While Munson haunted Main Street, Hardy was said to haunt the jail and the cell where he had died.
The doors to the cells were wooden with barred windows. They were entered with large jail keys that had to be returned—lest the guest be charged a hefty fee. In the age of the plastic slot card, the Old Jail was a holdout. But entering a cell with a big jail key held greater charm.
The door wasn’t locked, so Sloan stepped inside. The couple had done a pretty thorough job of searching. Drawers were still open and the mattress lay crookedly on the bed.
Sloan turned back to make sure he hadn’t been followed. There was a security camera in the hall but he knew that was just for show; Mike never remembered to change the tape. He seldom had trouble. Guests seemed to love talking about the shadowy apparitions they’d seen in the halls or the “cold spots” that had moved into the room, et cetera, that went with staying at such a place. He walked to the dresser; it was heavy. A wide-screen TV sat on it, along with the bust of an Indian chief.
Sloan waited a minute, then shook his head, said quietly, “Give it up. Return the wallets.”
He heard the rasp of something against the wall. Turning, he saw that that there were two wallets on the floor. They might have been wedged behind the dresser and wall—and fallen when he tugged at the dresser.
He picked them up and headed to the door, then looked back into the room. “You know, Hardy, shadows in the night, cool. Your few ghostly appearances—great. But quit with the money, the keys and the wallets, huh? All these people think you’re the next best thing to Jesse James. Don’t go ruining your wonderful reputation.”
For a moment, Sloan thought he saw him. Hardy seemed to be standing there, still wearing a gray jacket and a sweeping gray hat with a plume, a cross between a Western outlaw and a disenfranchised soldier. He had a neatly clipped golden beard and his eyes were bright. He saluted Sloan.
Shaking his head, Sloan walked back to the breakfast room and set the wallets on the table.
The couple gaped at him incredulously. “They were wedged behind the dresser,” he said.
“Oh, thank you!” Lucinda gushed.
“Yeah, man, thanks!” Jerry said.
“Check them, make sure everything’s in them,” Sloan said.
“You said you searched everywhere!” Lucinda accused Jerry.
“Hey, you were in the room, too!”
She’d barely finished speaking when they heard it.
The sound was terrible; it seemed to come from the earth itself. It was a scream—one that might have been piercing except that it was muffled.
It came again and again...
“What the f—” Jerry began, leaping to his feet.
“Oh, my God!” Lucinda cried, trembling.
Even Sloan felt as if ice trickled down his spine.
And then he realized the source of the scream. There was nothing unearthly about it. It was simply coming from the basement of the theater next door.
Sloan strode quickly from the Old Jail and down the few steps to the swinging, slatted doors that led into the Gilded Lily. He saw the long bar and the rows of seating to the side of it and the stage at the far end.
“Hey!” he called out, seeing no signs of life.
He hurried behind the bar to the stairs that went down to the basement and storm cellar, now a depository for over a hundred and fifty years’ worth of costumes, props, scenery and other old theater paraphernalia.
He heard the scream again as he rushed down the steps.
The muted light blinded him for a moment. The basement was divided into a main room and three side rooms, separated by foundation walls.
He blinked and adjusted his vision. A woman stood alone at the back of the main basement room. She held an old burlap cover that had apparently protected shelves holding wigged mannequin heads. She was young, blonde and pretty, and he recognized Valerie Mystro, the current ingenue in residence at the Gilded Lily Theater Company.
She didn’t hear him when he called her name. She was staring in horror at something on the shelf.
Sloan strode over to her and took her by the shoulders. She looked at him blankly, as if not seeing him at first.
She trembled. “Sloan!” she said, and swallowed.
“Valerie, what is it? What’s wrong?”
She lifted a shaky finger and pointed at the row of old carved wooden wig heads.
They were creepy, Sloan agreed. Each had been painted with a face. Some pouted, some just stared, some seemed to laugh. A few of the newer heads were made of plastic or Styrofoam.
And at the end of the row...
There was one that bore a dark curly wig tied with a red ribbon. Dark curls fell over the forehead.
But the head wasn’t carved from wood. Nor was it plastic or Styrofoam.
It was a human skull, a skull stuck on a wooden spike. The jawbone had fallen and lay on the ledge.
That made it appear as if the skull itself was screaming.
As if evil was indeed alive in the world and had come to Lily, Arizona.
Jane Everett was entranced.
She’d been to a ghost town or two in her day, but never a functioning ghost town.
But then, of course, Lily, Arizona, had never really been a ghost town because it had never been completely deserted. It had just fallen by the wayside. It had seen good times—when the mines yielded silver and there’d been a hint of gold, as well, and the saloons and merchants had flourished—and it had seen bad times when the mines ran dry. Still, it had the look of either a ghost town or the set of a Western movie. The main street had raised wooden sidewalks and an unpaved dirt street. Muddy when it rained, she was certain, but that was seldom in this area.
The car her boss, Special Agent Logan Raintree, had hired to bring her to town let her out in front of the Gilded Lily, where she’d be staying. The driver had set her bag on the wooden sidewalk, but she waited a minute before going in, enjoying a long view of the street.
There were a number of tourists around. She heard laughter from across the street and saw that a group of children had come from a shop called Desert Diamonds and were happily licking away at ice cream cones. Farther down, a guide was leading several riders out of the stables; she could hear his voice as he began to tell them the history of the town.
But the theater itself was where she was heading so she turned and studied it for a moment. Someone had taken pains to preserve rather than renovate, and the place appeared grand—if grand was the right word. Well, maybe grand in a rustic way. The carved wooden fence that wound around the roof was painted with an array of lilies and the name of the