Chapter Ten - Tumnus

At suppertime, the four of us ate in the dining room. Caleb took small and careful bites as Emmanuel watched him from beneath his brows, while Noel was tense as a coiled spring he waited to calm any rifts between them.

After the soup had been cleared away and Willie had placed the main course on the table, I decided I'd had enough. "Mrs. Bell is teaching me to cook."

Three forks paused in mid-air.

I said, "I mean, I knew how to cook already -- my mother taught me French cuisine -- but it's not the same as Southern food." I said to Emmanuel, "Did you ever have any real French cooking while you were overseas, Mr. Thibodeaux?"

There was a pause. "Some."

"When the weather gets colder I want to make you all ratatouille," I said.

Noel said, "The weather doesn't get very cold here, even in winter. I imagine even San Francisco gets colder."

"It probably does. It's not a hot city." I drank some water. "What about you, Noel? Did you get to try any Japanese food while you were in the Pacific?"

"A little," Noel said, "though more when I was stationed in Honolulu in the beginning than while we were island-hopping. Then it was all K-rations and MREs." He added, to Caleb's quizzical look, "That means meals ready-to-eat."

"Being a soldier is not very glamorous," I said. Caleb gave me a look that said, I know that, dopey, and I grinned at him.

"Now that we've covered all of our adventures in foreign food, can we actually eat?" Emmanuel said.

"Sorry, sir," I said. "Many families eat and talk at the same time. I thought we might want to try it."

Emmanuel scowled at me, while across the table Noel looked like he was trying very hard not to smile.

We managed to finish supper without much more conversation or interruptions. Once Caleb's plate was clean and we were having coffee while Caleb sipped one more glass of milk, Noel said, "Caleb, I brought you something from the city. Would you like to see it?"

Caleb nodded eagerly, then glanced at Emmanuel as if he expected Emmanuel to forbid whatever the gift was. Emmanuel slurped his coffee loudly, his only protest.

Noel called, "Willie?" and when Willie came into the dining room, there was a tiny, fluffy, gray and white kitten in the crook of his arm. Caleb's eyes grew enormous and he hopped out of his chair to run to Willie, where he stared at the kitten reverently. Willie chuckled as he stroked the kitten's fur.

I raised an eyebrow at Noel, and he shrugged in return. "Dr. Dufresne says pets are good for children."

"That they are," I said, and stayed at the table as Noel went to Caleb and Willie and took the kitten. He knelt down so he was eye level with Caleb.

"What do you think of her? Do you want to hold her?"

Caleb took the kitten carefully. The kitten meowed, a tiny sound, and clung to Caleb's sleeve with her needle-like claws. Caleb beamed at us all in turn.

"I'm glad you like her," Noel murmured, stroking Caleb's hair. "What shall we call her?" He glanced at me, a smile lurking on his lips. "Should we name her after one of the planets? Venus, maybe, or Europa?"

"How about 'Damned Nuisance?'" put in Emmanuel.

"Maybe something from the book we're reading," I said. "Like Lucy or Susan, the girls in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."

"I'm glad you like that book," Noel said.

Emmanuel snorted. "Witches and fairy land."

"It came highly recommended," Noel said.

Caleb was still thinking it over, and looked at me questioningly. "Maybe one of the other characters, like Aslan?" I said. "Or Tumnus? Though neither of those characters are girls."

Caleb nodded eagerly.

"Tumnus?" I said, and Noel echoed, "Tumnus?"

"What kind of a name is that?" said Emmanuel.

"Neither a witch nor a fairy," I said. "A faun, in the Greek style, who befriends one of the girls from our world."

Emmanuel snorted again. "Fairy tales." He pointed his coffee spoon at me. "We don't pay you to fill his head with nonsense, Carmichael."

"Fairy tales teach children to be brave," I replied. Caleb brought the kitten to me and I stroked her soft head. Her ears were like velvet, her nose a pink jelly bean. She licked my palm with her tiny rough tongue. "Tumnus," I said again, and Caleb nodded. "All right. Her name is Tumnus."

"I like it," said Noel, getting to his feet. "Now, Caleb, she's yours, which means you'll need to take care of her. Feed her and give her water and play with her and clean up after her. It's not fair to Mrs. Bell or Willie to expect them to take care of your pet, so she's your responsibility." He looked at me and gave a little squint, almost like a wink. We would help, of course. "Deal?"

Caleb stuck out his hand. Noel laughed and shook it.

"Deal, then. Come on, I brought a bed and a litter box for her, too. Let's go set them up." His hand on Caleb's shoulder, they took the kitten out of the dining room, followed by Willie.

Emmanuel and I drank our coffee in silence, until Emmanuel said, "He's spoiling that child. Rewarding him with a pet after he ran away -- it's ridiculous."

"I think," I said, "the idea is to give him something to help him feel safe."

"I still say--"

"I know what you say, Mr. Thibodeaux," I said.

He snorted but didn't pursue it further. I was glad -- I was exhausted of the subject.

I finished my coffee and said good night to Emmanuel, to which he grunted in return, and went upstairs to see how the kitten was settling in. Noel and Caleb were still in Caleb's room, deciding where to put the kitten's basket, as the kitten picked her way across Caleb's coverlet and sniffed his pillow.

Noel saw me pause in the doorway and got up to join me. "I probably should have talked to you first."

"Why start now?" I said, and he chuckled in response, watching the kitten -- Tumnus, I should say -- clamber onto Caleb's arm and up his shoulder. She stuck her nose into his ear, and he looked up at us, beaming. "I think it was the right choice. It gives him something to love."

Noel nodded slowly. "What does Tumnus do in the story?"

"He gives Lucy tea and a warm place to spend a snowy afternoon," I said. "We haven't gotten far enough into the story to see what else he's going to do. But her brothers and sister don't believe she went to the magical land in the wardrobe, which I think Caleb finds upsetting."

"Poor kid," Noel said, and then chuckled. "Listen to me, sympathizing with a fictional character."

"Empathy is very attractive," I said before I thought, and he cut his eyes to me for a moment before he laughed dryly again.

"Indeed. I'll put Caleb to bed tonight. Will you tell Mrs. Bell, if you see her?"

"I will," I said, feeling dismissed, but I didn't mind. I was insanely attracted to empathetic Noel, just like how I was insanely attracted to loving uncle Noel. I needed some time to settle myself.

Back in my room, I paused at my desk where the pictures Caleb and I had both drawn that afternoon were on top of all the other papers from the last few days. His spelling list and math problems, I thought, were not one-tenth as important as the picture of his father and the little star, and I still didn't know why.

I picked up a book and sat in the armchair to read, and after about ten pages realized that I had no idea what I had just read. I sighed and closed my book, picked up the pictures and went to find Noel.

He was in the library, setting up his maps and notebooks on the study table. He looked up when I tapped on the open door. "May I disturb you for a few minutes?"

"Of course," Noel said and closed his book. "What's on your mind?"

"Caleb," I said. I came to the table and put the drawings on his pad. "I asked him why he left the house last night, and this is what he drew."

Noel paged through the drawings, frowning. "I don't understand."

I pulled over a chair to sit beside him. "That's the bottle tree. Under all that black he drew his father," I said, pointing, "and a little yellow star."

"And thens scribbled them out," Noel said.

"Yes. And wept while he did so."

Noel gave me a troubled look. "He knows his parents are buried in the family graveyard. I wonder if he tried to find that graveyard and got lost, and came across the slave graveyard instead." Noel put the drawings down. "I'm hopeful the kitten will encourage Caleb to stay in bed until morning. Her basket is right by his bed -- though they were curled up together on his bed when I tucked him in," he added, softening as he so often did when he talked about Caleb, and I couldn't help but smile in response.

"I hope it works," I said. "I suppose just listening for opening doors in the night is the only other step to take. It's not good to lock a child in his room."

"No, it isn't," Noel murmured. He cleared his throat. "Given all the noises this old place makes, though, I don't know how helpful just listening for him will be." He looked down at the drawings again, and his fingertip tapped on the drawing of the star. "I'll talk to him about leaving the house at night. It seems like that's a habit of his, anyway -- the night of the fire, the firefighters found him a few streets away from the house, wandering in his pajamas."

"If one of his parents helped him escape the fire, why didn't they get out, too?"

Noel didn't answer for a moment, and I touched his arm to apologize for blundering into the subject so clumsily. "They were both found in their bed," he said when he'd cleared his throat again. "We don't know how he got out of the house. Simon and Grace locked their doors at night. Everyone in the city has since there was a crazed killer loose back in 1919."

"A crazed killer," I repeated, "really. My God."

"N'awlins, cher," Noel said. "He's called the Axeman of New Orleans if you want to look it up." He said in a brisker tone, "I suppose the best we can do is lock all the doors to outside. Caleb would need a key to get out."

"That's probably for the best," I said. "Do you think Dr. Dufresne should see the pictures?"

"Yes. I'll take them in at his next appointment." He put them into his briefcase. "Thank you for bringing them to me."

"You're welcome," I said, but still lingered at the study table. "When do you want to try and find the graveyard again?"

"Saturday morning," Noel said absently, already paging through his notes. "That should give us the most hours of daylight."

"All right." I rose from the table. "Good night, Noel."

"'night, Malcolm," he said, absorbed in his work, and I left the library.

To be honest, I didn't feel any more at ease than I had before my talk with Noel. Locking the doors might prevent Caleb from getting lost in the bayou or the fields, but that left the house, with that high vestibule and winding, labyrinth-like staircases. It seemed like an easy place for a small child to fall or get locked in an unused room, and Caleb couldn't call for help.

On the other hand, he had Tumnus looking after him now, and while she was still just a tiny thing a small guardian was better than no guardian at all. Maybe she would do as Noel hoped, and help Caleb feel safe.

The darkness was deep, this far from the city, and when I went out onto the west veranda I was reminded of Hurtgen Forest -- except there were fireflies darting around each other in the fields and among the trees, which I had never seen in Germany or France. I watched them dance while I smoked an evening cigarette, and then decided to try to sleep and went back inside.

The lamps were still burning in the library as I passed it, but I didn't stop, not wanting to disturb Noel.

In the morning, I woke up with four deep, red scratches down my sides. At first I thought it might be the kitten, that she had somehow crept into my room and scratched me in my sleep, but the scratches were too big and deep for her tiny paws, and she would have had no way in since my door was closed all night.

I thought I must have scraped myself on rosebushes while I was in the garden and not noticed it. I dabbed the scratches with a little antiseptic and went about my day.

Every morning I drew a Daily Schedule on one of the chalkboards in the school room, not just to tell Noel what we were studying that day but to let the rest of the household know where they could find us, if we were needed. I drew grass and flowers and sunshine on fine days, and on rainy days -- which happened more often than I expected that first week -- I drew a frame of grey rainclouds and fat raindrops at the top, and at the bottom thirsty flowers reaching up with their petals and leaves to catch the water.

When the weather was good we were outdoors as much as possible. We studied biology at the riverbank and practiced spelling while reclining on picnic blankets; we looked at the stars through the little telescope, and his eyes grew large with wonder when we read newspaper articles about the nation's plans to go to the moon. We played with Tumnus, who liked to hunt insects in the tall grass when we went out to the rest fields; we played marbles in the garden, laying the foundation for geometry; we drew pictures together, and when I gave him leave to use my colored pencils instead of crayons he drew with the tip of his tongue caught between his teeth in concentration.

When the weather was bad, I still tried not to keep him confined to the school room. We both liked the library, even if stormy weather meant we had to use candles instead of the electric lights. Caleb would sit in one of the big armchairs with Tumnus dozing at his side, while I read to him or went over the lessons for the hour, sometimes using the big atlas or the sepia-colored globe, or we would draw together more at the study table, sitting across from each other while Tumnus wandered up and down the table or sat on the open books, the tip of her tail twitching as her ears followed the sound of thunder.

Caleb didn't draw his father or mother again, at least not during lessons or play time. I wanted to ask him about them -- what he remembered about them -- but figured he got enough of that during therapy, and only asked him to draw things related to what we were studying that day. "Draw me Jupiter," I said, or, "Draw a riverboat," and he would, better than most five-year-olds I had taught, even better than I had at that age.

"I think he's got a real future as an artist or an illustrator," I told Noel, and Noel smiled faintly as he looked through the drawings Caleb had made.

"Emmanuel would hit the roof if he did." He gave the drawings back to me. "He doesn't think art of any kind is a respectable way to make a living. Becoming a pianist was Simon's biggest act of rebellion. Emmanuel wanted him to be a doctor."

"Why didn't he?"

"Simon hated the sight of blood."

We were at the study table in the library again, Noel's own papers spread out for his work -- geological surveys, as I understood it, along with architectural plans, for him to work out if the plans would fit with the water supply available. I admit, at the time I wasn't entirely sure what he did aside from knowing water was involved -- a tricky question even in a state abundant in water like Louisiana. I sometimes thought California, hovering on the edge of the desert, would be a bigger challenge to him.

He could have been an artist himself, if the maps and plans I saw were any indication. His drawings were precise and detailed, as easy to read as any printed map, neatly labeled in architectural handwriting. But he'd followed his father's wishes, and had a respectable career.

I said, "You could have done anything -- including playing piano. Why engineering?"

"I like making things. If I hadn't been able to go to college I might have become a carpenter, instead." He wrote for a moment, translating his scrawled notes into something his secretary would type up for him on Monday. "Mrs. Bell's son was a carpenter. He did beautiful work -- mostly rocking chairs."

"I didn't know Mrs. Bell had any children of her own."

"Just the one. Rafe -- Raphael. He was a cook for the Navy during the war and his ship was torpedoed."

"Poor Mrs. Bell," I said, and wondered if that was part of why Mrs. Bell was so protective of Caleb and of Noel -- she'd lost two boys already, and was clinging to the two who remained. "What was he like?"

"I never saw him much, growing up," Noel replied. "I spent a lot of our childhood years at boarding school, and before then he was too young for us to play with much. Mostly I remember he liked to make things, too."

I nodded thoughtfully. My family -- my neighborhood -- had lost so many of our boys, but there were more of us. For such a small household, Fidele seemed to have lost almost everyone.

"I'll let you get to work," I said, pushing myself up from the table. "Have fun making things."

"Always do," he answered.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Noel and I got up early and took the truck out to the forestry students' road. Mrs. Bell would take Caleb for the day and Emmanuel usually spent Saturdays in the city with his cronies, playing golf or doing whatever men like him did to fill their free time.

I have a good visual memory, but thanks to unfamiliar landmarks and driving in the dark versus driving in the day, it took us most of the morning to find the gateway stones to the little clearing. Noel pulled the truck as close to the head of the path as he could, and we both climbed out, Noel with the camera he had brought to record what we found.

The clearing was just as quiet as it had been that night, and the sensation of it made me shiver. Outside of the gateway stones, you could hear the river, birds, other creatures going about their business in the underbrush -- within, the only sound was the faint clanking of bottles against branches in the bottle tree.

Noel took a few pictures standing between the gateway stones, and then lowered his camera. "It feels strange here," he said quietly. "Solemn."

"Sad," I said. "Forgotten."

"I don't think there's anyone around to remember. But the location makes sense, at least. The slave cabins weren't far from here."

"Who lives there now?"

"No one. They were sharecroppers' cabins until I was about ten or so, and then the sharecroppers stopped coming around. There were more jobs in the cities, I suppose." He went to the bottle tree and laid his hand on its trunk.

I watched him, and said when he only looked up at the branches, "Should we take the bottles down?"

"Oh, no," Noel said. "They're not hurting anyone. Part of the story says that if you destroy the bottles it'll set the ghosts they've caught free, and I'd rather let the people who believe in this sort of thing to feel protected."

"People still believe in this?"

"You'll see it in gardens all over the city." Noel stepped back a few paces and took some pictures of the tree. "Though usually in front of houses, not in a graveyard itself."

"Maybe they planted it to protect themselves from someone they were afraid of."

Noel paused and looked at me, and then raised the camera again. "This is land the institute bought," he said. "I'll tell their surveyors where to find it."

I watched him take pictures for a few minutes more. My knee and hip were starting to ache, so I went back to the gateway stones and leaned against one for a little relief. It seemed to me there was more to the story -- I thought he might even know who the tree was meant to catch -- but for whatever reason, Noel didn't want to tell me.

When Noel lowered the camera again, he asked, "Are you tired?"

"Just achy." I waved my hand at him. "Go on and finish."

He tossed me the keys to the truck and I caught them in my free hand. "I'll be done soon."

I unlocked the truck and climbed in, and then lay down across the front seat so I could stretch my leg a little. Caleb was an early riser and my sleep had yet to improve as I grew accustomed to my new surroundings, so perhaps it was no wonder that in this quiet moment my eyelids lowered and I dozed off.

I heard sobbing. Not just the quiet sobbing of grief -- this was wild, full of rage and betrayal, the sobs of someone on the edge of despair.

Achille! Achille! Give me back my baby! Give me back--

The door on the truck creaked as it opened and I sat bolt upright, my fist drawn back to sock whoever had woken me -- and saw it was Noel, his hands up. "Hey, hey," he said soothingly. "It's just me."

"Sorry," I said and scrubbed my hand over my face. "I usually don't hit people when they wake me."

He climbed into the driver seat as I rearranged myself in the passenger side. "It's fine." I gave him the keys and he started the engine. He backed the truck along the road until there was enough room to turn, and then he said, "Are you still having nightmares?"

"Yes," I said. "I haven't had one during the day for a while -- but I don't normally nap during the day."

"I don't think they ever really go away," Noel said quietly. "I don't know any former G.I. who sleeps through the night."

"If you're worried about playing the piano during the night to help you sleep, I haven't heard you." I smiled at him. To be honest, I wished I did hear him at night -- I would have joined him. I had no desire to make music myself anymore, but I always liked hearing others do it.

Noel didn't smile back. "Hm. Good."

Something in his silence prompted me to turn and lift up my shirt to show him my scratched side. "I woke up with these the other day."

He stopped the truck. "Jesus, Malcolm," he murmured and lightly touched the scratches.

"I thought at first it might be the kitten, but there's no way she could have gotten into my room, let alone scratched me that deeply." I looked at him over my shoulder. "I know bugs grow big in the South, but I doubt even swamp mosquitoes could have done that."

"No, not mosquitoes." He lowered my shirt and ran a soothing palm over my side. "I -- I don't have an explanation to offer."

"I'm sure it's nothing."

He looked at me unhappily, and then started driving again without a word. But that was Noel, I'd noticed -- if he didn't want to speak, he didn't.

The house was quiet when we returned, the Packard gone from the carriage house. I toyed with suggesting to Noel that we continue keeping each other company, but he went straight from the carriage house to the path that led to the family cemetery, and I didn't follow.

Left to my own devices, I settled in the sitting room with the radio on and my sketchbook open on my knee. I rarely had time to myself like this since I'd arrived at Fidele, and I supposed I ought to make the most of it.

The thought made me look longingly out the window in the direction Noel had gone. I craved his presence -- I had done much less basking in his beauty than I had hoped, though I supposed I was fortunate to see him at all. He could move back into the city, if he decided living with Emmanuel wasn't worth the trouble. He could work his long hours at his office instead of bringing so much work home with him every night. But he did all these things for Caleb's sake, so Caleb wouldn't be alone with his grandfather and a few employees, so that he could have supper with Caleb every night.

As I idly sketched, I wondered if Noel knew how attractive Loving Uncle Noel was, or if it would have made a difference if he did.

I should ask him to come with me tonight, I thought, and scribbled a note to myself in the corner of the page. Rene and Angelique had asked me to come out with them, and I intended to go. Surely they would welcome Noel too, as easily and warmly as they had me.

That decision made, I kept one ear cocked for footsteps in the main foyer as I drew the new character for my comic, my most perfect knight, who I had decided to name Tristan -- a name with a tragic history, but names aren't destiny. (Duncan and I were named after kings, after all.) Still, despite giving him a name and determining some of his story, I didn't know what sort of adventure he and Sir Errant ought to have. Most of my ideas involved them riding around the countryside and telling each other stories, hardly compelling fiction, and too close to the Canterbury Tales-inspired pilgrimage story I had just finished.

I need a quest, I thought, but drew a blank on exactly what sort would do -- something that would be fun for me to draw for the next few months and would also give me opportunity to explore these two characters in depth.

As I looked up, to draw what inspiration I could from the view of the bayou, I noticed the day had grown dark. Another storm was brewing. Well, Noel had warned me the rainy season was at hand.

I got up to light one of the table lamps when a clap of thunder sounded through the house, loud enough to make the windows rattle in their panes.

A tiny meow caught my attention, and as I looked in the passage outside of the sitting room I saw the kitten, Tumnus, crouched down on the carpet. She made another pathetic, frightened sound as lightning flashed, and I stooped to pick her up. "Sh, now, sh," I murmured to her and stroked her fur, and she hid her head in the crook of my arm.

I expected Noel to come through the door at any moment, seeking shelter from the rain, but when I looked out the window again I saw there was no rain falling. Just thunder, which rumbled sullenly in the distance after that initial deafening clap, and lightning that seemed to flash far more often than it should.

I murmured soothingly to Tumnus as I went back to the vestibule, and as I tried to think of the best way to get a frightened kitten to stop shaking there was another thunderclap, this time along with an accompanying flash of lightning, and the electric lights flared all at once and went out.

I stood frozen in the gloom. Of course lights failed during storms, I'd seen that just this week, but I'd never seen lights that were switched off turn themselves on like that. Tumnus was making high-pitched, terrified sounds, her claws digging into my chest, so I murmured again, "Sh, now, nothing to be frightened of."

As if to put a lie to my words, there was a sound overhead like someone running down the passage. I called, "Caleb? Mrs. Bell?" though I knew I was alone in the house. "Noel? Who's there?"

A scream rent the air. Not a sound of pain but of anguish, the kind that leaves a scar on the soul. I clutched Tumnus to me as a shape -- a shadow, but with substance -- fell from the uppermost landing and crashed into the floor, leaving --

Nothing. Not so much as a splinter.

Tumnus hid her head in my neck as I stared, dumbfounded, at what should have been a broken and bleeding body, given what I had just heard, but was only the polished wood floor covered with a woven rug.

The door creaked behind me and I whirled -- I don't know what I expected -- but there stood Noel as the rain at last began to fall.

"Malcolm? What's wrong?" He shut the door and came to me, and took Tumnus from me as she frantically meowed, her eyes enormous and her fur on end.

"I... I don't know," I said. I shoved a hand through my hair, and realized how badly my hands were shaking.

"Sit," Noel ordered and pulled me to the stairs, which were closer than any chairs. I sank into the nearest step and leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees, and then closed my eyes when Noel laid his hand on the back of my neck. "Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth."

I did as I was told, concentrating on filling my lungs and then expelling as much of the air as I could, until my hands were steady again. Noel, meantime, sat on the step beside me and murmured to the kitten until she, too, was no longer shaking and crying with fear.

"What happened?" Noel said quietly.

I said as steadily as I could manage, "A woman fell from the uppermost landing."

Noel's expression didn't change. "Are you sure about that?"

"No," I said. "There's no body, after all. There was thunder and lightning, the lights went out, I heard a scream and saw someone fall -- but there's nothing."

Noel nodded, absently petting Tumnus. The lights flickered back on -- the chandelier at the top of the vestibule, the sconces along the walls -- but they did little to relieve the gloom.

I said, "You're taking this more calmly than I expected."

"This is an old house," Noel replied. "Strange noises are part of the charm."

"Bullshit," I said, and he looked at me, his face solemn. "What did I hear?"

"Nothing to worry about," Noel said, rising. "I'm going to see if some milk will calm her down."

"So there is something."

"Nothing to worry about," Noel repeated and left the vestibule, the kitten blinking at me over his shoulder.

I stayed on the stair a few minutes more, listening to the rain tap against the windows. I could make no sense of what I had heard and seen, but I knew I had heard and seen it -- that Tumnus had sensed something too, even if she didn't experience it quite the same way. She was a calm creature normally, playful and curious in the manner of kittens, but not one of a nervous disposition. This had frightened her. Not just frightened -- terrified her.

I went to the kitchen, where I found Noel giving Tumnus a small bowl of cream. "There, there," he murmured as he petted her and she lapped at the milk. He looked up at me. "Yes, Malcolm?"

"Rene Gaspard and his fiancee asked me to join them at a blues club tonight," I said. "Would you like to come, too?"

He looked down at the kitten for a moment before he answered. "No, thank you. I've been thinking I'd take Caleb to the pictures." He looked up at me again. "Maybe some other time."

"Sure." I leaned against the doorframe. "And you're not going to tell me anything more about that scream I heard."

"What could I tell you?" he said mildly. "Yes, you heard a scream, or no, you didn't? I was outside. There's no body in the vestibule. Maybe it was just thunder, louder than you're used to."

"I saw a shape," I said. "I saw someone fall."

Noel rose, leaving the kitten to her milk, and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I can't explain that, either. All I know for certain is there's nothing for you to worry about. This is an old house. It has a history. Sometimes that history gets a little close to the surface."

I started to answer, but then caught sight of the black Packard out of the corner of my eye. "They're back."

"I'd better take out an umbrella." He left the kitchen. I didn't follow.

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