A Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty Magical Story
Friday the 13th — a date when disasters pile up like cars in fog-bound freeway crashes. If I’ve learned anything from experience, it’s that anything can happen on that cursed day. And this was the worst of all the 13s. Also, most likely, my last. A terrorist’s bomb — in my hands! — was about to blow us all to Smithereens, wherever the hell that was. Just because I’d insisted Friday the 13th wasn’t any unluckier than any other date, and, yeah, because I claimed I chatted with the dead. Colossal whoppers even for me.
But the story didn’t begin at that charity ball, dedicated to the naïve proposition of bringing peace to the Middle East, where I anxiously waited with four hundred of the rich and oblivious to visit the Hereafter in tiny bits.
It began days earlier at the FBI, with the world’s most annoying goddess.
Before I march through Heaven’s Gate, I should introduce myself. I’m Samantha Brennan, fake medium, scam psychic, and bogus spiritual advisor to the stars here in Los Angeles. When I’m lucky. Truth be told, I wasn’t doing well financially. Hard to figure when you consider all the creativity I bring to my clients’ readings. Don’t tell me I’d do better if I actually could commune with the Great Beyond. Trust me — all mediums are fakes. No matter how gabby they were in life, the dead aren’t big on chitchat.
So, naturally, when the goddess dangled the promise of pay before my chubby little nose, I came running. We shared a history together, in which, to her great surprise, and mine, I’d actually ended up saving her. Now, we both understood the universe had bonded us together. Still, that didn’t mean we always got along. When I showed up for our meeting, she pushed up the sleeve of her boxy gray suit, stared at her watch, then glared at me with her big, blue eyes. “You’re late, Samantha.”
You might think that since she had that divinity-thing going, while I was the earth-bound mortal, that she’d be wearing a frothy gown and I the dorky duds. But it was actually the reverse.
“Ever consider wearing a watch?” she demanded.
Nope. Who would take me seriously? Shouldn’t a psychic know the time?
She tapped her sensible shoe against the floor of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI. Awfully earth-bound of her, I know, but Annabelle Haggerty is as much flesh-and-blood as you and me. And she isn’t anything like either of us. She’s a direct descendant of the ancient Celtic goddess, Findabar. When Haggerty kicks it, she won’t die like we will, she’ll be “called home,” as she puts it, to Tir na n’Og, “the land of the young,” in the Celtic language, where she’ll live for eternity.
While Haggerty droned on about the value of punctuality, I puffed up the skirt of the hot pink organdy gown I wore. To say our tastes differed was the understatement of the millennium. Of course, stodgy dress was required in her job. While she truly was a Celtic goddess, Annabelle Haggerty was also a Special Agent of the FBI.
“Samantha, the Bureau wants you to renew your association with Dodi Drake.”
You remember Dodi, the widow of Manfred Drake, the vice president from a few administrations back. A man so inflexible that, in a poll taken during his lone term, the majority of Americans chose him as the politician most likely to be hiding a broom up his ass.
“Happy to, only Mrs. Drake warned me never to find myself in her line of vision again.”
Anger caused Haggerty to pinch her full lips together. “Because you’re so unreliable. Why don’t you consider being less of a flake?”
That was like asking a duck to sing opera. He might stand center stage and throw his whole heart into it, but it wasn’t going to sound too good.
“Leave Mrs. Drake to me, Samantha. I’ll see that she asks you for a reading.”
Given her secretive smile, I knew Haggerty planned to use her special powers, making that a red-letter day. As a goddess she did have powers, which she was mostly too stingy to use. I know, I’d begged her for the Lotto numbers loads of times. I suspected it was that she liked functioning as the ordinary mortal she wished she were. Crazy, huh?
She went on to tell me about the charity ball Mrs. Drake was chairing to raise bucks for some ill-fated drive for peace in the Middle East. Only now, because it had been scheduled for Friday the 13th, Dodi was thinking about postponing it, even if it was less than a week away. The Bureau wanted me to assure her it was safe to go ahead with it.
“Is it? Safe, I mean?” I asked.
Haggerty laughed, a sparkling sound that all the gods share. “Not at all. The international chatter says a terrorist plans to blow up the ballroom and everyone in it. We want to catch him in the act.”
“Why not cancel it?”
“Because our intelligence might not be as good next time.”
I gulped uneasily. “And if you don’t catch him?”
Haggerty snapped her fingers. “Then the L.A. glitterati will go up in a puff of smoke.”
Funny. She said that like it was a bad thing.
That was how I ended up back in Dodi Drake’s high-powered world.
Surely the most conventional of political wives, Dodi hadn’t changed much since the old man bought country real estate. She still wore those dowdy knit suits, and still softened her nasty zingers with correct, even vapid, smiles.
She looked at me now over the half-glasses perched on her long nose. “Lovely to see you, Madame Samantha. I’m glad you’re not holding that…unpleasantness…against me.”
If that was how she described a restraining order.
She finally clued me in on the date dilemma and worked herself into a dither about it.
I drew myself up and said, with as much dignity possible for someone wearing a court jester costume, “That’s amateur spirituality, Mrs. Drake. There’s absolutely no validity to it.”
I could barely keep from laughing. Validity? At one time I never swallowed any of that woo-woo crap, even if it was the way I made my totally inadequate income. I’d regarded supernatural concerns as the province of the terminally trusting, and karma, just a nightclub in West Hollywood. But since I met Haggerty, I’d seen too much I couldn’t explain.
My spiritual superiority didn’t win Mrs. Drake over. She insisted I consult her late hubby on the matter. Even if I wasn’t sure what to believe anymore, the one truth I clung to was that the dead don’t communicate. It’s the primary characteristic that separates them from the living. But I was nothing if not accommodating, when a paycheck was involved.
Because the rubes expect a good show, I faked a trance, then said, “Manfred Drake, your former plane cries out to you.” And I put the matter to him.
People think my job is easy, just a matter of telling my clients what they want to hear. But that’s the rub — how should I know what they want? Not psychic, remember. But what makes a good fake medium is the ability to observe. I opened my eyes a smidge and spotted a photo of the old fart. Straining, I read the inscription, “To Snooks, from her Man.” Gag me.
I swayed on the couch beside Dodi and said in a dreamy voice, “Manfred says, ‘Snooks, don’t worry about the date. Have your party.'”
Dodi gasped. “Snooks? Why he hasn’t called me that since before his first mistress. He had a few, you know.”
More like a few thousand. But that detail did the trick, convincing Dodi to go ahead with the ball.
“Uh…that other matter we used to discuss, Madame Samantha. Does Manfred still feel the same way?”
Well, Dodi had made one tiny change in her otherwise conventional life. Since the old man kicked it, she’d taken up with a succession of boy-toys, each less suitable than the one before him.
“He’s still livid, Mrs. Drake. Absolutely writhing in anger.”
Dodi sighed with satisfaction.
I’d never admit it to Haggerty, but that was why Mrs. Drake decided she didn’t need my services, even before I started stalking her. Whenever she asked me how her husband felt about her latest protégé, I assumed she wanted to believe he was okay with it. How was I to know she only took up with them to show Manfred she could have her flings, too? It was like they all expected me to read their minds.
As if on cue, Dodi’s latest diversion strutted into the room behind one of her Secret Service agents. The handsome young black man cocked his hip and sneered at the departing agent. Everything about him — from his shaved head, to his black leather clothing, to the dark shades he wore, which couldn’t have been easy to see through indoors — screamed of cool contempt. A shiny scar that cut across one cheek took him out of the ranks of drop-dead gorgeous and put him firmly in the bad boy category.
“Madame Samantha, this is my…friend…Antifreeze, a rising hip-hop star,” Dodi said in a simpering tone.
Even if I couldn’t actually hear Mr. Drake, I knew what he had to think about this one.
“Yo, bitch,” Antifreeze said matter-of-factly. Was that greeting meant for Dodi or me?
Her, I guessed, since she beamed like poetry had just turned her little head.
To my surprise, though it wasn’t as easy to detect on his mocha-colored skin, he flushed, as well. Why would a bad boy act ashamed for the kind of street remark you’d expect him to make?
That question puzzled me even after I returned to my car, a classic, if well oxidized, 1966 Mustang convertible. I sat behind the wheel, clutching the big black purse I always carry, trying to make sense of it. Why would a guy who dubbed himself “Antifreeze” blush for calling a woman something that, while nasty in most circles, seemed pretty tame by hip-hop standards? While rummaging through my bag, I came across a Post-it pad on which the words, “Check out the bad boy,” were written.
Did I write that? I must have. Who else would write a note on my pad?
I raced to the Bureau and found Haggerty in her claustrophobic little office. I blurted out the gist of my session with Dodi and warned her about Antifreeze. To my surprise, she ignored my advice about Mr. Freeze and focused instead on the outcome of my pseudo-message from Mandrake.
“Well done, Samantha,” she said, with a tip of her sleek auburn head.
Much as I like praise — a rare enough occurrence from her — I didn’t think she appreciated my real discovery.
“Oh, we know all about Antifreeze,” Haggerty said with a flip of her delicate fingers. “Real name —Eddie Eagan, a man with a record clear back to the cradle. But the last time he came out of prison, he went off on some spiritual retreat, and it seems to have changed him. He hasn’t gotten in trouble in the last couple of years.”
While Haggerty went to report my success to her boss, I pawed through my purse in search of some candy. Dodi always scheduled my readings for late morning, yet she never invited me to lunch. Rude. Then again, how much off-the-clock time did I want to spend with her and ‘Freeze? I came across that Post-it pad again. This time it read, “Check the Social Security records.”
Wow, I was sure getting good ideas. I just wished I could remember when I wrote them.
When Haggerty returned, I asked her to look up his Social Security account.
With a sigh, she said, “Samantha, you keep Dodi set on that date, and let us worry about Mr. Eagan.”
“But you’re not,” I wailed.
“Because he’s not a threat. The hip-hop wannabe is more interested in getting a record contract than blowing up a roomful of the people who can help him get ahead.”
Although that made sense, I couldn’t give up on that note. After more cajoling, she finally tapped some keys on her desktop computer to call up Eddie Eagan’s Social Security account.
“Cons usually get civilian jobs while they’re on parole,” Haggerty said. “We’ll see contributions for some time, before they fall off the honesty wagon.”
As she predicted, that pattern had been consistent in Eddie’s case. He’d made no contributions in the last couple of years.
Haggerty flexed one of her slim shoulders. “So? Maybe Dodi keeps him. She might be generous.”
“She’s never been generous with me.”
Haggerty’s gaze narrowed. “This concern isn’t like you, Samantha. Do you know something you’re not telling me?”
I held out my open palms to show how little I knew about anything, a sad fact I’ve largely come to accept.
“You’re not seeing some kind of vision, are you? I’ve always said that you might have genuine —”
“Not that again.” Haggerty thought I might have real woo-woo abilities. But she was wrong. I was so lacking in prescient powers that, if I were about to be hit on the head by a two-by-four, my premonition of pain wouldn’t kick in until the headache wore off. And that was the way I liked it. I wanted life to be a total surprise. “Nope, I’m a complete sham.”
“Sometimes we need to accept our true natures.”
The pot calling the kettle noir.
“Samantha, why can’t you leave the security concerns to the Bureau?”
“Because Dodi insists that I attend the ball, too,” I blurted.
Haggerty smiled knowingly. “That’s our girl.”
Okay, so I had a highly developed sense of self-preservation.
“This is a state-of-the-art operation,” she assured me. There would be a total lockdown of the ballroom wing of the hotel. Between the times set in the security computers, nobody would get in or out. “And we’ll shut down cell phone service to it.” They even had some electronic explosives detector, so even the smallest amount would be discovered. “You see? It’s totally under control.”
Easy enough for her to say. The security room, where she’d be, was probably as fortified as a bunker.
I tried to let it go, I really did. But worry sat on my fat chest with all the weight of a piano. The next day, I saw another note on my purse Post-it. “Follow the bad boy,” it read.
When was I writing all this? But hey, it was a good idea. I staked out Dodi’s condo, having taken the precaution of bringing lots of chocolate bars in case Antifreeze kept me waiting. Since I went through them with lightning speed, fortunately, he didn’t.
Carrying an over-the-shoulder duffle, he dropped in on his benefactor late morning, stayed for a few minutes, then left. I notice the pimp-stride vanished once he moved beyond the range of Dodi’s windows. He walked like a normal person then. Actually, with the mincing little steps that replaced that strut, he walked like a nerd. He caught a bus at the corner. Bad boys take the bus? I tucked the Mustang behind it and followed.
The bus deposited him at a gas station mini-mart. Antifreeze-Eddie, with his cheek scar glistening in the sunlight, jumped out and went straight to the men’s room. Ten minutes later, someone came out, still carrying the duffle. But it sure didn’t look like ol’ Freeze. This guy wore dorky clothes and a wig. And the scar was gone!
When he walked away, I tailed him on foot. All the way to a library, where he went through the employees’ entrance. A library? I finally found the chameleon, working behind the reference desk.
I told him we had to talk, and the eyes I hadn’t been able to see behind those shades at Dodi’s place, widened to the size of dinner plates.
We went to a coffee shop around the corner.
“Look,” I said, leaning across the Formica table. “I know who you are, Eddie.”
“No, you don’t. I’m not Eddie — that’s my cousin. My real name is Daniel Stewart.” He shrugged. “If you want a career in rap, you don’t achieve it with a degree in library science. Eddie’s record is what I need.”
“And he doesn’t mind you using his identity?”
Kind eyes stared off. I understood now why he kept them covered in his bad boy role. “He might not know. Eddie got religion during his last stay in prison, and he’s become involved with some spiritual group. My aunt knows I’m using his name. She didn’t mind, at first. I help her sell the beaded purses she makes, and she appreciates that.”
His face brightened. “Really great ones. I’m having her make an evening bag for Dodi.”
A guy that into purses had no business in hip-hop.
“But lately Auntie acts uncomfortable around me. Maybe she’s not as okay with my using Eddie’s identity as I thought.”
I noticed the absence of the scar. “But the scar? How do you…?”
Daniel pulled from his pocket a white piece of cardboard, covered with a number of shiny strips. “A makeup artist makes them for me. Scars to go.”
Hmmm. Maybe I could get her to produce something that would make me look thin. “So, you work at the library and for your aunt?”
“I need the money. Starting my career has proven to be awfully expensive.”
“Dodi doesn’t give you…?”
He shook his bewigged head. “Not a dime.”
“Do you two…?” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively.
It took a moment until he caught my drift and screwed up his face. “No! She just wants people to think so.” After a moment, he muttered, “Thankfully.
She wanted a dead guy to think so. But it was good to know I wasn’t the only fraud.
The poor slob reeked of sincerity, and that was gonna hurt him in the music world. Hell, it surprised me it hadn’t hurt him in the library. This wasn’t a town that valued honesty. Making it a perfect spot for me. But just to be sure I was reading him right, since despite Haggerty’s claims, I had absolutely no spiritual abilities, I dashed back to the Bureau and told her about Daniel-Eddie’s double life, and asked her to check Daniel Stewart’s Social Security records.
With an annoyed grimace, she did. “Actually, Daniel has two jobs.”
“Yeah, I told you — he works for his aunt.”
Haggerty shook her head. “That one must be off the books. His other FICA-paying job is as a waiter at the hotel where the charity ball will be held.”
I shrieked. “And that doesn’t bother you?”
Haggerty shrugged. “Maybe that’s where he and Dodi met. How many occasions do a vice presidential widow and a rap artist-librarian have to get together?”
I’d felt so sure about Daniel, but people fool me all the time. Really not psychic. I began to fear that he had just played me like a fiddle.
The days leading up to the ball passed in a blur. I kept reassuring Dodi about the date. And I needed a fitting for the gown I’d be wearing — a rainbow-printed fifties prom gown that I found at the vintage store. Sadly, it had to be let out. I also followed Daniel. But apart from his library job and visiting Dodi, his only stop was at some house in South Central, where he picked up an object wrapped in tissue paper. The beaded purse, I guessed.
I didn’t arrive at the ball till close to the last minute. The valet parking lot beside the ballroom was already filled with loads of high-priced tin. I had to park my wreck down the block. Dodi glowed when she told me how grateful she was to Manfred for encouraging her to go ahead with things.
Yeah, the man was a prince. Dodi wore a soft lavender dress that fell in smooth lines over her slim body. I didn’t see any beaded purse yet; Daniel must have been even later than I was.
I found Haggerty and her fellow fibbies in a security command center off the ballroom.
“Nice getup, Gidget,” she said. “Does that gown glow in the dark?”
Okay, so maybe the rainbow stripes crossing my gown were a bit bright. The way I saw it, I could either be a better fake medium, or I could dress the part. My gigantic black purse also struck an odd note.
“Did you catch him yet?” I demanded. “Did your explosives sniffer turn up anything?”
Haggerty shook her head. “There’s no explosive device here yet. But the international chatter still indicates there will be.” She looked at her watch. “Better be soon, too. There won’t be a way in or out shortly.”
Great. One of the other agents buzzed someone in. A waiter entered carrying a tray of dinners for the Bureau folks. Since he was a black man with a shaved head, at first glance I thought he was Daniel. But a closer look showed him to be an older man, with a cynical demeanor. Now this guy could make it in rap.
I followed him out through the security room door, which clicked shut behind us. “Hey,” I said. “Bring me a tequila, willya?”
“Get it yourself,” he said with a sneer.
Whoa! Snotty. You could tell his tip was guaranteed tonight. Instead of turning toward the ballroom, he went through the outside door. I could have told him that door was about to seal shut, but I figured the staff had to know. Served him right if he got locked out. I stared after him, as he sauntered across the parking lot. Off in the distance, something shimmered on his face. I hadn’t noticed that when I saw him in the security room, but I didn’t see him then from the shimmering side.
By then, I really needed that tequila, and I went back to the ballroom in search of a more congenial server.
Instead, I ran into Dodi. She showed me the lavender-and-cream bag Daniel had given her. I had to admit the beading was good. But the bag, when she handed it to me for a closer look, proved to be unexpectedly heavy.
“What’s in here, Mrs. Drake? Your entire Secret Service detail?”
“It can’t be any heavier than yours, Madame Samantha.” Her gray eyes narrowed on my shoulder suitcase. “Perhaps instead of my paying you for readings, we can exchange services. You can communicate with Manfred for me, and I can teach you something about…” her thin lips curved in disapproval “…style.”
And after that, maybe she could teach me to suck eggs. Dodi encouraged me to open the purse so I could see the satin interior. Pretty, though it seemed remarkably small, compared to its outside dimensions. Not much in it, apart from a tube of lipstick and an electronic keycard to the security center, something Haggerty didn’t offer me. I palmed the keycard, partly so I had access to Haggerty, but mostly to pay Dodi back for dissing her medium.
I found my assigned spot at a rear table, seated beside a skinny man in a baggy rented tux. Obviously, the loser table.
When Daniel came by, I told him what a nice job his aunt had done with the purse, without mentioning how heavy she made it, nor how little space she’d left inside.
His smooth brow crinkled. “My aunt really seemed nervous when I picked it up. I think she’s about to tell me I can’t use Eddie’s identity anymore.”
“Yeah, that’s a shame. Where can I get some tequila around here?”
Daniel shrugged. “Why ask me?”
Because when he wasn’t acting as a gigolo for a certain former Second Lady, he worked there. But if he didn’t want to admit it, I wasn’t going to press him. Besides, I saw the wait staff carrying trays of champagne flutes. Close enough. I was thrilled to see the waiter who smart-mouthed me wasn’t among them. Maybe he really did get locked out — wouldn’t that have been funny?
Time inched by, and the fibbies still didn’t swarm over any suspects. What were they waiting for? After wolfing down a rubber chicken special, I used Dodi’s keycard to let myself into the security room. When the door clicked shut behind me, I stared in disbelief. With half-eaten meals before them, all the Bureau people had keeled over. Dead? No! I fell to my knees beside Haggerty. I would never tell her, but I almost cried with relief when I realized she, like all of them, was just drugged.
Holy shit! The waiter must have knocked them out with tainted food. I thought about the fact that he had reminded me of Daniel. That wasn’t simply because they were both black men with shaved heads. There had been a resemblance.
Outside the security room, I hurled myself at the outer ballroom doors, but they were sealed shut. I stopped some cute guy in designer evening wear and demanded his cell phone, which my own finances didn’t permit.
“Cell phones don’t work here, sweet cheeks,” he said with a smile that produced unexpected dimples.
Sweet cheeks? If I survived this night, I’d look him up.
Daniel happened by just then. “Daniel!” I shouted.
“Antifreeze,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“Whatever. The truth, now — do you work here as a waiter?”
He frowned. “When would I? The library, my aunt’s purses, Dodi, and my music career — that eats up all my time.”
But someone on that job was using his Social Security number. Was it such a stretch to think that while he co-opted his cousin’s identity, that Eddie had claimed his? I remembered the way the waiter’s cheek had shimmered in the sun, like a real scar might. Eddie, the waiter? The terrorist?
And it all came down to me? Me, the most unreliable flake in the universe.
I stumbled back to my table and pawed through my big black purse for something that would help. Help how? To stop an explosion? Get real, Samantha. To my surprise, someone had written “Purse” on the Post-it pad.
Who the hell was writing those notes?
I ignored it. With four hundred-plus lives on the line — and most importantly, mine — who cared about some notes.
A man’s voice suddenly said, “The purse, you idiot. Get the purse.”
I poked my index finger into the arm of the geek beside me. “Okay, my bag might big. But you have no right to call me an idiot.”
He turned my way. “I beg your pardon.”
“You can beg all you want, pal, but I —”
It hit me then: the voice I heard, it wasn’t this guy’s. And it wasn’t outside, but inside my head. “Manfred?” I asked.
The geek beside me started to say, “No, my name is —”
“Not you, dweeb!” I shouted.
“Of course,” the voice in my head said. “Am I not the one you called out for? But you are a hard person to reach, my girl. Do you know how difficult it is for us to speak?”
Didn’t know, didn’t want to know.
“The purse, you fool. It’s the purse,” the voice spat, before fading out.
I got it. Finally. I knew which purse the old fart in the Great Beyond meant.
Wouldn’t Daniel’s aunt have become a tad skittish if she helped her terrorist son build a bomb into Dodi’s purse?
Dodi stepped up to the podium on the stage at the front of the ballroom. The beaded evening bag hung from a slender strap over her shoulder. Without giving it a thought, I lifted my skirt and galloped toward the stage like I was scoring a touchdown. Dodi’s welcome speech sputtered to a halt, as she watched my approach. On the stage, I tried to yank the beaded purse from her shoulder, but she held onto it.
“I knew I shouldn’t have removed that restraining order,” she shouted, increasing her hold.
“Gimme the purse, Mrs. Drake, or I’ll tell everyone what you don’t do with Antifreeze.” The audience members must have thought that was something kinky that had to do with solvents.
But my threat worked. Once she relinquished it, I grabbed the purse and dashed backstage. But what was I thinking? There were no doors that would open. With that vile thing clutched in my hand, I ran back-and-forth helplessly. We were goners, all of us! Me first!
Then I spotted a window, and a folding chair. I hurled the chair through the glass. The window broke, but that made an alarm wail. From behind me, out in the audience, I could hear the sounds of people getting restless. Restless? Didn’t they know what I was risking for them? Despite the shrieking sound that threatened to make my head explode, I stood before that broken window and threw the purse with all my might.
One one-thousand, two one-thousand… At least the explosion overshadowed the sound of the alarm. It also knocked me on my fanny and caused a ballroom full of people to scream frantically. Good thing they didn’t know all their high-priced cars had just been reduced to metal toothpicks.
I tracked down the cute guy and asked to borrow his cell phone again. With the window open, so to speak, the phone worked, and I summoned Haggerty’s boss. He used the hotel’s security computer to override the locked doors, and took over.
After testing the drugged food, the case came together. The FBI picked up Eddie at his mom’s home. Eventually, they proved the “spiritual retreat” everyone mentioned was really a terrorist training camp.
Weeks later, I chided Haggerty for her failing. “If you weren’t so bent on seeming totally human, you’d have sensed the food was tainted. What’s the point of having powers if you won’t use ’em?”
She acknowledged that truth with a solemn nod. “And what about you, Samantha? I’ve always maintained you had spiritual abilities, and you do. You communicated with the dead, after all.”
“I’ll ‘fess up, if you will, Haggerty.”
But I wouldn’t really. All I was willing to admit was that anything can happen on Friday the 13th.
Even some mighty real hocus-pocus.