“Isee the renovations were geared to le nouveau chic. Personally,
I’m not a fan of the new crystal chandelier, I liked the old one better. But at least everything isn’t new or covering some kind of fake façade, like some of the people I meet.” Agnes prattled on as they walked to the elevators.
The customer is always right even when they aren’t. Carol repeated the hotel staff motto to herself as she followed the elderly woman, pulling one of the luggage carousels behind her.
That mantra had been grilled into her over and over in the intense seven-day training stint she’d undergone to get her ready for today. And the customer is always the customer.
“I’m glad you agree,” Agnes said as they entered the elevator alone.
“I’m sorry, excuse me? I didn’t say anything just then.”
“I know. Your job is to go beyond the call whether the customer is right or wrong.”
Carol nearly fell over backwards as the elevator rose. Beyond the call?
The VPD motto?
“I—excuse me, but how did—?”
“How do I know? Sorry, just showing off. Let’s talk in the security of my room. There’s a lot of unrest and evilness around here. Quite unsettling and ...” she hesitated before continuing. “More to come, I’m afraid. The spirits are very restless. It happens when the Ley Lines or Earth energy centers cross a region and something enters to disturb that Karmic energy. And oh, just so you know, I’m really not a rude, demanding person, I just pretend to be occasionally. I like to listen to people’s internal responses.”
Mrs. Van Lunt, I’m afraid I don’t understand. What’s going on?” Carol had read the known dossiers on the incoming Mafia clan members, but it hadn’t occurred to her that any other guest might be worthy of special attention.
“Again, it’s Agnes, dear. You may call me Agnes. And I’ll certainly explain, but not here, in my suite. We’ll be far safer there. You did confirm it’s been smudged, didn’t you? I don’t want any bad spirits listening to our conversation and for your information, no, I’m not part of the wedding party. Or connected in any way to the Mafia families currently in residence under this roof.”
Bad spirits? Carol looked over her shoulder. And how’d she know about the Mafia?
Carol ushered Agnes into the room and closed the door behind them. They’d be alone until the rest of Agnes’ luggage arrived. The smell of the sage from the smudging and the Nag Champa incense lent a calming effect to the air in the large, opulent suite. Might be something to that smudging thing after all.
“Simply put, I can sense things.” Agnes reached up to her large, widebrimmed hat and tried to unpin it. “Be a doll and help me with this cumbersome device. Keeps the dampness off my head, but such a pain to wear. I trust your maid service will be available to help me dress in the morning? And why don’t you pour us both a nice, stiff drink? Like you, I could certainly use one.”
“I’ve assigned two of the staff to be at your every beck and call.” Carol struggled with the hat pin. Carol glanced at her watch. “Well, I’m off in about an hour anyway. Why not? Whiskey?”
“Yes, please, straight, it calms me down and relaxes me. My chest gets
too tense when I’m in a new city.” She scratched at her ample bosom.
“I don’t meet many women that like whiskey at all, especially not straight.” And after that scene with Jake this morning she could use something to calm her nerves. “Just one small one though.”
“Good, I’m glad. I could use someone to chat with. I usually put people off just by being around them.”
Probably because you act so damn stuck-up.
No, because I’m psychic and I often, quite unintentionally I promise, read minds. Part of my stage act. I’m here for the annual ghost tours. You know, of course, that Victoria has quite the collection of haunted sites.”
Carol’s eyes widened in shock. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that! Wait, I didn’t say that, did I? So, the other times—none of them were accidents? You seriously can read minds? And you’ve been reading mine? And you’re telling me, you came for the ghosts?”
“It’s quite alright, dear. As I told you, I frequently provoke such responses on purpose. I’ve developed a thick skin and quick tongue over the years.” She chucked half her whiskey back in one long swallow and held the glass out for a second. “You must know Victoria is the most haunted city in all of Canada. You do work here, do you not?” Agnes raised her eyebrows as if to suggest she knew differently.
“No. Well yes, but I’m new to Victoria, I’m from Vancouver. I thought Victoria was all British stiff-upper-lip, fish and chips. Very civilized haute couture and all that “salute the queen” stuff.” Carol broke off as she realized Agnes actually had her flustered. Not many people did that. Agnes pulled a large gleaming object from her suitcase and gently removed the wrappings. It was shaped suspiciously like a human head. “What the hell is that?”
“My crystal skull. I call her Cider.”
“A crystal skull? You travel with a crystal skull? Why Cider? And how
do you know it’s a she? Couldn’t it just as easily be a he? A George, a Bob, or a Tom Jones?”
“She’s named that aptly because I can see inside her and I like to think of her as a she, my closest girlfriend. Well, my only girlfriend, really. She’s my version of a crystal ball. I like the macabre touch it brings to my act and so does my audience. It’s my Woo-woo version of the internet. Besides, it helps to pretend to be stroking her while I’m reading people’s minds, it adds to the effect.”
“Say what?” Agnes completely floored her. Not what she would have expected in a dozen lifetimes from an old woman dressed to the nines in jewelry and furs. Crap, need to shut my sarcastic head up or she’ll hate me forever. “Aren’t they very rare, and expensive? Built by some Andean Monks in Tibet or something, using only chopsticks and spit as tools?”
Agnes laughed. “I’m beginning to like you. This one was discovered in Central America, in Belize, 1924 and is believed to be one of the original Mitchell-Hedges skulls made by Mayans nearly four thousand years ago. Mitchell-Hedges’ daughter Anna found hers behind an altar. Or so the story goes.”
No way that’s real. I mean I thought there were only one or two crystal skulls in the whole world. And haven’t those turned out to be fake?”
“There’re several such real crystal skulls in the world, many not reported to the public and regrettably quite a few more that did turn out to be fakes. But Cider isn’t fake. I met her prior owner while on a tour through the States. He fell madly in love with me and knew I was a clairvoyant. So, he gave her to me, just before he died, knowing I’d make good use of her. Funny that I never saw his death coming. Cider’s been very useful over the years, not just as a prop, but for finding out information. Care to hold her?” Agnes held Cider out to Carol.
Carol thought about it a moment. “Not on your life. I used to hang out with this shaman type nutcase dude and I’ve learned over the years never to mess with stuff I know nothing about. I leave that up to the experts like you and …”
“You’re reading my mind again. Cut that out.”
“Sorry, bad habit, and the reason I usually travel alone. It’s the downside of being psychic. As much as people say they want you to read your mind, they don’t. I, on the other hand, am the one hearing what a person truly thinks and it isn’t often nice, reading that someone else thinks you’re acting stuck up.”
“Sorry, but you were quite pretentious.”
“I’m teasing, dear. As I said, I did it on purpose to illicit just such a reaction from you.” Agnes chugged back the rest of the second glass in one gulp. “I’m rather tired now. I’m in need of an afternoon nap, a by-product of getting older. Can you meet me for High Tea tomorrow afternoon? I would like to chat some more. I get the sense you’re not scared of me, like most people, you’re curious more than anything else, probably because of the badge underneath.”
“The badge? Didn’t think I could keep that from you either. Then you probably know I’m undercover.”
Agnes smiled back. “I do now.”
Carol shook her head, “Damn! Okay, you’re on. I’d like to hear more about you and your life, Agnes. You strike me as quite the character and not…”
“A stuck-up old woman.”
“I’m sorry about that. As a police officer I’m trained to take in first impressions, and they are often on the mark. But with you, I was sadly mistaken. Mostly because you wanted me to be.” She glanced at her watch. “Time to go.”
“Come,” Agnes called, just before Carol opened the door to find one of the maids about to knock.
“About time too, young lady. Come in, come in, and let me show you where I want everything to go. And be quick about it. It’s past my nap time.”
Carol left Agnes in her natural element and made a hasty exit, pleased to be off Agnes’ radar. Or at least, she was off Agnes’ radar until the next time they met.
“My radar has quite a radius you know,” Agnes called through the closing door. Before it shut fully Carol saw the small smile on her face and smiled back. She’d definitely enjoy getting to know Agnes better. She glanced down at her buzzing phone. Samuel.
“The Bellettis have arrived, madam, and they’re—”
“Asking for the Duty Manager. Isn’t everybody today? I’ll be right there.”
Damn, they were early. Carol quickened her pace and squirted some breath spray down her throat. She shouldn’t have had a drink and her sister would have to wait. The last thing she needed was for a guest to smell whiskey on her breath.
Footsteps echoed eerily down the corridors of Hatley Castle. The janitor glanced at his watch. It was late, time to go. He glanced down the long dark hall as he grabbed his keys to lock up. There was nothing there, but still the steady thump of feet broke the stillness as the clock struck eleven.
The sound of young girls giggling, and boys whistling joined the thumping footsteps. Still, his eyes saw nothing. There was only the coldness that ran through the darkness when no one was watching.
“Think I’ll be grabbing a drink on the way home. Haven’t heard that in a long time.” He shivered from the sudden chill. “The ghosts are restless this week. Very restless.”
Carol walked around Nathan’s room, glad she was away from the craziness of the Empress assignment. She gave her sister, who was still in tears, another hug. It was late afternoon, but she’d managed to get Samuel to cover the rest of her shift.
The boy’s room looked just like it did since the time she was there three years ago. Younger then, he wanted her to read him a story, like she’d done many times in the past. That and shoot her gun, which of course Carol couldn’t allow him to do. Or even hold it. “So, the report says the window was open.” Carol glanced through the police report she down-loaded to her cell phone, finally getting it just before she arrived. Good Ol’ Big Dan; hard-nosed bastard, but he lives up to his promises.
“Yeah, and like I told them I always keep them locked when the kids go to bed. I listen to you on security stuff.” Barb’s voice began to tremble, threatening to break into another sobbing session. Judging by the puffiness of her eyes, Barb had been crying a lot. And how could she blame her?
“Now, pull yourself together. Nathan can’t be helped by a blubbering woman. He can be helped by a woman that has it together and starts remembering something that can help him. Or
I’ll just have to cuff you and have you roughed up by Big Dan in Vancouver.”
Barb cracked a smile and began to giggle. “Depends what kind of roughing up he’s going to do on me.”
Carol knew Barb had the hots for Dan. They met at some police function Carol had invited Barb to. She thought something about his tough commanding nature turned Barb on. What she saw in Dan, Carol didn’t know, but at least it got her mind off the current situation. “Man, you always could make me laugh. Thank you.”
Carol walked over to the window and took several pictures. Barb lived in a rancher, so the boy’s bedroom was ground level. It would not have been difficult for him to climb out.
“So, could Nathan have unlocked the window? Is the key nearby?”
“Well, yes. We keep it in that pot on the dresser. I have shown him how to unlock it in case there’s a fire or something and he needs to get out. But he would never unlock it for anything else. Unless I never locked it. Oh God.” Tears began to streak her face again.
“Don’t make me slap you, like I did that day in junior high over who got to go out with …” “Bobby Sanders. God, he was a hunk. Think I heard someone told me they saw him in a gay bar in Vancouver, dancing with another guy.”
“Yeah, dammit, why are all the good-looking ones gay?”
Barb smiled. “Yes, he went out with me and I never told you, but I virtually threw myself at him. Any hot-blooded male would have had a stiffy in a heartbeat.”
Carol smiled as the talk helped Barb get her mind off Nathan. “So, the only other thought then is that he woke up and opened the window himself.”
“Come to think about it. I thought I heard him get up and use the bathroom just after I went to bed. I guess he could have, but why would he have done that?”
“Let’s go outside and look closer. I’m thinking that if he did, something got his attention.”
They walked outside. Carol searched the ground below the window. Bending closer something caught her eye. It was a small toy figurine of a green guy with a purple mask and beside it lay a toy camera.
“Oh my god! That one is Nathan’s! He always had it with him when he was playing detective. Not sure about the green man though.” Barb started sobbing again and pulled another
Kleenex from her pocket. “But the police made a thorough search out here so why didn’t they find these?”
“Good question.” They would have. Which meant one thing, as bizarre as it sounded. The boy was alive, and someone was letting her know. Abducted, possibly. She pulled out her gloves and an evidence bag. “We’ll have these checked for prints and DNA.”
Further investigation found a small footprint. Possibly a woman’s foot, about a size six. Carol pulled her phone and snapped a picture. That wasn’t in any of the reports either. Must have happened after. She stared at Barb’s feet. Not her, she’s about an eight. Carol rang the local police asking them to come and take a cast of the footprint. “Okay back inside, you need to get some rest. Stay by the phone in case there’s an update and I’ll see what the investigation has found so far. Got it?”
Barb nodded as more tears began to flow down her face.
I can’t say I blame her. What if this is related to the other boy disappearing?