Wednesday, Simtember 14, 2416 | Bay City, Califorsimia
I’m just imagining things.
I’m seeing things.
Oh llamas! Maybe my eye sight is going!
When did I last have an eye appointment?
Oh silly! Your eyes are fine. You’re just sleep deprived.
It’s the medication from the accident…
Oh the accident!
I tried in vain to soothe my nerves and calm my racing thoughts. The whole point of this bicycle ride was to relax, and my mind was doing anything but as I pedaled down the street. I gritted my teeth. Stupid! Stupid! I shouldn’t be cutting class. I’ve already missed too much class. I should be working on the article for the Takeout King special. I should be figuring out what I’m going to do with this huge estate. Maybe I needed to call an exterminator… a ghost exterminator. I shivered at that last thought. Today wasn’t particularly cold, but the chilling image of a ghost in the basement lingered in my mind.
I’m not crazy.
I’m not imagining things.
I’ve seen her twice now.
I pumped my legs harder.
I had never much believed in ghosts before. I had always been a rational sort of person. You’re born. You grow old. You die. You move onto the afterlife… whatever and wherever that might be… just not here… visibly freaking Sims out. The afterlife was somewhere… out there… far away, right?
I thought about my bisnonna. She wasn’t hanging around the estate… or as far as I knew she wasn’t in some ghostly form. Why was this other woman? If anyone would hang around the Silverton Estate, it would be Celestia.
I thought about Jennifer. She wasn’t just floating around Sunset Valley, was she? No, it was irrational to think so. I brushed my hair out of my face. She was buried in a grave at the Laffalot Funeral Home. Even so, I wondered if she was at peace in the afterlife wherever it was.
She couldn’t be at peace. She probably had no memories of her death. I thought about how she slipped and fell and cracked her head in the shower. I winced. Gage must have been horrified to find her. I had wanted to comfort him so desperately and he wouldn’t let me in, and then when he told me about Natalya… I just couldn’t cope… in the light of day… I had felt…
…betrayed. But why?
I bit my lip. I had been dating Davis… Operative word being ‘have.’ We had broken up. I had mourned. I had let him go. I still grieved. Then I called him and left that idiotic message, but then I had rushed off to meet Gage. Stu-pid! Stu-pid! Stu-pid! The word bounced off my mind in sync with the rhythms of my pedaling.
Trouble with a capital T. That’s what Gage was. He was a friend, nothing more. I didn’t want more. I caught my breath and searched my heart. No I didn’t want more then. I don’t want more now. Gage was safe. I had known him for years. We were close. Naturally I’d want to help him but I didn’t need more. I just wanted things to stay the same. I didn’t want anything to change. Well that certainly got screwed up, didn’t it?
I shook my head in annoyance. How did I get off thinking about Gage again? I was thinking about… death and… ghosts. I made a mental note to do some research. I figured I should ask Bea more about the ethereal residents of the Silverton Estate. I could also look up some things on the Internet too. Maybe that’s what I could do today.
By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, I had a cramp in my side. Stu-pid! I felt my ribs screaming for rest. I pushed too hard. So much for a relaxing mental health day! I was surprised to see the Wolfbane Tavern directly perpendicular to my road. Huh? It’s not twelve miles from the house. There’s no way I pedaled twelve miles. I pulled over at the bus stop, checking the pedometer on my cell phone. One-point-two-five miles. I frowned, wondering why the mixologist had said the Silverton Estate was twelve miles away.
I felt along my abdomen, supporting my right breast with my hand to feel for any swelling and was relieved there didn’t seem to be any. I couldn’t keep pedaling. I would rip the stitches right out if I wasn’t careful. Dr. Bachelor had told me to take it easy with the exercise. Maybe I should’ve just gone for a walk or a drive down to the beach. I couldn’t now. I’d given Ayesha my car. I’d have to take the bus.
I eased myself onto the bench. The city had replaced the long plastic bus stop seat with a wooden park bench instead. The wood grooves were more comfortable than the plastic. I appreciated the indents, tracing patterns absently with my fingers and wondering when the next bus would arrive. A flock of pigeons congregated at my feet, one bird poking at my backpack with its beak. I shooed the creatures and reached over to grab today’s newspaper from the nearby newsstand, tucking my backpack beneath the seat with my foot.
A building explosion article in Sunset Valley was on the first page. I quickly scanned through the words and discovered no one had been hurt, except a homeless man who had been sleeping on the back steps during the incident. The man was in critical condition at Bay City General. I frowned. Why would they move him to Bay City if Mercy Hospital is only a few blocks from the warehouse district?
I continued scanning the article, but there was no more mention of the patient. The building in question had been a warehouse owned by the Lopez family. I glanced over my shoulder at the tavern. The same Lopez family who owns the Wolfbane? Curious. I continued reading the article on the inner pages.
Apparently, Carlos Lopez had been receiving shipments at this particular warehouse – food and alcohol for the restaurant and now parts for the repairs. The fire marshal had determined the explosion was caused by a leaking gas line. I frowned. Suspicious incidents at property owned by the same people within a week of each other? My reporting instincts flared. I glanced back at the first page to see who wrote the article. Alonso…
…Lopez… well isn’t that a conflict of interest? He was a relative. Someone related to the owner of the Wolfbane Tavern and the warehouse in China Beach wrote the articles on both incidents. I would need to ask Brendon about it.
I tried to think about my colleague, Alonso. I had seen him a few times, talked to him even fewer. It wasn’t like the full fledged crime reporters and lifestyle section interns co-mingled regularly. He had mentioned his uncle Carlos once over the water cooler, something about a party at his family’s tavern and his aunt’s special margaritas on sale. I hadn’t thought anything about it at the time, but now it seemed like a grave oversight that the boss missed. Why would Brendon allow it? Isn’t he always preaching to us about unbiased news? There had to be an explanation. I tore out the article and reached for my pen in my backpack to make notes.
I jumped, startled at the sound of the man clearing his throat directly behind my seat. When I looked up and turned, I noticed the man was none other than Carlos Lopez.
“Oh hello,” I quickly rolled the newspaper up and kicked it under the seat, shoving the torn sheet into my backpack side pocket. “I’m sorry if I’m taking up too much space.”
“Not at all, I’m not waiting for the bus,” he remarked.
“Uh… yeah… right…” I flubbed. “Do you know when it’s coming?”
“Soon… very soon…” he replied.
“Uh huh…” he still hadn’t moved on so I stood up and walked over to the trash can to throw away the newspaper.
“Is that today’s paper?” he asked.
“Yes,” I froze as he reached for the item in my hand as I hadn’t deposited it yet.
“Do you mind?” he took it from me and flipped through the paper as if looking for something in particular.
“Weather,” he remarked as if reading my mind.
“Oh, yeah,” I laughed nervously as I stepped past him, deciding to take the opportunity to examine the building damage.
The Wolfbane had boards over most of the windows and doors and tire tread marks on the pavement. However, the outer walls were miraculously in tact as the driver had burst through the front doors. I shook my head wondering what kind of monster drove into a building full of people and started shooting. I wondered about the young woman who had been killed, the bartender who had come on duty just moments before the accident. It wasn’t an accident, I narrowed my eyes, it was a deliberate act of violence.
I rubbed the back of my neck and closed my eyes, lifting my head toward the sun. Andi had told me in moments like this, we had to remember our faith. She said not to let a single act of violence shatter my peace, to lift my head to Padre and pray for a heart of forgiveness. I grunted. How could I forgive if I couldn’t even remember what happened? How could I forgive people who left such destruction in their wake?
The Wolfbane seemed like it was mostly in tact. I observed a customer walking through the repaired doors. Business as usual. I felt sick. The world went on and someone had died and I had nearly died. Did anyone care? It seemed so random and senseless. There was a moment of chaos and disruption in the aftermath and then life went on. I wondered if anyone remembered the poor bartender. Absently, I fingered my abdomen. I certainly had a reminder stitched right into my skin. I couldn’t forget. I couldn’t forgive. Someone had tried to kill me. Andi said to pray in moments like these, for everyone involved – for the victims, for the innocent bystanders, for the business owners, and for the perpetrator. I would pray for the other victim… the one who lost her life. I could not yet pray for the shooter. I did not have words for such a criminal.
“I’m happy the repairs only took us a week,” Carlos Lopez intruded on my thoughts.
“Oh,” I turned to face him.
“You should come inside.”
“I’m waiting for the bus.”
“Today is our grand reopening at eleven,” he explained. “Drinks on the house.”
I was disgusted.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” I walked past him back to the bench.
“You look familiar. Do I know you?”
I must have replied with a little hesitation in my voice because he looked like he didn’t believe me.
“Carlos Lopez. I’m the proprietor of the Wolfbane Tavern,” he introduced himself to me for the second time.
I felt uneasy, but reluctantly accepted his handshake. Ten days ago, we had met and he offered me a glass of lemonade, a bowl of chili, and a room in town. He had pointed me to the phone in the basement. In some ways, our first encounter seemed like forever ago, and in other ways, it felt like yesterday.
“You heard about the accident, didn’t you?” he remarked when I didn’t say anything.
I nodded. What else could I say? Accident… it was no accident. A drunk could’ve driven through the walls or the door, but someone had to be methodical or at least have their wits about them to emerge from the vehicle and start shooting. I had been lucky that I didn’t catch any bullets. The fact that someone had driven full speed through the entrance and shot at the patrons pointed to someone more than just a disgruntled drunk.
“Yes, I’m sure everyone in town heard,” Carlos continued. “We lost a our dog, Butch and an employee”
“Yes, the employee… the blonde… what was her name?” I asked.
“My wife is serving puppy chow today in honor of Butch, and the first twenty customers get a free serving of his favorite chili dogs,” Carlos explained as if he hadn’t heard me.
I felt a twinge of anger. What about the bartender who died?
“The bartender,” I said, louder this time. “What was her name? Do you know if her family had a funeral for her?”
Carlos blinked a few times as if surprised by my question. “Uh… you mean JoAnn?”
“Yes,” I said, exasperated.
“I think she has a cousin over at the college,” Carlos shrugged. “There’s a wake on Friday for her. We were invited.”
“What’s her cousin’s name?” I asked, eagerly.
“Why?” he asked, eyeing my suspiciously.
“I’d like to pay my respects,” I replied, and when he didn’t look convinced, I decided to tell him the truth. “You were right… I… I was here… on the day of the… uh… incident.”
“I knew you looked familiar,” he interrupted. “You were the lady that was new in town… is new in town. What a horrible way to be welcomed into town! Oh please come in. Mi esposa… my wife will make you something special. Do you like chili dogs? We would hate to lose a customer over an unfortunate incident.”
Something about the way that he said that was off-putting. I felt like acknowledging the loss of life and the trauma was more important than the almighty simoleon. I felt a surge of anger rising in my chest, but I swallowed hard and tried to think of a civil reply.
“No… thank you…” I tried to maintain my calm. “I would really like to contact JoAnn’s cousin. Do you know how to reach her?”
“Are you certain? We could make you our famous Mexsimican chili or if you don’t eat beef, we can do shredded pork taquitos,” Carlos offered with a pleasant smile.
I glared at him. I couldn’t help it.
“Or do you not eat meat? We have green chile, cheese, and tomato tamales… oh speaking of tomatoes… Mi esposa makes a delicious bloody Mary drink… you really must come in and try it… on us… please?” Carlos motioned toward the door.
The thought of anything bloody right now was thoroughly disturbing. I couldn’t believe his attempt to get me to come inside, customer or not.
“No,” I said, more firmly this time. “I just need JoAnn’s cousins’ information and I’ll be on my way.”
I could see the bus rounding the corner in the distance.
“Oh…” he seemed disappointed. “I… well… her cousin is Cecilia Ellis, but I hear the family doesn’t like talking to reporters.”
“I didn’t say anything about reporters,” I narrowed my eyes, wondering how he knew.
“Your bus,” he waved his arms majestically, nodding to the curb. “And please, return anytime. We will always give you happy hour prices at the Wolfbane.”
I turned away from him, snatching my backpack as I walked toward the bike rack. I unhooked my bicycle and locked it to the front of the bus before boarding.
“And if you come back today, free drinks and appetizers, Kass,” Carlos called after me.
The bus doors whooshed shut, exhaling a mechanical sigh to echo my internal one. Cecilia Ellis. He did say the college so I could probably look her up in the online directory. As the bus lurched away from the curb, I grabbed the seats to steady myself, making my way toward the middle. I would make a point to find Cecilia Ellis and find out what I could about JoAnn Norman. Maybe then I could make some sense about the senselessness at the Wolfbane. I certainly didn’t want to have to ask Carlos.
It wasn’t until I was settled in my seat that I realized he said my name. How did he know? I wondered, feeling a strange chill running down my spine. I didn’t give him my name and I didn’t think I gave it the first time.
So much for a mental health day!
2.25 Coming Soon!
- Will Kass find out what happened at the Wolfbane?
- Will she find out how Alonso got assigned to the two stories?
- Will she be able to locate Cecilia Ellis?
- Will she make sense of the ghost at her family estate?