The next book in my ongoing series. See bio for order to read in.
Two men were arguing in front of a complicated machine. The taller of the two had his arms crossed, while the shorter made wild gestures. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, only that they were very upset about something.
“Ladies, ladies, you’re both very pretty.” A woman walked over, kissing the taller man on the cheek and giving the shorter a one armed hug, “But arguing over your contraptions isn’t going to give us government funding.”
“We need to postpone the project.” The shorter man demanded, pushing his glasses up, “We don’t know how the Enhancer will affect you, much less your unborn child! Or did you forget you’re pregnant?”
“Is this my baby or yours?” The woman laughed, “Virgil, I appreciate the concern, but I trust you and I trust Greg. Since the two of you built this thing, I trust it.”
“It’s your decision.” The taller man- Greg- said, “Virgil and I can argue over it all we want, but everything comes down to you.”
“Let’s start packing up the lab.” The woman looked around.
“I get the feeling that we’ve overstayed our welcome in this ghost town.”
Dana startled awake. She was alone in her room, despite the chilling feeling of being watched. The dream was already fading, and she was too tired to try and remember. She rolled over and closed her eyes once more.
The alarm clock woke Dana up a second time. She swatted at it, banging her hand against everything on the table before finally hitting the clock. Her morning routine differed from Robin’s in the sense that she was never truly awake until well after breakfast. Robin passed her in the hallway, already dressed and ready for the day.
“Good morning.” She greeted Dana with a sympathetic look. Dana mumbled something that could have been a response, or just incoherent noises, and continued her zombie shuffle into the bathroom. She emerged a half hour later, a brush still stuck in her tangle of curls. It fell out when she wrestled her shirt on. Once dressed, she staggered into the kitchen. Arpina sat at the table eating a bowl of cereal.
“Good morning Dana.” She said, not looking up from her math homework.
“Weren’t you supposed to do that last night?” Dana muttered, hoping the words came out properly.
“Um… I may have told Robin that I was done so we could go over a cold case together.” Arpina had the decency to look guilty. Dana grabbed a mug of coffee and sat down at the table, “What’s the problem here?”
“I don’t want to do it.”
Dana nearly choked on her coffee. Seeing Arpina behaving like a kid and not the child monarch of a lost island was a much more recent development around the apartment and the office, but it was a welcome one.
“I wouldn’t want to do this stuff either.” Dana made a face at the paper, “But if you want to become the best private investigator out there, you need to do your math homework. Let’s see how much we can get through before Robin gets back with the mail.”
They managed to get most of the worksheet done. Dana may have left sixth grade behind, but the multiplication tables had been drilled into her head. Arpina promised she could finish it before class started, bid Dana farewell, and headed out. Robin walked into the kitchen a few seconds later.
“I swear, the next time she doesn’t finish her homework I’m going to make her.”
“You’re soft, my friend.” Dana chuckled as Robin flipped through the mail. Robin hummed in response.
“What would happen if I stopped paying our bills?”
“You’d go to jail.”
Robin slapped her upside the head with the stack of letters, “You’re supposed to say, don’t worry Robin, I’ll pay our bills for you.”
“Don’t worry, Robin, I’ll pay our bills for you.” Dana ducked the next attack with a laugh, and Robin sat down at the table.
“What’s on the agenda for today?”
“I’ve got an appointment. She wants me to look for her son so she can prove he’s not dead.”
“What happens if you find something?” Robin frowned, setting the stack of letters and bills aside.
“I don’t know.” Dana shrugged, hunching over her drink, “Either she tells me I’m a liar and storms out, or I completely crush her soul.”
“Do you need me for anything? I can make sure she doesn’t do anything rash.”
Dana smiled at Robin, “You’re sweet. No, I’ll be fine. You go do whatever it is you do when we’re not together.”
“Work on bills in the office?” Robin raised an eyebrow and laughed dryly, “Wonderful use of my free time, wouldn’t you say?”
“Go take a nap or something. We both know Arpina’s going to come back from school with a billion questions for you about crimes.” Dana waved Robin off, “Besides, you look exhausted.”
Robin suddenly looked guilty, and Dana wasn’t sure she liked that expression on Robin’s face.
“Sorry, I’ve been doing a lot of late night reading.”
It was a half truth. Dana could tell that Robin was withholding information, but for the moment she let it slide. After all, Robin’s strenuous relationship with her parents could have been bothering her. It could have been nothing.
Except Dana knew it was something, and she knew that time was beginning to run out. Instead of prying, she smiled at Robin.
“Bookworm. Go back to bed, if I need you I’ll call.”
“You’re too sweet.” Robin stood up, leaving the bills on the table, “If I’m not awake by lunch, just leave me.”
“Okay, enjoy not having to work.”
Robin left the room with some mumbled comment about Dana being the breadwinner, and Dana finished her drink and grabbed an apple off the counter.
“Apples. Can’t go wrong with them.”
The empty kitchen didn’t answer, aside from giving Dana a feeling of wrong. Something was up with Robin, and Dana was not enjoying being out of the loop.
Despite being a psychic, Dana didn’t like dealing with ghosts. It was too easy to misstep and anger something, or leave yourself wide open for attack. However, clients looking to speak with the dead paid well, and she wasn’t about to give up the extra cash that helped pay the bills. A nervous looking woman came into the séance room and took a seat at the table as Dana busied herself with the candles. Neither of them spoke for a moment, and then the woman cleared her throat.
“When do we start?”
“Whenever you’re ready.” Dana drew the curtains shut and gave the woman a reassuring smile.
“I… I think I’m ready now.”
Dana turned the lights off and took a seat at the table. She held out her hands and the woman grabbed on, palms sweaty from nerves and grip loose.
“Spirits, we’re looking for someone.”
At this point in a normal séance, the psychic would turn on the dramatics. Crying out loudly for the spirits to grace the room with their presence, maybe flopping around on the table if the audience was big enough for that kind of theater. Dana found it easier to go with a soft approach. The temperature in the room dropped a few degrees, and Dana felt the woman shiver slightly.
“What’s his name?” Dana asked.
“We’re looking for Lucas. Is he with you?”
There was a creeping feeling of cold going up and down Dana’s back, like someone was tracing a finger up her spine. She pushed those thoughts aside and prompted the woman to talk.
“Lucas, it’s your mom. Are you here?” Her voice wavered, “Please don’t be here. God, please don’t be gone.”
Dana couldn’t feel anything. Nothing in the room was responding to the woman’s begging. When she broke down in tears, nothing was drawn to her. And yet the chills only got worse on Dana’s end.
“I’m going to ask one more time for Lucas to come forward.”
It was at that moment when the room fell away around Dana. She was standing on a hill looking out over a small town. The hill was covered in wildflowers. As quickly as the vision had come, it was gone.
“Are you familiar with a hill with a bunch of wildflowers overlooking a town?” Dana asked. The woman sobbed harder.
“It’s where we buried his father.”
“Try looking there.” Dana said, giving the woman’s hands a squeeze before thanking the spirits and saying goodbye to them. As soon as it was safe to break the circle, the woman threw herself at Dana, crying into her shoulder and thanking her over and over again. While Dana didn’t like the act of speaking to the deceased, it was times like this that made it worth it. A worried conscience eased and her pockets a little heavier, Dana said goodbye to her client and started to clean the room. The cold feeling came back as soon as the door shut, twice as oppressive.
“I said goodbye, didn’t I?” Dana asked the empty room, “You’re not welcome here anymore.”
Something cold pressed against her temples, and a lance of pain shot through her head. Her vision before had been gentle, but this one was like her spirit was being violently torn from her body and sent flying. Trying to orient herself against the deluge of images, all involving the symbol on the locket from Isla de Abundancia, Dana grabbed onto the table, certainly leaving gouges where her nails had dug in.
Ask your friend about the songbird, the spirits seemed to be whispering. Those were the words Dana heard at least. The vision shattered, and Dana stumbled back from the table. The candles extinguished themselves and fell to the floor. With a final burst of frigid air, the cold feeling disappeared.
As soon as the spirits were gone, Dana found herself making her way upstairs to the apartment. She knocked on Robin’s door, and Robin answered it quickly.
“How’d it go?”
“Fine.” Dana pushed past Robin and entered the room, “What’s songbird?”
“Do you mean what’s a songbird?” Robin asked, “Because the name’s a dead giveaway.”
“You know what I’m talking about.” Dana crossed her arms, “No more secrets. You’ve been hiding something since we got back from Arizona, and today it could have resulted in me getting hurt.”
Robin once again looked guilty, but Dana couldn’t bring herself to feel anything other than annoyance.
“I can’t tell you.” Robin finally said.
“That’s what you’re going with?” Dana raised an eyebrow, “You can’t tell me? Why can’t you tell me?”
“Because I don’t know enough yet.”
“We can work this out together!” Dana yelled, “If you weren’t so stubborn about your little cases and trusted me for once-”
“For once?” Robin’s guilt seemed to be giving way to anger that matched Dana’s.
“Dana I trust you more than anyone in the world! I’d rather spend the rest of my life living in this expensive hovel with a leaky shower than have the nicest house in the world alone! I just can’t talk about this right now!”
“Because I said so!” Robin snapped. They stared at each other in silence for a few moments, trying to calm down before things that could not be unsaid were spoken. Dana was the first to speak.
“I have to go.”
Before Robin could finish, Dana was out the door. She left through the office and walked down the street in a hurry, not wanting to see if Robin had followed her, not knowing that Robin still hadn’t moved from where she had been standing during the argument. It took hours for Dana to start feeling bad enough about the argument to head home. It was well after dark, and the only light on in the apartment was the kitchen light. Dana made her way over, standing in the doorway.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Robin put the last plate away in the cupboard and hung up the towel she had been using to dry.
“That file folder is for you. Who knows, maybe you’ll understand it more than I do. There are leftovers in the fridge. Wash your plate when you’re done.”
With that, Robin breezed past Dana.
“I said I was sorry.” Dana muttered to no one in particular. She sat down at the kitchen table to take a look at what was driving her and Robin apart.
A badly drawn bird flying past a cloud.
Dana got a very bad feeling as the cold started to creep in again and her breath began to fog as she slowly inhaled and exhaled to calm her racing heart. Maybe Robin was right to keep this from her, whatever it was. Something closed around her wrist, and suddenly she was opening the folder without her consent. A woman with a knowing smile stared out at Dana from an old photograph. It was the same smile that greeted Dana every time she saw herself in the mirror. A hand lifted her head, and Dana was forced to look up at the very same woman in the picture.
“Who are you?” Dana whispered, unsure whether or not anything she was seeing was real or a vision of the other side.
“You have to finish what I’ve begun.” She answered, eyes sparkling with life despite the fact that her body frayed and blurred around the edges. Dana blinked, and the spirit disappeared. She pushed the picture out of the way, unsure if she was the one moving or if a ghost was using her, and Dana began to read Robin’s notes.
The cold didn’t recede that night, and Dana was beginning to think it never would.