to hear you whisper

Chapter 13: A Mixed-Up Girl

November 22, 1958

It wasn’t long before Trixie returned with Brian, Di, and Fay. The whole group was soon seated around the large table in the recreation room. A tablecloth had been draped over the table and platters of hot dogs, potato salad, and other food were arranged in the middle of the table. The teenagers all dug in hungrily, but Honey could see that Trixie was anxious to share some news with the group. Fay appeared nervous by all the fuss as maids set dishes on the table and fixed a vase with some flowers. Honey wished they would hurry up and leave the room, eager to find out what had happened with Mr. Gregory.

Mart accosted Trixie as soon as the door shut behind the servants. “All right, Trixie. Spill it. What is it you’ve been wanting to tell us ever since you got back from Lisgard House?”

“The séance. Tonight,” Trixie muttered between bites of her hot dog, and then quickly swallowed her food.

“Yes,” Fay added. “Mr. Gregory and Mr. Hunter want to have the séance tonight. And they insist that I be there—that I’m the one who’s been channeling Sarah’s spirit, so I have to be there.”

Dan shook his head. “I don’t like it. I don’t know what kind of game they’re playing, but I don’t trust them. You shouldn’t go.”

“Listen here, Danny.” Fay reverted to using his old nickname. “You’re not my keeper. I’ll do as I please. And I think I should be there. If this can help explain the night-time hauntings, if I am the one who is causing all the disturbance, well, I really want it to stop.” Her voice got quiet as she admitted, “I’ve never been more frightened of anything—not even when we were ....”

Her sentence trailed off, and Honey guessed she was referring to when Dan had been in the gang and Fay-slash-Crystal had hung out with them. She turned to Brian and Di, the other two visitors to the supposedly-haunted estate. “What do you guys think? Of the séance, I mean.”

“I think Mr. Hunter is scary and I’d bet anything he’s not for real.” Di didn’t seem to like the guy, and Honey couldn’t blame her. “I just don’t trust him.”

“I agree,” Brian stated. “There’s something fishy about the whole thing. I don’t believe in ghosts, anyway, and I certainly don’t think you’re possessed, Fay. I don’t know who’s behind these fake hauntings—” His gaze landed on his sister and he stopped mid-thought. “But I see Trixie wants to give you all the details of what happened at Mr. Gregory’s place tonight.”

“I do!” Trixie nearly jumped out of her seat. She’d been waiting to get a word in edgewise ever since she’d finished her hotdog. “You see, when we were about to go into the house, that creepy Zeke Collins grabbed my arm. He scared the daylight out of me.”

“Grabbed your arm?” Jim asked, and Honey could see he was extremely concerned about her. “Why would he do that? Did you see him do that, Brian?”

“Well, no. Di and I had already gone inside,” Brian answered. “Anyway, Trixie and Fay seemed to be able to handle themselves pretty well from what they told me afterward.”

“Right. I asked Mr. Collins what he thought he was up to, and he had the nerve to reply that he wanted to know what we were up to. He asked why we were all visiting the house so often, suddenly. And he asked Fay—well, you tell it, Fay.” Trixie graciously let the other girl tell the story that obviously centered around her.

“Well, um,” Fay hesitated before getting into it. “He asked if I believed in the ghost. If I had seen her and whether or not I’d heard anything. He said he’d been noticing that her spirit seemed restless, too.”

“Sure he did.” Mart frowned. “He was probably trying to feed you the same lines to get you to believe in the spirit. He’s behind everything, isn’t he, Trixie?”

“He must know the spirit isn’t real,” Brian added. ’He doctored up that fake tombstone, after all.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t believe in the ghost.” Di shook her head. “I can’t figure him out. There’s just something about him ... I’m not sure what, though.” She let out a sigh.

Dan had been quiet while the others talked about Zeke Collins, but now he spoke up again. “I don’t know if it’s Zeke or Mr. Gregory or that creep-o, Mr. Hunter, but I don’t like it. Someone is settin’ something up; it doesn’t sit right with me.”

“I agree.” Trixie had been fiddling with her napkin, but now she stopped and her eyes gazed over the group. “And that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you ever since we got back from Lisgard House.”

“Tell us what, exactly, Trixie?” Honey turned all her attention on her friend. Something had happened in the short time they were there, and she felt guiltier than ever for not being a good partner and accompanying her to the spooky mansion.

“It’s the séance. They want to have it tonight, and Mr. Gregory insisted that Fay return for it. Well, Di, Brian, and I, too, but that was Mr. Hunter. But it was Mr. Gregory—he’s the one that kept insisting Fay should be there.” Trixie frowned, and Honey could see her friend’s blue eyes were filled with frustration.

“Yes, you’ve already mentioned all that. It’s obviously troubling you, but why?” As soon as Honey asked the question, the significance clicked in her mind. She understood what Trixie was trying to say without having actually said it, at least she thought she did. “Oh! You did tell him about the furniture, right?” 

“Yes, of course I did. Brian, too. He even showed him.” Trixie turned to her older brother.

Brian nodded somberly. “That, I did. At first, he seemed concerned. He asked me how many of his antiques might be fakes. I showed him the few pieces Mart and I thought were modern. After that, he barely showed any interest in the possible theft. He and Mr. Hunter both kept insisting that there were spirits in the house, and that the antiques, which Mr. Gregory didn’t even want to acknowledge weren’t real, had nothing to do with the ghost.”

Di put her fork down next to her plate although she kept eyeing the bowl of baked beans. She finally reached for it as she added to the discussion. “Every time we tried to talk about the furniture or the artwork, he—Mr. Gregory that is—kept turning the conversation back to the ghost of Sarah Sligo, and it seemed to me, but I couldn’t be sure, that he was actually trying to upset Fay. It was awful of him, really.”

“And then Mr. Hunter would interject something about being able to sense the male-malev—oh what was the word he used?” a distraught Fay asked.

“Malevolence,” Brian supplied.

“That’s it.” Fay dragged her fork through the potato salad on her plate. “He kept saying he felt that malevel-thing and going on about evil spirits in the house. They really didn’t care about the furniture at all.”

“And you girls really want to go to this séance tonight after all that?” Jim’s green eyes peered at Trixie worriedly. “I’d keep my distance from those two if I were you.”

“That’s what I keep sayin’.” Dan shook his head.

“Did anyone think,” Paul asked, “that maybe Mr. Gregory isn’t actually buying into Zeke’s fake hauntings and doesn’t really believe Sarah Sligo has returned?”

“I do. I can’t believe that Mr. Gregory believes in the ghost, but if he doesn’t believe in it but believes in having the séance, then why?” Honey sighed. “Did that come out any less garbled aloud than it did in my head?”

“I understood you perfectly.” Mart grinned at her. “And I pose the same question. What’s the purpose of this séance if there is no ghost?”

“But there is a ghost! Oh, why do you all insist Sarah’s not real? She is real. I hear her every night. I’ve seen her. I’ve felt her.” Fay stared quietly down at her plate. Her last sentence came out in a whisper. “Sometimes I think I am her.” Fay shoved her chair away from the table and ran out of the room.

Both Dan and Brian got up to follow her, but Dan put a hand on Brian’s arm and shook his head. “She knows you don’t believe in Sarah’s spirit, but she obviously does. She’s not going to talk to you.”

Honey watched with a small frown as Dan stole after Fay and then quickly returned her attention to the group still at the table. “If we’re going to get to the bottom of this, we need to go back there. Tonight.”

“Exactly what I was thinking, partner.” Trixie grinned. “Mr. Gregory and Mr. Hunter are eager to have that séance, so we need to be there to see what they’re really up to.”

“I’ve been worried that this séance business is going to hurt Fay—to make her believe even more.” Brian paused for a moment. “She’s already convinced she’s possessed. Now, if this séance can convince her otherwise, like some sort of fake exorcism, it may actually help her. I vote we go.”

“Me, too. That makes four of us,” Di stated. “Jim? Mart? Paul?”

“Are you saying you want to go, Di?” Paul frowned, running a hand through his brown hair. “I don’t. I mean, I will, of course, because, well, you. But I still don’t like the idea. And it’s not ghosts or the house I’m worried about—it’s these men that are playing this strange game.”

“Strange game is right.” Mart tapped his fingers on the table rhythmically a few times. “I still think Zeke is our most likely suspect in all of this—stealing the furniture, faking the ghost, everything. Maybe he has convinced Mr. Gregory that the ghost is real. I’m not quite sure how he’s done it, though.”

Jim nodded his head. “I’m in, too. But before we go, what exactly is it we’re hoping to accomplish there?”

“I’ll be at that séance looking around for trip wires and tape recorders,” Mart declared. “I’m hoping to prove that the haunting is a set up.”

Trixie beamed at the group, pleased that they were all on board. “We’ll need to keep our eyes focused on Mr. Hunter and Mr. Gregory. And Fay. If only to make sure she doesn’t get too upset by it all. We should each pick someone to watch.”

Honey thought through the short list of suspects and had to agree Zeke seemed to have the most motive and opportunity. And then there’s always Mrs. Franklin and Fay herself.  She nearly said something to the others about that, but not being sure where Fay was and whether or not she might overhear, she kept quiet about it.

There was a whole other mystery surrounding Sharon Franklin and Fay-slash-Crystal that the rest of the Bob-Whites weren’t even in on. Once again, she felt guilty that she hadn’t told Trixie everything, that she wasn’t being a good partner to her friend. She’d have to ask Dan if she could fill her in. But she hadn’t had any time alone with her since Fay had knocked on the Beldens’ door not even twenty-four hours earlier. 

She also thought the story about Fay’s background and family might be something Dan wouldn’t want the others to know, but then she was pretty sure he’d be okay with her telling Trixie—he knew how close she and Trixie were. And once Trixie knew, all the Bob-Whites would know, because that’s how they worked—together, as a team. And she wasn’t being much of a team player this weekend.

“Why the frown?” Di asked, tapping her on the shoulder. “What’s worrying you?”

“This whole thing, I guess.” Honey surveyed the room, noting each of their grim faces. She wasn’t sure if the others were thinking of the theft, the ghost, or Fay. Her eyes narrowed at the thought of anyone trying to mess with a young girl’s head. “Especially how this is all affecting Fay.”

Dan and Fay took that moment to walk back into the room. Fay’s eyes were red and puffy, but her jaw was set in anger. Neither of them said a word as they sat back at the table.

Brian leaned over and whispered to the two of them, filling them in on what they’d missed. Meanwhile, Trixie had taken charge. She’d gotten some paper and a pencil from one of the drawers in the credenza along the wall and was seated back at the table. Her plate had been pushed aside and she was jotting down notes as she spoke. “Mr. Gregory: Why is he convinced the place is haunted? Why is he not very concerned about the furniture?”

“And why is he so insistent that Fay be at the séance tonight?” Dan added.

“I think you should move on to Mr. Zeke Collins.” Mart stood behind Trixie, watching her write down the name.

“Right. Why is he convinced the place is haunted? Or is he? Why were his overalls covered in paint when nothing looked like it had been painted recently? Why—Oh!” Trixie suddenly stopped. “The painting! Oh, gleeps! The painting!”

“What are you going on about, Trix?” Brian scratched the back of his head in puzzlement.

“We need to get to that séance. I think I understand it all now!” Trixie jumped up from her seat again and ran out of the room.

Honey shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea what that’s all about, but you know how Trixie is. If we don’t follow her—”

She couldn’t even finish her sentence before Trixie returned, coat in hand. “Come on!”

“Did Zeke forge the Picasso?” Paul asked, trying to make some kind of sense of Trixie’s sudden urgency in getting back to Lisgard House.

“Is he an artist? It would take some real talent to forge a painting like that.” Mart shook his head. “Who knows what she’s going on about?”

“Actually, that could be it. Zeke Collins, you said?” At the few nods she received in reply, Di continued. “I was trying to remember why that name sounded so familiar. It just came to me. He painted that mural on the other side of city hall, the one the museum commissioned. I knew I’d heard the name before, but just now connected it with this Zeke.”

“Then it’s not just the furniture.” Dan let out a low whistle. “This guy must have a fence. Could that be Mr. Hunter?”

Or Mrs. Franklin, Honey thought to herself. She had a feeling Dan was thinking the same but couldn’t be sure.

“That’s not it at all, but we need to go now.” Trixie tried to urge them into leaving immediately.

Brian glanced at his watch. “We still have time, Trixie.”

“No, we don’t!” Trixie’s curls quivered as she repeatedly shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “We need to stop somewhere along the way first. I need to talk to Zeke again.”

“Of course, you do. Never mind that we’re suspicious of him and I still don’t like that he grabbed you.” Jim practically rolled his eyes, but, as usual, he ended with throwing his support behind her. “But if you need to talk to him to get some last bit of information, of course, we’ll stop there. Let’s go, guys. Hopefully our shamus has this all figured out.”

“Thanks, Jim. I think I do.” Trixie grinned good-naturedly.

As Honey had come to realize, when Trixie’s mind was working quickly through the clues and piecing everything together, she wasn’t able to explain herself very well. Her brother had recognized the same quality. “Right, let’s get going, everyone!”

“Unwind. We’re really going?” Fay seemed almost relieved.

“Apparently.” Paul was most definitely not relieved.

Di tucked her hand around Paul’s arm, pulling him along. “You were inside that house earlier. You know it’s not all that scary.”

Paul groaned. “That was in daylight. And we weren’t going to actively try and channel Sarah’s spirit.”

chapter 14: consumed by the fires