It was seven days before Christmas. Steve dragged his weary body home after successfully completing a perilous mission in the wilds of Peru. He slouched over to the door; his eyelids drooping and yawning his head of as he inserted the key in the lock. His aching muscles were clamouring for relief and intended to answer their plea by indulging in a long hot bath. A blissful smile crossed his face at the thought of soaking in the tub for hours until his skin was all shrivelled.
He fumbled with the doorknob before he lazily nudged the door open. He tossed his key on the table and as he started for the bathroom, he left foot stepped on an envelope that had obviously been slipped under the door in his absence. With a puzzled look he bent down to pick it up. He ambled over to the sofa while tearing open the envelope to reveal a card with a picture of Casper, the Friendly Ghost, on the cover. He sat on the edge of the sofa and flipped open the card to read its content:
‘Casper is back in town. He dropped by your apartment early today but no one was home. He would very much like to haunt your domain tomorrow night around eight if that is convenient for you? You are welcomed to RSVP on his answering machine. He promises not to stay long.’
An amused smile crossed Steve’s face at the thought of being reunited with his friendly ghost. He picked up the phone and dialled the number mentioned at the bottom of the card and waited for the beep to record his message. “Hi Casper! This is Steve. I’m glad you haven’t forgotten about him. He’d be delighted to see you tomorrow but let’s make it seven instead to grant him the pleasure of impressing you with a succulent dish. Don’t worry he’s a good cook. I’ll be waiting.” He put the receiver back in its cradle and mused at the prospect of a possible relationship with a lady scholar he held in the highest regard. He tucked the thought neatly in the back of his mind in order to concentrate on the one thing his bone-weary body was screaming for.
The following night Chef Austin was hovering over a hot stove, getting a whiff of his luscious Beef Bourguignon casserole. He took a spoonful of gravy and allowed the taste to linger on his palate to ensure that just enough spices had been added to the blend before turning down the burner to let the dish simmer.
He untied the apron around his waist and tossed it on the counter as he made his way to the frig to take out a bottle of red wine. He stepped into the dining room area to place the bottle in the center of the table, set for an intimate candlelit supper for two. A knock at the door announcing the arrival of his guest sent his heart aflutter. He took a deep breath to recover his composure and gave the table one last glance before he went to answer the door.
“Hi Steve!” She greeted him with an ebullient enthusiasm.
“Casper” His elated grin reached both ears at the sight to behold standing before him. “Come on in.” He held out his hand to bid her enter. After closing the door he pulled her into a warm welcoming embrace. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Much to her reluctance she disengaged the clench to study Steve’s features she’d sewn on her memory. “I didn’t know if you’d remember me. It’s been so long.”
“Yes it has. But I could never forget you.” His voice carried a deep admiration and his eyes shone with pride. His gaze momentarily dwelled on her smiling brown eyes before he escorted her to the living room where he assisted her in removing her light coat and offered a comfortable seat on the couch. He sat beside her, giving her one last hug before they began catching up on the past year. When the conversation veered off to the topic of holidays, Steve jumped at the chance to ask her for the pleasure of her company in Ojai. Given the fact that she hadn’t planned anything for Christmas, she accepted his gracious invitation. Steve was wreathed in smiles at the thought of introduce her to his parents. She on the other hand was a bit anxious. When a man asked a woman to meet the parents this usually meant he was serious about engaging in a steady relationship. Was she ready?
Days later, they arrived in Ojai. The second Steve stepped out of the car his mother smothered him with hugs and kisses.
“Steve, my baby. It’s so good to see you!”
“Mom, it’s good to be home.” Her heap of kisses made the blood mantle over his cheek. He gave Margaret a sidelong glance to gauge her reaction to the exuberant welcome.
“Are you planning to stay long?”
“That all depends on Oscar.”
“Well he’ll certainly hear from me if he should call to shorten your holidays.” Helen’s tone was scathing and steadfast.
“I doubt it will work.” Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at his mother’s determination.
“I have ways of knocking some sense into the hard-nosed ones.”
“Believe me son, she does.” Jim nodded in agreement as he recalled his own admissions of defeat.
“Mom,” Steve turned to Margaret and gently took her arm to pull her closer to him, “This is Margaret Winslow. Dr Margaret Winslow. You remember my telling you about her?”
“Of course. Welcome to our home, Margaret.” Helen didn’t hesitate in giving the woman a warm hug. Margaret returned the genuine affection.
When they disengaged the embrace, Margaret flashed Steve an air of surprise. “You told your parents about me?”
“Of course. You saved my sanity. I don’t easily forget that.”
Margaret smiled shyly. “That wasn’t exactly me. It was a hoax, remember?”
“Let’s go inside kids and have some eggnog.” Helen happily wrapped her arms around Margaret and Steve’s waists to lead them to the front door. Jim followed with an amused smile on his face.
In the bewitching hour, a sudden gale force wind outside sent a tree branch clapping against the windowpane of Steve’s bedroom. The loud noise roused him out of a peaceful slumber. He rubbed his right eye and yawned before turning to his right side. Sitting in an armchair was his haloed twin stoically holding up three fingers. Steve blinked repeatedly and scrunched his eyes together. When he opened them the figure slowly dematerialized. He laughed inwardly thinking the holographic image was a trick from Margaret. He lifted the covers off him and hunched down on the floor to peek under the bed at a concealed miniature camera, but much to his dismay he found none. He shrugged and crawled back into bed, dismissing the occurrence as a mere hallucination triggered by Casper’s return.
The next day, Steve took Margaret horseback riding. It was a carefree experience that she rarely had the opportunity to enjoy with her demanding career. She had left for Europe last year following the bizarre occurrence involving Steve and a mysterious manufactured spirit designed to shake the very core of his sanity. She was perturbed by the ordeal that nearly ended her life and therefore decided to retreat to the far corner of the world to recover her poise before deciding to return to Washington and look up the only man who could send her senses reeling and stir up a passion within her.
They reined in their horses when they reached the riverbank and continued riding at a light amble in restrained silence. Steve appeared preoccupied, lost in a world of his own, which prompted Margaret to wonder whether she had said anything to upset him.
“Yeah?” came the monotone reply.
“Is something wrong?” When no answer came she halted her horse, hoping to trigger a reaction out of dazed man. “Steve!”
The shout broke into his trance. He stopped his horse and turned to her with a puzzling expression. “What? Why did you stop?”
“To draw your attention. You seem a million miles away. Are you feeling all right?”
“Yeah. Everything’s okay.” His answer came in the form of an apathetic smile.
“You don’t sound very convincing.” Steve averted his eyes from hers to stare into nothingness. Margaret nudged her horse onwards to go stand beside her troubled companion. “Want to talk about it?”
He let out a long exhale and lowered his gaze. She cocked her head in an attempt to will his eyes back to hers. “Steve? Was it something I said?”
“Oh no. Don’t think that.” Steve gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “It’s not you. Something disturbing happened last night.”
“I saw my twin again.” He dismounted with one fluid motion and started walking. Margaret swung down her mount and followed Steve. “At first I thought it was a trick you were playing on me for old time sake. But there were no hidden cameras under my bed nor anywhere in the room for that matter.”
“Steve I wouldn’t do that, not after what you experienced.”
“I thought maybe the holographic image was projected from outside the window.”
“What exactly did you see?”
“The same figure that haunted me after my car accident.”
“But that was a hoax.”
“I know. That’s what’s so baffling.”
She laced her arm around his and smiled knowingly. “I think it’s me. Casper’s return has triggered a flood of memories of that day and your mind is playing tricks on you.”
“So you believe it was a pure figment of my wild imagination?”
“He was so real. One minute he was sitting stoically in the armchair and holding three fingers up and the next he was gone in a blink of an eye…my eye.”
“That could be of signification.” Her face took on a portentous air.
“You just said it was only an hallucination.”
“Yes but many visions have been known to foretell the future or warn someone of an impending event, however blissful or tragic.”
“Then can you tell me what could those three fingers meant?” Steve’s query was bordering on sarcasm.
“I’m not the one to ask. It was your twin that appeared to you. It obviously wants to convey a message.” A silence fell between the two as Steve considered her theory. “Then again it could very be your imagination running wild. I have that effect on people.” She smiled teasingly in an attempt to draw Steve out of his doldrums.
He turned to her and returned the puckish grin before enlacing her in his arms. “I’m happy you’re here.”
She gazed up into his bewitching blues to drink in the genuine affection. “So am I.” Her beaming smile was beckoning him to kiss her. Time stood still as he answered her wish by slowly lowering his mouth to brush against her lips. How she wanted the kiss to linger but that was not to be. Steve retreated before their passion was set ablaze. He had vow to keep a tight rein on his lust for fear of scaring Margaret away and conceivably ruin any chance at a possible romance.
The small Sedan was moving down a placid rural road in the country when suddenly a speeding van rounded the corner and rammed into the small vehicle, killing the two passengers on impact. The horrific blow jolted Steve out of his sleep. Drenched in sweat and panting heavily he was striving to recover his countenance when, glancing to his right, he caught sight of his hazy twin sitting impassively in the armchair holding up two fingers. Steve flung the covers aside and bounced out of bed to lunge at the lucent figure that vanished the second he set foot on the floor. He sank in the chair and sat, completely fuddled. He racked his brains as to the reason for this recurring vision.
Steve wandered down to the kitchen for a glass of milk to calm his nerves. He sat at the counter and began analysing the nightmare he’d just experienced from every conceivable angle to find a possible correlation with the odd occurrence. Could this ‘ghost’ be forewarning him of an impending doom? He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands, heaving a heavy sigh as he laboured to delete the chilling apparition from his mind. So absorbed in his task was he that he didn’t hear the slap of bare feet on the floor.
“Son!” Jim’s grave voice jarred Steve out of his concentration, causing him to flinch slightly. “Something on your mind?”
“Why do you ask?”
“That glass of milk at two in the morning is a dead giveaway.”
Steve sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Yeah. Something’s bugging me but I just can’t figure out what it is.”
“Maybe I can help shed some light on the matter.” He sat next to his troubled son and laid a hand on his drooping shoulder. “I can see this is eating you up.”
“It is.” Steve’s exhale dripped with despair. “I’ve been having an hallucination. I keep seeing this…this I guess you can call it a spectre, in my room. It sits there for a few seconds and then vanishes. I’m going insane trying to figure out why it keeps haunting me. I don’t see it during the day, only at night.”
“Anything particular about this vision?”
“Yeah. It’s my mirror image. It doesn’t talk, move or do anything other than holding fingers up. Last night it was three; tonight it’s two. Before it appeared I dreamt of a car crash. The impact started out me out sleep.”
“Do you know who was in the car?”
“No. The two passengers were faceless.”
“Two passengers. Could one of them be you?”
“I don’t know. I do see it happen from the driver’s point of view.” Steve’s eyes widened in alarm at the possibility of a foreboding. “Could that be a premonition?”
“That would be my guess.”
“Two fingers. Two days? Do you suppose the accident will occur a day after tomorrow?”
“If it is then I suggest you don’t get behind the wheel until then, just to be on the safe side. You know this could very well be the result of all the stress you’ve been under this past year. Your mind is running amok.”
“Meaning I’m crazy?” Steve mocked in a weary smile.
“No.” Jim let out a small chuckle at his son’s inference. “ Meaning you need a good cleansing.
“I’m supposed to drive mom and Margaret into town for some last-minute Christmas shopping. We’ll go tomorrow instead of Tuesday.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Steve shook his head in disbelief. “This is ludicrous! I can’t believe I’m actually putting stock in this absurdity. A ghost? Dad, tell me this isn’t real? That we’re not actually having this conversation.”
“As I said Steve it could be your mind playing tricks, but why take any chances? I’ll drive the women tomorrow. We’ll make up an excuse.”
“No dad. This is nonsense and I’m not going to let it ruin my holidays. You’re right it’s just stress.” He patted his dad’s arm and stood from the counter. “I’m going back to bed. Thanks for listening. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight son.” With a worried frown Jim watched Steve climb ponderously up the stairs. Although he was a great disbeliever in the occult, he nevertheless entertained serious doubt about blindly dismissing Steve’s vision as pure figment of his imagination. His first priority tomorrow was to pick the expect parapsychologist’s brains.
The Elgins’ residence was still plunged into a peaceful darkness when Steve roused at early dawn the next morning. He donned his shirt and jeans that hung behind the door and padded downstairs to the kitchen to grab a glass of grapefruit juice before putting on his coat to step into the chilly morning air. After a few cleansing breaths he got into his car and drove away, heedful to make as little noise as possible to avoid waking the household.
Arriving at his destination, Steve pulled over alongside the quiet country road and remained seated in his car. He sank the back of his head into the headrest and with his eyes shut tight, he tried to conjure up the images of the fatal accident he saw occurring on this exact spot. He was to travel down that road to go into town with his mother and Margaret this afternoon. He pondered on his father’s offer to switch places with him but dropped the idea when he realized that his nightmare never confirmed the identity of the driver with absolute certainty. Who was the driver? Who was the person taking place in the passenger seat? Were there more than two people travelling in the car? His mind spun a maelstrom of questions that unfortunately remained unanswered. The best solution to prevent the imminent tragedy was to keep everyone at home for the next two days.
He gripped the steering wheel with both hands and heaved out a sigh of despair. “This is just peachy! What’s the matter with me?” He angrily pounded his forehead against his knuckles. “I don’t believe it that stuff.”
The troubled man drew in a few lungful of air to clear the cobwebs before he put on the ignition and doubled back to the farm, unaware that a car was discreetly following him at a safe distance.
Helen was first to awaken shortly after dawn. Turning to her sleeping husband, she raised the covers up to his shoulders and brushed a small kiss on his cheek before she quietly slid out of bed. After slipping on her night robe, she tiptoed out of the room. She walked past Steve’s bedroom as she made her way downstairs. She found peculiar that the door should be half open. She gave a few knocks. “Steve?” When no answer came she gently nudged the door open to find an empty unmade bed.
She closed the door and pressed on down to the kitchen where she expected to meet with the early riser. Her eyes made a quick sweep of the living room for any sign of Steve before she made her way to the kitchen. She put the kettle on, after which she wandered to the window facing the corral hoping to catch a glimpse of her son riding his cherished horse. His absence was beginning to gnaw at her. Her motherly instincts were spurring her into imagining the worse when she suddenly noticed that his car was no longer in the driveway.
She was hurrying up to her bedroom to wake her husband when she ran into him coming out of the bathroom. “Jim, Steve is gone!” her terror-filled voice threw a light scare into him.
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
“He’s not in the house and his car is not in the driveway.”
“He probably went to the store to pick up some milk. He emptied half a carton last night.”
Jim’s reasonable explanation failed to ease her qualms. “The stores aren’t open at this hour.”
“Okay then maybe he went on a short drive to clear his mind. He was a bit troubled.”
“Troubled about what?”
“Helen? Is everything alright?” Margaret came walking down the stairs with a concerned expression etched on her face.
“She’s worried because Steve left the house early.”
“He isn’t here?”
Helen clawed at her husband’s arm to focus his attention on Steve’s problem. “Please tell me. What was Steve upset about?”
“Did he see his twin again?” Margaret’s question elicited a quizzical frown from Helen.
“Yes he did.”
“How many fingers was he holding?”
“He said two.”
Helen’s inquisitive eyes darted between the two as she strived to construe the meaning behind their odd conversation. “Would any of you mind explaining to me what you are talking about?”
At that moment the front door opened.
“Steve!” Helen rushed to her son and hugged him. “Where have you been?” Her implying tone held a hint of accusation.
“I just went out for a drive,” Steve answered airily, wondering why his mother was all in a tizzy. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Your mother was worried sick wondering where you were,” Jim explained.
Steve flashed a reassuring smile as he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m okay mom. I needed some air.”
Wrapping her arm around Steve’s waist, Helen casually walked over to the sofa where they both sat. “You had to take your car for that?” Helen questioned with a hint of incredulity.
Steve drew in a lungful. “I drove to the area where I saw the accident occur.”
“And?” Margaret probed as she sat next to Steve.
“And nothing and yet everything,” he sighed heavily.
“What’s that supposed to mean? What accident? Steve please tell me what’s bothering you.“ Helen’s voice was bordering on terror.
Steve placed a gentle hand on her stiff arm and spoke soothingly to ease her qualms. “It’s nothing, mom. I’ve been having a nightmare about a car crash.”
“And we think it could be a premonition,” Jim added.
Helen held a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp.
“Why did you go there?” Jim asked.
Steve shrugged. “I hadn’t originally intended to go. I was merely driving around to clear the cobwebs when I found myself wandering on that road. I….” His voice trailed off as the faceless passengers flashed before his eyes. Margaret, Jim and Helen exchanged concerned glances at the blank stare registering on Steve’s face.
“That settles it! You are not to leave this house for the next few days.” Jim’s authoritative voice broke into Steve’s thoughts, bringing him back to the present with a sudden jerk. Steve stood up and faced his audience. “Look I appreciate your concern, really. This is silly. I won’t let it ruin my fun. This is telling me to be extra careful on the road, that’s all. And I will. Now, what’s for breakfast?” He rubbed his hands together and hastened the pace to the kitchen before anyone could voice any objection.
In the afternoon Steve insisted to drive Margaret and Helen into town for their Christmas shopping. As a precautionary measure he took a different route than the one in his dream. It was longer but safer.
Hours later as they were driving back to the farm, an ambulance streaked past them on its way to the scene of an accident. Steve became suspicious of the direction it was taking. With Margaret and Helen’s permission he took a turn left and followed the ambulance on the road of his nightmare.
There, the same small Sedan from his dream, identical to his own car, was crushed beyond recognition. The firemen were toiling away at removing the hindering pieces of the carcass in the way of the two injured passengers. Steve offered to lend a hand with his own jaws-of-life. He yanked one of the car doors open with one bionic pull and to his horror saw that the driver was his identical twin. His eyes widened in shock at the face. He was rooted to the spot in utter disbelief when one of the firemen shoved him out of the way to tend to the bloody victim.
“Thank you, sir. Are you a doctor?”
Steve shook his head absentmindedly. “No…no I’m…I’m not.” His answer came out in a stammer. While Helen took his arm to steer him away from the site of the crash Steve’s eyes remained fastened on the wreck, wondering who could the driver be.
“Mom, he’s my twin. He looks just like me. Go take a look. See if I’m not crazy.”
Helen and Margaret glanced at one another to seek each other’s support before they both stepped up to the smashed up Sedan just as the driver was being extracted from the wreck. The firemen laid him gingerly on the stretcher for the paramedics to tend to the wounds. Helen gasped with horror at the man’s staggering resemblance to her son. The second passenger was a man who had died on impact.
They decided to follow the ambulance to the hospital to get to the bottom of this mystery. There, Steve contacted Oscar to fill him in on the strange occurrence. While on the phone he overheard an intern with a nurse discussing the patient.
“Here,” he handed her the patient’s wallet and other personal items that he’d found in his pockets, “put these in an envelope. His name’s Steve Austin and there’s a number where we can reach his folks. Tell them to….”
“Excuse me.” Steve put his hand over the mouthpiece and addressed the intern, “I’m Steve Austin.”
The intern was taken aback by the striking similarity. “You? You look just like that guy.”
“Oscar. I’ll call you back later.” Steve hung up before Oscar could squeeze a word in edgewise.
“Your name’s Steve Austin?”
Steve produced his ID. The doctor in turn showed him the man’s wallet with the same identification card and photo.
“There cannot be two Steve Austin. When can I talk to him?”
“He’s going into emergency surgery. He has numerous compound fractures and severe internal injuries.”
Steve jogged down his phone number on a piece of paper that he handed over to the intern. “If he should make it and regain consciousness I would appreciate if you would notify me at this number. I really need to talk to him. Find out who he is.”
“Could he be a twin playing a prank?” The intern surmised amusedly.
“I doubt that.” Steve’s sharp reply accompanied by a raised eyebrow told the man he was not finding his assumption funny. “Do you have an ID on the other passenger in the car?”
“He was DOA. His name was Paul Jergen.”
Steve nodded in gratitude and walked back to Margaret and Helen. “I’ve got an ID on both men. One is Steve Austin.”
“What?” Helen exclaimed in shock.
“Let’s go back to the house or dad is going to send the police on us. I’ve got to contact Oscar again with this new information. ”
It wasn’t long before Oscar contacted Steve with the facts regarding Paul Jergen. “He was one of our top operatives. Always followed instructions to the letter; never complained; no insubordination. He was clean as a whistle.”
“Then what was he doing with my double?” Steve’s question dripped with sarcasm.
“Maybe he thought he was really you.”
“Was Jergen aware of my bionics?”
“Not to my knowledge. But he did beset me with questions about you in the last months.”
“Did you ask him why?”
“Simply that he was just curious. He expressed his wish to be assigned a mission with you.”
“They must have planned to switch us somehow, hence the reason why he was in Ojai. He knew I’d be here visiting my folks. I’m sure Jergen was in on the scheme.”
“Well Jergen is dead. The only man who can shed some light on the matter is your Steve Austin and you said he was knocking on death’s door.”
“The hospital called me an hour ago. They said he was out of surgery and that his condition was touch and go but the doctor’s confident he’ll make it.”
“I’ll take a flight out early next morning and meet you at your folks’. Meanwhile I’ll try to comb through Paul Jergen’s file, see if there’s a gap somewhere.”
“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Steve hung up the phone and instantly lost himself in a whirlwind of speculations. Margaret noted his faraway expression and thought it best not to disturb his deep concentration. As she walked past him on the way to the kitchen to help Helen with dinner her shadow upset his train of thoughts and jarred him back to the present. “Margaret.”
He tapped the cushion beside him. “Come and sit down by me.”
She smiled obligingly and took a seat beside him. He clasped her hand and kissed it. “I’m sorry this hasn’t been much of a merry Christmas for you.”
She leaned forward to brush her hand tenderly against his cheek. “What makes you think it isn’t? You’re alive.”
“Yeah. Do you realize had I taken that road on our way back to the house it could have been us in that wreck? And it’s more than likely we stumbled upon a plot to infiltrate the OSI. I’m sure that’s what that man was planning to do. But first they had to get rid of me.”
“A blessing in disguise.”
“I wonder if my twin will visit me tonight?”
“I doubt it.”
Steve flashed a wicked smile at Margaret as he slowly bent forward to kiss her. “Steve, your mother’s in the next room.” The blood mantled over Margaret’s cheeks at the fear of being caught fondling.
He glanced over her shoulder at his mother busy chopping vegetables. “She’s too busy to notice.” As he began kissing her neck the phone rang. “Arggggggggg bad timing!” he snarled before peevishly yanking the phone off the hook. “Hello!”
“I’m Steve Austin.”
“I’m Doctor Evans. You wanted to be advised when John Doe would regain consciousness?”
“That’s right. Has he?”
“Yes about thirty minutes ago. But I’m afraid you may not be able to speak with him until the morning for he’s still very disoriented.”
“Does he know his name?”
“He hasn’t said anything.”
“I’ll make him talk. Can I come right over?”
“You can but it might be a wasted trip. I advise you to wait until the morning.”
“Doctor I can’t take that chance. What if he doesn’t make it through the night? I need to speak to him now. That man has stolen my identity and I need to know why.”
The doctor let out a sigh of defeat. “Okay. Ask for me at the Nurses’ station.”
At Steve’s request, Margaret accompanied him to the hospital. She remained in the waiting room while Dr. Evans ushered Steve into his double’s room. Steve wasn’t surprised when informed that the man had recently undergone cosmetic surgery over ninety per cent of his body. Tiny healing scars were noticeably apparent.
“Don’t stay too long Mister Austin. We don’t want to tire him out.”
Steve nodded in agreement. “I just have one direct question and I’m out of here.”
Once the doctor out the door Steve stepped closer to the bed and with his hands on the railing he leaned forward to scrutinize his mirror image’s face. The man slowly opened his glassy eyes when he sensed a presence hovering over him.
“Hi there.” Steve’s greeting dripped with bitterness. “Recognize me?”
The man blinked once to acknowledge. “Austin,” he whispered feverishly.
“That’s right. I was told you were also Steve Austin?” Steve spoke with cynicism. “Why?”
The double closed his eyes and breathed out, “To assume your identity.”
“That goes without saying. Who put you up to this? Who paid for your surgery?” The sluggish patient became restless at the grilling. “Paul Jergen was with you in that car. Was he is on the plan?”
The man gulped before giving a feeble nod of the head. “He orchestrated the whole scheme in order to…to have access to confidential information that Gold…that Goldman only shared with you. Was…was supposed to…to run you off road and…and…inject you with…potassium chloride.”
Steve leaned closer to the man’s face. “Who are you? What’s you real name?”
“Who are you dammit?” Steve spat between clenched teeth; his eyes narrowed in contempt and lips curled up in suppressed fury. It was all he could do to refrain from strangling ‘himself’.
“Just remember, buddy; they ain’t worth the trouble,” the man slurred before surrendering to darkness.
Steve tossed his head back and his eyes widened in shock. “Tony? Tony Hartman is that you?” The man croaked out an unintelligible word before the heart monitor registered a strong arrhythmia. Then a flat line. “Hartman! Don’t you die on me!” Steve scolded harshly, his face inches from the dying man. “You hear me?” Before long the doctor and two nurses dashed into the room with the crash cart. Steve retreated in the background as the defibrillator was applied to the patient’s chest. When all attempts to revive the man failed, the doctor dejectedly called the time of death. He turned to Steve and beckoned him out of the room.
“Will there be an autopsy?”
“That goes without saying unless you know who the man is.”
“His name is Anthony Hartman. I’ll contact his employer and ask him to call you. He’ll give you all the information you need plus the authorization to perform the post-mortem.”
Steve shook the doctor’s hand. “Thank you doctor. We’ll be in touch.” He walked back to the waiting room where Margaret was sitting.
She sprung to her feet and met Steve halfway. “So?”
“Do you know who he is?”
“Tony Hartman. I used to work with him.”
“An OSI agent?”
Steve nodded affirmatively with a heavy sigh. “He was planning to run me off the road and then inject with KCL to make it looked like I died in the accident. That natural drug doesn’t leave any trace once the cells absorb it. After which he was to assume my identity.”
Margaret stood agape, shocked by this revelation. “The twin you saw in your room; it was a spirit of fortune.”
“I guess so.”
“Did he make a believer out of you?”
A flicker of a smile flickered on Steve’s lips. He still found it hard to admit that a ghost could have warned him of an impending doom, thus saving his life, but the odd occurrences of the past days had dramatically altered his view of ghostly interventions. “I guess you can say he did.”
Wrapping her arms around his waist she pulled him closer to meet his lips in a tender kiss. “Casper is glad. I’m sorry for those two men who died in the crash but so thankful it wasn’t you. That is the best Christmas gift anyone could have given me.”
“Oh? Then I guess you don’t need the one I bought you?” Steve teased as he slowly made his way to the exit.
“Steve Austin!” She hastened the pace to catch up with him and gripped his arm. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“You just said I was the only present you ever wanted.”
She shook her head with a sly grin. “I said you’re the best present, not the only one.”
He stole a quick kiss and clenched her in a soul-stirring embrace. “Come on Casper, let’s go home and celebrate life.”