The sounds of the piano filled the tavern, as patrons played cards, told wild tales of the west, and cussed back and forth about rain and when they were going to see any. Days were long and hot, and it drove people to do whatever they could to try and make money, without relying on the ground to give way to a bountiful harvest.
Henry was a Cherokee man, and said he could find whatever it is you lost, no matter how far or hidden it was. This helped him carve out a meager living for him, his wife, and their little girl. The pay wasn't much to brag about, but food was always on the table, and they never went without, which is all a man can ask for.
Henry entered the bar at sunset, and placed a wand made of willow on the counter.
The bartender, Sal, pointed up to a sign that hung over the bottles, which stated No Magic Items. "Now Henry, you know the rules."
Henry waved off the accusation. "I know, I know. That's why I am hoping you will hold it for me. I'm not trying to ride all the way home to then ride back here."
Sal huffed, but carefully put the powerful twig behind the counter. "Fine, just this once. Don't forget it next time."
Today was not Henry's day. Exhausted and angry, he continued to pity himself in new and inventive ways as he sat, bent over the bar, and washing his woes away with whiskey. The crowd had started to dwindle, to the point where the only people left was a table of old timers playing poker, the bartender, and Henry.
"Rough day? By now you're usually home with the family." Sal said to Henry, while he was starting the evening cleanup of dishes.
"Rough couple of days, old man." Henry grumbled over the top of his glass, angrily staring at himself in the mirror.
Sal chuckled, then sighed. "Well, it can be like that at times, can't it? Just had a group of men in here raising Cain about a well they just dug. As soon as they had got 'er done, dug the hole and 'erthang, the guy who hired them refused to pay."
"What for?" Henry grunted in response.
"Man said they dug 'er in the wrong spot! They were ten feet off from where it was supposed to be!" He let out a string of hearty laughs before returning to the glass he was cleaning out.
"Well," Henry began, and finally sat up and looked Sal in the eye, "could be worse, you know."
"How's that? You got something that can top digging ten feet and putting in stone for nothing?" Sal moved so that he could continue his cleaning in front of Henry.
Henry smirked in a crooked way. "Yes, I am positive." He let out a deep breath as he said the words.
Sal took the glass and set it down, then leaned forward on the bar with the towel still in hand. "Alright, out with it then, what happened this time? Lost item turned out to be in a flyin rattle-serpent pit?"
He downed the last part of the whiskey in front of him. "No, worse."
"A couple days ago, I was sitting at the table with my wife and daughter, when a knock interrupted us. I got up, and found a well-dressed man standing there, looking quite confused. He had these blazing green eyes, and was dressed in a nice suit. I didn't recognize him from town, and figured he got lost trying to leave.
"'Is this the house of Lost and Found Henry?' He sounded quite shaken, and kept looking around as if someone was watching.
"'That's me.' He proceeded to unload a tale of sorts. He told me that in an old house, right down the road from where we were currently living, he had lost something around the time the prior residents had "expired." Told me that it was a pearl necklace, and he suspected that in the five years that had passed, he knew it had to be in that house to this very day.
"'Well sounds good enough, if you are so sure it is in that house, then why do you not want to go get it?' I asked the man, a little annoyed at the lateness of his request.
"He seemed to get even more nervous after hearing that, saying 'No no no, I couldn't possible do that. It took me the five years since I lost the necklace to even work up the courage to come this close to it. No there just isn't any way I could step a foot on that property, much less the house itself.'
"'Look, I just don't know if this is worth the time—'
"'Sir, I'll pay you fifty dollars just to retrieve a piece of jewelry where you already know the whereabouts.'
"I had to fight back a cough from choking on the surprise of being told he would give me that amount of money just to go into some old spooky house and grab a necklace. When I had finally gotten over the initial excitement, we started to shake hands. When he was walking away, I started to get suspicious.
"'Now that I have agreed to this little adventure, what's the catch?'
"He spun around as if he heard a gunshot. 'I beg your pardon?'
"'What's the catch?' I said again and gave him a hard stare into his eyes. 'We've already said that you know exactly where this item is, and you're willing to pay a large sum of money for said item. So, what is in that house that keeps you from grabbing it yourself?'
"He swallowed and looked up the road towards the house, before finally letting out a deep sigh, as if he finally was going to get something off his chest. 'Well, if you must know, I knew the people living in that home prior to them passing on. In fact, I used to be in love with one of the girls that lived there, back when I was but a boy. That in itself isn't the issue.' His eyes were wide and wild like some sort of scared creature. 'The problem is I did try to go there, this morning in fact, and I could have sworn I saw someone walking about on the second floor. I believe it was her.'
"With that, he left without another word, and said I had until tomorrow night to find him in town, with the necklace in hand, before he would be off again. I took a second to think about it and figured regardless of whatever restless spirits may inhabit the place, the pay was too good to pass up.
"I decided I would wait until the morning, since this wouldn't be the first time I had to tussle with something long dead deciding it wanted the thing I was after. So, I went back to the table, finished up my supper, kissed my girl goodnight, and went to bed without telling my wife what the man had offered. I didn't want to get her hopes up, since I knew something was bound to happen.
"I woke up, got dressed, and took everything I thought I might need in case of a ghost popping up and throwing chairs and that sort of nonsense, such as the cross I always wore, next to my birth amulet, a pouch of salt, I was told worked to dismiss spirits by our local pastor, and my wand. I didn't know the people that lived in that house and hadn't lived in our home long enough to get really acquainted with anyone that didn't still live nearby.
"As I walked up the road, I kept checking my compass that allows me to know the direction of any item in question, as long as I focused and didn't let the thought of where I actually wanted to be get in the way. As far as I knew, I was headed in the right direction, and after about ten miles, I came up to the house. Right away I could understand the stranger's hesitation to even look in the direction of the old house.
"It had Honeysuckle vines crawling all over it, and as I walked up the steps, the creaking of the wood gave me the impression that any second it was going to come down around me. The house itself was boarded shut, and from what I could see it was dark inside. I knocked before entering the door, announcing my intrusion, as I pushed past and into the darkness that laid within. I pulled out my wand and let the tip glow with a white flame to try and get a better look. It took me a second to see clearly, but the inside looked as if the house was just lived in, with coats still hanging on a rack, and the table in the dining room still set as if dinner was about to be ready.
"To make sure I was safe, I went around the entire downstairs area and started to open all the curtains, to let in the sunshine. That was about the time I saw a family portrait that hung over a fireplace that was covered in mold and debris that came from the years of abandonment.
"In it were two older girls, about in their marrying years, a mother and a father, and the older of the two was wearing a pearl necklace. I broke away my gaze, and looked down at my compass. It was starting to spin like a twister, and after a quick search of the room I was in, I decided it must have been in the room above.
"I hesitated, first realizing the eyes on the portrait seemed to follow me, and if that wasn't enough, I started to hear soft footsteps above. I figured the man had found a spine somewhere in his body and got the gumption to come get what he lost so he wouldn't have to pay me. At least, that is what I had hoped, and what gave me the courage to get up the steps of this large plantation house and go straight for the room I thought must hold the necklace.
"Everything creaked, and as I got up the stairs, I started to hear the sounds of someone crying. I once again pretended maybe it was the man, but sadly I knew that was a lie since I have never in my years heard a man cry like that. I should know, I come to the saloon once every couple of weeks.
"I worked my way to the door, and the crying only got louder, and I finally got the nerve to take one of my shaky hands and turn the handle to the door. I expected to be brought face to face with some nightmare, but as I swung the door open, the crying stopped. I was alone with the sound of my heart trying to break its way out of my rib cage.
"I didn't know if I was relieved to be alone, or if that made it worse, and I dug my hands around the wooden cross on my neck, cussed a few times, then rushed inside the room to get what I needed and get out before something else happened. I had made it this far, the last thing I needed was to put myself through all this and get yellow-bellied at the last moment. It might have not been what I wanted to do, but that big dollar sign loomed over my head and made it a little easier to open each and every drawer until I was alone, in a dead girls room, with no necklace in my hand.
"I took a deep breath, pulled the compass out again, and found that the needle had stopped spinning, and was pointed directly behind me. I counted to three, and turned around as fast as I could, hoping I'd be alone, and wouldn't you know it? I was. I let out a breath of relief, and immediately regretted it.
"The door swung shut, the curtains suddenly closed, and every single drawer had slammed shut. By the time I had turned almost all the way around, there was a small woman, standing just inches from my face. I'll tell you right now, she did not look happy.
"I stared at her for a few seconds, and when the fear had started to replace itself with awkwardness, since when I say she was only a few inches away, what I mean is I am sure she could smell the eggs I had for breakfast. She slowly started to lift up her hand. In it, was a pearl necklace.
"'So, finally coming back for what you left behind?' Her voice was cold, and angry. I had one hand on my cross and another hand on the salt in my pocket, waiting for the right moment.
"I swallowed back a yell and spoke. 'Well, y-you see ma'am. With all due respect, I was just sent here to—' I was cut off but the door slamming open, and her turning around in surprise as another, just as terrifying, woman stood in the doorway. I raised my hand with the salt in it and threw it through the two ghosts. They shrieked as they vanished, and suddenly the necklace hit the ground. I scooped it up, and ran down the stairs, preparing my wand for anything that might be coming after me. As I made it to the front door, I could hear the two talking, and for some reason, I felt the need to stop.
"Both the specters suddenly appeared before me, drifting from the ceiling into the foyer where I was now shaking from courage. Something wasn't right here, and I needed to understand something before I left. It didn't help that the front door was slammed shut, and I couldn't think up any spell that would fix such a problem.
"'Phoebe, what have I told you about scaring the ever-living daylights out of people who show up here? This is why we never get any company.' She spoke and crossed herself as if she was just merely annoyed with the whole ordeal.
""But Laura! This man just walks into my room, without asking mind you, and starts going though my stuff like he owns the damned place!' she screamed. I raised my wand in defense, casting the ghosts in a bright white glow. Nothing happened this time, and they continued as such.
"'First off, language. Second off, it has been five years since the two of us were supposed to move on and be dead.' The one I now knew as Laura moved her hands to her hips and started tapping her foot. 'For all we know, he does own the place!'
"I worked up the courage to speak. 'Ahem, um, no ma'am, I'm here just to retrieve something lost. Sorry if I've caused an inconvenience on y'alls afterlife plans.'
"Laura looked at me quizzically. 'Really now, and what would it be that someone lost here? Last time someone came snooping around that hadn't dropped anything before Phoebe once again lost her temper and scared them off.'
"'That wasn't my fault! He was snooping around trying to see if ma and pa left anything worth selling! He might as well had dug up their graves as well!' Phoebe pouted and crossed her arms, the necklace dangling from her hand.
"I held up my hand, letting the pearls dangle. 'This, ma'am. That necklace is what I was sent for.' Phoebe gasped and immediately snatched the necklace from me. She then put her hands behind her back, trying to hide it.
"Now Laura looked upset, and her hair started to float wildly around her head. 'What necklace? Phoebe, what are you hiding behind your back?'
"'Oh, um, nothing dear sister. Why would I be hiding anything from you?' She shot me a dirty look that went through me.
"'I can see through you, and if you've got what I think you've got in your hand, I'm going to kill you.' Laura paused and thought for a second. 'What I mean is, I'm going to kill you for good.' She put her hand out, palm up, waiting for her sister to give her what she had found.
"'But, but, Laura . . . '
"'Now, Pheobe!' She screamed and it looked as if her jaw came unclenched as the hair on her head went wild as if a tornado just blew through.
"I had completely forgot about the salt at this time and raised my arms in defense in case she was going to come after me next. Phoebe let her head droop and started crying tears that disappeared before they hit the floor. Laura grabbed the necklace from Phoebe, and she kept crying without looking her in the face.
"'Five years, Phoebe. Five, long, miserable, years I've looked for this necklace! You know what it meant to me!' I started to feel bad for poor Phoebe as she started to sob.
"'I know you have, but . . . but I couldn't let you go! After you died, I blamed myself for you tripping the way you did and hitting your head on that rock. It was all my fault! We never should have argued over that stupid boy.' She kept sobbing.
"Laura calmed down, her hair at a mere flutter. 'I told you on my death bed, it wasn't your fault. That stupid boy was my fiancé, and this was the only thing he could afford to get me back then.' She shook her head. 'It wasn't right of you to take it, whether I was dead or not.'
"Phoebe started to cry even louder. 'I didn't take it Laura! It was just here when I came back and found my own body. I swear!'
"About that time is when I noticed there were some spots on her neck that were darker than the rest of the throat. 'Wait, then, you were killed, with that necklace?' I asked out of turn.
"'Yes, you stupid man.' Phoebe said to me under her tears. 'And now that you found it, you're going to make Laura go away, and I'll never find out who killed me. Laura will move on, and I'll be stuck here forever!'
"'Wait, wait just one second. You really thought I would leave you?' Laura floated over to Phoebe. 'I would never leave you all alone like this Phoebe.' She held her sister.
"'Great, now we are both stuck here it seems then.' She giggled then sniffled a little bit, trying to hold back some fluids that weren't even there.
"Laura smiled at her, then furrowed her brow. 'Wait, how did you know the necklace was here? If you were sent here to get the necklace, someone had to know it was here.'
"'Look, I was just sent to find the thing. If you want to talk to anyone, talk to the person who sent me.' The fear had left me and now I was left with a question of my own. I turned towards Phoebe. 'How did you not see the man who killed you?'
"'It wasn't as if he announced himself. I put on the necklace and was looking at myself in the mirror when suddenly I was attacked from behind.' Phoebe had now pulled herself from Laura. 'When I came back and found my body, whoever it was, was already gone!'
"'Wouldn't the man who sent me know who killed you?' I asked, acting as if I was a sheriff with the questions that were swimming around my head.
"Laura now interjected. 'Well, what did he look like? I think we just might need to have a chat with that man.' Phoebe and Laura now both looked at me, a fury in their eyes.
"I told them the look of the man. His squirrelish features, and the nervous demeanor he had. They couldn't believe it, and then I knew I had gone too far.
"'Oh, and he had wild green eyes, like an emerald. He told me to meet him back at the inn when I got the necklace.' They both screamed in anger, since it seemed they both knew the man. Laura was saying things like 'I had loved him!' and 'How could he?!' before they both took off through the ceiling, and I looked out the window to see them headed towards town.
"I looked back, dropped the salt on the ground, and thought I had come for nothing when I realized they had left behind the pearl necklace. I picked it up, and left the house, hoping the man was still alive."
Sal leaned back and thought for a long second. "And?"
Henry looked at him and raised his eyebrows. "And what?"
"Did you get paid?"
Henry slugged down another glass of whiskey and made a face. "Ugh, what do you think? I went to find him, and when I asked the inn keeper where he was, he said he ran screaming from his room. Took a little bit of time, but I eventually figured out he ran all the way to the Sheriff and gave a full confession. Said that he found Phoebe with the necklace around her neck and couldn't help himself. In his rage, he killed her, and forgot to take the necklace as he fled." Henry shook his head and pushed his glass back out, signaling for another round.
Sal obliged him and gave him another round of whiskey before Henry downed it again.
"Crazy, and to think he got away with it for all these years. That's at least got to count for something, don't it?" Sal asked Henry.
"Yeah. To answer your question, no, he didn't pay me. He was in such a state in his cell, it was like he was in his own little world. Kept rocking back and forth with his knees tucked up, saying 'sorry' a bunch of times. Couldn't bring myself to even ask." He wiped his face from forehead to chin and back again.
"Well, that is a crazy story, but were closing up now." Sal grabbed his glass and set it behind the counter. "You gonna pay, or am I putting it on a tab?"
"I don't know old timer." Henry reached in his pocket and put something on the counter. "Do you take pearls?"