I unlocked the front door with Nora's key. Slowly, cautiously, I pulled the door open. I stuck one ear inside and listened.
“You should have pushed harder in the beginning,” I heard Christian Johnson say. “I wasted all that money on court costs and your fees, just to have Nora cave at the end.”
“Can't you just be happy that you won?” Roger Seren asked with disgust.
“I'll be happy when that money is out of the basement and sitting in my back account.”
The voices retreated into the distance. It sounded like they were entering the kitchen. I pulled the front door open a bit more and slipped inside. Carefully, I closed the door behind me. It just with barely a whisper. Steve's work oiling the hinges the night before paid off.
As quietly as possible, I crept through the living room. There were no sounds coming from the kitchen. I began to wonder if the men intended to eat at all.
“SMALLER BITES!” Hank shouted.
“Aaaahhh!” Christian screamed. “What the hell was that?”
“What do you think?” Seren cried out. “I told you the old lady wasn't crazy.”
Silence descended on the house. I pictured the two men cowering in their chairs at the kitchen table, fearing to breathe.
“We should leave,” Seren whispered.
“Never,” Christian declared.
“SMALLER BITES! SMALLER BITES!”
Glassware inside the kitchen shattered.
“For God's sake, stop eating,” Seren yelled.
Good a time as any to make an entrance. I walked into the kitchen and leaned back against the wall. “Looks like yew fellas got yerselfs a ghost probalem,” I said in my best hick accent. “Gosh, I hope yews can learn to live wi 'it.” I took another long drag of my milkshake, slurping cheerfully. Sure enough, the ghost kept quiet.
The men glared at me and then ignored me. Seren looked at Christian and said, “You'll never be able to sell this house. Not with that voice ringing in everyone's ears when they try to eat.”
“Yews gonna sell it? Well, now. And here I done thunk y'all wanted it for sentsimentals. Or fer diggin' in. Ain't ya'll gone an started a garden in the baseament?” I took another long, loud, slurp of my strawberry milkshake. Very hard to ignore.
Seren stood up slowly and straightened his tie. “I suppose you're going to tell us that you had nothing to do with this....” he trailed off, unable to speak the word.
“Haunting,” I offered, dropping the accent. “Spectral manifestation. Ghost.”
“My father is not haunting me,” said Christian. “He loved me.” His eyes narrowed to slits and he added, “You better not be roaming around in the basement. This is my house now. You keep out.”
“Your father is haunting the house, love's got nothing to do with it, and the basement floor is full of nothing but dirt and more dirt.” I strode across the room and picked up Christian's burger. “Don't believe me about the ghost? Here. Take another bite.”
Reluctantly, he accepted the food. “He's not haunting me,” Christian repeated. He muttered something else about the basement and hick lawyers under his breath. Christian raised the sandwich to his lips and took a bite.
“SMALLER BITES,” screamed Hank. A plate flew off the table and shattered against the wall. Seren and Christian ducked.
I stood my ground and finished my milkshake. After the last bit was gone I kept slurping, letting the sound of suctioned strawberry-air fill the room. “You can get around this, Christian. Just tell prospective buyers to live off these.” I waved my empty cup at him.
Fury was building in Christian's eyes. Suddenly, he sprang at me. “Get out,” he screamed in my face. “This is my house. Get out, get out, get out!”
Wow. The temper apple doesn't fall far from the ghostly tree. “Don't you want to know why I came in the first place?” I asked with a charming smile.
“No,” shouted Christian.
“Yes,” countered Seren. He stood up and brushed some dust from his pant legs. “Why are you here, Ms. Wells?”
I leaned back against the table and spread my arms. “To offer my services. You want the ghost gone. I can make it happen.”
“As I understand it, the local priest already tried that.”
“I haven't tried.”
Seren looked me over. “I've heard things about you,” he said slowly. “I didn't believe half of them. But I didn't believe in ghosts before this case. Maybe you can make the ghost disappear.”
Christian pushed his way past the lawyer. “There is no ghost,” he claimed; “She's doing this. All of it.” He pointed an accusing finger in my face.
I shook my head. “Hank's ghost is real.”
“My father is not haunting me,” Christian shouted.
Seren gestured for me to join him in the living room. We shut the door behind us, ignoring Christian's screams.
“How much,” Seren asked.
“Two hundred fifty thousand.”
He laughed. “You're crazy. That's more than twice the value of the house.”
“Let me finish. One hundred fifty thousand to me, in cash. The rest of the payment is to be given to charities chosen by the local Catholic church. Your charming client gets the benefit of tax write-offs for the portion going to charity.”
“He could use the tax benefit,” Seren admitted. “And you guarantee success?”
“One hundred percent.”
“You're going to give your share to the old woman, of course.”
I shrugged. He was right, but it wasn't any of his business. “If your client agrees, Steve will draw up the papers. My offer's open until midnight.” I opened the living room door and walked through the front hallway.
“Wait,” called Seren. “How do I contact you?”