Harry Hogan Series

15. Harry Hogan - The Phantom Phone

Shirley Lowe swirled the spoon around in the soup pot absentmindedly, as she listened to the voice of her friend on the phone.

"I know who you need... but, for the life of me, I can't recall his name. Apparently, he specalizes in cases like this."

"What do you mean, cases like this?" Shirley asked.

"Unusual things... out of the ordinary... you know what I mean. Just let me... Oh! Now I remember. I heard Janet Thorne talking about him. Do you know her?"

Shirley was shaking her head. "I don't think we've met."

"Never mind. I'll get his name for you and call you right back."

The call was disconnected. Shirley added barley to the soup and stirred it again, before replacing the lid on the pot to let it simmer.

The return call came just a few minutes later. "Hogan's Investigations, and his name is Harry," Paula said and she rattled off a number while Shirley wrote it on the closest thing to her - a paper towel.

"Thanks, Paula. I owe you one."

"So you're going to contact him then?"

"I don't see that I have a choice." Shirley sighed. "I can't solve it myself... though, not for lack of trying... and I can't put the house on the market as it is."

"Did you ask the previous owners about it?"

"They never heard anything."

"Okay, listen, let me know if anything turns up, okay?"

"Will do." Shirley ended the call and punched in the number Paula had given her. The call was answered after the first ring and she made an appointment for one-thirty that afternoon.

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

Harry and his volunteer assistant, Bertie Blackett, were both sitting at their desks when Shirley arrived for her appointment. Harry gave a slight nod of approval. Right on time, he thought, as he stood up to greet the woman. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Lowe. Have a seat and tell us what's on your mind."

Shirley sat, exchanging a smile and a nod of recognition with Bertie as she did so. "I have a sort of problem," she said hesitantly. "A little out of the ordinary, perhaps too silly to mention, but...'

With a chuckle, Harry said, "Out of the ordinary, is what we deal with most of the time. If it's real to you, that's good enough for us."

"We've dealt with everything from ghosts to UFOs," Bertie said. "You can tell us, no matter how insignificant it may seem."

"That's true," Harry added. "You mentioned hearing a noise but can't find the source. What part of your home do you hear the noise in?"

"Oh, it's not in my home,"Shirley said quickly. "It's in a house that I'm selling. I'm a real estate agent."

Harry nodded. "Go on."

"Well, it sounds like a phone, but I cannot find a phone anywhere in the house. I spent several days taking pictures for the website but the ringing was so annoying that I went home and wrote the captions there."

"I am assuming you looked for the source," Harry said, eyebrows raised.

"The last day I was there," Shirley said, nodding. "From top to bottom. I can't find a thing. And, I can't put it on the market like that."

"Why not?"Bertie asked. "Wouldn't prospective buyers just think it was a misplaced cell phone?"

Shirley shook her head. "I doubt it, not if they knew how long the place has been empty. A cell phone would have died long ago, without being charged."

"How often does it ring?" Harry asked.

"Pretty much every hour, on the hour," Shirley said, "but, with two teenage girls, a cell phone would have been missed before they even got out of the driveway. I did ask the parents, but they confirmed that all three kids have their phones."

Harry and Bertie nodded. "Who's the third child?" Harry asked.

"Nine-year-old son, Lucas. Very much into computer and video games. His mother said he would have hit the roof if any of his equipment was missing."

"Sounds about right." Harry rubbed his chin. "Could there have been something that he had stopped using, didn't really care about anymore, something he would no longer miss?"

"I could ask the parents."

Harry shook his head. "Not yet. We'll see if we come up with anything first. I'll need the address and a key."

"29 Maple Drive," Shirley said, removing a key from her purse and handing it over. "Split-level, garage, cedar shingles on the garage side."

"I've seen it," Harry said, nodding. "Did you check for any sign of unlawful entry? Someone could be stashing a phone inside that's used for some secret purpose and only checks it at certain times for information - or instructions."

Shirley looked puzzled and shook her head.

"It has been done," Harry explained. "The owner would access the phone only when it was safe to do so, check the messages, and leave again."

"Everything is locked up tight. I checked the exterior and I didn't see any sign of break and entry but I could have missed it." She stood up. "I will leave it in your hands, Mr. Hogan, but I hope it won't take too long. I need to get this house on the market before the owners lose patience."

"Does this ringing occur all day long, or mostly during one part of the day... such as in the morning?"

She paused at the door and turned around. "I don't usually do on-site work until in the afternoon, so I really don't know about the rest of the day." Her hand was on the doorknob when Harry spoke again.

"One more thing, if you don't mind? The two girls... do you know, by any chance, if either of them is an athlete or an honours student?"

"No, I'm afraid I don't have that kind of information, Mr. Hogan. My interest is only in the house."

Harry nodded. "I understand. Thank you. I'll get back to you within a day or two."

As the door closed behind Shirley, Bertie looked at Harry, suppressing a giggle. "She might be having doubts about hiring you. I could see her frowning with that last question. Reminded me of Columbo."

"Well, he always got the job done," Harry said, looking down at the few notes he had jotted down.

"Hmm... you have an idea, don't you?"

"I might," he replied, grinning, and proceded to tell her what he was thinking.

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

The next morning Harry went out to 29 Maple Drive. First he inspected the house and grounds outside, including the small utility shed, but found nothing that looked out of place. Then he did a complete inspection of the interior but, again, found nothing out of place and he heard no ringing sound.

He intended to return after lunch but detour signs were in place as work crews were preparing to dig and fix a water leak. Harry had seen water on the side of the street when he arrived, but by the time he left, it was bubbling. That prompted him to postpone his return visit until the following afternoon.

That afternoon, as Harry and Bertie sat in the office, he suddenly looked across at her. "I wonder how long this ringing has been going on?"

"Mrs. Lowe said the owners hadn't heard ankything," she replied.

"Yes, she did, but... I wonder if they would have noticed it?"

"Why wouldn't they? You don't have to be all that close to a phone to hear it ring."

Harry nodded. "True, but think about it. I'm going to say there were five phones in that house - two parents and three kids. Would they have noticed an extra one ringing?"

Bertie's eyes widened. "Oh! I see what you mean."

"Exactly! One more phone among the known five, wouldn't have been noticed. If one of them heard a phone ring, and knew it wasn't theirs, they would simply have thought it belonged to one of the other family members."

"So, it could be a phone after all. Well done, Columbo." Harry frowned at her and she giggled.

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

Harry returned to the house after lunch the following day. He drove over the bump in the road where city crews had done their work and parked in the driveway. He walked into the house, carrying a folding chair, a newspaper, and a Tim Horton's coffee. If he didn't find the source of the ringing the first time, at least he had something to pass the time while he waited for the next ring. And, he sat down to wait.

Precisely at one PM, he heard what definitely sounded like a ringing phoneringing, just as Mrs. Lowe had said. One ring only. To him, it sounded like it had come from the garage side of the house. He opened the connecting door and sat down to wait for the next ring.

With the next ring, at two PM, Harry felt sure the sound was coming from the garage and he walked out there. His walk-through the previous day had shown him that it was empty except for a laundry-room set up at the back. It was a small, compact arrangement with washer and dryer side by side and a cabinet up over. The front was open but there were folding doors that could be closed if desired.

He had an hour to wait until the next ring. Another search of the garage might pass the time so, he went back to the truck and brought in a flashlight. Harry walked slowly around the empty garage, taking care to shine the light in the corners. Nothing. Everything was clean.

Then he moved to the laundry area. First he checked the cabinet, using a 3-step stool that was hanging on the garage wall. He shone the light inside and found nothing but a container of tennis balls. He did not want to try moving the washer and dryer unless it became necessary. These two items were placed fairly close together, with nearly a foot of space at each side. He shone the light in those spaces, taking time to check the entire length of each space thoroughly - nothing. He checked inside the appliances - nothing.

By this time, Harry had decided that it might not be a phone. He could see no visible wires and no plugs in the outlets. He glanced at his watch. It was almost time for the next ring, so he stayed where he was. When the ring started, Harry knew where to look.

Several minutes later, Harry called Bertie and Shirley, tellling them to meet him there in the garage. He was leaning against the dryer when they arrived, just a few seconds apart.

"Did you find something?" Shirley asked.

"What did you find?" Bertie asked almost at the same time.

Harry laughed. "It's not a phone." He reached behind him and then held out his hand.

"What is it?" asked Bertie. "And what are you doing with the crowbar?"

"I'll explain the crowbar in a few minutes, but this is a digital alarm that can be programmed for as many as five alarms. Convenient for people needing to take medications on time, but not all at the same time. And, I suppose for anyone on a strict schedule for anything."

"But if it was a reminder for taking medication, someone would miss it," Shirley said.

"There are any number of uses for these things, depends on the needs of the individual. Students sometimes use them when studying to remind themselves of other things that need to be done, or when it's time to take a break. I've heard that people with OCD sometimes use them too."

"Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Why?" Shirley asked.

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps to schedule their time into hourly slots for various tasks. I don't have the answer for that one."

Bertie was frowning. "So, how did you find it, and where exactly?"

"With the second ring, I knew it was definitely coming from the garage. While I waited for the third ring, I searched the entire space, including the laundry area, but didn't see anything. I couldn't see behind the appliances and I didn't want to move them unless it was necessary. When the time was close I kept my hands on top of both machines and...

"Vibrations!" Bertie said. "The vibrations told you which machine it was behind."

"Right," Harry said, with a chuckle, "except it wasn't behind either of them."

Both women looked puzzled.

"I felt the vibrations with both hands. The thing was stuck between the appliances. I saw it when I shone the light in there but, I had to get the crowbar from the truck to pull it out."

"Thank you, Mr. Hogan." Shirley said. "Now I can move ahead and put the house on the market."

"And it wasn't a phone, after all," Bertie added.

"It sounded pretty much the same, until you get close to them. I've turned it off, by the way." He handed the alarm over to Shirley.

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

Two days later, Shirley stopped in to pay her bill and said the owner had laughed when she heard what was making the noise.

"And no one had missed the thing?" Harry asked.

Shirley shook her head. "Apparently, one of the girls had used it for a while to get on a schedule while studying for exams. According to the Mother, it was a short-lived phase."

"But, how did it come to get down there?" Bertie asked.

"The woman did a final load of laundry the night before they left and the alarm had been in the second laundry hamper. It probably got knocked or dropped in there during packing. Anyway, she laid it on top of the dryer, intending to bring it up with the dry laundry... but forgot about it. That's all she knew but, she said that the cat might have knocked it over."

"So, when it fell, the switch got jarred into the 'on' position," Bertie said, frowning.

"The cat might have done that while playing with the thing before it fell," Harry said. "The alarms were set for afternoon times, she did the laundry at night and they probably left the next morning. So, they were gone by the time it started ringing."

"I don't care how it happened as long as it's over," Shirley said, "Thank you again."

"Such a simple thing to have caused such a fuss," Bertie said as the door closed behind Shirley.

"All in a day's work," Harry said.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, November 2021

Harry Hogan Series

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