The Dalton Defenders Museum was hot, dark, and stuffy. Sirius took his time examining the exhibits, filling his lungs deeply with the intoxicating museum smell that was a mixture of old wood, old leather, old paper, and a gallon of Old Spice on the rotund bald gentleman touring twenty paces ahead of him. Many of the photographs on display in the museum were gruesome, lurid in detail, and Sirius took his time studying each one so the aromatic Old Spice guy could gain plenty of distance and sail precious knots away from Sirius’s sensitive nose. He was reading the captions on one of the photographs when a petite polyester-clad museum volunteer that looked to be in her seventies approached and tapped on the glass shielding the photographs. “The names of the men who shot the villains should be much larger, I’ve always said.”
Sirius turned and regarded the woman: Grandma Walton in a pink blouse. “To make it easier on the eyes?” he responded, not quite sure what she was going for with the statement.
“No,” she said irritably. “Larger because it’s the Dalton name everyone remembers instead of the brave men who actually stopped the thieving cowards.”
Sirius’s smile was faint. “You’re right. And most people think Socrates committed suicide.”
The old woman’s face lit up. “Exactly! How many people remember he was given no choice but to drink the hemlock? We focus on all the wrong things in history, don’t we?”
“For some reason, yeah.”
The woman extended a wrinkled hand. “My name is Jessica Danby. May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”
Sirius offered his bandaged hand and she made a sympathetic noise and gave it a gentle shake.
“Sirius as in the brightest star in Canis Major?”
“That’s the one.”
“What cruel parents you had.”
“It gets worse. My father’s name was Cygnus.”
Jessica made a face. “Oh my. How many beatings did he endure, being named after a swan?”
Sirius was impressed. “You know your astronomy.”
“I know a great many things. For instance, I know your sole interest here today is to kill time while you wait to do something else.” She quirked a challenging brow and he turned toward her.
“What gives you that idea?”
“I know a clock watcher when I see one.”
Sirius nodded. “You’re right. I’m just killing time while my girlfriend visits her cousin.”
Jessica’s look was skeptical. “I taught high school for forty years, and my late husband was county sheriff for three terms.”
Sirius looked at her in feigned incomprehension and waited for her to go on. She didn’t. She walked instead to her desk and removed a flask from the drawer. She unscrewed the cap and took a quick drink before winking at Sirius.
“You won’t tell on me, will you, Dogstar? The world hates a tattletale, you know.”
So much for Grandma Walton. Sirius half-smiled at her and went on looking at the pictures. Jessica brought her flask and came to settle on the wall opposite him. “I’d offer you some, but you don’t look like a Schnapps man. Well, peppermint maybe, but never peach. Make the time interesting for both of us and ask me a question, would you? I assure you I’m a font of knowledge.”
Proving her point, Sirius glanced at his watch. He smiled grimly. What the hell, he decided. It wouldn’t hurt to kill more time before going back. “All right,” he said. “Tell me about the Brown Mansion.”
“The Brown Mansion was owned by a rich man who like all rich men eventually died. Does he haunt the place? I doubt it. Does anyone else? I don’t know. Sometimes you can smell cigar smoke and other times you can hear music and the murmur of voices from the third floor ballroom. I’ve smelled and heard both. Next question. And please try to show some enthusiasm.”
The teacher from hell, Sirius surmised. He asked the only other question he had on file from his few moments with Sophia at the motel earlier: “What do you know about the Bloody Benders?”
Jessica swirled the contents of her flask. “Much better. I know they’re still around is what I know about the Benders.”
“Their descendants, you mean?”
The old woman leaned toward him and her voice took a salacious dip. “Eleven people murdered—two of them a father and his little girl. They killed the man with a hammer then buried the little girl alive in the grave with her father. Alive. And the monsters got away with it.”
Sirius drew a long breath. “I knew there was a reason to stop in here today. The motel doesn’t carry the Bleeding Kansas channel.”
Jessica tipped her flask for a quick sip. “They didn’t call us that for nothing. Well, that wasn’t why they called it Bleeding Kansas to begin with, which had more to do with some fanatical miscreants, but lots of things that happened afterward confirmed it. The daughter was Kate Bender and she was the most notorious of the lot. The whole family wielded the hammers, you understand, but Kate was the worst.”
“You’re saying the daughter started it?” Sure of her audience, Jessica began a slow walk down the row of glass exhibit cases, with Sirius following. “Kate was buxom, beautiful, and bewitching, but all too generous with her favors and severely lacking in morals. It’s said she engaged in sex with her own brother and knocked the babies in the head when she became pregnant.”
“What a charming girl,” Sirius said.
“She’s the one who’s back again, as beautiful and buxom as ever, and every bit as deadly. She even has the same name.”
Sirius stopped following. Jessica looked over her shoulder at him and smiled before taking another drink of Schnapps. “I know. It’s crazy. Most people don’t believe in things like reincarnation. But then, most people think Socrates committed suicide, don’t they?”
Sirius removed his wallet and took out a photograph. He handed it to Jessica. “Have you ever seen this man?”
Her tongue clucked. “I knew you were in law enforcement. I can always spot a man with a badge.”
“Do you recognize him?” Sirius asked, forcing her to focus.
She looked and squinted. “Not from this picture I don’t. Has he only recently moved here?”
Sirius took the photograph from her fingers and put it back in his wallet. “I don’t know.”
“How long have you been looking for him?” Jessica asked.
“Since I was eighteen.” Sirius turned and walked out of the museum, leaving Jessica staring after him with a frown.