After Murphy spiraled away like smoke from a firecracker, a full minute of silence passed. In a burst of words, Anastasia and Sonia spoke simultaneously. They landed on the last two words together.
–We have to go
Both were silent for another moment before speaking their third word.
For the sake of their jobs, they agreed to tell the boss. Anastasia listened as Sonia gave Randall Sparks the rundown on finding Murphy and a warehouse full of ghosts. Sonia muttered frequent grunts of agreement.
Finally, Sonia hung up and reported. “Sparks wants us to monitor. We’re not to get within a hundred yards.”
“We were two hundred yards already. How are we supposed to get closer than that anyway?”
“Two if by land,” Sonia said.
“You have a boat?”
“My brother does.”
Sonia’s brother Richard lived in a one-level white house surrounded by a three-foot chain link fence. He was in bed when they knocked on his door and greeted them shirtless, wearing grey sweatpants, and holding a Chihuahua. He was the hairiest man Anastasia had ever seen.
Although Richard refused to loan his boat, he was talked into driving it. While Sonia and Richard proceeded to his Jethro Tull inspired boat The Whistler, Anastasia returned to the warehouse district with the van. An hour later, Sonia and Richard tied up The Whistler a block from the warehouse. Anastasia joined them.
Through binoculars, they surveilled the warehouse from the dock. The earlier activity of arriving ghosts had slowed considerably. Instead, there was a soft glow coming from the windows. The shipping end of the warehouse was guarded by two men. Sonia went out on reconnaissance while the other two waited. Upon Sonia’s return, they reported that ghost activity was heavy at the front and there was an entry point through a side window.
“There’s an open floor plan,” Sonia said. “From what I could see there was a kind of cloud. It was a concentration of ghostly matter. The ghost cloud was being sucked through a tube into a clear glass container. This container was huge, as large around as an average backyard hot tub and about five feet tall. It hung over a fire on a wire structure.
“I could not see well enough to tell for sure, but I thought there was a clear liquid inside the glass. As the ghost cloud passed through the tube into the container, a green haze separated out of it. The haze stayed in the container while the rest of the cloud continued out the side of the glass container. A worker came and uncorked the top of the container. He captured the green stuff in a clear bag. That’s when I came back.”
Sonia thought Anastasia should go back to the warehouse with them right away. Anastasia argued for caution. Obviously, something important was happening, but they had already been warned off once this night. It could be dangerous to get closer. Sonia won.
Dressed all in black, Sonia and Anastasia crept out into the night. They skirted around the guards and used a dumpster as an obstacle between them and the men. Quietly, Anastasia hoisted Sonia up onto a fire escape and then continued along the side to a ground-level window. Whispering, they communicated through headsets.
“I got this window open. I’m going in,” Sonia said.
Anastasia was about to head to a better window when Sonia buzzed in her ear.
“Get to the van. Bring it as close as you can.”
The van was two blocks away. It took her six minutes to bring the van around. With the lights out, she inched it along toward the warehouse and stopped when she could see the silhouettes of six human forms. Her heart thumped at the tripled number of guards. Men in black attire like her own were loading two cargo vans in readiness for departure.
Sonia slipped into the passenger seat.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “Follow them.”
“The ghosts are giving the men here information. I don’t know what the men are paying them though.”
“Only the past matters to a spirit,” Anastasia said.
“Could the payment be in memories?” Sonia thought aloud.
As Anastasia tailed the two black cargo vans to the highway, she listened to Sonia’s account of what she had seen. Sonia thought the warehouse was a rendezvous point where the ghosts gathered to drop information and get paid. Sonia also had details about what happened to the ghost haze once it was captured in a bag.
“It gets fed through this accordion box thing, the size of a window air conditioner.”
Sonia drew the box with her hands. “It filters information and sends the data to two huge monitors. One of the screens is a map of Boston. It had dots all over it but mostly in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Charlestown. The other screen was for lists of jewelry, electronics, and safes.”
“This is a burglary ring using ghosts for informants? Who would even think of that?”
The vans ahead were exiting the highway.
“Be careful, Sonia said. “Stay back. Yeah, it’s pretty black and white. Targets in rich neighborhoods.”
“What do we do if these vans are full of thieves?”
“As soon as we know for sure, I’ll call it in.”
They were driving on a cobblestone street with brick sidewalks. Ahead one of the vans parked while the other continued to the next block. Anastasia pulled over herself. Four men from both vans got out and began working in pairs. One of each pair shone a light on the license plates of the vehicles parked near the lit house; the other wrote down the numbers.
“They’re canvassing,” Anastasia said.
“They’ll run those numbers against the data collected from the ghosts.”
“And match the cars to their addresses. They’ll know who likely isn’t home.”
Sonia called the agency again.They were told to continue observing.
“I think they’ll move out on foot. Some of them anyway,” Anastasia said.
“You take the first guy. I’ll shadow the second,” Sonia said. “We meet back here.”
As soon as one of the group detached himself from the others, Anastasia slipped out of the van. She darted across the street into the same shadows where her quarry had disappeared. He slipped into the recessed entry of a stately house that did not appear to be locked.
Anastasia thought that was odd. She entered through the same door. Inside there was a soft blue glow. The hair on her neck pricked up. The blue glow was seeping out from underneath white double doors decorated fancier than anything Anastasia had seen outside of a museum.
She slowly cracked the door. Behind it was what once must have been a ballroom. It had a parquet floor and a marble fireplace. It was also filled with dancing ghosts, primped out in their best finery. The spirits wore fashions from centuries and decades prior, women in bustles, men in wigs and breeches, or in tails and long pants.
About to set out after her quarry again, Anastasia eased the door closed and turned straight into the chest of a man. Muffling her with his hand, he dragged her by the neck with his other arm. Outside, he released her, shoved her to the ground, and disappeared into the night.
Back at the van, Sonia was waiting for her.
“My guy lifted one item out of a jeweler’s box,” Sonia said. “One, that’s it. A necklace that probably wouldn’t be worn very often. It looked old. What about you?”
“In my house, the ghosts were having a party,” Anastasia said hoarsely. She coughed.
“What’s wrong with your voice?” Sonia asked.
“I got caught, but he let me go,” Anastasia said. She started the van before Sonia could tell her to get out of there. “I saw Murphy,” she added. “He was waltzing with Bette Davis.
“Bette Davis, really?”
“Really. It was kind of crazy, no music, and every couple was dancing different steps, jitterbug on top of gavotte, fox trot over the quadrille.”
“It’s a baroque dance.”
“Baroque? Who are you?”
“Fifteen years of dance lessons, okay?”
Sonia ordered her to drive back to the Sparks Agency. The sleepless Jared Sparks met them as they entered the brownstone. He listened patiently as they recapped the night’s bizarre events for him.
“You think that these ghosts are giving up information about particular valuables in the houses they haunt in exchange for the opportunity to socialize with other ghosts?”
“Well, spirits don’t need objects anymore,” Anastasia said. “Maybe they really crave companionship and will do anything for it.”
“Without conscience?” Jared asked.
“They’re stealing from rich people, maybe even from themselves,” Sonia said.
“Miss Brown,” Jared asked, “what is the policy of the Jared Sparks Agency with regard to misbehaving spirits?”
“We do not get involved unless a paying client is being harmed or inconvenienced,” Anastasia replied.
“Yes, and who is our client?”
Anastasia looked at the floor. “We don’t have a client interested in these thefts or concerned about ghosts invading their ballroom.”
“Correct, Miss Brown. The two of you will each write a report and file it for future reference.”
“What about Murphy?” Sonia asked.
“He’ll let us know if he needs our help,” Sparks said with finality. “Get some sleep.”
Anastasia would have thought the evening had no satisfactory outcome except for two things. She had not felt so alive in a long while, and she was beginning to understand her job. The problems of spirits occurred when their activities overlapped with the realm of the living. If humans didn’t know about their lost valuables and the spirits didn’t care, there was no problem. She could live with this.
Her curiosity, however, would get an early start on the internet searching for vintage Bostonian valuables for sale.