WE COULDN'T ESCAPE RAIN that day. It was pouring in Atlanta. Shelby had maneuvered close to the door somehow, and we loaded in our luggage and got into the car - Martin's Mercedes - with a minimum of fuss. Angel and Shelby were very glad to see each other. Shelby passed a paper over the seat to me; I was buckled in in the back. It was a copy of today's Lawrenceton Sentinel and the headline did not pack the punch it would have this time yesterday. "Autopsy Results Surprising," read the headline, an understatement if I'd ever seen one. In a low voice, Angel began telling Shelby what we had seen and done that morning. I read between the lines of the story Sally Allison had written so carefully. The forensic anthropologist, faced with what seemed a straightforward job of identification, had been surprised (and perhaps rather pleased) to find his job was more complicated than he'd thought. I would like to have seen Jack Burns's face, and Lynn's, when they found the third body was not Charity Julius. It was apparently Lynn who'd gone to Peachtree Leisure Apartments to find if the purported Mrs. Totino had any ideas about the identity of the third corpse. Ever since the bones had been brought down from the roof, this must have been the moment the old woman had been dreading. Lynn had not allowed Duncan, the security guard, to call ahead, but Alicia must have been watching the closed-circuit TV channel and must have recognized Lynn as the police officer who'd come by before to tell her the bodies had been found. She'd opened her window and jumped.
"How much would they have realized from the murders?" Shelby asked. "Huh? Oh. The purchase price of the house, the money that Mr. Julius had accumulated to start his own business, and I guess whatever money was due from life insurance policies. I suppose the company has to pay up if the missing person is declared dead. If they just could have gone four more months without the bodies being discovered, the three of them could have scattered to the four winds once the money was in their hands."
"You think she would have given Harley and Charity their share?" Angel asked as we changed highways to go northeast to Lawrenceton. "I think so. She'd seen Harley in action."
"It must have been galling, to have been so strapped for money all those years - the old woman, I mean."
"Yes, for her. It may not have made much difference to Harley and Charity. They didn't kill the people they killed for money; the money was Alicia Manigault's idea, first and foremost."
A teenage romance that went wrong; the Ballad of Charity and Harley.
I wondered what the Louisiana police were making of the two. As we entered my hometown, I had a hard time believing I had questioned a seriously injured young woman as intensely as I had. I also had a hard time believing she'd hit me in the stomach hard enough to cause the deep bruise even now developing in the soft tissue around my navel. I hadn't heard from Martin in two days. I wondered how things were going for him in Guatemala. I missed him, abruptly and passionately. Tears began to well up in my eyes, and I took off my glasses to dab at them with a Kleenex. "Martin called," Shelby said out of the blue. We were turning on the road out of Lawrenceton that led to the house. "He tried your hotel room but found you'd checked out. I have to go back to the airport tonight to pick him up." "I'll let you, rather than going myself," I told him. I was too tired to face the airport more than once that day, and I would rather be warm and rested and in bed when he came home than tired and wrinkled and public at the airport. We pulled into the driveway, Shelby trying to tell me about the security systems he'd been investigating while we were gone, me not giving a damn. "Are you afraid of going in?" Angel asked. The rain was coming down in earnest as we got the bags out of the trunk. We crossed the garage to open the side door and take the covered walkway to the kitchen door. Madeleine sat regally, tail wrapped around her, by her food dish.
"No," I said, and realized it was true, "I'm not afraid of this house. There aren't any ghosts here. The people who would have become ghosts are the ones who are still alive, down in Louisiana. The people who died were too nice to be ghosts."
Now, this babble gives you some idea of my exhaustion, and the look Shelby and Angel gave me simultaneously told me I was becoming weird. But the house didn't scare me; I felt happy to be in it again. I breathed a sigh of relief when the Youngbloods left to go up to their apartment for their own reunion, after I'd refused Shelby's offer to carry my bags up to my bedroom. The light on the answering machine was blinking. I pressed the "Play" button to hear my messages.
My mother: "We're back, and we had a wonderful time! The message you left saying you were going to New Orleans was kind of confusing, Aurora. Is Martin with you or not? Is this thing about the bodies upsetting you? Call me when you're home." Emily Kaye: "Roe, I'm sorry to be such a pest, but we really do need help on the Altar Guild. Please call me at home when you get back from wherever you are. Oh, by the way! Aubrey and I are engaged!"
Aubrey: "Roe, if you're upset about the discovery at your house, please call me. I want to help if I can. And I wanted you to know, first: Emily says she'll marry me."
I made a face into the reflective glass of the clock. My mother: "You know, Aurora, I really wish you had left the name of your hotel with Patty at my office. It's very aggravating not being able to get in touch with you, to make sure you're all right. My understanding from calling Martin's office is that he is not with you. So what are you doing in New Orleans?" I hoped the antique earrings would soothe her.
The other messages, in order: Sally Allison, Sally Allison, and Sally Allison. I headed up the stairs, looking at my beautiful house with pleasure, glad to be home. Later my husband would be home; we would talk; everything would be all right.
But when I entered our bedroom I had a sudden picture of a dark-haired girl seizing an elderly woman and forcibly shoving the gray head through the window so it could be stove in with a hammer.
I banished that vision firmly.
This was my house.
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