I had known Mrs. Randolph. In fact, she had been my own music teacher back when I was a student at St. Luke’s. She had been kind to a fault, a source of inspiration and joy to her students, and especially to me.
And now, according to the report, someone had strangled her, leaving her for dead on the very piano she had taught on. Perhaps the very same piano I had been taught on.
Jerrold clucked his tongue and shook his head and moved on to the next page, but I had seen enough. I stepped away.
“You’re still young, Jerrold,” I said to him. “Lose fifteen pounds and find someone special—and ditch the gambling.”
As I spoke, the small hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his aura shifted toward me. He shivered unconsciously and turned the page.
We were in Pauline’s apartment.
She was drinking an apple martini and I wasn’t, which was a damn shame. At the moment, I was sitting in an old wingback chair, and she was on the couch, one bare foot up on a hand-painted coffee table that could have doubled as a modern piece of abstract art.
“If you ever need any extra money,” I said, “you could always sell your coffee table on eBay.”
“It’s not for sale,” she said. “Ever.”
“What if you were homeless and living on the streets and needed money?”
“Then I would be homeless and living on the streets with the world’s most bitchin’ hand-painted coffee table.”
Her name was Pauline, and she was my best—and only—friend. She was also a world-famous medium. She could hear me, see me, and sometimes even touch me. Hell, she could even read my thoughts, which was a bit disconcerting for me. She was a full-figured woman, with perhaps the most beautiful face I had ever seen. She often wore her long brown hair haphazardly, a look that would surely have your average California girl running back to the bathroom mirror. Pauline was not your average California girl. She wasn’t your average girl by any definition, spending as much of her time in the world of the dead as in the world of the living. Luckily, she just so happened to live in the very building I was presently haunting.
“Yeah, lucky me,” said Pauline, picking up on my thoughts.
She did her readings out of a small office near downtown Los Angeles, usually working with just one or two clients a day. Some of her sessions lasted longer than others, and tonight she was home later than usual, hitting the booze hard, as she often did. I wouldn’t call her a drunk, but she was damn close to being one.
“I’m not a drunk,” Pauline said absently, reading my thoughts again. “I can stop anytime I want. The booze just helps me…release.”
“Release?” I asked.
“Yeah, to forget. To unwind. To un-everything.”
“You should probably not drink so much,” I said.
She regarded me over her martini glass. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her face gleamed with a fine film of sweat. She wasn’t as attractive when she was drunk.
“Thanks,” she said sarcastically. “And do you even remember what it’s like being drunk?”
I thought about that. “A little. And that was below the belt.”
“Do you even have a belt?”
I looked down at my slightly glowing, ethereal body. Hell, even my clothing glowed. It was the same clothing I had been wearing on the night I was murdered two years ago: a white T-shirt and long red basketball shorts, my usual sleeping garb. I was barefoot, and I suspected my hair was a mess, since I had been shot to death in my sleep. Dotting my body were the various bloody holes where the bullets had long ago entered my living flesh.
“No belt,” I said. “Then again, no shoes, either.”
She laughed, which caused some of her martini to slosh over the rim. She cursed and licked her fingers like a true alcoholic.
“Oh, shut up,” she said.
“Waste not, want not,” I said.
She glared at me some more as she took a long pull on her drink. When she set it down, she missed the center of the cork coaster by about three inches. Now part of the glass sat askew on the edge of the coaster, and the whole thing looked like it might tip over. She didn’t notice or care.
Pauline worked with spirits all day. Early on, she had tried her best to ignore my presence. But I knew she could see me, so I pursued her relentlessly until she finally acknowledged my existence.
“And now I can’t get rid of you,” she said.
“You love me,” I said. “Admit it.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I do. Call me an idiot, but I do.”
“Idiot,” I said. “Besides, I’m different than those other ghosts.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“I’m a ghost on a mission.”
“Could that sound more corny?” she said.
“Maybe after a few more drinks,” I said.
“So how’s the mission coming along?” she asked. We had been over this before, perhaps dozens of times.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not like I’m getting a lot of feedback from anyone—or anything.”
“And when will you be done with your mission?” she asked.
“I don’t know that, either.”
“And what, exactly, is your mission?” As she spoke, she peered into the empty glass with one eye.
“To save my soul.”
“Oh, yeah, that. And you’re sure it’s not too late to save your soul? I mean, you are dead, after all.”
“It’s never too late,” I said.
“And you know that, how?” she asked.
“Because I’m not in hell yet.”
“You’re haunting an old apartment building in Los Angeles,” she said. “Sounds a bit like hell to me.”
“But I can see my wife and daughter whenever I want,” I countered. “Can’t be that bad.”
“Your wife has already remarried,” said Pauline. “And weren’t you two separated at the time of your death?”
We had been, but the details of our separation were lost to me. We had financial problems, I seemed to recall, which had led to many arguments. What we had argued about was anyone’s guess. But the arguments had been heated and impassioned, and in the end, I had moved out—but not very far. To stay close to my daughter, I had rented an apartment in the same building.
“Yes, we had been separated,” I said. “And thank you for reminding me of that.”
“Just keeping it real,” said Pauline indifferently. “Besides, there is no hell.”