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Chapter 7: Deadlines

Late Saturday afternoon, Carmel beach.

I was practically the only one wearing anything that could conceivably be considered clothing - but then again I'm pretty sure that I was the only one there who was not hyper-conscious about getting a tan.

I was, however, hyper conscious about melanoma, which is why I had not one but two bottles of sunblock with me.

I was leaning as casually as I could against the particularly uncomfortable wall of the beach shop - which was of course full of the essentials: buckets, spades, oversized beach balls, frisbees, cold 'soda' and ice-cream. I, personally, made do with the wall, uncomfortable as it was, because it created the only measurable bit of shade for who knew how long.

I had donned sunglasses for the outing, a rarity for me, and was watching a distant ocean liner traverse the blurred blue horizon as I waited. For a change I felt peaceful, more than content to wait; patience was never my strong suit but perhaps the Pacific air brought out the best in me.

As well as the necessary sunblock stash, the small bag I'd dumped carelessly at me feet contained a phone Mark could use to contact me and a couple of other bits and pieces - a girl never goes anywhere unprepared the most notable of which was a tiny piece of paper, creased from where it had been folded and refolded multiple times.

On that piece of paper was a date, that location (sadly not in latitude and longitude, so the whole thing felt rather a lot less like a spy film) and a time that had passed more than seven minutes ago.

I pushed the glasses up onto the top of my head so that they acted like a particularly crappy headband and closed my eyes for something like a minute. The brisk sea breeze tugged absently at my hair and I felt a little of the tension in my shoulders dissipate. Just in case you were wondering, that didn't make my patch of wall any more comfortable.

When my eyes opened again there were two people walking toward me. One was tall, dressed in a pale blue shirt that matched his eyes; the other was irritatedly dragging her long hair out of her face and trying to shield her eyes from the wind at the same time. Paul saw me before Susannah did; I saw, even at a distance, his mouth quirk in a way that suggested he'd thought up some kind of smart comment about my general person.

"Oh, hey. What's shakin', bacon?" I called out as they drew close to my little corner of shade.

"Oh, you know, the usual" Susannah answered with a little frost in her tone that didn't at all befit the glorious weather and my sunny countenance. When I raised a questioning eyebrow Paul smirked and coughed 'tweedledee' into a hand in a poor show of subtlety.

I swung my gaze on him accusingly. I wasn't sure whether I was more irritated with his having told her about my comment on her relationship with Jesse or with my not having guessed that he'd do just that simply to screw with me.

"Okay, so I guess we got off on the wrong foot," I said by way of apology, though it would probably have been more accurate to say that we got off on the wrong limb altogether, "how about we agree that he" I jerked a thumb in Paul's general direction, "a jackass and go from there?"

Susannah frowned in contemplation for a second, swept her gaze over Paul and then shrugged amicably. "Works for me."

I grinned, just in case Paul had missed my victory. Beyond rolling his eyes he had no prepared response for me, so I proceeded unchallenged.

"So," I began slowly, "either of you care to tell me why it is I'm melting out here?" With my tone conversational, I was hoping to draw out the innocuous talk and ease our way into the sticky ghost stuff.

"Ease, mostly, I guess," Suze shrugged. "No-one out here will ask questions, we're just another group of teenagers. I couldn't exactly introduce you to my mother as the new girl at school."

"Exchange student," Paul supplied lazily, his eyes elsewhere as if he weren't paying any attention to either of us.

"Steady on, boy-o, wouldn't want to strain that brain of yours," I quipped, having accepted Susannah's reasoning without, I think, showing how much fun I thought it would be watching her explain my presence to her mother. Paul looked down at me with a cocked eyebrow; I stared back stoically, daring him to reply. When he didn't, I figured it'd be better to just prod the conversation along myself.

"Down to business, then," I readjusted a stray bit of hair and widened my eyes at the floor, not that it was at all in a position to save me from any potentially awkward questions. "first off: yes, Jane is always like that."

It wasn't a question that Suze was gonna ask me out loud, I guessed, I got the feeling that she was a mite too polite for that. Answering it meant that she'd be better prepared the next time they met, though, so when Jane suddenly goes psycho she'll be in a better position to duck and cover.

"I found the conversation the other day a bit..." Susannah started out well but trailed off, searching for an adequate word.

"Circular?" I suggested helpfully.

"Yeah," she agreed somewhat hesitantly, a frown darkening her face. It seemed to unnerve her that I never showed any reluctance to contradict or undermine Jane, whether the doctor was there with me or not. "I'm not sure I got a straight answer out of Jane."

"Good luck," I laughed derisively."I've been trying for months. Blood from a stone and all that."

"Why were you looking for me?" she cut to the chase, which was something of a relief for me.

"Not the foggiest," I answered, not quite as truthfully as I might have liked. "I know they were searching for people like me, and I know that you were the only other match they found. Kinda got four for one, though. Little more than I bargained for, I can tell you."

"Searching for mediators?"

I wrinkled my nose in something similar to disgust. "That word again. I'm no diplomat, I assure you."

"Why the hell would you need to search for other mediators?" she continued, oblivious to the fact that I was shuffling restlessly from foot to foot. "What could you possibly want us for?"

"Them, not me." I corrected, a little sharply. "I'm just along for the ride."

"'They'?" Paul interjected.

"Jane and co. Mark too, I suppose."

"'and co.'?" he pressed, his tone harder than before.

"Dude, take a sodding chill pill. Jane's old colleagues. You thought she worked in a research lab on her own? Don't be a prat. She was the driving force of the operation but she was partnered with other researchers, neurologists and the like. Once she died the whole thing was shelved, their notes, test results, everything were just left to gather dust. All the data was dismissed as an obscure branch of quackery. None of them even knew she'd found me, so far as I'm aware."

"They were obviously worth mentioning," Susannah contributed for the first time in several minutes. I threw my hands up, stung that I'd apparently lost my only ally and we weren't even ten minutes in.

"They were all part of it, in the beginning. Not anymore. They were all reassigned. If you're worried that some mad doctor's coming to conduct brain surgery on one or all of you, you can relax. Jane's the only one you have to worry about and surgery isn't exactly within her skill set."

That quietened the Spanish Inquisition enough to allow me to exhale as calmly as I could manage under those circumstances. I dragged my eyes away from my two companions and noted that the ocean liner I'd been watching earlier had moved halfway across the horizon without my noticing. I guess it's nice that somebody's getting somewhere,I thought bitterly. It wasn't just the open suspicion in both Paul and Susannah's voices that was getting to me, I was pretty annoyed that, after fighting so long for full disclosure for myself I was hiding exactly the same information from a person who probably deserved to know just as much as I did.

"Why did you come?" Paul prodded, discontent to leave questions unanswered, his expression mildly curious but unyielding.

"I was bored. I'm the adventurous type. It's California. Take your pick."

"No you're not," he persisted, orienting his body so that he faced me head-on, a rather more aggressive stance than I was happy with. "You're fully aware that you'd live a more peaceful life without your doctor friend."

At that point Susannah elbowed him in the ribs, hard. The glance he spared her was chilling, even in the sweltering sunlight. When he switched his icy stare back on me I'd folded my arms defensively and raised an eyebrow. From first impressions I'd expected him to be forthright, even abrasive, but I hadn't expected an approach to open hostility. Underneath all that cool demeanour there was something about me, and most probably about Mark and Jane too, that he didn't like or trust. I just can't imagine why.

"I'm secretly a a humanitarian," I told him, biting back the verbal reprimands that hand sprung to mind automatically. "I'm just reallygood at hiding it. Do you always expect ulterior motived when people do nice things or is it just me you don't consider trustworthy?"

My words hung in the air for a time before Susannah regained control of herself and stopped us from proceeding any further.

"Okay, you two. Quit it before someone gets hurt."

Paul didn't seem as if he were willing to surrender and I certainly wasn't about to admit defeat to the guy. I would quite happily have gone several more rounds with the guy but I'm sure that if things had panned out like that Susannah would more than happily have banged both our heads together.

"He's got a point, though." Susannah continued, grimacing even as she said so. "Why did Jane bring you when she could have just found me herself? Ghosts travel a whole lot faster than planes."

"Not the unreliable ones," I muttered.

Susannah then began scrutinizing me, and I began to feel as if I were being conspired against. I might've cried 'Mutiny!' had I been a 17th century pirate captain - as it was, I was a 21st century teenager and I would gain absolutely nothing by losing my cool.

"I wasn't kidding about the humanitarian thing," I said after a pause, hugging myself tightly and glowering at nobody in particular. "When I met her, Jane was a complete mess. From what I gather, she managed to scare both herself and her brother stupid before either of them realised that she was dead.

"She didn't find me right away. All she had was a name and an address, no picture, so I could've been anyone. She turned up in the middle of the night screaming and crying, saying that no-one could hear her and that her brother had tried to attack her. Jesus, it took forever for me to wrestle her nameout of her."

"Didn't really take to being dead, then." Paul stated with nothing even remotely resembling sympathy in his tone at all. I watched him though slightly narrowed eyes; later I'd note how I'd immediately risen to Jane's defense and how strangely uncharacteristic of me that was, but at that moment all I could really think about was how delightful it would be to stamp on Paul's face while wearing a pair of chunky hiking boots or something.

"No, not as such," Captain Obvious, I added in my head. "It took five phone calls to get Mark to agree to hear me out and a lot longer to convince him to meet with Jane without either believing he was wacko or trying to bury a stake in her heart. Family baggage and all that. The neededsomeone to keep the peace."

"Oh," Paul laughed and somehow managed to keep his voice sardonic. "You're good at that."

"Bite me," I countered with conviction, acutely aware of how feeble a retort that was by comparison.

"If you can't play nicely go and get a soda or something," Susannah hissed at Paul, her feathers all ruffled.

I resisted the urge to make a derogatory comment as he acquiesced despite the fact that the way he simply did as he was told was hilarious to me. Whether she was aware of it or not Susannah seemed to hold some sway over Paul - sure he'd toy with her, mess her about and generally try to piss her off as much as possible but I sensed that if she genuinely needed something he'd be there, even if only to ensure she was indebted to him.

"He's an ass," Susannah said, by way of explanation and apology.

"He's a dick," I corrected, "and he doesn't seem to like people very much."

"You seriously followed a brother and sister halfway across the world to stop them bickering?"

"No, I did it for kicks," I rolled my eyes, despite regretting how condescending my unchecked tone was. "that and they askedme."

Nothing I said seemed to make the slightest bit of difference to her opinion of me; she didn't look very happy, to be honest, so I shook my head slowly and let out a long breath.

"Don't beat yourself up, we're an auspicious trio. Occupational hazard."

At that, Susannah gave me a rueful smile that was almost reminiscent of Father Dominic.

"I know the feeling," she sighed, orienting herself so that we were stood side by side facing the ocean. It felt strangely comforting to talk candidly with someone similar; I can't say that I share too much in common with people my own age or even Mark, save for the general feeling of despair that the latter and I exchange when Jane materializes in a foul mood.

"My Dad died when I was six," Susannah continued, apparently surprising herself as much as me with her willingness to share. "Then he came back. He wasn't my first ghost but he was the first that made any sense." She shrugged. "I moved out here with my mother after she married my step dad."

"Where, I'm sure, you promptly joined the Paranormal Society, right? I'd figured I was a one-off until I met Mark and Jane, but Mark's was the only other person I'd met who could talk to ghosts without being dead himself."

"'Paranormal Society'? she gave me an odd sideways look that might have been amusement.

"Yes," I affirmed, my tone defensive but light. I've been here less than a week and I've met four of you. I'm surprised you don't have a local newsletter and coffee socials. Between the four of you I dread to think what's stashed in this town's closet."

She laughed. "Nothing more than the average, I suppose. We've got some great dinner party stories, though."

Something in her expression said that she shouldn't be doubted there - that gave me the inkling that she was only half joking. Prying never got me anywhere so I quirked an eyebrow but didn't challenge her.

"Where is tall, dark and silent, anyway?" I asked, overwhelmed by abrupt, impatient curiosity.

"Who, Jesse?" she blinked at me, uncomprehendingly, apparently taken unawares.

"Yeah. You brought the bulldog instead of the boyfriend. How come?"

"You could say that, I suppose," Susannah's face morphed from wry amusement to contemplation before she shrugged, noncommittal. "He's got a lot to sort out."

I watched her intently, vaguely surprised. She'd avoided looking directly at me when she answered and her fingers twitched ever so slightly on one hand. It was education, for certain, to watch her try to cover up her lie with a nondescript aura of composure.

"You didn't tell him that you were coming, did you?"

She met my eyes then, and I felt triumphant at having guessed correctly. "No."

"Not Paul's biggest fan, is he?"

"No," she repeated, resigned that time. I figured that pushing her any further than that would be impolite; I don't usually give a rat's ass about social etiquette but Susannah had played the caring-and-sharing card so I was going along with it. Besides, it was bad enough having to cover up the true extent of my knowledge with white lies - I didn't want to provoke or insult her any further, whether she'd guessed that I was withholding details or not.

"You know you're pretty unconventional, even for a mediator." she stated, the first piece of what could almost be called banter that she'd sent my way. Finally. My comfort zone.

Taking 'mediator' in this instance to mean 'general communicator with the dead' I responded. "For people like us, conventionalism isn't really an option."

For the second time, she laughed. "You don't need to tell me that."

A muffled buzzing almost cut Susannah off. I jumped half a mile in the air before realising that a) the source of the noise was completely harmless and b) that it was me anyway.

"I'm vibrating," I stated blankly, without moving.

"You think?" she responded dryly. "Aren't you gonna get that?"

As I bent down to open my bag and drag out my phone, I pressed a finger to my lips. For a fraction of a second Susannah looked as if someone had told her to stand on her head but the realisation that I'd not told Mark and Jane where I was going sank in quickly enough, thank God. Sadly, the fact that I was getting a call and not a visit meant that it was the living counterpart of the brother-sister duo and therefore it was undoubtedly the more pissed of the two siblings. Apparently trust is hard to come by in this town.

"Oh, Mark. Salute. How's tricks?"

"Rhea, we've talked about this," I'm sure he didn't say that because he went off on a tirade, only half of which I understood, but that was the root and the gist of it. I tried to be attentive as best I could (read: I didn't succeed). "Where are you?"

"One of the better student bars in town. Happy Hour starts in twenty minutes," I told him cheerfully. Susannah looked torn between incredulity and hysterical laughter. Thankfully the hand the covered her mouth with muffled any noise she made sufficiently that Mark couldn't hear her at all.

"Firstly: there areno decent student bars - anywhere. That's why they're student bars. Secondly, you're not legally allowed to drink over here. Or back home, for that matter. Lastly, it's just gone 11am."

"It's 7pm somewhere," I sighed before pressing ahead. "Do you know how much of a wet blanket you are?" I wrinkled my nose despite not being able to see his expression.

"Rhea, we need you here.Not running about Carmel wreaking havoc."

"I object to your terminology," I said, acting affronted. "I don't create havoc. I just exacerbate natural entropy,"

"Quit messing about. Either make your own way back or I'll come looking for you."

"Bring your roadmap and try not to get stuck in any bars. Good luck, soldier!" I hung up and let out a breath all in a rush.

"Do you do that on purpose?" Susannah asked me, quietly. I couldn't tell whether she was curious or suspicious or both; it didn't really matter either way, I suppose, as I had no idea what she was talking about anyway.

"Um," I said, "what?"

"Wind people up like that..." she trailed off uncertainly.

"Oh," I pondered the question and then shrugged it off."More often than not."

"Why not just say where you are?"

"Why not just ask me outright to meet you?"

I watched her expression as she considered that before she answered. "Father Dominic might've had a coronary."

"Altruism." I laughed. "Brings out the worst in all of us."

"What's your excuse?" She'd raised an eyebrow. It was almost like looking at a taller version of myself.

"The only thing worse than taking a car rise with Mark while he's ticked is being locked in the same room as him for hours on end." I shrugged, smiling lopsidedly. "Besides, do I really need a reason to want to mess with a guy who takes himself too seriously?"

"I suppose not," she responded with the slightest trace of a smile.

"Anyway, that's my cue to leave," I told her, perhaps a little unceremoniously. The unembellished was I stated it seemed to surprise her; she blinked a few times then frowned at me.

"I thought..."

"Sometimes the best way to mess with someone is to do exactly what they ask. He'll not expect me to co-operate." And I needed to get back sooner rather than later to ensure that I actually survived Mark's wrath.

"You're totally backwards." she told me, bemused.

"A little bit," I acceded. "but I really do have to be off. You know, people to avoid. Give Paul a swift kick for me, won't you?"

Susannah looked at me, her expression almost critical. The way she stared was intense enough to make me sorely uncomfortable and I began to think that maybe she was seeing things in me - and I had no clue as to exactly what things they might be - that I'd rather remained carefully locked away. The very least of those was my growing list of white lies. TO my relief all she did was pull out a thin piece of paper upon which her phone number was written.

"Just in case," she said.

"I'm a bit disappointed that we're not gonna be using smoke signals," I told her.

"You mean you wouldn't prefer Morse Code?" she folded her arms and regarded me with a challenge in her eyes; I laughed.

"Nah, I'm far more retro than that."

"Then you were born a few decades late."

I shrugged, affecting flippancy. "That's okay, my DeLorean's parked just around the corner."

I smiled innocently as she shook her head and glanced down at my wrist, then, as if I might actually find a watch there - unlikely, considering I never wore the damn things anyway.

"Great Scott, would you look at the time. Must dash. Bon voyage!"

I lifted my bag up and dropped the strap over my right shoulder, gave Susannah my custom, casual single-fingered salute then turned and walked away, the sun at my back.

I did text Mark my location. In latitude and longitude, but that's neither here nor there, really.

He found me easily enough. I'm not sure if that's because I stick out like a sore thumb or because he has become especially attuned to me - I rather hope it's the former, as dismaying as that is, because the latter is just plain creepy.

I was frogmarched back to the Pebble Beach Hotel, then, while Mark walked in brooding silence. I tell you, Mark's company when he's in a mood is more than enough to make me long for the dulcet, sarcastic tones of Jane.

As usual after entering or suite, I dropped my bag carelessly and headed straight for the kitchen - of course when I get home there's a one-track train in my head: need caffeine - and, as usual, my way was barred by an unrelenting ghost.

"Explain, if you'd be sokind." Jane said with more demand than askance in her tone.

"In my defence, I-"

"No excuses," Mark interjected. "not anymore."

I threw at look at him over my shoulder. "Iwas helping," I answered, not apologetic in the least.

Jane laughed darkly. "You always say that."

"With an earnest, optimistic expression and generally a lot less innocence than I'm aiming for," I agreed. "This time I'm serious. Susannah wanted a heart-to-heart."

"What?" Mark started violently, stepped towards me and put a hand on my shoulder to try to turn me towards him. I turned my gaze on him and raised an eyebrow, daring him challenge me, but all he did was scrutinize my expression and then look away, perplexed. Jane didn't take as long as her brother to assess me and surmise that I wasn't slipping them a falsehood; she'd got her doctor's head on and was compiling a list of questions.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Oh, please. You would've gone down there in force and either scared them off started off some sort of war. The reason they asked methere was so that there'd only be one of me. Three of us is a potential threat. Paul wouldn't have slipped me this in secret if they'd really bought the oh-we're-just-visiting thing."

To be honest, I wouldn't have bought that story. In fact, if two 'mediators' and a ghost had shown up on my doorstep I'd have slammed the door, barred it and run like hell in the opposite direction - but that's just me and I'm antisocial.

After I'd spoken I pulled out the paper Paul had given me and held it out. Mark was the one who took it, gingerly, just in case it took his head off, as paper is wont to do. While he unfolded it carefully I slipped past Jane and into a glorious stack of cushions littering one of the sofas.

"You should've said where you were going," Jane berated me after a pause in which she'd take no interest in her brother or the note he held, though compared to her usual standard, she was only doing so halfheartedly.

With a heaved sigh I pulled myself up into something resembling a sitting position and crossed my legs so that I had both stability and comfort on my side.

"No." I answered simply.

"No?" Jane arched an eyebrow at me and even Mark's eyes lifted a fraction so that he might survey me over the edge of the paper he held.

"No," I confirmed. "That close encounter gave her no confidence in us. Going in solo was better than getting the troops together and freaking her the hell out."

"And why is that?" Jane asked me, in full adult mode now. This time, though, I had a reason for ignoring them, and I'm nothing if not willing to fight my corner when it comes to it.

"Because you've no idea how to approach someone and ask for help. Because I'm her age and I can empathize. Because, unlike anyone else, I was willing to level with her and answer her questions properly. And it's a bloody miracle that thatworked considering that for half of it I was lying."

A pause. It couldn't have been more awkward had there been weird lift music playing; I barely noticed that, though. The fact that I'd had to lie to Susannah had angered me a lot more than even I'd realised and as a result my delivery was somewhat more venemous than I'd intended.

"Lying? About what?" Jane treaded cautiously, choosing every word with care, it was plain to see.

"I told her I didn't know why we'd come for her. I said that I didn't have the foggiest what you were trying to accomplish beyond that. I also left out our visitor from the other day."

After the Father and his three ducklings had left the other day, Jane had near enough had a breakdown. So much so, in fact, that Mark never really had a chance to yell at me for derailing his neatly preplanned train of events. Jane stood over by the door to my bedroom and stared out of the window for a moment that, I'm convinced, could have lasted years. As in I might have had cause to buy hair dye before she decided to speak.

"We had a visitor earlier," she'd said, finally. My response was nothing short of spectacularly witty, of course.

"Er, yeah. We had four. So glad you noticed."

"No, no." She'd begun to pace by that point. I did what I always do: I treated Jane's obvious sign of nervousness as a sign of the end of the world. "The door. You heard him."

"'Him'?" I'd had trouble remembering exactly what it was Jane was getting at until she mentioned something about us mistaking the noise for Mark returning. I'd frowned, shaken my head until I was dizzy and made wordless noises of confusion before I finally figured out what she was on about.

"What, you mean our disruptive neighbour? We should really file a complaint or something."

"He wasn't one of our neighbours," Jane hissed at me, entirely unappreciative my slightly muddled state of mind.

"What the hell are you talking about?" My brain had been hurting from the sheer volume of people in such an enclosed space so I wasn't totally on form. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it."I was right there. You told me-"

"I lied," she said emphatically.

"Why?" I'd still been frowning at her because I couldn't at all work out what she was getting at or why she was telling me when I plainly couldn't do a sodding thing about it.

"He left a message. " The emotional undercurrents in her tone put me off at that point; she sounded stressed, almost panicked, and she'd paced while she talked. Jane had been a world away from the vision-of-calm I'm accustomed to.

"Yeah," I'd answered. Drowsy and struggling to regain what little focus I had left, I'd not been quite so understanding as I might've been had I had a few more wits about me. "did he leave a fruit basket too?"

"He knows me Rhea! Now sit up, listen to me and for God's sakequit it with the sarcasm before I take it into my head to knock some sense into yours!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," I muttered "Keep your knickers on."

I'd been taken aback, not just by the fact she'd lied about something that had seemed so irrelevant at the time. That time, the panic in her voice had been abundantly evident. Jane was afraid.

"Let's go again from the top," I'd started slowly. "Did you see his face? Could he see you?"

"I don't know," she bit her lip. "Maybe not. No, I don't think so. And I didn't get a good look at his face, just the back of his head as he left." Jane had paused then, folded her arms and forced herself to breathe slowly and evenly. Old habits die hard, I guess.

"And how do you know this guy's looking for trouble if ou didn't see his face and you don't think he saw you?"

"The note he left," she'd waved a hand in the general direction of Mark, who slid a small, ivory piece of card across the coffee table to me, expression pensive.

I'd taken it, admittedly with some reluctance, and turned it over. The writing was all upper case, carefully scripted and very neat.


I'd looked from the slip of card to Jane, to Mark and back again, quizzical.

"I've had a message like that before," Jane had said in answer to my unasked question. "It came through as a text message as I was leaving the lab, the night I died."

I'd opened my mouth to respond to that but nothing came out, quite the oddity for me. Jane had quickly resumed her pacing but all I did was put the card on the table and push it away with a tentative finger.

"That doesn't make sense, though," I'd said after a moment. "You're not even that kind of doctor."

"You're missing the point, as usual," Jane all but spat. "It's not the what that's important right now so much as the who."

"I take it that you think this is the same guy, then?" I'd asked sceptically, making a broad sweeping gesture in the direction of the coffee table where the note sat.

"Yes." Jane had responded immediately and seemed confident in her assertion, even if she wasn't at all at home with the situation.

"I suppose the question is, then, how the hell he knew you were here," I'd paused to consider my own question but Mark was already shaking his head.

"No," he disagreed, " the question is how he knew she'd come back as a ghost."

Nothing much had been said after that. 'Busted!'just didn't quite cover the situation enough. That was probably the reason why Mark had had a fit over my leaving the hotel the hotel unaccompanied again, y'know, just in case I managed to get myself offed by some psychopathic doctor-dropping thug.

"So, c'mon, hit me up," I told Jane and Mark from my semi-comfy position on the sofa, "how many words synonymous with 'reckless' can you fit into the next ten minutes?"

Insouciant, careless, devil-may-care, thoughtless, hasty, foolhardy, irresponsible...

"You did the right thing,"Jane said pointedly but not unkindly. I'm not sure who between Mark and I showed more surprise.

"You can't seriously think so that," Mark was looking at his sister as if she'd grown another head. I had to remind myself that is was, in fact, a sombre moment and so it would most certainly not be appropriate to fist pump the air in my victory. It also took an enormous effort for me to stop myself from reminding Mark that disagreeing with the dead is very, very insensitive.

"You don't have to like it but I'm perfectly serious," Jane replied curtly to her brother. "Suze - all of them, in fact - are far more likely to respond to us if they're on good terms with someone they can talk to."

"There's no accounting for her taste," I supplied cheerfully.

Mark shifted awkwardly as if readying himself to say something else; Jane quelled him with a look.

"Save it," she told him shortly. I looked away, avoiding the conflict, for once. Mark didn't respond - that did not at all mean that he had nothing to say on the matter. I could feel the storm coming.

"Other than that," I began sharply, in order to drag everybody's attention away from the mounting tension in the room, "nothing else happened."

"Nothing?" Jane prompted, looking dissatisfied; I couldn't tell whether it was with me or Mark or the fact that my information download was over.

"Nothing we didn't know already," I affirmed, like how Paul's an asshat,"so, what now?"

"What do you mean?" Jane was eyeing me like I might spontaneously combust which, I think, would have been a cool party trick.

"Well, we found Susannah. Plus three. What's phase two of this grand plan of yours?

Jane and Mark exchanged looks that didn't, as such, fill me with confidence.

"You do have a master plan... right?" My voice trailed off at the end of the question; I'd been slightly distracted by Mark who stood and left - only to visit the kitchen, but that's beside the point. He clearly had no interest in continuing the discussion with me - or Jane, for that matter.

"I guess it's irrelevant now," Jane sighed. as she sat down on the sofa opposite me she smoothed her trousers, not that it really mattered, ending up leaning forward slightly with her hands resting on her knees.

"Why?" We'd only just gotten there, really. Inherent stubbornness meant I was not ready to, uh, give up the ghostjust then.

"Our visitor. He's one of the reasons we were trying to keep a low profile, we didn't really want anyone knowing what we were up to-"

"You knew there was a possibility he'd find us? Jesus, are you mad? Three adolescents and a priest I can handle but some rogue psycho is another matter."

"It wasn't important at the time, we couldn't really say for certain whether anyone was keeping tabs on us," Mark said as he leaned against the kitchen door frame.

Huh, had been my exact thought. So Mark had known as well. Damn the pair of them.

"Now we doknow, I guess the first thing to do is find out who he is and how he knows what he knows."

"Oh, excellent plan," I said, sardonic. "You got his ID or something, right? A fingerprint? Was he wearing a licence plate?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Mark shot back.

"Back at you. It's going to be just a little bit hard to find him if you've got nothing to go on. Time for a new plan."

"Any suggestions?" Jane asked me, somewhat sourly. When I remained silent she nodded, unsurprised. "Thought not."

I paused thoughtfully, contemplating our situation. Having some random guy out looking for us didn't change things, I mused, so what ever secret mission we were there to carry out was still on. We had too many questions, though, that was the problem: too many questions, too few answers.

"Why you?" I asked Jane. "Why did he come after you?"

"Because he's deranged?" she supplied, her tone scathing. I took no notice.

"No, I mean the first time. Aside from you being, well," I faltered when she pinned me with her most predatory stare and shrugged defensively, "you, there was no real reason to give you a swift kick onto the next plane of existence."

"Your research," I shrugged again and dragged a hand through my hair absently.

"You think he killed me to get a paper out of some guy who thought he saw dead people?"

"He didsee dead people," I corrected, "and think about it. If he knew about ghosts and he wasn't trying to steal your research then - what if he was trying to cover it up? With you dead there'd be no-one brave enough to go searching for fund money. You saw, the whole thing was shelved. On the other hand if you came back as a ghost and started talking to people, that would give him cause to come after you."

"I suppose so," Jane considered me carefully, "how did he know exactly where we are, though?"

"Ouija board?" I suggested, fresh out of reasonable ideas.

"Be serious."

"I was," I muttered under my breath, "Fine. Supposing he can't see ghosts himself, it wouldn't have been too hard to find you if he knew your name. From there he'd find Mark and, considering that I started visiting Mark after you'd died, it wouldn't be too hard to start trailing me, either. If he can see people like you, then the problem gets a lot simpler. He'd just have to tail you and whoever you were with."

I would've pushed for a response but Jane's brewing disagreement with Mark was made her oversensitive to the pretty much everything that came out of my mouth. I was aiming for being amiable - with limited success.

"So..." I began, slowly.


"So, I'm playing by your rules now. Ball's in your court, doc. What do we do next?"

Across Carmel, Susannah Simon had arrived home after a day that had been much less trying than she'd anticipated - apart from the bit where Brad had collared her halfway up the stairs to throw a half-baked insult her way. She shrugged it off like the professional she was and continued to the safe sanctuary of her bedroom, where she dumped her things and sat down on the over-ostentatious bed that she'd somehow come to love.

She'd not been sat more than two minutes before her phone rang noisily.

Releasing a breath she stood and crossed the room to the stand that her phone stood on, making a mental not to invest in caller ID at some point in the near future. At first all she heard was a lot of rustling and flapping, rather like a bird that had just lost its balance and fallen off a roof.

"Hello?" she called, somewhat bemused and a tiny bit annoyed.

More shuffling. "Hello?" she called louder, fighting rising irritation.

"Susannah, hello? You're there? Oh, good," Father Dominic sounded so flustered that Susannah forgot all about her annoyance. It didn't take too much to get the Father in a flap but by the sound of it he was close to having a nervous breakdown.

"I'm here," she affirmed, "What is it? You don't sound too hot,"

"Ah. Yes," By the sound of his voice alone Suze knew he was close to breaking point; at the back of her mind she wondered whether he'd broken into his pack of cigarettes yet. "We have something of a situation..."

"Care to elaborate?" She inspected each of her fingernails while Father Dominic danced around the issue, glad that they were talking over the phone instead of in person because it gave her at least a partial illusion of her being patient.

"I was just browsing - you know, surfing, that's what it's called, isn't it? - the internet, and, ah, you see -"

Susannah was just about to tell the Father that he was far better off phoning technical support - or her youngest stepbrother, who probably knew more about computers anyway - when he stopped mid-sentence and sighed sadly.

"Susannah, are you still there?"

"I'm still here, Father D."

"You remember Bryce, don't you, Susannah? Bryce Martinson. He attended the Mission when you first arrived." Father Dominic seemed to be trying to hold it together as best he could to ensure he explained properly but there was nothing at all in his voice that gave the inkling that what he had to say was good news.

"Bryce?" Susannah blinked, surprised. "Sure, I remember him. Why?" The memory of Bryce brought with it, unbidden, the memory of Heather, Queen Psycho herself, one ghost that Susannah was hugely relieved to be rid of.

"Because," Father Dominic started miserably, "Bryce was found dead this afternoon."

TWO chapters within a month of one another, are you mad? Yes, quite possibly! These two I kinda wrote together, though, so it's only fitting that they roll out one after the next. Not sure as yet when I'll return, with any luck it'll be soon. Until then, folks, I've left cookies out on the review desk. Feel free to nibble & scribble!