The house was blue, the fresh, clear color of the spring sky, with awnings a few shades darker and a door darker still. White gingerbread trim edged the twin gables, and a wide front porch wrapped around three sides. The house had a bay window with a second small porch above the first one and a door leading out to it from the inside. A person could wile away a morning up there and feel as if he were sitting among the clouds.
Or more accurately amidst the treetops.
Lucy Hazen brought her white Chevrolet to a stop in a winding driveway, shaded by a massive three-branched oak tree.
She said, “In a word, Jennet, how would you describe the house?”
“Just one word?”
“If you can.”
Blue and white. The colors of the sky and clouds. A porch high above the ground.
“That was my first impression,” she said. “That’s why I chose it for the setting of Devilwish. Mr. Horn lives here. He invited his best students to form a special class in Elizabethan Drama, and they meet in his home. He’s the Devil.”
“So you gave him a heavenly home?”
“For contrast,” she said. “An ugly rundown farmhouse wouldn’t do. On my recommendation, they’re using this house in the movie.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “A high school English teacher doesn’t put together his own class and meet students in his home.”
I should know, being a high school English teacher myself. The very idea appalled me.
Lucy frowned. “Well, that’s one of the changes they made. In the screenplay, the characters are a little older. They’re in college.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Not really,” she said. “They’re not that much older, and it’s all very proper. Mr. Horn has a wife, Evadne. She stays home when classes are in session. Her job is to serve pop and snacks.”
Evadne. Eve. I had to smile. All very proper with the Devil assuming the form of an English professor to seduce young innocents.
Everyone in or near Foxglove Corners was excited about the movie based on Lucy’s horror novel, Devilwish. Her story dealt with six high school students who make a bargain with the Devil after reading Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, The Devil and Daniel Webster. Later they have cause to regret their decision, but it’s too late. They don’t have an American folk hero to go to bat for them.
Devilwish was a horror story, after all.
“I have a key to the house,” Lucy said. “Unfortunately I forgot to bring it, but we can get out and walk around. One of the scenes takes place in the backyard.”
Lucy slipped the car keys into the pocket of her long broomstick skirt and led the way to the back. Her hair was jet black with blue lights, and black was her wardrobe color of choice. If it weren’t for her gold chains and jangling gold bracelets, she would look as if she were in perpetual mourning.
Here comes a horror writer, her appearance proudly proclaimed.
“A previous owner valued his privacy.” She indicated a row of mature fruit trees at the end of a deep rolling yard. On both sides, tall pines spaced close together served as natural fences. The neighboring houses were built on double lots and looked as if they were unoccupied.
“This is a perfect place for nefarious goings-on,” she said.
I brushed leaves and twigs off a bench fashioned of logs and sat, wondering what kind of fruit the trees would bear. “How did you find it?”
“One day I was driving through the countryside, hoping to stir up ideas. I came to Dewberry Lane, liked the name, and saw this house. It was destiny.”
“It’s certainly atmospheric.”
In the front, a slice of heaven. Dark, shadowy reaches in the back. And quiet. The crackle of hellfire would never be heard.
“The producer flew out to see the house and liked it so well she made an offer for it. It was accepted. She’s going to use it as a vacation getaway when the movie is finished.”
A plaintive sound insinuated itself into the country silence. A whining, soft at first, then gaining in intensity. Then abruptly cut off.
I tore my gaze away from the fruit trees. “What was that?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” she said.
I had seven collies at home, one of whom, Misty, was scarcely out of puppyhood. Whining was as familiar a sound to me as barking and growling.
I need to go out now. I want my toy goat. Can I have a bite from your plate?
I listened, conscious of sound. If you listen, you become aware of the most subtle disturbance in the environment. At the back of the yard, beyond the fruit trees, was an overgrown wilderness area, neither full of sound nor quiet.
A rustling, a chirping in the trees, a splash of water… The stone and gray ranch house on the left had fountain in one corner of the yard and a large fish pond under a weeping willow tree.
Nothing was whining.
“It originated in the house,” I said.
“That’s not possible. No one lives there. The realtor has a key. She’s been hired to give the interior a clean, lived-in look when they start shooting in August. She’ll plant the window boxes and maintain the lawn.”
“I wish I could see the inside,” I said.
“The next time, I’ll bring the key and give you a tour. Now, how about lunch? Is Clovers all right with you?”
As we turned to leave, I heard the whining again. Pathetic, insistent, the kind of sound a dog in distress would make. A crying that tugged at my heartstrings. Definitely it had come from the house, which posed a question. Would I be likely to hear an inside sound when I was standing in the middle of the backyard?
Unlikely, but no matter.
“There it is again,” I said. “You heard that, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t hear anything, Jennet. There’s quite simply nothing to hear.”
Usually I accepted Lucy’s pronouncements without reservation. Along with her gift for writing popular, heart-stopping books for young readers, she was sometimes able to foresee future events. In the past I’d had ample evidence of her powers. In this instance, though, I felt that she was wrong.
I knew what I’d heard: a dog crying in an untenanted house.
I also had faith in myself.
“Suppose there is a dog in the Devilwish house,” I said. “It may be trapped inside without food and water. Maybe after lunch we should go back. You can stop at Dark Gables for the key…”
“We could Jennet, but I think your imagination is running wild. There’s no way Elise brought a dog into the house. She has allergies.”
She could have left the door open, though. The dog could have sneaked in, not realizing it wouldn’t be able to leave. I could think of other possibilities.
“What did I hear then?”
“A radio? A tape of animal sounds? A Lassie movie?”
“A movie without words? Without music?”
She pulled the Chevy into Clovers’ lot and maneuvered it expertly into a parking place.
“If there was a sound of whining, I would have heard it,” Lucy said. “Maybe I’m suffering from hunger. I skipped breakfast this morning.”
And hunger had affected her hearing?
I had to admit. Lucy was right about my imagination. In the past it had taken me to wild, uncharted places. I needed a peaceful interlude with a sandwich and a soothing cup of hot tea, needed the respite that was Clovers.
Painted green clovers bordered the little restaurant tucked into the wilds of Crispian Road. The owner, Mary Jeanne, specialized in old fashioned comfort food, the kind you’d find on your Grandma’s table, and delectable desserts. Annica, my young friend and occasional partner in detection, worked as a waitress while putting herself through college.
Lucy opened the door, and chimes shaped like clovers announced our entrance.
“I didn’t hear anything, but if it’ll make you feel better, we’ll do as you suggest. I’ll go back for the keys and we can have a look inside. I’m sure we won’t find your crying dog, though.”