Jessie stood on the threshold of the old mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast that her Aunt Katie owned and tried to remember why she’d accepted the crazy invitation to look after the place for a month. Thunder rumbled in the distance as a flash of lightning briefly lit the veranda, illuminating the new historical marker beside the front door that read: Theodore Bancroft Mansion, 1762.
“What was I thinking?” Jessie bemoaned over her decision to come here as another ominous clash made the floorboards tremble. Fishing the keys from her pocket, she balanced the bags she carried in her arms, turned the key in the rusted lock, and pushed the door open with her hip.
The lamp in the living room had been left on, casting a dim light across the polished wood floor and ornate staircase that wound its way up to the second story. Jessie dropped the bags she carried in the foyer, closed the front door with her foot, and crossed to the living room, where she tiredly slumped into the old wingback chair next to the fireplace.
The lamp on the desk flickered as yet another clap of thunder shook the rafters. “Great,” she sighed. It wasn’t bad enough that she was cold, damp . . . and hungry, she added to her growing list of complaints, but to top it off, she was now likely to lose power.
She nestled even further into the chair, drawing up a warm throw that her aunt kept there, as a chill ran down her spine. “Drafty old house.” She shivered, snuggling further into the blanket. It was just her luck that the convertible top of the Fiat she’d been granted in the divorce was as dysfunctional as its previous owner had been.
This day was just the pinnacle of a bad week . . . month . . . okay, year! She glanced out the window at the storm, wondering what had happened to her life. . . . Really, when had it been flushed down the proverbial toilet?
The family business she’d worked so hard for, years of college down the tube, along with her marriage, her dog . . . her dreams. Too bad it was his family business that she’d salvaged instead of herself. She looked away from the window, rubbing her temples once again.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” A deep masculine voice startled her.
Jessie’s head shot up. She was supposed to be alone. “Qu’est-ce, what?” She leaned forward, looking around the room for the man who’d spoken. “What is this?”
“Ah, so you do hear me,” the voice replied in a thick French accent. “C’est bien.”
Her Aunt Katie always was a sucker for an accent, and it would be just like her to send a man over to check on her. Like that would fix everything . . . a man bandage for the gaping hole in her chest where her heart once had been.
“Imagine my surprise at finding such a tasty morsel sitting right here on my arrival.” His voice practically oozed sexuality.
Tasty morsel? You’ve got to be kidding me! That was all she needed, Aunt Katie’s version of sexy trying to hit on her with his over-bloated, egotistical, outdated come-ons. “Where are you?” Her tone was a little sharp as she craned her neck toward the sound of him. It must be the gardener who had taken up residence in the old coach house.
“Ah, so you do want to see me?” The disembodied voice continued with more than just a hint of satisfaction.
The voice now seemed to be coming from the other side of the room. She turned her head, her eyes searching the corner next to the big curio, her mind running over all the things her aunt had mentioned . . . where the cat food was, when to water the lawn, how to jiggle the handle of the upstairs potty, what day the trash went out, the day she’d be returning from her tour of Italy, but nothing about any boarders, renters, or vagabonds of any kind.
Point in fact, Jessie distinctly remembered her aunt telling her that the place would be empty while she was gone. She could still hear her voice over the phone, “The quiet will be good for you, dear. It will give you the time you need to pick up the pieces of your life . . . with nothing to do or worry about. “Jessie’s eyes briefly went to the sign in the window which read: Closed for the Season. She cleared her throat. “Who are you?”
“Do you really want to know, ma chérie?” the voice whispered next to her ear, sending shivers down to her toes.
“Ahh,” Jessie gasped, slapping at the sensation but hit the side of her head instead. This man had gone too far! She jumped up and spun around. Her eyes narrowed on the spot behind the chair. “What’s going on?” she demanded.
There was no reply.
Jessie picked up the figurine on the table next to the chair and held it up, ready to clobber the man who belonged to the voice. The only problem was . . . there was no one there.
“Is this some kind of joke?” She spun around, scanning the room. “Am I being punked?” The silence was now deafening. She crossed to the archway, which led back into the foyer, and flipped on the light. The antique chandelier that rose above the stairway to the second floor came to life, sending long shadows in every direction. Feeling along the wall, she found another switch. This time the lights outside filtered in through the etched glass panels on either side of the front door.
“It’s the next one,” the voice at her side added helpfully as she flicked it. The living room lights came on as she jumped back with the figurine held high in order to thwack the forward intruder. She stared at the empty space where the voice had come from.
Panicked, Jessie looked from her left to her right, her eyes growing larger as she realized there was no one home . . . in more ways than one. Her hand covered her mouth in quiet desperation. Great, just great! She was hearing things. She’d finally cracked, bought a ticket to the funny farm . . . as in send in the men in white to fit her for her own tight jacket. “Why is this happening to me?” she mumbled to herself.
“What is happening?” the voice asked curiously.
“Ahh!” She turned away, crossed to the hall, and flipped on the row of lights there. As she turned back, her eyes frantically searched from one end of the house to the other.
“If you told me what you were looking for, perhaps I could offer my assistance,” the voice offered gallantly.
“Oh geez,” she whispered, turning away from it, going down the hall toward the kitchen in the back of the house as fast as she could. “Don’t panic, don’t panic,” she whispered repeatedly under her breath as she ran. She didn’t even bother with the lights as she headed straight for the knife drawer. Rummaging through the selection, she passed up the large butcher knife. She’d probably just hurt herself with that one. Opting for a nice sharp paring knife instead, she set the figurine down.
“That’s your remedy for this mad rush of not panicking . . . un petit blade?” His words dripped with sarcasm.
Great! Why, if she had to hear a voice, did it have to be that of an insufferable jerk? Why couldn’t it be the voice of a compassionate fairy godmother or something?
“Et bien?” the voice asked as she turned to face it.
Her mouth fell open in surprise at the man who stood silhouetted in the light from the hallway. A flash of lightning lit up the kitchen with a thunderous noise that reverberated through the house, rattling the windows.
“That’s what I thought you’d say.” He gifted her with a dazzling smile. The smugness of his voice combined with his stance was enough to make her roll her eyes. She would have if she could have stopped staring.
Instead, her mouth remained open as she blinked at the man who stood before her. Holy cow! Aunt Katie’s version of sexy had improved. He was dressed like a buccaneer straight out of the eighteenth century. His black hair and bright green eyes made for an alarming combination. Well, that and the fact that he was slightly see-through . . . and okay, maybe that was the most alarming part.
The edge of his outline continued to glow, even when he stepped away from the backlit hallway into the kitchen. It didn’t help that he made her ex-husband look like yesterday’s leftovers. . . . It doesn’t hurt either, and the accent was, well, perhaps she had more in common with her aunt than she knew.
At least if she were to go crazy she’d go out in style, and when they put her in the padded cell, she’d have something to look at, right? She closed her mouth and swallowed, backing up to the large butcher block counter in the center of the room. “Are you the gardener?” she said, finally finding her voice.
He slowly shook his head, the movement made seductive by the smile that played on his lips.
“Are you the p-pool b-boy then?” she stuttered. That was always her motto . . . when confronted with something otherworldly, say something intelligent, and if that wasn’t possible, punt. It was the family’s secret joke that her aunt had spoken of having a pool boy. Why? No one knew . . . everyone had just assumed she was a bit loony. Aunt Kate didn’t even have a pool, but now Jessie had to wonder. Perhaps it was catching.
He chuckled, his laughter mingling with the thunder outside. “Ah, I see you have heard of me then.” He smiled, showing a set of teeth Brad Pitt would be jealous of. Jessie swallowed again as he walked toward her. She held the little blade up protectively.
It didn’t stop him; in fact, he actually walked right up to the point of the knife she held.
“Stop that!” She pulled the knife back as he stepped even closer.
“That can’t hurt me, mon amie,” he whispered. “It is, how do you say? One of the perks of being a spectre.” He chuckled.
“A specter?” Her voice was higher than she’d like, coming out in a squeak.
“A fantôme.” He nodded.
“A phantom?” She swallowed.
“A ghost,” he added before taking the final plunge. His body enfolded the knife and her hand in its glow.
Jessie felt the electric current as his body enveloped her hand. She dropped the knife and ran around to the other side of the table, watching as he wiggled, shaking his leg until the knife fell out onto the floor. He grinned at her before disappearing in a flash.
Jessie stared at the knife on the floor in horror for a moment.
“Boo,” he whispered in her ear from behind.
“Ahh!” She darted away from him, heading back toward the hallway. She skidded to a halt as he popped up, blocking her way at the door. “Stop it this instant!”
“Or what?” he challenged, a slight smile playing on his lips.
“There is no or what.” She put her hands on her hips, wanting to wipe the infuriating grin from his face. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Non?” He looked around before popping over to the top of the fridge.
“No!” She turned to face him defiantly. “There is no such thing as a ghost!”
“Really, then how do you explain me?”
“You are a figment of my exhausted imagination.” Jessie lifted her chin, taking some strength from the idea.
“You do not believe me then?” He lifted a brow.
“You’re asking me to believe the word of my own delusion?”
“Ah, ma chère,” he tsked, shaking his head sorrowfully. “How you have hurt my feelings.”
“Oh, please.” Jessie rolled her eyes.
“Do you really wish for me to take my leave?” The sexual overtone was back in his voice.
She narrowed her eyes on him. “Yes!”
He sighed with regret, and just like that he was gone.
Jessie spun slowly around in the kitchen before looking down at the knife at her feet. She cautiously touched it with the toe of her shoe, afraid it might bite. Picking it up with two fingers, she placed it in the sink.
She stood looking out the window at the storm-lit sky. A flash of lightning momentarily lit the small family cemetery a hundred feet away which was framed by large oaks with Spanish moss hanging from the branches. She swallowed, turning away from the haunting scene to open the refrigerator. She desperately needed a drink. Or a shrink. One or the other.
She grabbed a cold beer, popped the top, and took a big swallow. “Ahh,” she sighed as she held the cold bottle up to her brow. “I’m losin' it. That’s all there is to it.”
“There are no such things as ghosts,” Jessie repeated again while adjusting the temperature of the water. She took the added precaution of looking around the small bathroom before stepping into the shower.
She let the water pour over her head and down her back. The warmth of it began to spread to her body. She tilted her head back, though she wasn’t about to shut her eyes. Her imagination might conjure up some fantasy man again, just to add more fodder to her troubled mind.
“There are no such things as ghosts,” she repeated, thinking that talking to herself had to be a side effect of losing it. The water pipe groaned as if in answer. She turned to face the showerhead as it started to rattle. “There’s no such thing as a ghost!” she reaffirmed.
“You keep saying that,” the voice said from behind her.
“Ahh!” Jessie screamed as she jumped from the shower, taking the curtain with her. She turned to see him holding his hands over his ears.
When she stopped screaming, he lowered his hands and shook his head. “You’ve got to stop doing that, chérie. I might be slightly challenged in the skin department, but there is nothing wrong with my hearing.”
“Get out!” Jessie glared at the nearly invisible man standing in the tub.
He wore a grin on his face that said he was too delighted with his actions to consider leaving.
“Now!” Jessie pointed to the door.
“Why?” His grin deepened, showing the dimple in his cheek, something she did not want to notice.
“I-I am not dressed,” Jessie sputtered, glaring at him as he stood in the shower.
The smoldering glance he gave her swept up her body. “I noticed.”
“Oh!” Indignant, she reached forward and flushed the toilet, something she knew would cause a sudden change in temperature. Though she didn’t know if he’d feel it, she felt better for the slight retaliation.
“Of all the nerve, just popping in while I’m showering . . . naked,” Jessie muttered to herself as she stormed into the bedroom.
“Do you normally shower with your clothes on?” came the deep voice of her tormentor from the vicinity of the bed.
Jessie’s head whipped around to find the braggart lying with his head resting on the many pink fluffy pillows near the headboard, watching her with that infuriating grin of his.
“What are you still doing here?” Jessie blinked through the moisture that dripped from her hair.
“You did point in the direction of the bedroom.” He lifted his hands innocently. “I merely obeyed.”
Jessie had a hard time imagining this man being obedient to anything or anyone. Infuriated, she picked up a pink pig pillow that rested on the nearby chair and chucked it at him. He made the motion to catch it, but it went right through him.
Looking mildly uncomfortable with the wiggly tail of the piglet protruding from his mid-section, he sighed. “I can see you’re in no mood for company,” he said regretfully before disappearing.
“Good riddance,” Jessie muttered as she turned a circle in the room which had been lavishly decorated in pink piglets that her aunt had collected through the years. “And stay gone!”
When there was no response, she felt safe enough to return to the bath and dry off quickly. Catching her own reflection in the mirror she gazed momentarily into her big aqua blue eyes. With her hair in wild disarray and the frantic look in her eye, she did look a little on edge. “Girl, you are losing it,” she said to herself as she ran a comb through her long, dark-blonde hair. Donning her flannel Minnie Mouse pajamas and matching stuffed house shoes, she went on a mission throughout the whole house, turning on every light until the old mansion was ablaze.
Jessie no longer even cared what the neighbors might think. She was the niece of the eccentric Miss Kate, after all. They’d probably witnessed all manner of strangeness that made her staged lighting seem fairly standard. Besides, Jessie rationalized, if she was losing it, it wasn’t going to be in the dark.
Jessie entered the bedroom and eyed the bed cautiously before tossing a half-dozen piglet-inspired pillows from the bed. She sat down, sliding off her slippers. The twin Minnies looked lost in the sea of piglet paraphernalia on the floor. Climbing in, she pulled the pink satin coverlet with its ruffled edge up to her chin and then lay there staring at the ceiling, her eyes wide open.
“Just watch over the place while I’m gone,” she repeated the words her aunt had used over the phone. “Let this old house soothe your troubles and give yourself the time to figure your life out. . . . Right!” Jessie snorted in disbelief as she drew the coverlet up tighter to her chin. “If it doesn’t drive you insane first!”
Jessie awakened, blinking back the bright sunshine streaming in through pink sheers which had been drawn back in a waterfall of cascading ruffles. The room looked like an advertisement for piglets gone wild.
She looked over at the clock. Red lights flashed ten twenty-two across Porky Pig’s tummy. Jessie could hardly believe she’d slept so late . . . of course, what might be even more surprising was that she’d actually fallen asleep at all.
Maybe it was all just a bad dream, she thought as she rolled out of bed, slipping on her stuffed footwear. The stress of leaving her home and facing the unknown future ahead of her. . . . Yeah, that was it. It had to be. The alternative was just plain crazy . . . literally.
Jessie went down the hall, turning off lights as she went. Both her aunt’s room, which featured Betty Boop and a heart-shaped bed, and the western motif one, where Yosemite Sam played a prominent feature, had been lit up like Christmas trees. Jessie smiled as she turned off a lamp, which looked like the gun-toting Texan, and headed down the stairs. Her Aunt Katie definitely had a thing for all things cartoon. Not that she could talk, dressed in full Minnie Mouse regalia.
The place hardly seemed haunted with its cheerfully decorated rooms bathed in sunlight. Maybe she really did have some sort of mental breakdown last night. Perhaps the storm, mixed with fatigue and having been so cold. . . . She felt her head for a fever as she thought of it. Certainly there was something more rational going on than seeing a ghost.
Jessie paused at the threshold of the kitchen, peeking inside the door just to make sure she was alone. Coast clear, she busied herself with making coffee and toast. She hummed to herself as she collected the milk and jam from the fridge while steadfastly ignoring the knife that still rested in the sink. Its mere existence mocked her.
Jessie jumped at the sound and turned towards her aunt’s kitty. “There you are, Elvis,” Jessie greeted the black feline as it sauntered across the floor towards her and rubbed against her leg. “Where were you last night?” she asked as he sat innocently licking his whiskers. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Oui.” The voice was back.
Jessie paused. She was pretty sure it wasn’t Elvis who’d answered, but then again, who knew what crazy could conjure? Turning to look back over her shoulder, she saw her tormentor sitting at the table with the local newspaper spread out before him.
“Hmm,” he chuckled as he read, “Farmer Stevens lost his milk cow, and he’s seeing glowing lights in his pasture again. Another fine article from the busy bee herself, Miss Patricia Parker.”
Jessie forced herself to look away, carefully putting the things in her hands on the counter as she tried to control her breathing. “Just ignore it, and maybe it will go away.”
“Why would you want the pussy to go away?”
She turned around, watching as the cat rubbed itself against the leg of the chair he was sitting on. She wasn’t going to answer. . . . No, she was bound and determined to ignore him and the amused expression on his face as he took in her pajamas and slippers.
“Minnie Mouse?” He cocked a brow.
“Leave Minnie alone,” she warned. Okay, fine, so ignoring him worked for all of a second.
Distracted for the moment, he looked past her out the window. “Mon dieu!” he swore. “Here comes the little monster.”
“Monster?” Jessie repeated in alarm, jerking around. When a ghost mentions a monster, one should take precautions, right? She looked out the window, but all she could see was Aunt Katie’s neighbor, Mavis, coming up to the back door with her little dachshund.
“His name should be Lucifer,” the ghost whispered in her ear, causing goose bumps to race down to her toes. “And beware of that woman too.”
“Stop that!” she said through a forced smile as she swatted at him next to her ear. The little woman in question coming up the walk looked like Aunt Bea from an old rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. “Why would you say that about that little woman and her dog?” Jessie asked as she returned Mavis’s wave cheerfully. When he didn’t reply, she turned to find herself alone with Elvis, who flicked his tail rhythmically and watched her with large yellow eyes. She blew a puff of air out in exasperation before going to open the door.
“Hello, dear.” The plump older woman smiled warmly at her. “I saw all the lights on last night and knew you had made it in safely.”
Jessie flashed a tight smile before Mavis thrust her basket of warm muffins and squeezed her quickly.
“Thank you.” Jessie stepped back to let her in. Her little dog immediately went over to Elvis, who jumped up on the table and growled at him.
“Look at you, you’re all grown up. How long has it been?” Mavis asked while Jessie peeked under the napkin that covered the baked goodies. They looked like hearty bran muffins, the kind that older people depended upon and swore by.
Jessie covered them up again quickly and set them on the counter. “It’s been a while.”
“You must have been about ten the last time you visited with your Aunt Kate.” Mavis continued to chat as she settled herself into the chair that the tormentor had recently vacated.
Jessie smiled as the older woman turned to look at her. Feeling slightly awkward with her full attention on her, Jessie busied herself with two cups. “I just made a pot of coffee. Would you like. . . ?” She stopped in mid-sentence after turning her head . . . her tormentor was back, floating directly behind the woman.
“What is it, dear?” Mavis looked at her with concern. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
Jessie practically choked on a response but was saved by spilling hot coffee across the counter instead.
Mavis turned to look directly at the apparition, but she saw nothing despite the fact that he doffed his hat in greeting and bowed exaggeratedly. She turned back with a questioning glance. Her little dog, the monster, started to yap. Mavis scooped him up on her lap.
Elvis elected to evacuate the kitchen at that moment. The little traitor, Jessie thought as she soaked up the coffee with a tea towel. “It-it’s nothing,” Jessie murmured. She sure as heck wasn’t about to admit to anything.
“It’s okay, dear.” Mavis spoke kindly. “Your aunt told me all about your recent difficulties.”
“She what?” Jessie asked, slightly taken aback.
“I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your dog.” Mavis looked at her own pampered pooch. “I can’t imagine losing Duke.”
Jessie didn’t know what to say. She’d been devastated by the loss of her dog, especially since it had come on the heels of everything else—her practice, her husband, her life. She sighed. Losing her faithful old lab she’d had for 12 years was almost worse than losing the jerk she’d been married to. . . . At least Dusty hadn’t been screwing the office manager and the pharmaceutical rep. “It’s been very hard,” she finally responded.
Truth was, she’d had so much loss lately she didn’t think she could handle dwelling on that one right now. She tried to change the subject. “Do you take sugar?” she asked as she carried two cups over to the table, trying to ignore the apparition who was now dangling the large feather in his cap near Duke’s nose.
“Yes, please.” Mavis accepted the cup as she struggled with the yapping dog. “Do you have any cream, dear?”
“Ah,” Jessie responded absentmindedly as she briefly glanced up at the pirate who was intent upon torturing the little dog. “Yes.”
“I don’t know what gets into him.” Mavis finally gave up the struggle and put her pooch down on the floor as Jessie placed the sugar on the table.
Bored now that his subject had been turned loose, the pirate turned his attention toward their unsuspecting visitor, who remained oblivious to him.
Jessie gave him a warning glance before turning her attention back toward Mavis. “I hope milk is fine. I haven’t been to the store yet.”
Mavis intercepted the look and once again glanced up at the apparition, unseeing. “Are you sure you’re alright, dear?”
Jessie tried to ignore him as he mimicked putting spoon upon spoonful of sugar in her cup and stirred. “Yes, of course.” She smiled brightly, placing the milk on the table.
“You remind me so much of your aunt.” Mavis smiled, reminding Jessie of a crafty fox as she continued. “I’m so glad that you’ve decided to come and stay,” Mavis said as Jessie set the muffins, toast, and jelly on the table and took a seat opposite her.
Jessie watched as Mavis stirred her cup and took a sip. She couldn’t help but wonder if his ministrations had affected the flavor. “I told her I’d be happy to look over the place while she was gone.”
“So you’re not staying to help? But I thought . . .” Mavis stopped short of finishing her sentence. “Well, that’s no never mind.” She smiled sweetly.
Too sweetly, Jessie thought as she watched the pirate pepper her cup with a pretend shaker, out of the corner of her eye. “Does my aunt need help?”
“It’s none of my business, dear.” Mavis again smiled like a crafty fox. “Forget I said anything.” She took another sip and coughed. “The flavor of this is most different. It’s quite spicy.”
Jessie’s eyes went quickly over to the pirate who now had his finger in the jelly. She briefly wondered if ghosts had germs, as she pulled the jar away and put the lid back on. He grinned widely before sticking his finger in his mouth. . . . Could ghosts actually taste things?
Duke took that opportunity to bite at his leg. The pirate did a little jig on the floor as the wiener dog attacked, chasing after him in circles before the ghost up and vanished beneath the refrigerator. The little dog scratched and dug at the grate at the bottom of the fridge.
“I wonder why he always does that?” Mavis chuckled as she watched the dog scratch at the black-and-white checkered linoleum floor.
The pirate popped up on the top, looking down at the little dog with a delighted expression on his face.
Jessie shook her head at him. There was no stopping him, it seemed. “Why don’t we go to that little French café on Elm for breakfast?” She stood quickly. “My treat.”
“But I made muffins.” Mavis looked at the basket longingly.
“And they look delicious. . . . Why don’t you have one while I get my purse?” Jessie nodded enthusiastically. “We’ll have more privacy to chat.”
Mavis looked at her strangely. “But we’re alone here, dear.”
“Oh, right.” Jessie headed for the hall. “I meant fewer distractions,” she called from down the hall. “I’ve been craving one of those fried dough thingies, sprinkled with powdered sugar.”
“You mean a beignet, dear?” Mavis asked, shaking her head at Jessie’s retreating form. “It must run in the family,” she whispered to her little dog as she picked him up from his hot pursuit of something under the fridge.
Jessie sealed the deal on her questionable sanity when she reappeared with purse in hand, ready to go.
“But, dear,” Mavis cajoled, as one might a doddering idiot, “don’t you think you’d better get dressed?”
Jessie looked down at her flannel pajamas with matching twin Minnies on her feet. “Oh, these.” Jessie laughed. “I hurt my feet yesterday, and Minnie is just so comfortable,” Jessie said as she led her to the front door.
“I wonder if they’d be good for my bunions,” Mavis said. As they entered the foyer the TV clicked on, going through a rapid succession of station changes.
“Your aunt still hasn’t had that short fixed, I see,” Mavis said.
Jessie watched as the ghost pirate plopped down on the sofa and kicked up his heels on the antique coffee table. She had to resist the urge to ask him to remove them. Ghost shoes can’t mark furniture, can they? she found herself wondering as she watched him stretch lazily.
“Dear, are you listening?” Mavis was watching her strangely.
“Yes.” Jessie looked at her with an apologetic smile.
“Oh, good.” Mavis beamed her approval. “I’ll have my son come over to fix it.”
“Uh,” Jessie scrambled to catch up in the conversation, “I’m sorry, what?”
“The fire hazard, dear. Oh my, you haven’t been listening.” Mavis laughed. “You are so much like your aunt.”
Jessie narrowed her eyes on the pirate as she grabbed a sweater coat from the rack and opened the door. This was his fault.
“Actually, I’m surprised with all the faulty wiring in this house that it hasn’t already burned down,” Mavis said as she headed out onto the veranda.
Jessie threw an alarmed glance toward the man sprawled across the settee. “Don’t you dare burn down this house,” Jessie whispered.
He pointed to himself in a gesture of innocence. “Moi?”
“What did you say, my dear?” Mavis asked as Jessie closed the door and locked it.
Jessie turned the key in the old lock and hoped it would keep him there. . . . Not that she wanted him there, she told herself firmly. It was just that she didn’t want him to follow her . . . that is, if he even could. Were ghosts attached to a house? Could they leave? She suddenly wished she could call John Edward or Sylvia Browne and ask. “I wonder if they make house calls?”
“Of course he does,” Mavis answered. “He’s an electrician, dear.”
“My son,” Mavis repeated for her, looking at her with pity. No doubt because not only was she related to Aunt Katie, but she was fast becoming just like her. Jessie smiled awkwardly.
“He’s coming over to check the wiring tonight,” Mavis said.
“When?” Jessie looked around for a Bluetooth or other communication device attached to the woman’s head. When had she called him? Had she entered into a time warp while they walked to her car?
“I just said tonight, dear.”
“No, when did you speak with him?” Jessie asked carefully.
“I spoke with him before I came over, dear, and he said if you needed anything to let him know. So, of course, I just assumed.”
Assume: to make an ass out of u and me. The old joke about assuming anything leapt to Jessie’s mind as she studied the deceptively sweet-looking woman. So, before the old dear had even arrived, she had it all worked out, Jessie thought as she looked at the wily blue-haired dynamo with a new perspective. But why? Jessie couldn’t help but wonder.
“He’s single, you know,” Mavis added as she set her dog down on the grass.
Bingo, Jessie thought as she looked over to find Lucifer taking a healthy poop on the lawn before a big hole near the mailbox.
“Did Luci . . . Duke just do that?” Jessie asked. Mavis looked down at the poop. “No, the hole, did he just dig that?”
“Of course not,” Mavis said, somewhat insulted.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to accuse,” Jessie said.
“That’s all right, dear.” She took a breath and added, “Your aunt’s gardener says it’s the gophers.” She pointed to several other holes across the lawn. “But if you ask me. . . .” She left the rest unsaid as she scooped up the pooper, leaving his present behind, and carried her dog towards the Fiat parked in the driveway. “Does this run?” she asked.
“Yes, it runs,” Jessie said as she clicked the locks open on her car.
Mavis seated herself, settling her dog on her lap. “Jonathan works on cars too.”
“Who is Jonathan?”
“My son,” Mavis said in a voice that said she would like her to start paying attention. “He is amazingly talented.” The blue-haired dynamo beamed with motherly pride. “Oh, by the way, he’ll be here after six.”
She was really going to have to pay Lucifer’s mother more attention, Jessie realized as she started the motor and smiled at the two of them nestled in the passenger’s side of the car. Jessie cleared her throat. “So what do you think is making the holes?”
“Ever since that article came out a few months back, there has been nothing but trouble.” Mavis tsked. “I really wish I’d had nothing to do with it. Not the holes, mind you, but the article.”
“What was the article about?” Jessie asked.
“It was horrible, if you can imagine.” Mavis sniffed. “I only gave that Parker woman information on the history of my family, mind you. My maiden name is Bancroft and, unfortunately, my son and I are the last of the line.” She lifted her chin with pride. “The home your aunt is living in right now was built by my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Why, I was the one who placed it on the historical register.” She sighed, then added distastefully, “To think that busy bee . . . uh . . . woman turned my genealogical background into an article on hauntings and treasure just upsets me no end.”
“How do you think this even remotely applies to the holes?” Jessie asked her.
“In the past it’s been mostly teenagers pulling pranks, digging for treasure.” Mavis sighed again. “It seems to be a favorite pastime around here for them, but ever since that article, the gophers have been awfully busy, if you get my meaning.”
Jessie wondered if Mavis would think her crazy for asking her next question, but she just had to know. “Do you think the house is haunted?”
“Oh no, dear,” Mavis scoffed. “No one has died there, and if nothing else, I do know the history.”
“When did this article come out?”
“A few months ago,” Mavis said. “Don’t worry, dear. Jonathan says it should blow over soon.”
“No, dear,” Mavis said as she peered over at her from across the small café table. “It’s still there.”
Jessie wiped the powdered sugar from her chin with a napkin and looked at Mavis. She was getting decidedly tired of the no dears . . . among other things.
“That’s it.” Mavis smiled her approval.
Jessie returned it weakly and then looked down at Duke, who was yapping at a man reading the paper at the table next to them. Because of the dog, they were outside enjoying the street café, which would have been delightful if Lucifer had kept quiet and hadn’t whizzed on her left Minnie, for that matter.
“I still can’t believe he did that,” Mavis said, glancing down at her slipper. “You naughty boy.” She scooped up Lucifer and fed him a piece of the doughnut on her plate. “It must be because he feels threatened by it.”
The word it definitely held a note of scorn, Jessie noticed.
“But don’t you worry; I’ll get you some proper house shoes today.”
Proper? Jessie couldn’t believe her ears. This woman was worse than her ex-mother-in-law, if that was possible. She counted to five, and then ten, as she watched the little devil dog lick her plate.
“Oh,” Mavis sighed, pulling him back. “Shame on you,” she scolded her dog.
“It’s alright.” Jessie scooted the plate across the table. “I’m finished with it anyway.” She took another sip of her coffee and glanced across the street to an old used bookstore.
“I think I’d like to take a peek inside that store.”
“The Ancient Mariner?” Mavis asked in a scandalized tone. “I never set foot there.”
Jessie knew then it was a heaven on Earth.
“They carry P-O-R-N.” She spelled the word, covering Lucifer’s ears.
Jessie choked on her coffee. She wasn’t into the stuff herself, had actually had issue with her ex-husband’s obsession with it. . . . Okay, perhaps she felt a little abused by what people chose to do with it, but she tried not to judge. They were adults, after all.
“Second-hand porn.” Mavis leaned close to whisper.
Okay, admittedly, that was gross. Jessie looked again at the store and its seemingly innocent window displays of books and gifts.
“The committee is hoping they close their doors soon.”
“The committee?” Jessie asked, wondering if she’d let her mind wander to the point where she might end up signing a power of attorney over to the woman or having dinner plans with her son, at the very least.
“The town’s historical committee.” Mavis nodded, giving the man behind the paper a secretive glance.
The CIA would have approved of the technique, Jessie thought. “Do you know of another book store in the vicinity?” she asked.
“Dear, I know of something even better.” Mavis beamed.
“The library . . . and it’s on the historical register.”
Jessie watched as Mavis smoothed her hair, gloating over the news. Admittedly, she had scored on that one.
“And there is a lovely hairdresser around the corner that does amazing things, and a clothing store.”
Jessie immediately lost her smile. Was she actually suggesting . . . ?
“These shorter haircuts are just so much more sophisticated, don’t you think?”
She was! Jessie tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. If she wasn’t careful this woman was going to turn her into a Stepford wife for her son. Jessie stood abruptly, causing the cups to rattle on the table and spilling coffee for the second time that day.
“Oh my,” Mavis said as a trickle made its way over to splash on her dog. “Poor little Duchy.” She pouted as she dabbed the spill with a napkin. “I guess you’re even now.”
Jessie just stared at her stupidly. Even? How could they be even? Her dog had piddled on her foot and received a drop of coffee in return.
“Well, we won’t go into that now,” Mavis managed to chastise her anyway.
“Where is the library?” Jessie asked as she placed a tip on the table. She wasn’t going to let this get to her. She was going to go back to the house and take a relaxing bubble bath, blow dry and curl her long hair, and then after her shoe was suitably laundered she would. . . . Well, she’d do something! She’d get a life! She might even invite her fantasy pirate to join her.
To read more about Jessie and Jacques, you can find
THE GHOST PIRATE’S TREASURE
in these world wide links