The black Jag pulled up to the curb and the Hyundai followed. The sun shone and made a brilliant glare of both vehicles. Charlie Finkeberger got out of her Jag and quickly walked around to help the young couple out of the Hyundai.
The man mowing the lawn next door looked at the aging real estate agent. She definitely paid a lot for that airbrushing, he thought, after comparing the visage now in front of him with the one captured in the FOR-SALE sign on the curb. He waved at Charlie and she waved back.
“New prospects, huh?” He said, shutting the mower off.
Charlie smiled contemptuously. She could swear that old bastard just loved every minute of her not selling this god-forsaken house. It was like he waited for her to show up. Every time. “No, Mr. Kramer,” she straightened her dress and looked at him with a polite smile. “They’re buyers. These nice young people are going to be your new neighbors. Would you like to meet them now?”
“Naaaa…” Kramer waived her off. “There’ll be plenty of time for that on move-in day. Besides, I got a lot a’ grass to get mowed. You have fun with your little show and tell.”
“It’s a showing. It’s called a showing.”
“Right,” he smiled. “Show and Tell. Have fun!” He turned around and started mowing again.
Meanwhile, Tran and Maria Nguyen had stepped out of their Hyundai and mad their way onto the sidewalk. They followed Charlie up to the front porch as she fished the lockbox keys out of her purse. “Nice neighbors?” Maria called over the hum of Kramer’s lawnmower. She caught the tiniest hint of a frown before Charlie answered.
“I only say hello when I see him mowing the lawn,” she said, and put on a big smile as she turned the key and opened the front door. The house was a small Cape Cod, renovated completely inside. Beautiful hardwood floors, and in the corner, an antique wood burning stove on a raised tile platform. Two bedrooms upstairs and a fully finished basement An attic accessed via a drop-down ladder adorned the hallway to the master bedroom upstairs. Charlie shared all this and more while walking Tran and Maria through the home.
They stood in the kitchen a while, discussing the particulars – inspections, offer ranges, and the like. Charlie would need to let them nibble on the hook a little longer and get it set before she told them. She needed this damned house off of her listings.
Maria fidgeted, Charlie noted. “Are you okay, honey?” She asked.
“Oh, I’m okay.” She looked embarrassed.
“Honey just go outside and have one.” Tran said.
“Oh,” Charlie said with a chuckle. “Smoke ‘em if ya’ got ‘em, honey!” She laughed some more. “Outside, of course.”
Maria laughed and went out the kitchen door to the porch on the side of the house. Tran and Charlie started in again as she pulled out a cigarette from her purse and shut the door behind her. She flicked her lighter and drew the first puff.
“So…” a voice startled her. “Ya like ghost stories?”
Maria laughed after she caught her breath. “Well, you certainly know how to scare a girl!” she said, “I bet it’s a damned good ghost story. It’s not about this house, is it?”
Kramer smiled and put out his hand. He looked sweet, Maria thought – mid-seventies, balding, and grey on the sides. He wore glasses and had a small gut, but wasn’t overweight. Presently, he was standing before her in Navy Dickies and a flannel button down shirt. Odd, she thought, for July, but she reached out and shook his hand anyway.
“You’re the neighbor, right?”
“Kramer.” He said. “Dudley Kramer. Just go by Kramer, though…” he squinted at her, “Wouldn’t you if your mama named ya Dudley?” Then he laughed wholeheartedly, and it made Maria laugh with him.
“Okay, Kramer, you tellin’ me this house is haunted or some other horseshit like that?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts, honey. I’s just fuckin’ with ya,” Kramer said. “But I did see something a few years back I wished I wouldn’t a’ seen.” He looked at her intently, then looked down. “Anyway,” he continued, “it was before these nice folks decided to split and forfeit their community property.”
“Oh really…” Maria said. “Well don’t stop now.”
“‘Bout five years ago,” Kramer started. “My wife – God rest her soul – and I were on the outs. Something stupid – I tell ya, honey, nothin’s little,”
“Woah,” Maria shook her head and took another drag. “Ummm, sorry?” she said.
Kramer waived her off, “Don’t worry about it. So I was on the couch,” he continued, “and I think I hear a Tomcat out the window. Well, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna listen to that all night, so I got up and went to the back porch.”
Maria took a drag and nodded.
“Well, there’s no cat there, but I hear that sound again, so I look over here.”
“Yeah, well you notice the big window on this side of the master suite?”
“That night, the shutters were open. I happen to look over that way just as I saw the knife come down.”
Maria stopped mid-drag and coughed out, “What!?”
“You heard me.” Kramer said. “I saw the maniac who lived here before these two – can’t remember the guy’s name for the life o’ me these days – he liked whores, see. Brought one of ‘em home at least once, twice a week. I never said nothin’. I figure, lonely guy… Just needs company, that’s all. Cabs’d show up in the mornin’ and take ‘em away, then he’d go to work an’ come home just like me.”
Maria stomped her cigarette on the porch and lit another.
“That night.” Kramer shook his head. “That night went wrong. He kept bringin’ that knife down, blood splatterin’ all over the place. ‘You whore, Helen!’ He kept yelling. ‘I thought you were leaving for me!’ Over and over again. ‘I thought you were givin’ it up!’ and other such nonsense. It took a moment for me to get my wits about me, but I called 911, and they came and did all the shit they do. Took him away. Put the house up for auction. These two bought it cause they like to fix up places. Did a great job, too. Didn’t bother ‘em at all that there was a murder here.”
“Jesus,” Maria said. “I’m glad you told me.”
“Ahhh,” Kramer said. “Your realtor would’ve told you. She has to. So, are you gonna tell your, uh, fella?”
“Well if she has to then I think I’ll let her do it.” Maria said, stamping out the cigarette. “I’m goin’ back inside, though, before he gets too attached. Nice to meet you, Kramer.”
“A pleasure,” Kramer said.
Back inside, Maria found Charlie and Tran admiring the master bedroom. “Oh there you are,” Charlie said. “Don’t you just love these arched ceilings in this room?”
Maria nodded, looking up at the ceiling.
“I was telling Tran that the sellers did all of the renovations themselves,” Charlie continued.
“Hmm,” Maria said. “They missed a spot.” She pointed to a tiny red dot near the corner closest to her.
“Oh my goodness!” Charlie said, “You’re right! Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll make sure any offer we make is contingent on them fixing that. I can’t believe we missed it.” She escorted Maria and Tran out of the bedroom and out toward the front door. As they were leaving Charlie locked the key back in the lockbox and walked the Nguyens back to their Hyundai. “So, there’s one other thing I legally have to tell you before we get too much farther with this one,” she said.
Here it comes, thought Maria.
“The neighbor, Mr. Kramer,” she said, “He buried his wife’s body in his back yard.”
“What?” Maria asked.
“Yeah,” Charlie said, putting her hand to her chest and sighing. “It’s so sad. She was murdered on the other side of town, and he really loved her dearly. He couldn’t be away from her, so he had her buried in the back yard and put a tombstone up.”
“What does the tombstone say?” Maria asked.
“Oh, just her name… Helen.”