We explored the house, not turning on the lights, although Mr. Stoker had assured me that the electricity and water were working. The dancing of flashlight beams, seen from outside would probably have been just as suspicious. Everything seemed to be in order. We left the doors open to increase our visibility. I carried Hank's crowbar because its weight in my hand made me feel less nervous.
We sat in dusty recliners in the living room. The house was pitch dark and silent. Time passed slowly and uneventfully until midnight when we heard a creaking sound.
"That door needs oiling," said Amanda, practically.
"Which door was it?"
"I don't know."
More time passed. More silence. Then a low chuckling broke out with a minatory quality that would have been hair-raising except that Amanda has shoulder-length flowing locks and my fringe of gray hair is too sparse to do anything. The laughter grew to a fiendish shriek, then stopped.
"Did you notice the strange quality of that laugh?" asked Amanda. "Sort of scratchy, like a record."
"Could you tell where it came from?"
"No. Inside the house. Maybe there are mice in the partition."
"Mice with a sense of humour" I suggested.
We decided to explore again. "But let's stay together. That's the mistake people make in horror movies: they separate," I said. With our flashlights and Hank's crowbar, we checked the house again. Nothing.
An hour later, music began, eerie organ music. "Now we have musical mice," joked Amanda. The sound seemed to come from the wall of the room we were in. By the time it stopped, we had traced the sound to an electrical outlet.
Later, an ominous voice threatened: "Leave this house immediately."
"Inhospitable mice," I said.
Again the sound seemed to come from behind a wall plug.
"I have an idea: let's go to the basement," I said.
"Is that wise? In horror movies, that's always the most dangerous place."
But we descended the stairs, I very carefully because I read somewhere that the greatest danger to older people is falls.
"Here it is." It was the fuse box with the master switch. At that moment, conveniently, the fiendish laughter began again. I pulled the switch and the laughter died instantly.
"Now maybe the brat next door can get some sleep, if he's the culprit. He'll be too tired to go to school in the morning, but maybe his teachers would like that. They probably dote on his very absence."
"But why would he go to so much trouble?" asked Amanda.
"Who else...?" It hit both of us at the same time: Mark Holmes! He had means, opportunity, but what was his motive?
It was not yet dawn, but it was tempting to awaken Holmes and question him. Instead, however, we went to an all-night coffee shop – yes, Blandsville has one – for breakfast. At eight o'clock, I called my client and told him of our suspicions. At nine o'clock we were all pounding on Holmes's door.
Confronted with the evidence, he confessed. "But why, Mark, why?"
"I thought if you couldn't sell the house, I could buy it cheaply and then turn it over for a good profit. I'd already made a lot of the necessary repairs. Besides, you inherited the place, so anything you get for it is pure profit."
"That's true, but what about ethics, morality?"
"This is the twenty-first century. Ethics and morality don't pay the bills."
I drove Amanda home and thanked her for her help. We were both exhausted from a nervous, sleepless night.
"I think we should go to bed, Rock."
By the dawn's early light, I thought I saw her blush. It was good to know that I am not the only one who makes gaffes.