Excerpt: Ghostly Summons by John Andrew Karr


Ghostly Summons

John Andrew Karr


“Beck said you might be willing to help me out.”

Kelsen’s gaze shifted. “Thought the boss warned you about spreading nasty rumors, Nolan.” Frank might not approve of his using Becky’s last name, but screw it.

“Mentioned it to you on Monday, remember?” Becky said to Lars.

“Did you? No, I don’t…wait. Maybe I do. Maybe that’s why…the party and everything.”

“You can help,” Becky said. “You’ve had your fun and then some. How about something more productive. There’s got to be something that passes for a heart under those pecs, Kels.”

“That’s Australian immigrants for you…think everyone’s as cool as they are. Sure, I’ll help. Let me toss down this cup of dirt water they call coffee ‘round here. Need a ride somewhere, Frank?”

Frank’s trim, ink-black brows knitted with irritation above wire-rimmed glasses. He glanced at his wife. Becky looked good in her knee-length skirt, Lars thought. Too bad she was married. And to this guy.

“I’m Senior Editor of the Coastal Sentinel,” Frank said. “I don’t need a ride, I need a reporter. At least part-time. I need some compelling stuff to get people interested again.”

“Most vacationers don’t want news to interfere with sun and surf and golf, Mister Editor.”

“Maybe, but they’ll still read about crime and punishment. Besides, I need locals. Online or print, I need interesting features. I need a features guy, but can’t afford one full time until circulation picks up or the website hits go skyward. I need someone on a part-time basis.”

“Not interested,” Lars said.

“Not at all?”

“Left it for a couple good reasons, not the least of which was sanity. Haven’t missed it.”
Frank zeroed in on Lars from behind his glasses, the lenses making his eyes appear oversized. “After that crime beat in Charlotte, you’d be perfect.”

“If I were perfect at anything, I’d be the first to admit it.”

“A perfect pain-in-the-ass sometimes,” Becky said.

Lars sneered half-menacingly at her.

She feigned a yawn.

Frank pressed. “What would you say to going on a features assignment? You know, do a little fact finding. Interview suspects, key players, maybe victim’s background?”

“No,” Lars said flatly.

“Don’t even want to think about it?”

“Five years ago I sent my final story to an editor. Haven’t looked back.” Though memories of those days still came, usually when he least expected them. They had faded, but they weren’t altogether gone. “… probably wouldn’t be able to string four words together anyway.”

“Beck says you write short stories and poems.”

“Just trying to appear sophisticated.”

“Oh, you liar,” Becky said. “Told me you were setting aside an hour or so every day.”

“Scribbling. Just for fun stuff. Couldn’t do that much when I was reporting.”

“Nobody writes for fun,” Frank said. “Reward yes. Maybe not money, but reward nonetheless.”

Lars shrugged. “Some folks play the piano just to listen to the music. Anyway, I’ve got a lot of work stacked up here.”

“So how would you begin an investigative story?”

Guy was an editor all right. Pushy. Manipulative. Snarky.

“You’re asking how I used to do it?” Lars said, not ready to dive into work yet.

“For now.”

“Hate to give away secrets of the trade.”

“Well, you won’t be needing them, right?”

Lars paused, sipped his coffee and summoned more energy. Tremors in his hand told him the caffeine was kicking in. “Stuff I picked up came after blundering through a time or ten. Usually I talk with the cops and the District Attorney for the basics…setting, time of day, method, if apparent. Maybe take their impressions, though it’s normally facts only. I talk to the Assistant D.A.’s as well. Sometimes they’re a little more forthcoming. Then I take the long shot and see if the main suspect or suspects want to get verbal.”

“Why would they?”

Lars shrugged. “Sometimes to throw the cops off, sometimes they’re actually innocent and want to get their story out.”

“Don’t lawyers shut them up?”

“If they have one. You’ve got a better shot when they’re not around. Tail ‘em and talk when counsel’s not there. Maybe lure the ‘off the record’ thing to get them started.”

“There’s such a thing?”

“If you want a source in the future there is. Burn ‘em and they’re gone. You’re trying to get some trust momentum going. Most suspects won’t talk. Many are hostile. You need to keep aware, look for signs of when to back off.”

“Carry a gun when you meet them?”


Frank nodded sagely. “Guns kill.”

“Not without a willing trigger finger. Guns are fast and permanent. I own a couple. Sometimes you think of the power. How it’d sure shut up those dirt-mouthed punks at the pump and munch, or put some distance between you and the asshole riding your bumper down 264. Then it gets easier to think about the gun as an acceptable tool for a variety of situations. Then it gets scary.”

“So what about after you talk to the authorities and main suspects?”

“Friends and family, like in the commercial. First your players, then try to glean some motivations. Sometimes people talk, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s the truth, sometimes not. You can hit a wall of silence, or piss somebody off.”

“So it’s a lot of question and answer.”

Lars thought. “Open-ended questions are best. Try to get them to open up.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then maybe some factual and technical stuff like insurance policies, bank accounts, phone records, video, etc.”

“That’s all private information. How do you get at it?”

“It’s all about the contacts. Cops, a suspicious relative, the maid. Cyber stuff, if you can find a hacker with a conscience. And that’s all fine but if you still need more you can try to wear people down, but you don’t carry a badge and it rarely works. Might even get you shot or slashed.” Kelsen pulled his collar to the side and down. A thin white scar glared against his tanned trapezius muscle and cut a groove into the patch of grey hair on his upper chest.

“Oh my God, Lars,” Becky said, her dark eyes wide and showing white.

“Sparring with my brothers taught me to move, otherwise the gangbanger would have found my carotid. Anyway, if nothing obvious presents itself, you need to re-think your players and dig into their motivations without getting AP.”

“Getting what?” Frank said.

“Analysis paralysis. At times the most basic motive is the one that spawned a murderer.” His head tilted thoughtfully, his gaze drawn to the bright gap between his visitors.

“Think either of you could murder someone right now? What if you were convinced you’d never get caught? Maybe the guy was a murderer or a rapist. Could you pick up a knife and start stabbing, or pull the trigger from a few feet away?”

“Not bloody likely,” Becky said. “Frank?”

The editor pursed his narrow lips. “It would have to suit some purpose.”

“Now you’re scaring me, love,” Becky said, with a nervous laugh. “I’d better go lower my insurance payout.”
Lars cocked a brow. “We’re talking morality now, not just the law. It would take something powerful for most people to cross that line and murder someone. The criminal or criminal-to-be is either a sociopath, or motivated enough to get past any moral qualms.”

The air hung in the cubicle.

“Anyway. That’s my take. Again, good to meet you Frank. Beck, I really gotta get moving on my stuff here.”

“Could really use your help,” Frank said. “I could pay you freelance, with loose deadlines.”

“No thanks. Besides, loose deadlines are only theoretical concepts.”

“At The Sentinel they’re real. Beck says you only work three days a week here.”

“True, but my off days are spent gainfully not working. Fishing would suffer.”

“You seem to be plugged into the society around here. Heard of Craig Broughton?”

“Rich guy. Built a landscaping business from the ground up, as it were. Calls his company The Lawnsquad. Seen him once or twice at the higher-end festivities, one at his own palace here at the beach.”

“How’d you get invited? You rich, Kelsen?”

“Only in personality.”

“Lady-friends invited him, no doubt,” Becky said, shaking her curly head in admonishment.

“Maybe,” Lars said. “Also came across Broughton at the bait shop when he was getting supplies with his captain for his yacht.”

“What’d you think of him?”

“An asshole who happens to have made a lot of money.”

For the first time Frank seemed to hesitate. “We could talk more over lunch.”

“About what?”

“About how he’s the main suspect in the disappearance—”

“Ho now!” Kelsen’s hand went up. “I don’t want to know.”

“Not even curious?”

“Old roads better left in the rear-view. Hey, here comes Carla.”

Lars never thought he’d be so glad to see his stern little manager, but she merely glanced in his cube, said hello to Frank, and charged on.

Becky turned to her husband. “Time to go, Frank. I’ve got work to do too.”

“Think about the offer, Kelsen,” Frank said, holding a business card up to the light and placing it on the desk. “Think of it as helping your adopted community by keeping them informed.”

Lars studied the monitor, then glanced at the business card. He swept it up as he swiveled toward the wall, glanced at the shiny lettering and slipped it into his breast pocket. He swallowed. A bit of a headache had come on, offsetting the voices, keyboards, phones…basic sounds of the workplace. Felt anxious now. No doubt that Frank dude’s fault.

He turned his back to the cube entrance and rubbed his temples. Yeah, high time to dry out a bit.

Office buzz drained from the department.

Must be dozing off. He reached for the coffee and halted.

Someone behind him. Distracted, he hadn’t heard footsteps. Kelsen swiveled toward the cube entrance, irritation swelling inside.

“Look, I appreciate the offer, but —”

No one at the entrance to his cube. And now it was like his cube was inside a cave. Dank, still air. Echoes. Not good. Not good at all. Kelsen swallowed, slowly turned.

A woman occupied his guest chair.

Nude. Silent. Staring.

Blonde hair reached lithe, bare shoulders. Green algae fouled a lean but endowed body. Bits of mud and sand clung to her feet, marring her image even more.

Kelsen didn’t know who she was, but there was no doubt what she was.

Murder victim.

Greetings from the rogue element of his mind. It must have captured this poor woman’s image somewhere on television or the internet without his realizing it—and now, dormant for five years, it felt like kicking up again. He was to believe this victim appeared this way an instant before her final heartbeat.

Like the others over the years, the last remaining glint of life had been snuffed from her eyes. The gaze of the dead.

Kelsen peered closer. What had caused her death?

A sheen glistened from the waist down, over what would have been flawless skin, were it not for the clinging bits.

There—a thumb-sized rupture. Center-left breast.

Didn’t take a medical examiner to recognize the bullet wound.

She remained long enough for him to try to swallow the rock lodged in his throat.

Without warning, without sound of passage, she vanished.

Gradually the buzz of the office returned.

Kelsen’s hand trembled as he felt the seat of the chair. Nothing. Not damp. No bits of sand, algae, or seaweed. He drew back in his chair and searched his memories, wanting her to be a past victim.

He could not place her, though she seemed vaguely familiar. Hauntingly beautiful despite death’s repose, doubtless she had been stunning in life, and unlikely to be forgotten.

He didn’t know who she was, but if the past was any indication, her identity would be revealed whether he wanted it to be or not.

There was one more certainty.

This was just the first Visit.


John Andrew Karr (also John A. Karr) writes of the strange and spectacular. He is the author of a handful of independent and small press novels and novellas, including the latest installment in the Mars Wars trilogy: Annihilation Plan:(Mars Wars Book 3). His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and online magazines.

He’s a coastal North Carolina resident, IT worker, and all-around family guy. He is also an ardent believer in the quote from Carl van Doren (1885-1950), U.S. man of letters: “Yes, it’s hard to write, but it’s harder not to.”



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