The Phantom of the Library
Francine turned out to be a restless sleeper. Amanda woke up three or four times during the night because of her tossing and turning. At about quarter to six in the morning, Francine kicked her, and Amanda decided that she might as well get up. Francine shifted a bit, but she stayed asleep. Amanda thoughtfully canceled the alarm on the alarm clock so that Francine could sleep a little longer, although it would have served Francine right if she hadn’t. But, after the scare she had last night, Amanda didn’t have the heart. She decided that she would wake Francine after her shower.
No one was stirring yet, except for Amanda, so she had no competition for the bathroom. Amanda showered, dressed, brushed her hair, and put on her makeup with plenty of time left before breakfast. Still, there was no one up and moving about. At least, no one that Amanda could see.
When she returned to her room to wake Francine, she found that she was as much of a morning person as Lee, which is to say that she wasn’t a morning person at all.
“Time to wake up.”
“It’s about six-twenty, Francine. Breakfast is in a little over an hour. How much time do you need to get ready?”
“Not that much.” It was the most coherent thing she’d said so far. It was actually the about most coherent thing she could say at that time of the morning.
Amanda wondered how she managed, living alone, with no one to make sure she got up and got ready on time. As high-maintenance as she was, Amanda had figured that she’d need the extra time.
“Well, I’m going downstairs. Do you want me to set the alarm for you?”
“You’re sure you’ll get ready in time for breakfast at seven-thirty?”
“Yeah. Go ‘way.” Francine pulled the covers up over her head. The discussion was over.
“Okay,” Amanda said.
She left the room and slowly wandered down the hallway. Someone was in the bathroom that the women were sharing, so she wasn’t the only one awake. Lee was probably doing what Francine was doing: sleeping in until the last minute. There might be someone else downstairs to talk to until breakfast was ready, but Amanda thought that she might check out the library again. There were books on the shelves that she wanted to look at.
As she walked downstairs, Amanda realized that today was Halloween. Francine’s scare had occurred early in the morning, so it had happened on Halloween, too. How appropriate.
Amanda’s thoughts drifted to her boys, now staying with Joe. It was too early for them to be awake, but what were their plans for the day? What were they going to do before going to the haunted house this evening? She still hoped that the experience wouldn’t be too scary for them. Her boys were growing up, but no matter how old they got, they were still her boys, and she couldn’t help but be concerned for them.
The only people Amanda saw in the entry hall were the security guards on duty, and she wished them good morning.
“Has anyone else come down yet?” she asked.
“No, ma’am. You’re the first one,” one of them said, and she thanked him.
That was why she was astonished to see someone in the library when she went inside. There was an elderly woman standing by the bookshelves, looking into a book. She had fine, wispy white hair and very dark eyes. Amanda had no idea who she was.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Amanda said. “I didn’t think anyone was in here. You startled me.”
The woman didn’t seem startled at all. She just gave Amanda a kind smile. Amanda was a little worried about who this unfamiliar person was, but she must have come past the security guards to get in here. Why hadn’t they mentioned her?
“Um, I’m Mrs. King. May I ask who you are?”
The lady smiled and closed the book she was reading, but she didn’t say anything. Amanda wracked her brains. She wasn’t a guest because she’d met all the guests last night. Maybe she was staff? But the only staff were Cynthia, her aunt, and her mother . . .
“Oh, wait, you’re Abigail Ransom, aren’t you? Of course, we weren’t introduced last night.”
Amanda had never even seen a picture of Cynthia’s mother before. The Agency profile didn’t have one. But, this must be her. That was why her dark eyes seemed so familiar. They were striking, very like Cynthia’s.
Mrs. Ransom walked over to Amanda, and still smiling, handed her the book she had been reading. The cover said, “An Illustrated History of Virginia.”
“That looks interesting,” Amanda said.
But, Mrs. Ransom was already gone. Amanda looked around. The library door was closed. If she’d left that way, she’d been extremely fast.
“That was odd,” she thought. “Mrs. Ransom certainly isn’t much of a conversationalist.”
With nothing else to do and no one else to talk to, Amanda sat down and started to look through the book. It was one of the newer books in the Ransoms’ collection, and there were full-color pictures scattered throughout. Amanda thumbed through the pages idly, not really looking for anything in particular. She was still a little tired because of the restless night she’d had. Partway through the section about the establishment of Jamestown, she leaned back in her chair and rested her eyes.
Amanda thought she’d only closed her eyes for a moment, but then Francine was standing next to her, shaking her awake.
“Amanda! It’s almost time for breakfast.”
Amanda sat up and looked at her watch. Francine was right. It was 7:20 am, and breakfast was in 10 minutes.
“Thanks, Francine. I must have dozed off. By the way, how did you get down here so fast? I thought you were going to sleep in.”
“I did,” Francine said smugly.
“Oh, about half an hour ago.”
“You got ready in just half an hour?”
Francine was wearing the neat slacks and blue sweater she’d selected the night before with a gold chain around her neck and gold hoop earrings. Her makeup was neatly done, and her hair was once again up in a French twist.
“Actually, that only took 25 minutes. The other five minutes was coming down here and finding you. When I was at boarding school when I was young, I could get ready for class in just 10 or 15 minutes, depending on hairstyle, but I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup then.”
Amanda hadn’t known that Francine had attended boarding school, although it somehow made sense. Francine always had an air of self-reliance about her, probably something she’d picked up from being away from home at an early age.
“Besides, when you’re Billy’s assistant, you have to learn to be punctual.”
“You did your nails, too?” Amanda asked, noticing that her finger nails were now ruby red.
“No, I did that last night, before I went to bed. You just didn’t notice with everything that was going on. What’s that you’re reading?”
“It’s a book about the history of Virginia,” Amanda said.
“Exciting. No wonder you fell asleep.”
“Mrs. Ransom gave it to me.”
“Abigail Ransom, Cynthia’s mother. She was here when I came down, and she handed this book to me, but she disappeared. I don’t know where she is now.”
“Disappeared?” Francine looked around the room.
“I didn’t really mean ‘vanished,’ I just mean that she walked out on me.” She’d done it pretty fast, though, Amanda reflected. Fast and silent.
“Oh. That’s funny. The guards told me that you were the only one in here.”
Amanda shrugged. “Maybe they meant that I was the only one in here now. She was here earlier.”
Francine took a deep breath. “Listen, Amanda, I wanted to talk to you about last night-“
Francine glared at her. “And you snore.”
“What I mean is-“
“You’d probably rather I didn’t say anything about you staying with me to the others.”
“Right. I don’t know who or what was in my room last night, but I don’t want the others thinking that I’m an alarmist.”
“You just said it again.”
“Said what again?”
“’Who or what.’ Francine, last night you didn’t seem to know whether to call what you saw in your room a person or a thing. What was it you really saw?”
Francine crossed her arms in front of her. “I told you, I’m not sure what it was. Just something white.”
“But you screamed. Why scream if you didn’t think that there was a person in your room?”
Francine rubbed her arms as if they were cold, but Amanda didn’t think the room was that chilly.
“It looked like a person. It probably was a person. It just seemed to go away so quickly . . . but then I tripped over the furniture, and I probably just missed seeing it leave the room. It was probably just someone stumbling to bed late last night who got the wrong room by mistake. It was kind of dim in that hallway after the sun went down, wasn’t it?”
“That’s true,” Amanda said slowly.
The hallway was rather dim. It was something else Cynthia would have to fix, along with the antiquated door locks. A person who had a poor sense of direction and was relying on the labels on the doors might have trouble finding their room.
“It just startled me, that’s all,” Francine said.
“Well, that’s understandable.”
“Some people are probably going to be asking about it this morning, and I just don’t want to make a big thing of it.”
“Good. I’m glad you understand. Want to go find Lee?” Francine suggested, crossing her arms a little more tightly across her chest. “Something about this room kind of bothers me.”
“Really?” Amanda said. “It didn’t seem to bother you last night.”
Francine frowned. “I don’t know what it is. It just . . . it has a different feel to it this morning.”
“I suppose we’d better check to see if Lee is up and moving,” Amanda said.
“He is,” Francine said. “I knocked on his door before I came downstairs. He was dressed and said that he’d be down in a few minutes.”
They found Lee in the drawing room with Billy. Most of the others were there, too. In the morning sunlight, the yellow room looked especially bright and cheery. Annette strode in just after them, giving the room a cool, critical look. Sunshiny yellow definitely wasn’t her color. She wore charcoal gray today, which wasn’t really her color, either. It made her look like a storm cloud in an otherwise sunny sky in this room.
Amanda looked at Francine to see if she’d noticed. She hadn’t. She was staring at Charlotte’s portrait again and rubbing her arms like she had in the library.
“Something wrong, Francine?” Amanda asked gently.
“No! No, why?”
Amanda looked at the portrait again herself. Those eyes were fascinating.
Lee noticed that Amanda and Francine were there and came over to say good morning to them.
“How did you two sleep last night after the excitement?” he asked.
“Fine,” Francine said quickly.
“We checked the whole house last night. Everyone was where they were supposed to be, and there was no sign of any intruders.”
“Oh, good,” Amanda said. Hearing that Lee had checked everything out set her mind at ease.
“I thought about telling you last night, but I didn’t want to wake you.”
“What was it that happened last night?” Annette asked, coming over to insert herself into the conversation.
“I think someone must have mistaken my room for their room,” Francine said. “They woke me up and startled me. At first, I thought that we might have an intruder, but I was wrong.”
“As I was saying,” Lee added, “my men and I checked the house, and everything is secure.”
The radios that Lee and Amanda both wore buzzed at that moment, and soft voices, low because the volume was turned down on both units, informed them of routine guard changes.
“Good,” Annette said, ignoring the radios. “Enough has gone wrong with this operation already.”
Romano came over to join in the conversation. “I slept through last night’s excitement, but Georgia told me about it this morning. What happened exactly?”
“Just a misunderstanding,” Francine said, trying to sweep the incident under the rug.
“Someone entered Francine’s room by mistake,” Amanda said.
“By mistake, huh?” Romano glanced between Francine and Worth, who was also coming over to join them. Amanda could see the way his mind was working. That was an angle Amanda hadn’t considered.
Annette seemed to see his way of thinking, too. “A mistake like that would be foolish. Doing it on purpose would be even more foolish. We’re here to do serious work, and distractions like that would be unprofessional. It’s that kind of unprofessional behavior that can ruin missions.” She was looking at Romano as she said it.
“What are you trying to say?” Romano asked suspiciously.
“That it’s time for breakfast,” Senator Kahler broke in on the conversation. “Cynthia was telling me that everything is ready in the dining room. We’ll save the discussion for the meeting after breakfast. I’ll be very interested in hearing everyone’s views.”
Annette and Romano glared at each other.
The dining room was just as charming by daylight as it was at night, but much more cheerful with light streaming in through the windows. Cynthia was there, and so was another woman Amanda hadn’t met yet. She looked about the same age as Amanda’s mother and was wearing a pink dress that matched the bright lipstick she was wearing.
Cynthia said to everyone, “This is my mother, Abigail Ransom. She will be helping me serve breakfast this morning. We have-“
“Wait!” Amanda blurted out. “If you’re Abigail Ransom, then who was in the library this morning?”