CH. 2


“It’s just a raccoon,” Sandy said, eyeing the ceiling. “There’s a hole in the roof… you know, old houses and all. I have to get it fixed soon.”

That’s a huge raccoon, I thought. I was positive someone was walking around up there.

“It sounds like someone’s up in the attic,” I said.

“Oh, no worries. It’s just a raccoon.” Sandy said with a smile. “I’ll look into it later.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. I went to the attic door and opened it, viewing the dusty steps upward. “Maybe I should take a look.”

“You don’t have to. I really need to tidy it up,” Sandy said.

“It’s alright. It’ll just take a sec,” I said as I walked up the groaning steps. Sandy followed and we stopped at the top near the wooden railing. The attic was one huge loft-like room filled with furniture covered with dusty white sheets. The only window was on the front wall. It was round with a cross frame in the center, sectioning off four planes of glass. We were met with silence as we spied the large space.

“See, nothing up here but a bunch of clutter,” Sandy said. “I’m sure it just was a raccoon.”

I didn’t see an animal or anyone else. Maybe my imagination was toying with me because of the eerie feel of the old Victorian. I didn’t want to be irrational and didn’t argue further. “Alright, if you say so.”

We walked down to the first floor, and Sandy offered to show me the basement. “I transformed a small room downstairs in the cellar into an art studio. I’ll finally have the time and space to work on my sculptures. I’m working on some pieces now actually.” Sandy said.

Before she opened the basement door in the hall, across from the bathroom and between the kitchen and sanctuary, my cell phone rang. It was work, so I took the call.

“I’m sorry, Sandy; it’s an emergency at work. There’s been an attempt on a top client’s life. I hate to cut the visit short, but I need to head down to Detroit. I want to see your art studio. I can come back this weekend. How about that?”

“Sure, I understand, work is work. I hope your client is okay.” she said, disappointed.

“You’ve got a great place here. You deserve it. Promise me you’ll make your famous arroz con pollo when I come back?”

“It wouldn’t be famous if your mom hadn’t taught me how to make it. You’ve got a deal,” Sandy said and walked me to the front door. She sent me off with a hug, smiled, waved, then closed the door.

As I pulled out of the driveway onto Arkham Road, I felt horrible about leaving so abruptly. Driving farther away from the house, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed an old worn-out white Lincoln coming down the dirt road behind me. It pulled into Sandy’s driveway. She had another visitor.

I was happy for Sandy and her new house, old as it was, but it left me unsettled. Was there someone in the attic?

I didn’t make it back for arroz con pollo that weekend. The emergency with work kept me busy, so I canceled. I couldn’t keep up with anyone, much less Sandy. I texted and called, but she never responded. Weeks turned into months, and still no contact from her. Almost three months later in late July, I visited Ravensgate to see what was going on.

After the long drive north, I pulled into the driveway from Arkham Road and parked in front of the house. I walked up onto the porch and knocked on the oak door. No answer. After a few more knocks with no response, I peeked inside the picture window. A gap in the curtain allowed me to see inside and catch a glimpse of the living room.

Sandy’s antique furniture was still there. The fireplace and the painting of the house above were barely visible. For a split second, a shadow inside moved past my view, blocking my vision. Someone was inside. I knocked on the door again and still no answer.

Noises came from the back of the house, so I walked along the driveway on the side of the Victorian. Embarking on the backyard, I saw a tall man in his forties, standing in front of the open garage, his back toward me. He wore a red, button-down shirt and jeans.

“Excuse me,” I said as I walked further into the yard.

The man glanced over his shoulder at me and shut the garage door. Unruly, black hair that stopped at the back of his neck. Deep lines penetrated the sides of his mouth and eyes. His skin was worn.

“You’re on private property,” he said.

I didn’t expect the attitude.

“I’m looking for Sandy. She lives here. Is she around?”

“No. She’s not here. I said you’re on private property.”

“Not here? This is her house. Sandy’s a friend of mine.”

“She’s gone. Don’t live here no more.”

“Doesn’t live here?”

“She went missing a while back. Ain’t you seen the news? The police said she up and left. ‘Abandonment,’ they said. The house was searched, and there’s nobody inside.”

“Are you the owner?”

“Nope. Groundskeeper. Now, since we know your friend ain’t here, you best be on your way.”

“Listen, I thought I saw someone in the living room window. Maybe we can have a look inside.”

“The cops already did all the lookin’ and you’re on private property. So get off.” The man said with a raised voice and an intense glare.

I didn’t want an altercation or to have the cops on me. I almost said something smart-assed, but held it in. I turned around, headed for the front yard and the groundskeeper followed. I opened the Jeep’s door and sat in the driver’s seat. The man stopped in the driveway in front of my vehicle. “Like I said, there’s nothing here for you.”

I was irritated but withheld my Scorpio nature and said nothing. Instead, I gave him a hard glare back, then drove off. Time and place for everything. On the way back to Detroit, I stopped at a gas station, filled the tank, and did an internet search on Sandra Breyer in Ravensgate on my phone. The asshole was right.

The Ravensgate Herald, the local paper, did a story on her. The article said it was a missing persons case. It started when she stopped making house payments on the land contract. The owner came by to check on her, but no one answered. Fearing Sandy might have had some type of medical emergency, he called the authorities.

The article described the odd nature of the disappearance, it was as if she vanished from inside her home. Authorities gained access to the house, inspected it, and found no evidence of struggle, breaking and entering, or foul play. Nothing was stolen; her clothes, money, and jewelry were still inside. Her purse sat on the dining room table containing credit cards and her driver’s license. The car was still in the garage, the TV and lights were still on, and a half-eaten plate of rotten spaghetti sat on the kitchen table. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside.

The police investigated but had no leads. They concluded that she might have found a boyfriend, left on her own and didn’t want to be found. I doubted that. It wasn’t like Sandy to leave everything behind. Weeks went by and she didn’t turn up. The house stayed vacant, and her car was repossessed.

For days it weighed on me: the footsteps in the attic. Whose shadow was in the window? Why was the groundskeeper eager to get rid of me? Was Sandy still alive in Ravensgate, kidnapped or held hostage somewhere?

There had to be something the authorities missed. I searched for the owner of the house via the internet with no luck. I drove back to Ravensgate days later to check the city courthouse records and learned who the owner was: one Dale Ortman, a local landlord. I did a quick web search of the name, and I was able to contact him. I showed interest in buying the house and arranged a meeting at the Victorian.

I pulled up to the house as he waited on the porch. The tall African-American man with a graying beard and mustache invited me into the Victorian. We sat in the living room. The house looked exactly the same, except there was a white marble bust of a woman on the fireplace mantel. It wasn’t there before.

I opted not to bring up the groundskeeper just yet. After a few minutes of small talk, we got to the purpose of my visit.

“How did you acquire the property?” I asked.

“I bought the house when it went into foreclosure. The previous owners stopped paying the mortgage,” Dale said. “After buying the house from the bank, I couldn’t rent it. No one showed interest.”

“Did anyone else try to bid on it?”

“No. Lucky for me the city made an error with the public auction date for this house. It was auctioned off the day before the date listed on the Ravensgate city website. I showed up, interested in another house, but won this lovely lady without competition instead. I sold it to the last tenant on a land contract, but she stopped making payments so that ended the deal.”

“I’ll buy it if you’re willing to sell. Cash.” I offered him a price more than the market value.

Dale paused, then looked at me. “You must really like this house.”

“That I do. I love fixer-uppers. But I’ll purchase it at the said price on one condition only.”

“And that is?”

“Leave everything that’s in the entire house here, the furniture, the paintings, everything that the previous tenant owned. I like the style.”

“It all comes with the house anyway. It’s yours if you want it.” Dale said, smiling.

Soon after, the purchase agreement was drawn up for the Victorian. We closed the deal a week later, and I moved my things from Detroit to Ravensgate.