Check out our episode here! The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
These stories are told in a dual timeline, part from the 1930s, part from present day. We’ve split them up to tell each story concurrently.
We begin in 1932 this time, with the birth of Alice Ellingham. While waiting for his daughter to be born in the Swedish retreat they’ve gone to, Albert talks to Leonard about the green clock he just bought that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. It even has a little hidden drawer in the bottom! He’s interrupted in his clock description when they hear the yelling of birth upstairs. Albert enters the room to hug Iris and meet the baby. While they are cooing over the baby girl, another voice asks to hold the baby. This person is Flora Robinson, the baby’s true mother. But who is the father?
In 1936 on the grounds of Ellingham Academy, Iris and Leonard are sitting outside, Leonard painting Iris’s portrait, and she asks him for something that ends up being cocaine and goes back inside the house. Two students approach Leonard then, looking a little sexually disheveled, and ask him for a photograph, then go on their separate ways. He likes these students, thinks they’re interesting enough. He goes inside for the cocktail hour. A couple months later, Francis and Edward are in a secret grotto she found underneath a statue on the grounds filled with bags of cement, a painting of a Valkyrie, a swan boat and dynamite. She wrote about this place in her diary and all the Bonnie and Clyde-style plans they’ve devised. While in this grotto, they write the poem and craft it with their magazine cutouts. When Francis gets back to her room, she realizes that her Bonnie and Clyde photographs have fallen out of her notebook somewhere, which is frustrating, then she hides the notebook inside the wall of her closet. Dottie found the photographs after following Francis and Edward, seeing them disappear into a secret hole in the ground underneath a statue. She’d give them back before the end of the school year. There would be time… There wasn’t time.
A week after the kidnapping, Flora and Leonard are talking about the adoption and that Iris asked Leonard who Alice’s father is. It wasn’t important then, but it could be now. What if the father is involved in the kidnapping? He didn’t know because Flora won’t tell. But Leonard watches Flora closely, sees her eyes going to George Marsh and sees Alice’s blue eyes and jaw line. He says George is the father and Flora says their relationship didn’t last long and he doesn’t know. He hasn’t got a clue. A couple months later, as Albert is setting up Alice’s doll house replica of the Great House, Flora tells George her secret. Now more than ever he wants to find the men he hired to kidnap Iris and Alice, his daughter. For a few more months now, George has been doubling down his efforts to find Alice and one day, after shaking down thugs, he gets a note under his door. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT IF YOU WANT HER. He finds one of the guys, Jerry, who says they took Alice to a nice family in the mountains in New York. They drive to the house, the guy tells the story of how Iris died and how they couldn’t watch the kid anymore. Iris had trained Alice to run one day and Iris tried to fight, but they shot her. They make it to the house and the man living there says she’s in the back. George expected to find her playing. Instead, he found her buried under a tree. She had gotten the measles and died. George killed Jerry and buried him in the hole where Alice was, taking her body with him when he left.
A year after the kidnapping, Albert planned to have the tunnels blocked, he had already had the lake drained, and there was no use for the tunnels anymore. George took this time to hide Alice’s body in a trunk in a hidden place inside the soon-to-be-demolished tunnels, but Leonard saw him doing something suspicious and did a little investigation of his own. He confronted George who told him he knows he’s Alice’s father and the story of finding her body and not wanting to tell Albert because the thought of Alice coming home one day was the only thing keeping him alive. They decide to care for the living instead of the dead and make a pact never to tell where Alice is. After the explosion and the funeral, Leonard and Mackenzie are going through Albert’s office. Mackenzie tells Leonard about the codicil and that he doesn’t know what to do with it. Leonard doesn’t want to tell about Alice’s body because they’d dig it up and poke and prod it and nothing good would come of it. They hide the codicil inside the secret compartment inside the green clock that used to belong to Marie Antoinette. Leonard makes some changes to the portrait he had been working on of the Ellingham family, pointing Iris’s finger toward the dome of the observatory and painted a beam of moonlight to be a sort of tombstone. The entire family together in their little mystery.
Stevie is practically a zombie. She’s got a lot on her mind and is barely functioning because of it. Her almost boyfriend paid to have himself beat up on video and disappeared. Her adviser, Irene Fenton, died in a house fire. She solved the Ellingham case. She explains everything about the case to Nate. About Dottie being in the observatory when George Marsh came in. How she knew who he was and left a clue in her book. How Albert realized the mark in the book was connected to what Dottie said in her interview when she started at the school. How Albert wrote a riddle about knowing George was responsible. Where do you look for someone who’s never really there? Always on a staircase but never on a stair? Who is always on a case? A detective. Who’s never really there? Your friend who you hired to investigate. And then the boat explodes, one man killing the other, she’s not sure which, but she is sure why. And then! Fenton dies in a house fire after being weird on the phone and saying the kid is there. It’s all got to be connected. The Ellingham case. Hayes’s murder. Ellie’s death. Fenton’s fire. She needs more information. But she’s also got to live her life. Janelle’s testing her Rube Goldberg machine that she’s been working on since book one, so she’s going to go check that out.
Before she can do that, she stops by to see Call Me Charles to ask him about the addition to Albert Ellingham’s will that says anyone who finds Alice, but doesn’t have anything to do with her death, will be given ten million dollars, but he says the codicil doesn’t exist. He gives Stevie the task of going to town to shop for items for Hunter, who it turns out is still alive after the house fire, and who will be staying on campus for a while as he now has no home. What a nice thing for the Academy to do, let a stranger live on campus. When she gets to town, she meets up with Security Larry at a coffee shop. They talk about how David got himself beat up then ran off, then Fenton’s house burned down. Did he do it? His family is pretty crazy… Surely not though. On her way out, she sees a flyer for an arthouse and in the background is Ellie. She decided to stop by the arthouse to do some more investigation and finds out that Ellie knew about, and was angry about, the message projected onto Stevie’s wall. She mentioned to her friends at the arthouse that there were things inside the walls of Ellingham Academy. Ah ha! Another clue!
On her way back to school, Stevie longs to see a moose in the mountains, just ONE MOOSE, but she’s yet to see one. Do they even exist? Upon arrival, she runs into Germaine Batt meddling school reporter of the Batt Report who inadvertently got her sent home from school after Hayes’s death. They talk about Hunter coming to stay at school and how the school feels bad because of all the deaths, then Stevie goes to see Janelle’s machine, which works properly and goes off without a hitch, but she wasn’t really paying attention. Her mind is always on the case, or cases in this case. Case case case. Surely David wasn’t involved in the fire and in Hayes’s death. But he is smart. And plays tricks. But there’s no way. As she’s putting that out of her head and focusing on other things, David calls. They have an odd conversation, ending with an ominous nothing ever happens to you. Yikes. Then she gets a blizzard warning on her phone.
Next day at breakfast, they all talk about Hunter moving onto campus, and then Vi gets a notice that Edward King is running for president. GROSS! Janelle is excited about the big reveal of her machine after the successful test. They also talk about the message projected on Stevie’s wall and wanting to look inside the walls. Is there a tool to help her do that? Yes, of course there is. Hunter moves into Ellie’s old room and then he and Stevie go to watch Janelle’s presentation. IT does not go off without a hitch this time. In fact, it explodes and injures a student. There’s no way that could be a coincidence. Later, Stevie adds this to her crime wall and decides really, there’s no way all these deaths are a coincidence. Germaine writes a story about the exploding machine which is apparently the last straw for the school. They go to a school meeting and learn that the school’s been shut down and they’re all being sent home. When they get back to Minerva to pack up, David is there. He says they don’t have much time. FOR WHAT?
David has returned to school to get everyone’s help in shutting down his father’s presidential run. He’s created a fake identity inside his father’s campaign and found flash drives hidden in his father’s house. Why would you hide files unless you, you know, had something to hide? They’ve got to go through the drives and find out a way to take him down. But they’re all leaving school, right? Nope. David convinces them to stay, but he won’t let Stevie help. He told her that he planned for her to see him get beat up and tell everyone about. Why? Stevie and Hunter spend the night playing board games and David sees, seemingly jealous of the two of them. Hunter asks if David’s fake identity could help do something. And that something is email Call Me Charles and ask if there is a hidden codicil. We’ll see…
Since they’re stuck inside Minerva House because of the blizzard and she’s not allowed to help everyone with the Edward King stuff, Stevie spirals into anxiety about the deaths. Janelle comes to talk to her and they decide to look inside the walls because of that clue she got earlier from Ellie’s friend at the arthouse. Janelle sneaks out to the art barn to get a wall scanner and they begin the search. They find Francis’s diary. Remember? The one she wrote EVERYTHING down in? Yeah. Inside she finds a draft to the Truly Devious letter, real proof that she and Edward were behind it, even though she knew they were. She also finds a poem called Our Treasure that turns out to be something much more than a poem. Then the power goes out and they all have to go to the Great House. While there, David’s secret identity in the campaign gets an email about the codicil. There’s no need for the campaign to have information on that document. SO IT DOES EXIST! Call Me Charles gives Stevie some house records to look at, but she continues to read the diary instead. Everyone else continues to look through the flash drives and they find that Edward King is blackmailing his donors to continue donating. That’s’ bad. So what do they do? Destroy the evidence or turn him in? Either way, his campaign will be destroyed. So that’s good.
Stevie realizes that Our Treasure is instructions to find a treasure, not a poem. She deduces that the treasure map begins at Minerva House and sets off through the snow to see where it leads. She ends up at a statue but can’t find anything secret around it. The last line of the poem says tiptoe, so she begins looking around the feet of the statue. And then she falls into a secret room. Luckily David followed her. The room that they found is the same secret grotto with all the dynamite where Francis and Edward used to spend a lot of their time. While they’re underground, the secret hatch closes and they are trapped. David reveals that he followed Stevie to tell her about the email he got on his fake account from Call Me Charles that has the codicil attached. IT’S REALLY REAL. And it’s a lot of money. He also got an email from his father, threatening him about stealing the flash drives, to which he replies that he destroyed them, so suck it. Classy. But now how do they get out of the secret room? They end up using a couple sticks of dynamite to blow the door open and then Germaine shows up and helps them out.
Once they’re back in the Great House, thawing out, Stevie takes David’s phone and messages someone. After receiving the codicil, Stevie began putting everything together. The codicil was the key. She gathers everyone in Albert Ellingham’s office and begins to explain. People died here, she starts with, and they didn’t die in accidents. She explains that only one person really had motive to kill Hayes and that was Ellie, but Ellie didn’t want to kill him because she got paid and was making her own ridiculous art. She ran because she was accused and ended up dying, which is terrible, but she knew Hayes was up to something, but probably didn’t know what. He probably didn’t even really realize it. She tells everyone about the codicil and how no one involved in the case could get the money, nor could any faculty member of the school. She calls out Call Me Charles for lying about it, but of course he would because people would be all over that if they knew it was real. Since no faculty could claim the money, which is worth about 70 million dollars now, someone else could get it. Hayes, Ellie, Dr. Fenton. Everyone who died. Fenton realized that Alice was at the school. She said it all started when they started work on the art barn. Someone found a trunk during excavation. A trunk that held a body worth a ton of money. Someone who couldn’t gain anything from finding it.
That someone is Call Me Charles. So, he needed someone to claim they found the body and they could split the money. First Hayes, but did he threaten Charles for more money maybe? For whatever reason, he had to die, and Charles set it up by stealing Janelle’s pass and using the dry ice. But Call Me Charles didn’t realize that Ellie actually wrote Hayes’s show, that she would be in on it too, so he trapped her in the tunnels. Another death, another person out of the way. Then Fenton, who knew all about the case, and who knew about the tea tin clue Stevie found. She knew “the kid is there!” So surely she’d take the money for herself. But her nephew, who is now living at the school. Hunter. He’d split the money with Call Me Charles. But what does all this really mean? Why is she rambling about all this stuff? Turns out, she’s just stalling long enough for Security Larry to get there with the wall scanner. And she did a great job. He turns up and they scan the walls in Albert’s office, now Call Me Charles’s office, and they find the body. They have him guarded in one of the other rooms of the house, but don’t notice that he keeps going to the bathroom and that he’s snuck out in one of the secret passageways (COME ON GUYS!). He escaped, but, like Dottie, he took a jump that he couldn’t survive.
Several articles have come out now that everything is wrapped up. Charles was responsible for the recent deaths and now he’s dead, too. Edward King has been blackmailing people and has withdrawn his bid for president. Stevie Bell has solved the Ellingham Affair and found Alice’s body. But wait… DNA tests conclude that the body found in Charles’s office is not related to the Ellinghams… Stevie solved that one, too. She realized that they went out of the country with their best friend and came back with a baby. Probably not theirs, but adoption is okay! She realized that Flora’s eating patterns changed by going through the menus kept on file in the attic and that it seemed she was pregnant. She also found pictures of Flora. And George Marsh. And realized that they were Alice’s real parents. She also realized that George found the body and brought it back to the school. Very nice work, Stevie. But now no one can get the money because Alice’s DNA doesn’t match, even though she really is Alice. She decides that she doesn’t want the money though and won’t fight to share all that she found so she could get it, and decides that it should go to the school when the time is up on the will. Which is nice. You know what else is nice? That she FINALLY SEES A MOOSE as she and her friends are walking around the newly reopened campus.
But it wasn’t a moose at all.