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Katie O’Hara…

She was there, she was alone, she was vulnerable.


Ah, tonight…

Tonight was too soon.

Too soon; the death of the stripper had to be noted, puzzled and plastered all over the news. A stripper might be forgotten quickly. That was the way of the world. But Stella Martin, pathetic user that she had been, had now taken her place in importance. Now she was history; she was legend.

And, of course, that would be it with Katie, too.

For a moment, he frowned, regretting the fact that he had chosen such a whore to be his victim. Stella hadn’t really deserved to be remembered in any way.

Then again, Tanya Barnard hadn’t been pristine, either.

Katie…well, Katie was a good girl. She deserved the best. She truly deserved to be legend.

Something very, very special would have to be done for her. Nothing quick, nothing spur-of-the-moment. It must be thought out carefully.

Fantasy Fest was coming…

Ah, yes. Something truly magnificent could be done with Fantasy Fest.

On a Monday night, the streets were quiet. Comparatively.

There were still people out and about. The bars were open on Duval, and scattered venues around the city. It was an odd Monday-still Monday, but a Monday with the city beginning to fill. Many people planned vacations around Fantasy Fest, and some had already trickled in. More would arrive on Friday night, when the city went into high gear.

Katie wondered if there would be an air of nervousness, or if tourists would simply need the diversion for their own lives.

Usually, people could rationalize away something wrong, heinous or even evil.

I’m not a prostitute. I can’t be affected.

I am always with my friends…husband…lover…

I will be safe.

Of course it was true.

The ghost walked ahead of Katie.

She thought that the ghost of Stella Martin was going to turn down the block before Duval, but she didn’t. She seemed to hesitate, as if thinking out her move. She looked at Katie, and then she moved on to Duval.

Katie followed. There was no reason for her to be afraid. Duval was as familiar to her as her own front walk.

Rick’s was open, as was the Irish bar across the street, and both seemed to be busy. Up ahead, more bars were still issuing the sounds of music out to the road and all those who still prowled the town. They passed the smallest bar, and a few old friends were hanging around; they waved to Katie. She waved back and hurried on.

They were near one of the inns on Duval Street that many people might pass on a daily basis-and barely notice. They were wonderful places for the city. Small, on top of storefronts, they often had the kind of rooms where spring-breakers might find an affordable stay. Her brother had rented one with a group of friends once. “Katie, there’s one bed. There’s a bed under the bed, and when you open the closet, there’s a mattress standing up! It’s just great. Of course, you have a ton of folks and one bathroom, but it means that kids can afford to come!”

The ghost stopped. She stared at Katie, frowned, looked worried, then sighed.

And walked around back.

Katie hesitated, then followed her.

A narrow alley led to the back of the building and stairs that allowed guests at the place to depart through the rear of the establishment. Another alley ran between the shops, bars and restaurants on the main street and the shops, bars, restaurants, B and Bs and homes that were on the other side.

Katie could hear all the sounds from the street. The laughter. The music. The cars and small motorcycles going by. She could hear the light toot of a horn.

Laughter again.

The ghost looked anxiously about and ran along the back alley, then stood in the midst of bushes and the dripping branches of a large sea grape tree.

Katie walked over to her. The ghost seemed very afraid; she looked around constantly.

She opened her mouth. She couldn’t really make sound. She wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable in her death as Bartholomew had come to be. Katie could barely hear her.

I was here, it’s all I remember, but the plastic, the darkness and the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Then the hands, I can’t forget the hands around my neck.

A car backfired away on the streets; the ghost of Stella Martin actually seemed to jump.

Get to the light, get to the light and the people, it’s the darkness…he knows the streets. He was following me… I didn’t realize…

“Stella,” Katie said aloud, “was it Danny? Danny Zigler?”

Stella frowned. I…no. I don’t know. I don’t know! But go…please. It’s dark. Go now, and help me, please help me. Go, and don’t get yourself killed, or how the hell will you help me?

The ghost was finding her personality. Brash in life, she would be so in death.

Katie turned.

She knew the city so well. Knew the streets, the legends, even where trees grew and bushes were thick, where foliage had been cut back, where locals gathered, and where they did not.

She knew her city.

But she felt as if she was being watched.

As if she had been followed.

And while just a block away the city was alive and bursting with music and colorful revelers, those who had come from near and from far, she felt alone.

But she knew it; she had been seen.

She had been seen talking to thin air, right at the place where Stella had been killed.

Something seemed to creep along her nape. Something more frightening than she had ever experienced. Not of another world, but of this world.

She sensed evil. Living, breathing evil.

He was hidden, watching. Her senses seemed acutely attuned, and it was as if she could hear him standing still, and yet causing a slight rustling. Watching her. Stalking her. Waiting, his breath coming fast, his hands clenched at his sides. Strong hands, the kind that could quickly cause suffocation, and then squeeze the life from the living.

The ghost was agitated, too.

She began to fade.

“Run!” she said.

And Katie did.

Cleaned up, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, her face scrubbed, her hair in a ponytail, Stella’s friend Morgana Willams seemed like a woman in her late thirties-in fact, she looked like the girl next door.

“I know who you are,” she told David wearily.

He had offered to buy her a drink. She hadn’t wanted alcohol; just a cup of coffee. It was still readily available.

They sat at a little open-air table in the far back of the establishment, within sight of many who were escaping the music and yet still partying. Some looked as if they were already preparing for hellacious hangovers the next day.

Some had been moderate, and were watching out for their friends.

“I didn’t kill your friend,” he said.

She smiled, a dampness about her eyes. “I believe you. Of course, I wasn’t here ten years ago. I came down from the farmlands of Indiana. I didn’t want a boring life, you know. I’m not sure I exactly planned on this life, but…hey. Maybe I’ll find Mr. Right somewhere.”

“You never know,” he told her.

“The police already questioned me,” she told him.

“Well, it makes sense,” he told her.

“They questioned everyone in the club. One of the guys is your relative, isn’t he? A cop named Liam Beckett.”

“He’s my cousin.”

“Yeah, you can tell.”

“He’s a good guy,” David told her.

She nodded. “He was real respectful. He didn’t treat us like we were all whores-or the underbelly of society.”

David smiled. “Well, you are gainfully employed. And, by the way, I thought you might have been a dancer-as in musicals-at some time. Were you?”

Her face lit up. She was almost pretty. “You could tell that? Really?”

He nodded.

“I started off in the Big Apple-New York City,” she said. “I even worked Off Broadway. But then I met Joe, and Joe introduced me to…a few friends who weren’t friends at all. Cocaine and heroin, and before I knew it… Never mind. You’re not here to listen to my story, are you?”

“You can dance,” he assured her simply.

She sipped her coffee. “I can’t tell you anything I haven’t already told the cops. Stella did have a thing with Danny Zigler-on again, off again. And she had some regulars, but she didn’t even tell me about them. She said that she was sworn to silence, ’cause big muckety-mucks never wanted anyone to know that they hung around with folks like us. I told her that the muckety-mucks were ashamed that they needed help to get it up, you know what I mean? But-you think that Danny might have killed her? Danny always seems like a nice guy. He’s not ambitious, but…lots of guys down here aren’t exactly balls of fire, you know what I mean?”

“So you can’t name anyone else she might have had a regular relationship with?”

Morgana sniffed. “You got a cigarette?” she asked him.

He shook his head. “No, but I’ll get you one.”

The bar itself was still open. The fellow running it seemed to be Eastern European, possibly Russian. When David asked for a pack of cigarettes, the fellow’s accent confirmed his thought. Russian or Ukrainian.

The bartender didn’t know him, and he accepted the money for the cigarettes with no comment on his past or the day’s events.

David brought the cigarettes to Morgana. She lit up and inhaled greedily, looking at David. “Yeah, yeah, they’re going to kill me one day. But they keep me off the hard stuff.”

“I’m not a judge, I promise,” David told her.

She managed a laugh. “No, no you’re not, are you. All right, what else can I tell you? Whoever local she was seeing who was in the higher echelon or whatever, I don’t know. She did care about Danny, and they did see each other.”

“Thank you for helping me, for telling me that. What I need to know now is what happened that night. When did you last see Stella?” David asked.

Morgana inhaled deeply and was silent for a few seconds. When she spoke at last, it was thoughtfully. “We worked that night, but she took off early. No, no, wait, that wasn’t right. She took a break and went down the street. Then she came running back in. I tried to ask her what was going on-but she wouldn’t tell me.” Morgana hesitated a minute. She grimaced weakly and shrugged. “She-she could be a bit of a pickpocket, but she told me she figured she was actually helping the youth of America. If she stole their money and their cards, they couldn’t get plastered and kill themselves on their way back up the island.”