The Death Dealer Page 1


It’s not easy being a ghost.

You would think that it would be the most natural thing in the world. There you go—you’re dead. Live with it.

But it’s far more difficult than you would ever imagine.

It begins with why?

Oh, we all know the theories. A death by violence. Something left undone. Someone to be protected, someone to be warned—someone to be avenged.

Vengeance? Once you’re a ghost? Great stuff.

But that wasn’t my situation. My killer perished split seconds before the light of life faded from my own eyes. It wasn’t that I hadn’t loved life—I had. There were those left behind whom I cherished deeply.

The great love of my life, Matt Connolly, had gone before me, however. And he was there to greet me when I arrived.

“Crossed over,” as they say. Except there’s the thing—you haven’t actually crossed over. You’re existing in a vague and shadowy world where, often, you see something truly horrible about to take place—and you don’t have the power to stop it.

I’d known something of what would occur. I had almost died before. I had felt the power of the light that beckons—an invitation to heaven? I don’t know the answer to that yet.

Because that time I lived. And this time I stayed.

As a ghost.

And I know that I’ve remained behind for a reason, though I haven’t a clue as to the specifics. But at least, unlike some, I’m pretty sure I do have a purpose.

I’ve come across many of my kind who are far more lost than I am, having had a strange relationship with them after my near-death experience and before I departed the life of flesh and blood. There’s Lawrence Ridgeway, Colonel Lawrence Ridgeway, a charming fellow, with his perfectly trimmed beard and muttonchops.

Sadly, he can’t accept the fact that the Civil War has been won. He was a brave soldier who came to New York during the terrible draft riots of the eighteen-sixties. No matter how often I try to explain things to him, he’s forever keeping guard over his long-gone prisoners. Matt, too, has tried to point out to him that there are no prisoners present, but poor Colonel Ridgeway simply can’t accept that fact. I’m afraid he’s doomed to haunt one particular hallway here in Manhattan’s historic Hastings House forever, a sad and tragic figure who’ll never find closure.

Marnie Brubaker died in childbirth. She’s a sweet and charming creature, and she loves the children who pass through the house. Children tend to be more open than adults to visits from my kind. Marnie likes to play games with the little ones. When they’re falling asleep on a parent’s shoulder, she sings lullabies. Every once in a while, one of them gets scared by her presence and screams bloody murder, which puts her into a funk for weeks to come. All she wants is to offer is love and comfort, but some people, even kids, just don’t want solace from a ghost.

There are those, like Colonel Ridgeway, who will go on repeating their last action over and over again. Then there are those who learn to move around the physical worlds. Passing through walls. Appearing and disappearing at will. Moving objects. The truth of it is, we ghosts can learn to do all kinds of things, so long as we have the will, the patience and the stamina.

I was the victim of a killer who first took the lives of others, before he took mine. But there’s no pain in my world, especially not for me. Because Matt’s here with me, and that’s really all that matters. He died the night of my almost-death, and he stayed behind to warn me. To save me. But my salvation wasn’t to be. In the end, I died to save Genevieve O’Brien. And so far, at least, I’ve been successful. But as a social worker, she’s one of those people who won’t rest in her quest to help others, and that can put her in danger sometimes.

Then there’s Joe Connolly, Matt’s cousin. He’s a private detective and a super guy. A tough guy.

But no one’s so tough that he can defy death. Life’s not like the movies. Most of the time, the bad guys can aim, so Joe can use some protection, whether he knows it or not.

I believe Matt and I have stayed on because of either Joe or Genevieve. Or maybe both. It’s our job to make sure they—and maybe others—stay safe.

Nope, being a ghost isn’t easy. In fact, it’s damn hard work protecting people when most of the time they can’t even see you and don’t think they need protection, anyway.

Take Joe. He has a thing about going to the graves of the people he couldn’t save—including Matt’s and mine. Sometimes he brings flowers. Sometimes he just sits in deep thought. And sometimes he talks. Then he looks around, hoping that he hasn’t been overheard. I imagine that it would be difficult to obtain new clients if word got out that he was insane. But everyone out there has his own way of coping with loss. For Joe, it’s talking to people at their grave sites.

That’s how we became involved in the Poe Killings.

And that’s how Joe became involved with Genevieve again.

She was a child of privilege, but even after she’d almost lost her own life, she couldn’t stop herself from investigating problems.

Including murder.


The crash occurred on the FDR. Strange thing, Joe had just been driving along Manhattan’s East Side and thinking it was amazing that there weren’t more accidents on the busy—and outdated—highway when, right in front of him, a crash caused the car a few lengths ahead of him to slam into someone else. The sounds of screeching tires, shattering glass, grating steel and several massive impacts were evidence that the domino effect had come into play. Someone almost stopped in the aftermath of the first collision, but then that car was pushed into the next lane, and the driver coming up didn’t have time to stop. He slammed into it hard and careened into the next lane. The car that hit that driver bounced over the median and into the oncoming traffic going south.

Joe somehow made it off to the side, threw his car into Park and hit 9-1-1 on his cell phone. He reported what he saw and his position, dropped the phone and hurried out to help.

The car that had caused the initial crash was fairly far ahead of him, but there was a line of disabled vehicles stretching back from it almost to where he was.

The people in the car closest to him were fine, and so were the people in the next vehicle, and the driver of the third probably had nothing more than a broken arm.

The smell of gas around the car that had hopped the median was strong, though—a bad sign.

People had stopped all around, talking, shouting, while other drivers were trying to get around the wreckage no matter what.

“Hey, it’s going to blow up!” someone called to Joe as he approached the car. He lifted a hand in acknowledgment but kept going. He wasn’t a superhero, he’d just worked lots of accident scenes when he’d been a cop, and an inner voice was assuring him that—death-defying or not—he had time to help.

The car was upside down. There was blood coming from the driver’s head, which was canted at an awkward angle. The man’s eyes were closed.

“Hey. You have to wake up. We’ve got to get you out of there. I’m going to help you,” Joe told him.

“My niece,” the man said. “You’ve got to help my niece.” He grabbed Joe, his grip surprisingly strong.

“Trish,” the man said.

Then Joe saw the little girl. She was in the back. Not really big enough for the seat belt, she had slipped out of it and was on the roof—now the floor—with silent tears streaming down her face.

Joe said with forced calm, “Come on, honey. Give me your hand.”

She had huge, saucer-wide blue eyes, and she was maybe about seven or eight and just small for her age, he decided. “Trish,” he said firmly. “Give me your hand.”

He sighed with relief when she did so. He managed to get her out, even though she had to crawl over broken glass on the way. As soon as he had her in his arms, someone from the milling crowd rushed forward.

“Get the hell out of here now, buddy!” the man who took the child told him. “The car is going to blow.”

“There’s a man in the car,” Joe said.

“He’s dead.”

“No,” Joe said. “He’s alive. He talked to me.”

Joe was dimly aware that the air was alive with sirens, that evening was turning to night. He was fully aware of the fact that he didn’t have much time left.

Flat on his stomach, he shouted to the man who had taken the child from him. “Get them back—get them all back!”

“Trish?” the man in the car said.

“It’s all right. She’s out. She’s safe. Now, get ready, because I’m releasing your seat belt. You’ve got to try to help me.”

He did his best to support the guy’s weight after he released the seat belt, but it was a struggle. An upside-down crushed car didn’t allow for a lot of leeway, especially when it was about to explode.

But he got the man out. He could only pray that he hadn’t worsened his pain or any broken bones.

“Help me!” he roared, once he had the man away from the car.

The same Good Samaritan who had taken the child came rushing up. Together, they started to half drag and half carry the man from the wreckage.

Just in time.

The car exploded, flames leaping high over the FDR. They would have been easily seen over in Brooklyn, and probably even halfway across Manhattan.

The blast was hot and powerful. He felt it like a huge, hot hand that lifted him, the victim and his fellow rescuer, and tossed them a dozen feet so that they crashed down hard on the asphalt.

Joe rolled, trying to take the brunt of the impact, knowing he was in far better shape to accept the force than the victim of the crash.

For a moment he didn’t breathe, since there was nothing to breathe but the fire in the air.

Then he felt pain in almost every joint, and the hardness of the road against his back. He became aware of the screams around him, which he hadn’t heard before; the blast had sucked all the sound out of the air along with the oxygen.