Chapter 3After dinner, Drew flies alongside the bike I’m riding. “What do you think is in the letter?” he asks, his brow creased with concern.
“Don’t know,” I say, though I can almost smell the torrential rain coming our way.
“Your mom looked really upset,” Drew adds.
My mom doesn’t need any more stress with the sudden death of her sister. I can’t imagine what the letter contains.
“I could take a peek for you.”
“That’s okay.” I’ll do it later. No sense both of us getting into trouble.
I pedal nonstop uphill, taking in gulps of air because the computer and recorders weigh down my backpack.
Drew pushes the bike forward from behind. He’s a big help—sometimes.
We approach the white clapboard house with black shuttered windows overlooking Plymouth Harbor and Long Beach. Sea mist snakes around the house, and the ocean batters the shoreline below. The bog’s rotting odor and salty dampness linger in the air. It reminds me of the bayou except colder.
A van that has had a bite taken out of its rear quarter panel pulls up to the curb in front of my first assignment. A black kid with Drew Carey glasses and a short fro steps from the van. His pants are so baggy his boxers show.
What the heck is he doing here?
He goes around back and opens the van. It has been gutted of its rear seats and is chock-full of ghost hunting equipment including cables and video. I snap my tongue back into my mouth before drool dribbles out.
I march up to him. “Who are you?”
He turns toward me while yanking out gear. “Reese Denton.” He eyes my Gothic attire with obvious disapproval. His gaze lingers on my top hat. “You’re that new girl.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” Reese continues hauling out his equipment. He sets a digital thermometer off to the side.
When he turns his back, Drew palms the thermometer and sets it on the opposite side of the van. Reese sneezes, and his eyes water.
“Gesundheit.” I press my knuckles against my hips. “Now hold on. This is my gig.”
“No, it’s not,” Reese says adamantly. Standing up straight, he towers over my meager five-two. I’ve always dreamed of being tall, but since it’s not in the genes, I’m guessing this is as good as it gets.
Drew steps between us. “Why don’t you go home and read your physics book, snot boy.”
It’s actually good that Reese can’t hear Drew’s sophomoric comments.
“Achoo.” Reese digs in his pocket for Kleenex.
“Ew,” Drew says, backing away from Reese.
“Cover your mouth,” I say as I wipe spray from my face. Unfortunately, Drew doesn’t block the incoming.
“Sorry. The family called me two days ago to set this up.”
“I spoke with Mrs. Caldwell tonight and she told me to come.”
“No way.” Reese stops what he’s doing. He searches a moment for the thermometer Drew moved.
Drew snickers. At least he’s enjoying himself.
“What the?” Reese spins back around, clearly dumbfounded. “Look, we can split the fifty bucks.”
“Is that all?”
“How much do you get?”
“Normally five hundred, but I gave her a discount. I only asked for two hundred until I get my rep here going.”
Reese’s mouth drops open. “Five hundred up front?”
“No. I only get paid if I get rid of their ghost or debunk their claim. If it’s debunked, I only charge fifty for my time.”
“I get mine up front.”
Somehow I don’t believe him. “Always?”
Reese screws up his lip and leans against the van. “This is my first time, but I’ve been studying how to hunt ghosts.”
“Great. An amateur.”
Drew sits on the rear bumper of the van, swinging his legs while whistling. He gestures for us to get going. Reese walks through Drew’s swinging legs and sneezes three more times.
That’s weird. Why does he keep blowing snot when Drew gets close to him?
Drew wipes himself off. “Disgusting.”
Reese slings a backpack over one shoulder. “Where’s your gear?”
“I had to sell most of it.” I glance into his van. “Do you have an EMF detector?” It’s an instrument I no longer own and sorely need. Spirits are energy and that energy manipulates the earth’s electromagnetic field, which can be measured.
“I’ve got one,” Reese says.
“Look. I’ve only got a voice recorder and video. You, on the other hand, have the goods, so I’ll split my fee, which is still more than what you would get alone unless we debunk the case.”
“I don’t know.” Reese glances at my outfit. “The Punk has to go. New Englanders are suspicious of getting ripped off, especially combined with me being black.”
“It’s Goth, not punk.” I could go into the difference, which is significant, but I don’t have the time. He does have a point about being black. I haven’t seen many African Americans in Plymouth. Unlike New Orleans, Plymouth is a white-bread community.
Drew heads for the house. “Lose the loser.”
I give Reese the once over. “Your underwear showing sure isn’t going to impress them.”
Reese yanks up his pants. “Sorry.”
I snicker at the cap he puts on backward. “Very homey.”
He takes it off, then tosses the cap into the van.
“Are you in?” Otherwise, Drew and I will leave him at the curb. Okay, Drew already has. He’s at the front door waiting for me.
“I guess.” Reese wipes perspiration beading on his forehead. “To tell you the truth, I was a little nervous doing this on my own.”
“Here’s the deal. We’ll charge my fee, since Mrs. Caldwell already agreed to that. We’ll leave the gear here until we assess the situation.”
“Are you sure? At least the equipment will make us look like we know what we’re doing.”
“Speak for yourself. I know what I’m doing.” I dump my backpack into the back of his van then pull out my ledger. “Let’s go.”
When a man in his late thirties opens the door, I say, “Mr. Caldwell. I’m Jolie Livingston. This is my associate Reese Denton.”
Reese extends his hand.
Mr. Caldwell ignores it, lowering his craggy brow to study us for a half-second. His mouth drops open. From his expression, he’s about to have a coronary. “Ruth, come here.”
A woman, about the same age with meaty hips and thighs and no neck, appears at the screen door.
She wipes her hands on a dishtowel while frowning at us.
In a not-so-low voice, Mr. Caldwell says to his wife, “Who did you call? Carnies?”
She sighs. “I’m sorry, but we were expecting someone more…”
When Drew walks through them, the couple shudders briefly. He floats upstairs.
Mrs. Caldwell eyes my nose ring, so I pull it off. “It’s just a fashion statement.” In reality, my mom wouldn’t let me pierce anything besides my ears.
“Mr. Caldwell, I know what you’re thinking. How can a couple of kids solve your problems?” The couple has bags under their eyes with large dark circles. Whatever is going on in this house keeps them both up at night. “If you give us a chance, I can help clear this up and you’ll be sleeping easy at night.” A photo of two girls hangs on the wall behind them. “Has the entity been bothering your kids?”
Tears trickle down the woman’s face. “Yes.”
“We don’t need your help.” Mr. Caldwell starts to close the door, but his wife stops him.
She studies me more closely this time. “Are you Rebecca Livingston’s daughter?”
Mom and I look a lot alike except she dresses like a curmudgeon and is an older model. “Why, yes. You’ve heard of her?”
“She read my palm today. She told me something dark was troubling me.”
“Don’t you see? They’re in cahoots.” Mr. Caldwell tugs his wife away from the door, so he can shut it.
“Rebecca told me other things. Things she couldn’t possibly know.” Mrs. Caldwell opens the door.
Thank you, Mom. Mr. Caldwell throws his hands up in the air and stomps down the hall. I scan the house for Drew, but he’s nowhere in sight. This makes me nervous because Drew likes to have his fun. Reese closes the door behind us and glances around, appearing a little spooked even though every light in the house is on. I was like that once—when I was five.
We follow Mrs. Caldwell in the same direction her husband went. Reese turns around and walks backward as if someone’s following us.
Mrs. Caldwell leads us into the kitchen. “Let’s discuss what’s happened to you so far, then I’ll go over the contract.” I pull the standard one out.
“Contract?” Mr. Caldwell asks, not hiding his hostility.
“It’s just a formality.” I take Mrs. Caldwell’s hands. “Tell me what experiences you’ve had.”
Her hands are shaking. “We hear strange noises.”
“What do they sound like?”
“At first footsteps then shuffling. Now it’s banging in the walls.”
“Sometimes that’s air in the pipes,” I say with reassurance.
“We had a plumber out,” she says. “He couldn’t find anything.”
“We’ve started hearing voices.”
“Male? Female?” I ask. Sometimes residuals linger in a home. It’s similar to one of those old-time record players that hits a bad spot and repeats the same melody over and over.
“I’m not sure.” Mrs. Caldwell looks at me with despair. “The noises come from the children’s rooms. It sounds like someone’s looking for something in Ellie’s room. It’s been keeping our girls up at night. They’re afraid to sleep alone.”
It’s not good when a ghost is frightening kids. This makes the case more urgent.
Mrs. Caldwell wipes away more tears. “I told my husband we should move. He says we can’t. We’d lose money on the house, but we can’t go on like this anymore.”
“Where are the girls?”
“Upstairs.” Worry wrinkles her brow.
“Let’s sit down, so we can go over the contract,” I say.
She nods, sitting at the kitchen table. Mr. Caldwell leans against the counter with his arms folded across his chest.
I sit down, too, while the men, or rather boys, stand. I hand her my standard contract. “This is really straightforward, but I need both of you to look it over.”
“Ruth, I’m not signing anything.”
I’m used to this, so I continue, ignoring Mr. Caldwell. “We first look for obvious reasons for the disturbances to explain what you’ve been experiencing. Regardless of what we find, we set up our equipment, record, and take EMF readings. If we don’t come up with any paranormal explanations, then you owe only fifty dollars for our findings. If we have to do a removal, then it’s two hundred once we put the spirit to rest.”
Mr. Caldwell glares at me. “For Pete’s sake, Ruth. This is nonsense.”
Now the really hard part. “We need you to leave the house for at least a few hours while we—”
Mr. Caldwell slams his fist on the table. “No way are we going to leave our home to complete strangers. They’re setting us up to rob us.”
“Why do we need to leave?” she asks.
“We don’t want any outside influences during our investigation.” Especially if we debunk their claim of a haunting. I pull out my driver’s license and nod to Reese to do the same. “Here are our licenses. When you return, you can give them back.”
I stand and gaze up at Mr. Caldwell. “I understand your reluctance, but we both know you have a problem. We’re here to help.”
Mrs. Caldwell looks expectantly at her husband. “I can’t go on like this…the girls.”
“Absolutely not. No way am I leaving my house to these…these hoodlums.”
Drew walks into the kitchen. He points upstairs while studying the couple. Shaking his head, he takes a plate off the counter and pitches it across the room. The plate shatters against the far wall. Having a dead guy as your best friend sometimes comes in handy.
Mrs. Caldwell gasps. Her husband jumps. Reese darts for the front door, but I grab his elbow to hold him in place.
“The sooner we get started, the sooner we can resolve your problem,” I say.
“We can go to our neighbor’s house,” Mrs. Caldwell says. “Here’s the number. How long?”
“Two to four hours.”
She signs the contract, but Mr. Caldwell picks it up and starts reading.
The missus shoves the pen into his hand. “Just sign it so they can get to work.”
Mr. Caldwell scowls while scrawling his name. He then skulks to the front of the house. “Girls, come down,” he yells.
An ear-splitting scream rips through the house.
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Genre - YA Paranormal Mystery, Romance
Rating – PG-13
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