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Jackson Rutledge saw the ad for the house at nine o'clock the first morning it appeared in the paper. At about the same time, Sabrina Osterling also saw it. And both were immediately attracted to the phrase, "musty, dusty, and guaranteed haunted." Accordingly, they appeared at the real estate agent's office within moments of each other.
A cold October wind had been blowing the light rain nearly horizontal, so Eadie Barnes, the agent, hadn't really expected to see anyone that morning, let alone two people interested in that white elephant they'd been trying to unload for the Hanleys for years. Nor was she quite prepared for their reaction to her natural assumption.
"You're together then?" Eadie assumed.
"Not…really," the man answered.
"Not on your life," the woman said flatly.
Eadie sighed inwardly. These two didn't look wealthy enough to start a bidding war, so she would have to play her cards carefully or she'd lose them both.
"Then perhaps we'd better introduce ourselves," she said with a smile. "I'm Eadie Barnes."
"Jackson Rutledge." The man smiled back. It was really quite a charming smile, Eadie thought. It transformed his face from a lean and intense almost forty to that of a ruggedly boyish twenty-five to thirty-year-old. And, now that you looked at him closely, he was probably closer to thirty than forty, she thought. His tall, lean frame was perhaps just beginning to show the signs of the inactivity that comes with a city job, but he was certainly not out of shape.
"Sabrina Osterling," the woman introduced herself. She didn't smile, so Eadie didn't know what it would do to her face. Hergray-green eyes remained lusterless and her hair was hidden under a kerchief so that it was even more difficult to guess at her age. Somewhere between twenty-five and forty-five…some estimate!
"The ad was serious about the ghosts, wasn't it?" the woman continued.
"Ah, so it was that line that interested you." Eadie beamed.
"And me, too," Rutledge said.
"Then you've just won a bet for me." Eadie chortled. "Promise me, whether you buy the place or not, you'll tell my boss."
"What's this about a bet?" Sabrina asked suspiciously.
"Well…" Eadie paused, uncertain as to how much she could explain. "We've been trying to sell this place for…well, a long time now…"
"What's wrong with it?" Rutledge asked.
"Well, actually nothing…except it has the reputation…no, it is haunted…they say. Anyway, we tried selling it as a 'palatial country estate,' which it isn't quite. Then, we went for 'handyman's opportunity,' which it isn't either. It's really in quite good repair, considering it's been deserted for several years. But neither of those worked. People got wind of its haunted reputation and backed off."
"So you bet your boss you could sell it, if you played up the ghosts," Rutledge guessed.
"You got it. And he took the bet. And here you are."
"You haven't sold it, yet," Sabrina reminded the agent. "And you haven't answered my original question. Are there ghosts?"
"You saw the asterisk after the word 'haunted,' of course."
Copyright © 2006 by T. K. Sheils.