Kevin sat on the metal bench, staring up at the relic that was over 200 years old. It actually seemed taller than it had when he was teenager. Maybe it was because he had more of an appreciation for history now. Maybe it was because he was alone, and life seemed to be looming over him.
As he admired the ship mast from Old Ironsides on the east side of his Alma Mater, Topeka High, he considered all the Google research he’d done earlier in the evening while shoving down three chicken tacos at Tacos El Sol. He’d first typed “Ironsides” into his phone and spent about ten minutes reading a Wikipedia entry about the 1960s television series Ironsides. He mulled around the information that the main character was a police detective, that he was paralyzed, and that the show took place in San Francisco. Then he read a brief history of the battleship, The U.S.S. Constitution, which was given the nickname “Old Ironsides” because cannonballs could not penetrate her tough oak sides. Nothing jumped out to him as relevant to Evelyn or the Topeka project, except for the mere fact that this amazing piece of history was nestled in the heart of Topeka. Even the poem, “Old Ironsides”, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which was written to save the ship from being scrapped, offered no epiphany. Maybe he was making this too hard. He was positive that this mast, now used as a flagpole, was the image that he and Kate uncovered in Evelyn’s outrageous story. But why was it there? What did it mean?
Kevin dropped his elbows to his knees and his face fell hard into his hands. His focus jumped back to Kate and their last twenty-four hours together. He couldn’t get past the picture in his head of her frightened face beneath his as they lay in the grass, her fiery home collapsing all-to-near their bodies. Then the firemen and the cops and their endless questions. He’d never forget the young, blue-eyed cop that gave Kate at least ten minutes of comfort in his arms while Kevin was interrogated. And the TV news van—he was sure the whole ordeal was blasted on the ten o’clock news. It wasn’t until sometime after midnight that he got her settled into his bed and he found his own comfort on his sofa. They agreed to both go to work that morning and pretend that nothing happened. Kate seemed cool and calm but he was a wreck on the inside. He’d made several calls concerning the Topeka 5K Run and finalized its course, but spent too much of his day being unproductively angry.
Kevin rotated his eyes out of the confines of his fingers just as a carload of teenagers drove fast down Polk Street, yelling something unimaginatively vulgar at him. Had nothing changed from High School? He loved his time at Topeka High but even then dreamed of the day he could leave town. Ready to give up on this possible red herring, he stood and headed toward his truck. As he reached out to pat the white, squared steel of the mast while walking by, something unexpected jumped out at him. There were red bricks with names of donors under his feet, but one was different—somewhat elevated.
Kevin knelt down and ran his fingers over the brick. It was perfectly centered to the south of the mast base and the engraving was facing him.
He wondered if this Mr. Laird had any connection to Laird Noller Ford on Topeka Boulevard. Something about this brick wasn’t quite right. Running his finger along the edges of the brick he swore that it moved. It was loose, actually very loose. He was pretty sure, if he jiggled it gently…
Kevin couldn’t believe what he was staring at. The brick had come straight up and beneath it was a small Ziplock bag containing a silver key. He grabbed the bag, replaced the brick, and hustled to his truck. As he opened the driver’s door the lingering smell of smoke from last night’s disaster attacked him. In one handful he pulled his cell phone, keys, and a random business card out of his pants’ pocket. He climbed up into the seat and quickly punched buttons on his phone.
“Kate?” He put the key in the ignition and prayed that she’d gone straight to his apartment following the after-hours baby shower in the first floor conference room at City Hall.
“What’s up, Kev?”
“Shoot!” His phone was beeping and the charger was probably buried in his console. “Can you Google the name ‘Duane Laird’ right away? Also—.”
“I’m a little busy at the moment.”
“Doing what?” He cringed and squeezed his phone. “Tell me you’re safe and sound, locked in at my apartment.”
“I’m locked in at your apartment.”
He exhaled. “Is that a lie?”
His hand was wrapped so tight around his phone his wrist was starting to ache. “Where the hell—?”
“I’m at the Menninger Tower. This place is a little creepy.”
The thought of the imminent death of his phone coupled with her casualness was about to send him over the edge. “I’ll be there in ten—.”
“I won’t. I’ll be at Mount Calvary Cemetery.”
“It will be dark soon,” he screamed.
“Of course, silly.”
He realized his left fingertips were planted deep into his scalp. “Okay. Meet me near the Lardner thing.” He listened for a moment but could only hear his heart racing. “Kate?” Even his phone was silent. “Kate!” He threw his phone against the passenger door panel and turned the ignition.
* * *
His head was against the passenger window, and Kevin guessed he’d been staring at Kate’s face for at least thirty minutes. The setting sun had given her a glow that only affirmed to him that she was pretty. But he was confident most of what was radiating from her face was coming from the WIBW thermal mug in her cup holder. He cast his line: “Can I have a drink?”
She stared at the shiny blue mug for a moment and then up to Kevin. “I might be getting a cold—I’d rather not share.”
He reached for the mug but she grabbed it first and started chugging. “You’re inebriated, aren’t you?” he said.
She closed her eyes and the mug slid slowly from her lips. “Buzzed, Kevin. I’m definitely buzzed.” A smile started to form and then a giggle. Kate turned her head to him and her dark eyes grew. “‘Inebriated’,” she started to laugh again, “who says that anymore?” She reached over and slapped his arm. “You’re such a square.”
“Who says ‘square’?” He wanted to hold her hand but the timing seemed wrong. Kate dropped the smile and looked out her window, causing him to sigh inside. “Why are you drinking?”
“The woman I came here to work for is probably dead,” she began, “possibly murdered. My house blew up. All the pot that I had was in my house,” she turned and looked at him, “that blew up. Everything I owned—which wasn’t much—was in that house, that—.”
Kevin grabbed her wrist as he heard tears behind her last word. “I’m sorry, that was a stupid question.” He glanced out the windshield. “Can we go out there now and do whatever it is you want to do?”
“In a minute,” she said softly. “It’s almost dark enough.”
He’d been trying to be respectful of her emotions all day, but either his anxiety was getting the best of him or his tacos weren’t settling well. He decided to be blunt. “Are you here to look for ghosts?” he asked. “I assumed you’d dropped that idea in regards to the ‘Topeka is Awesome’ project. I—.”
“Ohh…” she groaned. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Kate reached under the seat and pulled out a blue bottle of Relax Riesling wine. She unscrewed the silver cap, took a quick chug and dropped her head against the neck rest. “I do know that I’m not going to be a prisoner in your apartment. Maybe I was thinking about the ghost angle when I decided to check out Menninger’s and the cemetery, but I really think,” she brought the bottle up to her lips again, “that I wanted to be somewhere outside that was quiet and deserted.” She took another slow drink and turned her head to him. “Last night we were surrounded by people and chaos for hours. Tonight I want ghosts and complete quiet.”
The word “ghosts” conjured many different images in his head. Kevin’s eyes scanned their almost dark surroundings. From the safety of her Accord, there didn’t appear to be anything out there but marble, grass, and silk flowers.
“Tell me about the Lardner thing,” Kate said softly.
“Well, the story I heard was that the cemetery didn’t want the family, who probably made most of these stones by the way, to put up that giant monument. So they erected it in the middle of the night.”
Something deep and sinister left Kate’s lungs. “Erections late at night—I like the sound of that.”
Her fingers pounced upon the back of his hand. “You are a square,” she muttered, opening her car door. “Let’s check it out.”
He followed her a short distance down the gravel road and through the grass, weaving through grave stones that Kevin remembered as being pretty old. He stood under the towering monument, feeling a little déjà vu from earlier in the evening. Kate leaned her back against the inside of the marble column, looking up. He didn’t remember her neck seeming so long. He followed its lines up, over her face, and then all the way up the column.
“Were you able to do my Google search earlier?” he asked quietly.
“Yes. I found an obituary for that man.”
“Any connection to the local Ford dealership?” Kevin reached in his pocket.
“I don’t think so,” Kate whispered. “Why do you ask?”
He held the plastic bag in front of her face.
She smiled. “Is that the key to your heart?”
“I’m hoping it’s the key to a red, 2012 Mustang GT.”
Kate grabbed the bag from his hand. “I’m hoping it’s the key to your heart…”
He didn’t doubt her sincerity at all. Kevin grabbed her shoulders. “I suddenly know why Topeka is so awesome,” he said.
“Because you’re in it.”
She dropped her jaw slightly and he moved in closer. This was never how he imagined a first kiss, but at this point, he wasn’t going to be picky. Kevin started to close his eyes…
“It’s not a car,” Kate whispered.
“I don’t care about the Mustang right now.”
“Behind you…three lights.” Kevin opened his eyes and Kate’s were huge, focused somewhere out into the dusk. “They can’t be car headlights.” Kevin turned his head as her final words met his ear. “They’re flashlights!”
The jolt was so harsh that it took him a moment to realize that Kate had taken his hand and was pulling him. Suddenly he was running with her, heading east away from the lights and both of their vehicles, dodging tombstones, silk flowers and possibly bullets.
“What was that sound?” he asked her, knowing it had to be a gun shot.
“I don’t want to know.” They made a sharp left turn, avoiding a large headstone that was smack in the middle of the aisle and perpendicular to the rest. A split second before he did, Kate hurdled a shorter headstone and he wondered if she actually saw it or had some kind of instinct for this. They ran another twenty or thirty feet, and she quickly dropped, pulling him down with her. A branch of the large shrub they were behind brushed against his face and he moved back a foot. All he could see was darkness, but Kate appeared to be spying around the edge of the bush.
“Where are they?” Kevin forced out between pants. “The guys with flashlights…and possibly guns…do you see them?”
“One is looking into my car, one is shining his light up—possibly onto the towering monument that we were under—I can’t tell through the tree.” She took a few quick breaths. “And I think I see another light off in the distance where we just came from. Do you think these guys are Bianca’s thugs?”
“Thugs, Federal agents, local protectors, TV crews—what’s the difference? They’re all after us.” Kevin’s heart was racing, and he reached into his left pocket, but remembered his phone was dead. “Do you have your phone?”
“In the car,” she said quickly, grabbing his hand again. “In just a second, we’re going to run in that direction.”
He was wondering why that’d run toward men with guns. “What?”
She squeezed his hand. “Trust me.” He heard her suck in a deep breath. “Now,” she grunted, jerking him out of safety. They crouched and moved behind a row of tall tombstones, getting way to close to at least two of the men. Kate halted quick against the back of a long monument, and Kevin wondered if she was really this brave or if the alcohol was making the judgment calls.
He’d almost caught his breath but was afraid to look beyond their rock-solid barrier. “Oh-my-God,” Kate suddenly whispered. “Kevin…that colossal Lardner thing… does it look like pi to you?”
She must be plastered, he thought. “You mean, like apple pie?”
She shoved him and he about fell over from his squat. “No—the symbol pi. Two vertical, parallel lines with a curvy top. There was a pi symbol embedded in Evelyn’s manuscript—it was a period where there should have been a question mark. I spent two hours today researching the symbol, the Greek alphabet, math applications, three point one four whatever number comes next…” Her breath was loud and exaggerated. “Maybe it wasn’t pi—maybe it’s supposed to be that giant hunk of crafted stone that you almost kissed me under.”
His cheeks started to burn and he ignored it. “That would make sense,” he said. “I guess it’s like the mast at Topeka High—something tall and towering and unique to Topeka.”
“Tall, Towering, Topeka…that’s good marketing,” she whispered.
He only pondered this for a second before the alcohol induced decisions took over the agenda again.
“We’re going to make a break for my car,” Kate said.
He reached out for her arm but found her hip instead. “Are you crazy?”
“Maybe, but I think we can make it. Both lights are shining up at the Lardner monument now. They’re moving back and forth, slowly over the name. The thugs don’t appear to be too interested in us.”
“Where’s the third light?” Kevin asked, barely able to make out anything in his view.
“No idea, babe. But I know it’s not between us and my car.”
Kevin could barely make out her face. He decided at some point, possibly last night while he was looking down at her in the grass with her house burning in the background, that he really liked her face. He certainly didn’t want to see a bullet hole in it. “How about if we just run toward the houses behind the cemetery. Someone has to be home—someone with a phone. We’ll call the police.”
“No cops,” she said loudly. “Tonight, I want no cops, no firemen, no reporters.” She easily found his hand and hers felt wonderful. “It’s just you and me tonight, Kev.”
He was getting thoughts and images and didn’t know how to argue. Her determined voice broke into a romantic vision in his head.
“On the count of three,” she instructed, “we make a beeline to my car.” He heard a jingle and then felt metal on top of his hand. “You’re sober—you drive. One..”
He was trying to form the word “okay” but knew he didn’t really mean it.
Kevin grabbed the keys but didn’t have a hold of Kate.
He took off. He knew where her car was in relation to the Lardner monument, which was still illuminated by flashlights. He found the driver door, relieved that it was unlocked. Kevin got in, sat down, forced the second key he tried into the ignition, and looked to the passenger seat. No Kate.
All he heard was his own breath. His heart was racing, even faster than last night. He kept staring at the seat next to him, but she didn’t appear. He looked through every piece of glass surrounding him. No Kate. But there were lights—two of them moving closer to the car every second. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even pray. Worst of all, he couldn’t move. Kevin finally sucked in air and found the strength to turn the ignition. He could only see Kate’s face in his head. He tried to yell her name but it wouldn’t leave his lungs. The flashlights were maybe twenty feet away, and he suddenly prayed for a ghost.
About the Author
C R Kennedy is a graduate of Kansas State University where she majored in Finance and Accounting. Her passion for creativity and the Hollywood Silver Screen sparked her recent career drive to write vintage and modern-day romance and mystery stories. She currently has several works in progress and plans to have short stories available through e-publishing before year end. She is an active member of Kansas Writers Inc. and lives in Topeka with her husband and two adorable children.