The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed
The Caffeine Poster Child
You could say I met the ghost of Cornelius Fletcher because of my father's three-dollar coffee maker.
My dad had just bought the coffee maker at a garage sale. Personally I thought this was a dumb idea; in my opinion, drinking coffee is a lot like sucking old sweat socks.
My father, however, was very pleased with himself. “Three dollars,” he said with a chuckle as we started walking home along Westcott Street. “I can't believe she sold it to me for only three dollars!”
“I can't believe you bought it,” I replied.
“That, my little pookanilly, is because you have underdeveloped taste buds.”
My search for a killer response was interrupted by someone shouting, “Henry! Henry TanLeven! What are you doing, walking down Westcott Street with a coffee maker under you arm?”
We turned to our right. “Norma Bliss!” my Dad exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here-as of two months ago.”
“Come on,” my father whispered to me.
“You'll enjoy this.”
I followed him up the steps of a pale green house. The woman who had called out to us was very pretty. She had skin the color of chocolate, huge eyes, and a smile like a sunrise over a lake. Her voice was deep and raspy. She was sitting on a porch swing. Near the swing stood a round white table. On the table sat a big cup of coffee and a coffee maker.
As we stepped onto the porch, she said, “To tell you the truth, Henry, it was your coffee maker that got my attention. I saw you with that machine, and I said to myself, 'Norma,here goes your kind of man.' Then I realized it was you!”
She threw back her head and laughed. It was a wonderful laugh. Even so, I was not totally amused. The last thing I needed right now was another woman going after my father. Ever since my mother left, I've had this problem with him.
Dad is pretty bright about most things. But when it comes to women, he needs a lot of help. Of course, at the moment he was focused on his coffee maker. Patting it fondly, he gave a triumphant smirk, then turned back to his friend.
“Norma, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Nine.”
“Nine?” asked Norma, managing to lower her chin and raise an eyebrow at the same time.
“It's really Nina,” I said. “But everyone calls me Nine, because of my last name.”
Norma thought for a second, then grinned.
“Nine TanLeven!” she said. “I like that!”
A point in her favor. Most adults say, “Isn't that cute?” which makes me want to barf.
Norma's an antique dealer,” my dad said.
“Bliss in Brass,” she said proudly, pointing to the red pickup truck that sat in her driveway. The store name was painted on the door, inside an oval design. “Actually, I handle a lot of wooden stuff, too, but 'A Broad and Her Boards' just didn't have the same ring.”
“Nine's kind of interested in antiques.”
That was my father's idea of a joke. What he meant was that I'm interested in ghosts. I suppose you could call them antiques, but it seems to me that's really stretching things.
I didn't start out to be a ghost specialist. Oh, I Like ghost stories as much as any other kid I've ever met. But it wasn't until my best friend Chris Gurley and I started running into the real thing that I began to take them seriously.
Our first experience was with the Woman in White, the ghost who haunted the Grand Theater. We figured one ghost could happen to anyone. But after we met Captain Jonathan Gray, the ghost of The Quackadoodle Inn, Chris and I began to wonder if we had some kind of special spirit-spotting ability.
Norma was looking at me with new interest.
“Do you think you might want a job?”
“What kind of a job?”
“I need an extra hand at the shop. Nothing major-I've already got an assistant. What I'm looking for is someone who likes antiques but doesn't need work on a regular basis. Sounds like you might fill the bill.”
“But I'm only eleven,” I said, ignoring the fact that we had been talking about different kinds of antiques anyway.
“That's okay,” said Norma. “I'm not prejudiced.”
Which is how I ended up with a part-time job at Bliss in Brass-and how I met my next ghost.
“You are so-o-o-o lucky,” Chris said when I called to tell her about the job. “First the book, now this.”
Chris had been a little jealous ever since this editor named Mona Curtis asked me to write a book about our first adventure. Mona asked me to write the book because my father showed her the pages of my journal where I talked about meeting The Woman in White.
I was pretty mad when he did that without asking me. But when I learned I might get to write a book because of it, I had a hard time staying angry.
Actually, Chris wasn't that upset about the book. After all, she doesn't keep a journal, and she doesn't particularly want to be a writer. So she says it's okay. As long as I tell everyone how beautiful and smart she is. (She's going to kill me when she reads this.)
Now with something like that going on, you wouldn't think I'd need a part-time job. But I didn't have a contract yet. Mona wanted me to write several chapters first. And my dad had already informed me that if I did make anything on the book, most of it was getting put away for college. So earning a little extra money didn't seem like a bad idea.
Any jealousy Chris had about the job vanished when I told her Norma's shop was less than ten blocks form her house.
“All right!” she shouted, nearly breaking my eardrum.
The reason this was so exciting is that Chris and I live on different sides of town and go to different schools-which makes it a big problem for us to get together. I was even happier about the job at Norma's when my father told me I could spend the night with Chris whenever I worked there. Of course, it had to be all right with Chris's parents.
Every time the phone rang that week, I jumped for it, hoping it would be Norma asking me to work. But it wasn't until Thursday that I picked up the receiver and heard a gravelly voice ask, “So, Nine-are you working for me Saturday, or not?”
“Working!” I cried, trying to keep from shouting with delight.
Saturday morning I walked to Norma's house. She was waiting in her red pickup. A terrifying ten minutes later we pulled up in front of bliss in brass. It should have been a fifteen-minute ride, but Norma drives the way she does everything else: fast!
I was still thinking how glad I was to be in one piece when Norma said, “Are you getting out, or are you going to sit there all day?” I blinked when I realized she was already out of the truck and standing next to my window.
Bliss in Brass was an old red building nestled at the end of a row of houses. I think it had been a house once itself. A low stone wall ran along the edge of the lawn, which was about three feet higher than the sidewalk. In front of the shop stood a wooden sign, carved with the same design that was painted on the side of Norma's truck.
Through the picture window to the left of the door I could see beautiful old dressers, beds, and mirrors. The inside of the shop was even better-crowded, but not too crowded, and arranged so that each thing you looked at seemed to lead you on to the next. Old-fashioned quilts and lots of pillows made the shop feel cozy and homey.
The shop even smelled good, as if Norma had tucked spices into the corners.
Of course, it also smelled like coffee. (How can something smell so good and taste so gross?)
Norma sniffed the air as we walked in. “Ahh,” she said happily. “It's working!”
I followed her to the back of the shop, where I saw a large coffee maker. Hot coffee was dripping into the glass pot.
Norma flashed me a huge grin. “I bought this yesterday. It has an automatic timer. Now I can have fresh coffee as soon as I get here. Want some?”
I made a face. “I never touch the stuff.”
Norma rolled her eyes. “I couldn't live without it. I used to have a boyfriend who called me the Caffeine Poster Child.”
She poured herself a cup, and we got to work. The first thing I had to do was dust. Gag. I hate dusting! Except somehow doing it here wasn't as annoying as doing it at home.
Besides, here I was getting paid for it.
I had been working for about ten minutes when the bell over the door rang. Looking up, I saw an elderly woman enter the shop.
She was probably as old as half the things in the store; her hair was white as baby powder, and her pale skin looked like apiece of paper that's been wrinkled up, then smoothed out again. She had to lean on a cane to walk, and as she hobbled toward me I got the feeling that if I sneezed too hard, I might knock her down.
She stopped in front of me, put her hand on the dresser I was dusting, and burst into tears.
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