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Authors: E.J. Copperman

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BOOK: An Uninvited Ghost
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“Don’t patronize me, Tootsie. I’m paying top dollar to stay here, and I expect to see something for my money. So. Are there ghosts here?”
I was already biting my lower lip, but I managed to smile in what I hoped was a friendly manner. “Well, you’ll just have to find out, won’t you?”
“I’d better,” she’d snapped, and kept walking toward the front door.
Behind her, Linda Jane shook her head and smiled. “Don’t mind Mrs. Antwerp,” she said. “I get the impression Bernice hasn’t been satisfied with anything since Eisenhower was president.”
“I’m glad to hear it’s not just me,” I told her.
“Oh, trust me, it’s not just you.”
Almost all the new guests had entered the house by then, so Melissa and I started toward the door, and Linda Jane followed. “Lovely place you have here,” she said.
I thanked her for the compliment. “It took a lot of work,” I said.
“Everything worthwhile does,” she answered.
I had to agree, although Melissa had piped up with her opinion that homework was pointless, which has been the complaint of every fourth-grader in history. “If they teach me the stuff in class, why do I have to learn it myself at home?” she asked.
Linda Jane laughed as we reached the front door and entered the house. “We’re going to get along just fine,” she said.
Maxie, walking in through the wall with her lip curled, rolled her eyes. “I liked the nasty one better,” she said.
“You would,” I said.
 
 
Three days later, the whole thing had already become pleasantly routine, except that I now got up every morning at five-thirty, which was the least pleasant part. But it gave me the chance to do whatever straightening up of the common rooms was necessary, greet the especially early risers among our guests, answer the incredulous questions about our lack of available breakfast—although to be totally honest, I do keep a coffee urn going in the morning for those who want, and I have hot water for tea—direct the more adamant to the Harbor Haven Café (where I’d made an agreement with Janice Bacon—no, really—the owner, to give my guests a 10 percent discount) and check for ghosts, although Paul and Maxie were rarely around first thing in the morning. I didn’t know where they went when they vanished, but they usually answered when I shouted for them. Not that I can remember ever having shouted for Maxie. Not happily, anyway.
Then I’d get Melissa ready for school, which was usually pretty easy. If there were no footsteps upstairs or the sound of the shower after her alarm went off at seven, I’d go up to roust her out of bed. But she’s a very self-sufficient ten-year-old.
After driving her to school—they
still
didn’t have a school bus route in Harbor Haven—I’d get ready for the ten a.m. spook show. Sometimes I’d have to remind Maxie, but Paul gamely appeared every morning promptly at nine-fifty-five.
Except today. He showed up at nine-twenty, when I was in the library (thankfully alone) reshelving books that had been left strewn about the room.
“Wake up early?” I asked, although I didn’t know if he and Maxie actually slept. I’m not sure
they
knew.
“It’s time we discussed that . . . matter from the other morning,” he said, his Canadian/British accent making it sound more like
mawning
.
“What matter?” There was a memoir by a politician shelved on the fiction wall, and I was considering whether to leave it there out of sheer irony.
“The offer I received a few days ago,” Paul said. “About us looking into a certain situation . . .”
Suddenly, I felt very tired. “Oh, come on, Paul,” I said. “You didn’t really expect me to go into the gumshoe business, did you?”
“You did sit for the examination and get a private investigator license,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but that was only because I thought I’d never have to use it, and you’d leave me alone.” One paperback was placed, spine splayed open, on the side table. I don’t like to abuse books like that, but on the other hand, one of my guests was probably reading it and wanted to mark the place. I picked up a bookmark from a stack I keep on the table (which was right next to the paperback) and placed it in the book on the appropriate page, then closed the volume to try to save what was left of its binding.
“Well, I took it seriously,” Paul sniffed. “You know how I feel about this. I was a good private detective when I was alive. . . .”
“You were a brand new private detective when you were alive, and you’ve told me you want to keep going to see how you’d do,” I countered.
“I don’t want to spend eternity putting on invisible music-hall dramas for your tourists,” he came back. “We had a deal, you remember. And one word from me to Maxie can end the twice-a-day vaudeville act for good.”
I pivoted and stared at him. “You wouldn’t.”
He tilted his head and curled his lip. “No, probably not. But you agreed to something, and I think you should at least
try
to live up to it.”
I sighed. It’s not something I do often, but I’m trying to perfect it. “You’re right. But remember the ground rules—I won’t get involved in
anything
that’s going to place me or Melissa in any kind of danger.”
Paul nodded earnestly. “This doesn’t involve any danger, Alison. I promise you. We’re just confirming an event, that’s all.”
“Who’s the client?” The books were shelved, and now I was dusting the furniture, can of Pledge in hand.
“A man named Scott McFarlane. We haven’t met, but we’ve . . . communicated.” Paul has the ability to “speak,” more or less, with other spirits, sort of telepathically. He doesn’t really understand how it works, but he and I call it the Ghosternet.
“So it’s a ghost, right?” Figured. I wouldn’t even get paid.
“Yes,” Paul admitted. “I don’t talk to that many living people.” As far as we knew, Paul and Maxie could only be seen by Melissa, my mother, and me. My mother says it’s a “gift.” I have other words I could use for it.
It was hardly worth polishing the furniture; the seniors staying in my house were tidier than I was. I put on the look Melissa calls “grumpy” and faced Paul. “I’ll listen to the story,” I told him, “but I’m making no promises, understand?”
“Absolutely.” Paul smiled and looked away, trying but failing not to seem like a child who’d just gotten his mother to agree to a theme park vacation. “I’ll have Scott here this evening after the guests are asleep.”
“That’s not too late,” I mused. “Most of them are in bed before nine. Hey, is this Scott guy cute?” I liked to tease Paul, and he should have known I had no interest in a dead guy, but he sputtered.
“Scott is a hundred and forty years old,” Paul said, and then he started to laugh. And eventually, he literally dissolved in laughter. Okay, so sometimes the teasing thing backfires on me.
When I turned toward the door, Linda Jane was standing there watching. “Was there just someone else in the room, or were you talking that way to yourself?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes,” I said.
 
 
After a quick sweep through the house to make sure everything was in order, I headed up to the attic.
I’d been giving some thought to converting the attic—essentially a large, empty space on the third floor—into a loft apartment to entice higher-end vacationers who might want more spacious, and by extension, more expensive, accommodations.
But before I could approach my contractor/mentor/ friend Tony Mandorisi with any plans about such a conversion, I’d have to measure—twice, to go along with the home improvement credo “measure twice, cut once”—and come up with some plans for Tony to look at and explain why they would never work.
It also occurred to me that if I were going to create living space in the attic, it would have to be for a somewhat younger group of tourists. I loved the seniors I had now, but my legs were already starting to bark as I reached the second floor, and I’m only in my thirties.
I pulled down the staircase to the attic, flipped on the light switch, put on my tool belt (complete with flashlight, just in case; you don’t want to be caught without one, if the power goes out or the bulb simply burns out), measuring tape, hammer and screwdriver. I had renovated most of the house when I bought it, drawing on my previous career working at a home improvement superstore and, more important, on advice from my dad, who had died a few years before. I could hear him now: “Never do anything the least bit like home repair without a hammer and a screwdriver handy, Alison. You might never use them, but if you want one, you don’t want to have to walk down three flights of stairs to get it.”
It was silent in the attic, which was quite large but completely unfinished. I had to be careful about where I stepped. No floor had ever been put down, and I was walking on bare beams, sixteen inches apart. If I stepped the wrong way, I could certainly put my foot through the second story ceiling. Probably into the room the Joneses were using. They hadn’t emerged all weekend; I was convinced I’d have to burn all the bedding and buy a new mattress once they left.
The single bulb hanging from the center crossbeam didn’t really do all that much in terms of illumination, so I got out my flashlight and turned it on. I made my way to the far corner facing west, and took the measuring tape from my tool belt.
And that’s when I heard a sound from somewhere in the attic.
I am not a fan of rodents, so the possibility of rats in the room with me was not terribly appealing. Then it occurred to me that I was in an attic, and the squatters in this area might very well be bats, and I started thinking not especially rationally. The only thing that works with bats is a tennis racket, and what do you know, I’d forgotten to bring mine.
Slowly, surely, I got control of my breathing and scanned the flashlight around the room to find the source of the noise, which had sounded just a little like a squeak, but might have been a sob. A wounded bat? Do bats cry? Is this a question anyone’s ever asked before?
Instead, my beam of light found Maxie, huddled in a corner, knees to her chest. She didn’t actually have moisture on her cheeks, as far as I could tell—I’m not sure she can—but her expression was one of desperate sadness. Until she saw me. Then it became one of extreme annoyance.
“What are you doing up here?” she demanded.
“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” I asked. I walked toward her, forgetting I was dragging the measuring tape until it snapped behind me and rolled itself back up into the metal house in which it coiled.
“All those people in the house,” she said. “This is the only place I can think straight.”
“Were you crying?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”
“I wasn’t
crying
,” she said. “I don’t
cry.

“My mistake.” If she was going to be like that, I could just go back to what I was doing. I got the tape measure out and started working from the far corner to the near.
“What are you doing?” Maxie asked. “Why do you need to know how big the attic is?”
Sometimes I asked Maxie’s advice—just to keep her happy, of course—on home design issues. She had aspired to be an interior designer before she was killed, and she second-guessed every single decision I made about what she insists on calling “our house.” Still, I figured that if something was bothering her, talking to her about design might pull her out of this mood. “I’m thinking of turning this into a loft space,” I said. “Maybe put in a little suite that people can rent if they’re especially interested in privacy, or want a larger area all to themselves.”
Maxie did not take the bait. In fact, her eyes widened and her clothes changed from orange overalls (what can I tell you?) to all black, and her hair sprung spikes. She looked like a punk bandleader from nineteen eighty-two.
“You can’t do that!” she hollered. “You can’t make a room up here!”
“Why not?”
“Because you can’t!” And she vanished directly into the ceiling. I got the impression she was going to sit on the roof, where she knew for a fact I could not create rental space.
It took me a few good minutes to overcome that image, but eventually I got back to making measurements and wrote my findings down on a pad I also carried in the tool belt. I looked for Maxie out the window when I was ready to climb back down, thinking perhaps I could find out what her problem was, but she was nowhere to be seen.
I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing up plans for an attic suite, seeing to the needs of my guests, picking up Melissa from school and looking for Maxie. But Maxie was not to be found.
My mother appeared (not like Paul or Maxie—she actually drove up and rang the doorbell) before dinner that evening and, despite my best efforts, stayed with us. One of the upsides of not serving food was that dinnertimes were quiet; the guests all went out to eat. One downside was that the seniors tended to eat at about five in the afternoon, so they were back before we were even sitting down to dinner in the kitchen.
Since I almost never cook anyway, my mother had taken Melissa out to get strombolis at a take-out place, and the three of us sat at the kitchen table eating off paper plates and drinking water from plastic bottles or, in my case, a beer.
Classy, no?
Maxie, seemingly unfazed by our encounter in the attic, showed up while we were eating and was hovering around the kitchen cabinets, which were mounted on the wall not nearly as high as she’d had them when she owned the house before me.
“You know, feeding a kid take-out food every night can’t be good for her,” she said. I rolled my eyes heavenward just a bit, but my mother, as usual, got there ahead of me.
“Don’t you start, Maxine,” she scolded. “Alison knows what’s best for Melissa.”
Melissa wedged her way in. “I’m here in the room, you know.”
“They know, Liss,” I told her. “This isn’t actually about you. It’s a turf war.”
BOOK: An Uninvited Ghost
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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