Artie had gotten used to occasionally hearing commentary from the part of James MacPherson that lived on in him, or seeing him staring at one of the artifacts they had bagged together. And what was the harm if, when he was certain nobody else was around, Artie talked back?
So the afternoon Artie was taking inventory of the Charles Dickens aisle, he wasn't all that surprised when he heard the voice behind him.
Artie turned around and looked the apparition in the eye. "James. What do you want?"
"What do I want? Nothing at all. You of all people should know I can't truly want anything. I am but a figment of your imagination. Maybe you ate too much of Leena's roast beef au jus last night," MacPherson replied.
"Fine, fine. Forget I asked."
"Very well. But I would like to point out that there's a hole in your glove."
"There's a what?" Artie asked.
"A hole. In your glove. You might want to look into replacing that before you touch something you shouldn't," MacPherson said.
Artie looked at his hands. Sure enough, there was a hole in the finger of one of his gloves. It was a small one, but enough to expose a tiny bit of skin. He pulled the glove off, stuck it in one of his belt loops to throw out the next time he reached a trash can, and fished another glove out of his back pocket. "Thank you," Artie said. But when he looked up again, MacPherson was gone.
By the time Artie's stomach informed him that he was overdue for lunch, he had nearly put the glove incident out of his mind. All he wanted was to sit down in his office, rest his feet a bit, and drink some of the hot tomato soup that was waiting for him in Dewar's original vacuum flask.
And then he was in his office, and so was-
"Carol? What are you doing here?" Artie asked. For there she was, perched on the edge of his desk, for all the world looking as if she belonged there.
"No, Artie. I'm Claudia," Claudia said from the corner desk, without looking up from her computer. "You didn't slip on some purple goo and hit your head, did you?"
Artie frowned. "Not that I remember. No, this might be something worse."
Carol - or "Carol," since Claudia evidently couldn't see her - looked offended. Claudia looked worried.
"You don't think an artifact-"
"I do think."
"Artie! I'm right here!" the apparition of Carol protested. "I don't have an artifact or anything like that. I'm just-"
"You be quiet. You're not real," Artie said.
"I'm real enough. You of all people should understand that things don't have to be tangible to exist."
Artie ignored her for the moment and turned to Claudia. "I had a hole in my glove this morning in the Dickens aisle. I'd thought M- I'd thought I'd found it before I touched anything with it, but if I'm seeing people from my past, there's a chance I may have touched Elwes the Miser's wig."
"Whose wig?" Claudia asked.
"John Elwes," Artie said. As he explained, he pulled up the wig's entry in the manifest. "He was a Member of Parliament in the late eighteenth century, and he was so well-known for being a miser that Dickens based the character of Ebenezer Scrooge on him fifty years after Elwes died. One of his relatives visited his house once and had to move the bed three times one rainy night because he wouldn't even patch his roof. And it wasn't like he didn't have the money to fix it. Most notably, he spent several weeks wearing a wig that a beggar had discarded."
"And now you've got ghosts haunting you. Three of them, I assume? I always kind of skipped past Dickens in school, but I know the story here."
"I'm not a ghost!" Carol protested.
"She's not a ghost!" Artie said, at the same time. "She's a product of my memory. She represents my past. A lost love. And tomorrow I'll have somebody from my present following me around making snide remarks. I only hope it's not one of you; that would be annoying. And on Thursday... no, you don't want to know what'll happen Thursday."
"I'll get a tub of goo. Let's go dunk that rug, asap."
"It's not going to be quite that simple," Artie replied.
Claudia frowned and looked over Artie's shoulder at his computer screen. "Ugh. That's the rattiest thing I've seen since I found that squirrel nest in Leena's attic. You were right, by the way. I didn't want to know what happens when you've been whammied by this thing. And... 'Bifurcated - second artifact not currently in Warehouse custody'?"
"Yeah. We have forty-three hours to find his sleeping cap, or I'm not getting a Christmas-yet-to-come this year."
"Artie, you're Jewish. You don't celebrate Christmas now."
"You know what I mean. Anyway, the most recent intel on the cap puts it in the Dickens house in London. The trouble is, it's not on display and I haven't been able to verify that it is, in fact, being stored there. Plus, Elwes died more than twenty years before Dickens was born, so why it would be there in the first place is anybody's guess," Artie said.
Claudia went back to her computer. "All righty then. I'll get Pete and Myka's plane tickets. They're still in Strasbourg going after the syringe Pasteur used for the first rabies vaccine, right?"
"Not for long, they're not. The syringe isn't that dangerous. I'll call them and tell them to get to Frankfurt. It's closer for them than Paris."
"And I'll clue Steve in. You want me to call him back from inventory?"
"No, no need for that just yet. But it would be wise not to leave me unattended for too long. Just in case."
"We'll take shifts," Claudia agreed.
"London? You do remember what happened last time we visited a famous Victorian-era author's house in London, right?"
"Just get there, get the cap and bring it back here. Claudia's sending you the flight info now. I don't care how you do it, just work quickly," Artie said.
Myka grabbed the Farnsworth out of Pete's hands. Ignoring his protest, she said "We're on our way to Frankfurt now. I promise not to let Pete touch anything this time. Or kiss anyone."
"Be safe," Artie said. "And be careful if you use any map pamphlets. I don't know if we've gotten all of the artifact-y ones. That airport... those maps will get you where you're going, but they have a very strange idea of where that is."
"Noted," Myka said. "You be safe too." And she signed off.
By the time Artie, Claudia, Steve and Leena gathered for dinner, Pete and Myka's flight had lifted off. They wouldn't be hearing anything for another few hours at least. But Artie was still worried. Carol was sitting in one of the extra chairs Leena had moved to the corner of the dining room. She hadn't said anything since that afternoon; she was just staring, and her silence unnerved him enough that he let Claudia explain to Steve why neutralizing half of a bifurcated artifact doesn't work, and instead went to bed early.
"All right. I've read A Christmas Carol," he told "Carol" as soon as he was certain no one could overhear. "Both of the first two spirits are plenty talkative. So why are you so quiet?"
"You obviously don't want me here," she replied. "And I'm not sure you ever did. So I was following your lead. It isn't like I can just leave."
"Except you did. When you chose James over me. That's why it's you I'm seeing now, isn't it? This is supposed to help me come to terms with my past," Artie said.
"You'd know that better than I would, wouldn't you? It's not like you'd be telling me this if I were actually here. You'd be telling me how much better off I'd be if I didn't know and how wrong it was for James to tell me anything because I didn't need to know. But I did need to know," she said. It was perhaps for the best that she wasn't physical, Artie decided, because if she had been, she might have passed out before stopping to breathe.
"Everything I did was--"
"For my own protection, yes." The apparition of Carol glared at Artie, but her voice became softer. "Arthur, I didn't marry James for his looks or his personality. I married him because he trusted me to be able to take care of myself. He trusted me enough to make me the one person in the world he could tell about his work. You'd have had me believing you were an antique dealer or an archaeologist or a traveling salesman until James told me the truth."
"Carol, I truly am sorry. I know it doesn't mean much, and it's not even a real apology because you're not even really here. But for all intents and purposes you are, so I'm going to hope I can get you to believe it. Maybe I should have told you about the Warehouse. Maybe I would have if James hadn't done it first. I don't know about that. But what happened is what happened, and all I can do is learn from it," Artie said.
Carol was silent for a moment. "But will you?" she asked.
Before Artie could answer her question, somebody knocked on the door.
"Come in," they both said at once. Artie looked at Carol in surprise for a second before turning to the person who'd opened the door. "Leena. Am I keeping anybody up? Because I could go pick up that gramophone from Kalispell... oh, whatever aisle we put it in. It wouldn't do anything for me because it only cancels out actual sounds, but if I'm up all night arguing with myself..."
"Not at all," Leena replied. "But you left your Farnsworth downstairs. Pete called. He and Myka made it to London and they're going to start searching the museum as soon as it's not four in the morning. They'll have a much easier time of it if they can use normal means and not have to wake the curator."
Artie's brow creased in thought for a second. "I think they're right. We're on a deadline here, but getting clocked by the management when you can't explain why you're really there could set them back even longer. Besides, they could use the rest."
Leena smiled and handed Artie his Farnsworth. "Call any of us if you need anything," she said. "And try to get some sleep."
Artie nodded. "I will."
Leena closed the door behind her, and Artie turned back to Carol.
"You didn't have to say all that for little old me," Carol said, her voice taking on a sarcastic tone.
"I didn't do it for you," Artie replied. "I did it for them."
Carol nodded. Evidently, that had been the correct answer. "I'll let you get on with your night, then."
"Thank you." Artie paused for a second. "Just like that?"
"Just like that. You've said what you needed to say to me and you've heard what you needed to hear. And more importantly, you meant what you said."
"Fair enough. Do you have any clues for me about who I'll encounter tomorrow?" Artie asked, smiling for the first time since realizing what he'd touched.
"Do you really want to know?" Carol asked, her voice diminishing as she vanished.
Artie blinked. "I guess not."
The buzzing of his Farnsworth woke Artie up early the next morning, and he opened it before even getting out of bed.
"Good morning, sunshine," Pete said. "Guess what?"
"You have the sleeping cap and you're coming back here right now?"
Myka popped her head into the device's field of vision and answered before Pete could. "Not quite. We went in as guests first thing this morning. Nothing visible, and we were in there for hours. But there's enough here that isn't visible to the public that we talked to an employee--"
"Well, our badges did most of the talking--"
"And he's calling his people for permission to let us look around a bit more. So we figured we'd keep you updated," Myka said.
"But the good news is, I'm pretty sure it's in the building somewhere," Pete added.
Artie didn't quite smile. "How sure is 'pretty sure'? Is this 'vibe'-sure, or 'trying to make Artie feel better'-sure?"
"It's a vibe. We've got this under control," Pete said.
Myka looked over her shoulder, and then back at the Farnsworth. "Okay. There's our friend from the museum. Got to go. Talk to you later."
Artie closed his Farnsworth and pulled himself out of bed. Today might not be too bad after all.
"You look refreshed," Steve said as Artie sat down for breakfast that morning. "And it seemed like a quiet night. I take it the artifact didn't keep you up?"
"No," Artie said. "We said what we needed to say to each other and she disappeared. Got a call from Pete and Myka a little while ago. They're still on the trail of the sleeping cap, and things are looking quite positive on that front. And I did a lot of research overnight trying to pinpoint where else it might be and came up with nothing, so I think we're good. Where's Claudia?"
Leena entered the dining room, bearing a fresh pot of coffee with which she filled Artie's mug. "She's in the Warehouse. She said something about designing more tear-resistant gloves."
"That's a good idea," Artie replied. "I'm not due for another apparition for--" he turned around to look at the clock -- "five hours or so. I think I'll join her after I'm done eating, and make sure she doesn't use anything she shouldn't."
Artie was in the middle of using far too many words to explain that he didn't know exactly how the particular wavelengths of light reflected by the gloves worked to neutralize artifacts when he looked up and saw his father.
There must have been something resembling shock on his face, because Claudia snapped her fingers in front of him and said "Earth to Artie. It's lunchtime, remember? Whoever you're seeing isn't really there."
Artie blinked. "I know. I know."
"Who is it?" Claudia asked. "I mean, don't tell if you don't want to. I know I probably wouldn't."
"You'd find out anyway," Artie replied. "It's my father."
Claudia smiled very slightly. "She's thinking of how she got you talking to me again," the apparition of Izzy said..
Artie turned to Claudia. "Are we OK to shelve the gloves for a little while until I get this sorted out?"
"You know you're not talking to a real person, right?"
"Of course I know," Artie told her. "But it's the conversation that's important here."
Claudia nodded. "I'll be in one of the side rooms. The one off Yuma is still unused, right?"
"Right." Just then, Artie's Farnsworth buzzed.
"I'll wait," Izzy whispered while Artie fished the device out of his bag.
"Or wait a few minutes," Artie said. "Hopefully you'll be buying plane tickets." He opened up the Farnsworth. "Please tell me you have good news," he told Myka.
"We do," she said, and held up what was supposedly a hat but really just looked like a rag full of holes. "This is definitely it. Good thing we found it, too; it looks like the moths were really going after it."
"There was no indication of why it was there?" Artie asked.
"None. The curator had no idea it even existed."
"Hmm. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that it's half of a bifurcated artifact. It was Dickens' writing that turned them into artifacts, obviously, and when the wig and cap were separated, the cap found its way to the place most connected to the person who created it. And it may not have been the moths who made all those holes. Elwes never bought new clothes until the old ones were completely unwearable. Either way, good work. Get to Heathrow. Claudia will be contacting you with your flight info in a few minutes."
"Will do," Pete said over Myka's shoulder. "You doing OK?"
"I'm fine. I'll be more fine when we get that cap and this wig put together."
"Okay. See you in a few hours." Myka disconnected the call.
Artie sighed. "All right. Claudia, I'll let you know when I'm done here. Don't forget to check the weather. There are supposed to be storms all along the east coast tonight."
"Gotcha. Have a good conversation," Claudia said, laptop in hand, and closed the door to Artie's office.
"Where were we, then?" Izzy asked.
"I don't think we were anywhere just yet."
"Good. So we can start with a clean slate."
Neither of them said anything for a long few moments. Artie slumped back in his chair a bit.
"I never hated you, you know," Izzy eventually said, so quietly that Artie was sure he only heard it because the voice was in his head to begin with.
"I was terrified you would. It's why I went so long without talking to you," Artie replied. "I was afraid you wouldn't believe that I did the things I did for good reasons. Not after what you gave up to come here."
"Arthur. Listen to me. I was angry. I still am, a little. You don't know what it's like to lose a child. How I'd tell people you'd died instead of telling them the truth. And when you tell yourself something so often that some part of you starts to believe it..."
"You mean like 'my father doesn't want anything to do with me?'" Artie asked.
"Like that," Izzy said, smiling. "The problem is that you and I are too much alike for our own good. You always were a stubborn one. I used to wonder where you got it from, and then I realized: it was me."
Artie laughed. "But why are you here now? We had this discussion back in December. The reason my mind's calling you up now has something to do with my present."
"I wouldn't know, Arthur. What do you think?"
"I hate it when you do that, you know."
"Do what?" Izzy asked.
"Turn a question back on me."
"Why shouldn't I? It's the best way to teach a person something he already knows."
"Don't lecture me on the Socratic method. His walking stick is in here," Artie said. And then an inkling of realization came over him. "You don't want me to fall into old habits and not talk to you just because that's what I'm used to doing."
"That's right. I'm not getting any younger, and neither are you. And if that girl had been telling the truth and you really were dying, I'd want to find it out from you and not anybody else."
"And I'd want to be there for you too. I wrote the nocturne because I couldn't talk to you."
"But would you have played it for me if Claudia hadn't driven me here?" Izzy asked. Artie said nothing. "That's what I thought."
"I can't change that," Artie said. "I would if I could. But I can call you more often now, and come to visit on holidays."
"You mean that?"
"I do. But if there's an artifact going around hurting people, I'll have to divide my attention."
"You're sure? Because there's always an artifact going around hurting people," Artie said.
"And you'll always have people to deal with them. If you can send your people off to visit their families, you should do the same for yourself while you still have the chance. You don't have an excuse not to."
Artie nodded. "I'll do that. And I really mean it."
"I know. And one more thing," Izzy said, though the image of him was already beginning to fade.
"Watch your fingering on the piano. You're not some kid just learning to play. You don't have an excuse for that either."
Later on, Artie would vehemently deny being asleep at his desk when the call came in. Nobody gave him trouble about it, though. Much.
He opened his Farnsworth and saw Pete's face. "We're about five minutes away from the Warehouse. D'you have the wig?" he asked.
"Right here," Artie replied, panning the camera around to the troublesome artifact, zipped up tightly in its bag. "I'll be waiting."
"Oh. And we bought some Cadbury's for you in the airport. The real stuff, not the stuff you can get out here. Just don't tell Leena. She'd never let me hear the end of it."
"Said chocolate is still intact?" Artie asked. "You didn't get hungry on the plane?"
"Yep. Got it right here. Not melted or eaten or anything this time. Anyway, see you in five. Kirk out."
Tomorrow was looking to be an excellent day.
And in the morning, after he got everything squared away in the Warehouse and took the time to savor whatever treat Pete and Myka had brought him, he'd call his father and say hello.