Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
“I think someone saw me,” I whispered. “When I panicked after finding Sadie.”
“No way. They would have said something before now. It’s been what three days?” Monica reasoned. “Why wait this long?”
“Because it wasn’t known at first if Sadie was murdered.”
Monica sank into a chair. She started to touch the note, but then like I did drew back as if it might burn her. Curling her fingers into her palm, she stared at the sheet. I didn’t see fear in Monica often. She was the bravest woman I knew, but this time she was nervous on my behalf. “Do you think the killer saw you and sent this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe it’s a mistake, and they don’t mean you. Maybe they got the wrong house. After all, your name isn’t on it.”
“That’s possible.” I tried to feel hopeful, but who would make a stupid mistake like get the wrong house when they were sending threatening letters? This was not a big city where one might not know many of the residents. I could name quite a few myself, and many knew my name and where I lived. I was by no means an important person in Summit’s Edge, but I would think most would know who the person the chief had spent an afternoon at the festival with.
Libby, why are you arguing with yourself on popularity?
I tried to calm down and look at the situation another way. “They’re not exactly forthcoming with what they think they know.”
“Right,” Monica agreed, “and even if they do know you’re a ghost, let them prove it!”
“That wouldn’t be so hard to do. Just stick me in a room and watch me for over two hours.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.”
“Maybe I should just throw it away.”
“No!” Monica pulled my hand away from the letter. “Are you crazy? Then we don’t know who’s trying to mess with you. No, Libby, we’re giving it to Clark.”
“What?” I shrieked.
“He can have it dusted for fingerprints.” She walked to the cabinet and drew out a box of freezer bags. The fact that she knew exactly where to look said she spent a lot of time at my house these days. I didn’t mind, but I wanted to be able to let my friend have her own life. She was right. I needed to know who might have sent the letter. If it was the killer, we should know.
As Monica picked up the note using the inside of the baggie, a new thought struck me. “What are we going to tell Clark? He’ll want to know what my secret is.”
Monica had an excuse ready. She zipped the baggie closed and smiled. “We will say it’s just another nut who wants more drama in this crazy town, someone who wants to believe you have a reason to kill Sadie.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie. Clark has more intelligence than to believe it. This excuse makes sense because of how vague the note its and Clark will be too busy determined to find out who sent it as well as who killed Sadie than to worry about any secrets you have.”
“Hm, you might be right.”
* * * *
I left home a short while later to go to the police station. The letter and baggie were light enough for me to carry with me, but it meant I had to walk all the way to the station. I hadn’t learned if it was possible to blink in and out with foreign objects. Monica had to get ready for work, and I had assured her I would be fine going alone.
When I arrived at the station, I hesitated, scanning the place for Bart, but he was nowhere in sight. Another officer occupied the desk to the right of the dispatch desk, and he waved me back with a smile. I knocked on Clark’s office and got a gruff command to enter. Peeking inside, I said, “Clark, do you have a minute?”
His countenance brightened. “Of course. I was going to call you…”
“Don’t worry about it. I know you’re busy. Should I come back later?” I glanced at the stack of folders. Clark’s office was always cluttered, but organized as well. He kept a folder on every person he interviewed regarding cases.
Clark surged to his feet and rushed over to me. He took my hand and pulled me inside. I didn’t notice by the expression on his face whether he felt the odd sensation Monica did in touching me. I slipped my fingers from his as soon as I could and used the excuse of removing the baggie from my pocket.
“This was in my mailbox this morning,” I told him, handing the baggie over.
Clark studied it a second and then walked to his desk. I watched as he pulled a drawer open and brought out tweezers. With deft movements, he removed the sheet from its protection and scanned the handwriting on the envelope and then the single sentence on the letter. “Any idea what it means?” he asked.
I swallowed and gave him the excuse Monica and I had come up with. Clark remained quiet, and I started to get nervous. He was astute at catching people in lies, and he could decrypt body language. I wrung my hands, took a deep breath, and pulled out my inner actress.
“Clark, I feel like I’m being targeted, and I came to you because I need your help. It’s not easy living in Summit’s Edge with people thinking I’m some kind of bad person at every turn. I’ve lived here since I was a child, and—”
“Easy, sweetheart,” Clark soothed. I froze at the endearment. Whatever else I had been about to say left my mind. He stroked my arm, but with the material of my clothes between us, I didn’t worry. “I’m going to find out who’s trying to scare you. No matter what happens, I’m here to protect you, Libby.”
I’d gone too far. Now Clark saw himself as my hero, my savior. “Um, just…if you could look into it in your spare time…”
“I’ll make it a priority,” he promised, and I bit back a groan. “First thing is to dust for prints. You did good putting it in a baggie. You’ve learned a lot hanging around me.”
Pride in his tone kept me from saying Monica had thought of the baggie, but of course it had occurred to me as well. I accepted that he would soon get to the bottom of this thing, and we could put the incident behind us.
“I appreciate it. Thanks again.” I turned to leave, but he called out my name.
“Let me take you home.”
A refusal trembled on my lips when I spun to face him, but then he offered me that boyish and hopeful grin. He ran nervous fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. My heart sank. The mark stood stark against his suntanned skin. “Um, okay. Thank you again.”
“Don’t be so formal,” he said in a gruff but playful tone. I’d made him happy. “We’re past all that, right?”
A short while later, we pulled up to my house, and I made to get out. Clark touched my arm, and I paused to look at him. To my surprise, he didn’t meet my gaze but instead stared out the front window. There wasn’t much to see except endless neat lawns, a few cars where neighbors were home early or had the day off. All lay in silence until school dismissed and the workday ended. Even then my area enjoyed mostly peace and quiet. I loved the neighborhood and saw myself growing old there. I had always hoped it wouldn’t be alone though.
Clark remained silent, so I prompted him. “Is everything okay?”
“Are you seeing Ian McClain?” he blurted.
I started, and my eyes widened. I had forgotten about running into Isabelle during my walk with Ian. Of course she would tell her brother about the incident. She thought I cheated on him, but Clark and I were not exclusive. One date did not put us in a committed relationship.
“You and I went on one date to see how it would go, Clark.”
Disappointment transformed his handsome face, and then he hid it. Too late, he was always expressive when it came to me. “I knew how it would go. I thought we had an understanding.”
“You didn’t say anything to me.”
“I regret that. I—”
“Ian is my friend. Nothing more. Just like
are my friend.”
I might as well have punched him in the gut by the look of it, but I would not be one of those women who strung men along. I had made a mistake going on a date with Clark because I had the wrong reasons. Temptation continued to stir inside me, to do whatever it took to make him happy. That wasn’t fair to him or to me.
“I like you, Clark.”
“I hear a but,” he grumbled. “Listen, Libby—”
Scrambling to open the door, I muttered an excuse that I had lots to take care of before it was time to head over to the hardware store. Now that I thought of it, I should have had Clark drop me there, but I had been too distracted. Before he could press me for a second date, I said good-bye and scrambled to my front door. Behind me, Clark pulled away from the curb. I took the time to enter the house before winking out to materialize at the shop. A long day lay ahead of me.
A few days passed with no major issues. Clark stopped by with the results of the fingerprints on the letter I had received. Monica and I listened together to what he had to say, and I was glad she was there to keep the visit on a professional level. Yet, as I looked into Clark’s gaze, I had the feeling he had no intention of turning things personal either way. Had he written me off? If so, that was good, but it kind of saddened me feel sad at the same time. One fact he shared surprised me more than anything. “The envelope has your mail carrier’s fingerprints on it. I asked her to come in so I can rule her out, and she agreed. Her prints were not on the letter however.”
I had worried about the person who sent the letter having worn gloves or using some other means of keeping the paper clean of his prints. “Were there others you could identify?” I asked with hope.
“No.” Clark paused, and tension began in my shoulders. At least, that’s what my mind told me. I had no physical sensation. “There were no other prints at all, Libby. Not even yours.”
Monica and I glanced at each other and then away so we wouldn’t stir his suspicion. I couldn’t tell Clark because I couldn’t actually feel anything and had no true physical presence, I couldn’t make fingerprints. This was the conclusion I came to the instant Clark shared the news, because without a doubt, I had handled the letter and envelope before I knew what it was and until Monica tucked it into the baggie.
“Of course my prints weren’t on it, silly. Did you forget that I’ve learned a lot from you? I saw a suspicious letter in my mailbox. I was not going to touch it with my bare hands, and the carrier warned me about it even before I saw it. I was careful so I wouldn’t impede your investigation.”
As usual, Monica jumped to my defense. “You’re not implying my girl sent herself that letter, are you, Clark? She’s not looking for attention that way. She already had it from you, didn’t she?”
Clark’s face flamed, and Monica, the imp, grinned knowingly at him. “I-I didn’t think that,” Clark stuttered.
Monica folded her arms across her chest and shrugged. Clark grumbled at her putting him on the spot.
“I’ll keep investigating,” he promised. “Call me if you hear from this person again, and I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Thanks, chief,” Monica said in a sweet tone. He glowered at her, nodded at me, and was gone.
“Monica, that was cruel.”
She chuckled. “It got him off your back, didn’t it?”
“Yes.” I smiled and kissed her cheek. “Thanks. I had no idea I couldn’t make prints.”
“Let’s test it!”
Monica darted from the living room to run down the hall. In moments she returned with an old paint set I had bought Jake a couple years before. For the next half hour, we played in paint like little kids. The theory was solid. I could dip my fingers in paint and even smear it over paper, but I couldn’t make prints like Monica could. In fact, I felt like a poltergeist playing tricks. I was not in direct contact with the human world. I had ways of showing my existence, but it was as if I lived on a different plane, and the sense of separation made me dump my experiments into the trash and make up an excuse to leave the house and wander alone for a while. Not until late that night when I spent time with Ian did I center myself and find peace.
“You are not alone,” he said.
I looked up at him as I hovered before his desk and he sat behind it with a book open before him.
reading my mind right now?” I asked.
He held up the book, and I read the title
Institutiones Juris Naturae Et Gentium
. Was that Latin? “You are an open book, Liberty, and your emotions speak very loudly to me.”
I snorted and looked away.
He lowered his voice still more, but I heard him clear as a bell. “There are many in the world like you and unlike you, many who are not human. I am one of the few. I am here…with you.”
I gaped at him. This was Ian’s attempt to make me feel better, and I had to admit, it worked. I smiled and thanked him. My face burned, but it didn’t matter. He was not the cold and uncaring creature he seemed. “Why am I special, Ian?”
“Are you special?”
“You know what I mean.” I didn’t want to spell it out. I had asked before. Did I want him to say he would date me if I had a body? That was absurd and not what I meant—not entirely anyway. “You let all those other women knock on your door to try to throw themselves at your feet. You ignored them. Why didn’t you ignore me? I mean if I had called something evil to me with my ghostly wail like you said, it would have been no skin off your nose.”
He seemed to think about it, and I drifted closer in anticipation of his answer.
“That phrase originated in the early twentieth century, of boxing origins.”
I ground my teeth in frustration. He deliberately avoided my question and focused on the silly phrase. I imagine Ian knew where every expression started. He might even have created one or two himself. Thinking that gave me pause and made me forgot my own train of thought. When I recalled, I tossed him a scowl, but he had already gone back to his reading. I contented myself with just hanging about, and then he glanced up.
“Your blood was unlike any I ever tasted.”
“I cannot explain it, and from the first time I tasted it, I wanted to know why. I searched for answers and found none. All I knew was I could not give you up.”
My emotions jumbled. I didn’t know how to respond. On one hand it offended me to know Ian’s attraction centered on my blood. On the other, he was in essence saying in a hundred years, he had never met a woman as compelling as me. My ego refused to let this go and swelled as a result.