Authors: Janet McNulty
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Paranormal - Ghosts - Vermont
I parked the car in the center of the town when we arrived. The town was so small, I figured that this was the easiest thing to do. I told Jackie and Aunt Ethel that I would meet them at the local diner.
The library wasn’t hard to find nor was it that big. The librarian gave me a passcode to use when logging onto the computer. As I waited for the thing to log onto the web, I tried to think of what I could say to my professor. I hadn’t exactly worked on my project at all since I arrived.
I glanced at the computer and realized that I’d be waiting for a while. Dial up was so slow. How did we ever survive without a high speed connection?
I wandered over to the window while I waited. Movement caught my eye. Gil and Stark walked briskly from the hardware store with a wrapped bundle. Stark tripped. They both fell to the ground with their bundle flying open spilling various tools everywhere. Gil looked up and saw me watching. Instantly, he jumped to his feet and began gathering up the tools. Together, they managed to get everything and ran off.
I started to head for the door so I could follow them, but the computer beeped indicating it had finally connected to the web. Grudgingly, I went to the monitor and brought up my email. After a few sentences that stretched the truth, by a lot, I sent my message off. Hopefully it would buy me some time before I had to submit anything substantial.
I walked out into the brisk afternoon sun. You’d think that in March the weather would start warming up. Not in this area. A few snow patches informed me that we weren’t that far out of winter.
I found the diner and spotted Jackie and Aunt Ethel immediately. The only waitress in this place appeared to be a plump, black woman with her hair pulled tightly back. I guess they didn’t get much business in a place this size.
Jackie and Aunt Ethel had already started eating. They each had sandwiches w
ith fries, which surprised me.
Aunt Ethel never ate fries. “They make me gassy,” she had informed me on
This will make for an interesting car ride back to the ranch, I thought.
“What’ll you have?” asked the waitress.
I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the menu. I spotted a white board that had that day’s special written on it: turkey sandwich with coleslaw. “The special, please,” I said.
“Anything to drink?”
“Do you have any soup?” I asked suddenly, wanting something a bit warm.
“Chicken noodle. The finest chicken noodle soup in the west,” beamed the waitress.
“A bowl of that too. Thanks.”
“Coming right up.” The waitress flipped her notepad closed.
“Hey, beautiful,” said a man I didn’t recognize. “My name is Calhoun. I’m sure you’ve noticed me at the ranch.”
“Nope. Can’t say that I have,” I said, hoping he’d leave. Though to be honest, I didn’t remember seeing him at the ranch.
“Oh sure you have,” Calhoun took a seat next to me.
The waitress walked up with my bowl of soup and placed it in front of me.
Calhoun took the soup away from me and started eating it. “I’m a lawyer from Las Vegas. I know you know who I am.”
jerk, floated through my mind.
“Anyway, we ought to get together,” continued Calhoun.
“Look, pal, I don’t care who you are and that is my soup you’re eating.” Anger rose within me.
“I’m doing you favor,” snorted Calhoun, “This stuff is horrible.”
“Young man,” said Aunt Ethel, her cheeks turning red, “You were not invited to this table. My niece is hardly interested in trash, such as yourself, now leave.”
“Now, listen here, you warthog,” said Calhoun. “I’ll go when I’m good and ready—OW!”
Aunt Ethel had rammed one of the heels of her shoes into the man’s foot.
“Why I ought to—”
“Want me to shove his face into that soup?” asked the waitress.
“You can’t do that,” said Calhoun.
In answer to his outburst, the waitress reached out and pushed his face right into the bowl of soup. He gurgled as some of it went down his windpipe.
“I’ll have your job for this,” shouted Calhoun, soup dripping onto his shirt.
“Hold on,” said the waitress, “I’ll get you the owner.” She turned in a circle and looked straight into his eyes. “What do you want?”
“You’re the owner?” said a stunned Calhoun.
“Yeah,” said the woman, “And that’ll be twenty bucks for the soup.”
“For soup? It doesn’t cost that much.”
“It does when I don’t like you.”
“I’m not paying.”
“Hey, Rusty!” shouted the waitress, “Some boob here don’t like your cooking.”
A lid clanged on a pot. Two local guys at the counter scrambled out of the diner. The door to the kitchen opened up and there stood eight feet of pure tattooed muscle with a stained apron.
“Who no like my cooking?” said the man in a thick Russian accent. He walked over to our table and stared down at Calhoun. “You not like my cooking?”
A series of unrecognizable syllables spilled out of Calhoun’s mouth.
“He also owes me twenty bucks,” said the waitress.
“Now I’m not—”
Rusty picked the man up as though he weighed nothing.
“Here.” Calhoun held out his wallet.
The cook took it, pulled out a twenty, and handed it back to the man. “Now get out. And don’t come back.”
Calhoun ran out of the building tripping over a chair.
“I’ll get you a new bowl,” the waitress took the soup that Calhoun had helped himself to, “Seeing as how it’s contaminated and all.”
“Remind me to never anger anyone in this place,” said Jackie when we were alone.
The waitress came back with my order. “Enjoy.”
After she had left, the salt shaker moved on its own as the top of my sandwich lifted up. I watched as my lunch salted itself. “Rachel,” I said.
“Just trying to help,” said Rachel s she put the salt down. “Oh, and Jedidiah says that if you all are interested in that treasure hunt, make sure you join that Old West Trail Ride tomorrow. It leaves at dawn. And pack some warm things and plenty of food and water.”
“We never said we were—”
“Of course we’re going,” interrupted Aunt Ethel. “I’m not getting any younger and have always wanted to go on a treasure hunt.”
“Tell Jedidiah we’ll be ready,” I told Rachel.
We ate the rest of our meal in silence. Afterward, we headed to the local grocer and bought what canned and dried food and bottled water there was. A part of me kept thinking that it was obvious we were planning a hiking trip. I just hoped that whomever had murdered Michael Evans didn’t find out about it.
By evening, we arrived back at the ranch. As I hauled our purchases inside, I bumped into Liz, or Miss Hollywood as I dubbed her.
“Watch where you’re going,” she scolded me. “You made me chip a nail.”
“Who cares,” I blurted out. I didn’t mean to; it just slipped out.
Liz gave me a nasty look before continuing on her way.
“So, how did your aunt pick this place again?” asked Jackie as she walked up beside me.
“Google told her it would be a great place to ‘get away from it all’.”
“I’ll be up in a moment, dear,” said Aunt Ethel, “I need to talk to the front desk. My room was a bit drafty last night and I got a terrible chill.”
“That might be because I opened the window,” said Rachel when my aunt left.
I gave her a look.
“What?” said Rachel, “I didn’t want her to suffocate. Just trying to be nice. Here I got that.” She took one of the bags from me and carried it up the steps.
I scanned the room hoping that no one saw the floating bag. Quickly, Jackie and I raced up the stairs. Just as we got halfway to our room, Mary came out of hers. She saw the floating bags of stuff and stopped cold.
“What? Like you never saw a bag of groceries move on its own before,” said Rachel as she walked past.
A panicked expression washed over Mary’s face. She rushed back to her room. After wiping the door handle with a sanitary wipe, she bolted inside and shut the door.
Just then Calhoun stepped out of his room. “I just want you to know that I am suing you,” he said to me.
“Over my dead body,” snapped Rachel.
Calhoun glanced at the floating bags of canned goods. Confused, he just stared at them. It suddenly dropped landing right on his foot.
“That’s assault!” he shouted. “Hey, you,” he waved at Poppy who had appeared from nowhere, “You saw what happened.”
“I ain’t seen nothing,” said Poppy.
sue this whole establishment.”
Calhoun turned to go back into his room. The door slammed in his face with the distinctive click of the lock turning. He jiggled the door handle. Nothing happened.
“I had a key here someplace,” said Calhoun as he searched his pockets.
“He mean this key?” laughed Jedidiah as he held up a key.
“Jedidiah,” snickered Rachel, “I’m starting to like you. Come on.” She picked up the bags of groceries and we all headed to our room.
“Hey, you, get this door open,” said Calhoun to Poppy.
Poppy sighed heavily and headed for the stairs mumbling something about needing to get his tools.
“Hey, I’m not through with you,” Calhoun said to me.
“Shut up.” Jedidiah shoved him into the wall. Of course, all Calhoun saw was thin air.
“I really don’t like that guy,” said Jackie once we were in our room. “Hot shot lawyer from Las Vegas thinks he can run everything.”
“What time are we leaving tomorrow?” I asked.
“Dawn, dear,” said Aunt Ethel as she entered the room. “I just need to find us a guide.”
“You got one right here,” said Jedidiah as he materialized. “I know this place quite well. Used to do a lot of trading and trapping in this area. That was after I failed at striking it rich during the gold rush in California.”
“Then it’s settled,” said Aunt Ethel. “Now we need tools. The lady at the desk helped me make a list.”
“Got that too,” said Jedidiah as he took the list from my aunt. “Don’t worry. I’ll get everything you need.”
“Very well. I guess it’s time we eat and go to bed.” Aunt Ethel left the room.
“You know,” whispered Jackie to me, “Your aunt is taking this ghost thing quite well.”
“Yeah, an encounter with Rachel will do that to you,” I replied.
Morning arrived rather quickly. I felt like I had just fallen asleep when Jackie shook me awake.
“Rise and shine,” she chirruped. “It’s time to get up and find us some treasure. Let’s have an adventure.”
I gaped at her and her unusual peppiness. “You know, Jackie, I don’t think it’s going to be as glorious as it sounds. Remember, Michael Evans was probably killed for that map and the killer probably wants the treasure as well.”
“Well, you certainly know how to put a damper on things.”
“Giddy up, ya’ll!” Rachel appeared in our room dressed like she was part of some sort of rodeo. “You really need to learn how to be a morning person,” she said to me.
“Says the girl who doesn’t need to sleep.” I crawled out of bed and got dressed.
“So how’s our not so nice friend?” asked Jackie.
“He ended up sleeping in the lobby,” replied Rachel, “For some strange reason, no matter how hard they tried th
ey couldn’t get his door open.
“Oh, and Joe is complaining about someone stealing tools from the shed. And the two bumbling idiots (Gil and Stark) left sometime last night. Joe isn’t happy about that either. They took a couple of horses and he’s complaining about having to send a search party for them if they don’t return.
“Anyway, best hurry. Everyone is waiting by the barn.”
Aunt Ethel waved us over when Jackie and I appeared outside. “Jedidiah said to take these horses.”
I looked through the saddle bags noting that the food we had bought were there along with some tools: shove
l, pick, and some other stuff.
“I think I know where the missing tools went,” I muttered to Jackie.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen,” said Joe, “On your horses. It will take about two hours to get to the town. Once there you can wander as you like and we will return here by sundown.”
“Uh, I need some air freshener or something because this animal reeks,” said Liz, in her designer workout clothes.
“Oh, Jesus and Mary above help me,” muttered Joe as he rubbed his hands over his face.
I watched as Mary tried to get on her horse without touching it. Even Calhoun joined our group, much to my displeasure.
The cloudy morning brought a chill that practically froze my hands. Good thing I had brought an extra pair of gloves.
The group was mostly quiet as we rode, except… “This saddle. is chafing. my new workout pants. They’ll be. ruined by the end of the day. I spent three hundred dollars on workout pants and they won’ even last a week at this rate!” Liz kept whining with every jostle from her horse. Mary put hand sanitizer on her hands every few minutes. No one noticed the two horses with empty saddles trailing behind.
Calhoun kept giving me dirty looks. Rachel flung a rock at him. He looked all around for the culprit, but found nothing. How do you accuse a ghost of harassing you?
The sky was starting to cloud up when we arrived at the Old West town two hours later. He explained that it was built by the ranch owner so that guests could get an idea of what life was like back then. People dressed in pioneer clothes moved about doing their chores; actors hired for the moment, but it did bring a sort of reality to it.
“Feel free to wander around,” said Joe, “There’s stores and a saloon. Have yourselves a good time.”
Aunt Ethel, Jackie, and I dismounted our horses.
Jedidiah took the reins. “Meet me by the General Store in an hour,” he said.
“Oh look,” said Aunt Ethel, “A clothing shop.” She went in.
“Get your hands up,” said Rachel pointing a fake gun at me. “You stole my cattle. Now you gonna pay.” Click! She pulled the trigger of her cap gun and laughed hysterically.
“I think you’re having a little too much fun,” I said.
“And you’re not having enough,” said Rachel. “Let’s check out the saloon.”
“No,” I said, “remember the last time we entered a bar? Come on. Let’s grab Aunt Ethel and meet Jedidiah.”
Just then, Aunt Ethel walked out with a coat made almost entirely of feathers. “Isn’t it wonderful? The lady in there said that a real Indian Chief wore this. Should keep me nice and warm on our trip.”
“Meet your Aunt Ethel,” whispered Jackie, “The most gullible tourist with money.”
We found Jedidiah who waited patiently. “Ready?”
Yeah,” I said.
“Then let’s go before anyone notices us.”
Each of us mounted a horse and galloped off with Jedidiah in the lead. No one paid any attention to us.