This is Part 4 of a serial story. The story began here.
Monday morning got off to a bad start. The priest called Steven A. Mackenzie, Esquire, and told him that I considered joining the case. My charming cousin called me first thing in the morning. I hadn't even brewed coffee yet, and as any acquaintance of mine will tell you, the uncaffeinated version of me is not pleasant.
The phone call with Steve quickly devolved into a shouting match. Then the jerk hung up on me. With the pure purpose of teaching him a lesson in professionalism, I called him back. We yelled at each other for a few minutes then I hung up on him.
“You're not handling this well,” Charlotte chided me.
“He's being an a-hole!
“You're not acting much better. If you're going to take the case, you'll have to get along with your cousin.”
The open case file lay on the counter in front of me. I closed it and tossed it across the room. It skidded across the kitchen table, coming to rest against a chair back. “I'm not taking the case,” I snapped.
Charlotte threw her hands up in disgust. “Fine, don't take it. Whatever. But if you're not going to take it then stop talking about it.” She stomped off to the bathroom to take a shower.
Why should I take the case? I suffered from no obligation. The widow had an attorney already. They just wanted me for paranormal expertise. Forget it. Let them call someone else, like the host of that crappy reality show about hunting the undead, “MostlyGhostly.” They didn't need Maryanne Wells.
Something cold brushed across the back of my neck. It felt like a dead hand. I turned around but didn't see anything.
“Is that you, Anthony?” I asked the empty room. There was no answer. Still, I felt certain he was there.
Anthony was a ghost from the 1970s. The Undead Bar Association first encountered him in the library of our law school. Since that auspicious beginning, Anthony had taken to haunting each of us in turn. It wasn't a painful experience. Just annoying.
I hadn't seen or heard from Anthony in a while. What was he up to?
“I know you're here,” I ventured. No answer. So maybe he wasn't there after all.
With a shrug, I crossed into the living room. My laptop waited, with a fresh e-mail from Absola. Paris was proving to be a hotbed of danger for my Transylvanian friend. I debated flying out there myself, to offer Absola some aid.
The scream from the bathroom was piercing. I nearly dropped my computer on the floor. “Charlotte?” I called out; “Are you okay?”
“EEEEEKKK!” Charlotte screamed as she tumbled out of the bathroom. “Get him away! GET HIM AWAY!” She ran into the living room wearing nothing but a damp towel.
“What's wrong?” I shouted.
Oblivious to anything but her own fear, Charlotte kept running. She tripped on the edge of the living room rug and stumbled into the kitchen. Charlotte threw out her hands to catch herself against the kitchen table. The towel slipped off, and pooled around Charlotte's ankles. She caught her feet in the towel. Her arms flailed wildly. One hand hit the case file leaning against the chair. The file flew through the kitchen, passed the sofa, and slapped me in the face.
Anthony the ghost floated out of the coffee table. He smiled at me and said, “You found the case file. Good for you, baby.”
Charlotte lurched to her feet, clutching the towel. “That...that thing came in as I was leaving the shower,” she screeched. She pointed an accusing finger at Anthony.
“Are you hurt?” I asked Charlotte.
“I'm furious!” Charlotte came into the living room. She scooped up the fallen case file and threw it at Anthony. The file sailed through him and landed near the front door.
“No need for that,” Anthony said coolly.
I put an arm around Charlotte's shoulders and led her towards her bedroom. “I'll take care of it,” I said gently. I pushed her into her room.
“Aw, that's sweet,” Anthony observed.
I wheeled around and glared at him. “We have rules, Anthony. You don't materialize in the bathroom. No exceptions.”
“I don't know why you made that rule. Can't understand it.”
“Because the last time you materialized during one of Charlotte's showers, she slipped on the tile and almost got a concussion. You're not allowed to be a peeping tom!”
Anthony spread his hands and smiled beguilingly. “Can't change an old tom-cat, baby. But it's sweet you care enough to try.” He jammed a thumb at the case file and asked, “You gonna pick that up?”
“No. And what do you care?”
“Oh, I care, gorgeous. I care loads. You see I arranged that whole running out of the bathroom bit so you'd take a close look at that file.”
“I got as close a look as I want,” I snapped. “Any closer and I'd have a paper cut down my cheek.” Damn, I needed a cup of coffee.
Anthony pressed his spectral hands together in rare supplication. “Please, Maryanne. Look into this case.”
“'Cause I'm asking you too.”