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The House

by Brian C. Petroziello

part 1 of 2

Officer Whitfield sat beside Detective Brendan Mulhearn’s desk. He twisted and turned, looking over his shoulder, as if someone were after him.

“He’ll be here any minute,” said Mulhearn. “He’s just getting a cup of coffee.”

Whitfield continued to fidget and shift uneasily in the chair. Mulhearn eased back in his chair, his arms crossed behind his head, his red hair graying at the temples. He was wearing his trademark black blazer and kelly green tie. His bright green eyes studied the unease in Officer Whitfield. “Are you expecting someone?” he asked.

“I feel funny talking to you guys,” he answered. “Ya know, all the stories in the papers and such.”

“Only certain papers, but the cops here all say hello to us — and we don’t bite fellow officers.”

Just then, Vince Minelli walked up. His hair was jet black, his five o’clock shadow was already evident at 9:00 am, and a thin scar crossed his right cheek diagonally — a reminder of a misspent youth on the streets.

“What’s up?” he asked. He took a sip from his “Kiss me — I’m Italian” mug, which had a picture of a swarthy-complexioned man mooning the world on its other side.

“I need to talk to you,” said Whitfield. “I have some friends in the Bronx. The job is looking at them for child abuse. I know both of them since we were in grade school. There’s no way they could ever hurt their kids.”

“It might not be intentional — stress builds up. It can happen to the best of parents sometimes,” said Mulhearn.

“Have you talked to the kids?” asked Minelli, setting his offensive coffee cup on the desk in front of Whitfield.

“That’s why I wanted to talk to you. The kids keep saying that the house is doing it. They tell me the house is mad at them — for things they’ve done. I don’t know. Maybe the house is haunted? One o’ those poltergeists or something. I thought you could look into it, or give me the name of someone,” Whitfield continued, a genuine look of concern in his eyes. “I know these people, ya gotta help them.”

Minelli and Mulhearn looked at each other and shrugged. Minelli spoke first, “it’s a pretty day for a drive, and we seem to have a shortage of spooks and goblins this week.”

Whitfield handed a scrap of paper to Mulhearn. “This is the address, and their names. I’ll let them know you’re coming.” At that, Whitfield got up and walked away. He continued to look over his shoulder nervously.

The two detectives of the Special Crimes Section pulled up a short while later at the address that Whitfield gave them. It was an unassuming frame house on a short tidy street. They walked up the short walk, and on to the porch. Mulhearn knocked on the door.

A young woman answered the door. She had short cropped brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a simple yellow dress with a plain white apron. Behind her Mulhearn could see a small child of around four or five years old. His right arm was in a cast.

Mulhearn identified Minelli and himself. “May we come in?” he asked. “Officer Whitfield asked us to talk to you.”

She motioned them in. They went into a small parlor at the left front of the house. Minelli and Mulhearn sat in the chairs, while Mrs. Johnson and the child sat on the couch.

“I understand that other officers have talked to you about the injuries to your children,” Minelli said. “Officer Whitfield is convinced that you and your husband are innocent.” He continued. “We’re used to seeing things that are a little strange. Why don’t you tell us what happened.”

She proceeded to tell the tale of the strange happenings in the house.

“It started with me, really. We saved a long time to be able to afford a house of our own, and for the first few weeks everything was fine.” Her voice was slow and measured. “Then one morning — come to think of it, it was not long after the house was hit with lightning. I was making breakfast for the kids. I had bacon frying, and dropped an egg. I was cleaning up the mess when the grease in the frying pan caught fire. The flames went up the wall. I got the frying pan into the sink, and beat the flames out with a kitchen towel.

“Then the house — I don’t know how to describe it — just went berserk. The walls and floor shook. Cabinet doors opened and closed. So did the doors to the rooms upstairs. One of the cabinet doors hit my hand. I got a broken wrist. The kids hid under the kitchen table. They were terrified.

“My husband didn’t believe me, and he was real upset because the wallpaper was scorched,” she continued. “We had just moved in and all. We couldn’t afford to replace all the wallpaper.”

“Was he upset enough to hit you, or break your wrist?” interrupted Minelli.

“Or the kids?” interjected Mulhearn.

“No!” she said forcefully. “We have our moments like all couples, but my husband has never, ever laid a hand on me.” She went back to being calm, and resumed her explanation.

“Other little things started happening. And then it started happening to the kids. My oldest boy, Tommy, broke a window with a baseball, and the house seemed to go nuts again. When it came time for his bath that night, the water would only come out scalding hot. Fortunately, I noticed it before he got burned.

“Then the strangest thing started happening. I thought it was only my imagination. But the blackened wall in the kitchen started fading. It just didn’t get lighter — the pattern in the wallpaper started showing up again. Now you can’t even tell there was ever a fire. It’s — It’s like it healed itself.”

As she continued relating the strange happenings, Mulhearn excused himself and took a tour of the house. He entered the small kitchen at the back of the house. He looked at the wall behind the small stove, but could not find any evidence that there had ever been a fire. As he examined the wall, he thought he heard a noise behind him. He turned to find a child peering out of the small pantry.

“Well, hello, young man,” said Mulhearn. The child ducked back into the safety of the pantry. “I’m Officer Mulhearn, and I’m here to help you and your mom.”

The boy stuck his head out. His left eye showed signs of bruising. “Can you make the house stop?” he asked sheepishly.

“I don’t know,” replied Mulhearn. “I have to know what the house is doing. Can you tell me?”

“OK,” he said reluctantly. “My name is Tommy Johnson.” He held out his right hand to Mulhearn. His left arm was in a cast. Mulhearn winced involuntarily. He was surprised that the investigating officers had not been more aggressive in pressing charges against the Johnsons.

“What happened to you?” asked Mulhearn.

“The house hurt my brother, Billy, and I got mad at the house, and it got mad back.”

“I don’t understand,” said Mulhearn.

Tommy walked across the kitchen and started up the stairs. He motioned to Mulhearn to follow. At the top of the stairs, they went down the short hall to the left and into a bedroom. There were a set of bunkbeds on one side and dressers on the other.

Tommy went over to the wall and pointed to a small hole just to one side of the bunk beds. “Billy did that with his toy gun, and the house got mad. It waited until we went to bed and then pushed him out of the bed.”

“I stabbed the wall with my pen, and the house yelled at us,” he said as he pointed to a second small hole. “The house hit me with that door.” He continued, pointing at the heavy, paneled, wooden closet door. “It broke my arm. The other people tried to blame my mom. I asked my mom if we could leave here, but she says we can’t afford to.”

Minelli entered the room behind them. Mulhearn turned and asked, “Vince, do you have your pocket knife with you?” Minelli dug into a pants pocket, produced a small pocket knife and handed it to Mulhearn.

Mulhearn opened the knife and walked over to the wall. He pulled back the curtain to reveal an open window. He drew the knife down the wall right next to the window frame. The knife slit into the plaster wall. It was if there was a small earthquake. The house shook for a second or two, and there was a strange vibration that Mulhearn thought he could feell deep within his body. It was if something enormous was roaring in rage.

Minelli and Mulhearn looked at each other. Minelli spoke first. “Did you feel that, Bren?”

“And heard it, I think,” he responded.

Mrs. Johnson was standing in the doorway. She was shaking. She gathered both of her children to her. Tears were forming in her eyes.

“Does this happen often?” asked Mulhearn.

She had difficulty speaking. “Just before the children were hurt,” she stammered.

Minelli pulled the curtain back again. Where he had sliced the wall with the knife, there was a thick red liquid oozing. “Look at this, Vince.” He pulled a small plastic bag from his coat pocket, and using the knife put a small sample in the bag.

“We need to get this to Peters at the lab.” He nonchalantly leaned on the sill of the open window. “Brian is going to get tired of us bringing him strange red liqui....

Before he could finish, Minelli noticed the window shaking. He pulled Mulhearn back as the window slammed shut. The glass shattered. Mulhearn looked at his fingers, and counted them to himself.

The smashing window completely undid Mrs. Johnson, and she sobbed loudly.

“See,” said Tommy. “The house is bad.”

Minelli and Mulhearn did their best to calm her fears, but in their guts they both thought that those fears were justified. They made arrangements for her to stay with an aunt.

They sat in silence for a long time on their way to the crime lab. Finally, Mulhearn spoke. “You really did hear that, or feel that or whatever?” he said, more a statement than a question.

“Yeah,” said Minelli. “Was that spooky or what? I’m interested in what Brian finds at the lab. Some sort of sap, maybe?”

“I don’t know. What are we dealing with? A ghost? A poltergeist?” said Mulhearn. The questions came in rapid fashion, but not the answers.

“Do you really think it tried to attack me, Vince.” asked Mulhearn. “Or was it just a coincidence?”

“I don’t think it was an accident,” replied Minelli. “I think the kids were telling the truth. There is definitely something about that house.”

“I think a visit to Doc Reison is in order,” said Mulhearn.

Minelli agreed. “Maybe Mojo can find something in all those books of his.”

They finally arrived at the crime lab. They sought out Brian Peters and dropped off the sample of the gooey liquid. Peters held the plastic bag up to the light and turned it slowly, watching how the light reflected off the sample. He was tall and slim. A pair of gold, metal framed glasses sat far forward on his longish nose. Sandy colored hair cascaded about his shoulders.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. You say it came out of the wall? How do you guys come up with this stuff?” he said. “I’ve had to add all kind of new equipment to the lab because of you two. The bosses keep asking all sorts of questions that I don’t have answers to.”

“Join the club,” said Mulhearn. “If we had the answers, we wouldn’t be here.”

Peters promised to call Mulhearn on his cell phone as soon as he had the results.

The next stop was the New York College of Parapsychology. They reached the fourth floor office of Professor Robert Reison. “Mojo”, as Minelli called him, after the lyrics in the old Doors song, was just coming down the hall, talking with several students as he walked.

Reison looked heavenward and rolled his eyes at the sight of the two detectives. He said goodbye to the students and opened the door for Minelli and Mulhearn. He looked at Karen, his secretary, hard at work at her keyboard.

“Maybe we should call the police to get rid of the riffraff!” he said. “Oh, never mind, Karen, I think they are already here. — the riffraff that is.”

Reison was starting to get the hang of getting back at Minelli and Mulhearn, especially Minelli, for all of the needling he had endured. But in truth he looked forward to these visits; they always proved interesting. “I shouldn’t object,” he said. “At least I get to know what you’re working on before the tabloids do.”

“Not for long,” said Mulhearn. “Reporters from the New York Inquisitor and a few of the other tabloids are starting to follow us. I thing we are getting a reputation.” Reison motioned them into his office, and closed the door behind them.

It didn’t take them long to bring Reison up to speed. Reison sat back in his chair, and crossed his hands behind his head. “I don’t know what to make of it,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a ghost. I’m tempted to say poltergeist, because there are objects moving around. But these are direct attacks on people.

“Usually a poltergeist tosses things around and only hurts the house’s occupants by accident if they get in the way. It is really a mischievous spirit.

“What you have sounds like revenge, and certainly an attack on you, Brendan. You say that the family is out of the house?” Reison asked.

“For the time being,” said Minelli. “Mrs. Johnson was pretty shook up. It didn’t take a lot of convincing to get her to leave.”

“That’s for the best,” answered Mojo. “I think there is a very real threat to their safety. I would like to assemble a team to investigate.”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Brian C. Petroziello

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