I have been practicing my shorthand.
There is little else to do. Business is rare. Even so, there is more work than you might suppose for a paranormal detective at the bends of the Chesapeake. It is in quiet, drab little towns where the strangest sights are seen, and from this flat, dull land spring the most fantastic rumors.
The Vane family have lived at Greensgate since I can remember. Mrs. Vane the elder is a widow. Mr. Vane the younger, her son, manages her estate. There is a bit of mystery around his wife, Lynette Vane’s death. It was curiously sudden. His little daughter Charlie is the family diplomat. I often hear her springing step some paces before she reaches my door, skipping like a deer and eager for another “scary” story.
I do hear someone on the way. There is a violent storm outside, and I am half-worried it is my little friend.
“Mr. Vane—are you well? Charlotte—”
He shuts the door like he means to murder it.
Mr. Vane is a long-limbed man. There is strength in the line of his shoulder and angle of his jaw, but a suggestion of inner weakness and sensitivity in the height of his forehead and largeness of his eyes. He is soaked with rain and a violent shiver almost convulses him. I would take his coat, but he thrusts me aside and advances further into the room.
“You are Ms. Cobble?” he asks.
“Detective Cobble. Let me—”
“I need your help.” He turns to face me. “I beg you to help me.”
There is no plea in those furious eyes.
“Mr. Vane,” I say, “I will ask you to leave, unless you stop wringing my chair and actually sit in it.”
His stubborn jaw clenches. Stiffly, he removes his drenched coat and allows me to take it.
“This is not about Charlotte?” I stir the fire in the grate.
For a moment he is silent. Then,
“Do you believe in the supernatural, Ms. Cobble?”
“You don’t wish me to call your wife? Because I am not—”
He straightens, fast.
“Call my wife?” he queries. “Call her? Why on earth should I want to call her?”
“I don’t know why you should,” I reply, “as you are rid of her. Did you do it?”
My mouth works quicker than my head.
“No,” he says. “I did not murder her.”
His voice is unutterably cold.
“Will you hear me?” he asks at last. “Or have you tried, condemned, and put me out already?”
“Perhaps you should tell someone—”
“I will tell you,” he interrupts. “I need you. I fancy you remember my wife?”
“What do you remember?”
I cannot answer.
“Fair as a flower,” Mr. Vane allows, “and as poor. We fell in love, though my mother protested the match. Lynette was a simple creature. She did not think my family could resent us, married. She didn’t know how sour old English blood can be. I loved her too dearly, to care.”
He lifts his hand to his scarf and rests it there. The binding is soaked but he does not remove it.
“I wish my mother had disinherited me,” he whispers, sudden and fierce. “I wish to God she had. But Lynette adored Greensgate as if it had been built for her. There, every imaginable misfortune worked to ruin us. My cousin arrived from Austin. In his enterprise Mother remembered all she had desired me to be and what I was—and am.
“I grew obsessed with escape. Lynette wouldn’t listen. She had grown uncommonly attached to ugliness.
“‘Greensgate is our home as much as theirs,’ she used to say. ‘They cannot force us from it.’
“Is it force, Ms. Cobble, when I was willing? Why could Lynette not see what we suffered? I think she did see. I think she did not care. She loved me! Strange love! She was never happier than when she learned she carried our child. Though I did not say or show it, I dreaded bringing a child into our unnatural home.