"Are you keeping an open mind?” Andy asked Gabby as they stood behind Nassau Hall on a recent Saturday evening. They were among a couple dozen people who’d assembled by the stately Colonial-era administrative building for a ghost tour of Princeton.
“Sure,” Gabby replied. “The world is full of surprises. Look at the news every day.”
“Okay,” said Andy, in an even tone. He took a sip of the decaf he was holding and gestured toward the tour guide. “I guess he’s starting.”
After welcoming the participants, the guide noted that the university had many distinguished alumni. “Two presidents, a vice president, senators, cabinet secretaries,” he said. “Who can name some?”
“Woodrow Wilson,” said one member of the group.
“James Madison,” said another.
“It must be inspiring for the students here,” said a middle-aged woman among the participants.
“As if,” Gabby whispered to Andy. Then she spoke so the group could hear. “The Dulles Brothers. They were here too.”
“Right again,” said the guide. “John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under Eisenhower, and his brother Allen, head of the CIA at the same time. They don’t come up a lot.”
“I just read a book about them,” Gabby replied. “It was kind of creepy.”
After a little more history, it was on to the business at hand. The green where the group was assembled, the tour guide said, was the site of unmarked graves from the 18th century, and known for an unusual level of spirit activity. One way ghost hunters detected it was with electromagnetic field meters, he explained. “Research suggests our minds create these fields, and they persist when we die.” Cold spots can be another sign. He invited people to take a hand-held EMF meter and a digital thermometer from a pair of boxes on the ground and explore the area. “Try thinking about the spirits,” he said. “That’s thought to help bring them forth.”
The participants fanned out, milling around the green. Andy and Gabby meandered toward Nassau Hall and poked around several yards from one another.
“Got anything?” Gabby called to Andy.
“Nothing.” They walked in small, gradually widening circles, keeping an eye on their meters. “What did you read about the Dulles brothers?” Andy asked.
“You familiar with them?”
“A little. They pulled off coups in Iran, Guatemala.”
“And wouldn’t go along with an election in Vietnam. There was an interesting thing in the book. It said they had a lot of cognitive biases.”
“The one I remember is where you completely believe information that supports your point of view, and dismiss anything conflicting with it.”
“We all do that, to some degree.”
Gabby walked over to Andy. “It kind of matters when you’re Secretary of State and you don’t listen to your own experts,” she said. “Once someone asked Foster how he knew the Soviets sent weapons to Guatemala. He said they didn’t need evidence because of … ”—meter in one hand, she made quote marks with her fingers—“‘our deep conviction that such a tie must exist.’”
“A little self-righteous, huh?” Andy chuckled.
“They thought every nationalist movement was part of a world-wide communist conspiracy.” Gabby looked down at her meter. “Hey. I might have something here.” She stood below a two-story arched window at the end of a section of Nassau Hall projecting back from its main axis.
“Yeah?” Andy looked at his own meter. The needle fluctuated between 3.0 and 4.0. “Whoa. Wait! I’ll try this other one.” He put his meter down at the base of a tree, pulled his thermometer from a back pocket and switched it on. “A little dip,” he said, walking back to Gabby. “A couple of degrees.”
As they moved away from the spot, their displays reverted to the normal readings. They wandered the area without seeing additional spikes, except when they returned there.
“What do you think?” Andy asked.
“I bet there’s lots of things it could be.”
“I suppose so.”
After about five minutes the guide called for the group to reassemble. When they’d gathered, he related experiences some of them had, and asked people to share others as an assistant collected the devices. After a bit of discussion he said it was time to move on to Princeton Cemetery. The participants shuffled around Nassau Hall and across its front lawn, heading for Witherspoon Street. Andy and Gabby brought up the rear. “I’ve already been on a tour of the graveyard,” Andy said.
“So have I. Grover Cleveland’s buried there.”
“How about bailing? Want to get a drink?”
“Sure. An artisanal libation?”
“Let’s go somewhere laid back.” They angled left for the other side of Witherspoon Street. “With the Dulles brothers,” Andy said as they strolled, “I think fear of communism wasn’t their only motive.”
“Yeah. With Guatemala, there was United Fruit Company. Their law firm’s former client. Didn’t like the land reform there.”
“I guess people don’t give much thought to them these days. The guide said they don’t come up much.”
“People are stupid,” Gabby said. “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Andy nodded. “Hey!” he said. “I put that friggin’ EMF meter down and never went back for it.”
“I wonder if the guy picked it up. Maybe it’s still there. It was dark by that tree.”
“Let’s go check.”
They reversed course, skirted Nassau Hall again and returned to the green. “Here it is!” Andy said.
“Turn it on. Let’s see what we get now.”
“Look! It’s higher.”
They heard a man’s muffled voice. The reading on the meter jumped higher still as he spoke.
“Who’s that?” said Gabby, looking around.
“Sounds like it’s coming from in there.” Andy was looking up at the two-story arched window. The lower sash was raised a couple of inches. Faint light trickled from it. They heard a second voice.
“The reading jumped again,” Gabby said. She looked at Andy. “I could be wrong about this.”
“Look, there’s a door.” It was at the bottom of half a dozen steps descending into a well. Andy walked to it and down the steps. He turned the knob. “It’s not locked,” he said. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Wait for me,” said Gabby, scurrying after him.
They found themselves in a basement labyrinth, dimly illuminated by green-tinged lighting. Old stone walls patched with cement were lined with shelves of lumber and plywood. The shelves bore pieces of antiquated laboratory equipment with tags. Walls ahead reflected a brighter light around a corner. Andy walked toward it. Gabby followed. There was a break in the shelving for a small door in the wall. They paused in front of it. Andy reached for the knob, turned it and slowly opened the door. A skeletal figure stared at them from within! Andy jumped back, bringing along Gabby, who’d grabbed his arm, stifling a scream with her other hand. Catching their breath, they realized the skeleton was suspended by a chain from a metal frame. “Yeah,” said Andy. “Okay. A specimen.”
“Jesus,” Gabby said. “That scared the crap out of me.”
“This is cool,” said Andy, closing the door. “Come on.” Turning a corner, they came to the bottom of a staircase. Andy led the way up. On the floor above there was a door. Through it they heard the voice again, muffled. And a second one. Andy turned the knob and nudged the door forward. It opened onto a back corner of the heavily wood-paneled, two-story Faculty Room, modeled after Britain’s House of Commons.
The door was behind and just beyond the back end of four rows of benches like church pews that ran the length of the room. Four rows on the opposite side faced these four, separated by a long medieval-looking table. Andy and Gabby blinked. Sitting in a front row with their backs to them were, it seemed, two men. Their bodies were partly transparent, and a little luminescent. “Holy shit!” Andy whispered.
The men seemed of late middle-age and wore suits. They were pervasively gray. One was quite large, the other like a smaller version of him. On the table in front them sat a pair of drinks in cocktail glasses.
“This praise for el-Sisi, the guy in Egypt,” the smaller of the two ethereal figures said. “It’s just another indication that we’re back.”
“He sure knows how to deal with our enemies,” said the other. “It was always America first with us.”
Gabby pulled Andy back from the door frame. “It’s them!” she whispered. “I recognize them from the photos in the book.”
“The book? The Dulles brothers?”
They slowly peered around the door frame again.
“We’re back alright,” the smaller one continued. “And not just as spectators!”
“Certainly not. Why don’t you text him again, tell him to send another tweet.”
“What do you want to say this time?”
“See if this works: Met El-Sisi at White House. True friend of America. Will protect us from bad guys. Media criticism is fake news.”
“That should fit. You’re getting good.”
“People can’t say we haven’t kept up with the times.”
“I always tried to push technology at the CIA.”
“We’re on top of these radical Islamists too,” said the larger one, dropping his head. “It’s certainly been convenient to have them come along just as international communism was collapsing.”
They picked up their glasses and clinked them together.
“Hey,” Gabby called out, pushing through the doorway and striding toward the pair. They turned toward the commotion. She pulled her mobile device from a back pocket, swiped it and tapped open the camera. By the time she could raise it to snap a photo, however, they’d vanished.
Gabby tapped the screen again to look at the picture she’d taken. It showed an empty bench. “Nothing,” she said. “Would anyone believe this?”
“People will believe what they want to believe,” Andy said. “Let’s get out of here.”
David Ludlum lives in Princeton, works as an editor and marketing professional for a wealth management organization, and is writing an espionage novel.