Ghost Shadow Page 1



The blue light made the hallway dark and eerie, though just beyond the doors of the museum, the magic sunlight of the island glowed upon tourists and the few locals who considered early morning to be a time before noon. Traces of fog, designed for effect in the museum, lingered and created an atmosphere that was ghostly and suspenseful.

“Blood and gory guts! Murder, most foul!”

The teasing cry came from a man in the group of fifteen. He was dressed as a tourist, in shorts, T-shirt and baseball cap. His nose still bore traces of white zinc and, as typical of most tourists, he was sporting a sunburn that would soon hurt.

“No, death most absurd,” David Beckett corrected. He had to admit-he loved filling in as a tour guide, and had been glad to give Danny Zigler, the weekend tour host, time off.

“Ooh,” murmured one of the teenaged girls.

David heard a small, aborted laugh. It came from Pete Dryer, Key West policeman, who happened to be on the tour with his sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, family down from Fort Lauderdale for a few weeks during summer break.

“This is going to be dramatic, folks,” Pete teased.

“Our next exhibit is definitely one of our most bizarre stories-even in a place where the bizarre is quite customary,” David said.

They had been moving at a steady but relaxed pace through the exhibits. The museum was a family business, and covered all of the colorful history of Florida’s Key West. Each major event was shown in an incredibly detailed and authentic tableau. The tableaux were not wax. Once upon a time, the place had been a small wax museum, but David’s grandfather, something of a mechanical and electrical genius, had avoided the constant loss of wax figurines when the heat soared in Key West, when storms came through, when air-conditioning ceased to work. The figures in the exhibit were brilliant mechanical masterpieces.

The group was heading to David’s favorite historical exhibit. He grinned and said as an introduction, “A story of true love to some-true evil and wickedness to others.”

A few of the young women in the crowd of tourists smiled, as well. David played the part of host well, he thought, and had the right appearance for it. He was tall, dark-haired and in damned decent shape at the moment, thanks to the navy. He wore a top hat and Victorian cape, though why that was the uniform, he wasn’t sure. Many of the women and girls in the crowd were nervous-museums with tableaux often made people nervous, and many of the figures here were so realistic that it did seem they might come to life. David was enjoying himself. It was good to be home, and good to be dealing with the family business for a stint, giving employees time off here and there, even if he wouldn’t be staying for long right now. Finished with the military, he was headed to the University of Florida-a bit old for a freshman, but he’d be going on the “uncle” he’d so recently served, Uncle Sam.

The blonde in the Hog’s Breath Saloon T-shirt and short-shorts was really cute, he thought.

He felt a moment’s guilt; he wasn’t accustomed to feeling free to flirt when he met a lovely young woman. He’d been engaged. He’d had a fiancée he loved, that is until he’d returned home to find out that Tanya had decided that she was moving north with a football player who’d come down to Key West from Ohio State.

It hurt. It still hurt. But his time in the military had driven them apart. They had dated all through high school. It had seemed like real love. But it hadn’t been. Not on Tanya’s part, at least.

But he had been gone often, and for long periods, and maybe it was just natural that she had moved on. Now, he needed to do the same.

He stopped just before his favorite tableau and said, “Carl Tanzler was born in Dresden, Germany, and came to the United States via a circuitous route that took him to Cuba, Zephyrhills, Florida, and finally down to Key West. Here he worked as an X-ray technician at the U.S. Marine Hospital, while, for some reason, his wife remained in Zephyrhills with his family. Now, when he was young, so the story goes, he had visions, and his grandmother encouraged those visions. One was a beautiful dark-haired woman who would prove to be his true love.”

“Typical-his true love wasn’t his wife,” the blonde woman said. David thought one of the college girls with her group had called her Genevieve. She looked like a Genevieve. Really pretty face, beautiful eyes.

“It wasn’t his wife?” Pete’s sister, Sally, said. “His true love wasn’t his wife?”

Her husband, Gerry, laughed and gave her a hug.

“Nope, not his wife,” David agreed. “One day, into the hospital walked a stunning young Cuban woman named Elena de Hoyos. Sadly, the young woman suffered from tuberculosis. Carl-who called himself Count von Cosel-fell instantly in love with her. Problems abounded. He had his wife, and Elena was married, as well. Ah, but that particular problem was quickly solved, because her husband left her as soon as the diagnosis was made. Carl swore to her and her family that he could cure her. At the time, though, there was nothing at all that he could do, even though he ingratiated himself to the family and was a constant guest in their home with his cures. When Elena died on October twenty-fifth in nineteen thirty-one, he offered to build her a beautiful mausoleum, which he did, and he visited it night after night, playing music for her, speaking to her in her grave, giving her gifts.”

“That’s sad and tragic,” an older woman offered. She had zinc on her nose, too. She seemed to be the wife of the fellow with the sunburn. Her shade almost matched his.

“Yes, well, one day, he quit visiting. Now, folks, this is Key West, Florida. For the next several years, Carl Tanzler, Count von Cosel, spent his days buying perfume, mortician’s wax, wire and women’s lingerie and clothing, and no one really seemed to notice. Then one day, Nana, Elena’s sister, heard rumors that Tanzler was sleeping with her sister’s corpse. She accosted Tanzler, and he was soon arrested. Now, legend has it that Nana let him have three days with the body before the police came in to take him, but I’m not sure I believe that bend in the story. Tanzler was taken into custody. He was examined by psychiatrists. Just to prove the rest of the country can be as crazy as folks in Key West, the story became romanticized in papers across America. Eventually, Tanzler was released-the statute of limitations for disturbing a grave had run out. An autopsy suggested that the man had been practicing necrophilia for years. Tanzler’s own memoirs speak of his love for Elena and his belief that they would fly to the stars together as man and wife, since he had married her in a secret and private ceremony. Elena was given a second viewing at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home. Maybe five or six hundred people attended her first, thousands attended her second. Our next display is one that recalls the famous story of true love-Carl Tanzler stands by the bedside of his bride.”

With those words, David strode into the next room, his arm sweeping out dramatically.

He frowned, startled by the sudden silence.

Then the blonde screamed. It was a tragic and horrible scream, and he was destined to hear that sound over and over again in the years to come.

David turned.

The robotic recreation of Carl Tanzler stood just as usual, a small, thin-faced man with a balding head at the rear of the bed, bending over Elena Milagro de Hoyos.

But the body on the bed was not Elena’s.

He didn’t scream. He felt as if ice washed over him and permeated him, blood and bone.

A woman lay on the bed.

But it was not the model of Elena!

She wasn’t dark; she was blonde. Her hair, long and lustrous, fell over the pillow and curled down the side of the bed. Her eyes, blue and open, stared at the ceiling in frozen horror. She was wearing a sundress, and while stretched out in a natural pose, she might have been getting her beauty sleep had it not been for her eyes, staring sightlessly in terror.

David felt his knees buckle. Only the ice in his veins kept him standing.

Blood and guts! Murder most foul!

There was no blood. But it was murder. Despite the pristine beauty of her body as she lay, dark gray bruises were apparent around her neck.

It was murder. The murder of a beautiful young woman.

Not a stranger. Not just any woman.

It was Tanya, his ex-fiancée.



“Personally, I think you’ve taken on way too much,” Clarinda said, voicing her opinion in a loud whisper next to Katie’s ear. She had to come down to Katie’s ear to be heard so close to the sound system. A drunken frat boy from Omaha was in the midst of a soulful Alice Cooper song, the bar was full and the noise level was high.

Katie shrugged and grinned, looking up at her friend. Maybe she was taking on too much, but an opportunity had come up, and she hadn’t been able to resist.

“It will be wonderful, it will work out-and it will be good for Key West,” Katie said in return.

Clarinda arched a doubtful brow, set down a glass of water with lime on the small table at Katie’s side and shook her head. “I’ll help you, of course,” she said. “And, you know, Danny Zigler will be delighted to come and work for you. He was heartbroken when the place shut down years ago. People say that it’s haunted, of course. You know that, right?”

“So I’ve heard,” Katie said.

“Sweetie, can we get another round over here?” a man shouted above the din.

“Just don’t call me sweetie,” Clarinda said, exhaling a sigh of exasperation. “What is this tonight? We usually get the locals who actually know how to hold their liquor.”

“Gee. We’re in Key West and we’ve been discovered by tourists. Go figure,” Katie said.

“Yeah, well, I wish I were the karaoke hostess and not the waitress,” Clarinda said.

“Hey, I’ve told you that you can work for me-”

“And when the place is slow and the hostess is supposed to sing, I assure you that I’ll clean out not just the bar, but the entire street. No-eventually, I’ll make my fortune doing caricatures on Mallory Square, but until that day, I’ll be your support by helping drunks get drunker and therefore hand out big tips. Okay, that helps both of us.”

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