Moonlight Falls on Seven Sisters

By: M.L. Bullock

Chapter 1

I swung my Honda into the long driveway that led to the antebellum home, doing my best to navigate the maze of police cars and emergency vehicles. It was an odd sight: the swirling red and blue lights cast against the fading white columns and the green-gray mold that covered the chipping paint, evidence of many wet, humid Alabama seasons gone by. It was just a little after 8 a.m., and it had been a long night with too little sleep.

Ashland met me at the car. His drawn face and clenched square jaw were evidence that he was angry and disturbed. Hollis Matthews, the attorney who had hired me, had been found dead somewhere in the building. “Hey, thanks for coming over so fast. Listen, the police want to talk to us about last night, but don’t go in yet. They are about to take him out.”

I stepped out of the car, suddenly aware of how wild my wavy, long hair must look. I gathered it up in a ponytail holder and searched his blue eyes. “Are you okay?” I had not been a fan of the fastidious attorney, and I wasn’t sure how close he and Ashland had been, but it was upsetting no matter what. Especially since foul play was suspected.

“I’ll be fine.” He led me by the elbow to a police car. “This is Detective Simmons. She will be investigating the… she’s in charge of the investigation.” Detective Simmons looked to be in her late 40s, with bright red hair and a freckled complexion. She was tall and pale, and she looked like she knew what she was doing.

I put my hand out. “Hello, Detective. I am Carrie Jo Jardine. I’m part of the research team here.”

“Thanks for coming, Ms. Jardine.” After a quick handshake, she got down to business. “What is your connection with the folks that were here last night? I understand that the woman,” she said as she consulted her notebook, “Mia Reed, worked with you here? How long have you known her?”

“Um….yes, we went to school together. I can’t believe Mia would be involved with this, but…then again, I’ve discovered recently that I don’t really know her like I thought I did.”

“What do you mean by that, Ms. Jardine?” The detective shielded her pale green eyes from the sun that was rising, along with the heat.

I thought about the conversation I heard the day before through the cast-iron floor gates. It was Mia and Matthews, plotting about something, something that I was pretty sure concerned me. Was I sure it was Mia? I decided against sharing what I heard. I didn’t hear everything, and Ashland was standing next to me. I didn’t want to look like a backstabbing friend, even though I wasn’t. “Well, when we caught her up here with her friends, she tried to say that I gave her permission to be here, but I never did. I think they were having a séance—or something. I would never have agreed to that.”

“You say she was having a séance? Who were these other people?” Detective Simmons pursed her dark red lips as she waited for my answer.

“I don’t know exactly what they were doing. There was a lot of chanting, and it was just plain strange. Her friend was Henri Devecheaux, a local guy. He gave me his card.” I felt my pockets, but the card wasn’t in these jeans. “It’s at my apartment. I can call you with the information later. The other guy was William, William Bettencourt. He was a mutual friend of ours from Charleston.” I hadn’t yet told Ashland that William had been my sort-of boyfriend, and this was certainly not the right time to share.

The officials were carrying out Matthews’ covered body. As they passed us, I shivered and looked away, at the ground, at the sky, anywhere else. I had never seen a dead body before, at least not in my real life.

“Let’s go inside and get out of the sun,” Ashland offered. I followed him, and the detective walked behind me, but I was nervous about going in. I didn’t know how he had died and where. I didn’t want to be disrespectful.

From the way that police were moving up and down the hall, I could tell that whatever had taken place here had happened in the Blue Room. Many tragic events had played out there, against a timeless backdrop of beauty and perceived elegance. In the current restoration project, the Blue Room was ground zero for our operations. It was our computer center, where my team and I worked to produce layouts for each of the rooms and gather the antiques and supplies needed to set them up as a living museum in honor of Old Mobile. It was my temporary workplace; when we completed the project, our work area would be moved off-site, but this was how Matthews had wanted it. He wanted us to work here, in the house. I didn’t know why, but I was happy to oblige—this was a once-in-a-lifetime gig. Now the gray-haired lawyer with the cold gray eyes was as dead as those buried in the mausoleum just a few hundred yards away.

“Can you tell me if anything is missing from the house?” the detective asked. “I mean, I know it’s a big one and you’ve got a lot of boxes here, but could you and Mr. Stuart look around and tell me if anything is gone?”

I nodded, and Ashland and I walked around, careful not to touch anything. I was happy to note that whatever fear had struck me the night before, whatever creepy apparition I had believed I had heard, was gone now. The warmth of the day and the cheery sunshine had pushed the shadows away, taming them back to the darkness where they belonged. We walked through the downstairs, except the Blue Room, and didn’t notice anything out of place. The detective followed us around as we did our inventory. The mantelpieces were there. The paintings from the LeMans family, very expensive paintings of antebellum pets, were still leaning against the wall, wrapped in paper. They had been Mia’s find.

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