Lionel Shiflett smiled too much and talked constantly the whole time while they completed the closing. The buyer sat at the other end of the table and said nothing. Even the realtor and the lawyers barely looked at her, just pushed stacks of papers to her and let her sign without discussion. Two weeks ago Shiflett had resigned himself to having the entire house razed and sold to the paper mill down the road for an addition to their tree farm. He would have lost at least $20,000 paying off the mortgage, and by then he didn't mind. He knew no one wanted to live in a house where those terrible things had happened. And then suddenly, unaccountably this buyer had appeared. But she wouldn't say why she wanted the place.
She met his price without bargaining, without more than a cursory building inspection. She agreed to close on the property within the week. And when Shiflett heard the buyer's name, Elizabeth Knowles, he knew who she was immediately, remembered the picture of her coming out of the police station red-eyed, refusing all comment and disappearing from public view after the case closed. He thought his realtor might be playing some terrible joke on him. He wasn't completely sure it was true until he saw her across the conference room table. But still she wasn't saying anything.
The silence was irritating him, and he was determined to do something, anything, to get a word out of her. For two hours he cracked stupid jokes and made banal small talk with everyone in the room. But Elizabeth Knowles stayed very quiet and still. She was a middle-aged woman with an attractive if drawn face, dark red hair, and beautiful, emotionless green eyes. She wanted nothing to do with him, and it was driving him to distraction.
Finally, as both parties signed the last of the documents and passed them to the lawyers there was a moment when buyer and seller had nothing to do. And that's when Shiflett took the opportunity.
"I have to ask," he said. "Why this place?"
Elizabeth Knowles did not quite look at him. She looked slightly to one side of his face and was silent.
"I've read about you, you know," he added. "I am very sorry about your daughter. I'm sorry she was one of the girls... But I just don't know what you want."
The lawyers were finished and sat expectantly. Elizabeth stood up, collected her new keys, and went to get her coat. Lionel Shiflett, cocky and nervous at the same time, wiped a small bit of spittle from his mouth. A thought flashed through his head, the idea that maybe Knowles was buying the place, because she thought he'd hidden something from the cops. And she might be the one to uncover it.
"I don't know what you want to find there, but cops have searched that place. There was a whole task force. They interviewed me three times. You better not make trouble for me, because I had nothing to do with it."
Elizabeth didn't turn around when she replied.
"If I ever thought you had something to do with it," she said flatly and quietly, "I wouldn't make trouble for you. I'd kill you."
The others in the room looked uncomfortable, but Shiflett snorted.
"That's a stupid thing to say in a roomful of lawyers."
"I know. I don't care."
Elizabeth Knowles walked out of room and got into her car. She began the long drive to the house where her daughter had been found in the basement with 12 other victims, all of them packed in plastic drums filled with vinegar and perfume. She would live there now.
(Illustration is The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch by Paul Gauguin from Wikimedia.)