Excerpt From Blood Moon Over the Chesapeake

The sunlit world of an old city can be awash with charm, grace and a proud history of illustrious residents and noble deeds. But every old city also harbors a dark underbelly of rumors, legends and scandals that over time can be forgotten or kept secret as they sleep in cemeteries with long dead ancestors, while some dark legends need only to have a door opened.

      Nora McCully had disappeared from South Baltimore. But long before she physically vanished, pieces of Nora’s personality began to fade and what sprouted from a single seed of curiosity was a bewitching bloom full of beauty, but deadly for those who fell under its spell.

      Her husband, Robert, had noticed the change and at first thought little of it and even welcomed some of Nora’s newly acquired free-spiritedness and confidence.

      The change had come after they moved into the house, of that, he was sure. He was not a superstitious man, but had he known the full story of what transpired in that house, he and Nora would have left the house, the neighborhood and the city far behind. But how could he have known? Real estate agents are not likely to discuss unpleasant things that took place in a house up for sale, especially dark deeds that transpired fifty years ago.

      However, it was the future that the McCullys were focused on as they stood on Hanover Street in downtown Baltimore patiently waiting for the real estate agent who promised to show them a “grand old house in a lovely neighborhood”. The houses they had seen so far were not impressive and the experience seemed to dishearten the couple. Surely their modest budget should fetch a small but decent place to live.

      Nora leaned forward and glanced at the neat row of Model T’s parked along the curb. Automobiles were becoming quite common in the city, and with Robert’s recent promotion, the McCullys found themselves the proud owners of a slightly used motorcar. They had been married only two years after meeting at Hutzler Brothers Department Store on Howard Street where Nora worked as a sales clerk, while Robert’s hard work had gotten him from the stock room all the way to department manager.

      A proud gaze graced Nora’s face as she looked at Robert, who lovingly smiled as he put his arm around her. “Don’t worry, darling,” he assured her. “Mr. Latchem should be along soon.”

      “I hope so,” she timidly replied. “I’m anxious to see what he has for us today.”

      “Ah, here he comes now,” Robert said as Nora turned to see Mr. Latchem’s tall frame and warm smile coming toward them.

      Nora sincerely hoped that whatever he had in store for them today would be worth the time and effort, as she was growing weary of house hunting but longed to leave their tiny apartment on Light Street behind.

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. McCully,” Mr. Latchem cordially greeted the couple. “I hope you don’t mind meeting me this early, but we have just had a house come on the market and I wanted you to be the first to see it. I think it’s just what you’re looking for.”

Mr. Latchem’s enthusiasm and excitement seemed to dispel some of Nora’s apprehension, but she didn’t want her optimism to gain too strong a foothold, lest she be disappointed yet again.

They walked a few blocks and turned down a pleasant street where brick rowhouses stood regally on either side with their bright white marble steps glistening in the morning sun. The street was quiet and clean with a few cars parked along the curb.

“Well, the neighborhood looks fine,” Robert smiled as they made their way to a corner house with a well-kept front stoop.

“Wait until you see the inside,” Mr. Latchem cheerfully replied, turning the key and slowly opening the door.

The McCullys followed Mr. Latchem inside, their eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness of the room before the click from a light switch illuminated a decent sized living room.

“The gas jets have recently been replaced with electricity,” Mr. Latchem offered, as he began his sales pitch and escorted the couple through the living room and to the kitchen at the back of the house before returning to the living room to ascend the twisted staircase to the second floor. “There are two bedrooms here, one of which could be used for a guest room . . . or perhaps a nursery,” Mr. Latchem said with a smile.

Nora blushed at the agent’s suggestion and replied in a shy tone, “Well, maybe just a guest room for now. What about the master bedroom?”

“A pure delight!” the agent responded, leading the couple to the bedroom at the back of the house. The door opened on a spacious room and a musty smell emanated from within that forced Nora to clear her throat.

“I understand that this room was closed off by the owner for some years,” Mr. Latchem apologetically offered. “But I’m sure that once the windows are opened and the room gets some air, it will be just fine. And that rug was recently added by the owner, a very nice quality too.”

“Why would the owner not want to use the master bedroom?” Nora asked.

“The owner originally lived here with her sister,” Mr. Latchem responded. “Her husband passed away about a year ago and she has since moved in with her son, just across the street.”

“And her sister?” Robert asked.

Mr. Latchem’s affable demeanor suddenly took on an air of uneasiness. “As I understand, she died some years ago,” he responded in a shaky voice. “But the house has been very well kept and I’m sure you could even get it below the asking price,” he added, managing to muster his affability.

“Would it be possible for us to go through the house once more . . . on our own?” Nora asked.

“Of course,” Mr. Latchem smiled. “Please take your time, I’ll wait for you outside.”

Nora listened as the agent’s footsteps faded into the distance and disappeared beyond the front door. She took Robert by the hand and revisited each of the rooms, spending a few minutes in each of them in quiet contemplation.

“Well, what are you thinking about, Nora?” Robert slyly asked.

She turned to him and smiled with excitement dancing in her eyes. “I’m thinking about paint and wallpaper, drapes and a few other decorative touches. I think we can truly make this work.”

“If this is the house you want, then this is the house you shall have!” Robert playfully responded, sweeping Nora up in his arms and carrying her toward the front door.

“Robert, put me down,” she laughed. “What would Mr. Latchem say if he saw us carrying on like this?”

“I would tell him that we’re celebrating!” Robert exclaimed. “Now let’s go make an offer.”

Mr. Latchem was thrilled that the McCullys were satisfied with the house and ready to present an offer. The trio returned to the real estate office to hammer out the legalities and present a very fair offer that they hoped would meet with acceptance.

Nora and Robert spent the next few days in unbearable anticipation, until the tension was broken by a ringing telephone. Robert quickly answered and was relieved to hear Mr. Latchem’s voice on the other end. “The Clarksons have accepted your offer!” he joyfully announced. “We close next week.”

Robert shared the good news with his wife and they spent most of their free time packing and preparing for the move to the neat little rowhouse with the white marble steps. The tiny apartment they currently occupied did not allow for an abundance of furnishings and other possessions, so packing was not a difficult task and friends kindly offered their assistance when they heard the couple’s good news.

The McCullys euphoric feeling continued all the way to the Friday closing, where they arrived at Mr. Latchem’s office to finally take possession of their dream home. They were given a warm greeting by Mr. Latchem, who led them to a conference room with a large table where three people sat. There was a couple who looked to be in their forties and an older woman smoking a white clay pipe. Mr. Latchem cordially presented the McCullys to the couple who were introduced as Howard and Lily Clarkson, while the older woman smoking the pipe was introduced as Howard’s mother, Fiona.

“We are very pleased to meet you,” Robert happily declared. “And we are very happy with the house, I assure you that we will take good care of it.”

“Well, you offered us a fair price and we are very grateful,” Howard warmly responded. “And if you ever need anything, we are right across the street.”

“Much obliged,” Robert replied. “You must come and see us after we settle in.”

Nora sat across from Lily, who seemed to have a pleasant demeanor, so Nora felt at ease inquiring about something that had been on her mind since they first looked at the house. “May I ask,” she timidly began, “why the master bedroom had been closed off?”

“That was my late sister’s room,” Fiona replied with an Irish brogue as thick as the smoke that surrounded her dark grey hair, neatly tucked up in a bun. “After she passed away, I just didn’t use the room anymore.”

Outwardly, Nora remained respectful, but inside she was burning with curiosity. When did Fiona’s sister die? How did she die? What would compel Fiona to never use the room again? All of these questions swam in Nora’s mind in a whirlpool of mystery that captivated and intrigued her, as they signed the papers and exchanged pleasantries. Keys were placed in Robert’s hand and the house was now theirs with congratulations from Mr. Latchem and the Clarksons. Nora was excited about their first house, but thoughts of Fiona’s mysterious sister and the closed off room never left her mind.