Authors: Gene Doucette
“I’ve said twice now that Michael was killed, and you haven’t corrected me. As I understood it, a bookcase fell on him when he was alone in his study. Clearly, if the FBI is speaking to all of his associates, there’s more involved than simply an unfortunate display of gravity. But murder?”
“There’s reason to believe his death was intended by someone,” she said delicately.
“While alone in a locked office,” Calvin reiterated.
Maggie shrugged. “At this point, Professor, I’m willing to entertain any theories up to and including ghosts.”
He smiled. “Well, I can assure you I was not working on murderous apparitions with Michael, and I would be very surprised if anyone else here was.”
“All right. Can I contact you again if I have more questions?”
“Of course,” he said, standing. “Although it would be best if you came to my home rather than meeting me here. I don’t actually keep an office on campus any longer. My health is not what it used to be.”
They shook hands. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said genuinely. She decided she liked Professor Calvin. He was refreshingly candid compared to the rest and not half as condescending.
“It’s old age, mostly,” he said. “But I speak without reservation when I say I’m supposed to be dead already.”
He headed for the door and had his hand on the knob when he paused and turned around. Something had occurred to him.
“Ghosts, you say.”
“It was a joke,” Maggie said.
“Yes . . . Do you know, I just realized where I’ve seen you before.”
“Were you part of another investigation?” she asked.
“In a manner, yes. Have you ever heard of McClaren Hospital?”
The name was familiar. “I’m not sure, why?”
“Look it up. In microfiche or computer archives or wherever we’re storing old newspaper articles nowadays.”
“Professor, if you have information to share with me . . .”
“I may. I may not. Indulge an old man and go look it up. If you are good at your job you’ll understand why.”
Maggie grumbled. “All right, could you tell me what I’m looking for, at least?”
“For ghosts, of course,” he said matter-of-factly.
At just before noon, on a small side street a block from Brookline Village, an elderly man named Petr nearly fell down a set of steps leading from the lobby of his apartment building to the street. The steps were made of stone, and despite several entreaties from some of the more advanced-in-years tenants of the building, there had never been any sort of railing to brace oneself upon when descending. There were only five not terribly steep steps, and a railing would most certainly have an adverse effect on the simple elegance of the facade, so the building’s owner had refused to install one.
Every day, at around the same time, Petr would leave his apartment and walk the short distance to the Starbucks up the street, where he would meet with his friend Boris. They would spend a decent hour complaining about the price of the coffee, the weather, and whatever else might be worth complaining about, and then they would depart for their respective domiciles and spend the rest of the afternoon thinking of new complaints. It was one of the splendid aspects of getting old—one almost never ran out of things about which to complain, especially if one was intrinsically enamored of such a practice.
On this particular day, Petr arrived slightly late but with a fascinating story for Boris. It seemed that just as Petr tripped, fell, and was about to hit the sidewalk—where he would have, at least, broken his hip again—this young, burly fellow came out of nowhere and caught him. What was particularly odd was that the man had just parked his motorcycle before walking over to catch him. And as soon as he finished with the rescue, he got back on his bike again and drove off. It was as if the man had been there specifically to catch Petr.
Boris concurred that this was a most extraordinary event and then added that surely Petr would never have needed to rely on such evidently divine intervention if Petr’s landlord would just take better care of his tenants, and isn’t
an awful thing, as someone will surely break open their head on those steps one day. Petr agreed and added a few details of his own, loosely based on the parentage of his building’s owner. Both men smiled, and their day returned to normal.
* * *
At twenty-seven past three, at the corner of Myrtle and Irving, a Boston University student named Xue sped through a red light on her bicycle. Since she was about to be late for her chemistry class and was still several blocks away from the lab, she had decided the easiest way to go about getting there was to stop believing in red lights and hope for the best. Most of the time, traffic in the area moved slowly enough to make this a non-lethal decision, which was just the defense she would later use in explaining to the officers how her twelve-speed had ended up attached to the grille of a Poland Springs delivery truck.
Much more difficult was explaining to the police how it was that she was not also attached to said grille. Xue could not quite articulate, in English, the strange sight of a man on a motorcycle darting in front of her and the Poland Springs truck, plucking her off her bike, and setting her down in the center of the intersection before speeding off. Reconstructing the exact physics of the event uncovered certain impossibilities Xue didn’t know how to rectify. Because as far as she could tell, the man with the motorcycle came from the one side of the three-way intersection where there was no street. Later she would convince herself she had obviously been mistaken, but for just a little while she thought he must have been parked on the sidewalk and had darted out only then . . . and only to save her life. But that was silly.
* * *
Corrigan sat down at one of the outdoor tables set up in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Washington Street and sipped his coffee. It was nearly five in the evening, and his day was almost over, which was always worth looking forward to, even when the next day ended up the same as this one. And the day after that.
I used to enjoy this more,
he thought. Which was true. There was a certain pleasure to be had in saving the life or general well-being of a total stranger. But every day? For twenty years? If all you see each day is miracles, at some point they cease being miraculous.
Clearly, he was in a serious rut.
Maggie had something to do with this. Even knowing certain aspects of her personality would likely forbid any semblance of long-term monogamous happiness, it was still nice to imagine developing something that at least smelled like a normal adult relationship with her. Actually, it would be nice to do a lot of things. Like go places. He had enough money to disappear to some place exotic for pretty much as long as he wanted. The only thing stopping him was the job. And strictly speaking, he was a volunteer.
But like everything else in his life, it wasn’t close to being that simple.
Across the street a woman who wasn’t there limped along the sidewalk. She was limping because of the accident that crushed the left side of her body ten years ago, an accident Corrigan missed because he overslept. She woke him every morning for the next two years to make sure he never slept in again. And now she was walking down the street in front of him.
Corrigan Bain is going insane.
The ghosts didn’t used to come out during the day. And they didn’t used to show up at all unless he did something wrong. The last time he did
was four years ago. The last time he tried to quit.
At two minutes before five, a gorgeous BMW drove slowly past him. Slowly because that was the only way to drive on this part of Washington Street and also because the construction on the facade on the other side of the road took away one lane of traffic and bottlenecked everything that went by it. Corrigan stared at the car with unabashed envy. He had the kind of money that could afford something like that.
Or a Bentley
, he thought, although owning a Bentley in a city that got as much snow as Boston did was probably not a fantastic idea, not for year-round travel. If he owned a Bentley, he wouldn’t want it to get anywhere near road salt. No, that was the kind of car you moved to a more temperate climate to accommodate.
He sighed into his coffee. Visions of nice cars and nice boats, and Maggie Trent in a bikini in the nice car on the way to the nice boat swam through his head and depressed him immensely because it would never happen. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t figure out a way to stop saving people.
The woman with half a face who was not there stopped across the street and stared at him with her good eye. She was muttering something, but he never could quite understand what she had to say with part of her mouth gone, so he ignored her as well as he could.
They know I want to quit again,
They always know.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “They aren’t real. They aren’t there.”
The woman to his left reacted by edging away from him. In his future, Corrigan would turn to her and explain that he was talking about his ghosts and she needn’t worry. Her response would be a look of panic, so Corrigan decided he wouldn’t say this and turned back to the street and the BMW.
“Some angel I turned out to be,” he sighed.
He checked his watch. It was two minutes past five. The accident would happen soon and he still didn’t know whom he was there to save. Thankfully, the crowds weren’t too bad; the future wasn’t too messy.
Across the street a large woman in a blue blazer and knee-length skirt was walking underneath the construction site. It was one of those scaffolding deals, where the platforms that jutted out over the road also allowed for a walkway underneath. This walkway took pedestrians several feet into the street, with large cement dividers shooing them away from the closed storefront.
“There you are,” he said.
He got up from his seat, leaving behind the coffee cup he hoped would still be there when he was done, as even at Dunkin’ Donuts, the coffee was too expensive to give up on midway through.
Walking between cars that were moving so slowly they might as well be parked, Corrigan kept his eyes fixed on the woman’s progress through time. He could see her at the beginning, the midpoint, and the end of the scaffolding tunnel, and all points in between. If he concentrated on one spot he could see her at that particular moment in her future. Taken as a whole, she was a bluish blur of motion, as was everybody else around her.
he thought, except that these trails went forward.
At the end of the tunnel, her trail would be stopping when a large bag of something heavy falls on her.
Corrigan looked up. There was a man on the top of the scaffold. Over his shoulder was the bag—dry cement—and he was carrying it to the end of the scaffolding. In his future he would be shouting “Look out!” as the cement bag slips from his grasp and off the edge, right onto the back of the woman in the blue suit. Corrigan could already hear him shouting it and see the bag already falling, and there was a woman screaming, another woman to the left, near the burrito place. And Corrigan was running to the woman hit by the bag and kneeling down and pulling the bag aside.
“Not yet,” he grumbled. None of that had happened. All of it was about to happen. All of it was happening right now.
Corrigan reached the other side of the street and looked up again at the man with the bag. He was still moving toward the end of the scaffold, apparently unaware he’d reached the edge. He meant to drop the bag on the wood floor of the platform, not off the side, which was how the bag would end up on top of the woman. Corrigan opened his mouth to warn him of where he was standing—a much better solution than somehow tackling the large woman or perhaps catching the bag—but then the man with the bag . . . blinked. Not with his eyes—his whole body. An alternate possibility presented itself in midstream, and suddenly Corrigan wasn’t sure what to do.
Something was extremely wrong. Two futures were happening right in front of him, and in one, the man with the bag held onto it for another two seconds so that when it fell, it landed just behind the woman in the blue suit.
he thought, rubbing his eyes as if this would clear away the double future vision.
This isn’t right.
“Hey!” Corrigan shouted, no longer sure who he was shouting to, or if he had actually shouted at all. Only one of the men heard him, and it was the wrong one. The bag was dropped, the one doing the dropping shouting “Look out!” in horror at what was about to transpire. The competing future—in which nobody got hurt thanks to Corrigan’s warning—disappeared. As far as Corrigan was concerned that future had an equal claim on reality, but this time, for some reason, he wasn’t the one making that decision. All he could do was watch it as it folded up and faded away. For a half beat, Corrigan was left with just the present, which usually only happened when he had altered the future himself.
The woman in front of the burrito place started screaming.
“Oh, God,” he said.
He knelt down and lifted the bag off the heavy woman in blue.
“Can you move?” Corrigan asked. Behind him, he could hear somebody calling 911.
“My back . . .” the woman muttered.
“You’d better . . . try not to move, I guess,” he said. “I think an ambulance is on its way.”
The woman squeezed his hand, which Corrigan considered a good sign; maybe her back wasn’t broken. “What happened?” she asked. Her speech was mushy, which was less of a good sign.
“Something fell,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too,” she said, attempting a smile.
“I was supposed to be here to save you,” he said quietly. But the woman’s eyes had closed; she probably hadn’t heard him.
I just stood there and watched it happen
. Briefly, he thought he could smell gunpowder. It wasn’t real, just the remnant of a very old, very bad memory that tended to resurface whenever something went amiss on an appointment.