This is Part 15 of a serial story. The story began here.
Outside the courthouse, I put a comforting arm around my client. “It will be all right,” I promised her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Steve couldn't stop glaring at me. He waited until Nora was out of earshot then stuck his face next to my ear. “You broke every rule we agreed to,” he hissed.
“You demanded. I agreed to nothing,” I shot back.
Christian Johnson and his lawyer came out of the courthouse. Steve saw them, and plastered a more neutral expression on his face.
“You're impossible,” Steve whispered; “I can't work with you. I'll pretend to, for Nora's sake. But if you do anything to disappoint her or hurt her, I will drag your butt before the State Ethics Board. I will find grounds and I will make the charges stick.”
I took a shortcut back to the hotel in Pampa. Normally I'd take the longest route, and use the drive to calm myself down. But this particular shortcut would take me past my grandparent's old ranch. I needed to feel a connection with the good part of my past. The part where Steve and I were friends, and our parents got along.
The ranch belonged to someone else now. Mom and Uncle John sold it years ago. But even if I couldn't go to the ranch, I could park near it in a special spot. The Wayside Schoolhouse. It was a historic one-room schoolhouse on 70, not far from Pampa city limits. While he lived, Grandpa Mackenzie had volunteered as a caretaker for the old building. He used to take me and Steve there, and teach us Texas history in the school. We even helped him re-paint the exterior one summer.
I pulled off the road and parked in the little strip of gravel in front of the schoolhouse. The red paint glowed softly in the fading light. I smiled, and thought about Grandpa. Pushing his Stetson back on his head, he'd lean against the schoolhouse wall and cross his arms.
“Folks'll tell you that old values have gone by the wayside,” he'd say. Then he'd smile and laugh softly. “Don't believe it. Values started in Wayside. They spread to Pampa, White Deer, and the whole Texas Panhandle. And you two,” he pointed at me and Steve; “You two will take the good even further. I know it. Now you know it too.”
I sighed and laid my forehead against the steering wheel. “We don't know a dang thing,” I muttered. “I wish you were still alive, Grandpa. You'd know how to talk to Steve. I expect your ultimate solution would involve both Steve and I getting spanked for acting out, but hell, at this point I don't care. Somebody needs to do something.”
Gravel crunched behind me. I looked back and saw a white pickup pull up behind me. Grandpa always drove white trucks. I watched the driver's side. Steve climbed out and shut the door behind him.
Dang it. Why the hell hadn't he gone straight back to Lubbock and stayed there?
Steve rapped his knuckles against my car window. I rolled it down and kept staring straight ahead.
“I thought I might find you here,” Steve said. He leaned down and placed his arms on the car door.
Jerk. Who told him he could touch my car. “What do you want?” I asked.
“We need to talk. One on one, without our client, the judge, or other parties to the case present.”
He was right. I unbuckled my seat belt and slowly opened the door. Steve stepped back, waiting.
“Your car interior smells like cheese,” he remarked when I faced him.
“It has since I bought it. So what.”
Steve shrugged. “When we were kids, you bragged that you'd be driving your dad's old Ford someday. Did you throw that dream out the window?”
“No. I drove the truck from the day I had my license. But it....wrecked.”
“You totaled it in an accident.”
Zombies totaled my truck in law school, but I wasn't about to tell Steve that. A guy who refused to face the reality of ghosts wasn't ready to learn about zombies. “Sure. Accident. Close enough. Why did you follow me, Steve?”
He glared at me. “You know why. The crap you said in front of our client about ghosts. Ghosts aren't real. By encouraging an old woman's delusions, you're -”
“How do you know?” I interrupted.
“How do I know what?”
I jammed my hands on my hips and treated Steve to my best glare. “How do you know that ghosts aren't real?”
Steve shook his head. “My God. You're as dumb as your dad.”
Did he just call my dad...dumb? “I'm gonna kick your butt,” I growled.
“Yeah? You and what...an undead army?” Steve mocked.
“Nobody talks about my family like that.”
“You're family's crazy. Your dad started talking about vampires, and my dad knew he was unstable. But when your mom started talking about the same make believe bull -”
“It's real!” I shouted.
Steve backed away. “You're crazy. And that's your problem. But dang it, Wells, I will not let you make it Nora Johnson's problem too.”
“Have you been to the house?”
“Yes. And nothing happened. No ghost.”
“Did you try to eat anything while you were there?”
I smiled smugly. “So you don't really know if there's a ghost.”
“That's your ghost test? Eating?”
“Every ghost is different.”
“Well now I've heard everything,” Steve said sarcastically.