Forced Perspectives – Snippet 43
“Pull over here,” said Harlowe. “There she stands.”
“And welcomes little fishes in,” piped one of the twins in the back seat of the station wagon, “with gently smiling jaws!”
Agnes Loria spoke over them. “It’s a church,” she said flatly as she eyed the building at the corner of Fedora and Pico; indecipherable graffiti made black squiggles across the white wall facing the street, and two shopping carts stood on the over-long grass inside the fence. The next building to the west was a discount center with ATM and EBT signs in the window. The neon light over its doors was on already.
“It’s my only other property in L.A.,” said Harlowe, sounding nettled, “and it’s vacant. Our stuff is mostly moved in already, the computers and furniture.”
The twins were now peering out at the four-story Romanesque bell tower and the red-painted steps leading up to the wide, arched doors. Loria was already thinking about the trouble she would no doubt have in keeping them out of the tower.
“I don’t go much for churches,” she said. She had pulled to the curb, but had still not turned off the engine.
“It’s what we have,” said Harlowe. “Your damned rogue boyfriend made the Sepulveda place impossible.”
The twins giggled in the back seat. Loria switched off the engine and opened her door. “You know he’s not my boyfriend,” sie said tiredly. “Okay, just so it’s not Catholic.” The breeze from the west carried the smells of barbecue and cooling sidewalks. Loria looked across the street at a row of narrow, brightly lit shops behind luxuriant old curbside trees, then back, disapprovingly, at the church.
“No no,” Harlowe assured her, getting out on his side and opening the back door for the twins, “some kind of Protestant sect.” His burgundy-red hair fluttered in the breeze as he pulled a set of keys from his pocket and unlocked the gate. “You need to put your bourgeois childhood behind you, kid.”
“Or sink it.” Loria herded the twins ahead of her as Harlowe relocked the gate behind them and led the way up the walk to the steps and the tall, iron-bound wooden doors. The doors were unlocked, and he tugged one open and stood aside.
Inside the vast nave; fading daylight through the stained glass windows high up on the west wall was dimmed by a couple of standing lamps on the broad dais at the far end, on which several of the Singularity crew were busy stacking boxes on a wide table, no doubt the one-time altar. A pulpit off to the left was crowded with half a dozen more lamps. The still air smelled of mildew and damp plaster.
The twins scampered ahead down the central aisle between rows of wooden pews arranged in a herringbone pattern.
“There’s a dozen or so cots set up downstairs,” said Harlowe, stepping up beside Loria and waving vaguely. “though there’s only two bathrooms down there — there’s another up here, in the sacristy, for us senior staff — and there’s a kitchen in a kind of meeting hall out back. And I had them set up a TV downstairs — DVDs in a box, get the girls set up down there, and then you’ve got to help me try to deal with Pratt.”
“What, funeral arrangements? Couldn’t one of the others…” The twins were in one of the pews now, kneeling, and Loria wondered where they could have picked that up.
“No,” said Harlowe, “I’ve got to get his ghost into that copy of The Secret Garden that has Vickery’s daughter in it! Together in there, contrarily paired, they should function as…ghost flypaper, able to catch and absorb any ghosts that are attracted to our vibrant, emerging egregore.”
Loria had been listening with decreasingly concealed impatience, and now she burst out, “Oh for God’s sake, Simon! There’s no ghost in that book, and Pratt’s dead and gone! You might as well try to — catch leprechauns with a box of Lucky Charms cereal!”
Harlowe leaned toward her until his face was just inches from hers, and she could feel the mental buzz as their auras overlapped. “Pratt’s ghost,” he hissed, “broke the window of my SUV a couple of hours ago, a mile north of here! And it’s not a ghost in the book, it’s a distinct person who paradoxically never existed, never got born! The juxtaposition, the incongruous overlap, the impossibility of the pairing must certainly distract any ghosts that…come fluttering around our flame.”
Loria stepped back. “Get Pratt’s ghost into the book,” she said, nodding. “So I should scout up a funnel and a mallet, maybe?”
“I’ve got his toothbrush, it was back at the Sepulveda office. We can summon him with that. His spit, his DNA will be all over it. I think one of us should lick it to catch his attention –“
“Yuck! That’s you, that does that.”
“Fine! And the other, you, hold open the book when I toss his ghost onto it, and you slap the book shut.”
Loria stared at him. “You really think this is possible? Actually? Ghosts?”
“And never-born persons. Yes. It’s implicit in the math, just as antimatter was implicit in Dirac’s relativistic wave equation. Ours is a weirder sort of math, admittedly, but — eppur si muove. Listen, we may have to talk Pratt into cooperating. You always got along with him.”
Loria knew that the Italian phrase meant something like, Nevetheless, it moves. She believed Galileo had said it about the solar system.
“Who?” she said. “Oh, Pratt. He was a puppy dog. And — like all of us — he wanted to be in the egregore. Doesn’t this book business kind of exclude him from that?”
“He’s excluded already, Agnes, because he died! He’s a ghost! Think! I’ve got the book here now, in the sacristy — get the girls downstairs.”
“This is –” Loria realized that she didn’t want to finish the sentence. She turned away and began striding up the aisle toward where the twins knelt as if in prayer.
Ten minutes later she was standing beside Harlowe at a counter beside a stainless steel sink, looking down at a blue plastic toothbrush and an open trade paperback book. The sacristy was narrow, with a high, cobwebbed ceiling and a print of the Last Supper hung on the far wall; the only window was above the sink, and fogged with dirt. After clicking a light switch up and down for several seconds, Harlowe had struck a match to a couple of candles, and the smell of burning wicks dispelled the old reek of incense.
“Oh,” he said, his hand now extended halfway to the toothbrush, “have you ever — excuse me — been intimate with somebody who died on, or very close to, a freeway?”
“If you haven’t, then you probably won’t be able to see Pratt’s ghost. In that case, you’ll have to –“
“Have you? I always got the idea you were seriously celibate. Now that we’re getting personal.”
Harlowe’s eyes dulled and his face sagged, and the wrinkles around his mouth were more evident — the expression was vacuity, as if he had lost consciousness, but his voice was level: “No, but I, I killed a man once. A burglar, in my trailer in Salinas, in ’83. It was only a hundred feet from the 101 freeway.”
“Were you intimate with him before or after you killed him?”
Harlowe’s face resumed animation, and he pressed his lips together in evident annoyance. “Sex,” he said, picking up the toothbrush, “is not the only intimacy. Killing somebody unites the two of you even more indissolubly. When I nod to you, that will mean Pratt’s ghost is here — tell him –“