To be released in September of 2013 by TOR Books
Delia’s Shadow is the little novel that could. Winner of the 2009 Columbus Literary Award for fiction, administered by Thurber House and funded by the Columbus Arts Council, Delia will be published by TOR in 2013, followed by sequels in 2014 and 2015.
Advance word on Delia’s Shadow:
“Like fog creeping in from the Bay, this ghostly, romantic tale of San Francisco past made the outside world disappear and sent shivery tendrils into my soul. A gorgeous and haunting book.” –Rae Carson, author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers
“Spirits seek vengeance while the young try to build a future in a fog-shrouded San Francisco shaken by more than the great earthquake. This bravura mix of ghost story and historical mystery will chill and grip its readers from first page to last.”—Chaz Brenchley , author of House of Doors and House of Bells
“Moyer creates a hauntingly real San Francisco, full of characters you can’t wait to get to know better. Except for the killer, of course. He’s just disturbing as heck. Delia’s Shadow is an engaging debut novel, one that cost me a good night’s sleep.”—Jim C. HInes, author of Libriomancer: Magic Ex Libris Book 1
DELIA’S SHADOW is harrowing and intense, vibrant both in light and shade. Moyer’s deft handling of her characters (all of them haunted in different ways, how clever!) had me rooting for them from the first page, and her depiction of turn-of-the-century San Francisco was pitch- perfect.—M. K. Hobson, author of Native Star, The Hidden Goddess and The Warlock’s Curse.
“Haunting and sweet, Delias’s Shadow pulls off the rare feat of combining a thrilling ghost story with a gentle romance. A lovely book.”—S. C. Butler, author of The Stoneways Trilogy: Riffen’s Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magicians’ Daughter
Read Chapter One now.
The locomotive engine belched billowing clouds of steam, a black-iron dragon chained to the tracks. Warm air ruffled my hair and vanished before I became sure I’d felt it. Foggy, late-spring nights in San Francisco were cold, something I’d conveniently forgotten.
Sam, the elderly porter who’d looked after me all the way from New York, took my satchel and offered his hand as I came down the rickety train-car steps. “Will you be all right on your own, Miss Delia? I can wait until your friend comes if you’d feel better.”
“I’ll be fine.” I shook out my skirts and took my bag. “This is home. I won’t get lost.”
He doffed his cap and smiled. “You take extra care anyway. Lots of strangers in town for the fair.”
I tipped Sam a dollar and moved away from the tracks, facing my fear head on and confronting the reason I’d left home three years ago. San Francisco was full of ghosts. Long-dead children trailed after sad and worn-looking women, and young mothers carrying newborn babes followed proper-looking gentlemen with new wives on an arm. Each restless soul clung to someone they’d loved in life, unwilling to let go. Others walked purposely through train cars and walls, following paths they’d walked before or stopping to cross streets that no longer existed.
Ever since I was a small child I’d caught glimpses of people my parents couldn’t see, or faces peering at me from corners in an otherwise empty room. More than once I’d run to my mother frightened and certain that some stranger had crept into our house. Each time she’d stopped whatever she was doing and taken my hand, walking me from room to room so I could see no one was there. She thought the ghosts I saw an overabundance of childhood fancy, something I’d outgrow in time.
My mother was seldom wrong, but growing up didn’t cure me of seeing spirits. After the earthquake and subsequent fire nine years ago, I began to see them everywhere. Some ghosts were translucent with no more substance than the fog, barely in the world of the living. I’d no way of knowing for certain, but I thought them the oldest or with the fewest ties to loved ones. Others were so close to solid looking I might have thought them made of warm flesh if not for the old style of their clothes and ability to walk through objects.
Going to New York was an attempt to escape spirits and find respite, however brief. That respite lasted almost two and a half years. Long enough to think I might have a normal life.
I dropped my monogrammed satchel on a bench and gathered courage to search the faces on the platform for Sadie. My shadow stood before me, appearing so alive I expected to see her breathe. Thinking of her as a shadow made me feel less insane. I’d never wanted to believe in ghosts, not really. After six months of being haunted by one, I clung to every scrap of sanity I could.
She watched patiently and waited to follow as soon as I moved away. Long dark hair was plaited and coiled neatly on the top of her head, exposing delicate ears and a pale neck. Slender fingers clutched a thin shawl closed over her old-fashioned white cotton blouse. A gold cross glittered at her throat, tiny and easily missed. Dark-blue skirts brushed the top of her scuffed shoes. Green eyes met mine, aware that I saw her.
I didn’t know her name or why she followed me; she’d died before I was born. She’d found and laid claim to me just the same.
Since the morning I awoke to find her standing at the side of my bed, I began to see spirits everywhere again. My hopes for a normal life had vanished. I couldn’t help but feel a touch of panic at the thought of being haunted. But everyone had a shadow, perfectly normal people who never gave the bit of darkness following them a thought. Normalcy was something I desperately craved. Returning home might give me a chance to find it again.
The train station was new since I’d left three years before. Tall stone columns held up a ceiling decorated with plaster medallions carved into intricate leaves and flowers, the designs overlaid with gold leaf to catch the light. Oval windows along the front wall were framed in dark wood, beveled glass held in place by strips of soldered lead foil.
Nightfall meant clouds had moved in off the bay, smothering the city in a curtain of gray mist. Fog rolled through the arched double doors open at the end of the platform, wisps flowing across soiled tile floors and leaving a slick film of moisture behind. Dampness glistened on wooden benches framed with iron, filmed flickering electric lamps, and the four-wheeled carts porters filled with luggage too large to carry.
A deep breath brought the salt-tang of the bay and of fish offloaded on the docks, overlaid with the oily scent of cinders darkening the track bed. The fire had changed the look of the city, ripped away familiar places and replaced them with new buildings, but the air still smelled of home.
“Delia! Over here!” Sadie waved and plowed through the crowd, living and dead. Tall and slim, Sadie’s wide-brimmed hat was tipped to show off a heart-shaped face and ocean-blue eyes. She was always in fashion, wearing the latest styles to sweep the city. I’d no doubt the fur-trimmed wool coat, the black kid gloves, and beads looped around her neck were all the rage. She’d cut her hair as well and curls the color of sun-ripe wheat foamed out of the hat. I felt like the poor country cousin in my traveling garb.
I kept a smile on my face, knowing she wouldn’t understand my flinch as she walked through the middle of a gold-rush miner and a Chinese railroad worker. My shadow stepped aside or Sadie might have ended up standing inside the ghost.
“It’s so good to see you.” I shut my eyes and hugged Sadie, unnerved at seeing my ghost hovering behind her. “Three years is a long time.”
She held me at arm’s length, glee barely contained. “I’m not the one who took a teaching job on the other side of the country. You’ve no one to blame for being deprived of my company but yourself. I might even forgive you for going away if you show proper appreciation for my surprise.”
“Surprise?” She was the same old Sadie, bubbly and bright, brimming with secrets and infectious good humor. I really was home and laughing easy. Being haunted suddenly didn’t seem as horrible. “Are you going to tell me or make me wait to find out?”
Sadie tugged off her glove and shoved a hand under my nose, grinning and obviously pleased with herself. A sapphire and garnet ring sparkled on her finger. “Look! Isn’t it glorious?”
“Oh, yes, completely glorious.” I held her hand where I could view her finger without my eyes crossing. The ring was beautiful, stones catching the light and glimmering like captured stars. “From Jack I assume. I hope you’d have written if you’d tossed him aside and taken up with a new suitor.”
She laughed, knowing me too well to think my words anything but teasing. “Of course it’s Jack. Now let’s get home. You must be exhausted and Mother’s waiting up to see you. I’ve got a cab parked at the curb. Do you have another bag?”
“Somehow my trunk got put on the wrong train when I transferred in Denver. The rail company assures me they’ll send the luggage on and deliver it to the house.” I hefted the small satchel and threaded my other arm through Sadie’s. “I’ll survive until it arrives. How is Mama Esther?”
Sadie’s frown was an unfamiliar visitor on her face. “Weaker. The doctors tell me that hanging on through the winter was a positive sign. I’m sure she pays them to lie to me and thinks I don’t know.” She squeezed my hand and smiled. “I’m glad you came home for the summer. Seeing you will brighten the house for all of us. And I’m counting on you to talk some sense into me about wedding plans.”
I laughed again and we started for the door, my shadow a step behind. More ghosts crowded the lobby now that the train was empty, far more than I’d seen in one place before. None wore the face of those I’d loved and lost in the quake, and I was very grateful. I steeled myself to walk normally and not try to steer Sadie around spirits. She couldn’t see and wouldn’t feel them, but I didn’t have that luxury.
Each ghost that passed through me deepened the clammy chill that shivered over my skin. Voices filled my head and faded again. I heard cries of pain and pleas for help from those trapped under rubble after the quake, felt the heat of the fire steal a last breath. Age and sickness stole life as well, seldom peacefully. Touching death again and again brought me closer to tears. I gritted my teeth and held on. People would truly think me insane if I began to cry for no reason.
Fog swallowed the ghosts as soon as we stepped outside, all but my shadow. I caught my breath, grateful they’d vanished and not caring why. Sadie chatted about mutual friends all the way to the cab, filling me in on all the gossip and scandals I’d missed. We’d been friends since the age of ten and our time together was always the same, her talking a blue streak and me listening.
The cab driver took my bag, tucking the satchel into the footwell of the driver’s seat before helping Sadie and me into the cab. My shadow drifted into view as well, sitting next to Sadie and watching me with the expectant stare I’d come to know. I’d become more certain she wanted something from me as the months went by. What the ghost expected I’d no idea, but coming home was the first step toward discovery.
Sadie waited until the driver whistled the horses into motion, and the four-horse hack lurched away from the curb before she pounced. “Fess up, Delia. You didn’t come home just to see the exposition. Tell me what’s wrong. Did the boy you were seeing break it off? For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but you know the one I mean.”
“Yes! That’s the one.” She leaned forward and touched my hand. “You didn’t mention him in the last letters you sent. I thought that must be the reason, that he’d ended the engagement. That sort of thing is always so dreadful.”
“Nothing so dramatic as a broken engagement, Sadie. We never got to that point. And if you must know, Jonathan didn’t break off courting me. I told him I didn’t see a future for the two of us.” I leaned back against the cold leather seat, surprised that Sadie thought a broken heart would send me running for home. “Do I need a special reason for coming to visit?”
She crossed her arms, bunching the fur collar on her coat and peered at me from under the brim of her hat. Nothing put Sadie off once she’d caught the scent of even a hint of gossip. “This is me, Dee. That story might work on Mother, but I know better.”
My shadow had turned away, staring out the cab window as the horses labored up hills, past neighborhoods newly built since the fire and through pockets of streets spared by the flames. Watching the ghost’s wistful expression, I could well believe that she’d come home as well. Perhaps she had.
I smoothed ash-gray skirts over my knees, stalling another moment. “All right. I did want to see the fair, that part is true. And I’ve missed you terribly, but that’s not the entire reason.”
Sadie leaned forward, eyes sparkling. “I knew it. Keep talking and don’t make me pry it out of you.”
Of all the people in my life, Sadie was the one I felt sure would believe me. My parents hosted a society benefit at our house one night when we were both twelve. Sadie came to keep me company and we spent the night up in my room, trading secrets. Clouds covered the moon and wind whipped rain and tree branches against my window, making the atmosphere decidedly spooky. She hadn’t believed my claim of seeing ghosts at first, so I’d tried to frighten Sadie by describing the haunts wandering through the churchyard across the street, wildly embellishing to make them sound more gruesome. Instead of being scared, she’d sworn to keep my secret and begged me to teach her how to see spirits as well. I knew then I could trust her with anything.
That didn’t make telling her any easier or take away the worry of what she’d think. I folded my hands in my lap and swallowed back tears. “What would you say if I told you I thought—I knew—that a ghost was following me? That I was being . . . haunted.”
“Haunted? Really?” Sadie bounced in her seat, face lit with delight. “Tell me you mean it and that you’re not teasing.”
“I mean it, Sadie. I’ve never been more serious.” I’d hoped she’d believe me, but I hadn’t anticipated enthusiasm. “She follows me everywhere and I’ve no idea why.”
“Where is this ghost now?”
I nodded at the spirit, still transfixed with the scene outside the window. “Sitting next to you. She seems taken with the scenery at the moment. Most of the time she stares at me.”
Sadie grabbed both my hands. “A real ghost! How exciting. What’s her name?”
“I don’t know her name or anything about her, just that she wants me to do something. I’ve had the feeling since she came to me that something terrible happened to her.” My shadow turned from the window, her face a study in patience. I saw something new in her green eyes as well—sorrow. Not at all sure why, I began to cry, wiping tears on a sleeve and embarrassed that I couldn’t stop. “Then a few weeks ago I started dreaming about being in San Francisco. She was always there, just as she was in New York. But instead of following she was . . . leading me toward something. I woke up one morning and knew I had to come home. So here I am. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“Oh, Dee.” Sadie sobered and passed me a lace-trimmed hankie from her bag. “No, it’s not crazy and neither are you. You did the right thing. I know a person who can help, someone with a real connection to the spirit world. We’ll find some answers and the ghost won’t need to haunt you.”
“I knew I could count on you. Thank you.” I dried my face and balled the damp handkerchief in my hand, still sniffling, but calmer now that she knew. Underneath Sadie’s foolish exterior was a good heart. “Call her Shadow. It’s more dignified and respectful, at least until we discover her true name. I can’t bring myself to think of her as just another ghost.”
Shadow went back to her silent vigil and I watched out the window as well, reacquainting myself with home. Fog softened brick and glass storefronts, the sharp corners not yet worn by storms or wind rounded by mist-shadows. Empty lots were a swirl of pearly gray. The familiar was there, but so much was new and jarring, so much gone. I could name each missing storefront on the blocks I’d walked summer evenings with my first beau. The ice-cream parlor was gone and a butcher shop in its place, the candy store where he’d bought me taffy replaced with a tailor’s shop. Each loss was a fresh stab of pain.
New houses filled this side of the hill, built in the style of the homes lost to the fire. Tall turret rooms and bay windows overlooked the street, and columned porches graced the front. Even fog couldn’t soften the sheen of too-bright paint on wooden siding and the scalloped trim dangling from the edge of roofs, or framing windows. In time the paint would fade, the harshness so evident to one who’d grown up in the city gradually become less noticeable. Now each new dwelling was a fresh wound, bleeding and garish.
Three years away hadn’t prepared me or cushioned the blow. If the city was Shadow’s home, I couldn’t imagine what San Francisco looked like to her, or how much the changes hurt.
The cab stopped in front of the small house atop Russian Hill. I gathered my skirts and slid out after Sadie, digging coins from my handbag to pay the driver before my friend could stop me or protest.
I turned for my first look at home, the house I’d missed for three years. On the outside everything appeared exactly the same. Morning glory vines ambled up one side of the porch and across the top, blossoms shut tight against the night and ready to open at sunrise. Nasturtiums spilled out of window boxes in ribbons of yellow and orange flowers and saucer-shaped leaves. My father and mother’s will made Esther my guardian, and provided me with a substantial trust as well as income from my father’s real-estate holdings. I could afford to buy a house of my own in San Francisco or anywhere I chose, but this place and the people inside held my heart. This was home.
But even if things appeared unchanged, I knew that wasn’t true. I couldn’t resume my old life and go on as if I’d never gone away.
Shadow was already waiting on the walk, stoic and expectant.
Gabe pulled back on the reins just enough to slow the horses to a walk. The buggy crept past the house, allowing him to keep Jack’s fiancée and her friend in sight until the front door closed behind them. He poked his partner with an elbow. “Sit up, Jack, and stop worrying. Sadie’s safe inside and the cab is gone. They won’t go out again tonight.”
Jack uncurled from his crouch and sat on the seat properly. He slicked back unruly red-brown hair and settled his hat down tight. “Thanks for your help. I wanted to take a few hours’ leave this evening and go with her to meet Delia’s train, but Sadie wouldn’t hear of it. She’s perfectly capable of getting to the train station and back, but with all that’s happened—I just didn’t feel easy about her being out alone.”
“If that was Victoria I’d do exactly the same thing right now.” Saying her name never got easier. Nine years had passed since Victoria and their unborn child had died in the fire that swept the city after the quake. Gabe mourned each and every day. He might have saved them if he’d been home and not out on patrol when the quake struck. Not knowing added guilt to his grief.
Gabe guided the horses around the corner at the end of the block, away from the well-to-do houses on Russian Hill and toward Nob Hill’s mansions. He watched the shadows for movement and anything that didn’t belong. On a workday evening, most of the residents were tucked in for the night. Anyone skulking near houses or walking the streets most likely didn’t belong. “Have you told Sadie anything?”
“Not yet. I don’t want to frighten her, not until I’ve no choice. I keep hoping one of us will catch the killer and telling Sadie I’ve been keeping secrets won’t be necessary.” Jack yanked his hat off again, raking fingers through his hair and adding to his disheveled look. The dampness in the air only made his hair and mustache curl tighter. “Patrolling this neighborhood is a waste of time. It gave me an excuse to follow Sadie home tonight, but that’s the only good I can see.”
Gabe gestured at the well-kept mansions, manicured front gardens, and ornamental iron fences. “Police patrols until the ‘unpleasantness’ is resolved will keep San Francisco’s leading citizens off the mayor’s back.”
“I doubt the esteemed citizens of Nob Hill know anything about what’s happened.” Jack fell silent for half a block, the scowl on his face deepening with each darkened house they passed. “Is the paper going to print the latest letter? The editor and the chief were still yelling in Cap’s office when I left.”
Three letters sat in Gabe’s files, each addressed in a careful hand to the editor of The Examiner, and detailing how the killer’s victims suffered. If the person writing the letters were telling the truth, there were more victims than the police knew. A lot more.
Gabe’s hands curled into fists, the reins digging furrows into his skin. He was positive the handwriting on the pale blue envelopes and cheap stationery was identical to the old letters in his father’s files. The muscles in the back of his neck twitched each time he thought of the symbols drawn in place of a signature. “The newest message threatened people visiting the fair if the letters aren’t on the front page by tomorrow. Printing them could cause panic; not printing them means people could die. The chief is in a bad spot either way. And I don’t know how the mayor thinks he can keep this quiet.”
“I don’t know how we’re expected to catch this killer, either.” Jack smothered a yawn with the back of his hand. “Not if every detective on the force is watching the wrong neighborhoods. This butcher’s been one step ahead for weeks.”
The buggy crested the hill. Gabe hesitated at the top before turning away from gated mansions and rich people sleeping soundly. No one would miss them if they spent the last two hours of their shift driving other neighborhoods. Parts of the city never slept. Those were the streets they needed to be on.
“We won’t be patrolling up here much longer, Jack. Time is running out.” He smiled, grim and without humor. “People from all over the world are in San Francisco for the Pan Pacific. Printing his letters won’t stop him from expanding his hunting ground. He wants the attention a killing in a public place will bring him.”
Jack put his foot up on the buggy front and rested an arm on his knee. “And what’s to stop him from moving on again when the entire police force converges on the fair?”
“Nothing. But I don’t think he will.” Gabe shrugged. “Call it a hunch, but I think he’ll stick around as long as he’s getting the publicity he wants or we catch him.”
“Then I guess we better catch him. Any idea how we go about that?”
“Not yet.” Gabe’s stomach churned, his father’s stories whirling in his head. Captain Matthew Ryan worked five years on the letter writer’s murders and the killings stopped as suddenly as they’d started. That he’d never brought the killer to justice still haunted his father. “We’ll find a way. I’m not letting him get away.”
He bit his tongue before the words “not again” slipped out. Gabe hadn’t told Jack about the letters in his father’s files, not yet. He’d needed to satisfy his doubts about the similarities and that his memory was sound. Until then, it was only a hunch. His father had taught him hunches had no real place in police work.
Someday Gabe might even believe that.
I set my bag down in the front hall and the house settled around me, wrapping me in familiar things. Smells drifted from the kitchen: the scent of fresh baked bread and cookies, roast beef and honeyed yams from dinner. The wallpaper had faded more but hadn’t changed. Tiny roses still marched in straight rows to the high ceiling, the pattern disappearing into gloom the lamps never chased away.
No ghosts filled the hall or the parts of the sitting room I could see from the door, none but Shadow. Home might be more of a haven than I’d hoped.
Sadie hung her hat and coat on the hall-tree near the door. A shake of her head and the curls settled perfectly into place. “Are you hungry? I know Annie planned on keeping food warm for you.”
“Starving.” My hair didn’t curl and shaking my head the way Sadie had would gain me a face full of straight, mouse-brown strands, not angelic charm. I tugged off my hat and brushed fine wisps that had escaped hairpins off my face. “But I don’t want to keep Esther up too late. Food can wait until I’ve said hello.”
She took my hand and led me up the curving staircase. “Don’t be surprised if Mother’s sleeping when we reach her room. She sleeps more than she’s awake most days. And, Dee, I should warn you. She’s awfully thin and her memory’s not what it was. Don’t be offended if she doesn’t know you right off.”
“Your last letter warned she was growing worse.” I trailed fingers on the dark-wood banister, oil from my skin leaving streaks on the polished surface. Sadness mixed with the joy of coming home. Change happened when you weren’t watching. “I’m prepared.”
“You think you are, but you’re not.” Sadie squeezed my fingers. “I’ve seen her every day of the three years you’ve been gone and I’m not prepared for what I find each morning. Do your best. I can’t say it gets easier, but you learn ways to cope.”
A glance over my shoulder showed Shadow right where I expected her to be, gliding a few steps behind. Her attention was fixed on the top of the stairs and she leaned slightly forward, her expression anxious, as if she wanted to rush ahead. The ghost had changed since we arrived in the city, more alert to her surroundings and showing me more than an unchanging, placid stare.
Counting steps kept me from thinking too hard about what that might mean. Facing Esther’s decline came before puzzling over my problematic ghost.
My mother had been Esther Larkin’s best friend, just as Sadie was mine. Esther had invited me on a grand adventure during the spring of 1906, a present for my sixteenth birthday. Traveling with her and Sadie down the coast was my first trip away from my parents, and I felt quite grown-up. We spent the last week in a red-roofed hotel in Coronado, its sweeping porches and round topped turrets combining to make me feel as if I slept in a storybook castle. Eating breakfast on the terrace, waves whispering over sand yards away, added to my feeling of being the princess in a fairytale.
We got news of the quake the day before we were to start for home. Esther held me together while I waited for word from my parents, word that never came. Once we were allowed to return home, I moved in with Sadie and Esther. She stepped into my mother’s shoes and I was as much her daughter as Sadie.
Sadie went into the bedroom ahead of me. Esther was awake, scribbling in one of her journals as she had every night for as long as I’d known her. Her curly hair had thinned as much as her body and the color leached away, leaving puffs white as milkweed down. She looked up and smiled, shaky and frail, but bright as her daughter.
“Delia! Come in, come in.” She set the journal aside and patted the bed. “Sit with me and visit. I’m glad you came home early this evening. It’s been too long since you came in to say goodnight.”
Sadie and I traded looks. Esther knew me, but didn’t remember I’d been gone. Maybe morning would be better, after she’d rested and wasn’t so tired. I leaned to kiss her soft cheek, determined to make the best of it. She smelled of talcum and rose water. “You’re right; I should come in more often. I’ll try to do better, Mama Esther.”
She patted my face with a shaking hand, confusion clouding her eyes. Confusion did little to dim her smile. “I wouldn’t deny you time with your friends. You need to see more of that polite young man who likes you so much, not waste your evenings with an old woman. But when you get in early enough, peek in before bed. I sleep easier when I know both you and Sadie are home safe.”
Tears burned my eyes and I cradled her hand between mine. “How was your day? Did Annie bring up any of the cookies she baked?”
“My days seldom change. I won’t bore you with the story of my promenade down the hallway and back.” Esther peered about my shoulder. “Delia, where are your manners? Leaving your friend standing in the hall is extremely rude. Please invite her in and introduce me properly.”
Shadow stood on the threshold, hands folded at her waist, watching Esther intently and ignoring me. She didn’t step any further into the room even after being invited and I was glad. The ghost loomed like a shadow of death in the doorway, poised to claim Esther. That I’d led her here, even unknowing, suddenly felt like a betrayal.
Sadie sucked in a quivering breath, on the edge of tears. She’d guessed who Esther saw. “Mama, we didn’t bring anyone home. You’re having another one of your spells. I think it’s best if I tuck you in so you can get some sleep now.”
“You didn’t?” She peeked around me again, certainty wilting. The light went out of Esther’s faltering smile and I knew Shadow was gone. “I could have sworn… I know I saw a girl standing in the doorway.”
“You’re just tired.” Sadie turned off the big floor lamp in the corner, leaving only a small light on near the door. Her cheerful smile might fool Esther, but not me. “A good night’s sleep will make a world of difference.”
Sadie and I eased her mother down on the pillows and tucked the coverlet around her. I kissed Esther on the cheek again. “Sleep well. I’ll come eat breakfast with you in the morning. Would you like that?”
She nodded, brow crinkled in puzzlement. “If you like. Who are you again?”
“I’m Delia. Remember?” I smoothed her hair, keeping my voice calm and struggling to smile. Calm was far from how I felt. “I’ve come home again.”
Esther shut her eyes, tears pooling in the corners. “Oh, Delia…I’m so glad you’re back. They told me you died in the quake.”
She thought I was my mother. Each breath stuck in my throat so that I couldn’t speak. I fled into the hallway, exhausted and unable to bear more. Sadie murmured to Esther, soothing her as you would a small child, and shame joined grief. I’d broken in five minutes. Sadie had borne the burden alone for nearly three years.
Hugging arms over my chest did little to warm me. The air in the hallway had turned so cold I expected to see my breath cloud. Shadow stood at the end of the hall, keeping her distance from the bedroom door, but positioned to keep me in sight. Green eyes stared at me, the ghost’s gaze intense and aware, trying to convey a silent message. “Say something,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you want. Tell me.”
She glided a step closer, hand extended. The memory of brushing death again and again was too fresh and raw for me to brave taking Shadow’s hand. I stepped back, shaking my head. “No, I can’t do that. Find another way to tell me. Find a way to speak so I can understand.”
The ghost dropped her hand and didn’t pursue me. She looked toward the bedroom again, drawn by Sadie’s soft voice and Esther’s mumbled answers, and her fingers wrapped around the cross at her throat. Shadow’s eyes met mine for a moment in silent pleading. Then she was gone.
Gone for now, but I knew not forever. I slumped against the wall, shivering in the lingering chill.
Sadie stepped into view and closed the bedroom door softly. She leaned against the wall with me, offering companionship. “Mother’s already asleep. Dee, I have to ask…the girl Mama saw in the doorway….”
“Shadow was watching us talk. I’m surprised, but I think Esther saw the ghost.” I took a breath, unwilling to think too much about possible answers, all of which came back to how little time Esther had left. I wasn’t ready to face that. Not yet. “I can’t explain how or why. As far as I know Shadow hasn’t shown herself to anyone but me. But I’m far from an expert on ghosts.”
She chewed her lip for a moment and nodded. Sadie understood the implications perfectly. “Come on, Dee. Annie will feed you and then you can get some sleep. This was a rougher homecoming for you than I’d imagined.”
“I’m fine.” I took a breath and brushed hair out of my eyes. “Hungry, but fine.”
Sadie raised an eyebrow, looking down on me from her height advantage of two and one quarter inches. “No, you’re not. But I’m not going to quarrel with you about putting on a brave face tonight. I’ll save that for breakfast. You’ll be able to argue back and hold your own once you’ve rested. It’s more fun that way.”
“I’m sorry, Sadie. I’d have come home sooner if I’d known.” I led the way down the stairs, hunger a burning coal in the pit of my stomach. Food and sleep would help set things right; just as long as I could swallow past the lump in my throat. “It’s not fair you’ve coped alone. Now that I’m home, I’m staying.”
“I wasn’t alone, Annie was here. And I had Jack to help. He’s good with Mama.” Sadie smiled shyly and ducked her head. I’d only heard of Jack through letters, but the softness of her expression while saying his name made me like him sight unseen. “I haven’t been left on my own.”
“I’ll be staying in any case.” Shadow’s seeking me out put an end to the foolish notion that I’d left ghosts behind by leaving San Francisco. Spirits would find me no matter where I was and I needed to face up to that. Whatever the reason she led me home, I was grateful. I didn’t want to miss Esther’s last days. In any case, the students at Saint Celia’s School for Girls wouldn’t even notice I’d gone. “I’ll send a telegram to the school and have the rest of my things sent.”
We reached the bottom of the stairs and my stomach rumbled loudly enough to make Sadie laugh. She slipped an arm around my shoulders. “I’m glad you’re not going back to New York, I’ve missed you. And I wouldn’t want to attempt planning this wedding without you. Jack and I have talked about marriage for a long time, but we only made it official last Friday. We both agreed to skip the engagement party and go straight to the wedding. There’s a great deal to be done in the next six weeks.”
I paused at the kitchen door. Annie always knew everything that went on in the house, but I still lowered my voice. “Six weeks is a scandalously short engagement. People will talk.”
Sadie’s chin came up, haughty and proud. People much older than either of us wilted when she turned that look on them. “Let them talk. When Daddy’s heart began to fail the doctors swore he had years left, but we lost him in less than a month. I can’t risk waiting, I want my mother at my wedding. Six weeks might be all the time I have to spare. Mama won’t remember a thing about what went on, but I’ll know she was there.”
She wore the brave face now, but I’d not bet against Sadie Larkin taking on San Francisco society and winning. And I’d be right beside her, ready to battle with anyone who breathed an untrue word.
I pushed open the kitchen door and held it for her. “We’ll get started in the morning. First we’ll eat breakfast with Mama Esther and have that quarrel over my bravery if you’re still keen on it. Afterward we should visit a seamstress to see about a wedding dress. Making a dress and fittings will take the longest, so we should see to that immediately.”
Sadie’s eyes swam with tears. “I won’t forget this, Dee. I promise.”
I gave her a gentle shove into the kitchen and put on a smile for Annie. My heart was too full, all the words I could have said in answer gone. Leaving home had been a mistake. I’d not lost my problems, if anything I’d gained more in the form of Shadow and the mystery surrounding her. All I’d lost was time with the people I loved.
Six weeks. Such a short time to plan the start of Sadie’s new life and prepare for Esther’s to end.
The dream began like all the others I’d had, but the ghost didn’t follow behind, waiting for me to find an answer. This time I was inside her skin.
Shadow rushed down streets grey with fog, cold seeping through the thin soles of her shoes and numbing her toes. The night was moonless and darker for it. People hurried past, vague shapes that loomed into view and disappeared again, heads down and bundled against the chill. Fog deadened the sound of footsteps, the creak of wagons and harness.
Hissing gas-lamps stood on corners, a small oasis of yellow light puddled on damp brick sidewalks. She crossed a street and Shadow looked behind, the feel of someone watching tickling the back of her neck. The shape of a man winked in and out of view back the way she’d come, skirting the edge of gas light and vanishing into the fog again. He kept his head down like all the other people on the street. She saw him turn a corner, no doubt in a hurry to reach home and a fire.
Shadow pulled her shawl tighter, the deeper cold near the wharfs making her wish for her heavy wrap. Fishing boats rocked gently on the incoming tide. Mooring ropes groaned as they pulled tight and water sloshed against the hull. She turned into a gravel-lined alley, a short cut she never took after dark, but she’d worked late and longed for her own fire.
The coins she’d earned in tips jingled in her skirt pocket. Saturday nights were busy at the tavern. Sean had given her a quarter for staying an extra shift and offered the use of the cot behind the kitchen. She’d slept there other nights and Patrick knew not to wait up on Saturday, but the baby was teething and fussy. They’d both be up walking the floors and waiting on her.
More than cold made her walk faster. Shadow tried not to think of the stories men told over mugs of beer and glasses of whiskey. Darkness pressed in as the alley narrowed. She wrapped a chapped hand around the cross at her throat, muttering prayers under her breath.
A cat yowled, running from between two houses and across her path. Shards of stone and grit flew away from the cat’s paws and stung her cheek. Shadow touched her face and drew away bloody fingers. She found the scrap of handkerchief in her pocket and worked it out, careful not to spill her hard-earned coins on the ground.
Shadow moistened the handkerchief with her tongue, scrubbing at her fingers and walking faster. The streetlamp at the end of the narrow alley, a beacon marking the street and the last block home, blinked out.
Tall and broad shouldered, a man stepped out of the mist, standing toe to toe with Shadow before she saw him. She stared, heart pounding in terror and breath coming in gasping sobs.
A cloth hood covered his head. She couldn’t see his eyes, his mouth.
She couldn’t see if he smiled.
I scrabbled off the bed, running from a threat that began to fade as soon as my eyes opened. My feet tangled in sheets and the hem of my nightgown, tripping me. Slamming into the table next to the bed tipped the lamp, but I caught the heavy brass-base before the whole thing crashed to the ground.
Light chased away more panic, enough that I stopped wanting to flee the room. The house was still silent with sleep. I hadn’t screamed, Sadie or Annie would have come running. Shaking, gulping air and crying, I huddled in the overstuffed chair, grateful not to have an audience for my humiliation and the privacy to sort through what had just happened.
The dreams had started in New York, mere glimpses of Shadow hurrying down a darkened street or following me wherever I went. Urgency had always been there, coupled with fear and panic and the need to get away. Details of those dreams were as fuzzy and murky as the fog. They’d changed little by little as the months wore on and I’d begun to follow Shadow instead of the ghost trailing after me. The sense of urgency, that there was something vital I need do, increased until the day I knew I had to come home. Still, I’d never understood why Shadow was afraid or why the ghost felt the need to show me these things.
Distance played a part in the dreams being fragmented and unclear. I was in San Francisco now, my home as well as Shadow’s, and the details of this dream were as sharp and clear as a freshly minted coin. That made what I’d seen twice as frightening.
Shadow stood at the foot of my bed, hands folded at her waist. Watching and waiting for me to speak.
“Dear God in heaven. I’m so sorry, Shadow. So sorry.” I understood the sorrow in her eyes now and some of the reasons she followed me. She’d never gotten home. Shadow needed someone, needed me, to know why.
Why was important, I understood that. What she expected from me now that I knew baffled me.
Gabe unbuttoned his suit coat and let the front hang open. The slope wasn’t steep, but the climb in the morning sun was enough to make him sweat. Grass and tiny white daisies, granite headstones and flowers left by loved ones glistened with moisture deposited by last night’s fog. Each step kicked up water droplets that soaked into the cuffs of his trousers and the tops of his socks. His feet were getting wet inside his shoes.
This early in the day the Presidio was empty of visitors wanting to pay their respects to fallen solders. A crisp breeze blew off the bay, the air cold enough at the top of the hill that Gabe decided against abandoning the jacket for shirtsleeves. His squad worked efficiently if somberly, voices subdued and their normal gallows humor missing. Bright sunlight reflected off the patrolmen’s brass buttons and the numbered badges pinned to their uniforms, an illusion of warmth that didn’t live up to its promise. Even if the wind hadn’t chilled him to the bone, the bodies lying side by side atop one of the graves would do the job.
Jack stood in the shade of a redwood not more than fifty feet away, questioning the man who found the bodies and scribbling notes in the battered moleskine he kept in his pocket. The gravedigger was older, his dark hair gone mostly grey and skin sun-creased. He twisted his cap in shaking hands and kept his back to the murder victims. Death was harder to confront outside a sealed casket.
An officer from the Presidio, a captain, hovered behind Jack’s shoulder. The Army brass scowled, his opinion of civilians investigating a crime on his base and infringing on his territory clear. Jack ignored the captain’s silent fuming and did his job, patiently prodding the gravedigger for information and writing down the answers.
Shock would drown the memories of what he’d seen soon. All the old man would remember then was the blood.
Gabe left his partner to prying loose information. He walked a slow circle around the dead couple, always careful to stay clear of the patrolman taking photographs with a folding Kodak. Concentrating on the details was a detective’s job, searching for patterns and similarities between open cases. His father taught Gabe that was how the toughest crimes were solved, gathering and piecing together odd fragments of information until you had the picture clear in your mind. A murder investigation was a macabre jigsaw puzzle, splashed with blood and the remnants of someone’s life.
Focusing on details let him ignore the sewer stench of punctured bowels that filled each breath, coating his tongue. Collecting information let him pretend not to see the way blood drew insects, how flies swarmed around stab wounds or crawled over the dead man’s open eyes. Thinking about anything but how the bodies were posed was a rookie mistake.
He hadn’t been a rookie in ten years. Gabe swallowed away the burning in the back of his throat and vowed to keep his breakfast down.
The man and woman lay on their sides facing each other, hands bound behind their backs. Neither one wore shoes or stockings. A hangman’s noose looped each of their necks, the length of rope that tightened the knot running down their backs and tied around their ankles. Skin was scraped raw and bloody around the ropes at both wrists and ankles. Gabe swallowed again, suddenly reminded of animals gnawing off their own legs to escape a trap.
Strips of red fabric were rolled and stuffed into their mouths to muffle screams. They’d screamed around the gags, he was certain of that, and probably tried to plead with their killer. The woman’s gag was pulled tight and cut into the corners of her mouth, tearing skin enough to bleed. Each scream did more damage, drew more blood.
They’d suffered before dying. The wounds Gabe saw were non-lethal, shallow stab wounds inflicted for pain and not to kill; not right away. Movement would tighten the rope around the victim’s necks, slowly choking them, and staying still through the punishment they’d taken was next to impossible.
A coroner’s report would confirm what Gabe already knew; that the dusky color of their skin meant the couple had suffocated before they could bleed to death. The killer never meant for them to die quickly or easily.
The symbol carved into their foreheads, a circle divided into quarters, matched marks on the first two victims found; a man in Chinatown and a woman near the Ferry Building. Weeks separated those murders from these, but the killer left his victims where he knew they’d be found. He wanted to send a message and make sure the police took him seriously.
Gabe took this man very seriously indeed.
“Lieutenant Ryan?” Jack motioned him over. The gravedigger was heading down the hill toward the gates, but the Army officer still glowered behind Jack’s shoulder. “The captain would like a word, sir.”
Gabe took one last look at the tableau staged for them. “Patrolman Henderson!”
The tall and skinny young rookie broke away from a line of men searching between headstones and trotted across the grass. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I think we’re almost done here. As soon as Baker finishes taking his photographs, cover them up. The coroner and his men will be along soon. Gather a few of the officers to give them a hand getting the stretchers down the hill.”
“Yes, sir.” Marshall Henderson stared at the bodies, sweat beading on his forehead. “It’s him isn’t it? The one sending the letters.”
“Yes.” Gabe clapped the boy on the shoulder, feeling like a grizzled veteran and much older than thirty. Henderson had only been on the force six months, but he’d dragged the new patrolman into the investigation from the start. For a rookie he had good instincts and so far, he hadn’t panicked. “Get the blankets over them and set someone to watch for the coroner.”
Gabe stuffed his hands deep into his pockets and took his time strolling to where the captain and Jack waited. The captain meant to force a confrontation of some kind and throw his weight around. Summoning Gabe like a private caught sneaking out after curfew guaranteed the captain would get exactly what he wanted.
That soured Gabe’s mood further. The mayor and the base commandant were old friends. Getting in a row with a high-ranking officer would come back on him, right or wrong. He’d have to dig deep and find a scrap of diplomacy and patience.
The look Jack gave him was a mixture of warning and exasperation. “Captain Irwin, this is Lieutenant Ryan. Lieutenant Ryan is the detective in charge of the investigation.”
Irwin appeared to be about forty, tall and well-muscled, compact and not going soft around the middle. Squint lines surrounding pale-blue eyes and skin tanned to the color of tobacco spoke of days spent outdoors, not sitting at a desk. A training officer perhaps, accustomed to barking orders and instant obedience. Jittery bounces on his toes and a disapproving scowl made his annoyance plain.
Gabe didn’t much like men like the captain, not since the quake and the desperate days after. So far Irwin hadn’t given him a reason to reform his opinion. He forced a smile and stuck his hand out. “Pleased to meet you, Captain Irwin. Is there something I can do for you?”
“I need your men gone within the hour, Lieutenant.” The captain’s handshake was as brusque as his manner of speaking. “The colonel is hosting a group of European military officers and their wives. His schedule calls for speeches at fourteen-hundred hours, a wreath laying ceremony and escorting everyone to the fair once the ceremony is complete. I have a squad waiting to set up the podium and chairs. Your men are smack in the middle of where they need to work.”
Jack tapped the edge of his notebook with a chewed pencil, a sure sign he was tense or on the verge of losing his patience. “I explained to the captain that this was a murder investigation and couldn’t be rushed. He insisted on speaking to someone in authority.”
“Sergeant Fitzgerald’s word is as good as mine, this can’t be rushed.” Gabe slipped his hands back in his trouser pockets, working at looking relaxed. He had a hunch; he wanted to be wrong. “You’re not exactly short of scenic views, Captain. The Presidio is a big place. Surely you can find another suitable location for the colonel to give his speech.”
“Lieutenant, it’s not a matter of scenic views or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Captain Irwin gestured with the riding crop in his hand, waving it in the direction of the victims. He never really looked at the dead couple or saw how their heads lined up precisely with the grave markers. “The colonel is scheduled to lay a wreath on the graves of the first base commandant and his wife. I can’t move the ceremony without moving the graves.”
Having his hunch confirmed left a bitter taste in Gabe’s mouth. The killer wanted to send a message all right, but he might be the only one listening. “The mayor and Commandant Blair have already come to an agreement about jurisdiction. They both feel the police are best equipped to find this killer. I won’t be responsible for a haphazard investigation that allows him to escape. My men know what to look for, Captain. They will leave once they’re sure nothing’s been missed. Not before.”
Irwin glowered, pulled himself up straight and smacked his riding crop against his leg repeatedly, a pose designed to put the fear of God and Captain into young troopers. That he thought intimidation would work on Gabe was almost amusing. Almost.
“You’ll regret not being more cooperative, Ryan. I’ll be making a full report to the colonel and Commandant Blair.”
“You do that, Captain.” He smiled, baring his teeth. The small amount of patience he’d mustered was gone. “Finding two people butchered before noon will be the only thing I regret about this day. Rest assured I’ll be filing a full report as well.”
The coroner’s men trudged up the hill; canvas stretchers on sturdy wooden poles folded in half and balanced in one hand. They opened out the dull ivory rectangles on the grass, one near the man’s bulky body, the other next to the woman. He stepped away from Irwin’s outraged sputtering, watching silently and doing the dead couple honor that the captain didn’t seem inclined to show.
Henderson directed two patrolmen to help lift the blanket-shrouded bodies. Rigor mortis had set in before the couple was found, making the task easier. They struggled to lift the stocky dead man’s weight and settle his rigid corpse on the stretcher. The woman was easier to move, slightly built and not very tall.
Gabe saw a scrap of blue flutter in the grass. The wind sent the envelope tumbling across the hilltop, sticking in blades of grass for an instant and whirling in the air again. Marshall Henderson reacted first, already in hot pursuit before he could yell.
Henderson caught the envelope within a few seconds. He pinched the blue square tight between two fingers, turning it to examine both sides. Color bleached from his face. “I’ve got it, sir. You need to see this.”
He left Jack to deal with Irwin and met his promising rookie halfway. The cheap blue stationary was splotched with the woman’s blood, but not enough to obscure the handwriting or that the letter was addressed to Lieutenant Gabriel Ryan.
Gabe wrapped the envelope in his handkerchief, tucked the note in a jacket pocket and buttoned the flap. He had cotton gloves and fingerprint powder in his desk. Nothing had shown up on any of the other letters, but he kept hoping overconfidence would make the killer sloppy.
His men knew their jobs and could finish up without him. He strode past Irwin without a word or a glance, his mouth dry and his heart pounding. The killer was raising the stakes, making this personal. He couldn’t summon the willingness to be diplomatic with the captain.
Jack caught up before Gabe got more than a hundred yards down the hill. His partner tucked the ever present moleskine into an inside pocket, whistling a cheerful tune.
A catchy melody penetrated Gabe’s funk after a moment and recognition made him smile. The song was a hit in the saloons and bawdy houses near the docks, the lyrics lewd and not fit for decent company. Undoubtedly in poor taste considering the situation.
That made the song perfect in Gabe’s eyes. They’d stayed partners for ten years because Jack knew when to give him a moment to breathe and when to make him laugh.
Some of the tension bled out of his shoulders and he unclenched his fists. “Better not let Sadie here you whistling that song. She’ll start questioning where you learned it.”
Jack grinned. “Who do you think taught me? Sadie taught me all the words, too.”
“I should have known.” He chuckled and shook his head. “You two were made for each other.”
The air was clean away from the murder site, filled with the familiar seaweed and sand scent of the bay, the smell of pinesap and wet grass crushed underfoot. Noise from the Pan Pacific carried into the Presidio, voices and music an insect drone in the distance. Fog built an iron-grey wall outside the Golden Gate, biding its time until sunset. The killer would bide his time too, using darkness and murk as cover to hunt.
The men from the coroner’s office and two of his patrolmen passed them, each man holding the stretcher handles tight or gripping the canvas sides to get the bodies safely down the hill.
Gabe paused to let the stretcher bearers get ahead and watched them go. “May God have mercy on their souls. With luck, we’ll turn up something that identifies them so their families can be notified. They deserve a decent burial.”
“And someone to mourn them.” Jack kicked at the grass, his cheerfulness gone. “We won’t get any clues in the letter he left. Not if it’s like the others.”
The driver who’d brought him from the station house waited at the bottom of the hill. Sunlight glinted off the windscreen of the black motorcar and the wire-spoke wheels. Gabe still preferred buggies, but the Chief was determined to replace all the horse drawn vehicles the department owned with automobiles. He and Jack ambled downhill, neither of them in any hurry to overtake the procession of stretchers.
“This letter isn’t exactly like the others, Jack.” Gabe’s hand strayed to his pocket, touching the bulk of handkerchief and envelope inside, mindful of the letters addressed to Captain Matthew Ryan in his father’s files. “He addressed this one to me.”
“A mash note then, like the letters you told me about.” Jack tugged off his plaid cap, beating the hat against his leg with each step. “It’s been almost thirty years since your Pop got those letters, Gabe. This can’t be the same.”
“It isn’t the same.” Unlike his father, he didn’t have a wife and baby to threaten for one. The fire took Victoria and his unborn child from him. He didn’t have anything left worth losing. Gabe opened the car door and waved Jack inside. “Thirty years is too long. But it tells me this man is still a step ahead and knows more about us than we know about him. Frankly, that gives me the willies.”
The car jerked away from the curb, gears whining as the driver followed the twisting road that led off the base and back into the city. Gabe leaned his head back and tipped his hat over his eyes. Thinking, trying to put the puzzle together.
“Gabe, I still haven’t said anything to Sadie.” Leather seats and springs creaked under Jack’s weight. “If this man knows as much as you think… Should I be worried about Sadie and her family?”
He lifted the brim of the hat and looked his partner in the eye. “I’ll assign some men to watch the house and keep an eye on things. I can’t force an escort on her, but if Sadie consents I can assign officers to take her shopping or anyplace she needs to go. Talk to her. See if you can get her to agree.”
“How much should I tell her?”
Gabe thought of Victoria and pulled the hat back over his eyes. “Tell her all of it and put the fear of this man into her. Do whatever it takes to get Sadie to agree to police protection.”
Knowing his men were watching over Sadie would let him sleep better. He didn’t want to see the empty, wounded look in Jack’s eyes if anything happened to her.
He saw that look in the mirror every morning. That was enough.
The front room of the dressmaker’s shop was stifling. Fanning myself with one of the brochures on the showroom table moved little air and did less to relieve the heat. I’d suffocate before Sadie emerged from the dressing suite.
I’d left my chair once to open the front door, hoping to let in some air, but the plump clerk behind the counter shut me in again immediately.
“We can’t leave the door open, Miss.” She eased the door closed, a faint touch of disapproval in her smile. Her square hands were smaller than mine, nails trimmed short to keep from snagging the fabrics, and pale against the dark wood frame. “Mademoiselle says the moisture is bad for the silks. And you never know who might come wandering in that don’t belong. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.” I’d settled in my chair again, resigned to waiting on Sadie’s pleasure.
Telling the girl that I didn’t belong here would only confuse her. This was the fourth shop we’d visited in two days and the fourth to prove I still lacked Sadie’s sense of style and fashion. I was adrift in a sea of swatches, pearl buttons and bobbin lace, following where she led.
Shadow stood near me, hands pressed to her stomach and eyes all too aware. The shawl she’d worn since coming to me was tied around her waist, as if the ghost found the room too warm as well. A silly notion, but she continued to change from the silent spirit I’d known for six months. Closeness to home and the life ripped away from her had to be the reason why.
She watched buggies and motorcars pass on the street with great interest, studied the faces of people walking past the windows and the few women who came into the shop. Looking for someone, perhaps searching for a face she knew.
Ghosts mingled with the people on the sidewalk, going about their business as they had in life. Whalers from San Francisco’s earliest days, Russian fur traders and troopers dressed in Civil War garb, they all took turns walking through the two women chatting outside the window. Some areas of the city were thick with restless dead and in others I never saw a spirit. None but my personal ghost. She never left me for long.
I watched Shadow, mulling over my nightmare and trying to understand what she wanted from me. What I’d learned in the dream brought me no closer to solving the puzzle she represented. Knowing how she’d died didn’t tell me how she’d lived or who she was in life. The need to discover all I could about her was growing stronger, becoming a compulsion. I didn’t know if that desire came from the ghost or from inside me.
Accepting that the ghost was real and haunting me was hard enough; that she might be influencing my thoughts made me uncomfortable. All that kept me from contemplating the possibility of insanity was that Esther had seen her too.
The door to the dressing suite swung open and Sadie finally appeared. Tears filled my eyes and I forgave all the waiting. She’d never looked more beautiful.
Sadie stepped up onto a round platform centered in front of a wall lined with mirrors. Mademoiselle Fouche shook out the full silk skirts of the wedding dress, settling the lace overlay into place. Long organdy sleeves reached her wrists. Lace appliqués, roses and lilies, and tiny pearls covered the silk bodice. The fabrics were a soft cream, not stark white, and set off Sadie’s coloring perfectly.
“What do you think, Dee?” She grinned and twirled round once, a curly-haired kewpie doll with roses blooming in her cheeks.
“I think Jack will faint dead away when he sees you in that dress.” I went to stand near Sadie and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Trailing behind from shop to shop was worth seeing her so radiant. “Be sure to warn the best man. He’ll need to be ready.”
Mademoiselle set a matching silk cap and lace veil on Sadie’s head. She stepped back, smiling broadly and obviously pleased. “There. You will be a most beautiful bride, Miss Larkin. A few small alterations and it will be as if the dress was made just for you. I can have it ready for you within the month. Excuse me while I write up the order and prepare the bill.”
The dressmaker disappeared into the back room, leaving Sadie to preen. She fussed with the neckline, head tipped to the side and eying the fit of the bodice with a practiced eye. “This is excellent work. The girl who ordered the dress canceled at the last minute. Mademoiselle Fouche is letting me have it for half of the original price.” She twirled again so that the skirt floated around her, gleeful and happy. “It’s perfect, Dee! There couldn’t be a more perfect dress.”
Shadow left her place near the windows. The ghost glided in slow circles around the platform, eyes fixed on Sadie. She extended a hand to brush the full skirt, fingers passing through lace and silk without stirring the fabric.
Sadie never noticed. The ghost looked to me, her eyes begging for me to understand.
“What’s wrong?” Sadie squeezed my hand. Her gleeful look was gone. “Is Shadow here?”
“Shadow is always here.” I managed a smile and steered the conversation to safer ground. “I’ve been home for three days now. When do I get to meet this fiancé of yours? I’m beginning to think you made him up.”
She laughed. Mentioning Jack was all it took to make her happy again. “You’ll meet him tonight. Jack and his partner Gabe are coming to escort us to the fair. We’ll have supper out and then see the sights. The four of us will have a marvelous time.”
“Scheming are you?” I folded my arms over my chest and peered up at her sternly, determined to look cross. “It won’t work you know. It never has.”
“Delia Ann Martin, I’m hurt. Scheming is the furthest thing from my mind.” She fiddled with the veil and pouted prettily. Pouting always worked on her beaus and admirers, and no doubt Jack was helpless in the face of her trembling lip. I was made of sterner stuff. “Gabe Ryan is Jack’s best man. You’d have to meet him sometime before the wedding. I thought the four of us could have a bit of fun tonight while you got to know each other. What’s the harm in that?”
“No harm at all. Not if a bit of fun’s all you’ve planned.” Sadie would never admit to matchmaking or that her scheming was doomed to failure. “And meeting Mr. Ryan means I can warn him about Jack fainting. He can begin planning his strategy for catching the groom.”
Sadie stepped off the platform and beamed at me, scenting victory. “Let me get changed and settle up with Mademoiselle. We can visit with Mama and tell her all about the dress before the boys call for us. This will be fun, Dee, I promise. You and Gabe will get along swimmingly.”
“Yes, great fun. I’m sure of it.” That I muttered to the closed door of the dressing suite didn’t matter. Sadie would heed my tone about as well as the door. “I’m sure Mr. Ryan has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.”
I shivered, suddenly chilled in the overheated room. Other ghosts, women dressed in evening finery, shop girl frocks, or dancehall costumes that barely satisfied decency, shimmered into view atop the fitting platform. More ghosts appeared in the mirrors lining the wall, all standing and staring at me. Each spirit wore the stoic expression of my ghost, each mirrored Shadow’s waiting pose and the sorrow in her eyes. They all had secrets or obligations from life left undone, wrongs they needed set right before they could rest.
The weight of their need pinned me in place and I couldn’t speak, or turn away. All these lost souls wanted my help, as Shadow did, and left me with just as little idea of what they expected me to do.
The bell on the shop door jingled, announcing another customer, and the chipper voice of the dressmaker’s assistant greeted two older women. One by one the ghosts faded, releasing me and letting me breathe. I sat on one of the small chairs to wait for Sadie, fighting the need to curl over my knees and cry.
Shadow stood in her place by the window again, the shawl draped around her shoulders and one hand clutching the cross at her throat. She waited, patience personified.