Jack sat on the beach, watching the sun come up. It was just before six in the morning, and the air blew cool against his white linen shirt and tan slacks. Jack waited patiently for the shadowy figure to come walking along the water from the distant cliffs. There was no need to hurry. The view was spectacular.
As the figure grew closer, it coalesced a bit more into the shape of a man but could not quite manage the details. The figure walked within a step or two of Jack, but continued onward to the edge of the water, not seeming to notice Jack at all. There were no footprints to be seen. No one else on the beach would see anything of him. They would barely notice Jack either.
Jack waited as the figure stood at the water’s edge. The water passed unnoticed through the feet of the figure as it stood looking out. Several minutes passed. A brown pelican flew overhead, toward the distant pier. Lightly, just under the sound of the waves, Jack could hear cars going by on Seaside Avenue.
Jack got up and walked toward the figure. As he rose, no sand stuck to his clothes, but unlike the figure, Jack left footprints in the sand. When he arrived next to the figure, Jack reached out a hand that connected with the indistinct form and the definition mostly returned. The man was older, perhaps eighty, and wore a light red jacket. His hair was gray with a bit of black. His skin was deeply tanned by the sun but also covered in freckles so brown they were almost black. He wore wire-framed glasses.
“Albin Bozydar Nowak, are you ready to move on?”
The figure turned and glanced at Jack. “Who are you? You seem familiar.”
“I am the one who opens the door so you can move on. My name is Jack.”
“How long has it been?” The figure asked. It seemed an effort for the figure to speak.
“You died 18 years, 11 months, and 23 days ago. You were alone on the beach and collapsed. Your heart…” Jack’s voice trailed off. For over a minute, neither of them spoke.
“It sure is pretty here,” said the figure finally. “Are you sure I need to go?”
Jack smiled. “We’ve had this conversation before,” He said, “I check on you from time to time. I think it would be good for you to move on, but you aren’t a troublemaker, so I leave it to you. The rest of your existence awaits though. This is just a holding pattern, and you may find that there is a less of you in the end.”
“And something good awaits?” The figure said.
“I can’t make any promises about the other side. I don’t know those things. I can only tell you that existence is broader and stranger than you may have ever realized.”
“I have no answers there. I’m not hiding things from you. I simply don’t know. I have not been given the answers. I wonder just as you do.”
“I can stay if I want?”
“I try to be fair, but again, you seem to be fading, and I hate to see you lose something essential about yourself in case you need it later. You are getting weaker, not stronger.”
The man turned and looked at Jack, genuinely looking at him for the first time. After a moment he said, “Can I have one more day? Just one, so I know it is the last?”
Jack nodded. “I can do that. I can meet you again at sunrise tomorrow if you like.” The two of them stood as another wave came in. It washed over Jack’s legs and pants, but they did not get wet.
“Thank you,” the figure said. It began to walk off. As it did, the definition that had returned as it spoke to Jack faded, though it seemed just a bit clearer than when they began. Jack watched the figure go, then took a final look off into the ocean before walking up the beach in the general direction of the pier.
As he walked, Jack hummed a song he thought he had forgotten, a song called Hej Sokoły. His phone vibrated and he checked it. The message read:
It is on the market.
Jack typed a quick Thank You. He made his way up the street toward Seaside Espresso.
“Coffee for… Coffee for…” The barista, a pretty young man with black curly hair piled high on the top of his head, tried valiantly to remember the name, which was written on the cup. In the end, he just said, “Cold Brew Latte!” He put the drink down on the counter and walked away.
Jack went up and took the drink. Jack knew the young man’s name. He was Jesus David Santiago. Jack knew his age. He knew that Jesus liked baseball and anime. Jack even knew that Jesus had a crush on one of the customers, a tan surfer kid named Andrew De León, who preferred to be called Drew. Jack and Jesus had talked a hundred times over the past three years. Jesus was a good kid.
Jack walked to the front patio and found a table near the street. It was still early in the day, with the sun hiding behind the building next door. There were several people on the patio, most of them wearing jackets against the morning chill. Jack was dressed as he was always dressed. He never changed it for something as insignificant as a cool breeze. Jack took this moment of calm and enjoyed it. He smelled the sea air, he watched the gulls cruise the updrafts overhead, and he listened to the café speakers play “Famous Blue Raincoat”.
Jack could remember the first day he had come to Santa Creda. He had gotten coffee and sat on the inside, admiring the artwork on the wall. He had purchased one of the pieces, a seascape by a local artist. It had been the first thing he put in his new apartment. He had literally carried it with him when he signed the papers. That has been a little over ten years ago.
“Hello, Miss Catrin.”
The woman had approached behind him and paused, perhaps trying to remember his name. “Hi Jack, may I sit with you?”
“Of course,” Jack said, “It’s always good to see you.”
Catrin sat down at the seat across from him. Catrin was tall, with long blond hair she often kept in a ponytail. She was dressed in a blue tracksuit, and from the looks of it had been out jogging. She set down a cup and poured a bottle of cherry fizzy water over the ice. “I wanted to talk to you about the guild,” she said.
“Of course,” Jack said. “You have questions. I understand.”
“My main question is, why me?” Catrin said. “I get most of your picks, but why me? I don’t think I bring much to the table. I sell insurance and tend bar. I’m not exactly a hero. I looked at all those D&D descriptions and I’m not suited for any of them.”
Jack smiled. “I think that got a little too much emphasis in the first meeting. Still, I think there is a class you should consider. It’s called the Seeker.”
“I never heard of that one.”
“It’s a lesser-used class, but an interesting one. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though, so let me answer your question. First, I know what you went through. I know about the disappearance and death of your brother, and I believe you want answers. I don’t have ready answers for you. It happened, unfortunately, shortly before I arrived here. Like you though, I want to know the answer.”
“Why does it matter to you?”
A sad look crossed Jack’s face. “I think you actually believe I am who I am, and that helps, but you should also understand that I’m different than what people would think. I’m different from most of the others who do what I do. That’s why I was brought here. The thing with reapers is that we are the gatekeepers. We open the gate, or door, and help the dead move on.”
“Yes, I think I get that.”
“Right, but that’s the thing. That’s our job. How we do that job though, is open to a lot of personal discretion. I own a home. I subscribe to magazines. I sit and drink coffee. I have conversations with the living and the dead. That’s how I choose to do this job, but none, absolutely none of it is required. The requirement is that I open the gate and help the dead move on. I don’t have to do one thing more than that. I choose to do more.”
“So, you are just a good guy?”
“I’m not truly even that.” Jack pointed to his chest. “This body is an affectation. Do you think I just happen to have been born looking like William Powell on his best day? Do you think I was even born? If I wanted to look like Marshall, or you, or a skeleton with a hood and a scythe, I could. I don’t have to look like anything at all. I just have to open the gate and help the dead move on.”
“You have one job,” Catrin said.
“I thought I did,” Jack said, “But that was before Santa Creda. When I came here, I thought that this was simply a mess that needed to be cleaned up, but that turned out not to be true. I couldn’t do things the way I did before and make things better. I needed to do something I’m not technically supposed to do.”
“You needed to join in.”
“Exactly. I realized that I needed to join the community. If I was ever going to solve the mysteries of Santa Creda, I needed to understand this place. You see, there’s a way I could do this job that is less… delicate. I could go on the offensive. I could forcibly push every spirit through the door without discretion or consideration. I could empty this town of every wandering spirit, whether that’s what they wanted or not. It would be challenging, but in many ways simpler. I could fix the symptom, cruelly, but chances are I would never figure out the why this is happening, and there remains the possibility that it is happening for a good reason. Perhaps the blunt approach is what is needed, but it isn’t what I want to do, and I’m the one who was chosen, so I have to believe my approach is the one that is desired.”
“So, you created the guild?”
“That is a recent development, but yes.
“Yes, but why me?”
Jack took a long sip of his coffee and said, “Do you have any plans for the next couple of hours?”
“I was going to go help Agnes,” Catrin answered.
“I’m hoping to get to that too,” Jack said, “But I have a job to do first. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Yes. I’m heading over to hospice. Leroy James Maser is going to be leaving us soon. His wife died last year and there’s no one to sit with him. It would be nice if you came. He hasn’t had any visitors.”
Catrin tensed slightly but she nodded. “Yes,” she said, “I’ll go.”
The two of them finished their coffee, then walked to the parking lot where Jack’s 1978 Peugeot 504 was parked. The car looked practically new, with the metallic brown paint polished to a sheen. “This is my companion. Her name is Betty. She is loyal, reliable, and not to be trifled with.”
“Hello Betty,” Catrin said with more gravity than Jack had expected. They drove across town to the hospice, a small, pleasant-looking building on the grounds of the hospital campus.
They entered the building through the automatic doors and Jack walked straight to the reception desk. “Hello Patrice,” he said pleasantly, “We’re here to see Leroy.”
The woman smiled at Jack. “So nice to see you again,” she said. “He’s in 116. Go down the hallway to the left, turn left at the nurse’s desk. It will be the third room on the left.” The woman looked at Catrin. “You’ll need to sign in honey.”
“Of course,” Jack said. He gestured to Catrin, who wrote her name in the book dutifully. The two of them walked back to the room and entered. It was a pleasant-looking room, with freshly cut flowers in a vase, and a television that was currently showing the in-hospital channel with the volume low. There were several cushioned chairs and even a sofa. Sliding glass doors looked out on a courtyard with a fountain. In the bed was an unconscious man, struggling to breathe. His face was drawn and there was a hint of blood on his teeth.
Catrin looked at him for a long moment but did not comment. Instead, she said, “I noticed you didn’t have to sign in.”
Jack nodded. “They fill in the blanks with whatever makes sense to them. Everyone does. If there were ten people in this room, they would welcome me like an old friend, or think I’m a doctor, or not even notice me. It all depends on the need at the time. Patrice sees me often, so she thinks I am a grief counselor most likely. Chances are she doesn’t think about it much at all.”
“That’s an interesting skill to have.”
“That’s more of an innate talent than a skill. I make the point because I do have skills that I have developed and honed over time, but that one just came with the job.”
“You say job. Do you have a boss?”
Jack thought about it for a moment. “Not in the sense that you would think. I get… guidance, but not much by way of explanation. I feel what needs to be done. For example, I know that Leroy here is going to go in about four more minutes. I have a good idea of who else is going to die in the next few weeks. It isn’t exact though. Things happen. Still, I know the list in general so I can plan ahead. No one is telling me where to go though. I just know.
On the flip side of that though, I have met other reapers. Santa Creda is small, so there’s really just me, but in the bigger cities there are lots of us, and there’s a sort of network.” Jack raised his phone. “This helps. We have our own little social network, but again, it depends on the reaper. Most have no interest in this kind of thing.”
They sat quietly for a few moments, then Jack said, “It’s getting close.” Jack walked over to the bed and put his hand on the man’s chest. “Hello Leroy, I’ve come to help you move on. You can let go now.”
Jack pulled the spirit of Leroy out of the shell. There was a gasp of air as Leroy breathed one final time.
Leroy the spirit looked at Jack. “Is this it?” The man asked.
“Yes, Leroy. I’m going to help you move on now.”
“Goodbye Leroy, and good luck,” Catrin said.
The spirit looked at Catrin and said, “You came. I didn’t think you’d come.” The spirit of the old man smiled. A door appeared and Jack opened it. “What’s on the other side?” Leroy asked.
Jack smiled. “I like to believe it is happiness and hope, but perhaps someday you’ll get to tell me.”
Leroy nodded. “Let’s hope.” He walked to the door, hesitated a moment, then walked through. Jack quietly shut the door behind him.
“Who did he think I was?” Catrin asked.
“You heard him?” Jack asked.
“Not so much heard as felt,” Catrin said.
Jack smiled. “He filled in whatever blank he needed to: wife, friend, daughter. Whatever he thought, you were a comfort. That’s what matters.”
They left the room as a doctor entered. Jack gave the woman a nod, but they exchanged no words. Jack and Catrin left the hospice and got back into Betty. Jack began to drive. “I chose you because I believe you have a deep desire to understand what happened to your brother. As I said, it happened shortly before I came here. I was brought here because something went wrong with the last reaper. They disappeared. That should not happen. To the best of my knowledge, it has never happened before. The others are all helpful in their own way, but I need someone like you. I need someone who will fight to answer these questions. I need someone who knows that there is something wrong here, and it must be corrected. I think that person is you. Also, I like your stories.”
“You’ve read them?” Catrin asked.
“On my Kindle,” Jack said, “You should really put them into print someday.”
“I can barely get people to download them,” Catrin said, “A print run would be an extravagance I can’t afford.”
Jack gestured with his hand and suddenly he was holding a gold coin. He handed it to her.
“What’s this for?”
“You went on a quest, that’s the reward. Use it to get a few copies of Mistress Stacy and the Blood Pack printed if you like. I’d enjoy getting a signed copy.”
“You liked it?”
“I did, although I had a hard time believing Mistress Stacy would allow Maya put on that collar. It seemed a little naive on her part.”
“It was the only way to see through the the wolf’s eyes.”
“Yes, that was convenient.” Jack smiled.
“That is a fair criticism,” Catrin said, “I’ll think about SCAG. Will you be at the Agnes house thing?”
Jack nodded. “I need to see another person, but then I’ll be there.”
“You don’t want me on that one?” Catrin said.
“It isn’t a matter of want. Some people die in the comfort of a bed, while others die in less convenient places. This one is a solo job.”
They pulled up next to Catrin’s apartment. Catrin nodded. “I’ll see you soon then.”
Jack had just arrived at the house when he felt the commotion in the back room. He rushed past Marshall and into the room, where he saw Nick on the floor. Jack kneeled next to him and put his hands upon Nick’s chest.
“Is it time?” Nick asked.
“No,” Jack said. “Absolutely not. I’ve got you.”
Nick’s parents had been one of Jack’s cases. They’d been taken off the coast, almost out of Jack’s jurisdiction. Another quarter mile, and it would have been some other reaper. Jack had been the one though. He had watched over them as the dark waters consumed them, and he had released them. That was his job. Finding Nick and telling him, that was a kindness, or so he told himself. Not all reapers did that. Most were unconcerned with the living and the grieving.
This was not an easy extraction. Removing a soul upon death was straightforward and had the benefit of endless practice. Removing an invasive spirit from a body without damaging the original spirit was a matter of precision. It was still within Jack’s capabilities, but not without peril. The problem here though was even more complicated. Something else was in there. Something else was fighting. This was not right.
Jack closed his eyes so they would no longer fool him. He found the entry point. He found the curve. He pushed and pushed hard. The room shuddered. The spirit came away from Nick. Jack willed an opening and pushed the spirit through. This wasn’t how he liked to do these things. This wasn’t a peaceful transaction. This was a fight. Jack concentrated on Nick again. Searching for the rest, but it was a mess in there, a jumble of energy. He worked to separate them, but there were no firm boundaries. It was already entangled. Jack withdrew. He sat back on the floor.
“Is he OK?”
It took Jack a moment to reset and take stock of the room. There were several people. Marshall, Catrin, Tilly, and Agnes. Tilly was the one who had asked the question, and he gave her a quick nod. There was no point in panicking anyone.
Jack got up slowly and turned to Agnes. Agnes looked concerned, and uncomfortable. More importantly, she looked guilty. “Was this Missy’s doing?” he asked. “What did you two do to him?”
Agnes looked at the door to the secret room, now open. “I didn’t know about that. Honestly, I didn’t know. That’s the first time I’ve seen it. This room was wall-to-wall junk before. There’s no way I could have known.”
“You sensed nothing?” Jack asked.
“I didn’t know. Sure, there was something, but I didn’t know. Where were you?”
“I was tending to the dead,” Jack said allowing the full authority of his voice to reverberate across the room. He regretted that quickly, as he saw the others in the room fill with dread. More quietly he said, “And what did you do to Nick.”
“It wasn’t me,” Agnes said. “I didn’t know.”
“Don’t bullshit me Missalia,” Jack said. “I can feel you in there. What did you do?”
Agnes drooped. Her shoulders slumped. “It was nothing,” she said. “I was trying to help. I just filled in a few of the cracks. I wasn’t trying to hurt him. It was just a kiss.”
“A kiss? You kissed him?” Jack heard Tilly ask.
A dark look crossed her face as Agnes said, “Yes, little girl. I kissed the boy who isn’t even your boyfriend. Don’t worry. He’s not interested in me. No one is.” Agnes turned back and looked at Nick. “Is he going to be OK.?”
“He’s not going to die,” Jack said. “He needs rest. Just let him rest. They all sat around the room for several minutes in uncomfortable silence.
Eventually, Marshal, who had come in during the conversation, spoke. “Should we take a look at what’s in that room?”
For a moment, nobody said anything, but then Tilly spoke up. “You figure out the room,” Tilly said. She sat down next to Nick and held his hand. “I’ll be here.”
Jack nodded to her. Marshall walked in and Jack followed. Jack looked back to see if Catrin was coming and saw her sit down on the other side of Nick from Tilly. She nodded to him. “We’ve got this.”
The room was a shrine, that much was clear. There were dozens of drawings on the wall. Some were detailed and others more simplistic. They all seemed to be focused on the same man. A shadowy man holding what at first looked like a walking stick, but it wasn’t perfectly straight and had a large ball at the top. Jack looked at it closely and pointed at it. “See if you can find this,” he said to Marshall and Agnes.
They looked through the rest of the room, but with no luck. What they did find was a flat wooden desk. It was almost entirely covered in melted candles and looking closely they could see that the candles had melted around gold coins, which were deeply embedded into the wax. “There’s some loot for you guys,” Jack said, “Isn’t that right Agnes?”
Agnes looked sad. She shrugged. “Are you going to be able to clear Nick?” She asked.
Jack shook his head. “I’m not even sure I should. We need to keep an eye on him. Your explanation doesn’t account for what I saw.”
“I’m telling the truth,” Agnes said.
Jack nodded. “I know. Did he… consent?”
“He asked me for help. I was trying to help.”
Jack nodded. “Lessons learned.”
Marshall said, “What do we do about this… club? Walking Stick? Staff?”
“I’m reasonably sure it’s a shillelagh. You didn’t find anything like that clearing out the house, did you?”
Marshall shook his head. “I wasn’t here in the morning though.”
“Do you mind doing a dumpster dive and looking around? We need to find that if possible.”
“I’ll go take a look,” Marshall said and left the room. Jack turned to Agnes. “If I ask you how you came by this house, will I get a straight answer.”
“No,” Agnes said. “But I assume you helped the previous owner move along, so you know I wasn’t there.”
Jack thought for a moment, then said, “His name was Graham Buckley. He died in a hotel room. He was sad to go. He said he was waiting for his love. I assume that was you?”
Agnes shrugged. “No one loves me.”
Jack looked around. “This shrine has been here a long time. It might not have even been his.”
Agnes said, “Graham moved here seven years ago. He inherited the house from an aunt. Apparently, the aunt had nobody else, just like Graham. I’m not sure how long the aunt lived here. It wasn’t relevant at the time. I can find out easily enough though.”
“It’s your house,” Jack said, “Any objection to me taking these drawings?”
“I was getting rid of everything anyway,” Agnes said.
“Good,” Jack said. “I’ll take them down in a bit. We should go check on our boy.”
When they stepped into the other room, they found Nick sitting up against a wall. Tilly was sitting on one side, and Catrin was sitting on the other. “How are you feeling buddy?” Jack asked.
“Stupid,” Nick said. “I forgot to check for traps.”
“Would you have even known what to look for?” Agnes asked.
Nick chuckled. “Probably not.”
“Call the rogue next time,” Agnes said.
“Will do.” Nick sighed. “Tell me what the hell happened. Catrin says she thought she saw something come out. Tilly says it looked like I just opened the door and crumpled. I feel like I was hit by a bus. I remember this red-purple flash and an… explosion, but that’s about it.
Jack sat down next to Nick and put a hand on his shoulder. “From all appearances, someone had a Cassandra spirit trapped in there. That’s what I call them anyway. There are all sorts of names for them. They can see the truth… or at least a truth. It’s the next best thing to having a mind-reader. I think this one got too powerful and dangerous, so they sealed it in there. Usually, if that happens, they fade over time, but there’s an icon involved, and that isn’t in there. It’s out in the world somewhere, and it has a piece of the Cassandra spirit in it, so we need to find it.”
“But what happened to me?”
“It tried to possess you,” Jack said. He glanced at Agnes. “Sometimes spirits try to merge with a live person… or creature. It often fails, but it can be quite traumatic for the person.”
“It tried to merge with me?”
“It tried to push its way inside you. It was strong, and probably pretty desperate after spending so much time in that trap.”
“And you got it out?”
“It’s taken care of, for the most part. You might feel some residual effects though.”
“What kind of effects?”
Jack paused, thinking for a moment. “Cassandra spirits are generally seeking the truth, as I said. They are created by someone who is desperately seeking some piece of information or closure. You might feel something similar. It should fade though.” Jack didn’t want to add the rest, that there was already something going on in Nick, something he hadn’t seen in a long time.
Tilly spoke up then. “We’re supposed to just believe that this powerful demon burst through a door and attacked Nick? That’s the explanation you’re giving us? And for the record, I didn’t see anything except Nick falling over, and I was the closest one.”
Jack shook his head. “I said spirit, not demon. And no, you don’t have to believe anything I tell you. You can believe that there was some natural gas in there, and Nick got a whiff of it and passed out. Tell yourself what you need to tell yourself, but approach everything with skepticism.”
Catrin said, “If it helps Tilly. I saw it. I saw it try to burrow into him. I was just coming into the room when he opened the door. I have no reason to lie to you. I’m still on the fence about even joining. I saw it though, but then, I can see those things. I don’t fault you for not. It might be better if I couldn’t…” Catrin’s voice trailed off.
Nick took a deep breath, then started to stand. Tilly and Catrin helped him up. “I’d like to go home now,” Nick said. “I probably shouldn’t drive though.”
“I got a ride. I can drive you home if you like, so you don’t have to come back to get your car.”
“That would be great,” Nick said. Tilly started to speak but then didn’t. Instead, she followed Jack back into the shrine room and looked around. Jack started to gather the drawings from the wall.
“Any thoughts?” Jack asked.
Tilly looked at the drawings, then at the candles and the coins in the melted wax. “The coins are mostly Canadian. There are only a couple of coin shops in town unless they got them from some other source. The candles are Missoni. That’s pricey stuff. They may be available at Bell, Book, and Candle on Barnett Street downtown.”
“I saw the movie,” Jack said.
“Bell Book and Candle… it had Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.”
Tilly let her finger play along the curves of the melted wax. “I never saw it,” Tilly said, “I only know about the excommunication ceremony. Ring the bell, close the bible, snuff the candle, and off the poor person goes into exile.”
“I wonder if that’s pertinent?”
“It’s just the name of the store,” Tilly said. “I don’t see a bell in here… no books either.”
“Fair enough. It might still be a good idea to pay the place a visit though.”
Tilly nodded. “My mother shops there. I’ve been in a few times. It’s a pretentious little place. Nothing in there costs less than a hundred dollars. They sell other odd things there too, tonics, essential oils, herbal remedies. It’s a great place to go if you’re a hippie with money.”
“There’s a rather large number of those around here,” Jack said.
Marshall came back in and reported that there was no sign of the shillelagh in the dumpster. Jack nodded. “Unfortunate, but I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s out there in the wild somewhere, ready to cause trouble. We’ll need to track it down and deal with it.”
“I’ll go by the store if you like,” Tilly said.
Jack nodded. “I’d appreciate it.”
It was dark when Jack arrived back at his apartment. He entered, closed the door, and let out a long sigh. Jack was greeted by a black and white cat butted his head against Jack’s leg several times. “Hello Desmond,” Jack said. “I’ll feed you in a moment.”
Jack walked over to a small, clean desk and deposited the stack of drawings he was holding. Desmond made an angry grunting noise, and Jack said quietly. “Yes, now. I get it'” Jack walked into the kitchen and opened a plastic container of wet cat food. He placed it on the kitchen floor next to Desmond’s bowl and Desmond gobbled at it.
“Alexa,” Jack said slightly loudly, “Play Van Morrison.” A few moments later, Into the Mystic started playing. Jack went to the refrigerator and took out a can of vanilla cream soda. He opened it, took a sip. He opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony, leaving the door open so he could hear the music.
The apartment was on the fifth floor and the balcony looked out onto the ocean. The fog was coming in, giving everything a blue lit glow. Jack sat in one of two Adirondack chairs, put the can of soda on the table and closed his eyes. For several minutes he simply sat there listening to the music. After a few minutes his phone vibrated. He took it out of his pocket and read the message.
Carl Weatherly has put in an offer on August House. What should I do?
Jack stared off into the fog for a moment before he responded.
I assume it is substantial.
Jack took another sip from his can of soda. The song playing now was Brand New Day.
It is the highest of the four received so far.
Jack thought for a moment, then wrote.
After a while, the reply came back.
What about Tilly?
Desmond walked out on to the balcony and jumped on Jack’s lap. After a moment he settled in, and Jack stroked his fur gently. The music continued into the night. He sat there through the night, until the first streaks of daylight appeared on the horizon, then Jack headed out to meet Albin and help him move on.