The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)(4)

But she had the tin, and as long as she had the tin, she had the Ellingham case.

She’d found the tin in Ellie’s room shortly before she left. She had dated it using online images. It was from somewhere between 1925 and 1940, and the tea was popular and widely sold. The feather was about four inches long and looked like it may have been attached to a piece of clothing. The cloth was two inches square and was a luminous blue, with silver, blue, and black beads, and had torn edges. Another piece of detritus. The lipstick had the word KISSPROOF on the side. It had been used, but not entirely. The pillbox was the only thing that looked like it might have value. It was just over two inches in length. It was empty.

These four items Stevie thought of as a group. They were personal, they concerned jewelry or clothing. The feather and the torn cloth were junk, so the reason for saving them was mysterious. The lipstick and the pillbox could have had value. All of these items likely belonged to a woman. They were intimate. They meant something to whoever put them in this tin.

The other two items probably had a lot more significance. They were a set of photographs of two people pretending to be Bonnie and Clyde. Stevie stared at them until her sight went blurry. The girl had dark hair cut in a sharp bob. Stevie had Googled some pictures of Lord Byron, the poet, and found he did have a resemblance to the boy in the photos. They had written a poem about themselves. But who were they? The trouble was, there were no online records of all the names of the early Ellingham students. Their names had never mattered—they were never part of the case. So they weren’t printed anywhere. Stevie had searched the internet, read down every thread on every message board she frequented on the case. At the time of the crimes or in the following years, a few students had come forward and given statements or spoken to the press. The one who appeared the most was a Gertrude van Coevorden, a New York City debutante who claimed to have been Dottie Epstein’s best friend. She gave tearful interviews for weeks after the kidnappings. None of these were helpful in identifying the persons in the photos.

Then, there was the poem. It wasn’t a good poem. It wasn’t even a whole poem.

The Ballad of Frankie and Edward

April 2, 1936

Frankie and Edward had the silver

Frankie and Edward had the gold

But both saw the game for what it was

And both wanted the truth to be told

Frankie and Edward bowed to no king

They lived for art and love

They unseated the man who ruled over the land

They took

The king was a joker who lived on a hill

And he wanted to rule the game

So Frankie and Edward played a hand

And things were never the same

Stevie didn’t know a lot about poetry, but she knew about true crime. Bonnie Parker, the famous 1930s outlaw who Frankie was modeling herself after in the pictures, wrote poems as well, including a famous one called “The Story of Suicide Sal,” which was all about a woman in love with a gangster. This poem looked like it was modeled on hers.

And there were several things in the poem that seemed to be about Albert Ellingham—the mention of games, the king who was a joker who lived on a hill. And in the poem Frankie and Edward did something, but what, the poem never says.

There was only one thing she could find that might explain anything about Edward and Frankie. Stevie had read the police interviews with the various suspects many times; they were collected in an ebook she kept on her phone. She had flagged a section in which Leonard Holmes Nair, the famous painter who was staying with the Ellinghams at the time of the kidnapping, described some of the students:

LHN: You see them all, milling around. You know, Albert opened this place and said he was going to fill it with prodigies, but fully half of them are just his friends’ children and not the sharpest ones at that. The other half are probably all right. If I’m being fair, there were one or two others that showed a bit of a spark. A boy and a girl, I forget their names. The two of them seemed to be a pair. The girl had hair like a raven and the boy looked a bit like Byron. They were interested in poetry. They had a little light behind the eyes. The girl asked me about Dorothy Parker, which I took as a hopeful sign. I’m a friend of Dorothy’s.

There was no question in Stevie’s mind that these two students described by Leonard Holmes Nair were the same two students in these photographs.

Anyway, the critical clue was actually contained in the photographs—or rather, between them.

Her phone buzzed. There was a text message from her mom: Where are you?

Stevie sighed.

Walking home.

Get a move on, she replied.

It was only four o’clock. At Ellingham, Stevie’s time was her own. When she ate, what she ate, when and where she studied, what she did between classes . . . all of that was up to her. There was no one looking over her shoulder. Now she was back in her family’s domain.

She drained her coffee and carefully returned the items to the tin. Headphones back on her head, she started the rest of the walk home. It was the lead-up to Halloween, and every business and home had a pumpkin or an autumnal banner. There was still a little late-summer lift in the air before the cold snapped down and killed everything right to ground level.

Winter would be unbearable here.

Her phone rang. The only calls Stevie got were from her parents and from Janelle. She was surprised to see Nate’s number appear. Nate was not a caller.

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