“Want to walk with me?”
Olivia was stepping out the front door when she’d heard Noah making his way down the stairs. They were both scheduled to work the day shift today, but she’d been leaving a little early to get some work done before her shift began. Still, she wasn’t surprised to see him leaving too.
“Um, yeah, thanks,” Noah said.
He had his headphones around his neck, but took them off and stuffed them into his backpack as they walked out of the house.
It was cold outside, the November air cooler than it had been yesterday. But it was still nice enough to walk, and Olivia wanted to take advantage of the remaining time before everything got dark and cold.
They made their way down the walkway toward the road in silence. “How are you?” Noah asked as they got to the road and began walking down the shoulder toward Main Street.
She shrugged. “Not bad. Tired. Looking for another job, but it’s not going well.”
“You want to quit Keegan’s? I thought you loved running the bar.”
Olivia turned to see Noah’s surprised expression. Wow, he really had checked out, hadn’t he? She laughed and hoped it didn’t sound as bitter as she thought it did.
“I did love it,” she said, carefully stepping around a hole in the grass. “It was really fun, honestly. I loved figuring out the logistics of it and the cooking. And getting to work with you.”
Noah flinched, and she pretended not to see. “But after David sold the place to Bret, it’s been getting worse and worse. He cuts hours, buys lower quality food, and still expects me to keep it running at the quality it’s always been. And I was able to for a little while. But it’s too much. I have to pick up all the slack and all I get for it is lectures when things go wrong and taken for granted when it’s done right.”
He was silent for a second, sneakers scraping in the sand at the side of the road. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so bad,” he said softly.
“I mean, you wouldn’t have.”
He flinched again and she felt bad, but also justified. “I’m sorry,” Noah said. “For not asking. And for leaving the way I did.”
Olivia shrugged. “It’s fine.”
He looked skeptical. “I know it’s not.”
“No, it’s not,” she said. “You quit. And you didn’t even tell me about it. I had to find out from Bret.”
He didn’t answer, but his steps slowed slightly. Olivia stopped walking and turned to him. “I swear, I didn’t ask you to walk with me just to lecture you.”
“No, you’re right though,” Noah said. “I regret that. I regret a lot of things I’ve done, but Liv, I’ve been horrible to you. I don’t know why you even talk to me anymore.”
Why did she feel like she was about to cry? “Because I love you,” she said. “And I know you’re better than that.”
Now he looked like he was about to cry too. She reached up and hugged him, and he returned the hug fiercely. “Thank you for giving me another chance,” he whispered.
She didn’t trust herself to answer around the lump in her throat, so she just nodded. Then held him another moment and let go.
“We should probably get to work before Hugh has to open alone,” she finally said after a moment.
They started walking again. “Hey,” Noah said after a moment. “Speaking of Hugh…”
“Don’t even start,” Olivia warned.
The map Iris had was at least a hundred years old. At least, it was a photocopy of a hundred-year-old map. She wouldn’t dare try to bring a real map out here right now, it would disintegrate instantly in the wind. But if she was reading the map right, and she was almost certain she was, the Alderidge House should have been on a little plot of land that was now in the middle of the woods.
It had been two days since the nightmarish ritual with Vivien and a quiet trip alone felt like exactly what she needed in order to feel in control again. So here she was, searching for the site of the Alderidge House in the overgrown western part of New Winslow.
The land around it was filled with trees, probably planted during the New Deal. So they’d gone in well after the Quabbin Reservoir was established and had already been filling with water for several years. A few stone walls were all that remained of the lot boundaries, and they grew further and further apart as she drove down the winding dirt path.
The path ended abruptly, turning into a narrow lane too small for even her little sedan to fit down. Iris pulled over to the side of the road and reluctantly got out of the car. Thankfully, if her map was right, the Alderidge plot wasn’t too far from here.
The sun offered a little weak heat as she walked down the path, her shoes sinking in the slightly frozen mud. The path was too small for a car, but it had clearly been a road at one point. Looking around at the looming trees and the thick brush around it, she couldn’t picture the wealthy neighborhood that it had been a hundred years ago. This was where the New Winslow elites had built their mansions? Now it was a muddy patch of overgrown forest.
As Iris reached what her map claimed was the plot before the Alderidge house, she paused and looked it over. This was where The Countess had stood when it was known as the McBride house. The stone foundation around the cellar hole was still visible, though the hole itself had been filled in. The entire plot had long been reclaimed by the woods. It was still just a little distinct from the half mile of forest she’d passed, just enough to show that it was a separate property. But the trees had filled in the land and ivy crept along the broken stone walls.
She took out her phone and snapped a picture. At the very least, Anna and Missy would probably appreciate seeing this. She didn’t imagine they had ever had, especially considering Anna’s bad knees probably made hiking difficult to impossible. Maybe in the future she could get a good shot and have it framed for them. As sort of a thank you for allowing her access to their library.
Iris walked a little further along, listening to the surrounding silence. Why did it seem like it had gotten even quieter in the past few seconds? It was late November, the birds were either going or gone. But hadn’t she heard a few as she got out of the car?
And then she saw the next plot of land coming up ahead and immediately forgot all about the birds.
The plot that almost definitely belonged to the Alderidge family was bare. She could see a small indentation in the ground and a scattering of stones where the foundation had been. And maybe there were a few plants peeking out through cracks in the stone. But beyond that, it was dead grass and bramble. There was nothing living on this piece of land.
The images flooded into Iris’s head before she even realized what was happening. Flames crackled while the smell of smoke filled her nose, choking her as she took in the thick fumes. Just like what had happened at the library. Iris breathed steadily through the smell, reminding herself that it wasn’t real. There was nothing in her physical body, it was a vision. But she knew on some level it was very real. This smoke and those flames had been here. And they’d claimed a life.
Well, that was new information to her now, wasn’t it? While she’d all but confirmed that this was where the hotel had been planned, the fact that there was a death here was new to her. And she had no proof beyond her psychic vision, which wouldn’t hold up with anybody else. After all, Harbinger had mentioned nothing beyond the fact that Barlow was after the property. Volume Two had ended there and there’d been no sign of a volume three anywhere in the Countess’s collection.
Maybe she could ask Judith. Or she could have if she hadn’t completely ruined that relationship. Maybe she could get Andrew to do it.
No, then she’d have to explain what she was doing at the Countess. It was too soon. She needed to have all the information before she got him involved. If Baxter was going to go after them, she wanted him to know why. And it would be hard to explain if she didn’t have all the details herself. As of now, all she knew was that Baxter’s grandfather had been involved in shady dealings harassing a poor woman in order to make her sell her house. And now apparently there was a fire and someone had died. But who was it? And how did it happen?
The smell of smoke was clearing now, replaced by the sharp cold of the evening air. It was getting dark and she needed to head back to her car. Iris took one last look at the dead lot and then turned and walked away.