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I listened harder. It did sound like he was somewhere where there were a lot of people. I don’t know why I was being so paranoid.

“Look, something happened today,” I said, not wanting to say too much over the phone.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, I am. We all are. But the cops were here earlier and…”

“Cops?” he exclaimed. “Wel I’l be. You sure you’re all right?”

“I am for now but I was wondering if you’d come by and do like, a reading or something? I don’t know, I just feel like I’m running out of time and if this is going so far as to scare my family and not just me, I can’t just watch it happen. I can’t. I won’t!”

“Al righty, no worries Perry. I’l head over right now.”

“Thank you,” I whispered softly into the phone.

“You got it,” was his answer and the phone went dead.

I took in a deep breath and changed into leggings and a long teal sweater so I didn’t look like I just rolled out of bed, then did a quick run of concealer and mascara on my face.

Downstairs, my family was stil silent, stil pretending to watch the TV. I perched on the edge of my dad’s armchair and lay my hand down his. It was cold. He looked up at me and smiled. It was strained, but it was something.

“I have a friend coming over,” I announced quietly.

Everyone turned to look at me, surprised.

“Perry,” my mom said with disapproval. “After what happened today.”

happened today.”

“Because of what happened today,” I corrected her. I didn’t want to bring up anything about ghosts but I had to say something. “He’s new in town. And…he makes me feel safe.”

My family was adept at the three-way “Perry” glance.

Eyes were darting all over among Ada, my mother and my dad.

“Who is he?” my father asked.

“You’ve never mentioned anyone,” Ada shot in.

“Is is that fitness guy?” my mother asked, a little too hopeful y. I had forgotten about her fears of me turning into a spinster, but now I knew I had to milk that for all it was worth.

“No,” I said to her. Her face fel and I added, “It’s that Maximus guy I told you about.”

“Maximus, huh?” Ada commented with a sparkle in her eyes. “Would this be the same Maximus that you met out in New Mexico?”

“That’s the one,” I said, my voice on edge as I shot her the stinkeye. I didn’t want her to bring up his ghost- whispering business in front of the rents.

“Oh, Perry, I hope you’re done with all those…those… doorknobs,” my mother said, slapping her thighs. By doorknobs, I’m pretty sure she meant Dex.

“He’s not a doorknob. Or any knob,” I said, and Ada giggled. Probably because I said “knob.”

My mother and father exchanged another look. They were suspicious, wary, disbelieving. But that was OK with me because lo and behold, they were worried about me and not about some mystery person who left decapitated livestock in the house.

They asked me a few more questions about him; most of them I couldn’t even answer because I didn’t know myself, like what the hel his last name was. Then we turned our attention back to the screen and watched that until Clint Eastwood kil ed some more Mexicans and the doorbel rang.


I leaped up and ran for the door, opening it and jumping down on the front stoop where Maximus was standing.

“Whoa, where’s the fire?” he drawled, putting his hand on my arm. He gave it a squeeze and peered down at me.

“You all right, little lady?”

I nodded quickly. “Yes. well . I don’t know. But here’s the thing…”

I leaned over and quietly shut the front door so my family inside couldn’t hear me. Maximus lifted his brow.

I lowered my voice and continued, “My family doesn’t know you’re a ghost whisperer or anything like that. They don’t believe in that stuff and to bring it up, well , it causes problems. I don’t know why. And especial y today, they want to believe what happened was caused by someone living, not dead. So we have to keep everything on a low pro, OK?”

“I got ya,” he said, his eyes darting over to the windows of the front sitting room. A light there had just gone on. It was probably my dad, wondering where the hel I went. “So what happened today?”

I gave him the Cliff Notes version while my dad watched us out of the window. I waved at him as I explained, hoping he would know we’d be coming in soon and to not interrupt us.

“Did you find the head?” Maximus asked when I was finished.

“No.” I reached over and grabbed his hand. “Do you think you can get a good sense of what’s going on tonight?

Like, wil you be able to do anything?”

He looked up at the house, taking it all in. He didn’t look all that confident. “I’m not too sure. This might be a slow process. You know I can only pick up on what the person was feeling when they died. Abby, if it is her, she didn’t die here. So I don’t know what I can do with it. And I’m pretty sure I know exactly what she felt when she died.”

“But you said you’d fix this,” I pleaded, almost stomping my feet like a little girl.

“I’m going to try,” he said, placing his other hand on top of my head as if to calm me down. “I promised you that.

We’l figure out what it is first and then take it from there.”

“Take it where? Like an exorcism?” I shuddered at the thought.

“You’re not possessed, Perry,” he said. “And exorcisms are a waste of time. Good luck getting someone to do it in the first place. Then you have to prove you’re possessed, which is hard to do, cuz like I said, it’s often in people’s heads. Personality disorders are usual y the cause. There is, as it turns out, always another explanation. And getting a priest or a shaman to exorcise a person who isn’t possessed is very, very dangerous. To the victim, to the priest, to everyone. Besides, you don’t exorcise a house.

You clear it.”

“So do you think you’l be able to clear it? Can you do that?” I felt more anxious by the second. “And don’t say you’l try.”

He paused and licked his lips. Then… “I never try anything,” he drawled. “I just do it.”

It was a line from one of my favorite movies, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and I felt a grin tugging at the corner of my lips. This man knew exactly how to calm me down and possibly get in my pants.

“Wanna try me?” he added.

I smacked him on the arm, then took hold of his hand again and led him inside the house.

“You know, I reckon you look a bit like a young Tura Satana,” he whispered into my ear.

“Must be the boobs,” I tossed over my shoulder just as my dad appeared in front of us, having been waiting in the sitting room all this time.

“Perry, I thought you weren’t coming in,” he said with a nervous smile as he looked up at the burly redhead. My dad wasn’t very tal , so Maximus towered over him.

“Dad, this is Maximus,” I said. “Maximus, this is dad.”

Maximus shook my dad’s hand firmly, looking him straight in the eyes, and said, “You have a very lovely daughter here, sir.”

My dad beamed. He never beamed at any guys I brought home. OK, so I brought home only one, but stil .

“Oh, well , we like her.” He laughed awkwardly.

Sure, I thought. Now you like me.

We walked down the hal while Dad asked Maximus where in Louisiana he grew up and they started talking about the Cajun food. We came to the living room, where Ada and my mom were standing, waiting for us.

Maximus shook hands with both of them and I could see his frame, manners and charming drawl was winning over my mother in two seconds flat. Ada, on the other hand, was a bit snarky. I gave her a funny look, warning her to behave but she just rolled her eyes and plopped down on the couch, pretending the movie credits were fascinating.

“Since you’re here, how about we order Chinese,” my mom offered brightly. “I don’t think I’l be cooking in that kitchen for a long time.”

Maximus nodded and folded his hands in front of him.

“Perry told me what happened. I’m very sorry for all of you. I hope whoever did this wil be brought to justice soon. In the meantime, if there is anything I can do, I would be happy to help.”

He looked to my dad. “I know you have cleaners coming in tomorrow, but I would be happy to give you a hand in putting the room back together, make it look like nothing happened in there. I know how terribly upsetting it must be to have your sanctuary desecrated.”

Man, he was good.

My father almost looked chagrined at Maximus’s generosity. I looked over at Ada to see what she thought but she gave me a sarcastic look. Sheesh, what was up her butt? Did she have ginger-vitis?

I tried to think of a smooth way of getting him out of their hair but Maximus was smooth himself and turned to me with his extra-watt smile. “I’d love to see the rest of your beautiful house, Perry.”

I stifled a giggle and took hold of his arm, gently leading him out of the living room and up the hal to the stairs. I looked over my shoulder to see if my family was fol owing us. They weren’t but I could hear excited, hushed words in my wake. They’d be talking about him for a while.

“I’d particularly like to see your bedroom,” he said as we walked up the stairs.

“Wow, you are on a rol tonight,” I commented.

“That’s been the hotspot of supernatural activity in your house, hasn’t it?”

Oh. Of course. Right. We were back to talking about ghosts.

“Uh-huh,” I said in a raised voice and opened the door to my room. I had done a quick clean before he came over so there weren’t things lying about that I didn’t want him to see.

He walked into the center of the room and looked around slowly, his eyes scanning every nook and cranny. I shut the door and leaned against my desk, watching him.

I didn’t say anything and neither did he for quite some time.

Final y, he spoke. “There is something here.”

An icy trail seared down my spine and I shivered.

oveWhat?” I squeaked, and looked around the room, trying to see past the normalcy, past the façade of my band posters, my stuffed animals, my photographs I’d framed. I looked for that warpy shimmer in the air that I had seen many times before, too many times. But there was nothing.

He closed his eyes and raised his hands up in the air slightly. I watched him, afraid to breathe or move. I wanted to feel it too. How come I couldn’t see Abby like I could the others? Were ghosts able to pick and choose who saw them?

I wanted to ask if it was Abby but I bit my lip and waited for him.

“It’s her…”he said.

“It is?” My heart quickened its pace. Thinking it and knowing it was like the difference between being scared and being absolutely horrified.

“I’m picking up on some of her thoughts,” he said, eyes stil closed. “But they are all over the place.”