The Paranormal Debunker (#13) The Vengeful Phantom
Things have been quiet lately around the office since what happened a few weeks ago with Theresa Rivers. It's been two weeks and although it seemed like things were going the same as always, there still seemed to be some kind of cloud hanging above Dad's head. Tina, my younger sister, seemed to think so, because she stopped nagging us about how ghosts don't exist. At least for a while.
Now and then, we get calls about a possible haunting. Tai-long Keung, my dad and local ghost hunter, would take the calls and ask them a few questions. Thankfully, with calls, people can't see him. Normally, he's a pretty sharp dresser, always wearing a tie and all that. But recently, he's been a bit shabby in his appearance. He still shaves, but he hasn't tucked in his shirt or wore a tie in a while. And instead of loafers, he was wearing basketball shoes. I've only seen him like this once, probably a year before he decided to quit being a police officer. Well, Dad is a bit of a sensitive guy after all who really values life. It's one of the reasons why he always kept his gun unloaded even during work. From what I remember, he was only forced to use it once, and it was a nice shot at the other guy's gun. I guess that explains why he always aimed for the hands during target practice.
Anyway, it's been getting really cloudy lately so with the lights off, as they usually were, the room was getting a little dark. It was still bright enough to read in without any power, and there weren't any scheduled appointments, so I never bothered with them. I was on the computer doing regular teenage boy stuff like watching anime and chatting with friends through Facebook.
Suddenly, the electronic bell chimed as the door opened and in came this man in a really expensive-looking suit. He was old-looking, and kind of big. If he were younger, he'd look like one of those mob family muscles.
I quickly got off the computer and went to greet the man. I gave him the usual greeting, though I might have stuttered a bit. It had been a long time since we had a walk-in, after all.
The guy took one look at me, eye rolling up and down before taking off his hat to reveal only a ring of white hair.
"Think you can get your boss out here?" he asked. He had a soft, gravelly voice. "There's something I want to talk with him about."
"Sure thing," I said. "Please wait over there."
I pointed toward the waiting area which was just a carpet with some soft chairs and a coffee table covered in old magazines. After that, without waiting for him to go there, I went over to the door that led to Dad's office. Just as I was about to knock on the door, it suddenly flew open and Dad came out wearing a full suit set and sweater vest. The shadow that was growing darker on his face for some time now had completely disappeared, and he was looking like a man at his 100%. I guessed he must have heard the bell and quickly got ready. He does keep spare clothes lying around the office space for when he needed them.
"Get the taser from my office," I heard him whisper to me.
"Huh?" I went. I mean, so would you if your old man suddenly ordered you to get a taser gun out from a locker where we keep self-defense supplies. And it really spooked me out. Normally, Dad's like one of those non-violent Buddhist monks, always preaching about peace and all that. The only time he's ever used violence is when he felt he absolutely had to. Since he felt that I should get out a taser gun, that must have meant that whoever was waiting outside was a really dangerous guy.
He shot me that look that told me to just do as I was told before going to greet the man waiting outside.Because of how small the office was, I could hear every word outside while I dug through folding batons and cans of pepper spray for one of probably three taser guns.
My dad got some of them from his cop days, but most of the others were probably from my grandma. I could never figure out what it was she did with her life before becoming a grandma that made her think that pepper spray would make a good Christmas present.
"Are you the proprietor of this establishment?" I heard our guest ask.
"I am," said Dad. "My name is Tai-long Keung."
"The name's Alberto Rinaldi," the man said.
"I know who you are, Don Rinaldi," Dad said. "To what do I owe this visit from the head of the Rinaldi Family?"
Wait. Seriously? A mob boss has come to hire Dad. Well, it wasn't the first time a criminal came looking to Dad for help with the supernatural.
Everyone who watches the news knows about the Rinaldi Family. They're one of the local mob bosses that control a bit of the city. Members of that family have been reported doing all sorts of things from committing fraud to roughing people up. No wonder Dad wanted me to get the taser.
"Oh-ho?" went the man. "So you know of me. Your reputation as a decent detective doesn't do you justice. There's something I want you to investigate."
"Are you sure you want me to investigate for you? As you are probably aware, I was an officer of the law and a criminal investigator."
"But you aren't right now, are you?" the Don pointed out. "Besides, I have nothing to worry about. It's not like I do anything wrong. Everything me and my family do is well within the confines of the law. It was self defense at that last case! The judge says so. And so did the jury. Or do you think me and my boys still did something wrong?"
"Certainly, the evidence seemed to support your claim," Dad admitted. "And it seems you have done some investigating of your own of me before coming here. Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to hear what you have to say."
What Rinaldi said earlier was definitely a jab at Dad. I can't think of any other reason for why he said all that except that he knew how my dad feels about the law.
"Now where in the world is my pen?" Dad wondered aloud. The cue was too obvious to me. Dad always had a pen in his pocket in case he ever needed to sign or write something. Not wanting to waste anymore time, I quickly grabbed the black pencil box and put the taser in it, before stepping out. After I handed the box to Dad, and avoided eye contact with Rinaldi, I went back to find a spare taser. You know. In case he needed back up.
Luckily. It never came to that.
Not waiting to be asked to, he began telling us his story.
"I'm sure you know about a certain incident that happened around a couple of years ago? There was an accident and one of my boys was involved. They said that I whacked the poor sap who didn't make it. But I can tell you right now that couldn't be further from the truth. I may be dirty, but not that dirty. My mama raised me better than that.
"But it seemed like even the dead guy doesn't believe me. Recently, I've been spotting someone who looks almost exactly like the dead guy walking around. Now and then, I get a call. The voice was a spot-on match to the guy people kept saying I offed. And before you ask, yeah, it's mostly just threats and how I'm going to pay for everything I've done.
"It all happened maybe a few months ago, probably around the anniversary of his . . . unfortunate end. I was just out for my usual morning jog, as per my health-conscious wife's request. Suddenly, this guy appears in front of me who looks exactly like the dead guy. He started screaming at me about how I killed him and how he would get revenge for that. Before I could get a peep in defense, he runs off. I tried going after him, but the shock made me a little too slow. I turn the same corner he did, but there was no one around. And I don't think he could have driven off, because I would have heard a car driving away if he had. It was as quiet as the night before Christmas.
"Thinking I probably made a mistake, and thought I was seeing things, I went back home. But then, sometimes when I open the window, I see him outside looking at me only to walk away and disappear. I had my boys search everywhere and made sure to check the security footage from the cameras I placed around my home. People in my line of business, I'm sure you know, being an ex-cop and all, tend to face some extreme work hazards. Hence these security measures."
"I can imagine," Dad said, tapping the top end of his pen against the clipboard that held the form we fill during an interview. "And since you are here right now, I take it the search was fruitless. And since your confidence in your security and your men is extremely high, I believe you assume that for this person to get away, that person must be of the supernatural. Or at the very least, his escape is unexplainable."
"Well, guys don't just disappear in a snap. Not without help, anyway."
"I suppose not," Dad admitted. "I'm sorry, but you don't quite strike me as a believer of the supernatural, Mr. Rinaldi. And from your description, it seems more likely than not that the culprit harassing you is not in any way a ghost, but an actual living person. I'm sure even your man's disappearing and reappearing can be logically explained."
"Well, no duh," said the mob boss. "Of course whoever's been bothering me must be a flesh and blood person. I just need you to get over there and work your detective magic that I've been hearing so much about to find out who's actually after me."
"And what will you do with the information if I ever do discover the identity of your harasser?" asked Dad. He sat back, one leg over the other like he was relaxing or something like that. I couldn't help but notice how he kept the pencil box on his lap, leaving it unlatched. Both hands were really close to that box.
"What do you think?" Rinaldi said,his voice turning into a growl. "I'm going to sue every last cent off of that sorry excuse of a man. By the time my lawyers are done with him, he'll be sleeping with the hobos until the day he dies."
"A rather nonviolent form of getting back at a phantom," Dad remarked. "Aggressive, but nonviolent."
"Don't believe everything you see on TV," said Rinaldi. "Not all of us like all the violence. We try to be reasonable human beings."
"The term being 'reasonable'," Dad said. "Unfortunately, as I am a paranormal investigator, and it has already been concluded that in your case, there is no supernatural element, I must decline."
"Really?" said Rinaldi, a bit surprised. "You're refusing me?"
"I can only recommend you go to either the proper authorities, or a licensed private investigator on the matter," Dad continued.
"Won't you think it over for a bit?" asked Rinaldi. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that he was begging Dad.
"I have," Dad said. "I am sorry, but I am unable to help you."
Using his clipboard to hide what he was doing, Dad quietly put the pen down and reached for the taser gun. His eyes never left Rinaldi's face. It was hard to tell what Rinaldi was thinking with that stone face of his, but I could guess he must be pretty miffed at being refused like that.
"Fine," he finally said, getting up. "I guess I'll have to settle this myself. It's really too bad. I was hoping you'd get that phantom to give up revenge before he does something irreversible."
"Believe me," said Dad. "I don't want that any more than you do. However, capturing this phantom may be well beyond me. My profession is searching for the supernatural now, after all. As a paranormal investigator, my focus is on cases of more ghostly nature. Although the culprit can be called a vengeful phantom, he is not the sort that is up my alley."
I was really glad to watch Rinaldi leave. But just as he was about to reach the door, he suddenly stopped and turned to us.
"I really had nothing to do with what happened all those years ago," he said. The way he said it almost made me believe him. But there was no way that he wasn't involved in whatever incident they were talking about.
But to my surprise, Dad had this to say:
"I know. If you were, I would have found something. And we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Rinaldi must have been just as surprised because he was gaping at Dad with eyes as wide as China plates. But then he sneered.
"Maybe. Maybe not."
And then he was gone.
As soon as we were sure that he was really gone, Dad suddenly breathed a sigh of relief and crashed back down to the couch.
"Honestly," he said. "I left the force to avoid complicated situations like this. So why do such things continue to walk in on me in broad daylight?"
"Hey, Dad," I said. "Are you sure you should be leaving him alone like that? I mean, what if something happens? Whoever's behind it all might get in trouble."
"Do you sympathize with this phantom man out for vengeance, Anthony?" Dad asked, looking up and staring straight into my eyes. I was paralyzed on the spot and could only answer with complete honesty.
"Well, with what Rinaldi did. Yeah. Kinda."
"And you think Rinaldi had something to do with the accident."
"You really don't?"
"No, I really don't," Dad said. "While I admit, I'm not perfect. I did miss things now and then, I know for certain I didn't miss anything with this case. I double-checked to make sure no bribery was involved, or if any of the evidence was either planted or misplaced. I checked with all the witnesses, and even went so far as to take part in stake-outs. It was a really big case because of who the victim was involved with. Everyone working the case was at their hundred. Even Emem was put on it. In the end, it really was a truly random accident, cruel a fact it was.
"Although I can understand why people will continue to suspect it wasn't and Rinaldi had something to do with it, given what he does for a living, and they're not wrong to, but I believe that investigations should be done objectively, and emotions should have minimum part in the investigation, if any at all. Sometimes it's exactly what it looks like. But sometimes, it's really not."
"So, Rinaldi really had nothing to do with the guy's death?"
"That's what my observations tell me, yes. Those same observations didn't stop me from continuing to find something, however. I kept at every angle for all the way until the final verdict came out."
"But someone still believes that he had something to do with the accident. That's why they made themselves look like that dead guy and started stalking Rinaldi. But if they're not a ghost, how are they able to keep getting away from Rinaldi's crew? From what Rinaldi said, the appearances must have been happening for a while now. You'd think they'd have caught the guy by now."
"Well, who's to say they won't catch him in the end?" Dad said, setting the taser aside. "But if I had to guess, I would say that it was because that person was also a member of the Rinaldi family. Given that he was willing to don the deceased's image, I would say that it's very likely he, or she, was close to him. And since the victim was an established member, it's not far fetched to assume the phantom was also a member. And if that phantom was a member, that would mean he had access to Rinaldi's headquarters. Who knows what he could have discovered in that time of membership?"
"But that still doesn't explain how he managed to get away," I argued back. "Since it's Rinaldi's place, doesn't that mean that Rinaldi knows any secret passageways or exits too?"
"Which is why I must applaud the luck of the poor fellow pursuing revenge in this manner. I do feel tempted to pursue him. However, doing so may put him in even more needless danger than he's already in. If not through violent beatings, I fear he and any who are involved with him will suffer financially. Rinaldi wasn't kidding when he said that he would sue him. Although the least violent of the local crime families, well-known for its lack of murders and killings, the Rinaldi family is absolutely ruthless when it came to finances and the economy. Their hands may be clean, but a lot of death was caused by their actions of aggressive takeovers and shut-downs of businesses. When one hears of white collar crimes, one thinks of the the Rinaldis. And Alberto Rinaldi can be called a master of the financial and economic system. He also has a degree in law. He knows how to hurt people without so much as raise a finger at them."
"Yikes," I said. "I really don't want to get on the wrong side of someone like him."
"And yet, as officers of the law, the police must," Dad said. "It's not easy. And those fools who mistake the badge as a privilege to get away with anything are just making things worse for good police.
"And before you ask, no I don't think he'll retaliate against us for my refusal to investigate. If he's done a background check on me, he'll know that our own family is not a family to be messed with. He could probably hurt us bad and we would lose in the end, but we'd still be able to dish out blows that he would rather not take."
Grandma aside, Dad has a whole bunch of cousins who are making names for themselves in several different fields. A couple probably know a thing or two about the economy. I know there's a cousin who's a really big-time lawyer with connections that owes Dad a few favors.
"And with all that said and done, please talk to Emem Okonjo about the phantom," Dad said, turning toward the window. "He'll know the people close enough to the accident victim to pull this sort of stunt. You can start there. This phantom may be wrong about Rinaldi having anything to do with Brian the Bull's death. However, even knowing the truth, he might still prove to be a useful asset against Rinaldi. Please stop him before it is too late and show him that there is a better way."
I looked out the window and asked Dad who he was talking to. A car moved out of its parking space at the side of the road and drove away.
Dad just shrugged and replied: "Just someone keen to see Rinaldi behind bars who had forgotten that we have a right to privacy."
"And you have no idea who's actually behind the posing as a dead man's ghost, or why he went that direction?"
"A name does come to mind, although I don't have anything concrete to present. Given that the person disappeared around the time of the case's closure and how a lot of people testified how close he was to Brian the Bull, this person I'm thinking about now would be the likely culprit. As for why, well that is obvious. What would one do for a close friend? That is the question. Although, there certainly are a number of better ways of seeking vengeance."
"By the way, you said that both this Brian, the victim, and the guy playing his ghost were both part of the Rinaldi family. If that's the case, why was Rinaldi blamed for the Bull's death?"
"Most likely because the Bull is an informant for the police. Though, I don't think anyone but Rinaldi and a select few of his family know that he had always been giving tips as Rinaldi had instructed. I've heard how Rinaldi was so lenient to the Bull, despite being a snitch, and that got me to think the Bull was actually snitching under Rinaldi's orders so he'd have someone spy on the police. There was evidence to confirm my suspicions, but it was too late to say anything about it."
"Think the eavesdropping cops will listen to your advice?"
Dad shrugged again. "Only time will tell."
A month later, there was a news report about how police managed to crack down on the smuggling of black market contraband merchandise and commodities that seemed to be part of one of the Rinaldi family's operations.
- The Paranormal Debunker (#12) The Case of the Doppelganger
Does a person who sees her doppelganger really cursed to die?