With a brand-new short story featuring Tyler Hawthorne from The Messenger, plus three stories from Eighteen, this is the third of six e-short story collections from New York Times bestselling suspense author Jan Burke.
With a brand-new short story featuring Tyler Hawthorne from The Messenger, plus three stories from Eighteen, this is the third of six e-short story collections from New York Times bestselling suspense author Jan Burke.
National bestseller Jan Burke is the author of a dozen novels and a collection of short stories. Among the awards her work has garnered are Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar® for Best Novel, Malice Domestic’s Agatha Award, Mystery Readers International’s Macavity, and the RT Book Club’s Best Contemporary Mystery. She is the founder of the Crime Lab Project (CrimeLabProject.com) and is a member of the board of the California Forensic Science Institute. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs. Learn more about her at JanBurke.com.
TYLER HAWTHORNE WALKED THROUGH THE BUFFALO cemetery in the hours past midnight, his large black dog at his side. Recent reports of grave robbers made the Forest Lawn superintendent glad of his help. When he’d approached the superintendent to offer his aid, the man had believed he was meeting Dr. Tyler Hawthorne III, who was the spit and image of his father, and how the dog bred true as well!
Tyler’s first visit to Buffalo had been in the summer of 1834, as part of a group of doctors who came to the city to volunteer their services during a cholera outbreak. It was a good thing that the superintendent wasn’t around then, for seeing a man who also appeared to be identical to his own “grandfather” might be too much.
The fact that Tyler, who looked twenty-four now, had been born before the end of the previous century, and his dog untold centuries before then, would be held to be impossible by that gentleman.
Tyler was a Messenger, able to take the hand of a person at death’s door and hear thoughts they could not speak. He would then convey these last messages to the person’s loved ones, or to whomever they wished him to give the information. Each also told him where he would next be needed. And so he had returned to Buffalo. He did not age, recovered rapidly from any injury, and other than brief bouts of fever associated with his work, suffered no illness.
The autumn night was mild, a lovely night to stroll through the Forest Lawn Cemetery. This was one of the relatively new “rural cemeteries” in the United States. Although established within large cities, they provided park-like settings for burials. They were a change from the usual practice of burying the dead on one’s own family land, or in a lot next to a church, or a potter’s field. Those traditional burying grounds were thought of as places to be avoided and often became neglected.
The first cemetery created as a pastoral ideal was Père-Lachaise, established near Paris in 1804, when Tyler was still fully mortal, although he had not visited it until after Waterloo, when he had changed. Tyler had taken Shade there in 1820.
Shade, a cemetery dog, had a special concern for the resting places of the dead and the care of graves. He needed to roam among burial grounds on a regular basis. Tyler and the dog had been together more than half a century now, and while Tyler didn’t fully understand all the complexities of Shade’s needs and powers, he could tell that this new form of cemetery met with the dog’s approval.
Père-Lachaise had been immediately popular—and imitated. This new form of cemetery had started appearing in the United States in the early 1830s. Buffalo had started this one about twenty years ago, the result of need. In 1849, another cholera epidemic had cost 877 lives here in the city, and although all the dead were interred, it placed a strain on the city’s resources for burial grounds. Two years later, a visionary citizen, attorney Charles E. Clarke, had bought eighty acres of farmland from Erastus Granger and designated it as a cemetery.
Clarke soon bought more land for Forest Lawn and began to make the improvements that created this beautiful park for the dead, a place where the living could come to remember and reflect—or enjoy it as place to ride or stroll, as many did. Unlike the previous practice of only arranging for a burial place at the time of death, lots were purchased in advance. The distinguished gentlemen of the all-volunteer Forest Lawn Cemetery Association ensured that funds collected were used solely for the care and protection of the grounds and enriched no individual.
At this hour, although two other attendants roamed another part of the cemetery, Tyler and Shade were alone in this section of the hilly grounds. Suddenly Shade stiffened. His ears pitched forward and his hackles rose. He gave a low, soft growl.
Tyler came to a halt. Shade protected him, but the dog seldom growled at living beings.
In the next moment, the air was filled with what he at first took to be bats, then saw were small birds, of a type Tyler had never seen so far inland. “Mother Carey’s chickens,” he said, using the sailors’ name for them. Storm petrels. “What are they doing here?”
The birds fluttered above him, then a half dozen dropped to the ground before Shade in a small cluster. The scent of the sea rose strongly all about him, as if someone had transported him to the deck of a ship.
Shade stared hard at them as they cheeped frantically, then the dog relaxed into a sitting position.
The other petrels flew away. No sooner had they gone than the six before him were transformed into the ghostly figures of men.
They were forlorn creatures, gray-faced and looking exactly as what they must be, drowned men. Their uniforms proclaimed two as officers, the other four as sailors, all but one of the British navy.
Shade’s demeanor told him that these ghosts—unlike some others—would be no threat to him.
“May I be of help to you?” Tyler asked.
“Captain Hawthorne?” the senior officer asked.
“I believe the rank belongs more rightly to you,” Tyler said. “I was a captain in the British army many years ago, but I sold out after Waterloo.”
“Yes, sir,” the captain said, “I understand. If I may introduce myself to you, I am Captain Redding, formerly of the Royal Navy. Lost at sea in about your—your original time, sir.”
They exchanged bows.
“You are a Messenger?” Captain Redding asked.
“We are all men who drowned at sea. Many of those in the flock you called ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ are indeed just that. We come from many nations, taken by that sea witch Mother Carey, yet death has made us all birds of a feather. Little birds tell other little birds news of those such as yourself, and speak of Shade as well.”
The dog gave a slight wag of his tail in acknowledgment.
The captain went on. “The midshipman we bring to you is an American. Hails from here in Buffalo. We approach you on his behalf.” He turned to the man. “Step forward, Midshipman Bailey, and tell the captain your story, for we’ve not much time left.”
“Aye, sir.” The midshipman gave Tyler a small bow. “Thank you, sir. If you would be so kind to visit my sister, who lies dying not far from here. In the asylum, sir. The good one. We’ve all of us in her family done her a grave injustice.” He looked down at his feet. “Many injustices.”
“When were you lost at sea?” Tyler asked gently.
“Eight years ago, sir, in ’63. In the War Between the States. Would have done more for my country if Zeb Nador hadn’t pushed me overboard in a storm.”
“Do you ask me to seek justice for you?”
“Not necessary for me, Nador’s in the county jail here and will face trial for murdering someone else. He’ll hang as well for that one as for what he did to me.”
Tyler was about to try to say something to comfort him, unsure what that might be, when one of the other men whispered, “Hurry!”
Midshipman Bailey nodded, then said, “Will you go to her, sir? Her name is Susannah. She needs you tonight. And if you’d tell her Andrew sent you to her, and that she was always the best of his sisters, and that he sees things clearer now, and hopes to one day rest at her side—”
“Hurry!” the captain ordered.
“Well, sir, I’d take it as a great kindness.”
“I would be honored to do so, Midshipman Bailey.”
“Thank you!” he said, and had no sooner whispered these words than all six men again transformed into small birds and rose from the ground. They circled in the air above him, where they were joined again by the larger flock. He had thought they would begin their long journey back to the sea, but they surprised him by surrounding him and the dog.
Quite clearly, he heard hundreds of voices whisper to him at once, “Storm’s coming!”
And they were gone.
Shade immediately headed toward the nearest gate at a brisk trot. He glanced back at Tyler in impatience. Tyler hurried to catch up.
“There is more than one asylum, you know. The closest is still under construction, which leaves Providence Lunatic Asylum and the Erie County Almshouse—”
It wasn’t hard to read the next look he received.
“I apologize. Yes, Sister Rosaline Brown’s would be the ‘good one.’ And of course you will know the way and of course you will be admitted, although large black dogs, as a rule . . .”
Shade wagged his tail.
Providence Lunatic Asylum was operated by the Sisters of Charity, who had previously established a hospital in Buffalo. They had arrived in the city just in time to deal with the early cholera epidemics and were considered heroes by many. In 1860, horrified by conditions in the Erie County Almshouse and Insane Asylum, Sister Rosaline Brown started the asylum, which attempted a more humane treatment of the insane.
The dog paused at the small building closest to the cemetery’s main gate. Tyler understood what he was meant to do. Hailing the man who was keeping watch, Tyler said, “A severe storm is coming. Please call the other men in.”
“Storm?” the man said, bewildered.
“Yes, it’s calm now, but I just saw a flock of storm petrels. Sea birds. The only reason they’d be this far inland is if a hurricane had blown them here.”
He bid the man a quick good night and wondered if he would heed the warning.
In the next moment the wind came up, and trees began to rustle and sway. Shade leaped into the gig Tyler had left tied at the gate. Tyler glanced over his shoulder and saw the watchman gather a large lantern, and soon heard him calling out to the others.
“WHY, DOCTOR! I WAS JUST ABOUT TO SEND A BOY OUT TO FIND you!” the porter said. He peered out at the downpour. “Where’d all that come from, I’d like to know? Come in, come in out of the rain. You, too, Shade.”
Once he closed the door behind them, he said, “The sisters are doing their best, but Miss Bailey has been asking and asking for you and the dog, which is passing strange, because she’s never been known to speak a word of sense in all the time she’s been with us, so the sisters thought—we were hoping—well, we didn’t even know you knew her!”
“I met her brother Andrew briefly.”
“Ah, during the war,” the porter said knowingly. “Sad, that. Very sad.” He took Tyler’s hat and driving coat, then led the way.
As they followed the porter down the hallways, Tyler noticed that the few patients who were awake grew quiet as the dog passed their doors. The porter noticed it as well, and whispered, “I don’t know what it is about him, but he brings peace to the place. Soothes my own nerves, for that matter.”
“Mine as well,” Tyler said quietly.
This asylum was vastly different from the Erie County Almshouse, where the poor and the insane of all degrees were housed together. At the county facility, those in charge seemed to be more concerned over expenditures than care or feeding of its residents, and the suffering there was unimaginable. Fifteen or so years ago, the Buffalo Medical Journal said the diet there was one that exceeded “anything Dickens ever described” in estimating the starvation point. Matters had not really improved since then.
As they neared the room in which Susannah Bailey was being kept, they heard her become quieter. “Poor lady has been having seizures. They’ve exhausted her.”
“She is epileptic, then?”
“Yes, and no trouble!” He frowned. “A kind soul, even if she can’t speak sensibly. I don’t believe she would ever hurt anyone.”
Before Tyler could ask him what he meant by that, the porter tapped softly on the room’s door and said, “I’ve brought them, Sister Elizabeth.”
A tall nun opened the door. “So quickly!”
“He arrived here just as I was about to send the boy out,” the porter confessed.
“Well, how good of you to bring him to us right away,” she said. “Any word from her family?”
“Her stepfather, well, imbibed a bit too much and is in no condition to be out. But the servants said her mother was in Williamsville, where she was staying with a friend, and would be sent for straightaway, but there’s a storm, Sister, so I don’t know if she’ll make it back in time.”
“We’ll leave that in God’s hands then, and do our best for Miss Bailey. Come in, come in, Dr. Hawthorne. And you, too, Shade. It’s as if she heard your approach.”
“They all did,” the porter said, stepping aside. “Listen.”
She did. The only sounds to be heard were made by the steady fall of rain. “A blessed silence it is, too.” She smiled at Shade. “How true that the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Tyler thought of the initial resistance he had faced when he had asked to bring Shade inside with him. It was not necessary that Shade be at his side when he did his work, but he had long ago noticed the dog’s effect on those whose minds were troubled. It took only one demonstration of this fact to make the dog a welcome guest at the asylum.
“They are here!” the woman in the bed cried out.
“She spoke clearly!” one of the nuns said in amazement.
Tyler moved quickly to Miss Bailey’s side. Her features were twisted as if in a spasm. She was restless and tried to sit up, reaching out with thin hands. He took them in his own, and she sighed and fell back onto her pillow, keeping her gaze on him. In that moment, her facial features relaxed, and he saw that she was a beautiful woman, probably in her early twenties. It was hard to tell. After all, he appeared to be about the same age.
Oh, at last you are here!
He read her thoughts as clearly as if they were his own. Keeping silent, he said to her, Yes. Your brother Andrew asked us to come. He conveyed to her all that Andrew had said.
She was marveling, as many had before her, at the transformation felt by the dying when in contact with him.
How wonderful to have my thoughts clear, to be able to speak to someone! Ah, and no seizures. I was growing so tired. How lovely to have strength again!
It will not last, I’m afraid. Tyler replied. I know you can tell that we have only a little time. What can I do for you?
I am so glad to hear this news of Andrew, she said. Thank you. Please thank Sister Elizabeth and all the others here, and especially Sister Rosaline. The Sisters of Charity saved me from a horrible fate.
A series of images and sensations flashed across his mind, as she relayed memories of being chained to a wall, of hunger, of cold, of darkness and isolation.
“I am so sorry,” he said aloud.
Sister Elizabeth said, “We have been unable to stop the seizures. They come frequently, and as a result, she has been growing exhausted. We’ve done our best to prevent injury, but—”
“I am sure if she could speak, she would thank you for rescuing her from the almshouse, for all your merciful care of her.”
“Sister Elizabeth,” one of the others said softly, “look at her face. She’s smiling.”
He focused again on Susannah Bailey.
Thank you, she said. As you say, I must tell my story quickly. Ten years ago, on June 7, 1861, my sister Amelia disappeared. She left the house early that morning, dressed in a pink gown and wearing a bright gold locket, as well as a ring with a small ruby at the center.
When she did not return that evening, my stepfather, Ira Podgett, hired a person he said was a detective to look for her. A Mr. Briggs. A few days later this seedy-looking man returned to our home and made his report. After he left, my stepfather told my mother that Amelia was well but refused to return home, that she had eloped with a soldier. He told my mother that he didn’t blame Amelia, that living with me had been too much for her. He said that only his love for my mother allowed him to tolerate my dangerous presence in the house, and he again pleaded with her to have me locked away.
He does not love my mother. He loves her money and her social standing.
But part of what he said was the truth—Amelia, who did flirt shamelessly with soldiers, was mortified by my epilepsy, and often said that no one would offer her marriage, as it was widely known there was a madwoman in the family. But no matter what is said of me, I never harmed anyone. My epilepsy does not make me dangerous!
Tyler replied. No, of all the cases I have seen, epilepsy is only dangerous to the person who suffers it. I think we err in deeming it a form of madness. Alas, it is a belief I share with no more than a handful of my colleagues.
She sighed aloud, as if in contentment at finding this small amount of support. Thank you.
Tyler was vaguely aware of murmurs around the bed.
But I must continue, she said. Andrew was away at school when Amelia disappeared. Within the year, though, he left school to serve in the navy.
Soon after, when I reached the age of nineteen, my seizures abated and there was hope that I had been cured of epilepsy—my physician said he had seen such cases, where it passed off after childhood.
I was, for the first time in my life, allowed to be without a constant attendant. However, the fear that the seizures might return remained strong—and may I say, even stronger, the fear that I might embarrass the family should I have a public seizure—so I continued to be restricted to living on an upper floor of our home, although if we were not entertaining guests, I was free to walk about the grounds when the weather allowed.
Needless to say, I preferred the gardens and lawn to the confinement of the house. The property is bordered by woods, which I was strictly forbidden to enter. Of course I went into them secretly from time to time, and was caught at this once or twice, but it was well worth any lecturing or additional confinement I was ordered to endure for the transgression.
One drizzly day, while I sat reading near a window, I saw a man carrying a shovel, making his way across the lawn, toward the woods. He glanced back and I quickly leaned away from the window, although I doubt he saw me watching. His face was concealed by a woolen scarf wrapped round it, and his hat was pulled low.
My mother was away at a meeting of one of her societies. My stepfather, who is a portly man, not of the build of the man who crossed the lawn, was in his study. Neither was the man one of our staff—both the butler and my stepfather’s valet were much older; the stable lads much younger; the gardener taller and more slender; the coachman much taller, and away, driving my mother to her meeting.
Curious, I put on a dark wrap and stealthily made my way downstairs. I left the house unseen, or so I thought.
By the time I reached the lawn beyond the gardens, the man had disappeared into the woods, but I was easily able to follow his footprints across the dampened grass. The same was true within the woods. I followed them farther into the trees than I had ever gone before. I was a little frightened, but also excited.
Soon I heard the sound of the shovel at work and slowed my approach. I came within sight of him and hid myself well.
He grew heated from his labors and removed his hat and the muffler about his face. It was then that I recognized him as Mr. Briggs, the “detective” hired by my stepfather.
I came a little closer to see if I could determine why he was digging a hole in our woods. I soon saw that he was not digging a hole. He was exhuming a body.
My sister Amelia lay in a shallow grave, in a state that horrified me. Her pink dress was filthy but recognizable, her flesh decayed, so that little more than a skeleton remained. Strands of her golden hair, clotted with the dark stain of blood, lay near her head, where a great wound had been inflicted. Her locket lay on her sunken breast, her gold ring near the bones of one hand.
I saw the man take the locket and ring, and then . . .
She fell silent, and Tyler wondered if he was about to lose contact with her, but she went on.
I wish I could tell you more, but I have no memory of what happened next, other than hearing a sound behind me and feeling a blinding pain as I was struck on the back of the head. I have not been able to speak sensibly since, and have been subject again to seizures—quite different from the ones I suffered as a child.
They are probably a result of the injury, Tyler said, as is your difficulty with speech.
It doesn’t matter, except that I can’t tell you more about that day. The sisters should know my medical history if you need it. I am convinced that my stepfather is behind this, that he conspired with this man to murder my sister.
Show me your memories of the woods, of the man.
Quickly, she did. It is my mother I worry about now, Dr. Hawthorne—is it Dr. Hawthorne or Captain Hawthorne? Oh—I understand. It is both.
Whichever you please, or Tyler.
Tyler, then. This is most urgent, Tyler. With all three of her children gone, my stepfather stands to inherit all of the substantial fortune left to my mother by my grandfather. While she lives, it is out of her husband’s control. While he rightly understands that his social acceptance depends on her, it is only a matter time before he finds the requirement of her approval of his expenditures inconvenient. Promise me you will do what you can to help her, and to bring my stepfather and his henchman to justice.
“I promise,” he said aloud, then, realizing the others were looking at him, added quickly, “that all will be well. Be at peace.”
She smiled and closed her eyes. Oh, how lovely! I must be going, but I thank you with all my heart. She paused then added, I’m to tell you the fevers will come much later but be much worse this time, that Colby and Shade will care for you, and Colby will tell you where you are needed next.
Colby! In his surprise, he nearly said the name aloud.
Yes. Good-bye, Tyler. Good-bye, Shade.
The dog moved nearer the bed and gave a great sighing breath.
She opened her eyes again and looked at the faces of those surrounding her. “Thank you, kind sisters,” she said aloud. “Please thank Sister Rosaline for starting this place. Give my love to my mother and ask her to heed what Dr. Hawthorne has to say.”
She let loose of his hands, closed her eyes again, and a moment later, died.
FOR ALL ITS BREVITY, HER SPEECH TO THOSE AT HER DEATHBED caused amazement. Leaving the others to care for the body, Sister Elizabeth ushered Tyler and Shade into her office. “Dr. Hawthorne, please remain with me for a moment,” she said, taking a seat behind a plain desk, and inviting him to be seated in a more comfortable chair.
She sat silently for long moments, her head bowed. When she looked up at him again she said, “Susannah Bailey has not spoken so clearly since we brought her here!”
“Tell me more about her case.”
Sister Elizabeth frowned. She repeated much of what Susannah had told him, that Susannah’s childhood epilepsy had been quite different and had abated. “Ten years ago, she was brought to Sisters Hospital—which, as you know, is operated by our order—by her stepfather, Mr. Podgett. She had a severe head injury.” Sister Elizabeth paused. “The story he gave was that she fell in the woods near her home, a place forbidden to her, and was only by the greatest piece of luck found by him.
“Fortunately one of the best physicians on the staff treated her wounds. Later, when he reviewed her history with me, he told me that he believed that she was struck from behind and then fell forward onto a rock or tree root. He thought it miraculous that she survived the blow.”
“Someone struck her?” Tyler asked, thinking that if suspicions were already raised, his task would be easier.
“Her doctor believed so. The front of her dress was muddy, but not the back, and yet the greater injury was to the back of the skull. If she had, for example, struck her head on a tree branch and then fallen back against a rock, the back of her dress would have been muddied and the front relatively clean.”
“Were the police informed?”
“Yes, but I believe their prejudices concerning epileptics made them unwilling to investigate. I doubt they even visited the Podgett home.”
“So she returned home from the hospital?”
“Yes, briefly. Although she survived the injury, she became subject to severe seizures. Mr. Podgett convinced his wife that Susannah might be a danger to the household. Susannah was committed to asylum at the almshouse, and nearly died there. We were still in the process of building this asylum at the time she was injured, but once we were ready to receive patients, she was one of the first Sister Rosaline asked to be moved here, as we could see she was subjected to abuse at the almshouse.”
“As she said, Susannah was grateful for that rescue.”
Sister Elizabeth was silent for a time. She looked between Tyler and Shade, then said, “It would be a great shame to question a miracle, wouldn’t it?”
“Sister, I may need your further—er, unquestioning—help.”
She raised her brows.
“I will not ask you to lie or to hide the truth. In fact, I need you to attest to the truth. But I am . . . under an obligation to this family, and will need your help to fulfill it. Tonight. I am afraid I must ask you to travel with me in this foul weather. Another life may depend upon it. Perhaps more than a life.”
Shade stared intently at her.
“Does he bite?” she asked warily.
“He won’t bite you.”
She suddenly laughed. “Is that the sort of truth I’m to give others tonight? Actual, but limited in scope?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Hmm.” She thought for a time, and he suspected, prayed as well. She said, “A small favor for someone who has been so kind to us and has never asked anything in return. All right, if I am not to lie, and as long as you understand that I will tell the full truth if I deem it important to do so, I will come with you.”
There was a small commotion heralding the arrival of Susannah’s mother, and they left the office to meet her. When they brought her to Susannah’s room, her grief over the loss of her daughter struck Tyler as genuine and profound. When told of the role of Dr. Hawthorne and Shade, and of her daughter’s last words, she broke down into sobs. Shade leaned against her, something Tyler thought might bring an objection, but she put her arms about him and wept into his soft coat. He shouldn’t have worried, Tyler thought. He had often seen Shade provide comfort.
Tyler waited patiently. Eventually she gathered her composure and allowed Sister Elizabeth to take her into the office. Tyler considered the best course of action to take from here. Knowing the truth, or most of it, and conveying that truth to others in a way they would find believable were two different matters.
He thought this over and listened while Mrs. Podgett discussed the business of making arrangements for her daughter’s burial. The Baileys were not Catholic. Mrs. Podgett had purchased lots in Forest Lawn and planned to be buried one day next to her daughter.
When all was settled, Tyler said, “I know this is a very difficult time for you, Mrs. Podgett, and may become more difficult still, but I gave your daughter a promise, and I am hoping you will help me to fulfill it.”
Whether too numbed by grief to resist, or curious or mindful of her daughter’s last words, she agreed to accompany him to a place she would never have dreamed of visiting, and offered the use of her carriage.
Evidently the porter and the other staff had been speaking to the coachman of the occurrences witnessed at his young mistress’s deathbed, for he made no objection to going out again in a driving rain, nor to a dog entering the carriage. After Sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Podgett, and Shade had entered this luxurious conveyance, he touched the brim of his hat to Tyler and said in a choked voice, “We all loved her, sir. Thank you.”
“For what little I did, you are welcome.”
“Where to, sir?”
“The county jail,” Tyler said ruefully.
“The county—!” He eyed Tyler for a moment, then said, “I’ll be escorting madam in with you.”
“I think that is an excellent idea. Don’t worry, we’ll all be coming back out again.”
“Never a doubt of that, sir,” he said with a nod, and secured the door after Tyler climbed in.
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY, ASKED FIRMLY BUT POLITELY BY A leading citizen—who was accompanied by an imposing coachman, a nun, a physician, and the biggest dog he had ever laid eyes on—complied with the request to bring forth one Zeb Nador. He also agreed that he and another deputy would stand guard over Nador, however superfluous they might be, given the looks of Mrs. Podgett’s company. The doctor’s saying that they hoped to solve several murders in the course of the interview made him envision congratulations from his boss.
When he left to retrieve the prisoner, Tyler said, “Mrs. Podgett, I hope this will not be too great a shock to you, but I fear your daughter Amelia is also dead.”
“Oh, yes,” she said calmly. “My husband knew I worried over her, so he sent Mr. Briggs, the detective he had hired to find her when she left us, to contact her again and attempt to convince her to come home. That was several years ago, about the time Susannah was injured. Mr. Briggs found her husband, who said Amelia had died in childbirth and the infant son soon after. He sent her locket and ring home with Mr. Briggs, and asked us not to contact him again, as he was about to remarry. I’m afraid I was so grief-stricken at the thought of losing Amelia and a grandson, I did not attend to Susannah as I should have. And then Andrew was lost at sea. . . . You knew him?”
“I met him briefly. You have every reason to be proud of him.”
“Thank you. I am,” she said, and brought out her handkerchief.
At that moment, the deputy brought in Zeb Nador, who seemed as shocked by the company as Mrs. Podgett was to see him.
“Mr. Briggs!” she exclaimed in surprise. She turned to the deputy. “Why have you arrested Mr. Briggs? He’s a detective!”
“He’s no more a detective than I’m the king of Siam!” the deputy protested. “His name’s Zeb Nador and he murdered a girl last Friday night and will stand trial for it. I thought there must be some mistake, you asking for him.”
“I was with her husband,” Nador said boldly. “And so he’ll testify.”
“He’ll do no such thing!” Mrs. Podgett said. “He was with me. Any one of a hundred people may swear to it—we attended the theater together.”
“He never!” Nador said, turning pale.
“Seldom,” she agreed, “but he did last Friday.”
“Of all the d—” He stopped himself, eyeing Sister Elizabeth uncomfortably.
“Mrs. Podgett,” Tyler said, “to be certain matters are clearly understood by the deputy, is this the man who was introduced to you by your husband as a detective?”
“Yes, certainly.” She turned to the coachman. “Is it not so, John?”
“Yes it is,” he said grimly, tapping his whip against his boots.
“You may be interested to know that Mr. Nador was aboard the ship upon which your son Andrew also served.”
“What?” she stared at Nador in shock. For a moment it seemed she would swoon. Sister Elizabeth moved to her side, as did John, to offer her support.
“I’m sure the navy has records of it, and of the investigation that could not quite prove that Mr. Nador had caused Andrew Bailey to go overboard in a storm.”
“I was cleared of that! Cleared!”
“They may reopen that case when they hear that you played a role in two other deaths in the family.”
“This is nonsense! What do you have to say to anything anyway? Who are you?”
“Dr. Tyler Hawthorne. You may not be aware that Miss Susannah Bailey passed away this evening.”
“Sorry to hear it. I always felt sorry for that poor lunatic and it was sad about her brother and her sister. But I had nothing to do with no deaths.”
“Just before she died, Miss Bailey regained the power of speech.”
“You are lying! That’s impossible.”
Sister Elizabeth spoke up. “You say you do not believe Dr. Hawthorne. Will you believe me?”
Nador swallowed hard under the piercing look she gave him. Tyler believed nuns must train for this, and that even Shade would be hard put to compete with that stare.
Shade looked up at him as he thought this.
Well, maybe not.
The dog wagged his tail.
“Of course I will, Sister,” Nador said, breaking into a sweat.
“Then heed me, Mr. Nador, before you face a greater judge than any here on earth. I am here because I cared for Miss Susannah Bailey for several years. I am here because she spoke very clearly before she passed away. I am not the only witness to this fact.”
“Thank you, Sister,” Tyler said. He turned back to Nador. “Susannah Bailey followed you into the woods near her home. She watched you uncover the shallow grave you had made for the body of her sister Amelia, and take from it a locket and ring.”
A moaning sound came from behind him, and he heard the coachman helping Mrs. Podgett to a chair.
“It wasn’t me who struck her down,” Nador said, but without the defiance he had shown earlier.
“Of course not. She was facing you, and the blow came from behind. But you saw the man who did it.”
“Podgett, of course! Podgett hit her so hard I thought I’d have to bury her beside her sister! And it was him who killed Amelia, not me! What he did— ” He glanced at Mrs. Podgett, then murmured, “I won’t say, not with her mother sitting right there before me!”
“You were in his employ?”
“He paid me to bury Amelia, all right. Paid me plenty. He paid me to pretend to look for her. He paid me to tell that story about her husband and a baby—he made all that up. If he hadn’t hit the lunatic in the woods, he would have killed her some other day—he wanted those kids out of the way. Even used his influence to allow me to sail on his son’s ship.”
“Arrest him!” Mrs. Podgett said.
“Ma’am?” the deputy said.
“Arrest my husband,” she repeated in a steely voice. “Arrest that son of a bitch this instant, or I will go home and ask John to horsewhip him—”
“Gladly,” the coachman growled.
“And then I’ll shoot my husband before he has a chance to stand trial.” She drew a deep breath. “I will wait here while you do your duty. You may also inform him that I will be obtaining a divorce. And leaving my fortune to the Providence Lunatic Asylum and my loyal servants.”
“Mr. Nador,” Tyler said, “there are those who will say that you are a murderer and committed these crimes yourself, and hoaxed Mr. Podgett into believing your story about Amelia, all for your own gain. Did you keep any proof of your dealings with him?”
“You think I did business with the likes of him without making sure he didn’t trick me into putting a noose around my neck?” He turned to the deputy. “Them things you took from my hotel room? The satchel has a false bottom. You’ll find what you might call some interesting correspondence from Mr. Podgett to me.”
The deputy told his assistant to go check Nador’s satchel. “And if it’s as this one says,” he added, “you might as well wake the sheriff and tell him about Podgett. Sheriff will have my hide if I don’t let him know about this right away.”
Shade came to stand before Nador and stared at him.
“Does he bite?” Nador asked, cringing.
“Depends,” Tyler said, hearing a small sound escape Sister Elizabeth.
“There are certain conditions. He seems to sense perfectly whether or not there is true repentance, for example.”
“I’m sorry! I truly am!”
“If I were to tell you,” Tyler said, “that a little bird told me you had indeed killed Andrew Bailey?”
Lightning flashed and a loud thunderclap broke overhead.
“And the young woman who died last Friday?”
Rain began to pound against the roof and walls and windows.
“Will you confess, Mr. Nador?”
Nador was looking at Shade, cocking his head to one side in a doglike, puzzled fashion.
Suddenly he smiled softly, his face changed almost as entirely as Susannah Bailey’s had a few hours before. “Yes, I will. Bring a priest to me, will you Sister Elizabeth?”
“Certainly, Mr. Nador.”
To the deputy he said, “Do you want me to write it out, or will you?”
“Come this way,” the deputy said.
AS THE CARRIAGE PULLED UP AT THE ASYLUM, THE RAIN STOPPED. The sky lightened as dawn approached.
Mrs. Podgett had a troubled look on her face. “Dr. Hawthorne? I don’t understand—”
Sister Elizabeth gently placed a hand on her arm. “Do you know, Mrs. Podgett, I, too, do not understand how I will ever thank Dr. Hawthorne or Shade. But Dr. Hawthorne looks quite exhausted just now, and I see another young man is waiting for him by his gig—perhaps another soul in need of his help. Shall we wish him a good night and good morning all at once, and be thankful the good Lord never lets a little sparrow fall without notice? That this day there is some justice for those who might never have had any, had He not sent Dr. Hawthorne and Shade among us?”
“Indeed,” Mrs. Podgett said. “Indeed, I thank you!”
“I will keep you in my prayers,” Sister Elizabeth said.
“Thank you. Please add a few for that fellow by my gig.”
“Indeed I will, Dr. Hawthorne. Thank you again.”
COLBY, WHO WAS AMONG THOSE WHO WERE NEITHER GHOST nor human, smiled and helped Tyler step up into the gig. Shade jumped in after him. As Colby crowded in with them and took the reins, Tyler saw that this would be one of those times when Shade decided not to object to Colby’s presence.
“Rough one, old boy?” Colby asked.
“We’ll travel down the canal to New York, then I’ll take you to my ship. I have a feeling Dr. Hawthorne needs to disappear from Buffalo, and probably from the state of New York, if not the United States entirely.”
“For at least a little while, that would be best, yes. Thank you,” Tyler said.
He looked up and saw a flock of small birds flying just ahead of them, toward Lake Erie.
“Will you look at that!” Colby said, following his gaze. “Mother Carey’s chickens! This far inland!”
“Perhaps there will be a storm,” Tyler said, and fell asleep just as it started to rain again.