It was twenty minutes before the rain stopped again. It took eighteen and a half of them for Preston to erect the tent whilst Scott watched from the Range Rover.
As he waited for his stubborn subordinate to finish—smiling at the sight of him being pummelled by the heavy downpour—he thought about the pictures; the damage to the house. He relived the exchange in the dining room, visualising Mirah Sandford’s panic as he rose to leave. Kevin Sandford’s unwillingness to accept anything but his own conclusion stuck in his mind, too. He had a face that had screamed 'and I’d have gotten away with it too …'
Preston put the final peg in the ground with a small rubber mallet, tapping it deep into the mud through a loop attached to the canvas entryway. He stood wearily, peering in the vicinity of the passenger side of the windscreen. He squinted through the blinding light of the high beams and the what now felt like lead pellets driving down on him, and sarcastically motioned towards the doorway of the tent.
The headlights shut off as Scott grabbed the keys from the ignition and hopped down into the rain. He made a beeline for the tent as Preston unzipped the doorway, and passed straight through into the surprisingly comfortable living area that extended out in front of the trailer itself. The trailer was now a bedroom of sorts, with the two platforms that folded out from either side of it covered in thin foam mattresses and sleeping materials. It was all concealed by a canvas wall with a zip entrance in the centre.
Scott flicked on a windup lantern hooked onto a loop of string tied to the ceiling pole. It swayed back and forth, casting sinister moving shadows across the cream canvas walls as Scott settled into a folding camping chair beside an old plastic folding table. Preston stepped inside and pulled the zip closed, the canvas doorway rolling back into place.
Scott said, “Look, I’m not saying we’re dealing with anything paranormal. Those pictures were faked. Mrs Sandford hasn’t got a clue what’s going on and I don’t see Mr Sandford hoaxing his own wife, no matter how much I’m starting to think he could be involved. All I’m saying is they don’t appear to be in on it. You have to admit that much.”
Preston grabbed a towel and started to dry himself off. frantically rubbing his hair. The bobble popped, hitting the plastic ground sheet. “I don’t have to admit anything.” The sheet crinkled and crunched loudly as Preston wandered aimlessly around the space, shaking the wet chill from his legs.
“Jesus, Preston, it’s like talking to a wall. Except you can kick a wall.”
Preston lowered the towel, damp strands of his stringy black hair falling across his face. “Sorry to disappoint. But they’re lying to you. They faked the photographs themselves.”
Scott cocked his head. “Why?”
“Why does anyone do it? For the attention.”
“The Sandfords want the attention?” Scott’s eyebrows raised, entertained by Preston’s reasoning. The early stages of a grin started to form.
“How exciting could their lives possibly be? They’ve had a bunch of energy-sapping grandkids dumped on them, and they live in a dull-as-dishwater town; the only thing it has going for it is a series of depressing historical events.”
“And your point is?” Scott’s grin grew as Preston seriously explained.
“Their house being haunted could drum up some interest. Charge a dollar to stand on the front lawn, he could sell his special homegrown vegetables.”
Scott threw a finger at Preston as he stood excitedly, his jaw dropping, his eyes almost popping out of his head. “Yeah I can see it now!” He drew the outline of a large rectangular sign with his index fingers and thumbs, his eyes gazing upward; glazing over as he visualised the image intensely: “They could stick up a giant sign that reads: ‘Youngstown Haunting: Complimentary mange tout with every family ticket.’ They’d make a killing!”
Preston looked at Scott blankly. “I can’t tell if you’re joking.”
Scott smiled at his partner. Sometimes he hated the guy’s guts. Really hated them. But sometimes—occasionally—he was alright for a laugh. He bent down and unzipped the back canvas dividing wall. “You crack me up, Preston, you really do.” He leaned against the trailer; removing his shoes, before grabbing the lantern from the hanging string. “I’m gonna hit the hay, it’ll be a long day tomorrow.”
“A long day of disappointment if you think we’ll find anything,” said Preston as he hoisted himself up onto one of the padded platforms. Scott slid onto the other.
“I still think someone else is involved, and tomorrow night …” He clicked off the lantern, plunging the tent into complete darkness. “Maybe we’ll find out who.”