Shoeshine Drop

Gail Warren Makes An Exit

I waited to flip on my siren till I was clear of the St. Claire place, then gunned it back toward Waterman.

At the speed I was driving, it would take about fifteen minutes to get back to town and another ten to get to the Drop. The radio blared with activity as responders were dispatched and updated. I tried to listen as intently as I could and not miss anything important, but my mind kept skipping back to something Carol had said. They call her a demon or a ghost ... She was a guardian angel. That had stuck with me. If there really was something supernatural going on, then wouldn't it make sense that the person the spirit belonged to would have been bad news? I knew that with Carol being Regina's mother, she'd have a decidedly biased view of her daughter, but everything I'd seen and heard made Regina One out to be exactly as her mother had said. There'd been no evidence to the contrary.

I also couldn't help but to think about it biblically. There's certainly plenty of text about demons and evil principalities in the Good Book and I believe in all of it. I believe there's a war going on all around us - one we can't see and that would drive us all over the Drop if we could set eyes upon it. I might have told Jim Taylor I didn't get to church much lately, but I'm still a believer. Thing is, while the bible talks about demons, it doesn't reference ghosts, I don't think. Unless you count the Holy Ghost, but that's not the same thing. Demons are supposed to be the angels that threw their allegience on the side of Team Lucifer, not lost souls who haven't found their way to the light.

I had to admit that there would always be things I didn't understand and just because I couldn't wrap my head around them didn't mean they didn't exist.

I pulled into the clearing all the way up to the Danger Zone at Shoeshine Drop. There was a Highway Patrol car parked there, Deputy Clark's car, and Gail's SUV. I stepped out of the cruiser and Clark met me.

"It's a mess and people already know about it. This place would have been a madhouse in a split minute if the Highway Patrol hadn't blocked off the road both ways."

"That'll hold people till we take 'em up, but there will be gawkers. Let's get this whole clearing taped off."

I stepped over the rail and walked a couple of feet toward the edge. I could hear the first responders at the bottom. There's an access road that leads right to the river directly beneath the Drop. It was apparantly added when it became obvious it would be needed and now that's where I was going to have to go.

"Watch your step, sir!" Clark yelled and held out his hand like a parent. When I turned around he was sheet white.

"Settle down. I can't see anything unless I go look over the edge and I'm not about to do that," I assured him. "May I please get a look at the scene? Would that be okay mother?"

"Right," he sighed and his face flushed. "I'm sorry. It's only because ..."

"Because it's logically dangerous to step to the edge of a tall cliff. Not because of anything crazy, I imagine." I wasn't in the mood to entertain any further notions just then, especially with a simpleton like Clark. He was a real gem of a guy and a good cop, but regardless of the direction the winds of my own thoughts were blowing, I had to be smart and the reality was that Clark wasn't the sharpest of our tacks.

That's not relevant, though, and I shouldn't speak ill of the dead.

"I guess not," he said bashfully as I turned back to look at the area, hoping to find anything that might settle me. "It's just that there's the story about the ghost - Shoeshine."

He spat the last bit out like a child unable to keep an exceptionally juicy secret.

"They've named it Shoeshine now?"

"We've always called it Shoeshine since I was a kid. Some people say it's the ghost of a teenage girl and some people say it's the spirit of an angry indian."

I shook my head. It was the first time I'd heard anything about an indian. I started back toward the guard rail. There was nothing to see up there, not even a slip mark in the mud that might have convinced me it had been an accident.

"Really, Clark? An indian? Chief Knock-A-Homa get mad they won't give him his job back and now he's out here exacting his revenge? Give me a break!"

Clark followed me back to the cruiser. The patrolman was still on his radio.

"Hey, don't look at me," he whined. "I'm just sayin' I know a couple of super weird things about this place, that's all. Like, you know that's the Asginadisdi River down there, right? Guess what Asginadisdi means in Cherokee. It means curse!"

That stopped me in my tracks.

"Clark, don't mention it again - not in uniform."

"I'm just repeatin' what -"

"Enough! We've got to maintain professionalism here and the last thing we need is to stir up a pot that'll already be boiling. You got me?"

"Yes, sir."

"You keep things covered up here while I go down there and make some new nightmares. And for the love, take your own advice and stay on this side of the Danger Zone."

"Yes, sir."

It took another good fifteen minutes to get to the river from the access road. You have to go all the way to the bottom of the mountain and halfway around it to find the entrance and it's not kept all that well. That means slow going over a pressed dirt pathway cut just big enough for one vehicle to pass. I knew to radio ahead that I was coming through, so there was nobody coming the other way to make it difficult. The ambulance would have been the only trump card over me and they wouldn't have any need to be in a hurry.

I pulled into another clearing. This time the only obstacle between me and any danger zone was the natural rocks that bordered the water. There were only a couple of other vehicles parked where they could find a space - another trooper and the ambulance. I could see the trooper talking with Pete, the lead EMT and when we met eyes, they both pointed to a spot just under the cliff where three other medics were gathered.

I parked and walked out to the spot. Whoever had cleared the area and cut the road had also recognized the need for a bridge to the other side. The area below the drop was across the river from where you came out. I imagine the person who ordered the bridge had been obligated to cross the water, which wasn't exactly calm, nor warm at certain times of the year, when they'd hauled bodies out. It was smart. When I crossed the bridge, it wavered and wobbled under my weight, making me have to throw out my arms to keep from falling into the river. It wasn't much more than salvaged logs and old two by fours anyway and now that I think about it, I meant to look into having it repaired. I can't stop people from going out there, but I can make it a little safer.

The EMTs didn't say much. They acknowledged me, but seemed to understand this wouldn't be a time for pleasantries. They were blocking my view of Gail as I walked up and when they separated, I had to hold back my bile. This job comes with its share of gore and visuals that a lot of folks can't handle, but this was as gruesome a scene as I'd ever laid eyes on.

The Drop is pure, jagged granite from top to bottom with fingers of stone that jut out from the side of the cliff. To completely miss an outcropping of rock, a body would have to be catapulted forward from the edge a good ten feet at least, and that's only an estimate. None of the Drop's victims had been athletic enough to do that so far, so bloody and broken bodies were the norm. I like to think none of them have been conscious by the time they smashed into the sharp rocks that stick upward out of the river like waiting, clawed, monster hands.

I'd been out of town when Jody died and didn't have to be at the scene. I was given the details, but they couldn't have prepared me for what I saw that was left of Gail Warren. She was unrecognizable. There wasn't much left of her face and one leg was twisted so violently backward that her foot touched the back of her head. The other leg had been torn from its socket and nearly ripped off. Her left arm was shattered in at least three places, including where her hand met her wrist, which was bent back on itself like the leg. Her right arm actually was torn off and had shimmied upright between two larger rocks about five feet away. It crested the rushing water with a wave that resembled a zombie first coming out of its grave, reaching toward the sunlight. The movement of the water swung it back and forth in a kind of final, morbid, farewell bid.

It ought to go without saying that there was all the blood you could ask for painting the walls of the cliff in smears and splotches all the way down. The copper smell of it was thick in the air. I don't know if Gail had intended to make a statement or not, but she accomplished it either way.

I surveyed the area for a minute or two, but it didn't take a genius to figure out the gist of it. I'd about decided to go back across the bridge when I heard a deep, sandpapery voice behind me. The rush of the river had camouflaged the sound of approaching feet. I turned and saw the tall State Trooper who I'd seen talking to Pete on the way in. Pete was with him, standing slightly behind, waiting to be spoken to, but offering the respect of allowing the trooper to go first. The trooper's gravelly voice was paired with an unsettling couple of dark brown eyes - so dark I couldn't make out the pupils. An ex-girlfriend of mine would have hated to look at him. She said people with eyes that dark made her think of those horror movies where someone gets possessed and their eyes suddenly go black. She wouldn't watch anything that showed that or might have a monster figure with an exaggeratedly big mouth. His name tag read Sgt. Ayers and his mouth was a decent, regular size.

"Sheriff Reese, Sergeant Anthony Ayers," he growled, introducing himself and extending an enormous bear paw of a hand. The ex might have been disturbed about that too. She was a tiny thing. "This is Pete Maddox. He's in charge of the EMTs."

"Pete and I go back a ways. Wish you and I'd met under better circumstances, though."

"Me too, but folks like us don't get to have beer and wings very much, do we?"

"No we don't, but that sounds real good right now."

   "You think we might go back across the bridge? The smell of blood is getting to me," he said and we did just that.

   I liked the big man immediately, but I haven't had the pleasure of seeing him again since that day. I ought to look him up and take him out for those wings and a beer, just us guys.

His shoulder com crackled. He leaned his head near and pinched it. "Go ahead."

Base wants to know if we got all the boots we need.

Ayers looked at me with those black eyes and I nodded. "We're good."

"Anybody get photos?" I asked, hoping they had. I didn't want to concentrate on what was behind me any more than I had to.

"I have," said Ayers. "I'll forward them to you."

"Who found her?"

"Her husband called 911 from up top when he got in from a trip out of town. Pete told me he stays gone a lot."

"He does. It's made it hard on Gail, but she was throwing him a ton of crap anyway, so I figure he found an excuse to get back on the road as soon as he could."

"I gathered that when I read this." He handed me a piece of paper. "Mr. Warren found this letter on the kitchen counter. It backs up what you just said. We couldn't have been far behind him, but she'd already jumped when he got here. There's no telling how long it was between when she did it and he found the letter."

"Hopefully we can get a timeframe after the autopsy, but does it even matter?"


I recognized the piece of paper. It was the same one Jody's note had been written on. I could tell by the wear and there was a massive area of smeared ink on one side. She'd soaked it and blurred out Jody's note, then tried to iron it dry.

Her last words were a message to her husband.

My Love,

I'm sorry. None of this is simple and you don't deserve any of it. Not only have you had to deal with losing Jody, but you've had to put up with me being so horrible to you. I need you to know that I love you to the moon and back and I appreciate everything you've done for our family. How you've worked so hard and sacrificed so much to provide for us. But I have to go be with Jody now. Some people say that your spouse should come first, even before your children, and I believe that's true. It's what we vowed to each other in front of God so many years ago, but you can never understand what it is to be a mother and what it is to loose your child. I carried Jody and he grew inside me. I felt him there for months and that makes a bond. Do you understand? He's a part of me and I'm a part of him and I've come to realize that without him, I'll die anyway. I'm going to the place where they found him and I hope maybe I'll find him again when I get there.

I'm sorry, my love. You don't deserve any of this.

- Gail

"We found him at the top collapsed in a heap and clutching that letter," Ayers said. EMTs stabalized him. He was in shock, so they took him to Waterman Memorial and I had one of mine drive his car on back to your office, since there's not much space up there."

"Did he see her body?"

"No, he only saw the car. We checked it for items of interest and there wasn't anything but fast food bags and some other trash. We didn't get a chance to ask him any questions before they had him under sedation, so I guess that'll be up to you."

I knew there wouldn't have been anything but the letter. She'd thought it poetic to use the same paper Joey had, but she'd gone to the trouble of making what he'd written unreadable. This last piece was all she'd wanted to leave.

"I'll speak to the husband and see if there's any need to go out to the house, but I doubt we'd find anything else. I've been in there recently checking up on Gail and by the way she greeted me, I can't say this is a surprise. The house was a wreck and I think she probably just couldn't take the pain anymore."

"Yeah, they told me about her son. I read about his suicide when it happened. It's too bad. You never get used to stuff like this."

You don't know the half of it, I thought.

"Well, unless something else pops up, I think we can call this." I looked down at the paper in my hands and shook my head. I didn't want to deal with the Drop anymore. I needed it to be done. Ayers must have seen my trouble.

"What is it?" he asked. Some of the gravel had left his voice.

"This." I held out the letter and he took it. "Turn it over. See all the smearing?"

He took it and nodded. "We saw that, but couldn't make anything out. Does it have some significance?"

"I saw this same piece of paper a couple of days ago. Notice how delicate and worn it is? That's because I don't think Gail had it out of her hands very much after Jody died. It looks like she crumpled and uncrumpled it over and over again."

"Like we used to do in school. Why?"

I took the paper back and gently folded it before placing it in a plastic evidence bag. "That stuff you can't read is the letter her son left for her." I didn't bother to mention that Joey's wasn't so much a suicide note as a goodbye in case I don't make it letter. The details wouldn't matter anyway soon enough, if I had my way about it. I still didn't know what I intended to do, but I was resolved to move mountains if I had to. My daddy's voice called back to me again, this time reminding me of a something he passionately believed. That nothing was impossible if you're patient. All it takes is a mustard seed, boy. I just didn't think I had time for patience. It's not like people were falling off the edge of the Drop like flies, every weekend or even every year. Something felt different now, though. Bigger. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I felt it in my bones.

"Oh man, that's tough." Ayers swallowed hard and Pete, who was still standing silently behind him, took a step back as if the paper itself were something to fear. "Is there anything else we can do here?"

"No. Other than keeping the road closed till we clear out, I can't think of anything. I don't want scanner chasers flying around these curves, especially now the sun's going down."

"10-4," Ayers said and squeezed his com. "Phelps?"

"Yes, sir," his shoulder squawked back.

"Hold the fort till they're clear at the river. I'm heading back. Copy?"


Ayers held out his hand. "Holler if you need anything, sheriff."

I took it and we shook. He had a grip like a vice. He tipped the brim of his campaign hat and turned to tell Pete it was nice to meet him, too. Then he was gone and it was our duty to clean up the mess.

I called up to where Clark was at the top of the Drop.

"Has anybody checked Gail's car?" I asked.

"No. We were waiting on you."

"Go ahead and give it the once over. I doubt you'll find anything interesting, but give it the due diligence."

"Yes, sir."

"Clark ..."


"That trooper still up there with you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't let him leave you alone. I'll be up in a few minutes."

"Copy that, but you don't have to worry about ..."

"You're a big boy - I get it. Got hair in all the manly places, but humor me."

"10-4," Clark sighed and the radio went silent.

Pete was witing for me to tell him it was okay to move the body. The rest of his unit stood a few paces away, staring at us. Now the only sound was the rushing flow of the Asginidisdi cursed river, rolling over and around its stones and splashing like a happy little river should.

I always liked the river. It only rose to your waist at its deepest, but under the Drop it came to mid-calf or maybe a short man's knee. It's about 60 yards wide there and it's a place where on a good day you can hook some gorgeous trout. It spills out into the Chattahoochie eventually, which is a more widely known river in Georgia and has had songs written about it. I wondered if anybody ever put the Asginadisdi river to music and then I wondered further if the river would appreciate it if they did, or if it would want revenge. Clark had told me the Cherokee translation for Asginadisdi and now I'd gone to assigning personalities to both a rock cliff and the body of water below it.

"Pete, I assume you did a thorough check on the body when you got here."

"We did. There was no pulse when we got to her. We also ..."

"Good enough," I interrupted. "I don't need the details now if you're gonna be putting them in a report. She's good and dead."

"To put it mildly," he agreed.

"Go ahead and get her out of here then. We need to get as much blood off the cliff as high up as we can. The rain'll have to get where we can't. I reckon I'll have to get a cherry picker in here and guy with a pressure washer. Fire truck's too big to bring a ladder. I wouldn't trust it to get down the cut out."

Pete cleared his throat. I'd started rambling. "Sir, how are you gonna get a vehicle across the river? You gonna build a big enough bridge?"

I slapped a palm to my head. "What am I thinking? I guess the rain'll have to get it all. God help us, that's a mess."

"What if you tethered somebody at the top and let 'em grapple ..."

"Nope." I interrupted him again and I hated to, but there was no way I would be dangling a person from the edge of Shoeshine Drop. Absolutely not.

"Just a thought," he shrugged. "I better get to work. They won't appreciate me not getting my hands dirty." He trotted off to join his team.

I called out to him. "I'm going up top. Radio me when you're clear, okay?"

Pete lifted a thumb behind him, but remained focused on the rickety bridge under his feet. I thought about yelling for him not to be in a hurry - that Gail wasn't going anywhere, but I figured he wanted to be out of there as much as I did.

I looked in the direction of the mangled and dismemberecd body one last time before I left. Lord knows my mind protested doing that, but I sort of felt like I owed her that much.

Even from 60 yards away, I could see her face being splashed by the cold mountain water. Her eyes were closed and I thanked God for that. She'd come to feed the Drop and I guessed that I would have closed my eyes on the way down, too. Whatever was up there would have had no cause to show her anything that would freeze her eyes open in terror. Gail had taken control of the moment, had given the finger to the ghost, and I don't think she'd been afraid.

I thought about whether or not she met up with Jody wherever she went after this.

I believe in a literal heaven and hell, but I can't say I know anything about what the Warrens believed or at which gate either of them punched their ticket. I'd not thought to glance about the house when I was there to spot a bible or a Watchtower magazine, or the Almighty Precious Pearl of Yippy-Yi-Yay - whatever the Mormons call that one. None of that matters now. Mother Warren and her son are where they are.

I pulled my cruiser back into the clearing fifteen minutes later. Clark had already reported that there was nothing of note in Gail's car, but at least she'd left the keys in the ignition. I called for a tow and thanked the trooper for his time, then sent him off.

Clark was standing on the safe side of the Danger Zone, looking out over the void. It's a breathtaking view that time of day, but the sun was drawing closer to the tops of the trees and a little wind had picked up.

"Nice up here, ain't it?"

"Yes, it is, so long as you can see what's in front of you."

"Or behind you," Clark quipped.

I laughed even if I didn't want to. Clark needed it.

"I'm sorry I barked at you earlier. This place has been a literal nightmare for me lately."

"Guess it has. Jody first and now Gail ... I'm just hoping it ain't the way they say it is with celebrities."

"How's that?"

"Comes in threes."

"God, no. Let's pray that's not the case."

Clark sobered and allowed an instant of honest fear.

"You believe any of the talk about Shoeshine Drop?"

"Do you?" I didn't think I'd be able to avoid the question entirely, but the best offense is a good defense and all that, so it felt like knowing where he stood might help me construct the best answer.

Clark's a good kid. I hired him because he was honest and took the job seriously - not because he was any great shakes in the brains department. And it's not that he was stupid by any means. It's just that he was young and a bit more naive than a lot of guys his age. He still had a ton of stuff to learn and some growing up to do. I kind of got the feeling he looked at me as a father figure and I'm sure that has something to do with his own daddy sneaking off when he was a tot. I always thought he would have eventually gotten there, though. That he'd have walked into my office one day after something inside him clicked and he'd be a different man.

I went off on that tangent to make the point that Clark wasn't mentally ready to take on what I'd discovered about the Drop and I wanted to keep him as far out of the Danger Zone as I could.

He shrugged in response to my question, which I'd asked in response to his.

"Nah. I don't guess so. Gives me the creeps, though. Don't it you? I mean we always heard it was haunted and there were the stories, but that was all playground talk. We never checked it out or nothin'. But then stuff like this happens all close together and it makes you think. Why are people drawn to places like this?"

"Curiosity," I said. "It's obvious why Gail decided this was where she'd take her life, but mostly I think people hear stories, get curious, and then there's an accident. It's always the bad news you hear about. The number of people who have come out here and lived to tell about it are probably a hundred for every one that slips on a loose rock and goes over." We had backed off several more feet from the Danger Zone, nearly into the road, still looking out over the vast expanse of air that traded places with the land in abrupt rudeness. "That's a sheer drop off. Anybody that wants to see the rock wall from up here is bound to get dizzy and lose their balance."

"So you figure the weird feelings people talk about getting out here are just dizziness?"

"Vertigo, pure and simple," I lied, but there was nothing simple about it and definitely nothing pure. I wasn't quite there yet enough to shout about supernatural forces from the mountaintop, even as appropriate as it would have been, given where we were standing, but I was close. Jody floating in the air was evidence enough. All that stood between me and that ultimate conclusion was the acceptance that what I'd seen in Jarreth's video was real.

I made Clark leave with me. A tow truck had been dispatched to bring in Gail's vehicle and I said a quick prayer for the towmen.

Night had pretty much thrown down its blanket by the time we got back into town. I headed for the hospital to check on Dudley Warren and gave Clark the rest of the night off. He'd earned it.

Mrs. Anna Price is a sweetheart and she was the one on duty at the welcome counter of Waterman Memorial. I was glad to see it was her. She has an amazing personality, unlike Reba, who's there most of the time when Mrs. Anna isn't. No matter who you are or what the situation, Reba regards everyone with an equal amount of snoot that makes you feel like she thinks you're up to something. I know almost all of the hospital staff and Reba's the only one who acts that way, so you can imagine my relief to see Mrs. Anna's smiling face full of pearl white dentures when I came through the revolving doors at the front of the hospital. There were two things aside from a smile that you could always expect from her; she was going to ask you how your family was doing right off and if you had occasion to taste her cooking, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.

"Hey, Mrs. Anna! You sure are my rainbow on a cloudy day."

"Marty!" she beamed in a blindng presentation of teeth. How is your family?"

"Everybody's fine - the ones still with us, thank you. I'm here to look in on Dudley Warren. Has he been checked into a room or is he still in the ER?"

"Let me see." She began to tap and click the keys on her keyboard. "He's in a room now. They want to keep him overnight for observation, but it says he's stable. You want me to call the nurse and make sure he's awake before you go up there?"

"That would be great."

Mrs. Anna pressed a series of buttons on the desk phone and it made a low beep.

"Awful about Gail, ain't it?" she asked while we waited for the nurse to answer back.

"Yes, ma'am."

A mechanical voice came back over the speaker. "This is Hannah."

"Hannah, Sheriff Reese is here to see Dudley Warren. Is he awake and able to talk?"

"Let me check," Hannah's voice chimed, mingled with static and a tinny treble ring that hurt my ears.

Mrs. Anna leaned her head forward and whispered confidentially. "They're saying she went crazy over Jody. I'd probably do the same thing if it were my boy. Of course, he's nearly fifty now, so he's not much of a boy anymore. I wish somebody had checked up on her with Dudley out of town like he was."

"Yes, ma'am, it's an awful thing." I couldn't bring myself to tell her I'd been out there mere hours before she jumped. I don't know how I could possibly have foreseen that this was going to happen, but a part of me took some blame for it anyway.

"I hope Dudley makes more sense when he talks to you. He was ranting on so when they brought him in that they had to sedate him."

"What kind of ranting? What was he saying?"

The speaker diced the air. "He's awake, Mrs. Anna. Tell the sheriff to wait at the elevator and I'll go up with him. I need to talk to him too."

The elevator was only a few steps to my right, so I turned back to Mrs. Anna to get anything she might have to say before Hannah came down.

"What was he saying, Mrs. Anna?" asked again.

She leaned forward like she had before in that secret way. "I didn't get all of it because they brought him in through the ER and it's hard to hear what's going on back there, but he was yelling, so I got enough."


She looked nervously toward the elevator.

"It's okay," I assured her. "It's not gossip - it's the sheriff asking questions."

She settled back, satisfied she wouldn't get into trouble. "He was yelling about hearing somebody laughing out there where Gail jumped. Folks call it -"

"Shoeshine Drop. I know."

"Well, that's what he was carrying on about. He said a voice kept calling out 'Shoeshine' and laughing. Before they got him his shot, he'd commenced to doing it himself. 'Shoeshine ... Shoeshine ... HAHAHAHA!"

Mrs. Anna's recreation of the scene was disturbing, to say the least. She clawed her hands and wrinkled her nose, delivering the line in a mock up of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. She hadn't meant to chill me to the core the way she did, but she succeeded and I was glad for the bell of the elevator when it dinged.

Hannah stepped out through the door and held it open for me with her hand against the frame of it. She goes to my church and I watched her grow up, so there wasn't any need to be formal. We know each other quite well.

"Evening, Hannah."

"Mr. Marty."

When the door closed behind us, I got a shock. She wrapped her arms around me in an embrace so fierce that I nearly toppled backward. Hannah's not tiny, but she's not fat, either. She's short and athletic with deeply tanned, perfect skin. Her fine hair rolled over my arms like the breath of a tide. She might be thirty - I don't know. I put her parents in their fifties, so that feels about right.

"What's wrong, hon?"

"This stuff's freaking me out and I needed a strong body to hold me for a minute. I'm sorry; I don't mean anything by it."

I stroked her hair. The whole thing was more intimate than I would have liked, but there was nothing harmful about it. Right then she was a scared child and I understood her need. I could have done to be held safely in my daddy's powerful arms, come to think of it, and being thought of that way gave me some comfort.

I could feel my badge digging into my chest where she'd pressed the side of her face. When I could take the pain no longer, I gently urged her back. "That's got to be uncomfortable for you."

The elevator stopped and Hannah pushed the button that held the door closed.

"I knew Gail and her son. I babysat Jody when he was a little boy and I haven't said much to anybody since he jumped, but now with this and the way Mr. Warren's been talking, I'm scared. It doesn't make sense to be, but I am."

"It makes perfect sense, but don't be scared. We'll see to it Mr. Warren gets all the help he needs and we'll be keeping a sharp eye on him so nothing like this happens again. Maybe you should see about getting something to calm your nerves while I talk to him. Tell whoever it is you answer to I said to let you take a break."


I reached around her to press the button that reengaged the elevator door. Hannah had stepped back, but still gripped my left arm uncomfortably tight. Her nails bit into my forearm like a claw. Women can surprise you with their strength when it comes to their children or when there seems to be a boogeyman around. I patted her hand and she loosened her grip.

"Oh man, I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. What did he say that's got you spooked?"

The door opened and we stepped into the hall. The flourescent lighting felt unusually harsh. Not dim, but different from what you'd think of as calming. It had an unwelcome edge to it; a stark contrast to the inviting funeral home feeling you get in the lobby with its pale, greenish blue walls and fresh, colorful flowers.

Hannah gave me her report as we turned left at the corner and walked the hall toward Dudley's room.

"We ended up having to strap him down. They gave him a sedative in the ER, but it wore off quicker than it should have and he started fighting to get up and yelling that he was going to kill her himself."

"Kill who? His wife? Did he not realize she was already dead?"

"Not his wife - the girl. The one that haunts Shoeshine Drop. Everybody knows about that."

I put my hands to my face and stopped.

"You don't believe in it, do you?" She had no idea what I'd been dealing with. "Either way, he sure does. He keeps saying she's alive and he has to finish her."

"Interesting," I said in a muffled voice from behind my hands. It was all I could think of to say.

Hannah stopped and pointed to a door with a permanent 219 and a temporary tag that read WARREN, D. "Here we are."

"Let me see him alone, if that's okay. I assume he's being monitored if he gets too excited."

"Yes. He's not strapped down anymore, though. Try not to let him get too upset. It'll go off if his heart rate gets too high."

"I'll try to keep that from happening. You go get yourself some coffee."

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