That night, as Dee Tyler snored in her guest room, something stirred her from her heavy slumber. She rolled out of bed and pushed back her long dark hair. Glancing at a clock, she saw the hour was shortly past midnight.
“The witching hour. Figures,” she muttered as she stood up and headed for the door. She had heard some noise and felt obligated to check it out. Probably some clumsy nurse dropped a bedpan, she thought.
Emerging from the room, she padded quietly down the hall on bare feet. She saw that everything seemed to be in place. The night nurse was making a swift round of the hall, seemingly unaware of any noise.
Dee shrugged. “Maybe I’m hearing things.” She turned to return to bed when she heard the voice of a woman. Weird, she thought. The door says that room belongs to Tom King. I wonder if it could be the Tom King from NASA.
She gently eased open the door and saw the still-rugged features of the ex-astronaut as he sat on his bed and conferred with a strikingly unusual young woman. “OK, lady,” said Dee. “This is way past visiting hours, and I’ll just bet the night nurse didn’t let you stroll in here. What’s going on?”
The young woman stepped into the dim light from the hall, revealing delicate, almost frail-looking features. Her skin was pale, and her face was lovely except for its almost stark lack of any type of make-up. Her platinum blonde hair was vibrant, yet it was pulled so tightly back from her face into a severe bun that it lost some of its potential for attracting approving stares. She had keen brown eyes that glared at Dee from behind very thick framed glasses. She wore a white blouse with a high round collar with no adornment of any kind. The long-sleeved garment reached her wrists above slender and graceful hands. Her nails were short and clear. She wore no jewelry. Her long gray skirt reached the floor and barely revealed her gray Mary Janes as she moved toward Dee.
“This is a private meeting,” the woman said coldly. “It is of no concern to you. Leave us alone now.”
Dee placed on hand on her hip and smiled sardonically. “I want to make it my concern. Who are you?”
“She is my guest,” said Tom King. “I asked her to meet me here. We chose late hours for greater secrecy.”
Dee smirked. “I’ll just bet you did.”
Suddenly, the blonde woman shoved her out the door and began to shut it rapidly. Dee kicked the door backward with a spinning kick that knocked her foe across the room. “Now, as I was saying,” she began.
The blonde woman glared at her and said, “I suppose I have no choice but to demonstrate the error of your ways in a manner that even a primitive like yourself may comprehend.” She caught Dee’s raised arm and twisted it hard.
Dee gasped as she felt her body bend unexpectedly, and she received three rapid blows to the stomach. The bookworm is strong, she realized. Knows martial arts, too, maybe even more than I do.
She knew the woman’s frail appearance was obviously not an accurate reflection of her prowess as a fighter. She wasn’t worried, since she had resources all her own upon which to draw, even without using the Super-Vitamin. Concentrating, she caught the woman’s slim ankle with one hand as she lifted her skyward. She heaved her across the room and raced across to meet her as she fell. Ripping a sheet from the bed, she covered the blonde with it as she delivered a swift right hook that left her stunned and still beneath the cover.
“Please, don’t hurt her,” pleaded King. “Let me explain!”
Dee glanced at her beaten foe and nodded. “So talk.”
Tom King told his story as his young blonde friend listened, glaring venomously at Dee Tyler. “I served this great nation for years in the Air Force and as a NASA pioneer in the 1950s and early 1960s, before the Occupation shut the program down. I have a certain reputation for courage and stability. That’s why I had to be very careful when I took any action after what happened to me last night. You see, last night I had an unexpected visitor.”
“You saw your late wife?” asked Dee, interrupting his story.
Tom King’s eyes widened with surprise. “Why, yes. How’d you know? I did see Jane. She’s been gone for three years, but she was as young as she was at our wedding thirty-five years ago.”
“You anticipated his revelation,” the blonde coldly said to Dee. “This means you either know the secret behind the apparition, or you are responsible for some hoax.”
Dee jumped up and said, “Listen, ice queen, I could send you to sleep again.”
The woman in gray and white said, “You may make the attempt!”
“Enough!” shouted King. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but this one looked just like Jane. She told me she missed me and wanted me to join her.”
“That’s exactly what occurred with another resident,” explained Dee. “She said her late husband came and told her how to end her life to be with him again.”
“Two such events make this seem even more bizarre that I thought,” said King. He turned to the blonde and said, “I’m glad I called your father, young lady.”
“So who’s her father?” asked Dee. “Some kind of ghost breaker like in the Bob Hope film?”
The blonde sniffed disdainfully. “I assure you, Dr. Stephen Zero is no mere performing clown!”
King nodded. “This is Dr. Drusilla Zero. Her father is the legendary ghost detective.”
“I think I’ve heard of him,” said Dee. “Didn’t he help the Freedom Fighters for a case back in the 1940s? I figured he died years ago.”
“Nope,” said King. “He let the world think that for his private reasons, but as his friend I knew the truth.”
“He is retired, and I act on his behalf,” explained Drusilla Zero. “I detect no true ghost here, but that could simply mean the premises are free from such phantasms only for the nonce.”
Dee laughed. “Do you always speak like some Victorian ingenue who swallowed a dictionary?”
“I would translate my words into your tongue,” said Drusilla, “but I do not possess any facility for speaking Troglodyte.”
Later, the two women concealed themselves directly outside the Hedley Heights Retired Living building, ducking behind heavy shrubbery. Dee Tyler was now in her Hourgirl costume.
“I find your taste in clothing ranges from the trite to the garish,” said Drusilla.
“You’re dressed like Jane Eyre, so don’t give me any fashion tips,” snapped Hourgirl. “It’s not like I expected to be entertaining unwelcome guests in that ‘princess’ nightshirt. And as for my costume, it’s traditional.”
“Of course it is,” said Drusilla. “Your kind has always sought the limelight, while true heroes walk in shadows, unrewarded by a fickle public’s callow praise.”
“Is someone bitter?” Hourgirl asked sarcastically.
“My father was as much of a hero as your Freedom Fighters, but he wore no gaudy garb and received no national adoration.”
“But did he want such fame?” asked Hourgirl. “Sounds to me like he just wanted to help people.”
Dr. Drusilla Zero stared at her. “Perhaps you are right. He sought no acclaim and still prefers his privacy. I may be guilty of projecting my own desires that he receives honor onto him. I am sorry I spoke so swiftly in condemnation of your own legacy.”
They remained in hiding in a slightly more companionable silence until Drusilla clutched Hourgirl’s arm and nodded toward the slope above them. Three figures furtively appeared and set up a strange device that resembled a telescope on a tripod.
“That’s some type of projection device,” said Hourgirl. “Holograms. I saw something similar once at school.”
“At school?” Drusilla Zero questioned. “You must have attended an unusual educational facility, to say the least, if the staff dabbled with holographic projection.”
“They’re aiming it right at King’s room,” Hourgirl continued. “Our hunch paid off.”
“Of course,” said Dr. Zero. “I knew that if a true supernatural phenomenon occurred, I would sense it. My father used the Q machine to detect ghosts. His long exposure to the machine led to my being born with that innate ability.”
“Having no real ghosts involved had to mean criminals were behind it all,” said Hourgirl. The two moved along the shrubbery, finally breaking through to charge the three men above. “They can’t run too swiftly with that doo-dad.”
Popping a Super-Vitamin pill, Hourgirl stood defiantly in the moonlight and faced the trio. “You must be the guys from the cable company,” she quipped. “Well, the set is inside, so come on down.”
“Kill her!” cried a red-headed man, drawing a gun.
Hourgirl crossed the clearing in seconds, disarming him with a shattering left hook. She ducked the other two as they fired off shots.
Dr. Drusilla Zero calmly pulled out a small gun from beneath her long skirt and fired a purple beam at the nearest man. He gasped and fell to the ground, while his companion turned to run, only to be tackled by the agile Hourgirl.
The Freedom Fighter lifted the man to his feet and said, “This is Henry Balm, and he just happens to own a rival retirement home. I got his picture and background earlier when I first assumed our troubles could have come from a human source.”
Balm growled, “I figured if my holograms convinced those old coots to off themselves, then Ah Chan’s place would be shut down, and I’d reap all the profits.”
“You are as contemptible as you are petty,” said Dr. Zero. “You took images from old paper photos of engagements, didn’t you? That’s why the fraudulent ghosts appeared so young to their poor spouses.”
Hourgirl grinned. “I’d say Mr. King’s late wife Jane was the hologram they intended to project to his room.”
Later, as an appreciative Tom King received an explanation, Ah Chan offered his thanks to the women. “Thank you both,” he said. “You saved a life as well as my home. Mr. King may be trusted with your secret, Dee, as may Dr. Zero.”
King nodded. “That’s right. And I’ll never reveal your other role. I’ll keep your father’s secret too, Dru.”
Dr. Drusilla Zero smiled thinly. “Thank you. He speaks well of you. I prefer Drusilla, though. Diminution of any given name is so very common. Goodbye.”
As she exited, Hourgirl turned to Ah Chan and said, “That girl has more starch about her than any Nazi agents I’ve met. They were more fun, too.”