A Fascination for the Past
Lee and Amanda didn’t get a chance to talk to Romano that afternoon. They received alerts on their radios when he came back inside, but before they could reach him, he went straight to his room and locked the door. He refused to answer their knocks.
Baudin managed to speak with Romano briefly before he locked himself away and said that he wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t interested in lunch. Annette said nothing, but her facial expression was contemptuous. Lee had told Amanda many times about the importance of not letting feelings get in the way of their work, but Amanda was beginning to feel that Annette was heartless. Couldn’t she see that Romano was suffering because he felt guilty? Unless she believed that Romano really was at fault and should feel guilty.
The meal was good, but the conversation was awkward and full of long pauses. In fact, the only real conversation was between Worth and Francine. Worth was showing serious interest in Francine and spent most of lunch telling her all about what it was like growing up in London. Like Francine, he had also been to boarding school, and the two of them ended up swapping stories of some of their childhood pranks and escapades. Up to now, Francine hadn’t seemed that interested in Worth, but discovering something in common with him made her much more friendly. In fact, Amanda had seldom seen Francine so relaxed with someone.
“French was one of my favorite classes,” Francine said. “The teacher could be strict, but I had the advantage of growing up with French at home.”
“Are you saying that English wasn’t your first language?”
“Oh, no, it’s just that my mother was from New Orleans, and she spoke French. She insisted that I learn it too, when I was growing up. Even when I was little, I could speak it with our cook, Moline.”
“Was New Orleans your home town?”
“Actually, I’m from Boston,” Francine said. “We visited New Orleans a few times when I was young, but I didn’t spend much time there. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Mother and Moline tried to bring a little of New Orleans with them when they moved to Boston. Some of the stories they used to tell were fantastic.”
“Like what?” Worth was grinning in anticipation.
“Oh, all sorts of things. The French Quarter, Mardi Gras, balls, pirates, old plantation houses . . .” Francine stopped.
“Ghosts and voodoo?” Worth guessed with a sly grin.
“Sometimes, yes.” Francine tried to act like she’d lost interest in the subject, but Amanda noticed that she fumbled a bit and almost dropped her fork when she reached for her napkin.
Amanda gave Lee a knowing look, but Lee just shrugged.
After lunch, Amanda went upstairs to freshen up. She met Baudin’s assistant, Georgia, coming down from the third floor with a sandwich on a plate.
At Amanda’s questioning look, she said, “I was trying to see if I could get Michael to eat something, but he wouldn’t touch it.”
“It’s natural for him to be upset under the circumstances,” Amanda said, quietly noting the use of the name ‘Michael’ for Romano.
“He took the failure of the mission hard,” Georgia said, “especially Bennett’s death. I didn’t realize that they’d become such good friends. They didn’t even know each other that long.”
“Sometimes, you don’t need long to know that you really like somebody,” Amanda said. “You’re Romano’s friend, too, aren’t you? At a time like this, a friend can be a real comfort.”
“Yes,” Georgia said, smiling a little. “I care about Michael. I’m still worried that they will blame him for what happened on the mission. If they do, his career will be ruined. It means so much to him. It’s what he’s really wanted all his life.”
“He doesn’t have to have a career at all,” Georgia said. “Not many people know, but he actually comes from a wealthy family. He could do pretty much anything he wants with his life, but he chose this.”
Amanda remembered that part of the bio in Romano’s file mentioned that his family owned an upscale restaurant in New York City.
“He said that he wanted to make a difference in the world,” Georgia continued. “Now . . . I just don’t know.”
“I know it’s hard to believe this now, but I’m sure that things will work out,” Amanda said. “We’ll get the situation resolved.”
“I hope so,” Georgia said. “Whatever Annette says, Michael wasn’t responsible for what happened. I know that.”
Amanda watched her go downstairs, thinking that romantic relationships happened a lot more often in this business than she used to think. Georgia appeared to have feelings for Michael Romano. Like she and Lee, the two of them were probably keeping their relationship quiet for professional reasons, but the way Georgia took him food and defended him to a near stranger spoke volumes. And they weren’t the only ones. Worth wasn’t making any secret of his interest in Francine, and none of them would even be here if Cynthia Ransom wasn’t engaged to Senator Kahler.
“You find love in the oddest places,” Amanda thought, shaking her head.
She continued on to her room, but to her surprise, the door was already open. She hadn’t left it that way. Carefully, she crept up to the door to have a look.
From inside, she heard someone humming a familiar tune. Slowly, the words to the song came back to her:
“When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along,
There'll be no more sobbin' when he starts throbbin' his old sweet song.
Wake up! Wake up, you sleepy head! Get up! Get up, get out of bed . . .”
“The Red, Red Robin?” Amanda smiled. It wasn’t likely that any intruder or ghost would be humming that.
She walked into her room to find Abigail Ransom making the bed.
“Oh, good afternoon!” Mrs. Ransom said. “I meant to do this before lunch, but with one thing and another, I just wasn’t able to get around to it. You know how that is?”
“Absolutely. I’m a mother myself, and I understand. That’s okay,” Amanda said. “I was just going to freshen up a bit.”
She reached for the toiletries case that she had left on top of her suitcase that morning, but it wasn’t there. She looked around and spotted it on the night stand.
“Did you put this here?” Amanda asked Mrs. Ransom, picking up her toiletries case.
“No,” she said. “That was there when I came in. Is something wrong?”
“No,” Amanda said slowly. “No, I suppose Francine must have borrowed something.”
That wasn’t likely, and Amanda knew it. Francine had brought her own toiletries with her, and she had very strong opinions when it came to cosmetics. Anything Francine used would be of the highest quality, perfectly suited to her natural coloring, and as always, in style. She would have to need something very badly to consider borrowing a substitute from Amanda, and they’d only just arrived here yesterday. It was too soon for her to have run out of anything.
“Francine is the one who was frightened last night?” Mrs. Ransom said. “I heard about it. I told Cynthia that telling guests that ghost story wasn’t a good idea, but she was so excited when she found out about it.”
“When was that?” Amanda asked.
“Oh, around the time she first had the idea of turning this place into a hotel,” Mrs. Ransom said as she tucked the sheets into neat hospital corners. “I thought the hotel was a pretty good idea. This house might not be quite what most people think of when they picture a plantation house, but it has a charm of its own, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes,” Amanda said. “So, Cynthia found out about the ghost while researching the history of the house?”
“That’s what she said. Personally, I was never really into family history, but Cynthia and her father used to enjoy it. I prefer to focus on things in the present, you know?”
Amanda ignored Mrs. Ransom’s rhetorical question and said, “So you’ve never actually seen the ghost yourself?”
Mrs. Ransom laughed. “Oh, no! I don’t think anybody ever has. I’ve lived here all of my married life, and Joseph never once mentioned it to me before he died.”
“My late husband, Cynthia’s father. I doubt he knew anything about the ghost story, either, or he would have told me long ago. He was like Cynthia, he loved to read and talk about history. You’d think he’d mention it to me that one of his ancestors was killed in the Revolutionary War and was now haunting the house, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes-well, um . . . did you say Revolutionary War?”
“That’s what Cynthia said. Poor Josiah was killed in the Revolutionary War, and his poor young wife died of a broken heart. Sounds awfully sad, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but are you sure it wasn’t the Civil War?”
“The Civil War?”
“I thought Josiah was killed in the Civil War.”
Mrs. Ransom frowned as she smoothed down the bed covers. “I don’t know. I thought Cynthia said the Revolutionary War. But then, I was never really that interested in history. I prefer to live in the present, don’t you?”
The wheels were turning in Amanda’s head. “Was Charlotte a spy?”
“Josiah’s wife, Charlotte. Was she a spy?”
“Now that you mention it, I think that was part of the story. As least, I think she had been on the side of the British before she fell in love with Josiah. I do love a good love story! She must have been absolutely enthralled with him! No wonder she was so devastated when he was killed. I mean, any woman would be heart-broken at the death of the man she loved, but not every woman would drop dead on the spot, would she? I loved Joseph very much, but I didn’t die when he died. We had a good life together, but one must keep on living in the present-”
“Oh, I agree,” Amanda said before she could ask.
“All I remember Joseph telling me about Charlotte was that she wrote poetry. Cynthia framed some of her poems and hung them up in all the guest rooms.”
“Yes, I noticed the one in this room. ‘Ode to a Rose.’”
“That’s right. Her poems aren’t really to my taste, although Albert seems to like them. But, as I was saying, I wouldn’t worry about the ghost, if I were you. I think it’s just a story.”
Amanda remembered something. “Mrs. Nicholson said that she’s seen the ghost, too.”
“My sister has an imagination, and a fascination for the past. Just like Cynthia. But, then, that’s the stuff of ghost stories, isn’t it? Too much imagination and a fascination for the past.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Amanda was suddenly feeling much better, even though she might have to apologize to Lee.