to hear you whisper

Chapter 8: A Simple Act

November 22, 1958

Gone was the friendly expression Dan normally had around her; it was replaced with a condescending stare. Even his posture changed as he slouched back in the booth, almost sprawling.

Trixie, Fay, Brian, and Mart approached their table. Dan nodded his head curtly at Fay but ignored the rest of the newcomers.

“Honey! Dan!” Trixie called out as she slid in next to Honey. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”

Honey nearly choked, but quickly came up with something to say that wouldn’t blow Dan’s cover with Fay. “Yes, I, um, I have a confession to make.” She looked up at Fay, widening her eyes in what she hoped look like an apologetic gesture. “When I realized Dan knew you, I offered to buy him lunch so I could try to find out more about you.” Fay just stared at her, so Honey quickly added, “And I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah? And?” Fay looked at Dan, some unspoken question in her grayish-green eyes. She glanced back at Honey, but then addressed Dan. “Clue me.”

“And nothin’,” Dan stated, shrugging one shoulder. His eyes never left Fay’s.

Brian sat down next to Dan, but Dan barely scooted over to make room for him. Mart chose to squeeze in next to Trixie instead.

“He put me in my place,” Honey elaborated. “Rightfully so. He said I should ask you if there was anything I wanted to know.”

Dan leered at Honey. “See, I thought she was askin’ me out to lunch ’cause she was slummin’, like she wanted to ... you know ... get with me. Instead she asks all these questions about you.”

“Get with—!”

Honey quickly kicked Brian under the table, interrupting him. He closed his mouth and sat back.

“What gives?” Mart asked, frowning.

“That’s what I wanna know,” Dan retorted.

Trixie’s eyes flicked back and forth from Dan to Honey, and Honey could practically see the wheels turning in her mind. She wondered if Regan had clued her in to anything, but even if he hadn’t, she knew her friend would put the pieces together pretty quickly, and her brothers would figure it out, too.

Fay finally sat down, squeezing in next to Brian. Dan sat up slightly and scooted further into the booth to allow her more room. She stared Honey down. “So, what is it you want to know?”

Honey was saved from answering right away by one of the waitresses coming over to take everyone’s orders. But as soon as she left, Fay narrowed her eyes at Honey again. “What did you want to know?”

Honey blushed. She wished she could’ve come up with a different excuse. But at least the interruption had bought her some time to think of a response. “I, uh, asked him if he thought you might have set the whole thing up last night.” At Fay’s incredulous look, she tried to explain. “It’s just, you were upset when it was happening but then you seemed to get over it pretty quickly, and I couldn’t help thinking that was, well, a little suspicious.”

Fay stared down at the table, trying to hide the disappointment in her eyes. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d do something like that.”

Brian coughed and glanced at Fay. In his usual soft-spoken manner, he added his own admission. “The thought had crossed my mind as well.”

“Nice friends you have here,” Dan remarked.

“It’s not like we know you that well,” Brian added. 

Trixie pushed an unruly curl of hair out of her face. “Well, I was there. She was just as frightened as we were, so I don’t believe she’s—you—are behind any of this.” She smiled at Fay and then turned back to Honey and her brothers. “What’s more, someone else was there last night—Zeke Collins.”

“That’s right!” Fay pounded her fist on the table, and even as frail as she was, it caused the few dishes there to rattle. “He was there. And I’ve never trusted him.”

Dan sat up, alert. “Who’s this Zeke fella?”

“He’s a creepy old man.” Fay shuddered slightly.

Her explanation didn’t actually explain much, but Brian gave a little more information. “He’s the odd-job man that works for Mr. Gregory. He’s a nice enough guy, from what little I know of him. And he’s lived in Sleepyside all his life.”

Mart shook his head. “We don’t know him all that well. Even if he is a local, people like the Thompsons have lived here all their lives, too. They’re still crooks.”

The waitress returned with a tray piled with burgers, baskets of fries, and sodas and shakes. The conversation came to a pause as everyone dug into their food.

“Fay, if you’re not too mad at me, well, I meant to ask, how’s your mother doing?” Honey smiled sweetly at the new girl.

Dan sat up and leaned over Brian to talk more directly to Fay. “Hey, your mom’s in town, too? I’d like to stop by and say hi to her. Is she at the place you’re stayin’?”

Fay nearly choked on her milkshake. “She’s in the hospital. I don’t think she’s up to having visitors.”

“She seemed delighted to see all of us,” Mart put in, an innocent grin on his face.

Honey nearly laughed. The Beldens were all very intelligent, each in their own way. Brian had the book smarts and Trixie had intuition in spades, but Mart had a combination of both that made him almost dangerous—that is, it would if he weren’t so friendly and open. She wasn’t sure how he knew to push on the subject, but she was glad that he had. She was honestly concerned about Fay’s companion, however. “Is your mom doing okay, though? I’m sorry I didn’t go to see her with all of you.”

“She’s fine.” Fay fiddled with the straw from her drink nervously.

“Well, I’d like to see her again, say hello,” Dan insisted.

“N-no, I don’t think you should. She’s not the mom you’re thinking of. She’s my stepmom.” She glanced across Brian at Dan. “She’d freak if she knew you knew me from before.”

“Stepmom?” Dan’s expression softened. “And the pops?”

“Ixnay on the ubjectsay, please.” Fay tilted her head indicating the others before looking up at Brian. “We still need to stop by the house to get some of my clothes and things.”

Honey took in that little bit of information and started piecing together some theories. Stepmom at least explained why she wasn’t much older than Fay. Given that she didn’t want to talk about her father, she wondered what had happened there. She was more and more convinced that Fay and Sharon had run away from a bad situation and were trying to start a new life. She hoped that was it, but there was still that niggling doubt, and Dan not trusting her when he knew her made her think she shouldn’t trust the girl, either.

“I still want to look around that house.” Trixie nibbled on her burger thoughtfully. “We didn’t last night because it was late and dark, and we thought we’d be there this morning to tour the place.”

“I’d like to be in on the grand tour, too,” Mart admitted, “if that’s okay, with you. I’ve always wondered what it’s like inside that house. I imagine the furniture is all antique.”

Honey drank the last bit of soda from her glass. She thought over what Dan and she had discussed. In addition to antique furniture, there could also be valuable curios throughout: expensive vases, small artifacts, and then there were the aforementioned paintings. If Dan’s hunch was right and they were “casing the joint”, it would be good to know what exactly they expected to steal. “We should invite Di and Paul to come along. Di would probably love to see all the artwork inside the house—that is, if there is any.”

“P-p-paul?” Fay’s face had turned white. “Paul who?”

Dan raised an eyebrow in surprise. He reached a hand across to Fay awkwardly, Brian scooting back in the bench seat. His voice softened but still had that tough street drawl. “Hey. I’ve been around this town a while and I know this girl and guy they’re talking about. It’s not the same Paul. Relax.”

“Oh. Okay.” Fay drank more of her milkshake but still seemed stressed out. “I guess it would be okay to show you all the house. You’re coming too, right, Danny?”

“It’s just Dan, Fay.” He let go of her hand and sat back against the booth again. “I dunno. I should probably get back to work. Seems like you don’t want me around you and your stepmom, anyway.”

“Oh, I can cover for you, Dan.” Honey thought he wanted to get inside the house—hadn’t he said so earlier? “I’ll tell Regan that I asked you to run some errands for me.”

“You’d do that for me?” Dan feigned surprise at her willingness to help him.

“Of course.” Honey tried not to smile because she was worried she’d start laughing. He knew very well she wasn’t actually doing anything for him but that she would do anything for him.

“Thank you,” Fay said quietly. “So, you’re coming? Right, Dan?”

“Is it settled, then?” Brian asked at Dan’s curt nod. “We’re all heading to Lisgard House after we finish eating?”

“I’ll go call Di,” Trixie volunteered. She pushed against Mart, who was sitting at the end of the booth. “Move so I can get out.”

“I’ll go with you.” Fay stood up and followed Trixie toward the back of the restaurant, grabbing her small purse. “I need to use the ladies’ room.”

Honey watched as the two girls walked across the diner. 

Mart sat back down and switched his plate with Trixie’s so he wouldn’t have to get up again on their return.

As soon as Fay had gone down the short hall toward the bathroom, Brian turned on Dan and Honey. “What are you two up to?”

“This should be good.” Mart made himself comfortable as he took another bite of his cheeseburger.

Dan grinned. “I thought you were going to punch me for a second, Brian.”

“I was sorely tempted ... until Honey kicked me.” The dark-haired Belden glared at Honey mockingly.

“Well, the short version is Honey and I barely know each other, I work for Honey’s family, I have no ties to anyone in this town, Unc—I mean Regan—is just my boss, and I’m hoping to get Fay to trust me enough to find out what she’s up to.” Dan shrugged.

“Mmbvsk,” Mart mumbled, his mouth full of fries. When he finished chewing, he started over. “Obviously she knows you—from the gang, I’m guessing, by your thuggish behavior.”

Honey nodded. “She’s kind of—” She was going to point out she was Dan’s ex-girlfriend, sort of, and then thought better of it. “Part of the gang. Only not really.”

Dan tapped his fingers on the table. “Anyway, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s here in Sleepyside, although I’m not sure just why she’s here. I thought at first she came to find me, but she seemed genuinely surprised to see me here, too.”

“You really thought your ex-girlfriend was hunting you down?” Mart raised an eyebrow questioningly. “And I’ve been told I’m conceited.”

Honey nearly choked on the French fry she’d just snuck from Trixie’s plate. Even Mart immediately thought of her as Dan’s ex.

Dan shrugged a shoulder nonchalantly. “When you got it ...,” he teased. “But no, I thought it was connected to the gang, not to her specifically. They would hunt me down, at least some of them would. Or maybe not anymore. In any case, I don’t think that’s it either. Not based on how she reacted to hearing Paul’s name.”

“I know Paul is the leader of the Cowhands—or was, anyway.” Honey tried to remember what Dan had told her about that man. “He was the one you had a fight with, right?”

Dan started to answer but Brian shook his head slightly. “She’s coming back. Tell us about this Paul guy later.”

Fay waited for Trixie by the phones and then the two of them returned to the table together.

“Di says she’ll meet us here in ten minutes—with or without Paul,” Trixie announced, sitting back down at the table with a grin.

It actually took closer to fifteen minutes before Di and Paul entered the diner, having been dropped off by Di’s chauffeur.

“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,” Paul announced as he approached the table.

What the deuce do we care? What the deuce do we care?” Mart rejoined.

“Are you guys going to eat something or can we get going?” Trixie interrupted, luckily before the two broke out into the full song.

“I already ate lunch,” Di stated, but then gave a questioning look to Paul.

“Me, too. I was just finishing up the lunch dishes when Di called,” Paul said. He held a hand out to Fay to shake. “Say, I don’t know that we’ve officially met. I’ve seen you around school; you’re in my history class, aren’t you? I’m Paul Victors.”

“Fay Franklin.” Fay batted her eyelashes at the good-looking sophomore. “And yes, I am in your history class. Nice to meet you, officially.”

Di looped her hand possessively around Paul’s arm, interrupting the handshake. “So where is this old house full of antiques and artwork that we’re going to explore?” she asked. “Is it here in town?”

“It’s my house,” Fay said quietly. “I mean, not mine, but the house where I’m staying.”

“Yes, let’s go!” Trixie jumped up from the table before anyone else could say anything. Honey could only guess that Trixie hadn’t warned their friend that the residence in question was the supposedly-haunted Lisgard House.

chapter 9: in the strange house