This is a short, Paranormal Romance in celebration of Halloween.
She was cold and hurt. Again.
He had been drunk. Again.
This had been the worst one yet. As soon as he went to sleep, Kelly was going to leave and call the woman’s shelter. Perhaps he already was asleep. She didn’t hear him and now that her headache was easing a little, she realized it was way too cold. Had he set the AC to freeze in his drunken stupor?
She slowly opened her eyes, expecting the headache to worsen in the morning light. But there wasn’t any light.
Cold. It was so damn cold. And she realized she was still nude and laying on the floor. Wait a minute! Their bedroom had hardwood floors as did most of their home. She felt bare concrete under her. No wonder she was cold!
Tentatively, she reached out and her fingers brushed a concrete block. “Honey?” Her soft voice was totally lost in the darkness. Quickly rolling over, she felt her knuckles tear against another concrete surface, above her. “Honey! Where am I?” This tumbled out of her almost as a shout.
It only took a few seconds of scrambling about on her back to realize she was in a concrete box. Smooth on all sides except the one where she felt the rough edges of the blocks. The smell of curing cement finally woke her completely.
Kelly tore at the walls until her fingernails were gone and screamed until the air ran out.
Marty stared at the framed, eight by ten photograph on the wall directly above his computer monitor. It was dated three years earlier and showed a shiny new backhoe with a stunning blonde in a string bikini and clear plastic high heels. She was posing with one hand up on a giant tire and the other on her hip. The smile was provocative.
After a few moments of this recent morning ritual, Marty whispered to himself. “There’s no fool like an old fool.”
“What’s that, Marty?” The techie he’d hired to set up his rebuilt computer network sat on the floor, a cable for the backup hard drive in hand.
“Just my morning reminder that I should be more careful.” The contractor pushed his well-worn office chair back and stood up. At six foot two and one hundred and ninety pounds, he was lean and strong as an ox. Laugh lines, a well-earned tan and a few strands of gray hair were the only indications of his nearly forty eight years in the south Florida sun.
“Well, I’ve got two worksites to keep on track and only one foreman left. So that means I’ll be out until late afternoon. If you need anything, call my cell. Lock the office when you leave.”
As expected, his old friend and lead foreman had things under control at the new house site. They were ahead of schedule and if it finished as planned, there was a nice bonus in the contract for early Certificate of Occupancy.
“Hi there, Fred.”
“Oh! Hey there, Marty.” Fred Granger had been a foreman on his team for almost ten years. Marty hated to see him forced back out in the field after having his own office and other perks. “What’s the latest?”
“Yesterday was another wasted day in court while the damn attorneys try to suck more blood from the stone. I swear. There are times I think they are working together, just to see how much they can milk from this divorce.”
Fred looked concerned. “What now?”
Marty shook his head. “Ginger and her attorney have convinced the judge that not only does she get the house, her car and one-half of the company I spent the last twenty years building, but…”
Fred gave him a minute before prompting. “But what?”
“She’s accusing me of putting her through extreme mental anguish and in order to avoid putative damages, I need to attend divorce consoling sessions with her at about a hundred bucks a session. And it comes out of my pocket.”
It was Fred’s turn to shake his head. “I can’t believe the judge is buying all that shit. What’s your attorney doing about it?”
“He’s filed several papers over the last month, but I’m starting to think the only side the judges and lawyers are on is their own.” He looked at his watch. “Damn! I almost forgot. I’m supposed to head over to pick up the final check on the Simpson’s project. The last couple of checks barely covered payroll, but that didn’t include me. The idea of having your own company is to take home some cash once in a while.”
* * * * *
William Simpson the third looked like he meant it while apologizing. “Really, Marty, I had no idea this was going to happen. One of my partners cleared out the company coffers and split for parts unknown. We thought we were recovering, albeit slowly, but now it looks like we may just have to close about half our locations. I just don’t have the cash resources to cover the last payment.”
“You do realize that I’m on the ropes here, too?” Marty was barely holding his temper. The poor little rich kid was trying to avoid shelling out almost two hundred thousand that was to be the final payment on a million and a half dollar remodeling job on his beach front mansion.
“Look Marty. I’ve no free cash right now, but I have a suggestion. I just foreclosed on a really nice place that is easily worth a half mil or more. The owner left town last year and it’s been empty ever since. Let me show it to you. If you like it, we can call it even. You should be able to turn it over for much more than what I owe. Besides, you’ve been living in a dump rental every since your separation. You might want to just keep it for yourself.”
Marty just shook his head. At this point, what else could he do?
Camping in Splendor
Marty continued shaking his head in disgust. The house might have been worth five hundred thousand a few years ago. But now that the bubble had burst, and it had been empty for awhile, teenage vandals had trashed a couple of back windows, spray painted graffiti on some of the walls and plugged up the toilets. He would be lucky to move it for a hundred and fifty thousand in the current market.
“I know it needs some TLC, but it’s the best I can do right now, Marty.”
“Bill, you know as well as I do that this is far short of what you owe me. I’d have to pump at least forty thousand into making it look good enough to sell. I really would like to have the money you owe me.”
Bill’s face hardened and he shoved his hands into the pockets of the thousand dollar suit. “I’m really sorry to hear that, Marty. I checked with my attorneys and accountants and they say it will be at least six to nine months before I’ll have that much leeway in my cash flow. Naturally, I’ll give you their contact information and your attorney can discuss it with them.”
Marty clenched his fists and gave serious consideration to just walking out before answering. “You know damn well that I can’t afford to wait six months. My divorce settlement is finishing this weekend and I’ve barely enough to cover my payroll. Even so, I’m going to have to layoff at least four people.”
“As I said, I’m really sorry to hear…” The asshole had the sincere act down pat. “But look at it this way. If you take this place, you can save the twelve hundred a month you’re paying for rent right now, live here and remodel one room at a time. In a few months, it will be ready to go and with some new paint and window glass, you should be able to move it for more than I owe you.”
* * * * *
Fred shook his head, too. “Man, what an asshole. It’s going to take some time to fix this place.”
The house sat back from the street with a U-shaped driveway in front. There was a two car garage on one end of a two-story white faux-southern style mansion with a couple of columns supporting a small second-story porch over the formal entrance. The place had a huge open-concept kitchen and great room with four bedrooms, a library or office and three baths. All the screens around the pool had been ripped out and the pool itself held about six inches of some murky green sludge.
Marty agreed. “Yeah, but I didn’t have any choice and he knew it. I’m the clear owner of this place now and the way the market is going, it will probably be home for the next couple of years.”
“I must admit, it’s in a nice, quiet neighborhood and with five acres, it’s considered a mini-ranch. The zoning will allow you to keep a couple of horses.”
“Hah! Right! Can you see me taking care of horses? I actually have a better idea. The back half of the property is hidden from the road and I checked the zoning. I’m allowed to have a machinery shed or up to a four car garage back there. I’m going to convert the unfinished basement into our new office and put in a machinery shop out back. Most of our equipment we can move from site to site and only keep a few pieces here. That way, I can lease our current office and yard to help with the cash flow.”
Fred stroked his chin and thought about that for a moment. “Well, if the neighbors don’t complain, I think it might just work.”
“I’ve already talked to my immediate neighbors. They each have more horses than are allowed and one has a hot rod shop out back. Nobody is going to make waves.”
“In that case, old man, let’s finish cleaning out the master suite and moving your furniture.”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘old man’? I can still outwork your punk ass.”
The two old friends continued joking as they worked the afternoon away. When the bedroom furniture was in place, they shook hands and Fred headed for home.
Marty watched his buddy and foreman drive off, then decided to make the bed, grab a shower and then hunt down some dinner. The rest could wait until tomorrow.
* * * * *
The master suite had just needed cleaning and a coat of paint to be livable. The downstairs was another matter. He replaced the broken windows and cleaned up all the debris left by the vandals. The kitchen needed new appliances and some plumbing repairs. The pool would get drained and cleaned to keep down the mosquito population, but it was low on the repair list.
He heard the pickup in the drive and met Fred at the door. “Hey there! I didn’t expect to see you today.”
Fred shrugged and answered. “Well, I figured I could either sit in the bass boat, getting sunburned and bored or I could give you a hand with some of this crap. It is going to cost you, however.”
“Oh? And just what will that cost be?”
Fred grinned. “My darling wife and daughter are going to come by sometime this afternoon, with lunch and a twelve-pack of beer. You and I are going to sit around, drink and trade lies. While they do some cleanup. She’s going to drive me home later.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad…”
“Oh! Forgot to mention. You’re paying for the food and beer.”
Marty just grinned and nodded.
* * * * *
A little while later, they were cleaning out some junk building materials from the basement when Fred stopped and looked around. “You know, it’s kinda strange.”
“Well, the kids did a pretty good job of painting obscene graffiti and breaking stuff on the main floor. Even took care of a few windows and carpets on the second-story, but it doesn’t look like they even came down here. I wonder why?”
“Yeah. I noticed that too, but was just counting my blessings. It might be because there was no power in the house and unless they had flashlights, this is a pretty dark and dank basement. I’m going to have to make sure it’s well sealed and run a dehumidifier for awhile, before we start storing plans and other paperwork.”
“Well, you’ve already got the AC running overtime. Maybe you should cut back a bit and save on the utility bill until we’re ready.”
Marty stopped and looked around. “Now that is weird. It’s been comfortable the last couple of days and it never occurred to me to turn it on.”
“Seriously? Then why is it so damn cold down here?”
His friend walked over and checked the thermostat. “It’s turned off and the thermometer says it’s seventy three right now.” He looked around. “You’re right though. It does feel colder than that in places. Must be some sort of weird draft.”
The stairway came down in the middle of the basement. It took less than a week to put up a dividing wall and a couple of doors. One end of the basement already had a wall with a door that created a narrow storeroom. The basement had a concrete floor and concrete block walls that had only been painted. Another week and they had drywalled it and put down a manufactured wooden floor he got at a close-out sale. The main area became a company conference room and the smaller area was set aside for some desks, filing cabinets, printers, large plotter and computer workstations. The Company had a new home office.
* * * * *
Fred hung up the phone, killed the monitor and pushed himself back from the desk. “There! That sumuvabitch is finally done.”
Marty looked up, thankful for an excuse to tear his eyes away from the spreadsheet. “And just which sumuvabitch are we talking about this time?”
“I just got a call from the Curtis job site. The building inspector just signed off on the Certificate of Occupancy and the owner just confirmed I can pick up the final check in the morning.”
“Now that is some good news. A couple more like that and we might actually start back on the road to being a real company again.” He paused and looked back at the spreadsheet. “Screw it! Let’s get a beer. I can finish this first thing in the morning.”
Fred grabbed his hat and headed up the stairs with Marty right behind him.
The boss shut off the lights at the top of the stairs and then stopped. “Wait a minute.” He turned and looked back down the darkened steps. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what, Marty?”
“I dunno. I could have sworn I heard something just then, when I flipped the light switch.” He shook his head. “Must have been some weird bird outside. Let’s go grab that beer.”
* * * * *
Marty woke up early, as usual. The first rays of dawn were painting the eastern horizon while he buttered a bagel and poured a cup of coffee. Always conservative, he left the conference room lights off and just flipped on the office lights. When the monitor warmed up, that dang spreadsheet was still there. He resigned himself to wrap it up in the next hour or so before Fred and the receptionist arrived.
A few minutes later, all the numbers were coming together to show they were still in good shape on that job, when he suddenly felt a cold chill wash over him. He shivered, took a sip of warm coffee and glanced up towards the HVAC vent. A six-inch piece of thread hung limply. There was no air coming out of it. He glanced at the little weather station on his desk. It read a balmy 73 degrees. “What the hell is going on here?” He muttered to himself, then got up to see if he could figure out where the chilly air was coming from.
It was starting to become annoying because over the last couple of weeks, several of the team who had been working alone, had complained of unusual drafts and faulty HVAC. “There has to be some hidden vent… But where, damnit.” His muttering continued as he walked around, with a coffee in one hand.
The door to the storage room had a small air vent at the bottom. It didn’t seem like much, but he was grasping at straws. They had a couple of old file cabinets and an archival rack on the right end that held rolls of plans from completed jobs.
He opened the door, and sure enough, it felt much cooler inside. He glanced towards the shadowed shapes of rolled plans and flipped on the light.
“Oh!” A pained whisper came from the vacant, other end of the room.
His head snapped around and he froze in shock. A nude woman was cowering in the corner, pressed tightly against the concrete wall and staring up at the lights. She was blinking rapidly and whimpering softly.
“Miss?” Marty asked softly. “May I ask what you’re doing here and where are your clothes?”
Her attention shifted to him and her eyes grew wide with fear. She opened her mouth in a soundless “O” of terror and vanished.
Marty stood with his hand on the door, staring at the empty corner. He knew for a fact that this door was the only way in or out of the storage area. He also noticed that the room was no longer freezing cold.
His experience seemed odder the more he thought about it and by the end of the day, he had almost convinced himself that perhaps he should limit himself to only a single beer when celebrating with Fred. It also seemed like a real good idea not to mention seeing spooks when he was alone.
The team put in a good day’s work, then one by one, they headed home and to their families. Marty finished the afternoon at a job site, then spent an hour or so eating, reading a newspaper and nursing a coffee before heading home.
He took a shower and went to bed early, only to pop wide awake an hour or so past midnight.
“This is ridiculous.” He repeated it several times, quietly. Then, he turned on the light, got up, looked in the mirror and sternly told himself, “There is no such thing as ghosts. I’m a grown man that had too much to drink and was way too tired and stressed to be working last night.” His reflection stared back at him.
After almost a minute, he nodded and made a wry face. “So why don’t you get dressed and go confront the non-existent spook?”
Armed with a hot cup of coffee, he headed back downstairs.
There were no signs of a young woman, nude or dressed, and it felt like a proper seventy something degrees. He stood by the storage room door and felt no chill, nor draft. After taking a couple more sips of coffee, Marty straightened his back, opened the door and stepped inside. It felt just a bit cooler than the other room.
Then he heard a whisper of sound. A very high, almost inaudible keening coming from the same dark corner as before. He squinted and thought he saw a shadow, then flipped the light switch.
The naked woman had been crouched in the corner with her arms over her head. When the light came on, her head snapped up with a flip of long, blonde hair and once more, she was whimpering and staring at the light.
Marty said nothing. Just stood there, watching her and trying to memorize her features. After a moment, she blinked as if her eyes had finally grown accustomed to the light and she started to look around. When her eyes met his, she froze in place and they stared at each other for a few moments. Then, she gave her head a slight shake and was gone.
Marty stood there, listening and looking around the room for another five minutes or more and finally reached for the light switch. He stopped, left it on and quietly closed the door.
He tried working but gave it up as a waste of time an hour later and went back to bed.
“Hello, Mr. Roberts. How can I help you, today?” The county clerk’s assistant had seen him many times.
“Hi there, Marsha. I need some information, if you would be so kind. Can you give me the names and any other data you have on the previous owners of the place I’m in now?”
A few minutes later, she came back with a print out. “It’s actually a fairly new home. That development is only about twenty years old and that house was built about seventeen years ago. There have only been three owners, including yourself. When Jeff Barton won some sailing championship, his parents gave him that property. He used his winnings to build the house and it was a party mansion for about five years.”
“Then what happened?” Marty inquired.
“Kelly happened, is what. Best thing that boy ever ran into. She calmed him down and the rowdy parties stopped. For awhile, anyway.”
“They started to party too much?”
She shook her head. “It usually wasn’t there, but it got pretty bad. I don’t know all the details, but it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. You see, Jeff really liked to drink and when Kelly wouldn’t let him have a dozen or so friends over for a party, he would just head down to one of the local watering holes and tie one on. He came close to losing his license with a DUI charge on more than one occasion. One of his good friends and drinking buddies was a pretty good attorney.”
Things were starting to make sense to Marty. “And what finally happened? Did they get divorced?”
She made a sad grimace. “Nobody really knows. They were deeply in debt, the bank was getting ready to foreclose on the place and one day, they left town. A month or more later, Jeff was arrested for DUI, assaulting a police officer and assault and battery against a female bartender. He spent almost a year in jail before being paroled. It wasn’t until a few weeks after his arrest that someone asked him about his wife. He told everyone they had left the state due to financial problems and had a bad falling out. Supposedly she took the last of their cash and left him to return to live with her parents.”
“Where are they?”
“That’s just it, she never made it home and nobody has seen her since. They questioned him about it, but he just clammed up.”
Marty nodded and asked. “Where is he now?”
“Dead. Just a week out of prison, he got into a bar room brawl and got a knife in the ribs.”
* * * * *
Back in the basement, he started searching the local paper website for articles referring to the Bartons. He found a couple of photographs, including a wedding announcement that showed a cheerful, blonde. Shocked, even though he had been half expecting it, Marty sat back in his chair and just stared at the happy couple. He had to admit Kelly looked a lot nicer in a sundress and smiling than nude and whimpering in the dark.
The judge did not appear happy. “It has become blatantly obvious to me that neither side in this divorce has fully come to any sort of agreement.” She shook her head in disgust. “I hereby order both parties back to the bargaining table for a period of ninety days. At the end of that time, you will present this court with a finalized agreement with absolutely no areas of further debate. Furthermore, if this has not been accomplished, I will freeze all assets of both parties and hold all of you in contempt of court. Have I made myself clear?”
Ginger’s attorney started to open her mouth and the judge pointed the gavel at her. “If I hear anything other than yes, your honor, I will hold you in contempt of this court and you will spend the weekend in a cell.” She paused, her gaze moving between the two lawyers. “I said, have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, your honor.” Was echoed by both sides.
The judge smacked the gavel harder than needed and left the room in an angry swirl of robes.
Ginger turned and gave Marty a withering glare. “This is all your fault, you fucking asshole!”
Marty just grimaced, shook his head and tried to walk past her.
She stepped in front of him. “All I want is what is rightfully mine. I deserve to be happy, too.”
He shrugged. “I have agreed to most of this game of legalized theft, but I will not pay for your therapist for the rest of your life. You and that ambulance-chaser already had me break up my company as well as agree to let you have the house I built more than ten years ago and a fifty thousand dollar car I told you I couldn’t afford even before the divorce and you still want more?” He slowly shook his head. “No! Find some other poor sucker to mend you black soul.”
At that point, her attorney put an arm between them and his attorney guided him to one side and out of the courtroom.
Once out in the bright sunshine, his lawyer said, “We’re going to let them simmer for the next week. Then, I’ll rewrite the same basic package we agreed on two month’s ago and present it as a final offer.”
Marty nodded agreement took off his jacket and tie and tossed them over the seat. “Let me know when we can wrap this up. I am tired of playing games with that bitch.”
It was after midnight on Friday and Marty was wide awake. The book he was trying to read could not hold his attention and he needed to do something. So, he got dressed in jeans, teeshirt and deck shoes and went down to the conference room. The wetbar had one of those fancy new one cup coffee machines and a whole case of supposed gourmet flavor packs next to it. He chose a nice strong one and a few minutes later, was sitting at his desk, browser open to a news website.
He hadn’t seen the need to turn on the right neon room lighting, as his desk lamp held an old-fashioned incandescent bulb. It gave off a color-corrected warm light that was easy on the eyes.
While sipping the strong, dark brew, he heard a soft noise and glanced to the side. The door to the storage closet was closed, but ever since he’d seen her, he’d been leaving a light on. A shadow moved along the ribbon of light from under the door.
He turned back to his monitor and took another sip of coffee. After a moment, he realized he was not going to be able to concentrate on the screen, so he got up and walked over to the closet door.
Slowly, he turned the knob and opened the door. He glanced towards the empty corner and there was nothing showing. A soft sound the other way and he saw her.
The young woman was still nude, but now she was standing, with her back towards him and one arm raised, pressing against the outer wall. He watched her for perhaps twenty seconds, then moved fully through the door and into the room. The door hinge gave a tiny squeak and her head snapped around. Her eyes were wide, terrified and he was afraid she would vanish once more.
“Kelly?” He tried to keep his soft and non-threatening. “That is your name, isn’t it? You don’t have to be afraid. Nothing can hurt you here.”
She had been stepping back when he started to speak, but the second time he named her, she froze. Her lips pursed and then moved into several, conflicting expressions. Then, she glanced down as if just realizing she was naked and covered her breasts with her arms. Shrinking back against the wall, she was shivering as if terribly cold, then just faded away.
“That’s okay, Kelly. I won’t hurt you. Any time you want to…” Want to do what? The contractor thought to himself. What could either of them do? He stood there for a few minutes, then left the door ajar and went back to his desk. He just sat there, staring at the screen saver for another ten minutes, before something occurred to him.
Upstairs, in one of the first-floor rooms that had been designated for storage, he dug through a half-dozen disposable file boxes until he found the right one.
Ginger and Marty has honeymooned on an island resort in the Bahamas. After she had been so impressed with the super-fluffy guest robes, Marty had bought one for her. Once back in Florida, it had been added to the pile of expensive gifts he’d given her that she had left in the closet. He dumped it from the designer shopping bag and shook it out. It had been folded away for a couple of years, but looked and smelled brand new. In one corner, he had an antique wooden coat stand and an old floor lamp that had belonged to his parents. He carried all three items downstairs. He put the lamp and coat stand in the same corner were he had first seen the shy spirit. A hundred watt bulb cast a nice, warm glow in the corner. He hung the robe on the coat stand, turned off the overhead neon lights and, once again, left the closet door ajar.
He had to sign for a registered letter. Inside, Ginger’s attorney notified him that she had taken out a restraining order and unless they were in the presence of their attorneys or officer’s of the court, they were to maintain at least one hundred feet separation.
Marty called his attorney. “What the hell is this all about? I’ve never, ever raised a hand to her. Even when she has threatened and slapped me, I’ve resisted the urge to throttle the bitch. So why this and why now?”
The lawyer said is was, “Because based on your antagonistic reactions to her perfectly reasonable requests for mediation, she feels threatened and is afraid.”
“But… But…” Marty was trying to think of some way to reply to such idiocy.
The lawyer continued. “This is only a gambit to make you look bad in front of the court. Don’t worry, I’ll file the appropriate protests and you will probably have to sign a similar restraining order on her.”
* * * * *
A week later, his lawyer called. “Have you heard from your estranged wife or her attorney?”
Momentarily taken aback, Marty replied. “I thought that is what I was paying you to do? I have a restraining order, remember?”
“Well, I don’t know what is going on right now. I sent some papers over the first of the week and I’ve not heard anything back. That is not normal. I just thought I would check with you, before I headed over to their office.”
Less than an hour later, he called back. “Marty, you sitting down?”
“Now what the hell does she want?”
“It’s not that. It seems that on Tuesday, they had an afternoon appointment and her attorney took the rest of the day off.”
“I just finished reading the police report. Emergency personnel responded to a call from a hotel on the beach and pronounced him dead upon arrival at the hospital. Turns out they were having a little romantic interlude when he suffered a massive coronary.”
Marty thought about it for a moment, before answering. “All things considered, no one can say I liked the guy, but I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Where does that leave us, though?”
“One of his partners will have to review the case files and they will probably schedule at least one more meeting with us before the judge’s deadline. I have no idea how that will turn out, however. They might ask the judge for an extension.”
Once again, Marty found himself sipping a hot cup of coffee and staring at an unseen webpage.
His peripheral vision caught the shadow movement and he paused.
The rest of the crew thought he had been acting a bit nutz when he had told them to leave the coat stand and lamp alone and always leave the light on and the door slightly open. But as the boss and owner of the place, it was his call. That is how things had remained for more than a week.
He leaned back in his chair, eyes focused on the shadow coming from behind the closet door. Elbows on the chair arms and fingers steepled in front of his chin, Marty decided to give it another try.
“Kelly?” He kept his voice low. “If you’d like to come out and visit, you’re welcome. I’m the only one here right now.”
The shadow didn’t move. Marty waited for about thirty seconds, then repeated himself.
He never saw the door move, but suddenly he was staring at Kelly, wearing the fluffy white robe and a nervous, half-smile on her face. She was clutching the robe tightly about herself.
“Would you like to sit down?” He motioned towards a desk chair a few feet away.
She shook her head.
“Can you speak?”
The ghost stopped smiling and only stared at him as if she hadn’t heard. But just before he was going to repeat himself, her lips trembled and a soft, but hoarse voice whispered. “Thank you.”
Marty opened his mouth to say she was welcome, but she vanished. When he got up to loosen tight muscles, he saw the robe, crumpled on the floor where she had been standing. He picked it up, shook it out and folded it over his left arm. Then, he looked up at nothing at all and whispered, “You are very welcome, Kelly. Feel free to use this anytime.” He hung the robe back on the old coat stand.
* * * * *
It was three days before Marty saw her again. Every morning, he had checked the closet before the team arrived and each time, the robe had been left someplace on the floor in the closet or the back office. Each time, he had shook it out and hung it back where it belonged.
Working on a hunch, he made two cups of coffee. One was his usual and the other was a very strong, aromatic blend. The steaming blend found a home on the desk next to the closet door. He placed his chair facing it, but on the other side of the desk.
This time, he saw her slip between the half-open door. She smiled tentatively and he smiled back. “Come on in. There’s something hot if you like it.” He tilted his head and indicated the steaming blended cup.
Kelly took a couple of tentative steps forward, still clutching the robe tightly. Leaning over the cup, she closed her eyes and took a long, slow sniff. When she opened her eyes again, he saw the first real smile spread over her face. “That smells delightful. Thank you again.” Her voice wasn’t as hoarse this time.
“You are very welcome. I’ll try to remember to make two from now on.”
She tilted her head slightly and asked, “Why are you doing this?”
He shrugged and answered her question with one of his own. “Do you know what happened to you?”
The smile went away and she clutched the robe tighter about her. “Yeah.” It was almost a whisper. “He killed me. I’m dead, is all. Nothing else.”
“To answer your question, Kelly… I’ve never met a ghost before and you looked like you could use a friend.”
She seemed to compose herself, then looked straight back at him. “I think that friend stuff might work both ways. Perhaps you can see me because you’re going through a real rough time right now and need a friend of your own?”
“Hey, Fred. What brings you back here? It’s past your bedtime.”
“Hi, Marty. I just got some info that I thought you should know.”
The two friends headed into the kitchen and Marty popped a couple of beers. “So, what is so important it can’t wait until Monday?”
His partner took a drink and replied, “One of the team is getting married this weekend, so some of the guys threw him a bachelor party.”
“Yeah. I knew he was getting hitched, I’ve even arranged for a cash wending present. But how come you’re all too proud to invite the boss?”
Fred held up his hand. “That was my doing. When I heard where they all wanted to go for the party, I knew you wouldn’t want to tag along.” Before Marty could respond, he continued. “It was at the Foxy Tail Club.”
Marty had to nod agreement. That was Ginger’s old workplace and where he had met her. Even though it was pretty upscale as such clubs went, he had no interest in revisiting it. He shrugged. “Okay. No problem there. I hope everyone had a good time?”
“Maybe too many of us had a good time. Ginger was there. She was partying with some of her dancer friends. They got pretty damn drunk and put on a helluva show.”
“Ginger was dancing again? She swore she would never get back on the pole again.”
“That’s what I had heard, too. But maybe losing her legal-eagle boyfriend was too much and she needed some attention?” He took another drink. “That’s not all, either. She was showing off her new car in the parking lot. A couple of her friends tried to talk her into taking a cab home, but she took off in a brand new Porsche. From what she had told some of the guys while lap-dancing, she had bought it for him right before he up and died on her. She couldn’t see it going to waste.”
“Wow! At that rate, she’s going to burn through all the cash she got from me in the first agreement. I mean after paying off bills and breaking up the company, She only got about eight hundred thousand. That would make for a comfortable living, but between the parties, clothing, attorneys and now a Porsche, I would be surprised if she has half of that left.”
Fred agreed. “Yeah. So, I figured you should know that we can come up with a half-dozen witnesses to her aberrant behavior if your attorney thinks it might help.”
Marty’s cellphone rang and he answered it. His face went slack as he listened to the voice on the other end.
“What was that all about? You look white as a ghost.”
“That was the Sheriff’s department. They wanted to inform me that my wife was just in a serious accident and has been helicoptered to the trauma center.”
* * * * *
“What’s the matter, Marty?”
He jumped. For a change, he hadn’t noticed Kelly, wrapped in her fluffy robe, standing alongside his desk. “Ginger was in an accident late last night. She was drunk and wrecked a hundred thousand dollar car.Fortunately, the airbags save most of her from injury.”
“Only most of her. How has she been hurt?”
“The Sheriff’s Deputy told me that some sort of debris had come through the side of the roof and gave her a severe concussion. The doctors fixed up a couple of minor scratches and said there is no other damage, but she still hasn’t woken up. They are concerned.”
He felt the lightest of touches on his arm when she asked. “And you, Marty? How do you feel?”
The man paused before answering. “I feel sad. I am way past loving her after the way she has treated me the last two years, but I would never wish something like this on her. I’m going to just keep watch, pay the bills and hope she recovers. After she’s on her feet, we can go ahead and finish the divorce.”
* * * * *
“Mr. Marty Roberts?”
The doctor was an older fellow he hadn’t seen before. “Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you, doc?”
“Please sit down. I have a matter of grave importance to discuss with you.” They sat and the elderly doctor cleared his throat before continuing. “The staff attending your wife have conferred with me. I’m on the ethics board, here at this health facility. You see, your wife has been in a non-responsive coma for well over a week. All of her blood work and vital signs show she is the picture of health.”
“Except she won’t wake up.” Marty injected.
“Precisely. I’ve looked at her records as well as her current condition and the EKG is not showing brainwave activity. Even a little wiggle, once in a while, might be a dream or an attempt to wake up. Your wife, on the other hand, has shown no brain wave activity at all for the last five days. The common term is brain-dead.”
Marty said nothing and just stared out the window for a few moments.
The physician continued. “At this point, I must offer the alternative of unplugging her and if we act promptly, the donor card on her license will allow her to live on, while giving life to several other patients.”
Marty understood the doctor’s position, but wasn’t ready for it just yet. “Give us a few more days. I’ll make a decision this coming week.”
He walked into the office with the two cups of coffee and didn’t even stop at his desk. There was a filing cabinet just inside the closet door and he put both cups on top of it. “Kelly? Want some coffee?”
“Always, Marty.” She appeared beside him, still tightly clutching the robe. “What’s the matter?”
“I needed to talk to someone. I don’t expect answers, but more of a sounding board.”
Her voice hid a bit of a smile. “So you decided to chat with a dead woman rather than your best friend or a shrink? I’m flattered, I think.”
He had to give her the benefit of a wry grin. “That is because I know they would both tell me the perfectly logical answer and I’m afraid I would have to agree with them. But something just…”
She leaned over the coffee cup and took a long, appreciative sniff. “Uuhm… This is ambrosia.” Then, she turned serious. “This is about Ginger, isn’t it?”
He nodded and explained what the doctor had told him.
“So, the question is, do you really want her dead? You have to admit, it would solve a lot of problems.”
“No. I don’t want her dead. It would be a terrible waste and besides…” He paused to frame his thoughts. “There is just something that sticks in my craw about it. And that doctor reminded me of a vulture, waiting for a carcass to ripen. I hate the idea I would be feeding that.”
The stood there until the coffee grew cold. Marty was taking small sips of his while Kelly continued to enjoy the fragrance rising from her cup.
“Uh huh?” He looked into the familiar eyes.
“Will you do me a favor?”
His brow furrowed. “Sure. What do you need?”
“Take this.” She opened her arms and let the robe slip off her shoulders and puddle about her feet. For the first time in a couple of months, he saw the beautiful nude woman that had been crying in the corner of the closet. “Go ahead. Pick it up.”
He did as she asked. “But, this is what has been keeping you warm. Why?”
“It will be dawn soon. As soon as you can, I want you to take the robe to your wife and cover her with it. Then talk to her about your honeymoon and that you bought it for her.”
“Do you think it might snap her out of it, Kelly?” He wore a dubious expression.
She shrugged. “Just promise me you’ll give it a try, okay?”
“Okay. But I’ll find you another one, just the same.” But he was talking to empty air.
* * * * *
It had been a rough hour. Marty had spread the white fluffy robe with the Bahamian hotel logo over her still form, then sat on the edge of the bed, talking about the how he had gotten it for her and much fun they had shared for the first year. Eventually, he got tired of talking to himself and with a last glance at the straight lines on the monitors, he visited the men’s room.
Face fresh from some cold water, he walked slowly back to her room, preparing himself for the meeting with her medical team, later that day.
That is when he noticed several people standing around her bed.
“What’s going on?” Asked from the doorway.
One of the physician’s assistants pointed at the monitors. Multiple bands of jiggling lines showed increasing brainwave activity.
He stepped up to the side of her bed, stared unbelieving at the monitors for a moment, then looked down and took her hand. “Ginger? Wake up.” He kept his tone soft, but more than loud enough to be heard over the equipment and surprised comments from the nurses. “Ginger? You need to wake up now.”
She opened her eyes.
He stared, dumbfounded for several seconds. “Ginger? Can you hear me?”
She made a whispering sound and he leaned closer. “Please don’t shout. I can hear you just fine.”
One of the nurses picked up the edge of the robe and the pale woman on the bed grabbed it back. “Please! Don’t take it just now.”
Marty looked a bit confused. “I didn’t think you cared much for it. After all, you left it in the stuff you told me to throw out.”
She took the robe in both hands and clutched it to her breasts. “Are you kidding? I’ve worn this ever since you gave it to me. It’s kept me warm for several months now.”
Marty stuttered for a moment. “Wha…? But…?” Then, he closed his mouth and stared into her eyes. “Kell…”
She held a finger to his lips. “Stop right there, Mr. Roberts. My name is Ginger and I am your wife. As soon as they spring me, we’re going to put a stop to this divorce nonsense, aren’t we?”
~ END ~