“Do you believe in ghosts, Mr Tuff?”
People sitting in my client chairs have asked a number of strange questions, but this may have been the strangest. I thought for a moment. As a child, I had seen a ghost in the backyard late one night which had turned out to be a sheet on the laundry line; another time I had been terrified by a shrieking sound emitted by an unlatched screen door. “Do I believe in ghosts? Rationally no, emotionally maybe.” It was the non-answer a politician might give, but I am not yet ready to run for Parliament or mayor of Blandsville. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m trying to sell a house and I’m having trouble because it is supposed to be haunted: strange noises, lights going on and off – the usual phenomena. My bachelor uncle died childless and left it to me, but I already have a comfortable home. It needs some work, but the next-door neighbour, a handyman named Mark Holmes, is making repairs. He’s found nothing unusual.”
“Do you have any suspects – an enemy, perhaps?”
“No. Well, the neighbours on the other side have a mischievous teen-age son.”
“It sounds like an elaborate and pointless prank for a teen-ager.”
“I thought that maybe you could spend some time in the house, preferably at night, to see if you can discover the cause of these hauntings.”
The man, Brad Stoker, agreed to my usual conditions and gave me the address and a key to the house. We selected Saturday night for my vigil.
Of course, I was not afraid to spend a night alone in a supposedly haunted house, but it would be good to have a second person to verify my observations, if any. Hank was busy that night, but his crowbar or monkey wrench might not have much effect on the unsubstantiality of a ghost anyway. Then I thought of Amanda Friend, my first client. She had been very useful on a couple of previous cases, so I arranged to meet her for lunch at Hamburger Heaven. After some mental debate, I decided not to charge Mr. Stoker for the meal.
When we had our food, I asked: “Amanda, how would you like to spend the night with me?” Her jaw and her fork both dropped, the latter with a clatter.
“Oh, no, no… I didn’t mean…” I explained the case. “You’ve been extremely helpful in the past. You’re very observant. Besides, a long night alone would be very boring.” To my relief, she agreed.
Saturday night, as it was growing dark, I picked her up and we drove to Mr. Stoker’s second house, parking some distance away so as not to alert anyone – or any ghost – that we were in the house. We were both wearing heavy sweaters, jeans, and running shoes and we had a good supply of flashlights, candles, sandwiches, two thermoses of strong coffee, and Amanda’s cellphone.