Title: Ghosted by Another
Summary: While on their way to an assignment, Reyes recalls an incident from a few years before. You'd think that she'd have scarier stories to tell, but she's driving.
Notes follow story.
Monica drummed her fingers along the ridges of the steering wheel. "I'd kill for a cigarette."
"Uh-uh. We're in a rental. It's against the rules." Doggett closed the folder containing the details of their latest case and fished around in his jacket pocket. "You want some gum? It's cinnamon."
She held out her hand for the stick of gum. "At least it'll keep my mouth occupied." Glancing over at her partner, she noted his shaking head and barely suppressed grin. "You've got a dirty mind, John. Go back to reading your reports."
"Nah, we've got a long drive. It'll keep." He reached over to adjust the settings on the stereo system. "We seem to be out of range for most radio stations."
"Just turn it off. The static messes with my head."
Pushing the Off button, Doggett settled back in the passenger seat and started flipping through the reports in the folder. "So, should we go ahead and talk about this case or what? Have you had a chance to read any of the witness statements?" He looked up when he received no reply. "Monica?"
"Sorry, I was just remembering the last time I investigated something involving a writer's story coming true."
"I thought I'd heard about most of your old cases. I don't recall one fitting that description."
"It was a while ago. I'd been in New Orleans about six months. And it never exactly became a case - it was one of those things that ended so weird and then you try to do your reports and find that there's not much to write down." Monica's voice trailed off as she stared at the long straight pavement ahead of her.
Doggett prompted her to continue. "Okay, so you'd been working in New Orleans . . ."
"And I got a phone call . . ."
She picked up the receiver and cradled it between her ear and shoulder, leaving her hands free to deal with a coffee spill. "Agent Reyes."
"Is this Agent Monica Reyes?"
"Yes, who am I speaking with?"
The female voice on the phone hesitated for a few seconds before continuing. "I read in the papers a while ago that you, how shall I put this, specialize in certain types of investigations, odd occurrences and the like. Is this correct?"
"Most of the work I've done lately have involved some occult activity. Why do you ask?"
"I think that I may have a situation that will interest you. Might we meet sometime today to discuss it? How about coffee at Cafe Brasil? It's quite near your office."
Doggett interrupted her. "Was this the writer?"
"Yes. Rosannah Duncan."
"Never heard of her."
"No reason you should. She did a couple of those historical romance novels. You know, like `Love's Flaming Passion' and `Hearts of Destiny'."
"You mean bodice-ripper stuff. Who reads that junk, anyway?" Doggett shook his head in dismay and then looked over at his partner when she did not continue with her story. "What, you?"
"You can't possibly think that I'm going to read Stephen King when I'm trying to wind down. I get enough mayhem at work."
"Agent Reyes. How good of you to meet me on such short notice."
"Well, you did say you had information that would be worth my while."
Monica took a moment to inspect the woman opposite her. Rosannah Duncan was a short woman though not petite-sized, probably in her mid-thirties. Her round face was framed by brownish curly hair, which Monica judged was about two weeks past due a highlighting session still holding evident in some of the curls. The gray pantsuit did nothing for her coloring but did match her eyes.
"This is quite embarrassing for me, the details of my story. I do hope that I may count on your discretion in your investigation."
"That depends upon whether this becomes an actual investigation." Monica tried to place the accent in Rosannah's voice. She detected touches of the `old genteel South', but it seemed that the other woman chose her words carefully, as if it were not her true speech pattern. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"
"Well, I'll tell you, I feel that I must trust someone with this story. I am at my wit's end. It started about three years ago. I was just starting my writing. I had sold some short stories to a few small magazines and was entertaining an offer to do a regular column with my local weekly paper - I'd always enjoyed reading those little slice of life type stories, and I kept pestering the editor to let me try my hand at it, seeing as how I was now published and all. Well, it was right about this time that I met Madeleine Guillory."
Monica waited for her to continue with the story, but it appeared that Rosannah had paused specifically to cause Monica to ask the obvious question. "Who is Madeleine Guillory?"
"I'm not so certain anymore. I really thought that I knew her. She had shared so many intimate details of her life with me, poured out her soul about her hardships and her heartbreaks. I'm just not sure what I can do to help her; she's telling me the most frightening things."
"She says that she is going to be murdered."
Monica paused in mid-sip and tried to swallow her coffee without choking. "Murdered by whom?"
"A neighbor. A jilted suitor, actually."
"Has she gone to the police about this?"
"No, she can't."
Monica pushed aside her coffee cup and placed her hand on the table between them for emphasis. "If she believes that she will be murdered and has some credible proof . . ."
"Agent Reyes, she has the best kind of proof. It's already happened. Madeleine Guillory has been dead for almost one hundred and forty years."
Doggett was incredulous. "She's what?"
"She's already dead."
"This writer wanted you to stop a murder that had already taken place years ago? What a whack job. How would you know that this Madeleine person actually existed?"
"Oh, she did exist," Monica wistfully replied.
Monica repeated her question to Rosannah. "Who is Madeleine Guillory?"
"I guess, if I may use a literary expression, she is my muse, my mentor. She's also my main character."
"Come again? You said that you met her?"
"In a way, I have. At first, I thought that I was just dreaming. In fact, I would swear upon the Bible that I was just having a beautiful recurring waking dream those first few times. We were having tea in this exquisite sitting room with bone china cups and real silverware. Lace curtains on the walls and the most delicate of silk pillows, I can't tell you. And we were just sitting there and she's telling me the stories of her childhood and how she met the man she was to marry but then, of course, the war came . . ."
Monica was becoming annoyed with the other woman's habit of `the dramatic pause' and again pushed for more information. "And this would have been the Civil War?"
"Why, yes. I can sense your hesitation about this and I would have truly felt exactly the same way except that . . . well, a few days after I'd had these dreams, I found a detailed transcription of those conversations saved to a file on my computer. Agent Reyes, hand to God, I have no memory of typing those pages. None whatsoever. But as I was reading along, night after night, what I'd hear, what I'd write . . . I felt that it had the makings of a very good novel and so . . ."
Doggett slapped his hand on the folder in his lap in amazement. "You don't honestly believe that someone who may have been dead over a hundred years is leaving her life's story - on a computer, for cripe's sake - for a writer to whip up into a bestseller. Talk about your ultimate ghostwriter."
"I didn't say that I believed it, but Rosannah Duncan sure did. She swore that she had no recollection of typing them up in the first place even though she acknowledged that she must have done so - the notes and conversations were just there when she'd go to her computer to check and see if there was anything new."
"That first set of stories turned into `My Louisiana Home', my debut as a romance novelist. I won the Best New Author of the Year Award at the National Romance Writers Convention with it."
Monica poured a second cup of coffee for them both. "You published a book based upon stories you were told in a dream and that mysteriously ended up on your computer? Your book writer's tour must have had some interesting interviews."
"It does have that odd sort of tone when I hear you say it out loud like that, but believe me, I've asked it of myself a number of times. I'd always considered myself somewhat ordinary, someone that nothing special ever really happens to. The Plain Jane, the dutiful daughter, the one who goes to school to get a degree in art history thinking that it will turn into a teaching job when the best it got me was the late shift at the local Kinko's Copying Center. I just kept reading her words, hearing her voice, being thoroughly enchanted by days long past. I didn't care how I had gotten it - I had to share it. It might be for her, for Madeleine, but I just had to."
Monica again prompted for more information to move the conversation forward. "And then came more dreams. More stories."
"Yes. I was getting quite a bit of fan mail asking about what had happened to Madeleine. Bless their hearts, they wanted a sequel. I had stopped `My Louisiana Home' with Oliver Vaden - that's Madeleine's fianc‚ - going off to war in 1861. We'd already had some discussions about what her life was like in New Orleans during the war. There was so much sadness, so much death. And of course, like so many other men of the city, Oliver did not make it through the war alive. I hadn't planned on ending the second book on such a sad note - with Madeleine crying on the stoop of her lover's crypt - but it felt like a good stopping point."
No doubt, Monica thought to herself. "To make sure that the readers come back for the third book."
"Of course. A good writer will want her readers to ask for more, and I had much more planned."
"So, what happened in the third novel?"
"Madeleine dies. She is murdered by a jealous man who thought himself suitable to be married to her, but she always felt that her true soul mate for life was Oliver and she had to honor that. I'm unsure as to how to proceed with the story, though. It's one thing to write about parties and dances and whispered lovemaking in the gentle breezes of a cool evening, but when your muse informs you that she has been murdered, well, I'm just not sure that I wanted to kill her off right then."
"So what's stopping you from finishing the novel your way?"
"Agent Reyes, don't you see? It's all true. Every bit of it is true. Madeleine Guillory and Oliver Vaden actually existed, and they both died the way that Madeleine described to me in my dreams."
"I know I'm gonna regret asking this," Doggett began, "but how does she know that it's true?"
"She had gone over to the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge to check out the time-line of the history of the city like she had done with the first two books. Then she decided that she would find out more about the cemetery where Oliver had been buried."
"She found him, I take it."
"Agent Reyes, I would have given anything for Madeleine's story to not be true. It's one thing to believe that you're having these spirited conversations and then to find that somehow in these dreams that I must have been writing them down all along and had just forgotten about it. But to have this story be true? And I know what you'll ask next. No, I have never heard of these two people before the dreams started. I tell you, I pulled the historical regiment reports and there was Oliver, with the same wounds that Madeleine had described. I've been reading the microfilmed newspapers of the city during that time frame, and they have the accounts of Oliver's death and funeral . . ."
"And of Madeleine's death?"
"Well, I'm not sure about that just yet. I was able to find an account of her disappearance in the timeframe that she mentioned. I don't have the proof of her death; this is why I'm speaking with you. But I know that she was murdered; she's been right about everything else."
As earnest as Rosannah seemed about her ghostly confidante, Monica was still skeptical as to why she should get involved in this literary dilemma. "What did Madeleine say happened to her?"
"A neighbor by the name of George Swearingen became smitten with Madeleine over the years, even as she and Oliver were betrothed. Well, after Oliver's death, Madeleine was inconsolable, but Swearingen was determined to win her heart. It never happened. About a year after Oliver's death, Madeleine spurned the advances and told him in a language that should have left no doubt in his mind that his attentions were unwanted and would never be returned."
"And so he killed her?"
"Swearingen swore that if he could not have her, then no one would. Then he added a caveat - if Madeleine only wanted Oliver, then she could join him. In his crypt. He lured her away from her house one evening and sealed her in."
"Suffocation or starvation. That would have been a long and painful death."
"Would you let me finish telling this story?"
"Swearingen must have been insane - it's the only explanation. I often wonder why feelings so strong make the body so weak."
Monica was beginning to wish that they were seated in the courtyard so that she could have a cigarette. "What does Madeleine hope to get out of telling you this? Does she want someone to expose Swearingen? And whatever happened to him anyway?"
"Madeleine doesn't know. She has no knowledge of events that happened after she died, only that she believes that she had stayed alive in that crypt for about a week. If this does turn out to be true - that Madeleine is in that crypt - thenn I have a fantastic ending for the book."
"They never found her?"
"According to family and cemetery records, that vault has not been opened since Oliver's burial."
"Together forever." Doggett took out a stick of gum for himself. "Whatever happened to that Swearingen guy? Had that writer tried looking for him?"
"She didn't say. She did try to follow up with descendants of the Guillory and Vaden families, to see if anything had been discovered in later years, but she never mentioned locating Madeleine's killer."
"So what exactly did the writer want you to do after telling you all this?"
Monica paused so that she could glance over to her partner's reaction. "She wanted me to have the vault opened."
"Why you? Why not go to the police?"
"She thought that the police, one, wouldn't believe her, and two, if they did open it up and found Madeleine, then it would be all over the papers, and Rosannah Duncan's unpublished third novel would be second-hand news by the time it hit the bookstores."
"Or the bodice-ripper crowd would push it to number one."
"She didn't want to take that chance. I think she was hoping for a wider audience this time around. She was counting on my expertise with the oddness of life and death to have something done quietly. As if I break into graves on a regular basis. She said that she called me right after someone in the Vaden family gave her permission to have it opened. Then, after my meeting with Rosannah, things started to get a little strange."
"Started to get a little strange? How was that possible?"
"I got one of the forensics guys to go to the cemetery with me and to meet with one of the Vaden family lawyers the next morning. Rosannah was a no-show. We waited for a while, but we all had to get back to our offices, so we went ahead and opened up the crypt."
"And we found Madeleine, just as Rosannah said she'd been told."
"I bet she was pissed that she missed that moment for her book."
"Hard to tell. We also found Rosannah inside the crypt as well. Dead. She had been dead for several days."
"Dead? How did she get in? Wait a minute. You just said that she had been dead for several days."
"But you had met with her the day before?"
"So this would be the strange part."
"For me. I could swear that that phone call came into my office and that I had spent several hours talking with her in a coffeeshop not half a mile away, but there's no record of any of it. I checked. Phone logs had no outside calls coming in to my desk that day, and the coffeeshop had been closed several days for some electrical repair work."
Doggett stared out the side window in disbelief. "You're just yankin' my chain here, aren't you?"
"John, with the work that we do, I don't have to make up stuff like this."
"Okay, then, what about that family lawyer that showed up?"
"Their offices did receive a request from Rosannah about ten days prior to our meeting. They were not inclined to grant their permission to have the crypt opened, but apparently Rosannah was quite persistent. They felt that she would eventually go to the media so they said okay, hoping that she'd be proved wrong." Monica removed the spent gum from her mouth and reached for a kleenex. "When she told me that she had gotten permission the day before from the firm to open the crypt, it was actually the week before I met her. The lawyer later told me that he thought it odd that Rosannah had been so persevering in trying to get it opened, and then he heard nothing until I contacted him to check out the story. On a positive note, Rosannah's estate profited greatly. Enough of the third novel was on her computer that her editor had it printed off and quickly spiced it up with the new information to debut at number one."
"So how come this is the first I'm hearing about this? Wouldn't this be prime X-Files material?"
"I think the general consensus was that Rosannah must have been a bit off her rocker to sneak into the crypt in the first place. Some of her fans said it must have been a publicity stunt for the new book that went horribly wrong. The police did conduct an investigation, but there was never any evidence that anyone other than Rosannah had been there in quite some time. Still, though, some say that George Swearingen didn't want his actions to be exposed and so he killed Rosannah the same way he murdered Madeleine."
"So this George guy shows up and she goes off with him, knowing what he may have done to this Madeleine?"
Monica thought about it for a moment before replying, "Maybe she wanted to get his side of the story for her book?"
"So now we've got a ghost writer and a ghost killer. How the hell did this not become an X File?"
This story was written for Pollyanna's 'Horrible' Lyric Wheel (horror/MOW theme).
Acknowledgements go to the snopes.com site where I found an account about a woman dying inside a mausoleum (a true story - she had been 'buried' quickly to prevent spread of a disease).
Lyrics are from "Green and Gray" recorded by Nickel Creek and provided by LovesToWrite (Sarah).