Story: The Dumas Brothel
Those who have read my crime noir novel "A Killer Story" may remember Teddy Murphy. He's back in trouble.
The Dumas Brothel
Teddy drove past the address he’d looked up – 45 E. Mercury. The front door was wide open and he felt drawn to go through it. He pulled his red Cadillac convertible to the curb and mulled over what to do. He saw his wife, Kate, sitting in their hotel room, waiting for the coffee and donuts he’d gone out for over an hour ago. He’d gotten sidetracked as usual, nosing around Butte. She’d be in a black mood when he got back. Why hurry?
Leaving the top down, Teddy hopped out of the Caddy and jogged across the street. He stopped in front of a faded red brick building and stared up at it – the former house of ill repute known as the Dumas Brothel, the last bordello in Butte. Boarded up no longer.
Mute as a tomcat, Teddy crossed the threshold and stepped into the den of iniquity. He was immediately accosted by the scent of mildew and paint. Sun poured through the open door and Teddy saw his shadow on the wall suddenly spin around at the sound of a voice behind him.
“Jesus Christ! Ya scared me!” The words flew from a man standing in the corner, paintbrush in hand. He held the brush up as if ready to slap Teddy in the chops. Square-jawed with a razor-cut scalp, the man had the solid body of a Frigidaire. His green Montana Tech jersey was splotched in drops the color of blood.
Teddy spoke up, “I read this place sold, saw the door was open so – ya open?”
“Does it look like it?” the square man said, flicking his brush at the purplish walls.
“So, this is the famous Dumas Brothel?” Teddy said. “I’ve always heard about this place.”
“You’re standing in the waiting room,” the man said, his voice now an odd monotone. Teddy thought he saw a bruise under the man’s eye, but it was only a smudge of paint.
“Weren’t there tunnels that ran from the mines straight here?” Teddy asked.
The man, saying nothing, cocked his head as if hearing something. Teddy kept quiet.
The man ventured on, “Twilight Zone is what they called this part of Butte. Out the back is Venus Alley.”
“Far out,” Teddy said, glibly. “So, when’s the Dumas getting back in orbit?”
“Depends. Ghosts keep movin’ things.”
“You got ghosts?” Teddy said, as if they were mice. “An infestation?”
“Didn’t believe in ‘em at first,” the man droned, “but they changed my mind.”
“You’re serious?” Teddy smirked.
“Dumas is haunted folks said, bought it anyway. Two weeks later, things start moving. Pictures fall. Toilets flush. I hear ‘em. Then, hallway upstairs, I hear a woman’s voice. Said she was Elinore. Madam of the house in the old days, until she turned up dead.”
Teddy turned and looked the man in the eye, searching for signs of instability. The man stared back, right through him.
“Died in her bedroom upstairs,” the painted man declared. “Death certificate said it was coronary occlusion. Most folks thought suicide – sleeping pills and alcohol. She had a suitcase packed, waiting for her lover to leave his wife and pick her up and move to Las Vegas, but he never showed. Left her hangin’. Her world caved in. Never made it to Vegas.”
Teddy ran his fingers over the rough, rouge wallpaper. It was like traveling back in time, seeing and feeling what others saw and felt a century ago, in this very room. Breathing the same air.
The man resumed painting and spoke to the wall, “Elinore said it wasn’t suicide. She was croaked.”
“Somebody offed her?” Teddy said. “Killed the dame?”
“She had a red Cadillac convertible that disappeared. Jewels were missing. Cops ignored it, said it was suicide.”
“Wait, she had a Caddy convertible?” Teddy said. “Red? That’s crazy.” He thought of his own red Caddy, sitting outside across the street.
“Red it was. Never found,” the man said. Teddy examined him to detect a grin or hint of a joke. But the man was dead serious, his face blank. Through the door came the faint sound of a far-off siren from down on the Flats.
“Why’d you come here?” the man said, still addressing the wall. “You are not welcome.”
The change in tone startled Teddy. “Really? The ghosts tell ya that?”
“Leave now,” the man said. Teddy glared and wanted to get into it, but decided now wasn’t the time. He was late. And the paint fumes were making him nauseous.
“Okay. My wife’s waiting.”
“Not for long,” the man said, transparent. Teddy felt a feathery caress on his cheek from a breeze breathing through the open door.
And then it came – a tickle, a gentle flutter near his groin. His right leg bounced. He blinked and looked down and realized it was his phone. Digging it from his pocket he saw it was his wife. Kate. He laughed, relieved it wasn’t Elinore or some other angry apparition.
He answered curtly, “Sorry, can’t talk. I’m in a brothel.”
A pregnant pause. “Of course you are,” his wife said. “Call me when you’re done.”
Ha! That’s the spirit, Teddy thought. Getting her sense of humor back.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’m done, just a sec.” Teddy moved toward the door and waved bye to the man with the paintbrush who was now staring up at the ceiling. Teddy crossed the threshold and bounded down the steps.
“Thought you were a ghost for a second,” he said to his wife. “You scared me.”
A second pregnant pause.
“A ghost?” she said. “That’s funny.”
“I know,” he laughed.
“Cause I’m about to disappear,” she said, her voice bubbly. Teddy wondered if she was drunk.
She went on, “I decided just now, I’m leaving you. I’m moving and I don’t care if you know where. Las Vegas. Surprise, surprise.”
She hung up and Teddy stumbled and choked on his gum. No, no, no way! Kate, his wife, a ghost? It’s not possible! And then he knew it was. Across the street, his Cadillac had vanished.