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Dead Endings: Chapter 4

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #009 back issue.

Cemeteries were best left to the dead, in Cailen’s opinion. She and Gabriella argued about them on the way home from Jacob Warner’s apartment. Cailen valued her boundaries, and figured that the dead probably had a right to theirs, while Gabriella would happily march through an army of bones to get her questions answered.

The cabbie must have thought they were nuts, the way they shouted at each other.

By the time they finally made it back to Brooklyn, Cailen felt far too exhausted to continue arguing coherently. She went to bed without so much as a “good night.” Sleep didn’t come easily, but once she went down, she stayed down.

The next morning, Cailen and Gabriella both lingered by the coffee pot, companionably silent by unspoken agreement and mutual fatigue. Gabriella fiddled with the crossword as she always did, but worked through the spaces more slowly than usual. Uncharacteristic dark circles lined her eyes, and Cailen wondered if Gabriella might have overdone it a bit the night before. As for herself, she couldn’t hold a focused thought. She alternated between staring out the window and staring into her coffee cup.

After an hour of fruitless scribbling, Gabriella finally set down the pencil. Her hand hovered over the newspaper for a moment, and then she crushed it mercilessly in her grip.

Cailen eyed the destruction with interest.

“I don’t like it at all,” Gabriella said, tossing the offending paper behind her.

“Just leaves more questions, doesn’t it?” Cailen mused. “I felt like that after visiting Portia Jones’ apartment, too. The more I know, the less sense it makes.”

“Three dead people. A ghost that leaves an echo. I don’t even know what to make of what you saw.”

“I’d say that we should have a drink, but it’s only eight in the morning.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Gabriella muttered. “I thought about this all night, and coffee isn’t really helping.”

Cailen fiddled with her mug. “Still hell-bent on heading to the boneyard?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “You’re sure there aren’t any other options?”

“Not unless you have any better ideas.”

Cailen took a long sip of coffee and turned the facts over in her mind. Unfortunately, she didn’t think breaking and entering a crime scene would really qualify as ‘better.’

“…Fine,” she said, at some length.

“What?”

“I said fine, dammit. I’ll go.”

Gabriella favored her with a small, tired smile. “After all that’s happened, I’m really surprised you’re still in it, Delaney.”

“How cold-hearted do you think I am?” Cailen sniffed.

“I’ve never thought of you as cold-hearted, but considering you were jumped twice in one week by the same ghost, I would’ve understood if you were reluctant to keep going.”

Cailen raked a hand through her hair and thought about it. “I guess it kind of feels personal now.”

Her roommate smiled her small, enigmatic smile again.

She’s been trying to get me to do this kind of stuff for years, Cailen thought, half-annoyed, half-amused. And she never would’ve imagined that chasing down Warner’s ghost would leave her with a desire to chase down more spirits.

I must be crazy, she mused. Maybe having two ghosts piling on me at the same time broke something in my head.

Cailen had to admit that confronting the spirits in Warner’s apartment, as terrifying as it had been, felt miles better than the uneasy shame she usually felt when she ignored them. Maybe she had been going about it the wrong way. Not that she felt any less scared, really, but at least she didn’t feel like a coward, either.

She sipped her coffee thoughtfully.

Gabriella began folding the newspaper up. “I guess it’s time to call Everett.”

“Have fun. And don’t look at me like that.” Cailen stuck out her tongue. “He’s your friend. It’s technically your fault I even got involved in this.”

“Maybe I’ll have another cup of coffee first…”

Cailen wandered off to have a shower. Some time later, Gabriella rapped on the bathroom door. She opened it a crack. Steam leaked into the hallway like an aggressive fog.

“Quit hogging the bathroom,” called Gabriella, her voice somewhat muffled by the dampness in the air. “We’re meeting Everett in thirty, and I need a shower before we head out.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Cailen muttered. After one more quick swipe of the comb through her damp hair, she tied it into a neat side-braid. She grabbed her discarded clothes, cinched a towel around her, and set off to dress for battle.

***

They emerged from the subway just a few blocks from the cemetery grounds. Almost immediately, Gabriella’s phone buzzed.

“Yo,” she called into the receiver.

“It’s me,” Everett replied, his voice loud and clear.

“We’re almost there. Five minutes, tops.”

“Change of plans,” he said.

Cailen raised an eyebrow. Gabriella returned the gesture with a shrug.

“I’ve got an unexpected department meeting, so I can’t come right this second, but it won’t be too long. I want you guys to head to the cemetery without me. Go ahead and snoop around–I’ll meet you at the site.”

“Oh, joy,” muttered Cailen. Gabriella shushed her with a wave.

“Fine. We’ll head that way. Ring when you’re close.”

“Deal.”

Gabriella clicked the phone shut.

Annoyance tempered Cailen’s already dour mood. “This means we’re going to be there even longer waiting for his ass.”

“Won’t be so bad at this hour,” Gabriella said. “You know they don’t generally show up until after dusk, and half of them are just playbacks. Stop freaking out.”

Cailen narrowed her eyes. “You wouldn’t be so enthusiastic if they looked at you the way they look at me.

“And isn’t that a great reason to go? You’re working on throwing them off, and you managed to shake one last night.”

“Only because you pried his cold, dead hands off the steering wheel.”

“I just loosened the fingers. You kicked him. I felt it.”

“You’re sure this is even going to be worth it?” Cailen sulked, changing the subject.

Gabriella rubbed her face. “We’ve been over this. Christopher Markle was buried–”

“Yeah. This morning. You’re lucky Everett could get you an address.”

We’re lucky,” Gabriella corrected her. “And we can’t get into the apartment since it’s still technically a crime scene, so our next best shot is hoping that his spirit does the usual thing and lingers by his body for a while. Fortunately, it’s a family plot that we can get to on the island. It’s worth a look, at any rate.”

“I really hate this idea. Worse than the fire escape.”

“Sorry,” Gabriella said. “It’s all we’ve got right now. You in, or are you going to hide out in the coffee shop until I come back?”

Cailen threw her hands in the air and stormed down the sidewalk toward their destination.

A few blocks later, Cailen and Gabriella approached the impressive, wrought iron gates of Trinity Cemetery. Barren trees lined the entryway, their discarded gold and brown leaves crunching underfoot and disturbing the graveyard’s otherwise pristine autumn silence. Neither woman spoke as they crossed the winding, concrete path, but Cailen could feel a sense of disharmony settling around them. She knew it was her fault, but she couldn’t reign in the growing blackness of her mood.

She hated cemeteries. Entering one was the equivalent of strolling through Central Park at night wearing nothing but her skin. She expected stares, attacks, or worse. Gabriella’s plan to visit the cemetery during daytime hours would certainly attract fewer antagonistic spirits–the dead seemed to prefer the evening, as if following an unofficial curfew–but that wasn’t much comfort. Even if Cailen didn’t outright see the spirits, they were still there, watching. And not all of them were inclined to just look.

They reached the open cemetery gate and stopped. A neat sign decreed the operating hours as 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Cailen gritted her teeth.

Gabriella glanced sideways at her.

“You don’t have to go in,” Gabriella said. “I’m serious. You can always try out a smaller one later.”

“And wait out here like a stray dog? Pass.”

Cailen could see that Gabriella approved, but she considerately offered again. “Are you sure?”

“No. Just do me a favor and make this quick.”

“Deal. Stick close and remember what I said. Hold on to a sense of yourself in your gut, and grip it tight. Let it project outside of you, but hold the core inside.”

Cailen rubbed her temples. “I don’t even know what that means,” she said peevishly. “You sound like you’re trying to explain how to use the Force or something.”

Gabriella shrugged. “I’m not sure how else to explain it. That’s just how I do it.”

Cailen sighed. “Then lead on, Obi-Wan, and let’s get this over with.”

The cemetery grounds were simply but elegantly divided into sections separated by rows of trees and hedges. The squat bushes created pockets of privacy, while stately beech trees provided a comely canopy of golden leaves. Unlike the trees outside of the cemetery, their boughs still flourished with richly colored foliage–brilliant, though somewhat muted against the drab, steel-gray sky.

Though the cemetery contained a mishmash of old and new occupants, the graves themselves were smartly arranged. Older plots had been grouped into family knots, usually consisting of a single large marker and several smaller headstones. Newer tenants were set into rows, like theater seating. A single family might stretch into a line 50 feet across, if they were numerous enough. Cailen preferred the older gravestones’ cozier alignment. Her preferences weren’t at all influenced by the fact that the newer graves were more likely to have active occupants in them.

Gabriella led the way, her stride sure and seemingly untroubled by the rising sense of “awareness” that increased with every step they took into the park. Cailen didn’t feel as assured as Gabriella, however, and she lagged behind as her eyes darted across the cemetery.

To their left and through the trees, she spied a figure kneeling by a weathered granite angel. A nimbus of light seemed to surround the figure’s sparse white hair, and its head turned as they passed. Cailen’s heart skipped a beat–but it was just an old man in a battered gray coat. He tipped his hat to them and Gabriella acknowledged the courtesy with a nod.

“Calm down,” she said once they were out of earshot. “You’re doing more to attract them than to drive them away.”

“But they’re everywhere,” Cailen hissed.

“There’s not much to them. They’re just echoes, Delaney.”

There was more movement from far off to the right this time. A pale shape flickered through the taller headstones. Cailen’s feeling of being watched spiked sharply, and she scowled at her friend. Gabriella walked faster.

They traveled rapidly to the western side of the grounds, ticking off numbered signs as they went. When they reached a marker labeled Section 5, Block 14, Gabriella finally slowed her pace.

“It’s supposed to be around here somewhere…”

It was one of the newer plots, but the gentle roll of the land encouraged the gravestones into a wedge-shaped formation. Two imposing marble mausoleums flanked the far corners of the section like honor guards to the lesser headstones between them, and a grand, obsidian obelisk marked the apex of the wedge. The area was manicured almost to a fault.

Gabriella whistled. “Fancy. I guess Mr. Markle was someone of means.”

“His building was Upper East Side. Way out of our league.”

Cailen quickly scanned the area both visually and mentally, but was relieved to find nothing. The prickling sensation on the back of her neck didn’t diminish, but at least it didn’t grow any stronger. Cailen and Gabriella began to pick their way through the headstones, looking for the freshly interred body of Christopher Markle.

“Cynthia Markle… Douglas Markle…”

When they reached the end of the third row, Cailen heard a noise. She snapped her head up.

There, behind the rightmost marble tomb, stood a woman. She watched them warily, her pale hand gripping the edge of a fresh, white stone. Cailen struggled to read the engraved name on the stone through her poor line of vision, but she pieced it together all the same: Christopher Markle.

The woman wore a black dress with a long, fawn-colored coat. A matching lacy scarf draped across her shoulders, but it hung off-kilter and one end trailed aimlessly in the dirt. She was tall and willowy, with a veritable lion’s mane of dark, curly brown hair that reached her mid-back. Cailen guessed she was close to their age, but the raw anguish in her light brown eyes aged her.

“Excuse us,” Gabriella said, “but we’re looking for Christopher Markle’s grave. To pay our respects,” she added. She made sure to show the woman both of her hands.

Cailen removed her own hands from her pockets and waved sheepishly.

The woman’s brown eyes lost some of their wariness and she stepped completely out from behind the tomb.

“You surprised me,” she said in a low, measured voice.

“I’m sorry–we didn’t mean to sneak up on you. We didn’t know anyone else was here. My name is Gabriella. This is Cailen.”

“I’m Elizabeth. I don’t…know you. Were you friends of Christopher’s?”

“Yes, but from a long time ago,” Gabriella lied smoothly. “We haven’t seen him in years, but when we heard of his death…”

The woman’s eyes welled up with tears. Gabriella hurried forward with a pack of tissues. Cailen hung back and kept her own eyes peeled for unwanted company.

“I’m sorry, I just… He just…”

“It was terrible,” Gabriella agreed sympathetically.

Elizabeth leaned against the tombstone adjacent to Christopher Markle’s and applied the tissues to her face. Gabriella beckoned Cailen over. Cailen warily approached, half of her mind still on the perimeter, the other half uneasily focused on the crying woman.

“We were so upset to hear what happened. Were you close?”

“He was…a good friend…” the woman managed.

They waited a moment for the woman to collect herself. Cailen took the opportunity to study the grave.

The earth was freshly mounded in front of the stone, and dozens of flowers piled around the base nearly covered the expertly wrought filigree. Beloved son of Dennis and Andrea, read the inscription, right above the dates of his birth and death. As far as Cailen could tell, no spirits lurked around the grave.

“His funeral was this morning,” Elizabeth said wearily, following Cailen’s gaze to the headstone. “I just couldn’t bring myself to go with everyone there. I can still feel… It’s like he’s still…”

“It’s so hard,” Gabriella agreed. “When someone leaves that fast, you can almost feel them still around.”

Elizabeth’s eyes snapped back to Gabriella. A wild expression crossed her face for a moment, but after some apparent struggle, she regained her composure. Her eyes refilled with tears. Gabriella took her hand and Elizabeth bowed her head.

Trying to fill the awkward pause, Gabriella pressed bravely on. “We’re sorry we missed the funeral as well,” she said. “We really wanted to give our condolences to his family.”

After a moment, Elizabeth offered, “They’ll be holding the reception at the house all day. His parent’s place.”

“Ah, we never met them, actually. We only knew Christopher through…mutual activities.”

“Oh,” she sniffled. “Well, I can give you their address.”

“That… That would be very helpful,” Gabriella said. “Thank you.”

Cailen raised an eyebrow at her friend, who responded with a shrug.

Gabriella fished in her coat and offered one of her cards for Elizabeth to write on. With great care, Elizabeth neatly printed an address on the back. She turned the card over again and read the label before returning it.

“Gabriella Benitez.” Only two phone numbers were printed beneath the name:  Gabriella’s cell and their home number. Elizabeth looked puzzled. “What do you do?”

“I…”

Cailen furiously beamed with all her psychic might for Gabriella to tell Elizabeth something else, anything other than what those cards were actually for.

“I’m a spiritualist. In my spare time, that is.”

Cailen resisted the urge to face-palm and settled for an exasperated, private sigh.

Elizabeth’s red-rimmed eyes widened in surprise, but lacked the usual scorn or disbelief most people expressed when Gabriella revealed this little tidbit. She took in Gabriella’s young face, dark jeans, sneakers, and furry anorak with obvious curiosity.

“Really?”

Gabriella laughed at her reaction. “Really.”

Elizabeth seemed to think about the concept for a minute, and Cailen guessed that she would make a quick exit. Confessing to spiritual careers had that effect on people. Instead Elizabeth asked, “May I have one of your cards?”

It was Cailen and Gabriella’s turn to be surprised.

“It’s so nice to meet some of Christopher’s other friends,” Elizabeth explained. “Even just having your card is like…another small connection to him.”

“Ah,” Gabriella said in understanding. “Sure.” Elizabeth returned the card with the address to Gabriella while Gabriella snagged a fresh one from her wallet.

“Thank you,” the woman said softly, and stepped away from the tombstone. Gabriella pressed the remainder of the pack of tissues into her hand.

“Take care, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, you both as well.”

Elizabeth gave them one more sad, searching look before she turned and left. They watched her go in respectful silence. When she finally disappeared down the path, Cailen snorted.

“I don’t know what’s more unbelievable: that you told a perfect stranger you deal with ghosts, or that she didn’t run screaming from us.”

Her roommate shrugged. “I’m not embarrassed by it, and I don’t know…she seemed to need something. I wish I had more to offer her than some tissues and a business card, but maybe we can still help figure out what’s going on with these murders. The whole situation is terrible.

“I know you don’t like dealing with spirits, but sometimes taking care of what they need can also help the living. I like doing this for both of them.”

“You just like playing superhero,” Cailen said an eye roll.

A smile curved across Gabriella’s lips. “I’m not denying that, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. You’re a real bleeding heart, Benitez.”

“Can’t deny that, either. Now let’s have a look at this grave.”

Cailen squatted in front of it. “We’re wasting our time. I didn’t get anything from it while you were chatting up the lady in black.”

“Hmm…” Gabriella hunkered down beside her.

It certainly felt spirit-free in the immediate surroundings. Cailen didn’t feel any thrums of disturbed energy. No translucent limbs appeared from the recently turned earth and no disembodied heads popped through the stone edifice.

Earlier, Cailen had tried putting spiritual sonar to good use, and now she assumed that Gabriella was doing the same thing. But after a full minute, Gabriella came up just as empty.

“Well–”

A buzz interrupted her. Gabriella slipped her phone out from her pocket and read the text.

“Everett’s almost here. I guess we’ll just wait and see where to go next.”

Though eager to leave, there was one hope for some entertainment on this little trip, and Cailen didn’t want to miss it. She cinched her scarf and thought happy, wine-filled thoughts.

True to his word, Everett didn’t leave Gabriella and Cailen waiting for long. He joined them as they lounged against the cool walls of one of the Markle mausoleums.

But he struggled to stand upright with a handkerchief pressed to his nose and mouth. His eyes watered. Gabriella stepped forward to steady him, but he pointed his handkerchief at Cailen defiantly.

“You… Quit your grinning! Do you…have any IDEA what this smells like?!”

She burst out laughing so hard at his fierce, outraged expression that she had to hold her sides to keep them from tearing open.

Gabriella tucked her hand under one of Everett’s arms and led him over to the gravestone.

“Everett, why don’t we just go? You look like you’re–”

“–about to yak all over his shoes,” Cailen roared.

“If I yak on anything, it’s going to be you, Delaney,” he snarled back, then gagged. Gabriella edged as far away as she could without dropping him entirely.

DeadEndings_Chap4_Illus

“We’ll go…in a sec… I just wanted to see if there was anything…here,” he managed.

“Nothing on our end,” Gabriella said. “Seriously, let’s go. You look green.”

“Let me get out of the splash zone first.” Cailen gave him a wide berth as she moved back toward the pathway.

Everett glared, but ignored her and made his way to Christopher Markle’s grave marker. He stood by it for a moment, bracing himself on the lip of the stone as Elizabeth had done earlier. He lowered his handkerchief, inhaled deeply, and then…squeaked.

Through some sixth sense that probably had nothing to do with spirits and everything to do with self-preservation, Gabriella jumped back just in time to avoid being sprayed by the remains of Everett’s breakfast. She edged back even further as she saw him draw in more air for a second mighty heave. After a few more moments of gasping and collecting himself, Everett turned back to them and fixed them with his watery eyes.

“Now I’m ready.”

Proceed to Chapter 4, page 2–>