A Miracles Fanfic
by Emma DeMarais
Title: Sins of the Father Part 1
Pairing/Characters: Alva, Paul, Evelyn, OCs
Rating: Parental Supervision Suggested for children under 13
Summary: Alva and Paul return to Amish country for a new and dangerous case.
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ
Art Credit: Title art made by a_blackpanther.
Paul rolled over in bed grumbling, unwilling to open sleepy eyes to the light of day just yet. He slammed his hand on his alarm clock, but the noise persisted. As clarity crept into his dream-addled mind he realized it was his phone ringing, not his alarm clock.
"Hello?" he muttered, once he found the phone and answered, almost dropping it.
"Good morning!" Alva inevitably sounded like he'd been up and full of energy for hours first thing in the morning. "Pack a bag. We're headed for the fine state of Pennsylvania. Amish country."
"Please tell me we have a client, Keel," Paul groaned, dragging himself up to a sitting position.
"As a matter of fact we do. I'll be there in five minutes to pick you up."
The line went dead as Paul stared at it.
"Well there's further proof déjà vu exists," he muttered to himself.
A three minute shower later, Paul dressed quickly - damp hair still dripping on his collar - and shoved two days worth of clothing into his bag on autopilot. Grabbing his coat, he took one last look around before locking up then headed outside, arriving at the curb outside his apartment building just as Alva's Jeep pulled up.
He was barely installed in the passenger seat before Alva was hurtling down the interstate, describing the case in his normal animated fashion.
"So, we've been called in by a well to do banker from Connecticut: a Mr. Harrison Wolcott," Alva began. "It seems his family was enjoying a vacation in Pennsylvania, taking in the sights of Amish country, when his son Malcolm was injured by what both witnesses claim to be a 'poltergeist.'"
"Witnesses?" Paul asked, rubbing his bleary eyes. "And they actually believe it was a poltergeist?"
"Well, the banker's son was the one to use the term," Alva clarified, "but the girl - an Amish lass - backed his story."
"What happened?" Paul asked, finally starting to wake up.
"Apparently the young woman was showing him around the barn and the young man was pushed by unseen hands from the hayloft." Alva's excitement grew as he began to describe the details of the case, relaying it almost as if telling a ghost story or an urban legend. "The girl claims she was at least several feet away and there was no one else in the barn. The boy agrees the girl was too far away and that he felt two hands push him over."
"So she snuck up behind him fast," Paul offered up as explanation. "Maybe he doesn't want to believe she'd do that."
"Ah, but the hands pushing him over weren't on his back," Alva said with a wink. "They were on his chest. The boy felt them, looked down at the sensation and saw nothing. Then he found himself falling over the edge and onto the floor below."
"Are his injuries serious?"
"He was hospitalized with several cracked ribs, however the doctors state that he'll make a full recovery. The father doesn't wish to believe the tale and in my opinion is just seeking to pursue litigation. The boy's mother, Camille, and the boy himself are suitably disturbed by this phenomenon and want an explanation."
Paul glanced around meaningfully.
"So where's Evie then?"
"Evie has been dispatched to Connecticut," Alva said, flashing a smug grin over at Paul. "She's very discreetly looking into the Wolcott family history, trying to see if this entity is connected to the people instead of the place."
"Makes sense," Paul said, nodding. "So you think the Amish might have nothing at all to do with this?"
"Too soon to tell," Alva mused as he changed lanes, speeding up slightly. "But best to investigate from all angles."
Paul tapped lightly on the hospital room door even though it was ajar and waited for the sniffling woman inside to respond. She turned, startled, her expression nervous - almost frightened - as she stood over her son's bed.
"Mrs. Wolcott? I'm Alva Keel." Alva stepped forward, gesturing to Paul. "And this is Paul Callan. We're from Sodalitas Quaerito. Your husband and I spoke on the phone. He asked us to come look into Malcolm's accident."
"Oh, yes!" Camille turned to her son. "Mal, darling, these are the people I told you about. They'll believe you."
Malcolm looked up at them warily, giving them the sort of once over a still tactless teenager would, but there was a haunted look behind his brash handsome face.
"It would help if you told us what happened, Malcolm," Paul said, edging forward as he pulled out a notebook.
Malcolm glanced at his mother briefly then between Paul and Alva. "Yeah, sure." He took a deep breath and didn't finish it, putting his hand to his ribs with a wince.
"Take your time," Paul said.
Camille laid a hand on her son's shoulder, clearly feeling his pain.
"We were on one of those farms," Malcolm began. "Dead boring, but I was going to have to do a long report on the Amish when I got back to the Academy so I figured I should pay attention, you know?"
"Ah, so an educational vacation!" Alva chimed in. "And which school do you attend?"
"Hartford Prep," Camille answered for her son. "Malcolm is Senior Class Vice President," she said proudly.
"I would have rather gone snowboarding in Vermont," Malcolm grumbled. "At least if you break something on the slopes chicks still think you're cool. Falling out of a hayloft is dumb."
"Now, now," Camille said, patting her son on the arm. "You didn't fall, you were pushed."
"Like anyone's going to believe that," Malcolm replied, his complaint clear in his tone.
"We will," Paul assured him. "So you were at a farm?" he prompted.
"Yeah, I was hanging out with this girl Meredith. Her family runs the place. Mom and Dad were watching the farmer and his wife churn butter and stuff..." he paused to roll his eyes, "so she offered to give me a tour of the farm. She must have thought I looked bored to tears and decided to cut me a break, you know? We walked all over the place and wound up in the barn. I was trying to kill as much time as possible so I kept stalling everywhere we went. I asked if she could show me the hayloft so we went up there. I was taking a look around and suddenly bam! I went over the edge!"
Camille flinched, hand clutching the sleeve of her son's hospital gown. "Malcolm, please," she said quietly.
Alva stepped forward to pick up the questioning.
"What were you doing just before you fell?"
Malcolm looked up at his mother then back at Alva before shrugging. "Nothing. Just looking around."
Alva pursed his lips. He and Paul shared a quick glance - confirmation passing between them that neither believed that part of the boy's story. "I see. And what exactly did you feel when the unfortunate event occurred?"
Malcolm's annoyed façade slipped away and his voice sobered and grew quiet, his body drawing subtly in on itself.
"It felt like two hands on my chest." He paused for a moment, taking a steadying breath. "You know guys, how they are - you shove your buddies around, but it doesn't mean anything? I know what it feels like to have someone push you like that. Only this? This was hard! Whoever - whatever," he amended, "pushed me over totally did it hard enough to make me fall on purpose."
"And you're sure the young woman couldn't have done it?" Alva pressed.
"She was, like, at least eight feet away!" Malcolm shook his head with conviction. "No way she did it."
"Think very carefully," Alva said, moving closer. "Do you recall any smells in the air?"
"Yeah, sure," Malcolm huffed out. "Hay and manure."
Alva shook his head, dissatisfied with the answer. "No, something out of place. Like sulfur or perhaps a sickly sweet scent?"
Malcolm screwed up his face for a second then shook his head again. "I don't remember anything weird like that. I just remember ending up flat on my back feeling like a truck just ran me over." He ran a hand over his ribs, forehead creased at the pain.
"He needs his rest," Camille said, turning to them.
"Understood," Alva said, crisply. "Just tell us the name of the family whose farm you were visiting and which tour company you used then we'll be off."
"The Albrecht family on the Amish Farm Tour - Osborne Tours is the company name." She pulled a piece of paper from her purse and handed it to Alva. "That's the one we went on together." She stared at the paper even after it left her hand, her tone bitter, her eyes hard. "I wish we'd never come here."
"I've been overseeing the tours for the last five years now." Dolores from Osborne Tours handed both Alva and Paul brochures marked Amish Farm Tours on the front. "And we've never had anyone wind up in the hospital before." She pointed to the pamphlets. "That's the tour the Wolcotts went on - the Deluxe full day package with transportation included."
Paul actually read the brochure cover to cover, examining every glossy photograph closely as Alva asked the tour director questions, as usual not bothering to keep his voice down despite being in the company's offices with prospective clients right outside the door.
"You say no one's ever ended up in the hospital before. But there have been incidents in the past? Perhaps minor ones, but suspicious nonetheless?"
Dolores got up and shut her door.
"We run a very safe operation, Mr. Keel."
"I'm sure you do," Paul interjected, shooting a glance at Alva who was oblivious to it.
"Mrs. Osborne..." Alva stood and approached the woman, fixing her in his intense gaze. "I am firmly convinced that whatever caused this young man's injuries was no fault of your company's..."
"Oh, that's good to know." Dolores looked relieved, rubbing her neck as if the tension of their interview had gotten to her.
"However," Alva continued unabated, "I am also firmly convinced that it will happen again with possibly greater injury, perhaps even fatal." Dolores stood stock still, clearly frightened by the idea. "Unless you help us make it stop," Alva pronounced succinctly, making his point clear.
"I-I'll do anything I can to assist you," she stammered, sitting back down at her desk.
"Tell us about the other incidents."
Alva sat as well and Paul chimed in. "No matter how inconsequential they might have seemed at the time," he told her. "More information can only help us."
"Well... We've had a couple of families leave the tour abruptly at Albrecht Farm, demanding they be driven back into town immediately. Some of them even wanted their money back, but when the tour guides wanted to know why they couldn't come up with a good answer."
"Do you have any information on the families?" Paul asked. "How many kids, their ages?"
"No." She shook her head. "We don't keep those kinds of records. We just don't have that many dissatisfied customers. I do remember one incident from when I filled in on the tours when we were short staffed. A family with three boys - a teenager and two twins in grade school. I remember because the twins were a menace, fighting nonstop, and the teenager was so cocky and full of himself. But when we got to the farm he changed. I didn't see him for a while and when I saw the family coming towards me he was white as a sheet."
"Did they say what happened?" Paul asked.
"No, but they insisted on leaving right that instant. So I sent them back, figuring that would give the others an additional fifteen minutes or so on their tour, so no great loss." She shrugged. "Other than that there are just vague mentions staff have said over the years, nothing I could remember in detail."
"Mrs. Osborne," Alva said, shifting forward in his seat. "I need you to arrange for every tour guide you have on staff and any who worked for you in past years to tell us if they've been party to any sort of incident. We need to know about more of these events if we're to discern their root cause."
Paul slid a business card across the table to her. "You can reach our co-worker Evelyn Santos at our office number. She can handle the phone interviews for anyone not available to speak with us in person."
Dolores accepted the card, looking thoughtful.
"You know, I don't normally send people to my competition, but the reason we added Albrecht Farm to our tour was because the previous tour company that handled their tourist trade stopped working with them."
"Were you ever given a reason why?" Alva asked.
"The Albrechts made it sound as if they didn't like the way Meecham Tours did business, but the word in the industry - which I didn't find out until later - was that Meecham dumped them, not the other way around. I assumed it might have been over money - the tours can be quite lucrative, especially after a popular movie with an Amish theme comes out - but I never had any problems doing business with them myself."
"Is there someone you suggest we speak to at Meecham?" Paul asked.
Dolores pulled a piece of note paper from her desk and wrote a name and phone number on it before handing it to Alva, who was closest.
"There's no address," he pointed out.
She huffed. "They're six doors down to the left just past Amish Country Family Tours." She cocked her head with a wry smile. "It's a tough business."
Paul exchanged a look with Alva as they rose from their chairs.
"I think we'd better find a place to stay first."
"Oh!" Dolores scratched out another bit of information on a separate sheet of paper. "Allyn Inn..." She walked the paper over to Alva. "Half a block to the right on the corner of Main and Allyn." She gave them the consummate businesswoman's smile. "And if you tell them I sent you, you'll get a discount rate!"
"Kevin, honey, don't slouch."
"Jeez, Mom. I'm in college now. You don't get to tell me what to do anymore!"
Paul barely managed to hide his smirk at the mother son interplay before him. The Chapmans were every bit the typical family with a teenager, Kevin slouching his long lanky frame even more now just to spite his mother.
"Kevin, I have here a document from Meecham Tours that says you were injured on a visit to Albrecht Farm in Amish country." Alva brandished the document while Kevin just looked bored. "What can you tell me about how you were injured?"
"I went on their stupid tour," Kevin huffed. "And crap fell on me in their barn. Mom and Dad sued their asses. End of story."
"He had a concussion," Kevin's mother Elaine stressed. "He ended up missing out on the playoffs because of it. His team could have gone to state!"
"Football?" Paul asked.
"Basketball," Kevin replied.
"Ah, my favorite sport!" Paul said with an easy smile. "Got a hoop here?" He gestured to Alva. "Mr. Keel and your mother have to go through all the boring details, so why don't we shoot some hoops while we're waiting?" Kevin eyed him. "I played point guard on a team that won all city in Boston my senior year of high school."
Kevin nodded with respect. "I'll grab a ball and meet you on the driveway."
"Be careful, sweetie," Elaine called after him.
Paul offered Alva a nod and a look of understanding passed between them. In the time they'd been working together this form of divide and conquer had become quite natural to them: Alva taking on those more concerned with appearances and formality while Paul approached young people and more timid individuals.
Kevin walked out spinning a basketball on his finger - a total show off.
He passed the ball to Paul who passed it back as a sign for him to go first, rolling up his sleeves as he got into position to defend the basket.
"Five bucks says I beat your ass in 21."
Paul grinned. "You're on. Hate to take your money though."
"Ha!" Kevin laughed, dribbling the ball briefly before making a beeline for the basket, almost ploughing Paul down as his lay up dropped the ball in the basket. "Suck it up, old man," he laughed. "That cash is already mine!"
Paul just smirked, beckoning him. "Come and get it."
This time Paul blocked the shot and stole the ball, making a shot of his own to even the score.
Kevin threw himself into the game, the play hot and heavy for the next few minutes until Paul dribbled the ball out of bounds, stalling.
"You're not bad for an old geezer," Kevin taunted.
"Got to stay fast on your feet in my business," Paul tossed back.
"Or what? You'll get talked to death?" Kevin chuckled.
"Actually I got shot," Paul told him, gesturing to the musket wound beneath his shirt. "I can still feel it when I move."
"Dude..." Kevin blinked, more impressed than stunned. "What, did you take on some gangbangers or something?"
"Actually..." Paul bolted for the basket, but Kevin was ready for him and blocked his shot, leaving Paul only barely able to recapture his own rebound and keep possession of the ball. "I got caught in a time slip, ended up in the past and was shot by a Civil War soldier with a musket."
Kevin just stopped dead, staring at him. "Dude, you're making that crap up." His voice was filled with bravado, but some part of him clearly believed what Paul said might be true.
Paul tucked the ball under his arm and walked over to Kevin. He pulled the collar of his shirt aside to reveal the marred skin where the musket ball had entered his body.
"This look faked to you?" Kevin gaped until Paul adjusted his shirt to cover it back up again. "I know that what happened to you at Albrecht Farm wasn't just something falling over. Something happened and only you know what that was, Kevin." He caught the young man's eye, his gaze intent, his voice reassuring. "Whatever you tell me, I'm going to believe, so you can trust me with the truth."
Kevin turned and walked off the driveway, but instead of going inside he just plopped himself down on a nearby concrete planter wall, running his hands through his hair.
Paul approached him, putting the basketball aside.
"I knew no one would believe me," Kevin muttered. "But I saw it! I know what I saw!"
Paul stood before him, patient. "Tell me, Kevin. Tell me what you saw."
Kevin looked up at him, echoes of fear in his expression. "I was bored, all right? I didn't want to go on that stupid tour, but my Dad got it for my Mom for her birthday. She'd always wanted go to see Amish country - lived in Pennsylvania all her life and never went. So we went and it was totally dull. And I'm just standing around this barn and I see this big metal thing, some kind of farm equipment, and it comes at me! Not down but from the side - like someone swinging a bat at my head!"
"Was anyone near it?" Paul asked.
"No one!" Kevin just shook his head, perplexed. "The whole group was on the other side of the barn and I was kind of hanging back so there was no one else around to even see it happen." His face was pale, ashy. "I know something hit me on purpose. I just don't have any idea what."
Paul crouched down. "I need to know exactly what you were doing just before it happened. Now I know it might not seem like you were doing anything, but even what you were thinking might have been important. So try... Try to remember."
Kevin fell silent for a moment.
"Just before - and I was totally thinking this was the most boring trip ever, but I was thinking that the whole time - I was noticing that this chick in the barn was pretty hot so I was checking her out. So I guess I was thinking about sex, but hell, I was fifteen when it happened so it's not like thinking about sex is anything new and different for guys at that age."
"Totally not," Paul agreed. He retrieved the ball and passed it over to Kevin. "You're at 11. Still think you can take me?"
Some of the color came back to Kevin's face as he got up, passing the ball from hand to hand as a tentative grin returned to his face.
"Better get out that five bucks now," he said, though most of his trash talk ego had drained away. "It's already mine."
Night fell early and after a stop for dinner Paul and Alva retired to their rooms at the Allyn Inn for a break before reconvening to discuss the case.
The rooms were small and almost Spartan in décor which oddly enough made Paul feel right at home; the space looked so much like his own apartment. He'd never needed much so even the upper middle class home the Chapmans lived in felt like excess.
He put his meager possessions away in the drawers, taking a moment to look out the window as the quiet town started to close down for the night.
Resigned to getting back to work, Paul rapped on the adjoining door between his and Alva's rooms before opening it. Alva beckoned to him to come in followed by a gesture to the phone which was set to speakerphone.
"Paul's joined us." Alva spoke, directing his voice towards the phone.
"Hi, Paul!" the voice came out of the phone.
"Hey, Evie," he replied fondly, recognizing his co-worker instantly. "Any news from Connecticut?"
"I was just telling Alva that the Wolcotts are squeaky clean. I couldn't find anything in their history or in their past residences that would lend any credence to them being targets of a malevolent entity. I even checked into the properties they own but have never lived at and Mr. Wolcott's bank building."
"Which makes sense, given that we've found at least one young man, unrelated to the Wolcotts, who had a similar experience," Alva mused. "No, I fear the Wolcotts were just unfortunate in their choice of vacation."
"I did field quite a few calls from tour guides though," she offered. Alva sat down on the bed to listen and Paul pulled up the room's sole chair, settling in to hear what Evelyn had to say. "I talked to seven tour guides in all. Now three of them don't remember enough to be helpful - just annoyed patrons, but four of them had specific incidences where families had one member experience something that scared them enough to want to leave the tour ahead of schedule."
"Let me guess," Alva interjected, a slight smugness to his tone Paul had come to associate with theories that were aggravatingly right most of the time. "All teenagers? Of the male persuasion?"
"You got it," Evelyn answered. "Ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen when the incidents first occurred."
"Teenage boys are probably the most hormonal things out there," Paul pointed out. "That's exactly the kind of energy an entity might feed off of."
"So the tourist boys are targeted because they have free rein to, well, act like jerks in public while the Amish boys are taught to squash down any signs of sexual interest?" Evelyn asked.
"That's pretty much the idea," Paul answered. "If it was just going after teenage boys or teenagers in general we'd have heard about some of the Amish kids being affected as well, but it sounds like every incident has involved a boy from outside the traditional Amish society - or as they'd call them, English boys."
"An entity like that in Amish country?" Alva chortled. "It would most definitely starve for lack of sexual energy. No wonder it was enjoying a smorgasbord on the tourists." He turned his attention back to the phone. "Evie, could you use your credentials to get the local police to check their records for past crimes on Amish farmland in the area or violence against Amish people outside of their insular society? An entity strong enough to move the kind of farm equipment that struck down Kevin Chapman had to have been created out of a rather traumatic event."
"Will do," she said. "I'll have them pull any murders, assaults, rapes... Anything that's an affront to the Amish lifestyle would do actually. The woman are so deliberate about staying covered up, even what we might consider only mild sexual harassment would be enough to generate trauma in that sort of society."
"Evie," Paul interrupted. "Keep a special eye out for girls' names in the reports or families that have daughters. Kevin said he was checking out a girl just before he got hurt. Something tells me he didn't mean one of the girls on the tour; he was referring to a local girl."
"You didn't ask?" Alva said, looking confused.
"I got the sense he told me all he was going to tell me," Paul hedged.
"You don't think he'd tell you if you asked him specifically?" Evelyn asked.
"You did a good job of getting him to talk playing basketball," Alva pointed out.
Paul shook his head. "When a guy like Kevin sees an attractive girl, he's going to remember details and relate them in specifics to another guy. It's kind of like the trading cards of guys with one track minds: they share them. But he seemed like he wanted to forget this girl ever existed. He was really that scared." He gestured the futility. "Short of hypnosis I don't think we're getting any details about her out of him without causing him undue pain and stress."
"Let's hope in the interim," Alva said, a warning tone to his voice, "there aren't any more 'accidents' to cause some other perhaps not so innocent young men pain and stress."
Albrecht farm was the epitome of picturesque Amish country: lush green fields, lazy grazing cows and a big red traditional style barn. It was obvious why the tour companies had wanted to feature it in their packages.
Elizabeth and Gabriel Albrecht almost looked liked they'd posed for the brochure: so close to the stereotype of Amish appearance it seemed almost improbable. Yet their mannerisms were what caught Paul's attention. He had enough experience with Amish society to know it was likely they would speak to the husband with the wife present, submissive enough not to speak much unless invited to. Only both of them seemed reticent to talk and nervous, Elizabeth doing a poor job of hiding her wringing hands in her white apron.
After the initial pleasantries and introductions they'd settled at the kitchen table, Elizabeth and Gabriel as stiff-backed as the simple wooden chairs they sat in.
"We don't want any trouble," Gabriel began before Alva could ask his first question. "This is a big farm and the tours help pay for the cost of keeping it going."
"Has it been in your family long?" Paul asked, trying to sound congenial.
"Four generations," Gabriel said proudly. "In the early 1900s Gerald Albrecht married his neighbor's only child and wound up doubling the size of the farm when she inherited her father's land. Albrechts have been running both farms ever since."
"We have a list of incidents that have occurred here," Alva said, producing a piece of paper which he handed to Gabriel. "There are enough of them that it seems unlikely they were all accidents. We're here hoping to determine if there was some cause behind them."
Gabriel bristled slightly, but he accepted the list and perused it briefly before handing it back.
"All accidents," he proclaimed. "No one here hurt those people."
"Please don't get me wrong, Mr. Albrecht," Alva said, leaning forward. "I'm not saying you or your wife or your daughter..."
"Niece," Elizabeth interrupted before looking ashamed for having done so. When Alva looked to her, she reluctantly explained, her voice quiet. "Our children are grown and married. Meredith is my sister's child. We took her in when Grace passed away."
"She's fortunate to have you," Paul said sincerely. "I grew up in a church orphanage so I know how hard it can be on kids to have no family."
"We raised her like one of our own - from a baby," Gabriel said proudly. "She's a good girl, Meredith. She had nothing to do with any of these accidents."
Alva referred to his documentation. "We have one young man who states with certainty that Meredith was with him at the time of his accident and others who describe a young Amish woman here on the farm who matches Meredith's description."
"She lives here, so of course she's around," Gabriel protested. "That doesn't mean she had anything to do with it."
"Malcolm Wolcott, the boy who was injured here two days ago," Alva said, "claimed most emphatically that there was no way that Meredith could have been the one to harm him, so I'm certain you have nothing to worry about. We don't believe Meredith pushed him at all."
"Then what do you believe?" Elizabeth ventured meekly.
"We believe the matter needs looking into," Alva said cryptically. "And I'm certain, whatever the cause, it can only help your farm's standing with the tour companies to ferret out the source of these problems and stop it once and for all."
Gabriel just nodded. "That would be good."
Paul edged forward in his chair.
"Were there any unusual circumstances around Grace's death or around Meredith when she was a baby? Anything at all - unusual weather patterns, lights or sounds that didn't make sense, perhaps household items moving positions when you were out of the room?"
Elizabeth looked to Gabriel, clearly trying to stay calm, but her eyes had gone wild with fright.
"That sounds like nonsense," Gabriel scoffed. "Bad weather is bad weather and things don't move unless someone moves them."
"Farm equipment doesn't just come flying across a barn to strike a young man," Alva said darkly. "Believe what you will, Mr. Albrecht, but allow that we are open to some alternative explanations for the phenomena that seem to plague your property."
Gabriel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Meredith can give you a tour of the farm," he said, still sounding rather reluctant. "We don't have anything to hide."
The tension in Elizabeth's body was radiating out so strongly it almost hurt Paul to watch it.
"Can I ask?" Paul ventured gently, focusing his attention on Elizabeth. "How did your sister Grace die?"
Elizabeth went so taut he thought she'd snap, but Gabriel laid a hand on his wife's shoulder.
"It's a very painful matter," he explained. "Grace... She left the family, went and lived outside of our culture. What she did was none of our business, but when she left her daughter with no one to care for her, we brought her home to protect her immortal soul. We raised her to be a good girl and follow our teachings. She deserves not to be tainted by her mother's mistakes."
The second his hand was off her shoulder, Elizabeth all but fled from the room.
"I'll fetch Meredith for you," she blurted out rapidly as she exited, the door closing behind her before anyone could get a word out.
Gabriel stood and Paul and Alva rose as well.
"We've got a tour coming in an hour and a half. I need to go prepare, but just know we need Meredith back and ready to work before the tour bus arrives."
"Understood," Paul said.
As Gabriel started for the door, Alva called after him.
"Mr. Albrecht?" When he halted, waiting, Alva continued. "You know I can find out through coroner's records how Grace died. It would be best if you were to tell me yourself though."
Gabriel let his head hang down.
"Grace killed herself," he said, his voice cold and sober. "There will be no more talk of her death here, understand me? And not a word to Meredith."
Gabriel closed the door behind him, leaving Paul and Alva staring at each other.
"It seems the quaint Albrecht farm holds many secrets," Alva mused.
"Are you still going to have Evie check out their story?" Paul asked.
"Oh," Alva told him, "most definitely."
Meredith was blonde, fresh faced and nearly eighteen, almost bouncing with enthusiasm as she showed Alva and Paul around the farms.
The main farm - the one that had been in the Albrecht family for four generations - was the picture perfect polished one, all fresh paint and weed-free. The second adjoining farm, the one that had been annexed, was a whole different story. This was the working farm.
Hidden from view behind a small ridge, the buildings were decrepit - some barely standing - yet all in full use. Farmhands moved cattle through the milking areas, tractors stood rusty and well worn near the edges of crop fields and pathways were overgrown with weeds along the edges and spotted with horse droppings.
"In here is where we store the cheese for aging!" Meredith opened the door to the only new looking building on the property, ushering them in proudly. The floor was cement and the walls solid: probably to keep vermin out of the food storage area. The space was filled with racks of cheese wheels wrapped in cloth.
Meredith unwrapped a few to show them and Paul noticed that some were stamped with an elaborate brand: a picture of Albrecht farm and the words 'Albrecht Farms Real Amish Country Cheese' along with the date and type of cheese. A wheel on another shelf was merely functionally stamped with the date and type of cheese.
"Why do some have all this picture and text on them?" Paul asked.
"Oh, those are for the tourists," she explained. "My uncle says they like it." She gestured around to all the cheese in the room. "My aunt told me they used to be the biggest supplier of cheese to the Amish community. These days it seems most of it gets sold to tourists."
"The tourists pay better, I'd wager," Alva said.
"It's expensive to run a farm." Meredith was clearly quoting the party line from her guardians. "So most of our butter and a lot of our cheese wind up going home with people from the tours, but we sell a lot to our neighbors during wintertime, so we still do help feed our community."
"Meredith," Alva fixed her in his gaze, the one he used to ensure people would pay close attention. "You know some of those tourists who help keep the farm running have wound up in the hospital as a result of their visits."
The sunny expression on the girl's face disappeared as she bent her head and clasped her hands, suddenly meek. Paul was struck then by the resemblance of Meredith to her Aunt Elizabeth - not just in demeanor, but in the lines of her face. If Grace had shared that family resemblance it had to have been hard raising the specter of their dead relative in their home, especially given that Grace had broken so far with Amish religious traditions as to have taken her own life.
"My uncle says accidents happen," she finally said, though this time her conviction in the party line seemed shaky.
"You were there in the hayloft with Malcolm," Paul said gently, moving closer. "We know you weren't the one who pushed him, but he was pushed, Meredith. He would not have thrown himself off the hayloft ledge: we all know that."
"I don't know what did it!" she exclaimed, clearly upset. "I just know that I watched him go over and I couldn't stop it!"
Alva took the girl by the arms, crouching down a little to make her look at him.
"Meredith, it's imperative that you tell us what happened with you and Malcolm in the hayloft before he went over - every detail." When she balked, Alva ducked down to try to meet her eyes again. "And it wasn't nothing. We've already talked to Malcolm and we know that's not true."
Paul put a hand on Alva's arm to get him to drop his hands and Meredith curled her arms around herself as if trying to console herself with a hug.
"He was just being playful," she said, her voice so quiet Paul almost couldn't make it out. "And nothing really happened. He really didn't do anything bad."
"Meredith, you do not need to make excuses for that boy, do you hear me?" Alva said firmly.
"God sees all," Paul added, knowing she'd respond to an appeal to her faith. "God knows the truth."
"He just tried to... I mean, he..." Meredith faltered, her pale face flushing pink.
"You can tell us, we won't judge you," Paul assured her.
Her voice was almost a squeak when she spoke. "He tried to pinch my behind." She looked up at them both after her revelation. "But he didn't really! He pretty much just got a handful of my skirt!"
"What happened next?" Alva prompted.
"I moved away from him, out of his reach," she said. "I was over by the barn wall, about eight feet or so away from where he was near the loft's edge. He was just standing there, kind of chuckling to himself..." She paused, her delicate features screwing up in angst. "And then he was going over the edge. All I could do was watch. I couldn't stop it."
The cheese building door opened abruptly and Gabriel stood in the sunlit doorway.
"Meredith, the next tour group is about to arrive. You're needed at the house."
Meredith quickly bowed her head, subservient. "Yes, Uncle. I'm coming."
They filed out, but Alva laid a hand on Paul's arm, making him hold back.
"Don't worry about us," Alva said to Gabriel. "We don't want to delay you. We know the way back."
With a nod, Gabriel departed, Meredith in tow, following slightly behind him like a silent shadow.
"You want to look around more here?" Paul asked Alva as he stood still, glancing around.
"No, what I want is to find someone who might give us some undiluted truth about the family Albrecht."
Paul cocked his head at him. "And who would that be?"
Alva smiled, a wily and clever grin lighting up his face. "Quite often the most invisible of people are the best observers of what goes on around them." He gestured subtly and when Paul looked in the direction Alva indicated he spotted a farmhand shoveling manure. "I want to talk to the worker bees."
Josiah Hale was a big man, graying at the temples and slow of speech, struggling to get out each sentence yet persevering until each phrase was out as if the effort meant nothing. His hands and face were weathered by many seasons in the sun yet he held himself up proud despite the dirt on his clothing and the stink of manure on his shovel.
Paul mostly watched as Alva asked him simple questions to begin, about the farm itself, how many people worked on it, if any of the tourists ever came down to this part of the property.
It took a moment, but Paul added up all the clues: Josiah's right side seeming weaker as he shoveled, the unevenness of his smile as he greeted them and the troubled speech.
"It must have been difficult for you," Paul injected into a pause in the conversation, "to come back to this kind of work after a stroke."
A quick glance from Alva confirmed that he had also discerned that fact himself.
"The Albrechts..." Josiah stood up even straighter. "They held my job. I'm grateful."
"So they're good people, then," Paul said, careful to make it sound more like a statement then a question.
"There's some who think they like money too much," Josiah admitted. "But they pay me the same even though I'm slow now."
"That's very charitable of them," Alva said. "How about the tourists who've gotten injured here on the farm? Do they pay them as well?"
"That's what the insurance is for." Josiah shrugged. "It's a farm. Stuff happens. Had a new farmhand quit because a scythe fell on him - cut his shoulder up good."
"Mr. Hale, of the accidents that have happened here on the farm, especially with tourists, how many do you think Meredith was nearby for?"
Josiah's eyes widened and he looked between the two of them.
"So you've heard the stories already then?"
"Some," Alva lied blithely. "But we'd like to hear what you have to say."
"First off," Josiah said solemnly, "I don't believe in ghosts, but the other farmhands? Some of them say the girl's haunted. She's got a ghost looking out for her. We old guys, we tell the new hires not to look too closely at Meredith, even though she's pretty as a flower. Anyone tries to get with her at all, they get hurt."
"So the farmhand with the scythe?" Paul prompted.
"I didn't see anything happen, but Meredith was crying that day and when I asked the man if he'd messed with her at all he said no, but he didn't look me in the eye."
"What can you tell us about Grace, Meredith's mother?" Alva asked.
"The Thorne family farm was only a mile or two down the road from where I grew up: Old Man Thorne and his two girls. Mrs. Thorne died when they were little. Grace and I were in the school at the same time, but I was older than her. It was Elizabeth that I knew in my grade - that's how I got this job. She was pretty, not plain like Elizabeth - spitting image of Meredith only her hair was brown like her sister's."
"We heard she left the community," Paul said. "Was that just after school ended?"
"No, she didn't leave until, well, after." Josiah turned his eyes to the ground.
"After what?" Paul prompted.
"It's not right to talk about rumors," Josiah said reluctantly, eyes still downcast.
"People are getting hurt," Alva reminded him. "And it's all right to tell us because you're telling us as rumors, not pretending they are the truth."
"It's the deceit God is against," Paul said sagely. "Helping us by telling what you've heard? That's just passing on information that might help us prevent people from getting hurt in the future." He lowered his voice. "You won't dishonor her memory by telling us."
Josiah finally nodded, still subdued. "I didn't like to hear what they said," he began cautiously. "But when Gabriel and Elizabeth brought Meredith home as a baby we all knew she was Grace's. They never tried to hide that. But Grace? She never got married. She hadn't even picked out a beau, though most of the men would have been happy to have her as a wife."
"So who was the father?"
Josiah was the very picture of discomfort, hands gripping the shovel handle anxiously.
"Who, Mr. Hale?" Alva pressed.
"No one knows," he finally said. "But the rumors going around were that whoever he was they never got married and that he was an outsider."
"That's not so bad," Paul said. "I mean some people leave from time to time, I'm sure."
"Those were the rumors nobody minded too much," Josiah clarified. "There were worse ones. Ones I don't want to say out loud."
Alva drew a sharp breath and Paul looked to him, the realization of what Josiah was implying hitting him at almost the same time.
Alva's voice lowered so that it couldn't be overheard if any other farmhands were walking by.
"They were saying the child wasn't a result of a relationship."
Paul had rarely known Alva to bother using tact, but he marveled in this case that he'd found possibly the one phrasing to state the unspoken in such a way that Josiah could handle.
"That's it. She didn't want him, she didn't want a baby and her family didn't want to be shamed by her condition so she went away. And then..." Josiah's face contorted into grief. "I guess she didn't want to live anymore."
After a quick lunch at the local diner down the street from the inn, Alva and Paul returned to Alva's room to call Evelyn.
"Evie," Alva began once the call connected, "please tell me you have news for us!"
"That I do," she said. "Shall I go first?"
"Well, I think ours can be summed up rather quickly," Paul told her. "Mrs. Albrecht's sister Grace committed suicide after giving birth to a rapist's child and being shunned by her family. Now her daughter Meredith is being supernaturally protected from any unwanted attention by men."
"Wow, that is quick," Evelyn said. "Any information on who the father might be?"
"Only that he's likely an outsider," Alva offered. "Not Amish."
"Unsurprising," Evelyn responded. "But I might have a candidate for you: a Bryant Hazeldon, age seventeen, from Philadelphia. Get this: he died in a fall from a hayloft on Albrecht farm."
"Sounds familiar," Alva mused. "And how long ago was this?"
"About eighteen years," Evelyn stated.
Paul and Alva exchanged a look.
"So Bryant attacks Grace in the hayloft..."
"She can't stop him..." Alva continued.
"But afterwards she catches him off his guard..." Paul kept going.
"And she shoves him over the edge to his death." Alva nodded his head upon completion. "It works and it also explains why such a minor offense as trying to goose Meredith in the hayloft was enough for the entity to want to harm Malcolm."
"That's what Malcolm did? He pinched her butt?" Evelyn sounded incredulous. "Well, as we said before, the Amish have different standards, so I can see that as being way more offensive to an unmarried religious girl brought up in a strict traditional household."
"Actually she didn't seem that offended," Paul said. "But to be fair, according to Meredith all he got was a handful of skirt, not actual contact."
"Paul..." Evelyn's tone of voice was the one she used when she was being patient with him. "Of course she would say that. He could have had his entire hand on her ass and she'd still play it off as a near miss. It's how women protect themselves from feeling violated or looking tainted in men's eyes."
"I don't think she would lie," Paul said.
"One doesn't have to lie with creative wording," Alva reminded him.
"Exactly," Evelyn agreed.
Alva sat back on his bed, looking pensive.
"Well, we've got ourselves a predicament then. We could be looking at the ghost of Grace protecting her daughter, the ghost of Bryant - who actually died on the farm - rising up whenever someone echoes his bad behavior..."
"Or our original theory," Paul added. "That it's a malevolent entity feeding off random sexual energy and since Meredith is the only attractive nubile female living on the farm..."
"It's feeding time whenever she's around," Alva finished for him. He leaned forward. "Evie, did Grace's death show up in your searches?"
"No, no one named Grace died in or around Amish country. She had to have died further away."
"See what you can find. Her last name was Thorne."
"Will do. What are our next steps?"
"Well, Paul and I will try to find out what kind of man this mysterious Mr. Hazeldon was before his untimely demise."
"A side trip to Philly?" Paul asked.
"He is our most likely candidate for Grace's attacker." Alva put out his hands, gesturing the inevitability of the trip.
"If I find Grace, what do you want to know?" Evelyn asked.
"How and where she died, if she had a will or left behind any sort of documentation - especially in regards to Meredith and what happened with her family once they learned of her death."
"They disowned her," Paul reminded him. "They may have even declined to bury the body."
"She ended up somewhere," Alva said thoughtfully. "Which makes me wonder: what has Meredith been told about her mother and father?"
"Anyone with half a heart would lie to her," Evelyn piped up. "I mean, I'm a mother and I can tell you, you don't just saddle a child with the knowledge that they're the product of rape. It's cruel and it serves no purpose."
"Maybe not as a kid," Paul countered. "But once they reach adulthood, I think they should know the truth about their past."
Alva held up a hand to halt Paul from going further. "As is with all such debates - abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty - there can be no agreement. There will always be differing opinions, so let's move on, shall we?"
Paul blinked at him, but had to admit tactful Alva was certainly skilled at getting what he wanted.
"The big question remains: how are we going to get rid of this entity once we figure out which it is?"
"I thought there were rituals for exorcising ghosts and such," Evelyn said.
"There are," Alva said, sharing a knowing glance with Paul. "However some of them - depending on what it is you're attempting to eject from the possessed host or haunted location - involve the lighting of candles or the burning of incense and I'm fairly certain burning down the Albrecht's hay filled barn with us in it isn't a desirable solution."
"We have to find a way," Paul stated firmly.
"We have to find out who or what we're up against first," Alva countered.
Paul rose, letting out a long breath. "Then I guess we're headed to Philadelphia."
"My husband Parker is in Tokyo on business so I'm afraid he won't be able to speak with you."
A silent maidservant poured tea from a silver service in the parlor of the Hazeldon estate as Honora Hazeldon - every bit the rich matriarch - oversaw her efforts with a discerning eye.
"That's quite all right," Alva said politely and once again Paul marveled at how he'd been exceptionally tactful during their visit, gaining entrance to the home almost effortlessly. While Alva generally didn't care about what people thought of him in public - as proven by their trip to Dr. Bauer's symposium early on in their partnership - he still had reserves to draw on when it came to getting what they needed. Paul had to remind himself that despite his fairly humble status now, Alva was raised the child of a well to do doctor.
"We'd like to hear about Bryant," Paul urged. "What he was like."
Honora sighed over her teacup.
"Parker and I... We pushed Bryant hard. He was the first born son, set to take over the family business. We demanded the best grades, good behavior and discipline - the most important factor in success in life. Both his father and I believed that was the critical lesson to teach our children in order to prepare them to live in the modern world."
"And I'm sure he made you proud," Paul told her kindly.
"He did." She paused a moment to adjust the family photos on the side table near where she sat, gazing at the one shot of three children in their teenage years: two boys and a girl. "At least until he hit sixteen." She drew her attention back to Paul and Alva. "I suppose we spoiled him - giving him a fast car when he barely had a license, but appearances are important in our social circles and we didn't want to handicap him when all of his friends would be getting the same kind of cars when they turned sixteen."
"So Bryant was a bit older than his schoolmates?" Alva queried.
"He was born past the cut off and we decided not to fight the private school for not accepting him into kindergarten. My husband had been advanced a grade because of his intellect and didn't wish the kind of social alienation he endured on Bryant. The idea was that as the oldest of his group it would allow him to be larger physically and more mature than those around him - assets, we felt, that would serve him in the short term and perhaps in the long run." She clutched her teacup, grief still there after almost two decades. "How were we to know then there would be no long run?"
"We're very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Hazeldon," Paul offered. "A parent should never have to bury a child."
She turned back to the photographs. "Spencer and Alexis miss their brother, but they have families of their own now; they've moved on." She turned back to them, grief etching deep lines into her carefully made up face. "Not a single day goes by that I don't think of my son and miss him."
"Did Bryant have a steady girlfriend at the time of his death?" Alva asked.
"Or any close friends we could talk to about his life just before he passed?" Paul added.
"Bryant dated many young women, probably more than he let me know about," she admitted. "He was too young to entangle himself too seriously with one single girl." She drew a piece of stationery and a nice pen out of drawer and wrote down a few names on it before handing it to Alva. "Those were his closest friends in school. Their parents go to our country club so I know they still live in Philadelphia."
"Thank you," Alva told her. "We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us."
"When you told me another boy had been hurt..." Honora paused, the grief-stricken mother briefly taking over for the polished socialite. "All I could think was if there was anything I could do to spare another mother the pain I endured..."
"We'll do everything we can to make sure no one else gets hurt," Paul assured her.
"Bryant Hazeldon! Man, I haven't heard that name in years!"
Reed Jameson sat back behind his massive mahogany desk, smiling at the memory of his prep school friend.
"We were hoping you might be able to tell us what Bryant was like. We spoke to his mother, but..." Alva moved in close, his voice lowered to an almost conspiratorial tone. "Mothers don't really know what their teenaged sons are like, do they?"
Reed chuckled. "Mine certainly didn't, else I'd have gotten my Porsche taken away!" He got a thoughtful look on his face as he thought back, smiling. "Bryant was a player. Every hot girl in school was on his list. He'd lure them in until he had them wrapped around his finger and then dump them."
"So his sexual exploits were, shall we say, legendary?" Alva asked wryly.
"Definitely! He was the guy all of us were jealous of, but most of us didn't have it in us to be that callous to the women we were dating. Sure, we were teenage boys - all hormones and mischief - but he really didn't care if he left them crying."
"So he was a little on the insensitive side?" Paul asked, trying for delicacy.
"Trying not to speak ill of the dead?" Reed questioned. "Look, it's been almost two decades and you gentlemen seem like you want the real deal, not the sugar-coated version Mrs. Hazeldon probably fed you."
"There is nothing to be gained from attempting to maintain Bryant Hazeldon's untarnished image and a great deal to be lost by hiding the truth," Alva told him.
Reed nodded, sobering.
"Bryant? Was an ass. We all knew it. He got away with crap none of us would have dared. I mean, we all had rich powerful parents, but Bryant acted like nothing could touch him. If he wanted it, he had to have it. End of discussion."
"And that extended into his relations with women?" Alva asked.
"No one ever really said anything..."
"You mean no one ever pressed charges," Paul said darkly.
Reed's downcast eyes were enough of an answer, but he continued. "Some of the girls he went after? They transferred to other schools afterwards. One of them even moved to Europe after and of course that got everyone talking. You know..."
"About whether she'd gotten pregnant," Paul filled in for him.
Reed nodded. "Look, I liked the guy, but mostly because we had a ton of fun when we were hanging out. But none of us who hung out with him condoned his behavior. We just..." he shrank into his chair, looking more like the former teenager he'd been at the time rather than the powerful businessman he was now. "We just didn't have the guts to challenge him over it. We wanted to be the cool ones, the popular ones, and in our school that meant hanging out with Bryant."
Alva leaned forward, fixing Reed in his most steely gaze.
"Mr. Jameson, what would you say if I told you that there were allegations that Bryant raped an Amish girl who then exacted her revenge by killing him?"
"I wouldn't want to believe it," Reed said quietly, hands clasped on the desk in front of him. "But I would."
Alva rose, extending his hand, which Reed shook, standing as well.
"Thank you for your time. We can see ourselves out."
Paul shook his hand and followed Alva out of the office and out of the building where he watched as Alva let out a long breath.
"I went to private school," he said, frustration clear in his tone as he paced angrily. "I saw the very same behavior in the rich sons of important men. They acted like they were the princes of industry, that the world should hand them whatever they wanted on a silver platter simply because of their social class. They thought nothing of seducing the servant girls and then getting them fired just so they could have fresh ones to entertain themselves with. No one - no one - did more than verbally chastise them for their bad behavior and armies of lawyers would swarm to cover up and expunge any illegal activity."
"But somehow you escaped that," Paul pointed out.
"I had a father who was far more frightening than the threat of jail," Alva muttered, his face grim. "Come, I think it's time we looked up some of Bryant's female classmates. If we need the harshest truth possible it's likely to come from his victims."
Lauren Ainsworth, waiting on her maid to pour tea in her parlor, was like a mirror image of Honora Hazeldon only about twenty years younger.
"Thank you, Louisa," she said, dismissing her maid when she finished. "That will be all."
"I appreciate you being willing to speak with us," Alva began.
"Honestly, while I could happily go the rest of my life not ever thinking about Bryant Hazeldon again," she admitted, fidgeting by playing with her engagement and wedding ring set, twisting them on her finger, "I've always wanted the chance to tell someone what a bastard he was."
"We understand he was less than a gentleman with some of your schoolmates," Alva ventured, taking a sip of his tea.
Lauren huffed. "Must we mince words?"
"No," Alva told her. "We most certainly do not. After all, even Bryant's good friend Reed referred to him as an 'ass' and he liked Bryant."
"The term 'ass' is generous." Lauren put her teacup aside. "Bryant was the biggest criminal to come out of our academy that year, only he was more likely to get voted 'most likely to succeed' than go to jail. He was smart, the worst kind of smart."
"Smart as in he managed to avoid charges being brought against him?" Paul asked.
"Smart as in he went out of his way to date the Police Commissioner's daughter very publicly and to treat her like an absolute gem. He played it up, being the quintessential good boy with her just so she'd swear to his father that he was a nice guy who could never do the kind of things people accused him of."
"So there was talk of charges, but they never got filed then?"
"Threats, probably." Lauren shrugged. "We were just kids then so our parents dealt with it. The Hazeldons probably paid the families off to go away and the girls begged their parents to let them change schools so they didn't have to be around him anymore." She lowered her gaze. "They couldn't take the shame. I mean Bryant? He was just the kind of jerk who made sure everyone knew."
"So it wouldn't come as a surprise to you to hear allegations of rape against Bryant?"
"It would surprise me actually," she replied. "But only in that someone was willing to speak up."
"Actually, they didn't per se," Paul explained. "What we believe happened is that Bryant took advantage of a girl against her wishes and afterwards she pushed him so he fell to his death."
Lauren let her eyes fall closed. "Good for her. At least she had the strength to fight back."
"She didn't, not really," Alva told her gently. "She killed herself not long after the attack."
"Damn it," Lauren swore under her breath. "You know, I married a lawyer in part because I wanted a hero for a husband - someone who fought against those who tried to break the law rather than some corporate executive whose profits came from ignoring regulations about the disposal of hazardous waste or sweatshops." She picked up her teacup again. "But now I see it's all just a game they play. The people who are in the right aren't guaranteed of winning. The people who win are just those with the most expensive lawyers."
"Sadly, that is often the case," Alva agreed, his tone subdued.
"This girl... Who was she?" Lauren asked.
"Just a farm girl in Amish country," Paul answered.
"A farm girl..." Lauren shook her head in disbelief. "After all we went though, after all he did to the girls at my school, it took a farm girl to bring him down." She let out a breath. "I guess he finally met someone who didn't give a damn about his family's money or who he was in society."
"Unfortunately she was someone with much more to lose," Paul explained, unable to keep the sadness at bay. "She lost her family, her community, her home and finally her life."
"For that - for all of it?" Lauren's flawless face creased into an angry mask. "I hope he burns in hell."
On to Part 2
Comment on this chapter on LiveJournal
Back to The Stories