“Well that was unexpected,” says Rose.
“I’ve found that in this line of work, you come to expect the unexpected,” I say. I tap my finger against the newspaper picture of the man who is not Javier. “Now the question becomes: why is there a man posing as our dearly deceased weirdo?”
“Hang on a moment,” Randy says. “I’m trying to get my bearings. Are you talking to me or to Casper?”
“Who’s Casper?” asks Rose.
“As in of The Friendly Ghost variety,” I tell her, and then turn back to Randy. “Both of you. I’m talking to both of you.”
“Gee whiz,” he says, “I’m so excited to be sharing your attention with someone I can’t even see.”
“You should be happy. You hate my attention. At least now you only have to deal with half of it.”
Rose’s eyes are turned down at the corners, her lips set in a straight line. She stares at Randy.
“What is it now, Rose?”
“Is your friend always this rude?”
“First off,” I say, counting with my fingers, “Princess Randilyn here and I are not friends. We just put up with each other because the PWNBEIBER organization doesn’t pay well enough for us to get our own apartments in this lovely, lovely city of huge expenses. Second off, yes he is. Third off—” Before I can go on, a glower from Randy shuts me up. “Gosh, what is up with you now?”
“I don’t like this, Mary,” he says. He leans forward so that his elbows are on his knees, hunched uncomfortably on the edge of the couch. “I feel weird about there being somebody in the room who I can’t even know for sure exists. How do we know we can trust her? How do I know I’m not going to sit on her? How do you know you’re not just insane?”
“If I was insane, Randy,” I say drily, “Rose would not be the only ghost in the room by now.”
I let that one settle with the two of them, and then turn back to the newspaper. “Now. For real, guys. We need to figure out what’s up with the clone we’ve got here.”
“Do you think he’s doing the same thing I did with the mob boss’s son?” Randy asks. “Pretending to be someone in order to get something for himself?”
“I doubt he’d purposely let himself show up on the cover of a newspaper if he was trying to pull a con,” I say. “Rose, thoughts?”
The ghost is still watching Randy like she thinks he might throw a knife at her at any moment, or at least steal her treasure chest the first time she blinks.
“Oh. Yes.” She seems to be coming out of a daze. Can ghosts get Alzheimer’s? She asks, “What was the question?”
“Focus, Rose. Gosh. We are getting absolutely nothing done right now. This is such a waste of time. I’d so rather be watching Glee than dealing with you.”
I take a breath, but before I can continue Randy says, “Rose… um… wherever you are…” He glances wildly around the room—at the other couch, over by the doorway, up near the ceiling. “Um. Well. The question was something to do with if you think the fake Javier got himself in the newspaper on purpose. Right, Mary?” He doesn’t even glance at me, he’s still too busy trying to locate Mary.
“She’s right beside me, dude.” I say. I throw a thumb in Rose’s direction. “You can stop playing Dora the Explorer now.” In a perfect intimidation of everyone’s favorite bilingual child I say, “¿Dónde está the ghosty? Can you find the ghosty?!” Randy’s expression could melt all the ice cream in our freezer. “And yes. That’s exactly what the question was.”
“In that case,” says Rose, “I don’t know. However, if the fraud man did try to get himself in the newspaper on purpose, that still doesn’t explain what happened in your apartment. Or how yournewspapers were for a week from now.”
I nod. “Makes sense. Good job, Rose.” I relay her message to Randy and he leans back, crossing his arms.
“How is it that a girl who technically shouldn’t be able to exist is smarter than you, Mary?”
“How is it that you didn’t think of that either, Randy?”
“How do either of you ever get anything done?” Rose asks. She smirks.
“Generally we have a lot of fun arguing like this, and then sudden bursts of brilliance just sort of happen every once in a while. Most of the time while eating something unhealthy. I think it’s because when my body’s freaking out over how much I’m poisoning it, it decides to work extra hard to come up with something smart. It’s my arteries’ attempt to convince me to eat a salad for dinner tomorrow instead of pigging out on Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
“That seems like an utterly horrible process,” Rose states.
“Hence why I don’t generally use it with you.” I shrug. “Now, anyway—anyone figure out what’s going on while I’ve been monologue-ing over here?”
“Of course,” says Randy. I look at him in surprise. “What, did you think I was actually listening to you all this time?”
“No, I just didn’t believe you were thinking either.”
He ignores the taunt to say, “Obviously the men in the two newspaper pictures are different. But did you think to look at who wrote the articles?”
“That’s brilliant,” says Rose. I grab the two newspapers and look at them side by side. He’s right.
My eyes widen. “No way. They’re both by someone named Booker Smith.”