A T.J. Jackson Mystery #2
Spirits of the Pirate House
Even Paradise has a Dark Side...
During their first adventure in Gettysburg, T.J., LouAnne and Bortnicker established themselves as talented ghost hunters. So when The Adventure Channel gives them an opportunity to visit the island of Bermuda to film the pilot episode of Junior Gonzo Ghost Chasers, they can't resist. What could be better than scuba diving, sightseeing, and ghost hunting for pirates in a romantic tropical oasis? But the teens soon realize that their target, legendary Bermudian buccaneer Sir William Tarver, has a back-story that never made it into the history books. The problem is, even if T.J.'s team is able to make contact, will their investigation raise more questions than it answers?
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|Middle Grade / Teen|
“Thanks so much for your patience and attention. This concludes our tour of Hibiscus House. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Bermuda.” Winnie Pemburton flashed her most dazzling smile as she shook hands with the small group of tourists who had come to visit the estate of Sir William Tarver. All were retirees from the States, taking advantage of the lower air fares and hotel rates in the off season. Indeed, there was a chill in the late afternoon November air, and a light jacket or sweater was most welcome.
Winnie accompanied the group through the front door and down the steps to where a minivan taxi awaited. After helping them into the vehicle and gratefully accepting a few tips, she waved them off as the taxi coasted down the crushed shell and coral path to the imposing wrought iron fence 100 yards away. She stood there a moment in the oncoming twilight, drinking in the magnificence of her surroundings.
Though the vast majority of Bermuda’s historic houses were privately owned, Hibiscus House was a National Trust site. The grounds, which featured hundreds of varieties of flowers, most prominently its namesake, the hibiscus, were meticulously maintained. A host of guava, palmetto and royal Poinciana trees provided areas of shade for strategically situated benches and a nesting place for tropical birds.
Since its acquisition by the government in the early 1900s, some of the acreage had been sold off and subdivided; other sections of the former plantation were now overgrown jungle. But the immediate lawns of freshly mown Bermuda grass, framed by flower beds and punctuated with fountains, gave the effect of a tropical palace.
The house itself, built in the early 1700s by Sir William, was modeled after the West Indian plantation homes of the era, with wraparound two-story verandahs that provided sweeping views of the countryside, and the numerous windows at each level allowed ocean breezes to pleasantly pass through, precluding the need for air conditioning even in the hotter summer months.
Once inside, Winnie shut the heavy front door, with its anchor-styled knocker, and turned toward the imposing cedar staircase that led to the second floor. All the rooms of Hibiscus House were trimmed in cedar, and the walls were adorned with paintings of clipper ships and the English countryside. The furniture, dusted twice weekly by a cleaning crew, was almost exclusively of the finest period mahogany, and the dining room table was perpetually set with elegant Chinese porcelain and English silver. Most of the fixtures had been reacquired by the government after having been sold off in the mid-1700s by Sir William’s wife after his death. The house had then stood vacant for nearly a century and had fallen into a state of disrepair, compounded by the ravages of the occasional hurricane that hit the island between July and November. But now it was the jewel of Southhampton Parish, and it was all hers.
Well, kind of. Winnie was a working class girl from the “back of town” in Hamilton. Her parents, descendants of free West India blacks who had migrated to Bermuda in the 1700s, had done fairly well for themselves. Harry Pemburton was a barman at the Southampton Princess Hotel and Resort nearby, and Allison Pemburton taught grade school in Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital. It was from her mother that Winnie had developed a love of history; it was understandable, then, that after knocking about in a few dreary office jobs in town, she was overjoyed to hear that a position as tour guide was opening at Hibiscus House, which she would gaze at wistfully from her pink public transportation bus on the way into Hamilton each morning.
She had sweated through the interview with the National Trust representatives who were quick to point out that a person in her position would have to epitomize Bermudian manners and charm. Although Winnie doubted that her color would affect their decision—blacks formed the majority of Bermuda’s population and maintained a fairly harmonious relationship with whites primarily of British descent—she wondered whether they felt she measured up to their standards. She was also surprised to learn that the position had a high turnover rate, especially within the past year. Had the previous tour guides fallen short of expectations, or had they simply become bored with the same humdrum routine, day after day?
It was no matter. Winnie assured her interviewers that this would be a dream job for her, and after a surprisingly quick consultation amongst themselves, she was hired.
And now, a month or so into her tenure, she’d fallen into a pleasant routine, opening the house for the first tour at 10:15 a.m. and locking up at 5:00 p.m. Winnie loved to imagine herself as mistress of the mansion, gliding through the many rooms with her tour groups in tow, relating local Bermudian folklore and discussing the somewhat mysterious background of her benefactor, Sir William Tarver, who was rumored to have made his fortune through piracy. She heard some disconcerting odd noises now and then, but attributed them to the ocean breezes wafting through the upstairs rooms or the odd animal making its way into a crawlspace or the attic. Nothing could disrupt her fantasy world.
As always, she closed off the top floor first, then ventured to her favorite place, the elegant drawing room, which was dominated by a Waterford crystal chandelier and ornately carved mantel that represented the height of Bermudian artisanship. Above it hung a large William and Mary molded mirror, into which Winnie would cast a last look before exiting the building and strolling around back to the gardener’s shed where her Vespa scooter was discreetly parked.
While she was arranging a vase of cut flowers on the mantel, something in the mirror’s reflection caught Winnie’s eye. She blinked—hard—then looked again. Over her right shoulder, sitting in a corner wing chair, was a man. His shoulder-length, dark brown hair was pulled back and fastened into the short ponytail style of the 1700s, though nothing like the foppish, effeminate powdered wig look Winnie associated with those times. A full dark beard and mustache framed his tanned face and accentuated cold blue eyes that seemed to bore into her back. The man appeared to be wearing some kind of blue velour waistcoat with a ruffled white shirt underneath. Cream-colored breeches were tucked into high, black riding boots. Overall, he looked like the cover of one of the Harlequin romance novels Winnie so enjoyed on her trips to the beach at Astwood Park.
She closed her eyes again and fought to slow her breathing. “All right, then,” she said to herself quietly. “I’ll open my eyes and turn ‘round, and he’ll be gone.” She counted to three, then cautiously wheeled and cracked open one eye.
He was still there, one leg casually crossed over the other, a flintlock pistol stuck into his wide leather belt. Winnie froze in fear. How did this man get in here? And why was he dressed in period clothes? As she stood trembling, an odor came to her, a strange mix of burning tobacco and something else. The man’s eyes grew more intense, even hypnotic. When he finally said, “Come forward, girl dear,” something in her broke loose. She bolted out of the room, through the front door, and into the gathering twilight, her screams mixing with the pleasant sounds of the evening tree frogs.