Anne Loader McGee
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Wakened by a jarring urgent ring, Mallory Gilmartin

reached for the phone and mumbled a sleepy, “Hello?”

“Mallory?” It was her Grandma Aggie–sounding

extremely mysterious, even for her.

Mallory shot up in bed. “Aggie, what’s wrong?”

Everyone knew her grandmother didn’t like to be called

Grandma–she was too hip, and her name was ‘Aggie’–so

everyone, including her grandchildren, called her that.

“Get over to Edna May Florentine’s house as fast as you

can,” she said breathlessly. “I’ll meet you there.”

With that, the line went dead.

Mallory knew when Aggie meant serious business, and

disturbed by her grandmother’s strange message, she quickly

scrambled out from under the covers. She remembered Miss

Florentine as the stern-faced, elderly librarian who just a few

months earlier had helped her find some archived newspaper

articles regarding the Marlatt family. However, apart from

that one meeting, she had not had any real interaction with her


Mallory threw on some warm clothes and raced down

the stairs. She headed for the kitchen where she found her

mother, Lorna Gilmartin, leaning over the breakfast counter

reading the local newspaper. They had moved some months ago

to this small rented cottage in her mother’s hometown of

Cedar Creek, Virginia, but leaving her friends in Philadelphia,

and her important position on the school baseball team had

not been something Mallory had wanted to do. She did have

to admit though, that she had finally made some new friends,

and there was no denying she loved being near her outrageously

independent grandmother.

As she charged into the room, her mother looked up.
“Says here the circus is in town. Would you and Ron

like to go see it this weekend?”
Ron was Mallory’s snooty, older brother who thought he

knew everything about everything.

“I’ll have to let you know later, Mom. Aggie just called

and wants me to get over to Miss Florentine’s house on the


Mallory grabbed a piece of toast off her mother’s plate as

she raced by, and stuffed a bite into her mouth.

Lorna stared at her daughter with concern. Having

grown up in Cedar Creek, she knew Miss Florentine well.

“Did your grandmother say what was wrong?”
Mallory shook her head. Cramming the last bite into her

mouth, she grabbed her baseball cap and turned to head for

the front door. “I’ll let you know when I find out,” she

shouted back. The door slammed shut behind her.

The air was crisp and the sun shone brightly as Mallory

jumped on her bicycle and set off down the path. Suddenly,

she heard a propeller plane whining and sputtering overhead

as if it were in trouble. She stopped and looked up, but saw

nothing other than a few wispy white clouds. Remembering

that Aggie was waiting, Mallory gave a shrug, and climbing on

her bike again, pedaled onto the main road toward town.

It didn’t take long before Miss Florentine’s two-story,

gothic-style house came into view. It was a rather foreboding

and uninviting structure with an odd assortment of rooms

that had been added to it over the years. Shaking off a strange

sense of discomfort, Mallory leaned her bike against a tree and

made her way up the steps to the front door where she

knocked vigorously.

Just as muffled footsteps approached from inside,

Mallory again heard the drone of a small plane above. Its

engine sputtered and misfired and gave off an overpowering

smell of gasoline, but when she turned and looked, there was

still no sign of anything in the sky. Mallory shook her head


At that moment, Miss Florentine opened her heavy front

door. She stared rather absent-mindedly at Mallory and then

beckoned her inside. The elderly woman, her grey hair pulled

back in a tight bun and looking slightly bewildered, led

Mallory down a long hallway to a dimly lit room filled with

heavy, ornate furniture and overstuffed chairs covered with

lace doilies. She clutched nervously at an old brown cardigan

draped around her shoulders and indicated for Mallory to sit

in one of the chairs. Still saying nothing, the old lady trudged

across the faded floral carpet and seated herself on a couch, her

face pale and her hands fluttering in her lap.

Mallory waited, confused at such odd behavior.
After a moment Miss Florentine spoke. “Aggie and your

friend Kyle are searching the rest of my house now,” she


“Searching your house?” Mallory exclaimed. “Why, Miss


“Because someone robbed me last night,” she mumbled


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