It was supposed to be a quick flip. That’s how my brother Alan and his friend Jonathan explained it to me. Buy a dilapidated Victorian for 100K, invest a little more on renovations, then stick a big rainbow flag out front and sell it for a cool million. Everyone was doing it.
Alan drove me down to Asbury Park to look at a property on a Friday afternoon hoping he’d have his hands on his little sister’s bank account by Monday morning. Jonathan stayed in the city. I think Alan already knew I didn’t trust Jonathan. He looked and spoke like a drama major. Chiseled features, perfect diction and more self-importance than a room full of local politicians.
What I could see right away was that Alan was enamored with Jonathan. When we were kids, our bedroom walls were covered with pictures of the Partridge Family. Our parents never seemed to notice that most of the pictures in my room were of Laurie Partridge, while the pin-ups in Alan’s room were of Keith. Jonathan looked like a taller, more muscular version of David Cassidy. With our flaming red hair and pale freckled skin, my brother and I bore a striking resemblance to Danny Bonaduce.
The house the boys wanted was on the north side of town just a few blocks in from the beach. Built in the late 1890s, it was three stories of boarded-up windows and peeling wallpaper. Alan was quick to point out the wrap-around porch and original hardwood floors. I didn’t care. He and Jonathan were the ones who would be doing all the work and taking all the risk. My lawyers would make sure of that.
We closed in early spring and by the following June, Alan and Jonathan were in love. Not with each other. At least not yet. They were head over heels for the town. During that first summer, when they weren’t hanging from scaffolding, haggling with inspectors or antiquing for fixtures, the boys were tanning at the beach or partying at the Paradise nightclub.
I came down to visit one weekend in early August. I got a crisp sunburn, a splinter in my foot from walking barefoot on the boardwalk, and a case of the runs I’m sure was due to the ill-advised purchase of a clam roll. I couldn’t wait to get back to the city and was looking forward to the day when the house would go on the market.
“We want to turn the place into a bed and breakfast.”
It was the first week of September. We were sitting in a booth in a Greek diner near my Tribeca apartment. I noticed Alan kept reaching over and touching Jonathan’s hand each time I reiterated my disinterest in funding their pipe dream.
“But Hillary,” Alan said to me, “you don’t have to do anything and the place is going to be a goldmine. Asbury is going to be the new Provincetown.”
“Listen, you little twerp,” I said. “I didn’t give a crap about the old Provincetown.”
Alan looked upset. I decided to try humor and sang, “Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue.”
Maybe it was because I called him a twerp. He always hated it when I called him names, which was often. Or maybe it was my terrible Gabor accent. Or maybe he didn’t care to have his belovedAsbury Park equated with Hooterville. Alan didn’t smile.
Three days later, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and I didn’t smile for six months. Unable to breathe the air near my office or believe my apartment would ever be rid of the ashen mixture of chemical dust and human remains, I found myself living in a state of semi-catatonia on the third floor of theVictorian beach house I co-owned with Alan and Jonathan.
During that time, getting money out of me was fairly easy and the renovations rolled onward around me. With rooms on the first two floors refurbished and appointed in period decor, the boys went to City Hall to complete the paperwork necessary to open for business.
And that’s when I smiled again. Turns out there wasn’t a city ordinance in place permitting the operation of bed and breakfast establishments. I was still stuck in a state of inertia and not in a rush to sell the place, but it was nevertheless enjoyable to see the look of dismay on Jonathan’s face. Even if it lasted for only a moment.
“Well, then we’ll just get them to pass an ordinance,” Jonathan proclaimed, as he paced like a cat across the parlor rug. “And you,” he said, turning to me. “You have to move the hell out so we can start work on the third floor.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I mumbled as I walked up the mahogany stairs with a bowl of ice cream in my hand.
Alan came to the foot of the stairs and looked up at me. “Could you at least move to one of the finished rooms on the second floor? That way we can have the third floor done by the time the ordinance passes.”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” I said, my mouth full of chocolate chip mint. “Twerp.”
Soon I started commuting to the city a few days a week in hopes of getting my life back. My savings were nearly depleted. I thought the reality of that would encourage Alan and Jonathan to either abandon their folly or make an offer to buy me out.
But like the tenacious black pug they adopted from the local SPCA, the boys wouldn’t hear “no”. The ordinance was passed, the licenses were issued, and I wanted out. Agreeing to try and resolve things without attorneys present, the three of us sat down for a come-to-Jesus meeting. Without too much harangue, the matter was settled.
That’s when the weird shit started happening.
The dog was the first to notice. The little monster would sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and bark at the open back door. Alan remarked to Jonathan, “That’s funny, I don’t remember leaving the door open. Did you?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
When the building inspector came for his final walk through, Alan was horrified to see a plastic bag of pot sitting out in full view on the kitchen counter. While the man with the clipboard checked the ventilation system, Alan made frantic eye contact with Jonathan, hoping he would grab the bag when the inspector wasn’t looking.
Later, as they celebrated passing inspection over glasses of champagne, Jonathan laughed, “He probably thought it was a bag of oregano.”
“That’s not the point!” Alan lit up a joint rolled from the contents of the bag. “How did it get downstairs?”
“Maybe the place is haunted,” I said. “The dog is barking at people who aren’t there. Objects are moving around on their own. Are you sure you guys are ready to open this place to the public?”
The Victorian Sunset Inn opened on Easter weekend without incident. After the parade of bonnets on the Asbury Park boardwalk, Jonathan cooked a feast of lamb and springtime side dishes. I have to admit, he was skilled in the kitchen. If the Vera Wang fabrics, queen-size iron beds and private Jacuzzi baths didn’t thrill their guests and secure rave reviews, Jonathan’s pesto ricotta pie sealed the deal.
It wasn’t until June when Joanne, the administratively challenged troll running the front desk, began receiving reports of personal effects going astray. Thermostats that couldn’t maintain a steady temperature. Toilets overflowing for no reason and the cable constantly going out.
Alan couldn’t look me in the eye, but he said it anyway. “I wouldn’t put it past you to be the cause of all this.”
That made me laugh harder than the time Joanne double booked the Tiffany Suite over Fourth of July Weekend. Even with all the odd disturbances and staff blunders, the place was a smash success. I had to look for my schadenfreude moments where I could find them.
I was also amused by Alan and Jonathan’s shock over the physical strain and time demands of running a bed and breakfast. If either of them stuck their toes in the sand during the month of August, I didn’t know about it. And instead of dancing at the club on sultry nights, they were both exhausted and in bed by 9 P.M. Jonathan looked awfully pretty when he slept, but the rumbling phlegmy sounds that emerged from his throat were distinctly unattractive. Unable to sleep, Alan soon took to channel surfing.
By the end of the summer, Alan was addicted to two T.V. reality shows. As often the case with cable, if a marathon of one show wasn’t running at a given moment, he was sure to flip the channel and find the other one. Both shows dealt with the same subject matter, but in style and execution they were distinctly different.
Ghostly Convections was imported to the Food Network from the UK. Celebrity chef Dorilda Demarais and her psychic husband Pierson Deacon traveled the globe investigating haunted hotels and B & B’s. They never seemed to capture evidence on film or audio, but their interviews with traumatized staff members were always entertaining. And Pierson could be counted on to channel at least one deceased chef per episode.
Paranormal Paratroopers followed a duo of ex-navy seals who investigated claims of supernatural phenomenon. Commanders Tyson Krull and Jarrod Fulbright employed their high tech surveillance equipment to debunk frauds. They used their combat experience to rid their clients of unwanted entities and demonic possessions.
When Alan hatched his plan to get to the bottom of the uncanny occurrences at the Victorian Sunset Inn, and drum up revenue at the same time, I never thought Jonathan would go along with it. But over tea and crumpets on the sun porch, Jonathan warmed to the idea.
“If we could spread it around that the place is haunted, we could maintain a decent occupancy during the slow season.”
“Exactly,” Alan agreed. “The only question is, which show do I contact?”
“Both! Let’s maximize our chances that one of them will agree to do a show here.” Jonathan looked around as a devilish gleam filled his eyes. “In fact, while our bookings are still high, we should manufacture a few scares. Doors creaking, closing on their own. Move some more objects around.”
A lamp on the other side of the room flickered on and off. Alan turned to Jonathan. “I don’t think that will be necessary.”
Alan contacted the producers of Ghostly Convections and Paranormal Paratroopers. Both shows were currently in production and it turned out that Dorilda the Chef and Pierson the Psychic were planning to do some shows in the U.S.
“Let’s get them in here as soon as possible,” Jonathan said, frowning over November’s paltry bookings. “Don’t these type of shows do live broadcasts on Halloween?”
“That is a great idea,” I said. “God, maybe you could get both shows to come on the same night!”
While my suggestion fell on deaf ears as far as Alan and Jonathan were concerned, it may have had an influence on Joanne. Her elfin appearance belied the heart of a seductress, and she yearned to see some navy seal beefcake parading through the inn. So did Alan and Jonathan, but their choice for the Halloween investigation was Ghostly Convections since it was the only night the couple was available. Alan left a note for Joanne with instructions to notify Paranormal Paratroopers of the conflict. Funny, she claimed she never saw it.
So on the morning of October 31st, a production van and limo carrying the cast and crew of Ghostly Convections pulled up in front of the Victorian Sunset Inn. Dorilda Demarais, in her mid-forties, came dressed in a long black leather coat. Her blonde bob’s sharp angles accentuated her high cheek bones and arched eyebrows. Pierson Deacon was also blonde, so much so he gave the appearance of being albino. I half expected him to burst into flames when he stepped into sunlight.
Their arrival was followed in less than an hour by a camouflage-painted Hummer transporting Commanders Krull and Fulbright and their producer and cameramen.
Alan drew back the lace curtain and saw the two ex-navy seals approaching the front porch. They were dressed in fatigues, berets and shiny leather combat boots. Commander Krull was older, with salt and pepper hair. He was a solid six-foot specimen, but was still overshadowed by the Herculean physique of Commander Fulbright.
“Joanne!” Alan yelled, raising clenched fists.
“Guess there was a little mix up,” I explained to Pierson. “But hey, as long as you’re all here….”
“Let’s see if we can work something out,” Pierson said, leading Dorilda and everyone onto the porch.
It was a gorgeous autumn day. Bright sunshine. Golden crunchy leaves strewn across the lawn. From where I stood at the threshold of the front door, it appeared a soft breeze was wafting across the porch. No one wanted to go home. Well, except for me. And no one wanted to lose the opportunity to shoot at a haunted B&B on Halloween night.
“Yes, I’ve seen your show,” Dorilda said to Commanders Krull and Fulbright, fighting to maintain eye contact. Her eyes kept drifting to their pecs and bi-ceps. “I love how you waltz into a castle in Germany or a chateau in France and start communicating to the spirits in English. Did it ever occur to you to try and learn a few words of their native language?”
Krull and Fulbright looked at each other and shook their heads. Krull spoke, “Ma’am, we’ve never had a problem capturing EVP’s.”
“Electronic Voice Phenomenon,” Fulbright clarified.
“I know what an EVP is,” Dorilda snapped.
“Excuse me,” Fulbright said. “It’s just I’ve seen your show and it strikes me you’re not exactly up on the latest in investigative instruments.”
Pierson smiled, “If you’ve really watched our show, then you know I’m the only instrument that’s needed.”
I was hoping we would get started in the kitchen. I was anxious to see what Pierson could do. But the Commanders wanted to do a sweep of the house and set up their infrared cameras and digital recording devices.
“Show us the hot spots,” Krull said as we ascended the stairs. “Where have you seen the most activity?”
“Definitely the Tiffany suite,” Joanne piped up from the back of the group. “It’s on the third floor.”
“Is there any history?” Fulbright asked. “Has anyone ever died on site?”
“Nobody answer that!” Pierson shouted, halting the climb on the second floor landing. “If my mind is exposed to superfluous information, I won’t be able to synch with my guides.”
“Superfluous?” I repeated. “And what exactly do you consider pertinent?”
“Maybe all you Convection people should head on downstairs,” Krull suggested. “Don’t worry your heads about all this technical stuff.”
I decided to accompany Pierson, Dorilda and their producers to the first floor. Based on what I knew of them, Krull and Fulbright would soon be debunking Alan and Jonathan’s claims of paranormal activity by pointing out shoddy electrical wiring, drafty windows and cheap plumbing. I would have been surprised if they captured anything of interest on the third floor.
Once down in the kitchen, cast and crew began to feast on a bowl of Halloween candy that Alan had set out. Fueled on peanut butter cups and Hershey mini’s, the lights and sound equipment were in place by sundown. The live broadcast began promptly at 8 P.M. with Dorilda and Pierson welcoming their viewers on the front lawn.
“Trick or Treat, lads and lassies,” Dorilda beamed at the camera. “I know it’s just past the witching hour back home in London, but here at the historic Victorian Sunset Inn in Asbury Park, New Jersey, things are just starting to sizzle.”
“Historic?” I asked, looking to Joanne. We were watching the action through the open parlor window. “Did you know the inn was historic?”
Suddenly the front door swung open. Reacting to the sound, Dorilda’s cameraman pivoted, catching commanders Krull and Fulbright on live video.
“Sorry,” Fulbright said, stepping back quickly and closing the door on himself and Krull.
“Don’t change that dial folks,” Pierson jumped in. “This place is so riddled with paranormal peculiarities it takes not one, but two crack investigation teams to get the job done.”
“You may have recognized our studly colleagues from the states,” Dorilda said. “Fear not. Pierson and I aren’t going all techno-jock on you. Halloween is the night for sweet surprises, and we’ve got a few in store for you.”
As we all made our way to the kitchen during commercial break, Fulbright barked at Dorilda, “Techno-jock?”
“Would you prefer geek meat?” Dorilda hollered back.
“Son, let it go,” Krull said, holding Fulbright back. If it wasn’t time for Paranormal Paratroopers to begin their live feed from upstairs, things might have turned ugly. Though maybe not, because I heard Krull laugh under his breath as he climbed the steps, “Geek meat.”
Alan and Jonathan followed the more muscular duo upstairs, but were intercepted by Ghostly Convections’ producer.
“Pierson could go into trance at any point,” she explained. “Alan, it’s really important that we have you and Jonathan on set to catch your reactions to anything he might say.”
When filming resumed, Dorilda and Pierson were standing in the center of the kitchen flanked by Jonathan and Alan. Everyone else, except the cameraman, was jammed in the doorway looking on.
“So tell us,” Dorilda began, “What sort of phenomenon has been witnessed here in the kitchen, which I believe most people consider to be the heart of any home.”
“Well, it started with our dog barking at the back door,” Alan said.
“Oh? Where is the alert little pooch?”
“Jonathan took him over to our friend’s house for the night so he wouldn’t get underfoot.”
I saw Jonathan’s eyebrows shoot up. He elbowed Alan and whispered, “I didn’t take him. I thought you did.”
“What?” Alan’s voice spiked with alarm. “What do you mean, you didn’t take him?”
“How could I have taken him if I thought you took him?”
“I saw him run out the back door,” I offered, wondering how two people could be so careless with something they supposedly loved.
Suddenly, a low growl was heard. It sounded just like the little monster. But the sound of canine angst was actually coming from Pierson. He stood with his eyes closed, rocking slightly from side to side. Every few moments, his upper lip curled into a snarl. Then he opened his eyes and started to yelp.
“That’s amazing!” Jonathan said. “He sounds just like our dog!”
Dorilda shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid that doesn’t bode well for your furry little friend.”
“Why do you say that?” Alan asked fearfully.
“Well, if it is your dog that we’re hearing, and he’s coming through Pierson’s psychic channels….”
“Are you saying my dog is dead?” Alan turned and looked right at the camera. “I’m sorry. I have to go look for my dog.”
Alan stormed out the front of the house. Dorilda’s producer gave her an excited thumbs up. I suddenly felt bad for Alan, and maybe the dog too. But not for Jonathan. He seemed completely unphased by the dog’s suggested demise. Even under the hot lights, he was cool and collected.
Pierson suddenly began to howl as though he were in horrible pain, the whole time looking directly at me.
“What do you see, boy?” Dorilda asked.
All at once Pierson stopped barking. His face relaxed and he hissed in a low ghastly voice, “Murder. I see murder.”
I turned to see if anyone was standing behind me. The hallway was empty. Pierson raised his hand and pointed at me. “You!”
“Me?” I squeaked. “I didn’t kill any dog!”
I’m not sure what happened next. Lights flickered and I heard Dorilda say the room was suddenly cold. As I looked at her, my field of vision narrowed, as though looking through a tunnel. I couldn’t breathe as the walls began to spin. Was I having a panic attack?
The next thing I knew I was sitting in the breakfast nook across from Dorilda. The room was dark except for one intense light focused on me from the left. I saw the silhouette of the cameraman standing over me, the camera lens pointed at my face.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why are all the lights out?”
“We’ve gone to night vision photography,” Dorilda explained. She reached over and touched my hand. “Pierson, darling, are you all right?”
I laughed. “Why are you calling me Pierson?”
I looked down at my hand and recoiled in horror. I was looking at a man’s hand. I touched my face and felt the rough stubble on my chin. My breasts, where were my breasts?
“What have you done?” I yelled in a deep, masculine voice. “What kind of sick game are you people playing?”
Dorilda smiled knowingly and clasped my hand again. “It’s all right, keep calm. Tell me. Who am I talking to?”
“It’s me,” I said, wishing I could rip the sound of my voice from my throat. “Hillary!”
From across the room came the sound of a metal bowl crashing to the floor. The camera light turned away from us and illuminated Jonathan. He was standing with his back against the kitchen counter. The bowl of Halloween candy was on the floor at his feet.
“Do you know who Hillary is?” Dorilda questioned him.
“Alan has a sister named Hillary,” Jonathan said quietly, his voice shaking slightly. “She’s been on an extended vacation inSouth America.”
“What?” I jumped up from my chair and looked around the room. “People, come on. I’ve been here all day watching you film.”
At that moment I caught a dark image of myself reflected in the window above the kitchen sink. I was looking at Pierson Deacon, and he was looking back at me.
“Dorilda,” I said softly. “I think I need help.”
My shouting must have disturbed the crew shooting upstairs. Soon Commanders Krull and Fulbright were standing in the doorway, their cameraman behind them filming over their formidable shoulders.
“Hillary,” Dorilda said as she took my arm and led me back to my seat. “I need you to remember back to when the little dog first started to bark at the back door. Back before all the odd occurrences began in the house. Did anything happen? Did you get into a tussle with anyone?”
“I remember meeting with Alan and Jonathan. To work out a deal for them to buy me out.” I looked over to where I knew Jonathan was standing. I couldn’t see him, but I thought I could hear the subtle sound of his teeth gnawing at his thumb nail.
“And did you arrive at an agreement?”
I took a deep breath. “We were in the parlor. Jonathan had just finished going over their proposal to remove me from the title, paying me back the principle over a three year period.”
“And were you happy with this deal, Hillary?”
“She should have been,” Jonathan piped up, then composed himself. “What am I saying? That isn’t Hillary. The only true statement that’s been made in the last hour is that this is a sick game, and I’m not going to stand here listening anymore!”
I heard the sound of rushing footsteps. The light swung back again in time to catch Commanders Krull and Fulbright blocking Jonathan’s access to the hallway.
“You’re not going anywhere, son,” Krull informed him. “Let’s hear what the little lady has to say.”
“I wasn’t happy with the deal,” I said. “I needed at least half the principle immediately so I could move back to the city. According to the terms of our original agreement, I was entitled to all of it. I told them they’d have to come up with the money or I was going to see a realtor. I think we were ready to call in the lawyers, but Alan got a text and had to go meet their weed dealer. I decided to take an ice cream break.”
“Has anyone seen Alan?” Dorilda asked, turning to her crew. “Perhaps someone could go and have a look for him? God, I love live television! Go on, Hillary.”
“I went into the kitchen.”
I was having trouble picturing myself back there. I began to feel funny. Lightheaded. There was a strange pulling sensation in my belly. It compelled me to stand up and cross over to the kitchen sink. Dorilda and the cameraman followed me.
“So you came into the kitchen. Did you cook anything?” Dorilda smiled into the camera. “Some tasty trifle to settle your nerves perhaps?”
“No, I didn’t cook anything,” I snapped. “I told you, I wanted some ice cream.”
The cameraman trailed me to the refrigerator. I opened the freezer door and saw a container of chocolate chip mint. My chocolate chip mint. The lid was freezer-burned with fuzzy stalactites sticking straight up. Suddenly I realized, I hadn’t tasted ice cream in a very long time. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I tasted anything. Or felt the touch of anything. I should have gone back to New York long ago. Should have walked right out the front door. Why was I still here? Why were Alan and Jonathan still running a bed and breakfast out of the house I wanted to sell?
“I was murdered,” I said softly, watching my breath form a steamy cloud before the freezer. Turning, I looked at Jonathan’s shadowy figure standing by the door. “Did you do it, Jonathan? Did you kill me? Over this house?”
Before he or anyone else could say a word, Pierson’s body went limp and I whirled up toward the ceiling where I remained, watching the scene below. Dorilda caught Pierson before he hit the floor. As she struggled to hold him up, she turned to the camera and announced a short commercial break.
“Damn, you people know how to put on a show!” Commander Krull belly-laughed. “We ain’t got diddly upstairs. Motion detectors, infra-red, all dead as a doornail.”
“No joy,” Commander Fulbright muttered under his breath.
“Perhaps you gentlemen might be willing to assist us.” All heads turned to the breakfast nook where Dorilda was lowering Pierson into a chair. It was Pierson who’d spoken. “I believe there is a body on these premises. I believe I know where.”
So. I was dead. That explained the deep fog I’d been in since the last day I’d inhabited my own body. And all this time attributed to a cocktail of Xanax and Ambien. Maybe Jonathan didn’t kill me, I thought. Maybe I overdosed. Pierson seemed to think foul play was involved. I was hoping so too. I wanted to see Jonathan dragged from the house in chains.
The interesting thing was that Pierson didn’t know the identity of either the victim or the perp. He claimed to have no recollection of channeling a canine spirit nor an entity named Hillary. He produced no specific details of the crime except that it was violent and happened within the last fifty years. This seemed to mollify Jonathan for the moment, but I noticed his eyes continually glancing toward the doorway. While Commanders Krull and Fulbright made a quick run to their Hummer for some specialized equipment, Dorilda asked probing questions. Was Pierson picking up any aromas? Was the slain party wearing an apron? Were any cooking utensils involved?
When live filming resumed, Krull and Fulbright sprayed a chemical they called luminol across the kitchen floor and cabinets. Immediately a blue glow streamed from the freezer door, down to the linoleum and across the floor to the pantry door.
“Brilliant!” Dorilda exclaimed. “What does it mean?”
Fulbright opened the pantry door and began to spray inside on the floor, wall and shelves. It looked as if the pantry had been painted in day-glow blue paint. After a few seconds, the luminescence faded and he said “Looks like the killer mortally wounded the victim in front of the refrigerator, then dragged the body into the pantry.”
“That’s it!” Jonathan shouted. “I want you all out of my house! You’re clearly using Alan and me for some kind of ratings stunt. No one was murdered here. Hillary is fine. We just got an email from her last week saying she was having a great time working on her tan.”
“Oh, really,” I said. Not that anyone could hear me. I kind of liked it on the ceiling. I could definitely tell from my vantage point that Dorilda was not a natural blonde. I didn’t hold that against her. I enjoyed the way she confronted Jonathan.
“Perhaps you’d like to ring the police,” she said to him. “We’ll wait. We’re broadcasting live for two more hours.”
Commander Krull nodded enthusiastically, “Let’s power up the GPR.”
Ground penetrating radar was a tool Krull and Fulbright had used inIraq during the first Gulf War. Now they used it on ghost investigations to uncover bones, bodies and buried artifacts. I was the only one left in the house, as everyone else was outside watching Krull push what looked like a gas-powered lawn mower across the backyard.
“Tell us the history of the backyard,” Dorilda said to Jonathan. “Have you done much barbequing out here?”
Jonathan folded his arms across his chest and clenched his jaw. Fulbright poked him in the ribs with his elbow. “Dude, we’re on live TV. Answer the question.”
“The place was a junkyard,” Jonathan said reluctantly. “Rusted bikes, car parts, an old hot tub. We cleared it out and re-sodded just before we opened.”
Krull paused the machine over an area close to the house, just to the left of the back door. “I think we got something.”
As everyone rushed over to get a view of the monitor mounted to the machine’s handle bar, Jonathan said, “That’s where the hot tub used to be. There’s probably old pipes running underground from the house.”
“I see the pipes,” Krull said, pointing to several colorful blips on the cross-sectional image. “But there’s something else.”
Was that something else me? I wondered. God, what would I look like after all this time? What if I smelled? Even though it was after 2 A.M. and I was sure the number of viewers had dwindled to insomniacs and hardcore sci-fi fans, I wasn’t sure I wanted my guts and gristle exposed for all to see.
Fulbright put a shovel in Jonathan’s hands and ordered him to dig. Krull pitched in to speed things along. Dorilda and Pierson huddled together in a tight two shot.
“Perhaps we should call out to her.” Dorilda suggested. “See if we can make contact with Hillary and get a sense of what she thinks of all this.”
“If you can hear us,” Pierson said, “Just make a sound, any sound at all. Throw something at us. Don’t be afraid. We’re here to help you.”
“I think I’m a little bit beyond help, you idiot,” I said. But for the sake of good TV, I managed to launch a mini Krackle bar that was lying on the kitchen floor into the back yard.
Dorilda gasped at the minute sound the thrown candy produced. Her eyes and mouth gaped open wide. From the way she reacted, you’d have thought a full body apparition floated past her.
She asked me to repeat the noise to prove it was me, but I was now too engrossed in the dig to be bothered. With nearly a foot of loose sandy soil displaced from an area the size of a bath tub, several jagged pipes were now protruding from the ground. They looked like spears planted in the earth to protect an ancient burial place.
“Okay, hold up,” Fulbright instructed Krull and Jonathan. “You should be coming up on something.”
Krull shoved Jonathan out of the shallow ditch, slapped on a pair of latex gloves and got down on his hands and knees. Cameramen from both shows hovered above, zooming in on his hands as he gently sifted through the soil. “Ow!” he yelled, drawing back a bloody finger. “There’s something sharp in here!”
“Use this.” Fulbright handed Krull a spade, and he uncovered the sharp object that had pierced the latex.
“A butcher knife!” Joanne shrieked.
“Actually, it’s a chef’s knife,” Dorilda corrected her. “An expensive one at that.”
Dorilda was right. It was part of a seven-piece set I ordered from Williams-Sonoma last Christmas. Fulbright, donning his own pair of protective gloves, took the knife from Krull. Holding it up to the camera light, he inspected it closely and announced, “Yep, there’s blood on it.”
Jonathan put a hand over his mouth, looking as though he might puke at any second. I wished I felt like puking. I wished I felt anything. If only I could get myself back into Pierson’s body, I would throttle Jonathan’s neck.
“Lads and lassies,” Dorilda said, turning to the camera. “At this point in our investigation, I think it’s best we contact the local authorities and…”
“Hold on,” Krull said. Everyone stopped and turned their attention back to the hole in the ground. “Does anyone have a brush? Looks like we have a skull here.”
The make-up lady from Ghostly Convections stepped forward and handed Krull a thick camel hair brush. With deft strokes, as though he were applying rouge, the ex navy seal uncovered a bony face with empty eye sockets but a full set of pearly white teeth.
I did have a nice smile, I thought, recognizing the benefits of years of regular dental visits. But I guess I didn’t have to worry about that now. Nor did I have to worry about those locks of red hair sprouting from the dirt ever going gray.
Of course I looked to Jonathan first to gauge his reaction. Not unexpectedly, his cool demeanor had vanished. He appeared absolutely horror stricken. I was so engrossed in anticipating his next move, I didn’t hear footsteps approaching.
“Look everyone!” I heard Alan’s voice below. I watched him walk out the back door and into the yard. He was holding something in his arms but I couldn’t see what it was. “Look who I found!”
As Alan reached the crowd gathered around the shallow grave, he turned and I could see he was holding the little monster. The dog squirmed like crazy trying to jump free. Alan squeezed him hard against his chest. He looked down and saw the dusty skeleton face smiling up at him. After a moment he raised his eyes, glancing at everyone around him with shock and confusion.
“I don’t believe you,” Jonathan hissed at him. “You killed your sister?”
Dorilda gasped. Pierson looked at the camera and proclaimed, “I told you! It was murder!”
Commanders Krull and Fulbright closed in on Alan, as Jonathan continued, “Alan, is it true? Is that Hillary down there? Did you do it? Alan?”
“She was going to sell the house,” Alan stammered. “All our dreams. Our hard work. And she wasn’t even a nice person!”
“You don’t kill a person for that.”
“I killed her for you!”
“Oh, no,” Jonathan said, waving a hand. “Don’t even go there.”
“Can you honestly say you would have stayed with me if we lost the house?”
“Of course I would. What is wrong with you?”
Alan looked completely taken aback. He blinked several times as it sunk in. “I really screwed up.”
As if to confirm, the little monster whipped his head around and nipped a tiny chunk from the end of Alan’s nose. He screamed in pain and released the dog to the ground. As Alan’s hands went up to his face, he tried to spin away from the accusing eyes bearing down on him. He lost his balance and fell into the grave.
Jonathan tried to grab him but it was too late. Everyone on set screamed in unison. Alan landed on one of the exposed pipes. It entered his back just inside the left shoulder blade, tore through his heart and shredded a hole in his chest.
“Medic!” Krull shouted. Again, too late. Alan twitched for a moment, and then he was dead.
It all came to me like a rushing blast of warm air. Standing in the kitchen at the opened freezer, I saw a reflection in the thin metallic strip on the door handle. It was Alan coming up behind me, the Williams-Sonoma knife in his hand.
With the return of that ghastly memory I arrived at a sort of omnipotence that, for all I know, comes to all ethereal beings when that warm white light at last comes to take them home. I saw Alan dragging my body into the pantry, doing a half-assed job of mopping up the blood before Jonathan walked in. Then late at night Alan returned to the kitchen and transferred me to the backyard. Why he buried the knife instead of just cleaning it off, I’ll never understand. Unless he couldn’t bear the thought of using it again. It would be nice to think he suffered at least a little guilt. Maybe he wanted to get caught. It was, after all, his idea to bring the ghost investigators to the house.
Both shows wrapped their live broadcasts before the police arrived, but promised extended coverage on their websites. I watched Dorilda and Pierson climb into their limo and Commanders Krull and Fulbright pull away in their Hummer. I wished there was some way I could thank them for what they did for me. I could feel the light getting closer and I knew its salvation would never have come if the truth of Alan’s betrayal had not been revealed.
In the end, everyone got something. Both shows got to broadcast their greatest episodes ever. Jonathan, after being cleared by the police, was able to keep the Victorian Sunset Inn. Alan got what he deserved. And as for me, I was finally able to get the hell out ofAsbury Park.