NaNoWriMo

Working Title: Join A Collective NaNoWriMo Experiment

This is an invitation.

As you likely already know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins today, “thirty days and nights of literary abandon.”

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel of 50,000 words or approximately 175 pages in one month. It is also an opportunity for writers to band together in a supportive community to form new connections and reinvigorate existing bonds with fellow writers.

Generally, NaNoWriMo is an individual activity performed in literal writing groups or ones forged over the internet.

I, however, thought it might be interesting to take the cooperative spirit of NaNoWriMo to the next level and write a 50,000 word novel together. A serial novel in the spirit of bygone days when authors used to publish books in installments in newspapers. Or, you could see it as channeling the new “cellphone” novel fad seen in Asia. To re-iterate, this is not how NaNoWriMo is traditionally done. We’re a “rebel” project.

Use it as a warm-up for your novel, a way to participate without writing a whole novel of your own, or stay tuned as a spectator as a novel (hopefully) unfolds before your eyes by the end of the month.

Since this project is entirely open to anyone and everyone, I want to establish a few ground rules to keep things from getting out of hand while allowing space for creative license and expression.

~*~*~*~

“The Rules”

1) Anyone and everyone may participate.

2) You may submit one paragraph of 200 words or less at a time. But, you cannot submit paragraphs back to back. You have to let someone else post a paragraph before you can submit another one.

3) Paragraphs can be submitted through the “comment/leave a comment” section at the end of this post. Once you submit a comment, it will go to me for moderation. I will make an effort to moderate in a timely fashion. If this becomes an issue, perhaps we’ll switch to another method of submission.*

4) Endeavor to use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling within creative license.

5) No explicit content such as that which would be banned/blocked by wordpress.com. So, avoid overly graphic scenes of violence, sex, drug usage, etc etc. As moderator, I will block posts which deviate from this rule.

6) Try to maintain and build upon pre-existing content. The goal is to create a unified whole when all is said and done. A story which reads as a single unit, not a mishmash, if possible. Keep a believable number of characters. Don’t overdo it with the plot twists. Rules of plot apply: the story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And, if you’re feeling ambitious, try to maintain a consistent tone.

7) Have fun.

 

*Want to comment on the progress of “working title” without submitting content? Since the “comment” function of this post is being used for novel-content only, comments can be posted on The Modern Manuscript’s Facebook page or on ModManuscript Twitter. Link buttons can be found on the right-hand side of the screen in the  “Meet Michelle” box.

 

~ Michelle

 

And so it begins. . . .

Working Title

It was a quiet evening on Chantilly Lane. The children had long since returned home from school. Even Mr. John Harridy, known for pulling into his drive and slamming his car door with a decisive thud every night at midnight, was snoring peacefully under his flannel sheets. The manicured lawns of Chantilly Lane sat chilling under a blanket of fresh snow, which made the cookie-cutter houses appear near identical in the faint winter moonlight. There was no sign, no warning that the lives of the people on Chantilly Lane would never be the same.

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100 thoughts on “Working Title: Join A Collective NaNoWriMo Experiment

  1. “Let’s get on with it,” Leonard said, pushing hard to open the gates.

    Colin had to help—slightly corroded, it took several goes to get them open.

    The men walked up the cobblestoned main drive. Overgrown with weeds, they proceeded with care to keep from tripping.

    “I think you need to hire a gardener,” Colin said, surveying the brambles and the long, uncut grass.

    “Are you volunteering?” Leonard scoffed.

    “How much are you paying?” Colin replied with a cheeky grin.

    Both men turned, startled, as a loud creak echoed from the Hall. Someone had cracked open the front door and was peering out at them.

    “H . . he. . hello?” a wary voice called out.

    Leonard picked up his pace; Colin trotted behind him.

    “Mr. Higgins? It’s Leonard,” Leonard yelled.

    The door swung wide open and a spry man in his seventies sprung down the stairs. Dressed in eye-opening purple plaid slacks, a light lime sweater, and a matching violet beanie, the man positively glowed.

    “Forgive me, Mr. Walcott,” he said, somewhat sheepish, “I am not properly attired to receive you. I had not expected a visit.”

    “Not at all, Higgins.” Leonard fidgeted, visibly uncomfortable. Colin patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.

    “It is so good to see you, Mr. Walcott,” Higgins said, all smiles, shaking Leonard’s hand with enthusiasm.

    “Higgins, this is Colin. He’s. . . . . a friend.”

    Colin beamed his signature smile, and shook the old butler’s hand.

    “We were hoping to take a look around,” Leonard said.

    “If it is not inconvenient, of course,” Colin added.

    “Certainly, certainly. Please, come in. Far be it upon me to keep you from what is yours,” Higgins replied as he ushered the men up the stairs. “I am afraid the Hall is not as clean and crisp as you might recall. I do my best to maintain it; however, there are too many rooms for one man to manage.”

    A cloud of dust billowed around them, swept up by the wind and their entrance. Colin sneezed.

    “A vast majority of the rooms have been covered for years, Sir, to keep them preserved.” Higgins voice betrayed a hint of concern. “You will not be able to see much. The only rooms in use are the kitchen, library, a bedroom, and a bath. Still, shall I give you a tour?”

    Leonard nodded.

    The house was just as Leonard had predicted. Colin positively drooled over the artistry of the paintings and the décor. He blabbered on about how certain murals were inspired by some artist or another. Somewhere along the way, Leonard picked up the word “romanticism” before tuning him out.

    Colin and Higgins, sharing the same appreciation for the building, prattled on enthusiastically while Leonard simply soaked up the scenery in silence.

    Although not quite to his taste, Leonard found himself liking Winthrop Hall in spite of himself. It certainly felt homier than his sparse apartment.

    “I do so hope you will consider returning, Mr. Walcott,” Higgins said, “The old place feels so empty with no one living here. It is such a waste to leave it this way.”

    “Where do you live?” Colin chimed in.

    “I have an apartment,” Leonard muttered.

    Both men looked positively aghast, as if they could not imagine why anyone would ever choose to live in an apartment over a storied manor.

    “A place like this is bound to impress Sylvie,” Colin teased, “There’s your grand gesture. Screw the calligraphy book. You should clean up the library for her—pull a Beauty and the Beast.”

    “Who is this Sylvie?” Higgins asked with a hint of excitement. He could already imagine Winthrop Hall under the steady hand of a dedicated mistress and bustling with children. It would be like having grandchildren again.

    “Only Leonard’s lady love. I bet she lives nearby, too. You guys could be neighbors,” Colin winked.

    Leonard grunted, irritated by the onslaught. With a huff, he said, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.”

  2. Chapter 10:

    Zella and Claire hopped down from the bus after school and traded a conspiratorial glance before walking the opposite of their usual direction. Nearly bursting with the news, Zella had told Claire of the mysterious letter and all day the two had been passing notes between classes, speculating wildly and building anticipation for the hour school ended so they could plunge into the unknown. Not that they didn’t already know the way to Winthrop Hall. Both had ridden bikes by it plenty of times and made up pretend dangers and deaths and ghosts in third story windows. But now Zella was connected to the massive place. She felt all tingly when she looked at it as they approached, and for a moment she believed she smelled…smoke?

    “Claire, do you smell anything?”

    Claire sniffed. “Wood smoke. Someone in there has a fire going. And look, they’ve changed the gate.”

    The two looked at each other again. So it was real. The place was really going to reopen. Both jumped and squealed in the next second when the electronic gate began to hum and slowly slide open. The girls grabbed each other and laughed. They backed away as a silver sedan came gliding through the gate. The driver was a young woman with dark hair. She smiled when she saw the girls and slowed the car to roll down the window. “Hello,” she said to them. “Do you live around here?”

    “Not me,” Claire said. “I was just going home with Ella to study for a test tomorrow.”

    “Ah,” said the young woman and she looked at Zella. “My name is Deidre and I’m going to be a neighbor of sorts. Can you tell me where is the nearest sandwich shop? My GPS isn’t working and I’m starving for a Reuben.”

    “What’s that?” Claire asked.

    “Corned beef, sauerkraut,” Zella whispered to her. “My dad likes them.” Then she smiled shyly at Deidre and told her directions to the place where her dad liked to buy Reuben sandwiches for lunch. Deidre thanked her, smiled again, then drove in the direction Zella had pointed. Zella’s mind was immediately on fire with wild imaginings about who the Reuben-hungry Deidre might be. She looked to be in her twenties and already Zella was planning to curve her smile in one corner the way Deidre had done, it was so cute.
    “She must be rich if she gets to live here,” Claire remarked.

    “But she was wearing a white coat. Maybe she’s a maid.”

    “Maids don’t wear coats, Ella. They wear uniforms like on Downton Abbey.”

    “The cook on Downton Abbey wears white. Maybe she’s a chef.”
    “A chef who doesn’t know how to make a Reuben sandwich?”
    Zella sighed. “You’re right.” She eyed the gate. “Doesn’t look like we’ll be able to get any closer. You wanna cut across the woods or go back by the road?”

    “If I mess up my shoes my mom will kill me. Let’s just take the road back.”

    They turned and began to trudge back the way they had come. Zella turned for a last look over her shoulder, and this time there really was a face in a third story window, a man, there and then gone.
    Zella shivered. “Come on, let’s hurry.”

    ****

    Constance Perlman was drinking a cup of peppermint tea and gazing out the window when she saw the neighbor girl and her friend go inside the house across the road. Their faces were high with color from the brisk cold and their tinkling laughter carried, bringing a smile to Constance’s face. Then the smile dropped as she thought of the other Zella. The Luzenac girl was what thirteen was supposed to be, young and happy and carefree for a time before the responsibilities of adulthood came along and took the free part out of the equation.

    Picking up her cup of tea she decided it was time to get back to work.

    ***

    Edgar Winthrop’s youngest son, Benjamin was home from Cambridge when Zella and her mother came to live with the family. The explanation had been a strange one, that her husband was a second cousin of sorts to his father and so Edgar felt duty bound to look after them while chaos reigned in their homeland. Edgar’s brothers had already graduated from school and were interning in family businesses, Sydney with shipping and Franklin with machinery, which Benjamin would later come to know was mostly military contracts, feeding the defense department whatever was required, from tanks to the big guns on warships.

    Benjamin was interested in publishing, newspapers in particular. And he wanted nothing given to him the way it happened with his brothers. He wanted to know the newspaper business from the ground up, because nothing was more exciting than seeing a story unfold in real life, putting the event on paper with words to describe who, what, when, where and why, and then seeing that paper appear in print and land before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people everywhere, who after reading the story would almost know what it was like to have been there when the event happened and could understand it with a fair, balanced perspective.

    There was little that was fair or balanced in the newspapers his father owned. There was bias and then there were outright lies. Benjamin was often disgusted by what he saw his father’s publications perpetrate, usually in the interests of profit and selfishness, so when his father brought the small, lovely Zella and her fragile looking mother to live with the family Benjamin assumed she was likely his father’s mistress and possible offspring. He had followed only loosely the events in the Baltic region but knew it was a good cover because there were few ways to confirm the identity of a Minister of the Interior in Latvia. For all he knew they were Russian immigrants.

    He was happy to go back to school at the end of the break. For Benjamin his home was never quite the same without his mother, who before her death from consumption had made life less miserable for him against the pranks and general mischief aimed at him daily by his two older brothers. His mother once warned them, “He may be younger and smaller now, but look at his hands and shoulders. One day he’s going to be bigger than both of you, and I can guarantee what passes now will not be forgotten by him.”

    She was right. The last time they attempted any nonsense was just before he graduated from the twelfth grade. They had driven him out to the lake with some girls for a celebration of his freedom for the summer before he went off to Harvard. There was a lot of drinking involved of course and soon the meanness began. When Sydney yanked down a girl’s swimming dress and exposed her breasts she screamed for help and fought him. Rather than help her, Franklin held her arms so Sydney could pull it down further. Benjamin first grabbed Sydney by the arm and swung him around hard, told him to stop. Sydney doubled up a fist and hit him square on the nose, breaking it.
    The crunch of cartilage released something inside Benjamin and in a fury he barreled into Sydney and took him to the ground hard. Franklin shoved the girl aside and jumped on Benjamin’s back, but it was as if something wild and terrible was alive inside Benjamin and he fought like a mad man, pummeling and kicking and grunting until both of his brothers lay bleeding and puking on the sand.

    “No more,” Sydney begged, and Benjamin finally gestured to the girls to get in his car. He took them home, and not a word was said that evening when their father demanded to know what had happened. Benjamin’s mother knew, and she later gave his broken nose a sweet kiss of comfort.

    The next time Benjamin saw Zella Rosenberg and her mother was during the holiday break when they received the news of their father’s incarceration. They were both devastated and Benjamin realized he had been wrong in his speculating about her being his father’s mistress. He saw the pride and the fire in the Latvian woman and he also saw fear. The fear was of his brothers and their constant stares and slavering over the beautiful young Zella. Benjamin was actually glad when the woman took her daughter and left. He knew how his brothers behaved. She was right to be afraid.

    He was proved right the day he arrived home from school and rushed in to greet his father but overheard instead the Latvian woman’s shrill voice. Benjamin sighed in disappointment at their return. Then he heard what she was saying, about what his brothers had done to Zella and his jaw began to tense. He wanted to go and thrash his brothers all over again, make them pay. Then Benjamin heard what his father said to the woman in response. He went cold inside to hear his father speak so. When Zella spoke in her small voice, calling his father a liar, Benjamin realized he had to do something. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but as the butler escorted the women out of their home, Benjamin Winthrop made a silent promise to Zella and her mother.

  3. Chapter 11:

    Leonard returned home after his visit to Winthrop Hall with Colin and packed his essential worldly possessions into a suitcase: clothing for work and leisure, his battered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, and his preferred toiletries.

    After locking the door behind him, Leonard sunk into his battered Chevy and drove off to Winthrop Hall. Higgins greeted him at the door, this time attired in a well-starched black set of tails.

    “I have taken the liberty of preparing the master suite for your arrival, Mr. Walcott,” Higgins said as he ushered Leonard into the foyer.

    Higgins had spent all afternoon running around, frantic. Coated in dust and grime, the master suite had not been used in over twenty years. Higgins had set about removing the dust sheets, mopping the floor, buffing the paneling, dusting the furniture, and rewashing the sheets and upholstery. Beyond exhaustion when Leonard arrived, Higgins had never wished more for a maid on the premises.

    The two men walked up the sweeping double master staircase and Higgins led Leonard down a long, twisting hall.

    “Ah,” Higgins said, as they arrived at the appointed door, “Would you like to see the library before you turn in for the night, Sir?”

    Leonard looked up. “Err. . . yes, that would be nice, thank you.”

    “I also prepared a casserole, if you are feeling peckish. Although, I cannot guarantee the taste, I’m afraid. Should I bring you up a plate while you peruse the library, Sir?”

    Leonard’s stomach grumbled noisily, causing both men to jump. Whatever Higgins had prepared, it would certainly taste better than canned beans or soup. “Yes, thanks. . .” Leonard said, sheepish.

    “Right this way, then.” Higgins guided Leonard back down the stairs and rounded a corner. Before them sat a stately set of doors, which Higgins opened with a practiced flourish.

  4. Leonard walked inside and said a soft “Wow” under his breath at the rows and rows of shelves filled with books. It was much larger than he remembered. He breathed in deeply but there was no musty smell, no moldy odor, so evidently there was a dehumidifier in good working order somewhere. He was glad; he would have hated to have to get rid of any of the thousand titles before him. He walked over and at random plucked out a book. It was Schopenhauer, so evidently he was in the philosophy section. He put it back and looked around himself at the furniture. Wide leather wing chairs and a long matching sofa. There was a desk in the center of the room as big as his car. He went to sit down in the tufted chair behind the desk and after a moment he shook his head. “I feel like an utter fool. What am I doing here?”

    He rubbed his eyes with his palms and sat back in the chair. He pulled out his cell phone and called the number Colin had given him. “I’m not so sure about the library thing,” he said when Colin answered. “I know what you said about her loving books, and I love books too, but this place is intimidating beyond belief. And it feels cold to me.”

    “So light a fire in the fireplace,” Colin told him. “Look, I’m going to an art gallery opening so I’ll see you in the morning to start work on the grounds. Higgins said there’s a mower in the carriage house I can use. And you’d better pay more than the ten damned dollars an hour you talked about. It’ll take me a week to get everything cleaned up.”

    Leonard hung up like he always did when he considered a conversation over. The next moment Higgins pushed open the door carrying a tray loaded with dishes and utensils. He brought it to the desk and a delicious smell wafted into Leonard’s nostrils. “Good lord, I smell garlic. I love garlic.”

    Higgins was pleased and when he would have started out again Leonard said, “Have you already eaten? Why don’t you join me?”

    “I have already eaten, sir, and if you don’t mind, it’s been a rather taxing day for me so I’d like to retire.”

    “Of course,” Leonard said quickly, realizing suddenly how weary the older man appeared. “I’ll see you in the morning, well tomorrow anyway. I have hospital duties in the morning.”

    “Very good sir,” Higgins said and departed.

    Leonard dove into the casserole and ate like a starving man. It was a delicious and extremely healthy dish. Higgins was to be commended.

    After eating his meal Leonard left the library and found his way to the master bedroom. He performed his nighttime rituals then crawled into bed, which seemed huge. It was huge. Another extravagance. He yawned.

    The next thing he knew his cell phone was beeping. He had slept soundly all through the night. He hurried into the massive bathroom to shower, shave and dress and then was in his car and starting the engine when he saw Colin come walking out of the carriage house. Colin waved and beckoned him over. Leonard got out and stomped over. “What is it? I’m going to be late.”

    “Screw the library. We’ve got something Sylvie will like even better.”

    “What?”

    Colin pulled him into the carriage house and immediately Leonard smelled something ripe. In the corner was a dead opossum and beside it was a dead tiger-striped tabby. “Oh my,” Leonard said, “Did they battle to the death?” He looked where Colin was pointing. Beside the tabby were three tiny starving kittens, barely alive, too weak to mew when Colin picked them up. The doctor in Leonard saw his hands reaching automatically to take one. “There’s a veterinarian’s office on the way to the hospital. Let’s go.”

    “What about Sylvie? You should call and ask for her help.”

    Much as he would have loved to see her, Leonard the doctor was in charge over Leonard the lovesick.

    “These kittens don’t have time for that, Colin. Now move.”

  5. ***

    Leonard’s Chevy wheezed as he floored the gas, speeding down side streets with reckless abandon. Colin hung on to the seat and the kitten-filled cardboard box as they swerved toward the veterinarian’s office.

    They arrived in record time. Leonard strode into the office; Colin trailed right behind him.

    “These kittens require attention,” Leonard said in a commanding voice.

    The receptionist rolled her eyes. “Hold your horses, cowboy.”

    Leonard scowled, preparing to give her a tongue lashing when Colin stepped in with his sparkling baby blues.

    He hoisted the box of kittens onto the counter in full view of the receptionist.
    “We found these little guys in his backyard.” Colin pointed at Leonard. “Their mom and a possum had a battle to the death and they look like they’re half-starved.”

    The receptionist melted, helpless. “Dr. James, we have an emergency case!” she yelled.

    Deidre James poked her head out of a back room.

    “Va va va voom,” Colin whispered to Leonard, visibly impressed by the spectacle that was Deidre James. Petite and willowy, her figure looked great even hidden beneath her white lab coat. Her dark pixie cut hair and soft smile accentuated her youthful mien. Today, Deidre wore a stylish pair of fire engine red glasses.

    Colin cut off Leonard and leapt forward to talk to Deidre. He explained the situation.

    Deidre nodded, seemingly unimpressed by Colin’s usual routine.

    “Let’s get them in back,” she said, gingerly lifting the box off the counter and walking towards an examination room.

    Chapter 12:

    John Harridy slammed his door with a characteristically loud thud after returning home from his attempted caper. Mumbling irritably, he marched back up the stairs and nestled into his flannel sheets.

    He awoke the following morning to sunshine, brightened by reflection and a fresh blanket of snow.

    Rubbing his eyes, he gazed out the window. He spied Myrna Luzenac out shoveling her driveway. Her sizable collie Gypsy barked and yipped playfully, trouncing about in the snow and circling around Myrna as she worked.

    Maybe he should ask Myrna, Harridy thought. He knew the Luzenacs had received a letter too—he had seen Zella holding it two nights before. With her connections as a public defender, maybe Myrna knew something he didn’t.

    Harridy washed his face, smoothed his hair, gave his stubble a quick shave, and threw on a fresh pair of sweats. In five minutes, he was out the door with a shovel in hand.

    While Harridy started clearing his own drive, he glanced over a few times at Myrna. He wondered how he should approach her. Never neighborly, he settled on a curt nod and a wave.

    Bundled head to toe, Myrna waved back. Harridy couldn’t tell whether she had smiled or not. A few more minutes passed before Harridy decided it was now or never.

    “Mrs. Luzenac,” he called out, as he walked over.

    “Hey, Harridy,” she replied. “What can I do for you?”

    Gypsy ran circles around John, sniffing, jumping, and whining as he drew closer. He patted the dog on the head as he pushed her off of him.
    Harridy rubbed the back of his head, short on words. “This strange letter arrived for my mom the other night. I’m worried. I saw you got one too. . .”

    Myrna stiffened slightly. “Yah, that’s right.”

    A long silence fell between them.

  6. “How is your mother?” Myrna asked finally.

    Truthfully, she’d been much better since the arrival of the note and photograph. Her eyes were clearer, her smile more lasting, and the weariness less. He guessed it was true what they said about everyone needing to have something to look forward to in their lives. It’s probably why they invented holidays, so all the draft horses plowing the fields would still follow the carrot being dangled in front of them.

    “She wants to go to the event on the twenty-first,” Harridy said. “But that’s not going to happen until I know more about it. I’ve asked around at the hospital and no one seems to know much other than that they don’t like him. One of the emergency room staff said Walcott told him he was ‘simple beyond endurance’ and a nurse said an administrator filed a grievance for Walcott calling him ‘dangerously brainless’ in front of a patient.”

    (She also said they had taken to calling him Lord Walcott behind his back, since he was a walking talking paradigm of a doctor with a God complex, but Leonard left that part out.)

    Myrna nodded. “I tried to learn something about him as well and basically all I know is he’s the son of the last owner of Winthrop Hall, Vincent Walcott. Apparently he’s never had much to do with his father’s businesses and didn’t bother to show up for the reading of the will after his father died. Speaking of which, Mr. Harridy, has your mother ever talked to you about what happens to her house when—”

    “My mother’s not dying, Mrs. Luzenac,” John stated. “She’s nowhere close to dying.” He took a step back and said, “I’d better get finished with the drive.”

    “Sure,” Myrna said, and patted the worried Gypsy’s head when the collie sensed the sudden tension in the air.

    Harridy stopped then and looked back. “Will you and your family be going on the twenty-first?”

    Myrna smiled and lifted a hand. “Who doesn’t love a mystery date?”

    Harridy gave what he hoped passed for a smile then returned to his drive to finish shoveling.

    Myrna watched him go and under her breath said, “Creepy weirdo.” Gypsy looked up at her, her ears pricked, and Myrna said, “You think so too, don’t you?”

    Gypsy yipped and jumped away, paws splayed in the snow and Myrna playfully tossed some snow at her with the shovel. Then she decided she had cleared enough. She herded Gypsy in the house and retrieved the letter to look at it again. Years ago her father had wanted to run for political office and was told by an advisor that he needed to make sure all his personal financial affairs could withstand the scrutiny of the public. Her father assumed him they could, at least until he learned from Myrna’s mother the details of the agreement she had signed. Automatically he said, “I don’t understand why we can’t simply pay them for the house. I need to be able to say I own the house I live in, don’t I? You see that, don’t you? I can’t have the public knowing I’m part of some odd arrangement with one of the wealthiest men in the country.”

    So against her mother’s wishes, her father took Vincent Walcott to court.

  7. Long and bloody, the legal battle ended in stalemate and undercut Myrna’s father’s promising career in public office. Needless to say, he had been quite bitter. One night after having a few too many glasses of scotch, he had gone to confront Vincent Walcott in person. Myrna never learned the details of what happened, but her dad never spoke of Walcott or politics ever again.

    Myrna took away one thing from her father’s run in with the Walcotts: they were not people you wanted to trifle with, ever. Hare-brained or not, they had money and connections.

    The brisk winter air had sharpened Myrna’s concentration. What was she going to do about the Walcotts? Her chipper chat with Harridy belied her concern. In no way was she going to allow her Ella to go to that house. If the Walcotts knew something, she was going to find out herself. Ella need never know about her past, or her birth mother. The weight of a dark past would crush her carefree spirit, and Myrna was not about to let that happen.

    Chapter 13:

    Leonard returned to the veterinary clinic after his morning shift at the hospital. It would be a matter of weeks before he could retire from medicine. Today, he had met with three doctors the hospital was considering to remedy their staffing shortage. All bright, qualified, and energetic, Leonard saw no reason why the hospital shouldn’t hire them.

    “Dr. Walcott,” Deidre James called out, snapping him from his contemplation.

    She waved him back to the exam room. On the table sat the three kittens, swaddled in blankets and sleeping soundly. “They’ll pull through,” she said, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep them here under intensive care for a few weeks. Like premature babies, they need an expert hand for now. After that, you will need to find them good homes. As they are still young, the owners will have to be able to give them a good deal of attention for the first month.”

    Leonard nodded.

    “Do you have any questions?”

    “I noticed that the building you’re renting for your clinic is quite old, and visibly too small for your practice. Have you given any thought to finding new premises?”

    Deidre didn’t know what to make of Leonard’s question. “We are a new clinic. I’m the only vet on staff. Of course, in the future, we hope to expand, maybe add an animal shelter and hire more vets. . .”

    “What if I could offer you a considerably larger building in the heart of town free of charge? It needs to be remodeled, which could take some time. . .”

    Deidre stared at Leonard, slack-jawed. Suspicion filled her eyes. “I don’t accpet hand outs, Mr. Walcott.”

    Leonard looked irritated. “Then, consider it patronage. You clearly have a talent for what you do.”

    “What’s in it for you?”

  8. “Better standing with your grandfather, I’m guessing. Clive James worked with my father for years.”

    Deidre blinked. “You’re him? You’re the Leonard Walcott?”

    “I am, and I’m not offering any handouts for you to decline or accept, I’m offering you space to conduct your business, and suggesting you at least come to check it out before you say no.”

    “I can already say no, because I sure you’re talking about the old Winthrop Hall, and while I haven’t been in it for years, I can honestly say it’s too big for my practice. Even if I used the main level for a clinic and animal shelter there would still be four thousand square feet of unused space above me. Have you ever actually looked at the place, Dr. Walcott?”

    “I stayed there last night,” Leonard said. And he had looked at the place, but now that she mentioned it, it wouldn’t do to leave the upper floors empty. “All right,” he said. “Suit yourself. Give my best to your grandfather.”

    “He’s not your biggest fan,” Deidre said and when he looked at her she shrugged. “Your father was one of his closest friends.”

    Leonard knew that. He was trying to give himself a reason to open the hall again, but in a giving way, not for profit. He thought seeing Deidre James’s name on the animal clinic sign was his chance. And a small way to make up for any perceived slights to her grandfather, Clive. He guessed he’d have to think of something else.

    “Who should I call with updates on the kittens?” she asked.

    “Colin. He’s already named them after famous painters so I imagine he expects to be keeping one or all of them.”

    “Does he always behave so obnoxiously?”

    “Always. But he’s a good man. I’ll be going now. Goodbye.”

    “Wait,” Deidre said before he was out of the room. “I’ll come and look at the place in about an hour. I’m not crazy or stupid. Free space is free space. But I’m not making any promises.”

    “Of course. The front gate is tricky, so call me on your cell if you can’t open it.”

    “Great,” Deidre said, less than enthused at the prospect.

    On that note, Leonard departed. Once outside he took out his cell phone to make sure he had turned it on and found two messages, one from Colin and one from Sylvie Baron. He listened to Sylvie’s first. She said, “Titus Chubb called today and said he’s ready to chat when you are. I told him we’d get back with him. Call me.”
    He called immediately and got Sylvie’s voice mail. So it was to be phone tag. He said, “I received your message and I’m happy with whatever arrangements you care to make with Mr. Chubb.” He froze then and didn’t know what else to say so he hung up. He didn’t bother listening to Colin’s message.

    When he reached the hall he wished he had listened to the second message because there was a huge truck and several men with measuring tapes and clipboards assessing the entrance to the hall. Leonard stopped and rolled down his window. “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

    One of the men looked at him. “We’re measuring for the new gate. We got a call this morning and came right—”

    Leonard drove on with the man still talking. He saw Colin with a shovel at the north end of the building and beckoned to him. “What are those people doing?”

    Colin said, “You’re buying a new gate. Do you know how long you’ve forced poor Higgins to fight with that creaky, rusted piece of—”
    “Fine.” He sniffed. “Good lord, you smell.”

    Colin grinned. “I knew you wouldn’t know a good sweat if you ever saw one.”

    “Seeing it’s unnecessary with such an assault on the nostrils. “ Leonard looked around himself. “You have made progress, haven’t you?”

    “At the cost of tomorrow’s backache, no doubt. Did you get my message?”

    “I didn’t listen to it. I assumed it was about the gate.”

    “No, I wanted to know if you checked on the kittens?”
    Leonard wanted to smile. “They’re fine. And she’ll be here in an hour to look at the hall.”

    “Who will?”

    “Dr. James. I offered her the place to use as a clinic. She said no, but she’s coming to have a look just the same.”

    He thought Colin would be all smiles and swagger; instead he dropped the shovel and took off at a run. “I’ve got to take a shower.”

  9. Chapter 14:

    Claire and Zella went together to Zella’s house to do homework. While Claire did not live on Chantilly Lane, she lived right around the corner. The two girls hunkered down at the kitchen table, splaying their books across its surface. They were working on a design for a “Rube Goldberg” invention for the science fair—all students had to participate.

    Myra came bustling through the door, all smiles.

    “Hi, Mom!” Zella called.

    “Hey Mrs. L,” Claire echoed.

    “Hi girls. What have you been up to today?” Myrna asked.

    “We went to Winthrop Hall,” Claire blurted out and Zella made a face.

    “Really?” Myrna’s voice betrayed her concern.

    “But we couldn’t get any closer than the gate,” Zella added, quickly. “We didn’t go inside or anything. It was totally safe.”

    Claire nodded supportively.

    Myrna gave Zella her “mom eyes” and Zella winced. They would be having a long talk later.

    “So, what’s everyone feeling like for dinner?” Myrna changed the subject.

    “Spaghetti!” the girls yelled simultaneously.

    Myrna grinned, thinking once again how Zella and Claire were two peas in a pod.

    ~*~*~
    Myrna waited until Claire had gone home before addressing Zella’s unauthorized visit to Winthrop Hall.

    “Ella, you shouldn’t have gone to that place by yourself. It’s dangerous to stray from your usual path, you know that. What if you had gotten kidnapped? The police wouldn’t have known where to start looking and we might not have been able to find you.”

    Zella rolled her eyes. “Come on, mom. No one gets kidnapped here.”

    “Oh no, you can’t pull that one on me. Just last year an eight year old in the next town over didn’t come home from school one day, and they found her body six months later in a forest preserve. You’re smarter than that, Ella.”

    “You’re paranoid. If dad were here, he wouldn’t yell at me!” Ella countered.

    Myrna flinched. She missed her husband so much when he was away. With the economic downturn, his job had become one extended business trip.

    “Don’t you pull the Dad card on me,” Myrna retorted. “When he’s not here, I’m in charge. You know that. And I can tell you for a fact that your Father would back me up on this one. I’m not going to ground you or anything, but I want you to be more careful from now on.”

    Zella sulked.

    “I don’t want you to think any more about Winthrop Hall or the letter. Your Dad will be home this weekend and we’ll discuss everything together, but don’t get your hopes up. If anything, your Dad and I will go talk to this doctor.”

    “Moommmm,” Zella moaned.

    “Don’t get pouty on me, missy. It hasn’t been decided definitively.”

    Zella stormed down the hall and out the front door.

    ~*~*~

    Gilbert Perlman waved at Zella as she exited the house. He had just come home from work and was picking up the mail.

    Zella cracked a small smile and waved back. She liked Mr. Perlman.

    He reminded her of her dad. She missed him more than she liked to admit.

    “Trouble in paradise?” Gilbert asked, gesturing to Zella’ house.

    Zella nodded.

    “Don’t worry too much,” he said, “People fight because they care about each other. It’s when you have problems and don’t air them that you need to worry.”

    “I suppose that makes sense,” Zella said.

    “So, what is it this time? Boys? Grades?”

    “Winthrop Hall.”

    Gilbert looked surprised.

    “I got this weird letter, inviting me to the opening. I want to go, but my mom thinks it’s dangerous. But, I mean, come on. It’s so cool. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in real life.”

    “Come to think of it, I think Connie got a letter too,” he said, “I should ask her about it. . . thanks for reminding me, Ella.”

    As Gilbert started to walk away, he called back, “Don’t worry about Winthrop Hall. Who knows, maybe your parents will change their mind?”

  10. He went inside to speak with Constance and found her hard at work, her nimble fingers flying over the keyboard. It was rare these days to see her so engrossed, so Gilbert backed out again without saying a word. Thank goodness she was able to write again. He had been so worried about his wife finding her voice again. The Constance in that room was the Connie he loved, the woman so captivated with an idea or a story that hours could pass for minutes in her mind and she would look up and be stunned that a full eight hours had passed. When she was writing she was happy, feverishly researching and chatting and asking question after question and somehow glowing with the fire of creativity inside. It thrilled Gilbert to see her like this again. He loved to share his expertise with her and when she asked questions about this decade or that one, this implement, or that tool’s particular usage he felt more than valued, he felt like a necessary component to the process.

    He decided he would ask about the mystery letter later, although he wasn’t sure he even should, knowing how it had affected her the night she received it. It made no sense to him. What was the writer referring to when he said “Only one was brought to your house that night…” One what?

    ***
    “You’re being obtuse,” Deidre James said as she came to a stop in the middle of the grand hall and three men looked at her in surprise, Leonard, Higgins and Colin, whose black hair was still wet and smelled like Irish Spring soap.

    “In what way?” Leonard was more surprised than offended.

    “I talked to my grandfather on the way here. He told me to tell you that. He said you know exactly what you should do with the place and you’re in denial. I think he’s right. You need to open your own clinic and staff it as you please. Help all those hopeless people Grandpa said you wanted to help when you were a med student.”

    The eyes of the other men turned to Leonard. He looked at his father’s portrait hanging on the wall. Leave it to Clive to bring up old dreams. He didn’t know if he had enough idealism left in him to fill that well.

    Deidre read his face. “Okay, you want me to take some free space? I will. The carriage house has a large apartment above it. I’ll live in the apartment and you can remodel the carriage house into my clinic and animal shelter. I’ll need a fence in back of it and some free standing shelters as well. Who needs a twelve bay garage anyway, right?”

    “I…you spoke with Clive?” was all Leonard could say.

    “He said you’d do all of it if I asked. Was he right?”

    “Yes,” Leonard said. Clive knew him too well, saw right to the heart of how Leonard would react at having his father’s money.

    It was a funny thing. Leonard held more affection for Clive James than for his own father. He supposed it was because Clive had a habit of bringing out the best in people and making others see reason when necessary. Doing the right thing was important to Clive, and seeing that others did the right thing was a specialty of his. Through knowing him Vincent Walcott became a better person, a better man. Still not a great father, but…

    “Wow. You’re giving her the carriage house. Can I ask for something?” Colin said.

    “No. Why are you still here?”

    “Sylvie called me. She said she’s been trying to call you. Where is your cell phone?”

    “I left her a message less than two hours …” Leonard pulled it out of his pocket. The battery was dead. “Damn it. I keep forgetting to plug it in.” He held out his hand to Colin.

    “What?” Colin said.

    “Your phone.”

    When Colin hesitated Leonard said, “Deidre, please take Colin to the carriage house and tell him specifically what you want done and where. He’ll be in charge of hiring the contractors. Colin, write down her needs word for word and give me your phone. Now.”

    Deidre shot daggers at Leonard. Colin promptly handed over his phone.

    Higgins covered the smile on his mouth with a small cough. He had never been happier, all these young energetic people in the house.

    Leonard called Sylvie and heard her say, “Colin, are you sure Leonard all right? I’m starting to worry.”

    Everything inside him went warm and liquid when he heard her voice.

  11. Chapter 15:

    Leonard arrived in front of Sylvie’s house shortly thereafter.

    “I’m sorry to put you out,” Sylvie said, “My car just died on me today, and the mechanic couldn’t jump the battery.”

    “It must be dead.”

    “That’s what the mechanic said.”

    “I think I have a spare car.

    Sylvie raised an eyebrow.

    “Colin didn’t tell you?” Leonard asked.

    “Tell me what?” Sylvie retorted with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

    “I moved into Winthrop Hall—just on a trial basis.”

    “I think that’s a good idea,” Sylvie said, “it’s great you’re finally doing something with the place.”

    “We’re here,” Leonard said. Titus Chubb’s stout split-level sat stolidly awaiting them.

    Mr. Chubb yelled, “What do you want? We’re not buying anything!” after Sylvie knocked on the door.

    “Mr. Chubb,” she called back, “It’s Leonard and Sylvie.”

    “Well, why didn’t you just say so,” Titus said as he opened the door.

    “You look healthy, Mr. Chubb,” Leonard said matter-of-factly.

    Titus straightened. “I feel that way.” He paused before adding. “Thanks.”

    Titus motioned for the pair to be seated in the living room. On the coffee table in the center of the room sat a sizable lock box and a matching key.

    “I keep the journals in here,” Titus said. “The box is fireproof, waterproof, and theft-proof.” He rummaged in his pocket for a ring of keys and inserted a small, bronze one into the lock box and turned it. The safe opened with a loud pop. His hands shaking slightly, Titus removed his fathers’ five journals. Each diary had a leather cover embossed with the initials J.C. for Jonah Chubb.

    “Would you let us borrow them, Mr. Chubb?” Sylvie asked, gently placing her long-fingered hand on top of Titus’s weathered one.

    “I reckon it’s only fair, considering all you’ve done for me,” Chubb grunted, nodding slightly in Leonard’s direction. “But if you lose ‘em, or damage ‘em,” he added, “I expect you’ll be paying for my great-grandchildren and their children’s college too.” His craggy face twitched ever so slightly into a faint smile.

    “Whatever you want,” Leonard said. “We’ll have them back to you shortly. They should be preserved for future generations.”

    With that, Sylvie and Leonard left Mr. Chubb’s house.

    ~*~*~

    After a rousing debate, Sylvie and Leonard decided the library of Winthrop Hall would work well as a base of operations for their research. They pulled up in front of the carriage house just as Deidre appeared to be leaving.

    “Bye, Leonard,” she called as she got in her car, “I think the carriage house will do nicely. It’s a much more realistic venue for what I’m looking to do.”

    Leonard nodded and waved as she drove off.

    “Who was that?” Sylvie asked once Deidre’s car exited the gates and turned the corner.

    “Who indeed,” Colin chirped, visibly smitten.

    “She’s my vet,” Leonard said.

    “What do you need a vet for?”

    “He didn’t tell you about the kittens?”

    “Colin found three kittens by the carriage house.”

    Visibly excited, Sylvie chimed, “I love cats. I have always wanted one.”

    Colin gave Leonard his “I told you so” look before saying, “I’m going to get back to work clearing the yard and the gardens.” He paused a moment, before adding. “Hey, Leo, maybe you should ask Sylvie about what she would do with the gardens? You’re a big gardener, aren’t you Sylvie?”

    “How did you know?” Sylvie asked.

    “The dirt under your nails gave you away.” With that, Colin jetted off towards the tool shed.

    “Let’s get these inside,” Sylvie patted her large canvas purse where she had stored the journals.

    “This really is a nice house,” Sylvie said as they walked toward Winthrop Hall. “You’re lucky.”

    Leonard grunted

  12. “And for the record, there is no dirt under my fingernails.”

    Leonard wouldn’t have cared if there had been. He was just glad to be with her again, inhaling her cinnamon scent and soaking up her grace and loveliness with every glance. She caught him looking at her as they entered the hall. She said, “For what it’s worth, I’ve missed you too, Leonard.”

    His immediate impulse was to ask if that was the case then why in heaven hadn’t she answered his calls? But he kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to ruin anything. Instead he reached over and lightly squeezed her hand. Colin would have been proud, he told himself as he saw her reaction. She was obviously moved. Feeling pleased with himself, he kept one hand lightly under her elbow as he introduced her to a smiling Higgins.

    “It is my sincere pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Baron.” The older man looked as if he were about to burst with happiness.

    Sylvie smiled then seemed mildly surprised when Leonard placed a palm to the middle of her back and extended the other hand toward the library.

    “The library is this way.”

    Things were going so well and her demeanor was so unexpectedly pleased that Leonard began to panic. Just don’t speak, he told himself. When you speak everything goes wrong. Keep touching her and you’ll be fine.

    He guided her to the car-desk, which is how he had come to think of the massive mahogany thing, and indicated she sit in the tufted chair. He pulled another chair over beside hers and sat down.

    She barely looked at him. Her head kept swiveling, looking at shelf after shelf, row after row, and finally she whispered. “My God, Leonard. I’ve never seen so many books in a single private library. How are they cataloged?”

    He didn’t know. He pointed. “Over there is philosophy. I’m not sure about the rest. This room intimidates the hell out of me. All this knowledge.”

    She laughed a little. “You never lie, do you. You may be one of the most honest people I’ve ever known.”

    Leonard thought of Clive James. “I try to be, Sylvie.”

    Their gazes were suddenly locked and their arms near touching along the arms of the chairs. Sylvie leaned slightly toward him…

    Higgins came through the doors with a tray in his hands. “I’ve brought you some tea, Miss Baron. Dr. Walcott said you enjoy a good tea.”

    Sylvie pulled back and Leonard briefly plotted the murder of his butler. Had she been about to kiss him? He felt as if something were stuck in his chest and prevented him from taking a full breath. He saw her politely reach for the cup of tea and heard her sweetly thank Higgins. She took a sip.

    “Is it oolong?”

    “Yes, miss. Enjoy.”

    She smiled at Leonard. “I haven’t had oolong tea in ages.”

    Leonard waited until she put the cup down and reached for her canvas bag.

    “Shall we?”

    She dug out the journals and handed Leonard the first in order of date. She took the second. Leonard wanted badly to do a reverse in time motion that would take them back to the second before Higgins opened the door, but he could tell from her face the moment had passed. Dolefully, he picked up the journal and opened it.

    Jonah Chubb, Peace Officer
    Journal beginning

    “Oct. 30, 1914

    Bertie Maguire on Corsakie Road reported finding her elderly mother dead and half-eaten by the hogs in the pen. She was at church when it happened. Bertie Maguire says her mother was ill, but still sound of mind and would not have wandered near the hogs by accident. Bertie found a glove in the mud outside the pig pen and says whoever dropped it put her mother in with the hogs.

    I visited the farm and took the glove from Bertie Maguire. I asked her to look around if she felt up to it and see if anything was missing. She wasn’t feeling up to it but told me she would try the next day.

    Oct. 31, 1914

    I took the glove into town and asked the clerk at McAllister’s store who he sold the match to, and he said he had sold several pair to the ranch boss at the Prunier place. I ventured out and located the boss to ask who had come up a glove short. He said young Peter Tooley, just sixteen, had lost his glove and he took me to him. When Tooley saw me with the glove he took off running and I jumped on a horse and ran him down. He had jewelry he had stolen from the elderly Mrs. Maguire wrapped in a cloth tied around his waist. When I took the jewelry to Bertie Maguire she identified it as having belonged to her elderly mother. Peter Tooley will hang for murder.

    Leonard closed the book and took a deep breath before returning to the pages. He skimmed , glossing over several more lurid accounts and finally found a ‘Z’.

    Jan 1, 1915

    Mansion built by newspaper magnate has been taken over by ladies of ill-repute was the report received today. I talked with the county and the land assessor and learned it has been deeded to a woman who calls herself Zella Rose. All is legitimate.

    Finding the key to the search, Leonard kept skimming for ‘Z’s’.

    March 9, 1915

    Charles Waverton III claims attempted blackmail by proprietress at Palace of Soiled Doves, as mansion has come to be known. Waverton has no evidence to support his claim. Zella Rose cooperated in every way.

    July 23, 1915

    Ferdinand Poll claims attempted blackmail by proprietess at Palace of Soiled Doves. Poll has no evidence to support his claim. Zella Rose cooperated in every way.

    There were at least twelve more, Leonard found, and he soon realized that Zella Rose wasn’t running a whore house at all. She was shaming and threatening with blackmail each wealthy man who attempted to patronize the place.

    It was genius.

    Then he found this entry:

    December 21 1915

    Volunteer firefighters called but refused to fight the fire at the Palace of Soiled Doves. Have yet to count the bodies in the house. The injured living were carried nearly a quarter mile away to houses on Chantilly Lane. Zella carried her daughter then went back for two others. The people in the homes on Chantilly Lane did not hesitate to open their doors and have taken in all the wounded women.

    December 22, 1915

    I have taken statements from all the survivors and a young girl (a daughter of one of the women) told me she saw two men creeping around the house and emptying cans of something on the veranda. Then she said she saw the yard light up as lightning struck the house in the storm. I think the girl was dreaming, as the house has lightning rods on the roof. I will check out the story of the two men.

    December 25, 1915

    Christmas Day. I stayed with family until noon then went to find bodies in the burned mansion. Other peace officers refused to help. I found more children than I could bear. These were not the loose women and painted cats I and others have been led to believe. These were mothers and their children with school books and chalk boards and stores of canned goods from a huge garden plot in the back. Why the ruse? Why make the town believe the worst?

    December 27, 1915

    I have finally located Zella Rose. I told her of the bodies I recovered and she did not cry or carry on as any other might have done. Instead she asked if she could bury them yet. I said she could if she had a way to do it. She said “I have two hands, so I have a way.” I told her I knew her secret, knew she was not what she pretended to be, what she allowed everyone to think she was. She said that was fine, but not to let it get around. She wouldn’t be changing anyone’s mind anytime soon.

  13. Chapter 16:

    Harridy was fresh out of ideas. His conversation with Myrna hadn’t left him any closer to understanding the mysterious letter or his mother’s involvement with the elusive millionaire. Rather than bother his mother in the hospital, Harridy resolved to follow another lead—Clive James.

    After his father passed, Clive James had taken a marked interest in his mother. Yes, she worked as his secretary. But, Harridy had always thought their relationship ran deeper than a simple employer-employee dynamic. James had also recently lost a spouse, although under different circumstances. If Harridy remembered correctly, Mrs. James had run off with another man, leaving Clive with the kids and nothing more than the ghostly scent of her perfume by which to remember her.

    Clive James had been a tough, but fair employer. His mother had worked late into the evening, but was more than fairly compensated for her work. His pay had allowed them to keep the house, go on vacation, and even pay for Harridy’s college and EMT training. As much as Harridy resented Walcott’s Fine Coat Buttons for keeping his mother from him, things could have been much worse. Besides, Joyia Harridy had loved her boss. She constantly told him glowing stories about her employer and his charitable exploits. Joyia remained by Clive’s side for his entire career.

    Harridy distinctly remembered his mother’s retirement party. James had handed his mother an envelope and had given a rousing speech about her countless years of dedicate service. He remembered being impressed by the sheer number of co-workers who had come to pay their respects to his mother. Even Mr. Vincent Walcott had dropped by for a few minutes.

    Harridy sifted through his mother’s desk in the living room for her address book. Neatly and logically organized, it only took him a few minutes to unearth her Begonia-coated contact book. He flipped to the Js and his finger landed on “James, Clive.” Harridy punched the number into his phone and dialed.

    The phone rang one, twice, three times before he heard the click of someone answering. “This is the James residence, Clive speaking.” His voice was rich and earthy, deep like a field which had lain fallow and been planted many times over.

    Harridy took a deep breath. “Mr. James, this is John Harridy.”

    “Joyia’s boy? Is something the matter? Has she taken a turn for the worse?” John felt that the concern in Clive’s voice was genuine.

    “No, no. She’s doing fine, health-wise.”

    “Good, I’m glad to hear that. She deserves to enjoy her twilight years.”

    “I’m calling about Leonard Walcott. He sent my mother a cryptic letter. She insists on going to the opening of this Winthrop Hall, but it is not in the best interest of her health to do so. Also, I’m not sure about this doctor’s intentions. I understand he is the son of Vincent Walcott, your former employer.”

    “Leonard Walcott is a very private person. We have never been particularly close.”

    “But surely you of all people must know something.”

    “I have never known Leonard to have bad intentions, Mr. Harridy. He has always been an idealist. Never interested in money. A bit unsociable.”

    “If he is so uninterested in money and his father’s legacy, why is he re-opening Winthrop Hall?” Harridy asked.

    “I couldn’t hope to understand his motives; however, my granddaughter has been spending some time there recently.”

    “Your granddaughter?”

    “Deidre James. She runs an independent veterinary clinic near the hospital.”

    “Veterinary clinic?” Harridy didn’t know what to make of this information. What in the world could a vet be doing at Winthrop Hall?

  14. “Deidre tells me you dropped by the hall one night in the wee hours, John. She said you seemed troubled.”

    Which reminded Harridy. “Just how did she know who I was? Has he got some high tech security camera attached to face recognition software?”

    Clive’s chuckle was warm. “My granddaughter said she recognized you from the photograph your mother kept on her desk for years. When you worked for FEMA and were sent to New York after the terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center. Your mother was so proud of the work you did there, the many months you stayed to keep helping people while the city recovered.”

    John’s gaze fell. His marriage never recovered from the nearly seven months he was gone. He always felt that was the time he had lost his wife, while he was away and busy every day, often too busy to take her calls or listen to her pleas to call back so they could talk. He tried to tell her how crazy it was and often grew abrupt and angry at what he called her neediness, but both of them knew he was simply making excuses. He was afraid to call her, afraid to hear what she wanted to talk about, so it was easier to keep moving. Always moving.

    “Mr. Harridy?”

    Harridy blinked. “I’m still here. Uh, you don’t happen to know what my mother did with the photograph?” He had never seen it in her house.

    “I’m sure I don’t know. And I wouldn’t worry about the opening of the hall harming your mother in any way. She always loved it and it will be delightful to see her again.”

    “You’re going?”

    “My invitation was hand delivered by Deidre, so yes, I’ll be going. I’m not at all worried and nor should you be. I’ve rarely seen my all business granddaughter so happy and excited.”

    Harridy grunted then said, “I’ll say goodbye now.”

    “Please give Joyia my best.”

    ***

    Constance heard Gilbert tiptoe in then tiptoe right back out again. She could sense his pleasure at seeing her deep involvement in a project. Her awareness dipped then and returned to the past:

    Benjamin put off his return to Harvard to look for Zella and her mother. His father Edgar was furious and his brothers Sydney and Franklin were maliciously gleeful at having something legitimate to jeer at in their youngest sibling. Benjamin didn’t care, all he knew was that someone had to make things right or he would never be able to hold his head up in polite society again or have any amount of respect for his family name.

    Scouring the stories in the papers as he was accustomed to doing, Benjamin was distraught at finding the name of Zella’s mother among the list of the dead in the factory fire. He went immediately to talk to the few survivors and
    learned of the rooms they had shared with the other women. When Benjamin arrived the landlord told him he had asked her to leave since she could no longer pay the rent. At Benjamin’s outrage he further said, “I have to eat, same as you! I must have tenants who can pay, not a single young girl who has gotten herself with child!”

    A sickness in his heart overcame Benjamin. So the rape had produced a child. Poor little Zella. He trudged home, determined to use one of his father’s detective services to help him find the girl.

    After being thrown out of her rooms Zella found herself wandering the streets of New York and cowering in dark corners anytime someone looked her way. She slept sitting upright for minutes at a time and tried to stay awake during the nights, when men believed darkness would hide all their malignant thoughts and deeds and did things they would never do in the light of day. She stole fruit from street vendors but was soon skin and bones, a tiny, pale wraith that haunted the cobblestone paths.

    One night she huddled near a wide long porch and a woman came out on the stoop and yelled at her, told her no girls could work this corner tonight.
    Zella got up to go…then passed out, collapsing into a heap at the foot of the steps. When she opened her eyes a big bear of a man held her in his thick hands and put her on a cot set up in a pantry. Zella nearly passed out again at sight of all the food in the pantry. The woman who had yelled at her loomed over her. “My lord, this one’s nothing but a baby. Joseph, grab Matilda and tell her to heat some broth. This child’s nearly dead.”

    The woman’s name was Marjorie Wilkes and she was proprietress, which meant she was strict, mean when she had to be, and no one’s fool. She took in the needlework of Zella’s dress and knew she was no ordinary street urchin and when Zella spoke to tell her thank you, she realized Zella was a foreigner. The girl was also pregnant, Marjorie realized shortly after the girl
    decorated the floor of her pantry with juices from her stomach. There was a story here, Marjorie surmised, and she wanted to hear it.

    When Zella was well enough to rise and eat she picked up a broom and a rag to at least make herself useful and show her appreciation for all Marjorie and her household had done for her. In the first week she observed all that went on in the house and realized eventually what kind of place she was in. It was a house where men visited women and paid to have relations with them. The same kind of relations Sydney and Franklin Winthrop had forced upon her.

    Gaunt as she was, the growth in her belly soon began to show and Marjorie asked if she knew who was the father of the child? Zella told her yes, it was a Winthrop, though she wasn’t sure which one, Sydney or Franklin. Something flickered behind Marjorie’s gaze, and one day a few months later Zella realized she had made a huge mistake in confiding in Marjorie. The door flew open one late wintry evening and Sydney and Franklin Winthrop entered the house, their eyes gleaming. Franklin gave Marjorie a wad of bills from his pocket while Sydney went stomping down the hall.

    “Where is our sweet Zella? Zella! It’s time to come home.”

    It was like a nightmare. The woman who saved her life, gave her a cot to sleep on, had sold her to her enemies.

  15. Chapter 17:

    Sylvie left Winthrop Hall late into the night and promised to return the next day to continue reading the journals with Leonard. Before she went, Leonard took her to the carriage house to show her his father’s car collection.

    “Why don’t you pick one?” he said, “You’ll be doing me a favor. I’m trying to clear out the place.”

    Sylvie raised an eyebrow.

    “Think of it as thanks for helping me with my research. You’ve been indispensable.”

    Sylvie ran her eyes up and down the cars in the bays of the carriage house.

    “Many of these cars have historical value. The newest cars here are from the late 1980s, early 1990s, and they’re all in mint condition.”

    “I’ll donate most of them to classic car collectors. Or, auction them off for charity.”

    “You should keep one for yourself—that Chevy of yours has seen better days. . .”

    Leonard shrugged. “I’m sure Higgins won’t let me get rid of the Rolls Royce. The Phantom VI is his baby.”

    “And why are you so desperate to rid yourself of a collection of twenty plus historic cars?”

    “I need the space—for a veterinary clinic.”

    “The lady vet here earlier today did look nice. Still, it seems like a bit of a loss.” Sylvie gestured to the structure around her. “There is something about this place that seems straight out of a movie—like the old Audrey Hepburn film “Sabrina.

    Leonard couldn’t help but grin, even if his smile came out a bit awkward from lack of practice. He had never been a film buff but Sabrina had been his mother’s favorite movie.

    “Not that you make much of a David Larrabee,” Sylvie added, cracking a smile.

    “I should hope not, he wasn’t a very nice guy,” Leonard shrugged. “I never understood what Sabrina saw in him. I’m more of a Linus Larrabee.”

    “All night long I’ve had the most terrible impulse to do something.”

    Leonard stiffened, before deciding to play along. “Suppose I were ten years younger. Suppose you weren’t in love with David. Suppose I asked you to . . .”

    Sylvie cut Leonard off by gently laying a finger over his mouth. Leaning in, she pressed her lips to his, hesitantly.

    Something inside Leonard quailed, unsure of what to do. His hands hung awkwardly in the air behind her for a moment before he slowly laid them on the small of her back.

    The moment came to an end as soon as it had begun. Sylvie pulled away and covered her mouth with her hand, blushing.

    “Do you also bake perfect soufflés?” Leonard asked, for once proud of himself for knowing exactly what to say.

    Sylvie doubled over laughing. “I’ll have to crack out my copy of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’”

    “I think you should take the Triumph,” Leonard said, abruptly changing the subject. “The TR6 is a classic.” He opened the Triumph’s stall and took the keys off a peg on the wall.

    “It is a very nice hunter green,” Sylvie mused.

    “Can you drive stick shift?”

    Sylvie nodded.

    Leonard pressed the keys gently into her hand. “Then, it’s yours.”

    “On loan,” Sylvie countered

    “If you insist.” He opened the car door for Sylvie.

    “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” She turned the keys in the ignition and the car revved to life.

    ~*~*~

    Leonard quietly slipped back into Winthrop Hall. Although he had only been living there for a few days, somehow it had developed a certain hominess despite all of the pomp and circumstance. A rattle and clinking sound echoed through the quiet hall. He decided to investigate.

    Leonard found Higgins in the kitchen, scrubbing the china from dinner and a few remaining pots and pans.

    “Good evening, Mr. Walcott,” Higgins beamed. “Can I interest you in a cup of chamomile tea before bedtime?”

    Leonard nodded, taking a seat at the kitchen table.

    The kitchen of Winthrop Hall, he felt, like the library, was a damned imposing room. All of the black marble flooring, mahogany cabinets, and grey marble counter tops. The kitchen could have easily housed a restaurant’s worth of staff preparing a meal for a massive dinner party. All of the appliances appeared pristine, but dated. They came from a time before planned obsolescence, when companies prided themselves on making products that lasted.

    “Do you need anything to update the kitchen, Higgins?” Leonard asked, suddenly a bit concerned for his butler.

    Higgins shook his head. “I have been using these appliances for years,” he said, gently patting the stove, “I would not know how to manage with new-fangled contraptions, what with all of their buttons, levers, and touch pads.”

    Leonard could respect Higgins’s point.

    “If I may be so bold, sir,” Higgins said as he took the kettle off the stove and poured the water into the teacups. “Miss Baron is a fine woman. She reminds me great deal of your mother.”

    Leonard had always been fond of his mother, and never understood why she had married a schmuck like his father. A concert pianist of some renown, she had died when Leonard was in grade school from a pre-existing health condition which her doctors had never been able to diagnose. Her death had provided the impetus behind his medical career.

    Leonard took a sip of his chamomile tea.

    “Although your mother never lived here, your father made up the mistress’s suite in her memory. He kept all of your mother’s favorite trinkets and her grand piano in the room,” Higgins continued, “Should you ever wish to give Miss Baron a gift, might I suggest you choose a piece from your mother’s collection.”

    “That is a very good idea, Higgins,” Leonard said, genuinely impressed by the amount of thought the man had given to his courtship of Sylvie Baron.

  16. He told Higgins goodnight and went to his room to retire, but he lay restless in bed, reliving the feel of Sylvie’s lips on his until he had to get up and pace in his t-shirt and boxers. He paused before an oval mirror and regarded his appearance. He was entirely fit, healthy, with only a touch of gray. He pulled back the shoulders that always wanted to cant forward. When he was a boy his mother told him he would be long and lean like her brothers when he grew up, and she was not wrong. His father was barely five ten, but Leonard was several inches over six feet and looked nothing like his sharp-faced father. He always told himself that was a good thing, but later had to wonder if that had affected their relationship in any way, the fact that Leonard resembled his artistic mother and her side of the family more than the Walcott side.

    He paused then and wondered who Sylvie Baron resembled more, her mother or father. Reading the journals that day had made Leonard think more about such things than he had in ages. Jonah Chubb’s records of the lives and deaths of people and their offspring from bizarre accidents, unsolved disappearances or sometimes just downright strange crimes, like the older sister who had pushed the younger sister in the mill pond because a boy she liked favored her little sister more. And the woman who was locked in the hen house over night and was found dead the next morning, not a mark on her body to tell how she had died.

    It was clear Titus Chubb’s memory of his father’s journals had been faulty, due no doubt to his state of health. There was the account of the two men emptying cans of something outside the night the hall burned, which clearly indicated arson. And yes, he had later found passages about the lightning rods and smiled when Jonah recounted hunting down the seller of the fake rods and charging him with fraud.

    He could tell from the entries concerning Zella Rose that Jonah Chubb had deeply admired and respected her. He remarked more than once how stoic she was for such a beauty, then marked through it or attempted to scribble out what he had written, as if he knew he shouldn’t think of her in such a way. It was very telling to Leonard. The lawman was smitten by the foreign Zella and had no receptacle for the feeling but the page. Leonard understood completely.

    A flash of Sylvie’s mouth tortured him again and he groaned and reached for his now fully charged phone. He texted Colin. ‘Are you awake?’

    Colin texted right back. ‘I’m with Deidre at the clinic. We almost lost El Greco.’

    One of the kittens.

    Leonard called and Colin answered. “It’s touch and go. Deidre wanted to put him down. I know it might be best, but I can’t, Leonard. He’s been through so much already.”

    “Colin, let me talk to Deidre.”

    A second later Deidre came on the phone. “Hello?”

    “Are the organs failing?”

    “Not yet.”

    “Is there any hope?”

    “Slim.”

    “Is Colin being a pest?”

    “No, he’s actually very concerned for the kitten and he’s close to hating me right now for suggesting I put him down.”

    “Let me talk to him again.”

    Colin came back on. “What?”

    “Tell her you’ll stay with him. Let her go home. How’s your back by the way?”

    “It’s killing me. But yeah, I’m not going anywhere. The minute I leave she’ll do something drastic, I know. He’s not finished yet, Leonard. He’s going to pull through, I feel it.”

    “All right. Tell her to go. I’ll call you first thing in the morning,.”

    Leonard ended the call and made himself get back in bed. He stared at the ceiling. What a strange collection of people he was beginning to know.

    Colin put his phone in his pocket and said, “Leonard said I should stay here with them tonight. You can go home.”

    The way he said it made Deidre’s brows lift. “It’s my clinic. I’ll stay if I want. You go home.”

    “I’m staying,” Colin said. “You’re not going to kill El Greco.”

    “Stupid name by the way, and no, I wasn’t planning on it.”

    “Liar. I can see it in your face. You want to euthanize him.”

    “You wouldn’t want to spare him the pain?”

    “Sometimes living hurts,” Colin said. “Not that you’d know about that. And El Greco is not a stupid name.”

    “For a kitten it is. And you don’t know the first thing about what I do and don’t know. I know life hurts. I just don’t want it to hurt for a three or four week old kitten.”

    “So you’d rather kill him. Why don’t we just kill everything that has to struggle for a while? If we did, I’d have been dead a long time ago.”

    Deidre’s mouth opened automatically to retort. “You? You act like nothing bothers you ever! What struggle have you known?”

    “Nothing you can relate to, I know. Just go home. I’ll stay here with them, and if he’s dead in the morning you can say I told you so.”

    “Fine,” said Deidre. “Don’t touch anything. Leave the other animals alone. I’ll see you in the morning.”

    “Good riddance,” Colin muttered under his breath as she went, completely over his momentary infatuation with her.

    When she was gone he swept all the papers off her desk and pulled the container with the kittens next to his chest as he curled up and used his arm for a pillow. “Hang in there, El Greco,” he whispered as he cupped the little grey kitten with his hand. “You’re gonna make it. We’re both gonna make it.”

  17. Chapter 18:

    Zella was positively steamed. Nothing in life seemed to be going her way this week. Her mom wasn’t budging on going to Winthrop Hall. She had failed her math test. And, the guy she had a crush on Fred Toppins was now dating another girl. She had planned to let him know how she felt by asking him to the Sadie Hawkins dance next month, but now that plan was a bust. Normally, she would talk to her mom or Claire about it, but she didn’t want to talk to either of them. Claire had outted her to her mom and her mom was being a pill.

    Zella’s stomach gurgled but her resolve was strong. She was NOT going to go down and beg her mom for dinner. Zella clenched her teeth together and stared at the ceiling. Her glow-in-the dark stars twinkled down at her—since it was winter, it got dark early. Suddenly, the four walls of her room felt as if they were closing in on her. Zella itched with claustrophobia.

    After throwing on a fleece jacket and boots, she forced open her window and popped out the screen. Hoisting herself up onto the ledge, Zella reached out, grabbing the trellis and the drainpipe under her window. She had done this climb a million times. Easing her way out the window, she reached back up and dragged the window partially closed. Then, she started her climb down from the second floor. Once she was most of the way down, Zella let herself drop. The snow cushioned her landing.

    What to do now? Zella had no idea, but she wasn’t about to stay in her backyard. Knowing her luck, her mom would see her and she would be grounded for even longer. Zella crunched through her yard, and the neighbor’s yard. No one home. She kept on trudging until she came across the old Huxley House.

    Zella blinked and rubbed her eyes, ducking behind a shrub. Standing, painting the kitchen was the coolest-looking guy she had ever seen. It was love at first sight. Shirtless and wearing tattered old jeans, he looked completely absorbed in his project. Apparently he had just started. Most of the open first floor looked like an old man’s digs. But not the kitchen. He had painted all of the walls and the ceiling a brilliant white, and now he was painting the cabinets with various colors and geometric shapes.

    Zella looked down at the floor and saw countless rainbow paw prints streaked all over. She giggled in spite of herself—she had found the culprit. A grey kitten, partially coated in lime paint, pranced, flopped, and rolled around the kitchen, making a huge mess.

    A few seconds too late, Zella realized that the kitchen window was cracked open. The painting man grinned her way and waved.

    “Hey there,” he said, blue eyes flashing “Admiring El Greco’s latest masterpiece?”

    Zella nodded, utterly tongue-tied by the spectacle.

    “Come on in, you must be cold,” Colin hopped down from his step-ladder, wiped his hands on his jeans, and opened the backdoor.

    El Greco launched toward Zella, all paws. He lost his footing as he closed in and rolled into Zella’s boots with a soft thwap. He got up and waggled his little head, looking slightly dazed.

    “Hey,” Colin held out his hand, “I’m Colin.”

    “Ella. I live nearby.”

    “It’s about time I met some of my new-ish neighbors.” Colin didn’t seem at all put off by her sudden intrusion. He leaned down and plucked the kitten off the ground. “Ella. El Greco. El Greco. Ella.”

    “You’re kitchen is pretty awesome.”

    “Thanks. I’m an artist. I figured I could use the extra practice. What better canvas is there than your house?” Colin looked Zella up and down. Disheveled hair. Tear-stained eyes. Clearly hungry.

    “So, let me guess—evading house arrest?”

    “How did you know!” Zella’s voice betrayed her surprise.

    “Just a hunch,” Colin winked. “Oh man,” “When I was your age, I got into all sorts of trouble. I think my mom grounded me at least every other week. So, what are you doing time for?”

  18. He reached for a t-shirt hanging over the back of a chair and slipped it on while waiting for her to answer.

    Zella opted for the truth. “I went to Winthrop Hall with my friend after school and got in trouble for it. We were just curious about the place and wanted to see what it’s going to be when it opens again.”

    Colin gave her a funny look as if he suddenly realized something. “So you know it’s going to be opening again.”

    “I got this…” She started to tell him about the letter then stopped. He was one of those strangers her parents were always warning her about, after all. “We saw a girl in a white coat driving out and she asked us where she could get a Reuben.”

    “A painting?”

    Zella giggled again. “No, a sandwich. Is there a painting called Reuben too?”

    “Take out the e and yes, it’s the name of a painter.” His phone chirruped then and he took it out to look at it. “Sorry, kid, you gotta scoot. I’m needed elsewhere.” He smiled at her disappointment. “It was nice to meet you. And if you want my advice, it’s probably not a good idea to go creeping around the hood after dark. Have you seen the guy that lives in Mrs. Harridy’s house? He looks like he’s had a mad on for the last twelve years.”

    Zella smiled. “Had a mad on?”

    “Just one of my grandpa’s expressions. Seriously, get thee home, girl. I’ll wait outside in the car until I see your light go on, make sure you got in all right. Okay?”

    Wow, Zella thought. That was a really nice thing for him to do for someone he didn’t even know.

    “You’re not going to tell my parents, are you?” she asked, suddenly worried.

    “If I see you out again after dark, yes,” he threatened, half serious.

    He did what he said he would do, and once Zella was safely in her room, she blinked the light off and on to let him know she was okay. He drove down the road then and she told herself he must be someone really rich or famous to be driving an expensive car like that. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it was all sleek and shiny and made barely a sound as it rounded the corner.

    Zella flopped on her bed. Forget Fred. She had a new crush.

    ***

    When Colin arrived at the hall Higgins was standing at the door waiting for him. The old man smiled as Colin turned off the car and loped up the door.

    “I can’t thank you enough for driving the cars, Mr. Colin. It’s much better to drive them than leave them idle.”

    “It’s my sincere pleasure,” Colin assured him. “Where’s Leonard?”

    “He has the creature trapped on the third floor. Apparently it used a tree to gain access through a broken window and has now taken up residence. Dr. Walcott said you know where Miss Deidre keeps the poles she uses to help her with vicious animals.”

    “So why didn’t he call Miss Deidre?”

    “He did, but she informed him she was on a date and would not be available for several hours yet.”

    “I’m surprised anyone can stand her enough to date her,” Colin said under his breath as he turned for the carriage house. When he got there he saw she had put locks on the door. The motorized gate wasn’t enough, she was apparently worried Leonard or Higgins would break in and steal her supply of doggie treats.

    He trudged back to the hall. “It’s locked up. I can’t get in. Higgins would you mind if I raid your kitchen?”

    “Are you hungry, Mr. Colin? May I prepare something?”

    “Nope, just want a can of tuna. You do have tuna? Or sardines? Fish of any kind, the smellier the better.”

    Higgins got it. He smiled and nodded. “Very good sir.”

    A moment later Colin was loaded with two pull top cans of tuna and headed for what Higgins called ‘the lift’.

    Leonard looked relieved when he saw him. “What took you so long? I’ve got it trapped inside and it’s going to do terrible things to all the new paint and furniture. We might even have to delay the opening.” He stopped talking then as he realized Colin carried no pole. “What are you going to do with those? Throw them at it?”

    “No, I was never really that good at baseball. It’s tuna, Leonard. You can’t leave a house abandoned for years and not expect any wild things to have moved in. it’s what they do.”

    “My question is what are you going to do?”

    Colin opened the door and took a quick peek. The largest raccoon he had ever seen looked back at him, then began to pace, it’s long curled nails clicking on the newly tiled floor.

    “Grandpa once got a raccoon out of his garage by leaving a trail of tuna out to the clearing. One the raccoon was out, he closed the door and boarded up the hole.”

    Leonard snorted. “Colin, we’re on the third story. Just where do you suppose we trail the tuna, down three flights of stairs?”

    “Nope. Onto the roof and out to the tree limb. Once it leaves, you cover the hole in the window.”

    An hour later Leonard was wrapping Colin’s ankle and splinting a broken finger incurred when he fell off the roof and hit the tree limb that splintered and broke with his weight and dumped him with a leafy crash to the ground.

    Deidre came into the room, pole in hand and said, “There’s a raccoon on your roof. Was he the one you called about?”

    “It followed Colin out to the roof for the tuna and then leaped at him in attack,” Leonard said.

    “Great,” Deidre said, without even looking at Colin. “It’s probably a female and has babies up there, you geniuses. I suppose you did something and now she can’t get back in again?”

    The two men looked at each other. Deidre turned her back on them and asked Higgins to take her up to the floor with the problem.

    “Now I really hate her,” said Colin.

    Leonard looked at the other man and wanted suddenly to smile. He would never have believed in all his life that their places would be switched and that the handsome black-haired blue-eyed Colin would be the one failing miserably in the love department.

    Life was a funny thing.

  19. Chapter 19:

    Looking back at the past six months, Leonard could scarcely believe how much his life had changed—for the better. He couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Winthrop Hall now. A number of things endeared him to his ancestral holding: the history of the building which he had recently uncovered, his now important relationship with Higgins, the friendships he had developed with Colin and Deidre, and the link between the hall and the love of his life.

    Weekend readings of Chubb’s journals and forays into the archives had drawn Sylvie and Leonard even closer together. Higgins had become absolutely impossible with his constant asides about popping the question, marriage, and the pitter patter of little feet at Winthrop Hall. Leonard joked that the only pitter patter Higgins might be hearing would be that of menagerie escape victims, what with Deidre’s clinic close to opening. Higgins did not find that very funny.

    Further research had instilled in Leonard an even deeper desire to unravel the mysterious past of Winthrop Hall. While he and Sylvie had hoped to piece together the whole story from Chubb’s journals, it soon became clear that some essential elements of the hall’s history were missing from their pages and nearby archives. It had been Sylvie’s idea to bring the ancestors of those related to Chantilly Lane and Winthrop Hall together, in hopes that someone might be able to fill in the missing pieces.

    An open house also provided the ideal time to introduce the new facilities which would be housed at Winthrop Hall. Deidre’s veterinary clinic and animal sanctuary, first and foremost, housed in the converted carriage house. Leonard also hoped to have a few rooms ready in the back wing of Winthrop Hall. Since his retirement from the hospital, Leonard had decided that part of him missed the medical profession. While he did not need the hustle and bustle of surgeries and trauma patients to keep him going, he thought that it might be nice to have charitable cases and convalescent patients to keep an eye on from time to time. The back wing, the newest addition to Winthrop Hall from 1950s, had the least historic value and had been kept sparsely, if at all, furnished. Three stories and connected to the main house only by a double-sided elevator, the back wing had its own drive and front door. Leonard could have a private clinic without having to live in the midst of his patients.

    Once he found suitable candidates, Leonard intended to hire a handful of doctors and nurses to handle a majority of the clinic’s workload. They would be well-compensated and have their own private apartments in the back wing. A few rooms of the Walcott Clinic would be ready for the opening—painted, tiled, and furnished with hospital-appropriate equipment.
    Colin had once again proved indispensible in sorting out the particulars. He had painted the walls of each room himself, while overseeing the work crew as they tiled the floors.

    Initially, Leonard had thought about turning all of Winthrop Hall into a clinic, but the more he lived in the building, the more he found it impossible to part with his new home. After researching the hall’s history, Leonard also cringed at the idea of destroying the mansion’s time-honored historical value with fresh paint and sterilizing modernity. Yet, he also wasn’t ready to turn the main house into a museum, with visitors tromping in and out all day long. Perhaps he would set up an endowed post for a resident scholar to encourage research of their town’s history. Or, Sylvie had suggested offering monthly tours of Winthrop Hall on specified weekends so that the hall could be accessible to the public without being overly public, as Leonard wanted to maintain it as a private residence.

    Leonard was adamant on this point. Once his family fortunes became public knowledge, he had a keen suspicion that all sorts of people would try to worm their way into his life and good graces. The idea repulsed him. Leonard placed a premium on genuine friendships—the kind he had with Colin, Higgins, Sylvie, and Deidre. Fame was not something he had ever coveted. If he was going to be a publicly wealthy figure, he needed a base of operations with a certain degree of privacy.

  20. The good doctor Walcott’s privacy was the thing that so infuriated John Harridy. He was a private man himself, but he liked to think he lived so he had nothing to hide. The government wanted to read his emails? Fine with him. He had nothing in his emails to hide from anyone because he wasn’t doing anything wrong (short of an aborted break-in to an abandoned mansion.) It was the people doing wrong that worried the most about such things, he reasoned. Read his emails, tap his phones, Harridy was a model citizen, paying his taxes on time and voting in every election. He went to work, took care of his mother and worked daily to save the lives of people who ate too much, drank too much, overdosed on drugs or rarely left the sofa and wondered why their hearts gave out on them. He didn’t preach to them or try to do anything but keep them alive long enough to get them into someone else’s hands. Someone like Lord Walcott.

    The more Harridy thought about the doctor the more angry he became. If the man was heir to a fortune and didn’t want the money, why take it? Why not just let it go to this college or that museum or any number of facilities that usually received such funds. Why was Walcott playing mystery man and sending silly fancy-lettered notes to draw in his neighbors?

    Try as he would he was unable to change his mother’s desire to attend the reopening of the hall. When he told her of his conversation with Clive James her eyes lit up like a debutante at a coming out party. It made Harridy a bit uncomfortable, truth be told. Why the mere mention of a former employer’s name could make her eyes dance and the color in her cheeks heighten. It was obvious the yearning he had always sensed in her for the dapper gentleman was a real thing, and oddly disconcerting for him to see his mother, and a woman of her years, behave so.

    The last time John was interested in a woman not his wife was some years ago, a nurse in the emergency room who always had a quip or a comeback for him and made him feel good the way his wife had, made him feel smart and funny and attractive. He waited too long,same as he always did. There was a window when he should have made his move and asked her out, but he missed it. Ignored it, rather. Then she started dating an intern fifteen years her junior. He wanted to tell her she was being stupid, did she really think anything was going to develop with someone so completely unsuitable?

    They had just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary. He was invited to the party, of course, but he didn’t go. He was invited to all the parties. Everyone at work liked dependable John Harridy, who could do the best Bogart imitation and had a dry, acerbic wit. But he sucked at parties because he didn’t talk sports and he never had a date, so he was always just kind of…there.

    Harridy was beginning to think more and more of contacting his ex-wife. She hadn’t remarried either and a part of him believed if he only had the chance he could make her see what she had seen in him the first time, whatever it was that caught her gaze and held it the day they met. He hadn’t seen her in many months, he had often followed her home from work over the years just to see where she went and what she was doing, but he had been so busy with his mother in the hospital that he lost track of her activities.

    Maybe it was time to call Sylvie again.

  21. Harridy sat down in his mother’s kitchen and took a deep breath. He stared at his cell phone, sitting on the table before him. He wanted to call her. He really did. But would she want to hear from him? Harridy shuddered as he remembered their last encounter. The proceedings of their divorce had been filed long distance, by email and actual mail primarily. The papers had been sitting on the kitchen table of their home, long since empty, when he had returned from New York. The sight of their home emptied of all remnants of her presence had shocked him to the core. Sure, he had known their relationship had been strained while he was away, but he had hoped to mend things once he returned

    Harridy had proceeded on autopilot after that point—signing the paperwork, agreeing to a settlement, selling the house. It had not occurred to him that he could contest his divorce, or even attempt to reason with Sylvie. John deeply regretted this now. He should have fought for Sylvie; she deserved someone who would fight for her. Could he ever make it up to her now? He didn’t know, but he had decided he would at least show her he was willing to try.

    His resolve strengthened, Harridy picked up the phone and punched speed dial number one. Even after their divorce, he had never bothered to change Sylvie from the number one slot on his phone, or in his heart.
    The phone rang one, twice, three times, and on the forth ring it went to voicemail. In a panic, he hung up. He had never thought about what to say if he had to leave a message. Harridy took a few minutes to rehearse what he would say, playing over the words in his head and then out loud. When he had settled on what he wanted to say, he wrote everything down so he wouldn’t forget a key word or phrase in the heat of the moment.

    Harridy hit button number one again before his resolve wavered. One ring, two, and then she answered.

    “Hello,” Sylvie said, “This is Sylvie Baron speaking.”

    “Er. . . Sylvie, it’s John.”

    There was an awkward pause, before Sylvie replied, “Sorry, John. I didn’t have your new number in my phone. Is there something you need? Is your mother ill? I saw she got into a small traffic accident a few years back, and I thought it was likely a result of her illness acting up.”

    “No, it’s nothing serious. I was. . . well. . . I was just wondering how you’ve been doing all these years. It’s been, what now, ten years?”

    “This is not the best time for me, John,” Sylvie said, in a gentle but firm tone.

    “Oh, sorry. I didn’t think.”

    It was then that Harridy heard something which made his heart stop.

    “Sylvie, I think I’ve found exactly what we’re looking for!” an enthusiastic male voice called out on her end of the line.

    “One second, I’m on the phone!” Sylvie replied to the man who was with her.

    “You must be busy. . .” Harridy said.

    “No, no, it’s alright. What do you need?” Sylvie asked.

    What did he need? He did not quite know how to answer that question. It wasn’t like he was calling to ask her for a cup of flour or an old photograph. Maybe he should be. Should he make something up? Harridy’s mind scrambled, grabbing for mental straws, until the words slipped out of his mouth of their own accord.

    “Could I borrow you for an afternoon? I need help picking out a new couch for my mom. You have such excellent taste. I’m sure she would love anything you chose.”

    The silence on the other end of the line seemed to have a palpable weight.

    “I am going to be very busy for the next few weeks with a project at work. Can’t you ask an interior designer or a specialist at a furniture store for help?”

    Harridy slapped himself mentally for sounding so stupid. He had obviously dug himself into a hole with this one.

    “What I mean is. . . . what I had hoped was. . . would you go out to coffee with me?”

    “Sylvie, I have dinner ready. It won’t stay warm all night.” The same male voice said on the other line.

    “I have to go, John.” With that, Sylvie hung up the phone.

  22. Chapter 20:

    After calling Gilbert to see if he cared to meet her somewhere for lunch later Constance Perlman decided to take a much needed stretch of the legs. She walked down the road to peek in on Colin, who had called twice to chat, but both times she had been knee deep in a paragraph and not ready to slog her way out just yet. Connie’s face wrinkled in perplexity when she saw yet another strange car in Colin’s drive, this one a black Jaguar. Whatever his new employment it obviously came with benefits. Connie went up to knock on the door but as she passed under the kitchen window she heard strident voices inside. She looked around and yes, there was another car parked in front, so he had a guest. An angry one, from the sounds of it.

    “He’s going to be even sicker if you keep allowing him to wallow in globs of paint on the floor. It’s very simple, Colin. You drop some paint, you pause to wipe it up, otherwise El Greco will walk in it and then try to lick off what he walked in. I tried to tell you the last time it can make them very sick.”

    “Stop talking to me like I’m a seven-year-old. Both times I tried to wash it off best I could. Is he all right or not?”

    “Yes, he’s going to be all right. Why couldn’t you have brought him to the clinic?”

    “I called and you weren’t open. I’m on your way so I didn’t think it was a big deal, but of course for you everything is a big deal. You want me to pay extra for a house call I’ll pay extra.”

    “I don’t want you to pay extra, I want you to be more responsible when it comes to your pet.”

    “Not seven, Deidre,” Colin said between his teeth. “And it’s my first pet, so this is a learning experience for me, not made any easier by you, I might add.”

    Constance felt bad for eavesdropping, but she was enjoying herself too much to turn away. Her cocky young friend was certainly not having his charming way with this one.

    “You never had a pet? Ever?” Deidre scoffed. “I don’t believe you. Everyone has one at some point. Not even a goldfish?”

    “Why is that so surprising? My parents barely tolerated me, a pet would have been over the top for them. If there’s something I’m not doing right, tell me, but spare me the judgment and the lectures.”

    “Where are your parents?”

    “What do you care? They’re in Europe somewhere, I don’t know where. They took their cut of Grandpa’s money and left.”

    Connie heard something desolate in Colin’s voice and she knew the unseen Deidre had heard it too.

    “You never talk to them?”

    “They have my number. I don’t have theirs. Can we get this over with? Does he need any medicine?”

    “No, just make sure he gets plenty of clean water to drink, and if and when he steps in paint again wash it away as soon as possible with warm water, nothing else.”

    The conversation’s awkwardness would not be helped by a visit from a neighbor so Connie decided to head home again and come back another time. Besides, something in what Colin said had triggered the need to return to the keyboard.

    ***

    The pregnant Zella was taken by the Winthrops to a townhome on the dodgy side of town and put in a cold room on the top floor. Her upkeep was seen to by a couple who spoke German and knew only enough English to make sure they were paid by Sydney and Franklin Winthrop. Zella spoke German as well as Russian, having grown up hearing both languages almost daily. When she heard the woman mutter “Du lieber Gott,” and then something that meant “not another one,” she realized she was not the first girl to have suffered at the hands of the brothers. And her suspicions were confirmed when at meal time there were two other girls, both of them in varying stages of pregnancy, seated at the table. Like her, the girls were foreign, and Zella assumed poor. Easy targets for the Winthrop brothers.

    Right away she realized it would be better for her if the couple did not realize she spoke German. One girl was Polish and the other from Sweden. They were both older than Zella but not by much. The Polish girl constantly wore a scarf tied over her head and one side of her face, covering one eye. When she caught Zella staring she made a face and jerked away the scarf to reveal an empty eye socket and an ugly red scar across her brow. Zella recoiled, but just as quickly recovered and reached under the table to touch the other girl’s hand. The girl jerked it away and all night Zella lay awake wondering what kind of place she had been brought to and why.

    After Sydney and Franklin’s first visit she knew why. They were captives, already compromised, and easy prey. When Zella saw the Polish girl cringe at the sight of Sydney’s boar’s head cane she knew what had happened to the girl’s eye. He had obviously beaten her into submission with it, and who was to stop him from doing the same to her? Not the German man and his wife, who were obviously in it for the money. She wondered what happened to the babies once born? And to the women themselves?

    It became apparent to Zella that she had to escape, and though she sickened at the thought of returning to the cold streets it was preferable to the degradations suffered at the hands of the depraved brothers. Daily she began examining her surroundings and noted that not only were the windows of the townhome covered with wrought iron bars, but the doors could only be opened by a key that hung around the necks of the German couple, both of whom remained comfortably inside most of the day, warmed by a stove that never grew cold.

    Days passed while Zella struggled with and rejected plan after plan. Then she heard the German man tell his wife one evening that the apples she had gotten were not good and he would have words with the vendor who sold them to her the next day. Zella dawdled through breakfast the next morning and feigned a stomach ache while watching the man carefully to see when he would reach for his scarf and overcoat.

    The moment finally arrived and as the woman attempted to herd the girls back upstairs Zella shoved away and bolted for the door the man had just opened. She pushed him as hard as she could and he fell down the stairs. Zella didn’t stop to see if he was harmed, she didn’t care, she was free. She ran as fast as her heavy belly would allow her, her teeth chattering horribly with the cold. She ran and ran and darted down one alley after the next, not looking behind her to see if the German man was following. Finally, a severe pain her abdomen forced her to stop and gasp for breath. She looked around herself to see where she was and saw men with ringlets of hair at their temples peering out a window at her.

    A white-haired man in a yarmulke came out to speak to her. Zella took a chance and spoke to him in Russian. The man nodded. Yes, he was a Russian Jew, a Rabbi. Zella begged the man to help her and for a terrifying moment thought he was going to turn away, but he was only beckoning for the men inside, his students, to come and help him get her inside where it was warm.

  23. Chapter 21:

    Leonard was seriously considering popping the question. Was it early? Yes. A bit rash? Definitely. Would she say yes? He had no idea. Yet, Winthrop Hall just didn’t feel the same without her there. It was like the electricity had left the place and he had to make do with candles.

    He and Sylvie had grown closer in all senses as they had prepared for the opening of Winthrop Hall. They had stolen a few furtive moments to go on dates, and she had graced the master suite with her presence on a number of occasions. But they had never discussed what the future entailed for them. Like a whisper in the shadows haunting him, Leonard never quite managed to find the words to ask her.

    And then, he had called. John Harridy. Leonard had never put two and two together until that moment. Harridy was her ex-husband. While many had thought Leonard above the comings and goings of his hospital underlings, he had kept tabs on those who worked around him. Churning out healthy patients required a well-oiled machine of staff as well as skilled doctors—Leonard knew this. He liked to make sure his patient received the best care, and this hinged on knowing the best nurses, EMTs, and technicians.

    “Bogie” Harridy was a living legend at Charity Memorial Hospital, what with his volunteering after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and his insistence at staying in the field despite his age. Leonard had always had a certain quiet regard for the fellow. He was obviously a stand up guy, and they were hard to come by these days.

    Hearing Sylvie talk to him on the phone had left Leonard paralyzed with fear. What if Harridy tried to get Sylvie back? Until then, Leonard had been letting their relationship take its course. Now, he had competition. He had to secure Sylvie’s affections before Harridy tried to take her back, or so he thought to himself.

    Of course, he did not think to ask Sylvie what she thought. If he had, he would have found that her feelings toward her ex-husband had not wavered since she signed the divorce papers. In fact, she had not thought of him much at all now that she was with Leonard, that is, until he called out of the blue.

    Leonard’s concern had compelled him to visit his mother’s room. Her ornate jewelry chest sat stately ensconced on a period dresser. He slipped the dainty key he had procured from Higgins into the box, and it opened with a delicate click. Leonard gasped. He recalled seeing his mother wearing fine jewelry from time to time, but he had never mentally tabulated the extent of her collection. The diamonds, gems, pearls, and gold glistened up at him. Her jewels were fit for a descendent of American industrial royalty. What to choose? He had no idea.

  24. The sheer volume of pieces and the enormous value they must hold momentarily overwhelmed him. Then he grew angry. The rare pieces he had seen his mother wear were always simple and elegant, nothing ostentatious or showy like a lot of these items. There were enough diamonds and gems in the chest to fill the Queen of England’s Coronation crown twice over. His father’s idea, he guessed, trying to buy his way into the artistic soul of Leonard’s mother. Every time he felt her sadness the man would throw a sparkling trinket or a new automobile her way and call it good. Leonard eschewed such nonsense then and he eschewed it now. He closed the chest and backed away, disconcerted by the impulse that had brought him to the room.

    He was an adult, not a frightened boy, and he would speak and act as a caring person and not do as his father had done. The Sylvie he adored would not be wowed by such displays anyway, he told himself. She was real, like him, and would only truly appreciate something that came from genuine depth of emotion. Higgins’ s heart was in the right place, but instinctively Leonard knew a ring would guarantee him nothing when it came to Sylvie Baron. So rather than stew over the phone call from John Harridy he decided to come right out and ask about her ex-husband.

    Her head lifted from the book she was reading beside him in the library. “I told you before all there is to know about him.”

    “But he called you.”

    Sylvie’s smile was crooked. “Are you jealous?”

    Her teasing tone didn’t fool Leonard. She was being evasive. “I know he hurt you. I want to know how.”

    The smile melted away and her gaze dropped as she sighed. “You don’t really want to know this, Leonard. Please…”

    “I’m sorry if you find it hard to talk about.” He touched the side of her face. “But yes, I do want to know .”

    “I realized I was pregnant after he left for New York in 2001. I begged him to come home so we could talk. I knew he didn’t want children but I thought I could change his mind, make him see how good it could be, but he refused to talk to me, refused even to take my calls. I knew then it was pointless, and staying married to him was even more pointless. I filed for divorce and he didn’t contest it. He was too busy enjoying the newspaper articles and television interviews about his heroic work in New York. He didn’t even bother to argue over the furniture or savings accounts. He was content to let everyone think I was the horrible faithless wife who divorced a local hero.”

    “What about…what happened to the baby?”

    “Lawrence knew an infertile couple who spent thousands of dollars on in vitro procedures only to fail each time. He showed me pictures of them, and told me to think about it. I did think about it. I wanted my baby to have two loving parents in a warm stable home. So I gave up my child.”

    Leonard got up to put his arms around her. “Did you keep up with them?”

    “No,” she said into his shoulder. “That would have been too painful. I wouldn’t know them today if I saw them. I never wanted to become someone they had to worry about. Never saw myself trying to inveigle a way into their child’s life.”

    “Do you know what sex the child was? Did you see?”

    Sylvie smiled. “A girl. A tiny pink baby girl.”

  25. Chapter 22:

    Zella and Claire had been planning for weeks. The grand opening of Winthrop Hall was days away now, and Zella was intent on making an appearance. Neither girl had said a peep to Myrna about Winthrop Hall since their fateful study session. Instead, they had been hunkering down at recess to figure out the particulars of how they would sneak Zella into the hall without her parents suspecting anything.

    After an extended debate, they decided a sleepover party provided the perfect cover. The twenty-first was a Friday, and they would already be on holiday. Claire’s parents had given the OK for a pre-Christmas sleepover party a few days prior. Four close friends had already rsvp-ed and been clued in on the cover up. Following dinner, the girls would all converge on the basement for a movie marathon. Zella would be able to sneak out the back basement door. While she was gone, they would keep the basement bathroom light on and its door closed. If Claire’s parents came down and asked about Zella—which both girls thought unlikely—they could all just say she was in the bathroom.

    Since Claire had several older brothers, the basement of her house was also littered with wheeled sporting equipment—skate boards, scooters, bikes, roller blades. If the streets were clear, Zella would have her pick of athletic transport. They had even used the computers in the school library to map out the route from Claire’s house to Winthrop Hall. Two miles didn’t seem that far to Zella and Claire. It looked like a hop, skip, and a jump on Google maps.

    The girls congratulated themselves on a plan well plotted. They did not think about how Zella might avoid detection once arriving at the hall, or get back to Claire’s house afterward. Snow seemed like a distant and unlikely possibility despite the fact that it was the dead of winter in a northern clime.

    Would Zella get to see her new neighbor Colin? She sure hoped so. She wasn’t certain he had received a letter, but her fingers were crossed. Zella had regaled Claire with tales of her quirky artist neighbor, and his painted kitchen—and kitten. Did he have a girlfriend? Zella and Claire had their suspicions. In one of their stake-outs of his house, they had seen the Reuben girl pay a visit. After all, they agreed, it would be criminal for Colin to be single. They tried Facebook stalking Colin, but they didn’t know his last name, so that front turned up dry.

    All they had to do now was conceal their excitement for a few more days. Just three more days, and they would know about the Winthrop Hall mysteries and dreamy Colin.

  26. ***

    Joyia Harridy hadn’t felt so good in weeks. For a time after her hip replacement surgery she battled infection after infection but she was now feeling much better and engaging in physical therapy twice a day. Her therapist thought she might be able to use a walker to leave the hospital soon and marveled with her doctor over her ‘miraculous’ turn around. Joyia wanted to tell them both the reason, but she was loath to share even an ounce of the joy she felt in her heart. She would be seeing Clive again, but more than that she would be back in the hall again, where she had known some of the happiest days of her life. The mansion had always cast a spell over her, the warmth of the mahogany doors and the oak floors, the gleaming chandeliers and strategically designed rays of light that filtered through magnificent beveled windows. The charm of the place had always engendered the most incredible calm and sense of peace in her. Each time she walked through the doors she felt like she was walking into a loving embrace that didn’t end until she stepped outside again. It was a difficult thing to describe to anyone, let alone her son John, who seemed determined to thwart her re-entry into the hall.

    The last few days he had become even more morose and angry than usual so she didn’t bring it up, assumed something at work had gone wrong and he was letting it fester the way he always did. Joyia wanted to tell him he didn’t have to play the stoic Bogart character in real life. He could yell at someone if he needed to. He could even yell at her, rather than walk around all sore and wounded. She certainly didn’t need his permission to leave the hospital and go to the hall on the twenty-first, and she wasn’t going to ask it. She was simply going to go.

    Gilbert Perlman answered the phone and seemed shocked to hear who was calling. “Your son said you were very ill, Mrs. Harridy. I’m glad to hear you sounding so well.”

    “I’m feeling very well, Mr. Perlman,” Joyia said. “Is it possible to speak with Constance?”

    “Of course. Let me go and tell her who’s calling.”

    A minute later a stunned Constance said, “Joyia, how are you? I haven’t spoken with you in almost a year!”

    “I know, Connie, and I’m sorry not to have kept you up on my progress. I assumed John would let you know how I was.”

    “He did, when I asked. Truthfully, you had us all very worried.”

    Joyia said, “It’s wonderful to know you were concerned. I’ve missed our recipe swaps. Now I have to confess the reason I called is because I have a serious favor to ask, and feel free to say no.”

    She told Constance about the vellum note and heard a small intake of breath. Then Connie told her, “I received a note as well, Joyia, and yes, I intend to go and will be more than happy to come and take you with us.”

    “Oh, I’m so pleased,” Joyia said with a huge smile. “I don’t know if we’ve ever talked very much about old Winthrop Hall, but I’ve been told my mother died in a fire there at the hall shortly after giving birth to me.”

    There was silence on the other end and Joyia wondered suddenly if the line had been disconnected.

    “Connie? Are you still there?”

    “Yes, Joyia. I’m here. No, we’ve never talked about the place, have we? What was your mother’s name?”

    When Joyia told her, Constance told her it was lovely and assured her she would be picked up on the twenty-first to accompany them to the re-opening of the hall. After hanging up, Constance raced to her room and picked up the records she had pored over the last months.

    She found the name Joyia had given her and sat down in her chair with a shock. Joyia’s mother’s name was Odette, and according to what was in her hands, Odette was the name of Zella Rose’s daughter. That meant Joyia Harridy was Zella Rose’s granddaughter. And Odette hadn’t died in the fire, she had died right here in Connie’s house.

    “Only one was brought to your house that night, Connie.”

    She shook her head and looked at the ceiling. “You’re behind all of this somehow, aren’t you, Zella? You want me to get it all down, don’t you? And not because I need a bestseller, but because at last you want everything in the open. You want people to know the truth about you and your loved ones.”

    A tear slipped down one cheek and Constance sighed before reaching for the keyboard.

    ***

    The Rabbi telling her yes he was a Russian Jew was the last time any of the men spoke to Zella. A woman with hair as white as the man’s came and made her warm and fed her a cup of warm soup before explaining that neither the Rabbi nor his students were allowed to speak to women who were not family. Zella nodded her understanding. The fact that the Rabbi had done so outside would be forgiven, the woman assured her. They were Lubavitchers, from the same name in Russia, which meant city of brotherly love. When the woman asked why she had no family Zella revealed how she had come to be in the country, and what had happened to her afterward. This troubled the older woman greatly and once again Zella had a sinking feeling. She should not have told the truth.

    A day and a night passed and she was left alone in a small room with only soup and bread to eat. She was not anxious to go out because the baby in her belly had become very still and she knew people would be looking for her. She was proved correct when on the second day she heard voices talking outside her door, and when she heard someone say the name Winthrop she came off the bed and hurriedly put on her shoes in preparation to barrel past whoever came through. The door opened and in stepped an extremely relieved Benjamin Winthrop.

    “Thank god, you’re safe. When the Rabbi came to my office I couldn’t believe it. Oh you poor girl, I cannot tell you how miserable the actions of my brothers have made me. I wish I could take away the harm and injury they’ve done to you. I can only beg you to let me help you now and see to your welfare.”

    Was this a trick? Zella didn’t know. He was a Winthrop after all. But true, he had never looked at her as the others had. His glance was always more admiring than salacious. And his eyes were kind. Did she dare trust him?

    She had no choice it turned out as the Lubavitchers were all too happy to have her gone. The older woman explained to her that the Rabbi read the papers and knew Benjamin Winthrop was not like the two she described. The Winthrop who ran the paper was a good man, decent and caring, the Rabbi could tell from reading his work. And he was right. The first thing Benjamin did was buy her a full cloak with a hood to spirit her away from the house without being recognized. When she told him about the house with the Germans and the other pregnant girls the color in his face turned crimson with fury. She asked him to please free the other girls as well, and he told her first things first. He would deal with his brothers later. He bought her a train ticket and sent her to a massive home with servants in a nearby city where he said she should stay until he came for her. One day the Swedish girl arrived, and a week later the Polish girl, with an embroidered eye patch.

    The Swedish girl gave birth first to a squalling baby boy, and three weeks later the Polish girl gave birth to a red-faced daughter. A day later Zella gave birth, and her boy was stillborn.

  27. Chapter 23:

    The twenty-first arrived with a burst of cold and a blanket of snow. Leonard, Sylvie, Colin, and Higgins worked together to put the finishing touches on Winthrop Hall. The principle rooms of the first floor—library, kitchen, dining room, drawing room, and lavatory—had been scrubbed, waxed, and polished from top to bottom. They had done all of the work themselves—Leonard had been insistent about this point. The thought running his own rendition of Upstairs, Downstairs gave him the shivers. No, he did not want to hire help unless it was absolutely necessary. He would rather make due with a few friends to keep things running.

    Working in tandem, Sylvie and Higgins supervised their exploits with the rigor of army drill sergeants. Leonard concentrated his attentions on double-checking Colin’s work with the charitable clinic in the back wing. He was pleased to see that a few model rooms would be ready to show their guests, even if he had yet to hire any personal.

    Deidre’s animal hospital and sanctuary, on the other hand, could be opened immediately. The crew Colin hired had made quick work of the garage portion of the carriage house, while a second set of craftsmen worked on the apartment above.

    Higgins and Sylvie had planned the dinner and hors d’oeuvres together. Leonard grinned in spite of himself. It warmed his heart to see the two getting along so well. He finally felt, for the first time in his life, like he had a family—even if they were a motley bunch.

  28. Colin decided El Greco missed his siblings, so he took Monet and Degas to his home while the work progressed. Sylvie protested, but she was too busy to argue and made Colin promise she could visit her furry chums. Deidre of course rolled her eyes at Colin’s decision, but he was done asking her for advice or favors. Now when he had questions he did what everyone else did and used the internet. He found and shared with Leonard and Sylvie hilarious cat videos that he played for the kittens and soon found himself becoming quite the pet person.

    Leonard could tell Colin wasn’t quite as invested in the history behind the hall as the rest of them and from late night talks over beers he slowly came to realize it was because Colin had no frame of reference to work from when it came to family. His parents had virtually abandoned him to his own devices at a young age and consistently left him on his own, with a note to call his grandfather if he was afraid. Well of course Colin would never let anyone know he was afraid, it wasn’t in his makeup, but he did make a habit of riding his bike across town and later driving his car over to chat with his grandpa when he grew lonely.

    His grandfather Felix knew a lot of local history and a lot about wars and people and he was always happy to regale Colin with stories of famous Civil War and World War II battles. He wanted Colin to be just as interested in history, but he could tell it wasn’t there. It wasn’t until he found an old board game in the closet that he found something to really connect with Colin on. The board game was called ‘Masterpiece’. Felix’s wife had purchased the game for Colin’s mother years ago, but she had no interest and it sat and gathered dust. Colin opened it and inside found postcards with famous paintings and portraits and brief bios of the artists who painted them.

    Colin was fascinated by the colorful, sometimes dramatic postcards and spent hours studying each work and the information about the artist. He had a different favorite each time he visited. One time it was Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the next it was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. His absorption pleased Felix Huxley and he no longer worried that Colin might find other less desirable ways to fill his hours. He bought his grandson paints and canvas and watched him become a surprisingly talented artist in his own right. Colin still spent hours on his own, but now he was creating, and he was happy doing it.

    Leonard no longer envied him his good looks and easy charm, not when he knew the real Colin was just a guy like him who didn’t quite fit into the family he had. He liked to think the two of them behaved as real brothers might. He knew he wanted to brain Colin sometimes when it came to Deidre, who was just as stubborn and hard headed when it came to Colin. He was also indebted to him, for coming out that first day and rescuing him after his failure with Sylvie. He wished he could do something just as important for Colin.

  29. It was then that Leonard decided his father must have kept an art collection. His family fortune, and that of the now defunct Winthrop line, could not all be in bonds and precious gems. Art had long been an asset and investment for wealthy families. Leonard began to explore the many rooms of Winthrop Hall on his own, convinced he would stumble upon the Walcott equivalent of the Louvre basement boxed away in a dry corner or attic.

    Leonard found a great number of things as he went through each and every room. First, there were the innumerable bedrooms. He counted thirty of them. His father had dutifully decorated the rooms according to the styles of different historical periods: 1880s, 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. Leonard decided he was particularly fond of a turret suite done up in Jazz Age fashion. The florals and pastels of the room reminded him of Sylvie’s house, while the rounded lines of the Romantic revival furniture gave off a cozier vibe than the rest of house with its enormity and splendor.
    He also stumbled across an old billiard room, an empty solarium waiting to refilled with fine plant life, a writing room, several sitting rooms, a chapel, an impressive formal ballroom complete with crystal chandelier, a music room with an antique harpsichord, a number of receiving parlors, and finally the servant’s quarters. While Leonard found he enjoyed entering each room, and peering under the sheets and protective covers at their furnishings, the stockpile of art he sought was nowhere to be found.

    Leonard consulted with Higgins, like he should have before beginning his search.

    “Have you checked the speakeasy?” Higgins asked.

    Leonard shook his head, “There is a speakeasy?”

    “But of course. Most wealthy families built secret rooms to store their liquor and to revel in during Prohibition. From what I recall, the Winthrops did not even have to build a new room for their revelries. One of the early Winthrops was a devotee of the Underground Railroad. I believe the Winthrops simply enlarged the secret passages below the hall to accommodate a speakeasy. ” With that, Higgins extricated an unusually shaped key from his pocket. “To the library, sir,” he said.

    Once in the library, Higgins walked over to the fireplace. He began to examine the wood paneling to the left of the hulking stone fire pit. When nudged, a raised circle in the pattern, the center of an elaborately carved flower, swung aside to reveal a small keyhole. Higgins inserted the key, and the lock opened with an audible pop. With Leonard’s help, Higgins pushed open the secret door, which had blended completely into the woodwork. The butler flipped a switch, and light revealed a set of winding stairs.

    Leonard climbed down first.

    “Don’t worry, your father had the stairs repaired, sir,” Higgins reassured him.

    As he reached the landing, Leonard felt around for a switch. He closed his eyes as a blindingly bright light filled the room. He gasped in awe.

    Leonard felt as though he had walked onto the set of a 1920s gangster movie, or perhaps an upscale version of Rick’s Café Americain in “Casablanca.” The solid marble floor gleamed in the twinkle of a dozen crystal chandeliers. Mahogany paneling with gold inlay graced the walls, while an elegant bar of matching wood sat center stage. Crystal bar ware, coated in dust, shimmered dimly. Tables dotted the floor, but there was still room for dancing. A stage on the left side of the room sat ready for a live band to strike up a tune.

    “No booze?” Leonard asked, smiling. He enjoyed a glass of wine or spirits now and again, but had never been a heavy drinker.

    “Your father had a modern cellar built to house the historic liquors he collected.” Higgins gestured to the right side of the underground speakeasy.

    Leonard spied a glass door with a metal frame—the only modern-looking feature of the room. A high tech scanner glowed to its right.

    “The room is air-tight, temperature-controlled, water-proof, fire-proof, bullet-proof, theft-proof, and the humidity and PH Balance are kept at a perfect balance,” Higgins gestured to the wine cellar.

    Leonard whistled, “I never realized dad was so attached to his libations.”
    Higgins smiled. “The room also doubles as a safe. It is an ideal repository for valuables.”

    Leonard nodded, “Do you know the code?”

    “There is no code.” Instead, Higgins pulled a small black box out of his pocket. He inserted a key, and it opened easily. Inside sat a pea-sized violet gem.”

    It didn’t look like anything special, Leonard thought to himself. Compared with the rocks he had seen in his mother’s jewelry chest, it looked almost pitiful.

    “It’s Musgravite,” Higgins said, sensing Leonard’s confusion, “the world’s rarest and most exclusive gem. This is one of only eight discovered large enough to cut into a specific shape. Your father had this one carved into a completely custom design. The sensor of the door reads not only the shape of the stone, but the chemical composition, hue, density, and hardness. The gem provides the ultimate high tech key. Nothing can duplicate it, and it cannot be replicated.”

    Leonard suddenly felt a great deal more respect for the purple pea.
    Higgins gingerly approached the door, and let the scanner read the gem. The door opened automatically with a whoosh and a hiss.

    “After you, sir,” Higgins said.

  30. Gilbert found his wife napping before their big night out and he took the opportunity to go in and sneak a peek at her current project. She had shared only bits and pieces with him and he was more than curious about her subject, ranging as the story seemed to over a vast number of years. He opened her laptop and searched for the words ‘Working Title’ which is what Connie always named her work in progress.

    He opened the file and read:

    Zella’s child was buried behind the mansion in a tiny graveyard that already contained the moss-covered stone markers of two gravely wounded runaway slaves buried by disconsolate others who then had to keep moving, as well as several members of the household staff that served the mansion over the years and had felt it a privilege to be buried there. There was sadness in Zella, but only for whatever discomfort the life within her might have suffered, and for the destructive impulses behind its origin. She recovered within a few weeks time and was soon helping her new friends with their children and scouting out the best plot for the garden she planned to grow.

    Benjamin did not return for almost a year, and when he did he brought two more girls with him from a different house his brothers had maintained. He was nearly unable to look Zella in the eye when he told her he was not having an easy time forcing his brothers to change their ways, particularly as every time he tried to make them accountable their father Edgar would intervene and get them off. Edgar was close to disinheriting Benjamin entirely, he told her, and he had never been more glad. Benjamin owned his own paper now. And he owned the mansion she was in, given to him by his grandfather, so his father’s threats meant very little to him at this point.

    Zella saw his treatment of the two bruised and beaten pregnant girls, both very young, and felt her heart warm toward him. She felt she could ask him things, talk to him, and he would treat her as a person, not an encumbrance. She asked him what became of the babies and the girls they had not been able to save and he related what the German man and woman had told him right before he sent them back to Germany. There was only one girl previous brought to them and her tiny girl child was smothered by her own mother. The mother was then given to a brothel run by someone named Wilkes.

    When Zella’s face changed at mention of the madame’s name Benjamin asked her what she knew and she told him how his brothers had found her again.
    Benjamin left for New York again and when he returned six months later he informed her that Marjorie Wilkes was now out of business and on her way to prison. His father may know people, but being in the newspaper business Benjamin was beginning to know plenty of people too.

    Before another six months passed Zella was madly in love with Benjamin Winthrop, and he with her. They married secretly, he unwilling to let either his father or brothers know her whereabouts or her importance to him. Zella was soon pregnant and she gave birth to a daughter they named Odette, after Ben’s favorite grandmother. A son and another daughter followed and Zella was happier than she had ever been. Benjamin took the train home every weekend but returned to his paper to work during the week.

    Gilbert stopped reading and looked at the pile of papers beside her keyboard. The curled yellowed pages caught his eye and he pulled one out to study it.

    “Gilbert?” said Connie behind him and he started and nearly dropped the page. “What are you doing?”

    “You’ve got it wrong,” the museum curator told her. “You read the birth chart wrong. Odette was Zella’s granddaughter and she was born in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. You have her down here as Zella’s daughter. Odette’s mother, the woman who apparently died in our house the night of a fire in 1915 was named for Zella’s mother, Alise.”

    Constance frowned and came to look. “Of course, you’re right.” Then her brow crinkled and she looked at him. “But that doesn’t make sense either. It couldn’t have been her daughter who died in 1915, not if she went on to give birth to Odette.”

    Gilbert studied the paper very carefully and said, “There are two inks, Connie. This record was altered at some point, perhaps for a very good cause, considering the secrecy and turmoil surrounding the poor woman’s life. Perhaps she meant to obfuscate the facts for a reason, hide the dates and births of her children.”

    He looked knowingly at his wife and Constance swallowed.

    “So you’re on to me now, is that it? You see where my ‘novel’ is coming from now don’t you?”

    “Yes,” he nodded. “And I think it’s wonderful. I’m thinking everyone at the hall is going to love it when you’re finished. You are going to share all of this with them, aren’t you?”

    Yes she was. But the story wasn’t quite finished yet.

  31. Chapter 24:

    Leonard strode into the cellar. The lights above switched on automatically with a click and a hum. He took in a sharp breath. Before him sat shelf after mahogany shelf of liquor cabinets. Walking down the center aisle, Leonard deftly removed one bottle: a 1910 Constant Farcat Absinthe La Constantine from France. Time had darkened the bottle and yellowed the label, but the craftsmanship still shone after all these years. Replacing the bottle, he continued down the aisle.

    He had to admire the ingenuity of the cabinets. Each bottle sat inside an ornately carved pull-out drawer with a tiny handle. Although you could catch a glimpse of the bottle from the exterior, gently tugging the drawer open provided a full view, while keeping the fragile bottles snug and protected. Leonard suddenly felt a twinge of guilt at picking up a bottle so briskly. They had obviously been housed with the love and care of a museum.

    Leonard eased open another drawer. Fine Champagne Cognac, Louis Philippe, Restaurant Henry, Place Gaillon, 1890. He found himself wondering what cognac from the late nineteenth-century would taste like. Perhaps he could cave and crack open one of these bottles for the opening.

    Higgins followed behind Leonard patiently as he perused his father’s collection. Leonard paused when he reached the back of the wine cellar. There sat ten sizable padded wooden crates, stamped with “fragile” in ruby red ink. Leonard gave Higgins a quizzical look.

    “Mr. Vincent Walcott’s art collection, sir.”

    Leonard raised an eyebrow.

    Higgins approached the boxes, and reached down back behind them. He extricated a clipboard. “The inventory,” he said as he handed Leonard the list.

    Leonard skimmed the hand-written catalog. Several names stuck out: Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Gustave Klimt. Then, there were those he had not heard of before: Abraham Storck, Bernardo Strozzi, Jean Gorin.

    “How did he get his mitts on some of these?” Leonard asked, shocked. “The last Monet that went up for auction sold for over forty million, if I remember correctly?”

    Higgins nodded. “Both the Winthrops and the Walcotts amassed a great deal of art during and following the two World Wars. Art confiscation and illegal art markets boomed. The marriage of your father Vincent Walcott and your mother Olivia Winthrop, granddaughter of Sydney Winthrop, led to the eventual fusion of the family collections.”

    Leonard thought back to the times when his father had lectured him about his ancestry. Vincent Walcott had been particularly proud of his son’s blue blood. His marriage to Olivia Winthrop had been in the works from their infancy. While the Winthrops had been part of the industrial American aristocracy for years, the Walcotts entered late, and suffered a certain amount of discrimination amongst their peers. As the Winthrop fortune declined, Jefferson Walcott struck up a deal which joined their families in matrimony. The family fortunes depleted, Olivia had no choice but to marry Vincent Walcott to save her family’s legacy and continue her career as a concert pianist. Along with the marriage, the Walcotts became the Winthrop’s debtors. Following the death of the last Winthrop, Olivia’s bachelor baby brother, the Winthrop family treasures had passed to Vincent Walcott, and he had used his own fortunes to purchase Winthrop Hall. To him, the building had served as a vibrant symbol of the Walcott-Winthrop connection, even though the hall had never been attached to Sydney Winthrop or his descendents.

    “Never forget that while you are a Walcott, you are also a descendent of the Winthrops,” his father had said, beaming with pride, on many an occasion. “Your mother Olivia Winthrop was the oldest daughter of Jonathan Winthrop, the only son of Sydney Winthrop, the oldest son of the famous industrialist Edgar Winthrop.”

    Leonard could not have cared less. If anything, he spent his days wondering how his gentle, artistic mother had grown up among such bloodthirsty money grubbers, and emerged so unaffected by wealth or status. Leonard liked to think his mother played an important role in establishing his worldview.

    Higgins snapped Leonard out of his reminiscence.

    “While your mother never cared much for the trappings of Winthrop wealth, she fought to hold on to the Winthrop art collection.”

    “I have an idea of how we might honor her memory,” Leonard surveyed the crates one last time as he exited the wine safe.

  32. The night Colin was given the sealed vellum notes to deliver he was curious about the contents but not enough to peek inside each note. He knew they all had to do with the history of the hall and that somehow each resident on Chantilly Lane was connected. He listened when Leonard told him how long ago kindness toward strangers in need had resulted in the present day conditions on the lane. Stella or Zella whoever she was had purchased the homes and paid off all the debts of the people who took in her wounded and dying the night of the fire in 1915. He thought it was interesting that the men who set the fire had never been named or charged. Apparently the lawman named Chubb suspected it was someone from New York, since two of the Winthrop brothers had been seen earlier in the day at the train station.

    Chubb also conceded that it might have been set by the men in town who had been embarrassed by Zella at her Palace of Soiled Doves. Chubb guessed no one would ever know the truth of who set the fire that night. Or the night years later, when yet another fire would end the life of the last male Winthrop.

    Colin was pleasantly surprised that somewhere in his family tree was someone who without hesitation had made a decision to open their door to women the rest of the town apparently despised and avoided at all cost. They had to be more like Felix than his mother, he told himself, because he could totally see his compassionate grandfather opening the door and taking in some poor someone all burned up and dying.

    The night he delivered the notes he found himself thinking who lived in the homes now and he tried to imagine the faces of those who had lived there when Zella Rose was alive. At one point the photograph of her stuck inside the Harridy note had fallen out and he stood under the porch light and looked at the face of the woman with her huge hat. He had the sudden impulse to paint Zella’s portrait and he wished he didn’t have to give up the photograph. But it had come from the lock box of Titus Chubb’s father Jonah, so Colin knew it had to mean something special to the woman to which the note was addressed.

    Now, weeks later, as he readied for the opening of the hall that night he found himself wishing he could see the picture again. For some reason it made him think of the young Ella who lived down the road. Something in her face was the same, or perhaps in her gaze. He wondered then if the photograph he had seen on a grave stone in back of the mansion could be the same woman. If it was he could wait for a day with good light and set up outside. He needed to get a brush on canvas again. It had been too long.

    His phone rang and he took it out to see a message from Leonard. It read: Come early. I have something for you.

  33. Colin rolled his eyes. Here we go again, he thought to himself. Yet, curiosity compelled Colin say goodbye to El Greco and his furry siblings early, and set out for Winthrop Hall. He gave El Greco’s little grey ears a massage when the kitten followed him beady-eyed to the door. The soft rumble of El Greco’s frail purr warmed something deep down in Colin’s heart.

    “I’ll be back soon, little guy,” Colin reassured his kitten.

    El Greco sat pleadingly by the door as Colin locked up.

    The lonely kitten dominated Colin’s thoughts as he drove to the hall. He couldn’t help but admire how stately Winthrop Hall appeared in the winter twilight, aglow with countless chandeliers.

    Leonard sat ready to greet Colin when he drove up to the front door.

    “You’re looking snazzy,” Colin said, taking in Leonard’s ensemble.

    Leonard snorted. “Sylvie picked it out.”

    Sylvie had dressed Leonard in a slimming, tasteful grey pinstripe suit and a deep teal shirt. Smartly groomed and dressed, Leonard looked younger, Colin thought.

    “So, what do you have for me?” Colin asked as they entered Winthrop Hall.

    “Follow me.” Leonard gestured for Colin to fall in step behind him. He took Colin to the library, and stopped before the fireplace.

    “Wow,” Colin said. He had yet to see the library. He was so busy taking in the view that he did not see Leonard open the secret passage. All of the sudden, Colin realized Leonard had vanished. He looked right and left, before he heard Leonard call out, “Down here!”

    Colin poked his head beyond the secret door, and eyed the rickety spiraling staircase.

    “Don’t worry, it’s fine,” Leonard called up.

    Colin stepped lightly on the top step, and then slowly began the descent, gripping the handrail as he went. While he had begun to expect the unexpected in his time with Leonard, secret passages and upscale 1920s replica speakeasies surpassed his wildest dreams.

    “Holy s. . . mokes,” Colin whistled, grinning ear to ear. “You setting me up as our very own Rick Blaine, Casablanca-style?” he said jokingly.

    “Not quite,” Leonard smiled, bemused, as he walked toward the wine cellar.
    Colin watched, rapt, as Leonard used the musgravite to open the room.

    “I was hoping to get your input,” Leonard gestured to the bottles. “I want to pick a bottle or two for the opening.”

    Colin gave Leonard a look. “So now artists are all drunks?”

    Leonard suddenly looked concerned, and uneasy.

    “Just kidding, jeez!” Colin slapped Leonard on the back. “Of course I’ll help.”
    Colin gazed up and down the shelves as he meandered through the rows. Easing open the occasional drawer or two as he walked, Colin’s face lit brighter and brighter as he went. “This place is totally awesome, just awesome,” he repeated, “You’re father built this place?”

    Leonard nodded.

    “He must have hired “Q” freelance,” Colin joshed.

    Leonard couldn’t help but smile at the Bond reference.

    Colin mustered a serious face. “I will have to recommend Château Latour Bourdeaux from 1865 and the Heidsieck Monopole 1907 “Goût américain” Champagne from the wreck of the Jönköping. Seriously, shipwreck champagne is too cool to pass up.” He held out the two bottles for Leonard, who accepted them.

    “There is one other matter that I wanted your opinion on,” Leonard said, trying his best to keep a straight, impassive face. He led Colin over to the crates in the back of the vault.

    “What’s in the boxes?” Colin asked.

    “Wait and see,” Leonard replied, picking up a crowbar which he had brought down earlier, and popping open one of the crates. Gently, he removed a canvas.

    Colin’s jaw dropped to the floor. He couldn’t believe his eyes. “You own a MONET!” Colin gasped. Rubbing his eyes, Colin stepped closer. “It’s ‘Chemin dans le Brouillard.’” He did a double-take, looking from Leonard to the painting and back again.

    Leonard gingerly re-placed the painting in the padded crate, and re-attached the lid. Then, he handed Colin the inventory.

    Colin scanned the list, his eyes growing wider and wider. “You have got to be kidding.”

    Leonard shook his head, “I was hoping you might agree to curate a small art museum for me.”

    “Museum?” Colin muttered, dazed.

    “My mother was particularly attached to her family’s art collection. I can think of no one who would take better care of the works she fought so hard to preserve than you.”

    “You should get a p . .. pro. . . professional,” Colin stuttered.

    “You are a professional. You went to art school. And you had art history and preservation classes. I have faith in your abilities.”

    “I’m speechless,” Colin wrapped Leonard in a tight bear hug.

  34. Chapter 25:

    With Gilbert’s help Constance was able to find many instances where records had been altered or eradicated completely, seemingly to avoid anyone knowing with any certainty just who and how many actual children in the hall were sired by a Winthrop.

    After the many losses from the fire Benjamin returned from an extended stay in San Francisco to find Zella determined to rebuild the hall and repay the kindnesses shown by the people living on Chantilly Lane. For his part he was ready to end the charade and openly proclaim her his wife, because in his heart he knew who had been responsible for the devastation. Somehow his brothers had found them out and plotted to destroy not only Zella but all the bastards they had left in their wake. He could see his father snorting like a mad bull and ordering the two to ‘take care of it’. Edgar wouldn’t like any money hungry beggars showing up with a lawyer later and claiming kinship.

    Zella, more frightened than ever for the sake of not only her children but of the others as well, begged him not to reveal their marriage. Edgar would come after them openly, using his wealth and power to destroy their union. He knew many judges who would happily remove the children from the home and would do all he could to tear down not only Zella, but everything his son Benjamin had built for himself. She knew it like she knew her name and she would not allow it to happen. So Benjamin gave in and the ruse continued.

    Then the Spanish flu came and changed the face of the nation as much if not more than war had. Every person in the country knew someone who died from the flu, every family lost at least one member, some families all. Children orphaned by the flu found their way to the hall where Zella took them in without hesitation. Then came wives who had lost husbands and had no way to fill their children’s bellies or keep paying rent. Zella turned no one away, and at one point realized that nearly half the rooms of the hall were occupied.

    The sickness lessened then and Zella and Benjamin found ways to help each family or child regain their independence. They were happy as they could be living their secret life and raising their secret children and had no idea of the help they received more than once from the peace officer Jonah Chubb, who liked to keep an eye on the hall and was known to roust and threaten with arrest anyone hanging around who didn’t look like they should be. Drunken husbands, thieves with bad intent or just plain mischief makers often found themselves looking down the barrel of Jonah Chubb’s shotgun. And the two men dressed in fancy duds and driving one of them highfalutin Model T’s definitely had no business driving up to Zella Rose’s house in the dark.

    Jonah put himself in front of them in the middle of the road and held a lighted match under his face as he asked them their business. Both of them smelled and acted drunk, swaying and grinning and red in the face. The one driving yelled back that Jonah had better move or be run over. Jonah informed him that since the fire a few years back he had been taking special good care of the people he was responsible for, and he would hate to have to lock up anyone that night for threatening harm to a peace officer. Is that what they were doing?

    The Model T came at him then and Jonah backed up and unloaded both barrels of his shotgun into the engine. The car stopped. Smoke filled the air. The drunks inside got out and began to curse at him. Jonah calmly reloaded his shotgun and the cursing wound down and finally ceased.

    “How do we get home?” one of them said.

    “Walk that way,” Jonah said and pointed down the road the opposite way they had come.

    It took a full thirty seconds and no small amount of grumbling, but the two eventually turned and staggered down the road away from Jonah.

    He waited the rest of the night, but they didn’t return, and when he came to check a day later, the Model T was gone.

    Jonah Chubb remained vigilant on Zella Rose’s behalf to the end of her days, and when the rich man who helped her, Benjamin Winthrop, said to put up a stone with something nice on it, to tell how much people loved her, it was Jonah who wrote the poem:

    Love is a bond even death cannot part,
    Look not here to find her
    For Zella is loved and lives in the hearts
    Of those she left behind her.

  35. ~*~*~
    John Harridy massaged his forehead with a rough, calloused hand. Every bone and muscle in his body ached after a particularly long shift. As it was the height of winter, emergency calls soared to new heights: house fires caused by faulty Christmas lights, elderly citizens catching pneumonia, snowy car accidents. Harridy sat poised to return home for a long bath and a re-heated bowl of his famous beef stew when he remembered that this evening was the twenty-first of December.

    Scowling, he walked to his locker, and changed into his street ware, a forest green sweater, dark blue jeans, and water-stained leather loafers. His shoes made a soft, wet thwap as he slumped down the halls of Charity Memorial Hospital to his mother Joyia’s long term care room. Harridy could not believe his tired eyes when he found her bed empty.

    “Nurse!” He shouted, gripped with acute panic. A woman rushed over, “What’s wrong,” she said.

    “My mother!” he gasped. “She’s gone!”

    The nurse grabbed a hefty chart from beside the door, and flipped to the most recent page.

    “What, what do you see?” Harridy clung to the woman’s arm.

    “Well, I have some good news. Your mother is still with us. She hasn’t passed away.”

    Harridy released her arm. “Did someone take her for a test? Has she taken a turn for the worse? She looked so healthy yesterday. . .”

    The nurse’s brow furrowed and she continued to flip through the chart. “I’m not Ms. Harridy’s primary nurse. . . but. . .”

    “But what?” Harridy pressed.

    “I can’t say for sure, because it doesn’t appear to be official. . . but it looks like your mother was temporarily discharged into someone’s care. Normally, the hospital does not allow this without the consent of the family member with guardianship in the case of elderly patients, but this seems to have passed under the table.”

    Harridy swore like a sailor who had gone too long without a drop of liquor.
    “Did the primary caretaker write the name of the person who my mother left with?”

    The nurse squinted at the chart. “There is a name here. . . but I can’t quite make it out.”

    Harridy leaned in close and scanned the scrawled signature.

    “Constance. . . Constance Perlman,” he growled.

    As he stormed down the hall, Harridy muttered a “thanks” over his shoulder.

  36. Joyia was ready for her visit to the hall two hours ahead of time and nearly wept with disappointment when the phone rang and she heard Constance’s voice. She just knew it wasn’t going to happen. John would have gotten to them and ruined everything. Then she paid attention to what her neighbor was telling her. A car was being sent for her. A man named Clive James asked the doctor in charge of her case if he might see to her needs on the night in question and the nurses had informed the doctor about Constance and Gilbert’s plans to come for Joyia. The doctor relayed this to Clive James, who then had his secretary call Constance and ask if he might instead accompany his former secretary to the reopening of the hall. Constance said she would call Joyia and that’s what she was doing.

    “Clive is sending a car for me?” Joyia was smiling. “That makes me very happy, Connie, thank you for being so kind and understanding. And thank you for the dress you brought me to wear. The dress and the shoes fit perfectly.”

    “Truthfully it’s good to have an extra hour or two to wrap things up on my project,” Constance admitted. “I have something to share with all of you this evening.”

    This part Joyia didn’t take in, she was already wondering if she should ask one of the nurses to help redo her hair and perhaps find a tiny amount of lipstick for her to wear. She was both thrilled and terrified to see Clive again after so long. She knew he had come to the hospital in the days after her arrival but hadn’t stayed long after dealing with John, who didn’t want anyone disturbing his mother. She loved her son dearly, but sometimes he could be a bit overbearing in his efforts to protect her. She supposed it had to do with becoming the ‘man of the house’ so early after the death of her husband Henry. Still it was mildly annoying that he pretended not to see how giddy the mere thought of being inside the hall again made her.

    It was almost as if he were jealous of her happiness of late!

    She buzzed for a nurse and was thoroughly shocked and unprepared when Clive James himself answered the buzz. He wheeled a wheelchair into the room and smiled his still incredibly handsome smile. “You’re looking well, Joyia, and lovely as ever.”

    Joyia beamed. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’m so happy to see you again.”

    He opened the wheelchair paddles and came to lift her ever so gently into the chair. Then he stood back and looked at her.

    “I’ve already signed off with the doctor. Shall we take a drive before going to the hall? I thought you might like to see the Christmas lights in town.”

    “I’d like that very much.” Her brow knitted slightly. “Clive, do you know anything about tonight?” She pointed to the vellum note on her nightstand and he picked it up and read it.

    Leave it to the obstinate Leonard Walcott to make everything as mysterious as he was. Still, Clive was rather looking forward to the evening, and his heart warmed at sight of pretty Joyia’s familiar face. Good lord, he thought, how much I’ve missed her!

    He and Joyia had been good friends with Leonard’s parents and had attended many a gathering put on by the Walcott’s. When Vincent died Clive feared that the hall and all it’s secret places with their hidden treasures would go quietly to ruin and provide a stunning ‘find’ for some archaeologist centuries in the future. But then he realized Vincent knew his son better than he gave himself credit for by creating the conditions he had concerning the disposal of Winthrop Hall. In his typical knee jerk reaction of always doing the opposite of what he thought Vincent Walcott wanted, Leonard was doing exactly what his father, and most particularly his mother, wanted most, the hall open and people inside it again.

  37. Chapter 26:

    Zella and Claire road home in the snug security of the bus after school on the twenty-first. Zella’s parents had bought everything. Myrna Luzenac was happy that Zella would be occupied with a sleepover. She could go to the re-opening of Winthrop Hall without having to worry about Zella burning down the house with another well-intentioned, but poorly executed, effort to make cookies.

    Zella gripped the handle of her overnight bag with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy. Only four more hours. The girls chattered, but Zella couldn’t bring herself to focus on the conversation. She had watched the news that morning while she ate her frosted flakes, and the weather woman had forecasted snow. Not wanting to provoke suspicion, Zella did not bring more than her usual sparse winter accoutrements—after all, bundling up like an Eskimo was so uncool. As her breath crystallized into intricate patterns on the school bus window, Zella began to wonder how cold she would be after biking two miles in the snowy chill.

    The time seemed to stand still as Zella sat through a deep-dish pizza dinner with her school friends and the first half of “Mean Girls.” Heavy flakes of snow gathered on the basement windows. At quarter past six, Zella wrapped herself in her coat and a fleece Claire had grabbed from her room. She decided to take the mountain bike which looked to be about the right size. The other girls helped her lift the bike out the back door of the basement, and she rolled it to the street. Gritting her teeth, Zella mounted the bike and pushed off.

    The side street Claire lived on had yet to be plowed. The snow resisted Zella’s pedaling as she crept down the lane. Cloaked in the twilight, Zella wheeled ever closer to Winthrop Hall. She had spent the last few days memorizing the route. Knowing her mother would be driving, Zella biked down small side streets, specifically going out of her way to avoid the route her mother would likely take.

    Zella puffed as the cold winter air filled her lungs, making her breathing burn and tingle. After the first half mile, her legs, unaccustomed to such exercise, began to ache. She was so engrossed in keeping her bicycle upright that she did not see or hear a car pull up behind her. The screech of anti-lock brakes and tires skidding on snow prompted Zella to turn around just as a sedan hit her from behind.

    Zella flew from her bicycle, and landed on the ground with a thud.

  38. Deidre James shrieked and threw open her car door. She scrambled madly over the deep snow to Zella, who moaned and tried to lift herself on her elbows.

    “Wait!” Deidre commanded, and Zella raised her head to look at the panicked veterinarian.

    “It’s you. You like Reubens.”

    “Don’t try to move yet,” Deidre told her. “Let me look at you. Are you breathing all right? Do you hurt anywhere?”

    The girl had landed in a high drift thank God but there was no telling what might be wrong and where. Deidre used her cell phone to check Zella’s pupils and then made a quick check of all her bones and digits.

    “I don’t think anything got broken,” Zella told her. “I am freezing though.”

    “Can you stand all right?” Deidre asked. “Get up slowly. Don’t rush anything.”

    Deidre held on to her arm just to make sure she could balance and when Zella tested her weight on both legs she sighed in relief. “What on earth were you doing out here on a bike?”

    “I was going to the hall,” Zella told her and she looked longingly at Deidre’s car. “Would it be okay if I rode the rest of the way with you? Are you going tonight?”

    Deidre was shaking her head. “I think you should go home. I can’t believe you didn’t even sprain something…did you?”

    “Well my left wrist kind of hurts,” Zella told her. “But it hurts worse after I get off the parallel bars in gym class so it’s probably nothing.”

    “Let me call your parents,” Deidre said. “They should know-”

    “No!” Zella said much too loudly. She looked sheepishly at Deidre. “I mean, my mom is going to be there tonight, so if you could give me a ride…please? I’m really freezing.”

    “All right,” the still flustered Deidre said. She had never hit anyone with her car before and was seriously rattled by the experience. More rattled apparently than the victim, who was grinning over the fuzzy day-glo orange and pink mice hanging from Deidre’s rear view mirror.

    “I’ll ask your mother if she’ll let me take you to my lab and x-ray your wrist. We shouldn’t take any chances. If you’re injured we need to know right away.” She paused then. “I’m sorry…what was your name again?”

    “Ella Luzenac, from Chantilly Lane. I’m sorry I didn’t have a light on my bike. I know I’m supposed to have flashers on the pedals and on the back, but it’s a mountain bike and it’s…oh, I almost forgot. Is Colin going to be there, do you know?”

    Deidre blinked. “How do you know Colin?”

    “I…he…well, he lives on my street. I saw this car at his house once. Are you his girlfriend?”

    The girl was obviously fine, Deidre told herself. If she could worry about a fluff brain like Colin Huxley after such a close call then all things were in good thirteen year old working order.

    “Colin has a lot of girlfriends, Ella. I’m not one of them.” She looked at the young Ella then. “You never said why you were riding the bike? If your mom is going why not ride with her?”

    Ella hemmed and hawed a bit, but by that time they were through the gate and approaching the hall. Before Deidre could tell her to wait, Zella was out of the car and hurrying for the entrance. “Don’t worry about me!” she called over her shoulder. “I’ll be fine, and if Mom is already gone I’ll get a ride home with Colin!”

    Deidre blinked again, stupefied by the appeal. Then she began worrying again. Suppose it was all adrenaline and the girl’s injuries took over and became apparent at any moment, precipitating a collapse? She needed to get in there and tell someone, talk to the girl’s mother at least and tell her what had happened outside on the road.

    John Harridy watched Deidre go in. He had slid in the gate right behind her car and escaped notice by both females in the car. He held back until he saw the first one bounce up the steps to the entrance. He knew her. It was the Luzenac girl from Chantilly Lane. What the hell was she doing here?
    The other woman went inside then and he paused to look at the place. A lot had changed. He couldn’t see everything in the dark, but he could see enough. Lord Walcott had been one busy guy, obviously.

    Harridy had already been by the Perlman’s and found no one at home. They didn’t return his calls, which was okay because he knew what had happened. Behind his back they had slipped in and talked his mother into coming with them. According to the nurse at the hospital they had even hired a driver in a tux to pick her up. He hoped they were happy. He hoped
    nothing happened to his mother as a result of this little adventure, because if it did he was prepared to go to court and sue them for everything they had. He would do it, too.

    He walked up the steps and nearly ran into a stone porch planter filled with holiday boughs, bows and cinnamon scented pine cones. A portion of the stone had broken away beneath his foot and he picked it up. He was not to blame, he told himself. Obviously the thing had been cracked before and his walking into it had simply dislodged it. It was a hefty piece in his hand, the size of a baseball and he looked for somewhere to put it.

    Then he happened to look in the window. Inside the cozy entry, greeting people as they entered the foyer was none other than Lord Walcott, looking very spiffy in his party suit. Beside him stood the one woman who had ever made Leonard’s heart race, Sylvie Baron. His wife. His wife was standing with her hand curled around the doctor’s arm. Her face was radiant as he said something to her and she sweetly kissed his cheek.

    Harridy opened the door and went inside. He ignored the shocked faces of his mother and her escort, his beloved Sylvie, Lawrence Baum, Constance and Gilbert Perlman, and the young idiot who had taken up residence in Felix Huxley’s home. John raised his arm and hurled the chunk of stone as hard as he could at Leonard Walcott.

    Leonard ducked and the stone struck the person coming up directly behind him, the happy shining Zella Luzenac. She dropped to the floor. Blood began to pour from a wound in her neck, carved by the jagged edge of the stone. Behind her Deidre shrieked.

    Harridy turned to run, but Colin hit him with a full tackle and took him down to the floor.

  39. Chapter 27:

    It was at that moment that Myrna Luzenac arrived at Winthrop Hall. Still wearing her starched suit from work, her eyes bulged as she saw her one and only daughter unconscious, bleeding from the head in the arms of Deidre. Colin was doing his best to strike fear into the heart of John Harridy. Having tackled the larger man to the floor, he proceeded to punch and kick the him with abandon. The element of surprise gaxe Colin the upper hand for a minute or so, until pain snapped Harridy out of a state of shock. Fit from lifting heavy medic bags and the injured, he blocked Colin’s blows and pushed the slighter, younger man off of him with undue force.

    Myrna helped Colin to his feet as he stumbled backwards.

    “I’m an EMT!” Harridy shouted as he made for Zella.

    Leonard stepped in front of Zella, holding out his arms to block Harridy’s path.

    “Get out of my way,” Harridy growled.

    Always thinking on her feet, Sylvie yelled for ever-prepared Higgins, who rushed from the kitchen holding a batch of fresh towels. Deidre grabbed a towel from Higgins, and began to apply pressure to Zella’s head wound.

    “Let’s not resort to any more violence,” Leonard said, trying to calm Harridy down.

    “I’m not going to beat a little girl you idiot!” Harridy howled, “I’m the only one who can help her!!”

    “My daughter doesn’t need any more help from you!” Myrna shouted ferociously, moving to stand beside Leonard. Her hair whipped around her face, billowing like a lion’s mane. “If you hurt my daughter, I’m going to sue your ass back to the Stone Age!” Turning, Myrna bent down next to her Zella and Deidre, holding Zella so Deidre could take her vitals.

    Higgins had already dialed 9-1-1 when Sylvie moved forward to confront John. “John, you need to calm down,” Sylvie said, her voice even.

    “Calm down? Calm down!!” Harridy began to laugh, growing hysterical. “You’re screwing a millionaire and you want me to keep cool?”

    “You don’t have a right to be angry. We’ve been divorced ten years. You called me once since then.” Sylvie countered, growing intensely frosty.

    Leonard took Sylvie’s hand in his, and gave it a squeeze. “I would appreciate you not speaking to my wife that way.”

    It was then that Harridy’s eyes zeroed in on Sylvie’s slender ring finger. While he had expected to see an enormous rock, the sight of a dainty, understated diamond band took him by surprise.

    “When did you get remarried?” Harridy gasped, shocked.

    “Two days ago. A simple gathering with a justice of the peace. I haven’t even moved in yet.”

    Defused, Harridy suddenly looked weak and defeated. His enraged companions suddenly couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for him.

    While Harridy stood in stunned silence, Deidre yelled “She’s coming to!”

    All eyes shifted to the thirteen year old girl bleeding on the foyer floor.

  40. “Mom?” Zella croaked. “This hurts…”

    Leonard let go of Sylvie and hurried to kneel over Zella. It was too much blood, he saw immediately. The amount of blood pooling on the floor could not have come from the simple head wound. It was then he moved her collar and saw the purplish-blue gash in her neck that was still gurgling with blood. He grabbed one of the towels and applied it firmly to stanch the flow. “Colin, we need to get her upstairs to the clinic. Harridy, make yourself useful and grab her legs. I assure you, you are not the only one who can help her.”

    “Lord Walcott to the fore,” Harridy said. But he did as he was told and with Colin leading the way to the lift and turning on lights as they went, they made it upstairs and placed her on a table in the clinic’s version of an emergency room.

    Downstairs, several sets of legs charged for the stairs while a distraught Joyia and Clive waited with Higgins to go up in the lift again. Clive held her hand and Joyia shook her head for the tenth time and said, “I don’t know who that was, Clive. The man who threw that stone was a stranger to me. That wasn’t my John. What could have driven him to do such a thing? That poor child. I pray she’s all right.”

    Before the eternity it seemed to take for the lift doors to open again Higgins received a call on the phone he had used to summon an ambulance. His face grew ashen as he listened to what he was being told to him by dispatch. Joyia took one look and knew something awful had just been reported.

    “Higgins?”

    Higgins swallowed as he ended the call. “The ambulance was hit by a truck sliding on the ice. It crashed through the rail on the bridge and landed upside down on the road below. Both the driver and the other EMT were injured.”

    “Is there another ambulance coming?” Clive asked.

    “No sir. The others are out on other calls, most of them road accidents with injuries. They said it might be an hour.”

    Clive squeezed Joyia’s hand. “Take heart. If there is one thing Leonard Walcott happens to be good at, it’s medicine. He’ll take good care of the girl. Let’s just hope his clinic is ready.”

    “Colin, fetch Deidre, will you?” Leonard ordered. “I’m going to need her assistance.” He pointed at Harridy then. “You, come here and keep applying pressure while I find everything I need.”

    Harridy traded places with him and felt his hand falter when the girl’s large eyes opened and fastened on him. Her face was deathly white.

    “Is my mom here?” she whispered.

    She looked frightened. Of him.

    “She’s here,” he said as gently as he could. “She’s just outside. You don’t have to be afraid. Everything is going to be okay.”

    “What happened?” she asked.

    John didn’t know what to say. “I…I got upset and threw something. I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you.” He studied her face. There was something so familiar about her features. “Where did you get the other cut on your head?”

    “Before. I hid it from Deidre. I wanted to come here so bad…”

    She fell unconscious before she could finish. Harridy felt a spurt of panic and looked up. “Walcott! She needs blood! Now!”

    Leonard raced back. “Our stores haven’t arrived. There’ll be some on the ambulance.”

    Colin hurried in with Deidre. “No ambulance. Higgins said it crashed on the way here. Should I get her mother?”

    “Yes! Excellent, Colin, she’ll likely be a match. Let’s hope she knows her daughter’s blood type. And find out what everyone else’s blood type is! Deidre, come…”

    Colin ran out to the others waiting in the hall and took Myrna by the arm to pull her aside. “Do you know your daughter’s blood type?”

    “It’s B positive.”

    “Are you a match? She needs blood.”

    Myrna’s face crumpled. “No. I’m not.”

    She sobbed and then did something strange. She reached for someone who up to that point Colin had believed was a complete stranger to her.

    Lawrence Baum held her shaking shoulders and looked over her head at Colin.

    “She’s not a match, Colin, but there are two people here tonight, one of which is sure to be.”

  41. Chapter 28:

    “I know who,” a hitherto silent Constance Perlman piped up. All eyes turned to the ashen writer as her husband squeezed her hand reassuringly.

    “Felix traced the family trees of those living on Chantilly Lane and connected with Winthrop Hall,” she said, “He had all of our birth certificates. Sylvie is Zella’s birth mother.”

    John Harridy looked like he would expire with guilt as he looked down at the little girl, his own little girl, lying almost unconscious on the operating table.

    Sylvie took a sharp breath, and dropped her shawl, grateful she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Leonard had little time to be blown away by the simple, yet stately frosted berry cocktail number Sylvie wore as he sat her down to draw blood. No matter what the situation, Sylvie always embodied the timeless elegance of Genevieve Antoine Dariaux’s 1960s etiquette book for women.

    Working together with Colin, Deidre had gathered all of the equipment necessary to provide Zella with a direct transfusion of Sylvie’s blood. Those assembled watched apprehensively as Harridy and Leonard simultaneously inserted IVs into Zella and Sylvie. Leonard moved back to sit with Zella.

    “We need to set up an IV drip for anesthesia and pain medication,” Doctor Leonard commanded. “I’m going to have to do emergency surgery to repair the severed arteries. Everyone not involved with the procedure needs to exit the room. The environment needs to be as sterile as possible.”

    Higgins shuffled Constance, Gilbert, Myrna, Baum, Joyia, Colin, and Clive into a long-term stay room down the hall to wait.

    “This is a lovely little room,” Joyia remarked as they sat. Everyone nodded.

    Higgins left and returned with a steaming pot of chamomile tea and a decanter of brandy from the cellar to help still the guests’ nerves.

    Constance held Myrna and patted her on the back gently as she melted into a sniveling mess on her shoulder.

    An hour dragged on, then two before Leonard walked into the room, still dressed in full scrubs. The whole room breathed a sigh of relief when he removed his surgical mask to reveal a smile.

    “She’s out of danger,” he said, and a tomato-faced Myrna practically knocked him over with the force of her hug.

  42. Harridy re-entered the emergency room after Leonard left and stood staring at Sylvie, who could not take her eyes from the pale girl on the table.

    “Colin,” Deidre said, suddenly worried, and Colin immediately entered and followed Deidre’s worried look to Harridy.

    Harridy raised both hands. “No, don’t worry. I’m not going to cause any more problems.”

    “Sylvie?” Colin said, and after a look at her ex-husband she nodded.

    “It’s all right, Colin. Deidre could you give us a moment?”

    “I’ll be right outside,” Deidre said and followed Colin out.

    Harridy moved to stand on the other side of the table. “You should have told me, Sylvie. You should have.”

    Sylvie was lightheaded from the transfusing. She leaned her forehead against her free palm. “I did tell you, John. You just weren’t paying attention.”

    “I can’t believe you gave her up.”

    The accusation in his tone made her close her eyes.

    “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, believe me. And seeing her here makes me want to take hold and never let go. But she’s not mine to hold now. I gave her up because I needed her to have two parents who wanted her, and a mother and a father who loved each other.”

    “I never stopped loving you, Sylvie.”

    She glanced at him again and her pity for him was obvious. “I hope you find someone again, John, same as I found Leonard. I hope you give yourself a chance and try.”

    “Maybe I’ll get lucky and find myself a rich doctor.” He didn’t know why he said it, he just wanted to hurt her. “And maybe I’ll take her adopted parents to court and sue for custody of my kid.”

    Sylvie’s sigh was long. “You can’t, John. You signed away any parental claim to the baby when you signed everything else. It was all right there, your chance to keep me, and to keep her, but you probably didn’t even read it. You just signed everything and dashed off to your next interview.”

    “I was helping people!”

    “Yes, you were. You’re good at it. But the next court you’ll see will be for charges of assault. Mrs. Luzenac called the police.”

    Harridy tried to muster up his stoic Bogie face but he wasn’t doing so well. He touched the young girl’s arm and knew it was likely the last time he was ever going to be this close to her.

    He was proved correct a second later when Leonard stepped in and said, “You’re done here. The police are downstairs waiting for you. Your mother said she’ll call a lawyer for you.”

    Harridy drew a deep breath and looked one last time at Sylvie. “Just tell her again that I’m sorry, okay?”

    Sylvie nodded and Harridy walked resolutely out the door. Leonard nodded to Colin, who accompanied Harridy down the stairs, where two officers were waiting.

    After he was arrested and taken away an ambulance arrived and Colin guided the attendants with the stretcher onto the lift and showed them to the emergency room. They took Zella first and Leonard made Sylvie ride in the ambulance with them while he and Myrna followed in his Jaguar. Gradually everyone moved downstairs again, where all the food and drinks sat waiting for the party that never happened.

    Higgins busied himself cleaning up the blood and after telling everyone goodnight and promising some sort of news to be texted to each of them as soon as possible, Colin moved to help. Deidre walked around sampling the food, wine and desserts until Higgins shooed her away for putting her fingers in everything.

    “But it’s just going to go to waste!” she protested and gulped another half glass of wine.

    Colin didn’t know how she could eat. He was too upset over the evening’s events and unsettled by what had happened to young Ella. Adrenaline was still coursing through him and he knew he would never get to sleep. Still he needed to see to El Greco and his siblings, so he finished up with Higgins and said goodnight.

    “Are you going home?” Deidre asked.

    “Yes, I am. Goodnight.”

    “Can I come over for a while?” she said. “I’m too wound up to go to bed. I might as well check up on the gang, eh?”

    “Yeah, sure.” He wouldn’t mind a free check up for the kittens.

    “I’ll follow you over,” she said and made a face at Higgins as he began removing the food.

    Once in Colin’s livingroom she sat on the sofa and three furry little inspectors came to sniff her boots, gloves and coat.
    She picked up El Greco and gave him a loving little pat…and then burst into tears.

    Colin was stunned and went to take the kitten from her. “Deidre? What’s wrong?”

    She covered her face with both hands and sobbed. “I hit her with my car tonight! I hit her with my car and then I helped with surgery on her, oh my God, Colin, I’ve never been so scared in my life! I thought it was my fault. I didn’t know it was the rock until Leonard…my God, I thought I killed her. I thought it was my fault.”

    Colin barely understood, but he knew she thought she was responsible for what happened to Ella. He sat beside her on the sofa and patted her shoulder. “She’s going to be all right. Leonard’s on the job and he’s the best. At least he always says so.”

    Deidre’s crying abruptly turned into laughter. “He always says so…?” She laughed until she started crying again, and Colin got up to get her some tissues. When he handed them to her she thanked him and blew her nose noisily. Then she looked at him with swollen eyes and said, “I used to think you were an idiot. So cocky, so sure of your charm that no woman could say no to you. But you’re not like that really. That’s just someone you put out there for people to deal with and once you’ve gauged how they deal with it you know how to respond to them. You’re so cautious with people, it’s obvious you’ve been deeply disappointed in your life.”

    “Who hasn’t?” Colin said. “Did you say you hit Ella with your car?”

    “She was on her bike riding to the hall. She has a crush on you, I think. She used her hat to hide the cut on her head from me because she knew I would make her go immediately to a doctor. She lay there and nearly bled out on the floor because the cut on her head was all anyone saw. It’s my fault she almost died.”

    She began sobbing again. Colin sat down with the box of tissues. The hard as nails Deidre had a heart of mush after all.
    She cried, hiccoughed, cried some more, and then her breathing slowed. Just when Colin thought she had fallen asleep on him, she said, “I saw who you are tonight. When you took Harridy down, and later when you kept everyone else calm by knowing just what to say and do. I see why Leonard loves you.”

    This made Colin smile. He moved the hair out of her eyes and said, “I saw who you are tonight, too.”

  43. Chapter 29:

    Zella felt as though she was riding on a sea of clouds. Every bone in her body felt tingly and numb. Voices floated in and out around her—they almost sounded familiar. Time felt as though it was standing still, and like it hadn’t passed at all. It was all so peaceful.

    Then the world came rushing in around her with a bright light, pain, and a roar of voices and machines. It was like waking up to ER blasting on the television, Zella thought. She reached up and batted at the oxygen mask and the tubes on her face. They were incredibly uncomfortable and made the air smell funny.

    Her mother Myrna reached out to still her hand, wrapping it in her own sweaty palms. Zella’s forehead creased as she saw her mother’s eyes. They looked incredibly tired, ringed by circles so dark Zella thought she looked like a raccoon.

    “Hi sweetie,” Myrna whispered.

    Once she checked Zella was breathing naturally, a nurse removed her oxygen mask.

    “Ouch,” Zella grimaced.

    “Ouch is right,” Myrna cooed, “Dr. Walcott says you cracked your skull, which caused your brain to swell and bleed. They had to do emergency surgery to get rid of the fluid. On top of that, the rock nicked an artery in your neck. Luckily, Dr. Walcott patched it up fast at the hall and gave you a transfusion. That tided you over until you got to the hospital. You’ve been in a medically-induced coma for a week.”

    Zella made a face.

    “You had better not pull a stunt like that again,” Myrna looked cross for a moment, “But I can’t stay mad at you because you’ve paid the price at least ten times over.”

    “A hundred times,” Zella countered.

    Myrna grinned through her fatigue.

    “You need a nap, Mom,” Zella said.

    Myrna nodded, “I’ve been getting by on cat naps in this chair for the past week. You’re father’s here too. He went to go get some lunch and coffee. We’ve had nothing but hospital food for a week, so I’ve been hankering for something different.”

    “Can I have some fries?” Zella asked.

    “I don’t think you’re cleared for real food yet,” Myrna winked.

    The nurse poked her head in the door, “If you would like, Mrs. Luzenac, the room next door is empty for the next few hours. You can lie down. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you.”

    “Thank you, Lucy,” Myrna smiled at the friendly nurse. They had been through hell and back again together this week. Myrna reached behind her and grabbed something.

    Zella’s eyes grew wide.

    “I’m not going to leave you all by your lonesome,” Myrna tucked a chestnut Steiff Classic 1905 Teddy Bear under Zella’s thin, IV filled arm. “Dr. Walcott brought him for you the day of your surgery.”

    Zella ran her fingers over the bear’s mohair coat and smiled. You were never too old for teddy bears—even if you were in the eighth grade.

  44. Zella was home and out of the woods by New Year’s Eve, so since Christmas had been such a dismal, fraught-with-worry affair for everyone, Sylvie and Leonard decided a spur of the moment New Year’s Eve Party was just the thing to bring everyone together again. This time, instead of cryptic notes on vellum they walked door to door in their snow boots and invited the people on Chantilly Lane in person, and even drove over to ask the still creaking but now less crotchety Titus Chubb, to a last minute ‘re-re-opening’ as Leonard liked to call it.

    Myrna and Ted Luzenac made Zella nap most of the day so she would be rested for the evening. The morning of the party the girl told her mother she had remembered seeing a very pretty woman sitting next to her the night she was injured. The woman was giving her blood, and Zella wanted to know who was she? Myrna knew she had to tell her daughter the truth concerning her birth. Accidents happened all the time, and illness, and knowing the family medical history was all too important as Myrna and Ted had come to learn. Zella was surprisingly unsurprised when Myrna told her. She said it was weird, but she had always known somehow. She asked her mother why she had lied about how she found her name and Myrna almost laughed. “Oh, believe me, I was just as pregnant with you, but with the anticipation of you. I found your name exactly as I said I did, with Gypsy leading the way, and I nursed you from my breasts after I was shown how to bring in the milk. “

    “Will she like me?” Zella asked her mother, and Myrna said, “She loved you enough to give you to us, so I’d say that’s a definite yes.”

    “Will it hurt you if I like her?”

    Myrna’s eyes filled. “Not at all. I like her too. She gave you to us twice.”

    Across the road Clive James called once again for Joyia Harridy that evening, this time picking her up from her home, where she had been since the day after Christmas, having been released at last from the hospital. She and Clive had been spending many happy hours together at the ballet, the symphony, and of course the courthouse.

    John Harridy pleaded guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to attend a class on anger management. He moved into an apartment near work and on his first night in class he met a local swimming coach who had been fired from her job at a high school for confiscating cell phones. Everyone in the anger management class agreed that wasn’t so bad until she told them she had collected all cell phones in a box one day because nearly every student ignored the rule about bringing them to practice and were engaged in either texting or talking when they were supposed to be swimming. She carried the box to the end of the pool and flung the phones out into the water. Then she told her students to “pretend they’re quarters and get your asses in the water.”

    Bogie Harridy thought he was in love.

    Colin was a nervous wreck about his museum opening on the second of January and while Deidre had offered to help when she could the two of them spent a lot of time snapping and snarling at each other about who knew what and what should go where and she had minored in Art History before going into veterinary medicine so she knew a thing or two herself so how could he not trust her? He was in serious danger of turning idiot again. And she was insufferable as usual, why did she think she knew better than him about where to place the Picasso? If it had teeth and carried fleas, then he was sure she was the right person for the job, but he was the one actually in charge of the museum and maybe she should stick to ordering the catering for his first opening. She liked wine, he knew. A lot.

    At the end of all the bickering they walked out holding hands.

    Leonard and Sylvie decided not to dress up quite as they had before Christmas and told everyone else it was come as you are casual and not to bother with anything but showing up. Even Higgins wore a cardigan and made sure plenty of hot cocoa and mini marshmallows were on hand. And party hats and horns.

    Before the first guest arrived Sylvie stood with Leonard in the entry and said, “I bought a pregnancy test yesterday.”

    “Why would…” He stopped talking and looked at her. “Oh no.”

    Sylvie’s shoulders fell. “Oh no?”

    “I mean, oh no, you’re not going to eat or drink anything you thought you were going to be eating or drinking tonight.”

    “I didn’t even tell you the results.”

    “What were they?”
    “I haven’t taken it yet.”

    Leonard’s hand flew up. “Why not? Don’t you think you should take it before we go drinking champagne and eating crap-filled canapés like there’s no tomorrow?” He turned and pushed her toward the lift. “Let’s go. You’re going right upstairs to pee on that stick.”

    Higgins opened his mouth as they disappeared into the lift and saw Sylvie look helplessly at him. Then the first guests arrived.

    Constance and Gilbert Perlman had made copies of her nearly finished manuscript and provided them to everyone in the days before New Year’s Eve. All had read of Zella Rose and of Benjamin Winthrop and Jonah Chubb and the various others who had peopled the area for the last two centuries. Even young Zella just that day had been allowed to read the story, including the unsavory parts, and she was full of questions she couldn’t wait to ask Constance. And she was anxious to see Sylvie Walcott again and look at her with new eyes. She wondered if she was going to look like her when she grew up.

    Everyone had arrived and gathered in the grand hall as before. Titus Chubb was surprisingly spry and held Colin’s ear on everything from fly fishing to the care of a lawnmower engine. Deidre rolled her eyes behind Higgins’s back and stuck her fingers in the dip while sipping from a glass of wine and talking about elderly care for Myrna’s dog Gypsy. Clive and Joyia laughed with Constance and Gilbert and finally the lift descended and a slightly discomfited Leonard stepped out, Sylvie behind him.

    “Sorry we were late,” Leonard said, and Colin stepped forward. He knew when Leonard was worried about something.

    “What’s up?”

    “We have to cancel the party,” Leonard said, and Sylvie batted him on the arm.

    “Leonard! You promised you weren’t going to behave like this!”

    “What’s wrong?” Deidre asked.

    “Nothing, I—“

    “She pregnant,” Leonard blurted. “You all have to go and take the food with you. It’s nothing but fruits and vegetables for you from now—“

    He was prevented from continuing by Colin’s hug and Clive stepping forward to shake his hand and Deidre giving a little squeal and everyone in the room clapping.

    “You’re going to have the healthiest baby on the planet,” Colin said to Sylvie and she looked heavenward.

    A half hour later everyone had settled in and Sylvie asked Constance to tell them about the rest of the manuscript.

    “Yes!” Zella said, still glowing from knowing there would be a biological sibling for her in the next months. “What happened to the bad guys? We know Zella and Benjamin kept everyone in the house safe from them, but what became of them?”

    “Edgar died from heart failure, never knowing even one of his grandchildren. Before World War II, Franklin Winthrop was attending a demonstration of a new land mine for the military when it blew up and killed him.”

    “What about Sydney?” Zella asked. “He’s the one I hated the most.”

    “Well, Sydney ended up living a long life,” Constance said, and when Zella scowled she added, “but I wouldn’t call it an easy one. When he was still in his thirties he was drunk one evening as usual and fell down the stairs outside a building and broke his ankle. He couldn’t walk without crutches and was laid up in bed at a hotel. One night people in the nearby rooms heard horrendous commotion and the most terrible howls of pain from his room. When the hotel manager finally went in they found him on the bed, both his knee caps bloody and utterly destroyed. He never walked again and lived out the rest of his days in a wheelchair.”

    “He never hurt anybody again either, I’ll bet,” said Zella, satisfied. “Who did it? Did they ever find out?”
    Constance smiled. “All anyone saw was a maid leaving the room carrying a boar’s head cane. One man said the maid wore an eye patch with a flower stitched onto it.”

    Zella clapped her hands! “The Polish girl! She got him back!”

    “I’m sure she had a little help,” Constance said with a wink. “Benjamin was said to have taken the car into the city that night.” She sighed then. “What they gave to us, all of us, is so important. In spite of all she went through Zella Rose was still a good, generous, caring person. She knew nothing created more hope and faith in the future than always having a place to call home. By this gift of sharing, each generation has in its own time found a way to build families out of strangers. Just like we are tonight.”

    “A toast,” Clive James said, and everyone toasted with their cocoa or wine or as in Sylvie’s case, a V-8 procured for her by Leonard.

    When the glasses were lowered Zella looked at her mother and said, “If it’s okay with you, Mom, I want to go back to my original name. I want to be Zella.”

    Myrna smiled. “That’s fine, baby. It’s a beautiful name.”

    The End…? 🙂

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