Friday, March 15, 2013

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland - Chapter 9


“Haunted!” I almost choked on my cold drink.
“That’s what I said.”
            “You’re joking…aren’t you?”
            “Yes and no,” Letha said. “But it’s why we left.”
            “Mr. White said your health…”
            Letha waved away the suggestion. “I had polio as a child. I still walk some with braces and crutches, but the chair is easier and more comfortable. It doesn’t keep me from doing what I want to. It didn’t keep me from working in the Sparkle Shoppe.”
            “Would you mind telling me what convinced you it was haunted?” I asked, hoping my tone didn’t convey the idea I thought they were certifiable.
            “The noises upstairs for one thing,” Letha said.
            “Mice maybe?” I offered.
            “Wearing boots?” Stella asked. “I saw the footprints in the dust.”
            “You’ll pardon me for saying so, but I never heard of ghosts wearing boots.”
            “Candace at the historical society did some research for us. The building was a saloon when it was built around the turn of the century.”
            “Wait a minute…my grandfather built the Quimby Building just before the Depression hit in 1929.”
            Letha shook her head. “He bought it and remodeled it then, but it was built as a saloon in 1901. The Rimfire Saloon.”
            I shook my head. “I can’t believe it.”
            “Go talk to Candace King. She’ll show you the records.” Letha seemed pleased she’d shocked me.
            “I will. Oh, I will. All the more reason the building should be preserved.” I took another sip of my drink. “What else made you think the place was haunted?”
            “We’re very meticulous,” Letha said. “But we’d go in to open up in the morning and find things moved around.”
            “Was anything ever missing?” I asked.
            “Not a thing,” Stella said. “But we’d find our receipts and other invoices scattered around.”
            “It sounds like someone playing a joke,” I said. “Actually, the lock on the back door was easy to circumvent.” They looked startled. “I didn’t have a key the first day. You can slip a credit card in and open the door.”
            “No one came in through the back door. We set a trap to catch them, but it was never sprung.”
            I decided not to pursue that. “Did you report the…incidents…to the police?”
            “Oh, yes,” Stella said. “Chief Everton sent a rookie out to look around, and we never heard from him again.”
            “The shop was doing so well we might have stuck it out,” Letha said, “except for the last.”
            “Which was?”
            “We were doing inventory one night last fall, and it got dark on us. All of a sudden, the lights went out, and we could feel cold air rushing around us, and then the shrieks started. Unearthly sound that chilled my blood! I grabbed Letha’s chair and made a run for the back door. The next morning we telephone Lawrence White and told him we weren’t renewing our lease.”
            I considered the scenario and had to work hard not to laugh. “You had the shop how long—five years?”
            “About that.”
            “But the…hauntings…only started recently?”
            Letha nodded. “About six months ago. We’re not stupid, Mrs. Blake, nor are we superstitious. We’re not saying that spirits were at work, but something—or someone—was. We’re seasoned business professionals. Stella and I have been in business for ourselves since we finished college a year apart. We moved to Dreamland from Little Rock to get away from the traffic and other things one has to deal with in a large city.”
            Stella took up the narrative. “We still own a shop there, but someone else manages it for us. We’ll probably go back to Little Rock, although we don’t really want to.”
            I tried to approach the subject diplomatically, but there didn’t seem to be any way except straight out. “Look, I’m not discounting what happened in the shop…what you heard and felt…but you do know, don’t you, that someone is trying to buy up property in the downtown area.”
            “We’d heard rumors,” Stella said.
            “We don’t really get out and socialize here,” Letha added. “So we’re not in the loop as I believe you younger people say.”
            I smiled. “Right. In the loop. I’m here trying to get in, actually. But my point is, did it ever occur to you that someone was trying to get you to vacate that building so I’d finally sell it?”
            “Of course, it did,” Letha said. “But the risk to our mental and physical safety wasn’t worth sticking it out.”
            “It’s easy enough to arrange a haunting or whatever it was. Anybody with a little theatrical expertise can do it. I know because I used to work in community theatre when Ned…when my husband was alive.”
            “You’re a widow?” Stella asked.
            “He was career air force until he was killed in a training accident almost four years ago.”
            “My husband died in the last days of Viet Nam,” Letha said in a low voice. “We married just out of high school before he enlisted. Stella’s husband was already there.”
            “He came home,” Stella said, “but we were never able to get our marriage back the way it had been. Regrettably, we divorced a year later.”
            “We use our maiden name for business,” Letha added. “But we’re not two clueless maiden ladies. That’s what you thought, didn’t you?”
            “I don’t anymore.” Somehow I felt embraced. Few people understood what becoming a widow at the age of twenty-seven really meant to a woman. Older women who’d been married most of a lifetime could find plenty of support, but younger women, like me, were expected to find another husband ASAP and go on.
            I set my glass on the coaster Stella had placed on the table beside me. “I don’t want to sell the Quimby Building. It has a lot of sentimental value for me. Besides, I’m not sure gutting downtown and making it an industrial area is going to do anything good for the town.” I studied their faces, the faces of new friends. “Would the two of you consider re-opening if…I mean, I know your fixtures are still there and…”
            “We’re trying to arrange to have them picked up and taken to our shop in Little Rock,” Letha said.
            “Re-open the Sparkle Shoppe,” Stella mused.
            “Just think about it,” I said. “I can’t tell you this minute I won’t end up selling, only that I don’t want to. The upstairs would make two wonderful loft apartments. I live in one above my own shop in Dallas.”
            “We’ll consider everything you’ve said,” Stella replied. “No promises.”
            “But this is just between us for now,” I said, rising from the chair. I handed them two business cards. “You can reach me at the cell number. I’m staying at the Lloyd House.”
            “For how long?” Letha asked.
            “Until I can get this business with the Quimby Building straightened out,” I said.
            Stella walked me to the door. “Come by again, Trixie. It’s not easy being a young widow—grass or otherwise—is it?”
            “No, it’s not, Miss Drake.”
            I smiled. “Stella.”
            “Letha and are good listeners. We’ve been there.”
            I nodded, feeling tears behind my eyes. “Thank you,” I said and hurried to my car.

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