Chapter Twenty One
They had no sooner returned from visiting Mary then someone knocked on the door, startling them. Glancing at the clock on her way to answer it, Angelia thought, It’s only three forty-five in the afternoon. I wonder who could be knocking at this time of the day. I hope it’s not one of the work crew.
Henry had paid the crews and sent them home around eleven that morning. The only workers left at the estate were Ben, Carl, Karr, and the Tomlyne’s. This, did not include the Crowley’s who at any given time had upwards of fifteen to twenty people living at the caretaker.s cottage.
Ben and Karr had been asked to wrap up any loose ends, and to help the Tomlyne’s move into the unfurnished cottage they’d chosen as their residence, while Caroline was at the manor house.
Carl had been responsible for the care, upkeep and handling of the Gilfords horses ever since his sixteenth birthday. He had applied for the job of junior apprentice, to help with the growing bills, acquired when his brother Ben had suddenly been stricken with polio.
He had love working with the horses and had taken great pride in his job. Carl had never once regretted his decision, and had dedicated his life to their care. Upon his return, he had moved into the cottage he’d lived in from the time he’d turned eighteen right up to the time of Caroline’s flight to Alaska.
“I sure hope that’s not the guys at the door wanting me to go somewhere with them, because they found more evidence, or something else connected to the girls’ disappearance,” said Henry, as Angelia opened the door.
“Caroline! What a wonderful surprise even though you are early!” said Angelia, happy to see her friend.
“Where do you want me to put the luggage?” asked the cabby as he struggled with a huge trunk.
“Here let me help you,” said Henry rushing to the mans aid.
“I’d sure appreciate it,” said the driver arching and stretching his back, as Henry grabbed one end of the trunk.
“These things must weigh a ton,” said Henry laughing. “What’d you do Caroline, pack them full of Alaskan rocks?”
“Thanks for the help,” said the cabbie, as they half carried, half dragged the trunk into the bedroom Caroline would be using while there. “When do you want the rest of the luggage delivered to, is it Gilfords Hall?” he asked.
“That’s right,” said Henry.
“Hotdog! The lady I just dropped off wouldn’t be Mrs. Caroline Gilfords now would it?” the cabbie asked Henry, as they strained to unload the last trunk from the cab and take it into the house.
“The one and only,” said Henry.
“Ma’am, I was just a young’un when you lived here,” he said to Caroline. “The whole town still reminisces about the huge barbeques you used to throw at the manor house on Founders day.
Why, I even ran the fences, checking them for defects and problems one summer,” he said laughing. “I recollect it as one of my best summers ever! Back then I thought I was grown, so they treated me like I was.”
“We’re all happy you’ve come home, ma’am. We surely are, the whole town is hoping you’ll be staying for good this time, it’s certainly been a real pleasure to meet you. Just give us a call and let us know when you want your things delivered and I’ll bring them right out,” he said, as he hurried down the porch steps to the large station wagon he used as a cab.
“I’ll bet you a nickel the whole town knows you’re here in fifteen minutes flat.” Angelia said as she shepherded everyone into the kitchen for a much-needed cup of coffee and a big slice of her special carrot banana cake.
“Okay. I’m here,” said Caroline as she held out her cup for more coffee, then plied her fork to gathering the last few crumbs from her plate to her mouth. What was so important that I had to drop everything and fly two thousand miles, to meet your mysterious house guests?” asked Caroline.
“When you answered the door, Henry said something about some children that disappeared. Has there been another kidnapping? Or did you think that if I came for a visit, I’d change my mind about selling this place. ” said Caroline.
Angelia gave a long sigh as she looked at Henry and Myrtle then back at Caroline. To say the least they were puzzled, confused and baffled by their friend’s belligerent attitude.
Henry shook his head sadly, then reached for the manila envelope lying on the table next to him.
He quickly ruffled through the contents, removed what appeared to be an old newspaper, and placed it on the table in front of Caroline.
Giving him a puzzled look, she slowly read the article.
“What does this runaway have to do with . . .
This article is about the girl and children that are living here, isn’t it? Are they the ones I let wear Maggie’s, Mary Sue’s, and little Randy’s clothing?
“If it was so important that I meet this person and her children, where are they? Why aren’t they here?” she said rubbing her head as if it pained her.
“Mary’s in the Gilfords hospital suite and the children are with Jackie and Rose-Marie, while Mary’s in the hospital,” said Myrtle firmly. “You weren’t informed, because we couldn’t reach you.”
“How dare she use the Gilfords Suite without my permission! I want her out of there this instant, do you understand me!” Caroline retorted slamming her fist angrily onto the table.
“Not so fast there Caroline,” said Henry. “Mary has every right to use that suite according to the contract terms and provisions written and signed by Cole Michael Gilfords himself, now! Do. You. Understand. Me?” Asked Henry.
Looking intensely at Caroline, he said, “Will you just look at their sketches and tell me if they resemble anyone you knew or know from your family.”
“Why the third-degree Henry?” she asked. “After living in Alaska for over twelve years, how could I possibly know these people? You’re acting as if this is a police investigation and I’m one of your suspects!” Snapped Caroline.
“Will you please just humor me?” asked Henry.
“No, Henry, I don’t know these people. I have never met these people. I’m beginning to think I don’t want to know these people!” she retorted.
“Well in that case, maybe this will change your mind.” said Angelia with a shrug, as she laid the tattered photo she held in her hand, on the table for Caroline to see.
Caroline gasped, reached for the photo, then clutched it so tightly to her breast that Henry and the ladies thought she'd surely pulverize it!
“Careful with that,” said Henry reaching out a tentative hand to take it gently from her trembling fingers. “That’s evidence in a kidnapping case I’m working on.”
“Where did you get this!” Caroline asked as tears streamed down her face and her throat ached so badly she could hardly speak.
Looking fondly at her old friend, Angelia said, “I found it the day after Mary and her children arrived. When Mary was told that Zachariah was hot on her trail, she fainted dead away. I believe it was then that she dropped the photo.”
I picked it up when Michael laid her on the daybed. We were discussing the blueprints for Mary’s garden, when I showed the photo to Ben, Henry and Myrtle. Myrtle had picked the photo up as Mary entered the kitchen. Snatching it from her, Mary said the photo was hers. That it was all she had of herself and her mother, that a man had given her the photo when she was a ten-year-old child. He had warned her that if she was ever caught with it in her possession, she would be arrested.”
“That anyone could be so malicious is just outrageous!” exclaimed Caroline, shaking her head in disgust. “Just who is she running from anyway?”
“His name is Snippet, Zachariah Snippet.” said Henry.
“This Snippet fellow is Mary’s husband, right? Why would she marry him, if he frightens her?” asked Caroline.
“Yes, he’s her husband. Why? Do you know him?” Asked Myrtle.
“Well,” said Caroline frowning, “I think I’ve heard that name within the last few months. Something Jedidiah said, like Zachariah or maybe Zachadiah had better find what he’d lost or else he’d wish he’d never lost it, and something about them being brainless idiots.
But then he could’ve been ranting about something that happened years ago or yesterday, for all I know. I learned a long time ago not to ask questions or become mixed up in his business!”
Confused and exhausted from the flight, she knew she wasn’t making any sense. Knew her confusion was from the medication. Knew she was too frightened of Jedidiah not to take it. Knew it made her paranoid, headachy, and very uncomfortable.
In her confused state of mind, she could hardly process the information running amok through her mind. If she thought about it, most of her questions would have no possible answers anyway.
She was terrified of the hope that had suddenly swelled in her breast. Terrified she’d finally get her answers, only to find, she was dreaming, the same dream, she’d been dreaming for years!
“Do you realize what this means, Caroline,” asked Myrtle, softly.
“I think so,” said Caroline as she forced her scattered thoughts back to the present.
“This is a sketch of Zachariah Snippet; does he look familiar?” Henry asked, handing her the sketch.
Caroline looked hard at the newspaper article, “I don’t know his face is just too vague for these old eyes to see clearly, let alone identify!” said Caroline shaking her head.
“Why don’t you ask this person where she was and who took her? How do I know she’s not scamming us to get her hands on my Granddaughter’s inheritance? She could’ve read about the kidnapping and found or duplicated the photo.”
“We have asked her,” said Angelia, amazed that Caroline would think Mary and the children were anyone other than who they claimed to be. After all, as far as Angelia knew, they hadn’t claimed to be anyone, yet!
“Mary told me her first memories of that horrible place were of waking up with a terrible headache. She thinks she was about five at the time. She said, when she first arrived, she’d dreamt of parties and a beautiful park where all her friends and she would play.”
“When I asked her if she remembered her friend’s names, she said no, that every time she tried to remember them or before, the headaches would return. She then said that she’d tried not to think about her earlier life, so she could concentrate on her terrifying new one.”
“When asked why she hadn’t escape sooner, she had told them that It wasn’t that easy to leave, and that it had taken her years to save the money for the bus tickets. That all residents of the commune were practically slaves as well as prisoners.”
“She also said that the only other time anyone had escaped, they had been caught and punished. That everyone from newborn to the eldest had been forced to watch as the escapee, her three-month-old baby girl and her two-year-old son, were tortured, beaten and murdered. Zachariah had said it was a warning, to anyone that was stupid enough to think they could escape him, and get away with it.”
Mary had then kind of shuddered and said, “no one has ever made it out of there alive. That’s why I have to find my home and family, before Zachariah and his henchmen find us!”
Caroline gasped, what a horrible place that must have been for anyone living there, if only half of what she told you was true!”
“Henry, I must see her. I have to know if she’s my Mary!” said Caroline, jumping up so fast that her chair crashed to the floor.
“Wait a minute,” said Henry, “you can’t just charge head long into Mary’s room. Must I remind you that her return has reopened the kidnapping case? Her whereabouts must be kept confidential. Don’t forget her so-called husband and his goons are still out there looking for her and the children!” he said.
“Why should that stop me from seeing her, or notifying Jedidiah that she’s been found. I certainly see no reason to keep this information from him, after all, he’s still working on the case,” she said.
“Jedidiah’s the last person I'd want informed of her return!” roared Henry. “That man’s been robbing you blind for years. That sorry excuse for a man has never, to my knowledge, found even one little, itty-bitty, single, solitary clue, as to their whereabouts! I’ll bet the Deli he was in on their disappearance, or else he found them and never told you, because he didn’t want the gravy train to end! Do I make myself perfectly clear?” Henry asked.
“You!” said Caroline, giving Henry an icy stare, “Certainly have made yourself and your feelings perfectly clear. Now let me tell you something Mister,” she retorted, angrily shaking her finger under his nose. “Why wouldn’t I trust him? Once Jedidiah and I are married, my future will be in his hands anyway!”
“Tell me, where’s the proof connecting Jedidiah to the kidnapping or the whereabouts of the missing children! I’m betting you don’t have any new information either, and you haven’t had any in years.”
Unless you’ve recently uncovered some new evidence that no one else has, I most certainly will tell him. As for your little or no faith in Jedidiah, I know he’s still searching for her. Just the other day he told me he had received vital information concerning her disappearance and that approximately nine-ten months ago he’d hired more people to help with the search.”
Listening in silence to Caroline’s little tirade, they no longer wondered where Zachariah and his buddies were. They were almost certain they’d fled to Alaska, to help Jedidiah plan his next move.
They also knew something Caroline didn’t. Mary had fled with her children approximately nine months ago, and according to Caroline, Jedidiah had received his information around the same time that she had escaped.
What they couldn’t figure out though, was the connection between Zachariah, his cronies and Jedidiah. What Angelia did know was that she must find a way to pacify Caroline, therefore buying them a little time.
“Do you hear yourself Caroline? You should be thrilled that your granddaughter and her children are safe. Yet you’re giving us the impression, that you could care less, if indeed you care at all!”
“I can’t believe you’d give Jedidiah first priority over your own granddaughter and the safety of her children,” Angelia said softly. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Why would you do such-a-thing? Do you remember our talks this past spring? You were heartsick because there had been no word of their whereabouts in years. Why, you were practically in mourning, what was it you said? What do I have to live for? Who will carry on the Gilfords name! What will I do with all my money?”
“Have you already thrown in the towel and written Jedidiah into your will, leaving everything to him? Is he pressuring you into marrying him, so he will be appointed your beneficiary, instead of Mary and her heirs? Is he playing beat the clock, before Mary is found? If that’s the case then he’s already ran out of luck and time, because they have been found. Why the rush?”
“Tell me, Caroline, what gives? Has he already convinced you that they are gone? Did he tell you that a world of tears would not bring them back? Well guess what, Caroline she’s back,” said Angelia, “And she brought your great grandchildren with her!”
“Don’t you think for one minute that we wouldn’t give our right arm to keep them safe? Oh, how I wish Mary was Karen’s child and the children were my great grandchildren. I can guarantee you, if they were Henry and Myrtle’s Martha and her children, they’d do everything humanly possible to keep them safe! Even after the lowlife scum responsible for their disappearance, were not only in jail, but buried under it as well!”
“So, I’m asking. What gives Caroline? You told me you were practically counting the days until you got here. What was it you said? You didn’t want me having all the fun on this adventure. That is what you said, isn’t it?” asked Angelia, looking her old friend straight in the eye.
“Now when you think about it, Henrys right. Why put Mary and her children in danger by telling anyone they’ve been found, and wham they disappear again. Mary told me that no one had ever escaped Zachariah and lived to tell about it. What harm will it do to wait a couple of days to tell Jedidiah, if you still want to by then?”
Caroline looked deep into her best friend and companions eyes. She had sorely missed Angelia and her no nonsense way of thinking. To be perfectly honest, she didn’t know why she was being so obstinate. She’d have to remember to ask Michael what was in the pills Jedidiah had been forcing her to take, until then promise or no promise, she was determined to skip the medication.
“My dear, dear friend you’re absolutely right. It’s just that it’s been such a long tiring day,” she said, by way of an apology. “My head is pounding and I’m tired from the flight. I feel like I hadn’t slept in days, I’m hungry and anxious about meeting Mary and the children.”
“Jedidiah keeps pressuring me to set a wedding date and became furious when told that I needed a break so I could think with a clear head. He inferred that he would sue me for breach of promise, if I changed my mind and didn’t marry him.”
“When I asked why the hurry, he glared at me and said he was tired of waiting for what should have been, his, a long time ago, and that his patience was wearing thin. He then mumbled something sounding like, you’d better make up your mind you old battle-ax, or you won’t like the consequences. But when I asked him to repeat what he’d just said, he angrily denied saying anything.”
“He even accused me of wanting to sneak off for one last fling before setting a date. Can you imagine me having an affair at my age! He was in such a snit he stormed out of the house after refusing to take me to the airport.”
“Wasn’t he with you when you made your reservations?” Asked Myrtle.
Caroline laughed, “He was hoping to find out where I was headed, so I made reservations for Montreal, because everyone was expecting a nor’easter to hit Canada at anytime.”
“Now, is there any wonder I’m in such an outrageously wretched, fed up to here, starved to death, atrocious mood,” she said conciliatorily.
“Okay, okay, we get the point,” said Angelia laughing.
“Anyway, something delicious is in the oven or else I’m dreaming, I’m hoping its supper.” Caroline said sniffing the air. “Why Angelia Marie Hadley, is that your famous corned beef and cabbage with rutabagas, turnips, carrots, onions and potatoes roasting in the oven?” she asked licking her lips in anticipation.
“Correct,” said Angelia. Glancing at the clock, she was surprised to see that it was already seven thirty. “Supper will be on the table in ten minutes, if you would like to freshen up first.”
“That sounds wonderful,” said Caroline as she vacated the kitchen and headed for the bathroom.
“That was one of the best meals I’ve eaten since you fixed me your delicious crab and cheddar stuffed manicotti,” said Caroline, pushing aside the empty bowl that had contained a healthy serving of bread pudding ’n whipped cream, to make room for the cup of coffee that Myrtle had set in front of her.