Shoeshine Drop

Ghost Story

Shortly after the wreck of Tom Renault and Regina St.Claire that Arnold Soseby painstakingly described over a lot of coffee, the rumors would have started. It wouldn't take long before the rumors turned to detailed stories, the stories to lore, and after forty years, what have you got? One doozy of a legend, that's what you've got.

   By the time I was old enough to understand what I was hearing, there seemed to be plenty of evidence to back it all up, especially in the imaginations of children. We'd whisper about it in the school halls and over cold lunchroom food. The dares began like the one that Durm held over me. I dare you to crumple crackers in your chocolate milk and drink it. Do it or you have to go out to the Drop!

   It wasn't just the kids in lunchrooms or around campfires, either. It was a full-blown ghost story that even the men in the barber shop talked about. For instance, one old-timer sitting in his chair for a trim might bring it up out of nowhere, wondering what the others thought about The Legend Of Shoeshine Drop. The barber speaks up that there has to be fog, and not just any kind either. It has to be the blanket kind that keeps a man blind so she can grab him and pull him over the edge without him seeing it coming. Another one might look up from his paper and complain that fog ain't got nothing to do with it. She's a siren. Mesmerizes ya with her voice and pulls ya over when ya get close enough.

   Over the years, there have been any number of ways the ghost of Shoeshine Drop would use to get the job done, according to the locals. The story is ever evolving, so I felt like I needed to get to the bottom of what was real and what was born of the nightmares of Waterman's children or the imaginations of those who went there and came away with some sort of tale to stoke the fire.

   I realize what this sounds like. I'm off my rocker if you're looking at it from the eyes of a skeptic and until days ago, I counted myself a part of your fraternity, but then Jerreth Holcombe walked into my office with his cell phone and clip of video that changed everything. And if that clip ever got out to the public, especially the likes of those ghost hunters on TV and every fan they inspire to rush out with their meters and recording equipment to any spot that offers a mysterious cloud or door that closes by itself, we'd have us one mess up here in the north Georgia mountains.

   I also realize I've put off telling you the official legend, though I figure by now I've said enough that you get the idea. Just in case, I'll have it out, if for nothing else than to offer a little more context.

   As the story goes, you can get yourself out to Priddis Mill Road where Tom Renault and Regina St.Claire fell to their deaths along with a red 1969 Ford Mustang.

   It's got to be dark out. I've heard about things that supposedly happened out there during all times of the night, but never in the daylight.

   You have to be brave enough to step over the guardrail there so you can get right up to the edge. There wasn't any guardrail, by the way, the night Tom killed Regina. It was just a dirt and gravel pull-off like one of those overlook points they've got on the scenic Appalachian Parkway. They put up the guardrail a couple of weeks after the wreck because too many people kept going out there and parking too close to the edge of the cliff. Now you have to work up the courage to step over the divide into the Danger Zone. Somebody even spray painted that on the metal rail – Shoeshine Drop Danger Zone; Donut Cross. I thought about having that pressure washed off it, but I decided maybe it wasn't so bad a deterrent, so I left it there.

   Most of the time, that's where it stops. There's bravery enough to ride out there and get the adrenaline rush that comes with being in that place, but most folks come to their senses before they cross over into the Danger Zone. Nothing ever happens on the safe side, but once somebody crosses it, well that's when the fun begins.

   I reckon a bit of fog helps the scene, too, but it's dark out there anyhow. There aren't any houses or street lights. There's only moonlight when there's a moon and it's clear, plus whatever else you bring with you. For most people, I imagine they're content with the front beams of their cars. Oh, but your light has to stay behind the safe zone, otherwise it won't work.

   Because she likes the dark and she likes you blind.

   And if you stand close to the edge in the blackness long enough, you might hear Regina.

At first, it sounds like the wind and you think it might be because it picks up around you and the air gets cold.

   Shhhhhhhhhh.

   You start to get nervous. Goosebumps pop up all over your body and you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It feels like a million tiny bugs scampering under your skin as every nerve ending starts to tingle, even though you know – you KNOW – the stories can't be real.

   Shhhhhhhhhhhoooooooeeeeee ...

   Your heart beats fast and you start to laugh. This is crazy. The muscles in your face and at the spot where your neck and head come together tighten as you become more tense. You rub your legs because they feel weak and you want to keep your blood warm.

   This is the time most people cut and run back out of the Danger Zone. They never get to hear Regina whisper the whole thing and nobody has even been able to tell what happens next because nobody ever lived to.

   There have been a few human bodies show up at the bottom of the cliff, but most of them have been animal carcasses. There have been more animals found broken and dismantled on the rocks below that spot than any other place along the Asginadisi River.

   Back in the early nineties, a local man who lived near there started selling pelts on Saturdays at the flea market outside of town. Lots of pelts.

   It wasn't until he was spotted rounding up dead animals – anything from rabbit, to coyote, to deer – that the acting Sheriff put a stop to it. Even a couple of years back, a hiker found the hood ornament of a Ford Mustang wedged under a rock in the river and put it up for auction on Ebay as the very one from the wreck. We confiscated that as evidence and I'm not ashamed that we did. The last thing we needed was another spark.

   I won't go into all the variations on the main story other than to say some will tell you they've heard the whisper, others claim to have felt something touch their ankle, and one teenage girl said she was grabbed by the throat, but her info didn't jive with details from any of the others. It's all about Regina and hanging on for dear life and taking you with her when she lets go as she relives her death over and over again.

   After talking to Soseby, it dawned on me that the legend paid more homage to the truth of what happened there than any of the reports. And I had to ask an interesting question after our conversation at the diner. If Arnold Soseby never mentioned Regina dangling at the edge in his report, then how could anybody have known about it to make it one of the central pieces of the legend? There were only two ways. Either Soseby told at least one other person, maybe speaking of it unconsciously with a medic, or there was somehow merit to the myth. There was something about my conversation with Soseby that led me to believe he was telling the truth – that he'd not breathed a word of it to anyone but me.

   Anyway, that's the legend the way it's been told along with a few enhancements and local filigree to fancy up the top of it, for forty years. It's always been told that way.

That was, until Jerreth brought me his phone.

______________________

   I'd gone back to the file room and poured over every piece of information about the incident one more time. Soseby indicated there might be a hidden file somewhere and if that was true, I wanted to get a look at it. I didn't find it, though, and I figured it was probably hidden well enough that it would never be found or had been done away with a long time ago. And what did it matter anyway? It would have contained information that had no bearing on anything that could've - or even should've - been brought back into the light. I let it go to focus on what I could do with Soseby's new off-the-book testimony and had almost come to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to simply up the patrols out at the Drop and try to keep a better eye on it.

   Jarreth Holcombe had to ruin that line of thinking by showing up in my office with his cell phone in hand, which was a miracle in itself. These days, something that feels like an example of a real ghost caught on camera would normally go viral in a hot minute. Kids couldn't wait to post the latest photo of their lunch or of them doing something stupid like eating laundry detergent or swallowing a spoonful of cinnamon, so the fact that Jarreth brought it to me before showing anyone else – even his parents – astounded me. After seeing what was on that phone, I can understand it, though. I don't know if I'd have been able to handle it as well as he did when I was a kid.

   Jarreth is only seventeen. He was scared out of his mind and he'd insisted he see me alone. He's a senior and a star defensive back on the football team. His bone crunching tackle at the goal line in the last regular season game this year, sent us to the playoffs. I was there. He wasn't just a hero that night in my eyes; he was a hero to the whole town. He rode out of the stadium on the shoulders of his teammates, while the other guy walked out of the stadium on crutches. I say all that to try and get the point across that Jarreth is no wimp. He doesn't scare easily. Sitting in my office, though, squeezing divots into the arms of my leather chair with his fingers – divots that haven't gone away yet, mind you – he was a frightened little boy with tears making clean tracks down his dirty cheeks.

   Jody Warren was dead by then and had been for a few days. I'd only just finished my conversation with Arnold Soseby the day before and like I said, I'd nearly decided it was time to leave the whole business alone. When we'd found Jody's broken and twisted body at the bottom of Shoeshine Drop early Sunday morning, his eyes still wide and frozen by whatever horrible thing he'd seen, I had the inclination that I'd better find a way to put a stop to folks going out there. The internet's a good thing, I think. I don't have as much of a problem with it as a lot of people, especially the older ones, but it sure has made news fly. I didn't think that'd be great for our community. Not that kind of news.

   Jeannie, the front desk clerk at the station, usually makes sure anybody wanting to see me stays put in the lobby until I've given her the go ahead to send them to my office. I don't mean to be hard to reach or snobby, but if I let every soul who had a gripe come straight back to where I'm working, I'd never get anything done and it's always me they want to see. They gotta go straight to the top. I suppose it's a right they think they have since they're the ones who voted me in.

   But Jeannie sent Jarreth on back and told him to have a seat while she came to get me. She found me coming out of the bathroom.

   "You have a visitor in your office and I think you better not keep him waiting," she told me with a hint of tension, like she thought I'd blow up at her for letting him in.

   "Must be serious," I said and her tension lifted.

   "You know I'd never send somebody in there without asking you first, but you'll see why I did when you get in there. Poor thing - looks like he's seen a ghost."

   "Who is it?"

   "Jarreth Holcombe."

   "He by himself?"

   "Yes, sir."

   "Say why he's here?"

   "No, sir."

   Soon as I walked in my office, I saw what she meant. He was white – no pigment in his face at all. I shut the door behind me. He told me he'd come alone because what he had to show me hadn't been seen by anyone else but him and he thought I might want to keep it that way. I had no idea what I was about to have to deal with, but I wished every kid had the foresight to be so cautious.

   "What am I gonna see on this phone, Jarreth?"

   "Jody," he managed. "standing at the edge of Shoeshine Drop." He barely choked out the name of the place. His whole body shook like he'd just seen a vision of the doors of hell and there'd been his name over the top of one of them.

   I reached to calm him. I was close enough to do so easily enough; I'd been standing – or leaning – on my desk in front of him.

   "Hey, it's okay. We'll get through it." The feel of his skin didn't match the color of it. I'd have thought he'd be cold, but he was hot to the touch. I decided by that and the grime that caked his face, he'd probably been down at the practice field taking his pain out on the sleds. I rapped on the window by the door and hollered for a deputy to bring him some water. "Does this footage show his ..."

   Thank God I didn't have to finish the sentence. Jarreth shook his head.

   "No, the video was four days ago."

   "Okay, walk me through it first, so I know what I'm looking at."

   He nodded and straightened up in the chair but tightened his grips on the armrests. It reminded me of those old westerns when an injured man would bite down on a bullet to keep his mind off the pain. After taking a deep breath, he began.

   "Me and Jody were out late. We'd been at a party; I don't even know who's house it was. Jody wanted to do something fun and we got up the nerve to drive out to the Drop. We'd both had a little to drink, but Jody drove because he was still sober enough to."

   I didn't blink at that. I wish I could do something about every underage drinker, but the reality is that I can't monitor that and see to my more important duties too.

   "We thought it'd be cool to get it on camera. I mean, neither of use believed in that stuff, but you know how it is. Kids've talked about it since I can remember and I always figured they were tellin' lies. We wanted to see if we could see or maybe hear somethin'. It's fun to laugh about until it's late at night and somebody dares you to do it. That's when it gets scary, but you don't wanna admit it, you know? Don't wanna be the one that chickens out. But when we went out there ..." He couldn't finish.

   "They weren't lies, were they? At least now you don't think so." I don't know how I knew it beyond the evidence sitting in front of me, but I did. He shook his head.

   This young man was a beast. He could have taken me down before help could get through the door if he took the notion, but he was a child in my office.

   There was a tap on the window and Jarreth leaped out of his chair, grabbing me by the arms. He didn't intend to hurt me, but he managed to anyway. Later that night I found bruises on my biceps that matched the impressions in the arms of my chair.

  It was Jeannie with his water in a paper cup. He laughed, embarrassed, and I waved her in. He thanked her and downed the water savagely. After she left, I put my hand on his shoulder and he relaxed a little.

   "Sit down, while I watch this, son. I won't ask anything more about it until I've seen what's on here. Looks like you need to get me started, though." He took the phone – one of the bigger models, but it looked like a Lego in his paw – and punched in his pass code, then handed it back to me. I touched play and the jovial sounds of two almost drunk teenage boys, one more than the other, filled the room.

   "Wait – stop!" Jarreth reached into his pocket and brought out a tangled ball of wire with ear buds on the ends. I thought about taking the time to unravel them, but figured Jarreth might not be able to handle too much of a delay. There was enough lead to use them anyway, so long as I kept the phone close to my face, which wasn't a problem since I'd need to do that to see it clearly. My eyesight was the first of my senses to be in cahoots with my age.

   "I'm sorry. I can't hear it again."

   "It's alright." I hit play again and that was the last time my stomach felt settled for a while.

   Jarreth's pickup was parked in the clearing with it's beams lighting up the Danger Zone. Beyond that, you could clearly see the edge of the cliff and the weeds that clung to it, swaying hypnotically back and forth like worshipers of some heathen idol. There'd been storms earlier and they'd pulled a reciprocal wind behind them. Beyond the edge was darkness.

Jody Warren entered from the right side of the frame, walking slowly toward the ledge.

"Go on, big mouth," Jarreth yelled from behind the camera. "We didn't drive out here for nothin'."

   Jody stopped and turned back. He looked younger than he was and only about half the size of Jarreth. To tell the truth, he appeared to be the polar opposite of Jarreth, who had the accustomed look of a jock, with his dark hair cropped short, almost military style, broad shoulders and little neck to speak of. By comparison, Jody Warren was shorter and wiry, with a mop of blonde curls that hugged his face and fell to just below his jawline. He had that artisty look to him, like he'd probably never picked up a dumbbell or stepped foot inside a locker room. I thought their relationship might be such that Jody would do anything to impress Jarreth, if only to glean a taste of the glory that shined off him.

   "You want me to do this or not?"

   "'Course I do. Like I said, we didn't ..."

   "Drive out here for nothin', I know. If you think it's so easy, let me do the recording and you walk out there."

   Jody was smiling, knowing he'd be the one to do it if it meant more respect, but also because smiling made the nerves dull a bit. It occurred to me what a nice looking boy Jody was and how people like him didn't always put all of their hopes for a future into a game with a ball. People like Jody tended to give themselves options. It was a waste.

   "Just walk out there, dork, and we can leave!"

   Jody turned back toward the railing, but lifted a middle finger behind him as he did. Good times. Buddy times. They thought they were making the kind of memories they could look back on with nostalgia once they were old enough that they had to look right up close to a screen to make anything out, and call it the good old days. Jody wouldn't be looking back. Knowing that, but still looking at him on the phone - alive and happy and flipping the bird to his best friend -, I felt a pang of despair for every kid in Waterman. I was in charge of them when you looked at it honestly. I understood that I'm no Superman, but I somehow had the idea that all of this was partly on me for not doing something sooner. I just didn't have an answer as to how that would've looked.

   I had paused the recording to take a breath and gather myself. Now I hit play again and it resumed.

   "Move it," came Jarreth's laughing voice from behind the scene. It was good natured prodding, but I could tell Jarreth knew what kind of power he had over Jody. Acceptance, popularity, and all of the other emotional trappings that go with acne and the pressures of being a teenager made having a friend like Jarreth and being looked at as one of the cool kids when he was otherwise not, were a valuable commodity.

   Jody had made the Danger Zone and gave one more look back toward Jarreth. The smile was gone. He was about to have to fish or cut bait and that reality clashed with everything he thought he believed to be possible now that he faced crossing over the rail. It ought to be simple. Cross it, prove there's nothing to the stories, maybe do a little dance to spit a watery raspberry at history, and then head back to the truck. Simple. Easy peasy.

   The problem was that Jody seemed to have given in to his fear and abandoned a disbelief in the impossible. You could see it in his eyes.

   Jarreth's right hand flashed in and out of the screen, waving him on. The shot zoomed in on Jody, now standing in front of a backdrop that featured nothing. Jarreth moved in closer, but slowly. I got the impression he was content to stay back as far as possible. I could hear the crackle of the gravel under his feet.

   Jody had crossed into the Danger Zone and could be seen much more clearly now in the beams of the truck. His face, as he turned again to the camera, unsure, had gone the same color of pale that Jarreth had while I watched. When he started to speak, his voice trembled and croaked the way voices sometimes do when you first awaken from an especially awful nightmare – guttural, barely able to surface from the bottom of your gut.

   "I ... I think I he ... he ... hear it."

   His face was locked on the camera, but his eyes darted left and right, becoming wider and wider, as if he were trying to center in on some sound that seemed to be coming from everywhere around him.

   "Yeah, right. It ain't supposed to happen that fast," Jarreth said, but his voice betrayed his own fear.

   Jody held his arms out wide in an attempt to keep some terrible, invisible thing at bay. "You feel that, Jarreth? You feel how cold it's got?"

   "No. It's fine over here."

   "There it is again! That sound!"

   "Fine. Come on and crawl back over. We got proof you did it."

   Jody nodded his approval to end the mad - and frankly stupid - idea that had been coming out to the Drop, but as he made one step forward toward the rail, he was pulled violently back. It wasn't a joke on his part, intended to upset Jarreth. A body doesn't naturally move that way, at least not someone who doesn't work in a circus. He snapped backward, bent almost double, and I had to shake my head clear because it looked at first like he'd been lifted off his feet.

   "Oh God!" Jody screamed and began to cry. He managed not to fall and caught his feet, but slid backward in the gravel through no force of his own, like he was being pulled toward the edge. "NOOOOO! GOD, NOOOOOO! HEEEELLLPP!"

   The wind gusted and roared across the microphone, causing a blast of static to blare into the earbuds and I winced. Jarreth said something at the same time, but I didn't catch what it was.

   Jody was still screaming through the blast of static and when it stopped I could only make out one word. Coming.

   The view from the camera started to back up as Jarreth retreated. "What are you doing, Jody? That ain't funny! Come on back over!"

   "She's COMING!" Jody screamed. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before, even in the movies. I don't think they ever get that right in films because if they did, the audience wouldn't be able to keep from going insane from it. I imagine it to be the scream of a small child being pulled out to sea by an undertow while his parents watch helplessly from the shore. Tears streamed in great fountains down his face that was contorted and horrible with the pain and knowledge that he was going to die. "She's coming, Jarreth! HELP MEEE!"

   "Dude, quit it!"

   Jody stopped abruptly and his eyes chased some phantom sound that was coming from everywhere and that only he could hear. Then he looked down, below his feet and screamed again, only this time it was primal. No words, just noise. He looked back at the camera and began to shake hard enough that he looked like he was having an epileptic seizure.

   "That's enough, Jody! Comeback here now. If I have to come over there, I'm gonna whoop your ..."

   "I can't move! I can't MOVE! HELP ME!"

   I said how much this experience took any manhood those boys had worked out in their short years and set them back to childhood, but what came next ground that truth deeply into stone as Jody called out.

   "Mommy! MOMMMMYYYY!"

   I lost it there. I had to pause it and lay the phone down on the desk. I gripped the bridge of my nose between my fingers and squeezed hard.

   "Done?" Jarreth asked from his chair.

   "No. Just give me a second."

   I took up the phone again, prayed it would be over soon, and hit play once more.

   "In the earbuds, I heard Jody wail. "NOOOOO!"

   That's when the impossible happened. The other stuff the video had shown before – the unseen presence pulling him back, bending him over like that – was nothing. Jody turned sideways to try and get away, but his arms were stretched as far out as they could go and he couldn't move forward. He cried and begged and called for his mommy while something invisible on either side of him played a viscious game of tug-of-war. And whatever was on the cliff side was winning. It pulled him to the edge and further. He should have gone over, but he didn't. His feet fought to stay on solid ground. He shuffled and scruffed, putting up an honorable fight, but his body – all of it, except for his feet – hovered over the cliff's edge, above the the Drop and the cold Asginadisdi river below.

   One foot slipped and a plume of dust kicked up in the truck's headlights. Now he was floating, save the one foot on the ledge. It was hard to tell, but it looked like maybe that one foot had caught in a thick root that crested from the side of the cliff, looped around, and plugged back in. Could that have been the same root Regina held on to before Tom and his boot sent her falling? There's no way to know that and I don't want to think about it. All the while this was happening, Jody screamed and Jarreth had started to do the same.

 

___________________

   The screen went blank and I laid the phone down on my desk. I sat there. Silent. Jarreth had loosened his grip on the arms of the chair and was looking at his palms. I got the sense he couldn't make himself take the next step – talking about what I'd just watched – and turning his face to mine would have made that happen, so he stared at his hands. I was glad. I wasn't ready to talk about it yet myself, so we sat for several minutes without so much as the sound of a breath between us. Thank God there were the background sounds, or we might have gone mad. The copier had needed to be replaced a long time ago and it hacked its mechanical cough as it struggled to spit out some report. The phones rang non-stop. You could always count on their tinny bells clanging for someone to talk to nosey neighbors and crazy citizens who'd seen things they really hadn't. Or had they? I couldn't say for certain anymore that the ramblings of even the wildest of stories didn't have some merit, not after what I'd just seen, and there was no reason to believe Jarreth had doctored the footage somehow. And then there was the scratchy fuzz of the dinosaur we called a shortwave radio.

   All of those sounds – things that had become a melody in the playlist of my life – were expected noise and I was unnerved that they should be so intrusive and loud now, yet at the same time, welcome.

   I'd just seen something I couldn't wrap my head around. I'd get to the bottom of it, but the hair that stood up on the back of my neck like a guard or a warning, said it wouldn't be good for me in the end – the same way it hadn't been good for Soseby or Jody Warren. I was suddenly aware that following wherever the trail lead might not take my life, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts it'd take my mind.

   I couldn't handle the silence anymore, even though it meant a deeper dive into Shoeshine Drop.

   "Screen went dark there at the end. You do that? Trim out the rest?"

   Jarreth shook his head. "No, sir."

   "So what happened after that? You say this was two days before he ..."

   "Yessir. I don't know what happened. When I watched it for the first time, that's just the way it was, like something wanted it to cut off there."

   I knew where this was going. "Jarreth, are you saying you believe there was someone else out there with you?"

   "Not someone."

   "You realize what you're saying? This is Shoeshine Drop. You know -"

   "I know the stories, sir. It's why we went out there." He sounded irritated. I wasn't trying to make him feel stupid or childish, but I needed him to think clearly. Ghost stories were not thinking clearly, which was why I was kicking so hard against the goads. "There wasn't anybody else out there with us."

   "It's pitch black on that stretch of road."

   "We'd have known. There was nobody with us."

   I held up my hands. "Fair enough."

   "I'm not trying to be rude, sir."

   "I know, son. The video rattled me, but you were there. This can't be easy on you, especially now that Jody's gone."

   First, I saw his shoulders hitch violently, then he buried his face in the crook of his left arm and he started to sob. I took a couple of tissues from the box I kept on my desk and gave a few to him. I learned a long time ago that keeping a box of tissues handy was a smart idea. Jarreth wasn't the first person to sit in that chair and cry.

   "I'm sorry to bring it up," I said, "but now that you've shown this to me, we're gonna have to chew on it. You think you can do that?"

   He nodded.

   "Good. Take your time and collect yourself while I get this phone to somebody who knows how to pull the footage off to our computers. I'll just be a minute." On my way out, I turned back. "Can I get you anything? More water? Something to eat?"

   He didn't answer and I didn't push it. I took the phone to Simmons – our tech guy – with instructions not to show anybody the video until I gave him the go ahead. On the way back, I thought I wouldn't be surprised if Jarreth had vanished and I'd have to drive out to his house to do the rest of this with his parents in the room. That would complicate things further. He was still there, though, and looked to have pulled himself together a little bit.

   I took my place again leaning against my desk. I'd brought him another cup of water anyway and he drank it down as eagerly as he had the first one.

   "Alright, you and Jody were alone out there. I believe you. Tell me what happened after the screen went dark."

   "We were both screamin' and it still seems like it went on forever. I never seen nothin' like that before, like Jody hangin' in the air over the cliff, and I remember thinkin' it had to be a dream. Had to be. But I can't get it out of my head – him yellin' for his mama the way he did. Then there was another scream – a woman or a girl – but it wasn't what you'd expect, you know, scared. It was more like some kind of a war cry and all of a sudden Jody flew back toward the edge of the cliff. He landed hard, but soon as he did, he jumped up and high-tailed it back to the truck. He got to it before I could and was screamin' for me to GO GO GO!"

   "What did he say to you once he calmed down and you were a safe distance away from the Drop?"

   "Nothin'. I tried to talk about what happened, but soon as I'd open my mouth, he'd shush me like we were in a library or somethin'. I don't think he was trying to concentrate, though. I figure he was trying to get it out of his head."

   "You're probably right about that."

   "I didn't mind him not talkin', if you want to know the whole truth and nothin' but the truth. Ain't that the way they say it court?"

   I laughed. "It is, but we're not in court. This is just me and you."

   "I don't know if I want that video to get out."

   "Maybe it won't have to. Keep going."

   "There's not much left to tell. He never stopped shakin' the whole way home and when he got out of the truck, he still didn't say anything. He just went up the front steps, into his house and shut the door behind him."

   I couldn't imagine how heavy all this had to be weighing on Jarreth. This was stuff for adults - writers of fiction, in fact. Not boys with everything still ahead of them. This was the type of burden meant for soldiers and grizzled old men who'd seen it all and never got surprised by anything. Men like my daddy, who didn't see the point in buying new rounds for his guns. He kept his spent shells and casings, melted down his own lead, and tucked in his own primers. Daddy could have handled this, maybe. Jarreth shouldn't have to and now a speckle of anger took its place next to the fear and sadness and chaos playing musical chairs in my head. He obviously needed to talk about it, though, and that might have been his biggest reason for coming to see me.

   "Did you get to talk to him anymore before he died?"

   Jarreth turned his face toward the office window and his eyes threatened to water again. He bit his lip and choked it back.

   "No, sir."

   I battled with myself as to what I should say next and the efficient part of me won. That emotion played the game in my head, too, because with every minute that passed, I understood more that the time had come to act. We could lick our wounds later, but something had to be done before somebody else ended up dead.

   "What do you think it was, Jarreth?"

   He snapped a look at me full of panic and disbelief, as if it were impossible that I should even consider asking the question after what I'd just seen.

   "You gonna make me say it?" he asked.

   "I gotta hear it from somebody else before I can convince myself it is what I think it is. Young man, every investigation has to start with facts and evidence and now the best I got of that doesn't add up to what either one of us knows about reality. It changes everything, and I mean everything."

   Jarreth's face turned to steel and he peered into me, intending that I get it clear. The whole truth and nothin' but the truth.

   "It was the ghost of Shoeshine Drop. It was Regina St. Claire and you know it good as I do."

   I ran a hand through my hair. I was going to have to go talk to Jody Warren's folks again and then I was going to have to go back out to Shoeshine Drop under the right conditions.

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