Halfway to the Grave

Page 12

Then again, if he'd wanted to suck my neck dry and dump my body, the cave was a pretty ideal place as well. Considering all the times I'd been unconscious after our training bouts, he could have dined on me before if he'd wanted to. I wouldn't have been able to stop him. Hell, I wouldn't have been able to stop him when I was awake. I had yet to win a single round between us, to my dismay. Bones was so damned strong and fast, fighting against him was like trying to put a leash on a lightning bolt.

"Turn left here," Bones said, jarring me from my thoughts.

I read the name on the sign. Peach Tree Road. It didn't look like it led anywhere.

"You know, partner," I said as I made the turn, "you're being very secretive. When are you going to tell me what this field trip is about? I take it you didn't just get a sudden urge to go cow tipping."

He snorted. "No, can't say that I did. I need some information from a man who lives out here."

The way he said it made it sound like the person wouldn't be happy to see him. "Look, I refuse to be a part of killing any humans, so if you think you're going to interrogate this guy and then bury him, you're wrong."

I expected Bones to challenge me or get angry, but he started to laugh.

"I'm serious!" I said, stomping on the brakes for emphasis.

"You'll get the joke soon enough, luv," he replied. "But let me set your mind at ease. For one, I promise not to lay a single hand on the fellow, and for another, you'll be the one talking to him."

That surprised me. I didn't even know who the guy was, let alone what questions to ask.

An eyebrow arched at me. "Will we be driving again anytime soon?"

Oh. I let off the brake and hit the gas, jolting the truck forward. "Do I get any more details than that? Like, some background on him and what you want to know?"

"Of course. Winston Gallagher was a railway worker back in the sixties. He also had a side business of making moonshine. One day, a fellow bought one of Winston's products and then was found dead with it the next day. Winston might have mistaken the alcohol content for that batch, or the sot drank too much. Either way, it all ended the same. Winston was found guilty of murder and condemned to die."

"That's outrageous!" I exclaimed. "With no motive or proof of malice aforethought?"

"'Fraid the judge, John Simms, wasn't big on the idea of innocent until proven guilty. He also doubled as the executioner. Right before Simms hanged him, however, Winston swore he'd never let him have another night's peace. And since that day, he never has."

"He hung him?" I repeated. "The man you want me to speak to?"

"Pull over at that no trespassing sign, Kitten," Bones directed. I did, my mouth still open in disbelief. "Winston won't speak to me, since our kinds don't get along. He'll talk to you, though. But I warn you, he's about as cheerful as you currently are."

"What part of this am I not understanding?" My tone was waspish. Bitchy, me? "Did you or did you not say that judge hanged him?"

"Swung him right from the tree jutting over that cliff," Bones affirmed. "If you look, you can still see rope marks in it. A good many people lost their lives on that wood, but don't bother speaking to any one of them. They're residual. Winston's not."

I picked my words carefully. "Are you telling me Winston's...a ghost?"

"Ghost, specter, phantom, take your pick. What's most important is he's sentient, and that's rare. Most spooks are only replays of their former selves. Not able to interact, just doing the same thing over and over, like a record stuck on a turntable. Blimey, I'm dating myself; no one uses records anymore. Point is, Winston was so mad when he died, part of his consciousness stayed on. It's also due to location. Ohio has a thinner membrane for separating the natural from the supernatural, so it's easier for a soul to stay behind instead of crossing over. This particular area's like a homing beacon. Five cemeteries forming a pentagram-really, what were they thinking? It's a road map for spirits, is what it is. Thanks to your bloodline, you should be able to see them, whereas most humans can't. You should also be able to feel them by now. Their energy's like a voltage in the air."

He was right. I'd felt an invisible hum as soon as I'd turned onto this road, but I thought maybe my leg had fallen asleep or something.

"What kind of information could a vampire possibly want from a ghost?"

"Names," Bones said succinctly. "I want Winston to give you the names of any young girls that have recently died around these parts. Don't let him tell you he doesn't know, either-and I'm only interested in deaths by unnatural causes. No car accidents or diseases."

He didn't look like he was kidding, but I had to ask. "Is this some kind of a joke?"

Bones made a noise that was almost a sigh. "I wish it were, but it isn't."

"You're serious? You want me to go to a cemetery and ask a ghost about dead girls?"

"Come, now, Kitten, is it really so hard for you to believe in ghosts? You're half vampire, after all. I wouldn't think ghosts would be such a stretch of your imagination."

Put like that, he had a very good point. "And ghosts don't like vampires, so I guess I shouldn't mention my mixed lineage. Do I get to know why ghosts don't like vampires, by the way?"

"They're jealous, since we're as dead as they are, but we can do as we please while they're forever stuck as a hazy apparition. Makes them right cranky most of the time, which reminds me..." Bones handed me a bottle of something clear. "Take this. You'll need it."

I held it up and swished the liquid around. "What is it? Holy water?"

He laughed. "For Winston it is. That's white lightning. Pure moonshine, luv. Simms Cemetery is right past that line of trees, and you might have to bang about a bit to get Winston's attention. Ghosts tend to nap frequently, but once you've got him up, be sure to show him that bottle. He'll tell you whatever you want to know."

"Let me get this straight. You want me to go stomping through a graveyard brandishing a bottle of booze to rouse an unrestful spirit so that I can interrogate him?"

"That's it. And don't forget this. Pen and paper. Make sure to write down the names and ages of every girl Winston tells you about. If he can include how they died as well, so much the better."

"I should refuse," I muttered. "Because interrogating a ghost was not part of our agreement."

"If I'm right, this information will lead to a group of vampires, and hunting vampires is part of our agreement, isn't it?"

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