Vincenzo Shields glanced from Azz to Emily and back again. Shields cleared his throat to get their attention. Azz broke eye contact reluctantly. He had been enjoying Emily’s discomfort. Azz wanted her to see, feel what was going on deep inside him. Emily didn’t even try to hide the shudder sweeping over her.
“The woman he is really after is the woman in the photo. Rick…?” Azz pushed himself to his feet.
“I left my bag in the car. I’ll get it.” Azz held out his hand to Shields, palm up. Shields fished the car keys from his front pants pocket and dropped them into his hand. They were driving an Enterprise rental. Of course they wouldn’t have their own transportation if they had flown in to Lexington to continue their search. As Azz passed by her, he made a point of touching Friskers on the head with his index finger. Normally very sweet and an attention hog, Friskers hissed and gave Azz a warning bat with his claws still retracted. Azz smiled.
When Azz was gone and the door closed safely after him, Shields took the other man’s place on the couch, closer to Emily, and leaned forward slightly to say, “He isn’t a bad guy. He is just intense. His stake in this is personal, too.” Emily raised an eyebrow in question. “The guy killed his grandmother. She was Rick’s only living relative. When she died Rick was left alone with no blood relations and it messed with him.” Emily couldn’t imagine Richard Azz having relatives actually, but she managed to keep quiet.
Shields didn’t pressure her with talk about the weather or how her favorite football team was doing in the interim – he just sat on the couch just as quietly until Azz returned with a worn leather bag slung over his neck and shoulder. Azz tossed the keys back to Shields, who caught them in mid-air without looking. Emily might have thought such an action was impressive if she hadn’t been trying very hard to keep from showing the fear that was knotted in her stomach like a copperhead waiting to strike. Or run.
If Azz noticed Shields had taken his place he didn’t show it. He just sat down on the couch and began moving the serving tray and glasses out of the way as he began with, “He is looking for Wilhelmina Chastain. She was born in 1862 in Staffordshire England. Her father was a coachman and her mother was house keeper for the local vicar.” Azz put an enlarged photo of the picture Emily had received on the coffee table. “She married in 1882 to Lewis Green of London, a nephew of the vicar’s. They immigrated to America in 1888.” Azz pointed to the seated man in the photograph.
“Lewis Green set up shop as a saloon keeper and proprietor in New York. They arrived in July of 1888 so they missed the deadly blizzard of the same year.” Azz put another enlarged photo of a storefront with Green Briar Saloon on the big sign out front. Lewis Green and Wilhelmina were standing in front of the swinging doors. Wilhelmina was holding a small child in her arms. She made sure the baby was facing the camera. It was wearing a long dress and plain cap on its head; there weren’t any identifying gender markers on the clothing, as was common at the time, so she couldn’t tell if it was a little boy or a girl.
Lewis Green was standing straight, legs braced wide with his fists planted firmly on his hips. He was not smiling, but there was something in his face that said he was happy and very pleased with himself. He was a very proud man. Wilhelmina on the other hand did not look directly at the camera. Her gazed was focused inwardly and down. Instead of having the round, robust face of health, she appeared more gaunt and strained. Her dress was very plain with an apron reaching down to just above the hem of her skirt.
“We don’t know who this child is,” Azz said, his voice broke into Emily’s thoughts like a claxon causing her to jump. “The Greens never had any children.” Azz rummaged in his bag and pulled out another file. From this one he took another photo out and placed it on top of the others. “This was taken in 1908.”
This time the photo was of Wilhelmina and an older Lewis. Lewis was again seated. He was wearing formal attire and had a top hat cocked jauntily to one side and a shiny cane in his left hand. A long watch chain dangled low onto his rather bounteous stomach. Wilhelmina was focused at the camera. Her eyes were large and dark. They were intense eyes. She too was in formal attire and a large brimmed, many plumed hat. The collar of her dress came up very high where a broach decorated her throat.
Girls were scattered everywhere on the grass with shorter hemlines, still below the knee, however, and hats. Very few of the girls were not wearing a hat and a long necklace or two. Other women, slightly older, were standing in a line in the midst of the laughing and smiling girls. These women were dressed in pants suits and had their fists on their hips. In the center was a very young and smiling Wilhelmina Chastain Green. She didn’t look older than her twenties. Youth and excitement shown from her eyes, and the smile that greeted the camera was open and friendly.
“Lewis Green died in 1918 in the great flu epidemic. He didn’t introduce Wilhelmina as his wife any longer, but as his daughter at the time of his death.”
“Are you sure this is Wilhelmina? Couldn’t she be his daughter?”
Shields shook his head. “There were no children born to the couple and they didn’t adopt or take in any nieces or nephews from either side. For a long time Wilhelmina was not seen in public and Lewis even had a closed casket funeral in 1910 for his wife whom he said had died in child birth. Wilhelmina came out in public in 1916 as his oldest and only daughter. It’s fantastical, I know, but it is true.
“I have had these photos examined by experts and each one has said this is the same woman in different periods of dress.”
“At the time of this photo,” Azz picked up again, “Wilhelmina was enrolled as a freshman. This was an all-women’s college and she still went by her married name.”
“Wilhelmina was a traditional good girl with a bad girl streak,” Shields picked up. “She was almost expelled a couple of times because of pranks and allegations she had attempted to have an affair with an older man in the town just outside of the college. She graduated in 1926 with a teaching degree and went back to New York where she taught school. It was also around that time she went back to England, but returned to England in 1938 as a refugee from the war. She had identification papers saying her name was Marianne Williamson.”
More pictures followed throughout the years of the same woman in different modes of dress, different styles of hair, but the face was always the same. Her face didn’t wrinkle, and her eyes were bright and intense. In the colored photographs Emily looked into brilliant violet eyes either sparkling with mirth and laughter, or sad and inward-looking. It was difficult to believe this was the same woman born back in the Victorian era, but there she was in different cities under different names. Emily couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. What all had this woman endured in her very long life? How many hardships had she had to recover from? Did she ever wish she would just die?
“Do you know where she is now?” Emily asked, putting the cat down and coming to sit on her knees at the coffee table to look through all of the pictures more carefully. There was something familiar about the face obviously in the 1960s because of the hair and make-up. The white go-go boots she wore also helped date the photo. In this one she was dancing with her dark blond hair in a flip. She was the epitome of youth and excitement for the time.
“How did you come up with all of these…?” Emily gestured at the pile of photos fanned out in front of her.
“Research,” was all Azz said. “As for where she is now….” Azz brushed a hand through his hair as he puffed up his cheeks and blew out slowly. “She is here in Lexington if everything holds true. She is here and we need to find her.”
A knock came at the door. Benny went into hyper barking mode, but once he was in front of the door he quieted down and looked expectantly at the doorknob. His tail was wagging hard enough it made his butt move from side to side.
Emily didn’t look through the peep hole this time – she just opened the door, because, despite her misgivings about Richard Azz, she did believe they were there to protect her. A petite woman in a bright yellow jacket and a scarf on her head turned as the door was opened. Emily’s mouth fell open as the woman stepped fearlessly into her living room.
“Hello, Ms. Post, my name is Wilhelmina Chastain and you are in danger.”
Emily felt the world tilt and spin just seconds before the blackness took her.