Michael had volunteered to take Mary and the children out for a day of fun and adventure, so the ladies could work without interruption.
“They should be gone for hours,” said Myrtle, breathing a sigh of relief.
“As much as we love them,” Angelia said, “we have some serious work that has to be done.”
“Our task will be a whole lot easier with three less people around to distract us.” Said Myrtle in total agreement.
The minute Michael’s car was out of sight Angelia and Myrtle were on their way to Gilfords Hall, where the once beautiful home now stood in shambles. Most of the lap siding was damaged. The weather stripping was loose, hanging by a few nails, or gone completely, and the paint had left huge bare spots where it was peeling.
Several of the beautiful, oversized, multi-colored windows were broken or missing, and the roof had several bare spots where the shingles had blown off.
“Wow,” said Myrtle, “if the outside looks like this, I’m not sure I want to see the inside!”
“It doesn’t matter what we want or don’t want, but enter we must,” said Angelia with a sigh. The door creaked loudly as they pushed it open sending shivers up their spine as they cautiously entered the house.
A sudden caw, caw, cawing, startled them. Shrieking, they bolted for the door, as several large screaming crows swooped down the great hallway straight at them, turned and screaming caw, caw, caw, disappeared out the door.
“Let’s just do a quick survey of the rooms Caroline specifically asked us to repair and get out of here,” said Myrtle, glancing around nervously.
“Amen to that,” said Angelia, looking at all the spider webs that covered just about everything in sight.
“The sooner we’re through here the better,” said Myrtle. Quickly surveying the hall and south wing, they decided to wait until they’d hired a crew before doing any more exploring!
Less than an hour later they were back at Angelia’s. Pencils and paper in hand, they headed for the kitchen and coffee, as they busily wrote one list, after another.
“It’ll take a miracle just to do all the major repairs to the south wing, great hall, kitchen, pantries and servants’ cottages before Caroline arrives, let alone finding enough time and people to do the million other things that should be done.” Said Myrtle shaking her head as she surveyed the long lists of repairs.
“Then there’s the barns, corrals, Mary’s garden, the castle and anything else that looked like it might be a death trap,” said Angelia.
“She sure didn’t give us much time to hire a crew to do just the bare necessities, let alone everything else that should be done,” said Myrtle, with a sigh.
“You aren’t talking about the hundreds of people we’ll need to do twelve years of work in a very short time are you?” said Angelia laughingly, as she looked up from the small, much used, leather bound, phone book, she’d owned for the past fifty or so years.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” said Myrtle, handing Angelia a slew of papers on which she had written: Gilfords Hall [an outline of essential repairs needed], under that she had written: Kitchen and other Repairs” in big bold letters. Under that she had written, an outline of all essential repairs needed in the kitchen, adjoining pantries and all other rooms.
“Cross your fingers,” said Angelia, redialing the phone number she’d unsuccessfully dialed several times before. She was about to hang up when a voice said, “Hello. On the Ball Fixing, Painting, Repairs, and Cleaning, Johnny Murdock speaking. We work quickly and efficiently, how can I help you?”
“Hello,” said Angelia, “I see you’ve changed the name of your company, Are you still equipped to do really big jobs?”
“Sure,” said Johnny, “We can do any job, no matter how big.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” said Angelia. We’d like to hire you to start repairs on the old Gilfords place as soon as the lights and water are turned on,” she said.
“Wheeeo,” said Johnny, “you’ve got to be kidding! That place must have a zillion rooms or more.”
“Actually it only has about a hundred eighty rooms, not counting the attics or dungeons,” said Angelia, trying not to laugh. “We’ll need several major repairs done to the house and surrounding area, but there’s not much time to do them. They have to be finished by the time Caroline arrives on the twentieth of November. I’m talking, painting, papering and repairing approximately thirty plus rooms, besides the cottages. Do you think you can handle it?” Angelia asked.
“Well, right now I only keep a skeleton crew. I had to let most of my crew go years ago. I’ll have to hire more men,” he said thoughtfully. “Other than that, we can handle the job all right. Let me know when they turn on the utilities and we’ll start work immediately.”
Angelia glanced at the clock. “It’s nine fifteen,” she said. “I called the utilities the minute they opened this morning, so everything should be on by eleven, at the latest.”
“Tell you what, why don’t you, your crew and anyone else you know that wants to work, meet us at the Gilfords at about eleven o’clock.”
Gregory Johnson still hadn’t answered his phone so Angelia left him another urgent message to call her.
“Do you remember the man who worked on Mary’s garden? You know the one I mean? He had a foul mouth, bad temper, baldhead and I think he lived on Rosebud Lane.”
“Nope, I can’t say that I do,” said Myrtle frowning as she tried to fit an image to Angelia’s description, “but I should. Anyone working for the Gilfords would have shopped at the Deli. Wait a minute, wasn’t his name Malib, or Caleb? No it was Caleb Pitchem or maybe Mitchem. I don’t know, I do know he left town shortly after the girls disappeared.”
“Personally, I never did like the man, and neither did Henry. What I do remember is his shifty eyes and even shiftier friends. I doubt anyone knows or cares where that man is. Why do you ask?”
“He designed and built Mary’s garden and castle,” said Angelia. “Caroline asked me to look him up and see if he could bring it back to life.”
“We don’t need that man to do it,” said Myrtle smugly, “Henry has the garden blueprints locked in the safe at home. I remember, some judge in Alaska subpoenaing the man, before he’d turn them over to us to use in the investigation.”
“Hold that thought, Myrtle,” said Angelia, answering the phone on the first ring hoping it was Gregory Johnson.
“Hi,” said a pert voice on the other end of the line. “I’m calling to let you know you’re electric is on and just as we were leaving the water company showed up, so it’s probably on by now too,” and the line went dead.
“That was the utility company,” said Angelia, “The electric and water have finally been turned on.”
The phone rang again and this time it was Gregory Johnson. He, his crew, and anyone else he could find wanting work, were to meet them at the Gilfords at eleven o‘clock.
There was a crowd of about three hundred fifty people waiting in the yard and every one of them looked nervous and uncomfortable. Angelia heard the words haunted, ghosts, and cursed, then someone saying, “It kilt him, it did.”
Angelia glanced at Myrtle and hurried to the door where she quickly unlocked, and pushed it opened, causing the hinges to protest loudly, startling several people.
“A squirt of grease will fix that,” said Myrtle loudly, “anyone have any?”
Several men rushed to do her bidding. Ghosts or no ghosts’ money had been scarce in the past few years and if the sheriff’s wife wanted grease, then, by golly, she’d get grease.
Benjamin Crowley was the first one to the door beating out Gus Nickerson by a nano second. “Morning ma’am,” he said as he deftly squirted all the hinges.
Johnny Murdock and Gregory Johnson had already discussed the job they and their crew would be doing and were already hard at work. Myrtle was busy interviewing anyone hoping for a job that wasn’t working for either company. Three hours later, they’d interviewed and hired almost everyone. After a lengthy conversation with Myrtle, and not willing to turn anyone away, Angelia had decided to divide the remaining men into three crews.
She had followed Caroline’s advice, the job of groundskeeper had been given to Karr Jackson, along with a crew of forty men. It would be their job to clear, clean and manicure the yard and paths around the estate for approximately three miles or to the camp headquarters, and all cabins in that three mile radius.
Before the sun had even hit the horizon that morning, Angelia had called Carl Crowley, and asked him if he wanted his old job back. He’d immediately taken the twelve years of vacation time he’d never used and headed for the Gilfords, three hundred miles away.
After Carl’s arrival, he’d been given a crew of forty men to help clean and repair the barn, corral and fences closest to the house.
They had no intentions of looking up Caleb. The job went to Benjamin, along with thirty-five eager workers. Their job would be to transform Mary’s garden, castle, and grounds into a resemblance of its former self.
They’d hired Gus Nicolson, accountant by trade and handyman by necessity, as their bookkeeper and paymaster. His job would be to keep track of all of the employees, supplies and labor. He was also authorized to issue a, one day only payroll, at the end of the first work day, to anyone in need of a little upfront cash.
As a safety precaution, any purchase over the amount of nine hundred fifty dollars had to be approved by either Myrtle or Angelia.
Angelia, realized there would be a lot of valuable time wasted if the crews had to keep running into town for the materials they’d need to do their jobs. She’d hired Dennis Tomlyne, and his son Tommy, giving them a crew of forty men with pickup trucks, to order, collect and deliver all supplies to the workers.
By two o’clock that afternoon, Gregory Johnston and crew were busy removing, and burning the old siding, then replacing it with new clapboard. Johnny Murdock’s crew was busy scrubbing walls, and Karr Jackson’s crew was busy trimming trees, digging up old flowerbeds and raking the huge side yards.
Old man Crowley hearing the racket, brandished his cane as he hobbled out of the caretakers cottage. Despite the agonizingly painful arthritis that was his constant companion, he was curious to see what all the commotion was about.
If nothing else worked as good as it had fifty years ago, his getting up holler was second to none! “What’s going on here,” he roared. “What’re you doing snooping around where you don’t belong? What business do you have tearing up Mrs. Gilfords’ home and destroying her property? The lot of you better get away, before I call the cops,” he thundered at the top of his lungs.
“It’s all right Dad,” said Carl, hurrying to his father’s side. “Angelia Hadley and Myrtle Patterson, has hired all these people to work on the place.”
“They didn’t say, but I kind of suspect Mrs. Gilfords is coming home. Right now they’re armed to the teeth with lists and I suspect they’re making more by the minute!”
“We have only a few weeks to transform the south wing, kitchen, pantries, dining hall, the great hall, servant’s quarters, cottages, Clover Lane barn and corral, plus the immediate grounds, and Mary’s garden into some kind of livable condition.” He said, pausing for breath, “And as if that isn’t enough work to keep us busy for a while, the ladies have a small crew inspecting the upstairs to see what needs to be done up there! I expect more lists for everyone anytime now,” said Carl with a big grin and a chuckle.
Old man Crowley shook his head and looked around him in wonder. “Really,” he said, his voice gruff and full of emotion, “it’s about time she came home!”
Slowly and painfully, he climbed the porch steps, but instead of going inside as was his usual habit, he sat down beside his wife, who had already taken up residence on the front porch swing. Suddenly he didn’t feel quite so old or tired anymore!