The Haunted Air

Repairman Jack (Volume 6)

F. Paul Wilson

Tor Books

1
 
 
The bride wore white.
Only she wasn’t a bride and the dress—two sizes too small at least—had faded to beige.
“Can I ask again,” Jack said, leaning toward Gia, “why our hostess is wearing her wedding dress?”
Gia, seated next to him on the tattered, thirdhand-store sofa, sipped from her plastic cup of white wine. “You may.”
A casual little get-together, Gia had told him. Some of her artist friends were going to gather at a loft in a converted warehouse on the fringe of the old Brooklyn Army Terminal, throw a little party for one of their clan who’d started to make it big. Come on, she’d said. It’ll be fun.
Jack wasn’t in a fun mood. Hadn’t been for some time now. But he’d agreed to go. For Gia.
Maybe twenty people wandering about the space while Pavement’s last album pounded from a boom box, echoing off the high ceilings, huge windows, and stripped-to-the-brick walls. The occupants sported hair colors that spanned the visible spectrum, skin that was either pierced or tattooed or both, and clothes that redlined the garishometer.
And Halloween was better than two months away.
Jack took a pull from his bottle of beer. He’d brought his own, opting to forego his usual Rolling Rock long necks for a six-pack of Harp. Good thing, too. The bridal-bedecked hostess had stocked Bud Light. He’d never tasted watered-down cow pee, but he imagined it tasted better than Bud Light.
“All right. Why is our hostess wearing her wedding dress?”
“Gilda’s never been married. She’s an artist, Jack. She’s making a statement.”
“What statement? I mean, besides Look at me?”
“I’m sure she’d tell you that it’s up to the individual to decide.”
“Okay. I’ve decided she just wants attention.”
“Is that so bad? Just because you’re frightened to death of attention doesn’t make it wrong for other people to court it.”
“Not frightened to death of it,” Jack grumbled, not wanting to concede the point.
A tall, slim woman passed by then, a dead-white streak running along the side of her frizzy black swept-back hair.
He cocked his head toward her. “I know her statement: her husband’s a monster.”
“Karyn’s not married.”
A guy with gelled neon yellow hair slid by, each eyebrow pierced by at least a dozen gold rings.
“Hi, Gia,” he said with a wave and kept moving.
“Hi, Nick.”
“Let me guess,” Jack muttered. “As a child Nick was frightened by a curtain rod.”
“My, aren’t we the cranky one tonight,” Gia said, giving him a look.
Cranky barely touched it. He’d been alternating between bouts of rage and the way-down dumps for a couple of months now. Ever since Kate’s death. Couldn’t seem to pull himself out. He’d been finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, and once he was up, there didn’t seem to be anything he wanted to do. So he’d drag himself to Abe’s or Julio’s or Gia’s and pretend he was fine. Same old Jack, just not working on anything at the moment.
The angry voice mail messages from his father, ragging on him for not showing up at Kate’s wake or funeral, hadn’t helped. “Don’t tell me you had something more important to do. She was your sister, down it!”
Jack knew that. After fifteen years of separation, Kate had come back into his life for one week during which he’d gotten to know her again, love her again, and now she was gone. Forever.
The facts said it wasn’t Jack’s fault, but the facts didn’t keep Jack from blaming himself. And one other person…
He’d searched for the man he’d suspected of being in some way responsible, a man whose real name he didn’t know but who’d called himself Sal Roma once, and maybe Ms. Aralo too. He’d put the word out but no one knew anything. Never heard of him. Jack wound up with a taste of his own medicine—Sal Roma didn’t seem to exist.
Kate…she might still be alive if only he’d done things his way instead of listening to…
Stop. No point in traveling that well-worn trail again. He hadn’t returned his father’s calls. After a while they stopped.
He forced a smile for Gia. “Sorry. Pseudo-weirdos crank me off.”
“Can’t be much weirder than the people you spend most of your day with.”
“Those are different. They’re real. Their weirdness comes from inside. They wake up weird. They dress weird because they reach out a hand and whatever it touches first is what they wear that day. These people here spend hours in front of a mirror making themselves look weird. My weirdos have hair that spikes out in twenty directions because that’s the way it was when they rolled out of bed this morning; these folks use herbal shampoo, half a gallon of gel, and a special comb to achieve their unwashed bed-head look. My weirdos don’t belong; these people seem to want desperately to belong, but don’t want anyone to know, so they try to outdo each other to look like outsiders.”
Gia’s lips twisted. “And the biggest outsider of them all is sitting right here in a short-sleeve plaid shirt, jeans, and work boots.”
“And spending the evening watching pretensions collide with affectations. Present company excluded, of course.”
One of the many things he loved about Gia was her lack of affectation. Her hair was blond by nature and short for convenience. Tonight she was wearing beige slacks and a sleeveless turquoise top that heightened the blue of her eyes. Her makeup consisted of a touch of lipstick. She didn’t need anything more. She looked clean and healthy, a very untrendy look in this subculture.
But the subculture had percolated into the overculture, the fringe had become mainstreamed. Years ago construction workers threw bricks at longhairs and called them faggots, now the building trades were packed with ponytails and earrings.
“Maybe it’s time I got myself adorned,” Jack said.
Gia’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean pierced? You?”
“Well, yeah. Sometimes I feel like I stand out because I’m not bejeweled and be-inked.”
“Be-inked?”
“You know—tattooed.”
Everyone seemed into it, and if he wanted to remain invisible, he’d have to follow the crowd.
“But nothing permanent,” he added. Didn’t want to lose his chameleon capabilities. “Maybe a clip-on earring and one or two of those temporary tattoos.”
“Didn’t you do something like that to your fingers once?”
“You remember those?” Phony prison tats. With indelible ink. A one-time thing for a hairy job that left a couple of toughs from a Brighton Beach gang blazing mad and combing the five boroughs for a guy with HELL BENT tats on his knuckles. He hadn’t been able to wash those off soon enough. “No, I think I need something big and colorful.”
“How about a heart encircled with rose vines and GIA in its center?”
“I was thinking more on the order of a green skull with orange flames roaring out of its eye sockets.”
“Oh, how cool,” Gia said, and sipped her wine.
“Yeah. Slap that on one deltoid, maybe get a bright red Hot Stuff devil for the other, put on a tank top, and I’ll be set.”
“Don’t forget the earring.”
“Right. One of those dangly ones, maybe with the Metallica logo.”
“That’s you, Jack. A speedmetal dude.”
Jack sighed. “Adorned…accessorized…I was brought up thinking that real men didn’t bother with fashion.”
“So was I,” Gia said. “But I have an excuse: I grew up in semi-rural Iowa. You…you’re a northeasterner.”
“True, but all the adult males I knew as a kid—my father and the men he knew—were plain dressers. Most had fought in Korea. They dressed up for things like weddings and funerals, but mostly they wore functional clothes. Nobody accessorized. You stayed in front of the mirror long enough to shave and comb the hair out of your eyes. Anything more and you were some sort of peacock.”
“Welcome to twenty-first-century Peacockville,” Gia said.
Nick drifted by again.
“What’s Nick paint?” Jack asked.
“He doesn’t paint. He’s performance artist. His stage name is Harry Adamski.”
“Swell.” Jack hated performance art. “What’s his performance?”
Gia bit her upper lip. “He calls it stool art. Let’s just say it’s a very personal form of sculpture and, um, let it go at that.”
Jack stared at her. What was Gia—?
“Oh, jeez. Really…?”
She nodded.
“Christ,” he said, letting loose, “is there anything out there that can’t claim it’s an art? There’s the art of war, the art of the deal, the art of the shoe shine, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince—”
“I think he’s back to calling himself Prince now.”
“—the art of motorcycle maintenance. Smearing yourself with chocolate is art, hanging a toilet on a wall is art—”
“Come on, Jack. Lighten up. I was hoping a night out would lift your spirits. You’ve got to rejoin the living. Lately your life’s consisted of eating, sleeping, and watching movies. You haven’t worked out or taken a job or even returned calls. I’m sure Kate wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life moping around.”
Jack knew Gia was right and looked away. He saw a willowy blonde in her mid twenties swaying in their direction. She carried a martini glass filled with reddish fluid, probably a cosmo. The bottom of her short, zebra-striped blouse did not meet the top of her low riding, skintight leopard miniskirt; in the interval a large diamond stud gleamed from her navel.
“Maybe I should pierce my navel,” Jack said.
“Fine, but don’t show me until you’ve shaved your belly.”
“How about a pierced tongue?”
Gia gave him a sidelong glance and a sultry smile. “Now that could be interesting.” She looked up and saw the blonde. “Oh, here comes Junie Moon, the guest of honor.”
“That her real name?”
“Not sure. But that’s the one she’s used since I’ve known her. She was struggling along just like the rest of us until Nathan Lane bought one of her abstracts last year and started talking her up. Now she’s about as hot as you can get.”
“What’s a Junie Moon original go for?”
“Twenty and up.”
Jack blinked. “Twenty thou? She’s that good?”
“Big difference between hot and good, but I like Junie’s work. She creates this unique mix of hot and cold. Sort of a cross between De Kooning and Mondrian, if you can imagine such a thing.”
Jack couldn’t, because he couldn’t recall any works by either.
“You sound happy for her.”
“I am. She’s a good kid. I’ve got almost ten years on her and she sort of adopted me as a surrogate mother over the past few years. Phones me a couple of times a week to chat, asks advice.”
“And no hard feelings that she hit it and you haven’t?”
“Not a bit. I won’t say I don’t wish it were me instead, but if it had to happen to someone else, I’m glad it was Junie. She’s ditzy but she’s got talent, and I like her.”
That was Gia. The nurturer without a jealous bone in her body. Another of the many reasons he loved her. But even if it didn’t bother her, it rankled Jack to see the crap that hung in the galleries and exhibits she was always dragging him to, while her own canvases remained stacked in her studio.
“Bet her stuff’s not half as good as yours.”
“Mine are different.”
Gia made her living in commercial art. She did a lot of advertising work, but over the years she’d developed a reputation among the art directors at the city’s publishing houses as a talented and reliable artist. She’d walked Jack through a Barnes and Noble last week, pointing out her work on half a dozen hardcovers and trade paperbacks.
Nice stuff, but nothing like the paintings Gia did for herself. Jack loved those. He didn’t know a lot about art, but he’d picked up a little following Gia around, and her urban roofscapes reminded him of Edward Hopper, one of the few artists he’d pay to see.
Junie dropped into the narrow space next to Gia on the couch, spilling a few drops of her drink. Her blue-shadowed lids drooped slightly. He wondered how many she’d had.
“Hey,” she said, and kissed Gia on the cheek.
Gia introduced her to Jack and they shook hands across Gia. She looked about as down in the dumps as Jack felt.
Gia nudged her. “Why so glum? This party’s for you.”
“Yeah, I’d better enjoy it now.” She took a gulp of her cosmopolitan. “My fifteen minutes are so over.”
“What are you talking about?”
“My lucky bracelet. It’s gone. It’s the whole reason for my success.”
“You think it was stolen?” Jack said, glancing at her bare wrists and then at the partygoers. No shortage of jealousy here, he’d bet. “When did you last see it?”
“Tuesday. I remember taking it off after finishing a painting. I took a shower, then went out shopping. Next morning I went to put it on before starting a new work, and it was gone.”
“Anything else missing?” Jack said.
“Not a thing.” She tossed back the rest of her drink. “And it’s not valuable. It’s an old piece of junk jewelry I picked up at a secondhand store. It looks homemade—I mean, it’s set with a cat’s eye marble, of all things—but I liked it. And as soon as I started wearing it, my paintings began to sell. The bracelet made it happen.”
“Is that so?” Jack said. He felt Gia’s hand grip the top of his thigh and begin to squeeze, trying to head off what she knew he was going to say, but he spoke anyway. “So it’s got nothing to do with talent.”
Junie shook her head and shrugged. “I never changed my style, but I started wearing the bracelet while I worked, and the first painting I finished with it was the one Nathan Lane bought. After that, everything started happening for me. It changed my luck. I’ve so got to find it.”
“You’ve looked for it, I presume,” Gia said.
“Turned my place upside down. But tomorrow I’m getting professional help.”
“A bloodhound?” Jack offered, which earned him another squeeze.
“No. I’ve got an appointment with my psycho.” She giggled. “I mean my psychic.”
Gia’s fingers became a vise, so Jack decided to heed her. “I’m sure he’ll be a big help.”
“Oh, I know he will! He’s wonderful! I left my old seer for Ifasen a couple of months ago and am I ever glad. The man’s absolutely incredible.”
“Ifasen?” Jack knew most of the major players in the local psychic racket, if not personally, at least by rep, and the name Ifasen didn’t ring a bell.
“He’s new. Just moved into Astoria and—oh, my God! I just realized! That’s just up the road from here! Maybe I can see him tonight!”
“It’s pretty late, Junie. Will he—?”
“This is an emergency! He’s got to see me!”
She pulled out her cell phone and speed-dialed a number, listened for a moment, then snapped it closed.
“Damn! His answering service! So what. I’m going up there anyway.” She pushed herself up from the couch and staggered a step. “Gotta find a cab.”
Gia glanced at Jack, concern in her eyes, then back to Junie. “You’ll never get one around here.”
She grinned and hiked her miniskirt from mid-thigh to her hip. “Sure I will. Just like what’s-her-name in that movie.”
“Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night,” Jack said automatically as he wondered when the last time was a cab had cruised the Brooklyn Army Terminal area at this hour. “And someone’ll think you’re looking for more than a ride if you do that. We’ll call you a cab.”
“They never come,” she said, heading for the door.
Again that concerned look from Gia. “Jack, we can’t let her go. She’s in on condition—”
“She’s a grown-up.”
“Only nominally. Jack?”
She cocked her head and looked at him with big, Girl Scout cookie-selling eyes. Refusing Gia anything was difficult, but when she did that…
“Oh, all right.” Donning a put-upon expression, he rose and offered a hand to help Gia to her feet; in truth he was delighted for an excuse to bail this party. “I’ll give her a ride. But it’s not ‘just up the road.’ It’s on the upper end of Queens.”
Gia smiled, and it touched Jack right down to the base of his spine.
Somehow, between saying good-bye to the hostess bride and reaching the sidewalk, they picked up two extra passengers: Karyn—the Bride of Frankenstein—and her friend Claude, an anorexic-looking six footer with a flattop haircut that jutted out over his forehead, making his head look like an anvil from the side. They both thought a jaunt to a psychic’s house would be moby cool.
Plenty of room in Jack’s Crown Vic. If he’d come alone, he probably would have traveled by subway. But Gia’s presence demanded the security of a car. With Gia in the passenger seat, and the other three in the back, Jack wheeled the big black Ford up a ramp onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and headed north along the elevated roadway. He said he hoped no one minded but he was opening all the windows, and he did, without waiting for answers. His car; they didn’t like it, they could walk.
This kind of summer night, not too humid, not terribly hot, brought him back to his teens when he drove a beat-up old Corvair convertible that he got for a song because too many people had listened to that jerk Nader and dumped one of the best cars ever made. On nights like this he’d drive with no destination, always with the top down, letting the wind swirl around him.
Not much swirling tonight. Even at this hour the BQE was crowded, but Junie made the creeping traffic seem even slower by rattling on and on about her psychic guru: Ifasen talked to the dead, and Ifasen let the dead talk to you, and Ifasen knew your deepest, darkest secrets and could do the most amazing, impossible, incredible things.
Not amazing or impossible to Jack. He was familiar with all the amazing, impossible, incredible things Ifasen did, and even had a pretty good idea how the man was going to get back Junie’s bracelet for her.
Yeah, Junie was a ditz, but a lovable ditz.
Maybe some music would slow her Ifasen chatter. He stuck one of his home-made CDs in the player. John Lennon’s voice filled the car.
This happened once before…”
“The Beatles?” Claude said from the back. “I didn’t think anyone listened to them anymore.”
“Think again,” Jack said. He turned up the volume. “Listen to that harmony.”
“…I saw the light!…”
“Lennon and McCartney were born to sing together.”
“You have to realize,” Gia said, “that Jack doesn’t like anything modern.”
“How can you say that?”
“How?” She was smiling. “Look at your apartment, your favorite buildings”—she pointed to the CD player—“the music you listen to. You don’t own a song recorded after the eighties.”
“Not true.”
Karyn piped up. “What’s a current group or singer you listen to?”
Jack didn’t want to tell her that he had Tenacious D’s last disc in the glove compartment. Time for some fun.
“I like Britney Spears a lot.”
“I’m sure you like to look at her at lot,” Gia said, “but name one of her songs. Just one.”
“Well…”
“Got him!” Karyn laughed.
“I like some of Eminem’s stuff.”
“Never, Gia said.
“It’s true. I liked that conscience song he did, you know where he’s got a good voice talking in one ear and a bad voice in the other. That was neat.”
“Enough to buy it?”
“Well, no…”
“Got him again,” Karyn said. “You want to try the nineties? Can you name one song from the nineties you listened to?”
“Hey, maybe I wasn’t exactly a Spice Girls fan, but I was one hell of a nineties kinda guy.”
“Prove it. One nineties group—name one you bought and listened to.”
“Easy. The Traveling Willburys.”
Claude burst out laughing as Karyn groaned. “I give up!”
“Hey, the Willburys formed in the nineties, so that makes them a nineties group. I also liked World Party’s ‘Goodbye Jumbo.’”
“Retro!”
“And hey, Counting Crows. I liked that ‘Mr. Jones’ song they did.”
“That’s because it sounded like Van Morrison!”
“That’s not my fault. And you can’t say Counting Crows weren’t nineties. So there. A nineties guy, that was I.”
“I’m getting a headache.”
“Some Beatles will fix that,” Jack said. “This disc is all pre-Pepper, before they got self-conscious. Good stuff.”
The double-tracked guitar intro from “And Your Bird Can Sing” filled the car as Jack followed the BQE’s meandering course along the Brooklyn waterfront, running either two or three stories above or one or two stories below street level. A bumpy ride over pavement with terminal acne. As they ran under the Brooklyn Heights overhang a magnificent vista of lower Manhattan, all lights ablaze, slid into view.
“I feel like I’m in Moonstruck,” Karyn said.
“Except in Moonstruck the Trade Towers were there,” Claude added.
The car fell silent as they passed under the neighboring on-ramps of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
Jack had never liked the Trade Towers, had never thought he’d miss those soulless silver-plated Twix bars. But he did, and still felt a stab of fury when he noticed the hole in his sky where they’d been. The terrorists, like most outsiders to the city, probably had viewed the twins as some sort of crown on the skyline, so they’d aimed for the head. But Jack wondered how the city would have reacted if the Empire State and the Chrysler Buildings had been targeted instead. They were more part of the city’s heart and soul and history. King Kong—the real King Kong—had climbed the Empire State Building.
Brooklyn turned into Queens at the Kosciusko Bridge and the highway wandered past Long Island City, then the equally unspectacular Jackson Heights.
Astoria sits on the northwest shoulder of Queens along the East River. Jack visited frequently, but rarely by car. One of his mail drops was on Steinway Street. As he drove he debated a side trip to pick up his mail, but canned the idea. His passengers might start asking questions. He’d subway back next week.
Following Junie’s somewhat disjointed directions—she usually cabbed here so she wasn’t exactly sure of all her landmarks—he jumped off the BQE onto Astoria Boulevard and turned north, running a seamless gauntlet of row houses.
“If this Ifasen’s so good,” Jack said, “what’s he doing out here in the sticks?”
Junie said, “Queens isn’t the sticks!”
“Is to me. Too open. Too much sky. Makes me nervous. Like I’m going to have a panic attack or something.” He swerved the car. “Whoa!”
“What’s wrong?” Junie cried.
“Just saw a herd of buffalo. Thought they were going to stampede in front of the car. Told you this was the sticks.”
As the back seat laughed, Gia gave his thigh one of those squeezes.
They passed a massive Greek Orthodox church but the people passing along the sidewalk out front were dressed in billowy pantaloons and skull caps and saris. Astoria used to be almost exclusively Greek; now it housed sizable Indian, Korean, and Bangladeshi populations. A polyglotopolis.
They cruised into the commercial district along Ditmars Boulevard where they passed the usual boutiques, nail salons, travel agencies, pet shops, and pharmacies, plus the ubiquitous KFCs, Dunkin Donuts, and McDonald’s, interspersed with gyro, souvlaki, and kabab houses. They passed a Pakistani-Bangladeshi restaurant; its front, like a fair number of others, sported signs written not just in foreign languages but foreign script. The Greek influence was still strong, though—Greek coffee shops, Greek bakeries, even the pizzerias sported the Acropolis or one of the Greek gods on their awnings.
“There!” Junie cried, leaning forward and pointing through the windshield at a produce shop with a yellow awning inscribed with English and what looked like Sanskrit. “I recognize that place! Make a right at the corner here.”
Jack complied and turned into a quiet residential neighborhood. This street was lined with duplexes, a relief from the row houses. A train rumbled along a trestle looming above them.
“He’s number 735,” Junie said. “You can’t miss it. It’s the only detached single-family home on the block.”
“Might be the only one in Astoria,” Jack said.
“Should be on the right somewhere along—” Her arm lanced ahead again. “Here! Here it is! Awriiight!” Jack heard the slap of a high five somewhere behind him. “Told you I’d get us here!”
Jack found an empty spot and pulled into the curb.
Junie was out the door before he’d put the car in PARK. “Come on, guys! Let’s go talk to dead folks!”
Karyn and Claude piled out, but Jack stayed put. “I think we’ll pass.”
“Aw, no,” Junie said, leaning toward the passenger window. “Gia, you’ve got to come meet him. You’ve got to see what he can do!”
Gia looked at him. “What do you say?”
Jack lowered his voice. “I know this game. It’s not—”
“You were a psychic?”
“No. I just helped one once.”
“Great! Then you can explain it all afterwards.” She smiled and tugged on his arm. “Come on. This could be fun.”
“Fun like that party?” Gia gave him a look so Jack shrugged his acquiescence. “All right. Let’s see if this guy lives up to Junie’s press release.”
Junie cheered and led Karyn and Claude toward the house while Jack closed up the car. He joined Gia at the curb. He started toward the house but stopped when he saw it.
“What’s wrong?” Gia said.
He stared at the house. “Look at this place.”
Jack couldn’t say why, but he immediately disliked the house. It was colonial in shape, with an attached garage, but made of some sort of dark brown stone. It probably looked better during the day. Jack could make out a well-trimmed lawn and impatiens and marigolds in bloom among the foundation plantings along the front porch. But here in the dark it seemed to squat on its double-size lot like some huge, glowering toad edging hungrily toward the sidewalk. He could imagine a snakelike tongue uncoiling through the front door and snagging some unwary passerby.
“Definitely creepy looking,” Gia said. “Probably by design.”
“Don’t go in there,” said an accented voice from his left.
Jack turned and saw a slim, dark Indian woman in a royal blue sari, strolling her way along the sidewalk, being led by a big German shepherd on a leash.
“Excuse me?” Jack said.
“Very bad place,” the woman said, closer now. Her dark hair was knitted into a long thick braid that trailed over her right shoulder; a fine golden ring pierced her right nostril. “Bad past. Worse future. Stay away.” She didn’t slow her pace as she came abreast of them. Her black eyes flashed at Jack—“Stay away”—then at Gia—“especially you.”
Then she walked on. The dog looked back over his shoulder, but the woman did not.
“Now that’s creepy,” Gia said as an uncertain smile wavered across her lips.
Jack had always believed that in confronting a fear and facing it down, you weakened it. Recent events had given him second thoughts about the wisdom of that belief. And with Gia along…
“Maybe we should listen to her.”
Gia laughed. “Oh, come on! She probably works for this guy; he sends her out to get us in the mood. Or maybe she’s just a local wacko. You’re not taking her seriously, are you?”
Jack looked after the retreating saried figure, now barely visible in the shadows. After what he’d been through lately, he was taking a lot more things seriously, things he’d laughed at before.
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, let’s go,” she said, tugging him up the front walk. “Junie’s been seeing him for a couple of months and nothing bad’s happened to her.”
Jack put an arm around Gia’s back and together they approached the house. They joined the others on the front porch where Junie had been jabbing at the bell button with no results.
She jabbed it again. “Where is he?”
“Maybe he’s not home,” Jack said.
“He’s got to be! I can’t—”
Just then the front door eased open a crack. Jack saw an eye and a sliver of dark cheek.
“Ifasen! It’s me! Junie! Thank God you’re here!”
The door opened wider, revealing a tall, lean black man, maybe thirty. He wore a white T-shirt and gray slacks; his hair was woven into neat, tight dreads that brushed his wide shoulders. Ifasen reminded Jack of Lenny Kravitz in his dreadlock days.
“Ms. Moon.” he said with an unplaceable accent. “It’s late.”
Jack hid a smile at the obvious statement. This guy was experienced. The normal response would be, What are you doing here at this hour? But if you’re supposed to be someone who knows all—or maybe not all, but a helluva lot more than ordinary people—you don’t ask questions. You make statements.
But he wondered at the man’s expression when he’d opened the door. He’d looked…relieved. Who had he been expecting?
“I know. And I know my appointment’s tomorrow, but I had to come.”
”You couldn’t wait,” he said, his tone calm, exuding confidence and assurance.
“Yes! Right! I need your help! I lost my good luck bracelet! You’ve got to find it for me!”
As he considered her plea, his gaze roamed among Jack and Gia and the others on the porch.
“I see you’ve brought company.”
“I told them all about you and they’re dying to meet you. Can we come in? Please?”
“Very well,” Ifasen said. He stepped back and opened the door the rest of the way. “But only for a few minutes. I have to be rested for my early clients tomorrow.”
That’s right, Jack remembered. Weekends are busy times for psychics.
Junie led the way, followed by Karyn and Claude. Jack and Gia were just stepping over the threshold when a deep rumble filled the air, vibrating through their bones and shaking the house.
“Bomb!” Ifasen yelled. “Out! Everybody out!”
Then another sound, a deafening, high-pitched, echoing scream—whether of pain, fear, or joy, Jack couldn’t say—filled the air.
Didn’t sound like a bomb to Jack but he wasn’t taking any chances. He grabbed Gia and hauled her back across the porch and onto the lawn. Junie, Claude, and a shrieking Karyn scurried behind them.
Ifasen was still at the front door, calling for someone named Charlie.
Jack kept moving, pushing Gia ahead of him up the walk toward the car. Then he noticed something.
He stopped. “Wait. Feel that?”
Gia looked into his eyes, and then at her feet. “The ground…”
“Right. It’s shaking.”
“Oh, my God!” Junie cried. “It’s an earthquake!”
Just as suddenly as the tremors had started, they stopped.
Jack looked around. Across the street, up and down the block, lights were on and people were spilling out into their yards, standing around in all states of dress and undress, some crying, some looking simply bewildered.
Gia was staring at him. “Jack. An earthquake? In New York?”
“Don’t you remember that one on the Upper East Side back in ‘01?’
“I read about it, but I never felt it. I felt this. And I didn’t like it!”
Neither had Jack. Maybe people in places like LA got used to something like this, but feeling the solid granite bedrock of good old New York City rolling and trembling under his feet…pretty damn unsettling.
“What about that other sound? Like a scream? Did you hear that?”
Gia nodded as she moved closer and clutched his arm. “Like a damned soul.”
“Probably just some old nails tearing free in the quake.”
“If you say so. Sure sounded like a voice though.”
Sure did, Jack thought. But he didn’t want to add to her unease.
He looked around and saw Ifasen approaching with another, younger black man who bore a family resemblance. Both had similar builds and features, but instead of dreads the newcomer’s hair was cut in a neat fade. He wore black slacks, black sneakers, and a lightweight long-sleeve turtleneck, also black.
“An earthquake, Ifasen!” Junie said. “Can you believe it?”
“I knew something was going to happen,” Ifasen said. “But impending seismic activity interferes with psychic transmission, so I couldn’t get a clear message.”
Jack nodded approval. The guy ad-libbed well.
Close up now, Jack noticed a horizontal scar along Ifasen’s left cheek; his milk chocolate skin was otherwise flawless except for the stipple of whiskers shadowing his jaw.
“Can we go back inside now?” Junie said.
Ifasen shook his head. “I don’t know…”
Please?”
He sighed. “Very well. But only briefly.” He put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “This, by the way, is my brother Kehinde. He lives in Menelaus Manor with me.”
Menelaus Manor? Jack thought, staring at the old house. This place has a name?
Kehinde led the way back to the house. Jack hung back with Gia so he could talk to Ifasen.
“Why’d you think it was a bomb?”
Ifasen blinked but his onyx eyes remained unreadable. “What gives you that idea?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that you yelled ‘Bomb!’ when the house started to shake.”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps I was startled and it was the first thought that came to mind. The pre-seismic vibrations—”
Jack held up a hand. “Yeah. You told us.”
Jack sensed Ifasen was telling the truth, and that bothered him. When your house starts to shake, rattle, and roll, it could be a lot of things, but bomb should not be first on your guess list.
Unless you were expecting one.
“And where’s Charlie?”
Ifasen stiffened. “Who?”
“I heard you calling for someone named Charlie while we were evacuating.”
“You must have misheard me, sir. I was calling for my brother Kehinde.”
Jack turned to Gia. “Let’s split. I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Before Gia could answer, Ifasen said, “Please. There’s nothing to fear. Really.”
“Let’s do it, Jack.” She glanced at Ifasen. “It’ll take us, what—half an hour?”
“At most.” Ifasen smiled. “As I said, I need my rest.”
Half an hour, Jack thought. Okay. What could happen in half an hour?
 
Copyright © 2002 by F. Paul Wilson