Father Blackman agreed to meet us inside the Johnson house. He promised to bring Pastor Ted from the Presbyterian church with him. Steve voiced a preference for waiting outside the Johnson house, but I refused.
“Unless you're planning on eating in there, you'll be fine,” I told him. “But if you're really worried about annoying the ghost, borrow a lint brush from Alfredo and make sure there are no crumbs on your clothes before we go in.”
To my great amusement, he did just that. Steve had gone from a non-believer to paranormally paranoid.
“This proves nothing,” he snapped when he saw I was watching him brush off his clothes.
“Sure, Steve. Whatever you say.”
Inside the Johnson house, we stood in silence. Steve peered around me cautiously. “I don't see anything unusual,” he remarked.
“No. I don't sense anything, either. Hank must have retreated into the kitchen.”
“Good. Let's keep out of the kitchen.”
I looked up at him, amused. “Are you scared, Steve?”
“What? No. I'm just...cautious. That's all. And...and looking for Hank isn't that important. If we're going to be in the house, we should inspect it top to bottom. That way we'll have a feel for whether or not the appraisal was accurate. That's what we should do while we wait.”
“Inspect the house from top to bottom.”
“Including the kitchen.”
Steve glared at me. “We should start in the basement,” he growled.
“Fine.” I reached under my jacket and grabbed the small flashlight off my utility belt. I handed it to Steve and said, “You inspect the basement. I'll take the kitchen.”
He swore loudly. I grinned and walked into the kitchen alone.
The moment I entered the kitchen I felt a sharp change in temperature. The room was icy cold. I jammed my hands into my pockets and walked around.
“I know you're here, Hank,” I called out. No answer.
Thinking I might find some food to bait the ghost, I opened the refrigerator door. Empty. So was the pantry, and every cupboard. There wasn't even a crumb hiding under the oven.
Dang it, I needed food. I checked all my pockets. In the inside pocket of my jacket I found a couple of loose cheese crackers. Perfect.
I pulled out a cracker and held it high. The temperature dropped instantly. I could see my breath, a milky-blue cloud.
“Are you going to come out and speak civilly, or are we going to do things the hard way?” I asked.
I held the cracker between my thumb and forefinger. I pressed my fingers together and felt the layers of cracker snap and shatter.
“SMALLER BITES,” a voice screamed in my ear.
Startled, I took a step back and stumbled. Someone put a firm hand on my back and steadied me.
“Thank you,” I said. I turned around, expecting to see Steve. Instead I saw two men, one in the black uniform of a priest and the other in a gray suit.
There are two types of holy men in this world, and the categorization has nothing to do with religious denomination. The first kind has poor color and drooping skin. They're the ones who live secret lives of sin. They can hide it for a while, but excess eventually takes its toll. The other kind of holy man looks almost too healthy. The exude health, physical and spiritual. The Presbyterian in the gray suit fell into the first category; the catholic priest into the second.
“Not a hospitable place,” the priest said mildly.
I nodded. “Father Blackman?”
“Yes. And this is Pastor Ted.”
We shook hands all around, murmuring the usual banal pleasantries one expects in such meetings. I felt Hank's presence behind me, cold and disapproving. The holy men felt it too. I know, because I noticed them trying to ignore it.
“Is the other attorney with you?” asked Father Ted.
“He's in the basement,” I said.
“Oh? Is there a reason to be in the basement?”
Before I could explain, Steve appeared in the kitchen doorway. There was dirt on his pants, and a streak of the same on one of his cheeks.
“I think you had better see this,” he said, pointing in the direction of the basement stairs.