Before she entered Murphy’s Pub, her third Irish bar in two days, Anastasia Brown sent a text to the office. She was supposedly snarled in traffic as she returned from the courthouse with a copy of the deed Jared needed. She worked for the Sparks Agency, a ghost and nephew run firm. Even though Anastasia’s predecessor at the agency, an investigator by the name of O’Brien, had disappeared, the Sparks duo had voted down her desire to search for him.
“He doesn’t want to be found,” Sparks had claimed.
So Anastasia had taken on the case herself. Based on her stereotypical idea of Irishmen, she had mapped out the area surrounding the Sparks’ house and marked every place there was a bar or club. She had also been reading anything she could find about Pinkerton agents. O’Brien had been a Pinkerton before he died and met Jared Sparks.
Anastasia figured that lunch was a required break from her workday; who would object if she ate her midday meal at a bar? A cheap draft and some roasted peanuts were all she could afford anyway until she received her first paycheck.
Breathing the fall air in to brace herself, Anastasia pulled back on Murphy’s heavy outer door and slid into the stale atmosphere and close quarters of the pub. A small area at the front had two tables almost up against where the bar started. The bar itself ran the length of the establishment ending where the kitchen entrance was. To the left, large booths ran along the wall opposite the bar. The noontime crowd numbered about twenty.
Anastasia squeezed along the path between booths and barstools until she reached the last empty booth. Something about this place was inconsistent with the feel of the previous two establishments she had visited. There was a vibe present in the less rowdy nature of the patrons and the way the barmaid’s eyes followed her.
Anastasia dropped her shoulder bag onto the booth bench which faced the front.
“Order here,” the barmaid said. And when Anastasia glanced at her, “Our waitress doesn’t come on until four.”
Anastasia spoke to the barmaid from where she was. “In that case, I’ll have a Redbreast and a round for my friends whatever they’re drinking.” She waved her hand to indicate the imaginary friends at her table.
The barmaid nodded slowly but did not argue. When she brought a tray of drinks to the table, Anastasia handed over her only credit card, saying a silent prayer that it was not maxed. To her dismay, the Redbreast 12 was popular. She distributed the drinks to three spots at the table. The only non-whiskey was a Tom Collins.
As she reached out for her own glass, Anastasia put her hand through a cold spot and drew it back quickly. She quickly recovered only to notice that, while she was distracted, the Tom Collins had traded places with one of the Redbreast 12. That was a neat trick. She was sure she had come to the right pub.
Reaching into her bag, Anastasia pulled out a board she had made herself. Ouija boards were creepy, in her opinion, so she used the same principle without graphics and with more attention paid to how words were formed. The classic yes and no were present, but consonants and consonant groups like th, str, and nd were listed to the left or right depending on their likelihood of beginning or ending a word. Vowels were in the middle. A guitar pick served as her pointer. She had blackened the tip of the pick with a sharpie so as to clarify the indicator.
“I’m Anastasia Brown. I work for the Sparks Agency,” she began. She was careful not to say that she was there on her employer’s behalf. “I’m looking for O’Brien the Pinkerton. Have you, have any of you talked to him in the last month?”
Though she waited a good minute, nothing happened.
“Drinks on me for every question you answer,” she offered.
The same coldness happened again. When it abated, the drinks were empty except for Anastasia’s and the pick had moved to yes. This was going to be an expensive day. She would have to make every question count.
* * *
Back at the Sparks Agency, Anastasia made her delivery of paperwork before heading upstairs to her room. She intended to change out of her courthouse apparel, a skirt and jacket, into jeans and comfortable boots. The information she had gotten from Murphy’s ghosts would take her on a follow-up jaunt across the city.
The ghosts had told her that O’Brien was still in Boston in an unsavory part of Bean Town. They could not tell her why he was there but had not admitted to it until she had bought another round. What did those spirits do with their spirits? In the end the one drinking the Tom Collins had warned her, Don’t go alone.
She was recollecting those words as she reached the second-floor landing. Her housemate Sonia Reef was coming out of their room. (Sonia’s pronouns were they, them and their). Wary of being overheard, Anastasia beckoned to Sonia to enter her room.
Hesitantly, they followed.
“Close the door,” Anastasia said.
Sonia obliged her staying near the door. “What is it?”
“I have a job tonight, but I need someone to go along with me.”
“Is this about O’Brien?” they quizzed her.
“Maybe,” Anastasia admitted.
“You know, Sparks isn’t interested.”
“This is on my own time. I can’t leave it alone,” Anastasia admitted.
“Do you have a solid lead?” Sonia asked.
“A lead. Not anywhere close to being solid.”
Sonia sighed. “We’d better take my van,” they said.
* * *
Sonia drove a beat-up blue mini-van in which they hauled all of their paranormal equipment. Normally, Sonia was the initial point of contact for the Sparks Agency. They verified the truth of clients’ claims to spectral interference, or, if the client was a specter itself, they corroborated whether the ghost-client had been in the places claimed as haunts. Anastasia was thrilled and also worried that Sonia would accompany her so readily.
The two of them drove south into the industrial area stretching along the Charles River to a juncture where brick warehouses formed a square. Ample room between the street and the buildings gave space for tractor trailers.
Sonia parked and crawled into the back to their equipment. The seats of the mini-van had been removed and a low bench installed along one side. On the other side were several EMF sensors, two night vision cameras, an infrared thermometer, digital voice recorders, and a ghost box. They busied themselves turning on and checking all of it.
“Why do ghosts happen?” Anastasia asked them. “Is it something unfinished, vengeance, or bad luck?”
“Something unfinished is the category and vengeance comes under it,” Sonia said. “What are we looking for? Just O’Brien or more?”
“More, I’d say.”
Sonia handed a camera and the thermometer to Anastasia and took the ghost box and a voice recorder. While they waited, Sonia demonstrated how to use the equipment.
At midnight, Sonia caught sight of an orb, falling almost as swiftly as a star into the building across the street. They directed Anastasia’s attention to it. More orbs followed quickly dropping into the building. Anastasia lost count so absorbed was she in trying to capture the phenomenon on camera.
The mini-van rocked and Sonia sucked in their breath. Anastasia lowered the camera to see a dozen orbs surrounding the van. Sonia’s ghost box was crackling. The van rocked again.
“Shut everything off,” Sonia ordered in a hoarse whisper.
As Anastasia hurried to turn off the equipment, Sonia moved towards the driver’s seat. The van rocked again, harder this time, and Sonia stumbled. When the van swayed again, Anastasia could feel that a back tire was off the ground.
“Spread your weight!” Sonia hissed as they struggled to reach the driver’s seat again.
The ignition turned over in the van much to its occupants’ surprise. The gear shift slipped into reverse, the van backed up, tires chirping, and when the wheel turned, the van was speeding to the north careless of stop signs. When they had crossed into a residential neighborhood, the van pulled over and turned off. The tip of a cigar lit up at the front of the van and its acrid aroma floated back to them.
Sonia and Anastasia righted themselves, and Sonia crawled up into the passenger seat. “O’Brien?” they asked.
“Who else would it be?” The question came from Sonia’s ghost box at Anastasia’s feet.
Questions burst out from Anastasia and Sonia both. Where had he been? What was going on at those warehouses? Why were those ghosts so belligerent?
O’Brien chuckled. “Meet me back here tomorrow night at one,” he said. “Don’t be late.”
A green orb flashed for a second inside the van before speeding away. The ghost box squawked again. “Leave Jared out of it,” O’Brien said.