Page 42

“Aye, aye, captain!” Katie said.

“David, the bar, if you will. Sean-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Bus tables,” Sean said, rolling his eyes. “I’m on it.”

“That damned Danny Zigler comes in, wanting work, and where is he now?” Jamie said, shaking his head with disgust.

Dead, Katie wanted to say, but she didn’t. She hurried back to the kitchen.

The breakfast rush lasted into lunch, but by then, Jamie had managed to gather all his part-time employees and the operation was running smoothly again. At two o’clock, the regular employees had the dining stragglers under control. Katie, emerging from the kitchen, saw that her uncle, her brother and David were seated at one of the tables near the bar and the band stage where her karaoke equipment was set up. They seemed to be eased back, and talking.

Like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time.

She saw that Clarinda had stepped outside and went to join her on the sidewalk. “The air! Ah, the air, the air!” Clarinda said.

“So, what was going on with Mike Sanderson and Sam Barnard last night?” Katie asked. “Did they come in together?”

“No. Sam came in-he’s been coming in here pretty regularly since he got into town. Strange, huh? He’s been living up in Key Largo all this time, never came here, as far as I know, and now, this week, here he is.”

“And, wow, really go figure! Mike Sanderson, dressing up like Robert the Doll,” Katie said.

Clarinda shuddered and grimaced. “Now, that is frigging creepy- Oh, look!”

Katie looked down the street. She didn’t see anything unusual-not for Key West in the midst of Fantasy Fest. A pirate with a peg leg was escorting a vampire down Duval. The pirate was fairly customary-and good. He had an eye patch, a real peg leg and looked as if he might have stepped off the pages of Treasure Island.

The vampire wore a sweeping black skirt with stripes of blood that continued from the bodice of the gown, a tight-fitting corset. She was wearing the typical long black wig and white makeup, along with ruby-red lips.

“Cool costume-she looks good,” Katie said.

“Look harder!” Clarinda said, laughing.

Katie did. She gasped. “That corset is body paint! Oh, my God, that is amazing!”

“Yes, it is!” Sean announced, stepping up behind them.

“You’re a lech!” Clarinda accused.

“I am not. I’m commenting on a great paint job,” Sean assured her. He yawned. “Ladies, it’s been a thrill. Such a thrill. I’m going home and back to bed. Katie, be good, be careful. I’ll be at the house if you need me. All right, well, I’ll be at the house whether you need me or not, but I’ll have my cell. And don’t worry, I’ll be here for the Katie-oke, even if Jamie guilts me into busing tables again.”

He gave her and Clarinda a kiss on the cheek and started walking.

“Hey, the car’s in back!” Katie called.

“Leave it there-by the time tonight is over, we may be too tired to walk!”

Sean left, and David replaced him. “Hey, are you going to hang around here for a while?” he asked Katie.

“Maybe an hour,” Katie said. “I’ll just stay long enough to see that Jamie really has things under control.”

“I’ll be back then.”

He gave both girls a kiss on the cheek, and was gone.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Clarinda said. “Think about it-all our lives! Except for college, of course. All of our lives, and this place is still just crazy.”

“Yes, but that’s why I love it,” Katie said. “Black, white, gay, straight, Hispanic, Russian, Israeli, you name it. Somewhere along the line, someone made a rule that we’d all accept one another, and it seems to have stuck. I do. I love it here.”

“And I’ve never even seen you in body paint!” Clarinda teased. “Hey-Jamie was just saying he wanted us in the pirate costumes tonight. Want to walk down to Front Street and the pirate-costume-slash-sex shop with me?”

“Sure. Let me tell Jamie what I’m doing.”

“You need one, too, you know.”


“Hey, he wants to help celebrate the Fantasy Fest pirate party,” Clarinda said. “He’s open to vampires, too.”

“Great,” Katie said. She hurried back in to tell Jamie what she was doing, then joined Clarinda on the street.

“That thing is just creepy,” Clarinda commented as they passed by giant Robert the Doll.

“And it stinks around here,” Katie commented.

Clarinda frowned. “Old booze. Sweat. Maybe someone was sick.”

They walked down to Front Street, turned right and went the few blocks to the store. It was one of Katie’s favorite places. Half of the store sold sexy lingerie, sex toys and naughty Halloween costumes. The other half carried an amazing array for the pirates of Key West. Vests, period coats, shirts, skirts and more. It was possible to be a wench, an aristocrat, an elegant buccaneer or a scurvy mate. The morning had been so busy, she’d been able to set aside everything that had been happening.

Certainly, the city did not seem to be mourning the passing of one of its strippers.

Clarinda tried on a variety of costumes, and decided on a wench. Katie was musing between a corset, blouse and skirt, and a recreation of an Elizabeth Swann costume when Bartholomew appeared at her elbow. “The corset,” he said. “Very real. Miss Swann wasn’t a true pirate wench in any way-she was forced aboard, a kidnap victim. I did love that movie,” he said.

“Where have you been this time?” Katie asked him.

“Home,” he said. She arched a brow, but the ghost had claimed her house as his own, and didn’t appear to notice the way she looked at him. Bartholomew was deep in thought.

“I’m right here, Katie,” Clarinda said, frowning.

“I’m going to go with the shirt, corset thing and skirt,” Katie said.

“Can you sing in that thing?”

“The ties are fake-there’s a zipper in back and it’s stretchy. I’ll be fine,” Katie said.

“I’ve been reading the book,” Bartholomew said. “Nice piece of nostalgia for me. Beckett was a damned decent man.”

“That’s good to hear,” Katie said.

“Pardon?” Clarinda said.

“They’ll be able to hear me fine,” Katie said. She glared tight-lipped at Bartholomew, who shrugged.

“I know that the key to all this is in the past. Did you see the part where Beckett mentions that Smith cursed him from the noose?”

Katie lowered her head. “I can’t talk to you now, Bartholomew,” she said.

“Katie?” Clarinda said.

“Sorry, arguing with myself,” Katie said. “Come on, let’s pay for this stuff.”

At the counter, she produced her credit card, assuring Clarinda that they were giving the bill to Jamie. As she waited to sign the slip, Katie gazed out the window.

The sun was filtering in. For a moment, it seemed to blind her.

Then, she saw that Tanya was standing there. Standing there, beautiful and sad in white, as if waiting for her company.

“Sign that for me, will you?” Katie said to Clarinda. “Please.”

“Where are you going? Katie, are you all right? Hey, wait!” Clarinda said.

But Katie was already on her way out.

Tanya waited, caught in that glimmer of sunlight, until Katie was nearly upon her. Then she started to walk.

Katie made her way through buxom lasses and strapping pirates, and a U.S. Navy sea captain here and there. Vampires and zombies were crowding the streets, as well. The season was changing-it was just hot instead of dead hot-but all manner of costumes were being worn-naked and in paint, almost naked, to period frock coats and heavy fabric skirts.

Music was emitting from restaurants and bars already; a fire-eater was working a corner of Front Street.

Tanya managed to stay just ahead of Katie.

Bartholomew was following close behind her.

“She’s headed for the hanging tree,” he said.

“Why?” Katie murmured.

Bartholomew said, “I keep telling you, it has to have something to do with the past. It has something to do with me,” he said.

She turned to stare at him, crashed into a wolfman, righted herself, apologized and hurried on. “Wolfman-the guy is crazy! He’ll be sweating to death before tonight,” she murmured.

They reached the saloon. It was busy. Katie saw Tanya slip in and she followed. There were no tables. There was one seat at the bar and she grabbed it, ordered a drink from a harried bartender and looked around.

“Imagine back,” Bartholomew said, standing right behind her and whispering in her ear. “When I died, the building wasn’t here. The area where you’re sitting was built in eighteen fifty-one. Morgue. Quite convenient. After one of the hurricanes, folks came back and found that the bodies weren’t in great shape. They ripped up the floorboards and buried them right here.”

“I know. There’s still a tombstone here,” Katie said.

“And bones in the ground,” Bartholomew said sadly.

“And the woman who haunts the bathroom,” Katie said. “But, Bartholomew-”

“You’ve got to go back before that. Military law-and no law. Evidence? What was evidence in a buccaneer town like Key West?” he asked bitterly.

“Did you see Smith hang?” Katie asked him.

He shook his head. “I had friends. I was buried on the beach. After the same hurricane, they dug me up with the others-and what pieces they discovered were transferred to the new cemetery-the Key West cemetery.”

She actually felt his hands on her shoulders. “Katie, it’s all attached, I just know it, somehow. You have to go through that book again.”

“Danny Zigler had checked out several books. They’re at David’s house. We’ll get them first thing in the morning, how’s that? Or, I’ll call David. I’ll ask him to get them before tonight, and then I’ll have them to read.”