Oh, the pain in her hip, it was almost unbearable. However, it did not prevent her from shining the light on the yellowed musty page as a mouse scurried underneath the lockers where she had just removed the letter. She shoved the envelope into her skirt pocket and shined the light on the sheet of paper with the locker assignments.
“Are you all right, Ethel? You didn’t break your hip, did ya?” Claudia’s whiney voice seemed unusually muted. “We’ll be stranded down here if you did.”
“No, it’s just my arthritis, it makes everything worse,” Ethel said, looking over the list for Deborah’s name. Then she heard Claudia grunting. “What are you doing?”
“I’m getting up so that I can go in there and help you,” Claudia said, letting curses slip from her tongue.
Ethel tried to sit up, but every time the hip joint moved a jolt of pain shot down through her leg and up her back.
Claudia stepped between the studs and through the opening. “Did you find the locker?”
“Gosh, this brings back memories,” Ethel said as Claudia helped her stand. She shined her light from the paper to locker 41. “That apparently was Patty’s locker. I liked her. She was one of the night nurses; she was always leaving as I was coming to work. She’d tell me about the night’s events, both terrible and funny.”
“Save memory lane for later,” Claudia said, looking back through the opening, “because those spirits could return at any moment.”
Ethel looked back at the list. “I’m sure her name was Deborah Franklin, but there’s no one by that name included in the Fs. There’s Joyce Fish, Carrie Fry, but no Franklin.”
Claudia walked up to the closed lockers and began trying to open them. Some were locked and some were not. The ones that opened were empty, their contents long ago cleared.
Ethel flipped the paper over and looked at the names on the back. “I don’t see her name at all.”
“Maybe she didn’t have a locker, maybe she shared one with someone else,” Claudia said. “What about that doctor? Did he have a locker?”
“I don’t know,” Ethel said. She was so frustrated she felt like crinkling the paper and tossing it into a corner housing a spider’s snare. “I didn’t handle the doctor’s affairs. But the doctors lounge is on the third floor, the same floor Mr. Zimmerman was . . . murdered.”
“Let’s check all these lockers first before we go up there,” Claudia said, shuffling her edematous feet along the floor, avoiding debris that had been scattered from Ethel’s forceful entry.
With flashlight in hand, they looked in all the open lockers and tested each closed one. All they saw in the lockers were trash, old food wrappers, pens—likely depleted of ink—and two pairs of white nurses’ shoes, worn and scuffed.
“I can’t believe we went through all this and came out empty handed,” Ethel said, wincing each time she moved.
“We do have a few cuts and scrapes to show for our hard work,” Claudia said, rubbing her elbow. “You’ll need to light my path. Let’s get back to your apartment.”
Ethel shined the light so that Claudia could see to walk back out through the opening. “Maybe we should get the crystal ball while we’re down here and take it back to my apartment.”
Claudia stopped and turned to Ethel. “It’s not wise to take it to your place, you know that. It’s best kept in the scrying room until we’re ready to use it.”
“We could use it now,” Ethel said, walking out of the storage room. “Even though we don’t have any personal items from the spirits past lives, we can still do it.”
“I didn’t come all the way here and go through all this just to half-ass the séance,” Claudia said. “All we’ll end up doing is pissing off the spirits and the demon. We need a personal item from that nurse or the doctor.”
“I know,” Ethel said. “But I just want to get this over with.”
“Nobody wants to get his over with more than me,” Claudia said, stamping her cane on the floor. “I want to get this done and get the hell out of this house of horrors. Let’s get back to your apartment, strengthen our protection . . . and get a stiff drink.”
The two old women hobbled to the steps, moaning and groaning as they climbed them slowly, one by one. When they finally reached the lobby, they heard giggling coming from the second floor. They ignored it as they moved like Weebles that wobble—but these Weebles do fall down.
When they reached Ethel’s apartment, she reached into her pocket to unlock the door. “Oh shit, the keys are gone. They must’ve come out of my pocket when I fell.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Claudia said with a huff. “Now what?”
“I can either go back down into that room or maybe,” Ethel said, holding her left hip as she limped to Mr. Zimmerman’s office. “Maybe there’s a spare key in there.”
“This just keeps getting better,” Claudia said, following her.
Ethel tried the door; it was locked. The office had large glass windows on two walls. “I’m going to break into the office.”
“They’ll be carting us off to jail by the time we’re done with this,” Claudia said.
Ethel looked at the wooden chair sitting next to the office and then she shined her light toward Claudia. “This glass is old and thin, I should be able to break it.”
“Just like us, minus the thin part,” Claudia said.
Ethel handed Claudia the flashlight and then picked up the chair. She picked up the ladder-back, turned its legs to face the large pane of glass in the door, and threw it. The side chair bounced off and crashed to the floor, it sounded like she had broken the chair rather than the glass. “I’m trying it again.”
“I must say,” Claudia said, shining the light so that Ethel could see to throw the piece of furniture again. “You’re making this a rather entertaining evening.”
Ethel picked up the chair, and instead of throwing it, she held it tight and slammed it into the glass, just as she did the ax in the basement. The glass shattered and spilled to the floor, leaving shards as slippery as ice cubes.
“Are you okay?” Claudia shouted.
“Besides my aching hip, sore back, and bruised elbows,” Ethel said, taking the flashlight from Claudia. “I’m fine.”
“Can you get in?” Claudia asked.
Ethel walked up to the broken window and used the butt of the flashlight to break the remaining sharp edges so that she could reach through and unlock the door.
Once inside she flipped on the light switch. The new manager must have made sure that, at the very least, the lights worked in Ethel’s apartment and in the office. When her light caught the black-and-white picture of Mr. Zimmerman’s father, Captain Carl Zimmerman, on his fishing boat with the name Castaway painted on the side, she felt sad. Sad that both these men died in tragic ways. The father died when his boat exploded, and the son died from repeated stab wounds.
She refocused and found a ring of keys in the desk drawer. She knew one had to be a master key that Mr. Zimmerman would use if he ever needed to get into an apartment.
Ethel walked out of the office, briefly shining her light toward the steps leading to the second floor. She was relieved when she saw nothing coming down after them, especially since the giggling had stopped.
She and Claudia walked back to her apartment door, and after trying a few keys, she finally found the one that opened it. Both women rushed inside, closing and locking the door behind them. They stood a moment staring at each other, before each one slowly lowered their sore bodies onto the sofa, one on each side. Ethel flinched with each bend of her hip before she found a comfortable or at least tolerable position. She took a wood tip cigar from the box on the end table and lit it with her bloodstained hands.
“I need a drink,” Claudia said, “but I’m too sore and too tired to get up.”
“Back before this place got the best of us, back before 1969,” Ethel said, sparking a flame, “we were quite the lookers. Now look at us. A couple old witches.”
“Speak for yourself,” Claudia said, scooting forward so that she could more easily stand. “I’m still a looker.”
Ethel laughed. “In your own mind.”
Claudia limped to the kitchen and returned with a glass of whiskey in one hand and her cane for support in the other. She sat the liquor on the coffee table before reclaiming her spot on the couch. “I say no more looking tonight. Let’s wait until the sun is shining brightly tomorrow and we can actually see what we’re doing.”
Ethel nodded, and then she remembered the black fog outside the building and its sound muting quality. “If the sun comes out tomorrow.”
Claudia took a sip of the biting amber liquid. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about the black cloud hanging over this damned place. Nevertheless, I need rest and so do you.”
Ethel took another puff of her thin cigar and blew the smoke toward the ceiling. “There’s one problem with waiting.”
“The detective is coming out here tomorrow with the manager to go through the old medical records left behind, looking for information about the murder knife.” Ethel took another drag. “And we’ve trashed the place. How are we going to explain it without being charged with vandalism?”
“So are you thinking we have to go up to the third floor tonight?” Claudia swung her swollen legs onto the coffee table and pulled her knee high compression hose taught. They were wrinkling and cutting into her swollen ankles.
“If we do it tonight and find what we need, we’ll be done with the séance by the time Detective Becker and Tim Chandler get here in the morning,” Ethel said. “We’ll send the demon, Deborah, and Bruce to Hell—God can decide what to do with Susie—and then finish by casting a spell so that we don’t go to jail.” Ethel lowered her voice and shook her head. “I don’t think I’d survive jail.”
“A hot bath and a soft bed sound better,” Claudia said. “But I suppose us two ragged hags had better finish what we started, and the sooner, the better.”
Ethel went to stand but could not move, her damaged hip would not allow her. “But, on the other hand. I think I’d better take some pain pills, relax in that hot tub you were talking about, and we’ll finish things up tomorrow.”
“You’re wishy-washy,” Claudia said.
“Can you get my pain pills for me,” Ethel said, grimacing.
Claudia sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me while I was up?”
“I didn’t think the pain was going to be this bad,” Ethel said, still holding her left hip. “Besides, I don’t have a choice. I can’t get up, I can barely move.”
Claudia finished the distilled spirit in her glass. “I need another drink anyway.”