Dale Parker was relieved to see Detective Joe Franklin standing beneath the exterior light outside of the Winger Estate. Detective Franklin was one of his father’s oldest friends and had been a valuable ally in the elder Parker’s research. He and Sarah made their way along the roadside and passed through the main gate leading up to the house.
“A little easier this time in, huh?” Dale said.
Sarah didn’t respond. She was still in shock. Dale couldn’t blame her. He was a bit in shock himself. He had helped his father on a number of cases but he had never experienced anything like this.
He waved to the detective as they drew near. Franklin wore a gruff expression on his face and that worried the young man. Dale hoped that Allen wasn’t hurt worse than he’d appeared to be before he’d gone to call for help.
“Evening Dale,” the detective said, offering his hand.
“Good evening, Detective Franklin. Thanks for getting here so fast. Is Allen okay?”
“The boy’s fine. He’s been admitted to Duke Memorial and your mother’s on her way.”
“I can’t tell you how great that is to hear. After everything that’s happened tonight, I wasn’t…”
“Dale, that’s where things go sort of south for me,” the detective interrupted. “Your story doesn’t exactly play out as you told it to me on the phone.”
“How so?” Sarah asked. She stepped forward, trying to look past the man and into the house. “Where’s Cassidy? Dale said he left her with Allen.”
“And you are, Miss…?”
“Jones. Sarah Jones.”
“Right,” the detective said, glancing at a small notepad. “You called in the 911.”
“According to dispatch, you claim that your aunt, Mrs. Martin, was attacking Allen Parker and you and he entered into a struggle with her, that Parker in fact struck her repeatedly to the face and yet she kept coming. That’s when you ran for help.”
“Anything you want to add, Dale?”
“Just what I told you on the phone. When Cassidy and I came downstairs, the place was covered in blood and Allen was pretty roughed up. I caught up with Sarah down at the Kenyon place after she’d called emergency response. Then I called you.”
“Walk with me, kid,” the detective said. He put his arm around Dale’s shoulder and led him through the front door of the Winger house.
“No, no, no… this isn’t right,” Dale said, taken aback by the state of the Great Room. “I don’t understand.” There was no blood, no piece of furniture out of place, no candles… in fact, the whole room was well lit by chandeliers overhead and what shadows there were clung to the corners without menace. “Joe, this place was dripping in blood. I swear to you… this doesn’t make any sense.”
“Where’s Cassidy?” Sarah said from the doorway.
Detective Franklin turned to face her. “She’s in her mother’s room. She didn’t want to go upstairs. In fact, she was in near hysterics. Mrs. Martin administered a sedative to calm her down.”
“A sedative?” Sarah was livid. “Are you kidding me? That’s what started all this mess.”
“Dale, Cassidy Martin has some deep rooted psychological problems.” The detective motioned for them to follow him upstairs. “From what her mother told me, the girl’s borderline schizophrenic. Do you understand? She hears voices. Sees things that aren’t there.”
“But we saw them too. I heard…” Dale responded, climbing the marble steps after his father’s best friend. Sarah was right on his heels. “Are you saying we imagined all this?”
“Suggestion is a powerful thing, Dale. I’ve seen it happen to seasoned veterans on the force. Sometimes our minds play tricks on us.”
“That’s bull,” Sarah muttered.
Detective Franklin stopped before Michelle’s bedroom door. It was whole and unmarked from their earlier escape. The detective turned the knob revealing an undisturbed room. Everything was perfectly placed. Even the bed appeared freshly made. He led the two young people inside, pausing by the window seat.
“Does this look like a room beset upon by unseen forces?”
Dale looked at Sarah who was dumbfounded. “No, sir.”
Reaching down, the detective picked up Dale’s backpack and tossed it to him. Taking a quick inventory, he was surprised to find everything inside and in its place. He added the items from his pockets and the book that had struck him in the head. No, he’d not imagined that. It still throbbed where he’d been struck. Still, none of this made any sense.
“Take your things, Dale, and get yourself to the hospital and look after your brother and forget all about this place. Understand? I’m not saying nothing is going on here, but what I am saying is that this is business best left to your father, and even then, he would need to be called in by the family, not by some worrisome teenager who suspects something is wrong.”
“You’re right, of course. I guess we just got overly excited.”
“That’s a load of —“ Sarah fumed. She pushed Dale hard in the shoulder and gave him an eyeful.
“Sarah, it’s alright. Let’s get you home and we can discuss it tomorrow after we’ve all had a good night’s sleep.”
“That’s what I want to hear,” the detective said.
He led the two out of the room and down the stairs. Dale and Sarah took it all in, every bit of well lit nook and cranny. They walked slowly across the marble floor, through the front entrance, and out into the chilled night air.
“Come on, “ Dale said, “let me give you a lift home, then I’ll head over to check on Allen. You’ve got school tomorrow, after all, and your mom’s probably worried sick.”
“Whatever,” Sarah muttered, sauntering off toward the iron gate.
“Thanks again, Detective. I appreciate your being straight with us.”
“You’re a good kid, Dale. Make sure you dad gives me a call as soon as he gets back from Wisconsin.”
“Will do,” Dale said. He broke into a jog to catch up with Sarah who was walking along the berm of the Frances Slocum Trail. “Hey, wait up.”
“Don’t talk to me,” she said, eyes on the road passing under her feet.
“So you think I handled that wrong back there?”
“That detective is full of it and you know it, Dale Parker. What we saw back there— what happened to us — it was…”
“Real? Yeah, I know, but we weren’t going to get anywhere butting heads with the police. If we’re going to be of any help to Cassidy, we’re going to have to dot all our i’s and cross all out t’s.”
“And mind our p’s and q’s too, I suppose.”
“Exactly,” Dale said, smiling. “Look, we made some headway tonight. More than you might think. At least we know for a fact that something unnatural is going on in that place. Now we just have to put a name to it and then we can figure out how to stop it.”
“And what about Cassidy? We can’t just leave her there.”
“For now, we have no choice, but I promise Sarah, we’re not through yet. We’re going to get her out of there, and we’re going to put an end to whatever has that house in its grip.”
“Another Parker promise?”
“Hey, we’re full of ‘em.”
“You’re full of something.”