One Grave at a Time

Page 8

"Why just Halloween night?" Sure, it was the time where many people celebrated the idea of ghosts, ghouls, vampires, or other creatures, but most of them didn't believe such creatures existed.

"It's the time when the barrier between the worlds is the thinnest," Bones replied. "The celebration of Samhain harkens back long before humans made a candy and costume holiday out of it."

Elisabeth's mouth curled. "The irony that Kramer is strengthened by an evening dedicated to what he once considered heretic worship is lost on him. He still believes himself to be acting on God's side, as if the Almighty hadn't made it clear that He wants nothing to do with Kramer."

"And what does he do on Halloween?" I'd bet every drop of blood in my body that Kramer didn't spend it trick-or-treating.

"He extracts 'confessions' of witchcraft from three women whom he's coerced a human accomplice into kidnapping, and then he burns them alive," Elisabeth replied, a spasm of pain crossing her features.

It was official. I now wanted to murder a ghost, a notion I'd discarded as unlikely only twenty minutes before. Problem was, killing vampires and ghouls was my specialty. Not people who were already dead dead.

"How long beforehand does he get an accomplice to capture these women?" Bones asked.

"I'm not sure," Elisabeth replied. She glanced away as if ashamed. "Perhaps a week? I've followed Kramer as best I could these many centuries, trying to discover a way to end him, but he is wily. He evades me much of the time."

Yeah, that whole ability to disappear would make him hell to follow, even for another ghost. Tracking him would be like trying to put handcuffs on the wind.

Which brought up another question. "You said a lot of other ghosts consider you an outcast for trying to kill one of your own kind, who obviously had to be Kramer. How did you, ah, attempt to do it?" A mental image of two transparent figures trying to throttle each other flashed in my head.

"Over the centuries, I made contact with several mediums, convincing them of Kramer's evil in the hopes that one could banish him. They tried many different ways, but each attempt failed. Once word of what I'd done spread, I was shunned by many of my kind . . . except those like Fabian."

The smile Elisabeth gave him as she finished that sentence was filled with such poignancy, I felt like I was intruding just watching. Maybe his interest in her wasn't only one-sided.

"Kramer's a murdering sod. Why wouldn't other ghosts want him dead as well?" Bones asked, sticking to the practicalities.

"Think about it," Fabian replied, dragging his gaze away from Elisabeth's face. "Most humans can't see us, vampires and ghouls ignore us, and we've been rejected by every god ever worshipped. All we have is each other. Most might sympathize with Elisabeth's reasons, but trying to kill one of our own is considered abhorrent no matter the cause."

"But not to you," I said, proud of him for being one of the rebels against that warped spectral version of diplomatic immunity.

Fabian ducked his head. "Perhaps others like me cling to our lost humanity more than the rest of them."

No, I thought. Strongly principled people like you do the right thing regardless of whether you're made of flesh or fog.

"Kramer's only been killing for decades, yet you've attempted to destroy him for hundreds of years?"

Bones's tone was mild, but his gaze had narrowed.

"Oh, he killed long before he acquired the ability to burn people again," Elisabeth said flatly. "He would torment those who had the ability to see him, driving them to insanity or death. Then once he was able to manifest himself, he singled out the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, or the sick, driving them to the same bitter resolution. And no one believed them. Just like no one believed me when I was denounced as a witch and sentenced to burn."

Chills ran up my spine at the bleak resonance in the ghost's voice. If Elisabeth had watched this same brutal pattern play out all these years, unable to do a thing to stop it, I was amazed she was still sane. I couldn't always get the bad guys, but one of the things I clung to was the hope that one day, they'd get their just deserts whether it was in this life or the next. Yet Kramer had managed to escape punishment on every side of the grave. Even though I had enough to deal with from my unwanted powers from Marie, my uncle's quest to cross over, and the suspicions over the new operations consultant, the injustice of Kramer's wandering free to torture and murder more innocent people was too much for me.

Yet it wasn't just my anger that made up my mind. It was the way Fabian stared at Elisabeth. Then he turned his gaze to me, and the pleading in that single glance confirmed my decision.

"I'll help you," I said to Elisabeth, holding up my hand in anticipation of Bones's protest. Fabian had come through for me many times in the past, but the only way I'd been able to show my appreciation was a mere thank-you. Well, here was my chance to let Fabian know he was as dear to me as any of my other friends, even if he was the only one of them without flesh. Helping Elisabeth wasn't only the right thing to do; it was also important to Fabian. Really, what other choice did I have?

Cool fingers curled around my hand, squeezing once. I looked away from Fabian to meet Bones's steady gaze.

"You're not the only one who feels indebted to him," Bones said quietly. Then his mouth curled as he focused on Fabian. "Though you could've set an easier task before us."

"I'll do whatever you need to assist you," Fabian vowed, his expression brightening with such hope that my heart twisted. I might feel confident in our abilities to deal with Kramer's accomplice if we found out who the newest acolyte was in time, but I didn't even know if it was possible to kill a ghost. Bones had threatened exorcism on a couple of them before; but according to Elisabeth, that probably wouldn't work. Seeing Fabian's obvious faith made me afraid for more reasons than the idea of a murderer going free. I was afraid I'd let him down after all he'd done for me.

"We know you will, mate. You've already proven that," Bones replied.

"Thank you," Elisabeth said, her voice very soft. Something shone in her eyes that I'd swear were tears on any other person. "I came here with little hope. Your kind usually doesn't bother with mine no matter the circumstances."

"Yeah?" My smile was wry. "Just call me an equal opportunity ass-kicker, because Kramer and his assistant deserve to be taken out no matter what species they are."

"Perhaps it's best if you stay in Fabian's room while we determine our first course of action," Bones suggested, giving Fabian a slanted look before returning his attention to Elisabeth. "Safer if energy's emitting from a room in the house that other ghosts are used to its coming from."

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