Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning!
The words slammed into JD and pressed him back into the plush leather executive chair. His arms fell limp; so did his jaw. Wendy’s hands went to her mouth to cover her tiny gasp.
“Oh my … my God,” he whispered.
“That sucks,” Dillon muttered.
JD shot him a glare. “Dillon!”
“What? It does!”
Phoebe managed to snort out a laugh through her tears and running nose. Hank chuckled too. “Yeah,” he said, “that about sums it up best.”
“I’m … God, I’m so sorry,” JD said, and leaned on his elbows, propping his forehead in his palms. “This has got to be … I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”
“It’s okay,” Phoebe sniffled again, and wiped the tears on her face. “I know how awful that sounds, but … really, we were so devastated by what happened … with Mark … ” Her voice choked off again, and Hank gently rubbed her back. “It wasn’t like we were close to him. We’re much closer to some of our staff than to him. Like I said, I might’ve met him three times in my life at family reunion things. He was almost a stranger. But it was … well, it was hard.”
“And the police didn’t make things any easier, either,” Hank said. “Naturally, when they found out who he was they questioned us. Again.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” Wendy said, her hands still over her mouth. “You poor things. Why?”
“Well, it was only natural,” Hank sighed. “Here we are, our son has just died, and now someone related to Phoebe is found dead too. It did look suspicious.”
“How did … how’d that … ?”
“How’d ya wiggle outta that crap?” Dillon asked. His unceremonious words earned another scowl from JD; he shrugged helplessly.
“Oh, it wasn’t anything we did,” Hank stated. “The medical examiner said he had a heart attack. Evidently he had a history of heart problems. He didn’t have any medication or anything, but he’d been checked a couple of times in the last several years for it. I guess his doctor was watching him.”
“His poor family … ” Wendy said, her eyes dropping to the table.
“He didn’t really have one,” Phoebe said flatly. “He was a private detective in New York. He didn’t marry or have children. He just … did whatever private investigators do.”
“Still, that had to be a shock,” JD said, finally breaking his stupor. “Two deaths so closely tied to you … ”
“Yes, it was … very hard,” Phoebe said and nodded the emphasis. “Mark’s loss was … all-consuming though. We didn’t really have time — or the emotional resources — to grieve Carl, too.”
“Carl? That was his name?” JD tried to focus on the conversation.
“Yeah,” Hank said, “Carl Simmons. Nice guy, but a little weird, you know? I guess you have to be in that line of work.”
“He was slimey,” Phoebe said, “but he was supposed to be good at doing … whatever he did. So I called him.”
“How’d you get his name, if you didn’t know him very well?” JD tried to ask the question casually; he didn’t want to come across as interrogative.
“Well, I was going through my address list,” Phoebe said, “to let everyone in the family know … about Mark, I mean. I called my aunt in Seattle. When I told her how upset we were about Mark and the way the police were so … dismissive, she gave me his phone number.
“He seemed genuinely interested, and came up for the funeral. He stayed here after that. He offered to help us in exchange for room and board during his investigation. Plus expenses, of course.” Phoebe snorted a mirthless laugh. “We were still reeling from what happened, and he wanted to bilk us. I just … didn’t really care for his attitude. He was always looking for an angle.”
Hank smiled into his chest. “He tried to help, Phoebe.”
“Pff. He didn’t even have any information compiled when they recovered his body. No notebooks, no data files, no photographs … nothing. We learned absolutely nothing about Mark’s death from him.”
JD sensed the change in their emotional state. He didn’t want to take advantage of that, exactly, but saw an opportunity to refocus the conversation.
“Hank … Phoebe … I can certainly appreciate what you’ve been through. It’s very traumatic. I understand how painful things have been for you. But … well, I’m still not sure … ” He sighed heavily. “I haven’t heard anything I can help you with. Your son’s tragic death was ruled an accident. Carl’s death was a heart attack. I … I’m sorry, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, but …”
Phoebe nodded. “I know what you’re asking, JD. And, please, don’t feel you need to tip-toe around us. We’re stronger than we appear.” She chuckled and held up her sodden tissue. “Even if we don’t look it.”
JD smiled a gentle understanding smile.
“But, you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do with all this, right?” she finished, and looked at him under raised eyebrows. Her grin told him she’d anticipated the question.
Smiling more broadly, he nodded. “Nothing you’ve mentioned so far has anything other than natural explanations.”
Phoebe nodded. “Well, we disagree, especially with Mark, but we’ve explained that already. There is more, though — much more. We have to …” She exchanged that familiar look with Hank again, the one JD saw in his room earlier. “… it’s probably easier to show you than explain it to you, if that’s all right.”
“Of course,” JD said.
“This mean we’re movin’?” Dillon asked. “An’ y’ain’t gonna screw up the vacay, are ya, dude?”
JD fired red hot daggers at Dillon from his eyes. “Just … let’s just see what the Kileys have to show us, all right?” He spoke through gritted teeth, and Dillon shrank.
“Jeez, yer grouchy t’day.”
JD squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled slowly, trying to lower his blood pressure. But Hank and Phoebe chuckled, and she leaned back against Hank’s chest.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Dillon,” Phoebe said. “JD, you might find there’s nothing you can do to help us. We aren’t sure you can, but … well, like I said, you were recommended to us, and we … well, we’ll give you the rest of the story. You can decide for yourself. If you still feel there’s nothing you can do, we’ll understand that. And, because you’ve been so nice about all this, we want you to be our guests no matter what. You’re welcome to stay as long as you can, no charge.”
“Aw, you guys rawk!” Dillon squawked, pumping his fist in the air. He swatted JD’s arm. “Hear that, Einstein?? We’re all good!”
Wendy giggled in spite of herself.
JD turned to the Kileys. “Oh, I couldn’t –”
“I insist,” Phoebe said, and she smiled so warmly he couldn’t say anything more.
“Me too,” Hank said, and put his arm around Phoebe’s shoulders. “We’re so glad you’re here. At least we’ll know, which is more than we have now. You don’t know how much that means to us. No price would be too great.”
“Really? ‘Cause cash’d be cool, too.”
“Shut up, Dillon,” JD hissed.
“I’m jus’ sayin’.”
Hank and Phoebe burst out laughing, then stood. “Come with us,” Phoebe tilted her head toward the door. “We need to tell you the rest of this. But it’s easier if you see for yourself what … well, it’s just easier if you see.”
The Kileys went to the door, and JD rose after them. As he passed Dillon’s chair he bent down.
“When this is finished, I’m going to kill you.”
Dillon cringed into the black leather. As Wendy passed him, trying to smother her giggles, he looked at her pleading. “What’d I do?”
“C’mon, goofy, let’s go,” she said, and tugged his wrist.
The cozy Earth tones embraced them in the hallway again, and Phoebe gestured to her right. “This way. We’re going into our private wing on the third floor. It’s a bit of a walk from here, I’m afraid. I hope that’s all right.”
“No problem,” JD said. “I’m so sorry for my associate. They don’t let him out of the asylum very often.”
The Kileys erupted into hearty, genuine laughter for a moment. JD blushed furiously. “He’s a good investigator, though,” he added quickly.
Hank clapped a hand over JD’s shoulder. “You worry too much, JD. You’re fine. You’re all fine. We’re not that formal, really. We like to think of ourselves as relaxed.”
Wendy and Dillon followed them down the hall to an elevator. Phoebe touched the call button. “When we lost Mark, part of us … well, I think we lost our minds too. In a way.” She looked at Hank, and he nodded in agreement.
“It was really tough,” he said. “We didn’t know what to do.”
“If you don’t have children, it’s hard to imagine the agony … the desperate need to get some relief. Relief from the pain, the suffering, the …” She trailed off, shrugging.
“You’ll do almost anything to have some answer, some reason, something to make sense of it all,” Hank said. “It makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
JD cocked his head. “What sort of things? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“No, of course not,” Phoebe said, and touched his arm lightly. “Ask whatever you need to know, JD. We’re going to cooperate fully with you.”
The doors parted, and they stepped into the elevator with Phoebe again barring the door. Dillon grinned sheepishly as he passed her. She smiled and patted his shoulder gently to assure him it was okay. He blushed.
Wendy stood next to JD. “I can only imagine how hard that must have been. Without having any answers and being so — so unsatisfied with what the police said.”
“Yes, exactly,” Phoebe said. “It’s not as simple as ‘getting past it’, like so many psychologists say. When we bury our children, we really need to have a reason, something we can pin it on. When there’s a disease or someone’s done them harm, at least you understand the … that it was something. But we have nothing. They told us he fell, Wendy. And we know that simply didn’t happen.”
“It’s just impossible. It didn’t happen.” Hank’s voice was firm.
JD noticed again how close together they stayed, as if the proximity to one another was a source of strength or comfort. Or both.
“So, we started looking for alternatives,” Phoebe said.
“Like the private investigator?” JD asked.
Hank nodded. “Yes, among … other things.” His words were carefully chosen. “You have to understand, JD — we couldn’t accept an accident as the explanation. The P.I. was supposed to at least help us figure out what really happened. Or who did this to our son.”
“And when that didn’t go forward as planned,” Phoebe said, “we had to find another way to figure it out.”
JD shook his head, furrowing his brow. “Another way? What other way?”
The bell dinged and the doors rumbled open to a gaggle of warmly dressed and parka-clad guests chattering away in the hall. Hank and Phoebe stepped out first, and JD realized they were clearing a path for the investigators. As the Kileys engaged the clutch of people in the hall, JD led the others aside.
It occurred to him then they didn’t necessarily want the guests to know why the three of them were there. In a moment, the elevator doors slid closed and the voices within it were cut off. The Kileys rejoined them a second later.
“It’s just a little farther,” Phoebe said, resuming her lead.
“You know,” JD ventured, “it will become apparent that we’re doing something … unusual here when — if — the investigation ensues. Is that … is that going to be a problem?”
“Not at all,” Hank said. “As long as they know you’re doing something unusual, and not the specifics.”
They led the investigators around a corner to the right, and the hall become even more quiet.
JD nodded firmly, letting them know he understood.
“That means we need a cover story of some kind,” he said, and stared right at Dillon. “We have to all say the same thing if we’re asked.”
“Whuh? I wuddn’t payin’ ‘tention.”
JD shut his eyes and sagged wearily. “We can’t tell people we’re paranormal investigators, Dillon.”
“Duh, dude. That’d be, like, bad PR fer th’ place.”
JD was startled. “You know that?”
“Duh, dude. I ain’t a moron.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Dude. That’s … dude.”
As they rounded a corner to the left, JD turned back to the Kileys. “We’ll come up with something. We’ll let you know what that is for consistency.”
Hank smiled. “Thank you for understanding.”
“We just don’t need to expose that much of our private lives to our guests,” Phoebe said. “And, as I said, grief makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
They stopped in front of a door. There was another a few feet down the hall on the opposite side. The wing terminated at a heavy metal door with no markings.
“In our case, we needed to know. We needed to know what happened to Mark. The police wouldn’t help us. Carl didn’t help us. But we wanted to know. So we …”
JD stayed silent. He prayed Dillon would too.
“… we hired a psychic.”
Wendy blinked. JD arched his eyebrows.
“Yeah, I know,” Hank sighed. “Like we said, we were desperate. We needed to know. We thought … we thought maybe, just maybe, if we could reach Mark …”
The Kileys embraced and couldn’t meet JD’s eyes.
“You thought he could tell you what happened,” Wendy finished.
They nodded in unison.
“And that’s how …” JD whispered.
“Yes,” Phoebe said, “we didn’t contact Mark. Rather, the psychic didn’t. At first, she told us there was an evil presence here. Near us, in the hotel. We didn’t think much of her. But then she said someone had something to tell us.”
“Bea Jenkins,” JD said, his face blank.
“Yes,” Hank said. “She — the psychic, I mean — told us that Bea Jenkins was telling her to get in touch with you. She even gave us your phone number, JD. She said Bea told her that you could help us, that you’d helped some other people she knew. You were the perfect one. We should call you.”
“I … I don’t …” JD was dumbstruck. He couldn’t find words.
“We didn’t know what to think, either,” Phoebe said, “until I dialed your phone number … the one the psychic got from Bea. I thought she was a joke. I did it to find out if she was. When you answered, I knew. I knew.” Phoebe pulled the card keys from the retractable holder at her waist and fished through them. “We knew it was something we had to do. We had to call you.” She passed one of the keys over the reader and an electronic beep sounded, the LED flashing from red to green.
Hank moved ahead of her and pushed the door in, holding it open from the hall. He didn’t cross the threshold.
“This is as far as we go,” he said, looking solemnly at JD. “We won’t go into this room anymore.”
“This is — was — our private suite. Where we live. The light is just to your right on the wall,” Phoebe gestured into the room with her head. “What you need to see is on the bed. We won’t set foot in this room anymore.”