Andrew didn’t want to do this. He wanted to be at home, where he knew Olivia was cooking steak. Steak. But here he was, on his way into the New Winslow Historical Society, because Iris had begged him to. He wasn’t even quite sure what he was looking for, so he knew that he was going to look like a prat. All he knew was that he needed to find any mention of Rosalind Alderidge in any available records. He’d emailed the archivist earlier that day, so she already had some things pulled for him, but he knew that this was going to suck.
At least the building was beautiful, a converted mansion just beyond downtown. The whole thing was brick, with thick mahogany pillars holding up a balcony above the front door. As he walked up the steps, a sharp wind blew past him and he shivered. Normally the pea coat was enough to keep out the cold, but tonight it felt sharp and jagged as he hurried toward the heavy door.
There was a small reception desk just inside the entrance. To the sides of the room, he could see shelves of books and the walls were lined with paintings and maps. Andrew’s eye was drawn to them, but the woman behind the counter was looking at him expectantly, so he hurried over to her.
“Evening,” he said. “I’m here to see Judith Perez. My name is Andrew Harris.”
The smiling woman glanced down at her computer and Andrew noted that the smile faded, just slightly. “Just a moment,” she said.
She picked up the phone to alert Judith Perez that he was coming. “She’ll be right down,” she told him as she placed the phone back in the cradle.
Then she turned back to her work. Andrew waited a beat, but she seemed to be done with him. “Thank you,” he said, then stepped away from the desk.
He walked over to the wall of paintings. They all seemed to be set in New Winslow, which he supposed made sense. He still wasn’t sure why anyone would want to live out their lives here, especially if they had a choice in the matter. He might be doomed to die here, but that didn’t mean everybody was.
Shit, he was going down that path already and it wasn’t even five o’clock yet. He just needed to focus on the task at hand. Pretend like it was a uni assignment he’d put off until the night before it was due.
There was a painting of another mansion, and he wondered if it was anywhere near this one. Did the wealthy flock to downtown? Or had they built their homes in waves, branching out as the generations went on? From what Iris had said, the Alderidge House had been further west, out beyond Olivia and Noah’s house and into the less populated sections by the westernmost town line. That had been the fashionable part of New Winslow, though the words “fashionable” and “New Winslow” did not merge well together in Andrew’s brain.
He noticed a small caption at the bottom of the painting and squinted to read it. No, not even a caption. It was in the very corner, a signature? Applegate. Maybe the painting was by an Applegate and there was no reason for Andrew to ever concern himself with it again.
Andrew turned around to see Judith Perez standing by the counter. She looked at him politely, but he could see that same bit of wariness in her expression. What was this about? He’d never set foot in this place before. Maybe they knew he was cursed? Come on, it wasn’t like it was contagious.
“Hi,” he said, trying to smile as charmingly as possible as he stepped forward to shake her hand. “Andrew Harris, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Judith Perez,” Judith said, “Head Archivist. Come with me.”
She turned and led him past the desk and down a hallway on the expansive bottom floor of the building. “So, you’re looking for information on the Alderidge family,” she said. “Why’s that?”
He was about to launch into a halfway truthful explanation, but then he looked at her face and knew that she already knew. “It’s the curse,” he said. “I’m working with Iris Davies to figure it out.”
Judith sighed, and Andrew realized that for once, this wasn’t about him. “So, she sent you to her place,” she said.
“Look, I have all the resources I could get. There aren’t many. And I made photocopies. You can’t take anything from the archives out of this building. I’m sorry to treat you like a child, but, I’m going to be staying in the room to supervise so that I know you won’t.”
Confused and insulted, Andrew tried to keep calm. “I’m not planning to-”
And then it all came together. “Oh, for Christ’s sake.”
“She sent you here without telling you why?”
Judith looked at him, and Andrew felt like himself deflate under her gaze. “She asked me to request information on the Alderidge family and didn’t tell me about any particular reason she couldn’t do it herself.”
“I know it wasn’t you,” Judith said. “But I nearly lost my job after she destroyed an artifact last year. And I’m not risking anything for her, not again.”
“I understand,” Andrew said. “I’ll be out of your hair shortly.”
She brought him to a reading room, where there was a small stack of books and papers on one of the tables. He pulled on the gloves that were sitting there and opened the books first. Judith had gone through already and marked a few instances where the Alderidge family was mentioned. There wasn’t much. Occasional mentions from the 1800s for the most part. Confirmation that they had a home in New Winslow. He skimmed them mostly, then paused at a picture.
It was the same mansion he’d seen in the front hall. Underneath, the caption read, THE ALDERIDGE HOME ON APPLEGATE.
Andrew stood up, and Judith looked at him. He realized he still had the book in his hand. “I need to look at a painting in your front hall,” he said.
She nodded, but her eyes darted to the book in his hand. “Right,” he murmured, setting it down. “I’ll be right back.”
He looked at the print again, trying to memorize as many details as possible. Then he hurried out to the front hall. The original painting seemed to match up with what he’d seen, but he couldn’t confirm it.
He went back to the reading room. “Is it alright if I take a picture?” he asked, holding up his mobile phone.
Judith looked hesitant. “Or maybe you could hold the book for me?” Andrew suggested, feeling increasingly desperate. “I just need to compare a print in this book to one of the paintings in the front hall.”
The wariness fell from Judith’s face. “Oh, that’s no problem,” she said. “Hang on.”
She pulled on her own gloves and picked up the book. “Nobody’s allowed to take the books out of the reading room,” she said. “It’s not just you, I promise.”
He believed it, but doubted other researchers got the same level of supervision when they were here. But he kept his mouth shut as he walked with Judith.
They stood by the painting, and Andrew took a moment to compare the two images. Yes, it was the same house. The photo in the book was from a slightly different angle, but the distinct widow’s walk was the same.
“This is the Alderidge House,” Andrew said, looking back at the picture.
“Come to my office for a moment,” Judith said.
Andrew followed her back toward the reading room. They passed it, then went into a small office down the hall. Judith closed the door and locked it behind them.
“Listen,” she said. “My wife spoke with Iris recently and Iris told her what’s going on. I don’t want to be part of it. I get it, I really do. And I know who you are and I know you’re stuck. I hope you get out soon. But I don’t trust Iris. Even if she’s got the best intentions, I just don’t trust her to do the right thing. She’s immature and she’s selfish. I know that’s mean, but it’s the truth.”
Andrew wanted to defend Iris, but faltered. Instead, he sighed. “I get it.”
“Take what you need and I’ll do what I can in a professional capacity to help you,” Judith said. “But I won’t work with Iris.”
Half an hour later, Andrew was walking out of the Historical Society with a folder of photocopies. There were a few things of potential interest, especially a faded family portrait from the early twentieth century. As he was walking out, he called Iris.
“Did you get anything?” she asked eagerly as he climbed into Olivia’s car.
“I did,” he said. “But Iris, why the hell didn’t you tell me you had bad blood with the archivist?”
There was silence on the end of the line as he started up the car. “I mean it,” he continued. “I felt like an arse in there. And she didn’t trust me for a second.”
Andrew sighed. “Is there anyone in this town you haven’t alienated?”
He should have regretted saying it. But even as he felt bad, he didn’t really. Iris was silent again. “Look, it’s fine,” he said. “I got some things and I’ll bring them to work with me tomorrow. I need to go home now.”
He waited for her to say anything else, but there was nothing. “Right,” he said. “Well, good night.”
He hung up the phone and set it down, then started up the car and began to drive in silence. Ten minutes and he’d be able to stop thinking about this for the night.