Chapter 1 - Rainy Day Monday
The morning rain teemed down, turning the field grey. The overgrown grass hid the signs of construction in the new development, and what the grass couldn't hide, the rain shaded in its gloom. Two young women crouched under an umbrella, tryng to avoid being soaked. One, a tall blonde, sighed. The other. a tawny brunette, shot the blonde a glare.
"I don't know why you brought me here," Ayel said. She twisted the umbrella in her grasp, trying to relieve a cramp she felt building.
Kristi flicked back her tawny hair, her curls weighed down from the rain. "I wanted a second set of eyes."
"All I see is rain."
Four weeks ago
Ayel walked out of the Paterson lecture hall, notebook in one hand, leather jacket in the other. She threaded through the crowd, trying to make her way to a quiet corner. As she put on her jacket, she heard someone call her name. Ayel turned and saw a classmate, a woman the same age with curly tawny hair streaming behind her, running out of the same lecture hall she had left.
"Ayel!" the woman called. She stopped beside the blonde. "Hi! I'm Kristi." She held out her hand.
"Can this wait?" Ayel shrugged on her maroon class jacket. "If this is about TSE, talk to me later this afternoon."
Kristi glanced back at the lecture theatre. "Oh, no, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. I see that you're in Commerce."
"The jacket's a dead giveaway, isn't it?" The back of Ayel's jacket had "Carleton Commerce" emblazoned in black letters with a white outline.
"That's how I know your name, too." Kristi pointed at where Ayel's name sat on the jacket's left arm. "I'm Kristi. Kristi Thiessen."
"I have to get going. Can this wait?"
"It's just a quick question." Kristi took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you wanted to help start a business this summer."
Ayel blinked. "With you?"
"Look . . .."
"Kristi." Ayel checked the time on her phone. "Look, Kristi, I have a class I have to get to. Can we talk about this later?"
"Sure." Kristi reached under her own coat and pulled out an manila envelope. "Here, read this. I'll be at the Tim's in the Unicentre after three this afternoon."
Ayel took the offered envelope. "Sure. Why not?"
Ayel stood up, not caring if Kristi was no longer covered by the umbrella. "We're done. I'm done. There's nothing to see here."
Kristi stood and pressed closer under the umbrella. "You can't say that yet. We're not done searching."
"I still have two papers to finish and exams to study for. I am not risking pneumonia for this wild goose chase."
"Not geese," Kristi said with exaggerated patience. "Ghosts."
Four weeks ago
Ayel slammed the manila envelope down on the table in front of Kristi. "Are you serious?"
Kristi set down her extra-large coffee. "Hi, Ayel. Did you get a chance to read the proposal?"
"Yes, I had a chance to read the proposal. Ghost hunting? Seriously?"
"You don't have to yell." Kristi waved her hand at an empty chair. "Have a seat."
Ayel folded her arms in front of her. "You're kidding, right?"
"What do you know about running a business?"
Kristi gave the blonde a warm smile. "That the first thing I need to find is someone who knows how to run a business. I remember you from first year Psych and when I saw you again in the industrial societies class, thought that you'd be the best person to ask. I mean, you're wearing a Commerce jacket, even. What stream are you in?"
"Entrepreneurship." Ayel sat down, never taking her eyes away from the brunette.
"I knew I found the right woman."
"Keep looking." Ayel started to get up.
Kristi reached out to touch Ayel's arm. "Before you go, keep in mind all the TV shows about the paranormal. Not just /Supernatural/, but reality series that have people go to haunted places. Remember all the haunted places here in Ottawa, not just the Nicholas Street Youth Hostel, and remember that not everyone wants to be on television. There's a market out there of people who think they're haunted but don't want to admit it out loud." The brunette leaned back in her chair. "All we're doing is reassuring people. We research their house, take a look around, and chase off any animals that may be around. I'll bet most of the people we get won't have a ghost at all."
Ayel paused. "Just research?"
"And, for you, a chance to put your classes to use. What do you say?"
"Shh!" Kristi placed her hand across Ayel's mouth.
The blonde glared at her companion as she pulled the offending hand away. `What?" she whispered, her tone harsh.
"I thought I heard something." Kristi fished out an electronic gadget from her pocket. The device was the size of a smart phone but thicker. Fumbling, Kristi flipped it over, trying to aim it.
"It's probably a squirrel trying to get out of the rain, like we should be doing."
The device beeped as Kristi found the power button. "We have to make sure. This is what we're being paid for."
Ayel rolled her eyes. "At a heavy discount because we needed a first customer."
"Barely." Ayel pulled her smart phone from her jacket's inside pocket and started the flashlight app. As she shone it around, two glints of light appeared in the brush. "See? Just a squirrel. Animal Control deals with those."
Four weeks ago
Ayel hesitated outside her advisor's office, hand up and ready to knock. She closed her eyes, berating herself inside her head. The blonde took a deep breath, then rapped on the door. From inside, a rich baritone answered, "Enter."
"Sorry to bother you, Professor Mukemba," Ayel said as she opened the door.
The professor looked up from his computer. "It's not a bother, Ayel. What's on your mind?"
"I have an odd question." Ayel forced herself to not fidget. "Someone in one of my electives approached me to become a business partner. She's majoring in something else, so she asked for my help."
The professor steepled his fingers together. "That doesn't sound like a bad idea, at least from her point of view."
"It's just," Ayel let her voice trail off. She sighed. "The business is a little off."
Ayel shrugged. "It's hard to explain, Professor."
Mukemba smiled, his teeth bright. "Is it illegal?"
"Not really. It's iffy, but it's legal."
"You had your practicum this semester. This could be a way to test out your ideas."
Ayel nodded slowly. "I suppose. I'll let the rest of my group know."
"And write it up. Never hurts to have something for your thesis." The professor leaned forward. "What sort of business is your friend thinking of?"
"Ghost hunting." Ayel watched her advisor's expression grow puzzled. "Yeah."
Kristi peered into the rainy gloom. "That's not a squirrel."
"How would you know?"
"I've watched squirrels before. Their eyes are on the sides of their heads, not in front."
"Fine, then it's a cat. A wet cat, so it's going to be already pissed off."
Kristi shook her head, sending droplets of rain flying from her hair. "We need to make sure. That's why Mrs. Jenkins hired us."
"Unless that's the ghost of a baby, we haven't found anything." Ayel sniffled. "If I get sick, I'm going to cough on you."
"Fine." Kristi looked into the rain one more time. "I don't think that's a cat."
"Can I remind you that, legally, there's a limit to what we can do before we get angry policemen knocking at our doors?"
Three weeks ago
Ayel tracked Kristi down inside the $Paterson lecture hall. The blonde sat down beside the brunette, placing the manila envelope on Kristi's lap. "I'm in."
Kristi's face brightened. "Great!"
Ayel held up a hand. "But I looked into the legalities."
"Legalities?" Kristi's face fell a little.
"We're skirting the laws on private investigation here. I know I don't have a P.I. license. Do you?"
"I might know someone. But if all we're doing is research, even for someone else, then how are we private investigators? We do research all the time here." Kristi shrugged, her tawny curls boucing. "At least I do."
Ayel shrugged out of her leather jacket. "That's why I said 'skirting'. As long as we don't investigate someone living, we should be good. But if you know someone with a license, that'll help."
Kristi nodded. "I'll talk to him. Oh, I got someone else to help, too. We're going to need detectors and she has a few ideas."
Ayel started walking back to her minivan. "Better get that thing out of the rain. Kieu will kill you if you get it wet."
Kristi shoved her electronic gadget into her pocket. "She's not going to kill me. Kieu likes me, in her own way."
"Then she'll kill me as a proxy for killing you. And then grumble about having to fix her device. No thanks."
"You just have to give her a chance, Ayel."
"I've done nothing to her." The blonde hit the electronic lock to start the van once she was in range.
Kristi took one last look over her shoulder. "I think that's too big to be a cat. And it's standing all wrong."
Ayel rolled her eyes. "Then it's a raccoon. This used to be a farmer's field. I'm pretty sure there was a barn around here ages ago. And if it is a raccoon, we really have to get going, before a sinkhole swallows the van."
Kristi stopped mid-stride. "Wait, what?"
"You didn't know?" Ayel continued walking, leaving the brunette in the rain. "Raccoons are a harbinger of sinkholes."
"Since when?" Kristi dashed to catch up to the blonde.
Ayel reached the van, its dark blue getting lost in the grey of the rain. "The summer. Were you in town?"
Kristi opened the passenger door to get in. "I was back home. What happened?"
"It was big news here." Ayel slipped in on the driver's side, shaking out her umbrella before closing it. "A raccoon showed up at the construction site, then a sinkhole appeared three days later. That's why we have to get going."
"Because of a sinkhole?"
Ayel grinned as she started the van's engine. "Didn't you know? We fill sinkholes with minivans here in Ottawa."
Kristi buckled up as Ayel put the van into gear. "And you thought I was weird?"