Alice eyed the chauffeur. He was tall, over six feet, and rail thin. She decided that with the flat cap on, he looked like a bit like a nail. She didn’t have any particular reason not to take the free ride out to her new employer’s home, but it was going to be a long job, and she wasn’t eager to jump straight into it right after getting off her flight. She walked past the man, pretending not to recognize the name on his sign, and made her way out to ground transportation. There was no line for the row of cabs waiting outside, so Alice just got in the one that was in front and to the driver to take her someplace she could get a burger in Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood of Boston where Esther Lucas lived.
After getting the call and agreeing to come to Boston, Alice had done some research on Ms. Lucas. She admitted to herself that under ideal circumstances, she would research first and agree to the job second, but realistically, the only dispositive piece of information she needed was whether or not the retainer check would clear. From what she could find online, Esther Lucas was loaded. She lived in a big manor up on a hill in Jamaica Plain, one of the outer neighborhoods of the city. It had been in her family for generations, and in the earlier days of the city, was out where the wealthy had gone to retreat. Boston had since expanded to surround the old neighborhood, and tenements and liquor stores had sprung up, but what Alice read online suggested the area was now in the process of being regentrified. The Lucases had been there, keeping a low profile through it all.
Esther had a lot of coverage in more recent years, but the first mention Alice could find of her was from her parents’ death. Jonathan and Bonnie Lucas died together on February 4, 2006 on their way home from the theater, when their car slid on an icy patch of road on the Riverway and crossed into oncoming traffic. Esther had been 22 years old at the time, and was studying in a PhD program in religious studies at Northwestern. “Young genius, or given the knowledge of demons?” a later article inquired. She left for her parents’ services and never went back.
The next coverage was from a few months later, a small story at the time, but it was reprinted with greater and greater embellishment as the years passed, every time Esther Lucas landed in the news. She had disappeared into that old manor after the services for her parents, rarely coming out in public for any reason. Until one night, there was an ambulance call placed by Esther’s uncle. Some enterprising paparazzi had been listening to the police scanner and had gotten pictures of her being carried out of the house, naked, covered in small lacerations all over her petite body.
After that, the tabloids loved this lady. Esther Lucas became well known as an occultist around the city, holding seances, settling restless spirits, and lifting curses. There was a thread Alice found in which someone attributed the 2004 world series win to Esther having attended game two, complete with pictures of her in the high price seats enjoying the game, oblivious that her father, sitting there next to her with a ballpark frank in his hand, would be dead a short two years later.
She’d begun organizing rituals in public spaces after a few years. They were shut down, and it looked like after the second time she spent the night in jail, she learned her lesson; her gatherings got smaller and more reclusive. The tabloids got fewer pictures. One of them did a bio on her that Alice had read. Esther had spent nine months at McLean after what was generally called a suicide attempt, though the tabloid suggested maybe she was attacked by something from “the other side.”
The cab came to an abrupt stop at a red light, and a car somewhere behind them honked. Now that she was in Boston, and had spent the past few hours on the plane, Alice wasn’t sure she wanted to be sitting down. She wanted to get out and stretch her legs. Alice banged her hand on the plexiglass as the light turned green again and shouted, “Hey! Change of plans! I’m getting out here.” The honking car pulled out around them, and Alice pulled out a couple of bills to pay her fare and got out of the car.
She immediately regretted it. She hadn’t packed well for this trip, with only a light jacket, and no hat or gloves. She lifted her bag to her shoulder and started jogging down the path along the road. It was well salted, so she had cement under her feet instead of the thick coating of ice that seemed to be covering everything else. Thankfully there was no wind. A thick band of what would have been dense foliage at another time of year began immediately past the sidewalk, and she stopped for a moment to admire it.
Now that she was here, she could feel the urge burning in her. She hadn’t thought it would be like this. She’d planned to get set up first, settle in before she called him. She hadn’t seen Travis in years. Now she was just going to call him up and tell him she was within a few miles of him. She had no idea what he was up to, but now was as good a time as any. And it was bitter cold out. She needed to do it or get inside. Or both. She fished out her cell phone and made the call, dialing the number in from memory.
The call connected to voicemail immediately, no ringing. The polite machine woman told her to leave a message for the account holder after the beep. Alice took a deep breath then said, “Travis, it’s me.” She hung up. She looked down at her phone, gritting her teeth, her grip caused the cheap plastic burner to flex in her hand. The phone rang. Her first impulse was to throw it into the woods and walk away. It rang again. She hesitated. Then as the third ring began, she answered.