Getting up and going to work the next morning wasn't too easy, but it was reassuring. I caught myself humming in the shower and I put on more eye shadow than usual, but my denim skirt, striped blouse, and braided hair felt like a comforting uniform. Lillian and I were mending books in a windowless back room all morning. We managed to get along by swapping recipes or discussing the academic prowess of Lillian's seven-year-old. Though my part of this discussion consisted only of saying "Oh, my goodness," or "Ooh," at the appropriate moments, that suited me. I might have children myself one day - maybe stocky blond ones? Or big-nosed giants with flaming hair? And I would certainly tell everyone I met how wonderful they were.
It was good to get up from the work table and stretch before going home for lunch. I'd been so slow getting up I'd had a scanty breakfast, so I was pretty hungry and trying to visualize what was in my refrigerator as I twisted my key in the lock. When a voice boomed out from behind me, I wasn't frightened, just aggravated that I wasn't going to get to eat.
"Roe! Teentsy said you'd be coming in about now! Listen, we got a little problem in our place," old Mr. Crandall was saying.
I turned around, resigned to postponing food. "What's the little problem, Mr.
Mr. Crandall was not eloquent about anything but guns, and finally I realized that if I was to understand the problem Teentsy was having with the washer, I'd better go along with him.
It wasn't right to feel put-upon; after all, this was my job. But I had been looking forward to eating without Lillian's voice droning in my ears, and since it was Wednesday, there should be a new Time in my mailbox. I sighed quietly, and trudged across the patio in Mr. Crandall's wake. The Crandalls' washer and dryer were in the basement, of course, as they were in all four units. There was a straight flight of rather steep stairs down to the basement, open on one side except for a railing. I clopped down the Crandalls' stairs, Teentsy Crandall right behind me telling me about the washer catastrophe in minute detail. When I reached the bottom, I saw a spreading water stain. With a sinking feeling of doom and dismay, I knew I'd have to spend my lunch hour tracking down a plumber.
Despite all the odds against it, I struck gold with my first phone call. The Crandalls watched admiringly as I talked Ace Plumbing into paying my tenants a call in the next hour. Since Ace was one of the two plumbing firms my mother used for all her properties, perhaps it wasn't totally amazing to find them willing; but to actually get them to commit themselves to coming right away - now that was amazing! When I was off the phone and Teentsy put a plate with country fried steak, potatoes, and green beans in front of me, I suddenly saw the bright side of being a resident manager. "Oh, you don't need to do that," I said weakly, and dug in. Calories and cholesterol did not factor in Teentsy's cooking, so her food was absolutely delicious with that added spice of guilt. Teentsy and Jed Crandall seemed delighted to have someone to talk to. They were quite a pair, Teentsy with her bountiful bosom and childish voice and gray curls, and Jed with his hard-as-a-rock seamed face. While I ate, Teentsy frosted a cake and Mr. Crandall - I couldn't bring myself to call him Jed - talked about his farm, which he'd sold the year before, and about how convenient it was for them to live in town where all their doctors and kinfolk and grandchildren were. He sounded unconvinced though, and I could tell he was spoiling for something to do.
"That sure was a nice young man we saw you with last night," Teentsy said archly. "Did you two have a good time?"
I was willing to bet Teentsy knew exactly when Robin had brought me home. "Oh, yes, it was fine," I said in as noncommittal a voice as I could summon. I glanced around their den and kitchen area. Mine was lined with books; Mr. Crandall's was lined with guns. I knew next to nothing about firearms, and was fervently content to keep it that way, but even I could tell these guns were of all different ages and types. I started wondering about their value, and from there it was a natural leap to being concerned about my mother's insurance coverage of these units; what would her responsibility be in case of theft, for example? Though it would take a foolhardy burglar to attempt to take anything away from Jed Crandall.
Thinking of hazards and security in general led my thoughts in another direction. I looked at the Crandalls' back door. Sure enough, they'd added two extra locks.
I laid down my fork. "Mr. Jed, I have to talk to you about those extra locks," I said gently.
Yes, he had read his lease agreement carefully. His tough old face went sheepish in an instant.
"Oh, Jed," chided Teentsy, "I told you you needed to speak to Roe about those locks."
"Well, Roe," her husband said, "you can see this gun collection needs more protection than that one lock on the back door." "I can appreciate how you feel, and I even agree," I said carefully, "but you know that if you do put on extra locks, you must give me a key, and you have to leave the locks in and give me all the keys if you ever decide to move. Of course I hope you never will, but you do have to give me an extra set of keys now."
While Mr. Crandall grumbled on about a man's home being his castle, and it going against the grain to give anyone else keys to that castle - even a nice gal like me - Teentsy was on her feet and rummaging through a drawer in the kitchen. She came up with a handful of keys immediately, and began sorting through them with a troubled look on her face.
"Now I've been promising myself I'd go through these and throw away the old ones we didn't need, and since we're retired I should have all the time in the world, but still I haven't done it," she told me. "Well, here are two that I'm sure are the spares for these locks ... here, Jed, try them and make sure." While her husband tested the keys in the locks, she stirred the others around with a helpless finger. "This looks like the key to that old trunk... I don't know about this one... you know, Roe, now that I think about it, one of these keys is to that apartment next door that that Mr. Waites rents now. I know you remember Edith Warnstein, she had it before him. She gave us an extra key because she said she was always locking herself out and it was always when you were at work."
"Well, when you find it, just bring it over sometime," I said. Mr. Crandall handed me his extra keys, which had proved to be the right ones, and I thanked Teentsy for the delicious lunch, feeling even more guilty that they'd fed me and then I'd "invaded their castle." It was hell being conscientious, sometimes. I felt much better when my departure coincided with the arrival of the plumber. Judging solely by his appearance - two-day beard stubble, bandanna over long ringlets of black hair, and Day-Glo overalls - I wouldn't have trusted him with my washer, but he hefted his tool bag in an authoritative way and actually wrote it down when I told him to bill my mother's company for the repairs, so I left feeling I'd performed a service.
I almost literally ran into Bankston on my way out the Crandalls' patio gate. He was hefting his golf bag, and looked shining clean, right out of the shower. He'd obviously been out at the country club having a few rounds. He looked surprised to see me. "The Crandalls having plumbing problems?" he asked, nodding towards the plumber's truck.
"Yes," I said distractedly, after glancing at my watch. "Your washer and dryer okay?"
"Oh, sure. Listen, how are you doing after your troubles of the past few days?" Bankston was being nice and polite, but I didn't have the time or the inclination to chitchat.
"Pretty well, thanks. I was glad to hear that you and Melanie are getting married," I added, remembering that I did owe something to courtesy. "I didn't have the chance to say anything the other night when we met at my place. Congratulations."
"Thanks, Roe," he said, in his deliberate way. "We were lucky to finally really get to know each other." His clear eyes were glowing, and it was apparent to me that he returned Melanie's strong feeling. I was a little envious, to tell the truth, and bitchily wondered what two such stolid people could have to "really get to know." I was also late.
"Congratulations," I repeated sunnily, and pretty much meant it. "I've got to run." I rabbited away to my place to put the keys to the Crandalls' apartment on my official key ring, and though I needed to hurry back to the library, I took an extra minute to label them.
I would've been late anyway.
I drove north on Parson Road to get back to the library. The Buckleys' house was along the way, to my left.
By sheer coincidence, out of all the people who could have been driving by when Lizanne came out that front door, it was I. I just glanced to my left to admire the flowers in the Buckleys' front yard, and the front door opened, and a figure stumbled out. I knew it was Lizanne by the color of her hair and her figure and because her parents owned the house, but nothing about her posture and attitude was like Lizanne. She slumped on the front doorstep, clinging to the black iron railing that ran down the red-brick steps.
God forgive me, half of me wanted to continue on my route to the library and go back to work, in blessed ignorance; but the half that said my friend needed help seemed to control the car. I pulled in and crossed the street and then the lawn, dreading to reach Lizanne and find out why her face was so contorted and why there were stains on her hose, especially at the knees...She didn't know I was there. Her long fingers with their beautifully manicured nails were ripping at her skirt, and her breath tore in and out of her lungs with a horrible wheeze. There were tear stains on her face, though no tears were coming now. From her smell she had vomited recently. The slow, sweet, casual beauty had vanished.
I put my arm around her and tried to forget the sour smell, but it made my own stomach begin to lurch uneasily. The Crandalls' delicious lunch threatened to come right back up. I shut my eyes for a second. When I opened them she was looking at me and her fingers were clenched instead of restless. "They're both dead, Roe," she said clearly and terribly. "My mama and my daddy are both dead. I knelt down to make sure, and I have my own daddy's blood on my clothes."
Then she fell silent and stared at her skirt, and knowing I was inadequate, could not rise to this ghastly situation, I let my thoughts trace what they were good at: the pattern, the terrible impersonal pattern that real people were being forced to fit. This time it was Lizanne plus dead stepmother and father plus broad daylight plus bloody demise.
I wondered where the hatchet was.
"I just walked to the back door to eat lunch with them like I do every day," she said suddenly. "And when the door was locked, and they wouldn't answer, I unlocked the front here - this is the only key I have. They were - there was blood on the walls."
"The walls?" I murmured stupidly, having no idea what I was going to say until it came out.
"Yes," she said seriously, asserting an incredible truth, "the walls. Daddy is on the sofa in there, Roe, the one where he sits to watch television, and he's just all... he's ... and Mama is upstairs in the guest bedroom on the floor by the bed."
I held her as tightly as I could and she bent and clung to me.
"I shouldn't have had to see them like that," she whispered.
Then she lapsed into silence.
I had to call the police.
I stood up like an old woman, and I felt like one. I turned to face the door Lizanne had shut behind her, and reached out like someone in a dream and opened it.
There was blood everywhere, sprayed in trails across the wall. Lizanne was right; blood on the walls. And the ceilings. And the television set. Arnie Buckley was visible from the front door, which opened opposite the doorway into the den. I supposed it was Arnie. It was the right size and was lying in Arnie's house, on his couch. His face had been obliterated.
I wanted to scream until someone knocked me out with a good strong shot. Nothing would get me to set one foot further into this house. More than I ever wanted anything, I wanted to walk back across the street, get in my car, and leave without looking back. It seemed I was always opening doors to look at dead people, hacked people, beaten people. I managed to shut this door, this white-painted suburban front door with the brass knocker, and as I plodded across the Buckleys' lawn to the nearest neighbors, I looked longingly at my Chevette.
I couldn't face calling myself, and I can't remember what I said to the lady next door. I only know that I plodded back to sit by Lizanne on the steps. She spoke once, asking me in bewilderment why her folks had been killed. I told her, honestly, that they'd been killed by the same person who'd killed Mamie Wright. I hoped she wouldn't ask me why it had to be her parents. Her parents had been picked because she had been named Elizabeth, because she was unmarried, because her "Mama" was not really her mama by blood. This was the pattern of Lizanne's life that loosely fit the Fall River, Massachusetts, murders; the murders committed in 1893 in an ugly, inconvenient, atmospherically tense home in a middle-class neighborhood, almost certainly committed by Mr. Andrew Borden's younger daughter, Lizzie.
But I don't think Lizanne ever heard anything I said, and that's just as well. I kept my arm around her so something human and warm would be there, and the smell continued to sicken me. I continued to do it because it was all I could do. Jack Burns got out of the squad car that pulled up on the lawn. He actually had a doctor with him, a local surgeon, and I found out later that they'd been having lunch together when the call came. The doctor looked at Lizanne, at me, and hesitated, but Jack Burns stepped around us and gestured his friend into the house. The sergeant of detectives looked inside and then looked down at me with burning eyes. I was not the object of this look, just in its path. But it scorched me, the fury in those dark eyes.
"Don't touch anything! Be careful how you walk!" he ordered the doctor. "Well, of course, he's dead," came the doctor's voice. "If you just need me to pronounce him dead, I can sure do that."
"Any more?" Burns spat at me. He could see Lizanne wouldn't answer, I suppose. "She said her stepmother is dead, upstairs," I told him very quietly, though I don't think Lizanne would have heard me if I'd screamed it. "Upstairs, Doc!" he ordered.
The doctor probably trotted right up, but I wouldn't have gone with him if a gun had been at my head.
"Dead up here, too," he called down the stairs. "Then get your ass out of there and let us go over this house," Burns said violently.
The doctor trotted out the door and after thinking for a moment, simply walked down the street. He was not about to ask Jack Burns for a ride back to the restaurant. Burns went inside but I could not hear him walking over the wooden floor. He must be standing, looking. At least he pushed the door partly closed behind him so there was something between me and the horror. Police cars were pulling up behind Burns's, the routine about to begin. Lynn Liggett got out of the first one. She immediately began giving orders to the uniformed men who spilled out of the next car.
"How did you happen to be here?" Lynn asked without any preliminaries. "Did you call an ambulance yet for Lizanne?" I asked. I was beginning to shake off my lethargy, my odd dreaminess.
"Yes, there's one on the way."
"Okay. I was just driving to work. She came out of the front door like this. She spoke to me a little and then I opened the door and looked in. I went next door to call the police."
Lynn Liggett pushed open the door and looked in. I kept my eyes resolutely forward. Her fair skin took on a greenish tinge and her lips pressed together so hard they whitened.
The ambulance pulled up then, and I was glad to see it, because Lizanne's face was even waxier, and her hands were losing coordination. Her breathing seemed irregular and shallow. She was leaning on me heavily by the time the stretcher came up to the front steps, and she didn't acknowledge the presence of the ambulance drivers. They loaded her on the stretcher with quick efficiency. I walked by her down to the street, holding her hand, but she didn't know I was there, and by the time the stretcher was pushed into the back of the ambulance she seemed unconscious.
I watched the orange and white ambulance pull away from the curb. I didn't suppose I could leave. I rested on the hood of Lynn's car for what seemed like a long time, staring aimlessly ahead and thinking of as little as possible. Then I became aware Lynn Liggett was beside me.
"There's no question of Lizanne being blamed, is there?" I asked finally. I fully expected the detective to tell me to get lost and it was none of my business, but something had mellowed the woman since last I'd seen her. We had shared something terrible.
"No," Detective Liggett said. "Her neighbor says she heard Lizanne hammer on the back door and then she saw her walk around to the front and unlock the house, something so unusual that the neighbor already considered calling the police. It would take more than seven minutes to do that and clean up afterward. And it's fairly easy to see that her folks had already been dead about an hour by the time she got there."
"Mr. Buckley was due to come in to work at the library today at 2:00, and we were going to share night duty tomorrow night," I said. "Yes, it's written on the calendar in the kitchen in the house." For some reason that gave me the cold shudders. Her job included looking at dead people's calendars while they lay right there in their own blood. Appointments that would never be kept. I revised my attitude about Lynn Liggett right then and there.
"You know what this is just like."
"The Borden case."
I jerked my head around to look at her in surprise.
"Arthur's inside," she explained. "He told me about it." Arthur came out of the house then, with that same whitey-green pinched look Liggett had had. He nodded at me, not questioning my presence. "John Queensland - from Real Murders?" I said. Arthur nodded. "Well, he's a Borden expert."
"I remembered. I'll get in touch with him this afternoon." I thought about the sweet old couple I'd seen having a good time at the restaurant the night before. I thought about having to tell the Crandalls their best friends had been hacked to death. Then I realized I should tell the detectives where I'd seen the Buckleys last night, in case for some reason it was important. After I'd explained to Arthur and Lynn, and Lynn had written down the Crandalls' names and the time I'd seen them the previous evening, I wanted to reach over to Arthur, pat or hug him, establish warm living contact with him. But I couldn't.
"It's the worst thing I hope I ever see. They really don't look much like people anymore," Arthur said suddenly. He shoved his hands in his pockets. It was up to his fellow detectives to help him over this one, I realized. I was excluded from this bad moment, and truly, I was thankful.
I thought of a lot of things to say, but they were futile things. It was time for me to go. I got in my car and without considering what I was doing, I drove to work. I went to tell Mr. Clerrick that our volunteer wouldn't be coming in that afternoon.
The rest of the afternoon just passed. Later, I couldn't remember a single thing I'd done after I returned to work. I remembered I'd felt good when I'd gotten up that morning and I couldn't believe it. I just wanted one day with nothing happening, nothing bad, nothing good. No excitement. Just a nice dull day like I'd had almost every day until recently.
Close to closing time, I saw one of the detectives whom I didn't know personally coming into the library. He went to Sam Clerrick's office on the ground floor, emerged in a matter of moments, and made a beeline to Lillian as she stood behind the circulation desk. The detective asked Lillian a couple of questions, and she answered eagerly. He wrote a few things down on his notepad, and left with a nod to her.
Lillian looked up to the second floor where I was again shelving books, and our eyes met. She looked excited, and more than that, turning quickly away. Soon when another librarian was in earshot, Lillian called her over. Their heads tilted close together, and after that the other librarian hurried to the periodicals room, where yet another librarian would be stationed. If the police kept coming here asking about me, I realized with a sick feeling, Mr. Clerrick might let me go. I could tell myself I'd done nothing, but I suddenly knew it wouldn't make any difference. This wasn't just happening to me, I reminded myself. Probably members of Real Murders all over Lawrenceton were being similarly inconvenienced, and many other people whose lives these murders had touched, no matter how tangentially.
It was the old stone-in-the-pond effect. Instead of stones, bodies were being thrown into the pool of the community, and the resulting waves of misery, fear, and suspicion would brush more and more people until the crimes came to an end.
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