Fiction

Night Wind Rising - Part 1

By Reinaldo E. Grandal

Night Wind Rising"Well, I think the house is haunted," Clayton said.

The wind howled and I rubbed my forehead. "Let's go," I said. We got out of the car and stepped up to the Cape Cod's front door.

The house had been as impeccably kept as the neighbors', as normal a dwelling as could be expected in this suburban town. The fresh, white shingles, the tasteful black trimmings, the half-acre of groomed lawn, sculpted shrubs and flower gardens that embraced it, all told any passerby who cared to listen and believe that the house had been staid for many years and would be for many more, and that nothing out of the ordinary, much less anything as shaming or scandalous as a haunting could occur here. Not here.

I knocked. We waited. I felt a chill, set down my bag, pulled up the collar of my down vest and looked up at the evening sky. A veil of thick clouds was drawn across the full moon's face. I tried telling myself that the house would probably not be haunted, that I would be able to find an easy solution to whatever was occurring in this house and quickly get back to Rome; my intuition and unquestioning acceptance of the tenets of Murphy's Law told me not to count on it.

Vaughn opened the door slightly, sidearm drawn, toothpick cradled in the corner of his mouth. He gave us the once-over and silently ushered us in.

Ana Martinez sat on the living room sofa. Images of war in the Persian Gulf played across the television screen. As Martinez rose, Vaughn sat back down and returned his gaze to the set.

"Ramos King," I said, taking her hand.

She nodded. "Your room is down here," she gestured down the hall. "Lombardi will be here shortly." She had the classically severe Spanish look, with pale skin, intense black eyes and ebony hair drawn back into a tight bun. She might have been an Andalusian contessa.

"Thanks," I replied.

"Get settled. I will fix you a drink."

Clayton accompanied me halfway down the hall, stopped and looked up at me, fidgeting. "Excuse me," he said, going into the bathroom and shutting the door behind himself.

I went to the bedroom, closed the door behind me, laid my bag on the bed and paced to the window. Watching the Hudson's currents roll and tumble with noticeably increasing intensity, I found myself fascinated by the gothic forebodings of an oncoming storm until some small debris borne by the wind pinged off the glass and knocked me out of my reverie.

Stepping away from the window, I removed my vest and threw it on the bed. As I continued to stretch my legs, an odor seamlessly caught in my throat, a repulsive sweetness that reached down and twisted my innards. I gagged, coughed, had to inhale again, and it was gone. The temperature where I stood was noticeably lower than in the rest of the room. Goose bumps rose on my arms and legs. My testicles shriveled into me.

I looked around the room for a portrait or photograph because I felt the subject's eyes following me, scrutinizing me. There were none, but the feeling lingered. There was a taste of battery acid at the back of my tongue.

I withdrew from the "cold spot," sat on the edge of the bed and, seeing an ashtray on the night table, pulled the Marlboros from my vest pocket and smoked. This calmed me somewhat, gave me a haven outside of space and time to collect myself. When the feelings of overwhelming dread at last subsided, I went back down the hall and into the kitchen, where Ana Martinez handed me a vodka.

"Please sit down," she said, and I took a seat at the table. She put out her cigarette and paced before me. "What have they told you?"

"Lombardi and Clayton? That the place is a spook."

"I mean about me."

I shrugged. "Not much."

She nodded. "You are not an agent."

"I'm a consultant, a parapsychologist."

"Yes. Lombardi tells me you have been highly recommended by the Anglican Church and the Vatican. She showed me a paper you had submitted to the Society of Psychical Research. You maintain the existence of ghosts."

"Yes," I answered her cautiously.

"I do not believe in such things."

"Well, I'm beginning to," Lombardi said.

I turned as Jennifer Lombardi entered the kitchen.

Lombardi had rung me at my office in Vatican City more than a week ago, soliciting my assistance in what she termed "a matter of a haunted house" and, once I had agreed to help, informing me that Clayton would collect me at Kennedy. Now, I admired her. She was slim, with light brown hair that fell in loose curls over her shoulders, and her big, round glasses magnified the intensity and loyalty in her blue eyes. What most impressed me, though, was the Agency section chief's strictly-business approach to what anyone else in her position would at best have dismissed as esoterica.

"You noticed the cold spot in your room?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said without hesitation.

She poured herself a vodka and sat across the table from me. "There have been other occurrences." Something was knocking at the door to her unqualified cloak-and-dagger world. She needed someone objective to listen and not laugh at her, not dismiss the whispers and moans in the dark or the odor of decayed flesh or the light touch of cold, dead fingers on her bare shoulder in the still of the night as childishness. She needed someone to answer the knock at the door, open the door, look into the unforgiving stare of the dead and say to her, yes, you were right.

Martinez continued to pace. She absently played with a ring on her right pinkie, a thin silver affair set with a small onyx, but otherwise remained solidly in control of herself.

"The whispers," I started to ask Lombardi.

"Barely audible."

"Has anyone else experienced these things?"

"We all have," she answered. "Colonel Martinez and Vaughn dismiss everything."

"How much do you know about hauntings?" I asked.

"Only what I've read of your work."

Vaughn walked into the kitchen. He was tall and lanky, with light blond hair. He gave the impression that he was wound much too loosely for the spy business, yet one instinctively knew that his friendly blue eyes missed nothing. He found vodka, damned protocol and poured some into a glass.

"Do you know what poltergeist activity is?" I asked her.

"Vaguely."

I lit a cigarette. Martinez passed me the ashtray. "It usually involves adolescents, sometimes adults. Grief, guilt or anxiety build up mental energy in the person to such an extent that the energy manifests itself physically. It's called 'psychokinesis.' Dishes fly across the room, furniture moves by itself. The manifestations are sometimes striking. It's a purely physical phenomenon that doesn't involve spirits. Once the source of the psychological upset is dealt with the disturbances cease."

Martinez stopped pacing. "Who here would have such guilt?" she asked.

Lombardi swallowed some vodka. "You had quite a history before you decided to defect, lady," she smirked, looking directly into Martinez' eyes.

Martinez remained coolly silent.

I remembered the smattering of background information I had received concerning Martinez, formerly Colonel Ana Martinez de la Cruz, hard core Party member, confidant and advisor to the Great Bearded Wonder. She had been only fourteen when she had led Castro's executioners to one of the gusanos who had provided theinitial information that had led to our confirmation of Soviet missile sites in Cuba. His name was Constantino Martinez Lopez. Her father.

Lombardi turned to me. "How quickly can you ascertain whether the house is actually haunted?"

"I'm having some instruments brought here from Duke University. They won't be here for several days."

"What can you do in the interim?"

I thought for a moment and answered, "We'll need a medium to perform a seance."

"Oh shit, Lombardi," Vaughn exclaimed.

We ignored him. "I've never performed a seance, nor am I able to. I don't have the talent. But I know who can help us," I said.

"Why don't we just relocate her?" Vaughn suggested calmly.

"Fucking right," Clayton said as he entered the kitchen. He removed his glasses to wipe them with his necktie, and I saw that the brown skin of his brow was dotted with tiny beads of perspiration which I did not bother to attribute to the building humidity. Here was a believer.

"We stay put until we figure this thing out..." Lombardi began.

"We've already combed the house and property," Clayton protested. "We know security hasn't been breached. The place is definitely haunted."

Saying nothing, I rose, went to the telephone, picked up the receiver and dialed.

Lombardi remained composed. "We're stuck here until a new identity's set up for her, anyway." Her voice was condescending.

"What's this 'we' business, Chief?" Clayton countered. "You're not stuck anywhere."

"I shouldn't be holding your fucking hand, Clayton." As I waited for someone to pick up, I watched Lombardi start to lose her patience. Martinez seemed amused. "But I've told you I'd see it through, and I intend to."

"I surely regret that this bullshit ceremony is necessary," Vaughn drawled.

I couldn't help thinking that the feeling was mutual.

After several rings, someone answered, "Hello."

"Julio," I responded, "this is Ramos King. I require a session."

"Where?" he asked.

I gave him the address.

After several moments he simply said, "Tomorrow evening. Nine-thirty."

I looked at Lombardi. "Nine-thirty, tomorrow evening? No sooner?"

"No sooner."

"Agreed." I hung up.

I finished my drink and left the glass on the table. "It's late."

Martinez clasped her hands behind her. "Rest well." Her face was set like steel. An expert poker player would have envied her.

"Goodnight," I said.

"Goodnight."

When I entered my room, I hesitated. I slowly approached the "cold spot" and felt nothing. Relieved, I sat on the edge of the bed and smoked.