A ghouls guide to love a.., p.3
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       A Ghoul's Guide to Love and Murder, p.3

           Victoria Laurie

  The museum itself is a gorgeous structure—lots of glass and sharp angles—a very modern showpiece not far from Boston Harbor and situated right on the water. If I’d been in the mood to tour a museum, this would’ve been the one I’d have chosen, but I was more in the mood to murder a certain five-foot-six, one-hundred-sixty-two-pound thirty-seven-year-old who was unceremoniously dumped by his previous boyfriend for cutting his toenails while eating a doughnut in bed. (Oh, gee golly whiz! Did I just spill Gilley’s most tightly guarded secrets? Oopsies . . .)

  Anyway, we had to pay ten bucks for parking, then sprint to the museum itself. Once there (and after paying thirty bucks to get us both inside), I was sort of at a loss for where to go. I’d told Gil to meet us at the museum, but not specifically where.

  “The exhibit is upstairs,” Heath said, and I turned to look at him and saw that he was pointing to a poster next to the central hallway. On the poster was an ad for the exhibition and a few shots from the movie, including a close-up of the Grim Widow herself. It was enough to make me shudder.

  “Maybe he’s already here,” I said.

  Heath arched a skeptical eyebrow.

  I frowned. “Yeah, I know, but let’s head up and look for the dagger and someone to help us get it back.”

  We walked toward the elevators, but there was a line, so we took the stairs. I was a little winded by the time we reached the top but ignored the urge to catch my breath in favor of getting to the exhibit as quickly as possible. To my absolute horror, I saw a line of people waiting to enter the exhibit where Oruç’s dagger was on display. It hit me that we’d arrived at the exhibit just a few hours after it’d officially opened to the public on its first day, and I’d been unprepared to find it so popular already. I’d figured that if any kind of crowd was going to show up, it’d be in a few hours when Gilley was set to make an appearance and talk about his time on the show and some of the ghostbusts we’d done. To see a long line of people already waiting to get in felt a bit surreal and, to be honest, highly flattering, but then I remembered our mission. I was about to tell Heath that we should look for someone in charge to speak with when a woman in line turned and pointed at me. “Oh . . . my . . . God! It’s them! It’s M.J. and Heath!”

  I stiffened in shock as a whole line of heads turned, eyes bugged, and then about forty people rushed right toward us. Heath grabbed hold of my hand and pulled me close to him as we were swarmed. I resisted the urge to run, but barely. Smartphones flashed as people took pictures, and more phones were raised high as others recorded our shocked faces. My hearing was flooded with a barrage of excited chatter: “I can’t believe you two are here! Are there cameras?”

  “Will you sign my program?”

  “Ohmigod, Heath, you’re so hot! Will you sign my chest?”

  “M.J., are you and Heath really dating?”

  “Ohmigod! Is that a wedding ring?! Heath! Did you and M.J. get married?”

  “Where’s Gilley? Are the others coming?”

  “My house is haunted and I really want you guys to come do a show about it . . .”

  Belatedly, I realized I’d not only lost hold of Heath’s hand but my sight of him, and I was now backing away from the crowd. Several months earlier I’d been mobbed by a group of possessed mental patients, and I found this situation to be no less threatening or scary. “Heath!” I yelled as several programs and pens were pushed at me, while hands gripped my arms and pressed on my back. The memory of being overrun by those possessed patients was starting to press in on me, and I found it hard to breathe. “Heath!”

  My husband suddenly stepped in front of me, and in a loud, booming voice he commanded, “Everyone, back the hell up!”

  To my immense relief, the shocked crowd fell silent and took several steps away from us. I pressed against his back, shaking and trying to get a grip. Heath then reached back for my hand again and pulled me to his side, where he then wrapped a protective arm around me. “We’re not here to sign autographs today, folks,” he said. The crowd groaned, but it felt only halfhearted, probably because they were still in shock at Heath’s outburst.

  “Excuse me,” said a voice somewhere beyond the crowd. “What’s going on here?”

  A gentleman stepped forward wearing a blue blazer and dark gray dress slacks. He wore a lanyard with a badge that looked official, and carried a walkie-talkie in his left hand. I assumed by his surprised and annoyed expression that he represented museum security.

  Shaking off the fright I’d had, I said, “Do you work here?”

  “Yes,” he said brusquely. “What are you two doing to incite this crowd?”

  “We’re from the show,” I said, pointing to a blown-up image over the entrance of the exhibit that pictured Heath and me running across a bridge as if our lives depended on it. (Which, at the time, they definitely did.)

  “Nobody told me there’d be any public appearances until later on tonight,” the man said. I saw the name Murdock on his employee badge.

  “We’re not here for a public appearance!” I snapped. (The mobbing of the crowd had seriously rattled me. I think I took it out on poor Murdock.) “Sir, you have a very dangerous relic on display in there!” For emphasis I pointed to the entrance of the exhibit. “And we’ve come to collect it before it can cause anyone harm.”

  All around us there were gasps, and I realized my mistake immediately. Whispered murmurs of “Which relic is she talking about?” and “I’m totally going in there!” and “Quick, let’s go see what she’s talking about before she takes it away!” filtered out to my ears as the crowd turned away from us and rushed back toward the exhibit entrance.

  I watched them go and palmed my forehead. How could I have been so stupid?

  “We need to get in there,” Heath said to the guard, who’d thankfully been the only one who’d remained next to us.

  “I can’t let you take anything from in there!” he said, as if he were offended that Heath would even ask.

  “You don’t understand,” Heath insisted, squaring his shoulders and standing up to his full height. Heath isn’t overly tall, or overly brawny, but he can put out the most powerful presence when he wants to.

  Murdock took a step back and lifted his walkie-talkie. “Rob, we’ve got a situation up in the ghost movie exhibit. I need Mr. Sullivan here. Stat.”

  There was a garbled reply that I couldn’t quite make out, and I could feel my impatience and anxiety mount as more and more people crammed into the exhibit room.

  For his part, Murdock simply stared into space as he held the walkie-talkie about face level. It appeared he was waiting for orders.

  I tapped my foot impatiently, ignored the occasional lifting of a smartphone in our direction followed by the occasional flash, and muttered a few obscenities under my breath.

  “Why are we standing here?” Heath finally asked the guard when he continued to stare into space without explanation.

  “I gotta wait for the boss to tell me what he wants to do with you two,” Murdock growled. It was clear he had no love for us, and vice versa.

  “Well, we don’t,” I said. Squeezing Heath’s hand, I turned away from the security guard and marched with authority toward the exhibit entrance.

  “Hey!” Murdock yelled. “Get back here!”

  I ignored him and ducked into the crowd, weaving between people who, thankfully, made way for us, but not without excited murmuring as we passed. At last we came out into the exhibit room, and as I stepped to the middle and looked around, I was too shocked to speak.

  The exhibit was impressive. It lined all four walls and unfolded the story of our show like a timeline. There were photos galore—all the haunted spaces that the show had investigated, the scary still shots of the spooks we’d busted, and profile pictures of each member of the GG crew.

  Another wall had small snippets of our show playing on a loop, and on a third wa
ll there was a poster-sized photo of some ectoplasmic fog filling the floor of a room, which was taken from one of our ghostbusts in Europe. Belatedly I realized that a dry ice machine was pumping out a similar fog along the floor of the exhibit. Glancing down, I shuddered when I realized I couldn’t see my feet; it brought back dark, nightmarish memories.

  Yet another wall held memorabilia from the show. There was a whole section filled with nothing but the weapons we’d used over the past couple of years against the various nasty spooks we’d encountered. Everything from our magnetized railroad spikes to the tennis racket strung with magnetized wire we’d used against the Grim Widow, to the Ghost Enhancer, which was a contraption that looked like a radio but amped up the electromagnetic field around a given area, something that actually made the spooks stronger, and which we’d needed for two particular busts we’d done. It was a fairly dangerous contraption in the wrong hands, and I made a mental note to ask for that back as well.

  Nearby I saw that one of our crew jackets had been framed, and there was even a female mannequin wearing nearly the exact same outfit I had worn on many of the Ghoul Getters episodes.

  Amid all of this, playing eerily in the background was a recording of a compilation of terrifying sounds—disembodied footsteps, a series of faraway screams, muttering whispers, and what could only be described as long nails raking against wood, but I knew better. The sound was actually a set of talons, etching deep grooves slowly and terrifyingly into a wall. The sound bite had been pulled from the hotel in San Francisco where Oruç’s demon had been set loose to terrorize and kill.

  Another shudder traveled through me and I focused my attention on a display case toward the back wall. There, with a light trained on it, was the dagger itself. Crowded around it were several people, reading what was likely a description of the dagger and the dangers it held. Luckily, there were enough magnets surrounding it, and the people in the room, to protect us all—at least I hoped so.

  “There,” I said, pointing to it.

  “I see it,” Heath replied. “And I think there’re enough magnets in here to hold Oruç and the demon inside the dagger, at least.”

  “Excuse me!” we heard from behind us. We both glanced over our shoulders to see a very fit-looking man with intense eyes, a crooked nose, and thick black eyebrows approach us. “What are you two doing here?” he demanded, slightly out of breath, as if he’d rushed to the exhibit from downstairs. “I wasn’t told about any public appearances by the stars of the show until later on. We’re not staffed with enough people to accommodate this right now!”

  Behind him I realized that the crowd currently attempting to enter the exhibit had grown almost exponentially. People were literally flooding in, and the scene was making me more and more anxious.

  I shook my head at both the unfolding scene and what the newcomer had just said. I don’t consider myself famous—certainly not a star—and yet, everyone who came through the door seemed to have a hand raised with a phone that was either flashing or recording. It was super-disconcerting. “This was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” I heard Heath say to the man. And then he stuck out his hand, as calm as could be, and said, “Heath Whitefeather, sir.”

  “Phil Sullivan,” the man replied, shaking Heath’s hand, but there was little warmth to his expression. “I’m the museum director. We should’ve been notified that you two were coming.”

  “We had no idea this would happen,” Heath said, blinking in the flashing lights of several smartphones.

  I was starting to lose patience with this whole thing. Pointing to the display case with Oruç’s dagger, I said, “We just came to collect that, Mr. Sullivan. As soon as you open the case and let us retrieve it, we’ll be on our way.”

  Sullivan’s gaze followed my index finger to the display case across the room. He then looked back at me as if I’d asked him to hand over all his cash. “You’re kidding me, right?”

  “No,” I said to him. “I’m definitely serious. That relic has no business being on display. It’s insanely dangerous. We need to remove it. Now.”

  He stared at me as if he expected me to wink at him, and when I didn’t, his face flushed red with irritation and he put his hands on his hips. “Listen, I’ve got a museum to run, and I don’t need any publicity stunts today. Not when two members of my security staff are out sick with the flu!”

  Heath stepped a little closer to Sullivan, projecting that glorious presence again. “Mr. Sullivan, I can assure you this isn’t a publicity stunt. That dagger houses a ghost and a demon, and both are among the most dangerous we’ve ever dealt with. That dagger needs to be locked up away from the public, not on display here where there could be exposure to its influences.”

  Sullivan rolled his eyes and then glared angrily at Heath. “Listen, buddy,” he said, “I know you two gotta keep up the pretenses for the sake of the movie, but I’m telling you to drop the act and leave before this situation gets out of hand.”

  Around us I could hear the excited murmurs ratchet up a notch—the crowd sensing the tension in the air. Others, though, must have overheard me talking about Oruç’s dagger, because the group around the display case where it was housed was growing and people were hovering dangerously close.

  Taking Heath’s cue I drew myself up to my full stature (keep in mind, I’m not very tall) and inched closer to Sullivan. “Sir,” I said sternly. “This is not an act. That relic over there was entrusted to us to look after and we can’t do that if it’s here. I demand that you give it back.”

  But Sullivan wasn’t budging. He folded his arms across his chest and said, “I have a signed contract from the movie studio paying us for this display. I’m not about to put that contract into breach just because the two stars show up and try to throw their weight around. If you want it back so bad, you’re going to need to go through the museum’s attorney, and good luck with that, Miss . . . Miss . . .”

  Heath glared hard at him. “Mrs. Whitefeather,” he said angrily. “And I’ll thank you to speak respectfully to my wife.”

  My breath caught. I’d had every intention of keeping our marriage under wraps until after Gilley’s wedding, but Heath and I had gotten so used to calling each other Mr. and Mrs. that of course it rolled easily off his tongue. The excited murmuring around us ratcheted up another notch. “Ohmigod! Did you hear that?! They got married! M.J. and Heath got married!”

  I wanted to groan. There’d be no keeping the news from Gilley now. But speaking of Gilley, I started to wonder where that little—

  “You’re married?!” came a shrieking voice.

  The crowd fell silent. Then it parted to let through my oldest and dearest friend. Who looked ready to murder me. Raising both fists above his head, Gilley fell to his knees and shouted, “Why, God, why?”

  “Great,” I muttered. “Could this day get any worse?”

  And then the lights went out and the place was plunged into darkness.

  Screams erupted all around us—the loudest of which I recognized as Gilley’s. I waited for someone to turn the light on from his or her cell phone, but among all the frightened screams, there were other shouts from people claiming that their phones were dead.

  As I fumbled for my own phone, Heath grabbed my hand and pulled me to him, and together we carefully wove through the crush of rushing bodies toward Oruç’s dagger, which had to be responsible, because it was the only thing powerful enough in the room to douse the lights and drain every single phone. Well, save mine.

  I slid my finger across the surface of the phone, and it lit up—the only light in the dark room. A wave of relief washed over me, until I realized that I held the only light in the room.

  A mass of footsteps from all around us rushed straight for me, like moths to a flame. I shut off the phone fast, and Heath pulled me sharply to the right and off the track we’d been on, which was wise, because a lady I’d just been standing next to a
ppeared to be suddenly swarmed by people. “Get off me! Get off me!” she cried.

  “Turn on your phone again!” someone else shouted. “Dammit! Turn it on!”

  Heath maneuvered through the crowd, which was working itself up into a frenzy of fear. The energy was insane, and I could feel the vibrations of intense alarm and mounting panic bouncing around us as people tried to figure out where they were in relation to the exit. “We have to get out!” many shouted. “Where’s the door? How do we get out of here?”

  The fog from the dry ice machine wasn’t helping matters, because what feeble light did trickle in from the hallway was obscured by the fog that was getting kicked up by people rushing around the room.

  I also found it a little odd that at least some people weren’t finding the situation humorous—the way some individuals can move through a staged Halloween haunted house and find it funny. There didn’t seem to be anyone within hearing distance of me who thought the whole thing was a publicity stunt—everyone was scared, and I do mean petrified.

  “Are we close?” I called to Heath, who was still pulling on my arm.

  “I think so!” he called back to me, using his shoulder to push aside someone who, in his panic, was trying to get between us. Abruptly, Heath stopped and I nearly bumped into the back of him. “It’s here,” he said, and I felt around a little with my free hand and found a velvet rope near my waist. I then heard a clicking sound and the rope fell to the floor. Heath guided me forward and then my hands were on the glass case that housed the dagger. I could feel a wave of the foulest energy waft over me, and then, all of a sudden, it was gone and all the lights came back on.

  I blinked in the sudden brightness and the nearly immediate shocked silence that rippled through the crowd. People had frozen in place when the lights came on—many were clinging to each other in fear. One poor soul had soiled his pants, and he was the first to bolt out of the exit. Many of what remained of the crowd followed. Hastily.

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