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I don’t know how I could turn away the bereft, the hopeful. In the event that I learned to do so, I’m not sure I’d like the person I would have become.

Yet if I could turn no one away, they would wear me down with their love and their hate. They would grind me on their wheels of need until I had been reduced to dust.

Now, afraid of being found in Dr. Jessup’s house, I flopped, twitched, and scrabbled across the floor. No longer in severe pain, I was not yet fully in control of myself, either.

As if I were Jack in the giant’s kitchen, the knob on the pantry door appeared to be twenty feet above me. With rubbery legs and arms still spastic, I don’t know how I reached it, but I did.

I’ve a long list of things I don’t know how I’ve done, but I’ve done them. In the end, it’s always about perseverance.

Once in the pantry, I pulled the door shut behind me. This close dark space reeked of pungent chemical scents the likes of which I had never before smelled.

The taste of scorched aluminum made me half nauseous. I’d never previously tasted scorched aluminum; so I don’t know how I recognized it, but I felt sure that’s what it was.

Inside my skull, a Frankenstein laboratory of arcing electrical currents snapped and sizzled. Overloaded resistors hummed.

Most likely my senses of smell and taste weren’t reliable. The Taser had temporarily scrambled them.

Detecting a wetness on my chin, I assumed blood. After further consideration, I realized I was drooling.

During a thorough search of the house, the pantry would not be overlooked. I’d only gained a minute or two in which to warn Chief Porter.

Never before had the function of a simple pants pocket proved too complicated for me to understand. You put things in, you take things out.

Now for the longest time, I couldn’t get my hand into my jeans pocket; someone seemed to have sewn it shut. Once I finally got my hand in, I couldn’t get it back out. At last I extracted my hand from the clutching pocket, but discovered that I’d failed to bring my cell phone with it.

Just when the bizarre chemical odors began to resolve into the familiar scents of potatoes and onions, I regained possession of the phone and flipped it open. Still drooling but with pride, I pressed and held 3, speed-dialing the chief’s mobile number.

If he was personally engaged in the search of the house, he most likely wouldn’t stop to answer his cell phone.

“I assume that’s you,” Wyatt Porter said.

“Sir, yes, right here.”

“You sound funny.”

“Don’t feel funny. Feel Tasered.”

“Say what?”

“Say Tasered. Bad guy buzzed me.”

“Where are you?”

“Hiding in the pantry.”

“Not good.”

“It’s better than explaining myself.”

The chief is protective of me. He’s as concerned as I am that I avoid the misery of public exposure.

“This is a terrible scene here,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Terrible. Dr. Jessup was a good man. You just wait there.”

“Sir, Simon might be moving Danny out of town right now.”

“I’ve got both highways blocked.”

There were only two ways out of Pico Mundo—three, if you counted death.

“Sir, what if someone opens the pantry door?”

“Try to look like canned goods.”

He hung up, and I switched off my phone.

I sat there in the dark awhile, trying not to think, but that never works. Danny came into my mind. He might not be dead yet, but wherever he was, he was not anywhere good.

As had been true of his mother, he lived with an affliction that gravely endangered him. Danny had brittle bones; his mother had been pretty.

Simon Makepeace most likely wouldn’t have been obsessed with Carol if she had been ugly or even plain. He wouldn’t have killed a man over her, for sure. Counting Dr. Jessup, two men.

I had been alone in the pantry up to this point. Although the door didn’t open, I suddenly had company.

A hand clasped my shoulder, but that didn’t startle me. I knew my visitor had to be Dr. Jessup, dead and restless.


DR. JESSUP HAD BEEN NO DANGER TO ME when he was alive, nor was he a threat now.

Occasionally, a poltergeist—which is a ghost who can energize his anger—is able to do damage, but they’re usually just frustrated, not genuinely malicious. They feel they have unfinished business in this world, and they are people for whom death has not diminished the stubbornness that characterized them in life.

The spirits of thoroughly evil people do not hang around for extended periods of time, wreaking havoc and murdering the living. That’s pure Hollywood.

The spirits of evil people usually leave quickly, as though they have an appointment, upon death, with someone whom they dare not keep waiting.

Dr. Jessup had probably passed through the pantry door as easily as rain through smoke. Even walls were no barrier to him anymore.

When he took his hand off my shoulder, I assumed that he would settle on the floor, cross-legged Indian style, as I was sitting, and evidently he did. He faced me in the dark, which I knew when he reached out and gripped my hands.

If he couldn’t have his life back, he wanted reassurance. He did not have to speak to convey to me what he needed.

“I’ll do my best for Danny,” I said too softly to be heard beyond the pantry.

I did not intend my words to be taken as a guarantee. I haven’t earned that level of confidence from anyone.

“The hard truth is,” I continued, “my best might not be good enough. It hasn’t always been enough before.”

His grip on my hands tightened.

My regard for him was such that I wanted to encourage him to let go of this world and accept the grace that death offered him.

“Sir, everyone knows you were a good husband to Carol. But they might not realize just how very good a father you were to Danny.”

The longer a liberated spirit lingers, the more likely he will get stuck here.

“You were so kind to take on a seven-year-old with such medical problems. And you always made him feel that you were proud of him, proud of how he suffered without complaint, his courage.”

By virtue of the way that he had lived, Dr. Jessup had no reason to fear moving on. Remaining here, on the other hand—a mute observer incapable of affecting events—guaranteed his misery.

“He loves you, Dr. Jessup. He thinks of you as his real father, his only father.”

I was thankful for the absolute darkness and for his ghostly silence. By now I should be somewhat armored against the grief of others and against the piercing regret of those who meet untimely deaths and must leave without good-byes, yet year by year I become more vulnerable to both.

“You know how Danny is,” I continued. “A tough little customer. Always the wisecrack. But I know what he really feels. And surely you know what you meant to Carol. She seemed to shine with love for you.”

For a while I matched his silence. If you push them too hard, they clutch up, even panic.

In that condition, they can no longer see the way from here to there, the bridge, the door, whatever it is.

I gave him time to absorb what I’d said. Then: “You’ve done so much of what you were put here to do, and you did it well, you got it right. That’s all we can expect—the chance to get it right.”

After another mutual silence, he let go of my hands.

Just as I lost touch with Dr. Jessup, the pantry door opened. Kitchen light dissolved the darkness, and Chief Wyatt Porter loomed over me.

He is big, round-shouldered, with a long face. People who can’t read the chief’s true nature in his eyes might think he’s steeped in sadness.

As I got to my feet, I realized that the residual effects of the Taser had not entirely worn off. Phantom electrical sounds sizzled inside my head agai


Dr. Jessup had departed. Maybe he had gone on to the next world. Maybe he had returned to haunting the front yard.

“How do you feel?” the chief asked, stepping back from the pantry.


“Tasers don’t do real harm.”

“You smell burnt hair?”

“No. Was it Makepeace?”

“Not him,” I said, moving into the kitchen. “Some snaky guy. You find Danny?”

“He’s not here.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“The way’s clear. Go to the alley.”

“I’ll go to the alley,” I said.

“Wait at the tree of death.”

“I’ll wait at the tree of death.”

“Son, are you all right?”

“My tongue itches.”

“You can scratch it while you wait for me.”

“Thank you, sir.”




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