The Ghost in the Third Row (4 page)

“So do I look that different from you?” she asked. “You think I want the rest of the cast to decide I've got a screw loose?”

Suddenly a nasty thought crossed my mind. Was Chris just pretending to have seen the ghost? “What did she look like when you saw her?” I asked, testing her.

Chris paused for a moment. “Well,” she said at last, “she was pretty. Very pretty. I remember that she had a long slender neck and high cheekbones.”

I nodded. What she said was true, but it was too general. I wanted more details. “What was she wearing?”

“She had on a very old-fashioned dress,” said Chris, “with those funny kind of sleeves—you know, the ones that are all puffy at the top, and then tight from the wrist to the elbow. And she was wearing several strings of pearls around her neck.”

The pearls did it. They weren't in the script, and they weren't the kind of detail someone would think of if they hadn't really seen the ghost. “That's right!” I said excitedly. “That's just the way she looked when I saw her.”

“Well, of course it's the way she looked when you saw her,” said Chris. “You don't think she changes her clothes, do you? She's wearing the costume she died in.”

Suddenly I felt a little guilty for having suspected her. After all, this was Chris, not Melissa.

“Well, what do you think we should do about it?” I asked, partly to change the subject.

“Why should we do anything?” asked Chris.

“I don't know,” I said. “Somehow it just seems like we ought to do something about all this.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it's upsetting people. I mean, look what happened with Lydia last night.”

“Do you think it would make Lydia feel better if we told her we had seen the ghost, too?”

“Yes! No. I mean—I don't know. Wouldn't it?”

“Why should it?” said Chris. “She was scared enough as it was. Though to tell you the truth, that seemed kind of weird to me. I mean, did the ghost seem scary to you?”

Chris had just put her finger on something that had been bothering me, too. “No, she didn't,” I. said. “She seemed sad. But not really scary.”

“So what was all the screaming about last night?”

“Well, Lydia's probably kind of high-strung. And you've got to admit that the Grand is pretty spooky anyway. It probably just startled her.”

“I guess you're right,” said Chris. But she didn't look convinced.

“And you really don't think we should do anything about it?” I asked.

“Well, it wouldn't hurt to learn a little more about this ‘Woman in White.' Just to make sure she's harmless.”

“How do we do that? I've read the script five times already.”

“Forget the script,” Chris said, climbing down. “Alan and Paula said the script was ‘based on' a true story. If that's anything like on television, I'd say it means only three things out of every hundred have to be true. Come on. Let's go back to the library.”

“Why the library?” I asked, scrambling down after her.

“Research, dummy.”

“I doubt there are any books about this story. It's just a local thing.”

“So we look in the local newspapers.”

“They save that kind of stuff?” I asked, thinking about the stacks of newspapers we threw out every month.

“They have to. It's their job.” Chris was already trotting across the parking lot. “Come on!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Let's get moving!”

I, the fast sprinter, was wondering how Chris could talk so much and run so fast at the same time. She didn't slow down until we started climbing the steps to the library.

The librarian at the front desk sent us upstairs to the reference room. We had to climb a huge set of winding marble stairs to get there.

In the reference room I got the second, but not the last, major shock of my day. The librarian sitting behind the desk was a hunk! I mean, who would have thought it? Librarians are supposed to be little old ladies. OK, I'll admit a lot of them aren't little and a lot more aren't old. But how many of them are guys who look good enough to be models?

The Hunk stood up as we crossed to his desk. “Can I help you young ladies?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Chris briskly. “We'd like to look—”

“At your eyes,” I finished, without realizing I was speaking out loud.

Chris jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow. “At your files of local newspapers.”

“In the periodical room,” he said, swinging his arm to the right. We headed off in the direction he indicated.

“By the way,” he called after us, “do you know how to use the microfilm reader?”

I shook my head vigorously. I hoped that if by some chance Chris had already learned how to use the thing she would have the good sense to keep her mouth shut.

“Better let me show you,” he said, crossing to join us. “It's not hard, but there's no sense in wasting a lot of time trying to figure it out.”

He led us into a room that seemed to contain only three kinds of things. The first things I noticed were long shelves filled with sets of books that all looked alike. I couldn't figure out why they had so many copies of each book, until I looked at their spines and realized they were magazines that had been bound into book form. I wondered for a minute why they bothered. I mean, who would want to look at a twenty-year-old copy of
Ladies' Home Journal?
But then I remembered I was here to look at a fifty-year-old local newspaper. So why not a twenty-year-old magazine?

Next I noticed dozens of squashed-looking file cabinets. Not squashed as if they had been sat on by an elephant—just squashed as in being about twice as wide and half as tall as the ones I was used to. You see people shaped like that sometimes, too. It's always a real shock.

The third things were these big glass and metal machines that looked like they had been made out of television sets and storm windows.

“Now, what year did you girls have in mind?”

We looked at each other blankly. “You just told me you've read the script five times,” Chris said. “What year is it set in?”

“Script?” asked BBEG. (That's “Blond, Blue-Eyed, and Gorgeous.”) “Are you girls doing a show?”

“We're in
The Woman in White,
at the Grand Theater,” Chris said proudly.

Talk about magic words! It turned out that the librarian, who told us we should call him Sam, was an actor, too. I could tell that in his eyes we had suddenly been transformed from underage nuisances to human beings. It was as if we had just found out we were part of the same family.

“I really wanted to try out for that show myself,” said Sam wistfully. “I'd love to work in that old theater. But I just got this job, and they have me working three nights a week, so I could never have made rehearsals.” He sighed. “Anyway, tell me who else is in the cast.”

Chris started listing people, and it seemed as if Sam knew half of them. He made us tell him everything we could think of about the show and what was going on with it. Somehow, we managed to answer all his questions without letting on about the real reason we had come to the library.

We were having so much fun gossiping about the show that it was nearly half an hour before we got back to the subject of the microfilm. Actually, I was the one who got us on track again when I suddenly shouted, “July, 1935!” in a voice far too loud for the library.

Sam looked at me strangely.

“That's the date of the play,” I said, blushing. “I just remembered it.”

Sam was surprised we were bothering to do research for our roles. He got a bigger surprise when he opened the drawer where the microfilm for the July, 1935, Syracuse
Herald American
was supposed to be stored.

I happened to be looking over his shoulder when he pulled the drawer open. I saw about a hundred square boxes, each about an inch thick and small enough to fit in my hand. They were arranged in neat, tight rows.

It was all in order, except for the gaping hole where the July, 1935, box should have been.

Chris and I would have been disappointed, but not much more, except for one strange fact: Syracuse had four daily newspapers in 1935, and the library had complete files on all of them. Or more accurately, nearly complete files.

July, 1935, was missing from every single one of them.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Young Women Who Love the Theater

“Time for dinner!” called my father.

Chris pushed a large orange blob of fur off her lap. It batted her leg once, then stalked away in a huff.

“Don't be a creep, Sidney,” I said.

“All cats are that way,” Chris said. “Come on, I'm starving.”

My father had invited Chris to join us for dinner after I dragged her to his office with the promise of a ride home.

“Well, did you girls have an interesting day?” he asked now, passing a heaping platter of fried chicken to Chris.

“Very,” said Chris. She gave me a sidelong glance as she forked a juicy drumstick onto her plate. “We spent a lot of time at the library.”

“Wait,” said my father. “Don't tell me. Let me guess. One of the librarians is a—what's that word? Oh, yes! One of the librarians is a hunk!”

“Dad!” I yelped. I blushed, partly because of what he had said and partly because it was embarrassing to have my father know me so well.

Ignoring me, he turned his attention to Chris. “And how are rehearsals going?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes. “They're interesting, too,” she said. “Our leading lady saw the theater's ghost last night.”

My dad was really cool. Other than raising an eyebrow, he didn't miss a beat.

“How did she take it?” he asked, his voice as calm as if we were discussing a change in Lydia's costume.

“Not too well,” said Chris. “She sort of flipped out.” She shot me a sideward glance and said, “To tell you the truth, Mr. Tanleven, I don't think she's very mature. When Nine and I saw the ghost, we handled it a lot more calmly than Lydia did.”

I would like to be able to tell you that I stayed calm when Chris dropped that particular bombshell. The truth is I nearly spit a mouthful of mashed potatoes across the table. As for my father, he just raised his eyebrow a little higher.

“Is that so? I don't think Nine bothered to mention it to me.”

No one said anything for a moment. The only sounds around the table were the ones that came from me trying to swallow the potatoes while I worked out a way to kill Chris without getting caught.

“I guess it must have slipped my mind,” I said when I was finally able to talk again.

My father seemed to find this considerably more difficult to believe than the idea that we had seen the ghost. He didn't say anything, but I thought his eyebrow was going to twitch its way right over his forehead.

“It's quite a compliment, you know,” he said at last, scooping a forkful of salad into his mouth.

It was our turn to be surprised, and he looked smug while he munched on his lettuce.

“OK!” I finally yelled. “We give up. Why is it a compliment?”

My dad shrugged. “According to the legend,” he said, spearing a tomato with his fork, “the Woman in White only appears to young women who truly love the theater. If you saw her, it must mean you qualify. There
are
worse things that could be said of a person, you know.”

I was still trying to figure out a suitable way to take revenge on Chris when my father dropped us off at the theater about an hour later.

“Have you lost your marbles?” I hissed as soon as he pulled away from the curb. “If I'd known you were such a blabbermouth, I never would have let my dad invite you to dinner. What are you trying to do to me, anyway?”

“Chill out,” said Chris. “Everything's fine, in case you haven't noticed.”

“That's easy for you to say,” I snorted. “You don't live at my house.”

“Look,” said Chris, “in case you're not aware of it, your father is a very cool person. I figured that out as soon as I met him. Couldn't you tell I was checking him out when I told him about Lydia seeing the ghost? When he handled that fine, I figured he could handle it if we had, too. Especially,” she said, “since I made a point of saying we had
both
seen her.”

“Well, what was the
point
to begin with?” I snapped. “Why couldn't you just leave well enough alone?”

She sighed. “Aside from the fact that I was being charitable—”

“Charitable?” I gasped.

“Sure. Look, Nine, I could tell it was driving you crazy to keep this from your father. I figured the best thing I could do for you was take that load off your mind.”

“I'll handle my own loads, if you don't mind,” I said sharply. Suddenly I thought of something. “Have you told your parents?”

Chris looked truly horrified. “Are you kidding? They'd flip out!”

“Well, you've got a lot of nerve,” I said, “telling my father when—”

“But don't you see the difference?” asked Chris. “The great thing is I
could
tell your father. You don't know how lucky you are.”

That slowed me down a little.

“Besides,” she continued before I could think of a response, “we got the other reaction I was hoping for.”

“And what was that?” I asked cautiously.

“We picked up some new information. In case you haven't figured it out yet, Knowledge is Power.”

I looked at her as if she were from another planet.

“You can look at me like that if you want,” she said. “The first time I saw that slogan carved on the doorway over my old school, I thought it was really stupid. Then I realized the more I knew, the more I could control what was going on around me. It's just a matter of what knowledge you want to have. Right now, we want to know as much about the ghost as possible, so we played a little trading game.”

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