Dinner and a Murder
The romance between Evan McCormick and Roxanne Keeler began with a mutual interest in murder. Evan, an accountant for a nationally known tax firm, and Roxanne, a claims examiner for a health insurance company, had jobs that could hardly be described as exciting or intellectually stimulating. Unfortunately, their personal lives were not much more interesting, which was why they both loved reading murder mysteries. Given their taste in literature, it's no surprise that the couple first met at The Quill and Dagger, a bookstore specializing in who-done-its. Evan had been examining a collection of works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when Roxanne quite literally ran into him.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, dropping her stack of paperbacks on the floor.
Evan helped her retrieve the books, giving her his opinion of each one as he did. Roxanne, a rather shy, somewhat plain girl, had never dated much. Evan, who had a rather unpleasant relationship a few years earlier, had given up on dating. While he wasn't searching for any romantic entanglements, he saw no harm in having a cup of coffee with a fellow bookworm. Over cappuccinos at The Quill and Dagger's coffee bar, the two young readers discussed their favorite authors. Evan enjoyed Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker and James Patterson, while Roxanne doted on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and Patricia Cornwell. They also engaged in a friendly debate over which actor best portrayed Hercule Poirot: Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Tony Randall or David Suchet.
In the months following that meeting, the future Mr. and Mrs. McCormick did little but exchange books and share coffees at The Quill and Dagger. Then in December Evan needed a date for his company Christmas party. Who better to ask than his friend, Roxanne? For such a special occasion, she replaced her glasses with contacts and had her hair cut, lightened and styled. When Evan arrived at her apartment to pick her up, he barely recognized her. The physical attraction that had lain dormant for so long erupted, and to the bachelor's surprise, the young woman returned his affections.
Once they were married, Evan and Roxanne's life together was not much different from the lives they had led separately. They still worked at the same dull jobs, and their favorite form of entertainment was still a good mystery book. Such a lifestyle might seem boring to a great many people, but it was one both Evan and Roxanne preferred.
Four years went by without a vacation or even a honeymoon. Then one day Roxanne was thumbing through a travel magazine while waiting in her optometrist's reception area. Bored, she started reading an article on unusual getaways for two. She was not impressed with the couples-only resorts offering such amenities as heart-shaped beds, private swimming pools or champagne glass bathtubs. As she read on, however, one particular listing did catch her attention. She and Evan had often discussed attending an audience-participation dinner mystery theater. It was one of those things they had planned on doing for some time but never quite got around to actually doing. The bed and breakfast named in the article offered not just a single evening's entertainment, but an entire weekend of mystery. Intrigued, Roxanne ripped the page out of the magazine, and when she returned to her office later that afternoon, she called for further information.
That night she asked Evan when it would be convenient from him to take a Friday off from work.
"Why?" he asked. It was most unlike him to take a day off.
"I was planning a little weekend for two in Pennsylvania."
"What's in Pennsylvania that we'd want to spend an entire weekend there?"
"How about the Cuthbert Fielding mansion?"
"Oh? Were you planning on going house-hunting?" he laughed.
"No. I want to go sleuthing. You know how we've always talked about going to a dinner mystery theater?"
"They do have them here in Massachusetts, honey. We don't have to go all the way to Pennsylvania."
"This isn't your run-of-the-mill dinner mystery. The Cuthbert Fielding house is the Victorian home of...."
"Let me guess. Cuthbert Fielding?"
"Right. Son of Horatio Fielding, the railroad tycoon. The mansion is an immense building...."
"Which is only natural," Evan broke in. "After all, it is a mansion."
"If I may continue? During the Depression, the mansion was abandoned. It became a huge white elephant, and not a real estate agent in Pennsylvania could unload it."
"Someone eventually bought it and turned it into a bed and breakfast, but it barely broke even. Then a subsequent owner had the brilliant idea to create a Murder Mansion. Every weekend twelve different couples meet there, and each person is assigned a fictitious identity, a role they are to play during the weekend. On midnight Saturday, the murderer is revealed."
"Sounds like fun," he conceded. "How much does such a weekend cost?"
Leave it to Evan to ask about the price, Roxanne thought. "It's not that expensive. The rates vary between $525 and $650 per couple."
"What?" Evan said, his voice raising several decibels. "For only two nights?"
"The price includes two breakfasts and one dinner, not to mention a murder."
"At those prices I'm not surprised there's a murder."
"Come on, Evan," Roxanne whined. "We never even went on a honeymoon!"
"You didn't want to, remember?"
"But now I do."
"Four and a half years after we got married?" Evan took one look at Roxanne's face and stopped teasing her. "Okay, honey. You go ahead and make the reservations."
* * *
The trip from Puritan Falls to Pennsylvania was, thanks to the interstate highway system, only a five-hour drive. But check-in at the Murder Mansion was between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m., so Evan and Roxanne took their time. Along the way, they stopped at an outlet mall to do some shopping.
"While we're here, we should pick up a few things we might need for the weekend." Evan suggested as he got out of the car.
"Like what?" Roxanne countered. She had packed both their bags and was certain she hadn't forgotten anything. "I brought deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash...."
"But you're forgetting the most important things," he joked. "Fingerprint dust, Luminol, a portable polygraph machine...."
Roxanne elbowed her husband in the ribs. "Knock it off. A good detective relies on only one thing: the little gray cells," she said in a bad imitation of a French accent.
"That was a terrible Hercule Poirot. Finney and Ustinov--hell, even Tony Randall--did a more credible job. But add a few gray hairs and perhaps you could pass for Miss Marple."
The afternoon went by pleasantly. Both Evan and Roxanne were in high spirits. At 4:10 they left the mall and headed west, arriving at the Cuthbert Fielding Mansion at 5:35. After checking in, they were led upstairs to a large bedroom, decorated in period décor. Roxanne unpacked their clothing and personal items while Evan gave the rooms a quick but thorough inspection. He opened all the drawers in the dresser and nightstand and went through the vanity in the bathroom.
"Looking for clues already?" Roxanne asked.
"No, just freebies: post cards, stationary, shampoo, those little bars of soap. Although at $595 a weekend, we should get salon quality toiletries."
At 6:45 they entered the Murder Mansion's formal dining room, where a pretty young woman dressed as a Victorian maid welcomed them and gave them each a glass of wine. As Roxanne met and greeted the other guests, she noticed that her husband was unusually quiet. He had been joking nonstop since they left Massachusetts early that morning. Why this sudden change in mood? she wondered.
"Are you feeling okay, darling?" Roxanne asked.
"What?" Evan replied distractedly. "Oh, I'm fine. Just a bit tired from the long drive, that's all."
Once the guests were assembled, a man in Victorian butler attire invited them into the drawing room. As they exited the dining room into the hall, Roxanne spotted a stunningly beautiful woman with fiery red hair, staring at Evan.
"You seem to have an admirer. Do you know her?" she asked him.
"No. I've never seen her before in my life," he insisted.
Evan, however, was not a very good liar. Could the redhead have been an old girlfriend? If so, why not admit it? Roxanne was not the jealous type.
When they entered the drawing room, several guests took seats on the sofas, settees and armchairs, while others preferred to stand. The redheaded woman was not among either of these groups. Perhaps she was an employee.
The butler passed a sealed envelope to each of the twenty-four guests, and in a clipped British accent announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, for the next twenty-four hours, I ask that you leave behind the twenty-first century and enter the world of nineteenth century wealth and privilege. Inside your envelope you will find the identity you are to assume for the weekend. One of you, naturally, will be the murderer. He or she will be given the details of the crime, the motive, a reasonable alibi, and so forth. In order to provide the most enjoyable time for all, we ask that the murderer keep the crime a secret, even from his or her partner."
Roxanne smiled lovingly at Evan, but he was too distracted to notice.
"We shall all meet again at eight tomorrow morning for breakfast," the butler continued. "Afterward, I shall give you a tour of the mansion. At the conclusion of the tour you'll be free to walk about the place, look for clues and interview your fellow guests. For the remainder of this evening, however, you may relax, retire to your rooms or, for those of you who enjoy the nightlife, our staff can recommend a number of good spots here in town. Until tomorrow morning then, I bid you all goodnight."
Roxanne was somewhat tired from the long trip and wanted to take a hot bath and relax.
"You know," she commented as she and Evan headed upstairs to their room, "I'm not sure whether it would be more fun to be the killer or to be one of the detectives."
Evan shrugged. He didn't seem to be paying attention to a word she said.
"What's wrong, honey? You've been acting strange all evening."
"I've got a splitting headache. I think I'll take a couple of aspirins and go to bed."
When she got to their room, Roxanne took her envelope into the bathroom and read its contents while she waited for the old claw foot bathtub to fill. The instructions said, in short, that she was to be Miss Cordelia Worthington, granddaughter of Cuthbert Fielding.
"Cordelia, a young debutante from New York," she read, "is visiting her grandparents for the weekend. Accompanying Miss Worthington is her fiancé, Thaddeus P. Schuyler, a Harvard law student and son of a wealthy Boston shipbuilder."
A rich socialite? What a far cry from her true identity, Roxanne thought with amusement.
* * *
The McCormicks woke at 7:30 the following morning, and Roxanne rushed to get ready by 8:00. At 8:05, she and Evan headed back down to the dining room.
"Well?" she asked her husband.
"Well what?" he asked.
"Who are you supposed to be this weekend? What's your nom de guerre?"
"Oh. Some character from Harvard named Spencer or Schooner--something like that."
"Schuyler? Thaddeus P. Schuyler of Boston?"
"That's sounds like it."
"I'm Cordelia, your fiancée."
As they entered the dining room, Roxanne saw Evan's eyes nervously darting around the room.
"Are you expecting someone?"
"No. I was, uh, just looking to see if anyone looked guilty."
Evan seemed to relax somewhat during breakfast, perhaps because the beautiful redhead was nowhere in sight. He even joined in the conversation of the guests sitting near him at the table. At 9:00 a.m. the butler returned and once again invited the guests to join him in the drawing room.
"I assume, that you are all familiar with the roles you are to play," he said, once the group was assembled. "Prudence, one of the Fielding maids, is going to give each of you a nametag. I ask that you wear it until the culprit is unmasked at midnight tonight."
A smiling young woman gave Roxanne, an adhesive-backed nametag identifying her as Cordelia Worthington.
"Now," the butler continued. "The date is September 1, 1874. Cuthbert and Emmaline Fielding are entertaining a number of guests. Among them are Thornton Fielding, Cuthbert's younger brother; Thornton's wife, Daisy, a former dance hall girl; Jasper Buchanan, Fielding's business partner; Cordelia Worthington, Cuthbert's granddaughter; her fiancé, Thaddeus Schuyler; Dr. Lucas VanGilder, Cuthbert's oldest friend and personal physician; Miss Lucinda Fielding, Cuthbert's elderly, reclusive sister; Mark Lester, a former newspaperman who plans to write a book on the Fielding family; Julian and Laura Mae Fielding, Cuthbert's nephew and niece; and the Ackermans, the Thornes and Senator and Mrs. Sebastian, all close friends and neighbors of the Fieldings. Also present for the weekend are Emmaline's personal maid, Cuthbert's valet, the cook, Cuthbert's secretary and a young singer and her pianist, who were hired to provide entertainment for the ball."
As the butler enumerated each of the fictitious characters, he pointed out the guest who was to portray that person for the day.
"Next, I want to take you on a brief tour of the Cuthbert Fielding house or, as it has come to be known, the Murder Mansion. Along the way, I'll tell you about the young maid who was found murdered here. Please pay careful attention to what I say, just in case I might provide a clue or two to the discovery of her killer."
The tour took close to forty minutes. At the end of it, the butler encouraged the guests to split up, look for clues, and mingle. "Be nosey; ask questions. It's the only way you'll ever uncover the culprit."
Roxanne took a three-by-five pad and ballpoint pen from out of her pocket. She hastily scribbled down as many of the butler's comments as she could remember and made a list of the twenty-three possible suspects, hoping to narrow that list considerably during the following hours. Roxanne then turned to her husband. "If the victim was a young maid in the Fielding mansion," she reasoned, "I can eliminate you from the list of suspects. The maid would be a complete stranger to a Boston-born law student."
With paper and pen in hand, Roxanne was ready to detect. But first she leaned over, kissed Evan on the cheek and wished him luck. "See you later. I'm off in search of the murderer."
Roxanne didn't have the chance to speak to her husband again until noon, when a light luncheon was served in the dining room.
"Isn't this fun?" she asked gaily. "I've managed to eliminate nearly half the guests, and we've still got twelve hours of detecting left." Evan muttered something under his breath and took a bite of his sandwich. "Aren't you having a good time?"
"Frankly, no. I feel stupid making up answers to all the ridiculous questions people keep asking me."
Roxanne assumed that Evan's lack of enthusiasm was indicative of his lack of success in uncovering vital clues. If he were making any progress, he'd no doubt be as excited as she was. Well, if Evan wanted to behave like a sore loser, let him; she was determined to enjoy herself this weekend.
After lunch, Roxanne went off to talk to the gay couple who were playing the roles of Jasper Buchanan and Dr. Lucas VanGilder.
At 4:15 the young maid named Prudence tapped her on the shoulder. "Excuse me, Miss Cordelia," she said, curtseying, "I've laid your ball gown out on your bed."
"Your gown for the ball tonight. I've laid it on the bed in your room. Your grandfather expects everyone to be properly attired for the occasion."
"Thank you," Roxanne said uncertainly.
Was there really a gown on her bed? Were they all to be dressed in costume for the evening's ball? Perhaps that was why the rates were so high. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she slipped out of the room and headed upstairs. When Roxanne opened the door to her room, she was startled to discover another young maid leaning over the bed, carefully straightening out a Victorian styled man's suit. The maid rose and turned. It was the redhead Roxanne had seen after dinner the evening before, the one who had been staring at Evan.
"Thank you," Roxanne said as the maid curtsied and headed toward the door. "I'm not so sure I can get into these clothes," she laughed, looking dubiously at the whalebone corset, voluminous petticoats and unfamiliar Victorian undergarments.
"I don't think you'll have too much trouble, miss, but if you do, just ring for Prudence."
"Thank you...." Roxanne looked at the maid's uniform, but there was no nametag.
"Maggie. Maggie O'Leary," the woman said and then turned and left the room.
Maggie O'Leary? Roxanne thought. That's the name of the maid who was supposedly murdered. Was she supposed to question the victim?
"Wait!" Roxanne called as she exited the bedroom, but there was no sign of Maggie in the hall.
* * *
At 7:30 Roxanne McCormick descended the stairs dressed in her Victorian finest. Once she became accustomed to the tightness of the corset, she luxuriated in the richness of the fabric. Dressed as she was, she could almost imagine herself the granddaughter of a wealthy robber baron.
The doors to the grand ballroom were open, and the strains of a Strauss waltz filled the air. Evan stood alone in a corner, moodily staring at the drink in his hand. Roxanne couldn't understand his behavior. Things had started out on such a good note. What could have gone wrong?
After stopping to chat with the elderly couple that was portraying Cuthbert and Emmaline Fielding, her fictitious grandparents, Roxanne made her way toward her husband.
"There you are, Thaddeus. Have you met my grandparents' other guests, yet?"
"Cut it out, will you?" he snapped.
Several guests standing nearby shot a furtive look in their direction.
"What's wrong with you?" Roxanne asked angrily under her breath.
"I want to leave," Evan replied in a much lower voice, so as not to be overheard again. "I don't know why I let you talk me into this ridiculous game."
"And I don't know why I wanted you to come along in the first place!" Roxanne cried, and in true debutante fashion she gathered her gown in her hands and stormed out of the room.
As she neared the French doors leading out to the veranda, Roxanne once again encountered the mysterious redheaded maid, Maggie O'Leary.
"Hello, Maggie," she said, her good humor returning despite the argument with her husband. "You know, for a corpse you look pretty good."
Maggie stared at Roxanne, her green eyes wide and confused.
"You are playing the role of the victim, aren't you?"
"Role? I don't quite know what you're talking about, miss."
"I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't speak out of character. If my grandparents should ask for me, just tell them I stepped outside for some fresh air."
It was quiet outside and a bit chilly, but it felt good to breathe in the clean, country air. There had been a faint odor about the interior of the Cuthbert Fielding mansion: a moldy, musty smell, an odor that reminded her of age and decay. As she stood on the balcony, overlooking the majestic mountains that surrounded the tiny Pennsylvania town, Roxanne heard raised voices coming from the hallway inside. She quietly tiptoed toward the door.
"Go away!" a man's voice screamed. "Damn you! Why don't you go back to the hell where you came from?"
Roxanne recognized the voice: it was Evan's. Although she didn't recognize the harsh feminine laughter that followed, she assumed it was Maggie O'Leary's.
* * *
Roxanne returned to the ball, smiling with pride and satisfaction. She walked about the room, stopping to chat with each of her grandparents' guests. Her behavior was like that of Scarlett O'Hara at the Wilkses' barbecue at Twelve Oaks as she shamelessly flirting with the male guests.
Dinner was served promptly at 8:30. Cordelia was seated between Daisy Fielding and Mark Lester and across from Senator Sebastian. Thaddeus Schuyler, still brooding, sat at the other end of the table. As dessert was being served, Evan glanced in his wife's direction. She raised her champagne glass to him and nodded her head as if toasting or congratulating him for a job well done. Women! he thought. Would he ever understand them?
After dinner, Cordelia rose slowly from her chair. The stays on her corset, though not tied too tightly, seemed to be cutting her in half after the delicious meal she had consumed. She did not suffer alone; the other guests also seemed to be feeling the constriction of their garments. More than a few of them were wishing the evening was at an end, so that they could retire to the comfort of their rooms and their loosely fitting nightclothes. Roxanne, however, was having the time of her life, even more so since she had deduced the identity of the killer.
Shortly before ten, the guests made their way back to the ballroom. Music again emanated from the stereo speakers discretely hidden behind a pair of velvet drapes. Cordelia was the belle of the ball. She danced with her grandfather, Dr. VanGilder, her uncle Julian, her great uncle Thornton, Jasper Buchanan, Mark Lester, Mr. Ackerman, Mr. Thorne and Senator Sebastian. Finally, as the evening drew to a close, she approached a pale and somber Thaddeus Schuyler and asked him to dance.
"I don't know how to dance," Evan mumbled.
"Neither do most of these men, or hadn't you noticed? Just put your arm on my hip and take my hand in yours like this. Now, move in a circular motion like so."
What Evan lacked in training, he made up for in a natural sense of rhythm. He was easily the best dancer at the ball, even though his demeanor hadn't changed. He still looked like the worst side of a bad day.
"I've got to hand it to you," Roxanne whispered in his ear. "I never knew you had it in you."
"Any fool can move around in a circle," he said moodily.
"I'm not referring to your dancing talent, although it is quite good. I'm talking about your skill as an actor. You're giving a performance worthy of Sir Anthony Hopkins."
"What the devil are you talking about now?"
"I'm talking about you and her--Maggie O'Leary."
Evan abruptly stopped dancing. Face ashen, he stared at his wife in horror.
The music stopped, and the butler entered the room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's now midnight. The lovely Prudence is going to pass out a card to each of you. Kindly write the name of the person you think is the murderer on the card and sign your name below. Prudence will then collect the cards, and I will see who, if anyone, has uncovered the guilty party."
Roxanne smiled. She took the pencil and boldly printed across the card, in capital letters: THADDEUS P. SCHUYLER. Below that she signed her real name, Roxanne McCormick. Smiling with confidence, she handed the card to Prudence. The butler opened and read each response without comment.
Finally, he turned to Roxanne and asked, "What possible motive do you think Mr. Schuyler had for murdering your grandparents' maid?"
"I'm not positive, mind you," Roxanne said, blushing with excitement at the thought of being the winner, "but I imagine this maid must have known something about him that he did not want made public knowledge. We know Schuyler is from a prominent Boston family and that he is to marry a wealthy, highly respected member of New York society. Yet we know nothing of the maid, who might have come to Pennsylvania by way of Boston. She might have tried to blackmail the young man, or perhaps she...."
Roxanne's theory was interrupted by the arrival of Maggie O'Leary. Both Roxanne and Evan let out a gasp of horror at the sight of her. No Hollywood makeup artist or special effects genius could have created a more life-like corpse. Maggie's flaming red hair was gone; nothing remained on her head but blackened, blistered flesh. Her once beautiful face was charred, and patches of burned skin hung down like Spanish moss, exposing the bone beneath. Roxanne turned away, unable to bear the gruesome sight. It was then that she noticed that the butler and other guests stood completely still, frozen in time, as lifeless as department store mannequins.
"Evan!" Roxanne screamed, as she and her husband were plummeted into darkness.
Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room. The grand ballroom, with its music, lights and magnificent antiques, was gone. The once elegant wallpaper was dirty, faded and torn. The hardwood floor was pitted and dull. It was immediately apparent to Roxanne that the old, musty room had seen neither life nor fresh air for many years. Once again, she and Evan were dressed in the jeans and pullovers they had donned that morning. There was no sign of the elegant Victorian clothing they had just been wearing.
Roxanne grabbed one of the candles and carefully made her way through the dark, deserted hallway and up the ramshackle staircase. The Cuthbert Fielding mansion that had seemed so exquisite only minutes before had deteriorated to a ruin, a ghost of its former self.
Upstairs, the McCormick's overnight bags were standing in the hallway outside the door to their room. Roxanne stepped over them and opened the door. The bedroom, like the ballroom downstairs, was empty of furniture. Its floors and walls bore the ravages of time. The windows had been shattered, and shards of glass littered the floor.
Roxanne closed the door, picked up the suitcases and headed downstairs toward the main entrance. "Come on, Evan," she called. "Let's get out of here."
Like a zombie, Evan silently followed his wife toward the front door.
"Give me your keys," Roxanne commanded. "You're not in any condition to drive."
The fresh, cold mountain air was a welcome relief from the nauseating smell inside the mansion. It had a remarkable effect on Evan, who finally emerged from his trance-like state.
"Rox," he groaned, almost choking on the single syllable.
"What is it?"
"I have to talk to you," he said as he pulled her toward the car. "Let's go someplace, anyplace but here."
"What about the diner in town? We can talk over a cup of coffee."
"No. There are people there. What I have to tell you I must say in private."
Roxanne drove about five miles to a post office parking lot, which was deserted at that late hour. She pulled over and turned off the car's engine.
Evan stared out the passenger side window, unable to face her. "Do you remember when I told you that I was involved with a woman a few years ago?"
"Yes. You said that it ended badly. That was the reason you weren't anxious to jump into another relationship. I didn't ask you for any details because I got the distinct impression that it was a painful memory for you."
"It was more than that. It was a nightmare!" His voice caught in his throat. He was silent for several minutes before he continued. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but I thought it was love at first sight. She was so beautiful, the most beautiful woman I had ever known. But it wasn't love; it was more of an obsession."
"Did she return your love?" Roxanne asked, fighting down an uneasy feeling that was creeping to the surface.
"I thought she did." Evan's voice turned harsh, his bitterness painfully apparent. "Then I learned she wasn't capable of loving anyone except herself."
"What happened? Did she run out on you?"
"No. I asked her to move in with me and she did. Boy did she ever! She took over my place as if it were her own. I couldn't make the money as fast as she could spend it. I was sinking into debt, so I got a second job. Big mistake! She had my place, my money and a lot of free time on her hands."
"Was there another man?" Roxanne asked.
"More than one. Yet even that didn't break her hold on me. It was a classic case of 'can't live with her and can't live without her.'"
"What happened then?"
"She began treating me like dirt, flaunting her many affairs--really rubbing my nose in it. She took exquisite joy in humiliating me in front of my friends, my family, and even my boss and co-workers. I sometimes wonder if she was testing me to see how far she could push before I'd finally break."
"Did you break? Did you finally have enough and leave her?" Roxanne's apprehension was growing.
"I couldn't! I desperately wanted her out of my life, yet I was obsessed with her. It all came to a head when she told me she was pregnant."
Roxanne's stomach lurched. "Was it yours?" "Who knows? I doubt she even knew herself. But she told me I would have to marry her and give the child a name, and, of course, I was to pay her medical bills and continue to support her and the baby."
"And what if you didn't?"
"She said she'd leave me, that I'd never see her again. I couldn't allow that to happen, so I agreed to marry her. We were driving back from the ceremony when she began laughing hysterically. 'You pathetic fool!' she said. 'You really thought I was careless or stupid enough to allow myself to get pregnant?'"
"You mean she wasn't?"
"No. She lied, knowing full well I'd marry her. The funny thing is that I wanted to marry her all along. She was the one who didn't want to commit."
"Then why the whole pregnancy charade?"
"I think because it gave her the upper hand. If she had said yes to my proposals, she would be giving in to me, but by claiming she was pregnant and threatening to leave, she was the one calling the shots. I know it sounds warped, but that was the way she was."
"So you married her and then found out she had lied to you? You could easily have gotten an annulment you know."
"I told you, I didn't want to lose her. I could never have gone on living knowing she had left me and run to the arms of another man."
Roxanne was exasperated. "Still, something must have happened to break you two up."
"We started arguing there in the car. I was madder than I'd ever been in my life, and I said some pretty vile things to her."
"Which were obviously warranted."
"She didn't think so. She came after me, screaming obscenities. When she tried to dig her nails into my face, I lost control of the car and ran off the road into a tree."
"I must have passed out momentarily. When I came to, flames and smoke were coming from the engine compartment. I managed to get out of the car and go around to the passenger side. At first I thought she was dead, but then she picked her head up from the dashboard. She reached for the passenger door, but it was jammed. Panic set in, and she pounded against the window, screaming for me to help her. I froze. All I could think was that if she died I'd be free of her once and for all."
"Oh, Evan," Roxanne moaned, reaching out to comfort her husband.
He stopped staring through the window into the past and turned to his wife. "I just stood there, struggling with my conscience. She had caused the accident, and God or fate had made her car door jam. The law could never hold me guilty of her death. Yet how could I live with myself if I failed to rescue her? Before I could find the answer to my dilemma, an explosion rocked the ground. I was thrown back, and the car was engulfed in flames. The heat was so intense I couldn't get near the door. In a matter of minutes she burned to death. I've lived with my indecision all these years," he sobbed, breaking down in his wife's arms.
"Shhh, darling," she said. "Don't torture yourself. You're a good man. I know if you had more time, you'd have done the right thing."
"But I didn't, and as a result Maggie is dead."
An icy chill shot up Roxanne's spine. "Maggie?" "Yes, Maggie O'Leary, that beautiful redhead who was posing as a maid this weekend. She's come back to haunt me, to accuse me of her murder."
"You didn't murder her, Evan. Do you hear me? You'd never murder anyone. Look, I don't know what happened to us in that old place or who was behind this foray into the supernatural, but it's over now. Let's not try to understand it. Let's just forget it ever happened."
"That's fine with me," Evan agreed. "I just want to go back to Puritan Falls and get on with our lives."
After offering several more words of comfort and consolation, Roxanne started the car and drove off down the road toward home, toward sanity, toward reality. Neither she nor Evan, however, noticed the red-haired apparition peering out of the darkness at them.
"So you think you're rid of me?" Maggie laughed, already planning the next move in her vengeful game of cat and mouse. "Sorry, Evan darling, but the fun has only just begun."
This story was inspired by the Harry Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania (the model for Disney World's Haunted Mansion), which hosts a weekend-long murder mystery event.
Salem loves to go out for dinner, just as long as someone else picks up the tab!