The police sergeant unlocked the cell and Bruce K. Wildman came in at a pace that was far too fast for the size of the room. He pulled up abruptly, and looked at Harold, and gave his head a little shake, and said, "Harold?" as if he were shocked that it was actually Harold Winstanley.412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡKYXgw65JHL
"Thanks for coming, Bruce," he told him. "I appreciate it."
"They say you killed this woman?" asked Bruce. He didn't put down his briefcase.
"She was killed, yes. But not by me."
Bruce turned around to the sergeant who had let him in. "Do you have someplace more comfortable where we can talk?"
The sergeant looked doubtful for a moment, and then he said, "There's an interviewing room across the corridor. But you understand that I'll have to leave the door open."
"That's all right," said Mr. Wildman. "Just lead the way."
They were ushered into a pale-green painted room with a scratched table and two steel-and-canvas chairs. There was an overcrowded ashtray on the table and the whole room smelled like stale cigarette smoke.
"You can open the window if you want," Mr. Wildman told the sergeant, but the sergeant only smiled and shook his head.
They sat facing each other. Mr. Wildman opened up his briefcase and took out a yellow legal pad; then unscrewed an expensive lacquered fountain pen. At the top he wrote the date, underlined it, then H. Winstanley, Homicide. Outside the door, the police sergeant loudly blew his nose.
"Now, what exactly were you doing in this woman's house?" Mr. Wildman asked him.
"I was trying to pay her a visit. I wanted to talk to her."
"But the police say you entered the house through the cellar window. Do you usually visit people like that?"
"I went to the door but I couldn't get any answer."
"If you don't get an answer at the door, isn't it only logical to assume that there's nobody in, and go away?"412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡxVwonDK51q
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"That's what I was going to do, but then I saw somebody's face at an upstairs window. A man's face."
Bruce K. Wildman jotted this down and then asked, "Was it a man you knew?"
"It was a man I knew of."
"That's not very helpful, I'm afraid."
"All right," Harold said, "earlier in the evening, Mrs. Donald Baylor had given me a ride back from Ol' Spithead Market, and she had mentioned him to me."
"Had she described him?"
"Then how did you know that the man you saw at the window was the same man?"
"Because it had to be. Because he wasn't the normal kind of man."
"What do you mean not 'the normal kind of man'?"
Harold raised his hands. "Bruce," he said, "the way you're questioning me now, I'm finding it very hard to explain to you exactly what happened."
"Harold," said Mr. Wildman, "I'm questioning you now the way you're going to be questioned by the D.A. If you can't find a way of explaining what happened when I ask you direct questions like these; then I warn you here and now that you're going to find yourself in serious trouble when it comes to court."
"Bruce," Harold told him, "I understand that. But right now I need your help, and the only way that I can give you the means to help me is if I tell you in a different way. You're getting the facts out of me, but you're not getting the story."412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡjwIVWR7iNr
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Mr. Wildman made a face, but then shrugged and put down his pen, and folded his arms. "All right, then," he said. "Tell me the story. Just remember that it will have to be adapted to fit the conventional methods of court questioning; otherwise, whether you're guilty or not, you'll lose. It's just that simple."
"You think I'm guilty?"
There was a slight but visible twitch at the corner of Mr. Wildman's mouth. "You were found alone in a darkened house with a murdered woman. Several people saw you riding in her car earlier in the evening, and the police have witnesses who say you were in a disturbed state of mind just before you went to her house. One of them says you were rambling and deranged, as if you had something on your mind."
"Good old Andy Curtis," Harold said bitterly.
"Those are the facts, Harold. And let's face it, they're pretty cast-iron. Of course, if you tell me you're not guilty, then I believe you, but for the sake of saving yourself quite a few years in the penitentiary, you might find it worthwhile pleading guilty. I can always do a little plea-bargaining with Elliot Lavaca, he's a reasonable man. Or, you could plead insanity."
"Bruce, I am not guilty and I am not insane. I didn't kill Mrs. Donald Baylor and that' all there is to it!"
"You're suggesting this other man did? This other man who wasn't quite the normal kind of man?"
Harold pushed back his chair and stood up. "Listen, Bruce, you have to hear me out. This isn't easy for me to tell; and it won't be any easier for you to believe. But its one saving grace is that it's the truth."412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡcNlAef09wx
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Mr. Wildman sighed. "I'm listening," he said.412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡGmSb1VLTAQ
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Harold walked back to the green-painted wall and stood with his back to him. It seemed easier to explain what had happened to a blank wall. The police sergeant poked his head around the door to make sure he hadn't taken a dive out of the window, and then went back to reading the Salem Evening Post.
"Something's happening in Ol' Spithead this spring, although I don't know why. People are starting to see things. Ghosts, if you like, if that's the easiest way to understand what they are. But in any case, they're images, flickering brightly-lit images, of people who used to live in Ol' Spithead and have recently died."
Mr. Wildman said nothing. Harold could imagine what he was thinking, though. An open-and-shut case of homicide while temporarily insane.
Harold went on: "Mrs. Donald Boyd told me earlier in the evening that she had heard and seen her dead husband, Donald. She had heard him walking about the house, seen him in the garden. She told me that Wilbur Price at the Ol' Spithead Market had experienced similar visitations from his dead son, Jerry."
"Go on," said Mr. Wildman, in a deathly dry voice.412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡNZFcQzWzpr
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"Very early yesterday morning, I experienced a visitation, too. I heard someone swinging on the old swing in the garden. Then, when I went home in the evening, I heard it again, and I went outside to take a look."
"Naturally enough," said Mr. Wildman. "And what was it?"
"Not what was it, Bruce. Who was it."
"All right, have it your way. Who was it."
Harold turned around. He had to face him to say this. "It was your daughter, Bruce. It was Nancy. She was sitting on the swing right in front of me, about as far away as I'm standing away from you now, and she was looking at me."
Harold didn't know what he had expected Mr. Wildman to do or say. It would be logical to expect him to lose his temper, call him a bastard and a blasphemer, and refuse to take Harold's case. The notion of ghosts was too much for anyone to swallow, even in the most conducive of circumstances. The idea that a ghost might have murdered an old lady in a house on the Ol' Spithead highway----well, that was beyond even the grimmest of jokes.
Harold sat down, with his hands in his lap, and looked at Mr. Wildman expectantly. The muscles in his cheek were working, and there was no doubt that his forehead had turned extremely red. But he couldn't read what he was thinking by the expression in his eyes. His eyes were turned inwards, into himself, and they were giving nothing away at all.
"If you want me to lay it on the line," Harold told him, "it wasn't me who killed Mrs. Donald Baylor. It was the ghost of her dead husband. Now, I know you can't go into court and...."
"You saw Nancy?" Mr. Wildman suddenly interrupted him, with considerable harshness in his tone.
Harold nodded, surprised. "I think so. In fact, I'm positive I did. Old Andy Curtis tried to tell me it was St. Elmo's Fire or something, but I saw her face, Bruce, just as clear as if she were..."
"You're not making this up? You're not trying to taunt me? This isn't some kind of vicious retaliatory joke?"
Very slowly, Harold shook his head. "What could I possibly have to retaliate for, Bruce? You may blame me for what happened to Nancy, but you haven't been unkind to me."
"When you saw her...." said Mr. Wildman, speaking with difficulty, "---when you saw her---did she---how did she look?"
"A little strange. Thinner somehow. But it was the same Nancy."
Mr. Wildman put his hand up to his mouth and Harold had realized to his astonishment that there were tears welling up in his eyes.
"Did she---speak at all?" he asked, swallowing. "Did she say anything? Anything at all?"
"No. But I think I've heard her singing. And several times, I think I've heard her whispering my name. You remember in the office, yesterday morning?"
Mr. Wildman nodded. He seemed to be so overwhelmed by emotion that he could barely speak. "I've heard about it, of course. Well, nobody admits to it. But you can't look after their births and their marriages and their wills without getting an inkling that something's going on, can you?"
"What's going on? Harold asked him. "I don't understand."
He sniffed and cleared his throat, and then burrowed into his pocket for his handkerchief. "I don't know very much about it. Only what some of my clients have told me. But many people say that Ol' Spithead is no ordinary community, and never has been. Many people say that if you live in Ol' Spithead, the chances of seeing your loved ones again after they die are remarkably high. Yo may know that the town once used to be called Resurrection, before it was changed by order of the governor of Massachusetts to Ol' Spithead. Well, the reason it was called Resurrection was because the dead were said to visit the living, until the living, too, reached the end of their lives."
"You believe me," Harold said in shock.
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
"Of course I thought you wouldn't. I've murdered an elderly woman, and my alibi is that a ghost did it?"
Mr. Wildman tucked away his handkerchief. "You really saw Nancy," he whispered. "My God, I wish I could have been there. I would have given a year of my life, just to see her again."
"I shouldn't make promises like that," Harold told him. "If Donald Baylor's ghost is anything to go by, these whatever-they-are, manifestations, might be extremely dangerous."
Mr. Wildman smiled and shook his head. "Can you really imagine Nancy doing anything hurtful or cruel?"
"Not the Nancy I knew when she was alive, but..."
"Nancy would never hurt anybody, dead or alive. She was an angel, you know, Harold. An angel when she was living; and now she's gone, an angel still. I'm going to have to tell her mother, you know."
"Bruce, I hate to come back to brass tacks," Harold told him. "But I still don't see how you're going to get me off this homicide charge. Not if ghosts are my only alibi."
Mr. Wildman paused in silence for a long time. Then he looked up at Harold with reddened eyes, and said, "Mrs. Baylor was killed in a most remarkable way, wasn't she?"
"Not just remarkable. Impossible. At least for me to have done it. Or anybody human."
"Well," said Mr. Wildman, "I think I'll go talk to the D.A. I'm sure it's going to be possible to come to some arrangement. He's an old friend of mine, you know. We both belong to the same golf club."
"You really think you can swing something?"
"I can only try."
He stood up, and put away his pad. He couldn't stop himself from smiling. "I can't wait to tell Claudia," he said. "She'll be delighted."
"I don't really see what you've got to be delighted about."
"Harold, my dear boy, we've got everything to be delighted about. Well, almost everything. Once you're released, and back at the cottage, we can visit you, can't we, and see Nancy again for ourselves?"412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡiomQrUqveA
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Harold couldn't think of anything to say. He shook his head, uncertainly, and then sat down on his chair as abruptly as if somebody had hit him with a sockful of wet sand. Mr. Wildman left and he heard his rubber-soled shoes squeaking up the polished police station corridor.412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡoW8UwQkgzO
The police sergeant poked his head around the door again. 412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡIaHWaZsf4x
"What are you sitting there for?" he wanted to know. "It's back to the slammer for you."412Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡb2tyzUcqvk