to hear you whisper

Chapter 11: We Meet and Talk

November 22, 1958

Honey listened to the chatter around her as they walked quickly toward the gatehouse in the cool autumn air. Mart and Jim had said a brief hello and Brian and Jim were talking about college, comparing and contrasting experiences.

Inside the clubhouse, Mart immediately moved over to the heater and started it as the others found places to sit around the table.

“Um, what happened to the floor?” Jim asked. 

“The floor?” Paul scuffed at the dirt floor.

The clubhouse used to have wood flooring that they’d installed a few years back. It wasn’t anything fancy, just some spare lumber that Mr. Burnside had given them. Currently, the floor was back to being just dirt.

“It was an accident,” Mart grumbled.

Honey put her hand over her mouth, keeping the giggles at bay. It hadn’t been funny to Mart.

Jim narrowed his eyes at him. “What kind of accident?”

“We had that dry spell,” Trixie explained.

“And the floor was already cracked because we’d never sealed it properly,” Honey added.

“And we’d done it ourselves, so you know we didn’t do the most professional job,” Di pointed out.

“The splinters were a pain to remove.” Brian didn’t add any further details.

“Excruciatingly painful!” Mart declared. “The copious amount of antiseptic you applied to the numerous small punctures seemed unnecessarily cruel.”

“So the floor?” Jim asked again.

“I was jumping down from the table and my foot fell through it ...” Mart’s voice trailed off at Jim’s disapproving stare.

Honey’s giggles couldn’t be held back any longer. Mart the Magnificent hadn’t pulled off a very magnificent ending to his magic show.

“All right,” Trixie changed the subject and began the meeting. “We know something fishy is going on at Lisgard House.”

Fay turned her bewildered gaze from Mart to Trixie, her expression turning solemn. “And I’m the cause of it—”

“Stop sayin’ that,” Dan stated fiercely. “Brian, you said something was interesting right before Frankenstein and Dracula showed up. What was that?”

Mart snorted, and Honey had a hard time not bursting into laughter herself over Dan’s nicknames for the two gentlemen.

“Right.” Brian frowned deeply, his brown eyes troubled. “I was looking at the coffee table and it—a lot of the furniture, as far as I could tell—it’s all modern.”

“Modern?” Honey was confused. “I thought they were antiques.”

“They’re made to look like antiques,” Mart explained, “but Brian and I both noticed some inconsistencies. The screws were modern—furniture from the 1700s and even 1800s didn’t usually have screws, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t be the silver, machine-produced ones I saw used.”

“And the joints weren’t the same kind of dovetails usually found in antique pieces,” Brian added. “Now, if it had been just one or two screws in a piece, or just some of the joints, that could be explained by repairs, but it was consistent throughout the dresser I first noticed, and in the few other pieces I was able to examine.”

“Not to mention that a lot of the furniture looked as though it had been newly stained and just roughened up to look old.” Mart frowned. “At least that’s how it seemed to me. I could tell from the scratches in the wood. It was all too uniform.”

Trixie’s voice grew excited. “I think Zeke Collins is behind the whole thing. When I saw him last night, his overalls had stains on them. I thought at first it was blood—”

“And the overactive imagination strikes again,” Mart side-commented.

Trixie ignored him and continued. “But then I realized it could’ve been paint or wood stain. I bet he’s been making copies of the original antiques and replacing them one-by-one.”

Worry lines appeared across Jim’s forehead. “I’m not really sure what you’ve gotten yourself involved in this time, but there is a lot of money in antiques. Quality pieces can sell for thousands of dollars each.”

Honey nodded. “I went with Mother to one of those auctions recently, and someone paid four thousand dollars for a simple-looking cherry side-table. I mean, it was pretty, but I can’t imagine anything costing quite that much.” 

Fay opened her mouth in surprise. “I knew they were valuable—well, the real ones anyway, but wow!”

Jim regarded Trixie pointedly. “You should remember what lengths thieves will go to for antiques.”

“I know.” Trixie bit her lower lip. “But the Thompsons were just opportunists. This seems more thought out.”

“I agree,” Honey said. This wasn’t the same sort of situation at all as the antique show they’d run a few years back. “What about the paintings?” She asked Di. “You were looking at a lot of those, too.”

Di shrugged apologetically. “I’ve been learning a lot about art, but not enough to tell an original from a reproduction. That Picasso in the entry way looked real enough. Some of the others were more obviously just prints or reproductions, though.”

“That said,” Paul added, “even reproduced art can be valuable, depending on what the piece is and its purpose.”

“True.” Di smiled at him. “As for vases and figurines, I expected to see a lot of those in a house like that. I was surprised there weren’t any.”

“That is odd,” Fay stated in agreement. She shrugged her slim shoulders. “I can’t recall seeing any, either.”

“What about the ghost and the strange happenings?” Paul asked.

“I don’t know what to think about the supposed ghost sightings,” Mart admitted.

“I didn’t see anything,” Honey clarified. They had a crime, possibly, but it didn’t explain why someone would stage Sarah Sligo’s return. “Well, except the smoke. But I sure did hear a lot.”

“You guys don’t still think Fay and her mom had anything to do with any of this, do you?” Dan asked, a defensive and almost threatening note in his voice. “And, Fay, you’re taking this ghost stuff far too seriously.”

“I’m not the one that brought up ghosts,” Fay protested. “Not this time.”

“No, I don’t think that. Not anymore,” Honey quickly affirmed. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Fay.”

“My theory is Zeke has been slowly stealing from the place,” Trixie announced with her usual aplomb. “He’s been working for the Lisgards for a long time, and the house was empty for a while between Caleb’s death and Mr. Gregory claiming the place. Zeke could have stolen all the small stuff before Mr. Gregory even knew it was there, and he’s had plenty of time to make copies of the furniture and maybe even the paintings.”

“That still doesn’t explain the hauntings.” Fay shuddered elaborately despite being the one sitting closest to the heater. She glared at Dan who seemed about to admonish her again. “They are real, and Sarah—she has to be back because of me.”

“No, I don’t buy that. But ... once you and your mom were hired and moved into the house, you probably foiled Zeke’s plans,” Mart put in.

Jim nodded thoughtfully. He’d been listening quietly for the most part. “That makes as much sense as anything if I’m following along correctly. Once you two moved in, if he was going to continue with this scheme of his, he would want to scare you away.”

“Exactly.” Trixie beamed at him.

“Fay, did you or your mom know Mr. Gregory before you took the job?” Dan asked. “Or Zeke or anyone else in town for that matter?”

“No.” Fay frowned. “We answered an ad in the paper. Sh-she, my mom that is, thought it would be a good chance for us to start over in a new town.”

Honey’s trust in Fay was growing, despite Dan’s misgivings. Fay’s answer supported her earlier theory about Crystal changing her name.

“So, you got this job at a mansion filled with expensive stuff with no references?” Paul raised an eyebrow questioningly, at the same time poking holes in Honey’s belief in their innocence. She had to admit, that did sound suspicious.

Fay’s eyes turned stone cold, though, at Paul’s question. “We did.”

“Now, Fay, he’s got a point. That does seem a little odd, doesn’t it?” Dan tried to smooth her ruffled feathers.

“It was lucky is what it was.” Fay frowned. Before anyone could make any other comment, she added, “And we didn’t question our good luck, either. Besides, I didn’t think it was that lucky after we got here. With all the strange, kooky things that happened, things moving around, the strange noises, the night-time visits ...”

“You figured Mr. Gregory was desperate enough to get anyone to work in that haunted place,” Mart finished for her.

“Let’s look at the facts,” Jim stated calmly. “One, the furniture that’s supposed to be antique has been replaced with fakes. Two, someone is staging a haunted house. And, while it’s not a fact, I think we can assume the haunting is meant to scare Fay and her mother. Three, Zeke Collins has the means to have done both. But, what we don’t know for certain, is whether Mr. Gregory also has the means or motive to do so.”

Jim was still co-president of the Bob-Whites, along with Trixie, and while he often found it difficult to deal with the danger Honey and Trixie seemed to get into, he still supported their detective work as best he could. He also tried his best to keep them reined in to help minimize that danger. Honey appreciated that about her big brother. She was glad he was taking this seriously and also being logical about it. 

Di shook her head. “Why would Mr. Gregory steal his own antiques? That doesn’t make much sense.”

Trixie had been deep in thought but now she looked around the room. “Fact four, Mr. Gregory hired a psychic investigator because of the supposed-haunting. Why would he do that if he was behind the hauntings and knew they were fake?”

“Are we sure the haunting is fake?” Paul asked. “I mean, I think so, too, but are we just taking that as a fact or is it a supposition?”

Brian nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a good point. We all think it’s fake, except Fay, and we can assume Mr. Gregory thinks it’s real. They’ve been living in the house, so we should consider their opinions.”

“Fact five,” Trixie jumped up from her seat. “The noise I heard when we spent the night there—I just realized what it was.” She paused dramatically as everyone looked at her expectantly. “The back door latched shut.”

“When? And what does that mean?” Honey didn’t quite understand.

“When we spent the night there, after the smoke stopped coming into the room, there was a soft click, and I couldn’t quite place the noise at first, but now I know what it was. The back door being closed.”

“Now, is that really a fact?” Mart questioned.

“Maybe not,” Trixie conceded. “But I’m almost positive that’s what it was and I think it means that someone left the house after the staged haunting was over. In other words, our ghost left out the back door. Now, does that seem ghostly?” 

“A ghost wouldn’t need a door,” Brian admitted. “I wasn’t there, but that’s the first thing about this haunting that makes any sense to me.”

“Right. So, given what we do know, I think we should warn Mr. Gregory and Mr. Hunter.” Trixie glanced at the others for their opinions.

“That seems sensible,” Jim agreed.

“Mr. Hunter invited us to be part of his séance,” Di pointed out. “Of course, he hasn’t been there during the hauntings, so maybe he’ll realize right away there isn’t really a ghost.”

“A séance?” Jim frowned.

“Yeah, he’s really conducting a séance to speak to this ghost,” Dan explained. “And he wants Fay there. I say you shouldn’t go.”

“You’re not my keeper, Dan. I think I should go. Then I’ll know for sure whether or not I’m possessed by the ghost.” Fay spoke her mind firmly.

“Why don’t we all go?” Paul suggested. “Didn’t Mr. Gregory say he invited some reporters, too, or did I mishear him?”

“He did,” Mart affirmed. “That seems strange to me, too. He said there were some reporters at the hospital. Why would he invite them to witness Mr. Hunter’s investigation into the ghost of Sarah Sligo?”

“Okay, let’s put ourselves in Mr. Gregory’s shoes.” Di stood up and started pacing, something she often did when she was trying to get into a character’s mind for a play. “His employee was injured, he goes to the hospital, and there are reporters there, right? He knows about the ghost, and the reporters must have been asking questions about it—”

“Why would they do that, though?” Dan interrupted. “Why would reporters have been at the hospital to begin with?”

“This is a small town,” Trixie stated matter-of-factly. “There’s so little news that the local newspaper jumps on anything unusual. If word got out that Mrs. Franklin’s injury was due to a ghost, well, I can think of a couple of reporters who’d want to either confirm or poke holes in that story. Paul Trent jumps to mind.”

“Right.” Brian tapped his fingers on the table. “So, reporters could have been asking questions. Go on, Di.”

Di nodded her thanks and continued. “There’s Mr. Gregory, getting questions from reporters about a ghost. He’s already decided to bring in Mr. Hunter to investigate. So to stop the questions, he invites them to witness the séance.”

“Having reporters at the séance sounds like a bad idea. The fake haunting will be exposed, and Mr. Gregory will look like a fool.” Mart shook his head. “We’re missing something.”

“I don’t know why you keep saying the ghost ain’t a fact,” Fay said timidly. “I know the ghost is real.”

Honey realized how serious the other girl was. She suspected there was more to the nightly visits than what she’d lived through. “Why do you say that? What else has happened?”

“Zeke Collins—he showed me Sarah’s grave.”

“Her grave?” Mart shook his head. “I didn’t think anyone knew where that was.”

“It’s on the grounds of Lisgard House. I can show you, if you like.” Fay fidgeted with her hair nervously. “Anyway, Zeke told me that it’s a well-known fact that a person who dies a violent death on the same day as their birth is doomed to haunt the scene forever.”

“I don’t think any such thing is true. Besides, no one knows when she was born,” Brian pointed out. “At least not that I know of.”

“Her tombstone says she was born on Thanksgiving Day, 1755, and died Thanksgiving Night, 1789.” Fay looked to Dan for support. 

Paul frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense. Thanksgiving wasn’t even a national holiday back then. I don’t think it was made a national holiday until somewhere in the late 1800s.”

Mart agreed. “That’s right. The holiday wasn’t observed as an annual national holiday until 1863. Before that, Thanksgiving Days were celebrated sporadically. If I remember correctly, George Washington declared a day of Thanksgiving to be observed on December 18, 1777, but then in 1789, he declared it to be November 26. The next documented one wasn’t until 1795, I think. Even if they did have a Thanksgiving Day in 1755, who’s to say what day of the month it fell on or even if it was observed in November? It seems unlikely someone would reference that as the birth date on her tombstone instead of putting actual dates.”

Di’s violet eyes widened. “I know you always know all these things, but just how do you remember all those dates?”

“Steel trap,” Mart stated, pointing a finger at his noggin.

“So, she may not have died on the day of her birth?” Fay looked around in confusion. “Then, what about that grave?”

“You said Zeke showed it to you?” Dan asked. “I bet he made the tombstone himself. He must’ve done that just to scare you. I’m liking this Zeke guy less and less.”

“Which means we’re right back to Zeke being the likely person behind all this.” Jim tapped Trixie on the shoulder lightly to get her attention. “What’s our next step, Trix? Do we warn Mr. Gregory and explain your theory about Zeke, or do we go straight to the police?”

“Let’s take a vote,” Trixie suggested diplomatically. “But I don’t think we have enough evidence to go to the police.”

“I agree,” Brian came to Trixie’s defense. “We have our suspicions, but I think, in this case, it would be best to warn Mr. Gregory and let him decide whether to involve the police or not.”

chapter 12: only just pretend