The cool morning air nipped at Johnny Smith's face as he walked slowly to the mailbox in front of his house, wondering what surprise waited for him there. The story of his "talent" had gotten all around the country, and people had been constantly sending things they wanted him to touch.
Find my missing daughter, find my lost dog, is my ex-wife remarried, when am I going to die...
Every day brought some new surprise, although over the weeks, his national popularity was dying down. He usually only got one or two new objects a week, but he always sent them back, unopened.
Johnny limped over to the mailbox, leaning heavily on his cane. He had slept on his hip wrong, leaving a dull ache radiating up and down his leg. He opened the mailbox and reached inside without looking, grabbing the bunch of letters that were inside. He took a quick glance inside before closing it, relieved to find no packages he would have to return.
As he headed back towards the house, a familiar PT cruiser pulled into his driveway, and Johnny groaned silently. His friend Bruce jumped out of the car with his usual exuberance, and Johnny wondered how he could always be so perky in the morning. Physical therapy early in the morning hadn't been his choice, but Bruce said it was the best time of the day for it.
"Good morning," Bruce said, walking towards Johnny. "How'd you sleep?"
"Like a rock," Johnny replied, "but unfortunately, I slept like a two ton rock on my hip."
"Sore?" Bruce asked, a brief look washing over his face.
"Nothing I can't handle," the blonde replied with a smirk, hoping to alleviate his friend's worry. It seemed to work, because Bruce returned the smile.
"So, anything new and exciting in the mail? Who's asking for your help today?"
"No packages, thankfully," Johnny told him, glancing down at the pile of envelopes in his hand. "Looks like bills. Maybe I should try sending those back too. Think that would work?"
"If it did, I wouldn't be in as much debt as I am," Bruce replied with a grin. "Since it doesn't seem like anything pressing, let's get inside and get started."
Johnny sighed and rolled his eyes. "Do we have to start right now? Wouldn't you like a cup of coffee or something?"
"Already had my fill," his friend answered. "The sooner we start, the sooner we'll be done."
Johnny sighed. "You just enjoy torturing me."
"One of the perks of the job."
The pair climbed the stairs to the house, and Johnny lead the way into the front lobby of the house. Bruce closed the door behind him, and immediately headed for the study where they had been having Johnny's physical therapy sessions. Johnny lingered by the door, tossed the mail on the table next to him, then slowly removed his jacket, procrastinating as much as possible. He knew it annoyed Bruce when he dawdled, but if he had to endure the pain of physical therapy, he was going to do it on his time.
"C'mon Johnny, let's get this show on the road," Bruce called from the other room.
"I'm coming," Johnny replied, but he didn't move, instead picking up the pile of mail.
The blonde began flipping through it, not expecting anything spectacular, but it was a diversion from the pain he was about to go through. He was about to toss them aside and join Bruce when he came across a plain white envelope with no return address on it. The address had been hand written in very erratic cursive, almost making his name illegible.
"What is taking you so long?" Bruce sighed, coming up behind Johnny and looking over his shoulder. "What's that?"
"I don't know, there's no return address," Johnny answered, flipping the envelope over and tearing open the flap.
"Probably some more fan mail," Bruce chuckled.
"I hope not. I've got all the 'fans' I can handle."
Johnny reached into the envelope and pulled out a piece of white paper folded carefully around something else. He unfolded the paper, but it had no words on it, but a small piece of paper tumbled out of it and onto the floor. Bruce leaned down and picked it up, and then they realized it wasn't just a piece of paper, but a photo of a young woman. Bruce held it out as the two of them studied it, wondering who she was.
She looked in her mid-teens with long sandy hair and deep brown eyes. Johnny studied the picture for a minute, noticing how sad her features looked. She was smiling in the picture, but he could see something else in her eyes, and he knew the smile was forced.
"Who's that?" Bruce asked, taking the picture off of the sheet of paper and studying it.
"I don't know," Johnny replied, reaching for the picture.
Bruce handed it to Johnny, and before Johnny's fingers had fully grasped it, the blonde stumbled backwards, as if physically struck. He stumbled back unsteadily until he hit the wall, knocking into the table that held the rest of the mail. He reached for the table to stabilize himself, but only succeeded in knocking it to the floor with a loud bang. Johnny would have fallen with it, but Bruce grabbed his elbow and kept him on his feet.
"Johnny?! What's wrong? What is it?" his friend asked, worry saturating his voice.
"I... I..." Johnny stuttered, trying to get words out, but unable to form anything coherent with his lips.
"Just take it easy, man," Bruce said, lowering Johnny to the floor.
Bruce looked into his eyes, and fear consumed him at the vacant, wide-eyed stare that looked back at him.
Johnny tensed all over, his hand wrapped tightly around the picture, crunching the image of the girl in his fist. His arms and legs began shaking, as if in midst of a seizure, and Bruce did his best to hold the blonde in place. He reached over, trying to remove the picture from Johnny's grasp, but his grip was too tight. His knuckles were white but the rest of his hand was dark red from the tightness of his fist, and any attempt to open Johnny's hand failed.
"So cold..." Johnny whispered, his body shivering to emphasize the point. "Dark..."
"Calm down, Johnny, take deep breaths," Bruce told him, feeling helpless. "C'mon, snap out of it, man."
"SHUT UP!" Johnny screamed at the top of his lungs, nearly shattering Bruce's eardrum. "ALL OF YOU SHUT UP!"
Johnny flailed out wildly, knocking Bruce away from him, onto his rump. Bruce got back up onto his knees in front of his friend, reaching to grab his arms and restrain him.
"SHUT UP!" Johnny screeched again, struggling wildly as Bruce grabbed his arms and pinned them at his sides.
Bruce made one more attempt to get the picture out of John's hand, grabbing the top of it and yanking. He only had a split second to hope it wouldn't rip, making it even harder to remove from his friend's hand, but was relieved when the picture yielded and was pulled from Johnny's hand.
Johnny almost immediately started to calm down, his body's spasms slowing to small twitches, and finally ceasing altogether. His body was covered with sweat, and he panted, trying to fill his lungs with precious oxygen, but it felt like he couldn't fill his lungs enough to satisfy his body. He slumped against the wall, his entire body feeling drained.
"Johnny?" Bruce said, kneeling face to face with Johnny. "Speak to me. You okay?"
"I..." Johnny began, sighing with exertion, but his eyes were coming back into focus, finally settling on his friend in front of him. "Yeah, I think so."
"What the hell just happened?" Bruce asked. "What did you see?"
"That's the funny thing," Johnny replied laboriously. "I didn't see anything. Just darkness. I heard voices, and it was cold... but I couldn't see anything."
Johnny looked down at the hand that the picture had been in, surprised to see blood. A long cut ran down the length of his palm sideways and it was trickling blood down his hand and soaking into his shirt.
"Man, I must've cut your hand when I ripped that thing out of it. I'll go get you something to clean that up," Bruce told him, then was on his feet and running towards the bathroom before Johnny could say another word.
Johnny sat and waited for him, leaning heavily against the wall. His body felt like it weighed over a ton, and he couldn't move, even if he wanted to. Bruce came padding down the hall again with a wet towel in his hand, and he began tending to Johnny's wound, but Johnny's eyes were somewhere else.
The crumpled picture on the floor.
Who was this girl, and why had the picture been sent to him?
He didn't know the answers, but from what he had experienced, he needed to find them.
Not even an hour later, Johnny stood in front of Walt Bannerman's desk, the envelope and picture lying in front of the sheriff. Johnny sat in a chair facing Walt, while Bruce paced nervously in the background. Johnny studied the face of the sheriff, wondering what was going through his mind as he thought about what Johnny had just told him, but found his serious mask nearly impossible to read.
Walt had always been a serious guy, at least in the short time that Johnny had known him. His face always showed stress and anxiety of the job, but that just showed everyone how dedicated he was to keeping his county safe. While their county was considered small and sleepy by most standards, Walt never let his guard down or became slack in his job. He was always trying to keep his county as safe as possible, but it seemed to get harder and harder to do every day.
"So, you're telling me you don't know who this girl is," Walt finally said after processing the story.
"That's right," Johnny answered, scooting forward in his seat and resting his freshly bandaged hand gently on the top of his cane.
"And you don't know who sent it?"
"So what do you want me to do?" Walt asked, shifting his gaze from Johnny to Bruce momentarily, then back to Johnny.
"I was wondering if you could help me figure out who she is," Johnny replied matter of factly.
"How am I supposed to do that?" the sheriff asked, rising from his chair. "We don't keep a database of every person that lives in the United States, you know."
"I know that," Johnny said, following Walt's movement with his eyes. "Can't you run her picture through missing children or something? Maybe we can give her a name, at least."
"I can try, but I can't guarantee anything," Walt told him, moving around in front of his desk, leaning back on it in front of Johnny. "So why this girl, Johnny? I thought you weren't taking mail calls anymore."
"I'm not," Johnny answered, sliding back into the chair again. He stretched his legs foward, hoping to alleviate the slight throbbing in his hip that was starting to send a dull ache down his leg, but it did nothing to help. "I opened that one thinking it was a letter or something. But the picture was the only thing in there. But when I touched it... It was unreal."
"And scary," Bruce added, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. "You think I'd be used to this type of stuff, but when you go crazy like that, it STILL freaks me out."
"So what'd you see?" Walt asked, his curiosity now piqued.
"Nothing," Johnny replied, but continued when he saw the confused look on Walt's face. "I couldn't see anything. It was like being blind... because everything else around me was so much more powerful. It was cold, like my fingertips were about to go numb, and I could hear voices."
"What were they saying?"
"I don't know, it didn't sound like anything intelligible, but it was overpowering. They were all over the place."
"He was yelling for them to shut up, and practically having a seizure," Bruce interrupted again.
"You sure he wasn't having a seizure?" Walt asked Bruce, looking up at him.
"No, because a certain stubborn person wouldn't go to the hospital when I told him he should," Bruce said, glaring daggers at the back of Johnny's head.
"I wasn't having a seizure," Johnny told them. "I'm fine."
"Johnny, maybe you should get checked out-" Walt began, but Johnny stopped him mid-sentence with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"I don't need more tests to be poked and prodded by doctors. I need to find out who that girl is," the blonde said.
"I'll run it through missing persons and see what I can come up with, but don't get your hopes up," Walt sighed, then left the room with the wrinkled picture in his hands.
Johnny turned around in the seat to look at Bruce, who still had a disapproving look in his eyes.
"Would you stop glaring at me like that? I'm fine," Johnny said.
Johnny knew it was useless arguing with Bruce, so he rose from the chair, letting out a small grunt as he got to his feet. He reached over Walt's desk and grabbed the envelope. He walked past Bruce and headed for the door, so his friend tagged along behind him.
"Where are you going?" Bruce asked.
"I'm going to see if I can track down where this letter came from."
Johnny walked up to the small post office at the center of town, having jumped out of the car before Bruce had even come to a complete stop. Bruce put the car into park, then leaped out, jogging to catch up with Johnny. For a guy that walked with a cane, he could move just as fast as everyone else when he had his mind set on something.
Johnny pushed open the glass door, and above him, a small bell chimed to announce his entrance. He passed the door off to Bruce and approached the counter, just as a portly, older woman walked out from the back room.
"Can I help you boys?" she asked in a friendly tone.
"I'm hoping you can," Johnny replied, putting the envelope down on the counter. "I'm hoping you can tell us how we can track down who sent this."
The woman took the envelope and looked it over briefly, then shook her head as she handed it back.
"There's no return address."
"I know," Johnny told her, holding the envelope out to her again. "Isn't there some other way to track it?"
"Unfortunately," the lady began with another shake of her head, "we don't keep track of individual letters like we do with packages and certified letters. We can't track letters like we do those."
"It's really important that we find out who sent this," Johnny told her, hoping the urgency in his voice would pursuade her to help them. He leaned forward on the counter, placing his hand on the cool surface, and immediately his senses were taken over with a vision.
He saw the outside of the post office as he walked down the stairs of the building across the street from it. Glancing down at himself, Johnny saw that the person was wearing a long, tan trench coat, and a brown business suit. He walked across the street to the post office, then followed the path Johnny and Bruce had taken only moments beforehand. Johnny walked into the post office and approached the same woman, only she was clothed differently.
"I'd like to mail this please,"Johnny said in a voice that wasn't his own, then handed the woman the plain white envelope that had been delivered to his door hours ago.
"Of course, sir," the lady replied. "That will be thirty-four cents for the stamp."
Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar, handing it to the woman. Johnny took note of the leathery appearance of the man's skin, and the vericose veins that ran across his hand. She looked at the envelope, and put a stamp on it, then looked back up at the gentleman.
"There's no return address, sir. Would you like to write one on there?" she asked.
"No," was his curt reply, and he turned to leave.
"Sir, your change!" she called to him, but the man just walked out the door without responding.
Johnny removed his hand from the counter and he was thrown back into the present conversation, only to find the woman staring at him with an uncertain look in her eyes.
"-said, I'm sorry, sir, but there's nothing I can do," she was saying.
Johnny blinked a couple of times, then processed what she had been saying to him. "Oh, right. Thank you for your time."
Johnny walked out of the post office with Bruce following close behind him, and once they were outside, Bruce moved in front of Johnny, facing off with him.
"So what happened in there? You blanked out on us."
"He was here, Bruce," Johnny told him.
"The guy that sent me this," he replied, waving the envelope in emphasis. "He sent it from this post office."
"If he was this close to your house, why didn't he just hand deliver it? Your house is maybe a ten minute walk from here," Bruce asked.
"He doesn't want me to know who he is, I guess," Johnny offered, unsure of why the man hadn't come to him himself. "He purposely left no return address. The woman asked him if he wanted to put one, and he said no."
"So who is the guy?"
"I don't know, I couldn't see his face," Johnny answered, then his eyes drifted to the building across the street. "But he went to the post office, from there. Maybe someone there will remember seeing him."
"But if you didn't see his face-" Bruce began.
"I saw what he was wearing, and I have an idea of what age he might be. Maybe that'll be enough to give us a start," Johnny said.
Johnny headed towards the building across the street, the public library, briefly glancing in both directions to check traffic before stepping off the curb. Bruce was about to follow, but he glanced as his watch, cursing silently to himself.
"Look Johnny," he said, "I would love to tag along with you, but I have other stuff to do today."
"It's okay, Bruce," Johnny said, walking backwards across the street, so he could talk to Bruce as he still made his way towards the library. "I'll let you know what I find."
"Okay, Johnny, but don't let this get to you. Maybe this person didn't want to be found."
"Why would they send me the picture if they didn't want me to do something with it?" Johnny retorted, and that question left Bruce without an answer.
Johnny turned on his heel and continued to the library, his cane clacking loudly against the marble stairs. He carefully scaled the slick stairs, then opened the large wooden doors that led inside. The door squealed in protest, its hinges rusting with age, but it relented and allowed him entrance. The main lobby of the library was had a high ceiling that echoed loudly as Johnny walked into the empty library. There was a girl in her mid-twenties perched on a stool behind the counter in the center of the room, and she was completely engrossed in the book placed before her. Johnny approached the counter, but she didn't look up until he cleared his throat to get her attention.
"Excuse me," he said when she finally tore herself away from her book. "I'm hoping you can help me. A friend of mine was in here a few days ago and I was wondering if you'd seen him."
"Well, I'm here every day," the girl replied, pushing her dark brown hair behind her ear. "What's he look like?"
"He's an older gentleman," Johnny told her, remembering the look of the man's hand in his vision. "About my height. He was wearing a long, tan trench coat and a brown business suit."
"Oh, the old, creepy guy," she said, nodding in recognition.
"You remember him?"
"How could I forget?" she replied. "He came in here about a week ago, came over to the counter, and when I looked up from my book, he was staring down at me with these really intense eyes. It was kind of creepy."
"Do you remember what he wanted?"
"He asked me to pull out some microfishe of some newspapers from about ten years ago."
"Could you pull those out for me?" Johnny asked her.
"Sure," she answered with a shrug, then jumped off her stool. She went into a door behind the counter, and about ten minutes later, she returned with several cards of microfiche in her hands. She walked back up to the counter and handed them to him, then pointed to some desks behind him.
"You can use the machines over there," the girl told him. "Give me a holler if you need help."
"Thanks," he said, taking the cards from her.
Johnny walked over to the desks, sitting down at the first one he came to. He leaned his cane against the table, making sure it wouldn't fall, then pulled the chair out and sat down in front of the magnifier. He flipped the switch in the front on, and it took a minute for the bulb to warm up before the lamp in the reader came on. Starting with the sheet on top, Johnny inserted it into the reader, then began going through the old newspaper articles.
He spent the next several hours flipping through old newspaper articles from early spring ten years earlier. Johnny glanced over at the counter but saw no sign of the girl that had helped him. He looked back at the screen in front of him, beginning to wonder if he was wasting his time. The articles had started blending together, making very little, if any, sense. He told himself that he was going to give up after the sheet he had just placed in the reader, not expecting to find anything. He was about to flip off the reader's lamp when he saw a familiar picture in the bottom left corner of the page.
Johnny leaned forward in his seat, recognizing the picture as the one that had been sent to his house, then his eyes carried further down the page, reading the article that surrounded the picture.
"Girl Institutionalized After Murdering Family," the title read in bold letters across the top.
Johnny read on in interest, wondering why this particular picture had been sent to him. He read through the article, and in typical empty fashion, the reporter told the story of the girl in the picture with no gruesome detail spared.
"Police responded to a very frantic phone call from a local resident late last night," the article began. "Mrs. Lillah Richardson dialed 911 at 11:11pm saying her daughter was 'going crazy.' Police responded as quickly as possible and tried to keep Mrs. Richardson on the phone, but before police could get there, the line went dead. What the police found once they arrived at the Richardson household was disturbing and gruesome."
The article continued down the page, detailing the blood bath that awaited police when they arrived. Apparently, eighteen-year-old Jessica Richardson had returned home that night and viciously murdered her parents inexplicably, stabbing them to death with a pair of scissors. The police described Jessica as being emotionally disturbed and paranoid when they arrived. She was said to be hovering over her parents' mangled bodies with the bloody weapon in her hand, waving it threateningly at police until they were able to restrain her.
The remaining portion of the article was about Jessica's mental health, and said the girl had been diagnosed as schizophrenic several years beforehand. She had been on drug therapy under the careful supervision of her psychiatrist.
"She was doing so well," the doctor said in an interview. "This is completely unexpected. Jessica showed no signs of regression or rejection of her medication. We're all shocked by this."
Johnny skimmed through the next few weeks of articles about the Richardsons. Jessica had been institutionalized at a Maine state hospital and was under twenty-four hour care. After a few weeks, the articles seemed to dwindle in number until they disappeared completely about two months after the incident, Jessica's picture being replaced with pictures of some other tragedy.
Johnny wrote down some information on a small piece of paper he found on the desk, then gathered up the microfishe and brought it back to the girl sitting at the desk. He thanked her briefly before heading to the door, his footsteps and cane echoing in the massive, empty room, just as they had when he entered.
He stepped outside into the cool air, pulling his coat closed around him to keep himself warm. He glanced at his watch, noticing he had spent most of the day in the library. He was about to walk down the slick stairs to the street when his cell phone rang.
Johnny reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his phone, briefly glancing at it before answering it.
"Hey Johnny," Bruce said from the other end of the line. "How goes the search?"
"She has a name now," Johnny told him. "Jessica Richardson."
"Ring any bells?"
"Not really," the blonde replied. "I read about her, she was in the news about ten years ago. I remember the story a little bit, but nothing really significant."
"I've never even heard the name before," Bruce said. "Find anything else out about her?"
"She brutally murdered both of her parents about ten years ago," Johnny said, relaying the information he had just read. "She was a diagnosed schizophrenic, and they think she just went crazy. She was put in a hospital in Bangor."
"Man," Bruce whispered, taking it all in. "Any idea why someone would send you her picture?"
"Not a clue," Johnny answered, having asked himself that very question. "But I want to find out. Feel like taking a little road trip?"
"Sure," Bruce replied. "I can meet up with you in about an hour."
"Great, I'll meet you at my place," Johnny said, and after they said their goodbyes, he hung up his phone, heading home.
As he walked, Johnny thought more about what he had read, but nothing seemed to make sense as to why anyone would want to send him a ten year old picture of a girl. When he reached his door, Johnny had more questions, but less answers, hoping that he would be able to unravel this mystery.
Johnny walked into his house and removed his coat, tossing it over one of his kitchen chairs. He walked over to the counter and grabbed the coffee pot, filling it with water before he emptied out the filter from the morning's pot and putting a fresh one in. He filled the filter with fresh coffee, then poured the water into the machine and turned it on. The coffee had just begun to brew when there was a knock at his door.
Johnny walked over to the door, expecting Bruce, but surprised when he saw a familiar red-head standing on his steps.
"Hi Dana," he greeted her, unable to hide the surprise from his voice. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"I stopped by the police station, as I regularly do, and Walt tells me that you stopped by this morning to visit him," she said, but Johnny couldn't read the expression on her face to even begin to guess the purpose of her visit. "You couldn't even wait for me to get there, could you?"
"Sorry, I must've missed the vision that told me you'd be there later today," Johnny shot back with a smirk.
Johnny opened the door wider to let her in and she nodded in thanks. Dana walked in the door and headed towards the kitchen. Johnny followed, closing the front door behind them. He lead her into the kitchen where she took off her coat and tossed it over the back of a chair before sitting down in it.
"So I have a feeling you have something to tell me," Johnny said as he leaned against the counter. "Coffee?"
"Sure," she replied, turning her chair slightly so she could watch him across the room as reached into the cabinet for two coffee mugs. "You have a vision that I was going to be here?"
Johnny smiled. "No, just plain old intuition telling me that you've got information I'm going to want, seeing how it's the middle of the day and you're knocking at my door."
"Well, you're right," Dana said, watching as he bustled around the kitchen.
Johnny heard her move, and he looked up from the coffee maker to look at her. Despite the rocky start they had gotten off to, Dana had actually proved to be a good ally to have. He watched her as she glanced over her notes, her shiny red hair cascading down into her face, and she had to push it back behind her ear. When she looked up, Johnny quickly looked away, hoping she hadn't noticed his staring.
Johnny wasn't sure if she hadn't noticed or was just pretending, but either way she had no reaction to his looking at her. "Here's the scoop. Her name is Jessica Richardson. Walt gave me the picture to see what I could dig up when he got nothing from the missing children. I really don't think he looked very hard, since I came in not long after you left."
"I expected as much," Johnny replied, turning to face her since the coffee had not finished brewing yet. He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms across his chest. "Walt's a busy guy."
"True, and I'm a busy woman, but I made the time to find out who she was," Dana retorted.
"Touché," Johnny replied. "But you're a little late, I already found out her name."
"Turning into an amateur sleuth yourself, eh Johnny?" she said. "So I guess you know all about how she brutally murdered her parents?"
"Yeah, I found the old newspaper articles," he replied.
"And I guess you know all about the millions she inherited when her parents died?"
That caught Johnny by surprise. The articles he read hadn't mentioned anything about an inheritance, and he thought that was something journalists would hardly overlook. Dana saw the surprised look on his face and knew she had something he didn't.
"Guess you weren't so thorough, Sherlock," she chuckled.
"I'm still learning," Johnny shrugged.
He turned around and poured two cups of coffee into waiting mugs once the pot had finished brewing, then replaced the pot on the heater. He limped over to the table, being careful not to spill the hot liquid on himself, then sat down at the table across from her.
"So enlighten me, oh wise one," Johnny said, then took a sip of his coffee.
"News of her inheritance didn't hit the papers until four months after she killed her folks," Dana explained. "Her lawyers kept it under tight wraps because they knew if news of it got out, immediately people would start thinking she wasn't crazy and just killed them to get the money."
"But when people did find out, the fact that they hid it made it even worse," Johnny added.
"Exactly. When the papers got word of the fact she was now a millionaire, accusations came from all over the place. Her family tried to get the money from her, tried suing her and taking her to court. Problem was, no one could confirm that she really wasn't insane. Her doctor wouldn't let anyone to see her, wouldn't let any doctors examine her, saying it was against her best interest. The will was iron clad, and the family wasn't happy about it. Jessica was to inherit everything no matter what."
"So how much did she inherit exactly?"
"Ten million dollars," Dana told him.
Johnny whistled and his eyes widened slightly. "Was her family wealthy?"
"Not extremely, but they were well off. They had hired help, a large house in Bangor, and everything like that. Her parents took out extremely high life insurance plans because they were afraid with Jessica's mental health problems, she wouldn't be able to take care of herself when they were gone."
"Where was the help the night she killed them?"
"Apparently, they had the night off. They always had Tuesdays off."
"And Jessica would know that," Johnny said, looking down at his coffee in thought.
"Which is exactly why her family thought she had set it all up and staged the whole thing. No one could prove otherwise though because her doctor wouldn't allow it. Every time a new family lawsuit would come up, he would testify that she wasn't mentally capable for a trial. The family stopped accepting his analysis and insisted she be examined by someone of their choosing. Her doctor wasn't happy about it, but he allowed it."
"And...?" Johnny prodded when she paused.
"And he gave the same diagnosis. Paranoid schizophrenic. Eventually the family gave up and the lawsuits were dropped."
Johnny held his coffee mug between his hands, contemplating what he had just heard. What did all of this have to do with him? And who was the man that had gone to the post office to send him the picture from the article? Dana watched him for a minute or two, letting him mull over the details before interrupting his thoughts.
"So, what's the plan?" she asked, looking at him expectantly.
"I don't know about you, but I'm taking a trip out to visit Jessica Richardson," he answered.
An hour later, Johnny was sitting in the passenger side of Bruce's PT cruiser, and he looked in the rearview mirror to see Dana's white convertible following close behind them.
"So why is she tagging along?" Bruce asked, glancing in the mirror as well..
"I think it has to do with journalist pride or something," Johnny replied. "She gave me some information about Jessica, and now this is her story, too."
"And I'm sure she'll find some way to get it into the papers," Bruce added with a snap to his voice.
"I don't know," Johnny said. "This story has been covered from every angle for the last ten years."
"Obviously there's more to the story if someone's sending you her picture."
"Or maybe it's just someone playing a cruel joke on me," Johnny said, turning to look at Bruce. "It's happened before, you know."
"Believe me, I know," Bruce said, briefly looking at Johnny before turning his eyes back to the road. "Your good-doing ways are pretty well known, so there's always some crazy person out there to take advantage of it."
"Yeah," Johnny agreed, "but I don't get that feeling in this case. I really think there's something I'm supposed to be seeing about this."
"Maybe there isn't, Johnny," Bruce said, glancing over at his friend again. "What if we're on a wild goose chase?"
"I thought of that, and you might be right. Maybe I'm wasting my time, but that vision this morning was too intense to be nothing. I'd rather check this out as much as I can, and if it leads to a dead end, at least I'll be able to sleep at night knowing I tried."
"True enough," Bruce said, and the two spent the rest of the ride in quiet contemplation.
Less than an hour later, Bruce pulled into a long driveway that lead up to a very large, historic looking building. The driveway leading to the hospital was lined with enormous pine trees, keeping the drive in almost complete darkness despite the fact it was the middle of the afternoon. The front of the building was made of gray brick that showed the hospital's age with their worn appearance, chips and holes scattered across the surface.
Bruce pulled into a parking space near the entrance, and the two got out just as Dana pulled her car into the space next to them. Johnny and Bruce waited for her to get out, then all three proceeded up the stone stairs leading into the front of the hospital. The set of double doors leading inside were made of cold steel, and the only windows on it were near the top, with bars over them on the inside.
Johnny pulled the door open, and the hinges squealed in protest, showing their age with the amount of rust on them. The three went inside, only to find themselves in a small room that, even with only three people in there, felt claustrophobic. The room was very small with sterile white walls, and linoleum flooring. There was a small receptionist window to their left and a door straight ahead, but that was all that was in the room.
Leading his friends over to the window, Johnny pressed a little button on the counter, and through the window, he could hear a buzz, signaling to whoever was inside of their presence. After a minute of waiting, a portly old woman came over to the window, looking at them quizzically.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"My name's John Smith," the blonde said to the receptionist. "I'm here to see Jessica Richardson."
The woman leaned over and grabbed a book off of the counter, glancing over the page it was open to before looking back up at him.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No," he replied. "I'm an old school friend of hers. I just wanted to see how she was doing."
"I see," the nurse replied. "I'll have to get her doctor. Wait here please."
With that said, the woman left, leaving the three friends crowded in the small room alone.
"Nice lie," Dana said, smirking at Johnny. "I think I'm starting to rub off on you."
"I figured 'I'm a psychic, and some guy sent me Jessica's picture, so I need to see her to figure out why' wouldn't work," Johnny replied.
There was a buzz at the door leading into the hospital, indicating it was open, so Bruce reached over and opened it. He held it open as Johnny and Dana went through first, then he followed closely behind them. The three walked into a hallway that seemed to stretch out for miles in front of them, but with the long expanse of white walls, it was hard to tell how long the hall really was.
There was a short man approaching them wearing a white lab jacket. He stood at a little more than five and a half feet tall with short dark brown hair that had begun receding and had started to turn gray in places. He wore small round frames that slid down his nose, but he pushed them back up before he greeted the trio.
"Hello," the man said. "I'm Dr. Simmons. I'm Jessica's doctor."
"Hi," Johnny greeted him.
The man reached out to shake, and Johnny took his hand somewhat reluctantly. As soon as Johnny took his hand, he was consumed by the darkness that had gripped him hours ago. He fought every impulse to scream at the top of his lungs, willing his body not to seize like it had done that morning. He could hear the voices all around him, unable to make out their words, but overpowered by their volume. Just as Johnny thought he couldn't hold back his scream of panic anymore, the doctor release his hand and he was transported back to the sterile confines of the hospital hallway.
Bruce looked at him knowingly, a look of concern in his eyes, but Johnny replied with a silent reassuring glance.
"I've been told you're here to see Jessica," the doctor continued, unaware of the silent conversation between the two friends. "I'm afraid that won't be possible."
"Why's that?" Johnny asked, trying to shake off the feeling the image had given him.
"She's in no shape for visitors. Unfortunately, she hasn't been for years," the doctor said sadly.
"I am a bit curious, however," the doctor continued, casting a suspicious look in their direction. "She's been here for years. Why wait so long to come see her?"
"I was a bit incapacitated myself," Johnny replied truthfully.
"Oh?" the doctor asked, definitely wanting more information.
"I was in a car accident and in a coma for several years," the blonde told him.
"I see," Dr. Simmons said. Johnny studied his face for several moments, hoping that the story of his coma and subsequent events had not reached the doctor, and seeing the blank look on his face, Johnny figured he was safe.
Dr. Simmons' eyes then moved to the rest of the group, and Johnny waved a hand at each of them, introducing them.
"These are my friends, Bruce and Dana," he said.
"I know you," Dr Simmons spat at Dana, his glare shooting daggers in her direction. "You're Dana Bright from the newspaper. What kind of stunt are you trying to pull here?"
The doctor looked at all of them with anger and distrust, taking a step back. He waited for an explanation, but by the look on his face, it was obvious that he didn't care to hear it.
"We're not here from the paper," Johnny told him, hoping he sounded reassuring. "I'm here to find out how Jessica is doing. I'm only concerned for her health."
"So you bring a reporter with you," he replied, crossing his arms in defiance.
"Dana is here as a friend, not a reporter."
"That's what they all say."
"Look," Dana interrupted, causing both of them to look at her again. "I can see my presence here isn't helping, so I'll leave. I assure you, doctor, I'm not here to do a story on Jessica. That's old news, no offense. But if my presence bothers you that much, I'll go."
Dana took a step towards Johnny under the watchful eye of Dr. Simmons, and leaned over so she could whisper to him without the doctor overhearing.
"I'll go into town and see what else I can find on her."
Johnny nodded at her before Dana headed back out the door after the nurse released the lock. Johnny and Bruce looked back at the doctor, hoping that would alleviate some of his concern, but they could still see the suspicion in his eyes.
"I assure you doctor, we're not here on a story."
"And why should I believe you?"
"Because it's the truth," Johnny replied, ignoring how cliché the response was. He hoped it would be enough to convince the doctor.
Dr. Simmons studied Bruce and Johnny closely, squinting his eyes as if that would reveal the truth to him. The three stood in silence for a moment, and Johnny and Bruce exchanged glances as the doctor seemed to make his decision.
"Why are you here?" asked Dr. Simmons, not bothering to keep his suspicion concealed.
"I told you," Johnny replied with sincerity. "I'm here to find out about Jessica's condition."
"If I tell you, and I'm not saying I'm going to," he quickly added, "I don't want to see a story printed on her. If I see so much as her name mentioned in the papers, I'll sue all of you for everything you have for invasion of privacy and for libel."
"No need for threats, sir," Bruce spoke up for the first time. "We're not interested in making more trouble for Jessica. She's been through more than enough in her lifetime."
After another minute of silent scrutiny, Dr. Simmons waved Johnny and Bruce to follow him down the hall.
"Let's go talk in my office."
Johnny and Bruce followed Dr. Simmons down to the end of the corridor and turned right, leading down another white, empty hallway. Johnny glanced around at the blank walls, listening to their footsteps echoing off the walls. Johnny was a bit unsettled by the sterility of his surroundings, but he wasn't sure if it was this particular hospital or hospitals in general that made him uneasy.
The doctor led Johnny and Bruce to a small wood door with a large window in the center. At first glance, Johnny thought it was frosted glass, but upon closer inspection he realized it was made of plastic. Glass in a mental hospital could be dangerous. Dr. R. Simmons, M.D. was inscribed on the door in black block lettering.
Dr. Simmons opened the door then held an arm out indicating to Bruce and Johnny that they should enter the room first. Johnny went in followed closely by Bruce, and the doctor closed the door after he followed them inside.
"Please sit," Dr. Simmons told them, waving briefly at two chairs in the room.
Johnny glanced around the office as he mad his way to his seat, taking in the surroundings. Unlike the rest of the hospital that seemed to lack any color, the doctor's office was the opposite. The rug was a plush blue, accented by pale yellow walls. There was a large oak desk in front of clear windows that covered the entire back all of the office, giving them a view of the trees lining the back of the hospital property. There were a few pictures scattered on the window frame behind the desk, and high on the wall to the right were diplomas and school credentials.
Johnny and Bruce sat in chairs facing the desk while Dr. Simmons made his way around to the other side. He sat down in a large brown leather chair, and the chair squeaked in protest under his weight. He leaned back, earning another squeal from the hinges of the chair, and folding his fingers together in front of him.
"So," he finally said. "Why are you really here? I want the truth."
"Like I said before," Johnny answered, "we're here to see how Jessica is doing."
After another agonizing minute of silence, the doctor seemed to finally accept that answer or he at least gave up on getting a different one, because his shoulders seemed to slouch in resignation.
"She's doing as well as can be expected," he finally replied.
"And that means what?" Bruce prodded.
"Meaning she hasn't has any violent episodes recently."
"Does she have them often?"
"I'm really not at liberty to discuss the details of her case. She may be clinically insane, but she still has a right to privacy. I don't want to lose my license because of breaching doctor-patient privilege," Dr. Simmons told them.
"Of course," Johnny responded. "We're not trying to pry, but we're just concerned for her well-being."
"There's no need for concern, Mr. Smith."
"Johnny," Johnny corrected him.
"Johnny," the doctor echoed, continuing. "Jessica is being well cared for here. All of our patients are, but Jessica especially."
"Why is that?" Bruce asked.
"Jess's parents were good friends of mine. I went to school with her mother, Lillah. We were both studying psychology at Harvard when she met Michael, her husband and Jessica's father. She decided to put her schooling on hold to get married and start a family. Little did she know that her psychology degree could have come in handy in helping Jessica."
Dr. Simmons shifted in his chair and sighed heavily. He folded and unfolded his hands, shifting his gaze from Johnny and Bruce momentarily. Johnny got the impression that his mind was miles away from the office at that moment.
"When was Jessica diagnosed as schizophrenic?" Johnny interrupted his thoughts.
"When she was fifteen," he answered, snapping his mind back to the confines of the office.
"And she was taking medication?"
"Yes, and that seemed to work for a while. I didn't know there was a problem until that day. Since then, she hasn't been the same," the doctor explained.
"She hasn't responded to any other treatments at all?" Bruce inquired.
"What medication is she on?"
"I'm sorry, gentlemen," Dr. Simmons said, rising from his chair. "We're walking on thin ice here. I've said more than I should. I must look out for Jessica's privacy."
Bruce scooted forward in his chair, opening his mouth to protest, but Johnny put a hand out to stop him and spoke first.
"We understand," Johnny replied, rising from his chair as well. Bruce followed suit, giving his friend a quizzical look.
Dr. Simmons reached across the desk to shake John's hand and the psychic reluctantly took it, fearing the vision that would follow.
Johnny was surprised when the darkness did not consume him. Instead, he was transported to a large, white, Victorian-style house with a yard full of grass greener than any he had ever seen. He could hear birds chirping from trees that seemed to surround the house, and they swayed gently in a warm breeze that rattled the leaves slightly. John walked up to the front of the house, admiring the beautiful wrap around porch despite the fact the paint had begun to peel in places.
Just as Johnny began ascending the creaky wooden stairs to the porch, a young girl of about four or five with waist long dirty blonde hair came running through the door at him, arms outstretched and a large dimpled smile on her face.
"Uncle Bobbie!" she cried.
Johnny opened his arms to catch her, but right before the girl reached him, he was violently thrust back into the present of the doctor's office. Dr. Simmons was looking at him curiously, as was Bruce, but he knew it was for two different reasons.
"Are you all right, Mr. Smith?" the doctor asked.
"I'm fine," Johnny replied, smiling at him in hopes he would believe it. "Just feeling a little tired."
"Ah," Dr. Simmons replied, returning a smile of understanding. "I know the feeling."
"Thank you for taking time to talk to us," Johnny said. "I don't suppose there is any chance we'd be able to see Jessica, is there?"
"As I said earlier, I'm afraid she's in no shape for visitors."
"I don't necessarily mean visit with her, but I would really like to see her. See what type of conditions she's been living with," Johnny continued.
Dr. Simmons opened his mouth to speak, and by the look on his face, Johnny was sure he was going to reject them again, but he closed it again. He looked back and forth between Johnny and Bruce for a moment and sighed before speaking.
"I don't see what harm it can do. Besides, if it turns out you are from the paper, you'll see how well we're taking care of her. This way, please."
Johnny and Bruce were again following the doctor through the hallways of the hospital. As they followed the doctor down a maze of hallways, something occurred to him.
"Doctor, where are all the patients?"
Dr. Simmons stopped and turned around, looking at the two of them. He didn't look surprised by the question, but sighed before responding.
"We're a hospital for the criminally insane," he began, rolling his eyes slightly. "We don't let them wander around. The front of the building is our offices, so we keep the patients at the rear of the facility. It also reduces the chance of someone breaking out. If they get through the doors, they only manage to get into our offices, not out of the building."
"Why not put a fence around the front of the building?"
"The community is unhappy enough with us as it is. If we start putting fences up, people are going to feel insecure about our being here. Fences mean escape attempts, which we've had none, so why upset the status quo we have? Now, if I've answered your questions, let's continue. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can get back to my patients."
Dr. Simmons spun around on the heel of his shoe, letting out a huff of frustration. Johnny and Bruce glanced at each other and shrugged simultaneously.
"I don't know about you," Bruce whispered, glancing at Dr. Simmons's back, "but I would feel more secure in the neighborhood if a fence was up around this place."
"You and me both," Johnny agreed before continuing after the doctor.
The duo followed the doctor through the maze of white corridors and soon Johnny couldn't remember which way was which. He realized that even if a patient did get this far in escaping, he probably wouldn't be able to navigate the white halls, since one looked just like any other.
They approached another barred door like the one that blocked off the entrance, and Dr. Simmons pushed the button of a little intercom box to the right of the door.
"It's Dr. Simmons. I'm bringing two gentlemen in with me for a brief visit."
There was no vocal response from the intercom, but the lock on the door buzzed briefly before Dr. Simmons opened the door. He held it open for Johnny and Bruce to enter before him, and the two did, but waited on the other side for the doctor to lead the way.
Johnny heard voices behind him and turned around, seeing a small group of men sitting in what looked like a common room. There were frosted windows that let in some light, but obscured a view of the outside world.
They all wore the same clothes, light blue pants with white shirts, and Johnny guessed that was the clothing issued to all of the patients. Two of the four men he saw were huddled on opposite ends of a small couch, their eyes transfixed on the television, the source of the voices Johnny heard. By the look in their eyes, they weren't really paying attention to what was on the screen. Another man was sitting on the floor, drawing on a piece of paper with a crayon, and the fourth man was walking across the room with the help of a petite nurse dressed in white.
She appeared to be about 5'2" with brown hair pulled up into a tight ponytail. The man towered over her, but seemed more fragile than she was. He leaned to the right as he walked, taking small, careful steps. She whispered something to him, and by the look on her face, Johnny guessed it was words of encouragement, but he couldn't hear exactly what she said.
"This way," Dr. Simmons said, and Johnny turned around to see him and Bruce several steps ahead of him, heading down another blank looking hallway.
As the blond followed the other two, he began feeling a bit claustrophobic. The atmosphere seemed to suffocate him, and he wondered how patients must feel.
"This is it," the shorter man said, gesturing to a door on his left.
He stopped in front of it, but didn't move to open it, so Johnny knew this was as far as they were allowed to go. Dr. Simmons stood back, but waved towards the small window on the door, encouraging Johnny and Bruce to look inside. The two friends looked in the window that was at their eye level, but only about one square foot in size.
The room was just as sterile looking as the rest of the hospital, and that didn't surprise either of them. The walls and floor were padded with a creamy color material, and a small bed was tucked into left hand corner. Florescent lighting gave the room an eerie glow, and the light reflecting off all of the white began to give Johnny a headache. In the far right corner, there was a small figure curled up in the fetal position that if they hadn't been looking for her, they might have overlooked.
Jessica was wearing light blue hospital scrub-type pants and a loose white shirt, exactly the same thing the men in the common room had been wearing. Her long sandy hair, that looked slightly oily from lack of washing, hung down, concealing her face from view. She didn't move for several seconds, but then rocked slightly, hugging her knees up to her chest. Once she was tightly wound into that position, she stopped moving again.
"Is she always in there?" Bruce asked. "Is she allowed out?"
"Of course," Dr. Simmons answered. "However, we've had to limit her time with other patients. She seems to get overly emotional when around lots of people."
"She doesn't respond well to crowds and acts out. We've been trying different methods to help her socialize, but nothing seems to be working."
"Is the room always that well lit?" Johnny asked.
Dr. Simmons gave him a quizzical look but answered anyway. "Yes. She screams if we turn off the lights, so we keep them on all the time."
Johnny looked into the room again, but Jessica hadn't moved from her spot in the corner. He sighed quietly to himself, still not understanding why he was there or what he was supposed to do. He could feel Bruce's questioning eyes on his back, but he had no answers for his friend. Johnny slowly reached out for the door of her room, his hand shaking in anticipation.
Johnny was thrown back into the darkness that he had already experienced twice that day, but this time, a sense of fear filled his body. He felt scared, trapped. The world was crashing around him, suffocating him. He was dying. The loud voices swirled around him, still making no coherent words.
He tried to keep his body under control, but even that seemed to be beyond him. His body wouldn't move, and that just added to the terror. His breathing became faster and more panicked, and his body shook spasmodically. Johnny tried to hold back a scream, telling himself over and over that it was only a vision.
Suddenly a bright light appeared in front of Johnny, causing him to look away. Once his eyes adjusted to the invading light, he looked back towards it, squinting. Panic rose in his throat as he looked at the figure looming over him.
The light came from a doorway that framed a gigantic figure that towered over him, seeming at least eight feet tall. A huge monster filled the doorway, and Johnny made out four arms stretching out from its massive bulk. Johnny could no longer control the panic that filled him, and he let out a primal scream of terror.
Instantly, he was thrown back to the sterile hallway of the hospital, vaguely feeling Bruce's hand ripping him away from the door of Jessica's room. The scream died in Johnny's throat, but his rapid breathing continued, his chest heaving in an attempt to get it under control.
"Johnny, speak to me, man," Bruce said, trying to get his friend to look him in the eye.
"What is going on here?" Dr. Simmons asked, but his demand went unnoticed.
"Johnny, you okay?" Bruce asked.
"I'm okay," Johnny panted, his breathing finally returning to normal.
The doctor looked at them both and crossed his arms, glaring at them.
"I think it's best if you two leave immediately."
Bruce gave Johnny another concerned look, and his friend nodded in response that he was all right. Dr. Simmons gave them one last scowl of disapproval before leading them back through the hospital. Johnny followed him with Bruce close by his side, worry still evident in his dark eyes. The nurse in the common room looked over at them curiously as they walked by, obviously having heard Johnny's scream. Dr. Simmons waved her away, and she returned to her duties, but not without giving them one more look.
Dr. Simmons led them to the entrance of the hospital, and didn't leave until he heard the slam of the front door behind them as they left. Before returning to his desk, he turned to the secretary in the booth by the door.
"I want you to find out everything you can about Johnny Smith. There's something more going on here, and I want to know what it is."
Johnny could feel the adrenaline slowly loosen its grip on his body as Bruce guided him out the front door of the hospital. The shaking had slowed to be almost undetectable, so he was finally able to lean on his cane rather than relying on Bruce. He gave his friend a small nod to lat him know he was fine to walk on his own, so Bruce reluctantly released Johnny's arm.
"So what the hell happened in there, Johnny?" Bruce asked as soon as they were down the front steps. "And don't even try to give me that 'Nothing, I'm fine' answer that you're so fond of."
"That was going to be my answer. Have I really become that predictable?" Johnny joked, hoping to alleviate the grim expression on Bruce's face. Bruce didn't smile, only fixed his friend with a disapproving glare.
Johnny took the hint. "It's hard to say. Where to start?"
"You could start with why you were screaming bloody murder as soon as you touched that door. What did you see?"
"It was the same as this morning. But more."
Johnny stopped to think about how to phrase it so Bruce would understand, but the words seemed to escape him. Somewhere between his mind and his mouth, the words were getting lost, and Bruce was getting impatient.
"Care to elaborate?"
"It was the same as this morning," Johnny began. "The darkness, the cold, it was all the same. The voices were all around me, but there was something else. It was really confining. I felt trapped, like the world was collapsing down on me and there was no way out.
"That's not the best part," Johnny continued. "Then a door opened in front of me, blinding me. I looked up, and there was a huge monster standing there."
There was a moment of silence before Bruce spoke with skepticism saturating his voice. "A monster?"
"I don't write the visions, I just interpret them," Johnny said, raising his hands in innocence.
"Could this vision have some symbolic meaning?"
"It's possible, but if it is symbolic, I have no idea what it means."
"Of course you don't because that would make this a whole lot easier."
"Hey, I've got an idea," Johnny said. "How about you have the visions and I'll be the sarcastic, smart aleck, tag along this time around?"
"Someone's touchy," Bruce chuckled.
Johnny opened his mouth to counter with a wise retort, but stopped when he was a familiar convertible pulling into the long hospital driveway. Dana parked her car next to the two and stepped out. By the slight smile on her face, Johnny knew her trip had been productive.
"Have fun in town?" Johnny asked as she approached them.
"Tons," she replied with a grin. "You?"
"We had a great time," Bruce jumped in. "Johnny was having visions about monsters, and he got us kicked out."
"Monsters?" Dana asked, casting Johnny a questioning look.
"It's a long story," Johnny replied, then quickly changed the subject. "What'd you find?"
Dana noticed the obvious change of subject, but figured now wasn't the time to push. "I found where her old house is, and where her aunt and uncle are living here in Bangor."
"You've been busy in the short time you've been gone," Bruce said.
"I know how to make use of the time I have."
"What's the uncle's name?" Johnny asked.
Dana pulled her small notepad out of her pocket and flipped through a few pages before she found the answered she was seeking. "Alex Desmond. Why do you ask?"
"Another vision. I'll explain later."
"So what's the game plan, team?" Bruce asked.
"Well, since being here is kind of shot, let's go visit the aunt and uncle. She was Jessica's mother's sister, and she and her husband were the most vocal in trying to get the money from Jessica, so I figure they'd be a good place to start," Dana told them.
"Sounds good to me," Johnny said. "Let's hope they can give us some answers without giving us more questions."
* * *
Dana led the way into the center of Bangor. Johnny watched out the window of Bruce's PT Cruiser as the small shops that occupied the streets cruised past. While Bangor was a city by Maine's standards, it was still small and sleepy. The streets were basically empty except for the occasional shopper.
Dana continued through Bangor's center to the north, leaving the commercial part of the town to the residential. Bruce stuck close to Dana's bumper even though he could've left half a mile between them and still be able to follow, there was so little traffic.
Bruce kept his eyes on the road and very little conversation was exchanged between him and Johnny. For that, Johnny was grateful. The more he thought about it, the less sense his vision made. Trying to explain it to Bruce made it even harder to interpret, so he was happy to have the time to himself to think. Johnny sighed in frustration which caused Bruce to glance in his direction.
"Was that an 'ask me what's wrong' sigh, or a 'leave me alone' sigh?"
Johnny chuckled. "Neither. More of a 'why can't I figure this out' sigh."
A few minutes later, Dana pulled down a tree lined dirt road to the left and Bruce followed. The convertible kicked up a considerable amount of dust, obscuring Bruce's and Johnny's vision. Through the haze, Bruce saw Dana's yellow blinker flash on the right, then the glaring red of her brake lights as she pulled off the road.
Bruce pulled over and parked his car behind hers as Dana climbed out of her car. The two friends got out of the car as the cloud of dust settled around them. Johnny brushed the dirt off of his black leather jacket before walking over to Dana's car where the redhead stood waiting.
"This is it," she told them, waving a hand at the split level ranch across the dirt road.
"Not too shabby," Bruce commented at the nicely painted light blue house.
Johnny glanced around at the neighborhood, finally able to get a good look now that the dust had finally fallen from the air. It was a very quiet road lined with mostly maple trees. Spring had just begun to touch the branches, sprinkling them with green buds.
Johnny turned around, surprised to see a very familiar white, Victorian- style house behind him. There was a black wrought-iron fence surrounding what he guessed to be at least two acres of land around the large two story house. There was a large black chain and lock holding together a large pair of gates that led to a winding driveway to the front of the house. A "for sale" sign was attached to the gate with a phone number on it, but no other information was available on the sign.
"Is that-?" Johnny began to ask.
"Yes," Dana answered, anticipating his question. "That's Jessica Richardson's house."
"Creepy," Bruce commented.
"The house has been for sale since the family was killed, but no one has bought it. Local rumors say it's haunted," Dana explained.
"So the urban legend says."
"The yard is well kept," Johnny observed. "Someone's been caring for it."
"The family kept the gardening staff on, hoping to sell the property, but no luck so far."
"Is it the same staff the Richardsons had?"
"Some," Dana replied. "A good portion of them left after what happened."
"How do you find out this stuff?" Bruce asked incredulously.
"I have my ways," Dana said with a knowing smirk. "I can be very persuasive when I want something."
"So I've noticed," Bruce said, casting a glance as Johnny.
"What?" the blond said innocently.
"Nothing," Bruce smirked then turned back to Dana. "What do you have on this family?"
"Her name is Laura, his is Alex. She is Lillah's baby sister. They moved here twelve years ago because Laura wanted to be closer to her sister. They're the ones that tried to get the estate from Jessica, but obviously failed in doing so."
"You never cease to amaze me, Dana," Bruce said with a shake of his head.
"I'm just doing what I'm good at," she replied.
The two didn't notice Johnny as he walked past them up the cement walkway to the front door. He tried to think of what he was going to say to them, but nothing seemed to come to mind. He could hear birds chirping, but they seemed miles away. He concentrated on the quiet click of his cane against the cement as he ascended the stairs, hoping that the steady beat would steady his thoughts. He barely heard Bruce and Dana come up the stairs behind him.
Finally, Johnny took a deep breath and knocked.
Johnny waited at the door for several minutes and was about to knock again when he saw movement in the window to his left. He saw the curtain swing closed meaning someone had been watching them. He waited for another few seconds before he heard the lock being unlatched. The door opened a crack, barely allowing Johnny to see a face peering out at him.
"We're not interested in buying anything," a gruff male voice said.
"We're not interested in selling you anything," Johnny replied. "Are you Alex Desmond?"
"Depends on who you are," the man replied suspiciously.
"My name's Johnny Smith."
There was a moment of silence then the door opened a little more, revealing a tall, lean man with short salt and pepper colored hair. He looked to be at least fifty years old, with dark serious eyes and a grimace that seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face.
"So what do you want?" he asked, his eyes narrowed into slits. The man glanced at Bruce and Dana then returned his attention to Johnny.
"We were hoping to talk to you and your wife," Johnny replied.
"Your niece, Jessica."
To Johnny's surprise, the grimace on the man's face seemed to increase, and his eyes narrowed even more. His face seemed to turn slightly red in color, and Johnny realized this was going to be a lot harder than he had imagined.
"Who's at the door, Alex?" a woman's voice asked from behind Mr. Desmond.
"No one," he called back over his shoulder.
"Then who are you talking to?" she asked as she walked up behind him. The woman pushed past the man at the door, showing her to be a much shorter, but slim, woman. She stood about five feet tall with short red hair in slight disarray. She had warm, inviting green eyes and when she smiled to greet them, she had dimples on each side.
"Just go back inside," Mr. Desmond said.
"Nonsense," she said, waving a dismissive hand at him then turning her attention to Johnny. "Hi, I'm Laura Desmond."
"Johnny Smith," he said, nodding at her in greeting, hoping to avoid a handshake.
"You look familiar," the woman said, tilting her head as if that would make her remember why. Suddenly, her eyes lit up in surprise. "You're that boy from Cleaves Mills. The one who as the visions. I've seen you in the papers."
Johnny nodded reluctantly. "That's me."
"What brings you to Bangor?"
"Jessica," her husband answered with a snap.
The woman's smile faded slightly. "Oh. What about her?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Johnny replied. "Someone sent me something about her, but didn't say why or what I was supposed to be looking for, so we're here trying to find out about her."
The older couple regarded the three visitors for several seconds. They glanced at each other, and while Alex's face straightforwardly told Johnny their presence was not welcome, Laura's looked more open.
"Please come in," Laura said finally. "I'll make us some coffee, and we can talk."
"You have a very lovely home, Mrs. Desmond," Johnny commented as the older woman poured coffee into the white mug on the table in front of him.
"Thank you," she replied, a smile of pride briefly appearing on her face.
The group sat in the Desmonds' dining room, each with a steaming cup of coffee in front of them. Laura Desmond returned to the kitchen through a swinging door that squeaked in protest as she pushed through it. Alex Desmond sat at the head of the table with a disapproving look on his face. Johnny opened his mouth to engage the man in conversation, but the glare in Mr. Desmond's eyes told Johnny it was a bad idea, so he let his eyes wander around the room instead.
It was decorated simply, but elegantly with white lace curtains and table covered accenting the darkly stained table and chairs. A large china cabinet filled with plates and glasses sat in the corner of the room, and the hardwood floor was recently polished.
Mrs. Desmond came back into the room with a mug in her hands, taking a seat next to her husband. Johnny sat at the other end of the table with Dana and Bruce flanking him on either side.
"So what exactly about Jessica did you want to know?" she asked tentatively.
"As much as you're willing to tell us, Mrs. Desmond," Johnny replied.
"Laura, please," she said.
"Laura," Johnny repeated.
"Who sent you something on her?" Mr. Desmond spoke up, his voice laced with suspicion and his arms crossed tightly across his chest.
"We don't know."
"You don't know?"
"It was sent to Johnny anonymously," Bruce said. "We've been trying to figure that out as well as why it was sent."
"Well, we didn't send it," the man snapped. "So why bother us?"
"Alex, be nice," his wife scolded him.
"Why should I?" Mr. Desmond snapped. "They come knocking on our door uninvited, waiting to know about our personal business, and I should be nice?"
"No, Laura," he said, rising from his chair. "You can sit here and talk to these people if you want because you've seen his picture in those stupid papers, but I want nothing to do with it. I washed my hands of this a long time ago."
With that, Mr. Desmond grabbed his coffee and stormed out of the room. Mrs. Desmond followed him with her eyes before turning back to the other three.
"I'm sorry about my husband. This has all been hard on the both of us. He was good friends with Mike, Jessica's father," she explained.
"No need to apologize," Johnny told her. "We understand this isn't easy, but we greatly appreciate your taking time to talk to us."
"Thank you," she said. "Alex has been angry about this for a long time. He was the one that pushed for the lawsuits, not me."
"You didn't want to sue Jessica?" Dana asked, moving forward in her seat in interest.
"Not at all," the woman replied. "Jessica is the only family I have left. Yes, I was upset about what happened, but family is more important to me than money."
"But not your husband?" Dana prodded.
"No, that's not it at all. Alex blamed Jessica for what happened. He doesn't understand that she's ill. It's hard for him to get closure without someone being held accountable."
"Laura, do you have any idea why someone would send Jessica's picture to me?" Johnny asked.
"No," she answered, shifting in her chair and turning her coffee mug in her hands. "Her parents' death was open and shut. She's been locked up ever since."
"Could someone think she's innocent?"
"I don't see how. She had the weapon in her hand when the police arrived. They told me that- that she was ripping it from my sister's body when they walked in."
Mrs. Desmond's voice began to crack, and she held up a hand at her guests to indicate she needed a moment to compose herself. She wiped away a stray tear that began running down her cheek. Bruce grabbed a tissue from a nearby box and handed it to her.
"Thank you," she said, wiping her eyes and nose. "You'd think after all this time, it would be easier, but it's not."
"It's okay," Johnny tried to comfort her. "Take your time."
Laura sniffled and wiped her nose again, taking a few deep breaths. After a few minutes, she seemed calmer and nodded at Johnny that she was ready to continue.
"Did Jessica have any uncles aside from your husband?" Johnny asked. Bruce and Dana looked at him quizzically, wondering where this question was going.
"No," she replied, an equally confused look on her face. "Lillah and I were my parents' only children, and Mike was an only child. Why?"
"She didn't have an Uncle Bobby?"
"No," she answered, her eyebrows creased in confusion. Suddenly, the question seemed to make sense and her face lit up. "But that's what she called Robert Simmons, her doctor. He and my sister were good friends, so she called him Uncle Bobby. Is that important?"
"No, but it makes sense to me now," Johnny replied, shrugging off the curious looks from his companions.
"Who controls the Richardson estate while Jessica is in the hospital?" Dana jumped in.
"I'm not sure," she replied. "I've tried to distance myself from that information. I really don't want to know. Alex probably knows."
"But I doubt he would be willing to give us that information," the redhead sighed.
"I wouldn't count on it. I love him, but he's a stubborn man."
"Who would know?"
"Probably Doug Carlisle, Jessica's lawyer. He was the executor of the state at the time of their death, so I would assume he would know."
"Thank you," the redhead replied, making note of the name.
"Laura," Mr. Desmond interrupted, stepping into the room. "We have to go if we're going to make those dinner reservations at five."
Laura looked at her husband, then back at her guests, as if debating on who she should go with. Her husband gave her a pleading look, so she sighed and rose from her chair.
"I'm sorry, but we really must be going. It was very nice talking with you, and if we can be of any further assistance, please let us know."
"Thank you for your time," Johnny said, rising from his chair with Bruce and Dana doing the same.
The couple led the others to the door, said brief goodbyes then sent them on their way. Johnny briefly looked back at the house as the door closed, and he saw Laura look out the window at them. He smiled at her and nodded, hoping that she would understand he was grateful for her time. She returned the smile then let the curtain fall over the window, obscuring her from his view.
"Now what?" Bruce asked as they reached his car.
"I guess we go talk to the lawyer," Johnny said.
"Johnny," Bruce sighed, leaning against the driver's side door, "did you ever think that we're wasting our time? I don't mean to be a pessimist-"
"Yet you do it so well," Dana interrupted.
Bruce fixed her with an irritated glance before looking back at Johnny. "We barely have any information about what's going on here. Hell, we don't even know what we're looking for. Maybe someone is just messing with you."
"Why would they do that?"
"Because you're a celebrity. There are weird people out there that get off on making the famous miserable. Maybe someone just wanted confirmation that the girl is crazy and isn't just faking it. For all we know, those people sent the picture to you," Bruce continued, pointing back at the Desmonds' house.
"I don't think they did."
"But you don't know for sure. Johnny, I know you're all for helping people, and I'll always be there to help you out, but this one is going nowhere. We're snooping in these people's lives for no reason."
"For once," Dana said, "Bruce and I agree on something."
"There is a reason, or else someone wouldn't have sent me that picture," Johnny argued.
Bruce sighed. "Well, if that person wants your help so much, maybe he should've specified what he wanted. You shouldn't have to go around guessing what these people want."
"You guys really want to give this up?"
"Yeah, John. I think you've done what you can, but until this person comes forward and links everything together, you shouldn't get yourself so deep into these people's lives."
Johnny looked back and forth between them, knowing that no matter what he said, he'd lost this battle. He slowly nodded his head, and sighed.
"Maybe you're right. Let's go home."
Johnny walked around to the other side of the PT Cruiser while Dana walked over to her convertible. Bruce hopped in the driver's seat as Johnny reached his car door, and as Johnny grabbed the handle, his senses were overtaken once again.
He saw himself, standing next to Bruce's car. Johnny knew who was watching. The man who sent the picture was watching them from across the street. Once the vision ended, Johnny's head shot up, glancing around for the man. There was a dense collection of trees where Johnny thought he saw the man. He squinted, hoping that would help him see better, then he let go of the door and walked towards the trees.
"Johnny, where are you going?" Bruce asked, sticking his head out the window.
Johnny walked over to the edge of the trees, reaching out and touching one. The man was gone.
"Nowhere," Johnny replied, glancing into woods just in case.
He turned around and went back to Bruce's car, getting in the passenger side door.
"What was that?" Bruce asked.
"Nothing," Johnny replied. "I thought I saw something."
"Probably just an animal," his friend said as he started the car and pulled away, heading back towards Cleaves Mills.
"Yeah, probably," Johnny echoed, knowing that wasn't it at all.
"I think it's best we just go home and forget about this," Bruce said after a few miles of silence. "If the guy really wants your help, he'll contact you."
"Yeah," Johnny said vacantly, not really hearing what Bruce was saying. He had no intention of letting this go. He knew there was something more here he needed to see, and he wasn't going to give up until he found out exactly what it was.
To be continued . . . .