The phone rang just as I was waking up. To be fair, it was noon, so I couldn’t complain. I looked at the screen: an unknown number, but it was coming from Moldova, which intrigued me. My Romanian was pretty rusty, but I figured even if it was a scammer, it was worth answering.
“Bună,” I said into the phone.
“What?” It was a woman’s voice, sounding confused.
“Who’s this?” I asked.
“Georgette. Is this Apollinaire Jobhy?”
“Call me Paul,” I said. I liked to have it both ways, the distinction of having a unique name without the hassle of actually using it. “Are you in Moldova?”
“What? I’m here in Montreal. Are you in—”
“Your phone says you’re in Moldova,” I said, cutting her off. I liked my conversations as short as possible before I had my coffee.
“I found this phone in my apartment when I moved in,” Georgette said. “It still worked so I’ve been using it. I don’t know who’s paying the bills. Look, are you the paranormal accountant? I need help.”
“That’s me,” I said with a yawn. I didn’t tell her that I had never actually used my degree in paranormal accounting. My college advisor had been way off about how useful it would be. “How did you hear about me?”
“I found you on the Internet,” she said.
That was a bad sign. I could only afford to advertise on pop-up ads and I automatically distrusted the intelligence of anyone who would click on a pop-up ad, let alone call the number it gave.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
She hesitated for a minute. “It’s something you have to see.”
Oy, this kind of client: the show and tell kind. She was the kind of person who would refuse to say “my husband’s been murdered” over the phone and would make you drag yourself over to the crime scene in order to point at the mangled body of her late spouse half in the washing machine and then say, “my husband’s been murdered.” To give a hypothetical.
I agreed to come to her apartment at three. She gave me an address in the Mile End neighborhood, which was a good sign that she would at least be able to pay for whatever services I provided.
I got to the house at 2:55 and hung around outside until 3:15 before climbing up the white-trimmed stairs to the second-floor apartment. It’s never good to be on time too often or people start to expect it.
Georgette met me at the door in a terrycloth robe with her hair tied up in a rainbow bandana. She led me into the living room. I didn’t see any deceased spouses half hanging out of anything, so things were looking okay so far.
“Here’s the problem,” she said and untied the bandana. A cascade of auburn hair fell across her shoulders, as lustrous as a shampoo commercial. I stayed silent since I had no idea where this was going. We stared at each other for a second.
“It’s brushed,” she said. “I think it’s even conditioned.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” I said quickly. “You did a great job.”
“I didn’t do it!” she shouted. “I went to bed an absolute mess and woke up like this.”
“Good?” I ventured. I took another glance around, just to make sure this wasn’t leading up to a dead husband somehow.
“It’s terrible!” she cried. “I’m an actress, you know. I just moved here to shoot a movie called Legal Animals. I play Kitty, the former Miss Universe-turned-homeless woman with a heart of gold. She’s been living on the streets for years. My hair has to look horrible and shooting starts in three days!”
“I’ve heard of this,” I said, just to stall for time. “Where do you sleep?”
She showed me the bedroom. Clothes were strewn around like the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I reached under the bed and pulled my hand back sharply. My finger was bleeding. Turning on my phone’s flashlight, I looked under the bed.
“Just as I suspected,” I said. I grabbed a hanger lying nearby and fished out a hairball the size of a tennis ball.
“That’s gross,” Georgette said.
“You have no idea,” I said. I pulled out a Ziploc bag and pushed the hairball inside. “This is a demonic hairball. I think I know your problem.”
What was surprising was that I actually did. Paranormal accounting is more about hidden treasure and satisfying the demands of long-dead auditors. We don’t do much with hair that get mysteriously brushed during the night, but paranormal everythings tend to talk. We have conferences and everything and I just happened to attend a breakout session about this very problem at the last conference I’d attended: SpookCon ‘18.
“You’re being haunted by a brushubus,” I said. “It’s a demon that sneaks into your bedroom at night and brushes your hair. Sometimes it even styles it. You can tell they’re around by demonic hairballs under the bed.”
“And by the fact that my hair gets brushed every night by itself,” Georgette added. I nodded sagely.
“So what do we do about it?” she asked. “Shooting starts in three days, and I absolutely have to look like a bum.”
“Can I see your phone?” I asked. I wasn’t sure it would help with the brushubus, but I’d been curious about it ever since she mentioned finding it.
Georgette handed me a beat-up cell phone. The photo album was full of selfies of an elderly bald man in a variety of poses. I instantly recognized Dr. Iulian Turcan, the Moldovan professor of criminal entomological engineering, the incredibly niche field of designing insect-like robots to steal things.
“Here’s the problem,” I said. “It looks like this guy, Dr. Turcan, used to live here. He’s been hiding for years from a group of crime-fighting anteaters. They probably got wind of him and he had to leave quickly, forgetting his phone. He’s bald, so the brushubus must have been starved for anything to brush for that whole time. When you moved in, it took out all that pent-up brushing on you.”
“So what can I do?” Tears were queuing up on her lashes, preparing to kamikaze her cheeks.
“There are two options,” I said. “It is possible to get rid of a brushubus. The first think you have to do is—”
“Make a pentagram of combs!” she cried, clapping her hands.
“Please let me finish,” I said. “You would need someone with even more hair to come stay here. Every day you move their bed a little closer to the door. Soon they’re sleeping in the driveway, and the brushubus will go with them. Over a course of months you move their bed further down the road until it reaches another house and there you go.”
“What’s the second option?”
I told her. She took that option.
Georgette insisted on paying me my hourly rate of $60/hour. Unfortunately since I was so good, that left me with ten dollars for my work. Taking my advice, she made a reservation at a hotel for the three weeks of shooting where her hair would remain as messy as she liked. When it was over, she could return and have free hair care for the rest of her life.
“Just watch out for the demonic hairballs,” I said. “They bite. But they do eat all the dust bunnies, so it’s not all bad.”
Putting my ten-dollar bill carefully in my wallet, I went outside and down the stairs. Another case successfully solved, another client happy. But as I walked to the bus stop, a nagging discontent pricked at my mind.
Was I ever actually going to use my degree in paranormal accounting?