Read Poison to Purge Melancholy Online

Authors: Elena Santangelo

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #midnight, #ink, #pat, #montello

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BOOK: Poison to Purge Melancholy
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“Perhaps when I sleep then, though I bar the way with my trunk, and place my sacks atop it. Nevertheless, the room is entered each day and I am poisoned, as all who behold me can see. None can be trusted, not even the young mistress and master. So I must take myself away. Who will help?”

“Where will you go, sir?” asked Matthew Hockaday, a quiet, tidy man who clerked at the courthouse.

“Go?” Brennan seemed to cower, as if thoughts of his prospects afrighted him, but then he drew himself up, regaining some of his old conceit. “I shall take up quarters at the Palace, of course.”

Brennan seemed to be making a joke, though given his behavior of late, none were certain. “Sir,” Alex said, “you recall the Governor’s Palace burned two years ago.”

“Monday next, to the day,” Will added.

“Then I shall not disturb the residents, shall I?” Brennan concluded, as if that be proof of his reason.

“If you have no lodgings, sir,” Mr. Hockaday warned, “the court shall declare you vagrant.”

Brennan became impassioned. “I’ll not have that. John Brennan is no vagrant. My business provides means to buy fine lodgings.” He looked to each of our faces for agreement, though, for myself, I could only think how no patrons had come to him since the solstice. His very smile belied his words, for men of means will have their bare gums fitted with teeth of ivory or porcelain. “I have—I’ve yet to find rooms to suit me, sirs. I assure you, I will.”

“The Public Hospital would suit you well,” Jim said, breathing in the steam from his cup. “There you’d have a genteel cell indeed, spacious and lavish, with a door locked for you by servants.”

The lads had a laugh at that and Will said, “More the pity the place was abandoned.”

I’d never seen the inside of Williamsburg’s lunatic hospital—’twas, to my thinking, a peculiar notion that a doctor might return a madman to his former reason. Sam had described the house as a fine prison, with large cells and windows for light, and a yard where the deranged might walk about during the day. However, the war had taken money required for maintenance of the hospital, and destitution had caused the closing of its doors two years previously.

“When Dr. de Sequeyra calls upon Dr. Galt,” Alex said, “they speak of the hospital opening anew, once repairs have been made.”

“Not soon enough,” Hockaday stated. “Two lunatics share our jail presently. Mr. Brennan will join them, I have no doubt.”

“No!” Brennan exclaimed, fleeing from us, jostling the patrons before the bar who blocked his progress.

“Join them afore the New Year, I’ll wager,” Hockaday concluded with grim satisfaction, then called out to the boy for another pint.

“I love Burl Ives’s
Christmas songs,” Miss Maggie sighed, pulling herself gingerly out of Hugh’s car. The long ride had stiffened her arthritic knees. “Brings back memories.”

Better memories, I gathered, than her afternoon had brought. I knew her regular Wednesday visits with Frank were an emotional drain—having a mentally ill son or daughter is hard on anyone, and Frank had been that way since World War II, more than half Miss Maggie’s life. Today must have been especially taxing. Oh, she was cheery enough, yet even in the dim light from the porch, I could see exhaustion in her eyes. I gave her a hug.

But talking to her had to wait. Foot had been rescued by Glad before Hugh stepped up onto the porch, so he returned to get his suitcase and gifts from the car. Then we heard voices coming down the slope behind us as Beth Ann and her entourage returned. After Miss Maggie was warmly hugged by Hugh’s siblings, Acey introduced her new beau.

Hugh leaned close to my ear. “Dr. Kevin Weisel? Wasn’t that the guy you ended up seeing—”

“Right,” I whispered back. “My new GYN.”

His eyebrows went up, but since everyone was traipsing inside, he said no more and we followed.

Glad returned to the kitchen with her other son in tow. “I can’t imagine why you had so much trouble, Francis. The door opened easily for me.”

At the same time, Evelyn walked in, dressed in a plain long brown coat and a round brimmed hat, with musket in hand, looking like he’d just mustered out of the local militia. Glad did the introductions this time. Hugh and Horse each shook the hand Evelyn offered, though with hasty formality. Foot didn’t come forward at all. Acey clasped Evelyn’s hand as she had mine, gazing at him a moment, then sending her mother a wide grin.

“Now,” Glad said firmly, “if you want dinner on time—”

“We know, Ma,” said Horse. “Everyone out of the kitchen.” He swept an arm toward the dining room, indicating our exodus route.

Wanting to stay, I turned to Glad. “Can I help with anything else?” But she was shaking her head.

Miss Maggie divested herself of her jacket, revealing a red sweatshirt with the words “Reindeer Games Track and Field” on the front and “Dasher” and the number “01” on the back. “Show me where our things are, Pat. And which way to the bathroom.”

That, at least, seemed a better alternative than walking under the mistletoe again, so while everyone else followed Horse, I led Miss Maggie to the closet/stairs. Glad followed us as far as the door, touching another two-button switch on the wall.

Up in the hallway, an overhead bulb went on, though it was situated too far from the stairway to illuminate more than the top step. After Miss Maggie and I groped our way to the second floor, I showed her our bedroom, switching on the floor lamp as we entered.

“So, Pat,” Miss Maggie said, tossing her handbag onto the daybed, “what’s bugging you?”

She knew me too well. “First promise you won’t tell Hugh.”

“Oh?” She took off her antlers and knit cap and tried to fluff out her short white hair. “I know you’re not pregnant—had your period this month and you’re on the pill.”

Heat rushed up into my face and neck so fast I longed to yank off my pullover sweater. I hadn’t told Miss Maggie anything—she was simply being her super-observant self. I hid my embarrassment by bending over to lift her suitcase onto the bed.

“And,” she continued, “I doubt you had a blowup or whatever with a member of Hugh’s family already. No tension of that sort in the kitchen just now.”

I assured her that I’d been on my best behavior all day.

“So then,” she concluded, donning the smug grin of a teacher who, with her face turned to the blackboard, can single out a student passing notes in the back of the room, “this is about ghosts, isn’t it?”

I felt a perverse desire to see a glimmer of doubt in her eyes. “How do you know it’s not about Beth Ann?”

“Beth Ann makes you crazy. Not fidgety.” She pointed to my fingers, which were beating a tattoo on her bag’s cloth side. “Besides, Pat, this house always did have a reputation for being haunted. I figured you might run into something today.”

“You
knew
it was haunted? Why didn’t you tell me before—”

“Don’t be silly. You would have had preconceived notions.” Unzipping her suitcase, she rummaged for and brought out a hairbrush. “What did you see, Pat?”

“Nothing.” With a sigh, I hopped up onto the bed beside her luggage, pushing myself back until I leaned against the throw pillows. As Miss Maggie brushed out her curls, I gave her a rundown of my experiences, out of order—I started with my own, then mentioned Foot being stuck in the panic-attack room, and ended with what Zela had told me. “That’s why I spent the last couple hours in the kitchen. Which wasn’t easy with Hugh’s mom trying to throw me out every ten minutes.”

Miss Maggie smiled her sympathy as she tossed her brush back into her suitcase. “Do you feel anything now, Pat? Here?”

I felt exhausted—a nap would have been welcome—but that wasn’t what she meant. “Nope. No anxiety. No panic. No reluctance to go anywhere in this room.”

“You felt those things only around Foot’s bedroom, and at the base of the stairs in the oldest part of the house, correct?”

I nodded, realizing what she was getting at. “You think this newer wing isn’t haunted? Just the main house?”

“And maybe only
part
of that. If so, maybe you can avoid further encounters this weekend.”

I sat up. “Wait, I don’t believe it. Magnolia Shelby
wants
me to avoid ghosts?”

“I thought you were avoiding them anyway, for Hugh.”

“I am, but you—”

“Look, I admit, I have a fondness for historical puzzles—”

Fondness? The woman was addicted to them.

“—and the Carson house has plenty of gaps in its record. Oh, the Williamsburg Foundation knows
who
lived here all those years, but not
what happened
beneath this particular roof, especially during the Revolution. If anything. And whoever kissed you beneath the mistletoe this afternoon might have been alive before this wing was built in the 1790s.”

An eyewitness, she meant, and as she spoke, Miss Maggie’s green eyes grew wide and bright, the way they always did when she got excited. “
But
, this ghost is different from the others you’ve encountered. You’re frightened this time.”

True. Other encounters with the Great Beyond had involved fragments of the past so subtle that I hadn’t known to be scared until Miss Maggie filled in the historical facts behind my experience. Once she’d educated me, I’d met the disembodied on my own terms, coaxing their stories from them, like I’d tried to do today when I’d closed my eyes. I’d seen things those souls had seen in their lives, even shared thoughts and emotions, yet I could always remain separate, always an observer. None of those previous spooks had ever physically touched me.

Yep, this time I was petrified.

Miss Maggie placed one of her gnarled, arthritic hands over mine. Her fingers were cold. “Leave this one alone, Pat. You’re here to enjoy the holiday.” She took up her reindeer antlers once more. “I’ll go find the bathroom. Be right back.”

“There’s supposed to be one in this wing, down at the end of the hall. I’ll come find it with you.” My thought was to test out Miss Maggie’s theory while she was with me for support. If I was going to avoid ghosts this weekend, an unhaunted bathroom was a must. Besides, nature was calling.

The hall ran along the outside wall to the front of the wing, then took a left turn. Straight ahead was the bathroom, its entrance almost lost in shadow. At a right angle to it was another doorway, leading into the old part of the house. I could see a faint trickle of light coming up from, I assumed, the opening on the stair landing, and I could hear voices from downstairs.

Miss Maggie nudged me. “Feel anything?”

“No.” Only wariness, from the suggestion of what waited beyond that doorway, between me and those voices, or up the stairs in Foot’s room.

Miss Maggie hit the light switch in the bathroom, revealing a slightly roomier space than the one in the main house. Another closet, converted, or at least remodeled, in the 1950s I guessed, judging by the dingy pink fixtures and tile, trimmed in black. When I tried to imagine ghosts in that room, I saw Elvis slicking back his hair in front of the wall mirror. That thought was probably suggested by the toiletries case on the shelf behind the toilet. Bigger than a shaving kit, like a women’s cosmetic case done in masculine leather. Since Dr. Weisel had the other bedroom in this wing, I assumed the case was his.

“You first, Pat. Call me if you need me.”

I didn’t need to call her, though I made a mental note to warn her about the faucet knobs—both lifted off easily. Not that it seemed to matter, since only ice water poured forth from each.

But Miss Maggie wasn’t in the hall when I opened the bathroom door. She’d been replaced by Hugh, who was leaning against the wall, arms folded, leer on his lips, eyes shining with mischief.

Before I could get a word out, he scooped me off my feet, his burly arms cradling my knees and back. “You can’t hide that easily,” he said seductively. “Know what’s waiting downstairs?” And to my horror, he tramped off through the doorway.

“No!” I flung one arm around his neck, and gripped his flannel shirt, cringing, expecting the panic feeling to hit any moment, and God knew what else. I closed my eyes out of instinct, then realized that’s the last thing I should do and opened them wide. “Put me down, please!”

Thinking I was kidding, Hugh let out one of his fake evil laughs as he toted me down a few steps and through the doorway to the stair landing. Then, with the hall light above and table lamp below guiding his footing, he doubled his pace, like Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett, except going down instead of up. He put on his brakes in the worst place imaginable. Under the mistletoe.

“Hugh, please, I—” Further pleas were stopped by his mouth on mine. I took stock of the situation: I didn’t feel panic, or more than mild anxiety, or anyone kissing me except Hugh. So I kissed him back. Miss Maggie told me I was here to enjoy the holidays, and this was definitely on my to-do list. But I kept my eyes open a slit.

Thing is, with my defenses still up, the final product was ruined. Hugh sensed something was amiss and pulled away, though he drew in a deep breath as if he needed it.

By way of excuse, I rolled my eyes toward the parlor, where I could see Beth Ann eyeing us from an armchair. “Your daughter’s giving us the
malorchi
.”

Hugh gave me a blank look.

Okay, I admit my pronunciation isn’t high Italian, but that’s how all the Montellas say it. My mom’s relatives, the Giamos, say “maloik.” Though I guessed Hugh might not even recognize the proper “malocchio,” so I explained, “the evil eye.”

He scowled. “We’ll resume this later, in private.” Reluctantly, he lowered me to my feet and we turned toward the parlor to join the others.

Horse met us at the doorway. “You’re winded, brother. Out of shape.”

“Merely out of practice.” Hugh laughed again, but his comment had me picturing him doing the same thing with Tanya.

“So how’s Manny Ibara’s shoulder?” Hugh asked his brother. “Will he pitch this year?”

“Won’t make spring training ’til at least March. If he does what I tell him, he’ll start the home opener. But Atlanta won’t be calling him up this year.”

“Good. Richmond needs him.”

Hugh had taken me to a couple Richmond Braves games, so I could follow their conversation (though I was still a true-blue Phillies fan at heart). I was impressed by Horse’s clientele, but found myself tuning out the sports talk after Miss Maggie came down the stairs and asked Acey about her last vacation: Chaco Canyon, New Mexico on the summer solstice.

“It’s one big astronomical calendar, like Stonehenge,” Acey rhapsodized. “We watched a shaft of light enter the great kiva and fill a niche opposite. And each night, the North Star is directly above the entrance in the center of the wall. I have a photo of star circles—”

All of a sudden Hugh tugged at my hand, coaxing me toward the door.

“Horse wants to have a word with you.”

“Me?” I looked at Horse. “What about?”

BOOK: Poison to Purge Melancholy
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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