Authors: Terri Reid
A MARY O’REILLY PARANORMAL MYSTERY
“Perhaps you don’tunderstand the connection mothers have with their children,” she replied.
“It’s a bond thatdoesn’t lessen with age or distance.” She placed her hands on her belly. “Andit’s a bond that something as inconsequential as death will never overcome.”
Stolen Dreams – A MaryO’Reilly Paranormal Mystery
Ifeel the same way about friendship!
Thisbook is dedicated to my dear friend, Barbara Carlisle.
Shehas exemplified grace, courage, selflessness, friendship and love in ways thatI will never forget.
Thankyou for being my friend, my mentor and my sister. I will remember you always!
STOLEN DREAMS – A MARY O’REILLYPARANORMAL MYSTERY
Copyright© 2015 by Terri Reid
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights undercopyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or byany means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the abovepublisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imaginationor are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status andtrademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, whichhave been used without permission. The publication/ use of these trademarks isnot authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Thisebookis licensed for yourpersonal enjoyment only. Thisebookmay not be resoldor given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with anotherperson, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with.If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchasedfor your use only, then you should purchase your own copy. Thank you forrespecting the author’s work.
The authorwould like to thank all those who have contributed to the creation of thisbook: Richard Reid, Sarah Powers, Virginia Onines, Denise Carpenter, JulietteWilson, MaureenMarella, Jennifer Bates and HillaryGadd.
She would also like to thank all ofthe wonderful readers who walk with her through Mary and Bradley’s adventuresand encourage her along the way. I hope we continue on this wonderful journeyfor a long time.
The huge, old mansion used to be on the outskirts of town,but throughout the years, the town crept up to it and finally surroundedit. A tall, wrought iron, black fenceencased with ivy was the first barrier between the thriving town and the ancientmansion with its dark windows, slightly overgrown foliage, and ominous, oversized,black shutters lying against the gray slate façade. The second barrier to most of the people inthe community was the rumors that the old house was haunted.
The sleek, black, Mercedes sedan slid to the curb in frontof the house and two men got out of the car and walked to the ornamental,wrought iron gate. Sol Atkinson’s gait was smooth and easy, like hissmile. His blonde hair was perfectlycoiffed and his suntan was mechanically applied on a regular basis. His face was lean, with his cheekbones sethigh and his chin square, giving you the impression of a skull with a thinveneer of humanity stretched over it.
He reached into the pocket of his loosely fitted, expensive,business suit and pulled out the key to the gate’s padlock. Smoothly fitting it into the lock, he turnedit, and the lock easily slid open. “Hurry,Marty,” he urged his companion. “There’s nothing less scary than a couple ofsuits.”
Marty Cannon nervously looked up and down the street, hiswispy thin moustache dancing above his lip andstandingout boldly against his pale, flaccid skin. He ran a nervous hand along his brow, smoothing the thinning strands ofhis comb-over with the sweat beading up on his forehead. An entire head shorter than Sol, he took aquick breath and tried to summon a smile. “Unless the suits are from the government,” hejoked lamely, wheezing with mirth at his own joke.
Sol shook his head and pushed open the gate. “Given thecircumstances, that was not funny, Marty.”
Once they entered the front yard of the mansion, Sol turnedand closed the gate behind them with a solid clang. Then he replaced the lock and clicked itfirmly in place. As Sol strode uptowards the front porch, Marty hung back. His foot on the first step, Sol turned back to his partner. “You stillscared of this place, Marty?” he asked with a sneer.
Embarrassed, Marty shrugged. “It’s just creepy, that’s all,”he replied. “I never liked this place. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
Disgusted, Sol jogged up the remaining steps and unlockedthe front door. “Well, you of all people should know there aren’t any ghostshaunting the property,” he complained. “Which isn’t doing anyof us a lot of good.”
Marty slowly followed him, his gaze scanning the areacautiously. “We should just sell this place,” he remarked. “Just get ourinvestment out of it. I never liked thistown anyway.”
Sol waited until Marty had entered the house and stood inthe front lobby next to him before he replied. “Are you freaking kidding me,Marty?” he exploded. “Let go of the house? You do realize that we don’t have any money to get out of this place,and if we sell it, we will end up owing the banks.”
“But Sol, itain’thaunted likeyou thought,” Marty argued cautiously. It wasn’t a good idea to get Sol tooangry. “We’ve tried everything, séances, Ouija boards, mediums—everything. This place is just an old, empty house.A creepy, old house.”
Sol shook his head, disregarding Marty’s words, and startedup the tall staircase to the second floor. “It just has to seem like a hauntedhouse,” he said. “We’ll keep the crowds coming if it seems like a hauntedhouse. People pay good money to spendthe night in a haunted mansion.”
Marty followed him, shaking his head. “After that lastparanormal research group came through and found nothing, weain’tbeen getting the crowds like we used to,” he pointedout. “People look on the internet for everything. All they have to do is research the house andthey’ll see we’ve been investigated by three different groups. Theyain’tgonnapay top dollar to stay in the state’s most hauntedhouse if itain’tgotnoghosts.”
Sol stopped at the top of the stairs and waited for Marty.“Then all we need is a ghost,” he said.
“We’ve tried that,” Marty sighed. “We tried getting a ghostto come here and, I’ve got to say, that was creepier than anything else we’vedone. ‘Sides, those paranormal researchfolks told us that we shouldn’t be inviting spirits into this house because wedon’t know what kind of entity we’d get. What if we get a demon, Sol?”
“So? A spirit’s a spirit in my opinion,” he retorted. “Aslong as it makes noise and scares the guests, I don’t give a damn where it camefrom. I just want something to bring ussome publicity and some cash.”
Marty shook his head and put his hand on his partner’sshoulder. “Sol, we’ve been at this for three years,” he replied. “The balloonpayment is coming up in three months. Weain’tgot the capital. Wegottalet go of this place before we lose everything.”
Shoving Marty’s arm off his shoulder, Sol paced angrily downthe hallway. “Don’t you get it, Marty?” he growled, his teeth clenched. “I’mgoing to lose everything if this place doesn’t pan out. I sunk everything Iowned into this place. I don’t have anyreserves. I don’t have anything to turnto. This place has to work out.”
Marty leaned one hand on the balustrade at the top of thestaircase and sadly shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sol. I’d do anything to helpyou,” he said sadly. “But this place justain’tgot aghost.”
Sol sighed deeply and turned back to his friend, nodding hishead slowly. “Thank you, Marty,” he replied, slowly coming back down the hallto where Marty was standing. “I thought you might say that.”
Shaking his head with confusion, Marty replied, “What did Isay?”
“That you’d do anything to help,” Sol replied, his eyesmeeting his companion’s.
Aicy tremor of fear swept throughMarty’s body as he saw the cold, calculating look in Sol’s eyes. He lifted hishands defensively. “No, Sol, no,” he cried even as he felt the power of Sol’sbody knock him backwards and down the stairs.
A few moments later, Sol stood at the top of the staircase,looking down at the broken, lifeless body of his business partner sprawledunnaturally on the black and white, ceramic tiled, lobby floor. He leanedagainst the same balustrade that only moments before had been held by Marty andnodded. “And now we have a ghost.”
“Mary, what are you going to be for Halloween?” Clarissaasked as Mary slowly climbed down the stairs.
Pushing her hair away from her sleepy face, Mary yawned andsighed. “Just put me in orange sweat pants and a sweatshirt and I can go as awalking pumpkin,” she muttered.
“What?” Clarissa asked.
Chuckling, Bradley met Mary at the bottom of the stairs andhanded her a cup of herbal tea. “You are extremely beautiful and sexy,” hesaid, placing a kiss on her cheek. Then he turned to Clarissa. “I think sheshould go as a princess. What do you think?”
Clarissa studied her stepmother for a moment, cocking herhead to the side and contemplating her father’s comment. “If Mary goes as SnowWhite, then maybe baby Mikey can be one of the dwarves.”
Nearly spitting out the sip of tea she’d just taken, Maryswallowed quickly and laughed. “I think that would be perfect,” she said,picturing a dwarf costume on her protruding belly. “Or I could be a snowman andbaby Mikey can be the middle layer.”
“That would be cool, too,” Clarissa said, excited about thewhole new classification of costumes. “Or you could be a haunted house andMikey could be a ghost coming out of the door.”
“A house,” Mary muttered. “Yes, that’s about how big Ifeel.”
“I think we should stop thinking about costumes,” Bradleysuggested, worrying that this conversation could take an ugly turn at anymoment.
“Or you could be aHeffalumpfromWinnie-the-Pooh!” Clarissa exclaimed.
Ugly turn reached,Bradley thought, closing his eyes for a moment,thenpeeking at Mary.
Her lips were turned down in a pout and she was staring ather belly where she was resting her tea cup. She slowly lifted her head and, with a glimmer of tears in her eyes,sniffed audibly. “I look like aHeffalump?” sheasked.
Wrapping his arms around her, Bradley brought her into hisembrace. “No, sweetheart,” he said. “You look perfect.Beautiful.And, actually, more like Winnie-the-Pooh than aHeffalump.”
She softly punched his arm. “Shut up,” she said, laughingsoftly. “You’re not helping.”
Suddenly baby Mikey made his presence known by kickingBradley and causing him to jump back. “Whoa,” Bradley said. “He’s got quite akick there.”
“Oh, really?”Mary askedsarcastically. “I hadn’t really noticed.”
She put the teacup down and placed her hands over her belly.“Yes, Mikey, you know what you would like to be for Halloween?” she asked,bending her head forward and pretending to listen. After a moment, she lookedup and smiled at Bradley and Clarissa. “Well, of course, that makes perfectsense. Mikey wants to be a Ninja.”
Clarissa hopped off her chair, grabbing her backpack as she walkedtowards the front door, her eyes wide with enthusiasm. “That would be great,”she agreed. “And, know what? You could go as a Teenaged—”
Bradley placed his hand strategically over Clarissa’s mouthand shook his head. “No, sweetie, we don’t even want to go there,” he said witha grin.
Clarissa giggled and then walked over to Mary to give her ahug. “Mrs. Shepard, Macy’s mom, says she hates you because from the back youdon’t even look pregnant,” Clarissa said. Then she bent and pressed a kiss onMary’s belly. “Bye, Mikey, see you after school.”
“Thank you,” Mary said, bending over and kissing Clarissa.“That was just what I needed to hear. Have a wonderful day.”
“You, too,” Clarissa called, hurrying to the door. “Bye,Dad.”
“Bye, sweetie,” he called back and then he turned to Mary.“So, which one is Mrs. Shepard?”
“The bleached blonde who always looks like she’s just comefrom the gym when she picks up her kids,” Mary replied with a sweet smile.
“Ah, the spandex queen.”
An eyebrow rose over Mary’s right eye. “So, you noticed,”she said.
Bradley shook his head. “No. No, I didn’t notice at all.That’s what other people call her,” he replied with a smile and then, changingthe subject, asked, “So, what do you want for breakfast?”
“What are my choices?” she asked.
“Eggs, bacon, pancakes, frozen waffles, oatmeal, toast,yogurt, cereal and fruit,” he replied.
“Okay, sounds good,” she replied walking past him towardsthe kitchen so she could hide her smile.
“All of it?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to hide hissurprise.
Slipping onto a stool next to the counter, she turned andgrinned at him. “No, although I feel hungry enough to eat it all,” sheadmitted. “I’ll just have a protein shake with yogurt, and maybe some wholegrain toast.”
“That’s all?” he replied, coming up beside her. “Is thatenough?”
Feeling grateful for his concern, she wrapped her armsaround his waist and hugged him. “Yes, it’s enough,” she said. “But thanks forworrying.”
He placed his head down on the top of hers and held her,loving the way she still fit in his embrace.
“Good morning you two lovebirds,” Mike said, appearing nextto them, his translucent body lingering in the doorway. “How did you sleep?”
“I had some crazy dreams,” she replied.
“You could say that again,” Mike said.
Bradley, still holding Mary in his arms, nodded, “Yeah, Iwoke up once when you were thrashing around,” he said. “Then you got out ofbed.”
She pulled back. “I got out of bed?” she asked.“To go to the bathroom?”
Mike shook his head. “No, you had some other things on yourmind.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Do you want to show her, or shall I?” Bradley asked.
“Show me what?”
“Instead of going to the bathroom, you wandered into thehallway and headed downstairs,” Mike said. “So we both decided to follow you.”
“Downstairs?” Mary asked, shocked. “I don’t remember goingdownstairs.”
“I think you were sleep walking,” Bradley said. “You keptmurmuring something about someone taking your baby and how you had to find it.”
“Where was I looking?” she asked.
“Follow me,” Mike replied, floating into the living room.
Bradley took Mary’s hand, helped her off the stool and guidedher back to the living room. Then Mike pushed aside a rug near thefireplace. There were several deepgouges in the wood floor.
“I did that?” sheasked, astonished.
Nodding, Bradley picked up the poker from the fireplace set.“You were using this as a shovel,” he said. “You were pretty determined to getthrough the floor.”
“Wow,” she said, leaning against the fireplace, her fingersto her temples. “I seem to remember having that dream again, when I’m walkingdown those long corridors, searching for my baby. And I remember the door that always shrinkswas on the floor this time.” She pausedand looked over at the scarred floor and shook her head. “And I rememberpicking up a fire ax and heaving it at the floor to break the door down.”
She stopped and turned to Bradley, her eyes widening inunderstanding. “Then you were in my dream,” she said. “Talking to me andwalking me back down the hallway.”
“Yeah, well, I had to save the floor,” he said with a smile.“I just spoke softly and calmly, so you didn’t wake up and I led you backupstairs.”
“I don’t ever remember sleepwalking and never sleep digging,”she replied, shaking her head.
“Yeah, I don’t remember you doing anything like thiseither,” Mike agreed. “Maybe’s it’s a pregnancy thing.”
“Well, we’re going to have to do something about this,”Bradley said, pointing down at the damaged floor.”
“I’ll just call Casey,” she replied absently.
“Who?”Bradley asked, confused.
“Casey Ditsworth,” she explained “The cute, wood flooringguy.”
“Excuse me?” Bradley asked, his eyebrowsraised.
Mike chuckled. “Now you’re in for it,” he muttered.
Mary grinned. “I mean the highly proficient, and reasonably priced,wood flooring professional. Besides, that’s just what other people call him.”
“What I meant,” Bradley said, “is we need to figure outwhat’s causing these dreams.”
Mary folded her arms protectively around her belly.“How?”
Bradley shook his head. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well, the first thing we need to consider is that maybethis dream isn’t about my namesake,” Mike said.
“Why? What makes youthink that?” she asked.
“Because last night, when you were going to town on thefloor, you said you were trying to find your little girl,” Bradley replied.Chapter Two
Mary sat back in her chair and stared at the computerscreen. She had been doing research allmorning, looking back at the archives from the local newspaper, hoping to findsomething about a missing baby girl. Butso far, nothing fit with her dreams. Allshe had was a sore back and the beginnings of a headache.
The bell over the door rang and Mary looked up to see Rosieand Stanley entering her office. “Hi, how are you two doing?” she asked.
“Well, better than you from the looks of it,” Stanley said.“You feelinglabor pains?”
“No, Stanley,” she said with a smile. “The baby is not duefor a few months. I just have a headache.”
Rosie walked past her to the little refrigerator in theoffice and pulled out a bottle of water. Walking back, she opened the bottle and handed it to Mary. “How’s yourwater intake been today?” Rosie asked.
Mary sighed. “Not good,” she admitted.
“Drink.Then we can talk,” Rosie ordered.
Mary obediently raised the bottle to her lips and swallowedhalf a bottle before she put it down on her desk. “Thanks, Rosie,” she said. “Ineeded that.”
“So what’s your problem?” Rosie asked.
“I’ve been having a reoccurring dream for several months,”Mary explained. “I’m trapped in what seems to be an old house. There are narrow, long hallways and heavy,wooden doors all around me. And someonehas taken my baby from me. I keephearing a baby cry and I keep running through the house trying to find thebaby, but the doors are locked. In thelast few seconds of the dream, I am trying to open a door that’s shrinking, butI know my baby’s on the other side.”
“Sounds terrifying,” Rosie said. “Do you ever find thebaby?”
Mary shook her head. “No, I usually just wake up in my bed,still screaming for the baby.”
“Usually?”Stanley asked, cockinghis head. “So, what’s happened that changed things?”
“Well, last night I actually started to sleepwalk in themiddle of the dream,” she said. “Bradley found me downstairs taking a fireplacepoker to the wooden floor. I guess I thought it was the door.”
“Oh, well, Casey can fix that,” Rosie said casually.
“Who’s Casey?” Stanley asked.
“He’s that cute, flooring guy,” Rosie and Mary answered atthe same time.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about him,” Stanley replied.
“You have?” Rosie asked.
“Sure, my daughter-in-law talks about him all the time,” hesaid.“Sounds like he has a fan club.”
Mary laughed. “Don’t tell Bradley about it,” she said. “OrI’ll have to hear about the Spandex Queen fan club.”
“Mrs. Shepard?” Stanley asked.
Rosie turned and stared at him. “How did you know abouther?”
Stanley glanced to the side and cleared his throat. “Justheard about her, I guess,” Stanley said, coughing slightly.
“Stanley Wagner,” Rosie said, winking at Mary. “I do believeyou are blushing.”
“Dagnabbit!Iain’tdoing no such thing, woman,” he growled.“Now, let’s get back to talking about something sensible. So, Mary, what areyou going to do about your dream?”
“Do?” Mary asked, biting back a laugh. “What am I supposedto do?”
“Come on, girly,ain’tyou heardabout lucid dreaming?” Stanley asked. “I can’t be the only one who’s educatedabout this.”
“Lucid dreaming?”Mary asked.
“It’s when you go into your dream and take control,” Stanleysaid.
“How do you do that?” Rosie asked.
Stanley shrugged. “Danged if I know,” he said. “I just readabout it in one of the magazines at the barber shop.”
“The barber shop?”Mary repeatedskeptically.“Really?That’s where you get youreducated information? Thebarber shop?”
“Hey, it was one of those fancy, psychology magazines,” heexplained. “Old Bert likes to think he’s got educated clientele.”
“Why were you reading psychology magazines?” Rosie asked.
Looking a little sheepish, Stanley shrugged. “Well, truth beknown, it was because all the other magazines were taken.”
Mary laughed. “Well, actually I’m glad they were,” she saidthoughtfully. “I think you might have sent me in the right direction, and I betI know who will be able to tell me even more about lucid dreaming.”Chapter Three
“Lucid dreaming?Girl, what are youup to now?” Dr. Gracie Williams, Psychologist for the Chicago Police Departmentasked when Mary called her.
“I’ve had a reoccurring nightmare,” Mary explained, sittingback in her chair and cradling the phone against her cheek and shoulder whileshe picked up a notepad. “And I have a feeling that if I could just takecontrol while I’m dreaming, I could find out what’s causing it.”
“You do realize that sometimes we have nightmares becauseour conscious doesn’t want to deal with something, so it gets pushed into oursubconscious,” Gracie warned. “Sometimes we aren’t emotionally ready to facethose issues.”
“Well, it’s about someone taking a baby away from me,” Marysaid. “So if it’s a subconscious fear, I’d rather deal with it now, beforeMikey is born.”
There was a small pause in the conversation. Then Gracie spoke again. “You would have named that baby Gracie if youwere going to have a girl, right?” Gracie teased.
“Oh, yes,” Mary replied, nodding into the phone. “That wasour first choice.”
The soft chuckle on the other end made Mary smile. “Okay,here’s what you can try,” Gracie said. “But it might take some practice. Beforeyou fall asleep you go through the scenario you want to have happen in yourmind. You tell yourself you are incontrol. Remind yourself that this isonly a dream. Keep repeating those thoughts. Then keep replaying the scene the way you want it to go as you fallasleep. That should be the last thing onyour mind.”
“Okay, I’m in charge of my dream, right?” Mary asked.
“Yes you are,” Gracie said. “But you have to believe it. Ifyou are locked in a room in your dream, you just tell yourself there’s a key inyour pocket. Then you reach in yourpocket for the key and get yourself out. It’s your dream. You get to write the script.”
“This is so cool,” Mary said. “I never knew I had so muchpower.”
“That’s the problem with most of us, sugar,” Gracie said. “Ifpeople would just believe in their own abilities and be courageous enough toput them to the test, there’d be a whole lot more happy people out there.”
“Thank you, Gracie,” Mary said.
“Any time, sugar,” she replied. “You give that hunky man ofyours a kiss from me and give your baby girl a hug from Auntie Gracie.”
“I will,” Mary said with a smile.
“And when are you going to get your little pregnant self toChicago so I can see how cute you look?” Gracie asked.
“Soon.I promise,” Mary said.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Gracie said. “Let me know how yourlucid dreaming works out, okay? And be patient with yourself. This stuff takesa little time.”
“I will,” Mary said. “I’m going to try it out tonight.Thanks again.”
Mary hung up the phone and sat back in her chair, replayingthe dream in her mind and deciding how she wanted it to end. There were several sequences that were alwaysthe same every time she had the dream. That’s where she could take more control, in the areas that were familiar.
She was startled from her musing when the bell over her doorrang again. She looked up to see Bradleywalking in with a couple of bags from the local deli.
“Sorry. It looks like I interrupted you,” he said, holdingup the bags. “I brought lunch.”
She shook her head to clear it. “No, I was just planningsome things out,” she said. “But I’ll always stop for food.”
He sat on the chair in front of her desk and placed thewhite paper sack in front of her. “So, what are you planning?” he asked.
Pulling out astyrofoamcup of soupand a half sandwich, she arranged her food in front of her before she answered.“I’m planning what I’m going to do in my dreams,” she said, lifting thesandwich up and taking a bite.
Bradley paused, his sandwich halfway to his mouth. “Planningyour dreams?” he asked. “Can you do that?”
Still chewing, Mary shrugged and nodded. “I’m going to try,”she finally said. “Gracie thought I could do it.”
Bradley took a bite of his sandwich and chewed for a fewmoments, contemplating what Mary had said. “So, is this Gracie’s idea?” heasked before biting again.
Mary shook her head. “No, it was actually Stanley’s idea,”she said.
His mouth full, Bradley could only raise his eyebrows toindicate his concern.
Laughing, Mary shook her head. “He read about it in amagazine at the barber shop,” shesaid,a twinkle inher eye. “So, it must be a good idea.”
Choking back the bite of sandwich, Bradley cleared histhroat. “A barber shop magazine?” he asked. “Well, good thing there wasn’t amedical journal on the table; he might just want to volunteer to deliver thebaby.”
Chuckling, Mary pulled her pickle spear out of the wax paperand pointed it in Bradley’s direction. “It is now your official job to makesure there are no medical journals at the barber shop,” she said.
“So, Stanley came up with the idea,” Bradley said. “AndGracie actually agrees?”
“Well, she told me how to try and gain control of mydreams,” she replied. “I never considered that since they were my dreams, Icould be in control.”
“What’s your plan?” heasked.
“Since I said the baby was a girl last night,” she said,“this must be someone else’s nightmare and I’m just in there with them. I need to look around and discover whosedream I’m in and figure out why I’m there.”
“Okay, you look around inside the dream. I’ll stay awake andprotect you and the wood floor outside your dream,” he said matter-of-factly.
Mary chuckled. “How did I get so lucky?” she murmured.
“Hey, I’m just protecting my interests,” he said.
“Your interests?” she asked, confused.
“Yeah, I asked around the station about this Casey fellow,”he said. “If one more woman calls him the cute flooring guy, we’re putting incarpet.”
About an hour after lunch, Mary’s research on lucid dreamingwas interrupted by her cell phone ringing. After quickly glancing at the caller ID, she had a smile on her face asshe answered. “Hi, Jerry, what’s up?” she asked.
Jerry Wiley was the editor-in-chief of the FreeportRepublic, the town’s newspaper. Jerryhad actually been involved in one of the first murder mysteries Mary had solvedin town, and they had remained friends ever since.
“Hey, Mary, I need a Halloween feature,” Jerry replied.
“Well, good for you,” Mary said, her smile widening. “I hopeyou find one.”
“I just did,” he said. “You’re it.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m not a Halloween feature. I take mywork very seriously.”
“Yeah, I know that,” he replied. “And I’m, you know, notlooking to make light of your work. I just think it would be interesting forfolks to know about what you do. Itcould be good for business.”
Mary shook her head. “I don’t need any help with mybusiness,” she replied. “But, hey, thanks for the offer.”
She was ready to disconnect the call when Jerry added. “Andit might help someone who’s been searching for someone like you.”
She paused for a moment and Jerry moved in for thekill. “You know, some poor, little widowwho everyone is saying is crazy because she thinks she hears her husband’svoice,” he said. “Or a grieving parent who needs reassurance that there is lifebeyond this one. Mary, this could be a very important story.”
She sighed and closed her eyes.This could be good, she thought,or really, really bad.
“When do you want to run the story?” she asked.
She could hear the glee in Jerry’s voice when he replied.“Actually, I wanted to send someone over this afternoon,” he said, “and run itin tomorrow’s paper.”
“Wait. What?” she answered.“Tomorrow’spaper? What’s really going onJerry?”
There was a long pause and finally Jerry spoke. “Okay, thescheduled feature was pulled at the last moment,” he said. “So, I’m using youfor fill.”
“Oh, so much for the widows and grieving parents,” shereplied sarcastically.
“Well, they’re still out there,” he said. “I just didn’tcare about them as much as I do now.”
“Now that your other story died,” she inserted.
“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “Hey, I’m an editor. I have to be a heartless, cruel bastard. It’spart of the job description.”
“What was the pulled story?” she asked.
“We were going to run a feature on that old, haunted mansionon the edge of town,” he said. “But I got the feeling the paper was being usedas a marketing tool for a sketchy business.”
“So someone wanted to use you, instead of you using them?”Mary asked.
Jerry chuckled. “Yeah, but at least I’m being honest aboutit,” he said. “Besides, there’s something about that whole ghosts-for-salebusiness that just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Mary nodded. “Yeah, me too,” she replied.“Unless,of course, they want to be there.Like Anna.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, andMary grinned as she pictured Jerry slowly glancing around the newsroom. Anna Paxton had been the paper’s powerful,society reporter, and she and Jerry had enjoyed years of mutualmalevolence. And when she died at herdesk, she had decided one lifetime of ill will was not enough. So, she made a point of haunting thenewsroom, especially while Jerry was there alone.
“That wasn’t nice, Mary,” he replied slowly.
She chuckled. “It wasn’t meant to be, Jerry,” she said.
“Okay, I guess I deserved it,” he said. “When can I send thereporter over?”
Mary looked out her office window and saw one of the young,cub reporters walking briskly down Main Street towards her office. “You werepretty sure of yourself,” she said acerbically.
“Damn, she’s already there?” he asked.
“She’s halfway down the block,” Mary replied.
“So, um, the reporter will be there anytime, if that’s goodwith you,” Jerry said nonchalantly.
Mary had to chuckle. “Yes, as a matter of fact, that will befine,” she said.
“Hey, Mary,” Jerry said.
“Thanks. And I mean it,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “And tell Anna I said hello nexttime you, um, see her.”
“Not funny, O’Reilly,” Jerry replied, his voice dropping.“Not funny at all.”Chapter Five
After the hour long interview, Mary decided that she deservedto take the rest of the afternoon off and closed up her office for theday. She had just locked the door andwas turning toward her car when Stanley walked up to her. “You leaving already,girlie?” he asked. “You feelingokay?”
Mary nodded. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said. “Clarissa and I haveto do some Halloween costume shopping this evening, so I thought I’d get homeearly and get dinner ready.”
“Ain’tyou got old sheets?”Stanley asked. “Just cut a couple of holes in the middle and she can go as aghost.”
Mary shook her head. “Stanley, Halloween is not what it usedto be,” she explained, “especially for girls in grammar school. There’s a lot of peer pressure to beaccepted.”
“Best shelearnto ignore peerpressure now, when she’s young,” he replied. “If they don’t like you becauseyou don’t have the right costume, they were never your friends in the firstplace.”
Mary sighed and nodded. “I agree with you in principle, andin the important things I’m willing to draw the line,” she said. “But there aresome things, like costumes or backpacks or even some clothingstyles, thatare important to let her have so she can beaccepted by her peers. If a cool costume now can help her build her self-esteemin grammar school, then she will be able to walk away from more difficultchoices later in life.”
“Someday you’re not going to be able to give her what shewants,” he warned.
“Yes,” she agreed. “And I hope that when that time comes, wehave a strong enough relationship that she’ll understand that I’m on her sideand want what’s best for her.”
Stanley folded his arms across his chest and rocked back onhis heels, thinking about her words for a moment. Finally, he said, “Keds.”
“I’m sorry?” Mary asked.
“Keds,” he repeated. “I wantedsomeKedsback when I was a boy. They were the sneakers all the boys wanted andI wanted them real bad. My dad said he wasn’t going to pay the extra money forsome fancy sneakers when the regular sneakers at the shoe store would do thejob.”
“Did your mom change his mind?” Mary asked.
Stanley slowly shook his head. “No, my dad was pretty set inhis ways about such things,” he said wistfully. “But I never forgot thoseKeds.”
He looked up at her and smiled. “You take her shopping forthe costume she wants,” he said. “Andiffenyou needa little extra for it, you come see me. Sometimes a child just has to get whatthey want.”
Mary leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thankyou, Stanley,” she said. “I’ll remember that.”
She turned to the curb and started towards her car.
“When yougonnaturn that thingin?” Stanley asked.
Mary looked down at her beloved Roadster and shook her head.“Soon,” she admitted. “I can barely fit behind the seat anymore. And I know we really need something bigger.”
Stanley chuckled. “Don’t worry, missy,” he replied. “You cango back to a fancy car once you’ve finished paying for their college.”
She turned towards him and stuck out her tongue. “Thanks alot, Stanley,” she complained.
Still laughing, he turned and walked back towards his store.“Anytime, girlie, anytime.”Chapter Six
The seasonal Halloween store was filled with shopperslooking for the perfect costume or porch decoration to frighten unsuspectingtrick-or-treaters. Bradley walked overto a life-sized, animatronic zombie that would bring a giant rat to its face,thenpull it away, leaving blood and gore displayed aroundits mouth. “Cool,” Bradley said, bendingto lift up the price tag.
“Gross,” Mary exclaimed. “That is disgusting.”
He grinned and lifted his eyebrows in delight. “Yeah, it is,isn’t it?
She laughed and shook her head. “No, we are not going tohave a zombie on our front porch,” she replied. “It will frighten the kids.”
“Okay, not on the porch, but how about next to it?” hesuggested.“Hiding next to the bushes and then coming to lifewhen they get near?”
“Bradley, we don’t want children screaming and running fortheir lives from our home,” she said.
“But what it we get the good chocolate candy for the trick-or-treaters?”he coaxed. “If we scare them, we don’t have to share.”
“Bradley,” she said discouragingly, although she had toadmit she was tempted.
“Just think of the Brennan boys’ reactions,” he added.
She shook her head. “They would want to take it home and putit in their bedroom,” she replied. “And Katie would never speak to us again.”
Bradley wandered to the next display, a coffin that openedup on its own with a vampire that peered out of it. “How about this one?” heasked.
Sighing, she shook her head and then laughed. “I’ll tell youwhat,” she said. “I’ll go help Clarissa pick out a princess costume, and youpick out whatever you want to decorate the front porch.”
His smile widened.“Really?”
“Within reason,” she added, one eyebrow lifted in hisdirection.
He grinned and nodded. “Of course, within reason,” heagreed. “Cool.”
“What is it that turns grown men into children on Halloween?”she wondered aloud.
“We never grow up,” Mike said as he appeared next to her.“We just pretend during most of the year, but holidays like Halloween andChristmas are just too much for us to handle. We simply have to revert.”
Mary smiled. “I’m surprised you aren’t next to Bradley andthe rat-eating zombie.”
Mike’s eyes widened. “They have a rat-eating zombie?” heasked, looking around the store and finally spying Bradley. “Um, let me know ifyou need me, okay? I’m going to helpBradley.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Mary shook her head and walked overto where Rosie and Clarissa were deciding which of the popular princesscostumes would look best on the little girl. “I do like this one,” Rosie said,picking up a costume of ice blue taffeta. “And this tiara would look perfect inyour hair.”
“I like it, too,” Clarissa said, deciding between that oneand the golden one she held in her hand. “But this one’s pretty, too. And I like the songs better from this one.”
Mary placed her hand on Clarissa’s head and gently strokedher hair. “Sweetheart, it’s your choice,” she said. “Whichever one will makeyou happy.”
“Which onedoyou like the best?”Clarissa asked Mary.
Mary sat down on the floor in front of Clarissa and took hertime studying each costume and accessory, and then finally turned to Clarissa.“Well, they are both beautiful,” she agreed. “And I think you would look lovelyin either one.” She pointed to the blue one. “This one is more popular becauseit’s newer, so lots of girls will probably be wearing it.” Then she pointed to the gold one. “This oneis from an older story, and I agree with you that I like the songs better fromit, too. But, some girls won’t rememberwho she is, so you’ll have to remind them.”
With Rosie’s help, Mary stood up and shrugged. “You have todecide on a classic look or the popular one,” she said.
Clarissa looked back and forth one more time and finallypicked the blue one. “I want to be like the other girls,” she said.
Mary nodded. “Then that one is the perfect choice,” shesaid. “Make sure you get the accessories, too. And then we can find out whatyour father has picked out.”
“But how about you?”Clarissaasked. “We should look for your costume.”
“Well, I don’t think we’re going to find a costume here thatwill suit me,” Mary replied.
“Oh, don’t worry about a thing,” Rosie said. “I have acostume that will be perfect for you.”
“Really?”Clarissa asked, her eyesshining. “What is it?”
Rosie shook her head.“Oh, no.It’sa secret and you won’t get to see it until Halloween,” she replied with asmile. “It will be Mary’s trick.”
Mary glanced at Rosie and whispered, “I refuse to go as afruit, vegetable or anything that resembles an egg.”
Laughing, Rosie put her arm around Mary. “As if I would dothat to you,” she said. “No, my dear, you are going to be very glamorous.”
Mary looked down at her protruding belly and shook her head.“I don’t know what kind of magic you have,” she said. “But I will be amazed ifyou can make this body glamorous.”Chapter Seven
The room was dark, and the white noise generator wasemitting soft, soothing sounds. Mary hadfinished a cup of herbal tea blended specifically for inducing a good night’ssleepand was now tucked securely into bed. She pounded her pillow a couple of times andthen sunk into it, breathing in the lavender essential oils she had sprayed onher pillow case.
“Wow, I didn’t realize there were so many things you had todo to just go to sleep,” Bradley commented as he sat up against the headboardand watched her.
“Well, I’m trying the lucid dreaming tonight, so I want tobe completely relaxed,” she said.
He wagged his eyebrows suggestively at her. “I have somesuggestions about helping you relax,” he said, sliding under the covers andwrapping his arms around her.
She rolled over so she was facing him, slipped her armsaround his neck, snuggled close and yawned. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologizedearnestly. “Really, it’s not you. I guess all this other stuff really works.”
He nuzzled the side of her neck. “Want me to see if I cancounteract the other stuff?” he whispered, tracing kisses down her neck andalong her collarbone.
She moaned softly, nodded, and then yawned again. “Yes,” shesaid in the middle of another yawn. “But, if you don’t mind, I’m just going toclose my eyes. I just can’t seem to keep them open.”
“Challenge accepted,” he murmured, softly stroking her backas he continued to trail kisses along her jawbone and whispered in her ear.“You are so beautiful. Your skin is so soft and silky. I love to run my handsalongyour…”
He stopped kissing her, sat up a little in the bed andlooked down on his wife. Her eyes wereclosed. Her mouth was slightly open, and she was breathing rhythmically andsnoring softly. “Challenge lost,” hechuckled softly, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. Helayedback on hispillow,pulled her gently into his armsand held her. “Okay, Mary, go on your dream journey and I’ll take care ofthings here,” he whispered.
She smiled in her sleep and snuggled a little closer to him.
Mary looked all aroundthe old building she was walking through. She was surprised she could think analytically in her sleep. “Okay,let’s test some things out,” she thought.
She walked up to oneof the doors in the hall and placed her hand on the old, crystal doorknob andtried to turn it. But the doorknobdidn’t budge. She clasped the doorknobtighter, but all she felt was her own hand. “Come on,” she urged and triedagain. She started to feel the facets of crystal in her palm, but the feelingwas quickly lost.
“Okay, maybe this istoo advanced for me,” she decided and continued down the dark hallway.
A dark shadow whiskedpast her on her left side and she quickly turned towards it. “Wait,” shecalled, breaking into a run.
The shadow darted downa corridor on the other side; she caught a glimpse of it from the corner of hereye. Her heart leapt and she jumped around the other way. “Okay, calm down,”she told herself, purposely taking deep, calming breaths. “You’re reacting, notbeing in control.”
Looking around, sherealized the corridor ahead of her looked familiar. “Are you the corridor of mydreams?” she joked and chuckled to herself, calming her pounding heart evenfurther. Stepping forward, she noticed that her movements were slow andlethargic. “What’s going on?” she asked as she tried to force her body to speedup her movements. She concentrated on her movements, but it didn’t help. Shewas moving like she was walking through a vat of molasses.
“Okay, Gracie,” shesaid aloud. “How am I supposed to deal with this?”
“Girl, you areoverthinking things.” Gracie’s voicestartled her, and Mary jumped when she found Gracie standing next to her.
“How did you gethere?” Mary asked.
“Didn’t I tell you? Thisis your dream,” Gracie said shaking her head. “You’re in charge. You wanted meto be here, so here I am.”
“How cool is that?”Mary said.
“Yeah, but you betternot make me lose any of my sleep,” Gracie added, folding her arms across herchest and raising her eyebrows slightly. “You know how I can be when I’mcranky.”
Mary grinned at herfriend. “I’ll get you back as soon as I can,” she said. “So, what am I doingwrong?”
“When you walk downthe street and you want to walk faster, what do you do?” Gracie asked.
Mary shook her head.“I’m sorry?” she asked.
“Are you going to makeme repeat everything I ask?” her friend demanded.
“No, just this part,”Mary replied.
“When you walk downthe street and you want to walk faster, what do you do?” she repeated.
Mary thought about itfor a moment and then shrugged. “I don’t know. I just walk faster,” she said.“I don’t really think about it.”
Gracie smiled andnodded slowly. “Exactly,” she said. “Good night, Mary.”
“Wait! What?” Marycalled after Gracie’s disappearing form. “I don’t think I understand.”
Staring at the spotthat used to be her friend, Mary shook her head and threw her hands up in theair. “I wasn’t ready for you to go,” she shouted. “I really didn’t understandthe answer.”
She turned and lookeddown the passageway. “I’m really getting tired of this dream,” she said aloud,and then she hurried down the corridor. After a few steps, she stopped and looked down at her feet. “I’m goingfast,” she said in awe and nodded slowly. “And I wasn’t thinking about it. I was just doing it. Brilliant.”
She continued down thecorridor and spotted the doorway that shrunk when she encountered it. She placed a hand on the doorknob and pulled.But nothing happened. She twisted it andpulled again.Nothing again. “I’m over-thinking it,” she decided, so shestepped away from the door, looked around the corridor and started whistlingnonchalantly. Then she quickly turnedback, grabbed the door knob and twisted.Still nothing.
“This not thinking isa lot harder than it appears,” she said.
Then she heard thesound of a child’s cry coming from the other side of the door and she forgotall about lucid dreaming. She had tosave the child. She grabbed hold of thedoorknob with both hands, bracing one foot on the wall alongside the door, andtugged with all her might. The baby continued to scream and Mary pounded on thedoor. “Let me in,” she cried.
The door started toget smaller and she frantically kicked and pounded to try and get inside.“Please, please!” she screamed. “Let me in. She needs me.”
Mary woke up with a start and gulped in air, her bodyshaking. “It’s all right, sweetheart,” Bradley’s soothing voice whispered intoher ear. “You’re safe. I’m here. Nothingcan hurt you.”
She inhaled another ragged breath and cuddled closer to him.“I didn’t quite master lucid dreaming,” she confessed. “And I’m a little teedoff at Gracie for her attitude.”
Bradley lifted his head and looked down at her. “Gracie?” heasked.
“Yeah,” she replied, yawning once again as her exhaustionset in. “Just a little bit of advice. Don’t interrupt her when she’s sleeping.”
She closed her eyes and went back to sleep, leaving aslightly confused Bradley looking down on her. Finally, he shrugged, bent overand kissed her lips. “Pleasant dreams, sweetheart,” he said, laying his head onhis pillow and holding her close to his heart.
“Mary, why didn’t you tell me the paper was going to do astory about you?” Bradley asked the next morning as he came in the front doorwith the paper in his hand.
“Oh, I forgot,” she replied as she put together a sandwichfor Clarissa’s lunch. “Jerry called yesterday afternoon with a reporterenroute and called in a favor. And then we kind of gotcrazy at the Halloween store.”
He looked up from the paper and smiled. “Halloween is goingto be great,” he said. Then he returned back to scanning the front page. “Didyou know it was going to be a front page story? Above the fold?”
She put down the knife and walked over to him. “No. Jerrysaid that it was going to be a feature story,” she replied. “I figured it wouldbe hidden somewhere in the lifestyle section.”
She peeked over his shoulder, shocked and a little dismayedto find her picture staring back at her. “I look huge!” she exclaimed. “Whydidn’t you tell me I look like a walking blimp?”
He leaned over and kissed her. “Because you don’t look likea walking blimp,” he said. “You look adorable and pregnant. Besides, I can’t get past your sexy smile.”
Mollified slightly, she looked closer. “You think my smileis sexy?” she asked off-handedly.
He dropped the paper, wrapped his arms around her andbrought her close. “I think everything about you is sexy,” he murmured beforebringing her even closer and crushing her lips with his. “And if Clarissaweren’t going to be coming down the stairs in the next minute or two, I’d bringyou upstairs and put some action behind those words.”
Smiling and slightly out of breath, she reached up andplaced a soft kiss on his lips. “You sure know how to sweet-talk a girl,” shereplied with a chuckle.
“Onlymygirl,” hesaid, kissing her once again before letting her go.
“When you two are done making out, can we have aconversation here?” Mike asked, appearing next to them.
Bradley pulled Mary back into his arms and shook hishead. “No. I just decided that makingout with my wife is far more interesting than having an early morningconversation with you.”
“Yeah, that would be cute and all,” Mike replied, his toneflat, “but we’ve got some trouble.”
“Trouble?”Bradley asked, releasinghis hold on Mary and turning to Mike. “What do you mean?”
“Have you looked at the article?” Mike asked, turning toMary. “Did you read what that reporter wrote about you?”
“No, we just got the paper,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, how can I put this?” he mused. “There’s a shift inthe force this morning. You are on theminds of a lot of desperate people.”
“What?” Bradley asked, scooping up the paper. “Why?”
He scanned the print and shook his head. “Mary, did you tellthe reporter that ghosts are drawn to you wherever you go?” he asked. “And thatyou can communicate with anyone who has died?”
Shaking her head, Mary took the paper from Bradley to readit herself. “No, of course not,” she replied. “But she didn’t just quote fromme. She went on an internet forum that discussesmy work.” She looked up at Bradley.“There’s an internet forum that discusses my work?”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, you’re pretty popular with theparanormal researchers,” he said. “Not only have you had interaction withspirits, you’ve had witnesses who can verify your contacts with them. They are pretty excited about that.”
“But I had no idea Jerry was going to…” she began.
“Turn the article about you into some salacious,over-the-top, controversial, hyped-up report?” Bradley asked.
She sighed. “Yeah, I should have known better,” shesaid. Then she turned to Mike. “So, whatdo I do next?”
“Lay low for a couple of days,” Mike advised. “This shouldblow over in a week or so.”
He looked at Bradley for reassurance and Bradley shook hishead. “Not in this town,” he said. “If she goes into hiding, it will onlyconfirm the paper’s side of things. Sheneeds to go out there, be seen and laugh it off.”
“But, I can’t really laugh it off,” she inserted. “Eventhough I didn’t say this, most of it is true.”
“The problem is,” Mike said, “it’s taken out ofcontext. You can only make contact withspirits who want help. You’re not outthere having séances to attract spirits to you. That’s the last thing you would be asked to do with your gift.”
Bradley turned from Mary and looked at Mike. “Why?” Bradleyasked Mike.
“Why?” Mike repeated.
“Yeah, I always wondered why Mary didn’t just have thingslike séances or use tools like Ouija boards to contact spirits. Wouldn’t thatbe a faster way to do things?” he asked.
Mike started to speakwhen they heard Clarissa’s footsteps on the stairs. “Let’s talk after Clarissaleaves for school,” he suggested. “There are definitely some things you need toknow about the unseen world around us.”Chapter Nine
After reassuring Clarissa that they would both attend theHalloween party at the end of the month and confirming the kind of treats shewanted to pass out, Clarissa was finally ready to walk over to the Brennans’and wait for the bus. Mary slipped onher jacket to walk her over.
“I’ll do it,” Bradley offered.
She shook her head. “No, you sit down with Mike,” she said,sending Mike a knowing look. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’ll let Mike fill you in.”
She and Clarissa left the house and Bradley turned to Mike.“So, tell me what I need to know.”
They settled in the living room, Bradley in the recliner andMike perched on the edge of the coffee table. Mike was quiet for a few moments,contemplating what he was going to tell Bradley and how he was going to sayit. Finally he took a deep breath andmet Bradley’s eyes. “Okay, I think this is weird coming from me,” he said.“Especially me, because a year or so ago—well, let’s just say I’ve got atotally different perspective now.”
“Yeah, a lot has changed for you,” Bradley agreed. “You wentfrom a firefighter…” He paused, not sure how to go on.
“You can say it,” Mike said with a smile, “to a dead guy, toa ghost and now a guardian angel. Yeah, you could say things have been a littlecrazy. But now that I’m here, on the other side, I can see things that you andMary can’t see.”
“But Mary can see ghosts,” Bradley said. “What else is outthere?”
Mike stood up and walked to the front window, glancingoutside,thenturned back to Bradley. “Mary can seesome of the ghosts,” he said. “The ghosts who want help, the ghosts who needhelp passing over. But, therearesome other…” He paused as he searched for the word, “spirits,who have nothing to do with what Mary is trying to accomplish.”
“Spirits?”Bradley asked. “What doyou mean?”
“I don’t know that much about them myself,” he said. “MaybeI skipped that class in SundaySchool, but they aredark entities. It’s like they were neverhuman, always spirits. And they aren’ttoo fond of the human race.”
“What? Like demons?” Bradley asked.
Mike nodded. “Well, yeah, somethinglikethat,” he said. “They want to discourage us, want to pull us down.”
Bradley looked nervously around the room. “Where are they?”he asked.
“That’s the thing,” Mike said, coming back across the room.“They are here, all around us. They areoutside, sometimes they’re inside. Theyare waiting for an opportunity to convince us to turn away from what’s right.”
“How do you know about this?” Bradley asked.
Mike took a deep breath and met Bradley’s eyes. “I can seethem,” he said. “And let me tell you, it’s pretty scary when you realize what’sout there. It’s like an army.”
“An army of evil spirits?”Bradleyasked. “So, how do we fight them?”
“That’s the thing,” Mike said. “Unless we open ourselves tothem, they have no power against us. They can’t force us to do anything we don’t want to do. But, once we open the door, they’re in.”
“Séances and Ouija boards,” Bradley said slowly. “That’s whyyou don’t like them because they open a door.”
“And you don’t know who is going to walk in from the otherside,” Mike said. “It could be perfectly harmless or…”
“Yeah, or,” Bradley repeated. “Are there a lot of them?”
Mike nodded. “Like I said, an army,” he replied. “And themore potential you have to bless someone else’s life, the more operatives theyhave trying to pull you down.”
Bradley stood up, walked across the room to where Mike hadstood and looked out to see Mary chatting with the Brennan children. She was laughing at their jokes and her facewas glowing with love. Something tightenedin his gut as he thought about what Mike had just told him. “So, these evilspirits,” Bradley said. “They wouldn’t be happy with what Mary’s doing, wouldthey?”
“You mean the whole helping confused spirits make it to thelight to receive their eternal reward? Yeah, no they’re not too happy aboutthat,” he said. “But Mary’s smart. She doesn’t put herself in those kinds ofsituations. That’s why she generallywaits for the spirits to come to her and ask for help.”
“I had no idea,” Bradley replied, still watching Mary.
“Yeah, well, it’s not something we generally dwell on,” Mikesaid. “We focus on the positive energies, not the negative ones. The less wethink about them, the less power they have.”
Bradley turned away from the window and faced Mike. “Is it weird?” he asked. “You know, beingable to see so much?”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, it is pretty weird,” he admitted. “Inever realized how much of a war between good and evil this world reallyis. But, hey, we got the big guns on ourside.”
“And He, the big guns,” Bradley glanced up to the ceiling, “he’slooking out for Mary?”
Smiling softly, Mike nodded.“Oh, yeah.He has a special place in His heart for her,” he said.
Bradley glanced back at the window and saw Mary walking backto the house as the bus pulled away from the curb. “Thanks. That’s good toknow.”Chapter Ten
“So, you’re a celebrity now,” Rosie said as she enteredMary’s office later that morning with a copy of the paper in her hand.
Mary groaned and buried her head in her arms on top of herdesk. “Don’t remind me,” she moaned. “I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve hadthis morning from people who either want to hire me to find some long-losttrinket in their home or want to chastise me for being a spawn of Satan.” Shelooked up and shook her head.“Really? A spawn of Satan?”
“Who’s calling you that?” Stanley demanded, coming up to herdesk. “Just hand me their phone numbers and I’ll call ‘em and give ‘emwhat-for.”
Chuckling softly, Mary shook her head. “Thanks Stanley, butyou don’t need to do that,” she said. “I just wish I had thought it throughbefore I agreed to the article. But at least now I have another option for aHalloween costume.” She looked over toRosie. “Did you happen to notice if there were any spawn of Satan costumes atthe Halloween store?”
Rosie smiled and shook her head. “Well, if there weren’tthere ought to be. But if not, we can goonline and I’m sure we’ll find one there.”
The phone rang; Mary rolled her eyes and picked it up.“O’Reilly Investigative Agency,” she said and then listened to the caller. Finally, she took a deep breath andresponded, “Well, I’m sure it’s been very painful. And I believe you when you say there hasnever been anyone like him in your life. I totally understand. But, theway my gift works is that ghosts generallycometo mewhen they’re looking for some kind of resolution in their life. I don’t gosearching for them. But, if your Frankis ever sent in my direction, I will be sure to call you immediately.” She paused again. “Yes, of course, noproblem. Thank you for calling.”
She hung up the phone and took a deep breath.
“Her husband?”Stanley asked.
“Her son?”Rosie asked.
Mary shook her head. “No. Her dog,” she replied with atwinkle in her eye. “He was a very bright poodle and she knows that he wouldhave left her a parting message after he passed away last year.”
“Her poodle?”Stanley asked.
“Don’tshe know dogsain’tgot no unfinished business?” he asked. “They arepretty much what you see is what you get.”
“Well, sometimes people miss their loved ones, petsincluded, so much that they want one more chance to talk with them,” Mary said.“It’s loneliness and sorrow talking.”
“I can understand that,” Rosie said. “And it’s kind of youto be so nice to her, Mary. I think I wouldhave lost my patience by now.”
The door behind them opened and they all looked over to seea tall, well-dressed businessman enter the office. Stanley and Rosie moved toone side and nodded to the man. But he ignored them and moved quickly to Mary’sdesk. “You’re the one, right, the one from the article?” he asked abruptly.
Mary pushed herself up to stand and nodded. “Yes, I’m MaryO’Reilly,” she replied. Her immediatelyreaction to the man was mistrust. Therewas something about him that made her skin crawl, and she fought a strongimpulse to move away from him. “Is there something I can do for you?”
Reaching into his overcoat, he pulled out a leather-boundcheckbook. “I want to pay you,” he said, slapping the checkbook on the desk andpulling out a gold-plated ink pen, “to verify that my house in Pearl City ishaunted.”
“Verify?” Mary asked.
Henodded,his focus on the checkhe was writing. “I’ll make it worth your while,” he said. “Not only will you bepaid well for it, but the publicity you receive will send your career soaringand you will be in demand throughout the country.”
Mary shook her head, but he didn’t notice. “I’m sorry,” shesaid firmly. “But I’m not interested.”
Abruptly looking up, he stared at Mary with an unbelievinglook. “I beg your pardon?” he asked.
“I said I’m not interested,” Mary repeated, trying to keep apolite façade of friendliness on her face when all she really wanted to do wasescort him out of her office. “I’m not in the ghost verifying business.”
Misunderstanding, he shook his head. “Oh, that’s noproblem,” he said, a look of relief on his face. “I can tell you what to do.What papers you have to fill out. Where to send the press releases. I’m an expert on paranormal activity.”
She nodded slowly. “If you’re an expert, why do you needme?” she asked.
“Well, my house is one of the top ten haunted houses in thecountry,” he said. “And I always strive to provide valid, professional andimpartial sources to verify its authenticity.”
“Impartial sources that you pay?” she asked, her eyebrowlifting in skepticism.
“I only pay to cover expenses,” he said, ripping the checkfrom the book and handing it to her.
Mary shook her head and refused to take it. “No, really, I’msorry,” she replied again, “but I’m not interested in verifying that your houseis haunted. That’s not what I do.” Sheraised her hand to stop his response. “It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that Iwon’t do it. My gift is for helpingghosts move from this plane to the next. It’s not to…“ shepaused trying to find theright word, “use the ones who are still here.”
“But my ghosts don’t want to move on,” he argued. “They wantto stay at my house. They want toprotect the house. They want to keep other people out. That’s why the people who stay with meexperience so much paranormal activity.Because the ghostsare trying to scare them away.”
“Well, with so much activity, I’m sure you have plenty ofverification without me,” Mary responded. “Thank you for stopping by.”
The man’s face turned red and his eyes hardened. “Do youthink you’re better than me?” he demanded.
Taken by surprise,Mary stepped back from her desk and studied the man. “No. No, I don’t think I’mbetter than anyone,” she said. “Mr.—?”
“Atkinson. Sol Atkinson,” he said, dropping the check on herdesk. “Then you think it over, because I don’t take no as an answer. I’ll getback to you later in the week for your reply.”
Without giving her a chance to respond, he turned on hisheel and strode out of the office, the door banging shut behind him.
“What an utterly unpleasant man,” Rosie said, moving back tothe desk and lifting up the check. “Mary, this man just wrote you a check forfive thousand dollars!”
Stanley looked over Rosie’s shoulder at the check and rolledback on his heels. “Must want something pretty badlyiffenhe’s willing to pay that much money just fora verification,”Stanley said.“Worth doing a little investigation of Mr.Atkinson.”
Nodding, Mary lowered herself to her chair. “I’d be happy tohear anything you learn about Mr. Atkinson,” Mary said. “But I’ve alreadydecided that I want nothing to do with that man. He really gives me thecreeps.”
“Perhaps Bradley ought to be here when he comes by to pickup his check,” Rosie suggested.
Mary silently bristled slightly at Rosie’s suggestion. Just because she was pregnant was no reasonfor her not to be able to handle some loud-mouthed bully. She didn’t need Bradley’s help to run her ownbusiness.
But she smiled at Rosie when she replied. “Well, I’ll keepthat in mind,” she said. “But I’m sure Mr. Atkinson is more bark than bite.”
Mary snuggled against Bradley and allowed herself to relax,concentrating on breathing slowly and evenly. Their bedroom was dimly lit and she could feel sleep beginning toovertake her. She started thinking aboutthe nightmare, picturing herself there and reminding herself that she was incharge, she was in control. This was the fourth night she had tried luciddreaming. After taking Gracie’s adviceand not overthinking, she seemed to be able to gain a little more control. Everynight it seemed that she was getting closer to a break-through, but she neverseemed to quite get full control of her dream as Gracie had advised her.
“I need to do this,” she whispered.
Bradley leaned over and placed a kiss on her cheek. “Whydon’t you try to relax this time,” he suggested. “Just take a walk through yourdream like it’s a movie. You’ve been there before, and now you know you don’thave anything to be afraid of.”
She took a deep breath and nodded. “You’re right. Nopressure,” she said. “Okay, just a walk.”
She closed her eyes, breathed in the lavender on her pillowand let her mind drift. “Take a walk,”she whispered. “Just take a walk.”
The room was dark, andMary was back in the middle of her nightmare. She moved forward tentatively,trying to find an exit door or a light. She didn’t feel afraid. “I’m in charge.I’m in control,” she repeated to herself as she investigated her surroundings.
A low sound, like the thrum of a bass note,was pulsing in the background over some hidden speaker system. She rememberedthat sound and realized it made her anxious. “I don’t like that sound,” she said. “Let’s change the channel to softrock.”
Suddenly the thrummingstopped and soft music floated throughout the house. “Cool,” she said with asmile.
Continuing forward,she heard the sound she’d been waiting for, soft and whispered in the distance,the sound of a child’s cry.
Dismissing caution,she hurried forward towards the source of the sound. Running down dark corridorsthat turned and twisted, she became even more frustrated. “I really need thelights to be turned on,” she said aloud. Suddenly, the dark halls were filled with light.
She lookedaround. The house was more like adormitory with a number of small doors opening up to the long hallway. There were religious plaques and pictures onthe walls. But at the end of thehallway, the window was encased with metal bars.
She found herself atthe staircase and jogged down the stairs, listening for the cry. Finally, shearrived at the door at the far end of a narrow hall. Light flooded out frombeneath the door and around the sides into the dark hallway.
She grasped thedoorknob, but the door itself seemed to be shrinking. “Stop shrinking,” shecommanded the door, and it obeyed. “Unlock the door.”
The door opened up andMary stepped through. In the corner ofthe room was a young woman dressed in a black dress with a white apron overit. Her eyes were filled with tears andshe turned to Mary with a look of desperation.
“They’re taking mybaby,” she cried. “They’re taking my baby and they didn’t even let me saygoodbye.”
Mary looked ahead andsaw women dressed in long, black dresses carrying a swaddle of blankets andhurrying from the room. “Stop,” she called out. “Stop this instant.”
But the women didn’tstop; they carried the infant away into the shadows.
“They took my baby,and I never saw her again,” the woman sobbed.
“What’s your name?”Mary asked, finally understanding what was happening.
“Alison,” the woman replied.“Alison Grandee.”
“And when did you die,Alison?” Mary asked.
The woman paused for amoment, considering Mary’s question. Then suddenly, she began to change. The young woman aged rapidly before Mary’s eyes, and in a matter ofmoments, an elderly woman with white hair looked at Mary. “January,” shereplied.“At the age of seventy-seven. I never found her. I never got to find out if she was okay. I never got to tell her I loved her and Inever forgot about her.”
“I’ll find her,Alison,” Mary promised. “And I’ll let her know.”
Mary woke up in Bradley’s arms. He leaned over and placed a kiss on her lips.“Welcome back. How did it go?” he asked.
“I found the baby’s mother,” Mary said. “Her name was AlisonGrandee and she died at the age of seventy-seven in January of this year. Someone took her baby away from her when shewas a young woman and she never saw her again. She needs to find her.”
He pulled her close and held her. “So, she found the womanwith a golden heart to help her,” he said softly. “Why do you think she justdidn’t appear to you? Why do you thinkshe ended up in your dreams?”
Mary snuggled against him and yawned. “I don’t know,” sheanswered sleepily. “Maybe this was the only way she could reach me.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Well, you took control ofyour dream in less than twenty minutes,” he said, reaching over her and turningoff the light on the nightstand. “So, now I suggest you finally get a goodnight’s sleep and stop running down long hallways all night long.”
She chuckled softly and yawned again. “That sounds like awonderful idea,” she said. “Good night, Bradley.”
“Good night, Mary.”Chapter Twelve
It only took Mary a matter of minutes to find the onlinecopy of Alison Robinson Grandee’s obituary. She had actually lived in Freeport until she died at one of the assistedliving facilities close to town. Herobituary mentioned her husband, who had passed away prior to her death, and hertwo sons, but there was no mention of a daughter. Did her sons know about theirstepsister? Would Alison want them toknow, or had it been her secret? A secret she carried to her grave?
“Well, what’s the use of living in small town America if youcan’t take advantage of its primary characteristic?” she muttered to herself asshe pushed herself out of the chair and walked to the door. “Everyone knowseveryone else’s business.”
Leaving her office, she walked the few steps to Wagner’sOffice Supplies and entered the front door. The clerk behind the desk, one of Stanley’s daughters-in-law, smiled atMary. “Good morning,” she said in a cheery voice. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, about the same,” Mary replied.“Starvingall the time.”
“I remember that feeling,” the woman replied. “Stanley’s inthe back, in the office, and there are doughnuts back there.Justin case you’re interested.”
Mary stopped and shook her head. “Have you ever met apregnant woman who wasn’t at least interested in doughnuts?” she asked.
Laughing, the woman shook her head. “No, I can’t say Ihave,” she agreed.
Mary walked to the back of the large store and knocked onthe old, wooden door that had the word “Office” imprinted in gold letters onthe opaque glass window.
“Come in,” Stanley called from the other side of the door.
Mary pushed the door open and found Stanley sitting at asmall, round table, newspaper in one hand and a doughnut in the other, perusingthe local news.
“Well, someone’s hard at work,” Mary commented as she walkedover to the table to join him.
He pushed the box of doughnuts in her direction. “Nope,someone’s hardly working,” he replied with a smile. “That’s the benefit ofbeing the old, should-have-already-retired guy on the job.”
Mary selected a filled Long John with Bavarian crèmefilling. “You can’t retire,” she replied, sitting down next to him. “This placewould fall apart without your knowledge of stock and customer specifications.You’re like a walking database.”
Stanley chuckled and took a bite of his doughnut. “Yep, andthat’s what I keep telling ‘em,” he said. “Which keeps me supplied withdoughnuts, newspapers and…,” he lowered the newspaper and grinned at her, “awonderful place to escape a honey-do list.”
Mary bit into her doughnut and smiled at Stanley. “Well, aslong as you give me doughnuts as hush pastry, I’ll never tell Rosie,” shevowed.
Stanley put the newspaper down on the table, folded his armsand met Mary’s eyes. “So, girlie, you want to tell me why youain’tnext door solving the problems of the world?” heasked.
“I need your help with one of those problems,” sheexplained. “Did you know Alison Grandee?”
Stanley tapped his chin with one finger and looked off tothe corner of the room while he thought about it. “Grandee, Grandee, Grandee,”he muttered. “Didn’t she just die, not too long back?”
Mary nodded. “Yes, she died in January,” she replied.
“Nice woman,” he mused.“A couple of kids.Boys.And her husband was in business, banking Ithink.”
“Wow, you are a database,” Mary said. “Did you ever hearabout her background? Before she wasmarried and moved here?”
Stanley sat back in this chair and slowly took a bite of hisdoughnut, his eyes focused on the ceiling for a moment.“Seemsto me she waskindaquiet about her background. Don’t think I ever heard her talk about whereshe grew up.”
“Could she have been married before Mr. Grandee?” she asked.
Stanley stared at her for a moment. “What you got up yourcraw this morning?” he asked.
Mary grinned. “I just want to find out what’s publicknowledge about her and what she kept secret,” Mary replied, pushing againstthe table in order to get out of her chair. “So, now that I know, I think I’llgo directly to the source.”
Stanley stood up and hurried to her side just as she gotinto a standing position. “You sure you should be following up on a lead all byyour lonesome?” he asked. “It’s not like you’d be able to run away tooquickly.”
She looked down at her protruding belly and then looked upat Stanley. “Are you volunteering to come along with me?” she asked. “You don’teven know where I’m going.”
“Sure am,” he said decisively. “’Sides, I know you’re goingto that assisted living center where Alison died.” He shook his finger at her.“I’ve known you long enough, girlie, to know how you operate.”
She leaned over and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,Stanley,” she said. “I would love to have you as company.”Chapter Thirteen
The drive to the assisted living facility outside of towntook about ten minutes, but Mary wished it had taken longer. The trees in the area were blazing in theirindividual, autumn glory, bright red and orange maples stood alongside goldenoaks and bright yellow birch trees; it was breathtaking in its beauty. “I would love to find a place where it wasfall all year long,” she said to Stanley. “I’d move there in an instant.”
“That’s what you think,” Stanley replied. “But you’d missthe other seasons soon enough. I’veseen how much you love snowball fights and sledding.”
Mary glanced down at her belly. “Yeah, well I might have toforgo that this year,” she replied.
He chuckled. “But you just wait until he’s old enough toplay outside,” Stanley said. “A whole new world of fun opens up when you startto see things through a child’s eyes.”
Smiling softly, Mary nodded. “I’m already seeing that withClarissa,” she agreed. “And I can’t wait to experience it with Mikey.”
They pulled into the parking lot and found a parking spotnear the front door. Stanley put his hand on Mary’s arm to stop her fromexiting. “Now remember, if you sense that there’s trouble here, we leave rightaway and you bring Bradley back with you,” Stanley insisted. “Thereain’tno way I’m letting you endanger yourself or Mikey.Got it?”
Mary nodded and smiled at Stanley. “Got it,” she replied.“I’ll be on my best behavior.”
They got out of the car and started walking towards theentrance when Mary noticed that Stanley seemed to be struggling as he walked.She stopped and turned to him. “Stanley, what’s wrong?” she asked concern heavyin her voice.
He looked up at her, a twinkle in his eye, and winked.“Just doing my part, girlie.I’m supposed to be your feeble,old uncle.”
She breathed a quick sigh of relief and shook her head.“Next time warn me,” she whispered, wrapping her arm around his. “But, I haveto admit, you had me convinced.”
He chuckled softly as they continued into the building. The sliding glass doors opened into a smallvestibule with another set of locked doors and an intercom. Mary pressed the button and waited for aresponse.
“Good morning,”camethe cheeryresponse. “How may I help you?”
“Hi, I’m here with my uncle and we’d like to look aroundyour facility,” Mary replied.
A soft buzzing sound indicating the release of the lock wasthe reply and Mary pushed the door open and led Stanley through into thelobby. They were immediately greeted bythe person on the other end of the voice, a perky young woman with a brightsmile. “Hello, I’m Candy,” she said, including both of them in her smile. “I’mso glad you chose to visit us today.”
“It was her idea,” Stanley grumbled. “I don’t neednoassisted care center. I’m doing just fine living all onmy own.”
Mary patted Stanley’s arm patiently and sighed deeply. “Ittook quite a lot of convincing to get him to come here today,” she explained.“He doesn’t want to be treated like an invalid.”
“Well, of course not,” Candy said. “And this place iscertainly not like that at all. We haveall kinds of activities. We have wonderful food and we even have transportationfor shopping, trips to the barber shop and other special events. Our guests are not invalids; they have justreached a point in their lives when they want someone else to take care of thebothersome things. They would ratherspend their time enjoying life.”
Stanley studied the young woman for a moment and then noddedslowly. “Well, then, I just might be interested in seeing what you have tosay,” he replied. “Iffenyou mean it.”
“Oh, yes, sir,” she replied earnestly. “We love all of ourresidents, and our job is to make sure we consider your every need.”
Turning towards Mary, Stanley huffed. “Seems like someoneknows how to treat me,” he grumbled.
Mary had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “UncleStanley, you know we all love you,” she said.
“Humph,” he retorted. “Let’s go on the tour.”
The young woman guided them into a little room that wasdecorated to seem more like a living room than an office. “Just give me amoment and I’ll let our director know you are here,” she said. “I know he’llwant to give you the tour himself.”
She left the room, closing the door behind her. Stanley satdown on the couch and motioned for Mary to follow. She sat next to him and was going tocongratulate him on his acting when he shook his head and stopped her. “Theseplaces often have cameras and recording devices so they can determine therelationships between the new resident and their families before they allowthem in,” he whispered.
“How did you—” she began.
“Read it in one of those magazines at the barber shop,” hereplied, a twinkle in his eye.
“I’ve got to start going there,” she whispered back,laughter in her voice. “Okay, I’ll follow your lead.”
Stanley sat back and looked around the room. “I don’t knowabout this place,” he complained loudly. “It seems too frilly, like some fussywoman decorated it. Iain’tgonnabe living in someroom that’s pink and frilly.”
“I’m sure they have different colors in their rooms, UncleStanley,” Mary insisted. “If not, we can redecorate for you.”
“I’m not spending my money redecorating someone else’sroom,” he said. “If I don’t like what I see, we can go somewhere else.”
“Of course we can, Uncle Stanley,” Mary replied. “There aremany other choices.”
A moment later the door opened and a middle-aged man walkedin. He was tall and slim, dressed in astriped blue and pink dress shirt, pink tie and khaki-colored dress slacks andhad conservatively-styled blonde hair and a slight tan.
“Hello,” hesaid,his smile warmand inviting. “My name is Trey Habersham and I’m the director. I understand you’d like a tour of thefacilities.”
Stanley stood up and walked over to Trey. “Well, I don’tnecessarily want a tour, but it looks like I’ve got to take one,” he grumbled.“I’m Stanley.”
Trey smiled at Stanley and shook his hand. “Well, I hope wecan make it a positive experience for you,” he said. “Why don’t we first lookat one of the model bedrooms? We haverooms that we feel appeal specifically to men without the fussy frills thatwomen like.”
Stanley glanced quickly over his shoulder and sent Mary aquick wink. “Well, you brought me here. Areyou coming along?” he grumbled.
Biting back a smile, she nodded. “If you help me off thiscouch, I will,” she replied.
“Allow me,” Trey said, quickly moving around Stanley, offeringMary his hand and pulling her up from the couch. “I am so happy to meet you.”
“Thank you,” Mary said as she stood up straight. “Iappreciate the lift.”
“Is Stanley your grandfather?” Trey asked.
Stanley scowled and Mary grinned. “No, he’s my uncle,” shesaid. “And we’ve been trying to find a place that would suit him and help himin his old age.”
“Well, I am sure that we will be able to fulfill all of hisneeds,” Trey replied with a smile. “How did you hear about us?”
They moved from the small office into the hallway and Treyled them back towards the main lobby where the various wings of the buildingoriginated.
“I had a friend who stayed with you,” Stanley replied. “Theonly reason I would even think about touring this place is because AlisonGrandee spoke so highly of it.”
Trey turned around quickly and faced Stanley. “Mrs.Grandee,” he repeated. “Yes, she was a lovely woman and it was a great losswhen she passed on. Were you close toher?”
Stanley nodded. “Yes, we were quite close,” he replied. “Mywife and she were nearly inseparable. When she died it was like having my wifedie all over again.”
Stanley had done an amazing job of laying the groundwork,Mary thought, and now all she had to do was close the deal. “Which one of therooms did Alison used to live in?” she asked.
Stanley paused and looked around, a look of confusion andconsternation on his face. He looked up one of the wings and down another.“These dadgum hallways all look the same to me,” he complained.
“She lived down this hallway on the east wing,” Treyinterjected. “She was on the second floor in room 214.”
Stanley breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Yes,” he said.“Now I remember. Thank you.”
“Now the room I’d like to show you is through here, in ourwest wing,” he said.
They turned towards that wing when Mary grabbed her bellyand gasped. Both men went white andturned to her. “Are you okay?” Trey gulped.
“You havingthe baby?” Stanleyasked.
Mary slowly moved to a small, upholstered bench next to awall in the hallway and lowered herself onto it. “No,” she breathed slowly.“No, I’m fine, just a little pre-labor contraction.”
“A contraction?”Trey squeaked.
Mary shook her head. “Not a real contraction,” sheexplained, taking short breaths.“Just a practice one. But I’m going to have to sit here for a fewminutes and catch my breath. Why don’tyou both go on with the tour and I’ll wait for you here.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Stanley asked. “We can just gohome if you’d like. We’ve got lots of other homes lined up to visit.”
Mary could see that Trey was torn between leaving her aloneand losing the potential sale if Stanley didn’t take the tour.
“Well, it actually might be better for her to rest for a fewminutes while we walk around,” he suggested. “Why don’t we continue, and if shehas any problems, she can have my assistant contact me via my radio.”
“That would be fine,” Mary said.
“Are you sure?” Stanley asked, sending Mary another slywink.
“Perfect, really,” Mary insisted.
“Okay then,” Stanley agreed, turning toward Trey. “I guessI’m ready to hear your sales pitch.”
Mary watched them walk down the hall and out of sight beforeshe got up and hurried over to the elevator. The door slid open and she pressed the button for the second floor.
The elevator doors slid open and Mary immediately found thesign on the wall that indicated room locations. Turning right, she followed thehall until she arrived at room 214. She went to the door and knocked. A momentlater the door was opened and an elderly man answered.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Mary exclaimed. “I was looking for AlisonGrandee.”
The man’s eyes softened and he shook his head. “I’m sosorry,” he said. “But Mrs. Grandee died several months ago.”
The ghost of Alison Grandee appeared in the room behind theman. She was the same woman whom Maryhad seen in her dream the night before. Maryhad the immediate thought that in the light of day she looked familiar andwondered if she had met her before. The woman listened politely as the manexplained to Mary about how the nursing home might be able to give Mary theinformation about Alison’s final resting place. Then Alison smiled at the man and walked through him into the hallway.He shivered slightly and then shook his head. “I’m so sorry that I was the onewho had to tell you the news.”
“Thank you,” Mary replied quietly. “I’m so sorry to havebothered you.”
The man nodded and closed the door. Mary and Alison walked away from the room,back towards the elevator.
“That was very nice of him,” Alison replied. “He was alwaysa lovely gentleman.”
“Did you know him when you were alive?” Mary asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “He was in a one room apartment and waswaiting for a two room apartment to come available. I suppose as soon as theycleared me out he moved in.”
Alison paused and studied Mary for a moment. “You are theyoung woman from my dream, aren’t you?” she asked.
Mary nodded. “Yes, I’ve been sharing your dream for months,”Mary said. “I’d love to help you find your daughter.”
“It won’t be very easy,” she said. “It happened a long timeago and I don’t know if they even kept records.”
“Did your husband or your sons know about your daughter?”Mary asked.
Alison looked frightened. “Oh, good heavens, no,” she said.“My husband assumed I was a sweet innocent when he married me. I don’t think he would have looked twice atme if he knew that I was a fallen woman.”
“A fallen woman?”Mary asked.
“I got pregnant when I was a teenager,” she answered with aslight shrug. “It was, I suppose, quite a common story. I thought he loved meand we were going to get married. But, well, when he discovered I wasexpecting, he left town.”
“He sounds like a jerk,” Mary replied.
Alison looked shocked for a moment and just stared at Mary. Thenher face lightened and she laughed. “Yes, I suppose he was,” she finallyreplied. And then, with more convictionin her voice she repeated herself. “Yes. Yes he was.”
“So, what did you do?” Mary asked.
“I had to go to my parents and tell them everything,” shesaid. “And they did what middle-class parents did at the time. They sent meaway to a religious school for unwed mothers.”
“How old were you?” Mary asked.
“Fifteen,” she replied sadly. “I was fifteen years old andmy parents sent me away. I had my baby,a beautiful little girl. But I wasn’t allowed to keep her. They took her from me and gave her to anotherfamily.”
Tears slipped down her translucent cheeks. “I remembertrying to escape and run after the family that took her,” she said. “But I hadno money and no transportation, so I lost her.”
“I was required to work for the school until my debt waspaid back,” she said. “The cost for room and board and my hospital stay. I workedfor them until I was nineteen and then I was finally free.”
“They took your baby and four years of your life?” Maryasked, incredulous. “That can’t be legal.”
Alison smiled sadly. “In those days it was not only legal,but quite common,” she said. “I begged them to let me know where they placedher when I left, but they refused. Theytold me to forget about her and start my life over. They expected me to forget about my child. Ican’t imagine any woman ever forgetting about her own child.”
Mary placed her hands protectively over her belly and shookher head. “I can’t either,” she said. “And I understand your need to findher. Can you tell me about the place youlived?”
A few minutes later, armed with more information aboutAlison, Mary took the elevator back downstairs. The place where she’d been sent was a large convent that was situated ina secluded spot on one-hundred acres of wooded land in the middle of farmers’fields just north of the Illinois border in Wisconsin. The location was far enough away from anytown that escape was unlikely.
The baby, Alison had called her Aubrey Rose, would be sixty-twoyears old now. All Alison wanted was tobe able to see her daughter one more time before she moved on. And all Mary wanted to do was fulfill herrequest.Chapter Fifteen
“So, how did it go?” Bradley asked Mary as they workedtogether to make dinner that night. “Did you get to see Alison?”
“Yes, I did. She is a lovely woman,” Mary replied, leaningback against the counter.
Bradley smiled as he pulled some cans from the cabinet aboveMary.
“What?” she asked, noticing the look on hisface.
“I just think it’s funny that you describe a ghost as alovely person,” he said, shaking his head. “Most people wouldn’t be soopen-minded.”
She shrugged. “Well, most people aren’t me.”
He put the cans on the counter behind her, wrapped his armsaround her and pulled her close. “That’strue,” he whispered before placing a kiss on her lips.“Luckyme.”
Sighing, she rested her head against his chest and snuggledagainst him. “Thank you,” she said. “I feel the same way about you.”
“So, tell me about her,” he said, laying his head on hers.
“She had a baby when she was fifteen, and it was given upfor adoption without her approval,” she said, leaning back and meeting hiseyes. “I can’t imagine how devastated she must have felt. I’ve never even met our baby, but I alreadyfeel protective towards him.”
“She had no idea who adopted her?” he asked.
“No, she never was able to find out where the baby wasplaced,” she replied, “and needs to see her daughter before she moves on.”
“I can understand that. Finding your family can be quite a motivator,” he said, thinking back tothe time he searched for Jeannine and Clarissa. “So, what are you going to do?”
“Well, the convent she was staying in when she gave birth isstill open,” she replied. “It’s just above the state line, in Wisconsin. So, Ithought I’d take a trip up there and see if I can access their records.”
“That might be a little tricky,” he said. “Most adoptionrecords from that era were sealed, especially if they might shed an unfavorablelight on the institution. I don’t knowhow you’re going to be able to get access to them.”
“I’m not sure either,” Mary admitted slowly. “But I’m surethere has to be a way. She wouldn’t havebeen sent to me if there wasn’t a way I could help her.”
“Well, if anyone can do it,” Bradley said with confidence, “it’syou.”
She smiled up at him. “Well, thank you again,” she replied.“After the last couple of days I’ve had, I can use a vote of confidence.”
“What happened?” he asked.
Before she could answer, the door burst open and Clarissahurried inside. Her eyes were wide withexcitement and she was out of breath. “Hurry, you need to help him,” shepanted.
“Who?”Bradley asked, hurrying acrossthe room to meet her,
She pointed toward the door. “Andy. Andy Brennan,” she said.“He’s fighting Jack Wilson.”
“Why on earth would he do that?” Mary asked, slipping herarm into her coat and hurrying towards the door.
“Jack said there were no such things as ghosts,” Clarissacried. “He said that you were a big faker, so Andy punched him.”
They rushed out of the house and down the stairs and saw agroup of children gathered on the corner excitedly shouting at what was goingon in the midst of them.
“They’re in there,” Clarissa shouted, grabbing Bradley’shand and pulling him forward. Bradley quickly jogged past Clarissa and enteredthe throng, towering over the children involved in the melee. Grabbing each boy by the shoulder, he easilypulled them apart. “You do know it’s against the law to fight on a publicstreet, don’t you?” he asked sternly.
A frightened hush fell over the group and several children onthe outer edges of the crowd stepped back and hurried away. Bradley eyed the two boys he still held inhis hands. “Well?” he asked.
Andy wiped his arm across his bloodied nose and then lookedup at Bradley. “He said Mary was a liar,” he said defiantly. “He said she wascrazy.”
Bradley looked down at Jack Wilson. “And what do you have tosay for yourself?” he asked.
“My mom says she’s fake and she’s just cheating people outof their hard-earned money,” he spat unrepentantly.
Mary reached the crowd in time to hear Jack’s comment. She stepped up next to Bradley and met Jack’seyes. “You can tell your mother that I don’t charge for the work I do,” shesaid calmly. “And if she has any questions about the validity of my work, sheshould call me and I would be very happy to explain what I do to her.”
Jack glared at her. “She won’t call you,” he growled andthen he looked up at Bradley. “And you can’t do anything to me. It’s freedom ofspeech. I can say whatever I want to say. And I didn’t start the fight, hedid.”
Bradley looked over at Andy and the boy hung his head with asigh. “He’s right,” Andy admitted quietly. “I hit him first.”
Bradley released both of the boys. “Thank you for beinghonest,” he said to Andy. “I want both of you to go home now. And I don’t wantto hear of any more fighting between you.”
Jack shrugged back defiantly. “Wait ‘til I tell my mom anddad that you grabbed me,” he sneered. “They’ll probably sue you or something.”
Turning quickly so Mary and Bradley didn’t have time toreply, Jack dashed down the street towards his house.
“Are you mad at me?” Andy asked, looking up at Mary andBradley with tear-filled eyes.
Bradley sighed and wrapped his arm around Andy’s shoulders.“Well, buddy, we both know that punching someone is never a good thing to do,”he replied.
Andy nodded slowly. “You’re right,” he admitted.
Then Bradley grinned down at Andy. “But if I had been you, Iwould have found it hard not to punch him myself,” he added.
“Bradley!” Mary chastised. “Both of you know better thanthat. Physical violence is not the answer.”
She knelt down in front of Andy, pulled tissue from her coatpocket and dabbed at the blood below his nose. Her eyes filled with tears and shesniffledthem back. “You shouldn’t have gotten hurt because of me,” she said softly, hervoice catching.
“Awww, Mary, don’t cry,” Andysaid. “I’m okay.Really. I get my nose bloodied at least once a week.It’s no big deal.”
Mary sent him a watery smile and nodded. “Well, thank youfor being my hero and standing up for me,” she said, gently wiping the last ofthe blood from his face.
Blushing with embarrassment, Andy nodded. “Sure, no bigdeal.”
“Come on, Andy,” Bradley said, patting his back. “Why don’tyou let me walk you home and talk to your parents about what happened.”
Andy sighed deeply. “Yeah, I guess they need to know, and itwould be safer if there was a policeman there when they found out.”
Both Bradley and Mary chuckled. “I don’t think it’s going tobe that bad,” Bradley said. Then, afterhelping Mary to her feet, he placed his hand on Andy’s head. Come on,” he said. “Let’s go face the music.”Chapter Sixteen
Fifteen minutes later, as Mary was putting the casseroledish in the oven, the front door opened and Bradley came inside. Mary closedthe oven door and peered over the kitchen counter. “So, how did it go?” sheasked, nervously wiping her hands on the dish towel.
“Fine,” Bradley said, slipping his coat off and hanging itin the closet. “I could tell Katie and Clifford were more upset about what Jacksaid than what Andy did. But they didn’tlet Andy know and gave him the same guidance we did about punching someone notbeing an answer to a disagreement.”
She walked into the front room and waited by the couch forhim. “So, he’s not going to be punished?” she asked.
He closed the door. “No,” he said with assurance as heturned towards her. “He’ll be fine.”
She let out a long sigh of relief. “Well, that’s good,” shesaid. “I was really worried about him.”
Shaking his head, he came over to stand next to her. “So, doyou want to tell me what this really is about?” he asked.
The long breath she had just released was inhaled. “Bradley,I need to apologize,” she began. “I had no idea this story in the paper wouldhave these kinds of ramifications. Youmust be mortified.”
“Wait. What?” he asked.
Folding her arms across her chest, she turned away from him,staring at the fireplace. “I never thought my words or my actions would reflectbadly on you or cause Clarissa problems at school,” she said, shaking her head.“I should have thought this all through. I am so sorry I acted rashly.”
Placing his hands on her shoulders, he turned her to facehim. “Now you’re putting words in my mouth,” he said. “I don’t care what other peoplethink. I’m proud of what you do. I love how you help people.” He paused for amoment. “Well, dead people.”
Ignoring his smile, she walked away from him and perched onthe arm of the couch.“But what about Clarissa?”Maryargued. “This is going to affect her at school.”
“It will help teach her that some people can beclosed-minded and prejudiced no matter what evidence is placed before them,” hecountered. “It’s a lesson she is going to have to learn eventually, so why notnow when we can be here to help her through it?”
Still not convinced, Mary shook her head again. “People aretelling her that her stepmother is nuts,” she said.
“And other people are jumping to your defense because theyknow who you really are,” he said firmly. “People are going to talk. You can’tchange that. All you have control of ishow you are going to react to that conversation.”
“But it’s not just about me now,” she repeated. “It’s aboutyou and Clarissa.”
Walking over to her, he took her hands in his and pulled herinto his arms. “Okay, what would you like to do?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know yet,” she replied.
He nodded and placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Well,why don’t you think about it and let me know when you’ve considered things,” hesaid. “Then we can discuss it again.”
She looked up at him, bewilderment in her eyes. “You’rereally not upset with me?”
“No, I’m not upset with you,” he said decisively. “But I’llsupport whatever decision you make.”
“Yeah, when the going gets tough,” Mike said, appearing nextto them, “the tough throw in the towel.”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Mary said defensively. “I’m…”She paused for a moment, thought about it and sighed. “I am. I’m throwing inthe towel because I’m tired and a little overwhelmed.”
“Yeah, and you’re human,” Mike said gently. “And you’repregnant. And people are not being as nice as they are supposed to be.”
She chuckled softly. “Actually, people are being downrightrude.”
“Yep, and you have to love them anyway,” Mike replied.“That’s the tough part of doing what you do. It’s easy to like the nice people,not so easy to love the idiots.”
“Can angels call people idiots?” Bradley asked.
Mike grinned. “Only in a loving way,” he replied. “Besides,you need to remember that they don’t know any better. They are living in their safe, secure, littleworld and here you come, opening up possibilities that they have neverconsidered. That’s scary. So, they pushback.”
“So what’s your advice for her?” Bradley asked.
“Hang in there,” Mike said, winking at Mary. “There’s areason for everything. We just don’tknow what the reason for this is yet.”
Mary tiptoed down the stairs and crept into thekitchen. The house lights were off andthe hands on the clock showed that it was after midnight. She moved through the house easily frommemory, not needing to turn on the lights as she wound her way around thefurniture into the kitchen. The firststop was the silverware drawer. Sheslowly slid it open, careful not to let the contents rattle, felt around insideand pulled out a spoon. After closing itjust as carefully, she slipped across the room to the refrigerator and openedthe freezer section. Light spilled from the inside of the freezer and illuminateda small area of the kitchen, barely reaching the shadowy figure cowering in thecorner.
Mary reached into the freezer and pulled out a small cartonof dark chocolate ice cream. She pulled the lid off, inserted her spoon, and thenimmediately put the spoonful of the delicious, icy confection into her mouth.
She squealed and nearly choked on the ice cream.
“Mike,” she whispered harshly. “You just about scared me todeath.”
“You have company,” was his quick reply.
“What?” she cried, and as she spun around she caught a flashof movement in the corner of the room. “Who’s there?”
“No one,” the figure whispered.
“That doesn’t work very well,” Mike commented. “She’ssmarter than that.”
Mary bit back a chuckle. “Can I help you?” she asked,placing the spoon and the ice cream on the counter.
“I don’t know,”camethe sorrowfulreply.
Mary reached over and flipped on the light over the sink,bathing the room in soft light. Shecould now see the shadowy figure more clearly. He looked to have been a middle-aged businessman with a recedinghairline and an increasing waistline. Hewas cowering, his back bent over and his head hidden. He was one of the least frightening ghostsshe had ever met. “Why don’t you tell me what brought you here?” she suggested,climbing onto a stool. “And then I can tell you if I can help you.”
He turned towards her and Mary gasped. His head was twisted grotesquely to one sideand was hanging limply on his shoulder. And in order to see Mary, he had to turn to one side to speak with her.“I think I might be dead,” he began.
Nodding slowly, Mary sent him a sympathetic smile. “I thinkyou might be right,” she replied. “Do you remember when you died?”
His eyes rolled up as he searched his memory and then poppedback to focus and widened. “Yes, I remember,” he said. “We were at thehouse. The hauntedhouse. Sol and I were there,looking for ghosts. Then…” He paused foranother moment, allowing his eyes to roll up again. But this time there was no popping orwidening. This time there was justgrief. “That’s the problem. I can’t remember. But I suppose I just died.”
“You were at a haunted house?” Mary asked.“Mr.?”
“Cannon.Marty Cannon,” the ghostreplied. “Yes, we were at our haunted house. Well, we were pretty sure it washaunted. But the ghost would simply notcooperate with us.”
“You wanted a ghost to cooperate with you?” she asked.
He nodded his head, which actually caused his cheek to rubagainst his own shoulder. “Yes, that was the plan,” he explained. “We weregoing to have the most haunted house in the Midwest and people would pay goodmoney to spend the night and experience the supernatural.”
“Ah,” Mary replied, understanding the situation. “And theghost refused to play along with the scheme.”
“Exactly,” he said with a wide smile. “Andmeand Sol needed a ghost to show up pretty soon or we weregoing to lose our investment.”
“How long ago did you die?”
“What month is it?” he asked.
“October,” she answered.
His eyes widened again. “Wow, I died in the summer. It wasJune,” he said. “What have I been doing for all those months?”
“That’s a good question,” Mary said. “And why did yousuddenly decide to come and see me?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “My business partner, SolAtkinson, came by to see you at your office. I tagged along with him.”
“Mr. Atkinson,” Mary said slowly. “Oh, the man who wanted meto verify he had a haunted house.That Mr. Atkinson?”
Marty nodded again. “Yeah, he’s still trying to get hisinvestment back,” he said.
“But, if you died at that house and you’re a ghost, whyaren’t you haunting it?” she asked.
Marty started to speak, then stopped and shook his head.“Why, I never even thought of that,” he said. Then he started to laugh. “Isn’tthat the damnedest thing? Here I could have been haunting the house all along,but all I ever do is justhangaround with Sol.”
Mary studied Marty for a few moments before she spokeagain. “Marty, do you remember yourfuneral?” she asked.
He paused for a moment, rubbing his chin with his hand. “No,I can’t say I do,” he finally replied. “I don’t remember anything like that atall.”
“Would you mind if I did a little checking on your death?”she asked.
He shrugged, which caused his head to bounce on his shoulderfor a moment. Lifting one hand, he set it back in place. “No, I don’t mind atall,” he said. “Do you think that’s my problem? That I don’t remember my funeral and that’s why I’m still here?”
She smiled at him and nodded. “Well, I think that might beone of them,” she answered evasively. “But once I know about your funeral, I’llbe able to fill in some of the other pieces of the puzzle.”
“Yes. This is a puzzle,” he admitted. “And I’d reallyappreciate any help you can offer.”
She slipped from the stool and walked across the room tohim. “I’d be very happy to help you,” she said sincerely. “And I promise I’lldo all I can to make sure we get you home.”
“Thank you,” Marty said, a tear rolling out of his eye,across the bridge of his nose and across his cheek to land on his shoulder. “Ithink I’d like going home.”
“Yes, I think you’d like it, too,” she said.
With a bright smile, he slowly faded away until he was nolonger in the room. “Well, that took alot less time than I had expected,” Mike said.
“What took a lot less time?” Mary asked, walking back acrossthe kitchen and picking up the ice cream and spoon.
“Finding out the reason,” he said.
She scooped a spoonful into her mouth. “The reason for what?”she asked around a mouthful of ice cream.
“The reason you had to have the article printed in thepaper,” he said.
She put the ice cream down and stared at him, astonished.“Wow, you’re right,” she said. “That is amazing. I guess everything is on theright track after all.”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?”Chapter Eighteen
Mary absently took another bite of the ice cream while sheconsidered Marty and his situation. Solhad given her the creeps the moment she met him, and now she wondered if thatwas her years of law enforcement training kicking in, rather than her ghostlyabilities. She pictured the tall,well-groomed, assertive man and wondered if he would be capable of murder.
She nearly jumped off the kitchen stool when Bradley’s voiceinterrupted her thoughts. She looked up throughthe dim lights to see him standing next to the silverware drawer, reaching forhis own spoon. With a relieved smile,she slid the carton of ice cream over to him as he took a seat on the stoolnext to hers. He stuck his spoon in,scooped out the ice cream and took a bite. “Actually,” he said, his mouthfilled. “I was referring to your thoughts. But this stuff is really good.”
He slid it back so it was between the two of them. “So,what’s going on?”
“I had a visitor tonight,” she said.“Amiddle-aged fellow who died during the summer. And I have a feeling he’s connected to a manthat stopped by my office yesterday.”
“And by yesterday, you mean two days ago, right?” Bradleysaid, glancing over at the clock than now read 1:00a.m.
Following his glance, she smiled and nodded. “Yes, right,two days ago,” she repeated. “Stanley and Rosie were at my office and we weretalking about the barrage of calls I received because of the article—“
“You didn’t tell me about that,” he interrupted.
“Well, I was going to before we were interrupted by thestreet brawl,” she said. And then in a lighter tone she added, “Oh, Bradley, bythe way, I was barraged by calls yesterday at the office because people readthe article about me.”
Grinning, he nodded. “Well, thanks for telling me, Mary,” hereplied before he scooped up another spoonful. “Now you may continue.”
“Thank you,” she teased. “So, while I was telling them, thisbusiness man, Sol Atkinson, walked into the office, totally ignored both ofthem and then proceeded to tell me that he was going to allow me to increase myexposure and publicity by verifying that his house was haunted.”
“Well, how nice of him,” he replied sarcastically.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” she said with a nod. “So Ipolitely told him, as Ian would say, to piss off.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t too happy about it,” he said with asmile.
“No, he wasn’t,” she said. “So he slapped a check for fivethousand dollars on my desk and told me he’d be in touch at the end of the weekbecause he was sure I’d change my mind.”
Bradley dropped his spoon. “Five thousand dollars?” heasked. “That’s a lot of money just for someone to say you’ve got ghosts in yourhouse.”
“Yes, I thought so, too,” she said, digging into the cartonagain. “And then tonight I met Marty.”
“And you think Marty is connected to Sol?”
She nodded. “Yes, Marty told me the way he found me is thathe is tagging along with Sol and saw him speaking with me,” she explained.“Marty was Sol’s partner in this haunted house venture. They bought this old house and wanted toadvertise it as haunted so people would pay money to spend the night andexperience paranormal events.”
“How did they know the house was haunted?” Bradley asked.
“It looks like they didn’t,” Mary said. “And they figuredbecause it was old, it was haunted.”
Bradley popped another spoonful in his mouth. “And what arethe odds?” he asked.
She shrugged and touched the edge of the spoon to her chin.“Well, actually, not that great,” she said. “People who lived in old farmhousesin the Midwest were generally hard-working, farming families. They worked a lot. They helped theirneighbors. They went to church on Sunday, and they minded their ownbusiness. Really, most of them did nothave any unfinished business left here on the earth. They just died and went straight to thelight.”
“So, he might have bought a dud?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s what Marty believes,” Mary said. “They didn’thave a ghost, and in order to make money they needed a ghost.”
“And now Marty is a ghost,” Bradley finished.
“Yes!” Mary said, pointing her spoon at him.“Exactly. And I havea feeling his good buddy Sol might have had a little to do with his transitionfrom this life to the next.”
Bradley nodded silently and studied Mary for a moment. “Sowhat you are really telling me is that you are dropping this one and callingthe police?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, that’s not what I’m telling you,”she said. “It’s been four months or so since Marty’s death and no one hasquestioned it. How in the world will Iget anyone to believe he was murdered?”
“Especially after the article,” Bradley added.
She sighed. “Yes, especially after the article,” sheadmitted. “So I have to get Sol to confess or I need to find proof.”
“When do we start?” he asked.
She looked down at her empty spoon for a moment and thenlooked up at him. “You can’t,” she said. “You’re too well known. Having the chief of police help witha ghostverification will send Sol running.”
“You’re not doing this on your own,” he stated. “It’s toodangerous.”
“I could call Amelia,” Mary suggested. “She could certainlyplay the part as ghost verifier.”
“Does Amelia have a black belt?” Bradley asked.
“I don’t think so,” she replied, sighing heavily. “But shecarries a really heavy purse.”
“Yeah, let me think about that for a moment,” Bradley said.“No.”
Frustrated, Mary dug her spoon into the melting chocolateand scooped up a large amount and stuffed it into her mouth. “Fine,” shegarbled around the ice cream. “You find me someone who has a black belt, canpass as a ghost verifier and you would trust going with me.”
Bradley slid his spoon around the container and gathered thelast bit of ice cream. “Fine,” he repeated, popping it into his mouth. “I’llcall Ian first thing in the morning.”Chapter Nineteen
Armed with a new to-do list, Mary drove downtown the nextmorning ready to get a lot accomplished. After her late night conversation and ice cream with Bradley, she hadslept better than she had in months and she was raring to go. She pulled up in front of a small store thatwas a city block away from her office. The store, Celia’s, was filled with antiques and home decorations thatsuited the homespun country look Mary preferred. But today she wasn’t looking for somethingfor her house; today she was all about decorating her office.
She pushed the door and looked around, happy to hear that heroffice was not the only place in the downtown with a bell that rang whensomeone entered. The store was acornucopia of autumn decorations, from ceramic pumpkins to spicy potpourri tovintage Halloween cards. Mary knew she had come to the right place.
“Hi, Mary,” Celia, a middle-aged woman with short, brownhair and a welcoming smile, called as she walked from the back room. “I’m justfinishing up helping Paul hang a few more items in the back room. What can I help you with?”
“I need to decorate my front window for Chili Friday and Idon’t have anything at all,” Mary said. “So, how can you help me?”
Celia’s husband, Paul, came out of the back room carryinghis tool box and sporting his white, walrus-like moustache and grinned at her.“After the article in the paper, you would think you’d win for scariest placeof business hands down,” he teased.
Mary shook her head. “Don’t remind me,” she said. “I reallywish I hadn’t done that article.”
“Well, really, if they wanted an article about scary placesin the downtown, all they would have to do is visit Paul’s workshop in thebasement,” Celia said. “Now that’s what I would call scary.”
“It’s not scary,” Paul corrected. “It’s artistic andcreative.”
Celia rolled her eyes. “It’s a creative mess,” she said.“Now, Mary, what are you looking for?”
“Wait,” Paul inserted, hurrying towards the back of thestore. “I’ve got the perfect thing.”
The women waited while Paul went into one of the small,display rooms in the back of the store. A moment later he was carrying out a huge, vintage looking, burnt orangeceramic pumpkin that had one eye closed in a saucy wink. “You just get a blackchair, some Halloween material to drape, and put the pumpkin on the chair,”Paul said.“Instant display.”
“You could surround it with some small bales of hay,” Celiaadded, “and maybe some of these smaller items.” She pointed to a display of tin buckets that were painted in variousautumn motifs from scattered candy corn to a black cat with an arched back.
“That would be perfect,” Mary said.
Celia slowly gazed around the room. “And then you could adda scattering of these silk, fall leaves,” she suggested.
“And these electric candles,” Paul suggested, picking up anelectric candle that looked like an old, wax candle in a pewter candlestick.“To give the illusion of flickering lights.”
Mary looked around the room and smiled. “Sold,” she saidwith a grin.“Now what?”
“Oh, we’ll gather everything together and Paul can bring itover later this morning and help you set it up,” Celia suggested. “And he’llbring the invoice with him, too. And if there’s anything you don’t like onceyou get it there, he can bring it back.”
“Wow. Perfect,” Mary said, digging in her purse. “I have torun a couple more errands, so why don’t I give you the extra keys to myoffice. So, if I’m not there, you canjust let yourself in.”
“Great,” Paul replied, taking the keys from her. “I’llprobably head over there in about ten minutes and set all this up for you.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you two,” Mary saidgratefully. “You solved all my decorating problems. If there’s ever anything I can do for you,just ask.”
“Well, if things get too scary down in Paul’s workshop, Imight have to give you a call,” Celia laughed.
“Just call and I’ll come right over,” Mary promised. “But Imight have to shop a little before I chase away the ghosts.”
“That’s not a problem at all,” Paul chuckled as he carriedthe giant jack o’lantern to the counter. “We love people who shop.”
Before Mary could even start helping Marty, she had to followthrough on her initial hunch. If Sol hadreally killed Marty and wanted him to become connected to their house, heprobably disposed of the body on the property. So, there would be no record ofMarty’s death. She drove over to the countyclerk’s office, which had been moved from the old County Courthouse building tothe Stewart Centre on Douglas Street.
Mary pulled into the parking lot, parked, and enteredthrough the front lobby. As the tallest buildingin Freeport with a total of twelve floors, it was equipped with twoelevators. Mary was grateful for thatconvenience as she pressed the button for the fifth floor.
The doors opened and Mary stepped into the new lobby for theStephenson County government offices. Walking across the lobby, she entered the modern, glass-walledaccommodations of the county clerk’s office.
“Mary,” Linda called happily from behind the large counterin her new office space. “It’s great to see you. How are you feeling?”
“Actually, great,” Mary said. “I am finally feeling like ahuman being again.”
“Well, you look amazing,” Linda replied. “Pregnancy agreeswith you. How’s the rest of your family?”
“Pretty excited about Halloween,” Mary said. “We’re going tobe helping with Clarissa’s party at school. And that ought to be an interesting experience.”
“Very,” Linda replied.“Especially afterthe article in the paper. I betyou could tell some really good ghost stories.”
You have no idea,Mary thought. But she only smiled,shrugged and changed the topic. “How’s Bob?” she asked, referring to Linda’sfairly new husband.
“He’s great,” Linda replied with a smile.“Andstill very romantic.It’s like he’s making up for all of those years weweren’t together.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mary said.
“So, I suppose you didn’t come down here just to chit chat,”Linda said. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for a coroner’s report from the last fourmonths or so,” Mary said. “The name would be Marty Cannon. I’m not sure if it’s Martin or Marty.”
Linda nodded. “That’s okay. It shouldn’t be that hard tofind,” she said, turning to her keyboard and entering the information. She scanned the screen and typed in moreinformation. “Are you sure he died in Stephenson County?”
“Yes, it should be in Pearl City,” Mary said. “And if it’slisted, it should be sometime in June.”
Typing some more information into the system, Linda studied thescreen again. “No, I don’t see anything like that,” she said. “Maybe we coulddo a search on John Does, just in case.”
“That would be great,” Mary said. “I would guess he’s aboutforty years old.”
Linda stopped typing and glanced over to Mary. “Should Ieven ask you how you know about this?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.
Shaking her head slightly, Mary smiled at Linda. “That’sprobably not a great idea,” she confessed.
Nodding slowly, Linda smiled. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Linda turned her attention back to the screen. “Okay, evensearching for a John Doe with the age variable from twenty-five to sixty yearsof age, I don’t have anything for you,” she said.
“Okay,” Mary said easily.
Linda looked up and cocked her head to the side. “Why do Ihave a feeling that you’re not surprised?” she asked.
Mary shrugged. “Nothing much surprises me anymore,” shehedged.
Linda leaned on the counter towards Mary and lowered hervoice. “Please tell me that you have Bradley involved in this investigation,”she said. “A missing dead body can’t be a good thing.”
“Yes, he knows about it,” Mary said. “And he insisted that Icall in some special help. So, we’re hoping that Ian will come back to help.”
“Ian,” Linda replied with a smile. “Well, it will be good tohave him back in Freeport for a while. Will he be bringing his black shirt withhim?”
A surprised burst of laughter popped from Mary and sheclapped her hand over her mouth to hold it back. “Linda,” she scolded, stillchuckling. “You’re a newly married woman.”
“I’m married, not dead,” Linda replied with a saucy grin.“Besides, I’m looking out for all of the women in Freeport, not just me.”
“How generous of you,” Mary replied with an answering smile.“I’ll make sure Bradley asks him to bring it along.”
“And, you know, if you have a moment and he wants to stopby…” Linda added.
“Well, really, it would be a waste for him to come all theway to Freeport and not stop in here,” Mary said.
“You really are a good friend,” Linda said and then shelowered her voice once again. “But all kidding aside, be very careful with thisinvestigation. You’re not quite as spry as you used to be.”
Mary stepped back from the counter and looked down at herprotruding belly. “Don’t worry, Linda. I’m not going to do anything tojeopardize this guy,” she said. “I do understand my limitations.”
“Well, good,” she replied. “I know you’re an amazing womanand you can pretty much handle anything, but I have to admit I’m reallyrelieved Ian will be helping you. And ifthere’s anything I can do, just let me know.”
“Thanks, Linda,” Mary replied, moving back towards the door.“I’ll remember that.”
“And don’t forget about the black shirt,” Linda called.
Shaking her head, Mary touched the button to call theelevator. “I’ll make sure that’s a priority.”Chapter Twenty-one
When she finally got back to her office, Mary was delightedby the cheery Halloween display in the front of her office. Paul had situatedeverything perfectly and had even draped some tiny white lights in thebackground to give the impression of stars sparkling at night. Rather than being scary, it was a warm andfriendly Halloween scene, and Mary could almost hear the shouts of childrenclamoring from house to house and dashing through piles of dried leaves as theycollected their Halloween treats. Sheremembered her own trick-or-treating years when she and her brothers would takepillowcases for treat bags, and by the time the evening was over, thepillowcases were heavy with apples, popcorn balls, candy and coins.
The brief memory of her own childhood reminded her of Alisonand her missing child. She walked over to her desk, quickly glanced over heremails and, after finding nothing pressing, decided there was no time like thepresent to make her first attempt to locate the adopted child.
Mary’s cell phone rang about a half-hour later as she drovedown the rural roads towards the old convent that was located just beyond theWisconsin state line. The caller IDappeared on her hands-free, phone display and she smiled as she pressed thebutton. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said. “What’s up?”
“Well, Ian wants to know what’s for dinner tonight,” Bradleysaid with a chuckle. “I still don’t understand how that guy eats as much as hedoes and stays so fit.”
“Must be good genes,” Mary replied. “So, what did you tellhim?”
“I told him I was calling Rosie and inviting us all over toher house for dinner,” he replied. “So he’s already on his way.”
Mary laughed out loud.“Really?He’s coming today?” she asked.
“Yes. He said he needed a little time out of the city andwould love to see everyone again,” he answered. “So, should I call Rosie?”
“No,” she said slowly.
“No? You’re going to cook dinner?” he asked.
“Well, don’t sound so surprised,” she replied and paused fora moment. “But no, I’ll call Rosie so I can pick up the ingredients and somedessert.”
“Good idea,” he said, trying to hide the laughter in hisvoice.
“I can still hear that you’re laughing,” she said.
“Not laughing,” he coughed.“Something inmy throat.”
“You are such a liar,” she replied. “So, I visited withLinda this morning. There are no deathrecords for Marty.”
“I’m running a background check on Sol,” he said. “If heturns out too dicey, we’re calling in someone else on this one.”
“Okay, deal,” she agreed. “In the meantime, I’m heading upto the convent in Wisconsin to see if I can get my hands on the records forAlison’s baby. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need luck,” he said. “You’ve got skills.”
She laughed. “Well, thank you,” she said. “Let’s see ifthose skills can get me what I need today.”
Once she finished the call with Bradley, she dialed Rosie’snumber. “Hi Rosie,it’sMary,” she said when Rosiepicked up the phone. “I was wondering if you and Stanley had any plans fortonight.”
“No, nothing important,” Rosie replied. “Stanley and I werejust planning on a quiet night at home. Do you need me to babysit Clarissa?”
“No, actually, I have a surprise for you. Ian is coming intotown tonight. He’s here to help me on a case,” she said.
“Oh my word, how wonderful!”Rosieexclaimed and Mary could hear the excitement in her voice. “Why, I haven’t seenhim in ages. Will he be here in time for dinner?”
“Well, actually, that’s why I’m calling,” Mary said.
“Oh, Mary,” Rosie interrupted. “I know this is frightfullyforward of me, but would you mind if I cooked dinner? I did so enjoy cooking for Ian, and I knowhow busy you are.”
“I would love to have you cook,” Mary replied eagerly.“Actually, I was hoping you’d volunteer. What ingredients do you want me to pick up?”
“Well, let me think about it and get back to you,” Rosiereplied. “I want to look through my recipes and decide what to make. Oh, thiswill be so much fun! Does Clarissaknow?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Mary said. “She’ll probably want toinvite Maggie over when she finds out.”
“Well, why don’t we just invite the whole Brennan clan?”Rosie asked. “I’ll make something like a big pot of chili or a stew.”
“That sounds perfect,” Mary said. “I’ll give Katie a calland invite them. You are amazing,Rosie.”
Rosie giggled with delight. “Well, I wouldn’t say that,” shesaid, pausing for just a moment. “But it’s so nice to hear you say it. Now, areyou in town?”
“No, I’m heading up to Wisconsin right now,” Mary replied.“But I should be back by early afternoon to help you.”
“Oh, that’s right,”Rosie said. “You’re going up there to find out about that poor woman’s baby,aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” Mary nodded. “Wish me luck.”
“Oh, you won’t need luck,” Rosie said confidently. “You’llhave them eating out of your hand in minutes. I’m just sure they will be ableto help you.”Chapter Twenty-two
“I’m afraid we can’t help you,” the stern-faced nun on theother side of the desk stated bluntly. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Mary had arrived at the convent twenty minutes earlier. The institution sat up on the top of a hillsurrounded by a huge arboretum with smaller meditating gardens and a number ofsmall, brick-lined, narrow paths that led throughout the acreage. The facilities consisted of the convent, alarge school and a smaller brick building that had few windows and seemed morelike a factory than a religious institution.
Parking her car near the convent, Mary got out and decidedto wander the grounds for a few moments before she went up to the office. The air was crisp and the trees surroundingher were still bathed in the full glory of autumn. She walked down the hill, away from theparking lot, and the first garden she encountered was a shadegardenfilled withhostasof everysize and color. They were plantedunderneath and around a cedar pergola in the shade of a grove of oak trees. There were a number of small, cedar benchesscattered throughout the area and Mary walked over to one situated under thelargest oak and sat down.
“This is one of my favorite spots, too.”
Mary was startled to find that she was sitting next to theghost of an elderly nun dressed in a black habit with a long, silver and blackrosary around her neck. She turned slightly towards the nun and smiled. “I cansee why it would be,” she said. “It’s very peaceful here.”
“Are you one of our girls?” the nun asked. “You know, you’renot supposed to be outside in your condition.”
The nun looked pointedly at Mary’s belly and then she shookher head. “You know you must follow the rules,” she continued. “You agreed tothem when you came.”
Deciding she wanted to learn more from the nun, Mary playedalong. “What rules?” she asked.“Sister?”
“Sister Bernadette. The contract you signed when you came tolive with us,” the nun replied impatiently. “Whether you or your parents signedit, it’s still binding and legal.”
“But what if I didn’t want to come here?” Mary said.
“You made that choice when you decided to lay with a youngman out of wedlock,” Sister Bernadette replied harshly. “You will learn thatthere are consequences to your actions.”
“I want to keep my baby,” Mary said, placing her handsprotectively on her lap.
“That’s not an option,” Sister Bernadette replied, and thistime her voice was tinged with regret.
“Why isn’t it?” Mary asked. “I’ll get a job. I can raise mychild.”
“Think of the others,” the nun replied.
“What others?” Mary asked.
“The other girls who are here,” Sister Bernadette continued.“Those who have no ability or desire to find a job.Weneed the funds from the placement of the children to run our facility.”
“You sell our babies?” Mary asked, astonished.
Sister Bernadette quickly shook her head. “No, of coursenot,” she immediately replied. “We charge a placement fee, that’s all. It justcovers some of the expenses for housing you girls while you prepare to givebirth.”
“I thought the factory work paid for our room and board,”Mary ventured, hoping to learn a little more about the work they did.
“Factory?”Sister Bernadette replied,confused. Then her face cleared and shenodded. “You mean the laundry? Well, that brings in funds, of course, but not nearlyenough.”
Mary studied the elderly nun’s eyes and saw the sadnessthere. “Are you sure?” Mary asked. “Are you sure the money from the laundrydidn’t bring in enough money? Are yousure you needed to steal the infants from these young women and break theirhearts? Are you really sure you neededto do this?”
Sister Bernadette’s eyes filled with tears and she shook herhead. “No,” she whispered, her voice thick with grief. “No, I’m not sure atall.”
And then she faded away until Mary was once again alone inthe shaded garden.
Rising, Mary slowly walked from the gardens up the pathtowards the main building. The path wasbordered with flowers, some summer flowers that were still in bloom mixed inwith spicy chrysanthemums. But thecolors and scents didn’t bring Mary the pleasure they usually did. Instead they reminded her of the flowers at afuneral, something beautiful trying to disguise something very sad.
She entered the huge, stone building, walked to the mainoffice and was immediately greeted by a friendly young woman who was dressed ina more modern version of a habit, lighter in color and a little shorter than SisterBernadette’s. “May I help you?” the nun asked.
Mary offered her friendliest smile and nodded. “Yes, Icertainly hope so,” she said. “I’ve been engaged by an elderly woman to locateinformation about a child that was placed for adoption from your facility. I have the birthdates, the child’s given nameat birth and the mother’s maiden name. And now that the child is no longer a minor, Iunderstand the information can be released.”
She handed the woman a piece of paper with all of theinformation on it. “If you would just check your records,” Mary urged.
The smile faded on the young woman’s face. She took thepaper and nodded. “If you will just wait one moment,” she said. “I’ll need tocall the Mother Superior to help you.”
Mary found herself sitting on a hard, wooden bench for tenminutes until she was summoned into another office. The room was very modest,the furniture sparse, and the only ornamentation were religious artifacts onthe wall. The woman sitting behind the desk seemed to fit hersurroundings. She was thin and birdlike,her small, dark eyes darting nervously around the room before resting on Maryand then quickly on Mary’s belly.
“So, I can see that you have more in common with your clientthan my secretary stated,” she snapped derisively.
“I beg your pardon?” Mary replied, shocked at the tone inthe woman’s voice.
“You and she are both…how shall I say it?” she pondered aloud,“Both carnal women rather than Godly women.”
Perched on the edge of the seat in front of the MotherSuperior’s desk, Mary could feel her temper rise, but she fought back the angrywords that were on the tip of her tongue.Itwill not help the situation if you call her a snake and tell her to bite thewall,she decided silently.Even though it would feel really good.
“I suppose that we are alike because we have both beenblessed in being able to join with God in the miracle of life,” she finallyreplied, trying to do her best to say what she thought her mother would say inthis situation. “She also gave birth to two wonderful sons who love her verymuch. But whether a woman is able tobear children or not, I believe that God judges her by her good works andwhat’s in her heart.”
So, what’s in yourheart, you angry, old reptile?Mary thought, though her face remainedpassively pleasant.
Mother Superior snorted scornfully and shifted some paperson her desk. “Well, I’m sure some day we will find out how God judges us, won’twe?” she asked.
Mary continued to smile, even though her jaw was beginningto ache at the strain, and nodded. “Yes, I suppose we will.Andnow, about the records.”
“I’m afraid we can’t help you,” the nun replied. “There’snothing we can do.”
“You don’t have the records?” Mary asked.
“Whether we do or don’t is irrelevant,” she replied,shrugging easily. “We do not share that kind of information. It is confidential and each young womansigned a contract when she entered the facility.”
“If the young woman was a minor, she cannot be held to the directivesof the contract,” Mary countered.
“Which is why we also had their legal guardians sign thecontract,” Mother Superior replied with a satisfied smile. “We have lawyers,too, and they have reviewed our records and found nothing wanting.”
“Except, perhaps, a conscience,” Mary blurted out before shecould help herself.
The nun’s face turned red and she stood up very slowly. “Ibelieve this conversation is over,” she replied. “I’m sure you can see yourselfout as you certainly found your way in here.”
Mary stood. “I’m not giving up,” she replied. “I will gethold of those records.”
The nun met Mary’s eyes and shook her head, an angry smileon her face. “Well, you know, records do have an unfortunate history of gettinglost or being destroyed by fire. Who knows what happened to the records you aresearching for? The adoption was a long time ago.”
Enraged, Mary knew that she needed to calm down before shebegan her drive back to Freeport. Shestormed past her car and walked down the narrow paths that wound their waythroughout the facility. “Carnal woman?” she muttered angrily. “Who the he…”She paused, recalling where she was and inhaled sharply. “…heck is she to callanyone anything?”
Striding forward, her mind distracted with the conversationshe’d just had, she hadn’t noticed where she was walking and was surprised tofind herself at the entrance to a small cemetery hidden in the midst of thegardens. The old, wrought-iron, doublegates were open and Mary stepped through to the well-manicured lawn andcollection of ancient and modern headstones. The anger left her body as she stepped forward on the sacred ground,feeling an overwhelming calm and peace.
In the middle of the cemetery was a large, bronze statue ofthe Virgin Mary, her hands outstretched and a patient and loving smile on herface. “I wonder how she would feel about the term carnalwoman?”Mary muttered as she moved closer.
“She would have hated it.”
Mary turned to find the old nun from earlier standing justbehind her. “I think you’re right,” Mary agreed. “I think she would have felt compassionfor the young women who found themselves pregnant and unmarried.”
Nodding, Sister Bernadette turned away from the statue andglided across the cemetery to a collection of small gravestones on the farthestedge. Mary followed her and was dismayed to find a collection of infant graves hiddenunder the shade of one of the giant, oak trees. “These were the ones we couldn’tsave,” Sister Bernadette said, a translucent tear slipping down her cheek.
“Why so many?”Mary asked.
“We were not skilled, not prepared for the complications ofsome of the births,” she explained.
“But you could have called doctors or midwives,” Mary replied.
“We were told that by the time they would have reached us…” shebegan and then she sighed deeply. “But we will never know, will we?”
“The girls?”Mary asked horrified.
The nun glided a little farther away and Mary followed,looking down on several rows of small, very plain gravestones with the names ofthe young girls listed upon them. “Didn’t anyone stop this?” she asked.
Lifting her head, regret in her eyes, Sister Bernadette shookher head. “No one,” she said sadly. “These girls and their children wereforgotten.”
Mary shook her head. “No, the children were not forgotten,”Mary replied firmly. “Their mothers never forgot them. And they need to knowthe truth.”
Shaking her head, the old nun began to fade away. “Sometimesthe truth carries too much pain,” she whispered.
“Sometimes you need pain to start the healing process,” Marycountered before the ghost faded away completely.
“You!” an angry voice cried out. “What are you doing here?”
Mary turned to see Mother Superior striding through thecemetery towards her. “You do not belong here,” she continued. “This is privateproperty.”
“I didn’t see a ‘No Trespassing’ sign,” Mary said.
“Well, this is sacred ground,” the nun replied. “Not atourist venue.”
Mary folded her arms across her chest and rested them on herbelly. “It seems more like a crime scene to me,” Mary said, “with the evidenceof years of criminal negligence being covered up.”
“You have absolutely no proof,” the nun respondedimmediately. “And unless you have some kind of warrant, I demand you leaveimmediately.”
Mary stood her ground for another moment, facing the angrynun, then slowly nodded and walked past her. When she was just behind her she whispered, “It’s going to be a lotharder to destroy this evidence than it is to burn a few records. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be foundpurposely impeding an investigation. They do put nuns in jail, you know.”Chapter Twenty-four
As Mary drove back to her office contemplating the optionsshe had available to get the records, including a brief consideration ofbreaking and entering, she was interrupted in her musings by another callcoming through on her cell phone. “Mary O’Reilly,” she answered, notrecognizing the number.
“You’re not in your office,” was the curt response.
She immediately recognized the voice as belonging to SolAtkinson, and her heart rate increased just a little. She had to admit the man understood the artof intimidation, but she was not going to allow herself to be bullied. “No, I’m not,” she replied evenly. “I’mworking on a case.”
“I paid you to be here today,” he countered. “So we coulddiscuss my case.”
“I didn’t agree to anything like that, Mr. Atkinson,” sheanswered calmly. “And, your check has remained uncashed and on my desk whereyou placed it.”
“You’re playing games with me,” he said. “And if you don’tchange your tune soon, I’ll report you.”
“To whom?” she asked, now amused with his blustering.
“To the Better Business Bureau,” he offered.
She chuckled. “I don’t think my business fits under any of theircategories,” she replied.
“Well then, if you’re really a private investigator you haveto work under the auspices of the local law enforcement agency,” he said. “Howwould you like me to report you to the chief of police for fraud?”
As much as she would have loved to tell him that she wasmarried to the chief of police, she knew the only way she would be able tosolve Marty’s murder was to play along with the obnoxious bully. “I don’t thinkwe need to get the police involved,” she said. “And I’ve actually been thinkingabout your case. However, if I take your case there would have to be somestipulations.”
“Like what?” he growled suspiciously.
“I have a colleague,” she began, “who is quite famous in thefield of paranormal investigation. Ifyou know anything about the field, you’ve probably heard his name, ProfessorIan MacDougalthe founderand head of the MacDougal Foundation for Paranormal Research.”
“Um, yeah, of course I’ve heard of the guy,” he repliedslowly.“Friend of yours?”
“Ian and I have worked on some cases together,” sheanswered. “He’s actually here in the States doing some research on hauntedhouses and I thought he might be interested in having a look at yours. Of course, you’d have to sign some papersallowing him to publish the name and location of your house in his academicjournals with the understanding that the information could be picked up bymainstream media.”
“Mainstream media, eh?” he repeated.
“Oh, yes, Ian has quite a following,” she said. “Which is why we have to make sure people understand they could beinundated with people who are interested in the paranormal.”
“Inundated, huh?” he said slowly.
Mary could almost hear the drooling in his voice. She hadlaid out the perfect bait. Now all she had to do was wait for him to bite.
“Well, Iain’tpaying you anyextra,” he argued weakly.
“Oh, well, that’s the other thing,” she said. “If Ian’sgoing to study your house, we can’t accept any payment. That would make hisfindings look suspicious and we need to maintain an objective and unprejudicedapproach.”
“I don’t have to pay you?” he asked incredulously.
“No, not a single penny,” she replied.
“Okay, well then, yeah, I guess your friend can come take alook, too,” he said. “You know, ‘causehe’s sure tofind some good stuff, some real good stuff when he’s here at my house. Did I tell you that it’s one of the top tenhaunted houses in the country?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, you did mention that,” shereplied, biting back a chuckle. “And I’m sure that information is what piqued Ian’sinterest.”
“Well, actually, it’s probably more like the top five oreven the top three,” he said, his voice rising with excitement.
“Well, I’ll be sure to let him know,” Mary said. “He’ll bearriving in town this evening and will probably want to set up his equipmenttomorrow morning, if that works for you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there,” he said. “Tomorrow morning isfine.”
“I’ll send you a text tonight when I know what time we’llarrive,” Mary added. “So, if you could send me the address of your house, I’dappreciate it.”
“Okay, I’ll send it and then wait to hear from you,” hereplied and then he disconnected the call.
“The rat has taken the bait,” Mary said softly and suddenlyfelt that her day had become a whole lot better.Chapter Twenty-five
“And what do we have here?” Ian asked as he walked intoMary’s office that afternoon and spied her in the back of the room. “Ah dinnaeken when I’ve seen you more beautiful, and that’s saying a lot.”
Hurrying across the room, Mary threw her arms around Ian andhugged him. “It’s so wonderful to see you,” she said.
He returned the hug and then put his hands on her shouldersand stepped back to look at her. “And what, may I ask, have you been up toyoung lady to get yourself in such a state?” he asked with a grin.
“I’ll never tell,” she replied.
“Well, darling, you don’t have to tell,” he said. “The lookon your face and the slight swelling of your belly is telling the story on itsown.”
Her smile dropped to a pout. “So, are you saying I lookfat?” she asked, lowering her face to cover the twinkle in her eye.
“Ah, no, darling,” Ian quickly replied. “You’re gorgeous,svelte and brimming with beauty.”
She looked up at him and allowed the smile to show. “Andyou’re a charmer,” she said.
He blew out a sigh of relief. “And you nearly had me besidemeselfwith worry that I’d gone and stuck me foot inmemouth once again,” he said, giving her another hug. “Andhow are you feeling?”
“Simply wonderful,” she said.“AlthoughBradley seems a bit more protective of me.”
“As well he should,” Ian said. “Especially when you’redealing with someone who sounds like he’d do anything to make money.”
“Yes, this fellow is a real winner,” she said. “But beforewe go into the case, tell me, how are you and Gillian doing?”
The smile on his face was wide and a little goofy.He’s certainly in love, Mary thought.
“It just gets better,” he replied with awe in his voice. “Doyou ever worry that it’s just too good to be true and the bottom is going tofall out on you at any moment?”
She nodded. “Yes, I have,” she confessed. “But perhapsthat’s the Celtic attitude of always looking a gift horse in the mouth.”
He grinned. “Aye, that’s the truth of it,” he agreed,walking with her over to her desk. Heheld her chair out for her and pulled up another one so he was seated besideher so they could both view her computer screen. “Now, tell me a little aboutthis case.”
After Mary explained the details, Ian sat back in his chairand folded his arms across his chest. “Well, it’s more than a bit ironic thathe created a real ghost but the poor ghost didn’t have a clue how to haunt thehouse.”
Mary nodded. “Poor Marty doesn’t realize what’s going on,”she said. “And I don’t know how he’s going to handle it when he finds out thatSol murdered him. That is, of course, if I’m right about the situation.”
“Aye, and given the facts you’ve shared, I feel you have theright of it,” he replied. “So what’s the next step?”
Mary clicked on another tab and brought up photos of thehouse in Pearl City. “This is the house,” she said.
“Well, it looks like it should be haunted,” Ian said.
“Yes, it really does,” she agreed. “I thought we could setup some of your equipment, not that it really needs to be all cabled together.”
“Ah, to set the scene,” he said.
Nodding, she flipped to the next picture of the interior ofthe house. “We could set up cameras,monitors and sensors,” she said. “And then…”
She paused and worried her bottom lip for a moment.
“Yes?” Ian asked.
“Well, I really don't have a plan,” she admitted.
“What?” he exclaimed.
“Not a real plan,” she inserted before he could continue. “I’mthinking we could do some kind of a set up. We could use Mike and maybeMarty if he’s willing to go along with it. We would move things around, get things going and then do something toput Sol into a position where he blurts out that he killed Marty.”
“Okay, partially brilliant idea,” Ian said slowly, “exceptthat you have a man who’s already killed once for profit. What’s to keep him from taking both of us outto keep his secret quiet and add to his house’s ghost collection?”
“Okay, I haven’t figured the plan out that far,” she said.
“Well, that’s an important part to figure,” Ian said.“Vitally important.”
Mary sat back in her chair and sighed. “So, do you have anyideas?” she asked.
“Aye, but I need to talk to Marty and see what he’s willingto do before I share it with you,” he said.
“Okay, tonight after dinner,” Mary said. “I’ll see if I canreach Marty and we can all chat.”
Ian chuckled, leaned over and placed a kiss on Mary’s cheek.“And that’s what I’ve been missing from me life lately,” he said with a grin, “anaverage night at Mary O’Reilly’s house including dinner and a chat with a deadman.”
Mary carried the large tureen of chili back into the kitchen.“Rosie, that was amazing,” she said. “You’re going to have to give me therecipe.”
Rosie, standing at the sink, her arms in soapy water up toher elbows, looked over at Mary and whispered, “Well, my secret is just theright combination of cumin, chili pepper and cocoa.”
“Shhhh,” Rosie whispered back.“That’s just our little secret.”
Mary mimicked locking her lips and throwing away the key. “Yoursecret is safe with me.”
“No!” a scream erupted from the living room. “Not again.”
Mary and Rosie both looked over in that direction.
“I can’t pay for another stay at your hotel,” Maggie cried.“Please give me a break.”
“Sorry, darling, as cute as you are, the rules are therules,” Ian said. “You land on my property and you pay up.”
“But if I pay you, I won’t have any more money,” shecomplained.
“Aye, well, you can always sell me that wee piece ofproperty I’ve hadmeeye on,” he replied and pointedto a spot on the game board.
“No, don’t sell him that,” Clarissa begged. “If he getsthat, he’ll have all three of them and then he’ll start putting houses onthem.”
“Not houses, darling, hotels,” Ian replied and added anefarious laugh.
Bradley leaned over and whispered into Maggie’s ear. She smiled broadly and nodded. “Selling my propertyis an excellent idea,” she said in her most grown up voice. “But I’m going tosell it to Bradley, not you.”
Ian looked over at Bradley. “So, trying to outsmart me, eh?”he asked in his best bad guy imitation.
“You’re a little dog, not a gangster,” Stanley stated,pointing at Ian’s playing piece. “Start acting like it.”
Ian turned to Maggie and Clarissa and winked. Then he pickedup his playing piece and trotted over to one of Stanley’s pieces of propertyand tilted the dog sideways so it looked like it was urinating on a little redhouse. “Better?” he asked Stanley.
“You watch your step, you young whippersnapper or I’ll showyou what for,” Stanley replied, his eyes twinkling with laughter.
“How?Are you going to thimble meto death?” Ian asked.
While Maggie and Clarissa giggled, Andy just rolled hiseyes. “Can’t you guys just play the game like normal people?” he asked.
Ian trotted his little dog around the board to Andy’smarker, tilted it once again and made a streaming sound. Then he looked up at Andy and shook his head.“No, I guess not,” he replied.
“You are so weird,” Andy said, biting back his laughter.
Rosie chuckled and shook her head. “It’s so wonderful to seefull grown men taking the time to play with children,” she said to Mary.
“That’s what families do,” Mary replied and then sheshrugged. “Well, that’s what my family always did.”
Rosie turned and walked back to the sink. “That’s not whatmy family did,” she said. “As you know, my father was abusive and my motherleft when I was a small child.”
“Rosie, I’m sorry,” Mary said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
With Rosie’s back turned to her, Mary thought she could hearsniffling. Finally Rosie spoke, her voice thick with emotion. “I don’t thinkyou will ever understand how important your friendship has been to me,” shesaid. “You gave me a family. You openedyour arms and your heart to me. I searched for acceptance for years, and Ifinally found it when you became my friend.”
A little overcome by her friend’s emotional outpouring, Maryfelt tears form in her eyes. She brushedthem away and took a deep breath before she replied. “Rosie, you taught me howto be a good friend and how to laugh off my troubles when I felt overwhelmed,”she said. “You have been my best friend and my example since I’ve been here inFreeport. I never would have made the transition from home to here withoutyou. So, I understand how important thisfriendship is, because I feel exactly the same way.”
Rosie turned, tears streaming down her cheeks and her armscoated with soap suds, and hugged Mary. They both burst into tears as soap suds dripped from Rosie’s arms, downMary’s back, and onto the floor.
“What the…?” Ian asked, looking over his shoulder into thekitchen. “They were fine just a few moments ago.”
“Women,” Stanley grumbled, picking up the die and tossing itdown for his turn. “Don’t even try to explain ‘em.”
“I think it’s a hormonal thing,” Bradley said.“Something about being pregnant.She does this all thetime.”
“Is Rosie pregnant, too?” Clarissa asked Stanley.
Turning red as a beet, Stanley shook his head. “No, she’snot,” he muttered.
“Why not?”Maggie asked. “She’smarried.”
Ian grinned and looked at Stanley. “Yes, Stanley,” he said,widening his eyes to try and look innocent. “She is married. Why isn’t shepregnant?”
Narrowing his eyes and tightening his lips, Stanley glaredat Ian for just a moment and then turned back to the game. “Look, I rolleddoubles,” he said. “And I landed on go. Looks like I win all the money.”
Ian studied the board and shook his head. “Not unless yousomehow rolled thirteen, you old scallywag,” he said. “I think that rather thanlanding on free parking, you are spending the night in one of my luxuryhotels.”
“Am not,” Stanley said.
“Are so,” Ian replied. “That will be two thousand, sevenhundred and fifty dollars. And I’ll be happy to take cash.”
“This is highway robbery,” Stanley grumbled as he startedcounting out his play money.
“No. It’s simple capitalism,” Ian replied. “And I can seewhy you Americans find it so rewarding.”Chapter Twenty-seven
The house was much quieter. Clarissa had been tucked intobed. Maggie and Andy, who had been allowed to stay later than the rest of theirsiblings, had been walked home. Rosieand Stanley were standing by the doorway, getting their coats on and sayingtheir goodbyes. “Oh, I almost forgot to mention,” Stanley said. “I did a littlechecking on that Sol fellow who was so rude to you the other day.”
“Yes?” Mary asked.
“I spoke to some folks I know up Pearl City way and theyain’tfond of him at all,” he replied. “He’s alwaysfighting some ordinance or the other at the city council meetings.Don’t give nothingback to the community, and he’s behind onhis taxes but got some lawyer issuing petitions to slow the tax sale down. He’sgenerally a pain in the butt to all of his neighbors and he’s the worst tipperthe gals at the café have ever met.”
“He sounds like a spoiled brat,” Rosie said.
Mary nodded. “Yes he does,” she agreed.
“Well, Iain’tgonnatell you how to run your business,” Stanley said. “Butiffenit was me, I’d cash that fellow’s check and make sure it’s good before I’d bedoing any work for him.”
“Thank you, Stanley,” she replied. “That’s good advice. Iappreciate your information.”
“No problem, girlie,” Stanley said with a slight shrug.“That’s what friends do for each other.”
A few minutes later, Stanley and Rosie had left for theirown home and Mary, Bradley, Ian and Mike were sitting around in the livingroom, a fire softly crackling in the fireplace.
Sipping on a cup of tea, her feet tucked underneath her,Mary leaned back on the couch and stretched. “This has been a great evening,”she said turning to Ian. “I’m so glad you escaped from Chicago to be with us.”
“Aye, it was a grand time,” he agreed. “And not just becauseI won a tidy bit playing the game.”
“It was because you beat the pants off Stanley,” Mike saidwith a chuckle. “Admit it.”
“Yes, I admit it,” Ian laughed. “I love to get him allworked up.”
“And he loves getting all worked up, too,” Bradley said. “Idon’t think I’ve seen him happier in weeks.”
“And how’s our Rosie?” Ian asked.
“I think she’s happy,” Mary said. “She loves the feeling offamily she has with all of us.”
“Well, she is family,” Mike said. “Family isn’t aboutbloodlines. It’s about love and shared experiences.”
“I agree,” Bradley said. “Rosie and Stanley are just as muchClarissa’s grandparents as her blood grandparents are.”
A log snapped in the fire, causing a small explosion ofsparks against the grate. They all watched the fire in silence for a moment, enjoyingthe peace of the night.
“Well now,” Ian finally said, interrupting the quiet andglancing over into the kitchen. “I believe it’s time for phase two of theevening’s festivities because I believe you might have a visitor, Mary.”
Mary glanced over and saw a shadow dart back intohiding. She reached over and took holdof Bradley’s hand. “Ready to meet another guest?” she asked him.
He nodded. “Sure, it’s always interesting to meet your newfriends,” he replied.
“Marty?” she called. “Marty, it’s all right, you can comeout.”
Hesitating slightly, Marty glided out of the kitchen towardsthe living room, his head still bent over parallel to his shoulder. “I hope I’mnot disturbing your evening,” he stammered.
“No, actually, I asked everyone to stay so they could meetyou,” Mary replied. “I was hoping you’d come by.”
“Really?They wanted to meet me?”he asked, a slight smile playing on his face.“How nice.”
“Marty, this is Ian,” Mary said. “He is a professor inParanormal Research.”
“They have professorships for crap like that?” Marty asked.
Mike snorted and then coughed to try and cover his laughter.
“Evidently, yes they do,” Ian replied curtly.
“Ohmy gosh, he can hear me?” Martyexclaimed. “I’ve been spending so much time with folks that can’t hearme,I guess I just blurt stuff out.”
Hiding her amusement poorly, Mary grinned in Marty’sdirection. “Yes, Ian can hear you,” she said. “Actually, everyone in the roomcan see you and hear you. And we all want to help you.”
Marty looked from face to face and stopped when he reachedBradley. “You look familiar,” he said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Bradley Alden,” he said, not sure how much he shouldtell the ghost. “I’m Mary’s husband.”
“So, you got a kind of husband and wife thing going onhere,” he said, nodding his head. “That’s okay. I wish my wife had worked withme. Looks like shedidn’t even come to my funeral.”
“Marty, I need to talk to you about that,” Mary said. “Ichecked with the county today and there is no record of your death.”
“But I died,” he replied. “I’m sure of it.”
“I’m sure of it, too, Marty,” she replied. “But your bodywas never recovered and no one ever reported your death.”
He shook his head slowly. “That can’t be right,” he said.“Sol was right with me when I died. He would have told someone. He would havecalled an ambulance.”
Mary glanced at Ian. She didn’t want to accuse Sol and upsetMarty. She needed him to come to theconclusion on his own that Sol might have committed his murder. But in order todo that, Ian needed to put into play the plan they had devised earlier thatafternoon.
“I’m sorry,” Ian said, nodding slightly in Mary’s direction.“But since I’m new to the story, can you fill me in on who this Sol fellow is?”
“Sure, sure,” Marty said. “Sol is my business partner.”
Ian nodded slowly. “Well, excellent,” he said. “And whatbusiness were the both of you involved in?”
“We bought a haunted house,” Marty said with an excitedsmile. “We bought the house, updated it so we could use it like a bed andbreakfast and then we spent the rest of our money marketing it.”
“Well, how exciting,” Ian remarked.“Andthe ghost.What was it like?”
The smile faded away. “Well, yeah, that was the problem,” heexplained. “After the first couple of bookings, people started figuring outthat the place wasn’t haunted at all. Wedid everything to get ghosts, séances, Ouija boards, stealing…er, I mean,borrowingstuff fromother haunted houses. But nothing worked.”
“So, you had a haunted house that was losing money becauseit wasn’t haunted,” Ian repeated. “What were you going to do?”
“Well, Sol had a plan,” Marty said. “That’s why we went tothe house on the day I died. He wasgoing to do something about the whole haunted thing.”
“What?” Ian asked.
Marty lifted up his hand and rubbed the top of his head.“Well, see, I don’t really know because I died before he told me.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that your partner had a planto get a ghost. He met you at the house. You ended up dead and he never reported your death to anyone,” Ian said.
“Yeah,” Marty said slowly. “Yeah, that’s right. Why?”
Ian shot a frustrated look at Mary, took a deep breath andthen looked back to Marty. “Well, I don’t know your partner and I hate to castdoubt on a good man,” Ian said. “But it seems to me that your death could havebeen the answer Sol was looking for.”
“What?” Marty asked, still confused.
“If you died, then the house would be haunted,” Ian carefully pointed out.
Marty’s eyes widened. “Are you saying you think that Solkilled me?” he asked.
Ian shrugged. “As I said, I don’t know the man, so I hate tocast any doubts,” he said. “But you have to admit, it sounds like a good plan.”
Marty nodded slowly. “Yeah, it does,” he said softly. “Itsounds just like the kind of plan Sol would concoct.”
He looked at Mary. “Do you think he killed me?”
She nodded. “Well, I have some suspicions,” she said. “Ithink he might have buried your body in the house so you would be stuck thereand have to haunt it. That’s why therewas no funeral.”
“What did he tell my wife?” Marty cried. “Does she think Ijust deserted her?”
“We won’t know until we discover the truth,” Mary said. “Andin order to discover the truth, we need your help.”
“You just tell me what you need me to do,” he saiddecidedly. “Now I’m angry.”