36. Back To Landover
Rosemary Mueller was finally able to arrange an appointment with Adam Sennett, and she asked Madeline to accompany her for the long drive from her home to the Dare County Courthouse. They left home early, around six in the morning, with Jerry at the wheel as usual. “It should take about three hours to get there,” he had ventured without being asked. When he heard of the trip a few days earlier, Jerry told Rosemary in his usual manner, “I ain’t got nothin’ to do that day anyway, so why don’t I drive you over there? Those West Virginia roads can be tricky this time of year.” Or any time of year, thought Rosemary as they crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia and made their way to U.S. Highway 57. Most of the roads in the state had originated as carriage tracks and no one in the state highway department appears to have ever entertained the thought that modern cars — and those monstrous coal trucks — were wider than the typical 18th century carriage. Adding to the complexity of driving in West Virginia was the hit-and-miss nature of road repairs. Not only did potholes seem to proliferate endlessly on West Virginia roads, patching and repairs often made the road almost as rough as it had been with the original potholes.
At 9:30 that morning after a good bit of jostling and bouncing, Rosemary and Madeline presented themselves at Adam Sennett’s office in the Dare County Courthouse while Jerry “went to have a look-see around town.” Adam had no receptionist and met them at the door himself. After the usual greetings and introductions and a bit of small talk about jury duty, he suggested that there was a table waiting for them at the Chat N Chew coffee shop on Main Street about a block East of the Courthouse complex. “They’ll be expecting me.” Adam said. Rosemary wondered first if Adam’s was saying that he had made a reservation. That seemed a bit excessive, but she quickly realized that he simply meant that this was his regular time to drop in at the local cafe for morning coffee and he didn’t wish to break his morning ritual. As they walked into the cafe, Adam was greeted by a wide assortment of people, but she noticed that he only introduced them to a select group — a local newspaper editor Daniel something, a woman with the unlikely name of Freddie, both of his sons and a couple he said had moved there from Wisconsin who were sitting at the front table. Madeline, whose sense of such things was far more finely tuned than Rosemary’s had the impression that it was no accident that these people were all present, although she said nothing. They all appeared to live in Barley Mill. It was curious, perhaps even suspicious, that they all “just happened” to be on the main street of Landover on the same day.
Rosemary was one of those people with whom people loved to share their life stories, and as soon as they were introduced to the Andersons, she began to learn too much about them. Mr. And Mrs. Norman Gunderson, Norm and Helen, and their two children, Vicki and Steve, had moved from their farm near La Crosse, Wisconsin to rural Dare County about a decade before. The two children had been very unhappy with the move, Helen said, and missed their friends back in the Midwest. As they grew up each in turn “moved back home” to attend different campuses of the University of Wisconsin and resume their lives there. In contrast to their children, Norm and Helen had grown to love their new home in the mountains which to them were not really mountains — “not like the Rockies. Those are real mountains” — but simply higher and more beautiful versions of the verdant hills they knew in the Mississippi River valley around La Crosse. The Gundersons had gotten themselves quickly and deeply involved in the civic life of Dare County — that was how they had met Adam. Among many others they were friends with they often said “Midwesterners, like marigolds, transplant easily.”
Although they loved their new life in West Virginia and adapted easily to life in Dare County, the Gundersons also maintained a variety of close ties back in Wisconsin. In particular, Helen shared with one of those connections an interest in antique and handmade doll clothes, Betty Ann Norris, who had been her best friend since elementary school. Both women enjoyed sewing, and much of their correspondence involved exchanging pictures, patterns and drawings for doll clothing they had designed and created. Together, Helen and Betty Ann had designed and sewn literally hundreds of doll costumes. Helen kept all of the actual outfits in chests of small closets that Cy had built especially for the purpose, and all of the patterns and drawings were stored in file cabinets. At first after the children left for college, they tried to keep all of these collections in the now-empty bedrooms, but after awhile this became too much and Cy cleared out and repainted the inside of the garage. While their cars sat outside year round now, the entire collection of doll clothes and patterns began to occupy more and more of what had once been the Anderson’s two-car garage.
Helen asked if Rosemary or Madeline had ever stopped at the Doll House just outside Barley Mills on Route 57? They hadn’t. “You should stop some time. Amy McMillen is a wonderful person, and my best customer. She always keeps a wide range of my doll outfits in stock and they seem to sell. I had a custom label created that goes into each of them. ‘Darling Designs’. That’s me. She sold my stuff even before they moved to the new place. I think she used to have a dinky little storefront in downtown Barley Mill. It’s much better now. Her fella, Ralph, did all the renovations on that old farm house. She keeps her shop downstairs and they live upstairs. I think he’s an architect, but there isn’t too much call for that sort of work round here, so he spends his time building the craziest modernistic doll houses you ever saw. He not only redid the house they live in and turned the downstairs into a showroom for her doll business, he also fixed up the barn for his doll house building workshop. Probably the most beautiful barn in the region.”
Cy said very little and Adam seemed willing to let Helen talk on all day, but after a few minutes Rosemary said it had been a great pleasure to meet them and she hoped to see them again and the trio of Adam, Rosemary and Madeline settled into a corner table near the back. After placing their orders — despite its cutesy name, the Chat N Chew had a range of coffee and tea drinks to rival any urban boutique coffee shop — Rosemary explained to Adam what she called “my little mystery”. At several key points Madeline filled in details from her time working with Harry that Rosemary was unaware of. Several times during their conversation, Rosemary had the impression that Adam wasn’t really listening, and a couple of times he had actually teared up. “Allergies” he said as he pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the tears running down his cheeks. Rosemary was certain that their conversation was touching on something deeply troubling to Adam, but there was nothing to suggest what it might be. He said only that he recalled the visit from Marvin Martin, but he had no idea what the detective may have been looking for. He assured them that there were legal deeds for all of the land in the county, and while he was aware that George Washington had surveyed at least part of the area, everything was in order as far as he knew. Finally he said “I’ll check into this and get back to you as soon as I can. Now I really must get back to work.” With that the conversation was over. After saying their goodbyes, Madeline called Jerry on her cell phone and within a minute or two car and driver arrived in front of the Chat N Chew to pick them up and they began the long journey home.
“He knows a great deal more about this than he’s willing to say,” Madeline offered as they drove out of town. “And it was no accident that those people he introduced us to were there.”
“Do you think so, dear?” Rosemary asked rather absently. “I thought Helen Anderson was rather interesting. People from Wisconsin don’t move to the mountains all that often. I just wish she didn’t talk so much.” Then, after a brief hesitation, she added “I would have liked to talk more with that woman called Freddy.”
“I didn’t really believe Adam’s story about allergies.” Madeline said after a long silence. “Did you?”
“No, dear. I think he’s really troubled about something. It’s almost as if he is holding back a lot of grief he really ought to be letting go of. I remember how Harry used to do that. When someone he really cared about died, he would always put on a brave face; just like the famous British ‘stiff upper lip’ and then for months afterwards his eyes would tear up at the strangest times.”
Rosemary offered Madeline several examples as they traveled down Highway 57 toward Barley Mill. As she glanced out the window, she suddenly turned away from Madeline, leaned toward the front seat and said to Jerry, “Turn around when you can, would you? We just passed a business back there called The Doll House. I’d like to stop in there.”
Then to Madeline, “I think that must be the place Helen Anderson was telling us about. As long as we’re here, I think we should see it.”
Then back to Jerry, “When is Lily’s birthday? It’s coming up fairly soon, isn’t it? Do you think she’d like a doll?”
“It’s next month. The 17th.” Jerry replied. “That would be very nice, madam.”
Jerry had once again dropped into his very formal English butler voice, and doffed his cap before turning left into a side road to turn the car around. They all laughed at this recurring familiar small joke, as they always did. Jerry got the car turned around and headed back down Route 57 away from Barley Mill and back toward The Doll House. None of them could have known that their turnaround was in the very road that Freddy had walked up in the rain only a few days before while avoiding the steady stream of large black SUV’s coming out with their gruesome loads.
Ralph Deigh looked up and smiled as the three customers entered the showroom of The Doll House a few minutes later. Amy had a dentist appointment in town today and she had asked him to mind the shop for her while she was gone. Ralph often did this, and so he felt completely comfortable as the customers came in; an older woman, her husband or perhaps her brother, and her daughter, he thought. “Welcome to The Doll House” he said. “Please feel free to look around. We have a large selection of dolls of all kinds, and of costumes and outfits, many of them part of the ‘Daring Designs’ collection done by a Dare County woman, Helen Anderson.
“Ah, yes.” replied the older woman, “We just met Ms. Anderson this morning over in Landover. She suggested we stop by on our way home. You must be the architect she told us about who designs and builds these wonderful doll houses.”
“They are actually scale model houses, but many people use them as doll houses. Yes. I’m Ralph Deigh.”
“How do you do, Mr. Deigh. My name is Rosemary Mueller. And these are my friends Madeline Klein and Jerry Eliot. We came over from Ohio this morning.” She mentioned the name of the city in Ohio, but Ralph didn’t recognize it.
“Pleased to meet you” Ralph said, pointing to a general display to his left. “Helen’s ‘Darling Designs’ are right over there. In addition to the housing models here, I’ve got more in my workshop back there in the barn. I’d be glad to let you go back there and look around, but I can’t leave the shop right now until Amy gets back. As you probably guessed, it’s her shop. I’m just ‘minding the store’ while she’s gone into town for a couple of hours.”
“I’d like that very much,” Rosemary said, as much to her companions as to Ralph. They nodded in silent agreement, both of them pleased to see such a display of enthusiasm from their still-grieving friend. After fifteen minutes or so, Rosemary identified a couple of dolls that interested her, and a few possible outfits. “Or, do you think Lily might prefer a doll house?” she asked Jerry. Embarrassed by the extent of Rosemary’s attention to his granddaughter, he immediately lapsed into his English butler routine again. “Anything would be just fine, madam.”
At this both Rosemary and Madeline laughed while Ralph looked at them curiously. “Old joke,” Madeline said and Ralph nodded, still not completely certain what the joke was. It didn’t appear they weren’t laughing at him, but when a man built doll houses and sold doll clothes you could never be completely certain. Oh well, he thought, if they’re laughing at me, that’s their problem.
Shortly after, the three of them headed for the barn to see Ralph’s larger display of model homes, dropping off their purchases in the car along the way. Before they went out, Ralph saw that they were fully briefed on what to look for and where to find things. He even included a brief introduction on his theories of rural architecture and the need to rethink small town living. Not too much, he hoped. Just enough to give them the idea that these was not just kids’ toys, although they certainly could be that.
Amy drove into the parking lot just as the group was walking back to the showroom from the barn. As she stepped into the shop, Ralph told her, “We’ve got some customers. They’re down in my workshop right now. Woman from Ohio named Mueller and a couple of her friends.”
“Mueller? Do you know who that is? I just saw Adam Sennett over in Landover and he said he had met with her earlier today. That’s the widow of Harry Mueller. She owns half of Dare County! And a few billion dollars in addition.”
“Seems like a very nice lady” was all Ralph could think of to say.
“You met Adam Sennett? In Landover? I thought you had a dentist appointment in Barley Mills”.
“No. Doc Washburn referred me to the orthodontist in Landover. I ran into Adam on the street as I was going into the office there and he told me he had been Mrs. Mueller earlier. He seemed very upset by the meeting, although he didn’t say why. I wanted to ask him if they were done with the barn down on the other place.”
Amy and Ralph both knew that Adam and the rescue teams had used the barn as a temporary morgue for the bodies of the Melungeons, or who ever it was that had come floating down from the mountains, so there was no need to discuss it further. Besides, as Rosemary, Madeline and Jerry arrived back at the shop it was time for introductions all around, and for some Doll House business. Rosemary arranged to purchase a particular doll house model that she found in Ralph’s showroom and three more of Helen Gunderson’s outfits that she had spotted earlier. Much to Amy’s surprise, she paid in cash, and while Ralph helped Jerry load the additional purchases into the trunk of their car, the three women continued to talk. Actually, Amy and Madeline did most of the talking, while Rosemary seemed to fade in and out of the conversation as she mulled over what she had just heard. As they were approaching the shop, one of the windows of the shop was open and she had overheard Amy telling Ralph that she had seen Adam and that apparently her suspicions that he was very upset about something were shared. Just at that moment Madeline and Jerry were a few steps behind her and talking to one another and appeared not to have heard. It hardly seemed likely that Rosemary’s inquiries about her “little mystery” should be enough to upset Adam this much. So, now there were two mysteries, although she had no idea whether they were related in some way.
Once the car was loaded, they were on their way back home. Rosemary remained unusually quiet for the rest of the trip. Madeline had plenty of her own things to think about, but she put them out of mind as she and Jerry made small talk until about half way into the remaining two hours of the trip, she fell asleep.