Vera withdrew a ball of chunky yarn and plastic knitting needles from her handbag and settled in to wait. She’d arrived an hour early for this appointment on purpose. As she started knitting and purling, she scanned the room taking in every detail. There were three other live bodies stationed in the coffee shop—the barista plus two other customers, both hunched over laptops.
And then there was the dead girl.
She’d been there so long she appeared as little more than a shadowy outline with wisps of color here and there. She was definitely beautiful once. Pure coal black hair cut in a sleek bob highlighted flawless porcelain skin, large doe eyes rimmed in kohl, and a perfect Cupid’s bow mouth. Hints of sparkle below her neckline give the impression of a shimmering party dress. Stunning. She was practically a poster child for the glamorous flappers of the 1920’s. Vera’s brief foray into historical research of the building indicated this shadow was the It Girl of Columbus, Ohio during the days of prohibition.
“Hello, Mabel,” Vera murmured quietly.
The shadow gave her an ornery smile of acknowledgement.
Above Mabel’s head was a small corner shelf prominently displaying a large black and white picture of her in life, at the height of her glory. The shelf served as a sort of shrine to her memory. A white remembrance candle, a string of antique glass beads, a glass vase filled with white feathers, and a bottle of gin with one shot poured surrounded the picture. Mounted next to the shelf was a plaque explaining this coffee shop was once a notorious speakeasy where Mabel Montgomery was shot and killed during a raid.
Both the plaque and the altar were the brainchild of the person Vera was waiting to meet.
Three days ago, when Vera stumbled into this lovely little coffee house thoroughly exhausted and heartsick after a full day of touring commercial office spaces, Mabel was the first thing she set eyes on. The ghost didn’t disturb her. Vera was comfortable with ghosts, especially the older ones from decades past.
Then she saw the odd advertisement on the cork board. Help for Haunted Houses. The message was so bizarre, it startled a laugh out of her.
The young woman behind the counter looked up from her textbook, noted where Vera was looking, and also laughed. The laughter sounded like delicate silver bells to Vera and set off an electric fission of recognition. This happened to Vera often and always indicated she needed to pay attention to whatever was said next.
“It’s true. Really it is.” The girl stood up and lifted her text book to display the cover. Organic Chemistry. “I’m a pre-med student and yet I’m telling you it is absolutely true. She really helped us. She’s the only reason my mother didn’t go bankrupt last year.”
“Really?” Vera shot a quick look toward Mabel’s corner.
“Oh yes!” the girl said, her face earnest. “We had such problems. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Try me.” Vera leaned closer.
“Mugs shattering, pictures flying off the wall, and this very wicked laughter.” The girl stopped, pressed a hand to her throat, and looked over toward the ghost’s corner before leaning forward to continue her story in a lowered voice.
“At least we thought the laughter sounded wicked. But it wasn’t. The really bad part was new bags of coffee split open and scattered all over the floor. I can’t tell you how many times customers complained because there was salt in our sugar pitchers. And the cappuccino machine kept breaking down all the time. We’d get a repair man here and it would work perfectly as soon as he arrived then stop working as soon as he left. We were literally days from closing the doors. Then she walked in.”
The earnest young woman pointed to the sign.
“We learned about Mabel’s murder. And we learned Mabel was not happy with our coffee shop. She missed the bar that had been here for thirty years before us. But Lori worked out a truce and now everything is fine. The business is stable. We even get extra business from ghost tourists.”
The girl smiled self consciously, lowered her eyes, and smoothed the edge of the pale pink scarf knotted over the heavy bun at the nape of her neck.
“My mother and I don’t agree with this western concept of ghosts, of course. To us, they are Jinn. Some are horrible. Some are benevolent. We were sure this one was evil, but Lori has made her our friend. So … we don’t argue over the words.”
Vera smiled, her heartsick exhaustion lifting. In her experience, the gods people worshiped heavily influenced the ghosts they perceived.
“Sounds very wise to me,” she agreed warmly. “I’d like a double latte, please. And, if you don’t mind, I’d love to sit here near the front counter and hear more about your friend.”
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