“If the Shoe Fits”

Annie marched down the sidewalk, passed the car-lined street, and blended in with the large group of people walking towards the mansion. At that moment she searched through the crowd. “Ricky?”

“I’m here.” A reluctant Ricky responded. “Told ya I’d rather wait in the car.” Her flowing red hair and captivating smile made it hard for him to say no.

“This is where Vito the Mauler Lepinski lived! One of the most famous mobsters of all time. Don’t you wanna see his house?” They walked through the imposing iron gate.

He caught up with her. “No. Not interested in a giant garage sale.”

“It’s an estate sale, not a garage sale. They’re selling everything for cheap. Maybe you’ll find something to buy.”

“I doubt it,” he said. “All the good stuff is probably gone by now. Okay, I’ll play along. After all I’m Italian too.”

A long table was set up opposite the front doors and had become the place of business. Two serious-looking men in short sleeve shirts sat in front of a cash box with a stack of papers between them. A uniformed policeman paced behind them reflecting on his luck at getting this off duty assignment. The short line of people carried everything from lamps to paintings over to the table.

Annie grabbed Ricky’s hand. “Let’s explore the upstairs. There’s over a dozen bedrooms.”

“How exciting,” Ricky yawned.

The large staircase led them to spacious hallways. After ducking in and out of several rooms, Ricky spied a king sized bed and sat down. “I’ll wait for you here. At least this bed’s comfortable.”

“This is Vito’s bedroom!”

“It’s as big as the entire first floor of our house! Look a mirror on the ceiling too. Who needs a room this size?”

Annie pointed at the burgundy couch and chairs with the well-stocked bar. “Bet a lotta deals went down here. Probably gave orders to have people killed.”

“You read too much. That’s gossip not fact. I heard he never served a day in jail.”

“Gangsters got the best lawyers. Everyone knows that.”

Ricky reached under the bed. “Hey look what I found – black patent leather shoes! I could use new dress shoes. I’m sure they won’t fit.” Ricky tried on both shoes and stood up. “Damn, they actually fit. Good condition too. I’m guessing two hundred easy for these.”

Annie entered the huge walk-in closet. “There’s still some of his suits in here. Maybe you can find a suit to go with your shoes.”

“Thought he was fat.”

Annie laughed. “You haven’t looked in the mirror lately.”

He flipped through the suits and pulled out a black three piece suit. “What’d think Annie?”

“You’ll fit in at Muraski’s Funeral Home.” She placed a black felt hat on his head. “Now you look like a real gangster!”

They cut short the rest of their upstairs tour and joined the line of customers. “Don’t know what they’ll charge me.” Ricky remembered having about a hundred and twenty in his wallet and had to buy dinner tonight for them. “I wonder if Vito left me some cash.” He laughed this time.

Ricky rifled through the suit pockets and retrieved a handful of hundred dollar bills. Since the line was slow, he counted out twelve hundred dollars. This day just kept getting better! “I owe you a special dinner tonight honey.” He flashed the roll of hundreds for only her to see.

“Wow!” Annie reacted. “Let’s dress up for dinner. You can wear your new clothes.”

They reached the table with the emotionless men staring at them. “What are you buying?” The man on the left asked.

“Gotta suit, shoes and oh yeah this hat.”

The second man wrote everything on a blank sheet of paper. “Your offer?”

“Two hundred for everything?”

“Done. Sign here and put today’s date. All sales are final, no refunds.”

Annie left the mansion and began strolling through the colorful flower gardens, neatly trimmed hedges and Roman style water fountains. Ricky followed closely behind. He would not complain this time. Maybe he finally got lucky; his ship had come in at last.

Hours later, they dressed for their night on the town. “Yes you need to wear a tie Ricky.” She stood in her white slip staring into her closet. Something dressy, something sexy. The short navy dress always looked good showing off just enough of her shapely figure to turn a few heads when she entered a room. Of course she would add the pearl necklace.

Ricky walked in with two ties. “The blue stripes or the solid red?”

“Blue, it’ll match my dress.” She was startled by his smack on her behind as he left the room. “You’ll pay for that Ricky.” She giggled.

“I plan on collecting babe.” He called to her. “How bout that expensive Italian place, the Golden Bowl?”

“You need reservations to eat there.”

“Well let’s stop anyhow. I should buy a lottery ticket with my luck today.” As he zipped her dress, he said,”You look amazing!”

“And you look like a gangster out of the old black and white movies, especially with that hat.”

After a short drive, they reached the Golden Bowl. Annie took his arm as they walked up to the maitre d. “Need a table for two Oscar.” Ricky said to the white coated man.

“Vito?” Oscar couldn’t hide the shocked look on his face. “Of course, your usual table follow me.” He tried to regain his composure.

They sat at a small table by the enormous fireplace. The waiter appeared handing them menus and pouring glasses of water.

“Tony, how’s the veal tonight?”

“Delicious, your favorite meal I know. Sorry for giving you menus Mr. Lepinski. A pleasure to have you dining with us again.” Tony reached for the menus and disappeared into the kitchen.

“How do you know everyone’s names?” Annie questioned. “I thought you never ate here before.”

“They wear name tags I guess.”

“No, they don’t Ricky.”

Ricky shook his head. “Can’t tell you. It just came to me.”

Tony returned and filled their wine glasses with champagne. Then he left the bottle in a bucket of ice by Ricky’s chair.

“You’ll love the veal doll. Best I ever had!”

Annie said,”Ricky, you’re doing it again! You’re scaring me. It’s like you became Vito!”

“Don’t be silly.” He grabbed her leg under the table. “Who else would do that?”

“Okay, I’m overreacting. Let’s enjoy our dinner.”

The salad bowls were quickly joined by their dinner plates of veal and penne. They ate quietly. Ricky refilled their glasses until the bottle was empty.

Oscar rapidly crossed the restaurant to Ricky’s table. “Vito, you need to leave now! The Torelli brothers pulled up in a white limo. Follow me through the kitchen. We have a car waiting for you.”

“Annie, we gotta scram. Those are the Torelli brothers who killed me!”

Too startled to talk, Annie’s wine glass slipped from her hand spilling champagne on the white tablecloth. She took Ricky’s hand. It felt like a dream or a nightmare and she couldn’t wake up. They rushed past the kitchen crew and into the dark sedan in the alley.

Oscar closed the car door. “That was too close,” he said to the darkening night sky.

“Is it really you Vito?” The driver asked as he drove rapidly through the downtown streets.

“Michael, good to have you at the wheel. Like old times.”

Was it the champagne? Had she fallen asleep watching Edward G. Robinson in a gangster movie? Tell me this can’t be happening; Annie cried into her hands.

“Change of plans tonight Michael. Drop us off at 1370 Wallings. Then disappear. I’ll see you in the morning, usual time.”

“Whatever you say boss. Gotta a little hideaway for you and the girl. Fine by me.”

Annie waited in her lace robe until she heard Ricky snoring. As she expected, he piled all of his clothes on the bedroom floor. Whatever spell Ricky was under, the clothes appeared to be the key. She scooped them up, with his shoes, into a garbage bag and threw it in the trash can behind the garage. Perhaps she could sleep and life would be normal in the morning.

Ricky emerged from the shower towel-drying his black hair. “Annie, I barely remember what happened last night. I should never drink champagne.”

Putting on her robe again, she responded,”We had a great time, especially when we got home.”

“That I remember!” He smiled when the sizzling memory resurfaced. “You’re incredible.”

Annie kissed his cheek. “I’ll make some coffee while you get dressed.”

Ricky called out to her,”Hey, where’s my new suit?”

She didn’t answer. Maybe the genie was finally back in the bottle. No more mobster Vito.

“I found my new shoes. Must’ve put them in the closet.”

Shoes, Annie thought, they were tossed away too. She poured the water in the coffeemaker and flipped the switch.

Ricky appeared in all of his gangster clothes – black suit, black shoes and hat. Annie was speechless. No, it couldn’t be possible! “Ricky?”

“Who’s Ricky?”

Ricky/Vito kissed her hard on the lips and squeezed her ass. “Thanks for last night doll. I feel like a new man. See you soon. Michael’s got your address.” Then he walked out the door and into the waiting Lincoln Town Car.

Annie collapsed onto the kitchen chair in a burst of tears. Why? Why was this happening?

“Where to boss?” Michael asked.

“Silvio’s. Gotta connect with the boys. Let ‘em know I’m back.”

“Oscar called me from the restaurant. Said the Torelli brothers came in heavy looking to kill you. Guess they went away disappointed.” Michael finished the drive and opened the car door. “Call me when you’re ready to leave boss.”

Ricky walked through the side door of Silvio’s. “Hey Frankie, good to see ya.”

Frankie’s large frame slowly rose from the desk chair. Stacks of twenties, fifties, and hundreds covered the desk. “Vito?”

“Who else?” He hugged Frankie patting him on the back. “How’d we do last night?”

“Pretty good. I’m still counting. Surprised to see you Vito.” Shocked better described his true feelings as he returned to his chair.

“We need to hit Dominic and Vinnie Torelli. They were gunning for me at the Golden Bowl. We gotta put them in the ground.”

“Lemme call Max. His crew would be perfect. Nobody knows them.” Frankie dialed and nodded to Vito. “They’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“I’m going too.”

“Not a good idea Vito. They’ll see you coming.”

“I’ll stay outta sight. I gotta watch them die for what they did to me!”

Joey, a slender man in his twenties, walked in. “Rumors must be true! Vito lemme make you a drink. Scotch and water?”

“Always, thanks Joey. Good to be back.” Ricky sipped his Scotch and waited.

The phone rang. “Yea,” Frankie answered. “Keep an eye on ‘em. Call me here if they leave.” Frankie hung up the phone and wrote on a small piece of paper. “Got an address, Hillcrest Motel over on State. The Torellis are staying there.”

Max opened the door. His blonde hair and glasses reminded Ricky that he wasn’t Italian but had prove his loyalty many times. A ruthless killer he could rely on.

“Here’s the address.” Ricky handed him the paper. “I’m riding along with you.”

“Yes Mr. Lepinski. Whenever you’re ready.”

Max opened the back door of the black Impala for Ricky. Two other men were already seated rechecking the clips from their pistols. Max took the wheel as they slowly approached Hillcrest Motel. He stopped and gave the orders. “Front door for you two. Bobby take the parking lot. I’ll take the door.”

Like a smooth military operation, Max’s boot kicked open the motel door. All three men fired before the Torellis could reach their guns. Dominic never got off the bed. Vinnie fell by the bathroom door riddled in bullets. Max shot each brother in the head.

Ricky stood by the motel door. “Good job! I could always count on you Max.” Then he turned and walked away.

Frankie answered the ringing phone. “Max, is it done?”

“Yes. You won’t believe this Frankie. Vito vanished. All we found was a pile of his clothes. Can’t find him anywhere.”

“Is this a joke? It ain’t funny Max.”

Annie started to calm down by her second cup of coffee. Nothing made any sense. Vito back from the dead? Suddenly Ricky walked in the house. Annie jumped up and greeted him with a big hug. “I’m really glad to see you.”

“Crazy thing is I don’t have any shoes.” A confused Ricky added, “And I’m standing here without any pants on. What’s been going on?”

Michael Woll

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“Don’t Speak ill of the Dead”

The full moon reflected on the dark still waters of Lake Tecumseh. Only the occasional movement of the oars disturbed the silent night. The beam of a flashlight guided the small row boat to the middle of the lake.

“That’s good Jake. We’ll stop here.” Marvin stood up awkwardly trying to balance his tall, overweight body. “That son bitch don’t deserve a proper burial.”

“Let’s get this over with.” Jake looked down at the large dead body on the bottom of the boat. Damn knife had nearly decapitated him.

“You tie those cement buckets to his legs like I told ya?”

“Yea Marv. I’m scared being out here.” His small frame shivered in the cool night air.

“Shut up! Come on and help me throw Ricky Sikes to his watery grave. I hate that bastard!”

“Don’t say that. You’ll be cursed if you speak that way about the dead. It’s a Shawnee curse!”

“Sikes’ only part injun.”

“Not talkin bout him. It’s Lake Tecumseh, named after a Shawnee Indian chief.” Jake explained.

“You’re weak. I ought to throw you down there too. Grab his other leg. One, two, three, over the side.”

A large splash from the body hitting the water drenched Jake in cold lake water. “Damnit Marv I’m all wet!”

“Shut up and starting rowing.” Marvin’s flashlight beam tried in vain to watch Ricky Sikes’ final descent to the bottom of the lake. But the cement buckets did their job and the body disappeared from sight.

“Why don’t you do some rowing too?” Jake asked.

“I’m paying you, ain’t I?” Marvin turned the flashlight beam into Jake’s face. “And don’t even think bout going to the cops. Plenty a room in the lake for another body. You can sleep with that damn lowlife for all eternity.”

“I’d never rat on you Marv. How long we know each other? Probably junior high.” Jake feared Marvin but wanted his friendship and protection. “Lemme tell ya bout Tecumseh.” Jake changed the subject.

“What’s this Shawnee curse?”

“Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe was hunted by General William Henry Harrison. Same guy that became president.”

“So?”

“Tecumseh cursed all the Great Chiefs as he called the presidents. Said every president elected in zero ending years would die in office. Harrison died and so did Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. You don’t wanna mess with the spirit world Marv.”

“That’s a bunch of crap! Not afraid of dead Indians!” A coyote glared at them from the dock before running away. They reached the shore. Between the two men the row boat was flipped onto the Ford’s truck bed.

“You can stay at my place till morning. Have a few beers to celebrate Ricky’s death,” Marvin said to Jake. Marvin drove through the empty streets until they completed the forty minute drive to the cabin. “Help me put that boat out back.”

After they moved the boat, Marvin pulled out the hose and let the powerful rush of water clean out the row boat. They went inside the cabin. Jake hurried to the bathroom. The hot water and soap worked their magic on his blood covered hands. Jake watched his hands shake from the night’s deadly events. Better not tell Marv he thought.

Marvin tossed Jake a can of Budweiser beer as he finished his second can. “I’m glad he’s dead. Always being a smart ass, always insulting me in front of my girl.” He spit on the floor. “That’s all I got for you Ricky.” He reached for his next beer.

Jake sat down on the worn plaid couch. He covered his right hand with his left to stop the shaking. Then he quickly downed his beer. “Marv, think I’ll go lay down. I’m not feeling too good.”

“You never were much of a drinker. Yea, go ahead and sleep. I”ll pay ya in the morning.” Marvin crushed the can in his right hand reaching for another beer with his left. Sometime between beers eight and nine, Marvin passed out on the couch spilling most of the last beer on the couch and floor. He snored heavily. Suddenly the air filled with thick black smoke. Damn cabin’s on fire, he realized stumbling towards the door.

Marvin crashed onto the ground hearing Jake’s screams from inside the burning cabin. The large yellow-orange flames enveloped the cabin’s only door. Sorry Jake, he fought to wake up, you were kind of a loser anyhow. Not much of a loss. Scrambling to his Ford truck, Marvin gripped his keys tightly. Time to get the hell outta Dodge. Let the fire department deal with this mess. Jake, nice knowing ya, not really. But the bigger question Marvin tried to understand was who wanted him dead?

Could Ricky Sikes come back from the bottom of that damn Indian lake and kill him? Maybe Jake was right bout something – the power of the Shawnee curse! The hell with both of those assholes! Jake probably dropped a lit cigarette or joint and burned down the cabin. Marvin gunned the engine and drove through town to his house. He fumbled for the right key. Finally he staggered down the small hallway falling on top of his bed.

Loud, repeated banging on his front door pulled Marvin out of his drunken dream of Ricky Sikes rising from Lake Tecumseh and dragging him under the water to his death. What idiot would bother him on a Sunday morning? “WHAT!” He yelled opening the door. Then he saw Grace, his Grace, standing in front of him. Even a simple white t-shirt and jeans never looked so good. She had big blonde hair like an old rock video. And that ass! Amazing Grace.

“Marvin your breath smells like a sewer. I kept calling you last night and you never picked up. Didn’t you get my texts?”

“Sorry doll. Guess I drank too much. Come on in. Why you here so early? I wanted to sleep till noon.”

She walked in and sat in the nearest chair. “Gotta call that your cabin burned down. I thought you were dead.”

“It’ll take more than that to kill me.” He leaned towards her for a kiss.

“MARVIN! You rinse out your mouth before you kiss me!”

Marvin responded,”Lemme get some sleep. I’ll buy you dinner later,  your choice of restaurants, except that Chinese place.”

Grace kissed his cheek. “Call me,” she said heading for her car.

But sleep didn’t come for Marvin. Tossing and turning for over an hour, he gave up and took a shower. Just as he buttoned his shirt, another knock on the door. No one was there. How strange, he thought. A coyote ran into the open field by his house.

Sammy’s Grill and Lounge had the best steaks and the best variety of beers. Anyone trying to drink a beer from each country represented was usually carried out and dumped in the parking lot. As they approached the doors, Grace dazzled in a long red dress with a slit on both sides and matching red heels.  Marvin wore all black clothes with black boots. Blaring country music greeted them when they entered Sammy’s.

“Only two of us,” Marvin repeated to the hostess. They found a corner table in the back. Still elevated voices were needed to communicate through the loud music. “Jake died in the cabin fire.” Marvin told her after placing their orders.

“How do you know that?” Grace acted surprised.

“He’s staying at the cabin for a few days. A little trouble with his wife. He wasn’t the brightest person you’ll ever meet. Probably started the fire doing something stupid.”

“That’s not very nice. I thought he was your friend.”

“Yea, a dead friend.” Marvin took a long drink of his beer.

She frowned. “The Shawnee tribe lived in this area for many years. There’s probably Indian spirits around us. Be careful what you say!”

“Not that again!” He gulped down his beer and held the empty mug over his head hoping the waitress would notice.

“I don’t like you when you act this way!” They sat quietly waiting for their food. Marvin began checking out the young waitresses walking by, ignoring Grace’s icy stare. Their waitress, Becka, an attractive brunette in a cowboy hat, delivered a tray of food. Grace looked at her sirloin steak dinner while Marvin’s eyes followed Becka until she walked out of sight.

When Becka returned, she smiled at Marvin. Her dark brown eyes locked into his blue eyes. “How about some dessert tonight?”

“What I want’s not on the menu.” Marvin laughed loudly.

“NOTHING FOR US!” Grace responded in a steely tone.

“We’ll have the check Becka thanks.” Grace watched him watch her walk away.

“Give me your keys! I’ll wait in the truck!” She grabbed the keys from his outstretched hand.

Becka approached the table again. Marvin, without Grace’s disapproval to deal with, waved a twenty dollar bill. “That’s your tip if I get your number.”

“Sure your girlfriend won’t mind.” She gave her sexiest smile. A twenty dollar tip would be nice.

Handing over his cell phone, he said,”Put your number in Becka. Don’t worry about my date.” He dropped a fifty on the table for the bill and touched her hand as he retrieved his cell from her.

Marvin swung the restaurant doors open as he headed for Grace and his truck. There would be no goodnight kiss or any other fun tonight. At least he got a number from that hot waitress.

Exploding in front of him, his truck roared with flames. The power of the blast knocked him backwards onto the sidewalk. He jumped to his feet and ran to the fiery truck. Several other people in the parking lot rushed over trying to stop him. “Grace, Grace, oh no! Not you!” He felt real tears for the first time in his life. Grace couldn’t be saved. He dropped to his knees and cried into his hands.

Was it bad luck or revenge? He didn’t know or care. I should be in that truck, he thought, I should be dead. Not Grace. Not Grace. Police Officer Morse drove him back to his house. “Are you gonna be alright sir? Is there someone I can call for you?”

“No. No, there’s no one. Thanks for the ride.” Marvin entered the house and sat in the dark for hours. Finally an idea, the only possible idea, formed in his mind. Time to return to Lake Tecumseh and confront dead Ricky Sikes.

With his truck gone forever, Marvin opened the garage hoping his Harley would start up. It did and he rode through the darkness trying to avoid the rain drops of an approaching storm. He left his motorcycle in the small parking lot and walked straight to the lake. The rain increased in  intensity but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered.

“RICKY! Damn you Ricky! You come face me you son bitch!” He screamed into the storm. Marvin took his first steps into Lake Tecumseh. “Ricky, where are you?” He continued heading into the cold water. Knee high, waist high, and nearly chest high. “RICKY! Face me you coward! You took my Grace from me!”

Then the water reached his shoulders as he moved deeper and deeper into the lake. “RICKY!” The final word spoken by Marvin. A coyote trotted  back into the woods.

“It’s the damnedest thing,” Officer Morse said to the other police officers. “When the divers pulled Marvin’s body outta the lake, he had two cement cans wrapped around his neck. Craziest suicide you’ll ever see. Never would’ve found him if it hadn’t been that 911 call from a guy claiming to be Ricky Sikes.”

Michael Woll

 

 

 

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A Story A Day Keeps The EVIL Away

Visit Amazon.com to be the first to purchase my new book of short stories,”A Story A Day Keeps The EVIL Away.”

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“Deadly Desire”

I woke up face down on a dirt covered road. My entire body ached and bled. I tried to raise my left arm but it only moved inches. Something burned on my forearm like I was branded with a hot iron. No street lights, no lights of any kind. I’m surrounded by the night. Can’t even move my body off the road. Maybe the pain will go away if I die here in the dark.

Bright lights, headlights, moved quickly towards my mangled body. This is how it ends run over by a car in the middle of nowhere. The lights stopped in front of me. Suddenly a female in white illuminated by the headlights (an angel?) walked towards me. “Oh my god!” I heard her say then I passed out again.

I remember being lifted onto a stretcher and the loud, blaring sound of the ambulance. Incoherent voices talked to me. Nothing made sense. Everything was blurry. I fought hard to stay awake. People kept talking around me. “He’s lucky to be alive . . . lost a lot of blood.” ‘I’ve done all I can for him.” ‘The police want to talk to him when he regains consciousness.”

My mind saw Isabella’s cover girl face, the source of my greatest joy and my greatest pain. Her long black hair cascaded over the white pillow case. A pear shaped diamond necklace drew my eyes to her sensuous ebony body. Laughing, happy, she enjoyed the moment with me. Isabella’s soft brown eyes invited me to a world of pleasure.

Isabella screamed! Then the pain began.

I recall being thrown from the bed against the far wall. Gilley stood over me. His menacing six foot frame had a muscular build from his obsession with the weight room. “YOU BASTARD!” He kicked me in the stomach. I gasped for breath. “And robbing me too!” He emptied the briefcase covering me in a sea of fifty and hundred dollar bills.

Isabella ran from the bedroom wrapped in a sheet crying loudly. Taz, Gilley’s henchman a mountain of muscles and tattoos, rushed in. “What happened?”

“Mac was in bed with my wife!”

Taz jammed a silver revolver against my head. “Just say the word Gilley.”

“Not here. Drag his ass  behind the house in the woods.” Then Gilley looked at me. “I won’t kill you. But when we’re done with you you’ll be begging for a bullet to your head!”

“She loves me Gilley.” I blurted out.

Taz’s boot smashed into my face. The next few hours I was in and out of consciousness. The beating brought me to a new level of pain throughout my body. I heard Gilley say something about calling Joshua, Gilley’s tattoo guy, “to come over right now. You and Joshua dump his body couple hours from town.”

I woke up on the dirt road and again in a hospital bed. A warm hand in mine. A woman’s voice.”I’m alone in the world since  my divorce is final. No reason to hurry home just Checkers my cat waiting for me. I hope you wake soon. There’s so much I want to share with you.”

My eyes tried to focus. A nurse sat next to my hospital bed. I attempted to smile at her instead I moaned. The cute nurse had blondish brown hair, dark, expressive eyes and reacted with a big smile when I opened my eyes.

“Hi. Welcome back.” She greeted me.

“Were you the one who found me, who saved me that night?”

“Yes I did. I take that shortcut to the hospital when I’m running late and I’m always running late. There’s no traffic. It saves me ten minutes every day.” She paused and gripped my hand tighter. “I almost didn’t see you. I could have run you over.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“But you didn’t. I’m alive thanks to you.” I returned her smile even though my face hurt. “How long have I been here?”

“One week tomorrow. You were in a coma for days. I didn’t know if you would come back to me. I sit with you every day on my breaks and after my shift’s over. You have blue eyes. I haven’t seen them till now.”

“I’m sure you have lots of questions for me.”

“You’ve mumbled some names in your sleep like Gilley, Taz, and Isabella many times. I hope you’re not married.”

“I’m not. No kids either. Let me rest. We’ll talk tomorrow. And thanks again for saving my life.” I passed out and didn’t hear her leave.

The next day I spent with doctors and medical tests. Everyone seemed happy that I had returned from the dead. Nobody asked me my opinion to be back among the living. Maybe it would have been better for everyone to have died on that dirt road.

Still, I longed for my dark beauty Isabella, my reason to keep living. Would I ever see her again? The welcome mat will definitely not be out for me if I go back.

My dinner tray arrived. Hunger dominated my thoughts until I saw a bowl of soup, crackers and orange jello. I used the straws for my drinks. Based on my sore jaw I couldn’t chew anything hard. I had my last spoon of jello when she walked in my room. “There you are,” I said. My nurse friend had arrived. She removed my tray and sat next to me.

“We haven’t been introduced. I’m Kate Mathews. No one knows your name. You’re listed as John Doe.” Her hand slipped into mine.

“Everyone calls me Mac.”

“Are you able to answer my questions? The police detective said you couldn’t remember what happened.”

“For you I’ll answer anything.”

“Who beat you up and nearly killed you?”

“That would be Gilley.”

“Who’s Gilley?”

“My brother. A dangerous man. He’s involved in drugs and guns. Not the man to cross.”

“Who’s Isabella?”

“The reason I’m in the hospital. Gilley’s wife. We were gonna run off together with a briefcase full of Gilley’s drug money.”

Kate dropped my hand. “Maybe I have judged you all wrong.”

“I’m not a bad guy. Just got crazy over the wrong woman. The other name you mentioned Taz is a big mean dude. Avoid him at all costs.”

Kate stood and looked at me. “You’ll be able to leave the hospital in a few days. I thought about offering my home to you. I’m not sure. Can you explain your tattoo?”

“What tattoo?” She pulled off the long bandage on my left forearm revealing, DONT COME BACK. “I didn’t ask for that.” I explained.

“You need my help. I’ll take you home on a trial basis. We’ll see how it goes.” She left the room.

The day finally came and I rolled along in the wheelchair to Kate’s waiting car. My legs were gaining their strength from my daily walks down the hospital hallways. My left arm remained weak though.

We ate a quiet meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Soft food helped my jaw the most. I finished my coffee. She walked me to the guest room. “I hung some of my ex-husband’s old clothes in the closet. They should fit you. I’m across the hall. Don’t get any ideas. I’m locking my door.”

I slept soundly and woke to an empty house. Kate left coffee for me. I managed to find the toaster for some breakfast. I showered, dressed and watched tv until I fell asleep in a comfortable chair.

Kate ran into the house. “Mac, a man came looking for you at the hospital. A huge man dressed in black, Taz?”

I jumped to my feet. “Do you have a gun in the house?”

“Yes, but I’ve never used it.” She handed me the pistol and a box of bullets. “He won’t find you here.”

“He might have followed you from the hospital.” Suddenly a bullet shattered the front window. I knocked Kate to the floor. The second bullet slammed into the wall over our heads. The only good news, Taz couldn’t shoot real well. He relied on his brute strength to punish people. I loaded Kate’s gun and crawled to the broken window.

Taz’s size made him a very big target. He ran from the oak tree for a closer shot, his fatal error. I could shoot. I did learn something from my brother Gilley. Both bullets hit his chest knocking him backward to the ground. I hurried outside and watched him struggle and bleed in front of me. My last shot went directly into his large head. I took his gun and fished two more clips out of his pocket. Grabbing his Humvee keys, I found Kate standing behind me.

“You’re not going back there! They beat you to death last time.” Tears welled in her eyes.

“I have to. They nearly killed me twice. I can’t wait for them to come after me again.” She reached for me. I turned away.

“All you care about is that bitch Isabella!”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t look back at Kate. I hopped in the Humvee. If they see Taz’s vehicle, I might be able to drive right in before they notice. Was I going back for revenge on Gilley or for the love of Isabella? Maybe both. Since I had a couple of hours to drive, I thought about Kate. She had feelings for me. It might be better to turn around and make a new life with her. Sure I’ve had my share of other women in my life. But Isabella brought a sensual desire I’ve never known before. Being with her makes the whole world stop. Only the two of us exist in a combination of lust and love. My exotic girl, my reason for living.

Gilley would never understand. He tried to corner the market on beautiful women of every color. Isabella represented his flavor of the month. He would tire of her and send her packing. All I want is one woman, Isabella; he can have the rest for himself.

I crossed into Taver Hts. and knew it would only be twenty more minutes to reach the other side of town and Gilley’s house. I had no plans, running on straight adrenaline. Pulling to the side of the street, I reloaded the clip in my gun. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Taz left a bottle on the floor. I filled my mouth with good Kentucky bourbon. This could be the beginning of my new life or the end of my sorry one. There would be no mercy from Gilley, even for his own brother. I glanced at Joshua’s tattoo – DONT COME BACK. Too late. I’m back right now!

Gilley’s big country house had a large yard until he bought out his neighbors and tore down their houses. Then he owned the whole street. For late night shipments of guns and drugs, no prying eyes wondered what that truck delivered at four in the morning. At any given moment, six of his henchmen worked in the house or in the vast woods behind the house. Most of the men knew me. I’d work for Gilley off and on. He always overpaid me probably felt sorry for me.

I remember the first time I saw Isabella, the African queen of Gilley’s collection of gorgeous, international females. When our eyes met, I knew I had to have her. I started hanging out more at Gilley’s house. Unloading trucks, packing boxes, anything to appear useful, I needed to see her, be around her all the time.

That moment in the kitchen her hand touched mine. I reached for her hand squeezing it tightly. This time our eyes locked together for a brief moment. Talk about dangerous desire, my brother’s wife! We would exchange words in passing throughout the house.

“He won’t let me leave the house ever. I’m like a prisoner here. You know he hits me when he’s drunk.”

“We have to be careful or he’ll kill us both.”

Another time days later she said,”I’ve been putting money aside for us. He’ll never miss it.”

We stepped into an empty bedroom. I hugged Isabella for the first time. We shared a passionate kiss. I unbuttoned the front of her white cotton dress. Then I let my hands move across her black skin and she moaned with desire. I had to have her.

“When?” I whispered.

“Tomorrow afternoon, he’s leaving with Taz for a meeting downtown. It could take hours.”

The next afternoon we planned to take the briefcase of money and leave everything else behind. It didn’t happen that way. We were in the bedroom. We were alone in the house. One kiss led to another. Clothes flew in all directions. The blue quilt joined the clothing on the carpeted floor. Passion made its own plans, its own rules. Her perfumed body, her inviting brown eyes, I never heard Gilley’s voice until he opened the bedroom door.

Now I approached the house in the Humvee. A red Benz left the four car garage. Seeing my arriving Humvee they assumed a returning Taz and kept the garage door open and honked in my direction. At this time of night, probably a food run before the trucks rolled in again. A lucky break for me.The other two cars in the garage included an emerald green Jaguar and the midnight blue Corvette. Gilley loved his cars. As I closed the garage door, I set the house alarm to warn me when they returned. Any opened door of the house or garage would set it off.

I needed to find Gilley before I could save Isabella and live out my dream life. College football blared from the enormous family room tv sound system. No one occupied the black leather furniture. I entered the adjoining kitchen. There Gilley sat on a bar stool with his back to me. He drank the remainder of his Scotch rocks. “That you Taz? You killed Mac for me?”

“Afraid not Gilley.”

He turned to face the pistol I pointed at him. “Don’t do anything stupid Mac. You want money, I’ll give you money.”

“You know what I want, who I want.”

“Isabella? She’s outta your league brother. She loves me for my money. You have nothing to offer her.”

“Is she alright?”

“Outside of that black eye for saying your name, she’s perfectly fine.” I watched his right hand move slowly to a butcher knife laying on the counter. “You won’t leave this house alive. The guys’ll kill you if I don’t.”

“Nice try Gilley. I saw them leave.”

He threw his glass at me and grabbed the large knife. My gun fell to the floor. I managed to kick the knife out of his hand. We scrambled for the gun. He elbowed my nose and it exploded in blood. The gun landed across the floor from us. But Gilley moved faster and inched closer to the gun and killing me.

I didn’t hear her. Isabella stood over Gilley screaming and stabbing him repeatedly with the butcher knife. Lastly, she buried the knife up to the handle in his back.

Gilley was dead.

“We have to leave now.” I pleaded with her. I tossed her a kitchen towel. “Wipe the blood off your hands.”

“I need my purse.” Isabella hurried up the stairs unsteadily as if the reality of the moment finally caught up with her.

We raced to the Humvee. We’ll need different transportation that will blend in soon. I punched in the alarm code and we drove away. With Gilley and Taz both dead we had time to disappear. Isabella sat next to me leaning on my shoulder. Tears of joy and I’m sure regret, streamed down her face. From now on we would live our lives on the run.

By the way, her purse was filled with Gilley’s cash!

Michael Woll

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“FROZEN” – 1

Another sleepless night. Tossing back and forth, rolling around, trying to get comfortable, I gave up and left the bedroom. I sat by the large front window and watched it snow. The forecast was for an inch or two. Wrong again! It was accumulating  pretty fast. The morning commute would be a real mess.

Christmas was here and gone. All that buildup and fake holiday cheer for one day. The next day everybody takes their presents back to the mall and trades them in for something they wanted in the first place. And all the Christmas trees and colorful wrapping paper are in the trash.

I have to do something with that body in the basement.

New Year’s Eve is tomorrow. Well really today since it’s three a.m. No plans for me but I know the neighbors will throw one of their famous parties. Fire crackers, gun shots, loud music and drinking like Prohibition just ended!

I wonder if anyone will miss him.

One time I was invited to the neighbor’s party. They were new to the city and didn’t have any friends yet. I remember having a beer and trying to fit in. But nobody talked to me and I left before midnight. I had New Year’s with Dick Clark on tv. Now they have a younger crowd at their parties. Their cars are parked up and down the street. People drinking in the front yard, throwing up in the bushes.

I can’t keep the body in the freezer forever.

I always try to have a New Year’s resolution. Like lose a few pounds, cross items off my bucket list, that sort of thing. I haven’t decided on one or two to write down and really follow. Most people pick one, join a gym or something and give it up a month later.

If I hid the body in the snow, nobody would find it till spring.

A big snowplow is going down the street. At least my neighbors can get out of their driveways and go to work. Of course it’s a holiday and some of them probably don’t have to work. A few will leave for half a day. Others will go out just to buy food for the party and a cart full of beer and wine.

Sometimes I talk to the body in the freezer.

I’m going to close my eyes and try to sleep. This is my favorite chair and the blanket is nice and warm. Even a few hours would be good. I know I’m not sleeping tonight with all the noise from the party. If I had a gun, but I threw that one away.

Maybe I should take him out of the freezer for New Year’s Eve.

I tried counting sheep once. It didn’t work. I couldn’t sleep even when I was already tired. I rested but it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t replace deep sleep. I can’t remember my dreams. I try to but nothing’s there. I used to have happy dreams when I was a kid. Going places with my parents, having special days, not that any of it ever happened. My parents are dead now and so are my dreams.

And so is the guy in the basement.

I just woke up. I guess I fell asleep after all. It’s six-forty. I might as well make some coffee and see if the paper’s here. That cold wind really hit me when I opened the front door for my paper. They put the newspaper in a plastic bag to keep it dry. The coffee’s ready.

Maybe I’ll have breakfast downstairs so I have someone to talk to.

Michael Woll

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“FROZEN” – 2

“Honest Ron, I didn’t mean to shoot you. You know things get out of hand sometimes and the gun was sitting there. But we’re friends now. I know you forgive me. Wait. I think I heard something outside. Gotta go Ron.” I closed the freezer door and climbed up the stairs.

I looked out the front window. The Olsen boys were clearing the snow off my driveway and sidewalk. They got their dad’s snowplow and shovels. For ten bucks, it’s a great deal. I’m gonna take a shower and get dressed.

Ron never has anything to say.

I watched some morning news and a few lame talk shows on tv. What’s for lunch? I started doing a mental survey of  what was available in the kitchen. Then I saw Rose Gettings heading to my front door. She was eighty-two, a widow and a general pain in the ass to me.

Maybe I can get Rose and Ron together.

I opened the door before she rang the doorbell. “Come in Mrs. Gettings. Let me take your coat. You can leave your boots by the door.”

“Good morning Thomas. Happy New Year.”

“Not till tomorrow but thanks. The same to you.” We sat down facing each other on the couch. “Tonight’s the big party across the street,” I continued. “I hope it’s not as bad as last year’s when the police finally broke it up and sent everyone home.”

“Sometimes when your hearing goes bad it has advantages like tonight,” Rose smiled. “I’ll take out my hearing aid and go to bed like usual. Thomas dear, could you make me a cup of tea?”

“Sure.” I went to the kitchen and turned on the tea kettle. “I guess your husband committed suicide to get away from you.”

“I can’t hear you. What did you say?”

I returned with her tea. We sat quietly for several minutes as she sipped her tea. Suddenly, I said,”Did you hear that? In the basement like a door opening and closing?”

“No. I didn’t hear anything,” Rose responded. “Are you sweating Thomas? Are you ill?”

I hadn’t realized sweat was on my face. “I’m okay. I should take a nap later; it could be a long night.”

“You know Thomas, you’re always welcome to come over since we’re both alone. I made some oatmeal cookies this morning. If you feel better, just stop and visit.”

I helped Rose on with her coat. “I’ll call you later,” I said opening the door. As I watched her leave, I heard that sound again.

I ran down the steps not knowing what I would find. But everything was normal. I turned on all the basement lights and walked around looking for I don’t even know what. Finally, I faced the freezer and opened the door. Ron had some Popsicles next to his head and tatter tots by his feet. Yet he seemed to smile or was he laughing at me?

“Ron, if you are gonna live here with me, you can’t bother my guests. No more noise. No more opening and closing that door. If you can’t follow my rules, then out you go to the trash. And no one will talk to you ever again!” I slammed the door and quickly turned off all the lights.

Michael Woll

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“FROZEN” – 3

I remember when I met Ron. He was a middle aged man wearing a dark suit and tie. When he knocked on the door, I saw him holding a clipboard. Usually, I ignore people that came to my house uninvited. It was late afternoon and I was bored. Why not answer the door?

“Good day. My name is Ron. I’m following up with the U.S. Census Bureau. You never filed the proper forms. Can I come in for a few minutes?”

“Sure. Come in. Would you like some coffee?”

We talked over coffee. Ron jotted down my answers. He seemed like a real nice guy. I hadn’t had a good conversation in a long time. The clipboard was placed on the coffee table. But we kept talking.

“Thomas, this is my last stop for today. I’m actually about a month late getting this finished. The federal government doesn’t care. They never know where I am or what I’m doing.”

“As long as the check’s in the mail,” I laughed. It felt good to laugh again.

“Can I have more coffee,” Ron asked.

“Let me put on another pot. I wanted to show you something in the basement.” He followed me down the stairs; he wouldn’t be going back upstairs again.

I pulled out my pistol. “Look at this. I’ve never used it but I think I could shoot a burglar if I had to.”

Ron stepped back,”Put that away Thomas!”

I flipped off the safety,”Don’t tell me you’re afraid.”

You guessed it! The gun goes off and Ron goes down. What a mess! Blood everywhere, my clothes, all over the floor and, of course, Ron. For the next few hours, all I did was clean and mop. Then, what to do with Ron now that he is no longer among the living? The freezer. It was the perfect place for Ron.

I did remember to fish out his car keys. Fortunately, he had parked in my driveway so I just pulled his car forward into the garage and closed the garage door. I grabbed a large trash bag and filled it with Ron’s clipboard and all of my clothes, even my shoes. I’ll miss those shoes they were so comfortable.

I have to do something with that body in the basement.

I was washing the dinner dishes. Doesn’t take long for one person except cleaning the frying pan. New Year’s Eve was getting closer by the hour. And I still had That Problem. Do I really want to start the new year with Ron here?

When you watch movies like “Rear Window,” they always wrap the dead body in a rug and carry it out the door. That’s not gonna happen. He’s frozen and probably weighs a ton. Remind me never to answer the door. Don’t talk to strangers – now that’s funny!

If they shoot off fireworks, it might wake up Ron. We don’t want that to happen.

Michael Woll

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“FROZEN” – 4

Ron is on the move. It took all my energy to push him up the stairs. I thought I’d have a heart attack before I reached the side door. I positioned his car with the back door open so I could push Ron into the back seat. It actually worked.

I felt like I needed a drink or two. But there was no time. It was dark and people were arriving for the big party. No one would notice my driving Ron’s car. Where shall we go Ron? Any suggestions?

We drove for twenty miles. A lot of people are out driving tonight. The car’s heater takes some of the chill out of the air.

“Hey Thomas, I’m starting to thaw.”

“Don’t talk while I’m driving!” The nerve of that guy. I take him out on the town and he doesn’t appreciate it.

“I can feel my fingers and toes.”

“No you can’t! Stop talking Ron.”

“Can we get a drink while we’re out? No ice in mine.”

I pulled off the road nearing hitting a big pile of snow. “That’s enough from you! If you want out, get out now.” We sat for several minutes in silence. Passing cars honked at me but I ignored them. Finally, I was back on the road again. Maybe I should drive the car into the lake. It would sink to the bottom and no one would find him till spring.

“My cold, cold heart . . .”

“Ron, stop singing. You have a terrible singing voice and I’m trying to drive.” The road was partially snow-covered. It had been lightly snowing again. Ten more minutes and I’ll be rid of Ron and this car. Of course, I’ll have to walk back or grab a cab. But it will finally be over.

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

“I’m turning on the radio. No more of your singing.” Damn radio doesn’t work. No CD’s available either. “I’m not listening to you anymore.”

“Cold as ice, ice ice baby – I got a million of ‘em.”

“Can’t hear you.”

“Thomas, let me drive. I never get to do anything.”

I didn’t respond. The lake would be in front of me in a few minutes. Should I move him to the front seat to look like he was driving?

I pulled off to the side of the road. Again, it was very hard and Ron was very heavy. He almost slipped out of my grip. Now I know what “slippery when wet” means. I pushed the passenger seat all the way back and barely got him in the seat. Talk about a real stiff!

I was driving and I could see the lake at last.

“Let me drive now that I’m in the front seat. This is my car you know.”

“Ron, it’ll all be over soon. You’ll be spending a long time in this car,” I laughed.

I made a sharp left turn toward the lake. I felt Ron slide over suddenly. Did I feel his breath on me?

“I can reach the wheel!”

We fought over the wheel. When I looked up, the car was airborne landing with a loud crash in the lake. I reached for the door handle but the car was already sinking deeper and deeper.

I looked at Ron and he smiled or was he laughing at me? “You and me for eternity!”  Who said that?

Michael Woll

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“G H O S T” – 1

The shrill sound echoed through the house waking me in the darkness. I tried the lights again but they failed to respond. Grabbing my flashlight I stumbled down the long staircase nearly tripping and falling several times. The small beam of light cut into the black night. I reached the bottom step and stopped to listen for the sound. There it was once more!

My flashlight fought the losing battle of guiding me safely down the center hallway. I tried to be calm and fight off the anxiety and horror that filled my brain. But it was impossible. All the sleepless nights, all the unexplainable noises were tearing me apart. My wife had left me days ago. I don’t even remember when that happened.

I stood outside the study and threw open the door. “Show yourself damn it! This is my house now not yours!” Only the silence surrounded me. My flashlight searched the many bookcases and a big desk in the back of the room by the window. Nothing was there except a layer of dust. The door slammed shut!

I screamed and screamed! I couldn’t control my emotions any longer. I reached for the door knob but it was locked from the outside. Out of nowhere a cold hand touched the back of my neck.

I must have passed out because I woke up on the floor of the study. The early morning light was filling the room. I stood and wondered what I should do next. The study door was wide open as if it had never been closed. What was that cold hand in the middle of the night?

It wasn’t always like this supernatural war going on now. There were good times too. I remember when Megan and I moved in. We directed the movers from Allied Van Lines from room to room until the afternoon had turned to twilight.

We decided to celebrate and jumped in the Buick for the short ride to town. A good steak dinner and a cold bottle of wine were what the doctor ordered for tonight.

As I started the car and headed down the long driveway, I saw Megan turn and look at the mansion that was our new home. The smile on her face quickly turned to terror. “I saw something, someone in the window,” she said and appeared to be trembling.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I tried to laugh it off. “You’re tired. You’re seeing things.”

“I know what I saw!”

We were seated in the back of Hal and Jean’s restaurant, a local place that the realtor had recommended. Not a whole lot to choose from in Weathero, PA. At least the Shell station was across the street.

By the second glass of wine, Megan seemed more like herself. The steaks arrived just as she finished her salad. “I’m sure I was seeing things,” she said sipping her white zinfandel.

I was cutting my steak when a man approached our table. “Hi, I’m Hal Jenkins, the owner of this wonderful restaurant. Don’t let me interrupt you. I heard you bought the Kimbrall mansion down the street. I wanted to welcome you to town.”

“We’re Robert and Megan Sommers, originally from Detroit. Nice to meet you,” I extended my hand and shook hands with Hal.

“Does this mean we get a free dessert,” Megan laughed as she reached for her wine glass.

Hal smiled,”Sure, I’ll throw in a couple pieces of pie. That’s Jean’s speciality. Anyway, I wanted to warn you about your new house. About it being haunted. You’re going to hear a lot of stories from people in town. Don’t let that scare you off. I’m sure just because old tycoon Kimbrall was murdered there doesn’t mean there’s really a ghost living in the mansion.”

Michael Woll

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“G H O S T” – 2

I woke up while Megan was sound asleep. For some reason, I was drawn to the staircase. At the bottom of the steps was a small figure dressed all in white. It was more of a blur than a clear picture. Whatever it was it appeared to be dancing in the darkness. I went back to bed and decided not to mention this to Megan.

This morning the cable guy showed up and hooked up my computer. We had a quick breakfast and I walked back to the study. “I’m going online and see if I can find anything about the history of this house,” I told her but I really was looking up “ghosts.”

Megan called after me,”I’ll be unpacking the kitchen. Don’t spend all day on the computer. There’s still a lot to do around here.”

I bounced around to different websites and was overwhelmed by all the information on ghosts. They seemed to be everywhere: hotels, prisons, asylums, bridges, mansions, even schools. There were sightings in every state. I focused some time on our new home state of Pennsylvania. Gettysburg dominated with hundreds of ghost tales from the battlefields and hospitals. Dead men in their uniforms were still walking the fields.

Before I knew it, Megan was at the door. “Time for lunch. We need to shop for groceries soon. We are out of everything.”

As I left the study, I noticed the temperature was much warmer even in the hallway. I made a mental note to wear a sweater on my return to the study.

“So what did you find out?” Megan asked.

I stirred my bowl of soup. “Nothing on Kimbrall yet. But I did read about ghosts. There was a story from the 1800′s about a woman called Bloody Mary who was burned at the stake for being a witch. If you go there at night, the tree will bleed.”

“How horrible!”

“There’s orphanages that burned to the ground killing all the children. Asylums that were taken over by the patients in rebellions killing the staffs. All have ghost sightings. Bridges everywhere seem to be haunted by people jumping off or children being thrown off into the water.”

“Enough!”

“I’m sorry. It is interesting but I’ll concentrate on Kimbrall next time.”

After doing my own unpacking and fixing dinner, I returned to the study. I remembered to wear a sweater because the room was much colder. Okay Kimbrall, I thought, what secrets are you hiding?

Benjamin L. Kimbrall III came from a long line of real bastards. They were wealthy for generations, owned factories that employed children until the labor laws stopped it from happening. Then they bought asylums throughout the state. People were tortured. Deaths were covered up by the orderlies.

Kimbrall II had this mansion built in the early 1900′s. It was a real showcase and even had a US president for dinner. The gardens were beautifully landscaped with a colorful mix of flowers and trees. The parties were legendary. Then it happened.

The troublesome teen, Kimbrall III, met a young girl at a summer party. Rosie was the twelve year old daughter of his dad’s business partner. They walked together around the vast grounds. What happened next was never clear but Rosie’s body was found floating in the pool with marks on her neck. It was never the same at the Kimbrall estate. Then stories began about the ghost of Rosie walking at night.

Kimbrall III succeed his father and drank through most of the family money. When he was found murdered, no one was surprised. His body was discovered at the bottom of the steps with a broken neck. Was his ghost also here?

Michael Woll

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