While Jessica’s cohorts figured out how to safely dismount from their precarious people tower, Jessica had subtly checked the house. As well as ensuring that the coast was clear, she was looking for clues; any sign as to the reasoning behind Ralf’s fate, anything he’d left behind.
Her search turned nothing up. Nothing at all. No reason, no rhyme, no clue as to his state of mind. It was like he’d simply been erased.
Jessica re-joined her companions in the dining room, where the trio had been hard at work moving furniture and lighting oodles of creepy-looking candles for their séance. All eyes locked on her as she took the vacant seat at the trussed-up card table and Yibbo switched on the battery-powered plastic ball.
They had discussed how this would work during the drive over; Pixie, as an experienced ghost communicator, would lead the proceedings and Jessica’s role was to ‘attract’ Ralf to the familiar. Jessica didn’t point out that it was his house, it was probably already familiar to him; she had simply played along.
Yibbo and Morag might have been sure of Pixie’s skills, but Jessica knew that Pixie was talking out of her butt long before Paul had mentioned it. She had a strong inkling that Pixie couldn’t speak to ghosts at all. What Jessica hadn’t yet established was if she could actually talk to ghosts or whether she, like her mother before her, was simply losing the plot.
Maybe she was imagining the whole thing. Maybe this entire event was a figment of her imagination, a delusion, a dream and she’d wake up tomorrow back at The Tower, eating steak and spinach.
“Oh, earth-bound spirits! Hear my call!” Pixie announced, waving her arms around. “If you can hear me – give me a sign.”
Morag and Yibbo remained in their polite trances, but Jessica couldn’t resist peeking at the room. Unlike back at Joe’s bar when the GliTS had last held a séance, there were no electrical anomalies, no flickering lights. Nothing happened at all.
Pixie, undeterred, cleared her throat and tried again a little louder, “Spirits! If you can hear me – give me a sign!”
In the stillness and silence that followed, Pixie sighed, drawing the attention of her fellow GliTS.
“Nothing?” Yibbo asked.
“Nothing,” Pixie confirmed.
“What about you, Jessica?” Morag asked. “Are you seeing anyone? Here, I mean. Not are you seeing anyone. Ahem.”
Pixie huffed. “There’s nothing to see. What a waste of candles.”
Jessica looked around the room politely and shook her head. A blend of disappointment and relief washed through her as she battled with the hope of seeing Ralf versus the confirmation at not being delusional.
“No,” she confirmed, lowering her hands as Yibbo reached to turn off the ball. “There’s no one he… oh, shoot.”
Her eyes grew as large as saucers as a colour-washed elderly lady appeared in her field of vision, glowing like moonlight on the edge of a blade. For a moment, the tangible form of Jessica and the ethereal form of this lady locked eyes and a chill ran down Jessica’s spine.
The ghost walked a slow circle around the table, seemingly delighted that Jessica’s gaze followed her every step.
“Heavens above,” the woman whispered, her voice distant and soft and sounding from every direction. “You can see me.”
“Jessica?” Morag whispered. “What is it? Is it Ralf?”
“No, I most definitely am not ‘Ralf’,” the lady tutted. “My name is Dorothy.”
Jessica swallowed hard. “I-I can see a woman. She says her name is Dorothy.”
“Huh,” Morag tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I went through the history of this house before we left, familiarising myself with the spirits that we might encounter, and no one named ‘Dorothy’ has ever lived here.”
“I lived next door,” Dorothy explained. “I popped over with a fruitcake to greet my new neighbour, but my husband had beaten me to it. I’m not sure if it was the shock of seeing him undressed for the first time in twenty years that finished me off, or the ghastly colour of her curtains, but I died on the porch.”
“She lived next door,” Jessica repeated. “She died here.”
“No way!” Pixie gasped. “I knew a lady who lived next door. Dorothy? Dottie?”
“Pixie?” Dorothy sighed and placed a hand to her bosom. “Oh my, look at you! You’re all grown up. And just as… individual as ever.”
“She knows you,” Jessica somehow managed to say, despite not having taken a breath for five minutes.
“I used to babysit her,” Dorothy urged. “Tell her.”
“She says she used to babysit you,” Jessica repeated numbly. She felt like some sort of spiritual translation machine.
“She did! Oh, Dottie!” Pixie cried out, her smile turning to a sob. “I used to go over to her house after school and she’d make me fish fingers and we’d watch cartoons until my parents finished work.” She turned to a place where Dorothy wasn’t standing and blurted through tears, “Dottie! It’s me! It’s Pixie! I’m so sorry I haven’t visited your memorial in the last five years; I’ve just been so busy with work and helping Dad decorate his house—”
Dorothy made a strange face as Pixie continued to ramble. “I have a memorial?”
“Um… she didn’t know that she had a memorial,” Jessica mumbled as reality hit home. There was no doubt about it – Jessica really was talking to a dead woman.
Pixie fell silent, blinking at Jessica through watery eyes. “Of course she has a memorial. Everyone loved Dottie. She was cremated in 2006—”
“Wait,” Morag interjected. “If she died eleven years ago and was cremated, how come she’s still here?”
“Good question,” Pixie mused. “Dottie, what’s keeping you here?”
Dorothy shrugged. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t still be here.”
“She doesn’t know.”
“So paying proper respect to the dead isn’t what makes them cross over?” Morag asked sadly.
“What do you think?” Dorothy said, looking directly at Jessica. “Enough of the existential questions. I don’t know why I’m here and clearly neither do you. Let’s not talk ourselves in circles growing frustrated with the unknown. This is the first contact I’ve had with the living for years and I have some questions of my own.”
“She’s rather bossy,” Jessica whispered, to which Pixie only returned a knowing smile. “What do you want to know about the land of the living, Dorothy?”
“Ask Pixie what happened to Burt.”
“Pixie, what happened to Burt?” Jessica asked.
“Oh, Dottie’s husband? He, um, he moved away with his new wife, not long after… after Dottie passed.”
“So that’s where they went,” Dorothy sighed. “He married her.”
“She’s… she’s not happy about that.”
“Quite the understatement,” Dorothy scoffed. “I could have haunted my own lovely house but oh no, the fates are cruel! Tethered to where you die; no ifs, no buts! Nothing to do but wander aimlessly, room to tacky room, watching Burt get his rocks off with that cheap tramp. Then there was that family with the teenagers – my word am I glad I never had children. And finally that shambles of a police officer—”
Jessica perked up at this last one, her breath caught in her throat. “Ralf?”
“Ralf’s here?” Morag gasped.
“Oh, no,” Jessica clarified, “I was responding to Dorothy.”
“No he is not here, thank the Watcher. Yes, him, Widdlefinkle and his robe that was at least two sizes too small.” She shuddered at the thought. “Back in my day the police were reliable, efficient and trustworthy, not moping around in bathrobes making underhand deals with the wealthy elite.”
“Ralf was making underhand deals,” Jessica repeated quietly, not really hearing what she was saying.
A chorus of “He was?” sounded around the tiny table.
“Oh yes, he was as crooked as they came,” Dorothy answered. “Thousands of simoleons of hush money greased his grubby palms.”
Jessica’s heart was racing, pounding in her ears. She couldn’t hear her fellow GliTS and the queries she assumed were spilling from their moving mouths. Her entire focus was on the glowing woman before her, the cusp of the truth.
“What happened to him?” she asked. “When he died, were you here?”
“Where else would I be?” Dorothy said, impatiently. “He was with a woman. She gave him a drink and he collapsed.”
“He… oh my god. A woman? What woman?” Jessica asked, vaguely hearing her words echo around the table in three different voices.
“Oh, I don’t know her name, didn’t recognise her,” Dorothy said. “A striking woman; tall, wild hair and the mouth of a sailor. She stopped by and made him cocktails. Cocktails! A man of the law!” she scoffed. “Added something to them too; I didn’t see what it was, but it came from a tiny vial.”
Striking? Tall? Could have been anyone.
But wild hair? Mouth of a sailor?
She added something to his cocktail?
Dorothy smoothed her outfit and her demeanour. “I apologise. I see that he meant something to you. Enough for you to come here and to do this.” She took a breath. Jessica didn’t try and consider how that was actually possible. “I gather he was in too deep, one deal too many. She said that she was on his side, that she had a plan, a way out for him.”
Jessica shook her head vigorously, trying to comprehend. “She said he was on his side? She had a plan? A way out? Surely not… murder?”
Jessica turned her wild stare to Yibbo who shrank back. “Yibbo, you found him. He was definitely dead, yes?”
“…Ralf?” Yibbo asked uncertainly, making Jessica realise that her companions were only getting part of the story. “Yes. Jess, what’s happening? What is she saying?”
“And you called the police?”
“Yes, of course, I—”
Jessica’s mouth was as dry as the desert. Her head was spinning. She was going to be sick. “Who turned up?”
Yibbo hesitated, looking at the table. “Officer Beth Wangshaft and someone from the coroner’s office. Why? What’s going on?”
“You know, the Wangshafts have one heck of a maid, Officer Spoon. There’s never a speck of dirt to be found…”
Jessica tried to get to her feet but no part of her would co-operate. She sank back down, melting into her chair like chocolate on hot car bonnet.
“I think Ralf was murdered and I think Beth did it,” she managed in a single breath as the colour faded from her world.
Faith had only been walking for about forty minutes and she was already sore and fed up. She had been following, on foot, the much-travelled bus route through the shitty suburbs of Del Sol Valley and out towards Willow Creek. From there, she planned to join the river and follow it towards Windenburg, hoping that she could remember enough about the blurry journey when she was thrown over Caleb’s shoulder to find her way to the old Vatore cottage.
She had no idea how far it was. She hoped she could make it by sunrise, but if not she’d have to get creative. Maybe break into a house. Perhaps hide out in a subway. She’d think of something.
Dulled by the monotony of placing one foot in front of another on a never-ending path of concrete and darkness, her mind wandered, as it had almost continuously, to Joy. The image of her sister’s tiny, unmoving body on the threadbare rug burned into Faith’s brain, blocking out almost everything else. The first thing Faith had done after leaving Seth the Shithead in the apartment was to call the emergency services to her childhood home. Skilled as she was at mimicry, Faith had disguised her voice as she’d placed the call, claiming, in a tone spookily similar to Chuck’s warm, bear-like one, that she was walking her dog past the house and had simply heard ‘commotion’.
As she hung up, the sickness inside her threatened to take over. She scratched at her wrist, eyeing the receiver, wondering if she should just call back. Hand herself in. Be done with it all.
Lose everything and everyone. Let him win.
“Who are you? If you can’t see all the red flags here, if you’re really considering this, him, there’s something seriously, seriously wrong with you.”
She’d always prided herself on being the savvy one in the group, the one least likely to be scammed or manipulated. She couldn’t believe she’d been so fucking stupid.
She had to do this. She had to go back and face the music. She had to grovel and beg until Melinda accepted her back. She’d take her back eventually; she knew she would. Melinda didn’t give up on anyone – even when she should. And this time, with this chance, Faith would be better. She’d be a better friend and she’d be a better person.
There really was no way she could be worse.
She’d gratefully accept Lilith’s gloopy clinical shit bags. She’d live under the Fun Vacuum’s thumb watching the bizarre Fringey and Blondie and Mellybean triangle play out. She’d live with her guilt and shame until it ate her from the inside.
Fuck, maybe she’d prefer prison after all.
With dogged determination, she carried on walking, holding her broken, stinging arm and feeling it tingle as it slowly knitted itself back together while her feet rubbed themselves apart. She’d finally reached the shopping precinct where a lifetime ago she’d been part of a quartet of teen(ish) vampires on the run, not a care in the world. How things changed.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
Faith didn’t look round as a stranger approached her from the shadows. “I fought a huge snake.”
“Did you win?”
“You bet I did.”
“Heh,” he snorted. “You look like a girl who can handle a huge snake.”
At this Faith finally stopped and turned to face the creep. “And you look like a guy with a tiny one.”
A beat of silence and then a roar of laughter. The unidentified man walked towards her. He reeked of cigarettes but was otherwise doable, she thought, then immediately hated herself.
He chuckled. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
Faith carried on walking. She wasn’t in the mood for a causal come on, for once.
Undeterred, he followed her. “My name’s Bill. Bill Bangshaft.”
Was this a joke? Faith shook her head and tried to move faster, but Bill caught up quickly.
“Where are you going?”
“’Fuck Off? Is that near ‘Get Lost’? Yeah, it’s nice there this time of night.”
He followed behind her in silence, no doubt noticing that every step she took was in agony.
“Seriously,” he said, sounding suddenly very concerned. “Do you need a ride?”
Faith was about to answer with a sharp retort and then she noticed that Bill was gesturing to something. Looking over, she could see a cab parked up, the side emblazoned with the words ‘BANGSHAFT CABS’.
She hesitated. She wanted to say that the last thing she wanted was to get in a car with this guy, but honestly, the last thing she wanted was to walk any further.
There was just one problem.
“I have no money,” she admitted.
He smiled, a gold tooth glinting under the dingy streetlights. “You don’t need any.”
“Right,” Faith scoffed on the verge of tears. “Just a blowie in the back, yeah? Go fuck yourself, Bill.”
“That thing is broken, isn’t it?” he gasped, pointing to her arm. “What happened? Were you attacked? Do you need me to call the police for you?”
“No, I need you to fuck off and mind your business!”
“An ambulance? You can barely walk, you’re covered in scrapes—”
This time he didn’t laugh. “Wait here, please,” he requested, heading back towards the cab office. Faith considered running, but only briefly. Her mind began playing a fantasy of pinning this creep against a wall and draining him dry through his little—
Her thoughts were interrupted as Bill reappeared with a woman beside him. Faith looked between the couple with utter confusion.
“Claire, my wife,” he said by way of introduction. “She’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
“Free of charge,” Claire added, her smile broad and her expression warm. “No questions asked. Come on, love.”