THE bullet hit the brick wall behind me, taking a nice little chip out of the masonry and missing my left ear by mere inches.
The shooter, a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and bad teeth, shouted, “Come on out, Andrews! I promise not to hurt you!”
I wondered how stupid he thought I was. After all, trusting a man who just fired several shots at you isn’t something that comes easily to most people, myself included. I stayed nicely hidden behind my Dumpster and yelled back, “No, thanks! I’m fine here, thank you very much.”
He fired another shot, which struck the wall again, much further away. I was lucky the guy was such a lousy shot. I pulled my own gun, a .38, from my belt. I really didn’t want to shoot the man, but who knew if he might get lucky after a while? I peered around the edge of the Dumpster. The alley was full of shadows, but I could see his silhouette about halfway down. He was just standing there, not even attempting to protect himself. I know he was angry and desperate, but surely he should have taken into consideration the possibility that I might be armed as well. After all, I was what is commonly referred to as a private detective. They often, at least in novels and the kind of TV movies shown on the USA Network, go out armed. Granted, the guy wasn’t thinking straight, but still.
The man shooting at me, one Barton Clifts, was a mid-level management guy who worked for a pharmaceutical firm. Barton had siphoned off around $70,000 from the business, and I had been called in to investigate. I found the proof, and he was supposed to have been turned over to the police. However, he somehow eluded capture and had come looking for me. Apparently he blamed me for all of his problems. It wasn’t my fault that he made discovering his embezzling so goddamn easy. Some people just don’t use their brains. But then, he wasn’t the guy hiding behind a Dumpster.
“Come on out, Andrews,” he called again.
“He certainly is persistent,” a familiar voice said. Seconds later I was joined behind the Dumpster by my boyfriend, Robbie Church. As usual, Robbie just seemed to appear out of the ether. One second there was a shadow; the next he was there, accompanied by a slight chill in the air. He was wearing an Everlast T-shirt and black basketball shorts. He liked to dress casually whenever possible. Also, as usual, he looked like he was all of twenty years old, which continually annoyed me. I hated that I had aged ten years, and he had stayed the same. “You must have done something to piss him off, Duncan.”
“I caught him embezzling from his company. I think he’s mad at me.”
Robbie took a quick peek over the top of the Dumpster. A shot rang out, and Robbie quickly ducked back down. “He’s not exactly a marksman,” he said with a smile.
“Why are you ducking?” I asked. “Afraid he’ll kill you all over again?”
Robbie grinned. “He may not even have seen me. Most likely he was just taking a potshot. Even if he was gifted with the ability to see ghosts, I doubt in his present frame of mind he’d be able to. Not everyone has the focus you do, luckily for me.”
Great. I was getting Ghost Lessons 101 from my deceased boyfriend. “Why don’t you go and haunt somebody else,” I suggested, “and leave me to get on with my work.”
He pointed to the gun in my hand. “Why don’t you just shoot the asshole? He’s standing right out in the open.”
“I was about to do just that when you popped up. You’ve been in this alley before?” Ghosts, as I learned long ago, can only appear in locations they’d been to in life. The alley was in the old warehouse district on the east part of the downtown area. I couldn’t imagine why Robbie would ever have ventured to such a place.
“Apparently,” he said. “Not that I remember, but I might have wandered down here after a concert or some late-night binge. I must have been lost.” He looked at the end of the alley, which was blocked by a large wooden fence. “This alley doesn’t really go anywhere.”
“I noticed that when he started shooting at me, and I ran down here for cover.” Another shot winged by. “I don’t suppose you could help out here, could you?”
Robbie frowned. “Why don’t you just shoot the mother and get this over with?”
“You know I don’t like to use a gun unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Robbie popped his head up and a bullet went right through where his forehead would have been had he been corporeal. It might just as well have gone through mist for all the effect it had on Robbie. “This might be one of those times.”
“That warehouse behind him must have been made into apartments at one time. I noticed a window a few floors up that had a potted plant on the window sill. He’s right underneath it, if you get my drift.”
“You know how hard it is for me to move objects,” Robbie said with a roll of his eyes. “Really. Just shoot the guy already. He’s getting on my nerves.”
I looked into those deep brown eyes that I’d fallen in love with all those years ago. “Please,” I said. “Do it for me.”
Robbie sighed and disappeared in an instant. I carefully peeked around the corner of the Dumpster and saw that Clifts had actually moved forward a little. He was now illuminated by the lamp post at the end of the alley. Several floors above him Robbie appeared, sitting on the window sill with his legs dangling. The flower pot was next to him. I saw him draw in as much energy as he could and give the pot a push.
The terracotta pot hit the pavement a good three yards behind Clifts. It did, however, cause the man to start violently and turn around. “Shit,” I muttered as I quickly took aim and shot him in the leg. Clifts let out a yell and clutched at the wound with his free hand. He turned and fired wildly in my direction. I breathed in and shot him in the arm. Luckily for him I’m a good shot. It didn’t hurt that he really wasn’t that far away. The man fell, screaming in pain.
Robbie appeared at my side as I rose from behind my protective covering. “I missed,” he said. He looked somewhat paler from the energy he’d used pushing the pot.
“Yeah, thanks. I had noticed.” I pulled out my cell phone and was about to call 911 when I heard sirens approaching. Someone had heard the shots and had already called. I looked at Robbie, who was starting to look transparent and more like what people think ghosts look like. “You’d better get out of here. I really don’t want to explain to the cops that my boyfriend who’s been dead for ten years still hangs around.”
A moan came from the alley where Clifts was laying. We ignored him.
“Like they’d be able to see me anyway,” Robbie said, a little petulantly. “Honestly, sometimes I think you don’t like having me around.”
I sighed. For a dead guy, Robbie had a lot of self-esteem issues. “You know I love you, and I always will.”
I could see by his face, pale as it was, that he wasn’t convinced. “What were you doing in this part of town anyway?”
“I was going to Sam’s Place for a drink.” I knew he wouldn’t like the answer, but the sirens were coming closer, and I wanted to get rid of him quickly.
“You were hoping to pick up someone.” Robbie folded his arms and turned his head away from me. “Some boyfriend you are.”
A patrol car skidded to a halt at the end of the alley. “We’ll have to talk about this later, okay? Why don’t you get back to the apartment and check on Daisy?” Daisy was my beloved bulldog, who had some problems of her own—the main one being that she, too, was no longer alive. However, she wasn’t a ghost like Robbie. Daisy was a zombie. Long story.
“At least she still loves me,” Robbie pouted. He vanished just as several policemen began scanning the alley with their flashlights. I put my arms up so they would know I wasn’t a threat. “Over here,” I called to them.
It would be a long night explaining the chain of events. It would have been longer, though, if I also had to explain Robbie the ghost boyfriend to the cops.
© Stephen Osborne
Pale as a Ghost
Author: Stephen Osborne
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Private detective Duncan Andrews’s best friend Gina is a witch. His dog is a zombie. And his dead boyfriend, Robbie, is a ghost. So it’s hardly any wonder that he uses his connection to the supernatural to help him solve cases. Good thing, too, because Duncan has his hands full. Janice Sanderson, the richest woman in Indianapolis, wants him to find her stripper daughter, Brenda, and another client is having some trouble with a specter haunting her family home. On top of that, Duncan has decided to add dating into the mix, though after Robbie’s death, he’s not sure he’s ready.
When Duncan meets Nick while tracking down a lead on Brenda’s boyfriend, he shelves his doubts and agrees to a date. Robbie doesn’t make it easy on him, showing up to spoil his chances, but that is the least of Duncan’s worries—because one of his clients’ husbands is missing and there’s a serial killer on the loose—one Duncan fears isn’t human.