I often have to call some powerful and important people as part of my job, but it had been a long time since I was as nervous on the phone. My heart was pounding as I heard the ring on the other end.
“Hi, Lyndsey? This is Gill, uhm, Gill Baxter.”
“Hi Gill.” Small laugh. “Yeah, I only know one Gill.”
“Uhm, yeah, so how are you doing?”
“Pretty good. How about you?” her voice was flat. Did she really want to talk to me?
“I’m doing well, thanks. I’m sure you know why I’m calling.”
“Oh, that sister of mine! I don’t understand her sometimes. And I hate to say this, but it’s usually you. I mean, she just acts nutso around you. Also when she’s talking about you. She does have a brain in her head, I swear! She just misplaces it when you’re around or when she’s thinking about you. She becomes a 16-year-old school girl and wants to flaunt it. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no worries. I know what she’s like and it isn’t like she acts like that all of the time when she’s around me. We do have a professional relationship, at least part of the time.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how you put up with her being in your house all the time and all. But don’t let her get to you or talk you into anything. You, know, just do what you want. Don’t do stuff just because she wants you to. Like Saturday…”
My heart sank. Was she trying to get out of our date? Well, it was a ‘date’ under weird circumstances.
“I’m used to her and don’t take her flirting seriously at all. I do tell her ‘no’ all of the time,” I said. “But, uhm, yeah Saturday. I just spend so much time with stressful people at work, and when I’m not working, it is your sister’s silliness and the guys at Strickland’s and… I need some time away from them. I need… I was looking forward to talking to an adult. Uhm. You know what I mean… I was, uhm, you know… Yeah, I need a night out and.. Am I rambling?”
She laughed. “Yes, you are.”
“Sorry.” I laughed. “What I’m trying to say that I’m really looking forward to seeing you Saturday, but if you don’t want to go, I understand. What you said about Jessica and all. I get it. I want to go, but if you’d rather not…”
There was a pause. My heart felt like lead.
“I shouldn’t say this to you,” she finally said, “but I was looking forward to this more than I’ve looked forward to anything in a long time. I was hoping you really wanted to go and not just because Jess talked you into it. Yeah, stress at work, silly chatter from Jess, I get what you’re talking about…”
I don’t always know what to say when talking to a woman that I like, but sometimes I just blurt things out. “It isn’t just that I need someone to talk to or something to do,” I said, “I want to talk to you and see you, Lyndsey. It’s been a while since we did more than say a few pleasantries and I was looking forward to, you know, getting to know you better again. I want to spend some time with you. Just the two of us, alone, without Jessica on us.”
I felt that I had just put my neck on the guillotine. My palms were sweaty.
“Gill, that’s just such a lovely thing to say! Thank you! I’m so happy you weren’t doing this just to get Jess out of your hair. If you had wanted to back out, I’d be fine… but I’m so glad you don’t!”
The warmth went down to my toes, but I still had something on my mind. “Thinking about Jessica talking you into doing things, are you sure you want to visit the Goode Mansion with me?”
“Of course, but why the sudden interest?”
“I don’t know. I love history, but I usually look at the big stories, like the history in Boston. Just in the last few days I have heard so much about the history here, in Amesbury, I want to know more. I’ll admit it, I’ve suddenly become obsessed. Almost like there’s an outside force telling me that I need to discover all of the darkest secrets. Does that sound strange?”
“No, of course not. I sometimes have felt like that. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Goode Mansion for a few months now and have been trying to find an excuse to get back in. You’ve given me that excuse.”
“Great! So we’re on, then?”
“Of course, you’re not going to get rid of me that easily!” she said. “Listen, I got to go. I have a few things to do this evening and then I’m going to drive up tonight. There are supposed to be thunderstorms, so the drive will be nasty and I want to be ready. I’m going to stay at my parent’s house while I’m in town. I have a full day planned tomorrow and Friday, but I’ll drop by your place at about 5:30 on Friday evening, OK?”
“I’ll stop at AmHoP and grab a pizza.” AmHoP, which we pronounced “Am-Hop”, was the Amesbury House of Pizza. “After that I’ll drive us to the mansion. There are dos and don’ts for gong up there, which I’ll talk about over the pizza. And we can make our Saturday plans then.”
“That sounds great to me. I’ll make a big salad and buy a bottle of wine. Any preferences?”
“For pizza, I’d say Chianti. See you then!”
“Looking forward to it.”
“Bye, Gill. Thanks.”
“Bye Lyndsey. See you soon.”
I felt a little restless after the call, so I decided to take a walk. The sky was darkening and it looked like a storm was blowing in, but I figured I should have plenty of time.
Typically I walk through the more residential section of the village, but I didn’t want to walk down School Street nor down Pine, past Jessica’s house. I went into the village proper, then cut out back, near the river. I very rarely do it, but I used the train trestle to cross the river and continued down the tracks. Walking back up the other side I passed close to the Old Mill.
The sky was rapidly getting darker, both from the approaching storm and the lateness of the evening. The streetlights came on, but didn’t really illuminate anything, and surely not my path down the railroad tracks. I felt a few large drops. I had to hurry.
As I was passing the Old Mill I was surprised to see a couple of people outside, talking. As I approached I recognized the man from Maude’s. But wasn’t that impossible? Maybe I was wrong and the man was real, not Mr. Adams. He was wearing the same shirt and tie I had seen him in at Maude’s.
I didn’t recognize the other man. It was dark, so I couldn’t see him well, but his clothes looked odd. There were very few people of color in town and I knew most of them by sight. This man looked African American, which stands out in this area of New Hampshire. I felt like I should have known him, but I was drawing a blank.
“Hi Mr. Baxter,” the man I recognized said.
“Hi Mr. Adams,” I said, taking a guess. He nodded. “Hello sir,” I said, towards the other man. He smiled and gave a small wave.
There was a flash of lightning followed immediately by the boom of thunder. I turned around reflexively. More drops were coming down. I turned back to the mill. The two men were gone. Even at a sprint they wouldn’t have been able to make it into the building in that split-second that I had turned away. I stared, opened mouth.
As I was standing there, the full rain came. I shook my head, then walked quickly back to my house. Once inside, I shed my wet clothes and took a quick, hot shower to warm up. In a dry robe, I sat in front of my computer and watched the storm go by on Doppler Radar on the weather site, but my mind was on the Mill, not the Internet.
It didn’t make sense. Did I imagine the two men? Who were they?