Spoiler alert: Read after Having It All: Climax, Montana 2
Simon MacDougal’s office
Simon swirled the amber liquid in his glass, wishing it would numb his pain. The contented cat on his lap purred, keeping him company. Three in the morning, the witching hour, and another night of broken sleep.
“It’s not right to lose a child,” he told Barney. The cat, used to his late-night rambles, kept on purring. “How could Lance spend all those years knowing Danny would die so young, and still put so much love and laughter into his life?” He took another sip. “Maybe that was why.”
He turned back to the job he’d assigned himself to stay sane: the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Tanner’s Ford. They would do a series of re-enactments, he’d decided. One for each of the women who started the town.
“Beth married Trace Elliott after staring down Big Joe Sheldrake, the town bully,” he read. “She was locked in jail at the time, and when Big Joe Sheldrake attacked she—”
“It was Charlie I kicked in the balls, not Joe. He was down at Baldy’s Saloon, getting drunk.”
Simon paused. He’d been hearing whispers for a few weeks now, and seen strange things out of the corners of his eyes. Once he thought he’d seen Danny reach out to him, but it hurt too much, and he’d turned away.
“Maybe I’d better get some sleeping pills”, he muttered.
“You don’t need pills, Simon MacDougal. You need to get on with your life while you have one!”
A young woman suddenly appeared, floating a foot above his carpet. She wore a black velvet dress that clung to her curves. Diamonds glittered at her ears, neck, and arms. Her blonde hair was piled on top of her head. He blinked up at her, but she didn’t fade.
“Maybe another drink would—”
“You’ll not banish me with your whiskey,” she replied, “though I wish I could have a snort. It smells a lot better than the rotgut Baldy used to serve.”
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Beth Elliott, at your service,” she said, and curtsied.
He rubbed tired eyes but she didn’t fade.
“Beth Elliott died in 1949,” he said. “She had a heart attack from seducing an orderly in the seniors home she’d been sent to after she broke her hip dancing at her hundredth birthday party!”
The woman looked down and carefully arranged her skirt. Then she gave a glare that reminded him of his granny, a tough old bird.
“Freddie was not an orderly, he was an intern. As for sex, we did what was possible considering my age, hip, and state of other parts of my body.”
“The story’s true?”
The woman, a figment of his sleepless nights, journal reading, and whiskey, snorted like a horse.
“We told dirty jokes to each other, made up stories, and generally had a good time. When you’ve been around for a century, being able to laugh is a joy.”
“Are you saying you’re Elizabeth Elliott?” He shook his head. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“I prefer the term “spirit”.
“Why are you haunting me?”
“I’m not here to haunt you, dear boy.” She patted her hair like a practiced courtesan. Had she worn those elbow-length black gloves a moment ago? “Now that the last person to have known me has passed, I’ve been given leave to help you.”
“But, you’re dead.”
She arched a haughty eyebrow. “There’s no reason to be rude about it, young man!”
Whatever she was, vision or not, he had to ask.
“Can you bring Danny back?”
She shook her head. A tear dripped off her cheek. “No,” she whispered. “But I can tell you that he died by his choice, to save many others. You, Lance, and Marci raised a fine boy.”
“And he’s dead!”
Simon roared the words. He would not cry. He’d shed enough to float the toy sailboat Danny had cherished.
“And if you keep on like this, you’ll soon be the same!”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a choice to make, Simon MacDougal. You can continue this pity party, or you can haul your ass up by the bootstraps so Brady and Ross, and your future grandchildren and great-grandchildren, don’t have to rely on Lance!”
Simon shoved his half-empty glass off the table. It landed in the garbage can with a loud thunk.
“Danny asked me to tell you he loves you very much,” she continued gently. “He said you were always a good father to him, and you respected and loved his life partner. He misses you, but he and Royce have important jobs to do.”
His breath caught in his throat. Few knew the nickname Danny called his partner.
“Who are you?” he repeated.
“Do you remember when you stood on that rock, then fell and broke your leg? That’s how you met your wife, Marci.”
“Of course I remember. I still don’t know why I tripped.”
“You didn’t trip. I jabbed my hatpin into your ankle.” She smiled and gave him another curtsey. “I’m rather proud of that one. Worked like a charm.”
“I thought ghosts,” she glared. “I mean, spirits, couldn’t move things.”
“You were balanced on the apex of two probabilities,” she said. “If you fell, you would meet and marry the love of your life, have three sons, and live a mostly happy life. If not, you’d grow into a miserable old man who everyone avoided.” She narrowed her eyes. “I worked damn hard to jab that hatpin in you. Don’t mess things up.”
He must be dreaming. Since he was, he might as well get his questions answered.
“You said Danny and Royce have important jobs.”
“Yes. They help bring souls to the light. Often ones who die suddenly refuse to believe they’ve passed. If they stay too long, they get stuck. But, as soldiers, they will follow the orders of an officer. Danny, and Royce, help them pull away from their place of death, so they can find peace.”
It made sense, if anything in this night did. Barney woke up, shook his head, and looked toward the woman floating in the air. He leaped onto the desk and began washing briskly, in that typical cat fashion which meant he wasn’t sure why he’d moved, and had to cover it up with a reason.
“You’re one of Dusty’s kittens,” she said gently. “I’ll have to tell Ranger.”
“You’re talking about Ranger Elliott? Ben’s twin, who married Florence?”
She smiled with delight. “You’ve been reading the journals!”
“I have,” he acknowledged. He cleared his throat. “So, do you know where the gold is buried?”
“Yes,” she said. She winked, snapped her fingers, and was gone.
He heaved himself out of the chair and around his desk. There was nothing there, of course. Barney leaped down and padded over to where the ghostly apparition had appeared. He put out a paw and batted at something on the rug. Simon leaned down, knees creaking. He picked up what felt like a sharp rock. He brought it back to the desk lamp and held out his hand.
A diamond lay in his palm.