Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Linus Part 1

     Life held few truths, but there was one thing I was certain of, and that was ghosts didn't take the weekends off just because I had plans.

     It was like waiting and waiting all day for my probation officer.  As soon as I got in the bath, there was a knock at the door.

     I'd picked a hell of a day for ghost hunting.  The sun shone brightly in the cloudless sky, and a warm breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees that grew on the immaculately cared-for grounds where the blades of grass were the exact same height and too green to be real.  My beat-up old blue Ford pickup sat in a driveway manicured with pea gravel, looking completely out of place next to the extravagance that was the new client's property.

            And that was just the four-car garage, in which was probably parked an Escalade, a BMW, or a Lexis.  Possibly a Corvette, or even better, a Porsche.  The house itself was almost obscene.  I lived in a modernized bunkhouse on my parents' ranch.  Both my little house and the main ranch house could fit in this monstrosity with room to spare.

           The woman before me studied me with an unreadable expression. 

            I stared at her in return.  Margaret Stiles wore her frosted-blonde hair in a short, cropped style. She wore an expensive navy blue pinstripe suit and white silk blouse, and her navy pumps matched the skirt and jacket of her suit.  She looked to be in her forties, and she carried herself with the air of a woman to be obeyed, no questions asked.  She didn't look to me like a person who would believe in ghosts, let alone tolerate the presence of one in her mansion.  Her entire demeanor should probably have been intimidating to most punks my age, but I'd seen enough that nothing scared me anymore.

     I stood before her in my black T-shirt, loose fitting jeans, and well-worn brown cowboy boots, not even a little self-conscious.  I'd at least washed my hair, but hadn't bothered to comb it, and I was aware that Mrs. Stiles' eyes took in the tattoos that covered both my forearms and the silver hoops handing from my ears.  I'm sure I looked nothing like a ghost hunter or a dog trainer.  I looked more like the drug-dealing felon I used to be. Incidentally this was why I was saddled with that probation officer.  Those days were well behind me, but mys probation wasn't up for another two years.

     “Thank you so much for meeting with me, Mr. Guerin,” Mrs. Stiles said.  “We've reached the end of our rope with Linus and you are our last hope.”

     I eyed the enormous furry beast lying at Mrs. Stiles' feet.  I'd taken her case as a favor to one of my other clients, but in meeting Mrs. Stiles I'd gotten the impression she needed a dog whisperer. 

     “Mrs. Stiles," I said. "I think you might have misunderstood exactly what I do.  I'm a ghost whisperer, not a dog whisperer.”

     “Oh, no.” Mrs. Stiles shook her head.  “You help people.  That's what you do.  And, Mr. Guerin, we desperately need your help.”

     I glanced down at the dog again.  One hundred and fifty pounds of long black and tan fur gazed up at me with large, sorrowful eyes.  He had the boxy face and floppy ears of a St. Bernard, the long lithe body of a German Shepherd, and the long, stilted legs of a Great Dane.  His feathered black tail brushed the ground back and forth steadily when our eyes met.  Then he slung his head back as he stretched out on his side, wiping his muzzle across Mrs. Stiles' navy pumps, and leaving a trail of slime.

     “I'm not sure what you want me to do,” I said.  “I don't really work with dogs.”

     “Oh, the problem isn't Linus' behavior,” Mrs. Stiles said, leaning down to scratch the dog behind his ears.  “He's a good boy.”  Linus' tail wagged slowly and he closed his eyes, heaving a huge sigh.  Soon he began to snore.  Mrs. Stiles didn't seem to notice or care that her immaculate outfit was now covered in hair and slobber, something I admired. 

     “But you just said you are your wit's end with him,” I said, confused. 

     “Well, we are,” Mrs. Stiles said.        

     I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose with a thumb and forefinger.  When I took this gig I accepted the fact that along with the actual ghosts I would inevitably run into a few loons.  After all, the idea of a ghost whisperer could be considered lunacy itself, which was the main reason I worked one hundred percent by referral.  When Mrs. Stiles told me in our phone consultation that a client of mine had insisted she call me, I thought it was a legitimate call.  I had no idea my new client would end up being a dog.

     “Mr. Guerin, you have to help us,” Mrs. Stiles said.  “Linus is merely a symptom, not the problem.”  She glanced around furtively.  “You see, our house is haunted.  It's not exactly something you want the neighbors to know about.  I was told that you deal with such things.  You come very highly recommended.”

     I guess when you're a ghost whisperer, word gets around.

     I hunkered down on my heels and patted the dog's head, running his velvety ears through my fingers.  Linus merely sighed.  I wasn't inexperienced with animals.  Quite the opposite, actually, as I lived with a psychotic cat, a silly pit bull puppy, and a retired barrel racer.  That didn't make me a pet behaviorist, even if Linus didn't look too formidable in his current state.  My specialty was ghosts. 

     I found ghosts easier to deal with than people.

     “So tell me why you think your house is haunted,” I said, giving the dog one more pat before getting up. 

     “The sounds at night,” she said in hushed voice, once again glancing around, clearly worried the neighbors would hear.  “Banging and moaning.  We've found things moved around the next morning.  The lights flicker and sometimes when we walk in a room the temperature has noticeably dropped a few degrees.”

     Those were all symptoms of a ghost, but I still wasn't sure.  “Did you just purchase the house?”

    “Of course not,” she said with a sniff.  “We've lived here for years.”

     “Has there been a death in the family recently?  A friend maybe?”

      She shook her head. “No.  Nothing like that.”

     “When did you notice that your house was...you know...occupied?”

     She paused for a moment.  “It's been about a month now, I believe.  Yes, a month.  My daughter said she saw something in her bedroom – an apparition, though she couldn't make it out.  She slept in our bed for a week after that.  And Linus – well, when he isn't pacing the house all night, he races into the kitchen barking like the devil is after him.”

     “Dogs do that,” Sam said.

     “Yes, but not Linus.  He is not a barker.  Never was.  He is not a high energy dog.”

     I didn't find that too hard to believe as I stared at Linus now fast asleep with his head resting on Mrs. Stiles' shoes.  He snored loudly and a ribbon of drool decorated Mrs. Stiles' pump. 

     “And as I mentioned before, Mr. Guerin,” Mrs. Stiles continued.  “We hear moaning that may or may not be the wind, and banging against the walls and doors.  Objects get moved around.  It's all very strange.”

     It was rare for a ghost to just suddenly take up haunting a house for no apparent reason.  Many times a ghost came with the house, or else someone close to the family had recently passed away and could not rest for whatever reason.  Most ghosts crossed over fairly quickly.  Others hung around for whatever reason, but there was always a reason.  A ghost didn't just suddenly appear one day because it was bored.  

     “Will you help us, Mr. Guerin?” Mrs. Stiles said.  “My daughter is terrified.  My husband can't sleep, and the dog his beside himself.”

     I sighed.  “Of course.  I'll take your case.”

     “Oh, thank you!”  Mrs. Stiles grasped my hand in a surprisingly strong grip and pumped it vigorously.  “Cost is not an issue!  Just please get me my house back.”

     I carefully extracted my hand.  “The usual rates apply, Mrs. Stiles.  We can discuss payment later.”  Cost didn't seem like it would be an issue for these people.

     “I know we can leave it all up to you.”  She leaned in close again.  “We don't want the neighbors to know that...you know...”  she rolled her eyes towards her mansion, as if having a ghost was some kind of social disease.

     Then again, there was the fact that to most people, admitting one had a ghost would require a straightjacket and a trip to the looney bin.  It was a wonder I hadn't landed there myself yet.

     “I'll start tonight,” I said.

     I set up shop in the Stiles' beautifully decorated living room that was actually less of a living room, and more of an art museum judging by the many abstract sculptures and pointillist paintings on display.  Mrs. Stiles offered me the guest wing of the mansion so I would be in the midst of the action, and I could sleep during the day in order to spend my nights dealing with the ghost.  As work stations went, I've had worse.  It definitely beat the dilapidated old barn that smelled of horse manure that I'd spent three nights in, trying to exorcise the ghost of an old farmer a couple of months ago.            
     Mr. Stiles was less thrilled with my presence and methods, though that was the nature of the occupation.  He wanted to see my credentials and know why I didn't carry any equipment, going so far as to imply that he thought I might be some freeloading quack.  I didn't have any credentials or identification other than the fact that I saw spirits floating about at the most random times, and the plain black calling card with my name and the number to my answering service written in silver script.  I didn't give out my personal cell number, but I did have an app downloaded to let me know whenever I had new voicemails on the answering service.  When I returned calls, my number came across as "Unavailable." 

    I bristled at Mr. Stiles' implications, but held my tongue.  Shows like Ghost Hunters used technology and equipment to track electromagnetic pulses in the air that could be construed as paranormal activity.  Some ghost hunters found such things useful I suppose, but I used more unorthodox methods, mostly because I could actually see the bastards.  I relied on using things the ghosts related to in order to help them manifest.  The senses – touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell – could all be used in a manifestation.  I figured out what the spirit had loved in life – foods, music, tangible things like animals or precious art – and then gathered these things in the haunted area to bring the spirit forth.  I'd even managed to bring one to corporeal form, though that was a rare occurence.  It took a tremendous amount of energy and emotional attachment, and the result, though rewarding, was ultimately exhausting.

     It was also more likely for a corproeal spirit to go poltergeist, and that was never a fun experience. 

     I tracked the disturbances in the Stiles' mansion for a week without much luck, and by then even Mr. Stiles threw himself at my mercy.  His reception of me went from chilly to welcoming, and he encouraged me to work out who or what exactly was haunting his house so that he could get back to his life and a decent night's sleep.  He was a very prestigious and talented lawyer.  I guessed the stress of his job coupled with the lack of sleep due to ghostly disturbances were starting to unravel him and he was at a point where he was willing to try anything.  Lawyers seem to stress a lot anyway, so the added fun of a ghostly occupant in one's house probably didn't help matters.

     The poor guy probably had an ulcer.

     The disturbances seemed to have increased since I'd gotten there, according to Mrs. Stiles.  I don't know if that was my fault, or just coincidental as spooks gained power and mischief the longer they resided somewhere.  The nights became pretty consistent.  Sometime around midnight, once the family had gone to sleep, the bumping and creaking began.  The temperature in the living room where I sat up with my tablet and Linus sacked out on the couch beside me dropped several degrees, and the dog immediately became tense.  A normally relaxed animal, Linus' fur bristled and he jumped from the couch, where just moments before he had been sound asleep snoring without a care in the world.  I tracked and recorded his growing anxiety as he began pacing the living room, whining and groaning until he finally scurried to the front door and pawed, whining.  Mrs. Stiles had given me strict instructions not to let Linus out after dark, and especially not without a leash.  Apparently Linus had taken to running off whenever he got loose, and once when I opened the front door just to check the grounds, Linus had very nearly bowled me over in his rush to get loose.  I had to grab him by the collar and haul him back inside as he fought to get out the door.

     I'm no wimp, but Linus was a strong dog.

    This would prove to be a difficult case.  The Stileses had experienced no deaths in the family and no friends had passed away.  The house had been built ten years ago and several trips to the city planner and the library had proven nothing out of the ordinary about the grounds.  The house had not been built inadvertently on some old, sacred burial grounds or over the murder site of some unfortunate victim.  Unless the family knew something they weren't telling – perhaps they were a family of ax murderers - I didn't have a lot to go on.

     My closest link at this point was Linus, so I started taking the dog for walks during the day and developing a bond with him.  During the day Linus was his usual relaxed and lazy self.  He enjoyed his walks, but preferred to spend the day lying on the Stiles' sunny veranda.  Unlike his behavior in the middle of the night, if the door opened he did not try to bolt for it, nor did he stray if he was outside in the front yard, sunning himself on the lawn.

     The only other unusual thing about Linus was around midafternoon when he started to get antsy again.  Mrs. Stiles insisted on putting him back in the house or out in the fenced-in backyard.  There he proceeded to pace the fence for an hour before settling down for dinner.

     I decided to rearrange Linus' routine a little, and rather than taking him for a walk in the mornings I waited until midafternoon to clip Linus' lead to his collar.  Maybe he would give me some clue as to why he got restless at that particular time.  I took a firm hold on Linus' lead and opened the front door.

     Linus lunged out the door, half dragging me down the cobblestone walk to the street, a sharp contrast to his sedate, mannerly walk in the mornings.  After I let Linus drag me for a block or two, I pulled him to a barely contained stop and made him sit before unclipping his lead.  I only hoped Linus wouldn't run so fast that I couldn't keep up.

     As soon as he was free, Linus broke into a long-legged, loping stride. I ran after the dog, thankful that I'd started running every morning to keep myself in shape.

     I chased the dog out of the Stiles' rich subdivision and through the small town's downtown.     Linus crossed one last street and stopped outside a large two-story building.  I stayed on the other side of the street and clutched the trunk of a tree, wheezing and gasping.  Perhaps I wasn't in as good of shape as I'd thought.  When I'd finally caught my breath, I glanced up and caught sight of the dog.  Linus sat ramrod straight on the lawn of the elementary school, facing the front doors, ears perked forward.  His tail brushed the grass slowly back and forth as he stared intently at the doors.

     The clanging of the dismissal bell startled me, but Linus didn't move.  A moment later, children poured out of the building, laughing and chattering, hefting backpacks.  They ran for cars or school buses waiting for them, or walked in groups down the sidewalks, heading for home.  Linus's ears stayed perked forward as he watched each of the children.  For over half an hour children, teachers, and parents milled in utter chaos outside the school.  School buses pulled away from behind the building and drove off.  Parents gathered their children into their cars, asking how days had gone and what the homework situation was.  I thought briefly of my niece, Olivia, and how I should be at home, picking her up from school too, but instead I was off ghost hunting.  Livvy was the light of my life, and she had the sight too.

     I wouldn't have chosen that for her, had I a choice.
     Finally, when the last child had disappeared and the parking lot was nearly empty save for a few cars that belonged to teachers working late, Linus lay down and rested his chin on his paws.  He continued to stare at the front doors of the building.

     I waited until well after four-thirty before approaching the dog.  Linus lay mournfully in the grass, staring at the front doors.  I could tell he heard my approach because he swiveled his ears back, but he still did not move.  I snapped the leash to his collar, and squatted down beside him, resting a hand on his soft black head.

     “Come on, buddy,” I said softly.  “Let's go home."
     With a sigh, Linus got to his feet and followed me home.

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