Willy Lawson didn't really feel he was blackmailing Uncle Jimmy -- the Honorable James Tweet, Mayor of Palmdale -- when he took pictures of Uncle Jimmy kissing Dotty before she turned back into a ghost.

"We got trouble, Willy," Uncle Jimmy said when he called. "All the ladies and all the churches are certain you're gonna re-open the Rialto Burlesque. I tried to tell 'em it was just gonna be a haunted house for Halloween, but they wouldn't believe me!"

This really pleased Willy. All his life he had been 'Loser' Lawson, and would turn to his uncle for help. Since putting through the deal for the Rialto, and meeting the four girl ghosts, he had changed; now he was full of confidence, and his uncle was coming to him!

"Buy us some time, Uncle Jimmy," he said into his cellphone. "I've got laborers due out today to start remodeling. In just a day or two, I can prove what I'm doing!"

"How do you plan to overcome any fears they might have of the place being haunted? I mean, there hasn't been much about it lately, but the way things have been going --"

"It'll make 'em feel better if four pretty girls are here to work with them!"

"But how can they. . .I mean, they're ghosts. They can't. . .can they?"

"They'll just be visible, not solid. They'll be careful not to get bumped into, and they can tell when they're about to fade. They'll slip away."

"Dotty sure couldn't tell!" his uncle objected, remembering the photos.

As Willy had guessed, solid or not, Dotty didn't come through on the photos -- but he hadn't told Uncle Jimmy. He smiled. "Dotty is stuck on you, Uncle Jimmy! That interfered with her perceptions."

"She . . . is?" the mayor said, and Willy could detect a certain amount of pleasure in his uncle's tone. He kept saying he was 'a happily married man', but who could dislike a young girl's interest in them? Yes, 'young girl'; so she'd been dead over seventy years! According to ghost rules, she was still young. "Really?" Uncle Jimmy asked.

Willy grinned. "Sure thing, Uncle Jimmy. She says you're her kind of man! Better tell Aunt Helen she's got competition."

"Well, I. . . I mean, I can't, and . . . anyway, Dotty's a ghost!"

"She still has the right to her opinions," Willy smiled. "Anyway, keep the churches and the ladies off my back, and we'll be able to prove what we're up to."

Uncle Jimmy's political mind was at work. "I wonder how it is that the churches and the ladies all got stirred up so quick?" he asked.

"I might be wrong," Willy mused, "but it wouldn't surprise me if it was Benny Thonk."

"The realtor?" the mayor asked. "But he's the one that sold the Rialto to you in the first place!"

Willy nodded. "That's just it. I wheedled him into a really good deal, and I think he's regretting it. If he finds out what I'm really planning on doing here, he'll be sizzling!"

Uncle Jimmy gulped and said, "Uh. . .Willy. . .I. . . well, remember, I've been telling the churches and the ladies about your plans. I'd guess some of 'em got word back to Thonk." Shrugging, Willy said, "No big deal, Uncle Jimmy. He was bound to find out sooner or later. Don't worry about it!" Willy Lawson didn't really feel he was blackmailing Uncle Jimmy -- the Honorable James Tweet, Mayor of Palmdale -- when he took pictures of Uncle Jimmy kissing Dotty before she turned back into a ghost.

"We got trouble, Willy," Uncle Jimmy said when he called. "All the ladies and all the churches are certain you're gonna re-open the Rialto Burlesque. I tried to tell 'em it was just gonna be a haunted house for Halloween, but they wouldn't believe me!"

This really pleased Willy. All his life he had been 'Loser' Lawson, and would turn to his uncle for help. Since putting through the deal for the Rialto, and meeting the four girl ghosts, he had changed; now he was full of confidence, and his uncle was coming to him!

"Buy us some time, Uncle Jimmy," he said into his cellphone. "I've got laborers due out today to start remodeling. In just a day or two, I can prove what I'm doing!"

"How do you plan to overcome any fears they might have of the place being haunted? I mean, there hasn't been much about it lately, but the way things have been going --"

"It'll make 'em feel better if four pretty girls are here to work with them!"

"But how can they. . .I mean, they're ghosts. They can't. . .can they?"

"They'll just be visible, not solid. They'll be careful not to get bumped into, and they can tell when they're about to fade. They'll slip away."

"Dotty sure couldn't tell!" his uncle objected, remembering the photos.

As Willy had guessed, solid or not, Dotty didn't come through on the photos -- but he hadn't told Uncle Jimmy. He smiled. "Dotty is stuck on you, Uncle Jimmy! That interfered with her perceptions."

"She . . . is?" the mayor said, and Willy could detect a certain amount of pleasure in his uncle's tone. He kept saying he was 'a happily married man', but who could dislike a young girl's interest in them? Yes, 'young girl'; so she'd been dead over seventy years! According to ghost rules, she was still young. "Really?" Uncle Jimmy asked.

Willy grinned. "Sure thing, Uncle Jimmy. She says you're her kind of man! Better tell Aunt Helen she's got competition."

"Well, I. . . I mean, I can't, and . . . anyway, Dotty's a ghost!"

"She still has the right to her opinions," Willy smiled. "Anyway, keep the churches and the ladies off my back, and we'll be able to prove what we're up to."

Uncle Jimmy's political mind was at work. "I wonder how it is that the churches and the ladies all got stirred up so quick?" he asked.

"I might be wrong," Willy mused, "but it wouldn't surprise me if it was Benny Thonk."

"The realtor?" the mayor asked. "But he's the one that sold the Rialto to you in the first place!"

Willy nodded. "That's just it. I wheedled him into a really good deal, and I think he's regretting it. If he finds out what I'm really planning on doing here, he'll be sizzling!"

Uncle Jimmy gulped and said, "Uh. . .Willy. . .I. . . well, remember, I've been telling the churches and the ladies about your plans. I'd guess some of 'em got word back to Thonk."

Shrugging, Willy said, "No big deal, Uncle Jimmy. He was bound to find out sooner or later. Don't worry about it!"

The mayor shook his head. "I can't get over this big change in you, Willy! Most of your life, you . . . well, you. . . ."

"I was 'Loser' Lawson," Willy finished. "Uncle Jimmy, this whole thing has developed me beyond my wildest hopes! Just being able to cut the deal I wanted with Thonk was such a shot in the arm for me! I know, I know; he was desperate to sell. Still, 'Loser' Lawson would never have been able to do it! Then the girls came along, and I'm just floating on air! I feel invincible, like Superman." He grinned. "So don't apologize! Now," he added, "let me get to work!"

When a few men walked in the front door, Willy could see others standing outside. He had already arranged for Countess and the others to be available, so he smiled at the applicants and went to the double doors. "Come on out, girls," he said. Then he turned to the men as the girls joined him. "Already got four workers," he said. He went to the front door and motioned to the others standing hesitantly outside. On cue, the four followed him. "Come on in!" he said to the small crowd. "You're late! These four beat you here."

This part had been Countess's idea, but Willy had immediately seen the sense in it. Smiling, the girls stepped back as everybody forgot any hesitancy they might have originally had. In minutes, everybody got busy -- mostly removing seats to make room for scary rooms and the like. Two rows of seats were left on the opposing walls, in case some might just want to watch. The other workers were helping remodel the lobby and concession stands.

Everything went well until late in the afternoon. Dotty had drifted toward one of the men who reminded her of the mayor. Noticing her attention, he smiled and started toward her. This both pleased and concerned Dotty. She appreciated his interest, but knew he couldn't touch her. She started backing away --

--And bumped into a man behind her. Bumped into, and kept going in!

"Ghost!" the laborer who had been eying her screamed. The one she had bumped into, who also had a chill from the encounter, echoed the other.

Willy found out what happened later. At the moment of the alarm, he was polishing the top of the concession stand and saw people start pouring out of the double doors. "Hey! Hey, just a minute!" he shouted. When no one paid attention, he put two fingers to his lips and let out a shrill blast that succeeded in getting their attention.

"She. . .she's a ghost!" Dotty's admirer panted. "I saw. . . I saw her --"

Willy burst out laughing. To give his mind time to think, he actually roared laughter, slapping his side in feigned amusement. "You mean," he said, that's what this is all about?" He came up with an explanation 'Loser' Lawson would never have dreamed of. "Have you forgotten what I'm building here?" he asked, still chuckling. "That was one of the tricks I'll have in my Haunted Rialto! You got a free preview!" Looking at the double doors, he shouted, "Dotty! Come on in here -- and do it without opening the doors."

"Huh?" Several men got goggle-eyed when Dotty did as told.

"It's a hologram!" Willy said, laughing again and slapping his thigh. "It's expensive equipment, and even needs an operator, but you just saw that it works." He turned to Dotty. "Take a bow, Dotty."

Dotty bowed and Willy started clapping. Soon, the others joined in. "Now," Willy said, "disappear."

Dotty looked at him doubtfully. "Disappear," he repeated. "Fade away!"

Seeing that he was serious, Dotty did a slow fade. This time the workers started the applause.

"What about the others?" a man asked.

"Only Countess is real," Willy said. He had decided he could trust Countess to handle things.

"Mister Lawson, I gotta congratulate you," a tall, skinny man said. He was wearing overalls and had a hammer stuck in a strap. "This oughta be a real top-of-the-line haunted house!" Even though he was slender, he pulled out his hammer and glared at the others. "Anybody else wanta run away scared will hafta run through me!"

Everyone volunteered for unpaid overtime. Willy volunteered to give all of them free tickets, but most refused. Late the following night, the painting was completed, as were most of the booths and 'secret' tunnels and all the other necessities. Willy told Countess, "All I need is a crew of licensed electricians and we'll be ready to go!"

"We can handle on the lighting!" Countess said.

"I know. But that won't work, in this case. I mean, I'll depend on many of your lighting effects, but the city will be all over me and Uncle Jimmy if I don't pay the experts."

"Politics!" Countess snorted.

One of the workers had been an out-of-work electrician, and he had given Willy not only a list of what he would have to buy, but an electrical layout as well. Still, it took the electricians all day to do half a day's work.

Noontime, they were backstage, away from the electricians, and Willy made the mistake of mentioning how long it was taking.

"Let me give 'em a jolt!" Countess volunteered eagerly. "I'll bet I can really jazz 'em up!"

"No fair!" Sally complained. "Countess gets to have all the fun!"

"Nobody'll have fun!" Willy cut in. "We can't mess this up! Calm down."

The girls grumbled, but nobody gave anybody a jolt.

At the end of the day, one said, "Now you'll need to get the city engineer out to approve all this. He'll be out tomorrow."

"Or the next day!" another electrician snickered.

On the afternoon of the second day, Willy and the girls stood at the double doors and observed the spooky sight. On opposite walls was a double row of chairs. Over each double row hung a sign saying, "Cheap Scaredy Cats". Viewer's seats were only five bucks, instead of the ten dollars for full admission.

"I don't expect much outta those seats," Willy said. "But it seemed like a good idea, just in case."

"That sign might frighten 'em off," Countess criticized.

Willy chuckled. "If I can scare 'em into paying the full amount, all the better! But," he added, "five bucks is better'n nothing!"

When Countess flicked her wrist, music designed to inspire fear drifted everywhere. There were the expected moans, shrieks, and rattling of chains. Blood dripped from the ceiling. "It's ectoplasm, so it won't stain anything," Countess reassured Willy.

"Tonight, Uncle Jimmy will bring in a group of ladies to demonstrate Haunted Rialto, so they can see we're not re-opening a burlesque theatre," Willy said.

"I still think we should do our show!" Dotty muttered, sulking.

Irritated, Countess asked, "Weren't you listening to him? That's what's causing Willy a lot of trouble, the burlesque show, I mean."

"Humph!" Dotty snorted. "It was good enough for --"

"Oh, shut up!" Countess snapped. "Can it!"

With a 'pop', Dotty turned into a big can labeled 'Burlesque!'

Willy laughed. "Point made, Dotty! Still," he went on, calming down, "we do hafta keep in all scary, this time. Okay?"

Early that evening, political smile brightly lit, the Honorable James Tweet led a group of women into the lobby, where Willy was waiting to greet them. "You lucky ladies," Uncle Jimmy beamed, "will be the first ones to see the Haunted Rialto! Not only that, but you'll see it for free!"

"Who's that stiff one?" Countess, invisible, whispered in Willy's ear. "The one who looks like she's forty going on a hundred?"

It was obvious who she meant. One lady was standing stiffly erect in a gray business suit, prim look on her face, not a hair out of place under her small but stylish hat. Turning so no one would see his lips move, he whispered back, "That's Mrs Stan Mills. She's president of the Women's Club and a deacon in the largest church. Careful with her."

"Sure. . . ." Countess whispered back. Something about her tone bothered Willy, but he decided to say no more, for fear of stirring something up.

"This way, ladies," Uncle Jimmy said, leading them to the double doors. "I'm quite familiar with it, so I'll just sit on the side and wait for your reactions."

+ + +

When the women exited, many thanked either the mayor or Willy, some giggling, some excited, all obviously pleased. But what really surprised Willy was the change in Mrs Stan Mills. She was beaming, happy, and relaxed. As they all left, Willy asked, "What in the world happened to her? I'm not complaining, you understand."

"I goosed her," Countess said, smugly. Dotty snickered.

"What?" Willy exclaimed in shock.

"Yup," Countess said. "She obviously needed loosening up. First dark hall they went down, I slipped behind her, made my finger solid, and goosed her."

"But. . . but. . . she's --" Willy started.

"She was a stiff old biddy," Countess interrupted. "I loosened her up! Oh, at first she was shocked. I knew she couldn't blame your uncle, since he was on the sidelines, and there weren't any other men about, but she gave suspicious looks everywhere. Later, in another dark hall, I whispered to her: 'Looks like some ghost has a crush on you!'

"Knowing she couldn't recognize me, I was solid for that. She looked at me in indignation -- but I caught just the hint of a smile as she said, 'There's no such thing as ghosts!'

"'How else can you explain it?' I asked.

"After that, she started smiling more, and was positively enjoying herself by the end of the tour!"

Torn between indignation and humor, Willy gasped, "Countess, you . . . you. . . ."

"I'm a magician!" Countess said. "I transformed a stick into a real Lucky Lady!"


NEXT

View My Stats