wanted to slam her against the wall, but he forced himself to calm down. Instead he walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
Bobby Kowalski had been on the road driving an 18 wheeler since five a.m. He had stopped in a bar in Pembine, Wisconsin where he drank more than he intended. The bartender, a pretty brunette, took him home, but tossed him out a few hours later. She said her husband would be home in an hour or two. He bought himself a cup of coffee, ham and eggs at a bus stop down the road and then decided to keep driving.
The law said he couldn’t drive this rig more than ten hours in a 24 hour stretch. He was over that, but his bosses didn’t care. They liked it when he brought a load in early. He looked at his watch. He would be in Mountain Ridge by 5 p.m.
The roads were still slippery from the blizzard, but he had driven on winter roads before. The ice didn’t scare him; he accelerated.
Emil was playing solitaire with a deck of cards while Mary fussed about his kitchen.
“Pa, you need to hire a full-time housekeeper,” she said.
“Costs too much,” He laid one card on top of another and then turned over another.
Dylan came in without knocking, a habit he retained from when he lived there. Emil didn’t care. All of his children were welcome.
“How was the wedding?” Mary asked. “Do you have any pictures?”
Dylan’s reply was to burst into tears. Mary hurried over with a linen napkin and wiped his face.
He finally blurted out the story. “Lisa got all upset. We had to leave right after it was over.”
“I remember Lucinda Rinaldi Davies,” Mary said. “She was beautiful and nice.”
“I worked for her dad for years,” Emil said. “The best boss anyone could have.”
“You remember a couple of years ago when it came out they’re Negros?”
“A bunch of lies if you ask me,” Emil huffed. After a minute, he said. “I don’t care if she’s a Martian. I always liked her dad and heard and saw good things about that girl. If you ask me, Jack Brianka marryied way above his station.”
Mary turned to Dylan. “Too bad you didn’t get a half decent wife like Lucinda Davies,” she said. “What ever possessed you to marry that crazy woman?”
“For a long time I felt kind of crazy myself. What with what happened with Elaine and and” he sobbed “and some of the things I saw in the war.”
“Dylan, you have the worst luck with women.” Mary poured her dad and brother each a cup of coffee. “Just when I thought nothing could be worse than that Elaine demon, you came home and wanted to marry a crazy.” Mary was winding up to give her brother a large piece of her mind. “We warned you, brother, dear.”
Emil hushed her. “You leave Dylan be. He’s made some bad choices. But now we have to figure out how to get this new one, this Lisa, out of the family. I’ll call a friend of mine. He’s a divorce lawyer.”
Dylan blinked tears from his eyes. “Pa, I can’t. She’s sick.”
“Good, we’ll have her put back in Newberry. If you ask me, she never should have gotten out. How did she get out?”
“Jack and Vonnie signed her out.”
“Ain’t they responsible?”
“She’s my wife.”
“We gotta get you out of this marriage,“ Emil insisted.
Mary was nodding yes.
“What about Dorothy?” Dylan asked.
“We’ll take care of her. I raised three daughters. I can help you raise yours,” Emil decided. Mary had three children, two of them daughters. Dorothy would always have a home.
Dylan kept shaking his head. “The Briankas will fight this and Lucinda’s a Brinaka now. That pits a lot of money and influence against us.”
“They ain’t got nothing to say about you getting out of a rotten marriage,” Emil insisted. He was stirring himself up into a real anger. Dylan was his gentlest, kindest son and this woman was tearing him down. That would stop.
“It’s Dorothy, they’ll fight for.” Dylan said. “I don’t want to lose my little girl.” “I thought you said, Lisa didn’t want the kid. Any mother who says her little girl was born with a tail should be strung up and shot.”
“Lisa’ll use Dorothy. She already told me that. I can’t leave her because then I’ll have to leave Dorothy. She calls Dorothy a freak, but if she has to, she’ll hang onto her.”
A half hour later Dylan got in his car. He wiped his eyes and started the ignition. He hated his marriage, but he loved his daughter. He was already divorced once. He just couldn’t divorce another woman. As bad as Lisa could be, he would stay with her.
The snowbank to his right was so tall he could barely see over it.
He backed out of the driveway. He heard the 18 wheeler put on its breaks. Metal screamed.
The truck driver, Bobby Kowalski saw the car slowly pull in front of him. There was no way he could stop in time.
In 1960, candidate John F. Kennedy visited Mountain Ridge. He and his wife, Jacqueline, stayed at Almasy House. Vonnie was nervous. Everything had to be perfect. Lucinda came back to town to greet her old friend, Jacqueline Kennedy. She and Vonnie showed the elegant couple to their rooms.
No one had forgotten that Lucinda was Black, but even the Klan behaved when the Kennedys were in town. After that brief campaign visit, Lucinda joined the Kennedys on their airplane, the Caroline, and flew out of town with them.
“You should have gotten their autographs,” Walt grinned when she saw how excited Vonnie was.
“I didn’t want to impose. They were guests here. Did you see that gorgeous suit Mrs. Kennedy was wearing? I’m a lifelong Democrat,” she declared. “I voted for FDR.”
“What’s that ‘I Like Ike’ ticket doing at your farm?”
“I liked him too. Oh, all right. I did vote for Eisenhower, but I’m back to being a Democrat.”
Dorothy swung gently on her tree swing that her daddy had made for her and enjoyed a John Byrnes novel her Uncle Jack had given her. Penny skipped up to her.
“Guess what.” Penny had the “Detroit Free Press” with her.
“What?” Dorothy said.
“Where do you think your Uncle Jack gets his money?”
“I don’t know?”
“I said I don’t know,“ Dorothy looked away and then said, “He’s got a rich wife.”
“You don’t think he’s a mob guy? Lots of people say your uncle is connected.”
“No.” Dorothy didn’t really know what to think?
Penny opened the news paper and stuck it on top of her friends’s book. It was an article about the author John Byrnes. and there was a picture.
“That’s my Uncle Jack,” Dorothy said.
“He’s John Byrnes, the writer. You mean your mother never told you.”
It didn’t take much digging to figure out who Dorothy’s Uncle Jack really was. The book copies he gave his family lacked pictures of the author, but if they had looked carefully at the autographs, they would have seen that John Byrnes, the best selling mystery writer was really Jack Brianka. Jack used connections he made in prison to get his stories. Some of his friends may have been mob guys, and it seems they fed him the stories he wrote.
Who am I to judge? I am a shop lifter, breaker and enterer, liar, snoop.
Usually I keep my secrets to myself, but it gave me some satisfaction to tell Dorothy. Her eyes popped out. She grinned. She likes John Byrnes novels; she loves her uncle.
What can I say? I don’t do many good deeds. This was a first.
Dorothy was pretty upset then about her dad’s accident. She needed some good news.
Elaine finally got around to cleaning out Jeff’s papers. They sat in boxes in her closet for years. Then one day, she decided they had to go.
She opened a box and started sorting the papers. She found a copy of Rose’s will and some of Jeff’s back tax filings. She found a letter from Louis Almasy, and she skimmed it. Something about his wife arranging a Ku Klux Klan attack? Why would Rose do that? Of course, Rose was a bigot. Everyone was. Jeff had a whole file on Rose that included a copy of a Rose’s daughter’s birth certificate.
Elaine saw nothing of interest to her, and took the box to the curb the night before garbage pick up. She then went into the house, changed into a robe and slippers and fixed herself a cup of hot chocolate.
She picked p a “TV Guide” and looked over the evening’s programs. “The Price is Right,” and “The Andy Griffith Show” and “I’ve Got A Secret.”
She was ready to turn on the set when she looked outside. A little girl on roller skates sat at the curb reading Jeff’s papers. Elaine got up and went outside. “You, Little Girl. Stop that. Put those papers down.”
Penny Payton looked up, saw the woman in hair curlers and fuzzy robe.
“Put those down this instant,” the woman yelled.
Penny tucked the box under her arm, stood up and rolled away as fast as her skates could take her.
Elaine really should have paid more attention to those papers. She should have burned them. But Penny rescued them. They became one of her prize possessions.
Elaine never knew what she had thrown away.
Emil had a series of heart attacks and died in 1961. Mary bought dozens of newspapers, clipped for the obituary and made sure everyone had a copy.
“Mountain Ridge, Michigan, December 21, 1961, Emil Mynter, age 79, died at Memorial Hospital yesterday. He is survived by seven sons, three daughters,and by several grandchildren.”
The will was read a week later. The savings accounts were placed in a family trust with Mary as President and Elsie as Vice President. The problem was that most of those accounts were kept secret to all except his two oldest daughters.
“Pa always wanted us to bring Alice in.” Mary said. Alice was the younger sister.
Elsie disagreed. “The more people who know about Pa’s wealth, the more questions will be asked. We don’t want anyone to know he found that money.”
They were seated at Mary’s kitchen table. Here the sisters, Mary and Elsie, had often counted money, invested and planned gardens and meals.
Mary made coffee and as always she made it too strong. “Family members know he was wealthy. They’ll have questions anyway, and they will want to be included in the secrets.”
Elsie shook her head. “I don’t trust some of the daughters-in-law. Can we trust Alice’s husband?”
“We’ll just tell them that Pa left money for family emergencies.”
“They’ll all want to know how much.”
“Then we have Lisa Brianka to deal with.”
Mary threw up her hands in frustration. “Too much. Too much.”
“We have to keep our secrets,” Elsie concluded. “We have to protect Dylan.”
Mary nodded “And Dorothy. Don’t forget Dorothy.”
“She’s as weird as her mama.”
“Lisa doesn’t want that child.”
“We should have found a way to get her after Dylan’s accident.”
The sisters went back and forth with worries about Lisa and Dorothy, but in the end they knew what they had to do.
The big news at Almasy House was that Lisa was getting out of jail.
When I visited Dylan Mynter at the hospital, the nurses were talking about Lisa Mynter.
“What on earth made Miles Olson think he could get a conviction?”
“She could have murdered that kid.”
“Probably wouldn’t even remember if she did.”
I wondered if they had been talking about Lisa in front of Dylan. I would have to explain things anyway. Surely he had a radio and a television.
He was sitting in his wheel chair paralyzed from the neck down. Dr. Tracie says he can talk if he wants to, but Dylan never says anything. He hasn’t talked in years.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been visiting you more,” I said. I brought him a bouquet of dandelions that I picked on the way to the hospital. Dorothy told me a long time ago he liked dandelions. Dandelions are like fathers, easily trampled, under appreciated.
His eyes shifted toward me. I know he hears me because he looks at me and sometimes he looks away and he always looks sad. I know he blames Lisa Brianka for his condition. He isn’t the only one in town who blames her.
That truck driver was on the road too many hours without a break. Dylan Mynter was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He shouldn’t have pulled out so quickly with those huge snowbanks.
“You know she didn’t do it,” I told him. “If you believed she killed Vonnie’s son all those years ago, why did you marry her?”
He didn’t answer. He never does.
“You’ll be glad to know that serial killer who menaced the area all those years ago is getting strapped to the electric chair next week. Miles went down to visit him.” I was making small talk now.
He tried to make a sound like “Dah”
“I haven’t heard from Dorothy,” I said.
He looked away.
“You want to hear what’s happening to Lisa?”
I saw tears in his eyes, and I didn’t know how to interpret them.
When Lisa was released, Vonnie and I went to the jailhouse. Jack wanted to come and wait in the car, but he agreed to wait for us at Almasy House.
He couldn't let Miles Olson see him. Sure he had a fake identity including driver’s license, fake mustache and beard, but he wouldn’t be fooling Miles.
Lisa’s brother could be tossed back in prison. How much time would he get for violating a parole condition? We were all surprised Jack had not already been arrested. Surely Miles knew he was here.
Vonnie drove Lisa and me home. Danni made baked ham, gnocchi, garlic bread, and camomile tea. Lisa had noticeably lost weight while in jail, and she looked really wretched.
“What happened?” Vonnie asked her when we got to the apartment. “Miles didn’t hurt you, did he?”
Lisa didn’t answer. She just looked at Vonnie like she was remembering something too horrible to put into words.
Lisa sat down and ate and ate. She had not been eating in jail. The food there is probably awful. And she must have been too afraid to eat anything. Yet when Danni had brought food to her cell, Danni says Lisa ate then. It just hadn’t been enough.
The rest of us ate after we were sure Lisa’s plate was full, and she could easily reach for more. Then Danni took Lisa into her bedroom and gave her some sort of a sedative.
Vonnie turned to me. “Make yourself a bed on the sofa. I brought over extra blankets.”
“Thanks,” I said. Somehow I hoped I could escape back to Cheney farm house. But I knew someone would have to stay with Lisa, and we could not impose more on Danni.
Then Vonnie went back to Almasy House. Danni had written out instructions, but she still went over the medication rules with me.
“What about me? I need a sedative,” I joked. Danni didn’t seem to get it. She was in doctor mode and had lost her sense of humor. Anyway, I took the pills and thanked her.
“How is Dylan taking all of this?” Danni asked. “I heard you visited him.”
“Not well,” I admitted.
Jack had already left. Everyone told me to call if Lisa needed anything. They even wrote down their phone numbers.
“I know the numbers.” I said.
Jack Brianka and Ben Fuller poured themselves drinks in the kitchen at Almasy House.
Something had been making Ben uneasy since he first heard about the case. “What about that girl, Penny?”
“What about her?” Jack poured himself more brandy.
“Seems like she’s got more reason to dislike Lisa Brianka than anyone. Do you trust her?”
Jack shook her head. “Nobody trusts Penny. Sometimes I think she’s as crazy as Lisa is.”
“What’s she doing here?”
“Working. She’s one the maids.”
Lisa was in bed; the others had gone home. Channel Six had “Bonanza” reruns I turned on the television with the volume low. When the doorbell rang, I hurried to answer it. I didn’t want anything to wake Lisa up. She could be difficult to handle. Bev came in with a bottle of sloe gin. “Got any orange juice?” she asked.
I nodded and led the way to the kitchen. We poured ourselves generous portions of liquor. “How did you know I was still here?”
“I work at the Yorkie Cafe. I get all the news.”
“How much of that news is true?
“That’s what I’m here to find out.” She glanced at the television. “Little Joe is so cute.” She smiled at the Cartwrights on the television set. "Where is your cat?” She sat down on the couch.
I nodded toward the window sill where Thaddeus and Miss Kitty were napping. “Keep it down; Lisa’s sleeping.”
“So did she do it?
I sighed and considered for a minute. “She couldn’t have killed Little Louis; she was locked in the outdoor john.”
“Yeah, right. Does it make you nervous staying here?”
“I’ve known Lisa a long time,“ I said.
“Have you ever seen her do anything violent?”
I shook the ice cubes in my glass. “You know better than to ask.”
In the bedroom Lisa Brianka stood behind the door listening. Why was Penny still here? She’d cause trouble. Penny always caused trouble. She had to get rid of Penny.
Miles knew he had to kill Lisa. It would be easier now that she had gotten out of his jail.
At least getting away with it would be easier. How could he be expected to murder a prisoner in his own jail? There would be too many questions. And he couldn’t keep her in jail. The evidence was too thin. She hadn’t committed that murder. Sonny had killed Little Louis. And Sonny threatened to talk; it wouldn’t delay his execution, but it would put Miles in prison.
Who knew what Sonny would say before they strapped him in? Sonny wanted Lisa dead, and Miles had to kill her.
The execution was days away.
He had that hippie girl Penny to deal with too. If Penny Payton was going to be a problem, she could be easily dispensed with too.
He knew what he had to do, and he had to do it quickly.
Bev went home after we had shared a few drinks, and watched the rest of “Bonanaza.”
Lisa was in very rough state. I know being arrested for murder is scary, but something else seems to be troubling her. She walked into the kitchen where I was cleaning up.
“They didn’t hurt you, did they?” I asked.
“What do you care?” she asked.
“I work for Vonnie,” I told her. “I get paid to care.” That answer seemed to satisfy her.
Then she said, “There was a hanged man.”
I didn’t say anything Id heard her talk about hanged men before. I knew it was all in her imagination.
“In the jail cell with me.”
“Lisa, I’m pretty sure that you imagined the hanged man there.”
“No. No. No.” She kept repeating it louder and louder each time until it became a scream. When she calmed down, I said, “Let’s see what’s on television,” I picked up the “TV Guide” and began thumbing through its pages.
Lisa said, “I could kill somebody, you know. And get away with it. I’m crazy.” She paused. “You remember that the next time you talk about me.”
The next morning Ben Fuller finished breakfast and then went over to talk to Jack. “I need a favor.”
“Shoot,” Jack said.
“We’re still looking in the tunnels. We found a few bodies in the south side.”
“Maybe that priest was right. He said he saw bodies of murdered women.”
“Thing is some of the tunnels are hard to get to. I was thinking we could go through Almasy House. There’s a door or something downstairs, right.”
Jack nodded. “We keep it locked.”
“We’re working with a few mining engineers from Michigan Tech, and Mary Mynter Smith let us use her dad’s maps. Would you let us use your access?”
“I just hope I don’t have to go in there with you.”
The next morning, Lisa and I came into the foyer as Jack and that police captain were leaving. “Is there a problem?” Jack asked.
“We have a shift starting in 20 minutes.”
“Lisa, why don’t you take a few days off?” Jack asked.
“No,” she answered.
I decided to stand up for her. “She’s not an infant, Jack. She can care for herself.”
“Okay, but if she gets tired, you both high tail it back to the apartment. Watch soaps the rest of the day.”
“What happened to the body?” Ben asked.
“Hmm,” Jack was only half listening. They sat at a table in the corner of the Almasy House kitchen.
“If your dad was lynched, what did they do with the body?”
“Rose had henchmen. Some of them were in the Detroit Mafia. At least that is what I was told.”
“She would have been dealing mostly with the Purples, the Jewish mob. Would they have helped cover an act of such antiSemitism?”
Jack shook his dead. “I don’t know. There were other mobsters who came through here. Capone. Dillinger.”
“They were mob bosses. They weren’t going to get their hands dirty by removing a body.”
“Look, I don’t know. I was a kid remember, and I spent most of my time that night in the cellar. Hiding. I was scared. Do you think I crawled out and watched them?” Jack tossed his cigarette in an ashtray.
“Take it easy,” Ben assured him. I’m just saying. Something is missing from the story. And it isn’t the missing body. That would be easy to dispose of. Something just isn’t jelling.”
“Rose Almasy’s motive.”
Jack just shook his head. There were a lot of answers he didn’t have. “Why was your mother’s funeral at Almasy House?”
“Maybe Mrs. Almasy felt guilty. We didn’t see much of her. And anyway that was when her husband killed himself right there in the house.”
“Were you there then when he killed himself?”
“We heard the shot. Then there was a big commotion. We didn’t see much. Someone told us to stay in our rooms. We were locked in and scared. Lisa had tried to crawl in my mother’s coffin.”
“So Rose Almasy takes in three little children.”
“We were just here until after our mother was buried. And for awhile after that. Something about making arrangements to take us to the orphanage. The Catholic orphanage didn’t want us. We were Jews.”
“From what I’ve heard old Rose was no philanthropist, except for the Catholic Church. And if she hated Jews so much, why did she take in three little Jewish kids even if it was for just a few days or a week?”
Jack shrugged. “I stopped trying to figure out people in this town a long time ago.”
Louisiana State Prison
Sonny’s time was limited. He knew his extensions were running out. Even if he gave them a few more locations of missing bodies, it wouldn’t get him more time. And he didn’t have that many more to give them.
“Get the warden in,” he called to the guard outside his cell.
“Don’t worry. He’s gonna come and see you again before you fry. ” The guard, a kid barely out of his teens with a pimply face and a scare crow skinny body smiled through yellow teeth.
“I got a confession to make.”
“Okay. Okay.” the kid moved away too slowly.
“Tell ‘em to get that Michigan sheriff up here too. He’s gonna need to hear this.”
Sonny grinned to himself. Should he give Miles a warning. The asshole was probably buying a ticket to Argentina right now.
Of course, Ole Miles there in Michigan had an easier action he could take. How difficult could it be to kill Lisa Brianka and that nosey girl, Penny?
Sonny’s execution was two days away. Like most of the rest of the town, I was keeping up with the story in the newspaper. We were part of Sonny’s story. He had performed his most dastardly deeds in and around Mountain Ridge.
I had lunch at the Yorkie Cafe.
“I had an aunt who disappeared in 1937,” an old timer was saying. “She might be buried in one of them there tunnels.”
“They about through taking bodies out?”
“Ain’t gonna be another stay of execution, is there?”
At least they weren’t talking about the Briankas. Or asking me questions. I finished my sandwich and coffee and walked back to Lisa’s apartment where Yvonne Cheney was doing a crossword puzzle on the kitchen table.
“How’s Lisa,” I asked.
“Sleeping. You could eat here, you know. I don’t like leaving Lisa alone.”
“So fire me. I’m supposed to be the maid here. When did I apply for the job of baby sitter?”
“I need you, Penny. Lisa doesn’t do well with most people.”
“She doesn’t do well with me.”
“I know,” Vonnie said and left.
Mary Mynter Smith was in the museum when I went back to work at Almasy Houee. “Penny,” she called to me, “I need to see you.” As usual she was dressed immaculately in a gray business suit. Mrs. Smith is tall and has a dancer’s posture.
She took a seat behind the main desk at the museum. “I wish you would look for those missing records. We’ve got an author writing the history of Almasy House. He wants to see the marriage and death certificates for Rose Almasy. He thinks her daughter might still be alive.”
“Missing records?” I tried to look puzzled.
“All the early records concerning the Briankas, seem to be missing too. Birth records, their parents’ marriage records.”
“I’m sure they’re here,“ I said.
“It’s odd. They disappeared from the courthouse too. And I don’t know if we ever got around to copying them here. But we must have. You were in charge. You copied most of them.”
“I copied what was there,” I said truthfully.
“Penny, you don’t have any idea where this records are, do you?”
“They don’t have anything to do with the Mynters,” I reminded her. It was a clear stall. I hoped she didn’t see that.
“They belong to the town, not to you.” she told me.
“Look, I’m too busy now. I don’t have time to go around looking for missing birth certificates.” Would that be the end of it?
“Penny, how far will you go to protect the Briankas?”
It wasn’t the Briankas I was trying to protect. Did I have to remind her that her dad’s fortune may not even belong to the Mynters or that some secrets were best hidden in my boxes of stolen treasures.
When Miles came back to the office from patrol, his dad was waiting for him. “What’re you doing here. dad?”
“I’m interested in what’s happening. Those serial killers were operating on my watch.”
“What do you mean, killers? It was just Sonny Cain.”
“There were two of them. The Medical examiners are saying the strangulations are different. Some of the women were stabbed.”
“That don’t mean it wasn’t the work of just one man. Cain confessed.”
“And he’s still saying he’s got more to tell before he fries. He wants you down there.”
Mills sat down at his desk. “Wouldn’t be surprised if old Cain did try to take someone with him. Can’t take the word of a killer.”
“How about the word of a medical examiner and some detectives from the crime lab?”
“They going to delay the execution again?”
“He’s had about all the delays he’s going to get.” Leo said.
The two men were silent for awhile. Then Leo grabbed his hat. “Sure would like to know who Cain is covering for.”
“He ain’t covering for nobody. If there was another killer operating here, he’s long gone.”
Leo smiled slightly. “Wouldn’t that be something if he were right here in town. Right under our noses.”
Leo knew he should want to find the other killer who had terrorized his town. Trouble was he thought he knew who the killer was, and he hoped he was wrong. The old man closed the door.
I put in almost a full eight hours cleaning rooms. My salary is still tripled because I’m caring for Lisa. But I wasn’t working extra hours to pad my paycheck. After my shift I spent an hour in the museum.
“Well, Miss Nosey,” Lisa said when I got back to her apartment.
“So I seem to have to a new name.”
“You have lots of new names,” she told me. “You know things, don’t you. About my family. About me.”
“I’ve heard the same gossip everyone else hears. I’m just smart enough not to believe it”
“Lisa, did you know the man in Louisiana? The one they’re about to electrocute.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. This killer gives me the creeps. It scares me that’s all. You and Vonnie were here all that time he was targeting young women.”
“I miss Dorothy. She never comes to visit,” Lisa said. “Maybe you can get her visit.”
“I think I have a better chance of getting her cut off her big toes.“ I said. “Anyway I don’t see Dorothy anymore either. Lisa, she hates this town.”
“You made her hate it. You made her hate me. You were always telling her, how awful I am.”
Miles knew that if he was going to kill Lisa it had to be tonight. Norm wanted proof that Lisa was dead. Otherwise Norm would make a last confession, and Miles knew what that meant. He had been with Norm on more than one kill. Now Norm said he had proof. Just the accusation would probably be enough. What proof could there be?
Weren’t those fancy cops at the crime lab saying there was more than one killer? He’d be looked at too closely if Norm made accusations.
Norm still had time to give details. Convincing details.
Lisa was watching “The Price Is Right;’ the cats were curled up together sleeping. I decided I could take a short nap. I went to Lisa’s room, closed the door and laid down on her bed.
The doorbell rang and kept ringing. Why wasn’t Lisa answering it? Reluctantly I got up and started toward the door. But the door flung open. Vonnie stood there. “Where’s Lisa?”
The television was still on. McCloud wore his big cowboy hat, and he was solving some crime. “I don’t know,” I confessed. “She was here.”
“We’d better find her,” Vonnie said and hurried out the door. When I caught up with her, Vonnie was already in the parking lot. The front desk clerk had seen Lisa walk past heading toward the kitchens. Vonnie and I went to the kitchen. It was empty. But the cellar door was open.
“Why would she go down there?” I asked.
“Lisa’s always been afraid of the dark. She wouldn’t go down there. I asked her to do some work down there once. She refused.”
Vonnie and I walked down the stairs. I tried not to remember that this was where Jeff Hollander died. The furnace looked like the body of a beached whale. Tool cabinets sat on the other side. Walt worked here most days. She wasn’t here now. The door to the tunnels was wide open.
“She wouldn’t go in there,” Vonnie said.
“Call the police,” I said, “I’ll go in after her.”
“You’ll get lost,” Vonnie said.
I grabbed a flashlight and box of soda crackers off Walt’s desk. “I’ll leave a trail.” I said “I’m not going very far in there. Don’t worry.”
Vonnie nodded and hurried off.
Inside the tunnel was black. It reminded me of a carnival spook house I had been in once. Dorothy and I had hurried through it. She kept screaming. I kept my cool.
“Lisa,” I crept further into the tunnel. “Lisa.”
“Over here,” she called back in a childlike voice.
I crumbled a cracker, and dropped the crumbs. I hoped Walt kept fresh batteries in her flashlight.
“Lisa keep talking. You can guide me with your voice.”
I stopped and crumpled up another cracker. Then I moved forward again. I crumbled another cracker.
I shouted louder, crumbled another cracker and moved forward. Then I heard her sobbing and moved toward that sound.
She was sitting against the wall of the tunnel with tears streaming down her face.
“Lisa, it’s okay. I’m here.”
She kept sobbing. She made no attempt to get up. I reached for her hand to pull her up, but she pulled me down beside her. “Vonnie is getting help. She’s calling the police.”
“They won’t come. Miles is the police.”
“She’ll call the state police, not the sheriff’s office. Ben Fuller is staying at Almasy House.” I reassured her.
“Miles will take the call. He’ll come and kill us.”
I tried to hush her. “No one is going to hurt us.”
She looked at me like she didn’t know who I was. “Dorothy,” she said.
She just stared at me. “Where’s Dorothy? What happened to her?”
“I don’t know, Lisa. What made you cone down here?” I asked.
“I heard a cat crying.”
“Lisa, there can’t be a cat down here.”
“I heard it.”
“If he got in,” I said, “he can get out. The cat will be okay. Now let’s leave. “I started to stand up, and I pulled her up with me.
Then I heard a click. I have never heard a gun cocked except on television. I grew up watching westerns, so I knew the sound.
Leo held a flashlight in one hand, a gun in the other. “Did Vonnie call you?” I asked.
“I met her on the stairs. I told her I’d find you.”
“Thank you,” I said. Then I turned to Lisa. “Other officers should be here shortly. We can go now.”
Leo had not out the gun down. “Vonnie, the queer one,” he said. “She was going to get others. Unfortunately she had a little accident. Fell down the stairs, just like Jeff Hollander did. Hit her head pretty hard.”
“She tripped on the stair. Could happen to anyone.” He still held the gun pointed toward us.
“You killed her?”
“She tripped, Dorothy.”
“My name is Penny,” I said.
“Penny is your doll and your imaginary playmate. You wanted everyone to call you’ve Penny since your dad’s accident.”
“No,” I wasn’t ready to be Dorothy again. I never wanted to be Dorothy.
“Help us find the cat,” Lisa said. “There’s a cat lost down here.”
“He’s going to kill us” I said. “He can’t have any witnesses.”
“Such a smart little girl,” Leo said “Nosey little Dorothy.”
He pointed the gun right at Lisa. She made a small gasping sound.
“Tell me why.” I demanded. “Why are you killing us? Your little escapade with the Klan killing her father, my grandfather, that’s forgotten. Anyway I think you tried to stop it.”
“I did. I pulled men away. I tried to get to the man before he swung. I didn’t know my son and his friend were in the bushes. They watched. Those boys were only ten years old, and they watched.”
“It turned them both into serial killers.” I said. I had suspected it for awhile.
“I shouldn’t have let it go on.”
“Why did you?”
“At first, I didn’t know. Didn’t believe it. Then I wanted to turn him in. He’s my son I couldn’t do it.” He pointed the gun at me this time. “Sonny wants Lisa dead. It’s the price he asks for his silence. He won’t turn Miles in if Lisa dies.” He nodded to where the tunnel wound left. “Start walking. Both of you.”
When Miles arrived at Almasy House, he saw the lights on in Lisa’s apartment. That hippy girl, Penny was probably there. He’d have to kill her too. He removed the gun from his holster, and checked the gun. Then he put it back.
A gun was too noisy. There was bound to be a scarf or towel laying about. He could get the job done.
He started up the drive to Lisa’s apartment.
“So what are you going to do? Beat us to death and then say there was some kind of a cave in? Is that what you’re going to do? It won’t work. The autopsy will show…”
“Shut up and start walking.” he barked.
Lisa and I just stood there. If he was going to kill us, why not just do it there where we stood?
“I’ve got handcuff’s and there’s a chamber back there. I’ll wall you in.”
So we would die like a character in an Edgar Allen Poe novel, imprisoned with no chance of escape. “Then how will you prove to Sonny that you killed us? I asked.
He waved the gun toward the tunnel where he wanted us to go. I gripped the sides of the tunnel. I’d find a way to get a handful of sand. I’d toss it in his face.
Instead something shot out of the darkness and hit Leo’s wrist. He dropped the gun and then clutched his wrist like a gunfighter who has just been outdrawn in a television western. He reached for a second gun in his vest pocket. A second missile came and this time Leo fell over like a sack of potatoes tossed aside.
Jack Brianka rushed toward us. He held Lisa in his arms as she cried. Behind him stood Ben Fuller, the police captain holding a gun.
“Where did you guys come from?” I asked letting my breath out.
Jack explained that he and Captain Fuller were finishing dinner at the Almasy House dining room when they saw Miles creeping around outside. “We decided we had better find out what this is all about.”
“What is it about?” I asked.
“You know about that convict down in Louisiana? The serial killer who was working Michigan highways.”
I nodded. “He used to be one of you guys,” I said to Captain Fuller. “He was a state trooper.”
“We’re not real proud of that. It took us awhile to figure out who the killer was. Then he got caught down south. We kept in touch with Louisiana authorities. We always knew Sonny had help. We knew there were two killers.”
“Miles was the other one. Leo just told us. “I didn’t add that I had already put it together.
“They were always good pals.” Lisa said. “We used to call him Sonny, but his real first name was Norm. He was there hiding in the bushes when my pa was…you know….”
“I know,” Captain Fuller said.
“If you knew Miles was a serial killer, why didn’t you arrest him?”
“We needed some proof. We’ve been reading and deciphering Norm’s communication. We got a professional cryptographer, a guy who worked in the war, and we’ve been reading Sonny’s mail. He wanted Miles to kill Lisa and you, Penny.” The retired trooper smiled. “Or is it Dorothy.”
“I can be Dorothy,” I said. Lately it didn’t matter so much anymore if people knew I was a crazy lady’s daughter, and if some people said I was born with a tail.
“Anyway, we got Miles. He was arrested a few minutes ago. Norm says it was Miles who killed the little boy Louis all those years ago. Miles is saying it was Norm.”
Lisa started crying, “I knew it was them. All those years ago, I knew it was them. I heard their voices and their laughter. I knew it was them. But I was so afraid of them.”
“It’s okay, Lisa.” I said.
Leo had indeed tripped Vonnie on the stairs. He had knocked her out and probably planned to come back and kill her. She went to the hospital, and stayed overnight for observation, but she was all right.
It was Walt who noticed the cellar door open, and who found Vonnie on the steps. Walt ran for help and found Jack and Captain Fuller, who had just arrested Miles.
Leo’s body was removed from the tunnels. What possessed him to try and kill us? Did he really think he could protect Miles.
I took Lisa back to the apartment, and then went back to my box of treasures. Say what you want about me. I am a thief, and a liar, but I don’t destroy the truth. I keep it, protect it.
I pulled out a collection of index cards and copies of birth certificates. The originals are at the state capital in Lansing. I had stolen these copies from the museum and from the courthouse when I was copying birth and death records. These records revealed something everyone in this town had forgotten. Jeff Hollander knew, but he was long dead.
There were copies in that box of papers I took from the curb outside Elaine’s house. Also in those papers was Louis Almasy’s confession, mailed to Jeff Hollander the night Louis shot himself.
Had Hollander lived, he would have wanted these records destroyed. I am not sure why he kept them as long as he did. Perhaps at one time, he thought he could blackmail Rose if he needed to.
Almasy House and Rose’s bank accounts should never have passed into Hollander’s possession.
It was time for me to tell the truth.
“What’s this,” Lisa asked picking up a sheet of paper.
“It’s a birth certificate for Martha, your mother. I made the museum card, but didn’t put it with the other cards. I stole the birth certificate from the courthouse.” I confessed. Lisa looked confused. I explained. “Your mother’s maiden name was Martha Almasy. She was Rose Almasy’s daughter. Martha was a beautiful head strong girl who married a penniless Jewish miner.
“Rose wanted her daughter back, and she hired the Klan to scare her husband out of town. They scared her daughter to death instead; the Klansmen were so drunk, they didn’t know what they were doing. They lynched your father, just like you always knew they did. You saw it happen.”
I paused and let Lisa take in some of this information. It was just Lisa and me. Uncle Jack had gone to the hospital to be with Vonnie.
“Why would she do that?”
“Prejudice,” I answered. “Hate. Anyway it set in motion a lot of really bad things. Two very young boys saw the lynching, and it made them crazy. They for some reason seemed to enjoy the killing. They became hunters, killing animals and when that wasn’t enough for them they started targeting young women. They became serial killers.”
By law, Uncle Jack shouldn’t have had to buy Almasy House. It should have gone to you, Vonnie and Jack as an inheritance after Rose died. But then he bought it for back taxes which he would have had to pay anyway.”
Lisa smiled. “Penny,” she said, “Someday all that snooping of yours is going to get you in trouble.”