It was after eight before Michael, Mary and two exhausted children returned to the house. The children, having said their goodnights, were tucked into bed and asleep almost before their heads hit the pillow.
Angelia, Myrtle and Henry were discussing the plans for renovating certain sections of the mansion as Michael and Mary joined them. “What can I do to help?” Mary asked scanning the long lists of work that needed done.
“Oh no you don‘t!” said Michael, deftly collecting the dozen and a half pages lying on the table. “Dad received a police bulletin notifying him that Zachariah had immediately disappeared after making bail, and to be on the lookout for him.”
“We want you and the children as far away from the renovation as possible. We aren’t taking any chances that someone from the commune might be working at the manor, or that you’re recognized because of the pictures in the paper.”
One look at Mary and he was wishing he hadn’t told her, but it had been the only way to keep her safe. I’d have told you earlier, but everyone was having such a good time, and I didn’t want to spoil your day,” he told her.
“He’s out,” she whispered, as a single shudder racked her body and a lone tear ran down her face plopping into the cup setting in front of her.
“I’m afraid so,” said Michael watching her closely. “I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. I seriously doubt he’d be so foolish as to head for our little town, where a stranger would be easily spotted.”
“I’m a stranger,” said Mary. “No-ones noticed us, so why would they pay attention to him?”
“For one thing, everyone for at least a hundred miles around knows Michael,” his Mother said with pride. “If they were curious, they’d be asking who is that beautiful pregnant woman and those adorable children that are monopolizing all of Dr. Michael Patterson’s attention.”
I’m not sure anyone would recognize you, from the profile in the paper. But, why take the chance that Zachariah and his bunch could be around or that someone at the job site might recognize you?” stated Myrtle.
“I agree whole heartedly,” said Angelia, reaching over and patting Mary’s arm affectionately. “Today we interviewed people we didn’t even know. Some of them have come from Etmensville, two hundred miles away looking for work.”
“Thank you,” Mary said softly. “Thank you for being my friends.”
She still found it hard to comprehend that these people actually loved and cared about her and her children. “Thank you for caring!”
That morning when Gregory Johnson awoke, he knew he’d been blessed. The weatherman had predicted a temperature of sixty-degrees for the day, which was highly unusual for that time of the year. He knew that they couldn’t afford to waste a minute. If the temperature dropped, it would be too cold to paint. He’d gotten on the phone and started calling his crew. There was work to be done, work that best be done by sun down, if they were to paint the Manor before next spring.
He breathed a sigh of relief as by eleven o’clock that morning his crew had replaced or repaired all but two dormers on the huge three and a half-story mansion. A crew was now applying a second coating of a newfangled product called primer to the finished parts of the house. Still another crew was applying a cream-colored paint over the primer the minute it dried.
Inside the house, Johnny Murdock had a crew painting the walls a light cream color, after spending most of the previous day scrubbing them clean of years of dirt and neglect.
They had also replaced all of the cabinets in the kitchen and pantry before painting them a bright canary yellow. In the hallway several stacks of blue and yellow tile sat waiting patiently to be lain on the kitchen and pantry floors.
A new electric stove, sat next to an old wood burner that was an exact copy of the one’s that Myrtle and Angelia owned. Johnny Murdock had spent the better part of an hour trying to convince the ladies that they didn’t need the old wood cook stove, but they wouldn’t budge. He’d shaken his head and muttered something indiscernible and discreetly under his breath. Then had installed the new electric stove, next to the old obsolete wood burning one.
By five o’clock that night the kitchen, pantries, dining room, parlor, and the huge hallway had been scrubbed, painted, and the tile installed.
Thick, robin’s egg blue carpets waited to cover the rest of the floors in the south wing, as soon as the rooms were ready.
By six, that evening Gregory Johnson’s crew had finished painting the house. They were exhausted, having completed their work, in less than half the time that it usually took.
Carl’s crew had built new stalls, checked and repaired the equipment, then had scraped off all of the old flaking paint, replacing broken or rotten boards with new. Having finished before nooning they took an early lunch, the barn must be painted and the corral rebuilt before they could move on to the next one. They still had two smaller barns to repair and several corrals to build before the horses arrived and time was fast running out!
Several trucks loaded with supplies had passed Carl and his crew as they made their way to the picnic area where the ladies had tables filled with pots of coffee, bowls of potato salad, platters of fried chicken, Macaroni/tuna salad, corn on the cob, pineapple, marshmallow coleslaw, Baked beans, fried apples and several assorted pies set up for the men to snack on during their work and lunch breaks.
Helping themselves to a plateful of the delicious smelling food, and a cup of coffee, they seated themselves at one of the picnic tables to eat while they waited for the needed supplies.
Tomorrow they’d be rebuilding the huge feed storage bins, and the watering troths that lined the horse runs, hopefully before the Beasley’ Feed and Grain, delivered its first order in years.
They’d already replaced the old water pipes, checked the old coal furnace to ensure heat for the horses and ordered enough coal to last at least a month or more. Everything had to be ready before the Gilfords’ prize stallion, Thunder Bolt, Mary’s horse, Star Dancer, Maggie’s Coal Black, and the dozen and a half other horses and new foals arrived at about ten thirty next Friday afternoon.
Karr Jackson and his crew had already cleaned the yards and main paths of trash and debris. The crew was now working on clearing every path on the estate.
Karr sure hoped Caroline would be staying in Gilfords Falls. It would be nice to have the estate up and running again. His only regret was his brothers, Kevin and Kyle, wouldn’t be there to see it.
Everyone’s job, was progressing without a hitch. That is everyone’s except Benjamin Crowley’s. It was like nothing in Mary‘s garden was as it seemed to be, and nothing lined up anywhere with anything on the blueprints. Benjamin had been making and reading blueprints for years and this one just didn’t make any sense.
He might never have figured it out, but he sneezed and when he did, he dropped the blueprint in his hand onto the one laying on his desk. It was as if fate had played its hand and laid one blueprint in exact symmetry onto the other.
That’s when he realized that nothing on the original blueprint matched anything on the blue print his son Murphy had drawn. The castle was in one place on the original and in another on his, while the castle dimensions differed by three hundred square feet.
Yesterday the crew had measured every nook, cranny, and corner of the garden and castle, before ordering the rest of the supplies they’d need to complete their work on Mary’s garden.
At first, he’d thought they’d made a mistake when measuring the castle, so he’d re-measured it again today. However, the mistake was not his. After measuring it for the third time there was still three hundred square feet of unaccounted space.
As Ben studied both sets of blueprints further, he noticed one other significant difference. One of the tunnels on the original blueprints appeared to extend beyond the garden wall itself and continue on to a grove of trees approximately one mile from the garden.
Ben suddenly had a gut wrenching, sick feeling, in the pit of his stomach and immediately put his crew to work on the farthest side of the garden. They were to finish the job they’d started the day before of stripping vines and under growth from the wall and making any repairs needed. They would also paint the wall if time and weather permitted.
He told his son he would be at Angelia’s and to send the crew home if he wasn’t back by six. Hurrying to his car, he quickly drove away. Fifteen minutes later Angelia and Myrtle were studying the map and twenty minutes later, the sheriff had joined them.
“Well, I’ll be,” said Henry, scratching his head in amazement. “Who in their right mind would have questioned the validity of the original blueprint,” he asked, looking in bewilderment from one blueprint to another. “How confident are you in your findings?” asked Henry.
“I’m as sure as I am that my name is Benjamin Adam Crowley,” he said, looking Henry straight in the eye. “My question to you, my friend, is now what?”
“Good question,” said Henry. “An even better one would be what options do we have?”
“Where’s your crew working today,” asked Myrtle.
“They were working on the castle, swings and other equipment,” said Ben. “But, when things didn’t add up, I sent them to the other side of the garden to finish the wall. Then I came to see you. Why do you ask?”
“Who knew about this,” Henry asked Ben.
“No one that I know of.” Ben said, hesitantly. “My son Gary, drew the layout, but I don’t think he even considered comparing them. I wouldn’t have noticed it myself, if it weren’t for a sneeze.”
“Everyone is so relieved to have a job, even if it is just temporary, that they’re trying to out-work each other. They’re hoping that if everything is nearly perfect, Ms. Caroline will stick around for a while.”
“Well,” said Henry, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he thought over the situation. “To answer your question, I never did understand how six little girls disappeared into thin air so completely. If my hunch and this blueprint are correct, this tunnel actually continues past the garden. The girls could have been right under our noses all the time,” he said, pointing to the tunnel and tracing it with his finger to a grove of trees.
“Oh no, you don’t think the girls are . . ., are still there. Do you, Henry.” Myrtle asked trembling and on the verge of tears.
“Well,” said Henry, “it would explain why no one, not even Jedidiah Morison’s Detective Agency, ever found any clues as to their whereabouts!” Henry glanced at Angelia to see her reaction to his conclusions. He was surprised and outraged when he saw her trying to hide a smile.
“What did I say that’s so funny?” he asked. “Personally I don’t think there’s anything to smile about! Your only grandchild was one of the six children taken and your only child was killed looking for her. Remember?”
“Of course I remember! If Caroline and I hadn’t left the girls alone, they might still be here. It’s something I’ve had to live with every day, since it happened,” retorted Angelia.
“Now, if you’re quite finished, little brother, and so everyone will stop jumping conclusions, I guess I should show you all what literally fell into my hands several weeks ago. Though, I must insist that what I’m about to divulged cannot leave this room until Caroline’s arrival. Do I make myself clear?” she asked.
“What are you babbling about?” asked Henry. “How could you possibly know anything we don’t?”
“Well, maybe,” said Myrtle, “if you’d listen instead of talking, we’d all know. Now wouldn‘t we!”
“Okay. Okay.” Said Henry, “ Tell us what you think you know that no one else does?”
“Do you remember Martha’s photo being sent to you and Henry, Myrtle? How about you Benjamin, do you remember your parents receiving photos of the twins, about two months after the children disappeared?”
“Of course we do,” retorted Henry. “What’s that have to do with the fact that our children could’ve been left to rot in that tunnel.” Thundered Henry.”
“As I remember it,” said Angelia, ignoring Henry’s outburst, “Every parent received a photo of their child, except one, Maggie Gilfords-Jackson’s. It has always bothered me that Mary’s photo wasn’t returned with everyone else’s, now I’m glad it wasn’t!”
“What! Have you lost your mind! Henry’s right, you most certainly aren’t making any sense!” exclaimed Myrtle hotly. “Besides, what has one thing to do with the other?”
“Oh, it has everything to do with it,” said Angelia, gently laying the tattered old photo, on the kitchen table, for all of them to see.