When I entered the lobby of the hotel I discovered a group of people waiting for me. Nora, Steve, Father Blackman, and Pastor Ted sat in a cluster of chairs around the gas fire. All four of them looked up as I walked in.
“You sure cut it close,” Steve said.
I glared at him and strode over to the check-in desk. “Hi,” I said to the clerk at the counter.
“Welcome back, Ms. Wells. You're all checked in. Mr. Mackenzie took care of everything.” He handed me a key card and smiled.
“Thanks,” I said ungraciously. I walked over to Steve, shedding my luggage behind a chair.
“Take some time to get settled,” Steve offered.
I threw myself down on an ottoman and said, “Ah, what's the point. Ya'll have obviously been waiting.”
“We don't want to press you,” Father Blackman said kindly.
“Oh, go on.”
Steve grinned. “There's the Mackenzie spirit. I knew you had it in you somewhere.”
“Stop being so danged annoying, Steve,” I snapped. “Just tell me why you're all hear.” Realizing, belatedly, that I was being unprofessional in front of a client, I sighed. “Please forgive me, Mrs. Johnson. I'm a little bit jet-lagged.”
The sweet old lady smiled. “That's all right dear. I'm just glad to see you again.”
“You're looking well. Have you been able to eat?”
She nodded. “Yes. My neighbors are very good to me.” She looked down at her hands. Softly, she asked, “Have you thought of anything we can do? About the house?”
I shook my head. “It doesn't look good, ma'am. I guess Steve has explained that to you.”
“He mentionned that it doesn't look good from a legal perspective,” said Father Blackwood. “But surely some hope remains. Nora said the judge acted quite favorably towards you, during the last conference in the courthouse.”
“She did. And sometimes being the local attorney is enough to get a win from a small town judge. But not this time. Judge Brockade is a true judge. No matter which attorney she likes best, she will decide the case on the law. And there's just no law that helps us.”
“Not in Texas,” Steve agreed. “There's no precedent for ruling a house unihabitable due to haunting.”
“What about arguing that Nora never intended to abandon the house?” pressed Father Blackwood.
Steve looked at Nora. “We might have a chance on that issue, but there's a problem.”
Nora looked up pathetically. “I don't want to live there anymore,” she said. “I haven't wanted to live there for a long time. They think I intended to abandon the place, and I want to. But I don't have anywhere else to go.”
“Well, don't tell the judge that,” interrupted Pastor Ted. “The less she knows about how you feel, the better.”
I leaned forward sharply, drawing the pastor's attention. “Don't you dare tell my client to lie,” I hissed.
“Bu..but I...wasn't,” he stammered. “I just don't think Nora should offer that kind of information.”
“Shut. Up. Telling Nora to withhold in the truth is no different than telling her to lie. I won't have it.”
I sat back and looked around, daring someone to argue with me. Pastor Ted stared at his shoes, thoroughly cowed. Nora pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Steve and Father Blackman smiled.
“You're right, of course,” Nora said softly; “But what should I do? What hope do I have?” She looked at me, and waited for my answer.
I wanted hope to die. If hope died, I wouldn't have to try anymore. The last spark that warmed me would burn out and I could quietly turn to stone.
But Nora kept staring at me with pleading eyes. She still believed I could fix everything. Even if I willed my hope away I couldn't kill hers.
“Please, tell me what you think,” she whispered; “Tell me. If you think I should stop fighting, tell me that.”
I shook my head. “You have to decide what to do, Nora. It's your life. You can't base your decision on what I say.”
“But I want your opinion. Please,” Nora said pathetically.
She began to cry. Father Blackman patted her hand comfortingly. Pastor Ted looked from me to Nora and back again. He stood up suddenly and walked over to the fireplace.
Seeing Nora's tears, something in me hardened. Call it resolve, call it obstinence, call it pig-headedness. Call it whatever you like. I simply decided to fight for my client, on to the bitter end. Suddenly, I had an idea.
“We'll have to do something bold. Something crazy bold,” I muttered.
Steve looked at me and asked hopefully, “Do you have a plan?”
Dang it, not him too. “What if I don't,” I countered.
“Right now I'm open to even a crazy, half-baked notion.”
“Okay. That I can deliver.”
We stared silently at each other. “Well, what is it?” Steve asked at last.
“Let Christian have the house. Concede.”
Nora gasped. Steve grabbed my arm.
“Have you gone crazy,” he demanded roughly.
“Crazy, bold, and half-baked,” I confirmed. “Steve, we're not going to win this in court or over a conference table.”
“Then we lose.”
I shook my head and dislodged Steve's hand from my arm. “There are other battle grounds, like inside the house itself. By moving the fight there we'll be able to use Hank as a weapon.”
“How do you plan on getting the ghost to go along with that plan?”
“I'm not going to ask him to go along with anything. I'm just going to make it happen.” Turning to Father Blackman I asked, “Where's the best place in town for milkshakes?”