Gone for Good Page 11

A block away from the cemetery, the limousine pulled to a stop.

“You understand what I want,” McGuane said.

“I got a man in place already. It’s taken care of.”

“Don’t take him out unless you see my signal.”

“Right, yeah. We’ve gone over this.”

“Don’t underestimate him.”

Tanner gripped the door handle. Sunlight glistened off the pinky ring. “No offense, Mr. McGuane, but he’s just some guy, right? Bleeds red like the rest of us?”

McGuane was not so sure.

Tanner stepped out, moving gracefully for a man carrying such bulk. McGuane sat back and downed a long swig of scotch. He was one of the most powerful men in New York. You don’t get there—you don’t reach that pinnacle—without being a cunning and ruthless bastard. You show weakness, you’re dead. You limp, you die. Simple as that.

And most of all, you never back down.

McGuane knew all that—knew it as well as anyone—but right now, more than anything, he wanted to run away. Just pack what he could and simply disappear.

Like his old friend Ken.

McGuane met the driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He took a deep breath and nodded. The car started moving again. They turned left and slid past the gates of Wellington Cemetery. Tires crunched loose gravel. McGuane told the driver to stop. The driver obeyed. McGuane stepped out and moved to the front of the car.

“I’ll call you when I need you.”

The driver nodded and pulled out.

McGuane was alone.

He pulled up his collar. His gaze swept over the graveyard. No movement. He wondered where Tanner and his man had hidden themselves. Probably closer to the meet site. In a tree or behind a shrub. If they were doing it right, McGuane would never see them.

The sky was clear. The wind whipped him like a reaper’s scythe. He hunched his shoulders. The traffic sounds from Route 22 spilled up over sound barriers and serenaded the dead. The smell of something freshly baked wafted in the still air and for a moment McGuane thought of cremation.

No sign of anyone.

McGuane found the path and headed east. As he passed the stones and markers, his eyes unconsciously checked birth and death dates. He calculated ages and wondered about what fate had befallen the young ones. He hesitated when he saw a familiar name. Daniel Skinner. Dead at age thirteen. A smiling angel had been sculpted into the tombstone. McGuane chuckled softly at the image. Skinner, a vicious bully, had been repeatedly tormenting a fourth-grader. But on that day—May 11, according to the tombstone— that rather unique fourth-grader had brought a kitchen knife for protection. His first and only thrust punctured Skinner’s heart.

Bye, bye, Angel.

McGuane tried to shrug it off.

Had it all started here?

He moved on. Up ahead, he made a left and slowed his pace. Not far now. His eyes scanned the surroundings. Still no movement. It was quieter back here—peaceful and green. Not that the inhabitants seemed to care. He hesitated, veered left again, and moved down the row until he arrived at the right grave.

McGuane stopped. He read the name and the date. His mind traveled back. He wondered what he felt and realized that the answer was, not much. He didn’t bother looking around anymore. The Ghost was here somewhere. He could feel him.

“You should have brought flowers, Philip.”

The voice, soft and silky with a hint of a lisp, chilled his blood. McGuane slowly turned to look behind him. John Asselta approached, flowers in his hand. McGuane stepped away. Asselta’s eyes met his, and McGuane could feel a steel claw reach into his chest.

“It’s been a long time,” the Ghost said.

Asselta, the man McGuane knew as the Ghost, moved toward the tombstone. McGuane stayed perfectly still. The temperature seemed to drop thirty degrees when the Ghost walked past.

McGuane held his breath.

The Ghost knelt and gently placed the flowers on the ground. He stayed down there for a moment, his eyes closed. Then he stood, reached out with the tapered fingers of a pianist, and caressed the tombstone with too much intimacy.

McGuane tried not to watch.

The Ghost had skin like cataracts, milky and marshlike. Blue veins ran down his almost-pretty face like dyed tear tracks. His eyes were shale, almost colorless. His head, too big for his narrow shoulders, was shaped like a lightbulb. The sides of his skull were freshly shaved, a sprout of mud-brown hairs sticking up from the middle and cascading out like a fountain. There was something delicate, even feminine, in his features—a nightmare version of a Dresden doll.

McGuane took another step back.

Sometimes you meet a person whose innate goodness bursts at you with an almost blinding light. And then sometimes, you meet the direct opposite—someone whose very presence smothers you in a heavy cloak of decay and blood.

“What do you want?” McGuane asked.

The Ghost lowered his head. “Have you heard the expression that there are no atheists in foxholes?”


“It’s a lie, you know,” the Ghost said. “In fact, just the opposite is true. When you are in a foxhole, when you are face-to-face with death—that is when you know for sure that there is no God. It’s why you fight to survive, to draw one more breath. It’s why you call out to any and every entity—because you don’t want to die. Because in your heart of hearts, you know that death is the endgame. No hereafter. No paradise. No God. Just nothingness.”

The Ghost looked up at him. McGuane stayed still.

“I’ve missed you, Philip.”

“What do you want, John?”

“I think you know.”

McGuane did, but he said nothing.

“I understand,” the Ghost continued, “that you are in something of a bind.”

“What have you heard?”

“Just rumors.” The Ghost smiled. His mouth was a thin razor slice, and the sight of it nearly made McGuane scream. “It’s why I’m back.”

“It’s my problem.”

“If only that were true, Philip.”

“What do you want, John?”

“The two men you sent to New Mexico. They failed, correct?”


The Ghost whispered, “I won’t.”

“I still don’t understand what you want.”

“You would agree, would you not, that I have something of a stake in this too?”

The Ghost waited. McGuane finally nodded. “I guess you do.”

“You have sources, Philip. Access to information I don’t.” The Ghost looked at the tombstone, and for a moment McGuane thought he saw something almost human there. “Are you sure he’s back?”

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