Sunday, July 15, 2018

Debunked! - 1998

“Hey, Ms. Gardeen, Andrew Bassen here, I wanted to see if I could get a reading this afternoon if you can see me,” said a worried young male voice. 
I hesitated for a moment and I was not exactly sure why.  At the behest of my husband Jess, I had started doing personal readings so I could use my talents as a bridge between doing the TV appearances and connecting with individuals who needed my help one-on-one. I was starting to make a name for myself as a medium on a national level – getting booked on Montel regularly and the Today Show for New Year’s Eve.  I unlike a lot of other mediums, I charged only $90 per reading which was not a huge sum of money because I wanted to remain accessible to a wide variety of people. My calendar was now getting full and these instant requests were getting harder to fill.  There was also a disquieting sound in this man’s voice which gave me pause. 

“I’ll pay you double or triple your usual rate, please!” he begged. 
“That’s not necessary,” I replied.  “I can fit you in around 12:30 if that works for you – otherwise it will have to be in a few weeks.”
“No, 12:30 is fine, thank you!”

I put down the phone and felt a little uneasy.  When people are that insistent, they generally expect me to give them a revelation that will make all their problems go away and it’s never that simple.  The first thing I do when reading someone is to check my bullshit meter.  Am I projecting my own thoughts or issues into the reading? Am I trying to make a connection that’s not there?  I then open myself up to the entity that wants to come through.  Sometimes they are right there - behind or in front of the person and sometimes they are just in my mind’s eye – it depends on the spirit and how they want me to perceive them.

 I generally try to make statements based on the information I’m getting from the other side rather than ask leading questions.   I try to be specific – for instance - “Roger says you both used to hide out in the middle school athletic building to avoid Mr. Baker your PE teacher – does that sound right?” rather than “Did you have a friend with the first name of R who you used to play with?”  My clients are generally amazed at my accuracy.  I also don’t try to drag out the information into multi-sessions to get them to come back and give me more money.  I feel that’s unethical.  It’s their information – I’m just a conduit that provides it to them. 

But along with the sincere people who just want those last answers from those who have passed there are those that want to expose all mediums as fakes no matter what.  I get it – nothing calls out to heaven for vengeance like someone exploiting grief for personal gain.  I also know that some “psychics” use the power of elimination and rapid-fire questions to figure out what the person is looking for, then tell them what they want to hear and take their money.  I’m always very clear in my intentions and if the person I’m talking too did not get the answers they need – they don’t have to pay me.  At this point, I’ve done about 200 readings and no one has asked for their money back. 

It was 12:20 when Andrew arrived.  He was a young man in his 20’s, with a slight build, short blond hair and blue eyes which tried to be earnest but there was a cynicism that he could not hide.  I offered him a something to drink which he declined and I had him just talk to me casually as I got my tea ready.  I assured him the clock on his session would not start until we were both sitting at the table and he could ask me questions directly.   As he fidgeted with a thread on his shirt while I made tea and small talk – I noticed an older woman apparition standing behind him trying to calm him down.  It seemed like she was used to this.  She looked at me and smiled dolefully.  I think she knew what he was going to ask and was pretty sure he was not going to like the answer.   I’ve found that like therapists, folks generally know the answers, they just want confirmation.

We sat down at the round mahogany table in my office.  I asked Andrew to close his eyes if he was comfortable doing that and to breathe deeply.  I also took out a tape recorder and told him that I would record our session and give him the tape which he could keep.  He looked surprised at this and seemed to relax a little.  He kept his eyes open – carefully fixing them on me and took a short breath while I took a long one.  The older woman put his hand on his shoulder.
“Just so that you know – I’ll relay the information as I get it and from those that come through.”
“Okay, sounds good,” he replied uncertainly.
   “There is an older woman near you – about 70 years old, short and
heavy set – wearing a blue dress with a rose broach.  She’s showing me hand full of M&Ms – does that mean anything to you?”
Andrew looked surprised – I guess I had seen something which rattled him a bit.
“My grandma used to give me and my brother M&Ms, actually sneaked them to us when my mom was in the kitchen making dinner.”
The old woman turned to me and talked directly with a slight Hungarian accent.  
“I’m Ella – but my grandchildren called me Grand Ella.  His mother was a terrible cook and rarely let me into her kitchen.  You know how competitive the women can be – especially daughter and Mother-in-laws.  I would come by and leave a casserole from time-to-time but those poor boys never got a decent home cooked meal and she never allowed sweets into the house,” she said touching the top if his head.  Andrew batted at his hair like he felt a bug that he was trying to swat away.
“She’s telling me her name is Grand Ella and that your mom is not a great cook and that she used to bring a casseroles by – that your mother felt competition from her.”
Andrew looked more uncomfortable – which was normal.  It’s one thing for him to know about the conflicts at home it’s another for a stranger to get that information from beyond and relay it.   
“Yeah, they had issues. Is there anyone else there with her?” he asked carefully.
At this the old woman looked sad and disappointed. 
“He wants to hear from his father but my son is not dead.  My son left his family – his wife and two sons because he was afraid – afraid of responsibility – afraid to love someone unconditionally.  In my daughter-in-law’s eyes, he was literally dead to her and that’s what she told her sons.  She wanted them to look up to their father and respect why she married him which I appreciated but it was a fantasy – he was not what she said he was.  He left me as well – maybe I was not a good mother.  I tried to make it up to my grandchildren.  They were all I had.  Vera – his mother – would let me visit but generally she would leave so I could babysit but she had a hard time looking at me.  She felt I was the reason he left.  But she was wrong – I was happy when they married.  I wanted him to settle down, but he couldn’t, he just couldn’t,” she looked down and started to cry. 
“He left for another woman – we fought that night and he vowed to never see me again.  He didn’t come to see me on my death bed – he knew but he stayed away.  Vera was there - she was the one who loved me in the end,” she broke down in sobs.
I took a deep breath and tried to size up the information I was just given.  This was probably NOT what he had been expecting.
“I’m not sure how to tell you this or even if you want to know this,  your grandmother just gave me some information about your father –“
“Yes, what is it?   Please I have to know how he really died!” he said insistently.
I took another breath and told him what I knew.
“Your father is not dead – he left you and your brother when you were both very young.  Your mother told you he was dead because it was easier and she wanted you to look up to a male figure.  He also had a falling out with your grandmother and never saw her again either - even when he knew she was dying – he stayed away.  Your mother was there at her side.  She loved your grandmother and that gave her some comfort.  I’m so sorry you had – “
“LIAR, you are a fake and a LIAR,” Andrew yelled.  “All you psychics are liars.  That’s not true!  It can’t be – my father died in a car crash on his way home from a business trip – he loved us – my mother told me – told us – he was a good man.”
“Okay, I’m sorry that you found out this way –“
“I’m going to call her – I’m going to call my mother and she’s going to expose you as the fraud you are – I knew it –I fucking knew it!” he took his phone out triumphantly, turned his Nokia on and quickly dialed a number.
His grandmother tried to calm him but placing her hand on his shoulder but he instinctively jerked it away.   He looked at me with his eyes flashing.
“You’ll never take another dime from another poor sucker!  You people are all alike- fucking thieves and I have the audio -“ he shouted as he pointed to the tape recorder.   I tried to stay calm but he was getting so agitated that for the first time since doing readings, I felt that my personal safety was in danger.
“Hey Mom, I’m putting you on a speaker,” he said as he plugged a little box into his phone. “I’m here with a so-called psychic and I tried to contact Dad and she has the audacity to tell me that he’s not dead.  Tell her she’s full of bullshit!” he said with an angry but vindicated smile.
There was a pause on the other end and a sigh.  Andrew looked at me and the phone.
“Mom, are you there?  Tell her how Dad died,” he said as his confidence started to waiver.
“Andrew – take me off the speaker phone – NOW!”
“No, I want her to hear it – to hear the truth!”
“Andrew, stop it – this is not one of your magic shows – you need to stop now –“
“Tell her he’s dead.  She needs to be exposed as the fraud she is-“
“Dammit Andrew – your father is not dead – I lied to protect you and your brother-“
“Wait, what?” Andrew’s face looked like that of a young boy who just found out the truth about Santa and the Easter bunny at the same time.
“Take me off speaker so that we can talk,” she said softly. 
Andrew took the little speaker off the phone and stood in the corner of my outer office and spoke to his mother quietly.  I could tell by his shoulders that he was starting to cry. 
“But what are you going to tell Randy?  He idolized Dad and it was all a lie?”
I prayed that Andrew unlike his father would still have a relationship with his mother.  My stomach was getting tighter.  I felt for the poor young man, not sure if he should have ever found out the truth.  
He got off the phone, kept his back turned to me and wiped his eyes.  He kept his head down and took a deep breath.  He started to chuckle in a weird tone.  He then turned to me - his blue eyes flashing. 
“You must have guessed right,” he said.  “Hell even a broken clock is right twice a day.  You got lucky this time –“
I saw his grandmother fly over to protect me – even she was not sure what he would do next.   I glanced at the items around me to see if I could use any of them to defend myself if it came to physical violence. 
“I’m sorry this was not the answer that you expected. You don’t have to pay me – you can just go-“
“Oh great – I don’t have to pay you for ruining my life.  Thanks so fucking much!” he said as he started to move towards me with his fists clinched.
His grandmother moved in front of me as he advanced.  She knocked the phone out of his hand.
“What the fu-“ he started to say.
Just then she started to pull books off the shelves that lined my office
and they fell to his feet.   Both he and I looked startled.  I didn’t think the old ghost was capable of what she was doing but she was equally angry. 
“YOUNG FOOL!” she shouted and I could tell by his sudden reaction that he heard it as well. 
“I don’t know how you are doing this – but I’m not impressed.  Probably some springs on the bookcase.  I’m not one of your fucking rubes. Stop it now!” Andrew insisted trying not to show his fear.
“YOU ARE TOO PROUD – THIS WOMAN TRIES TO HELP AND YOU MOCK HER.  I LOVED YOU ANDY AND THIS IS MY THANKS?  GO TO YOUR MOTHER AND TELL HER YOU LOVE HER!” his grandmother bellowed as if all her fury at her son was manifesting now towards her grandson.

“You must think I’m pretty stupid.  This is all a lie – to trick me but I must admit your production values are pretty good,” he started to laugh in a weird high pitched tone.  He started to walk over the books toward me – his face flushed with rage.

Just then I heard the door to my outer office open.
“Hey babe, I was wondering if you wanted to get some lunch,” my husband Jess said as he saw Andrew from behind walking slowly up to me his hands opening and closing and the frightened look on my face. 
“Sophia, what the hell?” 
Andrew turned and saw Jess as I was backing away.   I stumbled over the chair falling back to the floor.  Jess, who used to be a sprinter in college, literally leapt between us.
“Hey tell your yard boy to back off,” Andrew said thinking that because Jess was black – he was the hired help.  That remark along with the sense that I was in danger sent my usually mellow husband into grizzly bear mode who was capable of mauling any one who would come near me.
“Get the fuck away from my wife!” Jess said using all of his 6’2” frame to tower over Andrew.

Andrew looked like someone had thrown cold water in his face.  His skin was mottled and red - his eyes holding back more tears.  He backed off. 
“I am not WEAK!” he yelled back to his grandmother and then centered himself.  His anger was fading and now he just looked like a lost little boy who was trying his best to not let on how scared he really was.
“You need to get out of here now before I call the cops!” Jess said in a quiet menacing growl that I had never heard before as he helped me up off the ground.

Andrew looked down and then realized that the tape was still running. The entire episode had been captured on audio.  He seized the tape recorder triumphantly. 
“Here I have evidence – that she’s a fraud!” he said holding up the device which was still recording.
“Evidence of your mother telling you that I was in fact right about your dad or the evidence of your grandmother speaking from beyond.  Or the racist remark you made toward my husband. Take your pick - please use it so I can be proved right!” I said.  Now that I was on my feet, I wanted to punch the crap out of this arrogant little shit. 

Andrew realized that I had snatched victory from his jaws and looked angry again. 
“You will not prevail – I will spend my life proving that you are a fake -that all mediums are fakes just like Houdini.   I don’t know how you knew what you did and how you replicated Grand Ella’s voice but it was a sham – I will unmask you and expose your tricks!”
He took out something the size of an egg and threw it down on the ground – it let off a puff of smoke.  My guess would be so he could escape out the front. But the smoke started to clear and we saw him struggling to open the office door.  He threw out another smoke screen in which he managed to get out the door but we heard him coughing as he left the building.   It was so absurd, Jess and I started to laugh out of relief.  Our laughter died down and we began to feel the severity of what had just happened.
“Sophia, that guy was a total nut job – are you okay?” he said looking serious and holding me close to him.
“Yes, just a little shaken up,” I replied.
“You need to cancel the rest of your appointments – I don’t want you doing this anymore.”
“Jess, I can’t just cancel – some of the people seeing me today traveled a long distance to meet me.  If I stop seeing people suddenly, it will get out to the press and that Andrew person will have gotten what he wants, I’m not giving into that asshole!”
“Then get an office in my building, there’s a security guard in the front – a coffee shop and I know how you love your coffee,“ he said as he smoothed my hair down to calm me.
“That is so sweet my clientele like coming to a non-discrept place that is private.  An office building where they would have to sign-in is not private and then there are all those office people around and their dead relatives might come through –I’d get overloaded –“
“Okay, okay - but no more seeing your clients alone.  I don’t have any more appointments today so I’ll call the office and finish my proposal from here.  I brought my laptop so I can work on getting you an assistant who is also a linebacker,” he said as he turned my face to his and kissed me.  The warmth of his chest and lips were comforting.  I wished that I didn’t have more clients because I loved these quiet moments between us.  In a weird way, I was grateful that we were having this time together. Grandma Ella watched us and smiled. 

“My Andrew will probably be back. I’m sorry Miss Sophia.  I will try to keep - to keep him away but he is a stubborn boy and as you can see not the magic man he fancies himself to be – the ‘Incredible Andy’ he calls himself. He has a hard time realizing he is wrong.”   She nodded to me and faded out.
Jess and I ordered pizza and put my office back in order before my next client - a single mother who was trying to get closure on her mother’s death in a car accident.  Much to Jess’ chagrine, I would not charge her either. I knew that reading would be difficult but worthwhile – she truly needed to be able to say good-bye and know how much her mother loved her.
As I started to close the shades around my office at the end of the day, I saw Andrew across the street just looking at the office.  He saw me, waved and then took out another smoke bomb.  This time he actually managed to disappear.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Lioness Kills Tonight

“Wow, they finally got a decent piece of ass to help hunt down my killer – nice t*ts sweetheart!” a husky voiced ghost said as I got out of my car to look at the crime scene.  I rolled my eyes trying not to acknowledge the crudeness of his remark. 

“Hey Sophia, thanks for coming on such short notice, I know how busy you are,” said Tony DeMaria a young detective who had used me from time-to-time despite the ribbing he got from his fellow officers.  Tony was a muscular thirty-something detective with a Brandoesque profile and a lock of untamed hair that always seemed to fall into his eyes.  He would call me when he was having a hard time figuring out a case.  While his co-workers would not admit it, they were stumped as well and could use a little supernatural help.  Knowing the fragile male ego as I did, I would try to offer some advice and leads which they could pursue to help them solve their cases.  I would then sneak back into the woodwork not really wanting any credit or acknowledgement – the fact that the killer was stopped was enough for me.  The police departments that I worked with appreciated my discretion. 

I walked toward the body of a man who was once a restaurant manager.  His torso was bloody and looked like it had been ripped open.  There were claw and bite marks around his face and scratches on his hands where he tried to defend himself. There was a cover of a DVD of the movie Born Free by his feet. The once warm blood was slowed by the coolness of the cement floor beneath us and it made a deathly Rorschach test.  It was a rainy night in Georgia and cold for a mid-March evening.  We all had to speak up as the rain hit the tin roof of the Catina causing it to sound like small pebbles ricocheting over our heads.  Despite the fact that it was a Mexican restaurant, the deceased was a man named John Bull, a red-headed 50-something whose white neatly pressed oxford shirt was now ripped and covered in blood, bone and flesh fragments.  He had lorded over a motley crew of cooks, servers and dishwashers.  The musky smell of old grease, tacos and dish water still hung in the air.

“We figured he’s been dead for about three hours, rigor has set in in the face and down the arms,” explained Tony.  A waitress found him when she came back to get her car after going out with the rest of the crew and saw the back door open.”

“It looks like some sort of animal attack but why is there a DVD cover by the feet?”  I said feeling a little weak – generally the crime scenes I go to are mostly gunshot wounds and a bit more cut and dried.   

“That’s the weird thing Sophia – this is the second crime scene like this we’ve looked at.  If they were in the same neighborhood it would be one thing but they happened 30 miles and a month apart.  We had an animal expert look over the last victim and she’s on her way to look at this one as well. She was pretty sure the last one was some type of big cat attack.”

“So you think a wild animal did this but the crime scenes are similar – that’s interesting,” I replied.

“Wow sweetie, you have a wonderful grasp of the obvious – I got something else you can grasp,” the gravelly sounding ghost said as he leered at me.

There was one fact that only I could grasp at this point and it was that the man speaking to me was not the newly dead general manager.  He was also in his 50’s but over six feet, chubby and wearing an expensive Italian suit.  His attempt at an edgy 5 o’clock shadow just made his face look unkempt and his closely cut hair had traces of gray in it.  He seemed like someone who had aspired to a higher level of sophistication but it never really covered the fact that he was a common letch. I tried not to address him directly because those around me would not understand my otherworldly communication, so I asked Tony a question that the ghost might answer as well.

“Was there a man, heavier in his 50’s, expensive Italian suits who was killed in the same manner?” I inquired.

“Holy sh*t, yes.  Kurt Von Stobben, the producer/director was the first victim,” Tony replied astonished.  

“They left my autographed copy of Lion in Winter next to my body like that that’s supposed to be some type of f*cking joke.  The god-damned cat jumped me from behind – letting out a roar and ripping my heart out – I mean I saw it rip open my chest and eat my heart right before I died – but someone was with her – must have been a woman -  I’d know Channel No. 5 anywhere!” said Kurt who was starting to get more agitated then he already was.

“There was an autographed copy of the play Lion in Winter left by the body which was torn open like this victim and the heart was ripped out.  There’s the possibility the animal had a woman as a trainer wearing Chanel No. 5– maybe she commanded the attack,” I replied trying to relay information as fast as I was getting it to prevent Kurt from stirring up a paranormal sh*t storm that might destroy evidence.

The rest of the officers who had been working the scene stopped and just looked at me.  Either Kurt was playing me and what I just uttered was completely false or I had nailed it and they didn’t know what to think.  I hoped it was the latter.  There were a few beats of silence which was always unnerving no matter how many times I experienced it when I let loose with a revelation. 

“Jesus freaking Christ, that’s spot f*cking on!” shouted Tony as he high fived me and looked at his co-workers for validation.   “The weird animal attack and the lion paraphernalia seem to show a pattern – these are not random incidents.  The press only reported that Kurt had been attacked by some type of animal and we left it at that.”

“Have you had a chance to question to the young lady who found Mr. Bull?” I asked. 

“We talked when we first got in, she was pretty hysterical understandably. If you want to talk to her, I’ll sit with you.  She might feel more comfortable if a woman is sitting in anyway.”
Tony and I walked into the front of the restaurant into a backroom where the waiters rolled silverware and ate their meals if it was not reserved for a group.  It was dim, the sort of place that someone would request for a small party or a secret rendezvous.  

The young waitress’ face was tear-stained and mottled.  Her eyes were blue but seemed more of a turquoise since the red around the whites of her eyes made them look almost other worldly.  She looked up at me and seemed relieved that there was another female to talk to.  Her light brown hair was falling over her face and sticking to the tears running down her cheeks.  Her slender figure slumped forward toward the table as she tried to take a sip of her Coke.  Her jeans, red tank-top with sequins and black pumps that were worn for a fun night out contrasted the solemnness that was the end of her evening.  She also had a few tattoos - a rose, a ying/yang on her right arm forearm and a colorful lioness on her left forearm.  The design of the lioness seemed to be created below a scar from a burn that was about three inches wide. I took some Kleenex out of my purse and offered it to her.  She accepted it quietly and dabbed her face.  She pulled her hair back so we could both see each other.

“Hello- Heather is it?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am,” she replied quietly.  I knew she had been through a lot but I always bristled when someone called me “Ma’am” – that term seemed to be reserved for a much older women.

“My name is Sophia Gardeen and I’m so sorry about tonight and what you saw, I know it must be very traumatizing,” I said trying to keep my voice very steady but I could feel her fear radiating toward me.

“I just can’t believe – I mean – I don’t understand how this could— and what if it’s still out there?” her voice broke off and she started to sob again.  “Does it bother you or are you used to seeing stuff like this?” she asked as she blew her nose.

“No, frankly you never get used to seeing things like this, but just so you know, I’m not a detective – I’m a medium that they sometimes bring into cases,” I replied.

“You mean a psychic like the Long Island Medium?” she asked - her tear-filled eyes were now wide.  I started to bristle again because a medium and a psychic are generally two different things and Theresa and I were not the best of friends. I found her otherworldly grandstanding and helmet hair a little hard to take.

“Something like that Heather.  I was wondering if you could tell my what happened when you got here?  Detective DeMaria will also listen in if that’s okay,” I replied. 

“Sure, that’s fine,” she replied and took another sip of her Coke.  “I was coming back from the evening I had with the rest of the WWs – um - waiters/waitresses – to get my car since I went with my friend Abby to Marlow’s Tavern and she drove.  We went there for a few hours after our shift and she dropped me off here.  I got into my car and told her it was fine for her to go and she drove off.  At that point I noticed the back door was opened and figured Mr. Bull was still here since I saw his car and I wanted to tell him to have a nice weekend since I knew he had Saturday and Sunday off.  I called out but no one answered.  I probably should have called the police than.  I kept calling until I saw him – I saw him…” her voice trailed off and she struggled to keep from crying again.  She took another hard sip of Coke and started to cough.  I let her compose herself before I asked another question.

“Did he leave the door open often – we’re just trying to figure out how the animal would have gotten in here?  Do you know anyone who had an exotic pet that they would bring around?”  Det. Tony asked as he brushed his own hair out of his face.

“Why, do you think this happened on purpose?” Heather inquired.

“We’re just trying to figure out every angle,” I replied and gave her another Kleenex.

“Not as far as I know – I mean it’s a restaurant and with a dinner rush – tempers can flare but generally by the end of the shift it’s all forgotten,” she replied.  I studied her some more and felt sorry that someone her age had to experience this.  I knew that sleep would not come easily to her and that it would be better if she was not alone.

“Do you have someone you can stay with tonight?  Maybe your friend Abby?” I asked and then immediately got a vision of a young woman who looked like her but who was no longer alive. I felt even worse for her.

“Abby would freak if she knew – and I’d just assume let her find out tomorrow with the rest of the crew- is the restaurant going to be closed?” she asked as she finished her Coke.

“We’ll have to keep it closed for the next 24 hours to or more investigate– the press is starting to arrive so I’m pretty sure the staff is going to find out.  The owner is coming back from out of town, so I guess she’ll call everyone tomorrow morning,” Tony surmised.

“Wow, I didn’t know Marcia was out of town.  She must feel terrible – she and John had a bad fight the other day but they seemed fine after the shift,” Heather volunteered.

Tony and I looked at each other – Marcia might be someone worth questioning if her whole being out of town alibi did not shake out. 

“Okay- thanks Heather but really you should not be alone tonight – maybe we can drive you to a friend or family member’s house?”  Tony asked.

“I guess I could stay with my Mom – after this she’ll probably want me to move back in – she’s been asking ever since…” Heather’s voice trailed off and she didn’t have to explain to me why.

Part 2

Tony had me follow him in my car as he took Heather to her mother’s house which was just a few miles away.  As I pulled out the restaurant parking lot, the rain started again and hit my windshield with large droplets that spattered everywhere. Kurt appeared next to me.  “Well sugar t*ts, it looks like it’s just you and me on a cold and rainy night – that seems like the beginning of a film noir – the only thing we’re missing is Micky f*ucking Spillane!” Kurt said laughing.  We pulled into the driveway.  Tony’s squad car turned in first.  At first there was only a dim light coming from the front room, then the curtains opened and then a woman in her forties in a sweat suit came running out frantically.  She ran to Heather and held on for dear life.

“Oh my God, when I saw the police car – it reminded me of – of...” her voice choked back sobs as she clung to her daughter.  We quickly hustled everyone onto the front porch to avoid the steady stream of rain.

“She’s been through a lot tonight – we thought it would be better if she stayed with you,” Tony explained trying keep it professional but the sight of two sobbing women was starting to get to him.

“I’m so sorry about your other daughter – I understand how unsettling this all must be,” I said quietly.  Heather and her mother looked at me as did Tony.  “I’m so sorry – I didn’t mean to intrude – my name is Sophia Gardeen – “

“The medium?  I’ve seen you on Montel and Windy Williams – I’m Alicia Gillian,” she said holding out her trembling hand which I took gingerly.  I can be very empathic and touching someone when they are this upset can cause me to feel every ache, pain and emotion they feel.  This woman was still grieving the recent loss of her older daughter and she was panic stricken.  I could feel the tightness in her chest – not in a cardiac arrest sense but more as a mother whose heart ache at losing a child was fresh and would never completely heal.  I closed my eyes and let some quiet energy pulse from my fingers to her palm to try to calm her down and it seemed to help.  She smiled and took my other hand to thank me for being here.  She invited us in.  Tony and I looked at each other not really wanting to intrude but under the circumstances it would have been rude to refuse.

As we crossed the threshold of the front door, I could smell coffee and roast chicken which had been prepared hours earlier.  A little tiger cat rushed by making it’s escape while the guests came in.  It stopped and rubbed up against my legs.  I leaned down and stroked its head.  It struck me that something much bigger had hunted and killed tonight.   Heather leaned down and caught it. 

“No you don’t Gizmo – it’s rainy and muddy – go back inside my little boo bear!” she said kissing the top of it’s head.  She let Gizmo down and he ran back into the house – it was the one light normal moment in a very long terrible night.

As we made our way into the house, I could see the couch which had a colorful handmade block quilt hanging over the cushions as if Alicia had been sleeping downstairs when we drove up and Heather called her.  The TV gave off a bluish glare right before she turned the lights on to reveal a small but neat living room with a mantel filled with photos of her daughters.  Pictures of young girls playing soccer, camping trips and graduations – young lives full of hope.  I sighed as I saw the photo of the sister who had passed as Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ when she was about seven surrounded by her cast mates who were also in elementary school. 

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and then observed the visage of a young woman near the fireplace watching all of us.  She looked at me and nodded knowing I was the only one in the room who could see her.  She was had light blond hair and was tall and slim – her face was similar to Heathers but a little thinner.  She looked at her mother and sister. I could tell she wanted to embrace them and had many times but they could barely sense she was there and her touches were seldom acknowledged. When her mother did sense that she was around she would talk to her and this gave them both a sense of comfort.  Then her eyes suddenly got wide and she looked terrified.  I noticed then that Kurt was standing next to me. 

“Hey, I’ve seen that girl somewhere before,” Kurt volunteered as he pointed to the fireplace.  I could sense the other apparition’s anguish which turned to anger.  I started to feel lightheaded and held onto the side of the couch to maintain my balance.  My legs felt like they were going to give out from under me. The rest of the group noticed my unsteadiness – Tony rushed to my side.

“Sophia, you okay?” he asked as he caught me by the elbow and had me sit down in an upright recliner with a pink crocheted blanket over it.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said not wanting to worry anyone but the energy around the room was starting to get tense and the female spirit clearly wanted to kick Kurt’s ass.  I noticed the young woman move Dorothy picture which fell over on the mantle and crashed to the floor.  The glass covering the picture smashed into a dozen pieces.  She looked directly at Kurt and vanished.  The rest of the group saw the picture move and heard the collision.  The room grew silent except for the infomercial for a Cindy Crawford skincare kit that was droning in the background.

“Was she just here – was my Katy just here?” Alicia pleaded.

“Oh my God, Mom, that was a sign!” replied Heather hopefully.

“Yes, she was here – she’s looking after the both of you,” I said quickly knowing that the picture breaking was not as much of an affirmation as it was a warning to Kurt.

“What the f*ck was that?!” Kurt asked.  “You mean I can do sh*t like that? Oh, this changes the whole f*cking dynamic of my afterlife!  I have a few actors I need to pay a visit to.  F*cking egos costing me money, cost overruns, shouting matches – oh yeah, now they’re gonna f*cking pay!” he said determinedly.

Tony carefully observed me and knew there was more going on than I was letting on. I told the women how much love I felt coming from Katy and that she was around which seemed to comfort them.  I told them that she wanted them to remember the good times like the play.  Tony and I said our good nights and as we were leaving Alicia touched my hand.
“I’m so glad I met you – thank you for helping my daughter tonight.  I’ll never forgot your kindness,” she said gratefully and gave me a hug which I accepted awkwardly.  I was never much of a hugger except for people that I knew well.  Random hugs from strangers made me very uneasy.  

“What was going on back there?” Tony asked as we walked back to the cars our shoes swishing in the cold mud but at least the rain had subsided.

“I’m not sure how but there seems to be a connected between Kurt Von Stobben and Katy – I saw her tonight and her demeanor changed when he appeared alongside me.”

“He was here tonight?  Holy sh*t – does he know who killed him?” Tony asked.

“No, the animal – most likely a big cat attacked from behind.  Still not clear on how the murder of a movie executive and a restaurant manager are connected but we probably want to find out how Katy died, there’s probably something there,” I replied.

“Great – thanks again Sophia – you okay to drive home?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m fine, it’s just a lot to process right now,” I replied.

We both got into our cars and headed out of the driveway.  I really hoped that Kurt would not re-appear – even by generic ghost standards that guy gave me the creeps.

Part 3

The next day, the press reported the restaurant manager’s attack at El Burrito Bueno.  The
staff had been assembled and told that the restaurant would be closed for the next day to collect evidence and make sure that the animal who mauled Mr. Bull was no longer a threat.  Traps were set up around the perimeter of the building.  Just as a procedure, the police wanted to determine if any of the staff knew someone who owned a big cat. Tony wanted me to sit on the interviews and I was surprised how many of them knew me from my appearances on talk shows.  For some reason it helped relax them.

The first person we questioned was a young man in his 20’s named Ryan Donaldson who had worked up the ranks from busboy to waiter, to host and finally assistant manager.  He was thin and had a slight hint of razor stubble, his dark hair was pulled back into a mini man-bun and he looked nervous but who wouldn’t be under these circumstances.  He was wearing a torn pair of jeans and t-shirt that said “Let me roll you a fat one!” with the restaurant logo underneath. 

“Man, I can’t believe this happened.  I mean how does a wild animal find its way into the restaurant? Maybe our famous burritos but sh*t this sh*t is crazy!  Does Zoo Atlanta have all their cat accounted for?  I mean this just seems so unreal - I just can’t believe this,” he said as he chugged down a Starbucks triple espresso.

“We’ve been in contact with Zoo Atlanta, Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, Noah’s Ark and none of them have big animals missing,” I replied taking a few swigs of lukewarm coffee.  “And the last time a wild big cat was shot in Georgia was 2008 and it was a Florida Panther so random attacks by large cats are extremely rare.”

“I understand this must be pretty tough.  When was the last time you saw Mr. Bull?” Tony asked as Ryan fumbled nervously with a cigarette. 

“Hey do you mind if I smoke?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m sorry but I’m very sensitive to cigarette smoke,” I replied quickly and he put his Marlboro's away sheepishly. 

“Hey, I’ve seen you somewhere before – like on Wendy Williams,” he said excitedly. “You’re that psychic lady – you talked about ghosts on the Today Show on New Year’s. That is some crazy sh*t – that ghost stuff – that Crossing Over sh*t.  Do you know John Edwards?   Are you guys dating?” he said rapid fire as the full force of the caffeine seemed to be taking hold.

“No, we know each other but he’s married,” I replied wondering why folks always felt a need to try to make us a couple.  I was recently divorced but dating someone in my industry would be a bad idea - two mediums would never work out – the incredible egos and the ghosts would do us in.

Tony asked his question again, a little irritated that Ryan was so easily distracted. 
“So when was the last time you saw him?”

“This morning I guess, he was on the news.  Hey do you think CNN is covering this? That Erin Burnett is hot!”  Ryan replied obviously clueless in more ways than one.
“He means alive, hon,” I said sarcastically letting my southern roots show while trying to diffuse Tony’s frustration.

“It was last night around 10:00 pm.  We were closing but he let me go home early since it got slow after 8:00 pm for a Friday night.  Heather and Abby were the last two servers on the floor.  I said good night to them and told Mr. Bull to stay out of trouble -“
“Why did he need to stay out of trouble?” I asked.

“Oh, that was our joke.  He’d say the same thing to me, but I never would have thought – I mean, sweet suffering Jesus that was the last thing I said to him,” Ryan started to grasp the reality and looked more visibly shaken.  “I really need a smoke,” he said with his hands shaking.

“Okay, thanks, we’re done for now but let me know if you can think of anything else,” Tony replied as Ryan took the pack of Marlboro's back out and fumbled with it.
“Sure, thanks man.  Please catch whoever or whatever did this,” he said quietly and walked away.

The rest of the day we questioned everyone from the hostesses to the dishwashers and no one could give us any idea why this had happened – if it wasn’t for the DVD cover with the lion theme it could very well pass for another random animal attack.  But I could tell that some of the women had a real reticence to talk about how they felt about Mr. Bull.  They all seemed to say – “He was a nice guy but –“ and would hold back fearing corporate retribution or the disapproval of loyalty to the group dynamic.  It was not so much a conspiracy of murder as it was silence about something else that they didn’t want to deal with.

“What do you think?” Tony asked feeling like we were getting nowhere.

“I think there were things going on that they are not talking about – maybe we need to check the financials, payroll, HR records, see who he wrote up for infractions.  Obviously Mr. Von Stobbon and Mr. Bull were killed by the same person but why is still the biggest question.”

I walked back to the kitchen area trying to see if I could sense anything more now that the crime scene had been scoured by police and it was just eerily quiet.  I closed my eyes and tried to connect with Mr. Bull but he would not speak to me.  The energy around the place where he had been killed was frantic and incredibly still at the same time.  There had a been a revelation at the moment of death as there always was – things not accomplished, a sudden realization that the world would go on without them, the finality and never seeing your loved ones again in this life.  The yearning to have that one last hug or laugh over wine and dinner which always hits in that nano-second before the end.   Those were the normal emotions that I picked up on – hell if you let down your defenses – anyone can pick up on that.  But there was something that was being held back – something that the spirit of Mr. Bull did not want to reveal. 

Part 4 

The lioness stalked the halls of the athletic building slowly - her senses more heightened then ever.  Her light tan muscular limbs moved gracefully along the cold linoleum. Office buildings were sterile and did not have the same myriad of earthy smells which were easier to detect when you were looking for prey.  There was no breeze, no sound of trees rustling softly, no sounds of other small animals scurrying in the bushes praying that they would not be discovered by her.  Smaller animals were never a consideration - they had their place in the pyramid of life and frankly she'd starve to death trying to catch and eat mice and squirrels.  No, the bigger the game would yield the greatest return on the energy invested.  It took more effort to bring them down but then the reward was dragging it back to the pride where she would be celebrated for her prowess as a provider.  The lionesses always did about 90% of the hunting and cub rearing - without them, the pride would die and the males knew that.    

She continued down the corridor which was dimly lit with just the low buzz of a fluorescent in the background.  Her ears were tuning in on any sudden sound rather then the din she was hearing.  Finally, she heard when seemed to be the shuffle of paper and the slight click of a keyboard.  She used her paws to push open the door which had been left ajar perhaps on the mistaken assumption that no one would be in the building that night.  

Part 5

Dr. Mesa didn't always work late.  As a matter of fact, he usually left before his staff - a perk of being the lead sports doctor for a college women's athletics department.  He usually let his staff finish all the paperwork based on the notes he'd dictate on a digital recorder.  But he had to change a few things in some of his files - things that would help cover his tracks and bolster his case if the need be.  He felt as though his staff was beginning to turn against him which puzzled him - he was a really great guy to work with.  He had a sense of humor, would shower them with expensive gifts and lunches out on his expense account.  All he expected was their loyalty and silence but women being the unpredictable creatures they were now were not going to play ball so to speak.  Even his patients were leery of him now and there was too much gossip between the two camps.  He felt that something might go down and soon which is why he was writing up key members of his staff including Peggy who was starting to be openly insubordinate.  He had gotten rid of other staffers before but Peggy had tenure which made getting rid if her all that more difficult.  He had a meeting with Human Resources the next day to discuss her job and then they would counsel her, give her a 30 day performance plan to improve which he would document that she hadn't met her objectives and then she'd be gone - the rest of them would fall in line.  It was that simple and of course working late just showed how dedicated he was. 

He thought he heard something in the outer office.  He shrugged it off as nerves - it was a weeknight and no one was going to be here this late - least of all his staff who were working mothers and always looking for an excuse to get time off to attend a play or sports event. Sure they usually worked extra hours if they needed to but on those occasions when they needed to be with their families always came at an inconvenient time. 

There was another sound from the outer office and this time Dr. Mesa called out - "Hey is there anyone there?"  He was again met with silence but he felt an immediate sense of danger and the hair on the back of his neck started to stand up.  His breathing accelerated.  He closed his laptop and quickly packed up his things.  It was then from the reception area that he heard a slow growl.  He saw two green eyes focused on him in the dark.   He backed up just as the lioness descended on him pushing him to the ground.   He was a slight man - barely 150 pounds and this animal was twice his weight and size.  He was easily overtaken and his last conscious moment was seeing his own heart being yanked out of his chest. 

Part 6

After a flurry of activity - things got very quiet.   The lioness finished her late night snack and backed away from her prey.  Her green eyes were trained on him for any sign of life but she found none.  Her appetite sated - she felt the familiar tingling in her limbs.  Her jaw became smaller as did the rest of her body.  She stood up on her own two legs from her crawling position.  Careful to not to leave any human evidence, she walked to a desk which had a bag full of baby wipes and a lab coat.  She wiped her mouth and her breasts from traces of blood and flesh and put on the lab coat.  She noticed a copy of a DVD which was one of her kids favorites when they were little and left it near the body.  Just one more and then this would end - that's what she had contracted for and that's all she would do even if the power stayed with her past that.   She got in her car with the bag filled with the bloody wipes which she would throw in a nearby lake.  She took some Chanel No. 5 out of her purse, sprayed some on and instantly felt more human. 

Part 7 

The next day I got another call from Tony – this time it was a collegiate sports doctor named Miguel Mesa from Angela Michael's, an Atlanta women's private college mauled almost beyond recognition and a copy of The Lion King near his mangled arm.  I listened to the details as I sat at my laptop sipping my coffee.

“Jesus Sophia, the last time the killer waited a month before striking but now it’s just been a few days – something is causing them to amp up,” Tony said sounding worried.  The fact that a large animal was involved just made it seem impossible.  “We looked over the video of the school and office entrance.  There was no sign of a big cat entering the building hours before and right up to the attack but sure as sh*t, that’s how he died just like the other two.”

“It’s unusual for men to be the subject of a serial killer so if it’s a woman who is the perpetrator - maybe these guys knew her. I want to say that Kurt and Katy had a connection.”

“I actually saw Heather again the other day, called her back into for more questioning since she was the one who found him,” Tony said sounding professional but his voice softened when he said Heather.   He seemed protective of her which was sweet but I wondered if it was skewing his perception of the case. 

“Interesting – her sister was an actress with the stage name Joan Artisan – a play on the word ‘Artisan’.” I said as I scrolled through Google on my laptop. “I don’t see that she had ever worked in a movie produced by Von Stobben but that doesn’t mean anything –“ I said as I clicked on my intuitional hit and found her name on an IMBD page with just a few small roles on them – no real speaking parts to speak of and nothing with Kurt’s company.  “The sense I got when I was at their house was that her sister had died suddenly and against her will.”

Tony paused, “That was something that Heather wanted me to look into – she and her mother think she was murdered and whoever did it made it look like a suicide.”

“So Katy’s death could definitely be a connection – sh*t this case is getting more tangled.  Maybe the killer was after Heather – and she had left so Mr. Bull got it but then how does the college doctor factor in?” I asked feeling like I was at loss and no closer to solving the case.

Kurt was no help – he was on a revenge binge that involved lights bursting open on some A-listers and data in the Cloud being breached with photos of naked cheating stars being mysteriously released on Instagram and Twitter.  There was one case of a stunt tower almost falling on two actors who starred in Kurt’s last two movies which were financial and artistic flops.  

The collegiate doctor and the restaurant manager were closer proximity wise, but Kurt had been killed in Peachtree City while on location.  They had all died by having their hearts ripped out of their bodies with bite and claw marks, no signs of a break-in so they must have known or been comfortable enough turn their backs on the killer.  Two of the deaths seemed to be connected to Katy and I needed to find out why. I called Heather’s cell phone and got a message so I tried her mother. 

“Hey, Alicia – it’s Sophia – is Heather there?” I asked casually.

“Sophia – it’s so good to hear from you.  Any more leads on the killer of poor Mr. Bull?” she said.  I felt oddly disquieted when she said the name “Mr. Bull.”

“Ah, we’re still working in that – I just needed to ask Heather a few more questions – is she there?”

“No, I thought she was at work – is everything okay?” she asked with a mother’s trademark concern.

“Everything is fine – I just needed her to ask her one more question – here’s my cell phone number – please ask her to give me a call when she contacts you.  Thanks so much Alicia,” I hung up quickly and felt a sick pressure in my stomach and chest – a weird feeling I got before something was about to happen.  I needed to talk to Heather before the killer struck again and it felt like that might happen in a few hours.

I called Tony and asked if we could talk to the bookkeeper and a hostess to see what kind of regulars that Heather had – who generally asked to sit in her station.  Since Tony has a search warrant on the staff records, I also asked to see Heather’s application or resume.  I was sure she or Katy might have attended Angela Michaels. 

I arrived at the restaurant which was just opening back up to a group of employees who felt scared and demoralized.  The circumstances around Mr. Bull’s death seemed so savage.  They were going through the motions – making coffee, rolling silverware, cleaning menus but there was a feeling of malaise that was permeating the staff.  The dinner rush was going to start with Ryan at the wheel to help expedite the food.  He looked more official in an Oxford shirt and tie.  He smiled glumly at me and gathered the staff around. 

“Hey guys, I know that tonight is going to be tough – it’s understandable – what’s happened here sucks – it sucks big – no lie.  But if anyone can get through tonight - it’s all of you – the Dream Team.  It’s what the Bullman would have wanted us to do, right - right?”  he asked the staff and for a beat or two there was silence.  Then they started to chant “Do it for the Bull – do it for the Bull!”   The group let out a collective laugh and there were some tears but Ryan managed to rally his troops in a way I don’t think he would have been able to do before.  I noticed that Heather was not there. 

“Where’s Heather?” I asked.  “When I called her mother was under the impression she was working tonight.”

“She started to come in here and then broke down, so I gave her the night off – maybe she went back to her Mom’s,” he offered. “We can try calling her there later.”

“We might be able to find out what I need without bothering her,” I replied.

“Okay – let’s get through tonight one order at a time and then I’m opening the bar after work so we can do our own salute – screw the cost – I’ll take it as a team building expense!” Ryan stated defiantly.

“Nice to have you so free with my money,” said Marcia who seemed to suck all the fun out of the room.  The staff looked nervously at her.  She was an older women with salt and pepper gray hair with a short wedge haircut.  She was slim and dressed in a yellow long-sleeved button-down shirt with a black jacket and no sign of make-up or jewelry.  She seemed severe for someone whose livelihood was dependent on the hospitality industry.

“Hey Marcia – glad to have you back,” said Ryan nervously. 

“I’m sure.  Look everyone – you all have been through a lot and although Ryan did not clear it with me first – I think that a wake in honor of Mr. Bull would be the right thing to do. I’m meeting with the Detective DeMaria and Ms. Gardeen in the back and then I’m here help on the floor if needed,” Marcia said matter-of-factly.  It was clear that she was a no-nonsense type of person but she was good to offer to cover the drinks after the shift.  “Now, as Ryan said, let’s just take tonight one order at a time – let’s fake it till we make it,” she said which made some of the waitresses laugh.

The staff walked back into the dining room as the sound system started to play some upbeat Mexican jazz softly in the background.  There seemed to be a small crowd of curious diners ready to come in as the restaurant struggled to come back to life.

Tony and I walked behind Marcia as she opened the back office.  The smell of mildew and oil still hung in the air but now at least there was the smell of tortillas cooking along with pulled pork, beef and chicken to counteract it. 

“So sorry to call you back into the country under these circumstances,” Tony said.  The fact that she was in Acapulco at the time of the murder seemed  to rule her out as a suspect.
“I was wondering if we could see the staff schedules for the last two months and the credit card slips for the days that Heather was working,” I asked trying to follow-up on my hunch which I think Tony hoped I was wrong about.

“Why Heather’s customers?” asked Marcia as she opened a file cabinet with receipts from the weeks leading up to Mr. Bull’s murder.  She handed them to us just was we started to sit on the striped couch with an old coffee table in front of it. 

“Just trying to see if there is a connection somehow to Kurt Von Stobben, Mr. Bull and Dr. Mesa the college physician who was killed at Angela Michaels,” I replied as I thumbed through the receipts.  Then I just had to ask – “Do you know if Heather or her sister went to that school?”

Marcia smiled, “No, let’s just say that without a scholarship – it would be hard to go to on what you’d make as waitress and her mom never had the money to send her.  I know that Heather was going to Gwinnett Tech to get into the cosmetology program – she’s been begging to give me a make-over and what the hell, I might just let her do it,” Marcia said chuckling.  

As Tony and I sorted out the receipts, we started to see a pattern.  Her regulars were mostly women who would leave nice notes and tips on the slips.  The notes included “Thanks for listening – I feel better!”  “You are the best – thanks so much!”  “Great service from a very astute young lady!”

“Heather has a pretty loyal base of customers – it looks like a few of them would come in every time she was working,” I remarked.

“That’s our Heather – she’s the nurturer of the group.  She always has something positive to say and will bend an ear to anyone who needs it.  Sometimes I know that Bull had to remind her to pick up tables when we were slammed but she’s always come back to her regulars no matter what,” Marcia volunteered.  “I know that his death has hit her hard.  It’s hit everyone hard but I think her the most.  He always looked after Heather – it was sweet.”

I suddenly got a vision of things not being too sweet between her and Mr. Bull.  I saw a young girl who wanted the approval of an older man because her own father had left her at an early age.  I got a got a sharp pain in my intestine and the bile rose in my throat as I saw Mr. Bull take advantage of her naivete and had sex with her in this very office after the crew had left. There were some members of the team that suspected something was going on but when Katy died, they felt sorry for her and didn’t say anything to Marcia.  Bull was a shoulder to cry on and he took advantage of her grief.  In his mind – he was helping but he also had to know it was wrong – so very wrong.  All those things started to come into focus – so did Mr. Bull who was standing next to me. 

“I’m sorry for everything – this was not how I wanted to go – to be,” he said sadly and then before I could ask him anything else, he faded out. I took deep breath and put my head in my hands because the room seemed to spin.

“Hey Sophia, are you alright?” Tony asked.

“I’m okay,” I said weakly as my neck muscles and the back of my head started to throb.  Then an idea hit me.  “Is there a chance that some of the regulars on these charges are here tonight?  Would you be able to point them out to me?” I asked Marcia.

“I’d have to ask Drea, the hostess – she’d know better than me,” Marcia replied.  
Marcia got me some water and I moved quickly off the couch.   As soon as I felt strong enough – we walked into the dining room which was half filled with diners no doubt there more out of curiosity about the murder then for good Mexican food.  The mood was subdued but one table started to laugh then looked around self-consciously and immediately stopped.  Drea was at the front desk taking a call.  She put up a finger and smiled to let us know we needed to wait. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t comment on the incident that happened here but if you would like to make a reserve-“ she ended in mid-sentence, sighed and hung up the phone.  She bowed her head in frustration, her dark eyes looked sad as she pushed her hair to one side.  Her mid-calf black skirt and red blouse seemed to be more at place in a corporate boardroom than to greet casual diners but she wanted to be prepared for anything or anyone who walked in the door – especially news cameras.  She was taking most the questions about the murder when the guests sat down but the servers were getting peppered with them as well.  Couple that with the fact that they were a little short staffed with Heather taking the night off and it was not shaping up to be a night were folks felt like they could rebound from the events of the last 72 hours.

“Hey Drea, Sophia and I were wondering if any of Heather’s regulars had come in to see her?” Tony asked trying not the raise any suspicion but let’s face it – out of all the workers there – she was the only one we were focusing on and some people might deduce it was because she found the body but others had their hunches about her relationship with Mr. Bull. 

Drea looked around the dining room, “No, I’m sorry, most of her regulars are lunch customers.  I doubt that we’ll see Peggy Nolan here in the next few days, her boss was the one who was murdered at Angela Michaels – I used to think that if someone I knew was murdered I was not sure I would know how to take it.  Now I do,” she said as her voice cracked and tears streamed down her face.  I took her hand which is not something I do easily being empathic and all, but I could see that she was struggling. 
“Hey-I spoke to Ms. Nolan at the administrative offices of the college – she seemed really upset which is natural but it was something more,” Tony mused realizing that the coincidences were starting to add up.

“Hey, it’s okay, you have a right to feel angry and confused – I get that,”  I said quietly to Drea who seemed to be carrying a lot of pent-up emotions on her shoulders.  Marcia came up to the front desk. She relieved Drea who started to walk into the kitchen.  Ryan saw her and patted her on the back as he emerged to the dining room to see how everything was going.  There were hushed tones and no one could really be heard speaking above a whisper.  It was eerie and clear that the diners were uncomfortable and wished they were anywhere but the place they were and word would get around about how depressing the place was.  Ryan leaned into Marcia who nodded and made an impromptu announcement.

“Folks, I’m so glad you came in tonight to support us.   My staff, their families and the family of Mr. Bull have been through a lot over the past few days.  We’d like to comp your drinks tonight because it would have been what John Bull would have wanted.  So tonight drink a  toast to him,” Marcia said with a half-smile.  The dining room got quiet and then the diners starting clapping and cheering.  Suddenly the place went from dirge to celebration and that energy not only buoyed the staff but Tony and me as well.  We smiled and I motioned to him to meet me in the back office.  Before I started to talk to him, we heard Drea on the phone to her mother.

“Mom, everyone here is acting like Mr. Bull was a fine man – but I know better.  He used people – me, Heather – God knows who else and it’s like he’s some sort of saint.  He’s not – he was a –” Drea stopped suddenly when she saw us approach her outside the office.  “I have to go.” She hung up suddenly and looked down.  

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there – I thought everyone was out front except for the line cooks,” she stammered trying to keep her composure.  I had surmised what had been going on and without consulting Detective Tony, I went in.

“Mr. Bull was having an affair with Heather and my guess is that he came onto you as well is that correct?” I asked point blank.  Tony shot me an astonished look. 

“Am I a suspect?” Drea asked quietly. 

“No, we’re more interested in what you knew about John Bull and Heather, if you could confirm what we already know,” I responded.  Tony tried to get me to hold back but I just couldn’t.  I had an intense feeling that the killer might strike again soon.

“He took advantage of Heather – she really looked up to him.  Then when Katy died, she started to lean on him even more and he gladly let her.  It made me sick and I told him so – then he said that my defiance was a turn-on and maybe all of us could have a three-way.  I threatened to tell Marcia but he told me he’d get to her first, tell her I was coming in late and that I was just saying that to retaliate and I’d get fired.  I mean I get my benefits from here and my daughter needs some procedures done so I can’t lose my health insurance.  I just didn’t say anything – but the truth is that I’m glad he’s dead.  I know that sounds bad but sh*t – he was not a good man – despite what people think – he hurt people,” Drea finished trying to wipe tears that were rolling quickly down her face. 

I reached out and held her hand.  “I’m sorry that happened to you – people can be victimized in a number of ways and you didn’t deserve that.  I’m sure if Marcia knew, he would have been fired.”

“Maybe, maybe not.  She’s rarely around so who knows – the importance of a hostess is nothing compared to a general manager – that’s just the way the world works. I get that, my daughter gets that, my mother gets that – the little people don’t mean sh*t,” Drea said as her professional demeaner slid away.  She was a woman who had seen so much injustice at her young age.  She had a right to her anger. 

I could relate – I had almost been raped myself by the privileged son of a doctor when I was in my teens.  My saving grace was that he tried to assault me at a Cotillion so there were witnesses. But for those victims in the shadows - their attackers exerted their power and were free to pursue their lives never considering the hurt, anger and betrayal that they left in their wake. 

“I think you’re very brave to tell us this – is there anyone else who might have experienced what you did?” Tony said and I could tell by smoldering anger in his voice that he meant it.
Drea considered further.  “No, I guess it was mostly me and Heather – there might have been other servers over the years but that’s what I know,” she said feeling validated.  “I hope you understand if I don’t stick around to toast Mr. Bull,” she said quietly.   She turned and went back out into the dining room with an admirable determination to do her job. 

I turned to Tony, “So apparently like Kurt Von Stubbon – he was a f*cking scumbag.”

“Yeah, I hear stories like that and I want to kill the assholes myself,” he replied tersely.  Although I had only known Tony for a year, I knew from the beginning that he had an old-world sense of protectiveness towards women.  Not in a sexist manner but in a gentlemanly way and when he felt that sense of honor was violated he was infuriated.

“So restaurant managers and producers acting inappropriately is not a news flash.  The sports doctor at the women’s college does not seem to have a direct connection to Heather…” I started when Drea came back.

“Hey I was wrong - Peggy Nolan is actually here if you want to talk to her.  She was looking for Heather.”

“Thanks Drea – we’d love to talk to her.”

Drea took us back into the dining room where Peggy Nolan was sitting alone looking apprehensive.  She glanced up and saw me.  Her face showed some recognition and she smiled.  She then noticed Tony and immediately looked alarmed.  Her brown eyes got wide and her pale skin seemed to lose whatever color it still had outside of her dark circles.  She looked down and spoke to Drea.

“I thought you were getting Heather,” she said quietly.  Then she looked up at Tony.  “Hello, Detective good to see you again,” but that statement seemed more automatic rather than sincere.

“Hello Peggy – sorry but Heather needed the night off.   How do you know her?” he asked casually.

“Oh, I come in here and she’s someone who waits on me,” she responded again avoiding eye contact.  

I spied the ghost of Katy in the alcove.  She looked at me and then I got a distinct image of her hanging with a noose around her neck but the scene shifted and then she was in her apartment.  A man had his back to me but it looked like Katy was already dead.  He literally was acting as a hangman putting the rope over the banister of the stairway to her bedroom.  He then put the noose around her neck and threw her body over the side and let it hang.  He then got her phone out and scrolled to see Mom in her contacts.  He then texted – “I’m in a really bad place – so sorry – I love you and Heather. Remember that.”  He wiped the phone clean of his finger prints, put the phone on the desk with her purse and left making sure no one saw him.   

I started to shake when the scene pulled back and I could just see her limp body hanging.  I looked in the alcove and she was standing there crying.  She then said three words “Tell my truth.”

“Katy was murdered,” I gasped just as I was about to fall over.  I grabbed the table and sat down quickly in the booth trying to catch my breath.  “He made it look like a suicide.”
Tony grabbed my arm to helped me sit down.  He also was very cognizant to contain the situation.  

“Hey Sophia, are you okay?  What happened?” he asked his voice filled with concern.  Peggy offered me her water.

“Here Ms. Gardeen – my lord what did you see?” she asked forgetting her own problems and focusing in on mine.

“Tony, I need to get my bearings – let me sit here for a moment and then I need to go in the back and look up a few things on my laptop.”  I smiled awkwardly at Peggy and the three of us sat in silence.  I finally broke it by saying, “You would dish to Heather about Dr. Mesa and she would lend a sympathetic ear, right?”

“Yes, she was very kind that way.  I tried to tell HR but since his was a doctor and I was an administrative assistant they mostly dismissed it as me overreacting to his ‘sense of humor.’  But is wasn’t just dirty jokes, he’d grab me and say he was giving me a breast exam – he’d..” Peggy’s voice trailed away as hot tears ran down her face.  A few people were looking over at us wondering what the hell Tony had said to make us both this upset[KC1] .  

“I’m so sorry Peggy – I truly am – please let me buy you dinner and please talk to someone about what happened- it will help you.  It helped me,” I said putting my arm around her to offer some support.   Tony watched us silently and I could feel his protective rage start to surge. 

“Thank you Peggy – I think we have what we need and I’m sorry.  We do have some resources for victims of sexual assault if you need help,” he offered feeling that it was the best he could do but not enough.

I walked over to Drea and told her that I was buying Peggy dinner.  I also mentioned that Peggy had a similar experience with Dr. Mesa if the she wanted to talk.  Drea nodded and then went over to Peggy’s table.  She sat down, smiled and offered her hand which was all she really needed to say.

Part 8

Dalton Vicenti has the dubious distinction of being one of Hollywood’s quirkiest directors.  A scrappy NYC film student who submitted films to International film festivals, he got lucky when his first professional film Water Canines got selected at the Cannes Film Festival and won high praise.  He got recruited to the Von Stubbon studio system and produced films there for eight years before getting tapped by a bigger studio to direct and produce action movies.  But every now and then he’d do a prestige project for Kurt to try to nab an Oscar nod.  Kurt would send actresses Dalton’s way that he thought would benefit a project that he was working but it was really so they could share in a sleazy sexual tennis match volleying these poor vulnerable actresses from one side of the studio to the other.  You’d often see the two men on the sidelines of Lakers games hanging out with this year’s blond.   Kurt in his Italian suits and 5 o’clock shadow and Dalton's 6'4" skinny frame with his untamed hair, Lakers jersey and ripped jeans. 

Dalton got the news of Kurt’s death while he was in pre-production for his latest film Corporate Brain Trust, an adventure film with a group of business men who were also international spies.  It disquieted him and his usual quirky demeanor had turned sullen.  His crew noticed that he would yell at the slightest provocation and he had little patience with his cast.  He also hated being alone and had asked to have heightened security especially after Kurt’s death. The studio heads felt it was a weird precaution after all what were the chances that the same animal would strike again but they humored his need for a body guard.  However, having someone look after you 24-7 was starting to become a grind to a free spirit like Dalton.  He also wanted to have sex with the new young make-up artist who had caught his eye and the fewer people that knew about his tryst the better especially with the climate in Hollywood these days.  It would be better if she wanted to report their encounter that he not have a witness to their rendezvous.  If she was cool with his advances, great.  But if she would not play with his balls – he would destroy her career in the film industry.  She did always have the option to do wedding make-up for bridezillas.  He just needed to make sure tonight would not get out of hand.

Dalton waited for the young woman at the house that the studio had rented for him in the exclusive area of Buckhead which he referred to as “F*ckhead.”  It was a large four bedroom three bad home that was surrounded in glass and had a generous group of trees to hide any indiscretions and driveway that took it off the main drag.  It was the type of home that would be 10 million in Los Angeles but the Atlanta real estate market had it listed for 1.4 million.  It was also a gated community so he felt safe leaving the young woman’s name at the front security booth.

He waited for the little make-up artist who he had lured there on the promise that they could discuss some special effects make-up with the other members of the team which he had forgotten to invite.  She seemed into him so it would be fine – f*cking a major director is how you got ahead these days.  No glass ceilings here just a fiberglass headboard.

He paced as he waited – his hands fidgeting – his mind wondering.  He took a drink of Jack Daniels to calm his nerves -this would be the first woman since the other and it was best to forget what happened to her.

Part 9

I held my breath and knocked on the door.  As I stood there, Kurt appeared.  “Hey angel tits, what are you doing here?  Don’t you have some other place to be?” he asked good naturedly.

“No, Kurt, this is exactly where I need to be right now.  I’m trying to pre-“  Just then, Dalton opened the door and looked surprised.

“I’m sorry – I was expecting someone else,” he said as disappointment registered on his face and then a light sense of panic.  “How did you get here?  I mean through security?” he asked cautiously.

“You mean because you were expecting Heather Gillian tonight?” I said matter-of-factly.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked growing more agitated. 

“Someone who is trying to save your life but after what you did, I’m not sure why,” I replied.
“Okay, I’ll bite, what the f*ck did he do?” Kurt asked trying to figure out why his friend seemed so different. 

“You know what you did Mr. Vicenti and now the same people who killed Kurt are after you – the same ones that killed a college sports doctor and a restaurant manager,” I said confidently.

“Okay lady, if you are trying to pitch a screenplay, forget about it  - you need to go or I’ll call the police,” Dalton replied as he started to close the door.

“That’s perfect, the police are actually on their way,” I said keeping eye contact but worried about how this was going to go down.

“The police, Jesus lady – just go or I’ll have you arrested for stalking,” Dalton said as he tried to close the door but Kurt put his foot between the door and the threshold – it stayed open.
“Wait, what the f*ck do you mean – the same people who killed me are trying to kill him?  What the f*ck is going on?” Kurt asked.

“Just let me in please – I’m Sophia Gardeen.  I’m a medium– you are in a lot of danger –“ I said hoping to get him to realize that I was not some random whack job hoping to get into show business.

“Okay, but only because I recognize you, but you can’t stay long,” he said and let me in.
Dalton seemed more agitated and started pacing.  Kurt just looked at his old friend trying to comprehend what was going on.

“Mr. Vicenti, do you remember an actress named Joan Artisan?” I asked.

Dalton watched me and then swallowed the last of his Jack Daniels.  He took a breath.
“No, I don’t know her – never heard of her,” he said as he poured more Tennessee whisky.
“What the f*ck?  I introduced them – he knows that,” Kurt explained.

“You got her alone in your office one night to read a scene which involved choking –“

Dalton stopped and looked at me – his eyes narrowing.  Kurt stood behind him shaking his head. 

“Jesus, not that again.  He had an a-list actress do her own f*cking stunts and she almost died.  We had to pay out millions to settle it quietly. Then he goes back to that f*cking choking fetish?  I was wondering why that piece of ass didn’t get cast.  Holy sh*t, was she the one that committed suicide?”

I picked up where Kurt left off – “But she didn’t commit suicide did she?  You accidentally choked her to death and then made it look like suicide to cover your tracks.” I said.
“You’re f*cking nuts lady – I have no idea what you’re talking about –,” Dalton shouted as a drained his glass yet again.

“I think she does,” said Heather as she walked into the living room closing the sliding glass door behind her.

“Okay, I see it now, you both are working together to shake me down for blackmail - but you don’t have any evidence so if you would both leave –“
“So you admit to doing it – you killed my sister!” Heather said in a threatening whisper.  Just then Kurt looked up.

“Holy sh*t, I smell Channel No. 5,” he said wheeling around.   I then turned to where he was looking and saw Alicia standing at the front door. 

“You stupid pathetic man.  You took from us the most precious thing a person could ever take and now you’re going to pay once and for all,”  Alicia said as her voice trembled.
Dalton started to sarcastically clap his hands.  “Okay, ladies – that’s it – that’s a wrap.  You have the wrong guy – it was Kurt Von Stubbon who accidentally killed her – he made it look like a suicide.  The sick prick killed the careers of hundreds of actresses over sex but sadly with your daughter, he took it to the next level.  He had this thing about choking women – erotic asphyxiation they call it.  If you killed Kurt then you got the right guy.”

“Why you ungrateful little sh*t – you know that’s not true!” Kurt shouted but only I could hear him.  “You killed her and now you’re gonna pin it on me because I’m dead?  I hope they f*cking kill you tonight because I’m going to make your afterlife a living f*cking HELL!!!”

“No one is hurting anyone tonight – the killing stops here,” I declared hoping that one of the three people that I was talking to would come to their senses before it was too late.

Alicia looked stunned.  “He killed my baby?” she asked and momentarily and let down her guard.  Dalton pulled a gun from the tiled box on the coffee table.  He grabbed Heather across the throat putting the gun to her head.

“Okay bitches, this ends right now or I end her and don’t f*cking think that I won’t.” 
Just then I saw Katy standing next to Kurt who was seething with anger.  Not so much for the poor woman who had a gun to her head but because he had been betrayed by someone he thought was his friend – a person he mentored like a son.   Katy was petrified for her sister and they both looked to me to do something. 

“I wasn’t kidding before when I said that the police were on their way – Detective DeMaria will be here any minute,” I said hoping could stall for time.

“A minute is all I need.  I could blow you all away and then say that you broke into the house – that the security guards f*cked up and allowed this to happen.  I grabbed the gun because you bitches are crazy stalkers and I needed to save myself and you two,” Dalton said as he pointed the gun at Alicia and Heather – “would finally get to join your sister who by the way I did kill – but it was an accident.  I didn’t mean to choke the life out of her. I mean I’ve done this with actresses before at private auditions and even in a few of my movies.  I never seem to get the right effect if I let one of the actors do it.  They always defer to the stunt gaffer and it never looks real enough.  I like to get the panic in their eyes just before they think they’re going to pass out but I stop in time and I get the perfect shot.  Joan or Katy or whoever the f*ck she was – I guess her artery closed and that was it – she didn’t suffer too long and either will you,” Dalton said as he turned the gun to Heather.

Katy grabbed Dalton’s hand which suddenly pointed up and the gun went off showering him and Heather with ceiling sheet rock.  As the debris covered them he instinctively let go of her.  Seeing my chance - I grabbed Heather and pushed her across the room away from the line of fire.  Dalton tried to steady himself still pointing the gun at Heather.   In an instant, I saw what looked like a bright light over Alicia. Her features started to morph into a full-grown lioness with a caramel coat.   Her green eyes were blazing as she quickly jumped on Dalton.
Man and the feline were rolling around the floor in a primal rage.  Heather tried to join her mother in the foray but I kept her back afraid that she might get hurt and sensing that would be what Alicia wanted me to do.  I saw Kurt trying to wrestle the gun away from Dalton as well.  Katy was acting as a spiritual shield for her mother who was now in full lion furry.   She was scratching at Dalton and trying to bite at his chest.  He was able to keep her back but his hands were getting badly scratched.  One of his hands disappeared as the other tried to keep her away.

Suddenly I heard a gunshot.  There was a look of alarm and searing pain on the lioness’ face as she rolled off Dalton who was holding his gun in his bloody hand.  He started to point his gun at her again when I heard a second shot ring out and saw Tony in the front door with his weapon pointed at Dalton. 
“Drop the gun Vicenti or I’ll kill you – I swear to God!” Tony yelled.  Dalton did as he was told.  Heather screamed and ran to her the wounded animal who was bleeding from her abdomen.

“Mom – oh God please no!” she sobbed.   The lioness let out a wounded roar and started to morph back into her human form.  Dalton and Tony were motionless as the body of the large cat disappeared and Alicia once again emerged.  She looked at her daughter and smiled while she tried to catch her breath.

“Hey, sweetie – don’t cry – we got him.  We got the man who killed your sister and we -  we stopped the bad things that Bull did to you and Drea, that Dr. Mesa and that Von Stubbon did to those other girls and women.  I tried to protect my pride by killing their predators.  I just couldn’t save Katy in time – I’m so sorry,” Alicia said as she touched Heather’s face.
Tony surveyed the scene – he knew he had grazed Dalton’s arm to get him to stop shooting at the lioness.  I had told him that I had a hunch that somehow Heather or Alicia were really the lioness had him promise that unless she was about to attack us or him that he wouldn't shoot at her.   

“Slid the gun over here Vicenti,” Tony yelled.   Dalton slid the gun towards Tony sheepishly.  I went to Alicia and applied pressure to the abdomen to try to stop the bleeding.  Dalton sat there dazed as he looked at his own arm, hands and shoulders which were streaming red from the lioness’ puncture wounds but none of them were a mortal blow.

“Why didn’t you wait until I got here?” Tony asked as we both worked to stop the hemorrhaging.  “I got the search warrant.”

“I couldn’t wait because I knew – I just knew that someone was going to get – that they might both get–“ I started and then got too choked up to continue talking. I felt ashamed for wishing that Alicia had killed Dalton that he should be laying in a pool of his own blood. I could feel the warmth of Alicia’s blood on my hands and I felt her pulse start to ebb away.  Heather was sobbing and holding her mother’s hand. 

The apparition of Katy knelt down near her mother.  Alicia looked up and smiled.  “Hey baby – we got him – I knew you never would have killed yourself – you couldn’t.  But he took so much from us – they all did from so many people and they needed to pay.  I love you Katy.”  For a few seconds, Heather could see her sister.  She continued hold her mother’s hand.

“Mom, I’m here and Katy is here.  We love you so much – I’m so sorry Mommy.”

“No I should never have involved you – but those men needed to pay for what they did.  I love you and your sister – never ever forget that – everything I did – I did because I loved you both and sometimes you have to take things into your own hands make deals you wouldn’t normally to save the people you love.   I was the one who killed Kurt, Mr. Bull and Dr. Mesa. She came here to confront him. Don’t arrest her please.   Look after her Detective and Ms. Gardeen – this was not how I wanted to leave my daughter. I love you baby girl.” 

I felt her pulse start to go faster and then slowed down and after a few more beats stopped completely.  Tony and I looked at her face as her eyes rolled up and her eyelids closed. 
“No, please Mom – don’t go – I’m sorry.  I didn’t think you could actually-”   Heather put her head into her mother’s neck and sobbed. 

Tony leaned over to Heather who held onto him for dear life.  He looked at me trying to keep his own emotions in check.  After a few minutes of silence, I took my iPhone out of my jacket pocket and played Dalton’s confession back to Tony.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were recording me and you didn’t have a search warrant –“ Dalton barked.  

“You killed one woman a month ago– you killed her mother who tried to protect her when you lured her younger sister here.  Why do I think other women are going to step forward to talk about what a twisted f*ck you are once you are behind bars and now that you can’t hurt them? The lioness showed up and ended up attacking you when you pointed a gun at Sophia and Heather to protect them.  That’s my report and it’s the Goddamn truth. Once the whole choking and staging the suicide of Katy Gillian gets out - your credibility will be zero so shut the f*ck up or I’ll shoot you again!  Your time is up!”

 “You stupid back stabbing mother f*cker!” Kurt said loudly and this time Dalton heard him.  “I made your career you stupid piece of piss!”

“Kurt – is that you?” Dalton asked looking shocked and then supremely scared.  “It can’t be,” he said sure that his own blood loss was causing him to see things.  Kurt leaned in close. 
“You are going to f*cking jail and I’ll be standing there as the prisoners take turns seeing how long you can be choked before you pass out or sh*t maybe one of them will choke you to death.  I might be a lecherous scumbag but you murdered a woman and tried to pin it on me.  I don’t know what God has in store for you but I’m just getting warmed up!”

Squad cars, ambulances, fire rescue and detectives descended on the scene and Heather, Tony and I were questioned for hours on what happened.  Dalton kept talking about how Alicia had turned into a lioness and she attacked him but of course none of the law enforcement officers believed him – and felt his wounds might be causing hallucinations. He was taken to the hospital where his was treated and then charged with two counts of murder and one count of aggravated sexual assault.  They never found the large cat who killed three men and attacked a fourth. 

As I headed to the car – I saw the Alicia embracing Katy.  I had never been around when a person had actually died and it seemed strange to see someone who I knew was alive just a few hours before now as a full apparition.  Oddly enough, they both seemed so happy to be back together. 

I had just buckled my seat belt when I saw Kurt in the back seat looking somewhat serene. 
“Hey Sophia, I know I’ve been a pain in the ass and disrespectful as hell but you really helped those women tonight and you kept your cool when some serious sh*t went down.  I wanted to let you know that took some serious balls,” he said which seemed out of character.  I smiled and nodded.

“Thanks Kurt – I hope you can understand why Alicia did what she did and that you’ll let her be with Katy,” I replied carefully.

“Look I don't like that she killed me but if she could turn into a lion when she was alive – I don’t want to know what she could f*cking do to me now that she’s dead.  I’m keeping my distance,” he replied. "I have had a lot of time to think now that I'm dead.  I'm not proud of the man I was - constantly try to be the alpha male, putting women down or worse..." he voice trailed off.  "I can't change who I was in life but maybe I can help like I did tonight - maybe some sort of f*cking redemption - I don't know.  I just know my legacy is nothing but sleaze now and that pisses me off.  I should have done better." 

“Hey - some people go ten lifetimes and never get it - at least you can see that - so you can do better in the next life,” I said feeling like our time as ghost and medium had come to an end.

“Thanks Sophia, don’t let anyone push you around - you are one tough broad.  I mean I respect you as an equal – you have a set of brass balls in addition to a great set of t*ts.”

“Thanks Kurt,” I said laughing.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I noticed a small gray striped mother cat with kittens trying to
cross the driveway.  She’d pick up one and then go and get the another to bring to the side of the driveway – she looked exhausted but kept going because that’s what mothers do.  I got a box out of the back of my car with a blanket that I kept in the trunk.  I went over to the mother cat and put the box down.  She put one of her kittens in and let me put in the other two and then got in herself understanding that I just wanted to help.  Tony noticed what I was doing and brought Heather over.  The three of us smiled as the mother and kittens started to settle down in their new digs. 

“I think she needs someone to love her and little Gizmo could use some friends,” I said quietly.

“Yes,” said Heather – “I’d hate for her to be all alone in the world.”

“Let’s bring them back to your place – I’ll stay the night with you if you would like,” I said quietly. Tonight and the nights to follow would be difficult and but I knew that after the case was closed that Tony would be there to help her through.  I had a very good feeling about the both of them. 

“That sounds good,” said Heather through her tears.  “Look, she has a little scar on the side of her neck,” she said and then paused to think.  “She’ll fit right in.  My mother always told me ‘Never be ashamed of a scar, it simply means you were stronger than what tried to hurt you.’ ”  Heather than kissed the top of the mother cat’s head and touched her heart and the part of her arm where her scar was.

“You mom was a smart, brave woman,” I replied and held her hand.  “But then lionesses always are.”