Alive, and strong, and determined.
"He's trying," Brent whispered. "And he's… "
Nikki moved quickly then, exiting the mausoleum. She shuddered at the creaking sound the gate made in the night, seeming incredibly loud.
"Tom," she said, walking forward. "You've tried to talk. I haven't known how to listen."
Brent was at her side. "My name is Brent Blackhawk. You have no reason to trust me, except that Nikki trusts me," he said. "But I'm here to help. We're both here to help. To find the people who murdered you."
Julian had promised to be quiet. He had seemed to understand, but maybe it was all a little bit too much for him. They could hear the soft echo of his voice from within the tomb.
"Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God. They're at it again. They're talking to ghosts. And asking for help. Talking to ghosts," Julian murmured. But there was no mockery in his voice.
Nikki glanced back. She could see the shadowed form of her friend hunkered down low in the mausoleum.
Julian had his hands over his face. "What am I doing here?" he groaned.
She turned back to Tom Garfield. He was staring at Brent. Judging him. He seemed to take a long time in the chill, charged atmosphere of the mist-shrouded graveyard.
Then he spoke. His voice sounded grating, harsh, like the scrape of heavy equipment.
As if he were learning to talk all over again.
But he spoke. And the sound was clear on the air.
"Soon… the rear… the ovens. They come here… there's a stash. I'm not sure where. They're always masked."
"Let's go," Nikki said.
"No. You stay here, in the tomb with Julian," Brent said.
"I have to go with you."
"No. Please, Nikki. I'm not alone. The cops are out there."
Just then, like a strange thunder in the night, they heard a series of soft thumps from the rear of the graveyard.
Brent shoved Nikki toward the mausoleum. "Please?" he whispered desperately.
All around them, the mist seemed to swirl.
There were more and more forms around them.
And the cold brought on shivers.
"It's easier for me to fend for myself, Nikki. When I know you're in danger, I'm not as sharp," he said, and she knew that his words were sincere.
Tom Garfield had turned. The ghost of Andy Ciello watched, then slowly began to fade.
Brent followed the earthly remnants of the soul of Tom Garfield.
Nikki exhaled slowly, then turned and quickly found a place inside the tomb again. Julian was on the ground, still shaking, teeth chattering. He looked at her miserably and winced. "And I'm protecting you?" he said wryly.
"Ghosts do exist, Julian," she said, taking his hands, holding them both to reassure him and for the warmth they provided.
He didn't agree, but he also didn't deny her words. He just stared straight ahead, through the wrought-iron gate of the mausoleum.
"Nikki?" he said on a breath.
His eyes seemed fixed on the gate.
She looked out herself. And saw, even as Julian spoke again.
"Nikki… someone's coming." He looked at her tensely and added, "And it isn't any ghost."
"You!" Massey exclaimed.
Joulette was swearing. He'd spilled his coffee.
"What are you two doing here?" the man at the window asked harshly. Haggerty! Of all the damn times for him to show up.
"You're in our way," Joulette said.
"I rank, fellows, and I repeat, what are you doing out here?"
"We heard a rumor about some hooligans being in the cemetery," Massey said. He looked at Joulette with a frown that demanded, Did you call him?
Joulette was looking back at him just as suspiciously.
Massey looked back at Haggerty. In his customary suit, he was standing by the driver's door, staring down at them as if they were errant schoolboys.
"A girl was attacked out here the other night," Massey said.
"Yeah? And that's a big deal these days?" Haggerty asked.
"She might have been killed."
The darkness suddenly seemed to close in. Haggerty looked up. "Clouds over the moon," he said.
"Yell, well, there's someone in the graveyard, too," Massey said, angrily forcing his door open. "I am an officer of New Orleans, sworn to uphold the law, and this is my territory. Excuse me, will you?"
Joulette, too, exited the car. Before he could close his door, they heard the explosion as a shot was fired in the night.
* * *
Ghosts were invisible to most people.
Brent was not.
He had moved carefully among the tombs, even as he followed Garfield. But the shot that was fired out of the mist was fired at him.
Instead, the bullet hit the nose of a winged angel at his side.
He dove to the ground, and rolled, finding safety behind a society crypt just as another shot rang out.
Then mere was the sound of thundering footsteps from all directions. In the swirl of fog, he saw a dark-clad figure running back in the direction from which he had come—toward Nikki's hiding place.
He pulled his Smith & Wesson and got to his feet, following. He dodged between the crypts and sarcophagi, angels, cherubs, broken stone and masonry, damning himself. He had known that something was going to happen. Come hell or high water, he should have found a way to keep Nikki out of the cemetery. How in God's name anyone could know she was hidden in a crypt…
Tom Garfield was ahead of him.
And ahead of Garfield was a figure, staring into the tomb where Brent had left Nikki and Julian. And he had a gun.
A gun that was aimed into the tomb.
A series of shots from the rear wall of the graveyard sounded, sharp like the bark of thunder in a fierce storm, exploding in the night.
The figure paused briefly, but not for long. It took aim again.
"Stop!" Brent shouted.
The figure turned.
"Put down your weapon."
The figure took aim at Brent.
With no other choice, Brent fired. He aimed for the wrist. And he aimed true. The gun went flying.
But before the figure could do more than scream in agony, another shot was fired in the night.
From behind Brent.
Nikki's would-be assassin fell to the ground. Even as he did so, sirens sounded in the night, so loud that the noise seemed to dispel the mist. Brent looked behind him. In the fading mist, he could see the shooter. The gun was pointed at him now.
He lifted his own weapon again.
"Drop it," came the command.
Brent held his ground, blinded in the night.
"FBI! Drop it!"
"I just saved your life. Now drop your weapon."
Footsteps pounded behind Haggerty.
"Blackhawk? That you?"
It was Massey, shouting.
"Yeah, it's me."
He lowered his weapon. Haggerty did the same. "God above us," Haggerty swore. "It's not bad enough you two clowns are running around in here, we have to bring in the Indian ghost buster, as well. Shit. You ruined it. Ruined the sting. You guys keep out of my way from now on, do you hear? And the fuckin' paperwork is yours, too!" Haggerty bellowed in disgust. He turned and walked away, disappearing in the mist.
Both Massey and Joulette pounded quickly toward Brent. "You all right?" Joulette asked.
"I'm fine. The one in front of me…"
Nikki. Nikki and Julian…
Brent broke off and hurried to the mausoleum, throwing open the iron gates. His heart leaped into his throat and lodged hard.
There was no one there.
Nikki fell over the wall, right behind Julian. He caught her, breaking the distance to the sidewalk.
"This is insane. This is all insane," he said. He glared at her. "Nikki, for the love of God, what the hell are you into? You know, I like Blackhawk, but he's a wacko, and he's dangerous. What in God's name was going on in there? We could have been shot!"
Nikki stared at Julian. "I told you not to come."
The sound of another siren tore through the night.
"Let's get the hell out of here before we wind up involved in all this."
"We are involved," Nikki protested.
"No, we're not. We're outside the cemetery."
"Brent is in there somewhere."
"And you think he can't take care of himself? He's like this with the cops." Julian raised his hand, showing entwined fingers.
"Julian, someone's shooting in there and—"
"And we're lucky as hell the guy about to kill us was shot, and that we were able to escape unseen. Nikki, if we go back in, if we get involved, what would we do? What would we say? You had a feeling that you needed to go to the cemetery. You talk to ghosts. Oh, they're going to believe that. We'll wind up under arrest ourselves, if we're not killed first. Nikki, please, let's get away from here."
"Julian, I can't just walk away while Brent is in there."
"There are a million cops in there."
"And it sounded as if there were a million shots fired. How do I even know he's all right?"
"Because he is who he is," Julian said, and his voice sounded just a touch bitter. "He'll be fine. I'm willing to bet he's CIA or FBI or some kind of alphabet-agency person. He's tough as nails. He'll be fine."
"I can't leave him."
Julian stared at her for a minute in exasperation. Another police car went past them, its lights flashing, its siren blaring. He grabbed Nikki, dragging her into the shadows.
"I've got it," he said.
"What?" she demanded.
He reached into his pocket.
"Blackhawk!" Massey called. "What the hell are you doing?"
Brent shoved past Massey, anxiously scanning the nearby crypts. His veins felt as if they were filled with ice.
He barely heard Massey speaking. "Nikki!"