Blood-drenched ghosts lead Tom Jurgen into an investigation of series of murder/suicides stretching back 20 years or more. His only clue? A barking dog.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
“My father killed my mother here. Or maybe she killed him. I was six.”
Will Ayres looked at the walls. “Somebody painted. It used to be blue.”
The room was a typical child’s bedroom: stuffed animals, pink sheets, a music player and a few books on a dresser with a long mirror. The blinds were closed.
I looked at my clients, a young African-American couple: Mitch and Kate Freeman.
Kate shrugged. “It was beige when we bought it.” Her husband Mitch nodded.
Ayres backed out of the bedroom, his feet shaking. “Sorry. Could I get a glass of water?”
Mitch headed for the kitchen. Kate crossed her arms. “I’m really sorry to ask you to do this.”
Ayres groaned softly. “It’s okay. Mr. Jurgen said you have ghosts?” He glanced at me.
Me. Tom Jurgen, ex-reporter and private detective. Yeah, I tend to attract cases like this. It’s one thing to have a specialty, but mine has turned out to be supernatural activity. Maybe because I’m stubborn, or maybe I just don’t believe the usual excuses for things most people want to pretend didn’t happen.
Freeman brought Ayres his water and we went into the living room.
The 11th floor condo had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a view of Chicago looking south. The Freemans had a flatscreen TV, a stereo, and a Chagall print on the wall between two well-stocked bookcases.
“It’s our daughter’s room,” Kate said, sitting down. “Caitlyn. She’s seven.”
“She’s staying with my parents now,” Freeman added quickly.
“She started hearing noises—banging on the wall, moans, a dog barking. That sort of thing,” Kate went on. “At first we thought it was the neighbors, or bad dreams. Then about a week ago I went in to check on her, and I looked in the mirror over her dresser and there was . . . someone standing behind me.” She shuddered. “Covered in blood.”
I’d heard the story, so I watched for Ayres’s reaction.
He kept his emotions off his face, but his fingers tensed around the glass. “Was it my mother or my father?”
“It was a woman. In a nightgown. She had long black hair. I didn’t really . . .” She looked at the floor. “I grabbed Caitlyn and ran into the bedroom and slammed the door. Blocked it with a chair. And I put a sheet over the mirror there.”
Freeman cleared his throat, watching his wife nervously. “I saw it too. A couple of times. Once in the mirror. One time leaning out the bedroom door. But it wasn’t a woman. It was a man in jeans, no shirt, blood all over his chest—”
“Stop.” Ayres leaned forward and covered his face in his hands. “Please stop.”
“I’m sorry.” Kate leaned forward and pushed a box of tissues across the table next to his glass.
Ayres trembled, gasping, for two full minutes.
Mitch Freeman had called me after they’d done their own research. They discovered that 19 years ago, a bloody suicide/murder had taken place in the condo they were now living in. They had the basic facts, but they wanted more information.
Tracking down Will Ayres, the only child of Jeffrey and Mona Ayres, hadn’t been difficult. Convincing him to return to the site of his parents’ deaths had also been surprisingly easy.
In his thirties, Will had short brown hair and slender shoulders. He wrote marketing copy for an advertising firm downtown.
Now he looked up, gulped some water, and stared at all three of us through thin, haunted eyes. “What the—what do you want from me?”
“I’m sorry.” It came from Mitch this time. “We don’t want to upset you. We just thought—if we knew more about what happened—it would help us get rid of the ghosts.”
“We really don’t want to move.” Kate glanced out the window at the Chicago skyline at night—tall buildings light up against gray clouds. “And we don’t want someone else to have to deal with this.”
“Did anyone else ever complain?” I’d asked this before, but I wanted Will to hear it now.
“I asked the management office.” Mitch smirked. “Of course they didn’t say anything. But I called the lawyer for the couple we bought the place from. He almost hung up on me before just saying he didn’t know anything about it.”
“I was six.” Will rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t remember much about it. I don’t think I ever heard my parents even arguing. I just—I had some kind of nightmare. Sparky was barking—I had a little puppy—and I woke up and there was screaming. I hid under the covers until it stopped. I think I actually feel asleep? Then a policeman took me away, and I went to live with my grandma.”
He took a deep breath. “I never really—she didn’t talk about it. I didn’t really know what happened for a long time. Then one day she showed me a newspaper article she’d kept. That was the first time I really knew why I was living with her and why I wasn’t living with my parents, but it took me a long time to really understand what happened. I still don’t.”
He wasn’t actually crying, but he grabbed a handful of tissues and blew his nose. “Sorry. There’s just not that much I can tell you.”
“What happened to Sparky?” I asked.
Will shook his head. “I don’t know. He didn’t come with me to my grandma’s. I don’t know if he got—if he—”
Now he was crying. Loud, hacking sobs as he grabbed more and more tissues until the box was empty. Kate and her husband looked at each other helplessly.
Finally Will threw the last of the tissues on the carpet and stood up. “I have to go.”
We all stood up. “We’re very sorry,” Kate said. “Thank you for coming.”
He didn’t look at any of us as we all walked him to the door. Then he turned and forced a smile.
“I haven’t ever really talked about it.” He shrugged. “Maybe I should.”
Freeman opened the door for him. He walked down the hall as a dog barked inside an apartment on the other side.
Kate fixed drinks—wine for her, bourbon for her husband, and a beer for me. Freeman picked up the tissues and threw them away as we sat.
“So now what?” I sipped my beer.
Kate sighed. “I guess we ask our minister if he knows anything about getting rid of ghosts.”
Freeman grunted a laughed. “Pastor Mills? I’m not sure he believes in God, let alone ghosts.”
“I know an ex-priest who does exorcisms.” He owned a bar now. “I’m not sure if he handles ghosts, but—”
“I still think if we knew more about it, we could make it go away.” Freeman was an attorney. He liked facts.
“Don’t you have some experience with—things like this?” Kate looked embarrassed. A lot of my clients do.
“Some.” I searched my memory. “Sometimes ghosts want—an acknowledgement. An apology. Knowing more about what happened could help us figure out what they’re looking for.” I peered down the hall to Caitlyn’s room. “Have you seen them since she went to live with your parents?”
Freeman shivered. “I’ve been afraid to look back there. Tonight was the first time I looked inside.”
“Maybe I could spend the night? If I saw them—”and managed not to flee in screaming terror—“I might notice something.”
They glanced at each other. “I guess,” Freeman said. “Are you going to sleep in her room?”
That would be awkward under lots of circumstances. “No. I’ll just sit up out here. If that’s okay.”
“Let me get you some blankets.” Freeman stood up.
It was only 8:30. I stood up too. “I’ll leave you alone for a while. Call me when you’re ready for me to come back.”
“We usually go to bed at 10.” Kate stood up as well. “We should call Caitlyn about now. Why don’t you come back around then?”
“Fine.” I finished my beer. “See you then.”
I found a coffee shop with wi-fi, ordered a double espresso, and called Rachel.
“What? I’m sort of busy.” Her fingers tapped on her laptop. “Two new jobs, both urgent. I’m going to be up all night.”
“Me too. I’m looking for ghosts in my clients’ condo.”
Rachel laughed. “Ooh, who you gonna call? Tom Jurgen? You ain’t afraid of no ghost!”
Rachel’s sort of psychic, which comes in handy for my work. She’s also my girlfriend, which comes in handy in other ways.
I blew over my espresso. “I am definitely afraid of ghosts. Especially when they come covered in blood because they died in a double murder.”
“Yikes. You want me there? Oh, wait, tonight is my night to wash my hair.”
“All night?” Her red hair is almost as short as mine. I’m in my forties, and it’s mostly sparse and gray.
“As long as it takes to keep me away from trouble. Call me if you need to scream.”
I gulped my coffee. “I’ll let you know.”
I nursed my espresso for an hour until the coffee shop started closing up. So I packed my laptop, dropped five dollars in the tip jar, and made my way back to the Freemans’ condo.
“I hope I’m not too early. The baristas were staring to glare at me.” I waited in the hallway. The dog was still barking down the hall. “I can hang out in the lobby for a while if you want.”
Mitch smiled. “It’s all right. We’re getting ready for bed.”
Blankets and a pillow lay on the couch. “You can sleep there, on in the chair, whatever.” He gestured to the kitchen. “You can help yourself to anything in the fridge. Snacks, water, beer. I set up the coffeemaker.”
I felt embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to invade your privacy. But thanks.”
“No problem. Just . . .” He glanced down the hall way his daughter’s room. “Be careful.”
Kate emerged from the bedroom in a long robe. “You came back.”
Of course. “I’ll try not to disturb you.”
“Caitlyn’s having nightmares. So am I.” She looked exhausted. “See you in the morning.”
The chair had a clear view down the hall to Caitlyn’s room, so I sat down, pulled out my laptop, and kicked off my shoes.
I usually go to bed around 11:30 or midnight, so I was still fairly awake. I’m no Jack Bauer, but once I stayed up for almost 48 hours working on a newspaper story about a serial killer. I figured I could handle a night dozing off and on in a chair, waiting for a ghost.
I watched YouTube for a while, checked some of the blogs I read, and then texted Rachel. “Done washing your hair?”
She came back right away. “Any ghosts yet?”
“Not so far. But it’s early.”
“Call me if you see anything. Pictures or it didn’t happen.”
“What are you doing?”
“Working all night. Like you. Stop bothering me.”
It was almost like sitting next to her. “Love you.”
“That’s what I mean! I’m going to sleep.”
We have a complicated relationship.
I dozed, woke up, and dozed again. The lights from the Board of Trade building downtown rose in the dark sky. I stood up, stretching, and looked down at the street below. Cabs drove fast, buses went slow. Pedestrians dodged crossing the street. A man and a woman stalked down the sidewalk, arguing. A police car flashed its lights at a minivan trying to back into a parking space at a bus stop.
I went back to the chair and fell asleep.
I woke up at one in the morning, stretched again, and sipped some water. I peered down the hall. Nothing.
Just to be sure, I padded forward in my socks. The door was open. Inside the bedroom, in the dim light coming through the closed blinds, I saw the same pink sheets and stuffed animals.
I bit my lip and turned toward the mirror. What if . . .
But I only saw my own face, shrouded in shadow. I rubbed my cheeks. I needed to shave.
So I went back into the living room again, wide awake now. I fired up my laptop and went looking for 1980s music videos. David Bowie, Talking Heads, even Tears for Fears. These would keep me up. I found Bruce Springsteen and sat back, my hands over my head. Waiting.
Nothing good happens at 4:00 in the morning.
I lurched up. My laptop dropped off my knees. I grabbed my phone and checked the time. 4:02 a.m.
Something knocked down the hall.
I forced myself to my feet, looking for my shoes. I couldn’t find them. So I headed down the hall, using my phone as a flashlight. Following the pounding.
The door was open. I stayed back, listening. Water in the pipes? Neighbors arguing?
Then I stepped into the room, hoping I wouldn’t have to flee in terror in my socks.
The bedroom was empty. Darker now—most of the city lights were off. I leaned against the doorway, trying to breathe slow.
“Hello?” My voice was a whisper. “Anyone there?”
Nothing answered. So I turned toward the mirror.
A woman drenched in blood stood behind me.
I whirled around. But she was gone.
So I turned back, slowly, my hands shaking as I held up my phone. There she was, in the mirror.
I tried for a picture. Two, three. I expected the woman to vanish, even though I’d turned the flash off. But she stayed behind me, staring at the floor, blood covering her white nightgown.
I cleared my throat, wishing for some water. “Mona Ayres?”
She looked up. “J-Jeffrey?”
Her husband. Will Ayres’s father.
“No.” I shook my head, feeling dizzy. “I’m Tom. I’m a friend of your son. Will?”
Yeah, “friend” was stretching it. But I had to say something to establish some kind of rapport.
It worked. The ghost of Mona Ayres lowered her head, crying. “Will . . . Will . . .”
Then the other one—Jeffrey?—stood behind her, a hand on her shoulder. Blood streaking his bare hairy chest.
I turned again. This time they were both in front of me, in the bedroom. Flickering in the darkness.
I took a picture. Then another. Then Jeffrey snarled. “Stop that!”
I stumbled back through the doorway, my heart pounding. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t want to be here!” Mona’s shriek rattled the blinds behind her. “Take me away, take me away . . .”
Jeffrey grabbed his wife’s hand. “It’s all right. Don’t worry. It’ll be all right.”
And then for a moment the blood was gone. They stood in the bedroom in formal clothes, as if posing for a wedding picture.
Mona sobbed. “Will . . . Will?”
“Your son is fine.” I shoved the phone in my pocket. “I talked to him tonight. He just doesn’t understand what happened.”
Now Jeffrey was covered in blood again. My feet skidded on the carpet as I backed away.
They crowded the narrow hall. Blood dripped over their bodies again. Over their faces, down their shoulders, down to their feet.
“What the hell?” It was Mitch Freeman, behind me, in sweatpants and a T-shirt. “Oh god . . . oh god . . .”
I wanted to run, but Freeman was right behind me. So I lifted my hands. Which were trembling. “Wait! Please! You don’t have to scare anyone! There was a little girl here—”
Mona screamed. “No! No! We didn’t do it!” Mona sank down on knees. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Her feet disappeared as if a hole had opened up beneath her. She looked up at the ceiling, sobbing. “I’m sorry . . .”
Her body slid down and disappeared.
I tensed. As much as I could, with my entire body shaking in fear. “I didn’t do that.”
Jeffrey groaned. “Just tell Will we love him. Tell him . . .”
He stepped back into the bedroom.
Was he gone? Only one way to find out. Just not the way I wanted.
But I forced myself to the bedroom door. Peered at the mirror. Looking for them.
All I saw in the dark reflection was my own face, twitching with terror.
“Mitch?” Kate’s voice echoed around the hall. “What the hell’s going on?”
We drank coffee around the kitchen table.
“Sometimes ghosts are trapped in the place where they died.” I rubbed my forehead. “They mostly talked about their son.”
“But he’s alive.” Kate crossed her arms, angry. “And this started before he came here tonight.”
“Yeah.” I gulped my coffee, hoping it would cleanse my brain. “And they didn’t explain what happened—”
Mitch shot up from his chair. “What’s that?”
Noises outside the door. He peered through the peephole. Then he made sure his sweatpants were secure and unsnapped the lock.
Out in the hallway, a pair of EMTs pulled a cart from an apartment across the hall. A black body bag was strapped inside it.
Freeman stepped out. “What’s going on?”
A uniformed police officer glanced back at him. “Just go back inside, sir. We’re handling this.”
Then a second cart came out. With another bag.
Freeman looked at me.
I pushed past him down the hall. “Hi. Tom Jurgen. And you are?” I eyed the name on his uniform. “Officer Abelson. Who’s handling this homicide?”
Abelson glared. “Go home, whoever you are.”
“Is it Mario Beach? Anita Sharpe? Hawkins? They all know me. They don’t like me, but—”
“Jurgen!” A detective stalked down the hall, jostling against the carts. I didn’t know this one, but apparently he knew me. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Hello, officer.” I gave him a business card. “Tom Jurgen. I’m a private detective, and I was just here with a client—”
“I know who you are.” The detective was tall and lean, with thin black hair and a long crooked nose. “I’m Rodriguez. Just stay out of my way.”
My old reporting instincts kicked it. “What happened here? Two body bags coming out of an apartment—”
“None of your business.” Rodriguez looked at Abelson. “Is it secure?”
The patrolman nodded. “Yes, sir. The techs are inside now”
A door opened. Down the hall. An elderly woman looked out into the hallway, spotted the police presence, and then ducked back, locking her door.
“Do you see that?” I pointed. “Tomorrow morning everyone in this building is going to start calling the management office to ask about—”
Rodriguez growled. “That’s their job. Just let us do ours.”
“Okay. Fine. What about the dog?”
Rodriguez stared at me, confused. “Abelson?”
Abelson shrugged. “What dog? No dog.”
“There was a dog barking in that apartment a few hours ago. Not loud, but—”
“Go home, Jurgen. Get some sleep.” He shoved me toward the elevators.
I leaned against the wall and looked down at Freeman and Kate. “I’ll call you.”
Freeman nodded. Kate pulled him inside the door. I heard the lock snick as I staggered to the elevator.
Back in my apartment I slept for three hours until my phone alarm jarred me from sleep. The sun glared through my blinds. After a shower and some fresh clothes, I drank some coffee and opened my laptop.
The murders were already up on some of the news websites. It was a double murder—a young couple apparently attacking each other with steak knives and machetes.
I skimmed through the articles, trying to eat a bowl of cereal, but my stomach wasn’t ready for food. I kept seeing Mona Ayres, drenched in blood, out of the corner of my eyes.
So now what? I wasn’t sure what my job was now. The Freeman family had hired me to find out about the murder in their home. I’d done that, sort of.
But I’d never been able to let things like this go.
So I hunched over my laptop and started typing words into search engines.
Rachel unlocked my door at 9:30, holding my copy of the Chicago Tribune in her arms.
“What the hell happened?” She slammed the door. “You call me from your car and tell me something about ghosts covered in blood, and then what? Nothing! I could barely get back to work.”
I stood up, my knees weak from sitting all morning. “I’ll get you some coffee.”
Rachel has red hair and hazelnut eyes. She was wearing tight jeans, boots and a black T-shirt, and she slouched in a chair at my kitchen table as I brought her coffee and refilled my own cup.
I sank back down. “There have been 12 murders in that building over the last 20 years. All of them either murder-suicides, or just unsolved murders. Throw out the unsolved ones, and there are still at least six, maybe seven, without any motive.”
Rachel stared at me. “And you spent the night there? You idiot!” She punched my arm.
“Ow.” I rubbed my shoulder. Her punches have been getting lighter lately, but they still hurt. “The killings in the Freeman place weren’t even the first. Twenty-eight years ago an 81-year-old man shot his wife and then killed himself on the 11th floor. My clients live on the 11th floor. Twelve years before that a pregnant woman and her husband—”
“Stop!” Rachel planted her hands over her ears. “I get it! The place is a deathtrap! Did you tell your clients yet?”
I looked at my phone on the table. “I guess I’d better.”
Freeman sounded groggy. “I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes. What’s up?”
“You might want to move.” I told him what I’d learned.
“Oh, hell.” He sighed. “I was afraid of this. The whole building is—what? Cursed?”
“I don’t know.” I looked at my search results. “Maybe just the 11th floor.”
“Shit.” He was silent for a moment. “I have to call Kate.”
“I’m still looking into this. I’ll be in touch if I find out anything.”
“Okay, fine.” He sighed again. “We’ll start packing.”
Rachel looked at me. “Have you got a plan?”
“Hell, no.” I gulped my coffee. “Just a list of names to call and questions to ask. Do you want to stay?”
“No.” She stood up and stretched. “I’ve still got work to do. Call me before you go after any more ghosts. Don’t get slimed.”
I nodded. “I’ll add that to my to-do list.”
The nice woman at the management office refused to answer any questions when I called. “You should check our statement on the website. Are you a resident?”
“I’m working for one of your residents. Are you aware of the number of murders that have taken place in your building in the last forty years?”
“Uhh . . .” She swallowed. “Sandler Mullins has only been managing this location since 2011. I suggest you contact the previous management company, Keller Smithwick? In the meantime, as I said, please look at our statement. That’s all.” She hung up.
I found the statement:
TO OUR RESIDENTS
As you may know, a serious incident occurred in an apartment on the 11th floor of our building last night. Two of our residents were found dead. Police were called, and they are investigating the circumstances. Everything is under control as of this morning.
Out of respect for the families involved, we are not releasing the names of those involved.
Please be assured that your safety and security are our top priority. We will be cooperating fully with the Chicago Police Department, and we will share information as soon as it becomes available.
My next call was to the Anita Sharpe, Chicago police detective. We worked together on vampire cases. She wouldn’t be happy to hear from me on this, but she was one of the few cops I knew who wouldn’t immediately hang up on me.
“Jurgen? What?” Sharpe sounded ready to strangle someone close by. “It’s daylight. There can’t be a vampire, can there? Can there?”
“Calm down, detective.” There hadn’t been a vampire killing in weeks. “I just need some information on a murder-suicide in a condo last night. Anything you can tell me.”
“You want me to do your work for you? I’ve got another shooting on the south side and a gang-banger to question.” She grunted. “I’ll code it as a vampire case if I can. Just make it quick.”
“I don’t have the names. Rodriguez was in charge.” I gave her the address. “I owe you one.”
“You owe me a lot, asshole.” I heard her fingers tapping. “Hang on.”
We’d been through a few bad times together. Sharpe didn’t exactly like me, but we’d managed to build up a certain amount of trust.
I still missed Dudovich.
“Okay.” Sharpe talked slowly. “Victims’ names were Alex and Bryan Gomez. Early forties. No previous reports of domestic disturbance. Last night a neighbor heard crashing in their apartment and a dog barking. Officers arrived, a maintenance man opened the door with a key, and the two victims were found dead. A machete and a knife. No sign of forced entry, no evidence of sexual assault. The TV was on. Seinfeld.”
“What about the dog?”
“There wasn’t any . . .” Sharpe paused. “There’s nothing about any dog.”
“But there was a dog barking inside the apartment.”
“I’m just telling you what’s in the report, Jurgen. And you didn’t get it from me.”
“Who are you again? I just called a random number inside the CPD.”
Sharpe laughed. “Go to hell, Jurgen.” She hung up.
I had at least one more call to make. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to.
Will Ayres worked in a Target on the near north side. He couldn’t talk immediately, but he called me back fifteen minutes later. “What happened? Did you see my parents?” His voice was a desperate whisper. “Just tell me.”
I had to tell him the truth. Some of it, anyway. “Your father said he loves you. Your mother says she’s sorry.”
“Oh god . . . oh god . . .” I could hear Will crying. “I’m sorry . . .”
I waited. “Uh, you can call me back if you want.”
“No, I’m okay.” He sniffed. “I’m in the bathroom. What did you want?”
“It’s about your dog, Sparky. Where did he come from?”
I heard the toilet flush. “I don’t really remember. He was just there. And then he wasn’t. Like I said, I never saw him after I went to stay with my grandma. She didn’t say anything about . . . anything.”
I shifted in my chair. “Thanks. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“No, it’s fine. Just . . . what did they look like?”
Covered in blood? I couldn’t tell him that. “I saw them looking like a wedding picture. They looked . . . happy.”
I waited. Hoping it wasn’t the wrong thing to say.
“Okay.” Will cleared his throat. “I just hope Sparky is happy too.”
NIneteen years? Sparky was probably dead. If he’d ever been alive.
But I didn’t want to say that. “If I learn anything more, I’ll be in touch.”
“I have to get back to work.” His voice lowered. “If you see them again, tell them . . . I don’t know. Tell them anything that sounds good.”
Will hung up. I drank some coffee and tried to think of my next move.
I could walk up and down the 11th floor, knocking on doors, asking questions, and listening for barking dogs. But that could get me kicked out and possibly arrested.
I went back to the condo association’s website. The manager was Patricia Carnes. The picture showed a woman in her 30s with light brown hair and wide lips stretched in a smile. I wrote down her email address.
Then I went to the previous management company’s website. And there, under a “Meet Our Team” Link, I found Carnes again. Her brown hair looked a little darker, but her smile was just as wide.
I poured myself another cup of coffee and dug deep into real estate management firms. It took a while. But before Keller Smithwick, the Freemans’ condo building had been owned by a company called Taylor & Taylor, back in the 1980s. Taylor & Taylor was out of business, but I found an archived site with a list of executives and managers.
She was there, under the name “Pat Carnes.” Shorter hair, her smile a little less prominent. But the same person.
It wasn’t unusual for companies to basically sell a property manager to another company when they got bought out. But it seemed unusual for the same manager to stay with a property for 30 years—and for a string of murders to take place in the same building over all that time.
I called Freeman again. This time his wife picked up. “We have to move?”
Were they already packing boxes? “Maybe. I need you to make an appointment with Patricia Carnes. Your property manager? I doubt if she’ll see me alone.”
“Is this about—what Mitch said? All these murders?”
“Yes.” I sighed. “I’m sorry. It might be important.”
I heard Kate whisper to her husband. Then: “Okay. I’ll call her. I never liked her.”
Yeah. “She probably won’t like either of us before this is over.”
So at 3:30 we were all sitting in the management office on the first floor. Me, Kate, and Patricia Carnes.
She had short brown hair, and she looked to be in her 40s, even though she’d apparently been managing the building for almost 30 years. Maybe she worked out a lot.
Kids on bicycles rode through the courtyard outside the window. Carnes moved her chair back and shut the blinds. “What can I do for you?”
Rachel burst through the door. “Sorry I’m late! There was a traffic jam. And I was working.” She sat next to me and jabbed an elbow at my arm. “Jerk.”
I’d asked her—begged her, actually—to join the meeting. Her psychic powers might help me pinpoint what was going on.
Carnes smiled, her red lips tight. “What can I do for you, Ms. Freeman?”
“We’re moving out.” Kate’s voice was calm. “After that murder last night—”
“We are instituting new security measures after last night.” Carnes folded her hands on top of her desk. “More cameras, more guards. You have nothing to worry about—“
“Wait a minute.” I shook my head. “So how are extra cameras and rental cops going to stop residents from killing themselves inside their own units?”
Carnes stared at me. “Who are you again?”
I reached into my pocket and dropped a card on her desk. “Tom Jurgen. I have some experience with this sort of thing.”
“With condo security?” Carnes seemed legitimately puzzled. “”We have our own security firm, you know. A&X Services. They’re very reputable.”
I leaned forward. “Do you know how many people have been killed in this building in the last 20 years? I can give you names: James and Tammy Levine, 1999, murder-suicide. Bradley and Rebecca Wallings, 2003, another murder and suicide. Linda Crump, pregnant, 2004, suicide. All in your building, all on the 11th floor, none of them killed by intruders. This place is . . .” I hesitated. “It’s haunted. Cursed. Something like that.”
She blinked. But before she could say tell me I was crazy, a dog started barking underneath her desk.
“Ozzie!” Carnes snapped her fingers. “Come back here!”
Ozzie was a small beagle with black ears, shirt legs, and a white snout, but instead of obeying Carnes he burst around around the corner of the desk and started running in circles around the carpet.
Ozzie darted under my chair, dashed behind Kate, and then jumped up at Rachel, its long red tongue hanging out.
Rachel shoved her chair back. “Don’t slobber over me. I hate that. What’s your name?”
“Ozzie, get back.” Carnes walked around the desk and pulled on the dog’s collar. “She usually stays quiet when I’m working.”
Kate stood up, her legs ramrod straight. “We’re moving out. I’ll call about the freight elevator.” She stalked to the door.
“Wait—wait!” Carnes picked the dog up. “Quiet, Ozzie. What’s going on?”
I took out my phone. “Can I take a picture?”
The little dog barked at me. I managed a shot. Then another one. Then I slipped the phone back into my pocket. “Thanks for your time.”
“Wait!” Carnes let Ozzie drop to the floor. “What’s going on in my building? You have to tell me!”
Ozzie barked again, and then ran back underneath the desk.
I stood at the office door. “You’ve been here for 30 years. Didn’t you ever wonder?”
“This my job.” She sat back in her chair. “My building. I live here. And all I have is Ozzie.”
The little dog barked at her feet.
“How old is Ozzie?” Rachel asked.
“The first manager gave him to me. She’s been here ever since.”
“So he—she’s over 20 years old?” I glanced at Rachel. “Pretty active for a dog in old age.
Carnes shrugged. “I don’t know. Tell Ms. Freeman and her husband I’m sorry.” She sat down, Ozzie squirmed at her feet.
Kate wasn’t waiting in the lobby. We took the elevator to the 11th floor and knocked on the door.
Mitch looked like we wanted to punch me. “What the hell happened?”
In the living room Kate was dumping books into a box. “Tomorrow. Or the next day. We’re out of here.”
“Give me a minute.” I pulled Rachel into the nearest bathroom.
“I hate dogs.” She perched on the toilet lid. “They’re smelly and they slobber all over you.”
“But Ozzie?” I pulled up the two pictures I’d taken.
“She’s scared. She’s been scared for a long time.”
“What about the manager?”
Rachel shook her head. “I don’t think she really knows what’s going on.”
“Me too.” I found Will Ayres’s number on my phone.
He answered on the second buzz. “I’m working.”
“I know. Sorry. I just want to send you a picture. Can you let me know if you recognize it?”
“What picture? I’m busy!”
“I don’t want to tell you or influence you. Just call me back when you see it. Whenever you have a chance.” I hung up, went back to the photo, and hit send.
A hard hand knocked on the door. “What’s going on in there?” Kate. “I need the bathroom!”
“Sorry.” Embarrassed, we let Kate in.
Mitch opened beers for us. “I just don’t know what’s going on.”
“Your manager doesn’t either. Which is . . . curious.”
“She’s not hiding anything.” Rachel sipped her beer. “I couldn’t sense much from her. But I didn’t really have much chance.”
My phone buzzed. Will Ayres. “It’s Sparky.”
“You’re sure?” It was a long time ago,
“It felt like him. What does it mean?”
“I’ll let you know.” I hung up. “It’s him. Her. The same dog.”
“What does that mean?” Kate emerged from the bathroom, wiping her hands.
We sat at the kitchen table. Boxes were already stacked around the living room.
I tried to sort out my theory. “Somehow that dog—Ozzie, Sparky, whatever—is making people kill each other and themselves. And it’s been doing it for years.”
“A dog.” Even after everything she’d seen, Kate gave me the “You’re crazy” look.
“You saw her.” Rachel crossed her arms. “Did she look 20 years old?
“What? It was a puppy.
“After you walked out.” I looked out the window at the city skyline. How much of it had changed over the past two decades? But Ozzie was still the same. “Maybe that’s how she lived so long. Stealing years of life from the people she kills.”
“What do we do about it?” Rachel asked.
“We get out.” Kate stood up. “Keep packing.”
“Coming.” Mitch looked at us. “Thanks.”
“So now what?” Rachel buckled her seat belt as I shoved my key into the Honda’s ignition.
“I don’t know.” I didn’t start the car yet. “Is it a dog from another dimension? Like that one time? Or is it a demon possessing the dog?”
She snorted. “So you could call that bartender you know?”
“Even he’d laugh at me.”
Rachel leaned back and closed her eyes. “I had that demon inside me once. You remember that one time.”
“I’m sorry.” I put a hand on her arm. “That was my fault.”
She pulled away. “No. This was different. Like I said, Ozzie is scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“People. Everyone but that manager. And like I said, I don’t think she even understands what’s going on.”
A car honked behind me, waiting for the space. I started up and headed down the street.
“The Freemans can move.” I glanced in my rearview mirror at the building. “But what about the people who move in after them? And everyone else in the building?”
I stopped for a red light. “I suppose I could try warning all of them in a huge group email—if I had everyone’s email address. Even so, is anyone going to believe me? I could get sued.”
Rachel snorted. “How much would they get?”
“This car, and the twelve dollars in my wallet. And I’d have to pay lawyers, and you’ll have to pay for pizza.” The light changed.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” She punched my arm. “You’re on your own there, big boy.”
“The other thing—” I turned right.
“What? Hey, watch out!” A cab made a fast left turn in front of me. I honked, it veered, and we exchanged middle fingers.
I turned north. “We might have to kill Ozzie.”
I braced myself. Rachel’s a vegetarian, and although she’s not exactly a card-carrying member of PETA, she donates to animal shelters and rants against animal abuse on Facebook.
But she only folded her arms. “Can you kill a little dog? Really?”
“This isn’t like going back in time to kill Hitler as a child. I couldn’t do that, even if I could travel in time. But this is here and now, and Ozzie is a murderer.”
We rode in silence the rest of the way. Outside our building I parked and waited for Rachel to punch me. It would have been better than her silence.
Instead she looked out the window. “What if it’s the building? Not Ozzie.”
“You mean like it’s on top of an ancient Indian burial ground?”
She slugged my arm. “No, you idiot. And it’s Native American. Just—you remember when I got possessed by a demon?”
All too well. “Good thinking. I’ll check it out.”
She smirked. “You owe me a pizza.”
“Even better thinking.”
So I spent a few hours doing real estate research. It’s usually just as exciting as it sounds. This quickly became interesting
The building was 35 years old—and it had been built, not on an ancient burial ground, but on the spot where a previous hotel had burned down five years before. Seventeen people had died.
It had been a residential hotel. Most of the people who lived there were on government assistance or otherwise close to the poverty line. Some of them were elderly. It happened on a night in February, and firefighters speculated that a space heater had sparked the fire.
One news story had a small item toward the end: Firefighters had rescued a small dog from the ruins. A beagle.
I called Rachel. “You’re a genius.”
“Of course I am. What now?”
I told her about the hotel. And the dog.
“So the people who died there are—what? Possessing the dog? And then possessing the people?”
“Something like that. Angry ghosts.” I’d dealt with a few of those too.
“So what do we do?”
I looked at my laptop screen. “Get Ozzie out of the building, I guess?”
“I was thinking more about—” My phone buzzed with another call. From the Freemans. “Hang on.”
“It’s here.” Kate’s voice was a trembling whisper. “Ozzie. We can hear him barking but we can’t find him. It’s like he’s in the walls.”
Oh god. “Get out. Right now. Call Carnes—”
“The office is closed. It’s after five. I tried.”
“Then get out and call the cops. The important thing is to get out. I’ll be right over.”
I switched back to Rachel. “Pizza will have to wait.”
We found Kate sitting next to her husband on a bench in the courtyard next to their building.
Mitch Freeman stood up as Kate clutched the handle at the edge of the bench. This was the first time I’d seen her scared. Angry? Yeah. And Mitch had always seemed ready to back her up. Now he seemed to be reluctantly taking charge.
“The police are inside.” He gestured toward a squad car in the circular driveway. “I told them everything. They think we’re crazy.”
Yeah. “I get that a lot.”
Rachel sat down next to them. The bench was small, so I stayed on my feet, looking around. “What did you hear? Or see?”
“The dog was barking in the bedroom. Our daughter’s room.” Kate looked up and twisted around, as if trying to find the apartment up in the sky. “I sent Mitch in, but Ozzie wasn’t there. Not in the closet, not under the bed or behind the dresser. We knocked on the walls. It just kept barking.” She shivered. “That’s when I called you.”
Mitch put a hand over her shoulder. “We can hire movers to pack everything. We’ll stay at my mom’s place with Tina until we find someplace new.”
“Yeah.” She clutched his hand. “Not going back.”
Two cops came out of the entrance. They spotted Freeman and walked over.
The male cop—Garcia, his nametag read, 20s, with short black hair—shook his head. “Sorry, sir. We looked around thoroughly. There aren’t any secret panels, and we found no sign of a dog.”
“We also attempted to contact your building manager—Patricia Carnes?” Her name was Patel. “She was unavailable. We did talk to her assistant, Mark Kines. He said he’d contact Ms. Carnes.” She looked up at the building through dark sunglasses. “The barking may have come up through the ventilation shaft in the bathroom. It’s a pet building.”
I squelched a sigh. These cops seemed sincere, if skeptical. “If you look into it, there’s been a series of murder-suicides in this building. One happened last night. Ask a detective named Rodriguez. I didn’t get his badge number.”
“I know Rodriguez.” Garcia nodded. “He’s a good detective.”
“I don’t doubt that. Just maybe . . .” I stopped. “Wait—the ventilation shaft?”
“It goes up and down through the bathrooms.” Mitch looked down at his wife. “You can smell people cooking, and cigarette smoke . . .”
Oh no. I glanced at Rachel. She nodded.
I knew what this would sound like. But I had to say it. “Look, you need to check every single apartment on that tier, up and down. Look for a dog. A small beagle named Ozzie. Make sure everyone’s okay. Make sure no one’s trying to kill each other.”
The two cops glanced at each other. Garcia looked back at their squad car.
Patel nodded. “We can’t spend any more time here without an actual report of a possible crime. If you find anything—”
“Jesus Christ.” Kate lurched up from the bench. “Get us a cab, Mitch. These people are useless.”
“Wait.” I held up a hand. “Just a few minutes.”
Mitch looked at his wife. She shrugged.
I nodded to the two cops. “Thanks for your help.”
“We’ll talk to Rodriguez.” Garcia put on a pair of dark sunglasses. “Call us if you need anything.”
Rachel stood next to me. “So we have to go in there, don’t we?”
I looked up at the building. The sun was setting. Windows were lighting up. I saw a barbecue grill glowing. Someone was cooking dinner.
A girl on a tricycle zoomed past us in the courtyard. Her mother chased after her, flashing a quick smile. “Sorry!”
Rachel waved. “No problem!”
“We have to go.” Mitch held his wife’s hand.
“I know.” I looked at the entrance. “Can you just help me with one thing?”