At a hair before 10:30, I quietly slipped out of the house, my adrenaline
pumping. As promised, Mom stood in the dark, at the front door of the mansion,
with her finger to her lips. She mouthed, “Be extra quiet. The marble floors
seem to echo every sound.”
I followed her up the expansive marble staircase to the second floor office,
with its huge carved mahogany door. As expected, it was locked. I took the credit
card out of my pouch and slipped it into the crack next to the bolt. It took
a minute, but finally slid free. I felt relieved that they hadn’t replaced the
As we went through the door, Mom whispered, “Do you need any help?”
I asked, “Do you have any idea where the important papers are kept?”
“I’m afraid not, dear. Do you suppose there’s a safe?”
A worried frown furrowed Mom’s brow, so I hugged her and said quietly, “Listen,
I’ll be okay, Mom. You really need to get some rest. I appreciate your help.”
The place was silent as a graveyard when I began to get the feel of the office.
A moment later, my heart beat wildly, hearing the soft sounds of footfalls on
the marble stairs and voices quietly whispering. I turned off my penlight and
hid behind the desk, peering over the desktop.
Mom opened the door and admitted Libby Peters and the Finchleys. “I noticed
them at the door as I was going to my room,” she whispered.
My heart was still doing an Irish jig as they gathered around me.
Libby whispered, “I happened to be watching when you slipped out of the house
dressed like that, and I thought you might need some help. What can we do?”
“We need to close the door. It will muffle any sound. Good night, Mom,” I
said, as I hugged her and closed the door behind her.
They were dressed identically in black and would’ve made me laugh had I not
been so jumpy.
“We have to be extra quiet. Now, Libby, you search the file cabinet, and Mac,
you and Blanche take the closet shelves. I’ll search the desk. I don’t see a
safe anywhere, do you?”
The top drawer yielded nothing important, but the bottom of the second drawer
held an expensive, leather file, and I knew I was on to something. Inside, I
saw the contracts Esmay had referred to.
I hit the mother lode in the third drawer where I found a burgundy leather
ledger, listing each resident’s net worth and itemized assets, with a following
page, detailing how each would meet his untimely end. Their conviction was in
the bag if this evidence ever went before a jury. How stupid were they to put
it all in black and white?
I grabbed the ledger and folder and with my finger to my lips, said, “We’ve
got what we need. Now let’s get out of here.”
Just as we were ready to leave the room, I heard voices in the hall.
“Wait Helen,” George’s voice echoed, “I’ve decided I want ice cream, too.”
When they passed the office, I held my finger to my lips, with my heart beating
wildly in my throat.
Libby tapped my shoulder and whispered, “Earl is waiting at the foot of the
“Oh, no,” I rolled my eyes. Wouldn’t you just know it--my cover would be blown
by a dog.
I whispered, “Libby, you brought Earl?”
“He just tagged along. He couldn’t make it up the stairs with all that heft,
so he’s waiting at the bottom.”
We could hear Helen’s voice. “George, there’s a dog sitting at the bottom
of the steps. Where on earth could he have come from?”
“I don’t know, but he looks fairly harmless to me."
“Well, grab him and put him outside."
I was peeking out the door and could see George taking hold of Earl's collar.
“Come on, boy. Let’s get you outside.”
Fascinated, I watched. At the same moment George tugged, old Earl planted
his chubby behind firmly on the floor and simply refused to budge. “He won’t
come, Helen. What should I do now?”
“Let’s find him a hotdog or something. I’ve never seen a dog yet who wouldn’t
kill for a hotdog.” I noticed Helen’s voice had no trace of her trademark southern
They were back a minute later with a hotdog, and Earl followed George to the
door, where they put him out, rewarding him with the treat.
Libby was visibly upset when she said, “He’s not supposed to eat hotdogs.”
“Shh...” I said, “it’ll be okay just this once.”
After George and Helen headed toward the kitchen, I said, “Okay, guys, not
a word. We have to get out while they’re in the kitchen. Let’s go.”
We hustled our rubber-soled shoes down the stairway and out the door without
further delay. I breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the lawn.
“Next time, Libby,” I said, “it might be better to leave Earl at home with
“I suppose you’re right. He almost gave us away.