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Authors: Linda Barnes

Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction

The Perfect Ghost

BOOK: The Perfect Ghost
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For Alison





My thanks to those who have discussed, argued, read, reread, edited, and otherwise contributed to this novel, including Barbara Shapiro, Hallie Ephron, Jan Brogan, Sarah Smith, Hector Gomez, Catherine Cairns, Maxine Aaronson, June McGinnis, Gina Maccoby, Kelley Ragland, Elizabeth Lacks, and always, Richard and Sam.





Title Page

Copyright Notice



Author’s Note


Part One

Dennis Port Police Department transcript

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32


Part Two

UMass Memorial Labs

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54


Also by Linda Barnes

About the Author






I have taken liberties with the geography of Cape Cod. Dennis Port (or Dennisport) is a village bordering Nantucket Sound, a census-designated place within the town of Dennis, Massachusetts. The Dennis Police Department bears no resemblance to the fictional Dennis Port Police Department.







Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love.


, Act II, scene 2
William Shakespeare



Dennis Port Police Department

One Arrow Point Way

Dennis Port, MA 02639







Yeah, look, um, I heard a noise, like a crash, I thought, but then I figure maybe it’s just thunder or something, but then I’m looking out the window, and I think somebody musta driven off the road.



What’s your address, sir?



I’m over on Willow Crest, by the pond.



What number is that, sir?



I’m at 8725, but it’s not real near the crash, if that’s what it is. Could be it was thunder, and lightning struck over near the pond, but you know how the road turns right near there, kinda sharp? Heard there was an accident down there two years back, maybe three, fellow ran his car into the pond, so no fire, but I’m thinking this time maybe the guy wasn’t so lucky.



Can I have your name, please?



Are you sending somebody out?



Yes, sir, I am.



You tell ’em to hurry, okay? I’d go out there myself, but my knees aren’t so good. I fell last fall, wrenched my back, and I don’t want to do that again.



No, sir, please just stay on the line. I’ll have somebody there as soon as possible.



Good, because if I go out and fall down again, my daughter will hand me my head in a bucket, but I hate to just sit here thinking maybe somebody could use my help.



You’re helping by calling it in, sir. Can I have your name, please?



Thought you’d already have it.



You’re calling from a cell phone, right?



Hey, could be it’s nothing at all. I can’t see real good from here, not down that far.



Sir, are you still there? Sir?






Teddy, you would have been proud of me.

I left home on my own, and not just to pace up and down Bay State Road like a restless feline, either. I made arrangements online, but I physically climbed into a puke-stinking cab, pinched my nose during the ride to South Station, and raced onboard the 9:50 Acela. I almost bailed at New Haven because I was terrified, because my Old Haven no longer existed, because it sounded so damned hopeful: “Five minutes to New Haven, exit on your right.” I squeezed my eyelids shut and resisted the impulse to flee. Instead, I thought about you. I conjured you. I imagined talking to you, telling you about the strangers on the train.

There was a snooty woman, tall, imperious, cradling a full-length fur, patting her mink absentmindedly, as if it were a friendly dog. Two teen lovers, a Celtic cross tattooed on her neck, a too-big-to-be-a-diamond stud in his right ear, entertained their fellow passengers by crawling into each other’s laps. A bald man with a hawk nose trumpeted his importance into his iPhone.

Something makes people want to confide in me, no matter how hard I stare at my book. I wish I knew what it was so I could change it. When the businessman abandoned his cell and adjusted the knot in his tie, I had the feeling he was going to start complaining at me, like I was his secretary or his wife, and then just in time I remembered the quiet car. Really, Teddy, it was like you whispered in my ear,
Em, go sit in the quiet car.
I shot to my feet as though the engineer had electrified my seat, lurched down the aisle, and found a place among the blessed book-readers and stretched-out sleepers where I collapsed and breathed until the pulse stopped throbbing in my ears.

I considered swallowing a Xanax, but as I stared out the gray-tinted window at the passing shoreline, I got a better idea: I could pretend there were thick glass windows between me and the crowds, a bulletproof tunnel running straight to Henniman’s. I could keep myself mentally separate, isolated and alone. I could figuratively stay on the train and lock everyone else outside, and I wouldn’t open the door for anyone but Jonathan.

When an elderly woman peered at me over her rimless reading glasses and smiled encouragingly, I let my face go blank, willing her to turn away, to not mistake me for some friend’s college-bound daughter in need of a comforting pat. I must have looked desperate, stricken, agonized in spite of my careful preparation. You can’t imagine how much time I spent modeling outfits in the mirror, changing my mind about this scarf, that pocketbook, these pants, this sweater, before winding up in a sophisticated version of what you called my uniform: ink-black jeans and a wheat-colored edition of my usual V-necked T-shirt. At the last minute I added a black suit jacket because everyone in Manhattan wears one. Simple gold jewelry: a necklace and a ring. All those wasted hours and I still screwed up the shoes. I made a mistake and chose the heels you once jokingly termed my “power shoes.”

At the time, I figured I’d take a cab from Penn Station to Henniman’s. But I was early. When have I not been early? I roamed the station for eighteen minutes, but they kept making scary announcements over the PA. Watch for suspicious persons, abandoned parcels, don’t leave your luggage unattended. The lights were bright and hot, and the air reeked of rotting pizza with a hint of urine underneath. A seedy-looking man focused hollow eyes on my pocketbook, sizing me up for a mugging, so I made the snap decision to walk. I visualized a dot on a map: me. The dot would slide smoothly from Penn Station to the meeting with Jonathan.

I erected my imaginary tunnel and under its protective shell sped crosstown to Fifth Avenue, silently reciting sonnets to counter the boom-and-thud construction noise, the screeching traffic. Shakespearean iambs moved my feet, and the map-dot made steady progress until I reached the corner of Fifth. There, despite the simplicity of the directions, I halted, confused. Right or left? Shaken, I almost panicked. My breathing shifted into second gear, but I knew the numbered cross streets would inform me if I erred. I turned right, which proved correct, and then I simply had to scoot down to the Twenties, which would have been fine except for the shoes.

Never look like you need the money when you go in for a loan. That’s what I thought when I tried them on in front of the mirror. New and expensive, practically unworn, they seemed glamorous and carefree, but how can you look carefree if your toes are getting squeezed in a vise?

I was hopelessly early. Twenty-two minutes. So I detoured, backtracking up Fifth, bypassing the library because the stairs seemed too steep a challenge, taking refuge in Saks, pushing through the heavy door, thinking I could stand there motionless without attracting notice, flexing my toes and inhaling the overly perfumed cosmetics-counter air. I checked myself in the mirror over the Guerlain counter, and really, I could have been someone else, any one of the young professional women in their late twenties who milled about the store. I looked unruffled, as serene as a Madonna in a painting.

I didn’t want to be early, Teddy. Early is so desperate. And that couch in the glass reception cage? It would have been like trying to relax on the rack while the hooded torturers elbowed one another and rubbed their sweaty palms together in anticipatory glee. I was picturing their evil grins when a frozen-faced saleslady showed her teeth and asked if she could help me.

Jesus, Teddy, the days I waited for someone to say that. The years. Can I help you? And when exactly was it that “Can I help you?” started to mean “Can I sell you something?” When was the last time anyone genuinely wanted to help me? Help as in aid, as in succor, as in give sustenance?

BOOK: The Perfect Ghost
5.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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