Lawrence answered the ad and crossed his fingers that he would get this job. It had been a while since he had worked and he was desperate. Against all odds, and the advice of his mother, he had left home at the tender age of twenty. Hollywood bound he was determined to be the next James Dean. Of course the movie industry just loves these young hopefuls. After unfulfilled promises and being used and abused by the system, he knew he had been beaten.
Yet his letters home were always filled with good news about an audition here or a small part there. He would send his mama whatever money he could. That it was mostly received for waiting tables or selling his blood was something he had kept to himself. If he could just get this job, he knew things would change for him.
Actor required for three-month engagement
Excellent salary plus meals and accommodation
Auditions by appointment only
Call Mr. Hildegarde at 555-7827”
His appointment was at 2 PM sharp and he was advised to be on time. As he was the last audition of the day, Mr. Hildegarde didn’t want to waste the rest of his day waiting for a ‘no show.’ Lawrence couldn’t even begin to imagine not showing up for an audition. Even if he had a steady gig, you just never knew. The next job could be your big break; the old job could be gone tomorrow. There certainly were no guarantees in this crazy business.
He arrived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at 1:45 PM with butterflies in his stomach. Entering the suite, the presence of three men did nothing to quell his nervousness. Oh gawd, he prayed, let this be a legitimate audition.
As if sensing his trepidation, Mr. Hildegarde quickly made the introductions. “Lawrence Mitchell, I would like you to meet Mr. Goldberg, my attorney, and Mr. Carstairs, my assistant producer.”
“First off, Lawrence, let me tell you that this is very different from any acting you will have ever done. And, if you are offered the role, you will have to sign a confidentiality agreement.” This came from Abe Goldberg, who was waving said agreement in his hand.
Lawrence sighed, lawyers. But he did have a point, it would be different from any acting he had ever done, simply because he had yet to land a role.
Richard Carstairs had him read a few lines and walk around the room a bit, and then quickly announced, “Yes, he’s the one. In fact, he’s perfect.”
Perfect? Lawrence was really worried now. He had never been perfect at or for anything his entire life. He’d listen to what they had to say and probably take the job anyway. He was desperate and he needed to send money to mama, she had been so ill lately although she tried to cover it up. He also knew she wasn’t eating as much as she should be and this frightened him.
Before they would outline the job, he had to sign that damn agreement. Abe, now satisfied, gave Lawrence an advance check for one thousand dollars and left the suite. Horace Hildegarde advised Lawrence that he would be paid five hundred dollars per week for approximately twelve weeks, plus accommodations and meals; the latter two items were non-taxable he said with a wink. His pay would be direct deposited every Friday into his bank account. Lawrence couldn’t believe his luck.
Now they told him what his ‘role’ was. He was to haunt a mansion. Was he hearing things?
“So, I’ll be playing a ghost?”
“Not exactly, you’ll be playing several ghosts. Richard, tell him what we need him to do, I have an appointment with the bankers I need to get to.” With that Horace was gone.
“Okay Lawrence, now that I can talk plainly, here’s the scoop. Horace owns a Victorian style mansion that has had several incarnations since he inherited it twenty years ago. It was a brothel originally and Horace turned it into a boarding house. It naturally evolved into a Bed and Breakfast, but that too failed. After that it became a restaurant; then an art gallery, and recently a museum of sorts.”
Richard held up his hand to ward off Lawrence’s questions. “Let me finish son, then you can fire away. When attempting to do some renovations recently, Horace discovered secret passageways that ran along behind the rooms. The place is honeycombed with them. Sudden inspiration hit. Horace has already been planting the seeds that the place is haunted. He has tours lined up and the place is reopening next week as a tourist attraction. There will be a gift shop, a coffee shop, a mini gallery housing antiques and artwork for sale at ridiculously high prices, and there will be a ghost haunting the place, you. Now, your questions, I can tell by the look on your face you have more than one.”
Lawrence’s mind was in turmoil. What to ask first? “Okay, so people aren’t supposed to see me?”
“Nope, if they did, it would be all over before it begins. You are to stay out of sight at all times. When the business day is over, you retire to your suite in the attic for the night. It’s well equipped with everything you need in the way of appliances, food, and entertainment. If you need anything, you wait until the house is empty and you call this number.” Richard handed Lawrence a card.
“Well, what exactly is it that I’m supposed to do? Moan? Rattle chains?”
“The house has been equipped with a sound system, and a lot of other gadgets. As each tour progresses through the house, you will push a button here and there and the special effects will take over.”
“Why an actor, I’m not acting. Anyone could do this and for less money too.” Lawrence hoped he wasn’t biting the hand that was about to feed him.
“Lawrence, first and foremost, confidentiality is a major factor here. Word can never leak out that the haunting is faked. But second of all, Horace is a great one for rewarding loyalty. When this little job is finished, he is producing a movie and you’ll finally get your big break. You’ll have a supporting role that will guarantee you several offers if you’re any good, and we think you will be. That’s what his meeting with the bankers is all about today, the financial backing for his movie. Anything else? If not, let’s go to the house so I can show you the ropes.”
Lawrence didn’t have any other questions. Good money, room and board, and a movie when this was over, it was his big break and he had to make good. Then he could help mama. She had always been there for him.
Richard and Lawrence went from room to room the traditional way and then through the passageways. Lawrence stood in each room while Richard ran the special effects and he had to admit, it was scary and believable; it sent chills down his spine, and he knew it was all faked. Then it was Lawrence’s turn to push the buttons so that Richard could be satisfied that he knew what he was doing. When the dry run was over, Richard showed him to his suite.
Lawrence was amazed at how well equipped it was. He was not lacking for anything. The collection of DVDs and CDs was second to none. There was weight training equipment, a Jacuzzi, and more food than the local convenience store back in La Junta. He noticed that there was no bar, not that it mattered. Lawrence knew all too well how alcohol dulled his senses. He would never let that happen again.
Richard left after reminding Lawrence to phone if he needed anything. He had a week to get to know the place like the back of his hand.
I’ll be the best ghost ever, he vowed to himself. He wanted to make his mama proud. Of course he could never tell her the nature of this job, but he could say that he had a steady acting job and he would send her money every week.
With that in mind, Lawrence wrote his letter.
I finally got that big break I always dreamed of. I have a three-month engagement in live theatre that pays very well and I will be in a movie when it finishes. I am sending you a check that is payable right away and some post-dated ones for later on. Promise me that you will take care of yourself. I miss you. I will visit as soon as I can, but I don’t know yet when that will be.
I love you Mama.
Your son, Lawrence
He wrote out the checks, the first one was for one thousand dollars, the amount of his advance. The post-dated ones were each made out in the amount four hundred dollars. Since he had no rent or grocery concerns, his needs were little compared to Mama’s. He put everything in an envelope addressed to his Mama and left the envelope unsealed as he had been directed to do with all mail he wished to send. Abe had to be sure that he was not telling anyone what he was really doing, thus breaching the confidentiality agreement.
Then something made Lawrence write another letter.
To Whom it May Concern:
If anything should ever happen to me, please make sure that all my money and belongings are sent to my Mama in La Junta, Colorado.
He learned to move through the house soundlessly. Randomly pushing the different buttons, trying out the sound effects and other gadgets, Lawrence knew he was ready to start ‘haunting’ the house. Exhausted, Lawrence fell into bed, forgetting to put his letters in the chute.
Opening day and the house was packed. Lawrence had been advised not to overdo anything; subtlety was the key word. Subtle was exactly how the thing had been played out. A puff of icy air at the back of a neck here, a sound there, and soon the word was out; the place was haunted. Antiques and artwork sold like hotcakes, the tours were booked solid and everyone was happy.
Horace was pleased with Lawrence’s handiwork; the lad had just the right touch. Richard was surprised that he never asked for anything; but then again, Lawrence had everything he could conceivably need. And Abe was, well, Abe. As a lawyer, his only concern was that the confidentiality agreement wasn’t broken, and as far as he could see, it wasn’t. He checked the mail chute once a week and Lawrence never sent any outgoing mail.
Horace was so pleased with the way the haunting had been carried out that he decided to give Lawrence a bonus after the house closed for the season. After all, he had made a killing on a house that he had been about to give up on. He knew that once Lawrence appeared in the movie that he would never be satisfied playing a ghost again, but he would worry about next season, next season. He instructed Richard to go pick Lawrence up, give him his bonus, and take him out to the beach house. He figured the kid could use some sun and sea air before they started filming in Alaska.
“Horace!” It was Richard’s voice, broken, breathless.
“What? I’ve got a golf game in a half hour, make it fast.”
“It’s Lawrence, he’s dead.”
Horace arrived at the house the same time that Abe and the doctor did. This needed to be kept quiet at all costs. Horace had turned to his oldest, most trusted acquaintance, Jacob Mendelssohn, a Medical Examiner. It was apparent that Lawrence had been dead for several weeks. Closer examination of the contents of the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards confirmed this; they were almost fully stocked. Lawrence died in bed, the cause not readily apparent. Jacob made the arrangements for the autopsy and told Horace he would give him the results personally.
Then they found the letters, the one to his Mama and the other one, the one that amounted to Lawrence’s last will and testament. Could he have known something was going to happen? Richard agreed to take the money out to Mrs. Mitchell along with the news of her son’s death. He hoped she was strong enough to handle it.
* * *
When Jacob got back to Horace, he had very little to tell him. By best estimates, Lawrence had died approximately three months ago, give or take a day, the cause of death unknown. A stunned Horace dropped the phone back in its cradle.
Lawrence had been dead before the ghostly tours had even started!