Theodore Brooks couldn’t believe his luck. A large white Victorian house located near downtown, and the owner was offering it at fifty percent off its appraised value. The wraparound porch, the turrets and the slate roof blew him away. If the inside were even half of everything the Dark Realty website said it was, then the house would be perfect for his new stockbroker’s office. He rang the doorbell.
As a demure, white-haired woman in a maroon blazer and pantsuit opened the door, the smell of chocolate chip cookies wafted over him, and although he knew baking was a sales technique to make prospective buyers feel at home, it still had the desired effect. His grandmother always met him after school with cookies, milk, and a kind word. Had the realtor asked him, he might have signed on the dotted line right then and there.
“Ah, Mr. Brooks, I recognize you from your picture in the paper. I’m Darla Dark.” They shook hands. Mr. Brooks’ recent killing in the market netted him a Midas fortune and much notoriety. He could see the dollar signs cha-chinging in the realtor’s eyes.
She’s probably spending her commission in her head right now.
“You’re even handsomer than your picture.”
Mr. Brooks was acutely aware of his plain appearance. To compensate for it, he wore expensive suits and designer toupees. Today he wore an ash gray Armani topped off with favorite auburn hairpiece, the one with side-swept bangs that he thought made him look younger than his forty years.
He resolved to dicker, if only to put another sycophant in her place.
Darla led him through the foyer and down the hall. “I think this house is exactly what you’re looking for. Here’s the parlor, perfect for your personal assistant. And through these French sliding doors is the living room.”
She slid the doors open and Mr. Brooks could barely hide his enthusiasm. The living room was huge with a vaulted ceiling lit by sunlight that streamed through the stained glass of the bay windows. The room not only shouted affluence, but it gave off the trustworthy aura of a church, a good mix for a stockbroker. Then his eyes fell on the marble fireplace.
“Does it work?” he asked.
“All six fireplaces in the house work, Mr. Brooks.”
“Okay,” he said, shaking his head. “What’s the catch?”
“What do you mean, Mr. Brooks?”
“Come on, fifty percent off the appraised value? There’s got to be a catch.”
“It’s because of the bodies in the basement.”
Mr. Brooks could not believe his ears.
“What do you mean, ‘bodies in the basement’?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Brooks, there are bodies in the basement.” She waved for him to follow and led him to the top of the basement steps off the kitchen.
“You’re joking,” he said. “Where are the cameras?”
“Look for yourself.”
Mr. Brooks stared down into the darkness. A musty stale odor overwhelmed the cookie smell. He laughed, nervously. “I don’t see anything. Who put you up to this?”
“Turn on the lights.”
He flipped the light switch. At the bottom of the stairs were three mangled bodies, each with limbs tortured in unnatural directions. Mr. Brooks could identify the gender of only one, a young woman. Perhaps she had been pretty, but now she lay on her stomach with her head twisted about and her lifeless blue eyes staring up at him. Mr. Brooks scoffed at the tableau.
He put his hands on his hips and said, “Tell those idiots at Sustarsic and Walker, I’m not impressed.”
Darla replied by slipping a billy club from under her blazer and whacking Mr. Brooks over the head, bringing him to his knees. She grabbed his shoulders and aimed him down the long staircase. With a nudge, Darla sent him tumbling down the steps. He landed on his back atop the young woman, his head cocked at an odd angle.
Darla slipped the billy club back under her blazer and straightened her hair. From her side pocket she pulled out her cell phone, flipped it open, and hit #3 on her speed dial. It buzzed once.
“Dark Realty,” said a husky voice.
“Hey, little brother, how many you got?”
“I’ve got three!”
“Got you beat. I got four.”
From the basement, Darla heard a moan.
“Whoops, spoke too soon. One of the natives is still restless. I’ll get back to you later.”
Darla returned the cell phone to her pocket and retrieved the billy club. She stood at the top of the stairs. Mr. Brooks, his eyes wide and mouth agape, lay with a broken neck. Slowly, she descended the steps, slapping the billy into her palm with each footfall.
Outside of the house on the sidewalk, Jerry Bailey couldn’t believe his luck, a large, white Victorian with twenty-two rooms and three bathrooms. It would be perfect for his eight kids. And the owner was offering it at fifty percent off its appraised value. If he could close the deal today, he could surprise his wife for their fifteenth wedding anniversary tomorrow. He rang the doorbell.