“Are you kidding me? Of course I want in!” Then, after a moment, “But what’s the catch?”
Lance Robinette leaned against the wall and looked out of his window, cradling his cell phone in one hand, waiting.
“No catch.” Pat Coughlin’s voice crackled with excitement. “It’s a real thing. Trust me, would I ever steer you wrong?”
As if that wasn’t the question of the year, Lance thought, but with amusement, not rancor. “How did you manage this?”
“Sheer dumb luck,” Pat said. “You know how I finally started that internet show on the paranormal last year, right?”
“Sure?” Lance tried to think if he’d had that nugget of information.
Pat laughed. “Well, we’ve done well. Like, really well. I’ve met a ton of people. And about six months ago, we had Knot Hutton on.”
“The actor? What does he have to do with the paranormal?”
“We had him on about Curse of the Campbells, because the show is so hideously bad about everything paranormal.”
Lance thought that was putting it mildly. Curse of the Campbells was a soap opera that combined the worst of bad mythology, terrible science, and writing that belonged in the National Enquirer. Knox Hutton played a character that spent most of his time running around in nothing but tight gym shorts, flexing his muscles, if he remembered correctly.
Pat was still talking, so he pulled his attention back to the call. “Anyways, after the show, he actually invited me to come join his ghost hunting team. Turns out that he does a lot of charity work for folks, helping them with ghostly problems and even relocating folks on his own dime if they need. It’s a great team to be a part of.”
“Sounds it,” Lance said. “But where do I come in?”
“Knox got a call from a couple in New Hampshire, asking for help. They inherited an old TB hospital from a relative they didn’t know they had, and they’re trying to fix it up as an inn, if they can.” Pat paused. “I think they actually want to make it one of those haunted destination trips, to be honest, but it sounds like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.”
“Okay,” Lance waited. There had to be more. When Pat didn’t continue, he said, “So what happened?”
“They got to the property and got the snot scared out of them,” Pat said. “To the point that they almost considered chucking the entire thing.”
“Why didn’t they?”
“Because the inheritance that came with the place had a single stipulation: they had to live on the property for three years before they could have the bulk of the money. And apparently that bulk of money has an awful lot of zeros attached to it.” Pat paused again. “So they reached out to Knox.”
“And he wants to help them.” Lance chewed thoughtfully on the inside of his cheek. “With us.”
“If you want in,” Pat said. “We’re stretched a bit thin on our end, and Knox wanted to see if you’d be interested in joining us. It’s a week-long investigation, and we’ll be living on site. There’s a caretaker’s house that has been renovated that we’d get.”
“And the clients?”
“They have to go to New York for a business trip, so they’ll be gone.”
Which was how Lance preferred it. “How many people did he want?”
“However many you want. Don’t suppose you know a local psychic?”
“I do, actually.” Lance felt Pat’s surprise through the phone. “I know, I know. I’ve had some interesting experiences lately. I can see if she’s interested. Other than that…” He trailed off. “I’m not sure. My team and I had a parting of ways.”
“Oh?” Pat sounded interested. “Do tell.”
“I’d rather not. But I can see if Amari is interested. When would you want to start?”
“Tomorrow, if we can.”
“Let me make some phone calls,” Lance said. “I’ll get back to you in about an hour.”
Once he’d hung up the phone, Lance turned back to his computer and the website he’d been poking before Pat’s call. The website wasn’t due for another month, but he’d been using it to put off making a decision about the other job offer he’d been given recently. The one that might or might not change the rest of his life. The one that he’d hoped for and now, wondered if it would be snatched away from him if he wanted it too much.
He sat down and minimized the website, bringing up the email that he’d read dozens of times since he’d received it. It wasn’t long. He’d memorized the words, but he read them again.
I’m sure you’re surprised to hear from me. I’d like to thank you for giving me the final impetus to start my own company, and I’d like to offer you a job. I’m setting up a team of investigators to help families with ghostly problems. I can’t think of someone else I’d like to have lead the investigations. Attached please find the contract offer. I look forward to hearing from you.
Signed, Sapphire Pendragon, Pendragon Associates”
Now he wondered what she would think about teaming up with Knox Hutton. It sounded like the actor had the same kind of set up Sapph was envisioning for her new company. And this would be a chance to see if he could work with her where she was the boss.
And it wouldn’t be as if he wouldn’t be in charge of the team. Sapph had made it plain when they’d first met that she’d prefer to remain in the background, letting him and Amari take care of the client business. She had enough of the spotlight, she’d said.
And if you’re the granddaughter to the largest shipping executive in modern history, I guess you do get sick of reporters, he thought now. This would be as good a start as any.
Lance picked up his phone again and dialed the number at the bottom of the email. When it was answered, he said, “I’m in. And I’ve got a case for us.”
Sapphire Pendragon looked around the small, tastefully if shabbily decorated living room, full of light and warm colors, and sighed happily. It was barely half the size of the office she’d left behind when she’d resigned from Pendragon Shipping, but it was hers. Not her grandfather’s. Not her mother’s.
Granted, it was only a temporary thing, unless she decided to buy the house she was renting, but it was the first place she’d lived in for any length of time that wasn’t being paid for by her grandfather. It was the start of a new life for her.
There were several worn armchairs grouped around the gas fireplace, cushions imprinted with the outlines of those who had curled up in them to study over the years. The walls held reproductions of various watercolor paintings of New England in the fall, the reds and golds of autumn leaves echoing the deep color of the wooden floors and the dark finish on the end tables. Over the fireplace was a fieldstone mantel, with a garland of silk leaves draped artistically.
She’d rented it from a little old lady named Hazel who had assured her that she didn’t mind dogs, and that she loved mature students, because they didn’t like to party much. The woman hadn’t recognized her, and for that, Sapph had adored her from the start. Nor had she been bothered by Scottie’s dark presence; in fact, Hazel had patted her arm and whispered, “What a fine young man! I hope you are both very happy together.”
“We are,” Sapph had assured her, and Scottie had smiled.
Not a lie, Sapph thought now, dropping down into what had become her favorite chair. Just not quite the way she thought. She looked out the window into the little backyard, fenced off from the neighbors by a tall wooden fence. There were two Adirondack chairs on the grass, and a little fire pit, containing the remains of the fire they’d built last night.
Nails scrabbled on the wooden floor, and her small long-haired Chihuahua Bear jumped into her lap. There were bits of grass stuck to his fur.
“Did you have fun in the backyard?” she asked him, picking the greenery from his dark fur. He barked happily and then settled down to nap.
“I swear he’s rolled over every square inch of lawn back there,” Scottie said. He stood in the doorway, silhouetted in the late afternoon sunlight.
“Well, he needs to make sure he knows all of it,” Sapph said, squinting up at her bodyguard.
The doorbell rang, interrupting whatever Scottie had been about to say. He went to answer the door, and she turned back to the window and her thoughts.
Scottie came back in, followed by Lance and Amari Nguyen. Sapph moved her chair away from the window, facing the others as they settled in other chairs. Her team. Her employees, but more importantly, her friends.
“I’m so glad you both decided to join,” she said. “And take a chance on this.”
“It wasn’t hard,” Amari admitted, sticking a wayward strand of her long dark hair back behind her ear. “I mean, come on. You want to pay me to ghost-hunt, rather than deal with random customers about their orders. I was just waiting to sign up.” She looked over at Lance, who was taking a sheaf of papers from the folder he’d brought in. “Although I admit, I’m surprised you signed up.”
He shrugged. “Like you said, I’m getting paid to ghost hunt. And since I don’t have any team affiliations any more, well, why not?”
Sapph admitted to herself that she’d been surprised too that he’d accepted her offer. Then again, given that his entire ghost-hunting team had walked out on him due to his handling of his group’s last case, maybe it wasn’t a surprise after all. “Tell us about this case,” she said.
He handed around the papers he’d pulled out of the folder. “It’s an abandoned TB hospital up in the White Mountains,” he said. “Privately owned and operated until the 1980s, when it was shut down due to alleged mismanagement.”
“I didn’t realize there were still TB hospitals in the eighties,” Scottie said, glancing at the paperwork.
“It was run as a nursing home at the end,” Lance said. “The allegations of mismanagement came from family members, and there was at least one rumored lawsuit that was settled out of court.”
“So who owns it now?” Sapph asked. “And why do they need us?”
“Well, that’s the interesting thing,” Lance said. “The hospital and grounds were put into a trust and now belong to Matthew and Rachel Broadwell. Matthew is the great grand-son of the last Dr. Broadwell. He’s not a doctor, but he and his wife are looking at turning it into an inn.”
“A haunted inn, apparently.” Amari had skimmed the paperwork with an experienced eye. “Way to capitalize on the current craze.”
“More haunted than they realized,” Lance said. “And there’s a rather odd codicil to the will that requires them to live on the site for 3 years, or they lose the entire fortune that comes to them. Apparently there’s a lot of money involved.”
“Which begs the question, why were they mistreating patients?” Sapph frowned. “That’s not the way to make money.”
“No,” Lance said. “I don’t have a lot of information on that, but Pat said there was an entire records room that had been left intact. We might find information there.” He referred to one of the pages in his hand. “From what he said, when the hospital closed, they just walked away. There’s a ton of stuff there still.”
“So where do we fit in?” Scottie asked, bringing the conversation back to the main topic.
“My old school buddy Pat is working for a private company that offers ghost-hunting help out on the West Coast, and they were contacted by the new owners. His teams are all currently busy, but his boss didn’t want to turn them away, so he called me.” Lance looked at Sapph. “The company’s run by Knox Hutton.”
“You don’t say.” Sapph grinned. “Mom introduced me to him once. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.” Then she turned serious. “No publicity, right?”
“None,” Lance said. “Knox doesn’t tend to publicize his paranormal work, probably for the same reasons you don’t. His husband is the face of the company, but it’s Knox’s money that runs it.”
“Makes sense,” Scottie said. “So he wants to hire us?”
“It’s more of an invitation to collaborate,” Lance said, looking not at Scottie, but at Sapph. “In truth, he doesn’t know I work for you. Pat was offering the chance to me and my team. If you don’t want to go, I won’t blame you.”
Sapph sat back, running the possibilities through her mind. “What’s the offer?” she said finally.
“One week in the place, full rein. The clients are in New York for a business trip, and we’d be staying on site in the caretaker’s house, which is fully renovated. Pat said he was coming, but I don’t know who else.” He paused, then added, “He asked me if I knew a psychic that might be willing to come along.”
Sapph looked over at Scottie, who shrugged. “It’s your call,” he said. “You’re the boss.”
She wrinkled her nose at him, then looked back down at the paperwork, weighing the pros and cons in her mind. “Well, it’s a good first case to see if we can really do this as a team. And it means that there won’t be anyone else to see us flub up.” Me, actually. I’m the one most likely to make a mess of it.
Hardly. Scottie’s mental voice was amused. Besides, I want to see if Lance runs and screams in an actual asylum.
You’ve been watching too many episodes of Ghost Adventures, Sapph said, trying to smother a giggle. Zak Bagins he is not.
“So, are we taking it?” Lance said impatiently. “Or is Scottie trying to talk you out of it in your head?” At her startled look, he shrugged. “I mean, he’s your bodyguard, and since you’re both telepathic, it’s easier to have the conversation where we can’t hear it. Has he convinced you?”
“He’s not trying to, actually,” Sapph said.
“Mostly because I know the futility of arguing with a Pendragon,” Scottie said. “They’re a stubborn lot.” He looked over at Lance. “Call your friend. When do they want us?”
“Tomorrow, if we can do it.” Lance was already pulling out his phone.
“Then I guess we’d better pack,” Sapph said, getting up.