After I helped Nanny get Holly the cow back into the barn, I headed right for Mr. Sook’s back door. Miss Lundie had already approached the door and then told Nanny to go call for help. I decided I wasn’t going to wait for help to get there. Miss Lundie called out for me but it was too late. I had already opened the door. She froze in place as if waiting for me to scream, but I wasn’t scared at all.
If you’ve ever driven down a country road on a hot summer day with the windows rolled down, then you have smelled death. It’s not the dead skunk odor you occasionally get a whiff of, but more like the bloated run down possum that’s been lying at the edge of the road for a few days with flies buzzing all around. There were no flies in Mr. Sook’s house, no maggots crawling over the deep red gash in his head. But a pool of congealed blood had surrounded his body from where he had bled out.
Neither of us said anything, and Mr. Sook’s ghost didn’t tell me, but Miss Lundie and I both knew that someone had killed him. At first, Mr. Sook wasn’t too happy about me opening the door. He was afraid we were breaking into his house, but after I spoke to him he wanted us to come in. I didn’t speak to him out loud like I do to Ghost Daddy sometimes when we are alone. I spoke to Mr. Sook inside my head, and he heard me just fine.
“Are you Lillie Mae’s boy?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I told him in my mind.
“Did they find her?”
“Is she alive?”
Mr. Sook’s house was on the far edge of my sister’s farm. It was a small brick cottage that was intended for a groundskeeper. Joseph Jr. said it was haunted by a slave ghost, but Joseph Jr. also thought himself to be a good football player. He was wrong on both accounts, but I kept my mouth shut and let him tell his tall tales. I knew more about ghosts than he did, and there had never been any ghosts in Mr. Sook’s cottage, at least until that day when Miss Lundie and I found him.
He told me to go to his bedroom and to look for the space underneath the chair where I’d find a cigar box that had been hidden in the floor. I needed to take the box and leave before anyone else showed up, and I could not tell my sister or her husband about the box nor show them what was in it. Mr. Sook said the box belonged to me.
Ghosts can’t always communicate as clearly as humans can, but even then humans keep secrets from each other or don’t always tell the truth so in some ways they are no different. I don’t know why Mr. Sook wouldn’t tell me what was in the cigar box, but he was more worried about just making sure we found it. It was just like a real treasure hunt, the kind I’d read about in comic books, only without the treasure. Or at least I didn’t get to see the treasure because just when we had made it back outside with the box, that’s when the cops and the paramedics showed up, and my sister and Nanny came running too. Lights were flashing, sirens going off, people were everywhere. So Miss Lundie hid the box in her car and promised to show me later. But if she forgot, I had a pretty good idea of how I could find out what was in it on my own.
After I’d talked to the cops with Miss Lundie, she drove me back to my sister’s house. That’s when I lied to Miss Lundie again. I told her that Frankie could see dead people too, but that wasn’t entirely true. I mainly just wanted her to know that it was Frankie who could hear what animals were saying and not me. I don’t know why I told her that, but maybe it’d make it easier to fix it later if I had to tell her the truth about Frankie. I knew either way, Miss Lundie wasn’t going to say anything to my sister. I told Miss Lundie I’d be okay staying with my sister, even after the way she scolded me for hiding in Miss Lundie’s car and going to Mr. Sook’s house. I certainly didn’t want to go back to that youth center, and I knew that was my only other choice right now.
It was getting late thanks to all the commotion over at Mr. Sook’s house. It seemed like it took an awfully long time just to remove a dead body. People stood around outside for a long time before they finally brought Mr. Sook out. His body was zipped up in a black bag and lying on a stretcher.
Miss Lundie decided to get a room in town for the night and come back tomorrow to finish up her business with my sister at 70 Willow Street. Nanny served us dinner just an hour after Miss Lundie left. My sister didn’t sit at the table with us. She always took her meals in the parlor, whatever a parlor is. Junior and Lea ignored me at the table. That was nothing new. Frankie never spoke much at meals, but that was okay. Just sitting beside him and getting to eat together was good company enough. After dinner, Junior and Lea disappeared, probably up in their bedrooms like always. Frankie asked me if I wanted to go to his room to play.
“Hey, Frankie, wanna go to Mr. Sook’s house?” I asked him.
“What for? I thought you said he was dead and they carried him away.”
“He is dead, but I thought we should feed Holly.”
The truth was I hoped Mr. Sook might still be around. I wanted to try to get him to tell me what was in the cigar box. But if he was gone, I was hoping maybe Holly could tell Frankie something instead.
Though I knew no one would probably come looking for us, I picked up Frankie and carried him quietly down the stairs to avoid making any sound. I told Frankie to wait by the door while I checked the kitchen for Nanny. She was busy clearing the table and cleaning up the kitchen.
We snuck out of the house, slowly opening the screen door and hoping it would not creak on its old hinges, giving us away. After creeping down the porch stairs, I took Frankie by the hand and guided him around to the back of the house and across the field. I looked back at the house because I had a feeling someone was watching, but all the curtains were drawn on the back windows and I could not see anyone peeking out. When we reached the barn, we went inside to get out of sight.
“It stinks in here,” Frankie said, but I found the sweet smell of hay mixed with the raw smell of warm manure to be comforting in a way.
I led Frankie by the hand up to the side of Holly. She turned her head and began to sniff and lick at his ear.
“That tickles,” Frankie said as he patted her side.
“Does she know anything about a cigar box?” I asked.
“She says Mr. Sook smoked cigars all the time, and usually kept a fresh cigar in the pocket of his overalls. She doesn’t know anything about a box of cigars,”Frankie said, reaching up and stroking her shoulder.
Holly stamped her hoof and let out a heavy wet breath.
“Does she need anything?” I asked.
“She said the water trough out back needs filling.”
“We’ll fill it before we head back home, and tell her we’ll check on her tomorrow,” I said.
“Where are we going now?” Frankie asked.
“Inside Mr. Sook’s house.”
I thought Frankie might not want to go inside, but he was not afraid at all at what he could not see. And he trusted me.
I peeled the yellow DO NOT CROSS police tape away from the back door and took Frankie’s hand again to lead him down the narrow hallway into the room where we had found Mr. Sook’s body. The blood stain was there along with the white taped outline of where his body had been.
“Hello?” Frankie called out.
“What’s wrong, Frankie?”
“I thought I heard something.”
“We can go now,” I said.
“Why? Did you find what you are looking for? Is the cigar box you wanted here?”
“No, the box was already gone. He’s gone too.”
“Mr. Sook’s spirit?” he asked.
“Who’s there?” Frankie yelled out, turning back toward the hallway.
I turned to see a a dark silhouette coming down the hall toward us.
“Well, well, what are you two doing here?” a voice said as the silhouette stepped into the light.
NOTE: This will be the last chapter for a while, but it’s certainly not the end. I’ve devoted myself to another project that requires my full attention right now.