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Face the Music

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[How much longer do we hafta wait?] Mike complained. He spun his bottle of Coca-Cola in the wet rings it had made on the bar counter and peered slowly around the bar at the smattering of guests as if he was searching for someone. He wasn't, but if they thought he was scoping them out and sizing them up, the game would be up.

[It's too soon,] Andrew replied from his post at the top of the stairs. His arms were crossed over the bend in the banister. He could see Mike clearly from where he stood, and see the impatience building through every twitch and fidget. [We need to wait until the sun goes down. People believe in ghosts better when it's dark.]

[Well, how much longer is that gonna be?] Mike swung his gaze around the other direction, though it coasted with practiced precision over Andrew, like he was no more important than one of the paintings that decorated the stone walls of the castle, before it landed on the stained glass window on the outside wall of the bar. On seeing the full daylight streaming through the colored glass, his shoulders slumped in impatient defeat.

[I can do this myself,] Andrew pointed out. [You can go if you want to.]

[Not with a crowd this size. Besides, I know a thing or two about showmanship and if you want to really impress people, you're gonna need more than one ghost.]

Two whole tour groups were staying at the castle as part of a larger Haunted Tour of Scotland excursion. Though half the town had been hired to help out, providing the expected ghosts was still a job only Andrew could do. And Mike, if he didn't get bored and leave, first.

[What's the rush, anyway? ]

[Nothing. I got this new record that I want to listen to. Sabbath brought on a new lead singer. Some guy named Dio.]

[Are they any good?] Andrew asked, unable to hide the wistfulness that crept into his thoughts. While he'd heard of the group, he'd never been permitted to listen to them. Almost everything he knew about modern music was limited to the snatches of lyrics and rhythm that the other boys at school mimicked.

[Are they--] Mike picked up the Coke bottle just to thump it back on the bar. [They're the best! They're groundbreakers!] He started to rise from his seat, then dropped back down as he picked up the subtext of Andrew's question. [You've never heard them?]

[Da won't let me. He fears it's evil.]

Before Mike could launch into a diatribe against such nonsense, Andrew's father came over to check on him. Bruce Forbes was a large man in both girth and height. Attired in his dress kilt and ruffled shirt, with a full beard and a stern voice, he cut an imposing figure. At the moment, the hotel full of guests softened his normally gruff demeanor, which was probably the only thing that saved Mike from his own sarcasm.

From his position on the stairs, Andrew couldn't hear his father over the chatter of the bar patrons. He saw his father rest a hand on Mike's shoulder and his lips move in a question that he later figured for some variation of “What are you speaking to my son about?” since he father knew all about the Tomorrow People and their powers, even if he didn't fully approve. Though he'd certainly made peace with the use of those powers in the castle's financial success.

Mike's spoken answer came back into Andrew's head with a layer of pride at his own cleverness. [Black Sabbath.]

Bruce's good mood vanished, his grip tightened into Mike's shoulder. Next to the gruff Scotsman, Mike looked thin, breakable. Without seeming to exert any effort, Bruce hauled Mike off the bar stool, and dragged him across the lobby and down the stairs to the cellar.

Heedless of who might see him vanish from the top of the stairs, Andrew teleported to the cellar. What was one more apparition? “Don't hurt him, Da!” he yelled into the darkness. The chilled, damp air of the room that was the perfect atmosphere for hauntings brought a tremble to Andrew's legs, bare under his kilt.

Bruce came to a stop, pulled the cord on the overhead light. “Explain yourself, lad,” he spat at Mike, pushing him away. “You lot swore on the Holy Book that your powers were God given--”

Mike straightened up, rubbing at his shoulder. “You know: Black Sabbath, KISS, Iron Maiden...” He glanced around the darkened cellar as if searching for the eponymous torture device, but found only stacks of boxes and discarded furniture. Any torture that occurred in the castle's walls was limited to the much tamer variety of Mr. Forbes denying Andrew access to, what he termed, wordly sins. As if recognizing where he'd made his mistake, he added limply, “The Who.”

“Who?” Bruce roared, barreling right past one misunderstanding into another. “I trusted my lad to you! Tell me who is responsible for teaching him of the Dark Arts? Who?!” His voice echoed off the stone walls.

“No one is, Da,” Andrew protested, stepping up. He shot Mike a glare; for all that the Tomorrow People had gone through to convince Bruce that they were not evil incarnate, Mike should have known better than to make a joke about it. “I swear. He was just asking me what kind of music I listen to. Trust me, Da. Please.” He could hear the beseeching, almost a whine in his voice, but he'd gained too much in his time as a Tomorrow People to throw it back, and he couldn't choose between his father and his friends.

“It was just a joke.” Mike raked a hand through his hair, messing up the perfect feathering on one side. “I didn't mean to give you the wrong idea. They're just the names of bands. Musical groups.”

Bruce's eyes narrowed, but he seemed to be listening. Even so, his clenched fists showed that he wasn't ready to give up the fight. “I'm no fool. Names have meaning. It's Devil's music. All of it!”

Mike paled; he shook his head in vehement disagreement. “Trust me, sir, it's not.” He took a sharp breath, like he was going to say more, then settled for shaking his head again. The fear in his eyes spoke louder than anything he could have said; even Bruce seemed to pick up on it. “The names are meant to be frightening. But, they're just as much the Devil as Andrew's ghosts are real hauntings. It's all just an illusion.”

“What they do is nae any kind of music,” Bruce argued, never one to give up until he'd said everything he had to say.

“It is, Da.” Andrew raised his hands in placation. “It's different than what you're used to, but that's all.

“What do you know of it?” Bruce rounded on Andrew with renewed anger. “If you have been violating the trust and morals I've placed in you--”

“I figure,” Mike interrupted, “that Andrew here has saved the world a couple times. He knows how to tell what's real and what isn't, figure out what's important and what isn't. If those aren't the values you meant to instill in him, then I don't know what are.”

Bruce brought his gaze square on Mike, hard and serious, his expression stern. Nothing showed of his thoughts on Mike's assessment.

A loud crash from overhead made all of them jump. Bruce's head snapped up. “I shouldna have left the bar unattended so long." A glance back at Andrew, gaze still implacable, he stood for a moment as if to hand down his judgement, then hurried back up the stairs without a word.

Mike watched him go, then turned to Andrew. “Do you think he heard me?”

“Oh, aye,” Andrew responded, letting out a held breath. He'd thought there'd be a lot more yelling than there had been, some threats of physical violence. His Da had mellowed a lot since the Castle's business had picked up, and Andrew still hadn't learned what it all meant. Though, a stubborn man was always going to be a stubborn man, and Bruce Forbes had that trait locked down. “He heard you. He's still working out whether he wants to listen, though. I think, maybe, we should stay out of his sight until then. Have I ever showed you the castle's torture chamber?”

Mike blinked and stopped midway through trying to fingercomb his hair back into place. “You really do have a torture chamber?”

Andrew grinned. “No. But we have a dungeon. Lots of people died there. I reckon you could get a few ideas for ghosts there.”

With a shrug Mike accepted the offer.

The hauntings went off without a hitch, leaving all the guests both scared and convinced of the Forbes Castle ghosts. That a few people swore they'd seen a boy vanishing from the staircase only added to the mystery.

Afterward, Bruce, thrumming with satisfaction at his customers' happiness, pulled Andrew aside. “You did well tonight, lad.” He gave Andrew an approving pat on his shoulder, started to turn away. At the last second, he caught Andrew's eye, his own crinkling with a smile. “You're old enough now to make your own choices.” He added another pat as punctuation; his chest was swelled with pride in a way that Andrew had never seen before. “Just keep the noise out of my castle. I don't want to hear any of it.” He strode away, head held high, to hobnob with the guests at the bar and feed them a few more tales of ghosts and hauntings along with their liquor.

[Mike,] Andrew called, as soon as he knew his father couldn't overhear. [You did it. You changed his mind.]

And Mike, who was back in the bar, listening to how the guests embellished their stories of the evening's entertainment, stood up to leave. [Good. I was getting tired of waiting. You comin'?]