A Ghost Most Elusive

 

Mojo Mysteries book 2: A Ghost Most Elusive.  

GhostMostElusive-A72webWhat’s a guy supposed to do when his mojo’s a no-go?

Adrian Broussard has always considered his ability to talk to ghosts a mixed blessing. Until the night he and his man, Greg Woodhall, find the body of an elderly neighbor. The woman’s ghost whispers murder, then refuses to speak to Adrian again.

She does, however, try to communicate with Greg. An unexpected twist that leaves Adrian grappling with a green-eyed jealousy monster—and he has no idea how to vanquish it.

For Greg, his first experience with talking to a ghost is part fun, part terrifying. Beyond that, he simply wants to help the woman he’d befriended in life. At least Adrian’s just as eager to solve the case, which is good. Because things get real weird, real fast.

Figuring out whodunit isn’t going to be easy, especially with a ghost who seems to be speaking in tongues. But neither of them anticipate the revelations they reveal as they dig deeper into the case. Or the danger those revelations unleash.

(Warning: This book contains suspense, spookiness, suggestive nicknames, amateur sleuthing and a grumpy ghost. May cause inappropriate laughter and/or nail-biting.)

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© Copyright 2014 Ally Blue

 

Chapter One

Greg Woodhall noticed the mailbox when he and his boyfriend, Adrian Broussard, were walking home from an Elvis’s Birthday party.

Frowning, Greg stopped and peered across the narrow road at the mass of envelopes, post cards and magazines bulging from Ms. Hillingham’s mailbox. “Adrian. Look.”

Adrian followed Greg’s gaze. “Look at what?”

“The mailbox.” Greg gestured at the dented black metal gleaming dully in the white glow of the streetlights.

Adrian shrugged. “What about it?”

Greg rolled his eyes. He loved Adrian, but the man could be really clueless sometimes. “It’s full.”

“Oookay.” Adrian eyed Greg with cautious puzzlement. “So?”

“Oh my God.” Dropping Adrian’s hand, Greg glanced both ways, just in case someone might be coming along at almost two in the morning, then jogged across the road to the overflowing box. Adrian followed, grumbling. “Look, the door’s open. There’s so much stuff in there it’s falling out on the ground. This is not normal.”

This time, the potential seriousness of the situation seemed to get through Adrian’s skull. He pursed his lips, studied the crush of neglected mail for a moment, then turned his gaze to the shabby little bungalow set about twenty yards back from the gate. A single light shone somewhere behind the thick curtains. “Looks like someone’s home.”

“Yeah, Ms. Hillingham hardly ever goes anywhere. And she never leaves her mail in the box.”

Adrian’s eyebrows went up. “You know the people who live here?”

“Person, singular. And yes, I know her.” Greg considered. “Well. Kind of. I ride by here all the time to get to work, and I always say hello if she’s out on her porch or in her yard. And I’ve helped her with chores and stuff before. Yard work, carrying groceries, things like that.” He rewarded Adrian’s growing grin with a smack on the ass. “Shut up. She doesn’t have anyone, okay? No family or anything. She’s a grumpy old thing, but hell, everybody needs someone.”

Still smiling, Adrian slid both arms around Greg’s waist and kissed him, soft and sweet. “I love you.”

Predictably, Greg melted inside. “I love you too.” He touched Adrian’s cheek. “I’m gonna go see about Ms. H. It’ll only take a minute.”

Adrian grasped at Greg’s wrist as he pulled away. “I’m going with you.” He wound his fingers through Greg’s and squeezed.

Greg appreciated the company. Much as he hated to admit it, he didn’t much look forward to approaching the old house alone in the dark. He shot Adrian a grateful smile.

Together, they walked up the cracked stone path and climbed the sagging wooden steps, causing a symphony of creaks and groans. The darkness on the deep front porch felt alive, as thick and smothering as a hand. A distant odor of decay hung in the air, like something had died under the porch a while back and never been removed. Greg moved closer to Adrian, trying to stare in every direction at once.

Adrian knocked on the door. “Hello? Is anyone home?”

“Ms. Hillingham, it’s me, Greg Woodhall.” Greg leaned closer, putting his ear to the door. “I don’t hear anyone moving.”

“No. Neither do I.” Adrian lifted a hand, palm open like he wanted to touch the door, then dropped it. “Something’s not right.”

“That’s what I said.” Greg knocked again, harder this time, and raised his voice. “Ms. Hillingham? If you’re there, answer the door. It’s Greg. I’m worried about you.”

No answer. Greg’s unease started to turn into serious alarm. He peered wide-eyed at Adrian.

He couldn’t see much of Adrian’s face in the gloom, but the light seeping through the curtains cast enough of a glow to pick out the familiar set of Adrian’s jaw and the crease between his eyes that meant he was about to take action.

Which was why Greg wasn’t surprised when Adrian tried the door. The knob rattled, but didn’t turn.

“It’s locked,” Adrian said unnecessarily.

Greg nodded. “She never seemed like the sort of person to leave her door unlocked.”

“Hm.”

Greg gnawed on his thumbnail. “We should call the cops.”

“Mm-hm.” Leaning forward, Adrian pressed his forehead to one of the glass panes in the door and cupped his hands around his eyes. He jumped back with a curse.

“What?” Heart racing, Greg watching with growing dread as Adrian stared at the door with the peculiar intensity that could only mean he was aiming his psychokinesis at it. Sure enough, half a second later Adrian twisted his hand in midair, then laid it on the doorknob. Greg grabbed his arm before he could open the door. “Adrian, what’re you doing?”

“Someone’s lying on the floor in there. A woman. I saw her legs sticking out from behind a couch.”

Greg’s stomach churned. “Shit.”

“She might need immediate help.” Very gently, Adrian pried Greg’s fingers off his arm. “I’ll go in. You stay out here and call nine-one-one.”

The rapid hammer of Greg’s pulse threatened to choke him. He swallowed hard. “No way. I’m going with you.” He fished his pod out of his pocket with hands that shook. “Let’s go.”

Adrian looked about as terrified as Greg felt, but he nodded anyway, turned the knob and opened the door.

Instantly, the smell of rotting flesh went from faint to overpowering. Greg buried his face in his elbow and took shallow breaths through his mouth, fighting the urge to gag. “Oh my God, Adrian, what the hell?”

His face grim, Adrian rounded the sofa. He stopped, spun around and leaned over, hands on his knees. “Oh, fuck, oh fuck.”

Stomach churning, Greg hurried to Adrian’s side. One quick glimpse was enough to send him running outside so he didn’t vomit all over Ms. Hillingham’s wide-plank pine floors.

Not that she could yell at him about it. She wouldn’t be yelling at anyone ever again.

Adrian came outside a moment later, looking sick. They sat on the front steps side by side. “I called nine-one-one,” Adrian said. “The police should be here any minute.”

Before he’d even finished speaking, Greg heard the distant wail of sirens. He took Adrian’s hand, and they waited together.

 

Within five minutes, the little house blazed with light and crawled with uniformed officers and detectives alike. Greg and Adrian had been ordered to stay outside with one of the cops until someone could talk to them, which suited Greg fine. He’d never seen a dead, decaying human body before today, and he’d just as soon never see one again. Especially when it belonged to someone he knew.

Three hours later, Greg had started to doze on Adrian’s shoulder when a woman in black jeans and T-shirt and a leather jacket clomped down the steps and stood frowning in front of Greg and Adrian. “Gentlemen, I’m Detective Alonzo, in charge of this case.” She held up her badge, which Greg assumed was real, not that he’d know. “So, I understand you two found the body?”

“Yes, ma’am.” With a swift glance at Greg, Adrian scrambled to his feet and stuck his hands in his back pockets. Greg rose too, hovering behind Adrian. “Greg noticed that her mailbox was overflowing and got worried about her, so we came up to check on her.”

“The front door was unlocked, so we went in.” Greg pressed Adrian’s hand to keep him quiet. Now was not the time for Adrian’s uncompromising honesty. Adrian ignored him, but Greg felt the disapproval anyway.

He didn’t give a shit. Adrian could disapprove all he wanted, as long as he didn’t tell the cops he’d broken into the house with psychic powers.

The detective raised her eyebrows and studied Greg with interest. “You know the deceased?”

“Yeah. Well, sort of. I’ve done a few chores and stuff for her. She doesn’t really have anybody here in town.” Greg ran a nervous hand through his hair, watching as a group of police officers trooped down the steps toward the sidewalk. “What happened to her?”

Detective Alonzo’s eyes narrowed. “We don’t know yet.”

“She says she was murdered.”

And there went that goddamned honesty thing.

“Adrian,” Greg spoke into the resulting shocked silence, “when are you gonna learn not to say shit like that in front of the damn cops?”

Adrian glared at Greg as if it were his fault. With a deep sigh, Greg resumed his place on the porch steps. Looked like the long night was about to turn into a long, difficult morning.

***

Hours later, after the police finally decided Adrian was neither a murderer nor dangerously insane and let him go home, Greg still hadn’t stopped reminding him of his faux pas.

“Honest to God, Adrian. What did you think they were gonna do?” Yawning, Greg leaned on Adrian’s back as he unlocked the door to their apartment. “If somebody says they know how the dead person died, the cops kind of have to do something about that.”

“Yes, so you’ve said. Repeatedly.” Adrian dragged himself inside, feeling wrung out both emotionally and physically. “God, I’ve never been so tired in my life.”

“Poor baby.” Greg’s strong fingers dug into the tight muscles in Adrian’s neck, pulling a heartfelt groan up from his chest. Damn, Greg knew exactly where Adrian stored all his tension. “Do you have to work today?”

“No classes, thankfully.” Very thankfully. Adrian didn’t think he had it in him to teach Physics 101 to the UNC freshmen this morning. “I have lab time scheduled this afternoon at one, though. Not any experimentation, but I do have to work on some equations.” Adrian loved physics—he had a mental affinity with it the way some others did with language—but doctorate-level work wasn’t easy, even for him. He couldn’t afford to miss lab time.

Greg glanced at the clock. “Oh. You better get to bed, then. It’s almost eight.”

Adrian wrinkled his nose. Not enough time to give his brain a decent rest, even if he managed to get to sleep, which was doubtful. He couldn’t get the specter of the old woman out of his head—her raspy voice, her blue lips, the fury that flowed from her ghost like an otherworldly wind.

Murder, she’d whispered. The lack of reaction from Greg and the police had told him that no one else heard or saw her wavering shade in the shadows of the porch. Murder. Revenge. Bastard.

“Adrian?”

Blinking, Adrian turned to Greg. “Hm?”

Greg smiled. His gray eyes were bloodshot, and he looked every bit as exhausted as Adrian. Hooking his arm around Adrian, Greg led him toward the bedroom. “Who killed her?”

Adrian couldn’t help laughing. One of the things he loved about Greg was his ability to read Adrian’s mind. “If she knows, she didn’t say.”

“Oh. Well, hell.”

In the bedroom, Greg closed the blinds, and they both undressed. Adrian watched the gears turn behind the crease in Greg’s forehead and knew what was coming. He stifled a sigh.

They slipped under the covers and assumed their usual sleeping position with Greg spooned against Adrian’s chest. Adrian nuzzled Greg’s unruly curls and waited.

It didn’t take long. “We have to find out who killed her,” Greg said, stubborn determination cutting through the drowsiness in his voice.

Adrian grinned in spite of his halfhearted irritation with his man. Greg might be muleheaded sometimes, but he was constitutionally incapable of seeing someone in trouble and not trying to help, even if that someone was already dead. Adrian adored him for that.

“The police are on the case now.” Adrian laid his open palm on Greg’s chest so he could feel Greg’s heartbeat. “I doubt we could do anything but get in the way.”

“Yeah, well, I can definitely get in the way. But if you go back there, maybe you can connect with her ghost like you did with Lyndon at Groome Castle. Get her memories and figure it out that way.”

The thought sent a not-altogether-pleasant shudder through Adrian’s body. He and Greg had met at Groome Castle, working together on the UNC theater department’s haunted house a little over three years ago. Adrian had formed a strong connection with the ghost of Lyndon Groome, who died at the castle over one hundred years previous. He’d been able to figure out how Lyndon died and put his spirit to rest at last, but the link between himself and Lyndon wasn’t something he wanted to repeat. It had been intense and personal, and the idea of opening himself to that level of intimacy with another entity frankly terrified him.

“I can’t,” Adrian whispered against Greg’s neck. “It’s too much. I can’t do that again.”

“Shit.” Greg squirmed in Adrian’s embrace until they lay face-to-face. Winding an arm around Adrian’s neck, Greg kissed him. “I’m sorry. Forget I said that. I should’ve known better.”

Studying Greg’s familiar face in the light leaking in through the blinds, Adrian thought himself the luckiest man in the world. He smiled, pulled Greg as close as he could and kissed his nose. “Don’t worry about it.”

The corners of Greg’s mouth turned up in the scheming grin Adrian both loved and feared. “We can find some other way of solving this thing.”

“Good grief.” Adrian yawned so hard his eyes watered, but dammit, he had to nip this thing in the bud. “Greg. We cannot get in the middle of a police investigation. They’re already suspicious of me.”

Greg hoisted one fair eyebrow upward. “I won’t point out how that’s all your fault.” He snuggled against Adrian’s chest, one leg thrown over Adrian’s knees. “Don’t worry about it, babe. I’ll work on it myself. You don’t have to get involved.”

Whether that was better or worse was debatable, in Adrian’s opinion. The debate would have to wait, though, because Greg had already started breathing slow and deep, and Adrian’s eyelids wouldn’t stay open one more second. He gave up and let himself tumble into sleep.

In his dreams, rotting specters hovered in the air, their mouths moving soundlessly, while Greg drew pictures in chalk on the floor. Adrian sat cross-legged beside him and watched with growing horror as Greg created scene after scene of carnage on the cold, bare concrete. When Adrian tried to speak, not a sound emerged. He realized his tongue lay shriveled like a fall leaf against the back of his teeth. Looking down at his lap, he saw both his arms ended in bloody stumps at the wrists. He opened his dream-mouth to scream…

…and woke in a cold sweat, heart racing. Greg had rolled off of him at some point and lay curled on his side, his back to Adrian. Sitting up, Adrian pressed both palms to his face. His hands were still there, clammy and shaking but real as ever.

“Just a dream,” he whispered, relieved when his voice worked. “Bad dream. That’s all.”

Beside him, Greg muttered something unintelligible and flopped onto his back, splaying arms and legs over half the mattress. Adrian watched him with envy. They’d only been sleeping about four hours. Not nearly enough. However, since Adrian didn’t think he could close his eyes again without seeing either Ms. Hillingham’s cyanotic spirit or his own silent, mutilated form from his dream, he figured he might as well get up.

Sliding off the side of the bed, Adrian stood, stretched and shuffled off toward the bathroom. He could go ahead and take a shower, then make some coffee. Maybe by the time he had to leave for the lab he’d feel human again.

When he left the apartment at a quarter of one, he intended to go straight to campus. Instead, his feet ended up wandering the same path as his mind, and he found himself approaching Ms. Hillingham’s house.

Berating himself for not paying any attention to where he was going, he picked up his pace and hurried along fast enough to break a sweat. It was warm for January, the sun pouring through the bare branches of the trees lining the street. He tried not to look at the house as he drew even with the drab little yard. Yellow police tape blocked the entire fence and the front porch.

Adrian frowned. Last night, the police hadn’t seemed to find the woman’s death suspicious. What had changed? Had they found evidence of the murder?

He hoped so. If the police caught Ms. Hillingham’s murderer, Greg would have no excuse to stick his nose in where it didn’t belong.

As Adrian passed the gate, cold air swirled out and onto the sidewalk like an invisible river. Along with it came a faint odor of decay and the unmistakable sense of a spirit presence.

Half excited and half dreading what he might see, Adrian turned to look. The old woman’s ghost hovered on her front porch just as she’d done last night, her face and lips blue, dead eyes burning with the same anger Adrian remembered. This time, though, she wasn’t talking. In fact, she vanished as Adrian watched, taking her cold air with her.

Well. That was new. If a ghost manifested itself to Adrian, it usually made more of an effort to communicate. Especially if it had already done so once before.

A couple of girls brushed past him, shooting him sidelong looks suggesting he’d gone around the bend. Realizing he’d been standing in one spot staring at the house for a while now, he shook his head to clear the fog from his brain and resumed his trek to campus.

On the way, he mulled over the Ms. Hillingham situation. He’d stopped believing there was a chance in hell of not getting involved. Once Greg decided to do something, there was no stopping him, and he’d already decided he had to solve this murder case, police or no police. Which meant Adrian was part of it too, whether he liked it or not.

The thing was, Adrian wanted to know what had happened almost as much as Greg. He wanted to know why the old woman’s spirit haunted her place so strongly and with such intense fury. Her refusal—or inability, he wasn’t sure which—to just tell him made him all the more curious.

***

Greg waited half an hour after Adrian left for the lab before heading over to Ms. H’s place.

Not because he was trying to hide what he was doing from Adrian. The two of them had learned that lesson the hard way in their first few months together. No, Adrian knew perfectly well what Greg would be up to today and most of his other free days. Adrian wouldn’t like it, though, so Greg wouldn’t flaunt it. Not the perfect solution, maybe, but it usually worked for them.

The afternoon was unseasonably warm, and the two cops coming out the front door of the house as Greg approached rolled up their sleeves in the heat of the sun. Greg stopped outside the taped-off gate—what was the yellow police tape all about, anyway?—and met the suspicious looks they gave him with a grin and a wave. He pushed his sunglasses on top of his head. “Hi, y’all. How’s it going?”

The female cop glanced at her companion, then sauntered forward. She stopped a few feet short of the gate. “This is a crime scene, sir. I’ll have to ask you to move along.”

Crime scene?

Greg kept his reaction to himself. Cops didn’t talk to you unless they thought you already knew what was going on. At least he assumed so. Not that he had any real experience in that area.

“Oh, yeah. Me and my boyfriend are the ones who found the body last night. I was kind of friends with Ms. H.” He thought about it and shrugged. “Well, as close as she ever got to having friends, anyway. Have you found out anything about what happened to her?” He kept his expression earnest and innocent. Unlike his adorable but too-honest-for-his-own-good boyfriend, he also knew better than to mention the “m” word in the presence of law enforcement, even if it looked like maybe they’d started down that path at this point.

Not that the innocent act did him much good. Officer Ngala—according to her name tag—narrowed her eyes at him. “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but finding the corpse does not entitle you to any information about the case. If you’re a friend of the family, you should speak with one of them.”

This was the first Greg had heard of any family. He wasn’t about to say so, though. “You’re right. I’ll call… Oh, what’s her name again? It went right out of my head.”

Officer Ngala’s lips twitched like she was fighting a smile. “Nice try. Now get going, before I find a reason to arrest you.”

“Oh well. You can’t blame a guy for trying.” Greg gave the woman a wry smile. “Just find out what happened, huh? Ms. H was an ornery old cuss, but nobody deserves to die all alone and forgotten like that.”

The officer’s hard gaze softened a little. “I know, kid. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

Greg decided he liked this cop. “Thanks. Have a great day, Officer.”

She smiled at him. “You too.”

Greg set off along the sidewalk with a sense of accomplishment and—he had to admit—a certain amount of smugness. Finding Ms. Hillingham’s family wouldn’t be easy. But he’d won over a front-line police officer, and that might eventually come in handy. Score a point for friendliness, charm and knowing what to say when.

Now if only Adrian could talk to Ms. H’s ghost, they’d have this case knocked. Adrian had made his feelings about that crystal clear, though, and Greg had no intention of trying to change his mind. Not that Greg didn’t ever push Adrian’s boundaries, because he did. Regularly. But he liked to think he knew when to leave it alone. This was one of those times.

Sliding his shades back over his eyes, he started toward the Chapel Hill courthouse. He had to find Ms. Hillingham’s family, and the courthouse seemed like a logical place to start.

***

It was a short visit. Ms. H had evidently moved here from Raleigh more than thirty years ago. He found the record of sale for her house, but that was it. No family was listed anywhere in the Chapel Hill courthouse records, including birth and death certificates.

A much longer excursion to the periodicals room at the UNC library didn’t turn up anything either. If she’d ever been connected to any other human soul on this earth, no one in Chapel Hill knew about it.

Discouraged, Greg headed for home. No way was he giving up, but there wasn’t much point in driving to Raleigh this afternoon when the courthouse would probably be closing within the hour. Besides, Adrian would be home soon, and Greg hated wasting any of their couple time.

He was waiting for the walk light at Franklin Street when his pod started playing a club remix of “Master of the House”, announcing a call from someone not in his contact list. That hardly ever happened. Curious, he fished the new pod—latest model, almost paper thin—out of his pocket and lifted it to his ear to answer. “Hey, this is Greg.”

“Yes, Mr. Woodhall? This is Officer Ngala, with the Chapel Hill Police Department.”

Okay, he hadn’t expected to hear from the cops. “Hi, Officer. What can I do for you?” The walk light came on. Greg started across the road along with a crowd of other people.

“You were asking about Ms. Hillingham’s family when you were here earlier.”

Greg was surprised she remembered, busy as she must be, but he didn’t say so. “That’s right.”

“Well, a young woman came by the station this afternoon asking about Ms. Hillingham. She’s the deceased’s granddaughter.” Officer Ngala cleared her throat. “She’d like to speak to the people who found her grandmother’s body.”

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