It didn’t take much to get Kate to fall asleep. She’d barely gotten a catnap the night before and once she was given a real bed she went out like a light. Babs headed back downstairs, intending to have a good stiff drink. Before she could reach one of the Hall’s many bars, however, the telephone rang and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Worried the jangling noise might wake Kate, Babs ran to answer it.
The telephone at Grimbly Hall was one of the new, stylish candlestick models, which used the latest in acoustic technology, meaning that the person you were talking to only sounded like they were at the bottom of a well, not actually screaming at you from the afterlife. There must have been some interference on the line, however, as it took her some time to realize it was Neville, his voice sounding tinny and distant. The line clicked every so often and sometimes whole words dropped out and she had to figure them out by context. “Bit of a hold-up here,” he told her, once she’d established that he was calling from a hotel in Utica. “My taxes this year turned out more complicated than previously thought.”
“Let me guess,” Babs said, “they won’t let you claim Reggie as a dependent?”
“No, it turned out that Alvin just up and ate one of his clients. I can’t make heads or tails of my own receipts, so I’m going to have to get him out of jail if I ever want to clear this up. I won’t be home tonight—it might be a few days, actually.”
And in fact Neville and Reggie were in the middle of quite the adventure, one that included an exciting car chase and a treasury agent with mental powers, but it happened rather far from Grimbly Hall and therefore is outside our remit, so it won’t be told here.
“Are you going to be alright there, by yourself?” Neville asked, though she could barely hear him. There was a strange hissing and crackling sound on the line, now, sounding rather like radio static.
“Well enough, I suppose,” Babs said, speaking up, “though there’s a fish here with a screw loose and—”
“What’s that?” Neville shouted
“Damn. We’ve got a lousy connection,” she told him. “I said we have a new visitor who’s a bit off her nut, and—”
Neville’s voice disappeared altogether amidst the crackling, popping noises and Babs almost hung up the telephone receiver in annoyance. Maybe there was a problem with the wires, she thought. Or perhaps—
“Kate,” a new voice said.
Or perhaps not so much a voice, as a collection of whistling hisses and curt, snapping sounds. As if the weird interference she’d been hearing had somehow cohered together to form the name. Babs supposed she might just be hearing things, the way sometimes one saw an old water stain on a ceiling and thought it resembled a rabbit, or a map of Canada, or, if one were feeling lonely enough, Rudolph Valentino’s profile—
“Kate! Come back to me, Kate!”
“I beg your pardon,” Babs said, because it clearly was a voice and not some kind of fault in the wires. “I think you may have a wrong connection.”
“You’re not Kate. Where is Kate?” the voice asked. “Where are you hiding her?”
“May I ask who’s calling?” Babs said.
And then the line went dead. Because of course Babs had many questions for who- or whatever that voice belonged to, and it would have been far too convenient if she could have had some answers out of it.
She stared at the receiver for a while, as if she could will it to call the voice back. Considering this is a story about monsters, and such often have supernatural talents, it is perhaps necessary here to establish that Babs did not, in fact, have any such power over the telephone lines.
Eventually she hung the receiver back on its cradle and folded her arms, tapped her foot, performed all the little gestures that would have suggested to anyone watching that she was deep in thought. One nice thing about Grimbly Hall was that someone was always watching and so when she was feeling dramatic she was guaranteed an audience. Finally she placed her fists firmly akimbo on her hips and stared upward, as if she could see through the ceiling and into the bedroom up there where Kate lay sleeping.
When Mrs. Patavatsky came out of the kitchen, it was to find Babs still standing like that a minute later.
“Neville won’t be home for a few days,” Babs said, before Mrs. P could even ask.
The housekeeper nodded. That was the information she’d come to learn, and so she turned around and started back toward the kitchen.
“Wait,” Babs said. “I need to ask you a question. You’re under the impression that I’m running some kind of caper on your boss.”
Mrs. P did not attempt to deny it.
“But tell me something,” Babs said. “If a thief did come here, looking to boost your precious silver—”
“Or china. Also valuable.”
Babs nodded. “Certainly. Some cunning master sharper comes to Grimbly Hall, with larceny on her mind. You think she’d dress like this?” She indicated her own beaded rayon knee duster dress and double strand of pearls.
“Am no thief. Don’t know tricks of trade.”
“Or,” Babs went on, tapping her chin, “would she show up the very picture of innocence, a real canceled stamp in distress type? You know, the kind good eggs like Neville and Reggie couldn’t help but want to take care of.”
Mrs. Patavatsky stood there for a while, waiting expectantly. Eventually she frowned and said, “Are still asking real question, or is rhetorical, now? May I go back to kitchen?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Babs said. “Don’t let me keep you a moment longer.”
Though she was by long and established practice a night owl, Babs made a point of retiring early that night. In the morning she rose just before dawn and headed down to the garage. A pair of bicycles hung from the rafters there, forgotten toys Neville had bought in a moment of enthusiasm and then promptly forgotten about. It wasn’t easy getting them both down and then wheeling them around to the front of the house, but she managed. By the time Kate came down from her bedroom Babs was already astride one of them and she rang the bell until the young woman came out to see what was going on.
“Bit of a nasty day for it,” Babs announced. She gestured at the sky, which was the color of old tin, with whole layers of clouds stacked up on top of each other. The stone steps of the Hall were already spotted with raindrops. “Or maybe the perfect kind of day, hmm? There’s sure to be some thunder and lightning up on that hill of yours.”
The young woman wore the rubberized dress and welding gloves Babs had provided her. She looked distinctly less weepy than she had the day before, and completely refreshed by a good night’s sleep. When she saw the bicycles, though, all the color drained right out of her face, bringing her lightning flowers into sharp relief.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“Really? You’ve forgotten our deal? I said I would personally chaperone you back to where this all started, so you could finish it. You know, take the electric cure.” She rang her bell again. “Well, let’s blouse, hmm?”
“I… I remember what we said,” Kate replied, looking down at her feet. She clenched her hands together in front of her. “You said that if I felt the same way—”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re a four-flusher.”
“I’m sorry?” Kate asked.
“A welcher. Come on. I’ve got other things to do today.”
Kate kicked at the ground with the toe of her sneaker. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I think you were right. You just wanted to help and I was so horrible to you. I do hope you can forgive me. I think I’d rather stay here. Try, at least, to accept my fate.”
“Oh, poor little bunny,” Babs said. Her mouth hardened into a firm line. “Tell it to Sweeney.”
The young woman looked honestly confused. “I don’t—”
“It means pull the other one, sister. Tell me another lie.”