Chapter Twelve: Dredging
"Thanks, Desai, I knew I could count on you to say something uplifting."
"I was not intending to uplift you, I simply agreed with you."
"Sarcasm. I was being sarcastic."
"I don't have to notice it if I don't want to," Desai said comfortably. "What would you like to do next?"
"As usual, I don't know. Is there any way that I can get those Voices to leave me alone?"
"Do you know how irritating that kind of answer is?"
"But I don't have to notice it if I don't want to, right?" Roj grumbled.
Over Desai's shoulders and head, a light shimmer washed. There was no smile, per se, but all the same, Roj suspected that Desai thought he was being funny, and that the shimmer was the equivalent of a laugh.
She took heart from that thought. "Are you going to help me or not? No, forget that question, it's a 'yes or no' and all you'll do is provoke me some more. How can I get those Voices to leave me alone?"
"In time, they may, but you have to work at understanding why they feel drawn to you in the first place."
"I thought maybe you could tell me that, you know, since you have a lot more knowledge about being a spirit than I do."
"No, Roj. You have to find the answers within you."
"Please. This sounds like The Wizard of Oz, warmed over."
Desai shook his head. "This is not a stage play, or a fantasy, or a parable. You admitted that you listened to the Voices, ago in your life. I know when you began listening to the whispers, but my awareness does you no good. The healing begins when you yourself see the dirt that has accumulated in your house, and attempt to clean it."
"I did see the dirt, and I am trying to clean it up," Roj contested.
"You know that there is dirt, and you want to be cleansed, but until you can understand what the dirt was, you won't be able to surmount it."
Looking at the sky, Roj could tell it was something like midnight, but not already three in the morning. "Can I think about this while I play with Garrison's credit card?"
"Certainly. Do you wish for me to accompany you?"
"I'd feel a whole lot safer if you did. Those voices frighten me."
"I'm going to give you a clue to getting rid of your whispers. How do you ask for me to be present with you?"
Roj thought. "Pretty please?"
"How were you taught to ask, by your parents?"
Roj thought about her parents -- how had she forgotten them since she was dead? And how, when she was little, they had tucked her in at night, making her feel safe and protected. They had taught her a prayer ...
Oh, Guardian Angel,
Be at my hand,
On earth, in the skies,
On sea, or on land.
Guide me from sinning,
Enlighten my way,
Protect me from evil
By night and by day.
"Desai! Do you mean to say that you are my guardian angel?" Roj felt an explosion of delight, that made her want to dance and hop like a six year old. "That is so cool!" She poked him with what should have been a fingertip, to feel his reality.
"That does not give you the right or the reason to poke me," Desai said, removing himself from her vicinity before she began to squeeze him in an abandonment of joy. "Now ask."
She did so, pouring her heart into it.
"Try it again," said Desai in disgust. "And don't direct the prayer to me."
"It addresses you," she protested. "Doesn't it?"
"It addresses me, but prayer is not directed to me. The rhyme is simple, so that children can learn it, but one would expect an adult to understand that all prayer must be directed to the Most High."
Roj prayed the easy prayer again, this time focusing on asking God to keep Desai with her.
"Let's go," Desai declared. "And thank you for asking."
They leaped from the top of the building and flew to the precinct.
"First stop, Hennessey's desk," Roj declared, as they walked through the front doors of the building. "I need his address."
Hennessey, of course, was not there, being a day shift cop, but a young man with a pale complexion and a can of Red Bull was poking at the keyboard of Hennessey's computer, trying to figure out what had happened to all his files. "Blast it," Roj grouched. "With him there, how am I going to sift through his junk and find out where he lives?"
"His address is 374 Lincoln, Apartment 2C."
"Fine, forget Hennessey's desk for now." She shot up through the ceiling to Personnel on the third floor. Punching buttons on the computer whose operator she had spied upon, she watched the screen light. "Come on, come on, there we go, internet access. Let's go to Amazon.com."
"Your purpose with this exercise is ... "
"My purpose is to make Garrison think Hennessey isn't really to be trusted. Cut his confidence in his little cupcakes on the force. Get him on the defensive, maybe even on the run." She stopped typing and looked up at Desai. "You don't know my thoughts unless I tell you?"
"I know your thoughts only when you have spoken or acted upon them, but I do not anticipate you, or any events of choice."
"Sounds like double talk to me," she said, skipping to the electronics department of the huge internet store. "Hennessey would want ... what? Maybe a really big HDTV? Yes, of course, wouldn't we all, except those of us who are dead and who didn't watch much TV anyway.
"Hey, how did you know what Hennessey's address was?"
"I know what is," Desai said, puzzled.
"Does he have an air conditioned apartment?"
"No. He has no air conditioning. Does that make a difference?"
"Naturally. Hennessey wouldn't have an interest in diamond necklaces, but TV and air conditioning might make his life a lot more comfy." She typed in Hennessey's apartment as the delivery address, and the credit card number and security code, retrieved from behind the radiator.
"But wait! There's more! What should Mr. Garrison make available to Sgt. Costaine, that worthy soul? A lawn mower? A Cuisinart?"
"A moment." Desai held up a finger. "Ah. Sgt. Costaine wants out. A ticket to another country, preferably Australia, has been one of his fondest wishes. He is single, knows he's in far over his head, and wishes to flee."
"He's got it. I'll overnight him a ticket to Sydney, extra fee, but hey, he should even go First Class. I need his driver's license number, though. Umm, thanks. How do you know all this stuff?"
"I know what is. And I have ... connections."
"I suppose I understand that." She left Amazon.com. "And now we go to Walmart.com to order 100..."
"Make that 300," the angel pointed out.
"...300 canned hams for the homeless shelter. And twenty cases of disposable diapers for the Right to Life center. Fifty bags of dog food for the Modesto Animal Shelter. All of them with the appended message, 'Holiday Greetings from Thomas Garrison.'" Roj put the copies of Garrison's information away behind the radiator again.
None of the transactions had been declined, so Garrison had not reported his wallet or his cards missing. That was dumb, but maybe he was afraid that someone would find out some of his sleazy connections. Or he was sure that he had simply misplaced his wallet. Dumbass. Wait. If he reported that his wallet was missing -- if it was found, they might make copies of everything in it. Including the sheet of paper that had all those phone numbers on it, which she had stolen and stashed in the bottom of a personnel file drawer. He couldn't afford to have that happen, not if those phones were drug smugglers and thugs. So he'd just wait and see if his credit card statement showed spurious activity and contest those charges.
In the interests of throwing Personnel into more confusion, Roj dug Danny Chuster's file back out of the cabinet and strewed its contents across the floor, leaving the file drawer open. She erased her usage history from the computer she had used, but left it on, after opening Danny's file; the computer would go to 'stand by' after a few minutes, but the second the user touched the mouse -- his file would come up and there would be a flood of "Haunted Office" rumors.
There were still hours before the sun rose, and more until the chubby ladies of Personnel found their mysteries. Plenty of time to begin to think about what Desai had told her she had to do.
His clue was, What did your parents teach you?
The first religious thing they had taught her was the Sign of the Cross, guiding her hand and saying the words. "In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," and though she hadn't understood the meaning of the words in the least at two, or three, or four, she had known that the gesture had great import for her parents when they went to church.
Mostly she, as a child, had thought of church as a "Sit down, be quiet, don't jiggle" kind of place. The church smelled funny, of sweaty people in summer, of feet-smells, of nose-burning smoke at Easter and other random times. The best part of Easter Sunday was getting home from church and driving the smoky scent of church out of her head by the seductive odor of a chocolate bunny and delectable foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
That hadn't been a Voice, not really, though. That had been being a little child. Candy is a lot more attractive than just about anything else when you're little. Saying words you don't understand, kneeling and unable to see over the pew in front of you, sitting and listening to a man say more words you don't understand, people singing songs you don't know whose words you don't understand -- and no one actually explaining to you what was going on ... My parents didn't really explain anything to me about church, they just said we had to go, and be still and stop that and say "Amen" at the right spots. They were doing something they really didn't understand, or else they would have told me how important it was. I didn't know.
I tried not to fidget, and it was hard. We just sat there, or stood there, or knelt there, saying "Amen" a few times. My parents didn't sing with the songs, so I thought we weren't supposed to. When the start-up prayers were done, we got to sit down; when the readings were done, they collected money and envelopes and then we stood, and then knelt, and then stood, and then knelt, and then stood, and finally were released, free to go and play on Sunday afternoon.
Remembering, Roj saw the congregation again, in a generic blur, as it was when she was a child. The people were there, women in dresses, mostly; men in suits, some of them, but almost all of the men in nice shirts and slacks, everyone gazing towards the altar where the priest said holy words that no one else could say. There was a man standing near him, in the same green robes. Odd she'd never noticed him ... In this remembrance, Roj looked intently at the strands of belief that led from some, but not all of the congregation to the altar, from there, wrapping around the priest like glowing ropes, and from him to ... God?
I couldn't see it when I was a little kid. I couldn't see it when I was older, either.
Why not? She sank again into memory, of her seventh year of existence.