Sid Langdon didn’t believe in the Greenwood ghost—until murder changed his mind!
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Pillared Roses - Amanda Brenner
Sid Langdon, a self-doubting magnet for offbeat clients and hapless scenarios, is hired by a wealthy gentleman to investigate mysterious occurrences at his parents’ lakeside estate. The man considers the incidents the work of pranksters trading on a local legend of a Confederate officer whose ghost prowls the surrounding woods.
When the body of his client’s disabled father is found floating beside the boat dock, his skull fractured, possibly by the blunt edge of a sword, Sid suspects it was no accident and that his quarry is no ghost. Dogged by guilt that his initial skepticism may have contributed to the man’s death, Sid is determined to bring the killer in.
It was early—a little after eight. From his second floor office overlooking the fog-shrouded Sound, Sid sat at his desk listening to fading perks from the pot of coffee he had just made. His finger traced the rim of a cup filled with fresh brew as he reviewed the phone message Michelle had left for him: Martin Saunderson. Ten o’clock. Personal.
A quick online scan of local newspaper archives told him all he needed to know of his prospective client prior to their appointment. According to his brief research, Martin H. Saunderson was a well-known local attorney in the firm he founded; he had two grown children, was active in numerous charitable organizations and dabbled in a small winery on the peninsula. Sid smelled money, lots of it, and found himself looking forward to ten o’clock.
Martin Saunderson arrived five minutes early and Sid left his office to approach the elderly man standing beside the reception desk. His visitor was an imposing figure, tall and thin, impeccably groomed and dressed in a three-piece gray pinstriped suit. His expertly cut dark hair was tinged with gray, enhancing his already distinguished appearance. After introducing himself, Sid escorted the man through the door with the neat lettering on the opaque glass panel, Sidney Langdon, Private Investigator. He closed the door and indicated a chair. His visitor declined any refreshment; Sid took his own seat and got to the point.
“Well, Mr. Saunderson, the only information I have regarding this visit is that it concerns a personal matter. Just how may I be of service to you?”
The old gentleman hesitated as if to collect his thoughts before speaking. “First of all, Mr. Langdon, I must tell you that you have been recommended to me by Gordon Halberly. Gordon is a client of my firm as well as a friend. His home is near mine in Darrowby Estates. Actually, he is a neighbor of the Sedgwicks and knows Jennifer quite well. Gordon tells me that you are a man of discretion as well as an effective investigator; I need someone with both those qualities. That’s why I’m here.”
So, Sid reflected, another offshoot from the Sedgwick affair. He’d had reason on numerous occasions to thank his lucky stars for that first case. His involvement in the Sedgwick jewelry caper had paid off handsomely in the referrals that had come his way after his fortunately successful resolution of the matter.
“I’m just glad I was able to help,” he remarked modestly before a second attempt to nudge the man into revealing the point of his call. “Please continue, Mr. Saunderson. You’ve come on a personal matter?”
His visitor hesitated again, his eyes alternating between the patterned rug at his feet and the edge of the desk between them, struggling to decide whether to continue; he was not used to feeling like a fool; it was unsettling. He finally decided not to waste the appointment and began his explanation. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Langdon, I’m very embarrassed to be here at all, but I’ve thought about this a great deal and I’ve just decided to get to the bottom of a situation that has been causing my parents a good deal of anxiety for more than a year now. I can only hope, when I’ve explained everything to you, that you’ll see your way clear to look into a perplexing mystery that has been occurring at their estate on Orkan Lake.”
His parents? Wondering why the man would try to engage him on behalf of someone else, and in that case just who his client would be, Sid said calmly, “Mr. Saunderson, if your parents are having any kind of problem they feel needs investigation, why haven’t they come themselves? Also, are you sure I’m the right person to help you? If this is a legal matter, perhaps they should consult an attorney. Or if some sort of crime is involved, perhaps they should talk to the local authorities.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Mr. Saunderson replied, “but I assure you I am here on their behalf and the local authorities are already quite aware of the matter. They simply do not take it seriously. I’m afraid the sheriff believes the situation is due to their age and relative isolation, but I can attest that in spite of their age my parents are quite lucid, and what is happening is more than simply their imaginations running wild, especially since I’ve seen it too.”
“And just what is it that you’ve seen, Mr. Saunderson?” Sid prompted, his interest piqued.
His visitor took a deep breath, steeling himself for the derision he expected, before he composed himself and said levelly, “A ghost, Mr. Langdon—a ghost—or, more precisely, the ghost of Captain Edward Eversley.” There, it was out. He paused after the statement, awaiting the skepticism he was sure it would provoke.
“Ghost?” As soon as the word was out, Sid looked down trying to suppress a disbelieving smirk he couldn’t hide.
The detective’s reaction had become a common one whenever the subject came up, and Mr. Saunderson said earnestly, “Believe me, Mr. Langdon, I know how it sounds, but I’m convinced something is definitely going on. I firmly believe that someone is taking advantage of a local legend to harass my parents. They live alone, except for my father’s personal assistant, Damon Seward, and I am becoming concerned for their safety. I don’t believe in ghosts any more than you do,” he said emphatically, “but I do think someone is trying to terrify my parents. I have no idea as to who might do such a thing or why, but I want to find out. I want you to look into the matter and gather the proof we need to put a stop to it.”
His visitor was now clearly agitated; Sid thought about the possibility there might be some truth to what he said. Further examination seemed prudent. “You say you’ve seen this,” searching for the right word, Sid finally settled on, “apparition?”
Sensing that he might at last have found a sympathetic ear, the elderly man nodded vigorously. “Yes, I certainly have,” he said.
“Just tell me exactly what it is you’ve seen, when it appears and under what conditions.” Sid was now all business; he was not smirking any longer. He had decided that Saunderson was far from a fool and now his own curiosity was aroused. Just what was going on?
“Thank you, Mr. Langdon.” Saunderson’s voice was tinged with relief as he began to explain the background for his story. “There is a local legend regarding the illegitimate son of the original owner of my parents’ estate, Greenwood. From time to time over the years, there have been reports of a figure lurking in the surrounding woods; those who claim to have seen it swear it is a man in a Confederate officer’s uniform. Over time, the sightings became something of a local conspiracy. Someone would report a glimpse of a shadowy figure and attribute it to the ghost of Captain Edward Eversley, a Confederate officer who died in battle during the Civil War. As long as it was just a story for the tourists, we went along with it; actually found it amusing, thinking it was not hurting anyone. However, about a year ago, my parents themselves began to report actually seeing a figure in a Confederate uniform standing in various parts of the estate, especially beside a small cottage near the lake where, according to the legend, Captain Eversley once lived as a child with his mother, the housekeeper who raised him.
“When they began to mention these sightings in earnest, I am ashamed to say that at first I wondered if the sheriff’s assessment of the situation had been correct; until, that is, I saw the figure myself. It was on a foggy night about a month ago. I had gone to the estate for dinner. It was a warm evening and we were having cocktails on the patio at the back of the house overlooking the lake. My mother saw it first and pointed it out. It was difficult to make out through the fog, but I was finally able to see what appeared to be the figure of a man standing next to the cottage. He was dressed in some sort of gray uniform; against the fog, it was hard to make out, but at least it looked to me like a frock coat and hat decorated with some kind of design. I suppose, because of the legend, I assumed the design to be an officer’s insignia—it could have been—I could not see it clearly. Anyway, he was just standing there looking back at the house. He stood there for what seemed a few seconds longer and then disappeared into the woods. Let me tell you, Mr. Langdon, it made my hair stand on end.”
Sid propped his elbows on the arms of his chair and brought his fingers together in front of him to form a pyramid. In that position, he contemplated the prospective client sitting across from him on the other side of the desk. His attention inadvertently drifted to the stripes at the seams of the man’s suit; they matched perfectly, forming smooth continuous lines; he wondered how the tailor had gotten the pattern to align so flawlessly.
Forcing himself to confine his concentration to the matter at hand, Sid asked himself if this were a case in which he really wanted to be involved. Could he afford to turn the man down or, even if he could afford it, should he? The answer to all of his questions was no. But really—a ghost?
Mr. Saunderson took advantage of Sid’s pause to consider the investigator he wished to engage. He appreciated the man’s hesitation; it meant he was debating the odds of a successful resolution to the problem presented. If his case were accepted, it would be the result of a professionally considered decision. He desperately wished for that acceptance, because he needed help.
They sat silently observing each other until Sid, in what sounded like a disembodied voice, heard himself say, “All right, Mr. Saunderson, I’ll look into it and see what I can find out. I’ll contact you as soon as I have something to report.” He watched the old man’s face brighten with obvious relief at the decision Sid immediately began to regret.
“Thank you, Mr. Langdon. Thank you very much. I am very pleased. I left my card with your secretary; it has both my office and home numbers. My parents and I will be relieved to have this annoying affair finally addressed. We’ll look forward to hearing from you, and thank you again so very much.” With that, his visitor rose to leave and Sid left his chair to escort his new client to the door. They shook hands; Sid watched the man cross the reception room and disappear into the outer hall, then he returned to his spot behind the desk to absorb his latest involvement.