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“Are you OK?” he asks and I can hear the worry in his voice. He likes to surprise me by acting human from time to time.

“I’m fine,” I say, rubbing my hip where the desk went into me. “But I can’t open this fucking thing.”

“Are you getting any reception on your phone?”

I tuck the infrared under my arm and bring my iPhone out of my jacket pocket, while reaching down for the flashlight in my boot. It works but the bars are gone. No service.

“No, are you?”

“No,” he answers with a sigh. “Look, I’ve been trying the key she gave me and it won’t open any of the doors here. I can’t call her either. There are some stairs at the end beside the elevator. I’m just going to run up to the lobby and grab Pam.”

“Dex, don’t you dare leave me!” I yell and pound on the door for impact.

“Well what the hell do you suppose we do then? Hang out like this until a maid shows up? What if they are done for the night? Do you really want to spend a night locked in there?”

No. I don’t. But I don’t want him taking off and leaving me alone in this scary, dark room either.

“Look,” he continues, “I’ll be right back. And I mean, right back. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

That’s kind of hard to do when you aren’t here, I think but I know I have no choice. Either he goes or I’m locked in here all night. That thought is too terrifying to fathom.

“OK,” I say hesitantly.

He taps the door lightly. “I’ll be right back.”

I hear his feet scurry off and a door at the end of the hall open. And then silence again.

I put my back against the door and face the darkness of the foreign room. I flick the flashlight on and slowly graze it across the black.

In a creepy, fleeting light it illuminates a few laundry bins, laundry machines, a makeshift office consisting of a whiteboard, a file cabinet and the desk I ran into.

And a dead man hanging from the ceiling.

I scream bloody murder, dropping the flashlight and camera in the process.

They fall to my feat in an outburst as loud as my wail, and as I quickly fumble for them, the light in the room goes on.

I raise my hand to my eyes to shield them from the light and try to get a glimpse of what’s going on. The image of that dead, bloated man hanging by his neck is seared into my brain.

The laundry hampers, machines and office are all still here.

The hanging man is gone.

There is an African-American woman who stands to my far left, her hand on a light fixture, giving me a quizzical stare. She’s young and thin with large eyes and is wearing a plain grey dress with a white ruffled apron across it. A very classic-looking maid.

“Good heavens, child,” she exclaims in a thick Southern accent. “What on earth are you doing in here?”

I blink hard, trying to make sense of the situation. The maid looks at my hands and what I’m holding.

“Are you filming me? Who are you? What is this?” she demands, her voice growing higher with each question.

“I…I’m Perry Palomino,” I stammer, my voice squeaking.

“Am I supposed to know who you are?” she asks and puts her hands on her hips.

“Uh, no,” I say and give her an awkward smile. “I’m here with my partner Dex. Dex Foray. We are, uh, we doing a project here. We have permission of the night manager. Pam…something. She said we could come down here and film.”

“Just what are you filming. Charlie Chaplin?”

Hmmmm. How to explain the next part without seeming batshit crazy.

“Well…” I begin.

She cocks her brow at me and folds her arms. She’s in no hurry.

I let out a burst of air through my nose and say, “We’re ghost hunters.”

She smiles, her teeth blindingly white. She doesn’t sound as amused as she looks. “You’re pulling my chain.”

“No, no sadly I’m not. We have a show, Experiment in Terror. It’s on the Internet.”

“The Internet?”

“I know, it sounds lame but we’ve been doing quite well. I mean, we have advertisers and people actually tune into watch us. Well, watch me. Since I’m the host. Just not a very good one. Actually I think people tune into laugh at me, but whatever gets me a pay check.” I’m rambling now.

“This is a radio show?” she asks.

“No, just on the web.”

She frowns and walks toward me, eying my hands. “What kind of camera is that?”

Though there is nothing menacing at all in her voice, I flinch a little and back up into the door. She pauses and gives me another disbelieving look.

“You never seen a black woman before?”

“Huh?”

“I know we aren’t too common out West here but you best be getting used to us.”

Now it’s my turn to frown. I study her more closely. She’s at least in her early thirties, her pretty face is unlined but she has this authoritative air about her. Everything sounds like an accusation but one that’s filled with a hint of doubt. Though she’s trying hard to hide it, I can see she’s as afraid of me as I am afraid of her.

I raise the infrared to her, slowly, as if she is a skittish cat, and show her the screen, flicking it on.

She looks at it and shakes her head, not getting it.

“It’s infrared,” I explain. “It picks up heat energy.”

“Well my oh my,” she says. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You trying to make a motion picture?”

“No m’am,” I can’t help but say. “Much less than that.”

“And you what? You hunt ghosts?”

“It sounds ridiculous when you put it that way,” I admit.

She snorts and turns around, heading back to the machines. “It sounds ridiculous anyway you put it, child.”

“We’ve just been told the ghost of Parker Hayden is known to haunt this room.”

She stops in mid-stride. Her whole body is tensed up. It makes me tense up too. I must have hit a nerve.

“Have you seen him?” I whisper, making sure the camera is running but not pointing it in her direction just yet. I don’t want to scare her and just getting our dialog recorded would be more than enough for the show.

“Seen who?” she repeats slowly. She still doesn’t turn around.

“Parker Hayden. The ship millionaire. He lost all of his money during the strike and then killed himself–”

“Don’t you dare speak ill of him,” she threatens in a low voice so raspy and ragged that it almost sounds demonic. “He would never kill himself.”

I bite my lip, unsure of how to proceed. I have no idea what is going on but those hairs are standing up on the back of my neck again.

“Do you know who he was?” I ask carefully.

Finally, she turns around and looks at me with tear-filled eyes.

“He was…my friend.”

I don’t know what to make of that. “Pardon me?”

“He was…my lover. I haven’t seen him for days, not since they threw him out.”

Oh. Dear. God.

“He wouldn’t have killed himself though,” she continues, her voice warbling with emotion. A tear spills down her cheek, leaving a dark trail. “He has troubles but he wouldn’t have done that. Not Parker. Not my Parker.”

“Ummmm,” is all I can say to that. I slowly raise the infrared camera and aim it at her.

“You’re filming me now?”

Yes, I sure am, I think and look at the screen. My breath freezes in my throat. Through the infrared, I can see my own hand in front of me burning a deep red. The shape of the maid though is coming out a steely blue, like the blue I saw in the hotel room.

I look back at her. And I realize I’m talking to a ghost.

“I said, are you filming me? Answer me, child,” she says, her voice angry. She wipes away a tear with a rough swipe of her hand.

“No,” I say quickly and lower the camera. “Sorry, I…what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t. It’s May,” she answers. “I’d say I’m pleased to meet you Miss Perry Palomino, but I’m afraid I’m a victim of some terrible joke.”

There’s one thing I’ve learned about the dead: they don’t like to learn they are dead. Things kind of go crazy when they do, like their entire existence is shattered and they go along with it. I mean, imagine you think you’re alive and someone tells you you’re dead. Then you start putting together all the pieces and BLAM! Your entire world is ripped apart. The very realization can make most ghosts simply disappear. The acceptance pushes them on into the afterlife, or whatever the next step is.

But for selfish reasons, I don’t want to lose May. I don’t want her to realize she’s dead. Because while I’ve got her here, in this room, I can use her. I can use her to get to Parker.

“When was the last time you saw Parker?” I ask her innocently enough. I still keep the camera aimed at the floor.

“Five days ago,” she says. “He said he’d come by the next day. I was here waiting. He never did. I reckoned…I don’t know. I feared the worst. The very worst.”

“Which was?”

“That he was dead, Miss Palomino. But not by his own hand. No, he that was murdered.”

“By who?”

“The sharks. Who else?”

My face must have contorted into a look of pure confusion because she continues, her voice and demeanor more impassioned by the second.

“The sharks are the fellas who he owed money to. You just don’t lose a boat without losing a few friends. These fellas meant business and I seen them threaten him more than a few times. Parker went and told the police but they do nothing. They don’t have no control. Parker would tell me he was scared. So scared. He’s a man who don’t get scared, you hear that. So if he’s scared, I reckon there’s a reason for it. They are after his life.”

The idea of Parker being murdered by men he owed money to is just as believable as suicide. I don’t know what to believe but I choose to give the ghost the benefit of the doubt.

“Did Parker leave any proof, any records, that these men were after him?”

She closes her eyes for a second and it’s then that I notice a strange transparency about her.

“There was his diary,” she tells me. Her eyes open slowly. “It’s his checkbook. But he would keep a log on the back of the checks he couldn’t write anymore. Most of it doesn’t make much sense to me…if I could talk to him, hear from him, he could tell you himself. I just need to talk to him. Can you find him for me? You said you knew the manager?”

“Yes…but I don’t think it will make much difference.”

“Why is that?”

“Do you know where he would have kept the checkbook?”

“On his person. Where else? What aren’t you telling me? What are you really doing here?”

I look down at the screen and aim it at her. She glows a translucent blue. It’s beautiful, for once, and not scary.

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