(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
"Dang, man," Dillon muttered into JD's back, "why's it gotta be so frickin' intense?"
JD sighed, opening his eyes. The yard was clear. There was nothing there. No body. No blood. Nothing.
"It's over," he said solemnly.
Wendy pulled her face slowly from his jacket sleeve, glancing cautiously at the yard. "My God ... I never imagined anything so ... so awful."
"Ghosts are all morbid an' crap."
"Yes." JD tried to move forward, but Dillon's weight pulled on him.
"Uh ... it's over now, Dillon. You can let go."
"Dude ... I so need a hug, man."
"Get one from Wendy and let go of me."
"I so can't, dude. I need a man-hug."
"Will you get off, please?" Reluctantly, Dillon lifted his hands from JD's shoulders. He strode to the spot where the wailing apparition had stood, between the windows and the bare, claw-like limbs of the shrubs.
"Somewhere under here," he spoke softly to himself, "is the pipe he buried."
"The suicide note everyone said he didn't leave," Wendy intoned, moving to stand beside JD again.
"Do we dig it up or somethin'?"
JD sighed again, raising his eyebrows quizzically. "I suppose we should. I don't ... I still don't know how we're going to explain to the police how we found it, though."
"Maybe that doesn't matter, baby," Wendy said, stroking his arm with her hand and laying her head on his shoulder. "Maybe that we find it is enough. Or maybe just knowing it's there will satisfy Jenkins' ghost."
JD snorted a brief laugh and shook his head. "Maybe. 'Jenkins' ghost.' I can't believe I'm not arguing this. Two days ago, I would have argued this. Vehemently. Now ... now, I don't have any grounds TO argue."
"Is that a bad thing, lover? Is it so wrong to believe in something you didn't know was there before?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I don't ... I don't know. It doesn't matter. It is what it is."
"Dude, if we don't dig it up, how we gonna know if it's the note or somethin' else?"
"What else would it be?"
"I dunno ... bomb?"
"Why would he want to blow someone up?"
"'Cause he hates life?"
"But he's dead."
"'Cause he's a creepy-ass ghost?"
"Stop it. It's not a bomb. He already showed he wasn't involved in Brown's murder. The other two were. If he was angry and murderous, why wouldn't he exact revenge on them?"
"Dude, don't you get it yet?"
"JD, the reason he didn't avenge his partner's death wasn't because he didn't want to. He couldn't."
JD looked down at Wendy. "Because of his sister?"
She nodded. "If he tried to expose the people involved, tried to come forward in any way -- they'd probably have killed her. And any children she had."
JD nodded. "I guess. It seems unlikely that Migo would want to hurt his own wife and children."
"I'm sure he wouldn't. That doesn't mean others involved wouldn't, though. They had them both over a barrel. We have no idea how many people were involved in this thing."
JD drew a deep breath again. "You're right. It's plausible."
"Dude, it's what happened. They told 'im if he didn't say Robbie-boy done it, they'd whack his sister, her kids, any anybody else they wanted to. He hadda play the game for them, man."
"Well ... that ... that sucks."
Wendy laughed uproariously for a moment. "At a loss for words, huh?"
"He just said it sucked. Those're words. Home-boy ALWAYS has somethin' t'say."
"That's not true."
"Anyway," Wendy interjected, "we need to dig this thing up."
"Well, I don't happen to have a shovel with me right now."
"Dude, let's use the one the ghost used."
"We can't, Dillon."
"Because it happened years and years ago, dork. It's not there now."
"Really? How many years ago?"
"I don't recall. I don't know if Bea said. And I haven't looked that up yet. I guess I should. I should look up Migo and Stanton too. Maybe if they're still alive they can ... I don't know. Be brought to justice."
"For a 35 year-old murder," Wendy said softly. "How strange that would be."
"Not as strange as the conversation telling the police about this note, and how we found it."
"Can't we say were we doing something in the yard for the homeowners?"
"In late October? Involving digging?"
"I'm just saying, maybe we can find a viable excuse."
"Dude, you ain't come up with an idea yet. Why not?"
"Uh ... okay. Maybe we could ... I don't know. Like what?"
"We can say there was a very soft spot here and we wanted to make sure there wasn't a broken pipe or something under the window. Would that work?"
JD shrugged. He was sick of feeling helpless. He knew he'd end up looking stupid and feeling that way too if he couldn't find a legitimate reason to dig for the tiny section of pipe he'd seen buried.
He wasn't even sure it was there. It had been years since Jenkins' death. It could have been dug up long ago.
"Let's ... give it some thought, I guess. We have some time to do other things. Maybe ... maybe we'll think of something realistic enough to be passable."
He watched that spot on the ground through the rain. The water ran off the eaves of the house three floors above them and dripped into pools at the base of the window.
"I wonder why the police never noticed the disturbed ground? Shouldn't that have been obvious, even in casual observation?"
"The rain, dude."
"What about it?"
"It made the mud all soft an' stuff, dumb-ass. They couldn't tell nothin' was diff'rent."
JD thought about that. "What are you, an idiot savant?"
"If that's rude, then I know you are but what am I?"
"What if it's not rude?"
"Well ... you said 'idiot' so I'm pretty sure it's rude, cling-turd."
"Uh-huh. What's a cling-turd? No. Never mind."
"Let's get out the rain," Wendy said sternly. "I'm soaked and getting cold."
They moved quickly to the porch, out of the steady rain, and JD unlocked the door. They went inside and moved to the parlor. The house was cool but not cold, but they shivered in their sopping clothes. Wendy took off her jacket and rubbed her hands together in front of her.
"I think you're going to have to turn on the heater in here, lover. It's chilly! And maybe we can find some towels?"
JD looked nervous. "Uh ... I don't know ... I don't know if I should be going through the homeowners' things."
"Dude, we can wash 'em or whatnot, but we're soaked!"
"Are they coming back before we can wash and dry them, JD?"
"No ... they aren't coming back until spring, but ..."
"SPRING?? Dude, get the damn towels!"
"Oh, hon, come ON."
"All right, all right ... I guess I can offer to pay the utility bill for this month. But based on the size of the house, I'll need help."
"Fine," Wendy giggled and started up the stairs to find a linen closet.
"Get the frickin' heater, dude."
"I'd better check the pilot on the furnace first. Actually, I'd better make sure the furnace can even be used first. We don't want a fire."
"Whatever, just hurry up!"
"Okay, okay, relax."
JD moved past the stairs and into the kitchen. He checked the doors for what he was certain would be an access to the basement. He also watched for the thermostat. He found the basement entry near the back of the walk-in pantry, next to what he imagined must have been the servant's stairwell. The basement was dark, but light was cast from the windows seated at ground-level, letting in parts of the leaden overcast day from outside.
The basement was surprisingly uncluttered, clean and rather empty. Some canned foods and homemade preserves lined a sturdy old wooden shelf crafted from dimension lumber, and a few paint cans rested atop a locked metal cabinet in one corner. A few scattered boxes were on other wooden shelves, but the bulk of the space was open.
The floor was concrete, stained with age and water, the ceiling composed of the joists supporting the floor above. The basement was not quite full-height, but probably seven feet. JD noticed that the ancient foundation, patched and quilted materials from the variations of days gone by, stuck out into the basement below the window at several points. He pulled on a chain to turn on the stairwell light as he went, and the space was dimly, weakly illuminated by the bare-bulb fixtures mounted to the shiny silver conduit racing under the joists.
He descended the stairs, and heard a distinct sound.
He walked forward, finding another chain, and pulled on it, sending another yellow-white patch of light onto the cobbled floor. He turned to look behind him, and saw that one -- only one -- of the windows looking through the foundation of the house had paint broken away between the wide, short sash and frame. The others were all painted shut.
The sound he'd heard, the creaking of that ancient hinge ... it had come from that single window opening. Jenkins had used it to come out of the basement unseen when he witnessed Brown's murder. JD wandered over to the window, and noticed that the half-shelf of the reinforced foundation formed a kind of step. He got onto the step on his knees, and twisted the window catch to open it. It resisted violently, but finally squealed loose. He pulled the window open toward him.
The fresh, cool air washed over him like a wave from the ocean, the banter of the constant rain prattling at him. As the window drew back, the hinges creaked in protest.
Just as he'd heard last night.
He closed the window again, and looked behind him. There, beside the window opposite him, was an old iron pipe that rose from what he thought might be a sump pump and went out through the exterior wall beneath the line of the earth outside.
"Perfect," he whispered.
The water he heard was gurgling through the pipe, but some spilled gently back into the basement, falling in a tiny puddle near the middle of a much larger water stain on the floor. A large, plastic bucket caught it and gathered it up. Another, empty bucket stood at the ready a few feet away.
He looked around the spartan basement for any gardening tools, but remembered the detached single-car garage in the yard on the other side of the house. He guessed that, from his position at the leaky little pipe, he was somewhere under the parlor.
But the basement didn't cover the entirety of the first floor. It was far too small for the sprawling house.
He walked forward a bit more, tugging on another chain to light another bulb near the back wall.
A solid wall of newer concrete greeted him.
"They remodeled and filled something in." Chiding himself inwardly for talking aloud to the walls, he headed for the stairs.
He had the excuse he needed to dig up the yard. Now he needed the tools to do it.