I Didn't Forget Pt 3: Richard Michaels
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Present Day

After I get off the phone with Daisy, I explain what she said to Theo. He’s appropriately alarmed. “I’m going to take a look around the apartment, now,” I say.

“What? Why? You can’t think—”

“Of course not, but I need to be able to tell Daisy that I checked.”

Theo takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

I spend the next half hour searching the apartment. I check inside, behind, and under every place I can imagine someone hiding a book. Of course, I find nothing. I sit back down on the bed with Theo, who has been sitting there, on his phone, the whole time. “I guess you’re done?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m sorry. I believe you. I promise.”

“I get it. I get it.”

“So, where do we go from here?”

“I think I know what might have happened. The book she was talking about, I mentioned it to some of my church friends.”

My eyes widen. “You did what?”

“I didn’t tell them anything sensitive.”

“The fact that we went to Runes & Relics at all is sensitive! Everything we’re doing for this investigation is sensitive! What if someone at your church is with them?”

“That’s not possible.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“I do, okay? The same way you know Daisy isn’t working for them, I know that none of my church friends are.”

“Okay. Fine. Are you saying you think one of them took it?”

“It’s possible.”

“So, I was right, then. You shouldn’t have told them.”

“Yeah, I guess so. In any case, I tried contacting each of them while you were looking around. I haven’t gotten any replies yet. I think that’s because they’re busy with a church thing that’ll be over in a few minutes. Once it is, they’ll get back to me. If one of them did take it, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble convincing them to give it back.”

“Do you know why one of your friends might’ve taken it?”

He shrugs. “It’s an antique. It’s expensive, and valuable.”

“Does it have something to do with your church?”

“What? No. Why?”

“Because you mentioned it to all of them—”

“It’s not that. These are just people I happen to know from church.”

Theo’s church has always been the strangest thing about him. He goes there every Sunday morning. He seems to take it quite seriously, though he never wants to talk about it with me. I’ve never minded that. I don’t think much of Christianity, and I don’t really like to think about the fact that my boyfriend is a part of it.

“Okay,” I say. I’ll admit that sounds a little strange, but I trust Theo. “I guess we’ll spend the day looking into that.”

“Actually, sorry, but I’ll spend the day looking into that. No offense, but my church friends will respond better if it’s just me.”

“You’re in real danger. This could get their attention, and even if it doesn’t, you’re being accused of a crime. I want to help you.”

Theo sets a hand on my shoulder. “I appreciate that, but there’s nothing I need you to do. I’m just going to make a few phone calls, and, maybe, meet with them. They won’t want anyone else around to discuss church business.”

“I thought you said this wasn’t church business.”

“Now that I’m in danger, it is.”

I don’t object further. As much as I don’t want to admit it, Theo’s probably right. Going by the brief interactions I have had with his church; they probably will be reluctant to speak with me. “Are you sure?” I ask.

“I am,” he says.

“Okay. I’ll have to do some investigating on my own, then.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I already have an interview with someone. I’d rather do things with my partner, but if I can’t help you, there’s no sense in sitting here twiddling my thumbs. I’ll just have to talk to her without you.”

“Alright. Just promise you won’t do anything dangerous.”

“Our investigation is already dangerous.”

“Right, but, other than that. Just promise you’ll be careful without me there.”

“I promise.”

Six Years Ago

I spent the weeks after Evan’s kidnapping convinced that Callum was behind it. Who else would it be? He was rich and powerful, and he hated Evan. However, while I still can’t entirely rule that out, something happened not long after the disaster that makes it unlikely.

A few weeks after the Galaxy Plaza disaster, I was having lunch at school with my friend Brad. Our elementary school cafeteria was long and narrow—far more cramped than you’d expect it to be—with gray brick walls and speckled white floors. Brad himself was a small, blonde kid, who looked younger than he was. We were eating bad hamburgers, and, between bites, he happened to ask, “Did you hear about what happened to Callum Michaels?”

“What happened?” I asked with my mouth still full of hamburger.

“He’s dead.”

I almost choked. “What?”

“I heard my dad talking about it.” Brad’s dad was a police officer. “There was a gas leak in their mansion, and everyone there died, even their dog.”

I wondered if Brad was just messing with me, but he wasn’t a good enough liar for that. Once I realized he was telling the truth, I felt happy. Callum was evil and deserved to die.

Of course, feeling that made me feel terrible. It wasn’t what Evan would’ve wanted me to think. But how could I not? Callum had been behind the Galaxy Plaza disaster. He’d killed more than forty people, including Aster Sterling. Of course I’d be happy he was dead. “You say it was a gas leak. So, an accident?”

“That’s what my dad said to the other officers on the phone. Can you believe it?”

No. I couldn’t. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that Callum had died so soon after the disaster he’d caused. That was assuming he even was dead. It was more likely he’d just been taken, like Evan had. That was big, though. Really big. It meant the people who had covered everything up, and had taken my brother, probably weren’t the same people who had caused the disaster. Evan hadn’t just been on Callum’s bad side. He’d been taken by something greater than both of them.

Present Day

If Theo is right that the group we’re up against is dedicated to hiding the existence of the paranormal, it makes sense that they would take Callum, just like they took Evan. His ability to control people’s minds would be a problem for them.

They didn’t just take Callum, though. They took his entire family. That suggests that Richard and Margaret Michaels, Callum’s parents, might have had the same ability he did. If that’s the case, Callum probably either learned or inherited the ability from them. If I could confirm that, perhaps that could lead me to the source of their power.

That’s why I’m talking to Sasha Gould, a plump woman in her thirties. She used to be an employee at one of Richard Michaels’ stores. She, along with several of her co-workers, went on strike around the same time Evan and Callum stopped getting along. According to Daisy, Callum had blamed that strike on my brother.

She and I are sitting across from each other at a small coffee shop not far from that store. The walls, tables, chairs, and floor are all the same stark brown as a fresh coffee bean, and the pleasant smell of warm roasts fills the air. I have a cup of iced coffee in front of me. The store isn’t busy. The only other customer is a small, freckled woman sitting across the shop.

“Thanks for agreeing to this,” I say to Sasha.

“No problem,” she says. “The last time I talked to a member of your family, it turned out pretty well for me.”

“You mentioned that on the phone. Around the time of your strike, you had a conversation with my brother. Tell me about that.”

Sasha finishes a sip of her coffee before beginning. “Well, I was on shift at the register. It was early Friday morning, so the store wasn’t busy. Your brother came up to me to check out some groceries. His cart was very full, so we got to talking a bit while I was bagging everything. He asked me how I liked my job. Normally, that’d be an annoying question, but seeing him ask it reminded me of when I was his age, and afraid of what it’d be like to have to work. I didn’t lie to him. I told him I wasn’t manning the register for fun, but I tried to sugarcoat it for him as best I could. When I was done, he asked me about my boss. Mind you, he didn’t ask me about ‘my boss.’ He asked, ‘What’s it like to work for Richard Michaels?’”

“What did you say?”

“I started to say it was great. That he was reasonable and generous. I know I’d said that to other people who’d asked me about him. I’d even recommended the store to a friend who was between jobs. As I started talking, though, I had trouble explaining what I liked about him. Instead, I started complaining. About how he had me working twelve hours most days, with no overtime. How everyone tried to avoid him whenever he showed up at the store. About how he always seemed to be able to talk me out of taking vacation days. I do mean always. In the four years I’d been working there, I’d never used one. There were so many things I put up with for his sake that I’d never have put up with for anyone else, boss or not, and as I was talking to your brother, all of them just poured out.”

“Do you know why?”

“No clue. Just, something about him asking made me realize how much I’d been putting up with.”

“Do you know why you’d put up with it?”

“Evan asked me the same question, and no, I didn’t. Talking to him, I felt like I was thinking about Mr. Michaels clearly for the first time. The man had somehow always had me looking at him through rose-colored glasses. As I realized this, one of my co-workers happened to pass by. I stopped him and asked him if he remembered some of the worst things Michaels had done. He did, and I could see in his eyes that he was realizing the same thing I was. Over the next few days, more and more of us decided we weren’t going to put up with Michaels’ crap anymore, so we managed to form a union, and we went on strike for higher pay and better conditions.”

“Do you know how Michaels got that grip over you in the first place?”

“I’ve been thinking about that question for years. I still haven’t got a clue.”

“How much did you know about his social life outside the store? Was Richard part of any social clubs or anything like that?” Callum had founded Spirituality Club to spread magical abilities to his peers. Could Richard have learned them from a similar place?

“Not that I knew of, besides his church.”

“What church did he go to?”

“I don’t remember the name of it, but I know he was very serious about going. Getting a hold of him on Sunday mornings was impossible. Store could’ve been on fire, and he wouldn’t have shown up.”

I remember Callum being difficult to contact on weekends. I also remember a month or two where Evan was the same way. Before now, it had never occurred to me that Theo had that in common with them. “Do you know if Richard brought his family to his church?”


“I ask because, as far as I know, his son Callum was a pagan.”


“Like a wiccan. Sort of a new age type. Not something you’d think a devout churchgoer would allow.”

“I don’t know anything about that. I met Mr. Michaels’ wife, once, but never his son.”

“Did you have any conversations with Richard between when you decided to unionize and when he died?”

“Of course. That was several months.”

“What was he like in those conversations?”

“Mad, mostly, that we’d stopped putting up with his shit. He was always so entitled. You’d have thought it was the most shocking thing in the world that we’d finally stood up for ourselves.”

My conversation with her goes on for another little while, but I don’t learn anything more of note. That church seems to be my next lead.

Seven Years Ago

I walked down the stairs, packed up and ready for school. Evan was coming down behind me. Mom was already in the car, waiting for us. “Crap,” Evan said, just before he walked out the door. “Forgot my stone.”

He ran up to his room and came back with the stone around his neck. It was green. Polished, but not glittery or transparent like his crystals. Every member of Spirituality Club wore one like it to represent their membership. I always thought it was a bit much. None of the other school clubs did anything like that, but it was important to Evan to wear it everywhere.

Present Day

I sit in front of a library computer, reading everything I can about Richard Michaels. His wealth made him a public figure, which is good for me, because it means there are stories about him in local newspapers.

One of those stories happens to mention his church. He attended the Guiding Star Baptist Church. Judging by the article’s picture, his wife did as well, though I can’t say anything definite about Callum.

Guiding Star Baptist Church closed shortly after Richard died, allegedly for financial reasons, which could make sense if he was a major donor. There are some news articles about the church hosting events, but nothing that’s helpful in discovering whether it was secretly a club of mind-controlling wizards.

At least, that’s what I think, until I notice a picture of several church members in an article about a fundraising event in 2004. The picture shows a dozen old people standing in a row and smiling, and every single one of them is wearing a polished green stone somewhere on their body.

Most of the men have it on a bracelet or a ring, while most of the women have it on a necklace, usually mixed with other stones. One woman wears it flanked by five pearls on each side. Another is wearing two of the stones as earrings.

I check other pictures of the church’s members. Now that I know to look for it, I see it on more of them. Not all of them, though. There are pictures of Richard and Margaret where they’re not wearing the stones, which is different from how it worked in Spirituality Club. Evan never left the house without that stone.

I start keeping track of which pictures show them wearing the stones, and which pictures don’t, hoping to find a pattern. It doesn’t take me too long to find one. It’s the older pictures that show the church members wearing the stones. Every picture of Richard, Margaret, or any other church member taken prior to the mid two-thousands has them wearing it, but after that, there are no pictures of any of them doing so.

Daisy said that Aster Sterling was in on Callum’s plot to cause the disaster. I run an image search for him. In quite a few of the results, he’s wearing the stone. Looking through different pictures of him, I can see that he follows the same pattern. Before 2005 or so, he always wore it. After that, he stopped.

There’s one particular picture of Aster Sterling that I’m especially curious about. I leave the computer behind and go to the children’s fiction section of the library. The Starlight Saga books are there. There are multiple copies of the first book, one of which is the same edition I read as a kid.

Shortly before he was taken, Evan walked into my room and asked me about Aster Sterling. This was after his falling out with Callum. During that conversation, he examined my copy of this book. When he saw what was on the inside back cover, he gasped. Now, holding an identical book all these years later, I finally know why. That’s where the About the Author blurb is, and, at the top of it, there’s a picture of Aster Sterling, wearing that same green stone.

I return to the computer. I find plenty more pictures of Sterling wearing it. In some of those pictures, he’s not the only one wearing it. Other authors and celebrities also wear it. Actors. Talk show hosts. Politicians. Once I know to look for it, it seems like it’s everywhere. Or at least it was, prior to May of 2005.

If all of these people were part of the same organization Callum was in, that organization must have been huge. Powerful, too, considering how rich and famous they are. Guiding Star was just one branch of a colossal tree, with Spirituality Club being another branch growing out from that.

As I contemplate that, I notice something else out of the corner of my eye. The library isn’t empty. There are a few other people scattered around it, reading books and using computers. Sitting on the far corner of the lounge, is a small, freckled woman.

I think she’s the same one I saw at the coffee shop.

I study her for a moment. She had been looking at me, but she looks away when she realizes I’m staring at her. I look away too. I shouldn’t have stared. Now she knows I suspect her.

Is she one of them? How could that be? How could they have found out what I’m doing? They must have, though. Who else would have a reason to stalk me?

If it is them, if they know I’m on to them, things have gotten far, far more dangerous.

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