The old Ferguson place had seen better days. Two decades of abandonment had given the old mansion several broken windows and an aura of shabbiness. I inched up the walk, noting how perfectly this grey day fit the mood of the place.
“Sometime today, Miss O’Malley.”
I shot Doc Sutter a dirty look, but walked faster. He was struggling because of the brace on his leg; I was just scared. I’d padded my resume and my bra to get the job, and apparently it had worked because they hired me on the spot. Now here I was on the eve of St. Valentine with an egghead who thought he could recruit ghosts to fight the Japs. But it beat working in a factory and it paid better than dime a dance. I deliberately set a pace he’d have trouble matching with the brace on his leg. He was huffing and puffing when he caught up to me on the front porch.
“Any… observations, Miss… O’Malley?”
“You’re out of shape.”
“I meant the house.”
“It was something in its day, but today isn’t that day.”
There was a tremendous clatter from beyond the door, followed by a heavy thump. Somebody was in there! Doc lurched past me and put his shoulder to the door. The old wood splintered and it fell open.
The room was empty, the dust disturbed only by our barging in.
The entry hall was two storeys high with a huge dust-caked chandelier dangling overhead. Two turn-of-the-century settees stood, one beside each of the curving staircases that flanked the room and met on the second level. It would have been elegant if not for the thick dust coating everything.
“Last time I trust an eighty-year old ladder.”
The voice came from the center of the room, a space conspicuously uninhabited.
“Who said that?”
If I sounded confused it’s because I was. I hadn’t expected to find anything here. Doc on the other hand was taking all manner of equipment from his bag and motioning for me to stall the spook.
“I’m Patrick Shawnessy, caretaker. Which ghost are you?”
“I’m not a ghost, I’m alive. This is 1942, spook.”
“1942? It’s 2015! I’m getting things ready for the mayor’s Christmas party.”
“It’s November Thirteenth.” There was a sigh. “This craziness isn’t supposed to start until nightfall. It always starts at nightfall. Look, every Friday the Thirteenth this house gets weird; ghosts of its former occupants come out and make trouble. But it always happens at night, not in the middle of the… whoa!”
I stepped back. A purplish glow filled the room and suddenly I could see him!
He was just under six feet, a bit lanky with a shock of light-coloured hair and dark eyes. He wore rumpled coveralls and dirty boots, and he was staring past me.
I turned to see Doc Sutter holding a revolver levelled at the ghost.
“All right, buddy, where is Doctor Ferguson’s time machine?”
“Doctor Ferguson left detailed notes, enough that we could work out where the next rip would open. Here, now, into the twenty-first century.”
“There’s no time machine here! Even if there was, how could it still be working after three hundred years?”
“We’re here, aren’t we? Now tell me where the machine is.”
“There is no bleedin’ time machine! The Government went over this place with a fine-toothed comb in the 50’s because some idiot convinced himself there was a time machine here. They found nada!”
“Then you will instead hand over any technology that might be used to help the war effort.”
“That’s what this is about? News flash, Indy, we win the war anyway. Even if I can there’s no way I’m giving you anything you can use to…”
Doc fired. The caretaker jerked backwards and a dark stain appeared on his right shoulder.
I stepped toward the caretaker and looked at Doc.
“What’s the idea of shooting him, Doc?”
“I only winged him. Now, since you’re there, search him Miss O’Malley.”
Doc had obviously popped a few rivets, but he had the gun, so I patted the caretaker down as instructed. The only thing he had that was out of the ordinary was a plastic box about the size of a cigarette case.
When I took the case out of his hip pocket it buzzed and started making noise. I almost dropped the thing, but he caught it from my hand and held it up to his ear like a hearing aid.
“Hello?... Nan? What is it? I really can’t… Who?... But… But… Yes, Nan.” He looked at me. “Excuse me, are you Bridget O’Malley?”
“It’s for you.”
He handed me the case, which turned out to be a portable telephone, and showed me how to hold it to my ear and talk to it. The voice on the other end was crystal clear and sounded a lot like my grandmother.
“Hello Bridget, it’s Karen. Your little sister Karen. I’m ninety-two years old.”
“But that’s impossible!”
“Shut up and listen, dear. Doctor Sutter is a Nazi agent. You’re going to distract him while my great-grandson knocks over his magic lantern and puts everyone back where they should be. Tomorrow you’re going to go and report Sutter to the G-Men. Make sure you talk to Agent Flannigan; he’s a peach and you’re going to end up marrying him. Now get that dumb look off your face and do it, girl.”
“Karen!” But the click I heard meant the same thing it would on a real phone.
I turned toward Doc. This thing was the best distraction I’d ever seen.
“Doc, this is some kind of telephone. Here, take a look.”
He held out his hand as I approached him with it; most importantly, he wasn’t looking at Patrick. He didn’t see the wrench until it flew into one of the machines he’d set up and smashed it.
The purple light vanished, and the caretaker with it. Doc was upset, but at least we had the phone. The hard part came next: not letting on until I had a chance to get to the local FBI office.