With blond hair flying in the wind and blue eyes sparkling, Angela Starborne was enjoying the drive along the narrow coastal road. Driving fast helped her escape, and after the terrible news of Peter’s murder, she could certainly use an outlet. Although leading a guided tour through a haunted place wasn’t her idea of catharsis.
Still, racing along the twin lane blacktop that snaked through the undulating hills north of the San Francisco Bay was just what she needed. Angela’s smile was slight and just a little tight. Her soul was still heavy, but the radiant sun and clear skies seemed to promise better times ahead.
The stark beauty of Point Reyes stretched out before and all around her. The small humps and hummocks along the peninsula appeared to be migrating southward, descending along the finger of land toward the endless expanse of the Pacific. Numerous coves and bays were snugly nestled among the knolls and white-cliffed beaches. Scattered copses of cypress trees and fields of high grass brown from the winter covered the rolling slopes. Cattle were abundant, grazing in the dairy pastures, near historically preserved barns, white-washed cabins, and miles upon miles of fencing. Angela could understand why the Scots, Swedes and English had been reminded of their homelands, especially when the fog rolled ashore.
All in all, not a bad place to conduct business, Angela mused, if you didn’t mind ghosts. She didn’t feel like working, but a promise was a promise. Peter had asked her to help his heir assume partial ownership of the resort when such a time arrived. Unfortunately that time was now.
For what must have been the hundredth time, Angela looked at her sleeping client. Blaise “Blasing” Madera’s black wavy hair was tousled as if someone had been running their fingers through it. For some reason that thought nearly made her flush. Unlike last night, Mr. Madera’s handsome face was unlined, making him appear younger than when she’d met him. Angela never would have guessed that tall, dark and handsome was in his late thirties and widowed with two kids. Slim, fit, and dressed in gray slacks and a white turtleneck, he looked at least a decade younger.
If his smile could charm women as well as Peter’s had, then Mr. Madera would attract plenty of attention. Angela suddenly recalled his dark eyes– the way his gaze pierced her as if he could read her mind.
Angela was glad Mr. Madera was asleep. Not only did he obviously need it, but she was tired of dodging reasonable questions. Angela had told him what little she knew of Peter’s murder– how he’d been shot in Heller’s office, in a case of mistaken identity during a robbery attempt– but she felt awkward stonewalling his inquiries about Ghostal Shores. Peter had been adamant; she wasn’t to tell his nephew anything about Ghostal Shores until he’d set foot on the resort’s front steps. But why? And why the stipulation Mr. Madera must arrive at the resort as soon as possible after Peter’s death?
After a moment’s reflection, Angela finally admitted what was really bothering her: was Mr. Madera a good fit for Ghostal Shores? He and Peter had been estranged for a long time, and Mr. Madera probably didn’t care about Peter’s dreams. He just might sell to the highest bidder. Or even to Sean Heller. Angela shuddered at that thought.
As she pulled her attention back to the road, a red Porsche 911 skidded around the corner, weaving drunkenly into her lane. “Sonuvabitch!” Angela yanked the wheel right, jerking the Forerunner onto the low-sloped shoulder. The car skidded, spraying gravel everywhere. Rocks clattered loudly underneath. The Forerunner suddenly hit a rut. The front end nose-dived with a screech of metal. Angela and Blasing were thrown forward. “Hey!” came Blasing’s groggy voice. “What’s….” The Forerunner bounced airborne. It landed cockeyed, threatening to whip around. Angela fought to keep it from careening into the wooded hillside.
With a rickety slap, tree branches smacked the windshield, then clawed across the roof. Angela jerked the Forerunner back onto the pavement. The car bounced awkwardly, then landed hard. Tires squealing, it fish-tailed into the wrong lane and skidded around the blind curve. The fence posts and tall grass blurred into a wall of green, brown, and gold. Angela prayed nobody was coming.
Nearly halfway through the turn, she wrestled the car into the proper lane, then cast a withering glance in Blasing’s direction. “Damn Californians! If it’s not at least four lanes wide, bone dry, and straight, they can’t drive it!” she snapped, her coppery face livid and her tropical blue eyes afire.
Blasing didn’t respond. He recognized when simply saying anything could provoke a confrontation. Blasing saw something out of the corner of his eye. “LOOK OUT!”
Angela looked back to the road and slammed on the brakes. An old man and his mule were in the road! Angela cringed, awaiting the bone-crushing thump and the sight of bodies flying.
Instead, the pack animal and its master passed through the hood, then the windshield. The ethereal prospector smiled a toothless grin and doffed his dusty cap as he sliced through the interior of the Forerunner. The ghostly mule was less accepting, its eyes wide with panic. Suddenly the rank smells of old sweat, dust, and unwashed mule overwhelmed them.
After the Forerunner squealed to a stop, Blasing whirled around, eyes popping wide. “What the hell is that?!” He pointed at the grayed and somewhat translucent miner dressed in worn clothing. As if desert mirages, distorted background shapes could be seen through the spirit. The ghost was obviously angry, cursing and tugging on his mule’s bit, trying to convince it to move. The pale beast was amazingly overloaded with transparent boxes and bags bound together as if caught in a large spider’s web.
“Is that a ghost?” Blasing whispered incredulously. “Ms. Starborne, I….” His lips worked silently.
Angela watched Blasing struggle with the concept of wandering spirits, his handsome face a mask of stunned confusion and his eyes unsettled. He ran a hand through his hair, then his dark gaze met her unwavering stare; he seemed to have composed himself quickly. “I don’t believe in ghosts.” He didn’t sound convinced.
“You will,” Angela said cryptically, no longer looking at Blasing but feeling the weight of his stare. “Maybe he’s… wandered away.” According to Peter, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Wandered away? From where?”
“I’ll ask,” Angela said trying to sound casual as she began rolling down her window. Her heart was pounding, her palms were damp, and the urge for a cigarette was strong.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Blasing asked. The near accident was not a big deal, but she was acting as if this were an ordinary, everyday experience.
“It might be.”
The ghost spat, wiped his mouth. “Lillybell! Dang it ya floppy-eared varmint. If I had my stick ya wouldn’t be actin’ like this!” The mule appeared offended, setting its ears back in preparation for the forthcoming struggle.
Angela cleared her throat, started to speak, but was stopped by the ghostly prospector. “This is your fault, purdy lady. Why I oughtta.” He began stalking toward the car.
The mule snorted, then nosed its master, almost knocking him off his feet. The miner staggered, then whirled quickly, yanking off his hat and slapping his unruly companion. “Think you’re cute, do ya?” Lillybell bared her teeth, then began hee-hawing and rocking back and forth. Madder than a hornet, the prospector threw down his hat and began hopping back and forth.
“You know, I’ve never heard of a ghost being this far away from the resort,” Angela said tightly. Then she realized she’d let important information slip.
“You mean the Ghostal Shores Resort really is haunted?” Blasing asked. “Not just a gimmick like Disneyland?”
“This makes no sense, at all,” Angela continued uneasily, trying to ignore Blasing’s hot stare. “Spirits are supposed to be tied to a person or place, not wandering around looking for food and lodging.”
“Ghostly hitchhikers. Right.”
“Believe it,” Angela replied.
“I wish I’d stayed in Tahoe instead of letting you drag me here. All I have to deal with there are drunks, jealous boyfriends and confused teenagers in hormonal overdrive.”
Angela’s eyes flashed, then narrowed; she bit back a retort, along with a childish urge to stick out her tongue.
It was probably wise to drive away, but Angela found herself morbidly fascinated. The old miner had moved behind his mule and was leaning against its rear, grunting loudly and pushing as hard as he could. The mule took two quick steps forward, then another sideways. The prospector fell on his face, partly disappearing into the ground.
Angela almost laughed but didn’t, sensing the miner might turn his wrath on her. “Are you going to Ghostal Shores?” Angela didn’t recognize him, so he certainly wasn’t from the resort.
The miner didn’t reply, instead he hauled himself to his feet and began digging into a pack. “Ya win, ya ornery beast.” He gave Lillybell a sugar cube. “Lady, will ya kindly get your new-fangled whatchamacallit out of the way? The first carriage that went by really shook up Lillybell, but you scared the hell outta her!”
Angela’s anger swelled; she started to say something about walking in the middle of the road, then realized it was pointless. When you were dead, you didn’t care about getting run over.
“I said get the hell outta here!” He began to walk menacingly toward them. “Nobody messes with JP Johnson!”
“Ms. Starborne….” Blasing began.
Without another word, Angela stomped on the gas pedal and the Forerunner raced away. She glanced over at Blasing who was staring back at the receding spirits. Angela had seen a similar expression in the mirror during her introductory visit to Ghostal Shores.
“Now that we’re almost there, I think you can tell me about Ghostal Shores and its ghosts,” Blasing said, nearly choking on the last word.
“I’m going to pull over and see if anything is damaged,” Angela said, ignoring his statement. She slowed, then pulled the Forerunner onto the side of the road. After turning off the engine, she walked around the car, removing a leafy branch from under a windshield wiper, then checked under the car. “Not too bad,” she informed him as she climbed back into her seat. “Just a bent bumper and some minor scratches.”
Blasing jingled her keys in his left hand. “I’m tired of this cat and mouse game. Talk to me.” For a time, they just sat staring and challenging each other to give in. “What happened back there?”
Angela’s expression stiffened, then colored as anger overwhelmed her. “What happened?! I’ll tell you what happened!” Her irises lightened to almost white hot, ready to melt anything holding her gaze for long. “Some moron in a little red sports car cut a corner, and I almost hit a tree!”
Blasing said nothing. Angela Starborne was a hard person to evaluate, especially in such a short time. He was usually good at quick character judgments– a necessary trait in the security business. Yesterday, she’d been calm, collected and measured– the consummate lawyer in a power suit that concealed all but her slenderness. Even without make-up or an ounce of jewelry, she’d been arrestingly attractive.
When he’d seen her this morning, she’d undergone a significant transformation. Angela was still dressed simply in a cobalt blue blouse, white blazer and skirt, but now she was heavily adorned in Southwestern-style jewelry. Nearly a dozen bracelets hung from her left wrist, and rings of varied styles adorned every finger. Each was accompanied by a simple blackish-silver oval. Her silver necklace was artfully in-laid with turquoise, and her earrings were large white feathers.
Angela caught him staring and said, “They’re gifts, mostly from my grandmother. This one is from your uncle.” She raised her right hand and showed him an ornate gold ring with a rose stone. She seemed to hear his unspoken question. “I don’t normally wear jewelry while working because it can give people the wrong impression, but now I’ll fit right in at Ghostal Shores.”
She bit her lip, and some of the anger left her face. “Besides, I always feel better for their company.” She absently stroked a feathered earring. “During my last trip a few weeks ago, Ghostal Shores felt… different.” She said nothing else, simply staring ahead and wondering why she’d picked this month to stop smoking.
“Nice performance, but you’re stalling,” Blasing prompted. “Talk to me.” He rattled the keys again.
She tried staring him down, but that didn’t work. Blasing wondered what she’d try next. Would she bat her eyes coquettishly or act dumb? And either would certainly be an act.
Finally, Angela said, “If you’ll give me the keys and let me keep driving, I promise to tell you all about Ghostal Shores.”
Blasing had a feeling she wasn’t giving in, but simply using a negotiating form of jujitsu. “If you talk as we drive, deal.” Angela nodded. Blasing gave her the keys.
Without a word, she started the engine and continued driving. After some time, Angela finally said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Madera. May I call you Blaise?”
“Blasing, if you would, please,” Blasing said more coldly than he intended; he was mad at her, but this wasn’t a good reason to jump on her case. “Only Uncle Mac, my parents, and Jennifer called me Blaise, and they’re dead.” He paused, then continued on more softly. “My friends call me Blasing. It was a nickname that stuck.” Angela smiled broadly, magically transforming her face; it was radiant, her smile touching her eyes, now the color of the sun-dappled waters of the Caribbean. Her cheekbones seemed less angular than before, no longer hard and stony. Even her nose seemed pert and sassy, upturned as if lifted by brighter thoughts. “Oh, I am sorry, Blasing. We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, haven’t we? Peter’s death has been traumatic. He was the first person to treat this once neophyte lawyer with respect. Sometimes I almost thought of us as father and daughter. I can’t believe he was shot and that the murderer escaped.
“Not long ago, when he seemed so obsessed with the future of his estate, I asked him if he’d had a premonition about his death. He chuckled, and said, yes, in sense. That after all this time spent around the spirits, he could sense the Grim Reaper’s closing hand.” She bit her lip. “I hope Sheriff Middleton has made some progress on the case.”
“I have a feeling we should be talking about… ghosts instead of the recently dead,” Blasing said coolly.
“You weren’t very close, were you?” she said coldly.
“Once, long ago,” Blasing said. “But as always with Mac, nothing was more important than a beautiful woman. He used to say that a smile from a pretty lady was a blessing from God– like the sun shining specifically for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if something to do with a woman got him shot.”
Angela bristled. “He treated me well.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Blasing replied sardonically.
“And he was loved by all the employees and spirits of Ghostal Shores.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Starborne. Mac wasn’t interested in women just for sex. He truly loved women, but he rarely saw past their smiles and beauty, and that often got him in trouble.”
“And you’re different?”
Blasing held her gaze. “I learned not to follow in his footsteps. But that’s not what we agreed to talk about. You may resent the fact that I inherited Ghostal Shores, but I didn’t ask for it.” She bristled, starting to retort but was cut short, “Now tell me about the resort and its ghosts.”
Angela was quiet for long moments, absently stroking a feather, then said, “To be honest, I wasn’t sure I believed in ghosts before visiting Ghostal Shores, but then over fifty per cent of the populace do, which could be why the resort is so popular.”
“There really are ghosts at this place?” Blasing asked, still disbelieving despite what he’d seen only minutes ago.
Angela nodded vigorously. “Most definitely. Haunt aficionados, talk about going Ghosting– searching out haunted places and exploring them– and this has become their favorite spot. I’ve heard people refer to it as California Ghosting.”
“Ghosts. Hard to believe.”
“Maybe so, but be ready. This experience might shake you. Even challenge your beliefs.”
“We’ll see. You know, I thought you were going to speak to that ghost like he was a person.”
“After some time at Ghostal Shores, you too may find yourself talking to ghosts as though they were real people.”
“Ghosts,” he said flatly. “A haunted resort. That’s very hard to believe. Very hard.” He was silent for a long time, and she could almost hear his mind working. “How many?” he finally asked.
“About a dozen or so,” Angela told him. “I’d hoped to gradually introduce you, but that’s sort of out of the question now.”
“So, let’s say there are ghosts; if so, what was one doing way out here so far from the resort?” Blasing asked. Angela shook her head, and he had the feeling she was hiding something. “I thought you were going to tell me all about Ghostal Shores.”
She sighed, then began, “A couple years after the earthquake of 1908, Thomas Heller purchased the land north of where the lighthouse had been built. Sean Heller inherited the land and a great deal of money from his uncle. Heller mentioned wanting to run his own resort to Peter, who was managing a resort in Palm Springs. Peter had a crazy dream.” She paused for dramatic affect. “He wanted to build a benevolently haunted resort. Can you believe that?”
“Sounds like something Uncle Mac would dream up. Beautiful ghosts would always be timelessly beautiful.”
Angela frowned. “In hopes of moving some of the spirits, Peter wanted to build the place with old brick from deserted Nevada “boom towns”. They purchased the Goldfield Hotel with the intent of rebuilding it on Point Reyes. Later, they bought brick from a lady who needed to sell some of the Aurora buildings to reduce her tax liability. Other material contributions came from Gold Hills, Silverdale, and even Virginia City.” In the distance, Angela could now see a pair of white buildings against the seemingly endless blue of the sky and the Pacific ocean.
“The building of Marin Shores,” Angela continued, “was delayed more than a decade by Nevadans attempting to pass protective legislation to keep people from removing historical landmarks. The law was passed, but Mr. Heller and Peter were grandfathered.”
“Is this going somewhere, Counselor,” Blasing asked, “or is this just more of your stalling tactics?”
Angela gave him an annoyed look, then continued, “During all the legal hassles, Peter and Mr. Heller decided not to reconstruct the Goldfield, but build a first class resort with the materials. A lot of people thought they were crazy– using brick in an earthquake area.”
“I thought I saw a couple of brick buildings in Point Reyes Station,” Blasing said.
“You did. They’re specially reinforced, just like Ghostal Shores, to handle tremors and shaking. Anyway, over the years, Mr. Heller had another cash windfall and began purchasing antiques to stock the place. Ah, here we are.”
Behind low bushes on each side of the entrance, square pillars of white brick were connected by a wrought metal archway above the open gates. “Ghostal Shores” was written in white script across the black arch and seemed too bright in the sunlight. As they drove forward, Blasing shivered. He couldn’t help but think “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
The circular strip of asphalt cut a dark path through the lush green lawns before splitting around a flower garden and heading toward the white columns of the stately portico. Compared to the winter-weathered lands outside the dark metal fencing, the grounds of the resort appeared to be an oasis. Many of the trees and bushes had been painstakingly trimmed into a topiary of horses running, rearing, and standing proudly.
“Construction of Marin Shores finally began in 1981 and took a little over three years to complete,” Angela continued. “There were some one hundred rooms, a large garden, indoor swimming pool, library, restaurant and much more. When they built the southern wing they added the second hundred rooms and tennis courts.”
Blasing leaned forward to get a good look at Ghostal Shores; it appeared to be a blend of southern charm and the Old West. The main building was three stories high with a grand portico spanning much of its front. The columns’ shadows cut across the facade, striping the entrance with dark, diagonal lines. A green cloth canopy covered the stairs and balustrade from the porte-cochere to the entryway. The windows above the double doors were tall, at least two stories in height, and designed to let in eastern sunlight.
A two-story wing lined with balconies had been built to the south, its uppermost wall green and wavering as though made of netting. Blasing figured the tennis courts were on the roof. Next to the wing was a parking garage surrounded by low buildings. A second wing was being constructed to the north. The foundation had been poured and a few brick walls covered wooden framing.
“Marin Shores officially opened June 1st, 1984 with some local fanfare. At the opening day party, the spirits made their surprise and yet hoped-for appearance. To make a long story short, after the shock had worn off, the spirits were an instant hit, just as Peter had surmised. Word spread far and wide. News crews and psychics flocked to Ghostal Shores. Professors from U.C. Berkeley performed parapsychological studies. Just about anybody who could did a story on this place. The publicity died down quite a bit when they discovered they couldn’t film the ghosts. Most people ended up thinking it was just a marketing scam. Still, it was all the rage that summer. Didn’t you hear of it?”
Blasing shook his head. “At that time, I was spending summers in Argentina and winters in Switzerland teaching skiing.” “I see. As you can imagine, with that much PR, especially with the rave reviews and the uniqueness of it all, Marin Shores became Ghostal Shores and drew incredible crowds. They went from hoping to break even to a sure-fire success in about four months.”
Blasing was just about to ask a question when he heard hoarse yelling, clattering hoof beats on pavement, and the metallic jingling of harnesses. As he watched the phantom stagecoach approach, he could hear the squeaks and groans of shifting boards, the wagon protesting as if running over rutted dirt roads instead of smooth pavement. Two spirits, one driving and one cradling a shotgun, sat up front with an iron-banded chest between them and luggage piled high behind them. The bearded driver lashed the ethereal horses with a whip, then yelled, “Outta my way, lady!”
Before Angela could respond, the ghostly stage passed them on the left. The phantom horses were lathered and laboring, white froth pasted to their pale muzzles and strewn across their colorless flanks. Steam trailed from their nostrils as if they were boiler-powered, and sparks from their iron-shod hooves danced above their knees.
Blasing glimpsed what he thought was frilly lace and a Sunday bonnet in the coach window. Green eyes suddenly appeared, piercing him, then they were gone as the stage jockeyed past. Blasing had the fleeting impression of someone coldly beautiful, almost regally disdainful.
Angela and Blasing suddenly began coughing and choking. Blasing couldn’t see any dust, but he smelled it, and his teeth seemed felt covered with sandpaper. He blinked, then rubbed the grit from his eyes. The ghostly stage quickly left them behind and ran through a stunned construction flag man.”I don’t believe it,” he muttered.
“Just relax,” Angela smiled warmly, wiping away her gritty tears. Despite all her visits to Ghostal Shores, she’d never seen or heard of such a sight. “Don’t let it overwhelm you. Just remember, people pay good money to see this, and now part of this is yours.”
“I don’t believe all this! This has to be a trick, some technical wizardry like… like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.” “Believe and relax. And remember this: even if you don’t show emotion, the ghosts can sense it. Just pretend you’re skiing off a cornice.” She smiled. “I know that doesn’t scare you.”
Angela nodded toward the flag man. His back was to them, watching the phantasmal stagecoach head for the entrance, rushing through luxurious cars, international guests, and the green-uniformed staff. “I’m sure everybody will be happier when this construction is completed.” Angela tried not to let Blasing see her shiver; what was it that unnerved her? Was it the sight of the wandering ghost? Or the stage? Peter had never mentioned them.
Suddenly, a black Ferrari and a second, but more ornate stagecoach, raced alongside them. The entryway drive was very crowded and cacaphonic– the thunder of hoofs on pavement and the yells of encouragement to go faster blending together.
“Dammit! The Ferrari is racing it! Of all the stupid….” As the second ghostly stage passed them, Blasing saw inside the coach. A big, bony spirit was waving his fists and exhorting the driver to go faster. He suddenly turned to toward them. From the shadow of the ghost’s stetson, yellow eyes like a cat’s caught in bright lights stared at Blasing. A sense of dread overwhelmed him, and he had to turn away.
The flag man turned around, his eyes wide and his expression confused. He began waving at the truck backing into the street, then at the Ferrari and the oncoming horse-drawn stage. Finally giving up, he jumped aside. Angela braked, the pedal going all the way to the floor. “No brakes!”
The truck hauling brick continued to back up. The Ferrari swerved left, lost control, then slammed into a parked car across from the resort. The sports car careened back into the driveway, almost hitting a diving valet, then slid directly into the Forerunner’s path.