“Thanks,” I said. “I think.”
“So why are you haunting me tonight?” she asked.
“Why? Do you have something better to do?”
“Than to hang out with a ghost? Sadly, no.” She took a sip from her drink and studied me. “So tell me, honey, why are you here tonight? I sense you want to ask me something.”
There were no secrets with Pauline. “I want your help to bust me out of here.”
“Bust you out of where?”
“Here,” I said. “The apartment building.”
She set down her drink directly on her hand-painted coffee table. So much for the coaster. “And where would you like to go, Mr. Blakely?” she asked.
An image of the monastery must have been sitting heavily on my mind, because she nodded almost instantly.
“I see,” she said. “So you are serious about looking into your music teacher’s murder?”
“And you think this will help save your soul?” she asked.
“It couldn’t hurt,” I said.
“Did it ever occur to you that it might be too late for you, James?”
“But you’re going to go through with this anyway?”
She sat forward on the love seat, the springs creaking beneath her weight. She reached out and held the stem of the martini glass without actually lifting it.
“You’ve been dead nearly two years?” she asked.
Dates were getting fuzzy with me, but that number seemed right. “Yes,” I said. “I think.”
“And what, exactly, have you done during these past two years to help save your soul? And finding Mrs. Carney’s lost cat doesn’t count, since you were the one who spooked it in the first place.”
“I found Mrs. Carney’s lost cat.”
“I’ve been waiting for the right situation,” I said.
“And you think finding your music teacher’s murderer is that situation?”
I thought about that. “It feels right. I can’t explain it other than that.”
“It feels right?”
I sensed her trying to talk me out of this. I didn’t want to be talked out of this. I wanted this. “I adored that woman,” I said. “I want to help.”
“There’s one problem, James,” she said. “You’re earthbound to this apartment building.”
“Which is why I need your help.”
She sighed heavily and took a sip from her drink. “Fine. Let me ask around.”
“Who will you ask?”
“I know people,” she said.
“Dead people?” I asked.
“Very dead people.”
A few days later, Pauline stepped through her front door and found me hovering in her kitchen. I had, admittedly, been waiting for her.
“How was your day, dear?” I asked pleasantly.
She ignored me and tossed her purse and keys on her kitchen table and headed straight for the fridge. A moment later, she emerged with a bottle of Miller Lite.
“You know,” she said, “there are some people who are greeted by their mate when they first come home. Or by their kids. Or even their dogs. Me? I get a ghost.”
“I could take offense at that,” I said. “At least you have someone.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was a shitty thing to say.”
“I could piss on your leg, if that makes you feel any better.”
“I said I’m sorry. Besides, I have good news. I might have found a way to break you out of here.” She twisted off the cap to her beer and drank deeply from it. When she pulled away to breathe, she said, “I’d offer you one, but you don’t have any lips.”
“Very funny,” I said.
“Wait till I have a few beers in me—I’ll be a regular comedian.”
We moved over to the couch. She curled her feet under her and looked steadily at me. “I’m going to miss you, James.”
That surprised me. “That’s if we can figure out a way to get me to the church. Besides, I always got the impression that I bothered you, Pauline. That since you spent the bulk of your day dealing with the dead, the last thing you wanted was to have a ghost haunting you at home.”
Outside, in the parking lot below, a car alarm suddenly went off, immediately followed by the sound of running feet. Had a car alarm actually served its purpose? Pauline ignored the sound. She was silent and meditative, her thoughts closed even to me.
Finally, she said, “Yes, James, there are times when I desperately need a break from the dead, even from you. No offense.”
“But you seem to be pretty good at discerning those times, so it’s mostly not a problem.”
She was staring intently at me. I wondered just how much of me she could actually see.
“I see the outline of you,” she said, reading my thoughts. “I see your jawline, your cheekbones, your mouth. You have very full lips.”
“Had very full lips,” I corrected.
She ignored me. “You were a very handsome man, James. I could have loved a man like you.”
“Well, I think you do a little,” I said. It was meant as a joke, but my ability to joke seemed to have gone the way of my body. After all, humor was as much body language and inflection as it was content, and I didn’t have much of either these days.
She studied me from over her bottle of beer, then swirled the contents, which caused frothing whitecaps to appear over the lip.
“Frothing whitecaps? You have a vivid imagination.”
“It’s what makes me special.”
“Yes, you are special,” she said. “And, yes, I do think I love you a little. You have proven to be a good friend and a wonderful confidant.”
She stared at me some more, then drank from her beer. As she did so, I found myself trying to remember how beer tasted. Hoppy and bitter were two words that came to mind—two words that had mostly lost their meaning to me.
“Don’t forget filling, complete, and quenching,” said Pauline, easily following my train of thought. She finished her beer, got up from the couch, and headed over to the kitchen. She tossed the empty bottle and got herself another one. “Here, let me give you a taste.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. I could just imagine her dumping the beer all over her kitchen floor as she tried to find my ghostly gullet.