"There's a ghost at the Mac's!"
Vicki jumped, and barely managed to grab her coffee before it fell over. "Coreen, do you think you could try that a little quieter?"
"No, seriously!" Coreen continued excitedly, slamming the door behind her. "My friend works at the Mac's near Yonge and Bloor where that guy got killed last month, and now it's haunted! By a real ghost!"
Vicki sighed and dropped her head into her palms. "Coreen, do you see this blank appointment book? It's blank because we have no clients. No clients equals no money, equals one extremely pissed-off landlord."
"But it's a ghost!" Coreen exclaimed. "We never get ghosts. They always turn out to be baby telekinetics, or Babylonian snake-things, or..."
Vicki cut her off before she could really get going. "Okay, okay, so it might be a ghost. I just don't see how that's going to pay the rent. Unless you've found a spirit that makes money grow on trees." Vicki paused. "Didn't think so. And if your friend is working at a convenience store, I don't see that he's going to be paying us."
Coreen shook her head disapprovingly. "You have no faith in my abilities. Greg's broke, true, but the manager's really getting ticked off, and he wants to talk to you."
"So when is he coming in?"
"He's not. He wants you to meet him there. He just had somebody quit, so he's covering the registers."
"I have to go to Mac's. At..." Vicki checked her watch, "9:30 AM. To talk to the guy selling lottery tickets and cigarettes?"
Coreen shrugged her shoulders. "Well, if you're not interested in the potentially lucrative lead I brought in..."
"Okay, okay, I'll go." Vicki grabbed her coat and headed to the door, turning back when Coreen called her.
"Hey, Vicki, can you bring me a mango Froster?"
Vicki let the door slam behind her.
Landon Franks was everything Vicki expected from a corporate schlub: clean-cut, fulsome, with a huge smile and a healthy respect for corporate security.
"Look," he explained. "I'm totally not into this wooga-wooga stuff, but this is just nuts. Every day for over a month we've had bottles breaking when nobody is anywhere near the coolers, displays knocked over, you name it. I've lost two part-timers, and my numbers are starting to go down. And I've personally witnessed at least five occurrences, so I know it's not somebody yanking my chain."
"And you want me to...?" Vicki asked.
"I want you to do whatever the hell it is you do! Look, that girl showed me your ad. 'No case too strange. Supernatural and occult our specialty.' This is both!" Franks was starting to look desperate.
Vicki sighed. "I'm not the Ghostbusters, Mr. Franks. There are buildings all over Ontario that are rumored to be haunted and have been for years. There's no guarantee I'll even be able to see your ghost, much less stop it."
"Oh, you'll see it," he retorted. "It happens every single night, ever since that guy used my store as his launching point for suicide by SUV.
"Look, if I don't get this fixed soon, I'm going to have CorpSec breathing down my ass. They're either going to think I'm doing it, or they're going to think I'm crazy. Neither option is good for the long-term career plan!"
Vicki tried to keep her cool. "Hiring me is $500 per day, plus expenses. You need to be very certain that this is what you want."
"$500? How do I know you're actually going to do something, and not just keep taking my money?"
"Well, for one thing," Vicki snapped, "my business wouldn't survive if I pulled stunts like that."
"Yeah, yeah, okay," he replied, mollified.
"I can put a couple of days into it, see what turns up," she said. "If there's nothing, then we stop there, okay? But I'll need the surveillance feeds of the times in question and contact information for all employees who experienced it."
Vicki spent several hours at the store before heading back to the office. Everyone she talked to seemed honest, at least as far as it came to mysterious breakages, and the video feeds did seem suspicious. There was nothing that jumped out and said, "Hey! There's a ghost!" Then again, her luck was never that good. But it all seemed to add up. A suspected shoplifter was startled by a store clerk. He ran out of the store at 9:08 PM, was hit by an SUV, and died shortly thereafter. The following night at 10:00 PM, one of the doors on the freezer slammed shut hard enough to crack the glass. The day after that, at just after midnight, all the chocolate bars in one aisle were upended on the floor. And every day after that it was the same: Between the hours of 9 PM and 2 AM, something strange happened at the Mac's.
She went through the police blotter, and found her suspect's name. A few calls later, she discovered that Robert 'Bobby' Allen was a petty thief, and that he'd been pronounced dead at St. Michael's at 1:49 AM. So the times lined up, but still, what was she supposed to do, lecture him about destroying property? It's not as if he'd performed black magic rituals and been raised from the dead by his mother. And everybody involved had been able to see Magnus O'Connor, even if she'd been the only one who could touch him. Nobody had seen Bobby Allen, yet.
Her musing was interrupted by Coreen bouncing up to her desk and dropping an armful of paperbacks on it. "I've got it!"
Vicki picked up the first book, which had two extremely buff guys in extremely tight jeans on the cover. "What the hell is this? A Harlequin romance?"
"No, it's a series of books dealing with the supernatural."
"Coreen, please tell me we're not reading these..."
"Oh, you don't have to. I already did. Several times. They're great! And here's the thing, they're usually pretty accurate!"
Vicki looked at the cover in disbelief. "Accurate at what? The manly mannishness of Fabio's chest?"
Coreen grabbed the book back protectively. "That's not Fabio, that's Sam. And by accurate, I mean these things are spot on. Remember the wendigo?"
"I'm not likely to forget," Vicki commented dryly.
"Well, these guys fought a wendigo, and they killed it."
"With silver bullets?"
"No, with a flare-gun."
"That..." Vicki paused, remembering its reaction to the flamethrower. "That might actually have worked."
"And they've killed vampires by decapitation, and shape shifters with a silver bullet to the heart. Which is, I know, a bit overkill, but it would work."
Vicki removed her glasses, and rubbed at the migraine that was rapidly forming. "You do realize that if my life were a TV show, it would be narrated by Rod Serling?"
Coreen laughed and plopped down in front of Vicki. "No, but this is awesome! A real ghost! A restless spirit that we need to put to rest!"
"With the Deets case, you said that ghosts usually remain behind because of unfinished business or dissatisfaction... Are you telling me this guy is haunting a Mac's because he bungled a robbery attempt?"
"Oh god," Vicki moaned. "I think my life should be on Oprah."
8:30 PM, and time to go shopping. Henry had already arrived, and was nosing through the books Coreen had left scattered around when Mike walked in the door. He stopped short at the sight of Henry.
"Wow, guys," Vicki commented. "When is the wedding?" That earned her twin glowers, but at least got their attention focused on something other than each other.
Then Mike looked closer at Henry and realized what he was reading. "What, you're giving up the comic books for bodice rippers? Is that trading up or down?"
Vicki interrupted before Henry could snap back. "Those are Coreen's latest bits of ... research."
Coreen chimed in, "Yeah, and if it is a ghost, we need to dig up his body and salt and burn the remains!"
Mike's jaw dropped. "Please tell me you're not on your way to commit grave desecration."
Vicki smiled, and pulled Henry out the door with her. "No, actually, we're going to Mac's."
Three hours in, and Vicki was beyond bored. Henry was quietly doodling in a sketch book, but she was on edge waiting for something, anything, to happen. And also hoping that at least once, she would be the normal one, and her tattoos wouldn't make this All About Her again. She was really getting tired of that.
They were currently the only people in the store besides Coreen's friend Greg, the equally bored college kid manning the register. He was painfully earnest and had tried chatting Henry up earlier, but Vicki's curt, "We're working" shut him down fast. Henry gave her a look too, but it wasn't as if he could go do his thing in the middle of a brightly lit store with video cameras.
When it happened, there was no warning. The display of Coke products across the aisle suddenly went tumbling down. By the time they all leaped to their feet, it was all over except the cleanup. Several of the bottles had exploded, and Vicki didn't need to be psychic to see mopping in Greg's future.
She turned at Henry's hand on her shoulder. He was looking worriedly at her arms. "Did you feel anything? Or see anything?"
"No," she replied. "Guess he's just your run-of-the-mill, non-evil-possessed ghost." She paused. "And how weird is it that I don't feel strange saying that?"
"So what's next?"
"Next, I am going home and going to bed." Henry's face lit up and she quickly added, "Alone."
Henry grinned. "Can't blame a guy for trying."
She grinned back. "No matter how trying it gets?" In unison, they grabbed their coats and headed out leaving the hapless Greg to deal with the mess. "So what about you? What are your plans for the night?"
Henry whistled for a cab, and held the door open for her. He answered nonchalantly, "I figured I'd stick around for a bit, maybe see if young Greg here needs an escort home."
Vicki snorted. "You realize if he tells Coreen he went out with you, you'll never hear the end of it?"
Henry froze with his hand on the door.
"And she's going to want every... single... detail."
"Um... maybe I'll just... head out for a drink." He shut the door on her and was gone before she could stop snickering.
"We've got a problem," Vicki told Coreen the next afternoon. "I tracked down the final resting place of our ghost, and he was already cremated. What am I supposed to do, burn the ashes?"
Coreen stared for a moment, then started frantically digging through the stack of books.
"I did check," Vicki continued, "and luckily Bobby wasn't considered a viable candidate for organ donation..." Just the thought made her wince.
"Did he have any artificial limbs?" Coreen asked in an oddly hopeful tone.
"Okay, there goes Hookman." Coreen tossed the book she was looking at aside and pawed through the rest. "There's gotta be something somewhere..."
Vicki sighed. It was bad enough thinking she had to dig up a body, but at least that was a possible solution.
"Was there anything strange about the burial?" Coreen continued.
"Next-of-kin was found in Ottawa. They were estranged, but he sent the money for cremation. I quote: 'That's the last handout he's ever getting from me.'" Vicki shook her head. "Gotta love that family spirit."
"His clothes? Any jewelry?"
Vicki consulted her notes. "Clothing would've been covered in blood and incinerated. He was wearing a ring... looks like the next-of-kin didn't claim it, and it went to the mortuary with the body."
Coreen brightened. "Thieves at the mortuary?"
"Mohadevan vouched for him."
"Oh man," Coreen moaned. "What else is left?"
"Well," Vicki started, "he was apparently stealing a carton of Players cigarettes when he was hit. But I think," she rustled through her notes. "Yep, they were incinerated too." She looked up. "Apparently there was a lot of blood."
"Maybe..." Coreen stopped.
"What?" Vicki asked.
"Maybe he just really wanted a cigarette?"
The cemetery was almost pitch black, and her flashlight was doing little to offset it. Vicki finally gave up after the second time she almost tripped, and held on to Henry's arm. "You know where we're going, right?" she asked. "Is this like a vampire hangout?"
Henry stopped and gave her a look she was glad she couldn't quite see. "You've seen my bedroom. Would you give up a place like that for a crypt or a hole in the ground?"
They started walking again, until Henry stopped them before a small plain gravestone. She shined her flashlight on it, and could barely make out the words 'Robert Allen.' "That's it? Not even a RIP?"
Henry shrugged and pulled the carton of cigarettes out. "So how do you want to do this?"
Vicki squinted at her watch. "It's 9:00 PM, and he was struck at 9:08. Coreen suggested starting slow to see if anything would work."
She took the carton from Henry, opened the first pack, lit one of the cigarettes, and dropped it on the stone marker. She repeated the process, and as the sixth cigarette hit the ground, they all went up in a flash. "Whoa," she yelled, backing up. Moving faster than she could see, Henry grabbed the rest of the carton and tossed it down on top of the stone, where it flared up, then... disappeared completely.
"Damn," she said. "He really did want those cigarettes."
"So that's it?" Henry asked. "We can go now?"
"That better be it. If he comes back, it'll be somebody else's problem." She grabbed Henry's arm and towed him in the direction she hoped was the exit.
Her next case had damn well better be a nice messy divorce.