by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)
Rue Murphy stared at an executive board meeting through the inter-dimensional viewing screen. She was watching a woman in a matching navy-blue silk jacket and trousers standing at the head of the table giving a presentation. Hair pinned back in a neat twist, the gestured at the colourful graphs in her PowerPoint and explained the productivity gains from using her UpProdo’s software. She clicked for the next slide, but her laptop’s screen flashed yellow, then green, before it went dark.Samvel Murphy, husband of Rue Murphy in flesh and blood for forty-two years and husband in ethereal form for an additional hundred and two, tapped the screen. “That’s classic sabotage. See how the screen flickered before the computer crashed? That’s a haunting.”“I wasn’t convinced until I saw this.” Rue spread her fingers through the air, and conjured images of spoiled lunches, clogged toilettes, and broken-down cars. “That’s what’s happened to her in the last month.”“No one has that kind of bad luck without interference from beyond. How was her relationship with her family?”Rue created a ten-generation family tree midair, each branch of the family a different neon colour. “The usual ups and downs. Not one of them has filed for a permit to haunt.”“They don’t always.”
“They do if they have just cause.”
Samvel sucked on his cheek. Here in the After, he was his striking thirty-year-old self with rich dark eyes and chocolate milk coloured curls that tickled his collar. Still youthful in gait and strong in the shoulder, his eyes contained the wisdom of three lifetimes.
Damn, if she didn’t love him more today than the day they married.
“Apartment or work?” he asked.
“Let’s start with the apartment.” She glided from their plane of existence to that of the living and stepped into Paulina Hoang’s bedroom. Dark silk sheets spread across a king-sized bed with a folded white wool blanket at its foot. The room was sleek, sparse, and spoke of power.
“No pictures.” Samvel made his way around the room, his feet never touching the floor. “Nothing personal on the shelves. Nothing in her bedside tables except lube and condoms.”
Rue tilted her head to the open closest. “Silk suits and skirts are her uniforms. Dark colours for work, bright colours for going out. Nothing shorter than three inch heels.”
“The heels mean anything?”
“She’s got better balance than I ever had.”
“You never needed heels to show off your legs.” Samvel winked.
A tingling sensation washed over her. A thousand bursts of heat carrying every memory of every time his breath warmed her neck rolled over her.
“The cruise in the Caribbean or our second honeymoon?” he asked.
“You’re glowing bright pink.”
His cheeks curved in a handsome smile, one that reached his eyes and spanned eternity. “Threw my back out after the third night.”
“I recall it was worth it.”
“Very well worth it.” He stepped through the wall and returned a moment later. “There’s nothing in the kitchen. The fridge has olives and butter. She keeps two knives, forks, and spoons. One can of spinach.”
He shrugged. “Good thing I can’t eat anymore, or I’d throw up.”
“She lives alone. She doesn’t have many people over, if ever, or she’d have more in the fridge. She has no pictures, not even of family. She’s got two masters’ degrees but doesn’t display them. Who would haunt her?”
“Someone from high school, elementary school, childcare?”
“Three-year-olds don’t carry grudges for thirty years.”
“Tell that to Fen Liu.”
Rue ran her tongue against her lower lip, not that she tasted her lunch or anything more than air. “One time.”
“I can go through our files and pull out hundreds of cases where not sharing toys in early life led to disastrous consequences later on.”
“Good. Point to me.” He wafted across the floor and melded his shape to hers—their forms overlapped, and her form filled with the scorching heat of the passionate nights of young couples without bills, mortgages, children, and responsibilities crashing through their doors.
He pulled away from her, a satisfied boyish grin on his face. “Someone from early childhood then, but who?”
“Haven’t determined early childhood. It could very well be from middle or high school, even young adulthood. The file says she’s got a terrific sense of humour, loves jokes, and played epic pranks on her classmates throughout all of her education.”
“Any pranks go wrong?” Samvel asked.
She waved her hand and a series of holo-images from Paulina’s life appeared. Smiles and laughs from when Paulina put trick candles on a friend’s birthday cake. Surprised laughter when she filled her mother’s kitchen with helium balloons on April First. A few you-got-me-there head shakes from friends in university when she stole all their university hoodies and replaced them with the opposition’s during the second intermission.
“Not according to this,” Rue said.
The front door of the apartment unlocked. Heels clicked against the marble floor, followed by naked feet striding with purpose to the bedroom. Paulina strode into the bedroom, straight through Rue and shrugged off her navy-blue jacket. She hung it on a hanger to let it air, then slipped out of her cream coloured blouse and tossed it into the hamper. She slid open her wall-to-wall closet, sorted through a series of short, shorter, and shorter-still little black dresses, and selected the longest of the lot.
She stripped, strode to her en suite, showered, dressed in her black dress and exited her two-million-dollar condo wearing four-inch red pumps.
“Should we follow her?” Samvel asked.
“No point. She’s out for vodka drinks with customers to glean secrets.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“Back to basics. Start at the beginning and work our way out.” Rue floated through the ceiling, and then they were back at Spectre Investigations Head Quarters.
“Friends from childhood,” Samvel said, “all turned out reasonably well. A few divorces, one lost his fortune on the stock exchange, a few early deaths of their parents, but nothing catastrophic.”
“What about middle school?”
Samvel swirled the air, and files with pictures appeared. “Same thing. No one’s life seriously derailed. A friend from grade eight married three times before she was thirty, but the third marriage seems to have stuck, and she’s happy.”
“Where does that leave?”
“Combing through traffic footage to see if there was a case of road rage.”
Rue groaned. “I won’t last that long.”
He laughed, rich and warm, the kind of laugh she wanted to hear for a millennium. “I’ll be right here with you.”
“That doesn’t make it easier.”
“Tired of me already? It’s only been four hundred years.” Samvel laughed harder, a laugh that brought both his hands to his sides and tilted his head back. A laugh that stretched aeons until the only thing in the universe was his glorious, all-consuming, and oh-so-very-Samvel laugh.
“Never.” Rue stretched her form out to his, and their edges touched in a symphony of sensation.
His form shimmered in delight like a million polished diamonds. “Traffic jams. Weirdos on the metro. Buskers, she didn’t tip.”
“Need something more direct. Buskers don’t tend to track people down to haunt them.”
“How about people she’s out-worked and received a promotion over them? Money and power are always cause for jealousy.”
“That would do it.” She wafted next to him, his scent of evergreen and lemon and mechanic’s grease still fresh in her memory. “Who’s on the list?”
“That’s not helpful.”
“Who says I was trying to be helpful?” He reached out towards her and poked her in her sides.
Damn her for laughing. “Need to narrow that down a bit.” She swirled the air, and the case file appeared. “Two main candidates. Dirk Keiser graduated top of his glass, and his mother had all the connections. Died in a yachting accident two years ago.”
“Tragic. And the other?”
“The other climbed her way to the top. Lisa Hovland started in Administration, working full time and then working part-time in the evenings on the sales desk to prove her worth. Five years of eighty-hour weeks before she was promoted out of Admin into sales, then onto Marketing and Accounts.”
“How’d she die?” Rue asked.
“At her desk. Heart attack at thirty-one.”
Samvel made a circular motion, and the space between them transformed to track the two suspects. Both ghosts lingered in a common area in a park with different areas for shared experiences. To the side was a lush, sea-green grass where ghosts could experience profound contentment as they became enveloped in the sensation of grass between their toes. At the far end of the park was a waterfall, where ghosts could experience warmth cascading around and through them.
Dirk was chatting with a few other ghosts, laughing about something. Lisa was sitting in a quiet area, knitting.
“How do you want to approach the interrogation?” Rue asked.
“We should watch them for a bit. See how they interact. Introduce an item that reminds them of Paulina and see how they respond.”
“Paystub?” Samvel asked. “That gets them every time.”
Rue waved her hand, and a paystub appeared on the coffee table next to Dirk. Dirk finished an animated story, laughed, and flopped onto the chair. He reached for his tumbler of whiskey and raised it to his lips—the paystub was stuck to the bottom. He peeled it off, read it, and placed it on the table.
One of Dirk’s friends called out to him from the pool table, and Dirk joined him, grabbing a cue from the rack.
Disappointed, Rue waved her hand, and a piece of paper appeared near Lisa’s feet. Lisa looked over the points of her needles to the paper on the floor. She picked it up, skimmed it, and stared at it for a minute. Her expression remained unchanged, her blue eyes fixed on the paper, her thin lips remained in a thin line, her jawline remained relaxed.
Lisa flicked her fingers, and a flame appeared. She held the flame to the paystub, watched it burn, then returned to her knitting.
“So much for that,” Rue said.
“Crossing guard, cafeteria lady, a boss who’s jealous of Paulina’s abilities?”
Rue shook her head. “Could be anyone.”
“Let’s re-examine the evidence. The sabotage is work-related—presentations, late meetings, that sort of thing.”
“No one at the office is dead and wants to take her down.”
“What about a pact?”
“Those are myths,” she said.
“Are they? We’ve communicated with the living, used their help to solve cases. The living have their secrets.”
“Who then? She hasn’t taken lovers at work, and her work makes the boss look smart.”
Samvel drifted left and right and back to the left again. “Someone with a deep emotional bond to the victim and knows someone in the After to call upon.”
“Someone with Sight?”
He shook his head. “There are so few with Sight. More like Sensitivity. Someone whose hunches are always right because a voice from Beyond whispered this way or that.”
“Where does Paulina eat her lunch?”
“Depends on the day.”
“Did she offend any server?”
Samvel shook his head. “Not that I can see.”
“Did she walk past a homeless person every day without giving him change?”
Another shake of the head from Samvel. “She gave often enough to several people. Sometimes forty dollars.”
“Hmm,” Rue said. “What a pickle. Who would haunt this woman?”
“I’ve got it.” Samvel laughed so hard that his form shifted from blue to bright red. The youth in his expression returned and his features transformed into a ball of pure, joyous light.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a prank.”
“What?” Rue asked.
Samvel swept his arm over the area, leaving a wake of university memories. “It’s what Paulina and her friends did to one another in university. Each time they had a test, a presentation, or some other major event, they pranked each other. They said they had to throw in as many hitches as possible to keep their skills sharp.”
“You think someone’s doing this to help Paulina from the After?”
Samvel nodded. “Every time there’s been a major incident, Paulina’s risen to the challenge, backed up her presentations, worked harder, and expanded her network.”
“The pieces fit. The thing is, what do we do about it?”
“Paulina doesn’t seem perturbed by the presence.”
Rue shook her head. “Hasn’t altered her routine or changed her life. She works, goes out with friends, climbs and reaches for new heights.”
“Then we shouldn’t interfere. Whoever’s needling her is doing it with good intentions and getting good results.”
“Want to write it up that way?” Rue asked.
“It’s the truth.”
Rue nodded. “So it is.”
“What do you want to tonight, after the reports?”
“Haven’t blended in the water at the park.”
A strangling noise came from his form, the one he made when he couldn’t think of the appropriate words. “I can spend an eternity with you and never be bored.”
“Good.” She reached out for him, their forms intertwined, and they drifted off to new experiences and new depths of love.