In the spirit of giving, I’m putting this up for free until after Christmas. It will also be released as an ebook for $.99 if you’d rather not read on the computer screen. This takes place soon after the events of Final Countdown.
“Did I mention how much I hate Christmas carols?” I hissed into the Bluetooth earpiece. The little old lady in front of me turned around and glared at me, breaking off right in the middle of “Good King Wenceslas.”
“Did I mention I don’t give a flying rat’s ass?” Came the gravelly voice in my ear.
“Don’t swear at me, you bedridden behemoth, I’m out here doing your job while you’re the one laying on your back watching porn and eating Cheetos, while I’m the one out here freezing my chestnuts off listening to some fat white heifer invent new lyrics to ‘O Come all Ye Faithful!’” I might have gotten a little louder than I had hoped for in that last bit, because this time the aforementioned fat white heifer turned around and gave me the evil eye.
“Skeeter, shut your pie hole.” Bubba’s voice crackled over the airwaves. “I’m laid up here with tubes comin’ out of places I didn’t even know were places on account of my shithead brother sticking three feet of samurai sword through my guts, so you gotta suck it up and sing!” There was a squawk of static, a squeal and a hum as Bubba hung up on me.
It wasn’t really unexpected, his bad mood. He had almost died at the hands of his psychotic kid brother, and right after killing his father for the second time, to boot. That kind of thing would leave anybody feeling a little under the weather, and Bubba wasn’t the type to enjoy lying around a hospital bed for very long. As a matter of fact, his enjoyment ended about the time he realized that they wouldn’t give him unlimited morphine and that all the nurses wore underpants.
Then we got the call about something terrorizing Christmas carolers all around the Atlanta suburbs. There was a group in Athens that went out a couple of weeks before Christmas, and they came back struck dumb with their hair bleached white from fright. The next weekend in Lilburn half a dozen senior citizens from the Methodist church went out to spread a little holiday cheer, but only three came back. One of them blew his brains out with a shotgun the next morning, and the other two, a married couple in their seventies, took a bottle of Grandpa’s epilepsy pills and never woke up. Uncle Father Joe got the call from the Methodist preacher and went up to take a look at things, strictly on the D.L., since the Methodists don’t really admit to believing in any of the shit that we shoot on a regular basis.
Well, technically the stuff that Bubba shoots on a regular basis. I don’t usually shoot things, unless it’s on an Xbox. But with Bubba laid up in a hospital bed and Agent Amy called back to Washington to answer a bunch of unpleasant questions about werewolves and Bubba’s family, I was the only one without a priest’s collar that we had to send out in the field. And while Uncle Father Joe was more than willing to get his hands dirty, the couple of weeks right before Christmas were pretty busy for him, what with all the feeding the poor and Midnight Mass stuff going on.
So I ended up dispatched to Atlanta, wandering through Buckhead with a bunch of white people singing off-key Christmas carols and standing out like a banana in a smokehouse. We’d been walking up and down the sidewalks in the richest neighborhood in Georgia for three hours, and I was about ready to shoot the next person who suggested “O Holy Night.”
Then I heard the scream. And all hell broke loose.
It sounded like the noise a cat makes when you run over its back legs with a lawnmower. You don’t want to know how I know what that sounds like. The noise was coming from the glary little old lady, who was now staring down at the sidewalk and screaming fit to bust a hearing aid. I pushed my way to the front of the pack to see what she was hollering about, and almost tripped over the body of the head caroler. He was a fat white guy (they were all white guys, blowing my idea of blending in right out of the water), and he was deader than Vanilla Ice’s music career. His tongue was lolled out of his face, and it hung down over his three or four chins like a big pink slug. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and his hair had bleached completely white.
I knelt beside him and felt around his throat for a pulse. I found nothing, no matter how many chins I dug through. I pressed a finger to the Bluetooth and clicked open my comm line. “Bubba, you there? We got another one.”
“Put on your glasses, Skeeter. I can’t see shit here without ‘em.”
I pulled on the pair of bulky glasses and plugged them into the Bluetooth. The world went away, replaced by glowing green and red globs as my vision switched into the infrared spectrum.
“That’s better. Look around so I can see if there’s anything warm or cold around you.” Bubba said in my ear.
“It’s the eighteenth of December, dumbass. Everything around me is cold.” I whispered, scanning the surroundings for heat sources. The carolers bloomed orange and red in my goggles, but everything else was a uniform green or blue. I glanced back at the dead guy, but couldn’t tell him from the sidewalk.
“Something’s screwy here, Bubba. This guy looks cold.”
“I thought you said everything was cold.” Bubba replied.
“Everything is cold, asshole, but he just dropped dead in the middle of ‘Joy to the World,’ so he should be a lot warmer than the ground. But he’s not. What causes that?”
“I got no idea, Skeeter. And why were y’all singing Three Dog Night songs?”
“Not that ‘Joy to the World,’ you idiot. The other one. But anyhow, what sucks all the life out of somebody fast enough to make the body go ice-cold in seconds?” I asked. I kept my head on a swivel, but nothing looked out of place. I took the goggles off. The carolers were crying, and several of them had phones pressed to their ears.
“I need a distraction, Bubba. The cops are on the way and I’d rather not be the one gay black man hovering over the body of a dead cracker in Georgia.”
“I think Atlanta’s got a black mayor, Skeeter. It’s been a long time since they lynched anybody down there.”
“Well I’d rather they not get a hankering to bring tradition back right now, so would you please send a fake dispatch call reporting a bomb at Lenox Mall so I can get the hell out of here?” I heard him typing, then heard tires squeal and the siren rapidly start to head away from me.
I leaned over the body and took another look at the dead guy. A little old woman leaned over next to me and tsk-tsked at the corpse. “Such a shame,” she murmured, shaking her head.
“Were you friends with him?” I asked.
“Couldn’t stand the S.O.B., bless his heart.” She said without looking at me. There was no malice in her voice, just that old-money Southern disdain that can’t be taught, but comes naturally to bitchy old women who sip moonshine out of ornate flasks and look down on anyone who’s never served on the board of deacons of the local Baptist church.
“Why didn’t you like him?” I asked carefully. I didn’t look at her either. I figured everything would go more smoothly if neither of us noticed that she was talking to a black man in public. Much less a gay black man. Not to mention standing over a dead white guy’s body talking to a gay black man. In public.
“He was an asshole, but he couldn’t help it. Bless his heart, his mama died when he wasn’t nothing but a little feller and his daddy didn’t have no more sense than God gave a goose. But he had a lovely tenor, so we let him come a’caroling with us every year.”
“Oh shut the hell up, Bernice.” The new voice came from another old white woman, this one with lavender hair instead of snow-white like the first one. That was the only way I could tell them apart. White people all look alike, you know.
I turned to the new old woman. “Ma’am?”
“Ignore my bitchy sister.” The new woman said. “She’s been pissed off at Franklin ever since he ditched her for the substitute mail carrier over in Roswell. He was the heart and soul of this choir. Now we don’t have a tenor. We might as well go back to the home now.” The new sister seemed genuinely upset at the fact that someone had died not ten minutes ago, or at least upset that she was going to have to stop the caroling for the night.
“Well, maybe it’s all for the best.” The first old woman, who I now knew to be Bernice, said. She was working at that “old wise woman” tone, but she was trying a little too hard and still sounded bitchy.
“What do you mean?” I asked the question she was dying for somebody to ask. I hated to give her the satisfaction, but I needed to find out all I could about the dead guy if I was going to find out what killed him. And maybe stop it from killing anyone else before Christmas.
“Well, he was pretty depressed after getting booted out of the Singing Christmas Tree, and he’d been talking about suicide. Maybe he just willed himself to die.”
“Bernice, you are the biggest bitch in the free world.” Her sister said.
“Mary Alice Everhart, you shut your filthy mouth.” Bernice said, putting on an affronted look so fast I knew she had it in her back pocket for emergencies. Some old women carried Kleenex, Bernice carried offended looks.
“I will not shut up, Bernice. Jacob was just fine about not directing the Singing Christmas Tree this year, especially when the director they hired gave him a solo. He wasn’t depressed, he wasn’t upset, he was happy. You just can’t stand to think about anybody being happy without your approval, that’s what your problem is.”
Bernice stared at her sister with her mouth hanging open for a long moment, then snapped it shut and turned away with a hmmmph. I took a couple picture of the dead guy with the camera in my glasses, then turned and started walking up the sidewalk.
“Hey, where you going? We got to talk to the police!” Mary Alice yelled after me.
I just waved at her over my shoulder and called out “Can’t stay. Too many parking tickets at The Vortex.” I kept walking, retracing our route until I got back to my Mini parked at the Methodist church. I got into the car and flipped down the sun visor. I pressed a little button and a blue LED lit up, signaling that I had a good sync with my glasses. The glasses transmitted all the photos I’d taken of the body to the car’s computer and to my servers back home, as well as to Bubba’s iPad. I scrolled through the pictures on the touchscreen in the car, but I got nothing new out of them.
“Bubba, you see anything good in those pictures?” I spoke to the air, but the Bluetooth link was still active.
“Nah, nothing. You didn’t even get a good downblouse of the GILF with the purple hair.”
“You’re terrifying and a little disgusting, Bubba.”
“Thanks. But there’s nothing here to see. There’s no reason that dude should be dead. I mean, he was old, but that don’t mean nothing. There’s lots of old farts still running around out there.”
“I bow once again to the breadth and depth of your uselessness. I am continually amazed.”
“Sarcasm is lost on you, isn’t it, Bubba.”
“Are you near a computer?”
“Yeah, Skeeter, I’m near a computer. They’ve got about seventeen of the damn things hooked up and monitoring every drop of anything that goes into me or comes out of me. And I got this iPad you gave me, too.”
“Well hop on the internet and see what you can come up with on Singing Christmas Trees in Georgia.”
“I don’t need the internet for that one. Let’s start with – they suck, there’s a lot of gay-ass music, and they suck. What more do you need to know?”
“I need to know if there was a Singing Christmas Tree in each of the towns where we’ve had deaths.” I sat back in the car and listened to the tap-tap of the detachable keyboard I’d given Bubba along with his iPad. Something about an ex-defensive lineman’s hands and a touchscreen seemed like a bad idea to me.
More seconds than I thought it could ever take to Google “Singing Christmas Tree” passed, and then finally Bubba’s voice came back on the line.
“I got it!” He sounded like a kid at Christmas.
“It took that long?” I asked.
“No, I had the information in like ten seconds, but I kept you waiting forever because I figured that’s what I was supposed to do. Since I never get anything useful out of you until about fifteen seconds after somebody’s started shooting at me, I thought dragging things out was part of my new job description.”
“I hate you sometimes, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, but what would you do for fun without me?” I could hear the big dumb bastard grinning and couldn’t help but smile myself.
“What do we know?” I asked.
“There was a Singing Christmas Tree production within two nights of every murder, including the one tonight. The Lilburn Singing Christmas Tree was last night, and it’s scheduled to be in Atlanta next weekend. That finishes out the tour.”
“Do you have anything on the director?”
“The what?” I smacked myself in the forehead, then did it again as I heard Bubba chuckle over the Bluetooth.
“I know what a director is, Skeeter. Remember, I took that theatre appreciation class in college.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t know you actually went to the class.”
“Twice, but it was enough to know what a director is. The director of the tour is Alexander Gregory Morehouse IV, and he looks like a real piece of work. I just sent the link to your car.”
“Thanks.” I clicked off and swung the touchscreen over. When we fixed my car after Bubba’s dad trashed it, I installed a jazzed-up Mac and a movable touchscreen that I could operate from either the driver’s or passenger seat. I will admit to playing Angry Birds Star Wars edition while stuck in traffic, but only a couple of times.
I clicked on the link that Bubba sent and delved into the world of Alexander Gregory Morehouse IV, affectionately called A.G. by those closest to him. A.G. had been a world-class choir director at one point, but the advent of Auto tune and the success of the TV show Glee drove up the budgets on his productions past any reasonable point and he was relegated to directing community theatre Singing Christmas Trees to make ends meet. He had a modicum of success until his wife suffered a tragic accident while decorating the set for their Christmas Eve production last year. Apparently she lost her footing while putting the finishing touches on the top level of the tree and the imported Bolivian scaffolding toppled to the stage from a height of thirty feet or so. Mrs. Morehouse tried to break her fall by hanging from the Star of Bethlehem, but the rigging failed and she came crashing through the roof of the nativity scene, impaling herself and the Betsy Wetsy doll they were using for the Baby Jesus on the fallen star. From that point on, “Away in a Manger” was removed from the set list of any production A.G. was involved with.
I typed a few other commands into the computer, and a map of Georgia flashed onto the screen. A blue line with yellow dots sprang to life showing the performance towns and dates of A.G.’s tour, then I overlaid a red line with green dots to show the string of mysterious deaths. The blinking circles on the screen told the story – A.G. had been in every town with a strange death within 24 hours of the incident. Looked like I needed to go see a man about a tenor.
Alexander Gregory Morehouse IV lived in an architectural cliché. I pulled my Mini up to the front of the single most Gothic building I’d ever seen on American soil. The place was huge, with a grey stone facade looming over the surrounding suburban homes. The house stood at least four stories high, a stark contrast to the plain ranch homes that surrounded it. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why someone hadn’t just hung a neon sign out by the mailbox that said “Evil Genius Inside.” There were even gargoyles, of all ridiculous things!
“I’d feel a whole lot better about this if I had Bertha.” I muttered into my Bluetooth.
“Skeeter, Bertha is a fifty caliber hand cannon that weighs more than your head. There is no way on God’s green earth that I am letting you carry her into battle with the forces of evil. There’s no guarantee that either one of you would make it back in good working order.” Bubba’s voice growled in my ear.
“Yeah, and I just bet I know which one you’re more worried about.” I grumbled back.
“Skeeter, you are my best friend in the whole world, but Bertha is my gun. And the bond between a man and his firearm is something sacred. Do not pretend to understand that bond, and do not presume to supplant it.” His voice had a reverent tone to it, like he was discussing something holy. I let it drop, having a pretty good idea who Bubba would shed more tears over, me or Bertha. I took out my Ruger P95 from the glove box, checked that there was a round in the chamber, and slid it into a holster at the small of my back. I strapped a Judge revolver in an ankle holster around my right ankle, and slid a butterfly knife into my back pocket.
“Where did you get all that hardware? And what the hell do you think you’re going to do with that knife? Anybody gets close enough to your skinny ass to cut with a knife, they’ve already killed you.” Bubba said.
“Ain’t you the one always saying a fella can’t ever too well-armed or too well-hung?”
“Well, I reckon now you got one out of two, little buddy.” Bubba shot back. I pressed the mute button on my earpiece and got out of the car. I climbed the twenty-seven steps to the eighteen-foot oak front doors and grabbed the knocker, which of course looked like Marley’s face from A Christmas Carol. I expected the damn thing to talk to me when I grabbed the ring, but it kept mercifully silent. The door did swing open without being touched, which did nothing at all for my blood pressure, but I didn’t scream and manfully strode into the foyer.
Okay, maybe I yelped a little and jumped back about eight feet, then slunk in through the open door like Gollum following Frodo, but I went in. And my jaw dropped at what I found in there.
Instead of the stereotypical gloomy, cobweb-laden grand entryway I was expecting, I walked into something out of a friggin’ Martha Stewart Christmas special. There were as many lights blazing in that house as in some whole trailer parks I’d visited, unless you count bug zappers as lights, which I don’t. They don’t give off enough illumination, especially after they’ve been frying June bugs for a few hours. But anyway, this place was lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.
And that’s not even to talk about the non-proverbial Christmas tree that was standing in front of me, stretching all the way up until the star brushed the top of what had to be an eighteen-foot ceiling. And every decoration on there was top-notch. I saw stuff from Tiffany, the Disney store, and Sarabella, and you know none of that stuff comes cheap. But right in the middle, just a little bit below eye level on me, was what looked like a homemade ornament. It was just a plain white ball, and in black Sharpie someone had written “A&N,” with “1995” under it. Nothing else, just a white ball with a pair of letters and a year on it, but it was the only personal touch on a tree that was otherwise yanked straight out of a magazine.
I pushed the button on my earpiece. “Hey Bubba, you got a location on this Morehouse feller yet? I’m thinking there’s more to this than meets the eye.”
“Heh heh, like a Transformer?” My redneck sidekick chuckled in my ear.
“No jackass, like the inside of this place doesn’t match the outside. I don’t know what’s going on, but something doesn’t feel right.”
“Doesn’t feel right like the bad guy’s standing behind you and about to whack you on the head not right, or doesn’t feel right like your underwear’s bunching up and you’re starting to chafe not right?” The sad part is I knew exactly what he meant.
“More like the bad guy’s standing behind me -“ A blinding pain shot through my head, and I staggered forward into a huge pile of presents. As the empty cardboard boxes collapsed under me, all I could think was “Shit.”
I woke up tied to a chair staring across a big room with a vaulted ceiling. At the far end of the room, must have been fifty or sixty feet away, was a skinny little dude in a tuxedo. And for me to call somebody skinny, he was downright emaciated. He was standing on a little box behind a podium waving one of those little sticks a conductor uses. He had an old-style boom box on the floor next to him, and there were a bunch of glowing forms floating in front of him.
He noticed I was awake almost instantly, probably because I groaned and started cussing as soon as I woke up. “Ah, Mr. Skeeter, I presume? Or at least I assume that’s a name, because it’s what the rather profane man on the other end of this device was yelling after I rendered you unconscious.” My captor held up the shattered pieces of my Bluetooth headset. Good thing he didn’t know about the video link built into my glasses. Unlike Bubba’s, my glasses are prescription and I’m blind as a bat without them. If he’d smashed my glasses, I wouldn’t have had any chance to ever get out of there.
Not that I had a whole lot of chance as it was. I was tied tight to the chair with zip ties, those plastic ties that you get at Home Depot for bundling wires together behind your computer desk. Well, I was trussed up with those things like a Christmas turkey, and I didn’t get the feeling that this guy was breaking out the cranberry sauce anytime soon.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Bubba always seemed to have good luck when he got the bad guy to do the whole evil exposition thing, so I decided to try it.
It worked. Maybe Bubba’s right and every bad guy has a “monologue” button that’s just waiting to be flipped. “I am Alexander Gregory Morehouse IV, but you may call me The Maestro.” He paused there for dramatic effect, but when no organ chords hit, he went on.
“I am building the finest choir in the world, and I have need of many voices.” He gestured out over the glowing shapes in front of him, and they broke out in song. Not like “America, the Beautiful” song, but more like a low keening, kind of an aaaaahhhh-ah-ahhhh-aaaaaaah kind of song. It was creepy. A.G. waved his hand again, and the choir stopped.
“I have harnessed the power of the Afterlife to bring these loveliest of voices together, and tonight we will bring back to me the greatest soprano I have ever heard, the truest, purest, more beautiful voice I have ever listened to-“
“Edith Piaf?” I asked.
“No, you idiot. I shall resurrect a truly spectacular voice, the kind of voice that generations will weep to, the one, the only-“
“No! Shut up, you fool! I am bringing back to the stage my dearest, sweetest songbird, my-“
“Barbra Streisand?” I guessed again.
“She’s not even dead, moron.”
“I know, but I’m a gay man. You say female singer, my DNA screams ‘Babs!’ I can’t help it, I was born this way. Ask GaGa.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The very confused little bad guy had completely lost his train of thought now.
“Which part, the gay thing or the Babs thing? I would think a choir director of all clichés might understand about being gay.”
“I’m not gay!”
“Don’t lie to me, I saw your Christmas tree. No straight man owns that much vintage lace garland.” I watched his face turn about eighteen shades of purple and knew I’d hit a nerve. It was tough growing up skinny, short and gay in the south. But it would have been just as hard growing up skinny, short, a music nerd and straight. Because at least when everybody assumed I was gay, they were right. This poor bastard had to put up with all the teasing and got none of the inherent fashion sense. I knew he was really straight the second I laid eyes on him. It’s all in the shoes. His were 100% off-the-shelf Wal-Mart. Total straight boy. But he was getting wound up, which either meant he was going to kill me, in which case this had been a terrible idea, or he was going to do something stupid and give me a chance to break free, in which case I was a genius.
He pulled a pistol from his pocket, sliding the meter pretty solidly toward the “terrible idea” end of the spectrum, and pressed it to my forehead. “You are a fool!”
“No argument there.” I might have squeaked a little when I said it, but I maintained control of my bladder, which is a good thing. It’s hard to intimidate bad guys when you smell like pee. I looked past the scrawny dork pressing a gun to my head and took a good look at the shapes that were milling about. One of them looked familiar and when it turned to face me, I knew why – it was the old fart from the caroling group. Yeah, the one I hadn’t managed to save.
“Say that again.” A.G. relaxed the pressure of the gun barrel against my head a little.
“Say what?” I squeaked again. I couldn’t help it. My voice has always gone up when I get scared, and I’ve spent a lot of my life scared.
“That! Do that again! Hit the high C!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, jerkoff!” I said, but really I squeaked about half of it.
“That’s perfect!” The nutbar shouted, and whirled to the choir. “He’s got the note! Now all I have to do is capture it, and she’ll be returned to me!” He was really excited about something all of a sudden. I didn’t know or care until he whirled back to me with a grin on his face and a weird contraption in his hand. It looked kinda like a crystal ball, only covered in facets, like a D20, but more like a D100,000. There was a light glowing from within the crystal, a flickering, dancing light. I watched it flutter, and jump, and felt my eyes starting to close –
And then the asshole had to start talking and snap me out of it. “She’ll come back to me. All I need is the perfect soprano-“
“What are you talking about, fool? I might be a little light in my loafers, but I ain’t no soprano. Not the Tony kind or the singin’ kind.” I said, turning my eyes firmly away from the crystal. I could almost hear it murmuring to me, and I didn’t want it pulling any Frodo and the Ring crap on me, so I refused to look at the thing again.
“My Nicole will come back to me once I get the perfect choir assembled. All I need is a soprano, but all those old bitches caroling were altos and mezzos. But your little falsetto is perfect, so all I have to do is harvest it and -“
“Harvest?” I squeaked, then cringed at the pleased look on his face. I was going to have to get a more manly voice.
“Your soul, of course. I need to harvest your soul to add your voice to the choir.” He gestured over his shoulder and I followed his movement with my eyes. Unfortunately, he also brought the damn crystal up and snared me again. How does Bubba always get out of this crap? Oh yeah, he shoots everything. Well that wasn’t going to work, since I was tied to the chair, and I couldn’t talk my way out of the mess for a couple of reasons. One – my captor was batshit crazy, and two – my captor was batshit crazy. I felt myself slipping again, losing hold on myself, tried to close my eyes but it didn’t help, and then the world started to go dark, my vision tunneled in until there was nothing but the dancing light, the flickering, ghostly light, and then –
A.G. screamed, the crystal exploded, and I flipped over backward in my chair. The cheap kitchen chair shattered beneath me and I wriggled free. Okay, really I just rolled over and said “ow” a lot until my vision cleared, then looked around for the source of the noise. Agent Amy stood in the doorway, her pistol drawn and aimed at A.G.
“I’d really rather not shoot you, Mr. Morehouse, so please put your hands up.” She said calmly.
“You already shot me, you meddling bitch!” That marked the first time I’d ever heard anyone use the word “meddling” outside a Scooby-Doo episode.
“Yeah, but that was the wrist. This one will go in your head. Now put your hands up.” Amy replied.
A.G. didn’t raise his hands. Instead, he turned around to the ghost choir and screamed “GET THEM!” Pointing at me and Amy, of course.
The choir didn’t move.
A.G. repeated the command, flourish and all.
“Um, hate to be the one to break it to you, A.G., but they don’t seem to be wanting to do too much getting of us.” I pointed out, getting to my feet and trying to get the last pieces of chair off my wrists. Those zip ties were on there good.
A.G. let out a scream and ran at my. I raised a chair-tethered arm and conked him on the forehead with the piece of wood I couldn’t quite rid myself of, and he went down like a sack of uncooked spaghetti. Trust me, the image works, he looked nothing like a sack of potatoes, and a lot more like a handful of raw spaghetti. He sprawled on the floor, then curled up in a little ball, weeping.
Agent Amy came over to stand next to me. “Nice shot, Skeeter. You laid him out. And made him cry.”
“I don’t think that’s me. I think that’s something else.” I said.
“She’s gone. Forever.” A.G. wailed. I knelt down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah, she’s gone, A.G. It’s awful, and it was too soon, but she’s gone. And even if you’d managed to build your choir, she wouldn’t have been back. Not like you knew her.”
“I just wanted to hear her voice again. One more time. Christmas was her favorite holiday.” He curled up and started to cry again.
I got up and walked over to the boom box. The ghostly choir was still there, just floating. “What are y’all still doing here?” I asked.
They said what ghosts usually say, which is nothing.
I looked at the boom box, and the CD in the top was homemade. Written on it in Sharpie was “Atlanta, SCT, 2009.” I pushed the play button, and a beautiful melody of strings came forth. The choir turned to the cd player, and a host of ethereal voices picked up on “Silent Night.” A.G. stopped wailing long enough to listen, and it was a good thing, because they really did have lovely voices, if a little breathy.
“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”
When the ghosts started to sing the second verse, a soft white light filled the room and a new voice joined in. It was a woman’s voice, the most beautiful soprano I’d ever heard, and in her voice I heard all the happiness of Christmas growing up. I heard the laughter of me and Bubba when he got his first shotgun. I heard the laughing arguments about religion and eating fish on Friday between my Dad and Uncle Father Joe. And I heard my mom, singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” as she basted a turkey, a voice I hadn’t heard in years that still brought tears to my eyes. I looked over at Agent Amy, and saw tears streaming down her face and knew that she heard it too. A.G. stood up, and with a dignity far beyond the insanity he showed just minutes before, stepped up to the podium and picked up his baton.
Silent night holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior, is born
Christ the Savior, is born.
Silent night holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
When the last notes died away, a glowing shape separated itself from the choir and drifted over to A.G. It wrapped the crazy little conductor in its light for a long moment, then flared so bright we had to look away. When the spots cleared from my vision, A.G. was lying at the base of his podium, eyes closed, with a peaceful smile on his face.
I walked over to his body, felt for a pulse, and found exactly the nothing I expected to find. “Well, he got to hear her one last time.”
“Don’t know if he’s going where she is, after everything he did.” Amy replied.
“That’s not our department. Uncle Joe’s in the afterlife business. We just deal with ‘em while they’re here. And he’s pretty dealt with.” I said.
“I agree. Time to get the hell out of here and get some eggnog.” Amy turned and headed for the door.
“Right behind you. But, uh . . . Amy?” I asked.
She stopped and turned around. “Yeah, Skeeter?”
“Could you cut me loose from these chair pieces? It’s awful hard to walk dragging half a kitchen chair behind me.”
She laughed, and we headed out into the winter night.