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Sunday Afternoon

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

UNLESS YOU NEED ME FOR SOMETHING, I D LIKE TO leave, Lizzie announced. My husband probably thinks I've been kidnapped.

I only need a few more minutes, I said. Is it all right if I stay here alone?

Suit yourself. I imagine everybody's gone home by now, but you can get out through the front door by just pushing on it.

With her departure, I was left alone in the attic. The building was so still, I realized I was probably the only person there. After a short while, I gave up and tossed the folder into the top desk drawer. Perhaps it was Lizzie's silly story about ghosts on campus, perhaps it was knowing I was alone, but I found myself jumping with each creak and moan of the old building.

As I was pulling the brass grille of the elevator closed, I thought I heard a sound coming from the direction of the PR office. I stopped and listened but heard nothing. Anybody there? I called. There was no answer. Then I heard it again, a creaking noise that sounded as if someone was stealthily opening or closing a door. Thoughts of ghosts ran through my mind. But even more frightening was the thought that a real person might be sneaking up on me in the dark hallway. I jammed my finger against the down button and breathed a sigh of relief as the ancient elevator jerked and began to move. As it slowly bounced downward, I prayed it wouldn't get stuck. All I needed was to be locked in the building all weekend with a ghost or something worse.

Outside, I stood on the porch for a few moments, thinking about what I should do next. The yellow police tape was still up, but the mock grave had been filled in and was covered with grassy sod. The investigation, if any, had moved to another level. If Garnet were still the chief of police, I'd be able to ask him what was being done, and after he grumbled a little he'd tell me. But he was gone, and I was on my own.

Now what? I wondered. I certainly didn't want to go home and continue last night's mind-numbing discussion with Ethelind about figures of speech in King Lear. What I could do was get started on my interviews, I thought. I opened the notebook and studied the list of names. There were two reenactors who'd loaded the guns, and I needed to talk to both of them. For one, I had only the number of a post office box in a nearby village, for the other, the address of a shop in Gettysburg. Unlike Lickin Creek's, most Gettysburg shops were open on Sundays. I could zip across the mountain and be in Gettysburg in fifteen or twenty minutes. At least I'd be doing something constructive with my time.

The company car, a white Chevy Cavalier from the vintage year of 1985, stood alone on the far edge of the deserted parking lot. It was great having wheels of my own, but every time I got in it to go somewhere, I said a little prayer that this would not be its last trip. Today, it took its own sweet time about starting.

Please, please, please I muttered under my breath. The engine coughed, then turned over.

I left Lickin Creek behind me and headed over the mountains on the narrow, winding road that would take me to Gettysburg. I drove through several small villages, hardly more than a few buildings at a crossroads, and past neat little farms where the brick houses were dwarfed by the nearby barns. Twice, I crossed rivers on old stone bridges. Or more likely it was one meandering river that I crossed twice. There were few cars on the road, and I made good time.

Soon, I was in the center of town, waiting at Lincoln Square for a break in the traffic. All the stores I could see were open, and the sidewalks were full of people, some of whom wore clothes of the Civil War era. I glanced down at my page of names on the front seat beside me and read the address of the shop I was looking for. Lizzie had told me it was only a few blocks off the main street, not far at all from the square.

Taking my life in my hands, I cut into the circle. Four streets branched off from it like the spokes of a wheel, and from each street came a steady stream of cars which swept me all the way around the square back to where I had started. As I went round again, I wondered if there was any way to escape, or was I doomed to ride forever around the center of Gettysburg? Finally, I ignored angry honking from the car behind me, squeezed between a pickup truck pulling a camper and an SUV, and managed to exit the circle. I drove for a few blocks and then turned left.

Tall, narrow brick town houses lined both sides of the one-lane, one-way street. Several had been converted to shops, and in front of one of them was a hanging sign with raised gold letters that said THE OLD CAMP GROUND. That was what I was looking for.

I found a parking spot about two blocks up the street and got out of the car, feeling almost as though I'd stepped back into the last century. Walking ahead of me were two women in hoopskirts carrying string bags. A bearded soldier in a gray Confederate uniform stepped out of a bookshop and nodded pleasantly to me. The mood was broken when two teenage girls with spiky purple hair whizzed past me on roller blades. I paused for a minute to look into the windows of the bookshop and wished I had time to stop. Reluctantly, I decided I couldn't. Not today. Time has no meaning for me once I get into a bookstore. As I turned away, I had the uncomfortable sensation that someone was watching me. I looked around, but the street was now empty.

Across the street was another shop with a hanging sign that spelled out DREAMGATE in gold letters. To the left of the door was a dusty window, full of Celtic jewelry and crystal suncatchers, and through the window, I thought I saw a furtive movement, as if a person had been there, then stepped back. For a moment I was unnerved, then I decided my imagination was carrying me away. There was no reason for somebody to be spying on me; it was only a customer who had just entered the shop-or maybe the owner was straightening up the window display.

THE OLD CAMP GROUND had a single window, and all that was in it was a small sign that read SUTLERY, ANTIQUITIES, GUNS, AUTHENTIC COSTUMES, AND CIVIL WAR SOUVENIRS. Another sign, on the door, said OPEN, PUSH HARD.

I pressed down on the latch, put my shoulder to the door, and pushed with all my might. The door swung open easily and I tumbled inside, landing on my knees. I quickly got on my feet and brushed the dust off my skirt. I wasn't hurt, just embarrassed and hopeful that nobody had seen my ridiculous entrance. The contrast between the bright day outside and the dim interior caused me to stop and blink. As I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, I heard a deep chuckle, then a man's voice saying, Afternoon, miss. Nice of you to drop in. So much for my hope that nobody had witnessed my fall. The room slowly began to materialize, first a waist-high glass case to my right, full of small objects for reenactors like tin cups and enamel cook-ware, then shelves stacked with boxes, and finally, in the back of the room, a number of lifelike mannequins dressed in clothes of the Civil War period.

Hello? I said, looking around for the source of the voice.

What I'd first thought was a mannequin, sitting in a rocking chair, stood up. I gasped in surprise. You really startled me, I said. As the figure moved toward me, I was even more startled, for the man was at least six and a half feet tall and had to weigh close to three hundred pounds. He wore a blue Union Army uniform, and the lower half of his face and most of his chest were hidden by a bushy, sandy-colored beard. And most startling of all, an enormous rifle rested in the crook of his left arm.

Sorry, miss. Didn't mean to scare you. His stentorian voice was better suited for the Broadway stage than a dusty shop in Gettysburg.

Are you the owner? I groped in my memory for his name, Wood Uh Woody? I couldn't recall his last name.

He unlocked the glass doors of a gun cabinet and placed the gun inside along with a dozen others, then locked the case, pocketed the key, and moved toward me with surprising grace for a man of his size. Nothing jiggled; his bulk was all muscle. Woody Woodruff. He smiled down at me, and his blue-green eyes sparkled as he extended a hand the size of a roasting chicken, which I shook. Woody Woodruff seemed to be trying to exude a sexy animal magnetism, and he was failing miserably.

What an interesting shop, I murmured to cover up my discomfort. Why I feel uncomfortable when a man, any man, pays attention to me, I just don't understand. In this case I was totally dumbfounded. Woody wasn't at all attractive. Especially in his silly blue costume.

You don't look like most of the gals what come in here, he said.

And how do they look?

Long hair, rimless glasses, sandals, ethnic jewelry. Reenactors look kind of like hippies, only with a purpose in life. And they're usually younger.

Younger! I was only a little past thirty, just enough to feel the first pangs of self-consciousness about my age. Soon I'd have to wear bathing suits with skirts and pad my bunions with moleskin, and people would call me ma'am, and life as I knew it would be over. I realized Woody was staring at me, as though waiting for me to comment on what he'd just said.

Oh, I said, demonstrating the agility with words that made me such a brilliant writer. I pulled my aging self back to the moment and, thinking it best not to tell him I was a reporter, said I was from the college and needed to ask a few questions about Mr. Macmillan's death. He led me to the back of the store where there were two rockers and gestured for me to sit in one.

Want a soda?

Diet, please. I opened my notebook while he disappeared through a pair of curtains. He was back in a minute with two ice-cold cans.

I got a Coke machine in back, he said, handing me a soda. Didn't want to spoil the ambience by putting it in here. He sat down and looked intently at me. I been over this several times. He raised the Coke can to his lips and drank. I talked to that weird little police chief from Lickin Creek twice yesterday. He couldn't seem to think of what to ask me the first time, so he come back later with more questions.

At first I thought he was referring to Garnet and was offended, but then I remembered Luscious Miller was now the acting police chief, and weird described him well. Luscious was a nice guy, but really out of his league in Garnet's job. I could picture him stumbling through an interview, going home and wishing he'd asked better questions, then coming back to stumble through another. Poor Luscious-I knew no one had wanted Garnet to stay in Lickin Creek more than he.

But I'm not with the police, you see, so I have no access to their report.

He still looked doubtful.

We-I mean the college-want to keep this as quiet as possible and find out what happened.

What happened-he grinned-is that Mack Macmillan bit the bullet-fifteen of them to be exact. He swigged down the last of his soda and belched.

I restrained from shuddering at his rude behavior and said, I know that, Woody. But how? You loaded the guns the night before, didn't you?

Yeah-but not with lead. Just black powder and foam Wonder Wads to hold it in place. He glared at me as if daring me to contradict him.

Were you alone at the time? I knew he hadn't been but wanted to hear his version.

There was four other people in that room with me. That PR gal from the college let us in and stayed with us like she was scared we'd steal some of her precious paper clips.

That was Janet Margolies, I told him.

Yeah-Janet-the pregnant one. And her helper-gal. Then there was Darious-he loaded half the guns- with the ammunition I brought with me.

His last name?

DeShong. He spelled it, and I wrote it down. That was the man for whom I had only a post office box.

Have you known him for long?

Met him last summer. We done maybe a half-dozen reenactments together. Fairly dependable. Usually shows up like he says he will. That's why I asked him to help out.

Why were you in charge, Woody?

I'm the commanding officer of the company what was invited to stage the execution. Executions is our specialty. As CO, loading the guns is my job. Looky here, miss, I take my responsibilities serious. My reputation can be ruined by this. I might never get asked to do another execution.

The college doesn't blame you at all, Woody, I said, trying to soothe him.

I wanna find out what went wrong-maybe more than anybody.

I looked at my notebook and thought for a moment about what to ask next. Lizzie had told me Woody had taken the box of ammo out of his vest pocket. Woody, when you took the guns to the college, did you take the exact number of cartridges you'd need? Or were there some left over?

There was lots left over. I only make them up about twice a year.

Could I see the box, please.

Sure. He crossed the room with three giant steps, opened a drawer in a rolltop desk, and pulled out a box. Here's what we didn't use. He handed me one.

To me, it looked like a dirty twist of paper with an earplug glued on top.

What does the foam thingy do? I asked.

It holds the powder in place. In the old days, soldiers would fill a piece of paper with black powder, then put a ball on top. The ball was what did the killing. See-here's a real one. It don't even look like the ones I made. Nobody could mistake mine for the real thing. I load them myself, and I ain't never had no accident.

How do I know this was the box you had in the storeroom? I asked.

His mouth smiled, but not his eyes. You're tough, Tori. Lucky for me I don't fool around when it comes to guns and ammo. Take a look-see at the box top. I had everybody there initial it.

I took the box from his outstretched hand, ignoring the way he let his fingers linger on mine. W. W.- that's you, I suppose?

He nodded.

J. M. is Janet Margolies, I assume. L. B.-that's Lizzie Borden.

Hell of a name. And D. D. is Darious DeShong.

Who was this E. M.?

That was Mack. His real name was Edward Mac-millan. He liked to be called Mack because it made him sound like one of the boys.

Who actually loaded the guns?

Woody shook his head. Darious and me. Want another Diet?

No thanks. Can you recall anything unusual happening?

He shook his head again. After we was done, we left the room. Janet locked the door behind us. Darious and me got in my truck, and I drove him home. That's all.

Are you sure it was locked?

I tried it myself. Them guns is my responsibility.

Was there any other way in? A window, maybe? I asked.

He shook his head. Nope. It was just a big closet. One door. No windows.

It was like a John Dickson Carr locked-room mystery. Door locked. Two keys, both in Janet Margolies's possession. No evidence of the lock being picked. No other entrance to the storeroom. How on earth could the switch have occurred? What about on Saturday when you went to get the weapons? Did anything look different?

Nah. Janet opened the door. Her secretary was with her. Darious and me went in, got the guns, and passed them out to the men. They was standing in the hallway.

Did you see any discarded blanks, I mean Wonder Wads, lying around?

Of course not. The storeroom looked exactly like it did when we locked it up on Friday night.

That meant whoever had reloaded the guns had taken the original ammunition away with him, or her. I wondered if it would ever turn up.

Please think back-did anything unusual happen?

We had a long wait before Mack showed up. About an hour late. Janet looked pretty damn mad, but there weren't much she could do about it. He shrugged. Guess when you're a big shot, you don't mind keeping people waiting.

What did you and your men do while you were waiting for him to arrive? I asked.

We just hung around the hallway. Drank a Coke. Ate some pretzels one of the guys brought with him.

You didn't go into the storeroom?

I already done told you, Janet didn't unlock it until Mack showed up. And I know it was locked because I tried to open it when we first got there.

I understand Macmillan was a Civil War expert. Was he a collector, also? Did he ever come here to buy things from you?

Woody chuckled. I don't sell the type of things Mack Macmillan collected. Couldn't afford to stock them.

His eyebrows grew together. Wait a second-I done near forgot-there was a little problem. After Mack finally showed up, Janet couldn't get the door open. Then she tried another key, and it worked okay.

Wait a minute, I said. You mean one of the keys couldn't unlock the storeroom door?

Uh-huh, Woody replied with his usual eloquence.

Hmm, I thought I'll have to talk to Janet about this.

I snapped my notebook shut, stood up, and extended my hand. Thanks a lot, Woody. If you think of anything else, please call the public relations office at the college. If I'm not in, leave a message with Lizzie. I knew I wouldn't be there, but I was also sure Lizzie would let me know if he called.

He grasped my hand with both of his and stared intently into my eyes. I don't think you understand how careful we'uns always is-so nobody gets hurt.

I'm sure you are, I commented, trying to free my hand from his grip.

Maybe you'uns should take part in a reenactment. See how we do it.

That would be really nice, I said, surreptitiously wiping my hand on my dress. I looked for a way to get past him to the door. He stepped aside before I decided how to make a run for freedom.

At the door, I thought of one more question. Can you tell me where Darious DeShong lives? The only address I have for him is a post office box in Lickin Creek.

Try the Hostettler farm out on Orphanage Road.

Do you have his telephone number?

Darious with a phone? Hah! He pulled the door open and stood aside. Do you have an Esso? he asked.

Esso? I repeated, feeling confused. Wasn't that a gas station?

My face must have looked totally blank, because he chuckled and said, S.O Significant Other person you got something going with a boyfriend.

If I didn't, I certainly wouldn't want him to know. Yes, I said. I do have an S.O.

Took you a little while to answer. You telling me the truth?

I have to go now. As I pushed past him, I felt warmth radiating from his body.

I'll call you, he yelled at my back.

In my car, I rolled down the windows and exhaled loudly. What had he been thinking? The creep had been coming on to me through the whole interview. Who did he think he was-Brad Pitt? Did I really come across as a lonely single woman looking for a man? I turned the ignition key on the Cavalier more forcefully than I needed to, said my usual please-let-it-start prayer, and pulled out into the empty street.

Maybe, I thought, as the car rolled back into the twenty-first century, I should wonder why he thought I was available. Did I unconsciously project a man-hungry aura? Good God, I hoped not.

Deciding to put off my visit to Darious DeShong, the other reenactor, for another day, I headed back to Lincoln Square where I noticed a couple of restaurants. It was getting late, and I had missed lunch. The place I chose was called the Pub and Restaurant. Inside, the walls were painted dark blue, with a frieze around the top depicting babies and young children with wings. A pleasant young woman in a blue shirt and beige shorts led me to a booth, trimmed with red and gold, near the window, where, through a potted fern, I had an excellent view of an endless stream of cars and trucks racing around the traffic circle.

What'll it be, hon? the waitress asked. I'd almost become used to waitresses calling me hon, and so I barely cringed. I studied the menu for a minute. It featured a nice selection of salad plates, but phooey on that. I deserved something far more substantial after the difficult day I'd experienced.

Since I was really planning to start my diet Monday, I decided to go all out and ordered a Reuben with french fries and coleslaw. My plate was nearly clean when my waitress approached the table. No dessert, just the check, I told her, and felt positively virtuous.

No, ma'am, I was asked to give you a message.

Ma'am, she called me ma'am. That was even worse than hon. It really was the beginning of the end when a waitress, only slightly younger than myself, called me ma'am!

She didn't seem to notice my distress and pointed to the doorway, where a black figure was silhouetted against the sky. Lady there says she wants to talk to you. I took the check from her hand and headed toward the counter.

The figure, a woman, stepped forward. She wore an ankle-length black gauze dress and lots of clunky silver Celtic jewelry. Her blond hair hung straight to her waist and was crowned with a wreath of white flowers. Despite the New Age outfit, suitable for a teeny-bopper, I guessed her to be older than me by several years.

Tori Miracle? the apparition asked.

I acknowledged that was my name.

My name's Moonbeam.

Yes? I asked.

I have a shop here in Gettysburg.

Dreamgate?

She nodded. I saw you go into Woody's sutlery.

I'm really in a hurry, I said, and made an attempt to step around her.

She deftly blocked my escape. Woody's my friend. A really good friend.

Did she mean boyfriend? I wanted to offer her my deepest sympathy, but I kept still and waited to hear what was coming next.

I didn't think you looked like one of his regulars, so I went over to his shop to see what you were doing there. We look out for each other.

Oh man!

He said you're looking into Mack Macmillan's murder.

Murder. Moonbeam was the first person who had used that word. I wondered if she knew something. That's absolutely correct, I said. Is there something you can tell me about it?

She shook her head, sprinkling flower petals on the floor. Not really. She changed the subject abruptly by saying, I'm psychic, you know. She appeared to be both jealous and wacky, a dangerous combination.

I sense that you are troubled.

Who isn't?

I can help you. Little silver bells tied to her ankles by string-probably hemp-tinkled as she moved.

You can help me find out who murdered Mack Macmillan?

Her blue eyes widened with surprise. No. I meant I could help you. She handed me a little lavender card covered with moons and stars and small print. Come to my shop, soon. I'll do an evaluation and determine what kind of treatment you need.

Thank you, but I'm not really into aromatherapy, or Reiki, or Rolfing, or feng shui, or I stopped reading from her card because, with a tinkling of her bells, she spun away and was gone.

I glanced at her card. Moonbeam Nakamura, it said, holistic healer of mind, body, and spirit. It struck me as very odd that I'd met two people named Nakamura in one day. Nakamura was as common as Smith or Jones in Japan, but certainly it was rare in south-central Pennsylvania. Determined to find out what the connection was between Moonbeam and Professor Nakamura at the college, I dropped her card into my purse.

The air was cool and the sky was darkening when I pulled into the circular driveway in front of Ethelind's dilapidated Moon Lake mansion. The gloomy thought hit me that it was probably too early for her to have gone to bed. My only hope was to sneak up the back stairs with Fred and Noel before she heard me. When I moved in a few weeks ago, I'd thought she was leaving right away, but she stayed on-and on-and on.

Hoping to get in without attracting her attention, I tried to close the car door quietly, but the front door to the house popped open and Ethelind's shrill voice pierced the evening air. Tori? Is that you? Are you okay? It's so late!

Everything's fine, Ethelind, I replied.

I've got the Parcheesi board set up for a game, she called.

I marched toward the house feeling like a dead man walking.


Sunday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Monday Morning