Book: When the Spirit Calls



When the Spirit Calls

When the Spirit Calls

When the Spirit Calls

When the Spirit Calls


When the Spirit... series – Book 2


Copyright ©2007, 2016 by Thomas J. DePrima


16.g.28





All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The scanning, uploading, downloading, and/or distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal, and punishable by law.

No part of this novel may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holder, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.




ISBN-13 (eBook): 978-1-61931-052-0

ISBN-10 (eBook): 1-61931-052-X



ISBN-13 (print): 978-1-61931-053-7

ISBN-10 (print): 1-61931-053-8




Cover art by: Kranchmedia




This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person with whom you share it. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it to the owner and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

To contact the author, or see information about his other novels, visit:



www.deprima.com









Dedication



This book is dedicated to the fans of the first book, written in 2001, who kept asking for a sequel.







Acknowledgements



Kudos to my editor, Myra Shelley, and her team of proofreaders who work so hard to make me look good.












Novels and Series by the author include:



When The Spirit…


When The Spirit Moves You


When The Spirit Calls



A Galaxy Unknown®

A Galaxy Unknown®


Valor at Vauzlee


The Clones of Mawcett


Trader Vyx


Milor!


Castle Vroman


Against All Odds


Return to Dakistee


Retreat And Adapt


Azula Carver



AGU:® Border Patrol…


Citizen X


Clidepp Requital


Clidepp Déjà Vu



AGU:® SC Intelligence…


The Star Brotherhood



Colton James novels…


A World Without Secrets


Vengeance Is Personal









Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23












Chapter One



Terror had pushed her almost to the limits of endurance. Moonlight, barely filtering through the overhead canopy of leaves, cast dark shadows that artfully destroyed her visual perception. The lowest branches of the trees slashed viciously at her face while the undergrowth clawed and scratched her limbs. Blood oozed from dozens of painful scrapes and dripped copiously from a number of deeper cuts. The sounds of pursuit seemed to echo off the forest trees to come at her again from seemingly different directions. Were she not so frightened, she would have understood that her pursuer was having as difficult a time as she, but the knowledge would have provided no comfort. Her ragged gasps for breath mingled with the sounds of pitiful sobbing that only uncontrolled fear for her safety could produce.

Suddenly, she saw light ahead. Expectation that she might find someone to help her buoyed her spirits and gave her new energy. But upon bursting through the outer row of trees that embraced the dense patch of forest, she discovered the light to be just the soft glow of the quarter moon's reflection dancing nonchalantly on the surface of a swiftly moving stream. Almost forty feet of agitated water stood between her and the opposite shore, while black tongues of liquid licked greedily at the bank where she stood. The early spring runoff of melting snow in the nearby mountains had swelled the stream size immensely, making a crossing seem almost impossible. With water overflowing the rocky shoreline that normally bordered the tributary and trees dipping their branches almost to the undulating fluid, there was no easy escape route either left or right.

Another crashing sound behind her brought her head up sharply and reminded her of the imminent danger. Her pursuer had been gaining ground as she stood indecisively on the bank. She could see that the trees on the other side had recently been harvested and knew that if she could make the crossing, the way would be easier. In the moonlight, the terrain ahead looked open and rolling. With no other option, she leapt into the frigid water.

Although the stream rose only to her calves this close to the bank, the power of the flow was incredible. The torrent seemed determined to yank her legs from under her as she struggled to keep her footing on the smooth, slippery rocks. Extending one limb forward, she tried to plant her foot, but the current fought her every movement. The urgency of the situation dictated that she move quickly, but she knew that if she lost her footing, she would be swept downstream to be pummeled viciously against rocky outcroppings and boulders.

She had advanced only a couple of yards when her pursuer burst from the forest. Without stopping to think, he sprang for her back. The impact drove her brutally down into the water, knocking the air from her lungs as his weight crushed her against the bottom. Small rocks and coarse sand ground savagely into her face and limbs. She bucked and flailed, trying to dislodge him, but his weight was too great. Her lungs screamed for precious air, and she desperately needed to get her head above water, but it wasn't to be. The more she struggled, the more she understood the futility.

It was over in another minute. She couldn't hold her breath any longer. Water coursed into her throat, filling her lungs. She stopped thrashing about then, her strength deserting her. She knew her cause was lost. She was dying.

Climbing off her back, her attacker rolled her body over in the shallow water. Although she was unable to move her limbs, her unfocused eyes were open. From just beneath the water she could see her killer's outline against the moon as he dragged her to a tree that had fallen into the stream and then lodged her almost lifeless body beneath the half submerged bole to ensure it wouldn't float downstream and be found. There was no more pain. There was no more sensation at all as the bright moonlight overhead slowly faded to complete darkness.

*   *   *

Arlene awoke with a start and sat bolt upright among rumpled bedclothes while gulping air into her lungs. She was dripping wet, and her heart was racing. Realizing where she was and that she was safe, she calmed down and let her head droop wearily for a few seconds, then flopped back down onto the bed.

Her pillow, also thoroughly saturated with perspiration, caused her to sit up again immediately. She yanked the pillowcase off and tossed the pillow towards a nearby chair before climbing out of bed. After ensuring that the pillow had landed with the wet side up, she carried the pillowcase to her bathroom, rinsed it out, and draped it over the framework of the tub/shower enclosure.

After she had washed her face and patted it dry, the tall blonde pushed her shoulder-length hair behind her ears and stared into the mirror. The whites of her cobalt-blue eyes were bloodshot, and her attractive face was haggard and drawn from sleeplessness. Normally by this point in May, her skin tone would be approaching the golden hue of the sun in those final moments before it dropped below the horizon, but she still had the lividness associated with the endurance of a long winter in the northern United States. Months of working in the college library and her dorm room as she prepared term papers and studied for final exams had taken their toll; so it was with great anticipation that she had looked forward to the start of summer vacation and long, lazy days lying on the beach.

But for the past week, Arlene had been having the same nightmare every time she attempted to sleep, day or night. It never varied. Each time, she was racing through unfamiliar woods, frightened half out of her mind until she reached the stream. As she tried to cross, she was caught by her pursuer— and drowned.

Returning to the darkened bedroom in the southeast corner of the manse's second floor, Arlene lowered her overtired body into an antique wingchair by the window. An almost full moon illuminated the rows of flowerbeds meticulously maintained by the small army of groundskeepers she retained to tend the estate grounds surrounding her seventy-room home in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had been enjoying the splendorous panorama since her marriage into the Westfield family in 1884, and the view of the estate's rear gardens never failed to calm her. A cool evening draught from the nearby ocean filled the room, and she could smell the sweet fragrances of fugacious blossoms riding lightly on the salty breeze.

As she nestled into the soft comfort of the familiar chair, she felt sleep tugging at her, but she refused to surrender to it, fearing that the nightmare would surely replay again. She was confident she had never visited the scene of the murder, so the images must be a precognitive vision, which seemed to add a new dimension to her paranormal abilities. Only twenty-one years old, the incredibly wealthy young woman had just completed her third year at Bryn Mawr, but Arlene Catherine Watson had knowledge far beyond her seeming years.

The first light of approaching dawn was visible in the eastern sky when she finally roused herself and walked tiredly to her bathroom to prepare for the new day. An hour later, she entered the small family dining room on the first floor and took her customary place at the table.

Though capable of seating eight comfortably, there were but four chairs around the thick maple table at present. Other chairs, placed discretely around the sides of the room, were always available at a moment's notice. Her older sister, Sarah, had married last year and moved out of the house, and neither her thirteen-year-old brother nor her parents had come down yet. Cook, ever sensitive to sounds in the dining room, appeared at the kitchen door a few minutes later.

"You're down early, dear," Cook said. "Another bad night?"

Now in her mid-fifties, the short, slightly overweight woman with dusty-brown hair projected a matronly appearance. Working alternately in private homes and restaurants, she had been searching for secure and satisfying employment since her husband of five years had deserted his family after the birth of their second child. With her grown daughters now married and moved away from Massachusetts, she had finally found a position where she was happy. This family had taken a liking to her, and she loved all of them as if they were her own. Her schedule was Thursday through Tuesday, with Wednesdays off, but she had no place else to go— or anywhere she wanted to go— so she prepared all the meals seven days a week. Usually she would spend Wednesday afternoons shopping in town, but she was always home in time to prepare dinner for the family.

"I'm afraid so, Mrs. Brittle."

"Perhaps you should see a doctor. There must be a reason for all these nightmares."

"Yes, perhaps I will. I'd like a cup of tea and two buttered slices of whole wheat toast, please."

"Right away, Miss," Cook said, allowing the swinging door to close as she stepped back into the enormous kitchen.

The outside wall of the family dining room, like that of the very large, formal dining room on the other side of the kitchen, faced the rising sun. Now well above the horizon, light from the golden orb filled every corner of the room. Completed in 1880 as a home for the wealthy Westfield family, the mansion had deteriorated considerably by the time Arlene inherited it from her great-great-great-grandmother, Amelia Westfield. Although basically protected from the elements, the heat of summer and the cold of winter through more than half a century without occupants had nonetheless taken a toll. But along with the estate, Arlene had inherited a trust fund of enormous wealth that had enabled her to have the mansion fully restored to its original glory.

Arlene had wanted the house to appear as it had when first built, so after every square inch of the interior had been photographed and molds made of the original plasterwork, the interior was quite literally gutted. The upstairs floors had begun to sag— badly in some places— and the electrical wiring and plumbing was hopelessly out of date. The architects she'd hired had suggested the house be torn down and rebuilt, but she couldn't bear that, so instead they came up with a plan whereby all the interior walls and floors would be removed and a steel I-beam skeleton erected inside the house. After the ironwork was completed, exterior walls insulated, floors replaced, and the framework of the interior walls erected, the electricians and plumbers had gone to work.

With the interior walls plumbed and electrified, the master woodworkers, plaster craftsmen, and stonemasons could work their magic. They did such a wonderful job restoring the interior to match its original appearance that no one would ever know the house had been gutted. They used as much of the original marble and wood as they had been able to salvage and replaced what couldn't be used by meticulously matching the color and grain.

When the multiyear project was finished, the first floor of the magnificent mansion looked every bit as wonderful as when it was built in the nineteenth century, and it now it had the advantages of modern wiring, plumbing, and insulation. The kitchen included all the modern conveniences found in a new home, but efforts had been made to have the decor blend with the rest of the house as much as possible. The exterior stainless steel surfaces of the massive refrigerators and freezers had even been sheathed in real oak so they'd resemble antique iceboxes.

Whereas the first floor had been rebuilt to precisely match the original plans, the layout of the upper two floors had, by necessity, been completely redesigned. Each bedroom now included large walk-in closets to replace the former chifforobes, and modern replica plumbing fixtures had been installed in the bathrooms in place of the deteriorated antique plumbing. An elevator had also been added, which gave access to the three lower floors and the basement. The mechanical room had been housed within the fourth floor garret so it couldn't be seen from outside, but this meant that fourth-floor access was walkup only. The furniture in the house was mostly all original. It had been stripped, repaired where necessary, refinished, and reupholstered to appear as it had when new. Upon entering the house, a person would almost swear they had stepped back in time.

Arlene's father, originally opposed to spending the small fortune the restoration of the estate would require, reluctantly came around when it was completed. Arlene had clearly stated her intention to occupy the mansion, and her father finally agreed to sell the family home and move the rest of the family to the estate. But he steadfastly refused to take money from Arlene and continued to work fulltime as an Information Technology Specialist. Of course, he did accept the occasional presents Arlene bestowed, such as the new luxury car each fall. The millions that the restoration work gobbled up had made a sizable dent in Arlene's trust fund, but she felt the work was worth every penny, and the enormity of the remaining monetary balance, which continued to grow due to careful investing, meant she would never have to worry about money for the rest of her life. Amelia Westfield's amazing insight into future events had allowed her to invest wisely and pass the proceeds onto her former/latter self.

Arlene's dad— hurrying as always in the morning— rushed into the dining room, dropped his briefcase on the table, and immediately headed for the kitchen door, uttering a quick, "Morning, honey," to his daughter. With a job that kept him sitting in an office most of the day, her father had been putting on weight during the past decade, and he now tipped the scales at just over 210. This was all the more noticeable because he was only of average height. Arlene may have inherited the auburn hair color she had recently surrendered to become a blonde and the deep azure color of her eyes from her father, but her svelte figure surely came from her mother.

Cook had her father's travel mug of coffee— light and sweet— already prepared, and he plucked it gingerly from her hands with wide smile and a "Thank you, Mrs. Brittle," then turned and hurried back through the door. "See you tonight, baby," he said to his daughter as he grabbed at the handle of his briefcase and rushed out again, probably never hearing her say, "Bye, Daddy." The dining room was much too far from the front drive for Arlene to hear his car as he gunned the engine and flew down the driveway towards the estate's front gate.

*

Arlene was still sipping at her tea when her mother came down for breakfast a half-hour later. Having worked as a bookkeeper until Arlene received her inheritance, Mrs. Watson had left her job of eight years with no regrets after they sold their former house and the family no longer had an acute need for the extra income. She would probably enjoy a leisurely breakfast this morning and then prepare for her normal weekday activities— a round of golf at the club (more as a form of exercise than any particular passion for the game), and then an afternoon of bridge at a friend's house. An inch shorter than Arlene, her mother's blond hair and hazel eyes might have previously kept strangers from speculating they were mother and daughter when out together. But with Arlene's change of hair color during her junior year in college, the facial similarities between mother and daughter had become much more obvious.

Passing behind Arlene, Mrs. Watson bent and kissed her daughter on the top of her head. "Good morning, dear."

"Good morning, Momma."

Moving around the table, her mother took her usual place at the table opposite Arlene. "You look terrible. That awful nightmare again?"

"Yes. And when I awoke, I sat up until sunrise."

"It's time to do something, dear. You have to seek medical help."

"The nightmare is significant, Momma. I know it is. I don't recognize anything in it, but it must be a warning. I just don't know if it's something that will happen to me in the future, or something that's happened in the past."

"Maybe it's a scene you saw in a movie or television program that just keeps playing over and over. You know, like when you can't get a tune out of your head."

"No, it's real. I know it is. I just don't know what it means— yet."

"Well, today's Friday. If you're not able to get a full night's sleep free from nightmares by Monday morning, we're going to the hospital to consult with somebody about sleep aids."

Arlene smiled weakly. "Okay, Momma."

Her father didn't accept Arlene's paranormal abilities as genuine and was always looking for more rational explanations for the visions she had and the things she knew, but her mother seemed to only make a pretense of not believing. Arlene thought her mother had at least a limited paranormal ability, although she would never admit it, not even to Arlene.

Hearing their voices, Cook appeared at the door to take Mrs. Watson's breakfast order.

*

Not long after Arlene's mother left for the club, a new silver Saab arrived at the estate's gates and buzzed for entry. Mrs. Caruthers, having opened the front gate so the vehicle could enter the grounds, waited patiently at the front door. As the Saab screeched to a stop, two giggling young women jumped out and hurried up the steps of the portico. Mrs. Caruthers had intended to show them to the small parlor just off the large foyer where they could wait until Miss Arlene came down, but as soon as they learned that she was in her bedroom, they stepped past the housekeeper and bounded up the wide marble staircase that led to the second floor, ignoring Mrs. Caruthers' appeals to stop.

Originally retained as a part-time bookkeeper to help track the bills and make payments to contractors while the mansion was being restored, Arlene had asked Mrs. Caruthers to stay on as housekeeper when the work was completed. The sixty-year-old woman, whose once black hair was now mostly grey, appeared at first to be someone's sweet grandmother, but she had a sharp mind and could be all business when required. Barely topping five feet, she never let her height stop her from speaking her mind when she knew she was right.

Mrs. Caruthers scowled, snorted quietly, and returned to supervising the maids who were presently cleaning the downstairs rooms. Both young visitors were well known to her and intimately familiar with the house, but she always expected more maturity from them.

*

"Ar!" the girls shouted as they entered the bedroom.

"Be right out," Arlene shouted back from her bathroom. Emerging a few seconds later, she squealed joyfully and ran towards the two girls, who likewise squealed and ran to meet her halfway. They, along with Megan Kearney, had grown up together and had been best friends since entering kindergarten, but they hadn't seen one another since spring break. After a few seconds of hugging, Arlene took a step back and said, "You both look great. Erin, your skin has completely cleared up now. And I love your new hairstyle."

Erin McDonald smiled widely and said, "Finally. I still have to watch the chocolate though." For most of her teenage years, Erin's otherwise pretty face had been covered with acne, and her mousy brown hair had been cut to conceal as much of her cheeks as possible. Her new hairdo, replete with highlights, proudly swept her hair back and away from her face. Like Arlene, the young woman was in her third year of college. She hoped to become a pediatrician one day, and her grades were more than adequate to achieve that goal.

"And Renee, you look great also," Arlene said. "Of course, you always look great."

Renee Dennis, twenty-one now like the other two young women, had always been the most attractive of the quartet while they were growing up and definitely retained that distinction now. The five-foot, seven-inch blonde, with jade-green eyes, perfect smile, soft, lush lips, and a curvaceous body, practically had to beat the boys off with a stick while in high school. If she had one serious failing, it was her mouth. She often said what she thought before thinking about the possible repercussions of her words. And her penchant for making facetious remarks often kept people from taking her very seriously.

"I see you've decided to join us blondes," Renee said.

"Yes, I have," she said with a smile, then added, "It's always worked for you, so I decided to give it a try. I felt it might be a nice change from my auburn color."

"It does looks great, Ar— but you don't. What's wrong? Man troubles?"

Arlene grinned. "As if that could be a problem. No, I haven't found anyone yet who could hold a candle to my Jeremy. Perhaps I never will."

"You have to forget Jeremy and move on," Erin said. "He died in 1937. You had fifty-three wonderful years together, but it's time to find another love."

"You're one to talk. Have you forgotten Donald, or your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren?"

"I didn't mean forget, exactly. I'll never forget a husband I loved with all my heart for half a century, or our progeny, but these twenty-one-year-old bodies have definite physical needs. I once thought I'd be so busy with my schoolwork and then with a job that I'd be content just having fond memories of my past life. But I've come to realize during the past several years that I was very wrong. I'll never forget Donald, but I need to find a man to share this lifetime with. And it's not like I'd be cheating on him or anything. He passed on more than seventy years ago."

"I suppose you're right," Arlene said. "During the past few years I've felt incredibly lonely at times."

"Is that why you look so awful?" Renee asked. "You're lonely?"

"No, that's not it. I've been having a recurring nightmare every time I try to sleep. I wake up soaked with perspiration, and then I'm afraid to go to sleep again."

"Tell us about it," Erin said.

After Arlene had related the dream, Renee asked, "Do you think it's a premonition?"

"I don't know. I only know it's significant."

"Have you consulted the cards?" Erin asked, referring to Arlene's psychic connection with the spirit world and her talents with a tarot deck.

"Of course. But the answers are always ambiguous."

"Uh oh," Renee said. "I'm getting that funny feeling again. The last time you started getting ambiguous answers from the cards, we all wound up in 1883, in other people's bodies."

"Oh, Renee, you loved it," Arlene said, grinning.

"Don't pay any attention to her," Erin said. "Like us, she wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world. So what do the cards say about the murder?"

"I asked them if I was involved, and they said yes. So I asked them if I was the victim, and they said no. So then I asked them if I was the killer."

"The killer?" Erin echoed. "That's absurd. You don't even like to kill houseflies. In high school biology you refused to dissect the frog, accepting a failing grade for that lab exercise instead."

"I had to ask," Arlene said. "I can't see either the victim or the killer in the dream. Anyway, the cards said no. So how else can I be involved if I'm not the victim or the killer?"

"You don't think that you…" Erin said, her voicing trailing off.

"I honestly don't know," Arlene said, instantly picking up on Erin's thought. "I suppose it's possible that the answers from the cards could still be considered accurate if only my soul was inside the murdered woman."

"Well, I for one am comfortable right here," Renee said. "I have one more year of college to get my BS degree in chemical engineering and then another to get my Masters. I don't want to visit the past again before then. So if some spirit suggests they send us to another era, I hope you'll decline this time, or at least delay it."

"We weren't exactly offered a choice the last time," Arlene said.

"Yeah, but we were only sixteen then and your powers hadn't fully developed. Now you can see them coming."

"Unless they're trying to conceal themselves from me."

"You didn't recognize the place at all?" Erin asked.

"No. I'm sure I've never been there before."

"Did you see any distinguishing landmarks, like towering buildings or bridges?" Renee asked.

"No, nothing. Just woods and then a stream."

"There must be something that distinguishes that place from a hundred thousand others like it," Erin said. "What kinds of trees were in the forest?"

"I don't know. I guess there were a lot of pines." Closing her eyes, Arlene breathed in deeply and said, "I can smell their sap if I close my eyes. It was too dark to really identify anything else, except— the fallen tree used to prevent my body from floating downstream had what looked liked sycamore leaves."

"Keep your eyes closed and move to the stream," Renee said. "You said the trees on the other side of the stream had been harvested. Is there any large equipment in evidence?"

"No. All I see are low tree stumps. There's almost no undergrowth. Wait, there's a sign on the other bank."

"Focus on that," Erin said. "Can you see what it says?"

"It's just a 'No Trespassing' sign, barely readable in the moonlight."

"Read it to us," Renee said, "everything you can see."

"No Hunting, Fishing, or Trespassing. Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association."

"That's it," Renee said. "Now you know where it happens."

"But how can we locate what sounds like an obscure social group?" Erin asked.

"Just check the internet. They'll probably have a website or something."

Arlene opened her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. "It's worth a try," she said as she moved towards the computer on her desk. Calling up a search engine, she entered the name and clicked the 'go' icon. The search only took a few seconds but didn't produce any results, except offers to buy a Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association at Amazon and numerous other internet retailers.

"Nothing," she said.

"Let me try," Renee said. "I know this great search engine. It taps into all the other major search engines and always finds something."

After some twenty seconds, Renee's search yielded the same ridiculous results as Arlene's search. In the absence of any solid leads, search engines usually tried to have the user click on links that took them to a retailer because the search engine provider got paid for every click-through.

"I can't believe it," Renee said. "I always get something."

"It's possible it doesn't exist yet," Erin offered.

"Or maybe," Arlene speculated, "it doesn't exist anymore and was simply gone before the internet got popular, so they never had a website or anyone talking about it online."

"Well, like you said, it was worth a try," Erin said.

"There's one more thing I can try," Arlene said as she picked up the phone and entered a speed-dial number. A couple of seconds later she said, "Daddy? Can you do me a huge favor? Would you search your sources for any references to the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association? That's G-L-E-N-N D-O-W-N-S… Thank you, Daddy, you're a dear. Call me back if you find anything. I love you."

"What makes you think he'll have any more luck than we did?" Erin asked after Arlene had hung up the phone.

"His IT company is tied into all kinds of special databases around the world. If the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association has existed during the past fifty years, he'll find a record of them."



"Glenn Downs is sort of a funny name for a place with forests," Erin said as they waited. "Doesn't 'downs' mean 'a rocky, treeless highland with limited soil?'"

"Maybe it will be a rocky, treeless highland with limited soil now that all the trees have been cut down," Renee quipped. "Besides, you can't always expect logic from a bunch of liquored up, overgrown boys with deadly toys."

Arlene reached for the phone as it rang and picked up the receiver. "Hello?— Oh hi, Daddy— You did? That was fast— Okay, I've got it. New York State. What county?— Isn't that in the Adirondacks? Okay, thanks Daddy. I love you. I'll see you tonight."

The other girls looked at Arlene questioningly as she hung up the phone.

"The Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association was incorporated in New York State as a non-profit organization thirty-eight years ago. It was dissolved about ten years ago."

"Ten years ago?" Renee asked. "In your dream, what kind of shape was the sign in?"

"It looked almost new," Arlene replied.

"That means the dream is about something that has already occurred."

"Or will occur sometime in the past," Arlene said.

"Don't start that time paradox stuff again," Renee said.

"What now?" Erin asked.

"I'm going to send an email to the sheriff's office in the county where the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association was located and inquire about my murder."









Chapter Two



Immediately after supper, Arlene climbed the rear stairs to the second floor and walked tiredly to her bedroom in the family wing. Too exhausted to stay up any longer, she had to at least try to get some sleep.

Thankfully, she didn't remember a thing after her head hit the pillow. Awakened by the sun gently layering her face with smothering warmth, she felt rested and relaxed for the first time in a week. She had slept the entire night without being visited by the nightmare.

"You're looking much better this morning, Miss," Cook said warmly as she brought her a cup of tea in the family dining room.

"Thank you, Mrs. Brittle. I feel much better also. I slept through the entire night without having a nightmare."

"That's wonderful, Miss," Cook said, smiling. "Would you like some breakfast this morning?"

"Yes, I believe I would. How about a couple of your wonderful pancakes with maple syrup?"

"I'll get started on them right away. With blueberries?"

"That sounds wonderful."

"I'll have them ready in about ten minutes."

Cook stepped back into the kitchen, delighted that Arlene's appetite had returned. She believed Miss Arlene had been a little too slender when she first came to work for the family. Having filled out a little in recent years, she looked much healthier for it, but she hadn't eaten enough to keep a hamster alive during the past week, and Cook had been worried.

Relaxing and occasionally sipping at her tea as she waited for breakfast, Arlene used the time to think about recent events. The cessation of the nightmares immediately after she sent an email to the county sheriff's office in which she requested information about a possible homicide had to be more than mere coincidence. The night's rest had refreshed her mind and she was able to reexamine everything she had experienced since the nightmares began.

It was entirely possible that the simple act of sending the email had triggered something in her mind to stop the nightmares, but her knowledge of paranormal forces made that difficult to accept. She believed outside forces were at work. From past experience she knew that spirits who had crossed over could exert powerful influences over the minds of the living, but the nightmare was much more elaborate than anything she had previously experienced. It was far more likely that a spirit who had chosen to remain on this plane of existence rather than immediately crossing over to the immortal world was involved. Their ability to interact with mortals was much greater, and they didn't tire nearly as quickly as those making contact from the immortal world.

The pancakes Cook prepared were delicious and Arlene returned to her suite in the family wing of the mansion feeling quite sated. She decided that her parents must be sleeping in because they still hadn't appeared by the time she was finished with breakfast, and her brother must be off battling aliens on distant worlds or perhaps fighting numerous marauding bands of mutants on a post-Apocalyptic Earth. The state-of-the-art video arcade she'd built in one of the extra bedrooms in the family wing saw far more of her thirteen-year-old brother during weekends and summer vacation than the family ever did.

Having been so fatigued during the past week because of the nightmares, Arlene had been out of touch with friends, so she made up for lost time by spending the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon on the telephone.

*   *   *

The lanky, six-foot-two-inch frame of Lt. Richard Bolger was sprawled unceremoniously over the chair behind his desk as he contemplated the brief lifespan of the ordinary housefly moving around the rim of his empty coffee cup. His sandy-colored hair was neatly combed, but his suit, freshly pressed before work, was showing signs of his having spent the entire morning at his desk. With no new investigations to use as an excuse to leave the office, he had been forced to shuffle paperwork all day.

The thirty-five-year-old bachelor had been with the county sheriff's department for almost twelve years, joining within a month of separating from the Army. He had, through very long hours and diligent effort, attained his present position as Detective Lieutenant. His success hadn't been achieved by climbing on the backs of other more senior deputies, but he hadn't simply waited for them to get out of the way either. He'd busted his buns on every assignment given him and had eventually come to the attention of the sheriff. There were no higher positions on the ladder now, except the sheriff's post. And while sixty-eight-year-old Sheriff Canaar had been threatening to retire for the past five years, Bolger had begun to suspect it wouldn't actually happen until the day the sheriff's body reached room temperature. Bolger preferred to be doing actual police work anyway instead of hobnobbing with politicians and civic leaders, sucking up daily to the county chairman of the political party in power and kissing babies for several months every two years while begging the citizens of the county to give him another term in office.

The secretary who divided her time between the sheriff and Bolger entered his office without knocking and dropped a piece of paper on his desk, briefly frightening the housefly from the cup.

"Came in yesterday, Rich," she said. "Dora gave it to Phil."

Lt. Bolger picked up the email and read it, then read the attached report. He smiled at the brevity of the report. Phil had done a simple computer search to see if any murder investigations, open or closed, had ever taken place on the old Sportsman's Association land, but he hadn't found any. Of course, Phil wasn't exactly the best man in the department when it came to computer work. Lt. Bolger decided to have a crack at it himself. At least it was something interesting to do.

*   *   *

On Tuesday, Arlene was on the phone with her best friend, Megan— now Mrs. Keith Heston— when Mrs. Caruthers paged her through the intercom. She put Megan on hold for a few seconds to respond to Mrs. Caruthers' page.

"Miss Arlene, there's a detective on the phone. He's trying to get me to talk about you. I told him if he wants to know anything about you, he has to ask you."

Arlene smiled and then said, "Thank you, Mrs. Caruthers. I'll speak with him."

Tapping the button that would reconnect her with Megan, she said, "I have to go now, hon. I have an important call waiting. I'll talk to you later, kay?"

"Okay, Ar. I'll only be home until about four. Keith and I have tickets to a play in Boston. It's some off-the-wall comedy he saw while in college and wants to see again. I can't remember the name."

"Okay, hon. If we don't connect before then, have a great time."

"Bye, Ar."

Tapping the button that would connect her to the line on hold, she said, "Arlene Watson."

"Miss Watson," the caller began very matter-of-factly, "this is Lt. Richard Bolger of the Sheriff's Department in Lake Georgina. Did you send us an email inquiring about a homicide? One that allegedly occurred on or near property that formerly belonged to the now defunct Sportsman's Association?"

"Yes, I did, Lieutenant."

"Could you tell me about your involvement in this?"

"I have no involvement other than I wished to know if a murder had ever occurred there."

"And what leads you to believe that a murder might have been perpetrated at that location?"

"For an entire week I experienced a recurring nightmare in which I witnessed the murder over and over."

"You saw a murder in your dreams?"

"Yes. And the only clue to where it might have occurred was a 'No Trespassing' sign that bore the name of the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association."

"I see. When did you last visit our community?"

"I've never been there or anywhere near there. I live near the Atlantic shore, and I've always been a beach aficionado. I leave the mountains to people who prefer climbing and hiking."

"You saw the name of the sportsman's group in your dream?"

"Yes, very clearly."

"Was the sign badly weathered?"

"No, it looked quite new."

"I see. Why do you suppose you would have such a vivid dream about a place you've never visited?"

"Well, I suspect a spirit is trying to involve me. But as to why, I can't yet say."

"A spirit? You mean like a ghost?"

"Yes, but I prefer to call them spirits."

"And do spirits interact with you regularly?" the detective asked in a condescending tone.

"I'm a spiritualist, Lieutenant. I've had considerable contact with spirits."

"I see. Well— we've found no record of a murder occurring on the property in question. Perhaps you just ate something that disagreed with you."

"Or perhaps you just don't know about the murder yet. The body should still be in the stream, if you care to look for it."

"The stream?"

"The stream that borders the former Sportsman's Association property. After she was killed, her body was wedged beneath a tree that had fallen into the stream. It must have been early spring because the stream was quite swollen at the time. And just beyond it, the trees had all been chopped down, as if they had recently been harvested."

"Can you describe the area you saw in your dream?"

Arlene noted that the condescending tone was gone, but she didn't understand why. "Yes, a little. As you stand on the bank opposite the association land, the stream passes from right to left. It's not a straight run at that point, and if you look off to the right, you can see a very long way upstream. It's sort of at a forty-five-degree angle to where you're standing. As the stream passes you, it continues to turn until the downstream part is almost ninety degrees offset from the upstream part. I'm sorry, but I can't describe it any better than that."

"How far into the stream is the body?"

"Her body was wedged beneath a tree about five or six feet from the dirt bank."

"I see. And is there anything else you can tell me about this alleged murder?"

"No, I think that's all the pertinent information."

"Okay. Thank you for your report, Miss Watson. Please contact me directly if you recall anything else."

"I will, Lieutenant. Goodbye."

Arlene hung up the receiver reasonably confident it was the last she would ever hear of the matter. She hadn't had a nightmare since Friday, and she had been sleeping soundly throughout the night.

*   *   *

"I got a call that you wanted to see me out here, Herb," Lt. Bolger directed to a man standing at the very edge of the water in waders as he stepped down off the dirt bank onto the rock-strewn shoreline that bordered the narrow stream on their side. "What have you got?" he asked a second before a rock tilted beneath his right foot, causing him to nearly lose his footing. He managed to recover before gravity caused him any embarrassment. A stack of neatly mounded, rotted wood, cut from a long dead tree that had fallen into the stream was piled on the upper bank. On the other side of the stream Mother Nature was making an effort to reclaim the land, and tall, eleven-year-old saplings covered the landscape. Heavy undergrowth made passage there difficult.

"We've found what's definitely a human skeleton," Herb Riddell said from his position next to a sifter screen. As a member of the fire department's search and recovery team, he had been involved in the search, and as a deputy coroner he became supervisor of the excavation once the first bones had been found. So gaunt that he almost looked like a cadaver himself, Riddell was perhaps the most experienced forensic expert in a six-county area. But for his intense dislike for politics, along with a complete lack of social skills, he would probably make a good county coroner. He brushed back his short white hair with a filthy hand as he turned to face Lt. Bolger.

Moving over to a makeshift workbench of equipment cases, he picked up a skull and submaxilla. "I'm pretty sure it's a female, but I can't say so officially until we recover the entire skeleton and perform the standard pelvic measurements and other tests back at the lab."

"Are these the clothes from the corpse?" Bolger asked, pointing to a small pile of rags.

"Yeah. Just what's left of a skirt, blouse, bra, and panties. We haven't found any shoes, but the stream may have carried them away."

"Bra and panties? That would seem to be pretty solid evidence that the skeleton is that of a female."

"Maybe once, but not anymore," he said, grinning. "Like I said, we'll know for sure once we do the tests. Uh, she's been here for a long time. What made you think there was a body out here?"

"We got a tip from a psychic."

"A psychic?"

"Yeah. And she's not local. Doesn't even live in this state. She said the ghost of the murder victim contacted her."

"Ghost?"

"Yeah. Weird, huh?"

"You ain't kidding."

"When do you think you'll finish the identification?"

"Jeez, Rich," he said testily, "give us a chance to find all the bones first."

"I'm not pressuring you, Herb; I just don't know what your backlog is like. Assuming you recover everything today, what's your best guess for time?"

"Since this isn't a priority case, probably about two to three weeks to wrap up all the lab work and officially confirm the identity of our mystery woman, if she's who you think she was. But I'll have a prelim report in a few days. Good enough?"

"Good enough," the detective said. "I've officially reopened the missing-persons investigation, but this case is so cold I'm getting frostbite. We may never know what happened out here."

"Hell, that shouldn't be a problem," Herb said, grinning. "It sounds like you've got the inside track. Just ask your friendly psychic. Maybe the ghost will even help out."

Lieutenant Bolger scowled slightly as he turned and climbed back up onto the bank.

*   *   *

Arriving home from a busy day of shopping with her girlfriends, Arlene was handed a small stack of telephone messages by Mrs. Caruthers. After dropping her things onto her bed, she looked through the pile of notes, stopping at the one from Detective Bolger. It was late afternoon, but on the chance that he might still be at work, she punched in the telephone number. A week had passed since her previous conversation with the detective.

*

Bolger had left work early and stopped into his favorite watering hole before heading home to prepare dinner. He was on his second bottle of beer when his cell phone rang. A quick glance at the display told him the call was coming from Massachusetts. He was only expecting one call from that part of the country.

"Hello, Miss Watson," he said as he activated his earpiece.

"Hello, Lieutenant Bolger."

A few seconds of silence ensued, and then the detective said, "You probably know why I called— you being a psychic and all."

"Actually, I have no idea. And I'm not a psychic; I'm a spiritualist. I imagine you want to know if I've thought of anything else. The answer is no."

"I'm sure you would have called if you did. This time I'm calling to give you some information. We found a body, exactly where you said it would be. I'd like to drop by and see you tomorrow, if you're free."

"Am I considered a suspect?" Arlene said jokingly. "Should I have my attorney present?"

"The lab work isn't complete yet, so the identification isn't official, but we figure we know who the victim was. If we're correct, she would have died about eleven years ago. Since you were ten at the time and live hundreds of miles away, I seriously doubt you would have been involved, but no one is ever excluded from suspicion unless they have an airtight alibi for the time of the crime. You won't need an attorney this time. I just want to go over your facts again, and I only do that in person when I'm investigating a possible felony."

"What time do you expect to arrive here?"

"If I get an early start, I should reach your area by about 1 p.m. Let's say 1:30, just in case I get delayed."

"Okay. I'll look for you at about 1:30 tomorrow."

"Thank you, Miss Watson. I'll see you then."

*   *   *

After being admitted by Mrs. Caruthers, a dark-green Ford Crown Victoria climbed the driveway to the house a few minutes before 1:20 the following afternoon. Lieutenant Bolger whistled in surprise as he drove through the last row of Red Maple trees that shielded the house from view and got a good look at the mansion.

Pulling into one of the six empty parking spots on the circular drive in front of the house, the detective stepped out of the police cruiser and whistled again as he stared up at the house in awe. Constructed for the most part with granite quarried in Connecticut, the three-story structure, capped by a fourth floor garret sheathed in Pennsylvania slate roofing tiles of blue, black, and magenta, was impressive. It looked more like a school or monastery than a private residence. The five-story, granite-faced tower that rose from the center of the building just behind the front portico gave the impression of being a bell tower, but it was merely a gallery that had originally functioned as a widow's walk. It offered a splendid view of the harbor. At one time it had been open to the elements, but during the reconstruction of the house it had been enclosed and now had windows all around.

Bolger used the reflection in the driver's window of his car to comb his hair and straighten his tie before turning towards the house. As he climbed the steps of the portico, he could hear strange music— strange because he knew it to be made by a harpsichord. He was only familiar with the sound because it had always been played in the opening minutes of the 'Addams Family' television show. He hoped the occupants of the house weren't as wacky as the fictional television family as he mentally prepared himself for the interview. He knew that wealthy people, even those considered suspects, had to be shown a considerably different attitude and behavior than that used with street punks and felons, or even an average citizen. He served at the discretion of the sheriff and was politically savvy enough to know that his continued employment hinged on his ability to adapt to every situation.

He was reaching for the bell when the door suddenly opened. Mrs. Caruthers pushed it wide so he could enter, then gave him the onceover as he stepped into the house. Her face registered neither approval nor disapproval. After closing the door behind him, Mrs. Caruthers said, in a strictly business-like manner, "Miss Arlene will talk to you in her study, sir. Follow me please."

So far so good, he thought. She doesn't look like either grandma, Lurch, or Uncle Fester. As he followed her through the long corridors, Lt. Bolger silently marveled at the richness of the beige Vermont marble that lined the walls and the Vermont rose-grey marble of the floors. The carved woodwork around the doorways was impressive, to say the least, and the decorative plasterwork on and around the ceiling's edges was outstanding. Mrs. Caruthers led him to a door near the rear of the house, opened it, and stood back so he could enter. As soon as he was in, she said, "Miss Arlene is in the music room. I'll inform her that you're here, and she'll be with you momentarily." She then backed out of the study, pulling the door closed behind her.

Detective Bolger looked the room over carefully as he sauntered towards the sofa. Tastefully decorated with furniture that Bolger judged as genuine nineteenth century, the room exuded an elegance and charm rarely found in modern homes. Framed paintings and early photographs covered the ivory-colored walls. Those are definitely genuine, he thought. They might even be family ancestors. He had to revise his earlier impression that the building was like a school or monastery. It was more like a museum of the highest caliber. Only the large area rug, which covered most of the room's maple parquet flooring, appeared to be a reproduction. Its condition just seemed too good for it to be genuine. But it's a faithful reproduction, he thought approvingly. Even the telephone on the enormous antique desk appeared to be an early instrument. He had no way of knowing that the phone was the only visible reproduction in the entire room and employed state-of-the-art electronics that gave a crystal-clear sound impossible in the nineteenth century. A laptop computer was tucked away in a desk drawer.

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant," Arlene said as the hallway door opened and she entered, leaving the door open behind her.

"Nice place you have here, Miss Watson," he said casually.

"Thank you. It's a bit large for my small family, but I love this old house. We have plenty of space to spread out, and we can always find privacy when we want it."

"I imagine that's true."

"Won't you sit down?"

As Bolger sat on the sofa, Mrs. Caruthers entered the room and placed a tray on the coffee table in front of the sofa. On her way out, she pulled the door closed behind her.

Arlene sat down, and from the comfort of her favorite sitting place on a sofa that looked out through terrace doors to the rear yard she asked, "Would you care for some tea or coffee?"

"Coffee sounds great."

"Help yourself," she said, gesturing towards the coffee table. "The gold-colored carafe has coffee. The small pitcher with the blue top is milk; the yellow one is cream."

Hating cups that only allowed one of his large fingers in the handle, Lt. Bolger naturally selected the mug from the tray on the table instead of a teacup. As he stirred his coffee, he said, "Thank you for inviting me to your home. I won't take up too much of your time."

"I have all afternoon free, Lieutenant."

"Was that you playing the harpsichord?"

"Yes. It's been in the house since 1880 and was an antique even then. I've always loved the delightful sounds of harpsichord music but haven't had much time for it while in college. I'm afraid I'm a bit out of practice."

"You couldn't tell that from what I heard. It was wonderful."

"Thank you."

"Well, down to business."

Placing a small recorder on the coffee table and pressing the record button, he said, "Interview with Miss Arlene Watson, New Bedford, Mass. June 6th, 1:40 p.m. Miss Watson, you notified us about a possible murder in our community after you witnessed the crime in a dream?"

"I think nightmare more precisely defines what I experienced. It reoccurred every night for a week, not stopping until I had sent the email to your office."

"And in this dre— nightmare, you saw a young woman being murdered. Can you describe her?"

"No, I never saw her."

"Wait a minute. You said you witnessed the murder."

"That's correct, but I witnessed it from the perspective of the victim. I saw only what she saw and felt what she felt, as if it were happening to me."

"Oh, I see. Then you can't tell me anything about her?"

"Only that she was drowned and that her body was wedged beneath a tree that had recently fallen into the stream."

"How do you know it had fallen recently?"

"It appeared to be a fully leafed tree of the genus Platanus Occidentalis, or American Sycamore, and therefore deciduous. The branches would have been defoliated had it been there for any length of time."

Lt. Bolger tried not to show surprise at her educated analysis of the crime scene. Her earlier statement about it being spring because of the swollen size of the stream and now her appraisal of the downed tree showed there was a brain inside that pretty head. He regretted his patronizing attitude on the phone.

"Can you tell me who committed the murder?" Lt. Bolger asked.

"The victim did see the murderer as she was being wedged under the tree, but from beneath the water. With her life fading and her vision failing, she couldn't make out anything more than a large dark shape, backlit by a quarter moon."

"But you can identify where the crime was committed?"

"Yes, she was drowned in the stream that ran along property owned by the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association at a point where the stream turns approximately ninety degrees."

"Have you ever visited that area?"

"Never. To the best of my knowledge, I've never even been in your county."

Suppose you recount your entire dre— nightmare for me now so we're sure we haven't missed anything."

Arlene closed her eyes, and over the next ten minutes she described everything she saw and every sensation she felt as she watched the nightmare replay in her head.

When she was done, Lt. Bolger asked, "Is there anything else you can tell me about the crime?"

"No, nothing."

"Very well. Thank you, Miss Watson. I appreciate your help in this case. I brought some pictures with me in the hope that you could identify the victim, but since you didn't see her, I guess there's no sense looking at them."

"I'd like to see them— if you don't mind."

Lt. Bolger hesitated for a couple of seconds, then said, "Of course." He'd decided it couldn't hurt his case for her to see them. Reaching into his pocket, Lt. Bolger extracted ten 4x6 prints and handed them to her.

Arlene saw immediately that they were all of different women with fairly similar appearances.

After looking closely at each of the photos, she handed him one of an attractive woman with a long, raven-colored mane. "Is this the woman you believe is the victim?"

Lt. Bolger eyed her suspiciously, "What made you select this picture?"

"It appears to be an image of your traveling companion."

"My what?"

"Your traveling companion. At least I assumed her to be with you since you arrived together."

"Uh, I don't understand. What are you talking about?"

"When you arrived, a spirit must have followed you into the room. I assumed you came together."

"A spirit?" he said with amusement. "You mean a ghost?"

"Yes, but I prefer the term spirit. 'Ghost' often creates so many negative connotations in people's minds."

Lt. Bolger was quiet for a few seconds as he glanced around the room. "And this— spirit— is here now?"

"Yes," Arlene said. Gesturing towards the terrace doors, she added, "She's been watching and listening to us since you both arrived."

Lt. Bolger chuckled and then laughed heartily. "You had me going there for a few seconds, Miss Watson. Really, why did you select this picture?"

"Is it a picture of the victim?"

"It's a picture of the woman we believe might be the victim. She hasn't been officially identified yet."

"What's her name?"

"She was christened Marjorie Elizabeth Campbell, but she was into the occult and legally changed her name to Simona."

"May I have the picture again?"

Taking the picture when Lt. Bolger held it out, Arlene held it up facing the terrace doors and asked, "Is this a picture of you?" After a second she asked, "Were you the one killed in the stream?" After another second she asked, "Was the nightmare I experienced created from your memory of the event?" Nodding, she asked, "Is it your skeleton they found?" Finally she asked, "Who ended your mortal life?"

Bolger had just looked on with increasing skepticism.

Handing the pictures back to the Lieutenant, who was sitting with his mouth partly open as he stared blankly at Arlene, she said, "Simona answered affirmatively to each of the first four questions. It's her picture, she was the one killed in the stream, I saw her death in my nightmare, and you've recovered her skeleton. In response to the last question, she would only say that she— 'can't say.'"

Lieutenant Bolger continued to stare at Arlene silently for several more seconds, then said, "You're trying to tell me you just deposed the victim, who is now a ghost?"

"Well, I can't have her place her hand on the bible and swear to tell the whole truth, but basically— yes."

"End of interview," Lt. Bolger said abruptly. Reaching over, he snapped off the tape recorder. Revising his earlier assessment of her intelligence, he dropped the polite attitude in which he had cloaked himself since arriving. "Miss Watson, if you hadn't been so helpful in finding the body, I'd figure you were a complete nutcase and destroy this recording before I get back to my office. I'm still not sure whether I'll do that or not. No offense."

Arlene smiled pleasantly. "None taken, Lieutenant. I'm quite used to such disbelief. Even my own parents doubt my gift. What made you search for the body if you don't believe in my abilities?"

"Your description of the crime scene was perfect. To the letter. We were able to learn when the Association land near the stream had been clear-cut, and we had an open case involving a missing person from that time. I was just a rookie deputy back then, but I remember the case well. The missing woman's car was found on a road on the other side of the woods you describe yourself running through. The gas tank was empty and the driver's side door was still open. She must have run out of gas and then headed for the woods to evade whoever was chasing her. Ya know, I've worked with a few psychics over the years, but none ever told me they talk with ghosts."



"As I've said before, Lieutenant, I'm not a psychic; I'm a spiritualist."

"What's the difference?"

"The dictionary defines a psychic as a person who is apparently sensitive to things beyond the natural range of perception or outside the possibilities defined by natural or scientific laws. That same dictionary defines a spiritualist as a person who serves as an intermediary between the living and the dead. Normally I just perform tarot readings for friends and acquaintances. My spirit guide helps me interpret the cards."

"Your spirit guide?"

"Yes."

"Do you ever conduct séances?"

"I have, in the past. I don't do it anymore."

"Why not? I mean, I realize you obviously don't need the money."

"I never charge for my readings and certainly never charged for my séances. I stopped performing séances because I learned that the spirits sometimes have an agenda of their own and often won't answer specific questions. Also, I promised someone very near and dear to me that I wouldn't conduct them anymore because people who don't have the gift generally consider people who do— to be unbalanced."

"Yet you expect me to believe that a spirit you claim is here with us now is being truthful."

"I have no reason to believe she would lie about the very specific questions I asked."

"Everybody lies, Miss Watson. Why should we expect that to change with death?" With another noticeable change in his demeanor, he asked in a curious tone, "Uh, how do they communicate with you?"

"Not having physical form means no lungs or larynx, so spirits can't make their voices heard to anyone other than a spiritualist unless a medium is employed. I don't know how, but I can hear their words in my head as they appear to speak."

"And, uh, how long have you had this power?"

"I realized I was different when I reached my teens. When I was fifteen, I received a tarot deck as a grab-bag gift. I found that the cards gave focus and clarity to my insights. As I got older, my powers increased. When I was sixteen I could sense the presence of spirits, although I still couldn't see them. Within another year, I could see wispy images. Now I see them just as clearly as I see you."

"And they look to you just as they did when they were alive?"

"Not exactly. There's a glow, like an aura, around them. If not for that, people really would think I was unbalanced because I might address a spirit without knowing that others couldn't see him or her. The aura enables me to determine immediately who is alive and who has passed on."

"But since so many people have died throughout history, it must be like looking at a parade crowd all the time."

"Not at all. Most spirits cross over to the immortal world when they pass on. Only those with special reasons remain behind. There aren't really that many on this plane of reality compared to the living— perhaps only one or two for every thousand mortals. And once they complete their business, they typically cross over to be with family and loved ones. I imagine Simona will cross over once you find her killer."

"One or two for every thousand mortals? That means as many as seven hundred thousand in this country alone."

"It's a very big country, Lieutenant."

"Yeah, but that's a lot of ghosts to be roaming around."

"Few interact in any way with people. Most just mind their own business and remain in the house where they lived when their mortal existence ended, or somewhere where they feel most comfortable. The spirits who committed evil deeds while they were alive are already gone."

"Gone? You mean they've crossed over to the immortal world?"

"No, not the evil ones; only those who haven't significantly harmed other people while they were alive are allowed to cross to the immortal world. The rest go to the other place. And they have no choice about remaining here or crossing over. When they die they are pulled immediately down to the Underworld."

"Does that include cops who have killed?"

"If the police officers were good people, they go to the immortal world. That assumes they killed only in the line of duty or to protect their own lives or the lives of those who were in danger."

"What about soldiers who have killed? I've seen my share of combat."

"If you killed because you were ordered to and didn't receive any personal gratification from the deaths, you'll still go to the immortal world."

"What about…"

"Lieutenant, if you're trying to determine if you'll be dragged down to the Underworld when you die, I can't help you. That's between you and God and will be determined at the time of your mortal death."

Lt. Bolger smiled and said, "I guess I should be going. If I stay here much longer I'll probably start believing in this— gift— of yours."

"Would that be such a bad thing, Lieutenant?"









Chapter Three



It was almost two weeks later when Arlene pulled her white BMW into a small motel just off the interstate and secured a room for the evening. Lieutenant Bolger had called to inform her that the body had been positively identified and the coroner had immediately established a date for the inquest. He asked her to attend the inquest for the murdered woman so she could testify about her nightmare. It was a long drive, and Arlene had been a little reluctant to go, given that she had already told him everything she knew during the interview. Since he had recorded the session, there seemed little point in attending. But Lt. Bolger persisted, and she finally agreed.

Not wishing to make the long drive in one marathon session, Arlene had driven on Sunday as far as the interstate highways would take her and then stopped for the night. The next day she would complete the journey on secondary and then local roads. The inquest wasn't scheduled to begin until one p.m.

Upon entering the motel room, Arlene immediately regretted not seeking a chain motel with rigid room cleaning and preparation standards. The room was hot and stuffy, and there was a pervasive aroma of ammonia and other cleaning chemicals. She immediately pulled back the blanket and top sheet to check the bed. A gleaming white under-sheet greeted her. If it had been otherwise, she would have immediately left and found other accommodations. She preferred to patronize smaller businesses but only as long as they made the effort to provide decent service or merchandise. Satisfied that the room would suffice, she pushed the button on the air conditioning unit's control panel to 'high cool.' The blowing air might vent the room somewhat, and the chemical smells might also be subdued by the cooler air.

In the morning, Arlene packed away the jeans and tee shirt she had worn the previous day and dressed in the black business suit she had brought along. She'd decided the color of mourning would be most appropriate for an inquest. A quick stop at a donut shop yielded a cup of tea before she continued her trip.

After two hours of driving, a sign at the outskirts of Lake Georgina welcomed all visitors. Lt. Bolger had given her directions to the sheriff's office, located in the county jail, and she drove through the town's business district until she spotted a sign for jail parking.

As the county seat, the town was the largest in the county, but despite the larger population, it still bore the unmistakable look and feel of all towns whose principal industry was tourism. Nestled on a large lake in the heart of the Adirondack Mountain Range, the town came alive in May and thrived until September, when it again became just another sleepy town waiting for the influx of summer residents and tourists to awaken life there once again. It was currently crowded with vacationers, and the sidewalks on the main thoroughfare were filled with early-morning shoppers.

Located just across the street from the county hospital, the jail was the largest of the four buildings that housed the county offices. After parking in the lot provided for visitors to the complex, Arlene entered the sheriff's office and stepped up to the counter that bisected the reception area. A thick, probably bulletproof glass partition rose from the counter to the ceiling, and Arlene had to speak into a microphone mounted in a chrome gooseneck arm attached to the counter to address the deputy working there. As soon as she had identified herself to the female officer, the woman said, "Down the hall," and gestured towards a glass door, simultaneously pressing a button with her other hand to open it. The automatic door immediately closed behind Arlene as she passed through the opening, and it locked with an audible click. As she reached the rear wall and entered the corridor, she spotted Lt. Bolger, dressed in what appeared to be a new suit, entering from the other end.

"Welcome to Lake Georgina, Miss Watson," he said as they met. "Thank you for coming. You're early, but that will give us time for a nice leisurely lunch. First, though, I'd like to show you something."

Gesturing towards a stairway, Bolger led the way down two flights of stairs and through two locked security doors. A short tunnel two stories below ground level connected to another substantially longer tunnel. While they walked, Bolger talked about the history of Lake Georgina and the role the location played in the American War for Independence.

After they had walked for what seemed like half a city block, they emerged into the basement of another building. The transformers in the overhead florescent fixtures hummed noisily as bare bulbs bathed the hallway in an excessively bright light that reflected off the white, glossy walls and shiny almond linoleum on the floor. From the signage over the doors and the faint aroma of antiseptic and other chemical odors, Arlene suspected they were now in the hospital across the street from the county complex.

"Where are you taking me, Lieutenant?"

"It's not much further. I thought you might like to see Simona."

"Simona? I've seen her, remember?"

"But I want to introduce you in person."

"In person? I don't understand. She's passed on."

"She's just down this hall," Lt. Bolger said as they turned a corner.

Arlene immediately understood when she saw the six large letters on the double swinging doors just ahead. Naturally, the skeleton would be brought to the county morgue for the autopsy. She steeled herself mentally for the possible sight of blood, gore, and partially dismembered bodies.

As they neared the end of the corridor, one of the morgue's swinging doors suddenly flew open. A short, heavy woman, dressed in an odd assortment of black garments, emerged quickly. Seeing the detective directly in front of her, she pulled up short, just in time to avoid running into him.

"Excuse me, Richard," she said. "I was a bit overcome."

"That's alright, Gisela," Lt. Bolger said. "I quite understand." Then, turning slightly to Arlene, he said, "This is Gisela. She was a close friend of Simona. Gisela is also a psychic who has helped us with cases from time to time. When Simona's car was found, we called Gisela in and brought her out to the vehicle, but she couldn't provide us with any leads. Gisela, this is Arlene Watson. It was she who provided the information that led us to poor Simona's remains."

Arlene smiled at the forty-something woman whose roughly hundred sixty pounds of weight was too much for her five-foot frame. Looking like she had dressed at a Salvation Army thrift store, she was wearing both black trousers and a black skirt over some kind of black hiking boots. A black tank top, open black cardigan sweater, and black beret completed her eclectic ensemble. A dozen silver bracelets jangled noisily on her wrists, and every finger contained a ring.

Gisela smiled and extended her right hand, "Madam Arlene, it's an honor to meet you."

Taking Gisela's hand, Arlene said, "It's Miss, but please call me Arlene. May I call you Gisela?"

As soon as their hands joined, Gisela squeezed the proffered hand, her eyes growing wide as she stared mutely at Arlene. Her unblinking eyes seemed to glaze over and her head and body began to tremble. As Gisela's grip grew even tighter, Arlene winced from the pain and tried to pull away gently. She stood it for as long as she could and was about to ask Lt. Bolger to intercede when Gisela suddenly released her hand. She was still trembling all over and hadn't blinked since their first touch. Taking a quick step to the side, Gisela ducked around Lt. Bolger, half-walking and half-running down the corridor without saying another word or looking back. Arlene and Lt. Bolger stared after her, not speaking until Gisela had turned into the other corridor and disappeared from view.

"Now that was strange," Lt. Bolger said. "Gisela has always been a little— eccentric, but I've never seen her behave like that."

"Have you known her long?" Arlene asked, shaking her hand to relieve the pain and return the circulation quicker.

"Most of my life. We're both locals. She and Simona were very, very close. Perhaps that accounts for her behavior today. I'm sure she took the news very hard. We all suspected foul play, but somehow people are never fully prepared for the bad news when it finally comes."

"I know how it is to lose a best friend. It's a pain that stays with you all your life."

"Yeah," Lt. Bolger said, his own thoughts flitting briefly to the buddies he'd seen die in combat. "I know. Well, shall we say hello to Simona?"

"Lead the way, Lieutenant."

A dozen chairs of chromed tubular construction, their seats and backs covered in a tacky green vinyl, sat empty just inside the swinging doors. Arlene supposed the austere white waiting room was for people who had come to identify the remains of relatives or friends. Following the lieutenant through another set of swinging doors, Arlene recognized the autopsy area immediately. Three stainless steel tables sat anchored in the middle of the large white room. Suspended over each table was a bank of lights, and a microphone dangled where it could pick up the words of the examining doctor or coroner. A full wall of the room was devoted to what appeared to be stainless steel morgue lockers for the storage of bodies, while a couple of hospital gurneys were parked in the corner, along with several stainless steel roll-about carts. A man in a white lab coat was working at a computer terminal that sat on an old oak desk facing them from in front of a wall lined with a dozen filing cabinets. One of the examination tables had a skeleton laid out on it. Lieutenant Bolger led Arlene to that table.

"Miss Watson, meet Simona."

Arlene glanced down at the skeleton, then raised her head to stare directly across the table for a second before nodding. Raising her right arm, she extended her hand over the skeleton, palm downward, and began to walk slowly around the table. The lieutenant, a questioning expression on his face, quickly moved out of the way without uttering a word. Arlene stopped near the skeleton's left leg and, after moving her hand around slowly, lowered it and picked up the left fibula. She then continued around the table. She stopped again near the skeleton's right hand and seemed to slowly zero-in as she had with the fibula, then picked up a metacarpal bone. Satisfied, she turned to the detective.

"Simona says these are not from her body. I suppose someone must have mixed up the skeletons."

Turning towards the man at the keyboard, who had been watching and listening closely while trying to appear clinical and detached, Lt. Bolger said, "Herb, it appears you have a problem here. Could there have been two bodies out in the stream?"

As the man stood up and approached the examination table, Lt. Bolger said, "Miss Watson, this is Herb Riddell. He supervised the excavation after the skeleton was found."

"How do you do, Mr. Riddell?" Arlene said.

Without returning the greeting, Riddell looked at Arlene strangely, then extended a gaunt hand towards her to take the bones. He took a second to examine the tip of the metacarpal bone, then scowled and walked to a cabinet where he extracted another fibula and metacarpal bone before depositing the others. Moving back to the skeleton, he placed them in their correct positions.

"No, Rich, there was only the one body," Riddell said. "I switched the two bones intentionally to see if the psychics noticed."

"You have them correct now," Arlene said.

"How did you do that?" he asked, staring at Arlene.

"Simona told me they weren't part of her skeleton."

"Simona did, eh?"

"Yes. She's standing on your right."

Without acknowledging the possible presence of a spirit in any way, Riddell scowled again and said, "I don't believe in ghosts."

"That's entirely your prerogative, Mr. Riddell. But how else could I know?"

"Well, you're a psychic aren't you?"

"No, I'm a spiritualist."

"Isn't that like a psychic?"

"Only in that we both deal with the paranormal. I function as an intermediary between the living and those who have passed on."

"A spook hunter, eh?"

"No, I don't hunt them, Mr. Riddell. I'm merely happy to help them when I can."

"How can you help a ghost? They're dead."

"Oh— there are often ways, such as what I've done for Simona. Now her mortal remains can be laid to rest and her family will have closure. That's important for some spirits."

"Bah! It's a lot of rubbish."

"How else do you explain that Miss Watson was able to pass your little test?" Lieutenant Bolger asked. "By the way, how did Gisela do?"

"She gripped the table, rolled her eyes back into her head, and said that something definitely wasn't right."

"But she never identified the problem?"

"No. She never even approached the skeleton the way Miss Watson has."

"And Miss Watson immediately picked up the correct bones? No hesitation at all?"

"Yes, dammit." Riddell hissed through gritted teeth.

"That's good enough for me," Lieutenant Bolger said. Turning to Arlene, he said, "Miss Watson, you're making a believer out of me. How about lunch? There's a great little restaurant just down the street."

"I'm ready whenever you are. It's nice to have met you, Mr. Riddell."

"Yeah," he grunted, scowling at Lt. Bolger's grin.

*   *   *

"Madam Elana, she's here," Gisela practically shouted as she entered the antique and curios shop on a side street a block from the county complex. Customers in the shop turned to stare at her for a second, then returned to their browsing.

The proprietress, armed with a paper towel and squirt bottle of glass cleaner, was busy wiping fingerprints from a display case. She didn't even look up as she asked quietly, "Who's here?"

"Her," Gisela said, quite a bit more subdued now that she realized the shop wasn't empty. "The ancient one!"

"Old Mrs. Smith? I told her not to come back in here until she had her hearing aid repaired."

"Not the old battleaxe. The ancient one. The one spoken of in the text."

Madam Elana stopped cleaning the case and turned around to stare intensely at Gisela. "Are you sure? Really, really sure?"

"As sure as I could ever possibly be."

"Who is she?"

"The one who told them where to find Simona— Madam Arlene Watson. As soon as I touched her hand outside the morgue, I knew. I literally became dizzy with the tremendous kaleidoscope of images that flashed through my head. I've never suspected that anyone could possibly have had so many past lives. She must be many thousands of years old."

"What's the oldest image you saw?"

"I don't know. There were innumerous images of life in pre-industrialized settings, such as women in scant clothing or furs cooking at open-pit campfires. But when all you see are huts and cooking fires, you don't know if it's the sixteenth century or the dawn of mankind. I do remember one with pyramids in the background."

"Pyramids? What kind of pyramids?"

"You know, pyramids. Like in Egypt."

"That could have been an image from last year."

"No, they were still building one of the pyramids. It was only partially completed, and there were thousands and thousands of people working on it."

Madam Elana's expression turned to one of awe. "My God! That could make her close to five millennia old, or even more."

"I told you she was the ancient one. The one of prophecy."

"It would appear that she might be."

"And there's something else."

"What?"

"She's aware."

"Aware? Of her past lives? How can that be? What did you see?"

"Some of the images were as sharp and clear as photographs. They were like recent memories in her conscious mind rather than images of past lives buried in the subconscious of her soul."

"Now think very carefully. What did the sharp images show?"

"They were— like from the nineteenth century, maybe post civil war. In some, I saw women wearing floor-length dresses with bustles, and in others there were clothes from the early twentieth century. I saw horse-drawn carriages, and boxy, primitive automobiles. I also saw images of World War I fighting and WWII fighting. But they were like newsreels being shown in a theater, not part of her personal life."

"Very good. Were any of the very early images as sharp and clear?"

"None that I can recall. They were sort of fuzzy, like the usual memories I see where people have had past lives."

"Good. Very good. Excellent!"

"What are you going to do?"

"Nothing. You're going to do it. I want you to find her and bring her here so I can talk to her."

"What if she won't come?"

"Find a way to get her here, even if you have to bring her at knifepoint. I must speak with her in private."

*   *   *

Gianni's restaurant, located on a side street behind the county complex, catered mostly to county employees and other locals. As such, it had a steady, year-round clientele. Red and white checked tablecloths covered the tables, while simple wooden chairs, painted glossy black, sat waiting for occupants. The floor was a checkerboard of black and white tiles, and the numerous murals around the room portrayed peasant life in Italy. Filled with delicious-looking Italian pastries, a large cooler with glass doors occupied a place of prominence next to the swinging doors of the kitchen. Powerful aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic filled the room. It reminded Arlene of a restaurant in Syracuse, Sicily, where she had once eaten while visiting the island in the Mediterranean about a century earlier.

As the detective pointed the way to his usual table, conversations among the few other diners became subdued or actually became hushed whispers. It could have been the presence of Lt. Bolger, but Arlene was reasonably certain her presence was responsible for the relative silence. The other diners seemed to be making an effort not to look in their direction while stealing quick glances. It was still early and the lunch crowd hadn't yet arrived, so service was quick.

As they waited for their food, Lt. Bolger said, "At your house, we talked about the number of ghosts that might be around. Have you seen any others besides Simona since you arrived in town?"

"Just one. There's a darling little man sitting on the stool next to the cash register by the front door. He's balding and has a thick moustache. He's not fat, but he has a big belly. He's wearing both a worn black belt and brown suspenders that have embroidered yellow diamonds on them."

Lt. Bolger smiled. "That sounds like Papa Gianni. He passed away a couple of years ago from a heart attack. During the last few years of his life, he was always on that stool when I came in, greeting the customers as they arrived and wishing them well when they left. I remember those brown suspenders. He wore them often. Maria, his daughter, runs this place now. She's a fantastic cook."

"It sounds like he couldn't bear to leave his restaurant, or perhaps his friends, even though he couldn't speak with them anymore. Maybe memories of relatives who had passed on already weren't enough to induce him to cross over. Perhaps when his daughter passes on, he'll follow so they can be together again."

"You make death sound so— appealing."

"It's just another phase of our existence. But if you aren't happy here, you probably won't be happy there. It's what you do in this life that determines how you'll spend your immortal life. You just have to remember that mortal death isn't an end. It's just another step along the highway of existence."

"And for those who are taken to the Underworld?"

"Well, it's a next step for them as well, but I can't say it's a pleasant one. I've never had contact with any of them, and I don't think I'd care to."

"Yeah. Ya know, after you inquired about the murder, we performed a routine investigation of you. An interesting fact came up. We discovered that your inheritance came from your great-great-great-grandmother. She left you the estate and a boatload of money."

"It's hardly a secret, Lieutenant."

"Following my visit, I decided to dig a little deeper. According to the information I received, a blind trust established in 1932 identified you by name, precise lineage, including your mother's maiden name, your precise date of birth, and, most astonishing— your social security number. The original trust documents created in 1932 were certified as never having been altered. Now, we can appreciate how an eager heir might strive to fill the conditions of a trust that would enable him or her to claim a significant inheritance, but I can't understand how anyone could arrange lineage over a couple of generations, much less arrange for a natural birth on a certain date and time. And the strangest part of all is that the social security number specified by your great-great-great-grandmother was recorded a full three years before the Social Security Act was passed into law in August of 1935, with the first numbers not being assigned until November of 1936. Also, the numbering system to be used wasn't decided upon until that year. How do you account for the specifics in the trust?"

"The wonderful thing, Lieutenant, is that I don't have to. The trust documents were certified genuine by a dozen experts. To overcome all possible accusations of tampering, my great-great-great-grandmother actually created five identical trust documents in 1932 and placed them with the most prestigious law firms in the country at that time— one each in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. And all documents that identified the heir remained permanently sealed until 2007 so no one could possibly know the name of the heir or the other specifics until then. Although it couldn't be explained, it was certified beyond any possible doubt that manipulation was impossible."

"But that doesn't answer my question."

"No, it doesn't, does it? It's no secret that my great-great-great-grandmother consulted a tarot deck regularly and was reputed to have extremely powerful precognitive abilities. But I suppose you'll have to decide for yourself."

"But you know, don't you?"

Arlene gave him a look with a hint of a smile that spoke volumes. He just didn't have a clue what those volumes contained.

"Let's just say," Arlene finally said, "that if I told you some of the things I've experienced in my lifetime, you'd probably do your best to have me committed."

With the arrival of their orders, Arlene tried to change the topic. But Lt. Bolger continued to look strangely at Arlene as she endeavored to make small talk, inquiring about his life and career. For the most part, he responded only with monosyllabic answers.

As they prepared to leave the restaurant, Arlene stopped and looked towards the stool near the cash register. After flashing a huge smile, she said, "Excellent meal, Papa."

Lt. Bolger, immediately behind her, paused for a second, glanced towards the empty stool, then at Arlene, then at the stool again. As he passed, he said, "Uh, yeah, it was great, Papa, as always."

The brief comments didn't go unnoticed by the other patrons of the restaurant, and as the door closed, suppressed conversation was replaced by loud and animated discussion.

Outside the restaurant, Lt. Bolger asked, "What did Papa say?"

"Papa? Nothing. He just smiled widely and nodded at us."

"That's what Papa always did when complimented," Lt. Bolger said, looking at Arlene with a poignant expression.

"Another test, Lieutenant?"

"You haven't failed one yet."

"Is that when you'll stop testing me?"

"Let me just say you're making a believer out of me."

Once inside the county courthouse, Lt. Bolger escorted Arlene to a witness chamber next to the courtroom being used for the coroner's inquest. Although not a trial, per se, a coroner's inquest was still a formal investigation, and the detective asked Arlene to take a seat in the special waiting room until she was called to testify.

Rumors of the psychic involvement in the case had been flying around town for two weeks, and the courtroom was packed for the inquest. Like most courtrooms in the U.S., the room used for the inquest had a raised judge's bench at the front of the room and a jury box against the wall on one side, but there were no jurors at a coroner's inquest, so the jury box was empty. An Assistant District Attorney sat at the prosecution table facing the judge's bench, but the defendant's table was vacant. A court stenographer with her special recording device sat next to the witness stand, even though a closed circuit camera and audio system recorded everything that took place.

When the current coroner, Harold Sittweld, took his place in the judge's chair and convened the inquest, he called Lieutenant Bolger to testify. Lt. Bolger read his prepared official report and then waited for questions.

"So, solely on the basis of this dream by a young woman from Massachusetts, you took it upon yourself to have the search and recovery team dig up the streambed, searching for a body?" the coroner asked.

"Yes, sir. I knew of an open missing-persons case where the trail had ended in that approximate vicinity, and the timelines corresponded."

"I see. And the remains were found exactly where this young woman indicated?"

"Yes, sir. Without her lead we might never have found the skeleton."

"I find it amazing that a young girl from another state can have a dream that precisely identifies the final resting place of one of our citizens who has been missing for eleven years."

"Yes, sir. I was skeptical at first as well. But I've since learned of Miss Watson's paranormal powers and witnessed a remarkable demonstration of them."

"What sort of demonstration?"

"I asked the deputy coroner, Mr. Riddell, to substitute one of the bones of the skeleton with one from another skeleton, just to see if our psychics picked up on the switch. As soon as Miss Watson entered the morgue examination room, she walked to the skeleton and removed two bones, saying they didn't belong with the skeleton."

"Two bones, not one?"

"Yes, sir. Two bones. A large one from a leg and a tiny one from a hand."

"And how did she account for her action?"

"She said the spirit of the dead woman had just informed her that the two bones were not part of her skeleton."

A loud murmur passed around the room. The coroner looked up but didn't admonish the crowd.

"And were either of the two bones the one that was substituted?"

"Unknown to me, Deputy Coroner Riddell had switched two bones from another skeleton of approximately the same age, size, and gender. The bones Miss Watson selected were the two substituted bones."

"Are you sure you didn't let information about the switch slip, and she simply somehow picked the correct two bones at random?"

"I had never said a word to her about the substitution. And as I just testified here, I didn't even know the deputy coroner had substituted two bones for the test. I believed he was only going to swap one. And I certainly didn't know which one— just that there would be no obvious, visible differences."

"Very well. You're excused, Lieutenant. Deputy Coroner Riddell is called to give his testimony now."

Two and a half hours later, Lt. Bolger entered the room where Arlene was waiting patiently and took a seat in a chair across from her.

"The inquest is over," he said. "Based on the evidence of the car being found nearby, the testimony of the deputy coroner and a corroborating medical expert, the coroner ruled that the death is suspicious and possibly a homicide. Instead of an open missing-persons case, we have an open murder investigation."

"Over? What about me?"

"I think the coroner was afraid to call you. He's running for reelection this fall and might have feared turning the inquest into a circus. You should have seen the courtroom. It was filled to capacity. We had a murder trial here last year that didn't draw half as many people."

"You mean I drove all this way for nothing?"

"I'm sorry. It's like that sometimes."

Arlene breathed in deeply and then expelled the air quickly to show her exasperation. "I guess I might as well get headed home then. I have a long drive ahead of me."

"I apologize again. And we've appreciated the assistance you've given us in this case. If it's any consolation, I've begun to seriously doubt my former conviction that gho— spirits don't exist."

Arlene smiled. "I suppose that's something. If you work at it, you might even be able to sense them someday."

"Uh, I don't think I'd care to take it to that level. Perhaps that can wait until I— cross over."

"As you wish," Arlene said, standing. Lt. Bolger stood up also.

Narrowing her eyes slightly, Arlene said, "Something tells me I'll see you again, Lieutenant. Very soon."

"I hope you're right, Miss Watson," he said, smiling. "It's been a very pleasurable experience."

Extending her hand, Arlene said, "Goodbye."

Lt. Bolger shook the proffered hand lightly and echoed the parting remark. He stared after her, admiring her legs as she crossed to the door and left the room. Still thinking about her legs, he turned and walked back into the courtroom, taking a shortcut to his office.

Arlene had almost reached her car when she heard, "Excuse me, Madam Arlene, do you have a minute?" Turning, she saw Gisela hurrying towards her.

"I'm so sorry for the way I acted earlier," Gisela began before she had even reached Arlene. "I was just so overwhelmed by your power."

"My power?"

"Yes, of course. My own small ability is through my sense of touch, and I could feel your power coursing through me like an electrical charge as soon as we shook hands."

"Really?" Arlene said, involuntarily flexing her right hand as she recalled the death grip Gisela had had on her hand.

"Yes, of course. And if you have a few minutes, Madam Elana would love to speak with you."

"I have a very long drive ahead of me."

"It will only take a few minutes— and I promise it will be well worth your while. Like yourself, Madam Elana is incredibly gifted."

The opportunity to meet another real spiritualist wasn't something Arlene could pass up. Besides, she felt Gisela wasn't going to take no for an answer without a long argument. And, after all, what were a few more minutes out of an already wasted day?

Leaving her car in the county lot, Arlene followed Gisela to the antiques and curios shop on a side street. The two-story frame building with clapboard siding appeared to be showing signs of age— its grey paint blistering and peeling in the summer sun. Otherwise, the building seemed to be in good condition. As they reached the building, Arlene noticed a slightly lighter paint rather than bare wood beneath the peeling paint, leading her to speculate that the surface of the outer wall might have been especially prepared to have the outer coat of paint buckle and peel, giving the appearance of age and neglect while still protecting the building from the elements. A similarly weathered sign hung over the door, perpendicular to the building to attract foot traffic, and a very large sign announcing Georgina Antiques spanned the entire front of the building. Arlene felt the business might have been better served simply by having a location on the main street. A plastic sign in the window indicated that the store was closed, but the front door opened easily when Gisela turned the handle.

Arlene was instantly delighted she had decided to come. The interior was so much larger than she'd expected, the store extending back more than a hundred feet from the entrance and half that wide, with the contents seeming to run the gamut from large weathervanes and lightning rods to furniture, paintings, and tiny ceramic knick-knacks. The shelves were so crammed with interesting objects that it hardly seemed another thing could be brought into the store. Larger antiques, those that couldn't be placed onto overcrowded shelves, were suspended overhead by wires attached to hooks in the ceiling. It seemed that every nook and cranny was filled with something interesting, and a stairway led to a second floor of merchandise. There was a small amount of dust on some of the goods, but overall the shop was as clean and tidy as could be expected, and there was no hint of the musty odor often found in such shops. Arlene immediately knew she could easily spend days browsing in the store. While she examined a silver tea service that appeared to date from the early 1800s, Gisela hurried to the back of the store.

"Welcome, Madam Arlene," a woman said a few minutes later as she approached Arlene through a packed aisle. Gisela followed behind her. Like Gisela, the woman was dressed all in black, but unlike Gisela, her clothes were chic and her appearance impeccable. In the dim light of the 'closed' shop, and from a distance, Arlene's first impression had been that the woman was in her sixties. But as she got closer, Arlene saw that she appeared to be only in her mid-thirties. With milky skin and long hair as white as freshly fallen snow, Arlene immediately suspected albinism, but her dark brown eyes discounted that speculation. High cheekbones and a narrow nose gave her a decidedly genteel look, and her tailored suit showed off her slender body to its best advantage. She would not have looked out of place at any society event in Boston or New York City. As naturally tall as Arlene and currently wearing three-inch heels, she towered over tiny Gisela.

"It's Miss, not Madam."

"The title is not intended to denote one's marital status. We use it as a sign of respect for the wisest or the most powerful among us."

"Us?"

"We who have certain powers or abilities far beyond those of most other mortals."

"I see. And you include me in that group?"

"I could hardly do otherwise. You detected the location of poor Simona's remains when we could not— and from a great distance."

"I suspect Simona herself is responsible for that. I believe she learned of my gift, located me, and planted the dream in my mind so I would lead the authorities to her remains. I would not otherwise have been able to divine her location."

"Perhaps," Madam Elana said, nodding. "But that doesn't alter the fact that we've been unable to solve the mystery of her disappearance for these eleven years. At times I've wondered if Simona was shielding the details of her death from us."

"Why would she do that?"

"At first it might have been to protect us, but it might also be that she's upset with us for not punishing her killer."

"But why would she be upset? It's not like you knew who her killer was. Um— do you know who her killer was?"

"Oh yes, most certainly."

"Then you must inform the police immediately."

"The police are powerless in this matter. Simona was killed by a demon."

"A demon?"

"Yes, a demon— a former resident of the Underworld who has returned to the Earth as an evil spirit without shape or form."

"But that's impossible," Arlene said. "The seven gates of the Underworld allow passage just one way. Once you're pulled in, you don't get out."

"Don't believe everything you read or hear. The most learned theologians of organized religions go to great lengths to suppress certain truths by spreading disinformation. For those who are most determined, there are always ways to accomplish the seemingly impossible. For a demon to escape the Underworld and roam the Earth again, he only needs the help of a special mortal with the knowledge and ability to grant such freedom."

"But what mortal would do such a thing? Who would have helped a demon escape from hell?"

"Why I did, of course. Didn't Gisela tell you? We're witches."









Chapter Four



"Witches? You're a practitioner of the dark arts?"

"No, not at all. We're not Satanists or anything like that, if that's what you mean. In fact, I was a Christian before I converted to Wicca. Satanists misuse the trappings and rituals of witchcraft in their ceremonies, but they should never be confused with legitimate witches."

"Then why in the name of the Goddess would you have helped a demon escape from the Underworld?"

"It wasn't intentional, I assure you. I discovered a spell scrawled inside the rear cover of an ancient book on herbal healing that I acquired, and I misunderstood its function. The one line of text above the spell said it was 'to summon a spirit that had passed on.' I thought we were merely going to be able to communicate with it. We were hoping to become more enlightened about the immortal world by one who is actually there. None of my coven possesses the great gift you have."

"Your coven?"

"Simona, Gisela, myself, and ten others."

"Thirteen? Isn't that the number favored by practitioners of the dark arts."

"Actually, only three of us had any real power."

"Yes, that's consistent with covens involved in the dark arts. Three powerful witches direct their energy through the group as a whole, using the ten lesser members to help focus the spells."

"Witchcraft is not a dark art, Madam Arlene. There is no worship of the devil or any other evil deity in the craft. I admit that some witches occasionally use their power to harm others, just as a businessman might use his company's powerful position in a marketplace to crush competitors or a politician might use his political or Wall Street connections to destroy an opponent. Not all witches are nice people, but returning the demon to Earth was simply an honest mistake."

"When did you release him?"

"Eleven years ago. Simona was his first victim."

"There have been others?"

"We believe the number to be considerable— perhaps in the high hundreds."

"Hundreds? How can he kill if he has no body?"

"He temporarily invades the body of a living person, taking complete control of their mind and limbs."

"I know spirits from the immortal world can project themselves into the body of a medium, but they can't maintain it for long. It tires them too quickly."

"But this demon is already on this plane of existence and has knowledge accrued on the other side. He can maintain his control substantially longer. When he finally leaves the host to rest, they have no recollection of the atrocious deeds the demon performed while possessing their body."

"There must be some way to stop him, to send him back to the Underworld."

"The only way to send him back is for those who released him to banish him again."

"By those who released him, you mean your coven?"

"Yes."

"Then what have you been waiting for? Banish him."

"It's not as easy as it sounds. We have tried. It was following the first attempt to banish him that he killed Simona. We think he feared we might succeed."

"Why did he only kill Simona? Surely that wouldn't prevent you from trying again."

"We've learned that he can only continue to walk among mortals while those who freed him remain alive. If he had killed all of us, he would have been returned to the Underworld immediately. The amount of power possessed by the coven as a whole is in direct relationship to his strength. Each death of a coven member robs him of power and permanently weakens him. Since Simona was such a powerful witch, I'm sure he felt substantially weakened by her death or he would have already slain Gisela and myself. Her death must have affected him significantly because he didn't kill anyone for months after that. If my death alone would send him back, I would gladly sacrifice myself. But I can't ask that of the others. Most have families and small children."

"But why did he select Simona?" Arlene asked.

"To banish a demon, the incantation must be read by an ancient one," Madam Elana said. "Simona had the oldest and strongest spirit among our coven. Gisela was able to trace her past lives back to the very early 1700's. I think the demon decided he had nothing to fear from the rest of us with Simona gone."

"But Simona's power was like a mere infant— a newborn— compared to yours," Gisela said. "You are so much more powerful than she ever was or ever would have been."

"When we learned that her remains had been located as the result of a phone call from a spiritualist," Madam Elana said, "I used my contacts to learn your name and then looked into your background."

"There seems to be a lot of that going around."

"What?"

"Nothing. Please continue."

"I discovered that you published a book under a nom-de-plume. I was curious, so I purchased a copy. Since it was listed as fiction, I suspected you might have written it using research information you gathered as a result of communing with spirits. I didn't know until today that it was autobiographical."

"Was it?" Arlene asked, noncommittally.

Madam Elana smiled. "Even our coven members don't really know the extent of Gisela's gift, but I can assure you it's formidable. When you shook hands outside the morgue, she got a good look at your past lives. You and your friends really were pulled back in time to provide a life force for the bodies of four young women who had perished. You don't have to be coy with us, Madam Arlene; we know the truth. But we won't reveal it to outsiders. Like most people who are different, we know the value and necessity of keeping secrets."

"As far as that particular secret is concerned, I doubt anyone would believe you. Even my own family doesn't believe it. That's understandable, and I certainly don't hold it against them."

"You need not search for doubt here, Madam Arlene," Gisela said. "We know the truth."

"Just what is it you sense when you touch someone?" Arlene asked.

"I see all sorts of images in my head, such as who or what the person desires, what they've dreamed about lately, and important events from their past lives, if any."

"You can actually see images from their past lives?" Arlene asked Gisela, remembering her trembling, wide-eyed stare.

"Oh, yes. Most people can only recall incidents from within their current lifespan because those memories are stored in their conscious and subconscious mind. But their mind also contains their soul and everything they've witnessed since they were first born . I can see into their conscious, subconscious, and their soul."

"Do most people have past lives?"

"Oddly enough, very few have had past lives. I suppose the overwhelming majority of spirits are content to remain in the immortal world once they've crossed over. They're finally free of all the angst, pain, and suffering present in this world. Of those few who do have past lives, they usually have just one or two, certainly not anything even remotely like your history. And with most people, images from past lives only come through as vague and fuzzy recollections. Some of yours were so real, so vivid, that I was completely overcome. Um— by any chance do you know how old you are?"

"Of course. I'm twenty-one."

Gisela giggled. "No, I mean how old you are, not just this body your soul is currently occupying."

Glancing at Madam Elana and then back to Gisela, Arlene said, "The only other body I've occupied was born in 1864. Until today I believed I'd only had one other life."

"You only remember the one other life," Madam Elana said, "because it happened within the lifetime of this body. When a spirit wishes to leave the immortal world to be reborn on Earth, the conscious mind of the new body has no recollection of past lives. As Gisela said, those memories remain sealed within your eternal soul unless someone manages to unlock them. If you wish, and Gisela agrees, she might be able to put you in touch with many of those memories."

"I have occasionally had dreams of living in the far distant past."

"It's no wonder," Gisela said. "With so many memories from so many past lives, I'd be astonished if you hadn't."

"And now, with your help," Madam Elana said, "we'll finally be able to banish the demon."

Arlene stared intently at Madam Elana for a few seconds, then turned and slowly walked a few steps away before turning and coming back to confront her. "You want me to take Simona's place and risk my mortal life in another attempt to banish this demon?"

"We need an ancient one to read the incantation. If there were any other way, I wouldn't ask. Simona only died because she panicked and ran to her car rather than remaining with the coven when the spell didn't work immediately. That's the last time any of us saw her."

"There's much less danger for you than there was for Simona because we're much better prepared for the demon now," Gisela said. "Also, you're so much more powerful than I believed any living person ever could be."

"What do you mean by powerful?"

"When a spirit chooses to be reborn into the world of mortals, they bring with them the strength of their past life or the combined strength of all their past lives. When we first touched, I could feel your power coursing through me like a lightning bolt. I regret that I wasn't at all prepared for such an encounter and didn't handle it very well. I'm normally able to mask my read of a person, but your power shook me to my center."

"By 'strength,' you're talking about ethereal energy?"

"Yes," Madam Elana said. "The power of your eternal soul, not your physical form. It's the power that enables you, Madam Arlene Watson, to see and hear the words spoken by spirits on this plane of existence and to contact the immortal world. Your connection to the immortal world is surprisingly strong."

"I've been told that by spirits who have crossed over."

"It's that power that gives other certain mortals their psychic abilities, gives Gisela the ability to see into the soul, and gives other mortals precognitive abilities, although it manifests in different ways with different individuals. Most psychics don't have enormous reserves of ethereal energy themselves, but they have the ability to tap into the energy around them. Because of your extreme age and many lifetimes, you carry an enormous reserve within you."

"I've naturally heard of ethereal energy, but I didn't realize it increased with each soul's return from the immortal world."

"Most believe that's really the only way to increase it. It's said that each crossing makes a tremendous difference. New souls have very little, while older souls have a considerable amount. A soul such as yours must be like a dynamo the size of New York City when compared to the portable-generator-sized souls of others who have returned to mortal existence. Only a true ancient can see those who have passed on while the spirit is not manifesting, and only an ancient can let her mind roam in the immortal world while her mortal form still exists on Earth."

"I don't think I'm as powerful as you believe. It's true that I can see spirits and that I've been able to contact those who have crossed over, but I would hardly say that I can roam the immortal world with my mind."

"That's only because you haven't been taught how. From what I gathered while reading your book, you've received no formal training in the use of your powers."

"I didn't even know there was training available," Arlene said.

"There are a few sources, but they can hardly advertise in the yellow pages. They might well have contacted you after your book was printed but for the fact that you categorized it as fiction and used a pen name."

"I didn't wish to be branded as being part of a lunatic fringe by an ignorant public. I just had an overwhelming need to tell my story. As it was, I had to self-publish the novel because no literary agent or mainstream publishing house was interested. They all said there were far too many nineteenth-century, chick-lit novels in the pipeline where the protagonist had traveled back in time."

"If you'll help us, I'll put you in touch with the elders of one group who can teach you to use your powers in ways you haven't dreamed of, with the ultimate goal of being able to visit the immortal world while your soul still resides here in the mortal world. I'm sure they will welcome you."

"And if I choose not to risk my mortal life?"

"We have another— one who has already volunteered, although her power is insignificant when compared to yours and certainly not as developed. Come with me."

Turning away, Madam Elana walked through aisles crowded with antiques towards the rear of the store as if supremely confident that Arlene would follow. Curious, Arlene did follow. Reaching the door at the rear of store from which she had appeared earlier, Madam Elana pushed it open to reveal her office. A young girl of perhaps fourteen or fifteen years, with hair the color of midnight, sat calmly in an oak swivel chair in front of an antique roll-top desk as she worked on a computer. Arlene would have known her anywhere.

"Madam Arlene, meet Simona's daughter, Oculara. Like her mother, she has the gift of clairvoyance. Gisela says her soul is at least four centuries old, but her power is still a bit limited, having only emerged in the past year."

The young girl stood up, smoothed her black dress, and extended her hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Madam Arlene. Thank you for helping my mother. Are you going to join the coven and help us banish her killer back to the Underworld?"

"I'm pleased to meet you, Oculara. I'm so sorry about your mother. How are you doing, dear?"

"I lost her so long ago that finding her remains hasn't had a tremendous impact on my life. I'm just glad it's finally over and that I know now she didn't willingly desert me. I was at the inquest today when they talked about you. Is it true my mother contacted you and told you where she had been killed?"

"She planted a memory in my mind. It was of her final minutes on the night she was killed. I was able to deduce where her remains were buried from that. I didn't actually meet your mother until she came to my house with Lieutenant Bolger. She left with him, and I didn't see her again until today at the hospital. You have her beautiful face."

"Thank you." Oculara said. Taking a quick look around the room, she asked, "Is she here with us now?"

Arlene also glanced quickly around the room. "I don't see her."

"Madam Elana says that any spiritualist with the power to summon someone from the immortal world can always see the spirits who haven't crossed over. Wouldn't you know if she was here?"

"Normally, yes. But I've learned that spirits in this reality have a way of hiding their appearance, even from me. It requires them to expend significant energy, so they only do it when they believe they have a very good reason for concealment."

"So if she's here, she may not want me to know she's here?"

"I couldn't know what her reasons might be, dear, if she was here. I haven't spoken with her very much. She answered a few questions about her death while at my home, and then she told me about the bones being switched when I arrived at the morgue. I'd like to have another opportunity to talk with her about her death, so if she's here, she might be concealing herself for that reason."

"You think she doesn't want to talk about her death?" Oculara asked.

Arlene looked at Oculara intently. Simona certainly seemed to be reticent to discuss her death with Arlene. She could have just come to her and told her of her desire to have her remains uncovered instead of planting the memory and causing Arlene to be plagued by a week of sleepless nights.

"I'm sure she's not hiding from you, honey," Madam Elana said. Moving to stand behind the young girl, she wrapped her arms around her. "She's obviously not here just now."

Madam Elana made a peculiar face at Arlene that Ocular couldn't see, as if pleading with her to support her statement.

Arlene understood and closed her eyes for several seconds, then opened them and looked at Oculara. "That's right, dear," Arlene said, smiling at Oculara. "Even when they're trying to hide from me, I can usually sense their presence without concentrating, and when I concentrate I can always sense their presence. I feel— nothing— right now."

Oculara smiled. "Thank you, Madam Arlene."

Arlene wondered if the child's ability allowed her to see through the attempt to make her feel better. Arlene did feel a hidden presence in the room but couldn't know if it was the spirit of Simona or that of someone else.

"Honey," Madam Elana said to Oculara, "would you go help Gisela reopen the shop? We need all the sales we can get during these days of plenty."

Oculara smiled and said, "Of course, Madam Elana." Standing up, Oculara said to Arlene, "I'm so glad you're here," before turning and walking from the room.

When the door had closed, Madam Elana said, "I took Oculara in when Simona disappeared."

Arlene held up her hand to stop her. Speaking barely above a whisper, Arlene said, "Before you go any further, you should know that I lied to Oculara to make her feel better. I do feel a presence. The spirit has chosen to mask itself visually, but I know one is here." Raising her voice slightly, she said, "Spirit, your presence is known. Show yourself." After a few seconds, Arlene said, "It's gone."

"Who was it?"

"I don't know. It never revealed itself."

"Could it have been the demon?"

"I suppose. I've never had any experience in that regard so I don't know how to differentiate between demons and spirits who haven't yet crossed over."

"We'll have to be careful with what we say," Madam Elana said.

"It's gone now, so you can speak openly. If it was the demon, it now knows my powers are sufficient that I can sense its presence even when it tries to cloak itself from me, so that might keep it away. Doesn't Oculara have any relatives?"

"Her father died in an auto accident when she was just a year old. Simona's parents have passed on, she had no siblings, and Oculara's paternal grandparents couldn't care less if they ever see her. They never approved of their son's marriage to Simona."

"She's lovely. Surely you can't intend to use this child to banish the demon?"

"What choice do we have if you won't do it? She's our only other ancient soul. Each time this demon strikes, he claims two victims. He must be stopped."

"Two?" Arlene said. "I thought he only killed one each time."

"He does, but the person he uses to actually commit the act is as much a victim. When he leaves the body he has taken over, the person finds himself or herself standing over a body, holding poison, a bloody knife, a club, or something else that shows they're responsible for the death. Of course, the police naturally treat it as a regular homicide. In a couple of cases, the person left a note before committing suicide out of grief over an act they said they didn't even remember committing. We have no way of knowing how many times the demon has struck, but the homicide rate inside an area of fifty miles from this town has spiked in the last decade."

"Fifty miles?"

"Thereabouts. I believe he gets too weak if he travels much farther than that from the coven. We're his power base, of sorts."

"Where did you hear that?"

"It's stated in a book I acquired after our first attempt to banish him."

"A book of spells?"

"A book on demonology. Once we had released him, I had to find a way to send him back, quickly. I knew that none of the books I already owned told of a way to accomplish it, so I began to collect books that might."

"And these books are the source of everything you know about this demon and the ways to banish him?"

"Yes."

"And none of them require a pledge of fidelity or homage to an evil deity to accomplish the goal?"

"No."

"Then where does your power to work a spell come from, if not from a deity?"

"The same ethereal energy that empowers you works our spells. All living things have ethereal energy, although so minutely in some cases as to be almost nonexistent. But when it's all pulled together, it's enormous. That's the power source we're tapping into when we cast a spell."

"I see. What happened on the night you released the demon?"

"My coven met on a piece of property I own outside of town. It's big, isolated, and surrounded on three sides by mountainous, state-owned land, so we can usually be assured of complete privacy. Near the center of my land is an open meadow. It's a place where we can let down our hair, so to speak, and do what we want. Once everyone was there, we formed a circle and held hands. I remained outside the circle and recited the spell after ringing a small bell three times. When I had finished, I tossed a pouch containing a mixture of herbs and other ingredients that I had prepared in advance into the circle. Then we waited for something to happen."

"And then?" Arlene asked.

"Nothing happened, so I rang the bell again and repeated the spell, then repeated it again a few minutes later. When we still didn't see any results, I figured the spell was fake."

"But it wasn't?"

"No. Just as we were about to break the circle, the grass inside started to swirl violently. It was like a small twister had set down directly in front of us. I can hardly believe that some of my coven didn't run screaming for their cars at that point, but everyone held steady, as if they had been expecting that to happen. A few seconds later the wind calmed and a luminous, transparent cloud appeared in the center of the circle. I thought we had succeeded in calling a spirit from the immortal world, although I was surprised it hadn't selected a medium through which to speak."

"If it had been a spirit from the immortal world, that's what it would have done. They can't manifest here or perform any physical acts."

"I haven't had your experience, Madam Arlene. This was all new to us."

"Please continue, Madam Elana."

"I greeted the— visitor, and asked how we might communicate. The cloud became more opaque and much brighter. It moved close to the ring of coven members at one point and then traveled slowly around inside, stopping at each coven member for a couple of seconds. After it had completed a full revolution, it came closest to where I was standing. I asked again how we might communicate. I heard a voice inside my head, deep and masculine, say, 'I am Kamet. You have freed me from the Underworld. For that, I spare your life. Be gone from this place and never attempt to summon me again or a life will be forfeit.'"

Madam Elana stopped talking and stared at Arlene for a second before turning away.

"What's wrong?"

"I released a powerful and evil force upon the world. I hate myself for being so stupid."

"As you've said, it was an honest mistake. But you must continue your efforts to banish the demon back to the Underworld until you succeed."

"It's all I've lived for since Simona was killed."

"Tell me about the night she died."

"At an estate auction in Los Angeles, I purchased a crate of books about demonology and the occult. They were in terribly sad condition, so I picked them up for a song, as rare book prices go. As soon as I returned home, I had them all reconditioned and rebound in their original covers. Over the next few weeks, I studied them whenever I had an opportunity. One of the books, printed in England in about the fourteenth century, talked of a demon that had been released from the Underworld. The world was a much more violent place then, and he was able to sate his appetite for death by accompanying a crusade to the Holy Land. During battles, he could jump from crusader to crusader, wherever the action was the thickest, until he was exhausted."

"Thank God Kamet doesn't seem to be as bloodthirsty, or at least not as powerful."

"Amen," Madam Elana said.

"How was the demon able to join the crusade? Wasn't he restricted to the fifty-mile limitation?"

"I don't know. The book didn't say. Perhaps he was released by the crusaders themselves, looking for an edge."

"That would be a pretty sick edge. Freeing a demon to help you free a Holy Land?"

"Perhaps his release was a mistake also. The book didn't relate the circumstances under which he was released. I suppose the author didn't want anyone else trying it."

"I assume the demon was eventually banished back to the Underworld. Does the book say how?"

"Not specifically. It only states that when the crusaders returned, the demon was sent back forthwith by a monk whose soul spanned the centuries. We presume that means an ancient. Perhaps more importantly, the text mentions the release of another demon, much earlier, as recorded in a book written by a twelfth-century Italian scholar. That was before Gutenberg introduced his version of the printing press in Europe, and books were copied by hand. I haven't been successful in getting my hands on a copy. Of the three I've tracked down, one is in the National Museum in Prague, and the others are in private European collections. I've also heard a rumor that one exists in the Vatican archives, but they refuse to even comment on that. The museum director in Prague has so far refused me access, but I have a couple of ideas that might provide a solution to that."

"You're telling me that you haven't yet found a spell that will banish the demon?"

"Well, I hadn't yet found one when Simona was killed."

"Then why did it attack Simona?"

"When we couldn't find a spell, I composed one myself. We had to try something."

"You composed a spell?"

"I had to try something."

"What happened?"

"I summoned Kamet— and he actually showed up. But when I read the spell, I heard him laugh. Then I heard him say, 'You were warned never to summon me again. For failing to heed my words, a life is now forfeit.' A second later the cloud raced towards one of the coven members and seemed to be absorbed into her body. Once in control of a human form, Kamet released the hands of the coven members on either side and ran at Simona. As he reached her, she released the coven members on either side and was knocked down. Kamet then began throttling her as he sat on her chest. Several of us immediately pulled him off, but once free of his weight Simona panicked and ran for her car. We tried to hold him as long as we could, but his strength was incredible, and he broke free. He managed to get to a coven member's car and race off after Simona. If only Simona hadn't run. I'm sure we could have saved her. It would have been twelve against one until the demon tired and left the body."

"Whose body did the demon enter?"

Madam Elana looked at Arlene with a resolve that Arlene was sure would never crack. "We've all sworn an oath never to reveal that information. That person wasn't responsible for Simona's death. It was the demon who had taken over the body. It could do no good for anyone to know the identity of the person, and it might cause someone to be punished unfairly. There have already been far too many innocent people hurt and killed."

"Yes, I agree. And I don't think another attempt to banish the demon should be attempted until you have the proper spell."

"I have found a spell that promises to send a soul to the Underworld. We haven't tried it simply because we didn't have an ancient to read it. We've been waiting for Oculara's powers to reach a point where we could feel she was reasonably safe."

"Simona was fully grown, and she wasn't safe. How safe do you expect a fifteen-year-old child to be?"

"But we know much more now than we did back then."

"Do you know for a fact that the spell will work?"

"We haven't seen it work, if that's what you mean."

"Where did you find it?"

"I discovered it in a book of spells being sold by a small press in New York City."

"Have you tried any of the other spells in the book?"

"No. Most are for doing spiteful things like covering your enemy's face with warts or causing them to lose their jobs or spouses. We're not into that kind of witchcraft."

"So you don't know if any of them have merit. For all you know they might have been written by a hack who was getting paid $5.00 for each spell he or she could dream up, like those fools who write stories for the supermarket tabloids. You've already seen what happens when you attempt to cast a spell that has no power."

"It's all we have. We have to try something."

"But not if it's the wrong thing. I'd like to see the books you've acquired in your effort to banish Kamet."

"Does this mean you'll help us?" Madam Elana asked.

Arlene could see hope filling Madam Elana's eyes, but she wasn't ready to commit herself just yet, even though she knew she could never allow Oculara to be placed in such danger. "No. I haven't made up my mind yet. I want to feel reasonably certain that I have at least a chance of making it through alive before I agree."

"That's fair enough," Madam Elana said. "Follow me."

Madam Elana led the way through a door at the rear of the office where a stairway descended to a basement level. At the bottom of the stairs, a steel door that looked like a bank vault door barred further access until Madam Elana held her hand against a palm-reading plate. When her hand had been scanned, a loud click could be heard, and the door opened an inch. It was perfectly balanced so it didn't require a great deal of effort as Madam Elana pulled it open and led the way into what appeared to be a security enclosure. The glass vestibule was only large enough for two people at a time to enter.

"The environment in the library is controlled for temperature, and humidity," Madam Elana said as she closed the first glass door behind them and then pressed her hand against another palm scanner. "Once that glass door behind us is closed and locked, it will just take a few seconds to exchange the air. The door in front of us won't open unless the first door has been sealed and the system approves of the environment in this small area."

"I'm impressed," Arlene said as a loud click could be heard, indicating the first door had locked and sealed. A slight breeze could then be felt as the air in the area was exchanged. When the system was satisfied, the glass door in front of them popped open an inch or so.

"If for some reason this glass door won't open, just press the red button next to the entrance door and that one will open again. When you leave the library, the system doesn't sample the air. You just have to make sure the inner glass door has been fully closed and locked. I'm sure you know that old books must be kept in a controlled environment and handled with delicacy if we want to preserve them for future generations. Once it's been opened for access, we only lock the vault door at night, but it will unlock at any time from inside."

As Madam Elana pushed the second glass door open, the room illuminated with a low intensity light. She said "Lights at level five," and the room brightened considerably. "It's all done by voice command. There are ten light levels. When they first come on, they're at level one."

"Now I'm really impressed. You wouldn't think from the appearance of the store that you were so computerized."

"It's all state of the art, but I've found that if you keep the appearance rustic, the buyers tend to spend more freely. Still, we have advanced shoplifter-detection controls, and every square inch of the shop area is covered by cameras from several angles."

"What happens if there's a power failure? How do you get out of here?"

"Not a problem. For emergencies, we have a large propane-fueled generator capable of handling the store and this library for up to seven days. Only half of this level is devoted to the library. The other half is devoted to storage of goods for the store. There's a solid concrete wall dividing the two spaces."

The area where they entered was enormous and filled with bookshelves. They weren't the fancy sort of wooden bookcases that might be found in a home but rather the metal bookshelves typically found in a book store or public library, and all of the shelves seemed to be filled to capacity.

"Which books have you purchased since Simona was killed?" Arlene asked.

"All of them. My original small library, with my herbal spells, is still at my house."

"All of them? You must have three thousand books here."

"Closer to six. For eleven years I've bought everything I could find that had the remotest possibility of containing information that would help us banish Kamet— or at least everything I could afford. A lot of rare books fetch a king's ransom at auction houses, so I mostly buy at estate auctions. And sometimes I get very lucky when I buy a box of old books. Last year, after purchasing the entire contents of an old bookstore in Brooklyn from an estate, I found some sealed crates in the basement that probably hadn't been opened in fifty years. One book alone was worth the total I paid for the entire store. I've cleaned and resold any books not related to religion or the occult, as well as any duplicates I've acquired. It's greatly helped offset the cost of acquiring others. There's a complete index of every book I've purchased on the computer. Follow me."

Madam Elana led the way to the rear of the library area past dozens of shelving units filled with books until they reached a room that contained an enormous wooden table and a dozen chairs.

"This is our reading room. We come here to study the texts in our search for the information we need to banish Kamet."

Arlene breathed deeply and released it. The value of the collection had to be incredible. "The college library at Bryn Mawr is reputed to contain one of the largest private collections of incunabula," Arlene said. "It includes the first printed versions of many classical, medieval, and Renaissance works. Most of your books appear to have been printed after 1500, but if your collection is comprised solely of religious and occult works, it has to be one of the largest such parochial collections in the U.S.— perhaps even the largest in the world outside of the Vatican. It could take years to get through all of this."

"I've already been working on it for years, and I've only been through about a third of the English section of the library. The vast majority of the books are in English, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, and German, but a not inconsiderable number are in Arabic, Egyptian, Turkish, Hebrew, Farsi, Aramaic, and God knows what else. Even the English tomes are difficult to get through. Middle English is a far cry from the way we speak now."

"In my other life," Arlene said, "young ladies from better homes were dissuaded from pursuing an education that one might construe as leading to a working career. From their earliest years they were instead educated in classical literature, music, and art. By the time she reached her teens, Amelia Westfield could read Latin, Greek, and German. By the time she graduated from finishing school, she had added Italian, French, and Spanish. It permitted her to read any of the classics in their original form. I have those memories, but I don't have a clue when it comes to languages from the Asian and African continents. In any event, it sounds like we'll need lots of help."

"Who can we trust to keep our research a secret once they know what we're looking for and why?"

"I know three people whom I would unhesitatingly trust with my life."

"The girlfriends you wrote about in your book?"

"The very same."

"Will they help?"

"They will when they understand the importance."

"You'll need a place to stay. Gisela and Oculara live with me, and I don't have enough room for four more in my small house, but I think I know where a furnished house is available. The owner had rented it for the summer, but the renter backed out at the last minute. I'll check to see if it's still available."

Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, Arlene said, "I'll call my friends.

"We'll have to go upstairs to get a signal from a cell tower, but you can use the landline phone on the table."









Chapter Five



Erin parked the silver Saab a few doors down from the antique shop and joined Renee and Megan on the sidewalk as they exited the passenger side of the vehicle. For the long drive, the girls had opted for jeans and tee shirts, the informal summertime wear of twenty-one-year-olds throughout North America, if not the world. But while Renee and Megan were wearing tennis shoes, Erin showed her preference for open-toed wedge sandals. The two-inch thick soles gave Erin just enough additional height to have Megan, at five-foot, five-inches, appear as the shortest of the quartet.

Pushing her shoulder-length brunette hair back behind her ears, Megan looked around with shining brown eyes. Her adorable face, with its button nose, always projected a child-like innocence. "Gee, if it wasn't for all the mountains and trees here," she said, "we could still be in New Bedford. It doesn't look much different than home."

"We're in a different state, Meg," Renee said, grinning, "not a different country."

Megan's infectious smile and effervescent personality made her a favorite target for Renee's wit. Giggling, she said, "I know, Ren. I just expected it to look more— different, sorta."

The girls had spoken to Arlene on her cell as they entered town and knew she was in the antique shop, so they had begun moving in that direction as they talked. They were halfway there when the front door opened and Arlene stepped out. The girls rushed excitedly to one another, hugging as they met.

"I'm so glad you could come," Arlene said. "I need your help desperately."

"What's the big emergency?" Renee asked. "On the phone yesterday you made it sound like the world is going to end— today."

"For someone it might," Arlene said.

"Now what does that mean?" Erin asked.

"Let's go inside. We can't talk about it out here."

Entering the shop first, Arlene turned in time to see the eyes of each of her friends widen as they took in the contents of the shop.

"Wow," Megan said, speaking first. "Look at this place. It's wonderful."

"It's awesome," Renee said.

"I could spend a week shopping in here," Erin said. "Or maybe a month."

"Later," Arlene said. "Right now there's work to do. Let me introduce Oculara," she said as the fifteen-year-old approached them. "Oculara, these are my friends. This is Megan, Erin, and Renee."

"I'm very pleased to meet all of you," Oculara said. "I've been reading about you."

"About us?" Renee asked a little warily.

"In Madam Arlene's book. Madam Elana lent me her copy last night. I stayed up reading until I couldn't possibly keep my eyes open anymore. Imagine going back through time and living a lifetime as someone else. I admire you all so much."

"You told them about that book of yours?" Erin said to Arlene in an accusing tone.

"No," Arlene said, "Madam Elana already knew about the book and guessed the rest after we met. Don't worry. We're among friends and kindred spirits here. They won't be spreading the word about our past life."

"I'm sorry if I've upset you," Oculara said nervously.

"It's alright, Oculara," Megan said. "We're not upset. It was just a bit of a shock. Except for our immediate families, who don't believe it anyway, we've never told anyone what happened to us. And no one has ever guessed before."

"Did you just refer to her as Madam Arlene?" Renee asked Oculara.

"Of course."

"I'll explain later, Ren," Arlene said as several women entered the shop. "Oculara, we'll be downstairs for a while."

"Very good, Madam Arlene," she said as she turned to greet the new shoppers.

As the three young women stepped into the library and saw the bookshelves filled to capacity, their eyes widened. "My God, Ar," Erin said, "what is this? The town library?"

"Most of these books are religious in nature and were written by theologians and religious scholars. I would hazard a guess and say that this is perhaps the most complete library on the occult and demonology in the entire United States. For the past eleven years, Madam Elana has been on a one-person crusade to acquire every book she could afford on the subject. This collection represents a veritable fortune in rare books."

"Is that why this place is built like a bank vault?" Erin asked.

"Yes. And it's where we'll be working for the next few weeks."

"Uh oh," Renee said, "I'm starting to get that funny feeling again."

"Why did that girl upstairs refer to you as Madam Arlene?" Megan asked.

"These people use the title Madam as a sign of respect for those with superior paranormal powers."

"These people?" Erin said questioningly.

"They're witches."

"Witches?" Megan echoed.

"Not evil witches," Arlene said quickly. "They're Wicca. But they've tampered with forces they didn't understand, and as a result they've created a tremendous mess they can't resolve alone."

"What sort of mess?" Renee asked.

"Let's go into the reading room," Arlene said. Once they had taken seats at the table, Arlene said, "They've— released a demon from the Underworld— one that's gone on a killing rampage now that he's free."

"What?" Erin said loudly.

"They were trying to contact a spirit from the immortal world, as we've done in séances, but they misunderstood the meaning of the spell they cast. It wasn't intended to contact someone in the immortal world but rather to free a specific demon from the Underworld."

"Oh my God!" Renee said. "No, wait a minute! Didn't you once tell us it's impossible to escape the Underworld once you've been pulled in?"

"Apparently it's impossible to escape— but one can be freed by a mortal with the knowledge to accomplish it."

"And you say this demon is killing people?" Erin asked. "Is that why you said 'For someone it might'?"

"Simona, the woman in my dreams, is believed to have been the first. She was a member of the coven that released the demon. Since then, for the past eleven years, the demon has been on a killing rampage. Nobody knows how many other victims there have been because the demon kills by directly influencing innocent people to commit the act. By the way, the girl upstairs— Oculara— is Simona's daughter."

"And you want to get mixed up in this?" Renee asked.

"No, I don't. But they need help— my help. If this demon isn't banished back to the Underworld, he'll be able to continue his killing spree until all the coven members involved in freeing him die of old age."

"How can we help?" Erin asked. "We don't have your power to see and communicate with spirits."

"Apparently this isn't the first time a demon has been freed from the Underworld. Madam Elana has found references to at least two other instances. Our first priority is to read through these books, looking for anything of relevance to those or other instances. We must find a way to banish the demon."

"There must be thousands of books here," Renee said. "It will take forever."

"It's a formidable task," Arlene said. "And— I haven't told you the worst part yet."

"You mean there's something worse than a demon that's going around killing innocent people?" Erin asked.

"No, not worse than that," Arlene said. "I was referring to the reading chore ahead of us. The books aren't all written in English."

"Not English?" Megan asked.

"Well, some are, but we'll leave those to Madam Elana and the members of her coven. We should concentrate on the books written in Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, and German."

"I don't know, Ar," Renee said. "My Latin was never very good. Neither was my Greek for that matter. It's been probably eighty years since I used any French and even longer for Italian, Spanish, or German."

"Our other selves were all educated in those six languages, and I'm sure we still have those memories. They'll come back to us, and we'll help each other as much as we can. Erin, you were always best in Latin, so why don't you concentrate on those books. Renee can take on the Italian books while Megan takes the French texts. I'll tackle the Greek books. Whoever finishes their group first can start on the Spanish or German texts. That will just leave the Egyptian and Asian books. We'll need to find someone who can help us there if we can't find an answer in the others."

"This is impossible," Erin said. "We have to return to school at the end of August you know."

"I know, but perhaps we'll find the answer quickly, and then the coven can perform their role in all this."

"Perhaps we should hold a séance," Megan suggested.

"A séance?" Arlene said with surprise. "You always hated our séances."

"Yes, I did, but only because the spirits kept using me as a medium. I've never remembered anything that occurred afterwards."

"What possible good would a séance do?" Erin asked. "The spirits never really gave us any useful information. Everything was recondite and steeped in ambiguity."

"Arlene once said that the soul remembers every single detail of anything that's ever happened to it, regardless of how insignificant," Megan said. "If so, their memories of their lessons from school will be stronger than the memories we have of their studies."

"What of it?" Renee said.

"Maybe the spirits of the girls we replaced could refresh our memories in the languages they studied like they did with personal information in the past. They owe us, don't they?"

"But those were different bodies," Erin said. "Their brains already contained the memories of everything the girls had learned."

"Our souls merged with their bodies, so we must have brought all those memories back with us. Right?"

The three girls looked questioningly at Arlene.

"I don't know," Arlene said. "It sounds plausible. I still remember so much of Amelia's early childhood that it feels like I was there. But I promised Jeremy in 1883 that I'd never perform another séance."

"Why not?" Erin asked.

"He was afraid people would have a negative view of my association with the occult. We had a position in society to maintain."

"That was another body in another lifetime. Amelia Westfield died and was buried. You didn't promise him that Arlene Watson wouldn't conduct séances."

"That's true, I guess. Strictly speaking I'm no longer bound by that promise. And this is a special case. Should we try?"

"I'm game to try," Erin said. "I could use a little help with my Latin. Even with the required study for my medical career, I don't know if I'm up to translating ancient religious texts."

"Why not," Renee said, shrugging her shoulders. "What have we got to lose?"

"Okay," Arlene said, nodding.

"When will we do it?" Megan asked. "Midnight tonight?"

"Why not right now?" Arlene asked.

"Now?" Erin questioned. "We don't have candles or aromatic food. And it's not midnight."

"We'll dim the lights so they won't be a distraction. I don't think we'll need the props anymore. My ability to interact with spirits has increased tremendously since we were sixteen, so perhaps my power to contact those in the immortal world has increased as well. Madam Elana told me recently that I'm even strong enough to roam the immortal world with my mind. I simply lack the training."

"Okay," Erin said. "We can always fall back on the tried and true if this attempt fails."

It took the girls just a few seconds to prepare for the séance, seating themselves at the table, palms pressed flat down on the surface with pinkies touching their neighbor's. Arlene said, "Lights at level one," and the lights dimmed considerably.

"Kewl," Megan said. "Did you just do that simply by telling them to dim?"

"Yes, there are ten levels. This is the lowest level."

"Lights at level ten," Megan said. The room suddenly brightened so much that it actually hurt eyes that had just adjusted to near darkness. Megan's smile extended from ear to ear.

"Okay, Meg, we'll play later," Arlene said. "Let's get the séance over with first. Lights at level one."

As the four girls touched pinkies again, Arlene concentrated with all her being on projecting her mind into the immortal world. The others closed their eyes and also concentrated on reaching out to the spirits.

"We are trying to contact the departed spirit of Amelia Turner, Martha Fuller, Elizabeth Reese, or Roberta Johnson," Arlene said. "I am Arlene Watson. Please answer my call."

The room was deathly silent for several minutes. Arlene didn't repeat the call. She just sat and waited, stretching out with her mind to make contact.

"Arlene Watson," Megan suddenly said, "it is I, Amelia Turner."

"Welcome Amelia. It's a pleasure to speak with you again after so many years."

"And for me. We owe you much. Our parents send their love to— their second daughter."

"Tell them that I love them and miss them. We shall all meet again one day."

"I shall, but my time here is short. Why have you summoned me, my sister?"

"I need your help. A demon has been released from the Underworld, and I've been asked to help banish him back to the Underworld. Can you tell us how to accomplish that?"

"I see the demon of whom you speak. His is a black and evil soul. He is aware of your presence and purpose. You are in grave danger, sister. You should leave this place and not return."

"The ones who released him did so accidentally and have been unable to banish him. He cannot be allowed to continue his evil ways on Earth. Can you tell us how to return him to the Underworld?"

"I know not how to accomplish that. I would certainly tell you if I did."

"That's as I feared. But perhaps you can help in a different way. We know you have the ability to influence the minds of mortals. Can you and the others strengthen the dim memories we carry of your studies in the classical languages so we might better study ancient texts?"

"We can."

"Then please do so. It will be of great benefit to us."

"It will be done. I tire and must leave now, Arlene. We shall be watching. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Amelia. Thank you."

"Megan?" Arlene said after a few seconds.

"Yes, Ar?

"It's over. Thank you."

The sound of someone taking a deep breath drew their attention and the girls all turned their heads toward the doorway. Madam Elana was standing there.

"Girls," Arlene said, by way of introduction, "this is Madam Elana. Madam Elana, these are my friends— Megan Kearney-Heston, Renee Dennis, and Erin McDonald."

"How do you do, ladies? Welcome to Lake Georgina. Madam Arlene, that was exhilarating. You did it so easily and so simply. I've seen several self-proclaimed spiritualists perform séances, but there was always a theatrical air about them. They lit special candles, chanted vague verses, or spoke in tongues. In the end, they never seemed able to contact the spirit that was sought. You did it as simply as making a long distance phone call."

"We didn't realize anyone was watching," Renee said. "It's much more impressive when we light dozens of candles, sacrifice a live chicken, and then chant for ten minutes from the Book of Psalms."

"Stop it, Renee," Arlene said, giggling. "Madam Elana, we've never chanted or sacrificed a live animal. We did use three candles and aromatic food in earlier years because I once read somewhere they were necessary to attract the spirits, but we've dispensed with those now. And in case you haven't realized it, Renee is our comic relief. She keeps things from getting too serious."

Madam Elana smiled. "So I see. I must say again that seeing you make contact with the immortal world was most exhilarating. Is Megan always your medium?"

"Yes, darn it," Megan said. "And I never know what's happened until it's over. What did happen, by the way? Who came?"

"Amelia. She said they'll refresh our memories. That was an excellent suggestion, Meg."

"I hope it helps. Was that all that happened?"

"Not all. She told me my parents from my past life send their love. She also told me that the demon is aware of my presence here and that I'm in danger."

"More specifically," Erin said, "she stated that his is a black and evil soul, and that you're in grave danger. She also said you should leave this place and not return."

"Do you think she foresaw your death?" Renee asked.

"We've learned that many possibilities for the future exist and that our actions can alter what will be, but there is danger, so we must be very careful not to misstep. We must be fairly certain that when we find a way to banish the demon, it has a good chance of succeeding."

"Then let's get to work," Erin said. "Where are the books written in Latin?"

"Out the door to the left. The bookcase is marked," Arlene said. "The Italian texts are to the right of the Latin texts. The French texts are out the door and to the right. Boxes of white cotton gloves are located around the rooms. Remember the age of the manuscripts and treat them gently. Use the strips of acid-free paper here on the table to mark your place."

As the girls started to rise from the table to retrieve their first book of many, Arlene added, "Remember, we can't skim over any parts of these books. We don't have to memorize anything we read, but we must read every line. When you complete a book, make a notation in the index on the computer. If you find any reference to demons living on Earth, banishing them, or even exorcisms, make a notation of the page number or whatever other reference you can in the computer, put a strip of the acid-free paper there, and set the book aside when you've finished reading it. Otherwise put the book back where you found it and go on to the next."

Madam Elana moved out of the way to allow the young women to pass but held up her hand as Arlene neared her.

"Perhaps I was wrong to ask this of you. You should do as the immortal suggested. If the demon knows you're here, he might already be formulating a plan to kill you."

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but I won't be run off. We know he's responsible for Simona's death, and only he and God knows how many others. He'll continue until he's stopped, and we're the only ones who can stop him."

"You weren't part of the coven that released him, so he probably won't be weakened by your death. There's nothing to prevent him from coming after you."

"I realized that before I asked to see the books you had amassed. I have one advantage that no one else has, as far as I know. I have the ability to see him coming."

"You said spirits can hide from you if they wish. Doesn't that apply to demons as well?"

"I imagine so. But he presents no danger while he's trying to remain invisible to me."

"What about when he assumes someone's body."

"That's when he becomes dangerous."

"But can you detect him then?"

"I don't know yet. I suppose it depends on just how powerful he is and the amount of energy it takes to control the body he's selected. If it takes all his energy just to control the body, he may not have enough to hide the aura that normally surrounds a spirit. Let's hope that's the case. Forewarned is forearmed."

*   *   *

On Thursday evening, the four young women met the full coven, it being their regular night to gather. The coven members treated Arlene and her friends like visiting celebrities. Apparently Madam Elana had told the others of Arlene's book, and each witch had procured a hardbound copy, which they had brought along with them to have signed. Some had two. After Arlene had signed the books and penned short notes inside the front cover, each witch presented the book to Erin, Roberta, and Renee for their signatures. Each young woman signed with her nineteenth-century name.

"Mrs. Stintson at the book store had a difficult time tracking down the copies we ordered," Evelyn Dowd, perhaps the oldest of the coven members, said. "They only arrived today."

"She might have cleaned out the printer's warehouse," Arlene said. "I only paid to have a thousand copies produced when it was printed two years ago, and a hundred of those were sent to reviewers at newspapers and reviewing services. According to my latest statement from the printer, the supply had finally shrunk to double digits by the beginning of this year."

"Mrs. Stintson is trying to track down more. Since we ordered first, she had to fill our order first, but half the women in town have called her looking to purchase a copy."

"Really?" Arlene uttered in surprise.

"Yes, really. Perhaps you should consider printing additional copies."

"Perhaps," Arlene said.

Once all the books had been signed and put away, Arlene explained the need for assistance and the women used the rest of their time reading from the English texts. Several promised to return whenever they could in the weeks ahead to continue their efforts.

As Arlene sat with Madam Elana, Renee, Erin, and Megan at the table in the reading room after the last of the coven had returned home, she said, "I thought your coven had thirteen members."

"We were thirteen when we freed the demon," Madam Elana said. "Of course, Simona's death reduced us by one. Two others moved away in the month after Simona disappeared."

"I suppose that's understandable," Arlene said.

"Yes. I couldn't blame them. The experience with Kamet was frightening."

"I wonder if their absence from the coven has further lessened Kamet's power, assuming they're more than fifty miles away."

"I don't know. I never considered that before. Perhaps the loss of three members is responsible for Kamet only having the strength to kill once before resting."

"Have you brought the book I requested? The one with the spell you used to free Kamet."

Opening her purse, Madam Elana removed a folded sheet of paper. "I didn't think you needed the entire book, so I copied down the spell for you. Here it is."

Arlene opened the paper, read it, and passed it to Renee, who passed it to Megan after reading it. Erin received it last and read it aloud.

"From darkest gloom, Kamet unsung,


The bell held high, and now thrice rung,


My words spake thrice and loudly said,


To call one from the horde of dead,


I seek this soul of immortal cull,


Atropos' deed I now annul."

Arlene was silent for a minute as she considered the words. Finally she said, "How could you not suspect what you were doing? Look at the very first line, 'From darkest gloom, Kamet unsung…"

"According to my encyclopedia," Madam Elana said, "Kamet is a peak in the Himalayas, which made me think of Tibetan monks and very high holy places. I didn't realize it was also the name of a demon in the Underworld."

"What about the 'darkest gloom' part of the line? You never considered that it might refer to the Underworld?"

"My coven usually meets on my property outside of town after the store closes on Thursday evenings. It's always dark because there's no electricity out there. We normally build a small bonfire to give us some light, but we didn't that night because I thought the line meant we were supposed to speak it in darkness."

"And the fifth line," Erin said, "where it talks about a cull? You never suspected that an immortal cull occurs when a soul is unsuitable for the immortal world and is sent immediately to the Underworld at the time of death?"

"One of the dictionary definitions for 'cull' is 'look for and gather.'"

"But the final line is clear as glass." Renee said. "How could you possibly misunderstand that?"

"I admit I didn't fully understand that," Madam Elana said. "I realized Atropos was the name of one the Fates of Grecian myth, but I didn't understand what the deed was."

"Atropos," Arlene said, "was the Fate who cut the thread of life. In other words, Atropos sent the mortals on their journey from this world to the next. By annulling Atropos' deed, you were restoring one who had passed on. In this case, that was Kamet."

"It sounds so clear and straightforward now, but eleven years ago I had never heard of Kamet. If I had but known he was a demon, I would never have cast that spell. Simona was my best friend, other than Gisela."

"Why is this spell in English?" Megan asked. "Shouldn't it be in Latin or something? I mean, they always seem to be in some ancient tongue in books and movies."

"I suppose a spell was written in the language of whoever created it," Madam Elana replied. "It's logical that ancient spells would be written in ancient languages. I was told once that, while important in content, the spoken words were not nearly as crucial as the ability of the witch or coven to focus the ethereal energy necessary to work the spell. If spoken by ordinary people, the most powerful spells known to mortals would have absolutely no effect. That's why I thought I could create a spell that would return Kamet to the Underworld. We had Simona to speak it."

*   *   *

"Dick, come into my office, please," Lt. Bolger heard when he picked up the telephone receiver. He winced when the sheriff called him Dick. He hated that name, and the sheriff knew it. He only used it when he had something unpleasant for Bolger to do. He seemed to think that it steeled Bolger for the task ahead or something.

"Right away, Sheriff."

A few seconds later, Bolger entered the large office and closed the door behind him.

"Yes, sir?"

"Are you aware that that woman is still in town?"

"Woman, sir?"

"That ghost woman."

"Ah, Miss Watson. Yes, sir. I've seen her car around town and heard she's been in Gianni's for dinner twice now, but I haven't run into her. I understand she spends all her time in Georgina Antiques."

"A couple of residents have complained about her."

"Really? I haven't seen any logged complaints."

"They haven't been formally filed. The people called me, personally. It seems she's using her association with the Campbell case to sell a book she's written. Mrs. Stintson has sold every copy she can get her hands on— even used copies."

"That's good, isn't it? I mean Mrs. Stintson must be making a profit."

"This is a tourist town, Dick. We're supposed to be selling to the yokels, not the locals. And the only folks buying this woman's books are regular residents."

"It doesn't sound like she's broken any laws, Sheriff. And if it wasn't for her, we'd probably never have found the Campbell body."

"Dick, I'm running for reelection in November. I can't afford to alienate the citizens of this county. See if you can persuade this woman to leave town as soon as possible."

"Who's complained, Sheriff?"

"If they wanted their names associated with this, they would have filed a complaint openly. Just see what you can do. I know how persuasive you can be when you try."

"Since she's been spending so much time in Georgina Antiques, I have to assume she's become friendly with Madam Elana. I'm sure you remember what happened to Supervisor Eggston when he took on Madam Elana in that rezoning matter. He couldn't get elected now to scrub out the garbage cans at the hospital cafeteria. Do we really want to do this?"

"No, dammit, I don't want to do this. But I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. If I don't at least try to get rid of her, I'll lose some very important support in the upcoming election."

"So you want me to talk with her, but not push her so hard that Madam Elana gets her back up? If she resists, should I simply back off?"

"Speak with her and try to get her to leave peacefully."

"Okay, Sheriff, I'll speak with her. But unless you're prepared to push, and push hard, I can tell you right now she won't leave until she's ready. This woman isn't a homeless transient we can just order around. She comes from money— big money— real big money. You should see her estate in Massachusetts. Her house makes the governor's mansion in Albany look like a pauper's cottage."

"Dammit, Dick, just use your own judgment. You understand what's at stake here."

"Right, Sheriff. I'm on it."

Lt. Bolger smiled after leaving the sheriff's office. He had been looking for an excuse to see Miss Watson again, and she had told him they'd meet again. He wondered if she'd foreseen this reason.

*   *   *

The women began work early each day and read until late in the evening, taking short breaks to eat the take-out food delivered to the shop. During meals in the small kitchen on the third floor just above the office, they discussed the material they had read most recently.

They had struggled to get through the first of the texts, but they were making much better progress now. Whether this was due to reinforcement of memories by the spirits, the continual racking of their brains to dredge up long dormant memories of the languages, or a combination of both, they'd never know. But the difficulty of getting through the material seemed to lessen with each completed book. So far they had found little that discussed the specific topics they were seeking, but there were frequent referrals to demons and the Underworld. In each instance, the text and the translation was dutifully entered into the computer index.

By Saturday afternoon, the girls were feeling the strain from almost four days of seemingly constant reading.

"I think we need a break," Arlene said as the dinner hour approached. 'What say we mingle with the other tourists tonight?"

"I don't feel much like a tourist," Erin said. "Aren't tourists supposed to be on vacation?"

"You don't want to go?"

"I didn't say that. I just said I haven't felt much like a tourist."

"I think it's a great idea," Renee said. "I saw an interesting-looking night spot when we first hit town. We can have dinner and then head over there to see if there really is life after nine p.m. in this burg."

"I'd bet they go to at least ten on weekends," Erin said, smiling.

"This may not be Las Vegas or even Atlantic City," Arlene said, "but I'm sure they go to the wee hours on Saturday night in the summer, so let's set a time limit of one a.m. before we even head out. We have to be back here again tomorrow, and I won't be able to concentrate with either a hangover or insufficient sleep."

Having eaten at Gianni's twice, the girls opted to have dinner at Adam's Rib Room on the main street this time. The wait to be seated at the glitzy franchise restaurant was long, the waitresses impatient, and the food only fair. Fortunately there were two dozen other restaurants in town. If they had to be there all summer, they would easily have an opportunity to rate them all.

The Gopher Hole advertised live entertainment, but the band had failed to show, so the girls were sitting at their table listening to a local DJ who was filling in as a last minute replacement when Lt. Bolger approached them.

"Good evening, ladies," he said. "It's nice to see you again, Miss Watson."

"Hello, Lieutenant. Don't worry; we're all old enough to drink legally."

Lt. Bolger smiled. "I'm not here checking ID's. I'm off duty anyway."

"Introduce us, Ar," Renee said, smiling up at the detective.

"Lieutenant, this extremely shy beauty on my left is future chemical engineer Renee Dennis. On her left is future pediatrician Erin McDonald. To my right is Mrs. Keith Heston, wife of a local dentist. That's local to us, not you. She's Megan to her friends. Ladies, this is Lt. Richard Bolger of the County Sheriff's Office. He's heading up the investigation into Simona's murder."

"The investigation?" Megan said. "Why is there an investigation?"

"Murder cases are never closed until the murder is solved," Lt. Bolger said. "It doesn't matter that she was killed eleven years ago."

"But I thought— OW!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Meg," Arlene said. "I was just crossing my legs. I didn't realize your leg was so close." Looking at the detective, Arlene asked, "How is your investigation going, Lieutenant? Any leads?"

"A few. We're trying to reconstruct her final weeks to see if anyone had reason to kill her or would benefit from her death. It's difficult, though. People's memories dim considerably in eleven years."

"Would you like to join us, Lieutenant?" Renee asked.

"Thank you, I would, if you'll call me Richard instead of Lieutenant."

"Deal," Renee said. "Here, sit next to me, Richard," she said, sliding her chair over to make room for another.

Lt. Bolger looked around and found an unused chair at a nearby table. After sliding it partly into the opened space, he eased himself down, being careful not to spill his mug of beer. "This is my lucky day," he said. "I rarely get invited to sit with four such lovely ladies, and never as the only guy."

"This is our first week in town," Renee said. "We haven't had much of a chance to make friends yet."

"Then I'm indeed fortunate to be among the first. Welcome to Lake Georgina."

"Thank you, Richard," Renee said first, the acknowledgement seconded quickly by Erin and Megan.

"With such great beaches out your way, I'm surprised you've chosen Lake Georgina for your vacation. You'll be staying all summer then?"

"Our plans are uncertain," Arlene said.

"Oh, I thought you had already made the decision. I ran into Betty Cuzen yesterday, and she mentioned that you had paid the rent on the house for the entire summer."

"A three-month lease was the only option open to me," Arlene said. "But she did apply part of the one-month deposit the previous renter had paid. It covered the three weeks before I arrived in Lake Georgina."

"That's Betty. Generous to a fault. Imagine not charging a tenant for the time before they agreed to lease the property. Scandalous."

"We were lucky to get it," Arlene said. "Our only other option was to commute twenty miles or rent a travel trailer for the summer and have it brought here."

"And yet you haven't spent any time enjoying the lake or our recreational facilities. I've heard you spend all your time in Madam Elana's antique shop."

"You've seen my house, Lieutenant," Arlene said. "I'm sure you realize antiques are a passion of mine. Madam Elana has a wonderful store. It could take me all summer to see everything in there."

"But you're never in the shop. Where do you spend all your time? In the office?"

"Richard, have you been checking up on us?" Arlene asked.

"It's my job to know what's going on," he said casually. "So uh— what's going on?"

Arlene smiled. "Madam Elana has an incredible library of books on the occult. We're doing research."

"Oh, you're all spiritualists?"

"No," Erin said. "Only Arlene has the power. But we're all linguists, and many of the books are written in foreign languages."

"And you think it might take you all summer to complete your research?"

"I thought you said you were off duty," Renee said.

"Well, a cop is never really off-duty. We just go off the clock."

"How depressing," Renee said.

"It's like the army," he said. "It's not just a job."

"Yeah," Renee said facetiously. "It's an adventure, right?"

"Seldom. It's more like a lifestyle. I suppose I'm like a business executive who is always on the prowl for another 'big deal' and just can't turn it off at will, except that I frequently see the seamier side of life. That last part is what's kept me from moving to a big city where the pay and opportunities for promotion are greater. The crime in Lake Georgina and the county as a whole doesn't come even remotely close to what the guys in the big cities have to face on a daily basis."

*

Seated across the room in a darkened corner, Bruce Macrone watched the four young women flirt with the big guy who had discretely followed them into the nightclub and then joined them after picking up a beer at the bar. Of course, Macrone was too far away and the music too loud for him to pick up a single word of their conversation, but he recognized the signals the blonde sitting next to the big guy was sending, and he definitely knew a cop when he saw one. And if appearance wasn't enough, the gun he'd spotted when the guy pushed his lightweight jacket aside and reached for his wallet would be. Macrone had just arrived in Lake Georgina that morning, and he certainly didn't want any legal entanglements that would require the pigs to run his fingerprints. He just wanted to do the job he'd been hired for and then head back to Albany as soon as possible. Small towns left so little opportunity for anonymity.









Chapter Six



The evening's respite from their reading was wonderful, but morning found the young women back at their studies. The seemingly impossible task before them required maximum effort if they were to have a chance of accomplishing it before school began again, but no one could work during all their waking hours without burning out.

Reading speeds continued to improve with the completion of each tome, and the women were confident the spirits were reinforcing long dormant memories from their previous lives. Without their assistance, they wouldn't have a chance of scanning the library of work in the time allotted. It would be a daunting task even if every book were written in English.

The next couple of days passed without incident. On Wednesday, Arlene finished the text she was reading about a half-hour before noon. It had been a particularly difficult Greek book, and it felt like her eyes were crossed when she finally reached the end. Just to get a short break from the intense study, she decided to pick up lunch rather than having it delivered.

The lunch crowd hadn't yet flooded into Gianni's when she arrived. After ordering, Arlene took a seat to wait for her food. As she sat there, the waitress who had taken her order reappeared from the kitchen and informed her that Maria Gianni would like to speak with her. She asked that Arlene follow her to the office at the back of the kitchen.

Several chefs were busy in the kitchen, but not so busy that they didn't watch Arlene's passage through their domain as she was escorted to the office. The waitress knocked once, then opened the door and stood back to allow Arlene to enter. A dark-haired woman, dressed in kitchen whites splattered with tiny dots of red, stood up behind her desk. She was several inches shorter than Arlene and appeared to be in her late thirties. Although she had the olive skin typically associated with descendents of people from Eastern Mediterranean countries, her face had the pasty complexion of someone who spent little time in the sun. The waitress pulled the door closed from outside the office as soon as Arlene was fully inside the small space.

"Are you the one they call Madam Arlene?" the woman asked with an intense stare and a hint of rancor in her voice.

"My name is Arlene Watson, but some refer to me that way," Arlene replied evenly.

"You're welcome in my establishment, but I must ask you to stop this pretense of talking to my father when you leave. It's upsetting my customers. Some are beginning to say the building is haunted. If this continues, I'm afraid my business will suffer. Will you stop, or must I bar you from coming in?"

"There's no pretense. I merely exchange greetings with your father when I leave."

"Miss Watson, my father is dead, not sitting next to the cash register out front."

"He's left his mortal body, but his soul hasn't crossed over to the immortal world. He's remained behind for some reason."

"I don't believe in such nonsense. When you die, your soul is immediately carried either to heaven or hell."

"Travel to the immortal world is voluntary for those not pulled into the Underworld. Many spirits forego the trip initially. There can be any number of reasons why they decide to remain here."

"I don't believe that. My father is not here. Will you agree to halt this spectacle, or must I bar you from the restaurant?"

"I'll stop speaking to your father, if you wish." Turning slightly to her left, Arlene said, "Papa, your daughter doesn't want me to address you anymore, so I won't. Please don't think ill of me when I appear to ignore you."

Maria Gianni looked on skeptically when Arlene turned to her and said, "He understands. He says he won't be offended, but it's been nice to have somebody acknowledge his presence again. He's felt very alone without anyone to speak to."

"Why doesn't he just speak with my mother?" Maria said derisively.

Arlene looked to her left for a few seconds before saying, "He says she crossed over when she passed away. Since they're on different planes of existence, communication is difficult. A spirit who has remained in the mortal world doesn't offer a fixed mind that the immortal can lock onto. As with contacting those of us who still have corporeal bodies in the mortal world, an immortal tires quickly and must rest for months before they're strong enough to attempt to talk with spirits here again."

"Miss Watson, do you actually believe this foolishness?" Maria asked with an incredulous look. She didn't expect an honest answer.

"Ms. Gianni, have you ever seen an electron?"

"An electron?"

"Physicists define them as elementary particles with a negative charge. I'm sure you've heard the term. You must have heard of electron microscopes."

"I'm hardly a physicist. Of course I haven't seen an electron."

"Yet you believe they exist?"

"What's your point? That spirits exist even though I haven't seen any?"

"Exactly. Your inability to see them doesn't mean they're figments of my imagination. You're wearing a gold cross on your necklace, so you must believe in a Christian God. And so you must also believe in an afterlife."

"Yes, I believe in God, and I believe in an afterlife in His kingdom."

"Then is it such a stretch to believe that this is part of His kingdom?"

Maria stared at her for a couple of seconds. "You're twisting my words."

"Only enough to open your mind a little. Your father is here with us now, even though his mortal remains have been interred."

"Then ask him why he's still here instead of going to be with my mother."

"Perhaps you should ask him such a personal question. He's standing right next to you now, on your right."

Maria turned her head and looked to her right. "I don't see a thing."

"I can see him just as clearly as I see you, but spirits have a sort of glow around them which helps me distinguish them from the living."

Maria scowled slightly to show that she wasn't convinced, but she turned and asked flippantly, "Papa, why are you still here? Why haven't you gone to heaven to be with Momma?" After a few seconds she turned back to Arlene. "I don't hear a response."

Arlene held up her hand to silence her. She finally broke the silence with, "He says that when your mother died, you cried all night."

"Naturally. Anyone could guess that."

"He says you were only six years old at the time. He cradled you in his arms throughout the night until the sun rose in the morning while sitting in the green vinyl recliner in the living room. He says he doesn't like the brown twill fabric you selected when reupholstering the chair after he passed away. He wishes you had picked the tan corduroy you were seriously considering."

Maria looked at Arlene with her mouth slightly open and felt around for the arms of the office chair behind her, plopping down when she found them. Her breathing was a little irregular, and she asked in a shaky voice, "How do you know about that chair?"

"Papa just told me."

The look on Maria's face indicated that her implacable position on the existence of spirits had begun to crumble. "Why is he still here? Why hasn't he joined my mother?"

Arlene turned towards the spirit, nodding as she listened attentively for a few seconds. "He says you spoke that night of your fear that he would die and leave you all alone."

Maria nodded. "I remember saying that. I was so scared of losing him also."

"He says he made a solemn promise that he would never leave you alone. So after his mortal body gave out, his spirit remained here to watch over you."

Tears began to trickle down Maria's face. She sniffled and said, "That's so like him, to stay with me even though he couldn't do anything to help."

"Spirits aren't entirely powerless. You can't hug them while you remain mortal, and it takes a great deal of energy for them to manifest in a form that those of us who don't have strong links to the immortal world can see, but they can do other things. Their usual goal here is to provide comfort to the bereaved. They can interact with our dreams and ease the loss. Sometimes their mere presence nearby comforts because some people can sense them even though they can't see them. At other times, the spirits can blur the memories of a death or tragedy to help us get past a painful time. They normally refrain from kinetic activity because it frightens most mortals."

"It doesn't frighten you though."

"It did at first. But now I can always see the spirit, and that takes away all the fear. For example, you might be afraid if you saw a tissue floating through the air, but certainly not if you saw a person carrying one."

With that, a tissue rose up from the box on Maria's desk and floated towards her. Her jaw dropped and her eyes grew as wide as teacup saucers.

"Take it," Arlene said softly. "Papa says you should dry your eyes."

Tears began to flow faster, and her chin quivered, but Maria sniffled and smiled as she plucked the tissue out of the air. "Thank you, Papa," she said. To Arlene she said, "He can do this all the time?"

"It takes an incredible amount of energy for a spirit to move things on this plane, but they can affect such lightweight things on a fairly frequent basis."

"Can Papa— how did you say it?— manifest here now?"

Arlene took a deep breath, looked at Papa and said, "Papa, can you manifest briefly?" Looking at Maria, she said," He'll do it just this once. It tires him incredibly, and he'll barely be able to pass you a tissue afterwards. Watch closely on your right side. Remember, you won't be able to touch him, and if you try, you'll only disrupt the apparition."

Maria focused all of her attention on the area on her right. A few seconds later she said in awe, "Oh my God! I can see him! I really can! Papa, you're really here. Oh, he's fading now." A second later she said, "He's gone."

"He's still with us. He just can't manifest for you any longer than that, and he may not be able to manifest again for months now."

"Oh no. Did I hurt him by asking him to do that?"

"Not in a permanent way. He just has to rebuild his ethereal energy. It's like with us mortals. After we exhaust ourselves doing some task that saps our energy, we need to rebuild it, and that can take time."

"I thought you were crazy. I'm so sorry."

"I'm used to it," Arlene said.

"Can you still see him?"

"Yes, he's still here. But I can see he's fatigued now. It took a great deal out of him, and he'd have to rest before he could do it again, but no permanent damage was done."

Maria sniffled and said, "Papa, I love you. All the more for staying to watch over me, but I want you to go to Momma now. I'll be fine. The restaurant is doing well and I'm happy. Give Momma my love when you see her."

After a few seconds, Arlene said, "He says he made a promise. He can't leave until it's your time to cross over."

"Papa, I want you to leave," Maria said. "You deserve to be happy also. You're all alone here. I'll be fine. I release you from your promise."

"He says he'll only agree to leave if you marry Tony. He says he knows Tony would be a good husband and that he can then join Momma, confident that you'll have someone to look after you. He says he knows you love Tony with all your heart and he doesn't understand why you keep procrastinating."

Maria smiled and sniffled again when a new tissue floated towards her. After plucking it out of the air, she said, "I do love Tony, Papa, but I've been afraid that getting married would spoil what we have."

"Papa says that's silly, and he's definitely not leaving until you and Tony tie the knot. He says you're almost forty now and it might already be too late for children, but he wants you to try."

Maria laughed through her tears. "That's all he ever talked about— grandchildren." Then becoming a little sadder, she added, "Momma died in childbirth. I would have had a little brother if not for the problems."

"Papa says that such things happen, and that it shouldn't have stopped you from having a family."

"I was afraid—afraid of dying as my mother did."

"Mortal death is just another step along the highway of our existence. You can't become so fearful of death that you forget to live." Arlene turned her head briefly towards where Papa was standing then turned back towards Maria. "Papa says that your brother is with Momma. You'll meet him when you cross over."

Maria's jaw dropped slightly again.

A knock at the door preceded it opening. The waitress who had taken the lunch order stuck her head in and said, "Miss Watson's order is ready, Maria."

"Thank you, Nancy," Maria said as she dabbed at her eyes with the tissue and stood up. "Her order is no charge."

"I can't let you do that," Arlene said. "I'm picking up food for seven people."

"I insist. No charge, Nancy."

After the waitress left and closed the door, Maria said, "I won't take your money today. You've made me happier than I've been since before Papa died. Please forget that I asked you to stop talking to Papa. If the other customers don't like it, it's too bad. I'm sure Papa will appreciate your acknowledging his presence. He's always loved hearing compliments from the customers."

"He says that if you think the business will be adversely affected, he doesn't mind my not talking to him. He says he won't move anything when other people are present and that you shouldn't talk to him unless you're alone."

"How often is he here?"

"He says he's here whenever you are."

"You're the only one who can see and hear him, Madam Arlene, and I want him to have those occasional greetings. And if others start talking to him, like Richard Bolger, that's perfectly acceptable also."

Arlene smiled and took Maria's proffered hand. "Thank you for the lunch."

Maria sniffled and smiled. "Thank you for opening my mind and my eyes. And thank you for passing on Papa's words to me. Please come again. You're always welcome here."

*   *   *

Lt. Richard Bolger tapped the proper combination code into the keypad next to the side door by the parking lot and entered the air-conditioned fire station. During the summer tourist season, his favorite watering hole was always overrun with strangers, so he often came here to enjoy a few quiet beers before heading home after a tiring day. Like so many volunteer fire departments, the local company was a focal point for the rural residents. Their 'community' room sported a forty-foot-long, highly polished maple bar that was the envy of many commercial establishments. Hard liquor was doled out sparingly, at cost, but there were four different non-alcoholic carbonated beverages and two different beers on tap for the department members who needed to unwind after a fire or on evenings when they got together to socialize. For those with more discriminating tastes, the bar also offered six different imported beers. The on-tap beverages were provided free in limited quantities per member per evening, with the imported beers being provided at cost.

Spotting Herb Riddell down near the end of the bar, Lt. Bolger climbed onto the empty stool next to him. Herb was a member of the department and could usually be found here for a couple of hours after work. Bolger caught the eye of the department member presently serving as bartender and nodded. A sixteen-ounce mug of frosty cold pilsner was set in front of him a few seconds later. He drained half the glass before satisfying the burning thirst that had been building in him for the past hour as thoughts of that first cold draught of the evening filled his mind.

With his initial thirst slaked, Bolger looked towards Riddell and said, "Hey, Herb."

Riddell seemed to become aware of Bolger's presence for the first time and responded in like manner.

"Tough day?" Bolger asked.

Riddell roused himself from his stupor and said, "No more than usual. You?"

"Same-o, same-o."

"Yeah," Riddell said before lapsing into silence again. Several minutes passed before he said, "Rich?"

"Yeah, Herb."

"Uh, you've spoken with this Watson woman several times, haven't you?"

"Yeah, I have."

After another minute, he asked, "Do you believe her?"

"About what?"

"About there being an afterlife. About spirits roaming the earth after their body dies."

Richard took another deep drink before responding. "I dunno, Herb. I know I certainly didn't before I met her. Since then, I've been seriously questioning my convictions on the matter."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I always thought that stuff was just so much horse-pucky, but when she correctly identified the two bones I'd swapped on Simona's skeleton, she blew my mind. It was the metacarpal bone that really did it. Selecting the fibula could have been a fluke because of its prominent size, but the metacarpal? I mean, the human hand has twenty-seven bones. That's even more than the foot. Even if she'd somehow learned that I'd swapped a bone from a hand, she only had a one in fifty-four chance of picking the right one."

"You think she had advance information?"

"No, I don't, which is why I'm so bothered. She couldn't have known. I didn't tell anyone, and the bones were so nearly identical that I had to mark the substituted bones with a tiny ink dot from a black marking pen so I could keep them straight. I didn't even decide to swap the metacarpal until a few minutes before Gisela arrived."

"Maybe Miss Watson saw the dot."

"No way. It isn't visible until you pick up the bone, and even then you have to know where to look. No, she couldn't have done it that way."

After another minute of silence during which Bolger finished his beer and received a refill, he said, "Then it sounds like you've eliminated every possibility but one."

"One?" Riddell said. "Which one?"

"That she really did get the information from Simona's spirit."

"Yeah," Riddell said with a scowl. "That's what bothers me. I've been slicing and dicing human bodies for years. When I think now that the spirits of those poor people have been looking over my shoulder while I cut up their bodies, it gives me nightmares. I mean, how would you feel about watching somebody cut off the top of your skull so they could take a temperature reading of your brain, or worse, remove your brain so it could be weighed or dissected? How about when I eviscerate a corpse so we can determine the contents of the stomach?"

"They can't feel anything, Herb."

"How do you know that? I mean, if their spirit still lives, how do we know that all connection has been severed?"

"I'm sure Madam Arlene would have mentioned that, if it were true. And she's said that most spirits cross over as soon as their body dies."

"Madam Arlene?"

"Miss Watson. Uh, a lot of folks have begun calling her Madam Arlene now. It's supposed to be some kind of expression of respect for her paranormal abilities."

"What about the spirits who have a reason to stick around? Like the ones who died as a result of foul play. They're the ones who mostly come under my knife."

"I don't know, Herb. Perhaps you should ask Madam Arlene."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"I have to consider my position. I can't be seen giving credence to her foolish preachings."

"She doesn't preach, Herb. And as far as I can see, her beliefs don't disagree with those of most organized religions. She believes in one God, and credits him, or her, with creating life and the three different planes of existence."

"Three?"

"Here, what she calls the mortal world, the Underworld, or what we normally call Hell, and the immortal world, what we normally refer to as Heaven or Paradise. The main difference is that she believes the spirits of essentially good people are free to remain here after they die, while evil spirits are immediately dragged down to the Underworld. Organized religions usually teach that a spirit is immediately pulled to heaven for judgment, then is allowed through the Pearly Gates or is cast down into Hell. I kinda like her interpretation better."

"I sure don't," Riddell said. "Now, late at night when I'm alone in the morgue, I can't stop looking over my shoulder."

"Seen anything?"

"Not yet— I don't think. But ever since she told me that the spirit of Simona was standing right next to me, I keep hearing things."

"What kinds of things?"

"The kind of things I always thought was simply the wind or creaking from expansion and contraction as things heated up or cooled."

"They probably are."

"Yeah— maybe. But what if they aren't?"

*   *   *

"I'm sorry, Sheriff," Lt. Bolger said after being called into the sheriff's office to report on the status of his assignment the next day. "Miss Watson and her friends are doing some kind of research in Madam Elana's shop. I don't think you could get her out of town with dynamite."

"Dammit, Dick, that's unacceptable. I want her gone. I'm taking a lot of heat. Now you do whatever it takes to get her across the county line."

"Sheriff, I serve at your pleasure, and I think I've done a good job for you in the past, but I'm not going to strong-arm this woman out of town. She can buy the best legal minds in the country, and she'll sue this town for a trillion dollars if we try any nonsense like that. What's more, she'll probably win. What would that do to your chances for re-election?"

"Dammit, there must be a way to get rid of her."

"If she was universally disliked, it would be a lot easier, but a lot of people have met her and developed a friendship with her."

"You're talking about the lunatic group who think they're witches?"

"Not just Madam Elana's coven. Everywhere she's gone, she's made friends. I know Maria Gianni and Anthony Rizzo would instantly line up on her side if it came down to a fight. I heard this morning that they've finally decided to get married, and the word is that Madam Arlene is responsible."

When the sheriff looked at him sharply, he said, "Sorry, I meant to say Miss Watson."

"Damn, I always gave Gianni credit for more brains than that. How could she fall for a line from some charlatan who professes to see ghosts everywhere?"

"She doesn't see ghosts everywhere, Sheriff. So far she's only identified two."

"It sounds like she's convinced you her powers are real."

"I've done my damndest to remain impartial, but she's pretty convincing. We had only been in the morgue for seconds when she correctly identified the bones Riddell had swapped. I think Herb's becoming a believer, despite what he says, and you know what a skeptic he is about anything without a scientific basis."

"Damn! Herb too? Dick, we have got to get rid of this woman. Before we know it, she'll be running for mayor."

"I think it's too late to get her out of town quietly. It would be best if we just back off and let her do whatever she's doing in the antiques shop. In a couple of months she'll have to return to college, and this will all be forgotten."

"If I don't get rid of her now, I might not even be on the ticket come November. Are you looking to become sheriff?"

"Me? No way. You know I don't want your job."

"I didn't think so, but you're not doing anything to keep me in it. Look, I'll level with you. Ralph Godwell, the party chairman in this county, has as much as told me that either she leaves town or my political funding from the party for the next election cycle will wilt to nothing."

"Why does the party chairman want her gone? He doesn't even live in this township."

"How the hell do I know? Maybe he's taking heat for her being here also. I only know he said to get her out of town any way I could. So I will get her out of this town."

"Sheriff, I'm a criminal justice professional, not a politician. Point me at a crime and I'll solve it, but I'm no good at playing political games."

"This has gone way beyond games, Dick. I'm fighting for my political life, and no rich bitch from Massachusetts is going to bring me down. Now you get her to pack her bags and then escort her to the county line and make sure she doesn't come back."









Chapter Seven



"I've found something," Erin said, sitting up quickly at the reading room table. "It swears to be a direct transcription of a parchment scroll from the second century A.D."

Arlene, Renee, Megan, and Madam Elana marked their places with clean slips of archival paper and closed the books they were reading to give her their full attention. It was late, and all were tired, but hope immediately filled their faces.

"Does it mention Kamet by name?" Arlene asked.

"No, it seems to be a general incantation."

"Read it to us," Madam Elana said.

"But what if it brings Kamet here now, before we're ready?"

"I think it's safe enough," Arlene said. "You've never exhibited any special powers that suggest you could summon a spirit by yourself."

"Okay," Erin said, nodding, then began to read the incantation from the handwritten book.

"Translate it into English, please," Madam Elana said. "My Latin is extremely limited."

"Sorry," Erin said, then started again, reading haltingly as she translated the Latin text. "By my command shall all— demonic entities— immediately assemble here. We give notice that for too long have the— adjudged of evil— walked among the— innocent. Morta's will has been— challenged— by those who would do others harm. The— disembodied evil— must now return to its— deserved— place in darkness below."

"But it doesn't rhyme," Megan said.

"It doesn't have to rhyme, Meg," Arlene said. "That seems to be a convention started by William Shakespeare when he had his witches in MacBeth utter famous lines like, 'Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.' As Madam Elana has said, the spoken words, while important, are not nearly as crucial as the ability of the speaker to focus the ethereal energy necessary to work the spell."

"I didn't understand that line about Morta's will being challenged," Madam Elana said.

"Morta," Erin replied, "is the Roman name for the deity who— like her Greek counterpart Atropos— is the Fate that cuts the thread of life. To again quote the immortal bard, 'That which we call a rose— By any other name would smell as sweet.'"

"Erin, what's the background of the spell?" Arlene asked.

"Reportedly, during an eight- or nine-month period in the second century A.D., a number of grisly murders were committed by an unknown individual in a rural area near Naples. When a priest with bloody hands was discovered standing over the dead body of a villager, he was restrained and taken to the village elder. He claimed to have no knowledge of the murder and announced that he must have been possessed. The village elder, believing in the piety of that particular priest, decided that a demon must have been summoned forth during a pagan ritual to celebrate a bountiful harvest the previous fall. Why he leapt to that conclusion isn't established. But he contacted the elders of the surrounding villages, all of whom had participated in the pagan ritual, and all agreed to meet on a hillside after dark to perform an— exorcism of the priest. They formed a circle around the priest and the elder who had summoned them, linking arms by each gripping the forearm of the elder on either side, while they chanted the lines over and over again in unison, along with the elder inside the circle. After a time, the priest collapsed to the ground and the elder in the circle is said to have begun to glow with an intense white light that seemed to emanate from his chest. A villager appeared and repeatedly tried to reach the elder in the circle, but he was unable to breach the closed circle and finally collapsed upon the ground, exhausted. At almost the same instant, one of the elders from a different village released the arms of those on either side of him and rushed to the elder at the center of the circle. The priest then got up and rushed to take the place of the one who had broken the circle. As the elder who had been part of the circle began to glow himself, he physically attacked the chanting elder in an apparent attempt to stop him or perhaps kill him. The glow of both continued to grow in intensity as they struggled violently until the light grew so bright and painful to the eyes of the elders still forming the circle that they had to look away. Suddenly, the glow completely disappeared, casting the area into instant darkness. When the other elders lit torches, they discovered the bodies of the two elders who had been encircled and carried them back to the village. There were no more reports of unexplained murders after that."

"What happened to the two elders?" Renee asked.

"The text doesn't say."

"So they might both have died?" Megan asked.

By way of an answer, Erin simply shrugged her shoulders, grimaced, and shook her head.

"Madam Elana," Arlene said, "you mentioned a book by a twelfth-century Italian scholar which tells of a much earlier release of a demon. Could it be a transcription of the same account as this incident?"

"It's possible. The scholar who compiled the information most likely got it from a written account."

"If this transcription came from the same parchment scroll," Arlene said, "it would save us a trip to the Prague Museum because that other book couldn't contain more information than this one."

"We should probably check out the Prague book just to be sure," Renee said. "I believe the expression is, 'Leave no stone unturned.'"

"You're right," Arlene said. "We may only get one shot at this. The stakes are too high to ignore possibly critical information. And we should begin that effort sooner than later. It may take time to get permission to see the book."

"I might be able to help there," Madam Elana said. "My reputation as a dealer in rare books could be invaluable in persuading the museum curator to let us examine their copy. If not, then perhaps the loan of one of my oldest manuscripts, one which we've determined contains no relevant information about demon banishment, might be bartered for access."

*   *   *

Renee and Madam Elana boarded a commuter plane at the nearby county airport a few days later. It would take them to the Albany Airport, where they would take a connecting flight to Kennedy Airport. From there, they would fly direct to London, changing planes once more for a flight to Prague. There was a direct flight from Kennedy to Prague, but the best flight itinerary for a direct flight would have them sitting in either Albany or Kennedy for six hours or more. The layover at Heathrow was only two hours.

Included in Madam Elana's carry-on luggage was a handcrafted wooden box containing a tenth-century religious tome conservatively valued at a hundred thousand dollars. It was her most valuable rare book. The curator at the National Museum had again refused access to the museum's ancient books and manuscripts, citing fragility issues, but upon learning that Madam Elana's extensive personal collection included the extremely rare manuscript and that a two-year loan to the museum would be possible providing Renee and Elana were given access to the Museum's complete library, he jumped at the offer. They would receive the same special access privileges his country's top research scholars enjoyed.

Megan, Arlene, and Erin planned to continue reading the collected works as before. Not a page would be neglected nor a word skipped. They had a chant now, but not necessarily the chant that would send the demon Kamet back to the Underworld. If there was another recorded incident regarding the banishment of demons to be found anywhere in the vast library Madam Elana had assembled, the three women intended to uncover it.

*   *   *

"Madam Arlene?" the woman said, both as a question and a statement to get Arlene's attention as she left the house she was renting.

Arlene had returned to the house to get the notebook she had forgotten to bring with her that morning, so she was alone. Megan and Erin had remained at the shop to continue working.

"Yes?"

"Good morning. I'm Meredith Blakely. Do you have a few minutes?"

"A few minutes for what?"

"Oh, excuse me. I work for the Lake Georgina Telegraph. My editor would like me to do a story on you."

"Thank you, but I don't do interviews." Arlene smiled and tried to get past the woman, who purposely moved to block her path.

"But it would just take a few minutes, and it could help sell your book."

"I don't do interviews," Arlene said again with exasperation when the woman again blocked her path to her car.

"I promise— it will only take a few minutes of your time."

Arlene sighed and said, "Alright. What is it?"

The woman whipped out a small recording device and activated it. "Interview with Miss Arlene Watson aka Madam Arlene. Miss Watson, it's public record that you were the one who reported the location of the body from an eleven-year-old homicide case, yet it's alleged that you've never been to Lake Georgina before. How do you explain that?"

"I'm sure the answer to that is also in the public record."

"Uh, yes, but our readers would like to hear it from you."

"I'm sure the public record states it in much more detail than I have time for right now. Is there anything else?"

"It's rumored around town that you've been seen talking to a ghost at Gianni's Restaurant. Can you confirm that?"

"I've exchanged pleasantries with Papa Gianni on several occasions."

"But he died several years ago."

"Perhaps that's why he's a spirit now."

"So you're saying the restaurant is haunted."

"Not as you mean it."

"How else can it be stated? Either it's haunted or it isn't."

"Papa doesn't annoy anyone or even make his presence known to anyone. The term haunted usually implies that a spirit is actively annoying the living."

"Then how can you know his ghost is there?"

"I'm a spiritualist. I can see the spirits that haven't crossed over to the immortal plane."

"Are there many?"

"No, not very many."

"And you talk to them also. Isn't that right?"

"Yes."

"What do you usually talk about?"

"Whatever comes to mind."

"Such as why they're still hanging around?"

"Yes, that's common."

"And what do they usually say?"

"Most are here because of promises they made while they were alive or to look after loved ones. Some are seeking justice against the person or persons responsible for their death or someone who wronged them while they were alive."

"Such as Simona?"

"She hasn't revealed her reasons to me."

"But that would be a logical one?"

"I would say that's a logical assumption."

"Has Simona spoken to you?"

"That's a matter of public record."

"Has Papa Gianni spoken to you?"

"Yes."

"Why is he still here?"

"When he was alive, he made a promise to always look after his young daughter. He's keeping that promise."

"But he's a ghost. What can he do?"

"As a spirit, he can see and hear things without alerting most people to his presence. He can then seek help from someone like myself."

"But he can't do anything directly."

"His options are limited because he no longer has a corporeal body."

"So what can he do to right a wrong?"

"He could contact a spiritualist and hope that he or she will be able to help by revealing the facts to people who can right the wrong."

"I see. Tell me, Miss Watson. Have you ever sought professional help for this problem?"

"What problem?"

"This delusion that you can speak to the dead?"

Arlene breathed deeply and released it before saying, "This interview is over Miss Blackly."

"It's Blakely."

"I think Blackly is more appropriate. Good day."

As Arlene tried to step around the woman, Blakely again moved to block her. Rather than politely submitting again, Arlene extended her arm and tried to prevent her from again blocking Arlene's access to her car. Blakely's right heel caught on the higher surface of grass bordering the sidewalk and she fell to the lawn. Arlene looked down to confirm that Blakely hadn't been injured, then proceeded to her car without apologizing. A neighbor across the street turned back around quickly as Arlene looked in her direction.

*   *   *

Several hours later, as Arlene, Megan, and Erin were discussing what to order for lunch, Lieutenant Bolger arrived at Georgina Antiques and was guided to the basement library by Oculara. Arriving inside the library, he stopped for a few moments with his mouth agape as he looked around at the numerous books that filled the shelving. Then he followed Oculara to the reading room where the four women were sitting.

"Lieutenant," Arlene said. "Welcome to the reading room. What brings you here?"

Glancing around before saying anything, Bolger returned his attention to Arlene, and in his official police manner, he said, "Miss Arlene Watson, it's my duty to place you under arrest for the murder of Meredith Blakely. You have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to have an attorney present at your questioning. If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed by the courts. Anything you say can be taken down and used in evidence against you. Do you wish to make a statement at this time?"

Arlene was speechless and she stared at Bolger with her jaw hanging partly open before she collected her wits and shut her mouth. Finally, she said, "Are you serious?"

"I'm afraid so. The county sheriff has ordered me to bring you in."

"Richard," Erin said, "That is an absurd accusation."

"Perhaps, but I have my orders, Erin."

"When did this alleged murder occur? Because Madam Arlene has been here all morning."

"Approximately three hours ago. We won't have a more precise time of death until the coroner establishes it. And we have a witness who places Miss Watson at the scene of the crime. So she obviously wasn't here all morning."

"I only went to our rented house to get a notebook I forgot to bring with me," Arlene said. "I went there and came directly back here."

"The body was discovered in the kitchen of your rented house. A neighbor saw you and Blakely together outside the house. So you had the means and the opportunity. All we need to determine is the motive."

Standing up, Arlene said, "Richard, I think you know I didn't injure Miss Blakely. Yes, I saw her at the house. She wanted to interview me. I made a few statements and then ended the interview. At that point I went to my car and returned here."

"The witness said you assaulted her."

"It was the other way around. She kept blocking my path to my car. After several efforts to walk around her, I finally put out my arm and stopped her from blocking my path. In her effort to get around me again, she tripped and fell on the grass area between the sidewalk and the curb. I visually assured myself she was not injured, and then went to my car and came here. Are you saying she was fatally injured in her fall?"

"No. She was stabbed to death in your kitchen."

"Stabbed? With a knife?"

"Yes. There were several punctures and the knife was still sticking out of her chest when we arrived to investigate the call."

"Why did you go to investigate? Who notified you?"

"Your landlady went there to replace the microwave oven you had reported wasn't working. She found the body and called the sheriff's office."

"Betty Cuzen found the body?" Megan asked. "Oh how horrible for poor Betty."

"Yes."

"Then she could have done it," Erin said.

"Extremely unlikely. A neighbor saw her struggling to carry the replacement microware to the house from her car and hurried over to help her. When no one responded to Betty's knock, she used her passkey to open the door. When they reached the kitchen and saw the body, they dropped the microwave oven, and Betty immediately called us. When I arrived, we found blood clotting on Blakely's body around the knife and pooling on the floor around the body. There were blood splatters everywhere, out to a distance of about eight feet, but none on Betty's or the neighbor's clothes."

"Do you see any splatters on my clothes?" Arlene asked.

"No, but you could have changed your clothes."

"It's easy to prove that's not the case," Erin said. "The store's security system will show Arlene arriving early this morning with Megan and myself, so you'll be able to see she was wearing the same clothes she has on now. The system's date and time stamp will show you the exact time she left to return to the house and the time she returned here, plus you'll also see she hasn't changed clothes."

"She could have changed into identical clothes."

"Richard, look at that suit she's wearing. I'd conservatively put its value at about a thousand dollars, and the blouse is very distinctive. People spending that kind of money for clothing don't purchase multiple items of the same clothing, even if they're available. They purchase different outfits."

"Look, I don't really think Madam Arlene murdered Meredith Blakely or had anything to do with the crime, but the sheriff has ordered me to arrest her. If I don't, he can fire me. I have no choice if I want to keep my job."

"I understand, Richard," Arlene said as she walked to where Bolger was standing. "I'm innocent and I'm sure I'll be exonerated when the facts are all known. I'm ready to go with you."

"Thank you, Madam Arlene." As he pulled handcuffs from the leather pouch on his belt, he said, "Please turn around and put your hands behind your back."

"Richard!" Erin said loudly. "I hardly think that's necessary."

"Orders, Erin. The sheriff ordered me to bring her in with her hands cuffed behind her back."

"And I suppose he's alerted the media to be on hand when you march me into the station."

"Uh, probably."

"I'm perfectly willing to go with you to have my account of the events officially recorded," Arlene said. "But— it sounds like the sheriff is trying to make a spectacle of my arrest and cause me great embarrassment for some reason. If you insist on embarrassing me like this, my one phone call will be to the offices of my principal attorneys. By this time tomorrow, there will be so many members of the legal profession in this town that you'll think there's a convention nearby. Richard, I'm not your average twenty-one year old. I know the score. And I promise that if you embarrass me like this I will sue the sheriff, the town, and the county for five hundred million dollars for deliberate defamation of character. And I believe I will win. But even if I don't win, it will cost the town and county so much to defend themselves in court over the next few years that both will have to claim bankruptcy, and the people of this county will run the sheriff and local politicians out on a rail because of their complete lack of good judgment."

"I've already warned the sheriff of that possibility."

"And he said?"

"He said he understands."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"Okay, Richard. You've been warned in advance, so at least you know why the following events are occurring and understand that they are a direct result of your action here today." Arlene turned around and put her hands behind her back, ready to be handcuffed.









Chapter Eight



After several seconds of standing there like that, Arlene turned slightly and looked over her shoulder. "Well?"

"Aw, hell. Let the sheriff fire me. I won't act like a complete jackass and embarrass you like that in front of the press, and I won't be responsible for the county and town being sued. Let's just go to the jail." Bolger put the handcuffs back into the leather pouch on his belt.

"A wise decision," Erin said. "I hope you become the next sheriff when that old reprobate retires or is forcibly retired."

"Hell, I don't want that damn job. I would make a lousy politician. I have trouble following ridiculous orders from party higher-ups like the party chairman, who is only thinking about himself, his career, and his bank account. That's not why I became a cop. Let's go look at the security discs first so I can corroborate your alibi to the sheriff."

*   *   *

Prague's picturesque architecture survived World War II because the city wasn't targeted in the Allied bombing campaigns of Europe. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century and the Czech Republic's rebirth as a parliamentary democracy with close ties to the West, the lovely city became one of the hottest tourist destinations on the continent. The National Museum was located on one side of Wenceslas Square, so named for the 10th century nobleman celebrated in the Christmas carol 'Good King Wenceslas.'

Madam Elana and Renee, after identifying themselves to a security guard at the desk inside the entrance of the National Museum, were directed to a museum docent and then escorted to a private conference room. An assistant curator arrived a few minutes later and introduced himself as Eduard Dvorak. Around sixty years old, Dvorak had the look of someone who enjoyed fine food in abundance. He was well dressed, and his salt-and-pepper hair was still full, but at just five-foot, five-inches, his belt would no doubt stretch to three-quarters of his height. He didn't introduce either of the two lab-coated people— a man and a woman— who'd accompanied him into the room.

"Is that the manuscript?" Mr. Dvorak asked as he pointed to the wooden box that sat on the conference table in front of Madam Elana when the limited introductions had been completed.

"It is," Madam Elana said.

"May I?" Mr. Dvorak asked as he slipped on a new pair of the white cotton gloves worn by experts everywhere so the natural oils in human hands didn't contaminate invaluable documents or objects.

"Please," Madam Elana said, gesturing towards the box in an invitation to examine the contents. "I have letters of provenance to verify authentication, but I'm sure you'll wish to ascertain its validity for yourself."

Mr. Dvorak pulled the box towards him and released the clasp that held the cover closed. He breathed in deeply as he raised the cover and saw the manuscript. "Dr. Janacek?" he said as he turned to the two people who'd accompanied him into the room.

As a slight, fiftyish woman with light brown hair and pallid complexion stepped to the table, Dvorak slid the box towards her. Having already slipped on a pair of new cotton gloves, she lifted the two pieces of wide red ribbon that lay atop the manuscript, revealing that an end of each extended down the inside of the box where it connected to a wooden shelf just slightly smaller than the interior area of the case. Pulling on the ribbon ends gently but firmly, the manuscript was raised from its protective case without risk of damage and laid on the table.

Ever so carefully, the woman began her expert assessment of the document. Certainly not the thorough examination that would be required to certify authentication for insurance purposes, her scrutiny was sufficient to ascertain that this was not some feeble attempt to pass a fraudulent document off as the real thing. The doctor was only trying to determine that if the document was indeed phony, it was a masterful phony. Later examination in her lab would allow her to certify the manuscript as genuine without damaging it. Such tests as Carbon-14 dating and spectrographic analysis were never performed on objects loaned to the museum unless required by insurance carriers, and then only with the owner's prior consent. There were other methods available that didn't damage the examined item and were almost foolproof. The documents in Madam Elana's possession clearly established a provenance of the manuscript, as well as the previous tests that had been performed for authentication. Satisfied from her cursory examination that the manuscript appeared to be genuine thus far, Dr. Janacek looked at Mr. Dvorak and nodded, whereupon he waved his hand lightly in a gesture of dismissal.

Mr. Dvorak carefully returned the manuscript to its protective case and closed the gold-plated clasp. After signing the receipt for the tome brought by Madam Elana, he drew two identification badges from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and passed them to the women. Without further word, he delicately picked up the case and left the room.

"He seems very unhappy that the museum had to allow us access to the archives in order to get the loan of the manuscript," Madam Elana said with the hint of a grin.

"It doesn't really matter," Renee said, "but he shouldn't be. We've both gotten what we want. Shall we get to work? Perhaps that museum docent can direct us to where we'll find the manuscript we came all this way to examine."

*   *

An hour later, Madam Elana and Renee were sitting in a temperature- and humidity-controlled chamber somewhere in the bowels of the museum with the centuries-old Italian tome on the table in front of them. Madam Elana's Italian was limited, so Renee read and translated the Italian to English for all important passages as she proceeded.

*   *   *

As the sheriff's car driven by Lt. Bolger pulled up to the county jail, it was immediately surrounded by members of the fourth estate anxiously seeking to photograph the murderer of one of their own being dragged unceremoniously into the jail. They were surprised when the Detective Lieutenant climbed out of the driver's seat and walked around the vehicle to offer his hand to Arlene. They were immediately surrounded by deputies to keep the press back as the pair walked to the jail door and disappeared inside. Although the reporters had shouted questions the entire time, they had not received even one answer.

Bolger led Arlene to an interrogation room and gestured to a chair at the table located in the center of the room. "Wait here. I'll be right back." After leaving the interrogation room, he headed to the sheriff's office.

"Go right in," the sheriff's secretary said. "He's expecting you."

As Bolger closed the door behind him, Sheriff Joseph N. Canaar stood up behind his desk. His face was a mottled red color and the glare in his eyes was not a welcome sight. "Dammit, Dick. I told you to bring her in cuffed. You made it look like we were extending the welcome mat and prepared to shower her with roses."

"I'm positive she had nothing to do with the murder."

"I don't give a damn if she did it or not. Meredith Blakely was a pain in the ass, and I'm glad someone finally ended her lies and innuendo. But this was our opportunity to get rid of two pains in the ass. And now we're still going to have that little bitch here in town."

"She agreed to come in willingly and make a statement. She told me that if I embarrassed her by handcuffing her, there would be so many legal people here by tomorrow that it would seem like there were a lawyer's convention in town, except that they would all be filing lawsuits against the county, town, and you personally for five hundred million dollars. Sheriff, I told you she comes from big money. You don't try to intentionally embarrass someone like that when the person is obviously innocent. She has enough money to buy this entire town a dozen times over. Now, you can fire me if you want, but I just saved the county, the town, and you from making a major mistake."

Canaar plopped back into his chair and sighed, then looked up at Bolger. "Five hundred million dollars? Really?"

"Her words, not mine. Sheriff, if there was the slightest doubt in my mind that she wasn't innocent, I would have done as you said, but I know she didn't kill Blakely. I don't know who did, but it wasn't Madam Arlene. I mean Arlene Watson."

"How can you be so sure?"

"She arrived at Georgina Antiques early with her three friends and was only there for thirteen minutes before returning home to get a notebook she had forgotten. Sheriff, you should see the video system they have at the antiques store. I think it's more sophisticated than the system we have here at the jail. Anyway, I verified that the security system in the store proves her arrival, brief departure, and later return. Given the testimony from the eyewitness across the street from the rental house, it's easy to determine that Miss Watson didn't have time to commit the crime following the very minor altercation with Blakely outside the house. The witness who put her at the scene about the time of the murder reported that when Watson got into her car and drove away, Blakely was alive and healthy. There wasn't time for Watson to return and commit the crime. Finally, there are no obvious blood splatters anywhere on Watson's clothes. The video log at the store proves she was wearing the same clothes when she returned as she had been wearing when she left. Judging from the amount of blood on Blakely's clothing, the floor, and the surrounding area, whoever did stab Blakely would have been covered by a substantial amount of splatter. Watson didn't do it. And she doesn't know who did."

"How do you know that last part?"

"We're trained to read people by listening to what they say and don't say. We listen to the inflections in their voices and watch their eyes and body movements. Everything I've been taught in that regard tells me she's innocent. Putting it all together, I know she didn't do it and doesn't know who did."

"Okay. Interview her and get her statements on video. Then take her back to the Georgina Antiques store. I'll break the news to the press that we're releasing her for lack of evidence."

"That makes it sound like we believe her to be guilty."

"It's also the truth. I can't help it if it leaves the question of her guilt open. We don't declare any major suspects innocent until we find the guilty party. You know that."

"Yes, sir."

"Go complete the interview of Watson."

"Yes, sir."

*   *   *

When the interview was over, Bolger drove Arlene back to Georgina Antiques. It was only a one-block drive, but he wanted a few minutes alone with her to smooth ruffled feathers. The press had disappeared after the sheriff announced Arlene Watson would be released. As soon as the doors were closed, Bolger said, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to do that but the sheriff ordered me. I told him before the interview started that I was confident you had nothing to do with Blakely's death."

"So what happens now?"

"Well, the house is still a crime scene. You'll have to stay somewhere else until the lab folks are done."

"How long do you think that will be?"

"You'll probably be back in the house within several days— if you really want to go back there."

"Why wouldn't we?"

"Some people are squeamish about being in a house where someone was killed."

"I'm a spiritualist, remember. The dead don't make me squeamish."

"They're not really dead to you, are they?"

"Their mortal existences might have ended, but they still live on— either here or in the hereafter."

"Have you seen any sign of Blakely's spirit?"

"Her spirit? No."

"Isn't that unusual?"

"I haven't had enough experience in that regard to tell you the odds of whether the spirits of murder victims are more likely to remain here or immediately cross over when they die. Most spirits do cross over immediately. The ones who stay usually have a compelling reason to remain here."

"I'd say being murdered is a compelling reason."

"To most people it probably would be. But if the person had an unhappy life here, they might want to cross over right away to join loved ones who have preceded them in mortal death."

"Simona hasn't gone."

"I believe Simona remained here to watch over her daughter, as well as to help see that her killer was punished."

"That case is so old and cold it might never be closed."

"Perhaps."

"So Simona should cross over."

"She may still want to watch over her daughter as Papa Gianni is doing with his daughter."

"Perhaps he'll cross over once Maria marries Tony."

"Perhaps. He said he would."

"You've spoken to him? I mean, he's answered?"

"Briefly. Maria didn't believe he was really there, so she invited me to discuss it in her office. Papa followed me in."

"And?"

"And he demonstrated to Maria that he was really there."

"How did he do that?"

"I'll only tell you if you swear never to tell anyone else."

"I can't do that."

"Then I won't tell you."

After several seconds of silence, Bolger said, "Okay, I promise never to say anything— unless I'm under oath and asked pointedly to verify whatever it is that happened."

"Since you weren't there, you can't verify it actually happened. It would only be hearsay."

"True, but an attorney or judge could ask me if I'd heard about it."

"Okay, as long as you're not responsible for initiating the question."

"I promise not to do that."

"Okay. When I was alone with Papa and Maria, Papa pulled a tissue from the box on her desk and handed it to her."

"You're saying the tissue appeared to float through the air? Seemingly by itself?"

"Papa did it twice. After that he had me relate things that only Maria and he could know. They concerned things that happened just after Maria's mother died when only Papa and Maria were present. I simply acted as a conduit between them, telling her exactly what he said. Oh, and when Maria requested it, Papa manifested. It was only briefly, but when I left, Maria was completely satisfied that Papa really is there."

"Manifested?"

"It's when a spirit makes themselves visible to people in the mortal world. I'm not sure how they do it, but they appear as wispy images. It's almost as if they can coalesce water vapor from the air, kind of like a fog surrounding them as closely as their skin once did, but they can only do it briefly because it requires so much of their ethereal energy. Afterward, it takes quite a while before they completely recover, which is why they do it so seldom. I guess it would be like me running a marathon. If I did make it to the finish line, I'd probably have to sleep for a week. But it's the most effective way for a spirit to prove their existence and presence to people in the mortal world."

"Wow. I understand now why Maria is supporting you one hundred percent. Seeing Papa in the flesh, so to speak, would even convince me. That must have been one interesting conversation."

"You observed one yourself the day you came to my house."

"But I never actually believed Simona was there. She didn't manifest."

"And I'm sure Maria didn't believe Papa was really there when the conversation started. I think you would have believed Simona was really there if I had been able to tell you things that only happened between Simona and yourself while she was alive."

"Maybe."

"And now?"

"Let's just say I'm starting to wonder if I might have been totally wrong about ghosts— er, spirits— all my life."

Arlene said, "It's a beginning," and punctuated it with a smile.

*   *   *

Bruce Macrone awoke and rolled over, surprised it was so light in his motel room. Looking at the clock on the nightstand, he was shocked to see it was almost three p.m. The clock had been set to awaken him at six a.m. each morning, and it had worked fine every day since his arrival in Lake Georgina. He pushed back the sheet covering his naked body and moved to a sitting position to have a cigarette. As he reached for the pack on the nightstand, he realized his right hand was covered in a dried, dark brown substance. Examining it, he realized it appeared to be dried blood. Stunned, he looked at his left hand. It, too, was covered in what appeared to be dried blood. He'd had enough experience with blood in his lifetime to reach the conclusion that, in all probability, it was blood.

Macrone jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, believing he might have suffered a nosebleed while he slept. As he stared into the mirror, he learned the blood hadn't come from his nose, but there were blood splatters on his face. He then began examining his naked body, but he could find no wounds or open cuts and no other signs of blood anywhere else on his body. Picking up the bar of soap supplied to his room, he thoroughly washed his hands and arms. He couldn't make sense of it until he returned to the bedroom and discovered that the clothes he had worn the day before were likewise covered in brown stains. Even his shoes were covered in blood splatters. He sat down on the bed and tried to remember the previous day, but he could only recall the early morning. The last thing he remembered was leaving a local diner after having a filling breakfast. He remembered getting into his rental car and pulling out of the parking lot. A sudden flash had momentarily blinded him, and everything after that was a blank until he'd awakened today.

Macrone knew something serious had happened and supposed he was suppressing a tragic event from his conscious mind, but that didn't make sense, because as an assassin-for-hire he was used to seeing the often bloody bodies of his dying and dead victims. Depending on the wishes of his client, he'd strangled some and some he'd shot, either up close or from a distance. Others had died in what were supposed to appear like accidents from fires or car crashes. Still others should never be found, so he'd had his choice of weapons in those cases. His preferred killing method was a quick knife-cut across the throat, because although quite messy, it left no ballistics evidence, and knives were so easy to acquire and dispose of. A hired killer didn't need to suppress horrific memories of kills. If death bothered him, he would have known long ago that he was in the wrong business. And it was an accepted fact that a killer became more and more immune to feelings of angst over the deaths of his victims.

Whether he would remember the event later didn't really matter as he went into self-protection mode. He first climbed into a hot shower and thoroughly cleansed the dried blood from his skin and hair. As he emerged from the shower stall, he used a nail file to carefully clean under his fingernails. His bloodstained clothes, including the shoes, went into a plastic 'laundry' bag provided by the motel for a guest's soiled clothing. This would keep everything together until he could dispose of it.

He didn't find any bloodstains in the bedding, but there were dried blood flakes, so he removed the sheets and pillowcases, then shook them out and replaced them. Forensics people might be able to find blood flakes in the carpet, but once the carpet was vacuumed tomorrow morning and every day following, it would become increasingly difficult to find any evidence of a crime.

With his room clean of any visual evidence, he dressed, took the plastic bag containing his clothes, and tossed it into the trunk of his rental car. The car's door handle and steering wheel had dried blood on them, so he washed them down and looked around the interior of the car. He couldn't see any other evidence of violence, so he walked back inside and sat down to think.

Several hours later, after struggling to remember every moment of the day before, he gave up. He simply could not remember where the missing day had gone after he'd eaten breakfast or what he had done to be covered in someone else's blood.

He was hungry, not having eaten all day, but before he sat down to a meal he had to dispose of the bloody clothes in the trunk of his car. He walked outside, intent on finding a remote location where he could ditch the plastic bag containing the clothes.









Chapter Nine



"Here it is!" Renee said excitedly as she stared at the pages of a book written nine centuries earlier.

"You found a chronicle of the demon banishment?" Madam Elana asked. While Renee had been reading from the book that was the basis for their trip, Madam Elana had been examining other ancient books written in Old English, which she might never have access to again.

"Yes. The chronicle of the event and the chant." As she read silently from the Italian tome, she said dejectedly, "Oh, gopher wings. They're identical, word for word, to the one we found in your book back home. I guess this was a wasted trip."

"Not at all. This somewhat confirms the account of the banishment in the other book. It's a verification of sorts."

"Okay. I guess we can head home now."

"How far into the book have you read?"

"About seventy-five percent, I'd estimate."

"Since you're in so far, why don't you finish— just to be sure there's nothing else regarding the event."

"Okay. I've been reading slowly to make sure I didn't miss anything. I'll speed up a bit now."

"No, I wouldn't. We've come a long way to read this book, and we had to bribe our way in to access it. We can't easily come back, so let's make sure we don't miss anything in there that might be helpful."

"Okay. I'll make sure I read and understand every word."

*   *   *

"I just can't get into this right now," Arlene said as she carefully closed the ancient book she had been trying to read. She, Megan, and Erin were alone in the reading room below the antiques shop.

"Yeah, I'm having trouble concentrating as well," Megan said. "Who do you think did it? And why?"

"Well, she was the real pushy reporter type— and more than a little obnoxious. She had the nerve to ask me if I'd ever sought professional help to cure my delusion that I can converse with the dead."

"She was probably trying to get you angry so you'd say something she could use against you to create a headline," Erin said. "That kind of reporter usually has enemies everywhere."

"Possibly, but why did one of them have to attack her inside our house. And what was she even doing inside our house? I locked the door before I left, so she must have broken in."

"I can't wait to get back into the house," Megan said. "My back is aching from sleeping on Madam Elana's living room sofa."

"Richard said it should only be for a few days."

"Are you two still on good speaking terms?" Erin asked.

"Yes, it was the sheriff who was pressuring him to embarrass me in front of the press."

"If Simona and Papa Gianni stayed around to take care of unfinished business, why didn't Blakely?" Megan asked.

"I don't know, Meg," Arlene said. "It is a bit strange. It would be really helpful if I could ask her who killed her."

"Maybe that's why she crossed over so quickly. She didn't want to help you after you refused her interview outside the house," Erin said.

"It seems like she'd be more interested in seeing her killer punished than in petty revenge against me because I wouldn't answer her foolish questions."

"Why else wouldn't she stick around?" Erin said. "She's going to have an eternity with those who have crossed over before her."

"Perhaps she was in a hurry to be reborn," Megan said. "That's right, isn't it, Arlene? You said we can be reborn into a new body if we want."

"That's what the spirit said when she was talking through you back in 1883."

"I wish I could hear them when they're using me."

"I know, Meg. But we tell you everything we hear and learn."

"Hey, maybe we can contact this Miss Blakely if she's on the other side."

"That's an idea. I wonder if she'd come. What do you think, Erin?"

"There's only three of us until Renee and Madam Elana return."

"We could try with three," Megan said. "You always said the number of people in the séance wasn't as important as the person performing the séance."

"We could try. The worst that could happen is that she doesn't show."

"Okay," Erin said. "I'm game."

"Me too," Megan said, "Even though I won't get to hear what she says."

"Okay," Arlene said, "Let's give it a try. We've learned we don't need the candles or the food, but let's darken the room a little."

Megan adjusted the illumination to level one as the three women touched pinkies and closed their eyes. Then Arlene tried to reach out to the immortal world while summoning the departed spirit of Meredith Blakely. At one time Arlene had believed the practice of touching digits was so everyone would know that no one had raised their hands to knock on the table. She now believed that making contact with the others at the table allowed the ethereal energy of the participants to unite and flow to the medium, where it could be focused.

"We are trying to reach the spirit of Meredith Blakely, recently departed from Lake Georgina," Arlene said. "Meredith, please answer my call and speak with us."

The minutes ticked by without any response as they waited for the spirit. After several minutes, Arlene tried to summon the spirit again. When ten minutes had passed without any reply, Arlene said, "I guess she's not coming. We should have heard something by now if she intended to respond."

"So what do we do?" Megan asked.

"There's nothing we can do unless she chooses to speak with us. Her mortal life has ended, so there's no way she can be forced to help us find her killer."

"Maybe it's like Erin said," Megan offered. "She's crossed over to the immortal world and just doesn't care about this world anymore."

"Perhaps. Or maybe she's still on this plane and just doesn't want to speak to me. Anyway, I think we're wasting our time with Blakely. If she wants to contact us, I'm sure she can find a way. We've learned that people in the immortal world can contact the spirits who haven't crossed over yet, so Blakely can send a message through Simona or Papa that she wants us to perform a séance when we have Megan available to be receptive to her communication. I suppose we'd better get back to work."

As Arlene opened the book she had closed earlier, she suddenly stopped. "I'm sensing a presence," she said.

"Blakely?" Megan asked.

"I don't know. Whoever it is, the spirit is trying to mask its presence." A bit louder she said, "Spirit, you can't hide from me completely. I know you're here. Reveal yourself." Arlene looked around the room but saw no spirits. "It's not responding."

"Why not?" Megan asked.

"I don't know, Meg. It's trying to hide, but I can sense its presence." Louder, she said again, "Spirit, you can't hide from me completely. I know you're here. Reveal yourself."

"If you want to speak through me, I'll allow it," Megan said. "Not that I could stop you anyway. But I'm not afraid."

"Careful, Megan," Arlene said. "Don't invite someone without knowing who it is. It could be Kamet."

"The demon? Why would he be here?"

"I don't know. But whoever it is, they're working hard to mask their presence from me. I'm sensing continual changes in the ethereal flow. "Hear me, spirit. You can't hide from me. My connection to the immortal world is very strong."

After several more minutes, Arlene took a deep breath and sighed.

"What's going on, Ar?" Megan asked.

"The spirit has left."

"Left?" Erin muttered. "How can you be sure? Maybe it found a way to mask its presence."

"No, I sensed it leaving because the energy lessened until it was gone. If it had found a way to hide from me, it should have happened all at once, like a door suddenly closing."

"Who do you think it was?" Megan asked.

"I don't know. It could have been Simona, Papa Gianni, Meredith Blakely, or Kamet. They're the only four spirits I would expect to find here, but I seriously doubt it would be Papa. He has no reason to hide, and we know that hiding uses energy."

"Ar, do you think Kamet could be responsible for Blakely's death?" Erin asked.

"It's entirely possible. If so, he'll have to rest a bit before taking over another host body. Perhaps he's doing a bit of scouting for another body he can use once he's rested."

"I don't want him in my body," Megan said.

"No, none of us do. But at least we'd recognize it almost instantly."

"What do you mean?"

"I simply mean that you don't have an evil bone in your body. If Kamet was in your body, we'd all know it instantly."

"What about me?" Erin asked.

"It would be a little tougher with you or Renee."

"Are you saying I'm evil?"

"No, of course not. It's just that Meg has such an— open and pleasant personality."

"And I'm not pleasant?"

"Come on, Erin. You know I'm not saying that. Wait a minute" she said with her eyes narrowing. "Why are you suddenly being so argumentative? Has Kamet taken over your body?"

"What? Of course not. How could you ask such a thing?"

Arlene smiled widely and said, "Just kidding, Er. I know he didn't. I would have been able to sense his presence if he had."

*   *   *

It had been slowly growing darker for an hour as day turned to night. The light level coincidentally reflected Bruce Macrone's mood. For hours he had been driving around the backwoods as he searched for an isolated place to bury his blood-soaked clothing. Having earlier purchased a small shovel at a local hardware store in Lake Georgina, he was ready to dispose of the evidence to a crime he didn't remember, but everywhere he went, there were always people nearby. Three times, in different places, he'd had the shovel out and been just about to start digging a hole when nearby campers, hikers, or fishermen made some noise and alerted him to their presence. So he'd had to hike back to his car and begin the search for another location. He knew it was imperative that he dispose of the bloodstained clothes before returning to his motel room.

"Damn hikers," he muttered as he drove along a pothole-filled dirt road. "Why can't they go to Disneyworld like normal people? What is it that attracts people to a god-forsaken place like Lake Georgina? When did trees, mosquitoes, and biting flies become such a wonderful tourist attraction? I hate the outdoors. Give me a good bar, casino, or betting parlor any day."

An hour later, the sun was completely down. After driving along a dirt logging road filled with potholes and half-buried rocks the size of a man's head for ten minutes, he hadn't seen any campfires or light from lanterns or flashlights. The sign at the road entrance had indicated it was State property that was closed to the public, and he felt he'd finally found a location where he could bury the clothing without being seen.

The undergrowth was heavy when he found a place where he would be able to park, then turn the rental car around when he was done. He hadn't ventured more than a dozen feet from the road when he found a small clearing that might serve his purpose. He dropped the plastic bag and began to dig.

The ground was rock-hard and Macrone was sweating profusely after only digging down about a foot. Manual labor was not something he enjoyed, so he decided the hole was deep enough. After retrieving the plastic bag from his trunk, he dropped it into the hole, then began covering the bag with the loose dirt. When he had replaced as much dirt as possible, he stomped his feet on it to compact the small mound before returning to his car. If it hadn't been so dark, he would have noticed how obvious the hiding place appeared.

After struggling to turn the car around on the narrow road, Macrone returned to the paved secondary road, but he wasn't sure where he was. He had plenty of gas left, so he picked a direction and began driving. At some point he expected he would find signage or an identifiable landmark that would allow him to find his way back to Lake Georgina.

*   *   *

"I'm so glad to be going home," Renee said to Madam Elana as the enormous engines of the jumbo jet strained to lift the plane into the sky over the Czech Republic.

"Me too. I'm anxious to get back."

"I wonder if Kamet was weakened by your departure."

"I don't know, but that's the way it's supposed to work. Especially since I'm the most powerful member of the coven."

"If he knew we were leaving, could he have followed along?"

"I suppose so, but he would then lose the energy of the others in the coven. With Gisela remaining there, their combined ethereal energy has to be at least equal to mine."

"What would happen if everyone moved away? I mean— in different directions."

"We were on the verge of doing exactly that when we learned that Oculara might be able to help banish him forever."

"She's only a child."

"She knows what's at stake. If all the members of the coven moved away in different directions, it would weaken Kamet, but as you've suggested, he could follow one of the more powerful members. While it might weaken him substantially, separation certainly wouldn't stop his killing. And if he only had sufficient strength to kill once each year, that death would still be on our heads. No, we have to banish him forever, at all costs. And Oculara understands that. If by her death Kamet is banished back to the Underworld, she's more than willing to sacrifice her mortal life. We all are."

"But killing Arlene would not diminish his strength at all?"

"According to everything we've read on the subject, his power would not be reduced at all."

"So why hasn't he tried to kill her already?"

"I don't know, but I wish I did. I don't mean to imply I wish her harm. It just seems that she would be the most likely target at this point. I was shocked when she called us to say a reporter had been murdered at the house you ladies are renting. It had to have been Kamet."

"But why would he have killed a reporter?"

"Who knows how he picks his targets. Some could be random. Perhaps Kamet was there to make an attempt on Madam Arlene's life. She had been at the house in the hour before the reporter was killed. And in order to attack someone, he has to have a host body. Maybe he left to find a host, and when he found a host body and returned, she might have been gone. So perhaps he succumbed to the urge to kill the next available victim if he couldn't attack her. Maybe just grabbing a host drains him enough that he can't do it again until he's rested, so he didn't want to waste the opportunity to kill."

*   *   *

"Why is that bitch still in this county?" Ralph Godwell, the county chairman of the majority party, shouted when the sheriff picked up the receiver.

"This is America, Ralph, and there are still a few small limitations to my authority. If she was an indigent, she would have either left town by now or she'd be dead. But she comes from money— big money. She threatened to smother us in lawsuits if we tried to strong-arm her or even embarrass her with charges of suspicion. Check her background for yourself. She's got so many zeroes in her net worth, you get dizzy counting them."

"If she's not gone soon, the party will be backing someone else for the position of sheriff this year."

"I promise she'll be gone by September. She has to return to college."

"I want her gone today. Tomorrow by the latest."

"It's not possible without burying this town and county in so many lawsuits it would destroy our future economy. Why are you so eager to see her gone?"

"That doesn't concern you. Just see that she's out of my county by tomorrow."

Sheriff Canaar hung up the phone when he heard the line go dead, then leaned back in his chair, wondering why the county's political leader was so adamant when demanding the departure of the Watson woman. He decided he'd visit her himself since Dick Bolger hadn't been able to follow orders.

*   *

"Madam Arlene," Oculara said, using the intercom system, "the county sheriff is in the office. He wants to talk with you. Shall I send him down?"

Arlene's mind raced as she tried to think of what the sheriff might want now. Perhaps he wanted to charge her with another death? No, she thought, Kamet couldn't have recovered so quickly from the last violent episode, unless this visit is about a death prior to Blakely's. "No, don't send him down here. I'll come up to the office."

Arlene entered the office from the rear entrance a few minutes later. Oculara then left by the door that led to the store, leaving Arlene alone with the sheriff. Canaar looked like someone who had just eaten something that was sour and unappetizing.

"Miss Watson, I want you out of town," Sheriff Canaar said with conviction in his voice. "I want you out of town today. So go pack your things at the house you've been renting from Betty Cuzen and be gone by dark."

In her best John Wayne imitation, Arlene said, "Get out of town by sundown, eh Sheriff? Or meet you at high noon on Main Street tomorrow?" The imitation wasn't very good, and the sheriff never smiled.

"I'm done joking around with you, Miss Watson. You're causing a disturbance in Lake Georgina that's having very unpleasant repercussions. It's time for you to play your games with ghosts somewhere else."

"I'm not playing games with ghosts, Sheriff, but it was a spirit from your community who turned to me for help when your department couldn't locate her body."

The expression on Canaar's face turned even meaner. "I don't believe in ghosts, Miss Watson, but you've sucked a few people into your delusions, and that bothers me. If you're not gone by tomorrow, I'm going to arrest you."

"On what charge?"

"I'll think of one."

"And my attorneys will have me out in twenty-four hours. Then I'll smother this town and county with so many lawsuits, you'll have to hire a battery of lawyers just to keep track of them."

"Are you threatening me, Miss Watson?"

"Not at all. In fact, I'd say it was you who was doing the threatening. I'm simply telling you how I'll respond if you carry through with your threats."

"A jail is not a very pleasant place. Sometimes things beyond our control happen there. You're very attractive, Miss Watson. It would be a shame if some drug addict attacked you while you were incarcerated and scarred up that pretty face."

"More threats, Sheriff?"

"I'm just reminding you that things happen to people when they're in jail cells with felons."

"I'm not frightened, Sheriff. But if something were to happen to me while I was in your custody, I'm sure you would never get reelected this fall. Between that and the lawsuits, you would be the biggest loser in this battle. Tell whoever is pulling your strings to back off, or they risk being named in those dozens of lawsuits my lawyers will be filing."

Raising his voice slightly, Canaar said, "I'm the sheriff of this county, Miss Watson, and I'm not intimidated by the threat of lawsuits."

"And I'm not intimidated by the threat of being arrested or harmed while I'm in your jail. Simona warned me that I would be hearing from you. Following my last little encounter with justice in this town, I contacted my lawyers. They are ready to jump into their corporate jet and be here in hours."

"Simona?"

"Yes, the spirit I helped. She's still here and can go anywhere she wishes. So that means she can observe and hear all that's going on. I understand she's spent quite a bit of time in your office recently. Perhaps you've sensed her presence. Oh, wait, you don't believe in spirits. But, you know, they believe in you. You can't lock yourself in your house or hide behind your office door and expect that you're not being observed. And don't think you can ever have a conversation that a spirit can't hear and report to me. Tell me, is it really true that your party chairman wanted me gone last week and is now pressuring you to make that happen?"

The sheriff was visibly shaken as he considered what she had said, and he took a quick, nervous glance around the room before he said, "I don't believe in ghosts."

"You should. They do have difficulty manipulating matter on this plane of existence, but they are always around us, watching and listening to everything we mortals do and say. And since I'm helping them, they report everything they hear that concerns me. It's better than having the best listening devices international intelligence agencies use."

The sheriff took another nervous glance around the room. Turning back to Arlene, he said strongly, "This is my last warning, Miss Watson. Get out of my county."

"I'm glad it's your last warning. I was really getting tired of hearing it. Now you can just watch me from afar, unless you foolishly decide to arrest me on some phony charge. And this is not your county. It belongs to the people you are supposed to serve. You are a public servant, Sheriff, and if you abuse your authority, there will be serious repercussions."

Sheriff Canaar took a deep breath and released it, the glare on his face reflecting the sense of powerlessness he was feeling at that moment. Usually when he spoke, the little people did what he said without question. Unfortunately, her wealth put Arlene Watson well out of that category. He turned without saying another word and stormed out of the office, slamming the front door of the antiques shop as he left the premises.

*

Once back downstairs, Arlene sat down in her customary chair in the reading room. She wore a grim expression.

"What did the sheriff want?" Erin asked.

"It was the same old story. He wants me— us— out of town and out of his county. He threatened to arrest me if I wasn't gone by tomorrow."

"And?"

"And I told him I'm not leaving. I told him my lawyers had already been advised that I was being subjected to severe harassment by local law enforcement authorities, that they were prepared to fly up here on a moment's notice if it continued, and that they could be here in a matter of hours."

"When did you notify them and make that arrangement?"

"About a minute from now," Arlene said with a smile. "I also told him Simona had been watching him and listening to his private conversations while he was in his office and at home. Then I asked him if it was true that the party chairman was pressuring him to get me out of town."

"What did he say to that?"

"From his reaction, I'd say it was true."

"What made you think it was?"

"Oh, just something Richard said the day he came here to arrest me about how he never wanted to become the sheriff because he'd have to kiss the ass of local politicians. I suspected the party chairman was the only local politician who could pressure the sheriff in the way it seemed that someone was pressuring him."

"And what did the sheriff say to that?"

"He just told me again to get out of town."

"We're not going to leave, are we?" Megan asked.

"Not until we've had a crack at Kamet."









Chapter Ten



"Madam Arlene," Oculara said from the doorway of the reading room, "Father Paul, a local parish priest, would like to speak with you. Should I bring him down?"

"Uh, no. I don't think he should see the collection of books down here. Can I use your office again?"

"Of course."

"Thank you. I'll come up in a moment."

Arlene carefully closed the very old book she was reading after inserting a slip of acid-free paper in to preserve her place, then rose and walked to the stairs that led up to the office.

As she entered the office, she found Father Paul waiting.

"Hello, Father, I'm Arlene Watson."

"Yes, I've seen your picture in the local newspaper. I've been hoping I would have a chance to speak with you. You've caused quite a stir among the local residents of our small community. Some members of the parish are concerned and came to me for advice."

"Yes, I know my presence has had an effect on some people. That was unintentional. I merely wanted to help Simona. I never sought any publicity or fame."

"Nevertheless, the attention of many of our residents has been turned your way."

"Why have you wanted to speak with me, Father? Are you going to threaten me in some way if I don't leave town today?"

"Of course not. Why would you even ask?"

"Because the sheriff has been making threats that I'll be arrested and incarcerated if I'm not gone today. He says my presence here is having a disruptive influence."

"Our sheriff?"

"Is there more than one in this community?"

"Miss Watson, my reason for coming here today is because I've spoken to Maria Gianni. She tells me you've put her in touch with her deceased father."

"Not exactly. I acted as intermediary and conveyed what Papa Gianni was saying."

"She says you claim you can actually see him. And Maria said you told her things that only she and her papa could possibly know. She said she's absolutely positive that no other living person on the planet could know the things you told her. That's an interesting trick."

"It wasn't a trick, Father. Papa revealed that information to me so I could prove to Maria that he really was in the room with us. Uh, are these things she told you while in the confessional, Father?"

"Yes, but I would never betray the sanctity of the confessional if she hadn't given me permission to speak directly with you about them when I questioned their veracity. Uh, she says she gave you free food after you made some tissues float through the air. Was that the fee for your services?"

"It wasn't compensation. I tried to pay her for the food that day, but she adamantly refused to take my money. Do you accept payment for helping people, Father?"

"Of course not. The Church provides for all of my simple needs."

"But you would accept a meal if you visited one of your parishioners and they insisted you stay for dinner?"

"Uh, yes, but I usually refrain and return to eat at the rectory."

"And if they insisted that you take money?"

"If they insisted, I would take it and put it into the poor box at the church. Has anyone insisted you take money?"

"I'm independently wealthy thanks to my great-great-great-grandmother, so I also have no reason to charge for my assistance."

"But I've never claimed to see spirits."

"Yet you pray to them daily, so you must believe they exist. How many times on the average day do you say, 'In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?'"

"Praying to them is vastly different than claiming to see them and have conversations with them. Are you now going to ask me if I've ever seen an electron?"

Arlene smiled. "I see Maria related quite a bit of our conversation."

"Yes, she did."

"Father, I've never understood why God blessed me with this gift that allows me to see and communicate with spirits who have chosen to remain on this plane of existence instead of ascending to heaven after they die, but I'm thankful he, or she, did. My only goal has been to help the spirits and those they've left behind."

"How did you get the tissues to float through the air to Maria?"

"I didn't. I don't possess the ability to perform such acts. Papa did that on his own."

"I've read your book, Miss Watson. One of my parishioners gave me a copy. I found it very— entertaining. Do you really believe you traveled back through time to 1883 and became your own great-great-great-grandmother?"

"Whether you believe I did or did not is for you to decide, Father."

"Miss Watson, the Church takes a dim view of con men or women and charlatans."

Arlene smiled again. "That's amusing, Father."

"What's amusing about it?"

"Every religion tells its followers they must accept without question everything they're told to believe. And all without ever seeing the slightest proof that it's true. Isn't that what con men do— make you believe something without providing any real proof that it's true? I'm not saying the Church is populated with con men, only that there are things that sometimes cannot be explained to everyone's satisfaction and may never be proven, but that doesn't mean they're not true. My unique abilities have often allowed me to know what the truth is while others may have to take it on faith."

"So you really believe in God?"

Arlene pulled out the gold necklace that was partially hidden beneath her blouse and held up the small gold cross. "What do you think, Father? And I've already said that God has given me the gift to interact with spirits."

"It would appear you do believe in God. And a Christian God at that."

"I believe there is only one God, Father. I believe the different religions that believe their God is the one true God are praying to the same God I worship. They simply refer to our God by different names. We always have to remember that the precepts of every religion have been written not by God but by men who claim to be acting on behalf of their God. Who is to say that the God Christians and Jews worship has not appeared to different people in different ways?"

Father Paul stared at Arlene for a few seconds before saying, "And you believe there are only two spirits residing here in Lake Georgina."

"I've said I've only seen two. I would not have seen Simona if she hadn't sought me out, and I would not have met Papa Gianni if I hadn't visited the Gianni Restaurant. There may be spirits here who never leave a house, business, or other place."

"So there are more?"

"I don't know, Father. Spirits, if they wish, can manage to cloak their presence from me."

"So there could be many, many more?"

"To hide from a true spiritualist such as myself takes a great deal of energy on the part of the spirit. And even then, my gift allows me to sense their presence if they're nearby. On several occasions, I've sensed a presence but not seen the spirit. I can't know if it was Simona, Papa Gianni, or even something such as a demon. But contrary to what many people would have us believe, most souls immediately cross over to the immortal world when their corporeal existence ends."

"Are there any here now?"

"In this room? No."

"You're positive? Even though you didn't look around?"

"Yes, I'm positive. Unless they've suddenly discovered a way to hide themselves from me completely, I would have sensed their presence even without visual identification."

"So you believe it's unlikely any spirits are in here?"

"That's what I believe."

Father Paul nodded and stared at Arlene for several seconds. "I can understand why so many people believe you're the genuine article. There's no hard sell."

"But you don't believe me?"

"I haven't really seen anything to convince me."

Arlene smiled and asked, "Have you ever seen an electron, Father?"

Father Paul grinned. "Are we back to that?"

"Did we ever leave it? Allow me to allay your fears. Your flock has nothing to fear from me, Father. And my religious beliefs do not in any way contradict the basic tenets of your church, or, I imagine, your professed beliefs. Indeed, any religious scholar knows— as I alluded to a few minutes ago— that neither the Christian Bible nor the Jewish Mikra was written by God. The books claim they are the word of God, written by men who claimed to be recounting events that occurred back to the beginning of time, long before there were scholars to record the truth.

"As an example, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.'"

"Genesis. The version from the New American Standard Bible."

"Yes. I believe both Christians and Jews accept it as truth, although the actual words vary slightly from book to book."

"What exactly is your point?"

"The same one. We never left— belief. I can't prove to you that I can see and communicate with spirits, and you can't prove to anyone that the Old Testament is an accurate account of what really happened. We must both simply— take it on faith."

"The Church doesn't accept that ordinary people can see and communicate with spirits, Miss Watson."

"By ordinary, I assume you mean people who haven't taken the holy vows required by your religious hierarchy. You know Father, the Catholic Church has not always been correct in its judgments and pronouncements. Galileo, for example, was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life by the Catholic Church because he insisted that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of our known universe at that time. Moving forward to today, the Church does believe there are spirits. It also still performs exorcisms, so it obviously believes demons still roam the Earth, although it tries to downplay such activities. I will continue to believe in most of the teachings of the Church because I've seen things that remove all doubt from my mind. What you believe is up to you, Father. And— I also know myself to be an ordinary person who can see and communicate with spirits."

Father Paul took a deep breath and released it slowly before saying, "I don't know if your claims are accurate or if you're delusional, and I may never know. But I believe you believe them and that this is not just some sort of giant hoax being perpetrated on the good people of Lake Georgina. I will not support your claims, Miss Watson, but neither will I speak out against them."

"Thank you, Father. I don't ask more than that. I believe that when people keep an open mind, they learn a lot more than they ever will with a closed one. But you're wrong on one point, Father Paul. One day you will know that my claims were accurate and that I was not delusional."

*

"What did the priest want?" Erin asked when Arlene returned to the reading room.

"I'm not exactly sure. At first he seemed very concerned that a spiritualist might be a bad influence on his parishioners. He wanted to know how I had convinced Maria Gianni that her father's spirit was still on this plane of existence. Then he wanted to understand how I am able to see spirits while no one else can. But I got the impression there was something else. Something he really wanted to know— but left without asking."

*   *   *

Renee and Madam Elana were exhausted when they finally drove into Lake Georgina. Cancellations and flight delays had added an additional twelve hours to the already long travel time from Prague. It was early afternoon, so they headed for the antiques store. They received a warm welcome home from Gisela, Oculara, Arlene, Megan and Erin.

"Have the police discovered who killed that reporter?" Renee asked as soon as the greetings were over.

"We haven't heard anything yet," Arlene said, "so I'm assuming they have no suspects, other than me."

"You're not really a suspect, are you?" Madam Elana asked.

"I think they're satisfied I didn't do it, but I'm a convenient scapegoat because I was one of the last people to see her alive."

"Who else saw her?" Renee asked.

"The person who killed her, for one."

"Don't keep us waiting in suspense," Megan said. "Tell us what you wouldn't tell us over the phone. Did you find anything in that book you went to see?"

"Yes," Renee said. "We found an account of a demon exorcism that appears to be exactly the same as the one we already had here. Word for word."

"Is that all?" Arlene asked.

"No," Madam Elana said. "We found something else. Let's go downstairs and sit down. We'll tell you all about it."

*   *   *

"Sheriff Canaar here, Father Paul. Did you speak to the Watson woman?"

"Yes, I did as you requested, Sheriff."

"I'm sure you agree she's psychologically disturbed and a disruptive influence in our community— and a danger both to herself and others. If you'll put that in writing, I can have her picked up immediately and transported to a mental hospital for professional medical evaluation where she can't do any more harm to this community or to herself."

"No, Sheriff, I don't agree with your nonprofessional evaluation. My opinion of Miss Watson is that she's an extremely articulate and intelligent young woman whose feet are firmly planted in reality. She may have certain religious beliefs I don't personally subscribe to, but she's certainly not psychologically disturbed. And I've seen no evidence at all that she represents a disruptive influence in the community or a danger to herself or others. She appears to spend all her days in the offices of the Lake Georgina Antiques Shop, and other than at meal times, she has had little contact with our community members, except where they have sought her out."

"Oh my God. She's worked her voodoo on you too, hasn't she?"

"Not at all. We had a long conversation and I learned that she's a good Christian with a firm belief in God. I don't know why you're working so hard to railroad her into a mental hospital, but I will oppose any effort to do that. And I can tell you that if you do manage to accomplish that, it's unlikely you'll receive enough votes in the next election to even make a decent showing. I have to go now, Sheriff. One of my parishioners is waiting for me. God bless you and I hope you see the folly of whatever you're attempting to do before you ruin your past reputation for effective and responsible law enforcement."

Before the sheriff could even respond, the line went dead. As Canaar hung up the phone he released a string of profanities that would have turned the priest's ears red. He would have to find some other way to get rid of the Watson bitch.

*   *   *

State conservation officer Amanda Burtwell froze where she was. She had been walking along the road through a wooded section of state land that was part of her patrol area when she heard digging sounds coming from the bushes. Curious, she stealthily moved through the undergrowth along the road to see where the sound was coming from. Just a dozen feet from the road, she came across a fox trying to uncover something in the ground. The fox was so absorbed in its digging efforts, it didn't hear Burtwell until the officer was within a few feet. As soon as it realized a human was approaching, it disappeared into the nearby bushes. Burtwell suspected that the fox had been trying to dig out a rabbit hole, so she was surprised when she walked over to the dig area and saw what appeared to be part of a white plastic bag sticking up through the dirt. She then assumed that some camper had simply buried their trash instead of taking it with them and disposing of it properly, so she grabbed hold of the bag and pulled. The bag, no doubt partially damaged by the fox, ripped, spilling its contents onto the ground. Burtwell immediately saw bloodstained clothes and might have assumed someone had cut themselves while hiking or cooking if the volume of blood hadn't seemed so enormous. She pulled out her radio and called in a report.

Her training had taught her not to further contaminate a crime scene, so Burtwell moved back to the road, trying not to make any more tracks than necessary while awaiting the arrival of the sheriff's deputies.

*   *   *

"Madam Arlene," Oculara said from the doorway of the reading room, "Lieutenant Bolger from the sheriff's office is here to see you. Shall I allow him access to the library?"

"Yes, Oculara. Thank you." Arlene closed the book she was reading, after marking her place with a slip of archival paper, and stood up to stretch her legs. Although the new information from Prague confirmed the account of the exorcism in Italy during the second century, they were continuing their research in the hope of finding additional supporting information while they prepared for the exorcism attempt to banish Kamet.

"Still hard at work I see," Bolger said as he entered the reading room and sat down. Arlene was the only one there at the moment.

"Yes. What can I do for you, Richard? More threats from the sheriff that I'd better get out of town before sunset or meet him for a shootout on the main street at high noon tomorrow?"

Bolger chuckled. "No threats. I wanted to let you know that you can move back into the house you rented from Betty Cuzen. The forensic people have completed their investigation."

"It took long enough."

"Well, I heard that the sheriff told them to stay with it until they found evidence pointing to you as the killer."

"And did they find this imaginary evidence?"

"No. And they finally had to terminate their efforts because there were other investigations that needed their attention."

"So you don't have a clue who actually killed her?"

"Not yet, but we're still working some leads. We have learned one interesting fact. Meredith Blakely wasn't her real name. A search of the DNA files across the country turned up a missing person's report. Blakely's DNA was a match for a woman named Virginia Reffer who disappeared the evening her husband, Keith Reffer, was shot and killed just outside Provo, Utah about fifteen years ago. Blood believed to be hers was found on his clothes. The police there suspected she might also have been killed and her body dumped somewhere else, but it never turned up. The date of her disappearance is consistent with the time she arrived here in Lake Georgina."

"So her husband was killed and she disappeared. That works."

"What works?"

"We've wondered why her spirit didn't hang around like Simona's to get justice. She knew I was here, and she could have contacted me easily enough."

"I'm not following you. What did you mean when you said, 'That works?'"

"Remember our conversation in New Bedford about your background and whether or not you'll be able to cross over to the immortal world?"

"Ah, gotcha. You think she killed her husband and that as soon as she died, her soul was dragged down to the Underworld."

"Exactly."

"Well, as you said— that works."

"It's not proof positive that she killed her husband, but if she did…"

"Yes," Bolger said, putting all the pieces together in his mind. "She might have been injured while killing her husband, and that's where the blood sample came from. He might have tried to stop her or kill her after she shot him, and that's how her blood wound up on his clothes."

"Or, she might have even planted it to make the police in Provo believe she had also been a victim. The sharing of DNA information across the country following crimes wasn't widespread fifteen years ago."









Chapter Eleven



"Mrs. Dolores Mendez?" Erin said as a woman with the appearance of Mexican heritage opened the door.

"Yes," the woman replied. "Can I help you ladies?"

"We hope so. Are you the same Delores Mendez who once lived in Lake Georgina in New York State?"

"Uh, yes. I lived there once. That was a number of years ago."

"We're pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mendez. I'm Erin McDonald and this is my good friend, Megan Kearney-Heston. We've had quite a job tracking you down."

"Why have you been tracking me down?" Mrs. Mendez asked with suspicion evident in her voice and concern reflected on her face.

"Uh, we've just come from Lake Georgina."

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Mendez said curtly, then added as she started to close the door, "I have nothing to say to reporters about Lake Georgina."

"We're not reporters, Mrs. Mendez." Erin said quickly. "We're working with Madam Elana."

Mrs. Mendez stopped closing the door and said, "How is Madam Elana? Is her hair still a vibrant red?"

"No, I'm afraid it's turned completely white."

Mrs. Mendez opened the door fully again. "That was the correct answer. What do you mean when you said you're working with Madam Elana?"

"One of my very good friends is a spiritualist. She was contacted by Simona, who wanted her help."

"Your friend lives in Lake Georgina?"

"No, we're all from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Simona somehow learned about our friend and located her, then managed to get her involved in the investigation."

"I don't understand. Simona, um, disappeared— many years ago."

"Yes, but with the help of Simona's spirit, my friend was able to tell the police exactly where Kamet had hidden the body after he killed her."

At the mention of Kamet's name, a frightened look came over Mrs. Mendez's face. "That's a name I hoped never to hear again."

"Unfortunately, Kamet is still murdering people throughout the county on a regular basis. We have to stop him."

"We tried to stop him, and Simona was killed as a result."

"Gisela says that my friend, Arlene Watson, is far more powerful than Simona was. Gisela says Arlene's past lives extend back at least four millennia, and possibly five, which is why she's able to see spirits as well as I can see you right now."

"Five millennia? No, that's incorrect," Delores said shaking her head. "No one's past lives go back that far."

"Gisela says she saw an Egyptian pyramid under construction with thousands of workers when she shook hands with Arlene. Since the earliest pyramids were started around 2600 B.C. and most were completed by about 2400 B.C., we're guessing between four and five millennia. "

"Gisela said that?"

Erin nodded.

"Gisela has a rare gift." Stepping out of the way so Erin and Megan could enter, she said, "Uh, please come in, ladies, so we can discuss this. I'm sorry to have kept you standing on the doorstep. And I'd love to hear how everyone is faring back in Lake Georgina."

Erin and Megan smiled and entered the home, their spirits buoyed by this first real display of benevolence.

As she closed the door, Mrs. Mendez said, "I was just about to make a pot of tea. Will you join me? Or perhaps you'd like coffee or a soft drink?"

"Tea is fine for me," Erin said.

"Same here," Megan said with a smile.

"Shall we sit in the kitchen?"

"That's fine," Erin said. She and Megan followed Mrs. Mendez towards the rear of the house.

"So how is everyone in Lake Georgina?" Mrs. Mendez asked as she put the teakettle on the stove and turned on the gas.

"All the members of the coven, with the exception of you, Nancy Whittaker, and Simona, are still there and get together on a frequent basis either in the antiques store or at the property just outside of town. Uh, do you happen to know where Nancy Whittaker moved to?"

"The last time I spoke to Nancy, she was engaged to be married to a man named Lawrence Talburt. So she might be Nancy Talburt now. I understood at the time that he had been offered a job in Silicon Valley up in Northern California."

"Thank you for that lead. We haven't been able to find any trace of her."

"Why exactly have you been looking for us?"

"We need you to come back to Lake Georgina for a visit."

"Oh, absolutely not. I'm living here in San Diego County because it's the farthest I could get from New York and still be in the contiguous U.S. I'm never going back to Lake Georgina or even anywhere near the county where it's located. Out here I've been safe from Kamet."

"But the people back home are not safe. You were one of the original coven that freed Kamet from the Underworld. You have a responsibility to help send him back."

"He's far too powerful for us to handle."

"Simona was one of the three coven members who had the most power. By killing her, Kamet weakened himself considerably. He learned his lesson that night, and we believe that's why he hasn't attacked any other coven members in all these years. My three friends and I have no such protection, but we're willing to risk our mortal existence to send Kamet back down where he belongs. Madam Arlene is most at risk, since she's the only truly powerful one in our quartet, and Kamet will not be weakened further by killing her. The danger to you is minimal. Since killing Simona, Kamet has only been capable of killing one person before he has to rest. That one person would most certainly be Madam Arlene. One of the spirits from the immortal world warned her of the danger."

"A spirit from the immortal world?"

"Madam Arlene can not only see the spirits who have chosen to reside on this plane of existence. She has the ability to summon spirits who have crossed over."

"She's told you this?"

"We've witnessed it in person, a number of times."

"Except me," Megan said. "The spirits always use me as their medium, so I've never heard a thing. The others tell me what happened after the spirit has left. Spirits from the immortal world weaken quickly when trying to manipulate bodies on this plane, so they never stay long and must rest for quite a while before they attempt it again."

"This is all so incredible. We tried contacting spirits, really tried, but it never worked. Until Kamet, that is. And we were only trying to contact someone from the other side. We never meant to free him from the Underworld. We had no idea he was a demon."

"Madam Elana has explained how it happened. And we understand why you're so frightened. But we need you. All living members of the coven that freed him must be present if we're to have the best chance of sending him back to the Underworld. If we can't do it, he'll go right on killing innocent people in and near Lake Georgina until every member of the original coven is dead."

"Dead?" Delores said with horror written on her face.

"Not at the hands of Kamet. I meant of old age, illness or accident. Certainly not because he killed them. As I've said, each death of an original coven member weakens him. He learned that with Simona, so you're in little danger. And— although he's on this plane of existence, he can only kill once before he has to rest. So, at most, just one of us will die. To stop Kamet's killing spree, I will gladly endanger my mortal existence, as will Madam Arlene, Megan, Renee, and Oculara."

"Renee?"

"She's the fourth member of our little band from New Bedford. She and Madam Elana just returned from Prague, where they visited a museum to view a manuscript. The hope was that it would tell us how to finally send Kamet down, and we believe we now have the right chant and procedure. But the manuscript indicated that we must have all living members of the original coven present, or the chances for success are greatly lessened."

"I never had any real power. As you said, it was with Madam Elana, Simona, and Gisela that the power resided."

"But Madam Elana and Renee learned while in Prague that the spell that freed Kamet bonded the coven members in a unique way, so we must have every one of you present at the ceremony. If not for that new information, we wouldn't be here now, and our chances of sending Kamet back to Hell wouldn't be nearly as good as they are."

"I want to help, but I'm afraid. I have to think about this."

"I understand completely. Megan and I will stay in town until tomorrow, and you can give us your answer then."

"You'll stay for dinner, won't you?" Delores asked.

"We'd love to stay and have dinner with you. We'll have time to bring you up to date with everything we know about your friends in the coven."

*   *   *

"Richard, we've got the DNA results on the bloody clothing found in the woods," the forensic specialist said when Lt. Bolger answered his phone.

"Wow, that was fast! I remember when it took six weeks."

"Yeah. Some of the bigger crime units around the country can do it in just twenty-four hours now. For us, a turnaround of three days is a new record since we don't actually perform the work here."

"Okay, Jimmy, did we get a match?"

"The blood on the clothing is that of Meredith Blakely, as you thought."

"It didn't require any amazing leap of logic once you told us it was B negative, because we knew from the autopsy that Blakely's blood was B negative."

"Yeah, B negative is the second rarest blood type after AB negative. Just one person in sixty-seven has it. But now the DNA report confirms that the blood on the clothing was definitely hers, with an error margin of just one-hundredth of one percent."

"So what are we looking for in terms of a suspect?"

"The clothing is almost new. The sizes would indicate that the perp is male, between five-ten and six feet."

"We could tell the bag of clothes hadn't been in the ground very long. If they had, some other critter besides that fox would have already dug them up. We got lucky that a conservation officer happened to be walking by to witness the act before the fox ripped everything to shreds."

"Any prints?"

"Yeah, we got a few partials and one really good thumb print. We sent them to the State's Division of Criminal Justice in Albany. They say that our individual is almost definitely one Bruce Macrone. Macrone's height just happens to be five-feet-eleven. I've uploaded everything we've got to the case file and you can access it on your computer."

"Okay, Jimmy. Thanks for the fast service on this."

"Happy to oblige when we can, Rich."

After ending the call, Lt. Bolger turned to his computer and pulled up the case file. There was a reference that Macrone had had a juvenile record since the age of ten, but juvenile records were sealed, and Bolger would have to get a court order to access it. Since becoming an adult, Macrone had been arrested a dozen times for assault and battery, and he had been arrested on suspicion of murder three times. But the DA had always declared there wasn't enough evidence to convict, and Macrone and been released each time. Since then, he had been a prime suspect in more than a dozen murders, but there had never been any evidence to link him to the crime.

"We've got a real bad boy here," Bolger mumbled as he continued to read the file. When he came to a police mug shot of Macrone, he said aloud, "I've seen him! But where?" Bolger racked his brain for a minute and then said, "I know where. He was at the Gopher Hole a few weeks ago when I dropped in to have a few beers."

Ten minutes later, an APB was texted to all sheriff's units to be on the lookout for a William Macrone. The message said he had a long criminal record and was wanted for questioning in the murder investigation of Meredith Blakely. The message warned that he should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. A police mug shot of Macrone was included. All mobile units could print out the message and have a hard copy of the information and the suspect's mug shots. Two units were dispatched to visit all motels and B&Bs in the area, in addition to all local real estate offices, to see if anyone recalled seeing Macrone. Perhaps someone would know if he was still in the area or might know where he was staying.

*   *   *

"Good morning, Delores," Erin said as Mrs. Mendez opened the door.

"Come in, ladies."

Erin and Megan entered the house as Delores stepped to the side and then closed the door behind them.

"Come into the kitchen. Would you care for some tea?"

"Yes, thank you," Erin said.

Megan smiled and nodded.

Five minutes later, the freshly prepared tea had been poured and the women were seated at the kitchen table.

"I didn't sleep very well last night," Mrs. Mendez said. "I kept seeing the frightened face of Simona on that last night of her life as she turned and ran from the person Kamet had taken over."

"Uh, whose body did he assume?" Erin asked.

Mrs. Mendez took a sip form her teacup and put it down before saying, "I'm sorry, but we all swore never to reveal that information. That person was just an unwitting tool in Simona's death and shouldn't be punished."

"I understand. A great many people have died at the hands of a person Kamet has taken over, and in most cases the 'tool' was charged with the crime and incarcerated, all the while saying they didn't remember doing it. Several people have actually committed suicide after waking up and seeing what they had done. We have to stop Kamet. He must be returned to the Underworld, or he'll continue his reign of carnage over the citizens of Lake Georgina and the surrounding area."

"I know. I know. But just thinking about going back frightens me more than I can say. I wish I could face up to my responsibility and go back with you, but I can't. I decided last night that I will never return to Lake Georgina. I'm sorry I'm such a coward."

Standing and motioning to Megan to stand, Erin said, "I'm sorry also. It doesn't matter what your intentions were, you are still partly responsible for the deaths of a great many people. This was an opportunity to right a wrong you were a party to. I'm glad I'm not you, because you will have to live with this decision for the rest of your life. Let's go, Meg."

*   *

As Erin drove to the I-5 to begin the trip north, Megan called Arlene to give her the bad news.

"Well, that's one down," Arlene said. "Hopefully you'll have better luck with Nancy Whittaker."

"It's supposed to be Nancy Talburt now," Megan said, "We got an address for a Lawrence Talburt in San Jose, so that's where we're headed."

"Good luck, and have a safe trip."

"Thanks, Ar. Bye."

"Okay, navigator," Erin said. "We just stay on I-5 for about the next six hours, right?"

"Yes, or until we get to state route 152 west near a town named Los Banos."

"Say, doesn't Los Banos mean 'the bathroom' in Spanish?"

"It could."

"Who would name their town 'the bathroom'?" Erin said before grimacing.

"Well, it can also mean 'the spa.' There are number of places in the States where the last part of the name is Spa."

"That's a little bit better."

*   *   *

"You're off the hook," Lt. Bolger said as he sat down next to Arlene in the reading room below the antiques store.

"I beg your pardon. Off the hook?"

"For the murder of Meredith Blakely."

"I never knew I was on the hook."

"Never in my mind. But the sheriff seemed to have his heart set on naming you the killer. As you're probably aware now that you've moved back into the house, the forensics people found that the rear door had been forcibly opened, probably by a powerful person kicking the door just to the right of the handle."

"Yes, we became aware of that after we moved back in. We didn't know if it had been done by the killer or someone else. Betty has already had a carpenter come and repair the damage."

"We've also found the killer. And I believe we have enough evidence to get a conviction. He claims he has no memory of killing Blakely, but we have his blood-covered clothes. He tried to bury them in the woods, but a fox apparently smelled the blood and dug them up. A conservation officer came across the scene while the fox was trying to pull the plastic bag containing the clothes out of the burial location."

"He says he has no memory of committing the murder?"

"Yeah. He says he just woke up in his hotel room to find his clothes and hands covered in dried blood. I've heard some lame defenses in my time, but that's about the lamest, unless he's laying a foundation for an insanity defense."

"It seems I've heard about that defense being used in this area before."

"Okay, where are you going with this, Madam Arlene?"

"We know there's been a significant spike in homicides in this county over the past eleven years or so."

"Yes. That's true."

"In how many homicide cases during that time has the suspect claimed not to remember doing the deed?"

"I don't know. Maybe one or two."

"Would it be easy to find out?"

"I guess. I'd have to run a search of the computer records."

"Will you do that?"

"Tell me why."

"I can't. Not just yet. But I promise to tell you as soon as I can."

"Are you suggesting there might be some truth in what Macrone is saying?"

"Is that the suspect's name?"

"Yes. William Macrone."

"I promise to tell you as soon as I can, if you perform the search. I'm pretty sure what the results will be."

"Okay, I give up. What will the results be?"

"I'm going to let you tell me when you know them."

Lt. Bolger looked at her intently. He knew she wasn't going to tell him unless he performed the search. With anyone else, he probably would have forgotten about the request before he returned to his office, but Madam Arlene was a breed apart from other twenty-one-year-olds. She didn't seem the type that made frivolous requests. And she had piqued his curiosity. He nodded and stood up, then left without another word.

After Bolger had gone, Renee said, "Kamet?"

"It sounds like it."

"Was he after you?"

"I don't know. He's had plenty of opportunities to come at me if he wanted to. My only defense is that I'll definitely know it's him when he comes. I'm reasonably certain he can't both manipulate the host and hide his aura."

"What are we going to do?" Madam Elana asked. "We can't let another innocent person be punished for something they had no control over."

"That's what I was thinking when I asked Richard to perform that search. I'm hoping the number of people who claimed not to be aware of what happened will be significant enough to raise concerns and possible doubts about the convicted people's guilt. We'll just have to wait and see. I wonder if Erin and Megan have found Nancy Talburt yet. Shouldn't they have called by now?"

"It's three hours earlier there," Renee said. "They're probably just leaving the motel about now."

"Well, at least we know they're safe from Kamet," Madam Elana said.

"I hope so," Arlene said.

"They have to be," Madam Elana said. "They're twenty-five hundred miles from here."

"I hope that's enough."









Chapter Twelve



"Have you figured out where we are yet?" Erin asked.

"We're in San Jose," Megan replied.

"We knew that already. But where in San Jose are we?"

"We're in the area bounded by Routes 880, 101, 280, and 87. And we just passed a sign that read East Santa Claus Street, but I don't see that on the map. What a minute, there's an East Santa Clara street on the map. Maybe that's what they meant. The GPS feature on my phone says keep going straight for three intersections and turn left."

"Okay," Megan said a minute or so later after they had turned left, "Now turn right at the second intersection."

After Erin had made the turn, Megan said, "It should be on the left side somewhere along here."

Erin slowed the car so they could read the street numbers.

"There it is!" Megan said excitedly. "There it is."

"Okay, now let's find a parking spot."

Having arrived quite late in San Jose the previous day, the two women hadn't wanted to call on the Talburts, so they had found a nice motel and then gone out for a late dinner, leaving this chore until morning. It was now just after ten a.m.

"This is a nice house," Megan said as they approached the front door. "A little small maybe but nice."

"The houses are small around here because the prices are astronomical. When you add in the fact that the taxes in this state are already the highest of all the states in the entire country, it's amazing anyone still lives here at all. I've read that a great many of the largest companies have already moved their plants out of the state. One company even moved their corporate headquarters to Canada, and a number of other companies are building plants elsewhere with plans to move away as soon as the new plants are built. The legislators in this state are taxing themselves and the citizens into oblivion."

"But they do have nice weather," Megan said.

"Yes, they do have nice weather. That's about the only attraction these days."

As Megan pressed the doorbell, the door opened wide, and a woman of about thirty-five looked at them for a couple of seconds before saying, "Erin and Megan?"

"Yes," Erin said. "How did you know?"

"Delores Mendez called me last night. It was the first time in years I'd heard from her. She said you were on your way up here."

"And your answer is?"

Stepping back out of the way, she said, "Please, come in."

As Erin and Megan entered the house, Nancy Talburt said, "The living room is on the left. Please make yourselves comfortable. I'll be with you in just a minute."

Meg and Erin sat down to await the reappearance of Mrs. Talburt. It seemed a long wait, but when she returned she was carrying a tray with cups, creamer, sugar, and a teapot with steam rising from its spout.

"Would you ladies care for some tea?"

"Yes, thank you," both said almost in unison.

An awkward silence ensued after the women fixed their tea. It lasted almost a full minute until Nancy Talburt said, "I lay awake almost all night thinking about Lake Georgina and the terrible curse we called forth. I'm sure that by now, many people have died at the hands of Kamet."

"And they continue to die," Erin said. "A female reporter was killed just recently. We learned last night that the killer claims to have no memory of the event. He says he awoke with blood-stained hands, his clothes saturated with her blood."

"My God, will it never end?"

"Not unless we make it end. Did Delores fill you in on current events?"

"She told me you intend to send Kamet back to Hell. She said you believe you have the right chant, know the correct procedure, and that your friend Madam Arlene is a powerful spiritualist."

"All true. Did she also tell you that we need you to come back?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"I can't adequately describe how much the thought of returning to face Kamet terrifies me. Simona was a powerful presence in the coven, and yet we never saw her again after our attempt to banish Kamet. I know that thanks to your friend, her remains have been located and laid to rest. But I can't return to Lake Georgina. I swore I would never go back when I left ten years ago. I believe I'm safe out here. I'm married now and I have a little girl who just turned seven. If I were to return to Lake Georgina and I died, she'd be left motherless. I couldn't do that to her."

"Oculara has been raised without a mother," Erin said. "I can't help but wonder how many other children have lost their parents to Kamet since you helped free him and loosed him on the innocent people of Lake Georgina— and how many more will lose their parents in the future. If we don't stop him, Kamet will continue to kill and kill and kill until all of the original coven members have died of old age. Do you want all the orphaned children who are the real victims of Kamet's violence on your conscience for the next fifty or sixty years?"

Nancy Talburt put down her cup and began crying into her hands. Erin and Megan, although wishing they could rush over to her and try to comfort her, just sat and watched. They had endeavored to make her feel guilty and knew that to offer solace now might undo the somber mood Erin's words had created. Arlene and Madam Elana had emphasized how important the presence of Delores Mendez and Nancy Whittaker was at the ceremony. They had been unsuccessful with Delores Mendez, so they desperately needed Nancy Whittaker-Talburt's return to Lake Georgina for the exorcism.

"If it's any comfort, Nancy," Erin said, "It's unlikely in the extreme that Kamet would attempt to take your life."

Mrs. Talburt lifted her head, used a napkin to dab at her eyes, and said, "What do you mean?"

"Kamet draws his power in the form of ethereal energy from the combined energy of the coven members who freed him from the Underworld. When he killed Simona, he was weakened irreparably. He learned that if he kills any of the coven, his powers will be weakened still further, so he won't do that again if he can avoid it. Instead, he'll probably come after Megan, myself, Madam Arlene, our friend Renee, or Oculara. We're all willing to sacrifice our mortal lives to send Kamet back where he came from."

"Are you serious? You had nothing to do with releasing Kamet. Why should you risk your lives in this?"

"Because it has to be done. Kamet's killing spree has to end. We believe we are capable of doing that, and we will make the effort, with or without you. But the chances will be better with you there."

"You make me feel so ashamed for only thinking of my own life and how my death would affect my family."

"We understand. None of us want to do this. We must do this."

Mrs. Talburt sniffled and nodded. "I'll come."

*   *   *

"One hundred twenty-seven," Lt. Bolger said as he entered the reading room below the antiques store after Oculara had opened the door for him. He plopped down into a chair across from Arlene.

Renee and Madam Elana were at the table as well. All had been reading when he entered.

"One hundred twenty-seven convicted killers stated they had no memory of committing the crime?" Arlene asked.

"No, that's the number of paces from here to the Courthouse."

Arlene just stared at him without smiling.

"Yes," he finally said, regretting his attempt at humor. "That's how many convicted killers in this county during the past eleven years stated they had no recollection of the event. But the preponderance of evidence was enough to establish their guilt."

"And you don't think one hundred twenty-seven such declarations are unusual?"

"On the contrary, I find it highly unusual. How did you know about them?"

"A question first. If you subtract one hundred twenty-seven from the total number of homicides committed during the past eleven years, plus subtract the number of people who committed suicide right after the deed and further subtract the number of horrendous murder cases where you had no suspects, what does that do to your homicide rate average for the past eleven years when compared to previous years?"

Bolger thought for a moment before saying, "Without the one hundred twenty-seven and the other two groups, the homicide rate would be very close to that of previous decades. Again, how did you know?"

"One more question. What do you suppose would be the answer if your same search algorithm was run against the records of other counties in this part of the state?"

"I don't have to suppose. I contacted a buddy in an adjoining county and he checked. He said that only one convicted person had claimed not to have any recollection of doing the deed. So I ask again, how did you know?"

"I can't tell you— yet."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not ready to believe yet, Richard. Do you remember what I said to you in Gianni's restaurant the first day I arrived in Lake Georgina when you asked me about the specifics of the blind trust established by my great-great-great-grandmother?"

"I remember you didn't answer my question."

"What I actually said was, 'If I told you of some of the things I've experienced, you'd probably do your best to have me committed.' Well, this is another one of those things."

"Look, I admit that in the beginning I was as much an unbeliever about all this as someone could possibly be. I thought it was all phony talk, just used by con people to make a buck. But you've changed that, Madam Arlene. The things you've done make me seriously doubt my earlier beliefs that spirits were just a figment of people's imaginations. I still don't know how far I'm willing to go, but I'm ready to take the next step."

Arlene smiled. "Promise you won't try to have me or my friends committed?"

"I promise."

"Okay, Richard. Hang on to your chair. About eleven years ago, while trying to make contact with a spirit from the immortal world, Madam Elana's coven accidently released a demon from the Underworld."

Bolger sat in the chair staring at Arlene. He didn't say anything or do anything other than blink his eyes.

Finally, Arlene said, "Don't believe it, huh?"

"I'm trying. A demon, eh?"

"Yes, a particularly nasty and evil one by the name of Kamet."

"And this Kamet tells these people to commit murder. Sort of like the dog that told the serial killer Son of Sam to murder people."

"No, Kamet doesn't communicate with the people chosen to commit the murder. He simply takes full control of the victim's body and kills the intended target. The victim is never even aware of what happened."

"I think you're right."

"You do?"

"Yes. I'm not ready to believe— yet."

"Oh."

"Come on, Madam Arlene. Demons? Really."

"Why do you suppose we've been sitting down here for weeks studying musty old books written in numerous languages?"

"I admit I've wondered about that."

"We've been searching for a way to return Kamet to the Underworld."

"Why not just have Father Paul perform whatever religious ceremony is required?"

"On the topic of spirits and demons, he's quite a bit more enlightened than you, Richard, but this is a bit too far outside his erudition."

"Erudition?"

"Uh, it means 'profound scholarly knowledge.'"

"And you've read all of these books?"

"After almost two months of intense effort, we've barely made a dent. But we believe we've found what we need to know."

Lt. Bolger reached over, took the book Renee had just been reading, and opened it. After a few seconds he asked, "What language is this?"

"Italian," Renee said. "I've been reading all of the Italian books, Arlene has been reading all of the Greek books, Erin was reading all of the Latin books, and Megan was reading the French books."

"Why?"

"As Madam Arlene has told you, we've been searching for the proper way to return a demon to the underworld," Madam Elana said. "It's the reason Renee and I traveled to Prague a couple of weeks ago. We needed to view a second-century account of an exorcism that took place in Italy."

Looking at Arlene, Bolger said, "You're serious about this demon stuff, aren't you?"

"Deadly serious, Richard. We must banish him back to the Underworld to stop him from murdering people by using other innocent people in this county."

"The guy who killed Meredith Blakely isn't an innocent. He's a paid assassin who has gotten away with murder numerous times due to a lack of evidence. He's a very bad individual. This time he got caught."

"Really? A paid assassin? Hmmm. I'm not disputing that he killed Meredith Blakely, but what was his motive?"

"We, uh, haven't determined that— yet. But we know he did it, and we can prove it."

"You probably don't know his motive because he wasn't in control of his body," Arlene said. "Kamet was manipulating him."

"And what was Kamet's motive?"

"He's a demon from the Underworld, Richard. He probably likes to kill. It's as simple as that. Uh, what was an assassin doing in a small community like Lake Georgina? In a place like this, he would be unable to blend into the background."

"We're still trying to work that one out also. It doesn't seem logical that he would be here to kill anyone from Lake Georgina. Perhaps he was here to kill a tourist. Or perhaps four young ladies from Massachusetts."

"That's a gruesome thought," Renee said.

"It's just a remote possibility. Don't accept it as fact or even probability."

"If it does turn out to be fact, who would you say is behind it?" Arlene asked.

"I have no idea. Who wants you out of the way?"

"If I were to make out a list, it would be a very short one. In fact, there would only be one name on it."

"The sheriff's."

"Yes."

"I thought about that. It's not his MO. And I can't think of any reason why he would personally want you out of Lake Georgina. I would have to say that someone is behind him, pushing him to get you out. And that might be the same person who hired Macrone for a hit."

"And who might that be?"

"It would have to be someone with the power to manipulate a senior law enforcement officer. The bigger question is why. If we can learn that, we'll have our man."

"But without proof, there's nothing you can do, and a professional assassin probably isn't going to talk."

"Too true. Could your demon be behind it somehow? Could he have taken over someone and had them hire Macrone?"

"Not his MO."

"Yeah. He'd probably just kill you directly, right?"

"Without blinking." Then after a couple of seconds, Arlene said, "Then again, maybe not."

"No?"

"A spirit from the immortal world warned me that Kamet is aware of my presence and my purpose here. She said I'm in grave danger and that I should leave here and not return."

"A ghost warned you to leave?"

"A spirit."

"Okay. A spirit warned you to leave?"

"Yes."

"Then why are you still here?"

"I told you. A demon from the Underworld has been accidently released and we must find a way to send him back, because for the past eleven years he's been taking over people's bodies and killing others. His first victim was Simona eleven years ago when she and the coven tried to send him back down."

"This Kamet killed Simona?"

"Yes."

"Whose body did he use to do that?"

"The person he used was innocent of any wrongdoing, and I would not reveal that person's identity even if I knew."

"You don't know?"

"No."

"I thought you knew everything."

Arlene just stared at him with a disgusted look until he got uncomfortable.

"Okay, I'm sorry. I apologize. It's just that it all sounds so crazy."

"I told you that you weren't ready to believe— yet."

"I guess you were right, but I'm glad you told me anyway. At least now I understand the motivation for—" Using his hands to gesture at the books on the table and the piles stacked up on the floor, he said "—all this."

"It's alright if you don't believe us, Richard. We understand. And I know for a fact that the day will come when you will believe."

*   *   *

"Welcome back," Arlene said as Erin and Megan entered the reading room. It had been an eighty-minute ride from the airport and they were tired from their trip to California.

"Yes, welcome back," Madam Elana said. "Are you alone? We thought you were bringing Nancy."

"Nancy promised that she's coming. But she and her husband had a vacation already scheduled and she refused to miss it. She's very much afraid she might not be returning home when this is over, so this could be the last time she'll have with her husband and daughter. She said she'll definitely be here on August 18th."

"We'll work with that date then," Arlene said, "From what we've read, it seems critical that every member of the original coven participate in the effort to reverse the spell they invoked. It's a shame you couldn't convince Delores to come. Hopefully, Kamet will still be too weak to kill again before the eighteenth."

"Does that mean he'll be back to full strength on the eighteenth and able to kill?" Megan asked.

"I don't know, Meg. I'm just guessing. However, if the pattern of past murders is any indication, he probably won't be back to full strength before then."

"It's too bad we can't perform the exorcism right away," Renee said, "to take advantage of this time when he's still weaker."

"Yes, but we may only get one shot at this, and I feel it's more important that we have everything prepared and have the maximum number of original coven members present."

"What about us?" Megan asked.

"What do you mean, Meg?"

"Are we going to participate in the exorcism? I mean Renee, Erin, and me."

"I'd like you to be there, if you wish, as well as Oculara. The greater the size of the circle, the more ethereal energy we'll have available."

"Maybe we should invite the whole town," Megan said.

"No, we don't want to turn this into a circus. We know we're serious, and we know Oculara and the coven members are serious, but I don't know about anyone else. And— the participants have to understand there's a possible danger. I don't expect the chances of someone other than myself being hurt are very great, but I can't know."

"Why are you in greater danger?" Erin asked.

"Because I'll be inside the circle, chanting. And I'm the one who will be drawing on the ethereal energy of the circle and attempting to focus it."

"Like Simona?" Megan asked.

"Yes, Meg. Just like Simona."









Chapter Thirteen



"Arlene," Erin said after picking up the phone when it rang in the reading room, "Oculara says Father Paul wishes to speak to you. He's on line three." When Arlene nodded, Erin told Oculara that Madam Arlene would take the call." Erin then passed the receiver to Arlene, and when she was ready, Erin depressed the button to connect the line.

"Good morning, Father Paul. This is Arlene Watson."

"Madam Arlene, would you be so good as to come to the rectory?"

"Of course, Father. When?"

"Whenever is convenient for you. I'm there now."

"I'll come right over, Father. I'll leave in a few minutes."

"Do you know where the rectory is?"

"It's behind your church, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll be there shortly."

"Thank you. I'll be waiting."

"What did he want?" Erin asked after Arlene handed her back the receiver and it had been placed in the phone cradle.

"He only said he wants to see me. I need a break anyway. My eyes are starting to cross from reading."

"My eyes keep doing that as well," Renee said. "I thought that once we set a date for the exorcism, we'd be able to stop searching."

"I think it's important we keep looking. There might be something that will prove to be important, just like the requirement you found in Prague after you believed you had finished with that old book that the full original group be assembled to have the best chance of banishing the demon. We have to be here anyway, and every time we go out in this town, we attract a crowd of curious onlookers. I prefer being out of the public eye."

"Yeah, I can't wait until we can go home," Erin said. "I was hoping to spend some quality time at the beach this summer with our friends from high school."

"I miss my husband," Megan said. "We talk almost every night, and he keeps asking when I'm coming home."

"It won't be much longer, girls. I want to be done with this just as much as you, but we all know how important this is. Well, keep at it. I'll be back shortly."

The church and rectory was only a five-minute drive from the antiques shop. If not for the constant stares from the curious, Arlene might have been tempted to walk.

Father Paul's aged housekeeper admitted Arlene within a few seconds of her ringing the doorbell and then escorted her to Father Paul's office.

"Come in," Arlene heard when the housekeeper knocked lightly on the door.

Mrs. McGrath gestured to Arlene that she should enter, so Arlene turned the doorknob and opened the door, then stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

"Thank you for coming, Madam Arlene," Father Paul said as he stood up behind his desk to welcome her.

"My pleasure, Father. I needed a break from reading anyway."

"Please have a seat," Father Paul said, gesturing towards a chair in front of his desk. He sat down when Arlene did.

"Madam Arlene, I owe you an apology."

"An apology? For what, Father?"

"When I came to see you, it was at the behest of the county sheriff. He said he was concerned that you were a disruptive influence in the community. I'd wanted an excuse to call on you anyway, so I went. When I returned, the sheriff called again. He wanted me to prepare a report that he could then use to have you picked up and brought to a mental institution for a medical evaluation and ultimate commitment. I had no idea that was his reason for asking me to visit you, and I was most upset that he believed he could use me in that way."

"And did you provide him with such a report, Father?"

"Certainly not. I told him I had found you to be an extremely articulate and intelligent young woman whose feet were firmly planted in reality. I said you may have certain beliefs I don't personally share, but you're certainly not psychologically disturbed."

"Thank you, Father."

"Uh, that apology was one of the reasons I asked you come. The other reason is one I had wanted to discuss that day but didn't quite know how to broach the subject."

"You wanted to know about the exorcism we're planning?"

"Uh, yes. Am I so transparent?"

"I suspected there was something else you wanted to discuss but hadn't raised. I believe that neither Madam Elana, Gisela, nor Oculara would have said anything, but I'm just as certain the coven members have been spreading the tale all over town."

"As I said, you're an extremely intelligent young woman, and I'm sure you knew you couldn't keep this a secret."

"Of course. What's your main reason for asking about it, Father?"

"You're direct, so I'll be just as direct. I'm concerned that it might be envisioned as being sanctioned by the Church if I don't try to intercede."

"We've never suggested that at any time. If the Church wishes to sanction it, that's up to the Church or their local representative to declare. Would you officially declare it as being sanctioned?"

"I couldn't do that under any circumstances. I don't even know if my bishop would take it upon himself to make such a declaration."

"I understand."

"However…"

"Yes, Father?"

"Like many residents of this county, I've been concerned for some time that the homicide rate has jumped significantly during the past decade. And not just in single or even double digits over that time. We've all suspected there was some unknown reason for it. Some have blamed the weather, others have blamed the economy or the political environment, while a small number are blaming extraterrestrial aliens. But there's no disputing that something unknown is happening. Your interpretation is as worthy of consideration as any of the others."

"It wasn't mere interpretation, Father. I know for a fact that a demon named Kamet is the one responsible."

"I've heard that name mentioned among my parishioners. You say you know this for a fact? Just how can you be so certain if it's a demon from Hell who doesn't have a mortal body that can be seen?"

"If he wished to be seen, I would be able to see him. I know what I know because I was warned by a spirit from the immortal world."

"You mean heaven?"

"That's one name for it. I wish there was some way I could convince you. I could use an ally with an unimpeachable reputation."

"I wish that as well."

"Wait a minute. I might know of a way."

"What is it?"

"The same way that convinced Maria Gianni."

"If the spirit of a deceased cleric, relative, or parishioner was hanging about in the rectory, you would have already seen it, or at least felt it. Right?"

"Yes. I was thinking we might call someone from the other side. Someone who has information only you and they would know. Would that convince you I was the genuine article?"

"Are you talking about having a séance?"

"Yes."

"If it was learned that I participated in a séance, I would be ridiculed."

"Then don't tell anyone. And if anyone does find out, simply tell them it was an effort to debunk my claims."

Father Paul leaned back in his chair, staring at Arlene as he thought. After a full two minutes of silence, he said, "Okay. But I get to select the deceased person who is called."

"Of course, Father. As long as you promise me that the person you wish to summon is a real person who is deceased, not just a made up name, and that the person was of good moral fiber because I cannot summon someone who was pulled down to the Underworld immediately following their death. Also, the person must know something about you that no other living person could possibly know. Agreed?"

"Agreed. When do you want to do this?"

"The sooner the better, so you can't assume I dug into your background to learn private facts about you."

"The facts I have in mind would never be available to you or anyone else."

"Good. How about tonight?"

"Fine. What time? Midnight?"

"No. Anytime after the antiques store is closed. We can perform it downstairs in our reading area."

"I'd rather it be done here."

"Okay. Do you have a large table capable of seating at least six?"

"The dining room table can seat eight."

"Fine. Ten o'clock?"

"I look forward to it."

*   *

"We're going to hold a séance in the church?" Megan said. "Isn't that sacrilegious?"

"Not in the church. We're going to do it in the rectory. That's the small building behind the church where Father Paul lives."

"And you want me to be the medium?"

"Yes, Meg. It's important we get Father Paul firmly in our camp, and this could do it if we can make contact with the spirit he has in mind."

"Who does he want to contact?" Renee asked. "His mother?"

"I don't know. He'll tell us tonight just before we begin."

"Who's going?" Erin asked.

"Us four, plus Madam Elana, Gisela, and Oculara. Father Paul said his dining room table seats eight. And Renee, please, no joking around tonight. This is serious. I want him on our side."

"Okay, Ar, no joking. I promise."

*   *

Father Paul was praying when his housekeeper escorted the seven women into the dining room. He completed his silent prayer, blessed himself and stood up. "Welcome, ladies."

"Father Paul," Arlene said, "I'm sure you know Madam Elana, Gisela, and Oculara. These are my lifelong friends, Megan Kearney-Heston, Erin McDonald, and Renee Dennis. Since you've read my book, I'm sure you'll understand what I mean when I say lifelong friends."

"You mean these are the ladies who accompanied you back through time?"

"Yes."

"It's my pleasure to welcome you to the rectory, ladies. All of you."

"Thank you, Father Paul," Madam Elana said. "I never really expected to see the inside of this home."

"All residents of Lake Georgina are always welcome here should they need guidance and believe I might help them. Please take seats at the table in whatever arrangement or configuration best serves your purpose."

"Megan serves as our medium," Arlene said, "so she should sit in the center of a longer side, and you should sit opposite her, Father Paul. Everyone else can sit wherever they wish."

Arlene took a seat next to Father Paul, with Renee and Erin taking seats on either side of Megan. Oculara took a seat on the other side of Father Paul, while Gisela and Madam Elana sat on opposite ends of the large oval table.

"Do we need to light candles or burn incense or anything?" Father Paul asked. "That's what they always do in the movies."

Arlene didn't know if he was jesting or being serious, so she said, "No. No parlor tricks. But it would help if we could dim the lights. It helps me focus."

"Of course. The overhead lights are on a dimmer switch. I'll take care of it since my housekeeper has left."

Father Paul walked to the light switch and dimmed the overhead lights to the lowest level where facial expressions were barely recognizable, then returned to his seat.

"That's fine, Father. Have you decided who you wish to contact?"

"Yes. I wish to contact a very dear friend of mine. Her name was Mary Ellen Boyd."

"And where did Mary Ellen live when you knew her?"

"Uh, she lived on Henry Street in Binghamton, New York. I remember her home's interior vividly, but I can't seem to remember the house number. It's been torn down since I lived in that neighborhood, and there's a post office where the house once stood."

"And was Mary Ellen related to you in any way?"

"No, she was my friend. My best friend. We played together as small children and grew up together. I suppose I could call her my girlfriend, because we had seriously discussed marriage just before she died."

"And you're sure she's deceased?"

"Positive. I attended her wake and funeral. A hit-and-run driver killed her while she was crossing the street on her way home from a local grocery store. She was only seventeen at the time, bless her soul. I received my calling to the priesthood soon after that happened."

"Okay, Father Paul. At this point, we all put our hands flat on the table with pinkies touching those of your two neighbors. Touching pinkies seems to assist in the flow of ethereal energy around the table and helps us make contact." When that was done, Arlene continued speaking. "When we begin, I want everyone to close your eyes and reach out with all your hearts to the immortal world. Once I begin summoning Mary Ellen, it may take some time for her to respond. Please remain silent once I start."

"How much time will it require?"

"Normally about five to ten minutes, but it always seems much longer. Originally I grew restless when we didn't get an immediate response, but then I realized that the souls in the immortal world aren't just sitting around waiting to respond to my call, and it might take time for them to initiate the procedure from their end. So I ask that everyone sit very quietly. And don't be frightened. There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Okay, is everyone ready?"

As Arlene looked around the table, each person nodded.

"Okay, here we go. Everyone close your eyes and reach out with your heart and mind." Raising her voice slightly, she said, "We are trying to contact the departed soul of Mary Ellen Boyd, formerly of Henry Street in Binghamton, New York. Mary Ellen, won't you please come forth and speak with us? I have an old friend here who wishes to hear from you."

The room was deathly silent for about seven minutes. Arlene was about to repeat the summons when Renee said, "Who calls the spirit of Mary Ellen Boyd?"

"Renee," Arlene said, "I told you— no joking around tonight."

"Who summons Mary Ellen Boyd of Henry Street in Binghamton, New York?" Renee said.

"Renee, knock it off," Arlene hissed.

"I don't think that's Renee, Ar," Erin said. "I think it's Mary Ellen Boyd speaking through her."

"Oh. Uh, Mary Ellen, my name is Arlene Watson. I have an old friend here who wishes to speak with you. His name is Father Paul."

"Paul Berringer," Father Paul said in a low voice to Arlene.

"When you knew him, his name was Paul Berringer of Binghamton, New York."

"Paul? Really? Is that you?" Renee said, looking at Father Paul.

"Uh, yes, it's me."

"Lumpy, you've changed. You're much older. But time has been kind to you."

As soon as Renee said 'Lumpy,' Father Paul's deadpan expression cracked, and there was a noticeable quiver in his voice as he said, "I've missed you, Mouse. I think about you often."

"We'll be together again one day, Lumpy, and then it will be forever. I can't wait to have a long, long visit with you and talk about our days at 117 Henry in B'ville. And I want to hear everything you've done since that horrible day of the accident. I stayed in the mortal world until after the funeral for my corporeal body. You wore that brown suit you had about outgrown and had pulled the pants down as far as you could to hide your white socks. You never seemed to stop crying that entire day, and I wanted so very much to hold you and comfort you, but I couldn't touch you, and I guess you couldn't see or hear me. My only regret about my mortal life is that we never had a chance to marry and have children. We would have had beautiful children, Lumpy. Hey, remember 'Tiny' Wilson? He recently joined us here. And your parents and mine are, naturally, here. Since you're a priest now, there's no doubt you'll come here when your corporeal time comes to an end."

"Is Tiny still as small as he was when we were teenagers?"

"In the immortal world a soul's appearance can be whatever it chooses. Tiny is slim and trim for the first time in his existence."

"Are you happy, Mouse?"

"Oh, Lumpy, darling, how could I not be? This is heaven. Literally. LB, I'm growing weak now. I've never done this before, and I didn't realize this effort would take so much out of me. I have to go. It's been wonderful visiting with you, Lumpy, and I really look forward to the day you join us here. Goodbye for now."

"Goodbye, Mouse."

"So that's what it's like," Megan said, breaking the silence after the conversation had definitely ended. "But why did she use Renee instead of me?"

"Who used me?"

"Mary Ellen Boyd talked through you instead of Megan," Arlene said.

"Really? She was here?"

"Yes, really."

"I don't remember a thing."

"That's the way it always is with me," Megan said. "It's like they completely take over your body and you're sent off to an isolation chamber somewhere until they're done."

Father Paul sniffled, then took out a handkerchief to wipe the tears that had streamed down his face as the conversation progressed. He blew his nose before rising from his chair and walking to the dimmer switch to raise the light level in the room. As he returned to his seat, he said, "Madam Arlene, I owe you another apology. I thought you were just a gentle but misguided pretender. I never expected to experience what just happened."

"Then you believe your dear friend Mary Ellen was really here and spoke to you through Renee?"

"Without a shred of doubt in my mind. Nobody could have known the pet nicknames we had for each other, or that Mary Ellen always called Binghamton B'ville. And she knew the number of the house. I couldn't recall that until she said it."

"May I ask why she calls you Lumpy?"

Father Paul smiled. "I had the mumps when I was young, and after that I was always Lumpy or LB to Mary Ellen. But no one else ever called me that. I called her Mouse because she was so timid and unimposing. And my close male friend, Tiny, was always the heaviest kid in our class. I told him a number of times as we were growing up that he was going to eat himself into an early grave. While I've always believed in an afterlife in heaven, I never believed we could actually converse with loved ones who had passed on until God had called us home. I now have no doubt that Papa Gianni does sit in his restaurant every day, watching the customers come and go, and that it was the spirit of Simona who sought you out so her bodily remains could be recovered and properly laid to rest."

"Madam Arlene," Gisela said after a lull in the conversation with Father Paul, "that was— the most exhilarating experience I've ever had. Even more exhilarating than the day we first met and I learned you were over four thousand years old. And as Madam Elana told me once after she witnessed a séance you performed, it was so effortless for you. It was like simply placing a long-distance call. What did you think, Oculara?"

"I didn't believe it at first. I thought Renee was just kidding around. But when Father Paul accepted it, I knew it had to be real, and then I was in total awe of Madam Arlene's powers."

"I'm floored again as well, Madam Arlene," Madam Elana said, "Each time I witness your ability, I'm overcome with amazement."

"One thing, Madam Arlene," Father Paul said, "I don't understand Gisela's statement about you being over four thousand years old. I thought you had only gone back to 1883."

"Gisela also has a wonderful gift, Father. When she makes physical contact with a person, she receives a vision of the memories recorded in that person's eternal soul. Those are normally hidden to the individual. It would appear that a person of good character can choose to either remain here as a spirit in the mortal world or cross over to the immortal world after its corporeal body has died. Once on the other side, it can choose to remain there or be reborn into a new body. But with a new body, there is normally no recollection of any previous existence. Apparently, my soul is quite restless and immediately keeps returning to this existence. When we shook hands, Gisela saw scenes that seemed to go back many thousands of years, including one where an Egyptian pyramid was under construction."

"That's amazing," Father Paul said. "I'd never heard anything even remotely like that before. But perhaps…"

After about fifteen seconds of silence, Arlene said, "Yes, Father Paul?"

"I, uh, was just thinking. Perhaps your soul isn't merely restless, Madam Arlene. Perhaps God keeps sending you back to live among mortals and help where you can."

"When I first touched Madam Arlene," Gisela said, "I saw many scenes of people in scant clothing or fur skins sitting around open-pit fires while women cooked. It's impossible to tell how old those scenes were, but perhaps Madam Arlene's soul is as old as mankind itself. Perhaps you've been serving God since the beginning of creation."

"It sounds like you're describing an angel," Arlene said. "I've never considered myself to be anything like that."

"An angel can come in many forms," Father Paul said, "and have many different missions for God. From what I've heard, you've never done anything but good deeds since you've been here. In fact, your reason for coming here arose from an effort to help Simona find peace by having her earthly body properly laid to rest. Also, you've never been unkind to anyone here, and you've chosen to remain here and risk your mortal existence in an effort to banish a demon back to Hell. If you're not an angel, you're the closest thing to one I've ever met. Thank you, Madam Arlene. You've changed the perceptions I've held about interaction between the mortal world and the immortal world. I shall be forever grateful you came to Lake Georgina."

"You're most welcome, Father Paul. Then you now believe that my statements about the demon Kamet are true? And, can we count on your silent support in our efforts to banish him back to the Underworld? I realize the Church can't come out and support us openly."

"Madam Arlene, after what I just witnessed, I think I'd believe you if you told me the moon was really just made of smoked mozzarella. Yes, I support your efforts one hundred percent. If anyone can know what's happening on the fringes of our corporeal existence, I believe it's you."

"We've established a date for our effort to banish Kamet. We'll meet on the evening of August 18th and proceed to Madam Elana's property outside of town. You're welcome to join us Father Paul. In fact, I would very much like you to be present to witness our attempt."

"I'll be there, Madam Arlene. Nothing could stop me from lending my support to this effort."









Chapter Fourteen



"Madam Arlene, you have to see this," Oculara said the next day when Arlene picked up the phone in the reading room and pressed the illuminated intercom button.

"What is it, Oculara?"

"There's a news crew and truck at Gianni's restaurant. The television station that sent them is going to broadcast the story live in Albany. Our local affiliated station has announced they will broadcast the news piece live here in Lake Georgina."

"From Gianni's?"

"Yes. The story is about the resident ghost at the restaurant, and they've been talking about you."

"I'll be right up."

"What is it, Ar?"

"Oculara says there's a live broadcast at Gianni's about Papa's spirit being the resident ghost."

"This I've got to see," Renee said.

Less than a minute later, all four girls had joined Madam Arlene, Oculara, and Gisela in the small office to watch the broadcast.

"Good morning, this is Katy Neilson reporting live from the small community of Lake Georgina. For several weeks we've been hearing rumors of strange events out here. Our news producer has sent us to get the true story.

"I'm presently standing in front Gianni's Restaurant here in Lake Georgina, where it's reported that the spirit of the former owner sits in a chair near the cash register counter at the front of the restaurant throughout each day. No one even knew he was there until a spiritualist from out of the area visited the restaurant and complimented Papa Gianni after she had enjoyed a meal here. Apparently, although no one else can see him, it's become something of a custom for local customers now to compliment Papa on the quality of their meal as they leave the restaurant.

"The current owner of the restaurant, Papa's daughter, Maria Gianni, told us off camera that it's true. The spiritualist told her that Papa sits by the front door throughout the entire day as he always did in the final years before his death. Ms. Gianni said it gave Papa great joy to speak briefly with his regular customers as they left, and he loved it when they complimented him on the fine food. She told us that she is certain beyond even a shadow of doubt that Papa is there. She said that at first, she was dismayed when Madam Arlene spoke to Papa every time she came into the restaurant because she feared her business would be avoided by locals, but once Madam Arlene proved to her that Papa really was there, she stopped caring if the locals thought the restaurant was haunted. She told me, 'Papa has never done anything to frighten our customers and never will. So it's foolish for anyone to fear Papa's spirit.'

"I asked Maria Gianni how Madam Arlene proved to her that Papa was there, since no one other than Madam Arlene has been able to see him. She told me that Madam Arlene related things from Maria's private conversations with her father that no one else in the world— this world at least— could possibly have known. I asked Maria if her business had suffered once people heard there was a ghost in the restaurant. She said business has never been better. If anything, customers want to learn if they can see Papa. So far no one has, or at least no one has announced they could.

"Ms. Gianni would not allow us to film inside the restaurant this morning because it's currently so crowded and also because she doesn't want Papa to feel like a spectacle. In her words, 'We may not be able to see Papa, but he can see us.'

"This is Katy Neilson reporting from Lake Georgina. This is just the first of a number of planned interviews from this beautiful lakeside community. Stay tuned to this station for additional reports from Lake Georgina."

"Well, I guess that's why we haven't had a single customer since we opened today," Madam Elana said. "The tourists must all be over at Gianni's Restaurant."

"Now that the news crew is done, things might get back to normal," Gisela said.

"I suppose it depends on where they intend to film next," Arlene said. "I'm afraid the peaceful community of Lake Georgina is about to be overrun."

"Overrun?" Oculara said.

"By people interested in the occult. I imagine people are already packing up their cars and will be headed this way within hours."

"You really think so?" Gisela asked.

"Yes, I do. And if the story gets picked up and run by a major network or news service, this town could soon be as crowded as a Florida beach during spring break."

*   *

A few hours later, Arlene was again summoned to come up to the office, this time by Madam Elana.

"That television news reporter is here," Madam Elana said as Arlene arrived in the office. "She wants to interview you."

"I don't do interviews. Reporters always try to make me look like a member of the lunatic fringe."

"She promises the interview will be conducted like a scientific investigation. She won't make any snide or derogatory remarks, or in any way treat you disrespectfully."

"That would be a first for a reporter trying to expose or debunk the occult."

"She says that's not her goal. She said that she personally believes spirits do roam the mortal world and that there are definitely people who can commune with them."

"She might just be saying that to get the interview."

"Possibly."

"Have you told her you're a witch?"

"Yes."

"And how did that go over?"

"Once she understood that I'm Wiccan and don't practice the darks arts or worship the devil, it went over well. She said her cousin is a Wiccan who prays to the Moon Goddess."

"I can't see any positive side to my doing an interview with a television newsperson."

"Well, it could help the shop— if we handle it right."

"You mean it could bring in customers?"

"Yes. If the interview took place out front as it did in the earlier story about the Gianni Restaurant, it would give us tens of thousands of dollars of free publicity. If this massive horde of people is coming as you speculated earlier, it would be nice to have them stop here and perhaps buy something."

Arlene took a deep breath and released it slowly before saying, "Okay, I'll do it for the shop. But if she gets sarcastic or insulting like Meredith Blakely, the interview will end then and there."

"I'll make sure she understands that."

Over the next several hours, the local station made periodic announcements that a live interview with spiritualist Madam Arlene Watson would be broadcast during the five p.m. newscast. The interview would actually take place at four p.m. and would not be live because the station manager wanted the ability to review the entire interview and edit anything his audience might find objectionable.

*   *

At a few minutes before four, Arlene prepared to step from the antiques shop. Madam Elana had allowed the news crew inside to shoot the interior, but Arlene insisted the interview be conducted outside. In case she decided to end the interview, she wanted to be able to escape quickly and easily to the security offered by the store. She and her friends had spent twenty minutes making her hair and makeup look perfect. The skies were a perfect shade of azure blue, and there was no wind to play havoc with her hair during the interview.

As Arlene emerged from the shop, Katy Neilson smiled and approached her, then told her where she should stand and where she should look during the interview. In addition to Neilson and a cameraman, there was an engineer inside the large news van. An antenna on the roof of the van was raised to its full telescopic height and pointed into the sky.

A few seconds before they were ready to begin, Katy Neilson said, "Don't be nervous. Just talk normally in a clear and natural voice."

"I'm not nervous," Arlene said.

"Good," Neilson said and then turned towards the camera. When she was ready to begin, she nodded. The cameraman held up his hand with all five fingers extended and then pulled them down one at a time. As the last digit was lowered, Katy waited one second and then began speaking.

"This is Katy Neilson coming to you from Lake Georgina. I'm joined here tonight by Madam Arlene Watson, the spiritualist who was mentioned earlier in my interview with the proprietress of Gianni's Restaurant.

"Madam Arlene, could you tell our audience why people refer to you as Madam?"

"It's a term of respect reserved for women who have paranormal powers far beyond that of most people and even people with limited powers."

"I see. I understand that you first came to Lake Georgina because the spirit of a murdered woman wanted you to tell the authorities where her body was buried?"

"Yes. I was able to tell them exactly where to find it."

"And I understand it was buried in silt and sand beneath a large tree that had fallen into the stream some eleven years ago?"

"Yes, that's correct. It's all part of the official inquest record."

"And you had never been to Lake Georgina before that?"

"No."

"But you couldn't tell them who had murdered the woman?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"She wouldn't tell me."

"'She' meaning the spirit of the murdered woman?"

"Yes."

"Why do you suppose that was?"

"She wouldn't tell me."

"I see. And during the inquest, where you were not called upon to testify, an assistant coroner testified he had taken it upon himself to test your paranormal powers by substituting two bones from the actual skeleton with two bones from another that were almost identical?"

"Yes."

"And he testified that within seconds you were able to identify the substituted bones. How did you do that?"

"The spirit of the murdered woman told me which bones didn't belong with her body."

"She said something like 'the leg bone and the hand bone' to you?"

"No, there are about 206 bones in the adult human body, and I doubt either of us could have identified them by name. I simply placed my hand over the skeleton and moved my arm whichever way she told me. When I was over one of the bones, she told me to stop and lower my hand, identifying the exact position of the bone I should pick up."

"I see. And after the inquest you didn't return home but chose to remain in Lake Georgina for the summer?"

"Yes. I have a passion for antiques, and the Georgina Antiques store is probably the most wonderful antiques store I've ever visited."

"Since you've been here, I understand you've only seen two spirits— that of the murdered woman and Papa Gianni. Is that correct?"

"It was— until today."

"Today?"

"Yes. I'm referring to the spirit who appears to be with your crew."

"I don't understand."

"Oh, I guess you weren't aware of him. There's a spirit sitting in the doorway of your van."

Katy Neilson turned to look at the van. At the same time, the cameraman swiveled the camera around.

"I don't see anyone," Neilson said.

"No, you wouldn't if you don't have the power to see spirits."

"Uh, what does he look like?"

Arlene stared towards the truck for a few moments, then said, "He's an older gentleman who appears to be about five feet, ten inches and a bit heavyset. He's wearing faded jeans and— red and white sneakers or tennis shoes."

"Uh, what color is his hair?" Neilson asked.

"I can't tell."

"You can't see his head?"

"I can see his head, but he's wearing a cap. It's like a baseball cap, but it's very unusual. The hat is divided into six different pie-shaped sections that were sewn together. They're all different colors."

"What about his shirt?"

"It's a grey tee shirt with a beer logo on it. Is it okay to mention the brand on the air?"

"Yes, please."

"It's a Budweiser logo. Wait a minute, he's just removed his hat. His hair is salt and pepper, what there is of it. The top of his head has no hair left."

"Okay," Katy Neilson said after grinning, "now tell me honestly. Which one of my crew put you up to this? I need to know because I'm going to ring his neck when we're off the air."

"No one put me up to this. You asked me to describe the spirit that seems to be traveling with you."

Neilson drew in a deep breath and released it quickly before saying, "Okay. You win. You got me. Now, seriously, tell me which of these two guys put you up to this."

"See, this is the reaction I always get when I identify a spirit to people who don't believe spirits really exist."

"You're really serious?"

"Never more so."

"The person you just described is the engineer who used to accompany me on remote assignments. He died several months ago from a heart attack."

"I guess he couldn't stand to leave the team and decided to stick around."

Nielson smiled before saying, "Okay, I'll play along. Six months ago we were sent to Schenectady to interview a fire captain about a suspicious blaze. The man you just described and I were alone that day because it wasn't a live broadcast and I only needed a cameraman/technician. Tell me what happened after we got to the location. Oh, and tell me his name."

Arlene looked over at the truck and began nodding, then turned towards Neilson. "He says his name, when he was alive, was William Bartholomew Winston, but everyone always called him Barty. He says he can't answer the rest because you swore him to silence that day, and he's never told a soul, living or dead."

"Anybody could have known his name. We were together as a team for three years. I want to hear the rest."

"He won't tell me or anyone unless you release him from his promise."

"Alright, tell him I release him from his promise."

"I don't have to tell him. He can hear you." Looking towards the van, Arlene nodded a couple of times and then turned back to face Neilson. "He says that as you were getting out of the van, you slipped on some ice, fell, and slid down a short embankment. He says your clothes were a muddy mess, and the dirt would have been visible even in a tight close-up. He insisted you change. So he drove you home to Rotterdam to clean up and put on a fresh outfit, but when you got back to Schenectady, the man you were supposed to interview had already gone home for the day. After that you always brought a change of clothing with you."

Katy Neilson was temporarily speechless, and when she tried to talk, she could only stammer. "Uh, uh, um, that's right. How did you know all that? It was embarrassing, so I made him promise never to tell a soul."

"I didn't know until Barty told me just now." Looking over at the truck, Arlene grinned and said, "Barty's laughing. He says he never told anyone about it until today, and he only talked about it today because you released him from his promise to never talk about it."

Neilson looked over at the truck, then back at Arlene before saying, "Madam Arlene, you've just made a believer out of me. Uh, ask Barty why he's still riding along."

Arlene looked at the truck and nodded, then turned towards Neilson. "He says he never had a family. He was raised in foster homes and never married. He says you were always like a daughter to him, and he had no one else, so he decided to stay here when he died rather than crossing over."

"A daughter? Really?" Turning towards the truck, she said, as a few tears began trickling down her cheeks, "And you were always like a dad, Barty. You're welcome to ride along for as long as you wish."

Pulling a tissue out of a pocket, she dabbed lightly at her eyes and cheeks before turning towards Arlene again. "Madam Arlene, if you don't mind me asking, how much do you usually charge for this sort of service?"

"I don't charge for my services. I'm a college student who has to return to school in a few weeks. After helping Simona, I decided to stay on in Lake Georgina for a short time. I only knew about Papa Gianni because I visited the restaurant the day of the inquest and saw him sitting in a chair at the front of the restaurant near the cash register. And I wouldn't have met Barty if you hadn't brought him with you."

"And these three spirits are the only ones in Lake Georgina?"

"They are the only ones I've seen. Most spirits cross over to the immortal world when their bodies die. And, of course, the evil souls are immediately pulled down to the Underworld when their bodies die. They don't get to remain on this plane."

"You do know that when most viewers see this interview, they aren't going to believe it's true."

"That's fine with me. I'm not trying to sell anything. I only use my abilities to help where I can."

"Well, you've sold me. Thank you for allowing me to interview you, and I wish you the best of luck in the future."

Turning to face the camera as the cameraman zoomed in so only Neilson appeared in the frame, she said, "Thank you for tuning in today. I hope you're now as enlightened as I am on this topic."

The cameraman held up his hand for a couple of seconds, then closed it into a fist as he turned the camera off.

Neilson leaned over towards Arlene and said in a low voice, "You can really see Barty?"

"Of course. How else could I describe him or learn the answers to what you asked if he wasn't here?"

"I don't know, and I admit that I felt like someone pulled the rug out from under me when you so quickly and accurately answered my question about the Schenectady assignment."

"Well, as I said, I'm not trying to sell anything."

*   *   *

Sheriff Canaar screamed at the television set when the interview ended during the planned broadcast time. It had been broadcast in its entirety with not a single word edited out. "You lousy bitch. What do I have to do to get rid of you? I want you out of my town— I want you out of my county— and I want you out of my state. You're not fooling anyone. You arranged that whole interview to make it look like you have supernatural powers. I'm onto you, and I'm going to get rid of you if it's the last thing I ever do as sheriff."

When the phone on the table next to him rang, he picked it up and screamed into the mouthpiece, "What is it?"

"Is that you, Sheriff?"

"Uh, Chairman Godwell?" he said meekly.

"Yes."

"Uh, sorry I screamed, sir. I was just yelling at the television."

"Then I guess I should assume you just watched the same interview I did."

"Yeah, if you're talking about that Watson girl."

"I'm very disappointed in you, Joseph. I expected Miss Watson to be long gone by now."

"I've tried everything I could. It's going to take dynamite to get her out of the county."

"Then use dynamite."

"What? You can't be serious."

"I'm dead serious. I want her gone whatever it takes. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Uh, I've tried everything short of murder."

"Then try murder."

"Uh, Mr. Chairman, I, uh, can't do that."

"You'll do what I tell you to do. Now get rid of her. I'm done playing around. Make sure no one ever finds the body. And Joseph, if she hasn't disappeared from Lake Georgina within two days, someone else will have the party's support in the next election for sheriff. I'm sure we can find someone who can follow orders, since it appears we can't rely on you anymore."

"Okay, Mr. Chairman. I'll do what I have to do."









Chapter Fifteen



As Arlene and the others entered the antiques shop the next morning, Madam Elana greeted them with an enormous smile. "Madam Arlene, I recorded the news broadcast of your interview yesterday. They played the whole thing. Every word. It was spectacular. And for most of it, the shop's sign was visible in the frame. Thank you so much for doing it. The phone hasn't stopped ringing this morning. People from all over the state are asking for our address and shop hours. I've been directing them to our website so they can see images of the store's interior. The photographer did a wonderful job when he took them a few months ago. They make it look like the store is as big as a football stadium."

"That's wonderful, Madam Elana. I hope you sell out the entire store. But don't sell that silver tea service I asked you to hold. I want to take that home with me when I go."

"Don't worry. I packed it up and put it on the hold shelf with your name on the box. And I made a DVD copy of the interview for you. It's on the table downstairs. You can watch it when you take a break."

"Great. Well, I guess we'll get back to work in the library and leave you to handle the flood of customers up here."

*   *   *

"Here's the arrest warrant, men," Sheriff Canaar said to the two deputies in his office. "Take care of this before you do anything else today."

"Are you sure about this, Sheriff? Have you discussed it with the Lieutenant? I mean, this could get very messy, politically."

"I've thought about it all night and got Justice Fornay to sign the warrant. I have to do this, regardless of how messy it gets. I'm the sheriff, and I don't have to discuss my decisions with Dick Bolger. Now, I'm ordering you to make this arrest. Do what I told you to do."

"Yes, sir, Sheriff," the two men said almost in unison.

After the deputies left, Canaar sat down at his desk and thought about the process he had just set in motion. No matter how the arrest went, there was going to be hell to pay in the days ahead. He had originally intended to have Lt. Bolger make the arrest but then decided to leave him out of it.

*   *   *

"Father Paul, there's a reporter named Katy Neilson on the phone," his housekeeper said as he entered the rectory and headed for his office. "She'd like to make an appointment to see you today."

"Neilson? The one who interviewed Madam Arlene?"

"I believe so."

"Okay. Tell her I can see her here at— one o'clock."

A few minutes later the housekeeper knocked on his office door and opened it enough to stick her head in. "She said she'll be here at one o'clock, Father."

"Very good, Mrs. McGrath. Thank you."

*   *

"Please have a seat, Ms. Neilson," Father Paul said after the reporter had been escorted into his office."

"Thank you, Father. I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I realize I'm coming on very short notice."

"As it so happens, I have a couple of hours free right now. What can I do for you?"

"Did you happen to see either of the interviews I've conducted here in Lake Georgina? One was with Maria Gianni, and the other was with Madam Arlene."

"I saw both of them. My housekeeper recorded them for me."

"Wonderful. I wanted to get your opinion of the situation."

"To what situation are you referring?"

"Why to the allegation that you have ghosts running all over the place in your community."

"I wasn't aware that we do."

"Father, you said you saw the interviews."

"I did. In one we have a spirit who allegedly sits by the door of his family restaurant throughout the entire day, and in the other there seems to be a spirit you brought with you and who I assume will be leaving when you do. That hardly qualifies as ghosts running all over the community. As I understand it, you, like me and most of the residents in this community, can't see the spirits."

"What about the spirit of the woman who was murdered?"

"Madam Arlene has said she's only seen her twice."

"Madam Arlene seems to be seeing spooks wherever she looks."

"I thought you said in the second interview that Madam Arlene had made a believer out of you."

"Oh, that was just show business. I, uh, didn't really become a believer."

"Then how do you account for the fact that she was able to correctly identify your— traveling companion?"

"I haven't verified it yet, but I suspect someone from the station alerted her in advance so she'd be able to pull that surprise on me."

"And how did she know about your having slipped and tumbled down a small embankment in Schenectady?"

"Obviously Barty must have told someone at the station, and they passed that information along to Miss Watson as well."

"I see. Then you believe someone at your station knew exactly what questions you would ask if the situation arose where you had an opportunity to debunk Madam Arlene's statements."

"Obviously."

"And further you're saying that your reaction was completely faked."

"Uh, yeah. Looked pretty convincing didn't it?"

"Very. I congratulate you on your acting skills. The tears were very effective."

"Wait a minute. You're not telling me she's sucked you in, Father, are you?"

"I believe God has given Madam Arlene an extremely rare and most wondrous gift. And I believe she's completely deserving of it."

"Wow. That is so unexpected."

"Is this reaction more 'show business'?"

"Uh, no. I'm genuinely shocked that she's taken you in."

"And what would you say if I told you Madam Arlene has proven to me beyond a shadow of doubt that she is the genuine article? Namely, a good person of strong faith who can see and commune with spirits of the departed."

"I can't think of an appropriate response. I'm speechless."

"As am I, following your statement yesterday that you claimed to be a believer— and yet you now claim your statements were all a lie."

"Father, I don't believe spirits are just roaming around everywhere, but I admit Madam Arlene did have me going for a while yesterday. And, uh, maybe I did even think I believed it— but only until I had time to work it out. Upon considerable reflection last night, I decided it had to have been faked. She's a con woman par excellence."

"So now you're saying it wasn't just show business? Briefly, you really were taken in, as you said about me."

"Father, you're confusing me. I don't know what I'm saying right now."

"Ms. Neilson, have you ever seen an electron?"

"What?"

"An electron. It's a scientific term used by physicists."

"I basically know what an electron is, but I fail to see how that's applicable here."

"The point is that sometimes things exist that we can't see with our own eyes and that we must accept on faith."

"So you're saying that what happened yesterday during the interview with Madam Arlene was real?"

"What I'm saying is that you should take some time to really think things through and decide what you believe, and— what you don't believe. You've had all the evidence laid out before you. Now it's up to you to make a decision about it. Perhaps you might consider calling your station and asking them about Barty. See if you can find anyone responsible for informing Madam Arlene about him in advance of the interview. If someone did, they'll probably have already circulated that information, and everyone working there has had a good chuckle over it. I think you'll find that no one there has spoken to Madam Arlene. And when they adamantly deny that anyone there had anything to do with setting you up, I think you'll have to decide if you could possibly believe what Madam Arlene said."

*   *   *

"Sheriff, what's going on with this arrest warrant?" Lt. Bolger said as he barged into Canaar's office without waiting for permission to enter.

"Read the paperwork, Dick."

"I did. You can't be serious with this."

"I'm completely serious. Has the prisoner been processed yet?"

"That's underway now."

"Make sure all the i's are dotted, and the t's are crossed. I expect everything to be examined under a microscope by the best defense attorneys money can buy."

"But the charge, Sheriff. Conspiracy to commit murder?"

"Judge Fornay signed the warrant."

"Was he sober?"

"Is he ever sober? Look, just process the prisoner, Dick."

"Okay, Sheriff."

"And when the procedure is complete, put the prisoner in the temporary holding cell next to Macrone."

"Macrone?"

"Yeah, Macrone. Just do as you're told, Dick."

*   *   *

When the telephone connection completed, Arlene said, "Hello?"

"Darling, what's going on up there?"

"Momma?"

"Yes, it's me."

"I'm just surprised to hear your voice."

"We haven't heard from you in a week, and we were very concerned after seeing you on the television. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Momma."

"Darling, I've warned you not to tell people that you can see spirits because they'll try to lock you up."

"I only allowed myself to be interviewed on television because I hoped it would give me some credibility."

"Sweetheart, people are never going to believe you can see spirits simply because they can't see them, and if anyone else can see them, they'll never reveal it. So there's no one who can verify your claims."

"I've managed to win over a few people, including a local priest."

"If he tells anyone, they'll transfer him to the backwoods of Northern Montana faster than he can say 'Holy Spirit.' The Church wants us to believe spirits exist, but they will never acknowledge that anyone can actually see them. We must only take it on faith that they exist."

"I know, Momma, I know. But the situation up here required that certain people know I can see spirits. That was the entire point of my coming here in the first place."

"When are you coming home?"

"I think my work up here will be completed in about two weeks."

"What work are you doing? Every time I've asked, you simply tell me you're doing research, but you've never told me what research you're doing."

"There's an enormous reference library on the occult up here, and I'm searching for references on people who have had contact with spirits."

"I was talking with Megan's mother yesterday and she told me Megan is up there with you."

"Yes, Megan's here, as are Renee and Erin. You know we're the four musketeers from New Bedford. One for all and all for one."

Okay, darling. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I'm okay, Momma."

"And you'll be home in two weeks."

"I believe my work will be done here in two weeks. I'll be home as soon as I'm able."

"Okay, darling. I love you."

"And I love you, Momma. And Daddy and Jimmy."

"I'll pass that along to your father, but I hardly ever see your brother because he never comes out of that videogame room you built for him— except to get food, snacks, or a cold drink."

Arlene chuckled. "Well, tell him if you see him. Bye, Momma."

"Good-bye, dear."

"Your mother saw the interviews, eh?" Renee asked once Arlene had hung up the receiver.

"Yeah. I suppose one of the major networks picked up the feed and broadcast it across the country."

"Then I guess we're not just going to have every occult fanatic from Albany here," Erin said. "We're going to have every occult fanatic in the country here."

"I'm glad our rental agreement is signed and in effect through the end of August," Megan said. "There's not going to be a spare room available for fifty miles."

"And we might not be able to get a meal anywhere," Renee said. "It'll be impossible to even get in the door at Gianni's. It was bad enough with just the regular tourists, so as soon as I finish this book, I'm going grocery shopping. I'll load up the fridge with fresh vegetables and fruit, fill the freezer, and stock the cupboard with enough canned goods to last us a couple of weeks."

"I'll go with you," Erin said. "I need a break anyway."

*   *   *

As Lt. Bolger climbed onto a barstool in the firehouse recreation room, Herb Riddell said from the next stool over, "I heard you guys arrested the party chairman."

"Sheriff's orders."

"And the charge is conspiracy to commit murder?"

"That's what the arrest warrant said."

"I guess Canaar can kiss his career good-bye."

"He's sixty-eight. How many more years could he expect to work anyway? He'll be set for life with his pension."

"As long as he was a good little sheriff and obeyed all orders from the top politicos, he probably could have stayed until they had to carry him out on a morgue stretcher."

"Yeah. That's what I always assumed."

"So are you going to wear the big hat?"

"Hell, no," Bolger said as one of the volunteer firemen tasked as bartender for the day placed a large mug of cold pilsner in front of him. He took a long drink and sighed. "Ahhhh. I've been dreaming about that since I learned about the sheriff sending two deputies to arrest Ralph Godwell. Ya know, I had just gotten Canaar somewhat trained. Now I'll have to start all over with a new sheriff."

"I think you'd make a great sheriff."

"And I think you'd make a great coroner."

"Me? Run for political office? No way."

"My sentiments exactly. Besides, who knows, maybe the sheriff was right in arresting Godwell. It'll all depend on whether or not the D.A. makes the charge stick."

"Who was Godwell's target?"

"According to what I read, Godwell ordered the sheriff to kill Madam Arlene."

"No!"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I don't know yet. I only know what I read in the paperwork. The sheriff says he has a recording of Godwell ordering him to murder her."

"A recording?"

"Yeah. The sheriff records all incoming calls on his home line in case some disgruntled citizen calls to threaten him. I guess Godwell didn't know. Stupid of him to say something like that over the phone."

"I read somewhere once that when people get too powerful, they begin to think that nothing and no one could ever take them down."

"Yeah. There are a lot of people in high places that have god complexes."

"The medical profession sometimes associates a god complex with NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder."

"Yeah. Whatever."

"What are the chances that Godwell will get put away?"

"It depends on whether the judge allows the recording into evidence. If he, or she, declares it inadmissible, Godwell will probably walk free. Either way, I think his career in the political arena might be over. Using the power of your position to order someone to commit murder isn't something people forget."

*   *   *

"Wow," Erin said as she entered the reading room after returning from brewing a pot of tea in the second-floor kitchen. "That's some crowd upstairs."

"Are they buying anything? Or just hanging around in the hope they'll see me?" Arlene asked.

"A bit of both, I think. I didn't actually go out into the store. I was watching on the surveillance monitor in the kitchen. I suppose some may have come to see you and found something they like while they were waiting for you to make an appearance. The people milling about out in front of the building are probably only here to see a true spiritualist."

"I guess I'll be sequestered down here for a while. I hope they leave after the store closes. I don't want to have to sleep down here tonight."

"We can always tell them you aren't here when we leave, then come back to get you after giving them a chance to give up and go elsewhere."

"Or we can call Richard and ask him to provide you with an escort through the crowds," Renee said. "But it's really your own fault for doing that interview. And why did you have to tell that reporter about the spirit in her van?"

"Madam Elana asked me to do the interview in the hope it might help sales upstairs. I admit that mentioning the crew had a tagalong in their van might not have been such a good idea."

"Up until that point you were viewed as just another nutcase," Erin said. "But then you became the real deal and everyone out front probably wants you to put them in touch with their dead parents, siblings, or some other relative so they can learn where some fictional family treasure is buried. And it would have been better if you hadn't said you don't charge people for your services. That would at least have kept the number down to a manageable crowd level."

"Maybe one of you guys can go out and tell them I'm not here. Tell them I had to fly to Baden-Baden or something."

"Not me," Megan said. "They might get angry and attack me or the store."

"Yeah, and that would defeat the plan to help the store realize increased sales," Erin said.

"You'll just have to tough it out," Renee said, "and remember never to do that again. Erin, where's the tea?"

"Oops, I forgot it. I was so preoccupied thinking about the crowd in the store and out front."

"I'll get it," Megan said. "I want to see the crowds on the monitors anyway."









Chapter Sixteen



"I've found a reference to that exorcism in Naples," Megan said.

"Where?" Arlene asked.

"Um, in this book I'm reading."

"Yes, Meg. How old is the book? When was it printed and where was it printed?"

"It was printed in— just a second— 1743 in France."

"And does it say anything different than what we already know?"

"Well, there is one thing, but you're not going to like it."

"Tell me anyway."

"Wouldn't you rather read it yourself?"

"I'm involved in this Greek book at the moment. Just tell me, hon."

"But wouldn't you really rather read it yourself? Like maybe later?"

"Is there a reason you don't want to tell me?"

"Uh— yeah."

"Bad news, huh?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Tell me anyway. I can take it."

"Well, okay. It says here the elder who became newly possessed broke free of the elders on either side of him and attacked the chanting elder. As they struggled near the center of the circle, the bodies of both men began to glow. They got brighter and brighter until the light was so bright it was impossible to look directly at them. But suddenly, the light died out completely, casting the entire area into total darkness but for the dim light from the stars overhead."

"Is that all? We already knew that."

"No, uh, there's one thing more."

"What is it?"

"Well, when the other elders lit torches, they discovered that both of the elders who had fought were dead."

"Both?"

"Um, yes."

"Does it say what they died from?"

"No."

"That doesn't mean much," Erin said. "Back then factual medical diagnosis was unknown. They didn't even have the slightest idea how the human body worked. They relied on village healers who dropped chicken bones to interpret signs from their gods, shook rattles at imagined demons, or sometimes used natural remedies that either didn't do anything positive or might have even killed the sick or injured."

"At least one of the demons wasn't imagined," Arlene said.

"I was referring to the imagined demons they believed were responsible for everything bad that happened to the tribe or village on a daily basis."

"Isn't it interesting how mankind has always sought refuge with their gods when they didn't understand the problems that confronted them?" Renee said rhetorically.

"Yes," Erin said. "As science and knowledge have advanced, there has been less dependence on gods to handle daily problems, except in third world nations where education is greatly limited and people live in squalor. Promises of a wonderful afterlife are all they have to live for."

"Okay, it's an interesting topic but we have work to do, so break time is over." Arlene added a smile so she wouldn't seem so much like a taskmaster as she returned to her reading.

"You're not concerned that we may lose our lives in this endeavor?" Renee asked.

"Of course I'm concerned," Arlene said without looking up. "But we've already discussed that possibility and declared our positions. Kamet must be sent back to the Underworld, whatever the cost. We have no choice. Naturally, I hope it's not me or any of us, but there it is. If it's doable, Kamet is history."

"If you attempt to return me, you will all die— horribly," Megan said.

"Yeah, funny, Meg," Renee said, looking towards Megan. "Who are you supposed to be? Kamet?"

"I think I shall kill this one first," Megan said, pointing to Renee.

The comment caused Arlene to look up, feeling the presence of a spirit as she did and noticing the aura around Megan. "It's not Megan. A spirit has taken over her body. It must be Kamet."

"What?" Erin said, looking up at Megan.

"It's Kamet. I can see his aura. I can also feel him now that my attention isn't focused on the book." Turning towards Megan, she said, "Well, Kamet, I was wondering why you hadn't dropped in to visit us before now. Of course, there was that one time in the office when the spirit didn't identify itself. Was that you?"

Kamet released a chilling laugh that would have made a voice-talent man jealous. "Your simplistic efforts will fail, and I shall kill every one of you."

"Nice try, Kamet," Arlene said, "But we know you aren't capable of that. At best you might get one of us. But if you do, it will be the last mortal you kill before we send you home."

"You will never send me back," Kamet said with obvious rage. "I will remain here as long as even one member of the coven lives."

"We know your power is weakened when each member of the original coven dies. You learned that when you killed Simona. It must have come as quite a shock to lose so much strength so quickly. And lately you've learned something else. Certain mortals, like myself, can see and feel your presence."

"You are no mere mortal, witch. If you were, I would have already slain you."

"I'm the most powerful mortal you're ever likely to encounter. And I'll tell you something else, Kamet. I'm the one who's going to send you back to the Underworld. So pack up all your threats and prepare to take a one-way trip back to Hell."

"You are no mere mortal, but the mortal body you occupy will die when next we meet."

"You may be more powerful than any of us as individuals, but together we're far too powerful for you to handle. Simona was frightened and ran away. But none of us will run."

The aura surrounding Megan suddenly disappeared.

"He's gone," Arlene said. "Are you alright, Meg?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Kamet was just here. He used you to speak with us."

"Seriously?"

"Didn't you feel anything?" Erin asked.

"No, nothing."

"You're sure he's gone, Ar?" Renee asked.

"I'm sure."

"Why didn't he attack you just now?" Erin asked. "And why did you keep antagonizing him?"

"I thought that taking over a body might sap his strength, as it does those from the immortal world, and I wanted him to remain here in Megan as long as possible to drain his ethereal energy. I felt that by taunting him, he'd hang around to rant and rave a bit. We want him as weak as possible for the eighteenth."

"Yeah, but like Erin asked, why didn't he attack you?" Renee asked

"I don't know. Of course, he would have been fighting four of us. But perhaps there's something else."

"Like what?" Megan asked.

"I wish I knew. But this would have been the best time to attack me. I wasn't paying attention when he arrived, so he would have had the element of surprise."

"Why did he keep insisting you aren't a mere mortal?" Erin asked. "Do you think it has anything to do with the ethereal power you command or your close connection to the immortal world?"

"I don't know. Perhaps he's never met a mortal with as many past lives as Gisela says I've had. Let's operate on that premise and see if we can find anything about that in these books while we still have time."

*   *   *

"Come in, Dick," Canaar said as Lt. Bolger knocked on the glass potion of the door to the sheriff's office.

"You wanted to see me, Sheriff?"

"Yes. Look at this," Canaar said, pointing to a monitor on the wall as he pressed a button on a remote control.

A second later several images from the main cellblock of the jail could be seen.

"That's the area where Macrone and Godwell are being housed," Canaar said. "On the left monitor you can see into their cells. They've been spending a lot of time talking with each other through the bars where the cells meet at the corridor."

"You suspect they knew one another before being put into adjoining cells?"

"It seems that way. I suspected that might be the case when I had Godwell picked up."

"What led you to suspect that?"

"I did a little checking and discovered that Meredith Blakely, aka Virginia Winston, aka Virginia Reffer, was born in this county. More than that, she attended the same schools as Godwell, and they grew up just a few streets away from one another. Perhaps they were childhood friends. Anyway, when Winston returned to this county after the violent death of her husband, Keith Reffer, it was Godwell who helped her get a new ID under the name Blakely. I don't think I ever told you, but it was Godwell who was pressuring me to get Watson out of the county."

"You think he hired Macrone to kill Blakely so his helping her would never be discovered?"

"It seems more likely that Macrone made a mistake in identifying Watson and thought Blakely was our spiritualist. She was in Watson's house after all."

"I saw that the judge refused Macrone's attorney's request to set bail pending the findings of a psychiatrist. What about Godwell?"

"I expect bail will be set today, and he'll be out."

"There's going to be hell to pay for his being arrested."

"After he ordered me to murder Watson, I had to act. I couldn't kill her, and I couldn't just sit back and do nothing. I assume he turned to me when bail was refused for Macrone and he knew Macrone wasn't going to do her."

"Why was he so anxious to get Madam Arlene out of the county?"

"I'm guessing he was unnerved after Watson, er, Madam Arlene, identified the location of Simona's remains. When she didn't leave town right after the inquest, perhaps he felt that a spiritualist could start revealing other secrets, such as his lying under oath about Meredith's true name so she could get a new identity. I'm sure Godwell has a lot of other— excuse the expression— skeletons in his closet."

"Why didn't you just refuse to do as he ordered and drop it?"

"When I was trying to force Madam Arlene to leave town, she told me that Simona's spirit has spent quite a bit of time in my office recently. She told me I couldn't hide behind my office door and expect that I wasn't being observed or that I could enjoy a private conversation. Then she asked me if it was true that the party chairman in this county wanted her out of town and was pressuring me to make that happen. I tell you, Dick, I was pretty shaken by the specifics of that question. I'd never told anyone who was pressuring me, and I never thought anyone could have learned who it was. Uh, you never suggested that to Watson, did you?"

"I never told anyone Godwell might be pressuring you to get Madam Arlene out of town."

"I didn't think you had. For all we know, Simona's spirit might be here right now listening to us. So when Godwell ordered me to murder Madam Arlene, I knew I couldn't just drop it. What if Simona passed that information to her?"

"You think Simona is here right now, Sheriff?"

"Can you see her?"

"Uh, no."

"Have you ever seen a spirit?"

"No."

"Neither have I. So how can we know if one is watching and listening to us right now?"

"I guess there's no way. Unless Madam Arlene were here."

"Yeah. Well— until Watson leaves town, I'm going to be extra careful not to say or do anything that could possibly be misconstrued as being illegal or that might appear to make me complicit in any illegal act."

"That sounds like a good policy, Sheriff. But don't forget, Simona originally went to visit Madam Arlene on her own. She could always do it again if there's something going down she doesn't believe is legal."

"Good Lord, you're right. I can't just be careful now. I have to be careful for as long as I'm on the job."

"Looks that way, Sheriff."

"Damn all spirits."

*   *   *

When his housekeeper knocked once and then opened the door to his office so the head of the diocese could enter, Father Paul stood up behind his desk. "Your Excellency, you're a bit early."

"Father Paul, it's wonderful to see you again. I always love coming to visit here. The community is so charming and picturesque."

"And we love having you come to visit. Mrs. McGrath is preparing the stew you've always claimed is your favorite when you've visited in the past."

"Wonderful," Bishop Flaherty said. "You are a lucky man, Father Paul. Mrs. McGrath is an incredibly gifted cook. I would steal her from you if I could, but I know she'd never leave Lake Georgina."

"I know how lucky I am, Your Excellency. I thank our Lord every day for the blessings he has bestowed on me."

"Given the reports we've been hearing about the traffic jams, I expected it to be worse than it actually was. I expected stop-and-go traffic for the last twenty miles before reaching town, but I made good time."

"Won't you have a seat?" Father Paul said, gesturing to a comfortable chair facing his desk.

As Bishop Flaherty sat down, he groaned slightly.

"Are you in poor health, Your Excellency?"

"No. Just a minor ache from a pulled muscle. I was helping decorate a church hall last week when I tripped on a roll of bunting and fell. I used my left arm to break my fall and injured it. The doctor says I'll be just fine in a couple of weeks, but right now it aches whenever I move it a certain way."

"Yes, pulled muscles can be painful. I'm glad it wasn't more serious."

"As we get older, we tend to forget that our body isn't as agile as it once was. Little reminders like this show us the folly of not acting our age. You're still a young man, so it will be awhile before you can appreciate what I'm saying."

"I appreciate it now, Your Excellency. I spend a considerable amount of time with our retired parishioners. But down to business. To what do we owe this unscheduled visit? I didn't anticipate seeing you for a couple of months."

"Well, it's about this spiritualist you have visiting your community."

"Ah, I suspected that might be the reason. I imagine the news interview recorded here was broadcast all over the diocese."

"It wasn't only the initial news broadcast in front of the restaurant. Our local station has broadcast a new report every night since then. People all over the diocese are talking about this Madam Arlene woman."

"I imagine they're talking about her all over the region. And perhaps all over the state."

"Have you met her yet?"

"Yes, I've met her three times. She's a charming young lady. She's very intelligent and well educated, and has the heart of a devout Christian."

"She's a Christian? That's a surprise. I expected her to be a practicing pagan."

"I haven't probed the depth of her alliance to Christianity, but I know she wears a small cross on a gold chain around her neck and she shares most of our values. She does have a unique set of ideas that step slightly outside those of the Church, but nothing that's seriously in opposition to our own."

"For instance?"

"She believes that all religions worshiping a single deity are actually worshiping the same god and that the differences in the way the religion is practiced is simply owed to interpretation of the deity's words by religious members in high positions of authority."

"A number of good Christians subscribe to those ideas."

"And she believes that the souls of the departed who have lived good lives have the option of remaining here rather than ascending to heaven as soon as they die. She believes that the souls of evil people are immediately pulled down to Hell as opposed to ascending to heaven before being cast down after being adjudged unworthy to enter through the heavenly gates."

"Some theologians also disagree on the Church's official interpretation of the judgment procedure. So that's a very minor point. What else?"

"Well, she believes God has given her the ability to see and communicate with the departed who have chosen to remain here."

"Ah, yes, we learned that from the news reports. Anything else?"

"Uh, yes. She believes she can summon and speak with the departed who have already gone to heaven— or, as she calls it, the immortal world."

"I see. That wasn't mentioned in the news broadcasts."

"I can understand that. She knows how skeptical people are of her gifts and doesn't like to— overemphasize the particulars of her abilities."

"You say you've met her three times. Do you believe she has any of these gifts she claims?"

"My first visit was just to satisfy myself she wasn't merely a con woman catering to people's gullibility. I wanted to be assured she didn't represent a danger to my parishioners, the other residents of this community, or even herself. I quickly determined she wasn't and didn't. My second visit was to discuss her gifts."

Father Paul hesitated before answering the second part of the bishop's query. The pause was long enough that Bishop Flaherty repeated his last question.

"Yes, Your Excellency. I do."

"You do? Why?"

"I had a personal demonstration."

"Where? At that antiques store where she's said to spend all of her days?"

"No, Your Excellency. I invited her to come here and demonstrate her abilities by calling someone who had departed."

"Here? In the rectory? Father Paul, didn't you realize that by doing that, you were in fact giving credence to her claims?"

"By doing it here, I knew there could be no opportunity to stage visual tricks. And the— event— was neither publicized in any way nor reported after the fact."

"I see. And were there any visual tricks?"

"No. The entire event was straightforward. One might almost say— businesslike."

"And who did she call? A famous person? A saint, perhaps?"

"Quite the opposite. She called a relatively unknown individual who died as a teenager."

"A teenager," Bishop Flaherty said in a low tone as if he were considering why a teenager had been called. "And not well known? So no one could verify what was said by this alleged spirit?"

"The teenager was well known to me, Your Excellency. Very well known. We grew up together and even talked of marriage just before her death. I selected the departed spirit to be contacted."

"I see," the bishop said, staring intently at Father Paul. "And did the departed individual appear?"

"Not exactly an appearance. The individual spoke through a medium. But there was no doubt that the things that were said could not have been known by any living person other than myself."

"Really. And how much time did Madam Arlene get to investigate the background of this teenager and prepare to welcome her?"

"Minutes, Your Excellency. I didn't tell her who I wanted to contact until we were seated at the table, ready to begin."

"Is it possible she could have guessed who you wished to hear from? Did you perhaps mention anything about the person earlier?"

"I never mentioned that individual in any previous conversation. That was a very private part of my life before the Church, and I've never talked about it since I was a teenager. No one, but no one, could have known. And no one other than myself could have known the specifics that would convince me the presence of the departed spirit was real."

"Some people who claim clairvoyant abilities are very gifted in the art of 'reading' people from their movements, from minor things they've said, and reactions to questions."

"I assure you that was not the case. The spirit talking through the medium told me things I had forgotten. There's no possible way Madame Arlene could have learned certain facts in advance of the séance once I named the individual I wished to contact, or even learned it from me in prior discussions."

"I see. Precisely what was said?"

"Speaking through the medium, the spirit of my childhood friend used pet names and references only the two of us would have known."

"You're absolutely positive this couldn't have been faked?"

"There's no question, Your Excellency. I'm as surprised as anyone, but by the time the séance ended, I had become a believer. Madam Arlene does have the gift. She can call the departed."

"I wonder how soon I could see an exhibition of this gift. And perhaps I could invite several members of the order to observe as well."

"Madam Arlene doesn't perform séances often. In fact, I understand this was the first time she had consented to do it with anyone outside a small coterie of childhood friends."

"Yet she has adopted this sort of honorific title of Madam, which people use to refer to her."

"It was bestowed on her by others who immediately recognized and accepted her gift when she first came to Lake Georgina. Her closest friends don't attempt to dramatize the honorific and always refer to her simply as Arlene. Perhaps, Your Excellency, I can interest you in a book that was given to me by a parishioner. It was written by Madam Arlene under a pen name. It may begin to help you understand her and her unique attitudes."

"She's written a book about spiritualism?"

"Not exactly. The book is listed as fiction, but everyone who knows her and her friends believes it to be a true account of her gift as it developed. I understand it's almost impossible to find a copy these days. Let me get it, and you can decide for yourself if it's something you believe you might care to read."









Chapter Seventeen



"There's something here that you might be interested in Arlene," Renee said.

"What is it?" Arlene said, putting a slip of acid-free paper into the book she was reading to mark her place before closing it to listen to Renee.

"You asked us to pay attention to anything unusual that might be related to ethereal energy."

"Yes, I did."

"There's an account in this eighteenth century Italian book that talks about a clergyman revered as being extremely devout. A villager told a local bishop that he had been walking home on a road that passed through a forest when he saw a strange light in the woods. He claimed to know it wasn't a campfire. Curious about what could be responsible, he surreptitiously approached the area and sought out the reason for the light. As he approached a clearing, he spotted the clergyman kneeling at a makeshift altar, apparently praying. The villager said the torso of the clergyman was glowing brightly, and the intensity of the light increased as he watched. When the light grew so bright that he could no longer look at it, it suddenly stopped. When the villager's eyes were again accustomed to the darkness, he saw the clergyman lying in front of the stone altar. He was unmoving and appeared to be dead."

"What happened to the clergyman?" Arlene asked when Renee stopped recounting the event.

"It doesn't say. I read you everything in the report."

"Do you think it's been edited?" Erin asked.

"I don't know. I read everything in the account. It doesn't suggest the bishop was trying to suppress any information."

"So the clergyman was glowing?" Arlene said aloud as she thought. "That sounds like the accounts from exorcisms."

"Except the clergyman in this story was reputed to be alone."

"So what made him glow?" Megan asked.

"The account doesn't say," Renee replied.

"Perhaps he was summoning ethereal energy for some reason," Arlene said. "Perhaps an extremely heavy concentration of ethereal energy in the body makes it glow."

"But what does that mean?" Megan asked. "Can the ethereal energy be focused to repel evil?"

"In the several accounts of exorcism or banishment efforts we've read," Erin said, "both parties— the person performing the exorcism and the person possessed by the demon— continued to glow brighter and brighter until no one could look in their direction."

"And then they died," Arlene said.

"I wonder if they died from the light or from trying to kill one another," Renee said.

"Does it matter?" Megan asked.

"It could," Erin said. "If the person didn't die from the light, then maybe fighting the demon isn't an automatic death sentence. Perhaps death comes because the one doing the exorcism uses up all of the energy that sustains their life."

"So why didn't Kamet attack Arlene when he was here?" Megan asked.

"Perhaps it's because he realized that his chances for survival against someone like Arlene, who can draw upon and focus all of the ethereal energy around her, weren't so good," Renee said. "Perhaps he was only here to bluff his way through and try to frighten her into leaving."

"I wish we knew for sure," Arlene said as she opened the Greek book she had been reading before Renee announced her discovery.

*   *   *

"Good morning, Your Excellency," Father Paul said as Bishop Flaherty joined him in his office. "Did you sleep well?"

"Very well, thank you. I always sleep well when I come here to visit. It's so quiet and peaceful."

"We're far enough removed from the business district that dissonance from the tourist attractions doesn't reach us. Lately the noise level there has been significantly higher as people from all over have come here with the hope they can catch a glimpse of Madam Arlene, but we still never hear anything here."

"That was a very interesting book you lent me, Father Paul."

"You finished it?"

"Just now. Once I started, I had trouble putting it down. I finally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and had to stop to get some sleep. As soon as I awoke, I began reading again. Madam Arlene has quite an imagination."

"I see. You don't believe the story is true."

"It's— a bit farfetched."

"Yes, but aren't many of the stories in the bible also a bit farfetched?"

"Uh, yes, I can see why people might think that and express doubts about them."

"I didn't say that I didn't believe them, but think about the stories such as Noah and the Ark, and the story of Moses parting the Red Sea. Or how about the Tower of Babel, or of our Lord Jesus Christ being put to death on the cross and then rising from the dead and physically ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Some things simply have to be accepted with faith that God has acted or intervened because the acts are far beyond what mere mortals can perform."

"Of course, Father Paul. That's true. So you believe God has intervened and given Madam Arlene the abilities she professes to have?"

"Your Excellency, I do believe that God has given her a gift— a special gift— a wonderful gift. So why should we believe the account written by Madam Arlene is less true than the account of the miracles performed by our revered saints?"

Bishop Flaherty sighed before saying, "I suppose I've just become a bit of a skeptic myself when it comes to such claims by persons not associated directly with the Church."

"Your Excellency, there was no organized Christian church when Christ was crucified, although he did have numerous followers who would go on to lay the groundwork for the Church."

"If I understand correctly, you're saying you believe everything that was written in her book."

"Not at first, certainly. But as I said last night and again just now, I've become a believer in this woman's gift."

"How soon do you suppose I could meet her, Father?"

"That's difficult to say, Your Excellency. She doesn't seek attention. In fact, she tries to avoid it whenever she can. Since the interview, she's been ensconced in the Lake Georgina Antiques Shop, trying to avoid the press and her admirers."

"That's a positive."

"Why?"

"It indicates that she hasn't started all this just to gain notoriety to sell her book."

"She definitely hasn't done this because she's looking to sell books. She's a college student at Bryn Mawr."

"Bryn Mawr? A fine school."

"Yes. Madam Arlene is an accomplished individual. I know she speaks, reads, and writes half a dozen languages. And it's most revealing that she's never studied any of them. In her book, she mentions that she acquired this knowledge from the body of the young woman which she occupied in the 1800's."

"Yes, I saw that. And you've confirmed her ability to read, write, and speak these languages?"

"I only know English and Latin, so I'm afraid it's far beyond my abilities to confirm her knowledge of French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and German."

"I see. I speak a bit of French and German. I'd love to see how she would respond to a few sentences in each."

"I naturally can't promise anything, but if you wish it, I'll contact her and see if I can arrange a meeting, Your Excellency."

"It would be wonderful if you could do that, Father Paul. I would very much like to meet this young woman."

"But first let me tell you why Madam Arlene chose to remain in Lake Georgina following completion of the coroner's inquest for the woman who was killed. Make yourself comfortable, Your Excellency, this is quite a story."

*   *   *

"Madam Arlene," Oculara said, "Your eleven-thirty appointments are here. Should I send them down?"

"Is it alright if I meet with them in the office?"

"Of course, Madam Arlene."

"Or better yet, since the office is so small, I'll meet with them up in the kitchen, if that's okay."

"Of course, Madam Arlene. There's no one up there right now. We're so busy on the sales floor that everyone is out there. I'll show them the way to the kitchen."

"Thank you, Oculara. Tell them I'll join them in a couple of minutes."

Several minutes later, as Arlene was opening the door to exit the library, Erin, who was tagging along, asked, "Do you think this is a good idea right now? I mean having this meeting. We've got a lot on our minds. August 18th is less than two weeks away."

"It's just going to be a brief discussion. We'll be done before Renee and Megan even get back with the lunch order."

"Okay, it's your decision. You're the one they want to talk to."

As Arlene stepped onto the top floor, the two men seated at the kitchen table stood up and smiled.

"Madam Arlene," the older man said, "it's a pleasure to meet you. I've been looking forward to our getting together."

"You must be Walter Kellogg," Arlene said as she extended her hand.

"Yes," the man said as he took it and shook her hand lightly. Turning slightly and gesturing towards the younger man after releasing her hand, he said, "and this is my assistant, Harvey Brunn."

Arlene extended her hand towards the younger gentleman and said, "Welcome to Lake Georgina, gentlemen. Shall we sit down? Would you care for some coffee?"

"Nothing for me," Kellogg said.

"Nor me," Brunn said.

"Shall we get down to business, Madam Arlene?" Kellogg said. Without waiting for an answer, he added, "Madam Arlene, you're a hot property right now. The word is out that you've written a dynamite book, and every bookstore in the country is clamoring for copies. I understand a used copy of your book recently sold on eBay for over three hundred dollars. So we can't waste time. We've learned that the company you commissioned to print your book has run out of the nine hundred copies they were given to distribute. Copies of the book now can't be had for love nor money, other than in auctions like the one on eBay. We need to get your book back into production as soon as possible before the interest cools. I'm prepared to offer you a two-million-dollar advance against sales if you'll sign with us."

"Two million? But that's just an advance against future earnings from sales. It's really meaningless. What would my share of the net from sales be?"

"Eight percent of net against hardcover sales, five percent against trade paperback, two percent against pocketbooks, and a generous twenty-five percent against eBook sales."

"That's not very much for a book that 'can't be had for love nor money.'"

"It's the standard rate for new authors who haven't yet developed a following."

"What kind of following is better than a book that 'can't be had for love nor money'?"

"Okay, I can increase the hardcover rate to ten percent, trade paperback to six, and pocketbooks to four. I can't do any better on the eBooks rate."

"I'm not a well know author, gentlemen, but I know the business. I want twenty percent on hardcover, twelve percent on trade paperback, six percent on pocketbooks, and fifty percent on eBooks."

"No new author gets those rates," Kellogg said. "Even the most established authors in the business don't get those rates."

"But that's what I require."

"We can't do it."

"That's a shame. Oh well, have a good trip back to New York City. And thank you for coming up."

"Wait a minute. What are you going to do about republishing the book?"

"I've been discussing this with an agent. He suggests having an auction. He promises me I'll get the rates I quoted, at the very least. He agrees the book is a hot property right now, and every publisher in the business wants a share of my pie. Or I could always go it alone as I did before."

"Without a traditional publisher such as our firm behind the book, you'll never get it into libraries or most brick-and-mortar bookstores. That's our turf. Traditional publishers have that market locked up and Independent author/publishers don't stand a chance there."

"Perhaps. But times are changing, gentlemen. The big trad publishers are going to have to start sharing the book profits with the people who actually produce the books, or authors will start bypassing them in greater and greater numbers. It's already begun. The number of hybrid authors— those who sell both through trad publishers and on their own as independent author/publishers— is increasing each year. I'm sorry, but I really must get back to work now."

"Look, I'm authorized to go to fifteen percent on hardcover, ten percent on trade versions, five percent on pocketbooks, and twenty-five percent on eBooks with a stipulation that you get a bonus of fifteen percent additional on eBooks if sales exceed two hundred thousand copies, but it has to be a three-book deal."

"You're getting closer, Mr. Kellogg."

"I can't do any better."

"I'm sure you have a cell phone. Talk to a V.P. or someone back in New York who can authorize you to go higher."

"Look, this is the best we can do."

"That's a shame. Well, you know where to find me if you discover you can meet my terms before the book goes out to auction."

After escorting the two men to the door leading out of the office, Arlene returned to the library and discussed what had been said in the kitchen.

"How come they only want to pay you such a small percentage of the net?" Erin asked as they took their seats.

"The major publishers have exercised almost complete control over the publishing industry for many years. They won't easily surrender a larger share of the book profits they've come to see as their just due until they're forced to. But as I said, times are changing. They're starting to learn they can't treat their authors like cattle anymore because those authors are learning they can find greener pastures if they simply move out of the trad publishing barnyard."

Arlene and Erin had just returned to work when the intercom line of the phone rang yet again.

"Madam Arlene," Oculara said, "Father Paul is on the phone. He'd like to speak with you."

"Thank you, Oculara. I'll take it."

"Good day, Madam Arlene," she heard Father Paul say in response to her simple acknowledgement when she pressed the button to connect the line.

"Good day, Father Paul."

"Uh, Madam Arlene, my bishop is here in Lake Georgina. He'd very much like to meet you. Is that possible?"

"I'm awfully busy today, Father. The eighteenth is getting closer and we're trying to learn as much as possible so we're prepared."

"I understand, but he has to leave tonight, and he really wants to meet you."

"Oh, very well. Is three o'clock convenient?"

"Yes. Shall we come to the antiques store or will you come here?"

"It would be better if you come to the antiques store. If I come there, I'll have a motorcade of people following me. I haven't been able to go anywhere during the daytime since that television interview."

"I see. Please hold for a moment while I discuss this with the bishop." A second later the line went dead as the priest pressed the hold button on his phone.

Fifteen seconds later, Father Paul reconnected the line. "Madam Arlene, His Excellency feels it would be better if you came here. Followers won't be allowed inside the rectory, so they'll never know Bishop Flaherty is meeting with you. Appearances are important."

"I see. Very well, Father. But remember, I warned you. You might want to alert the sheriff's office that you may need crowd control over there. We've had a dozen deputies out front here every day for the past week, and they're barely adequate."

"I'll do that. I look forward to seeing you at three o'clock. Thank you, Madam Arlene."

As Arlene hung up the telephone receiver, Erin asked, "You're going outside before it gets dark?" Erin asked.

"Yes, Father Paul wants me to come meet his bishop."

"Why do I think that's not a good idea?"

"Perhaps because I'm thinking the same thing. I imagine the bishop is hoping he can completely debunk my claims that I see and commune with spirits. No offense is meant to our Wicca friends, but I'm guessing this will be a witch hunt."

"And you're going anyway?"

"I have to. I believe the presence of Father Paul at the exorcism on the eighteenth is crucial. Right now, he's behind us a hundred percent. If I don't do this, he might decide not to support our effort. I'm sure the bishop is going to want some form of verification, but I have no idea how I can convince him. I'll just have to play this by ear."

"Maybe we should meet at Gianni's Restaurant. You can have Papa float some tissues to him."

"Funny, Erin. But maybe that's not such a bad idea."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll explain after I make a phone call," Arlene said as she picked up the receiver again.

*   *   *

"Thank you for coming on such short notice, Madam Arlene," Father Paul said as his housekeeper escorted Arlene, Megan, Erin, and Renee into the rectory dining room. Father Paul and Bishop Flaherty had stood up as Arlene entered, and upon seeing the others who had accompanied Arlene, Father Paul added, "Welcome, ladies." The housekeeper backed out, closing the door behind her as Father Paul introduced the four women to the bishop.

"Shall we sit down?" Father Paul said when the introductions were complete.

Once everyone was seated, Bishop Flaherty said to Arlene, "I echo Father Paul's sentiment about coming on short notice. I must leave tonight, and I very much wanted to meet you after reading your book."

"And I'm confident Father Paul mentioned that, while I represented the story as fiction in order to avoid being labeled a member of the lunatic fringe, it's actually a true account."

"Yes, he did."

"But you don't believe it?"

"It's a bit— farfetched."

"Yes, it is. But I prefer to have readers think of it as whimsical."

"Do you have any proof it happened as you say?"

"No. None. Do you have any proof that Jesus fed the four thousand when all he had was seven loaves of bread and a few fish?"

"I don't believe you are Jesus Christ, Madam Arlene."

"I'm sure we can both agree on that point, Your Excellency."

Bishop Flaherty chuckled and said, "I understand you've never studied any foreign languages."

"That's true, but Amelia Turner-Westfield did."

At that point, Bishop Flaherty began speaking in French. Father Paul wasn't able to follow, but all four of the women did. Arlene replied to the bishop's questions in flawless French, while the bishop stumbled a bit at times during their brief conversation until Arlene helped him find the proper words.

When Bishop Flaherty was finally satisfied, he said in English, "Your French is perfect, Madam Arlene. I'm afraid I don't get much opportunity to practice."

"You did quite well, Your Excellency. I have a bit of an edge in that for the past two months I've been immersed in books written in European languages, and I've spent considerable time reviewing key passages in French manuscripts."

"I understand you speak German as well," the bishop said, at which point he began speaking in that language.

After several minutes of conversing in German, Bishop Flaherty smiled and resumed the discussion in English. But before he did, he turned towards where Megan, Erin, and Renee were sitting and said, "I apologize for making you sit through this while Madam Arlene and I spoke in French and German."

"That's okay, Your Excellency," Megan said, "We all speak a number of languages. We didn't feel left out because we understood every word."

"Uh, you three were the ones who traveled back in time with Madam Arlene?"

"Yes," Renee said, "although technically only our souls traveled back and were put into the bodies of women who already lived in that time."

"Yes, I see. So you're all involved in the exorcism effort?"

Arlene looked quickly at Father Paul. Until then she hadn't known he had shared that information with the bishop.









Chapter Eighteen



Father Paul noticed Arlene's reaction. "I'm sorry," he said, "I should have told you. I've briefed Bishop Flaherty on everything that's been going on here in Lake Georgina since you alerted the sheriff's office about the body in the stream."

"That's okay, Father Paul. He's your superior. But we'd appreciate if you didn't share that information with anyone else. We don't want to turn the effort into a circus."

"I understand. I won't tell anyone else."

"You truly believe the spirit of a demon has been released from Hell and has been walking the Earth for eleven years, creating mayhem?" the bishop asked, his tone reflecting the incredulity he was feeling.

"I wouldn't exactly say walking. He doesn't have a body of his own. To kill, he must temporarily take over the body of a mortal. But yes, I believe a demon was freed by people who had no idea what they were doing and who would never have done it if they had known the consequences of their actions."

"But you haven't had any contact with this demon?"

"Yes, I have. He visited us two days ago."

"He visited you?"

"He came to the antiques shop."

"How do you know he was there?"

"Normally, I can feel a spirit's presence immediately, but when he arrived I was deeply involved with a book written in Greek. It was sort of confusing, and I was concentrating really hard to understand what the author intended, so I didn't realize Kamet was there until he spoke."

"He spoke?"

"He talked through Megan. As soon as I realized it wasn't her controlling her voice, I looked up. I could see the aura around her that meant a departed spirit had taken over her body. Spirits who haven't crossed over can't do that, and they're fully visible anyway. But they have the same type of aura, which allows me to distinguish mortals from spirits who haven't crossed over."

"Spirits who haven't done what you call 'crossing over' look just like ordinary people?"

"They do to me. I've never met anyone else who could see them, or at least anyone who would admit they can see them. It's the aura that allows me to immediately distinguish the mortals from the spirits."

"Can they ever conceal this aura?"

"Only when they make an effort to conceal their visible presence from me entirely, but I still feel their presence. No one has given me a book of instructions on what abilities I have or how to use them, so it's been a sort of learn-as-you-go arrangement."

"Everything you say is so incredible."

"But you don't believe it."

"Uh, I'm having difficulty."

"That's okay. I didn't come here to sell you on the idea."

"I wish I could believe you. It's a wonderful fantasy, and I would like most of what you say to be true. I'm not too keen on the idea of demons walking the Earth and murdering mortals."

"I wondered if I might be required to present an example that what I say is true, so we made a quick side trip before coming here so I could pick up a spirit."

"You've brought a spirit with you?"

"Yes. He's been here the whole time we have."

"He?"

"His name is William Bartholomew Winston."

"Isn't that the name of the spirit you say is traveling with that reporter who's doing all the interviews?"

"Yes. Before we came here, I called Katy Neilson and asked her where the van was parked. She told me and we went there so I could ask Barty if he would help me out. He agreed."

"And just how is he going to help you out? Can he take over a body?"

"No, he hasn't crossed over yet, so he can't do that. And spirits who have crossed over to the immortal world can't take over a body in the way Kamet can. They tire very quickly just from manipulating the body to speak with us. What I thought Barty might do is move something for you. It has to be very light. The heavier the object, the more quickly he will tire and be unable to do anything else."

"How about some tissues?" Father Paul asked. "Maria said Papa moved a couple of them to prove he was there."

"Perfect. Do you have a box here?"

Father Paul stood up and moved to a sideboard, where he opened a drawer and removed a box of tissues. He then placed it in the center of the dining room table.

"Would you remove a couple of tissues from the box, Father. They don't appear to be the kind that pop up when one is removed."

Father Paul removed two tissues, crushed them slightly so they stood up a bit in a conical position, and placed them on the table.

"Okay, Barty," Arlene said, looking in the direction of the door where they had entered, "would you please give one of the tissues to Bishop Flaherty?"

A second later, one of the tissues rose from the table and floated over to where the bishop was seated. His eyes grew as large as saucers as the tissue stopped a foot from him and hung suspended in midair.

"Take the tissue, Your Excellency, to verify there're no strings or threads attached to it," Arlene said.

Bishop Flaherty reached out and took the tissue, then examined it closely. "How did you do that?" he asked Arlene.

Arlene chuckled. "That's the usual reaction I get from mortals. Even when they see things with their own eyes— things that couldn't possibly be faked— they ask me how I did it. The plain truth is, I didn't do it. Barty did it. By the way, thank you, Barty." After a slight pause she added, "No, please remain a little longer."

"Well, Your Excellency?" Father Paul said. "Are you a believer now?"

"I admit to being a bit closer. Tell me, Madam Arlene, is there anything else Barty is capable of doing?"

"Well. He might be able to create a localized wind."

"As was described early in your book when you were in the drawing room following the attempted séance?"

"Exactly. I've never asked a spirit to do that, but if that would convince you, perhaps Barty could try."

"If Barty could do that, it would convince me."

"Then ask him."

"Uh, okay. Barty, if you can hear me, can you make the draperies wave a bit?"

"He says he'll try," Arlene relayed.

A second later the draperies in the room moved as if blown by a strong wind. Then, just as quickly as they started, they slowed and stopped moving. The windows were closed, the AC system was off, and nothing else in the room moved the slightest bit. Bishop Flaherty sat with his mouth open in apparent shock as he stared at the now-still draperies.

"Alright," Bishop Flaherty finally said, "I wasn't truly convinced the floating tissue wasn't some sort of trick, but I'm definitely convinced this latest spectacle was not a natural phenomenon or pre-arranged parlor trick. I'm ready to acknowledge that your gift is genuine, Madam Arlene, and that Barty is here with us, although you are the only one who can see or hear him. Thank you for opening my eyes, Barty."

"He wants to know if we need him anymore," Arlene said, "He'd like to get back to the news van."

"I'm satisfied," the bishop said. "I don't need any more demonstrations."

"Okay, Barty, you can go," Arlene said, "and many thanks."

A second later, Bishop Flaherty asked Arlene, "How will he get back to the news van?"

"He's already gone," Arlene said. "I guess he'll just— float over. I've never inquired how they travel. I've just accepted they could."

Bishop Flaherty took a deep breath and released it slowly before saying, "Madam Arlene, that was absolutely amazing. I've always believed that God and his angels could hear our prayers when we ask for their help and guidance, but I've never seen any evidence to suggest they were actually present and listening."

"I can't say whether anyone is there to hear you or not, Your Excellency, but it's possible they are. And the possibility that someone is there is much higher if you consider the souls who haven't crossed over. Once a soul crosses over, it's a lot more difficult to contact them, although I can report that they've told me they do watch the mortal world frequently to see how their loved ones left behind are faring."

"Now that I've had my eyes opened, is there anything I can do to assist your effort to banish Kamet?"

"We've been preparing for this exorcism for months, and we think we're almost ready. I appreciate your offer, but I can't think of anything we require, although I would like Father Paul to be there. I have a special task for him, and his presence is important."

"I'll be there, Madam Arlene," Father Paul said.

"I'd like to attend as well," Bishop Flaherty said.

"As a participant? Or only as an observer."

"I'll be happy to assist in any capacity if you believe there's some way I can help."

"Very well, Your Excellency. I know a way you can participate, if you don't object to working closely with polytheistic pagans."

"On this occasion I don't, given the mutual interest of this endeavor."

"Then you are welcome, but please don't invite anyone else. We'll gather on the side of the road heading west just outside of town right after dark on the eighteenth and then proceed to private property owned by Madam Elana. We'll call with an exact time you should leave town. That location is where the coven has always met in years past and where they convened to free Kamet from the Underworld."

*   *   *

"Madam Arlene," Oculara said via the intercom line, "that television news reporter would like to see you. She's here now."

"Okay, Oculara, thank you. I'll meet her in the office."

"Very good, Madam Arlene."

A few minutes later, Arlene entered the office from the rear door. Oculara had waited until Arlene arrived before excusing herself and returning to the sales floor.

"Good morning, Madam Arlene. Was Barty helpful?"

"Barty?"

"You wanted to know where the news van was. There was really only one reason I could think of."

"I was surprised you didn't ask me why I wanted to know because I thought you didn't believe Barty was really among us."

"Oh, you made a believer out of me. Barty and I were close friends, and I knew he would never break his word to me and tell anyone about the day I slipped down that embankment and got all muddy. But I've had to take the position I have or I risked having people think I was part of the wacko fringe."

"That I belong to?"

"Yes, but you're in a position where the attitudes of viewers don't really matter. In my case, it could end my career in broadcasting. I've had to cover up my original reaction with a plausible excuse, but I do believe Barty is traveling with us."

"I see."

"So, was Barty helpful?"

Arlene smiled. "Very."

"Then I think you owe me."

"No, I owe Barty."

"But I'm the one who told you where you could find him."

"What is it you want— exactly?"

"A scoop, naturally. What's really going on here, and why do you spend all of your days here in the antiques shop but are never seen out on the sales floor. If all you wanted was privacy, you could go back to the isolation of that monstrosity of a mansion you own in New Bedford."

"I see you've been checking into my background."

"It's a necessary part of being a reporter. You always have to know the behind-the-scenes stories of your sources so you're ready to defend your position. And it became more than just part of the job when I read your book."

"I'm surprised you were able to get a copy."

"I paid big money for a used copy on eBay."

"So you're the one."

"The one what?"

"Who paid an exorbitant amount for that copy."

"It was a business expense. I can write it off on my expense account as research. I understand you're negotiating the rights to a second edition."

"You're well informed."

"Is it true that Narcissist Publishing has offered you a two-million-dollar advance?"

"Amusing, isn't it. A few years ago they wouldn't give me the time of day when I offered them my manuscript and was willing to accept peanuts."

"Don't take it personally. All trad publishers are like that because they've been inundated with manuscripts from new authors during the past couple of decades. Some of the submitted work is excellent, but some is real dreck. Some trad publishers won't even accept submissions directly anymore. They will only look at manuscripts recommended by an agent. They're using the agents as an unpaid workforce to do their initial screening. A lot of very good material falls through the cracks that way. But Narcissist Publishing obviously smells the money now. All big companies are the same. They show no interest until they think they can make a profit off your labors. And once they do, they'll work harder than you can believe to make sure they get to keep most of it, if not all of it. But I'm sure you know that already. You're not one of the little people."

"No, I'm not. It's been said I have more high-prestige lawyers on retainer or working for me than OJ Simpson had at his first trial. So, if there's nothing else, I have things I have to do."

"Wait a minute. We haven't discussed my scoop. I know something big is going down, and I want in."

"I thought my admission that the Narcissist Publishing offer was genuine was the scoop."

"Not hardly. I already confirmed that from a friend who works at the company."

Arlene breathed deeply and released it slowly before saying, "Okay. What is it you want, and what are you willing to do to get it?"

"Tell me what I need to do and I can answer that."

"Well, I can give you the greatest story of this century, but— you can't broadcast it or even tell anyone what you've seen."

"What good is that?"

"Call it an educational experience. If you were to broadcast it honestly, you would immediately be labeled a member of that fringe group you're trying to avoid having your name associated with. And if you broadcast it without commentary, it would be labeled as being as phony as the Blair Witch Project. But although you can never broadcast it, I believe it will be the most eye-opening experience of your lifetime."

"Okay, I agree not to broadcast it. Now what is it?"

"Not so fast. I'll have those lawyers I mentioned prepare and send me non-disclosure forms for you and all of your assistants to sign."

"You're not serious?"

"I'm absolutely serious. And if you refuse to sign, you don't get to witness the event. I would also have to believe you were lying when you said you agree not to broadcast it."

"What exactly do you think is so special that it can't be broadcast?"

"I'll answer that after you sign the non-disclosure forms in front of a notary."

"Would we get to film it at least?"

"Why?"

"So that for the rest of my life I could look at it and curse myself for ever agreeing to sign an NDA."

"Okay, but I want a high-definition copy of everything you film."

"Agreed, now what is it?"

"Ut, remember, Katy, I'm not one of the ignorant little people. NDA first, information second. And I'll also need you to help create a diversion so I don't have a thousand fans following us the night of the— event. I want you to let it be known that I'm participating in an attempt to call a spirit from the other side. Perhaps you could let it slip that it might be Elvis. Or maybe Marilyn. Anyway, the effort will take place at a remote location some twenty miles outside of Lake Georgina, so we'll have privacy. I'll provide you with the location, date, and time when I can establish it."

"And just how am I to let it be known if I can't broadcast it?"

"I'll leave that up to you. I'm sure you know your business far better than I do. Just make sure no one can blame you for releasing false information. Perhaps a whisper in the ear of a friend of a friend who would first promise never to tell a soul but who you know wouldn't hesitate to immediately pass on the secret to everyone she knows."

"Okay, agreed. Now, can't you give me just a hint of what's really going down?"

"After the NDA's are signed by you and your entire crew, other than Barty, in front of a notary. But I can guarantee you'll be forever grateful you didn't miss the show."

*   *   *

"Lake Georgina Real Estate, Nancy Blumenthal speaking."

"Ms. Blumenthal, my name is Arlene Watson."

"Oh my God, not the Arlene Watson?"

"Perhaps. I only know that's my name."

"You're the spiritualist?"

"Yes, I am."

"Oh my God, how can I help you?"

"I'm interested in leasing— for a very short term— a very flat, open parcel of land in the Lake Georgina area. I only need about two acres from August 18th to August 19th. We won't need utilities or outbuildings. The area should be clear of any debris, and if grassland, a flat, circular area of about a hundred feet in diameter must be cut low to the ground for our use. When we vacate, the land will be cleared of any debris we bring in, and it will be returned to the same condition as we found it."

"And for what purpose do you need the land?"

"Let's call it a— gathering. The area should not be visible from any public roadways, but it must be accessible to light vehicle traffic. Do you think you might have something like that in your listings?"

"Since you need it for a very short term, any of the farmlands we have available should suit you. Uh, how many people will be gathering there? I mean, it won't be like a rock concert or anything, will it?"

"No, not at all. I would say we'll number fewer than twenty. Oh, and we must have permission to build a bonfire on the night of the eighteenth. I'll take full responsibility for keeping the fire under control."

"And you'll assume all personal liability for accidents or damage to roads or property? Most of the farms available for sale have houses and barns."

"Yes, I take full responsibility for any damage to buildings and land improvements. I'll purchase an insurance policy for that."

"How close do you wish to be to Lake Georgina?"

"Actually, I would prefer to be anywhere from twenty to thirty miles from here. I doubt we could expect to have any privacy if we were closer."

I believe I have a farm that will suit your needs perfectly. The owner has retired, but he still has most of his farm equipment and he's been keeping the property in good condition. I know he'll be able to clear the hundred-foot circle you require."

"Excellent. As long as it meets all of the conditions I stated, we'll take it. What will the rent be for the two days?"

"I'm sure the owner will accept two thousand dollars."

The price was a bit steep for a two-day rental of a piece of vacant farmland, but Arlene would pay it. However, she decided it might look suspicious if she didn't dicker. "That's a bit steep for the rental of an open field for two days, considering I'm accepting full responsibility for all damage and cleanup. I think a thousand dollars should be more than adequate."

"Let me speak to the owner and see what he says. Can I call you back in, say, fifteen minutes?"

"Yes, I'll be here at the Lake Georgina Antiques Shop."

"Fine, I'll contact the owner and call you right back."

"Thank you, Ms. Blumenthal."

"Thank you for calling Lake Georgina Realty. I'll be speaking with you again shortly."









Chapter Nineteen



"I've completed all the arrangements for the diversion site," Arlene said four days before the planned exorcism. "We'll have a security firm present to ensure the uninvited guests don't get out of hand and trash the property, and I've arranged for a burn permit so we can have a bonfire. Those arrangements should be enough to ignite the rumor mills about the event locally. By now, I'm sure Ms. Blumenthal has spread the word to a few hundred of her closest friends that we're planning an event and where it will be held. If Katy Neilson helps out, the people who have been parked on our doorstep here for the past several weeks will be bombarded with information from every direction about the scheduled event on the farm and start heading out of town early on the eighteenth to get a good seat on the periphery. We shouldn't have to worry about being tailed to Madam Elana's Property."

"So we're ready to take a whack at sending Kamet back to the Underworld?" Renee said.

"Almost. Has anyone heard from Nancy Talburt?"

"She hasn't called as far as I know," Megan said. "Erin and I have called her house a dozen times, but all we get is the answering machine."

"I really hope she isn't going to disappoint us. We hoped to have all the original coven members who are still alive, and without Delores we're probably already facing an uphill effort. If we have two of the original coven fail to show, it might severely lessen our chances of a successful banishment."

"Nancy promised us she would be here by the eighteenth," Megan said. "I believe she was sincere."

"You think it will be impossible to send Kamet down without her?" Erin asked.

"I hope not. The absence of Delores is why I agreed to allow the bishop to participate. I'm hoping his unwavering dedication to fundamental religious precepts will provide some extra assistance."

"Is that why you've been so anxious to have Father Paul involved?" Megan asked.

"No, I have a different reason for that. I want him in the circle with me."

"But if he's in the circle, won't that give Kamet an easy route to you?"

"I suspect that Kamet will avoid taking over the body of a devoutly religious person if he has other choices. Remember the text of the story from the second century Naples account? The priest was in the circle with the elder, but when the demon arrived, he didn't enter the body of the priest. He entered the body of another elder. Perhaps a demon has more difficulty manipulating a holy person."

"So you're saying you think Kamet will enter the body of someone in the ring?" Erin said. "Uh, we're supposed to be in the ring, aren't we?"

"Yes, but I think Kamet will choose someone who has stronger connections to the immortal world because of that body's natural ability to tap into, and focus, ethereal energy."

"So you think Gisela, Madam Elana, or Oculara will be the body he jumps into?" Megan asked.

"Yes. I feel very confident that it will be one of them. I'm hoping it's Oculara because she's the youngest, regardless of her past lives, and her physical power will be the easiest for me to resist. I'll only have to hold her at bay until Kamet begins to get pulled out of her body and down to where he belongs."

"At bay?" Renee said.

"Since no one inside the ring will have weapons, it will be a hand-to-hand combat situation until the exorcism begins to pull Kamet off me. The obvious attack will be strangulation or pummeling about the head."

"Good gosh, Arlene," Megan said, "'you're not a fighter."

"I will be on this occasion. We have no choice. I have to be the one to perform the chant, and that automatically makes me Kamet's target."

"Since Tuesday is the big night," Renee said, "and we don't know if we'll all be alive on Wednesday, how about if we go out for supper tonight?"

"It's Saturday," Arlene said. "And if a weekend night in this town isn't enough to make us stay home, the occult groupies surely should be."

"Yeah, too bad," Erin said, "But if we went out, we'd be mobbed with autograph seekers and memento hunters."

"Memento hunters?" Megan said.

"The nutcases who try to rip your clothes off or cut a lock of your hair," Renee said, "so they have a memento."

"Oh."

"We might still be able to have a celebratory dinner," Arlene said. "Let's call Gianni's and order a feast fit for a king."

"We really should invite all of our friends here," Erin said. "And it's kind of late notice. How about if we do it Monday night?"

"Yeah," Renee said, "We should invite the entire coven, and Richard."

"Richard might feel out of place among seventeen women," Megan said. "I know most guys feel uncomfortable at baby showers if the number of other men present is limited."

"Okay," Renee said, "scratch Richard."

"You'd love to," Erin said.

"Let's not get personal. My hormones are my own business."

"How about if we have a small dinner on Sunday evening?" Arlene said. "Just the four of us and Richard. The intimacy should make him feel more comfortable."

"I vote for that," Renee said.

"We knew you would," Erin said.

"Hey, it's been a long dry spell for me."

"It's been a long dry spell for all of us," Megan said. "My husband is probably going crazy. I just hope I still have a husband when I get back. Every night he asks when I'm coming home. At least I've been able to give him a reasonable date since we established the eighteenth as the night of the exorcism. And he's seen the interviews and news reports Katy Neilson has been doing."

"All in favor of a small dinner with Richard on Sunday and a big dinner on Monday for the coven, raise your hand," Arlene said. Four hands immediately shot up. "Okay, it passes."

"Was there ever any doubt?" Erin said with a smile.

"Not in my mind," Arlene said.

*   *   *

Lt. Richard Bolger slid onto the stool next to Herb Riddell in the firehouse bar and signaled to the bartender. Twenty seconds later, a frosty mug of ice-cold domestic beer was placed in front of him. He never said a word or uttered a sound until he had taken a long drink from the mug. As he set the mug down, now half empty, he sighed happily and smiled. "How's it going, Herb?"

"Same-o, same-o," Riddell said."

"Well, at least someone is having an easy job."

"Easy? It's boring."

"I'll put you on deputy duty at the antiques shop if you want something to do that isn't boring. Those wackos are driving us crazy. They stand around all day chanting, trying to get Madam Arlene to come out and perform for them. We've had to block off the street to traffic before someone got killed, and we have four deputies limiting the number of people who can enter the shop at any time. It's like the way nightclubs are operated in big cities. Once the place has as many as the fire marshal says it can handle, no one else gets in until someone leaves. And occasionally we have to go in and escort people out if they're not buying anything in order to make room for genuine shoppers. I feel like a mall cop instead of a lieutenant in the sheriff's office."

"Well, it's almost over now. I understand the big day is Tuesday. By lunchtime, the town will probably be empty."

"Can't come soon enough."

"So you must be seeing a lot of Madam Arlene."

"Actually not. She stays down in the basement studying those musty old books. I haven't even seen her in two weeks. I was trying to think of a good reason to contact her today when I suddenly got invited to dinner."

"Where?"

"At the house they're renting from Betty Cuzen."

"Just with her?"

"No, the whole quartet. They're getting ready to fold their tent so they can return to college, and I guess this is sort of a farewell dinner."

"Yeah, I guess they'll be gone after Wednesday. I heard there's a major event planned for a farm about thirty miles south of here. How do you feel about that?"

"In some ways glad and in other ways sad. It's been the most exciting summer I can ever remember in Lake Georgina."

"That's for sure. Personally, I'll be happy to see them go. Not personally, just professionally. Maybe then I can stop thinking about spirits being all around me twenty-four seven."

"Is that still bothering you?"

"Yeah. Every time I have to do an autopsy, I expect the corpse to suddenly sit up and scream at me to stop cutting into their chest or head."

Bolger chuckled.

"I'm serious."

"I know. That's why I'm laughing."

"It's not funny."

"Oh, but it is. That's why I'm laughing."

Riddell stared at him for a full ten seconds, then laughed himself. "Yeah, I guess it is a little funny. No corpse is actually going to sit up and say something."

"Better not," Bolger said with a grin, "or it'll take ten grown men to get you down off the bank of lights over the autopsy table."

*   *   *

"Good morning, Your Excellency," Father Paul said as he picked up the receiver after being informed by Mrs. McGrath that the bishop was calling.

"Good morning, Father Paul. Father, I just heard a rumor that Madam Arlene is going to conduct an outdoor ceremony some thirty miles from Lake Georgina on the same evening as the scheduled exorcism attempt. Can you confirm that?"

"Your rumor sources are remarkable, Your Excellency. I've heard the same rumors here. Madam Arlene hasn't said anything about changing the date, and I know she doesn't perform before crowds, so I would simply dismiss them as unsubstantiated rumors. I wouldn't refute them, however. It might be part of a plan to distract attention away from the real event."

"I thought that might be the case, but I was hoping to verify the exorcism is still on schedule without bothering her."

"I'm sure it is. As she's said, they've been working on this for months. Are you still planning on attending, Your Excellency?"

"Yes, I am. I expect to arrive in Lake Georgina on Monday evening."

"I look forward to welcoming you upon your arrival. Will you be here in time for dinner?"

"I never miss an opportunity to enjoy one of Mrs. McGrath's meals."

"Very good, Your Excellency. I'll notify her there will be two for dinner."

"Make that three. The office of the cardinal has assigned a prelate to accompany me."

"Uh, have you mentioned that to Madam Arlene? She was quite specific about not inviting anyone else."

"The cardinal ordered me to make a full report after I returned from Lake Georgina. We had a long conversation in which I related everything I knew. He was dismayed that the Church would not be performing the exorcism, if one were necessary. I explained that we were talking about a pagan ritual, since the instigators were Wiccan, even though Madam Arlene is a Christian. I also explained that there are references to the same type of pagan exorcism in early Church journals. Since the demon only occupies a body for a short time and can jump about at will, normal exorcism rituals are not applicable. He then ordered me to bring an exorcism team from the prelature who will take over when the pagan ritual fails. I finally managed to make him understand that if I did that, Madam Arlene might reschedule the exorcism and simply exclude us in the future. He relented but insisted I bring one prelate. I couldn't refuse. I hope Madam Arlene will understand."

*   *   *

"Thank you for calling to inform me, Father Paul," Arlene said a short time later. "I think we can allow one more participant, as long as he doesn't try to direct our activities. If he does, we'll have to evict him. As you well know, we've been preparing for this for months, and we believe we know exactly what has to be done. We are not seeking information, guidance, or approval from the Church at this late date. If he doesn't do exactly as I instruct him, he might be responsible for someone getting hurt or even killed. I believed we could handle it if the bishop failed to follow directions, but we might not be able to adequately handle two men who can't follow instructions."

"I'm very sorry, Madam Arlene. Although I'm the most junior member among the three of us, I will present your argument most strongly when the bishop and the prelate arrive tomorrow."

"Okay, Father Paul. Thank you."

"Problems?" Renee asked as soon as Arlene had hung up the phone.

Renee, Erin, and Megan had understood the gist of the conversation from hearing Arlene's side, so she was able to quickly fill in the blanks.

"Just what we need," Renee said, "an expert coming to tell us how we should do it, as if they know better even though they've never done it."

"Perhaps not," Arlene said. "Maybe they just want to witness it and learn from us."

"I'll believe that when I see it. The prelate, who will probably have less than half our years, will take one look at us and assume we're ignorant children because we appear to be just twenty-one now and try to take control."

"We don't know that Renee," Erin said. "Don't be so negative."

"Yes," Arlene said. "Let's remain positive until we meet him."

"Alright," Renee said, "I'm positive he's going to be a problem."

*   *   *

"This was delicious, ladies," Lt. Bolger said Sunday evening after having dinner with Arlene, Megan, Erin, and Renee. "Did you prepare this feast?"

"I'm sorry to say we didn't," Arlene said. "We purchased it as takeout from Gianni's. We aren't really able to prepare a meal such as this because the cooking utensils that come with the house are limited, even if we were able to cook such a fine meal."

"Oh? I thought that, given the longevity of your previous existences, you had accumulated such skills."

"Our nineteenth century selves all came from wealthy households," Erin said. "As wives and mothers, all we did was prepare the daily meal plans."

"Ah, I see. And as I understand it, you still enjoy a lifestyle that allows you to have cooks prepare your meals."

"Yes," Erin said, "although at college we eat in the regular cafeterias and dining facilities, my mother now has a cook in the larger home I purchased for her a couple of years ago."

"Do you think having someone else cook for you will change when you graduate?"

"Possibly, but speaking for myself, I doubt it. My goal is to become a medical practitioner. The life of a doctor can be hectic, and meal preparation efforts often suffer from the lack of time that preparation, cooking, and cleanup requires."

"I enjoy cooking," Megan said, "and since I'm married and a full time homemaker, I can afford the time it takes. Still, I don't think my skills come up to the level of the professionals at Gianni's. And occasionally I like to let someone else do all the work."

"I, on the other hand, don't like to cook," Renee said. "I'm perfectly happy letting someone else prepare all my meals. How about you, Richard? Do you cook?"

"Me? I burn water. That's no easy feat, but I've become quite proficient at it. And I never pass up an opportunity to improve my skill." After the laughter around the table ended, Lt. Bolger said, "I understand you'll be putting on a show Tuesday evening."

"Us?" Arlene said. "Where did you hear that?"

"Oh, it's just a rumor— that everyone in town knows about. It probably came from the fact that you've taken a very short-term lease on a small part of a farm, secured insurance against possible damage or injury to any person on the land during a two-day period, hired a security company to keep trespassers in line, and even hired a cleaning company to remove any signs of use after the lease ends. I heard you also applied for a bonfire permit from the local township involved."

"It's difficult to keep a secret around here," Erin said.

"We have to stay on top of things," Bolger said. "Especially when a significant number of people will be gathering for an event."

"Will you be part of the law enforcement effort there?" Renee asked.

"I'm happy to say I will not, because I expect things to get a little wild. The land is just over the county line, so the law enforcement responsibility rests with another sheriff's department. But I'll be off duty, so I might go to see what's happening."

"I wouldn't bother," Arlene said. "But don't tell anyone else not to go."

"Uh, what's going on? Are you saying you won't be there?"

"Yes, we won't be there. We'll be somewhere else."

"Where?"

"Here in Lake Georgina."

"Then why the subterfuge and the expense of leasing land when you don't intend to use it? Oh, I get it. You've got something else planned and you want privacy. That's why you personally made all the arrangements instead of having a third party do it. You knew the word would spread quickly and everyone would be at that farm on Tuesday night to see the show. Right?"

When Arlene didn't respond, Bolger said, "Well?"

Arlene sighed and said, "Yes, we have something else planned for the evening. Now forget you heard that and do whatever you normally do after work."

"I want to come."

"No."

"Why not?"

"It's dangerous."

"I'm a cop, remember? And I've been a soldier."

"This danger isn't like anything you've ever known. All the weapons in the sheriff's department arsenal wouldn't help you if you were there on Tuesday night."

"But won't you four be in danger?"

"Yes, but it's different for us. We know what to expect and how to deal with it. I thought you understood that."

"Understood what? That you can see and speak with spirits? I do understand. And while I may profess not to believe in order to avoid mockery from my fellow officers, I do believe now."

"That's not enough, Richard."

"What aren't you telling me?"

"She's just trying to make sure you aren't killed on Tuesday night," Megan said.

"Killed? By a spirit who doesn't even have the power to lift a pebble and can't do anything more than blow out candles and make curtains flutter?"

"We're not talking about one of the spirits who have chosen to stay on this plane of reality," Renee said. "We're talking about a powerful demon who can hide from you and then end your life in an instant."

"Demon? Is this the demon you told me about? Or a new one?"

"This is the demon Arlene told you about and who you really don't believe exists."

"I never said that— exactly. I said I wasn't ready to believe it— yet."

"And now?"

"My job requires me to deal with the reality of evidence. I've seen no real evidence that a demon is responsible for the spike in murders in this county, even though I admit the evidence would seem to suggest that something highly unusual has been happening for eleven years."

"And since you will never be able to see the demon," Erin said, "you'll never be able to accept he's real?"

"Look, I'm trying— really trying— to believe all this spirit and demon talk, but it's hard when I've seen nothing concrete to support it. An increase in homicide rates doesn't prove a demon is responsible. That's why I want to come and see for myself."

"Richard," Arlene said, "believe me when I say you're not equipped to deal with this. I appreciate that you want to learn, that you've had military combat experience, and that you've been a member of the sheriff's department for quite a while. I also appreciate that you have come a long way on the path to believing that spirits exist and walk among us, but that's still a very long way from understanding what we're dealing with now. The less you know about this, the better it is for you and the better it is for us. Think of this as you would a deadly situation with a rookie police officer. The rookie could not only get himself killed if he did the wrong thing at the wrong time because he just doesn't know better, but he could also get his partner and others killed as well. Your job is to serve and protect, but if you try to intercede at the wrong time because you feel you must protect us, someone could die. Now," Arlene asked, "who's ready for dessert? The homemade cannoli from Gianni's are among the best I've ever eaten."

"Are you saying that you might really die?"

"Simona died after trying to do what we will be trying to do on Tuesday evening. But Simona was a rookie in these matters. I'm not."









Chapter Twenty



"That dinner party was a lot of fun," Megan said as they sat at the table in the reading room beneath the antiques shop. For the first time in many weeks, the four friends had slept in and not arrived at the shop until late afternoon, expecting that it was going to be a late night. Things upstairs in the shop were actually slow, and it was assumed that most of the people there to see Arlene had gone to find a viewing place as near to the farm as possible. Most planned to sneak onto the farm after dark.

"Which dinner?" Erin asked. "the one on Sunday with Richard, or the one with the coven last night?"

"Both, actually."

"Yes," Renee said, "we've had our chance to eat, drink, and be merry, for tonight we—"

"I don't want hear any talk like that," Arlene said. "We are not going to die tonight."

Silence seemed to settle over the room as everyone thought about the night ahead. The intercom ringtone of the telephone sounded, indicating there was an incoming call from upstairs. Arlene was closest and picked up the receiver.

"Madam Arlene, there are three priests up here. They would like to meet with you. Shall I escort them to the kitchen?"

"No, let them come downstairs, Oculara. Thank you."

"Very good, Madam Arlene. I'll escort them downstairs. The shop is completely empty of customers right now, and Gisela is here."

"It appears that Father Paul, Bishop Flaherty, and the prelate are here," Arlene said as she hung up the receiver."

"You're letting them come down here?" Erin said.

"Why not? We're done down here now. After tonight, we'll never have to spend another minute with these musty books."

Arlene stood up and walked out to the entrance door to greet the visitors. The inside door opened, admitting Bishop Flaherty and Father Paul as Arlene approached it. Thirty seconds later, another priest and Oculara entered. After renewing greetings, Father Paul introduced Father Fredrik, the prelate.

"Welcome Bishop Flaherty, Father Fredrik, and Father Paul," Arlene said.

"Thank you," Bishop Flaherty said. "This is hardly what I expected to find in the basement of an antiques shop. Father Paul, were you aware there was an enormous library down here?"

"No, Your Excellency, I was not."

"What kind of library is this?" Father Fredrik asked.

"You couldn't help but notice the unusual entry, which only allows two people at a time to pass through. It's both a security feature and an environmental control feature. You've also probably noticed that the temperature is slightly lower down here, the air is less humid, and there's an air purification system at work. This collection of books represents a veritable fortune in rare books, so everything has been done to restore, protect, and preserve them since Madam Elana acquired them. Most of these books are religious in nature and were written by theologians and religious scholars. I believe this is the most complete library on the occult and demonology in the entire United States. Madam Elana has been on a one-person crusade for the past eleven years to acquire every book she could afford on the subject."

"Rare books on the occult and demonology?" Bishop Flaherty said. "Every book? There must be thousands."

"Close to six. We've been updating the cataloging data as we read."

"All in English?" Father Fredrik asked.

"No, Father. Many are in English or Old English, but most are written in Latin, French, Greek, Italian, German, and Spanish. And quite a few are written in Aramaic, Egyptian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, and Farsi. There are a few dozen in languages we haven't identified yet. We've had so much reading to do that we didn't worry about those we could never get to."

"Uh, you read all these languages?"

"No, but we all speak, read, and write English, Latin, French, Greek, Italian, German, and Spanish. And we knew we'd never get through the entire library in the short time we had, so we didn't worry about what the other books might contain."

"I can read Egyptian and Farsi fairly well, and I can usually manage to get through Arabic," Father Fredrik said. "Perhaps I can be helpful here."

"Thank you, Father, but we've come to the end of our search time. We could have used you when we started this effort in June, but we must perform the exorcism tonight. We're hoping Kamet is still a little weak from the murder of his last victim. Ideally, I would have liked to make the attempt right after the most recent murder when Kamet was at his weakest from having manipulated a human body."

"But you feel you've now prepared yourself enough to accomplish it?"

"Yes. We've found accounts of a procedure we believe will work, and two of our group were able to travel to Prague to confirm that account in an ancient text there."

"The National Museum in Prague?"

"Yes."

"I thought that museum was closed for reconstruction work."

"The Historical Museum at Wenceslas Square is closed, but the National Museum is not only one building, just as the Smithsonian in Washington is not one building."

"I see. And they allowed you access to their archives?"

"Yes. We knew we didn't stand a chance of getting access to the Papal library, so we offered the National Museum the loan of one of Madam Elana's rarest books for two years. It was enough to secure the highest level of access privileges to the book we wanted to examine. That book confirmed the account we had found in one of our books here."

Father Fredrik looked around at the rows of shelving filled with ancient books and imagined the immense value of the treasures there. He knew he could easily lose himself in the library for several years as he studied the information there.

"Miss Arlene…"

"Madam Arlene, Father," Bishop Flaherty said, interrupting. "The title has nothing to do with marital status. I've learned that it's an expression of respect for her exalted position among the small community of paranormal experts. And I assure you, she is deserving of it."

"Uh, yes, I'm sorry, Madam Arlene. Actually, what I'd started was a different apology. I had no idea you and your colleagues were so learned or that you had put such effort into preparing for this evening. I expected to find a well-intentioned but ill-prepared group of amateurs who would be in far over their heads if the demon report was real."

"Kamet is very real, Father. I've spoken with him."

"Yes, I was told of your— visitation."

"You'll see for yourself tonight."

"You know he'll come?"

"Let's just say we're confident he'll come. He knows what we're doing and also knows he has to try to stop us."

"And what will our part be in this?"

"Tonight, we'll meet up at an assembly area just outside of town and then proceed as a group to a piece of property well off a secondary road. It's mostly wooded, unimproved land, so there's no electricity and no prying eyes. As soon as we arrive at our destination, we'll carry the firewood we'll be bringing with us to an open area where the coven normally builds their bonfire to provide some light. When everyone is assembled and the fire is built, the coven will form a ring of people around myself and Father Paul. You, the bishop, and my friends will join the ring, interspersing yourselves among the coven members. As we commence the procedure, everyone will join hands and I will begin the summoning chant, repeating it over and over until Kamet arrives to stop us. As the procedure begins, the ring becomes an impenetrable barrier to mortals, and he will not be able to break through unless he abandons the body he has hijacked. Once through the ring, he will enter the body of someone inside the impenetrable perimeter because he must occupy a body if he's to have any chance of stopping us. At that point, the person whom he selected will be powerless to resist, and Kamet will release the hands of the people on either side so he can attack me. Father Paul will then rush to the vacated position and replace the person Kamet took over. Then it simply becomes a matter of my sending Kamet back to the Underworld before he can kill me."

"Kill you?"

"He'll try. He has to because I'm a threat as long as I live on this plane of existence. And I believe it will come down to a strength of wills. The ring must be complete so I can draw upon the ethereal energy of the coven, added volunteers, and the surrounding area. I will attempt to focus that energy within me so I can drive Kamet back down to the place he belongs."

"And can you predict who Kamet will choose as his host for this— battle?"

"I believe it will be either Madam Elana, Gisela, or Oculara." Arlene was looking at Oculara as she said it, but Oculara never showed any sign of fear or shock.

"But Father Paul will already be near you inside the ring. Wouldn't he be the logical body for Kamet to enter? He's a grown man after all, and his physical strength must be far greater than that of Oculara or the older women."

"Kamet will want the strongest person available for this fight, but we're not talking purely about physical strength. While both strengths are important, ethereal energy is the more critical. It's not only the ethereal energy already contained within our bodies but the ability we have to draw from those around us and focus it where it's needed. Oculara, purely in corporeal terms, is one of the weakest among us, but discounting myself, her soul is the oldest among us. However, her physical age means that her powers are still not fully developed in this body, so we can't know if Kamet will try to use her.

"After Oculara, Madam Elana and Gisela have the greatest amount of ethereal energy. So I'm confident he'll choose from among those three. There's one other consideration. If Kamet kills any of the original coven, he will be weakened immediately. How dramatically weakened will depend on the level of ethereal energy commanded by that person, but the death of any coven member will weaken him. Since Oculara was not a member of the original coven, her death would not weaken him at all, so he risks nothing by using her in the battle. And if he still has sufficient strength left, he can jump into another body. My job is to hold him at bay without killing the body he's entered until he's so weak that he will succumb to the forces trying to pull him from the body and down to the Underworld."

"I can't believe you're talking about your possible death in such a detached manner."

"Father, we both know death is only the end of our corporeal existence. I'm not anxious to leave this mortal world, but should it happen, my soul will live on. I'll simply cross over to the immortal world until I decide to be reborn here on Earth. I must impress upon you that you must not intervene tonight when Kamet appears."

"You're a most remarkable woman, Madam Arlene. I realize now how fortunate I've been to have been given this opportunity to participate in the effort to drive Kamet back down to Hell."

"If I should fail tonight, you'll have the experience of this effort to draw upon for a renewed effort in the future. Kamet must be sent back down to the Underworld. And— you must understand that under no circumstances are you to abandon your place in the ring. You must continue to maintain your grip on the hands of the others on both sides even if I appear to be wavering. Only with the support of an unbroken ring will I be able to continue to draw the ethereal energy and focus it against Kamet."

"We understand Madam Arlene," Bishop Flaherty said. "We will not fail you."

"Until tonight then." Handing the bishop a piece of paper, she said, "Here's a map showing where our small convoy will assemble outside of town after dark tonight. If you're late and we've left, you'll never find the unpaved access road that leads to the field where the exorcism will be performed. The exact time of day you should leave the church grounds is written at the top of the page. We've staggered the times for everyone participating so no local citizen or tourist will observe a procession of vehicles leaving Lake Georgina."

*

"Okay, I was wrong," Renee said after the three Church members had gone. "The prelate isn't going to give us problems."

"He might have," Arlene said, "if we hadn't impressed him with our preparation. I think he realized this isn't an amateur-hour effort."

"I wonder how much Father Paul and the bishop told him of their experiences with your powers."

"I doubt they held anything back," Erin said, "which probably gave us greater stature in his eyes."

"Has anyone heard from Nancy Talburt?"

"She promised she'd be here," Megan said, "but as far as I know, she hasn't arrived yet."

"I suppose if she's not here by now," Arlene said, "she's not coming. Losing one member of the original coven was bad, but losing two is going to hurt our efforts."

"Where did you read that?" Renee asked. "I've never read anything like that in the books we've read down here."

"It isn't from a book. It's from that little voice I always hear inside my head when I'm doing a tarot reading. I can't explain it, but the voice has always been right during my readings."

Having been talking about the coven reminded them of the previous evening, and the conversation immediately returned to the farewell dinner they had enjoyed.

*

Over the next few hours, the coven members joined the group in the library. Several brought food and deserts, so the reading room table was cleared of all books and other materials. Combined with beverages brought down from the top floor kitchen, the food was enough that they didn't have to send out for dinner.

The antiques shop, usually open until six p.m. on weekdays, closed two hours early so everyone could prepare for the evening's activities. If any occult fans had still been around, this should have convinced them that the rumors of an event thirty miles south were accurate. Arlene had just started to explain everyone's role when the phone on the table rang. Normally, the phone was ignored after hours, allowing an answering machine to pick up and play an announcement about store hours, but this call came in on a line reserved for special business calls and after-hours callers. Madam Elana took the call, listened more than talked, and then hurried out excitedly after saying she'd be right back.

Arlene told everyone to relax until the full group was reassembled, then took a seat to wait. They had two hours before they were scheduled to leave, so there was plenty of time.

Madam Elana retuned about five minutes later with two women Arlene had never seen before. But Megan and Erin knew them, and they hurried over to greet the new arrivals. Arlene heard someone say 'Nancy' and someone else say 'Delores,' and she breathed a sigh of relief that the full coven was assembled once again.

"Madam Arlene," Madam Elana said as she led the new arrivals to where Arlene was seated, "I'd like you to meet my very dear friends, Nancy Whittaker-Talburt and Delores Mendez."

"Ladies," Arlene said as she smiled and stood up, "you are very welcome. Having the full coven back together is sure to help us banish Kamet to the depths of the Underworld forever."

"I was afraid we weren't going to make it," Nancy said. "Our car broke down this morning as we began the final leg of our journey. My husband was able to get it fixed by slipping the mechanic a little extra, and our car was moved to the front of the line."

"You drove from California?"

"That's my fault," Delores said. "I'm afraid of flying."

"It wasn't only for Delores. My husband and I decided to cancel our original plans for vacation and come here instead. He and my daughter are over at my mom's house. We surprised her with the visit. She thought she'd never see us back here again, but after speaking with Megan and Erin, I knew it was time to return. After they left, I spoke with Delores over the phone almost every day for a week. She finally decided to come as well."

"I was embarrassed," Delores said, "that two people who had nothing to do with Kamet being freed from Hell were willing to risk their lives while I was hiding in San Diego. Innocent people all over this county have been dying because of us. It has to stop. I've hated myself for too long, so I'm here to make amends and do whatever I can to send that demon back down where he belongs. And if I must die to do it, I'm ready."

"It will stop," Arlene said. "Tonight. By tomorrow morning, no one will ever lose their life to Kamet again, and he'll be suffering in the fires of Hell for eternity for his past acts."

Arlene clapped her hands twice to make sure she had everyone's attention. "Okay, let's get organized and go over the procedures for tonight so we'll waste as little time as necessary once we're out at the site. In addition to the coven members, Oculara, Megan, Erin, Renee, and myself, we're going to be joined by Father Paul, whom I'm sure you all know, Bishop Flaherty, and Father Fredrik, a prelate from the archdiocese."

"Catholic priests are coming?" one of the coven members said.

"Yes, three."

"We don't need their help. They'll want to take over and then endanger all of us."

"I believe their help will be of great benefit. And I don't believe they'll try to take over. They're coming to learn in case they ever need to perform something like this themselves. We're not the pupils here— we're the teachers. Now, has everyone brought the things they were asked to bring?"

The coven members all either nodded or replied affirmatively.

"Good. Then I guess we're almost set. Let's just review the procedures and the expected response from Kamet."

When Arlene was done, one of the women said, "So you expect to actually fight with Kamet?"

"Yes."

"And he will be in Madam Elana's, Gisela's, or Oculara's body?"

"I believe so. That's the impression we've gotten from the account we found of a similar exorcism from the second century."

"But what if he chooses someone else? Say me, for example."

"That's very doubtful. He'll want a body that commands a great deal of ethereal energy. Madam Elana, Oculara, Gisela, and I would be the most obvious targets. But I'll be performing the chant. So he'll have to enter someone else."

"But what if he enters your body? Wouldn't that stop your chanting?"

"I suppose it would, if he could actually get control. But I think my soul is too powerful for him. If it wasn't, he might have tried to get at me before now."

"But didn't he try?" someone else asked. "Wasn't that reporter killed in the house you're renting? Maybe he thought that was you."

"Kamet knew that wasn't me. He might have been trying to get me out of the way without actually engaging me. He might have thought I'd be arrested and incarcerated for her murder."

"So," the first woman to speak up said, "what you're saying is that Kamet, in the body of Madam Elana, Gisela, or Oculara, is going to try to kill you tonight in an effort to prevent you from sending him back to the Underworld. And the only way you can save yourself is to kill the body Kamet is using. In other words, you're going to have to kill whoever Kamet chooses."

"No. I'm not going to kill anyone. I'm going to do everything in my power to hang onto Kamet until the chant works and he's weakened enough to be pulled from the body and down to the Underworld. I'll surrender my own life before I'll take another's."









Chapter Twenty-One



At the scheduled time, Erin started her engine and pulled out of her parking spot at the Lake Georgina Antiques Shop with Megan, Renee, and Arlene aboard. She drove at a sedate speed and left the village behind at the exact time she was supposed to. Roughly eleven minutes later, she pulled into the open area alongside the road where the coven was to assemble before completing the final leg of their journey. Four other vehicles already waited there.

As was prearranged, no one left their vehicles while they waited for the others to arrive. When the time arrived that everyone was supposed to be there, the group waited an additional two minutes just in case there were any stragglers. This probably wasn't necessary because, except for the three priests and the four young women from New Bedford, everyone who was coming knew the way to the private land where the banishment effort would take place. The Lake Georgina Antiques van with Madam Elana driving then pulled back onto the secondary road and continued the journey. No other cars had passed the assembly area while they waited.

Eight minutes later, the motorcade turned off the secondary road and resumed their travel on a seldom-used dirt road where the weeds between the tire ruts were so overgrown that it appeared not to be a road at all. There was no identification signage, and anyone unfamiliar with the area would surely have bypassed the road without realizing it was there.

Madam Elana's woodland property began just twenty feet from the paved surface of the secondary road they had been following. As if part of some primordial forest, the trees bordering the very narrow road grew in such close proximity to the road that they provided a contiguous overhead framework of intertwined branches. A thick summer mantle of leaves completely shrouded the passageway. In some areas it was just inches above the roof of Madam Elana's van, blocking out what little luminosity might have been provided by a quarter moon slipping low in an almost cloudless night sky. The line of vehicles moved snakelike through the gloom, their headlights providing the only means of following a route that twisted and turned through ubiquitous blackness. The occupants of the cars rode in complete silence, the overwhelming task ahead of them causing all other thoughts to flee their minds.

Madam Elana's van emerged first from beneath the dense tree cover and moved into a large open area that had always been used as a parking area by the coven. She pulled into her customary parking spot, the front of her van just feet from the edge of a deep ravine that blocked further vehicular travel. One by one, the other drivers arrayed their automobiles along the ravine, killed their headlamps and cut their ignitions. When silence had again returned to the parking area, the sounds of gurgling water issuing from the gloom of the steep depression in front of them floated gently in the air, but the sound was immediately lost again as the cars emptied quickly and people began performing required tasks.

A crude wooden bridge, just wide enough for a single person to cross, permitted the only easy access to the grassy hillock beyond. It was there that the coven had always performed their rituals. A glowing, battery-powered lantern was hung on a pole at either end of the bridge as the group crossed in single file and climbed a gentle slope to where a large fire ring of flat rocks circled the charred remnants of numerous past bonfires.

One of the women immediately began preparing the fire pit for a new bonfire by raking away the charred wood of a previous blaze. Arriving coven members dropped small logs outside the fire pit where they would stay until kindling could be coaxed into blazing glory.

As wads of newspaper were ignited and then covered with wood shavings and sticks, small tongues of flame licked greedily at the fresh materials. Spilt-log sections and finally entire log sections were added to the growing blaze. The fire seemed to leap with joy as new material ignited. Tiny glowing embers rose upwards, carried on wind currents created by the blaze until they winked out a dozen feet above the flames. Coven members made repeated trips to the Lake Georgina Antiques van and their own vehicles, each time returning with an armload of firewood. When they had completed their trips, a substantial pile stood ready outside the fire pit.

On one side of the large open area, the forest was populated with charred trees. "What happened here?" Arlene asked Madame Elana.

"We had a very dry summer several years ago and an electrical storm set the nearby woods on fire. The fire crews managed to put it out, but not before it destroyed a few hundred acres of trees. The grass here was also charred, but it's come back already."

"Oh, I wondered if a bonfire had gotten out of control."

"No, nothing like that. We weren't even up here that week."

"At least we have good weather tonight."

"It's just like the night Simona tried to banish Kamet," Madam Elana said to Arlene as they stood in a flat area a dozen paces from the fire pit. "There was a quarter moon that night also."

"Let's hope we're more successful tonight," Erin said as the coven began to assemble around them.

"I sense a presence," Arlene said, "but the spirit is trying to mask itself."

"Kamet?" Madam Elana asked, her apprehension evident.

"I don't know," Arlene said calmly. Raising her voice, she said, "Spirit, I sense your presence. You know you cannot hide completely from me. Show yourself."

Everyone in the clearing had stopped moving and was staring either at Arlene or into the darkness surrounding the area.

"The spirit has revealed itself," Arlene said a few seconds later. "It's only Simona. Simona, will you speak with me now?"

A few more seconds passed before Arlene said to the assemblage, "She says she is here only to observe," Arlene said. "She will not yet break her silence."

"Will she help us?" Madam Elana asked.

"She has little power while she's on this plane of existence," Arlene said. "Kinetic activity drains spirits quickly. They have to be careful how they interact with us. She has already used some of her energy just trying to hide from me."

"Perhaps we should start then," Madam Elana said.

"Yes, it's time," Arlene said.

The Lake Georgina coven had made a decision many years ago to use white robes during all Wiccan activities. Practitioners of the black arts typically used black robes during their activities, so the coven felt white robes were more appropriate for their pagan activities. The summer robes and hoods were made from a lightweight linen material suitable for very warm evenings. As temporary members of the coven, Occulara, Megan, Erin, Renee, Bishop Flaherty, Father Paul, and Father Fredrick were all required to wear white robes as well. The priests were quite used to wearing vestments similar to the robes and didn't protest. The only exception, until now, had been Madam Elana. As the leader of the coven, she always wore a white chiffon gown without a hood. On this occasion, Arlene was considered the leader, so she was dressed in the white chiffon gown while Madam Elana wore a standard hooded robe. It had always been Madam Elana's practice to wear an antique silver Celtic Circlet headpiece in the past, and she had lent it to Madam Arlene on this occasion.

The orange glow from the fire and the pale light from a quarter moon was the only illumination on the grassy knoll as Arlene walked to the center, stopped, and turned to face Father Paul. The parish priest halted several feet away. The coven, along with Oculara, Megan, Erin, Renee, Bishop Flaherty, and Father Fredrik, then moved to encircle them, forming a human chain as each held hands with the individual on either side.

Closing her eyes, Arlene raised her hands chest high, palms facing upwards one hand atop the other, and began to chant the millennia-old spell. After the third recitation, she halted briefly to refocus her mind, stretching out with her paranormal powers to contact the spirits of the immortal world. When she resumed the chant, a faint white glow suddenly appeared just above her cupped hands. With each syllable she uttered, the hovering light expanded and shone ever brighter, first encasing her hands, then her entire arms, and finally her complete form. The assembled group was mesmerized as Arlene seemed to dissolve into light so blindingly intense they were forced to either close their eyes or look away.

The flames of the fire, until then greedily consuming the small pile of logs stacked in the fire pit, appeared to cease all motion. Orange tongues of flame several feet high froze as they were and the few small clouds in the sky ceased all movement. Nary a cricket chirped or leaf rustled in the surrounding woods. Time outside the circle appeared to have stopped as darkness expanded outward from the hillock.

*

The tranquility on the low knoll ended suddenly when a police vehicle, with lights flashing and siren whooping, suddenly roared into the parking area where the woods stopped. The bonfire again began to burn, crickets chirped, and the tiny puffs of clouds marched slowly across the sky. Time had restarted without any indication of how long it might have stood still, but Arlene hadn't allowed herself to be distracted. She had continued to repeat the chant from within the glow that surrounded her but that hadn't restricted her vision as it had the others in the ring.

A shadowy figure emerged from the darkness of the parking area, raced across the narrow bridge in several bounding leaps, and sped up the low hill. Detective Lieutenant Richard Bolger, intent on breaking through by brute force, hurled himself at the human ring. The bright aura that surrounded him was only visible to Arlene. She knew Kamet had arrived.

As the physical form of Richard Bolger encountered the circle, it was stopped as suddenly and violently as if he had run against a granite structure. The women with whom he appeared to have made contact never shifted in the slightest. The ring remained intact as Arlene began to recite the chant louder now and Kamet's rage grew with every syllable she uttered.

Bolger's body hurled against the coven ring time and again at different points as he probed for an opening, eventually collapsing to the ground in weariness when he failed to dislodge, even slightly, a single member of the ring. As he lay there, Arlene saw the aura that had surrounded Bolger since his arrival rise up from his prone body and move away, then descend toward the coven members in the ring.

Madam Elana suddenly screamed, released the hands of the coven members on either side of her, and raced towards Arlene. Prepared for this development, Father Paul quickly moved to fill the vacant space, joining hands with coven members on either side to complete the circle once again. As Madam Elana began to glow with the aura of Kamet, she stretched out her arms, her fingers grasping for Arlene's throat.

Arlene managed to grab one of Madam Elana's wrists before it reached her throat and twist the other from her neck after it made contact. She pushed Madam Elana back slightly and began to chant even louder and stronger as she fought to protect herself from the grasping fingers. The glow that had surrounded her body, and which had ceased expanding, again began to intensify. A similar glow immediately encapsulated Madam Elana.

As the two women struggled and Arlene continued to recite the chant over and over, the glow of each body grew until night seemed to turn to day on the knoll. But neither seemed able to gain an advantage as they struggled.

As the battle between good and evil continued, Arlene could feel herself tiring. She realized that Kamet was now the stronger of the two. He had been able to combine his own energy with the energy of Madam Elana's body, and to Arlene it felt as if she were fighting two people rather than one. With each passing second she felt her strength ebbing. The light that emanated from their bodies and surrounded them continued to grow in intensity until Arlene could barely see her adversary. Then suddenly, Arlene felt new strength coursing through her body.

The brightness emanating from Arlene alone had been too much for the coven and other members of the ring. All had either been forced to close their eyes or look away, but none let their grasp on the person next to them relax out of fear the exorcism might fail should the ring be broken.

Suddenly, the hillock was cloaked in complete darkness. It was as if all the lights in the universe had suddenly winked out. Arlene perceived no internal glow, no radiance from the campfire, and no luminosity from the sky where the moon had been visible seconds before. She could no longer feel her arms or legs and seemed to be floating, adrift in a sea of black water. It was like the feeling she'd experienced when her soul had been transported back through time and placed into the body of another. She realized this was the end of her mortal life, and she prayed her strength had lasted long enough to defeat Kamet. The loss of her mortal existence was a small sacrifice if it meant he had finally been banished back to the Underworld.

Slowly, the limited light from a quarter moon and the dying embers of the campfire that illuminated the grassy field and the face of the surrounding woods again registered in her mind. She experienced a sensation of falling in spite of willing her muscles to hold her erect, but they refused all commands and she landed on the grass. Strangely, she felt no sensation from the impact. The sounds of shouting people then began to reach her ears and grow in intensity as dark shapes seemed to hover above her, again blocking out all light. She remembered nothing after that until she awoke in a strange place.









Chapter Twenty-Two



As Arlene opened her eyes, she saw bright sunshine and clear azure skies. Birds chirped cheerfully nearby and the delightful fragrance of wildflowers floated lightly in the air. She discovered she was lying on a soft bedding of fur pelts, and from where she lay she could hear the sound of rushing water. A piece of multicolored, homespun fabric supported by four poles rippled softly overhead in the slight breeze while it acted to shade her from the hot sun.

As idyllic as the setting might be, Arlene knew it was wrong. She had just been in a field outside of Lake Georgina, and it had been the middle of the night. She had to discover what had happened, but as she sat up, she immediately groaned. Her discomfort wasn't the result of muscle pain but rather a severe pain in her scalp. As she moved, long strands of straight black hair fell to cover her shoulders and partially obscure her face. The pain had come from having hair caught beneath her prone body.

"Oh no, not again," Arlene moaned as she pulled at the hair to make sure it really grew from her head.

Some sort of animal skin covered her body but left her arms and much of her legs exposed. She saw that her skin color was a deep bronze, shades deeper than it should have been, and even darker than when she had spent the entire summer at the beach during her high school years. From where she was sitting, she could see a swiftly moving river, perhaps a hundred feet across, coursing not more than a stone's throw away. There was no such river within a hundred miles of Lake Georgina.

"I'm certainly not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy," she said aloud as she breathed in the pure air of a much earlier time. "The question is: where the heck am I?"

"You are home again, sister," she heard.

Startled by the voice, Arlene spun on the bedding as an attractive young woman of perhaps eighteen approached. Standing about five feet, two inches, the maiden was no taller than her own new body. The unfamiliar sylph's skin color was as dark as her own, and her black hair hung long and straight. As Arlene jumped to her feet, the aroma of powerful spices reached her nostrils. A small mist of steam rose from an uncovered bowl, which the other woman carried.

"I made some soup," the woman said. "I thought you might be hungry when you awakened."

"I— feel fine actually."

"I know it's silly to pretend to prepare food and eat, but I still follow the old ways."

"Pretend?"

"You don't know, do you?"

"Know? Know what?"

"Where you are. Who you are. Who I am."

"Um, I'm feeling a little disoriented."

"I thought that might be the case. This is the first time you've ever returned home this way."

"Home? This way?"

The young woman laughed lightly. "I'm sorry, Lisara. I realize you're a bit bewildered right now, and I shouldn't laugh. I'm just so delighted to have you with me again." The young woman set the bowl down on the ground. "Perhaps this will make you feel more comfortable."

As the woman waved her arms, everything around them instantly changed, and Arlene felt the constriction of extremely tight clothing. Glancing down, she discovered she was now wearing a gown from the late nineteenth century instead of the comfortable skins she had worn a second earlier. The young woman in front of her was now similarly clad in a wasp-waisted gown with a tight bodice, wide skirt, and puffy bustle.

"I'm home," Arlene said, as she looked around. They were standing in the music room of Westfield Manor as it had appeared in 1883. Arlene moved to a wall-mounted mirror and saw that the reflected image was that of a very young Amelia Westfield. She hadn't worn a corset in many years, and she tried to shift it slightly as she said, "I wouldn't exactly say I'm more comfortable though."

The other young woman, whose skin color was now paler than pale, giggled and waved her arms again. They were still in the music room, but they were now dressed in twenty-first century clothing. Arlene was wearing comfortable shorts and a tee shirt, while the woman with her was wearing a light cotton shift. When Arlene glanced into the mirror, she saw that she looked like Arlene Watson again, and there were slight but unmistakable signs— if one knew where to look— that the mansion was in its post-reconstruction period.

"I never did understand why you liked that period so much," the woman said. "The clothing was absolutely dreadful."

"My joy came from my husband and children. Um, am I dreaming?" Arlene asked.

"No. You are beyond dreams at present."

"Did I die?"

"Many, many times, my sister— so many that if we didn't remember every nuance of our existence, I would have lost track centuries ago."

"Will you please stop talking in riddles and tell me where I am?"

"You're home, sister. You've crossed over to the immortal world, as you refer to it."

"Then I did die while fighting Kamet?"

"No, your present mortal body still breathes. You crossed over without dying this time. It's the first time you've ever managed that. Perhaps it was because you truly believed you were dying and thought only about your immortal life after death."

"Then this really is the immortal world?"

"It's not exactly a world— not like Earth is a world. It's more like— a place. Mortals have a great many names for it: Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise, Eden, Shangri-la, Zion, Elysium, Promised Land, Kingdom Come, and many more. But we can call it a world if you like."

Arlene's head was swimming, but she managed to say, "And you are?"

"I am Aleela, your sister."

"My sister?"

"From your first mortal existence more than eighty Earth centuries ago."

"Sister as in kindred spirit? Or as in the familial sense?"

"We sprang from the same womb, and the blood of our mother flowed in both our mortal bodies. You are the older by three years. You were twenty-one when we were killed."

"Killed?"

"By the men who attacked and destroyed our village. We hid when we heard the shouting, but three warriors discovered me in the bushes and dragged me out. Two held me down while the third disrobed enough to assault me." With a facial expression filled with love and pride, she added, "Just as he was about to mount me, you burst from the bushes, picked up his spear, and thrust it through his back."

"I killed him?"

"He didn't die immediately. In fact, he survived us by a week. When he fell, one of the others let go of my arm. He had almost gotten to his feet when you skewered him through the upper leg with the spear. The other let me go and raced at you. With one blow from his club, he split your head open. I jumped up as he stared at your body and stuck him from behind with the spear he'd dropped as they prepared to violate my body. But I didn't have your strength and only wounded him slightly. He turned and struck me down as well. I fell next to you, and we died together. Two of our attackers survived, but the second one you wounded limped severely for the remainder of his mortal days."

"Are they here?"

"Oh no. They were pulled down to the Underworld when they died. Apparently they enjoyed killing, or at least felt no remorse for their victims, rather than killing because they were ordered to or to save the lives of others."

"How long have I been here?"

"You just arrived."

"How much time has passed on Earth?"

"Time has no relevance here, sister. A century on Earth can happen in the blink of an eye."

"Why are there no other people here?"

"There have never been people here— at least not as you would define them. There are only souls. But we can appear in whatever form we wish."

"That's what I meant. I expected to see other— souls. I actually expected it would be quite— crowded."

Aleela giggled. "Each soul decides how large their space is, how it appears, and how they appear to others. You can change it at any time. You can visit others, and they can visit you. Your space can be as crowded as the Tokyo of Arlene Watson's time or as desolate as the Antarctic. Since I suspected you'd be a little— disoriented— when you awoke, I established your original appearance for you. The setting was identical to the land where we were raised and died."

"Uh, is Jeremy here?"

"No, Amelia Westfield's husband is not here."

"I realize he's not here with us now. How can I see him?"

"He's not here in— the immortal world."

Arlene was instantly alarmed. "His was a wonderful soul. He couldn't have been dragged down to the Underworld."

"He came here after he passed. He then watched over you with me until the mortal body of Amelia Westfield expired. When you had safely returned to the body of Arlene Watson, he went back to the mortal world for another life, just as you've done so often. I've never understood that. It's so wonderful here. Why would anyone ever wish to return to Earth with all its miseries? At times I've doubted the Underworld could be very much worse."

"You've never gone back?"

"One time on the mortal plane was quite enough for me. I'm content to watch over you now, share your happiness during the good times, and commiserate with the bad."

"Watch over me?"

"Of course. I've always been with you, sister."

"You— you're my spirit guide?"

"In the flesh, so to speak. I've rarely left your side through the millennia, although you can't seem to hear me until you reach your mid-teens. I guess it takes that long for your human mind to mature enough to understand that I'm not simply a part of your vivid imagination."

"That explains a lot," Arlene said as she ruminated over her experiences with her Tarot deck. "What happened when we were pulled back to 1883? You left me for awhile."

"When that spirit pulled your souls from your bodies, I lost track of you. I knew where your body was, but your soul wasn't in it. I searched everywhere but couldn't find you. I even searched on this side of the boundary. I knew you wouldn't be in the Underworld, but you were nowhere to be found. Then suddenly, I felt a ripple through time and discovered your soul was in the body of another person."

"I wondered if it might be something like that. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to once again feel your presence when I handled the tarot cards at the Westfield mansion."

"No less than my relief at finding you, I imagine. You can blame your last husband for that one."

"My last husband?"

"It was Jeremy's spirit who carried your souls through time after his father pulled them from your bodies. Without working in close concert, they could never have done it. When you first awoke in the Westfield mansion in 1883, who was holding you?"

Arlene smiled warmly. "Jeremy. I've often wondered who the spirit was that assisted Grandfather Westfield. It makes sense that it was Jeremy. He knew I had come from the future, and without his participation in the transfer, we might never have met and married. I would love to see him."

"I can direct you to him on Earth, but you wouldn't recognize him in his present form. Nor would he have any memory of you or your past lives together if you revealed yourself to him."

"I suppose it would be better to wait until we can be together here."

"Does that mean your days of returning to Earth are about over?"

"Perhaps."

"What about your other husbands?"

"Other husbands?"

"You don't think you could live hundreds of other lives without having married, do you?"

"I suppose not. Um, how many are there?"

Aleela smiled mischievously. "I think it would be better if you discovered that for yourself."

"But how can I? I don't have your memories."

"You will again have the memories of every marriage, every husband, and every family member when your soul returns at the end of your current corporeal existence."

"If my other bodies were as fertile as Amelia, I'll probably need my own sports stadium for a family reunion."

"My sister, were it not for the fact that space here is unlimited, you would need your own planet."

Arlene giggled and was quickly joined by Aleela.

"I feel in the mood for a cup of tea, Aleela. Is that possible?"

Aleela waved her arms and they were instantly in Arlene's study— or at least what appeared to be her study. A steaming pot of tea sat on the coffee table, accompanied by a small decanter containing milk, a jar of honey, and two teacups. Arlene took her customary seat on the sofa and poured two cups of tea while looking out at the magnificent gardens in the rear yard. When both women had added milk and honey, they sat back to relax and talk further.

"This really is heaven," Arlene said after taking a sip from her cup, "but not what I anticipated. I guess I expected billowing clouds or something. That's the way they always seem to portray it on television or in the movies."

"We can have billowing clouds, if that would make you happier. We can even enjoy our tea while we sail through space riding on the tail of a comet, if you like."

Arlene giggled and said, "This is fine, thank you. Have you never wished to have a family of your own, Aleela?"

"I have an enormous family. I haven't personally experienced childbirth, but I've been there through all of your numerous deliveries, sister. Your progeny seem almost like my own children. I always greet them when they finally arrive here and help them get oriented, and I continue to visit them when I have a chance. They all call me Auntie Aleela, and that has been enough. Since the day I was killed, I've never wanted to be mortal again. You were always the adventurous one— never able to sit still, always wondering what was going on over the next hill. Each time you've come home you've sought out family and friends, but once you've visited everyone, you start thinking about Earth. And before I know it, you've been reborn and I have to wait fifteen years before I can speak to you again. Except for that one time."

"What time?"

"You were born into the French Aristocracy and were just eight years old when your family was arrested and sent to Le Guillotine. Your family wasn't that politically significant or particularly evil; they were just conveniently there for a peasantry gone crazy with bloodlust. After killing your parents and siblings, they strapped you down on a bloody table and slid it beneath the blade. Your head fell into a basket that already held that of an older brother." Aleela drew a deep breath, then released it. "And you wonder why I don't want to be mortal again. It's said that those taken to the Underworld must constantly relive the worst times of their lives. I picture Robespierre being dragged to the Guillotine over and over, and reliving the terror of the hours when he himself was denounced and finally beheaded, or the eternal agony felt by all suicide bombers as they forever relive the split second they detonated their bombs and their bodies were ripped apart."

"I can't speak for my other lives since I presently don't recall them, but I can say that my last eighty-seven years have been wonderful. It's true that I experienced great sadness when loved ones died— even knowing I would see them again one day— but I wouldn't trade those years for anything."

"I've been content to accompany you on your journeys, sharing your times of happiness and supporting you through the times of sadness."

"You said this is the first time I've managed to cross over while my mortal body still lives?"

"Yes. It's no easy feat. Since time immemorial, only a handful of souls have accomplished the deed, although a great many mortals have falsely claimed to have done it in order to impress their friends and acquaintances."

"I wish I knew how I accomplished it, so I might do it again."

"What were you thinking when you fought with Kamet?"

"I— was thinking of my friends, and how I had to stop Kamet before he could harm them. And I was thinking about my own mortality. I knew I might die, and I knew my family would grieve, but the prospect didn't bother me as much as it should because I thought I would be with Jeremy again. I guess perhaps I wanted to be with Jeremy even more than I wanted to survive, although I would never take my own life. As the struggle with Kamet ended, I believed I was dying and thought only of ascending to the immortal world."

"That's how you did it. You wanted to come here, and you focused with such intensity that you were able to make the crossing. For a very long time you have been powerful enough to do it whenever you wished. You only needed to concentrate properly, and it would happen. A warning though— the trip will drain your Earth-bound body just as a spirit who answers your summons is drained while visiting there. Being mortal allows you to recover faster, but for perhaps a full day after you return, you will need to sleep."

"You talked of my being very powerful. Is that why Kamet never attempted to kill me before the night we gathered to send him back to the Underworld?"

"Yes. He knew you were far too powerful for him to kill easily and without risk. He tried to convince you to run away so he wouldn't have to fight you. But you were too stubborn, as always."

Arlene smiled. "I guess that's my worst trait."

"Or your best, sister."

"Where is my mortal body now?"

"It stands where you left it."

"Stands?"

"It will fall, as time there permits. On Earth, time is linear, but as I've told you, time has no relevance here. What has always seemed like an eternity to you as a mortal would not have passed in the time it takes your mortal body to blink its eyes."

"You're saying that every second here seems like an eternity?"

Aleela laughed lightly. "Can an existence of bliss, delight, and peace seem like eternity, or does it pass with such rapidity that you wonder if it might one day end?"

"I'm sorry. I guess I didn't phrase that properly. I didn't mean to imply that existence here is tedious."

"But perhaps you feel that way. Maybe that's why you continue to return to the mortal world again and again. Perhaps others feel that way also, at first. It might be why so many return to mortal existence at least once. But by their second death, most accept that what we have here is far better than anything they could possibly find among the mortals."

"Perhaps. Tell me, Aleela, was I ever as happy in any of my marriages as I was with Jeremy?"

"At first you were. But as time progressed, that changed. With some you grew despondent, and with others you were merely contented. Happiness persisted until the end with but a very few, and never to the extent I sensed you had with Jeremy."

"Throughout our years together, my love for Jeremy never diminished. If it's possible, I loved him even more during our final years together."

"Perhaps that's what drove him to return to the mortal world."

"What do you mean?"

"Perhaps even our existence here couldn't compete with the bliss he enjoyed in a lifetime with you. He might have returned in the belief that he could only experience such happiness as a mortal. I doubt he'll find it again. So very few do."

Arlene reached up and touched her cheek below her right eye. Pulling her hand away she looked at her finger. It was wet.

"Can souls cry?" Arlene asked.

"Only a soul can cry, sister. Without a soul, a mortal body would never shed tears of grief or happiness. The body you see and sense here is merely an apparition— but it reflects what you're feeling. I have wept with you many times, my sister, when you've experienced heartbreak as a mortal. When we cross over, we bring all the love we felt as mortals, and we feel unrestrained joy at being reunited with all those we've loved when we meet again. How can being mortal possibly compete with that?"









Chapter Twenty-Three



It seemed like weeks had passed when Arlene finally said, "I think it's time I returned to Earth, sister."

"So soon?"

"I've enjoyed every moment I've shared with you and the many others I've known as a mortal during my two lives. I hope to come again, but there are issues I must attend to in the mortal world."

"Oh, very well," Aleela said, unable to completely hide the disappointment in her voice.

"One thing we haven't discussed is the situation in Lake Georgina. I suppose I've been avoiding it."

"Order will be restored."

"Kamet is really gone and will never return?"

"You were successful in your efforts to send him back to the Underworld. In the same instant you were traveling here, he was being dragged down to resume his previous place there. But I cannot promise he will never return to the mortal world. We shall just have to hope he is never freed again."

"Amen."

"There are two souls who have requested to see you before you leave," Aleela said.

"Who?"

Aleela waved her arms, and they were instantly standing in the field where Arlene had fought Kamet. It was daytime, and the field was empty except for Aleela and two other women.

"Madam Elana?" Arlene said to the first. "You're here? Your hair!"

Madam Elana smiled and nodded. "Brown was my true color. It turned white during my first contact with Kamet so many years ago. Perhaps he did it as a warning or to show me his power."

"You've made the transition to the immortal world as I have?"

"Not exactly. When Kamet took over my body, my consciousness was pushed aside. But, unlike his other victims, I remained aware of what was going on. Perhaps it was because he was so focused on you. He underestimated you. He knew you were very powerful, but you turned out to be far more powerful than he first thought when he raced up the hill. At one point he was supremely confident he would defeat you, but then Simona entered your body and gave you all her strength and her ethereal connection. When he realized he couldn't beat the two of you and would eventually be defeated, he tried to absorb my mortal existence. Although he would lose his demonic powers and not be able to leave my body while it lived, he believed it would at least allow him to remain on Earth and continue his killing. I knew I had to do something that robbed him of a place to hide. I could sense he was already too weak to jump to Gisela or Oculara, so while I still had some control, I managed to stop my heart. With the death of my mortal body, both our spirits were expelled. He was dragged down to the Underworld, and I was left to wander in the field, only able to look on as a spectator while matters were sorted out."

"And Simona," Arlene said to the other soul, "you've crossed over at last."

"My reasons for remaining on Earth have been resolved. Kamet is banished and my daughter will be well cared for. From the immortal world, I can stretch out and function as her spirit guide as her powers develop. She is of an age to understand now."

"Thank you for lending me your strength," Arlene said. "I was afraid for a time that Kamet would win. But before we go any further, please start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened on the knoll."

After the banishment of Kamet had been discussed to everyone's satisfaction, Arlene said to Simona, "Can you tell me now in whose body Kamet resided when you were killed?"

Simona hesitated, then said, "I know you'll never reveal this to the authorities. It was the body of my wonderful friend, Gisela. But I certainly don't blame her or any of the coven. As Madam Elana has said, my mortal body might have been safe if I hadn't panicked and run away."

"And Gisela knows she was the instrument of Kamet in your death?"

"She does, but she knows in her heart that she would never have hurt me if she had been aware of what was happening. Rather than dwelling in remorse over what she couldn't control, she has devoted herself to looking after Oculara."

"I assume Gisela will be her legal guardian now?"

"I have left such a request in my will," Madam Elana said. "Half of my estate will be held in trust for her until she reaches twenty-one. The other half goes to Gisela. They will be partners in the shop. I'd appreciate it if you would see that my wishes are honored should anyone seek to contest my will."

"I'll do whatever is necessary," Arlene said.

"Thank you, Madam Arlene. Thank you for everything you've done to help me correct the problems I caused."

"Yes, thank you," Simona said. "Thank you for everything. I'm sorry for the grief I caused you when I plagued your sleep with my nightmare."

"I'm delighted I was able to help return Kamet to where he belonged. I only hope I don't experience problems returning to where I belong."

"I will assist you, sister," Aleela said. "Close your eyes, concentrate on your existence in the mortal world and that you wish to return there."

"That's all?"

"Yes, that's all you have to do."

"Can I return here again?"

"To return here before your mortal death, simply ensure your body cannot be damaged in a fall when you leave it, then close your eyes and focus on thoughts of me."

"What if someone happens upon my body while I'm here? What will they think?"

"When you later return to the mortal world, less time than it takes to blink your eyes will have passed, but you may be unable to prevent your body from falling because you'll be so weak."

"It sounds so simple. Madam Elana had said she could introduce me to someone who could teach me to cross over. I expected it to be complicated."

"That was before you came here for the first time," Madam Elana said. "You had no point of reference for the crossing. Now that you've made the crossing once, you can easily come again. But remember that your mortal body will always be exhausted when you return to it, and you must allow time for it to recover upon your return."

"Thank you, Madam Elana, and thank you, Simona. But most of all, thank you, my sister. I shall see all of you when I come again."

Then she closed her eyes and thought only about Lake Georgina.

*   *   *

When she next opened her eyes, Arlene realized she was in a hospital bed. There appeared to be just one other person in the room. Arlene managed to croak out, "Father Paul?"

The priest, sitting in a chair next to the bed, had appeared to be praying. When Arlene spoke his name, he raised his head, smiled, and stood up.

"Welcome back, Madam Arlene," he said. Handing her a large plastic cup from a meal service table, he said, "Here, take a drink of this cool water."

"Thank you," Arlene said after taking a long sip from the cup. "I needed that. My throat was so dry. How are you feeling, Father?"

"Fine, although I'm still in awe. I'm not sure what happened in that clearing outside of town, and I may never be sure, but I do know it certainly wasn't a natural phenomenon that can be explained by any science I've seen, or heard of, in my lifetime. God has granted me a great honor by permitting me to observe something so very— unique— and I shall never again be so ready to dismiss something that sounds outlandish as being a mere fabrication of someone's imagination. God has indeed given you much more than the special gifts you told me about previously— and I would be most grateful for any further elucidation regarding the event on the knoll."

Arlene smiled before saying, "You know, of course, our stated goal was to send the demon Kamet back to the Underworld where he belongs, and that our determined research efforts turned up a recorded reference to another time in history where a group of villagers had the same task before them. That reportedly occurred during the second century A.D. During a nine-month period back then, a number of grisly murders near Naples were committed by an unknown person or persons. After a priest, with blood still dripping from his hands, was found standing over the body of a just-murdered villager, he was taken to the village elder. The priest claimed to have no knowledge of the murder and stated that he must have been possessed. Believing in the piety of that particular priest, the village elder agreed that a demon must have been summoned forth during a pagan ritual the previous fall to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Why he jumped to that conclusion wasn't stated, but the text did say he contacted all the elders of the surrounding villages who had participated in the original ritual. They all agreed to meet on a hillside after dark to perform an exorcism of the priest. They didn't know at the time that the demon had already left the priest's body. The rest happened in a manner similar to our efforts.

"I'm sure the Church has documentation regarding that event somewhere in the Vatican Apostolic Library, since the library is renowned to contain over seventy-five thousand codices from throughout history. As I've previously mentioned, we knew we wouldn't have been permitted access, so we didn't even try. But I'm confident the Vatican must surely have an account of the event. They may not admit it or want to give credence to the story, but I'm sure they know. The rest you know."

"I'd love to know where that blinding light came from. It seemed to emanate from your body and that of Madam Elana."

"The same phenomenon was witnessed in the exorcism I just spoke of, but the account made no attempt to answer that question. I'm sure they were quite bewildered back in the second century. I believe that the initial light which appeared just above my hands resulted from my efforts to focus my internal ethereal energy. As I concentrated further, I could actually feel the energy of everyone in the ring and I worked to draw that to me. I also tapped into the energy of nature I felt all around us."

"Uh, can you do it other than when you're performing an exorcism?"

"You mean such as now?"

"Yes."

"I don't know. I still feel very fatigued. I don't think I could do it right now."

"I understand. Thank you."

"Father, where are we?"

"At the Lake Georgina Hospital. We brought you here after you collapsed. The doctors have said you'll be fine. No broken bones, no concussion or anything they could find. They said you just had a few light abrasions on your throat, and you appeared to be suffering from extreme exhaustion and needed bed rest."

"How is everyone else?"

A troubled look came over the priest's face.

"I already know about Madam Elana," Arlene said, "if that's the reason for your hesitation."

"You know? How could you know?"

"I just left her a few minutes ago."

"No, my dear lady, you've been asleep for almost two days."

"I've actually been gone for what seemed like many months, but time has no relevance there. A century on Earth can seem like the blink of an eye on the other side, or what seems like a century there can occur in the blink of an eye here."

"And just where do you think you've been?"

"I know where I've been, but I also know you won't believe me, despite your recent statement about never again being so ready to dismiss something that sounds outlandish as being the mere fabrication of someone's imagination."

"Please tell me anyway."

"Okay. I've been where all decent people go when they've left this mortal existence."

"You're saying you've been in heaven?"

"Is that so unreasonable? The Church has been promoting the existence of heaven for countless centuries."

"But we've never suggested that anyone can return."

"Father, after Jesus died on the cross, where did his soul go? I mean, his corporeal remains were dead, so his soul had to go somewhere during the three days before it was time for him to arise again and bodily ascend to heaven."

"I'm afraid the Bible is not— specific— on that subject. There are a number of suggested possibilities."

"But his soul did go somewhere for those three days, right? Why not to heaven? Or at least to that place we call heaven? You know, I think the brown color of Madam Elana's hair was quite becoming. The white color made her appear so old."

Father Paul's face reflected total astonishment as he asked, "How could you possibly know her hair had changed color? You've been unconscious since you fell during the ceremony."

"Father, I just told you. I only left her a few minutes ago. She, Simona, and I had a very long discussion about the exorcism."

When Father Paul still appeared to be skeptical regarding Arlene's explanation, she said, "Father, are you still dismissing my explanations as mere fabrication of my imagination?"

Father Paul smiled sheepishly. "I suppose I am. I guess it will take time for me to fully embrace my new personal philosophy."

"I suppose."

"So, uh, while you were in heaven, Madam Arlene, did you talk to God?"

"No. Everyone there supported the existence of God in that realm, but few actually claimed to have actually seen her. I imagine she's quite busy."

"Her?"

"That's the way all my relatives and friends described God, although I'm sure God could assume any gender or appearance she wishes."

"Your relatives?"

"Yes, mine and those of Amelia Westfield. It took many months to visit everyone, but the reunions were wonderful. I got to see both sets of Amelia's parents, and my children, grandchildren, and everyone I've known from my two lives who have passed on, except my last husband. He's returned to the mortal world by being born again. And the souls I did visit were only a miniscule number of the ones I've known and loved since I was first born on this planet. As Madam Gisela told me, my soul is ancient, but while on the other side I learned that my birth on Earth and the original creation of my soul actually occurred some eighty centuries ago."

"Eighty centuries? Eight millennia?"

"Yes, I was first born about six thousand B.C. Apparently my true age was the critical element in my ability to defeat Kamet. When I needed it, I was able to draw so much more ethereal energy to myself than most other souls on this planet and far more than Kamet truly expected. And I still might not have succeeded without the help of Simona, who joined with me near the end of the struggle when my strength was waning. I'm something of an outlier, from everything I was told on the other side. I keep choosing to be reborn after my latest body passes on instead of remaining in the immortal world, and with each rebirth, my ethereal energy increases."

"As was mentioned in the rectory, perhaps you're not choosing to return. Perhaps God keeps sending you back for some special mission."

"Perhaps. When I have some time I'm going to visit the immortal world again, and I'm going to make a point of trying to meet with God. If I'm successful, I can ask her."

"I don't understand. Visit the immortal world again? Without dying or performing an exorcism?"

"Certain mortals— just a very select few from what I was told while there— have the ability to cross over to the immortal world for a visit anytime they choose. Apparently, I have that ability."

Father Paul looked at her in silence, his face masked in what Arlene interpreted as doubt.

"It's perfectly fine if you choose not to believe it, Father. I'm quite used to disbelief from the people I know."

"A few days ago, I certainly would not have believed it. But following our time together and our experience in the clearing, I find myself much more open to the unknown. I do believe you. I just haven't decided yet how much I should report to the Church hierarchy."

"I'm confident that whatever you tell them will be met with skepticism, even with corroborating testimony from Bishop Flaherty and Father Fredrik, so perhaps you should limit how much you say. Perhaps you should only tell them what you actually observed and nothing else. You definitely shouldn't say anything I've just told you about my ability to cross over to the immortal world and return while my corporeal body still lives."

"Yes, I think that might be best."

"By the way, where are Bishop Flaherty and Father Fredrik?"

"They've returned to the archdiocese to make their reports. That should be interesting. We were all confused by what we saw." Standing up, Father Paul said, "Your friends have been keeping a vigil in the waiting room. I'll leave you now and inform them you're awake. May God bless you forever for what you've done by banishing Kamet and the risks you took to help all of us here in the mortal world."

"Thank you, Father Paul."

When the door next opened after Father Paul had left, Megan entered and hurried over to the bed.

"Hi, Ar," Megan said in her usual bubbly manner.

"Hi, Meg," Arlene said with a smile. "How is everyone?"

"Everyone is fine. Richard collapsed before you and Madam Elana, but he's fine. He awoke yesterday."

"Yesterday? My sister said I'd only need twenty-four hours to recuperate."

"Your sister? Sarah isn't here. Are you feeling alright?"

Looking away for a second, Arlene mumbled, "Yes, I understand. Thank you."

When she returned her gaze to her friend, Megan said, "What do you mean? What do you understand?"

"I'm sorry Meg. I was talking to my sister for a second."

"Are you alright, Ar? Should I call a doctor?"

Arlene smiled. "I'm fine. My sister had told me that my body would need about twenty-four hours to recover after I visited the immortal world. She just told me that I needed so much more time to recover this time because I was so weakened from my fight with Kamet."

"Sarah's not in the room, Ar. What do you mean about visiting the immortal world?"

"I'm not talking about Sarah. I'm referring to my sister Aleela. She was my first sister, and is the voice I've been hearing in my mind when I perform a tarot reading. I've always referred to her as my spirit guide."

"Your first sister?"

"Yes. She told me I was first born about eighty centuries ago, and we were killed at the same time when soldiers attacked our village. I'll explain later, Meg. Fully. What about the coven?"

"Everyone is fine. The only ones who had a problem were you, Madam Elana, and Richard. Hang on a sec."

Rushing to the door, Megan opened it, stepped into the hallway for a second, and said loudly, "Hey you guys. Come on in. She's fully awake."

Within seconds, people were streaming into the room. Renee led, followed by Erin, Gisela, Oculara, and the remaining members of the coven. It seemed that everyone wanted to speak at once. Arlene held up her hands.

"I know you all want to understand what happened, but it's better if a full discussion waits until we have more privacy than a hospital room permits. For now, I'll only say that Kamet has been returned to where he belongs. Madam Elana ensured that when she made the ultimate sacrifice a person can make for others. She did so without hesitation or remorse. She's gone from us now, but you'll all see her again when you cross over. She…"

Arlene paused when she saw Lt. Bolger, wearing a hospital gown, standing in the doorway. His face reflected the confusion he felt.

"…We'll meet Tuesday night, at the special place," Arlene said, finishing her statement. "We'll have the privacy we need to discuss everything at that time. Thank you for the concern you've all had for me."

The others, aware of Lt. Bolger's presence, nodded and filed out of the room. Only Megan, Renee, and Erin remained behind. Lt. Bolger closed the door as the last of the coven members exited the room.

"Perhaps you can give me a small preview of what will be discussed. I still don't understand what happened. One minute I was sipping a glass of beer alongside Herb Riddell at the firehouse and the next I was out on Madam Elana's woodland, lying flat on the ground, barely able to move."

"You won't believe it."

"You'd be surprised by what I'm willing to believe now. Lay it on me."

Arlene smiled. "Okay, Richard. Have a seat."

Lt. Bolger sat in the chair next to the bed where Father Paul had been sitting, while Megan, Renee, and Erin sat on the bed.

"The demon has been banished back to the Underworld, and the murder rate should again return to average levels for a small, rural county like this, thanks to Madam Elana. She sacrificed herself to banish Kamet back to the Underworld."

"Madam Elana's death has been attributed to heart failure."

"I know."

"How could you know?"

"She told me."

Lt. Bolger scowled, remembering the conversations that Arlene had claimed to have with spirits. "What was the blinding light that emanated from Madam Elana and you?"

"You remember that?"

"Yes. I was barely able to move, but I was able to crawl on my belly to a place where I could see into the circle of people in the clearing." He chuckled. "I couldn't fathom how I got there, but I forgot all about that when I realized you and Madam Elana had begun to glow like powerful searchlights, the glow intensifying until all I could see was blinding light."

"That was energy. Ethereal energy. As we summoned it in anticipation of the fight ahead, it amassed inside our bodies and gave us physical strength. Do you remember driving to the field?"

"Uh, no. And that's bothered me."

"You don't remember because Kamet, the demon, had entered your body. When he realized our attempt to send him back had begun, he needed someone strong enough to stop us. I originally thought he had selected you because of your size and position. He did try to use your physical strength to gain access to me while I was chanting, but he couldn't break through the ring. He apparently didn't know that once the circle has been joined and the chant has begun, it's impossible for a mortal to break through or even harm those in the circle. When he realized he would never be able to enter the circle while he was in your body, he deserted you and entered Madam Elana. She was already within the circle's perimeter and thus had access to me. Besides me, Elana was one of the three other most powerful members of the group attempting to banish Kamet. Her energy, combined with Kamet's, was almost too much for me. Kamet had already been weakened from manipulating your body, or I might not have stood a chance. Even so, Kamet might have been able to destroy me if Simona hadn't been there."

"Simona was there?"

"Yes. Not being mortal, and thus not constrained by the imperviousness of the ring, she was able to funnel your ethereal energy from outside the ring to me so I could focus it on Kamet. Together, the three of us we were able to defeat him."

"My energy?"

"Your ethereal energy. As I said, I thought Kamet had selected you because of your physical size, but it turns out that you, too, are an ancient, a soul who has consistently returned to Earth to be reborn. You've been doing it since the Battle of Bannockburn."

"Bannockburn?"

"It was a battle between Scottish and English armies in the fourteenth century. The Scottish force of 40,000, under the command of Robert Bruce, met 60,000 English soldiers under the command of King Edward II. The victory by the Scottish forces assured Scottish independence from England, although it wasn't formally recognized for another fourteen years."

"And I was Robert Bruce?"

Arlene smiled. "No, you were just a lowly Scottish pike man who fell to an English sword. The good news is that since you've returned to Earth repeatedly, you're probably not destined to be pulled down to the Underworld at the time of your death. That's not a license to do harm though. You're still judged each and every time your mortal body expires. But if you continue to live as you have through the centuries, I have no doubt you'll cross into the immortal world when this body dies."

"Uh, do I have any powers like you or Gisela?"

"Perhaps. I think Gisela might be able to help you identify them if you do." Arlene grinned. "Richard, you've come a long way from your attitude when we first met. In time, I think you'll progress even further."

*   *   *

A few hours later, when the coven and Arlene's friends had gone, Katy Neilson dropped by to visit her at the hospital.

"I'm glad you're okay, Madame Arlene. I was worried about you after you turned into a giant firefly. How did you do that, by the way?"

"You wouldn't believe me, Katy."

"You'd be surprised what I'd believe now."

"Everyone says that until I tell them what they want to know, and then they say they're not quite ready to believe what I've told them."

Neilson smiled before saying, "Yes, I can understand that. Do you even know?"

"I knew that such an event had occurred at least once before in second century Naples, Italy. We were basically following the script from that event."

"We know Madam Elana suffered a heart attack during the— event. Was she really trying to kill you?"

"You filmed the entire event, didn't you? How did it look to you?"

"Yes, we filmed it from three different locations around the knoll. It sure looked like she was trying to kill you. You promised to brief me after it was over. I'm here to collect."

"Okay, have a seat and I'll tell you everything. Well— almost everything."

When Arlene wrapped up the story Katy Neilson appeared to be dumbfounded.

"Well, at least I agree that it's a story I should never report," Neilson said. "I'd be dismissed and never work in the business again if I tried to convince viewers that tale is true. Look at what happened to the guy who thought he'd found Al Capone's secret vault. He lost all credibility for a long time. And that didn't even involve spirits, demons, and the afterlife."

"Yes, it's not a tale for the television news crowd."

"Perhaps you should write another book. Call it fiction and anything is acceptable."

"Perhaps I will."

"Oh, by the way," Neilson said as she reached into her large purse and removed several DVDs, "here're the copies of everything we shot, as promised. As I said, we used three different cameras from very different angles and pretty much caught everything as we were lying in the grass or behind trees. From time to time I'll probably play them and wish I could have released it without looking like I'm a fringe lunatic."

"Do you still believe we're lunatics?"

"Personally? No way. I saw enough to prove that. Professionally? Absolutely. My story coverage has to reflect the policies and political view of the station management if I want to keep my job. Aside from that, the footage shot by my regular cameraman turned out the best. As soon as you began glowing, he popped a polarizing filter onto his lens. It enabled him to cut through the glare and clearly see everything that happened. If I hadn't been there, I'd never believe it wasn't part of a Hollywood Special FX production. The footage shot by my engineer is next best. I'm afraid the film I shot gets totally white'd out as you begin to glow brighter than a lighthouse spotlight at midnight, and I couldn't figure out how to close the camera aperture down. And there's a special version on the DVD that my engineer worked with to improve the clarity. It's amazing and you must see that."

"But you do believe everything was real?"

"How could I not? A woman died during the shoot. Strangely, even though I was there, witnessed everything with my own eyes, and know it was real, I still have trouble believing it was real."

*   *   *

The following Thursday, surrounded by the privacy offered by Madam Elana's property outside town, Arlene explained the events to the coven. This wasn't a regular coven meeting, so everyone had brought lawn chairs and refreshments. Arlene had earlier filled in Gisela, Oculara, and her three friends so the revelations wouldn't be too much of a shock in front of the coven. They accepted that both Elana and Simona had crossed over. Oculara would listen for the voice of her spirit guide as her mind matured and her powers increased.

After returning to the shop, Gisela said to Arlene, "I've never had direct contact with Richard. How did you know he was an ancient?"

"I didn't. I can't see past lives, as you can. But Simona sensed his energy when I needed help so desperately. Her information saved me and helped us defeat Kamet. When she crossed over, she was able to learn about Richard's past lives, and then she told me when I visited her and Madam Elana."

Gisela only nodded and smiled. "I can't wait until I find an opportunity to shake his hand. You say he was Scottish-born?"

"For his first existence. When Simona told me about tapping into his energy, she provided a brief history of his first life. But he naturally has no recollection of past lives, so the images will not be strong when you make direct contact with him."

"Madam Elana told me just before we left for the field that she might not be returning. She said that if you failed, she would do whatever was necessary to banish Kamet. She said that if you survived and she didn't, I was to give you her entire collection of books."

"Oh Gisela, I can't accept them. The collection is much, much too valuable."

"It was her wish that the collection remain intact so it would be readily available if needed again for some similar purpose. She felt it was important that someone have them who wouldn't be tempted to sell them. She knew you wouldn't. When the manuscript loaned to the National Museum in Prague is returned, a courier will bring it directly to you. Oculara and I have been well provided for. We'll own the shop and its contents, her house, and the property outside town. Madam Elana has been grooming Oculara to eventually take the reins of management, and she's shown a real flair for the business."

"I don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to say, unless you want to say something to Madam Elana the next time you cross over. The collection is already yours."

"I'll respect her wishes, keep it intact, and accept it as a guardian. I hope we never have a need to use it, but it will be there if we do, or if anyone else does. If you have any problems with the probate people or becoming Oculara's official guardian, let me know immediately, and I'll have my attorneys up here to help you out. As to the library, I'll establish a non-profit organization to act as permanent guardian for its preservation and safekeeping. The tax-free organization will accept the collection as a donation from Georgina Antiques and provide you with proper documentation to offset inheritance taxes and taxes on profits from the store to the extent allowed under the tax code. My accountants will work all that out for you. I'll find a suitable location for the library and either refit a building with proper humidity, temperature, and air purification controls or build a new one. The books can remain where they are until the new library location is ready to accept them. I'm sure Father Fredrik will want to spend some time in the new library when it's available."

*   *   *

"And as the sun sinks slowly in the western sky, we bid a fond farewell to the sights, sounds, and people of Lake Georgina," Erin said as she drove her Saab east on the road leading out of town the next day. Arlene had hired a car-transporter firm to return her car to New Bedford so they could all travel together.

"That sounds familiar," Renee said. "What's that from?"

"Don't you remember, Renee?" Arlene asked. "That was how they always ended those travelogue newsreels in the movie theaters. When was that, Erin? The nineteen-thirties?"

"Yeah, something like that. I died in 1939, so I it had to be before that."

"Oh, yeah, I remember now," Renee said.

A police siren behind them pulled Erin's eyes to the rear-view mirror and everyone else's eyes to the rear window of the car. Erin slowed the Saab and carefully drove it onto the shoulder so it was well away from traffic. The officer behind them stepped from his vehicle and approached the Saab.

As Erin rolled down her window, Lt. Bolger smiled and said, "Ladies, would you step out of the vehicle and assemble on the shoulder."

When they had, and he had joined them, he said to them, "Trying to sneak out of town without saying goodbye, eh? That's a class one misdemeanor in my little black book."

"And what's the penalty for that, Lieutenant?" Renee asked.

"It's sheriff now. Sheriff Canaar resigned yesterday, effective immediately. But to answer your question, I'm going to let you off light. You are required to perform community service here in Lake Georgina next summer. The length of the service shall not be less than a full week and hopefully longer. It shall consist of enjoying our beach, lake, and town. No work at the antiques store will be allowed during that time."

"Won't your duties as sheriff prevent you from taking time off during the peak tourist months?" Arlene asked.

"I'm only acting sheriff until the general elections in a few months. Actually, I guess it might be until the beginning of the new year when the newly-elected sheriff is sworn in."

"You're not going to run for the office?" Erin asked.

"No way. I'm no politician. The politicos that run this county will learn that in the coming months. They may even want me to resign the temporary position before the election. But I'm going to stay in the job for as long as I can to see if I can make some long overdue changes to the department before I'm kicked back down to lieutenant."

"Good luck, Sheriff," Arlene said. "And if you're ever down our way, stop in and say hi. Of course, we're all going to be away at school until next May, other than during school recesses."

"I'll do that. It's been wonderful meeting all of you, and I certainly hope we'll meet again."

As Arlene climbed into Erin's Saab, she said, "I believe I can say with all certainty that we will."

"What? What do you know? Did a spirit say something to you? When is this going to happen? Is this going to happen before we die?"

Arlene pulled the front passenger door closed and then smiled through the window at the sheriff as Erin pulled back out onto the road and accelerated quickly to the speed limit.



~ Finis ~








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