The room was quiet. The reporter looked at Michael sadly. The story had ended. Almost.
She looked away. “Do you still have a picture of the woman who called herself Misty?”
He nodded. “Of course. I even have my journal. The one recounting all my nightmares. I don’t know why I keep either one. I never look at them. Third Precinct should still have all the evidence from the case, though they might not want anyone to go through it…unless they are family.”
The reporter looked back at him. “Can I see the picture?”
He reached into his shirt pocket. “Of course.” He handed her the picture. “I am still looking for her family. If only to say I’m sorry for not getting in touch with them sooner. Perhaps this all could have been avoided had we just known who her family was.”
The reporter went pale. “My God!”
He looked over at her. “What is it?”
The reporter looked up at him from the picture. “This is my sister! She was raped in Seattle about ten years ago. She went to face her attacker and never returned home. We’d assumed that she had gotten closure.”
He looked over at her. “What was her name?”
She looked down. “Celeste Marie Hanover. She was born 1974, in Seattle, Washington.”
He looked away, saddened. “So her first name was Celeste. I should have known. Most first aliases seem to have the person’s real name at some level. Either a first of middle. Any idea why she might pick other names?”
She shook her head. “Not unless there were posters on the walls where she used the names for the first time.”
He nodded. “That could have been. It was New Orleans, after all. Everything is over the top there, and they love their movie posters. If you like, I can contact the precinct and have her exhumed and sent home, although she is buried next to the man she loved.”
The reporter shook her head. “No. Let her remain. Maybe I will stop in there and pick up any of her personal stuff that isn’t really important to the case. I mean, not evidence. Something we, as her family, can bury for closure.”
He nodded. “I will call.”
She looked over at him. “Any of the places she stayed still standing?”
He smiled sadly. “Dom’s house and maybe Nelson’s house. But the condos burned down shortly after her death. Some say arson, I say that the ghosts of those she killed there wanted to erase the place from memory. You can believe however you like, but after what I have been through, I can only believe it to be this way.”
She smiled. “I will take your word for it. You knew how the place felt.”
He looked down. “It was haunted, yes. A very cold and disturbing place. And a presence was there. Dark and hateful. Almost malicious.”
A silence grew between them. She got up to leave. He looked up at her. “Before you leave, can you tell me a little more about your sister? How was she before she was attacked?”
She turned away. “She was a nice person, Mr. Sherman. She had never been in trouble with the law. It wasn’t until after she was attacked and had left to do as her therapist had instructed her, that we began receiving disturbing reports that she had gotten in bad with the law in a few cities.”
He sat up. “Like where, exactly?”
She turned back to him. “Reno. San Francisco. San Diego. She followed him everywhere just trying to get closure.
“We tried to talk her out of it, of course, but her therapist had too much of a hold. He told her that the only way to put it all behind her was to face the one who had done it and tell him how much he had ruined her life. Along the way, she got mixed up with the Mafia and ended up In New Orleans.”
He nodded. “Sometimes, professionals aren’t as professional as they want their clients to think. I know. I was subject to someone similar. My wife left me because of it all. My children rarely come to see me, and I don’t blame them. I screwed up their lives after it was all said and done.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry to hear that. They’ll come back someday. I have faith in them.”
He smiled up at her. “What can you tell me about the tattoo she had on her left shoulder?”
She glanced down. “Jesus Saves?” He nodded. She giggled. “It was a teenage bet. I bet her that she wouldn’t get a tat. If she lost, she would pay me $25. If she won, I was to get a tattoo of similar motif.” She pulled the strap of her dress over just enough for him to make out the almost invisible cross. “Our parents were strict. Despised worldly things almost to the point of being overbearing. They hated tattoos most of all. And piercings. Even of the ears. We were a couple of rebellious teens. Close enough in age that we could almost pass as twins.
“Mom went ballistic when we got the tattoos. Dad would have beat us half to death if she hadn’t stepped in and reminded him that he had once been our age. From that point on, we were no longer his favorites.
“When she got raped, he tried to place the blame on her. The way she dressed. The way she walked. The way she supposedly flirted.
“But he had it wrong. Celeste always dressed conservatively. Nothing above the knee. Hell. half the time, it wasn’t above the ankle. And always long sleeved and not very figure-flattering.
“I, on the other hand, dressed like a little slut. Hell. I will admit that I was what I dressed as. I was the trouble maker. The one who goaded. The one always making bets and pushing.
“I grew up rather rapidly after she was raped. I suddenly saw what happened to someone when they were abused and realized that I was inviting the same. I graduated high school, swore I would find Celeste, and would take care of her.
“then, we stopped receiving word about her about ten years ago. Around the time she disappeared in New Orleans. Mom and dad gave up hope and believed that she had been killed. I never gave up. Mom died three years ago. Dad, a year this September. I am the only family she would have had left. And my husband. Now, we are the only family who can bury her memory and gain closure.”
Her tears glistened, even in the darkened room. He bowed his head. “I am sorry. If it helps, we did put out a search for er family at the beginning of the case. Before the murders started. And even before the last round of murders. We got no answer. She remained a mystery to us.”
She nodded. “I know. I saw the fliers. But I didn’t recognize her then. She looked so different.”
She turned and walked out, leaving him staring after her. As she went down his front steps, she passed Reilly and Danforth who stared after her. Had they just seen a ghost? Or had their eyes just played tricks on them?