Excerpt - MacGowan's Ghost
Odin’s Thumb Pub
Northwest coast, Scotland
“Hurry, before Himself returns!” Friar Digby whispered, glancing about the dimmed room. “Make haste!”
“Well move your robe-garbed arse over then, so I can see!” Capt. Catesby elbowed in next to the friar and squinted at the computer screen. His eyes widened. “Damn me, but she’s fetchin’.”
Three more souls sifted into the small, stone-walled office and hovered behind the captain. Mademoiselle Bedeau gasped. The two fatal duelers, Christopher and Baden—English—followed with like-noises.
Friar Digby sniffed and lowered his voice still. “I daresay the very last thing to be concerned about is her beauty, sir.”
“Aye, although she is a lovely maid.” said Christopher. He cocked his head and stared even harder. “Think you she will try to oust us from our home?”
Captain Catesby stared at the smiling face on the screen. “Nay. She willna.”
Mademoiselle Bedeau sighed. “How can you know that, sir?”
A slow smile pulled at the captain’s mouth. “I can see it in her eyes, lass. This one’s a wily lamb, but no’ a threat to us.” He rose and grinned at his fellow ghosts. “I have a feeling Himself will get far more than he bargains for with this gel, truth be told.”
The heavy tread of boots in the corridor made all of their heads snap up.
“Himself returns!” said the friar under his breath. He shooed the duelers, frantic. “Quick, begone! But just inside the wall, there, so we can listen whilst he makes the call to the lady.”
The spirits scrambled and hastily seeped into the stone. With a much-stifled chuckle and a shake of his head, Captain Catesby followed, and waited.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Morgan. I don’t know what we would have done without you.” Mrs. Zolaster glanced around with unease. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Are you sure they’re gone?”
Mr. Zolaster, a middle-aged man with a strip of brown hair encircling his crown, shifted his gaze from one side of the living room to the other. By the pinched expression, he didn’t look very convinced.
Allie slid a glance over the heads of both Zolasters and straight into the naughty, smiling, and nearly-transparent faces of three youthful spirits.
One of them winked and wagged his brows.
Allie ignored the playful gesture and met the expectant gazes of the Zolasters. “They won’t be causing you any more trouble.” She smiled. “I promise.”
Relief washed over both of their faces, and Mrs. Zolaster held out her hand. “I can’t thank you enough. Now, if I can show you out?”
Allie thought the woman was more than happy to see the last of her, too. “Absolutely.” She stepped through the door of the Zolaster’s one hundred and fifty year-old brick manor house and into the crisp Raleigh night air. No sooner had she made it to the end of the drive when the three young ghosts materialized beside her. Three teenaged brothers who, on a warm July day in 1861, fell to their deaths at the First Manasses.
They’d made their way home. Eventually.
But without the first memory of what had happened.
“Aw, Allie, come on. Don’t leave,” one brother said in a North Carolina drawl.
“Yeah, the Zolasters seem nice and all, but they ain’t no fun,” the other said.
“Not fun like you,” the third and eldest offered. “Please?”
Allie stopped and met each brother in the eye. She sighed, then smiled. “Listen, guys. Now that you know how, where, and when you died, you’re free. I found your family’s history, you know what happened to your parents and the the rest of your siblings, and you’re no longer forced to haunt the halls of your old homestead.” She waved her arms. “Go out, explore, have a little fun.” She narrowed her eyes. “But not too much fun. And please, leave the Zolasters alone. I promised them, you know.”
The three brothers grinned.
One scratched his forehead. “Can we come visit you sometime?”
Allie studied the three boys. All wearing drab gray uniforms of the Confederacy, their ghostly eyes revealed nothing more than hope. She gave them a wide smile. “I’d be upset if you didn’t. Now stay out of trouble.”
“Yes, ma’am!” they all three hollered at once.
Then they disappeared.
Allie shook her head, made it to her trusty old Wrangler, climbed in, and started for home. One half-hour later, she pulled into the Waterloo Apartment complex, growled when she saw a visitor had parked in her spot, found another, and climbed to the fifth floor. She pushed her key into the lock and let herself in to her one bedroom corner abode.
And immediately met the ghostly stare of her long-time friend.
“Well I see by the satisfied look on your lovely face that you have completed yet another successful de-haunting.” He gave a curt nod. “Congratulations once again, love. How go the lads, then? Are they content?”
Dead for more than a hundred years, Alexander Dauber made himself quite at home in Allie’s presence.
She loved that about him.
“Yes, they’re content. Mischievous, but content.”
“Excellent. Now that you’ve finished another case for the eve, why not consider wandering down to that rather lively establishment on the corner, hmm?” Dauber said. “’Twould do your soul good to mingle with—”
“The living?” Allie interrupted. “Come on, Daubs, we’ve had this discussion at least a hundred times. I don’t want to mingle.” She glared at the tall, lanky, somewhat boney Irishman clothed in a soft hat, suspenders, and black wool trousers which rose just a bit too much over ankle-high boots. He was one of the very first spirited souls she’d ever encountered. “I’m not a mingler.” She grabbed her dinner dishes, which she’d left on the table, crossed the tiny kitchen and loaded them into the dishwasher.
“Young lady, I happen to know you have a most cheery personality that any mortal with half a wit would enjoy to the fullest, if given a chance.” Dauber grinned, the corners of his mouth pulling far into his cheeks. “I’m sure of it.”
Allie crossed her arms and leaned against the sink. She stared at Dauber until his face turned a bright tomato red. She chuckled. “I am completely content doing what I’m doing, Daubs. Honestly, you sound like my mom and sisters. I don’t need to hang out at the bar in hopes of meeting someone.” She shrugged. “That’s just not my style.”
He quirked a reddish brow.
Hitching up her jeans, she walked to that part of the kitchen she referred to as her office, opened the one spare drawer, and pulled out a handful of papers. She held them up and shook them at Dauber. “See? All new cases. I have so much work to keep me busy I don’t have time for mingling.” She narrowed her eyes. “Even if I were a mingler.”
Dauber made a tsk-tsking noise under his breath. “I daresay, young lady, that is the most poorest of excuses.” He peered at her. “You need a nice holiday, me thinks. You’re looking a bit peeked. Didn’t your sister invite you for a bit of frolicking in merry old England?”
Allie frowned, but before she could respond, her laptop made a tinkling bell sound, announcing incoming mail. She raised her brow at Dauber. “See? Another inquiry.” She sat cross-legged in the straight-backed chair and clicked the mouse over her Inbox. She blinked.
“What is it, love?” Dauber asked.
Allie stared at the screen. “My first International inquiry.” She continued to read. “Gable MacGowan apparently has a few naughty spirits disturbing his pub and inn.”
Before she could read further, the phone rang, and Allie picked up the cordless. “Morgan Investigations.”
A deep, graveled, somewhat unsure voice came over the line. “Err, Allison Morgan?”
“Yes. Can I help you?” Allie glanced at Dauber and shrugged.
“Right. I’m Gabe MacGowan. I, uh, sent a post to your email.”
Allie smiled. Nice accent. “That’s right. Scotland. I just received it, actually. So what sort of disturbances have you been experiencing, Mr. MacGowan?”
The line went silent for a moment, then, “Eh, well. I’ve had these, um,” he cleared his throat and muttered something unintelligible, then, “Oy, damn. I’m sorry for wastin’ your time.”
“Wait, you’re not—”
After a muttered something in a strange language, the line went dead.
“Another disbeliever, miss?” Dauber asked.
Allie set the cordless on the counter beside her laptop. “He’ll call back.”
Dauber gave a winsome smile. “They always do.”
Exactly eight minutes passed before the phone chirped.
With a quick peek at the caller ID, Allie smiled and answered the cordless. “Hello again, Scotland.”
“I can’t sell my bloody pub and inn because the lot of spooks living here run off every potential buyer who shows interest. They’re drivin’ me bloody crazy.” A pause. “Can you help me?” Another pause, followed by another unknown word. “I’ll pay your airfare, your room and board, and your fee once I sell.”
Allie glanced at the stack of pending inquiries for her services. Twelve cases in all. Twelve irate and fed-up humans trying to exorcise a spirit from their home or business. Not all of the claims were legit, but Allie’s services included a thorough investigation. Not that she ever performed the first exorcism. While the mortals were the ones doing the hiring of her services, she actually used her skills of communicating with the dead to help the ghosts. She simply interpreted, helped the unsettled soul or souls with whatever issues they may have, find out just what made them haunt.
But pass up the chance to go to Scotland? Even with twelve cases pending, who in their right mind would do that?
Snapping out of her thoughts, Allie glanced at Dauber, who lifted a brow, and then she cleared her throat. “Yes, Mr. MacGowan. I’m sure I can help you. But first, I need you to send me the link to your pub and inn. You have a web site, don’t you?”
“Great. Just email me the link, and I’ll be in touch.”
Mr. MacGowan sat silent on the line for a moment, then, “Your website describes you as a paranormal investigator. Does that mean you oust unwanted spirits, Ms. Morgan?”
Allie thought a moment. “I communicate with unsettled souls, Mr. MacGowan. It’s been my experience that they haunt for a reason, and usually it’s a reason even they aren’t fully aware of and I try to find out why. Haunting is all the control they have left in a mortal’s world. I work with them to resolve whatever unsettled matters they may have. More times than not, their souls become mended and they move on.”
Again, momentary silence. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you, then.”
They disconnected, and Allie sat for a moment and stared at her laptop screen. Wow! What an opportunity! She’d always wanted to encounter souls from the medieval era, not to mention a crumbly castle or two.
“You’re going then?”
Allie gave a nod. “I’d love to, but we’ll have to see. I’m not so sure I sold my services to him. First, I’ll check out his web site, just to make sure the pub and inn is what he says--and that he’s indeed the proprietor and not some sort of serial killer.” She rubbed her chin. “I get the feeling he’s pretty desperate. And legit.”
Dauber mimicked Allie’s movement and rubbed his pointed chin. “I daresay those unsettled souls must be stirring up quite the mish-mash. I wonder why?”
Allie met the questioning gaze of her ghostly friend. What would she do without Dauber? She’d met him on her very first unofficial case in Raleigh. God, what was she? Nineteen? A sophomore in college, she’d stumbled across the willowy ghost sitting on the corner pew in the small campus chapel. A handful of other students were present. No one saw Dauber but Allie, and it was the first time she recognized the fact that she had a gift. After her accident. Their gazes had met, and Dauber had blinked several times in what Allie could only believe was dismay over having a mortal actually see him.
And they’d been fast friends ever since.
Allie pulled her thoughts back to the present. “I don’t know, Dauber, but I bet it’s going to be a lot of fun finding out just what’s up in the Highlands of Scotland.”
Odin’s Thumb Pub and Hotel
Sealladh na Mara
Northwest coast, Scotland
October, a week later
“Right. Fifty quid then, lass.”
Allie Morgan blinked. “Pardon me?” Quid? What the heck was that?
The cab driver, a tall, lanky guy, around thirty, with a pair of soft brown eyes, grinned. “Your fare. Fifty sterling pounds.” He winked. “Quid.”
With a smile, Allie nodded. “Gotcha.” Digging in her backpack, she pulled out the bills and paid the man. “Thanks for a spectacularly wonderful drive.”
The driver’s grin widened. “Aye, and thank you for the spectacularly wonderful tip.” He stuffed the bills in the console and inclined his head. “Stayin’ at Odin’s, then, are you?” he asked.
Allie gave a nod. “I sure am.”
The cabbie studied her for a few seconds, then shook his head and grinned even wider.
“What?” Allie asked, gathering her bags. “What’s so funny?”
The driver chuckled. “Oy, lass, I’m sorry.” He lifted a brow. “Do you know much about Sealladh na Mara, then?”
Allie met his stare. “Nothing at all, actually. Why?”
The cabbie smiled and rubbed his hand over his jaw. “It has a reputation, you see. ‘Tis cursed.”
“Cursed? What do you mean?”
A mischievous grin tipped the corners of his mouth. “’Tis a place for the ghosties, lass. They’re drawn to it.”
Allie smiled. “Is that so?”
The cabbie inclined his head to Odin’s. “Have you met the owner yet?”
“Gabe MacGowan?” Allie shook her head. “Not in person. Why?”
He studied her a bit more. “Damn me, but he’ll no’ be expecting the likes of you.”
Allie opened the door. “He’s not expecting me at all. I’m a week early. That’s why I just paid you a hundred American bucks to drive me here from Inverness.”
The driver laughed. “Right. Let’s get your bags, then.”
Allie shook her head, pulled her knit cap over her ears, and stepped out of the cab. A fierce gust of coastal October wind hit her square in the face and she shivered. So Sealladh na Mara was cursed. Perfect. Slinging her pack over her shoulder, Allie grabbed her overnight bag, the camera bag, and shut the door. At the back of the cab, the driver pulled out her one suitcase.
“I’ll take this in for you,” he said.
“No, that’s okay. It’s not heavy.” Allie grasped the handle. “Thanks, though.”
With a shake of his head, the cabbie slid back into the front seat. He glanced at Allie and cocked a brow. “You understand that it’s full of spooks, aye?”
Allie gave him a big smile. “I sure do.”
“If you need a ride back to Inverness, you just give me a shout.” With a laugh, the cabbie waved and drove off.
After a deep breath of crisp, briny air, Allie quickly took in her seaside surroundings. A slender green sign with the name Sealladh na Mara stood just at the top of the lane. Gaelic, she supposed, and she’d have to remember to ask Gabe MacGowan what it meant. White, traditional croft-style buildings, and others of weathered stone, lined the single-lane main street that rambled down to the wharf. Each establishment had a weathered sign outside noting its business: a baker, a fishmonger, a small grocer, a post office, a few B&B’s. Halfway down the walkway stood one of Britain’s landmarks: a red telephone booth. With the notion to explore later, and call her mom and sisters to let them know she made it safely, Allie turned and stared up at the sign hanging high above the single red-painted door of the three-storied, white-washed inn and pub. Odin’s Thumb was written in Old English script at the top of the sign, with a colorful picture of an imposing Viking longboat, the sail a deep red with black stripes, the long, wooden mast a big ole thumb. The words Inn and Pub, est. 1741, at the bottom. She smiled. Perfect.
After balancing all of her gear onto both shoulders, Allie opened the door to the pub and was all but blown into the dim interior of Odin’s Thumb. She set her suitcase off to the side and plopped her bags down beside it—
“I’m not staying here another moment!” a woman’s voice shrieked.
Allie jumped, then stood there, against the wall, and took in the scene. Had she been any other woman, she’d probably have run screaming, too.
It was, after all, quite an interesting scene to behold. She almost had to pinch her lips together to keep from laughing. Instead, Allie simply watched.
Amidst the muted lamplight of the pub, flickering candles floated overhead in mid-air. A lady’s old-fashioned parasol opened and closed rapidly, also in mid-air. Beer mugs and wine glasses zipped—yep, in mid-air—from one side of the room to the other, precariously missing the head of the shrieking woman. A suspicious-looking mist slipped around the bar stools, over the head of the woman whose face had turned dough-pasty, and at the same time the chairs began lifting and slamming back down on the floor.
“Arrrgh!” screamed the woman, who batted at the mist swirling about her and ran for the door.
“Wait, Mrs. Duigan, dunno go,” a deep, graveled and heavily accented voice said, the tall figure hurrying after her. “I can explain.”
Mrs. Duigan paused briefly.
Just before the dozens of fish appeared in mid-air, their tails flapping back and forth.
She let out one final scream and pushed her way out of the door.
The tall man--pretty darn good-looking, too, Allie thought--followed the frightened woman.
Allie peered out the door and watched Mrs. Duigan slam her car door and peel out. The man stared after her. With his back to Allie, he tilted his head, as if looking up to the sky, shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark brown corduroy jeans, then looked down, staring at the sidewalk.
“Oy, we’re in for it this time, aye?” said a male voice behind her.
“’Twill be worth it, no doubt,” said another.
“I dunno,” said yet another, “he looks powerfully angry, he does.”
Allie turned, and noticed the fish had disappeared, as had the floating candles and eerie mist. A handful of mischievous-looking spirits stood in a half-circle, staring at her. A very much alive young boy stood in their center. His little auburn brows furrowed together over a creamy complexion.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
Allie looked each ghost in the eye. A friar. A pair of rather cute English lords. A dashing sea captain. A noblewoman wearing a large powdered wig…attached with a chinstrap?
The sea captain’s mouth quirked into a grin. “We’ve been waiting for you, lassie.”
The heated look he gave her, from the top of her head to her feet, then slowly back to meet her eyes, left little wonder just what he was thinking. Allie could tell already he was going to be a handful.
Allie turned and came face to face with the man who’d just chased after the fleeing woman. “Allie,” she said, preferring her nickname. Now, up close, she blinked in surprise. Good-looking? No way. Not even close. Ruggedly beautiful fit more closely. Tall, at least six foot two, with close-clipped dark hair, a dusting of scruff on his jaw, green eyes and generous lips, he was broad-shouldered and…utterly breathtaking.
His eyes held hers, intense, studying, evaluating. A muscle flinched in his jaw, and Allie thought she’d never been more intimately weighed in her entire life. Her mouth went dry, and she finally cleared her throat. “Mr. MacGowan?” She smiled and held out her hand.
He glanced behind her briefly, and when she looked, she noticed the ghosts and boy had gone.
Ignoring her hand, the man gave a short nod and grabbed her bags. “Aye. And you’re early,” he said. Without asking permission, he reached down and grabbed her suitcase and bags. He inclined his head. “This way, Ms. Morgan.” He headed toward the back of the pub. Not once did he turn around to see if she’d followed.
“I could have gotten those,” she said, but he paid no attention and kept walking. Hurrying past a long, polished mahogany bar, complete with the high-backed stools that had moments before lifted and slammed against the wide-planked, wooden floors, Allie glimpsed the barely-there figure of a bartender wearing suspenders and dark trousers, wiping down the tables with a white cloth. He tipped his soft hat by the bill and grinned, and she returned the smile and shrugged.
When Allie turned, she plowed into the very broad back of Gabe MacGowan. “Oops. Sorry.”
Gabe stared down at her, those green eyes hard and set. He didn’t frown, nor did he smile. He remained completely aloof. “Dunno make friends with them. I’m paying you to make them leave.”
Allie met his stare, unhindered by its intensity. Instead of frowning, or telling him to stick it where the sun don’t shine, she gave him a wide, friendly smile. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He stared a moment longer, scowled, then turned and headed up the narrow staircase, the old wood creaking with each of his heavy steps.
Allie followed, thinking things could be a lot worse than walking behind Gabe MacGowan’s grumpy ole self as he climbed a set of stairs. She wondered why such a gorgeous guy had such a somber, unfriendly personality.
She’d tell him later that the one thing to remember when dealing with the unliving is you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to. Especially leave.
Allie turned and glanced over her shoulder. The ghosts from before stood at the bottom of the steps. Grinning.
The sea captain, a tall, swarthy guy with sun-streaked brown hair pulled into a queue, and a swashbuckling goatee, gave her a roughish smile and tipped his tricorn hat.
Throwing him a grin, she turned and hurried after Gabe. Allie decided right then and there that the decision to cross the Atlantic to oust a handful of mischievous spirits from their old haunt had been the smartest one she’d ever made.
Getting to know the ghosts of Odin’s Thumb would be exciting. But deciphering just what made stuffy ole Gabe MacGowan tick would be something else altogether different…