Sunday, December 26, 2004

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Eight

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to earlier installments are at the bottom of each entry.

Part Eight: Ghosts

“Listen,” I said. “You can shoot me if you want to, but it won’t do anyone any good. “You can’t hurt me. You’ll only damage the wall behind me, and cost the University some money.”

“We have no intention of shooting you if you cooperate,” the female cop said. “Are you Christopher Joel Stein?”

“I was,” I said. It wasn’t a terribly honest or helpful thing to say, but it was partly true. The name belonged to another life, the one in which I studied physics and didn’t walk through walls or start fires with my fingertips. Syracuse didn’t seem real to me any more. It was a place to be observed and manipulated, like the mental playground of a lucid dream. Part of the game I meant to play involved keeping the cops off balance, and getting them out of the room so that Harry and Jerry could get into it.

The male cop stared at me, probably noticing, as Jerry had earlier, that I was more translucent than solid. “What do you mean, you were?” he asked. “You’re not a ghost or something, are you?” The female cop looked startled by her partner’s question. Then she, too, stared at me.

“Not exactly,” I told them, “but close enough.”

“Well, are you dead?” the male cop asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m just not quite here.”

“Then where are you?” the female cop asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe I’m in Schrödinger’s catbox. Some state of quantum uncertainty, anyway. Hey, I’m getting tired of thinking of you as ‘the male cop’ and ‘the female cop.’ What shall I call you?”

The two cops looked at each other warily before answering. “This is Officer Farrell,” said the male cop. “I’m Officer Hennigan.”

“John Hennigan? Sean Hennigan? Angus Hennigan? Thomas Murphy Hennigan?”

Hennigan threw back his shoulders a little. “Tim Hennigan. Sergeant.”

“And I’m Officer Cynthia Farrell. Cindy.”

I smiled at them. “Pleased to meet you. My name, as you know, is Chris Stein, but you can call me Josh.”

(Although we never really became friends, I eventually got to know both of these people rather well. Cindy was fond of mushroom quiche, spinach salad and the O’Jays. Tim preferred sirloin and strawberries from Ponderosa Steak House, and the musical stylings of P.D.Q. Bach.)

“Enough with the pleasantries,” Hennigan said. “You’re wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Dr. Rachel Grayson.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard,” I said. “I’ll tell you what you want to know, but there are things I want in return.”

“You’re in no position to make demands,” Cindy Farrell said. “I think you need to come with us downtown.”

I shook my head. “Can’t,” I said. “Not unless we go on foot. The physics of my situation won’t allow me to ride in a police car.” It occurred to me that I hadn't made adequate arrangements to meet my friends later, in case my interaction with the police proved to be more than a brief diversion. Oh, well.

“Why can't you ride in a police car?” Tim Hennigan asked.

“It can’t carry what it can’t touch,” I explained. “Besides, I’d rather go to the lab. Are you coming?” With that, I walked right past the dumbfounded police officers and out the door, into the 11th floor corridor of Brewster Hall. Not knowing what else to do, they followed me. As I'd hoped, they didn't take the time to lock the door behind them.

Oh, yeah, that was fun. It didn’t occur to me until later that I’d come down with a slight case of insanity.

Jerry and Harry were just coming up the hall. “You know what I’m going to miss about this place?” I said loudly, ostensibly to the cops. “Rock and roll. I can live without the Stones if I have too, and even the early Beatles and ex-Beatles. But I’d hate to think that I’ll never hear Revolver or Abbey Road again.”

Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes at me as I walked past him.

“This is absurd,” Farrell said ruefully, as she and her partner hurried after me. “Nothing about this guy makes sense!”

“Well, it makes a kind of sense, but only in context,” I told her, “and you don’t know the context yet.”

“There is no context that could explain all this,” Hennigan said.

“Maybe not to you,” I said, “but it makes sense to me.” We had reached the end of the hall. Fire doors stood between me and the stairs. “Listen, I can’t use elevators, either. But you can follow me down the stairs if you like. Or you can take the elevator, and I’ll meet you in the first floor student lounge. Your choice.” Not waiting for an answer, I walked through the metal door, which clanged open behind me. Good. I set myself at a downward angle and started walking again. My trajectory mostly had me walking on empty air over each step.

“How are you doing that?” Farrell asked. I paused and looked back. She was perhaps eight steps behind me. Hennigan was two steps ahead of her.

“I’m not sure, but it works. Don’t worry about it. Look, I don’t know how long I’ll be here before I disappear again, and I have things to do in the meantime. You want to know what happened to Rachel, and an explanation about what happened to me that doesn’t sound completely insane. Am I right?”

“For starters, yes,” Farrell said.

“And I want to tell you these things. I’d like to hold a press conference, or at least issue a statement. Do you think you can arrange that?”

“We want a police statement,” Hennigan said. “We are not your publicists.”

“Fine. I’ll do it without you. Where’s Grayson?” I said.

“What do you want with Grayson?” Hennigan asked suspiciously.

“Are you planning to kill him, the way you killed his wife?” Farrell asked.

An angry voice replied. “What is wrong with you people? Haven’t you ever heard of epilepsy? Or waiting for autopsy results?”

I heard those three questions, the same as those cops evidently did. I thought they were great questions, but I didn’t say them. Nevertheless, the words come out of my mouth.

The voice that said them was Rachel’s.

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