Authors: Bruce Coville
The Ghost Wore Gray
The Nina Tanleven Mysteries, Book Two
That was me, Nina Tanleven.
“I know. Double sigh.”
That was my best friend, Chris Gurley. We were lying on the floor of Chris's bedroom, looking at magazines and being depressed.
“Does everyone feel like this when a play ends?” I asked. Chris and I had been acting in a show being done at one of the local theaters that summer. Now that it was over, life seemed incredibly boring.
“I don't know,” said Chris. She rolled a strand of reddish blond hair through her fingers and pulled it over her nose. “I'd look it up, but I'm too depressed.”
“I wish we could do another one,” I said wistfully. “I wouldn't even complain about rehearsals.”
“You have to complain about rehearsals. It's traditional. Anyway, what I really miss are the people.”
I knew what she meant. While we were working on
The Woman in White
the rest of the cast had become like a second family. Now there was no reason for us to get together anymore.
Except for Chris and me. When we met at the auditions, the two of us had become friends almost instantly. We moved from “just friends” to “best friends” when we teamed up to solve the mystery behind the ghost haunting the Grand Theater where the play was being produced. Despite the fact that we go to different schools, we plan to be best friends forever.
We were still lying there feeling sorry for ourselves when Chris's mother poked her head into the room. “Come on, Nine. I'll drive you home.”
I sighed again and got up. “See you later,” I said to Chris.
She flopped her hand listlessly. “See you later.”
We both sighed.
You'd think that when someone is that depressed, the people around them would have the good manners to be a little depressed, too. Not
father. When Mrs. Gurley dropped me off, I dragged myself into the house, only to find Dad dancing around the kitchen, playing a tune on the pots and pans. Now Dad's a little weird, even at his best. But when I saw this act, I began to wonder if he had finally flipped for real.
“This is it, kid!” he yelled when he spotted me in the doorway. Making a lunge in my direction, he swooped me up and began swinging me around in a huge circle.
“What's going on?” I shrieked.
“I got the commission! This is itâthe big break!”
“Dad, that's fantastic!”
“I know,” he said smugly.
My father is a preservation architect, which means he takes crummy old buildings that used to be beautiful and tries to make them beautiful again. He works for one of the best firms in Syracuse, New York. But for a long time he's been wanting to go out on his own. “Oh, Nine,” he would moan when we were having supper. “I want to burst the bonds of employment, shatter the shackles of salary, dump the daily drudgeâ”
“Yeah, I know,” I would say. “You want to be a bum.”
Actually, I only said that to tease him. My father works very hard. But he'd much rather be working for himself. For one thing, he has his own ideas about how to do things. They sound great to me. But when you're working for someone else, you usually have to do things their way.
That's why I plan on owning my own business when I grow up.
“So you got the job,” I said when he finally put me down. “Is it being too nosy if I ask which one?”
“THE job,” said Dad. “The plum I've been trying to pluck for months now. The assignment that will get my name in major design magazines across the country.”
“Oh, that job,” I said.
“Well, which one is it?” I finally shouted.
“Say that again?”
“The Quackadoodle,” he repeated.
“What's a Quackadoodle do?” I asked.
“Very funny, twit,” he said. “It doesn't do anything. It just sits there.”
“Sort of like Sidney?” I asked.
Sidney is our cat. He's big, orange, and lazy. If you see him from the wrong angle, it's easy to get confused and think he's a pillow.
“No, not like Sidney,” said Dad. “The Quackadoodle is an inn. A very old inn, located in the Catskill Mountains. A very
old inn that is going to be incredibly beautiful when I get done with it!”
A sudden thought struck me.
“When did you get this news?” I asked.
“About three hours ago.”
“And have you done anything I ought to know about since then?”
He looked at me, the picture of wounded innocence. “Me?” he asked sweetly.
Ever since my mother left two years ago, I've kind of felt it was my job to keep my father from doing things without thinking. But sometimes he moves pretty fast. I had a feeling this was one of those times.
I looked him straight in the eye. “Dad?”
“Yes?” he said, acting as if this were a brand-new conversation.
“Should I be nervous?”
“Are you kidding?” he said. “When you're living with Henry Tanleven, the number one free-lance preservation architect in Syracuse?”
“I knew it!” I yelled. “I knew it. You quit your job. We'll be living on the street and eating bread crusts within three months.”
Actually, I didn't believe that for a minute. In fact, I was secretly very happy. My father is really talented. He
be working for himself. But I didn't want him to take this too lightly.
“Nine,” he said. “You wound me. Anyway, I took this job partly for you.”
I looked at him suspiciouslyâwhich is the best tactic to take anytime adults tell you they're doing something for your sake. “What do you mean?”
My father smiled. “I just thought Syracuse's number one ghost buster might enjoy spending the rest of the summer at a haunted inn.”
“Will you come to my funeral?” asked Chris.
We were leaning against a monument in Oakwood Cemetery, which is this enormous graveyard about a mile from my house. It's a good place for being alone. We were at our favorite spot, a huge tree we duck under for shelter when the sun gets too hot.
“When are you having it?” I asked, popping the head off a dandelion. “I don't like to make plans more than fifty years in advance, you know.”
Chris bounced an acorn off a nearby tombstone. “Probably about a week and a half from now.”
I stopped picking dandelions and looked at her. “What,” I asked sternly, “are you talking about?”
“Boredomâwhich is what I'm going to die of after you go.” She began sliding down the side of a monument that was right by the tree. “It's starting to happen already! I see a light, Nine! A light at the end of a long, dark tunnel!”
Three seconds later she was stretched out flat on the ground. She reached over, picked up one of my discarded dandelions, and laid it on her chest.
“Ah-hoo,” she said weakly.
“Ah-hoo?” I asked.
“It's the sound someone makes when they die of boredom.”
I dropped my dandelions on her face. “You think this stupid inn is going to be fun?” I asked. “I bet there won't be anybody there but old people in their forties. I won't know anyone. I'll be cut off from my home and my friends. But is anyone worried about me? Oh, no! Does anyone wonder how I'm going to do, all alone out there in the boondocks? Oh, no! Does anyoneâ”
“But a ghost!” cried Chris, jumping up and brushing off her jeans. “It's got a ghost. I can't believe it. Your father has a job at a haunted inn! Some people have all the luck.”
“It's just an old story,” I said, trying to sound like I wasn't really excited.
“Yeahâlike the ghost in the Grand Theater was just an old story. What kind of ghost is it, anyway?”
“I don't know. Dad just said the inn was rumored to be haunted. I think he only told me so I wouldn't complain too much about going. Anyway, I wish you could come, too.”
I stopped talking and stared into the distance. “Hold on,” I whispered. “I think I'm about to be brilliant. Would your parents let you come with us?”
“Probably,” Chris said. “They're always glad to get one of us out of their hair for a while.”
I could understand that. The Gurleys have a huge family. Chris is the only girl, so visiting her is a little like taking a field trip to the YMCA. Or the monkey house at the zoo.
“OK, when you get home tonight try to talk them into it.”
“What good will that do? Your father's the one who counts. And I doubt he's going to want me hanging around for three weeks.”
“Sure he will,” I said. Actually, I wasn't as confident as I sounded. But I thought if I worked it right I wouldn't have to talk him into it at all.
I started at suppertime.
“Something wrong with the cooking?” asked my father as he watched me shove a carrot back and forth across my plate.
“No,” I said quietly. “The cooking's fine.” It was, too. Except for the nights when he gets too adventurous, my father's really good in the kitchen.
“Well, if it's not the food, it must be the company,” he said. “Sorry I'm boring you.”
“Oh, it's not that,” I said.
He put down his fork. “OK, Nine. What's up?”
He tightened the corners of his mouth. “I've seen rocks with more enthusiasm for life than you're showing at the moment.”
“Are you going to be very busy while we're at this inn?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “It's a big project for me.”
“Oh. Well, will I see much of you?”
“I expect so,” he said, although he sounded a little less certain of himself.
“Will there be many kids there?”
He started to answer me, then stopped. “I'm not sure.”
“That's OK,” I said. “I was just wondering. Can I be excused? I have to start packing.”
I walked slowly away from the table. Then I went in my room, closed the door, and looked at the clock. Six-thirty. I wondered how long it would take. I remembered Cute Edgar, the director of
The Woman in White
, telling me that one of the great secrets of acting was planting a seed in the audience's mind and then letting it grow by itself.
“Your problem, Nine,” he added “is that once you plant the seed, you go overboard with the fertilizer.”
Except he didn't say fertilizer.
At seven forty-three my father came through. “Listen, Nine,” he said, poking his head into my room, “I've been thinking. I'm going to be awfully busy while we're at the Quackadoodle. Do you suppose Chris might like to come along to keep you company?”