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Authors: Heather Graham

The Death Dealer

BOOK: The Death Dealer
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THE
DEATH DEALER
Also by HEATHER GRAHAM

THE LAST NOEL

THE SÉANCE

BLOOD RED

THE DEAD ROOM

KISS OF DARKNESS

THE VISION

THE ISLAND

GHOST WALK

KILLING KELLY

THE PRESENCE

DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR

PICTURE ME DEAD

HAUNTED

HURRICANE BAY

A SEASON OF MIRACLES

NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD

NEVER SLEEP WITH STRANGERS

EYES OF FIRE

SLOW BURN

NIGHT HEAT

HEATHER GRAHAM
THE
DEATH DEALER

To the New World School of the Arts,
especially Ms. Graham, teacher of Creative Writing and English,
who knows enthusiasm is the biggest part of the game;
and Mr. Jim Randolph “The God of Theater,”
who keeps himself and his kids real,
who knows there’s a big bad world out there
but keeps a thumb on caring.

And for Beth Fath, a parent with quiet dedication;
and Debbie Benitez, who has helped keep me sane
and informed on more than one occasion!

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

—Edgar Allan Poe

PROLOGUE

It’s not easy being a ghost.

You would think that it would be the most natural thing in the world. There you go—you’re dead. Live with it.

But it’s far more difficult than you would ever imagine.

It begins with
why?

Oh, we all know the theories. A death by violence. Something left undone. Someone to be protected, someone to be warned—someone to be avenged.

Vengeance? Once you’re a ghost? Great stuff.

But that wasn’t my situation. My killer perished split seconds before the light of life faded from my own eyes. It wasn’t that I hadn’t loved life—I had. There were those left behind whom I cherished deeply.

The great love of my life, Matt Connolly, had gone before me, however. And he was there to greet me when I arrived.

“Crossed over,” as they say. Except there’s the thing—you haven’t actually crossed over. You’re existing in a vague and shadowy world where, often, you see something truly horrible about to take place—and you don’t have the power to stop it.

I’d known something of what would occur. I had almost died before. I had felt the power of the light that beckons—an invitation to heaven? I don’t know the answer to that yet.

Because that time I lived. And this time I stayed.

As a ghost.

And I know that I’ve remained behind for a reason, though I haven’t a clue as to the specifics. But at least, unlike some, I’m pretty sure I
do
have a purpose.

I’ve come across many of my kind who are far more lost than I am, having had a strange relationship with them after my near-death experience and before I departed the life of flesh and blood. There’s Lawrence Ridgeway, Colonel Lawrence Ridgeway, a charming fellow, with his perfectly trimmed beard and muttonchops.

Sadly, he can’t accept the fact that the Civil War has been won. He was a brave soldier who came to New York during the terrible draft riots of the eighteen-sixties. No matter how often I try to explain things to him, he’s forever keeping guard over his long-gone prisoners. Matt, too, has tried to point out to him that there are no prisoners present, but poor Colonel Ridgeway simply can’t accept that fact. I’m afraid he’s doomed to haunt one particular hallway here in Manhattan’s historic Hastings House forever, a sad and tragic figure who’ll never find closure.

Marnie Brubaker died in childbirth. She’s a sweet and charming creature, and she loves the children who pass through the house. Children tend to be more open than adults to visits from my kind. Marnie likes to play games with the little ones. When they’re falling asleep on a parent’s shoulder, she sings lullabies. Every once in a while, one of them gets scared by her presence and screams bloody murder, which puts her into a funk for weeks to come. All she wants is to offer is love and comfort, but some people, even kids, just don’t want solace from a ghost.

There are those, like Colonel Ridgeway, who will go on repeating their last action over and over again. Then there are those who learn to move around the physical worlds. Passing through walls. Appearing and disappearing at will. Moving objects. The truth of it is, we ghosts can learn to do all kinds of things, so long as we have the will, the patience and the stamina.

I was the victim of a killer who first took the lives of others, before he took mine. But there’s no pain in my world, especially not for me. Because Matt’s here with me, and that’s really all that matters. He died the night of my almost-death, and he stayed behind to warn me. To save me. But my salvation wasn’t to be. In the end, I died to save Genevieve O’Brien. And so far, at least, I’ve been successful. But as a social worker, she’s one of those people who won’t rest in her quest to help others, and that can put her in danger sometimes.

Then there’s Joe Connolly, Matt’s cousin. He’s a private detective and a super guy. A tough guy.

But no one’s so tough that he can defy death. Life’s not like the movies. Most of the time, the bad guys can aim, so Joe can use some protection, whether he knows it or not.

I believe Matt and I have stayed on because of either Joe or Genevieve. Or maybe both. It’s our job to make sure they—and maybe others—stay safe.

 

Nope, being a ghost isn’t easy. In fact, it’s damn hard work protecting people when most of the time they can’t even see you and don’t think they need protection, anyway.

Take Joe. He has a thing about going to the graves of the people he couldn’t save—including Matt’s and mine. Sometimes he brings flowers. Sometimes he just sits in deep thought. And sometimes he talks. Then he looks around, hoping that he hasn’t been overheard. I imagine that it would be difficult to obtain new clients if word got out that he was insane. But everyone out there has his own way of coping with loss. For Joe, it’s talking to people at their grave sites.

That’s how we became involved in the Poe Killings.

And that’s how Joe became involved with Genevieve again.

She was a child of privilege, but even after she’d almost lost her own life, she couldn’t stop herself from investigating problems.

Including murder.

CHAPTER 1

The crash occurred on the FDR. Strange thing, Joe had just been driving along Manhattan’s East Side and thinking it was amazing that there weren’t more accidents on the busy—and outdated—highway when, right in front of him, a crash caused the car a few lengths ahead of him to slam into someone else. The sounds of screeching tires, shattering glass, grating steel and several massive impacts were evidence that the domino effect had come into play. Someone almost stopped in the aftermath of the first collision, but then that car was pushed into the next lane, and the driver coming up didn’t have time to stop. He slammed into it hard and careened into the next lane. The car that hit that driver bounced over the median and into the oncoming traffic going south.

Joe somehow made it off to the side, threw his car into Park and hit 9-1-1 on his cell phone. He reported what he saw and his position, dropped the phone and hurried out to help.

The car that had caused the initial crash was fairly far ahead of him, but there was a line of disabled vehicles stretching back from it almost to where he was.

The people in the car closest to him were fine, and so were the people in the next vehicle, and the driver of the third probably had nothing more than a broken arm.

The smell of gas around the car that had hopped the median was strong, though—a bad sign.

People had stopped all around, talking, shouting, while other drivers were trying to get around the wreckage no matter what.

“Hey, it’s going to blow up!” someone called to Joe as he approached the car. He lifted a hand in acknowledgment but kept going. He wasn’t a superhero, he’d just worked lots of accident scenes when he’d been a cop, and an inner voice was assuring him that—death-defying or not—he had time to help.

The car was upside down. There was blood coming from the driver’s head, which was canted at an awkward angle. The man’s eyes were closed.

“Hey. You have to wake up. We’ve got to get you out of there. I’m going to help you,” Joe told him.

“My niece,” the man said. “You’ve got to help my niece.” He grabbed Joe, his grip surprisingly strong.

“Trish,” the man said.

Then Joe saw the little girl. She was in the back. Not really big enough for the seat belt, she had slipped out of it and was on the roof—now the floor—with silent tears streaming down her face.

Joe said with forced calm, “Come on, honey. Give me your hand.”

She had huge, saucer-wide blue eyes, and she was maybe about seven or eight and just small for her age, he decided. “Trish,” he said firmly. “Give me your hand.”

He sighed with relief when she did so. He managed to get her out, even though she had to crawl over broken glass on the way. As soon as he had her in his arms, someone from the milling crowd rushed forward.

“Get the hell out of here now, buddy!” the man who took the child told him. “The car is going to blow.”

“There’s a man in the car,” Joe said.

“He’s dead.”

“No,” Joe said. “He’s alive. He talked to me.”

Joe was dimly aware that the air was alive with sirens, that evening was turning to night. He was fully aware of the fact that he didn’t have much time left.

Flat on his stomach, he shouted to the man who had taken the child from him. “Get them back—get them all back!”

“Trish?” the man in the car said.

“It’s all right. She’s out. She’s safe. Now, get ready, because I’m releasing your seat belt. You’ve got to try to help me.”

He did his best to support the guy’s weight after he released the seat belt, but it was a struggle. An upside-down crushed car didn’t allow for a lot of leeway, especially when it was about to explode.

But he got the man out. He could only pray that he hadn’t worsened his pain or any broken bones.

“Help me!” he roared, once he had the man away from the car.

The same Good Samaritan who had taken the child came rushing up. Together, they started to half drag and half carry the man from the wreckage.

Just in time.

The car exploded, flames leaping high over the FDR. They would have been easily seen over in Brooklyn, and probably even halfway across Manhattan.

The blast was hot and powerful. He felt it like a huge, hot hand that lifted him, the victim and his fellow rescuer, and tossed them a dozen feet so that they crashed down hard on the asphalt.

Joe rolled, trying to take the brunt of the impact, knowing he was in far better shape to accept the force than the victim of the crash.

For a moment he didn’t breathe, since there was nothing to breathe but the fire in the air.

Then he felt pain in almost every joint, and the hardness of the road against his back. He became aware of the screams around him, which he hadn’t heard before; the blast had sucked all the sound out of the air along with the oxygen.

“You all right, buddy?” he asked the man who had helped him.

“Yeah—you?”

“Fine.”

The next thing he knew, there was a young EMT hunkered down in front of him. He tried to struggle up.

“Take it easy. Don’t move until we’re sure you haven’t broken something, sir,” the med tech said.

“There’s nothing broken. I’m good,” Joe told him. “The guy who helped me—”

“He’s being taken care of.”

“The man in the car—I think he was hurt pretty bad,” Joe said.

“We, uh, we got it,” the med tech told him. “And,” he added gently, “the girl is fine. Everyone’s already talking about how you saved her life.”

“Great, good,” Joe said. “But the man needs—”

“Sir, I’m sorry to tell you, but he’s dead.”

“I thought he had a chance.”

The med tech was silent for a minute. “You did a good thing,” he said very softly. “But that man…he died on impact, sir. Broken neck.”

“No—he talked to me.”

“I think maybe you hit your head, sir. That man couldn’t have spoken to you. I’m sure his family is going to be grateful you got the body out, but he’s been dead since the first impact. Honest to God. It was a broken neck. He never suffered.” As he spoke, the med tech got a stethoscope out; apparently he wasn’t taking Joe’s word that he was okay.

Joe had his breath back. He pushed the stethoscope aside and sat up, staring at the med tech. What did the kid know? He wasn’t the coroner.

“He was alive. He spoke to me. I wouldn’t even have seen the girl if he hadn’t told me she was in the car.”

“Sure.”

Joe knew damned well when he was being humored. “I’m telling you, I’m fine.”

He knew the EMT was all good intentions, but he was just fine—except for this kid trying to tell him that the man had died on impact.

“Sir, let me help you,” the med tech said.

“You want to help me? Get me the hell out of here,” Joe told him.
“Fast.”

“Just let me get a stretcher.”

“Sure,” Joe said, figuring anything that would get the guy out of the way was fine.

As soon as the med tech went off for a stretcher, Joe took a deep breath and made it to his feet. Damn, it hurt. Well, he’d been pretty much sandblasted when he skidded down on the roadway, and he wasn’t exactly eighteen anymore.

He saw that there was no way in hell he would be leaving the scene in his own car. But it wasn’t blocking anyone, so the thing was just to start walking, to get away.

He did. It was easier than he’d imagined, but then, he was walking away from a scene of chaos, and everyone’s attention was on the wreck, not on one lone pedestrian. He could hear voices—most alarmed and concerned, some merely excited—surrounding him as he escaped the scene. More and more cop cars and ambulances passed him.

He headed south along the shoulder, and at last he followed an entrance ramp down to the street, where he hailed a taxi. The driver didn’t even blink at his appearance. Hey, this was New York.

He suggested a route to Brooklyn that didn’t involve the FDR.

He got home eventually, where he showered and changed, then went out into his living room and turned on the television, looking for the local news.

The accident was center stage.

“Twelve were injured and are being given care in various area hospitals,” the attractive newscaster was saying. Her face was grave. “There was one fatality. Adam Brookfield was killed when his car flipped over the median. The medical examiner reports that Mr. Brookfield died instantly, though a heroic onlooker, who fled the scene, carried the man’s body from the automobile just instants before the car exploded. That same man rescued Mr. Brookfield’s six-year-old niece, Patricia, who is doing well at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where her parents are with her.”

The woman shifted in her chair to look into a different camera. The somber expression left her face. She smiled. “This weekend, we welcome the All American Chorale Union to Kennedy Center, and for those of you with tickets, remember that tonight’s the night for the special showing of ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All those pricey meal tickets will pay for more archeological research right here in New York. And now…”

Joe no longer heard her. He was irritated.

That man, Adam Brookfield, had been alive; he had spoken to Joe. It was bull about him dying on impact. He couldn’t have spoken if he’d been dead.

Joe glanced at his watch. It would be hours before he could reasonably go for his car, which meant it would probably be towed anyway. Screw it.

He had been on his way to attend tonight’s fund-raiser at the Met when he’d gotten sidelined by the accident, but now he decided he no longer cared. He was heading to Manhattan and a bar that had become one of his favorites.

 

“Congratulations, she’s just beautiful, Senator,” Genevieve O’Brien said to Senator James McCray and his wife. They had been showing her pictures of their new grandson, Jacob. She had done the right thing, “oohing” and “aahing.”

Frankly, the baby looked like a pinhead at the moment. As bald as a buzzard. Squinched up and…newborn.

But the senator was a supporter of the Historical Society, and had a paid great deal for his meal and a walk through the museum. Naturally she was going to say all the right things about his grandchild. Of course, if she’d met him on the street, she still would have said the same things, she realized.

She damned digital cameras.

The senator had not had just one picture but at least a hundred.

“You need to get married and have children yourself, young lady,” James McCray said.

His wife elbowed him. She’d suddenly gone pale.

Genevieve sighed and tried not to show her feelings in her expression, but she was so weary of this. Anything that so much as hinted of sex was considered taboo around her. She’d been the victim of a maniac who’d been stalking New York’s streets and targeting prostitutes, the same prostitutes Gen worked with. Everyone knew what she’d been through and that it was a miracle she was alive.

She had stayed alive because she had realized quickly that her attacker was actually incapable of sex. She had played on his own psychological makeup, providing the bolstering and ego boosts that he needed, and though she had been a prisoner and abused, she wasn’t suffering as shatteringly from the experience as the world seemed to think she should be. If she faced an inward agony, it was knowing that someone incredible, her friend Leslie MacIntyre,
had
died.

“I would love to have children one day, Senator, Mrs. McCray,” she said cheerfully. “When the right person to be a dad comes along. You enjoy that beautiful baby. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see to a few things.”

Yes, she needed to see to an escape.

She walked quickly into a side hall, opened only for the convenience of the Historical Society, which was hosting the event. There was a bench, and she sat on it.

He hadn’t shown.

She let out a sigh, wondering why she had even thought Joe would show up. He was a fascinating guy, intrigued by almost everything in the world. He hadn’t come from money, but if anyone out there knew that money really wasn’t everything, it was her. Joe was one of those people who
lived
life, and he’d done well enough for himself. He could look like a million dollars in a suit. Definitely a striking guy.

And her friend, she thought.

When he wasn’t avoiding her.

She smiled to herself. If she was in trouble, if she needed rescuing, he would be right there. Thing was, she didn’t need rescuing. And she didn’t
want
to need rescuing, either.

Her smiled faded.

She
did
want help.

She had hoped he would show tonight because she wanted to ask him about the current worry dogging her life.

A murder.

The media had dubbed it the Poe Killing, because the victim, Thorne Bigelow, had been president of the New York Poe Society, a readers and writers group whose members studied the works and life of Edgar Allan Poe, and called themselves the Ravens, and the killer had left a note referring to the famous author.

She looked around the room. Most of the members were involved with things that were considered either literary or important educationally in the city of New York. There were several of the Ravens here tonight; like her own mother, they also supported various groups interested in history and archeology. Among them she noticed newspaper reporter Larry Levine, who had come to cover the event. Then there was Lila Hawkins—brassy and outspoken and very, very rich. Quite frankly, she was obnoxious, but she did do a lot of good things for the arts in the city. Just a few minutes ago, Gen had seen Lila with Barbara Hirshorn, another Raven and the complete opposite of Lila; Barbara was so timid, she had difficulty speaking to more than one person at the same time.

She had noted that even Jared Bigelow had made a brief appearance with Mary Vincenzo, his aunt, on his arm. He was gone now, and she hadn’t had a chance to speak to him. He had shown up just to support the cause tonight; he was still in mourning for his father.

From her seat on the bench she could hear the booming voice of Don Tracy, the one Raven who’d taken Poe to the masses. He was an actor, a good one, even if he’d never become a household name. He loved the stage and had performed Poe’s works on numerous occasions.

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