Wilmington, NC 03 - Murder On The Ghost Walk
Sunshine dappled the deck of The Pilot House Restaurant, warming my shoulders . Early morning fog, so prevalent in October, had lifted hours ago and the afternoon was mellowing with incredible beauty. The entire East Coast was in the thrall of a fine Indian summer . Sunbeams sparkled off the Cape Fear R iver as it flowed swiftly beneath my feet. Downstream, Memorial Bridge sang with traffic. I could feel my spirits lift, as if the macabre events of the morning had not happened to me -- had not happened at all.
I looked up to see my beautiful sister step through the restaurant’s rear door and out onto the deck . Melanie is eight years older than I, thirty-two to my twenty-four. She has a way of making an entrance, of commanding a room. Gracefully, she glided among the tables. Heads turned , eyes admired .
With a practiced hand, she flipped her shoulder-length auburn hair. Melanie inherited the fashion genes in our family. Her apricot sweater set complimented her coloring and her brown Capri pants showed off her long legs . She fluttered her fingers my way while nodding to other diners. Melanie is Wilmington’s star realtor ; she ha s risen to that position by working hard and building friends hips .
"Hey, shug," she greeted. She bent to kiss m y cheek. I was glad I'd stopped in the restaurant's pretty yellow ladies room to wash my face and comb the plaster dust out of my hair.
"Have you heard ? It must be on the news, " I said .
She dropped her Holly Golightly sunglasses onto the umbrella-shaded table top and sat down. Reaching for a menu, she said, " The news ? You know I don’t listen to that gloom and doom stuff. I've been out at Wrightsville Beach all morning, showing houses to a couple from Raleigh ."
She looked me over from head to toe with the same seve re scrutiny the homicide detective had subjected me to. "Was there an accident? Are you all right?" Her yellow-g reen eyes narrowed as she inspected me closely. "Have you been crying? Your eyes are all red."
I swallowed a gulp of sugary iced tea. "Just dirt from the site , is all ." I took a deep breath , about t o launch into my narrative when the waitress approached and asked for our orders. "Carolina shrimp bisque," I said, then added, "And bring a basket of dinner rolls, would you please." I have a bad habit of over eating when life turns stressful . Consequently, I am always battling the extra pounds .
Melanie ordered a salad, low-fat dressing on the side.
"So what happened?" she said to me, "Oh, shoot . . .” She lifted one perfectly manicured finger, requesting patience. From inside her K ate Spade hand bag, her cell phone played an electronic version of Carolina Moon .
"Sorry, shug, ” she said, “ I've got to take this. I stood up someone to meet you."
I listened as she explain ed that her baby sister had an emergency. I tuned out the darlin's and sugah's as she sweet-talked her client or new boyfriend -- or could they be one and the same? A bread basket appeared magically and I slathered soft butter on scrumptious corn bread.
My gaze played over the river as the sweet cornbread melted in my mouth. I ’m home, I told myself, home f or good. After four years of a shared, cramped Big Apple a partment, followed by
two years of camping with Aunt Ruby in Savannah , I'd come home to hang out my shingle , Historic R estorations by Ashley. And to live in a snug bungalow of my own. If I ever leave Wilmington again, I vowed, it will be feet first.
At age eighteen, I had done the unthinkable, something no Wilkes or Chastain had ever dreamt of doing: I ’d moved to New York City. Mama had been horrified, convinced I’d be ravished while waiting for the “walk” light in front of Saks. Daddy had taken me quietly aside to assure me he had sufficient faith in what he called my “ good common horse sense ” to trust me to live in the big city while I pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Parsons School of Design , my dream since I ope ned my first box of 64 Crayolas with sharpener . “ But if you ever want to come home, ” h e said, “all you have to do is pick up the phone . I ’ll be there to collect you in a New York minute . ” A promise he would not be able to keep.
That first Christmas when I returned to our home on Summer Rest Road had turned out to be the saddest holiday of my life. On Christmas E ve, Daddy -- Judge Peter Wilkes – left our house to retrieve a forgotten file at the court house. He never returned. He
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