by Anthony W. Spivey
Talbot closed his eyes and felt the smooth wood of the bar under his palms. He could hear conversations going on around him, mundane things, everyday things. He could hear the clink of the glasses as Bill the bartender moved up and down the bar, filling glasses. Beside him, he could smell her perfume. It was July 10th, 7:05 pm in the Cast Off bar, Pier 39, San Francisco.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” he asked her.
She was there, curly brown hair cascading down her shoulders, short red dress, red nails. She smiled, laugh lines crinkling beside her eyes. “Now that’s an original line,” she said and tapped the glass of her gin and tonic with a long red nail.
“Thanks,” Talbot said. He turned on his bar stool and looked at her. She was captivating, always captivating. “You didn’t answer my question, though.”
“Ghosts? I don’t know. Maybe. Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Believe in ghosts.”
“Oh, yes,” he said and laughed. “What do you do?”
She finished her gin and tonic, “I teach third grade. What about you?”
“I’m... well, I guess you could say I’m a real estate negotiator,” he said. He noticed the bartender was walking down the bar toward them. Talbot pointed to her glass, “Would you like another drink?”
The bartender reached them, and the woman looked up, “I’ll have a...”
“Tequila Sunrise,” Talbot said.
The bartender stared at her as she stared at Talbot, “Yes. How did you know I wanted a Tequila Sunrise?”
The bartender turned and began mixing the drink.
“I’m psychic,” Talbot said and smiled his tired smile.
“A psychic real estate negotiator — by the way, what is a ‘real estate negotiator’?” she asked.
“Development companies hire me to negotiate land deals. You know, talk people into selling their house, moving, that sort of thing,” Talbot said. He looked at the clock on the wall, 7:09.
“That’s a sad job,” she said as the bartender delivered her Tequila Sunrise. “Aren’t you drinking?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t drink,” he said. “And, my job’s not really sad. Most people are happy to move on.”
“You’re kidding,” she said.
“No, no, they’re quite content.”
“No, I mean about the not drinking. Why on earth are you sitting at a bar if you don’t drink?” she asked. She sipped the sunrise, beads of moisture sliding along the glass, along her nails.
“Well, I’m talking to you,” he said and smiled.
“Oh, I see. So, you’re here in this bar trying to pick me up,” she said, her smile much wider and less tired than his own.
He looked wounded, “Is it a crime to want to have a conversation with a beautiful woman?”
She blushed and looked down at the bar, “I haven’t been called that in a long time, Mr...?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Richard Talbot,” he said and held out his hand.
“Pam Cole,” she said and took his hand. “Mr. Talbot...”
“Richard. Can I ask you a question?”
“You’re not a homicidal maniac who stalks middle-aged women in bars, are you?”
“Absolutely not,” he said, smiling.
“Then you can stop trying so hard. You had me at ‘hello’,” she said and squeezed his hand. “It’s funny, I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
It was Talbot’s turn to blush, “I know how you feel.”
She opened her purse, and dropped some bills on the bar, “Want to get out of here?”
Talbot looked at the clock, 7:17. “Can we stay here, just a few more minutes?”
She looked at him, her eyes sparkling, a slow grin spreading across her face, “You are interesting. But, I really need some air. It’s a beautiful evening. I want to walk.”
They held hands and walked out of the bar and onto the long concrete Embarcadero. Concrete piers jutted out into the bay, some with cruise ships moored alongside. They walked, their backs to the warm sun, her heels clicking on the concrete. He looked at his watch occasionally.
She stopped in front of pier 33, the cruise ship Sea Harvest was moored alongside. She stood in front of Talbot, wrapped her arms around his neck and looked up into his eyes, “My apartment is two blocks up Francisco Street.”
Talbot sighed. He looked into her smiling eyes. His eyes were tired, pained. “It’s 7:27 pm. July 10th,” Talbot said. ”Just up the hill, in the top of the Coit Tower, three terrorists have planted a suitcase-sized nuclear device. Thirty seconds from now, it’s going to go off. Eight hundred thousand people are going to die. The fallout will kill even more.”
Shaking her head, she took a step back from him, “Why do I always attract the nuts?”
“Pam, listen to me. You’re stuck here. Your ghost is stuck reliving the last half hour of your life. You’ve been replaying this scene for hundreds of years. Please, you don’t have to stay here. You can go on. Trust me,” Talbot pleaded.
She was backing up, backing toward the concrete wall of the pier building. She started to say something, and then stared over his shoulder at the white edifice of the Coit Tower.
Talbot closed his eyes. He felt the heat, felt the wind at his back.
* * *
“Talbot?” Keegan asked.
Talbot opened his eyes. He was standing on the ruins of the Embarcadero. The great blasted and rusting hulk of the cruise ship Sea Harvest bobbed alongside the ruined pier. The outline of a woman had been burned into the white, crumbling wall by a blast that happened five hundred years before.
“Talbot?” Keegan repeated.
“I’m all right,” he said and collapsed onto the cracked concrete. He stared at the shadow of Pam Cole.
“Did it work?”
“Perhaps you should try a different ghost. There’s so many thousands more we need to get rid of,” Keegan said.
The ruins of San Francisco were free of radiation now, but the ghosts made rebuilding difficult.
So many ghosts, Talbot thought. People constantly projected psychic energy into their surroundings. ‘Soul radiation’ scientists called it.
Normally, that radiation dissipated within a half hour. But, when something traumatic happened to a person, such as violent death, the sudden outflow of psychic energy could forever alter the surroundings.
The sentient soul radiation could continue forever in the blasted ruins of San Francisco. Getting the ghosts to move on required negotiation.
“What do you think, Talbot?” Keegan asked.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“Should you try a different ghost?”
“No. She’s the only one who’ll talk to me...”
* * *
Talbot closed his eyes and felt the smooth wood of the bar under his palms. He could hear conversations going on around him, mundane things, everyday things. He could hear the clink of the glasses as Bill the bartender moved up and down the bar, filling drinks. Beside him, he could smell her perfume.
Copyright © 2006 by Anthony W. Spivey