The Dead Room

Page 16

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"What's it like being back?" someone shouted.

"Is there a new man in your life?"

"How are you coping, being so close to Hastings House?"

"Have you been back inside?"

"I'm thrilled to be back in New York," she said, leaning toward Laymon's mike. "I think this is going to be a very important discovery, and…well, New York is my home."

"Hey, you found the body yesterday, right?"

"I happened upon the remains, yes. Along with my partner, Brad Verdun. Brad and I are both here under the guidance of Professor David Laymon. We're all very grateful to the city for inviting us to be part of this extraordinary project-and, of course, to the development company of Tyson, Smith and Tryon. There's Hank Smith now," she said, pointing him out. "It's thanks to his company that we have this opportunity. And thank you all for your interest, but now, please excuse us. We need to get back to work."

But the reporters weren't going away. Too bad. She had managed to speak, to be friendly-even to suck up to the developers, she thought wryly. But now she was done. She hurried away, leaving Professor Laymon and Brad to do the talking, but once again it seemed there was nowhere to go to but the trailer, so she strode toward it, hoping it had been left open.

It had. But once inside, she found herself frustrated once again, since she had none of her research materials with her to study. Then she noticed that someone had left the daily papers lying around, so she picked one up and started to flip through the local section. There was a large article on the dig, which she skimmed. Then she turned the page and found a picture of a very pretty young woman with wide eyes that seemed to defy the world. The caption read: Family Desperate to Find Missing Heiress Genevieve O'Brien.

She found herself reading the accompanying article with such keen interest that the time slipped away. Genevieve had been a social worker who had resigned her position shortly before her disappearance. She had worked long, hard and diligently for the underprivileged. She had last been seen on a street downtown, entering a dark sedan. Her family was offering a substantial reward for any information that led to her return.

Without thinking, she shut her eyes and let her fingers roam over the picture.

"Trying to communicate with the missing now?" a teasing voice asked.

Startled, her eyes flew open and focused on the door to the trailer. Hank Smith, as neatly and richly attired as ever, was standing there.

"A little tired, that's all," she murmured.

He shrugged, walking over to the little refrigerator and taking out a bottle of water. "Well, you never know. Our good friend Sergeant Adair may soon be asking for your help. In my opinion, the girl just got sick of her persnickety family and her grungy clients and moved on." She must not have been looking at him with much approval, because he quickly added, "Sorry, I know that sounded cold. But I've known a few addicts in my day. You can't help an addict who doesn't want to be helped. It's a waste of time and money, and I hate to waste money."

"I know the feeling," she said politely, wondering if he was less sanguine than he'd claimed about the consequences of delaying the project. "Is the press spectacle over?"

"They all went back to digging, and it seems they managed to drive the press off through boredom," Hank said, grinning. "Sorry, I know it's your thing. But to those of us without the patience…it's pretty damn dull." He smiled disarmingly to take the sting out of the words.

She stood, setting the paper aside. "Believe me, Hank, you're not the first person to say so." She grinned. "And thanks for the use of the trailer."

"No problem. And like I said, anytime you want to escape for lunch, you let me know."

"I will-thanks."

She left the trailer, eager to get back to work at last.

Within a few hours she had to admit that Hank wasn't the only one who would have found that day's work incredibly boring. After the discovery of the first grave, Laymon was taking no chances. They weren't digging. They were dusting-from the surface all the way down. Meanwhile, the remains she had discovered the day before were being painstakingly lifted, surrounding dirt and debris included. She supervised until the precious bones were tenderly crated, and then she went to work with the others, remembering that there were more graves, and more pieces of the past, to find. The process, however, was indeed slow and tedious.

She noticed, each time she stretched to give her back a break, that Robert Adair was frequently prowling the scene. His interest, however, didn't exactly seem to be in the dig. She had the feeling that he was walking around the entire block where the dig was taking place and beyond. She wondered what he was up to and made a mental note to tell him that she would have dinner with him the following night.

At last she felt Brad's tap on her shoulder. "Have you noticed something?" he whispered teasingly.

"What?" she found herself whispering back.

"It's night. Even Laymon's given up. C'mon. I'll walk you back to Hastings House."

"Oh!" She looked up. They were alone in the fenced-in area. "Did Laymon say good-night?"

"Yes," Brad said with amusement. "I won't leave you here alone, Leslie, even if there is a police guard at the gate."

"Thank you. I'm actually in pain from stooping for too long," she told him.

He shook his head sadly. "One of these days you'll be a hunchback. Such a waste of youth and beauty."

"I'm glad you stopped me, thank you," she said, and laughed, looking down at her clothes as she stood. "I'm filthy. I can't wait to get home, shower and go to bed."

"What a wild child you are," Brad said.

"You're going out tonight?"

"I am."

"Well, I'm impressed. Have fun."

"You could come with me."

"Thanks, but no thanks."

"You should come with me. What if I wheedled?"

She laughed. "Thanks. Brad, but I'm beat."

"That's because you don't realize you'll be happy and awake if you go out."

"Honestly, I'm exhausted. And I promised Robert I'd go out to dinner with him tomorrow."

"Good man. Nice father figure."

"He's a friend."

"Trust me, he wants something from you, too."

"Maybe, but he's still a good friend."

Brad opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, but then he just shook his head. "When you want a wild night, you let me know. I can take you to all the coolest bars."

"I know you can. And if you pick up any of the wrong girls, I'll do my best to rescue you."

"Aw, shucks, thanks, sis."

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and they trudged carefully from the site, stopping to say good-night to the officer on duty, who gave them a cheerful wave.

Brad saw her past the gate and up to the door.

"Want me to check the place out?"

"I'm fine," Leslie assured him. "State-of-the-art alarm, remember? Anyway, some of the employees may still be around."

"Tandy and Jeff…well, they're all right. But Melissa…" He rolled his eyes.

"She's sweet."

"She's neurotic, but hey…you have fun."

"Thanks. Bed will be fun, after the amazing hysteria of a shower."

"All right then, baby, you're on your own. Luv ya-good night."

"Good night. Thanks."

She was glad to lock Brad out of the house.

There were always lights on-dim lights inside, brighter lights in the yard-and, of course, warnings about the alarm plastered rather unhistorically along the fence. She felt completely safe, and there was certainly no coming home, even at night, to be met by darkness. In fact, she had a clear view of the entryway and the hall.

And she was alone.

There were ghosts here.

There had to be ghosts here. Soldiers had died here during the Revolution, when the house had been used as a makeshift hospital. An escaping slave, mangled by dogs, had reached Hastings House, only to die moments after reaching safety. A girl, wounded in the riots of 1863, had lain on a couch in the long hallway and breathed her last.

There were lots of stories, but so far, none of the ghosts had decided to trust her, to make their presence known, to talk to her.

And certainly not Matt.

Except in her vividly passionate dreams.

She whistled softly as she headed for her room. Upstairs, she remembered that she hadn't eaten, but she didn't care. She was too tired to bother.

She warned herself that when she woke up in the middle of the night with her stomach growling, she was going to be sorry, but she ignored the warning. She was totally worn out, and not just from work.

As if she had been up all night, enjoying wickedly carnal sex…

She headed for the shower. Maybe after that she would feel revived enough to manage some food.

Or was she pathetically desperate to go to bed? To dream?

The water was deliciously hot, and she stood under it for a very long time. Emerging in a state that could only be described as squeaky clean, she crawled into her nightgown, turned on the television and realized ruefully that it was all of eight-thirty. She was going to bed very early. Pathetically early.

The better to dream, my dear.

No wonder Brad thought she needed to get a life. And in fact, she agreed with him. Right after this dig.

Right after she came to terms with this house and Matt's death.

She wandered over to the window to look out onto the street.

Her heart seemed to stutter to a halt.

He was there again.


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