The stately Whitton Manor was a ghost of its former self.
The cold, stone building stood bleak and imposing, its whitewash stripped away by time and the weather. Here and there, broken windowpanes decorated the three-story home, revealing inside shutters the color of dried blood. The bent and rusty hinges upon which they hung screamed out a shrill protest each time a strong wind disturbed their rest. Majestic oak doors were ornamented with veins of splits and grooves, carved by the constant attention of the sun. Multitudes of vines had slithered up the great marble columns of the porch, hiding their splendor completely.
Inside, a thick layer of dust blanketed everything. Antique furniture that, had it been in good condition, could have brought thousands of dollars, lay in ruins throughout the house. Veils of cobwebs filled the manor.
A vengeful Mother Nature had reclaimed the once-pristine grounds. The white gravel carriage path that led to the main road, as well as paths to other buildings on the grounds, had vanished beneath the grass and weeds clawing their way upward like the undead seeking to escape their graves. Briars, thistles, and thorns were all that grew in a garden that had been both the envy and the delight of neighbors for miles around.
Yes, the stately Whitton Manor was a ghost of its former self, and the ghost sat waiting.
“They are considered armed and dangero–“
The black Chevy Malibu rolled to a stop along the side of the road, all of its power gone. The five men inside breathed a sigh of relief when they saw there were no lights on the road behind them.
“Hey, Cole,” the man in the front passenger seat said.
“Yeah, Jess?” the driver asked.
“Next time you steal a getaway car, check with the owner and see if we can get a warranty.”
All five men laughed.
“Well, Frankie,” Jess said as he looked at the man sitting behind Cole, “what do you think?”
The man thought for a few seconds. “I think we ought to push this hunk of junk into the ditch and hoof it.”
Jess nodded. “Sounds good. If we throw some brush on the car, it shouldn’t be discovered until sometime tomorrow at the earliest. That should give us a good head start.”
Everyone agreed, and the men began to gather their loot from the bank robbery. Within minutes, the car was in the ditch and well-covered with brush, and the thieves were starting off down the road. After nearly forty-five minutes of walking, they turned off the road and began to cross a field.
Without warning, the clouds opened up, and a cold, hard rain began to pour. Lightning like a white-hot pitchfork hurled from the heavens struck the ground several yards behind the men, causing them to pick up their pace considerably.
At the field’s distant edge, Jim, the youngest of the gang, spotted what appeared to be a row of trees. He brought this to the attention of the others.
Jess halted the gang. “I know you’re not supposed to stand under a tree during a lightning storm, but considering how close that last strike was, I’m willing to take my chances.”
Bob, the fifth member of the gang, spoke up. “At least we’ll be dry.”
The gang started off again, this time at a steady run. It wasn’t long before they reached the cover of the trees.
To their delight, they discovered themselves on what was once a road of some sort. A row of tall oaks lined the other side as well. Overhead, their branches came together, forming a canopy that blocked all but a few drops of the steady rain. Unsure of which direction to go, they took the time to catch their breath and decide on their next move.
The landscape was lit up suddenly with another flash of lightning.
“Did you see that?” Frankie asked.
“See what?” Cole wanted to know.
“Up ahead,” Frankie pointed. “It looked like a house.”
The men waited for the next flash of lightning. Their wait wasn’t a long one, and when the landscape was once again illuminated, they saw what had caught Frankie’s attention.
“Judging by the way this road has gone to pot,” Jess reasoned, “my guess is that that place is deserted.”
“Not for long,” Bob said as he began walking up the road. The others quickly joined him.
When they finally reached the house, they could tell that it had been, at one time, a grand old place. Jim wasted no time in trying to find a way in. He was surprised to find the front door unlocked.
“The last caretaker must have forgotten to lock up when he left,” Cole said as he pushed past his brother and entered the manor.
As the men began to look around, Frankie began to gather up some of the ruined chairs and placed the wood in a large fireplace he found in a sitting room just off the foyer. “Hey, my matches are wet,” he said. “Do any of you guys have a lighter?”
Bob walked in to where Frankie was and handed him the lighter he carried. It didn’t take long for the dry wood to blaze to life. The fire soon drew the others into the room.
Once they were sufficiently dry, Jess suggested they explore the house. “Who knows?” he said. “We might still find something of value here.”
“Bob and I will check out the third floor,” Cole said as he started back out into the foyer.
“I’ll keep the fire going, Jess,” Frankie volunteered, “if you want to take Jim and see what’s upstairs.”
Jess nodded, and he and Jim left the room.
In the quiet, Frankie could hear his brother and their friends opening the doors and searching the rooms above. As he waited patiently, he suddenly felt a cold chill. “I’d better scrounge up some more wood.”
By the time the others returned, he had a pile of broken furniture stacked near the fireplace that would keep the fire going most of the night. He smiled as the others entered.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to have to sleep on the floor,” Jess said. “Jim and me found a few of the beds upstairs to be in pretty good shape.”
“Too bad we couldn’t find anything to eat, though,” Jim said. “I’m starting to get a bit hungry.”
“Ah, starting tomorrow, we won’t have to worry about going hungry for a long while,” Bob said, grinning, “thanks to the generous people of Keystone City.”
“We might as well try to get us some sleep,” Frankie said. “In a place as fancy as this used to be, I’m betting the bedrooms have fireplaces in them, too.”
“Sure do,” Jess told him.
“Then let’s gather up some of this wood and hit the hay.”
Each man gathered up an armload of wood and started upstairs.
“What about the loot?” Jim asked.
“Just make sure the doors are locked, and we’ll leave it down here,” Jess told him. “We’ll put it under this old sofa until morning.”
Once they were certain everything was secure, the five men began to climb the stairs. As each man chose a room, Bob stayed long enough in each to help get the fires started. Frankie helped him with his own fire before returning to his room. It wasn’t long before each man was sound asleep.
“So, what do you think?”
“The one mentioned loot.”
“It’s been a while since we have had any dealings with the living.”
“True, and we were quite the crime-fighters.”
“Well, since we haven’t passed on, I would say that our jobs on the mortal plane aren’t finished.”
“Then let’s teach these bums that crime doesn’t pay.”