The party was full of strangers. Each one more beautiful than the next.
Todd brought Linda over to a group of people standing by the tall windows overlooking the garden. She was first introduced to a blond-haired couple, both dressed in white: the man in a white tuxedo and the woman in a long white gown.
“Linda, these are my close friends from England, Duke
Alan Rutherford and his wife, Duchess Amy Rutherford. They came in for Diane’s party—as did everyone else in this room.”
The duke bowed to Linda while the duchess bowed her head in greeting. They held themselves stiff and erect like proper English nobility. The duchess displayed ruby jewelry around her elegant neck and wrists. Linda even noticed sparkling rubies nestled among the blonde strands of her long wavy hair.
“You old fox, you finally found a woman that you could introduce to us,” the duke said as he nudged Todd with his elbow. The duke was tall and handsome with blond hair and dark-green eyes. He kept a watchful eye on all the guests: he was laughing with Todd, but his eyes never left the dance floor.
While Todd grimaced in reply, the duchess walked over to Linda and whispered, “They are very old friends who love to tease each other…. Just ignore them.”
Linda smiled at her in response. The duchess seemed to be very pleasant and cheerful.
Next Todd led her to a dark-haired couple, who were standing off to the side, listening to their conversation.
“Come meet Count Vladimir and Countess Leona Stravinsky. They are from Russia.”
This remark brought a dark scowl to Vladimir’s face. At first Linda had found him scary, but now with the scowl he seemed positively terrifying. Vladimir and his wife had perfectly chiseled features, tall lean bodies, and luscious dark hair; but all their beauty didn’t at all improve upon their icy cold demeanors. Linda nodded hello and then moved back to the duchess.
The last couple walked over to introduce themselves. The tall, broad-shouldered man spoke with a heavy accent. “We are happy to meet you. I am John von Strobe and this is my wife, Caroline. We have come from Romania.”
The woman spoke with the same accent. “We are happy to meet a friend of Todd’s. We have known him for many years and have never before met any of his friends.”
Linda said, “Thank you…I love your accents. Were you both born in Romania?”
The woman smiled. “Yes…however, I was born to a farmer and John was born to nobility.”
Linda was impressed. “Should I be bowing?”
“Oh no!” said Caroline. “We are very down to earth people and expect no special treatment from our friends. No one ever calls us Baron or Baroness.”
Linda hoped that she hadn’t insulted them. But they were still smiling at her. John had such a beautiful face, with blue eyes that sparkled mischievously, while his wife had gorgeous black hair and dark-blue eyes. What a beautiful couple.
Linda and Shana continued their investigation of the town’s residents to find out who was responsible for the disappearances and murders in town.
They continued their journey down the road until they reached the tall black metal gate of the mansion. The house stood dark and bleak on a small rise of land that lacked any form of vegetation among its rocks and dirt. They entered through the open gate.
The property appeared to be deserted and very isolated from the rest of civilization. Shana shivered. The wind moaned, brushing the dirt back and forth beneath their feet like a giant invisible broom. Huge mounds of dust rolled by, resembling a deserted town from the Old West.
Shana heard weird shuffling noises down by her feet. She looked down and was terrified to find two Doberman Pinschers growling up at her.
Both of the women stood still, not wanting to agitate the dogs any further. A tall man approaching them from the direction of the house, called out, “Zeus! Apollo! Heel!”
Shana felt like she’d been in a vampire movie at the bed and breakfast and now she was smack in the middle of an episode of Magnum P.I. At least the man didn’t look like Tom Selleck. He was more of a cross between John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. He was tall, with a cheerful smile on his face. He looked strong and muscular. He also appeared ageless—like Shirley and Hank—with his thick black hair and unlined face.
The dogs trotted away, their tongues lolling out to one side, to stand on either side of their master. Shana realized that she was able to breathe normally again, now that the dogs weren’t standing so close to her anymore.
“What can I do for you, pretty ladies?” asked the huge man.
“We’ve been having problems in town and were wondering if you were experiencing similar unexplained occurrences out here?” Shana asked while eying the two panting dogs.
“What kind of occurrences are we talking about?”
“Strange shadows stalking us, young girls disappearing from town, and a deadly party at End House that ended in two disappearances…” said Shana.
“Out here it is always quiet, but over the years I’ve heard about the strange events in your town. That’s why I’ve kept away from town and don’t visit any longer.”
“I guess that’s why we’ve never seen you before. What about the couple who own the bed and breakfast? Do you ever talk to them?” Linda asked.
“I met those two a long time ago. I’d found them to be very strange, so I’ve kept my distance from them.”
Shana believed that they were getting nowhere with this man. She wondered if he would let them inside the house to look around. She noticed that Linda was glancing back over her shoulder. However, she was determined to remain here until she found some answers.
“Does anyone live here? Could we come in and see the house?” asked Shana, despite the murderous looks being given to her by Linda.
“Sure. I live here alone. By the way, my name is James. Please follow me and the dogs…they are really harmless, but enjoy barking at strangers.”
“My name is Shana, and this is Linda.”
They followed him through the front yard, which was overgrown with weeds. The tall trees and the rocky ground were bare of any greenery. Shana looked around and saw that nothing seemed to flourish here; even the house looked dead, with its grey walls and grimy-looking windows.