Between cherries and Mac's praise for my book, I'd almost forgotten to ask him about Ned Seymour. "When I bought my cottage, I didn't know that Spearmint Lake had a ghost."
He cast me a teasing smile. "That has to be the Ned Seymour Case. I don't know as I'd call him a ghost, though. It's just an unsolved murder that attracted several embellishments over the years."
"Do you know what happened?"
"I do. Twenty years ago this month, a passing motorist found Lieutenant Seymour's cruiser abandoned on White Pine Road--right near where you were standing the other day. She reported it, and the police found Seymour's body in the woods. He'd been shot in the head."
"So he left his car, probably to pursue someone."
"That's the best theory."
"And you never found the killer?"
I detected a morsel of condescension in his smile. "I wasn't on the force at the time, ma'am. No, the case remains unsolved to this day."
Apparently Mac wasn't one of the embellishers.
"Those are the bare facts, but do you know anything else about the case?" I asked.
"About the ghost, you mean."
Mac understood me, and I felt that he was secretly amused by my curiosity. But why? Who didn't love a ghost story? Besides, the incident was practically ancient history.
"First let me ask you something," he said. "Do you believe in ghosts--or do you just write about them?"
"I'm not sure." I smiled, recalling the moment when I'd wondered if Mac was a phantom policeman. I should tell him that. Maybe I would some day, but not until I knew him well. "I've never seen a spirit in real life, but I'm open to being convinced."
"Isn't a real life spirit an oxymoron?"
"I guess so, but it sounds right."
At that moment, I remembered the sound of falling water in the cottage, but that had nothing to do with the supernatural. I simply hadn't found its source yet.
"That's an intelligent attitude," Mac said. "I deal with facts, Joanna. Ghosts are for Halloween and the gullible."
"And the tourist?"
He laughed. "And for ladies who write stories."
"Then you can tell me all about Ned Seymour's ghost."
The candles cast their shadows, and the rain continued to batter the Grill. Pie, coffee, and thunder set the stage for spirit talk. Mac lowered his voice. The gleam in his eyes was a wicked, teasing light. "I do know a few other details, Joanna. If you bring your pie and coffee over to my table, I'll tell you the real story--the one we don't want people to know. Unless they live here, that is. You're a cottage owner, so..."
"I can be trusted with the town secret?"
He moved his jacket to the back of a spare chair. "You catch on fast."
He might be teasing me, but the invitation was genuine. I brought my cup and plate to his table just as the waitress served him another piece of pie. Mac had a pillar candle too. Conscious of a delicious chill, I held my hand above the flame.
Mac said, "One day, shortly after Ned was buried, his little sister, Natalie, claimed that she saw him. For a long time afterward, she refused to believe he was dead. She kept looking for him."
"How little was Natalie at the time?" I asked.
"Around ten. She was swimming in Spearmint Lake. Ned was standing across the water watching her. By the time she reached the shore, he was gone. That same summer he appeared in a family photograph taken at a picnic. No one actually saw him on that occasion."
Mac's expression was serious and his tone grave, but the light in his eyes was positively devilish. He was enjoying himself.
"You're making this up as you go along," I said.
"Not at all. Ask anyone in Spearmint Lake if you doubt me. No one outside the Seymour family ever saw the picture. That's how the story started. In those days, Ned's widow used to go to the cemetery every Sunday. Once she saw Ned looking down at his own grave."
"She said that Ned looked confused."
"Some ghosts don't realize they're dead. That's why they haunt familiar places," I said.
Mac stared at me. He looked a little confused himself. "You know about the habits of ghosts?"
"Only a little, through research for my books. What happened next?"
"Ned backed up and sort of melted away into the fog. She never saw him again."
"I heard that Ned haunts White Pine Road searching for his killer."
"So the story goes. From time to time, people report strange happenings, and the ghost business starts up again. Ned has been seen walking along Lake Road, in the cemetery, and near the lake. Never in town. A few years ago an elderly gentleman came to the station to turn himself in. He swore that he'd run over a policeman who was standing in the road, but when he stopped, he couldn't find the body."
"And they never found a trace of this hit-and-run victim," I said.
"I'm telling this story, Joanna. You're right. No one was killed that night--who wasn't already dead."
Mac finished his pie and leaned back in his chair, blue eyes twinkled with merriment. The story hour was over, but its chilling images lingered. Narrated by Mac, these familiar supernatural elements seemed like real happenings.
I moved my hands above the candle flame again. "If you meant to frighten me, Mac..."
"That was my intent." His mischievous wink contradicted the brash statement.
"I don't believe you." He drained his coffee cup and signaled to the waitress for a refill. "You don't look like the timid kind."