Margaret “Maggie” McGee drove her compact car into the parking lot of Sandpiper Bluff Apartments. She turned off the ignition and looked at the renovated apartment building. While not restored to its previous duties as a tuberculosis hospital, most of the decor from its earlier life as Lake Shore Sanatorium remained intact.
Situated atop a rare steep clay bluff, on the shore of Lake Michigan, the 1899 three-story brick building looked nothing like a hospital. Rather, it resembled a hotel for the elite. Open double-deck porches that once allowed sufferers of tuberculosis to breathe in the cool fresh air blowing off the Great Lake, still wrapped around the building. Shutterless tall windows added balance to the dormers protruding from the sloping roof covering the third floor. Two large old brick chimneys jutted out through the roof, showing testament to the coal-fired octopus furnace and wood stoves they used to service.
Maggie knew of the old sanatorium but never saw it until she responded to a vacancy ad in the South Haven Record.
Energy efficient, two-bedroom, furnished apartment with updated appliances. Enjoy privacy and peace in this historic and renovated building under new management and renamed to Sandpiper Bluff Apartments. Walk the sandy shores of Lake Michigan and relax with the view of beautiful sunsets seen from the apartment, perched high on a bluff. Affordable rent and flexible lease.
When she attended Bloomingdale School, she had known about the sanatorium being haunted. It had become a favorite tale every Halloween when students would set plans to visit the spooky abandoned building, hoping to catch sight of the paranormal.
They would begin the scary campfire story by telling how it used to be a hospital for the wealthy suffering from tuberculosis. Then in the 1950s, after the streptomycin antibiotic was discovered and tuberculosis was no longer a threat, the building’s management brought in psychiatric patients to replace the lungers. After rumors of staff abuse toward the mentally ill residents had been found to be true, the sanatorium closed down in 1969. It sat vacant for decades, until a real estate developer came in, restored the dilapidated grand building, and converted the already hotel-like rooms into apartments. But as the story goes, renters never stayed long. Many even broke their leases, claiming ghosts were driving them from the building. So once again, it sat with rooms nobody wanted to rent.
But Maggie thought it was perfect. Aside from the fact that she had never seen a ghost or anything paranormal, for that matter, she needed a place to live and the price was right. The low rent did cause her to wonder why an apartment on the shoreline was so cheap. The owner could charge an arm and a leg or turn it into a secluded resort for celebrities. But no one had done that.
Maggie had found her husband, Cory McGee, dead in the dining room of their Breedsville home a month earlier. A handgun lay on the floor beside the chair he had been sitting in when he decided to take his life. Maggie had no clue he was in such a state of mind, they planned an addition to their home the week before.
Maggie popped the trunk and got out of the car. She walked to the back, took out her wheeled suitcase and backpack, and then walked toward the sidewalk. Her suitcase rumbled as it rolled over the concrete pavers leading to the porch steps. She stopped a moment and admired the old-fashioned roses climbing the columns of the whitewashed porch. Their aroma was better than any store-bought perfume.
The summer sun was high in the azure sky as she looked up toward the roofless second-floor porch, sitting on the first. She had seen old pictures of the sanatorium; it was almost like stepping into the past. The property developer certainly knew what he was doing when he restored the old place.
Her second story room faced the lake. She had only been in the room once, to inspect it and sign the lease. Before she even arrived that day, she knew she was taking it and moving in as soon as they would let her. Even if she saw a mouse run across the countertop, she was moving in. The magnificent view and tranquility would be worth setting a couple mousetraps.
The breeze blowing off the lake was brisk. She could hear the waves crashing below the bluff and smell the fresh moist air. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the fragrance of roses and the scent of nearby pine and spruce trees.
Maggie smiled and continued walking toward the porch. She tugged the suitcase up the steps and stood in front of the large wooden double door. Before walking inside, she looked along the length of the porch. Wooden porch swings swayed gently on either side of her. Potted ferns hung from the ceiling, spaced at intervals above the porch rails. The place was more like a bed and breakfast than an apartment building. She was going to like it here.
She pushed open the door and walked into the vestibule. A dozen or so mailboxes were flush against the wall ahead, a chair sat to the left, and a buzzer panel was on the right wall next to the inside glass panel door. Each button on the panel had an apartment number beside it; she needed the supervisor, Mr. Carl Zimmerman. She found it and pressed the black button until it buzzed through the panel’s speaker.
There was no answer. Thinking the door could be unlocked, she pulled the handle, but the door would not open. Someone would need to let her in.
She pressed the buzzer again. This time a gruff voice came through the speaker.
“Yes?” the man said.
“Mr. Zimmerman, this is Maggie McGee, I need in my room.”
“Didn’t I give you a key?” the superintendent asked.
“No, I guess you forgot,” she said.
“Meet me at my office and I’ll get you one. I’ll be right down,” he said, buzzing her in.
A waft of fresh paint, mixed with old building smells, drifted into her nostrils as she opened the door. Her nose wrinkled; she did not remember the damp wood odor the last time she was there.
Mr. Zimmerman’s office was directly ahead, past a welcome desk. Years ago, it had to have been the reception desk for incoming patients and visitors, she thought.
While she waited for the apartment supervisor to come down the elevator, she looked around the lobby. Newer windows were placed inside the restored dark stained wooden windowsills. Gilded plaster molding joined the walls to the ceiling, and the oak wooden stair rails, leading to the upper floors, were polished to a shiny perfection.
The door to the old elevator clanked open. Mr. Zimmerman walked out as though he had been awakened from a nap. The few strands of gray hair that were still on his head lay this way and that. His round belly smoothed the fabric of his white tank top. Likely from beer, Maggie thought.
“Hi, Mr. Zimmerman,” Maggie said. She knew she appeared too cheerful, but she could not help herself. Aside from the fact, there was no way she could live in the house Cory had committed suicide in, she was excited to move into her new home. She had spent the last month living with her best friend Jessica Pinter in a rundown mobile home. Sure they were close, but Maggie felt that if she stayed there too long they would be at each other’s throats. They were not arguing yet, but Maggie could tell it was only a matter of time.
“How are you doing?” Mr. Zimmerman asked as he walked past her, toward his office. An unlit Churchill cigar bounced in the corner of his mouth as he spoke. “Sorry, I forgot to give you the keys.”
“Not a problem,” she said, walking behind him.
Mr. Zimmerman unlocked the office door, walked in behind the desk, and lifted two keys from the wall hooks.
“This one is for the entrance,” he said, handing her a key that looked like a standard house key. “This one is for your apartment, 22C.” The second key, however, looked like an old-fashioned skeleton key. He looked at her suitcase. “Is there anything else you need help with?”
“No, I got it from here,” she said, holding the keys, moist from his sweaty hands.
Mr. Zimmerman followed her to the elevator. He stepped inside behind her and pushed the second-floor button. “My apartment is on the third floor if you happen to need anything.” He paused and then said, “This building has been here over a century, so it does a lot of groaning and creaking in its old age.”
Groaning and creaking. Sounds from the bones of the old hospital, not ghosts, or goblins, she assured herself. “Thanks, Mr. Zimmerman. If I need anything, I’ll call you.”
The ancient elevator door rattled open. The renovators certainly did not bother with replacing the elevator, only restoring it to working condition. Maggie stepped out, her suitcase clunked over the partition between the elevator and the floor.
“Good luck,” Mr. Zimmerman said as the elevator door closed.
Good luck? What is that supposed to mean? She turned back to look at the superintendent, but the door had already closed.
To her left was the open stairway leading back down to the foyer and up to the third floor. A wooden railing encircled the open staircase was partially attached to the northeast corner of the building. She could hear the elevator door open above and the heavy steps of Mr. Zimmerman walking down the hall to his room. Noise traveled easily through the building’s interior.
Maggie stood in the hall a moment, looking at the layout of the second floor. Past the stairway and the elevator were two doors leading out to the second-level porch—one to the east and one to the west—leaving only enough room for three good-sized apartments. Apartment 20A occupied the southwest corner of the building, apartment 21B took up the southeast portion, and Maggie’s apartment, 22C, sat in the northwest corner. She had not met any of her neighbors, but there would be time to get acquainted later.
Plenty of light spilled into the space through the delicate lace panels of the French doors leading outside. She had a hard time envisioning patients in wheelchairs and hospital beds being pushed through the doors and out onto the porch to breathe in the fresh air, the supposed cure for tuberculosis.
Maggie turned right and walked past the utility room that sat between her apartment and the elevator. Good thing that room was there or else she would hear the rumble of the elevator ascending and descending, she thought.
She walked up to her door, let go of the suitcase, and placed the antique key into the lock. It was awkward turning the lever lock, but after a couple tries, she was able to turn and unlock it. She opened the door, took the handle of the suitcase, and rolled it inside, closing the door behind her.
After sitting her luggage next to a full-length mirror and coat rack, she walked straight ahead through the living room and looked out one of the windows. The view was awe-inspiring. With the building sitting so close to the bluff, and with the veranda blocking the view of the ground, it was as if she were on a ship looking out across a vast ocean.
She opened the window before going into the small galley-style kitchen. A tiny dinette table was pushed against the wall, next to a window. She looked at the rust-stained sink and along the empty countertop, she was happy not to see any mice running next to the backsplash. She opened the refrigerator; it was empty. “I knew a welcome basket of food would be expecting too much,” she whispered, then closed the refrigerator door.
She walked out of the kitchen, toward the two small bedrooms. Each room had a north facing window and view of the shoreline as it stretched toward Saugatuck.
Then her cell phone rang. It was Nora Bella, her literary agent.
“Hi, Maggie. Are you all settled into your new writing studio?”
Maggie gave a half-hearted laugh. “I just walked in the door.”
“The publisher wants to know if you’re going to have book four done soon,” Nora said. “I know you’ve been through a lot, lately, but the show must go on.”
Maggie shook her head, wishing she had let the call go to voicemail. “I’m working on it. I was just getting ready to pull out my laptop.” Not.
“I have a call coming in,” Nora said. “I’ll call you in a couple days.”
The call reminded Maggie that she had told Mr. Zimmerman that she was an author. And how Nora was always bugging her about the progress of each book in her series, Raven Ridge Mysteries, like a dog pestering its master to go outside and play. She had told him how Nora’s favorite saying was, “Maggie, you know the deadline is soon . . . Chop, chop.” And that she needed seclusion so that she could write and keep Nora happy. That had to be what he meant when he said, “Good luck.”