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«The Carriage House», Carla Neggers

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"Let's put it this way," she said. "You're stuck. Pay the tax bill or let the town take the place and call it a day. Or try to sell it. New Englanders are pretty damn weird when it comes to old houses. Maybe some-one'll buy it."

"I'm not sure I want to sell it."

"Tess! You've had this place for over a year and haven't stepped foot in it."

"That's because I kept thinking Ike would show up and want it back, or want more work for it, or his sister would. Lauren Montague is the workhorse for the Beacon Historic Project-I'm not sure Ike told her what he was up to."

"He could transfer the deed on his own?"

"Apparently. I did promise him I'd do more work-we were to discuss specifics the day he stood me up. I haven't heard from him since."

"Think he's dead?"

Tess winced at Susanna's frank question and jumped back to her feet, staring once more at the cen-turies-old tombstones below. There were more people buried there than had markers. Her throat was tight as she thought about Ike. He was in his mid-forties, so filled with life and energy it was impossible to believe he was dead. Yet, that was what most people as-sumed-that his recklessness had caught up with him and he'd gone overboard or walked off a cliff. Not on purpose. Ike would never commit suicide.

"Taking off for months at a time without telling anyone is within his pattern of behavior," Tess said. "The police haven't declared him a missing person or anything. I don't know if Lauren has sounded the alarm." She glanced over at Susanna. "It's not something I've pursued."

"Well, dead or alive, he signed the place over to you. I assume your accountant factored it into your last year's income taxes, and now obviously the property tax assessors have caught up with you. So, that cinches it. You can't avoid reality. The carriage house is yours. What you do with it is up to you."

"I've wanted a place in Beacon-by-the-Sea for as long as I can remember," Tess said quietly, watching two kids about twelve years old reading Sam Adams's tombstone. John Hancock was buried in Old Granary, too, as well as Benjamin Franklin's parents, the victims of the Boston Massacre, Mother Goose. "My mother and father and I used to have picnics there on the beach before she died. We'd walk past all the old houses, and Mum would tell me stories. She loved American history."

Susanna came and stood beside her. "Fundamentally, all financial decisions are emotional." She gave Tess a quick, irreverent grin. "Look at it this way- a run-down nineteenth-century carriage house haunted by a convicted murderer ought to make an interesting weekend project."

 

*  *  *

 

Tess decided to drive up to Beacon-by-the-Sea and take a look at her property that afternoon. She quit work early to get ahead of rush-hour traffic and made her way up Route One, then along the water to a quiet stretch of rockbound coast on the tip of Cape Ann. The May sun sparkled on the Atlantic, bringing back memories of driving this way when she was six, up front with her father, her mother tucked under blankets in back, telling stories of whales and lost ships until she either fell asleep or became unintelligible, making sense only to herself.

After Ike Grantham had stood her up, Tess had come to Beacon-by-the-Sea three or four times hunting for him, but to no avail. His own sister didn't seem to be worried about him. Why should Tess be? Ike had taken off without notice before, often. He was self-centered and inconsiderate, not because he meant to be but simply because he was.

Now she was on her way to the Beacon Historic Project's offices to pick up the key to the carriage house. The offices were located in one of its restored late-eighteenth-century buildings in the village, just a short walk to the harbor. Modeled after the more famous Doris Duke Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island, the project-Ike's brainchild-bought up old houses and outbuildings all over the North Shore, gutted them, rebuilt them according to exacting standards and leased them to carefully screened tenants. In many once-decaying neighborhoods, the project's work had sparked renovation and renewal, a sense of civic pride. When she started freelancing for Ike, Tess had toyed with the idea of leasing a small early-eighteenth-century house herself. Then he'd presented her with the carriage house. Its 1868 construction put it outside the project's parameters- they preferred pre-1850 structures. Or so Ike had explained. Tess had never really understood what his motives were.

She entered the building that housed the project's offices, a pretty herbal wreath on its saffron-painted front door. Inside, the atmosphere was sedate and elegant, more like entering a home than offices. The rooms were decorated in period colors and pieces, and through a doorway to the right, a pencil-thin older woman greeted Tess in an affected nasal voice. "May I help you?"

"Hi, Mrs. Cookson." Tess smiled, walking onto the thick carpet. "I'm Tess Haviland-"

"Why, Miss Haviland, I'm so sorry. I didn't recognize you. What can I do for you?"

"I stopped by to pick up the key to the Thorne carriage house. I know it's been a while, but I thought I should take a look at it before I decide what to do." Muriel Cookson looked confused, and Tess added quickly, "Ike told me you'd have the key here."

"The key to the Thorne carriage house? I don't understand-"

"It's all right." Lauren Grantham Montague approached from an adjoining room, smiling graciously. Her resemblance to Ike was subtle, but unmistakable. "It's so good to see you, Tess. I should have called you myself long before now. Mrs. Cook-son, I have the key to the carriage house. I'll get it for Tess."

"Is Miss Haviland doing work for us?"


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