The Mystery at Camp Sister Lick

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Nanci Dwuu’s convertible darted down the country road headed for mystery. Exactly what the mystery entailed, Nanci’s friend George wouldn’t divulge over the telephone. George, a tomboyish girl with short dark hair, was one of Nanci’s closest friends, but the girls hadn’t seen each other since George had moved to Camp Sister Lick, a women’s only retreat where, according to George, “Strange things had been occurring”.

“Please say you’ll come,” George pleaded, “the owner is a real darling and she needs your help.”

Although Nanci was intrigued by George’s mystery, she was hesitant to leave Hannah Gruel, the Dwuu’s longtime housekeeper. Hannah had lived with the Dwuus since Nanci’s mother suddenly passed away when Nanci was three.

Nanci had always been suspicious of her mother’s death, and in her last adventure, The Case of the Murdered Mom, Nanci discovered that her own father had poisoned Mrs. Dwuu in an insurance scam – resulting in Mr. Dwuu’s new residence on Death Row, all thanks to his daughter’s expert sleuthing.

“Oh, and don’t bring that asshole Nick, men aren’t allowed here.” George added before hanging up.

Nanci couldn’t have brought her longtime boyfriend Nick Nederson anyway. Nick was with his buddies the Hardly Boys on a fishing trip, staying at the popular sportsmen’s resort The Rainbow Lodge. According to Nick, the lodge didn’t have phones, although judging from the evening clothes Nanci helped him pack, the lodge had a disco.

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Camp Sister Lick was located in neighboring River Side. The property was formerly an old cattle ranch newly converted into a retreat facility for women. The camp’s unusual name paid homage to the new owner’s mission of promoting sisterhood and to the property’s natural salt deposits used by ranchers as “salt-licks” for livestock.

As Nanci’s convertible approached Camp Sister Lick’s entrance, she was greeted by a bevy of angry protestors waving vulgar signs demanding the camps immediate closure on moral grounds!

“How could a women’s only camp be immoral?” Nanci thought. “Maybe they offer Yoga.”

Nanci hit the accelerator on her Mustang, causing a few protestors to scramble as she glided easily into a spot in a parking lot filled exclusively with trucks. Looking around,  Nanci felt confident that she’d  have no trouble locating her car for her return trip home.

As Nanci followed the signs directing her to the main lodge, her old friend George suddenly emerged from a path leading from the woods “Nanci Dwuu, you made it!”

George hadn’t changed much since the last time the two girls were together. She still sported her short, chopped hair, and was dressed in her trademarked unbuttoned blue flannel shirt layered over a black T-shirt tucked into her denim shorts, with a pair of beaten, black leather boots framing her pale, unshaven legs.

“So, what’s the big mystery?” Nanci asked.

“First I want you to meet the proprietor of Camp Sister Lick, I just know you’ll love her, she’s so keen!” George pulled Nanci into the lodge’s office. Behind a desk sat a woman who appeared in her late fifties, stout like a bulldog, with graying hair whipped up into a beehive.

Nanci offered her slim, well manicured hand to the woman who took hold with a firm grip, shaking Nanci’s hand as much as Nanci. “I’m Virginia Diesel, the owner of this retreat, and you must be the famous Nanci Dwuu.”

“George hasn’t filled me in yet, what’s going on?” Nanci asked.

Virginia’s voice hushed to practically a whisper, “Someone is trying to destroy Camp Sister Lick.”

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“Who would want to do that?” Nanci asked, incredulous.

“Our retreat has had some local opposition,” Virginia explained, “Maybe you saw the protestors.”

“The attacks started two weeks ago when someone stuffed tampons in all eighteen holes of our golf course. When the sprinklers came on, it looked like a field of white mushrooms sprouting out of our cups. We had to cancel the golf tournament.”

“At first we thought it was a prank, but then something else happened.”

“What?” Nanci asked, her pulse beginning to race, “what happened?”

George took over for the distraught Virginia. “Last week was the championship game of our darts competition. Everyone was just terrible. No one could get a dart on the board. The dart would sail flawlessly through the air, perfect arc, expert aim, but the dart would strike the board and fall to the floor. It was eerie.”

“Let’s have a look at those darts, maybe they’ll shed some light on this mystery.” Nanci said.

“I hope so,” Virginia cried, “if this keeps up, Camp Sister Lick will be run out of business.”

George led Nanci on a short walk to a rustic building with a plaque that read “Gertrude Stein Field House”. George opened the screen door with a rusty creak. A ping-pong and pool table indicated to Nanci’s keen intuition that this must be some sort of building where ping-pong and pool tables were kept.

Nanci walked across the room to inspect the dart board hanging from a rusty nail while George produced the darts. “I think I have the answer to your mystery,” Nanci proclaimed, holding the darts up to the light, “These are Velcro darts and you have a cork dart board. Someone must have switched them.”

“But, but, Nanci,” George stammered, “we don’t use Velcro dart boards at Camp Sister Lick!”

Just then, from outside came a piercing scream. Nanci and George ran from the field house. Emerging from the woods was a petite brunette woman with bright red lips, her flower-patterned culottes stained with mud.

image“Ahhhhhh!” she screamed.

“What happened?” Nanci asked.

“Men – in the woods” the young pretty lady gasped falling to the ground, holding her hand out to Nanci before fainting, “My name is Lizzie Lipshtick, and you must be Nanci Dwuu.”

As the two sleuths propped up the fallen girl, George filled in  Nanci. “Lizzie runs the art classes at Camp Sister Lick. Her classes aren’t well attended because they can’t compete with sports and Lizzie has never felt quite accepted. And now this!”

A crowd started to gather as Nanci took Lizzie’s pulse.

“That’s it! I’m leaving,” one guest proclaimed angrily, “This place is dangerous!”

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“I’m ruined,” Virginia later proclaimed to Nanci and George in the privacy of her office, “What was I thinking, trying to establish a little utopia for my sisters, an Eden without Epiladys. A place to celebrate our womanhood surrounded by the warm embrace of our Earth Mother.”

George was on the verge of tears, hugging Virginia, “Don’t you dare give up! Nanci Dwuu will solve this case!”

“Where do those woods go?” Nanci asked, determined to solve this mystery. George explained that the woods bordered the Tuscashawnee River, which was popular with fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts. On occasion, boaters would pull their canoes over on Camp Sister Lick property, although there were “No Trespassing ” signs posted along the river bank.

“Whoever frightened poor Lizzie is probably still out there,” George surmised, anxious to confront the trespassers, but the approaching darkness made Virginia fearful for the girls’ safety and she insisted they wait until morning to search the woods.

Reluctantly, Nanci agreed. Back at her cabin, Nanci was finally able to rest after a long day of driving and sleuthing.

Drifting into a fitful sleep, Nanci was suddenly awakened by the sound of shattering glass. Bolting from her bed, a brick lay at Nanci’s feet with a white slip of paper secured around it. Untying the paper, Nanci detected a flowery smell before she gasped at the note’s content.

“You’re in grave danger Nanci Dwuu.” The letter was scrawled in what looked like red crayon. The note ended, “P.S. I think you’re cute!”

“Hmmm,” Nanci thought to herself. ” I didn’t think men were allowed anywhere near Camp Sister Lick.”

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The next morning, George and Nanci set out to explore the woods. Lizzie came along to point out where she saw the trespassers the night before.

Seeing Lizzie dressed in shorts and a thin T-shirt, Nanci lectured her on the dangers of deer ticks.

Lizzie laughed, “I’m so tired of flannel. Am I a traitor because I like frills and lipstick?”

“Not at all,” Nanci laughed along, “I like frilly things too!”

“We have so much in common! Lizzie proclaimed, grabbing Nanci’s hand, the two skipped along the dirt path through the woods. Nanci felt protective of Lizzie after seeing the poor girl so frightened the day before.

“I have a hunch were going to be good friends!” Nanci said, giving Lizzie’s hand an affectionate squeeze.

The forest was bristling with birds and busy squirrels looking for nuts. Suddenly, Nanci signaled the girls to be silent. Out of the peaceful chatter of the woods came the sound of male voices!

“Walk quietly, we’ll sneak up on whoever is out there,” Nanci instructed.

The girls hadn’t taken more than a few steps when from the dense bushes someone called out “Nanci Dwuu!” Looking past greenery, a smile of recognition mixed with relief swept over Nanci’s face. It was Nick Nederson, Nanci’s long time boyfriend.

“Nick! What are you doing here? I thought you went fishing with the Hardly boys?”

“We did, we lost our canoe.” Nick then called to his companions and from the trees emerged Nanci’s sometime sleuthing partners The Hardly Boys.

When George came running into view, Nick’s smile turned sallow, “Hey.”

“Screw you, Nick and your fascist paternalistic society.” George said warmly.

The two old friend’s friendly quarrel was soon interrupted by Nanci inquiring how the boys found themselves at Camp Sister Lick. Nick explained that he and the Hardly Boys were out pole fishing the previous evening when their canoe was inadvertently swept down stream, stranding them in the woods, where they stripped naked to keep each other warm.

“You gave Lizzie the fright of her life when she spotted you in the woods yesterday,” Nanci chuckled.

“Yesterday? It was well after dark when we lost our canoe.” Joe Hardly chimed in,

“We could barely see our poles.” Frank snickered and struck his brother’s arm.

Then someone else must have been in the woods, but who? Nanci thought to herself, not wanting to raise an alarm.

The girls hated to bid Nick and the Hardly Boys farewell, but men weren’t allowed at Camp Sister Lick. As it turned out, women weren’t allowed at the Rainbow Lodge, either.

“That’s too bad,” Nanci teased, “There’s nothing like a soprano voice for those great old campfire songs!”

“Nick sings soprano just fine,” Joe Hardly declared, before his twin brother giggled and punched his arm back.

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Back at camp, the three girls, hot and sweaty from their long hike, hit the showers and changed into fresh clothes before lunch. Afterward, Virginia called Nanci and George into her office. The brick that was thrown through Nanci’s window the night before sat on her desk.

“I’ve made a decision.” Virginia said to the girls, “I never thought our opponents would resort to violence, but I can’t have bricks being thrown through my girl’s windows. I’m closing down Camp Sister Lick.”

“What!” George cried, “You can’t let these terrorists win!”

“I think it’s an inside job,” Nanci said matter of factly.

George gave Nanci a worried look. Ever since Nanci helped convict her father for the murder of her mother, Nanci hadn’t been her usual self. Her sleuthing skills had suffered and she was prone to grandiose pronouncements about minor  inconveniences, like when she solved The Mystery of the Missing Car Keys or The Secret of the Stained Carpet.

“Are you sure someone from the Camp is doing these horrific things, Nanci? Why?”

“I don’t know yet,” answered Nanci, “I need more time. Don’t make any announcement until after the Softball Tournament tomorrow. That will give me enough time.”

Before Nanci could leave, Virginia wrapped the young detective in a hug and whispered, “It’ll lighten an old ladies heart if you solve this mystery my dear.”

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“Do you like our uniforms?” George asked Nanci, showing off her team’s denim baseball pants and flannel jersey with their team name “Bull Dogs” emblazoned on the back. “We’re playing against the Dykes.

“Oh, are they from Holland?” Nanci asked with excitement, “Such a lovely place!”

“Yeah, they’re Dutch,” George said, inserting a protective cup into the crotch of her baseball pants.

“I’ve always wanted to save a town by putting my finger in a dyke.” Nanci mused.

“You might get that chance.”

George then revealed to Nanci her “secret weapon” for winning the softball game, a prized baseball bat George made years ago in high school wood shop. Caressing the bat’s smooth curves, George cooed, “I d be lost without my baby.”

The softball game was a welcomed diversion for everyone, but all through the game Nanci couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to happen. Standing outside the Bull Dog dugout, Nanci suddenly became aware of a familiar sweet fragrance emanating from somewhere behind her, but when she turned to look, no one was there.

The Bull Dogs were trailing the Dykes by two runs going into the seventh inning when the Dykes sent in a new pitcher, the glare from the sun prevented Nanci from seeing who it was.

“Ball one!” the umpire called as the first pitch stopped short of the plate and bounced into the crowd. The next three pitches either sailed wildly over the batter’s head, or dropped short of the plate. With one runner already on base, the batter was walked and George was up next.

“Come on George, you can do it!” The Bull Dogs cheered. George smiled and made the traditional adjustment to her uniform cup, then reached for her prized bat… but it was gone!

“It was right here!” George insisted. Nanci felt horrible that she hadn’t kept a closer watch on things. Nanci was convinced that the sweet odor she smelled was somehow connected not only to George’s stolen bat but to the other acts of vandalism that had been plaguing Camp Sister Lick.

Reluctantly, George took the plate without her prized bat. The first pitch wobbled well outside the strike zone, but George, feeling defiant, swung anyway and her bat connected. The ball flew high and straight, making a beeline for the home run fence. The crowd went wild as George took her triumphant lap around the bases, stopping only to unleash a stream of tobacco spit at third.

A fanfaronade of buttocks slapping greeted George as her foot touched home. The Bull Dogs had won the tournament!

As the teams congratulated each other, Nanci was alerted to the same sweet fragrance she smelled earlier. Sniffing around, Nanci found the source of the perfume smell. Grabbing that player’s arm, Nanci turned the girl around, “I’d like a word with you -“

“Lizzie! What are you doing, I thought you didn’t play sports,”Nanci gasped, her eyes wide with surprise.

“I don’t, but I’m pitching in!” Lizzie laughed at her own pun. It was Lizzie who had pitched so horribly the last inning and probably stole George’s prized bat!

“You’re behind the attacks at Camp Sister Lick!” Nanci cried out, holding tight to Lizzie’s arm. Lizzie tried to pull back, but Nanci’s grip was too strong, so instead Lizzie shoved Nanci to the ground and the two girls wrestled in the dirt for about a half hour before George finally separated the mud soaked girls.

“Nanci… have you lost your mind?” Virginia cried.

“I’ve discovered who has been sabotaging Camp Sister Lick.” Nanci declared.

Just as Nanci predicted, George’s purloined baseball bat was found in Lizzie’s locker, along with the missing darts and several bricks similar to the one thrown through Nanci’s window.

“How’d you know it was Lizzie?” George asked her old chum.

“Well, Camp Sister Lick is fragrance free,” Nanci explained, “I noticed the first time I met Lizzie that she was wearing Calvin Klein. At first I wasn’t sure it was Lizzie, because Calvin Klein is a unisex fragrance”

“Lizzie tried to throw suspicion off of herself by making it appear a man was behind the attacks, first by making up a story about seeing men in the woods, and then throwing a brick through my window with a flirty message. When I saw Lizzie wearing that stolen softball uniform, though, I knew she was the culprit.”

“Uh, Nanci, she’s been playing softball all Summer – her name is stitched on her jersey.” George interrupted. “Anyway, why would she do these things?”

“Employment security!” Nanci replied, “Lizzie thought if she ruined all the more popular activities the women would have no other choice but to attend her art classes.”

“Will she go to jail?” George asked.

“That depends on whether Virginia wants to press charges.” Nanci said, turning to Virginia, “I’m hoping you won’t. Lizzie needs a steady job more than prison. I’ve arranged an interview at the Rainbow Lodge where Lizzie’s art classes will be more in demand. You’ll give her a good reference won’t you Virginia?”

“Anything for you Nanci Dwuu!” Virginia laughed.

And so Nanci Dwuu closed the file on The Mystery at Camp Sister Lick. But Nanci and a mystery were never far apart, and soon Nanci would be immersed in The Clue to the Secret of the Misplaced Remote.

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Thanks For Nothing!

THANKS FOR NOTHING: a harrowing and not a bit uplifting holiday tale by JOHN SMITH                                           

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Steve Henry didn’t always have two first names. It was Steve Jelewski when we roomed together on Aldine. He was the struggling actor and I, the struggling writer. In between auditions and readings, we both worked for a catering company as bartenders for events both big and small. I still work there, while Steve went on to “greater” things.

Steve hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year and what a disaster it was. Some may call what transpired that Thursday a simple act of “miscommunication”, but I say it was an act of premeditated cruelty. l don’t know why Steve turned on me; we used to be so close, but that was before he was named “Hottest Hunk of 2006” by Soap Digest. Success had definitely changed Steve Henry.

In the world of daytime TV, Steve was a big deal, but not to people with actual lives who can’t stand to watch such drivel. When my old roomie was first cast on the show, I watched it just to give Steve notes on his performance which I dutifully mailed to him every week for almost a year.

For ten years he’s been playing the same over-sexed, womanizing Dr. Bruce Conroy. Steve won a daytime Emmy for the role and after watching him make love with the various women on the show, I’d say that Emmy was well-earned. Steve was a handsome guy who looked even better on television. Unfortunately, he’s one of those beautiful people who know they are beautiful. The love affair between Steve Henry and Steve Henry could rival any of the fictional romances depicted on his show.

During those lean years back on Aldine, we had made what I thought was a solemn pact: Whoever made it big first would help out the other one. I’m still waiting.

Oh, sure, l’ve had some success on my own. My play, “Depression”, was produced by a small theater troupe here in Chicago, but few saw it. The non-profit theater company who produced my play was dedicated to bringing culture to the homeless, so unless you were sleeping under a bridge last February, you probably didn’t catch it. I have a review from “Streetwise” which said, “the ending is uplifting when it finally arrives.” The review went on to say plays like mine could reduce the homeless population. This caught the attention of our alderman, who paid us cash for a Command performance in the alley behind his house. I couldn’t have been more proud.

My brief contact with the homeless inspired me to become more socially responsible. The way I see it, a lot of homeless people could get back on their feet if they were only more careful about their appearances. Layering on four dirty overcoats to apply for a job isn’t likely to result in a second interview. With that in mind the charity I founded “Images” installed over 40 full length mirrors all  around the cardboard shelters dotting lower Wacker Drive. We tried to expand our operation to include makeovers for the homeless, but our clients were more prone to eat the cosmetics than wear them. Plus one of our volunteer street aestheticians got stabbed, so we stopped that.

After Steve left to find his fortunes in New York City, we stayed in contact for a while. I was one of the first he called after landing his role on that stupid soap opera. He was terribly excited. “Lust in the Afternoon” had been a staple of daytime television for twenty-five years. It’s one of the many soaps that for some reason take place in a hospital setting. It puzzles me why soap writers think hospitals are such hotbeds of sex and romance. Hospitals are gross and smelly, and the patients look more like Walmart shoppers than Abercrombie models. Why not a tire factory?

“Flee at the earliest opportunity!” I advised him when he called to say he got the job. “Don’t sell out.”

“What’s wrong with the show?” he asked, his voice a bit cold.

“Look, I’ve been in a hospital. Nurses ain’t these beautiful anorexic bimbos,” I told him, “a great many of them have serious weight problems.”

“I see.” he replied. “Any other criticisms?”

I was just warming up. “Yeah, in real life, doctors don’t have names like Dr. Bruce Conroy, they’re more like Dr. Shakalakakrishna with accents so thick you’d be better off trying to decipher their handwriting.”

I further suggested that the show needed a reality check. Have a doctor amputate the wrong leg occasionally, or better yet have a patient die because they left a sponge in his chest due to all the flirting. In real life, the only time you hear the words “sex” and “hospital” together is when an orderly rapes a patient.

I never heard from Steve again, despite sending him my dutiful notes on his performances. Then one evening, a week before Thanksgiving, I was having dinner alone at a favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. Looking up from my copy of The Daily Nihilist, who should I spy across the room, surrounded by fans and showing off, but none other than Steve Henry, Hunk of the Year!

I had read in one of those gossip columns I hate that Steve had bought a condominium in Chicago to be closer to his family who lived in Evanston. This was the first time I’d seen him in one of our old haunts, which was understandable. Steve now had an image to keep, and hanging  out at Steamworks was something his publicist would probably frown upon. After finishing my linguini, I walked over to Steve’s table to say hello. It took him a few minutes to notice me and I was apprehensive to interrupt his love-in with his fans, but hell, he was my old roommate! I knew Steve in real life, while these people only know him from his character on television. “Steve!” I raised my voice, “How ya doing!”

Steve didn’t make the connection at first, grabbing my newspaper without looking up and autographing it “Best Wishes”, but as he handed the spoiled paper back, recognition swept across his face. “Oh wow! What’s up?” he asked, grinning just like old times. “Still writing those awful plays?”

“Sure, sure,” I answered, happy to hear the familiar gentle ribbing that marked our friendship.

“And let me guess, you’re still tending bar as a result?”

“Gotta pay the bills, you know.” I chuckled, remembering how often we quarreled about artistic integrity and his willingness to deep throat Satan for fame.

“Hey, what are you doing on Thanksgiving?” He inquired.

“Uh, nothing,” I replied, which wasn’t quite true. I was co-hosting dinner with my best friend, but fuck him, I thought.

“I’m having about twenty friends over for dinner.” Steve said, handing me a napkin with the address and time scribbled, “You think you can make it?”

“Sure!”, I was surprised and pleased by my celebrity friend’s invitation, and I only barely heard him mention it would be black tie.

“How fancy!” I thought.

Thanksgiving was only a week away. Thinking this could be my lucky break, I got to work typing out a spec script which I planned to ask Steve to submit to his producers on “Lust in the Afternoon”. I was ready to sell out like Steve, but with limits.

My concept for “Lust in the Afternoon” was to bring those snooty playboy doctors and slutty nurses down a notch. Rich-people problems are boring. How can Mrs. Joe Six-pack really, truly, identify with the snob characters who dominate these awful daytime shows – where even the lowest hospital nurse lives in Barbie’s Dream House? I mentioned this incongruous fact to a friend once who was a fan of this genre. “It helps if you don’t ask too many questions,” was her advice.

In my script, the banks have all failed and everyone immediately loses their money and has to live in a trailer park. I thought it was a brilliant concept and pushed myself to complete my script in time to present it to Steve at his intimate black tie dinner party to which I was now invited.

Thanksgiving day arrived and l stumbled out of bed around noon, bleary-eyed from yet another all nighter spent editing and revising my script. I shot some Visine in my red eyes, showered and pulled on my tux, which I luckily possessed for my catering gigs.

Cocktails were at four o’clock, but I didn’t want to arrive too early and appear too eager. So, I meandered in fashionably at four-thirty.

“You’re late!” Steve snapped as he opened the door. “The bar is in there.” He pointed to the living room as he took my coat. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”

“Well, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ to you, too,” I said laughing at his rude greeting. Steve used to always stress out when we hosted parties on Aldine, so this was all too familiar. I mixed my drink from the un-staffed, but well stocked bar. There were only about ten or so people milling about the room, none of whom were wearing tuxes. “How gauche!” I thought.

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One gentleman sat alone on a plush white couch. I sat down next to him and introduced myself. “I’ve known Steve for years,” I told him. “We used to be roommates. Success hasn’t changed him a bit.”

“Are you in show business as well?” The gentleman asked who I guessed to be one of Steve’s uncles.

“Oh, yes, I’m a writer,” I replied, a feeling of excitement enveloped me as I realized that this was my element. Success, glamour, money. It was all within reach.

“I’m actually working on a story idea for Steve’s show.” I incautiously let slip out.

“Oh?” he asked, leaning closer, his interest peaked.

“Yeah, I have a bigger vision for Steve’s character on the show. The writers he has now, well I’ve seen better writing on ‘The Love Boat’.”

“Is that so?”

“Just terrible.”

Then I suddenly realized I was dominating this conversation. “And what do you do?” I asked. “Are you related to Steve?”

“I’m one of those hack writers on ‘Lust in the Afternoon’.” The man replied curtly, “I didn’t know Steve was unsatisfied with my work.” he said, excusing himself abruptly.

I felt horrible, insulting this poor man, even if I was just being honest. I had to apologize before he told Steve. I found him in the dining room, which was being busily set up by the caterers in tuxedos, who, I noticed were the only ones besides myself who had bothered to obey the dress code.

I was too late, the old geezer was spilling his guts to Steve. I approached the two, and cleared my throat. “There’s your new head writer now.” he said before storming off.

“You know, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know he -“

Steve cut me off his voiced filled contempt, “First you show up late and now you’re insulting my guests?”

“I’m really sorry, l had no idea,” I tried to explain.

Steve placed his arm on my shoulders and led me back to the living room, Just tend bar and keep your mouth shut.”

“Tend bar?”

“That’s right. Just pour the drinks and smile and don’t insult my show or my guests.”

“Pour drinks?” I wasn’t quite comprehending things in this very awkward moment.

“That’s what I’m paying you for,” Steve said, pulling a money clip from his pocket and handing me two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

With one hand l took the money, with the other grabbed a full bottle of Absolut off the bar and swung it hard. I guess I’ve seen too many movies, because the bottle didn’t break like it does on TV. Instead of shattering like crystal, there was a sickening ‘thud’ when the bottle made contact with Steve’s gorgeous head. “Here’s your fucking drink!” I screamed, as Steve fell unconscious to the floor.

Later that evening, I finally had something to be thankful for when Steve declined to press charges. Steve said he didn’t want the publicity, which really meant he was afraid I’d “out him” to the Enquirer.

Success sure had changed Steve Henry.

Next Thanksgiving, I think I’ll just stay home and eat a low-fat turkey burger.

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Fifty Ways To Plagiarize

I’ve been plagiarized !

A long time ago, I wrote a steamy, erotic story about a naive, young window blind salesman caught up in a sado-masochistic relationship with one of his wealthy clients – after carelessly signing a contract to install drapes and blinds without noticing the kinky sub-clause allowing him to be severely punished if the blinds are in any way unsatisfactory.

I  called it “Fifty Grades of Shade”.

I’ll have to consult my sexy lawyer, who is also into contracts.

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My Last Listing: The True Story of Hellish House

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by John Smith

  “Hellish House – a dark mansion with a checkered history of murder, suicide and polyester.” my associate George read aloud to me as our Mercedes sped down the lonely highway en route to my newest real estate listing: the legendary haunted DeCamp Manor – otherwise  known as Hellish House.

   With a reputation like that, it was no wonder the house had sat unsold all these years.  “I REALLY should change that sales brochure,” I made a note to myself.

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   The ink was barely dry on my real estate license when my Century 21 sales manager handed me the listing for DeCamp Manor, a gray granite, six bedroom mansion sitting on 25 acres of wooded isolation. Any agent worth his salt would have salivated over this plum property, yet somehow all my colleagues were too busy. I accepted the assignment with glee, silently calculating what I thought would be an obscene commission.

   “By the way – it’s haunted.” my manager said, cackling as he walked away.

   The joke was on me. It turned out that DeCamp Manor had been on the market for over 30 years. Rumors of strange happenings always prevented the estate from being sold and so all new agents were given DeCamp Manor as a sort of initiation. I was determined to sell this house and have the final laugh.

   Actual details of the supernatural phenomenon associated with DeCamp Manor were hard to come by, but the locals referred to the property as Hellish House. Even thieves were too frightened to venture inside and thus the former owners possessions remained intact and undisturbed all these years. Hearing these rumors of ghosts terrorizing caretakers, I wondered, “Is this something I’m required to disclose?”

   My determination to sell this house meant that I would have to personally visit DeCamp Manor. So I called upon my old college chum, Dr. George Charleton, who, as luck would have it, was a major force in the field of parapsychology and aromatherapy. We once roomed together at our alma mater, St. Martin de Porres School of Cosmetology and Paranormal Studies. We had remained friends even as our respective careers took us in different professional directions.

   As a noted paranormal expert, George was already familiar with the strange history of DeCamp Manor.  He couldn’t wait to get a look and insisted that we leave immediately. George packed my car with sound and video recording equipment in hopes of documenting any supernatural phenomenon we might encounter. He also brought along his “assistant” Hector, a hunky Latin youth, who, by coincidence he had hired just the night before. At first I mistook Hector for the strong and silent type until I realized he didn’t speak a lick of English.

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   It was late in October and the Fall  had sparked the country foliage into beautiful golden and brown hues. I spent the two-hour drive admiring the scenery and scouting the pristine countryside for possible locations for a strip mall, while George was spread out in the backseat studying the file he had assembled on Hellish House and its previous – now deceased – owner, Trevor DeCamp.

    As our little band drew closer to DeCamp Manor, my apprehension grew stronger. Noticing my fear, George pulled from his travel bag a small bottle containing a thick, greenish liquid, “This Oil of Spearmint will soothe you. Take a whiff.”

    I inhaled the sweet, fresh aroma and was reminded of chewing gum, which reminded me I had just quit smoking, which reminded me I wanted a cigarette; so I bummed a smoke from Hector, which immediately soothed my frail nerves.  I handed George back his bottle. “It worked!”

    At dusk our Mercedes pulled into the twisted driveway of Hellish House, the stately mansion but shadows in the twilight. Seeing in person the graceful granite façade and stone turrets I was overcome by a sense of doom. “What if can’t unload this elephant?”

    Hector made himself useful by unpacking the car while George and I made our way up the stone steps to the intricately carved wood front door. I fumbled through my ring of keys, inserting one after the other into the rusted old lock to no avail. “No, that’s to a lovely condo,” I said aloud, moving to the next key, “No, that’s to a gorgeous townhouse with 3 bdrms,  w wbf,  new apps, close to pub trans…”

    “Why don’t you try the skeleton key with the Satanic head and writhing serpents?” George suggested impatiently.

    I don’t know why I didn’t try that old skeleton key first – it did sort of jump out, but before I could insert the key into the lock, the door creaked open on its own.

    “Madre de Dios!” Hector cried, dropping our luggage on the ground before jumping into my Mercedes and peeling rubber back down the long twisted driveway.  George looked on passively as if this experience were not alien to him.

    “Rough trade.” he mumbled.

    Gingerly, I took a few steps into the pitch black foyer of DeCamp Manor. Electricity hadn’t pulsed through these walls in years, so I made my way with an electric torch. The furniture was covered with dusty sheets, the windows mostly boarded over and the interior was cold and stale with a pervasive moldy odor that caused George to reach for his aromatherapy bag for some incense, which he placed in an ornate silver ball on a chain and began waving around the musty room.

   “Your purse is on fire,” I teased. But George, like most aromatherapists, lacks a sense of humor about his profession and gave me a withering look.

   “We must refresh our environment with positive energy.” he lectured.

    “I brought some Glade Plug-ins.” I helpfully offered.

    “Bah!” George sputtered, walking past me. I followed him from room to room as the bobbing glow of his burning incense lead the way.

    We explored the ground floor first, finding that each of the spacious rooms still contained the full furnishings and artwork of the manor’s late last owner. George preceded me into one of the rooms just off the foyer as I lagged behind admiring an abstract sculpture that on closer inspection turned out to be a giant ivory phallus. Then, out of the silence came a horrible shriek – it was George! I ran to find him in the library, his flashlight beaming on a curio cabinet.

    “Look!” He panted, “The entire pre-1979 collection of Precious Moments figurines!”

    After regaining a normal heartbeat, I warned George that the house was likely filled with all sorts of collectible knick-knacks, and if he screamed like that again there would likely be another spirit joining the residence.

    We decided to make the library our base camp for the night, as it had a fireplace and was close to an exit. Plus it contained a pornography collection to rival Clarence Thomas’. We gathered wood from outside and in no time we had a roaring fire. Only after the fire was lit did we notice that hanging above the mantel was an over-sized oil painting depicting two men decked out in vintage 1970’s formal wear. One was decidedly older, distinguished and aristocratic with salt and pepper sideburns; the other was boyish, with a thick mop of jet black hair and a muscular physique.

    “That must be Trevor DeCamp and his young lover Chadwick Thornside,” George mused as he studied the painting, “Even in oil, leisure suits look tacky.”

    Just then, like a whisper or the wind seething through the trees, we heard a voice, “Biiitch.”

    “What was that?” I asked, terror creeping into my throat.

    “YOU called me a bitch,” George replied, “Rather rude seeing how I came all this way to help you.”

   I denied calling him any such thing. But he was right, it did sound like someone or something had used that unfortunate word. I began wishing that Hector hadn’t taken off with my car and his pack of cigarettes.

*********************

    DeCamp Manor was built during what was known as America’s gilded era, when the wealthy garishly flaunted their prosperity and millionaires like the Vanderbilts and the Hearsts were busy building their castles on both coasts. Though more modest, DeCamp Manor rose to the sky in three floors, each boasting 15 foot ceilings. The heating bill must have been enormous.

   After unpacking our equipment, we headed for the upper floors. According to George’s files, much of the strange happenings occurred in the master bedroom. We hunted about in the darkened house for a  short time before finding what George felt certain was the right room. “Are you sure this is their bedroom?” I asked.

    “You will notice the handcuff marks on the bed posts.” George replied with confidence.

    “Were they into rough sex?” I queried.

     “Notorious leather queens – you saw their porn collection. Plus,” George continued, “they died in an amyl nitrate explosion – put two and two together.”

    We set up the recording equipment in the bedroom and waited. The engulfing silence suddenly cut by the startling chimes of a grandfather clock echoing from a distant room below. We counted along. Bong…bong…bong…Twelve chimes. George’s brow furrowed as he glanced at his watch.  “Shocking, did you hear that?” He asked.

    “Yes,” I whispered timorously, “and I too find it odd that a clock in a long abandoned mansion should be chiming.”

    “No, no, no!” George bellowed at me for missing his point, “That clock is 4 minutes slow.”

    “You’re so fucking anal.”

    As we waited for evidence of the paranormal to occur, my fatigue overcame me and I nodded off. It seemed only minutes later I was awakened by a frantic shaking. It was George, with his finger pressed to his lips, “Shhh…” Listening intently, his head cocked like a Labrador, George turned on his recording equipment. In the distance we could hear two distinct male voices. And they were coming closer! It was impossible to discern what they were saying, only that they sounded agitated.

    “What does that sound like to you?” George asked in his softest voice. I listened for a moment before venturing a guess.

     “Bickering?”

    George nodded in agreement. The voices grew louder as they came closer and closer until finally they were in the same room! I threw my hands over my ears in terror as George closed his eyes and sank to the floor. “These spirits are angry.” he said.

    “But why?” I asked, “Is it because we’ve invaded their home?

    “They are upset…with each other,” George replied haltingly, as he appeared to go into a trance-like state.

   “Trevor feels…he feels…” George’s sentence trailed off and his face began to contort in an odd manner as if he were trying to resist some power greater than his own. Suddenly his eyes opened and out of his mouth came a deep voice that was definitely not his. “You are a common whore! I should have left you in the gutter where I found you!”

    A disembodied voice answered back, “Fuck you, asshole!”

   “We’re through – get out!” the phantom controlling George yelled back.

    The two spirits continued to argue, back and forth, one voice emanating from George, the other seemingly coming from the air. After about twenty minutes of listening to this, the bickering became tedious and I grew bored. So I went in search of a snack. After polishing off a sandwich (and some chips), I thought it prudent to check back in on George.

   As I made my way back upstairs, I discovered George half-naked atop the staircase in a state of quivering dishevelment, his faint hair matted with sweat and his pants tripping around his ankles. “What happened?” I cried.

    “They made up!” George moaned, collapsing in my arms with a sweetly satisfied smile on his lips. Suddenly my fear vanished.

    “MY TURN!” I exclaimed as I bounded up the remaining stairs to the master bedroom.

Postscript

George and I decided to  pool our money and buy DeCamp Manor ourselves to turn into a bed and breakfast. George says people will pay big bucks to stay in a genuine haunted house. Although the ghosts of Trevor and his lover continue their nightly bickering, with an i-pod and some headphones, you can barely notice. We plan to charge guests extra to stay in the master bedroom – the epicenter of the hauntings – that is, if I can ever coax George out of there.