Notes: Set ten to fifteen or so years down the road. Contains Philip as a priest. This is a cross
over with the Sentinel (almost), also set well out of their timeline.
The young woman touched the man waiting at the table on the back before sitting down. They
studied each other for a moment, this being their first meeting, before speaking.
Father Philip Callahan, now in his late thirties, smiled at this young woman who had asked for his
help on her dissertation/translation of an ancient Babylonian manuscript. All the prior translations
had been miscopied, or misworded. It was this woman's job to get it right this time. He looked
her over, noticing her just-a-little-longer than shoulder length hair glowing in the light from the
window; her obvious youth. She didn't look to be more than mid-twenties, even though he knew
she was older. She was of average height, a little overweight, and her grey/blue eyes twinkled
with suppressed mischief.
"Father," she said, handing over the book she carried, "thank you for seeing me on such short
Philip smiled and opened the book. "I'm always happy to help out a colleague, present or future."
He looked up briefly. "How is Doctor Michael and his wife Rachel? I've not seen him for years,"
he said, his lilt softened by many years in the United States and other places than his native
Zarin's smile slipped a little at the mention of her advisor's wife's name, Doctor Rachel
Corrigan-Butler. "I was sorry to cause a fight between them."
Philip patted her hand gently. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it, Zarin, they've had that fight many
times before." His attention wandered back to the book.
"I don't know why I couldn't make sense of that chapter, but I couldn't find a lot of the word's
modern versions and some of those symbols I couldn't find *anywhere*" She smiled up at the
waiter that had just stopped beside her. "Father? Lunch?"
"Chef salad please." He hadn't looked up from his study of the time worn pages.
"The same please, dressing on the side and ranch if you can," she asked.
The waiter nodded and left, but as he was leaving he dropped something in Philip's lap.
Philip handed it back to him without looking at the silver object, a ring to be precise. He moved
their place settings, stacking them out of the way, and set the book between them so they both
could read it. "Okay, I know most of these. This one," he pointed at a word, "is another word
"No light darkness or the other type?"
Philip looked up, shocked to the core. His mouth almost hung open. It had been a while since he
had been called on for this type of work; why had his former colleague called him this time?
"Father Callahan, this is not a new topic for me."
Philip cleared his throat and took a drink, buying himself time to think. "So," he said finally,
"how have you come across this before?"
Zarin smiled and gave a light laugh, a twinkling and musical sound. "Oh, Father Philip, you have
no idea how many times I've come across this. My house has a lovely spirit guardian that told me
to go see Michael about this book. My might-as-well-be parents have dealt with the subject when
it came for me while I was still very young." She smiled a little more softly, sadly. "You have no
idea how many times I've run across the concept and the reality of personal or permanent
darkness." She stopped when she noticed their waiter coming back with their food. She nodded
at him, prompting Philip to pick up the book and close it, finger holding the spot. She waited
until they were relatively alone again. "Listen, I know that book could be dangerous in the wrong
hands but in mine it is more than safe. My advisor, your former colleague Michael Butler, and I
have agreed that my translation and my dissertation will never see the light of public scrutiny. He
said he wants a few copies so he can send them to some appropriate people, but other than that it
will stay in my safe. To be destroyed if anyone comes for it." She sat back and looked down at
her salad. "I know what happens when that sort of thing gets loose." She poured a little dressing
onto the salad and took a bite.
Philip nodded, thinking. "I can see you've given this some thought and consideration and I must
tell you, it makes me glad." He picked up his fork, spearing a piece of lettuce. "I've seen this sort
of thing turn into a problem before also and I'm loathe to let it happen if I can stop it." He
chewed on the lettuce, thinking some more, choosing his next words carefully. "I would want...
Hello, what's this?" He had looked down to choose his next bite and saw a shiny thing laying on
his food. A silver ring. With an embossed cursive L on the top. "Oh, you guys are so unsubtle
these days," he muttered and looked around. He quickly spotted the slightly younger man posing
as a waiter, their waiter probably, over by the doors to the kitchen. "Zarin, I will help you with
this, but I've got to go now. It seems an emergency has come up." He picked up the ring, folding
it quickly into a napkin before she could see what it was. "May I take the book with me? I'd like
to study an original copy instead of the mistranslation we have where I'm going."
Zarin nodded, looking concerned. "Is it something I might help with?"
Philip shook his head. "No, it's not something that anyone can help with I think." He shook her
hand and left, heading outside to the car that would be waiting.
Zarin watched him go, sure that something funny was going on, and pretty sure she had a very
good idea what it was. She motioned for another waiter. "Might I get a box for these?" He
nodded and went to get it.
Philip stood next to the only car he recognized. He was soon joined by one of his oldest friends,
who unlocked the dark grey Range Rover and climbed in. He sighed and climbed in, placing the
book on the back seat carefully. "So, Nick, that was unsubtle. What if I had bitten it?"
Nick Boyle, former Seal and second in command at the San Francisco castle that housed both
the Luna Foundation and the west coast head of the Legacy, smiled. "Philip, not even you could
bite into a ring and not notice it, not even while you're studying something new." He started the
engine. "We need your help. Derek's got this feeling and you know how those can end up. It's a
child this time, a possession."
Philip nodded. "Yeah, I do, Lord help us, I do." He buckled up and they headed off for the ivy
covered castle that was only about an hour away.
Zarin unlocked her door of her rental house, quickly shutting it against the wind. She took off her
coat, hanging it on the old tree in the hall, and went into what was really her room, the library.
She had gotten a deal on this house, it being so far out of town and in a clearly not new condition;
but all it had needed was some cleaning and the large house had started to look almost new again.
It was old, a little over a century she had been told, and comfortable. The wood spread
throughout the house had this beautiful old patina that glowed. The antique furniture had come
with it, even though nobody had lived here in a while. There were many rumors of the house
being haunted. If they only knew what that really meant.
Zarin kicked off her shoes, settling into her favorite chair, a gift from her almost-parents. She put
her feet up on the stool, wiggling her toes at their freedom from heels, and opened her salad from
From the restaurant she had gone back to school, the university where she was a Ph.D. candidate,
and started to type up the parts of the translation she already had done. It was amazing how the
book had come to her, mysterious in the most colorful way; but that was how things happened
around her, how they always had. The text had been brought to the University by a Middle
Eastern book dealer who had requested a meeting with her advisor, Doctor Michael Butler, so it
could be translated. They had been discussing who best could do the work when she had
knocked on the door.
The book dealer had gotten angry at her intrusion and started to yell at her, but before he could
get more than a few remarks about her intelligence out, the book had fallen off the desk. It had
been in the center of the eight foot span, but somehow it had landed on the floor. The book
dealer had spun around to look at it, scowling at Michael in the process, but then a small
earthquake had hit.
Somehow in all the chaos the book had ended up in her hands. The book dealer tried to take it
away from her, but couldn't. The book had somehow picked up a sticky mess of honey, that was
never in the office in the first place, and had stuck to her hands and clothes. The man had just
stared at her for a few moments before turning back to Michael and telling him something that
had sounded like 'as the book wills it so shall it happen'. He had kissed her hand and left the
office, not another word said to her.
Zarin was brought back to the present by the ringing phone. "Hello?"
[Hey, how did the meeting go?] her friend, partner in late night eating binges of Ben and Jerry's,
and fellow grad student Tess asked.
"Well enough. Father Callahan agreed to help me but he had to leave on an emergency. How
were the English 101 kids today? Did they have another paper ball fight?"
There was laughter coming through the phone. [Nah, they behaved, for once. Gods, what I
wouldn't give to teach upperclassmen instead of freshmen. They actually have opinions and want
to learn. I've never seen a group of kids act this bad, not even at the pre-school I worked at last
summer.] There was a long drawn out sigh. [So, want company?]
"Nah, I'm cool. I'm just going to sit here and read. Maybe I'll do something about the creak in
my bed but other than that, nothing taxing. Why? Lonely?"
[No, not really. There's a party downstairs and the frat boys next door have a screamer in. Let
me tell you, some of the men they bring home are *real* loud. None of this muffle it in a pillow
stuff. I'm talking about 'scream your head off as you go off' type of people.]
"You're more than welcome to stay here, you know that. I've got plenty of space. You could
even have your own tub," Zarin offered, knowing what the answer would be. She mouthed it
along as Tess said it.
[You know I can't do that, you're house spirit hates me.]
"Yeah, but I think she's gotten used to you now. She hasn't tried to kill you in months."
A short laugh came over the line. [Yeah, she only hid my textbooks last time. The only time she
doesn't want to hurt me is when you're not there. And I still think that's strange.]
"Yeah, but maybe she thinks that you, my dear Artesian Arkadi, are going to hurt me. Maybe she
knows about some deep seated obsession you have with trying to get me to flunk out because of
too many ice cream induced naps." Zarin laughed. "Or maybe she just doesn't like the color of
your hair. Who knows? She's got her own reasons and I'll talk to her if you want."
[Nah, I think I'll go down to the party, hit on a few guys or something. Who knows, maybe I'll
get lucky and meet my prince charming and convince him to not go be with a wicked witch and to
stay a toad for the night.]
They shared a laugh, then got off the line. Zarin finished her salad and put the box aside, picking
up a book on the way back to settling down into the comfortable chair. She opened the book on
Summerian burial practices, quickly getting lost in the details.
Philip walked in the side door of the castle on Angel Island, coming home again after almost three
years. He breathed in deeply, smelling the smells that had meant home to him for most of his
adult life. He followed Nick into the library, the way not forgotten, but now he was a visitor.
He was greeted by a hug from his other oldest friends, Alex and Derek. Alex squealed in delight
and jumped up to hug him, the child near her feet forgotten for a moment in her haste. She
stepped back, letting Derek get close enough to greet him also, and picked up the sniffling
youngster that was insistently pulling on her jeans. She handed him over, letting Philip see the
godchild he hadn't seen since he had baptized him almost three years ago.
Philip was led to what used to be his seat at the table, retaking the chair with ease. "So, you
Derek Rayne, head of the Luna Foundation, second in command in the Legacy, laughed. "Yes,
my friend, we did and we've missed you." He pushed over a folder. "You need to look at and
talk to this one. She's a very special case that needs your delicate touch."
"In other words she's been possessed somehow and you need me to get it out." He looked
around, seeing the smiling faces. "It's not like it would be anything else." He smiled back at
them, wiggling his fingers at the youngster who had climbed up into the chair beside his mother.
"Oh, and the Christmas card was beautiful."
Derek smiled, patting Nick's arm. "Yes, it was. Those two did a good job while I was ill."
Philip turned back to the folder, embarrassed for bringing up the subject. He hadn't wanted to
remind the older man of the hard time he had suffered just a few short months ago. *He* didn't
want to think about the massive illness that had almost cost the man that was like a father to him
his life. He started to read the profile, noting which facts he would need. "Do we know who's
haunting her? Is it demonic or just a spirit?"
"Spirit," Nick said.
"Demonic," Alex said at the same time. They glared at each other, but ended up smiling. They
couldn't let anything invade their happiness at that moment.
Philip nodded, smiling. He bent back to the folder, only looking away from it when a small body
invaded his lap and line of sight. "Hello, how are you?" he asked the young boy, ruffling his short
curly hair. The boy was so obviously Alex's child, his skin the color of coffee with just the right
amount of cream in it, his hair and eyes the same as hers.
"Will, get your butt down," Mom said. She tapped the table. "Now. Uncle Philip will play with
"No," the child said, hugging Philip tightly. "Not ever going." He nodded and went back to his
Philip patted the boy's back. "Now, William, I have to read this. Why don't you sit in my lap and
give your ma funny faces?" The boy patted Philip's head and turned around, sticking his tongue
out at everyone else. "None of that, young one. They don't deserve your tongue."
"Yes they do," he said. "Would you read to me? Please?" William turned around, looking up
with big eyes, just like his mom could.
"Later, after I read this. And before you ask, no I won't read this to you."
"Meany," William said, settling back down into the offered lap.
Philip just shook his head and went back to reading. It seemed that the ten year old girl afflicted
was someone normal, no sight evident, and that she had somehow gotten hold of an artifact with
something or someone trapped in it. That something or someone was now terrorizing her family
and their friends. The Luna Foundation had offered to get her to a specialist in the area. "Okay,
so when can I see her?"
Derek checked his watch. "Two hours. Her father is bringing her. There is one thing you should
know; her mother is a strong disbeliever. She's the one who had her daughter admitted to a
psychiatric ward thinking they would cure her."
"Until she threw an intern down the hall," Alex added. "Something that no ten year old could do.
That got her father motivated and when a doctor, ours by chance, approached her father he
quickly assented." She tossed over a small envelope. "That's the locket if it helps."
Philip nodded. "It might but first we have to find out who's inhabiting this young girl. If it's
demonic, it'll be a fight. If it's a soul that was trapped then we might be able to appease it's need
and let it go free."
They all nodded and got back down to work, leaving young William Holden Moreau with his
Philip grabbed the book from the side table in the hall where the butler, Frederick, had kindly put
it and headed back into the library. He went to his old table upstairs, spreading out the book and
a notepad and a few pens. He got to work, translating it on his own, wanting to have a copy that
was right. As well as one for the house of course, as theirs' dated from a mistranslated copy also.
He worked steadily, not even realizing when he was brought things to drink by Frederick or Alex
- but taking them when they were placed in his hand-, through the night.
The first time he noticed he wasn't alone was when a small body got in his line of vision again,
obscuring the view with his furry pajama covered body. He kindly read William a story so he
would go back to sleep, and put him back in bed, before going back to the book.
The next time someone interrupted him was when Derek came down and pulled the book from in
front of him, looking over it himself. Philip looked up, frowning. "What?"
"Just wondering when you were going to stop for the night." He closed the book, marking the
place with a small bookmark from the holder of them on the table top.
"Don't you have other things to think about in your own room?"
Derek smiled. "Yes, but Nick told me to quit worrying and come to make you go to sleep."
Philip laughed and stood, stretching. "Yeah, that sounds like him, but I'm not ready yet." He tried
to sit down, but Derek stopped him.
Derek pulled Philip back up, walking him down the short hall and up the front stairs to his room.
"You need sleep more than you do that translation. Really, trust me on this."
"Derek, we don't have a correct one of that book. That's the Babylonian text that we found out
the hard way was incorrect." They stopped outside Philip's door. "Rachel's husband sent his
protégée to me, asked me ta help her. She's said I could take a look at it, and have a translation."
"And we know Michael will send us one too," Derek reminded him. He opened the door, pushing
lightly so Philip would go in. "It will still be there tomorrow and you'll still be able to read it." He
closed the door gently, whispering "good night" as he did so.
Derek shook his head and went back to his room and his husband who was waiting for a backrub.
Philip surveyed the damage to the library. There were books thrown everywhere it the room.
There were papers strewn about as if a hurricane had gone through. The big table that usually sat
in the middle of the main floor was overturned and against the holographic door, it's top facing
the control room hidden behind the map. He shook his head as first Derek, then Alex were
carried out of the room by Nick and Frederick, his own dislocated shoulder eliminating him from
helping much beyond cleaning up.
Philip started to stack the books, straightening them out, putting them back into their original
shape. He was carrying his third stack up the stairs, with a little help from William, when Nick
came back in. The two men and one child quickly set the papers and books to right, setting the
papers onto the built in couch near the stairs.
Philip watched as Nick and Frederick moved the heavy oak table back into place, gently placing it
on the indents it had caused in the floor over the years it had sat there. William clapped when it
was resettled, earning him a bow from Nick
Frederick had gone to get the phone while Philip tried to keep William occupied with another
story. They didn't want him to see his mother out cold upstairs. The butler came back in carrying
the cordless phone and took over the story while Philip took the call.
[Father, is everything all right there?] the London Precept, Jane Witherspoon, asked.
"Yes ma'am, everything is all right. Derek and Alex are upstairs resting, the girl is going to be
fine now. The spirit has been appeased and has left to continue it's journey. We've mostly
cleaned up the library, just a few more things need to be sorted out."
[Good, please tell Mr. Boyle that I want a report when he gets some time and tell the others I said
to rest.] She hung up.
Philip was about to put the phone down when it rang again. "Luna Foundation," he answered.
[Hello, is Father Callahan there?] a soft feminine voice asked.
"This is he."
[Father this is Zarin Majalin. Is everything all right? I just got the most terrible feeling that
something had happened.]
"Did the book tell you?" he asked, sitting back down.
[No, actually the house spirit went insane. She started moaning about the castle and you and how
you couldn't be hurt because you had a purpose.]
Philip was astounded. Zarin had mentioned a house spirit yesterday, but this was something else.
That and he hadn't felt anything unusual about her at lunch. "Zarin, can you speak to her? Can
you ask her how she knows?"
[No, she can't write or speak. She can toss things, hide things, give me a hint by moving things or
placing things in my direct view. That's how I knew to take the book to Michael, his card started
to pop up everywhere I went. This time it was a book, a photo-album, that came flying at me. It
fell to the floor opened to a picture of you in front of a castle. Then she started to go insane,
speeding around the room, tossing books around. I didn't call until she settled down, I thought
you wouldn't want to be interrupted in the middle of whatever had been going on.]
"No, you did the right thing." He stopped to think for a few minutes. "May I and an associate of
mine come and see her? Do you think that would be a problem?"
[I don't know. She doesn't like visitors all that well. She keeps trying to drive my best friend
away for some reason. I guess you could try though. If you wanted to.]
"Yes, please. Would the day after tomorrow be all right?"
[No, sorry, I have a class that afternoon. Latin 305 at 2 p.m. and office hours before and after.
You could come by that night or early in the morning or tomorrow or the day after. I only have
Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes this semester.]
"Give me a second to ask my associate when would be best." He put the phone on the table and
turned to Nick, who had just walked in. "When would Alex be able to take a small trip down to
Zarin's house? Seems her house spirit went insane when this happened."
Nick smiled. "Was she the one you were having lunch with?" Philip nodded. "Tomorrow
probably. You know she loves a good mystery." He grinned. "Tell her we'll be there tomorrow
around ten or so. That way we can get William into daycare first."
"I'm going," Philip said. "I told her myself and an associate." He took the phone out of William's
hand. "No, she doesn't know you, you don't need to talk to her," he reprimanded quietly. He
could hear a laugh through the phone.
"Tomorrow around ten," Nick said and picked up William. "Alex and I and you can go."
Philip nodded and brought the phone up to his ear. "Would tomorrow around ten work?"
[Sure, I can even make lunch. See you then.]
"There will be three of us," he warned her.
[That's okay, I've got plenty of room,] Zarin said and hung up.
Philip grimaced and hung up the phone, putting it on the table. He frowned at Nick, who came
back with a wrapping bandage and an ice pack. "Do ya have to?" Nick nodded, his grin
returning. "I know, you're going to enjoy this, aren't ya?"
"Yup, always wanted to see you on your back and begging me for mercy." He waved a hand at
them tabletop, and waited while Philip got up so his shoulder could be set.
Alex, Nick, and Philip stood outside the door, amazed at whose house this had been. Why did
this new case live in the house of a former Legacy member of their own house? One that had
disappeared close to forty years ago.
"This proves that there is no such thing as a coincidence when it concerns our house," Alex said.
Nick and Philip agreed with her. Philip walked forward, pushing the doorbell.
Zarin came to the door, smiling. "Hi, Father, come in, bring your friends before they become
lawn ornaments." She opened the door wider, stepping aside so they could walk in.
Alex immediately went to the library, 'feeling' that she needed to. There, sitting in a big
overstuffed easy chair, was the ghost of a woman that had disappeared from their house without a
trace. She was sitting there, knitting some lace, and when she looked up she smiled at Alex.
"Hello," Alex said, sitting on the footstool. "Are you the house spirit?"
"House guardian," Zarin corrected. "She's protected myself and this house numerous times." She
left them alone, going toward the back of the house.
Nick and Philip walked forward, standing behind Alex. They watched the ghost produce an
amazingly intricate doily.
"Susan," Philip addressed her. "Would you like to tell me what's going on? Do you need help or
were you just concerned?"
She frowned up at the priest, putting aside her knitting. She floated up, going over to a book
shelf. She tossed a book off, narrowly missing Nick's head with it as it headed for Philip.
Philip caught it, looking at the title. "These are hers?" Susan, the ghost, nodded. "Do we need
to protect her?" The house filled with music.
"Please don't do that, you know I have a headache," Zarin said, coming back in. She set a tray
down, handing out cups of coffee and tea. She turned to frown at the ghost. "You had me
cleaning almost all night and then got me up early. You know that hurts my head."
The ghost floated over, planting a kiss almost on her cheek before fading out.
Zarin took over her chair, motioning toward the others. "As you can see, she's harmless. Helpful,
mischievous, but harmless to me." She took a sip of tea and grimaced at the lack of sugar.
Philip smiled and handed over the honey bowl, watching as she put a great deal in. "So, Susan
came back here. We've always wondered where she went." Susan came back, flying around the
room, weaving in between them. "Not here?" She stopped and looked at him, then at the book
on the table. She let it fly over to him, opening it to a picture of the castle. "So, you're buried at
the house?" She faded back out and he turned back to their hostess. "She used to live here, and
at the place I went to yesterday."
"She disappeared from there thirty-eight years ago in August," Alex said. "We never knew what
happened to her."
"She was killed?" Zarin asked. Philip nodded. "Okay then, that would explain some things."
Nick choked on his coffee. "Things?"
"Yeah, she refers to me as daughter. When I first moved in these pictures of a little girl kept
appearing with my face pasted over the child's. The child was standing next to a younger version
of her. I always took that to mean daughter." She took another sip of her tea. "Besides, she's
been acting like a mother since I moved in. That and she's very protective of who I see."
"If I may ask," Alex said, "what drew you to this house? It seems pretty far away from the
Zarin laughed. "Oh yeah, but that's a good thing. I hate living in the city. It's dirty, noisy, and
people keep dropping by whenever I try to get into a book." She smiled and put her cup aside.
"A student came up and told me about this place, a nice big old house, that his Uncle had taken on
as a real estate agent. I was looking for something farther away and asked to see it. We fell in
love immediately, and the price was perfect."
Nick smiled. "Yeah, I've had a few places like that." He looked over at Philip. "Remember when
we had to move out of the castle for six months during the renovation?"
Philip laughed. "Oh, do I. That place may have been inexpensive but it was a dive." He finished
off his tea. "Zarin, may I ask you a slightly personal question?" She nodded. "How do you
manage out here?"
She nodded sagely. "I get that a lot. I do fine, I have friends that drop by every now and then. I
go into the city for events and things. I call my almost fathers often. We, the spirit and I, live in a
nice comfortable symbiotic relationship. She protects me and I upkeep the house to her
standards, well except this room. We agreed early on that this was my room."
Philip nodded. "My own library is the same way. Books strewn about the room and all." He
looked down at the book at his feet, the one that had just landed there. "Alchemy?"
"It's a fantastic historical study?" Zarin clearly guessed. Philip shook his head. "Okay, I found it,
or more precisely it found me." She fidgeted and Alex nodded for her to go on. "Sometimes I
walk through a library or a book store and books seem to ... grab my attention. It's like they stick
out some and catch my sleeve or become brighter so I keep going back to it. I don't know what it
is, it just happens." She recrossed her ankles in the other direction. "I don't mean to collect
books like that, but it happens sometimes."
Philip and Nick got up, going over to her shelves. They walked around the room, the shelves
covering all the walls except over the little thin windows, looking at each book to figure it out.
Nick grabbed a few and came back to sit in front of her. "You know, my boss has been looking
for these for years." He smiled, looking down at the three books in his lap. "He also said they
could be quite dangerous in the wrong hands."
"Yeah, but my hands aren't the wrong hands. Trust me, I've seen the wrong hands and what they
can do." She shuddered delicately. "Up close and very personal."
Nick patted her crossed ankles. "Would you like to tell me about it?"
Zarin laughed. "Oh, you wouldn't believe it if I tried." She shifted again, putting a pillow behind
her back. She could see their earnest faces and Father Philip's approval of her. "Oh, all right.
When I was seven, a thing came for me. He said he was a friend of my family's, but neither of my
parents had heard of him. He ended up kidnapping me, taking me somewhere so he could use me
as fodder for a spell. He kept calling me his little power generator, or his little gateway. My
almost parents saved me from him. They kept me while my parents were in the hospital."
"Would we know these people?" Alex asked.
Zarin shook her head, then looked up at the ceiling. "Is there a problem?" she asked the thin air.
Then she fell over in the chair, seeming to fall asleep.
Susan came back and smiled fondly at Nick and Alex before going over and falling into Zarin's
Nick looked at Alex and she pulled out her cell phone. Derek always took news better from her.
Zarin woke up in a strange room, or at least it was strange to her. To the voice she could hear in
her head, it was all very familiar. It seemed to be the voice's room. "Oh, Susan, tell me you didn't
Derek Rayne knocked on the door, opening it just enough to stick his head around. "Are you
awake?" Zarin nodded so he walked in, setting a tray across her lap. "Breakfast."
Zarin groaned, but started to eat. She observed her host while she shoveled in an omelet.
Derek was middle aged, the grey in his hair equal the darker hairs, but not for much longer. He
was dressed in a sweater and a tie, dress shirt done up to all but the last button. His pants looked
immaculately pressed even though they were jeans.
She finished off the last bite, swallowing it down with the last of the coffee. "Thanks," she said.
The little voice told her to say thanks too. "Oh, and my house spirit says thanks too. That and
something about not seeing you since you were just a little awkward teen stumbling around on
Derek laughed and moved the tray to the bedside table. "I'm sure Susan did." He stared at the
young woman in the bed. "Do you know where you are?"
"In the castle in the pictures. This was her room," Zarin said carefully. She didn't want this nice
man to think she was that strange, it looked bad.
Derek nodded. "Yes, this was. Susan lived here for almost six years. On and off, but this was
still her room." He shifted a little, bringing him into her direct line of sight. "May I talk to
Zarin shrugged. "I don't see why not." She closed her eyes. "But I don't know how."
Derek laughed lightly. "Oh, but we do." He pulled out a necklace, a jade pendant. "Look at this.
I'm going to put you under, hypnotize you, so I can talk to her." He started to move it, circling
and swinging it at the same time.
Zarin opened her eyes and stared at the pendant in fascination, the colors around it getting
brighter and brighter until they were all that she could see.
"Susan," Derek called. She opened her eyes, quirking up one eyebrow. "How are we?"
"I'm dead and buried here. I love this child like my own, but I'm tired of that house." She
laughed lightly. "If I had been stuck here at least there would have been things to see and do, but
my house was designed to be away from such things." She put the tray aside and stood up, going
over to the vanity set. She sat down and picked up a hair brush. "Derek, promise me to watch
this one. Things are attracted to her. The two who saved her aren't here now and things keep
noticing her book collection, especially the one downstairs."
Zarin shuddered and blinked, Susan gone. "What happened? Did she talk to you?" Derek
nodded and she listened to her mind. "She said something about having to go home, to protect it
Derek picked up the phone and called downstairs. "Nick, call the police near Zarin's house.
Susan just left to go home and protect the house." He hung back up. "Okay," he sat down next
to her, pulling the desk chair over to do so, "anything else?"
Zarin closed her eyes and thought about the contact with the spirit. "I can see flowers, but
nothing else really. I think she wanted to go walk in the garden." She smiled at Derek, opening
her eyes, a slight twinkle in them. "I guess I should go do that."
Derek laughed and patted her back. "And so you shall. Some of your clothes are in the dresser
and some of her's are in the closet. Take whatever you want and feel free to wander around." He
stood up and put the desk chair back. "Just try to remember more things if she comes back."
"Wouldn't she need a piece of the house to come here? I thought that would have been why she
took me over."
Derek was silent for a moment. "That may be true, but that probably wasn't the only reason she
picked you. She asked me to protect you also while you were under. She also wants us to solve
her murder, find her body. I think you're going to be the only one that can do that." He leaned
down, brushing the top of her head in a light kiss. "She treats you as her daughter and so will
Zarin thought about that for a minute. "Um, speaking of which, I need to call my almost parents."
"You may use the phone in my office, there's a speaker phone and a video phone too."
She smiled. "Thank you." She stood and Derek backed up. "I'll be right down?" He nodded and
Zarin got up and looked around. She could feel a strong pull toward the closet so went to see
what was in there. She was amazed; they had found everything from a wedding dress to some
very skimpy outfits. Zarin reached for a shirt she could 'feel' was well loved and pulled it out.
She looked at the gingham print and the peter pan collar and shuddered. "Must have been
fashionable in it's day," she muttered, putting it back for a deep blue silk one. She went to the
dresser, pulling out her light gray pants and tank top, and underwear and a bra, and tossed them
on the bed. She quickly showered and got dressed, bouncing down the stairs.
She met Nick at the bottom and smiled. "Good morning, Mr. Boyle."
He looked up from the book he was frowning at. "My, you look pleased with yourself. And it's
Nick." She hit the floor and stood. "Do you always bounce first thing in the morning?"
"Yeah, I'm a little hyper. Dad has me on tons of caffeine to cure it. I just haven't had enough
Nick smiled. "Oh, yeah? I remember someone else who did the same thing." He smiled and
pointed down a hall. "Derek's that way, in his office."
She flashed him a bright smile and jogged down the hall. Nick turned to Frederick, who was
standing behind him. "She's going to bring new life to this house," he said.
"Yes sir, she and Master William both will be driving everyone insane soon with their
enthusiasm," he said dryly and took the book. "Your husband wanted me to make sure you made
it to go give that report to London House."
Nick groaned and trudged off down the hall to go face the music.
Zarin knocked on the door and walked in. She had stopped long enough to get another cup of
coffee, that should keep her from bouncing too much and scaring them, and now waited for
Derek to get off the phone.
Derek smiled and waved her in. "Thank you, yes, we will." He waved a chair. "That was your
local police, they caught two people trying to get into your house. I remember getting her that
shirt, it was right before she died. A Christmas present."
She frowned. "Why? I don't have anything valuable, not even any real valuable antiques in the
furniture she left there." She shrugged and finished off her coffee. "Oh, well, I guess they don't
really need a reason."
"True," Derek said, coming out from behind his desk. "Phone?"
"Please." She bounded behind the desk and dialed a number very familiar to her. "Dad?"
"Yeah," he said and they activated their vid links. Blair Sandburg's face appeared. He looked at
the view and frowned. "What sort of trouble brought you to their attention dear?"
She laughed. "Oh, dad, nothing like that. I asked Father Philip, I told you about that, about my
book and he ended up getting me here in a round about way."
Jim Ellison appeared behind his husband. "Now would we like to try the truth? Or should we ask
"You guys know each other?"
Derek smiled and nodded, echoing the two on the screen.
"Oh, all right." She pouted briefly, making her fathers laugh. "My house spirit got me taken here.
She kind of possessed me while Doctor Rayne's husband and Father Philip and one of the other
people here were at the house."
Derek came around the desk. "She's fine, Susan just wanted her murder solved and apparently is
quite fond of this one," he said, planting his hands on her shoulders. "We're going to keep her
here until it's finished."
Blair nodded and moved back some so Jim could pull a chair in. "Okay, we can get with that, but
we don't want that one hurt. She has this way of drawing things to her." She shuddered.
"You're as safe there as you are here," Jim said. "We should know, we ran there a few times
ourselves." He took Blair's hand and smiled at him. "Matter of fact, we were married there after
we had discovered the other needed us while we were there." Blair smiled and kissed Jim's cheek.
"Later, the kid's in the room," he joked quietly, earning him a punch on the arm and a bite on the
"Oh, please you two. Some of us don't have people that do things like that and it's not what we
need to watch." Blair laughed. "Well, I keep telling you to send me a few of those college kids
out there, but they keep getting lost in the mail."
Blair laughed. "Oh, yeah, they just disappear out from under your nose, right?" She nodded and
they both started to laugh, causing Jim to shake his head.
"Do you see what I have to put up with," he asked Derek. "They constantly gang up on me when
they're together, I never get a moment of peace."
"Oh, right," Zarin said. "And who is the self proclaimed king of practical jokes in that family?
"The cat?" Jim guessed, Blair and Zarin shook their heads. "The dog? Maybe the gerbil?" They
shook their heads again. "Just for that I won't bake you cookies and send them." He pouted.
"Gee, I haven't been that bad in years. That's mean of you, dad."
Jim smiled. "Well, all right. I guess I could send you one or two."
"Dozen," Blair added. Jim kissed him on the cheek. "So, why else were you calling? Besides to
let us know you weren't really in trouble this time?"
"Nope, just an 'I'm alive, and okay' call. Well that and to tell you I'm not at home. Do you have
the number here?"
"It's on the speed dial dear," Blair said dryly. "Believe me, we know the people in that house very
well and they will call us when you start to get wild."
"Dddaaaadddd," she said.
"Don't whine dear, it drives men away," Jim said. "And they will, won't they Derek?" He
nodded. "See, protective enough to be us."
She smiled. "I don't think anyplace is that bad," Blair frowned and she stuck out her tongue.
"Who had daddy Jim run a back ground check on my last boyfriend and then drove them off
because they had a minor b and e in their past? Who was it that flew out here just because I had
been cramming for finals and had forgotten to call one night? Hmmm? I know it wasn't the tooth
fairy, he didn't like me that much because he only gave me a dime a tooth."
Jim blushed and looked down, Blair gave her a look over his glasses. "Dear," Blair said, "who
was it that managed to find the holed up bank robbers within forty minutes of coming home?
Who was it that drew terrorists to this little town and then proceeded to bait them when she was
Jim looked up and grinned, leaning closer to the camera. "Between us, you're more of a trouble
magnet than Blair and I ever were." He sat back and laid an arm across Blair's shoulders. "We're
glad you have someone there to protect you now. We really didn't want to have to move out
there ourselves to do it."
Blair grinned and leaned into Jim's side. "He's right, we do hate moving. We also would hate
to come out there and bring you home by force." She snorted. "It was going to happen soon
enough. We heard about your last few run-ins with the criminals out there."
"Dad, I know you're supposed to worry, but I'm fine. A nice man kept me from being kidnapped
and took me to the hospital when he came back to stab me." She cleared her throat. "That didn't
mean I didn't appreciate you coming for me, but the kidnapping me back to Illinois was a bit
drastic." She smiled again. "I promise not to get hurt out here if you promise not to worry
yourselves into a heart attack anytime soon. Deal?"
"Yeah, it is and we're going to hold you to it."
Jim smiled, "Either that or come out there and baby you until you kill us off."
She laughed. "Oh, no. I couldn't do that. I'd have former students hunting me down to kill me. I
think we all want you two to live for a *long* time." She smiled fondly at them. "I better go,
Derek's phone bill will be astronomical." Zarin blew a kiss and hugged the screen. "Night."
"Silly," Blair said, wiping at Jim's cheek. "We'll still be out next month."
"I'll bring you cookies," Jim said.
Zarin nodded and left the office, going out to the garden to be alone.
Derek sat down in the chair. "She's a good girl and she's just like you two."
Blair grinned. "Yeah, I know. Her natural father used to joke that we snuck in and did his wife
while he was away." Jim growled. "Yes, dear, we're not going to mention that in front of her."
Jim nodded. "So, how are things in your house?"
"I could ask the same. Jane was just complaining the other day that you two are worse at
paperwork than we are." Blair smiled. "She's safe here, relax. Susan Montrine asked me to look
out for her like she was my own and I will. I'm thinking about asking her to join here."
Blair shook his head. "Nope, she's ours. You guys have Philip and we need another languages
person to keep our archive status."
Jim shook his head. "Yeah and they're talking about merging our two houses again."
"You are *not* going to work on the San Francisco Police force and that is the end of it."
"Babe, we've had this talk and unless I'm going to teach at the academy, which I wouldn't, or
become a kept man, which you won't do, there's nothing else for me."
"Not true, if they remerge our houses, then you're going to come work for the Luna Foundation
and help Nick with the security and procurement of things." Derek smiled. "Nice salary and
benefits. We would even let you two have the guest house."
Jim smiled. "Deal," he said. "It'll be nice to be back out there." Blair nodded. "Just take care of
our baby, she's special to us."
Derek nodded and they cut the link from their end. He sat back, putting all the pieces together.
Now that he knew who she was, he could know better how to keep her out of trouble, and that
would be a rather large and hard task.
Derek could remember the report on her as a child of seven and Blair and Jim's rescue attempt of
her. She was a gateway and a dark Wizard had taken her to form his own gate. Jim had stopped
him, with the most extreme prejudice, just as he was to finish casting the spell leaving Blair to
Zarin's natural parents were gone now, having gotten between her and something else that wanted
her one too many times. At thirteen she had witnessed them being torn apart by a demon trying
take her. He wasn't really familiar with her file, but he was sure it was on the way. That's just the
way Jim and Blair were.
Blair had taken on the Council to raise her. He had risked everything, including death for both of
them, to do it. That act had shown quite a few members of the ruling houses council were turned,
some to an extreme and unforgivable amount. They had gotten to keep her and had fixed the
Council at the same time. It was one of the many memorable moments in that couple's
membership in the Legacy. But how had he forgotten her? She had been at the house more than
once for a variety of reasons. Oh, well, he could look into that later.
He looked over as the fax machine started to run and smiled. Blair had drawn big smiley faces on
the front of her records. That was so like him. He picked up the front page and read, a frown
coming up to crease his forehead. "This is interesting." He grabbed the other pages and read
Susan and Zarin walked around the garden, the ghost having reappeared just a few moments ago.
They headed straight for the roses, the smell guiding them.
Susan had Zarin sit down in the middle of them and sniff each bush. She had always taken great
pride in planting the rose bushes and wanted her 'daughter' to appreciate it as her natural one
That's where Philip and William found them, curled among the roses and smelling each one.
William came over and climbed into Zarin's lap, snuggling down in.
Philip smiled. "Found a new friend?" he asked the small boy.
William giggled. "Yup, and you can't have her," he said. He took her hands and held them
around himself. "Mine," he told her.
Zarin smiled down. "Nope, I belong to someone else, sorry." She hugged him tightly for a few
seconds. "I belong to this great university and they get really jealous."
William smiled. "I'll fix them and you're staying here with me." He nodded up at Philip. "Ask
Uncle Philip, he's seen me."
"That may be true, but she can't stay here with you unless she wants to, you can't force her."
"Uh-huh, I'll tie her up with Nick's cuffs." Philip and Zarin laughed at his surety. "Just wait," he
"Oh, we have no doubt you'd try," he told the boy, "none at all, but you can't keep people against
"So?" he asked, sticking out his tongue. "She's mine, get your own."
Zarin started to laugh, but then stopped. A confused look came over her and she looked down.
"Why, Willy, I've not seen you for years," Susan said.
William looked up and placed a finger over his lips. "Shhh."
Philip stood there and watched them. They had always suspected it had been William that had
come back and gotten Alex pregnant while she slept that night, but none of them had been sure.
Now they had proof. Finally he was galvanized into action. "So that's the way it is?"
Susan and William looked up. William grimaced. "Oh, stop it," he said. "It's not like you haven't
known. They all have but none were willing to admit it."
"Ya know I have to tell 'em."
"Go ahead," the boy said. "They won't listen any more this time." William shrugged. "I'm sorry
about how it worked out, but you've got to know it's necessary, just as she is. I have to be here,
in this house, now, and nothing can be allowed to get in the way of that."
"Or what? The world's going to end?" Derek asked, coming up behind Philip. "You could have
told us, we would have helped."
"Derek, you and I might have been friends and adversaries, but I couldn't. I still can't tell you why
unless you figure it out."
Zarin came back to herself. "Who's the trio," she asked him.
William looked up and his mouth fell open. "Susan," he said, slightly whiny.
"Nope, Zarin again. Now then, answer me."
"What are you?" William asked her.
"A gateway that's going to stay closed," she answered and stood, putting him down. "I've made
sure of it." She walked away from the group.
"Nope, wrong answer dear," William said and went back to being a four year old, pulling the
petals off a rose and throwing them up in the air.
Derek looked at Philip. "Does it seem to you that the older you get the stranger things are?"
"Yeah, and I'm feelin' pretty old righ' now," the priest answered. They walked back to the house,
watching William skip ahead of them.
Alex took the news incredibly well, she only got up and left the room. She didn't slam the door,
didn't yell, didn't say a word, and that alone was enough to send Nick and Philip running after her.
They caught up to her outside her room, just before she locked them out. "Oh, come on Alex,"
Nick said. "At least we know now for certain."
Philip smiled. "It's not like he touched you."
Zarin came down the hall and shook her head. "Wanna talk?" she asked.
Alex shook her head and went into her room, locking the door.
Zarin waved her lock picks, a gift from Jim on her sixteenth birthday. "If we really need to get in
there, we can, but boy, you guys stink in the talking to women department." She walked down
the hall, shaking her head at the density of the male skull.
Philip looked at Nick and smiled. "She's right, we don't do this well."
Nick shrugged. "But we don't have to," he reminded. "I'm gay and you're a priest. When do we
have to hold intimate conversations with women?"
Alex threw something at the door and started to laugh hysterically.
Zarin came back up and pushed Philip, lightly, out of the way before she squatted down, setting
her soda can on the carpet. She quickly picked the locks and went inside, taking her soda with
"She's got it," the men said together and headed back to more comfortable territory.
Zarin sat down in the rocking chair and opened her Coke. "So, what's wrong? The William
Alex continued to stare at her. "How...?"
"How did I get in or how did I know?" She took a drink and set it between her thighs. "I know
because Susan told me, I got in because one of my fathers used to be a cop and taught me, gifting
me with a set of lock picks." She smiled. "Wanna see 'em?"
Alex shook her head and started to laugh. "No, thank you." She flopped down on the bed. "I'm
sorry, I ... I'm just really not in the mood to talk right now."
"Because you found out that your son is really the product of someone dead coming back and
taking over your body long enough to get you pregnant?" Alex nodded. "That I can understand, I
had that problem fixed a few years back so I couldn't become an opened gateway."
Alex lifted up enough to see. "You're a gate?"
Zarin took a long drink. "Yeah, and I have the scars and kidnapping experiences to prove it." She
laughed lightly. "How do you think I met Jim and Blair? Accident?"
Alex shook her head and thumped it on the bed. "Please tell me it's reversible," she said quietly.
"Don't know how they did it. I volunteered for a study at the University, they were trying out a
new approach and I was one of the three out of fifty five that it worked on." She finished off the
soda and put the can down beside her, starting to rock. "I didn't really want kids anyway, I don't
have the patience to put someone ahead of me the way a good parent needs to. I get cranky when
I don't sleep."
Alex laughed. "Oh, yeah, that I can understand. I actually fell asleep on a computer terminal and
almost erased the system. If it hadn't been for the failsafe code being needed, we might have been
in deep crap."
Zarin laughed. "Started to beep when you just keep hitting one or two keys that weren't right?"
Alex nodded. "So cool, I only ever erased my laptop. Well and Blair's at the time. So, talk
"I thought we were," Alex said.
"Well, we are, but not why you locked yourself in, not that I blame you with those two men
saying those things." She smiled. "They headed back downstairs once I shut the door, probably
Alex sat up. "You have no idea. Nick and Philip are great guys, but they couldn't deal with an
emotional crisis unless it came attached to a demon." She sighed and smoothed out the bed.
"Thanks, I guess I did need to talk about it."
"Hey, anytime, call me when I'm not here if you need to."
"How's that going? Finding Susan I mean."
"Well, I've about figured out she's in the basement, but nothing else." She shrugged. "It's not that
hard, the picture is out a high window looking at ground level." That confused look came back
over her and she stood up, walking out of the room.
Alex smiled and followed her, motioning for the butler to go get the others and to go with her.
They made it to the sub-basement, the level that housed the stone storage room for artifacts.
Zarin walked over to a corner and kneeled down, running a hand over one spot again and again.
Philip pulled her away while Nick set up the ultrasound to check under the thin layer of rock. He
looked down at the screen and nodded.
Zarin collapsed, unconscious in an instant. Philip and Derek carried her over to the work bench,
laying her on it gently, before grabbing the digging equipment and going back to the corner.
They broke the outer wall and gagged at the smell. Nick walked a little ways away and called
their friend in the coroner's office while Derek covered up the two bodies, one mother and one
not fully developed infant.
Derek showed the three people out into the spot chosen in the garden. He briefly pulled the
young woman aside, telling her how sorry he was.
He walked out to find Zarin and the casket there, where they had both been for the last hour or
The young woman, who looked a lot like Zarin, only thinner and with blonde hair, smiled down
and looked at the young woman. "Mother?" she asked quietly.
Zarin/Susan's head popped up. "Dear, I'm so glad you're here," she said, pulling Melody into a
hug. "Come, we have a few things to discuss." They walked a little away, not being able to get
very far. "Melody, daughter, I want this one to be your sister, even if she is your niece. She may
be your brother's child, but she is mine also." Melody nodded. "Good, now for the hard part.
She doesn't know and probably won't ever. She's a gateway, just as I was, to the other side and
to other places. She needs to be someplace quiet and restful. I want her to have my house. I
know you don't need it or want it and that's not a problem for me. You've already gotten
everything you want from there, well except that trunk and it's in the attic. Is this going to be a
"No, Mother, not at all. I'll leave her in my will also as such," she said, rubbing her chest and the
now visible lumpy knot growing there. "It's not like I'm going to be needing anything of mine
soon. Should I leave her a letter about her father, our relation?"
"I'm not sure. I was going to get Derek or one of them to do it. Are you sure?" Melody nodded.
"Okay then. Derek has the amended paperwork. Yours and mine." She reached over, kissing her
daughter's cheek. "I'll be waiting."
Melody sniffed. "Soon, Mom, soon. Then we'll have plenty of time to catch up." She smiled. "I
could even be mean and make this house guardian of Michael. Derek would love that." Her smile
got wider. "Do you think they'd mind?"
"No, love, not at all. I'm sure they wouldn't mind at all." She ruffled her daughter's hair and they
walked back to her body. "It's time," she said. Susan/Zarin turned to Jim and Blair. "She may be
yours by choice, but she's mine by blood," she said and the spirit of Susan leapt out of Zarin's
body, reconnecting briefly with her body before leaving the castle on Angel Island for eternity.
Zarin screamed as Susan left her, convulsing. Her fathers jumped to catch her, lowering her
gently onto the grass. Derek took Melody's hand and led her back into the library. They sat
down to wait on the other three to come in.
Blair looked down at his daughter and sniffled. "She's not our little one anymore," he said,
looking over at his husband.
"She'll always be ours," Jim said, patting him. "No matter what other strange turns her life will
take, she's ours." He kissed his husband and poked at his daughter's side. "You always did sleep
"Meany," came the tired reply. "Dad, that's so nice," she said and yawned. "So, why am I out on
"The ceremony, reuniting Susan with her daughter and body," Blair reminded her.
Zarin nodded and stood up. Then looked down. "Oh, she didn't," she said and hurried inside.
Blair looked at Jim and smiled. "Ready for grandkids?"
"Not going to happen," she called over her shoulder, making her fathers laugh.
Zarin came back down to the library in an almost good mood. It had been three weeks since
Susan had departed this plane and she had been told about her family. Her Aunt Melody had died
three days later, before she could leave, of the tumor that had invaded her chest cavity. She had
attended that funeral also, saying good bye to the next to last of the family she had never known.
Her own fathers' house had been consolidated with this one, so now they were close. But, most
importantly, she was going home today. Father Philip had agreed to drive her since her car was
still at her house. Zarin quickly said good bye to the people she expected to be on her doorstep
very soon and left with him.
As they pulled up in front of the house, Philip stopped a short ways away. "Are ya sure you're
ready for this? It's gonna be different this time."
"Yeah, I know," Zarin said, taking a deep breath. "I'll be all alone in there now. No flying books
or spoons, no rattling of the bed when I've slept late because the alarm clock didn't go off." She
bit her lip. "Would you like to come in for a while, some coffee maybe?"
"Sure," he said and finished pulling up into the drive.
They got out and went inside. Zarin brought him into the kitchen, apologizing for the offerings
even before he had seen them. They both looked around in amazement.
"Daaadddd," she sighed and shook her head. There in front of them stood some brand new, to
this house, kitchen equipment that she remembered very well from long hours in Illinois spent in
the kitchen. She turned to smile at Philip, but found him looking at her strangely. "Jim and
Blair," she explained, then turned to see where he was pointing. "Oh, crap," she said, turning to
look at the person floating a few inches above the counter, "they brought their house spirit too."
She waved at it. "Shoo, you know you don't like me."
It smiled and dived for her, but Philip blocked it and fell into her arms, out from the force of the
hit. Zarin stood there, unsure of what to do. The ghost had disappeared, but now she had an
unconscious man in her arms, and a priest at that. Man, would her fathers laugh.
Philip came too and she looked down. "Hi," he said, noticing for the first time how she glowed.
"Hi yourself," she said, helping him to a stool. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," he said. He shook himself, sternly reminding himself of why he was here.
The sound of twinkling music floated through the house, and they both groaned. "Susan," they
She popped up and smiled, looking over both of them, her smile getting bigger.
"No, no-oh, no, not a chance," Zarin said, backing up, arms out. "I'm not going to listen while
you try to get him to do that." She ran out of the room.
Philip had watched this in interest. He turned back to the ghost. "Me? You want her to be near
to me?" Susan shook her head and nodded both. "Oh, no. I have vows, I can't do that." Susan
just laughed again and popped out. Philip banged his head on the table and sighed. "Now I feel
old," he muttered and pulled out his cell phone, the one Derek had give him the other day, just in
case. "She told ya, didn't she, and ya set me up," he accused when the Dutchman got on the
phone. The only sound that came through was laughter before the click and the dial tone.