“Well, I figure we have about six hours until we need to head back,” Tick’s dad said as he started the car again. “Or, if we don’t discover anything today, we can always call Aunt Mabel and tell her we got stuck somewhere for the night and that we’ll come back tomorrow. She won’t want us taking any risks.”

“Yeah,” Tick said. “But she’ll be spitting nails if I’m stranded at some nasty hotel without her there to brush my teeth for me.”

His dad laughed. “You’re a good sport, Professor. Now you know why your mom and Lisa were just fine letting the two of us come up here alone.” He put the car into gear and drove away from the gas station. “The lady in the gas station said the post office was just up here on Main Street. That’ll be our first stop.”

Five minutes later, Tick followed his dad through the frosted glass door of the post office, loosening his scarf, not sure what to expect. But he did have an odd sensation in his stomach, knowing the original mysterious letter from M.G. had been mailed from this very building. It was almost like seeing the hospital room where you’d been born, or a house your ancestor had built. Despite how he felt, this was where any investigation would have to begin—he just hoped it didn’t end here as well.

The place was boring, nothing but gray walls and gray floors and gray counters—the only thing breaking the monotony was a tiny faded Christmas tree in a corner with six or seven ornaments hanging from the sparse branches. No worker was in sight.

“Hello?” Dad called into the emptiness. A little bell sat on the main counter; he gave it a ring.

A few seconds later, an old man with bushy eyebrows and white stubble on his cheeks and chin appeared from the back, looking none too happy that he actually had to serve a customer. “What can I do for you?” he asked in a gruff voice before his feeble attempt at a smile.

“Uh, yes, we have a question for you.” Dad stumbled on his words, as if not sure of himself now that the investigation had officially begun. “We received a letter—postmarked from this town—in the middle of last month. In November. And, we’re, uh, trying to find the person who sent it to us, and, um, so here we are.” He rubbed his eyes with both hands and groaned. “Tick, your turn.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Tick pulled the original envelope from his journal, where he’d stuck it between two pages, then placed it on the counter. “Here it is. Does this look familiar to you at all, or the handwriting?”

The man leaned forward and for some reason sniffed the envelope. “Doesn’t mean a thing to me. Good day.” He turned and took a step toward the back of the office.

Tick felt his heart sinking toward his stomach. His dad gave him a worried look, then quickly said to the man, “Wait! Does anyone else work here? Could we speak to them?”

The old man turned and gave them an evil glare. “This is a small town, you hear me? I retired a long time ago, until I was forced to come back last month because one of the workers decided he was a psycho and up and quit. Good riddance. If you want to talk to him, be my guest.”

“What was his name?” Tick asked. “Where does he live?”

The formerly retired postal worker sighed. “Norbert Johnson. Lives north of here, the very last house on Main Street. Don’t tell him I sent you.”

The man left the room without another word or a good-bye.

They pulled up in their car at the dead end of Main Street, staring at a small house that seemed to huddle in the cold, miserable and heartbroken. Tick didn’t know if it officially approached haunted-house status, but it was close—two stories, broken shutters hanging on for dear life, peeling white paint. A couple of dim lights shone through the windows like dying fires. Two wilted trees, looking as though they hadn’t sprouted leaves in decades, stood like undernourished sentinels on either side of the short and broken driveway.

“Son,” his dad said, “maybe this time you should do the talking.”

“Dad, you’re supposed to be the grown-up in this group.”

“Well, that’s why I’ll provide the muscle and protect you from harm. You’re the brains of this outfit; you do the talking.” He winked at his son then climbed out of the car.

Tick grabbed his journal and followed him down the icy driveway, up the creaky wooden stairs of the snow-covered porch, then to the sad-looking front door, brown and sagging on its hinges. His dad knocked without hesitating.

A long moment passed with no answer or noise from inside. Tick shivered in the biting cold and rubbed his arms. His dad knocked again, then found a barely visible doorbell and pushed it, though it didn’t work. Another half-minute went by without so much as a creak from the house.

Dad moaned. “Don’t tell me we came all this way and the man we need to talk to is on vacation in sunny Florida.”

Tick craned his neck to look at a window on the second floor. “There’re lights on inside. Someone has to be home.”

“I don’t know—we always leave a light on when we go on vacation—scares the burglars away.” He knocked again, half-heartedly. “Come on, let’s go.”

With slumped shoulders, they started down the porch steps. They were halfway down the sidewalk when they heard a scraping sound from behind and above them, then a low, tired voice. “What do you folks a-want?”

Tick turned to see a disheveled, gray-haired man peeking out of an upstairs window, his eyes darting back and forth around the yard, looking for anything and everything.

“We’re trying to find Norbert Johnson,” Tick shouted up to the window. “We have some questions about a letter mailed from here.”

The man muttered something unintelligible before letting out a little shriek. “Do . . . do you work for Master George or Mistress Jane?”

Tick and his dad exchanged a baffled look. “Master George . . .” Dad said under his breath, then looked back up toward the man at the window. “Never heard of either one of them, but my son got a letter from someone named M.G. Could be the same person, I guess.”

The man paused, his squinty eyes scrutinizing the man and boy below him for signs of trouble. “Do you swear you’ve a-never heard of a woman named Mistress Jane in your life?”

“Never,” Tick and his dad said in unison.

“You’ve a-never seen or worked for a lady dressed all in yellow who’s as bald as Bigfoot is hairy?”