Chapter Four--Urban Explorer

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 I heard the bell jingle on the door to the shop, and the exchange of voices told me someone had come in as Maggie’s customer went out. Their voices didn’t quite carry to the back room.

I was just getting up to go to the front when Maggie stuck her head around the corner. “Cassidy—there’s a gentleman here who wants to speak with you.”

I followed her out to find a tall, handsome man casually glancing at our display cases. Being five foot nine, I tend to notice height. He was in his late twenties or early thirties with chestnut hair and brown eyes, and he looked more like he was dressed for hiking than for window-shopping on King Street. I got the feeling that being in the shop made him nervous.

“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to place him and deciding I had never seen him before.

“You’re Cassidy Kincaide?” When I nodded, he looked relieved. “I really need to talk with you.” He glanced around, but Maggie had busied herself with something in a cabinet near the back of the store. “I’m Ryan Alexander. You might know me as Nikon Ninja—and I really need your help.”

Teag overheard the conversation and came up to the front. It only took him a few moments to confirm that Ryan Alexander was indeed Teag’s urban explorer friend. Things were still quiet in the store, so Teag and I ushered Ryan to the break room table in the back and gave him a glass of sweet tea.

“I’m sorry to show up without calling first,” Ryan said. “But I wondered whether you were able to learn anything about that ivory disk I mailed to you.”

“I’ve found out a few things,” I said cautiously. “Why the urgency?”

Ryan was silent for a moment, as if debating what to say. “Teag’s probably told you that I’m an urban explorer in my spare time. I’ve got a group that’s been exploring in a lot of Southern cities—old ruins, abandoned manufacturing plants, forgotten infrastructure like storm drains and old railway tunnels, that sort of thing.”

“He mentioned it,” I replied, still trying to figure why Ryan seemed so nervous.

“We’ve seen some odd things poking around in the dark, but we leave the ghost hunting to other folks,” Ryan continued. “We actually cooperate with several of the area ghost hunting groups—we scout the location and they come back with their woo-woo finders.”

Sounded to me like Ryan was a skeptic. Which made his connection to the ivory disk all the more curious. “But ever since we started exploring the old Wellright plantation, there have been too many unexplained things happening,” he continued. “I’ve never been completely sold on the idea of ghosts. But I may have to change my mind.”

“Why’s that?”

Ryan tugged at the collar of his shirt. “Because in the three times my group has gone exploring around the plantation, we’ve had sightings of a woman’s ghost each time—and enough of us have seen her to make it hard to write off as imagination.”

“I’m an antique shop owner,” I answered. “Why tell me?”

Ryan gave me a no-bullshit look. “I’ve heard things about you. Folks say you have a talent for handling haunted objects. Before the Wellright incidents, I wouldn’t have put much stock in such things. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“I’m not sure I can speak to the rumors you’ve heard,” I replied carefully. “But I’m curious about what you’ve seen.”

Ryan took a deep breath and let it out. “You need to understand how unusual this whole thing is. We have logged hundreds of hours in dark, abandoned places and never saw anything that made us think we’d seen a ghost. Sure, your mind plays tricks on you for a moment when you’re in a strange place, but the odd noises or the weird shadows have always turned out to be rats or raccoons or a water leak—something very natural and normal.”

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