Part 3 of 6 in this complete, ghostly story.
A GHOST RESTAURANT
Mandy drove through the famous Castro neighborhood at a slow as snails pace. She wanted to take in the cute shops and cafes that were within walking distance of the house. Well, it wasn’t just a house. It was a true San Francisco Painted Lady, a really fine city villa that had been built over a hundred years ago.
Mandy pulled up in front of the house and parked the car. The broad bay window in front had stained glass trim along the top and the whole property was lined with a white picket fence, quite unusual because all the pickets were white, upright and perfectly spaced. Mandy knew it to be the latest renovation, and it had cost more than she would have liked.
She walked up to the main door and let herself inside with the key. She walked past the first apartment, knowing it was empty. Just like all the others save for Number Two, just past the stairwell. She found the door and knocked on it.
She could hear a rustling, and then footsteps behind the door.
Ms. Amalthea Kriegel pulled the door open wide with one quick jerk. Her long, salt and pepper hair wafted about her face like a halted feather duster. Her cheeks were brightly flushed and she obviously wore no bra underneath her snug T-shirt. Hearts and a teddy bear were printed across her chest and the bear sat on the words, “Big Bear Hug,” while holding its toes. Whenever Amalthea’s breasts jiggled it looked like the teddy bear was swinging back and forth, giddy.
“Come in, quickly. I’ve got to get back to my stove,” she said, and spun around to rush back to her kitchen, squeezing past a stack of boxes.
Mandy could not help but notice the woman’s rear end. In bright red letters, she had embroidered, “Sexee,” right across her bum. The two Es looked like eyes, looking up.
“Just shut the door behind you,” Amalthea called out, already around the corner and out of sight.
Mandy closed the door shut and looked around the cramped but well lit space. There were boxes and sacks and large plastic buckets filled with foodstuffs. As she pressed through, she glanced into the living room to the left. There was even more stuff stocked in there. Mandy could smell what could only be pulled pork and baked bread and something else, something both earthy and tangy. Black beans and curry, that was it. She snugged through the cramped hallway, following the smells and the metallic clattering sounds.
She reached the kitchen and was amazed to find that all the noise had been caused by just Amalthea. There was no one else. Every surface of the workspace had containers filled with food, food to be picked up or delivered somewhere.
“Ms. Kriegel, are you running a business out of your kitchen?”
“Yes, that’s right.” She glanced over her shoulder and winked. “But shush, OK Honey? I don’t want any officials to find out about it.”
Mandy wasn’t quite sure what she thought of that comment or of the situation. The villa wasn’t licensed for any kind of business.
“So the catering business you’re running, you’re running from your apartment?”
“Oh, no. I still have a small catering business, but my employees keep that going. It’s a little place, just down the street from here.” She ladled black beans into a cylindrical container and closed the lid. It looked like it might be enough to serve two people. “I cook over there in the evenings and on weekends. From home, though, I run this as a Ghost Kitchen.”
Mandy balked. “A Ghost Kitchen. What do you mean by that?”
“Don’t freak out, not like I’m running this place with the actual ghost.” She laughed, a light giggle. “No, no. I mean, well I guess you’re not familiar with the term.” She looked briefly at Mandy and returned to her work, “No, clearly not. A Ghost Kitchen is a restaurant where there is no customer service. It’s outlet only. So the only traffic in and out of here is me.”
She withdrew freshly baked buns from the oven and brought them over to the open window to cool, just on the surface of an old wooden table at the left wall of the kitchen. The somewhat warped cookie sheet did not look particularly stable to Mandy. It was tottering over the edge of the table, the steaming rolls pushing it down off balance. Amalthea didn’t seem to mind gravity pulling at her tray of food, but she was nonetheless keenly aware of Mandy‘s reticence.
“You needn’t worry about that, it’ll be fine just there.” She waved a hand, “I do this all the time.” Amalthea returned to the stove, where she proceeded to pull pork apart with a large fork. It smelled like malt and sweetness and butter.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Not that long, really. Just a few years.”
None of this was what Mandy had expected. “I wanted to ask you about the thing, you know. The ghost thing.”
“Of course,” Amalthea nodded. “He can be pretty mean, let me tell you.”
“You’ve encountered it. Him I mean. I mean the ghost is a man?”
“Many times. If he didn’t approve of my business here, he would just shut me right down, let me tell you. I’m really lucky that he likes my cooking.” She laughed. “Actually, I think he approves of my little business being slightly illegal, tell you the truth.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, he lets me do it, for one.” She stopped and turned to face Mandy. “You want to know who he is, I suppose. I mean, who he was when he was alive.”
“You mean you know that?”
She nodded, very slowly, and whispered, “Don Leightonan. He was a serial killer, back in the forties. He came back from the war and was a different man, they say.”
Mandy whispered, “Why whisper?”
“He doesn’t like being gossiped about and I don’t want him to start throwing my food around the damn room. But I feel you have a right to know. I see so many people come, move in, and then just skip out, too fearful to even pack up their own stuff sometimes.”
Mandy stared. This really wasn’t at all what she wanted to hear. “I was hoping you would tell me that a gas pipe was leaking, causing hallucinations.”
Amalthea burst out laughing. “Oh, well! That would really be fabulous, wouldn’t it?” She laughed again, tears running down her face. She wiped at an eye and sniffed, “Oh, I tell you what. I think I’ve been living with this ghost for too long. I’m getting batty about it.”
LEAVING THE BATTY TENANT
Mandy drove back to her office, tightly gripping the steering wheel. By the time she sat back down at her desk, Mandy had decided: she should just forget about buying the house and just forget trying to sell it, too. What she needed to do now was track down a good handful of slightly crazy tenants, like Amalthea.
Of course she was going to turn a blind eye to the Ghost Kitchen, illegal as it was. She could always claim ignorance. Amalthea was the only tenant Mandy could get to stay. There was no way she was going to risk losing her.
She pulled open the file of applicants wanting to live in the Castro, flipping through to find anyone who looked on paper to be silly, frivolous, irresponsible and a high risk. They should all be singles. No children. No pets. Smokers were alright, but especially if she suspected they were actually pot smokers. She needed people who were chill.
Anyway, it seemed like the ghost of Don Leightonan liked tenants with a tendency towards breaking the law. Mandy puckered her lips in thought. Maybe some of these applicants were actual criminals.
She stopped herself and sat back in her chair. She knew it was a sign, a very bad sign, that she was now hoping for tenants with a criminal record. But whatever. Mandy looked through the stack of applications, pulling aside for safekeeping anyone who would normally be discarded.
Then she saw a name, a certain particular name, that made her stop. She held the application form, staring at it.
“I don’t believe it,” she gasped. But there it was, plain as anything: Patrick Stewart. Incredibly, the name of her all-time favorite actor. The best actor on this planet known as Earth, so far as Mandy was concerned. She told herself it couldn’t be him. She knew it Could Not Be. All the same, she phoned the man immediately. She just couldn’t even stop herself.
FINDING PATRICK STEWART
Patrick Stewart wasn’t famous, not even a little bit. But having to share his name with a very famous person meant that there was no point whatsoever for him to even try establishing an online presence for himself. An online search on any search engine would only result in thousands of listings that had nothing to do with him. Not just hundreds, or thousands, but tens of thousands of hits for Star Trek, and Dune and Shakespeare and whatever else the actor’s latest social media thing might be.
The famous Shakespearean actor was so much in the spotlight that another Patrick Stewart, this particular Patrick Stewart who answered only to Ric, learned to feel comfortable living in the shadows. It is why Patrick Stewart wasn’t on any social media, why he had no website at all. In fact, for a man of his time and generation, Ric was nearly invisible.
This turned out to be an asset for him, because it meant he was under the radar. Considering what he did for a living, this wasn’t a hindrance. If anything, it gave him a certain patina of mystery and he rather enjoyed that, and ultimately, banked on it, too.
When the lady from Management Manors called, he naturally agreed to come in for an interview, and yes, of course right away; he could be there in an hour. He’d been looking for a new place for a month and was anxious to get off his buddy’s sofa. Not that the sofa was all that bad, but there was no door for him to close. He knew, just absolutely knew, that he was snoring. Billy denied it, but the guy’s a real champ. Ric could see the bags under Billy’s eyes; they were getting darker and heavier. Poor guy.
Ric put on his best jeans, a nice clean shirt, or pretty clean anyway, and his favorite corduroy blazer. He checked his face in the mirror on his way out, wondering if he should shave first. Nah.