Eve had awakened restless.
She blamed it mostly on the Cherubim. In her death-like dream state she continued to see his smirking face as he came at her across the writhing dance floor, a floor covered in fighting rats, slick with the blood that oozed from their tattered bodies. It made it hard to dance, but she still tried, slipping and sliding in her Louis Vuitton boots as she danced toward the back doors to escape the angel and get away from the rats.
But she sensed something outside - something that didn't belong there.
Now Eve took a sip from her Au Bon Pain latte, trying to push the disturbing dream imagery from her mind as she stared out the front window of the cafe. Something had caught her eye.
She hoped she was wrong. Anything that might interrupt her shopping spree would be unwelcome. She wanted to replace the silk blouse the college boy had ruined, but as soon as she had entered Copley Place, that simple errand had been fanned into a roaring fire that compelled her to spend. With a satisfied smile, she surveyed the chairs across from her, piled high with shopping bags. Eve had already paid visits to Gucci, Armani Exchange, and Stuart Weitzman, and had even stopped in to Godiva to satisfy a chocolate craving.
It was all about satisfying cravings tonight.
Eve turned her focus back to the front window, predatory eyes scanning the crowds walking about outside. She found the girl again, neo-Goth, no more than sixteen, dressed entirely in black, a streak of bright pink running through her straight, shoulder-length hair.
Eve wondered how long it had been since she had been turned.
Goth girl was talking with a little blond chick dressed a little more conservatively in cutesy bunny T-shirt and a cheerleading jacket. Took the T in from the burbs, did we, sweetie? Eve thought, breaking off a piece of the croissant she'd bought with her latte and popping it into her mouth.
Girls. Well, at least one of them was a girl.
The neo-Goth was a vampire. The average person wouldn't have the slightest idea, but Eve could pick them out of a crowd of a million. That was just how things were with a mother and her children.
She suppressed the feeling of guilt she always experienced when coming upon one of the poor creatures that had been afflicted with the curse she had begun so very long ago.
The two girls moved toward the escalator that would take them into the main shopping area of Copley Place. Eve popped another bite of croissant into her mouth and took one more swig of her latte as she stood up to leave. Grabbing her bags, she left the store to follow the girls.
At the top of the stairs she quickly zipped into a costume jewelry store and, smiling at the woman behind the counter, asked if she wouldn't mind watching her bags while she went to the ladies' room. The woman obliged, and Eve smiled as she complimented the woman's earrings. Then she walked from the store, her hands now free.
It took her a minute, but she found the girls about to turn the corner heading toward the water fountain in the center of the mall. They were chatting up a storm, the suburban girl completely captivated by her undead companion.
Eve pretended to study a window display as the pair passed the smoke shop, briefly stepping inside to check out a copy of US Weekly before continuing on their way. To anyone else, they were two typical high school girls, but to Eve they had an altogether different story.
Where most saw teenagers shopping, she saw predator and prey.
She couldn't remember exactly when she had taken it upon herself to hunt down the spawn of her curse. Sometime during the Bronze Age, she thought. Her memory wasn't all that sharp when it came to matters from the distant past, especially since she'd spent most of it in a bloodthirsty rage. But sometime, long ago, she had decided that it was her mission to clean up the mess she had started. She'd been at it for a very long time, but was nowhere close to completing her quest.
That was the problem with curses; there was always someone new to pass it on.
The two girls ended up on the top level of the parking garage. It was practically deserted. Eve had carefully followed them up the metal stairs, listening to Miss Suburbia whining about not using the elevator. If she only knew what's about to happen to her, she'd really have something to whine about, Eve thought.
From the doorway, Eve watched the two walking across the garage. The dark-haired girl had put her hand into the back pocket of the other's jeans and pulled her close. They stopped to share a kiss, and Eve tensed.
The black-clad girl leaned in, clearly happy with the situation. The vampire teen put a hand around her partner's shoulder, as she steered her toward a car parked in the shadows near the wall.
At the driver's side door they started to kiss again. The vampire roughly pushed her partner back against the car, and the younger girl seemed surprised.
Eve could feel the vampire's excitement and hunger pulsing in the air like the heartbeats they both used to have, and decided it was time to make her move. She darted out from the doorway, sprinting across the garage, just as the vampire revealed her true nature. They all took such pleasure in revealing what they truly were to their prey, it was almost as if they fed on the terror as well as the blood.
Goth-girl pulled back her head, holding on to the shoulders of her friend, and with a hiss opened her mouth. Glistening white, razor-sharp teeth flashed, the canines distending as she opened her mouth wider to bite.
"Not tonight, sugar," Eve said. She grabbed a fistful of the girl's hair and yanked her head back before her fangs could break the skin of the other girl's throat.
The vampire went wild, spinning around to face Eve, her hair tearing away from the scalp. "You don't know what you're dealing with, bitch," she snarled.
Eve smiled sadly, nodding ever so slightly. "Sorry to say I do."
A spark of recognition appeared on the young vampire's face as she suddenly understood who had interrupted her feeding. They all knew her; they could feel the connection deep inside themselves. It usually played out the same. First came the shock of recognition, followed by sheer panic as they realized their lives were forfeit.
The vampire started to run, but Eve was faster, suddenly in front of the young creature, clawed hands gripping the sides of her face. She looked down into the vampire's eyes, paralyzing her with a stare.
"Please," the vampire begged, but Eve had made up her mind thousands of years ago. There would be no mercy for the spawn of her curse.
"I'm sorry," she said, leaning close to whisper in the girl's ear. "But go to your final rest knowing that whoever did this to you will meet up with me sooner or later."
The girl struggled momentarily but then went limp as she realized the futility of her actions. With a surge of terrible strength, Eve twisted the girl's head and tore it from her body. There was an explosion of blood, but within seconds it turned to a spray of ash. Both the wretched thing's head, still in Eve's hands, and the body that slumped to the floor of the garage dissolved away to nothing before her eyes.
Then there was only dust.
Eve brushed the ashen remains of the girl from the front of her cashmere sweater and jeans before turning her gaze toward on the vampire's potential victim. The girl just stood there in her cheerleading jacket, her mouth open, trying to scream but emitting only little squeaks.
"You all right?" Eve asked the girl, checking to be certain that she hadn't been bitten.
The girl stood stiffly against the car, continuing to make those annoying sounds. Eve pressed a well-manicured finger against the girl's lips, momentarily silencing her.
"Hush now," she said. "You're going to be fine, but I want you to remember something. I want you always to be careful. Pretty girls can sometimes be just as dangerous as pretty boys."
The girl stared, wide-eyed.
"Will you remember that for me?" Eve asked her.
As the girl slowly nodded, Eve pulled her finger away.
"Good," she said, leaving the girl and walking toward the exit. She glanced at her watch. She still had more than an hour to shop before the mall closed.
Though he would never have admitted it to anyone, Danny missed Dr. Graves. With the violent fantasies and flashes of savage anger he'd been having the past few days, he would have liked to talk with the ghost. He thought he could have told Graves what was going on with him, but there was no one else he felt that comfortable with. No one else he was sure he could trust.
Lying in bed, the image of the two terrified children from the aquarium flashed before his mind's eye, followed by the painful memory of the look on his mother's face.
He rolled over, punching at the pillow beneath his head. He and his mother had avoided talking about the incident at the aquarium, but he knew it was only a matter of time before she would bring it up. The anger roiled inside him, and he again wished that Graves were here.
Danny couldn't talk about this stuff with his mother; she was already freaked out enough by the changes in her son. He had considered talking with Mr. Doyle, but since he and Ceridwen had returned, they'd been hidden away in Doyle's rooms, and Danny didn't figure they'd take kindly to the interruption. Clay was away with Graves, so that removed him from the mix, and Danny just didn't feel comfortable talking with the others. Squire would probably just laugh at him anyway, and Eve . . . well she was just so damned hot, he would be too embarrassed to share his feelings with her.
He flipped over again, trying to get comfortable and hoping to drift off to sleep, but his body refused to let him. His skin was itching like crazy.
Finally, Danny tossed off his covers and stomped across the room to the bathroom. Maybe a hot shower'll help, he thought, turning on the faucet and letting the water run over his hands. Standing by the tub, waiting for the water to heat up, he glanced down casually at the center of his chest, at the small hanging growth he'd noticed there earlier.
Is it bigger? he wondered, squeezing the rubbery sack between his dripping fingers. Great, something else to worry about, he thought, before being distracted by a faint sound of screaming from outside.
He turned off the water in the tub and returned to his room, listening. Somebody outside was pretty upset, and by the scent he picked up, he knew exactly who it was. There were too many people in the house for him to go up the stairs unseen, and use the door to the roof. Instead, he opened his window and climbed out onto the stone ledge, then began to climb. His claws fit easily in the crevices between the stones. Window frames and gutters made easy handholds.
In seconds, he was on the roof. He wanted to see what the story was, and then he would go back to his room, take a long, hot shower and hopefully get some sleep.
The November air felt good on his tingling flesh, as he padded barefoot across the rooftop to look out over the edge at the apartment building on Mount Vernon Street.
The cute girl and her sleazy boyfriend were there again, and this time they were in the middle of a heated argument; something to do with the guy talking to another girl at a club while she sat alone like a big loser, waiting for him to come back. He, of course, denied the whole thing, telling her that she was drunk and blowing everything out of proportion.
They're both drunk. He could smell the stink of alcohol wafting off of them as if they'd doused themselves in it like perfume.
The argument was becoming more heated, and then the guy did what even Danny knew you should never do to a drunk and angry girl.
He laughed at her.
Her response was quick and brutal. She slapped the bemused grin right off his face, shrieking every four-letter word in the book at him and telling him she never wanted to see him again.
What happened next took Danny totally by surprise. It looked as though the guy was going to leave, but then he spun around and punched the girl square in the face. The vicious blow knocked her off her feet, and she tumbled to the ground. Her head bounced off the sidewalk, and she twitched once and then lay still. The smell of blood was in the air again, and it aroused the fury that lay in Danny's heart like a prowling beast, ready to pounce.
He tried to step back from the edge of the roof. It's none of my business.
But the girl had hit her head on the sidewalk pretty hard. And the son of a bitch shouldn't have hit her in the first place. Maybe once he would have been too afraid to step in, but now there wasn't room in him for fear. Only for rage.
Danny vaulted over the edge of the roof and dropped all the way to the ground, the air whistling past his face as he fell. He landed on all fours with nary a sound, right in front of Conan Doyle's brownstone, then bounded across the street. Using the guy's car for cover, he peered around the BMW. The bastard was trying to haul the girl to her feet, half carrying her and half dragging her toward the stairs of her apartment building.
And that was where he dumped her, looking around to see if anyone had seen what he had done.
The prick wiped blood from his lip where she had slapped him and pulled the keys from the pocket of his sport coat.
Danny emerged from the shadows in front of the car. When the guy spotted him, his eyes narrowed for just a second with annoyance, and then widened in confusion and fear. The stink of fear suddenly filled the air.
"What the fuck?" the guy said, as Danny sprang at him.
The rage cheered him on, telling him that what he was doing was right - that people like this deserved everything they got.
"You like to hit girls, huh, asshole?" Danny growled, snatching up a fistful of the guy's jacket.
The guy threw a feeble punch, striking Danny on the chin, but he barely felt it. He rammed his horned head forward in a savage head butt. His horns sliced the asshole's forehead, and Danny shoved him up against the car. The guy was dazed, blood running down his face in streams from a pair of nasty gashes in his forehead.
"Tough guy," Danny spat, running his clawed hands along the side of the gray sports car, digging furrows into the expensive paint job. "You got your car, your looks, your money. You think you can do anything you want."
He grabbed the guy by the throat and hauled him off his feet. Expensive shoes dangled inches above the pavement.
"But you can't," Danny sneered, looking into the guy's bloody face. "And I'm here to remind you of that."
He slammed the guy down atop the roof of the car, and he bounced, rolling down across the windshield to lay moaning on top of the hood.
Danny laughed, a short, nasty barking sound. This was the best he'd felt in weeks.
He grabbed the guy again, dragging him across the hood. One of the guy's eyes was starting to swell, and Danny reached down with a claw and raked the swollen flesh, tearing open the skin. Blood spurted from the wound.
The guy screamed. It was the greatest sound Danny had ever heard. All of the fear he'd had of himself was gone, now. By knocking his girlfriend around - knocking her unconscious - this guy had bought himself a world of hurt. He deserved whatever he got.
Son of a bitch did me a favor.
Danny covered the guy's mouth with a hand.
"Shhhhhh," he hissed, bringing his demonic features closer. "Don't want to wake up the neighborhood, do we?" His tongue flicked out, licking away some of the man's blood.
It tasted like honey.
That was when he realized that his skin didn't itch anymore, his bones didn't ache, and he felt as though he could take on the world single-handedly.
All it took was blood.
He grabbed hold of the guy's neck, beginning to sink his curved, black claws into the soft flesh, eager to get to the blood.
When a voice stopped him.
"Hey, kid," said the gravelly voice. "You really want to be doin' that?"
Danny watched as Squire emerged from a patch of shadow thrown by a window box on the front of one of the other buildings that lined Mount Vernon Street. He was smoking a cigar and stank of booze.
The goblin just stood there, staring at him with red, yellow-flecked eyes, and Danny felt his rage begin to subside.
"He would have deserved it," Danny said, tossing the unconscious boy back atop the hood and stepping away.
"You goin' in?" Squire asked, motioning toward the house with his large, potato-shaped head.
"Yeah," Danny said. "Yeah, I think I should."
"Good answer." Squire took a puff from the foul-smelling cigar and the two of them walked side by side to the steps leading into Conan Doyle's home.
Whenever Clay drove, he had to force himself not to check the rearview mirror incessantly. The eyes drew him. In an ordinary mirror he could see his entire face, and though his appearance often intrigued him, he had grown accustomed over his long life to seeing a different face and shape in the mirror. The human features he most frequently wore - the identity he called Joseph Clay - was familiar, but no less a mask than all of the others. Monsters and dead men, the faces were never consistent, and so nothing he saw in a full-size mirror could surprise or distract him.
But in the car, the rearview mirror only showed his eyes, and over the centuries it had become far too tempting for him to search those eyes for some semblance of sameness. Large or small, blue or brown or hideous red, he stared into his own eyes for a sense of himself. If he could find it there, some commonality that existed in each of the forms he took, he might begin to believe he had a soul.
The rented Jeep Grand Cherokee thrummed as he drove south on interstate, keeping his eyes on the road. His iPod lay on the console, set on shuffle, playing a truly eclectic selection of music. Eclectic tastes were inevitable for someone who had been alive in a time when the only musical instrument in the world was the human voice.
The ghost of Doctor Graves shimmed beside him in a rough approximation of sitting in the passenger's seat. Of course, Graves could not feel the seat or make any real contact with it, but Clay had long since found that ghosts took comfort in the ability to mimic ordinary activities.
Graves had been careful only to partially manifest. With the morning sun streaming through the windows of the Cherokee, there would be no way for him to appear alive. Passing motorists would take a glance and see a transparent man, the trace of a person riding in the passenger seat, and there would have been staring and shouting and possibly accidents leading to twisted automotive wreckage and loss of life.
Instead, Graves manifested in a state between the ethereal realm and the physical world. The specter would be visible to supernatural beings such as Clay, but the only humans driving by who would be able to see him would be the rare medium or psychic sensitive. That could still lead to a car accident, but Clay figured such people would be less likely to react to seeing a ghost.
"You've been awfully quiet," he said.
At first the ghost did not respond, as though he hadn't heard. Graves stared straight ahead like the road before them was the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. Though handsome, his features had a natural stoicism about them that lent a grimness to his aspect, even when his mood was light. This made him difficult to read.
The ghost wavered in the sunlight, an insubstantial gauze, like heat haze on summer blacktop.
"I don't like to go home," Graves interrupted. The ghost glanced at him. Clay kept his hands on the wheel. "Even before my death, I spent little time in Swansea. To be going home now just to disinter my bones..."
The smile that crossed the specter's face sent a chill through Clay. He had seen death a million times, but could never know what it felt like from the other side, from the afterlife.
"I'd tell you we could turn around," Clay said, "but the answers might be waiting in your grave."
The ghost of Dr. Graves shook his head. "No turning back. If I gave up trying to solve this mystery, I'd only be haunting myself. I'd be in Hell. I've been wandering long enough. It's time for the truth."
Graves seemed more ephemeral than ever, the sunlight threatening to wash him away completely. He stared out at the road again, and Clay decided perhaps that was best for now.
The minutes passed in silence, and eventually he lost track of the time and the miles. Not too far north of the New York border he got off of Route 95, following a winding road right into the heart of Swansea, Connecticut. What surprised Clay immediately was the aura of money that emanated from every structure, every person, every car. The lawns were perfectly manicured, the school a brand-new sprawling brick monster, the awnings in front of the shops immaculate.
Graves directed him up a wide avenue with a beautifully landscaped island running down its center. The homes began with stunning and moved on to astonishing, mostly Federal Colonials and Victorians built at the tail end of the nineteenth century or the dawning days of the twentieth. Closer to the center of town houses were right on the edge of the road, and Clay knew some of them had been taverns and the like at one time. These were the oldest. As they moved away from downtown Swansea, the homes became more stately, set back farther from the road. There were sprawling estates with black wrought iron gates and trees older than the nation.
"You grew up here?"
The ghost's ethereal substance rippled with pique. "You're surprised? I would not have expected racial presumptions from a creature as old as you."
Clay smirked. "I have no race, my friend. But if nothing else, I'm a student of history. You were born, when, 1910?"
"Very few black Americans could have lived like this in those days."
The ghost gestured with a spectral hand. "Park at the curb."
Clay pulled over and killed the ignition. He glanced at Graves, who rose up, passing through the car roof as though it were as insubstantial as he. Brow creased in a frown, Clay popped open the door, locked up the Cherokee, and shut the door.
The ghost drifted toward the wrought iron fence, going through the motions of walking, though it could not precisely have been called that. Graves's spectral form had altered. He had a long coat on now, the sort of greatcoat that had been commonplace in the nineteen forties, the era of his murder. When he passed through the iron bars he turned to glance back, and Clay saw the straps across his chest that indicated he was wearing the holsters for the phantom guns he sometimes carried.
Not carried. Manifested, Clay thought. They're ectoplasm, just like Graves.
"What are the guns for?"
"Just in case," Graves replied. He stood on the other side of the fence, waiting.
Clay glanced around. A black Mercedes went by. The moment it had passed him, he changed, his form shifting, bones popping, flesh flowing and diminishing until where he had stood a moment earlier there was now only an ordinary squirrel.
The squirrel darted through the black, wrought-iron bars and started across the grounds of an enormous estate. For long minutes the squirrel followed the ghost up a hill, through a screen of massive oaks and pines, and soon enough they came within sight of a mansion on the hill. It had a circular driveway and columns in the front. There were several smaller buildings to the south of the main house, and a carriage house with a stone driveway and a sign in front.
There were too many cars, and Clay realized this was not a house. Like many such properties whose upkeep was so expensive, it had been altered into something else. From its appearance and the ambulance in front, he presumed it was an assisted-living residence for senior citizens, and the carriage house some kind of administration building.
The ghost of Dr. Graves swept on across the groomed lawn, beneath the trees, and spared nary a glance for the home where he had been raised.
The squirrel followed, not understanding the nature of their destination until they made their way around behind the main building and he saw, down a hill cut by a winding gravel drive, an old cemetery. It, too, was well kept, though perhaps only for appearances. None of the headstones appeared to be new, or even recent. Some were so old that the elements had eroded all but the suggestion of names and dates.
At the back of the small cemetery were two family crypts. The larger and more ornate of the two, a pristine marble thing worthy of Athens, bore the name WILLIAMS. The other, smaller and set back toward the woods at the rear of the property, had the word GRAVES emblazoned above the iron door.
"Morbid, isn't it?" the ghost said. "Or perhaps ironic. Graves. What else would be in a crypt? A child's humor."
Yet he laughed softly and shook his head.
"My mother always thought it amusing. But she had a dark humor." The ghost glanced over at the squirrel. "You're going to be little help in that form."
Clay hesitated a moment, concerned about prying eyes from the retirement home. But there was little to be done about it. With no more effort than standing, he transformed again, flesh flowing in the space between heartbeats, and he wore the skin of a man again. Better to be caught out here with the face of Joseph Clay than with the inhuman features of his natural form.
"You grew up in that house?" he asked.
The ghost of Dr. Graves allowed himself a quick look at the massive mansion, but quickly turned his eyes away.
"Not precisely. My family lived in the carriage house. They were servants to Stewart and Annabel Williams for decades. My father was their butler."
The ghost drifted as though moved by unseen wind. He stared at the crypt where his parents' remains had been put to rest, where his own bones lay even now, and spoke as though in the grip of a dream. Yet it was no dream, only memory.
"You can see the wealth that is here even now. Imagine its opulence in those days. The Williamses were extraordinarily kind and seemed genuinely unaffected by differences of race. Class, certainly. As kind as they were, they were still the wealthy, and my parents their servants. But perhaps that puts an ugly face on something that was simply symptomatic of the age.
"My father liked to say that being rich had stolen their imagination. That they had all of that money but did not know what to do with it. Many times he said if that money was his that he could change the world, that he would make people's lives better. He dreamed about having the money to travel and educate himself.
"The Williamses had one son, Peter, but he died in the battle of the Somme during the Great War. They never had any other children. Annabel and Stewart died in 'twenty-six. He had a heart attack in the fall, and by Christmas, she was dead. By then, with Peter dead, they'd changed their wills. I inherited it all. The property. The architectural firm. Every penny."
Clay watched him, thinking how strange it was that a ghost should be so haunted by the past. It occurred to him that perhaps the spirits of the dead were the most haunted creatures of all.
"Did you build the crypt?" he asked.
Graves turned, sunlight streaming through his translucent form. "No. Again, the Williamses. My mother passed shortly after Peter went to war. When they realized that the public cemetery in Swansea was segregated, they had this crypt built here for my family.
"For servants, you understand. And colored servants, to boot. They were before their time. Sometimes I think my father underestimated them. In fact, I'm sure he did. They left their money to me, after all. I'm quite certain the white society in Connecticut was scandalized."
Clay watched him silently for a moment, then walked over and stood beside him. "Your father must have been very proud of you."
The ghost nodded, his expression wistful. "He was. I took care of him until he passed. He died sitting in a theater watching Charlie Chaplin in City Lights. One moment I heard him laughing, and then everyone else laughed and it was too quiet next to me. I looked over and he'd gone. Very peaceful."
Clay could see the picture in his mind of Graves's father, a dead man, still smiling, cast in the silver glow of the movie screen, sitting in a theater filled with laughing people. Graves himself was dead and now, more than three-quarters of a century later, it seemed strange to offer his condolences.
The ghost saved him from having to say anything.
Clay blinked and looked at him. "Just like that?"
With one spectral hand he reached out and traced his fingers along the iron door, though he could not have felt it. The ghost could easily have passed right through on his own, but Clay understood that he did not want to do so alone.
"I've waited long enough," Graves said. "Open it."
Clay didn't need to shift his shape to have inhuman strength. He gripped the handle of the iron door and twisted. Metal shrieked, and something snapped in the lock, and he pulled. The hinges had weakened over the years, and the door scraped the ground as it opened. A sound like the gasp of relieved spirits rushing out to the daylight came from within, and the sunshine flooded the crypt.
The ghost hesitated at the threshold.
Clay walked right through him, stepping into the sepulchre. Three low marble tables had been placed inside the crypt, and upon each of them had been arranged a coffin.
"Which?" he asked.
"The middle," Dr. Graves said from the doorway, his whispered voice just as much a ghost as his flesh.
Clay first walked the inner perimeter of the crypt, examining the corners. He looked over the other two coffins and the platforms upon which they stood, and then at last he stood by the center dais, running one hand over the surface of the coffin.
"Why did you never come here before?"
The ghost of Dr. Graves at last entered the crypt. "I was afraid that I would not be able to leave, that being this close to my body would trap me somehow, or perhaps send me on, forcing me into the afterlife before I had discovered the identity of my killer."
"You're here now."
"My frustration has overcome my fear at last."
Clay nodded. "All right. But stay over there, just in case."
He tore the lid off of the coffin with a splintering of wood. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Graves ripple and fade as though about to disappear. Clay paused, worried, but then he realized it was only the shock of seeing his final rest so abruptly interrupted and not that the spirit world was calling Graves back.
"Tell me about Professor Zarin," Clay said, mostly to distract Graves as he reached in and touched the cool, dry skull inside the coffin. "He was the biggest thorn in your side in those days, right?"
"Zarin was . . . persistent. A madman, but organized. He truly thought the world ought to answer to him, and if they would not, he'd punish them. I came into conflict with him many times."
Clay bent over the coffin, tracing his hands over the bones, searching for any sign of prior disturbance. But no one had been here. No one had ever dared to break into this crypt until they had arrived.
"He must have been your primary suspect."
The ghost drifted around the crypt, brushing up against the coffins of his mother and father. He seemed quite distant, as though he were quietly communing with their long-departed spirits, sharing love and regrets. And perhaps he was.
"Hmm? Oh, yes. I haunted Zarin for years, but I came to believe he wasn't responsible. My investigation revealed that Zarin had been in jail at the time of my murder and was furious that someone else had taken my life. He even swore to destroy whomever was responsible for robbing him of the pleasure of killing me."
Clay arched an eyebrow. "Nice. And he must be long dead, anyway, so no answers there."
"On the contrary," Dr. Graves replied.
Clay turned to look at the ghost, troubled to think that while he stared at Leonard Graves he also had his fingers thrust into the ribcage of his skeleton.
"What do you mean?" The ghost turned up his collar, a thoroughly human gesture and one that lent a strange solidity to him. He shivered as though cold and stared not at Clay but at the coffin. He was too far away to see his bones inside, but the view must be troubling enough.
"Just what I said. Zarin's still alive, though he must be well over a hundred by now. If he'd passed through the spirit world, I would have felt his death. Our fates were always entwined. I just . . . would have known."
Clay nodded, lost in thought now. Like Graves had been in life, Zarin had been a brilliant but otherwise ordinary man. That he could be alive after so many years seemed improbable, though not impossible. Still, they were starting this investigation all over again. That meant he could take nothing for granted, no matter what conclusions Graves had already come to.
He grunted, knitting his brows as he looked down into the coffin. Troubled, he moved around to the other side and peered in, reaching down to run his fingers along each rib. Though little of the sunlight touched the bones, what illumination existed was enough for Clay's inhuman eyes.
"What is it?" Graves asked. "Have you found a . . . what did you call it? A tether?"
Clay finished examining the remains. With a deep breath, he cast aside the cobwebs of his ruminations and shook his head. "No. There's no soul tether. But as I told you, I didn't expect there to be. It's been sixty odd years, far too long for a trace of the spirit to still be left behind."
The ghost slid his hands into his pockets and stepped out of the sunlight streaming through the door into the shadows of a deep corner in the crypt. In the dark, he seemed almost alive. His transparent flesh seemed to have greater texture.
"So, what's troubling you?" Graves asked. "What did you find?"
Clay ran a hand across the stubble on his cheek and looked back at the coffin, at the bones of his friend.
"The newspaper reports of your death say you were shot in the back."
Dr. Graves nodded. "Yes. The bullet came from a rifle. It struck me near the spine, midway between neck and pelvis. I remember that much. But you know that. We've discussed this."
"Yes. We have," Clay said. He stared at Graves. "The thing is, Leonard, if you were shot where you say, or anywhere on the upper body, the odds of the bullet not striking bone are astronomical. Logic dictates that it must have struck bone."
Clay rested his hand on the edge of the coffin. "There's no evidence of a bullet wound on these bones."
"But I remember . . ." Graves whispered, gaze darting around, searching the shadows, lost.
"If this is your body, my friend, what you remember is impossible."