Authors: Evan Ronan
The man grunted and took a long time getting up. He kept the TV volume at full blast. Whatever he was paid, it wasn’t enough. Probably no amount of money would ever be.
Eddie turned the phone book around so the manager could read it. “The area code out here is—”
“Right. So these three listings?” Eddie pointed to the psychics who didn’t have 800 numbers listed. “Two of them are five-one-eight. Are they close by?”
The manager sighed and deigned to check the addresses. “They’re in opposite directions, but you could get there in twenty minutes or so.”
Eddie translated that into thirty minutes. To a local, everything seemed much closer than it actually was. “What about the other listing? How far away is that?”
The manager sighed again and looked back down at the page. “Three-one-five…that’s going to take you longer.” The manager didn’t elaborate.
“How much longer?”
“Do I look like Google maps?”
“No. You look like an asshole to me.”
The manager was nonplussed.
Eddie closed the phone book and gave the manager his best shit-eating grin. “Thanks for all your help.”
On the way to the Ketcher place, Eddie called Green. The lawyer said it would take Eddie an hour, hour-fifteen to make it to psychic with the three-one-five area code. Green said he’d meet Eddie at the Ketchers’ in a few.
At 8:45, Eddie arrived and parked behind a double-decker tour bus. Either The Rolling Stones were in town or Gracie Barbitok and her team were already on the ground.
The professional, air-brushed glam shot of Gracie’s face, head slightly turned, smart smile curling her lips, nearly filled one side panel of the tour bus. Around her disembodied head, a squad of crew-cutted men and professionally sexy women, arms folded, feet shoulder-width apart, stood in V-formation and were there to let you know that Gracie wasn’t going to take shit from anybody. Five more designer SUVs were parked around the tour bus, rounding out Gracie’s gas-guzzling armada.
Handsome young men and devastatingly pretty young women wearing black dress shirts and black pants and black shoes hustled back and forth from the vehicles to the house. They ignored Eddie. He ignored them. Among Gracie’s fleet of vehicles, Eddie spotted Green’s SUV with the vanity tags, a prohibitively expensive Audi, and a jellybean sedan that had to be an unmarked cop car.
Eddie double-checked his backpack and equipment.
He’d come with a digital recorder, camera, K-II EMF meter, notebook, and his cell phone. Gracie’s team of trained monkeys lugged bulky tech out of the tour bus and SUVs, some of it he’d never seen.
The front door was propped open. Eddie had to shoulder his way in because nobody would get out of his way. There was a lot of noise. Orders were issued excitedly, hammers banged away, and somewhere a drill whirred.
Eddie spotted Green standing in the kitchen with a lawyerly-looking type in an expensive suit and Ross, the detective he’d met yesterday.
Eddie grabbed the arm of the nearest Gracie Barbitok male lackey. “Tell your team to stop everything they’re doing. I need to speak to your master right now.”
The young man didn’t budge. Just gave Eddie the bar room stare.
“Go get her now.”
The lackey’s eyes softened. He shrugged and went off to find Gracie.
Eddie raised his arms and boomed his voice. “STOP!”
Those nearest complied and gave him a strange look. The hammers kept banging in the next room and the drill still whirred deeper in the house.
Green realized it was Eddie speaking and met him in the foyer. The other lawyer and Ross stayed where they were and watched Eddie with interest.
Eddie pointed at the nearest member of Gracie’s team, an athletic-looking brunette with painfully gorgeous eyes. “Go tell them to stop with the hammers and the drill.”
She was stricken by indecision. She looked to her colleagues, who offered her no help whatsoever. Gracie wasn’t in the room to call the shots, and apparently the next highest-person in the chain of command wasn’t either.
“Better do it,” Eddie said. “Before we have a serious problem and your team compromises the integrity of the scene.”
The brunette’s beautiful eyes filled with terror, and she hustled away.
Green smiled at Eddie, like this was all part of the plan. Under his breath, the lawyer said, “What are you doing?”
Eddie winked. “Improvising a little.”
“I like your style. But don’t go overboard.”
Gracie’s team surrounded him in the foyer. He counted at least thirty of them. The shock of his interruption was wearing off. Now they regarded him with hostile eyes. Eddie met all their stares and said nothing. He had to establish his authority.
“What’s the problem, sir?” one of the older team members said.
Eddie faced the guy. “I’ll talk to Gracie about it.”
He wasn’t about to negotiate with the gophers, the interns, or even middle management. He’d only speak to Gracie.
They waited. It grew so quiet you couldn’t even hear a pin thinking about dropping.
Eddie smiled to himself. Gracie was taking her time. This was all part of the professional dance. She wouldn’t hurry to meet him. She had to make a grand regal entrance. The queen did not hurry to attend to her subjects.
Eddie looked over the hostile crowd. Gracie had trained them to be cynical. They, in turn, had been lured to her team with promises of fortune and fame. They could rise through the ranks and, when Gracie was ready to hand the reins over, assume her role in the enterprise. Or maybe they could get their own shows. Their own book deals. Leverage this experience to climb diagonally up the American corporate ladder.
They were hungry. Entrepreneurial. No sniveling navel-gazers expecting a hand-out. They wanted to impress their boss. They wanted to crush him. One minute ago, he’d been invisible. Now they circled like sharks, having recognized him as the enemy.
Finally Gracie appeared.
Unlike her team who were garbed like they worked for Mussolini, Gracie wore a grey pinstripe suit and pumps that lifted her a couple inches. Her blond hair was a perfectly coiffed combination of sexy and professional. Her TV makeup hid her age lines well, making her appear ten years younger. A hole formed in the circle surrounding Eddie and she walked up to him.
She beamed a Los Angeles smile, one bright enough to outshine the lights of Hollywood Boulevard outside the Grauman Theater.
A three-man camera crew appeared behind her.
Eddie shook her hand. It was game time.
She sized him up the way a cat might look at a cornered mouse.
Eddie spoke first. “Your people need to stop what they’re doing.” He looked around and met the multitude of eyes on him. “Rule number one of any investigation: control the scene.”
She smiled. “You and I must not have read the same rule book. Where I come from, you gather as much data as you can.”
He smiled right back at her, now feeling the eyes of Green on him as well. “We’ll get better, truer data if you don’t alter the environment. We don’t know why ghosts inhabit certain spaces but remodeling the house to fit your needs could interfere with that process, rendering this investigation null. I’ll make sure to put that in my report.” He raised his voice. “We should be treating this space like an Egyptian tomb, not as a studio that will later be used for some TV show.”
Gracie kept herself composed. “Or better yet, let’s treat it like the crime scene it is.”
“Let’s.” Eddie grinned. “I don’t mind you bringing your roadies in here, but I don’t want anybody getting in my way. There’s too many chefs in this kitchen. Whittle your team down to four, yourself included. It looks like you’ve got recording devices set up everywhere so you don’t need this many boots on the ground anyway.”
“I figured you’d want people in every room.”
He shook his head. “Your people will be watching me to make sure I don’t do anything inappropriate, but I want to watch them too. Your team will stay with me the whole way. Besides, the DA over there and Detective Ross and Attorney Green will be present as well. If we bring anybody else in, we’ll have enough folks to dress for Monday night football.”
Gracie projected an air of confidence that gave him pause. “That’s fine, Eddie. We can play by your silly rules. After all, we know exactly what we’re going to find.”
“If you go in with bias, you always know what you’re going to find, Gracie.”
Eddie started by familiarizing himself with the layout of the house. It was two stories, about three thousand square feet, with a finished basement. He started upstairs. Gracie made a crack about how nothing had allegedly happened on the second floor but Eddie gave her the silent treatment. He ventured into the Ketchers’ bedroom. Gracie and her retinue and the lawyers and the cop trailed behind him.
The bed was still unmade. On the nightstand, Eddie found a New Testament covered by a thin layer of dust. His fingers left dark trails on the cover of the book as he opened it.
The font size was a senior citizen’s nightmare. Every other page was dog-eared and marked up with pen.
Last night, on the cheap computer in the motel office, Eddie had refamiliarized himself with some of the more pertinent passages in the Bible. He flipped through Alice’s copy to the appropriate spots. As a devout Christian, she would have consulted scripture in her search for answers. And her copy of the New Testament confirmed this.
Matthew 8:16 was circled and underlined:
“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.”
2 Corinthians 11:14 was highlighted in yellow:
“And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to his works.”
Eddie remembered from Sunday school his church’s position on ghosts, and the Ketchers’ pastor subscribed to the same thinking. There was no such thing. Any spirits encountered by the living were demons masquerading as the deceased with malicious intent.
Eddie was about to close the book when he spotted letters running in a column down the left side of the right page. He would have missed them altogether had he not opened the book as widely.
It sounded like a name but the spelling was strange. Maybe it was a reworking of the name Sierra or an Irish variant of Keira, with the C being hard.
When he sounded it out, the word was meaningless but the letters seemed to hold import. They were scripted in caps and they ran in a column.
Maybe an acronym?
“Something the matter?” Gracie asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
It was an acronym that related to the ghost. But wh—
It suddenly came to Eddie. He swallowed a smile. He closed the book and set it down. He’d talk to Green about it later, when nobody else was listening.
Gracie said, “You’re stalling, and you know it.”
He gave her a flip smile. “Do you have a book signing this afternoon, Gracie?”
He finished searching the rooms upstairs and found nothing of interest. He went downstairs and now Gracie and her gang were turning into a peanut gallery, making wisecracks not-so-under their breath. Eddie ignored them.
He traced the path of the violence from the kitchen to the living room to Alice’s studio. The house was still a mess, signs of the struggle still noticeable even with the minimal cleaning that had been done.
Eddie examined every inch of the studio where the death had occurred. Was there something special about this space that she would have been killed in there, or was this just where she’d haphazardly ended up?
He saw nothing he hadn’t already read about in the police reports.
Eddie stopped and looked around at all the people crammed into the studio. Green’s face was impassive. The DA and Ross looked skeptical. Gracie gave him a shark-like smile like she smelled blood in the water. Her roadies looked smug, waiting to see their boss tear him apart.
“Let’s kill the power now,” Eddie said.
Gracie chuckled. “Is that supposed to make it easier for ghosts to manifest?”
Eddie smiled. “You should know it doesn’t. Killing the power limits the variables so there’s less potential interference with any of our gadgets.”
Gracie rolled her eyes.
* * * *
After killing the power Eddie went back into the kitchen. According to Anson, this was where everything had started. He looked around the room, feeling the heat already starting to build now that the AC was off. Gracie and her team crowded him.
Eddie removed his digital recorder and put it on the island counter. He unwrapped a new tape and put it in the machine and hit RECORD.
He spoke the date and time, then said, “This is Eddie McCloskey. We are starting in the kitchen. I have with me seven other individuals, whom I have asked to remain silent for now.”
Eddie removed his K-II meter and popped fresh batteries into the machine. It was the size of a remote control and had a series of five LCD bulbs that formed a row across the top, signifying the relative strength of the electromagnetic waves in the area. He turned the meter on, and the first light blinked, giving him a low, baseline reading.
Out of the corner of his eye, Eddie saw Green texting. That reminded him.
“Hey, everybody, I need you to turn off your phones now.”
Gracie rolled her eyes. One of her goons said, “This isn’t a hospital or an airline.”
Green finished with his text and put his phone away. Eddie waited for everybody to follow suit. After some more eye-rolling, they did. Then he checked the K-II meter again and still got the same baseline reading.
“This is Eddie McCloskey. I’m in the kitchen. Is there anyone else here?”
Eddie paused. He didn’t put much stock in electronic voice phenomenon because most of it was bullshit. But sometimes the digital recorder picked up intelligible EVP so he waited in case somebody was talking.