This is a Book: Chapter Nine

And Then There Were None

The street vendor pays no attention to Mary’s hands as she swiftly plucks a copy of today’s newspaper from the stack on his cart and tucks it under her jacket. He can’t, he’s too busy staring at her chest. Dirty rat.

While he’s distracted, I smear a mark onto the side of his cart with soot from the dirty wall of a nearby building. The next time my father’s crew comes out pillaging, they’ll be sure to pay him a visit.

A hand waves in front of my face as I’m finishing the skull and crossbones, and Mary signals that it’s time to go. As soon as we’re far enough away that he can no longer see us, she pulls a wad of fifty pounds from her pocket, shuffling through the paper money with an odd sense of glee that I can relate to well.

“That will teach him.” She smiles deviously. Replacing the money in her pocket, she pulls out the paper and begins shuffling through it.

“He’s not alive, it’s impossible. I saw him,” I say irritably, tugging at one of my ripped sleeves. “He was dead. Deader than dead.”

“What’s deader than dead?” Mary asks dryly.

“A rock?”

She cocks an eyebrow, shaking her head at my obviously stupid comparison, but she doesn’t say anything, and I find that concerning. She usually tells me when what I say is ridiculous, or at the very least she reminds me that I’m dead and she doesn’t have to listen to me.

We’re heading down a street I don’t recognize, the numbers on the brick houses counting up by tens, until we reach a fork. Mary immediately turns left and I follow.

Above us the sky grows darker as the street lights begin to flicker on, though it is still morning. A storm is brewing. I can sense it in the insistence of the wind as it blows thick, salty air through the streets. There is a smell too, something I can only sense now, but it’s there; I know it is. My father taught me to know.

“How is it possible that he was dead and now he’s not?” I demand testily. “And yet the body in the Thames was in the papers at your door.”

Mary swats near my head with the paper. “I hate to break it to you, but just because he’s alive in this picture—” she gestures to the paper “—doesn’t mean he’s alive now.”

I frown. “What does it say about him anyway?”

The print on the paper is slightly smeared from the dewy morning air and Mary’s death grip, but it’s still legible.

Man Survives Jewelry Store Heist

“What’s it say?” I press.

“Javier Boulevard is a thirty-six year old male with no wife or children. He works at some kind of firm in southeast London and was in the store to sell back old jewelry left to him by his diseased mother.”

“That’s it?”

She gives me a hard look. “Basically. They’re calling him a local hero. Apparently he stood up to the thief even though the man had a gun and everything. Said he overpowered him and then…nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. That’s it. Story’s over. The end.” Mary folds the paper once and tucks it beneath her arm. She doesn’t speak to me again, not for a while, and I follow, looking warily at the buildings around us.

These brownstones are old, eighty years at least. They look like they’ve been taken straight off the streets of 1939 England. The windows are arched downward and the doors are sunk in, appearing as a row of frowning faces, and I can almost feel their sorrow as I pass. One ghost sensing another.

I cross my arms over my chest to keep from shuddering.

“Where are we going?” I ask eventually.

Mary glares at me out of the corner of her eye and I sneer back. I know she blames me for the explosion, as if I could have placed a bomb in her apartment. She seems to forget that I’ve only ever worked with cannon balls and swords.

“Somewhere we can do research,” she says, rolling her eyes at my obvious displeasure. “I wouldn’t be asking you along except you saw the body. You’d be worthless otherwise.”

“Worthless,” I drawl. “Yes, of course.”

She sighs and stomps her feet down a little harder than necessary. “What good would you do with hands that pass right through a computer?”

Point made.

“Fine.” Now it’s my turn to sigh dramatically. “When are we going to get there because this place is creepy.”

“We are here.” She turns abruptly, walking up the front steps of one of the brownstones. This one is gray with a cedar door that creaks when she puts her key in the lock. Inside, the hallway is covered in ugly pink wallpaper with a gray-white flower print shaped like demented four-leaf clovers. There is a tall, black gate that goes all the way to the ceiling, blocking our path. A silver box is attached to the gate and there are several names in different handwritings next to white buttons.

Mary presses the one next to the name Benton.

“Yes?” comes a male voice.

“Let me up,” Mary growls.

“Did you forget your umbrella again?” the voice taunts, and I can see her shoulders stiffen.

“Let us up, Randy.”

A long pause and then: “Us? What do you mean us?”

She doesn’t answer and finally there’s a surprisingly loud buzzing noise followed by a click. Mary walks forward, swinging the door open, and I slip through behind her before she can lock me out.

One long elevator ride and a dark hallway later, and we’re in front of her door. Before she can even insert her key, Randy is pulling the door aside.

“Who did you bring with you—?” He stops short, his eyes passing over me to the hallway behind Mary.

He can’t see me.

“He can’t see me?” I don’t know why I word it as a question because it’s not.

She nods as the boy continues to stare into the hall. He’s handsome, with brown hair that hangs sloppily in his face and light eyes, though their color is muddled in the dim light.

His eyes pass over me again and I suck in air. Mary turns her head ever-so-slightly to give me a strange look that says, what was that for? Dead people don’t have to breathe; it’s not as if our bodies are fully functioning. So why did I?

I shrug and she shakes her head, turning away.

“She’s here, Randy,” she tells the boy. “You’ll just have to trust me.”

“Yeah. Right,” he says, slowly backing out of the doorframe to let us pass. He’s wearing a dark t-shirt with a pair of simple blue jeans that ride just low enough for a sliver of his blue plaid boxers to peak over the top. He’s tall, too, and his shoulders slump casually as he waits for Mary to come inside, his eyes glued to her face. He looks nothing like the boys on the ship and I cannot tell if that’s a good thing.

Mary shuts the door with a click and I follow her into the room. Randy strides ahead of us, plopping down onto a dull green armchair. “So, where is she?” he asks curiously, his eyes scanning the room.

“A little to your left.” Her voice is distracted and he notices, his eyebrows pulling together on his forehead.

She disappears into a room off to the side and I wait impatiently for her to return. I’m still not sure what she needs from me, I’ve told her everything I know about the body. When she returns a moment later she has a laptop in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

“Randy,” she starts, settling herself on a faded blue couch that doesn’t match the rest of the furniture. Although nothing seems to match in this room. “Do you remember that con from a few years back, the one you were telling me about, with the mob boss’s son that resembled you?”

Her fingers tap rapidly at the keyboard as she speaks and across the room Randy flashes a smile. It lights up his whole face. If I had a heart, it would stop. I can feel myself gaping, but Mary doesn’t looks up.

“Of course,” he says proudly. “Twins. What about it?”

She swivels the laptop screen so we can both see the images. One is of a dead body that I recognize, Javier Boulevard, a gold pocket watch lying on the ground beside him. The other is an online article from two years ago about Javier’s investment firm; his smiling face glowing on the screen. Finally, she holds up the jewelry heist article. The man on the cover is very similar to the other two but his nose is slightly more narrow and his eyes are a different shade of blue.

When she speaks again she’s looking at me. “Which of these is not like the others?”

~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading! Sorry again for the delay this weekend, it’s been a tad crazy. It’s spring break so I plan to do a lot of nothing after this. Woo hoo!!!

Forever Average,

Mel

Mel

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