Harry Hogan Series

7. Harry Hogan - Miss Pinkerton's Ghost

Harry looked up as the door opened. "Well, look at what the wind blew in."

Bruce Parkins closed the door, walked over to the chair across from Harry's desk. "How are things?" he asked as he sat down.

"Slow and relaxing," Harry replied. "Just the way I like it. What's on your mind?"

"Can't I just stop by to say hello to my former partner?"

"Anytime, but you wouldn't be doing it while you're on duty. So what is it?"

Bruce grinned as he shook his head. "You were always too good at reading me. Do you know Miss Pinkerton, the eccentric old lady who lives out on the edge of town?"

"You mean that huge old two-story house? With all the forest of trees, massive lawns and all kinds of flowering trees and shrubs? That Miss Pinkerton?"

"The same. She's still pretty active, by the way, still walks the paths among the trees for exercise. She's a very interesting old lady, likes to talk..."

"But she has a problem of some sort," Harry finished for him.

"Well, yeah, she does. She thinks she is being watched."

"Let me guess... she called the station but you don't have the manpower to handle it. So you thought you'd hand it off to me."

"In all fairness, we did check into it - several times - but we could find nothing. We do have other, more serious, things to handle. So the Chief suggested I run it by you."

Harry got up, went to the coffeepot and poured two mugs of coffee. He handed one mug to Bruce, set the other on his desk and resumed his seat. "Tell me."

Bruce stretched his long legs out in front of him. "She claims that she hears noises and thinks it sounds like someone is trying to get into the house, maybe through a window at the back, or on the top floor. Each time we checked we found nothing. No footprints anywhere close to the house."

Harry nodded and sipped his coffee.

"Each time she calls the night patrol pays close attention to her house for several days after but there is very little traffic in that area and there has been nothing out of the ordinary. We're beginning to think she might be lonely out there all alone and... well, you know what I mean."

"Mmm, yeah, you think she's looking for attention."

"Some of the guys have started to joke about Miss Pinkerton's ghost. An elderly lady living alone in a very large, very old house, out there where everything is quiet... I don't know... perhaps what she hears is just the creaking of the house itself."

"That's possible, I guess. Creaking sounds in a house at night like that could sound ominous I guess, depending on the person. Maybe she needs a security system."

"She had one installed after the fourth time. Several nights later she heard the noises again but it didn't trigger the alarm. Now she's starting to get a bit paranoid, says she doesn't feel like it's safe to walk among the woods on her own property anymore."

"And what makes you think I can find the answer if the rest of you can't?"

Bruce grinned. "Blame the Chief this time. He said to contact you because you have a knack for sorting out these unusual things. He said you know how to think outside the box."

Harry threw back his head and laughed. "That's a good one. Still, I guess I could be remembered for worse things."

"So will you contact her or will I tell her to call you?"

"I'll give her a call and set up an appointment. Give me her number."

Bruce pulled a notebook from the left top pocket of his jacket, flipped a few pages and then passed it to Harry. "Top number. No cell phone, just the landline." He watched Harry write the number on a post-it note and stick it on the desk. "I'll let the Chief know you'll look into it."

"I'm sure he'll be relieved," Harry said.

After Bruce had gone, Harry called Miss Pinkerton and, after explaining who he was, they agreed to meet the following morning at her house.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was cool and misty when Harry drove to Miss Pinkerton's place the next day. He stopped the truck in the driveway and sat for a few minutes looking around. The place reeked of old money so it could well be a potential target for burglary. It was definitely too large for one person to look after.

He got out of the truck, walked up on the porch to the door and rang the bell. A few seconds later the door was opened by a round-faced woman wearing a yellow-flower print apron over a dark blue dress. She greeted him with a smile. "You must be Mr. Hogan."

"That's me," Harry replied.

"Come on in," she said, standing back to hold the door open wide. "Miss Pinkerton's expecting you." She closed the door behid him. "This way, please." She led him to the living room.

Miss Pinkerton looked up from her seat on a velvet-covered sofa as they entered. "Ah, Mr. Hogan. Do come in and sit down, please. Do you prefer tea or coffee?"

"Coffee, black, please," Harry answered, choosing an armchair across from his host.

"One tea, one coffee, please Glory."

Harry looked at the woman who had shown him in. "Glory?"

"My younger brother's version of Gloria when he first started talking, sir. The rest of the family followed suit and the name stuck. I'll bring the drinks in a minute, Ma'am."

Miss Pinkerton turned her attention to Harry. "I'm Edith Pinkerton, Mr. Hogan. I've heard good things about you from your former fellow officers at the station."

Harry grinned. "You called them after we talked." She nodded. "A very wise move."

"One can't be too careful these days. This family was never given to collecting or displaying items that spoke of wealth, Mr. Hogan. Oh, there are a few things scattered throughout the house, mostly gifts from others, enough I suppose to attract a burgler but their existence has never been made public knowledge."

"Is that what you think is behind the noises you've been hearing?"

"It is one possible explanation."

"What other explanation could there be?"

"Glory says we have a ghost." She hesitated a moment, and then said, "I rather think I am being watched."

"Why would someone be keeping you under surveillance, Miss Pinkerton?"

"Because of my... involvement in certain actions, Mr. Hogan." She looked down at her tightly clasped hands. "I have often wondered if it was just a matter of time."

Harry cocked his head to the right. "Are you talking about criminal action, Ma'am? Because somehow I don't picture you as a criminal."

She chuckled. "No, Mr. Hogan, and please keep this between us, but for many years I was involved in helping abused and battered women and children. I helped them escape from intolerable living conditions and helped them find new identities and homes."

"That's no crime. I assume you were working with a group, not on your own, so why would that make you a target?"

"Many times, the situations they were fleeing from was controlled by some powerful crime boss or drug dealer. And many times I gave them shelter here until they were relocated. I always knew there was a danger. Some unsavoury character could still be seeking revenge."

"I see. That's very admirable, Miss Pinkerton, and I see no reason for anyone else to know, unless it becomes necessary in order to protect you. First we have to find out exactly what's going on."

"Yes, we do. Because if I'm not being watched then I guess Grandfather Germain's ghost has come back to haunt the place after all."

"Grandfather Germain?"

Nodding her head, she chuckled again. "He always said he would come back to haunt the place if it was ever sold outside the family. It hasn't been, of course, but I have been thinking about it lately."

"Because you don't feel safe here anymore?"

"It is a big house for one old lady to ramble around in but I do love the place, especially the woods and the trails. I have people to take care of the grounds and clean the house. There is an estate income from investments to take care of that. All of which means that I am free to pursue my own interests."

"All the more reason to solve this mystery so you can feel safe here again," Harry said. "Tell me about these sounds. When do you usually hear them? Day or night?"

"Both. And not always at the same hour."

"Can you describe what they sound like?"

After a minute or two of silence, she finally replied. "It changes. I've heard what sounds like an animal's claws scratching at the exterior, maybe seeking shelter. Sometimes it's a kind of scraping sound, more like fingernails being drawn across a chalkboard. And then... then there's a softer, almost rhythmic swishing sound that reminds me of when you're sweeping the porch with an old-fashioned broom, the ones with the straw-like bristles."

Harry nodded. "I use one sometimes to sweet leaves off the driveway. Scratching sounds could be squirrels trying to get into the attic and you don't want that either."

"Most definitely not! It was bad enough when they got into the shed out back."

"Interesting," Harry said. "Have you ever heard footsteps?"

"I have not," she said slowly, "and I have wondered why not? But of course, the house is surrounded by grass which would muffle any footsteps, would it not?"

"Yes, it would." Better not to mention that any prowler who was good at what he did would be wearing soft-soled shoes to minimize sound.

"But would I not hear them on the front porch or the back verandah?"

"Maybe, maybe not." He stood up. "I will check the police file on your case, see what their observations were and we'll go from there. I'll also take a look around the house outside so I'll be familiar with the layout when I read the reports."

"Take as much time as you need."

He paused a moment, looking at her thoughtfully. "Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Pinkerton?"

"No, I don't, Mr. Hogan. That's why I can talk about such things without fear. I do believe there are things in this life that we do not understand but ghosts? No, I prefer to think there is a logical explanation for everything."

Harry smiled. "So do I, Miss Pinkerton. I'll see you soon."

"Thank you, Mr. Hogan."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Harry's next stop was the police station where he was greeted warmly by his former colleagues. Bruce offered the use of his desk so he could review Miss Pinkerton's file in comfort and Sharon brought him a mug of freshly-brewed coffee. "Almost like old times," he said. "Thank you." He looked at dates and times and noted what they had checked each time. Then he called Bruce over. "Can you get me a copy of this photo?" he asked, holding out the one in his hand.

"Just this one?" Bruce asked and Harry nodded. "Sure." He located the photo on his computer and hit the print button. Then he looked at Harry. "Why that one? You have an idea, don't you?"

"Just a vague impression so far." Harry picked up the photo, said his goodbyes, and left.

Once back in his office, Harry sat down and stared at the photo for several long minutes. Then he realized one thing had not been in the reports, not a single one of them. He turned on his computer and did some research. And then he smiled for he felt sure he now knew the origin of Miss Pinkerton's ghost. He picked up the phone and dialed a number.

"Hello Mr. Hogan."

She obviously had caller ID. Good. "Miss Pinkerton?"

"Yes, Mr. Hogan. You have more questions?"

"More of a request, actually. The next time you hear any of those sounds I want you to call me immediately."

"Even if it's late at night?"

"Yes. Doesn't matter what time it is. I want to hear it for myself."

There was a brief pause. "Mr. Hogan, do you doubt what I told you? Do you think I am hearing things?"

"No Ma'am, I don't doubt you. I'm just a very hands-on kind of person."

"I understand. Very well, but don't be surprised if my call disturbs your rest."

"Believe me, I'm used to that." He ended the call and knew the next step would be the worst - the waiting.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Miss Pinkerton's call came three nights later, just after eleven. Harry could barely hear her whispers over the phone and guessed she didn't want any possible intruder to know she was on the phone. "I'll be there in five minutes. Make sure the front door is unlocked for me," he told her as he shrugged into his jacket. Grabbing the keys he ran out to the truck. High winds were driving the heavy rain and he had to keep the windshield wipers on top speed. Luckily, the streets were practically empty. When he reached the house he ran from the truck to the porch. He shrugged off his jacket and removed his boots in the foyer so he wouldn't track too much water into the house. She met him with a towel to dry his face and head.

"I'm sorry to get you out on such a night."

"I'm not," he replied. "Do you still hear the sounds?"

"Yes, they're coming from upstairs, she whispered. "Come and listen." She led him to the bottom of a wide staircase. "It's a mixture of sounds tonight, sometimes like claws scratching at the outside, and sometimes like something being scraped across a window."

Harry had no trouble hearing what she was talking about but he kept his ideas to himself at this point. As he ascended the stairs the sounds became louder. Once at the top, he walked slowly down the hallway, pausing to listen at each door. It seemed louder at one particular door near the end of the hallway and he stopped. Miss Pinkerton was right behind him. "Is this a bedroom?" he asked.

"Sewing room," she said, shaking her head. "The cleaning lady cleans it periodically but I haven't used it in years."

"And where, if I may ask, is your bedroom?"

"Directly across from it. Why?"

"You'll see in a minute." He opened the door and crossed the door to the window. "Come here and listen." She crossed the room to stand beside him. Just at that moment a strong gust of wind hit the tree just outside, causing the branches to hit the house, making a variety of sounds.

"Oh my goodness!" She laughed. "Fear of the past catching up with me has made me more paranoid than I realized."

"It could happen to anyone," Harry assured her, "and with you sleeping right across the hall you would definitely hear it."

She looked at him. "You expected this when you said you wanted to hear the sounds, didn't you?"

"I had an idea when I looked at the photos in the police file," Harry told her. "So I checked the weather on the dates of your calls and there were high winds each time."

"Now that you know what it is," Harry said as they walked down the stairs again, "you know what the next step is, don't you?"

"Get the tree pruned or cut down," she replied. "Pruning might spoil the look of it and it is really old so I think it would be best to have it cut down."

Harry's hand was on the doorknob when she stopped him. "Before you leave, Mr. Hogan, what do I owe you? Will you send the bill?"

"I'm not doing this for the money," he told her.

"I insist," she said. "You came out here on a terrible night to solve the mystery and set my mind at ease."

"In that case, next time you're out shopping just pick up a $20 gift card to cover gas. That will do it." He cocked his head to one side, looking at her. "You weren't born in Canada, were you?"

"In England," she replied. "Grandfather Oscar Germain came here from Sweden when he was just sixteen. He found work with the railway and began buying adjacent land parcels until he had enough to establish a riding academy. My mother was his only child and when she married she moved to England. When Grandfather retired, the horses were sold, the stables were torn down and the riding trails became just hiking trails through the woods."

"How did you end up owning this place?"

"It was left to my mother but since she had no desire to return to Canada, she passed it over to me. I had visited a number of times as a child and I loved the place even then."

"I can understand it. You can walk nature trails here without ever leaving your home."

"I find it very relaxing to walk among the trees, listen to the birds, catch glimpses of rabbits, squirrels or, on the rare occasion, a fox. Communing with nature, Mr. Hogan, is the best medicine for the soul as well as the mind."

"Who will inherit it after you?"

"Not many know this but I was married when I was young. My husband died in a factory explosion but the children were in high school. That's when I moved to Canada, returned to work and got involved with helping those in need. At the same time I went back to using my maiden name to protect them."

"So they will be the future owners?"

She smiled. "Yes. My son and daughter have just decided to turn it into a riding academy once more as equal partners. They also plan to turn the house into two condos but that will be up to them. At least it will still be in the family."

"Will you live with one of your children?"

"I, Mr. Hogan, am going to build a neat little English-style cottage just behind this old place, now that I don't have to consider selling. That is where I will live. Glory will be with me, as housekeeper and companion, and when I die the cottage will be hers for as long as she needs it."

Harry walked away, smiling and shaking his head. That was one spunky old lady. She'd had an interesting life, not always under ideal circumstances, and now it appeared that her remaining years would still be according to her own plan.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Two days later, Harry got a letter in the mail and stifled a curse as he read it. God save him from matchmakers, however well-meaning they might be.

Dear Mr. Hogan,
Thank you again for setting my foolish old mind at ease. Enclosed in the $20 card you requested in payment. Also an open voucher for dinner at Monk's Eatery, one of my favourite restaurants. It's for two and, if I may be so bold, I suggest you take that nice Miss Blackstone with you since I hear she works with you from time to time.
Yours sincerely,
Edith Pinkerton

P.S. Enjoy the most expensive dinner on the menu. I can well afford it and it does my heart good to share my wealth in little ways now and then.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, July 2020

Harry Hogan Series

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