Authors: Dara Joy
Hippolito. Large, ungainly Hippolito, whose weight far exceeded his IQ lifted a massive, Godzilla-like paw. He stretched it out in the air, toes extended, and struck a pose not unlike Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.
It had pathos.
It spoke of the human condition.
It beseeched but a crumb of the pistachio-truffle pate.
"That was the lamest evening I have ever spent," Tyber continued to grouse as they walked through the woods.
The moon was almost full, its beams glittering off the light dusting of snow. Zanita loved the crunchy sounds their boots made as they traversed the field along the stone wall and then doubed back along the edge of the pine forest.
Their breaths created moisture trails in the night air.
"It wasn't that bad, Tyber. In fact, I thought it was kind of interesting. And the food was superb."
"Mmmm." He squinted, looking at the house in the distance. They had circled around and were facing the back of the property.
"You have to admit that some of the things that have happened seem strange, and Todd doesn't strike me as the type to make up stories. Neither does Mark."
"Mmmm." He continued gazing at the house.
"You know, I think Calendula is fascinating. The stories she told gave me the heebie-jeebies. I just bet—" She slipped on an icy patch.
Without taking his eyes off the house, Tyber grabbed her arm to steady her. Then he took her hand in his as they continued walking along.
"Thanks. I just think what she does is so fascinating. Do you think well experience any of the events that Todd spoke of during our stay?"
"I'd bet on it." He scanned the back of the house.
"That's good, because—what are you looking at?"
"Someone's in our room," he murmured in a low voice.
"What?" Zanita's head whipped around to scan the back facade. It seemed so far away, she wondered how he could tell. "How do you know?"
"I just saw a flashlight beam glance off the top of the Palladian window. There." He stood behind her and, putting his hands on her shoulders, pointed her in the right direction.
"Do you think it's Todd, leaving a good night chocolate on our bed?"
Tyber glanced down at her and shook his head. "Nope."
"Why would someone be in our room?"
"Oh, I can think of several reasons."
Zanita turned halfway around and crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, name a few!"
"For one, I'd say someone was very interested in the type of equipment I brought."
"But you mentioned what you brought earlier in the parlor."
"Someone's not very trusting."
"But why? We're just here to help Todd investigate the ghost."
Zanita glanced back at the room. There was no flicker of light now. Whoever had been in there was gone. She bit her lip. "Are you sure it was a flashlight? Not a candle? Or something else?"
Tyber ran his index finger over her cool cheek. "It was a flashlight, baby. Whoever was in that room was of this realm. Sorry to disappoint you."
"I still don't see what possible interest our room could hold for anyone… and why not turn on the light? Everyone knew we were going out for a walk. You said it loudly enough after Hippolito let out that god-awful sound."
Tyber winced at the memory. Even Hambone had heard enough and exited the room with grand feline dignity. "Whoever came into the room did not want to risk anyone else seeing the light on under the door, and that includes us. Come to think of it, if we had come back sooner than expected, they must have known—Remind me to check the room for other exits when we get back, baby."
"Secret passages?" Zanita laughed. "Really, Tyber."
"I'm serious. Something is going on here, and it may not be…"
"What?" She held her breath and gazed up at him with the look that always turned him to mush. He didn't have the heart to dash her hopes for this ghost story, even though he had been skeptical from the start.
"It may not be all supernatural, baby."
Zanita s mouth opened, but nothing came out for a minute as she thought it over. "Why do you say that?"
"I don't know what's going on here—but it just feels odd—in a lot of ways. That's all I can tell you."
When Tyber got that feeling, he was usually right. He almost sounded like a psychic, but she knew from experience it was pure cognitive process. It was as if his subconscious brain had already seen something and he was starting to store the data for later computation.
"I know, I've felt it too, but thought it was simply because the place is purportedly haunted."
"Just in case, let's be careful here. Until I get more info, consider everyone a suspect, including that wit-challenged cat. I'll advise Blooey and…" He was about to say Hambone.
Zanita looked at him and arched her brow.
"Ah, I'll alert the crew to watch their backs and keep an eye on the suspects."
"Suspects? Suspects in what?"
"I don't know yet."
"Tyber, try to remember that this is supposed to be a simple ghost-hunting investigation. You really don't need to liven it up any more than that."
He took her hand again and resumed the walk. "If that's all it is, well and good. But if it isn't, then—"
"Someone is making it seem as if it is," Zanita finished for him.
"Yes. And that is what we really need to find out."
She bit her lip. "You act as if the ghost is not even in the picture! I don't think I like that. You promised me—"
"He's in the picture, all right—but only as a footnote, right now."
Zanita looked back at the house one more time and froze in her tracks. She yanked on Tyber's arm.
"What is it, baby?" Concerned, Tyber turned quickly toward her.
"You can see our room from out here!" she gasped. "You told me that no one could see us!"
Tyber's brow furrowed. "That's curious."
"I'm going to kill you! How could you let us— What's curious?"
"Someone moved the hammock on the veranda."
Zanita followed his gaze. "Where was it before?"
"Right in front of that juniper bush to the left of the window."
"Maybe the secret passageway is on the veranda," she quipped sarcastically.
Tyber didn't react to her jibe. He just looked pensive.
"Well, I think I've had enough walking for tonight. It's getting cold. Why don't we go in?"
"Uh-uh. We need to go around to the other side of the house." Before she could say anything, he took her arm and half dragged, half led her.
"I'm memorizing the outside layout, including any possible entrances or exits."
Zanita viewed the sexy genius askance and took a shivery little breath.
Tyberius Augustus Evans was her kind of man.
"Stop going through my underwear!"
Zanita was indignant.
Tyber's lips twitched. "I'm just making sure nothing was tampered with, baby. Besides, I thought you liked me going through your underwear."
"Will you be serious? You've checked this room thoroughly three times! Nothing has been changed, left, or altered. And just what do you think anyone would be doing in my underwear?"
Tyber chose not to answer that. He held up a skimpy pair of pink lace panties, letting them dangle from his forefinger. "They could have planted something in… when did you get these?" A dimple popped into his left cheek.
Zanita grabbed the bit of lacy frill from his hand and stuffed it back into the drawer. "Never mind that."
"Someone was in this room. They were here for a reason. I want to know why."
"Are you going to examine my nighties, too?" she flung at him, exasperated.
"What nighties would those be?" he drawled, giving her one of his special looks. The kind that had a tendency to turn a woman into Jell-O. The kind that said, "You don't ever wear nightgowns around me."
She flushed. "When are you going to check out the veranda?"
"Not now. It's too dark to see anything, and I don't want to put the light on out there; it will only draw attention to the fact that we're searching for something. I'll check tomorrow in the daylight. In the meantime, I'll place the hammock back in its original position. That way, if there is some hidden trapdoor out there, no one will be able to use it without us knowing about it." He walked over to the French doors and, after checking the locks, opened them and stepped out onto their private porch.
Zanita leaned against the door frame as Tyber dragged the hammock back in place. "What would be the purpose of having a trapdoor on a porch? I never heard of that. Do you think there is something stored under there? Perhaps a hidden room of some sort?"
"Could be. But my guess is that it's a passageway under the main part of the house. Probably built when the house was constructed—maybe as an emergency exit or for some other reason we aren't aware of yet. What do you know about the history of the house?"
"Not much. Just that it's been in Todd's family since it was built in 1835. Apparently it's been an inn for most of its history. The family has added a few rooms along the way and modernized both the plumbing and kitchen over the years, but basically the house has retained most of its original characteristics."
"Hmm." Tyber came back inside, securely locking the French doors behind him.
"Since this has been an inn all this time, and so many people have been in residence here throughout the years, theoretically our ghost could be just about anyone from the past with an axe to grind."
Tyber had different ideas. "Or anyone from the present with an axe to grind."
Zanita stuffed her hands in the pockets of her sweater. "Possibly. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. I don't think anyone was ever murdered here, but it's very possible a guest might have died while in residence… although Todd told me it had never been mentioned to him in any family lore. Depending on what happens tonight, Calendula said she may try channeling the spirit."
Tyber stared at his wife with a deadpan expression. "Channeling."
In that moment, it was painfully obvious to him how much he loved her. He could be at home right now, playing the fourth level of Nukestar on his computer. Then there was that awesome new hybrid action-adventure game, Quest for Killing, in which the player shot every single living and nonliving thing in existence in a manly rampage while solving Mensa puzzles between kill-fests. At the end of the game, the winner even got to play solitaire (since he would be the only one left alive).
Now, that was quality entertainment.
Instead he was about to watch a woman go into a self-induced wig-out so she could speak to a dead guest. True love, baby. True love.
Zanita lifted her chin in challenge. "Yes, channeling. And I don't want to hear one word."
"Mmmm-mmmm-mmmmm. I just go crazy when you get rough with me."
On this first night of observation, they had agreed to set up shop in the library. After the dinner hour, the ghost most often caused mischief in the library, focusing on Todd's extensive cookbook collection. Calendula and Mark hoped to capture the poltergeist activity that had been observed by Todd and some of his guests.
Tyber glanced at his watch. "We did say we would meet back in the library at
. It's show time, baby."
Mark had already set up most of his equipment in the library. Wires and cameras were strung everywhere across the floor, and they had to carefully pick their way through the complex network. It was a warm room, with deep tones of red on the walls and furnishings. A lovely wrought-iron circular staircase faced the oak bookshelves.
Gramercy Hubble was standing by a large marble fireplace, a supercilious smirk on his face as he watched the setup with obvious contempt. "The trappings of science without the substance," he muttered to Tyber.
"At least give them a chance, Hubble." Tyber spoke in a low voice to the psi-cog and nodded a greeting to Calendula.
Hubble snorted. "Do you really think we're going to experience anything here that can't be explained in rational terms?"
"I don't know what we're going to experience, and neither do you. We need to be unbiased to objectively observe the experiment. Then we'll take it from there… as scientists from a scientific prospective."
Hubble liked that. "Right," he agreed. "We remain logical men, true to our rationality."
That was not exactly what Tyber had said, but he rationally let it go. For Hubble, this ghostly horseman was never going to ride. There was no sense in beating a dead horse.
Zanita took a small brownie square from the refreshment cart. It was almost like a piece of fudge, it was so rich. "Mmmm. No wonder the ghost hangs out here, Todd. This is delicious!"