Twelfth Night (A Wendover House Mystery Book 2)

BOOK: Twelfth Night (A Wendover House Mystery Book 2)
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Twelfth
Night

by

Melanie
Jackson

 

Version
1.1 – January, 2012

 

Published
by Brian Jackson at KDP

 

Copyright
© 2012 by Melanie Jackson

 

Discover
other titles by Melanie Jackson at
www.melaniejackson.com

 

This book is a work of fiction.
 
Names, characters, places and incidents
either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
 
Any resemblance to actual events or locals or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All
rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any
form.

 
 
Chapter 1
 

Washington Irving was talking as we neared the midnight hour.
He was being a bit pedantic, but I tried to pay attention because I had asked
him beforehand to speak, and he lectured about the glitches in the universe
where daylight “facts” and “rules” didn’t apply. This was timely, and with the storm
howling outside he had the perfect
mise
-en-scène for
the subject. Any reasonable person would be interested.

“The belief in ghosts, like the belief in witches—and even
Old Nick himself—is waning, even in New England. But that doesn’t mean the
ghosts are going anywhere, just that we don’t see them as often. There are many
examples even in this state.…”

If
you only knew
.

I looked at the faces around my table and repressed a smile
which would not have been appropriate in the middle of this homily about “true”
ghost stories, even if I was pleased to finally have them all there.

Expressions of my guests as Ben spoke of his ghosts ranged
from the moderately pleasurable to benignly contemptuous, but their manner was
universally calm and uneventful. No one was alarmed about the storm or the
topic of conversation.
Except me.
But I had insider’s
knowledge.

This contentment would probably change. But for now we were
telling slightly spooky ghost stories and enjoying it while we digested dinner.

A self-described scribbler, Ben Livingston is the author of
a dozen books of great violence and renown, and he had been collecting tales of
ghost ships for a new work of smuggling-related stories. Usually I was as
mesmerized by his tales as Coleridge’s ancient mariner, but Queen Victoria was snorting
as she snored, nodding off in the rose water. Asleep, she was almost
attractive. Awake, with her face scrunched up with disapproval, she looked a
bit like last year’s potato left at the bottom of the bin. I was weighing the
choices of attempting to wake her and probably calling attention to her
embarrassing state, and just seeing what would happen if she slid all the way
into a nap.

My other guests, who remained awake, though understandably not
entirely riveted after a six-course meal, included the two ends of island law,
the arts, the fourth estate, and
a Beauty
.
I was playing
the heiress
. I am
perhaps a little long in the tooth for that role even though it has devolved
upon me in real life and I was therefore entitled. While enjoying the fact that
the role came with money, what I liked even more was that I at last belonged
somewhere.

Harris Ladd, seated to my right, was the family attorney and
very dignified, one end of the law—an end of the process, discounting those who
went on to jail after he defended them, but they would not be on Little Goose
if that happened. Certainly no one had been convicted of anything since I
arrived. Frankly, I doubt that there are any clients who have gone to jail ever.
We have crime, of course, but it’s handled locally and without the courts.
That’s what Bryson and Everett are for. Therefore I chose to see him as the
terminus.

Harris is always handsome and old-fashioned in his flannels
and tweeds and always looks like an extra on
Masterpiece Theater
. For him an Edwardian dinner suit was not that
far out of character. He is as relentlessly proper as he is polite, which makes
him a good guest and attorney. Had he been wearing sixteenth-century garb, he
would have been Thomas Moore. I had thought earlier that week that he would
approve of the one-piece woolen bathing costume I had found in one of the attic’s
many trunks that I was finally sorting out, and had made a mental note to show
him later. Of course, anyone who went sunbathing in Maine needed more than a
string bikini to keep warm and my ancestors, while highly superstitious, were
not impractical.

Less dignified, even in their rubbed frock-tail coats and
top hats, were the Sands brothers. Bryson, to my left, was channeling Teddy Roosevelt
in his presidential years, but could have done a young Henry VIII had the
prince had caramel-colored hair. Bryson is generally amiable, casual in dress, and
deceptively intelligent—a fact he does his best to hide since intelligence
makes a lot of people nervous. Everett Sands, Edwardian cad—and perhaps Earl of
Leicester—was the more athletic, short-tempered, and non-cerebral. I didn’t
like him. Antipathy had reared up on its hind legs at our first meeting and I’d
never gotten past it.
Possibly because I hadn’t tried very
hard.

Harris’s nose wrinkled as he leaned Everett’s way. I had
noticed earlier that Everett’s coat smelled slightly of mildew, a suit that had
reached the end of its life and probably wouldn’t be returned to the attic when
this party was over. From a few spaces around the table the odor wasn’t especially
noticeable, which was good because it reminded me a bit of the family mausoleum
which I had explored last October when I went to visit my great-grandfather.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as
it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it
.

Only not always.
Sometimes
something went wrong.

Both brothers were scofflaws when it came to the matter of
illegal whisky importation, which was ironic given that they were policemen. However,
their roles on both sides of the legal line were inherited and the best of luck
to anyone in escaping familial destiny here in the islands. There is a history
of gentleman smugglers in the area; it’s the local way of life. My own
ancestors were anything but innocent in this matter, but I made allowances in
their case. There are a limited number of careers that one can pursue when
largely confined to an island by a curse and a fearful population that won’t
let you leave. But I think that Everett and Bryson did it as much for fun and
profit as for tradition.

Beside Everett was his sometimes girlfriend, the nurse, Mary
Cory aka the napping Victoria. Mary is not overburdened with personality but
she is a devoted caretaker to my aging neighbor and from one of the old
families, so for the sake of island harmony she gets invited to parties even if
I find her tedious. I knew firsthand how hard and boring the job of caretaker could
be. My parents’ refusal to grow up and then their premature deaths had run over
any plans I had for a childhood of my own. I cut her some slack.

Next to Mary was my friend, Jack, a former photographer at
my old newspaper until the bright lights and better salaries of Chicago had
lured him away. He was also a former love interest and perhaps a future one
also. His usually messy hair was slicked back. I think he was trying to be
Oscar Wilde but he hadn’t the light wit to carry it off. Divorce had blunted
his sense of humor and Jack can be a little intense when his emotions are aroused.
Given a white wig and the right cause he could well play Cotton Mather. I
wondered what kind of ghost story he would tell. His choice would be revealing.

Next to Jack was an old friend from college, a former
roommate who had invested early on in her secondary female sexual assets and ended
up as a lingerie model, now mostly
retired.
She went
by the professional name of Brandy.
Just Brandy.
Her
real name was Barbara Newsome. Twice divorced, and at least once augmented, I
had the feeling that she was preparing for the hunt of the next future alimony-supplier
with a little cosmetic “refreshment” and that was really why she was visiting
New York at the end of the month. I hoped it wouldn’t be Jack who took her
fancy once her face was lifted. He had only just escaped from the marital
version of the Amityville Horror, and I wasn’t sure that he was experienced
enough or healed enough to handle anyone like Brandy.

Anyway I had seen him first. Brandy should have more
manners.

And there was one more visitor with us that night, one we
couldn’t see but whom I definitely felt pressing at the glass. The wind—her
wind, I was sure—fretted at the doors and windows. In the odd moments of
silence I could hear the buffeting of its icy hands. It carried enough debris
to make the blows sound like someone knocking at the old wood and scratching at
the ancient glass with sharp fingernails. The cat had made
himself
scarce the moment it began blowing. Storms here are rarely just about weather
and the cat knew it.

These were my guests. I marveled that they were actually there,
eating, drinking, and making merry on this Twelfth Night, without a single
cross word or argument. It can be fun to bounce different personalities off one
another, but this is a riskier strategy when you had people like Everett—and
Jack—who didn’t feel any obligation to do their social duty and be good guests.
Still, Everett needed to be there. And Jack
was
there, so we would have to manage if their baser impulses came to the fore.
Anyway, men seem more able to trade amicable, though completely sincere,
insults, and take no lasting offense.

At least I hoped this was so. This wasn’t a typical kind of
party, you see, and I was not giving it for any of the usual reasons, as
everyone would discover if
Banquo
actually joined us.
Certainly they would wonder if we
had
eaten on the insane root that takes
the reason prisoner
. Frankly, it would almost be nice to have some company
in this because I had been questioning my grip on reality for weeks. Once
something supernatural comes through your door, it often leaves it ajar. When
imagination slips free of the old, supposedly rational disciplines of logic, it
can take you to some very odd places. At that point I couldn’t have cut my way
through the thicket of my new and strange beliefs if you I a machete.

Jack, perhaps
sensing my growing perturbation, shoved the decanter my way but I ignored it.
Alcohol wouldn’t help with what I needed to do. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to
persuade everyone to what I believed if I sounded tipsy and incoherent. I
partook of Great-grandpa Kelvin’s crazy theories and beliefs, drank from his
cup of madness, and now believed. Some of the others would probably need more
persuasion.

Though I had felt ready to make the big revelation, now that
the night had arrived, I wondered if I should actually relate to these guests
my own ghostly encounter when it was my turn to tell a tale. My ghost was, one
could argue, the Sands brothers’ business at least as much as my own, but she
wasn’t bothering them with nightly performances, so the task of giving her
peace devolved to me. Her story needed telling, the books on ghost hunting all
agreed on this point, but was I doing this in too sensational a manner?

Or did I have the wrong end of the stick? Was that why she
had sent a storm? I thought telling her story was what she wanted me to do,
though she had never said this in so many words, so it was only a guess—but a
good one, I believed. But by then I wasn’t working on a conscious level—or only
a conscious level—and though my gut said this was the best thing to do, my
brain didn’t necessarily agree.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But there is something about
living on this island that opens the mind to voices and thoughts I never used
to hear. You start to believe in Fate and arranged rendezvous. Still, in a
world that accepts quantum physics and string theory, people tend to reject the
idea of ghosts in their own house or even the one next door.

Or maybe they don’t. I have to admit I am a little hazy on
what string theory is all about.

And I was the last Wendover of Little Goose Island. That
meant something in these parts. It carried both obligations and certain powers.
There were a lot of locals who would believe me absolutely if I spoke of ghosts
haunting the island—and did I want that? I had an affinity for this new life,
my new role as unofficial
protectress
of the islands.
Trust was forming with the other islanders, in part because I was so normal—unlike
my great-grandfather who had been eccentric—and because I was so willing to
live at Wendover House without coercion. Talk of me seeing ghosts wouldn’t make
them happy.

BOOK: Twelfth Night (A Wendover House Mystery Book 2)
12.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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