The Dead Room


Page 49


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"Drinks after work? I'm buying," Joe told him.


"If you're buying, it's a deal," Brad said.


"Great. O'Malley's?"


"A fine place," Brad said, feigning a decent Irish accent.


"You staying here?" Joe asked Adam a little while later.


"Through the morning, at least," Adam said. "Longer, if you think it's necessary."


"I have to go meet Eileen Brideswell, but I'll be back later." Joe said, offering Laymon a hand. Then he kissed Nikki on the cheek. "I expect you'll be at the airport by the time I get back, but it's been a real pleasure."


"Likewise," Nikki assured him.


As Joe left, Leslie thought that Laymon couldn't be happy that she had brought Adam and Nikki, two "civilians," along, but he hadn't said anything. In fact, he had decided that so long as he was going to be burdened with extras at his site, they should work. Now Nikki was recording a list of their findings, while Adam had been handed a soft brush and told to carefully clear the etchings on the burial stones in the walls. She and Brad had already begun to carefully work on the stone tombs that littered the crypt.


Eventually, Laymon got a summons to come up to discuss something with a city official. Brad went along with him, anxious, as always, to make sure he was there if anything newsworthy came up.


While they were gone, Leslie showed Nikki and Adam the register with the births and deaths. "See? Mary…Mary…a few Kathleens…and more Marys," she said.


They were all facing the wall, but Nikki straightened suddenly. And turned.


Leslie did the same, while Adam just watched the two women and kept very still.


Mary was back.


She gazed at them solemnly.


"Mary?" Nikki said gently, walking toward her.


The spectral child edged away. To Leslie's surprise, she felt a tiny hand slip into hers. Like any shy child, Mary was hugging close to her.


"It's okay," Leslie told her gently, squeezing the hand that so trustingly enfolded in her own. "Nikki is my friend."


"And I'm so glad to meet you," Nikki said. "We think Leslie found your mother, and we can make sure you're together, but…Mary, what was your last name?"


"Mary."


"No, I mean…I'm Nikki Blackhawk, and Leslie is Leslie MacIntyre. What's your last name?"


The little girl whispered something.


"What?" Nikki asked.


Leslie dropped to her knees, praying not to be interrupted at this crucial moment. "Sherman. Mary Sherman," the little girl said at last.


Leslie stood, rumpling ghostly hair. "Miss Mary Sherman, please don't worry. I promise that I'm going to take good care of you and your mother. All I have to do now is find exactly where you are, and it's near here, right? Very near here?"


"I think so," Mary said.


Leslie smiled at Nikki, then at Adam, who was still just watching her and Nikki silently. "We're looking for a child's grave belonging to Mary Sherman. Let's get to work."


They began inspecting the crypt, Nikki using the register, Leslie and Adam covering the tombs on the floor and reading the plaques on the wall.


"Bingo," Adam said softly a little while later.


Leslie hurried over to him. He had dusted off a plaque on the wall. She read the old English carefully. There were six tiny coffins behind the slab; the children interred within had all died of a fever.


The last name was that of Mary Sherman. Leslie looked around, but the little girl was gone.


After the coffins had been discovered, Leslie kept staring at the walls, tapping them.


"Leslie?" Nikki said worriedly.


"There's another way in here," Leslie said. "I realized-as we found the coffins-that I was here when I was supposedly knocked out by the falling ceiling."


"All right."


They began a search together. Nothing. No secret door. At least, none that the ages would still allow them to find.


Nikki set an arm around Leslie's shoulders. "We did find Mary," she said.


Leslie sighed. It was true. Now all she had to do was convince Laymon that the bones in the crypt needed to be disinterred so those of the woman they had discovered in what would have been the churchyard could be carefully buried with those of her child.


"Mary?" she called softly. "Mary, I need your help. Is there another way in here? Please, Mary, I need to know."


One moment the child was nowhere to be seen and the next she appeared. But just as she did, there were loud noises from above. Laymon was returning.


Mary faded away, but just before she disappeared, it looked to Leslie as if a look of pure panic crossed the little girl's face.


Because of Laymon's interruption? Or because of Brad, who was right behind him?


17


"S he's your child, isn't she, Eileen?"


Eileen Brideswell stared back at Joe for a long minute, her features giving away nothing. Then she lowered her head. He saw the tear she wasn't able to catch land on the hard wood of the table.


"I'm sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean to upset you."


Eileen looked up, quickly wiping her eyes. "Yes. You don't understand. When I got pregnant…We were society. I couldn't marry her father. He was an immigrant, a bricklayer. In fact-" she looked sad again "-he died in an accident on the job before he ever knew about Genevieve. Back then…I was afraid that the stigma of her birth would follow her throughout her life. My brother and his wife wanted a child so badly…I was pressured by my parents…I had to give her up, and by letting Donald raise her, I at least got to be her aunt. I was supposed to marry well, and my marriage did turn out to be a good one. I don't expect you to understand…and I…I don't have to explain myself to you. Your job is to find Genevieve."


He'd learned over the years that defensive people could become angry and hostile. Still, he'd wanted-needed-the truth. From her own lips.


"Eileen, I'm not judging you. Not in any way. It's just that to find her, I needed the truth. I believe you're right-Genevieve wouldn't have disappeared without a word to you. I also believe she's alive." She was staring at him with wide, pain-racked eyes. He set a hand on hers. "I think we're close." He pulled out a manila envelope from his briefcase, producing a number of pictures, but not the one of Betty, Genevieve and Brad. He had found newspaper photos of the men who might have been involved in the case. "I need you tell me how well you know each of these men, and how well you think Genevieve might have known them."


She looked at him, startled when he showed her the first. "Well, that's Robert Adair, of course. I know him very well. And through her line of work, and through the family, Genevieve knew him well, too, of course. You're not suggesting that-"


"I'm not suggesting anything at the moment." He produced his second photo.


She stared across the table at him. "Ken Dryer. Everyone in the city knows him. He's on television every time anything happens and the police need to talk to the people of New York about it." She leaned back. "He's good at his job. He calms people down. He's not a personal friend, but I've met him. And Genevieve must have met him, too. He spoke at the opening of a day care center that was a pet project of hers."


"Here," he said, handing her the next.


Eileen stared at him, nodding. "Professor Laymon. Of course I know him. Greta is a dear friend, and I've been involved with the Historical Society forever. You know that."


"What about Genevieve?"


"I…I don't know. I know she was fascinated with Hastings House. As I told you, I knew too late that she'd wanted to attend the gala. If only I'd known…but maybe it's good that she didn't go. She might have been…although maybe that would have been better than…"


He gave her a moment to pull herself together, then showed her the next picture.


"Hank Smith," she said. "Yes, I know him and so did she. She wanted his company to start building affordable housing, rather than luxury highrises. She wanted to change the world."


Last, he produced the picture of Brad. Eileen looked at him. "That's Brad Verdun. Of course she knew Brad."


"Of course?"


"She met him when he was working on Hastings House."


"Oh?"


"He asked her out. She thought he was cute and fun, but far too immature. Still, I think they stayed casual friends." She sat back, shaking her head. "I don't understand where you're going with this. There's a lunatic out there killing girls, my niece may or may not be alive, and you're showing me pictures of upstanding citizens."


She was indignant. He wasn't surprised. "Can you think of anyone who might have read that tabloid article? Anyone who might have known that Genevieve was your biological child?"


"How on earth would I know who read what?" Eileen asked him. "And what does it matter, what someone read in some cheap rag?"


"They might have been taunting her with it. They might have lured her into a car to talk about it. Eileen, what I do know is this-the last time Genevieve was seen, she was getting into a black sedan. Just like the girls who disappeared before her."


The color drained from Eileen's face. "Then what makes you think she might still be alive?" she whispered.


"No girls have been taken in the same way since," he said. He glanced at his watch. Adam was due to leave for the airport any time now, and he didn't know how long Nikki was staying. He wanted to think that Leslie couldn't be in danger, not in broad daylight, and not at a well-populated dig, but then he remembered what had happened the other day in the crypt and realized that had already proved to be untrue.


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