The club used to have ten members, but after one eventful meeting they soon dwindled to two.
The only remaining members, Trissie and Dexter, refused to give up on the reason it was formed. They still thought it was a good idea. What harm was there in listening to people chatting away on their mobile phones as though no one else could hear them? It was usually nothing worth reporting back on anyway; mostly mundane gossip or shopping - though the holidays from Hell could be worth taking notes about.
But there had sometimes been that nugget which made it all worthwhile. The business of others should have been nothing to do with them of course, but then people should keep their voices down if they didn’t want the rest of the world to know about it.
It was only when the inevitable happened that the club fell apart.
Dean, self-styled tough boy of the group, came back from investigating an address mentioned by an estate agent, claiming that he had been attacked by fiery ghosts. He had been so scared the others believed him.
Trissie and Dexter thought that it served him right for going into a haunted house by himself, but kept it to themselves. At least it taught Dean that he wasn't so tough after all.
Unfortunately all the other members left after that, pleading homework, dog walking, and parental insistence that they came home before it was dark.
Dean had obviously exaggerated the experience to preserve his tough image, but Trissie and Dexter hadn’t expected him to turn into a wimp and tell his parents. They were just the types who would report it to the police, despite the risk that their beloved son could be accused of breaking and entering.
Trissie and Dexter were already planning to find out what had really happened in the deserted house when a community constable knocked on the door of the derelict garage they used as an HQ.
The young woman was reassuring, at great pains to insist that they were not in trouble, and just needed to know what had really happened.
Trissie and Dexter explained that their club had started out innocently enough. Each member of the group reported the most interesting conversations they had overheard so the group could decide if any of them were worth investigating - very unobtrusively of course. Was that woman’s hairdresser really running a secret tattoo parlour in the shop’s back room? Or did the cabinet maker’s apprentice really use offcuts of exotic wood he had surreptitiously collected to create marquetry panels for his bedsit?
Aware that they were prying into other peoples’ lives, great efforts had always been made to avoid embarrassing anyone. It wasn’t as if they were going to post their findings online or blackmail them, though in some cases it might have proved quite lucrative to more mercenary minds.
One afternoon tough boy Dean had overheard the most intriguing conversation, even jotting down the address the estate agent had been discussing.
One of her clients wanted to buy an empty house that was reputedly haunted, but the owner wasn’t interested in selling, despite the generous offer being made. Looking back, they shouldn’t have encouraged Dean to follow it up. It was unlikely he would find an unlocked door and was bound to climb through a window instead.
The smell of damp in the large detached house had been overpowering and the paper peeling from the walls suggested nobody intended to live there. There had also been large gaps in the buckled floorboards that bounced as though about to give way. The owner probably intended to sell the grounds and house for demolition to make way for flats.
Dean was making his way gingerly across the front room when something in the basement directly below started to arc and crackle like a furious dragon. He may have taken delight in bullying younger boys and displaying his prowess on the football pitch, but was scared of things he couldn’t understand. Trissie might have been able to put it down to some extraordinary experiment with lasers or automatically activated projections to scare off intruders. But she hadn’t been there.
The flashing and crackling below had increased, trying to stab up through the gaps in the floorboards.
It was then Dean ran for dear life.
The community constable had no reason to doubt what the teenagers had told her and, having met Dean, knew he didn't have the imagination to dream up something like that.
She closed her notebook.
“Thank you. That confirms - more or less - what Dean has told us,” she told them, apparently not suspecting that Trissie was preparing to check the house out for herself.
The sun was just setting and Dexter's family assumed that he had gone to the amusement arcade and Trissie's believed it was her chess evening. No one thought to ask why she was carrying a torch to find her way there.
When Trissie and Dexter reached the old house it was dark. The light of streetlamps could not reach it and tall bushes bordering the drive made sinister silhouettes against the red sky of the setting sun.
Trissie switched on her torch. “Let's go.”
“The owner must have locked the back door after Dean got in,” said Dexter.
Trissie was sometimes taken aback by her friend's innocence. “Oh, he climbed in through a window, but wasn't going to admit that.”
They went round to the back garden.
“I heard something!” hissed Dexter.
“Probably a fox.”
“No. Sounded like voices.”
“Your imagination’s working overtime. Don't do a Dean on me.”
That galvanised Dexter’s resolve. He found the sash window Dean had used and pushed it up.
They climbed into the hall and went to the front room.
A wall of musty air hit them. It was mingled with the smell of burning, and something Trissie faintly recalled from her infancy. It had been the odour on the jacket a favourite uncle wore. He had always been so relaxed he let the children do whatever they wanted. Then one day he disappeared without warning. When he came back three years later he was working for law firm who would have handled litigation against spiders for obstructing doorways with their webs.
Dean had been right about the crackling and flashing in the basement.
“Whoa...” exclaimed Dexter.
“Don't go any further!” warned Trissie.
“What is it?”
“Electricity. There are some dangerous power sockets in the basement.”
There were times when Trissie wished Dexter played chess as well.
He jumped with excitement.
“Don't do-” but Trissie’s warning came too late.
He came down with a thud.
As soon as Dexter hit the floorboards they gave way beneath him.
She caught his arm and pulled him back before he crashed into the basement with the rotten timber and plaster.
They peered through the hole in the floor.
Electricity was arcing violently from several overloaded junction boxes.
The flashing illuminated row upon row of plants on trestle tables.
Trissie knew what they were. “Oh my goodness! It's a cannabis factory!”
Before they could dash out and pretend they had been somewhere else, there was the deep voice of authority from the doorway. “Now what would a young woman like you know about such things?”
Trissie wasn't surprised. “I do watch the news and documentaries you know.”
Dexter didn't understand and was indignant. “Who are you?”
“The fuzz,” Trissie explained.
“The police, if you don't mind, young lady.”
Then there was a blinding flash and every light in the neighbourhood went out.
“That wasn't us,” protested Dexter as half a dozen powerful flashlights illuminated his astonished face. “It was the ghost!”