The Lady in Residence - Allison Pittman

Chapter 1

San Antonio, Texas

March, First Friday Night

The tour ended where it began—in the courtyard of the Alamo, the fortress bathed in white light, flags snapping in the night sky. Standing still after the nearly four-mile walk, Dini Blackstone felt the chill. The Victorian-esque costume she wore to lead the two-hour walking Alamo Haunting Spirits Ghost Tour of downtown San Antonio gave little warmth. Spring in this city was a meteorological frustration, and this was one of those nights when you could feel the temperature drop with every step. By the time they made it back to the plaza, those with coats were clutching them closer, and those without were stuffing their hands in their pockets and bouncing on the balls of their feet through the last of Dini’s spiel.

“And so ends our tour of the haunts of the Alamo City. You may not believe there are such things as ghosts, and maybe you’re right. But what is a haunting, anyway? It’s something that stays with you. And I hope the worthy tales of our restless spirits will follow you home.”

Like all of the tour guides with the Alamo Haunting Spirits Ghost Tour, she was allowed to embellish the narrative script with her own interjections, and Dini had been delivering the same lines for nearly five years. So comfortable was she with the patter that she sometimes drifted away, letting her mouth move along with her feet while her mind soared, only to come back midsentence—just in time for a spooky punch line. So she was now, her face frozen in a smile as she posed for the millionth tourist selfie, standing close but not too close, before happily accepting the folded bills of gratuity. These she dropped in the deep pocket within the fold of her skirt, keeping a mental tally. Within hours her face would appear on the social media pages of strangers, hopefully tagged with the company name. Somebody in the office had the unenviable task of tracking those things, and the walker with the most mentions got a bit of a bonus every quarter.

The last pic (“say, ‘Boo!’”) finally taken and the final tip in her pocket, Dini made her way across the street and walked into the bar of the Menger Hotel. The welcome warmth touched her face and hands—the only parts of her body exposed. Once inside, her eyes adjusted immediately to the comforting dark. The Menger Bar was exactly this hue no matter what time of day, giving respite from a bright, hot afternoon and solid shelter on the coldest night. With its well-worn wood floor and sturdy columns and tables, travelers and patrons had been greeted with this exact same view for almost a century. As was her habit, Dini looked directly up at the portrait of Teddy Roosevelt.

Blustery one is it tonight, my girl?

“Yep, but just in the last half hour or so.” The fact that she spoke aloud to Roosevelt’s silent, imagined question drew very little attention, mostly because there was little attention to be drawn. While other bars and nightspots in downtown San Antonio might be pulsating on this First Friday night of March, the Menger Bar remained its accustomed, dignified, nearly empty self. One elderly couple at a table sipping wine and a gentleman at the bar, foot balanced on the brass railing, tie loose and shirt collar open, absorbed in his phone.

“Wind’s picking up?” This time the voice was real, and happened in its uncanny way to echo the essence of Roosevelt’s speech. Troy Gil—Gil, according to his silver name tag and all who knew him—stood behind the bar, already reaching for the carafe of coffee and a thick white mug. “Should’ve worn your coat.”

“Spring is the season of should’a,” Dini said, tugging at her bonnet string. She wasn’t supposed to be seen bareheaded in public while in costume, but the thing was unbearable. How did women ever survive viewing their entire world through a tunnel? She combed through her liberated short waves—blond, but interspersed with various pastel curls, like she’d just walked through a cloud of confetti.

“People always want to make March out to be spring. It’s winter still. Always more winter than warm. But I have a sweater in the back,” Gil said, gesturing with the carafe. “You’re welcome to it.”

“Thanks.” She wrapped her hands around the mug. “Any chance I could get this à la Hedda?” It was her code—their code—for an Irish coffee, and Gil raised one eyebrow in chastising amusement.

“You know the rule, Blackstone.