Fandom: The Rockford Files (specifically, The Queen of Peru episode)
Characters: Ginger Townsend, Lou Trevino
Prompt: Table 3, Prompt #82 - Haunted
Word Count: 4,358
Summary: Ginger and Lou investigate more of their mysterious basement.
Ginger and Lou had both made peace with the fact that there was something strange happening in their basement. Or at least, they mostly had. Ginger was still annoyed about the bathroom and still hoped to someday find a clue that would lead them to the truth of the matter and a possible solution. It was a rainy day in Los Angeles when he determined to do something about it.
“I’m going into the basement,” he announced to Lou after breakfast.
“Huh? Why?!” Lou exclaimed.
“I’m just going to look around again,” Ginger replied.
“We still don’t know what’s down there.” Lou dried his hands from their joint effort of loading the dishwasher. “I’m coming with you.”
Ginger wasn’t surprised, but he looked pleased.
Everything felt normal as Lou pulled the string on the overhead lightbulb so they could head down the stairs in brightness. It also felt normal at the bottom of the stairs. But as Ginger headed down the hall from the direction opposite to the mysterious bathroom, Lou felt that old familiar tingling up his spine.
“It’s so creepy down here,” he frowned. “Man, I don’t blame Mike for refusing to stay down here when he visits.”
Ginger grunted. “You only think it feels odd because of the bizarre experiences we’ve had in the basement,” he said. “And we’ve still never proved that there is anything to them.”
Lou wanted to believe Ginger was right. He tried to think so. But the foreboding along the hall was difficult to ignore. “What’re you planning to do down here, Ginger?” he asked.
“What I’d like to do is find some kind of clue as to what is haunting the loo, if anything. Then maybe we could finally figure out how to make it leave.” Ginger opened the door to the pre-furnished guestroom that would likely never be filled again.
“You think there’d be a clue in here?” Lou said uneasily.
“I wanted to look that bloody Dear John letter over again,” Ginger said. “We never did learn who Anthony Barstow is. For all we know, he’s the one down here.”
“It’s kind of weird we didn’t find out,” Lou remarked. “It would be too much of a coincidence if he wanted to erase all traces of himself same as Jennifer’s family did about themselves.”
“I know.” Locating the letter, Ginger stood and scanned through it while Lou stood awkwardly by and read over his shoulder.
“What are you looking for?” Lou asked. “Something about him deciding to commit suicide in the tub?”
“Not necessarily, but I have considered that,” Ginger grunted. “However, if that happened, we likely would have heard something about it. A tale that notorious doesn’t fade away; it only grows embellishments over time.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Lou said slowly.
Finally Ginger set the letter down again in irritation. “Nothing. There just doesn’t seem to be anything more than that girl blathering on about how incompatible they are. I suppose we could go in the loo and ask if it’s Anthony Barstow, but I doubt we’d get cooperation.”
“Who knows? Maybe it’d surprise us,” Lou sighed.
“We have no proof that anything is there at all,” Ginger said. “Perhaps that is how it likes it—staying just out of our reach while making things eerie enough that we’re never quite sure if it’s just our imaginations or reality.”
“Are we going straight to the bathroom?” Lou asked as they left the bedroom and resumed their pace.
“I’d like to have a look in a couple of these other rooms along the way,” Ginger said.
He soon opened the door to a room with mint-colored walls and little else. “We never paid much attention to this room. But perhaps there’s something hidden in the walls.” He went along, tapping the walls and listening for a hollow sound that would signal a secret compartment.
Lou uneasily followed him and started on the other wall. “I never paid much attention to this room because it always felt like something was in it,” he said.
Ginger grunted. “I know.”
The feeling started after they had been in the room for five minutes. It started slow, as an uneasy sensation of being unwelcome, and increased in power until Lou was ready to grab Ginger by the wrist and run for the door.
“Okay,” he said. “Are you satisfied now? There’s nothing in here except something that wants us out!”
Ginger gazed around the room, his eyes narrowed. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What is it you want?”
“You’d be happier if you moved on,” Lou suggested, not really wanting to say anything yet not wanting to leave Ginger to do this alone, either.
The feeling didn’t seem to agree. And Lou couldn’t stand it. “Come on!” he yelped, rushing out of the room and nearly dragging Ginger with him.
Ginger glowered at the room once they were in the hall and the uneasy feelings had faded. “I do not like being outsmarted and defied in our own house!” he snarled.
“Well, we know it’s happened over and over and everything’s fine as long as we stay out of certain rooms,” Lou said. “And honestly? I’m perfectly okay with that for as long as we live here. We could always move.”
“I know, but we both like this house,” Ginger returned with a frown. “I don’t want to leave because of a few oddities in the basement and I don’t think you do, either.”
“No, I don’t,” Lou confirmed. He sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I know you keep thinking you can get the better of whatever’s down here, Ginger, but I just don’t think either of us can. As long as it’s not malevolent, we can’t exorcise it.” He laid a hand on Ginger’s shoulder. “Can’t we just forget about it?”
“I can never forget about it,” Ginger growled. “It’s preposterous that we cannot enjoy every room of our house.” His eyes softened as he looked at Lou. “But I don’t want to cause you misery. There are other rooms down here where we didn’t feel anything ill. How about we try them as a compromise and then stop?”
Lou gave a weak smile. “Okay, Buddy.”
He watched Ginger as they headed to one of the safe rooms. “What made you want to do this today?” he asked.
Ginger shrugged. “There really isn’t any special reason. It’s always something that bothers me somewhere in the back of my mind. Today it simply bubbled forth.”
“I guess I can understand that,” Lou said slowly.
The next room they had never had trouble with was another pre-furnished one. Ginger pushed the door open and flipped on the light, studying the flower-printed chairs and expensive wood tables and cabinets.
“This is a really nice room,” Lou said approvingly. “It’s like somebody’s study or something.”
“But whose?” Ginger mused. “And why didn’t they take their furniture with them when they moved?”
“It’s weird.” Lou wandered in farther and opened the glass door of the nearest cabinet. “There’s so many nice books here.” He took one down and flipped it open. “And it seems like they’re mostly from the 1920s.”
Ginger nodded, taking out another one. “We could probably sell them for a great deal of money. They’re all in exceptional condition for being close to a century old.”
“Yeah, but I don’t really wanna sell them,” Lou said. “I mean, even if we weren’t worried about ghosts possibly getting mad if we did.”
“I know.” Ginger idly leafed through the volume and then set it back on the shelf. “You would really like to read them.”
“But I’m kind of scared to take them out of this room and not so sure I wanna sit in here alone to read them,” Lou sighed.
“Which is exactly why we need to take control of our basement,” Ginger growled. “Even if whatever is apparently here doesn’t want to leave, we might feel more at ease if we could simply communicate with it at least once.”
“But it doesn’t seem to want to talk to us,” Lou said. “Either that or we just can’t communicate because of the dimension barrier.”
“And I don’t particularly trust any medium to come out here and try to talk to them,” Ginger said in irritation. “Most of them are fakes that will charge you blind.”
“Too bad we couldn’t get the lady who writes the ghost books we like,” Lou muttered.
Ginger paused. “She would certainly be preferable over some others. But ever since I read that review of one of her books saying she had the history of one of the key houses completely wrong, I’ve wondered how many other things she has wrong. It’s true that anyone can make a mistake, but if you’re researching a book, you had bloody well better try to get it as accurate as possible.”
“Giving the wrong house history wouldn’t discount the stuff she says about ghosts, though,” Lou said. He moved on to another shelf and examined the titles.
“Perhaps not, but it makes me wonder if the history was told wrong on purpose to sensationalize it and make the book sell better,” Ginger pointed out.
“. . . I guess that’s possible,” Lou reflected.
“Some of these books do sound interesting,” Ginger said. “You would likely be safe reading in here, but since you can’t abide being down here alone, perhaps we could both come one day a week and each read a book of our choice.”
“Really?” Lou perked up. “Hey, that’d be great, Ginger. This place is like a whole other world, right in our house. So’re the servants’ quarters, but unlike them, I actually like it in here. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s in the basement.”
Ginger nodded. “It’s a pity none of these books have any clues to who lived here before,” he grunted.
“I know we flipped through all of them in the past and didn’t find anything, but maybe there’d be something if we went more slowly,” Lou suggested.
“Perhaps,” Ginger agreed. “And speaking of the servants’ quarters, they are also furnished in the style of the 1920s. One of the prior owners certainly loved that decade.”
“Maybe the house really was built in the 1920s or something,” Lou said. “Maybe the 1990s is just when it was renovated to be modern.”
“Odd that we can’t find any specific records pointing to the year it was built,” Ginger grunted. “It’s almost as though someone is deliberately attempting to conceal that information.”
“You don’t think it might have something to do with Jennifer’s sister Margaret, do you?” Lou asked. “I know her house is where Mrs. Oreck lives, but this was part of her property too. Maybe when they took the gatehouse away to build this house, it was still owned by her or maybe by someone else in her family.”
“Perhaps,” Ginger nodded. “And perhaps one of the ghosts is that bloody aggravating chap what pops up now and then to wail about Jennifer.”
“Could be.” Lou shivered at the memories of the otherworldly phone calls. He stepped away from the book cabinet, moving instead to a different type of cabinet against the connecting wall.
“That’s the wine cabinet?” Ginger asked.
“Yeah.” Lou opened the old door, wincing as it gave a creak. “And just like I remembered, there’s still some wine in here.”
“What year?” Ginger asked idly.
“Mostly 1923,” Lou replied.
Ginger slid open a rollaway desk’s lid at the opposite wall. “This is still completely empty save for age-old paper and pens,” he reported. “And an ancient telephone.”
Lou glanced over, seeing Ginger picking up one of the classic stick telephones that required the services of an operator to function. “Wow. It’s so weird to see all this stuff in here. I wish all the basement rooms were like this.”
“It would be better than some of the rooms, such as that mint one.” Ginger set the phone down and looked through the cubbyholes in the desk.
Lou was still pawing through the wine cabinet. “Hey, one of them’s stuck,” he exclaimed. “What the heck?” He gripped the neck, twisting the bottle this way and that in a vain attempt to free it.
Ginger glanced over, raising an eyebrow. “There shouldn’t be anything holding it down.”
“I know! It’s like somebody stuck it in bubblegum or something. Wait a minute. . . .” Something clicked and Lou let go of the bottle when it was in a 90-degree position sticking outward. The entire wall creaked and groaned. Lou jumped back just in time as it swung outward, revealing a bizarre stone path beyond.
Ginger actually looked visibly surprised. “Well,” he said at last. “That’s different.”
Recovering from the initial shock, Lou hurried forward and peered into the new space. “This thing goes both ways,” he said, his voice echoing off the stone blocks. “Maybe it goes all around the basement! It might even connect with the servants’ quarters upstairs or something. There was that weird passageway that led there from the second floor.”
Ginger came over, clicking on his flashlight to beam it up and down the corridor. “This should be investigated more thoroughly. But we shouldn’t both go inside unless we know we have a way of getting back out.”
Lou examined the back of the swung-out wall. “Here’s a stone setting out.” He pushed it and the wall started to close. As he and Ginger both leaped back, he grabbed the bottle to open it again.
“So it closes from the inside,” Ginger mused. “There’s probably also a way to pull the stone out in order to open it from the inside.” He felt around it and half-pulled out two loose blocks on either side. From there it was easy to manipulate the lever stone back and forth.
“This is great,” Lou said in approval. “So now we’ll both check it out?” He really didn’t like the thought of one of them going in and the other staying behind to wait and watch.
“Yes,” Ginger nodded. “We’ll leave the wall open and go in. Hopefully there’s another way out, but if not, we will come back here.”
“We’d better not forget the way,” Lou worried. “It could be a maze in there, for all we’d know.”
“We will mark our path if it grows confusing,” Ginger calmly replied. With that, he stepped inside, his overcoat brushing against the mysterious panel.
Lou immediately followed. “Man, I hope the ghosts won’t close the wall on us and keep us from getting out,” he muttered.
“We have never felt anything odd in that room,” Ginger said, still completely calm. “We should be fine.”
“Which direction are we gonna try first?” Lou wondered.
“We were moving left when we were examining the normal rooms,” Ginger said. “We will keep to that course.”
Their footsteps echoed eerily up and down the chamber. As long as the light from the open panel was visible, it didn’t seem as far away or unsettling, from Lou’s point-of-view. But once they reached the corner and had to turn left, the light mostly vanished and Lou found the place infinitely creepier.
“This is like a dungeon or something, right around our house!” he burst out. “And what the heck’s the point of it? We’ve been checking for secret entrances into other rooms and there aren’t any!”
“I’m almost tempted to say that perhaps it was where bootleggers hid their liquor during the 1920s, but our house wasn’t supposed to have existed then,” Ginger grunted.
“Maybe this thing did,” Lou countered. “The property was being used. Maybe they had this underground tunnel and the house just connected to it after it was built.”
“Perhaps,” Ginger mused. “But if it existed before, it certainly wouldn’t go the perimeter of our house. Where does it come out?” He tapped on another stretch of wall with no success.
“Hey, the Whitneys never have found all of that treasure their relatives hid,” Lou remembered. “What if some of it’s down here?”
“I’ve thought about that,” Ginger said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Lou shivered a few minutes later. “Do you think we’re behind the bathroom yet?” he gulped. “It feels colder here, but maybe that’s just my imagination.”
Ginger pulled his coat closer. “It’s not your imagination, but that doesn’t mean we’re behind the loo,” he retorted. “There could be a perfectly logical explanation. After all, we don’t feel a chill when we’re outside the loo in the regular hall. It only happens once we go inside.”
“Yeah, but maybe the ghost hangs out in this place too,” Lou said. “Maybe it goes in the bathroom whenever it hears that somebody’s going in there.”
“And how does it hear through solid stone?” Ginger grunted.
Lou shrugged helplessly. “You’re asking me to make sense out of what ghosts do? I’ve heard that ghosts have stronger senses than living people. Maybe they really can hear through stone. I don’t know!”
Ginger tapped the wall in search of some entrance to the other side, but found nothing. “That is a mystery we will hopefully not solve for many years,” he growled.
“I’m all for that,” Lou declared. “I don’t wanna be a ghost!”
“Does anyone?” Ginger said dryly.
The tunnel continued in a straight line until Lou was sure they had gone past the edge of the house. “Hey,” he worried then, “maybe we’ll come up in somebody else’s house. They’d never like that!”
“Not to mention it might ruin our reputations as neighbors what mind their own business,” Ginger remarked.
“We’d just have to explain that we were minding our own business,” Lou retorted. “But it’d be so embarrassing. We might pop up in the kitchen, or the master bedroom, or . . .”
Something under his foot clicked and he leaped back, afraid of a trapdoor flying open. Instead, the wall opened and he fell through with a yelp.
Ginger hurried back to the new panel. “Are you alright?” he demanded.
“Yeah.” Lou sat up with a sigh. “I just bruised my pride. Ow. And probably everything else.” He turned to look at the branch-off tunnel. “So what the heck is this? If it goes on too far, it’ll cut into the street and the sewer system.”
“Then it’s likely it won’t,” Ginger replied, seemingly unconcerned. He waited while Lou got up in case he needed help, but when he saw Lou pushing himself up with the wall, he went on past and beamed the flashlight about.
Lou hurried after him. “Was there a dead-end back there, before this place opened up?”
“I don’t know,” Ginger answered. “It looked like there was more to the tunnel.”
“Well, I guess we can go back to it after we finish here,” Lou said. “What’s that thing?” He stared ahead at a strange dark-green metal box against the dead-end of the tunnel.
Ginger immediately went over to it and proceeded to examine it from all sides. “It’s locked,” he mused. With that he calmly took a revolver out of his coat pocket and shot off the lock.
Lou jumped a mile. “Ginger! What if the bullet had missed and ricocheted?!”
“It wouldn’t have,” Ginger said flatly.
“And why the heck did you bring a gun with you when you thought we were after ghosts?!” Lou came closer, watching Ginger lift the lid on the box.
“You know I always find it best to come prepared for anything,” Ginger said. He lifted a handful of silver coins. “Apparently this is part of the Whitneys’ inheritance.”
Lou stared, his eyes wide. “So this rattrap really was here long before our house went up!”
“It would seem so.” Ginger picked up the box and held it under his arm. “We’ll take this back with us and then ring the Whitneys.”
Lou walked ahead of Ginger now, soon emerging back into the main tunnel. “Looks like it doesn’t go on for much more,” he reported. “There’s a wall over there.”
Ginger glanced to it before walking over for a closer look. “Check for springs or levers,” he directed, since he was holding the box.
Lou examined the walls and the floor without success. “This just goes on and on,” he complained. “How about we just get the box out of here now?”
“We should,” Ginger agreed. “We still need to see if there’s anything back the other way.”
“Oh yeah,” Lou frowned.
They walked in silence until they approached their starting point. To their shared relief, the panel was still open and the light from the 1920s room continued to pour into the tunnel. Deciding it would not be wise to leave the box unattended, however, Ginger opted to keep holding it as he swept past the panel and toward the other arm of the pathway.
“Do you really wanna carry that the whole rest of the way?” Lou blinked.
“Not particularly, but I don’t trust it being left to itself in the basement,” Ginger retorted. “It’s true that we’ve never felt anything odd in that room, but it’s also true that we haven’t been in that room much. And perhaps the presence of the box would draw any ghosts out of the rooms they love. It’s hard to know when we don’t know who they are or what the story is behind their insistent lingering.”
“I guess that’s true,” Lou sighed.
There wasn’t much down the other branch of the tunnel. It wasn’t long and they came to a series of stone steps that stopped below a trapdoor in the ceiling. At a nod from Ginger, Lou reached and pressed on it.
“It’s stuck or locked from the outside,” he said. “But I don’t remember any trapdoors in the backyard.”
“Then it must be buried,” Ginger mused. “We’ll have to go to this approximate area and dig for it. But not now.” He turned with a whirl and headed back down the steps, determined to get back to the 1920s room.
Lou was glad to follow him. “This is just so weird,” he said again. “All of this around our house?” As they went through the panel and Ginger put his flashlight away, Lou pulled on the wine bottle to close the wall. “You’re not gonna go through the other basement rooms right now, are you?”
“Right now our top priority should be to deliver this box to the Whitneys,” Ginger replied. “Perhaps after that we’ll come back or perhaps we’ll save it for another day.”
“I’ve gotta say, now I’m curious to know what else is here,” Lou declared. “I mean, who’d ever think our house would have so many crazy secrets?”
“There probably are more,” Ginger decided. “In addition to our ghosts’ identities, of course.” He turned off the light and re-entered the hall.
Lou glanced around. “Since we’re closer to the other side of the basement, I guess we’re gonna be walking past the bathroom,” he moaned.
“We’ll be fine if we don’t go in,” Ginger grunted. “Which we won’t now. If there is anything in there other than our imaginations, it might decide to scatter the coins everywhere.”
Lou winced. “Then we’d be in there a long time looking for them,” he said. “I don’t think it’d do anything to keep us in there.”
“Have you forgotten why the door does not properly close any more?” Ginger said matter-of-factly as he resumed walking.
“No,” Lou scowled. “But that really could’ve been an accident.”
“Perhaps.” Ginger didn’t so much as look at the slightly open bathroom door when they walked by. He moved into the exercise room and then to the stairs with ease.
Lou quite happily followed. Their discoveries had been intriguing, but he could hardly wait to get back to familiar territory. On the two main floors they lived on, there were no unsettling feelings or possibilities. It would be great to be there again.
And, he thought as he looked to the box Ginger was still carrying, it would be great to present the Whitneys with more of the treasure that was rightfully theirs.
Fifteen minutes later, they were safely upstairs with the box on the telephone table in the living room and Ginger was just getting off the phone with Bill.
“Well?” Lou asked.
“They’re very excited, naturally,” Ginger replied. “You remember how none of us were able to make sense of that last coded note the Whitneys attempted to decipher.”
“Yeah,” Lou frowned. “Hey, is there a note in this box? I don’t remember seeing one.”
“There doesn’t seem to be, unless it’s underneath the coins,” Ginger said. “Perhaps it is. On the other hand, perhaps this is the final piece.”
“That’d be great if they’ll have all of them now,” Lou exclaimed.
Ginger nodded. “It doesn’t solve all the mysteries, but having the money is the most important thing.”
Lou sat down at the table too. “Maybe those mysteries don’t even need to be solved,” he said.
“That is also possible,” Ginger relented. “But I still intend to go through those other rooms in the basement at some point soon.”
“Hey, I’m with you on that,” Lou promised. “It really would be great if we could figure things out, especially about those ghosts.”
“But it’s unlikely,” Ginger growled. “They clearly do not want us to know anything about them.”
Lou shuddered. “So are we figuring they really are ghosts now and not our imagination?”
Ginger scowled. “I would prefer to believe the latter, but I realize it’s looking less and less likely. If it were just our imagination, why only in certain rooms?”
Lou ran a hand over his head. “Yeah. So we’re just gonna stick to the rest of the un-creepy rooms, right?”
“Yes,” Ginger assured him.
“Good,” Lou sighed in relief.
Ginger regarded him in gentle amusement, although he couldn’t blame his friend for his feelings. “Come on,” he said as he stood. “Let’s get this down to the Whitneys.” He swept the box off the desk.
Lou perked up, smiling while he got up and followed Ginger out. That sounded like a great idea.