After Lila's departure.

"You should get back into bed," Ruthie said anxiously. "You look beat. Will you be okay alone for a couple minutes, while I go find Gabe?"

Gabe would have to lift him from chair to bed, and help get him undressed.

But Ben shook his head. "No, don't bother Gabe. I just want to sit here an' think."

"Okay."

He looked not only "beat" but forlorn, and it was only with difficulty that she resisted the temptation to kiss him on the head...as she so often did when he was asleep.

But after she'd left him to his thoughts for five minutes, she couldn't resist trying to draw him out. "Ben? I, ah, still don't understand. Did you really learn somethin' from Lila?"

He sighed. "Yeah, I did. Think about this, Ruthie.

"If Lodz had thought it was important I get that message, I can't see him relyin' on just you rememberin' it, an' realizin' it was me you should tell. Don't it seem likely he woulda told Lila, too - when he was visitin' her, talkin' to her, anyway? So he could say more, actually tell someone who the message was meant for?"

"Y-yeah." She hadn't thought of that, but she had to agree it made sense. "Lila coulda been lyin' to you -"

"I don't think so. She had no way o' knowin' whether my powers include recognizin' a lie. An' she wanted me to give her truthful answers, so she probably woulda been straight with me.

"An' besides that...I know you said the message was sort o' printed, not written in script. But even so, how likely is it a blind person could write all that, neat an' readable? On a mirror, usin' lipstick?"

"It wouldn't o' been easy," she said slowly. "Lodz owned a Braille typewriter, warn't never known to write anythin' more than his name.

"An', Ben - I ain't sure where this is goin', but I just thought o' somethin' else that was odd. The name 'Sofie' was spelled with an f."

"Spelled with an f?" he repeated. "Ain't it spelled 'S-O-P-H-I-E'?"

"No," she told him, "Sofie really does spell it 'S-O-F-I-E.' I asked her about it once, an' she said her mama told her that was the Gypsy spelling.

"The thing is, over the years, I've seen her write it, an' seen lists, o' various kinds, of all the folks with the carnival. How would a blind person know she don't spell it the usual way? Her an' Lodz was never chummy, an' I can't think why Appy woulda mentioned it to him.

"But still, that message did get on the mirror. An' when I woke up, there was lipstick on my fingers. Do you think some livin' person snuck in my trailer an' did all that, without wakin' me?" Her voice had been rising; she found that possibility more scary than a long-since-departed ghost.

"No," Ben said quietly. "But I do think we've been makin' some wrong assumptions.

"You saw other ghosts durin' them first weeks after I brought you back, not just Lodz. I thought he was able to possess you 'cause I'd exchanged his life for yours. But maybe it wasn't that at all. Maybe the only difference between his ghost an' the ghost o' some old pal o' yours was that he understood what was goin' on...knew he was dead...had experience with psychic stuff.

"I wish it was him left that message, so I wouldn't have to believe it.

"But...what I think now, Ruthie, is that on that one night, another dead person was possessin' you. Someone who wasn't blind. Who'd seen lists o' carnies' names. Who didn't know what Lodz had been doin' to you, an' never imagined you'd think the message was from him.

"Someone who'd learned things when he reached the other side, an' truly wanted to help me."

He looked miserable. She could tell he didn't want to go on.

But she needed to know. So she took his hand, and said gently, "Please tell me, Ben. Who?"

He said slowly, "Someone who expected that by now, after...the last thing that happened between us...I'd feel like his equal. Think o' him by his first name.

"Management. Belyakov.

"That letter L didn't stand for 'Lodz.' It stood for 'Lucius.' "

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The End