A figure suddenly burst out of the crowd in George’s path, but the little boy could not see or feel him as he passed right through. The ghost walked in a straight line with no mind to any would-be obstacle, the foggy material of his body swirling in response to the contact without hindering his speed. When she took in her former partner’s furrowed brow, she had a fleeting reminder of her vision. Her concern was short-lived; the ghost’s annoyed voice cutting through the crowd told her this Peter could see her.
“Why did you insist on bringing the kid? You know they just complicate matters,” the ghost harrumphed, crossing his insubstantial arms across his chest once he came to a stop. Vi blinked the picture of the living Peter’s dejected form out of her eyes as he continued. “Not to mention, he doesn’t know anything about your abilities, so you’ll have to be on guard all the time again.”
“I couldn’t leave him behind,” she murmured, allowing the sound of the busy station to cover her hushed words.
“Of course not,” Bonnie assured her, unaware of the ghost’s presence. Vi moved her free hand so the back of it touched the other woman’s skin and Bonnie let out a knowing “ah” as the ghost came into view. It was hard to believe this was the same woman who’d slapped Vi across the face for even implying she could talk to the dead when they’d first met.
Viola Thorne was not amused.
If the average person found herself in the middle of a blank, eternal void, she’d probably give panic at least a few moments of her time. But the relapsed grifter simply put fists to hips, and painted on her best surly glare.
“I know I wanted to get a clean start, but this is ridiculous,” she grumbled into the emptiness.
A light breeze suddenly kissed her cheek and gently tugged at her clothes. The force of the wind redoubled, the darkness rippling in its wake as the nothing began the process of becoming something.
To the untrained eye, the silver platter simply floated across the room. No strings held it aloft, and nothing supported it from below, yet it made slow and steady progress hovering across the polished wooden floor. A seated figure watched from the other end of the well-appointed room, patiently awaiting whatever lay at its center and smiling at the strange parody of King Solomon and his magic carpet.
“Very good,” he said. “You get stronger every day, Mary.”
The ghost held her mouth in a firm line as she took another deliberate step. “Thank you, sir.” A tremor traveled through the tray as she spoke, and she puffed up her cheeks as she focused her energy on her hand. The mirrored surface of the tray flashed as she crossed into the pool of candlelight and it crashed to the floor.
“One thing at a time,” the man scolded as he rose from his leather chair. “Remember, throwing something in a burst of energy is much easier than being steady enough to carry things. But you are making excellent progress. Just think! You died less than a year ago and you’ve already come so far.”
“I want to be ready,” she simpered. “When the time comes.”
“And I’m sure you will be,” the man replied before stooping to retrieve both the platter and the folded slip of paper. “Now, what is this you’ve brought me?”
Vi had just finished giving them the final instructions when a disheveled Bonnie leaned on her shoulder. She directed a puff of air at the stray hairs falling over her face. “Now what?”
“Now, we pack.” The grifter turned the corner and darted up the stairs, the widow following close behind.
Once they were safely through the door of her apartment, her friend wheezed, “What? We’re running away?”
“Are you sure there isn’t any way I can talk you out of this?” Peter walked out of the wall and into the conversation.
“Not running away, my friend!” She waved the younger woman to follow her into the bedroom. The steamer trunk at the foot of the bed beckoned. The stray bit of clothes and papers were shoved aside and she threw it open. “For the first time in my life, I think I’m running toward something.”
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She let loose a string of language so colorful it would give a rainbow a run for its money. It was one thing to destroy her furniture, but some of those mirrors were antiques. Her eyes narrowed as she searched for the culprit. While distracted by the further threat to her collection, two grappling figures rudely collided with her.
“Botheration!” Her fingers clenched into fists, adrenaline coursing through her body. She swung into a fighting stance to face the men who had dared run in to her. In theory, at least one of them was an enemy.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” a stubbly man cried, then dealt his opponent a jab to the teeth. “I’ll take care of him for you.”
Vi turned on the other man, glad to finally have someone to hit. But blood gushed from his face, his voice thick and pathetic as he groaned, “He’s the one who did it. I wouldn’t hurt a lady.”
“Liar!” the first man replied incredulously.
“It wasn’t my fault!”
She could only blink dumbly as the two men resumed punching one another. The scruffy one tripped toward the stage and the other followed, flashing his gap-toothed grin. She clucked in disgust, then resumed the search for a foe, and a chance to wreak a little destruction of her own.
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“I’m going back to New Orleans,” she interrupted, her words clipped.
“No, you’re not,” Peter vowed. “I’m not going to let your greed—”
Vi shook her head and took a step toward him. “It’s not about the money.”
“—or your pride get you into trouble. Not again. Look where it’s gotten you just today!” He indicated the poker game with a broad sweep of his arms.
Her voice was quiet, but her eyes spoke volumes. “That’s not why I have to go.” She paused to take a deep breath, then the words tumbled out. “I have to make this all right, Peter. With you, with these things I can do.”
“You of all people know you don’t have to do anything. Everything’s a choice.”
“I may not have always welcomed my abilities, so I won’t claim to be an expert,” she replied. “But, I don’t believe you will be able to rest until you get to the bottom of who killed you and why. And frankly, neither will I. Who’s in a better position than me to find out for both of us?”
“You’re just saying all of this because you’re losing,” he accused, crossing his arms and turning away from her earnest face. “You want me to help you win a pile of money off these guys. This has nothing to do with me.” The fog inside his body began to swirl in agitation, but his voice was soft. “It never has.”
The allegation stung, but it wasn’t more than she deserved.
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George arrived and beamed up at her. “Got a job for me, Miss Viola?”
She delivered a few quiet instructions into his ear, then the boy took off through the back door and into the night. With a satisfied brush of her hands, she perched on the edge of a wooden crate and turned to the mismatched couple. “What have we really got to lose? But it’ll have to be quick. Jeb won’t wait long before he sends someone looking for me. You know, I believe he expects me to try to steal my own horse!”
“You told me just today how you tricked a man into marrying you in order to steal his money. But someone hinting you might be a thief upsets you?”
“Only because I didn’t think of it myself,” she said wryly.