Medium Rare: (Intermix) (Ramos Family) by Meg Benjamin

Posted on Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Rose fell asleep before she’d finished her wine. She had just enough consciousness left to turn out the bedside lamp and put her bookmark in place before she curled up for the night. Her dreams were filled with a strange woman named Brighid in a red velvet cloak who kept wandering around the house in her bare feet, sprinkling some kind of liquid on the drapes.

“What’s that?” Rose asked.

“Holy water.” Brighid sprinkled more water on the carpet.

“Will it work?”

Brighid turned dark eyes toward her. “I doubt it.”


Rose glanced around the dream room. Brighid seemed to have disappeared.


Someone was clearing his throat. Rose surveyed the room once again, and discovered she was no longer in the living room. In fact, she seemed to be back in her bedroom. In fact . . .


She was wide awake, sitting in the middle of her bed in the middle of her bedroom, where logically no one should be clearing his throat. Rose grabbed the sheet convulsively, pulling it up to her chin.

“Who’s there?” she called and then felt like kicking herself. Nothing like letting the potential burglar-rapist–serial killer know you were awake and aware that he was there.

“Good evening.” The voice was faintly accented, slightly British, definitely masculine and . . . vaguely familiar.

Rose peered into the darkness at the corners of the room. A lot of darkness, actually. More darkness than she’d been aware of before. In fact, it was the darkest freakin’ bedroom she’d ever been in.

Not what she’d call a plus at the moment.

Her hand scrabbled around the night table, trying to find her cell phone. She flipped it open, squinting at the keys in the darkness.

“Please don’t bother,” the invisible man said. “You don’t need the police. Besides, you’ll find you can’t get service in here right now.”

Rose stared down at the glowing screen. No bars. How the hell could she have no bars? She’d just made a call this afternoon from the living room.

“Sorry,” the man said mildly. “It’s me. You won’t be able to get service while I’m in the room with you.”

She took a deep breath, lowering the phone to the spread. Calm, stay calm. “Where are you? Step out where I can see you. And do it slowly—I’m armed.” She picked up her book, a hardback fortunately. Assuming she could hit him, he’d probably have a lump.

“Throwing things at me won’t have any effect. Except to increase your own sense of satisfaction, of course.”

She gritted her teeth. She really hated being the straight man in this exchange. “Show yourself anyway.”

“I already have. You’re just not looking in the right place.”

Rose licked her lips. Okay. You’re okay. “Give me a hint.”

“Look up.”

She raised her gaze slowly to the ceiling of the room. At the far end, something glowed a dim yellow-green, like some kind of night-light. She squinted. The yellow light became a blob, then seemed to elongate, becoming vertical, stretching from the ceiling halfway to the floor, perhaps five feet or so. Slowly, the light began to change, becoming bluish white, then gray, then resolving, very slowly into the outline of a figure.

Rose’s hands closed tightly on the coverlet. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat as her pulse hammered.

The figure became more clear. A man. Shortish. Stocky. Wearing a blue jumpsuit with a white undershirt showing at the V-neck. Hair slicked back, high forehead, deep-set eyes . . . Holy shit! A deeply satisfying wave of exasperation washed over her.

“Hannibal Lecter?” she snapped. “Really? Are you kidding me? Hannibal Lecter? What kind of sick joke is this? Get the fuck out of my bedroom!” Amazing how the combination of terror and annoyance made her sound like she was in control.

Hannibal Lecter floated a couple of feet away from the foot of her bed. His expression seemed vaguely disgruntled. “I was trying to find an appearance you were familiar with. I thought you’d like it.”

“Who are you?” She took another deep breath, trying to slow down her pulse. “And why exactly shouldn’t I just get the hell out of here right now?”

“If you walk out now, you’ll never know why I’m here, will you? And don’t tell me you don’t want to know.” Hannibal moved back a few paces. “Give me a moment and I’ll come up with something else.”

Lecter’s face became indistinct, the edges softening, blurring, then disappearing altogether. Slowly, he became a blob of light again. Rose stared, feeling slightly giddy, as if she’d been holding her breath too long. After a moment, the light elongated again, new features appearing in the face. Instead of the blue jumpsuit, the man now wore a tuxedo. The face was long and narrow, the hair parted at the side, nose slightly bulbous, narrow mouth spread in a faint smile. He raised an eyebrow. “Better?”

“I suppose. Who are you now?”

“George Sanders as Addison DeWitt. Won an Academy Award for All About Eve, one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Your generation has forgotten him. Typical.” He had a pronounced British accent.

“All right.” Rose flexed her fingers, letting the spread drop. “So who are you really? And why are you here? And when will you go away?”

“To begin with your last question, I’ll go away after we’ve had our little talk.” George whatever-he-was reached into his pocket and extracted a cigarette in a cigarette holder. It was already lighted. He inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling.

“Don’t smoke in here,” Rose said automatically.

George gave her a patronizing smile. “I hardly think this smoke will bother you.”

“So what are you—a ghost?”

George frowned slightly. “In a manner of speaking. I suppose it’s easiest if you think of me that way.”

“Are you haunting this house? Did you die here?”

He blew another cloud of smoke. “I died elsewhere. A very long time ago. And as for haunting this house, no. If you leave this house, so will I. I suppose you could say I’m haunting you.”

Rose’s throat clenched tight for a moment. She swallowed hard. “I don’t understand. What do I have to do with it? I’ve never seen you before.”

“Caroline named you her heir. Therefore, you’ve inherited me along with all her other worldly and . . . otherworldly goods.” He gave her another half smile.

Her pulse picked up again, hammering in her ears. “Could you stop being clever for a few moments and just explain this to me? Simply? Starting with your name, which I’ve now asked you for three times?”

“Skag.” George—Skag—materialized an ashtray in one hand. “My name is Skag, or it can be for our purposes.”

“All right, Skag.” Rose sighed. “How exactly have I inherited you? You mean you’re going to haunt any house I live in from now on?”

“As I said, you’re Caroline’s heir. That means she had reason to believe that you’d inherited the family talent. Given that we’re having this conversation, which means you can see and communicate with me, I’d say she was right on the money.”

“The family talent,” she repeated. All of a sudden she felt more curious than frightened. “What family talent? Beyond a fantastic recipe for green salsa that Granny Ramos makes for the Fourth of July, I’m not aware that my family is particularly talented.”

“Not that family,” Skag drawled. “I know nothing of that family. The Riordans are, however, legendary for their talents in contacting the Other Side. They’re perhaps the most accomplished mediums of the modern age. Certainly they’re within the top ten.”

She stared up at him. “Okay. That makes no sense at all.”

Skag sighed, grinding out his cigarette. “All of this would be much easier if Deirdre had at least given you the basic facts instead of just dropping you here without any introduction.”

“Deirdre? You mean my mother? My mother knows you?”

“Your mother grew up in this house. She knows me quite well, in fact.”

Which perhaps explained Ma’s weird toast and her efforts to get Rose to leave. She felt a quick pinch of anger. Should have warned me, Ma. “Why are you talking to me, then? Sounds like Ma’s the next in line.”

“Deirdre has chosen to remove herself from the Riordan family business. I’m quite sure she’d decline any interaction with me.”

But she hadn’t had any problem sending in her daughter. We’re going go have a very interesting conversation one of these days. “So how exactly are you related to my family? Are you my long-lost cousin eighteen times removed or something?”

Skag narrowed his eyes. “You can think of me as an exceedingly distant family connection.”

“But you are a Riordan?”

He sighed. “At one time, a great, great many years ago, I was, in fact, a Riordan.”

“And you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart?”

“My heart, such as it is, has nothing to do with it.” Another lit cigarette appeared in his holder. “My job is helping the family. As long as Riordans exist, I exist.” He bowed his head slightly. “At your service.”

Rose frowned. That wasn’t exactly an answer, but it seemed to be the best she could get at the moment. “So what are you expecting me to do about all of this? Hold séances or something?”

Skag stared meditatively at the ceiling, tapping the cigarette holder against his teeth. “Your great-grandmother, Siobhan, did in fact hold the occasional séance. But hers was a much more credible age than this one. Caroline confined herself to other pursuits.”

“Other pursuits such as what?”

“Such as finding what was lost.” Skag brought his gaze back to hers. “For a fee. Usually a quite considerable fee.”

“Finding what was lost? You mean like missing wills, or the purloined family jewels? That kind of lost?”

“Among other things. Sometimes what was lost was merely information. Answers to questions that the living needed from those who had passed on.”

“The dead, you mean.” Rose shivered in the warm evening air. “And how do I go about finding this information?”

“You ask me, of course.” Skag gave her a lazy smile. “I’m what previous generations called your spirit guide. You’re the medium between the living and the dead. The living ask you for help. You bring their requests to me. I transmit your requests to the most appropriate residents on the Other Side. In many cases, I can find the answers easily enough. The dead can be quite accommodating.”

Spirit guide. Of course. Made as much sense as anything else she’d heard this evening. “How do you go about finding the right dead person to give you the information you need?” She had a momentary vision of a room-size Rolodex—although maybe the dead had gone digital by now.

Skag sighed. “None of your relatives has ever asked all of these questions, you know. They were content to simply accept the information I was able to find for them.”

Rose folded her arms across her chest. “I’m a reference librarian. I like to know who my sources are.”

“The sources in question, for the most part, are the newly dead. Spirits may linger for a few years after death before they move to the next level of existence. They’re frequently quite chatty. If I need to speak to a particular spirit, I can usually find them by asking around.”

“Did you ever fail to find what Grandma Caroline was asking for?”

Skag shrugged. “Oh yes. I don’t have access to all the spirits. And nothing compels the dead to tell the truth any more than the living. And there are limits to what I can find. And sometimes opposing powers can be greater than my own.”

Rose frowned. “What powers are those?”

Skag narrowed his eyes. “No, Rose, this is as far as I’m willing to go. The secrets of the afterlife are not mine to pass on. I’m here to help you in your inquiries. I’ll find whatever information I can glean from the spirits to whom I have access. And that’s really all you need to know about the process.” He arched one eyebrow. “Anything else?”

Rose shrugged. “How would I charge people for this information without bringing the entire San Antonio police force down on my head? The cops have never been big fans of the supernatural in my experience and asking people for money in exchange for tips from the spirit world would probably put me on their radar.”

“Caroline offered a money-back guarantee. No payment if the customer wasn’t entirely satisfied. Occasionally someone tried to cheat us, but not often. They usually paid up in the end.” Skag smiled again. The wreath of smoke around his face made him look faintly demonic.

Rose licked her lips. “Did you have anything to do with that?”

“More frequently, the persuasion came from the other spirits. Some of the dead become quite angry at the idea their descendants don’t honor their memory sufficiently.”

She sat very still, as a thousand questions careened through her mind. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do about all this.”

“You’re supposed to agree to carry on where Caroline left off.” He ground out another cigarette. “This is a quite expensive area in which to live. Your salary as a librarian will hardly be enough to compensate. Once you attain Caroline’s level of business, you should be able to clear enough money to take care of everything nicely.”

“And what was Caroline’s level of business?”

Skag raised an eyebrow and named a figure that made Rose’s own eyebrows elevate almost to her hairline. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not. It won’t be that much at first, but it will grow as you work. Ultimately, you’ll find the business is quite lucrative.”

“And what do you get out of this?”

He frowned. “Me?”

“Well, I mean, I assume you don’t need the money . . .”

Skag’s expression darkened. “I repeat, this is my job. My vocation, if you will. I have served the family’s interests for generations. I hope to serve them for generations to come. My reward, to put it crassly, is in performing my duties successfully. And making sure that the Riordan family continues to fulfill its own destiny.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “Destiny?”

Skag stared at the ceiling. “An old-fashioned word, perhaps, but one I’ve always preferred.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m aware of that.” He sighed. “For now, it’s enough to know that Riordans have special talents. Things they can do that other mediums can’t, or can’t do as well.”

“And you expect me to exercise these ‘talents’?”

He shook his head, the corners of his mouth turning up in a faint smile. “On the contrary. I rather hope you don’t have to exercise them.”

Rose frowned. “I need to think about this.”

“Yes, I agree that you do. Shall I return tomorrow evening to discuss it further?”

She nodded, then held up her hand. “One other thing.”


“If I agree to do this, there will be some ground rules. Number one on the list will be that you confine yourself to the ground floor exclusively. No more coming into this room. Understand?”

Medium Rare

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Genre – Paranormal

Rating – R

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Website http://www.megbenjamin.com/


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