Notes: And my longest Perry story so far comes to a close. This has been a fun, wild ride! Thanks so much to everyone who's been reading! I have another story planned, which will likely tie in with this one a bit. If you're curious about what the basic plot will be, please drop by my blog, Parkavenuebeat, at Blogspot!
"Well, Mignon, this case is officially solved and Flo's haunted house has been dismantled. It's safe for Howie and his parents to go home."
Mignon smiled. "Thank you, Hamilton."
"Oh, don't thank just me," Hamilton said. "I couldn't have done this without everyone else who got involved too." He shook his head. "Paul is getting a sizable check from my office. And he more than deserves it."
They were in Hamilton's office, where the case had been opened days earlier. Both Hamilton and Mignon were at peace with the outcome. Vivalene and Flo were both in jail. Their hearings had been set. And Hamilton had opened an investigation into the crooked judge.
"What about that poor man who was killed?" Mignon asked. "What was the purpose of that?"
Hamilton sighed. "As it turned out, that didn't have anything to do with our case, other than the killer himself. The victim was someone he had a grudge against. So he planned out the murder and finally put it into effect. And he mutilated the body in his hatred."
"That's abominable." Mignon shook her head. "I can't understand what enters the hearts of such people."
"I've been trying for years and I still can't," Hamilton said.
"Oh, how are the Petersons doing?" he wondered. "You mentioned that Douglas finally came clean."
"He did. Martha was more upset about Douglas having kept so many things from her then she was about his past," Mignon said. "But they're going to be fine."
"Good," Hamilton nodded. "Martha told me that she knew about the blackmail," he said after a moment.
"Yes," Mignon said. "What she didn't realize was that Douglas knew the woman blackmailing them.
"We were wrong about him withholding information because he was afraid of what would come out about him," she continued. "He was mostly using that as an excuse and a cover. He was mainly worried about Howie and what would happen if it got out about Vivalene's sister falling down the stairs due to one of Howie's toys. He didn't know she was even alive until he received a telephone call from a woman claiming to be Vivalene, directing him to the hotel where the real Vivalene was pretending to be Flo."
"And the person who called him was actually Flo," Hamilton finished. "I still don't understand what those women were trying to do."
"Douglas said that the faux Flo—Vivalene—wanted to discuss the price of the blackmail Vivalene had been making him pay. She told him that Vivalene was bored and had decided to go public with the story about her sister's 'death', of course leaving out the fact that it wasn't real. But there was a way to make them both go away for good."
"Handing over the treasure," Hamilton guessed.
"Yes. And Douglas finally agreed that it would be done, once he found it. He was made to promise that he would find it. I believe they thought he already knew and wouldn't tell them."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Hamilton said.
"How did Mr. Mason ever begin to suspect that they had switched places?" Mignon wondered.
"Well, he told me he started to get the idea when the girls themselves brought up the subject of impersonation. And he'd thought that 'Flo' acted the way Vivalene sometimes did when she was being aloof. He thought at first it just ran in the family. Then he started thinking maybe it didn't. It's all a confused mess. Their trials are going to be a headache."
"It's not a wonder.
"Do you know how Flo played her tricks in the Petersons' home?"
"That was really a piece of work," Hamilton said in annoyance. "One day when the Petersons were out, she had some of her men sneak in through the passage in the basement and slip things into secret compartments throughout the house, when they could find them. If they couldn't, they'd just cut the wall or ceiling open, stick something there, and fix it back, good as new."
"What kinds of things?" Mignon wondered.
"Oh . . . coolant coils to help with the cold spots . . . timed audio devices for the voices and shrieks. . . . Sometimes Flo snuck in herself to help things along. She was responsible for the scream Martha and Howie heard in the basement. She's as brazen and bold as her sister." Hamilton sighed. "I'm glad to hear this news about Douglas, though. That he wasn't just being cowardly and afraid of the information concerning him getting out, I mean."
Mignon nodded. "He made a bad choice in judgment, but he was always concerned for his family above all else. Apparently he honestly didn't believe Vivalene would abduct Howie."
"But she did. She confessed that she thought she could force Douglas's hand about the treasure if she was holding his son." The disgust in Hamilton's voice was clear.
"Have you captured the other man involved in the kidnapping?" Mignon queried.
"Yes," Hamilton said. "It took a while; the identification in the wallet Howie grabbed was fake. But the police tracked him down. He's confessed to everything he knows about what was going on."
"I'm glad," Mignon said.
"Oh, and he moonlighted for a while at Mr. Owen's barbershop," Hamilton put in. "He was the one who took the hair clippings for the voodoo dolls."
"I see. And what about Mr. Owen? You said Vivalene mentioned going to meet with him."
"She was just trying to throw our suspicions in his direction, since she knew we'd start looking into the barbershop." Hamilton moved a folder over on his desk. "How's Howie?"
"He's very happy," Mignon said, smiling a bit now. "He's always talking about how you and the others 'made the scary things stop.' He's even started to be more friendly with strangers."
"Oh really," Hamilton said in surprise.
Mignon nodded. "He's so excited, he wants to tell them about what's happened.
"How is Lieutenant Anderson?"
"He's doing very well," Hamilton said. "It'll probably take him a few weeks to fully get back on his feet, but he's home now."
That was an aspect of the case that still absolutely blew Hamilton's mind. Part of him wanted to say that the doctors had made a mistake, that Andy had never been dead.
And yet even he could not so much as try to say that was the explanation. Andy had described everything he had witnessed after his death in perfect detail. No one had told him. He had been there throughout the final twists of the investigation and the arrests.
Not to mention what had taken place earlier that night.
". . . That night, you said it was a miracle that Howie and I got away when we were being sniped at by Vivalene," he said.
"Yes. And you didn't even deny it," Mignon remarked.
"Well . . . I couldn't." Hamilton hesitated. "I heard a voice when I was running. It warned me out of the way just before I would have been shot in the back." He took a deep breath. "It was Andy's voice."
Mignon only quirked an eyebrow very slightly. "Then maybe in the future, Hamilton, you won't be so quick to dismiss things that seem to defy logic," she said.
"I still don't believe in voodoo, if that's what you're driving at," Hamilton was quick to interject. "Or that those dolls have any power. The most I'd be willing to give you is that if one of them is sent to an overly superstitious person, their sheer anxiety and belief that something will go wrong could cause their body to react likewise."
"That happens," Mignon conceded.
"But it isn't always what happens," Hamilton said. "That's the rest of what you mean, isn't it?"
Mignon just smiled. "There are many things in this world that you do not understand, Hamilton. The supernatural is one very large such category."
"Believe me, I'd be happy to never encounter anything supposedly supernatural again," Hamilton declared.
"That might prove difficult, if the Petersons ever locate that treasure," Mignon said.
Hamilton blinked in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Douglas has finally seen both parts of the map," Mignon said. "And on the half Vivalene owns, it shows pictures of several objects that he believes are part of the treasure. One of them looks very similar to an ancient artifact that came into the possession of the Spanish many centuries ago. This artifact was said to bestow powers unimaginable upon the wielder."
Hamilton chuckled. "And Flo believed it," he said.
"Yes. And there is no proof that such an artifact doesn't exist."
"There's no proof that such an artifact works exactly as it's fabled to, either," Hamilton said. "I'm willing to admit that it, or something that looks like it, might be around. But it's probably just a musty old object that belongs in a museum."
"We will see. Douglas was considering not even trying to find the treasure, after all the trouble it's caused. But Martha convinced him that since they have the information from the other half of the map they should at least try. They could use the money."
"Do they know where to look?" Hamilton asked. "The top half of the map was pretty confusing."
"They have an idea," Mignon said, "but they're not sure. They're planning to try tomorrow." She rose. "Meanwhile, Hamilton, they wanted me to deliver a proposition to you. They thought it would be better this way rather than to spring it on you at the celebratory gathering tonight."
Hamilton got to his feet as well. "What do you mean?" he asked in surprise.
"Martha and Douglas both see how taken Howie is with you," Mignon said, "and how staunchly you tried to protect him. They're both grateful."
Hamilton raised an eyebrow. "Douglas doesn't hold any hard feelings, after what I said to him at the hospital?"
Mignon shook her head. "It made him admire you more," she said. "It did look bad for him, especially since he deliberately furthered and refused to refute the idea that he was just afraid for himself. He recognized that you were sincerely concerned about Howie's welfare when you lost your temper with him. When all was said and done, he had an idea. He and Martha discussed it and then brought it to me. They're hoping you will consider and accept it.
"They want you to be Howie's godfather."
Hamilton rocked back. Of all things Mignon could have said, that was something he had never expected in a million years. "They want me to what?" Mignon waited patiently while he tried to work that out in his mind. "Mignon, I hardly ever interact with kids."
"That doesn't matter to them," Mignon said. "They feel you handle Howie just fine."
Hamilton shook his head, overwhelmed. "I wouldn't know what to say or do."
"Then you could learn." Mignon looked at him. "Hamilton, I'm not telling you what to do. But it would mean a great deal to the Petersons. And Howie loves you. It would make him very happy."
Hamilton ran a hand through his hair. "It's a lot to take in."
"I know it is. But I believe in you."
"I'll think about it," Hamilton promised. "I'm honored that they'd think of me. I'm just bowled over at the same time."
Mignon smiled. "Then shall we go?"
Hamilton nodded, grabbing his hat off the rack. "After you," he said.