Sketch Me If You Can (9 page)

“What the hell were you thinking?” Leah asked her. They were alone, walking back toward the tumult of the fire.
Rory stopped short, frowning at her as if she’d suddenly sprouted a second head. “You’re kidding, right? I was thinking we had to catch the guy before he got away and killed someone else.”

could have been the ‘someone else’!”
“Or it could have been you,” Rory replied, more sharply than she’d intended. “Or the captain, or anyone else who tried to bring him in.” She knew she was overreacting, but damn it, she deserved some credit for getting that creep off the street and maybe keeping future victims out of the morgue.
“Stop it, Rory, you know what I mean.”
“That I’m an artist and I don’t have the street experience to go after guys like that on my own?”
“Well, do you?” Leah asked.
“I graduated from the same academy you did, and I carry the same weapon.”
“When was the last time you used it outside the firing range?”
“That’s not my fault.”
“When you’re lying dead in some alley somewhere, whose fault will it be then? Look”—Leah took a deep breath and her tone softened—“you scare me, because you’re me twelve years ago.” She put her hand on Rory’s arm, needing her to feel the connection between them. “You’re not immortal, my friend, and you’re not expendable.”
Something inside Rory relaxed. Leah wasn’t the enemy. Her only crime was perhaps caring too much for her friend. She nodded, and they walked back to the scene of the fire without any further need for words.
Captain Flagg was supervising the loading of the suspect into one of the police cars. As soon as he spotted Rory, he marched over to her.
“Well done, Detective,” he said, a salute in his tone. “You’ve done the job proud. I’m going to make sure your captain knows what you did today. There could be a commendation in it for you.”
“Thank you, sir ,” Rory replied. Just behind her, she heard Leah groan.
Chapter 8
t half past five on Monday evening Rory arrived at the house on Brandywine Lane. She’d decided to think of the house in those generic terms until she was ready to call it her own. Fortunately her shift had ended on time, which wasn’t always the case, since criminals weren’t any more interested in abiding by police schedules than they were in abiding by the laws themselves.
As she rolled two suitcases up the flagstone walk to the front door, she was glad that it was June and that the sun was still hours away from setting. There was definitely no need for the additional drama that night always brought to all things strange and eerie.
She didn’t have to turn off the alarm. She hadn’t bothered to set it when she’d fled the house the previous morning.
Leaving the luggage in the entryway, she went from room to room looking for Drummond and wondering just what a ghost did to while away the hours.
There was no sign of him anywhere, but then she never actually expected to find him playing solitaire at the computer, watching television, taking a shower or fixing dinner. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Mac’s letter, she might now be questioning whether her first encounter with him had been a strange dream and nothing more.
She stood in the middle of the living room, a vantage point from which she could see parts of the dining room and kitchen as well as the lower portion of the staircase. She was about to draw the gun that was holstered on her belt when she realized that even if she were packing an Uzi and a missile launcher, there was no way to threaten or kill someone who was already dead. Besides, it probably wouldn’t set the right tone for their conversation.
“Marshal Drummond?” she called out. “Ezekiel Drummond?”
“Right here, ma’am. Were you thinkin’ there might be more than one Drummond in residence?”
Although Rory had summoned him, she jumped at the sound of his voice behind her. She spun around to find him leaning against the back of the couch, wearing the same outfit he’d worn the day before.
“Nice to see ya,” Zeke said casually, as if it were perfectly normal to suddenly appear out of the ether. “I take it Mac’s letter vouched for me or you wouldn’t be back here with those suitcases.”
“Yes, it did. But let me assure you, Marshal, I have no intention of letting you or anyone else take Mac’s house away from me without a fight.”
“That was never my plan.” Lines like cat’s whiskers crinkled the leathery skin around his eyes, and his moustache hitched up a notch with the makings of a smile.
“Good,” Rory said, hoping that it wasn’t the smile of the cat just before it swallowed the canary. “Now, if we’re going to be sharing this house, I have some questions that need answers and there are some things we need to clear up between us.” Her voice sounded spunkier than she felt, which in turn bolstered her confidence.
“I’m listenin’.”
Rory walked past him and sat in the chair he’d occupied the other night. Zeke sat on the couch, but she never actually saw him walk around to the front of the couch and sit down. One moment he was leaning against the back of the couch and the next he was sitting on it.
“This house had more than thirty owners before my uncle. That’s a lot of owners even for a house as old as this one. So it’s pretty clear that you must have scared them all off. I’m just not sure why.”
“For a police detective you’ve gone and gotten your facts all jumbled. I never tried to scare anyone away. Except maybe the old lady whose dog howled nonstop from the day they moved in till the day they left. She didn’ mind the howlin’ cause she was pretty much stone deaf. But he used to follow me around all the time, and I gotta tell ya, it was annoyin’ as hell.”
Rory had to suppress a smile at the image of the beleaguered marshal being tormented by the dog. “Okay, but if you didn’t try to scare the others away, why did they leave?”
“A little of this an’ a little of that, I suppose. I might’ve moved things around, flipped some switches, made some noises. . . . You try livin’ in the same place for over a hundred years. It’s borin’ as all get out.” He paused for a moment and when he continued, his voice was low and weary. “But mostly they left because I went and tried to make their acquaintance.”
“So why was it different with my uncle?”
“It wasn’t in the beginning. We didn’t hit it off straight away. No, ma’am. But he dug his heels in. How’d he put it? Oh yeah, ‘Nothin’ short of a damned atom bomb’ was gonna make him leave this place. Now I’m not familiar with atom bombs, but since I’m stuck here myself, we had to work it out between us. And mostly, we did.”
“But if you died in 1878, why
you still here? Isn’t there some kind of light you’re supposed to go toward when you die?”
go talkin’ to me about the light,” Zeke growled. “I already heard it all from Mac, and I’m not followin’ any light ’til I find out who the coward was that shot me in the back.”
“Whoever he was, he’s dead by now, so how could it possibly matter?”
“It matters.” Zeke started pacing around the living room in the same peculiar, halting fashion that he’d exhibited the other night. And Rory was certain that she hadn’t even seen him get up. Apparently he wasn’t any better with transitions than he was with walking. She felt as if she were watching a poorly edited movie.
“Just how do you plan to find out who it was?”
Zeke winked out of sight midstride and reappeared instantly leaning against the fieldstone fireplace. “Mac was tryin’ to help me with that, but he never did make much progress. Not that I blame him. I know the trail’s gone cold.”
Cold? Rory thought. Glacial was more like it. But she had no idea how to convince a ghost with a stubborn streak that the odds were against him in pursuing a case over a century old. Ezekiel Drummond didn’t seem to care that justice would never be served even if the truth were somehow deduced.
“Okay, Marshal, since it seems that we’re going to be sharing this house, we need to have some ground rules.”
“Mac and I never needed any rules.” Zeke frowned, his thick brows inching together as if they’d been pulled by a tailor’s thread. It created a sinister effect, one that was no doubt useful in his line of work, but for Rory it was more like a call to arms.
“As you may have noticed,” she replied tightly, “I am not Mac.”
“Don’t go gettin’ snippy on me.” Zeke’s tone matched hers. “I may be dead, but I ain’t blind.”
Under any other circumstances Rory would have found that statement amusing. Now it just caused a tangle of muscle and nerve to start pulsating over her left eye. She drew in a deep breath. Her voice was even, if not conciliatory, when she said, “I’m going to need some privacy. I assume that you’re an honorable man, a man of your word. I need your promise that you won’t enter my bedroom or bathroom without asking for permission.”
Zeke’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “You got no worry on that score. As willing as the spirit may be, the flesh is long gone.”
“That’s not the point,” she said, refusing to be cajoled. “I’m not at all interested in what you can or cannot do. The rule is for my comfort level, not yours. Now, do I have your word?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Yes, of course you do. You can rattle around alone in this place for another century, waiting for someone else who’s willing to stay here with you.”
“That’s a fine rule then, Miss Aurora. You have my word as a federal marshal and as a gentleman that I will not trespass on your privacy”
She studied his face, looking for any sign that he was dissembling. He returned her gaze evenly. Nothing about his body language indicated that he was lying, but she’d never dealt with a ghost before. Trusting that Mac would never steer her wrong, she decided to take Zeke at his word, at least for now. Okay,” she said, “but before we go any further, how did you know my full name?”
“Mac talked about you a lot and, as I recall, he mentioned how dead set you are against your given name.”
“Then you ought to know better than to address me by it,” she said with a defiant thrust of her chin.
“Yes, ma’am.” Zeke’s voice was conciliatory, but there was mischief in his eyes.
Rory refused to rise to the bait. “Rule number two.”
“Hold on a minute there,” Zeke said. “I thought the Aurora thing was number two.”
“Mocking me is not going to win you any points, you know.”
“I wasn’t mockin’, I was just countin’.” Zeke managed to sound genuinely confused, even though Rory was sure she could still see laughter dancing in his eyes.
“Have it your way. Rule number three: I’d appreciate it if you would find a way to let me know when you’re nearby, so that you don’t keep startling me.”
Zeke nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Rule number four—”
“Just how many rules are there?”
“Four for now. But I reserve the right to add more as I see fit.”
Zeke crossed his arms and adopted a weary expression.
“If I have visitors, you’ll stay out of sight and refrain from any mischief that might raise questions.”
He wagged his head. “You put me in mind of an old school teacher I had. I swear that woman did not own a smile.”
He looked so discouraged that Rory laughed in spite of herself. “Okay, I guess I had that coming.”
“Well, would you look at that—we agree on somethin’ after all. Is there anythin’ else?”
With the ground rules out of the way, Rory debated asking the question that had been uppermost in her mind since she’d read Mac’s letter. While she wasn’t at all sure that she was ready to hear the answer, she knew that if she didn’t ask, the question would continue to nag at her.
“There is something I’ve been wondering about,” she said, turning to face Zeke, who had resumed his position on the couch, “something maybe you can answer for me.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“I’ve been told that my uncle’s heart attack was sudden, massive. I’d just like to know for sure that he didn’t suffer. You were here; you saw it happen, right?”
Zeke was silent for a minute and when he spoke again, there was a strange undercurrent in his tone that Rory couldn’t immediately name. It was sad, defensive and a little surly all at once.
“You don’t get how it is,” he said. “It takes a heap of energy and focus to manifest like this. From time to time I need to recharge, so I ain’t always payin’ attention to what’s goin’ on in your world. Anyway, to answer your question, Mac was unconscious before I even took notice. I’m not real good with time anymore, mind you, but I’m thinkin’ he went mighty fast.”
Rory had hoped for a more specific answer, but she knew there was no point in giving Zeke the third degree. She tried a different tack. “I’m not sure how to say this; what I mean is . . . did Mac . . . did you see Mac pass through where you are?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, sounding more relaxed now that he was the bearer of good news. “He sure did. But he never stopped, never hesitated for a second. And he never looked back. It was like he knew exactly where he was goin’ and he was in a fierce hurry to get there.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Rory sighed, comforted for the first time since Mac died. “After he lost Claire, I had the feeling that he was only marking time here.”
“Could be if I had someone waitin’ for me on the other side, I’d be more amenable to movin’ on too,” Zeke murmured, staring past her into a distance that she couldn’t begin to fathom.
Rory was surprised to find herself moved by the loneliness and regret that she heard in his voice. She didn’t know what to say to him, what words might bring comfort to a soul still tethered to a world in which he didn’t belong.
The silence grew until it occupied all the empty spaces in the room and the air became heavy with its weight. Then Zeke seemed to jolt himself straight out of his reverie.
“For now, there’s things here that need tendin’ to,” he said, meeting her eyes again as if there hadn’t been any lag in the conversation.

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