“Don’t let it bother you,” he told her. “They were talking about it this morning. Victor denied it, but after what had happened, who would want to admit it? The point is, Genevieve, don’t drive yourself crazy. There are explanations for the things that have been happening. You just have to wait and find out what they are.”
“Hey!” someone called from behind them.
They turned. Bethany was hurrying toward them, the others following. Jay had come with them, and he was talking to Jack as they walked.
“We’re going to get some dinner,” Bethany said, catching up. “Do you two want to come with us?”
“We just ate lunch,” Genevieve said.
Thor looked at his watch. “Actually, we ate lunch six hours ago.”
“You two had lunch…together?” Bethany said.
Genevieve felt color threatening to flood her cheeks. “I found him wandering the streets of Key West,” she said lightly. “He’s a northerner,” she added. “He might have been lost.”
“Anybody into Italian?” Marshall asked, breaking into the awkward conversation. “There’s a new place and the owner-slash-chef is the son of one of my first diving instructors. I feel the urge to be supportive. I’ve also heard it’s really good.”
“Is the owner really Italian?” Alex asked.
“No, but he really likes Italian food,” Marshall assured them.
“Sounds like an important factor,” Victor said. “Gen? Sound good to you?”
Bethany fell into step with them as they headed for the restaurant. When Thor paused to say something to Marshall, she caught Genevieve’s arm and whispered, “Are we still on for tomorrow?”
“Meeting Audrey, you mean?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I thought maybe you had plans. Which would be fine.”
Genevieve frowned, looking at her friend. “Why would I make plans when I already had plans?”
“Well, you just took off today. I was worried about you. I’m still worried about you. I would have thought you’d be happy—no, not happy, relieved—to find out you weren’t crazy. Or seeing things.”
Genevieve hesitated. The others were too close for her to want to continue this conversation. “We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure. But…well, I wasn’t even sure you still felt you needed to see Audrey anymore.”
“We’re seeing Audrey because she’s an old friend.”
By then, Marshall and Thor had caught up to them. “The restaurant is around the corner.”
As they entered the restaurant, Victor finagled his way into the seat next to Genevieve. Jack wound up on her other side. As everyone else got settled, Thor’s cell phone rang. Genevieve could hear him speaking with Lizzie, telling her where they were, and saying she and Zach should come over. They must not have been far, because they arrived almost immediately, having apparently decided to forgo their cruise. While they took seats at the head of the table, Jay caught them up on the murder, until Marshall said they were having dinner and it was time to talk about something more cheerful.
The owner was a young man named Bill Breton, who thanked them for coming, and suggested he do appetizers and a family-style meal for them, and they all agreed. Alex, who claimed to be a wine connoisseur, chose a Bordeaux for their table. After that the conversation turned to Zach and Lizzie’s day.
“We saw Robert, that doll,” Lizzie announced. “That’s one creepy toy. What parent would give that to a child? They had all kinds of letters on the wall about him—one from the mayor, thanking him.”
“Thanking him for what? Being a creepy doll?” Alex asked.
“For taking the blame for everything that’s gone wrong in the area since the turn of the last century.”
“We had something like that at home,” Bethany said. “I was one of five kids,” she explained. “And we all denied doing anything wrong all the time. When my mom couldn’t figure out who had done what, she’d stare us all down and demand to know if we were really living with an invisible jerk.”
“It seems there’s always an invisible jerk around,” Genevieve said, staring at Victor.
He stared back at her. He looked hurt, angry and, she thought, strangely afraid.
“Hey, when I’m a jerk,” he said quietly, “I own up to it.”
“There was a mannequin on my porch this morning,” she told him.
“I believe you. But I didn’t put it there.”
“Hey, will you look at that?” Jack said, breaking the tension by indicating the huge plates of food that were being set before them. “Wow, Marshall, you done good. Look at all this.”
“Calamari,” Bethany said. “That’s for me.”
“These peppers look great,” Lizzie announced.
The platters were passed around; more wine arrived. Gen knew that anyone watching would see what appeared to be a comfortable gathering of friends. And why not? She’d worked with her own group forever. Jack was as much a part of their lives in Key West as anyone, and it was good to have Jay with them. Lizzie and Zach were great. And she had even found herself not just drawn to Thor Thompson but almost painfully attracted to him. Except…
Except she felt Victor’s presence next to her the entire meal. And not as she always had. He really was just about her best friend, other than Bethany. He didn’t say anything about the mannequin again, and neither did she, but the whole time, it was there between them. Someone had put it on her porch, and if not Victor…
“Alex,” he said softly at her side.
“What?” she murmured.
“It must have been Alex. We were talking about it together. And Jack was there, too.”
“Victor, you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore. It didn’t scare me then, and it doesn’t scare now me. Okay, so someone played a trick. Then there was a real corpse and the trick wasn’t so funny. But it’s over, and the stupid mannequin has disappeared, so it can’t really matter anymore, right?”
Victor let out a breath and stared at her. “It doesn’t matter…if you really believe me.”
“I believe you.”
“You want me to believe you believe me,” he murmured.
“Victor, please, I just don’t care.”
“I don’t want you not to care. Don’t you understand?”
She slipped an arm around his shoulders for a quick hug. “You’re like my brother. I care very deeply. Okay?”
He remained tense. There seemed nothing she could do. Across from her, Marshall and Thor were deep in discussion on where they should anchor and how they should extend the search. Jay and Bethany were talking together, and Genevieve was somewhat surprised to see what a close little tête-à-tête they seemed to have going on. At the far end of the table, Lizzie was speaking excitedly about Key West architecture.”
“You should see Genevieve’s place,” Jack advised her.
“You have a historic home?” Lizzie asked her excitedly.
“I do,” Genevieve told her. She leaned on an elbow, glancing across the table at Marshall and catching Marshall’s eye. “Maybe I should have a barbecue on Sunday at the house.”
Marshall grinned. “You’re asking for my blessing?”
“Your opinion would be fine.”
“I say great.”
“Cool,” Lizzie announced. Then the pasta arrived, lasagna, angel hair with shrimp and pesto, and ziti with marinara sauce.
Genevieve passed a plate across to Alex. He seemed to be studying her strangely.
So had he played the trick with the mannequin? Was he worried she wasn’t going to let it go?
But she already had.
Sometime during the meal, she realized that everyone seemed to be staring at her strangely.
Tonight, the night of her vindication. When everyone had supposedly decided she wasn’t crazy, because there had been a dead woman in the water.
Just not the dead woman she had seen.
She decided she was going home. Not to her cottage, but home. She wasn’t going to sleep where mannequins appeared on the porch, corpses were cast up on the beach—and ghosts came to her, dripping, giving dire warnings in the middle of the night.
It was late when the meal ended. After the pasta, there had been fish, chicken and meat platters, then dessert, coffee and liqueurs. Finally, they ambled out to the street. When everyone else turned toward the water, Genevieve stood still. “Hey, guys, I’ll see you tomorrow. And don’t forget, barbecue at my place on Sunday.”
Thor was staring at her, frowning.
“Gen, you’re going home?” Victor asked; he sounded worried.
“Yeah, home,” she said lightly.
“You all right?” Marshall asked, sounding a bit concerned, and yet not sure himself why he should be.
“I’m fine. My house is just down the street.”
“We should walk you there,” Alex said suddenly.
“Actually, not a bad idea,” Jay agreed.
“There are tourists still out everywhere,” Genevieve said, laughing. “I’m fine. Good night. Go away, all of you.”
But Thor strode past Bethany, Marshall and Jay to reach her side. “I’ll walk you to your place,” he told her. “It’s all right, go on,” he told the others. “It would be ridiculous for all of us to walk her.”
“Right. As if we’re incapable of being ridiculous,” Victor said dryly.
“Oh, my God, I didn’t mean to create this big a deal. I’m sorry,” Genevieve said. “I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m only a few blocks away. I’ll be just fine.”
“It’s not a bad idea to let Thor walk you home,” Jay said. “Or I can walk with you, if Thor wants to get back.”
Genevieve shook her head. “I’m going, guys. Later!”