11. Harry Hogan - Voices in the Night
Harry paused in the middle of refilling his coffee cup as the door opened, admitting a blast of cold air. A tall, rather thin woman stepped inside and quickly closed the door behind her.
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She looked across the room at him. "Mr. Hogan?"
"Guilty as charged," he replied, nodding towards the chairs. "Please, sit down."
"Thank you." She sat down and pulled off her gloves, placing her hands neatly on her lap, one over the other.
"Can I get you a coffee?"
"Thank you, but I never touch the stuff."
"I probably drink too much of it," he said. "Can I help you with something?"
"I hope so because otherwise... it probaby means I'm going crazy."
"What do you mean?"
"I hear voices... not every night but, always at night and at different times. Sometimes it's just talking, not loud enough to pick out what they're saying. Other times I hear screams and sounds like someone knocking or pounding on something. The worst is the nights when it wakes me up and I can't get back to sleep."
Harry rubbed his chin. "Mrs..."
"Ms.," she said. "Ms. Jaunita Harris."
"Ms Harris... could it be someone in the next apartment, condo or town house?" Harry asked.
She shook her head. "I always rented an apartment in the city. Now I am semi-retired and wanted a change. So, I purchased a small house which seemed to suit my purposes very well... at least I thought it would."
"I gather things haven't gone the way you hoped."
"Not at all," she said. "It gives one a weird feeling to hear voices when there is no obvious source. I hate to say it but... it almost feels like the place is haunted."
Harry could tell she was stressed out. "Exactly where is your house located?" he asked.
"It's a small house, about ten years old. It was built on the concrete foundation where an old mansion once stood.
Harry frowned. "What happened to the mansion?"
"It burned to the ground with the owners inside. I think there was some suspicion that it might have been caused by smoking in bed."
"Are you talking about Jacob and Nancy Wooden?"
Ms Harris nodded. "Did you know them?"
"Not really. I knew of them," Harry replied. "I remember the story surrounding the fire though. Forensic science has come a long way since then but smoking in bed was indeed thought to be the cause. Jacob and Nancy were both in their 80s and smokers. Those who knew them said they always watched the late news in bed with a cup of coffee and a cigarette."
"It was a tragedy and easy to understand why none of the children were interested in holding on to the land."
"They had five, I think... all grown up and long gone from here at the time. I believe some writer bought the land and built a summer home there."
She laughed lightly. "I don't think it worked for him, apparently he decided that he wanted to live with sun, sand and surf all year round, so he put it up for sale."
"Probably not for a bargain, either."
"Actually, the price was good. It had been on the market for several years and the price was dropped just to get rid of it."
"You were fortunate." Harry leaned back in his chair. "Since the voices aren't coming adjacent walls, the only other place is from below. Perhaps some long-forgotten tunnel or root cellar. I'll start making some inquiries about the previous house tomorrow."
"I'll wait to hear from you."
Harry's first stop the next morning is the station to check with Chief Rogers. He remembered the fire but,
like Harry, he know of the couple but didn't know them personally. "It was my first year with the force. I remember the sirens wailing and the smoke and flames could be seen clear across town."
"I read there was no funeral."
"No. When the sun rose that morning there was nothing left but ashes. There was a memorial service, mostly to show support for the family and the church was packed. I spoke with the children after and it felt like they were kind of resigned... like they'd had been expecting it for years... and perhaps they had."
"I was hoping to learn more about the history of house."
"Old lady Pinkerton would know more," the Chief said thoughtfully. "She's the type of person who keeps up with current events, reads all the news and, as far as I know, her memory is still pretty sharp."
Harry nodded slowly. "I'll give her a call and see what she knows. Thanks, Chief."
"Anytime, Harry. You're always welcome around here."
Harry spent the next few minutes catching up with the boys before leaving. He intended to return to the office and call Miss Pinkerton. But, almost without thinking about it, he pulled the truck out into the street, heading in the direction of her home... and he smiled.
When the housekeeper opened the door, her pleasant face was lit up with a smile. "Mr. Hogan! So nice to see you again."
"Hello, Glory. Is she free?" He stepped inside. Although her name was Gloria, she was known as Glory and it suited her.
Glory shut the door behind him. "For you? Always. She enjoys your visits." She headed down the hall. "Come along."
This wasn't the way to the living room... but he kept quiet and followed her until she stopped. Glory tapped lightly on the closed door and then opened it. "You have a visitor, Miss Edith."
Miss Pinkerton was sitting at a huge old wooden desk, the top of which was hidden under file folders and notebooks. In the centre of all this chaos sat what looked to Harry like a brand new computer. A grin spread across his face as she turned around.
"Mr. Hogan!" She lifted a box of papers from a nearby chair. "Do sit down, please. Glory, be a dear and get some coffee, please... and three cups."
"What are you up to now?" Harry asked.
"I think I've taken leave of my senses," she replied.
"You? Never. And is that a new computer?"
She nodded. "I have too much time on my hands these days and nothing to do. So, I decided I needed a new project to keep me busy."
Glory returned with the coffee and a plate of raisin tea buns. "If you ask me, she's losing it. It's like she's trying to relive her younger days by reading all this stuff."
"Perhaps," Miss Pinkerton said. ""There's some truth in what you say, but there's a reason for it too."
Harry sipped his coffee and picked up a bun. "I'm all ears."
"I told you what I used to do... in my younger days, as Glory said." Harry nodded and she continued. "All my reports were verbal so there would be no paper trails to trace. However, I travelled a lot in those days and, apart from the work, I saw a lot of places and talked to some interesting people."
"I'm sure you did," Harry said.
"So, I decided it was time to put it all together... for the family... the places and historic buildings I visited and my impressions of them. Along with some of the most interesting stories I learned from some of the residents."
"It sounds fascinating."
"I hope it will be... but tell me what's on your mind. I know you aren't here just to have coffee with two old ladies."
Harry laughed and explained what he was looking for. "Can you tell me anything?"
"I was acquainted with them. We supported some of the same charities and shared a few conversations at fund-raising events. We weren't close friends, but I'm not sure they had any really close friends. They were each other's support and that seemed to be enough for them."
"They kept to themselves," Glory said, "but Silas might know something about the house."
"Silas?" Harry asked.
Miss Pinkerton nodded. "Silas Blogger, retired light keeper. I seem to recall his family had some connection with them. I do know Jacob and Nancy didn't build the house but Silas might know more about that."
"Then I'll go talk to him next." Harry stood up.
"Are you and Miss Blackstone still working together?"
"From time to time," Harry said, smiling. "Miss Blackett and I work well together. I appreciate her help and I value her friendship."
"We all need good friends, Mr. Hogan."
"Thank you for your help, ladies. Enjoy the rest of your day." Harry was smiling and shaking his head as he drove away.
He went home, grabbed a sandwich for lunch, and was out the door again. He found Silas Blogger at home, explained what he was looking for and was told to come in.
"Some contractor built the house but never lived in it and sold it a few years later. The Walkers were the first ones to live there. He died fairly young, brain aneuriand she left townsm. The Youngs, bought it next, older couple, no children. He was kind of eccentric; paranoid over his book collection, afraid someone would steal them. After he developed dementia they moved into a long-term care home. Then came the Wooden family."
"How long ago was that?"
"Fifty years. Their son, Carl, was introduced in my class the day after they moved in. My mother did housecleaning for them." He went on to tell some of the stories he had heard from his mother. "I feel like I'm forgetting something but I don't know what."
"I know more now than when I came here," Harry said as he was leaving.
"If I think of anything else, I'll call you."
Harry returned to his office and tried searching the Internet, which but didn't pan out too well. He wished Bertie was back from her trip. She was much better at research than he was... probably because she had much more patience with it. Finally, he gave it up and went to pick up a pizza for supper.
Silas called just as Harry finished eating. "I know what I wanted to tell you this afternoon. There was a bunker under that house. Walker had it installed."
"You've got to be joking."
"He was definitely strange." Silas laughed. "My sister, Rebecca, was good friends Carmelita Wooden. She once heard Mr. Wooden say that Young was tall, thin and slightly stooped. He wore glasses which he had a habit of pulling them down on his nose and looking over them at you. Mrs. Wooden said he looked creepy, like a praying mantis and he made her feel like an insect. People weren't important to him."
"Was the bunker filled in when that writer built the current house?"
"As far as I know, the burned rubble was cleared away and he just poured this huge thick concrete slab over what was left, built the house on one corner of it and used the rest as a patio."
"That leaves one problem," Harry said. "How would anyone get into the bunker now?"
"That's the best part." Silas laughed. "There was a secret entrance - or exit, whichever you want to callt it - located in the root cellar. Rebecca said that when the Wooden kids were out late at night, they would sneak in the house through the bunker and their parents never knew."
"And the root cellar would have been close to the house?"
"Behind the house I think, maybe 10 or 12 feet back, probably in the area where the Woodens planted the cedar hedge."
"Do you think the tunnel would still be accessible?"
After a minute of thoughtful silence, Silas said, "I don't know if the cellar is still there but I suppose you could still get to the tunnel if it wasn't filled in."
"Thank you, Silas." Harry disconnected the call and rubbed his chin. Perhaps a little exploration should be his next step. A plan for tomorrow...
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The following morning, Harry headed out the door, got a coffee at Tim's and molasses raisin buns at Janet's Bakery. Then he headed for Ms Harris's place. He had called the night before and told her he would be exploring the grounds this morning so she wouldn't think hewas a prowlers. When he arrived, he got out and looked around. To him it looked like a double-size building lot and the house was off to one side.
Harry walked back to what had started as a hedge but was now overgrown. The now tall cedars obviously hadn't been trimmed or pruned in years. He walked along the trees, not seeing much of anything
at first. And then he saw it! The root cellar remains were still here.
Pushing through the dense growth, Harry looked closer. The roof had caved in but someone had cleared the rubble and carefully stacked it off to one side. Trying to avoid detection? There were half a dozen steps, which Harry descended slowly but they seemed to be in pretty good condition.
At the bottom was what had once been the cellar, about eight feet wide and six feet from the steps to... a heavy wooden door? Shelving remnants hung on both sides of the space where produce and preserves would have been stored. But it was the door that interested Harry. At this point he decided he should be sharing this with Ms Harris and retraced his steps.
"A bunker?" she repeated, her eyes wide with surprise. "Why would anyone have a bunker around here?"
"I hope we'll find some answers when we open that door. Are you ready?"
She nodded. "Let's do this."
Harry had brought a couple of portable emergency lights which provided plenty of light as they looked around. The longest wall, opposite the door, was lined with shelves that were overflowing with books and notebooks, and there were boxes of files on the bottom shelves. There was an old table at one end, which apparently had served as a desk, while a wooden rocking chair, a side table, and a reading lamp occupied the other end. Ms Harris started inspecting the books while Harry examined what was on the 'desk.'
"Oh, my stars!"
Harry looked up. "Did you find something?"
"Mr. Hogan, from what I can tell, these are all first editions, and some of them are very old, even back to Charles Dickens."
"I guess Young had a reason to be paranoid about them."
"Oh, yes indeed. Some of these are priceless and it all belongs to any living descendants of the Youngs. We must try to find them."
"They had no children."
"Perhaps nieces or nephews..."
"That's always a possibility," Harry agreed. "I'll get Bertie on it when she gets home in a couple of days. She's good with that sort of thing, researching and following leads on the Internet. But this still doesn't solve your problem."
"You're right, of course."
"We need to narrow down the nights and times and, hopefully, catch them here, whoever they are."
She nodded. "You're in luck. This is Thursday and they should be here around ten tonight."
"Good. I'll be waiting for them."
"Would it be okay if I wait with you?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "If you want to, I guess. It's cold down here and maybe a bit damp so be prepared."
"I am curious about who they are and what they've been doing. I will see you later."
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Shortly after ten that night, Harry was sitting at the desk and Ms. Harris was in the rocking chair when they heard footsteps approaching. She switched off the small light she held. Meanwhile, Harry had the end of a rope in one hand while the other was poised over the switch of a portable floodlight.
The door creaked open and Harry counted seven cellphones coming into the room. When they were all inside, he gave the rope a quick yank and the door shut behind them.
Low voices whispered, "What was that?" and "Who shut the door?"
Then it sounded like all five said: "Not me."
And then... "Someone's in here... Who's here?"
Harry hit the switch and seven people blinked as the powerful light hit their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Harry stepped behind them, blocking any chance of a quick escape. "What do we have here? Underage drinkers? Illegal drug users? Ghost hunters? What mischief are you up to?"
"Mr. Hogan?" They turned to face him, backing up a few steps in the process.
"Julie?" Harry was puzzled. "What are you doing here?"
She stepped forward. "It's okay, guys. I know him."
"Yeah, he's a cop and we all know we don't have permission to be here."
"Knock it off, Pete."
"Pete Robbins. That's right, I know all of you. Now, someone had better start talking and explain what you're doing here."
"We're making a movie, Mr. Hogan."
"Susie Quinn, is it? A movie?"
"Yes, we're hoping it will help us get into the schools that offer the courses we need."
"Aren't you already in school? All of you?" Harry asked. Seven heads nodded agreement. "Okay, Julie, explain this to me."
"We're all doing trades so we can support ourselves while we wait for the right opportunity, our big break, because we all want to work in the entertainment business. This movie we're doing, we do the writing, acting, makeup, directing and filming. We hope it will prove that we're sincere about this and that we know what we're doing and that we're willing to work hard."
"How did you come to find this place?"
"My folks were talking about root cellars," Susie said. "You know how old people like to talk about the past. Anyway, Grandma talked about this one with the secret tunnel and I thought it would be a perfect place for filming."
"And why do you come at such late hours?"
Julie picked up the story again. "Because we all have part-time jobs and the times we get together have to be scheduled around our classes and our jobs."
"They sound like a pretty level-headed group and I don't think they mean any harm."
All seven heads turn sharply at the sound. They had not noticed she was there.
"Ms Harris," Harry said, "meet Julie Carter, Susie Quinn, Marie LaMarsh, Pete Robbins, Carl Porter, Ben Martin and Sherry White; all children from good homes." He cocked his head to one side. "Nevertheless, they are breaking the law by trespassing on private property. And you have every right to press charges."
"I suppose so," she said.
"Kids, this lady owns the house you are doing your project under and distupting her life." Heads hung as they mumbled apologies and Harry looked at Ms. Harris. "Your property, your decision," he said.
"I think such dedication should be rewarded, not nipped in the bud, don't you, Mr. Hogan?"
"Perhaps, but... apart from traspassing, coming in here like they did could be considered break and entry." He could see the kids starting to look nervous, shifting from one foot to the other, huddling close together. "As I said, it's up to you."
"There would have to be no screams after midnight." They all nodded agreement. "Nothing will ever be removed from this room." More nods and she smiled at them. "You know, I have a few friends with connections who might be able to help with the schools."
"Really?" Seven pairs of eyes opened wide and focused on this lady as if she was the answer to their prayers.
Harry waved his hand at them and walked out. He got in the truck and scratched his head. He wasn't quite sure what had just happened back there but, offhand, he's say those kids had just meant their mentor. And that wasn't a bad thing at all.
© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, March 2021
Harry Hogan Series
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