"What do you think?" Justin asked anxiously as Carl studied the letters Justin had given him. "Is it enough to squash the suicide verdict on Jesse?"
"Damned if I know, son, but it certainly seems to cast doubt on it."
"What do you mean?" Debbie glared at him, wiping a tear away with the back of her hand. "Why, it's perfectly obvious that this poor kid was fucking murdered by the man who should've been looking out for him, all because he was too much of a fucking coward to admit …"
"Debbie," Carl said, laying a placating hand on her arm, "You've got to understand this happened a long time ago and all of the principal witnesses are dead. Apart from these letters, the only incriminating evidence is the memory of a 98 year-old man. Now I'm not going to deny that back then law enforcement was looked at a lot differently, and that it might have been considered better for society in general to preserve the reputation of the great and good rather than expose a murder … but proving it might be another matter. After all, these letters don't contain a specific threat… they could be read simply as a man's angry reaction to a blackmail attempt by a lover. And I'm sorry, but supernatural testimony isn't going to cut a lot of ice with the DA."
"But there must be something I can do," Justin protested.
Carl pursed his lips as he considered. "Can I hold on to these letters for a while?"
"Sure, but I'd want them back. They're not really mine, you know."
"I'll take good care of them," Carl promised. "And you said Daphne's great-grandfather would be willing to make a statement?"
"That's what he told me," Justin replied. "Don't get me wrong: he has great respect for the Cliffords and he isn't happy about dragging out the family secrets, but I think he feels guilty about what happened to Jesse because he never told anyone his suspicions. I guess this is the only way he has to make amends."
"Well, I still have contacts; I'll see if I can get the Cold Case Unit to take a look at it. But don't get your hopes up, Justin - you'll probably find the very best that might come out of it would be an Open Verdict."
"I'm sure Jesse would be happy with that," Justin smiled.
The first weekend Brian had free, he took Justin on the five-hour drive up to Hauto and they spent a few hours exploring the community of luxury vacation homes that had grown up around the beautiful lake where the Cliffords had spent their summers and a young artist had found love and lost his life. Then they drove into Jim Thorpe and ate lunch at Molly Maguire's before visiting the cemetery: after much searching they found the grave hidden away in a weed-choked corner, and Justin pulled away the smothering greenbriars to disclose the stained, mossy headstone:
1918 - 1936
There was nothing else.
Two weeks later Daphne took him back in her little Honda, the boot laden with spades, trowels, scrubbing brushes and two lilac saplings of purple and white. They dug and weeded and scoured clean the headstone, and Justin planted the lilacs at the head and foot of the grave.
"There you go, Fish," he said, leaning on the spade. "They'll look beautiful come spring."
Daphne slipped her left arm around his waist and hugged him before kissing the fingers of her right hand and pressing them lightly to the headstone. "Sweet dreams, Fish," she murmured. "Chalmers sends his love."
Things quietened down a lot after that. In fact, it's been years since Justin walked into the studio and found that something had been moved or that one of his brushes had gone missing. The only noises now are the sound of wind in the rafters or the scrabble of possible rats in the walls, and the temperature falls no lower than it does in any other Pittsburgh ice box in the middle of winter. If you were to ask Justin, he'd probably admit that he misses the company.
But sometimes Justin opens the door and there's a faint scent of lilacs in the air, or the lingering notes of a song. Sometimes when he's painting, the little scarlet fish hanging from the cross bar of his easel starts to revolve, and the silken fins flutter gently in a breeze Justin can't feel.
At times like that, Justin smiles, and says hello to a friend.
You might be interested to know that many of the events in this story, specifically the disappearing brush and the overturned drawers, were actual events that happened to me many years ago in the 16th century cottage my partner and I own. I adapted them to the story: in my case it was a hairbrush that disappeared, and it took me a week of searching before I thought to ask for it back. The drawer episode happened exactly as related, except that it involved two drawers full of clothes and not art supplies; I was downstairs when I heard the crash and honestly thought one of the wardrobes had fallen over.
We got quite used to things being moved or disappearing, and electrical appliances turning themselves on or clocks stopping. Like Justin, I was intrigued rather than afraid, since I had never felt anything other than welcome: unlike Justin, I never found a cause for the haunting; it stopped with the overturned drawers and nothing has really happened since. Also like Justin, I kind of miss it.
I'm sorry I haven't been able to reply to your reviews, but the system doesn't seem to allow that anymore, at least not for me. So I'll thank you all now, and I'd just like to say to yoshrock I'm sorry there wasn't any hot sex in this one! I'll try to make amends next time.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it, and I hope that you found in Fish a presence to inspire compassion rather than fear.
Happy Hallowe'en to you all, and sweet dreams.