Randomized bits of paper and pictures with no order and no connection, how many of us are leaving only this behind? A jumbled mess to an outsider and probably nearly so for an insider but the detectives were determined and patient, pulling pieces this way and that, re-ordering, discussing, and little spits of intuition until they had a clearer picture. It was Tank who made the skewered and awkward family photos make sense. She breezed in with Lynn on her heels picked up the black and white photo Dee had studied earlier, the one that didn't seem to fit in anywhere with the other pictures. The young man on the right was obviously Mr. Alcott but the other man was unknown and never repeated. Tank pulled it to her on the bed and tapped the unknown young man with her fingers and dubbed him one Saul Carlisle, Jonathan Alcott's best friend, confidante, business partner, and presumed lover.
You could see the moment the detectives "got" it and nearly on each other's heels. El watched amused as they both tried to grab the marriage license they had found at the same time. Mrs. Alcott's given name on the paper was Billie Louise Marten Carlisle. And suddenly it made sense, a horrible tragic sense, but there it was in photos before them for anyone to see who knew what to look for. The time line holding true to the papers they had found and put in order.
Mrs. Alcott was born one Billie Louise Thompson. She had married Walter Marten at the age of twenty seven and became step mother to a little girl whose mother had passed away in a car accident. The box held clippings from the local news for both the engagement and for the crash dated slightly over three years apart. The photo for the engagement showed a man in his late twenties, early thirties seated in a wheelchair, a little girl on his lap and Billie Louise as a young woman standing beside them with her hand on his shoulder and dressed in her Sunday best. Among the papers were certifications and papers indicating that until her first marriage she had been a nurse and it was easy to presume that she had been one of the nurses taking care of Walter Marten after the unfortunate accident that had claimed his wife's life.
Dee shuddered as he looked at the engagement photo, the man looked pale and wane, he did not look like a man who had had the great fortune to fall in love again after the loss of his wife. The little girl was subdued, nearly lifeless; the only person with any real energy in the photo was Mrs. Alcott. It wasn't a blushing bride that Dee saw in the photo but the smug look of someone whose manipulations had born fruit. She looked like a predator that had her prey well within her grasp.
A death certificate for Mr. Marten was also in the box, paper clipped to his obituary. Mr. Marten hadn't survived much past his marriage, a few months after saying his vows he developed pneumonia and passed away leaving his young daughter to his new wife to raise. The obituary clarified that Walter Martin had been in ill health since the accident and while his life had been cut tragically short his death had been at least somewhat expected.
It hadn't taken the enterprising Mrs. Alcott long to lay her hands on another husband. No engagement announcement this time but in its stead a record of live birth of a son, Paul Jonathan Carlisle, born less than two years after Walter Marten's death. Parents listed as Saul T. Carlisle and Billie Louise M. Carlisle. No further mention of the name Carlisle was made until it appeared on the wedding certificate for the Alcott's as Mrs. Alcott took her third and final husband. Despite having married and fathered a child with her Saul Carlisle had been eradicated out of her life, no pictures left behind of him save for the one where he had his arm thrown around the waist of a younger, happier Jonathan Alcott.
Ryo held up the picture of the Alcott family, the one where Mr. Alcott stood stiffly beside his wife dressed in an ill suited and ill fitted suit; his dark hair neatly combed and oiled smatterings of grey around the temple and above his ears. It wasn't him that Ryo was looking at but the son, now that he knew the boy was Carlisle's Ryo could see it in his face, the shape of his eyes, the lines of his cheekbones. Strange how the most obvious things can be missed until you know to look for them and how everything is so much clearer in hindsight than it ever is when you are struggling through it. Ryo moved on to look at the daughter, curious now to see if girl looked as much like Marten or had she favored the mother more, what he saw when he really looked at her gave him a bit of a start enough so that his eyes slid over to study Ellen's face. She caught him immediately and promptly winked at him and stuck out her tongue and then laughed when he blushed.
Lynn chuckled too and pulled Ellen back to rest against her, leaned back against the wall, her arms round Ellen's round waist. Dee looked from them back to Ryo in confusion, his thoughts on the papers before them he had missed the exchange completely.
"Well, Ryo's figured it out, at least partially; let's see what Dee can do, yeah?" Ellen said, her good humor evident as she snuggled back into Lynn's embrace, giving a little appreciative sigh when Lynn nuzzled a kiss on the top of her head. Dee pinned down Ryo and arched an eyebrow. Silently Ryo handed over the photograph to Dee and waited. It didn't take long. One second his brow was furrowed as examined it and the next it was wrinkled as his eyes went up in surprise.
"And I see Dee is as sharp sighted and minded as his partner. Before you ask, yes we're related, she's a cousin of mine on my mother's side, Walter Marten's sister. These damn chipmunk cheeks are a dead giveaway aren't they? You get us all in a room together and we could do a fair rendition of an Alvin and the Chipmunks family reunion." Ellen acknowledged what their eyes were telling them cheerfully, distracted by Lynn's attentions to her neck and laughing softly when Lynn muttered that she liked her chipmunk cheeks and kissed the one turned up towards her.
"Does the owner know this?" Ryo asked.
"Not at all. He's never bothered to look into the history of the house or its previous owners. Why would he? It's no concern of his and he's not from this area in the first place." Ellen saw the sour look spreading across Ryo's face and cut him off before he could start. "And get that thought out of your head young man right now. I didn't like the old biddy, no one who knows the real story of what went on does, old goat that she was but I haven't the least bit to gain by this house one way or the other. I haven't a thing to do with all the stuff that has gone on other than to be the person that picks all the pieces up."
"I know that Ellen but someone looking in from the outside, someone who hasn't been here when there are eggs flying across the kitchen, will be all too happy to assume you had something to do with it. You should have told us you were related to the original owners of the house." Ryo told her, trying to sound stern but the voice that worked so well on Dee and Bikky Ellen was impervious too.
Ellen snorted. "Why? So you could make the same mistake from day one and think you had it all wrapped up nice and neat? You, and I do mean you Ryo, would have jumped at the chance to dismiss all of this with an easy cut and dried answer. I can practically see your report now, disgruntled former relative, obviously up to mischief, case closed." Ellen clapped her hands together to mimic the closing of a file or a book and then pretended to dust them off, before laying them back on top of Lynn's arms. Ellen sighed but this time it was a depressed push of air instead of the more breathy sigh of pleasure she gave Lynn earlier. "No, I had to let it play out so that you two could see for yourselves what was going on around here. Besides, I really did take the job because I needed the money and a place to stay. I hadn't been divorced for very long and my last place of employment went out of business. Lynn and I had only just started to date. When I took the job I remember being amused at the coincidence but I was more concerned with getting a roof over my head. Now it's more like a stone around my neck."
Dee interrupted Ellen. "How so? From a detectives point of view you've just admitted you need the job and a place to stay, the sooner the house is renovated the sooner you'd be out of both. If it really were a problem for you why didn't you quit? The obvious answer would be because you couldn't afford to."
Ellen gave him a depreciating look. "Is that what you really think Dee? That in all this time I couldn't have found another job? What do your observation skills tell you about me and Lynn Dee? If you had just met us what would you see?"
Dee was quiet for a moment as he looked at them, really looked at them. "I see a happily settled couple, if you weren't the same sex I would assume you were married or well on your way to being married. You're comfortable with each other, in each other's back pockets, neither of you have the nerves or the excitement of people who have just started dating." Dee frowned. "In fact I would be hard pressed to explain why you still live here and aren't shacked up at Lynn's feeding each other pancakes and eggs for breakfast and sharing the morning newspaper over coffee."
Ryo reached out and took the photo back from Dee and looked at it again, at the sullen sad faces of the teenagers and the hardness of Mrs. Alcott's washed out blue eyes. "Because it's personal for you, isn't Ellen? You stay because the house is haunted. I can't tell you how much I hate saying that word by the way. Haunted." Ryo handed the frame out to Ellen when she reached for it, clasping it to her chest. "You stay because that woman put that look on those faces and you knew them, at least your cousin but likely the boy too, you knew them and you stay because of them. Isn't that right? You stay because you know what haunts this house and you don't want others subjected to her. "
Ellen smiled but it was faint, pained. She went to speak, seemed to struggle with her throat and then gave it up, with tears in her eyes she settled for just nodding. Lynn hugged her a little tighter and dropped another kiss on her head before clearing her own throat to speak.
"She won't leave. I've pleaded with her too but every time I think I convince her to just walk away from it all something else happens. I don't know how much you guys were told about the place but people have been injured here. The architect who came to look over the house and draw up the plans for renovations was a bit on the effeminate side. I make it a practice to not try and guess whose family and who isn't but if I had to guess I would have had to guess he was gay. That bible you called about hit the man in the face hard enough to knock him over, he busted his head open on the coffee table on the way down. Mr. Desmont paid his medical bills but the man flat out refused to return. The black men who came to look at the roof were spooked by all the noise inside the house but were otherwise left alone however when a black lawyer showed up with an insurance agent to look over the property the minute he stepped into the house the doors started opening and closing on their own and didn't stop until he was a mile or more down the road. The poor Mexicans that have shown up to start working on the yard and I think they were to start on the renovations were so terrified by the end of their first week that not one of them could be talked into coming back in the yard for any amount of money. "Lynn's face curled up in distaste. "Not to mention she threw a ceramic wall decoration of praying hands at me the first night I stayed over. She's lucky she's dead or I'd have rung her neck."
In the kitchen the cabinet doors started opening and closing in quick succession making a barrage of noise followed by what sounded like the kitchen table being dragged across the floor and then unceremoniously flipped over. Almost in unison they all groaned, apparently Mrs. Alcott didn't appreciate being discussed in such a manner.
Ellen spoke up from the circle of Lynn's arms. "She was a world class bigot and racist. You'd think being dead and not safely inside the pearly gates would have given her pause to reconsider. Anybody else want to get the hell out of here? I'm not afraid of her and she knows it but right now she's giving me a headache. I'm hungry and irritated. Let's go to the Huddle House and get something fattening to eat and some pie."
Dee was off the bed before she was finished speaking, throwing everything back in the box, all except the black and white photo of Jonathon Alcott and Saul Carlisle. He wanted to know more about them, what had happened to them as a couple and how Saul Carlisle had wound up married to such a witch of a person. They looked so happy in the photo together that it had been a shock to see the tired, defeated face of an older Jonathon Alcott in their family portrait. Dee tucked the picture into the center of magazine he had found when he was pulling the box out from under the bed, satisfied that it wouldn't get damaged that way he carried it out with him determinedly ignoring the sounds of chaos going on the house.
The front door literally smacked him in the backside on his way out and threw him forward into Ryo who stumbled forward in turn right into Tank who Dee was gratified held her ground and kept both men from tumbling to the ground. He'd just caught his breath from that little adventure when a horrible shriek from inside the house caught him off and made his skin crawl. Would this madness never end? There was only some much of this a man could take before the constant adrenal rushes wore out his nerve endings. If he could drive home to get pie that's exactly what he would have done, packed it all end and driven nonstop until he was within NYC's borders, hell he'd even pay for pie for Tank and Lynn.
They had all just made the safety of their cars when all the lights in the house threw themselves on and off again. They were still doing it as they left. It's like the house couldn't stand them when they were there but were just as hungry for attention it craved when they were not.
Sitting over a triple plates of fries, two cokes and two sweet teas the two couples sat and nibbled while Ellen reigned court and told the stories she knew of the Marten's, the Carlisle's, the Alcott's and the unhappy circumstances when their paths crossed with the late Billie Louise Thompson.
(Part one of two. I'm not done with part two yet, as you can tell this is where all the different lines converge. I sincerely hope this wasn't a dry read for anyone as I know everyone still reading has waited a very long time for this to make its appearance. If all goes to plan I will have the second part posted either Saturday or Sunday, today is Friday. Things pick up speed again in the next chapter. Thank you so much to everyone who reads. Lots of love, Ladye.)