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. . . . Back

Ghosts in the Machine

Written by:
Cousin Aurora Lenore

“R.O.B., I am your creator!  Now I command you tell me where Larry is!”

Balki could hear Bianca yelling from her bedroom as he sat on her sofa, trying to understand Wakamaru, who jabbered away in Japanese.  As soon as they returned from the police station, Bianca had asked R.O.B. where Larry was.  Apparently, R.O.B. knew but was not planning on telling her or Balki.  He hated to think his cousin was angry with him too, but if Larry left without even saying goodbye or writing a note, Larry must’ve been upset with them both.

“What did I do or say to make Cousin Larry so upset, Wakamaru?” he asked sadly.

Even though the yellow and silver robot could only speak in its native tongue, it made Balki feel somewhat better.

“Well!” Bianca huffed, slamming the door to her bedroom door and storming to the sofa.  “How do you like that?  My own robot has turned against me!  He knows where he is, but he says the information on Larry’s whereabouts are classified!”

“Maybe we take his advice and look there!  If Cousin Larry took out an ad, maybe it will tell us where he is!” Balki said hopefully.

Bianca placed her head in her hands.  “No, Balki.  He’s not talking about the classified ads in the paper.  He’s basically saying that Larry told him not to tell us and R.O.B. is complying with him.  Traitor!” she yelled over her shoulder.

Wakamaru once again began talking in Japanese and Balki noticed Bianca shaking all over as she ordered the robot to speak English.  He wasn’t sure if she was cold, so he gently placed an arm around her, just in case.

“You have three new messages,” Wakamaru said in its small voice.

“Play messages,” she said.

“First mesaage … ”

“Hey, Miss Pierson.  This is Jacob again from Langley Confections.  Forgot to thank you before for giving me the program for the hologram to greet people at the door!  Everyone loves it.  I just have a quick question about the site.  I know you can do anything on your computer with your mad and wicked skills, but just give me a call back, okay?  Thanks.”

“Second message … ”

“Good evening, Bianca Pierson.  This is Serge and I just wanted you to be aware that your first payment is being mailed to you on the first of the month.  I just love what you have done with the site; it’s a beautiful piece of work, you vixen you!  Well, call me if you need anything; maybe we’ll do lunch next time you’re in Beverly Hills again!  Goodbye.”

“I couldn’t understand half of that,” Bianca muttered with a lopsided grin.

“Third message … ”

Balki listened as the message was nothing but static, as if someone had a terrible connection before faint music began to play in the background. Balki began bopping his head back and forth to the tempo; Bianca, however, shot up from the sofa and let out a sound as if she were choking.

“Bianca?  Are you alright?” Balki asked, standing beside her.

“That song,” she whispered.  “I caught myself singing it when I was doing the laundry.  We used to sing the song before … ”

Balki looked at her, worried and confused as she began to shake even more than before.  Placing his arm around her again, he looked into her eyes, concern clouding his own.  “Who used to sing the song?  You and Cousin Larry?”

“No,” she wailed.  “My grandfather and I used to sing that song before he died and everything changed!”

“Oh, po po,” Balki soothed, holding her close as she wept onto the shoulder of his tan shirt.  “I am so sorry, Bianca.  I had no idea.”

A few minutes later, Bianca pulled back and wiped her eyes.  “I’m sorry for breaking down like that.”

“No, don’t be sorry.  You shouldn’t bottle rocket your emotions.  Like Madonna says, you have to express yourself.”

“Let me just lock up here and we can go back to the apartment.  There are some things I need to tell you about Larry’s dream and why I was so angry at him before,” Bianca sniffed.

“Okay.  We’ll go back and you can tell Balki all about what is troubling you.”

Bianca nodded and Balki watched her go into the kitchen.  As soon as she was gone, he heard a noise behind him.  “You know, R.O.B., you shouldn’t keep secrets – ”

He turned and stopped abruptly, however, when he saw it wasn’t R.O.B., but the ghostly woman yet again.  This time, she looked straight at him.  “Help me!” she screamed.

“H - How?” he stuttered, seconds before the gunshot rang out and she began screaming.  This time, he could see the blood gushing between her fingers as she grabbed her stomach.

Bianca!” he cried out, turning away and feeling ill.

Balki!” Bianca cried out a millisecond later, running from the kitchen.  “Larry took the time machine!  I had another one and it’s gone!  R.O.B. knows he took it and God knows where he went!”

“Oh God!” Balki cried out before racing for the bathroom.  The woman was gone, but in between seeing the blood and knowing Larry was traveling through space and time unknown, his stomach couldn’t take any more.

*************************

“So now do you understand why Larry’s dream affected me so much?  I just don’t want to talk about it because it brings up too many bad memories,” Bianca concluded after telling Balki about her grandfather and their once-weird connection.

“I – I think so.  This story is so constipated, though; it’s hard for me to keep up.  I can’t believe Cousin Larry was so scared something bad would happen to you that he call your grandfather.  He don’t know your grandfather from a hole in the ground.  And why would he not tell me?”

“Probably because he didn’t want you to be worried, as well.  What with Mary Anne leaving for Ontario and everything, he didn’t want you to worry about my well-being, too.”

Balki sighed.  “Yes, but he did all the worrying for both of us.  You are my friend, too and I want to know if you are okay and worry if you are not.  Cousin Larry should not have kept that part of his dream a secret.”

Bianca smiled and went into the kitchen to pour him a glass of ginger ale.  “How is your stomach?”

“Oh, Bianca.  I saw the most horrible thing while you were locking up.  The ghost lady came back.  This time, I saw blood coming from her stomach.  It was awful!  Every time I close my eyes, I see her now.  She is Etch-A-Sketched into my mind!” Balki cried out.

Bianca gave him the ginger ale and sat down.  “And you have no idea who she is.  You’ve never seen her before in your life.”

“Never.  I have never seen her before in my entire life.  She must know you, though.  Why else would she call your name?”

Bianca averted his eyes so he wouldn’t see the doubt in her own.  “Well, then why does she disappear every time I come into the room?”

“I have no idea.  Maybe you’re not coming quick enough.”

Bianca half-heartedly listened to Balki continue to talk about his supposed lady ghost as her mind wandered to where Larry could have gone to in her time machine.  While she was furious at R.O.B., she knew that if Larry was in any kind of imminent danger, R.O.B. would intervene and bring him back.

Suddenly, she had an idea!  Excusing herself, she crept into her bedroom and quickly logged in to her time machine’s computer.  Larry and Balki didn’t know it, but after she and Balki stayed up late that first night, she had crept into Larry’s room and placed a tracking device in one of his loafers.  It was so small that it was able to slide right under the saddle of his shoe!  She also placed one in Balki’s shoe, albeit it was slightly harder to find a place for it to go.  “Come on, computer, show me where Larry went traipsing off to,” she whispered, waiting for it to process.

Suddenly, the tracking device told her exactly where the chip was found and she gasped.  “That’s impossible!”

Leaning down, she kicked off her sneaker and pulled at the tongue.  Sure enough, there was the tracking device meant for Larry!  “Well, of course he knew about the damn tracking device!  He mentioned it in the dream!”

As soon as the words escaped her throat, she shivered.  It wasn’t until just now that she realized just how many things Larry had confessed in his dream were becoming reality.  The two time machines, the strangely-accented art dealer Serge, her connection with her grandfather and now the tracking device!  Could it be that there was going to be a Max Fagen in her life soon, too?

*************************

“Well, I’m trying to leave, Marlene, but I have the brat here by herself and I can’t have her roaming about the place!”

Larry stopped abruptly when he saw B’s Aunt Liv outside the front steps of her house on a cellular phone.  He was hoping B would be playing outside so he could talk to her, but he didn’t expect to find her aunt, instead.  She was a woman barely in her forties, with jet black hair and a muscular build.  She was wearing a t-shirt with a vicious looking dog on the front and a pair of black sweat pants.  No wonder B’s afraid of her; she looks like she just ate another human for breakfast, he thought to himself, taking in her large frame.  Thankfully, she hadn’t seen him as he stood across the street, trying to act normal, as if he were just passing through.

Suddenly, he had a wonderful idea!  As soon as Aunt Liv finished her call and went back inside, he jogged across the street and rang the doorbell, his heart in his throat.

“What do you want?” Aunt Liv growled as she opened the door slightly.

“I’m here about the job.”

“What job?”

Larry placed his hands in his pockets so she wouldn’t see the sweat dripping off them.  “The job for a nanny.  You do need a nanny, right?”

“I ain’t taken an ad in the paper yet,” Aunt Liv told him, grabbing an old coffee can and spitting a wad of tobacco in it.

“Well, looks like I just saved you the trouble.  The name’s Larry Appleton and you won’t find a better nanny for the job,” he told her confidently, fighting the wave of nausea at the sight of the coffee can full of chewed snuff.

“Where’s your references?” she barked.

“References?” he scoffed.  “Who uses references nowadays?”  When he saw she was still looking at him expectantly, he cleared his throat.  “I left the list in my other pants pocket.  I’ll have them for you tomorrow.”

“I need you to start now,” she told him, grabbing his arm roughly and pulling him inside.  “The little brat is upstairs.  Make sure she doesn’t get into anything of mine.  Got it?”

Larry nodded, grabbing his shoulder, which he was sure had been pulled out of its socket.  “Is there a number I should call in case of an emergency?”

Aunt Liv was halfway out the door when she turned around and scowled.  “Don’t let there be an emergency.”

Larry nodded again.  “Got it.”

As soon as the door slammed behind B’s gruesome aunt, he raced upstairs.  Turning to the left, he could see her Aunt Liv’s bedroom, which was decorated with posters of bodybuilders and exercise equipment.  “Good grief,” he muttered as he continued down the hall to a small room at the end.  It had a bed and a small table in the middle of the room with an old computer on it, but not much else.  “B?” he called out.  “Are you in here?”

Suddenly, he heard a loud banging coming from a closet to the right with double doors painted grey and white.  Opening the closet, he gasped at what he saw in there.

“Mr. Larry!” B asked, throwing herself into his arms happily.

“Oh my Lord, what are you doing in the closet?” he asked, returning the hug.

“Aunt Liv locked me in here.  She’s done that a couple of times when she doesn’t want to be bothered.  How did you get in here?”

Larry adjusted his tie proudly.  “Meet your new nanny.”

B’s eyes grew wide.  “You’re my new nanny?”

“Yes, I am.  I marched right up to your aunt and said ‘I heard you needed a nanny and you need look no further; Larry Appleton is here and I’m not taking no for an answer’.”

B giggled.  “I don’t think that’s how it went down, but I’ll let you keep that fantasy.  Either way, I’m glad you’re here.  Come look at this,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the table with her computer.  “I made it work!”

“That’s great, B; I knew you could do it!  So, what is it supposed to do?”

“Lots of stuff, but see this website?” she asked, typing in the URL.  “It’s a list of my grandfather’s inventions.  I helped him with some of them,” she added proudly.  “This is one he just finished before he died.  It’s a recording device that can call any phone in the world and can use my grandfather’s voice to send messages!  It’s so amazingly fantastic!  If I had a phone number from the past or future, I could call, leave a message and it would ring through!”

“That is amazing!  Can you call a phone from, say, nineteen eighty seven?” Larry asked.

“Sure can!  If I have the number.  But we have to go to my grandfather’s house first.  His invention is there!”

Larry grinned at her from ear to ear.  “Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s go to your grandfather’s house and try it!”

*************************

Balki tried to concentrate on the Beverly Hillbillies re-run that was on television, but he couldn’t get his mind off of the ghost lady.  When she first started appearing to Balki, it was just a little scary and weird.  Now, however, the images were becoming more horrifying and graphic for him to see.  Bianca had tried everything to make him feel better: herbal tea, playing a board game with him, singing his favorite pop songs, and even letting him use her shoulder as a pillow to rest.  Sadly, however, nothing was working.

Finally, Balki told her he just needed to be alone for a while.  Bianca had decided to take the time machine back to her house and get some work done on her computer.  Thankfully, since she had left, Balki hadn’t seen or heard from the ghost lady.  Unfortunately, the images were still fresh in his mind as if she were right in front of him.  He didn’t have to see her now, she was haunting him every second.

Suddenly, the phone rang and Balki leapt about a foot in the air from his position on the sofa.  As soon as he realized it was only the telephone, he scolded himself in Myposian before answering it on the fourth ring.  “Hello?”

“Balki … Larry … I’m safe … with Bianca as a child … grandfather’s house … be back soon … don’t tell Bianca,” an unfamiliar voice said through blasts of white noise.

“Hello?  Hello?” Balki asked, unsure if someone had a bad connection. “ I can barely hear you!  Can you speak out?”

Balki jumped again as the operator came on the line telling him if he would like to make a call, to please hang up and dial ’0’ for operator.  He placed the phone back on the cradle and sighed.  He had hoped it would be Larry, calling to tell him he was alright, where he was and that he would be coming back soon.  “This is not a good time for frank phone calls,” he said aloud, placing his head in his hands as he leaned against the bar.

*************************

“I don’t like this; I don’t like it at all!” she cried, knowing it wouldn’t do any good.  “We’re making him a complete nervous wreck!”

The young man grinned wickedly, showing his blinding white teeth.  “Good.  The plan is working.  I’m almost ready to go in for the kill.  I just can’t believe she hasn’t figured it out yet.  I want her to know exactly who you are first.”

The older man looked at them both through the small barred window of his cell.  “Gosh; I’d hate to think that maybe not all of your plan is working.  And it’s a damn shame that you can’t find the other one.”

The younger man kicked the door of the cell so hard, it caused the older man to stumble backwards.  “If I find out you’re pulling any of your high-tech shenanigans, so help me I will kill them all and make sure you watch!”

“He’s not doing anything and you know it!” the woman yelled.  “Leave him alone!”

The young man opened the door and threw her back inside the cell.  “Make sure he doesn’t.  I’ll come back for you when I need you.  And trust me when I say, I will need you soon.”

*************************

“There, that should do it,” Bianca nodded with self-satisfaction as she programmed the final additions to the website for Serge’s art gallery.  She had only begun the website two weeks ago and it had already gotten well over a million views.  She was happy for the strangely-accented art guru, who had fallen on hard times after the former owner of the gallery was imprisoned and the new owner promptly fired him.  From there he worked at a hat shop, was a receptionist at a salon, helped promote the latest in weaponry, and even worked at a convenience store.  It was at the convenience store that the owner of the art gallery confessed he was in trouble.  He literally begged Serge to take over while he went into the Witness Protection Program due to a slight issue with a local gang and a couple of bookies.  With five years of experience under his belt, no one was able to put the art gallery back on its feet more than Serge.  Now the gallery was the pride of Beverly Hills and thanks to Bianca’s new website, it was becoming well-known around the world!

She reached over to call the strange man, but stopped herself.  As much as she liked Serge, she really wasn’t in the mood to listen to him go on about the website, his so-called art, or his prize-winning poodle Von Schnitzel.  She was too concerned about Balki, his strange hallucinations and mostly, Larry, who still hadn’t come back or even called to let them know where he was.  She knew if he were in danger, R.O.B. would be alerted and send him back pronto, but it still worried her that Larry didn’t have a clue what he was doing or getting into.

Suddenly, she realized the one person who might make her feel better was only a click away and she quickly pulled up her video chat icon.  “Alright, Valeena; take my mind off of everything by just simply being you,” she whispered as clicked the connect button.

Seconds later, she sighed when it seemed Valeena wasn’t able to video chat as a message read that she was unavailable.  Cursing, she stood up, grabbed her purse and decided to take a walk.  At least the clear, crisp air would make her feel less suffocated by all the negativity.  She had only walked to the street, however, when she saw a young girl around eleven and an elderly man walking beside her.  The girl held a stuffed dog and the man held a helium-filled pink balloon and both were smiling happily.

“Grandpa, I love being with you.  I wish this day could last forever,” the girl said.

“This day can last forever, my dear; this day will always be in your heart.  Whenever you feel sad, just think about this day.  I know it will always cheer me up!” the old man replied, placing his arm around her.

Bianca felt a knot rising in her throat and she quickly turned and dashed back in the house, her usual brave front crashing down as she fell to her knees, sobbing.  “Why, Grandfather, why?  How could you have betrayed me like that?  Why won’t you just let me forget you?” she wailed as she curled up in a ball on her living room floor just like that eleven-year-old child whose world came tumbling down all those years ago.

*************************

“You’re late,” B’s Aunt Liv pointed out as she blew her cigarette smoke in Larry’s face.  “You’re lucky I’m in such a good mood.”

“I’m so sorry.  It won’t happen again,” Larry blurted nervously, trying not to choke from the nicotine that entered his lungs.

“The kiddo’s upstairs.  She ain’t happy, which is amusing and annoying to watch.  I’m going to the gym to celebrate.”

“Is it your birthday?  Anniversary?  Able to bench press a truck?” Larry asked, hoping she wouldn’t hear that last part.

“Nope.  Better.  Later, Leroy,” Liv replied before hopping in her monster-sized pick-up.

“It’s Larry,” he replied to her exhaust fumes, this time unable to keep from coughing.

“B?  You upstairs?” he called out once he got inside the house.

CRASH!

As soon as Larry heard the breaking noise, he ran upstairs in a panic.  I hope she’s not hurt from that falling glass, he thought before reaching her room.

“B!  Oh my Lord!  Are you hurt?” he gasped as he saw her curled up in a ball on the floor, sobbing.

When she didn’t respond, he picked her up and looked over her arms and legs but found no cuts or abrasions.  Her face was red from crying, however and it almost seemed as if she didn’t even realize he was holding her.  “B, tell me what’s wrong.  Please, talk to me!”

“How could he do this to me?  I thought he loved me!” she wailed as Larry put her down.  As soon as he did, she grabbed a nearby picture off the wall and threw it as hard as she could, smashing the frame into pieces on the floor before she fell back to her knees.

Larry wasn’t sure whether to be afraid of her or try to console her.  He had never seen her so upset and angry before.  “You thought who loved you?” he asked slowly, removing another picture from the wall and holding it safely behind his back.

“Grandfather!  Aunt Liv said he wanted me to live here if something happened to him!  He knew how much she hated me and he still wanted me to live with her!” she screamed, tears streaming down her face like a mini waterfall.  “He signed papers saying that when he died, she could be my guardian!  Why, Mr. Larry, why?”

“B, I’m sure your aunt just told you that to upset you.  I’m positive that if your grandfather knew how she treated you, he wouldn’t let you live here,” he assured her gently.

“No, it’s true!  She showed me the papers and I even verified it online!  It’s his signature!  How could he do this to me, Mr. Larry?  I thought he loved me!” she argued, sobbing freely again.

Larry’s heart broke as he watched her lie there on the floor in a heap, her body racked with deep painful sobs.  Looking on the table where the computer was, he saw a manila folder beside the monitor.  Walking over, he picked it up and opened it to reveal an official document from the state, signed by Henry A. Pierson, waiving his rights of guardianship to none other than his daughter-in-law Olivia S. Pierson.  Larry couldn’t believe it, but it was as real as it could be.

Suddenly, it all fell into place–the reason why Bianca bristled every time he mentioned her grandfather or the dream–she still harbored ill feelings toward her deceased grandfather for what he did to her!  “Oh my Lord,” he said, feeling both empathetic to Bianca’s heartbreak and terrible for pushing the issue with her before he left.

“B, I am so sorry,” he turned around to find her still on the floor, her sobs quieted to the occasional hiccup.  “I don’t understand why he did this, but you know what?  I’m going to find out.  I’m an investigative reporter and my job is to dig for answers.  I promise you, B; I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of this.  There has to be more to the story.”

“The only thing that matters is my grandfather lied to me when he said he loved me and we were connected.  Now I just want to forget him.  Please, Mr. Larry; just help me forget him,” she whispered as she latched onto him tightly, crying again.

Larry swallowed the lump in his throat.  As long as he lived, he would never forget her heartbreaking plea, but he also knew he would not rest until he had answers.

After a few minutes, he convinced her to brush her teeth and get ready for bed.  Minutes after he tucked her in, she was sound asleep and he knew that if he was going to uncover the truth, he needed to search now and pray that Liv was pulling an all-nighter at the gym.

*************************

“It would really help me if I knew exactly what I was looking for,” Larry muttered as he opened drawer after drawer inside Liv’s bedroom.  He shuddered as he pulled open a drawer full of camouflage-print lingerie.  “Oh my Lord,” he gasped as he slammed it shut, wishing he could erase the unholy images from his mind of her beefy build wearing the satin garments.  He was just about to give up as he pushed a drawer full of socks around when he saw a key taped to the side of the drawer.  Carefully, he removed it and looked around for something that needed to be unlocked.  He looked under the bed and found nothing.  He opened her closet door only to find more army boots and free weights than any one person needed.  Standing up, he sighed.  “There’s got to be something in here that this key will unlock!”  Looking over at one of the many female bodybuilding posters on the wall, he raised his eyebrows.  “I wish you could tell me.”

Suddenly, a light bulb inside Larry’s brain turned on and he smiled.  “A-ha!” he cried as he lifted the poster frame from the nail which held it in place.  Behind the poster was a safe built into the wall, a lock only needing a key to open it!

“Please let this work,” he whispered as he inserted the key and turned it.

CLICK.

“Yes!” he shouted before realizing how loud he was.  “Yes,” he repeated, much softer.  As he opened the safe, he found a single manila envelope inside.  He wished Balki could be in the room with him to be a lookout and to see his magnificent investigating skills at work.  As he opened the envelope, he pulled out the contents to reveal a death certificate on top.  The name of the person who died had mysteriously been blacked out with a permanent marker but it was clear that not only was this person Bianca’s grandfather’s son, but also Liv’s husband.  “Cause of death: apparent suicide,” he read.  “Time of death: November fourteenth, nineteen-ninety-four at fourteen hundred.”

Placing the death certificate behind the other papers, he looked at the next few sheets, which listed inventions by B’s grandfather.  “These are patents,” he said aloud, looking over at least twelve.  He had invented so many marvelous and amazing things that Larry had been shell-shocked when B showed him a few of them at his house earlier.

Deciding he needed to look over the papers more carefully, he placed them back in the envelope, unknotted his tie and stuffed the envelope down the front of his shirt.

“Now to put things back as they were,” he said, closing the safe, re-hanging the poster and opening the drawer to place the key back underneath the tape.

“What in the hell are you doing in my room?” a loud booming voice demanded, causing Larry to tense up.

Trapped like a rat with no hope for cheese, he thought as he panicked to come up with something.

Suddenly, his eyes spotted a switchblade knife in the drawer and he grimaced.  Oh, I hate the thought of doing this, but it’s for Bianca’s safety.  Grabbing the switchblade knife, he winced as he realized how this plan was as desperate as he could imagine.

“Did you hear me, Lester?” Liv’s voice asked, her voice low and menacing.

“First-aid kit!  I was looking for your first-aid kit!” Larry spun around, his eyes wild as he held his hand.

“Oh my God!  What did you do?” Liv gasped.  “It’s in the kitchen!  Don’t bleed on my floor!”

“What did I do?  I sliced it on a piece of glass,” Larry replied nervously, trying not to look at his wound.  Or I just purposefully stabbed myself in the palm with a switchblade knife to keep from getting stabbed to death by you!

*************************

Balki peeked out from behind the bar as soon as he heard the buzzing noise coming from the living room.  He had heard that sound enough times to know that it was the time machine, but he feared what had possibly returned with it!

“Balki?” Bianca’s concerned yet hoarse voice called out.

“Oh, thank God it’s you,” he exhaled, giving her a fierce hug.  “I was afraid it was – I wasn’t sure if – 

“Balki, you’re still seeing her?” Bianca asked, concern on her face.

“Wait,” Balki stopped her.  “Why do you sound like you have a horse in your throat?  And why are your eyes swollen and poofy?”

“Never mind that now.  I’m okay.  What’s going on with you?  Are you still seeing the ghost?”

Balki nodded.  “Yes.  Not here in the apartment, but when I close my eyes, I see her and hear her screaming for you.  Bianca, it’s so horrible,” he whined, covering his face with his hands.  “I want to make it stop.”

“Balki, I need you to think.  Is there anything you remember about her?  Anything significant?  If I supposedly know this person, no detail is too small,” Bianca pressed, removing his hands from his head and holding them in her own.

“I don’t want to remember,” he told her.

“Balki, I need you to.  It’s very important.  Now I know you can see through her, but did she tell you her name or say anything that might help me figure out who she is?  Can you tell what her hair color is or how tall?” Bianca asked.

Balki nodded again.  “Okay.  She was as tall as me, with long hair and was wearing a dress with flowers on it.”

“Okay, good,” Bianca complimented.  “Keep going.  Anything else?  What does she say?”

“She says, ‘Bianca!  Bianca!  Help me!’,” Balki repeated, imitating the ghost lady’s accent.  “Then there is a loud noise and she grabs her stomach and there’s blood everywhere … oh God!”

“Balki, what did you say she sounded like?” Bianca asked slowly.

Balki looked at her fearfully.  “I don’t want to do it again, Bianca.”

“Balki, I need you to.  I know it’s hard, but please; do it for me.  What did she sound like?”

Balki swallowed the fear in his throat.  He wished his cousin was here to help him.  Bianca and Dimitri could only do so much, but his cousin and best friend would know exactly what to say.  “I don’t know if I can.”

Yes you can, Balki; you have to do it to help confront your fear.  I know you can do it, Balki, a small voice in his head cheered him on, the voice sounding a bit like Larry’s.

Bianca squeezed his hands and looked at him hopefully.  Balki took a deep breath and knew what he had to do.

“She says ‘Bianca!  Bianca!  Help me!’,” he repeated in the same strange accent.

Suddenly, Bianca released Balki’s hands and gasped, taking a step back.  “I – I know that voice. I’d recognize it anywhere!  But she can’t be dead.”

“You know who the ghost lady is?” Balki asked, amazed.  “Do I know her?”

Bianca shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes.  “No.  You don’t know her.  But I do.”

Now, Balki’s curiosity was getting the better of him.  “Who is she, Bianca?  Who is the woman who won’t leave me alone?”

Bianca rambled on, still in her own head.  “But why would she appear to you as a ghost and call out for me?  And why would anyone want to shoot her?”

Balki was getting frustrated.  He knew that Bianca was in shock, for she was shaking once again, but Balki knew he deserved answers, too.  “Bianca; who is the ghost lady?  Tell me her name, please!”

Bianca looked up at Balki and blinked, as if she had just realized he was there.  “Her name?”

“Yes, Bianca.  Who is the lady you claim to know who is dead but not dead?”

A single tear rolled down her cheek as her already hoarse voice whispered, “Valeena Tolstoy.  One of my dearest friends.”

*************************

“Three days you’ve been gone, Larry; what in the hell are you doing?” Bianca asked, staring at a photo on the wall of him and Balki both holding a trophy at a softball game.  “I really need you right now.  Balki and I both need you!  Surely you’re not holding a grudge this long.”

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and Bianca jumped.  Balki was at work, so she knew it couldn’t be him.  As much as she hoped, she knew it wasn’t Larry, either.  Or was it?

“Hey, Appleton; open up!  I know you’re in there!” a cocky male voice called out from the other side.

Bianca started to shake all over.  Who was possibly on the other side?  She didn’t recognize the voice and her paranoia started to kick into high gear.  It grew even worse when she heard a sound as if the person on the other side was picking the lock!

Quickly, she ran into Larry’s bedroom and closed the door before the stranger could enter.

“Appleton, come out, come out wherever you are!  I know you’re faking!  When the Mypiot refuses to talk about your so-called ‘back problem’, I know something’s up!” the man sang, seeming almost giddy.

Mr. Gorpley, Bianca realized, remembering how she had overheard Larry tell Balki that Mr. Gorpley was too arrogant for his own good.  She needed a plan … and fast!

A few seconds later, there was a rap at the door.  “Appleton?”

“Ohhh,” Bianca moaned in a low bravado voice.

Apparently, that wasn’t good enough.  Bianca’s eyes grew wide as she saw the doorknob turn.  This guy was a crackpot!

“Excuse me, but who do you think you are?” Bianca demanded, beating him to the opening of the door.  “I do not believe that you live here.”

Mr. Gorpley smiled.  “Well, hello.  And you are definitely not Larry’s girlfriend Jennifer.”

Bianca cleared her throat.  “That is correct.  I am Doctor Bianca Westborne and I am tending to my patient who needs bed rest with no distractions.  You are definitely not Balki Bartokomous, whom is the only visitor Mr. Appleton is allowed to have in his room.”

“The name’s Gorpley; Sam Gorpley.  Can I see some proof that you’re his doc?” he scoffed.  “You certainly don’t look like any doctor I know.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Gorpley, but if I had to guess, I’d say that you worked at the Chicago Chronicle alongside Mr. Appleton and his cousin.  Which also means, if I had to guess, your boss would also be Mr. Wainwright.  You see, I wrote an excuse for Mr. Appleton to Mr. Wainwright on this prescription pad,” she held up the pad for him to see before continuing.  “If you don’t believe me, then by all means, ask Mr. Wainwright if I am legit.  Or I have a better idea; why don’t we just call him instead?  I’m sure he’d be interested to know how you used company time to break into this apartment, put Mr. Appleton’s well-being at risk and blatantly accused my patient and myself of lying.”

Bianca watched with inward glee as Mr. Gorpley’s face soured.  “No, no; that’s quite alright, Doctor Westborne.  No need to distract you from Appleton’s care.  I’ll just show myself out,” he replied nervously before bolting for the door.

As soon as he was gone, Bianca leaned up against the wall and slid down until she was on the floor.  How lucky could she get to not only have the fake prescription pad nearby, but to also manage to throw a few items under the covers to make it look as if Larry were in bed!

Suddenly, the phone rang and once again, Bianca jumped.  “I’m getting to be as bad as Balki,” she muttered before getting up and running to answer it.

“Hello?” she picked up on the fourth ring.

“Hello?  Mr. Larry …. number here … Aunt Liv … I gotta get out of here … grandfather gave me …. betrayed me … can’t find him … ”

Bianca dropped the phone as she instantly recognized her grandfather’s device.

“Oh, Larry, why did you have to go back there?” she wailed, sinking back down to the floor and leaning against the bar.  Now she knew why Larry hadn’t bothered to call.  He didn’t want her to know he had gone back to when her eleven year old self received the most devastating news of her life.  But why would he do this to her?  Why would he go back to her most painful time?  Why, why, why?

*************************

Larry sat in B’s closet while she slept.  Liv had taken him to the hospital where he needed five stitches for his hand and then returned, only to have her drink herself into a coma.  He had wanted to go back to the hotel room he had been staying at, but he also needed to check on B.  When he saw that she was still lying underneath the covers, he grabbed a flashlight and took to the closet for privacy.

“Now, let’s see what interesting things are in this envelope,” he mumbled, pulling the folder from his shirt.  Flipping through the patents, he found nothing unusual there, except for the fact she was in possession of them.  As far as the death certificate, it was obvious he would have to either ask B or go to the library to research whose name had been marked out.  Liv had no memorabilia of a husband ever having been there.  What few photos there were inside the house were of Liv herself, wrestlers or bodybuilders.

Suddenly, his eyes skimmed a page with handwriting on it and he shined the flashlight to read it.  “Livvie, I know what you’re planning to do and I can’t let you get away with it.  It’s not right to take a father and grandfather away from his family.  This jealousy over Dad not accepting J.J. is doing something to you; it’s changing you into someone I don’t recognize.  I agree that J.J. is extremely talented, but he’s not a blood relative like Bianca.  Dad has loved Bianca as his own ever since Ray and Marcy died.  He’s the only family she knows and she is just like Dad.  Dad loves J.J., too, but you can’t ask Dad to reject B and embrace J.J. whole-heartedly.  It was one thing when you were just jealous, but the whole idea of eventually taking Dad away from everything he knows and loves, not to mention ripping him from B’s life … it’s wrong, Livvie.  As soon as Dad comes back into town, I’m telling him about what you’re planning.  I’m sorry and I love you, but you are not the person I married.  Your husband,” Larry read, but stopped when he saw that his name had been scribbled over, as well.  The date was still visible, however.  “November twelfth, nineteen ninety four …. oh my Lord!” he gasped, remembering that Liv’s mystery husband had died two days afterward of an apparent suicide.  “B’s uncle didn’t kill himself; Liv murdered him to keep him quiet!

Larry was just about to get up when he felt something else still inside the envelope.  Pulling it out, he saw that it was a cassette tape.  This should be interesting, he thought, as he shone the flashlight in the closet, looking for a cassette player that he had seen in B’s closet the day he found her locked inside.  When he finally found it, he quietly placed the tape in the machine, turned the volume down and pressed play.

“If you’ve found this tape, this means you’ve discovered pieces of the mystery.  To learn more about Liv’s deceit, please go to this address and play the rest of the tape there,” a voice that sounded like B’s grandfather stated before rattling off an address.

“Wait a second; that address is B’s grandfather’s house!” Larry realized as he shoved the papers back into the envelope and hid them once again inside his shirt.  “I’m going to need B’s help.”

Sliding the closet door open slowly, he crept out and tiptoed to B’s bed.  “B, I need you to wake up.  We have to go to your grandfather’s house.  It’s important.”

When B, didn’t stir, he tried again.  “B, come on now; wake up.”

Still no movement.  Larry reached over to touch her, but felt something soft instead.  Grabbing the covers, he pulled them back and his jaw dropped as he saw that her frame had only been a lump of clothes and shoes.  “Oh my Lord.”

“It’s a good thing I know exactly where you went,” Larry mumbled as he raced out of her room and out of the house.

*************************

Balki listened carefully to every word Bianca said as she informed him of where Larry had gone and what had happened to her during that time.  It broke his heart to hear how her own flesh and blood could give her to such a mean and horrible person as her Aunt Liv.  He admitted to himself that the story was complicated – especially considering her grandfather was as smart as she was – but he was determined to understand as much as he could.  He had never seen Bianca so upset; she was shaking harder than ever and tears were streaming down her face.  While part of him was angry at his cousin for prying into her life, he knew that Bianca had also hurt Larry by making fun of his dream, which oddly enough, was beginning to collide with reality.

“Bianca, do you think your grandfather did something to make Larry dream of you being kidnapped?  Maybe he was trying to send you a note,” Balki said after a moment of awkward silence.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know that he invented anything to alter people’s dreams.  Even if he did, he’s dead now and he shouldn’t even care about me.  It was obvious he never did to begin with,” she sobbed.

“Bianca, I don’t believe that.  I believe in my heart that your grandfather loved you, but something happened and he thought maybe he was doing the right thing,” Balki argued gently.

“Balki, Aunt Liv couldn’t even take care of her own son!  Child Services came and took her son J.J. away from her.  My uncle committed suicide to get away from Liv.  There is no way that my grandfather thought he was doing what was best for me.  He betrayed me; pure and simple.  I know families don’t do that on Mypos, but here, it happens.  The people you love and trust the most let you down in ways you can’t even imagine.”

“I still think there is more to the story.  It’s not just black and blue,” Balki pressed.

“I think you mean black and white,” Bianca corrected, a smile tugging at her lips.

“Yeah. That, too,” Balki grinned, glad to see even somewhat of a twinkle in her eye.  He noticed she had stopped shaking, as well.  Now if only he could stop shaking – or even thinking, for that matter – every time he closed his eyes and saw Bianca’s friend being shot.  He hadn’t slept in well over twenty-four hours now and he couldn’t see that changing any time soon.  At least until the ghost and his nightmares went away completely and Larry came back.

“Well, I think I’m going to go to my room for awhile.  I need to figure out what to do when Larry comes back.  Right now, I can’t decide if I want to kiss him or kill him,” Bianca sighed, standing up from her position on the sofa and hugging Balki.  “You try to sleep, too.  Just grab Dimitri and think happy thoughts.”

Balki ran over to the fireplace mantle and picked up the stuffed sheep.  “Bianca, right now, I think you need Dimitri more than I do.  Take him with you and he will keep you safe and warm.”

“Balki, I can’t take – ”

“I insist,” he urged, thrusting the sheep in Bianca’s hands.  “Now go lie down and try to forget all the bad things.  All the negative thoughts, all the babasticki is to be free from your mind.  Dimitri will protect you.”

“Oh, Balki,” she murmured, kissing his cheek.  “You are so sweet.”

Balki blushed and waved her away sheepishly.  “Oh, po po.  Get on with you.”

As he watched her go, he hoped Dimitri would help her sleep.  Sadly, however, he needed something more powerful to help him sleep.  Too bad there wasn’t an anvil nearby to conk him over the head like in the cartoons.

*************************

“Mr. Larry; are you mad at me?”

Larry looked down at her and smiled.  “For which part: making me think you were tucked in your bed asleep, wandering about in the middle of the night, or the fact that you nearly gave me a heart attack?”

B giggled.  “All I said was ‘BOO’.  You’re just jumpy.”

“Well, you’d be jumpy, too if you were in my shoes.  Now listen; you need to stay here, understand?  No more sneaking out your window and going back to your grandfather’s house or anywhere else … got it?”

“Okay, okay, slave driver.  I’ll really stay in bed and go to sleep this time,” B mumbled as she crawled back into her bed.  “How did you know where I’d be?”

“Because I know you and no matter how much your grandfather may have hurt you, you are still fascinated by his contraptions.  I’m a little curious about them, myself.”

Larry was just about to turn and walk away when B got up on her knees and hugged him tightly.  Larry embraced her back, both surprised and touched by the gesture.  “What’s this for?”

B pulled back and looked at him seriously.  “Because I have a feeling this will be the last time I see you.  I just wanted to say goodbye and thank you for being such a good friend and nanny.”

“Aw, B. Thank you for being such a good friend to me, too.  I might not see you again tomorrow or next week, but I can promise you that I will see you again.”

“You’d better keep that promise, too.  I can just call you on grandfather’s device and send you a message,” B smiled before lying back down and looking up at him.

“Goodnight, B,” Larry told her softly, kissing her forehead and tucking her in before tiptoeing out of her room and out the front door.  Her aunt was still passed out in the living room easy chair, mouth open and snoring loudly.

When he reached B’s grandfather’s house, he removed the cassette tape from his pocket and found an old boom box on the kitchen table.  “Odd; that wasn’t there earlier when I found B here,” he said aloud, scratching his head and shrugging.  Then again, there were a lot of unexplainable things that had happened.  The cassette tape itself, was the most mystifying.  When Larry first pulled the envelope from the safe, there was nothing but papers inside.  But after he had been stitched up in the hospital, he knew the envelope felt slightly bulkier than it had.  It’s almost like someone wants me to know the truth, he thought before scoffing.  That sounded silly, even for him.  It wasn’t like B’s dead grandfather’s ghost was still lurking around, planting things for him to find.

Larry placed the cassette tape in the tape deck and pushed play.

“Congratulations; you have successfully made it to the house to play the rest of the tape.  Now listen very carefully, for there are many things in this message that need to be said and need to be discovered.  How about we start with the most obvious: why I gave my darling B to that dreadful daughter-in-law Livvie … ” B’s grandfather’s voice stated.

An hour later, the tape was over and Larry felt as if he had been put through the emotional wringer.  As soon as the tape stopped, Larry ejected it from the tape deck, slipped it in his pocket and raced out the door.  “I’ve gotta go back to Bianca!  She needs to finally know the truth!”

*************************

“Are you ready to give your final performance?” the man chuckled as he spoke to the woman through the small barred window.

“What do you think, you disgusting pig?” she spat back icily.

“If I were you, I’d watch my tone; unless you want her to die.”

“Don’t you dare!  You promised not to hurt her or anyone else!” she cried.

The man recoiled, but the smirk never left his face.  “Oh, I said I wouldn’t kill her or anyone else if you did what I said.  I never said anything about having a little fun at her expense.”

“You’re despicable; you’ve always been despicable and you’ll always be despicable!” the older gentlemen cried out from where he sat in the corner of the cell.

“Oh, please.  Like your insults mean anything to me, you old codger!” the man barked before he turned back to the woman.  “You have five minutes to get ready.”

As soon as he left, the older man looked at her and winked.  “If only he knew how ready we are.”

“But he still wins,” the woman whined.

“Just because he wins the battle, doesn’t mean he’s won the war, V.”

V looked over and gave him a bittersweet smile.  “If anyone can outfox the fox, it’s you, Henry.”

*************************

Bianca!”

Bianca bolted upright from her bed as she heard her name.  “Huh?” she murmured, swinging her legs over the side.

“Bianca, I have really important news to tell you,” Larry’s voice told her urgently as he knelt by the bed, grabbing her hands in his.

Bianca wasn’t sure whether to hug him or yank her hand from his grasp and slap him.  “Larry, how could you go back to that place in my life?  How could you?” she cried, tears forming in her eyes.  “And you were gone for so long.  So many things happened while you were away – ”“

“Bianca, I know and I’m sorry, but I need you to listen to me.  What I’m about to tell you is very important.  You need to know the truth,” Larry interrupted.

“The truth about what, Larry?  The dream?” Bianca spat.

“No, the truth about your grandfather!  B, he didn’t betray you like you thought.  Your Aunt Liv managed to steal the patents for all of his inventions.  Bianca, she blackmailed your grandfather!  She said if he didn’t give her guardianship over you, she’d destroy the patents and sell his inventions to the highest bidder.  Not only that, but she’d kill you!  So your grandfather had no choice!  Don’t you see?  Your grandfather didn’t betray you; he did it to save you!  He didn’t even care abut his inventions until she threatened your life!” he gushed, emotion filling his own eyes.

“What?  How did you find that out?” she gasped.

“Wait; there’s more.  Liv’s husband didn’t commit suicide!  He found out how jealous she was that her son J.J. wasn’t getting your grandfather’s love and her plans and he threatened to tell your grandfather.  So Liv pushed him off a balcony after he’d had too much to drink!  Your aunt was insane and a murderer and I’m so thankful that she never did anything to you.”

Bianca’s head was reeling from all this information.  “How,” she choked, “do you know this?”

Larry raised her hands to his lips before continuing.  “I knew you were hiding something about your grandfather, Bianca, so yes; I went back in time.  It was crazy, but I came after he died and I met you as an eleven year old!  B, even then, you were amazing. I  managed to talk Aunt Liv into letting me be your nanny – ”

“You were my nanny?” Bianca scoffed.

Larry nodded.  “Yes.  Anyway, after she told you about your grandfather betraying you, I used my investigative skills to figure out the truth.  I found Liv’s safe and found all the patents and the letter from your uncle saying that he knew of Liv’s plan.  There was also a cassette tape where your grandfather explained everything.  Bianca, here’s the most amazing part of it; I’m not even convinced that your grandfather is really … ”

“BIANCA!”

Bianca bolted upright from her bed as she heard her name.  “Huh?” she murmured, swinging her legs over the side.

“Please!  Bianca, hurry!”

“Balki,” she gasped, dashing from the bedroom, still processing the weird dream she’d just had.

As soon as she skidded into the living room, she saw Balki, shaking like a leaf, his face ashen with fright.  Turning to where her machine was, she finally came face to face with –

“Valeena!” she gasped again, placing her hands over her mouth.

“Bianca, you have to help me!  He’s going to kill me!” Valeena’s voice wailed.

Who is going to kill you, Valeena?” she asked, stepping forward towards her ghostly friend.

BANG!

Balki screamed, as did Valeena and Bianca reached out her hand.  “Valeena, grab my hand; it’ll be okay.  I’ll save you,” Bianca sobbed.  As her hand reached for Valeena’s, however, she could feel a painful static charge of electricity.  Crying out, she recoiled so hard, she nearly missed hitting Balki in the chest.

“Bianca?  What’s happening?” Balki asked, his hands covering his face.

“Valeena, you’re not a ghost; you’re a …. hologram!”

“She knows Jem?” Balki asked as he lowered his hands, referring to the cartoon Jem and the Holograms.

Bianca turned to Balki.  “No, Balki; she’s a – ”

“BIANCA, LOOK OUT!” Balki screamed.

Bianca spun around and cried out when she saw a man with blond hair and glasses standing inside the machine where Valeena’s hologram used to be.

“You never did return my call,” the man told her.

Bianca’s eyes were wide with horror.  “J – ”

The last thing she heard was Balki cry out before she felt something hard make contact with her skull.

*************************

“Bianca?  Balki?” Larry cried as he burst through the door.  “Balki, where’s Bianca; I need to talk to her.  It’s an emergency!”

Balki turned to look at Larry and Larry jumped when he saw his cousin’s tear-stained and panicked face.  “Bianca’s not here!  She – I – he – ”

“Balki, what’s going on; where is Bianca?” Larry asked slowly.

“Oh, Cousin, it was awful!  The ghost lady appeared and then this man came and took her place and took Bianca!  I couldn’t stop him!  It all happened so fast!” he babbled.

“What man?  Where did he take her?” Larry questioned, feeling the panic rise in his chest.

“I don’t know!” Balki wailed, placing his hands over his face.  “They left in her machine!  Cousin, why did you have to stay away so long?  I was so scared and Bianca was afraid, too!”

“Balki, I’m sorry, but I needed to find answers about Bianca’s past.  Now tell me exactly what happened!”

Balki turned to Larry, his eyes narrowed.  “I already told you what happened, Cousin!  The man and his holograph kidnapped Bianca and now they’re gone!”

Larry opened his mouth to reply, but hesitated when he saw his cousin’s face.  While Balki couldn’t bring himself to say it, he didn’t have to, for Larry already knew: Bianca had been kidnapped, taken God knows where and it was all his fault.

To Be Continued . . . .