Saturday, September 16, 2017

Not Today

Tom Jurgen's past catches up with him—in more ways than one.

Not Today, Part One

I poured some Cheerios into a bowl. Then I remembered I was out of milk. I hadn’t been to the store in a week. Or outside my apartment, for that matter.
So I sprinkled some tap water over the cereal and ate breakfast over the kitchen sink.
I managed to make coffee, although I wasn’t sure why I should.
I staggered to the dining room table without spilling the coffee very much, then sagged into my chair and opened my laptop.
User name, two tries. Password, two tries. Email password, one, two, three tries . . .
Eleven emails. Seven spam, two bills, two potential clients.
I deleted them all.
So that was done. I sipped my coffee. Now what? The day stretched out ahead.
A shower? I was in my bathrobe and shorts, but a shower felt like too much effort to invest in another day spent on my couch watching TV.
I set my cup down next to a half-filled prescription bottle and found the remote. What to watch? Rachel would be mad if I got ahead of Game of Thrones without her. I checked all the Twilight Zone episodes I’d been watching. But the opening sequence was starting to make me dizzy.
So I just clicked through the channels until I found The Beverly Hillbillies. That was quality TV.
I muted the sound and picked up the prescription bottle. It had my name: Tom Jurgen. And the name of the drug, which might as well have been in ancient Etruscan. I knew it was a strong painkiller. A doctor had given it to me after I’d been fighting a vampire.            
I’d been looking at the pills for the last three or four days. Today I opened the bottle. Poured the little white pills into a pyramid on the table. And stared at them for a long time.
Then I swept my hand across the table. Most of the pills went onto the floor. I sipped my coffee.
Not today.
Despite the coffee, my eyelids were drooping. So I laid back and pulled an afghan around me, adjusted a pillow around my head. The room grew dark.
Not today.

I woke up in a hospital bed, an IV in my wrist and guardrails on either edge that looked like prison bars. Not the first time I’ve woken up in a hospital. At least I wasn’t trapped in a hotel room with no exit.
I sat up, confused. “Hello?”
“You jerk.” Rachel lifted a fist to slug my arm. Her hazelnut eyes blazed as red as her hair. “I come downstairs after you don’t answer five calls, and you’re passed out on the couch with pills scattered all over the place and Green Acres on the TV. Green Acres? What the hell is that, anyway?”
Rachel’s my girlfriend. She lives upstairs from me, and she helps me out on my cases. I’m not entirely sure why she likes me, but we’ve been together for a long time.
She must see something in me, but right at the moment I couldn’t imagine what.
“The nurses said I can’t actually hit you.” She lowered her fist. “But I should.”
“Yeah.” I sat back.
Vampires . . . monsters . . . last week we’d watched a murder . . . and before that . . . Dudovich . . . I’d killed a dragon . . . a demon possessed Rachel, but I’d managed to set it free . . . the Rain Killer . . .
I might have fallen asleep again. When I blinked my eyes, Rachel was still standing over me, holding my hand.
Why was she still here? She’s young, gorgeous and smart. She deserved better than a washed-up ex-reporter turned private eye who could barely cover the bills, and who constantly dragged her into situations where she was like to get killed.
 “I’ll be fine.” I dropped her hand. “You can go home.”
“Oh no.” Rachel laughed. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Tom Jurgen.”
I was too tired to argue.
A doctor strode into the room. Tall, African-American, with the usual stethoscope around his shoulders. “Hello, Mr.—” He glanced at a tablet computer. “Is it Yurgen or Jurgen?”
I get that a lot. “Just call me Tom. This is Rachel. She’s my, uh . . .”
“I’m his girlfriend.” Rachel crossed her arms. “Anything you say to him you can say to me. Right, Tom?”
            I nodded. “Listen to her.”
“Well, I’m Dr. McGee.” He started, of course, by taking my blood pressure and listening to my heart. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired. Just . . . tired. What happened?”
He nodded. “You weren’t responsive when Rachel called 911. There were significant amounts of a prescription painkiller found in your apartment.”
“I didn’t . . . I didn’t take any.” My throat was dry. “Could I have a drink of water?”
Rachel shoved a plastic glass into my hand. “Here.” 
Dr. McGee went back to my chart on his tablet. “There doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with you. High blood pressure, exhaustion, a little dehydration, some of these enzymes are a little high . . .” He looked up. “Do you have a high-stress job, Tom?”
I laughed. Maybe too long. After ten seconds Rachel grabbed my shoulder. “Shut up, you idiot!”
“Sorry.” I caught my breath. “Yeah, you could say that. I’m the guy they call when monsters are around. Vampires and zombies and creatures that walk in the night.”
I lurched up in the bed. “I’m not crazy. Ask Rachel. Call Detective Anita Sharpe at the CPD, she’ll tell you—except she won’t. Nobody believes me. Nobody believed me around the Rain Killer! Nobody believes me now! Nobody cares!”
“Tom . . .” Rachel slugged my shoulder. Gently, for once. “You’re right. I believe you. Lots of people believe you.”
The room was spinning. “I know. I know. Sorry.” I rubbed her hand.
“He’s not really crazy.” She patted my head. “A jerk sometimes, but . . . I saw it all too.”
Dr. McGee nodded. “I’m going to prescribe some medications. And I’d like you stay here at least tonight.”
I sank back. “Fine. Whatever.” I was going into the psych ward. The loony bin. Maybe I should have been there all along.
He nodded again, and  glanced at Rachel. “For what it’s worth, I’ve seen strange things too. Vampire bites, claw marks I can’t explain So I don’t think you’re crazy. But you need to rest and relax.”
“I’m sleeping a lot lately.” I shrugged. “But it doesn’t help.”
“Do you dream?”
I tried to think. “No. It’s all black.”
Maybe that meant something. I didn’t know what. I didn’t know what was going on anymore. I wasn’t sure I cared. Sleep was the only way I could stop thinking about things.
“The nurse will be back with some medications. They’re for blood pressure and stress. Try to get some rest.” Dr. McGee glanced at Rachel. “See you soon.”
What the hell? Was he hitting on her? A young handsome doctor hitting on . . . a young hot woman? I couldn’t blame him. But I was probably overreacting. I slumped down in the bed.
“You idiot!” Rachel leaned down over the bed. I felt her breath on my eyes. “Tell me you didn’t just try to kill yourself.”
Not today.
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m just. . . . tired.”
She didn’t believe me. I didn’t blame her.
She lurched up. “Well, that’s too bad. Because I’ve got bad news. I probably shouldn’t tell you, but—”
“You’re breaking up with me.” I closed my eyes and waited for her to leave.
“No, you dummy.” She stroked my arm, and then kissed my forehead. “But . . . remember my friend Carrie?”
That was a few years ago. “She hates me, doesn’t she?”
“No. Well, she did, but . . .” Rachel sighed. “Carrie needs your help.”

I woke up the next morning, hungry. For the first time in four days. My brain felt fuzzy, and at first I thought it was just from sleeping through the night. Then a nurse came in with a cup of pills.
            I took them. Maybe they’d work. Anything was better than sitting on my couch watching The Beverly Hillbillies and trying to get up the nerve to take the pills.
            I realized that was an improvement on my mental state from yesterday.
            So I ordered breakfast. It was like room service. I ate eggs, bacon, hash browns, sausage, and watery coffee while watching the news. The drugs they’d given me seemed to be working already. I didn’t even shout at the footage from the latest White House press conference.
            Then Carrie Burke walked into the room.
            Carrie was Rachel’s friend. She hated me.
            “Hi.” I perched the bed up and turned the TV down. “Nice to see you.”
            “Yeah.” She sat down in the chair next to my bed. Carrie had long dreadlocks and dark skin. “I need your help.”
            “Did Rachel mention I’m possibly having a nervous breakdown?” I could feel my blood pressure rising again. “Why are you here? You hate me.”
            “I don’t hate you.” She sighed. “Okay, there was a time when I just thought Rachel could do better. I didn’t know—”
            “Yeah.” I wanted to throw my lukewarm coffee at the window. “She deserves someone better. I get that. Go home.”
            Carrie stood up. “I don’t know what Rachel sees in you, but that’s not my problem. The voarkla’s back.”
            Oh god.
            The voarkla was a monster from another dimension. The first time I’d met it, years ago, it had come through a portal created by a computer engineer trying to use quantum computing to speed online connections.
            The voarkla had killed at least three people before being banished to its own world again. If it was back—
            I threw the sheets off. “What about Ponto? Pontoval?” Oops. I flung the sheets back. “Sorry. Can you help me find my pants?”
            “Nothing I haven’t seen before.” Carrie smirked.  “But don’t worry, Pontoavallian’s not here.”
            I lay back on the bed and pulled the sheet back. “So what do you want?”
“I don’t know how much you remember.”
I remembered it all. The voarkla, like a wolverine with more teeth and a worse temper. And Ponto, a little wheesling. Pontoavallian . . .
I forced my muggy mind to think. “The goddess who came through . . . her name was Lionna. She said she was going to close our world off.”
            “Well, it didn’t work.” Carrie stood up. “I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for your help.”
            My heart pounded. “I didn’t help you at all.”
            “Yeah, you did.” She reached down to shake my hand. “You just need to take care of yourself now. For Rachel.”
            “Okay.” I was suddenly tired again. “I guess.”

Not Today, Part Two

When I woke up, Rachel was there again. She was reading a book.
            I rubbed my eyes. “You been here long?”
            She stretched her arms. “I have to go soon. Work to do, as long as you’re not going to try to kill yourself again.”
            “I wasn’t going to kill myself. I just wanted . . .” I sipped some water. “Carrie was here.”
            “Yeah.” Rachel shook her head. “I told her not to, but—”
            “The voarkla’s back.”
            “Not your problem.” She stuffed her book in a bag. “Let someone else handle it.”
            I sat up. “Who else knows about the voarkla? The cops? Carrie’s great, but she’s not exactly a ninja—”
            “Goddamn it, Tom!” Rachel looked like she wanted to pound her fist on my chest. “You don’t have to solve every problem in this city! Let somebody else be the hero for a change!”
            She lurched around, leaning over the windowsill. Maybe she was crying.
            “I’m sorry.” My voice was a whisper. “I’ll just stay here.”
            “I just want . . .” Rachel stared out the window. “I want you to be better.”
            “Yeah.” I nodded. “Me too.”

Once Rachel was gone I turned on the news. By the time lunch came—a decent cheeseburger and onion rings, and more watery coffee—I’d found reports of two killings by the voarkla.
            The first time it came to this reality, it had somehow roamed through computer networks, bursting out of screens to slash its prey. Now it seemed to be moving directly through wifi. A man playing Pokemon Go had been attacked by some kind of animal near the Lincoln Park lagoon.  A woman just walking down the beach, talking on her smartphone, was killed by a beast that came out of nowhere and then ran back into the trees. Police were looking for a rabid coyote.
            I didn’t have my laptop. But I still had my phone.
            I spent half an hour looking up every news report of the killings, and every other report of attacks by strange creatures in the last 24 hours.
            Two more people had been mauled by the voarkla, but survived. A man walking a dog early in the morning—the dog was dead, but the man was in the hospital. Maybe in a room near me. The other victim, an elderly woman, had fought off the voarkla with a cane. She was braver and tougher than me.
            I sipped the last of my coffee. I was feeling better now, but I didn’t know if I was feeling the effects of the drugs or just adrenalin. Was this PTSD? Was I going to crash when it was all over?
            I didn’t care. Right now I felt alive again. I had something to do.
            Of course, I was still stuck in the hospital. And I knew I wasn’t in any shape to find my pants and leave.
            So I did the only thing I could think of.
            “Jurgen?” Detective Anita Sharpe of Chicago Police Department never sounded happy to hear from me. “I’m not supposed to talk to you.”
            “Wait, what? Did Hughes—”
            “No, your girlfriend. She called me last night. She’s a spitfire, that one.”
            I groaned. “Yeah.” I couldn’t blame Sharpe for not wanting to piss Rachel off.
            “Here’s the thing.” I was suddenly sleepy. Maybe the adrenalin was wearing off. Or the drugs were kicking in? “Those murders—the lagoon? And the beach? They’re from a creature from another dimension called the . . . the voarkla.”
            “The what? I’m only in charge of vampires. Are we going to have to set up another squad or—Jurgen? Are you there?”
            The hospital room swam around me. “Be careful. It’s dangerous. I sent it back once . . . well, I didn’t do it by myself, but it got sent back, and now it’s here again, I don’t know why . . . ohh . . . ohh . . .”
            “Jurgen?” Sharpe shouted into the phone. “What the hell is going on?”
            I gasped. Heart attack? Panic attack? “Tell Rachel . . . tell her . . .”
            I looked up at the window. The sun streamed through the blinds.       
And the voarkla was outside. Laughing.
I dropped the phone. Okay, I was going to die. But I grabbed the control wrapped around the arm of my bed and pressed the call button. “Help!” I shouted. “Help . . .”

Dr. McGee took my blood pressure again. “That’s better. How do you feel?”
            “Fine.” I glanced at the window. The voarkla was gone. “Just peachy.”
Rachel stormed into the room in a gray T-shirt and black shorts. “What the hell? You can’t just sit and watch bad TV like everyone else? What’s wrong with you?”
“He’s okay.” Dr. McGee checked my heart with his stethoscope, although I had the feeling he was only doing it to keep Rachel from asking more questions. “It looks like just a panic attack. You just need some rest, Tom. No more watching the news.”
He gazed at Rachel. Was he checking out her legs? “Try not to let him get upset.”
“Have you talked to him at all?” Rachel glared at me. “It’s your fault if I miss this deadline.”
“I’ll let you talk alone.” Dr. McGee left. I didn’t blame him.
Rachel sat down. “I get a call from that cop, Sharpe? She said you were dying.”
“You called her yesterday.” I sipped some water. “She’s a little scared of you.” I managed a grin.
“I hope so.” Rachel stood up and started circling the room. “Look, we’ve been together, what—three years? Four? That’s longer than my last two boyfriends combined. How long were you married?”
I tried to figure out where this was going. “Three years. I think. What does this have to do with—”
“Just tell me what’s going on with you! I can take it. I just want to know . . .” She stopped, facing away from me. “I just need to know.”
I watched her breathing slowly, and tried to think of the right answer. “The voarkla’s back. I think it came back for me. I saw it right here—”
“That’s not what I mean. And you know it.”
Yeah. We could deal with the voarkla. But Rachel meant . . .
I closed my eyes. “I just want to die.”
Rachel didn’t move.
“I’m tired of all this.” I rubbed my forehead. “Dudovich is dead. I almost got you killed last week. Jesus Christ, you got possessed by a demon! I got abducted by aliens. We watched a woman stake her husband. A little girl sent an assassin to kill everyone in her family. I just can’t deal with it anymore.”
I lowered the bed all the way down. “It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
She swung around. “You can’t do this to me! You offered to marry me once! Okay, I don’t want to get married, but if I did—”
I held up my hands. “Okay, okay! Just leave me alone. All right?”
Rachel stalked to the door. “Is that what you want? Really?”
No. I couldn’t imagine never seeing Rachel again. “No. Please don’t go.”
I was crying. Damn it. What the hell was wrong with me?
“You asshole.” Rachel walked back and leaned down over my bed. “Shut up. Stop weeping. I’m here. I’m here . . .”
“Yeah . . .” I drifted off.

Not Today, Part Three

I woke up in darkness. Someone had turned all the lights off. I heard Rachel snoring softly in a chair, the book in her lap. I wondered if I’d missed ordering dinner.
            Late sunlight flickered through the blinds.
            I picked up the TV remote, turned the sound down, and started clicking through the news broadcasts.
            Weather. Shootings and robberies. The president’s latest tweets. Then—
            “Another strange animal attack on the city’s north side near the lakefront.”
            I sat up. The story was sparse on details. The reporter stood with Lake Michigan behind her. All she did was regurgitate the official story, although she did quote a few witnesses, who described the attack as “gruesome” and “bloody.” The victim was in a nearby hospital, expected to recover.
            Oh hell. I picked up my phone. Somewhere I had Carrie’s number from years ago. I scrolled down. Rachel stayed asleep.
            Carrie picked up. “What? Why are you calling me?”
            “It’s still out there. Attacking people. What are you doing about it?”
            “I’m trying to find Lionna! She’s the one who sent it back the first time. Look,” her voice trembled. “I have to get off. The voarkla is coming through wifi now. It knows I’m looking for it—”
            She hung up.
Fine. I dropped the phone on my bed. Let Carrie handle it. Not my problem. All I had to do was take some medicine, order another cheeseburger and a salad for Rachel, and maybe tomorrow I’d get to go home.
But if the voarkla was looking for Carrie—
“Rachel?” I picked up my phone. “Where does Carrie live?”
“What?” She lurched forward, dropping her book. “I just dozed off! What are you talking about?”
“The voarkla. If it’s coming after her, she’s in danger. We have to do something.” I punched numbers on my phone.
“She’s at—give me a minute . . .” She dug into her bag. “What’s going on?”
“The voarkla!” I slumped, weak again. A moment ago I’d been ready to pull my IVs out, jump out of the bed, grab my pants, and go into the battle. Now I could barely move.
I was useless.
            Damn it, damn it, damn it . . .
            My phone buzzed. “Yeah?” Anita Sharpe.
            I didn’t remember actually finding her number. But I managed to talk. “You’ve got to send someone to . . . uh . . .”
            I held my phone up. “Tell her the address. Please.”
            Rachel took my phone. “Anita? This is Rachel. I don’t know what’s going on, but . . . okay. Here’s the address. Thanks.”
            She shoved the phone back at me. “She’s sending someone. Now you just sit back and calm down, damn it.”
            I nodded. “Yeah. Right. I was going to order dinner. And a salad for you. And . . .”
            My eyes flickered at the window.
            The voarkla perched outside, its sharp teeth grinning.
            My body went stiff. Then I realized—it wasn’t trying to kill Carrie. It was hunting me. 
            I took a deep breath. Maybe one of my last. But as depressed as I’d been a few days ago—a few minutes—suddenly I wanted to live at least five more minutes.
            I grabbed for the call button.
            Then the glass broke. It shattered across the room.
            “Rachel!” I rolled over, punching at the bed control. “Get out, get out!”
            The voarkla jumped through the window and roared, its jaws wide. I grabbed a pillow—the only weapon I had—and thrust it at its face. I kicked as hard as I could, trying to scramble away.
            Rachel jumped up. “What the—”
            She threw her book at the voarkla, and then she was at the door, yelling for help. She’s no damsel in distress, but she knows when to call for the cavalry.
            I somehow managed to shift the guard rails on my bed down. I hit the floor with a hard bump and swore. I couldn’t exactly roll under the bed’s wheels. All I could do was try to keep the voarkla busy while it tried to kill me. Maybe Rachel could get away.
            The voarkla leaned over the side of the bed, drooling. The claws in its hands looked sharp.
            I was ready. Not really, but what else could I do? I lifted my arms, shielding my face. “Come and get me, you asshole. Just try it.”
            The voarkla jumped down—
            And then everything froze.
            The voarkla hung in the air above me. But I could move. I rolled away, gasping as my heart pounded.
            Rachel stood at the door, her mouth open, her hand high. But paralyzed.
            One shard of glass floated inches above the tile. I flicked a finger at it. It didn’t move.
            Was I dead?
I sat up. My heart slowed down. Maybe this was my near-death hallucination. I waited for the white light.
Instead a woman appeared before me. I’d seen her before.
She was tall, with dark skin, and she wore a long gray robe. Her feet were big and bare on the tile.
Lionna. The goddess from the other universe.
She looked around, then zeroed her eyes on me. “You.”
“Yeah.” I slumped on the floor. “You’ve got me.”
She walked—no, she glided—across the floor. “I’ve seen you before.”
“Yeah.” I managed to sit up on my elbows. “Ponto—Pontoavallian? Is he okay?”
Lionna smiled. “Yes. I know you.”
Great. I looked over at Rachel, still motionless at the door. “Look, you can do what you want with me. I don’t care. Just let her get away. That’s all I’m asking you. And if you can . . .”
I wiped an arm over my eyes. “Just say hi to Ponto for me, will you? He might remember me.”
The room went dark. Okay, this was it. I took a deep breath.
“Pontoavallian says hello.” The words floated in the air. “He wishes you well.”
I blinked. What?
The fluorescent lights overhead flickered. Then harsh light flooded the room.
Rachel was shouting at the door. The voarkla was gone.
But I was still alive.
Not today.
I slumped down and fell asleep.

They sent me home the next day, with a prescription for anti-depressant meds and the names of a few psychiatrists.
            Rachel walked me down to her Prius. “You are taking a few weeks off. I can’t do this again.”
            “Is Carrie okay?” I managed to buckle myself up.
            “The voarkla’s gone. Hopefully it’ll stay away this time.” She started the car.
            I put a hand on her arm. “Why are we here?” I had to ask. “I mean . . . not the car, not the hospital. Just . . . you and me.”
            “Right now you ask me this?” Rachel pounded the wheel. “Christ, I sound like Yoda.” She twisted around in her seat. “All right, I’m just going to say this once, so listen, all right?”
            I nodded. I was feeling a little better. But I had to hear something positive.
            Rachel stared through the windshield. “I had . . . okay, a lot of boyfriends when I was younger. I’m not going to say how many, but don’t get the idea I was some kind of a slut.”
            “No.” I shook my head. “Of course not.”
            “Most of them were liars.” Rachel sighed. “They played games, and I never knew where they were coming from. When I met you . . .” Her lips curled in a smile. “Well, after a while, you seemed reliable. It’s what I was looking for.”
Then Rachel shrugged. “It took a while.” She patted my hand. “But not that long.”
            “Okay.” She straightened up in her seat. “All right? Are we done?”
            “Yeah.” Actually, I’d always thought Rachel was the dependable one. “Thanks.”
            “Just shut up and let me drive.” She peered in her rearview mirror. “Let’s go home.”


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Witches' Notebook

A notebook that can raise the dead might get Tom Jurgen killed.

Witches' Notebook, Part One

Karen Yester folded her hands on my table. “We were trying to bring the dead back to life.”
I tried to keep my face neutral. I’ve had some experience with the supernatural. Vampires, demons, ghosts—more than I like, but it’s making up more and more of my business these days. “So how can I help you?”
She sighed. “When I was in college, I was part of a group of—well, witches. It was guys and women. Not exactly a Wicca coven. We were just playing with doing spells. Make people float in the air, grow giant flowers? Some of them worked. I was in charge of writing down all the spells. It was fun for a while. I kept the notebook for all the spells.”
 She paused. “Then we started with animals.”
“Like what?”
“Hamsters from the pet store. We’d suffocate them in plastic bags and Tupperware. Then we tried to bring them back to life. We . . . a bunch of them died. The last one came back to life. We did it a few more times, until all the pet stores stopped selling them to us. And then Marissa wanted to start trying with . . . bigger things.”
            She looked down at the floor. “Felicia had a cat in her apartment, and she was going to . . . let us do it. But I was sick of it. Throwing dead hamsters in the dumpster, staying up all night trying out new spells? So I told Marissa I was quitting, and I was burning the notebook with all the spells.”
            She leaned back in the chair, looking out at the twilight in the window behind me. “All those little hamsters . . .”
I pushed a box of tissues across the table.
            I wished Rachel was here. She’s my upstairs neighbor, my girlfriend, and she’s sort of psychic. Rachel can sense things, and she has friends who know a lot about magic.
            But she was busy designing a web page for her own client. And I hadn’t expected this meeting in my dining room to turn quite so dark.
            Karen blew her nose. “But I didn’t burn it.”
            “The notebook?”
“We didn’t want to put anything on computers. This was ten years ago, 2006 or whatever?  But we wanted to be ‘old school.’ ” She lifted hands for sarcastic air quotes. “No technology, just parchment. I was in charge of keeping track of the spells and writing them down. What worked, what didn’t, and the results. I wrote it all down. Until I couldn’t do it anymore.” She grabbed another tissue.
            So I asked again. “What can I do for you?”
            “Marissa called me.” Karen Yester crumpled up her tissues on the table. “Marissa Sayers. She was always in charge of the group. She wants the notebook.”
            “And she knows you still have it?”
            “She always knew I was lying. The group was breaking up anyway. She was mad at me about . . . stuff. I don’t know why she’s doing this now. I just want her to go away and stop bothering me. I’ll give her the damn notebook.” She blew her nose. “But I want someone there with me when I hand it over. It won’t be dangerous. I’m just afraid . . .”
            Karen wiped her eyes with another tissue. “I’m scared she’ll try it on me.”

At 7:30 p.m. I parked my Honda in front of Marissa Sayers’ condo building on Chicago’s Gold Coast. “Okay. Here we are.”
Rachel unbuckled her belt She’s got red hair, hazelnut eyes, and a mean jab. “Why am I here again?”
I unlocked the doors. “You know more about this stuff than I do. There probably won’t be any trouble. If there is—well, just run. I’ll be right behind you. Or possibly ahead of you.”
            “You better run fast, or I’m leaving you behind.” But she kissed my cheek.
            The doorman was young Hispanic man with a nametag: Raoul K. He called up to Sayers’ apartment and then opened the door with a fob.
Karen was waiting in the lobby. She carried a canvas bag slung over one shoulder. “Hi.”
            “Ms. Yester, this is my associate, Rachel Dunn. She’s psychic. I told you I’d ask her to—”
            “I just want to get this over with.” She punched the elevator button. But in the elevator she held out a hand. “Sorry. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
            On the 17th floor we knocked at a door.
“Karen! Come in!” Marissa Sayers wore tight tan slacks and sandals, and a wine-colored blouse then dangled loosely from her shoulders. She reached forward for a hug.
Karen leaned forward, awkwardly. “Hi, Marissa.”
Rachel nudged my arm. “Stop checking her out.”
            I’d already checked Sayers out on the internet. A real estate attorney, with degrees with from the University of Illinois and Purdue. Two lawsuits for breach of duty, settled. One award from a state realtors’ association.
And, okay, a few pictures of her in a bikini from her Facebook page, from a vacation in Jamaica. I’d saved those in a private folder. I’m a guy.
            Sayers led us into her living room. A wide window had a dramatic view of Lake Michigan in the twilight—clouds drifting across the sky, sailboats rocking on the water. A long leather couch dominated the floor.
            “I didn’t catch your names.” She smiled at Rachel and me. “Why are you here?”
            “Tom Jurgen.” I held out a card. “And this is my associate, Rachel.”
            “Mr. Jurgen’s a private detective.” Karen dropped her bag on the thick gray carpet. “I wanted someone here when I handed this over.”
            Sayers’ eyes fluttered. “Of course. Let me get you a drink. Curtis?”
            A short man in jeans and a black T-shirt emerged from the open kitchen door. “Yes?”
            “Get some drinks for our guests.” She waved a hand. “The usual for me.”
He blinked, as if waking up from a doze. “Hi. I’m Curtis. What can I get you?”
“Just a glass of water.” Karen glanced at me. “We’re not staying long.”
            Rachel reached out to shake his hand. “Hi, I’m Rachel. Maybe a beer? And one for my boyfriend.”
            They held hands for a moment. Rachel’s shoulder went stiff, and she let her hand drop. “I didn’t get your name. Curtis . . .?”
            “Just Curtis.” He nodded. “Beer. Water. Marissa?”
            “The usual. Let’s sit down.” Sayers sank into a chair in front of a long glass-topped table. “Karen, it’s so good to see you again. What are you doing now?”
            “I’m in marketing at D&K.” Karen zipped her bag open. “Social media, SEO, all that stuff. You?”
            “Real estate.” Sayers crossed an ankle across one knee. “It’s booming all over the city. More highrises coming up every day.”
            Curtis emerged from the kitchen, holding a tray full of drinks. Rachel and I took our beers. Sayers took a gulp of her white wine, and Karen sipped her water.
            “Curtis, take a seat.” I sipped my beer. “Or are you working?”
            Rachel kicked my ankle.
            “I’m . . .” He seemed confused. “I have stuff to do. Maybe later?”
            “Go ahead, Curtis.” Sayers waved a hand. “I’ll call you if I need you.”
            He nodded, like an obedient butler, and went back into the other room.
            Karen yanked her bag open and dropped the notebook on the table. It had a brown leather cover, and it looked at least 20 years old. “Here it is. You can have it.”
            Sayers leaned forward and started flipping through the pages. “Thank you.”
            “What are you going to do with it?” I sipped my beer.
            Sayers giggled. “What do you think?”
            “If you’re planning to start up again . . .” Karen shuddered. “With cats or dogs or, I don’t know—”
            “We did it, didn’t we?” Sayers slammed the notebook shut. “It’s all here. And I’ve got more.” She sat back. “Death doesn’t have to be the end. Do you remember when your grandmother died, and how you—”
            “Don’t even talk about that!” Karen grabbed her bag. “I’m out of here. Keep it if you want it, but don’t drag me back into this!”
            Curtis returned from the kitchen. “Is something wrong?”
            “We’re going.” Karen waved an arm at me. “Come on.”
            Sayers smiled, as if we were leaving a cocktail party early. “Well, it was nice to see you again, Karen.” She didn’t go for another hug. But she did glance at Rachel and me. “And meeting you two.”
            “Yeah.” Rachel pulled me to my feet. “Sorry to drink and run, but . . .”
            I gulped my beer and set the half-finished bottle on the table. Rachel pulled at my wrist, but I stood my ground on the carpet. “I have to tell you—raising the dead? I’ve seen it before. It doesn’t always work out the way you want.”
             “We’ll see.” Sayers picked up the notebook.
            Karen was waiting for the elevator down the hall, tapping impatiently on her phone.
            “Okay, that was weird.” I looked back at Sayers’ door. “Am I right about what’s going on?”
            Rachel punched my arm. “Couldn’t you feel it?”
            “Yeah.” I’m not psychic like Rachel, but I could pick up the vibe. “Curtis. He’s dead.”
            “I saw the same thing.” Karen jammed the phone in her back pocket. “With the hamsters.”
            I glanced at Sayers’ door. “But she didn’t have your notebook.”
            “I wasn’t the only one taking notes.” The elevator opened. “I just took the best.”
            A man was riding down. He checked Rachel out as the elevator descended. I couldn’t exactly blame him, but I was annoyed that we couldn’t keep talking.
            In the lobby Karen split away from us, walking as fast as she could toward the revolving door. “Wait!” I ran around the short man and followed her outside. “We need to talk.”
            “No, I’m done.” Karen wheeled around on the street. Her body was trembling. “I’ll mail you a check.”
            I couldn’t stop her. I stood back as her Uber slowed down at the curb. She jumped in and slammed the door. The car sped away.
“So that went well.” I unlocked the Honda.
            Rachel got in and buckled her seat belt. “Now what?”
            They’d killed hamsters as experiments. Now Sayers had a dead man working for her. Not exactly a zombie. But not a human. And she had Karen’s notebook.
            “I don’t know.” I started the car. “Let’s just get away from here.”

I couldn’t sleep. By the time Rachel came down the next morning I’d been up since 4 a.m., and I was wired by coffee. My hand fingers shook on the keyboard as I tapped at my laptop.
            “So what have you got?” Rachel poured herself a mug of coffee.
            I turned the laptop to let her see. “Curtis Atlee. Facebook friend of Marissa Sayers. That part was easy.” I wondered how The Big Sleep would have turned out if Philip Marlowe had social media in the 1940s.        
The profile page showed Curtis, a bright smile on his face, leaning into a selfie. His other pictures showed him eating lunch, walking a dog, and laughing with friends.
            “What’s their connection? Aside from social media?” Rachel scrolled down. “He was posting two or three times a day up until last week. Ever since—” She looked up at my Sierra Club calendar on the wall. “Almost two weeks. Nothing. Like he’d—”
“Died. Yeah.” I rubbed my eyes. “They might be college friends. He has a degree from Purdue, like Sayers, but Karen didn’t go there. So she wouldn’t know him from there.” I rubbed my eyes.
My coffee was lukewarm. Time for a fresh pot. “He’s got an employer listed. Not Marissa Sayers’ office. I’m going to call them at nine.” I stood up and checked the time over the door to the kitchen. 7:30. “Do you want some cereal?”
            “What about Sayers?” Rachel followed me into the kitchen, where I got bowls from my cupboard, milk from my refrigerator, and a box of Lucky Charms from the pantry.
            “She’s on my other list.” I poured cereal. “Are you eating?”
            “That?” Rachel grimaced. “I guess.”
            Out on the dining room table I tapped at my laptop while Rachel ate. “Marissa’s a real estate lawyer. Nothing about dabbling in witchcraft or necromancy on any of her social profile pages, obviously. Not much of an internet footprint at all, but I’m checking out all her friends and contacts—wait a minute.” I picked up my phone. “I’m an idiot.”
            “Well, I knew that.” But she nudged her foot against my leg instead of kicking me. “I should call Karen Yester to find out who else was in that group.”
            But Karen didn’t pick up. I left a message and went back to going through Sayers’ Facebook friends. She had 216. This could take all morning. And I had a client meeting at 10.
            Rachel finished her cereal and left. I worked for as long as I could, and then I took a shower and headed out for my meeting.