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By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 MRK Productions
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAfter dinner with the first couple, Ida, Mavis, and Toots went to their rooms while Sophie met the first lady in her private suite. Slender, with a head of thick brown hair, and sparkling brown eyes, the former journalist was as bubbly in private as she was in public. Sophie liked her immediately.
"I'm not sure where to start. I've never done anything like this before. When I heard about your success, I knew it was something I had to try. The nightmares are so real, I must admit, I've been terribly ill at ease."
Sophie could feel the woman's uneasiness. "There are numerous ways to communicate with those who have passed. Why don't you tell me about your dreams first, then we can decide what is best for you."
"All right. I'm sure you know the story behind my uncle's assassination; the entire world still speculates on exactly what happened in Dallas that day. I was just a child, yet my memory of that day is very clear."
Sophie listened intently.
"I remember my mother had just returned from a trip, but I don't recall where she'd been. She was crying so hard; I'd never seen her cry before. She was always such a strong woman. It scared me to see her like that. The house was instantly occupied with Secret Service. We were told we couldn't do anything without one of them present." The first lady paused and removed a tissue from the box on the table to her side. "Of course, I was aware our family was in the public eye, but I wasn't used to having strangers swarming all over our home. But this doesn't matter. You didn't come here to listen to my childhood memories.
"The dreams, the nightmares started about a year ago. In my dream, I am walking in a tunnel, and there are hundreds of people around me, pushing and shoving one another in their attempt to get to the end of the tunnel. Two men seem to hover above the crowd. They have guns, and on their faces are horribly wicked smiles. Then there is a very loud noise, and in my dream I know it's a gunshot. I try to get away from all the people, but I'm frozen, my legs won't move. Those evil men above me have some sort of invisible hold on me. I struggle, and still can't move.
"Once again I hear the same loud noise, the one I know is a gun being fired. I have to get out of that tunnel because I know if I don't, someone will die. I continue to struggle, but I'm not going anywhere. Maniacal laughter is followed by a vision, or a flash—I'm not sure what it is—of my uncle's face. He is trying to tell me something of great importance. And then I wake up."
Understanding, Sophie nodded. "I'm not an expert at dream interpretations, but I've studied enough to have a basic knowledge of certain symbols and what they most commonly represent."
"I know this isn't a scientific method."
Reassured, Sophie continued. "Dreaming that you're running usually indicates an issue you're trying to avoid. Some experts"—Sophie made air quotes as she said it—"would say you are not taking responsibility for your actions. In your case, it seems you're trying to run from an attacker, or some type of impending danger. That usually means you have a fear that needs to be confronted.
"Another theory suggests that dreaming you're running and you can't make your feet move often signifies lack of self-esteem and confidence. I think we can agree you're a very accomplished woman, and this is probably not an issue for you.
"On the other hand, when you dream you're running alone, it sometimes refers to your determination and motivation in the pursuit of your goals. I could go on and on as there are varied interpretations. You say you are in a tunnel, and that often signifies determination." Sophie paused, unsure if she should say more.
"Please, go on."
She took a deep breath, ran a hand through her loose hair. This might be touchy, she thought, but what the hell. "It's possible your dreams and nightmares of the faces and gunshots are relevant to the assassination. Dreams of witnessing an assassination usually indicate you should be paying attention to some small detail."
The first lady brightened. "That's exactly what I feel sometimes. Maybe there is an important detail I'm subconsciously aware of?"
The last thing Sophie wanted to get involved with was another conspiracy theory concerning the former president's death. Way too heavy for her. "It's possible your nightmare is warning you not to overlook the seemingly insignificant things in your life." She didn't want to come off as a street corner fortune-teller, and knew her words were much too general. But Sophie wasn't stupid enough to think she could offer the first lady an instant cure-all solution to how and why those images plagued her dreams.
However, she'd been extremely successful contacting those who'd passed over to the other side, and they might offer an explanation.
"I suppose that could be true, but there are so many details in my daily life that are insignificant. How am I supposed to differentiate one from the other?"
"I don't have an answer for that. All I can do is help you open the door and see what happens," Sophie explained.
"Yes, of course. I don't mean to suggest anything more. It's just such a relief to have someone to discuss this with, someone who doesn't think I'm making more out of my nightmares than I should be."
Sophie reached across the small glass table that separated them. She took the anguished woman's hand in hers. "I'm honored you invited me. When would you like to hold the séance?" It was too late that night, plus Sophie was tired. She had learned that when she was tired, she wasn't nearly as successful at making contact, but if the first lady wanted to try, she would.
"Is there a particular time that's ... better to make contact?"
Sophie smiled. "Not in my experience. If a spirit wants to make contact, it will no matter what time of the day or night. There are a few items I require, so I brought them with me. We will need a quiet room where we won't be disturbed."
"Yes, I thought so. If it's all right with you, I've made arrangements to use one of the rooms at the governor's mansion. It's undergoing renovations now, so it is closed to the public."
Sophie looked skeptical.
"We give tours. Though Ronald Reagan was the last governor to actually live there, it's quite the tourist attraction now."
Understanding, Sophie nodded. "You say there are renovations going on? This could be a good thing. Structural disturbances seem to appeal to the other side. How about tomorrow at noon?"
"I'll arrange for the limo to pick you up at ten o'clock." The first lady hesitated. "What about your friends?"
"They're part of the package."
"I see. They will be discreet?"
"I would trust them with my life," Sophie stated confidently.
The first lady stood, indicating their time together was over. "I can't thank you enough, Sophie. I hope you can help me."
"I will do my very best."
Sophie stepped into the hallway, where several members of the governor's staff waited. A tall man in his late thirties escorted her back to her room. On any other occasion, Sophie would have joked around, but this was neither the time nor the place. When he reached her room, he stepped aside while she unlocked the door.
"Good night, ma'am."
"Nighty, night," Sophie said quietly.
And what a night it had been. She couldn't wait until morning.
On their way to the old mansion, the first lady gave them a brief history of the thirty-room structure.
"A wealthy hardware merchant by the name of Albert Gallatin had the home built in 1877. It wasn't until 1903 that the state of California purchased the house to use as the official governor's mansion. It's quite charming. We still have many of the furnishings from some of the former governors." On the short commute, she filled them in on details that were irrelevant, but Sophie knew she was talking so much because she was nervous.
"I think it sounds like a wonderful home. Why doesn't the governor live here now?" Mavis asked, her cheerful voice a welcome respite.
"When Reagan left office, the state built a new residence in Carmichael—not far from Sacramento. When Governor Brown took office, he refused to live there, and the house was sold by the state in 1982. The mansion is now considered a United States Historic Site, and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. We're content to commute."
"My home in South Carolina is on the National Register, too," Toots said. "I love old houses."
Sophie wanted to add that if it weren't for that old beachside dump in Malibu Toots had purchased, none of them would be riding in a limousine to a former mansion, but she refrained.
Without too much fanfare, they made their way inside the musty old mansion, where they were led to a small room on the third floor. The drapes were drawn, and, as Sophie had requested, a round wooden table with five chairs sat in the center of the room.
"It will take me a few minutes to arrange my things, so if you want to wait outside ..." She hated telling this powerful woman to wait, but she didn't want her observing the setup ritual.
From her carry-on baggage, Sophie removed the old purple silk sheet that had been left at the beach house by the former pop star and seemed to be a symbol of good luck. Whatever it was, Sophie wasn't going to mess with it. She'd never covered a séance table with anything else and saw no reason to make any changes in her way of conducting a séance.
She removed seven candles from a box. She knew the first lady would ask her why seven candles. There was no particular reason other than seven had always been Sophie's lucky number. She placed six candles around the room and one on the table in front of the chair from which she would lead the séance. She also had a supply of rocks glasses that she felt were good-luck items and centered one in the middle of the table, where everyone could reach it easily.
She placed a legal pad and several pencils to her right, close to where the first lady would be seated. Sophie did not want changes in anything. It would scare the ghosts away, or so she feared.
Toots, Ida, and Mavis positioned their chairs in their usual order. Toots sat directly to Sophie's left, then Ida and Mavis, who would be seated on the other side of the first lady. This works out perfectly, Sophie thought, because I don't want Ida seated next to me. God forbid Ida put on some phony act just to focus attention on herself.
With the scene set Sophie stepped out of the room and told the first lady they were ready.
"You may sit here," Sophie said, pointing to the chair to her right, "and we will begin."
When everyone was seated, Sophie took her seat center stage, or rather center table. "I always like to explain what a séance is to those who have never attended one. I think the spirits like the formality of the introduction," Sophie joked. She cleared her throat.
"The séance is the coming together of a number of people for the purpose of seeking communication with those who are no longer of this world. Temperaments of those attending séances should be varied as much as humanly possible. While we may share common interests, we must all have open minds in order for any supernormal phenomena to occur." Sophie focused her attention on the first lady. She didn't want to totally freak her out.
"Is everyone ready?" Sophie asked.
All of the women indicated they were.
"I usually open a séance with a prayer of sorts, then I ask if there is anyone who would like to make contact with our guest." She looked at the four women, then took the first lady's hand in her right hand and Toots's hand in her left. Sophie bowed her head in prayer, asking that the room be blessed and that no evil enter their sacred space.
"Let us all take a deep breath, relax and open our minds and hearts to the possibility of another dimension, a place where lost souls are trapped. Now let's place the tips of our fingers against the glass in the center of the table. This is how we communicate with the spirits."
Each woman touched the glass with her fingertips. Sophie closed her eyes and began to speak in a soft, almost seductive tone. "We are here to contact a family member of ..." Sophie whispered the first lady's full name. She waited several minutes, hoping the silence and the dim lighting would tempt the spirits to reach out and make contact with her.
"If there is a spirit here in this room, move the glass in the center of the table to my right, toward the first lady of California."
All eyes were focused on the glass. When nothing happened, Sophie spoke again. "Our guest is plagued with nightmares, and she needs help to understand their meaning. Again, if there is a presence in this room, move the glass in the center of the table to the right." Again, the women focused on the glass.
A sharp intake of breath came from the first lady when she saw the glass move ever so slightly to the right. Sophie gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "We've made contact."
"If you are here on behalf of our guest, move the glass to the left."
Suddenly, the glass lurched to the left.
The temperature in the small room became icy, and the candles flickered as though a gust of air had passed over them.
"Thank you." Sophie figured it never hurt to let the spirit know its presence was appreciated and welcomed.
"In her dreams, she is in a tunnel filled with people. She tries to run, yet she is unable. There are gunshots. There are faces of two men in her dreams. Are the events that led to your death related to her dreams? If the answer is yes, move the glass to the right. If the answer is no, move the glass to the left."
All eyes were focused on the glass.
As if an invisible hand swooped down and took the glass, it flew across the room, shattering against the ancient plaster walls.
"Oh my God!" the first lady cried.
Toots, Ida, and Mavis didn't move. They'd come a long way since their first séance.
"This is no cause for alarm. I think the spirit is trying to tell us he is angry. Mavis, there is another glass in the box on the floor behind you. Would you please get it and place it in the center of the table?" Sophie asked.
Mavis slipped out of her chair quietly, located the box, took out the glass, and centered it on the table. As soon as she was seated, Sophie continued, "Let's put our fingers on the glass."
They did as instructed.
"If you're angry, move the glass to the right." Within seconds, the glass moved to the right, stopped, then moved to the right again.
The chilled room was deathly silent.
"I think it's time for us to try another method. I think I only have a few extra glasses," Sophie said, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
"I don't understand," the first lady stated.
Sophie pointed to the legal pad and the stack of pencils on the table. "There is something called automatic writing. This allows the spirit to communicate through the medium. This technique has been very successful in the past."
Sophie neglected to say that she'd solved a murder using automatic writing. Ida's deceased husband was thought to have died from E-coli from eating a piece of tainted meat. During a séance, his spirit had provided them with enough information to give to law enforcement to prove his death was not an accident.
"All right. Just tell me what to do," the first lady whispered, her fear evident.
"You don't have to do anything except concentrate and allow the spirit to work through me. Automatic writing is essentially writing that's done in an altered state of consciousness, and directed by the spirits of the dead. The spirit will literally manipulate the pencil in my hand. I will be unaware of what is being written and will ask that you not look at the paper until we're finished."
"Exactly how does one put oneself into a trance?"
Sophie had never had her methods questioned so thoroughly, but understood the first lady's skepticism and did not resent it at all.
"I'm going to take several deep breaths, then close my eyes. It's like self-hypnosis. Now, you will all join hands, clear your minds, and relax."
Sophie dropped her head to her chest and began to inhale and exhale. She allowed herself several minutes to reach her self-imposed hypnotic state.
Excerpted from Deadline by FERN MICHAELS Copyright © 2012 by MRK Productions. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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