Nick watched himself put a duffel on the bed.
“Okay .. am I coming or going, and are the cops on my tail?” he demanded. He sounded exasperated. “What happened to Alex an’ Rachel? Come to that, what happened to Eddie?”
Not receiving an answer, he looked back over one shoulder. The long, black robe stood there, its deep hood covering its face, the long sleeves falling over its hands.
“Come to that .. who the hell are you?” he muttered, going forward.
Nick knew he couldn’t touch anything in the visions being played out before his very often disbelieving eyes but the Phantom or the Shade was real, as real as he was. He grabbed the hood and pushed it back only to let it fall, his fingers suddenly numb. He stumbled back, shocked. There was nothing there. The robe hung on nothing. No face, no body, just emptiness.
“I am the Specter of Things to Come,” the nothing said, calmly drawing the hood forward again to hide its invisible face.
“Nice,” he remarked, taking refuse in flippancy. “Ghost of Christmas Future by any other name.” He swallowed. “Well .. I guess we’ve moved on in time then. When is it?”
“Late January, two thousand, two.”
“And where is it?”
Nick nodded. “Last question for now – how am I?”
There was a knock on the door. Both Nicks glanced at it before one moved to open it. “Eddie ..! Settled in?”
“Yeah. I’ve been in better places, but I’ve been in a lot worse. As rooming houses go, this ain’t bad.”
“Know what you mean. When you’ve slept in store doorways, anything’s better.”
Nick nodded slowly. “Still not learned my lesson. At least I’m not screwing people over in California.”
“Y’know,” Nick continued, dumping his duffel on the floor so he could stretch out on the bed, “I wish you hadn’t let those women scare us outta California. We could’ve gone south. LA or San Diego. I know San Dog .. or I did.”
“Nick, one thing I’ve learned,” Eddie pronounced, “is that, once a bunch of do-gooder women get on your back, they do not let up. Business which has been extremely profitable dries up overnight and, when everyone knows your name, your past, your business practices .. what’s the point of fighting it out? Better to up stakes an’ move someplace new, start over with fresh .. ignorant customers.”
“Will we go back to California? Sometime?”
“Sure. When the heat’s died down. When we have new names,” Eddie winked.
“And, by then, the electronics will be even better,” Nick grinned. “I’d dare even a bunch of do-gooder women to figure out how it’s done.”
“Right on, my man! That’s the spirit!” Eddie said and laughed at his own joke.
Nick closed his eyes and groaned. “If this is how his future is gonna be, can someone, please, shoot him now? I can’t stand all the bad jokes.”
“Nick, despite what you think of him, he is happy. Look at his face,” the Specter invited. “See how his eyes are alive, his smile is easy, not forced. He has a friend, a partner, someone who isn’t an employer or family and who doesn’t think badly of him. Eddie understands him because they’re cut from the same cloth. He doesn’t care what that Nick has done in the past. They trust each other.”
“Right, even though the guy fled an’ left him to take the heat in Florida?”
“Another bad joke?” the Specter wondered.
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “You know what I mean.”
“He sees that as a wise move. If he hadn’t been married and with a son, he probably would have fled as well. He doesn’t blame Eddie for running.”
“Bet he did at the time.”
“Time heals, Nick. Old wounds fade. Only the good things are remembered.”
“Wanna go out for a beer?” Nick asked cheerfully.
“Sure. Start checking out the area,” Eddie agreed. “Another thing those do-gooder women taught me – and I’m grateful to ’em for that – don’t rent fancy office space an’ pay in advance. From now on, we work from the pickup, an’ we are ready to move at a moment’s notice.”
Nick nodded as he sat up. “Good advertising line, too, as well as being the truth,” he winked.
“Hey .. you’re right,” Eddie said, looking stunned. “Wow .. you haven’t lost your touch, Nick. I’m glad we hooked up again.”
Nick groaned for the second time. “I can’t believe I’m watching this. Can we just cut straight to the chase? If I’m gonna be Jeffrey Starr Mark Two .. let’s get on with it, huh?”
“As you wish,” the Specter murmured.
The scene shifted. Eddie counted cash and Nick watched. Carefully, Eddie split the night’s takings into three piles. Traffic noise filtered in thru the open window. The room didn’t have air conditioning and it was stiflingly hot.
“July, two thousand, two,” the Specter announced.
“Three way split?” Nick queried, angling his head round to look at her, it, the nothing. It had a female voice with an English accent so, even though there was nothing there, he imagined it to be female.
“As agreed at the start,” Eddie commented. “Yours, mine, and the communal pot for investing in the business.”
“That’s reasonable,” Nick remarked to the Specter. “If they’d only do something legal, they could go a long way. As it is, they’re just a couple of hustlers. Thieves.”
“They don’t see themselves that way. They are entrepreneurs taking advantage of an obvious gap in a service market.”
“You’re still on his side,” Nick exclaimed. “That is what I just don’t understand.”
“Well .. because I’m a guy with standards, ethics, and honor. And, once, he had the same things. He was a SEAL, so don’t tell me he wasn’t a man of honor.”
“I wouldn’t tell you that.”
Nick twitched. “Why?”
“Because he is a guy with standards, ethics and honor .. the same as you.”
Nick began to laugh. “C’mon, you’re yanking my chain. You have to be.”
“No, I’m not,” the Specter answered. “Do you judge everyone by your own personal code? If they fail to live up to what you perceive to be the standard, do you dismiss them as unworthy? There are people in the world, your world as well as his, who, by sheer misfortune or a string of difficult circumstances, are struggling to survive however they can. Fate or destiny has beat on them so much that all they can see is more darkness. There is no light at the end of their tunnel. His standards are much lower than yours, his ethics are different to yours, and his honor is a battered, tarnished thing but it is his to own with pride. One thing he has managed to do which you haven’t is keep his promise never to join the Legacy.”
That stung because there was a lot of hard truth in it. Nick did have high personal standards and those who couldn’t stretch that far .. he did tend to think down on them. Mike McCready came to mind. Simple mistakes, honest errors of judgment, to Nick, sometimes, they were unforgivable.
“Don’t feel badly,” the Specter murmured. “Tonight is a gift. It was never intended to hurt, only to answer the question, to educate you on what might have been. And you never once imagined your life would be like this. A series of spectacular failures.”
Nick looked away. “I always imagined that my childhood made me what I am. But it can’t be that, can it? I mean .. he had the same childhood as me. We had the exact same life till we left the Teams. And what did his courage get him? He kept one promise .. and life’s kicked him in the teeth ever since. I broke that promise .. an’ hit the jackpot.” He laughed quickly, sounding almost amazed. “I never once thought it was because I joined the Legacy. That .. being in that house, with those people .. has made me what I am.” At last, he looked at the Specter. “I guess I should thank you.”
“It isn’t over yet. Maybe, at the end of this journey, you won’t want to thank me.”
He shook his head. “For learning this much, I should say thanks. Next time Derek and I go one on one .. I’ll remember what he’s done for me an’ what I’d be without him.”
Eddie yawned. “You all set for tomorrow?”
Nick grinned. “Texas won’t know what hit ’em.”
Time scrambled as the scene moved on. Fall on the Texas prairie was still as hot as summer in Montana. They set up shop in a large town, promising themselves six months before moving on again. While some unscrupulous attorneys chased ambulances, Eddie and Nick targeted real estate agents. Their pitch was ‘let us check out the property for the supernatural – it could be a selling point and, if it scares people off, we’ll clean house’. Surprisingly, to them more than anyone, it worked. Soon, business was rolling in.
Nick had to admit he was mildly impressed with the approach. It was conning people, scamming them, but it was done as a proper business. Occasionally, they would declare a house clean of spectral entities. Sometimes, they would say there was just ‘bad energy’ in there and Nick would go into each room with a bleeping, flashing box of tricks to ‘change the ions and clean out the bad’ while Eddie chatted seriously to the realtor or the prospective purchasers. And, of course, sometimes, there was the full light show.
On top of this, they held séances for the bereaved to catch a glimpsed of a loved one. This, Nick found impossible to accept. This was just playing on peoples’ grief and hopes, and it turned his stomach.
And then, as fall drew to an end and the holidays approached, two things happened. One, Nick had a brilliant idea which left the unseen, unheard Nick speechless with surprise, and, two, Eddie fell head over heels in love.
“You want to what?” Nick demanded, sounding more stunned than angry or jealous. “I never did that when I was married, for crissakes!”
“Nick, c’mon,” Eddie pleaded. “Two guys, always hanging together .. we’re getting a rep, man. All I’m saying is some people don’t like doing business with guys. We .. lack the sensitivity, the .. what do they call it? The female intuition. All that touchy-feely crap. Mary-Kate will .. add to our overall appeal.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Eddie, she thinks we’re for real. You wanna bring her in? Tell her the secret?”
“Not exactly. I thought, y’know, she could run the front office side for us.”
“We don’t have a front office! We don’t have an office, period.” Nick leaned forward, his face serious. “Eddie, take it from someone who had been there an’ done that, okay? If you really love Mary-Kate, you can’t have secrets. I never told my wife that I was a fake. Soon as it went bad, she left me. If you keep this to yourself, and play Mary-Kate like a fiddle just so she’ll react right for us .. someone will tell her an’ the great love of your life will be just like the pictures in the light box – gone in a flash. And, if you tell her, she could turn us in to the cops, or not act the part … Eddie, you gotta think this thru, man. Either Mary-Kate comes in as an employee, short term, just while we’re in town – in which case, we can run the con on her too – or she’s your girlfriend, she knows everything, an’ she keeps her nose the hell outta the business. You gotta choose.”
Eddie’s face crumpled. “If I tell her the truth, she could dump me.”
“Then she isn’t worth loving,” Nick said with a shrug. “No woman’s really worth loving. They all bail when it suits them. My wife, my boss in San Francisco, I can’t make a relationship last. I’ve given up trying. I figure I’m on my own the rest of my life.”
The Specter glanced at Nick. “Does that ring true?”
“I told you, I thought the same thing once. I was wrong,” Nick replied.
“Eddie, I’ve had an idea,” Nick went on. “Are you listening to me?”
“Yeah, sure,” Eddie mumbled.
“It’d solve your Mary-Kate dilemma.”
At that, Eddie did look round and he frowned. “What is it?”
“We go legit.”
“Y’mean .. real ghost hunting?” Eddie wondered.
Nick shook his head. “Real fake ghosts.”
“Did I just hear that right? Did he actually say real fake ghosts?” Nick queried, once he’d gotten his voice back.
“Yes, he did.”
“How can that be legit?”
“When people expect to see ghosts and are happy to pay money for it.”
“Where’s the difference?” Nick asked rather pointedly.
“The difference is that it’s advertised. The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland wouldn’t be a big attraction if people didn’t see the ghosts.”
“Well, forgive me for being a little cynical but .. he’s heading for another failure if he’s going to take on the Disney corporation.”
“He isn’t. It’s a very good idea. All he needs is someone to invest in it.”
“Where’s Eddie?” Nick frowned.
“Time’s moved on, Nick. Eddie Salazar is in Abilene, married to Mary-Kate and the father of a baby girl. He has a job, a proper job, packing groceries in a grocery store. Nick is on his own again but he’s staying with his idea because he believes in it. It’s now March 20, two thousand, five.”
Nick fidgeted with his tie. He hated ties. He felt they were strangling him. On the other side of the desk, a man in a suit studied Nick in silence.
“Let me see if I understand you correctly, Mr Boyle. Real fake ghosts.”
Nick nodded. “The technology’s there, it just needs to be scaled up and, for that, I need cash.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” He leaned forward. “Gettysburg. Big, famous battle site. People go there to visit. It’s just a field now. They can’t imagine what it was like. I put the cables in place, connect them to the computer, scan in the right images, and run the simulation. Put it on a loop. People will see ghosts. Maybe not moving but there will be pictures, ghostly images in that field for people to see. Once the system’s in place, all I have to do is rent it out to the authorities and do routine maintenance.”
The man’s lips pursed and his eyes narrowed. “Have you asked the authorities if they’re interested?”
“They want to see a working demo. I need cash to do that.”
He nodded. “It’s a good idea. It would make history seem alive.”
“That’s what I figured too.”
“I’ll discuss it with my colleagues, Mr Boyle. Call me in a few days.”
“Thanks. I will.”
Nick sighed. “That guy thinks he’s a nut. He won’t discuss it. Soon as he’s out the door, it’s going in the trash. And he won’t be there to take any calls. And it is a good idea. It could work in a lot of places.”
The Specter glanced at him. “You’re on his side again?”
“He’s trying to do something right for once. I’m all for that. But .. how much rejection can he take? Seems to me if it doesn’t work after the first couple of tries, he gives up an’ slides back into old habits.”
The scene shifted on a few days. Nick held the phone to his ear. “He told me to call … He’s gone on vacation. Okay. Well, thanks for your time.”
He hung up, sighed, stared along the street as he dug into a pocket and removed a bottle of liquor. He put it to his lips and took a long pull.
“Okay, Nick,” he said to himself, “maybe it isn’t such a good idea after all.”
“Don’t listen to that crap,” Nick told him in a fierce voice.
“Or maybe you’re just .. pitching your ideas too high. What have you done in your life which has, one, made you proud, two, made you money, and three, made you feel you were a success? Well .. let’s see. You were in the Navy .. but you won’t go back. You can’t. You’re too old now. You can sleep with women. Run fishing charters. You can tend bar. Hell, even manage a nightclub.” His eyes became wistful. “That was the best time of your whole life … You can con people. That made you rich and feel successful. And you’ve been a hit man which made you a lot of money, most of which is gone now, and you felt powerful, but it got you screwed an’ there’s always a big risk attached. What have you physically got? The box of tricks. A beat-up, rusty pickup. A duffel with a change of clothes. And a little cash left. Nowhere to live. No one to call a friend. You do have family back in California … ”
The scene scrambled, and Nick was back home .. or almost. San Francisco. The Specter watched him as he watched himself do menial work to pay rent. He worked two jobs and he worked hard.
“What he’s doing?” Nick asked.
“To do what?”
“Open his haunted house. First he needs cash to rent a suitable place. That’s why he’s working flat out and living so meagerly.”
“He’s staying legit?” Nick frowned.
“He’s trying very hard, Nick. He believes in this idea. It wasn’t that he pitched it too high, more that he thought too big. Now he’s scaled down the size, he’s determined to make it work.”
He nodded slowly. “Then I’m on his side. If he goes into this with his eyes open an’ stays on the straight an’ narrow – ”
“Applying your standards to him again … ” The Specter slowly shook her head. “Are you always so conditional in your support?”
“I have a problem with people who break the law.”
“In the Legacy, you often go outside the accepted rules.”
“I don’t deliberately set out to break the law.”
“There again, the Legacy forces you to keep on a strict path while granting you certain .. immunity from prosecution.”
“You wanna fight over this?” Nick demanded. “I can’t help how I am. If the Legacy’s made me like this, then the Legacy’s to blame for me being hard on others. The Legacy’s hard on me, okay? I don’t have much time for people who roll over an’ give up at the first obstacle. If people wanna try, I’ll be there for them and I’ll stick by them, no matter what. That’s me. That’s who I am. You don’t like it, tough.”
“This isn’t my life, Nick. It’s yours.”
“And I’m dealing with it as best I can,” he muttered.
“I think you resent the Legacy.”
He turned sharply. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve discovered that your life could have been so much worse and the only thing that stopped it happening was the Legacy. You believe that, no matter what you did with your life, you would have succeeded. You know now that isn’t true and so there’s some resentment there.”
Nick stalked forward. “It’s given me a lot – ”
“And taken a lot as well.”
“Everyone has to make sacrifices.”
“Friends? Colleagues? Lovers?”
“No one ever said it would be easy.”
“The truth often hurts, Nick.”
“I don’t resent the Legacy,” he said, looking back at himself. “I’m grateful.”
“And yet you, too, have asked the question.”
The muscle along his jaw twitched. “Not any more.”
“He should have enough saved by the winter,” the Specter announced.
The scene moved on. “What is it you want to do here?” the realtor inquired.
“Make it into a haunted house. A local tourist attraction. Nothing really scary. I’m not gonna paint the walls black or have wax figures laying around with buckets of fake blood. This is gonna be as genuine as it’s possible to get. Classy.”
“A business proposition.”
“That’s right,” Nick replied, wandering into the next room. “I wanna rent, not buy.”
The realtor nodded. “I think I’ve got something which will suit your needs a lot better.”
The Specter and Nick rode along to another property. Nick, up front, leaned forward as the automobile pulled up.
“Wow .. this is great.”
“We can’t sell it. We’ve tried but it isn’t moving. It has a reputation for being haunted. I don’t believe in such things,” the realtor remarked, “but, if I can’t sell it, I can rent it out and you can make the reputation work for you.”
Nick slowly nodded. “I’m still getting the cash together for setting up. In a few months – ”
“This place isn’t going anywhere, Mr Boyle.” A card was handed over. “Call me when you’re ready. I’ll get the paperwork done.”
Time scrambled yet the scene remained the same. There was a chill in the air and trees were bare branches, their fall finery scattered around their roots. Nick stood on the path, looking up at the second floor windows. In his hand was the key to the front door.
“Well .. this is it. Make or break time,” he told himself.
Nick and the Specter watched him unlock the door and push it open. “Will he make or will he break?”
“I don’t know. What would you estimate his chances as?”
“Fifty fifty, based on past experience .. but I hope he makes it,” Nick replied. “He deserves a chance.”
Nick wanted the place gloomy but clean. He spent four days sweeping, scouring and washing. Gloomy was achieved by leaving the gray, heavy lace drapes at the windows. The show worked best in dim conditions. He made the utility his control base, setting up the computer there and making sure that it worked.
A week after moving to the house and converting the garage into living space, Nick had a visitor. Or, rather, the house had a visitor who was surprised to find Nick there.
Alex’s eyes narrowed. “I remember you.”
“Excuse me?” Nick frowned.
“You were one half of a team out to con people.” She folded her arms. “Here to try again?”
“No. This is a legit business.”
“Sure, it is,” Alex laughed.
“I remember you now,” he breathed. “You’re one half of the do-gooder women.”
Alex straightened. “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here? I’m renting this place,” Nick replied. “I don’t recall inviting you in. Maybe I should call the cops an’ have you escorted from the premises.”
“Really,” she commented, sounding unimpressed. “You’ve paid rent, have you?”
“Wanna see the contract?” he challenged steadily.
Alex regarded him. “What are you doing here?”
“Using what I’ve learned to con people an’ turning it into a tourist attraction. I’m making this a genuine fake haunted house.” He folded his arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Investigating this house,” she replied. “It has a reputation.”
“I know. I’m making it work for me. Half my advertising already done an’ didn’t cost me a penny.”
“Have you noticed anything since you’ve been here?”
“I’ve been working too hard to notice anything except how much my back aches and how raw my hands are,” Nick replied, then, his eyes narrowing, he stepped back. “What d’you mean, you’re investigating the house? I thought you exposed fakes an’ con men.”
Alex shrugged slightly. “I do that as well. People who con, even in jest, make it tougher for the real thing. Even this little enterprise of yours steals from our credibility.”
Nick grinned slowly. “You’re a ghost hunter?”
“Yeah,” Alex replied. “Do you mind if I .. take a look around? Just do a walk thru, see if I feel anything?”
“Go ahead,” he invited. “Just be careful not to disturb the cables.”
Alex paused at the door. “How do they work?” she inquired casually.
Nick softly laughed. “Trade secret,” he said. “You didn’t really expect me to fall for that, did you?”
“Can’t blame me for trying,” Alex responded with a grin.
Nick went back to work but, after ten minutes or so, gave in to his curiosity and went to watch what she was doing. Alex was in the kitchen, her hands held out.
“What’s that?” Nick frowned.
“A cold spot. Can you feel it? Just here.”
He eased closer and gingerly put his hand into the area indicated. “Wow,” he said softly, jerking his hand away then slowly trying again. “Icy.” He glanced at her. “Is this the only one?”
“So far,” Alex replied.
“Can I tag along?”
“Sure. It’s your house,” she pointed out. “I can’t exactly stop you, can I?”
Nick and the Specter trailed after them. “He doesn’t know Alex is in the Legacy?”
“She hasn’t mentioned it so how could he know?” the Specter responded. “If she did, he would recognize it, of course, from his father’s membership. And the Luna Foundation, which she has mentioned, could be anything. Similarly, she doesn’t know his name. If she did, she could make the connection.”
“Maybe Alex turning up like this .. could make him rethink that promise he’s so keen to keep,” Nick remarked. “Maybe he’ll learn the truth and he’ll join after all. Better late than never.”
They found three more cold spots. One in the bathroom, one in a bedroom and one at the top of the stairs. Nick nodded, his face thoughtful. Alex studied him.
“This is really a tourist attraction?” she queried.
“Yeah. I charge a modest fee, people can come in an’ see ghosts. Now I know where the cold spots are, I can make sure people see something there. You’ve been a big help. Thanks.”
“That isn’t why I came,” Alex protested. “Look, I can’t say I totally trust you, Mr ..?”
“Nick. That’s good enough.”
“Nick, but, if this really is a legit business, I’ll stay out of your way. But it’s also got a reputation for being a genuine haunted house so .. I’ll call back occasionally, just to check in with you that nothing really weird has happened. A ghost you can’t explain. Okay?”
“Sure. I don’t live in here. I’m in the garage. You’ll find me either in there or in the utility.”
Alex nodded. “You really felt those cold spots?”
“I really did,” Nick agreed.
“You have a degree of sensitivity then. I’d be surprised if you didn’t see something you can’t explain.”
The scene moved on and Nick and the Specter saw the grand opening of San Francisco’s newest, guaranteed haunted house. You will see ghosts, or your money back. About a hundred people visited that first day. At five bucks a time, Nick was more than happy that he’d made five hundred dollars. What pleased him the most, however, was that his idea had been proven to work. The next day, more arrived. More still the day after. The show was never the same twice. Every night, a new pattern was programmed into the computer.
Nick and the Specter celebrated with him. And the scene moved on again. Alex called in every few months, never staying long. Nick was never completely sure about her motives but she could see it was a genuine business. She paid her five bucks and did the tour herself, and was amazed at the authenticity of the apparitions.
When the scene moved on again, instead of skipping quickly forward after a few moments, it stayed put. And it was in a place Nick knew very well.
“Well,” Alex said, “he seems to have told me the truth. He has a little success on his hands. And, while it uses the same technology as the con artists and scam merchants, he’s using it to show people what they want to see.”
“So do the con men,” Derek pointed out.
“But this is different, Derek. He isn’t saying I’ll show you your husband or grandmother who died recently, or I’ll summon the spirit who is resident in your house. He’s saying come in here and see ghosts. And, at seven dollars a time, he isn’t fleecing anyone.”
Nick watched this, basking in the atmosphere created by these people. “Seven bucks?” he queried.
“He’s never seen anything there?” Rachel asked as she came into the control room.
“It’s now June, two thousand, eight,” the Specter replied. “The entry charge went up one dollar a year. This year, he’s kept it the same.”
“No. And, if any visitor has .. they wouldn’t think it strange, only that it’s part of the show.”
“Nevertheless, our research shows that several violent murders took place in that house.”
“And it really is a success?” Nick asked.
“Yes. His idea was good and it’s worked very well. His transgressions are now behind him.”
“I’m pleased,” Nick said softly.
“Alex,” Derek said after a moment’s thought, “take Philip to that house – ”
“Philip?” Nick queried.
“ – and see if your friend – ”
“He’s hardly a friend, Derek,” Alex remarked.
“See if he will let you cleanse the house. Then he can continue his business in peace and know he is safe.”
“Philip never left,” the Specter explained.
“Because of me? Because I never joined?” Nick frowned.
“Maybe. It isn’t Philip’s life and choices we’re discovering, Nick. It’s yours.”
“Okay,” Alex agreed.
The scene moved on again. Alex and Philip arrived at the house just on six thirty as the last visitors were leaving clutching their pink and white striped paper bags, and Nick was about to lock up.
“Hi,” Alex greeted. “You’ve been busy.”
“I live a very quiet life,” Nick replied, casting a quick glance at her companion. “I don’t need much. I figure I can use some of the money this place has made me to convert the garden room into a small gift store. Postcards, mostly. Posters. Souvenirs people can take away with ’em. Who’s your friend?”
“Father Philip Callahan,” Philip responded, holding out a hand.
“We’re not all born old and fat,” Philip commented.
“Never said you were,” Nick retorted. “I just wonder why you’re here, that’s all.”
“Nick, let’s go inside,” Alex suggested. “We need to speak with you.”
Nick and the Specter went with them into the garage and stood in the corner to listen.
“As part of the investigation into this house, we found that several violent murders have taken place here. In addition to that, a couple of the owners have died violently while away in other cities. I’m not saying there are real ghosts here but there is more than enough reason for there to be real ghosts here,” Alex explained. “Some ghosts are just very sad. But some are very angry. What I want you to do is .. agree to let us cleanse the house. Not physically clean it but, if there are restless spirits here, we want to help them go on.”
Nick hunched his shoulders and leaned forward. “I’ve been here two an’ a half years now. I haven’t seen a thing. Even the cold spots have gone.”
“All we ask is that you let me say the prayers which will allow these souls – if they’re there – to find rest,” Philip said quietly and sincerely. “We can do it now so it doesn’t disturb your business.”
“We want you to .. feel safe, that’s all,” Alex concluded.
Nick thought it over and shrugged. “Sure. Go ahead. Just – ”
“I know, watch out for the cables,” Alex grinned. “One day, you will have to show me how it’s done.”
“Yeah .. maybe,” Nick smiled, handing over the keys.
The scene shifted and Alex came back in. “We’re done. Thanks for agreeing.”
“No problem.” Nick paused. “Was there anything in there?”
Philip, a little pale, nodded. “An angry soul who didn’t want to leave. The other two went eagerly.”
“They’re all gone now?” Nick wondered, frowning.
“Yes,” Alex confirmed. “Goodnight, Nick.”
“You too. Hey, call back in a couple of days. I’ll show you how it’s done.”
“Thank you. I will,” she grinned.
He saw them to the gate then checked they’d locked up properly before he returned to the garage. It was basic, even after over two years.
“It looks like he’s ready to clear out at a moment’s notice,” Nick remarked to the Specter. “Some lessons he really took to heart, didn’t he?”
“It isn’t so much to escape the authorities, Nick. It’s more that his luck never seems to last so he won’t put down any roots. He’s scared that, if he does, he’ll only lose everything again. He is happy his idea worked out and it has given him pride in that he’s accomplished something worthwhile and all by his own efforts, but it hasn’t restored a sense of confidence in a feeling that this is permanent. That is a fear which lives with him every day.”
“But he will be okay now, right?” Nick asked. “I mean, what can go wrong? I must be at the end of this journey.”
“Almost,” the Specter replied.
When Alex returned two days later, Nick was different. Terse. Tense. He refused to let her in and told her to get the hell away and leave him alone. She’d already done more than enough.
“O-kay,” Nick began, “what’s going on in his head now?”
“Let’s find out,” the Specter invited.
The scene changed, going back to Angel Island. Alex was shaking her head. “He definitely isn’t himself. He was angry, Derek.”
“He used those exact words? ‘ You’ve already done more than enough ’?”
“I know! It’s crazy. I’ve done nothing.”
“Oh, but you have. You and Philip cleansed the house. You said there was an angry spirit there. Are you sure it left?”
She faced him. “You think it’s inhabiting his body?”
“I don’t know, Alex, but it is one way to explain ‘ he definitely isn’t himself ’. And if it is .. it’s our fault.” He frowned, thinking. “Find Philip, go back there. I’ll make a call and have someone meet you.”
“Who?” Alex frowned.
“Backup,” Derek replied.
The scene scrambled for the last time. Alex and Philip waited just down the block. Eventually, another vehicle pulled up.
“Alex?” the woman said.
“Yes. Derek sent you?”
“Then let’s go. If this ghost is inhabiting his body, it’s because of something we did. We have to put it right.”
They went to find Nick; Nick and the Specter tagged along behind.
“I got a really bad feeling about this,” Nick remarked.
The Specter said nothing and Nick’s bad feeling promptly got a lot worse.
They found him in the house, in one of the bedrooms. He was pacing, muttering to himself, his face twisted and alien, and he had a gun in his hand.
“Nick,” Alex said on a dismayed breath.
He swung round. The gun rose. And his face changed. “Peri ..?”
“Now, Father Callahan,” the woman murmured. “Say the words to drive it out.” She stepped forward. “Hello, Nick. How you doing? It’s been a while.”
“I … ”
Behind her, Philip was saying the prayer. Nick’s face distorted again and the gun rose.
“I will not be forced out! You could’ve let me be. Why couldn’t you leave me alone?”
“Nick, you have to fight this!” Alex pleaded.
“Nick, listen to me. Put the gun down.”
“I can’t. He won’t let me.”
The Specter glanced at her companion. Nick’s face was fierce as he watched this struggle for his soul.
“Nick, put the gun down. You can do it.”
He shook his head and, slowly, the hand holding the weapon directed it toward his own temple. Nick’s eyes were wretched, helpless.
“No!” Alex cried.
Philip began the prayer again, his voice stronger, faster, louder.
The woman took a hold of Nick’s arm and tried to force it to move, to pull the gun away. She watched the finger on the trigger and, in the split second that it tensed, she pulled hard. The bullet hit the wall and embedded in the plaster. Nick shrieked and writhed in pain as Philip’s prayer at last began to work. A black essence poured from Nick’s body and, howling furiously, shredded into nothing. Philip’s shoulders sagged. Alex leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. The gun was gently removed from Nick’s trembling hand.
“Close,” Nick said to the Specter. “Too close.”
He looked into her eyes. “It isn’t the same without you, Peri. Nothing works.”
She smiled. “This is working. Need a partner?”
Nick grinned to himself and turned to the Specter. “I guess that’s it. What happens to him?”
“Not much. He’s had his last brush with death. He’s happy enough.”
“Does she stay with him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Does he keep on with the business?”
“For a while, just till he has enough money to be a retirement fund. But he never picks up a gun again. This has scared him to his soul. He won’t ever take another risk. His life will be mundane, quiet, and above all, it will be safe and he will eventually die an old man.” She looked at him. “Are you happy that he became a law abiding citizen in the end?”
“Yeah, but .. never taking a risk? Never feeling the rush? Never putting himself in the line of fire for others? Safe … ” He shook his head in open disappointment. “What kind of life is that?” Nick asked.
“Your life, Nick .. without the Legacy. Your journey is now at an end. Merry Christmas.”
Slowly, Nick woke and, wrestling with a feeling of intense disillusionment and regret, he heard the clock down the hall chime the last stroke of midnight.