Detective Haley Wanat drove an unmarked Impala up Monks Hill to the Vrolok manor as the high noon sun struggled to penetrate the humid haze above the island. The driveway meandered along the steep slope, like a snake slithering up the side of a tree. The lengthy incline made her wonder how anyone could drive it in the winter when it would be covered with snow and ice. But wondering about how the other half lived was not the reason she was there; she wanted to speak with the Vroloks about the missing home health aide, Patty Anderson, and if they had seen any unusual activity coming from the old monastery.
Then a car, initially obscured behind butterfly shrubs and lilac bushes, barreled around a curve, almost sideswiping Det. Wanat’s car. She slammed on the brakes and veered onto the grassy shoulder as the car raced past her until it was out of sight.
What was his problem? She shook her head and continued traveling up the hill. When she reached a few cottages near a massive stone wall, she slowed down. According to the missing persons’ report, Ms. Anderson was staying in the first cottage on the right, the one with a blue door. It stated that her car, old and rusty, was still in the driveway, but there were no vehicles to be found anywhere.
She pulled into the empty driveway where Patty had been staying. When she stepped out of her car, it felt like she had entered a fairy tale in a faraway land. But there were no signs of elves, fairies, or the person she was looking for. In fact, it appeared as though no one was living in any of the cottages. Even though the lawns were mowed, and the wildflowers grew with few weeds, the white-lined curtains were drawn halfway closed in a uniform manner.
She walked up to the front door and knocked. No one answered, so she walked around and looked in the windows. Inside, there was no luggage and no personal belongings. The report had listed a coffee cup on the dining room table, but nothing was on the tabletop. Ms. Anderson must have come back, gathered her things and left.
Satisfied no one was living there, she got back into her car and drove up to the closed gate. She pushed the buzzer and waited for someone to answer. She buzzed again. She was about to get out of the car when a voice came through the speaker.
“May I help you?” The woman’s voice squawked with a hollow sound through the mesh panel.
“My name is Detective Wanat and I would like to speak with the homeowner about a person reported as missing. Would you mind if I come in?”
There was a moment of silence, then the gate began to swing open. She drove up to the main entrance, amazed at the stately mansion’s size and the intimidating Gothic cathedral behind it. As she walked up to the entrance, she saw a black Cadillac in the garage and a newer compact car and a sedan parked near it; none of which were Ms. Anderson’s.
An older woman, dressed in a black maids’ uniform, answered the door.
“Hello, I’m Detective Wanat,” she said, showing her identification. “I have a few questions about a missing person.”
“I’m Mrs. Reinhardt, the housekeeper,” the woman said, motioning for Det. Wanat to come inside. “Please stay here and I will see if Lady Beth is up to speaking with you. Her husband, Lord Andrei, is not doing well and she is dealing with the illness.”
Det. Wanat watched the formal woman walk up the grand staircase. Wow, what a treasure house, she thought. The paintings and artwork, at least the ones on display, were worthy of the Smithsonian.
Moments later, a distinguished man walked down the stairway and sauntered up to her.
“Mrs. Reinhardt told me you were here to ask a few questions,” he said. “My mother, Lady Beth, is preoccupied. My name is Victor Vrolok; may I assist you?”
“Yes, that would be fine,” she said, surprised by his English accent. “Ms. Patty Anderson was reported missing. Do you know her?”
“She was employed by my mother to assist my father in his care, but both she and the nurse have been dismissed due to insubordination. Ms. Anderson has already moved out.” He paused, then said, “I am sorry to hear she is missing, I had no idea.”
“When did she move out?”
“I did not see her leave, but I believe it was late last night or early this morning.”
“Is the nurse, Ms. Rush, still here?”
Victor glanced at the window facing the driveway and then back at Det. Wanat. He scratched his nose, and then said, “She has left as well.”
Her gut told her he was lying. “What time did she leave?”
“I do not know.”
“Do you know if they were returning to the mainland or staying here on the island?”
“I have no idea, or interest, in the workers plans. They gave my father poor care and the only thing I am interested in, as far as the two of them are concerned, is that they never come back here.”
“Did she say anything to you about Ms. Anderson?”
“No,” Victor looked away, annoyed. “I am unaware of any concerns.”
“While I was driving up to your house I passed a car, do you know who that was?”
“That would be Doctor Booker. Like I said, my father is ill and he was here to give him care.”
“He was driving pretty fast, any idea why?”
“He’s a doctor, I think he had to get back to the hospital.”
“What hospital does he work at?”
“Maryville Hospital, of course.” He crossed his arms. “Do you have any further questions? I need to get back up to assist my grieving mother.”
Det. Wanat knew she should have done a better job at developing a rapport with Victor before probing; she was never very good at that. Besides, she felt he was soon going to insist that she leave, so she had better get her questions in while she could. “You live next to the old Monastery of the Holy Ghost and I was wondering if you’ve noticed anything unusual on the grounds.”
“Nothing at all. The place is vacant, Detective.”
“There have been reports of strange activity around Monks Hill, as well as other reports of missing people and recent deaths in Maryville. Just wondering if you’ve seen any of that.”
“The townspeople like to spread rumors. They stare at us, sitting high above them, and become resentful and jealous of our family’s success and wealth. If I were you, I would look at the town of Maryville. You may have a serial killer on the loose there, not here. We keep to ourselves and that, in and of itself, makes the people talk.”
She was not getting very far with her questioning. “Would you mind if I look at the room in which Ms. Rush stayed?”
“Yes, Detective, I would mind. I have already told you my father and mother need my help. I need to get back up to them. Our talk has ended.”
“I’m sorry your family is suffering, but I needed to follow-up on the report.”
Victor walked to the door and opened it.
“Would it be too much trouble if I speak with Mrs. Reinhardt?”
“Yes, it would. She is busy assisting my mother and father, now that the nurse and aide have left.”
She looked at him standing at the open door and then handed him a business card. “Thank you, Mr. Vrolok. If you notice anything unusual or need to speak with me, please call.”
“I will do that.”
Det. Wanat walked out the door and looked at the cars parked at the house. She took a notepad from her pocket and quickly wrote down the license plate numbers. Running the plates might give her the information she needed.