Smuggler's Inn

Chapter 1

Dr. Sam Beckett felt the familiar sensation of a Leap beginning. He sensed the energy building, knew that if anyone had been there to watch they would see a blue aura begin to surround his body. As the Leap became more imminent they would witness the aura crackling with electricity, like little jolts of lightning. From his perspective he Leaped out of one situation and immediately Leaped into another, though he knew that wasn't true. He went Somewhere in between, Somewhere where he could rest and heal before being sent on another mission. Wherever that was, there was no one to see him leave.

The intensity of the Leap process began to fade but just when Sam was sure he'd arrived his eyes were assaulted by a flare of dazzling white light, temporarily blinding him. Had something gone wrong? His body jerked involuntarily from the surprise of it and he realized he was holding hands with someone on either side of him; they both tightened their grip so the contact wouldn't be broken. He heard a great crash of noise rumbling above his head. His sight began to come back and he could see he was sitting at a table with several other people, all holding hands in an unbroken chain. No one spoke a word.

Ooh, boy! Sam thought. What's going on here?

The room was dimly lit, making it difficult for him to see the others' faces. As his eyes adjusted to the faint light he could make out a darker patch on the wall in front of him. His brain confirmed it as a window when he saw a jagged fork of lightning through it in the distance. He could hear the rushing sound of driving rain beating against the glass. He'd Leaped into the middle of a thunderstorm! He felt just a little sheepish at his confusion, but at least maybe no one had noticed.

He began taking stock of his surroundings, though it was difficult to see clearly. Several large candles had been placed on tables and other surfaces surrounding the group, casting an eerie, flickering light on the room while leaving faces in shadow. He counted six other people at the table, two men and four women. The candlelight glinted on something metallic in the center of the table and Sam realized it was a large old-fashioned man's pocket watch.

About that time the old woman at the head of the table spoke. "Cyrus?" she asked in a pleading voice. "Are you there? We beseech you to speak to us. We are seven in this circle of power, a potent number. We ask that you appear before us."

Thunder rumbled outside and the rain continued to pour down, but otherwise silence reigned. The two men looked down at the table directly in front of them as if they were embarrassed to meet anyone's eyes.

One of the two middle-aged women flicked her eyes toward the older woman. "Father of my husband," she intoned, "speak to us. We would have you tell us what happened two years ago this very night." She turned her head to the man seated on her right and raised her eyebrows in a visual shrug. Sam got the idea she was just playing along.

Several minutes ticked by while nothing happened. Another bright flash of lightning stabbed their eyes, followed immediately by a loud crack of thunder. The other man shifted uncomfortably in his chair and looked at the old woman, clearly wondering how much longer this would last.

Sam caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look. There was some kind of stuffed animal head mounted on the wall beside the window; something large with antlers, a moose or elk, he wasn't sure. What he was sure of was that there was a heavy mist flowing in two streams from the animal's nostrils. He frowned a bit in concentration, wondering if this emanation might somehow be caused by cold air flowing in from outside through some small crevice in the wall. As a scientist it never occurred to him to consider a supernatural explanation.

An instant later Al appeared, his face momentarily merged with the trophy head, smoking cigar in one hand and handlink in the other. "Hi Sam," he said. "I guess Ziggy didn't do a very good job of centering me on you. The storm must be interfering."

Al emerged from the wall and considered the situation. "Where's the Ouija board?" he asked, voice heavy with sarcasm. He wore black slacks, a black-and-white patterned shirt, and a fire-engine red jacket and fedora. Even in the gloom he stood out vividly.

He realized Sam was looking at him rather oddly and said, "Whassa matter, Sam? It's not like you've never seen me walk through walls before." He twisted his body around to see behind him and found himself nose-to-snout with the hairy moose head.

"Yaaaah!" Al yelled as he scuttled away. He realized he was standing in mid-air and stabbed frantically at the buttons on the handlink until his feet appeared to be touching the floor. Another bolt of lightning struck at that moment, briefly showing the room in stark relief; thunder followed immediately. Al jumped in reflex, then put his hand to his chest in relief as he realized it was just the storm. "Geez, Sam. Kinda spooky, isn't it?" Sam nodded his head slightly in response.

Across the table from Sam the youngest woman shivered and looked over her shoulder at the spot where Al was standing. "Grandfather?" she asked with an edge of fear in her voice. "Is that you?"

"Cyrus, if you're here with us tonight, give us a sign of your presence," the old woman said. "We have your beloved old watch here, the one your father gave to you. Let your spirit focus on that and come to us. Move the watch and we'll know you're here."

A thin wailing noise began and everyone at the table looked around to pinpoint its source. The sound became deeper, a sepulchral creak that stretched out for several seconds. It ended with a sharp thump. All heads turned to see a heavy door standing wide open; they held their collective breath but nothing further happened. Sam heard the other middle-aged woman whisper, "It vas not closed firmly enough to latch."

The old woman returned her attention to the center of the table with a look of determination on her face. "Cyrus, please," she begged. "We need to know what happened. Your spirit cannot rest until we know the truth!"

"Sounds like somebody was murdered," Al commented a little uneasily.

The man seated next to the daughter-in-law shifted in his chair. Abruptly he stood, shaking off the grip of his neighbors. "It isn't working, Mother," he said firmly. "I told you it was nonsense."

"Oh, but you didn't give it a chance, Charles," she said.

Charles strode to the wall and flipped the light switch, bathing the room in bright electric light. He was in his late forties; a tall man with short black hair and cold grey eyes. He had a sturdy build, with the beginnings of a paunch that strained against the vest of his three-piece black pin-stripe suit.

Everyone but the old woman stood up and began moving around the room as if to put some distance between themselves and the recent activity at the table. Sam noticed that the other man picked up a glass of dark liquid and drained it off. He was a young man of average height, rather non-descript looks with shaggy brown hair. He was tanned and fit, but wore slightly shabby slacks and lightweight sweater.

The old woman remained forlornly in her place. She was a short, plump woman with short fluffy white hair and bright blue eyes. The young woman went to her and patted her shoulder. "It's all right, Grandma Rose," she told her. "You tried, and I appreciate that. You know how much I want to find out what really happened."

Rose squeezed the woman's hand. "I was so sure it would work," she said sadly. Then she smiled a little, obviously determined to maintain a positive attitude. "I know your Matthew didn't do it, Dottie. We will get to the bottom of this, I'm sure of it. You'd better go check on Jeanne, and I think I'll go to bed myself. Maybe Cyrus will come to me in a dream."

Dottie helped her grandmother up and they left together. Dottie looked to be in her late twenties. She was a few inches taller than Rose; her oval face was framed by long curly black hair and Sam could see that her eyes were gray like Charles'.

Sam looked around to see the room now that the lights were on. It appeared to be a library. The walls were paneled in dark wood where they weren't lined with bookcases full of expensive-looking old books. In addition to the moose head there were several other mounted trophies, dark oil paintings, crossed swords, and even a coat of arms on the walls in between the bookcases. It looked like something you'd picture in an old English mansion, but the people hadn't spoken with British accents. Al knew that Sam wasn't able to talk to him at the moment, so he wandered around the large room inspecting the books.

"You didn't have to be so cruel, she was only trying to help," the daughter-in-law was saying. She was a good six inches shorter than her husband, with dark auburn hair cut short. Her blue eyes regarded Charles coolly as if her words were more from habit than true reprimand.

"It'd gone on long enough, Adele," Charles replied. "Father didn't believe in that bunk and neither do I. I put up with it for her sake, but I'd had enough. And speaking of enough, I don't believe you need any more to drink, Tony. Mother asked you to join us; it's time you left."

Tony had been in the act of pouring another drink, but now he set the lead-crystal decanter back on the table and dropped the stopper in with a clink. He drank down what was in the glass and set it on the table. "Yes, Sir," he said simply, but there was an edge of sullenness to his voice. "Goodnight, Sir." He turned and left. Sam thought he had an idea why the young man had been so uncomfortable.

"That door certainly gave me a fright!" Adele said. "I've never believed in séances myself, but just for a moment I wondered if it might be working."

"Ach, you know how this house she has settled," the other middle-aged woman said. "With that door in particular you must be careful to make sure you hear the click." She was taller than the other women, a thin figure with graying blonde hair worn shoulder-length in what Sam thought of as an old-fashioned style with the ends curled under.

Adele laughed a little self-consciously. "Yes, Susan, you'd think I'd know that by now. You certainly jumped, Steven."

Sam realized she was speaking to him. "Ah, no," he said hesitantly. "Actually it was the lightning that startled me."

Al hurried to his side, aware that his services were needed. "That's your mother, Sam," he said.

"Oh, yes. That was just before the door opened. It certainly is a wild night, the perfect setting for this, like something out of a scary movie. Perhaps we'll see the ghost tonight," Adele said gleefully.

"Ghost?" Al inquired a bit nervously.

"You don't really believe that, Dear," Charles said. There was no warmth in the endearment.

Adele turned to regard him with some amusement. "Perhaps I'll set out my camera and see if I can catch her on film. Then we'd all have to believe this old house is haunted." She turned to Sam with a twinkle in her eyes. "What do you think, Steven? Is this a night the ghost will walk the upstairs halls?"

Sam favored her with a wicked little grin. "Absolutely, Mother. But I doubt you'll get a picture of her, ghosts are notoriously camera-shy."

"Sam?" Al asked in confusion. "What are you saying? You don't believe in ghosts!"

"Well, it'll be fun trying," Adele replied. "It's good to have you home, even if it's just for the weekend."

"He only came because Mother insisted," Charles said. "I'll leave you to your ghost-hunting, I've got to look over some papers. Goodnight." With that he left the room.

Susan approached them and asked, "Vill you need anythingk else?"

"No, you go on to bed," Adele told her. "I'll be up for awhile with the cameras. I'm not sure yet where I'll place them, so be careful you don't trip over them in the morning. Steven, surely you won't be going out again on such a nasty night."

Another bolt of lightning sizzled outside as if to emphasize her statement.

"No," Sam replied. "In fact, I think I'll just go to bed myself."

She gave him a kiss on the cheek, wished him a good night, and left, leaving Sam alone with Al. He turned to Al and said, "You should've seen your face when I told her she'd see the ghost tonight!"

"You did that just to tease me," Al accused.

Sam nodded. "And it worked, too! Where am I, Al? What's going on here? Who's this Cyrus fellow we were trying to contact from beyond the grave?"

Al had begun punching buttons on the handlink but paused to look up from under his eyebrows; there was a cringing expression on his face. "Did you have to say it like that? What if there's some, I don't know, residual energy or something left over from that ritual." He looked around the room uncertainly. "That might be all it takes to summon his spirit."

"I'm sorry, Al," Sam said. His smile said he really wasn't. "If this room bothers you so much, then tell me where my, uh, Steven's room is. We can talk there without worrying that anyone hears us. Uh, me."

Al consulted the handlink, glad to have something normal to occupy his thoughts. "I'll just see if Ziggy can pull up the plans for this house," he muttered. "Oh, here it is. This house is big! This is my kind of place, it's got bedrooms all over."

"I'm just interested in finding my own bedroom," Sam said.

"Let's try the second floor, the ground floor here is all public rooms. Library, dining room, parlor, office, kitchen, that kind of stuff. Go out that door there and up the stairs."

Sam followed directions and they began ascending the stairs. The wooden staircase and banister had an air of age about them; they silently spoke of the careful craftsmanship of a bygone era. Sam noticed that the treads were a little worn but they seemed sound. About halfway up a step creaked as he stepped on it.

Al jumped and looked around worriedly. "What was that?"

"It's just the stairs," Sam said. He rocked his weight from side to side so that it squeaked repeatedly. Overhead thunder rumbled ominously.

"Don't do that, Sam!" Al begged.

Sam grinned and continued up the stairs. At the top they found themselves at the end of a long hallway. There was a small lamp on a console table about halfway down the length; its low-wattage bulb seemed to throw more shadows than light. It was hard to tell whether the doors lining the hall were closed as they were made of some dark wood that seemed to absorb the faint light, creating Stygian shapes in the wall.

Sam stood where he was, unsure which door might conceal his room. He could feel a cold draft seeping through the large window beside the landing. Another great spear of lightning crackled overhead, illuminating the corridor starkly with its bright flash. Al's hand jerked in alarm. In the returning gloom the lights on the handlink seemed to leave visible trails with the motion.

"Which room is mine?" Sam whispered, not wanting to speak loudly in case there was anyone occupying any of the rooms.

Al looked rapidly left, right, up, and down to make sure there wasn't a ghost watching them. "I don't know, Sam," he said. "All the blueprint shows is that these are bedrooms. It's not like they're labeled with names like the drawing in the front of an Agatha Christie book."

"Well why don't you make like a ghost and check 'em out," Sam suggested.

Al directed an uncertain glance at Sam. "Make like a ghost," he muttered. "You could've chosen a better metaphor." Nevertheless he faced the nearest door and melted through it.

Since he had nothing better to do at the moment Sam walked down the hall to the table to inspect the lamp. The shade was made of stained glass, he tapped it with a fingernail to be sure it wasn't plastic. Vivid green leaves appeared to fall from the top, supporting large clusters of pink and purple blooms and the bottom edge was ragged to enhance the natural theme. The brass upright was cast in the shape of a rough branch.

Al stuck his head through the door of the room next to the table. "This has gotta be the one," he said. "All the others either have people in 'em or the furniture's covered with dust cloths."

"Al, is this a real Tiffany lamp?" Sam asked quietly. "It's beautiful, look at the detail."

"Who cares?" Al asked a bit harshly. "I mean, who knows? Probably, these people must be filthy rich. Would you come on in here, Sam, and turn the light on?"

Sam opened the door and felt for the switch. The room was large and filled with furniture in an old-fashioned style; heavy dark wood with lots of carved accents. A four-poster bed took up one corner, but there was still room for separate sitting and dressing areas. The walls were papered in a blue striped pattern and bright Persian carpets defined the different areas, leaving an expanse of wood floor between them.

"Are you sure this is the right room?" Sam asked. "This looks like it could be the master bedroom."

Al pointed to a suitcase standing against the side of the dresser. "It's got the initials "SCC" on it, so it must be Steven's. Uh, it's Steven Cyrus Carmichael, by the way. He's 23 years young."

Sam walked over to confirm the initials, then turned to look in the mirror that sat atop the dresser. Steven appeared to be a chip off the old block. He was tall with a sturdy build but obviously athletic and in good shape. His black hair was cut short especially on the sides, but the slightly longer top was quite curly. He had grey eyes in a long thin face; even the nose and lips were long and thin. It was not a particularly handsome face; there was an air of self-absorption about it.

Lightning flickered outside the room's window. Sam turned away from the mirror to see Al looking nervously around.

"It's just a big storm, Al," he said calmly. "How come you're so jumpy tonight?"

"Well, the storm doesn't help," Al replied. "But it's not just that, it's this house. It's haunted, Sam."

Sam shook his head in mild amusement. "There's no such things as ghosts, Al. You know that." He felt a sudden sense of déjà vu. "Didn't we have this conversation once before? I thought we got all this settled."

Al looked even more uncomfortable. "Uh, that was vampires, Sam. You made me promise never ever to bring up the subject of vampires again. Ghosts are completely different from vampires."

Sam realized that his teasing had gone too far. Al's fear of the supernatural was in full bloom and he wasn't going to get any answers until Al calmed down. He held up his hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender. "OK, OK. You're absolutely right. But what makes you say the house is haunted?"

"Because Cyrus Carmichael was murdered in this house exactly two years ago tonight."