The Paranormal Debunker (#11) The Case of Voices of the House
Tony Keung here, once again, to reveal the exploits of my father, the ghost hunter, Tai-long Keung.
It's well into fall already, and although I'm still under eighteen, and my sister just barely old enough to start middle school, we're right now hanging out at our dad's office. Lucky for the two of us, we inherited our brain power from our dad's side of the family, which is filled with geniuses. Our aunt in Japan was actually a professor at the Smithsonian when she was barely older than us, but you know how she got her heart broken and recklessly moved to that island nation, and married a temple priest.
The two of us were getting ready for the local ghost tours. While it's true our office is supposed to be hunting ghosts and looking into paranormal-like stuff happening to our clients, we also earn our profits from working with the tourist industry and help out in the tours of places famous for being haunted. Now, it wasn't that we were hurting for cash, believe it or not. Dad knows his way around finance and investments, and he sometimes works with the police as a consultant even though he quit the force, so even though we don't get a lot of requests to look into haunted places, we're pretty much safe for now. It's mainly so there was something to do. Like I said, not a lot of people come to our office. Sometimes, there'd be weeks without a client.
Normally, it'd just be me and Dad dressed up in snazzy black and orange blazers showing people around, but this year, since she's decided to take an online master's course instead of going to the school, Tina is here joining in, turning this father-son tradition to a father, son, and daughter tradition. Mom, of course, couldn't make it because of her work as police chief.
We were in the middle of looking at ourselves in the mirror and adjusting our ties to make ourselves nice and sharp when the electronic tone chimed. That usually meant that someone was paying the office a visit.
I hurried toward the front desk where I was supposed to be stationed, taking off the pumpkin pin name tag for the tours, coming face to face with a couple who were around Aunt Chan-bao's age. I could hear Tina head off to Dad's room and call for him.
"Hi!" I said, putting on my best smile. "Welcome to Honest Paranormal Investigations. How may I help you?"
As usual, newcomers looked at me funny up and down, probably wondering why I'm here instead of at school.
"I'd like to speak with the person in charge, if that's okay," said the woman.
"That'd be me," said Dad as he walked out. Like me, he was dressed with the same blazer, but he still kept that metal pumpkin pin on his chest. "Pardon me, but may I ask what is the nature of this visit? I don't recall ever making an appointment for today."
The couple eyed his tour guide uniform. It doesn't take a genius to guess what they must be thinking.
Dad must have thought so too.
"You live around the Victorian District, don't you?" he suddenly said. "That's a long way from here. You must be tired from driving all that time, Ma'am."
"W-why yes," said the man, looking quite surprised.
"How'd you know I was driving?" asked the woman. "For that matter, how'd you know we came from the Victorian District."
"The leaf stuck to your hair, Ma'am," Dad said. "It's from a distinctive species of trees that, in this town, can only be found at the Victorian District. Also, your left arm is tanner than your right, which means that you must have been sitting on the left seat. Unless you came driving one of those European cars, the driver's seat is usually the left."
"But what if I was sitting in the back left seat, or we took a cab?" the woman asked. "You couldn't have known for sure I was driving, right?"
"You have a gate ticket sticking out of the pocket of your jacket, don't you? Unless your husband doesn't have enough pockets, why else would you have it, unless you were the driver of the car? And why would you have a gate ticket which you only get for using this district's parking lot unless you were driving?"
That's my dad for you.
"Now, let's all sit down and talk this through. My office still has some time left before we have to close down for an appointment." Dad said this while he checked his watch, a gift he got from Mom last year. It's a bit worn out and scratched, but he's never stopped wearing it.
The couples were the Adriaticos. Apparently, Mr. Adriatico was the son of the famous stage magician and tech genius, Alessandro Adriatico. My dad gave a start when he learned this.
"I know him!" he exclaimed. "I used to watch all his famous acts on TV with my friends! So you're his son?"
"Yeah," Mr. Adriatico said with pride. "Dad's who inspired me to go into IT. Now I'm head technician of a company that my dad used to consult for."
"You have my condolences for his recent passing," Dad said. "I take it, this concerns the mansion?"
"Mansion?" I went.
"The magician Adriatico was famously proud of his mansion," Dad explained. "He'd always mention in on an interview and during a televised performance. It's an aged, but very sturdy building that had only been renovated at least once in the century and a half that it's been around."
"Dad would only change some of the plumbing and improve on the electric wiring," Mr. Adriatico said. "He was a big history fan and liked old places with memories."
"Then he was really lucky to have gotten ownership of that house," said Dad. "What is now the Adriatico Place is probably one of the most historical building in all of the town. It really made protesting for its continued existence worth it when I was a kid. But I don't ever recall it ever being called haunted. In fact, there has absolutely been no claims of any sort of unusual phenomenon there."
"Well, then it's probably Dad's fault that that is going to change," said Mr. Adriatico. "It certainly wasn't haunted in the years I've lived there. May I?"
"My apologies," said Dad. "Please go ahead."
"After Dad died a few months back, he left everything to me and my wife. This included the mansion. We thought that we could use the extra space, so we moved out of our apartment in the city. All the paper work and such was just finished a few days ago, so we asked a friend to look after it for until then. He came to us telling how he heard voices at night, even though the place should have been empty. We thought that he probably imagined it, or Dad might have left the TV on when . . . it happened, and no one's bothered to turn it off. Before you ask, my mom passed long before Dad did. He hasn't seen anyone since then, and he lived alone. He was discovered by neighbors on a walk when they heard his shouts. I dropped them off straight home."
"But . . .?" went Dad.
"But," continued Mrs. Adriatico, "all the televisions and computers were shut off. And the voices only happened at nighttime. If a television was still on twenty-four, seven, then it would have been noisy all day, instead of just at night. And . . ."
Her husband continued where she left off.
"The voices sounded like my father's," he said.
"Can you tell me what was being said, if you don't mind?" Dad said, getting all excited like he always did whenever something comes up that looks like it'll validate the supernatural. He is a huge believer, even though he ended up disproving the paranormal in almost all of his cases.
"I don't, but I'm afraid I can't help you there. The voices were too distorted to make out anything. They sounded really faint and far away, but it was like they came from from the walls. They were everywhere. And along with that voice, there was the sound of children laughing."
"I see," said Dad, stroking his hairless chin. "You said that you tried looking everywhere, but just to be sure, have you tried searching the secret passageways? Since this is a house in the Victorian District we're talking about, and an old one at that from the time our city became known as the City of Secrets, the probability of there being secret passageways is very high."
"We checked for those with a construction crew the moment we got the house," said Mrs. Adriatico. "We even consulted the original blueprints. There were a lot of his old tricks and equipment in there, but nothing that could have made those sounds."
"As ridiculous as it may sound, we thought that it my be Dad's ghost," said Mr. Adriatico. "And that's why we're here."
"You think that it's the ghost of your father," Dad said.
"Well, yeah," Mr. Adriatico confessed. "But we also wanted to know about the children's voices too."
Mrs. Adriatico visibly shivered. Well, if you were hearing children laughing in what was supposed to be an ancient mansion that was otherwise empty of children, you'd probably be shivering in your boots too.
"Pardon me for asking this, but what does your brother think of this?" Dad asked.
"If the tabloids are correct, you have a younger brother, don't you?" he said. "In an interview years ago, your father revealed that he had two sons."
"We . . . haven't spoken in a long time," said Mr. Adriatico. "Dad and Tom never saw eye to eye. He left a really long time ago. But what does this have to do with our case?"
"I thought that I might get a second opinion from him, seeing as he also lived in the mansion."
"Well, I don't mind you doing that, but you'll have a hard time finding him," said Mr. Adriatico. "He pretty much ran away all those years ago and none of the private investigators and police hired were able to find him. I don't even know if he's even still alive. He never showed up to the funeral."
"My apologies for bringing up something very personal," Dad said. "I'd be happy to investigate the paranormal phenomenon in your home. Would tomorrow night be okay? I have prior arrangements for this night and it takes time to prepare for an investigation."
"That works fine," said Mrs. Adriatico.
"Then, I will meet you at your home at Seven tomorrow night."
Because no one was going to be at home that night, Tina ended coming along with us. I would have just stayed at home with her, but none of the guys from Dad's usual team could make it, since they all had regular jobs they had to go to to make ends meet, and Dad couldn't investigate the whole house alone. Who else could help him carry all that heavy equipment?
I wasn't too impressed with the place. This wasn't our first time investigating grand places like these. With all the lights off and only night vision cameras and moonlight to go on, this place would definitely earn the label haunted, ghost or no ghost. All the furniture and designs were really old-fashioned except for the living room where a huge flat-screen TV, cable box, and internet modem made their home. On the coffee table, there were a few magazines and even three ad posters for Honest Paranormal Investigations.
"I take it the voices begin consistently at a certain time?" Dad asked Mr. Adriatico. "You keep looking at your watch."
While Mrs. Adriatico was visiting her parents and staying there for the night, Mr. Adriatico was going to be with us for the investigation. He didn't seem to like the idea of Tina tagging along, but he grudgingly let it be when Dad explained the circumstances. That still didn't stop him from continually shooting us funny glances. I don't think it helped that we were all still dressed in our tour guide uniforms. The last tour ended just about an hour before our appointment with Mr. Adriatico.
"Huh? Uh . . . Yeah. They usually begin around Seven-Twenty."
"Now that you mention it, yeah."
"Who are all these old guys?" I asked, waving my flashlight at the portrait painting of men in white, curled wigs and frilled clothes, looking like all the smile was sucked out of them.
"Those were the leaders of the town at around the time this mansion was built," Dad answered. "This building was the government office for a decade after it was built before the office moved to Heart District. Ah! I see you still have the speaking tubes!"
He pointed his flashlight to some kind of funnel that was attached to bronze pipe that led up into the ceiling. It ran along a beam frame against the wall and clamped to it.
"That was how officials and the house staff communicated for time efficiency," Dad continued. "There should be one in every room of the mansion. Chances are, all of them will lead to one room that's like the nerve center of the building. That would be where the head governor would make his office.
"By the way, I've been meaning to ask you yesterday, but are the voices concentrated on a certain area, or have you heard them everywhere around the house?"
"They came all over the place," Mr. Adriatico said. "That's one of the reasons why we had no idea where they came from."
He looked at the watch around his wrist to check the time.
"Mr. Kung, it's time."
"Right then," Dad said, clapping his hands together. "Everyone stay quiet. Tony, get that camera ready. Tina, start those recorders. And Mr. Adriatico, it's Keung, not Kung. It's like you've never heard Cantonese before."
"Uh . . . I haven't."
For what seemed like an hour but could very well be minutes, everyone held their breaths and kept quiet. Except for a bit of wind from the night air outside, not a single sound could be heard. Then it happened.
First came what sounded like a man shouting at a long, long, long distance away. Children's laughter followed, and that brought goosebumps on my arm. A tingling sensation ran down my spine that made me shudder and really weak at the knees. I felt something warm press up against me, and it turned to be Tina, her eyes darting left and right. She was probably even more spooked out than I was, not that she'd probably ever admit it.
I looked up to Dad and found him with his eyes closed, his face scrunched up in concentration. His eyes shot open and he went for toward the speaking tube. He practically stuck his ear into it and paused.
When he straightened up a few seconds later, his shoulders sagged and he waved his hand down a couple of times. That could only mean he wanted us to put down our equipment.
"What?" Mr. Adriatico said when he saw us siblings put away our ghost hunting gear. "What is it?"
"It's just as I suspected when I took a look at the blueprints you gave me yesterday," Dad said. "At the time, it was still just speculation, so I held back, but now I know for sure."
"Well, out with it then!" Mr. Adriatico said impatiently. "What is with these voices? Is it really ghosts?"
"No, not ghosts," Dad said as if he was breaking the bad news of someone passing. "When I stuck my ear into that tube, I heard a man's voice, a bit deeper than yours, and the voices of two kids."
"Two kids?" went Tina.
"Two kids?" repeated Mr. Adriatico.
"Both of them referred to the deeper voice as 'Dad'. If the deeper voice is what you recognized as your father's, then you can probably guess who the other two voices are."
"Mine and my brother's," said Mr. Adriatico.
"Indeed," said Dad. "I recognized the white noise in the background and distinct high, echo-likeness of the voices like what comes from a home video recording. I have no doubt that if we were to go to the attic, which was known to be where the governor held his office during this house's early years, we will find a computer or some such device. Given your father's amount of knowledge with electronics and the final possible location not checked, I would not be surprised if he had set all this up for you to find, down to when the recording should play. But just to make sure I'm not wrong, I have to ask, has anyone ever gone up to the attic space?"
"No," said Mr. Adriatico. "Actually, I don't think we've ever found the way there."
"Not a problem," said Dad. "I have a fair idea from the historic sources and the blueprints I reviewed yesterday."
"Hey, Dad," went Tina. "When you meant about the location, do you mean to tell me that Adriatico Senior put the computer or whatever upstairs in the attic on purpose?"
"Since that is where it is possible to send out sounds to every other room in the mansion, it's a safe bet," said Dad. "You'll notice that the source of the sounds are the speaking tubes. I'm sure if we take a quick tour around, we'll find that all of them have lost their cover. Just like this one."
"But why set it all up?" I asked. "What was the point of turning this place into some kind of haunted house?"
"I think the point of it is the other Mr. Adriatico," Dad said.
"Huh?" we all went.
"Tell me, Mr. Adriatico, does your brother's birthday happen to be the twentieth of July?"
"How'd you know?" Mr. Adriatico exclaimed, very surprised.
"The timing of the voices," Dad replied. "You, yourself, said that they consistently begin at around 7:20. At this point, this is just conjecture, but I believe that your father wished to bring you and your brother together again as the only two survivors of his family. I have never known the man personally, so this is just a guess. But it seemed like your father felt guilt over the result of your family breaking apart at the time. This way of bringing you back together was probably a means for him to make amends for whatever broke your family apart to begin with."
"But couldn't he have just said something in his will?" said Mr. Adriatico. "He could have even just told me in person what he wanted before . . . you know."
"He probably thought it'd be meaningless unless he gave the message to you and your brother both directly," Dad said. "Given the scale of the separation, I have doubts mere words would be enough. Thus the arrangements."
"Why not at least tell me about the recording we're hearing? Then I could have led my brother here, when I found him."
"This was probably your father's way of giving you and your brother some quality family time. What could be better than working together to solve a mystery of your own childhood home? Of course, I don't think your father took into consideration the distance your brother would keep even after his death, which would be the only message itself that could ever reach your brother, given his location has not been known for decades. News of your father's passing had reached national levels, so it would be hard to imagine your brother ever being ignorant of it all, unless he chose to live the life of a hermit in a place without media of any kind, or met a fate similar to your father's. If you'd like, I can help you find the entrance to that secret room for you."
Mr. Adriatico thought for a moment, but then shook his head. "No. Now that I know what it is, I think I'll go search for it myself. I'm sure my wife will understand. But I'd really like it if my brother were here to help. But since it didn't go Dad's way and he didn't show up, I have no idea where I might find him. We haven't talked since we were kids, so I don't even know what he looks like now."
"If you'd like, I could give you contact information for a Detective Emem Okonjo," Dad offered.
Emem Okonjo, if I remember right, was Dad's rival on the force. From what Dad would say about him, I know that Okonjo was born in Nigeria before he and his family immigrated to the United States while he was still a kid. Apparently, Okonjo was just as smart and observant as Dad was, and their track records were neck and neck before Dad up and quit the force. Because his genius was like Dad's, I heard some people refer to the two of them as the Two Holmes'. The way they solved cases probably had something to do with that.
"Detective Okonjo's in charge of the Missing Persons department," Dad explained. "Given his track record, I would highly recommend his services. For something like this, you can expect a call from him within a week with news."
"Thanks. I really appreciate it."
After Dad wrote down the numbers, emails and instructions on the notepad, tore the page out and gave it to Mr. Adriatico, he, I, and Tina went to the office to drop off our equipment, and then we went home.
"Do you think he and his brother will be reunited?" asked Tina, breaking the silence of the nighttime car ride.
Behind the wheel, Dad replied: "That'll be up to both Mr. Adriatico's brother and Emem. But I have faith. Emem has a way with words. He could have gone into politics instead of going into police work."
"Just like you could have stayed a police detective instead of being a ghost hunter?"
"Now don't you start with that again."
A week later, an average-built black man in traditional Nigerian clothes and cap visited our office. It was none other than Emem Okonjo on his day off. Dad and Detective Okonjo hugged it out like old friends and then went started talking over tea.
"So, how'd it go?" Dad asked.
"Optimistic," Detective Okonjo said. "I was able to locate the elder Adriatico. He has been living in Florida and is now a father of three by a Korean immigrant. After a little talk with him, he agreed to a meeting tomorrow night."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Dad. "Thanks for lending a hand, old friend."
"Not at all, Tai-long," said Detective Okonjo. "Bringing families together again is what got me into Missing Persons in the first place. By the way, how is the tourist industry going?"
"Going swell, I'd say," said Dad. "If you want, I can schedule you and your family in for a tour sometime next week on the house."
You may be wondering why there is no chapters before #11. This is because I have removed stories #1-10 to be compiled into a full book and published on Amazon Kindle and Createspace.
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