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The Ghost of Ransom Creek

By Jestress

Mystery / Romance

The Real Traitor

It didn’t take Amanda long to pack her things, and she hadn’t expected it to. She mostly wanted a chance to think by herself. Georgia Eastman and Victoria Sanders, the two prime suspects. Of the two, Amanda most suspected Victoria. Georgia was in love with Romano. Amanda was convinced of that, and she didn’t think that Georgia would attack him, even if she had been the leak, which Amanda was convinced that she wasn’t. The leak would have to have been someone who didn’t care whether the men involved in the mission were killed or not, and Georgia did care about Romano. It didn’t seem likely that she would take that kind of chance with his life.

Then again, Victoria had been in love with Chris Bennett. At least, everyone said she was, and she got upset whenever anyone talked about him. Why would she endanger his life? Victoria was quiet and shy, but that just made her motives harder to understand. Maybe her suspicions were way off base, but Amanda had to satisfy herself by talking to Victoria. There wasn’t much time left to do that.

Amanda left her room and went across the hall to Victoria’s. There were guards standing outside of her room, as there were outside of Georgia’s, but they let Amanda through to talk to her.

“Mrs. King?” Victoria was surprised to see her. It was the first time she’d ever called her by name. Or anything, actually.

“I just came in to help you pack,” Amanda said. “How is your arm?”

“My arm?”

Victoria stopped folding the blouse she had been about to put in her suitcase and looked at her arm. She had put on a long-sleeved blouse, so Amanda couldn’t see what her arm looked like now.

“You know, because of the hot coffee that got spilled earlier,” Amanda said. “I thought if your arm was still hurting, you might need some help packing.”

“It’s fine,” Victoria said.

“That’s good.”

So far, Victoria was confining herself to two-word responses, but that was better than nothing. Amanda cast her eyes around, looking for new topics of conversation.

Victoria had laid her clothes out on the bed so that she could fold them neatly before putting them in her suitcase. There were dresses, skirts, two long nightgowns, etc. Her toiletries were similarly laid out, ready for packing: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair brush, comb, small mirror, face powder, a pale pink lipstick, and small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, and nail polish remover. Her packing was going to take awhile.

Amanda frowned at the toiletries for a moment. "Do you have everything you need to pack right here, or did you leave something in the bathroom?"

"It's all here," Victoria said shortly.

“I never did get a chance to tell you how sorry I am for Chris’s death,” Amanda said, moving on to more important issues.

Victoria gave her a stricken look. “Chris?”

“Yes,” Amanda said. She knew it was a painful topic for Victoria, but she had to say something to draw her out of her shell. Besides, she really was sorry for what happened to Chris Bennett. “Agent Worth told us that you were close to him.”

“We were going to be married,” Victoria said. She began fingering something at her neck. That was a familiar gesture.

“Are you wearing Chris’s necklace?” Amanda asked.

Victoria nodded silently and pulled it out from under her blouse so that Amanda could see it. It was the St. Christopher’s medal that both Georgia and Worth had mentioned. It was a similar size and shape to Romano’s medal, but it was a dull silver instead of the gleaming gold of Romano’s medal. Romano’s medal was flashy by comparison, but this one would blend in more with its surroundings, almost like Victoria with her understated appearance. A picture was forming in Amanda’s head.

“Did you give Chris this necklace?” Amanda asked.

Victoria shook her head.

“I understand that he got it after he was almost in an accident,” Amanda prompted.

Victoria nodded. “He bought it himself.”

“About how long ago was that?”

Victoria shrugged.

“Where you there when it happened?”

Victoria shook her head. Amanda decided that yes and no questions weren’t going to work with Victoria.

“What was Chris like?”

“I loved him.” Victoria put the medal back underneath her blouse and turned back to her packing.

“I’m sure he had many wonderful qualities,” Amanda said.

Victoria didn’t say anything.

“Loyal, patriotic . . .” Amanda trailed off.

Victoria wasn’t reacting. She was methodically folding clothes.

“Worth seems to think highly of him. He says that Chris provided for your future.”

Victoria’s face twisted. She didn’t look up from her folding, but she shook with the effort of controlling herself.

It felt cruel, but Amanda decided to press a little harder. “Romano liked him, too. I understand that-”

Victoria angrily snapped, “I don’t want to talk about it!”

It was the strongest emotion Amanda had seen from her since she had to leave the table at dinner their first night in this house.

“I’m sorry, I know that talking about Chris must be painful. I suppose you were with him the night before the mission,” Amanda said thoughtfully.

Victoria shook her head.

“He wasn’t with you then?”

She shook her head again. A tear rolled down her cheek.

The picture in Amanda’s head was becoming stronger, more vivid. More disturbing. But, she could still be wrong . . .

“I know that an insurance policy isn’t much comfort when you’ve lost someone you love,” Amanda said. “But, it was still smart for Chris to-“

“He didn’t!” Victoria snapped, still compulsively folding clothes.

“He didn’t leave you anything? Worth said-“

“Worth doesn’t know!”

“Know what?”

“Anything!”

“He and Romano-“

“I don’t want to talk about him!”

Victoria refused to look at Amanda when she spoke. Her hands were shaking, and the clothes were wrinkled as she jammed them into her suitcase.

“You’re upset,” Amanda said. “Sometimes, it helps to talk-“

“I said I don’t want to talk about it! Get out!”

Victoria picked up a nightgown and started folding it. It was a long, white nightgown. Amanda’s eyes widened.

“What?” Victoria asked, noticing Amanda’s look.

“Nothing,” Amanda said. “I’ll leave you to your packing.”

Hastily, she left Victoria’s room. She didn’t want to talk to her anymore. She wanted to talk to Lee.

“Keep a close eye on her,” Amanda said to the guards at Victoria’s door.

She paused to think for a moment, trying to decide if she was overreacting. Having a white nightgown wasn’t a crime. There were other explanations for what happened, but . . . Amanda looked toward Francine’s room. And read the name on the door. No, she wasn’t wrong. The pieces were coming together. She needed Lee immediately.

She removed her radio from her belt and was about to use it to call Lee when she saw him at the other end of the hallway, coming down from the third floor. She hurried over to him.

“Lee! Lee, it’s Victoria!” Amanda grabbed his arms to get his attention.

“What?”

“The attacker. It was Victoria.”

“How do you know?” Lee’s arms were on hers now, holding her steady. She was trembling with the enormity of what she’d realized.

Their radios crackled to life, and Glenn, one of the security guards, announced that Cynthia and her staff were done preparing breakfast.

Lee got on his radio and sent a general message to all the guards who were watching their guests. “You may escort your guest to the dining room for breakfast, but once you’re in the dining room, under no circumstances are you to let them leave. Amanda and I will be there shortly.” Then, he pulled Amanda over to his room so they could talk privately.

“What makes you think Victoria attacked Romano?” he asked.

“I talked to her, and she didn’t say very much. Hardly anything, actually. She was trying not to-“

“Amanda?” Lee cut short her rambling explanation.

“Sorry. It’s about Chris Bennett. His death. Victoria blames Romano, and she’s been after him since she got here.”

“What?”

“She tried to get him the first night that we got here, but she got the room wrong. She ended up in Francine’s instead. She was the ghost Francine saw. She’s got a white nightgown-”

“Hold it, Amanda. Having a white nightgown isn’t-“

“It isn’t proof, I know, but she’s wearing the St. Christopher’s medallion. Lee, I think that’s the key. The reason no one could find the traitor is-“

Their radios beeped and buzzed.

“There’s a break-in alert,” Lee said. “It’s Victoria’s room. Come on!”

“Lee!”

Lee didn’t stop to listen. He rushed out into the hallway. The guards around Victoria and Georgia’s rooms were gone, and another guard was running from the direction of the stairs to the third floor, Agent Worth at his heels.

“He just got the alert,” Worth said breathlessly. “We came as fast as we could.”

“It’s Victoria’s room,” Lee said shortly. “Come on.”

“Lee!” Amanda called.

They ran down to Victoria’s room only to find the other guards coming out of it.

“False alarm,” one of them said. “There’s no one in here. No one broke in. One of the magnetic contacts came off the window and set off the alarm.”

“Again?” Lee asked. “What is going on here?”

“Lee, she did it on purpose,” Amanda said, coming up behind him. “It’s a distraction.”

Lee looked around. “Where is Victoria?”

The guards also looked around.

One of them said, “We told the women to stay in the hallway while we checked this out.”

Lee started toward the third floor staircase. “We’d better check Romano.”

Worth said, “We just came from that way! She didn’t go upstairs.”

“Lee, where’s Georgia?” Amanda cried.

The door to Georgia’s room was closed. Lee grabbed the knob and tried to turn it. It was locked.

“Lee, can you pick it? We’ve got to get inside,” Amanda said.

“No time,” Lee said. “Worth, help me break the lock. It’s old, I think it will give.”

Both men threw all their weight against it, and Amanda heard a loud snap.

They burst into the room, and found Victoria, holding Georgia down on the bed, her hands around her throat. Georgia was still alive but losing the struggle.

“Victoria, stop!” Worth shouted. She didn’t even seem to hear him.

Lee drew his gun, but Worth said, “Don’t shoot!”

Worth threw himself at Victoria, brought his arms up underneath hers, and broke her grip on Georgia. Victoria screamed like a wild thing, but Worth caught her in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. Georgia sat up, coughing.

“Let me go! She killed Chris!”

“No!” Worth said.

Victoria was sobbing now, emotions overflowing like a bucket with too much water. “Let me get at her!”

“No!”

“Victoria,” Amanda said. “Victoria, listen to me. She didn’t do it. Romano didn’t do it. I think you know that.”

“No!” This time, it was Victoria who said it.

“You do,” Amanda said. “It wasn’t their fault. You might have thought it was at first, but it wasn’t.”

“They were together that night! They did it! They both did it!” Victoria, who could hardly talk before, now couldn’t seem to speak fast enough. “They told the smugglers everything! They were lying in wait for Chris! She gave him that necklace! I heard what she said downstairs! She gave him the necklace so the smugglers would know not to kill him! They killed Chris, but not him!”

“That’s because they made a mistake,” Amanda said. “They saw a necklace and hit the man wearing it so they wouldn’t have to kill him. Then, they shot the other man because they didn’t notice that he was wearing a necklace, too. Chris didn’t know that Romano had a necklace that looked like his. Romano only got it the night before. If Chris had known about it, he wouldn’t have used the necklace as his signal.”

Victoria stopped struggling and just stood there and cried. “He wouldn’t do that! Chris wouldn’t do that!”

“I think you suspected when you got his ‘insurance policy’,” Amanda said. “It wasn’t ordinary insurance, was it?”

“He didn’t do that! I never asked him to do that! I wouldn’t have asked him to do that . . . for me . . .” Victoria trailed off, sobbing.

“It wasn’t their fault,” Amanda repeated. “It wasn’t yours, either. It was Chris’s.”

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