I Tear Down Haunted Houses For A Living

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Who would have guessed that there was a market for tearing down haunted houses?

I’ve been in the construction trade since I was a teenager. I learned how to build and tear down (there really is an art to taking things apart and recycling) commercial buildings and homes.

But it wasn’t my years of experience that got me my first job tearing down a haunted mansion in New Jersey. No. just dumb luck. I heard a rumor and followed it up. Turned out that there was a dilapidated Victorian mansion on the outskirts of a small town near Trenton, New Jersey, and no one wanted the job of leveling the old eyesore.

The owners of the house wanted to use the land for other purposes but couldn’t find anyone to do the job. The house had a bad reputation and locals firmly believed it was haunted. They ran ads offering twice the normal fees to wreck it, but no one seemed interested.

How could I resist that? Some fools believed in ghosts and were offering a damn good reward for taking the place apart. I’ve always recognized an opportunity and seized upon this one. The owners were delighted when I showed up with my crew of four men to take the job. We were all from upstate New York. I didn’t bother telling my crew that the place was supposedly haunted.

I didn’t waste any time renting a wrecking ball, but by the time we got to the house it was getting dark. I rented it for two days, so I wasn’t concerned. I had one of the guys, Ralph,  camp out next to it so no vandals could cause problems. I paid him extra to do that. It was one of the reasons the crew liked to work for me. As bosses go, I’m generous. The rest of us rented rooms in a nearby motel.

Like always, I woke up early and got ready for the day as the sun rose outside of my thinly curtained window. There’s something about starting a new project that I love. Not the guarantee of money (although I admit it helps), it’s the adventure. You never know what you’re going to find, or how long a project will take. My estimates are usually pretty close, but with the owners paying double, I knew it was going to be profitable job.

I ate a light breakfast and left before the rest of the crew. It was a short drive to the house. Along the way I noticed gathering clouds in the distance, but was relying on the local weatherman’s reports that said there wouldn’t be any rain for at least a week. As I pulled up I could see right away something was wrong. The boom was facing the wrong way. I jumped out of the truck and ran over to it and saw the steel wrecking ball was down… and on top of Ralph!

I was too shocked to move at first. I snapped out of it and started the rig up and raised the ball up and then away from Ralph’s remains. I moved it away from his body and lowered the ball back to the ground. As I turned it off, I wondered why someone would do this. It was obviously no accident. I called the police and waited.

Three weeks later.

The investigation at the crime scene and ensuing media holiday were over when I returned with my crew. The original three were spooked by what happened but agreed to come when I offered more money. The new man was eager to get to work. When we got to the house I had the men work inside, salvaging flooring and a stairway. I then went to the construction company and rented a boom. It was the same one that killed Ralph but they only had two, and the other was rented out.

When I returned there was an ambulance and a fire engine in front of the mansion. I ran over to the ambulance and peaked inside. The new guy was lying there unconscious with bandages around his head and ribs. The E.M.T.s were filling out a report when I asked what happened?

They told me he fell from the second story staircase. Just then one of the crew came over to me. It was Jerry, one of my oldest employees. There was fear in his eyes.

“Something pushed him from behind,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“Tony, Bob, and I were downstairs when we heard the new guy scream. I looked up and saw him fighting to keep his balance, but something pushed him!” his voice rose.

“Okay! Take it easy Jerry,” I told him.

A day later.

The new guy survived with a concussion and three broken ribs. I paid his hospital bill and sent him home. Jerry and Bob quit. I couldn’t blame them. That left Tony, who apparently needed the money more than the other two, and who could control his misgivings.

We grimly dismantled the stairs and salvaged the rest of the wood from the first floor. After working all day without taking a break we completed our task. The sun was sinking into the west and it’s dying light streamed through the broken shutters, causing shadows inside the old house.

Tony was closest to the front door when someone shouted at us from above!

“Damn scoundrels! You won’t get away with this!” a dark figure on the second floor roared. We went out that front door like two missiles launched from Cape Canaveral! I suddenly became a believer in ghosts. When I calmed down outside a thought hit me and I started up the rig. I’m not sure how many times I let that massive ball tear into the old Victorian. It didn’t take long to turn it into rubble.

I wasn’t going to let my first haunted house project fail. Yeah, I could have salvaged a lot more, but everything considered, I still turned a nice profit. The last I saw of Tony he was running down the road. I really hope he shows up someday, so I can pay him. I hate loose ends.

As It Stands, there’s nothing like good old American ingenuity.

Never Count A Man Out – Unless Your Sure

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August 1885

The sun-scorched the three men as they walked through the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson. Their horses were dead and they survived for the first two weeks on their meat.

They were part of a group of men who were ambushed by hostile Indians that lived in the area. The three men had escaped, but ran their horses to death in doing so. Two of the men were from the east and had no survival experience. It was why they joined the group. The third man, Branch Older, was a professional hunter, who at 60 years-old, could still out drink, shoot, and chase whores better than any man…anywhere.

The easterners were brothers from Canton, Ohio. Against their father’s wishes they left the farm to go west in search of adventure. Alvin and George Sherman were husky farm boys and not afraid to work hard. When they joined the group they agreed to do the lowly chores of setting up and taking down camp everyday in return for experience.

They were a loose group of eight men who threw the fortunes together to survive the harsh country. Most had tried mining for silver with little success. Others hunted for pack trains passing through Arizona. The one thing they had in common was they were all getting up in age. The Sherman boys, at 21, and 22-years old, were the babies. Most of the rest were in their sixties. One was seventy-two-years old.

When the Indians hit their camp at sunrise everyone was still asleep but the guard, Pops Fargen. He had time to fire off a couple of shots from his Winchester rifle before being overwhelmed by attackers. Roused, the rest of the group grabbed their rifles and fought back. In the ensuring chaos Branch managed to get the Sherman brothers to jump onto their horses and the three rode off for their lives.

Three weeks later they were out of horsemeat and low on ammunition. Between them they had two rifles (both repeaters), one pistol, and three hunting knives. They each had a canteen with a little water that they found in a hidden spring two days ago.

Branch showed the brothers how to eat prickly pear cactus by using a knife to cut away the stickers. They grew among the giant Saguaro cactus that dotted the desert landscape. The heat stayed in the 100s during the day and dropped at night to freezing because of the altitude. The brutal weather took its toll on the men. Sunburned and blistered, they covered less distance every day.

At night they listened to el lobo, the Mexican gray wolf, howl for its mate. They sighted several cougars that didn’t bother with them. During the day they had to keep their eyes peeled for snakes. The most common were the Western Diamondbacks, with their dark diamond-shaped blotches along the center of their back.

The most venomous snake in the Sonoran desert was the Mojave Rattler, who was active at night. They hid near creosote bushes and bur sage, preferring open areas with grass. One night a Mojave rattler entered the men’s crude camp. While slithering over Branch’s leg he suddenly stirred and the snake was startled and bit him below the knee!

His howl of surprise and pain carried across the desert and a gray wolf joined in. The Sherman brothers panicked when Branch shouted “Snake! The son-of-a-bitch bit me! Quick! Cut it open and suck the venom out, he cried.

Alvin and George looked at each other dumbly. Both waiting for the other to move. George snapped out of it when Branch cursed again. He knelt down by Branch’s leg and cut open his trousers below the knee where Branch was pointing. He then took his knife, cut the wound open, and bent over and pressed his lips against it and sucked hard.

He instantly spit and tried again. After several attempts he noticed Branch was barely moving. He raised his head and tried to speak but only gibberish came out. The brothers hovered over him nervously, unsure of what to do next. Alvin threw a piece of wood onto the fire and they settled down by Branch and waited.

When morning came they couldn’t detect any life left in Branch. The two greenhorns dug a shallow grave and put Branch’s body in it after stripping off his clothes. They piled some rocks on top to discourage scavengers. George took his Winchester, and Alvin took his hunting knife.

They set out sadly. With no guide or experience, they didn’t expect to live much longer. But, as fate would have it, they came upon a road and a while later a stagecoach bound for Tucson stopped and gave them a ride on top with the luggage.

That night a hand thrust out from the desert floor knocking rocks aside. Then another. A head rose under the full moon and coughed. Minutes ticked by as Branch slowly crawled out from his crude burial ground. Despite all odds, he was alive but feeling like hell. He threw up a combination of bile and dirt. Shivering in the cold, he slowly stood up.

He had a fever and was delirious, but some lizard part of his brain made him take a step…then another. He’d survived the many life challenges he faced since he left home at ten-years-old. Six decades qualified him as a true survivor. He took another step and el lobo howled at the moon.

Two weeks passed and Branch was still alive. His face and hands were bloody from the stickers off the prickly pear cactus pads. He also ate kangaroo rats raw when he was lucky enough to catch one. He grimly kept walking and plotted what he was going to do when he found the brothers. They left him for dead. It was unforgivable.

He nearly ran out of strength when he saw a cabin. The old man who lived there was drawing water from a well when he saw Branch fall. He hurried over and dragged Branch inside the cabin. He tried to give him some water but Branch was unconscious. A week passed while the old man nursed him back to health.

During that time Branch told the old man his story and how his partners had deserted  him. The old man outfitted Branch and gave him a six-shot Colt Walker. When Branch protested it was too much, the old man insisted he take it with a box of ammunition.

“Where you’re going, your going to need one,” he said, spitting out a plug of well-chewed tobacco on the ground. “I’d give you my mule, but he’s all I got. Town is about five miles yonder. Shouldn’t take you too long to walk there.”

“Thank you. I’ll repay you some day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just being neighborly.”

Is was noon when Branch walked into Tucson. The first place he looked for the brothers was the local saloon. They were playing poker at a table and didn’t notice Branch walk in. He came up to the table and pulled his revolver out.

“Remember me boys?” he asked.

As It Stands, as Western fans know, a man was hard to kill back in the Wild West.

The Senator’s Wake

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They came to pay their last respects to a man they loathed and feared out of political necessity.

Harry R. Watlow knew where all the political skeletons lie. His vast sources unearthed dirt on everyone within his sphere…just in case. His spy net made J. Edgar Hoover’s secret lists look like child’s play. You didn’t mess with Harry in his home state of Georgia. He was more than just a senator. He was THE BOSS.

Then he turned up dead one day. The authorities said it was foul play. The police had their work cut out for them making out a list of suspects. They numbered in the hundreds according to a conservative estimate by the detective in charge of the case, Alan Wu.

Watlow’s body was lying in the State Capital Building in Atlanta where the public could walk through and view the man who once literally ran the state for 29 years. The line wasn’t very long. State politicians showed up long enough for a photo-op and then quickly left.

The wake was held immediately afterward at his Mediterranean Mansion in a gated estate in the prestigious Sandy Springs area.

An invite there was a political coup for any ambitious politician in the great state of Georgia. His family was there to greet quests. Old school mates and friends stood right alongside people who hated Watlow’s guts. Their insincere smiles were plastered on their faces for the sake of their career.

A parlor was set aside for the body. People could pay their respects and then join the rest of the mourners in the massive ballroom that was decorated in black and had old photos of Watlow in his younger years. Caterers discreetly moved about offering hors d’oeuvres to the somber gathering.

Standing near an open bar, Detective Wu surveyed the room carefully, taking mental notes of who was there, and who wasn’t. Prior to that he was at the station working with a dedicated crew of cops gathering all of the information they could on the slain senator. Before he left he briefed his top computer guy, Max, to stay at his computer while he attended the wake. He wanted instant access to photos and information.

Wu had a reputation for quickly solving cases. His street instincts, vast criminal experience, and training in criminal psychology, made him a legend at the precinct. The senator was found in the house’s industrial sized kitchen. He was stabbed twice in the chest. By the time he was discovered in the morning, by the head cook, a dark pool of blood was congealing alongside the body.

It took Wu three hours before he released the body to the coroner. His forensic team tip-toed around the notorious grump. He didn’t like people talking when he went over a crime scene. It was his habit to take on each murder like it was a personal affront to him. When on a case Wu lost his usual sense of humor and replaced it with the determination of a honey-badger feeling threatened.

He spent the last week interviewing every family member and friend he could find. His team carried the search wider and looked up professional contacts, his personal Facebook account, and anyone who was part of his daily routine. The intensive search was at the urging of the Chief-of-Police who was feeling political pressure to solve the case quickly.

The F.B.I. had it’s own team in town. Wu put up with that reality, but he wasn’t happy about it. It was his case. The feds had a way of throwing their weight around that irked Wu. That’s why he didn’t let the them know that he was following up on a lead that he developed.

The lead took him to the wake.

According to his personal secretary (and mistress as it turned out), Amelia, the old reprobate was murdered by his wife when she found out he was cheating on her. No one found the murder weapon and no knives were missing from the kitchen. She wasn’t the most credible character. Wu also suspected there was more to her story.

She claimed she was there when his wife attacked him. The wife was supposed to be at a convention in Virginia, but came home early for some reason. She was in the downstairs bathroom when she heard the wife come in and an argument break out. She was also naked. Her skimpy nightie was on the kitchen table where he threw it after taking it off her minutes before.

She then explained that she opened the bathroom door and peaked out. She heard a scream of rage and it scared her, so she bolted for the front door like a deer. It was a humiliating and terrifying night she’d never forget, she told Wu.

Three things came to Wu after her story.

One. There was no nightie at the crime scene.

Two. There was no sign of any of the girlfriend’s personal belongings. She wore clothes there. Had a purse. A phone.

Three. There was no way he could see the senator’s tiny old wife attacking him with a knife.

There was also something else that bothered him. The senator’s relationship with his personal secretary was a secret. No one apparently knew that. If they did, they didn’t say anything when Wu asked them about her.

He saw Amelia talking with a group of people, and wondered what her motivation was for telling him that story about the senator’s wife. His bullshit meter was registering a ten-out-of-ten on the suspicion scale. What nagged him was the feeling that he was missing something. Motivation. Why would she kill her boss, and secret lover?

Two hours passed and guests were starting to leave. As the crowd thinned out he noticed the senator’s wife and Amelia huddled in a corner of the room. He discreetly watched as the went up the stairs together. He followed at a safe distance and saw them disappear into a room.

He looked around the hallway and determined no one else was there before going up to the door and pressing his ear against it. He was barely able to make out some words. What he did make out confirmed his suspicions. The two women plotted together to kill the senator.

He heard Amelia ask the wife for her money.

“I did my part,” Amelia said. “Do you have the money?” 

As Wu listened it occurred to him that Amelia was playing a dangerous game. She killed the senator for money, and was setting up his wife for the murder. He heard the wife say Amelia could have the murder weapon, which she was holding as insurance, as long as she left the country.

The conversation lasted nearly an hour. When the door opened Wu was standing there shaking his head. Before either woman could react he grabbed Amelia’s purse, opened it, and saw the knife.

“You two ladies have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…”

As It Stands, the best laid plans of mice and women, often go astray.

A Private Conversation

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Have you ever accidentally snorted Kool aid?

I poured a package into my palm once and started licking it when, for reasons unknown, I inhaled deeply. Wow! What a rush! I didn’t see colors, like when I tried LSD years later, but there were lightning flashes popping behind my young eyeballs for a few moments.

I won’t attempt to count how many dumb things I’ve done in six decades. That’s not the purpose of this piece.

I’ll get right on track here, and take you down the line to enlightenment and sharing.

I talk to myself…a lot. You don’t have to reply. I’m just sharing a part of my life right now.

The thing is, I see nothing wrong with talking outloud, now and then, to stay focused on a subject. I admit I have to be careful or people will start looking at me. So I talk in a low voice. A compromise designed to keep me out of the looney bin.

Let’s skip the part where you think I’m crazy. You should know I’m not alone. Lot’s of people find some solace saying what’s on their minds out loud without directly talking to someone. To be sure, I’m not talking about constant conversations with yourself to the point where the real world is blocked out.

There’s a fine line, okay?

I can remember being in a position of extreme danger when I was only 16-years-old. I was alone and hanging on for dear life from the side of a mountain. Loose shale kept giving away causing me to slide a few inches. I sank my raw fingers into the dirt and slowed down enough to get ahold of a large Manzanita root. It held.

At that moment I didn’t pray (I wasn’t raised with religion), I started talking to myself. I asked myself if I was ready to die yet? The answer, of course, was no. I berated myself for getting into such a dangerous position, calling myself names like “moron” and “dummy.”

The one-sided conversation calmed me down, because after a while my heart rate slowed and I was breathing evenly. I don’t recall how long I hung there before attempting to climb back up the way I came.

The hot sun beat down on me, hardening the mixture of sweat and dirt caking my face and arms. Foot-by-foot, I worked my way upward, carefully seeking secure spots where bushes and roots protruded from the side of the mountain.

When I finally reached the top of the trail, I crawled a few feet and then sprawled out,  gasping for water. My whole body was shaking uncontrollably. I was so light-headed I couldn’t stand up for at least an hour. Time is a tricky thing when you look back in retrospect.

You may be wondering why I brought this incident up. It was my moment of enlightenment when I realized no one could help me but myself. I talked myself through a life-threatening experience.

Since then, I try to be discreet in public, and mumble when I’m carrying on a one-sided conversation. At home I can talk freely to myself, and get this; my wife understands!

As It Stands, this essay is all I have to say about that…right Dave?

Dog Boy’s Dream Come True

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You can also listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Manuel “Dog boy” Gonzales came into the world on January 15th, 1928, in Alabaster, Georgia.

His parents both took hard drugs, resulting in a rare condition for their child. He had Acquired hypertrichosis. In layman’s terms, he was very hairy everywhere.

He became a ward of the state when his parents were busted with a large amount of heroin in the car, discovered under Michael’s baby blanket in the back seat. He wasn’t in a booster seat. He was in a box, and the dope was his mattress.

Manuel, renamed Manny by his custodians, was adopted by a couple when he was three years-old. They didn’t mind that he looked like a little werewolf. Both had worked hard to retire in their early 60s, and wanted a child to dote on. But they found that it wasn’t easy to adopt a child at their age.

They never gave up trying. When they saw Manny sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll, their generous hearts melted. The fact that the staff didn’t think he’d ever be adopted, made them want him even more.

Bill and Lucy were unable to have their own children. Manny was a God-send to their way of thinking. His uniqueness touched them and they wanted to protect him from the world. They were thrilled when their application was approved.

As the years went by Bill and Lucy were faced with some harsh realities. No school wanted Manny in its student body. He was too much of a distraction. They took him to parks so he could play with other children, but were dismayed by their treatment of him. The other kids called him Dog boy, and mocked him by barking at him.

Lucy took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Bill took Manny on outdoor adventures like fishing and hiking. They did everything they could to make his life as normal as possible.

Still, it was hard on Manny who dreamed of traveling and seeing the world that he only experienced through books thus far. He was an intelligent young man, who at 18-years-old deeply loved his adopted parents, but thirsted for adventure.

One of the many things he wanted to find out was if there were other people like himself. It would help him feel less alone in the world by just knowing that.

The only thing that held him back was his parents age. They were both frail and in their eighties. He could not leave them alone. They meant too much to him. Instead, he made the best of his time with them, helping them get through the rigors of old age.

One night, Manny was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire in the house! He sprang from the bed and ran out into the hall in time to see someone come out of his parent’s bedroom and dart into the living room.

For an instant he froze, deciding if he should go to his parent’s room or give chase to the invader. He went after the invader and managed to tackle him as he attempted to go out the wide open back door. Manny, who was strong for his small size, put a choke hold on the stranger, and squeezed with all of his strength!

Minutes sweated by as the life-and-death struggle continued. It finally came to an abrupt end and he released him, pushing his still-warm body away. His heart was still racing from the struggle when he got up and ran back to his parents room.

He saw Bill first. He was lying at the foot of the bed, still clutching half of his maple cane. A pool of blood was forming around his body as Manny looked on in horror. Tears were running down his hairy cheeks as he looked up at the bed. Lucy was propped up against the headboard of the bed staring blankly into space. Blood covered her torso.

He looked around the room and saw that Lucy’s jewelry box was lying on the floor. The closet door was open, and packages were strewn about like the invader was searching for something.

Manny was stunned. He simply didn’t know what to do. Hours passed as he sat on their bed and grieved. It was daylight before he stood up and went back out to the living room. The would-be thief was still lying by the open back door. A pillow case with his pilfered loot lay nearby. The gun flew out of his hand when Manny tackled him. It was resting on the wooden porch outside.

Two days later.

After hours of questioning the police decided Manny was within his rights to kill the intruder. The local newspaper had a field day with the double murder, and Manny killing the murderer. The photo that the newspaper ran wasn’t a very flattering shot of him, but sold newspapers like hotcakes.

He buried his parents in the same cemetery their parents were resting.

Manny could no longer stand living in the small community, and sold the house which his parents had bequeathed him in their will, and set out on the road. He bought a 1941 Ford, packed up his few belongings, and hit the road.

Months later, while he was in Florida, he came across his first Freak Show. As he paid admission the show’s owner came up to him.

“You wouldn’t be looking for a job would you sonny?” he asked, assuming Manny was just a boy because of his small stature.

“Well…” he stammered nervously, “I’m not sure.”

“What? You’re not sure? Then what are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Looking. I never been to no freak show,” he admitted.

“You paid your admission ticket…so enjoy. If you want to talk about getting a job afterwards, let me know.”

Manny went inside the tent and walked from attraction to attraction fascinated with what he saw. He wasn’t even aware at first that people were staring at him as much as the so-called freaks.

It was starting to get uncomfortable and he looked around for the exit when he noticed a group of people laughing at something. He warily made his way thought the group to see what they thought was so funny.

He got the biggest surprise of his life when he saw a bearded lady! She had a beautiful flowing beard that went down to her knees. She was telling bawdy jokes to the men gathered there. If she noticed Manny she didn’t acknowledge him and went on with her act until it was closing time.

He was ushered out of the tent with the rest of the crowd.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The bearded lady and Manny fell in love and got married in a raucous ceremony that featured all of the freaks in the troop. Manny did his part and joined the show where he was featured as the “Dog Boy.”

The irony of his stage name never escaped him.

As It Stands, I believe there’s someone for everyone, no matter how they look.

The Arabian Theatre Murders

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The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.

The Noise Under Denny’s Bed

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He heard the noise again.

Something was under his bed scratching the wooden floor. In the dark silence of his bedroom, seven-year-old Denny shivered in fear. He wanted to pull the covers over his head, but then whatever was underneath his bed might jump out when he couldn’t see.

His terrified brown eyes held back tears. He couldn’t go wake Mom and Dad again another night. Three times was their limit apparently, because they told him to be a big boy, and there was nothing under his bed. They both looked numerous times in the last week and declared the area safe from monsters.

Then they explained to him that there was no such thing as monsters. It was his active imagination, his mother said. “There was nothing to be afraid of,” his father reassured him with a hug, and a pat on his curly brown hair.

Despite all of his parents reassurances, the thing was scratching the floor underneath his bed again the next night. He held his breath so it wouldn’t hear him. The scratching stopped and he heard strange grunting sounds. He exhaled dramatically and jumped off the bed.

He could see underneath his bed by the light cast from the nightlight plugged in on the other side. Nothing! There wasn’t anything there. No monster. He turned on the room light and got down on his knees and peered under the bed expecting to see some scratch marks. There weren’t any.

Reluctantly, he got up and turned off the room light. The nightlight cast a shadow across the floor when he went back to his bed. He laid down on top of the covers…listening. Finally, he fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion in the early morning hours.

The next morning Denny’s parents asked him how he slept?

“Good,” he yawned, as he sat down at the breakfast table.

“No noise under the bed?” his father asked between bites of French toast.

“Yeah, there was a noise…” his voiced trailed off.

“But you stayed in bed like a big boy,” his mother jumped in with her cheerful voice that she always used to compliment him in.

He smiled weakly, took his fork and speared a chunk of French toast that she had already cut up for him. It was a Saturday. No school. No work. Everyone went their separate way most of the day.

Denny played in the yard with his friend Alec who brought over a baseball to play catch. They threw the ball back and forth for hours while talking about sports. His mother worked in the front yard garden, pruning the rose bushes. His father was in the garage working on one of his wood projects.

After lunch the boys went back to playing catch when Denny miss-handled the ball and it hit a screened opening that led to a crawl space beneath the house. The screen was barely on when Denny peered into the blackness after picking the baseball up.

Alec ran over to him and got down on his knees.

“See anything?” he asked.

“Too dark.”

“Ever go underneath a house?” Alec asked.

“No.”

“I have. Our house. There were spiders all over the place.”

“Was that all? Was there anything else?” Denny prodded him.

“My mom’s cat. She needed me to go in and help get him out,” Alec replied.

“Nothing scary?”

“No…but it was hard to move around,” Alec said.

A scratching noise suddenly got both of the boys attention. It was coming from the opening. They both heard the rustling of a big body moving around and sensed movement in the darkness.

When grunting sounds broke the silence, both boys got up and ran screaming to the front yard. Denny’s mother calmed them down while his dad went to investigate.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, concern dripping from each word.

“There’s a monster under your house,” Alec claimed.

“We heard it!” an excited Denny backed him up.

“Nonsense! Come. Let’s have a look.

She led the boys back around the house to the opening and got down on all fours. Dad came crawling out with dirt on his shirt and a shred of cobweb clinging to his hair.

“Was anyone in there?” she asked him.

“No, but we could use some more insulation in there,” he said.

“Okay boys.. are you playing a prank on me?” she asked.

“No!” they cried out in unison.

She looked closely at each boy and shook her head. “I’m going back to my gardening. You boys find something else to do.”

The boys watched her leave.

“I’m going home,” Alec said.

“I heard something.

“I know,” Alec replied as he picked up his mitt and baseball. “See ya later.”

That night when Denny’s parents were sure he was asleep they went to the guest bedroom and opened a hidden trap door that led underneath the house. Denny’s dad lowered himself down and turned on his flashlight.

He could see the body was partly unbound and one arm was free. He would have to find something stronger to knock them out with – yet not kill them. Lately there’d been some mishaps. The duct tape around their mouths was working, but some victims managed to get an arm or leg loose from the rope tied around them while waiting to be transported.

No one stayed under the house for more than 48-hours. When the lab technicians came to collect their human guinea pigs it was always in the early morning when most people were sleeping.

The arrangement worked out well for the clandestine company, and Denny’s parents pocketbook. They planned to retire early. The extra money would mean they could do so in style.

They decided to solve Denny’s problem by moving into a new home, with it’s own basement. Denny loved his new room – the view out of the second story window was great – and he quit hearing the noises under his bed at night.

As It Stands, this tale is a social comment on what people will do to get rich these days.