Authors: Dara Joy
A curved line of amusement grooved Tyber's cheek as he tried to imagine the terrifying image of a depressed pastry having a tenacious hold on the ceiling. He quickly sipped his drink to hide his expression.
"Maybe we have a similar phenomenon here with the waffles, Calendula?" Mark's face was alight with the possibility.
"Manifestation of a breakfast item is very rare." Calendula almost dismissed the connection, then reconsidered. "Although it might explain some of the other occurrences."
Tyber set his drink down on a side table. "Before you all run away with this scintillating supposition, might I dare to suggest that there has to be a rational explanation for all of this?"
"Bravo, Doctor! Bravo!"
Everyone turned in the direction of the basso profundo voice that boomed from the doorway like the blast of a foghorn.
Blooey took one look at the dark, burning eyes, the flyaway grayishblack hair, and the blacker than night suit, and immediately came to a conclusion.
"'Tis the blackguard hisself! Attack, I say! Attack!"
Hambone, as gullible as his sidekick in matters of superstition, immediately launched himself into kitty attack mode. He hurled through the air in a streaking blur of orange fur.
And hightailed it directly out the door.
"Come back here, ye yellow-bellied scalawag!" Blooey hightailed it after Hambone.
Zanita and Tyber looked at each other and shook their heads.
"Gramercy Hubble, I presume," Tyber calmly stated.
"At your service, Dr. Evans."
At that, the dark specter of Cognitive Reasoning floated into the room like a cloud of gloom.
"Nonsense! It's all nonsense!"
Gramercy Hubble had been repeating that phrase every five minutes since he entered the parlor. Unfortunately, he carried it right into the dining room with him and continued to dish it out at regular intervals as if it were part of the menu.
To say it caused some irritation with Calendula and Mark was a severe understatement. Every time the proclamation issued forth, Calendula pursed her lips and Mark looked ready to hurl a punch.
Zanita had to admit that the man was truly annoying. It was especially abrasive to her that he seemed to immediately align himself with Tyber. So far, her temporary husband had done nothing to dissuade Hubble of the notion that they were in agreement.
Her mouth firmed. Tyber had promised to be objective! Sure, the beignet/waffle stories had their holes in the batter, but that didn't mean they weren't dealing with the genuine article now. There was a lot of unexplained phenomena going on in this place. Besides, the house had a certain creepy feel to it that bespoke supernatural happenings.
She wondered why weird things always seemed to occur at places like this, then reasoned that the atmosphere just lent itself to it. Sort of a feng shui for ghosts.
As a matter of fact, she couldn't recall any instances of ghosts in sleek new high-rise penthouse apartments.
Zanita made a mental note to ask Calendula if she knew anything about feng shui and, if so, whether it had played a part in any of her past investigations. The energy of this house, along with the layout, was very convoluted. Lots of places for spirits to get "stuck."
Reluctantly, Zanita turned to Gramercy Hubble. "Mr. Hubble, how does your society explain the photograph that Mark took?"
Just before they had gone in to dinner, Mark had shown them a Kirlian photograph in which he had captured a spirit hovering in front of the fridge over a platter of
duckling. It was a rather large, fat blob of white smoke. In the center of the top portion of the picture was a bright red circle. Mark had explained that this was where the spirit's energy was strongest. Near its mouth.
Which made sense, since the haunt seemed to be so enamored of fine dining.
"Nonsense! It's all nonsense!"
Zanita gritted her teeth. Gramercy Hubble was going to make this a long weekend.
"The Society for Cognitive Reasoning has long known that Kirlian photography is a sham. It proves nothing and shows nothing." He swallowed a huge bite of Todd's Nine Pepper Pork and began coughing. Calendula smiled like a sorceress.
Patting him on the back, Tyber handed the man his glass of wine. When he had stopped coughing, he turned to Calendula and said, "Suppose you're going to say the ghost did that, Ms. Brite?"
"Wouldn't think of it, Mr. Hubble."
Her remark was an insult either way it was interpreted. Mentally, Zanita gave the lady medium the "okay" sign. At this point she didn't care if Gramercy Hubble made sense or not. Nobody ever likes a smartass.
"Hey, what's all this Mr. and Ms. stuff? C'mon, everybody, we can be more informal than that." Todd stepped in as host to lighten the atmosphere.
Mark put his fork down. "I don't understand how you can say that, Hubble, when it has been shown that we can illustrate electromagnetic radiation coming directly from a nebulous source."
Well, at least Mark's down to calling him Hubble, Zanita thought.
"Rubbish! What do you say, Dr. Evans? Or should I say Tyber?"
"Tyber is fine." He glanced over at Zanita. His love was staring at him with the tiny violet slits. In the interest of his own survival, he paused, twirling his glass thoughtfully, before he responded diplomatically, "Kirlian photography has its supporters and detractors. What I'm interested in is how you got that picture, Mark, and what it shows."
Mark seemed flustered. "Well, I was visiting Todd one night"—he hesitated briefly before continuing—"and I happened to go into the kitchen for a late-night snack. The refrigerator door was wide open, and there he was! I knew what had been happening here from Todd, so I always kept a camera close by. It was a good thing, too, because as soon as I snapped the picture, he vanished."
"How convenient," Hubble sneered.
"Are you saying I doctored that picture?" Mark was getting hot.
"It's not a difficult thing to do. In fact, photographs are the easiest medium to tamper with—which is why they are not allowed as evidence in courtrooms anymore. Unless, that is, they are Polaroids. We psi-cogs won't even look at regular photos."
Psi-cogs? Zanita blinked.
Mark started to rise out of his seat. "I never touched—"
"It's okay, Mark. I know you didn't," Todd said, trying to appease his friend.
"Just because a picture can be tampered with doesn't mean it was, Hubble." Now everyone was talking to the man using his surname.
"True, true. But in this case—"
"The picture was not tampered with," Tyber proclaimed, stunning them all. He threw the photo in question on the table. "I can discern no under or overexposure, no double exposure, no light leaks, no reflections, no refractions, and it appears his equipment was not faulty."
"No, he has the best equipment," Todd agreed.
Everyone paused for a moment. Todd, realizing what he had said, blushed. "I mean… never mind."
"So it is genuine!" Zanita brightened at the discovery.
"As far as I can tell, yes."
"Which means—" Zanita began.
"Only one thing," Tyber finished for her.
"The ghost is real," she whispered.
Tyber winced. "Well, the other only thing."
Zanita frowned, looking up at him. "Which is?"
"That the scene had been purposely staged for the photo to be taken."
Dead silence followed that remark.
Tyber had just introduced the possibility of foul play.
"Bravo, doctor! Bravo." Gramercy Hubble gave them all a look of supreme righteousness, making him appear rather like a grand inquisitor of medieval times who has just proven his point over his tortured victim.
Zanita kicked her loving husband under the table.
"What did I do, baby?" he mouthed.
"Absolutely nothing." She turned away from him.
Of all the mysteries in the universe, Tyber surmised that women had to be the most complex.
"There are many ways of seeing ghosts." They had all retired once again to the parlor, replete from Todd's fabulous meal. Apparently the ghost wasn't partial to Nine Pepper Pork. As they left the dining room, Tyber quipped that was a shame since they could surely snag the spook by following the trail of his sneezes.
Zanita winced. What was she going to do with the rogue? Ghost investigations required a modicum of seriousness. She turned to the Captain, set her sights, and hurled a fulminating glare his way.
The shot didn't even bounce off the target.
He simply smiled slowly at her. The Captain always knew exactly what she was thinking! It was uncanny. Tyber's unique color contrast of chestnut/gold hair and light blue eyes rimmed with jet lashes never failed to take her breath away. He is a sexy devil.
The sensual smile broadened.
Zanita's lips parted in surprise. She bit her lip and peeked at him again.
A dimple curved his cheek! Twinkling blue eyes observed from beneath lowered lids; ice blue glittering under long black lashes. She covertly stuck her tongue out at him.
"It's not uncanny, baby," he bent down to whisper in her ear. "I just know you."
Zanita's expression squinched up.
Tyber chuckled. "You almost look like Hambone when you do that."
Zanita ignored his baiting. Besides being a genius and a rogue, the man was also a premier baiter. And he took so much pleasure in baiting her that she decided she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of it!
A low laugh teased her ear.
She sighed dramatically and brought her attention back to Calendula and Mark.
Turning in her chair, Calendula continued to respond to the question Zanita had asked regarding the methods of recording and sighting spirits.
"Nonsense. All of it nonsense," Hubble barked on cue.
"Mr. Hubble, please." Zanita gave him an annoyed look. The older man flushed and looked away.
"Please go on, Calendula."
Calendula smiled at her. "Despite what our esteemed 'psi-cog believes"—she gestured in Hubble's direction—"we are very exacting in our research. For instance, one time Mark and I were on an investigation in
—near the Cotswolds. There are lots of ghosts in
, you know. I think they must prefer the damp climate there… but anyway, a report came into our center about a couple who had been driving down the road that night past this house where all sorts of strange happenings had been reported in the past. Footsteps in the dark, blinking lights—that sort of thing. They claimed they had stopped the car near the side of the house. Apparently they were in an amorous mood and, well, you can imagine."
Tyber blinked twice at Zanita, who fidgeted in her seat.
"Since the inside of the mini was getting a bit, ah, steamy, they rolled down the windows. That's when they heard the footsteps. They quickly sat up but could see no one—even though the steps seemed to be all around the automobile. Of course, the house had a history of such things, which added to their terror and suggestibility. They quickly rolled up the windows and immediately left the place."
"Ghostus interruptus?" A-not-so-innocent dimple appeared in Tyber's cheek.
Everyone chuckled at that one—even Calendula.
"When Mark and I went back to investigate, we did not discover the spirit we had hoped for. You see, if they had only driven back and investigated a little further, they would have realized that a group of the neighbor's pigs had gotten loose. The footsteps they heard were nothing more than some hogs rooting around behind the hedge."
Tyber's masculine lips parted in feigned astonishment. "Zanita, they must be from the English branch of the Hogs."
She threw him a dirty look. Tyber never overlooked an opportunity to tease her about the Hogs.
"The hogs?" Mark asked her, puzzled.
"Never mind," she gritted out, making a mental note to make Tyber pay for that one later.
"And just how do you conduct these so-called scientific investigations?" Hubble sneered. "What clinical criteria do you use?"
"Mark and I have brought with us most of the standard equipment used in these investigations: lights, mics, digital voice-activated audio recorders, high eight cameras, TV cameras, magnometers, thermal graph cameras, and other similar tools of the trade."
Calundula turned to address Todd and Zanita. "The problem with relying on equipment is that we have found that at locations with real activity, equipment often mysteriously fails at key times. Many parapsychologists have reported this perplexing phenomenon."
"What kind of failures are we talking about?" Tyber asked.
"New or recharged batteries suddenly go dead, or the equipment inexplicably stops working. We have no explanation except to note that it is a very common occurrence on these expeditions."
"And a very convenient one, at that," Hubble jeered.