I sat for a while, thinking about these questions, then decided to go talk to Gil about them. Well … maybe not the last two, but certainly the others.
I stood, loaded up my backpack, returned the items to Mrs. Bishop, and walked into the microform area once again. This time, I knocked on the door frame so that I wouldn’t scare him—he seemed pretty jumpy to me, and I didn’t want to scare him twice, not on the same evening, anyway.
“You again?” he said when he turned and saw me.
“Yep,” I said, slipping into a seat at the table beside his machine. “I’m like a deadly virus.”
He smiled thinly.
“I bet you’ve been wondering,” he said, “about my research on your house.”
I just looked at him. How did he—?
“That must have seemed pretty creepy to you,” he went on, “finding some strange kid doing research on your house.”
“You are a strange kid,” I said. “No doubt about it.”
“Well, I didn’t know you lived there,” he said, “not when I began this. I had just, you know, driven by your house … and heard about the tornado last spring … heard how yours was the only house that was really damaged very much … was interested that your dad wanted to restore it exactly the way it was …”
“That’s Father for you,” I said. “He likes things to be the way they were, not the way they are … or the way they could be.” I thought a moment. “And I guess I’m kind of like that, too.”
“Me, too,” Gil said softly.
“You probably know,” he went on, “that your house was not always a private home?”
“Oh sure,” I lied. I didn’t know much of its history at all.
“It was an inn for a while,” he said, “when the stagecoaches came through Franconia.”
“And then a rooming house after that.”
“Un huh.” I was trying to sound as if I knew everything he was saying.
“There was even talk of making it the library,” he said, “before they decided to build this building.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. “I can use that in my report, too.”
“You must feel weird about that house,” Gil continued. “I mean, about why it was originally built.”
“Not really,” I said, not knowing why it was originally built.
“I mean, doesn’t it make you feel creepy?”
“And you don’t ever hear any strange sounds?”
“What are you talking about, Gil? Strange sounds? The only strange sounds I’ve ever heard there are the ones you make when you’re on the telephone.”
“Well, you’re braver than I am, then,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know how I’d feel, living in an undertaker’s house.”
“An undertaker’s!” I exploded.
“Sure,” said Gil with surprise. “Didn’t you know?”
“No! An undertaker built our house!”
“Oh, he did more than build it,” he said. “He operated it for about twenty years—your front parlor was, well, his ‘display’ room.”
“And your basement was where he, you know, prepared the ‘remains.’”
I was feeling nauseated.
“It was the basement, too,” Gil went on, “where they found him.”
“Dead on the floor of his laboratory,” whispered Gil. “Someone had choked him to death. The marks on his neck showed that the killer’s hands were huge—far bigger than most people’s hands.”
“Who was the killer?”
“No one knows. They never found out.”