itting in the quiet country pub, Robert hazarded a glance over at Scott. He was deep in conversation with Mickey Ė who had walked the mile from the Hall. Standing, at the bar with a pint of beer in his hand, the boy did look better today. They had spent most of the day at the clinic. Dr Evans had studied at the test results and pronounced that Scott was healthy Ė and that was all that was important.
Robert went back to his own drink as Scott and Mickey chatted away. Robert smiled to himself. Perhaps it was what the doctor mentioned, Scott was just having a bad time psychologically and just needed a little time to sort himself out.
"So you people are visitors?" A voice broke through Robertís reverie. He turned to see a gaped-toothed, grizzled man of about eighty.
"Why, yes," Robert answered.
"Up at the Brantford Hall are you?" The old man peered closely at Robert.
"Yes," Scott chimed in, "Weíre Ė"
"I told you all. ĎTis the long lost branch of the McCall family visiting the manor!" the old man announced to the other patrons in the pub. "Mister James made a mention that he was looking forward to seeing members of his family and here you are! Well, well!" He turned to Robert, first wiped his hand on his coat and then extended it to be shaken. Robert offered his own hand and permitted the old man to pump excitedly. "Iíd be knowing that face, I said to the lads, that be a McCall! You look the spitting image of the old man, that devil Archibald McCall Ė begging your pardon, sir Ė I say, the spitting image!""
"Why, thank you Ė I think. Yes," Robert managed to say, "That I am, Robert McCall, son of WilliĖ"
"William! I remember him!" the old man said and his words were echoed by the older people in the bar.
As whispers of "Oh thatís the relatives," spread over the room, Robert smiled politely and glanced at Scott, who seemed to be basking in the attention. Mickey stood to the side as if to separate himself and let the crowd know he wasnít a McCall.
"Iím Sykes, Arthur Sykes," the old man said, "I was ten years or so Mister Williamís junior, but I remember him. My dad worked at the manor at the time and I, when was needed, worked beside him. I remember the whole family!"
As Sykes spoke, the people in the pub seemed to press forward in interest. They all were smiling in a welcoming way and Robert felt quite delighted with the genuine warmth that was directed at Scott and himself.
"Aye, happy I am that Mister James, poor man, found some of the lost flock of his family, " a woman of exceptional girth and beautiful eyes smiled sadly, "especially after what happened to his own son. Such a sweet and gentle man, to have gone through that tragedy." A tear escaped from her eyes.
"Aye," one man stood up and lifted his drink "To the memory of Mister Henry and his family, God rest their souls." The patrons of the pub went silent and sipped at their drinks.
"There were never nicer gentlemen than Mister James and his boy Henry," Sykes said, "As bad a man as was old Archibald Ė begging your pardon sir Ė that was as good as his grandchildren were. The whole countryside took it bad when we heard of that terrible aeroplane crash that took the lives of Mister Henry and his family."
Robert knew that a small hamlet such as this would know his family and all the history, and he was touched at the heartfelt emotion the people seemed to have toward the deceased family members, family that Robert would never get to meet.
There was a moment of uneasy silence after that toast and Robert was surprised when Scott stood up and addressed the pub.
"Iím Scott McCall, and Iíd like to thank you all for making us feel so welcome."
The people in the bar all seemed to gasp at the same time.
"Americans!" The whispered word seems to travel in around the room at the speed of light.
Scott kept smiling, but looked a little confused. "Yes," he laughed, addressing the crowd, "Iím an American, I hope youíll forgive that Ė my place of birth wasnít up to me Ė but I am proud to say that I am my fatherís son, and a member of the McCall family. My father and I, and our friend," indicating Mickey, "thank you all for your warm welcome." He turned to the barman and pushed some money into his hand, "Please, a round of drinks for everyone, on me!"
The people in the pub thanked Scott and pressed closer to the bar. Robert had a momentís pride that Scott was answering the whispers with such a goodly amount of grace. But, as he gave it another thought, Scott and his band had worked a lot of bars, and Scott knew how to handle himself in front of any crowd.
A gray haired woman nearby, a smile glowing on her face, addressed Robert, "You never met her, but I was friends with your fatherís younger sister, your aunt Eleanor. I know what her grandfather put her through during the war because he hated the American pilot she loved." She lifted her glass. "So, I want to say cheers! I welcome the American branch of the McCall family to Suffolk! The ghost of Archie McCall is probably twirling in his hateful room now! Serves the old monster right!" She gulped her drink down.
Robert knew he was staring at the woman, and after a bit she sighed and pushed onto the barstool next to him. "I do apologize for my straight-forward way but Iím an old woman and Iíve come into the habit of speaking my mind. My name's Sybil Markham and thereís nobody who knows more about the goings on at Brantford Hall than me."
Robert looked over his shoulder and both Scott and Mickey were leaning forward to hear the woman.
Robert turned back to her. "I knew my great grandfather was a hard man. He was the one who turned my father away because my mother wasnít considered good enough for the family name."
"Ahh, yes, another American as I recall. I remember that. Ellie was broken-hearted when her big brother William left. We werenít but nine or ten years old when it happened. She railed at the injustice of it and was so angry that her father, Malcolm, didnít stand up to the old man."
Robert crooked a finger at the bartender and the womanís drink was refilled.
Sybil nodded her thank you and sipped at her drink. "Iím sorry to seem bitter, but I must say that Iím tickled that the McCall family is now partly American. It serves that evil old man right, I hope he spends eternity walking the corridors of that drafty old house." She sighed, "Many a young women found herself in the same sad predicament during the War, if only Ellie had been able to put it all behind herÖ" The woman looked around her, "But Iím saying too much."
"Not at all. Do please continue, itís fascinating." Robert said.
Sybil nodded and continued speaking. "Archibald nearly had himself a fit when he heard that the Yanks were setting up their airbases here in Suffolk. His hatred of them was that bad."
Scott interrupted, "You mean the American Air Force had an airfield around here during World War 2?"
Robert interrupted, "I believe itís still there. Thereís also a small museum. We can visit if you like."
"Yes," One of the men at the bar, who had been listing unashamedly to the conversation added, "Thereís a lovely plaque up at Coney Weston Crossroads the town put up to commemorate all of the brave Yanks that gave their life here during the war, fighting the Jerries."
Sybil laughed, "Now, we canít say that our parents were thrilled when all those young Yanks came over."
Many of the people around the bar laughed with her, nodding their heads.
Another older lady began to giggle, "Remember what we all said at the time? ĎThe Yanks were over-paid, over-sexed and over-here!í"
Robert could make out that the old woman speaking must have been quite lovely in her youth.
She looked down into her drink and blushed, "And I must say, it were the truth!"
"But fine lads were they, "the barman said loudly.
"What did you mean by saying that Archibaldís a ghost at Brantford Hall?" Mickey asked suddenly.
Robert noticed that his colleague had on his most congenial smile with an open and friendly tone of voice, but there was a darkness to his eyes that made Robert frown.
Sykes leaned in to the conversation. "You mean youíve not heard of the ghosts that haunt Brantford Hall?"
Out of the corner of his eye. Robert noticed that Scott paled and set his lager down so hard the glass nearly broke.
"Ever since Archibald died in 1943, at the old age of eighty-seven," Sykes suddenly interrupted himself, "Not that itís such a great age nowadays, Mister James himselfís a hale and hearty eighty-three, but to have been born in the mid 1800s and to have lived through the beginnings of the Second World War was a great old age in those days, but ever since he passed, thereís been stories told about him haunting Brantford."
"Oh my thatís true," Sybil nodded, "My sisterís girl Tina, you know, the one who isnít quite all there, well she works at the Hall and swears that since they opened the east wing again for your visit, sheís heard a womanís voice, crying."
"A woman crying, did you say?" Scott said.
Robert saw that his son had begun to shake a little and his pale complexion was a bit gray. Robert glanced at Mickey who was standing next to Scott. He had noticed too.
With a quick shake of the head to Robert to tell him to keep quiet, Mickey suddenly patted his own stomach. "Darliní!" he called out to a highly made-up woman who stood behind the bar, "What can you recommend to a hungry American to eat?" Here he put his arm around Scottís shoulders and patted his back, "What can you recommend to two Yanks who need a bit of nourishment, you sweet thang you?"
"Well . . . " Flustered, the woman thought for a moment, "I can make you up a proper ploughmanís lunch."
Scott, managed a half smile at the woman, "Whatís that?"
"Cheddar cheese sandwich," Mickey mumbled into Scottís ear, "with a pickled onion on the side."
"Pickled Ė?" Scott winced.
"Weíll take it!" Mickey called out.
Robert now noticed that Mickey stood halfway behind Scott, in the perfect position to catch the boy if he fainted.
"Scott, are you okay?" Mickey asked. Not wanting to appear interested in them, Robert looked away and was just able to overhear their conversation.
"Itís just weird that they mentioned a ghost, a woman crying. I think thatís what I hear at night, in my dreams. I keep feeling that thereís a woman near me in the dark. I thinkÖ" Scottís voice petered out as the barmaid put two large plates in front of them.
Mickey nudged Scott and they both dug into the food.
Robert was angry with himself. How could he have agreed to let Scott go to the pub when he wasnít feeling well? And how could he let him drink on an empty stomach? He resisted the temptation to tell Scott they were going back to the Hall. If he even mentioned Scottís illness, yet another fight between them would be the result. So, reluctantly, he left the situation in Mickeyís hands.
Robert tried to make his voice light and cheery as he addressed the pub. "Are you sure that youíre not trying to pull the wool over the touristsí eyes? There are no such things as ghosts."
"But there are ghosts," Sybil spoke up, "and well there might be in Brantford Hall. So much sadness for that family. No McCall in that house had a good marriage. All of the females of the family came to a tragic end."
Scott, his color better and the sparkle somewhat back in his eyes, leaned further over the bar and looked at Sybil. "What do you mean? All the women came to a bad end?" Scott took another bite of his sandwich, almost finishing it.
"Well, from the latest," Sybil counted off on her fingers, "Henry and his wife and children, in the crash, Jamesís own little wife, what was her name?"
"Flora." Sykes said, "She was an unhappy little thing, her once well respected family so much as sold her to the McCallís. She was cowered by Archibald, forced into a marriage with James, a man who wasnít meant to be married."
"She died shortly after she gave birth to Henry," Sybil added.
"Fulfilling her familyís debt to that old devil Archibald Ė begging your pardon sir Ė almost the same way that Archibald got his own high-born wife."
Mickey had polished off his own food and had just popped Scottís pickled onion into his mouth. Around the onion he said, "Yeah, James told me about that. Wasnít she called Ursula?"
"Poor girl," Sybil said, "just sixteen and married to a hard man in his thirties."
"As I heard it, "Robert continued, "To cement their union he got her in the family way at once. She gave birth to my grandfather less than a year after the marriage."
"And thatís why old Archibald hated Americans so much!" Sykes nodded as he finished his drink.
"Whatís that got to do with hating Americans?" Scott asked.
"Archibald had dealings with the men who were the leaders in the railroad boom in America at the time." Robert said, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.
"It seems his wife was so miserable at the Hall that she started an affair with an American businessman Archibald brought here to help build the railway. She ran away with him just after she gave birth to a daughter. She left Archibald and abandoned the baby and my grandfather who was two years old, as well. She and her American were never heard from again, so Archibald could never take another wife."
"Thatíll do it," Mickey shrugged.
Sykes nodded, "And in that house, the baby girl wasnít well looked after. That poor little girl died of influenza when she was five or so."
"And your Aunt Eleanor died ever so tragically in that house." Sybil said.
"God, thatís so sad," Scott said, his voice weak, "Looks like I come into screwed-up relationships honestly. It must be in the genes."
"Scott!" Robert said, trying not to show any emotion, "Maybe we should leave this story for another time. We should be getting back to the house soon. I donít want James to be alone there, what with the servants gone for the night and the history of vandalism at this time of year."
"Ah yes Halloween," Sykes called out, "Tis the time of year when the divide between the living and the dead becomes thin. The ghost of Archibald walks the house. The reason, itís been said, is because heís angry that he no longer can preside over his familyís lives."
Scott again looked a little pale, but Robert saw that Mickey had made it his job to get Scott up and ready to leave.
Robert faced the people in the pub. "As I donít believe in ghosts and not at all in their visiting the living, I suggest that you warn anyone who might be thinking of making some Halloween mischief this year, to think twice. James wonít be alone, heíll be surrounded by his family. My son, myself and our friend will be on the alert for any trouble if anyone plans any tricks at the Hall."
Mickey was heading toward the doors of the pub, his arm casually holding onto a shaky Scott when Sykes stood squarely in front of Robert and doffed his hat." No disrespect sir, but youíre wrong if you think that anyone from the village would ever harm Mister James. ĎTis the troubled ghost of Archibald McCall that makes mischief at Brantford Hall."
Robert shook his head, disappointed at the townís idea of fun. He glanced at Sykes and said, "Ghosts are nonsense." And he began to walk out of the door to meet Mickey and Scott outside.
"Take care," Sybil had followed them out. "Iíve a mind that after spending time in that wretched house, youíll soon be believing in ghosts."
As Robert headed for his car he muttered, "Somehow I doubt that."
Night of 30th October/Early morning 31st October
ossing and turning in his sleep, Mickey was dreaming. As always, in some recess of his mind, he knew he was asleep but he was powerless to stop the memories. It was a dream heíd had many times before.
He was back in Vietnam. The patrol had stopped for the night and it was his turn to stand guard. Suddenly, he was blinded and deafened by screams and the sound and flashes of gunfire.
He jerked awake, still hearing loud crashes. For a split second he wasnít sure where he was, then he bolted out of bed. There were violent noises coming from somewhere in the house. Turning on the light, he grabbed for his jeans and pulled them on, stuffing his bare feet into sneakers. His mind at last working, he stuck his hand under his pillow and pulled out the Sig Sauer automatic that he had carried back from Moscow Ė there were some benefits to traveling on diplomatic papers.
He pulled open the bedroom door; his room was located right next to the main staircase. Quickly he glanced down the hall and wasnít surprised to see Robert, also partially dressed, just emerging from his room.
"Downstairs!" McCall shouted.
Knowing that Robert would follow him, Mickey headed for the stairs, flicking lights on and making as much noise as he could. If a bunch of kids were playing a prank, Mickey didnít relish the idea of scaring them or pushing them to do anything rash. Heíd hate to have to explain shooting a marauding, drunken teenager to the British authorities.
Mickey stood at the bottom of the staircase trying to orient himself. Joining him, McCall saw the gun clasped in his fist, "Good youíre armed. Which way?"
They both listened to the echoes of violent noises bouncing off the marble walls. It made pinpointing the source of the racket difficult. Mickey finally got a bead on the location just before the house became absolutely silent once again.
He nodded to McCall and took the lead, running down one of the side corridors. Now the only sounds they heard were the soft thumps of their feet on the floor.
To Mickey, the noise had been coming from the library. When they got to the door, he moved into a defensive crouch, McCall standing right behind him taking the upper position.
Mickey turned the handle on the oak door, slammed it open and rushing in. He scanned the room for any moving targets. Nothing. Then he actually took in the condition of the room.
"Shit! What happened here?" He stood upright and looked around at the devastation. Books had been pulled off the shelves, chairs had been overturned, the antique desk in the middle of the room had been knocked over and all the windows and drapes had been flung open.
McCallís face looked drawn in the moonlight spilling in through the windows, "I think the townís hooligans had themselves a bit of quick fun at our expense."
Suddenly tapping noises were heard coming along the corridor. James tentatively appeared in the doorway. He entered the room, his walking stick marking his steps. "Good Lord! Heís never made this much mess before."
Mickey stuck his gun into the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. No need to upset James by flashing a weapon.
He saw Robert look suspiciously at James, "What do you mean? And who is Ďheí?"
James very clearly placed an innocent expression on his face. "Oh my, the vandals of course. Who ever else could I mean?" James by now was staring embarrassed at Mickey. At that moment Mickey wished he had put on a shirt before he left his room.
Robert gave James a pointed look as he glanced around the room. "Vandals or thieves would have at least taken something. Uncle, what do you know that you arenít telling me?"
Mickey could tell that Robert was an inch away from starting on one of his irritated rants.
"I was awakened in the middle of the night thinking that the house was under attack." Robert started, "I rushed down here and this room is in tatters. I think I deserve an explanation Ė if you have one."
Mickey recognized that his friend was dressing his uncle down the same way he did to his son. Abruptly, something occurred to Mickey and he started out of the room. "Whereís Scott?" he shouted behind him, "He must have heard the noise."
"Damn!" Robert bellowed.
As Mickey started to run back up the stairs, he heard Robert shout to James. "When I know that Scott is all right, Iíll be back and I want some bloody answers."
Mickey zoomed upward, four steps at a time. He knew Robert would be following him as best he could and he wanted to be the first one to get to Scott. Whenever his son was threatened, all of McCallís objectivity went to hell.
He reached Scottís room, took hold of the door handle and let go at once. It was freezing cold. Standing so close to the door, it was easy to hear the sounds coming from the room. No wonder Scott hadnít heard the noise from downstairs. He was entertaining a guest in the bedroom and they were making enough noise of their own to drown out anything else.
Scott had seemed better that afternoon, but Mickey wouldnít have expected the kid to have the energy to get it on as ferociously as it sounded.
Panting, McCall caught up with him and made to open the door. Mickey put out his hand to stop him, "No. Donít open the door. I donít think Scottís alone in there."
A little red in the face, Robert turned on him. "Donít be bloody ridiculous. Of course heís alone."
He reached for the handle again and Mickey stepped in front of him. "I mean it. Heís got a woman with him. If you barge in, Scottís not going to appreciate it Ė and I donít think you will either."
"Damn you, Mickey. Stand aside," Robert, sneered, "Just because you have overactive hormones it doesnít mean that Scott is the same."
Knowing argument would be useless; Mickey shrugged and let himself be pushed to the side.
Robert knocked on the door, "Scott! Are you alright?" There was no answer. Robert tried the door and it was locked fast. Mickey stared in amazement. Either the handle warmed up or Robert wasnít registering its coldness. "Scott! Can you hear me?" Robertís voice was beginning to sound frantic. When there was no reply he looked at Mickey, "Weíre going to need to break it open."
Nodding, Mickey said, "Okay, McCall. Let me. Stand clear."
With a powerful kick the door burst open. The force of the blow made Mickey stumble slightly and he lurched through the doorway. What he saw there made him stop dead. In a half second that it took for Mickey to register the sight, his mind reeled.
Lying on top of Scott was a shimmering woman, dressed in white. Her long hair was wafting about her transparent body in an invisible wind. As she lifted her lips from Scottís, she looked over at Mickey, and vanished.
Robert came through the door right away and cannoned into his back, making him stagger and take his eyes off the bed. When he looked back, Scott was lying there alone, tangled in the sheets, his bare chest heaving as he gasped for breath. Mickey couldnít see the woman anywhere.
Robert pushed past him, "Donít just stand there. Help him!"
"ButÖ" He mind was whirling. Had he seen what he thought he had? He switched on the light as Robert got to the bed. Scottís breathing seemed easier, but the kid was so pale that his skin seemed translucent.
As Mickey lifted his eyes from Scott, his attention was drawn to a portrait hanging over bed. It was of the same woman he had just seen with Scott! Then Mickey remembered that James had pointed out the portrait of a younger version of the woman when they had been walking around the house. He said that it was Eleanor McCall, Williamís sister Eleanor, who had died in 1944.
Mickey felt his stomach cramp and his blood run cold.
An anxious James appeared at the door. As Robert fussed over his son, Mickey walked over to the older man and took his elbow to lead him back to the corridor, "Are you going to tell me what the hellís going on here? Iíve just seen something that I have no way to explain. But I think you can."
"What did you see?" James's rheumy eyes looked up at Mickey. The older man was short of breath and Mickey noticed that his color was off.
"I just saw a dead woman in bed with Scott." He knew he was being crude but he didnít know how else to say it.
"What?" James stepped back from him, staggering a little. Mickey put his arm out to steady the frail old man.
James pointed towards Scottís room with his cane, "That was my sister Eleanorís room. She died there."
"I saw the portrait of her, " Mickey said, " And I saw her with Scott just now."
"My God!" Tears were running down Jamesí cheeks, "I never knew. We closed this part of the house when Ellie died. I never knew. Not another ghost. Not Ellie too!"
Before Mickey could ask more, he heard the sound of raised voices and glanced back into the bedroom. Robert was standing next to the bed, leaning over Scott who had turned his back on his father, shielding his eyes from the light.
"Iím telling you, dad, thereís nothing wrong with me," Scottís voice sounded weak, but as petulant as ever. "Iím just tired, thatís all."
"No excuses," Robert insisted, "if youíre no better by morning weíre going to get you to the doctor again."
Letting them argue, Mickey turned back to James in the hallway "What went on downstairs? You said heíd never made that much mess before. And what did you mean just now when you said, 'another ghost'?"
James looked away for a moment and when he turned back, his discomfort was very evident. He took a rattling deep breath before he spoke. "I was referring to my grandfather. You see, the library downstairs used to be his private study. He insisted that the biggest and most impressive room in the house be for his own use. Thatís where he usually manifests himself."
Mickey slumped, feeling the cold wall against his bare back and ran his hand through his hair, his mind in turmoil, "Are you trying to tell me that the ghost of your grandfather was responsible for trashing the room downstairs?"
James nodded, "Itís a bit of a tradition, All Hallows eve and all coming up. Grandfather never really left the house, but it seems that as long as the family obeys all the codicils in his will, he only really appears on the day when the veil between the living and the dead is at the thinnest, on Halloween. He usually makes his presence known in his favorite room, the library."
James touched his hand to his chest. "He must be terribly angry to have wrecked the library so completely. It has to be because this is the first time that I ever went against his wishes. Heís angry that I invited Robert to stay here and return to the family. After William was thrown out, we were never even supposed to mention his name again. And he forbade any correspondence with William or his family Ė ever. Itís in his will."
Mickey slumped against the wall. "Great, just great. Now we have two ghosts to deal with."
Mickey saw James look at him, stunned. "You mean you believe me?"
Mickey shrugged, remembering stories that his mother had told him from the old country, "Why not? I know what I just saw and Iíve been around too long and lived through too many strange things to not believe this."
Before James could say anymore, Robert came out of the room, closing the door behind him. "Scottís gone off back to sleep." He addressed both Mickey and James, "He must be very ill. Iíve never known him to suffer from nightmares before." He glared at Mickey, "Thatís why he was groaning so."
James spoke, "But, Robert, didnít you see Eleanor like Mickey did?"
"What? Eleanor? No of course I didnít." Robert pinched his nose with his thumb and forefinger; a gesture Mickey knew meant he was very tired, "What kind of foolishness are you getting at, James?"
"McCall," Mickey touched his friendís shoulder, hoping to break the mind-blowing news to him as gently as possible. " I saw her ghost when I kicked in the door. She was there with Scott."
"For Godís sake man, get a hold of yourself," Robert scowled at him, "I have no idea what you are talking about. Scott is just tired and terribly upset over what has happened with Trisha. He swears there is nothing wrong. Heís just overtired."
Mickey knew that now wasnít the time to argue. Sending James a message with his eyes, he said. "Iíll go downstairs and make sure everything is locked tight. We can talk about this in the morning."
"Iím going to spend the night sitting up in Scottís room, just in case. We can talk at breakfast." Robert said, before going back into Scottís room and shutting the door with a definite slam.
James leaned on his cane, his whole body drooping with fatigue. "I suppose I had better be getting back to bed. An old man like me can only cope with so much excitement for one night."
Mickey looked at Scottís door, "I guess theyíll be okay till the morning."
"Of course they will. My ancestors have never harmed anyone."
No, they just trash rooms and climb into bed with their kin, Mickey almost answered aloud. He wasnít so sure that the ghosts were benign. Even in the short time he had been in the house he had sensed the feelings of resentment towards the visitors.
"Iíll just check downstairs and then turn in. Night, James."
"Goodnight, dear boy."
As Mickey headed down the stairs, he didnít relish the idea of running into any of the ghosts. He touched the Sig Sauer in his waistband, and patted his wallet in his back pocket. Between the gun and the wallet, which held a Saint Christopherís medal and a nightís supply of condoms, Mickey felt as protected as he could from both of the McCall family ghosts.