“Oh,” Sookie replied with sadness filling her voice. Her eyes welled with tears even though he’d been dead for eight years and I had to stop myself from reaching out to wipe them away. She swallowed hard and asked, “So I guess you didn’t know him before then? While he was still alive?”
I shook my head answering, “No, but I know he was a good man.” He was still a good man. I was just the only one that knew that. When she looked at me quizzically I realized I’d said too much, which was one of the reasons why people thought I was strange, and I quickly covered myself, saying, “I remember hearing everything about him in the news after he’d been killed. It seemed like he was friends with the entire parish so he couldn’t have been a bad guy.”
Sookie nodded, with the wispy blond strands trailing down her neck that had fallen loose from her pinned up hair sliding along her skin, and I had to focus my concentration away from the movement as she said, “He was a good man; a very good man. His death is why I joined the force.”
While Corbett had been proud she’d decided to follow in his footsteps, he’d been afraid that was Sookie’s reason for becoming a police officer. Up until his death he’d said she’d been a happy-go-lucky teenager and, like many of the spirits that refused to move on for whatever reason, he’d kept an eye on his family and saw how his death had changed her. Her carefree spirit turned into dogged determination in her quest to become a police officer and while she mourned the loss of her father, he mourned the loss of his daughter’s untroubled childhood. He wanted her to regain the spark in her eyes that went out with his death and stupidly thought that I could help put it back there. It was one of the reasons why he refused to stop visiting me even though, up until that night, I had never even met her.
If I hadn’t done his toxicology tests at the time of his death myself, I might’ve thought he’d died while inebriated and blamed that.
I didn’t always talk to the dead people I came across and they didn’t always talk to me, but Corbett showed up in the autopsy room before I’d made my first cut telling me exactly where I’d find the bullet that killed him. He and Flood had walked in unaware on a robbery in progress at a convenience store and in the ensuing gun battle he’d been caught in the crossfire of both the robber’s and Flood’s bullets as he leapt in front of a little girl who’d happened to be in the store at the time. His actions saved her life but had cost him his own. Flood froze when he saw his partner go down and the robber had gotten away when he moved to try and save him. Even though there was conclusive evidence that it was the bullet fired from the robber’s gun that had been the one to kill Corbett, Flood turned to booze in his grief over losing his partner and allowing his killer to get away. It was thanks to Corbett’s own dogged determination (I’d since been informed it was a Stackhouse trait) and his persistent hounding of me that I finally went to see Flood myself. I sidled up next to him at the bar one night and relayed the message from Corbett on where he could find the murder weapon, which had been dropped into a storm drain several blocks away, and thanks to the killer’s fingerprints already being in the system he was arrested and found guilty, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. It was also the reason why I made Flood’s skin crawl and Corbett later told me that he’d convinced himself our encounter at the bar was a figment of his alcohol induced imagination, but he’d cleaned himself up and hadn’t touched a drop of liquor since, so I thought it was a small price to pay.
Realizing there was an awkward silence building between Sookie and me, I smiled at her and said, “I’m sure he would be very proud.” He was so damn proud I’d warned him that the sutures from the Y incision I had made on his chest might break open and I wouldn’t be able to fix it if it did.
“Damn skippy I’m proud.”
Thanks to my lifelong curse, I didn’t startle easily, so it wasn’t difficult to not turn around at the sound of Corbett’s voice behind me.
“I’d like to think so,” Sookie smiled back at me with the sadness lifting from her eyes.
“Didn’t I tell ya she was beautiful? Are you sure you don’t want to rethink your decision and just ask her out already?” Corbett asked as he came to stand next to me.
“I’m sure of it,” I answered them both. This was the exact reason why I couldn’t date. My closest friend was a dead guy and I was the only one in the room that could participate in the whole conversation.
“Look who I found wandering around,” Corbett said. Sookie’s phone chimed in the next second so I was able to discreetly glance to my right and saw Steve Newlin standing beside Corbett.
“Tell her it was my bitch of a wife Sara that killed me,” he said with venom. “She found out that I’d been cheating on her and lured me out to the park this morning saying she would finally give me the divorce I’ve been asking for, for months. The frigid bitch hit me over the head with a souvenir rock we’d brought back from our honeymoon in Bethlehem.”
I had to stifle the chuckle building in my chest at the irony as well as quell the urge to ask if they’d honeymooned in the West Bank or Pennsylvania, but when Sookie looked up at me from her phone and I saw that she still saw me as a normal human being, there was no way I was about to give her any reasons to think otherwise.
“Well, I should get going,” she smiled. “The Colonel and I still need to talk to the widow. She was too upset to talk to us earlier.”
“Upset my ass,” Steve proclaimed. “More like making a list of the ways she’s going to spend the insurance payout. Tell her!”
“Ask her out!” Corbett protested. “Before she leaves.”
It was still difficult at times to pretend I was only hearing the conversation taking place amongst the living so I hoped my smile was a normal one and said to Sookie, “Well it was nice to meet you Sookie. Unfortunately, I’m sure we’ll be seeing one another again.” When her eyebrows quirked I realized how I might’ve sounded like an ass and followed up with, “Not that I don’t want to see you again because I do. Not that I’m asking you out or anything.”
“You should,” Corbett interjected.
“I meant because of the dead bodies. Not that you’re not pretty because you are. I meant, you know, seeing you professionally. Here. With the dead bodies. Because there’s always going to be more dead bodies and, you know, you’ll have to investigate their deaths.”
For fuck’s sake. I hadn’t floundered so hard since my dead grandmother wandered into my bedroom when I was fifteen and caught me looking at my father’s Playboy magazine.
My eyes had dropped to my feet again in embarrassment and I’m sure my face reddened hearing Sookie’s chuckle that sounded like a feminine version of her father’s. I knew that not only from experience, but because he was chuckling beside me at the same time she was.
“It was nice meeting you too Eric,” she said and I looked up to see her smiling back at me. My eyes followed her to the door where she turned around and said, “By the way, I like your hat. Dancing skeletons when you’re surrounded by death is kind of uplifting; like even though their physical body is gone their spirits are still capable of having a good time.”
She had no idea. Her father was in stitches beside me. Literally.
With those parting words she was gone and I turned to Corbett, making sure to keep my voice low in case Sookie could still hear me, and said, “Jesus Christ. You couldn’t keep your mouth shut for five more minutes until she left before you had to start your shit?”
He grinned back at me asking, “Now where would the fun in that be? I’m dead son. I need to find a way to entertain myself.”
Corbett’s jovial personality was the reason why I didn’t mind talking to him. Most of the spirits I’d come across were sad or angry over their deaths, but he seemed to shake it off rather easily and instead found ways to be full of life in spite of his death. Even though I wasn’t really angry at him I shot a glare his way and pointed at my hat, saying, “Why don’t you go and find Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to keep you company? Learn how to ballroom dance for entertainment and leave my love life to me.”
I turned to start readying Newlin’s body to be picked up by the funeral home, but Corbett followed along beside me, snickering, “Your love life is deader than me.”
I glanced up and saw Newlin’s spirit was gone and hoping to change the subject, I asked, “Speaking of the dead, where did he go?”
Corbett shrugged his shoulders, saying, “He probably went to go and haunt his wife. He’s pissed.”
“No shit,” I said. I didn’t think death was a suitable punishment for adultery, but it wasn’t like I could stop it from happening.
I continued to bag up the body while Corbett stood there staring at me until I couldn’t take it anymore and looked up at him, asking, “What?” even though I knew what he was likely to say.
“So what did you think of Sookie?” he asked.
Why was I cursed with seeing and hearing dead people? Why couldn’t I see into the future instead, so I could pick winning lottery numbers and retire to a tropical island paradise?
I glared at him saying, “You were there. You heard exactly what I thought of your daughter when I couldn’t stop the verbal diarrhea from spilling out of my mouth.”
He chuckled again, saying, “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a drugstore. Do they make Imodium AD for getting the oral shits?”
My earlier embarrassment came back and I lashed out, asking, “What the hell? You’re her father. Shouldn’t you be warning me away from your daughter?”
He was protective as hell about her and I’d asked the same question a hundred other times before then, so I wasn’t surprised when he replied with his stock answer of, “It’s because I am her father you dipshit. She’s a grown woman and I want her to find a good man. You are a good man.” His face turned serious when he added something new, saying, “I don’t want her career to become her life. If she doesn’t find some balance, the job will be her life and I don’t want that for her. She’s going to see a lot of bad in her line of work and she needs to be able to counter that with the good that’s out there or it’s going to eat her alive.”
I knew exactly what it was like when your career became your life. I didn’t have any real friends thanks to my curse because the dead never failed to interfere in my life whenever I tried to live normally. Without fail I would be out with someone when a spirit would somehow interject them self by talking to me or, even worse, showing me how they’d met their violent end. It was hard to sit in a restaurant with someone talking about movies or politics when a ghost came over to me showing me that they’d been strangled to death by the guy sitting at the table across from me. Sometimes their appearance was opaque, so I knew without a doubt what they were, but other times they appeared as solid as any other living person so it was hard to separate what was ‘real’ and what wasn’t. I’d been accused of being rude more than once for ignoring a living person thinking they were dead while acknowledging the dead ones with the live people around me looking at me like I was crazy. They only wanted justice to be served, but I would just be locked up in the psych ward if I tried to tell anyone what I knew, so I was more or less a recluse. Working alone in the morgue, I didn’t have to hide what I could see and hear and instead had friends like Corbett to keep me company.
He was a blessing and a curse all rolled into one.
“What makes you think that she’d be willing to overlook my curse? Why do you think that she would believe me when my own parents think I’m a nut job?” I asked, both hoping he might be right while trying to convince myself it was nothing more than a pipe dream. I couldn’t afford to get my hopes up no matter how much I liked her.
Corbett knew me well enough to probably sense the direction of my thoughts and I both hated and appreciated that about him when he smiled, answering, “Because I know my little girl. Just give her a chance Eric. You won’t be disappointed.”
I watched him head towards the door and just like his daughter had before him, he turned and added, “Now I’m gonna go and watch my baby’s first interrogation while you think of a way to ask her out.” Even though Corbett appeared as a solid form to me, he passed right through the closed door as if it wasn’t there and left me doing exactly what his parting words had bade me to do and as I made my way home later on that night, I found myself left with a conundrum.
If Sookie Stackhouse showed up again, would I have the nerve to ask her out?