Spook and I talked till after midnight, which made getting up the next morning more difficult than usual. Maureen noticed the dark circles under my eyes and asked with concern, “Kyr, for heaven’s sake, how late were you here last night? You look as though you were here all night.”
“No, sorry, Maureen,” I joked as I checked in a stack of children’s books. “I’m not that dedicated. But I was here till around 11:00.”
“What?” Dan exclaimed, looking up from the computer where he was updating the library’s website. “That’s just crazy, chief.”
Maureen laughed the way she always did when Dan called me “chief” and agreed. “I have to admit, I’m with Dan on this one, Kyr. I admire your dedication, but you didn’t need to stay that late.”
“Well, I didn’t plan to,” I said. “But I got on a roll and lost track of time.” I didn’t mention to her that I found a book and a newspaper clipping that held my interest for awhile, nor did I mention Spook’s phone call.
Maureen shook her head and chuckled. “How much did you manage to get done?” she asked, leaving the circulation desk and heading back towards the storage room.
I put the checked-in books on a cart to be shelved and followed her to the back of the library. As she opened the door and looked in, she shook her head again at the sheer volume of books that had been donated. The room appeared to be a bit less chaotic than it had been yesterday, but it was obvious we still had a lot to accomplish. I showed her the tentative organization that Dan had come up with, and she nodded approvingly. “One thing we need to be careful of,” I began, pointing to the back door. “There was a whole stack of boxes blocking that door. Most of what I accomplished last night was clearing those boxes out of the way and sorting those books.”
Maureen wove her way around the boxes to the back door, stopping every so often to glance into the boxes and peruse the titles. “I’m hoping that once we get the books separated between fiction and non-fiction, it won’t be difficult to get them into some kind of order.”
I walked over to the non-fiction shelves and said, “Dan pointed out yesterday that these non-fiction books are already separated into history, biography and science, so we at least have that to start with.”
Maureen nodded, bringing a hand to her chin and looking over towards the back corner. “And I assume that is the recycle pile?” she asked. When I acknowledged that it was, she continued gloomily, “I had sincerely hoped we’d have more than that.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling as if silently praying, and added, “Oh, to have a slow day so at least one of us can be back here sorting.”
Naturally, that wasn’t to be. About mid-morning, we suddenly found ourselves swamped with patrons who all seemed to need assistance of one kind or another. I helped a number of parents sign their children up for the Back to School program and organized a library tour for the local Cub Scouts. Maureen and Michelle were kept busy by a bunch of high school and college students who had waited for the last minute to begin working on their summer reading lists; after the fifth student requesting To Kill a Mockingbird gave Michelle a snotty attitude because all copies were signed out, Maureen and I exchanged a disgusted look, wondering if they’d ever learn. Dan was busier than usual as well, with a steady flow of patrons all wanting to use computers, copiers or the fax machine.
We were so busy throughout the day that the hours flew past. All of us had hardly enough to time to grab a bit of lunch before we got back into it. While I always preferred being busy to not having enough to do, the combination of not getting enough sleep, not eating a decent lunch and running around like a crazy person all day took its toll, and I was flat-out exhausted by closing time. I half-heartedly offered to stay with Maureen and Michelle to sort more books, but Maureen wouldn’t hear of it. “Kyr,” she argued in a motherly voice. “You’re all but dead on your feet already. You did more than your share last night; go home and get some rest and let us take tonight’s shift.”
The drive home was a blur, and by the time I walked through the door at home, I was so worn out that even the thought of preparing something to eat was overwhelming. I dropped my purse by the door and headed straight for the couch, thinking I would just rest for a few minutes and then make something for dinner.
I didn’t know I had fallen asleep till my phone rang and woke me up. I sat up quickly, fumbling on my belt for my cell phone before realizing my home phone was the one that was ringing. Getting groggily to my feet, I stumbled to the kitchen and grabbed the phone just before the answering machine picked up. “Hello?” I answered sleepily, not even bothering to check the caller ID.
“I take it you’re not at the library sorting books tonight,” Spook greeted me.
“No, not tonight,” I replied through a yawn. I squinted at the clock on the stove and asked, “What time is it anyway?” I saw that it was already 7:30.
“It sounds like it’s bedtime for bookworms,” he chuckled. “And I thought I was tired today. I suppose I shouldn’t have kept you awake talking so late.”
I smiled as I recalled our conversation from last night, imagining his mischievous grin and the playful glint in his eyes. “Don’t be silly, Spook. I enjoyed our conversation last night. I just didn’t enjoy morning coming so soon, or the day being so crazy.” I plopped back down on the couch and yanked the ponytail holder out of my hair.
“I’m with you there, Kyr, m’dear,” he replied, sounding as tired as I felt. I wondered if he was lying on his couch too, and I sighed as I wished yet again that we weren’t so far apart. His voice changed as he switched topics. “If you were so busy today, I assume you haven’t checked your emails yet.”
Not picking up on his hint, I responded, “No, I hardly had time for a break at lunch, and I crashed on the couch as soon as I walked in the door.” My stomach growled loudly at that moment, reminding me that I hadn’t had supper yet.
Spook picked up on that right away. “You mean to tell me you haven’t even had dinner yet? Do I need to come down there and take you out to eat?”
I smiled, thinking that if he showed up at my door right now, we would likely end up right back on the couch, but I didn’t say that. “That would certainly be nice,” I conceded. “But by the time you got here, it would be more of a midnight snack.”
“True,” he replied, sounding naughty again. “And at that time of night, I’d rather nibble on something other than food.” I giggled and was about to protest, when he cleared his throat and became serious again. “Before we get…distracted, I think you might want to bring up your email.”
Finally picking up on his tone, and somewhat unnerved by his cryptic comment, I quickly turned on my computer and brought up my emails.As I scanned through the unread messages, I saw one from Aunt Julia, but I was sure that wasn’t the one he was referring to. I came across one from an unfamiliar sender–Philesia Diaz; when I glanced at the subject line and saw “Willow Lake news,” I realized it was from Phil. I clicked on it and saw that she had copied Spook, Jason and Grant, and JoEllyn. I clicked on it and read the first sentence: The wrath of Dr. Harris has descended. “Oh, this can’t be good,” I muttered.
“You can say that again,” Spook replied grimly. “Keep reading.”
The message went on to say that Dr. Harris had shut down the Paranormal Club, effective the beginning of Fall Semester, saying that such an organization was not compatible with the values and goals of their educational institution. “Well, that’s not surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising,” I mused, saddened on JoEllyn’s behalf. I gasped as I read that Amber had indeed transferred to another school. “So was she forced to leave, or did she do so of her own choosing?” I asked, recalling our brief conversation with Grant after the reveal. I really wished I could talk to him to get his thoughts on what happened.
“Phil doesn’t say, and she doesn’t seem to indicate that Amber gave a reason,” Spook said. “But it does seem like more than a coincidence that she would just suddenly up and transfer to another school now, when she had no intention of doing so before the investigation.”
I rested my chin on my hand and stared unseeing at the computer screen. “It’s not just the question of academic programs or even extracurriculars,” I added suspiciously. “Someone who works in the Admissions Office and deals so closely with Alumni Affairs just doesn’t seem like a candidate for a sudden departure.” I continued reading. “She doesn’t say anything about Ed, so I assume he hasn’t left. Yet.”
“Exactly. Yet,” Spook echoed. His thoughts seemed to be headed in a certain direction, but if he had any suspicions, he didn’t share them. “What do you think about the Appleton news?”
I read further down to where Phil said that the third floor of Appleton was completely off limits to all but the maintenance crew working in the bell tower. The staff who had offices on the third floor had been relocared indefinitely. “Well, that’s easily explained away by citing safety concerns while the bell tower is being repaired,” I said.
Spook finished my thought. “True, and rightfully so. No one without any knowledge of what’s going on in that bell tower would ever think there’s any more to it.” I could almost see him leaning forward with his chin on his hand. “I would be interested to see what happens after they get the repairs done. Will they go back to business as usual and reopen the third floor offices, or will they find some excuse to keep the third floor closed off?”
I went quickly to the kitchen to grab a cup of yogurt and a handful of nuts, then headed back to the computer. “You would think they’d go back to business as usual; otherwise, wouldn’t they be forced to admit there’s something going on there, paranormal or otherwise?” I reasoned, tapping my spoon against my teeth. “Dr. Harris and company probably figure that shutting down the Paranormal Club and keeping people out of the area in question for awhile will make interest die down.”
Spook laughed contemptuously and sputtered, “As if it worked that way. Sixty years of trying to silence the reports hasn’t worked; do they really think canning a club and locking a damn door is going to put a stop to them?”
“The most telling part about this whole story, to me, is the fact that they’re only getting bent out of shape over this one particular claim,” I said, stalking back to the kitchen to throw away my yogurt cup and rinse off my spoon. “Dr. Harris may have been all huffy and skeptical over anything we declared to be paranormal, but he didn’t blow a gasket over us saying the room in Borland was haunted or the Fine Arts Building is haunted. The only place he had a problem with us labeling as haunted was the bell tower.”
“Well, that’s just it,” Spook agreed, frustrated, and I could tell he was pacing around as he spoke. “How long has the Paranormal Club been operating at Willow Lake? Six, seven years? Obviously they’ve found evidence to support claims before now. What is it about this one claim that sets the old blowhard off?” I heard him light a cigarette; I grimaced and fought the urge to say something. He seemed to have a sudden thought and continued, “Kyr, you said you and Jo were at Willow Lake when that suicide occurred in Borland. How did the school react to that situation? Did they cover that up?”
I shook my head, then realized he couldn’t see me through the phone. “No,” I said. “Of course, they weren’t happy about the incident, and it wasn’t good press for the school that his body wasn’t discovered right away, but they were up front about the incident and the investigation. Nothing was hidden; no one got upset over questions being asked.” I wondered where his line of thinking was headed.
Spook went on, “Okay, so there have been rumors floating around that Mary committed suicide, supposedly because she was pregnant.” I was beginning to follow his train of thought. He took another drag from his cigarette and blew out the smoke as he mused, “I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that we are not dealing with a suicide victim; what reason would they have to hide that, even in the 1950s?”
“Even if they had hidden it back then, what would they gain by keeping it hidden?” I asked, sitting down at my computer and spinning slowly in the chair. “I could see where an out-of-wedlock pregnancy would be seen as scandalous back then, but no one would even blink an eye at it these days. So if that truly was the case and Mary did commit suicide, why not just get it out in the open? I would think that the truth coming out would stop all the rumors and the speculation more than keeping it covered up.”
Spook laughed and teased, “Captain Obvious to the rescue.” I made a face at him, which of course he couldn’t see. He turned serious again. “Apparently the obvious escapes them, Kyr, m’dear.”
I scrolled up and down through Phil’s message, thinking. “I keep coming back to what I overheard the fire chief tell Lou the bartender–that Mary won’t rest as long as Warren is alive. What could he have meant by that?”
“I have a hunch,” Spook said strangely. “That we’re going to reurn to Willow Lake in the near future. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but something is about to break.”
As it turned out, Spook’s hunch was correct. Just a couple days later, Phil sent out another email saying that she and Ed had done some sleuthing around town to see if they could find even the slightest tidbit of new information. I choked on a mouthful of iced tea when I saw that they had managed to track down both Lou and the fire chief. I was impressed by their courage and resourcefulness, if not their common sense. Not surprisingly, the fire chief was less than willing to discuss anything related to Mary or Appleton Hall; he blew up at them and chased them out of the fire station like a rabid junkyard dog, warning them not to meddle in things that were bigger than they were. Just imagining that scenario made me laugh till I cried, and I half wished I could have been there to see it. Phil’s next words made me sit up and take notice; she said that as the chief stomped back inside, he had muttered something about Mary learning the hard way. I knew that would be significant, but I didn’t know at the time how much so.
Fortunately, Lou was a bit friendlier, after some understandable initial hesitation. He seemed to be quite nervous and kept looking over his shoulder as though afraid someone would overhear their conversation. Unfortunately, he really didn’t offer any new information. “The only thing he told us,” her message said, “was that there was a lot more to the story than most folks know about, but the folks that know the truth are the ones that aren’t talking.” Suddenly recalling Biddlesbacher’s book, I hammered out a quick reply telling her the details we hadn’t known, specifically the speculation that there had been others in the bell tower that night, as well as the brief background about Warren and Mary’s relationship and Warren’s parents’ disapproval of Mary.
No sooner had I hit send than a message popped up from JoEllyn. She had finally spoken to Jared, apparently after Ed and Phil met with Lou. I breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was safe and still had both jobs. She did mention that Lou had pulled him aside and given him a stern warning against talking too much to outsiders about the goings on at the college, that “ill winds were beginning to blow since the fire in Appleton, and it would be best to hunker down, stay out of the way, and just let them blow over.” Jared had recalled what we told him over the summer about our experiences, but he had feigned ignorance about the “ill winds” and agreed to remain tight-lipped about all things Appleton. JoEllyn had typed, “Jared never was one for keeping secrets, so it didn’t take much convincing to get him to share what he knows.” It turned out that an elderly woman had lived next door to the fraternity house when he attended Willow Lake, and she had told them that someone other than Warren and Mary had been in the tower that night. A chill ran down my spine as my eyes landed on the word “sacrifice.” Apparently a rumor had circulated at one time that Mary had gotten mixed up with a group of Satanic worshippers, and they had been performing a sacrifice in the bell tower. Warren had found out about it and had gone up to stop it. Somehow the candles got overturned and the fire started. Jared had asked the neighbor if she believed that story, to which she responded that it was a bit far-fetched for her to believe, although she was certain there was at least a grain of truth to it.
“Satanic worship…” I murmured, shaking my head. And to think I hadn’t voiced my suspicion of witchcraft because I thought Spook would think I was being melodramatic by bringing up some kind of involvement in the occult. Maybe I hadn’t been so far off base after all.
A knock at my office door made me almost jump out of my skin. “You okay, chief?” Dan asked, looking at me curiously. When I assured him that he had just startled me, he informed me that a couple mothers had come in to register their children for the Back to School program.
“Tell them I’ll be right there,” I replied. I took one last glance at the email before stashing my lunchbox, logging off my computer and heading back to work.
The rest of the day seemed to drag, and when I got home, the first thing I did was turn on the computer and bring up the email. As I suspected there would be, there was a reply from Phil. Thinking it would just be her thoughts about the information I had relayed from Biddlesbacher’s book, I brought up the message and quickly scanned it, not expecting the news she had: “I managed to track down Warren McKnight!” Reading those words, I cried out in surprise and dropped into my chair to read the message more closely. FInding Warren hadn’t been easy; understandably, his name was not in the phone book. Phil had taken a page from my book and talked to Mrs. Rutter, whose mother once more provided the information we needed. As it turned out, Warren lived with his niece, Elaine Gross, and her husband Bobby about ten minutes from Willow Lake. She had spoken at length with Elaine and told her about the events of the past couple months, with our investigation, the fire, and the resulting fallout with Dr. Harris. Of course, Elaine had heard about the fire, and while she said nothing, her tone had suggested that she suspected there was more to the fire story than had been reported.
As if the news about finding Warren wasn’t surprising enough, Phil announced that Elaine had convinced him to talk to us, and she wanted to know if we could make it to Willow Lake over Labor Day weekend. Once again, I found myself impressed with her nerve, although I was less than thrilled about bringing up such an inflammatory subject with an elderly man I didn’t even know. I was even more hesitant when I read that she wanted as many of us there as possible, and she was hoping that Jason and Grant could make it too. I didn’t want the poor man to feel as though a group of vultures was descending on him.
I decided not to respond immediately, not till I could speak with Spook and JoEllyn. Glancing at the clock, I groaned as I realized that neither would be home for at least an hour. As I went to the kitchen and began preparing a quick chicken stir-fry, I felt like a child waiting to open Christmas presents. While I chopped vegetables, I kept glancing up at the clock. While I cooked the chicken, I speculated where Spook and JoEllyn might be on their respective routes home. While I waited for the rice to boil, I ran back to the computer to reread Phil’s message.
I was almost too unsettled to eat, although my stir fry was scrumptious as always. After eating and washing up the dishes, I decided to try calling JoEllyn. She answered on the second ring. “I’ll bet you were just counting the minutes till you knew I’d be home so you could call,” she laughed. Obviously she had seen the email from Phil. “I take it you’ve been following Phil’s news?”
“Every word,” I replied, going into the living room to sit cross-legged on the couch. “It looks as though some of the pieces are falling into place.”
“Slowly but surely,” she responded. I heard her rattling pots and pans, so I guessed she was cooking dinner as we spoke. “That was some news she had about finding Warren, wasn’t it? If they can just get him to open up, maybe the whole Appleton bell tower/Mary Bollinger mystery can finally be put to rest.”
They. I figured that answered my next question, but I decided to ask anyway, just to be sure. “Are you planning to accompany Ed and Phil when they go talk to Warren?”
“No,” she responded, sounding a bit sad and disappointed. “Brad and I already made plans for the holiday weekend, and he doesn’t want to change them.” I heard Brad’s voice in the background, so I knew he had just gotten home from work. JoEllyn put a hand over the mouthpiece and said something to him; then she continued, “He was more than a little concerned over how intense things got during the last investigation and really doesn’t want me getting any more involved. Could you get the milk out of the fridge for me, Sweetie? Thanks.” She was quiet for a moment as she stirred something, and I wrestled with whether or not I should ask the question that was gnawing at me. Thankfully, her next words answered without my having to ask. “I don’t know if I can stomach going back there right now anyway. I guess I’m still kind of mad about the Paranormal Club; that was my baby, you know?”
“I know, Jo,” I said softly. “You were so proud of that club and what they accomplished. I can’t believe Dr. Harris could single-handedly make the decision to shut it down.”
“Well, I don’t think he could do that single-handedly, Kyr,” JoEllyn reasoned. “That had to go through Student Government, the Student Life Office, the Board of Trustees, and who knows who else. Apparently someone had to have agreed with him.”
I snorted and muttered, “Or someone was forced to agree with him.” I was still very suspicious over how much weight that man could throw around, even if he had been there forever. “Maybe when this blows over the club can be reinstated,” I consoled.
“Maybe,” she replied doubtfully. “But even if it is reinstated, I won’t be a part of it. The whole experience kind of soured me, I guess.” She laughed ruefully and changed direction. “How did your aunt respond when you told her about the investigation? Or didn’t you tell her?”
I shook my head and laughed. “You know how Aunt Julia is,” I said. “She doesn’t want to meddle, but her mother hen side came out when I told her what happened in the bell tower. Although I’m not sure if she was more worried about me or about Spook.”
JoEllyn laughed out loud and then launched into her favorite subject. “So, is she making any wedding plans for you two yet?”
I groaned and bounced my head off the back of the couch a few times. “Jo, you missed your calling; you should be running a dating service or a wedding planning business or something.” Knowing she wouldn’t let it rest till I gave her an answer, I continued, “She has been badgering me to invite Spook down here so she can have us over for dinner and get to know him a bit.”
I had a hunch what her next question would be, and I began thinking about how I would answer her. “Kyr, have you two even seen each other since the investigation?”
“Well, no,” I admitted, pulling at a thread on my sock. I heard her groan in frustration, and I cut her off before she could scold me. “You know how busy I am at the library between the end of summer and Halloween, and you know this is a peak time for Spook and his dad for their landscaping business. We’re four hours apart; it’s not easy to just hop in the car and go see each other.” I smiled in hopeful anticipation. “I was going to have him visit over Labor Day, but maybe we’ll end up getting together at Willow Lake.”
JoEllyn was quiet for a moment, and I hoped she wasn’t upset that I was planning to go back, even if she wasn’t. “How romantic,” she drawled. “Really, Kyr, you two should get together and do something that’s not ghost-hunting related.”
“Says the woman who started a paranormal group with her boyfriend,” I teased back. I knew she was right, and I suddenly found myself worrying that we might discover we had nothing in common outside of investigating.
JoEllyn laughed, “Touche. But Brad and I have a lot in common besides ghost hunting. You need to get away with Spook on a romantic weekend where you can be alone together, with no interruptions, where he can take you dancing and for long sunset walks on the beach, and then take you back to your hotel room, throw you on the bed and…”
“Jo!” I exclaimed, blushing. Honestly, if I’d let her, she’d orchestrate our entire first time, and probably stand beside the bed giving pointers. I tried to laugh it off. “Besides, can you really imagine Spook dancing?” I erupted in giggles as I recalled his silly John Travolta impression outside A Drop in the Bucket. At the same time, I found myself daydreaming about walking hand in hand with him on the beach, along the river…or anywhere.
“Oh, don’t try to tell me you haven’t thought about that,” JoEllyn pressed. “Especially after what happened–or what almost happened–in your room that night.”
She would have to bring that up. “I’m not saying I haven’t thought about it,” I said softly. “I just don’t…talk about it.”
“Well, I hope you talk about it with him,” she teased, giggling. “Communication is important, you know.”
Just then, my phone beeped; I glanced at the screen and apologized, “Hey, Jo, that’s Spook on the other line. Can I call you back?” I wasn’t sure how I was going to have a conversation with him after the things JoEllyn had been suggesting, but I really wanted to talk to Spook about Phil’s emails.
I said a quick good-bye to JoEllyn and picked up Spook’s call. “I was going to call you next,” I greeted him breathlessly.
There was a moment of silence before he spoke. “Oh, I see how it is,” he replied, sounding hurt. “I play second fiddle to JoEllyn, do I?”
Taken aback not only by his tone but by his knowledge of who I was talking to, I asked, “How did you know I was talking to JoEllyn?”
He laughed out loud. “Kyr, you’re such a goof. Who else would you be talking to after the emails Phil sent out today?” I felt silly; of course, he would have seen those emails too. “So, what’s the verdict? Are you two planning on going back?”
“Well,” I explained. “JoEllyn and Brad already have plans for over Labor Day. Besides,” I said, drawing my leg up to my chest to rest my chin on my knee. “She’s more than a little put off over Dr. Harris pulling the plug on the Paranormal Club and doesn’t want to go back right now.”
“I guess that’s understandable,” he replied, though not sounding very understanding. His voice hardened as he continued, “Although she shouldn’t let anything Dr. Blowhard does keep her away.”
Why didn’t that comment surprise me? “Well, I guess you just have thicker skin than she does,” I responded irritably.
“Hey, hey,” he said quickly, his voice softening. “I’m not putting her down. I know the Paranormal Club meant a lot to her. I just think that her letting it bother her that much means that Dr. Harris scores another win.”
I knew he had a point, but I also wished he could be more senstivie. I sighed, “I know, Spook, but haven’t you ever avoided a place or a situation, even for a little while, because of something hurtful that you associate with it?”
After a moment of silence, he chuckled and answered apologetically, “Okay, Kyr, you’re right. You win.” I wondered what memory had made him concede, and if he’d ever tell me about it. He changed direction. “How about you?” he asked. “Are you going to stay away too?”
Something in his voice hinted that he had already decided he was going back and that he was hoping I would too. Trying to keep the anticipation out of my voice, I responded, “Well, I’d hate for Ed and Phil to have to face Warren alone.” Although based on Phil’s resourcefulness and eagerness to pursue all avenues, I was sure they could handle it. “But since JoEllyn won’t be there to keep me company…”
He laughed and replied, “Well, then, it looks like I’ll be spending Labor Day in WIllow Lake.” His voice deepened as he continued, “I hadn’t planned to spend the weekend solving mysteries and chasing ghosts, but at least I’ll enjoy the company.”
My anticipation over seeing Spook again turned to apprehension as I recalled JoEllyn’s earlier warning and as I worried about what might come of our meeting with Warren.