This is Part 6 of a Serial Story. The Story began here.
Shank’s was cozy. It had a couple of private rooms, one of which was currently overrun by jubilant theatre students, and a line of secluded tables along the wall between the main dining room and the bar. The bar featured local bands on the weekends, which I liked, and had enough air filters that you could enjoy the music without choking on second hand smoke.
But where was the fountain?
I snagged the last slice of pizza and climbed up onto on one of the elevated bar stools. Charlotte perched next to me, a hummingbird pausing for one moment’s rest before zipping away again. She even looked a little like a bird, wearing some retro feathered fascinator in her hair.
“So how was my performance? Be honest,” she said.
“For the hundredth time, Charlotte, you were great,” I replied.
“Yes, but was I brilliant?”
I sighed. “You were brilliant,” I said.
She beamed and dashed away.
Left to my own devices and out of pizza, I began to feel bored. When I’m bored my mind wanders, and once my mind wanders it doesn’t take long for the rest of me to follow. I slipped out of the room and walked through the restaurant, searching for the fountain.
The décor of the restaurant was an odd mish-mash of Tuscan villa and Spanish hacienda. Logically there should be a fountain somewhere in the place. But where? I had imagined some grand tiered affair bordered with colorful tiles, sitting in the center of the entryway or the main dining room. But no. That would be too easy.
The whole thing was ridiculous. Even if I could find the fountain, there was no reason to think the ring would still be there. So why was I looking? Oh, right. I’m me.
My wanderings led me into the bar, where the band was performing a surprisingly good rendition of ‘Black Velvet.’ I leaned back against a post to listen.
“Can I get you anything?”
I turned around and saw the bartender looking at me and waiting. A very good looking African-American man with a shaved head and hazel eyes. I guessed him to be about Charlotte’s age. Probably a local college student, working at Shank’s to pay some of his school expenses. “No thank you,” I said. “I’m just enjoying the music.”
“It’s a good band,” he agreed. “First time here, but I bet Shanks will put them in the regular rotation.”
We stood there and listened to the rest of the song, and then another. I was starting to forget about the fountain, the ring, and the Mirandons.
An older couple walked up to the bar, arm-in-arm and smiling. “Hello, young man. Might I ask you a question?” the man said to the bartender.
“Of course, sir.”
“You see, we used to come to Shank’s years ago, but we moved away. But we were in town and thought we’d come for dinner,” the woman explained. “It has changed, but not as much as we feared.”
“But we were wondering why Shanks put the mirrors up in the bar, and just on part of one wall,” said the man. “It looks a little strange.”
The bartender looked a little uncomfortable. “I don’t know if you heard about it before you moved, but there was a shooting here,” he said.
“Oh. Oh, yes. I’d forgotten about that.”
“One of the bullets ended up in that wall. The panels were replaced but…I guess Shanks just didn’t want to look at that spot of the wall anymore.” The bartender sounded apologetic.
The couple ordered drinks and left the bar, glasses in hands. And I was left with Mirandons on my mind.
“While you’re answering questions about the old days, can you answer one of mine?” I asked.
The bartender smiled. “I can try,” he said.
“Is there a fountain in this place?”
“Kind of. It’s out of use, but it’s there. Did you see the hostess stand when you came in? It’s back behind that.”
“Why is it out of use?”
He studied me. “I could tell you, but you’ll think I’m crazy,” he said.
I grinned. “If there’s one thing I’m great at its suspending disbelief. So tell me,” I replied.
He shook his head. “If we’re going down a rabbit hole together we should introduce ourselves first. Robert Bricks,” he said, offering his hand.
I shook his hand and said, “Maryanne Wells. So what’s down the rabbit hole?”
He leaned on the bar and asked quietly, “You heard me mention the shooting that happened here?”
“The Mirandons,” I said wryly.
“You do know. Well, Shanks swears this place is haunted now. And if you stand too close to the old fountain you’ll feel this cold, clammy hand on the back of you neck. They say the wife stood by that fountain sobbing after she saw her husband with the other woman, just before she came back in the bar and started shooting.”
“Why would Shanks put the hostess booth near a cold, clammy hand?”
Robert laughed. “You are something. Out of all that, you come away with concern for the restaurant hostesses. They don’t stand behind the booth; they stand next to it. We just store menus on the shelf inside. When you need more menus you duck and go in low to avoid the hand then get out quick,” he explained.
“It sounds needlessly complicated.”
“Only good place to put the booth. And assuming all the ghost stuff is true and Mrs. Mirandon ever crosses over to the other side, the clammy hand will go away. So tell me, what’s you interest in the fountain anyway?”
“I’m interested in ghosts with clammy hands.”
He laughed again and said, “No, for real. Why do you care?”
“Robert, that’s going further down the rabbit hole then you want to be,” I replied.
If I feel the cold hand of Mrs. Mirandon on me while I’m searching for the ring, I will speak ill of the dead. Loudly and colorfully.
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