A Sprauling Family Saga

By Hank All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Mystery

Chapter 22

Chapter 22

The rain began near the Ellsworth town line, still ten miles from the hospital. Madison turned on the windshield wipers and headlights, and grinned at her sister in the passenger seat. “Welcome to Ellsworth,” she said. “My old stomping grounds. Where the people are friendly and the sun always shines.”

The only thing out on this edge of Ellsworth was the Book Farm, named for what it was: a huge house and attached barn filled with used books, old newspapers and magazines, and assorted knickknacks. A sign just small enough to comply with Maine’s laws against ostentatious billboards announced that it was open seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. “I used to love that place,” Pilar said.

“Me, too,” Madison replied, slowing down. “Want to stop?”

“Do we have time?”

“Oh, I think Mom can wait half an hour or so, don’t you?” She eased the car off the highway into a steep driveway, which descended to a long dirt parking lot beside the barn. Only a handful of cars and an RV were parked there; the season was young yet, and it was a weekday. Though Madison had been driving to Ellsworth frequently since Annabelle’s hospitalization, she didn’t often come this way, but they had detoured through Belfast to deliver an ounce of weed to a customer, a sixty-year old man who played banjo and knew Everett and had wanted the two women to sit and talk and smoke with him. Madison had begged off, citing her mother. But she loved used bookstores, and she had been through most of the books on her bathroom shelf.

She pulled open the heavy wooden outer door, and the two sisters ducked out of the rain into a small entranceway lined with bargain books on sale for a dollar. Beyond here was the interior of the barn itself, the cash register just inside another door. Though bookshelves still stretched into every corner, a large central area had been cleared out for jackets, flags, bandannas and assorted souvenirs. A set of wooden steps led up to an open attic, as it always had. The second floor was as large as the first, filled with magazines and newspapers dating back decades.

An older man and woman behind the cash register nodded as they came in. The other cars out in the parking lot hadn’t driven themselves here, but the store was so vast that she could see no other customers. Madison meandered toward where her memory told her the mystery section would be, on the first floor, and Pilar followed. They passed a narrow stand-alone shelf unit filled with maple products: small bottles of syrup, boxes of candy, hand-carved wooden utensils. A small sign bore the name and e-mail address of a local producer. “That’s good,” Pilar said. “They’re diversifying. Nobody can get by just selling books any more.”

“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” Madison said. “People don’t read. Serena doesn’t read to her kids, not like Mom used to read to us.”

“Yeah, she used to read twisted stuff. Remember that story about the Maine town that was filled with cannibals?”

Madison laughed. “The one where the guy gets pulled over for speeding in the wee hours of the morning, and they eat him at the end?”

“That’s the one,” Pilar said. “I found that story in a collection, years later.”

“Every time some unsuspecting driver came through town, they set a speed trap and had a barbecue.”

Both women were laughing now. “It was ridiculous,” Pilar said, “but at the time it really scared me. What kind of mother reads a story like that to her kids?”

“Hey, at least she encouraged us to read,” Madison said. “I remember that she wouldn’t let us go to any R-rated movies, but we were allowed to read anything we wanted. I’m probably the only person I know who’s read The Exorcist but never seen the movie.”

“Your mother sucks cocks in Hell,” Pilar said.

What?”

“That’s what the little girl says to the priest, when she’s possessed,” Pilar explained. “I’ll never forget it. I wasn’t much older than Linda Blair when I saw that movie, and here’s this innocent girl.” Pilar made her voice into a croak and repeated the line: “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell.”

“Jesus, Pilar, say it a little louder, why don’t you? See if we can draw some attention to ourselves.”

But the only person potentially within earshot, a tall older man browsing a few shelves down, showed no reaction. Madison pulled out a Dick Francis hardcover and glanced at the flyleaf. “I don’t know if I’ve read this one,” she said. “He’s always good.”

“Ever read this guy?” Pilar handed her another hardcover. She looked at the author’s name and shook her head. “Carl Hiaasen,” Pilar said. “He writes mysteries about whackos in South Florida, all the greed and corruption and drug smuggling and outright stupidity. They’re hilarious.”

“Florida, huh?” Madison examined the cover. “Maybe I’ll give it a try, send it to Graham if I like it. He’s my reader. Lately we’ve been trading hockey novels. You’d be surprised at how many good books there are about hockey. Although maybe you won’t, after living in Canada.”

“Quebec’s not really Canada,” Pilar said. “They do like their hockey, though. Claude dragged me to a couple of games in Montreal.”

“Dragged you? Pilar, going to see the Canadiens play in Montreal is like going to see a baseball game in Fenway Park, or Yankee Stadium. It’s the capital of hockey. I’ve never been to Montreal, let alone seen a game there. And you get dragged to a couple of games? Do you know how jealous I am?”

“Claude can probably get tickets, if you want to go sometime. His father’s pretty well connected.”

“You and Claude still speaking?”

“About like you and Mike. I don’t imagine he’d hang up on me if I called.”

Pilar had arrived a week ago in a cheap little Honda she had bought, with Claude’s help, at a dealership in Sherbrooke. It had a bent radio antenna and a dent in the rear bumper but it ran fine; Pilar had explained to Madison that Claude had been so furious at her theft of his Fiat that he had insisted she get her own vehicle. She had retorted that all the unpaid work she had done for him was worth at least the cost of a used car, and after a fight that lasted all the way to the dealership he had relented and put down most of the money. She had signed the papers and promptly taken off for the States. Madison didn’t know, and didn’t ask, if she had been in touch with him since.

But Pilar’s little Honda was back at the farm, in the driveway. On this trip, Madison had insisted on driving. It wouldn’t do to get pulled over for speeding in a car with foreign plates while delivering pot, despite Maine’s liberal laws. And her mother’s cookies were still in the car. Only break one law at a time. If you were going to speed, at least make sure your tags were current and you weren’t carrying illegal substances. The last trip she’d taken with Pilar behind the wheel had unnerved her more than she cared to admit.

She tucked the Hiaasen book under her arm and returned the Francis novel to the shelf. “I can get carried away in a place like this,” she said. “Then again, you can’t really have too many books.”

“I agree,” Pilar said. “If I hadn’t moved so much in my life, I’d have a house full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.”

“Like Mom does?”

“Yeah. And every Christmas I’d cull the collection, like she does, and give away duplicates, or books I didn’t want any more. Only I’d keep track of which book I’d sent to whom, so nobody would end up with three copies of We Took to the Woods.”

Madison laughed. “Mine’s the Helen and Scott Nearing book,” she said. “I guess she got it into her head that I’m an organic farmer. But you know, we raise pigs and goats and chickens, and the Nearings were vegetarians.”

“I’m going to wander around a little,” Pilar said. “Maybe meet you back by the front desk in what? Twenty minutes?”

The sisters looked at their wrists, then at each other, and burst out laughing. Neither was wearing a watch.

“Best guess,” Madison said. “Don’t get lost.”

Pilar wafted off back toward the center of the store while Madison continued to browse the mysteries. But nothing else caught her eye, and she drifted through the horror section, past the Stephen King wall, and toward the special section of sport literature, the likes of which she had not ever seen in any other bookstore. Situated in a small alcove, it was divided vertically into sport fiction and nonfiction, the novels on the left, the essays and biographies and so forth on the right. And it was categorized by sport. Her eyes went immediately to the short shelf of hockey novels. She scanned for unfamiliar titles, found two, and pulled both down to examine.

She thought Graham might be interested in the first one, which looked like a fictionalized version of the Phil and Tony Esposito story: two brothers, one a scorer, the other a goaltender. But the second book intrigued her, because it was about the interrelationships on a high school girls’ hockey team. Her jock son would likely pooh-pooh anything about girls playing hockey, but she read the first several pages. After a few minutes, without looking up from the book, she slid over to a nearby chair, sat down, and continued reading. She was halfway through the first chapter when she heard her sister’s unmistakable voice.

“Oh my God, Madison, you have to see this.”

She looked up, but the only person she saw was an older woman a few shelves away who had heard Pilar cry out, too. She closed the book, keeping her place with a finger.

“Maddie, where are you?”

“Over here,” she called back, moving toward her sister’s voice. But the shelves were tall and Pilar was short, and Madison didn’t see her until she rounded the end of a bookshelf and they nearly collided.

Pilar had her fingers in the middle of a paperback book. She waved it in Madison’s face. “You’re not going to believe this.” She held the book out so that Madison could see the title: Haunted Places of Downeast Maine. “Our father’s in here,” she said breathlessly. “Everett’s girlfriend wasn’t kidding.”

What? Let me see that.”

But Pilar had the book open and was talking rapidly. “It’s divided up by location,” she said. “There’s a big section on that woman’s leg in Bucksport, and the haunted room at the Lucerne Inn,” she said. “And there was apparently some dance hall out past Franklin that burned to the ground, and a girl out there people see on foggy nights. But then at the end of the Hancock County chapter there’s a brief mention of other places that might be haunted. Including a certain hospital.” She flipped pages. “Here it is.”

Madison scanned the passage next to her sister’s small thumb. It was only a single paragraph, and it did not mention the doctor by name. But it did mention the elevator. “An anonymous employee of the hospital reported that the elevator will sometimes move on its own, and that lights will blink on and off for no apparent reason,” Pilar read aloud. “According to this same employee, the elevator shaft is in an old stairwell, where a doctor fell to his death many years ago.”

“Wow,” Madison said.

“Yeah. Who else could it be?”

“It’s not very well documented,” Madison pointed out. “One employee repeating a rumor. An anonymous employee, at that.”

“Yeah, but remember what Corinne said? Hospital workers aren’t allowed to talk about ghosts. The subject’s off limits.”

“You would think the guy would have done some research, though,” Madison said. “How many doctors have died at that hospital? He’s got the cause of death, but not the doctor’s name, or even when it happened.”

“I’m buying this book,” Pilar declared. “The back cover says the author works at the University of Maine at Machias. Maybe I can get in touch with him.”

“If he’s still there,” Madison said. “How old’s that book?”

Pilar flipped to the front. “Copyright 2002. Ten years ago. That means that people have known about our father’s ghost for at least ten years. Maybe this guy knows more than what he could put in print.”

“I wonder if that’s true, about the elevator,” Madison said. “That it’s in the same place as the stairs that Dad fell down. But Pilar, even if it is true, and even if it somehow turns out to be true that our father’s ghost is still in that hospital, which I doubt, what do we do about it? How can we talk to him? What does he want?”

“I don’t know,” Pilar said. “I don’t know if there’s anything more than a story. But don’t you want to find out? Aren’t you curious?”

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Madison admitted, after a moment. “He was our father, after all. And he’s been a memory a lot longer than we actually knew him as a flesh-and-blood human being.”

“It’s almost like he’s been a ghost our whole lives.”

“I wonder if Mom knows,” Madison said. “About this story, I mean, that the hospital’s haunted by the ghost of her former husband. If Everett’s girlfriend knows, and this writer knows, how many other people are in on it?”

“I don’t think we should say anything to her, until we find out more,” Pilar said. “It could just be someone’s imagination running wild. Or it could be the real thing – a real spirit. Dad might still be hanging around on this plane, for some reason only he knows.”

Madison didn’t know what to say to this. She was glad Jeremy wasn’t here to shower them with ridicule. Anyone could write anything in a book, especially when the subject was something as speculative as the supernatural. But she couldn’t dismiss the haunting of the hospital out of hand, either, not now that she had heard about it from two independent sources. The thought occurred to her that Corinne had once worked at that hospital, and that she could be the writer’s anonymous source, but how likely was that? On the other hand, how likely was it that her dead father’s shade prowled the corridors of the very hospital in which her mother was now an extended guest?

Pilar wanted to go upstairs and look for old issues of the Ellsworth American from the time of their father’s death. But though the store had copies of Life and the Saturday Evening Post and other publications going back fifty years or more, there were no copies of the local paper before the turn of the century. “The library would have them all on microfiche,” the woman at the cash register told them.

Madison bought three books and Pilar just the one, but she leafed through it all the way to the hospital, reading selected sentences aloud and commenting on the places featured in the text. “Did you know there’s an ancient Indian burial ground down near Blue Hill Falls? We drive right past it on the way to the point. This says it’s the home of several restless spirits.”

“Anything more about our father?” Madison wanted to know.

Pilar shook her head. “It doesn’t appear so.”

“I wonder if Danny Allen’s ghost is out there somewhere,” Madison mused.

Pilar closed the book and looked over at her sister. “All those years we lived across the street from his grave,” she said. “I never saw anything.”

“He wouldn’t be there,” Madison said. “He’d be out on Newberry Neck, where he died. Like Dad, in the hospital.”

“Oh, right.”

“Can you believe we’re talking about this?”

“This book was there for me to find. I was meant to find it. We wouldn’t be talking about this if we hadn’t decided to stop at the Book Farm on the spur of the moment, and if I hadn’t wandered into the Maine section, and spotted this book.”

“Pilar, do you really think there’s anything to it?”

“I know I’m going to try to find out,” Pilar said. “I’m going to look up this writer, for one thing. And I’m going to check out the newspapers from when Dad died. All I remember is Mom coming home and herding us all into the car. That’s all I remember, her coming home and telling us.”

Madison bit her lower lip, then ran her tongue over it. “We were with a babysitter,” she said.” Nancy Lovejoy. We all hated her. It was a Saturday, but Mom was over in Northeast Harbor, getting her hair done. And then she came home, and we dropped Nancy off on our way to the hospital. We spent the next three days staring at our father.”

“It’s hard to believe she’s outlived him by more than forty years,” Pilar said, after a moment. “Like Yoko Ono. Or Lauren Bacall.”

“Okay, I get the Yoko reference, but who was Lauren Bacall married to?”

“Bogie,” Pilar said. “Humphrey Bogart. Haven’t you ever seen To Have and to Have Not? She was twenty and he was like, pushing fifty. He died of lung cancer at fifty-seven. She’s still alive, I believe.”

“The only Bogart film I remember is Casablanca. It was Dad’s favorite movie.”

“I didn’t know that,” Pilar said. “But it makes sense. World War Two, noble sacrifice for the greater good, gallant gentlemen fighting the good fight. That was his world, I guess.”

At the hospital, the two sisters headed immediately to the elevator, then stopped, looked at each other, and laughed. “Come on,” Madison said. “How many times have we been up and down in this thing? It hasn’t talked to us yet.”

“It has behaved strangely, though,” Pilar said.

“Who hasn’t?” Madison replied, and pressed the button.

But this time everything was normal. Annabelle sat in a chair, in jeans and a light blue turtleneck, doing a crossword puzzle. She stood up to greet them. “See how much better I’m doing?” she said, hugging each of them in turn. “I’m tempted to walk right out of here.”

“You look good, Mom,” Madison said.

“Six steps today, unassisted,” Annabelle boasted. “I could’ve made it all the way if they had let me rest for a few minutes.”

“You’ll get there, Mom,” Madison said.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Pilar added.

“I’m getting out of here on Saturday, come hell or high water,” Annabelle said, looking briefly fierce. Then her face softened. “Joan’s coming in for lunch. She’s bringing popovers from the Jordan Pond House. I hope she brings enough for all of us.” She turned to Madison. “Did you bring my cookies?”

She and Pilar had gotten so wrapped in the talk of Elliott Sprauling’s possible ghost that Madison had forgotten all about the cookies. “I left them down in the car,” she said. “They’re in the glove box. I’ll go get them.”

“You don’t have to go right this second,” Annabelle said. “Let’s sit and talk for a spell. You just got here, after all.”

“Mom, I’ll be right back,” Madison said. “I’d better go get them before I forget. You wouldn’t want me to drive off with them, would you?”

“I’d remind you,” Annabelle said, and Madison thought that was probably true. Her mother was at an age when people start forgetting things, but Annabelle’s mind was still sharp inside her shrinking body. And she did seem to like Madison’s cookies.

“Pilar can regale you with the story of her escape from Quebec,” Madison said, sliding out the door, but not missing the sharp look her little sister flashed her. Laughing softly to herself, she walked down the hall toward the elevator.

A woman was waiting there, skinny in straight-legged blue jeans, with straight, shoulder-length red hair, and one arm in a sling. “Hi,” Maddie said as she approached. “Going down?”

The woman turned to face her. Madison saw that she was younger, maybe thirty-five, and that someone or something had blackened one eye. The edge of the shiner had turned a deep purple. She couldn’t stop herself from sucking in a short, surprised breath.

The woman smiled, showing small, pearly teeth. “It probably looks worse than it is,” she said. “It’s been a few days.”

“It’s none of my business,” Madison assured her.

“I don’t mind,” the woman said. “I didn’t fall down the stairs, you know what I mean?”

Despite the obvious implication, Madison thought this an odd thing to say. Her mind darted back to the book Pilar had found at the Book Farm and what it had said about this hospital – this very part of the hospital – and she realized that she was standing literally on top of the spot where her father had died, more than forty years ago, from a fall down the stairs.

She was saved from formulating a response when the elevator arrived and the door opened. An elderly man on the arm of a middle-aged woman stepped out. “Hello, ladies,” he said, blinking at each of them in turn behind large, black-rimmed glasses. He had a single tuft of white hair front and center on his otherwise bald head, and his stooped posture caused it to point at whoever he was addressing.

“Come along now, Dad,” the woman said gently. She was half a foot taller than the old man, wearing a knee-length purple dress one might see in an office, her short brown hair professionally styled. She gave them a dismissive nod and led him off down the hall, in the direction of Annabelle’s room.

“After you,” Madison said.

The two women entered the elevator, and Madison pressed the button for the first floor. The door closed. The elevator began its descent. The light for the second floor came on for a few seconds and went off.

And then the elevator stopped.

The door did not open. The first-floor light didn’t go on. Madison and the woman with the sling looked at each other. That really was an impressive shiner, Madison thought.

“What’s going on?” the woman said.

“I don’t know.” Madison pressed the panel button for the first floor again. Nothing.

“Shit,” the other woman said. “You mean we’re stuck in here?”

“I don’t know,” Madison said again. She scanned the panel for an emergency button. She found it, but tried the button for the third floor first. The elevator did not move. She pressed the large red button with the palm of her hand, holding it down for several seconds.

“Did you hear anything?” she asked her companion.

“Nope,” the red-haired woman said, shaking her head. “Maybe it sets off an alarm in some other part of the hospital.”

“Maybe.” Madison paused, and gazed at the panel. It was the best way to keep from gawking at the woman’s colorful black eye – a misnomer, she thought, given that the edges of the bruise had turned several shades of purple, yellow and green. “What happens if we open the door?”

“It won’t open between floors, will it?”

“I don’t know,” Madison said. “It’s worth a try.” She pressed the button.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, as if in slow motion, the door slid open barely wide enough for a person to squeeze through – had there been any reason to, for it opened onto a concrete wall inches in front of their faces. “Great,” Madison said. “Now what?”

“What’s that say?” the woman asked.

“What?”

“Up there. Looks like someone wrote something on the wall. I can’t see too good, on account of this.” She laughed, and touched the tip of an index finger to the edge of her injured eye.

Madison followed the girl’s good eye to a spot on the concrete above both their heads. Someone had indeed scrawled something, with black paint or magic marker. “It’s a heart,” Madison said. “A heart, with an arrow through it, and someone’s initials.” Then she swallowed, hard, around the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. The initials were E.S. Her father’s initials. A long crack in the concrete ran directly between the letters, splitting the whole heart in two.

“Wow,” said the woman beside here. “I wonder how long that’s been there.”

“I don’t know,” Madison said slowly. “But I’m guessing somewhere around forty years. Maybe more.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t,” Madison said. “It’s just a guess.” But the heart creeped her out. She didn’t want to look at it a moment longer. She pushed the button to close the door, and felt a wave of relief when the door obeyed.

She pushed the button for the first floor again, but the elevator didn’t move. Apparently it was obeying only selected instructions today. She leaned again into the emergency button.

“You got a cell phone?” the woman asked.

Madison laughed. “Why didn’t I think of that?” She reached into her pocket and pulled it out, then pulled up Pilar’s phone number from her list of contacts. But she didn’t have any bars. “Shit,” she said. “Something in here’s cutting off my phone reception. Try yours.”

“My old man smashed my phone,” the woman said. “The same time he went upside my head and gave me this.” She pointed at her eye again and grinned, though Madison saw sadness behind the smile.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She closed her phone and replaced it in her pocket.

“Don’t be. I got a restraining order. He can’t come within fifty yards of the house unless I say so.”

“Those don’t always work,” Madison said. “Did he break your arm, too?”

“Dislocated,” the woman said. “We had a fight, there was drinking involved, things got out of hand.”

“It sounds like it.”

“Thing is, it was partly my fault.”

“Don’t say that,” Madison admonished. “There’s never an acceptable reason for a man to hit a woman. Don’t make excuses for him.”

The woman slumped against the elevator wall. “You’re right,” she said. “Thing is, I wasn’t a very good wife.”

“Honey, I just split up with husband number three. Does that make me a bad wife? I got to think that the guy’s behavior has something to do with it, too. Don’t blame yourself.”

The woman gave her the sad smile again. “You’re nice. My name’s Julie, by the way.”

“Julie, I’m Madison.”

The woman extended her good arm for a brief, soft handshake. “Well, what do we do now, Madison? Wait for help to arrive?”

“Unless you’ve got any better ideas.”

She leaned against the wall. If she had to get stuck in this damn elevator, why couldn’t it have been after, rather than before, she retrieved the cookies?

At least she had company. “We could bang on the walls and scream,” Julie suggested.

It was worth a try. The two women made as much noise as they could, slapping the elevator’s insides with open palms and crying out for help. When they stopped, out of breath, they slumped against adjoining walls. Madison slowly slid down the wall into a seated position on the elevator floor. She listened for anything beyond their enclosure, but heard only silence.

“Someone’s bound to respond to that alarm,” Julie said, slumping down beside her.

“Unless it’s broken, too.”

They were silent for what seemed like a long time but was probably only a minute or two. Just when Madison was going to say something, anything, to break the awkwardness, Julie spoke up. “So what are you in here for, anyway?”

Madison laughed. “You make it sound like prison.”

“Well, in a way it is,” Julie said. “I mean, look at us.”

“Point taken.” The two women laughed together softly. “But it’s not me,” Madison said. “It’s my mom. I’m just visiting.”

“Oh.”

“Tell me something, Julie,” Madison said.

“What?”

Madison paused, then plunged. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Julie looked at her seriously for a moment. Then one corner of her mouth bent upward. “I’ve never seen one, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said. “I don’t know if they exist or not. Seems like a strange to question right at the moment, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“You ever hear a rumor that this hospital is haunted?”

The small proto-smile disappeared from Julie’s face. She shook her head.

“My father was a doctor here, a long time ago,” Madison said. “He…”

But before she could finish the thought, the elevator shuddered, and Madison imagined that its interior lights dimmed for just a second and then returned to full brightness. And the elevator began to descend.

“We’re moving!” Julie shouted, and struggled to get to her feet. Madison reached out to steady her. The elevator came to a smooth stop, and the door opened.

Joanie stood in front of them, clutching a large green shopping bag and a smaller plain paper bag, looking agitated. “Well, it’s about time,” she said when she saw Madison. “I’ve been waiting for that stupid elevator for almost ten minutes.”

“We were stuck,” Madison said. “Didn’t an alarm go off anywhere?”

Joanie shook her head. Madison stepped out of the elevator, the girl in the sling behind her. Joanie’s face hardened when she saw Julie.

“Hi,” Julie said, after a brief, awkward moment.

“Hi,” Joanie said back.

The two women exchanged a strange look, but Madison put it down to Joanie’s impatience. Her sister wasn’t fond of wasting time, for any reason. Julie quickly slipped past them into the lobby. “I must have pressed the emergency button ten or twelve times,” Madison said. “We banged against the walls and yelled. You didn’t hear anything?”

“No,” Joanie said.

“I guess the damn alarm doesn’t work, either,” Madison said.

“What alarm?” Joanie asked.

“Never mind.” It would take too long to explain, and Madison was happy to be out of the elevator. “What’s in the bag?”

“Popovers, plus I bought Mom some of those soaps she likes, and a couple pairs of socks with the grip soles, so she won’t slip if she decides to walk around in her stocking feet,” Joanie answered. “She can use them here as well as at home, when she gets out. Maddie, that girl…”

But Julie had disappeared. Madison saw that the old man behind the reception desk had his head buried in the newspaper; there was no one else in the lobby. Julie must have been eager to put the hospital and Madison’s talk of ghosts behind her, for she had vanished from the lobby as if she had never existed.

The sisters looked at one another. “Just someone I ran into in the elevator,” Madison said. “She ran into the business end of her husband’s fist. Poor girl.”

“Men,” Joanie said. “Barbarians, the lot of them. You coming from Mom’s room?”

“I forgot something in the car,” Madison said. “Pilar’s up there with her. I’ll be right back. But I might try to find the stairs when I come back in. You’ve been here a bunch of times. You ever get stuck in that elevator?”

“Not stuck,” Joanie said. “It’s taken me to the wrong floor once or twice.”

“Joanie, I think Dad’s in there.”

Her sister looked at her hard. “Maddie, you know that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.”

“I know,” she said. “And I know you sound like just like Jeremy. But Pilar found a book today. Get her away from Mom, and ask her about it. I gotta go get those cookies.” She caught Joanie’s skeptical look. “And no, I haven’t been eating them, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Come on, Maddie…” The elevator door had closed; Joanie pressed the button and it opened again instantly. Madison glanced inside. Everything looked normal.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. “Be careful.”

Joanie stepped into the elevator; Madison saw the door close behind her as she hurried out into the parking lot. She scanned the area for a glimpse of a woman with red hair moving among the cars. But the girl was gone.

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