Helena Vandermor sneered at the salesclerk. “Apparently, you do not know who I am.”
The man’s little mustache wiggled. “Yes, madam, I do, but that still doesn’t change the situation. There are no ghosts for sale.”
Helena braced her hands on her hips, platinum and diamond jewelry sparkling. “That is unacceptable. My husband, Jorge Chang Vandermor, owns the largest global conglomerate.”
The clerk grimaced. “There’s a big party tonight—”
“I know, you simpleton, my husband is hosting it. Now find me a pet ghost. I simply cannot arrive without this season’s hottest fashion accessory.”
“Next week I’ll have some.”
The little man wrung his hands. “I have a lovely ghost cat.”
“No. It must be a human ghost, and a well-bred one. Not some lowly commoner.”
“But they aren’t easy to catch. You have to have the proper equipment at the right place at exactly the correct moment.”
“Is that my problem? Do you not sell ghosts? Is this not the Spirit Emporium?”
“Then, find me a ghost. Before tonight. Preferably one that matches my gown.”
The clerk’s back went ridged. “Madam, I cannot.”
Helena spun toward the exit. “Then I shall take my business elsewhere, but be warmed, you little worm. I shall tell my friends—my very wealthy friends—of this outrage.”
“Mrs. Vandermor, please...” Helena heard no more. She climbed into her air limousine and activated her vidphone.
“What do you mean you have no ghosts?” she screamed at the proprietor of the third boutique she called.
“There’s a shortage, Mrs. Vandermor. Everyone who is anyone has a pet ghost.”
Helena ended the video feed and huffed. “Everyone, but me. I shouldn’t have waited so long.”
She had considered pet ghosts to be a passing fad, unworthy of her time. Now, however, any woman with fashion sense owned a spook. Some wore the ectoplasms draped around their necks like a stole. Others led the almost human-looking spirits on leashes. At least the things weren’t noisy like the extinct barking dogs. Ghosts couldn’t talk.
Helena glanced at her antique Cartier watch. She had five hours to find a ghost, or face social ruin.
“Driver.” The virtual servant turned his head as the limousine went dark. SYSTEM FAIL R glowed a warning light, and the air car nosedived.
Helena gasped. “Reboot. Now.”
The lights and the driver flickered. “My apologies, mistress, a minor glitch. I have sta... stabbed...stabilized our flight path.”
Helena scowled. She should have known better than to buy this Made in Neu-America bucket of bolts.
She sighed. “Does the VirtualNet still function?” A viewscreen materialized in answer to her question. She cleared her throat. “Inquiry: How does one capture a ghost?”
“It’s one of your kind. Tell it to work,” Helena ordered.
The maidbot backed away from the short, metal cylinder. “But, milady, I don’t speak common industrial equipment.”
Helena slapped her maid. “Damn it. Why is everyone against me owning a ghost?”
She examined the device, couriered to her mansion on a moment’s notice. The deliverybot hadn’t known how to operate it either, and Helena did not have time to download the instructions into her neural link.
Frowning, she checked her watch again. She now had three hours to locate a ghost. She hadn’t even found a quality spirit on g-Bay. Just poltergeists, and one enslaved demon.
“The ad said this infernal device was guaranteed to capture a ghost,” she fumed, and kicked the BOOOO-be-Trapped.
The machine glowed an eerie blue. “No ectoplasmic activity within range.”
Helena smiled. “Then, let’s fix that little problem.” She rolled the ghost catcher toward her car.
The salesclerk flinched when she returned. “Mrs. Vandermor, to what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
She glanced at his nametag. “Charles, dear, I am in need of your kindness.”
He blinked. “Of course, madam, but like I said this morning—”
She silenced him with an upraised hand. “Tsk-tsk. Not another word. Come to my car.”
“Oh, I’m afraid the Spirit Emporium doesn’t close until...”
Helena handed him a $1,000,000 Neu-American bill. “Just say you left early for a family emergency, my sweet Carl.”
“Whatever, dear.” She closed his fingers over the money. “Now come.”
He followed. “I do deserve a break.”
A holographic liveryman opened the limousine’s door for them. “I’ve never been inside one of these,” Charles said.
Helena encouraged him to get comfortable as the air car took off. “Really? Don’t you think a well-bred man such as yourself deserves the finer things in life? Here, let me fix you a drink.”
Charles sipped from the crystal tumbler. “I suppose so, but... oh my, I feel strange.”
Helena smiled as the salesclerk’s eyes closed. The sedative had worked fast. She fitted the plastic trash bag over his head, and pulled the drawstring tight.
“It won’t be long now,” she cackled, activating the BOOOO-be-Trapped. “Driver, rush me to the party—”
The limousine went black, save for the warning light: TOTAL SYSTEM FAILURE.
Helena watched the party with a mixture of sadness and pride. Her husband, Jorge, worked the crowd with ease. “First Lady bin Laden, are you enjoying yourself?”
The young woman nodded.
Jorge smiled. “Good. I must say that your ghost is beautiful. It matches your eyes perfectly.”
The First Lady giggled, her blush a stark contrast to the dark veil of her burka. “I was lucky to find one. Charles at the Spirit Emporium received a late shipment.”
Jorge laughed. “My wife is dying for one. What she doesn’t know is I purchased a pet ghost for her birthday tomorrow.”
A butlerbot interrupted them.
“What?” Jorge demanded. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
The robot whispered in his ear.
“Car accident? My wife? No.”
Helena, unable to speak, reached for him, but the leash around her neck yanked her away.
“Bad ghost,” the First Lady scolded. “If you don’t behave I’ll return you, even if Charles is still recovering in the hospital.”