“Hey, Dad, you doing okay? Sorry for calling so late and for not calling sooner. Work’s been crazy, and I haven’t had a
chance to breathe.”
“Quite alright, been busy myself.”
“I’m really glad you’ve finally decided it was okay to enjoy life. Mom would have wanted you to, you know that.”
“I know. It just took me a while after she died to be able to.” After Mom had died of cancer, he’d been lonely for a long time. Only recently had he begun seeing someone else.
“I understand that, Dad. Now, can I ask you something a bit weird? I’ve met a woman who claims to be a psychic and this is going to sound absolutely crazy, but she told me to ask you about my older brother, George.”
There was a long pause. “Sorry, I’m stunned. Shocked actually,” he spoke softly. “When your mother and I first met, she got pregnant. We were both very young and we couldn’t afford to have a child. She saw it full-term and we gave the baby up for adoption.”
“Let me guess.” Carol could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up.
“A male and she named him George. As far as I know she never told anyone. Over the years, I regretted the decision, but at the time we didn’t know if we would stay together.” He stopped, but Carol could hear the sadness in his voice. “Don’t get me wrong. I love you very much, but I always wished I’d had a son. Probably why I raised you the way I did, all the sports, always demanding the best out of you. Always thought the next one born would be another male.
Never happened. Even with my involvement in the army I never could find out what happened to him.”
“Thanks for sharing that, and Dad, I love you very much and this makes no difference whatsoever. I’m glad you raised me like you did. I’ve never regretted being in the police department. And of course, you demanded the best out of me. All good parents demand the best from every child.”
“Look, I don’t know how you met this woman, but she is amazing.” “Thanks, Dad. I love you, and we’ll chat more soon.”
Carol hung up and sat for a moment, still stunned. “Wherever you are Mom, love you too.” How could Agnes have known? She stepped outside onto her balcony to light up a smoke. The inner harbor unfolded before her, with all the boats and the hustle of the inner marketplace. Yeah, she picks up things. Man, if I hadn’t met Charlie I’d be so totally freaked out right about now.
She inhaled deeply. Okay, I’m still totally freaked.
* * *
High Tea at the Empress was a very formal affair. Fancy linen table cloth and napkins, matching bone-china crockery, crustless miniature sandwiches, savory pastries, scones served with strawberry jam and rich, thick Devon cream and a selection of petit fours. All served on a tiered silver platter. Sitting across from Agnes, Carol could barely see the old lady over it.
“So, I could ask how you knew about my brother, George, especially since I didn’t. But I won’t. I’ve hung out in the past with a man who does a lot of the Woo-woo stuff.”
Agnes elegantly nibbled at her cucumber sandwich as a traditionally-attired maid poured the tea. She reveled in her glory, enjoying the suspense and adoration. She was dressed to the nines in a spring-green dress adorned with daises. Another of her cartwheel hats, this was brilliant white, and elegant sheer white gloves completed her ensemble. “Ah, so you’ve verified what I told you.”
Carol shook her head. “How could you know all of this? How is it possible you knew about George? And Charlie? Well, Charlie I could get, if you can read my history. But George? I didn’t know about him so, how could you?”
Agnes slowly stirred a minute quantity of sugar into her tea and blew softly to cool it as she lifted it to her lips, taking her time, relishing her new status in Carol’s eyes. “Oh, still a little too hot. You know, the water has to be just off boiling to make a perfect pot and then you have to catch the tea at the perfect drinking temperature to get the fullest experience. Very easy to let it get too cold and I really cannot abide these philistines that will then re-heat it in that new-fangled micro-something machine. This tea is a rare blend, by the way, Tong Mu Phoenix Lapsang Souchong. Bet you can’t say that three times in a row.”
Carol curbed her impatience. Agnes loved the spotlight, that much was obvious and the only way to move this along was to let her have it. Agnes smiled as she set down her cup, undoubtedly reading Carol’s mind again. “How do I know about George and Charlie? Let me tell you a story. It started when I was young, my mother said I nearly died from Scarlet fever. I fact at one point she thought I’d gone to the other side, but she prayed so hard I came back. I don’t remember what I was like before, but when I came back I could begin to read some people’s thoughts and pick up other weird sensations. I thought I was nuts inside. We didn’t know then what we know now, the power of the mind, spiritual beliefs. I just consider it a gift. I get flashes, sometimes with or without touching someone. But touching or holding hands helps. I’ve even seen some people’s deaths, if they are meant to go shortly. But I’ve learned not to tell them. Safe to say I don’t want to change history. My mom always said when your time is up, it’s up, no messing about. And there’s the paradox thing.”
“What paradox thing?” Carol smiled as she sampled the tea. The temperature and strength were perfect.
“You obviously don’t watch a lot of time travel shows. If I knew someone was going to die at a certain time, would I be bending time if I warned them? What if I did, and what if they lived? How much would it affect the time stream? Or is time already written and by telling them I’m only setting the proper time continuum? Love those sci-fi shows. You could go crazy thinking about this kind of stuff.” Agnes calmly looked around the busy room.
“I could go crazy listening to this. Sorry to sound impatient but I’m on my break and I hate watching science fiction.”
“Okay, sorry. Hey, just humor this old gal.”
“So how much do you know about Charlie?” Carol changed the subject. Her head was beginning to hurt from trying to figure out the cause and effect of time travel.
“Charlie? Well, I usually just get a face, a name in this case. Little clues, I call them. If I was a religious person, I’d call them visions. I’m on the ghost tour tomorrow tonight and would love it if you could join me. My old bones aren’t what they once were. I could use someone to hold me up. So, is that a possibility? That you’d join me?”
Carol knew the Rizzutos had called limos to take them elsewhere. But the Bellettis were taking the tour tomorrow night, and as she hadn’t had much to do with them yet it would be a good chance to get close to that group as well. “Yes, and I’d lie about why but you probably already know.” “No, I don’t know everything in your head. Yet,” she snickered. “But fill me in.”
“I can’t talk here, but I’m sure you can figure it out. I mean, you’ve already admitted you know my life’s, ah shall we say complicated, haven’t you?”
“Yes, dear, that’s certainly not new information for my ears. And if other hotel guests are also taking the tour, well, that’s just a marvelous chance for you to observe these people you need to know better, now isn’t it?” Agnes smiled and nibbled again at the cucumber sandwich.
“It’s very frustrating, having conversations with you, you know.”
Agnes smiled as she sipped at her tea. “I’ve learned when to speak and when not to, certainly. And who knows? I might be of assistance in that.”
“You’d be willing to do that?” Not only psychic but brave, especially for…
“For an old broad. Yes, I am. I’ve been of similar assistance more than a few times during my career. Agnes calmly spread the jam and cream on one of the scones. “I say, excellent High Tea, better than anything I’ve had in London.”
Carol was impressed. “You’re quite the spunky old lady, Agnes. Have you someone in your life?”
“I have had three husbands, one died, didn’t actually see that one coming, which was weird for me. He was the one with the crystal skull and maybe that was why, he managed to block my access. Another was delighting his maids on the side. That I did see visions of, though I wish I hadn’t, and another I knew wanted to be with men more than me. That one left me in the end. All of them left me with a lot of money. So currently, no, I don’t want the complications of anything permanent. Although I do rather miss the companionship, a lady of means has to be very careful. That’s where my ability to read people’s thoughts comes in handy. I know very quickly whether it’s me or my money the men are interested in.”
“It will come in very handy as a detective too. Now this ghost tour draws quite a crowd. You told me Victoria is the most haunted city in all of
Canada? I could use a little extra education about all that.”
“Well, in this hotel alone there’s reports of a maid wandering the corridors with her housekeeping trolley, still cleaning rooms apparently. Her uniform is too old-fashioned for this day and age. Two workers just last year, during the god-awful renovations, and please note I still don’t like the new chandelier, reported seeing a man hanged in one of the rooms, and other reports of an older, distinguished gentleman who knocks on doors and leads people to the elevators before disappearing.”
“I saw him. Just yesterday. Dressed in old-fashioned somewhat distinguished clothing. I wasn’t going to tell you.”
Agnes smiled “Didn’t need to, but I knew already, felt him about the place. Oh, and sightings of a fellow reported to be Francis Rattenbury, the architect of both the Empress Hotel and the Provincial Parliament buildings. His affair with the woman who was to become his second wife, a woman named Alma, caused such a scandal he never worked in Canada again and they fled to England. He was killed there by either Alma or her young lover, George Stoner. Neither confessed and the crime was never solved.” She closed her eyes. “So, this might be the man you saw in the hallway, returning in death to his beloved hotel.”
“If I were to make a bet, I’d agree. I saw the plaque in the entranceway and could swear that was him. Say, where do you find out about all of this craziness? I never heard about any of this.” Great, I’m in a haunted city, full of pyscho-nutters, with all kinds of ghosts running around. I took this case to get away from mystical Woo-woo crap. I’m beginning to think I should give Charlie a call and have him help me with this case. Carol shivered. Why do I just know I’m going to end up with bugs all over me and in my hair, again? God, I hate bugs.
“Let’s just say when you’re in the field you keep abreast of all the information and besides, Google is a wonderful thing.” Agnes laughed.
“Charlie taught me there’s so much more going on in the world that meets the eye and I’m trying to look inside people, but I can’t do it like you do.”
“Okay give me your hand and let’s try a proper reading.”
“Here in the tearoom?”
“Yeah, it’ll be the first done here. You can put that into your promotional brochure.”
Carol held out her hand, thinking of all the old movies with the crazy old gypsy woman in a circus tent. Damn, gotta quit thinking like this while she’s around or she’s soon going to hate me. Out of nowhere, a barely visible woman walked elegantly into the room. The waitress strolled right through her. The woman sat down at table just two over from them. Let me guess, another freaking ghost.
Agnes opened one eye. “Yes, Margaret is another freaking ghost. Actually, I quite like your sarcastic sense of being. Reminds me of mine. Now try to think of nothing, wipe your mind clean.” She closed her eyes and quickly opened them. “Yes, spirits, I get… Sprity. Someone named Sprity. Earth nymph and … you are connected.”
“Maybe. When I worked with Charlie, we encountered a native spirit, the Haida call her Gyhldeptis. He tried to tell me she was a Buddha/Hindu thing, a future reincarnation of me, or some eastern meditational babble like that.”
Agnes stared blankly at Carol, closed her eyes a moment. “He speaks
a lot of truth, that shaman. I’ll bet he watches a lot of time travel shows. I think his waters run pretty deep.” Her eyes rolled back. “There’s more. Aw, careful, danger, great danger ahead. A ghost, not nice. And another, rather unusual, feisty female you haven’t met yet.”
“Great, I keep attracting crazy broads and I’m really not into them. I prefer my bread buttered on one side if you know what I mean.”
“Shhh, you’re interrupting the flow and yes, I prefer hot dogs to buns myself.” Agnes blushed and dropped Carol’s hand like she’d been stung. “What? Oh my!”
“What? What’s wrong?” Agnes’ blush deepened.
“Ah look, if I’m going to die or something awful is going to happen to me you better tell me now.”
Agnes turned even redder.
“Okay, to heck with the rules of modifying the time stream bull. What the hell did you just see about me?”
“Excuse me a moment. I need a little, er, medication.” Agnes pulled a small curved metal flask from her inside pocket, unscrewed the cap and took a long sip. “Care for some?” She handed the flask to Carol, who took a sniff first. Crap, straight whiskey. Out of politeness Carol took a small swallow. “I’m not saying much but I can tell you this — you’re going to get ‘a good seeing-to’.”
“Mrs. Van Lunt!”
“It’s Agnes. And you asked, I’m only telling you like it comes to me. It wasn’t my choice of words. Although come to think of it I wouldn’t a bit of a seeing-to myself now and again.” She smiled wistfully.
“Oh, my. You’re amazing, Agnes. I never expected that from your lips.” Carol slumped back in her plush chair, trying not to visualize what Agnes just said.
“Darling, I’m seventy-one, I’m not dead. I’ll even supply the Viagra should I find a young, handsome stud about sixty or so.”
Carol laughed. “I hope I have half your spunk when I’m your age.” Carol felt her cheeks getting hot. “Oh, I think I’m blushing now.”
“You just wait, darling.” Agnes smiled slyly. She picked up Carol’s hand again but dropped it like it had burnt her. Then her head dropped forward, and she fell back in her chair.
“Are you alright, Agnes?”
Agnes’ mood had darkened dramatically. Her hands shook as she opened her eyes and struggled to sit upright. “Danger; extreme danger. You will need to be cautious with whomever you… how do I say this? Let into your life. Now excuse me, I need to go to my room, take my pills. My heart is racing. Can you help me?”
“That’s the whiskey. May I ask what you saw?” Carol helped the old lady to her feet. “Agnes, your hands are shaking, are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’ve said enough and seen too much, I’m afraid. Help me to the elevator. I’ve taken too much in, sometimes it gets overpowering, even after all these years. I need to rest and cleanse myself.”
Whatever she’d seen, it’d frightened Agnes half to death. Carol knew to tread ahead lightly.
She knew Agnes well enough to know she didn’t scare easily. She’d proceed with one eye open and felt better for having her ankle holster on, which she thought would be a wise idea, now that the mob were all here.
Carol watched from the window as members of the Rizzuto and Belletti families piled into their black limos, undoubtedly headed back to Hatley Castle. The wedding venue priced, on the average, at $4,000.00 an afternoon and had been booked by Lorenzo Rizzuto for the entire week. Just like last night. And just like last night, nondescript grey sedans pulled into traffic seconds behind them. Money might not buy happiness, but it sure as hell could buy an exclusive meeting place.
She texted Louie. Hatley Castle again tonight?
She checked her phone, but no new news on Barb.
“Can you help me, son?” The older lady smiled at the six-year-old boy playing in the Quadra Elementary school playground; it was October 1990.
Jordon Gibson looked at her quizzically. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he replied, and looked over at his mother. Samantha stood just the other side of the park nattering away on her large, almost foot-long top-of-the-line Motorola cell phone. The glint of the antenna caught the sunlight. She was semi-watching her husband, Bruce, playing soccer in the warm spring weather.
“Well, I’m just a little old lady, and I need help getting this shopping to that van over there. Oh, and I have some very nice candies here, you can have them if you help me.” She held out her hand, showing him the wrapped toffees.
Little Jordon got up and walked over to Gladys. As he reached her, she checked to make sure the mother was still talking and no one else was looking. He helped her lift the bag. “Thank you, you’re such a sweet lad.” As he turned away, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a rag that reeked of chloroform. “But you really should have listened to your mom.” She clamped it around his nose and held tight. He slumped, unconscious within seconds. She struggled to lift him into her tan van and quietly drove away.
Mrs. Gibson looked up a minute later to see how her son was doing. No one was in the playground. Suddenly the call to her friend didn’t seem that important. The bulky phone fell from her fingers as she ran to the play area. “Jordon!”
* * *
The blue embryo throbbed again and exploded the sewer room with light. Two small bodies lay there, awash in liquids, their bodies attached via an umbilical cord. “What are we?” asked one.
“Unknown,” the other responded, before the two grabbed hands and pulled back together.
Doubling again in size, the egg shook with life as memories began to filter in.