“She moved through the Fair, Johnny,” the Kid said softly.
It was not the opening I had been expecting when I entered the Kid’s bedroom. Far from it. But the Kid had gotten to where I was going long before I had ever intended to. I had gone to his room to discuss two long dead people alright, not just one. I was just surprised that somehow he seemed to completely understand that.
Few people on earth had ever had the challenge and privilege of knowing the real Kid McCoy.
I had the feeling I was about to.
The Fair reference was to an ancient and extremely mournful Celtic folk song. Although the Kid was being intentionally cryptic, I knew it well. It was one of Jan’s favorites. It was about lost loves, and long lives of sorrowful loneliness.
“You’re a liar, Kid.”
“I know I am. It’s one of the many things I was never much good at.” The Kid moved to one of the windows and parted the sheer white curtain with his hand, looking out with vacant eyes. “I once had a sweetheart. I loved her so well. I loved her far better than my tongue could tell.”
“You never married her.”
“You didn’t kill her.”
“She took her own life.”
“The woman I heard singing in the night.”
The Kid slowly shook his head affirmatively as He continued to stare at the empty and dark Virginia Park Street.
“Singing to dead child, Johnny.”
“What was her name?”
“Teresa. That was her name. That is her name.”
“She’s not much dead, is she, Kid?”
“Oh, she’s dead alright, Johnny. She’s just not much gone.”
“Why, Kid? Why all the lies? Why not just tell it like it was?”
“Because a man accepts responsibility, Johnny. Because that’s what a man does. I was a man damned precious few times in my life. This time I chose to be one.”
“You went to jail.”
The Kid shook his head again. “For a while. It was a small price to pay, Johnny. It was better to let everyone think I had murdered her. It kept her pure. It kept her innocent.”
I didn’t point out to the Kid that her suicide was her own private sin—not his, and not his to remove. Sometimes reason plays a very small role in what we say, or do.
“And you saved her immortal soul?” I said.
“Yeah, Johnny. Hell is real to a good Catholic woman. And to me.”
“She never cheated on you.”
“No, Johnny. She never did.”
“Well, she’s not in Hell from what I can tell, Kid. I have an insight on those kind of things these days.”
“Nor in Heaven either, my friend. She’s here, here in this house—and suspended somewhere between the two.”
“How’d you pull it off, Kid? In court I mean.”
The Kid chuckled a bit. “I put on a real show, Johnny. You should have seen me. Me and the shyster lawyer I hired. He wasn’t worth a tinker’s damn, but that was exactly the reason I wanted him. I didn’t want somebody that had a clue what they were doing. I didn’t want him accidently getting me off.”
“What was his name?”
“Carson. Harvey Carson.”
“What was your defense?”
The Kid smiled. “I told the absolute truth. Just exactly the way it actually happened. My secret though, was to make the jury so thoroughly despise me that they’d be convinced I was lying and convict me anyway. The day after she died, I put on a hell of a freak-show at her little antique shop. Everybody thought I was as crazy as a barrel full of monkey assholes.”
“How did it really happen, Kid?”
“We had a fight, Johnny. She blamed herself for everything that had happened. She was despondent—depressed they’d call it now days. She was in pain. Had been since little Beatrice went missing. She screamed that she couldn’t take it anymore and went for a little .380 automatic that I kept in a desk drawer. I grabbed her arm and we wrestled for it. She won—and shot herself in the head. Yeah, I know, Johnny. I could have changed it, but I didn’t want to make her into . . . well, what you and I are.”
I nodded my understanding. “So instead, Kid—she became an unquiet ghost.”
“Yeah, Johnny—just exactly that.”
“Go on, Kid.”
“Carson and I rolled around on the courtroom floor ‘recreating’ the struggle. We pissed off the jury so bad I’m pretty sure they would have convicted both me and him of her murder if they could have. My multiple public failed marriages and ribald lifestyle only added to their dislike of me.”
“You didn’t serve a very long sentence—for murder.”
“I didn’t,” the Kid agreed. “It was second degree. I got paroled a little over seven years later. The evidence was never very strong against me. Mostly circumstantial. Besides, I was a model prisoner in San Quentin. It was a tough place. During a riot in my last year, I threw in with the guards. They said I maybe even saved one or two of their lives. It helped a lot when I came up before the board.”
“Anyone ever try for your life in there, Kid?”
The Kid smiled again. “Sure. Several times, Johnny. But as you know, I still move pretty well for an old man. I moved even better back then.”
“How old are you, Kid?”
“Sixty-seven, Johnny. And tired—tired as all get-out.”
“I don’t doubt it. You’ve led an exhausting life.”
“I have,” he agreed again.
“Is it over?” I asked.
“Just about, Johnny. Just about.”
“You need to square some things first.”
“I know, Johnny. I need to tell her I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t kill Beatrice Alderman.”
“No—but I have sins to atone for. Teresa was the only woman I ever truly loved.”
“Have you spoken with her before?”
“Many, many times, my friend. She comes to me often in my dreams. She listens to me intently as I pour my heart out. Then she turns and walks away—returning to the blackness.”
“Does she ever speak, Kid?”
“What does she say?”
“Always the same thing, Johnny. Always the same. As she turns away to leave me for yet another time, she says . . . “It will not be long, love— ‘til our wedding day.”
I shuddered involuntarily.
“Which room is she in, Kid?”
I shuddered again, remembering blood alley. “Where else, I suppose. Where is it?”
“Downstairs. Just off the dining room. It was a library when we bought the house, and we converted it.”
“Why? Beatrice was your step-child.”
“Teresa and I were planning on having one or two of our own. Her death put an end to that.”
“What did you do with the room after she died.”
“Nothing, Johnny. On the day I returned from her funeral, I closed the door and turned the key on it. I’ve never opened it again. My financial manager kept up the bills on this place while I was in prison, and he had someone take care of the outside—but I don’t believe he or anyone else ever ventured inside. He always said it gave him a creepy feeling just standing on the front porch. I know it took a lot of cleaning up after I returned. It was a dusty mess.”
“I don’t doubt it, Kid,” I allowed. “Please don’t tell me the nursery is where she died.”
“Yes, Johnny—it was.”
I shuddered a third time. It was getting to be a habit, here on Virginia Park Street. “I asked you not to tell me that,” I said.
“Sorry,” the Kid said. “I’ve been living in purgatory so long, my friend—it’s come to almost feel normal. I should have long ago burned this house to the ground and had Father Bain consecrate the soil it stood on. That’s what I should have done—but unfortunately, that isn’t what I did. Instead, I kept the sickness alive.”
“We need to talk,” I said.
“We are,” he replied.
“The three of us,” I replied. “Don’t play stupid with me, Kid. It’s an act that doesn’t become you.”
The Kid’s eyes flashed anger, but he didn’t move. It would be an interesting fight, I speculated. I had more than twenty years on him. He had a hell of a lot of experience on me.
“I hired you to find my daughter’s killer, O’Brien. I paid you with your life. Now how about delivering on what I paid you for. Tell me.”
“What makes you think I know, Kid?”
“I saw what you did tonight. I know you went away for a while with Capone.”
“I thought I was better than that, Kid.”
“You were perfect, O’Brien. I didn’t watch you—I watched Sam Gabriel. I knew something was up between him and you.”
“Makes sense, Kid.”
The Kid took a step forward. “So tell me what you know you son-of-a-bitch. I’ll pass it on to Teresa when I see her tomorrow—in hell.”
I shook my head slightly side to side.
“Not a chance, Kid. You get to be a man again tonight, on this, the last night of your life on earth. I tell you and her together—right here on this side of the veil—or I tell no one at all.”
He took another step forward, forming his hands into fists.
“I could make you tell me,” he said.
“You could try,” I said with a bravado I didn’t really feel.
It could have gone either way for a few seconds as the Kid thought over his options. Finally, the tension in his body relaxed as he un-balled his fists.
“Okay, Johnny—you win. I’ll have to find the key.”
“Why don’t you try your right trouser pocket, Kid? My guess is it hasn’t left that pocket very often over the past few years.”
“How’d you know that, O’Brien?”
“Lucky guess, Kid. And like I said—you’re a damned poor liar.”
“Guess I am at that,” he said, pulling the old-fashioned skeleton key from his pocket. “Guess I am at that. All right detective—you wanted to meet your other client? Well, this is it. Let’s go.”
The Kid quickly opened the bedroom door and headed out into the hallway and toward the stairway to the first floor. He didn’t look like a man that was about to stop, even if I had asked him to. Even if I had told him that I had reconsidered this most unusual client conference. This was a man descending the staircase with a mission and a purpose. I followed.
This time I didn’t shudder anymore.
I was past that now.
It took Joshua a while to pull and clear away the overgrowth and debris from the entrance to the old Carson Mine. His hands were raw and bleeding by the time he was finished, and his body covered with sweat. It did not improve his mood any.
Turning on his flashlight, he ventured into the shaft. A bat brushed the top of his head as it made its panicked flight from the darkness. Joshua swung at it wildly with his hands, cursing as he did.
Once inside the shaft, Joshua was surprised with the drop of temperature, just as his grandfather had been so many decades ago. It was almost chilling. The flashlight beam played on the darkened and broken stone of the walls. In another moment the beam caught the outline of an old doorway just to his left. The wooden door had long since been broken apart and hauled away, the individual planks to be reused in other projects.
Joshua pointed his light into the room. Empty now, the floor littered with trash and rodent droppings, the only indication that it had once been an arms stash was a few broken and unusable wooden crate planks. Just inside was the ancient padlock, now rusted nearly to pieces.
Turning from the doorway, Joshua trained his light to his right, where he knew from Matt’s stories, the vertical death shaft would be. The shaft that had once held the bodies of his grandfather and two Mexican gun runners. He located it easily. In more recent times, someone, probably from the state mining office, had placed several two by four inch eight-foot-long wooden studs across the dangerous opening and covered them with plywood. Red spray paint warned of the danger below.
Joshua kicked them aside and pointed the flashlight beam down into the shaft. Empty now, except for additional mine debris and rat turds, Joshua gazed downward for several seconds before he spoke aloud into the darkness.
“So this is the place where your worthless corpse rotted to pieces. And this is where it will again—after I kick it back into this godless hole. You never should have left it you bastard. Yes, grandfather dearest—this is where the last of the nine lives of Matthew Mason McCabe end . . . once and for all, and forever.”
Joshua quickly turned off the light, and turning, made his way toward the light of day—and exit.
The key made a slight snicking sound as it turned in the lock. My throat made another one as I swallowed hard. I was starting to think I must really love dark creepy places. I had certainly placed myself in enough of them over the years. The door didn’t open easily. The Kid placed his shoulder against it and pushed. The door gave way slowly, opening hard. When it did, long strings of spider webs stretched from the door to the frame. The hinges groaned loudly.
It was a great special effect.
The interior of the nursery was airless and black. As he expected, when the Kid flicked the light-switch just inside the door, nothing what-so-ever happened. The Kid had brought a candle. I had another one in my hand. We lighted them now. As we entered, I was surprised at just how much illumination they provided. I could make out the features of the room easily.
The walls had been painted a non-gender specific off-white. It had darkened and stained over the years. In many places in the dank surroundings, long strands of black mold crept their way over the various surfaces. Cob-webs filled the corners of the ceiling. There were but two windows, both placed high up on the walls. They were dirty and covered with dark curtains that the moths had been very busy with. They now hung in shreds.
In the corner was a crib, still in remarkably good shape. Less so the surface it stood on. Wood flooring, it had been the victim of moisture, and buckled in many places. A sizeable and now tattered rug took up the center of the room. The large reddish-black stain nearly in the center drew the Kid’s attention immediately. I had little doubt what the stain consisted of.
There was a small library sized fireplace. It was now the residence of numerous spider-web homes, complete with mom and dad spiders and their entire families of little ones. Just to the right of the fireplace screen sat a wooden rocking chair, again, in as good a shape as the crib. There was a lot of dust on that old floor. Except where the wooden rockers of the chair met the floor. There was little to no dust there. It was obvious the chair had been regularly used over the years.
I can’t say I liked the looks of that very much.
Even at the ripe old age of my mid-forties, I also couldn’t really say that I had ever completely decided if I believed in ghosts or not. Now, I figured would be a good time.
As the spirit, or ghost, or whatever the hell it was, of Teresa Mors entered the nursery by simply walking through the wall—I quickly decided that I did. I was rather impressed. I had been thinking that we were going to have to do something to conjure her up. I don’t know, like maybe a séance or something.
She walked by us as though we weren’t even there, and seated herself in the rocker, her eyes cast down at the floor. I was happy to see that she did not have an infant with her. That would have simply been too much to bear.
The Kid did not seem terribly put off by seeing the very late love of his life outside of his own dreams. But then again, I wasn’t totally certain we weren’t all in one.
Finally, the Kid broke the dead silence.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he simply and softly said. The ghost of Teresa looked up slightly. I could see a tear working its way down her cheek. Although she didn’t say a word, her eyes easily spoke a love for the old, worn out, and rather pitiful looking man standing before her.
The Kid went on. “I loved you so very much,” he started, choking slightly on his words, as tears welled in his own eyes. “I loved little Beatrice as well. I tried, dear, to find out what happened. I tried so long, but I couldn’t find anything. I just wasn’t good enough.”
Teresa continued to look at the Kid. There was a slight smile on her lips. She had been a very beautiful woman in her prime. I guess she was still in it. And I guessed she always would be.
I was pleased that there was no apparent bullet hole in the side of her head.
I cleared my throat to speak. This was my first interview with a dead person. I had to admit that I didn’t have much of an idea of how to go about it. So, as usual, I just decided to just wade forward and hope for the best.
It was about all I had going for myself.
“I’m so very sorry for your loss,” I fumbled. “I’m a private investigator,” I explained. “I have not been able to discover what ultimately became of your child. But I do know who took her—and why.”
Teresa’s gaze turned to me. It was uncomfortable, to say the very least. I returned it to her without blinking. As I did, I was able to see beyond the scariness. This was no creature from a Stephen King novel. This was a lady that was lost. Lost—and in pain.
The Kid spoke up. “Was it Capone, Johnny?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Indirectly. Capone set-up the kidnapping, but no one was supposed to die. A hood named Liam Gorchow stole your daughter. He was supposed to keep her safe until you and Patrick Murray threw his championship fight.”
“No one ever told us to take a dive,” the Kid replied.
“I know, Kid. Gorchow got into a bar fight and was killed before he got a chance to hunt you down and give you the message.”
“Then what happened to Beatrice?”
“Unknown, Kid. Dead men don’t talk, and Capone said they could never find her. He believed that Gorchow killed her because of the clothes.”
“I knew Liam Gorchow a little,” the Kid said. “He and I never had a problem. Hard to believe he’d kill her just for spite.”
I hated to say it—but I had to. “There is a darker explanation, Kid.”
“I know, Johnny. The clothes. I hate to think of it.”
I looked at Teresa. Tears ran openly down both cheeks now. I hated that I had put them there, but she needed to know the truth—if she ever had a chance to move on.
“I’m sorry,” I said to her. She nodded her head slightly. “Can you go home now? I mean your real home.” She continued to stare blankly at me, making no reply.
The Kid did.
“We’re both going home, Johnny. There’s nothing left. Gorchow is dead. I saw Capone last night. He soon will be. I don’t have to do anything about that. It’s time we both went home.” The Kid held out his hands to Teresa. She arose and took them. They seemed real enough now. Not ghostly at all.
“Will you still have me, my darling?” the Kid said. Teresa shook her head yes, the sadness fading for a moment as she smiled.
“Then I will say to you, my love—It will not be long, until our wedding day.”
They embraced then, the two of them. Long. Hard. Her head on his shoulder, his face buried in her hair—both gently rocking side to side. I believed they heard music that my ears could not detect. It was meant just for them. They both wept. So did I. I know they say that suicide is a sin—but who am I to judge. I once came within a moment of doing the same, and for the very same reason. To be with the woman I loved.
No sir—I was no one to judge.
Finally, they parted. Teresa simply disappeared, like mist in the morning light.
The Kid and I reclosed and locked the nursery door. We retraced our steps to the Kid’s bedroom. Outside, in the hall, we stood for a while, not speaking. And then we shook each other’s hands, and said our goodbyes.
He would be gone when we awoke the next morning.
We wouldn’t meet again.
Thanks for reading. Be back in a few with another installment . . .