The Dead Room

Page 9

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Ken Dryer. He didn't like him any better than he liked Hank Smith. He never wore Armani. Instead, he was spotless in his police dress best. But then, Dryer had a tough job, speaking to the media, trying to assure New Yorkers that even under the worst circumstances, they were going to be all right. He supposed he should have more sympathy for the man, but he didn't. Dryer liked his job too much. Liked finding a way to put a spin on things that always made himself look good.

Greta…well, she loved history more than life itself. She was a good old broad, caring, genuine, which was hard, when you came from that much money.

Professor Laymon…he should get to know Greta better. They would make one hell of a couple.

Brad Verdun. He almost smiled. Would have smiled, if he'd had substance and could have. Once upon a time, he'd been jealous of Brad. Like Ken Dryer and Hank Smith, Brad loved the limelight. He was a good-looking dude, too. But he'd never had any cause to be jealous. To Leslie, Brad was a friend and colleague, someone with whom she worked well. They'd laughed about a few of his romantic fiascos together. But now…

His heart ached. Funny, he had no heart, but he could feel the pain. That was then, and this was now. He himself was gone.

He loved Leslie. Wanted her to have a life. Wanted her to find something as great as what they had shared. Really…

He just didn't want her falling for some asshole.

All right, so he'd gotten bitter. How the hell not?

Don't touch her, don't you dare touch her, he thought.

Then he amended that.

Don't hurt her, don't you dare hurt her. If you do, I'll…

He'd what? He couldn't even appear at will, could barely communicate with the others haunting the same space.

Don't hurt her, he prayed.

Hastings House wasn't huge. The entry was handsome, with the staircase off to the side to allow for a breeze to make its way all the way through the house. Leslie imagined that once those breezes had been plentiful; now, with the house surrounded by skyscrapers, the possibility was highly unlikely. There were two rooms to the right, two rooms to the left, and six bedrooms upstairs. The dining room was the second door on the left, and behind it was the one accommodation to the twenty-first century; the kitchen and huge back pantry were attached to the house by an arched passageway.

"Are you really all right?" Robert asked, coming alongside Leslie as they headed toward the dining room.

She squeezed his arm. "Really," she assured him.

Really, she repeated in her mind. I just want you all to get out of my house.

Her house?

It wasn't her house at all.

It was simply the house where Matt had died.

"So, Hank," Brad said as they filed into the dining room. "Your company made another historical discovery, huh? Must be hard. All that time and money invested-and now you have to stop work and wait for us to prowl around."

"Thankfully," Professor Laymon said, before Hank could reply, "the company doesn't try to hide what it comes across, Brad."

But Hank was grinning. "Do I mind losing money, Brad? Sure. But we get more promotional bucks out of this than you could begin to imagine."

As she took a chair at the period reproduction dining table, Leslie ignored the men and flashed a smile at Greta. They were eating on reproduction Dutch porcelain dishes, and fresh flowers graced the table. The minute she'd entered the house, she'd smelled the aroma of beef cooking, so she assumed they would be having a traditional old English pub roast.

"So, Hank, tell us more about the find," Brad said.

Hank looked a little surprised. "Professor Laymon has been given all the specifics."

"He's told us what he knows, but I'm curious. Why do you think you've discovered a working-class burial?"

Hank shrugged, taking his seat just as the caterers made their appearance, bringing the meal from the kitchen. A roast, whipped potatoes, greens, a tomato salad. Red wine. A very nice and very traditional meal.

"No one has turned vegetarian on me lately, have they?" Greta asked worriedly.

They all shook their heads as Hank started to answer Brad's question.

"Well, we haven't come across any coffins or bones-we're leaving that to you," he said, helping himself to the potatoes. "Gravy?" he asked. Ken Dryer passed over the gravy boat.

"What our first worker came across was a set of wooden teeth," Hank explained.

"Wooden teeth?" Leslie echoed.

"Just like the pair of George Washington's in the Smithsonian," Hank said.

"Poor people didn't generally have false teeth," Leslie said.

"They're very rough, and only preserved because they happened to have been wrapped in a scrap of tarp, like something a soldier might have had," Hank said. "I don't really know anything about this stuff, but that's what the first guy on the site, someone from the museum, said. Anyway, there was more. A few pieces of jewelry, costume stuff, and poor costume stuff at that. And a couple of tiny crosses-those were actually real silver. We stopped work right away, of course."

"Of course," Brad agreed. Leslie thought he sounded skeptical, but Brad de facto disliked anyone who worked for a development company.

"Then," Greta reminded Hank, "there were the records we found at the Morgan Library. Records that indicated a church had stood on the spot before it burned to the ground. At the time, this area was heavily populated with immigrant families, struggling to get by. Up the street, there was once a Catholic church. Down this way, there was another Episcopal church, not to mention Trinity and St. Paul's. Remember, everyone went to church in those days."

"Right, Greta. Anyway," Hank said, flashing a grin at Professor Laymon, "the decision was made that our good friend here should head the project, and all work has been stopped, the areas where the finds were made have been cordoned off, and you're all set to go. And-" he offered another of his broad smiles to Leslie "-we have two of the city's most esteemed archaeologists on the case, along with whatever hordes the professor cares to hire." He turned to Brad. "So do speak highly of us to the press, please."

Greta laughed softly; Leslie smiled. It seemed to her that Hank was honest enough, even if she didn't always trust developers herself.

"You know, construction workers need to make a living, too," Robert piped in.

"Right. Some of us poor slobs are just worker bees," Ken said.

"Yeah, poor Ken. You're just the average worker bee, right?" Leslie teased.

He laughed. "Okay, so, I'm a lucky, well-educated worker bee. Talk to Robert, here, though, if you're looking for a guy who has worked his ass off-sorry, Greta-to get somewhere, and despite all he's done, he's got a tough job, nowhere near enough respect and a lousy paycheck."

"Hey!" Robert protested.

"Oh, we cops are suddenly well paid?" Ken said.

"Could be worse," Robert told him.

Ken groaned.

"Besides, I doubt you intend to be a cop forever," Robert said.

"Do you have political aspirations?" Leslie asked, sipping her wine.

"Not this year, I assure you," Ken said. "Greta, this is absolutely delicious. Thank you so much for inviting me."

"Well," Greta said, waving a hand in the air, "we want Leslie to feel that the police are with her if she ever needs them, right?"

"Greta is really worried about you staying at the house alone," Robert told Leslie. He didn't add and so am I. He didn't need to. She could see it in his eyes.

"Hey, I know New York City. I'm street smart," Leslie assured them both.

"Anyone can need help," Robert said.

"Should I be afraid for some reason?" Leslie asked. "Do you know something I don't?"

"No," Robert said.

"Well, we still haven't gotten to the bottom of those local disappearances," Ken said.

"Leslie doesn't need to worry. She doesn't exactly fit the profile," Robert said.

"There's still been no break in the prostitute case?" Leslie asked. "Is that what you're talking about?"

"No, no break," Ken said. He hesitated. "Matt had people concerned, but no one has picked up where he left off."

"Since Leslie is hardly likely to start walking the streets soliciting, I don't think she needs to worry too much about that," Greta announced. "I mean, personally. Of course we all need to worry in the larger sense."

"Maybe there's a modern-day Jack the Ripper out there," Brad offered.

"Jack the Ripper got his kicks by letting others discover the butchered bodies of his victims," Robert said sharply, then flushed, hearing his own tone. "Sorry, this is a real sore spot with me. We're just not getting anywhere. And whenever we think it might have stopped, we get another distant relative, hooker friend or embarrassed john down at the station, talking about a girl who's just vanished."

"Maybe they're just moving on," Brad suggested.

"I wish that were the case," Robert said. "I just don't believe it."

"Why aren't we finding any bodies, then?" Ken asked him.

"I don't know," Robert said. "I didn't mean to make you uneasy, Leslie," he added, turning to her.

"You didn't. I have a state-of-the-art alarm here, remember?" she asked, smiling.

But Robert still seemed disturbed as he stared at her.

Shortly afterward, their dishes were removed and coffee was served, along with a delicious apple cobbler. As dessert was set down, Leslie decided that she was going to lighten the mood. "So…anything new and exciting going on in anyone's social life?" she asked.

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