Two hours later, Steve and I were still waiting for his phone to ring.
“They're not going for it,” Steve said irritably. “So much for phase two.”
I looked over at the Johnson house. “Neither of them have come out. I bet they're tearing up the basement.”
“I can't stand sitting here any longer.” Steve jumped out of the truck bed. “Are you coming?” he asked.
“Where are we going?”
“Nora mentioned to me once that Hank had a dog. Never got over it, when the little thing died. Hank wouldn't let Nora change anything; the pet door stayed in the back door off the dining room, with the leash hanging on a wall peg.”
“If there's a pet door and it's unlocked, we can push it open and hear what's going on,” I surmised.
We ran over to the Johnson property. I jumped over the little fence; Steve, with his long legs, stepped across. “Back door,” Steve reminded me, and led the way.
It was the first time I'd seen the back of the house. The property was uneven, so the first floor kitchen was actually above ground level. A short flight of steps led up to the kitchen. In the fading light, I could just see the pet door.
“There's a light on somewhere inside,” Steve whispered.
I looked around, and spotted a bit of yellow light shining through an odd shaped window at ground level. “Basement,” I whispered. Steve nodded.
Suddenly, the basement light went out. Christian and his lawyer must be leaving the basement. I gestured to the door. Steve led the way up the back stairs, moving slowly and quietly. Just as we reached the door, a light went on in the kitchen. We ducked down next to the pet door.
Steve reached out a hand and pushed on the flap cut in the door. Please, I thought, please don't be latched. Steve looked at me and grinned. He pushed harder, and the pet door opened. We both crouched low and pushed our ears to the opening.
“It's not there, Christian,” Seren said irritably. “Your father moved the money. Just accept it.”
“No,” shouted Christian. His outburst was followed by a metallic clang. Poor rich boy must have dropped his shovel. “He told me it was buried in the basement. We have to keep looking.”
“I'm billing you at my standard hourly rates.”
“You're on retainer,” Christian snapped.
Seren laughed. “You're going to have to replenish that retainer soon. Very soon, if you keep me around to dig holes in a house.”
“That's not the only reason you're here. You're supposed to be dealing with my step-mother's lawyers. Why didn't you throw Wells out of the house the instant she appeared?”
“Now, wait a minute, Christian. Maryanne Wells is sharp. You don't throw someone like that out. You try to figure out why they've shown up. She said there was nothing in the basement but dirt. Maybe she knows something you don't. You should have asked her.”
Christian said bitterly, “She knows nothing. She's an idiot. Look at the offer she made you, to get rid of the 'ghost'. Stupid, ignorant woman. I guess they'll give a law license to anyone these days.”
Steve turned and looked at me. I know he was expecting some kind of reaction. After all, I'd been insulted. But in that moment I didn't care what Christian Johnson said. I was distracted by something I saw on the floor.
The narrow slit open at the bottom of the pet door gave me a view of a few centimeters of floor. And in that space I saw a crumb. A solitary, lonely crumb. It must have come from the food Christian and Seren brought into the house. I straightened up and looked around the little landing where Steve and I crouched. More crumbs. They must have brought the food out here to finish eating.
This was bad. If Christian found a way to eat without the ghost haunting him, I couldn't scare him into giving up the house.
Think, Maryanne. Think.
Steve poked me with his elbow. He leaned close and whispered in my ear, “I think we should go. Wind started blowing. They might feel it through the open pet door.”
Wind. That's it!
I shoved Steve aside and caught the pet door with my hand. Putting my mouth near the opening, I started to blow. The crumb trembled.
“Did it just get colder?” Seren asked.
“Don't be stupid,” muttered Christian.
I blew again. The crumb rolled over. Something flew off the table and crashed on the floor.
“Roger, what did you do,” Christian demanded.
“Nothing! That plate flew off the counter by itself!”
Blowing harder, I got the crumb up to a roll.
“SMALLER BITES,” screamed Hank.
“We're not eating! There's no food in the house!”
I leaned over and whispered to the Steve, “Wait here. I've got a new idea.” I crawled back down the stairs, feet first. The instant I touched solid ground I turned and ran across the yard to the neighbors. The box of cheese-crackers sat in the truck bed, waiting. I snagged it, and ran on to Alfredo's house. The front door was unlocked. I yanked it open and sped through the living room.
Alfredo's family looked up as I ran into the kitchen. They had just sat down to dinner.
“Good to see you, Maryanne,” said Alfredo's mother. “I'll get you a plate. Is Steve coming too?”
“No, ma'am. And I didn't come for dinner. I came for Roberto.”
The young boy looked up. “You want me?” he said.
“I'm great at it,” Roberto boasted.
“Good. Follow me.”
I ran out the back door, Roberto on my heels. Scraping chairs and stomping feet behind us told me at least a portion of his family followed. We scrambled over the fence and onto the Johnson property, Roberto grabbing my hand.
“Are we going inside?” he asked excitedly.
“No. And keep your voice down,” I whispered. I looked behind us, and spotted Alfredo and his Dad. I signalled with my hands for them to keep their voices down.
Steve looked around, and spotted us. He stepped quietly down the stairs. “They're arguing now about whether or not to take the deal,” he whispered. “Christian's wavering on whether or not he's scared of the ghost. The lawyer is convinced there is a ghost, and you're the only one that get rid of it.”
“So we've almost won.”
He nodded. “Christian's convinced the money is still in the basement. If he thinks the ghost will interfere with his finding the money, he'll take the deal. We need to show him what a threat the ghost can be.”
I knelt down in front of Roberto. Opening the box of cheese-crackers, I said, “We need you to throw these through the pet door. Each cracker needs to go through the kitchen and hit the wall on the far side. We don't want the men in the kitchen to see the crackers. We want them to think the ghost is going crazy without an reason. I'll tell you when to throw. Okay?”
Roberto reached into the box and grabbed a handful of crackers. “Let's do this.”
Steve, Roberto, and I climbed up the stairs. Steve pushed the pet door open just a crack. I crouched down and looked inside. Roberto would have a really hard shot to make. I begin to question bringing him into the whole mess. At the least, I should have tested his skills first.
But Roberto had no doubts. He nudged me out of the way and looked through the crack under the pet door. “Say when,” he whispered.
Aw, what the heck. We had to try. “Go,” I whispered.
Roberto balanced a cracker on his forefinger, held his hand up to the pet door, and flicked the cracker inside.
“Aaah!” Christian screamed inside the kitchen.
“Again,” I whispered. Roberto aimed another cracker and flicked.
“SMALLER BITES! SMALLER BITES!” Dishes crashed and shattered. It sounded as though they were breaking inside the cabinets.
“We have to get out of here,” Seren said. “We're not even eating and the thing is still screaming.”
“Why? Why is this happening?” Christian wailed.
I tapped Roberto on the shoulder. “One more time,” I whispered in his ear.
The boy lined up his shot with care. He adjusted the cracker with his free hand, checked his aim again, and fired.
“SMALLER BITES!” The kitchen shook. We felt the vibrations through the door. The lights inside flickered.
“The support beams are cracking,” Seren shouted. “I'm getting out of here.”
“Wait for me,” screeched Christian.
I pushed my hand against the pet door, opening it all the way. There was no sign of the men. “They must have fled out the front door,” I said.
“Did I do good?” Roberto asked.
I mused his hair affectionately with my free hand. “You were great.”
He grinned. “What now?”
“Now we wait.”
Steve's smartphone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the caller id. “The waiting's over,” he said gladly.
Phase three complete. Only phase four remained – ridding the house of the ghost. I frowned. Based on what I'd just seen, Hank was a lot stronger than I expected. Phase four wouldn't be pretty.