He stood outside the large chapel. He followed some people inside and passed through the large double doors. Despite the new paint and the vending machine glowing in the corner, the small chapel had an ancient feel to it. Everything about it was old and weathered. Sunlight shone through stained glass windows at the top. A stained glass image of the Virgin Mary watched a long line of visitors, each going to the front of the cathedral holding flowers, or a candle. Some had cards and money, some had gift boxes. He spotted a child clutching a teddy bear. He and his mother disappeared into the crowd going up front and he noticed the pair leaving the front stage, the child sans teddy bear. He cast a glance back at Chloe, who was quietly watching the proceedings as they waved through the crowd in line with them. Derek dared not to say a word as he followed the people, moving slowly through the large aisle. He felt like shoving his camera back into his pack, stopping the film, like it was a violation of the church. To his left, Lan's eyes wandered around, falling on each man, woman, and child, many of which were crying.
Derek looked to Jason and he shrugged.
They reached the front and all of them found out why there had been such a great commotion.
Mr. Mori, we know you are in a better place. It said on a card perched on the table, which was already covered with candles and flowers. It seemed like if any of the people accidentally bumped into it, the entire church would go up in flames from the flammable objects.
An elderly woman reached the top, and Chloe moved out of the way to accommodate her. She was crying, her tears streaking down her wrinkled face. Her silver hair fell in front of her face, hiding her grief. Her shoulders shook in her dark clothing as she shakily held out a small bouquet of flowers. Her hands shook and the flowers rattled in her grasp. A young man entered the chapel and took the flowers. He nodded and set them on the table. Her tears became greater as he led her to a pew.
Derek, Chloe, Lan, and Jason watched this and their attention was focused on another set of people who had come up to the stage. They each held a gift box and they each separated to put their gift wherever there was room, even if it was upon other boxes. They were a young couple, barely older than they. Both of them were crying.
Derek felt it was time to leave, and they moved to the side of the church, letting more people up to the altar. Standing off to the side, Derek felt out of place, not knowing why he was here or why he had been called.
The same young minister who had helped the elderly lady now passed through the multitude and walked toward them.
"Derek Barnes?" He asked. Derek tilted his head in puzzlement and nodded.
"Yeah." He said.
"Are-are you the one who called us?" Chloe asked.
"Oh no, no." He said. He stuck a hand out and Derek shook it, still confused. "It was Mr. Hineman who called you." He moved down the line, shaking everyone's hand.
"I'm so sorry for your loss." Chloe said.
"Thank you." The young man said. "I've only been here for a few weeks. I came shortly after Mr. Mori became sicker." He looked at Chloe. "You're Chloe Tanner?"
She nodded, still not used to hearing strangers speak of her like they were friends in the past. She knew Derek mentioned her once in a while, but then she saw his entry talking about her habit of straightening rolled up magazines….
"I'm Richard Morgan, I've been following the website for a few days, ever since Mr. Hineman informed me of your arrival." He glanced back to check on the people and ran a hand through his dark hair.
"How so?" She asked.
"Uh, why don't we go into Mr. Mori's old office." He said, waving a hand to a door at the side.
Derek nodded and the four of them entered a large and ornate office. A velvet red bench stood to the side, and several boxes were in the room, half filled with various plaques and mementos.
"Please, take a seat." He said.
"Mr. Morgan-" Chloe started.
"First of all, I'd like to apologize for Mr. Hineman's actions." He shook his head as if in embarrassment. "We never thought he'd try to milk it for his own gain."
"What do you mean?" Jason asked.
Morgan seemed genuinely surprised. "You didn't know?"
"Know what?" Lan said.
"Mr. Hineman works for the Northbrook Chronicle. It's an embarrassment to this town, but it's name wouldn't suggest so. It's a valued newspaper, but Hineman writes a column. It's a tabloid column. It's a mini-Weekly World News right in your mailbox." "You're right, we didn't know that." Chloe said. "So are you saying that there is no curse?" She felt a bit silly putting the word "curse" into her sentence.
"Despite what he's said, Kenneth Mori was very sick. He was suffering with pneumonia a few months before he died, and his doctor has named that as the cause of death. I am very sorry that Mr. Hineman caused you to spend your money to get here. We will of course, reimburse you for your troubles. We have already contacted Mr. Heinman and he has cancelled the meeting that you were here for."
Derek nodded in slight disappointment. "Well, thanks." He said. They stood up and one by one filed out of the office just like they went in.
"Again, very sorry to have brought you down here." He said. They nodded and he returned to the congregation.
"So do you believe him?" Lan asked. They were sitting in an Internet café, nursing steaming mugs in front of them, while Jason diligently tapped on the computer.
"The Northbrook Chronicle is a newsletter that has a circulation of about a thousand. It's main goal is to "enlighten those on the happenings of the paranormal." All over the country." Jason said, pointing to the laptop's bright screen.
"And the big story happens to be…" Derek did a drum roll. "TaDa! Can't you see it now? "Beloved Mr. Mori dies at the hand of unhappy postal worker bent on revenge."
"We came all this way to check out a tabloid?" Chloe asked in disbelief.
"No, no, we came out here to check on Mr. Mori's untimely demise. This little tabloid thing is actually very interesting also, cause Hineman's this nutball who claims also that the church was a front for illegal weapons deals."
Jason laughed. "So what religion is this?" He asked. Derek shrugged.
"From what I've seen, it's a mix of New Age stuff. You know, meditation, yoga, peace of the spirit."
"So it might be possible that the congregation already believes that there's a demonic force at work here." Chloe said. "Some cultures have been greatly influenced by religion and the apparently unexplained phenomena that often gets billed for the hand of Satan."
"What, like spiritual healers?" Lan said.
Chloe nodded vigorously. "Exactly. Spiritual healers who claim that they have the healing power from God have been traveling for decades, gaining reputations and fans and it's this big influence. And if the healing doesn't happen, well you must be wrong with God." She shook her head. "Kinda sad how they abuse the religion of it."
"All right, so we have a few ideas. A, Hineman's a tabloid journalist who wants to sell that a curse killed Mori. B, there really is a curse. Why are we here?"
"Well, we were here to find out what killed Mori. But since he died of pneumonia and not of anything weird…" Lan shrugged.
"But who says he died of pneumonia?" Derek asked. "I mean, the only thing we have to go on is this guy Richard Morgan."
Chloe nodded. "True. So what do we do now? I mean, I guess we could pack it up and go home."
"Not so fast. Let's pay a visit to Mori's doctor." Derek said.
Chloe sipped the rest of her already cooling coffee and hopped off the stool. Lan put her jacket on and they packed up. Walking outside, they headed towards the parked van.
"So what makes you think that they're going to be all happy about giving over medical records?" Jason asked.
"Well they have such a respected and excellent doctor visiting them." Derek said, tapping Chloe on the shoulder.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "What if I had been like a hairdresser instead of a psychologist?" She asked.
"Well, then Derek would have better hair. You win some, you lose some." Lan said, laughing.
Derek fished out the keys and the van beeped as the doors unlocked.
"What's wrong with my hair?"
*** "Dr. Gelman will see you now." The secretary said. Chloe stood up and nodded to the secretary. Derek flashed a polite smile at the woman as Jason, Lan, and he sat in the waiting room. Jack Mori might not have been a healthy man, but he certainly was a rich one. Louis Gelman was one of the best doctors in the city. They learned this when they asked around the large office building for his office number. The building itself was ritzy and elegant, a sharp contrast to Derek's t-shirt and shorts kind of guy. If he wasn't a drive around town kind of guy, he'd be carrying his skateboard. And Lan would be carrying the first aid kit.
"Dr. Tanner?" A voice said when Chloe walked in.
Chloe nodded. The man in front of her was in his mid 40's, his hair streaked with grayish silver. His intelligent eyes stared at her from behind wire rimmed glasses. He held out a hand and she shook it. She absently thought about taking Lan's jacket off, but thought otherwise, instead sitting down to bear the heat in the room. She had borrowed it after they entered the building. She needed to look a bit more professional than she was at the time, wearing khakis, sneakers, and a tank top.
"And what can I do for you today?" He asked. "I don't get many psychologists to see me."
She feigned a smile. "Dr. Gelman, I'm wondering about a former patient of yours, Jack Mori?" She asked, hoping the name rang familiar. It did and she inwardly shouted triumph.
"Yes, Jack. Mir. Mori was very ill for only a few months. If I may ask, why are you investigating?" He asked.
Chloe wondered what to say. She cleared her throat.
"Well, I offer my expertise to a few friends of mine, once in a while. They run an internet company, and once in a while I offer advice and my expert opinion. We were wondering about Mr. Mori because we received a letter from someone who told us that Mr. Mori had died…..unusually."
Stony silence sat between them.
I know it. He thinks I'm a nutcase. A crazy psychologist, now there's a new joke.
"And this Internet company, it would be…"
Chloe braced herself and the words just came tumbling. "FreakyLinks.com. They investigate--"
"Miss Tanner." The doctor interrupted. "I have heard of your escapades with this internet company."
Chloe froze. "You have?"
"Yes. I have. And I must say that your friend has a knack for treading where he is not wanted."
"But we received a letter asking for our help, it wasn't something we dug up on our own." She protested.
"I understand that. Who sent you the request?" He asked.
"I'm just wondering if Jack Mori really died of pneumonia like his assistant at the church says." She said.
The doctor frowned. "Pneumonia? Who on earth told you that?"
"Uh, Richard…" Chloe tried to think of the last name. "Morgan, Richard Morgan. He's Mr. Mori's assistant."
"I went to the funeral, I didn't meet anyone named Richard Morgan." He scowled.
"Are you sure?" Chloe asked. "Well, no, I meant, are you sure that you never met anyone by that name?"
"Absolutely. I was Jack's doctor, I went to the funeral and there were people flocking to me, thanking me for my work. And I was told that everyone in his congregation, even ones that had moved away, came to his funeral. It was even in the paper." He shook his head. "They really loved his work, you know?"
"What did he do?" She asked. "I knew he was the leader of the church."
"Yes, but he also built orphanages. The closest one is a few miles outside of the city. It's called Dawn Meadows, I think."
"Thanks." She said. She started to stand up. Stopping midway, she looked back at the doctor. "If you don't mind me asking, what did Mr. Mori die of?"
"He was a good man, but not a particularly healthy one. He died of a heart attack." He said.
A nurse stuck her head into the office. "Excuse me, Sir, but Janet Dover is on line two." She closed the door.
"Excuse me." He said. "Is there anything else?"
"No." Chloe said, shaking her head. "Thank you for your time."
He nodded a welcome as she opened the heavy oak door. Stepping back out into the hall, she rejoined Derek, Lan, and Jason.
"So?" Lan asked as they rode the elevator down to the main level.
"So, Richard Morgan wasn't telling us the truth." She said. "And I'm not even sure that's his real name."
"What do you mean?" Derek asked.
"I talked to Dr. Gelman. According to him, Mori didn't die of pneumonia, he died of a heart attack. Which makes sense, since if you didn't notice the pictures that were still up in his office, he wasn't the thinnest of people."
"Okay, so he died of a heart attack. So why did Morgan lie about it?" Jason asked.
"I have no idea. And why he would say that was his name, when Dr. Gelman never met anyone named Richard Morgan."
"Maybe he forgot."
"But then he said that everyone in his congregation was at the funeral."
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. They walked out into the lobby and headed towards the parking garage where their rental van was parked.
"But maybe he just didn't meet anyone named Richard Morgan." Lan said. "That many people, you can't talk to them all at once."
"I don't know. It sounds kinda thin to me." Derek said. "Besides whether it's his real name or not, why would he lie about Mori?"
"And you know what?" Jason said. "If he was lying about Mori's cause of death, then maybe he was lying about Heinman too."
Derek looked at his watch. "It's 4:59. We're supposed to meet this guy at the Western Sun coffee house."
"Okay, so assuming that Morgan was lying about him canceling the meeting, let's go." Lan said.
"Okay, let's try it." Derek said. Chloe jumped into the passenger seat as Jason took the wheel. Grabbing the map from Derek's pack, Chloe started to read off directions.
"Hey, Lan, why don't we do a running commentary?" He said, smiling. Lan took out the camera.
"Hey, Freaks. We're on the road here in New York City. As you can see, I made it safe and sound. And with all my organs. Jason Tatum is our driver today and Chloe's at the navigation. Lan's behind the camera, say hi, Lan."
Lan turned the camera on herself, holding it as far away as possible. "Hey guys."
She turned to back to Derek.
"Okay, we got here and to our dissapointment, we were rejected. This guy, Morgan, said that everything in the letter was a sham, a ploy to get us here and do this tabloid writer's dirty work for him. So then we had traveled all this way up here to partly sunny, mostly rainy New York to be rejected? Not at all. So we did some digging with the help of our multi-talented Dr. Tanner, and we've found some very interesting things. More on that later. Right now, though we're on our way to a meeting with the mysterious person who sent us the original email asking for our help. Okay, so he works for a tabloid. But Richard Morgan, the guy we spoke to at the church, wasn't really the most truthful, so who knows?"
Jason rolled to a stop.
Lan paused the recording and handed the camera to Derek. Jason parked and got out.
"Why didn't we just get a cab?" He asked.
"Because that's a lot of money that we don't have, brother." Derek said.
"I'll drive next time." Chloe said. She looked at the large sign decorating the café.
"Western Sun, huh?" She said. "This is the third coffee shop I've been to today."
Derek looked at his watch. "Right on time. Let's go." He said.
They walked in and looked around. Not quite knowing what to do, they sat down at a table.
"If he's not here by 6, we'll go." He said.
"I don't even want to ask, but does anyone want any coffee?" Chloe asked.
"I'm so caffeinated, I could pass as a cup of coffee." Lan said, groaning. A customer passed by with a cookie on a small plate and her eyes followed it. "I haven't had cookies though." She stood up and she and Chloe went to order.
"So…." Jason said. "You think he'll show?"
"I have no idea." Derek said. "I have no idea about a lot of things right now."
"Too bad we didn't get the conversation with Morgan on video." Jason said.
"Yeah, too bad."
6: 52 pm
"Whatever happened to 'if he's not here by 6, we'll leave'?" Lan asked, yawning. Jet lag had consumed them all, even though the flight wasn't a long one.
"Guess he's not going to show." Derek said. "Let's go. I guess we should check into a hotel or something."
"Hey, didn't this guy have a phone number?" Jason asked. "Why don't we call him?"
"Why not?" Chloe asked, though she wasn't quite sure what she was responding to. Her head was on her arms and her eyes were closed partially.
"Okay." Derek yawned. "Let's call him." He pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open. Dialing, he waited for a ring.
"Hi, this is John Hineman-"
"Hey, hi this is Derek Barnes-"
"-not here right now, leave a message."
Derek sighed and waited for the beep.
"Hey, Mr. Hinman, this is Derek Barnes, I was wondering if we could schedule another meeting sometime soon. We're in New York and we'll be here for about another-"
He looked at Jason, who held up three fingers. Chloe held up two and Lan didn't even respond.
"-another two or three days. Uh, call us." Derek hung up.
"You are so bad at leaving messages." Lan said, shaking her head.
"I get stage fright." Derek said.
"Stage fright? You're not even on stage." Lan said. "We should go now. I'm about to drop."
Chloe fished a few dollars out of her pocket and threw them on the table. She blinked to clear the fuzziness from her eyes. She considered buying another cup of coffee for the road and she noticed the "No Tipping Necessary" sign hanging on the menu that was on the back wall behind the flurrying activity of people in aprons. She grabbed her cash from the table and stuffed it back into her pocket, one awkward point sticking into her skin through the fabric.
"I'll drive." Jason said, watching Lan shuffle into the van. She immediate closed her eyes and fell asleep in her chair.
"What's with them?" Derek asked.
"They're just tired I guess." Jason said, shrugging.
"Maybe it's the curse." Derek said and they laughed.
"Okay, okay, we'll go home now." Derek said.