Authors: Alan Russell
He began to have a second sense for what rang true and what didn’t. He described one scam that had bothered him more than
most because it had appealed to the better instincts of the trade, and in its deceit justified cynicism. A nineteen-year-old
man had written requesting a complimentary stay, saying he had “a rare and dangerous cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma.” The note
said “My debilitating surgery and chemotherapy don’t allow me to work, and have left me with no funds.” His parents, it went
on, “had honeymooned at the Hotel, and I hope the magic and wonderful memories it brought to their marriage might pass into
my own life, as the survival rate for my type of tumor is less than 35 percent.”
Am decided there were too many violins in the letter. He phoned the San Diego Hotel Motel Association with his suspicions,
and learned that another hotel had called in describing the very same letter. A subsequent investigation revealed that identical
letters had been sent to thirty San Diego hotels, nine of which had agreed to provide complimentary stays before learning
that the letter was just a ploy for free room nights. Am wasn’t sure whether he was prouder that he had recognized the scam,
or that nine hotels had cared enough about another human’s plight to want to help without asking too many questions.
“That’s the problem with scams,” said Am. “It makes good people suspicious. It stops you from doing the right thing, makes
it that much easier for you to say no without even thinking because we’ve all been trained to be distrustful.
“I think that was a part of Thomas Kingsbury’s anger. He didn’t hate the ‘ghouls’ so much as what they did to the human spirit.
As he saw it, they plundered the dying and soured the living, distracting everyone involved from the life-and-death issues
Am’s righteous indignation was cut short by the opening of a door. Brother Howard stepped forward and bowed. “Welcome,” he
said. “Please join me inside.”
He held out his arm for them to enter the parlor. There was a table inside, but no crystal ball. On the table were some books,
videotapes, and audiotapes. All of them had Brother Howard’s picture on the cover, as well as gold stars with the prices.
Brother Howard motioned for them to sit. He sat down and appeared to offer a silent prayer, his holy head resting atop the
fingertips of his pressed hands. When he finished with his meditative moment he smiled, then reached out with his hands to
both Am and Marisa and made the announcement, “Let us join in a circle.”
Holding Marisa’s hand was fine by Am, but he didn’t much like being in the clasp of Brother Howard. Was he in the grip of
a murderer? He was supposed to take the lead in this interview—Marisa had had first crack at the mentalist—but he found it
difficult to ask questions of a man he was holding hands with.
“Marisa Donnelly and Am Caulfield,” said Brother Howard, “both of you have expressed interest in gaining access to another
realm. I can enable your passage, can direct you on the way, but in the end each of you will have to make your own journey.
“To hear the dead is not an easy thing. Most of us cannot even hear ourselves. We need to attune our listening, need to get
comfortable with our own beings, and come to terms with all of our senses before we can attempt to venture beyond.
“Our first exercise will be for you to listen for your heartbeat. It requires total silence and concentration. Why is it that
we can hear and feel our hearts after vigorous exercise, but not at other times? It is there all along, but usually silent,
waiting to be discovered like so many other things. Picture in your mind this tireless engine in your chest, this constant
clock which we have tuned out of our senses.”
Brother Howard closed his eyes and stopped talking. Am watched him to see if he was peeking. As far as he could see, he wasn’t.
Marisa followed Brother Howard’s example. She actually seemed to be trying to listen to her heart. Am thought she was going
a little far. The silence, and the hand-holding, continued. For want of anything else to do, Am started listening for his
heart. His breathing became lighter and slower. Several times he felt on the verge of picking up that elusive beat, but always
it escaped him. His thoughts started to float, his consciousness a series of run-on sentences…
…how long have we been listening probably five minutes that’s about thirty bucks of silence and they say talk is cheap they
ought to price out silence can’t hear my heart but if i could it would be about a dime a beat should have brought along a
stethoscope and pulled it out but what he really wants is to get a bead on our wallets just wait until he describes the length
and treatment of his snake oil that’s one pitch that’s going to get cut short with my own questions wonder how he’ll respond
to the name of doctor kingsbury maybe i should bring his name up casually and ask brother gardenia reverend howard to listen
to what he has to say and oh by the way doc just how am i supposed to be positive in a world with so many of these bloodsuckers…
“Am,” said a voice. “Am.”
Brother Howard gently shook Am’s arm. He hadn’t been asleep, Am told himself, not exactly, but he had drifted. Red-faced,
“Good,” said Brother Howard. “Very good.”
Am turned a little redder. In all the world, this was the last person from which he wanted to hear praise.
“You see how Am let loose of his conscious mind,” said the Brother. “That is often necessary. We need to open ourselves up.”
The star pupil glowered a little. At least they weren’t holding hands anymore, he thought.
Brother Howard turned to Marisa. “Did you attune to the beat of your heart?” he asked.
It was her turn to look embarrassed. “Yes,” she said quietly.
Had she really? Am wondered. He wished he could have heard her heart, wanted to know how it sounded, and pounded.
“What about you, Am? Did you find your heart?”
No, he wanted to say, I think I lost it. But he simply shook his head. That didn’t discourage Brother Howard. He said that
what they had done was merely an exercise, one of many to build their awareness.
“I don’t have special hearing aids,” he said, “that will provide you the ability to hear the dead, but I do have a program”—he
tapped the table and brought their attention to his tapes and books—“that has allowed many to succeed in that quest.”
“Are you sure this ability can be taught?” asked Am.
“There is no question about it,” he said.
“How is it,” asked Am, “that you succeeded in bridging this rather enormous gap, when others have not?”
“I am by no means the first to have done so,” said Brother Howard. “Mine is a God-given ability, not unlike those who can
see auras, or those who have second sight.”
“And you just woke up one day and heard the dead?”
“Not quite so simple as that. I think for most of my life I sensed the fragments of communication around me that were not
of this world, but I was never quite sure of what I was hearing. Over time I was able to distinguish the messages, and learned
how to better tune into them.”
“Do you carry on conversations with the dead?”
“I wouldn’t call them conversations. I prefer the term ‘dialogues.’ “
“’How’s the weather?’ Or, ‘What’s up?’ Those kinds of dialogues?”
Brother Howard looked disappointed. “Nothing like that,” he said. “Human words fail in describing the nuances of communication,
especially with the dead. The dialogues are meanings and meetings beyond our terminology.”
“Can you call up any of the dead you want? Abraham Lincoln? Robert Frost? Napoleon? Martin Luther King?”
“My techniques are not those of a séance,” said Brother Howard. “You will find the ‘who’ is not important. It is the ‘there.’
“Not the destination, the journey.”
“You didn’t answer the question, though,” said Am. “Are you able to communicate with a particular person who has died?”
Proudly, firmly: “I am.”
“That’s impressive,” said Am, “considering how many billions of people have died. Is there an A T and T over there?”
“Are you trifling with me, Mr. Caulfield?”
“No,” said Am, “I’m just trying to understand.”
Brother Howard stared at him for several seconds. “There is no telephone system,” he said. “There is an awareness far beyond
this earthly plane. It is the reality of ‘I think, therefore I am.’ The dead aren’t in hiding. They’ve merely eclipsed their
“The main reason we’re here,” said Am, “is that we want to talk with someone who recently died. Is it possible for you to
be our intermediary and help us communicate with him?”
It was apparent, despite Brother Howard’s seeming reluctance, that he had been asked this question before. “This was supposed
to be a training session…”
“Methinks thou doth protest too much” was what Am wanted to say, but instead he said, “If we have to pay extra, we quite understand.”
“Money is not the issue,” said Brother Howard, but in the end it naturally proved to be just that. They agreed on an additional
“With whom would you like me to communicate?” asked Brother Howard, “and what is it you would like to know?”
“Dr. Thomas Kingsbury,” said Am, “and who murdered him.”
Brother Howard didn’t react to either the name or the request. He asked for them not to move or talk, even to keep their breathing
quiet, then he closed his eyes and grew still. It was three or four minutes before his eyes opened again. He took a deep breath,
sighed slightly, and shook his head.
“Sometimes it happens this way,” he said. “The dead do not always speak. I could not find the one you wished.”
Am noticed he didn’t say the name aloud. “Are you sure you got his right name?” he asked.
“Thomas Kingsbury,” said Brother Howard. “Dr. Thomas Kingsbury.”
Am nodded. “Well, since he’s not available, I guess we’ll have to ask you some of the same questions. Do you prefer that we
call you the Reverend Mr. Gardenia, or Brother Howard?”
He didn’t respond to the baiting, merely said, “Brother Howard is my legal name.”
“But you were the Reverend Mr. Gardenia?”
He shrugged, then said, “Since neither of you are here to learn, I think it is time this session came to a close.”
“But we are here to learn,” said Marisa. “Mr. Caulfield is head of Hotel security. And I’m with the
“I have nothing to say.”
“Did the two of you talk while he was here?” Am asked.
“Why are you asking these questions? The newspapers reported that he died of natural causes.”
“Never believe what you read.” This from Marisa.
Brother Howard’s vow of silence didn’t last. “I was in the dealer’s room,” he said. “We have a booth there where we sell our
material. Business was very good. There was a line of customers and suddenly there was this commotion. A man was pushing to
the front of the line.
“ ‘Brother Howard,’ he said loudly. Mockingly. ‘It’s so good to see you again.’ I knew at once who he was. My persecutor was
there in front of me. He pretended to be very solicitous, interested in my teachings. He made quite the scene looking at my
wares and acting as if they fascinated him. Then he brought out his notebook and made an entry as to when I would be speaking.
‘I’ll be there,
he said, ‘oh, you can be sure I’ll be there.’ His voice told me clearly that he would be there to crucify me, to announce
what he perceived as my misdeeds of the past.”
“And that’s not how you view your past?” asked Am.
“I tried to help the very sick,” he said. “Do you condemn doctors for making a living doing the exact same thing?”
“You promised cures.”
“I offered hope. I can show you hundreds of testimonials…”
“And now you listen to the dead?”
Self-righteously: “Yes, I do.”
“But you couldn’t hear Dr. Kingsbury?”
“It might be that his spirit still lingers around here,” said Brother Howard, “and hasn’t passed over yet.”
One of the Fat Innkeeper’s
“Or maybe,” reflected Brother Howard, “he just didn’t want to talk with me.”
If that was the case, thought Am, he really couldn’t blame Kingsbury.
Skylar’s presentation (in his contract he forbade it to be called an “act” or “performance”) was just ending when they arrived.
The grand finale was a bunch of forks and spoons turned into Dali-like flatware. The crowd clapped enthusiastically, and Skylar,
dressed in black, frowned at them, bowed very formally, and then walked off the stage.
Getting backstage was easy, but getting to see Skylar was not. His manager provided interference, claimed that Skylar was
always exhausted after his “demonstrations of the mind” and never talked to anyone. Marisa acted disappointed, said she was
a “big fan,” and, “Oh, isn’t it a shame that I won’t be able to interview him.” The manager perked up at her words, asked
a few questions, then verified her journalistic credentials. He was suddenly willing to help, and went to talk with Skylar.
It was apparent that reporters were no longer clamoring to interview the mentalist, but Am didn’t think that was what got
them inside. While they were waiting a door opened, and an enormously large brown eye stared at them—or rather, stared at
Marisa. Why, wondered Am, hadn’t the mentalist just conjured a picture of her up in his mind from inside the room? The door
opened in about the time it took Skylar to get his eyeful.
“Open Sesame,” said Am.
Skylar kissed Marisa’s hand and managed to ignore Am completely. He led Marisa to a chair, offered her a drink, and said he
was so pleased they could have this time to chat.
“I do not allow photos,” he said to Am, not bothering to look at him but assuming he was the photographer. “Do not set up
your cameras. My manager gives out publicity shots. Talk to him if you’re interested.”
Am made no move to leave, instead found a chair. Skylar looked momentarily disappointed, then turned his attention back to
Marisa. He was a handsome man, had been born and raised in Lebanon, had the good looks of a prince straight out of
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
Skylar had the reputation of being a ladies’ man. He did have a certain charisma, Am had to admit, a personality that demanded
attention. His eyes could have qualified for lakes. He had straight white teeth, and a mocha complexion set off by very black
hair. Too black, Am thought, looking a little closer. Yes, it was dyed. And those enormous dark eyes of his had eyeliner around
them. Making those discoveries made Am feel a little better.