Sunday Serial: Giving up the Ghost Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Hero makes difficult phone calls and learns that Aunt Dee had more secrets than previously guessed. Strange phone calls infest Hero’s day.

The next morning, I woke up and heard Jenny in the shower.  I vaguely remembered her coming back, but I guess I’d been mostly asleep again. I found myself having less trouble thinking about the preternatural issue. The evidence was just too overwhelming.  Jenny, Aidan, and Kyle couldn’t all be crazy, and even if they were, they couldn’t be the same kind of crazy. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, replaying yesterday. What I was worried about was the idea that Dee had been murdered, and possibly by some super-witches from 60 years ago.    

Ok, I asked myself, why would Dee hide all of this from me?  Jenny’s suggestion that Dee wanted me to have a normal life made sense, but only if Sosostris or somebody else wasn’t after her.  I couldn’t figure out why wouldn’t she hadn’t told me everything so that I could at least protect myself?  Of course, she wasn’t planning on being murdered. I closed my eyes, but that made it worse. The idea that someone had killed Dee still left me sick.        

I sat up and admitted that I couldn’t deal with murder, at least not yet. But I could take care of mundane things. When overwhelmed, always start with the mundane tasks. It was Dee’s mantra, and now the use of mundane took on a different meaning. Back when I was about eleven, I’d had a class that required some big project on our family history. Dee had found me sobbing over my notebook, unable to name anyone in my family other than Dee and my mother. I wasn’t even sure of my mother’s last name. Dee had sat down beside me, and we had talked through my despair. The mundane tasks had involved washing my face and deciding what I needed from the project. We spent the afternoon sharing tea and she told me about my mother and a little about my grandmother. The project wasn’t great, but that afternoon we’d spent together had always remained with me.      

So today, I could handle making phone calls. Murder or not, I think Dee would want her friends at the funeral.  So, I needed to start making calls. That part shouldn’t be too awful.

I got out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen and found that Jenny had already made coffee. I would have liked to have started the day with a shower, but I could still hear the water running, and from experience, I knew Jenny would take forever to finish. Fortified with coffee, I folded up the couch and felt that I’d at least accomplished something. With a last glare at the bathroom door, I dug the address book out of my purse and sat down with it and my phone. 

I opened Dee’s address book and started looking over names.  I decided to skip anyone whose phone numbers still included letters, it was only a guess, but I doubted any number that started with Klondike or Liberty would still be in service.  The first few calls I made ended up being wrong numbers or out of service numbers. When I got an answering machine, I left a message with the details and the phone number for the mortuary.  If people wanted more information, they could talk to Aidan. I was getting through the phone book pretty quickly because so many of the numbers were out of service. I even called Kyle’s uncle and left a message on his voice mail.    

I was finishing up the calls when Jenny came out of the bathroom.  “Oh, you’re up.”  She said drying her hair with a towel. 

“Yeah,” I nodded still holding the phone.  I thought I should start calling Dee’s friends.”

Her eyes grew concerned and she sat down next to me.      

The sheer number of out of service contacts I’d found broke my heart. Dee seemed to have given up so much to raise me.  Most of the names and addresses stopped being updated around the time I would have been eight or nine. I had no idea what changed then, but she seemed willing to cut ties with everyone, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was responsible.  She’d be saddled with two kids who weren’t hers. First there as my mother, and then just when Dee would have gotten her own life back, she got stuck with me. Had she really wanted to raise two children?    

I shook off my thoughts.  “Hey, don’t you have a meeting with clients today?” I asked.

Jenny stared at me, incredulous.  “You can’t be serious.”  She tossed the damp towel on the chair.  “I’m not working until we figure out what happened.”  Her voice grew shrill.  Her expression was a cross between confusion and horror.

“Look,” I said, “Sitting here babysitting me isn’t going to solve anything. If the creepy soso-witches knew where to find me, wouldn’t they be here already?  And we don’t even know it was them.”  I looked at her pointedly.  “I’m going to be making calls all day, and you can’t help with that.  And maybe, while you’re out you can start asking around, see if the preters know anything.”

She rolled her eyes, “You want me to play Nancy Drew, while you sit here, alone.

I raised my eyebrows, “Is that such a bad idea?”

Based on her grimace, I knew that I’d won the argument.  She couldn’t deny that my plan made the most sense.

She sighed, “OK, but keep your phone handy.  Call me if anything, anything weird happens.”

I nodded hiding my grin, even in the circumstances, I still liked winning an argument.  “No problem.  I’m going to make some more calls, and just hang out here.”

She still looked unhappy about it, but she left without too much fuss.

After she left, I thought about the weird dream I’d had about the tv. Was that the kind of weird that Jenny wanted to know about? I considered calling her, but she’d only just left. I made a mental note to tell her about it later.

I decided to take a break from the personal calls and call her boss. I couldn’t remember his name, but I’m sure someone at the publishing house would know who she worked with.

I dialed New York. After about five rings, I glanced at the time. Had I screwed up the time zone thing? No, it was barely noon California time, someone should be there. On the eighth ring, I was switched to voicemail.  I left a message, “I don’t know who Dorothea Adams worked with at your office, but this is her niece Hero. I’m calling to inform you that she passed away this weekend.  Please, call me back.”  This time I left my cell number.

I finished the rest of the phone calls in no time.  I hadn’t actually talked to anyone, but not counting the publisher, I’d left ten messages. Ten numbers that might be people who had known Dee. I decided that was more than a little depressing.     

Now that I finished the calls, I was left to once again wonder what to do. I wondered if she had another address book on her computer and decided that I would have to go and collect it, but not alone. Which led me back to Aidan’s claim that Dee had been murdered, but I had no idea how to start investigating anything.  I didn’t even know enough about the preterworld to keep from getting hurt.  My thoughts were interrupted by my phone chirping at me. 

“Hero Adams photography.”  Yeah, I used my personal cell as a work cell too.  It’s cheaper that way.

A few seconds of dead air, “Hello?”

I glanced at the display, blocked number, so it wasn’t Jenny. 

“Hello?”  Then I got a burst of sound, then nothing.  I shrugged it off.  Probably someone calling about photography with a bad signal. With Jenny gone, and the bathroom free, I opted to take a break from phone calls and get dressed for the day. The one benefit that outweighed the ancient plumbing in the building was that it had a boiler, rather than a water heater.  That meant no matter how long Jenny had stayed in the shower, I’d still have hot water for myself.   

Once I was clean and dressed, I decided I was ready to finish the phone calls. I noticed the little blinking light that indicated missed call and frowned.  I hoped that I hadn’t missed Nekyia Press calling back. I pressed the million buttons needed to get to my messages and was rewarded with a voice mail filled with static. I rolled my eyes and deleted the messages.  It was probably the same person who’d called before I got into the shower. Whoever they were, their phone plan sucked.  I went back to Dee’s phone book. I finished trying to call every listing in the book. So, I’d taken care of the only mundane business I had left. I could probably try and work on, well work.  I had a hard drive full of wedding photos that needed my attention, but I just couldn’t muster up the will to deal with that.   

I decided that making a list might help me decide my next step.  Of course, I knew I was ignoring the obvious answer, I should just call Kyle and ask for his help, but I wasn’t ready for that. Instead, I’d found some paper and a pen and had sat back down to start my list when the phone rang again.  This time I checked first, blocked number again. I decided to let it go to voice mail. I waited for the phone to chirp for the message. 

When it did, I grabbed for the phone. I punched in all the codes and was rewarded with more static, but this time I was pretty sure that I could hear a voice. I listened to the message again, straining to make out anything.  It sounded like someone saying my name, but it could have just been my ears playing tricks, trying to make patterns out of static and white noise.

I sighed and glared at my phone.  If it was important, whoever it was would call back.  And other then Nekyia Press, it shouldn’t be anyone calling about Dee because I’d given everyone else Aidan’s number at the mortuary.

I stared at the blank page in front of me. Dee always said if the problem seemed insurmountable, break down and take it one step at a time. I finally wrote, how to solve a murder at the top. Years of movies taught me that the motive was the best place to start. I wrote down motive and under I started to list Sosostris, but I wasn’t sure if I was spelling it right. I had no idea what the name even meant. I tried a few spellings and settled on writing super-villain witches next to my best guess on the spelling.  I stared at the page again, I wondered what it was about the name that bothered me.

Then I remembered the picture of Dee and my grandmother, the one I’d found at the house. I’d left the picture sitting on the table.  I got up and grabbed it and opened the frame.  I glanced at the back of the picture, Dorothea and Ellenore, 1941, the end of Soso. That had to be Sosostris.  I could see that at one time there had been more written on the photo, but given the pictures ragged edges, it had been handled a lot before it had been framed. The pencil had either been rubbed away over time, or someone had erased it. Maybe it was all the talk of Nancy Drew, but I wondered if I could figure out what had been written on the back of the photo. 

One of the guys at the camera shop, where I still picked up occasional shifts, said he’d had a lot of success scanning the backs of old photos and playing with the contrast. Something about the scanner picked up more than the human eye. I turned on my computer and scanned the back of the photo. 

I scowled at the screen waiting for the image to appear. It felt like the image appeared pixel by pixel, but the writing was clearer. I played up the contrast and was rewarded with the rest of the sentence.

The end of Sosostris.  April may be the cruelest month, but your cruelty knows no bounds. Madame Sosostris, your pack of wicked cards cannot stand against the forces, I summon.  Your drowned sailor is mine to control.

I stared at the screen.  What the hell did that mean?  Most of the writing was faint, and I was certain there was more written, but what I’d found so far didn’t sound promising. It sounded downright creepy, and I found myself shivering in my apartment. I knew the handwriting wasn’t Dee’s, so it was most likely my grandmother’s, but what was it all supposed to mean?  Aidan had said Sosostris was the name of a group, not a person.  Maybe the madam was part of some code or something.  I increased the contrast again and saw another line of text starting to become clearer. 

Bound to the gate. Bound between life and death.  I bind myself to protect the secret that should not be found.

I blinked at the screen.  I was completely lost.  It sounded like bad poetry, but I couldn’t figure out why it was on the back of a photo. I printed out the image but was no closer to understanding what I had discovered. Maybe a real detective could make sense of this, but I certainly couldn’t.  At least it referenced the secret that Aidan had told me about. Based on the last part, my grandmother was promising to hide whatever it was she and Dee had stolen from Sosostris, but I was no closer to figuring out what that was. I pulled the picture out of the scanner and on a whim scanned the photograph.

I enlarged the image and searched it for clues to the location.  They were standing in front of a club or café.  By blowing up the photo, I was able to see part of the sidewalk marquee that they stood in front of. From the letters I could make out, it seemed to be a poetry reading.  I couldn’t make out the name of the author doing the reading, other than it started with an “L” and the name of the place was wholly absent from the sign.  I sighed and unzoomed the picture.  There weren’t any street signs or anything else to indicate where this café was.  I wondered if it would even matter.  For all I knew, the stuff written on the back came after the picture was taken.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the photo had mattered to them, that the place and day mattered.         

I sat back with a sigh.  I was out of photo-manipulating tricks to get more information from the images.  At least I had confirmed that Dee and my grandmother had intended to take out the super-witches and they had decided to do this in 1941.  I’d also learned they went to poetry readings, and that my grandmother wrote weird and cryptic stuff on the back of photos.  Essentially, I had nothing.   

I glanced at my abandoned list, and my phone caught my eye.  The light was blinking for missed calls, which was weird because it hadn’t rung again.  I checked the call log and found all were listed as blocked numbers.  If the static caller was trying to get a hold of me, he or she wasn’t giving up.  But it was far too excessive for someone wanting to hire me for wedding photos.  No one called twelve times.

I started to listen to the messages.  The first one was still all static, so I hit the skip button. The second started with dead air, then a burst of static.  I was about to hit skip again when I heard a voice. It was broken up, like when reception on a cell is breaking up. I couldn’t get enough of it to make sense of the message. I hit save and moved to the next message.  The same dead air and static, and then a voice.  This time it sounded far away.  Like someone talking on speakerphone from far away.  Static kept popping in and out, breaking up the words.  But I know I heard my name, and something I think about Nekyia Press. 

If the publisher had such a lousy phone service, I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t gotten through today.  The next message was more of the same. I skipped to the next one.  Silence, static, and then a real message mixed up in all the static. “Hero, you must call your mother.”

I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it.  I hit replay, I would swear that it was Dee’s voice.  I saved the message and went to the next, only static. But again I was sure I could hear something in the background. My skin prickled with goosebumps.  Next message an even clearer voice through the static, “Hero call your mother. Soon.”

I would have sworn it was Dee. I finished the last of the messages and was no closer to figuring out what was going on.  I considered playing the messages again, but the thought of hearing Dee’s voice, again, left me shaken.  I held the phone, just staring at it. Dee couldn’t call, she was gone.  She was dead.

I felt the blood drain from my face. The small voice in my head reminded me that I was supposed to be able to talk to the dead.  “No one said I could talk to them on the phone,” I whispered.  I dropped the phone when it chirped at me.  My heart was racing.

I scrambled for the phone and answered it breathlessly, “Hello?”

“Hero Adams?”

I tried to catch my breath, my heart still thudding in my chest.  I could feel the disappointment.  It wasn’t Dee.  It wasn’t a ghost phone.  “Yes, this is Hero.”

“Ms. Adams this is Constantine Bayless, from Nekyia Press.  I just received your message.”  He had what I considered a cultured voice.  Vague accent, precise diction, that kind of thing.   

I glanced at the clock and did some quick addition. Totally after business hours in New York.  “Yes, Mr. Bayless. I wanted to let you know about Dee. I don’t know if she was still actively working for you or not, but I thought you should know.”

A pause, “Ms. Adams, I think you are confused, Dorothea does not work for Nekyia Press, she owns Nekyia Press.”

Okay, I hadn’t been expecting that.  “Wait, what?”

Another pause, “Dorothea Adams owned Nekyia Press.  I’ve worked for her for many, many years now.  Did she never tell you that?”

I considered the question.  I couldn’t remember ever asking, but why would I? Dee had always said she edited for Nekyia, as in, worked for, not owned. 

“Ms. Adams, are you still there?”

First I nodded, then I remembered I was on the phone.  “Yes, sorry. I just didn’t know. She never said anything that led me to believe she owned a publishing house.”

A small chuckle, “That was Dorothea, always modest about her accomplishments.”  He paused again, “Will there be a service, I would like to come and pay my last respects.”

“Yeah, um yes of course.”  I rattled off the information; the funeral was a week away.  I heard the scratch of a pen, so I assumed he had written down the information.

“Has her solicitor connected you yet?”

Her what? Wasn’t solicitor European for lawyer? Dee had a lawyer?  I recalled the will and adoption papers, now wondering if the same person prepared them.  “Um, no, no lawyers.  It was very sudden and unexpected.”  I mentally smacked my forehead, as opposed to all the expected deaths that happen?

I heard typing, “I can give you the name and number of the firm’s office in California.  You may want to call them.”  He paused, “Oh, I do apologize.  I imagine you must be bereft with grief.  I could speak to them on your behalf if you wish.”

“No,” I paused, lawyers and a law firm? “I can call them, and it will probably be easier for me to handle it. Would you mind

 giving me the information, please?”  I jumped up searching for a pen and paper. I found the pen and settled for writing on my hand. “The Law Offices of Erinyes and Furie,” I said repeating back the name and number.      

Mr. Bayless confirmed I had the correct information. “I hope you don’t think it to forward of me, but I knew your aunt for so long and she so often spoke of you, that I feel I know you. If you need anything, you will contact me, won’t you?”  He paused, “I understand how difficult her loss must be for you.” 

Again, I tried to place the accent, but couldn’t. “Um, sure, thanks.”  Maybe it wasn’t forward, and maybe he was just a well-intentioned old friend of Dee’s, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something was off with him. And if they were such good friends, why wasn’t he in her phonebook? Sure, Dee was pretty quiet about who her friends were, but this guy seemed to ready to help me.  Maybe it was just knowing that Dee was murdered or maybe it was Jenny’s dire warnings about preters.  Either way, all I wanted to do was get off the phone with this guy. 

“Well, thanks for letting me know about the lawyer.  I’ll see you at the end of the week I guess.”

“Yes, Ms. Adams, I will see you then.  And do remember that if you need anything, please contact me.”

“Thanks again Mr. Bayless,” I answered before I hung up and immediately wiped my hands on my jeans.  Something about him felt so smarmy. I still had the weird messages to deal with, but for now, I was filing them under more weirdness in my life, and probably just a bad joke, or my overactive imagination again.  Maybe a prank call or something. A cruel prank call, but probably one nevertheless. 

I decided I’d call the law office and be done with phones for the day. While I dialed I hunted through the papers Dee had left out. Yup, a Mr. Nix from Erinyes and Furie handled my adoption and Dee’s will.

“Law offices of Erinyes and Furie, how may I direct your call please?”  A chipper female voice asked.  Somehow the normalcy of her voice made me feel better.

“Hi, I’m calling on behalf of Dorothea Adams,” I paused glancing at the papers in my hand, “I believe she retained the services of a Mr. Nix.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t release the names of clients.  Confidentiality and all that.”  The voice was a little less chipper now edging into cool.

“Oh, I’m not asking you too or anything. I’m her niece and I wanted to inform Mr. Nix that she passed away on Sunday.”  I was a little shocked at how much easier it was to say.  Every time the words became easier but somehow less real.

“Oh, I am sorry for your loss ma’am.” She said, and I heard the clatter of a keyboard.  “If you could hold a moment.”

I didn’t have a choice since the question was followed by me being put on hold. Classical music played over the line. Less than a minute later, someone was back on the line.

“This is Mr. Nix, to whom am I speaking?”

Whom? Who uses whom?  Even vaguely European Bayless hadn’t said whom. I cleared my throat, “My name is Hero Adams.  I’m Dorothea’s niece.”

“She doesn’t have a niece.”  He said then paused, “Oh, I apologize. You’re her ward.”  He fumbled with another apology, like admitting to being wrong wasn’t something he normally did.

“Ok, I guess ward works, but it makes Dee sound like Batman.”  I tried to stifle my annoyance, not her niece my ass. “I was given your number by a Mr. Bayless of Nekyia Press, so I thought I should call to let you know that she passed away on Sunday.”

“Mr. Bayless.”

It wasn’t a question on his part, but I felt like I should say something.  “Yes, from Nekyia Press.  I called them


A longer paused.  “I am very sorry for your loss, Hero.”

I was getting tired of people being sorry. “Thanks. Um, but I just thought your office should know.” Okay, I didn’t want to admit to this guy, that I had no idea what to tell a lawyer.  I had a copy of her will, but I didn’t know what that meant. I was the only one listed on the will, but I had no experience with wills. And well I didn’t really care. It wouldn’t bring Dee back; it wouldn’t erase all the weirdness that had invaded my life.  This was possibly the only normal part of my life right now.

“Thank you for contacting us. She does have a will on file with us.”  Another flurry of typing. “She retained us to handle everything.  It is customary for the beneficiary to meet with one of our representatives.”  More typing, “I can come to you if that is easier.”

“Uh-huh.  Sure, I guess.  She had a copy of her will with her papers.  So I’ve already seen it.”  I was going to have to sign more papers, I just knew it.

“Yes, she would have a copy.  However, her estate is quite complicated,” another pause and more keystrokes, “And I see that she left some items in our keeping.  Items we are instructed to deliver to you. Hmm, I do wish you had contacted us sooner.  She wanted you to have these items sooner.”

Sooner than two days after she died?  “Ok,” I glanced at the clock, I had no idea where his office was, but I wasn’t going to fight rush hour traffic to get there. This was Southern California, and from roughly 4-7 freeways turned into parking lots. “Can I come by your office tomorrow afternoon?”

Another pause and more typing, “That won’t be necessary.  I can come to you tomorrow. Our offices are in Los Angeles, and it would be a terrible drive for you.  Do you still reside in the property on Jacaranda?”

The property on Jacaranda?  That must be Dee’s house.  Why couldn’t lawyers talk like normal people? “No, but I don’t live far.” Only about two blocks, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.  “I could meet you there, I guess.”

“Excellent.  Shall we say two o’clock?”

I wondered if Jenny would be free to come with me.  I didn’t want to meet anyone alone right now.  “Sure.  I’ll see you then.”

He apologized for my loss again and reconfirmed our appointment before he hung up.

I leaned back in my chair.  Why did everything have to be so complicated?  Why couldn’t anyone just say, ok thanks for letting me know?  Why did everything involve paperwork and meetings?

I sighed still looking at my phone.  I still had the weird messages to deal with, but I didn’t want to think about them or what they might mean. Could Dee be calling me, like my cell plan now included ghosts in the friends and family plan? But if it was Dee, why would she want me to contact my mother of all people? Wouldn’t talking to Dee make more sense? Well at least as much sense as calling dead people made?

I looked at my phone, half expecting it to ring again and hoping that if it did, whoever was on the other line would have an instruction manual.

I didn’t know what to do anymore. I’d taken care of all the mundane stuff, but I still had to figure out how to deal with Aidan’s claim that Dee had been murdered.  It wasn’t like I could just go to the cops and say a witch killed my aunt, I mean no one would believe that right?  I sat back down with my list.

I already had motive, but other than Sosostris, I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to hurt Dee. I needed someone who could help me investigate.  My first instinct was to list Kyle, but I still wasn’t sure about him. Even if his uncle was in Dee’s phone book, even if Aidan vouched for him, even if I liked him. 

But the little voice inside my head said a preter cop was probably the only person who could help me.  I thought about my run-in with Kyle at the sushi place and realized that maybe I’d been a little unfair.  As far as I knew he hadn’t done anything to hurt me or even seemed all that interested in my superpowers. But I reasoned with myself, he was the first on scene at Dee’s – convenient or sinister?  His explanation made sense, and he’d been upset, or at least repentant when I explained who Jenny was to him.   

I sat at the table, chewing on the end of the pen.  I wrote down Jenny’s name but crossed it out.  Jenny just didn’t know enough about the circes or the hecate to help with this, and Aidan, the mortician, had spoken about the murder so matter-of-factly, I couldn’t see roping him into helping me investigate.  Maybe he was too much like the mythic fates, life and death would hold little meaning for him. But Kyle would know all about investigating stuff, and he was a preter.  But could I trust him, and would he help me, especially after I’d been so bitchy at the restaurant?

I could still hear his parting whisper in my head. I felt myself blush just thinking about it.  Kyle was dangerous, but maybe not the way Jenny thought at all.    

I continued to chew on the pen and finally made a decision.  I dug through my purse and found his card.    

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