"How thrilling!" Adele cried. "Steven, you shall play the role of Monsieur Hercule Poirot, and tell us all how the murder was done." They were in the library again, sitting in the conversation area. Adele had just turned off the overhead lights, insisting the light from the small table lamps set a more intimate scene. The storm had arrived and rain was beating against the windows while the occasional flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room. Susan finished serving cocktails and took a seat.
"I'll tell you what Tony told the police," Sam corrected.
"Oh, but you must tell us how you figured out it was Tony," Adele insisted.
Al stood behind Sam's chair at the head of the group. He took a puff of his cigar and said, "You know, Sam, Poirot always started by pointing the finger at each person in turn. Then he'd explain why they couldn't p-possibly have done it."
"Are you going to make us each look guilty and then prove our innocence?" Dottie asked, seemingly delighted with the whole idea.
Al looked at her askance, remembering that she had apparently sensed his presence two nights ago. Thunder rattled the windows, further re-enacting that scene.
"Don't be ridiculous," Charles snapped. "Let's get this over with before dinnertime." In response to Adele's glare he added, "I do want to know all about it."
"So do I!" Jeanne piped up. She wiggled happily in the over-stuffed chair that swallowed her small body. "I knew my Daddy didn't hurt Grandpa Cyrus."
"Let's give the boy a chance to speak," Rose suggested.
"Well, maybe I should start with the sequence of events," Sam told them. "When I'm done you can ask any questions you might have."
His audience settled in for the tale, all eyes on Sam.
"I guess I should start with why," Sam said. "We all know that Grandfather had decided to sell the house, and no one was happy with his decision. He and Matthew had that big fight, which is what made Matthew look so good for the murder." Heads nodded in the dim light.
"Tony was just as upset, only no one asked him. Susan was going to move into the Chicago house, but we didn't need a gardener there so he'd be out of a job. The new owner wouldn't care that Tony's family had always worked here, and they might not be so charitable about his drinking."
"He had it pretty cushy here," Charles put in. "I knew he goofed off a lot, and drank of course. But he got the work done and that was good enough for me."
"Why didn't he say something?" Dottie wanted to know.
Sam forbore to point out that they were already interrupting with questions. "He did. He had a talk with Grandfather earlier in the day. Unfortunately he happened to do it just after the scene with Matthew, so Grandfather wasn't particularly nice about it."
"I can just imagine!" Charles said. "First the wimpy grandson-in-law and then the hired man asking him to change his mind. No, he wouldn't have liked that one little bit."
"Cyrus never did stand for anyone trying to change his mind once he had it made up," Rose said.
"So he decided to kill Cyrus because of that?" Adele asked.
"He knew I was only going along with the sale because Father wanted it," Charles said. "I spend most of my time in Chicago so I didn't really care either way; but I know how much everyone else loves living here. And it's a pleasant place to come when I want to relax."
"If you call spending all day in that office relaxing," Adele muttered under her breath.
"If they'd all just shut up you could get on with the story," Al said cynically.
"Let him tell what happened!" Dottie commanded.
Again Al eyed her suspiciously. "She should've been leading the séance the other night; I think she's got ESP." He didn't look particularly happy at the thought.
"Even though it was a Wednesday night, Tony asked Karen Nillson to meet him at the Moosehead," Sam said. "You remember, they were engaged at the time. They spent quite a bit of time at the bar anyway, so it didn't seem odd. I, uh, saw them in there myself, and was vaguely aware they'd left sometime around 8:00 PM." He was uncomfortable with the lie, but knew that Steven had witnessed the events so it was sort-of true. Besides, it wasn't like he was testifying in court here.
"That does seem a little odd," Dottie said. "They usually closed the place down."
"Well, I, uh, wasn't paying much attention to them," Sam said. "But apparently they made quite a bit of noise about picking up a 6-pack and taking a romantic walk at the lake."
"Nothing good comes of that kind of behavior," Rose said in a superior tone. "Goodness knows I'd had to keep my eye on them when that girl would come to visit. Always trying to sneak off upstairs, un-chaperoned."
"Grandma Rose, they were going to be married soon so what's the difference?" Dottie asked.
"The point is that Tony wasn't looking for romance that night," Sam put in before things got out of hand. "He only wanted it to look that way. After an hour or so of walking around they were tired and cold and drunk, so he suggested they go to an old hunter's cabin he new about. But he'd drugged her beer, and as soon as they got there she passed out. And he'd only pretended to be really drunk so she'd think he'd passed out too." Sam was getting wound up now.
"He had his alibi at the expense of Karen's reputation," Rose remarked.
"Exactly," Sam said. "There's an old boat at that cabin, Tony knew about that too. As soon as Karen was asleep he rowed across the lake, it wasn't very far, and tied up at our dock."
"He used the tunnel!" Charles said as he figured it out. "I'd forgotten all about it. He had a key to the boathouse, so that was easy enough."
"Of course!" Adele said. "That's the answer to your locked-room mystery, Steven. I guess we didn't think about it because we assumed no one else knew about it. It's been years since it's been used."
Rose had a determined look on her face; clearly she wasn't looking forward to hearing the details of her husband's death, yet she needed to know. "How did it happen, Steven?" she asked firmly, though she was gripping Dottie's hand for support.
The storm had been worsening, and a large bolt of lightning hit close to the house, as if to increase the suspense.
"Grandfather had gotten up as soon as the bar started moving, and knew something was wrong when Tony came out," Sam said. "Tony tried one more time to talk him out of selling the house, but he was apparently quite sharp about refusing. Tony had a gun…"
"Oh, dear," Rose said softly, thinking how tense the situation must've been for Cyrus.
"Grandfather managed to get it away from him," Sam continued. "Tony didn't exactly say how. Apparently they fought and Tony was knocked down. Grandfather took the gun and was heading for the phone to call the police when Tony grabbed one of those big heavy ashtrays and hit him over the head."
Lightning flashed outside the windows again, and the lights flickered momentarily. Adele looked distressed. "Ghost stories aren't so much fun when the ghost is someone you knew," she said quietly.
Al looked even more nervous. "Does she have to keep talking about ghosts?" he asked. "It's like she's just begging one to show up."
"We're not talking about ghosts," Sam told them both. "Murder is scary enough."
"It's horrible," Dottie said. "I can guess what happened next. Tony took his gun back and the ashtray with Grandfather's blood on it and left via the tunnel. He probably dropped the ashtray in the lake on his way back to the cabin." She paused as she thought about something. "It's funny, you'd think we'd have noticed one was missing."
Susan had been listening quietly, but now she spoke up. "Ach, but he had so many! I never paid attention to them except to keep them clean. I wish now I had seen that one was gone."
"It wouldn't have mattered," Sam said.
"You haven't explained how you figured it out," Adele said.
"Tony did one more thing before he left – he stole one of Grandfather's cigars. Karen said he did that sometimes, and Grandfather had been smoking which gave him the idea. He took it back to the cabin and smoked it there as a kind of sick celebration. Karen told me she smelled stale cigar smoke the next morning."
Dottie seemed to be looking over Sam's shoulder. "You know, it's funny," she mused. "I can almost see a misty trace of that smoke behind you."
"You can?" Al asked, his eyes slightly bugged-out and mouth hanging open in trepidation.
"Perhaps it's Cyrus' ghost," Adele said in a melodramatic tone. "He's come here tonight to be assured his true killer will pay for his foul deed."
Rose sat up a little straighter. "Yes, I think I can see him; he's all dressed in white."
"You can see me?" Al asked, even more apprehensive.
"Of course he is, Mother," Charles said, though he rolled his eyes at the others so she couldn't see. "He was buried in his white suit." His tone made it clear he thought she was imagining things.
"But there's something funny about his shoes," Rose said thoughtfully. "They're all shiny."
Al raised a foot to inspect his shiny gold sneakers as if verifying Rose's description. "Sam, this is getting weird." He looked like he was ready to bolt.
"Cyrus, Dear, everything's fine," Rose said in a tender loving voice. "We now know what happened, and he will be punished. You can rest now, Cyrus; I'll see you again in Heaven."
Al said, "I can't take much more of this!" He stabbed frantically at the handlink. Rose blew a kiss in his direction as he disappeared. Sam saw him reappear behind Rose's chair.
"I think he's gone now," Sam said, then turned his head to wink at Charles.
Dottie looked pensive. "I still feel a presence," she said. She shrugged. "I guess he's waiting to hear the rest. I don't understand how you figured it out from the smoke."
"I didn't at first," Sam admitted. "It just sounded like it was out of place and that made me curious. It wasn't until I saw the house across the bay from the cabin that I figured it out."
"That doesn't sound like proof to me," Charles said.
Sam grinned. "It wasn't. If Tony hadn't tried to kill Karen and me I couldn't have proved a thing. But once we delivered him to George Schmidt he knew he was sunk, and admitted everything." He paused for a moment, remembering. "He seemed to think we'd added insult to injury because we took him back in his own car; there wasn't room in mine."
"And Matt will be set free?" Dottie asked.
"George says it will probably take a few weeks, but yes, he'll be completely exonerated."
"Did you give him that typewriter ribbon and manuscript?" Susan asked.
"Well, yeah, I did," Sam said. "It didn't seem all that important after Tony's confession, but I figured it couldn't hurt."
Jeanne couldn't contain herself any longer. "My Daddy's going to come home?" she asked happily.
"Yes, Dear, he is!" Dottie told her. "Steven, I can't thank you enough. You've made the whole family happy today."
Out of Rose's sight now, Al consulted the handlink. He shook his head. "They may be happy now, Sam, but nothing else has changed. Charles still goes to jail for smuggling, the house is still sold, and little Jeanne still runs away." He cringed a bit as thunder crashed above their heads. "I told you you weren't here for the murder."
"There's something else I need to tell you," Sam said, his voice clueing them in that they wouldn't like it. "Does anyone know why Grandfather wanted to sell the house in the first place?"
"No, he never said," Charles said as if it didn't matter. The rest of the group shook their heads as well.
"Tony accused Cy, uh, Grandfather of smuggling," he said, looking at Charles for confirmation or denial. He got neither.
"Even if he was, what's that got to do with selling the house?" Adele asked.
Sam waited a beat, but no one else spoke. "Tony said Grandfather had decided it was time to stop, that it was getting too dangerous." Again he looked at Charles, who refused to meet his eyes. "The family business was losing money." He put a slight emphasis on the word 'family'.
Charles sighed deeply and refused to look at anyone. "You're right, Steven. It was, and it is. I thought it was because Father was trying to play it too safe; I thought I could do better." He looked up, his eyes begging them to understand.
Adele looked unaccustomedly serious. "Are we in real trouble, Charles?"
"No, but it's not far off if something doesn't change, and soon," he replied.
"I don't understand, Son," Rose said. "What does one have to do with the other?"
Charles had the air of a man who has suddenly had a great weight lifted from his shoulders. He'd wanted to tell them so many times, but hadn't known how. Now it was out in the open, though he still couldn't see a solution. "It's an expensive business," he began. "You have to pay people to look the other way – ship's crew, dock workers, even the police. You have to hire men who know how to hide contraband, and build special containers for it. You have to set up your routes to accommodate the goods, even if it's not the most direct course. There's a lot more to it than you'd think."
"I'll suppose next he'll complain that the cops don't stay bought without more dough," Al said scornfully.
Everyone else was looking confused, but Dottie said, "And it's getting harder to find workers both dishonest and cheap."
"Jeez!" Al exclaimed nervously. "She's still reading me. I must be too close, I'll just go back to where I was and hope the old lady doesn't still see me." He sidled back to his previous station behind Sam, watching Rose carefully for signs of recognition.
"Yes, that's a big part of it," Charles admitted. "I found out the hard way; the more risks you take the more it costs. Used to be no one really cared, but now the authorities are cracking down on that kind of thing and it's getting easier to get caught if you're not careful. I kept trying to make it work, but I guess I don't have the head for it."
"Just what is it that you're smuggling?" Sam asked.
"Oh, art, jewelry, money, gold and gemstones, archaeological artifacts, guns, and anything else that hasn't been legally acquired, or needs to be moved quietly," Rose said calmly.
"You knew?" practically everyone asked at once.
"Cyrus told me all about it," she said with aplomb. "But I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. I guess it doesn't matter now. After that nasty business on our dock he thought it would be better to organize things instead of being directly involved."
"Yeah, about the bootlegging," Sam said. "Tony told the police that Grandfather wanted him to block off the tunnel entrances before he sold the house, that's how the subject came up between them."
"Good grief!" Charles said. "I just realized; George will alert the customs people, and I'll be caught red-handed." He looked around at his family, fear on his face for all to see. Then he smiled, a little sheepishly. "Father was right. There's only one answer – it's got to stop, and right now."
"That'll give you more resources for the legitimate business," Sam said.
Charles looked around the room, catching everyone's eye in turn. "I'm really sorry," he said. "I thought I was doing the right thing. I only hope it's not too late. If you'll excuse me, I have some telephone calls to make." He stood up to leave.
At that moment lightning sizzled seemingly just outside the window, and thunder cracked almost simultaneously. The lamps flickered, then went out. The group held their collective breath, waiting for the lights to come back on. The room remained dark. Jeanne whimpered quietly.
"The fuse has blown," Susan announced calmly. "I vill go und replace it." The creak of her chair as she stood up was loud in the darkness.
Another bolt of lightning flashed outside the windows. Though it hadn't hit close to the house it was particularly bright. So bright, in fact, that it seemed to leave an after-image in their vision. But instead of the sharp angular shape of the lightning, this was an amorphous blob. It might have been a cloud of mist seeping through some chink in the window frame, solidifying and growing as it encountered the warmer air of the room.
No one spoke, though they all came to their feet to watch in fascination. The cloud moved into the room, changing shape until it looked almost human, like a woman wearing a long, full, white nightgown. No one moved as it glided closer to the group. Even Al was uncharacteristically silent, though Sam could see a look of terror on his friend's face. He wasn't sure what expression his own face held.
The apparition seemed to raise a hand in greeting as it drifted by Rose; it nodded at Dottie and passed its hand over Jeanne's head as if caressing it. It passed behind Susan with an apparent pat on the shoulder. It paused before Charles and let its hand linger on his.
Next it slid over to Sam, but suddenly turned its head sharply to take in Al as if it had just noticed him. Al stood his ground, looking the thing squarely in the face; but Sam could see Al's gold sneakers quiver as his knees shook, just a little. The form raised its shoulders in a shrug, then it turned back to Sam. The head tilted to the side, as if it were studying him. Slowly the miasma sank downward, head lowered, its skirt spreading out at the bottom. At that point it faded out and disappeared.
Lightning illuminated the room once again, yet still no one moved or spoke. Then Rose opened a drawer in the table beside her and pulled out a box of matches. The flare of the match as she struck it looked unnaturally bright, but the glow of the single candle she lit flooded the room with warmth.
"It was Agatha," she said matter-of-factly, shaking out the match. "Thaddeus' wife. That was just her way of letting us know everything's all right." She sat back down as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. That broke the spell, and everyone began murmuring at once.
-"Did you see that?"
-"What was it?"
-"Scared me half to death!"
-Jeanne said, "She likes me!"
Not that anyone else could tell, but Al was the only silent member of the party. He stood rooted to the spot; the ash from his forgotten cigar fell off and disappeared.
"Well, ahem, light another candle Mother and I'll go with Susan to change the fuse," Charles said. His voice shook a little.
Rose lit two more candles, handing one to Charles who left with Susan on their errand. "Come with me Dottie, I want to go get Cyrus' watch. Somehow it makes me feel closer to him right now."
"I wanna go, too," Jeanne said. They left, leaving Sam alone with Al.
"Sam, that thing could see me," Al said without inflection. "It looked right at me." Al was not a man who was easily frightened, but he wasn't at all sure what had really happened. He remembered his cigar and took a puff; the normal action seemed to help relax him.
"I think it saw me, too," Sam responded.
"Of course it did, it curtseyed to you, didn't you catch that part?" Al seemed more animated now.
"No, I mean it saw me, Sam Beckett – not Steven Carmichael," he said. "It knew who I really was, and I think it was thanking me for fixing things up for the family. I did fix everything, didn't I?"
Al looked around the room rather warily, but seemed to accept that the ghost – if that was what it was – was gone. He pulled the handlink from his pocket and poked at its buttons.
"Well, yeah," he said hesitantly. "It's touch and go for awhile, but Charles manages to keep the house and Jeanne doesn't run away and become a hippie. Rose passes away in a few years, but Matthew and Dottie are still living here! Charles mellows after all this, he grows closer to Steven who settles down and takes over the business and does all right with it."
"What happens to Jeanne?" Sam asked.
"Well, you see, there wasn't enough money to send her to college," Al said. "She gets married, and divorced; she works at several jobs but nothing seems to stick and she moves back here and does a bunch of nothing. It's a shame, too; with all the artistic talent in the family she could've done really well. But you saved her life, Sam; that's the important part."
"And the murder turned out to be the key, despite what Ziggy said," Sam said with only a trace of smugness. "It just doesn't seem right that I saved her life only for her to spend it holed up here like a hermit."
Al used the cigar to point at Sam. "You can't have everything," he said reasonably. The lights blinked back on, startling them both.
"Then why haven't I Leaped?"
Al looked thoughtful for a moment, then he gave up, saying, "I don't know."
"Well, I, do," Sam said. "I've got an idea!"
"What kind of idea, Uncle Steven?" asked Jeanne. She was running ahead of her mother and grandmother now that the lights were back on.
"You seem to be full of them," Adele remarked as she walked in. "What's on your mind now?"
"Why don't we wait until everyone's back and then I'll tell you," he suggested.
"We're back," Charles said as he and Susan arrived. "Susan, I must apologize to you. I'm afraid I've taken you for granted all these years – I never realized how much you do around here! We'd still be in the dark if you hadn't known how to change that fuse."
Susan looked more than a little surprised. "Thank you, Sir," she said a trifle uncomfortably.
"Okay, Son, let's hear your idea. Then we need to get busy; I've got work to do and Susan must start dinner soon or we'll all starve." The words might've sounded peremptory, except for his light tone.
"Well, work is what I had in mind," Sam said. "Grandfather was going to sell this house to raise the money to get the business back on track, right?"
"Oh, Steven, please don't suggest we sell the house," Dottie pleaded. "Not after all we've been through."
"Oh, no, that's not what I meant at all," Sam hastened to tell her. "In fact, I think we should keep it. But it's so big, there's all those closed-up rooms…what if we turned it into a bed and breakfast? We could take advantage of all the supernatural, uh, rumors; people love haunted houses."
Charles didn't seem to know what to make of the suggestion, but Adele clapped her hands with glee. "What a frightfully perfect solution! I think I could adjust some of my photographs, suggesting they've caught a glimpse of something otherworldly."
"Ve vouldn't haf to suggest doors that open by themselves," Susan said, smiling.
"We'd tell them the stories about Agatha and Cyrus and they'd be up all night hoping to catch a glimpse of their spirits," Dottie added. "I bet Matt could write them up so they sound really sinister."
"We could take them out to the dock at night," Sam said. "Tell them about the shoot-out with the gangsters. Although I think we should claim some unknown member of Capone's mob did the actual shooting. It sounds more dramatic that way."
"If ve vere to put a little dry ice under the dock, they vould be shakingk in their boots," Susan said cheerfully.
Charles seemed to be getting into the spirit of things. "Yes, but we should lead them through the tunnel first, to properly set the scene."
"I could hold séances," Rose put in. "Of course they wouldn't be real, but they wouldn't know that."
"It doesn't matter," Sam said. "We'd be selling fear as fun."
"Sam, you've done it!" Al said, reading from the handlink. "This becomes a really successful B and B, people come from all over to get the wits scared out of them. It makes more than enough money to pay for the upkeep of the house, which allows Charles to build the import business back up." He paused as if he had more to say. "Fear as fun," he chuckled.
"Jeanne?" Sam asked.
"I think it sounds like a lot of fun. I could wear a long white dress and run through the trees," she said. "I'd like pretending I'm a ghost."
"Oh, you'll like this part, Sam," Al said, knowing the question was meant for him. "Jeanne goes to college and learns how to put her artistic talents to work in the advertising industry. She works from this house, but that seems to be the outlet she was searching for."
"We could call it the 'Smuggler's Inn'," Jeanne said.
Sam and Al looked at each other in happy surprise. "What a great name," Al said. "The kid's advertising already."
"There's just one question left," Al said.
Sam raised his eyebrows in silent supplication of the answer.
"What do the guests do when the real ghost makes an appearance?"
And with that, Sam Leaped.
My thanks to John for details of the boats and the Jaguar; to my son for critique of the fight scene; and to Madders Ahatter for beta-reading and catching a couple of inconsistencies - and the idea that a ghost would see Sam for himself! All errors are, of course, mine.