'So, how was the big city?'
'Fine. I enjoyed it.' Lukas sipped at his beer, savoring the cool bitterness as it soothed his mouth and throat.
He and Helen were sitting in the small garden, enjoying the back-end of the day. The sun behind them was low, the light entering the garden through the bordering trees soft and dappled, lending everything it caressed a mellow glow.
Neither sibling was hungry at the moment, but Lukas had picked up a case of raspberry beer in Lancaster, knowing that the brew was a favorite of Helens. It had been chilling in the freezer since he had arrived home, and now, was well worth the wait.
'So,' Helen asked him offhandedly. 'No spooks?'
'Not a one.' Lukas shook his head. 'And, surprisingly enough, no worms either. They must have had business elsewhere today.'
'Well, I'm glad.' Helen stated, quite emphatically, Lukas thought. 'You deserve a break from all this.., this weirdness.' She finished.
'Weirdness is just my normal way of life.' Lukas told her with a grin. 'But, I agree; it's kinda nice to get a day off.' He stretched luxuriously, enjoying the sensation, as his legs extended under the table.
'You're obviously feeling better today.' His sister observed dryly. Secretly; she was pleased. Her little brother definitely seemed to be on the mend. He was a different person almost, to the man who had appeared so unexpectedly on her doorstep towards the end of the previous week. Even his usually sallow complexion had improved slightly. She just hoped that the improvement in him wasn't too good to be true. She didn't think she could stand it, if Lukas had a relapse.
'Yep.' Lukas moved his head in a slow circle, stretching the muscles in his neck. 'Thanks to all the TLC I've been getting round here, I feel good.'
'I haven't done all that much.' Helen protested mildly.
'You've been here; that's enough, Sis.'
'Stop it; you'll have me blushing next.'
Lukas laughed; an easy sound. 'You were never the blushing type.' He told his sister. 'Seriously though,' His brow furrowed slightly. 'I would have expected to see at least a few worms around a place like the castle ' I mean, even I could sense the atmosphere in that place; and without my abilities.'
'Maybe they like their emotions freshly squeezed.' Helen supplied helpfully. 'You know, like orange juice.'
'Yeah; maybe.' Lukas leant back and studied the late afternoon sky above him. 'I never thought of that.'
Any further conversation was interrupted by the shrill warble of the telephone. Helen smiled an apology and picked up the handset.
'Hello.' She listened for a moment. Lukas watched her smile fade, and frowned. After a minute or so, Helen grunted a goodbye, and switched off the handset.
'What's wrong?' Lukas asked.
'So much for you feeling better.' Helen told him. She grimaced. 'That was your agent.' She said. 'She's in a cab, and she'll be here in five minutes.'
It wasn't five minutes.
Three minutes after hanging up the handset, Lukas and his sister heard the sound of a car door slamming closed, at the front of the house. Seconds later, as Lukas entered the house via the kitchen door, three sharp raps against the front door indicated Mackenzie Church's arrival.
Hurrying to answer the peremptory summons despite himself, Lukas felt his chest begin to tighten and constrict. Helen had offered to get the door, but Lukas had asked her to wait in the garden for them. Now, he almost regretted not letting her do it. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the door open.
'Hello Lukas.' His agent smiled thinly; the upward turn of her lips a formality. She looked up into his face briefly, inspecting. 'You are looking well, I must say. How are you laddie?' Her soft burr, still distinct after so many years south of Hadrian's Wall, contrasted sharply with her formal diction.
Without waiting for an invitation, Mackenzie walked past Lukas, into the hallway. Inside, she half-turned, studying Lukas in a way that reminded the medium of the look a stern headmistress might reserve for an especially unruly pupil.
Beneath her bronzed hair, that Lukas had never seen arranged in any way other that a tight ponytail, her dark gray, almost black, eyes regarded him steadily from a face that was, perhaps, surprisingly young for a woman with her reputation. She was not tall; she barely measured up to his shoulders, and Lukas estimated that she was somewhere in her mid-thirties - but he could have been out, by as much as a decade either way.
She was dressed today; despite the heat, as she was every other time Lukas had met with her, in a severe dark blue business suit and white blouse. Polished black pumps completed the image of a successful businesswoman. Her only concession to personal taste were a headband and scarf ; both in a matching muted orange tartan that matched her hair color.
'Um; I'm fine Mackenzie, thanks.' Lukas pushed the door closed by leaning on it. 'Getting better.'
'I am very glad to hear that.' The thin smile faded slightly. 'You made me a promise, laddie.'
'I did.' Lukas agreed. He winced inwardly. 'I apologize for not getting in touch. It's been a..,' He hesitated for a moment, wondering what he was going to say to her. 'Look,' He went on. 'Come and have a beer with us, in the garden. There are some things we need to talk about.'
There was a protracted silence; Mackenzie let Lukas squirm under her gaze for several seconds, before nodding once, a slight movement of her head.
'Indeed there are.' She told him. 'Please; lead the way.' Together, they headed through the kitchen, Lukas leading the way wordlessly.
Helen was waiting for them. She had risen from her seat and, as they approached, Lukas could see the warning signs in his sisters attitude. Her face was calm and composed, her eyes unreadable, but he knew the signs. Helen was ready for trouble.
Lukas's spirits dropped lower. The last thing he needed, was a cat-fight between the two ' verbal or otherwise.
'MacKenzie, this is Helen; my sister. Helen,' Lukas began. 'This is-'
'I know who this is.' Helens tone matched her cool composure. 'Mrs Church.' She nodded towards a chair. 'Please. Would you like a beer?'
'Thank you my dear. And please, it's Mackenzie.' She smiled disarmingly, as if unfazed by the lukewarm reception, and relaxed into the offered chair. Lukas and Helen also took their seats. 'Did you say something about a beer Lukas?
Before her brother could answer, Helen retrieved a bottle from the cooler-box beside her, and passed it across wordlessly. MacKenzie took an experimental sip, then looked appreciatively at Helen.
'Mmm; this is gorgeous. Raspberry?' Helen nodded again, and MacKenzie took a deep pull. She lowered the bottle with a contented sigh. 'I must get some of this, to take back with me.'
She looked across at the silent pair, studying the twins. Lukas; apprehensive, glancing from her to his sister and back, as if ready to break them apart if needed.
And Helen; to all outward appearances, calm ' but beneath the facade, a seething mix of anger and indignation; ready to blow at the slightest provocation.
MacKenzie Church, was a clever woman. Not merely intelligent; people expected her to be that. After all, she would never have made it in her chosen career otherwise. But, MacKenzie Church was also street smart; she could read a person like a book, and tailor her reactions and attitudes accordingly. In her life, there had been very few people she had never been able to assess.
One of these, was Lukas Madson. The man was an enigma to her, and he fascinated her intensely.
How did he live, doing what he did? She had wondered that, often. He was certainly no hoax. She had seen enough of him - and his work - to know that, however he worked, be it communicating with the dead, or telepathy, or whatever; it worked. The things he knew about people, and those they had lost, was incredible. And, sometimes, creepy. She thought. As a professional, he had earned the respect of both people and those police he had successfully assisted.
But, outside of their professional association, she knew next to nothing about the man.
Mackenzie prided herself on knowing as much as possible about her sometimes fickle clientele; both in order to do her best for them, when representing them, and in order to predict how they might react to any given situation, or job.
But, she hadn't even known that Lukas Madson had a sister, until she had to find him, after his self-discharge from hospital. And, to learn that the sister was a twin, no less, was a double blow. She was slipping, she told herself.
Now, face to face with the mysterious sister, MacKenzie felt displaced, and further out of her comfort zone than she had been for a very long time. Taking advantage of the moment, she sipped at her beer, and studied the woman opposite her.
Helen Madson was a looker, MacKenzie thought. Sharing her brothers strong features, dark eyes, and hair; she was almost as tall as Lukas, her features chiseled slightly more finely by her femininity. Her gaze was steady and direct, as she in turn studied MacKenzie, and suspected that Helen was not afraid to speak her mind.
Men would feel intimidated by this woman, Mackenzie decided. She wondered if there was a man in Helen Madson's life at the moment, apart from her brother. She was, obviously, very protective of Lukas. MacKenzie suspected that she was probably the older, by however many minutes, and was the dominant sibling.
All in all, despite the antagonism directed towards her, MacKenzie felt that she could get to like Helen. And, she told herself - at least she was polite.
'So, how are you keeping, Helen?' As an opening move, it was inoffensive, and Helen had the grace to accept it as such.
'I'm well, thank you. And you?'
'I'm good also; thank you.' She glanced towards Lukas, watching pensively. 'And how is our boy behaving himself?'
Despite herself, a glimmer of a smile materialized upon Helen Madson's lips, before being quickly smothered. 'One for my side.' MacKenzie hid her own small smile of triumph.
'He's as awkward as can be expected, considering that, by all rights, he should still be in hospital.'
'Aye,' MacKenzie nodded. 'Ever unpredictable; that is Lukas.'
'You just have to have grown up with him.' Helen told her.
'Ah,' MacKenzie allowed a small smile to grace her face. 'That would do indeed do it.' Helen's eyes met hers, and a look of understanding passed between them. Helen nodded, and turned to her brother.
'Lukey,' She began. 'I'm not sure how to say this without seeming indelicate, so I won't try.' She glanced at MacKenzie, who looked evenly back. 'I think Mrs Church and I-'
'Please; Mackenzie. And, it's.., Mz, I believe is the proper term.' She smiled, and added. 'There is no Mister MacKenzie; I'm too difficult to live with.'
Helen raised and eyebrow and nodded. 'Right.' she turned back to her brother. 'Miss MacKenzie and I would, I think, like to talk.' she glanced at Mackenzie, who nodded wordlessly. 'And, I also think, since you're going to be the main subject of that talk, that it might be better if you aren't here to hear what we have to say, and get in the way..'
Lukas stared at the two women. It took a moment or two for his sisters words to sink in.
'You want me...' He frowned at his twin.
'To go. Yes.' Helen finished for him.
'Oh. Okay.' He glanced towards his agent. She was also studying him. 'Are you sure?'
'We are not going to claw each other's eyes out, Lukas.' MacKenzie assured him. 'We merely want to talk ' to get to know one another a wee bit better, so to speak.'
Lukas rose from his seat. 'Well, if you're sure.'
'We're sure.' Helen glanced at her watch. 'Tell you what; it's almost supper time ' well,' she amended. 'Early suppertime, anyway. Why don't you go down to the Blue Marlin, and pick something up for the three of us.' She looked at MacKenzie. 'Chinese food okay?' she asked.
MacKenzie nodded. 'My favourite.' She said. 'But please; let me pay?'
'That's not really necessary.' Helen held up a hand. 'After all, it's thanks to you, that Lukas is quite well off.'
'I agree with Helen.' Lukas said. 'Our treat. Okay?'
MacKenzie assented with a smile. 'Well then; thank you. I accept.'
The two women watched silently, as Lukas made his way inside.