This story is by Victoria Shroud and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The old woman opened her eyes as the nurse’s aide entered holding a tray.
“Happy holidays,” said Lily cheerfully as she helped the patient sit up and swallow some pills.
“My dear, would you bring me that picture?” The patient pointed at a photograph of a dark haired young man.
“Sure,” said Lily. “He’s cute. Is he your husband?”
“He was. Now he’s dead”
“Oh, I’m sorry. How did he die?”
“He saved the country from a terrible traitor. My father.” She saw the amusement on Lily’s face. “It was all very top secret, of course.”
Lily smiled indulgently. “He must have been very brave.”
But the old woman’s thoughts had drifted. She touched the picture. “Together forever.”
“That’s ridiculous” snapped Jillian as she shut her travel case. Cole and his Savannah obsession, she thought with derision. His inane notion that time traveled sideways there instead of forward. She had been looking forward to this holiday in Savannah; then he had to go and mention consulting the ghosts there about some legislation.
“You should think less about ghosts and more about the miners, Minor Senator Simms.” He was actually the Junior Senator from Pennsylvania, but she preferred to use the other term.
Cole was saddened by the increasing tension. At first it seemed they had put the election behind them. She hadn’t seemed to mind that he had beaten her in the primaries.
Team Jillian was better organized than team Cole, and better financed. Teddy, Jillian’s manager, was considered one of the best political players in the country (albeit, the most cutthroat). He had been astonished when Cole won the nomination.
Teddy decided that Jillian should join Team Cole and campaign for him.
“Get close to him,” he said. “This guy has some kind of mojo we need to figure out.”
“So,” she thought, “he wants me to spy on Cole. Play Delilah to his Samson. This could be interesting.”
But Cole had more mojo than Teddy reckoned. He was an open book politically, but there were fascinating hidden depths. She forgot about discovering the secret of his strength, forgot about Teddy.
Cole won the election and she married him.
Cole thought she would continue with her career after they were married, but, for some reason, she put it on hold and refused to tell him why.
It was because Teddy, the man who had taken her under his wing and steered her through the treacherous waters of the campaign trail, had flown into a rage over her marriage and dropped her. There was no way to go on without him.
It was irrational to blame Cole, but she blamed him anyway.
Then, on the drive to the Robilliard estate, she remembered Teddy’s wish for her to discover the secret to Cole. Could his supernatural gibberish be a clue? Maybe there was a way to get back on Teddy’s speed dial.
Jillian’s mood abruptly changed and she smiled at Cole.
The estate had been built in the early twenties by one of Savannah’s leading families. It offered luxurious suites and a massive nightclub, Club Opal, where the legendary big bands of the 40s’ had played.
Cole had gone to play golf. Jillian had begged off, saying she was tired. The truth though, was that she wanted to call Teddy.
However, the call with Teddy had been disturbing. He didn’t care about the mojo anymore, he’d decided Cole had to go. She sat back and closed her eyes. Oddly, she felt sleepy.
“Are you ready, honey?” It was a slightly husky voice with a smooth drawl.
She opened her eyes. She was in a chair, folds of burgundy velvet spread around her.
“Yes, I’m ready.” She rose and glanced in the mirror at the woman with dark eyes and silvery blond hair.
“How did I get so lucky?” he murmured. “Got the prettiest girl in the world right here on my arm.”
The room twinkled with a thousand lights and a band played as they entered Club Opal.
“Well, as I live and breathe, it’s Max Short, so you must be Oscar’s daughter. I just spoke to him a few days ago.” It was a rather florid man holding a martini glass.
She smiled politely at him.
“Ah, the legendary smile of Laura Rhineheart,” gushed the man.
“It’s Laura Short, now,” said Max.
“I know. I’m sorry” he said solicitously.
“Nice to see you, Stan,” said Max. “Come by and join us for a drink later.”
Stan’s eyes followed them as they left.
“Don’t worry,” Max whispered, “He’ll be under the table before midnight.”
“Why, who would have thought that man drank?”
He was still chuckling when they reached their table. There were three men and one woman already seated there. Max ordered champagne as they took their seats.
“Are you planning to see your father for the holidays, Laura?” The woman had a white face with a red scar for a mouth. “I’m sure he can’t wait to hear Max’s decision. Maybe then Max will tell us what this is all about.”
“Not now, Claire,” said Max. “We are not going to discuss business.” He smiled at Laura. “Care to dance?” She nodded happily.
Laura rested her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. If only this dance could go on forever.
“Together forever,” he murmured.
“And beyond,” she whispered.
There was a sudden tap on her shoulder.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Short, but you have a phone call,” the bellhop said apologetically. “If you could come with me?”
“Probably your father.” said Max. “Go ahead, honey, I don’t mind if you take it.”
Laura sat down in the phone booth and picked up the receiver. “Hello,” she said.
“It will happen while he is singing,” said a foreign accented voice.
The world went dark.
Jillian was sitting on the grass under tree limbs hung with Spanish moss in front of an engraved headstone. Above her the breeze blew an eerie chamber chord.
“Cole!” she cried out. “Cole!”
“What is it, Jill?” Cole appeared. He looked at her with concern. “You’ve been crying.”
“Where are we?”
“Bonaventure, the cemetery. Are you ok?
Fearfully, she asked “Cole, who is Max Short?” She pointed at the tombstone.
“Max… oh, I know. He was a singer/songwriter back in the forties. It seems like there was some mystery about his death.”
She thought about the phone call. What was that about? No, that was just a dream.
“This place can get to you. Let’s go back to the hotel.”
In the car she felt somewhat embarrassed. “Sorry for being so silly. Probably all this talk about ghosts.”
He smiled. “You never cease to amaze me. You are full of surprises … and beyond.”
What was he talking about? He looked positively dreamy eyed.
Laura! She felt a stab of jealousy. He’s been with Laura.
He said gently, “I know that something’s been bothering you. Please talk to me whenever you’re ready.”
There was no point in talking to him. Only one man could help her. Teddy.
But back at the hotel, the dream still haunted her. She had to find out about Max.
The hotel historian was more than happy to talk to her.
“Oh, yes, Max Short,” she said, “a great favorite here.”
“Was there some sort of accident?” Jillian asked. “My husband thought there was something mysterious about his death.”
“Max was not a man who could be bought. He married the daughter of a radio tycoon who was also a Nazi sympathizer. She conspired to have Max killed when he threatened to expose treasonous broadcasts on the radio network.”
Jillian looked at the elderly lady with the odd red mouth.
“She betrayed him, at Club Opal. While he was singing a song to her on Christmas Eve.”
The world spun.
“Snap out of it,” said Scarface, snapping her fingers in Laura’s face. “You’re going to miss it.”
Laura stared at her, then cried. “Where is Max?”
“He’s singing a song for you.”
“No,” screamed Laura. “No, we have to stop him!”
She ran toward the nightclub door but things were fading. “No! No!” She shouted through waves of time.
Scarface loomed before her. “It’s too late” she mourned.
“No! Let me do it!”
But Scarface faded away, moaning “Save Cole.”
Teddy was on the balcony, pointing a gun. Jillian hurled herself at him as the gun went off. She hit him with such force that she landed far above his head. People were everywhere, sirens were screaming.
“Where is Cole?” Jillian cried. “Where is Cole?”
“He’s fine, Mrs. Simms. You saved his life.” Someone answered.
She rose dazedly. “No,” she said, “Laura. Laura saved his life.”
“Well, you get some rest now.” Lily softly closed the door as she left the room. “Poor crazy old lady,” she thought.
Laura looked at the picture lovingly.
“Well, Max. It’s done. Forever and beyond,” she whispered. “I’m coming, Max.”
With the picture held close to her heart, she laid back and closed her eyes.