Abby didn’t know why she awoke; she might have heard a sound in the night. Whatever it was, she’d gone from being curled up, enjoying a dream about the great tenth birthday party she was going to have at her grandparents’ tavern, the Dragonslayer, to being pulled out of her dream, as if she needed to be awake. And aware.
There was someone in her room, she thought. Someone with a kind, handsome face staring down at her, eyes filled with great concern.
Then the face was gone and she was instantly wide-awake.
She slipped from her bed and out of the room in the apartment above the Dragonslayer, running to the door in the little hallway that led to her grandparents’ suite. Neither of them was in bed.
That scared her more. Her grandparents weren’t in their bed.
She instantly knew she should be quiet. The fear she felt was instinctive, and she tiptoed in bare feet down the curving metal stairs to the ground floor.
Halfway there, she stopped. Her heart seemed to squeeze and her whole body froze.
She wasn’t afraid of the tavern, she never had been. It was filled with old ships’ wheels, countless figureheads, paintings, etchings, maps and more. The elegant beauties, dragons and mythical creatures that gazed down at her from the walls were part of her heritage.
No, she wasn’t afraid of anything in the Dragonslayer, but...
Someone was there, someone who shouldn’t be. He was standing at the entry, looking through the cut-glass window on the front door, and it wasn’t her grandpa Gus.
He was tall, and beneath his tricorn hat, his rich black hair fell down his back in curls. He had a neatly manicured beard and mustache. His black boots were tight on his calves over tan breeches. He wore a crimson overcoat with elegant buttons that matched those on his vest, and a white shirt with lace at the throat and sleeves. He seemed improbably imposing as he stood there—as if nothing could pass by him. She couldn’t see his eyes in the darkness, but she knew their color.
Just as she knew him.
He was the man who’d been standing by the bed, watching over her.
She’d seen images of him dozens of times. He’d been loved—and hated. He’d sailed the seas on a constant quest for adventure, some said. For his own riches, according to others. He’d never killed a man, although he’d made good on many threats regarding severe thrashings. He’d kidnapped a wealthy man’s daughter and held her for a fortune, but when she was rescued, the girl had wanted to go back to her captor. He never broke his word.
Of course, despite his sense of honor, he’d been hunted. He had been the pirate, Blue Anderson. He was her umpteen-great-great-uncle.
He was dead. He had been dead for more than two hundred and fifty years.
But there he was—standing in the darkness, watching whatever was happening outside the door. Watching with intense interest.
He looked up at her suddenly, as if he realized she was there.
He studied her for a moment and then he smiled, inclining his head curiously and nodding.
He could tell that she saw him.
If she’d been able to move, she would have. She would have screamed and gone running back to her room to hide under the bed.
But she couldn’t move. She could hardly breathe, much less scream.
He smiled again, tipped his tricorn hat, glanced outside one more time and then slowly disappeared.
As he did, she heard the door open. Her eyes darted to it with fear.
It was her grandparents coming back into the building. But it had to be about four in the morning, and they didn’t go out at 4:00 a.m. From the stairway window—she hadn’t managed to move yet—she realized there were flashing lights in the parking lot.
Flashing lights. The kind police cars had.
“Not to worry. They got him, Brenda, my love,” Gus told her grandmother.
“Yes, but... Oh, Gus! That horrible man might have gotten in.” Her grandmother sounded worried. She was such a wonderful grandmother—different from most, perhaps; she wasn’t much of a cookie baker. But she came to all of Abby’s school events. She loved to dress up, she read stories and acted out all the characters. She was slim and energetic, too; she loved a long bike ride.
“Hey, so what? He would’ve stolen what little cash we have in the register. But he didn’t get in. We woke up, we called the police, all is good,” Gus said. He looked up then—just as Blue had done, but of course, she couldn’t really have seen Blue. That would’ve been seeing a...
“Hey, munchkin, what are you doing up?” Gus called to her.
She willed her frozen lungs to function. “I woke up,” she said. Her voice sounded funny, and she forced herself to move. “I—I just woke up. And I couldn’t find you.”
“It’s okay, now, Abby. Everything’s okay. You can go back to sleep,” Gus told her.
“What happened?” she asked.Her grandmother turned to her grandfather, and Gus answered. “A thief trying to break in, baby. But the police got him. We’re fine.”“Back to bed, child!” her grandmother said. She smiled to lighten the sternness of her words. “It’s late. Or early. Whichever. Time for young’uns to be asleep! What would your parents say about the way we keep you up?”“Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind. Mom always says you’re the best. She said that if you and Gus weren’t so wonderful, she’d never be able to travel with Dad as much as she does. Not many kids are so lucky. I get to stay with you.” Her father worked for a major tech company and traveled frequently. She had a room at the tavern with almost as much stuff in it as her room in the house on Chippewa Square.“Be that as it may!” her grandmother began. “I want you back in your bed. It’s a school night.”Abby gave her grandfather a wide-eyed look. He was an easier mark than her grandmother. She couldn’t possibly go back to bed—alone. Not yet.“Come on down. We’ll have a cup of tea, and then we’ll go back to bed. How’s that?”She managed to nod. And to come running the rest of the way down the stairs.“Abigail Anderson!” Brenda said sternly. “I told you not to run around barefoot! Glasses do break, my darling, and even when we clean up, you can’t be sure we get all the little slivers.”“Leave her be right now, Brenda,” Gus suggested.Brenda wagged a finger at her. “Tonight. Just tonight. You follow the tavern rules—my rules, young lady—or you don’t stay here anymore!”“Yes, ma’am,” Abby said.Brenda spun on Gus. “And you! Don’t go putting a shot of whiskey in her tea to calm her down, do you hear me? She’s barely ten.”“Oh, Brenda, it’s what our parents did for us—”“And nowadays, it’s considered child abuse. You two behave. I’m going back up.”She caught Abby’s chin and gave her a kiss on the cheek before she went up the winding staircase.Gus winked at Abby. “Come into the kitchen,” he said. “We’ll brew some tea.”In the tavern’s large, modernized kitchen, she sat on a stool and watched Gus place the kettle on a burner and bring out the makings for tea. There was a bottle of whiskey on one of the top shelves. He hesitated, and then shrugged. “One little nip. Cured me of colds, stubbed toes and a broken heart, and I had a wonderful mother, God bless her!” He crossed himself and looked upward. “Now, think you’ll be able to sleep after this?”She nodded enthusiastically. A few minutes later, he’d made tea—with a “nip” of whiskey in it for the two of them. He brought the cups out front and they sat together beneath the figureheads and other artifacts. She cherished these occasions with him; there weren’t many.“So, why are you scared?”“You weren’t there,” she said.He ruffled her hair. “I wasn’t gone. I’d die before I’d leave you, munchkin, you know that.”She nodded again and sipped her tea. It was sweet and good with a lot of milk and sugar. Whatever else was in it, she couldn’t tell.“Something’s bothering you,” he said.“Well, Gus, of course!” she said. She didn’t know why she called him Gus, since she called her grandmother Nana.He sighed and turned to her and stroked her face. “A bad man was trying to break in. But we heard him...saw him. Called the police, they came right away and now all is well.”She bit her lip. She couldn’t get rid of the image of the dead pirate watching her grandparents through the door. Watching her.“What is it?” Gus persisted.“How did you know someone was trying to break in, Gus?” she asked him.He looked away from her quickly. “Ah, just heard him.”“Gus...”He studied her, as if trying to read her mind. She was afraid to speak, afraid to say she’d seen a ghost. She was almost ten, and she didn’t want him thinking she was a scaredy-cat baby. Or worse—having mental problems. Benny Adkins had acted weird at school, and they’d taken him out and sent him to some kind of special home for children.She didn’t have to speak. Gus sipped his tea thoughtfully. Eventually he said, “You saw old Blue, didn’t you?”Her heart thumped. “What?”“I guess I was about your age when I saw him for the first time,” Gus said. “Where was he?”“Blue?” she whispered.Something about the somber tenderness in her grandfather’s eyes made her believe it was going to be all right. She could admit to him what she’d seen.“I—I think he was over my bed. I think...maybe he... I think he was making sure I was all right. But I was scared and I jumped out of bed and I came running down the stairs. I saw him standing there...at the entry.”He didn’t laugh or tell her she was crazy or seeing things. He nodded gravely and smiled at her. “Don’t be afraid of Blue. He’s kind of like a guardian angel for us. Some of us see him—some of us in the family—but the rest of the world? I don’t know. We don’t see him often. I figure we’re very lucky, but also that others wouldn’t understand. So let’s keep it a secret, okay?”