âBut in times of crisis, we should forget about personal ill-feeling and work together for our common protection. This is just such a time of crisis, and that's why I've increased my reward. Not a single more innocent life must be lost. Not one more child must be injured. I want to see every member of Dar Tariki Tariqat arrested, tried, and sent to Death Row.'
evile Strange arrived nearly an hour late. He was driving a black Mercedes saloon, which was at least fifteen years old but very highly waxed. The day was strangely overcast, a dull lavender color, and there were distant grumbles of thunder from the San Gabriel mountains. Nevile climbed out of his car wearing a black suit and a black shirt, relieved only by a red poppy in his buttonhole.
âSorry, Frank. They wanted me to take a look at the crime scene at Universal Studios.'
Nevile looked at him and nodded and the expression in his eyes told it all.
âDid you pick up anything?' Frank asked him. âAny of thoseÂ .Â .Â . psychic imprints?'
âA great deal of shock. A great deal of pain. It was a little too soon to make sense of it all.'
âYou're sure you want to go through with this sÃ©ance today? We could always postpone it.'
Nevile shook his head. âNoÂ .Â .Â . it'll do me good to focus on something else. There were so many voicesÂ .Â .Â . so much chaos.'
Frank led Nevile up the driveway and showed him into the house. As he stepped into the wide, oak-boarded hallway, he stopped and looked around, almost as if he could smell something unusual.
âOh, yes. Everything's fine.' But he stayed where he was, turning his head this way and that, and keeping one finger raised, as if he were listening.
âDanny was your only child?' he said at last. âThat's what you told me, wasn't it?'
âOdd,' said Nevile.
âOdd in what way?'
âI can distinctly feel another departed presence here, apart from Danny's.'
âWhat kind of a presence?'
âIt's hard to say, exactly. A very elusive presence. One that's trying to stay out of sight, psychically speaking. I don't know if it's a man or a woman, or a child. Maybe a child, the way it's playing hide-and-go-seek.'
âThe couple who lived here before us â their daughter died when she was eighteen months.'
âWell, maybe it's her. Little children can be very mischievous spirits.'
Frank showed him through to the living room. Lynn was already there, sitting on the couch, shoeless, talking to Margot. On the white coffee table in front of them, on either side of a tall vase of lilies, stood two framed photographs, one of Kathy and one of Danny, both of them smiling. Kathy was missing her two front teeth.
âNevile, this is my wife, Margot, and this is Lynn Ashbee. How about a drink? I guess you could use one.'
âA Pernod if you have one, Frank, or a Ricard. There's something about the taste of aniseed that clears the perceptions.'
âNevile was over at Universal City,' Frank explained. âThe police wanted him to see what kind of psychic vibrations he could pick up.'
âOh my God,' said Lynn. She was looking very pallid, almost gray, with no makeup and her hair scraped back in a ponytail. A light green turtleneck did nothing to give her any color. âOh my God, it must be dreadful.'
âYes,' said Nevile. âYes, it is.'
âThey still have no idea who these people are, these terrorists?' asked Margot. She was dressed all in white, a loose silk top with a Chinese collar and flowing silk pants.
Nevile said, âNot yet. The official line is that they're some kind of offshoot of Al Qaeda, but it's impossible to say. They gave me the bomber's sunglasses to hold, or what was left of them, and I must say they gave me a very confusing message.'
gave you a message?' asked Margot.
âThat's right. When something really stressful happens to you, your personal possessions often absorb your psychic resonance. Your sunglasses, your jewelry, your combs, your shoes â even your clothes. I've been able to locate missing people through a purse, or a wristwatch, or a piece of torn dress material. I suppose you could say that I'm rather like a bloodhound. Let me sniff the psychic scent and I can follow it.'
âAnd these sunglasses?'
âI don't know. I sensed anger, and frustration, but a lack of self-confidence, too. Strangely enough â considering these people are supposed to be Arabs â I felt a fervent Christian evangelism, too â almost fanatical.'
âMaybe he'd converted. People do, don't they?'
Frank brought Nevile a glass of Ricard. âPlease, sit down.'
Nevile took a sip of his drink and then sat down. Lynn said, âCan I just ask you one question?'
âOf course. You're going to ask me if Kathy will be aware that you're trying to get in touch with her.'
âYesÂ .Â .Â . well, yes. How did you know that?'
Nevile smiled at her, reached across the coffee table and held her hand. âFirst of all you have to understand that everybody has the potential to do what I do. You do, Lynn, and you do, Margot, and Frank, you do too. Psychic sensitivity is nothing special, it's a mental ability that we're all born with, but not many of us ever develop it to its full potential.'
âYou mean that if I practiced enough, I could get in touch with Kathy any time I wanted?'
âYes, pretty much. Of course there are times when it's easier to communicate with spirits than others, and there are some places where you can get better reception than others â especially places that Kathy was familiar with, like her own bedroom.'
Margot said, âI have to admit that I'm more than a little scared.'
Nevile turned around and took hold of her hand, too. âThere's no need to be frightened. Danny may have passed over, but he's still Danny. The only scary spirits are the spirits of people who were scary when they were alive.'
Frank said, âI can ask Danny questions? He'll be able to hear me?'
âIt depends. He passed over only very recently, and passing over is always a tremendous shock. It can take days or weeks for a spirit to understand that he or she is no longer living in the physical world. Some spirits go on for years and still can't accept that they're dead.'
âAll right, then,' said Frank. âWhat do we have to do?'
âYou don't have to hold hands. You don't have to close your eyes, although some people find that it helps them to concentrate. All you have to do is think about Danny and Kathy, and imagine them the way they were the very last time you saw them. That's a very potent emotional image. Look at their photographs, and try to believe that they're still with us, not in the flesh, maybe, but in our minds.'
Lynn said, âHow will we know when you've gotten in touch?'
âIt can happen in all kinds of different ways. Sometimes the spirits are very subtle, and contact us through signs and hints and coded suggestions. For instance you might suddenly become aware of a smell that reminds you of a time you spent together, and at the same time the radio will be playing their favorite song.
âOther times, though, they can speak quite clearly, so that you can hear their voices. And, very occasionally, they become visible. Only very rarely, however. It takes a very high degree of psychic sensitivity to be able to see somebody who has passed over.'
âYou mean they actually
?' asked Frank. âLike ghosts?'
âNot exactly. Not like the popular concept of ghosts. More like the way I saw my friend Robert, kind of an action replay.'
âAll right,' said Frank. âAre we ready to do this?'
They sat in silence for nearly five minutes while Nevile clasped his hands together and seemed to be focusing very far away. Lynn kept twisting the end of the green silk scarf that she was wearing as a belt, while Margot sat in the lotus position with her head tilted back, breathing as if she had taken lessons in Zen meditation. Frank had been hopeful about this sÃ©ance to begin with, but now that Nevile was actually here, he found himself growing increasingly skeptical, and wondering what Margot's reaction would be if nothing happened.
He stared at Danny's laughing face in the photograph and tried to remember what he was like when he was happy and alive, but the photograph was blotted out by the picture in his mind's eye of Danny sitting in the back seat of his car, staring at him, dead.
Nevile suddenly sat up straight and cleared his throat. âKathyÂ .Â .Â . your mother's looking for you. Can you hear me, Kathy?'
Lynn couldn't stop herself from letting out a whimper, and covered her mouth with her hand.
âKathyÂ .Â .Â . do you know where you are? Do you know what happened to you?'
There was a long pause, and then Nevile nodded, and nodded again, one finger lifted close to his ear as if he were listening to somebody.
âKathy, your mother's here and she wants to talk to you. Your mother wants you to know that she loves you and misses you and that you're not forgotten.'
âCan you hear her?' said Lynn. âIs that Kathy? Can you really hear her?'
âShe's close,' Nevile reassured her. âPlease try to be patient.'
He sat in silence for another two or three minutes, and then he said, âKathy? Are you going to talk to your mother, sweetheart? Your mother would really like to know that you're here.'
Again he looked as if he were listening. Frank couldn't help thinking,
I hope this isn't starting to look like a scam. Anybody can pretend that they're talking to a spirit. Even
could do it. And so far we haven't seen any evidence at all that he's really talking to anyone at all.
âWhat did you say, Kathy?' said Nevile. âYou don't know what happened? There was an accident, sweetheart, that's what happened. You and some of your friends got hurt. You passed over to the place where people go when they die.'
He listened some more, and then he said to Lynn, âShe doesn't really understand. She wants to know why she can't come back.'
Lynn's eyes were filled with tears. âTell her I love her. Please, tell her I'll always love her.'
Frank said, âYou're sure that it's Kathy you're talking to? I mean, I'm not being critical or anything, but there must be thousands of spirits out there â how do you get to talk to the one you want?'
âOh, spirits aren't difficult to find. Kathy's spirit is very close to her mother, just like Danny's is close to you and Margot. Spirits never leave the ones they love. They never leave the ones they hate, either. It works both ways.'
There was yet another pause, then Nevile nodded and said, âYes,' twice. He turned to Lynn and said, âKathy says that she loves you too and she can't wait to come home.'
âIs it really her?' asked Lynn. âYou're not telling me this just to make me feel better? Please tell me it's really her.'
âKathy,' said Nevile, âyour mother wants to hear your voice. Do you think that you can talk to your mother?'
Nothing. It was now almost three
. and Frank was seriously beginning to wish that he hadn't invited Nevile over.
If Margot can find it in her heart to forgive me, then I can probably forgive myself too, given time, and I don't need to hear from some smooth-talking British psychic that Danny doesn't bear me any ill-will, either
, he thought.
âKathy,' said Nevile, in a coaxing voice. âCome on now, sweetheart, talk to your mother.'
Again, nothing. Lynn had stopped crying now and glanced at Frank as if she, too, was having her doubts.
But then Nevile took hold of Lynn's hand and said, âShe thinks it was your fault.'
âWhat was my fault?'
âYou didn't want her to go to dance class, so you sent her to this other place.'
Lynn slowly opened her mouth. âHow did you know that? How do you know about the dance class?'
âShe also says you punished her for being rude about Gene's nose.'
âOh my God.'
âShe says she's sorry and can she come back now.'
âOh, no. Oh my God. Oh, no. My baby!' Lynn was biting her knuckles and the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Nevile gripped her hand very tight. âShe's here, Lynn. Tell her you love her. Tell her what happened was an accident, it wasn't her fault.'
Lynn took a deep, wrenching breath, and cried out, âKathy, I didn'tÂ .Â .Â .' But she was too choked up to say any more. Margot put her arm around her and held her tight, while Nevile continued to grip her hand and also to stare at her, as if he were willing her to hear what he could hear.
hear her, thought Frank. He must be able to hear her. He half rose in his chair, reaching out for Margot, and it was then that he glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye â a blur, a movement â and he turned toward the patio windows. He felt his scalp tingle and tighten and his hairs stood on end, one by one, all frizzling out slowly in a fuzzy electric halo that came down around his ears.
Standing on the patio was Danny, in his school clothes, with his X-Men bag on his shoulder. He was deathly white, and he was staring in the same expressionless way as he was when Frank had found him dead in the back of the car. His image blurred and flickered, and for a split second it disappeared altogether, but then it came back again, and it was still staring at him.
Nevile turned around, too. âJesus!' he cried.