The note Monica left at the condo said to try to meet them at the harbor each morning or evening, but when Garrett saw a group of passing ghosts on the way to the museums in Vanier Park, he groaned, “I’ve been an idiot.”
“What?” Brianna asked. “Why?”
“There are ghosts all around us. All I need to do is grab one of them and ask.”
As it turned out, the four ghosts lost him in the bustle before he could find a parking spot, but an hour’s worth of driving around the park and they spotted another ghost leaning against a fountain outside the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre. The child ghost was back, following them silently, its face masked by its long hair.
The ghost was a short, wiry-haired man in his late twenties, maybe, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved yellow tee shirt. His sideburns came down nearly to his chin. Garrett sidled up to him and said quietly, “I can see you, ghost.”
Lost in his own world, the ghost didn’t hear him. When Garrett repeated himself again, the guy jerked upright and glanced right at Garrett. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah. Holy shit. It’s a long story. I need-”
“Hoo-ly shit!” the guy exclaimed again.
“Listen, I need you to do me a favor-”
“You’re real? You’re really alive and talking to me?”
The man did a shuffling dance, barely lifting his knees as he kicked his feet out. “Oh man, oh man, oh man, wait till Juno hears about this one. Hey, can you call my wife? She lives in Quebec now. Her guy-”
“Do you see this kid behind me?” Garrett snapped.
The guy blinked. “Well, yeah. Sure. That’s weird, though. Can’t say as I’ve seen too many kid ghosts around.”
“Thanks,” Garrett said. He thought about walking off, then sighed. “What’s your wife’s number?”
“You’ll call her? You’ll really call her?”
“Yeah, I’ll call her. Find me a payphone.”
The man whooped, and led them back across the park to a shopping district a few blocks away. Off to one side of the street were a dinged-up pair of payphones. Garrett charged the call to a credit card, told the guy’s wife her new husband was cheating on her and that her first husband missed his nugget berry. That got an emotionally charged silence from the other end, and then the woman asked tearfully who this was. Garrett hung up on her gently, feeling like absolute dog shit. That sort of call never ended well for the living, but they had the information they needed.
The child was real.
* * *
Brianna’s surprise was scheduled for that night. She asked Garrett to get a haircut and a shave, and to dress up nicely. She took off by herself for a little while, promising to meet him at a café near their hotel when she was ready. Half her luggage had gone with her. It didn’t go unnoticed by him that it was the lingerie and fancier clothing half, either.
He did as she asked, splurging on a hot shave in an old-fashioned barber’s shop recommended by the concierge. The barber, an old man missing one of his front teeth and a finger, tended to him carefully but swiftly, the strokes of his razor as sure as Garrett was with his baton. That done, he trimmed Garrett’s hair down shorter than he usually liked it, but it looked good. Stylish, sleek, like a businessman’s. The old man said little and Garrett said little back. When they were done, Garrett turned his head this way and that. It was the best haircut he’d ever received.
“Where’d you serve?” he asked as he paid.
The old man smiled thinly. “Here and there. How’d you know?”
“Only met a few people who handle a knife like that, and none of them started out cutting hair.”
That brought out a short bark of laughter. The man turned to the cash register to make change. “How about you?” he asked, but the space Garrett had occupied was already empty, the only remainder of him the jingling of the bells above the door. The old man glanced at the bill, shook his head, and jammed it into the register.
Garrett’s next stop was back at the hotel for a change. Had he known the barber was so skilled, he could have worn a tuxedo without fear of getting a single hair on him. “Wear something nice,” he murmured as he flicked through the hangers on the rack in the bathroom holding his dress shirts and slacks. He opted for a pinstriped white dress shirt, one he usually reserved for dancing. For slacks, he picked out a tighter-fitting pair of gray dress pants and a black belt. He’d only brought one pair of dress shoes and those were a little scuffed, but they would have to do. After one last glance in the mirror, he sprayed on a little citrusy, leathery Shay and Blue behind his ears. It was from a cologne sampler Brianna had bought for him around his birthday, and it was one of her favorite scents on him. He had a feeling whatever she had planned, this was as much her night too.
Then he was out the door, and heading downstairs. Mind elsewhere, he didn’t notice the seventy-something woman in the elevator giving him the friendly once-over while her husband tried not to glare at her.
The first to arrive at the café, he ordered an iced coffee, unsure if they were doing dinner or not. The ghostly child stood beside the counter, glaring at him. Whatever you are, he thought to himself, I’m going to figure you out. And I’ll stop you.
Her head tilted up and her nose worked the air, sniffing at it like a dog. She glared at him, then slipped through the walls, off to go fuck with someone else’s life.
A woman that may or may not have been his wife came through the door ten minutes later. He stood up fast, the ghost child forgotten about for the moment.
That night, Brianna was made even more beautiful by the short, soft blue dress clinging to her frame. The shoulders were bare, the neckline chastely high but tight across her small breasts. Her long legs were well exposed, gleaming from lotion or some kind of oil, and he gulped to see her in black high heels that helped arch her back. She never wore them. Ever. With every step, the fabric around her creamy thighs threatened to ride up, exposing her to him and everyone else in that place.
Her long dark hair hadn’t been touched up much – he’d professed to her he loved her with long hair, and she’d kept a style similar to that of their wedding pictures, with a little volume and waviness to it, but keeping it simple and effortless. She’d put on more makeup than usual too, emphasizing her eyes and cute little nose while softening her stronger chin and cheekbones. She’d done something with her eyebrows, darkened them, made them pop somehow, and he loved it. Loved all of it.
“Brianna,” he said, barely, audible. “My God, you look stunning.”
She blushed. “Thanks. You look… mmm. I want to drag you off right now, but we have other plans. Ready for your surprise?”
“This… this isn’t it?”
“Oh no,” she laughed. “If I’m getting dressed up like this, there’s a secret mission involved.”
They walked out to the Durango together, arm in arm. She had to stop him from kissing her. “There’s going to be plenty of that later, but for now, I can’t smudge up my makeup. You’ll understand soon enough.”
He walked her back until she was nearly pressed against the SUV’s door, “I want you, now.”
“And I want you. But be patient. I promise, it’s worth it. I hope.”
She drove while he gaped. As nice as the view of Vancouver was, it couldn’t compete with how sexy his wife looked. It was an elegant mix of sexy and classy, and he had to shift around several times in his seat to try to alleviate a growing problem. Each time she laughed softly, and at one point, reached over to brush his cheek with her freshly clipped nails.
Within a half hour or so, they reached a row of shops somewhere south of their hotel. A few cars were at the dry cleaners, but only one of the other businesses had a car in front of it – Patsy’s Pics. Garrett raised an eyebrow. “Did we get super dressed up to have my pants spot cleaned?”
“Might need that when we’re done,” she replied, and hopped out, forgetting she was wearing heels. “Damn it, shit, fuck, I’m terrible in these things. Should’ve gone barefoot until we got here.”
He came around the SUV as she was massaging her foot and wincing. “You okay?”
“Yeah, heel didn’t break on the shoe.”
“Fuck the shoe, are you okay?”
She grabbed his arm and fitted the shoe back on. “Never better.” The wince as she took each step gingerly said otherwise, but she had that stubborn look that said “I will cut you if you point out the obvious” and he just walked with her to the photo shop.
Inside, a long divider blocked anything from view, apart from a desk near the door. A stout woman came around the corner, a binder under one arm. “Wow, Mrs. Moranis, you weren’t kidding, he really does clean up nicely.”
“Um,” Garrett said. “Hi?”
“I still haven’t told him yet,” Brianna said. “Think we should lock the door before he can make a run for it?”
The woman snorted. “Darling, once he sees what I can do, he’ll beg to stay here forever. Trust me, they all do.”
“What is this?” he asked.
Brianna introduced the titular Patsy, who laid the binder on the desk. It was easier to show him, they explained, than try to tell him. “These are all models, you understand?” Patsy asked. “No one will ever see my real clients’ work except the clients themselves. That’s a Patsy guarantee.”
She opened the binder. Inside were tasteful, provocative pictures of women in various states of dress, though never nude. Some were in summer dresses, or jeans and tops that left bare their stomachs, shoulders, or cleavage – usually some combination of the two or three. Others were in lingerie, or posing as though they were just pretending to get out of it. Some smiled, others looked more contemplative, all of them were sexy.
“Garrett,” Brianna said, “I’ve wanted to do this for you since Thanksgiving. I trust you with your pictures, and those are fun, but I thought something more professional would be kind of a memorable souvenir. Something just for the two of us.”
It took some cajoling, but not much. He had concerns about a stranger photographing them intimately, but Patsy explained they wouldn’t be nude, unless Brianna wanted to expose some of the areole around her nipples. That was as far as she’d take it with her, and at most, Garrett would be stripped down to his boxer briefs. Warily, he agreed.
They spent two hours behind the screen wall in a trio of brightly lit sets. With their fit frames, Patsy explained that she thought color photography would show better than black and white, and since they were largely clueless about these things, they agreed. First came five minutes of breathing exercises to loosen them up and help them relax. After that came the pictures.
Brianna had little trouble posing the way Patsy ordered her to, and had even more fun when Garrett tentatively made some requests, leading to one great shot of Brianna sitting up on her knees, back straight and to the camera as she glanced over her shoulder, her hair brushed aside just enough to flash the camera those beautiful eyes while showing off her terrific backside. There were a few wardrobe changes, in which Brianna slipped quickly into some of his favorite outfits of hers.
Just as he helped with her shots, Brianna made a few requests of his and their couple pictures. One of him sitting near the edge of the bed, one leg dangling off with the other knee was drawn up nearly to his chest, particularly set her off, and Patsy snapped several angles of it. They eventually had to settle for him doing more serious poses, as his smile was too nervous and fake to really take a decent picture.
The couples’ boudoir photography was much more chaste than he’d imagined. It was mostly a lot of shots similar to their wedding photographs, just without so much clothing between them. There were a few shots of them kissing, sure, but by and large, they were mostly of the two of them at play, recreating their favorite moments of their relationship. One of their mutual favorites was a shot of him laying on the bed, knees drawn up, while she was holding herself up over him, dressed in simple white underwear, her forehead nearly touching his as they both grinned. In those shots, he found it easy to smile, and Patsy snuck more than one shot of him without Brianna in the frame to make up for the earlier problems.
And then, just like that, it was done. Patsy waited for them both to dress, then explained that Brianna had already a small part of her commission in advance with the rest to come when they knew they were satisfied with the pictures. After that, they’d be delivered digitally without a watermark, and since they had a photo printer had home, there was no need to worry about anyone else seeing the pictures.
Garrett asked for one last shot, the three of them together in nothing more than a friendly pose, and then graced Patsy with a kiss on the cheek. “That was, without a doubt, one of the strangest, nicest evenings of our honeymoon,” he said. “Thank you.”
* * *
When they got back to the hotel, Garrett wanted nothing more than to chase his wife up to the hotel room, help her out of that stunning dress, and make love to her good and properly. Such was his life though that when they opened the doors, he had to rethink that, even as she raced on ahead, dangling her high heels off her finger tips and glancing behind her with a smoldering “come hither” smile.
She stopped when she saw his attention was elsewhere and came back. “The kid again?”
He nodded. “While we were out there, giving each other sexy eyes, that thing…”
“We can’t beat ourselves up. We just can’t.” He wouldn’t meet Brianna’s look, and she used two fingers to turn his chin towards her. “What else can we do? Think.”
Staring at the child gazing coolly back at him, he shook his head slightly. “I have no clue.”
But he was starting to. The child always came back to him. It didn’t follow Brianna – it wanted him for some reason. His sight of the dead? Maybe. Think. If she was evil, really evil, her ribbons would have been black, right? Then again, if she was a child, she should have been sent straight to heaven, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. So why was she here with him? What did she gain from him? From any of her victims, really?
He blinked and walked with Bri slowly towards the elevators. Okay, if they couldn’t pin down what child was or what it wanted, what about the victims? Why them? What did they have in common? Confessions?
Brianna punched the button for their floor. “You have something, don’t you?”
Garrett frowned. “Yeah, maybe. About tonight…”
“It’s okay,” she said, and turned to kiss his cheek. “How do I help?”