My name is Diedre Olsen Blanchard – DeeDee to my friends, Dr. DeeDee to my patients. I am a Child Psychologist with a small practice in my hometown of Pahokee, Florida, where I chose to return after graduating college. My office is located next to the First Baptist Church and at one time was an insurance business but has since been renovated to fit my needs for medical space by replacing old, rotting floors and malfunctioning plumbing, and closing in a large open area to transform it into my main office where I see patients. It was one of the many places I worked after school as a teenager so that I could save up enough money to get into a community college. Purchasing the space was both satisfying and bittersweet as I recalled memories of my old boss and what a kind and gentle soul he’d been by giving a poor, project-raised girl a chance to prove that she had the ability to do the job she was being hired to do.
No drastic changes have been made to Pahokee over the past several years, other than the major upgrades made to the marina. Many lifelong residents have moved away, leaving their small rural town behind, and opting for a bigger city with more opportunities for jobs and growth. Personally speaking, I’ve never been an admirer of bright lights, big city life, preferring a smaller town over a large one. They always seem to be more close-knit and friendlier because the residents know each other and genuinely care about one another. That is not common in metropolises. In my opinion, anyway. Perhaps that’s why I chose to return and stay. Home sweet home.
Although Donna and her husband left the Glades for mountain life in North Carolina, we remain good friends and either speak on the phone or video chat often. Every time we do talk, she never fails to extend an invitation to come for a visit, but so far, David and I haven’t had the opportunity to make the trip.
Lake Okeechobee remains the fishing capital of the world. Professional and novice anglers continue to flock around the lake every year for fishing tournaments, all with their eyes on the grand prize. Local fishermen and fisherwomen set their lawn chairs up on the pier and will spend hours at a time hauling in blue gill or speckled perch. If they’re lucky enough not to lose their stash to a scavenging alligator, their daily haul will make for one heck of a fish fry.
If you read my memoir, Seeing, then you should be familiar with who I am and the abilities that I possess.
For those of you who don’t know about me, or have never heard of me or my history, please allow me to introduce myself and tell you how I obtained my ability to see and communicate with the dead.
At the tender age of fourteen, I suffered a traumatic head injury while playing softball that resulted in hospitalization due to seizures that were followed by me having the distinct ability to see beings not of this world. Sometimes, they reveal visions to me through a series of events that led up to their deaths. Usually when this occurs, they are from spirits who died from an act of violence – particularly murder, and they request my assistance in revealing the truth and bringing their killers to justice. Spirits also come to me for assistance in getting messages to their loved ones, and I always do my best to oblige them so that their lingering spirits can finally be put to rest instead of remaining in limbo forever.
It’s okay if you don’t believe. You are not alone. I have dealt with all levels of skepticism from the onset of my abilities. I have been laughed at, made fun of, and called unimaginable names over the years. But not believing doesn’t change the fact that ghosts do exist, regardless of whether a person can see them or not or feel their presence whenever they’re near. A majority of the population believes that “seeing is believing,” because it’s somehow easier to accept that philosophy than it is to admit that perhaps there’s a possibility that worldly phenomena exists that is beyond their realm of understanding, or their scope of acceptance. However, throughout our great and massive universe, there are multiple occurrences or happenings that simply cannot be explained, no matter how hard one might try. I, too, felt that way at one time in my life, prior to my accident. Now, I can tell you with insurmountable assurance that “believing is seeing.”
Spirits do exist. I know that personally, and I have assisted hundreds of them over the years in multiple and various ways. I’ve aided the local police department by offering them information that they wouldn’t be able to obtain under normal circumstances. Information and facts that only the departed, or the guilty, would know about.
After the retirement of Chief Jerome Simms, my services were needed less and less, finally tapering off to not being needed, or wanted, at all. I found that to be somewhat disheartening because of the good I could offer; yet knowing that I would most likely never have the same kind of relationship with any other law enforcement officer that I had with Chief Simms. Not to say that ours didn’t start off on the wrong foot or on the ledge of a rocky cliff. It wasn’t easy convincing him that I possessed unique capabilities, or that I knew the death of Stacy Amberville was a murder, as were the deaths of hundreds of innocent patrons who vanished in the Club Xanadu fire, one of them being his baby sister. But when I delivered a message to him from his Nonny, everything changed. In time, he learned to trust me, believe in me, offer me his support, and witnessed me in the throes of a horrifying vision that led to the arrest of one of his police officers for arson and multiple counts of first-degree murder.
My reputation around Pahokee and the entire Glades area is well known now and I no longer try to hide my abilities or keep them a secret. To this day, I am still contacted by people who are willing to drive hundreds of miles for a private reading, but I continue to refuse. I took a vow never to use my talents for monetary gain, and I firmly maintain my stance on that.
Even though my reputation precedes me, and although my name has been in multiple newspapers around the state, usually associated with the solving of a crime, there will always be skeptics, those who scoff at the mere possibility that ghosts are real, laughing at those who do believe. Minds such as those can never be changed – unless they experience it for themselves. And without an open mind and a willingness to accept the unexplainable, the likelihood of that happening is extremely slim.
My time and attention are now devoted to my patients. Children who are hurting emotionally or are experiencing issues with behavior, especially sudden onsets that seem to come out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, are my first concern, and when they do become my patients, they always receive my undivided care.
I specialize in the treatment of children with psychological and behavioral disorders, and I have treated multitudes of children and young adults with illnesses in these areas. Some of them have involved spirits, some of them haven’t, yet all unique in their own ways.
While I like to think that I’m usually prepared for anything that might come my way, considering what I’ve been through myself and the spirits and visions that I’ve encountered, occasionally I’m caught off-guard and taken completely by surprise with a case.
Such is the instance with Ethan Portman.
My first meeting with seven-year-old Ethan Portman occurred on a brisk, October morning, three weeks prior to Halloween.
He was brought to me by his mother, who expressed concerns about his seemingly sudden change in behavior. In her words, “it was as though he changed overnight,” transforming from a happy, outgoing little boy into one who became quiet and withdrawn, forgoing playtime with his toys, instead preferring to sit alone in his room on the floor staring off into space, focused on nothing in particular. Even more concerning to her was that Ethan had invented an imaginary friend and often overheard him conversing with him, and at times, yelling and accusing him of actions that could have only been carried out by her son because he was alone at the time of the incidents. She was worried about his declining conduct and desperate for answers.
Based on the information that was received from Mrs. Portman when she made the appointment, I would be treating Ethan for audio and visual hallucinations.
Prior to meeting one on one with my young charges, I prefer having a private conversation with the parent, parents or legal guardians in order to hear their side of what they believe is going on with their child and the symptoms they’re displaying that led them to believe that there is a problem that requires treatment. By conducting a meeting in this fashion, it gives me a chance to analyze the custodians and see what kind of people they are. Whether they’re loving and kind, tense or impatient, or even possibly abusive. I also don’t want to give the child a chance to parrot what they hear their parents say, which would only result in them repeating what they’ve heard instead of what they’re feeling personally.
Instead of having an assistant bring the parent or patient to me, I would rather meet them in the waiting area to observe how they co-mingle together, then begin my analysis.
“Hi, Ethan,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Dr. DeeDee. How are you?”
“Fine,” he said, placing his small hand in mine and giving it a firm shake. “Am I allowed to play with those toys over there?” he asked, pointing to a clown-painted box in the corner.
“Of course, you are,” I answered with a smile. “Why don’t you go do that while I speak with your mom for a few minutes?”
“Okay,” he said enthusiastically.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Portman. He’ll be closely watched out here. Come with me, please.”
In my office, I motioned for her to have a seat on the black leather sofa as I sat down in the matching armchair directly in front of her. Her expression was pained, a woman deeply concerned over the seemingly sudden change in her child’s behavior, one that she found serious enough to seek professional help for in order to resolve the issue.
“Thank you,” she replied.
“Let’s start with you telling me what’s going on with Ethan that you feel he needs my help with.”
“Dr. Blanchard,” she began, then started to cry. Reaching for the box of tissues on my desk, I offered her one and waited for her to dry her eyes before continuing. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“Has he displayed changes in his behavior?”
“In his attitude?”
“When did you begin to notice these changes, Mrs. Portman?”
Focused on the tissue she was holding, she replied, “About three months ago. At first, I thought it was a phase he was going through, like any other kid would. But as time progressed, he seemed to be getting worse, isolating himself, losing interest in his toys, not wanting to go to school.”
“Prior to this, had he ever displayed any type of similar behavior?”
“Has Ethan suffered any type of losses prior to the onset of his change in behavior? The loss of a friend, a grandparent, perhaps?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Any problems at school?”
“You mean with his grades?”
“Those could certainly be affected by inner turmoil, but I’m more interested in whether he’s being bullied at school. Are any of the other kids picking on him, teasing him, calling him names, anything that would make him not want to go to school?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” she replied, glancing up at me. “Surely he would have told me if something like that was going on. Or the school would have notified me of a problem like that. Wouldn’t they?”
“I should certainly think so, if they’re aware of it.” Which is not always the case, I thought, recalling that the principal at my high school had no idea of how badly Blake Chutney had bullied me every day until I told him. “Have you questioned Ethan about this?”
“I mentioned it to him, but he said nothing like that was happening, that the other kids liked him, and they all got along.”
“That’s a good thing,” I said, concluding that whatever was causing his abrupt change in behavior had absolutely nothing to do with school life. “Give me some examples of the behavior you’ve witnessed.”
“Before all of this started happening, Ethan was a happy boy, outgoing, always laughing and playing,” she said, sighing deeply. “Then practically overnight, he began to change.”
“Ethan has a ton of race cars and tracks that he loves, or I should say loved, playing with. He’d spend hours at a time in his room making racing and crashing noises as the cars made laps around the tracks. And just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers, “he stopped playing with them. When I asked him why, he said that Nathan broke the wheels off of all his cars and tore up the tracks. I found pieces of yellow plastic all over his room, but I have no idea what happened to the wheels. They weren’t in his room or his toybox. I checked.”
“Nathan?” I asked.
“His imaginary friend. He talks to him all the time, unaware that I’ve heard him. I haven’t bothered saying anything to him about it because I know that a lot of kids his age invent make believe friends, so I didn’t feel it was of any concern.”
Now we might be getting somewhere, because sometimes, those “imaginary” friends are quite real, yet unseen to the eyes that cannot see.
“Does Ethan know any other children his age by that name?”
“I don’t believe so. I’ve certainly never heard him mention the name before.”
“Is Ethan an only child?”
“Yes. Is that important?”
“Not necessarily,” I answered. “It’s not unusual for an only child to create a playmate, especially if they’re lonely enough. Earlier, you mentioned isolation. Does Ethan shut himself off from you and his father?”
“He spends a lot of time in his room doing nothing but sitting on his bed or the floor. That’s generally where he is when I hear him having conversations with his friend.”
“Any loss of appetite?” Definitely an important question, because if what I had a feeling was going on truly was, it can certainly affect a child’s eating habits and can have a negative impact on their overall health.
“He eats, but he picks at his food now. Even when I cook something I know he likes he acts as if he has no interest in it. He stares thoughtlessly at the plate while taking bites as if he’s daydreaming.”
“As long as he’s eating, I’m not going to be too concerned at this point. If he quits altogether, that’s a different story. We’ll monitor his progress on that.”
“Ethan always looks so sad, Dr. Blanchard,” Mrs. Portman said, shaking her head. “It seems as though nothing me or my husband do can get him to smile or make him happy. We’re both at our wits end. All we want to know is what is wrong with our son.”
“I promise you, Mrs. Portman, that I’ll do my very best to find out.”
“Now I’d like to speak with Ethan, unless there’s more you need to tell me,” I said, getting up from my chair and leading her to the door.
“Nothing I can think of.”
“I’ll consult with you when we’re finished.”
“Thanks again, Dr. Blanchard.”
“Ethan?” I called. “It’s your turn.”
“Can I bring this with me?” he asked, holding up a red fire truck. “Sure,” I answered, remembering that his mother had told me he’d lost all interest in toys, but had discovered one he found satisfying and was, at least, expressing some of the former little boy that his mother felt was lost.
“Have a seat right there,” I said, pointing to where his mother had sat.
Ethan Portman was a beautiful child, with white-blonde hair and the roundest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and eyelashes so blonde, they were barely visible until the sunlight hit them. If it was true that children were cherubs, then Ethan was the epitome of that description.
Within seconds of sitting down, Ethan nudged with his elbow as if pushing someone away, then scooted over closer to the end of the sofa.
When I’d first seen him in the waiting area with his mother, they’d been alone.
Ethan now had a visitor, the imaginary friend his mother had referred to. Only he wasn’t make-believe or pretend, and I immediately knew why he had attached himself to Ethan. What I didn’t know at the time was why – or how. It was important at this point to ignore him and focus on Ethan in an effort to find out exactly how bothersome his attachment was, and what kinds of discussions went on between the two of them.
“Do you know why you’re here, Ethan?”
He shrugged. “Because mommy said I have to.”
“Yes, but do you know why mommy wanted you to come and see me?”
“Not really,” he answered, running the fire truck back and forth across the black leather.
“We’ll talk about that in a few moments, but first I’d like to get to know you a little better. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“How old are you?”
“What grade are you in?”
“Do you like school, Ethan?”
“It’s okay,” he said with a shrug. “I like art.”
“You like drawing?”
“I’ll bet that’s a lot of fun.”
“Do you have a lot of friends in school?”
“Yes, but I don’t like girls,” he said, rolling his eyes. “They’re too silly.”
“You’re a very handsome young man,” I said with a smile. “Perhaps the girls your age can see that as well.”
“Yuck,” he said, sticking out his tongue.
“Do you ever get into trouble at school?”
“How about your teacher?”
“I like her. She’s nice. And pretty, too.”
“Do you ever get into any arguments or fights at school? Does anyone ever pick on you?”
“No,” he answered, glancing up at me. “Just that one dumb girl that’s always telling me I’m cute.”
He confirmed that he wasn’t having any problems at school, which his mother would be pleased to learn.
“Ethan, your mother tells me that you don’t want to go to school anymore. If you like your school, your teacher, and your friends, and no one’s bothering you there, can you tell me why?
“He said I don’t have to.”
“He?” I asked, although I already knew who he was talking about. “Who are you referring to?”
“Him!” Ethan said loudly. “Nathan!”
“Is that a friend of yours?” I asked, still refusing to acknowledge his presence.
“Nope. He says he is, but he’s not because he’s mean.”
“Why doesn’t he want you to go to school?”
“He told me he didn’t have to go, and I shouldn’t have to, either. Besides,” he started, then stopped, glancing sideways to his left.
“Go on, Ethan,” I prodded.
“He said if I kept going, he’d tear up all of my toys and not just my cars.”
“Do you believe he would do that?”
“Yes. I told you, he’s mean.”
“Ethan, let’s talk about Nathan.”
He stopped rolling the truck around, sitting rigidly but refusing to look at me. “Why do we have to talk about him?”
“Your mom is concerned about some of the conversations she’s overheard you having with him.”
“Oh,” he said, hanging his head.
“Ethan, can you look at me, please?”
Slowly, he raised his head, those piercing blue eyes meeting mine.
Scooting to the edge of my chair and leaning forward, I said, “You and I both know that he isn’t imaginary, don’t we, Ethan?”
He stared at me, his eyes unblinking, his mouth quivering as though he wanted to speak, but couldn’t bring the words forth.
“I see him, too,” I said.
His eyes grew wide with wonderment, a child seeing the Christmas display in a department store window for the first time. “You do?” he nearly shrieked.
“Um hum,” I nodded, eliciting an inquisitive glance from Ethan’s companion. “I see him as clearly as I can see you.”
“Whoa!” he exclaimed, tossing the fire truck to the side. “Can you hear him, too?”
“I haven’t heard him say anything yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t,” I answered. “In the meantime, why don’t you tell me what you and Nathan talk about.”
“If I do, are you going to tell my mom?”
“She already knows you talk to him.”
“But she doesn’t know what he wants me to do.”
My heart quickened. I had a feeling that whatever Ethan was about to say wasn’t good.
“Can you tell me?”
“I guess so,” he said, receiving an unfelt punch on his arm for agreeing.
“Does Nathan hit you a lot?” I asked, letting Ethan and Nathan both know that I had seen Nathan striking his host. Again, Nathan scowled at me. Unfazed by his threatening posture, I kept my attention focused on Ethan.
“All the time, especially when I won’t do what he tells me to do. But it doesn’t hurt. I can see him do it, but I can’t feel it.”
Nothing unusual. Of all the spirits I’ve encountered over the years, I’ve only felt the touch of two. Stacy Amberville and Amy, the little girl I encountered during my hospital stay immediately following my accident. Both touches were so light that I barely felt them. “Such as?”
“He keeps telling me that he wants me to come and be with him so we can play together all the time.”
This alarmed me. The only way that Ethan would be able to join him was through death. What I needed to find out was whether Nathan was encouraging Ethan to end his own life.
“Has he instructed you to do something that you know would cause you to get hurt?”
“Tell me exactly what he has said to you.”
“One time he told me to eat rat poison. He told me it wouldn’t hurt and that it would be over quick.”
That was a lie. Death by poisoning is excruciatingly painful and does not happen instantly. “What else, Ethan?”
“He tried to get me to jump in front of a car. He keeps telling me that the food on my plate is poisoned because mommy doesn’t love me and wants to get rid of me.”
“You know that’s not true, don’t you? Your mommy loves you very much, Ethan. That’s why you’re here to see me.”
“Nathan said he’s my brother but he’s a big fat liar, even if he does look just like me, because I don’t have any brothers or sisters,” he stated. “Even if he was, why would he want to hurt me?”
“I’m not sure I know that answer yet, but I’m going to try to find out,” I assured him. “Is there anything else you need to tell me, Ethan? Something that maybe you feel I should know?”
He pursed his lips in thought. “Not that I can think of. What do I do if he keeps telling me to do bad things?”
“Such as tearing up your favorite toys?”
Ethan nodded. “He knew I loved playing with my race cars, but he told me if I didn’t tear the wheels off and break up the tracks, he’d smother me while I was sleeping.”
“I’m sure that frightened you.”
“Yes. He meant it, too.”
“He can’t hurt you, Ethan,” I stated flatly. “No matter what he tells you or tries to make you believe, he’s incapable of harming you. I think the best thing you can do at this point is to ignore him. I know it won’t be easy, but you have to try.” He can, however, manipulate you into harming yourself.
“You mean you want me to pretend like he’s not there?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do.”
“Will he go away if I do?”
“I don’t know.” And I didn’t. Chances were that the answer was no, but it was definitely worth a try.
“He’s not going to like that,” Ethan said, shaking his head.
I already knew he didn’t like what I had to say. That was evident by the expression on his face, so I decided to try to soften his anger. “You know, Nathan,” I said, speaking directly to him. “By helping Ethan, I’d also be helping you. If there’s something you need me to know about you, or something you want me to see, all you have to do is ask.” What I didn’t say was that I’d be helping him to move on to where he was supposed to be in order to allow Ethan to live a healthy life and return to being the happy little boy he once was before Nathan came into the picture and changed him. It seemed to me, although not yet confirmed, that perhaps Nathan had lived a not-so-happy life in the short time he was alive, and he wanted to ensure that Ethan was as miserable as he’d once been, possibly out of jealousy because Ethan had everything that he hadn’t, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.
First, in order to help Ethan, I needed to know exactly what had happened to Nathan that had resulted in his death. In learning that, it might help me find an answer to my second question.
How in the world did Nathan know about Ethan if neither of them had known that the other existed?
“Alright, Ethan, grab your fire truck and let’s get you back out to the play area. I need to speak with your mom for a few minutes more.”
“Are you going to help me with Nathan?” he asked, looking up at me as I led him to the door.
“I’m going to do my best,” I said with a nod. Placing my hand gently on his shoulder, I said, “Don’t worry, Ethan. I’ll help you get through this. I know exactly what you’re going through. Sometimes it helps just knowing that someone believes you and listens when you speak. Remember what I told you, okay? Try to ignore him.”
“Mrs. Portman? I need to speak with you, please.”
“Is Ethan going to be okay?” she asked as she sat down.
“In time he will.”
“Thank God,” she said, blowing out a breath. “Do you know what’s going on with him?”
“I do,” I replied. “But before I get to that, I need to ask you some questions.”
“Mrs. Portman, does Ethan know he’s adopted?”
She gasped, shocked at the question. “How…”
On the verge of asking me how I knew, I thought it best to save her some time and embarrassment. “Mrs. Portman, prior to bringing Ethan into my office, did you do any type of research on me? Ask anyone about me perhaps? Are you aware of my background?”
“Research, no, but I did ask around. You came highly recommended.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “During any of those recommendations, did anyone offer you any detailed information on who I am, perhaps the abilities that I possess?”
“Are you referring to being able to see ghosts?”
“I’ve heard that, but it doesn’t affect me, Dr. Blanchard. I don’t believe in them.”
Perhaps you will when I’m finished telling you what I have to say, I thought. “No offense taken. Plenty of people don’t believe. I merely wanted to ascertain if knowing that is going to alter your acceptance of my diagnosis for Ethan.”
“Not at all.”
“That’s good to hear. Again, does he know?”
“No,” she said with a shake of her head. “We’ve never told him.”
“Are you aware of the fact that Ethan is an identical twin?”
“What?!” she shrieked, her mouth flying open, eyes wide. “That’s impossible!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Portman. Not only is it possible, it’s a fact.”
“How could you possibly know that? Ethan certainly couldn’t have told you.”
There was no simple way of saying what needed to be said in a gentle manner, regardless of whether she believed or not. Straightforwardness was the only avenue to take. “Nathan isn’t his imaginary friend, Mrs. Portman. Nathan is the ghost of his twin, and he has attached himself to Ethan.”
Mrs. Portman threw her head back and laughed. “Is this some kind of a joke?”
“I can assure you, Mrs. Portman, this is no laughing matter. Usually when spirits hang around loved ones, they mean them no harm. The living doesn’t even know that they’re there. That is not the case with Ethan and Nathan.”
That got her attention. “Meaning what, exactly?”
“The reasons for such dramatic changes in Ethan are due to the untruthful things that Nathan is saying to him, as well as what he is attempting to talk Ethan into doing. Ethan is both nervous and scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“For instance, the reason Ethan has become such a picky eater is because Nathan told him that you’re poisoning his food because you don’t love him.”
“You and I both know that, but to a seven-year-old, those words can be devastating. More importantly is that Nathan has told Ethan several times that he wants him to come and be with him.”
“But if he’s dead, then…”
“Mrs. Portman, Nathan is trying to talk Ethan into committing suicide.”
She clutched at her throat and began to cry. “My God,” she breathed. “He’s not considering it, is he?”
“I don’t believe so, but he is frightened. I can certainly understand why.”
“This makes no sense,” Mrs. Portman said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. How is this even possible?”
“The fact that you don’t believe doesn’t make them any less real. I can tell you firsthand, and with certainty, that they do exist, and one is haunting your son with the intention of causing him harm so that they can be together.”
Mrs. Portman sat still on the sofa, staring unblinking into space as she considered what I’d said. After several seconds, she finally spoke. “Why? If they’re brothers, why would he want Ethan dead?”
“So that he can join him in the afterlife,” I replied. “Together, you and I will not let that happen.”
“What can I possibly do? I don’t know how to deal with a situation like this.”
“In order to help Ethan, I must first learn everything I can about Nathan. That’s where you come in.”
“How?” she asked, throwing up her hands. “I didn’t even know that Ethan had a twin.”
“You can start by telling me who handled the adoption. I’ll take it from there.”
Mrs. Portman shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”
“That’s the only way I can get to the bottom of this.”
She was adamant about refusing to tell me.
“Mrs. Portman, I’m not here to judge you, that isn’t my place. My only concern is Ethan, and without the information on Nathan, he may never leave Ethan alone. If that’s the case, he could very well succeed in convincing Ethan to join him.”
“You don’t understand,” she said, beginning to cry again. “We were desperate, Dr. Blanchard. My husband and I tried for years to have a baby of our own, but I miscarried every time I got pregnant. Then I went through costly fertility treatments and that didn’t work, so we decided to adopt because we both wanted a child so badly. Our first attempt at adoption fell through when the mother changed her mind at the last minute. Even after we’d paid all her medical bills and set up the nursery for the baby. My husband and I were both devastated.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Portman. I’m sure that was a difficult time for you.”
“It was, and I swore I’d never allow myself to go through such pain and heartache again. Until the opportunity arose to adopt Ethan and I changed my mind.”
“How did the opportunity arise?”
She was silent.
“Is Ethan a legal adoption?”
She shook her head.
“Was an attorney involved?”
“Yes, but not the kind you might expect.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“He was the go-between for the birth mother and us. He arranged for us to buy Ethan.”
Dear God, I thought. Ethan is a black-market baby. No wonder she wasn’t aware that Ethan was a twin. Instead of keeping the infants together, they’d been separated into two separate adoptions because doing it that way brought the attorney and whoever else was involved a lot more money than they would have made for the single adoption of a set of twins.
“Mrs. Portman, I need the name of that attorney.”
“Dr. Blanchard, my husband and I signed an agreement swearing that we’d never disclose that information. If we do, he can sue us for breach of contract.”
“Ethan’s life depends on it, Mrs. Portman,” I stated firmly. “Your choices are either to provide me with that information or continue to let Nathan be a risk to Ethan. The decision is yours.”
Mrs. Portman closed her eyes and slowly shook her head back and forth. “If I tell you, Ethan won’t be taken away from us, will he?”
“Not if I have anything to say about it. I also have no plans to disclose to him how I obtained the information. That will remain between the two of us.”
“I have the information at home in a file,” she sighed, finally relenting. “I’ll call you when I get home and give it to you.”
“Thank you. You made the right choice.”
“In the meantime, how do I handle Ethan?”
“The same way you’ve been handling him for seven years,” I told her. “With love, attention and support. Try to keep him occupied with playtime or storytelling, anything that will keep his mind off of Nathan. Let him watch you cook, show him that you’re not poisoning his food. Allow him to help you with the food preparations so that he can see for himself that you’re not trying to harm him. If he wants to talk, listen to what he has to say. And if you need me for anything, I’m only a phone call away, day or night.”
“Thank you, Dr. Blanchard,” she said rising from the couch. “I’ll certainly do my best.”
“I know you will.”
“How long do you think it’ll take you to find the information you’re looking for?”
“That’s hard to say,” I said honestly. “It depends on how cooperative the attorney is willing to be. Hopefully, not too long. I’ll keep you notified of my progress,” I said, opening my office door.
Ethan was sitting on the floor next to the toybox still playing with the red fire truck. Nathan was nowhere in sight. Yet I knew that Ethan hadn’t seen the last of him, which left me to wonder if he’d step up his attempts at getting Ethan to join him on the other side, especially now that Ethan had revealed his existence to me, divulged who he was, and the fact that he knew I could see him and was aware of what he was trying to do. If spirits grasped the realization that a living being was onto them and their devious intentions, then Nathan knew his time to destroy Ethan was limited, and if he understood that, it could only mean that he’d try harder out of desperation. I knew that I must work hard and fast to find the needed answers that would help me to save Ethan’s life.
“All done,” I said, entering the waiting area with his mother.
“Hey, sport,” Mrs. Portman called to Ethan. “You ready to go home?”
“Yes,” he said, standing up. “Dr. DeeDee, can I have this truck?” he asked, holding up the toy he’d been playing with since he’d arrived.
“If I let you take it, what will the other little boys play with when they come in?”
“All the other toys,” he said, pointing to the box.
“How can I argue with that?” I asked with a smile.
“I can take it?” he asked, his blue eyes sparkling.
“You can take it, Ethan,” I said.
“Thanks,” he grinned.
Bending down to meet him face to face, I whispered, “Don’t let Nathan talk you into ripping the wheels off.”
At the door to leave, Mrs. Portland turned around to face me. “I can’t thank you enough, Dr. Blanchard. I appreciate everything.”
“My pleasure,” I said. “And don’t forget to call me with that information.”
As promised, Mrs. Portman called me later that afternoon and gave me the name of the attorney who had handled Ethan’s adoption, as well as the phone number that was listed on the paperwork. I had never heard of him. In and of itself, that wasn’t unusual because I wasn’t affiliated with the judicial system, but having an address in Belle Glade, which was only ten miles from Pahokee, I was somewhat surprised that I’d at least never heard his name.
After my last patient of the day was seen, I stayed in my office and began researching the attorney, interested mainly in the type of law he was listed as practicing in and to see if there were any comments on the quality of his services, good or bad. There weren’t. The address listed in the search was on Maven Avenue, an area I was familiar with, yet opted not to intentionally visit. It was one of the seedier parts of town, known for gang-related and drug activity. It was hard for me to imagine that a decent attorney would choose to operate a law office in such a shady and crime-ridden location. Of course, his office could have already been there prior to the deterioration of the area. Even so, with all that criminal activity going on around him, why hadn’t he relocated his office to a safer area? It was after five pm, so I doubted anyone would be in the office that late in the day. I jotted the number down on a piece of paper, deciding that I would place a call to the office first thing the following morning.
In the meantime, I knew exactly who to consult with and find out if he’d ever heard of him, and if so, what type of attorney or person he was.
Chief Jerome Simms was sitting in his old aluminum rocking glider on his front porch when I pulled up, dressed in multi-colored Bermuda shorts and a white tank top, sipping from a bottle of beer.
No longer the young man he was when I’d first met him, he remained in excellent physical and mental form, his mind still as sharp as a tack. His hair and goatee were solid white, contrasting against his dark skin. Now retired, he spent the greater portion of his days maintaining the large vegetable garden in his backyard or doing exactly what he was doing at that moment. His trusted and constant companion, a large, reddish-brown mutt named Jaco, lay on the floor of the wooden porch beside his master’s chair, his long, pink tongue lolling in and out of his mouth as he panted in the afternoon Florida heat.
“Chief,” I said, walking up the steps and taking a seat on the rocking chair beside him.
“I’m not the Chief anymore, DeeDee,” he said gruffly. “Done told you to either call me Jerome or Jerry.”
“You’ll always be the Chief to me,” I said with a smile.
“How are the kids?”
“Fine. Both enjoying college life.” He asked the same question every time I visited, which was usually a couple of times a week, and I always gave him the same answer. I knew he missed seeing them, missed their weekly visits and chats with Uncle Jerry. He had been an integral part of their lives as they grew from children into teenagers, then into young adults, so it was understandable that seeing them go away to college had left a gaping hole in his life. I knew how he felt. I missed them, too.
“That’s good. And David?”
“Ornery as ever, but I’ll keep him.”
“I’m sure you will. You want a beer?”
“I know you well enough to know this isn’t a simple social call. What’s on your mind?”
We had stayed close friends over the years and talked or visited quite frequently. To say that he probably knew me better than any of my other friends was an understatement. He knew things about me that no one other than my husband knew. I trusted him with my life as a teenager and that trust never ebbed or waned.
“Can’t fool you for a second, can I?”
“Nope,” he said, screwing the top off of another beer bottle.
“You ever heard of an attorney by the name of Wilbur Huntington?”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“Other than the fact that he’s a scumbag? Not much. Why are you asking?”
“He was involved with the adoption of one of my patients,” I explained. “I believe the adoption may have been, how shall I say this? Not so legal.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “He’s a shady character. Involved in lots of unlawful and underhanded deals, but never faced any consequences because he always got off on technicalities. The man hasn’t got an ounce of integrity or conscious. Can’t even be sure he still has a license to practice law, or if he ever did for that matter. You best mind yourself going anywhere near him.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“Don’t know that I’d go that far,” he said with a shrug. “But I wouldn’t put anything past him. If you’re planning on paying him a visit, don’t go alone.”
“Is that an offer?”
“Nope. Simply good advice.”
“You sure are getting crotchety in your old age.”
“Who’re you calling old?”
“Is this old codger giving you a hard time?” Chief’s wife, Louise, asked as she stepped out onto the porch and handed me a glass of iced tea.
“No more than usual,” I answered, accepting the glass, and taking a sip. “Louise, I know I’ve told you this a million times, but I’m going to say it again. You make the best iced tea I’ve ever drank.”
“You know it,” she said, taking a seat next to Chief on the glider. “What’re you two gabbing about?”
“Nothing much. Asking the Chief his advice on a certain attorney.”
“Wilbur Huntington. Ever hear of him?”
“Child, you stay away from that man,” she exclaimed, shaking a scolding finger at me. “Ain’t nothing good ever come from him.”
“So you know him then?”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard enough tales about him to know I don’t want to.”
“How crooked and underhanded he is, and that he’s the most unlawful and corrupt lawyer ever. Why’re you asking about him?”
After a brief explanation, Louise shook her head. “That man ain’t gonna tell you anything,” she stated matter-of-factly. “’Specially if what he did broke the law.”
“Still, I have to try. One of my young patient’s life may depend on it.”
“I know I don’t have to tell you this,” Chief said. “But adoption records are sealed.”
“On legal adoptions, yes.”
“If he conducted a black-market baby adoption, the records will be near impossible to obtain. Only way you’re going to find out anything is if he offers to tell you.”
“I can be persuasive.”
Chief shook his head and opened another beer. “Not that persuasive, DeeDee.”
“Do you have any other suggestions?”
“Come on, Chief. How long were you on the force here? Surely you know someone who might be able to help me out.”
“Then you’ll ask?”
“Didn’t say that.”
Louise and I both laughed. “Old goat ain’t never gonna change, DeeDee. You should know that.”
“I suppose I could try going to the new chief, but I get the feeling she doesn’t care much for me.”
“Wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”
“Out of her jurisdiction. She has no say or power over the Belle Glade force.”
“Perhaps she knows someone on the force that she could call and ask them to help me. Maybe even escort me to his office.”
“I doubt it.”
Sighing deeply, I said, “This is going to be harder than I thought. I desperately need to find out as much as I can about this adoption. My patient, I believe, is in extreme danger.”
“How so?” Louise asked. She knew all about me and my abilities; therefore, I never hid anything from her. “He’s being haunted by his dead twin brother who is trying to manipulate him into committing suicide. He’s only seven years old.”
Chief glanced over at me; his beer paused midair. “A twin, hunh?” he asked. “How’d he die?”
“I have no idea. They were separated at birth and adopted out to two different families. My patient’s mother had no clue that her son was a twin.”
“What an awful thing to do,” Louise said, scowling. “Why in the world would anyone do something so cruel?”
“Money,” Chief replied. “He got paid more for two separate adoptions than he would have with one.”
“My heavens, the things some people will do for money,” Louise said, shaking her head. Patting my hand, she said, “I hope you find out what you need to know so that you can help that little boy. If anyone can, DeeDee, it’s you.”
While I appreciated the vote of confidence, I wasn’t too sure that she was right. It was going to be difficult moving forward without any knowledge. And if Mr. Huntington refused to give me the answers I needed, which I was sure he would, then I would be facing a dead-end with nowhere else to turn.
“When’re you going to see this attorney?”
“I’ll give him a call in the morning and make an appointment.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Element of surprise,” Chief said, downing the last of his beer and tossing the bottle into the waste bin next to his chair. “If you call him and make an appointment, you’ll have to tell his secretary why you need to see him. Then she tells him you’re coming, and he’ll be sure not to be there when you arrive. What you do is just show up and request to see him. Sit there all day if you have to.”
“That’s actually a good idea.”
“I know,” Chief said, grinning. “What time are you going?”
“Around eight, I suppose.”
“What if his office doesn’t open until nine?”
“Then I wait. When I see him go in, I’ll go in right behind him and hopefully get to talk to him before he sees any of his clients.”
“Don’t go by yourself.”
“What choice do I have? I have to go, Chief. It’s the only way I can find out anything.”
“I’ll be ready by eight.”
“You’re going then?”
“Didn’t I just say I’d be ready at eight? Wasn’t like I meant I’d be ready to play golf.”
“No, I suppose you didn’t.”
“Swing by and pick me up,” he said, opening his front door. “I’m going inside to eat supper. You coming?”
“No, I need to get home. David’s probably waiting for me.”
“Tell him I said hi.”
“I will,” I answered, getting up from the glider. “Thanks, Chief.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, waving me off as the screen door closed behind him.
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