Authors: Kat Richardson
“Very hungry,” I mumbled.
“Eat slower, or you’ll make yourself sick. That’s too good a sandwich to waste. I’ll get you some more chocolate.”
Lila whisked my cup away and brought it back refilled and overflowing with whipped cream. I’m not usually fond of sweets or chocolate specifically, but this was hot and stopped the quivering. I thanked her and asked for some water.
“You sure you want water now? It gives you cramps if you drink too fast.”
“This is good, but sweet.”
“Oh, yeah,” she agreed. “I’ll get your water. You eat that sandwich while I’m gone.”
I’d forgotten that you have to ask for a glass of water in California. The state’s so frequently in a drought that even in good years, a glass of water is treated like a luxury to be doled out one at a time. Some places even charge for the glass to offset the cost of washing it.
Lila returned and put a red plastic tumbler filled with water near my hand. “You came down from the dance studio?” she asked.
“Umm . . . yeah.” I’d have sworn no one saw me or that it was not even possible to see from the diner to Dad’s building. “How did you know?”
“Oh, lots of folks come in after class. Replace those calories they sweated off. But you . . . look a little more serious. . . .” she added, giving me a speculative look.
I’m not one to ignore an opening. “Well, really,” I started, “I’m scouting stories. I heard the place was haunted. . . .”
She gaped and made a squeaking sound. “You mean like on
I only shrugged. People will fill in their own blanks if I keep my mouth shut and it wouldn’t hurt to let her think I might work for a spooky TV show if that got information flowing, though I felt a bit grimy for the ruse.
She nodded to herself before speaking again. “I guess that’s not so strange. I mean . . . after what happened there, you’d think it would be haunted, right? Not that I’ve ever seen a ghost over there and my chiropractor is right in the office it happened in, you know.”
“Really? So what did you hear about it?” I asked.
Lila glanced around to be sure no one wanted her attention and then turned back to me and lowered her voice. “Well, back a while ago there was a doctor up on the second floor. Must be . . . twenty years ago—before I moved up from Long Beach, anyway. So, anyhow. He was having an affair with his nurse and then one day she just up and disappeared. No one knows what happened to her, but they say he killed her and hid the body somewhere. But whatever happened, she was never found, and one day he just shot himself. Dead.”
Lila shook her head. “Not the way I heard it.”
“Interesting. Do people see his ghost there? Or the nurse’s?”
“Well, like I said, my chiropractor has that office now. I’ve never seen anything weird there, but . . . it’s funny how the room is always too warm.”
“Too warm? Most people say ghosts are cold.”
“Yeah, well, you’d think so. But this one’s warm. And there are noises at night.”
“I couldn’t hear anything over the music in the studio,” I said. I hadn’t heard anything at all, not even the sound of Christelle opening the door, now that I thought about it. Usually the Grey is full of sourceless muttering and the singing of the grid, but except for Christelle’s voice, the general Grey buzz, and the zing of the flying energy balls, there’d been no sounds in the ghostly office. I’d have to take another look, but this time I’d try to get into the right layer of time and see if that made a difference.
“Do you think your chiropractor would let me look around his office? After dark, that is. When the ghosts are more active.”
“Oh, I think so. He’s a nice kid. Paul Arkmanian, that’s him.”
I raised my brows. “Kid?”
She turned her head and blushed. “Well, not really a kid you understand: He’s Sandros Arkmanian’s son,” she said, as if that not only made sense, but made him perfectly safe. On the sense side, I wasn’t so sure, but considering how tight-knit the neighborhood looked, maybe “safe” wasn’t so far out. Everyone knew everyone and everyone’s children, and they probably knew who was having an affair with whom, who was drinking too much, and who was dying of which tragic disease without their selfish kids ever coming around to visit. They’d all know who was “good folks” and who wasn’t. I’d bet the neighborhood ladies brought casseroles and baked goods around for christenings and funerals, too.
Lila was glancing around the room again, her face lighting up as she waved a hand at someone, beckoning the person closer to our table. A burly, square-shouldered man got up from his own table and strolled over to us. He looked to be about six feet tall, mid-sixties, and prosperous without being full of himself over it. He gave Lila a kiss on the cheek when he reached her side.
“What can I do for you, Lila?”
“Sandy, this nice woman wants to meet Paul. She works for that ghost hunter show and they want to talk to him about the office ghost.”
Sandy looked a little less excited at the prospect than Lila had. “That’s just a story, Lila. Paul’s office isn’t haunted.” He turned his attention to me and gave me a hard, evaluating stare. “You sure it’s the place you want?”
“Suite 204,” I replied. “I just want to take a look.”
He shrugged his eyebrows and sighed. “Well . . . I suppose that’s OK. Really, I don’t think it’s haunted.” He looked at his watch. “You want to come over, have some coffee? We can talk it over, see if Paul’s all right with the idea.”
“Now?” That startled me. Even Seattle’s notoriously friendly residents don’t issue invitations with such alacrity.
“Of course now. What’s the point in waiting?” He turned toward the table he’d come from and waved. The three other men sitting there waved back. “I’m taking this pretty girl home to meet my son!” he called.
They laughed and flapped their hands at him, waving him away. “Good luck, Sandros!” one of them called back.
I finished off my sandwich in a couple of huge bites and left money on the table for Lila. I had a bad feeling about Paul Arkmanian as I followed his father down the street. Was he gay? A misogynist? What was the big deal with going out with a female? But I wanted into that office without having to do another Grey version of a B and E, so I was willing to try anything.
We went down Brand and turned onto a much smaller side street. In a few blocks, all signs of business had vanished and single-family houses in neat little yards appeared. It was like something from a fifties sitcom, and I recognized the houses as the sort I’d walked past every day as a child. The nostalgia was thick enough to choke on and my eyes watered a bit.
Arkmanian stopped and unlatched the gate of a pink house on the right. “This is it.” He glanced toward a side window that flickered with television light. He sighed. “And Paul’s home. Let’s see what he says. . . .”
We went up the flagstone walk and into the house, which wasn’t locked. The flickering blue light from a computer monitor turned the room the harsh metallic color of dance clubs. Sandros Arkmanian turned on the overhead lamp, killing the shadows that held sway in the living room and driving the rest back into the dining room.
The dining table was probably an antique, given the heavily carved legs that I spied under the mass of books and computer equipment. It was like a microcosm of Quinton’s lair crushed into the ten-foot-square room. A man I guessed to be Paul Arkmanian sat behind the table. He was in his late twenties, tall like his father but rangier, judging by his arms and shoulders. He wore a pair of expensive headphones and was deeply immersed in whatever was displayed on his computer screen, twitching his mouse and keyboard and staring without blinking while he grimaced at something.
Suddenly he reared back, pounding the table and shouting, “Damn it! Damn, damn, damn! Stinking orc!”
I glanced at Sandros. “Computer games,” he explained. “From the moment he gets home until he goes to bed. I tell you, I don’t understand it. He’d rather play with imaginary monsters than have a date.”
Better imaginary monsters than the real thing, I thought, but still, I didn’t think I’d ever met an adult man who’d rather romp with pixels than with women. He wasn’t bad looking, and he was plainly not stupid, judging by his reading material, so . . . where was the problem?
Sandros walked around and tapped Paul on the shoulder. The younger man jerked, blinked up at his father, and shoved the headphones down onto his neck.
“Oh. Hi, Dad. Am I making too much noise? Did you want to watch TV or something?”
“No, Paul. I brought this young lady to meet you. She’s interested in your office.”
Paul Arkmanian frowned at me. “My office? It’s not for rent.” His eyes flickered back to his screen for a moment. He wanted to get back to his game.
I’d have to be more interesting than a computer game, and I knew that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. “I don’t want to rent it,” I said. “I want to talk to your ghost.”
Paul pulled the headphones off his neck, setting them on the table. Behind him I could see Sandros raise his eyebrows at me, surprised that I’d managed to snare his son’s attention from the realm of computerized mayhem.
“Who said there was a ghost in my office?”
“It’s pretty common knowledge. Lila was filling me in, but I had already heard it before.”
“She works for the ghost buster show—you know the one,” the elder Arkmanian said.
? Yeah, I’ve heard of that. You guys really think the place is haunted?”
“Do you?” I asked. “After all, a previous tenant did die there.” My voice didn’t shake, though I’d feared it would.
Paul bit his lip in thought and glanced down at his keyboard. “I don’t know. . . . Oh, hang on.” He made a few motions with his mouse and keyboard. Then he reached up and turned his monitor off, leaning back in his chair to get a better look at me. His father stared at the back of Paul’s head with his mouth agape. “OK, now that I’m not going to get killed by the first NPC that comes by, let’s talk.” He stood up and went into the living room, expecting us both to follow.
I did, but Sandros paused a moment in the dining room. “I’ll . . . get us some drinks, yeah?”
Paul started to wheel back around, saying, “Thanks, Dad, but I can get that—”
“No, no! You have a guest. I’ll get it. Sit down with the lady and talk. What do you want?”
“Oh. Umm . . . whiskey and Coke?” the son replied as if he wasn’t sure that was acceptable.
“Sure, no problem! You, young lady—what is your name, anyway?”
“It’s Harper. Coke would be fine, thank you.”
“All right then, Miss Harper. Coke it is.” He vanished through a swinging door to the kitchen before I could correct him. But in retrospect it was probably better if he didn’t notice I had the same last name as the man who’d died in Paul’s office space.
Paul gestured to an armchair by the tiny fireplace in the living room’s outside wall. “Please . . .”
I took the seat, although it did put my back to the door and windows.
“So . . .” Paul started.
“So, I’d like to take a look at your office during the evening hours. That’s the best time for judging if ghosts are around—when there aren’t so many live people around to disturb the indicators.”
“Indicators? How do you tell?” Paul asked, sitting down on the sofa across from me and leaning forward. He watched me with serious, earnest eyes, and I understood why the neighborhood couldn’t figure why he wasn’t dating someone. He had that gaze that makes the object feel they’re the most important person in the room. Cary had had that, damn him. I shoved that idea aside and carried on, my emotions about my dad stabilized by the chill of my most recent memory of Cary.
I winged it, based on past experience with poltergeists and Quinton’s ghost detector ideas. “Oh, air pressure, humidity, atmospheric charge . . . that sort of thing. And noise. You can hear ghosts on recordings sometimes.” I certainly wasn’t going to say I could see them.
“Really? What about temperature?”
I nodded. “That, too. Do you get cold spots? That might be a sign.”
“Oh. No,” he said, and blushed suddenly, dropping his eyes. “No it’s never cold in my office. That would be bad. I’m a chiropractor. Patients don’t feel comfortable if it’s cold. Cold makes the muscles tighten up and the patients get stressed and that’s just what you don’t want. Chiropractic aims to bring the whole body back in line, in harmony. Cold, unhappy patients don’t have harmonious bodies.”
He was babbling a little and I wondered why he’d gotten nervous. He looked uncomfortable and wiggled in his seat, casting his glance over his shoulder to search for his father. He was acting like a teenager on a date—
Oh. Right. This was the man who didn’t date. And he was all alone in a room with a woman who wasn’t a patient. He just wasn’t sure what to do with me. Oh, boy . . .
“Dr. Arkmanian,” I said, putting him back in his professional role—that seemed safer, “do you experience other phenomena? Things moving, changes in temperature, noises . . . ?”
“Oh,” he replied, looking up again. “Yes, I do. But only in one area. It’s not widespread.”
Sandros came into the room with three tumblers clutched between his hands. “Here we are. Plain Coke for you, Miss Harper, and the spiked kind for us.”
I thanked him and looked back at Paul. “What part of your office is the phenomena confined to?”
“Treatment room two. It’s on the back wall, near the window.”
“Tell me what typically happens,” I suggested.
He sipped his drink and shifted his gaze aside, thinking. “Usually it starts with a hot spot near the wall. It moves around, but it always sticks close to the wall. After a while the air just gets unbearably warm and I have to open the window, even if it’s freezing outside. Then there’s a loud noise. The first time I heard it I thought there had been a car accident outside, but there wasn’t anything there. And then a sound like something really heavy being dropped on the floor—”
“Do your downstairs neighbors hear any of that?”
“No, and that’s kind of strange, because they always hear the real things falling over.”
“Oh. My towel cupboard fell over. It kept doing that. I even had it screwed to the floor for a while, but it still fell over. So I swapped it with a chair and now that falls over. Whatever’s in that spot next to the wall always falls over or falls down about ten seconds after the crashing noise and then the sound of something invisible falling down.”
“Have you tried leaving the space empty?”
“It’s a pretty small room. I did try that, but things kept getting shoved over there to get them out of the way. And the noises happened anyway, even when there was nothing in the area.”
That was a bit unusual.
“Is it the same noise every time?”
“Oh, yes. Identical. Like a car screeching to a violent halt, and then something being thrown on the floor.”
“Does it generally happen at the same time of day?”
“No. It’s not regular. It just . . . happens. It can be hard to work with. But it doesn’t happen very often and sometimes it doesn’t happen for weeks or months. Then it’ll happen a lot for a while, and then stop again. Not predictable at all. It’s been more active lately, so I’m hoping it will stop again soon.”
Sounded like Dad had been kicking up a fuss. I wondered what else he got up to, why I hadn’t been able to see him, and what Christelle was doing while all this went on. Except for my truncated conversation with Christelle, the office in the Grey had been silent.
“What other phenomena occur?” I asked, sticking to the immediate topic.