âAll right,' said Nevile. âIf I'm such a fake, tell me who was killed right here.'
Lorraine lifted up the clipboard that was dangling from her belt and leafed through it until she found a diagram of all of the dead and injured. âAmy Cutter, aged eight and a half. She was Pam Cutter's daughter â you know, the actress who plays Kirsty Harris in
Time Of Our Life
Nevile looked at Frank as if to say,
there you are, what did I tell you
Frank said, âOK, I'm about three-tenths impressed. Why don't you take a look at the van, see if you can't work out who the killers were.'
âWellÂ .Â .Â . I've already done that. That was Lieutenant Chessman's first priority.'
âThere's very little in the van in the way of psychic imprints. Maybe it was something to do with the bomb going off only two or three feet away from them. They were atomized in a millionth of a second, so their spirits didn't have the time to make an impression on their immediate surroundings. The man left a very faint resonance, the driver. I'd guess that he was a loner, quite a disturbed kind of individual, with some very odd beliefs about forces from outer space. His name could have been David but he was usually known as something else, something Arabic like Hassan.'
âIs that all? No hint of where he came from or why he did it?'
âI'm working on it, but that's all I'm getting so far.'
âHow about the woman?'
âHardly a whisper. Not even a name or a part of a name. All I can pick up is a taste of vinegar.'
âI can taste things, and smell them, as well as see them in my head. It's called eidetics. If I taste salt in my mouth, it's usually something to do with bells ringing. If I taste copper, like a mouthful of pennies, it's anxiety. Vinegar, that's vengeance. The taste of vinegar means that this lady was very, very sour about something, and she wanted to get her own back.'
âWell, I guess that could be a clue, couldn't it? There couldn't have been many women who felt so sore about The Cedars that they wanted to blow it up.'
âThat's what I suggested to Lieutenant Chessman. He's initiated a search through the school records, to see if anybody was aggrieved enough to do something like this. She could have been a parent, or somebody whose child was refused entry, or maybe a former pupil with some kind of imagined grudge.'
âIt could have been political. Some nut who has a fanatical objection to private education.'
They walked back to the gates together. Frank said to Nevile, âHow come you thought that you knew me? Have we ever met before, and I just don't remember it?'
âI don't think so. But there's something about youÂ .Â .Â . some auraÂ .Â .Â . I saw it as you came walking along the street.'
Nevile stopped and looked into his eyes so seriously that Frank began to wonder if he were gay, and that this was one of his come-on lines. He was even more concerned when Nevile said, âGive me your hand â your left hand.'
Frank did what he was told. Nevile held it for a while, and to Frank's discomfort he closed his eyes and began to rub his knuckles with the ball of his thumb.
After a while, however, he opened his eyes again and said, â
I know what it is. You have a spiritual companion. That means you have somebody's spiritual presence very close to you, somebody who needs your help. It's as though you're all charged up with psychic energy, like static electricity.'
As if one were shuffling over a great rug
Frank's mouth felt dry. âDo you think it could be Danny?'
âDanny? Your son? Very possibly, although I can't see very clearly
âI don't believe in this. Danny's dead.'
âI don't know what to tell you, Frank. If you don't believe it, that's it, there's an end to it. But I can sense a spirit and I can sense that spirit's need. I can also sense
need. You think you were responsible for Danny's death, don't you, and you can't think how to make amends.'
âDid Detective Booker tell you that?'
âHe didn't have to, Frank. You're wearing your pain like a placard.'
They walked a little further until they reached the gates. Then Frank said, âI guess you can understand that this is causing me some very big problems with my wife.'
âLikeÂ .Â .Â . what it amounts toÂ .Â .Â . our marriage has run into a concrete block at a hundred miles an hour. It's over, as far as Margot's concerned. She suffered complications when she was pregnant with Danny. He nearly died, and when he was born the doctors told her that she could never have any more children. So, Danny was her only chance at natural motherhood, and I'm supposed to have killed him.'
âI'm really very sorry.'
Frank turned his head away, almost as if he were talking to somebody standing on his left. âWhat I was thinking wasÂ .Â .Â . I know what I said a moment ago about not believing in the world beyond and everythingÂ .Â .Â . but I was wondering if you could come round and somehow show Margot that Danny's still with us. I don't know â do you ever do that kind of thing?'
âYou're talking about psychic communication. What some people might call a sÃ©ance.'
âI guess so. I mean, is it possible for you to talk to Danny, to find out what he's feeling now?'
âIt depends if he wants to or not. We don't talk to the spirits, remember. They talk to us.'
âI admit that I'm skeptical. But I'm prepared to give it a chance.'
âSo what do you need to know about Danny? Do you need to know that he forgives you for letting him die?'
Frank took a deep, steadying breath. âMaybe.'
âAnd you think that if Danny forgives you, then Margot might find a way to forgive you, too?'
Frank exhaled like a man stepping chest-deep into cold water.
âAll right,' said Nevile. âI'll give it a try, if you really want me to. I'm afraid I don't do it for nothing. Five hundred and fifty dollars, plus expenses.'
âThat's OK, that's fine.'
âGive me your number and I'll call you tomorrow, when I've finished with Lieutenant Chessman. And by the way, you don't have to worry.'
Frank, handing his business card over, said, âWorry? Worry about what?'
âI'm single, unattached, and always looking for the perfect partner. But I'm not gay, and so that perfect partner won't be you.'
efore he left The Cedars, Frank walked over to have a word with Lieutenant Chessman.
âThat was very interesting,' he said.
âDon't tell me he's converted you already.'
âWell, let's put it this way. I didn't much care for the guy when I first saw him, but there's a whole lot more to him than meets the eye.'
âHe's very good, no question. One of the best in the world. He came over to California about ten years ago, to help with the Santa Monica Strangler investigation, and he's been here ever since. I wouldn't say that I know how he does it, but he does it, and that's good enough for me.'
Detective Booker said, âYou should meet my grandma. She can tell your fortune out of chicken's guts and broken mirrors.'
âYou don't mind if I take a rain check on that?' said Lieutenant Chessman. âBy the way, Mr Bell, I've just heard from headquarters. Charles Lasser has offered a five million dollar reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of all members of Dar Tariki Tariqat. That could help us.'
âCharles Lasser? Star-TV?'
âThe very man.'
âAnd he's offering a five million reward? What's the catch? He hates every other TV network with a passion, and they hate him.'
âIt's probably nothing more than a PR stunt. But who cares? If it encourages just one more witness to come forward and give evidence, then it's worth it.'
âI guess so,' said Frank. âTalking of witnessesÂ .Â .Â .'
It was seven minutes of twelve. Astrid was probably waiting for him already. He could picture that faded, faraway look of hers, and the sun shining in her hair.
âIf you need me to make any more statements, you know. Or look through mugshotsÂ .Â .Â .'
Lieutenant Chessman clapped him on the back. âThanks for the offer, Mr Bell. I'll let you know.'
As it turned out, Astrid wasn't waiting for him, so he settled at his table next to the fountain, under the shade of a large green parasol, and ordered a vodka-tonic. It was a hot afternoon but there was a steady breeze flowing through the gardens, and the bougainvillea trembled all around him. He saw several people he recognized at other tables: Yvette Kane, the agent, Laszlo Wittenski, the TV director, and Gordon Thurman from
magazine. He was sure that they had seen him, too, but he guessed that they didn't want to think about blown-apart children while they sipped their Chardonnay spritzers and toyed with their
and green chili calzone. Real blown-apart children were too real. No latex involved. No stunt persons. No clever trickery with Maya digital software. The bombing at The Cedars had been met in Hollywood with an unexpected variety of emotions â anger, hysteria, bewilderment â but after the initial shock had worn off, most people had been irritated more than grief-stricken. (
control the tears and the tragedy and the big explosions around hereÂ .Â .Â . how dare these Arab terrorists upstage us?)
Frank heard laughter, but then he heard Yvette Kane say, â
After ten minutes, Astrid came down the stone steps into the garden, wearing a pale blue straw hat and a pale blue cotton dress with an off-the-shoulder top. He stood up, and they kissed, and she smelled of Flowers. Light, fragrant, tempting. âWhat's wrong?' she asked him. âI haven't kept you waiting too long, have I?'
âNo, no. You're fine. I've had a strange morning, that's all.'
âStrange in what way?'
He told her about Nevile Strange and his âpsychic imprints,' and what he had said about Amy Cutter, and about
, too. Astrid listened, but for some reason she didn't appear to be particularly interested, and she kept twiddling her fork and looking around the gardens as if she expected to see somebody she knew.
âWhat do you think?' he asked her. âI never believed in this stuff before â sÃ©ances and spirits and getting in touch with your long-dead relatives. But he seemed to be convinced that Danny was still with me, and if Danny still wants to be with me, that must mean that he doesn't blame me for what happened, right?'
âStrange was sure that it was Danny?'
âWho else could it be? I don't know anybody else who's died, not for years. “A spiritual companion,” that's what he said â a spirit who's very close to me and also depends on me. It has to be Danny.'
Astrid tugged her off-the-shoulder dress a little further off her shoulder, so that she was showing more of her cleavage. She had very full breasts, with a pattern of moles across them like a star map, and from the way they moved Frank could see that she wasn't wearing a bra. The Mexican waiter in the tight black pants brought her a tequila sunrise and gave Frank a conspiratorial wink.
âSo what are you going to do?' Astrid asked him, sipping her drink and looking up at him with those bleached-out eyes. âYou're not really going to hold a sÃ©ance, are you?'
âI don't see why not. If I can prove to Margot that Danny forgives meÂ .Â .Â .'
âDo you really think that will make any difference?'
âWhat do you mean? Of course it will.'
âI mean that if Margot really loved you
would have forgiven you, without any need for Danny's ghost to tell her.'
âSo you're saying that she doesn't really love me? You don't even know her.'
âWhy would I want to?'
âBecause she's pretty and she's intelligent and unlike most women she has a mind of her own.'
âAnd how would you know what most women are like? You're thirty-four, you had a child of eight.'
Frank sat back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table. âWhat is this? You're, like, what? You're questioning my marriage?'
Astrid laughed, and took hold of his hand. âI know what you need, Frank, and it's not forgiveness. You killed Danny, but you didn't do it because you wanted to. You want to be able to talk to somebody and tell them how bad you feel, and you want to be able to scream at God, and tell Him how unfair everything is. Well, you and me both. Life's a shit, Frank, and the trouble is that most of the time, it's mostly our own fault.'
, spinach and clams in peanut butter sauce, while Astrid asked for a tuna and vegetable salad. They shared a very cold bottle of Arniston Bay Sauvignon between them.
Frank wiped his mouth with his napkin. âSo, you know, tell me something about yourself.'
âDo you think I need to?'
âYou don't need to, but I'm interested. I just want to get some idea of who you are.'
âI was born and raised in Oxnard. My father was a TV producer and my mother was a dancer. I always wanted to be a doctor, taking care of sick children in Africa.'
âBut you never were a doctor, and you never went to Africa?'
âNo. Not exactly.'
âAre your parents still alive?'