Afternoon Visitor


Mickey Minner

Yahoo Group:

Read my Duck Butt Tales at Facebook:

Copyrighted 2016


Standing on a broken sidewalk, two women gazed at the structure before them.

“You weren’t kidding about it needing work,” Lori Beck commented tilting her head back to scan up the crumbling façade of the multi-floor brick building. “Looks dumpy… hard to believe the stories told about it.”

“Believe me, in its day, this was the one and only place to see and be seen by the town’s elite,” Maddie Gonzalez said as she turned around to face the street. “Several nights a week, people would ride the cable cars out to this end of town just to walk up and down these sidewalks in hopes of glimpsing someone famous.”

Almost a century before, the Cable Car District had been the hub of the city’s nightlife. The streets were home to dinner clubs known for featuring vaudeville shows that headlined many of the day’s top entertainers and big bands; gambling halls with plenty of dancing girls; and speak-easy’s with an endless supply of free-flowing liquor, even if prohibition had been the current law of the land. But the ensuing years had not been kind to the Cable Car District. After the repeal of prohibition, the appeal for dinner clubs and speak-easy’s located at the edge of town quickly faded. Owners closed their businesses and walked away; the buildings forgotten by all except the few that appreciated their historical significance.

“Surprising that the city didn’t pull up the tracks years ago,” Maddie said, her eyes following the rusty rails, overgrown by tangled weeds, to the end of the street where a SUV was turning the corner. “Here comes Bryan.”

“I hope he brought coffee,” Lori said waving at the vehicle’s occupant when the SUV stopped beside the curb a few feet behind Maddie’s car.

“So, it’s true,” a dark haired teenager exclaimed pushing the SUV’s driver’s door open and jumping out. “The Historical Society bought a famous gangster’s hangout. I heard that Bugsy, Capone, and, even, Machine Gun Kelly spent time here.”

“It was hardly a gangster’s hangout, Bryan,” Maddie said with a smile.

“Ah, come on, Maddie,” Lori objected. “You’ve heard the stories about Mugs.”

During prohibition, Mugs Hennessey owned the fanciest dinner club in the Cable Car District. He was known for his hair-trigger temper and, due to his generous donations, for having the city council and police chief in his back pocket. At the time, it was no secret that the best way to get any project passed by the council was to have Mugs put in a good word for you. And the best way to do that was to spend money at his club… lots of money.

“He was more of a local thug than a famous gangster,” Maddie informed her companions before climbing the cracked concrete steps to the building’s front door. “And, just for the record, when I was researching Mugs’ ownership of this building, I never found any documented references to those other guys.”

Lori grinned. “Doesn’t mean they weren’t around.”

“Have you been inside?” Bryan asked excitedly. “Is it true, it’s just like the day Mugs died?”

“It still has all the original furnishings… yes,” Maddie replied pushing the door open, its rusty hinges creaking ominously.

“Oooh, sounds just like a haunted house,” Lori teased. “I hope there aren’t too many creepies inside,” she added with a mock shiver.

Maddie spun about to face her companions. “Look, knock off the ghost talk. We’re here, as representatives of the Historical Society, to inspect, document, and evaluate. We’re not here to tell ghost stories or see suspicious shadows in every corner,” she reminded forcefully.

“She sure knows how to take the fun out of things,” Lori grumbled after her friend had entered the building.

Bryan scratched his nose nervously. “I take it she doesn’t believe in ghosts.”

Lori shook her head. “Did you remember the coffee?”

“Sure did,” Bryan responded hurrying across the sidewalk toward the SUV. Lifting the hatchback, he reached for the box inside. “Even brought muffins and donuts.”

“Great!” Lori plucked a donut and Styrofoam cup out of the box. “I knew we kept you around for something.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Lori said lifting her cup of steaming coffee up in a silent salute. “Come on, we better get in there before she scares off all the goonies.”

“You really think the stories are true?”

Lori shrugged then led Bryan up the steps.

“I was just about to go looking for you,” Maddie said when the pair walked inside. She was standing in the center of a large room.

“Holy smokes,” Bryan exclaimed. “This place was huge. I guess the stories of a couple thousand people being crammed in here every night weren’t exaggerations.”

“Everybody wanted to be seen at Mugs,” Lori said wandering through the maze of tables and chairs set close together and taking up most of the main area. “Now, I know why… this room sure would have made quite the impression back in the day.”

The abundant space appeared even larger due to the extra high ceilings that anchored twenty tear-drop crystal chandeliers. At the far end, an elevated stage, complete with orchestra pit, stretched across the back of the room. Private dining booths occupied one long wall, their tables large enough for a dozen people to comfortably occupy the circular leather high-back benches. Along the length of the opposite wall, a bar was conveniently placed to invite all entering to stop for a cold cider before being seated for dinner.

“Got coffee and eats,” Bryan told Maddie setting his box down on the end of the bar then peeking under the sheet protecting the polished mahogany counter. “Swoo,” he whistled loudly. “This thing is sweet,” he sighed reverently running his hand over the smooth surface. Puzzled that his fingers raised no evidence of dust, he asked, “Did someone tidy up this place recently?”

“It does appear remarkably clean for being locked up and forgotten for decades,” Lori agreed.

Maddie pulled a protective cover off a table. “The property manager mentioned something about having it cleaned up before putting the building up for sale.”

“That wouldn’t explain these benches,” Lori observed probing one of the private booths. “The leather is still soft. After eighty-some years of neglect, it should be hard and cracked. You’d think my finger would poke right through it,” she said demonstrating how pliable the material was.

“Not a whole lot of windows,” Bryan observed looking around and seeing only a half dozen panes along the top of the front wall. “I suppose, with everything closed up, it could be somewhat air tight.”

“Not likely,” Lori disagreed. “Did you take a look at the outside of this building? It’s got lots of places for air to get in… missing and loose mortar… rotten wood in the window and door frames.”

Bryan yanked the sheet off the bar. “Maybe so, but…”

“But what, Bryan?” Lori asked.

“But it sure looks to me like Mug’s could have been walking around here last night,” the teen answered seriously.

“Okay,” Maddie interrupted the annoying discussion. “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get these coverings off so we can inventory what’s here.”

It was late afternoon and the trio were had finished their initial assessment of the dining room, stage, and kitchen. Maddie and Lori were working in one of the dressing rooms while Bryan cataloged the items on the shelves behind the bar.

“Admit it, Maddie,” Lori said as she rummaged through a closet. “Something is off about this place.”

“What do you mean?”

“Dresses looking like they were sown yesterday; playbills so bright you would think they just came off the printer; and not a speck of dirt anywhere. Not even a single mouse dropping. We’ve been in a lot of old, abandoned buildings… I don’t recall any being in such pristine condition.”

Unable to immediately think of a valid reason for what they were seeing, Maddie quietly contemplated the possibilities. “I guess we could talk to the property manager,” she began just as the dressing room door swung open.

“You know the stories about Mugs serving bootleg liquor even though it was prohibition?”

“What about them?” Maddie asked.

Brian beamed. “I found his stash. He had hidden cupboards in the wall behind the bar and they are full of opened and unopened bottles of the hard stuff.”

“That’s not too surprising since half the businesses in the District were raided for selling liquor illegally.”

“Mugs never was,” Bryan stated.

“Of course not,” Lori agreed with a grin. “He paid off the cops.”

Bryan nodded. “You know what was strange about those hidden cabinets, though?” he asked with a perplexed look on his face. “There wasn’t any dust on a single bottle or glass… not a single one. I don’t get it. This place is cleaner than my apartment.”

Lori smirked. “That’s not saying much.”

“Ha, ha,” Bryan muttered. “You have to admit it’s weird.”

“That’s exactly what I was just saying. Maddie, this place has not been untouched in eighty years. No way.”

“Come on, guys… give me a break. Do you really think Mugs and his cronies are keeping this place up? That’s idiotic.”

“What about the stories?” Lori asked. “We’ve all heard them.”

“Weird lights seen coming from inside,” Bryan offered. “Sounds of loud music and laughter. Some even claim to have heard the cable car bells late at night.”

“My house creaks and groans at night… I don’t think that means it’s haunted,” Maddie said off-handedly as she reviewed the inventory listing on her laptop, making sure she hadn’t forgotten any entries. “Why don’t you finish up in here, Lori. And, Bryan, you can start in the kitchen,” she directed. “I’ll get started in Mugs’ office.”

Lori looked at Bryan who was looking back at her anxiously. “Mugs’ office,” she mouthed.

“I’m not missing that,” Bryan insisted before rushing after Maddie.

“I’m coming, too.”

Maddie unlocked the office door. She had barely stepped into the room before Bryan and Lori charged in behind her. “What is wrong with you two?” she demanded as they scurried past.

“Dang, that must be it?” Lori exclaimed staring down at a large, irregular stain on the floor.

“Has to be,” Bryan agreed in a hushed whisper. “Unbelieveable.”

“Oh, stop it,” Maddie said with a shake of her head. “Okay, now that you’ve seen it, get back out there and finish the inventory.”

“Give me a minute,” Bryan said kneeling down beside the stain. “I’ve heard about this all my life… never thought I’d ever see it. Heck, I never really believed it existed. Check it out… it doesn’t even look faded,” he stated incredulity, stretching a finger toward the rust-colored stain.

Lori inched closer. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think Mugs shot Three Fingers McGee this morning.”

“Well, you do know better,” Maddie snapped. “He didn’t. And you have a job to finish in the other room.”

Lori glared at her friend. “You know, for a historian, you can sure be a stick-in-the-mud at times”, she huffed. “Aren’t you at all intrigued by this stain and the story behind it? Mugs shooting Three Fingers after being caught stealing a few dollars from a cash drawer. Three Fingers bleeding to death right here as the orchestra played and the flappers danced on the stage. Mugs ordering the stain scrubbed clean only to discover it had reappeared the next morning… and every morning after.”

“And Mugs going crazy,” Bryan interjected, “because every night, when he locked up, he would hear Three Fingers calling out to him— Don’t shoot, Mugs… don’t shoot.”

“Until one night,” Lori reclaimed the story, “he walked outside just as a cable car was coming down the street… and he stepped in front of it. Maddie, this stain represents the biggest story this town has ever had. And we’re lucky enough to be the first to lay eyes on it in eighty years,” she continued emphatically.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Maddie declared dismissively. “It’s just a stain on a floor. The rumors of Mugs shooting McGee are just that… rumors. No body was every found.”

“Big surprise since Mugs had the cops in his pocket,” Lori retorted.

“It’s a heck of big deal for me,” Bryan said while carefully pressing his palm against the stain. His need to touch it overcoming his trepidation it might be as fresh as it looked.

“And it’s going to be a great draw for tourists when we open the museum,” Lori declared.

“Which we’ll never be able to do if we don’t get the inspection and inventory completed,” Maddie reminded.

“Hello… anybody here?”

Bryan yelped yanking his hand back.

Lori laughed. “Afraid you woke Three Fingers?” she teased the startled teenager.

“Hello?” the voice repeated.

“Who is that?” Bryan asked straightening up.

“Only one way to find out,” Maddie declared as she walked out of the office. Entering the main room, she saw an older man standing just inside the front door. “Hello,” she greeted.

“Oh, hi,” the man replied. “I was walking by and saw the door open. I take it, you’re the new owners.”

“Sort of,” Maddie replied. “Actually, the Historical Society purchased the building. I’m Maddie, one of the Society’s historians. These are Lori, my assistant, and Bryan, one of our volunteers.”

Stepping further into the room, the man nodded nonchalantly toward the pair leaning against the bar then turned his attention to his surroundings. Wearing a double breasted dinner jacket, matching pants, and spit-polished shoes, his stout frame stopped several inches short of six feet. Atop his head, a wide brim black felt hat with a white band hid a balding head. As he wandered about the room, he mindlessly rolled a gold cane, with an ornately engraved pistol handle grip, between the fingers of his left hand.

“So, it’s true,” the man said after several moments, “you’re turning the old place into a museum?”

Maddie crossed the room to where the man was standing. “That’s the plan,” she said holding out her hand. “You are?”

“Philip.” He shook the offered hand while glancing around the room. “Lots of memories,” he murmured.

“You were here when it was Mugs?” Bryan asked excitedly.

Philip quickly shook his head. “Oh, no… I’m not that ancient. I’ve heard stories… same as you, I suspect.”

Lori frowned. “Too bad. It would be great to talk to someone who actually had first-hand knowledge of the man… and this place.”

“Are you planning on making any changes?” Philip asked directing his question to the historian.

“Not unless we have to,” Maddie answered. “We’ll use the space on the upper floors for offices but we want to keep the ground floor as original as we can.”

“Good… good.” Philip looked at his watch, its gold band reflecting the setting sun’s rays that were stealthily seeping in through the open door. “I better go,” he announced abruptly. With a final wistful glance around the room, he walked back to the door.

“Odd little man,” Lori noted after Philip had disappeared outside. “I’ve got a feeling he knows more about Mugs and this place than he let on.”

“He did seem rather familiar with the place,” Bryan admitted. “Did you notice his clothes were right out of the thirties?” he asked.

Maddie walked to the door then firmly pushed it shut and slid the locking bolt into place. “Probably one of the old guys in the neighborhood on his way to a Halloween party,” she finally answered.

“Halloween isn’t for another week,” Lori informed her boss.

“Doesn’t stop people from having parties before the actual day,” Maddie countered. “It’s getting late,” she stated returning to join her friends. “What say we grab our gear, lock up, and call it a night? We can finish what’s left tomorrow.”

Maddie led the others back to Mugs’ office where they had left their laptops and the building’s keys.

“Sure you don’t want to give this room a quick look-see,” Lori asked, her curiosity growing. “I’d love to see what Mugs kept in these file cabinets.”

“I’m willing to stick around,” Bryan agreed eagerly.

Maddie shook her head. “Let’s leave it for the morning.”

“Just a quick look, Maddie,” Lori implored. “Aren’t you even curious?”

Maddie stepped around the floor stain to retrieve her laptop off Mugs’ desk. As she did, her shoulder brushed against a dark draping hanging from the wall.

“What’s that?” Lori asked as the material slipped to the floor revealing a handsomely framed photograph. “Does anyone know what Mugs’ given name was? she asked peering at the picture.

“Why?” Maddie asked.

“Because the guy in this picture sure looks a lot like Philip.

Bryan quickly stepped across the room to take a look. “Can’t be,” he said in a shocked whisper.

“Sure looks like him,” Lori repeated.

Maddie glared at the pair. “Are you nuts?”

“Look at it,” Lori demanded. “It looks exactly like him… same suit… same hat… same everything, right down to the gold cane.”

Maddie studied the picture where a man bearing a remarkable resemblance to their visitor stood on the front steps smiling at the camera. His left hand was raised as he tapped the pistol grip to his forehead.  “It must be his father.”

“Uh, uh,” Lori said shaking her head and pointing to the caption along the bottom of the frame.


“No freakin’ way,” Bryan shouted.

“Quiet, Bryan. Do you hear something?” Lori asked, her ears picking out a faint clickity-clack.

“Sounds like it’s coming from the big room… maybe Philip came back,” Bryan suggested.

“He can’t be out there,” Maddie protested, “I bolted the door.”

“It’s not Philip,” Lori said after identifying the distinctive sound. “It sounds like a cable car.”

“Stop,” Maddie yelled when Bryan and Lori bolted out of the office. “You’re letting your imaginations get away from you,” she called out to them in vain.

“Damn,” Lori grunted finding the street empty after emerging from the building. “There’s nothing here. I’m sure I heard a trolley rumbling down those tracks.”

“I heard it, too,” Bryan insisted. “I think,” he quickly voiced a doubt.

“Either you heard it or you didn’t,” Lori told Bryan.

“I heard something,” Bryan said thoughtfully. “But, honestly, I don’t know what it was… I’m way too young to have ever heard a cable car in action. But it sounded like some of the videos I’ve seen.”

“Kids,” Lori muttered.

Maddie flipped off the light switches, pulled the front door shut, and locked it. She gave the knob a hard tug to make sure the door was secure before stepping down to the sidewalk.

“What are you doing?” Lori asked. “I want another look at that picture.”

“Right now, we’re calling it a night and going home,” Maddie told her miffed friends. “If you want to continue looking for things that aren’t there, you can do it tomorrow.”

“You’re telling us you didn’t see the resemblance between Mugs and Philip?” Lori confronted her friend.

“They looked exactly alike,” Bryan asserted.

Maddie sighed. “Could be any number of explanations.”

“Name one,” Lori challenged.

“What about the sound of the cable car?” Bryan questioned before Maddie had a chance to respond.

“Bryan, look at the damn tracks… there hasn’t been a trolley on this street in decades.”


“But nothing,” Maddie said angrily. “You two have been itching to see a ghost since we got here this morning. You saw a man in a picture that has some of the same characteristics of an old geezer that wandered in here and you draw the ridiculous conclusion that it’s Mugs come back to life. Get a grip!”

“They’re holding the same cane,” Lori claimed steadfastly. “Wearing the same clothes.”

“And I could go into any second hand store in town and find some just like them,” Maddie countered. “Get in the car, we’re leaving,” she demanded.

“I’ll ride back with Bryan,” Lori told her obstinate friend.

“Suit yourself,” Maddie said then walked to the sedan parked in front of Bryan’s SUV. Yanking the driver’s door open, she dropped onto the seat then slammed the door shut.

Long after Bryan and Lori had driven away, Maddie remained motionless behind the steering wheel as the events of the past hour raced around in her brain. “It’s not possible,” she whispered. “It’s just not possible.”

A gentle tinkling broke the night’s stillness.

Peering into the mirror hanging on the windshield, Maddie spotted a tiny yellow glow far down the street. As she watched, the glow became more distinct until she could identify it. “Wonder if they know one of their headlights has burned out?” she questioned aloud thinking another car was slowly making his way toward her.

The light grew closer, the tinkle of a bell louder.

“What the heck?” Maddie realized that behind the light’s glow the outline of a cable car was taking shape. Almost against her will, her head rotated to face the side window as the trolley pulled to a stop beside her car. Panic froze her in place when she spotted Philip standing in the cable car’s doorway.

Walking directly in front of her car, the apparition looked right at her and tapped his cane to his forehead before walking up the steps and right through the door.

Hands shaking, Maddie turned the key in the ignition. “It’s not real,” she shouted. “It’s absolutely, freaking not real.” As soon as the engine roared to life, she stomped her foot onto the acceleration. Even with the tires screeching loudly, she could still hear the trolley’s ringing bell long after she had raced around the corner and into the night.