Elaine found a large, tabletop formation of limestone at the edge of the largest copse of pine trees on the Matherly property, and she sat there in the full light of the morning sun, letting the heat bake some of the confusion and fear out of her. Only when she felt relaxed and in control of herself again did she begin to consider what she had been through, what it all meant, and what she might be forced to go through before this nightmare was all over.
She could not quit and leave without notice, though the notion had occurred to her. She simply could not afford that extravagance. When she had come to the Matherly house a few days ago, all she owned in this world had been packed into the Volkswagen: her clothes and a very few mementos of her childhood and the years she had spent at the University Hospital. Her wallet contained only seventy dollars; she had no bank account and no hidden funds. Even the car, five years old now, was not worth a great deal. Lee Matherly's kind advance of money against her salary had been more than welcome and made her feel secure as she had never been in her life. If she quit without notice, she would, in all good conscience, have to return the check he had given her. Then she would be without a job-and, worse, without a good reference to obtain another job. She would not even have enough to rent a room for more than a month or so, while she tried to find a job, and she would probably have to take a position waiting tables or some such, while her training as a nurse went to waste. No, she could not quit; she would almost rather die than accept the insecurity of unemployment.
But there were other considerations besides finances. For one thing, it was against her professional code to leave a patient untended. Certainly, with the salary they could offer and with all the fringe benefits that befell their employees, the Matherlys could find another nurse in a day or two, three at the most. But Elaine could not bring herself to abandon a patient for even that short a period of time. She believed Jacob needed her and that the height of selfishness would be to leave him alone when his angina might bother him again at any moment. She must also consider, she knew, what quitting the job would mean in terms of her self-respect. She had never run away from anything. She had never allowed herself to be consumed with fear of anything. If she did not hold on now, if she ran, she would never again be able to think of herself as the sensible, intelligent, sober young woman she had always liked to believe she was.
And there was Gordon.
In high school and later in nurses training, no one had ever shown much interest in her. Oh, now and then, boys would talk to her and ask her for a date. But none of them ever dated her twice. And word always seemed to get around that she was too serious or cold. She had never liked to do the things that most young people liked to do. Games bored her. All but the best and most thought-provoking films seemed a waste of time to her. She did not like to drink, not even a cocktail now and then, and she found no particular interest in dancing. She could understand why so many young people were frivolous, of course. They had been raised by loving parents, and they had never had a glimpse of how cold the world could be. She had gotten that glimpse-and many others-early in life, and she knew that one had to be sober, had to be serious, had to work to keep oneself from sliding to disaster in a world where pitfalls were everywhere prevalent. Educate yourself, spend your time wisely, always be prepared to do battle with life: that had been her code since she was a child. And because of it, there had been no romantic interest in her life to date.
Gordon was so much like she was, so aware of the cruelty of life and so anxious to work to avoid it, that she could not help being attracted to him. She thought that he was, likewise, attracted to her. She hoped so. Oh, God please let him be!
The rest of her reasons for having to remain on the job were sound, logical ones. This one was emotional. And having never been possessed of such an emotion before, she let this one carry her away more completely than she would ever have admitted was possible. She would not yet say she loved him. It was too soon for that. She did not know him well enough. But strong, very strong affection, yes
So, if she were to stay, if she were to start to build her life at this time and place, she would have to give some thought to the identity of the killer who prowled the Matherly house. When she told Captain Rand of her experience this past night, she would want to be able to clearly answer any questions he might ask and give him her own projections if he should want them.
That was silly. Perhaps the knife had disappeared. And perhaps the voice of a child had cried out at night, all over the house, in a ghostly fashion. There would be rational reasons for these two events.
Her visit with Jerry and Bess had not been a total loss, however. She had learned that the police had once suspected old Jacob Matherly of the Christmas Eve murders, no matter how briefly, and she knew that she would now have to include him in any list of suspects she might devise-no matter how ludicrous his inclusion might seem.
Jacob Matherly. Though she was sure that the old man was not capable of any such outrage as the attack on Celia Tamlin, and certainly incapable of the atrocities that had occurred in this house fifteen years earlier, she had to admit that he had the opportunity, perhaps a better opportunity than anyone else. After her evening checkup, he was not bothered until the morning, unless one of the family spent time with him. The night of Celia's misfortunes, he had remained in his room until she, Elaine, had come to check on him. Or so he said. He might easily have been outside the house and could have returned, with little trouble, while the rest of them were running to see what had happened. He was protected by his semi-invalid status, and the police showed little or no interest in him.
Dennis Matherly. Supposedly, he had been in the kitchen, drinking a glass of milk, alone, when he heard Celia scream. That would explain, of course, why he had come up the stairs that night and had asked if Elaine had called out. On the other hand, if he had been the wielder of the blade, he might also have been returning from the drive where he had tried to kill the girl. She remembered his strange paintings, his manic frivolity. She recalled Lee's favoritism for Dennis, and she remembered that Dennis had admitted to being deeply psychologically shaken by his mother's madness. Could he have been so shaken that he, himself, had gradually relinquished his sanity over the years?
Paul Honneker. He shared the same parents, carried the same sort of genes that Amelia had carried. Had the faulty gene, the bad seed, which his grandfather possessed, been passed to him as well as to his sister? She remembered his drunkenness, his inability to hold a job for any length of time, though he was a grown man nearing middle age. Surely, that indicated an unstable individual. And there was the way he smashed mirrors, unable to face himself. Was that because he knew what he was and remembered terrible things he once had done? She remembered, too, his fascination with the eerie paintings that Dennis Matherly labored over in his attic studio.
Gordon Matherly. She would even have to consider Gordon, no matter how much she might care for him. He did, after all, come of the same gene pool as Dennis and from somewhat the same heritage as Paul Honneker. She remembered his swift reaction to her mention of the Christmas Eve murders, the way he had gone cold and withdrawn from her. That might be attributed to a reasonable shame for the family's history-or to something darker.
That was the list she could give Captain Rand. All the household except herself and Lee Matherly, who was clearly shaken by the attempted murder of Celia Tamlin and who-besides-had no Honneker blood.
Abruptly, she remembered that Jerry and Bess were also members of the household. Although she could see no motive for their having been involved, she could not discount them. When she considered the books in their front room and the unswaying belief in ghosts which they had manifested in their recent conversation, she had to consider the possibility of some unpleasant connection between the old couple and the killer. Either or both of them, after all, could have stabbed Celia and fled into their own home, without any risk of being seen returning to the main house from the scene of the crime.
Perhaps it was.
She would have to suspect everyone, or nearly everyone, until the real culprit was apprehended and his guilt was proven. That could not be more than a few days, what with Celia being treated by a psychiatrist. And if she helped Captain Rand now, today, the end might come even more quickly.
She stood up, stretched, and brushed the dust from the back of her skirt.
The sky was an incredible shade of blue. Perhaps that was a good omen, a promise of better times to come.
Somewhere nearby, a bird sang, a long trilling note caught in its throat, and that was somehow a positive omen as well.
She decided against phoning Captain Rand on her own hook. For one thing, she might find it hard to reach him, and she would not want to impart her information to a clerk or a lesser officer who would not respect the privacy of what she said. This evening, after supper, she would tell Lee Matherly exactly what she had heard and seen last night, about the intruder at her door and about the attempt on Jacob's life which he now denied (or maybe there had been no attempt and his story had been concocted for her benefit, to generate her sympathy). If Lee then took it to Captain Rand, it would have more power, be more believable. She did not trust herself to make important news sound important.
She looked at her watch. It was 1:18, and she had been sitting here far longer than she would have guessed. It was time for another of Jacob's checkups.
She started back for the house, feeling better.
Tonight, it just all might break open. And then she should be able to live in peace again