Disclaimer: I do not own nor am I affiliated in any way with TAPS, Ghost Hunters or anyone involved. The only things that are truly mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
A few minutes later, I heard the back door creak open. Thinking it was Spook, I took a step towards the door, ready to head back to campus. Just in time, I saw it was someone else; my eyes widened as I recognized Lou the bartender and…the fire chief? Not wanting them to see me, I ducked around the corner of the building out of sight.
“The sooner those damn kids get their little ghost hunt done and get out of town, the better.” I recognized the fire chief’s hard, gravelly voice. “Why that college needs a Parry-normal Club is beyond me. People’d forget about the whole thing if these kids would keep their noses out of it.”
I poked my head around the corner just far enough to see them standing together beside a beat-up older model car. They were both smoking cigarettes and flicking the ashes onto the ground. Lou blew out a puff of smoke and coughed. “Well, you might be able to put a lid on some of the stories, Skip, but that’s not going to stop folks from seeing things in Appleton. Like it or not, there’s something to the stories, and as long as Warren’s alive and kicking, I’d bet Mary’s gonna be kicking too.”
A gasp escaped my lips, and I quickly covered my mouth and ducked back out of sight, afraid they might have heard me. Warren still alive, and Lou admitting to the activity in Appleton! My mind raced with the possibilities that information might hold for our investigation. I heard a derisive snort, and then the fire chief contradicting, “Don’t tell me you’re buying into that shit too. Overactive imaginations is all it is. With all it costs to go to that college, those kids should be focusing on their studies, not on some silly ass ghost story.” Boy, Officer Daly wasn’t kidding about the chief being a hard-core skeptic, I thought.
It was Lou’s turn to let out a derisive snort. “Don’t you try to tell me you don’t believe those ghost stories, Skip. You and I both know your ‘bum knee’ ain’t the reason you wouldn’t go up in that tower last night.”
What?!?! I poked my head around the corner again in time to see the fire chief draw up his small frame as tall as he could to glare at Lou; Lou didn’t back down, but steadily returned the chief’s gaze, refusing to be intimidated. “Now see here,” the chief growled.
“Now see here yourself,” Lou interrupted. “I don’t like what happened up in that bell tower any more than anyone else, but hiding the truth all these years hasn’t done a damn thing to stop what people see and hear up there, yourself included, nor has it put poor Mary to rest. People need to realize that this town ain’t gonna curl up and die if someone hears the truth, and neither will the college.”
“Nobody even knows the truth, except old Warren,” the chief shouted back at him. “And you know damn well he’s vowed to take that truth to the grave with him, so how do you know what effect the truth will have on Willow Lake? This place is struggling enough without some buried secret coming out.”
I couldn’t make out the next couple of exchanges between the two men, no matter how hard I strained to catch their words. Finally, the chief got into his car and growled, “Mark my words, no good can come of this ghost hunting nonsense. Either Mary will get stirred up and cause more trouble, or someone will bring something to light that’s best left in the dark. Either way, if anything comes of this, Jean Cuomo will be out of a job come September.” Just before he slammed the car door, he stuck his head out and warned, “You’d best tell your coworker to keep his mouth shut too.”
Lou made a face and waved his hand in disgust as he headed back inside. A minute later, the chief started his car and drove quickly out of the parking lot, scattering loose gravel in his wake.
I sat down in silence with my back against the building, trying to make sense of everything I’d just heard. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t hear the door open again or see a figure approaching until a voice said right next to me, “You ready to go?” I threw my hands up and let out a yelp before realizing it was Spook. Somewhat taken aback, he pulled back quickly and gave me a crooked smile. “Take it easy, Kyr. It’s just me,” he chuckled.
Still clutching my chest, I quickly stood up and replied irritably, “You scared the daylights out of me, Spook. I didn’t hear you come out.” I crossed my arms in front of me, hoping he wouldn’t see that I was shaking.
Taking a step towards me, Spook gently brushed my hair out of my face and looked at me sharply. My breath caught as his fingers lightly touched me face as he tucked a lock of hair behind my ear and then moved his hand down to grasp my shoulder. “I think you should have skipped that last Alabama Slammer,” he teased. “You seem a little out of it.” As I gazed up into his eyes, I thought he might be right about having one too many drinks, but I certainly wasn’t feeling very “out of it” at that moment. On the contrary, I was suddenly quite aware of his very masculine presence, the enticing scent of his cologne mixed with lingering cigarette smoke, and the warmth of his hands on my shoulders as he lightly stroked my bare skin. My eyes drifted to his lips, and I had the overwhelming desire to kiss him. As I slowly moved towards him, I noticed his lips were moving–wait, was he talking to me? “Kyr?”
My eyes met his, and I had to shake my head to refocus. “What…what did you say?” I stammered, grasping his arms to steady myself.
He laughed out loud and tightened his hold on me. “I asked if we should start heading back to campus. Maybe I should have taken Phil’s offer to drive us back?”
I laid my hand on his chest to push him away in protest but instead leaned into him, silently willing him to put his arms around me, which he did. I snuggled against him a moment longer before protesting, “I can walk.” When Spook drew back and gazed down at me doubtfully, I quickly added, “I just…have a lot on my mind.” Suddenly recalling the conversation I had overheard, I realized that statement was true, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to share that with him just yet.
Spook tightened his hold on me again and looked at me sharply. His dark eyes seemed to see right inside my soul, and I hoped he couldn’t read everything I was feeling at that moment; I was certain he knew there was something I wasn’t telling him. If he suspected anything, he said nothing, but his expression softened. “I guess you do, little buddy. Shall we start walking?”
Little buddy? Letting out a sigh of mixed disappointment and relief that I hadn’t made a fool of myself by kissing him, I merely nodded, and we began walking. Neither of us said anything for a long time; the town was quiet, the silence broken only by our footsteps on the sidewalk and the distant hum of late-night traffic out on the main highway. My mind spun with thoughts of all the twists and turns this investigation had taken. As I thought about what Jared had told us and then about the conversation I had overheard between Lou and the fire chief outside the bar, I realized how correct Spook had been when he commented that this case was far from over, even though our investigation was finished. I was so lost in my thoughts that I paid no attention to where we were headed.
When Spook’s steps suddenly slowed, I looked up and realized we weren’t headed towards campus at all; we had stopped right across the street from the steps that led up to the levee. I glanced over at Spook and realized he had been waiting for me to look at him. Smiling crookedly, he asked, “Care to take a walk on the levee?”
I gazed at him curiously, wondering for a split second if he was thinking about our post-investigation walk the first night. When his smile turned into a playful grin, I knew that was exactly what he was thinking. Knowing he was teasing me, I tried to give him a dirty look, but instead ended up giggling at his expression. He laughed triumphantly before putting his arm around me and hooking his thumb in my belt loop.
We crossed the street and started up the steps to the levee quickly–a little too quickly–and I stumbled and fell beside him on one of the steps. Suddenly finding that very funny, I leaned against his leg and started laughing. Shaking his head, Spook bent down to pull me to my feet and warned jokingly, “Easy now. We don’t need any more Kyr-tastrophes this weekend.”
Thinking his joke was even funnier than falling, I collapsed against his chest and laughed even harder. Spook joined in, wrapping his arms tightly around me and leaning back against the railing till I could get a hold of myself.
When we finally made it up to the levee, I stopped to look across the river at the mountains silhouetted against the night sky. Here and there along the mountain, house lights twinkled warmly. The sound of the river flowing lazily by and lapping against the levee gave me a peaceful feeling. I sighed contentedly, remembering once more how much I used to love walking along the river, especially at night. I slipped my arm around Spook and gazed up at him, happy that he was beside me to share this view. Tenderness suddenly welled up inside me, and I realized that being with him felt so good, so right, almost as though we were… My eyes met his, and I saw that he was looking at me curiously, a strange smile on his face. My breath caught as his eyes seemed to sparkle deeply at me. As I uncomfortably looked away, he asked thickly, “Should we start walking?”
Clearing my throat, I nodded and pulled away, letting my arms fall at my side, and then crossing them in front of me. I found myself wishing the lights weren’t so bright; I felt as though all my emotions were on display for Spook to read clearly. What on earth had just happened back there, I wondered.
As we walked slowly back towards the campus, the hairs on my neck began to stand up. I glanced quickly around to see if anyone else was out walking. The brightly-lit levee was empty as far as I could see behind us. Neither was there anyone approaching us, although I couldn’t make out anything beyond the bridge where the levee was unlit. No sign of anyone on the street below either. Still, my ears became alert, straining to hear any sound that might betray the presence of another person. The levee remained quiet; the only sounds I heard were the steady beat of our footsteps and the rhythmic lapping of the river against the levee; the same sounds that had been so peaceful and comforting only moments before had suddenly become eerie. The sound of windchimes tinkling in the slight breeze from one of the houses across the street was almost ominous. A dog barking from somewhere across the river made me jump. I inched closer to Spook and slipped my arm through his, feeling as though we were being watched. I remembered that Spook and I had measured high EMFs from the lights, but tonight I was certain that was not what was causing my unease. This felt different, almost threatening. When a lone car turned from a side street and headed in our direction on the street below us, fear suddenly gripped me. What if that was the fire chief? What if he spotted us and recognized us from the night of the fire? He didn’t like the idea of anyone investigating Appleton; what might he do to keep our results from getting out?
I hid my face against Spook as the car passed without even slowing down; then I turned to watch it till it disappeared in the distance. Thunder growled in the distance, making me jump and hold tighter to Spook’s arm. He chuckled and wrestled his arm free so he could pull me close to him. “Don’t worry, Kyr. I won’t let the storm get you.” He glanced down at me and teased, “Or should I have brought my EMF meter?”
His eyes were a mixture of amusement and concern, and I know he was thinking about my now-debunked experience. “No, it’s not that,” I replied irritably. I was tempted to push away from him, but I decided I felt safer with his arms around me.
“Then what is it?” he asked, tipping my face up so he could look into my eyes. Even though I was uneasy–well, downright frightened, actually–I couldn’t help noticing the way his hair had fallen forward and was blowing across his face in the breeze. I usually hated the feeling of being helpless and needing someone to keep me safe, but something about Spook made me almost enjoy the idea that he was there to protect me. Impulsively, I reached up and pushed his hair behind his ear. He closed his eyes and smiled slightly as I slowly drew my hand down his cheek. He quickly grasped my hand in his and brought it down away from his face. He cleared his throat and said huskily, “Don’t avoid the question, Kyr. Tell me what’s going on.” He guided me towards a bench and sat down. “Sit down here and tell me what’s wrong.”
“No,” I pleaded. “Not here, Spook. I don’t feel safe under these lights.”
Spook looked at me sharply, realizing that something more than high EMFs or even an imagined ghost was bothering me. He stood up quickly and took my hand protectively in his. Saying nothing, we started briskly towards the bridge. Several times, I looked over my shoulder or across the street to the dark houses, still expecting to see someone watching us; Spook seemed more watchful as well, glancing around sharply. When we were within a few yards of the bridge, I had to fight the urge to make a mad dash for the other side.
As soon as we reached the opposite side of the bridge, I felt less conspicuous, and relief flooded over me. Still, I wanted as much distance as possible between us and the bright lights on that side of the levee. I felt like an overly-excited dog on a leash as I almost dragged Spook along further into the safety of the darkness. When we came across a bench, Spook pulled me to a stop and sat down, drawing me down next to him. He turned to face me and brought his hand up to stroke my cheek with his thumb. I could barely make out his expression in the dark, but I could sense his concern as he spoke. “So what’s going on, Kyr? Did the bartender’s story upset you that much?”
Letting out a shaky breath, I glanced around before answering, “You only heard half of what Jared had to say. He did more than give JoEllyn his phone number.” His eyes narrowed as he waited for me to continue. As quickly as I could, I told him what Jared had told JoEllyn and me about his friends and Dr. DiPaola. When I finished, Spook ran his hand across his face and shook his head, thinking. Just as he was about to respond, I laid my hand on his arm and interrupted, “Wait, there’s more.” He raised an eyebrow and sat back, waiting for me to continue. I told him about the conversation I had overheard between Lou and the fire chief. He leaned forward, listening intently, his face unreadable except for a hint of surprise in his eyes when I mentioned that Warren was still alive and that Lou believed Mary would remain in the bell tower as long as Warren lived. His eyes narrowed, and he let out a snort when I told him the fire chief wasn’t as big a skeptic as he wanted people to believe. I finished by telling him about their disagreement over whether or not the truth should come out.
Spook was silent for a full minute, drumming his fingers on the back of the bench as he mulled over this new information. As I might have expected, nothing I had told him upset him as much as it had upset me. I continued to glance around, still fearful that someone might be watching from the shadows. Finally, his eyes rested on me, and he smiled down at me, still saying nothing. “Well,” I began hesitantly, looking up at him anxiously. “What do you think?”
Spook gave me a playful nudge and chuckled. “The way you were acting back there, I thought you’d uncovered an assassination plot.” His words made me feel foolish, and I looked away, swallowing hard. Gently laying a hand on my shoulder, he continued, “Kyr, the whole to-tell-or-not-to-tell game has been going on since Mary’s death; that’s nothing new. And yes, it is disturbing that this professor and two students may have had to leave Willow Lake because they knew too much or asked the wrong questions, but again, that kind of thing has been part of the game all along.” I chanced a look at him to gauge his expression; he was gazing distantly down at the ground, his eyes shrouded. He looked up at me with a tentative smile. “But I don’t think we need to worry for anyone’s safety.”
Irritated that he seemed to be taking the situation too lightly, I pushed back, “Well, what about the chief’s comment that Jared would be wise to keep his mouth shut? You don’t think that was a threat?”
Spook chuckled again and squeezed my shoulder. “I have no doubt it was a threat, Kyr, but I think it was more a threat to his job than to his life.” Even in the dark, I could see his eyes dancing as he regardeed me. “That idea is what has you upset, isn’t it?”
Turning away from him, I muttered irritably, “Well, excuse me for being concerned for someone’s safety…”
Spook reached for me and turned my face towards his. “Kyr, don’t get upset. I know you’re looking out for your friend, and I don’t blame you for being cautious.” He looked away and was silent for a moment before continuing, “I do find it intriguing that the fire chief is hiding behind his skepticism.” When I looked up at him again, he was staring at some indistinguishable point across the river. He fumbled in his hoodie pocket for something before pulling out a nearly-empty pack of cigarettes. He was about to take one out when he noticed my expression and decided against it, glancing at me apologetically. He stuffed the pack back in his pocket and asked me, “Did either of them elaborate on what kept the chief out of the tower? Was it just the stories he’d heard, or did he have an experience of his own?”
I shrugged, unable to recall their exact words, but sure that neither had revealed any exact details. “All I caught was that the chief used his ‘bum knee’ as an excuse not to go up in the tower last night.” Unless the chief was a coward with very convincing acting skills, I doubted that stories alone would have kept a hardened man like him out of the tower. Suddenly something Lou had said came to my mind. “Wait a minute. What was it that Lou said? Something about ‘hiding the truth all these years hasn’t done a damn thing to stop what people see and hear up there, yourself included.’ So the chief probably did have some kind of experience in the tower.”
Spook and I looked at each other seriously for a moment. With a bemused smile, Spook commented, “So the plot thickens, eh?” He looked away, staring again at that same indistinguishable point across the river, leaving my thoughts to trail off in their own direction. The fire chief had to have gone up in the tower at some point, but when? And why? He was certainly not old enough to have been a firefighter when the first fire occurred. Had there been other more recent fires that weren’t reported? Or might the chief have been a Willow Lake student himself?
“Kyr?” Startled out of my thoughts, I glanced quickly over at Spook. His eyes were full of tender concern. “Look, I know there’s a lot more going on here than a ghost in an attic, and I know both you and JoEllyn have some pretty strong ties to Willow Lake that make you both want to solve this mystery…” He took my hand in his and stroked it with his thumb before tracing a fingertip up my arm and gave my hair a playful tug. “…But even if we tossed theories back and forth all night, we’re not going to get anywhere on our own. What do you say we call it a night and head back to campus?”
My ego still stung over Spook’s refusal to see the seriousness of the situation, but something in his voice sent a delicious shiver down my spine. I nodded, and he stood up, taking my hand to help me to my feet. As we began walking back towards campus, the breeze picked up, bringing with it the damp smell of rain. Heat lightning flashed in the distance, and thunder rumbled once more, louder and closer this time. I inched closer to Spook; he chuckled and put his arm around me. His hand felt warm on my bare shoulder, and I shivered slightly, suddenly realizing I was cold. I crossed my arms, rubbing my hands over my goose-fleshed skin.
Spook tightened his hold on me and rubbed his hand quickly up and down my arm to warm me. “Kyr, you’re cold.” He pulled away long enough to yank his hoodie off and hand it to me. “Here, put this on.” I hesitated, looking at his thin T-shirt. He laughed and gave me a playful nudge. “Take it; put it on,” he said gruffly.
“But I don’t want you to be cold,” I objected, pushing the hoodie back to him. “It’s not far back to campus; I’ll be fine.”
Spook growled playfully and grabbed me roughly, pulling the hoodie down over my head. “I’m not the one who’s cold, Kyr. I’ll be fine; I want you to wear it.”
Still feeling guilty, I slipped my arms into the hoodie, grateful for the lingering warmth from his body that radiated from the shirt. It was far too big for me, and I had to pull the sleeves up several inches to free my hands. The shirt came down far enough to cover my bottom, and I giggled at the thought that I had seen skirts that covered less than this hoodie. I glanced over to see Spook gazing at me with amusement. “I think it’s a little too big,” I giggled.
Spook put his arm around me and laughed. “There’s almost enough room in there for two,” When he looked at me again, the amusement in his eyes had been replaced by a mixture of mischief and desire. “Now that could be interesting,” he said suggestively. The image of both of us squeezed into the same sweatshirt made me want to laugh, but at the same time, the idea of being that close to him sent a thrill down my spine as I wondered what we might do together…
As I gazed up at him, I knew the desire in his eyes was mirrored in my own. We stopped walking and turned towards each other. Spook put his arms around me and clasped his fingers tightly around my lower back. I slid my hands up his arms, feeling his rippling muscles, and clasped my fingers around his neck. We gazed into each other’s eyes, the passion and electricity between us almost tangible. My eyes slid down to his lips, those soft, luscious lips that I ached to feel pressed against mine again, lips that I wished would trail kisses down my neck and wherever his fancy led him. A moan escaped my lips as my eyes fluttered closed and I moved towards him. As I got closer to him, I felt his warm breath mingling with mine and smelled the lingering scent of cigarette smoke. His moustache tickled my lips as he withheld his kiss, pulling back instead of letting me kiss him.
Spook pulled back and slowly brought his hands up to my face. His thumbs caressed my cheeks before moving down to lightly trace my lips. I kissed his thumbs before he slid his hands back to run his fingers through my hair. I suddenly felt too warm wearing his hoodie. Seeing him gazing longlingly down at me, I stood up on tiptoe trying to capture his lips. I half whispered, half moaned, “Spook, please…”
His growl echoed my desire, and he pulled me towards him. Just as our lips were about to meet, a drop of water hit me on the nose. “Hey!” I exclaimed as Spook drew back to look up. A drop of water hit him right between the eyes, making him jerk his head down and release me so he could wipe the water away. More drops began falling, wetting the sidewalk and making ripples on the surface of the water. “You have got to be kidding,” I grumbled, yanking the hood up and beginning to run towards campus.
Spook laughed and started after me. “Hey, you, come back here,” he called. “I changed my mind; I want my hoodie back.”
“I don’t think so,” I called back over my shoulder, giggling.
The rain began falling faster, followed by a flash of lightning. I let out a yelp and crouched down, covering my head, almost causing Spook to fall over me. He grabbed my hand and yanked me to my feet, and we sprinted the rest of the way along the levee to the ramp. We ran down the ramp and across the train tracks to campus. Spook was laughing and obviously enjoying our little adventure. I kept my head down and my eyes closed so I wouldn’t see the lightning; of course, that made it nearly impossible to run without stumbling.
By the time we made it halfway through the student center parking lot, it had begun pouring. I tried to keep running, but I wasn’t accustomed to this kind of exertion. I stumbled, then stopped running and bent over, my lungs burning. Spook ran a few feet past me before he turned back to me and teased, “Come on, bookworm, pick up the pace. We’re getting soaked.”
I raised my head to look at him and was tempted to laugh. His hair hung down in his eyes as water ran in rivulets down his face. I realized I probably didn’t look much better; my hood had slipped off, and I was soaked to the skin anyway. Spook took a step towards me and held out his hand. Shaking my head, I panted, “Spook, I can’t run anymore.”
Before Spook could respond, a streak of lightning flashed brilliantly across the sky, followed closely by a loud thunderclap. At first I cried out and dropped to my knees right into the puddle I was standing in; the next instant, I was off like a shot, bolting past Spook and heading for the steps that led up between the dorms. When I paused to look back to see where Spook was, I saw him doubled over with laughter. “I thought you couldn’t run anymore,” he teased.
“Oh, shut up,” I shouted back, starting quickly up the steps. Halfway up, I stumbled against the railing.
Spook caught up to me and grabbed my hand. “Come on, Kyr-tastrophe,” he said, pulling me up and tucking my hand into the crook of his elbow. I leaned against him as we dashed between the dorms and up the sidewalk towards McKenzie.
Just as we started up the ramp to the door, the rain suddenly abated to a light drizzle. I threw my hands up in frustration. “Really?” I exclaimed, looking up into the sky. A flash of lightning made me yelp and bury my face in Spook’s shoulder.
Spook laughed and drew me close as we crowded under the insignificant awning by the front door. As I pulled out my dorm key to unlock the door, Spook suddenly turned to me, grabbed my wet face and said huskily, “Before we get interrupted again…” He lowered his face to mine and claimed my lips in a steamy, wet kiss. His arms went around me, and he pulled me closer to him as our tongues intertwined. My hands caressed his arms, his shoulders, his back, feeling the contrast between the heat from his body and the cool dampness of his T-shirt. I felt the water running down my arms and inside my shirt, where it trickled down my sides and pooled between my breasts. I couldn’t tell if it was rain or if the heat of his kiss was melting me into a puddle on the ground. My keys slid from my grasp and clattered onto the sidewalk beside us.
With a groan, Spook backed away and reached down to pick up my keys and unlock the door. “As much of a turn on as it is to make out in the rain, I think we’d better go inside before the others get back; what do you think?”
Drowning in the depths of the desire in his eyes, I nodded and went through the door he held open. As the door clicked shut behind us, we headed down the hall, arm in arm.