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Page 83

When it’s my turn at the counter, Marta greets me with the same polite formality as before. “What can I get you, Miss Holt?”

It dawns on me that I should have devised a plan before coming here. Or at least thought of something to say. Instead, all I do is hesitate awkwardly before saying, “I was wondering if we could talk. Somewhere private.”

I don’t tell her what, exactly, I want to talk about, and Marta doesn’t ask. She already knows. The big question is if she’ll agree to it. The Book has given her every reason to say no. Which is why I’m thrown off guard when she gives a quick nod.

“I’d like that.”

“You would?”

I must look as surprised as I feel, for Marta says, “We’re a lot alike, Maggie. Both of us have been defined by Baneberry Hall.”

The guest in line behind me clears his throat, announcing his impatience.

“I should go,” I say. “I can come back later. After the bakery’s closed.”

“I’ll come to you,” Marta replies. “After all, I know the way. Besides, it’s time I faced that place again. I’ll feel better knowing you’re right there with me.”

I leave the bakery feeling relieved. That went better than I expected.

I also feel fortunate that, after my sudden exit from the Gazette newsroom, Brian Prince hadn’t decided to follow me. He would have stumbled upon another massive story if he had.

Marta Carver is about to return to Baneberry Hall.

JULY 11

Day 16

After Jess left for work that morning, I convinced Petra Ditmer to babysit Maggie for a few hours. She was reluctant to do so. Understandable, considering what had transpired the last time she was at Baneberry Hall. She agreed only after I doubled her usual sitting fee.

With Petra watching Maggie, I went to the bakery Marta Carver owned downtown. I found her behind the counter, where she plastered on a polite smile and said, “How can I help you, Mr. Holt?”

“I need to talk,” I said.

Marta nodded toward the customer standing behind me. “I’m sorry, but I’m very busy at the moment.”

“It’s important,” I said. “It’s about your time at Baneberry Hall.”

“I really don’t like to talk about that place.”

Her shoulders were slumped, as if she were literally weighed down by grief. I wanted to leave her in peace. She had enough troubles, and I wasn’t eager to add to them. It was only my need to know more about what was happening at Baneberry Hall that kept me talking.

“I’m worried about my daughter,” I said. “She’s experiencing things. Things I’m trying to understand but can’t.”

Marta’s spine suddenly straightened. After another glance at the waiting customer behind me, she whispered, “Meet me in the library in ten minutes.”

I retreated to the library and waited in the reading room. Marta arrived exactly ten minutes later, still in her apron and with a smear of icing on her forearm. A few bits of flour dusted the lenses of her spectacles, making it look as though she’d just run through a snowstorm.

“Tell me more about your daughter,” she said. “What’s she experiencing?”

“She’s seeing things. When you and your family lived in Baneberry Hall, did anyone witness anything strange?”

“Strange how?”

“Unusual occurrences. Unexplained noises.”

“Are you suggesting the house is haunted?”

“Yes.” It was pointless to deny it. That was exactly my suggestion. “I think there are supernatural entities inside Baneberry Hall.”

“No, Mr. Holt,” Marta said. “I never saw anything to suggest there were ghosts in that house.”

“What about Katie and Curtis?”

Marta gave a hard blink at the mention of her family, as if their names were a gust of air she needed to brace against.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “My husband claimed to have heard a tapping in the hallway at night, but I was certain it was just the pipes. It’s an old house, as you well know.”

I assumed it was the same sound I’d been hearing in the hall.

Tap-tap-tap.

I had thought it was the restless spirit of Curtis Carver, but the fact that he also had heard it meant it was something else. Or someone else. Because I still didn’t think the pipes were to blame.

“Back to your daughter,” Marta said. “Is she sick?”

“Physically, no. Mentally, maybe. Was—” I managed to stop myself from saying Katie’s name. From the way Marta had reacted to the first mention, I figured it was best not to do it again. “Was your daughter ill?”

“She had been sick, yes,” Marta said. “Quite a lot. Constant weakness and nausea. We didn’t know what was causing it. We took her to doctor after doctor, hoping one of them would be able to tell us what was wrong. We even went to an oncologist, thinking it might have been some form of cancer.”

Having a sick child and being helpless to do anything about it is a nightmare for any parent. I’d already experienced the slightest hint of it with Maggie and her visit to Dr. Weber. But what Marta described was far worse.

“Every test came back negative,” she said. “Katie was, on paper at least, a perfectly healthy child. The closest thing we got to a potential diagnosis was a doctor’s suggestion that there might have been mold in the house. Something she was allergic to that didn’t affect the rest of us. We arranged to have the house tested. It never happened.”

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