Story by Adam Casalino
June 1, 1952:
Jonathan Lewis paced back and forth in his room. For the fifth time that morning, he checked himself in the mirror. The flower in his lapel was crooked. His hair wasn’t right. The suit felt baggy, then too tight. There wasn’t enough air in the room. Jonathan ran to the window and flew it open. It made him cold. His agony was saved by a knock at the door.
“Yes, come in.”
Michael, the best man, poked his head in. He smiled, stepped inside, and tried to reassure the groom. Jonathan shrugged and slumped down in a chair.
“The day’s finally here,” Jonathan said. “I don’t think I’m ready.”
“Of course you are,” Michael said. “You are Angela are made for each other.”
“I thought that once before.” Jonathan’s face grew dark.
Michael reached across and put a hand on his shoulder. “Stop that. The past is behind you. You deserve a new life, with Angela.”
The groom smiled weakly. “You’re right.” He stood up and straightened his jacket. “How do I look?”
“Like a champ.”
“How goes it in the bridal suite?” Jonathan asked.
“Not allowed in,” Michael said. “Though last I saw, there was a lot of movement.”
Both men looked at the door as hurried footsteps passed outside. Michael was about to speak when someone shouted. The best man motioned for Jonathan to stay put as he went to the door. He leaned out as Jonathan’s father ran by. Michael caught him.
“What’s all the commotion about?”
The father spoke in a low voice. “Something’s wrong with Angela.”
Michael stepped outside and closed the door. “What?”
“She’s not in her room. Everyone is looking.”
“She couldn’t have gone far,” Michael said. “Did they check the bathroom?”
A woman’s scream filled the hall. The groom’s door flung open as Jonathan approached them.
“What the devil was that?” he demanded.
“Sounded like Angela’s sister,” Michael said.
“That came from the bridal suite,” Jonathan said.
They tried to stop him, but Jonathan took off running. He reached the bridal suite and entered the empty room. Voices were coming from around the corner. Jonathan reached a set of doors leading to a balcony. A crowd was gathered outside. Some were weeping. Another called for an ambulance. Jonathan pushed through. He saw his mother, who was close to fainting.
A man grabbed his arm. “Son, you don’t want to see this.”
“Let go of me!”
He broke free and stumbled to the edge of the balcony. A portion of the stone balustrade was gone. Leaning over the edge he saw the grounds below. The blood drained from his face. He felt dizzy. Someone caught him before he collapsed. Darkness crept over him. The last image in his mind was of his bride, sprawled out on the concrete.
Phillip Pettigrew was a man that didn’t like to wait. He demanded instant gratification, preferential treatment if it was available. Yet he stood, neglected, in front of a police station front desk. Pulling out his watch he checked the time. His foot tapped out the rhythm of Flight of the Valkyries. Beyond the desk, police marched to and fro. He cleared his throat. They didn’t notice.
Eventually someone came to fetch him. A stocky office with five o’clock shadow and onion breath greeted him. Pettigrew held his nose as he shook the man’s hand. Jerking his head back, the officer gestured for Pettigrew to follow. He led him through the station.
“The kid’s name is Jonathan Lewis,” the officer said. “Was supposed to be getting hitched today. That is, until his wife-to-be was found beneath a balcony, clinging to life.”
“Is she dead?” Pettigrew asked.
“No, but she’s banged up pretty good,” the officer said. “She’s recovering at the hospital.”
“Why are you holding the groom?”
“There signs of foul play,” the officer said. “Scratches and bruises that weren’t from the fall. Someone pushed the poor girl.”
“Would a groom try to kill his bride on their wedding day?” Pettigrew asked.
The cop shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t want to kill her, maybe it was an argument that got outta hand. See it all the time. Guy says he’s innocent though.”
“What about everyone else at the wedding?” Pettigrew said. “Surely there must be other suspects.”
“Just family, they’re railing to make us let him out,” the officer said. “But we have our reasons for keeping him. The guy’s got a history.”
“What do you mean?”
They came to the door of an interrogation room. Grabbing the handle, the officer looked back at Pettigrew. He had a lewd expression on his face.
“This isn’t his first bride,” he said. “Last one kicked the bucket before the wedding. We’re thinking it’s a pattern.”
“My colleague and I will be the judge of that,” Pettigrew said.
“That’s not why you’re here,” the office said. “You don’t solve our cases, got it? The captain’s only allowing this because you’re friend’s a buddy. Just talk to the guy and buzz off.”
He opened the door and waited for Pettigrew to go in.
“Always a pleasure speaking with the police,” he said with a sneer.
Pettigrew took the door from the officer and waited for him to leave. Smoothly, he walked into the small interrogation room. Jonathan Lewis sat at a table, his head bowed. As Pettigrew entered, the young man looked up. His eyes were red and swollen.
“Are you Robert Asher?” he asked.
“No.” Pettigrew pulled out the chair opposite Jonathan and sat down. “But I come on his behalf. My name is Phillip Pettigrew. I was told you requested my colleague’s assistance.”
Jonathan nodded. “I read about him in the paper. They said he can talk to ghosts.”
“The papers say a lot of things,” Pettigrew said. “Little of it is true.”
“But he’s an occult detective, right?” Jonathan asked.
Pettigrew pursed his lips. “I suppose that’s what he calls himself. A bit gauche, if you ask me. But I have no say in what he does with his life.”
“I need his help,” Jonathan said.
“Seeing as how Robert isn’t here, you need my help,” Pettigrew said. “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
Jonathan sat up. “I was in my dressing room all morning, getting ready for the… the wedding. My best man was with me when we heard a bridesmaid scream–“
“No, not that. Tell me about the other woman,” Pettigrew said.
“You know about Julia?” Jonathan asked.
“The office alluded to your first bride,” Pettigrew said. “Also, I caught a glimpse of your case file they left at the front desk while they made me wait. Honestly, twenty minutes. That’s egregious.”
“Julia,” Jonathan started, “was my best girl. We were going to get married two years ago. She died days before the wedding.”
Pettigrew arched his eyebrows in mock surprise. “How?”
“She was crossing the street outside her apartment,” Jonathan said. “Truck came out of nowhere and hit here.”
“Where did she live?” Pettigrew asked.
“Uptown,” Jonathan said. “Asheville Heights.”
“Wealthy girl,” Pettigrew said.
“It was her family’s home.”
“So you lose your wife tragically before the wedding,” Pettigrew said. “Twice. You’re a very unlucky man.”
“I know what you’re getting at,” Jonathan said. “The cops think I did this. That I was somehow responsible for both Julia and Angela. But I’m not. I loved both of them, I would never hurt a hair…”
The young man choked up. He looked away from Pettigrew, shielding the tears.
“Tell me why you want Robert Asher to look into your case?” Pettigrew asked.
Jonathan took a deep breath. He looked back at the other man. “Because, Mr. Pettigrew, Julia is haunting me.”
Pettigrew nodded. “Should have guessed as much.”
“Don’t you see?” Jonathan said. “She jealous that I’m getting remarried. That’s why she attacked Angela, it’s the only explanation.”
“Well, no. There can be many explanations,” Pettigrew said.
“I’m not pulling this out of the air,” Jonathan said. “She has appeared to me twice already. Weeks ago, I heard her voice in my bedroom. Then just days before the wedding, I saw her wandering my apartment.”
“Is it possible that you imagined Julia’s ghost?” Pettigrew asked. “A manifestation of guilt that you’re moving on?”
“No,” Jonathan said, his face firm. “I’ve been through all that. I love Angela. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I know what I saw, Mr. Pettigrew.”
Pettigrew sighed and rubbed his temples. “This isn’t easy for either of us. Mr. Lewis. Normally my associate handles these things.”
“The… talking, with people,” Pettigrew said. “Bedside manner and all that. I’m sorry he’s indisposed or he would be doing this himself.”
The man reached across the table and grabbed Pettigrew’s hand. “You have to believe me, Mr. Pettigrew. I’d never hurt Angela. Not in a million years!”
Pettigrew looked down at the man’s hands and scowled. He methodically extricated himself from Jonathan’s grip. Taking a handkerchief from his coat, he wiped his hands.
“Mr. Lewis, unlike the police, the district attorney’s office, and your lawyer, I think your story has merit.”
Jonathan looked at him quizzically.
“Sound travels very well in this station,” Pettigrew explained.
“But you’ll take my case?” Jonathan asked.
“Me? No. I’ll be at home drinking applejack,” Pettigrew said. “But Robert, he’ll do just fine.”
Robert Asher stood on the edge of a dock, staring into the waters of the Chawnee River. A crowd was nearby, mostly workers, shouting things to each other. Asher glanced at the man sitting in a crane and nodded. The machine chugged as its arm dipped into the river.
“You know, you really should find better things to do with your time.”
Asher turned around to see the tall, lean figure of Phillip Pettigrew. An umbrella was tucked under his arm, as always, but he was missing his hat. Asher assumed even he liked to get some sun, now and again. His nose was upturned at the smells wafting toward him from the water.
“Honestly Robert, a man of your gifts should be enjoying life,” Pettigrew said. “Not… fraternizing with riff raff.”
A few of the dock workers turned, giving the man dirty looks, though they were not sure if he meant them.
“There’s work to do,” Asher said, looking back at the river. “Did you talk to the kid?”
“Charming lad,” Pettigrew said. “Or he would have been, if his wife weren’t mortally injured.”
“How is she?”
“Critical condition,” Pettigrew said, “according to the police. I hadn’t time to visit her.”
“What’s the story?” Asher asked.
“The woman fell from a balcony,” Pettigrew said. “Most likely pushed. The police assume it was the groom.”
“What’s his story,” Asher said, “ghost?”
“Why else would he have called you?” Pettigrew asked. “You don’t investigate mob hits.”
Asher cast him a sidelong glance. Pettigrew settled down.
“His first bride, a one Julia Stapleton, died days before their wedding,” he said. “Mr. Lewis believes her ghost has come back for revenge. Claimed she visited him a few times before attacking his new bride, Angela Craven.”
“You believe him?” Asher asked.
“I reserve judgment,” Pettigrew said, “as I do in all things.”
“But he wasn’t lying,” Pettigrew continued. “I could see that. At least he believes his own story.”
The crane rope grew taut as it retracted. Around the dock, the workers turned their attention to the water.
“This guy’s got two hurt brides?” Asher said. “Might be a pattern.”
“You question my assessment?” Pettigrew asked.
“Now when have I ever done that?”
The end of the crane broke the surface of the water. A collected groan passed through the crowd. Only the most jaded stuck around to watch. Dangling from the crane was a dead rat. It was roughly six feet long, with human-like legs. A few of the workers turned to Asher. He nodded and a man with a radio started giving orders.
Asher turned his back on the river and looked at Pettigrew.
“Rats are always bigger in the city, eh?”
Pettigrew scowled in disgust. “Will you take the case? I’d like to exit this city as soon as possible.”
“I’ll look into it,” Asher said.
“Splendid.” Pettigrew handed him a thick file. “I’m leaving. If you need anything, don’t call.”
Asher stood on the corner of Manchester and Maine. The traffic rolled by at its regular hectic pace. Pedestrians skirted the sidewalk to avoid the large man in bomber jacket and military boots. He didn’t notice. His eyes were on the pavement.
Two years earlier, Julia Stapleton died only a few feet from where he stood. According to Jonathan Lewis’ story, she was crossing the street toward her upscale apartment, when an out-of-control delivery truck plowed into her. The woman was killed instantly. After picking up the pieces of his life, Jonathan’s new fiancé suffered a similar tragedy.
Asher looked through the dossier Pettigrew had given him. The man had been shockingly thorough, providing even police photos of both accidents. Asher wondered how Pettigrew got his hands on those documents–and so quickly. He decided he was better off not knowing. Pettigrew had more secrets than he ever wanted to know about.
Police ruled Julia’s death a freak accident. The prime sort of death to produce a ghost. Asher swept the scene for traces of psychic residue. The human mind was a powerful entity, generating a field of energy that only the most sensitive could perceive. Somehow, a mystery even he had yet to fully understand, Asher had a knack for honing in on this energy, particularly from disembodied minds. Laymen called this energy ghosts. Asher preferred that word.
Despite probing the scene of Julia’s death, he found no evidence her mind had been left behind. Murder victims, people who died suspiciously, or those with scores to settle in this life often linger as ghosts. A little piece of their mind refuses to pass onto the afterlife, coalescing (as Pettigrew would say) into an incorporeal being.
Often they were malevolent to boot. Asher never met one that wasn’t.
But there was nothing on that street. No lingering presence, no scrap of Julia’s mind. Even the mildest ghost would leave a trail from where they died. Julia’s street was cold. Asher started to doubt Miss Stapleton had become a ghost. He started down the street, considering his next steps. Before he knew it, he was at a phone booth.
The phone rang for a long minute before being answered.
“I told you not to ring,” Pettigrew said.
“I ignored you,” Asher said.
“Evidently. It’s almost sundown, I’m about to retire.”
“You need to stay up,” Asher said.
Pettigrew groaned. “What do you want from me? I made you a dossier. That’s far more effort than I usually allow.”
“You’re a saint,” Asher said. “I’m not getting anything at the scene of Julia’s death.”
“Well it’s been years,” Pettigrew said. “The trace may be too faint.”
“I’d find it,” Asher said.
“Maybe your senses are growing dull.”
“Not possible,” Asher said, his voice getting cold.
“Eh, fine. Are you doubting there’s a ghost at all?” Pettigrew asked.
“Too soon to tell,” Asher said. “You told me this guy saw the ghost more than once?”
“He heard her voice in his sleep and saw her in his apartment,” Pettigrew said.
“That’s a good place to start,” Asher said.
“You are not breaking into the man’s house, Robert.”
“I think I gotta,” Asher said.
“Whatever. I just need it on record I told you not to,” Pettigrew said. “If you get arrested.”
Jonathan Lewis lived at 43rd and 8th, in one those apartments with a double door foyer. The people in that part of town wouldn’t blindly buzz a stranger in, so he’d have to find another way. Asher slipped down the alley behind the building and started to climb a fire escape.
Asher located Jonathan’s apartment window. Pulling a knife from his belt, he slid back the locks and climbed inside. He was accustomed to breaking and entering. Long before he was a detective, he did it far too often. But crime no longer interested him. To his surprise, those skills came in handy as a private detective. As long as the cops didn’t find out.
The groom’s apartment was the typical bachelor home. There was a decided lack of a woman’s touch. The appliances were straight out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Nothing could have been worth more than a hundred dollars. The fridge was stocked with moldy vegetables and TV dinners.
The place was deceptively large. Small rooms were interconnected via halls. Off the living room there was a balcony, giving a commanding view of the city. Asher searched the house for traces of Julia’s ghost. He cast out his psychic net, in order to catch any lingering presence. If Jonathan’s stories were true, he’d most certainly find something.
Asher immediately sensed something, but it wasn’t a ghost. It was nothing like a usual psychic residue, which would take the shape of a bodily presence. There was a vibration, like a ripple on the surface of water. Asher could hear it subtly hum. It permeated the atmosphere of the entire apartment. The detective had never felt anything like it before.
He didn’t know what to do about this new sensation. Pulling back his senses, Asher decided to use traditional methods of investigation. The vibration kept tugging at the back of his mind, though. He tried to ignore it. Searching Jonathan’s desk, he found a stack of stationary and letters pierced on a spike. Most of them were from his mundane job as a bookkeeper.
Rummaging through the drawers, Asher discovered a folder stuffed with bills. Apparently Jonathan had financial trouble, to the tune of five thousand dollars. Despite his impressive connections, the man was drowning in debt.
Asher found the telephone.
“How much was the dame worth?” Asher asked when the call was connected.
“You really must stop calling me,” Pettigrew replied.
“Just answer the question.”
A sign came from the other end. “I wasn’t privy to Angela Craven’s financials, but her family are industrialists. Grandfather build most of downtown.”
“Really?” Asher said.
“Don’t you read the paper?” Pettigrew said.
“So you’re saying she’s loaded?” Asher asked.
“Jonathan Lewis would get some of that money,” Asher concluded.
“I assume so,” Pettigrew said. “He would share in her wealth, once they married.”
“Then we can rule him out,” Asher said. “The kid’s got money problems. He wouldn’t off his bride when he stands to enjoy her cash.”
“Aren’t you looking for a ghost?” Pettigrew asked. “What have you found at the apartment?”
“There’s something here,” Asher said. “But it’s not from a ghost.”
Asher could hear the man sit up. “What do you mean?”
“It’s like a vibration,” Asher said. “A tremor.”
“A tremor? On the psychic plane?” Pettigrew said. “That’s not possible. Psychic fields are tenable, far more than any other energy.”
“I know what I felt,” Asher said. “Almost like a tear in a tent and wind is blowing through it.”
“That’s not good,” Pettigrew said with a moan. “Not good at all.”
“I might need you to come back into town,” Asher said.
“Oh, now wait a minute,” Pettigrew said. “When I spoke with that boy, I did you a favor. I don’t come at your beck and call. Now that tremor sounds serious, but you’ll just have to deal with it on your own.”
“You see things I can’t,” Asher said.
“Too bad. I’m not the private dick.”
“All that know-how and what do you do? Just drink your life away.”
“What I’ve chosen to do with my eternity is entirely none of your concern,” Pettigrew said. “I only deign to speak to you because I find it amusing.”
“You’re a real prince,” Asher said.
“I’ve been called worse.”
The line cut out. Asher was on his own.
According to the police, Angela Craven had been taken to East Bay General. Emergency surgery had been performed to save her life. She was now being kept in Intensive Care, with a staff member watching her around the clock. It would be difficult to get access to the woman, even if she were able to speak. Asher tried, anyway.
The hospital was quiet at that late hour. Asher moved down a lonely hall, searching for Angela’s room. He found it at the end of the hall. Outside sat an attendant, a hawk-noised man with coke bottles for eyes. He was hunched over a desk across from the room. Asher approached the man and gave his most convincing smile. He did not smile back.
“Excuse me?” Asher said.
The attendant sighed. “What is your name?”
“Robert Asher. Don’t you want to know who I’m here for?”
“Doesn’t matter. If you’re not on my list, you don’t get to see anyone,” the man said. “And you’re not on my list.”
“What list?” Asher asked.
“The approved visitors list,” he said. “No one has access to patients in Intensive Care unless they’re on the list.”
“I’m a detective,” Asher said. “I’m here to see a recent victim. Angela Craven?”
The man said nothing. He simply stared at Asher with obnoxious irritation.
“Can I see the list?” Asher asked.
“Alright. Sorry about this.”
Asher reached out and touched the man’s temple. Before the attendant could react, he was in his mind. Memories and emotions swirled around Asher like a hurricane. Asher quickly accessed the part of the mind that controlled consciousness. He turned it off.
The attendant was out like a light, his head clunking on the desk. Asher let go of the man as a wave of fatigue hit him. The ability to enter someone’s mind had its consequences. Whatever Asher did to someone else’s mind could affect him as well. It’s why he rarely did it. Holding onto the side of the desk, he shook his head and waited for the sensation to pass. He crossed over to the room, fighting back nausea and dizziness.
It was a cold, gray room. The curtains were down over the windows. There was a small table, two chairs, and a radio playing soft music. Angela lay motionless in her bed. Her face was covered in a bandage. One of her arms was in a splint. Her chest rose and fell gently. Asher could smell medication hanging in the air. That wasn’t the only thing he could sense.
Closing his eyes, Asher cast out his psychic net. The room was clean of a ghostly presence. But Asher wasn’t expecting one. He honed in on the vibration he had felt in Jonathan’s apartment.
It hit him like a truck.
The room shook with the noise. It was like brass cymbals crashing against him head. Asher staggered as the sensation filled his mind. He sat down in one of the chairs so he would crash to the floor. Trying to fight the tremor, he looked at Angela. A black cloud hung over her. Asher let go of the psychic field. He took a gulp of air. He didn’t realize he had stopped breathing.
Moving toward the bed, he took a closer look at the woman. She seemed peaceful, without pain. He gently touched her temple and stepped into her mind. There was something lurking there, something other than the woman’s consciousness. Asher pushed deeper to find it.
A shock raced up his arm. Asher let go of Angela. Her eyes shot open. The woman snarled as she grabbed the man’s throat. Rising out of the bed, she pulled the man into the air. Letting go, she sent him crashing into the table and chairs. She floated above him.
“You leave her alone,” came a cruel voice. “She’s mine.”
Asher pulled himself up. “You Julia? What’s the big idea, hijacking Angela’s body? What she ever do to you?”
The woman growled. She swooped down at the detective. He was ready this time. Jumping up and grabbed Angela’s arms and pulled her down. He held her tight against the wall.
“Answer my question, Jules,” he said. “Why did you attack Angela?”
“I need a vessel,” the woman said. “I need to be free.”
“Why? You wanna be with Jonathan?” Asher asked. “Sorry to break it to you, Jules, but you’re dead. You have to let him go and pass over.”
“I can force you over,” Asher said. “But it’ll be unpleasant for the both of us.”
“I fought so long to get here,” the woman said. “You will not send me back into the shadows.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” Asher had dealt with many ghosts. They never talked like this.
“Over the sulfur peaks and endless darkness I have come,” she said. “Only to breath the light of life.”
Asher was beginning to realize he was not talking with Julia Stapleton. “Why don’t you tell me who you really are?” Though he suspected he already knew.
The woman shrieked. Asher instinctively covered his ears from the sound. Freed, the body of Angela, knocked him back and flew into the air.
“I will have my vessel. I will walk the earth unbound!”
She flew to the window, crashing through the glass and disappearing into the night. Asher found himself on the ground. His head was pounding. It felt like the entire room was thrumming like a drum. With all his strength, he forced himself into a seated position.
All the damage to the room was gone. Angela was still in bed. The table and chairs were in place, soft music still playing. Someone was pounding on the door from outside.
“As far as visions go,” he said to himself, “that was a doozy.”
He got up and opened the door. The attendant glared at him.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Asher pushed passed the man, ignoring his questions. He made his way back to the hospital entrance and found a payphone.
“God dammit, Robert,” Pettigrew said. “Why did I give you my number?”
“We have an abyssal on our hands,” Asher said.
There was a short pause. “I’m on my way.”
Robert Asher waited for Pettigrew on the roof of his building. Propped up against the parapet, he watched the night sky. The stairwell door opened. The man that appeared was dressed in a long coat that whipped about in the wind. Pettigrew wasn’t carrying his trademark umbrella or hat. He looked around the roof, naked disgust on his face. When he found Asher, he marched over to him.
“How do you know it’s an abyssal?” he said, dispensing with his usual formalities.
“Take a look.” Asher tapped the side of his head. Pettigrew squinted as he stepped closer.
“Dammit. Your aura is torn to shreds.”
“M-hm,” Asher said, calmly. “Don’t know how I’m holding together.”
“A normal person would be reduced to a quivering pile of insanity from that amount of damage,” Pettigrew said.
“What am I?” Asher asked.
“You’re a freak, Robert,” Pettigrew said. “But you already knew that. A night’s rest and your aura will be fine. Few things can wreck that kind of damage. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous it is for that kind of demon to be roaming free in the living world.”
“No, you don’t.”
“If it can find a host we’re all, as you’d put it, screwed.” Pettigrew unconsciously reached into his pocket for the cigarette case that wasn’t there. He regretted quitting. “How the hell did a chthonic abyssal come this far in the first place? And why Miss Craven?”
Asher shrugged. “Like you said, it needed a host. My guess Angela fought it off when she fell.”
Pettigrew paced, hand on his chin. “That stupid boy. He said he saw Julia Stapleton’s ghost.”
“The kid’s not very familiar with our world, Phillip,” Asher said. “He saw something and just assumed it was his dead broad’s ghost. Probably still pines for her.”
“He told me he was over the woman,” Pettigrew said.
The detective shook his head. “No man really gets over a woman.”
“The abyssal could have been attracted to Jonathan because of that grief,” Pettigrew said.
“The real question is,” Asher said. “Now that it’s left Angela, where will it go next?”
Asher glanced up at Pettigrew. They both knew the answer. “We need to get to that young man, now.”
They left the roof and quickly reached the police station. Stopping at the front desk, they demanded to see Jonathan Lewis. The desk sergeant had trouble believing their story.
“You don’t understand,” Pettigrew said. “I already spoke with the man, earlier today.”
“You his lawyer?” the sergeant asked.
“No, but my associate and I are helping with his case.”
The cop shook his head. “You don’t get to see a perp unless you’re his lawyer.”
Pettigrew looked over at Asher. “I thought you had some pull with these people.”
Asher moved him aside with his finger. He leaned in across the desk. “Sergeant Conner, is it? I’m Robert Asher, private eye. I’ve worked with this precinct before. Detective Moore, he’ll vouch for me.”
“He’s not in,” Conner said.
“Well, who is?”
Pettigrew whispered to Asher. “Why don’t you do the thing?”
Asher whispered back. “What thing?”
“You know.” Pettigrew put two fingers to his temple.
“Where in the middle of a police station,” Asher said. “I think they’ll notice.”
“Listen guys, it’s late,” the desk sergeant said. “I can’t help you. You’re gonna have to come back tomorrow, with the man’s lawyer.”
Asher looked passed the front desk and caught the eye of a tired-looking man with a cigarette behind his ear. The bags under his eyes announced he was working beyond his shift. When he saw Asher, he deflated.
“You’re the last person I want to see at four in the morning,” the detective asked as he approached the front desk. “Asher?”
“Brooks. It’s a code black.”
“In here?” Detective Brooks asked.
The detective scowled. He looked at the desk sergeant. “What the hell have you been doing?” Brooks turned to Asher and Pettigrew. “Come with me.”
They started marching through the station.
“Holding cells,” Asher said.
“Dammit. That Lewis kid?”
“So it really was a ghost?” the detective said.
“Worse,” Asher replied.
Pettigrew tapped Asher on the shoulder. “Code black?”
“Imminent paranormal event,” Brooks said. “Potentially life-threatening.”
“So what are we looking for?” the detective asked.
“Chthonic abyssal,” Asher said. “a parasitic demon from the lowest regions of hell. Rarely appears on earth. If it bonds to a human, it can unleash some pretty bad stuff.”
“That attacked the girl?” Brooks asked.
“Tried to possess her,” Asher said. “She fell from the balcony fighting it off.”
“And why are we looking in on Lewis?”
“We suspect it was originally drawn to him,” Pettigrew said. “It’ll want to bond with the man.”
“Ugh.” Brooks shuddered.
They reached the holding cells. The lights in the adjoining hall were out. Detective Brooks tested the switch; it was already flipped on.
“Couldn’t be a fuse, the whole building would be out,” he said.
“No the lights are still on,” Pettigrew said. “Their light is being suppressed.”
“You better let us go ahead,” Asher said to the detective, “this might get ugly.”
“I’m not letting civilians walk into danger,” Brooks said.
“Not my first time,” Asher said. “Or this.”
“Be that as it may, I refuse–“
“Listen,” Pettigrew stepped in front of the man. “What is lurking in that cell can inflict pain worse than your greatest nightmares. Only we can contain it, but you need to secure this door. Nothing comes out until you hear from us.”
Detective Brooks was silent. He backed away from the door, nodding to the two of them. “Be sure to give the ‘all clear’ when you’re done. Work fast.”
Asher and Pettigrew entered the holding cells, closing the door behind them.
“You can be pretty persuasive when you wanna be,” Asher said.
“You haven’t even seen my try,” Pettigrew answered.
They stood at the head of the dark hallway. It felt more like the start of a cave tunnel. Asher reached into his bag and pulled out a flashlight. The beam was weak in the unnatural darkness. Cautiously they walked down the hall, checking each cell one by one.
“Thank you once again for dragging me into one of your cases,” Pettigrew said. “I could be enjoying a fine brandy at home, upstate. Instead, I’m in this city, hunting a demon.”
“Please, I know you drink cheap applejack on weekdays,” Asher said.
They passed a cell with someone inside. Asher cast his light on the man. He mumbled something, rolling over on his cot to hide from the light.
“Drunk tanker,” Asher said.
They reached the next cell and the convict rushed the bars. Asher and Pettigrew jumped back to avoid his grasp.
“You gotta get me out of here,” he said. His eyes were wild with fear.
“We’re not here for you,” Pettigrew said.
“You don’t understand, something weird’s going on. That guy’s not right. He’ll kill us all.”
“Which cell?” Asher asked.
The man gestured with his eyes. “The one at the end. You gotta get me out. I didn’t do nothing. My wife made it all up.”
“Enjoy your stay,” Pettigrew said.
Asher and Pettigrew reached the end of the hall. The last cell door was open. The detective gestured for Pettigrew to stay silent as he approached the opening. Jonathan Lewis’ back was to him. He sat on the cot, his feet pulled up under him. Asher shone the light into the cell and took a closer look. The inmate was floating inches above the bed.
“Too late,” Asher said in a low voice.
“Too late.” Jonathan’s voice resonated in the tiny cell. “You are much too late.”
“Mr. Lewis,” Asher began, “we haven’t had a chance to meet. I’m Robert Asher.”
“We’ve already met,” Jonathan said. “Tonight at the hospital. You weren’t very cordial.”
“Jonathan,” Asher said, ignoring the words of the abyssal, “Jon, why don’t you talk to me directly?”
“The one called Jonathan Lewis is gone,” he said. “I have devoured his soul.”
“Now I know that’s not true,” Asher said. “Jon I know you’re still in there. Why don’t you tell me how all this happened?”
“How what happened?”
“How that thing attached itself to your life in the first place,” Asher said.
“He was alone,” the abyssal said with Jonathan’s voice. “So alone. She had abandoned him. Left him with his grief. I heard him, crying in the darkness. No one else would help him. So I came.”
“This wasn’t you’re doing, Jon,” Asher said.
“He summoned me here,” the abyssal said. “He wanted me to come.”
“Jonathan, Angela is alive,” Asher said. “That thing tried to kill her. But you can be together. Just tell it to go.”
“She was just a distraction,” the abyssal said. “He only needs me.”
“I can help you, Jon,” Asher said.
“Try and I’ll kill you.” Jonathan Lewis turned around, his eyes a fire.
“Better vermin than you have tried.”
Jonathan flew at him. He grabbed Asher by the neck and pinned him against the wall. Asher butted the man in the head, knocking him away. Grabbing the young man by the shirt, Asher threw him down the hall. Jonathan shrieked as he slid along the floor.
Asher picked up Pettigrew from where he was cowering.
“I hope you’ve got something to help,” Asher said.
“Just kill it,” Pettigrew said.
“I won’t kill the kid, he’s the victim.”
Pettigrew groaned. “Fine. Just try to hold him still.”
Jonathan scrambled from the floor and charged back at Asher. The detective grabbed him by the torso and dropped him to the floor. Holding his arms down, Asher pressed a knee against Jonathan’s chest.
“Anytime now, Phillip,” Asher said.
Pettigrew rifled through his coat, frantically.
“Tie him up with this.” He handed Asher a long, thin chain of silver. They sat the man up, binding his arms and legs. The normally handsome face of Jonathan Lewis contorted with rage. He gnashed his teeth, foam dripping from his lips. Asher and Pettigrew stood over him.
“He’ll break out of that soon enough,” Asher said.
“I know, it’s a demonic parasite,” Pettigrew said. “It’s not easy to get rid of. That’s why I told you to kill him.”
“What do we do?” Asher asked. He could hear the other inmates shouting in fear.
“Jonathan has to force it out himself,” Pettigrew said.
“Jonathan is dead,” growled the abyssal. “I ate him.”
“We need to get to Jonathan,” Pettigrew said. “Shock him to action.”
“I got it.” Asher retrieved his satchel from a corner of the hall. He rummaged through it until he found the dossier. Pulling out a few papers, he showed them to Jonathan.
“Look at that.” It was a crime scene photo of Angela’s accident. “That’s what it did to your girl. Take a good look.”
The abyssal tried to look away. Pettigrew grabbed his face and held it tight.
Asher turned back to the folder. “How about this one?” It was a picture of Jonathan and Angela. “Remember when you took that?”
A glimmer of recognition came into the man’s eyes. He pressed them shut. The abyssal forced out the words, “She got in the way.”
Asher went back to the folder. “Oh yeah? What about her?” He held up a picture of Julia. “Found this at your apartment, Jon. I know you still love the girl. How could you not?”
Jonathan growled as he looked at the picture, but the fire was weakening.
“I’m good at digging around, Jon,” Asher said. “I found out your secret. I know why Julia’s death was so painful. You didn’t just lose a wife. You lost your unborn child.”
The man moaned. He struggled against the chain.
“I saw the papers you kept in your desk,” Asher said. “Was it going to be a boy? Were you going to name him after you?”
Jonathan roared. The noise shook the holding cells. The young man fell limp. Above him appeared a black, smoky web. Asher could see fine tendrils weaving in and out of it. At its core were a cluster of red, glowing eyes.
Pettigrew stood up and straightened his coat.
“Stay back, Robert. I can take it from here.”
Asher wasn’t sure of what he saw next. There was something in Pettigrew’s hand, like a small piece of glass. It shimmered like a star. A brilliant light filled the hall. Through the glare, Asher thought he saw a door appear. Pettigrew was there, then he wasn’t. Someone much larger and darker was standing in his place. Countless hands reached out from the door and grabbed the web, pulling it inside.
The light eventually dissipated. Asher saw Pettigrew again. He seemed to be talking to his hand. Asher blinked and he had moved, unwinding the chain from Jonathan. The young man was out, but unharmed.
“What just happened?” Asher asked Pettigrew.
“None of your concern.”
“But I saw–“
The man waved a hand. “Forget what you saw. You’re probably concussed. You banged your head many times tonight.”
They looked at Jonathan.
“What do we do about the boy?” Pettigrew asked.
“He’s free of the abyssal,” Asher said.
“Then we put him back in his cell,” Asher said. “He’s innocent. He’ll be free in a matter of days.”
“Wonderful, we can leave this place,” Pettigrew said. They returned Jonathan Lewis to the cell and gave Detective Brooks the all clear. As they descended the steps of the precinct, Pettigrew faced Asher. Standing up straight, he took a whiff of cold, morning air.
“Now that we’re done with this little adventure, I have some brandy to finish.”
Asher shook his head. “The sun’s coming up, Phillip. It’s way too early to drink.”
Pettigrew gave Asher a wry smile. “My friend, you haven’t been doing this nearly long enough.”