Shelly was dozing as the van raced along the Long Island Expressway at the breath- taking rush hour speed of ten miles per hour. The traffic was horrendous.
“Isn’t there some other route,” Dr. Lasker asked.
Chan, who was sweating from being stuck in all this traffic, gave him a dirty look. “Whoever heard of trying to traverse the LIE during rush hour? I told you we should have left earlier.”
And we all know what a psychic you are, Dr. Lasker thought bitterly. “I figured since we’re headed toward the city and traffic would logically be going the other way we’d avoid it,” Dr. Lasker replied.
Chan grunted. “Next time listen to someone with experience.”
Lasker shot Chan an annoyed look, irritated he had been compelled to answer a subordinate’s question in front of the new girl. But of course Chan was not just any subordinate. He had been deliberately recruited from China after Lasker had been informed of his case by a well-respected Chinese professor of parapsychology he’d met at a conference. Dr. Wu had
extolled Chan’s powers as a sensitive until Lasker had jumped eagerly at the chance to obtain him for the struggling department. Despite all the claims of Chan’s abilities, Dr. Lasker had been
disappointed. Dodd was far more sensitive than Chan, but increasingly unstable so he felt compelled to keep Chan, believing eventually the young Chan would prove himself. Wasn’t that how it had been with Dodd? Maybe taking Chan out of China was like taking a fish out of water, limiting his abilities until he became accustomed to his new environment? At any rate, with Dodd showing signs of depression and paranoia, he had no choice but to keep Chan and hope Dodd would hold up until a suitable replacement could be found.
Damn Dodd. Lasker shook his head. What a waste! Dodd was a weakling to have let himself be destroyed by their work. Lasker believed the ‘weakness’ resided in Dodd himself, much as it had been the weakness of his son that had led him to walk into the Great South Bay. I know I am partly responsible, he rationalized, but it is their weakness that must bear the brunt of the blame. That is what he assured himself. That is what he explained to the other three assistants after one of Dodd’s explosive tantrums, but only Chan had remained, paralyzed from leaving by the threat of Dr. Lasker removing his sponsorship and have him deported to China. He knew Chan would never want to risk going back. The Chinese courts were inflexible with children who murder their mothers. It gave Lasker a sense of power knowing he could control Chan with the threat of one phone call telling the authorities where the boy could be found.
“This traffic is a bitch,” Chan said. “I hate this. You’d think we’d learn our lesson from last time--” Chan glanced at Lasker’s face and knew he had said too much.
Lasker stared at Chan’s profile as if saying, “Remember who you are speaking to. I hold the key to your life and death.”
Chan knew he had gone too far, perhaps trying subconsciously to impress the new girl. “It will be fine, Dr. Lasker, sir. We will be there very soon as you planned.” He felt the
professor divert his gaze to the front windshield. Dodd had been right about one thing, neither boy could afford to have their job snatched away from them by this female, Dodd, because he had nothing else in his life, and he, because he had others who wanted to take his freedom away.
“Open the windows or the damn A.C. will stall,” Dr. Lasker said to Chan, cranking his window down with an old fashioned handle.
Chan quickly complied, lowering his window though he hated the smell of the exhaust fumes from the long rows of cars ahead.
Shelly stirred, the smell from the car exhausts reminding her, even in her sleep, of the smell of gasoline that had oozed from the department’s other van. In her sleep she saw a man who looked like a devil, tall with long hair and a vicious snarl on his face, standing like a wall in front of her careening vehicle. She let out a scream when she saw again the white van hurtle over the embankment and begin a slow motion series of rolls ending in a massive explosion.
Allen sensed Shelly’s discomfort even before she screamed. It was so odd feeling these erratic human sensations he seemed to be sharing with her. He hadn’t told Shelly about this growing empathy because he was afraid she would realize that these human-like sensations were he now believed, weakening him. He had a theory that this process might end with his eventual total loss of what made him a ghost, and his gradual disappearance into oblivion. It would not be heaven, and it would not be hell, but some existence/non-existence that would be far worse than any human had ever imagined. He only hoped he would be allowed to stay with her until he could be reasonably certain she’d be safe. He had selflessly given up on his own mission of finding out who killed him to protect this girl whose life was now entwined with his. That was a significant change. Allen still wanted to know about his former life and how he had died, but
now there was something else more important to him and nobody was more surprised or confused than he was. He found himself feeling concerned as he watched Shelly sleeping fitfully next to him in the van.
“I fell asleep,” Shelly said letting out a yawn and looking confused.
“It’s this traffic,” Chan muttered. “I hate this road. We need a GPS. If we had that we would be able to find an alternative.”
“Stop complaining,” Dr. Lasker growled. “We’re almost there.”
Shelly felt anticipation and nervousness building inside her. She leaned toward the window. How many idiots are on this road, she thought as all she could see were endless rows of cars.
“If I was stuck in traffic like this every morning and night, I’d probably kill someone,” Allen said.
“So you don’t think you commuted to work every day,” Shelly asked, forgetting others could hear.
Chan looked back. “My English is not very good yet. Did you ask if I commute to work on this road every day?”
“No, she was talking to….” Dr. Lasker caught himself before he gave away his most treasured secret. Nobody must know yet about Allen.
“Yes. She was talking to?” Chan looked curiously at his boss. He had known for several days that Lasker was hiding something. He was sensitive enough to feel this, but not enough to know what it was he was concealing.
Shelly saw that Dr. Lasker was looking nervous and rushed in to rescue him. “I was asking if you have to travel on the LIE to get to the college every day or if you live on campus?”
Chan nodded. “I live in Building B, so no, I do not travel this godforsaken mess every day at all. Where do you live?”
“I live in Building B too.”
Lasker jumped in to explain. “Chan lives in the sub-basement. We used to have several of our graduate students live there, but we’ve had some serious cut-backs lately as you know.”
“I used to enjoy when others lived here too,” Chan said. “I do not know many people in America so I made friends with….”
“Don’t miss the exit,” Dr. Lasker cut in again, wishing Chan would just shut up before he gave everything away.
“It’s five miles away,” Chan replied and then muttered, “backseat driver.”
“I just want you to concentrate. It’s enough that we lost our other van this week.” He had said that deliberately hoping to get Shelly‘s help at diverting the conversation. “You’ll have to use this for now.”
“I’m very sorry about that. Was that your van,” Shelly asked Chan.
“It is okay. I understand you had a serious accident. The most important thing is that you are okay.” He glanced at her through the mirror. She really is cute. Dodd had said that, but it wasn’t enough to save her from his ‘accidents’. Dodd’s a maniac, Chan thought silently as he seemed unable to stop from glancing in the mirror every few miles to see her face.
Shelly noticed Chan had sharp, black eyes and jet black hair. His face was vee-shaped, but not wiry and his smile was increasingly more open. He hadn’t smiled at all at first, but seemed to be getting more comfortable with her. “Thank you, Chan. I’m okay.”
“She’s fine. Now pay attention. We get off here.” Lasker wasn’t taking chances on Chan spilling the beans. He didn’t want either of them to mention Dodd’s name. He had made up his mind he would tell her about his deranged former assistant, but not yet. He wanted just a little more time so she would swallow the entire hook. He knew the kind of work they were doing was oddly intoxicating, an addictive high that once Shelly tasted would become part of her blood just as it had become part of Dodd’s blood, Chan’s blood, mind and soul. Just give me a little more time, he thought as Chan guided the van down the exit ramp toward a small sea port town on Long Island whose biggest tourist attraction was an unfriendly looking house which the natives believed was cursed.
Dr. Lasker thought so too.