Maurice, the smiling Buddha-like attorney who speaks to the dead, wins in the courtroom and has his client released from jail. Now the accussed child killer has another surprise in store for him. Two surprises to be exact. One, he finds himself in the employment of the smiling lawyer as a ‘researcher.’ And two . . .
He stepped off the bus the moment the folding doors opened with a pneumatic hiss and turned to watch the bus disappear around the corner in a light blue cloud of diesel smoke. Hands in his pocket, chewing on a fresh toothpick, his stomach full of biscuits and gravy from an IHOP cafe, he felt . . . oddly . . . almost happy. Standing on the street corner, the bright morning summer sun bathing him in fresh sunlight and a comforting blanket of warmth, he noticed that, for some reason, everything around him was vividly clear and brilliant in their effervescent colors.
Even though he was pushing fifty with a fierce determination, it was as if someone had implanted in his skull the eyes of an eighteen year old. Everything he looked at . . . the moderate morning city traffic, the few pedestrians walking quickly by him with their eyes downcast and looking at the sidewalk in front of them, the dozen or so parked cars glistening in the sun, even the blueness of the sky above him . . . all of it! So astonishingly pure in their clarity!
He stood beside the corner stop sign and just looked. Looked at the sky. Looked at the vividly colored canvas awnings partially hiding the large plate glass windows of a small Italian restaurant. Gazed with silent admiration, with a whimsical smile on his thin lips, at the old man dressed in a bright yellow shirt and matching canvas hat drive by in a Jag XKE convertible.
He’d never felt like this before. He felt . . . alive. Alive and, and . . . should he admit it? Happy. Happy! He felt freaking wonderful! For the first time in his life he felt like he knew what he was doing and where he was going. The strange little man did this to him. Convinced of it. The moment the little man’s forefinger plowed hard into his forehead and he saw Tammy and the baby standing in front of him, he knew he had changed. Felt like someone had used a fire hose to flush out all the old baggage he had carried around with him all these years. Flushed them out and then hosed them down a huge drain. And then the little guy somehow . . . someway . . . replaced the old baggage with new baggage. Brand spanking new. For the first time in his life, he wanted to laugh. Just laugh. Laugh for the pleasure of it. For the first time in his life he wanted go to a museum. Any museum. Had absolutely no idea why. He just wanted to go. Hell, he didn’t even squawk when the odd little man gave him the keys to that fracking big pink Caddy and expected him to drive him home in it.
Pink, fer chrissakes.
Did it without batting an eye. Walked out of the detention center, walked straight toward the mass of pink metal, opened the passenger side door, flipped the backrest forward so the little guy could climb into the back, waited for the little guy to sit down before he closed the door and walked around the front of the car and slid in behind the steering wheel. Didn’t look once at the hundred or so reporters and cameramen who stood around and watched the whole shoe in stunned silence. Started that Caddy’s engine up and drove out of the parking lot as if he was a natural.
And now look at him.
Standing on a street corner sidewalk, hands in the pockets of a brand new pair of slacks, wearing a brand new shirt that cost him more money than he’d make in three days off his last job, with a blue sport coat on that matched perfectly with the color of his new slacks. He felt like a million bucks. He grinned and admitted to himself he looked like a million bucks! When he got dressed in his daughter’s old apartment he glanced at himself in the full length mirror she had put up on her closet door. He looked tall, hard, with a good span of shoulders still and a flat stomach. Sure, fifty years of a hard life had left him with a few scars and some gray hair. But all in all, and in these new threads, he didn’t look bad at all.
Humming to himself, he walked two more blocks and then turned a corner and came to a halt when his eyes dropped onto the small red brick building setting in the middle of the block. And smiled. Like the distinctly odd little guy he was working for now so too was the man’s office building. A blood red brick building with brilliant white shutters flanking each of the long bronze tinted windows. He thought the work Georgian was the right descriptor for the building’s architecture. Dark green bushes lined the foundation of the building. A curving sidewalk came out of the double green doors and curved to one side to join the wide driveway entrance, which led to a small parking lot behind the building shaded by huge over hanging trees. But beside driveway and up against the building were three parking slots of which two were empty. In the third, the one closest to the green doors, sat the pink Caddy with its white canvas top in the upraised position.
Twenty feet to the south of the law offices of Maurice sat a long building filled with three shops. A boutique flower shop. A boutique baker of wedding cakes and a small coffee shop. To the north was a large grocery store. The street in front of the lawyer’s building was filled with traffic. Not heavy. But a constant flow back and forth which didn’t die down until well past the dinner hour.
The smile on his thin lips grew slightly. Whatever anyone said about the eccentric lawyer, one had to admit the man hand a certain style. And an eye on finding the perfect site to set up his office space. Looking left and right quickly he saw a gap in the traffic flow and dashed across the street. Walking up to the green doors he paused for a moment, a flash of surprise surging through him electrically at the sudden turn of events in his life, and then reached down and pressed down with a thumb on the antique door latch and stepped through the door.
Maurice stood in the middle of the large outer office carpet looking down at the object he was holding in both of his hands with a look of puzzlement on his oval face. He was again dressed in the off-white three-piece suit of a Southern plantation owner. But this time with a pink button down shirt underneath the white, with a bright turquoise green silk tie for accent. In his hands was a heavy looking bright orange variable speed electric drill. The black power cord fell to the floor, snaked a couple of feet to one side, was plugged into a bright orange extension chord which rolled and snaked its away across the carpet of the office toward a far wall before coming to a halt with the plug of the extension lying on the floor just in front of a wall plug-in.
“Ah! Randall, my boy! Your prompt arrival is so opportune and heart felt! I am afraid you are here just in time to save me from a costly mistake.”
“What kind of mistake?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow suspiciously.
“There must be something wrong with the building’s electrical wiring. I cannot get this drill to work no matter which socket I plug it into. Most discouraging. Most discouraging indeed.”
“Boss, just what are you trying to do with the drill?”
Boss. It rolled off his lips naturally. Felt comfortable even. He towered over the pudgy little man by a good foot and a half. The little man was soft, elegantly dressed, naturally darkly tanned. He was hard. Hard as granite. Hard and angular. Not a soft spot or an ounce of fat to be found on his tall frame. Yet it just seemed natural. The pudgy little man was the boss. He was the employee. The muscle. The go to guy. The fixer.
“Ah, yes. A small project I was doing in preparation for your arrival. A simple chore, actually. But apparently one beyond my capabilities. I may be a good lawyer and a moderately talented piano player, my boy. But when it comes to tools and electronic gadgets I am afraid I am beyond hope.”
“Here,” Randall said, walking across the thick gray carpet and gently taking the drill out of Maurice’s hands. “I’ll take care of it. Just show me what you want done.”
“Um . . . yes,” Maurice nodded, turning and walking over to a beautifully hewn high backed Victorian style chair and lifting from its seat an old looking bass bell of tiny proportions dangling from ornate, definitely Chinese, brass fixture. “This is a Chinese Spirit Bell. Very old. From the legendary first dynasty of China. The Xia Dynasty I’m told. I found them last year while I was vacationing in Shaanxi province in China. I found a set of ten of them. I was trying to attach two of them to the walls in each of the offices before your arrival.”
“Beautiful,” Randall admitted, gripping the heavy drill in one hand naturally while opening the palm of his other hand to allow Maurice to deposit the bell into it. “What are they supposed to do?”
“They let us know when we are in the presence of spirits and ghosts.”
“What?” he asked, surprised and looking down at his smiling employer.
“They are magic bells, Randall. They take in a ghost’s aura, magnifies it, and gives it a substance, which allows anyone standing in the room to be aware of their presence. I wanted them up before you arrived so that the three of us could greet you accordingly.”
“The three of you?”
“Yes,” nodded the smiling cherub. “Myself, your lovely daughter and your precocious grandson.”
“Tammy and Randy are here, in this room, as we speak?”
“They are indeed,” Maurice nodded, a huge smile of genuine pleasure beaming from his round face. “But for you to see them and communicate with them, you must put two bells up on walls directly opposite of each other at precisely the same height. Mind you, now. You will only be able to see and touch them while you stand between the bells. Nowhere else will this be possible. Understand?”
For an answer the big man grinned, gripped the drill in his hand then turned and looked at the nearest wall for a suitable anchoring point. Finding one, he sat the bell and drill onto a chair and then walked over and plugged the extension cord into the wall socket before turning to look at the elegantly dressed lawyer.
“What rooms do you want the bells in?”
Maurice indicated three rooms. His office, the large outer office, and the very small, almost closet sized, little office that would be the big man’s own space. Randall, surprised, stepped into the small room of his new office, glanced at the small but expensive desk sitting in the middle of the floor, noted the large, comfortable looking leather office chair behind it, glanced at the freshly painted gray with blue trim bare walls, and then turned and looked at the little Buddha-like man standing behind him.
“Although you will, admittedly, be a kind of jack-of-all trades for me my boy, nevertheless you will be doing some serious investigative work for the firm. It is only fitting that the chief investigator should have an office of his very own.”
Randall Cooke, the ex-con. The hard man with the fierce angular face of stone. The master safe cracker and one time jewel thief, found himself unable to speak. Emotion, of a kind he had never before felt, flowed through his veins and squeezed his throat just enough to keep words from coming out of his mouth. The best he could do was cough gently once in an effort to clear his throat and then turn back into the large outer office and begin working on the first bell.
What followed twenty minutes later deserved someone to take a photograph. If a stranger decided to walk in unannounced, he would have stopped dead in his tracks and stared in amazement at the sight before him. It would have been that of a tall man, his arms stretched out and bent into semi-circles as if he was holding someone in his arms. But there was no one there. He the man would be laughing and seemingly kissing the empty air in front of him. There would be tears flowing down his cheeks and a look of spontaneous joy on the man’s scarred, rugged face.
Beside the oddly acting tall man would be a smaller man dressed in a three piece off-white suit, hands stuffed in his sharply creased slacks, his pleasantly tanned face painted in the portrait of someone laughing in delight as if he was witnessing a friend of his suddenly being reunited with a long lost family.
Which, indeed, was exactly what was taking place.