Phantom Hearts - Book II in the Ghost Series. Dyna is having a bad day... a really bad day. Her house is now filled with ghosts, the neighborhood association is trying to get her evicted, and she just found out she's pregnant with a demon child. To top everything off, a handsome cop thinks he can make it go away, but all he is doing is making it worse! An unexpected trip to Hell to meet the baby daddy may put her world into perspective... or end civilization as she knows it.
Reggie studied the two staggering lines winding their way into hell. They stank of horrified humanity and bureaucratic bullshit. One line went toward a bright green light that hurt his eyes.
Purgatory. Even the name was restful. In that line were infants and toddlers, Buddhist monks, smiling Hindus, and any number of “unclaimed” good guys that needed a special ticket upstairs. It made him gag.
It was the other line he was interested in. That queue stretched further than he could see in either direction. The howl of terrified human souls was not a salve for his discomfort, so he turned instead to his intended prey.
Reggie stared at the gypsy. He knew she couldn’t see him. Hot vapors and black coils of smoke kept him curtained from curious eyes. The woman wasn’t old, nor was she very young; somewhere in-between, he supposed. Her face snarled when the man behind her tried to bully his way closer to the end of the eternal line, but she elbowed him hard and he withdrew, rubbing the rib she had caught with an outrageously boney arm. The wicked wrinkles lining her eyes smoothed into a pleasant face that had first attracted Reggie. She looked out of place among the very dregs of humanity fussing impatiently around her. All of them knew what lay at the end of that line; assignment to one of the nine circles of hell. One side of Reggie’s mouth curled up. He loved the heart of the damned.
When he heard Mortimer’s shuffling feet, Reggie tossed an open hand to his side. A rotting leather folder with the name “Beatrice Mountebank Smithens” scrawled in giant letters across the front materialized from somewhere inside Mortimer’s black rags and he laid it gently in Reggie’s fingers.
“Is this the one you wanted, master?” growled the impish little man at his elbow.
Reggie ran his hand slowly across the dusty cover then glanced again at the fortuneteller. She looked amiable, settled, almost cheerful in the roiling mass of grumbling souls.
He opened the folder to scan the facts typed neatly on a yellowed piece of paper with brown fire scared edges…
REASON FOR CONDEMNATION:
5. Debauchery (non-sexual)
Oh, how Reggie loved the old sins…
8. Overindulgence/Under Representation
9. Cheating on taxes
He flipped that page and scanned the next until his eyes fell on the last few lines.
DURATION OF CONFINEMENT: Eternity
CURRENT LEVEL: Ring One – The Queue
This last line sent electric shocks up his neck. It was exactly what he wanted to know.
“Bring her to me.” He slammed the folder back into this servant’s hands, turned on his heel, and headed for his office.
Clutching the dusty carpetbag in her lap with both hands, Beatrice scanned the dark room. Her eyes skimmed over everything except where the demon sat across from her. Reggie reached for his drink and took a sip.
Those watery bulging eyes skittered first right, then left and she lowered her chin. “Yes, sir,” she whispered.
“Do you know why I brought you here?”
A kind of spark lit her face for an instant and then died. “No, sir.”
“You don’t like the line to hell, do you?”
A moment of unguarded heat triggered at her mouth but she didn’t reply.
“If it’s any comfort to you,” he leaned forward and tried to keep the smirk off his face, “it won’t be long now. Your place in hell waits for you in a circle I’m certain is well deserved.”
She put timid fingers on his desk and massaged the rose-colored wood. “Which circle, sir?”
Reggie was impressed. The tug of compulsion demonstrated in those three words was quite compelling. He almost answered. Instead, he sat back and folded his fingers together.
“Of course, I can’t tell you.” Her face fell with her eyes to her knees and she pulled in a long breath of air. “You’ll have to take my word for it; what awaits you will make your life in hell very… interesting.”
Her mouth dissolved into a straight line and a light flickered in her eyes, but again, she said nothing.
“Unless…” Reggie let the word hang in the room for a long time as he took another sip of the brackish liquor in the smoky glass. For the first time she glared directly at him.
“Unless what?” she snarled, a slip of evil spilling out with each syllable.
“Unless you’d like to earn a chance to… let’s say, “improve” your situation here. Interested?”
She gave him one brisk nod. Her hands tightened on the purse. Opening one of the desk drawers, Reggie reached in and pulled out one of his favorite toys.
Called an Appall ICU, the tablet had been the dandy of many of the variable demons in hell; you could pull up anyone living and see what they were up to. One of Apple’s more questionable “Divisions,” Appall was not well known by homo sapiens; well, except the ones who would get a copy of the device once they descended to hell anyway.
Reggie slid his finger over the smooth pad and pushed an icon here and there. Soon a face filled the screen and he sighed.
Black short hair bobbed above her eyes and around the nape of her neck. Her lips were blood red and her eyes painted with a gothic perfection Reggie found very appealing. Cocooned in an ancient shawl all swirls and mysticism, she sat at a worn table staring down at a scattered deck of dog-eared tarot cards, her face screwed up in confusion tinged with fear. Almost sprite like, the woman’s beauty still took his breath away, even though he had none. It was why he had chosen her to receive the altered seed he had implanted in her womb, the seed of a monster. The memory sent chills down his neck and he shivered.
Laying the device on the table, he spun it around and pushed it toward Beatrice. She mouthed a tentative, barely audible, “Oh.”
“Do you know her?” Reggie asked.
The mournful eyes lifted to him. “No. Who is she?”
“Her name is Dionysus Eugenia Alberic, one of the purest souls on earth and about to become the mother of my child.”
Beatrice pulled her neck back and gave him a suspicious glare. “Your child?” she hissed.
Reggie settled into his chair and pondered his reply for a moment. “Well… not directly my child, but close enough. He will rule the world one day.”
“So, do I kill her and cut the child from her belly?”
The raw iciness of that question made even Reggie quiver a bit. This creature truly had no heart. She’d have his job one day.
“Nothing so rash. I need her brought to me, but I can’t go up and fetch her myself… well, not without consequences.”
Beatrice pulled the tablet into her hands and studied the image very carefully. “She’s young.”
“Don’t let her youthful face deceive you. She’s no fool.”
Beatrice grunted an acknowledgment and put the tablet on the table. “What’s in it for me?”
Reggie watched Dyna move two more tarot cards into play on the tiny screen. They were too small to see, but he was certain what they were telling her. “I can’t promise, of course, but if you help me, I’ll make certain your name is whispered into the proper ears. I can’t get you out of the particular circle you’ve been condemned to, but I can make your stay there more… comfortable, if you wish.”
“I want my life back,” she stated so bluntly, Reggie had to laugh.
“No one can do that for you, my dear. At least not permanently. All I can do is give you a temporary reprieve from here. You can’t stay more than 24 hours on earth.”
The sour expression she shot back at him made him queasy. This one would bear watching.
“Alright.” She stood up and pushed the chair back. “When do I start?”
Reggie rose and crossed to one of the massive shelves lining the walls. He brushed the spines of several books until he found the one he wanted. In gold letters was written, The Alchemy of Tarot by Aristotle. He knew he could reach the old philosopher in purgatory where he lived behind one of the seven gates with many of his fellow scholars. Reggie wasn’t allowed there, of course, but from time to time, Arty would wander very near the edge of limbo. Reggie would lure him close enough to discuss philosophy, evil, and the nuances of men. The demon would never admit this to anyone, of course, but it was one of his few pleasures. The old fucker could really talk.
He handed the book to Beatrice who took it as if scabs covered it. “Study that. You’ll need it. How’s your tarot?”
The pencil thin shoulders shrugged recklessly and she adjusted her bag to flip through the book’s pages. “Good enough. I worked for a tarot reading phone center for a couple of years. It’s all a lot of bullshit, if you ask me.”
Reggie nodded and went back to his chair. “Agreed, but our darling Dyna doesn’t think so; they are as real to her as this morning’s coffee. It’s almost a religion to her.”
“Just another sucker for the plucking, then,” spat Beatrice back at him, but Reggie leaned forward and flashed her just a split second of his true form. The woman stopped breathing and her eyes parasoled into glassy diamonds.
“Never underestimate her, you fool! She doesn’t even know it herself, but she is one of the most powerful beings on earth. To misjudge her abilities would be a mistake you will only make once.”
Settling back into his chair he smoothed his façade back into the handsome English gentleman he preferred. “Now, here is what I need you to do…”
Dionysus Eugenia Alberic
Dyna watched the ghost cat climb the drapes and then disappear.
“…and like I told him,” the woman across the table prattled on, “…if I needed his advice, I’d beat it out of him.” She paused to adjust the 50’s retro glasses and crane her neck to examine the card Dyna had just set down with the others. “What’s that one mean, hon?”
Dyna stared at the miserable fellow lying on the ground with ten swords in his back, his blood soaking the earth around him. “The Ten of Swords,” she stated watching Charles the beggar’s translucent specter float just over the woman’s steeply piled hairstyle, stopping only to pull down his zipper to piss on it. Dyna suppressed a smile and pushed on. “It denotes pain, afflictions, sadness and desolation.”
The woman pulled the globe of fur from her lap to turn the black little nose toward her face. A pink tongue flicked out and licked her lips several times. “Oh, my poor little Tumbleweed,” she whined. “Desolation! Are you sure?”
Dyna nodded once. “I’m afraid so.”
When the woman focused again on the tiny animal writhing in her lap, Dyna glanced through the lace curtains. The group of women marching along her sidewalk had now grown to six or seven. She frowned.
“So what does that mean?” the women asked.
Dyna turned to her and pulled another card from the top of the deck. “It may mean nothing, Mrs. Drummond. I’m afraid I don’t do many readings for dogs.” She put the next card to finish the crossed pattern filling the old dining table. The Ace of Cups, upside-down, an omen of a false heart, instability and revolution. Bad news for the women who doted so much on her pet. Dyna lied. “A good sign for little Tumbleweed, I think. It means joy, content, abundance, fertility.”
Mrs. Drummond’s eyes shone like diamonds. “I just knew it!” she cried, shooting out of her seat and dancing with the dog whose eyes grew in terror. “And I thought that mangy old mutt got you pregnant. It just had to be Sir Isaac after all!” She did one more circuit around the room and the thirty or so ghosts packed into the small dining room danced with her. Dyna could not keep from laughing at the spectacle.
When the mood calmed, the woman picked up her purse, balanced it and the dog in her arms and dug through to find her wallet. “How much?”
Dyna pulled the cards together and tapped them against the hard wood. “Fifty.”
“Worth every penny.” She pulled out two twenties and a ten and slid them across the table. “Same time next week?”
“Sure,” Dyna replied putting the old deck into the ancient box where her grandmother always kept them.
Mrs. Drummond turned for the front door and then stopped when she caught sight of the group of women with signs walking up and down the sidewalk. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Perhaps I should go out the back. We don’t want anyone talking, right?”
Dyna tightened her lips and sighed, escorting her and the dog to the back door. Pausing, Mrs. Drummond leaned in conspiratorially. “Of course, this is confidential, right? I mean, you won’t… share it with anyone, will you.”
Dyna’s heart sank. The hypocrisy was overwhelming. “No, Mrs. Drummond.”
Once outside the woman scooted around the back of the house and then around the house next door. When Dyna returned to the dining room to clean up, she watched Mrs. Drummond join the women gathering like a flock of noisy birds in front of her house. Placing a leash on the dog, her customer accepted a sign and then started parading with the rest. Dyna caught a glimpse of one: PAINT YOUR HOUSE OR LEAVE. The irony was not lost on her.
“Such hypocrites!” snarled a voice behind her.
Dyna turned and frowned at her grandmother. “Enough, Gomo.”
“I’m sorry, but that woman irritates the hell out of me.” She adjusted her shirt and plopped into the chair across from Dyna. “I don’t know why you read for her.”
“Because I need the money.” Straightening up the table, she picked up her tea and took a sip. It was cold but she didn’t mind.
“It just fries my bacon, that’s all,” Gomo grumbled and then flapped her hands through the air. “But enough of that… how did it go last night with the cop.”
“Policeman… and it was wonderful.”
A grin lit up Gomo’s face. “I want every detail… did he score a home run?”
“Hey, just curious. The way you two been going at it lately, seems like it’s about time.”
“Come on, out with it…”
Dyna shifted against the hard dinning chair and bit her lower lip. “He brought me roses. White roses. They were beautiful.”
She paused to relive the moment; the first time in her life, she had greeted someone at that front door and not shaken in fear. It was ironic that this massive man, all muscle and gruff, wearing a very intimidating Portland police uniform, carrying a gun, a Taser, and a night stick as if they were part of the goods he was born with, could instantly make her relax right down to her toes. The sight of him had done something else to her… something she would never share with Gomo; even the memory of it sent hot washes of desire between her legs.
“He brought you flowers, and then…” Gomo prompted impatiently.
“We went to dinner.” She couldn’t stop the smile blooming in her cheeks. “We talked for hours about… well, everything.” Staring at the centerpiece without seeing it, Dyna’s throat tightened at the memory.
Every word, every gesture, every playful flirt fell against her nerves as new as sunrise. They had been on lots of dates, but there was something special about this one. For the first time, he told her about his life from his boyhood in Portland to his missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and then his life as a cop.
Then, amazingly, as if she had known him for years, her innate introversion sluiced off her in sheets. It was as natural to talk as it had been to breathe. She spilled her life’s story, her heart’s desire, her secrets in one great billowing rush. In fact, the words poured out with such candor Thompson had finally laughed and lifted his hands in the air.
“Don’t you want to save some of this for later?” he teased.
Dyna laughed until her eyes watered. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m a babbling fool!”
Then it all turned to gold. He took her hand and rubbed the back of it with exquisitely calloused fingers. Dyna could barely breathe.
“You are no fool, Dyna,” he said smiling. “You are the most beautiful, funny, intriguing woman I have ever met.”
“Is that why you couldn’t take no for an answer?”
“Yes, ma’am. I knew I wanted you the first moment I laid eyes on you.”
The honesty in his face startled her. Any other time in Dyna's life, the same circumstance would have propelled her out of her chair and sent her crashing across the restaurant to find the nearest exit. Instead, it filled her with a confidence that was as foreign to her as courage.
Her heart started a rat-a-tat against her sternum and air eluded her for a moment. Was this, finally, the soul who could rescue her from her isolation? To her astonishment, her brain didn’t conjure up twenty-five reasons this couldn’t possibly work. It didn’t even try.
“Then what happened?” Her grandmother’s soft words drove a nail into the memory and she had to fight to get back to the present.
“After dinner we went for a walk and then he brought me home.”
Dyna couldn’t tell her Gomo the rest of it no matter how important it was. That kiss and what happened after exploded into her brain like a freight train. She got lost in the memory…
“Dyna? Dyna, did you hear me?”
Dyna came back to the table, and the memory caught in her throat. It took her several seconds to clear it out before looking back at Gomo mustering as much innocence as she could. “What?”
“I said, what happened then?”
“That was it,” Dyna lied. “He left and I went to bed.”
Gomo pulled her head back in a familiar pose of suspicion, but then clapped her hands together. “How ‘bout a reading then? Let’s see what the cards say, shall we?”
For some reason a knot formed in Dyna’s belly when she reached for the battered wooden box. “All right. I guess so.” An image flashed inside her head, the figure of a man, a darkened bedroom, a dream she could barely remember… a shiver seized her spine.
Shuffling the cards, she concentrated on the questions she wanted so desperately answered; will the new man who has become pivotal in her life be the one? What would he bring to her future? She was certain what they would tell her, so she wondered why her hands were trembling as she laid out the ancient cards. Another flash of a face spilled across her mind, not Thompson’s. Dyna shook her head to get it out of there, focusing on the handsome cop’s face instead.
The Hierophant, upside-down. A man seated on a throne, an elaborate crown framing his beautiful face as two holy men bowed at his feet. Now, he was upside-down, his scepter pointing to the inverted sky and the two fingers of his right hand forming the universal symbol for the holy, two fingers extended together. The Roman numeral V floated below his head. Dyna frowned at this first card and sat back a little. Upside-down, it stood for a man who was pompous, rigid, authoritarian, the absolute opposite of divinity.
“Now that’s an odd beginning,” quipped Gomo.
“Quiet, Gomo. Let me concentrate.”
She flipped the next card.
The Three of Swords. Her breath caught in her throat a moment. Three swords pierced a red heart floating in a stormy sky. This couldn’t be right: sabotage, backstabbing, heartbreak. The hard pounding in her chest was giving her a headache.
She laid down three cards in quick succession in the first row, afraid to look. The news was no better.
The Devil. Siting on his throne, two human slaves, a man and a woman, chained at his feet. Dependence, slavery.
Emperor, upside-down. The inverted king sat on his ram-decorated throne. Tyrant, conquered land, discipline taken to the extreme.
The Ten of Swords. A poor soul face down in the mud, pierced with ten long swords. Death, ruin, all is lost.
She sat up and swallowed hard.
“Perhaps a reinforcing line, Dyna. That might help.” Gomo’s voice was hopeful but quivering. Dyna stared at the five cards for a very long time before her trembling hands quickly laid out five more beneath them.
The Moon. It stared down on the world between two towers, two feral dogs howling up at it. Deception, fear, traps, to make desolate, darkness, lure, adversary.
The Five of Swords. A man holding three swords with two on the ground, his enemies in despair retreating. Defeat, Machiavellian attitudes.
The Eight of Swords. A bound woman surrounded by eight swords, the ground soaked in blood. Reprobation, indecision, mistrust, imprisonment.
The Five of Pentacles: A beautiful stained-glass window adorning a rich church as beggars and cripples rushed past. Poverty, loss.
The Tower. A tall stronghold engulfed in flames as men throw themselves from the windows and lightning destroys the crown at its top. Everything is wiped away.
Dyna wanted to throw up. Without thinking, she tossed the remaining desk across the table, scattering the prophetic cards in all directions. The reading was decisively clear…
The man who will become pivotal in your life is not to be trusted. He will seduce you and then make you his slave with torture and blackmail. Exceedingly dangerous, he will betray you once he gets your trust. To achieve his goals, he will do anything including sacrificing you to achieve them. He will ultimately ruin your life and condemn you to a hellish existence.
The truth of the reading lay there like a stark open wound, throbbing against her head.
Dyna stared at the cards so long her eyes stung. They couldn’t be right, not possibly.
The warmth from the night before leaked out of every joint in her 4’10” frame, followed by sweat and trepidation. She lifted her chin to the old woman sitting across the table from her and bared her teeth.
The bundle of mail thumping to the ground just inside her door broke through her shock. She rose and crossed to the door woodenly, stooped down and picked everything up. “This can’t be right, Gomo,” she whispered, flicking through the stack.
Her eyes landed on a white envelop from her doctor’s office and she tucked the rest of the pile under her arm.
“So, what do you know about this man? Are the cards right? Is he dangerous?”
Sticking her finger under the flap, Dyna ripped the letter open. “No, Gomo, he’s not dangerous. I told you. I don’t know why the cards are telling me he will hurt me. He’s very gentle.”
“What about the rest of it, child?” her grandmother persisted. “The pain, the torture… If not him, what other man could possibly be pivotal in your life?”
“I don’t know,” she said distractedly reading the first few lines of the letter. “We’ll do another reading and see if…”
All at once the words dried in her mouth, her ears rang, her head pounded and she reread the paragraph again…
...just wanted to let you know that the results of your tests came in as positive for pregnancy. I’d say you are about 12 weeks along. I’ve enclosed the card of a very good obstetrician close to your home. You should call her office for a follow up exam and to discuss options as soon as possible.
Please let me know if you’d like to discuss anything. Best of luck… Dr. Amanda King…
A sudden whoosh of energy shot out of Dyna in every direction. The white concentric circles radiating from her waist caught ghosts mid stride and brought them down; they dissolved in the blast of power.
Standing at the table Gomo stared wide eyed at Dyna. She opened her mouth to speak, but just like the other ghosts, she went up like an upside-down tornado when the circle reached her.