“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.
“Are you sure someone’s not up there?” I asked. “Maybe I should take a look…”
“Oh no, no worries,” Sandy said with a smile. “I’ll look into it later.”
I didn’t argue and suspiciously took her word on the matter. 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. It’s where I keep the kiln, clay, plaster and marble. I’m working on a few pieces now actually.”
Before she opened the basement door, which was in the hall across from the bathroom and in between the kitchen and sanctuary, my cell phone rang. It was work so I took the call. My private security company was having a legal issue. There had been an attempt on one of my clients’ life and I was needed in Detroit.
“I’m so sorry Sandy; it’s an emergency at work. I really hate to cut the visit short, but I have to head down in Detroit. I want to see your art studio. I can come back on the weekend. How about that?” I said.
“Sure, I understand, work is work,” she said, disappointed.
“You’ve got a really great place here. You deserve it. Promise me you’ll make your famous arroz con pollo when I come back?”
“You’ve got a deal,” Sandy said and walked me to the front door. She sent me off with a hug and I went to my car. She smiled, waved then closed the door. As I pulled out of the driveway, onto Arkham Road I felt bad for leaving so abruptly. Driving farther away from the house, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed a 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 left me unsettled. Footsteps in the attic.
I didn’t make it back for arroz con pollo that weekend. The emergency with security company kept me busy, so I cancelled. I couldn’t keep up with anyone, much less Sandy. We texted here and there until she stopped responding and answering the phone. Weeks turned into months and still no contact from her. It was almost six months until I decided to visit Ravensgate to see what was going on.
After the long drive north, I pulled into the driveway from Arkham Road and parked in the front of the house. I walked up onto the high porch and knocked on the oak door. No answer. After a few more knocks with no response I peeked inside the picture window. An open space in the curtain allowed me to see inside and caught a glimpse of the living room.
The antique furniture was still there, the fireplace and the painting of the house above were barely visible. For a split second, I couldn’t see anything, a black shadow inside moved past my view blocking my vision. Someone was inside. I knocked again on the door and still no answer.
Unable to see much more I decided to check the back of the house. I walked along the right side the Victorian, where the driveway led to the garage in the back. Noises came from the backyard. Embarking on the yard, I saw a tall man, late forties, standing there, his back toward me. He wore a yellow, long sleeved, button down shirt and jeans and shut the garage door.
“Excuse me,” I said as I walked further into the yard. The man looked over his right shoulder and glanced at me. He had unruly, greasy, black hair that 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 irritated. I didn’t expect the attitude.
“I’m looking for my friend. Is Sandy around?”
“She’s not here. I said you’re on private property.”
“A friend of mine used to live here. I just wanted to have a look …”
“She’s gone, I said. Don’t live here no more.”
“She’s gone missing. Ain’t you seen the news? The police said she up and left. ‘Abandonment’ they said. The house was searched and there’s nobody in there.”
“Are you the owner?”
“No. Groundskeeper. Now, since we both know there there’s nothing here, you best be on your way.”
I almost said something smart-assed back but held it in. I turned around and headed for the front yard, the man followed. I opened the car door and sat in the driver’s seat. The man stopped in the driveway in front of the car, “Like I said, there’s nothing here for you.”
I was annoyed but withheld my Scorpio nature and said nothing. Instead I gave him a dirty look then drove off. Time and place for everything. I did a quick internet search on Sandra Breyer in Ravensgate on my phone while driving back. The guy was right.
The Ravensgate Herald, the local paper, did a brief story on her. The article said it was a missing person’s case. It started when she stopped making her house payments on the land contract. The owner came by to check on her, but no one answered. Fearing Sandy might have had a heart attack, or some other emergency he called the authorities.
The article gave the odd nature of the disappearance. Police think she might have found a boyfriend and took off. That’s possible, but not like Sandy to leave everything behind. Weeks went by and still nothing. The house stayed vacant after Sandy disappeared and her car was repossessed.
For weeks it weighed on me: the footsteps in the attic, the movement in the window, the asshole groundskeeper so eager to get rid of me. Who owned the house?
Then the dreams started. It got to the point that I was having dreams about the tour of the Victorian, Sandy gave me. I was inside the rooms again, the living room, the study, the sanctuary. The part where I wake up is when I hear footsteps in the attic.
Were the dreams telling me something? Was Sandy still alive in Ravensgate, kidnapped or held hostage somehow?
There had to be something more, something the authorities missed. I tried to find the owner of the house via the internet with no luck. I ended up driving back to the Ravensgate days later to check the city courthouse records and learned who the owner the house was: one Dale Ortman, a local landlord. A quick Google search of the name and I was able to contact him. I showed some interest in buying the house and arranged a meeting at the Victorian in July.
I pulled up to the house as he waited on the porch. He was a tall, African American, man with a graying beard and mustache and invited me in 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 mantle. 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 purpose of my visit.
“How did you acquire the property?” I asked.
“I bought the house when it went into foreclosure, had some competition on the bid but I came out on top. The previous owners stopped paying the mortgage,” Dale said. “After buying the house from the bank I couldn’t rent it. No one showed any interest.”
“Did anyone else try to bid on it?”
“Sure, certain folk around here want to buy up everything. I beat them in the bid at the auction. I ended up selling it to the last tenant on a land contract but she couldn’t make the payments so that ended the deal.”
“Would you be willing to sell again? I’ll buy it cash.” I offered him a price more than the current 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 comes with the house anyway. It’s a bunch of junk if you ask me. I don’t want to bother with it,” Dale said, smiling.
It wasn’t long before the purchase agreement was drawn up for the Victorian. We closed the deal a few weeks or so later, then I moved my things from Detroit to Ravensgate.