Read Murder at the Bellamy Mansion Online
Authors: Ellen Elizabeth Hunter
MURDER AT THE BELLAMY MANSION
By ELLEN ELIZABETH HUNTER
Published by: Magnolia Mysteries
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This is a work of fiction.
Copyright 2009 by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter
Cover and book design by Tim Doby
Books by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter
Magnolia Mysteries series:
Murder on the Ghost Walk
Murder on the Candlelight Tour
Murder at the Azalea Festival
Murder at Wrightsville Beach
Murder on the ICW
Murder on the Cape Fear
Murder at the Bellamy Mansion
Murder at the Holiday Flotilla
Stand-alone suspense novels:
During its one hundred and fifty year history not a single shot had been fired inside the stately Bellamy Mansion. Not during the Civil War. Not in the aftermath of the war when Wilmington, the lifeline of the Confederacy, fell to Federal forces, and a Union general requisitioned Dr. Bellamy’s splendid home as a headquarters for himself and his troops. Not even during Reconstruction when lawless Carpet Baggers roamed our impoverished streets, buying up properties for pennies on the dollar.
Indeed, the only sharpshooting attempted inside the house during those troubled times of Yankee occupation was the hawking of tobacco juice into the once pristine white marble fireplaces. And most times those missed their mark.
Set on high ground above the golden Cape Fear River at the intersection of Market Street and Fifth Avenue, the splendid, white, colonnaded residence symbolized the heart and soul of Wilmington’s historic district. This had been the homeplace for the large Bellamy family, where members came together to celebrate weddings and to mourn passings. In recent times, the mansion has become a museum, a favorite tourist attraction where visitors might glimpse the grandeur of gracious times gone by. Certainly not a residence you’d suspect of hosting murder and mayhem.
But on New Year’s Day that was exactly what occurred. I knew nothing of the nefarious and murderous events about to unfold. I had no visions, no premonitions, no warnings from my friendly Tarot card reader.
For on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I was in Pinehurst, celebrating the ninth day of my honeymoon with my new husband Jon.
Darling, slow down. You’re pumping too fast,” I said, leaning toward Jon’s ear.
The scent of Tuscany aftershave, sunshine, and the sexy aroma of clean, manly sweat wafted off his skin.
Sorry,” he murmured, a bit breathless. “Is this better?”
Much. Much better,” I replied, a bit breathless myself, but contemplating how, after nine days of honeymooning, we had learned that if we were to achieve mutual satisfaction, timing was everything.
Then sunlight glinting off his tousled blonde hair caught my eye and I thought again, as I had every day, how much I cherished this man.
You’re suddenly quiet back there, Ashley. You OK?” he asked.
I’m perfect. Isn’t this tandem bike fun? Don’t you just love it? And here we are at the village.”
The charming village of Pinehurst spread before us, decked out for Christmas with greenery and red bows on lamp posts, twinkling lights and glitter. We peddled past the nineteenth-century Victorian Magnolia Inn at Magnolia and Chinquipin roads just as the noon carillon chimed from the Village Chapel. A half block from the intersection we parked our “bicycle-built-for-two” outside Theo’s Taverna and strolled into the courtyard.
Jon took my hand. “Can you believe this weather?”
The weather gods are smiling down on us,” I said. “Gifting us with glorious weather for our honeymoon.”
Seventy-five degrees and here it is New Year’s Eve. Let’s not go inside. Let’s have lunch out here in the courtyard.”
Oh, yes, let’s. This will always be a special place for us. Just look at it. Fountains and statues. And all this lush landscaping.”
The maitre d’ greeted us with recognition. “Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, you have returned. I have a nice table for you two. You young lovebirds want to be alone. No?” And he seated us at an out-of-the-way corner table where we had a good view of the patio and the other diners but felt a sense of privacy. He presented us with menus. “Your server will be here shortly. And how are you enjoying our beautiful Pinehurst?”
Couldn’t be happier,” Jon said. “And we’ve improved our golf games.” He lied. Truth be told, we’d been too occupied with “honeymooning” to devote serious time to golfing. “Next trip,” Jon would say about our failure to tee-off, and then drag me back to bed. I had not protested.
Our maitre d’ beamed benignly at us, as if he knew just what mischief we had been up to during our days. And nights. “There will be much celebration tonight. And fireworks on Pinehurst One. Kali orex,” he said, wishing us a good appetite.
Our server took our drink order and I requested iced tea. “At least they serve Southern tea,” I said, “as well as the traditional ouzo.”
Jon laughed. “I’m passing on the ouzo. I want to be sober when I start drinking champagne tonight.”
I’m having the salad,” I said.
Is that all? I’m going for the moussaka.”
I dropped my menu onto the tabletop. “Jon, the spa not only gave me the ultimate massage, and styled my hair in the best do it’s ever had, not to mention makeup, manicure and pedicure. They also weighed me on their most accurate scales. And I have gained two pounds in nine days. I’ll soon have a muffin top spreading around my middle.”
Muffin top!” Jon hooted.
Yes, a muffin top. That’s a fat roll that pudges out above your waistline. Looks just like a puffy muffin top.”
Jon threw back his head and laughed. “I didn’t see one ounce of fat on you this morning. And believe me I looked at every inch.”
My face flushed as I remembered the passion of our morning. “Well, it’s there. The scales don’t lie.”
Our server returned with two tall, frosty glasses of iced tea. “I’ll have the Greek salad,” I told him. “And please bring the olive oil on the side.”
Yes, madam,” he replied with old world formality.
Jon ordered the moussaka. Jon can eat anything and he never gains a pound. Men!
They say a good marriage makes a woman fat,” I complained. “And that is not going to happen to me.”
He gave my hand a squeeze. “I won’t tempt you, darling. At least not with food.”
Thanks,” I said, and grinned at him. “There’s plenty else for you to tempt me with.”
I already have, and you’re already hooked.”
I batted his hand away. “Feeling pretty sure of yourself for an old man, aren’t you?” Jon is eight years older than I, thirty-four to my twenty-six, and I like to rib him about the difference.
Sure,” he laughed. “I’ve got exactly what you want. Be honest. Admit it.”
I leaned my head over onto his shoulder. “You are everything I want. And I am so happy. I don’t want this to ever end.”
It won’t. We’ll be on a perpetual honeymoon for the rest of our married life.”
Even when I’m hot and sweaty, covered with dirt and grime, as we climb up into the Bellamy Mansion belvedere?” I asked.
Even then,” he said with mock solemnity. “Oh, I almost forgot, Willie called to wish us a happy new year while you were in the shower.”
I’m sorry I missed a chance to tell him ‘Back at ya,’” I said. Willie Hudson is the general contractor who has been working with us since we founded our restoration business.
Jon continued, “Willie plans to start work on the belvedere tomorrow morning. He’s going to examine each window, chalk mark those that have to be removed. Take pictures. Assess the damage. Make notes. Then he’ll discuss his findings with us when we return home on Saturday.”
Jon and I had waived our fee for the work we would do to restore the belvedere. The observatory was a local Wilmington landmark. During the fall of Ft. Fisher, a look-out had been posted in the belvedere to observe the Union Navy’s bombardment on the Fort. Knowing that the Bellamy Museum was short of cash, and in a spirit of community dedication, we had volunteered our services. Willie had volunteered his work as well, and that of his crew which consisted of sons and grandsons. We would need to be reimbursed for materials and for any work contracted out, but that should be a modest reimbursement. There was never enough money to maintain historic sites.
I’ve lost track of my days,” I said. “It’s New Year’s Eve. Of course, the mansion will be closed tomorrow, New Year’s Day.”
A good time for Willie to eyeball the state of disrepair,” Jon said. “We’re lucky to have him to start this project since it was decided right before the wedding and there was no time for us to get involved.”
Willie knows more about old house construction than you and I put together. Hands on. I hope we don’t have to remove all of the windows. It’s always preferable to make the repairs with the windows in place. But the project was put off for too long, and their deterioration just accelerated.”
Our food arrived. Jon’s moussaka looked temping with its bubbling cheeses, eggplant, and beef. But I was determined to be satisfied with my salad. Good thing I love feta cheese and Kalamata olives.
Did you tell Willie that his nephew Brian is here?” I asked.
No. I didn’t think that was wise. You know, there is not much love lost between those two branches of the Hudson family. Some ancient family feud I guess,” Jon said.
And probably no one remembers the cause of the feud,” I said. “Isn’t that always the way?”
After lunch we toured the village on foot, exploring upscale boutiques and art galleries. There were many tourists in town, here for the holidays and for the excellent golfing and mild weather.
I think we’d better get back to the hotel for a nap before it’s time to dress for the party tonight,” I suggested. The Carolina Hotel was hosting a New Year’s Eve festivity called “Party in the Pines.”
Jon wagged his eyebrows at me. “I’m getting to really like this siesta custom we picked up in Italy. Although there is not much sleeping involved.”
I gave him a pouty look. “Well, if you want to sleep, I certainly won’t do anything to keep you awake.”
His eyes were dancing when he said, “Are you kidding? You’d better.”
As we mounted the bike, I asked, “What time are we meeting Brian and Jackie for cocktails?”
I told Brian we’d meet them in the bar at seven.”
Good, it’ll be fun to celebrate New Year’s Eve with them. Someone from home. They’re such an upbeat couple. We’ll just have to be careful not to tell Willie.”
Brian was the son of Willie’s brother Abinah. While Willie and his sons and grandsons had gone into the building trades’ professions, Abinah and his line had become lawyers and politicians.
Brian Hudson was a real estate attorney whose firm handled most of the closings for my sister Melanie, Wilmington’s star realtor. Brian’s wife Jackie was an environmentalist and a dedicated fund raiser for historic preservation projects which, as we liked to say, were the ultimate recycling ventures.
As we pedaled back to the hotel, I felt like pinching myself. This was all too good to be true. My life was perfect. I had married my best friend and partner, the love of my life. Our business as historic house restorers had grown quite successful. Although our motives for volunteering to restore the belvedere were altruistic, our involvement with one of North Carolina’s premiere residences would produce valuable publicity and generate future business. It was indeed all too good to be true, and just a little bit spooky. How long could this streak of fine fortune last? Were we tempting the fates with our happiness?