The Dead Room


Page 4


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She shook her head.


"Listen, this new site is really important…. I know Laymon wants to talk to you about it. He's going back to lead the team, with or without you. With or without us," Brad amended quickly.


Her nails dug into the arms of the chair. She stared at the flames. "I've made some promises here," she said.


He looked puzzled. "You made promises? To whom?"


"To myself. To see that people are honored, that bones are buried with the proper rites," she said.


"We'll tell Laymon, and he'll make sure it happens," Brad said. "It's not like we're leaving the country. With the way your reputation has grown, you can drop a word and people will hustle, you know that."


"Okay," she murmured.


"Laymon got the call when we were on the way to the tavern, and he talked about nothing else once we got there," Brad said softly. "New York City, Leslie! You know you love it."


"I can't go back."


"You need to go back."


"Brad…"


"Leslie, please."


She stared at him and saw the earnest plea in his eyes. She lowered her head quickly, not wanting him to read her thoughts.


Hastings House. It was fixed, repaired, reopened. Brought back to life again. But the dead…the dead couldn't be brought back to life…?


And some of the dead had never left.


She lowered her head, biting her lower lip. It had started immediately. In the hospital, she'd thought she'd gone mad. There had been the horrible pain, the ache like the loss of a limb or half of her soul, knowing Matt was gone. The concussion, the bruising, the cuts, scrapes, burns…


Those had been nothing compared to the pain of losing Matt.


At first she had lived in a stage somewhere between consciousness and dreams. One night she'd awakened in the hospital morgue, drawn there by a man who had lost his wedding ring when they'd rolled him down. All he had wanted was to have his ring put back on his finger. But she hadn't known that, and she'd freaked. She was lucky she hadn't wound up in the psychiatric ward that night. Luckily for her, the next day she'd discovered an article in a news magazine about a man named Adam Harrison and the group of paranormal investigators who worked for him. No matter how the reporter had tried to trip him up, the man had come off as intelligent and well spoken, and not at all like a kook. She had started to shake, reading the article. She had called Harrison Investigations immediately, and, to her amazement, Adam Harrison himself had shown up in the hospital. They had talked then, and again when she had been released. It was as if she had instantly acquired not only a new best friend, one she felt she had known forever, but as if she'd gotten her father back, though her real father had been gone since she was a little girl.


She'd called Adam right away when she'd started talking to the ghostly Colonial churchman, and soon after, she'd noticed a couple in the crowd of visitors hanging around the site. They'd stood out, and eventually they'd introduced themselves as two of Harrison's employees. Brent and Nikki Blackhawk-he dark and strikingly handsome, his wife blond and beautiful-had gone back to the house with her and taught her how to become friends with the ghost, even chatted with him casually themselves. There really were others like her, she'd realized, and that meant she was sane.


"Leslie," Brad said softly, recalling her to the present. "I told Laymon I'd work the new dig, so I'll be there with you. You need to go back, to put the past to rest, to put the pain behind you."


She stared at him. Smiled slowly.


Brad didn't know about Adam Harrison, the Black-hawks, or that there were others like them to help her. Brad didn't know that it was thanks to Adam and his associates that she had been able to sit calmly in a Colonial kitchen, talking to a long-dead reverend, and that she could feel entirely sane as she did so.


But as to going back, facing her own ghosts…That was something else again, something she dreaded but something she needed to do.


Brad let out a soft sigh. "Okay, I'm sorry. Too soon," he said.


She stared back at him. "I didn't say that," she murmured quickly. "Maybe I should go back. I think…I think maybe I want to go back to Hastings House."


He hesitated. "I know you have an apartment in Brooklyn, but…" He stared, paused, then said quickly, on a single fast breath, "There are a few rooms available for the workers at Hastings House."


"What?"


Brad shook his head quickly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't even have mentioned that."


"Who is this work for?" she demanded.


"The Historical Society, of course. Greta will be the official liaison between the society, the contractors and the workers. And once again, it's Tyson, Smith and Tryon who bought and are developing the property. They've been legally blocked from building until the significance of the site is established and any necessary excavation is done. Laymon says they're taking it well, though, basking in their national publicity as good guys. But the lost time must be costing them a bundle. Anyway, the site is really close to Hastings House. It's in the next block, actually."


"And that's why they're offering the rooms at Hastings House?"


He shrugged. "I don't know why I even mentioned that, honestly. Hell, I have an apartment in the city, and you have your place in Brooklyn." He took a deep breath. "Of course, you lived there with Matt, so maybe you don't want to go back there. But I'm glad you're holding on to it. Real estate in your neighborhood is rising sky-high. Oh, God, I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. I'm stumbling all over here."


"It's all right, Brad."


"Yeah. Right." He tried to smile.


"I didn't even get to go to his funeral. I was in the hospital," she murmured, staring at the flames.


Suddenly a massive ache seemed to tear through her heart.


Ghosts came to her, sought her out sometimes, asked for her help.


But not Matt.


The ghost she wanted to see, desperately longed to tell-one last time-how much she had loved him, how he had been her life, how he had filled the world with wonder with his simple presence…that ghost she never saw.


"I want to stay at Hastings House," she said.


He lowered his head. He was smiling, she realized. He was convinced that he had handled things just right, and that by talking about lodging, he had tricked her into deciding to go back.


Maybe he deserved his self-congratulations.


Or maybe it was just time for her to go back.


"You really want to stay there? You're serious?"


"Dead serious."


She stood, patting him on the shoulder as she started out. She paused in the hallway, looking back at him. "No pun intended," she said lightly, and offered him a dry grin. "You're right. I'm ready to go back. Excited to go back. Good night."


She left him, still down on his knees by the chair.


Excited? Dear God, she was a liar.


And yet…


It was true. She never would have thought of it herself. Never would have woken up one morning thinking, Wow, I'd really love to head back to Hastings House.


But now that she was going…


The past beckoned to her. She needed to come to terms with it.


She had to go back.


2


I t was late. A strange time, Joe Connolly thought, to be having this meeting. The woman sitting nervously across from him was stunning, but she reminded him of a high-strung, inbred greyhound. She was excessively thin, and her long fingers were elegantly manicured and glittering with diamonds and other fine jewels. She had called that morning and set up this meeting. They were at the venue of her choice-a small Irish tavern off Wall Street. He would have expected her to suggest a private corner at an exclusive club, but perhaps she didn't want to be seen with a private investigator. For whatever reason, she had chosen O'Malley's, which was warm, small and inviting, a pub she had probably visited many a time in her youth.


She had originally come from humble stock, he knew. On her mother's side, she was second-generation Irish; her father, an O'Brien, came from a line of hard-working laborers who had arrived in the United States during the 1840s. Blood, sweat and muscle had taken him far in the trades, and thus their modest family fortune had begun and then risen to riches. Then Eileen O'Brien had married well, and she was now Mrs. Thomas Brideswell, widow of the late senator and construction magnate.


She thrust an eight-by-ten picture of a young woman across the table at him. He stared down at the likeness. Genevieve O'Brien looked back at him. Her eyes were huge and blue, and she was as slender as her aunt Eileen, with beautifully defined features. Her hair was dark, with an auburn sheen. The photographer had captured laughter, eagerness and the optimism of youth.


"How old is this picture?" Joe asked.


"It was taken about two and half years ago," Eileen said, and hesitated. With a weary sadness and a hunch of her shoulders, she looked down. "Just before her falling out with my brother and me."


Joe shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to press the issue, but I need to understand. If she left home voluntarily, and there was already an estrangement between you, what makes you so sure that something's happened to her?"


Eileen sighed deeply. "Donald died soon after she walked out of his house. She came back for his funeral. She wanted to keep her distance from me and what she called my ridiculous family devotion to a ridiculously dysfunctional family. I think she was upset that my brother died without the two of them ever having made their peace, but…" She lifted one of her bejeweled hands. "I suppose it was nasty growing up in my brother's household. There was a lot to be said for everything my father and grandfather accomplished, but it came at a price. Impossible expectations for their children. So much fault-finding when something was wrong." She shook her head, and Joe felt moved by her obvious distress. There was such a deep and underlying sadness in the woman, despite her reserve and elegance. She looked him in the face then. "Ever since my brother died, she's called me every two weeks. At least once, every two weeks. I haven't heard from her in over a month."


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