Cold Case, Hot Bodies(8)

By: Jule McBride

Dario had moved in opposite them because everybody said that’s where the noise was coming from. The previous tenant had left in a hurry—supposedly due to the haunting—which meant the apartment had ramshackle furnishings. Shirts were still in the closet. The tenant had been a big guy, almost Dario’s size, so it was hard to believe he’d been scared off.

There were nine empty units, three per floor, discounting the attic where Brice lived—and that seemed weird, too, since Beppe was a soft touch and the rent was low. Ghost sightings increased whenever he made moves to sell, but Dario had always figured people would lodge complaints, no matter how absurd, to discourage the building’s ownership from changing hands.

Still, people had left despite having rent-stabilized leases, when they’d have difficulty finding similar bargains, and the place was creepier than Dario remembered. While in the basement, putting out environmentally friendly mouse traps Eliana insisted he buy, he could have sworn the air temperature dropped abruptly. Shrugging off the event, he’d spent an hour trying to fix the boiler before realizing he’d have to buy a new one. The whole time, he’d felt as if somebody were watching him. Most disturbing, the tenants seemed genuinely scared.

“The sounds started about two weeks ago,” Zu had reported. “We hadn’t heard anything in a long time, about six months, but then all of a sudden…”

“Gem O’Shea is walking the halls at night again,” Ling had added in a hushed tone. “Luther Matthews came by. He has a key to the place, you know. And he told us about Gem O’Shea. That she was murdered. I’m sure she’s haunting us.”

“Maybe trying to tell us who killed her,” said Rosie.

“The music’s, like, really loud,” added Theresa.

“Here,” Brice had added angrily, coming from the attic, and dumping a box of papers at Dario’s feet. “This is everything I was able to find out about the place. Something fishy’s going on. You should take a look.”

And Dario had. Apparently, these old walls had absorbed plenty of lovers’ whispered secrets, and many illicit backroom deals. The old news clippings collected by Brice jibed with records Dario had found in cold-case files at the precinct, as well as family materials related to the property that Beppe had kept, and that Dario had brought with him. A sheet in the police file indicated Gem had stashed jewelry in the house; an inventory list had been submitted in case of theft.

Definitely, the tenants hadn’t lied about the shoddy workmanship. It was Dario’s grandfather’s fault, since he’d hired bad contractors. The original bar, which had been about fifteen feet long, was still in Zu and Ling’s apartment. Someone had renovated it as a kitchen island. Brice’s shower stall was in his kitchen, and because his wiring was inadequate, he’d run an extension cord to an outlet in the hallway.

Outside, Dario had stood on the sidewalk, surveying the exterior, and something had niggled, but he didn’t know why. The building was tall and skinny, with a sharply graded roof and louvered windows. The bricks crawled with ivy, and a downstairs back door led into unkept gardens. The rear building, where Gem had lived, had been torn down long ago.

His cell rang. He clicked on. “Yeah?”

“Sorry I’m late.”

Sheila sounded tipsy, a good sign. “Are you coming now?”

“There’s more than one way to take that.”

“Not once you get here.”

“On my way,” she said, giggling. “Keep the bed warm.”

“I’m getting sleepy,” he returned with mock grouchiness. “Are you sure you’re going to show?”

“Put a key under the mat, sailor, and let Gem O’Shea wake you up.”

Not a bad idea. “Done. Two pots on the porch are planted with ivy. The key to the lobby doors will be in the one on the right. I’m the first door on the left—I’ll leave it ajar.” Maybe that wasn’t the brightest thing to do, but the neighborhood was relatively safe nowadays, and besides, he’d put his gun under the bed.

“Given what I’m going to do to you,” she was saying, “you’ll think you’re dreaming.”

“So you have plans for the bawdy house?”

“Just call me Gem O’Shea.”

She ended the call, and he grinned. “My kind of girl.”

Yawning, he thrust his legs into jeans, took the key to the planter and returned. Then he found a pen, scrawled “I’m in here, babe,” and taped it to the door, drawing an arrow toward the bed. The tenants were tucked in for the night and wouldn’t see it. Absently scratching his chest, he stared into the open folder before transferring it to the floor, suddenly glad Eliana had reminded him to bring sheets, a blanket and towels. Without a boiler, the steam heat hadn’t come on.