3.8 seconds later . . .
I get on my radio as quick as I can, “Ricky, Ricky, Ricky! Over . . . ”
“Go ahead for Ricky. Over . . . ”
“Get up here right now!” I tell him. “We’ve got bigger problems than cats fucking!” And I’m not trying to sound alarmed or pull a freak-out, but it’s probably coming across that way.
I hear the thump-thump-thump of Ricky taking the stairs three at a time, and I wave him to the door of the master bedroom.
“What’s going on, Jack?” he says, catching his breath. “We don’t want to spook Travis, or his family.”
Oh, I say as I open the door, I don’t think there’s any chance of that happening.
And we both enter the master bedroom. The icy waters of the Northern Pacific are providing the gloomy sporadic back-light to the room. It takes a moment for Ricky’s eyes to properly adjust.
Ricky finally sees what I see, and he’s frozen solid in his carpet tracks.
I’m looking at Ricky, at the bed, at Ricky staring at the bed, at the dead woman, at Ricky staring at the decaying necrotic corpse. And neither of us really have words for this. There aren’t any appropriate things to say when you find your client’s wife laying long dead in the master bedroom clutching what looks like the remains of a dead infant.
The dead mother holding her dead child.
One generation in the arms of the next.
“Our client is a goddamned lunatic . . . ” Ricky says hollowly.
The bodies are so deteriorated and mummified that they don’t even look real anymore. They’re like Hollywood props.
Fake dead people.
These are the actors’ body doubles.
A copy of a famous painting, from far away.
But these aren’t dummies, or knockoffs. They’re bodies. This is cruel honesty.
“We’ll be very lucky,” I say quietly, “if he’s only a lunatic.”
And wouldn’t you know it, we start hearing a groaning, scratching sound coming from above us, between the ceiling and the attic. Maybe it’s a cat clawing around. Maybe.
We both glance at each other. This guy, Travis, he might be a murderer, but he’s definitely crazier than a shithouse rat in a rubber factory.
“Do we call the cops?” Ricky asks the thick, stale air. He’s shaking his head, sadly. He’s used to seeing hospital death—car accidents, shotgun injuries, cancer, burns. But this is different. There’s an unnerving aspect to this.
Call Billtruck, I say. Let him do what is appropriate. He’ll be much more logical about all of this.
Ricky nods almost imperceptibly, slowly pulling out his phone. And right before he starts to dial, it starts glowing and his ringtone—the Ghostbusters theme music—starts to play. On the screen it says ‘ALG Office.’ It’s Billtruck. Ricky morbidly laughs to himself as he answers the call.
I can almost hear what Billtruck is saying.
“Yeah,” Ricky says softly, “I know. We just found her . . . for six months?” More nodding, a few more forced swallows, and then he says, “ . . . what about their son . . . uh?”
Paulino, I remind him.
“Right. Paulino. What about him?”
He listens intently for about 15 more seconds, his face as white as snow in the clouds. “Hey, can you send all the obvious . . . agencies to sort all of this mess out?” He looks at me and does little circles with his index finger. I guess all the sirens are on their way.
“ . . . yeah, we’ll be careful with him. If he gets dodgy I’ll head butt him and knee him in the nuts. We’ll see you in a few.” And then Ricky slides the phone back into his baggy khaki pants. He crosses his arms over his chest and sighs audibly. Almost a groan.
He turns his head slightly, “He’s nutbag crazy. Sophia, she died last December, and there’s no record of them having had a son . . . ever.”
On the plus side, I say, there probably are ghosts running around this mansion. Just not on a frequency I can tune in to.
And right then the doors start to rattle and Ricky decides he’s seen enough of this.
“Let’s go wrap Travis up until the cops get here.”
I rub the spot just above my nose, between my eyes, where I’ve been having headaches ever since my flashes started. My theory about the cat is no longer a tenable one. This house is most certainly haunted. Either by this woman and this mysterious child, or by Travis, himself. In this place, things do go bump in the night.
When we get down the stairs Travis is passed out on the couch, Ms. Josephine running her fingers gently through his curly blond hair. She puts her finger in front of her mouth, letting us know he’s asleep.
Ricky goes into one of the yellow bags and pulls out a roll of black duct tape. But as he lifts it up, Ms. Josephine shakes her head, No.
And so we all sit there quietly. The attic groaning and scratching. Ricky resting his head in his hands. The doors rattling and vibrating as things we’ll never see beg for help that we can never give them. Travis in his peaceful slumber dreaming about Sophia. The police and paramedics racing towards us to forever taint this quiet neighborhood with blood and tragedy. Ms. Josephine, just stroking her soft fingers through this sad man’s hair. The expensive cameras recording all of it in real time.
And then there’s me.