The Others (Haunted From Without - Book One)


More tears.

"So, " Susie eventually said. "When are you coming home, Peter? I miss you. I need you. You know that now that Dad has gone, you're the only family that I have left?"

For a moment Peter thought about telling Susie what had happened. But Susie had enough on her plate just now, without having to worry about Peter. He wouldn't lie, he just wouldn't tell her everything. For her sake.

"I'm going to get the last plane out of here tomorrow night. I tried to rearrange to get back today but all the flights are full. I'm sorry, darling. I won't be able to see you until tomorrow night."

Peter could hear the disappointment on the other end of the line, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was telling the truth when he said that he couldn't rearrange his flight. He couldn't.

The timing was bad. Apparently some massive convention or trade show had just finished the day before, and after the traditional last night of partying and drinking, everyone was heading home today.

They talked some more, Peter listening as Susie reminisced about her dad. She cried a little more. And then Peter's battery started to die.

"Tomorrow, Susie," Peter promised. "I will call you tomorrow."

The fact that Peter couldn't get out of Iowa until the next day did have a couple of benefits: Peter needed to go and talk to the police. He needed to tell them that he had seen William just hours before he had died, and about their meeting planned for later on today. He also wanted to show them the letter. Perhaps forensics could lift a finger print from the envelope or the paper inside.

He wanted them to realise that this was not a clear-cut case. And suicide it certainly wasn't.

Meeting the police was one thing he had to do, but more important than that, Peter wanted to drive back up to William's farm, and to talk again with Mrs Ralston.

Several days ago he had spent a night at their farm as their guest. She had cooked a tremendous spread, having literally killed a fatted calf, and roasted it on a spit in their yard. William had invited several other farmers over, and the evening had been both enjoyable and informative, turning into the sort of barn dance that Peter had always imagined would be typical of this part of America.

Peter had learnt a lot. Unable to drink alcohol – since his kidney transplant several years ago – while everyone else got drunk, Peter had made useful contacts and taken pages of notes.

It was hard to believe that so soon after such a joyous occasion William would be dead, and that Peter would be returning to the farm under such different circumstances.

"Mrs Ralston?" Peter asked, when the phone was finally answered.

"This is Sarah Ralston," a woman's voice answered. "My mother is not taking calls just now. I'm afraid we had some bad news yesterday."

"Sarah, hello. This is Peter Nicolson, from Scotland. I am sorry to hear about the death of your father."

"Peter? Oh, Peter, it's you . . . Are you okay? Are you safe? Mother wants to speak with you. She's been praying you would call. Hold on . . . "

There was a moment's silence, and then the voice of an older woman.

"Peter? Thank God you are okay. Peter, William left a message for you. He said it was important I make sure you got it."

"A message? When did he leave it?"

"He called last night, while on the way to get the file."

"What time?"

"About 8 p.m. I think he was worried he was being followed."

"Followed? Have you told the police?"

"Yes. They are here now. Asking lots of questions."

"Paula, I am so sorry to hear about your loss . . . about William . . . I can't believe he's dead."

"Peter, it wasn't suicide."

"I know."

"I can't tell you the message over the phone, Peter. I'm sorry. William said I shouldn't say anything to you on the phone. He thinks we might be bugged. Can you come here again? So that we can talk face to face?"

"Yes, I would like to. I also want to ask you some questions, if I may."

"When can you get here? I need to make sure the police have left by then."

"I'll be there at three o'clock."

"Good," she said, beginning to cry. "William trusted you. He liked you. And we like you too. Just drive carefully, Peter. Very carefully."


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