Gabrielle shot through the door of O’Brien’s Pub as though she was being chased by demons and made a beeline for the back corner booth.
“Gabby!” Leon Lee was a budding artist on the local scene, and stylishly looked the part, “iced tea, looks like you need it,” he slid the glass over.
“Hey,” Zack, ever the gentleman, didn’t have time to get to his feet before she slid into the booth beside him, “where’s the fire?”
“At 1313 Hobs End,” she declared breathlessly.
“Whuh…” Zack frowned, “that area is deserted.”
“I bought it – well, dad did, for unpaid taxes.”
Leon started laughing uncontrollably, clutching his sides, “have you lost your mind?”
“Back taxes?” Zack was sober, “okay, but what good is an empty warehouse? The only signs of life in that area – aw no, Gabby, are you kidding?”
“Why not?” she couldn’t help but notice than even in jeans and a t-shirt, Zack could have just stepped out of the pages of GQ. She wished it wasn’t so hot, she was sure she looked better with her hair down.
“Uh, for openers, there are already two over there, and it’s only workable two months out the year,” Zack seemed genuinely concerned.
“Yes, but we can do better,” Gabrielle tried to sound confident even though she had an odd feeling that she couldn't shake.
“How’s that?” Zack said.
Gabrielle slid a piece of paper in front of him.
“They made that much?” Zack asked.
“And they suck,” Leon was leaning over Zack’s shoulder now.
“That’s gross before expenses,” she didn’t want to give the wrong impression.
“Freaky Frights and Devil’s Lair really bring in over two hundred thousand?” Leon was incredulous.
“Dad checked it out,” she said, “you know my dad, before he dropped the thirteen thou for it. He’s kicking in another thirty seven thousand for start up costs -- you know, materials, security cameras, and payroll until we get off the ground,” Leon and Zack were as still as statues. “Of course he wants his money back and forty percent of the profit the first year, after that we’d all be equal partners.”
“So the first year we’d each make, say, ten thousand or so … hmm,” Zack was lightning quick, she knew he’d already run the estimate in his head, “the next year we could conceivably make twice that.”
“After paying employees, insurance, maybe a few improvements, it’s possible,” Gabrielle’s assessment was in tune with his. “This year we should concentrate on the first and second floors. Depending on how well we do and how much traffic we have, we can always develop the third floor next year.”
“So what makes you think we’ll do better? More plastic spiders and fake blood than the competition?” Leon, of course, was skeptical, not that she blamed him.
“No!” she exclaimed, “absolutely not, I’m thinking more psychological horror. And we’ll charge more. We’ve got talent, Zack will do the set designs, map out the flow of traffic --”
“Plausible for an interior designer, I suppose,” Leon said.
“Leon, you’ll do the art work, maybe help with costumes and makeup designs, too? I see both of you working together, consulting.”
“Yeah, could work,” Zack, she could tell, was thinking down the line.
Leon still had his doubts, “Uh, but what about your psychological horror idea?”
“That’s the toughest part, we have to put our heads together and come up with some really nasty, devious stuff,” she hoped to work with Zack on that.
“Hey! I’ve got one, well for openers anyway. You know what ‘environmental theatre’ is?” he was brainstorming already, she’d made a good call.
“Oh, like Tina and Tony’s wedding?” Gabrielle chimed in.
“Sorta,” Zack said, “we would plant actors in with the crowd, they’d come in, pay like everyone else, wait in line, then at a strategic point …”
“I like it!” Gabrielle was starting to think it really could happen. “We’d have them react in strange ways, or faint, or something more subtle… maybe drop some suggestions in dialogue, to move the plot along.”
“Wicked! But we’ll still need more concept ideas, and the actors,” Leon added.
“We could get drama students, they’d work cheap for the experience, and have fun with it,” Zack said. “They might have some good ideas, too.”
“What would you call the place?” Leon asked.
She wrote it out for them: Howl-O-Ween, “so whaddya say? You guys in?”
“I’ll design t-shirts to sell. They’ll be a trendy must-have, and more profit,” Leon didn’t lack confidence in his ability.
“I can get paint and fabric at huge discounts, and I think we should get Brett to look it over,” Zack’s brother was an architect.
“Meet me there at five o’clock. I’ll come straight from work.”
Gabrielle had graduated with a degree in Journalism two years ago, but soon came face to face with the fact that she wasn’t going to just walk into her dream job as a junior investigative reporter. Now, she was going into business with her two of her best friends from college. Leon was brilliant, and his paintings were starting to sell very well. There was just that one little problem -- his habit of getting falling down drunk once a week. Then there was Zack, a very talented designer, and so insanely attractive that she could barely keep her eyes, let alone her hands, off him.
She had neglected to tell them about the letter addressed only to “Manager” in her stack of deliveries yesterday that had led her to an empty building, a letter that the dispatcher swore there was no record of on the log, a letter that had disappeared by the time she had returned to her car.
She had neglected to tell them that the door was open a couple of inches when she arrived. She had nudged it open further and stepped inside to look around. She could see only a metal stairway and some debris scattered on the floor, so she took another two or three steps inside and everything suddenly went pitch black even though the late June Sun had been streaming in behind her. She vividly recalled the tingling sensation on the back of her neck as she whirled to dash outside.
And she had neglected to tell Zack and Leon that when she pulled the door shut before leaving, and tried it again, that it was locked tight.
Then there was that strange howling sound …
She wondered what she’d gotten herself into, and why.