Search for a Soul
Thurston heard the bed springs squeak and footsteps before Debtra opened the door.
"What's going on in there?" Thurston looked past his student to see a red-faced and suspiciously rumpled Thom standing in the room.
"Absolutely nothing." With a cool glance behind her, Debtra stepped into the hall and crossed her arms. "What's going on with you?"
The question brought Thurston back from his shock at seeing his student in a potentially compromising situation. It could have been nothing, but the dried tears on her cheeks and the detective's abashed expression told him otherwise.
"I'll tell you as we walk," he said. "I went to see an old friend, and he had been attacked for the device I was afraid had been used this morning."
"When was he attacked?" asked Thom.
"Early this morning."
"Did he call the police?"
Thurston glanced sideways at the detective to watch his reaction to, "No, when I got to his office, he was in pieces. Literally."
Thom stumbled over his own feet. "What?"
"He's an Old Soul, and a manifestation like me and Debtra. Ordinary trauma won't kill him, but it's a testament to his age that he wasn't more badly hurt. He seemed to mend pretty quickly after I put him back together."
"So why are we going to the Lancaster house?" Thom asked.
"Because I went to the morgue after I left Forsyth." He told them how he had snuck in through a side door and had found the body on a slab. He didn't mention how he had managed to get the door unlocked using psychokinetic energy or had befuddled the night tech and guard into leaving the room to order a pizza. Those were things that Old Souls couldn't do.
"Did you figure out the cause of death?" Thom looked straight ahead, but Thurston could see the tension in his jaw.
Debtra gasped. "How?"
"Remember how I told you the statue-prisons were made? When Maximilian, the prisoner, was released from the statue, his spirit absorbed into the closest sentient thing he could find, which was Lancaster. He passed through the body and took Lancaster's soul with him because he was still in an unbalanced energy state, like oxygen picks up free hydrogen to become water, but on a much smaller, subatomic energy level."
"What's that going to do to Lancaster?" asked Thom. "Can you un-merge him?"
"I don't know," said Thurston, "but I'm going to try. The sooner we can find him, the easier it will be."
The lights in the house were off, and the full moon reflected like a blank stare in the windows. Thurston would have been able to tell that death had visited the house even if he hadn't already known. Grief had physical and metaphysical energy, and the darkness hung closer to the building, dampening the loving aura of the couple who had lived there and making it harder to detect the merged soul, should it be there.
Of course, the newly-born energy of unrequited lust that thrummed through the car also obscured Thurston's Otherworldly sight. Sure, he noted the whimper of hurt at the back of his mind – had it only been that morning that he'd been excited by Debtra's body pressed close to his? – but his logical self asserted it was for the best that she find someone else. No matter how old one was, or how respected, it just wasn't a good idea to mess around with one's students.
Thom shut off the engine and looked at the dark house. "I don't see anything out of the ordinary."
"It's Debtra's talents that I need right now," Thurston said more curtly than he'd intended.
"Yes, Professor?" The tone of her voice told him that she was upset. Time to distract her.
"Look for an extra element to the darkness. If the marriage was as loving as the widow claimed, the spirit will be drawn to its home. A confused soul will try to return to what it loves most when freed from its body, and I suspect Lancaster is stronger than Max at this point, although that may change."
Thom added, "But what then? I can't arrest a soul!"
Thurston smirked at the mental image. "I'll try to separate it. Hopefully the two essences aren't truly fused, but merely tangled, like two balls of yarn that have been shaken together in a bag, as the Splitter was set to release the spirit, but not to rejoin it to anything."
Thom opened the windows, and they watched. A warm breeze carried the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle from nearby. Debtra tilted her head, her eyes wide. Thurston caught himself looking at the pale curve of her throat framed by her dark, satiny hair, and he noted that if he'd been the blood-sucking type, she'd be in trouble. He pressed his lips together. She was his student, he reminded himself. An ethics student! And Savedra was missing. The pain that came with that thought chased his attention from Debtra's neck.
After an hour, Debtra whispered, "I can't sense anything beyond the grief that covers the house, Professor."
"Likewise," Thurston said. He ran his left thumbnail under his fingernails. "Perhaps we should check the place where he died in case Max prompted him to go back there, and the statue was of his great-uncle."
The park was likewise empty of loose souls. The trio's only company the wind and a stray dog who paid no attention to them once it figured out that they had no interest in the discarded bagel it gnawed on.
"What now?" Thom asked after twenty minutes.
Debtra looked at Thurston, who felt the need to come up with a brilliant idea. Damnit, he was oldest, he should be wisest as well!
"I'm at a loss," he admitted.
Thom kicked at a loose pebble. "What kind of criminal was in that monument, Professor?"
Thurston looked at the handheld device. "His name was Maximilian Sharp, a petty thief with one impulse murder during his last crime. The judge decided that his behavior had become unpredictable and dangerous enough for this kind of incarceration, particularly considering he had broken parole numerous times."
"What was the crime?" asked Thom. "Maybe he had unfinished business related to it and is driving the combo soul."
"He stole some jewels and killed a security guard. He claimed he was innocent of the murder, but the evidence was compelling."
Thom held up a finger. "Let's get back to the theft. What kind of jewels?"
Thom nodded. "I think I know where they are!"
Thurston followed Thom to the car, Debtra close behind. "What do you mean?"
"Lancaster's business was a huge jewelry store chain! He specialized in sapphires. He bragged on his commercials how he would go to Thailand to find the best ones."
Debtra clapped her hands. "Thom, that's brilliant! It's something that both souls would be drawn to."
Thurston cleared his throat. "Yes, good work. Take us to the first store, or the biggest, wherever you think Lancaster's spirit would go." He looked away from Debtra's proud smile. He really shouldn't care that he hadn't figured it out even though they had mentioned the sapphire detail that morning, but it stung that he'd been out-thought by a human, likely a new soul only a fraction of his age. He should've guessed that Gurney had assigned Thom to him for more than just chauffeuring.
"I think it'll be the flagship store downtown." Thom started the car. "It's only about a mile from here."
"While we drive, you can ponder the next question, assuming you're right about the first."
"Which is…?" asked Debtra. "We know how Maximilian was freed, and now where he's gone. Don't we just need to find and capture him?"
"Ah, but there's the question of motive, as the good Detective here could tell you if he'd thought of it."
"Right," said Thom. He scratched the back of his neck. "I hadn't really. I figured he'd gotten someone to let him out."
"With a very dangerous device that hadn't been used in over a hundred years and that was acquired at great risk to someone. Forsyth had that safe triple-spelled and seated in an orthogonal dimension. But why was a petty thief with only one serious crime the one to be released? That is the question, and I hope he has the answer."
Author's note: Hubby and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary last Saturday. On Sunday, we treated ourselves to an anniversary lunch at Le Vigne, the restaurant at Montaluce Vineyards. Dessert was chocolate cake with marshmallow creme and a glass of Dolce:
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