Angela wasn’t sure what woke her; maybe it was the country quiet.
They had shared an incredible night, something they may have really needed after all the days they spent working, putting in a minimum of fifty to sixty hours each week.
They were away, in a little bubble, and it was nice. It wasn’t that she wanted to stay forever, but she was glad Jackson had seen the house he wanted it so much—and they were here.
They’d laughed; they’d chosen Christmas movies. She had opted for one of the “Die Hard” movies; Jackson had gone with “Love, Actually.” They had seen both movies more than once through the years. But they enjoyed watching them again, pointing out certain specifics, and comparing some cases they had dealt with along with Bruce Willis’s situation tackling terrorists.
They ended with “Love Actually.” A warm and cuddly touch.
And now . . .
She lay wide awake. He was asleep at her side and she didn’t want to disturb him. Jackson had acute senses; he could wake at a slight sound or even with a slight instinct, it seemed, in the middle of deep sleep. She slid from beneath the covers, delved around for her nightshirt and a robe, and tiptoed out of the room, hoping she wouldn’t disturb him. He didn’t wake and she hurried along the hall and downstairs, thinking she’d have a cup of tea with honey. Tea might have caffeine; didn’t matter. It was her go-to drink for night and sleep. She didn’t like flavored teas, decaf teas, or anything other than an English or Irish breakfast tea. For her, it worked.
But she didn’t head into the kitchen.
As she reached the landing, she heard a voice. For a moment, she paused, ready to scream and fly back upstairs for her Glock.
But something held her there—an instinct of her own. The voice was masculine but low and soft . . .ethereal.
It belonged to someone . . . dead.
No murders around here? Crime was bar fights and vandalism?
She moved on her toes, heading toward the right of the house where the tavern had once existed; where Thomas Jefferson had been painted sitting in a rocking chair before the massive hearth.
She stopped again, just hidden by the wall that lined the stairway to the second floor. She wasn’t about to scream; she was simply frozen.
He was there; Thomas Jefferson was there. Seated in the rocking chair, just as he was in the picture. He wore stockings and breaches, a white poet’s shirt, a vest, black shoes, no hat; his hair was snow white, queued at his nape. His hands were folded before him.
He had been talking to someone! But there was no one else there, and he was now silent. Angela had seen the dead many times. Everyone in the Krewe of Hunters had seen the dead at one time or another. For some, it had been a sixth sense—or whatever else one might call it—since birth. For others, it had come later in life. Sometimes, the dead pursued them for a reason—usually because they needed help. They sought to save others, to find justice. And sometimes they stayed because they felt they needed to look out for a place or a family. Their time would come; they just waited and watched.
Ghosts, yes, she’d seen many.
But this was Thomas Jefferson!
Not a perfect man—no human being was perfect. But a fascinating man, a great statesman. He’d written the original draft of the Declaration of Independence!
“Well, hello,” he said, rising politely and bowing to her. He seemed as intrigued by her as she was by him. “You do see me?” he asked.
Angela nodded. She couldn’t find her voice.
“I don’t mean to disturb you. It’s just I’m so seldom seen. And most certainly not by those who have reached adulthood.”
“You—you’re here,” she whispered at last. “Mr. Jefferson. President Jefferson—"
“Mr. Jefferson is just fine. Or Thomas. And I am here. Indeed.”
“You’re—here,” she repeated.
“And you see me. Quite extraordinary for an adult.”
“For an adult,” she repeated.
“Ah, one thing I’ve discovered, my dear! Adults tend to fear—fear being mocked, and even more so, fear of believing. I’m a pragmatic man myself, so I do like to see what is and isn’t real, but . . . belief can be everything. Belief and, of course, hope. Do you mind?” he asked.
“I’m sorry—do I mind?” Angela asked. She was still somewhat in shock.
Jefferson. He was something of a hero to her. And she couldn’t believe he was just there, and she could really ask him about his thoughts and feelings and how he could believe so deeply in freedom and yet continue to own slaves himself.
And yet . . .
“This is your home now, I believe?” he asked politely.
“Not yet, and . . . well, we couldn’t live here full time. That’s a bit of a problem, but we could just find the right people . . . anyway, we’re here for the holiday, and yes, most probably, we will buy the house and figure out something. My husband loves the house, but we’re too far from work, and it’s work that’s incredibly important to us.”
Jefferson nodded gravely. “I heard Mr. and Mrs. Newton talking about you and your husband. You do very important work.”
“We believe so.”
“You haven’t answered my question. Do you mind?”
He smiled, lowering his head for a moment, then looking at her again.
“Do you mind that I come here, that I sit by the fire.”
“No! Oh, lord, no! I mean, do you mind that I talk to you . . . I have so many questions! Oh, and that’s rude, I imagine, you’re from a different time and society—”
“Society will be what it is, always. You may ask anything you like. I shall tell you that you may have read or heard many things about me. I shall start with the struggle to write the Declaration of Independence. Something people don’t seem to understand these days is that the country was forged from thirteen very separate entities. Getting those thirteen to agree on anything was like pulling teeth, my dear child, I do assure you! Congress! Good grief, how those men could squabble!” He grinned. “Now, there are women in the Senate and the House—some sanity, I daresay, though those who don’t realize what fire-brands women might be are sadly lacking in knowledge and comprehension. It was my desire to stop the international trade in human beings from the start—but we would not have had a revolution at all, I was told.”
“But you owned hundreds of slaves. And . . .”
“Yes.” He sighed wearily. “I have learned through time, my dear. I didn’t believe human beings should be owned—yet I was appalled by the thought that men and women and children would just be thrust out into the world. No education, no homes, no food . . . I wanted change brought about differently. I feared the war would come—not the Revolution, but the great Civil War that would tear our country asunder. Ah, yes, let’s see—and what else? I was a man of my day, I fear. After my dear wife passed, yes. I found solace and yes, love, again with Sally Hemings. And while I could not recognize our children, I am thrilled to see that today’s world has offered DNA and that children of the children’s children and onward have stepped forward. I should not have feared the world as I did, but as a statesman, I learned there were things the world would accept, and those they would not. So, my dear, I believe that looking back, I indeed tried to be a good man. I studied theology and deeply desired to understand many religions, but I wasn’t always a good man. I did, at least, state my mind on many a point, and did my best to live by a moral code. I still watch as men struggle to comprehend what we didn’t even know the meaning of the Constitution to be—that all men, all human beings, white, black, brown, yellow, and all combinations thereof—were equal. And women, too, of course! I do believe in God, and God created us all.”
Angela nodded, still somewhat amazed that Thomas Jefferson was sitting—standing now—in her parlor.
“Sir! Please, take a seat again.”
“A gentleman does not sit while a lady is standing.”
“Oh! Yes, of course. I’ll sit, too. Oh, no. I have to wake Jackson. I mean, forgive me, sir, he must meet you!”
“And he will see me, too?”
“Yes, sir. He will. He has . . . he’s an extraordinary man.”
Jefferson smiled. “Ah, my dearest madam, I am sure. For he has married you.”
“That’s lovely, sir. Thank you. May I—”
“It’s all right.”
At first, Angela thought he was talking to her. Then she realized she had heard a sound, something behind her, just a whisper of movement.
She spun around.
There was a boy standing behind the foot or so protrusion of wall where the pocket doors slid in and out of place. He was hiding there, and he looked at her not so much with terror, but with a deep sadness and resignation.
“Uh . . . hi,” Angela said.
“Come on out, son,” Jefferson said. “It’s all right.”
Angela glanced over at Jefferson. The man was looking at the boy with deep sadness and affection.
And Angela knew this was the runaway, the orphan who liked to run away.
And come here.
Of course, how he had gotten in, she didn’t know. Jackson was a man who carefully checked every door and window.
Their work—and their knowledge of the good and bad in humanity—led to such care.
“I won’t hurt you,” Angela said.
“You’ll send me back,” he said, not with anger, just incredible sadness.
He was about ten, she thought, a bit tall for his age, slim, probably athletic, and a very handsome child. His heritage was mixed race; his hair was black and curly, and a couple of wild locks of it played over his forehead. His eyes were a startling bright green against the amber of his skin. He was beautiful. And though she’d just come across the ghost of a long dead statesman, she couldn’t help but feel that if Jefferson liked him, the boy had to be all right.
She winced inwardly. She needed to be logical; she didn’t know Jefferson, except through two minutes now and his reputation. She didn’t know the boy at all; he had slipped into the home where she was staying— where all the doors and windows were locked.
For a moment she wondered if she was losing it a bit. Jefferson, a ghost, was there.
This boy was . . . yes, very much alive.
“Corby? Corby Latimer?” she said softly.
He nodded, glancing over at Jefferson.
“The Newton family have been traveling a great deal in the last year. Corby has come to see me often when they’ve been away.”
“You see Mr. Jefferson?” Angela asked Corby.
He nodded gravely. “He . . . he is very kind. I come here—I know it’s not right, but I don’t hurt anything
or anyone—and he talks to me and I don’t have to feel so . . .”
“Alone,” Jefferson said quietly. “He tells the truth; he hurts nothing. He comes for warmth and companionship.”
“Please . . . you’re not going to call the cops, right?” Corby asked Angela.
She didn’t know what to say. She was a representative of the government, the law. The boy was missing; people had to care. It would be wrong not to say anything, and it would be wrong of her to do anything without talking to Jackson first.
They shared decisions.
“I think it’s fine you’re here, and you’re welcome anytime we’re here,” Angela said. “But we can’t just—”
She broke off as she heard Jackson coming down the stairs, speaking in a quiet, even tone.
“We can’t ignore the law and what’s right and wrong. Corby, we’ll let the sheriff’s office know you’re here. But,” he said, and paused, looking at Angela, “we’ll see if it’s okay if we just keep you overnight.”
“You would do that?” Corby asked, looking from Jackson to Angela with wonder.
“Easy enough, I think. But it isn’t right for us not to let people know you are here, and you are okay.”
Corby shrugged. “Yeah, I guess, though I doubt anyone is really worried.”
“I’m sure people do care.”
“They care,” Corby agreed. “They just, well, you know. They have other people and things they care about, too.”
“Well, then, perhaps, we should all sit a spell,” Jefferson said, nodding in an acknowledgement to Jackson. “You are Mr. Crow, I believe, or Supervising Special Field Director Crow—or some other such lofty title!”
“I don’t make up the titles,” Jackson said.
“Ah, but, sir, I’m sure you’re worthy of a lofty one!” Jefferson said.
“Sir, Mr. President, I hand that homage to you,” Jackson said. He was looking at Jackson with much of the same wonder Angela had felt. “It’s a privilege. A very rare privilege.”
Jefferson smiled. “Ah, well, I haunt a few of my old stomping grounds, but this house . . . yes, I love it. Quite special. We knew a lot of love and kindness here. I am delighted you’re buying the place.”
Jackson glanced at Angela.
“Yes, we’re buying the place,” she said.
“Well, then, we’re all up and . . . I’ll just call the sheriff’s office and let them know Corby is fine and see if it’s okay he stays with us until morning.”
“I’ll make more hot chocolate,” Angela said. “And we’ll sit around the fire and learn all about Christmas in the 1700s and . . . and the birth of a nation! If that’s all right, sir.”
“Absolutely!” Jefferson said. “Corby and I have been talking about the founding of the country and religion. I, of course, informed him that I, like every man, have a belief. I had many friends who are atheists, but, I believe, a great deal of what they saw might have caused this. Hanging people as witches—and hanging Quakers as well for not being Puritans? No, no, no. I do pride myself on my theological studies, and in my heart, I believe good men take different paths to the same place. And I have known good men of many religions and known men who are atheists who are also good men. And, Christmas. I celebrate Christmas, myself, and I always pray it is a time when all men of all thought and belief might believe in goodness, decency, kindness, and peace.”
Angela smiled. Even dead, she thought dryly, the man was a great orator.
“Okay, I’m on to the hot chocolate,” she said. “Now, of course, we will all need some sleep at some time—”
“I only stay a few hours,” Jefferson assured her. “But you can find me again, for I do love coming here, and I love a rocker before a fire.”
“I’ll get on that call,” Jackson said. “And, Corby, you’ll always be welcome here, but perhaps you’ll show me where you’re breaking in.”
“Yes, sir, it’s in the basement, sir,” Corby said, and frowned. “I . . . what do I call you? Mr. Crow, Director Supervisor . . .”
“Jackson. Call me Jackson. It’s my name,” Jackson said. “And this is Angela. She likes being called Angela, too, right?”
“Angela, yep. It’s my name,” she agreed.
Corby smiled. “Jackson and Angela,” he said. And then he whispered, “Thank you. I don’t mean to be a pain in the butt. I mean, I’m sorry, I just—it’s almost Christmas. President Jefferson has been my friend, and . ..”
“We all want those we care about around us for Christmas,” Angela assured him. “I’m heading to the kitchen.”
She turned to go and heard Jackson saying to Jefferson, “I’m running up for my phone, sir. I’ll see what guest bedroom Corby would like for the night. Please, we’ll all be right back—”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jefferson said. “I’ll be right here. Waiting. I always did—and always will— love an enthralled audience.”