A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

The Haunting Scheme
by Bob Hinkle (Sep 2013)


Millionaire Samuel Harrington died of cancer. He willed all cash to two of his children, Roger and Janet. Fred, his youngest son, got his mansion.

A few days after Fred moved in he got a call from Janet. She wanted to talk.

While driving to Janet’s house Fred smiled, thinking about the beautiful, newly remodeled mansion he inherited. Although happy with it he wasn’t happy with strange haunting noises he was hearing every night. Footsteps and voices…more like mumbling.

He knew Roger didn’t want the mansion. Already a wealthy oil tycoon, he didn’t need it. He didn’t even need the cash.

Waiting at a red light he wondered why his eighty-six year old dad remodeled the mansion. He was dying of cancer. Why did he spend so much money on the place, knowing he wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy it? Why in heaven’s name did he do that? He wondered too why Janet wanted to see him. They had never got along. And why did she seem so upset.

Unlike the rest of his family, Fred had not been captured too much by the love of money. The one investment he had made in his life turned out to be a huge mistake.

Arriving at Janet’s beautiful new home, Fred pulled up in the drive, climbed out and knocked on the door. Janet opened the door and gave Fred her usual quick smile and her usual loose, unemotional hug. “Thanks for coming, Fred. Come in.” She pointed at the couch. “Want coffee, tea or something hard.”

“Nothing, thanks.”

“How are you, Fred.”

“I’m okay.” He winked. “Got a great place to live now.”

Janet lowered her gaze a moment then returned a troubled look. “You know how much I loved Dad’s place. I don’t suppose you’d give it up if I forked my inherited cash over in exchange.


She dropped down on a recliner facing Fred. “I don’t understand why Dad didn’t leave his mansion to me? He knew how much I loved it. You never loved it.”

“Well…I certainly don’t know why he didn’t leave it to you, Jan.”

“I think I know. He hated Lester. I’m sure you know that. Dad never once recognized Lester’s talent as an investment advisor. You should know. You’re one of his investors.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Lester can’t help what the economy is doing to him. You should know that.”

“No…I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t Dad respect Les?”

“You know why, Janet.”

“The few times I stayed with Dad while he was ill he did nothing but bad-mouth Les, reminding me over and over no honest investment advisor ever offers a 20% dividend on investments. He wouldn’t even refer to him as Lester. He always referred to him as Mr. Ponzi! It wasn’t fair. For eight full years every single client received 20% dividends every year, including you.”

“Yes…but the dividends stopped, not only mine but the dividends stopped for all his investors. Lester was a good presenter, I’ll say that much. When he made his presentation to me I believed him. Against Dad’s warning, I invested. I believed enough in him I talked 6 friends into investing, not knowing until later that they had invested their life savings. One was Larry Gentry. Larry’s a very close friend. He invested every cent of his retirement savings. What do you think about that, Jan?”

“Why should I be concerned about someone I don’t know?”

“Lester ripped him off. Does that matter to you?”


“There’s no way you can convince me you weren’t aware what Lester was doing. He was paying dividends to old investors with money collected from new investors. Dad was right. It was a Ponzi scheme.” Fred pointed at his own chest. “If you want to maintain your brother’s favor at all you’ll see that Larry and the other five people get their money back. I’m not so much concerned about me as I am them.”

“Your friends are not my problem.”

Fred gazed hard at her. “So…it doesn’t matter to you?””

“Why should these people matter to me, or you? It’s all about greed. They invested their money expecting a 20% return.” She lowered her face and stared past her nose. “Greed!”

Fred abruptly stood. “Before I leave, why did you want to see me?”

“To warn you.”

“Warn me about what.”

“Dad’s mansion is haunted.”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Who said?”

“Dad told me about it the last time I stayed with him. He said he was hearing noises in the house.”

“What kind of noises.”

“Footsteps…voices…and one late night he saw a faceless dark figure.”

“That’s a pile of bull.”

“I just wanted to warn you, Fred.”

“You’re trying to scare me into trading the mansion for the 4 mil you inherited.”

“I’m warning you because you’re my brother, and I love you.”

Fred chuckled. “When did you start loving or respecting anyone, Janet? Besides, the place has been appraised at 5.2 million. You’re 1.2 short.” Fred stood up. “Gotta go,”

“Have you heard the noises, Fred?”





Janet went to the grocery store and when she returned home Lester was talking to someone on his cell phone. She wasn’t surprised—he was almost always talking on his phone. But this seemed different. He wasn’t putting on in his usual professional act, and he was slurring from too much drink.

Pouring herself a small glass of scotch, Janet had just sat down on the couch when Lester finally closed his phone and joined her, his long, thick fingers gripping a small glass of whiskey. He took a sip and said, “I think we should talk.”

“Talk about what, Les?”

“I’m getting constant phone messages from investors wanting their money back…money I can’t produce. Today a couple of callers threatened my life, one of ‘em worries the hell out of me.”

“Les, when you bought this fabulous home with investor cash, and bought all those fancy cars weren’t you afraid someday the whole thing would kick your butt.”

Lester lowered his eyes, shook his head. “I hoped I could keep it going indefinitely. I didn’t realize what a major dip in the economy would do to me.”

“Now what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Janet finished off her glass of scotch. “Are you sure that receiver you planted in my brother’s house is working. Fred says he hasn’t heard the sounds.”

“It’s in the wall behind Fred’s bed. There’s no way Fred isn’t hearing the sounds.”

“He said he hasn’t heard anything!”

“Fred ain’t gonna give up that mansion, Jan. We may as well drop it.”

“When Fred was a kid growing up everything spooked him. He even slept with the light on, for heaven’s sake. Those noises will scare the hell out of him. But he says he hasn’t heard them.

“Why should it matter, Jan?”

“I told you about Dad’s downstairs safe. I believe it is loaded with cash, and I know he put Mom’s expensive jewelry in it after she died. When Sam Stafford read the will he didn’t even mention that jewelry.

“What makes you think Fred hasn’t already got into that safe?”

“Dad never mentioned the safe to any of us. It’s located in a secret chamber.”

“Then how the hell did you know about it.”

“The night right after Mom died, and before I even met you, I heard Dad messing around down there. I snuck down the stairs a little ways and saw him putting Mom’s Jewelry in it, and I could see too that it was loaded with cash and bonds.”

“You’re Dad wasn’t stupid, Jan. He had to know you were watching.”

“No, he didn’t,” Janet leaned and pointed at his cell phone. “Who were you talking to when I came in?”

“Our lawyer?”


Lester lowered his gaze and shook his head. “The Feds are asking questions, and I know if they sniff around long enough I’m gonna end up in trouble.” He looked inquisitively at Janet. “What did you do with the money you inherited?”


“I might need your help.”

“That’s my inheritance, Lester. Do you understand?”

“Do you understand what might happen to me in the next few months? The Fed’s will most likely close down all my accounts, and I won’t be able to pay for a good lawyer”

Janet shook her blond head. “You can’t use my inheritance money, Les.”

“What does Fred want for the place?”

“He’ll ask for the appraised value. I’m 1.2 mil short.”

“Look here, Jan, right now I can still get my hands on that much.”

“Where would you get it?”

“From an overseas account.”

She gave Lester a hard look. “How come I never knew about that account?”

“I just told you about it. Look, Jan…what does it matter. I can get the 1.2 mil now but I don’t know about next week, or next month.”

“Then get it.”




More than two weeks had passed when Janet received a near frantic call from Fred, wanting to get together.

They met at Janet’s favorite Bar and Grill. After ordering drinks, Fred took a first sip then turned his wrinkling 65 year old face at his sister. Sweeping back strands of gray hair from his near distressed eyes he said, “I heard those footsteps and voices, and it scared the hell out of me. Can you live in that situation?”

Janet nodded vigorously, “I’m not afraid of it.”

“Then you still want the place?”

“Yes, but I have only the money I inherited. Will you accept that?”

“No. I’ll only accept your 4, plus 1.2. You can probably get it from Lester now. But you know as well as me it’ll soon get where he can’t contribute anything. Tell ‘im I think I can work the deal out to his advantage. But tell him also he’ll have to figure a way to keep that payment from the fraud researchers when they start looking around for money. Chances are they’ll think he buried cash somewhere. I’ll have Sam do a contract between us showing you only paid the amount of your inheritance. Think you can make it happen?”

“I don’t know, Fred. What if Lester is arrested, tried, and convicted? What will he have gained if I end up with Dad’s beautiful mansion and he ends up in prison? What’ll keep him from flapping his jaws?”

“Let me worry about that. Is it a deal?”

Janet stood up, extending fake blood-red finger nails. “It’s a deal.”




Two weeks went by before Fred got the call from Janet saying her and Lester had worked it out. So Fred had his lawyer build the contract reflecting a 4 million dollar sale, receiving also the 1.2 million from Lester later that evening. Fred then rented a hotel room, cleaned his things from the mansion and moved into it

Next morning Fred drove about 5 miles out of the city, turned on a black-top road, drove another mile or so before pulling up and stopping near a civil war monument. After getting out and looking every direction to make sure he wouldn’t be noticed he opened the trunk and got out a shovel. Starting behind the monument he stepped off fifteen paces to a spot behind a bush surrounded by broken twigs and dead leaves. After digging a fairly deep hole he returned to his car, unloaded a large steal box, took it over and placed in inside the hole. Then he filled the hole with dirt, afterwards gathering up and scattering dead twigs and leaves over the spot.




A full month had passed when Fred set an appointment with his lawyer, Sam Stafford.

He entered Sam’s office and took a seat facing him. A moment later an attractive secretary brought him a cup of coffee, smiled and asked him how he was doing.

“I’m doing great now, how about you?”

She smiled again and made no comment as she left the room.

Sam leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. “You seem more upbeat than you were the last time I saw you. What’s going on?”

Fred grinned big with lifted eyebrows, “Salvation.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“For one thing, I own Dad’s mansion again.”

Sam cocked his head. “But you sold it to Janet.”

“She left, says she’ll never go back.”

“But she loves that place a hell of a lot more than you do. What caused her to leave?”

“Says it’s haunted,” Fred laughed, slapped a knee, and then said, “I need you to write the contract. Janet and I need to sign it no later than tomorrow afternoon. Can you handle that?”

“Oh yes, for sure. Are you returning to her the full 4 million?”


“You’d treat your sister that way?”

“I can tell you don’t know Janet very well. Believe me, she has it coming. While I was living there she had Lester plant some kind of receiver in the wall behind my bed and every night they’d signal haunting sounds.”

“A haunting scheme, huh…what kind of sounds?”

“Footsteps and voices.”

“How did you discover the receiver?”

Fred laughed again. “That’s a good one. Lester came to see me the day he decided to leave Janet and make a run for it. First he apologized to me in tears, apologized too about what he did to my friends then he told me about the gadget in the wall. He even got some tools out of his car, took me upstairs and cut it out of the wall.”

“If he cut the receiver out, how did your sister hear those sounds?”

“I had ‘im plant it again, one stud over. He showed me how to send the signal.” Fred stood to his feet, bent over laughing. “So the night my sister moved in I signaled the receiver around midnight and waited. Not twenty minutes later she ran out of house screaming, jumped in her car and left tire rubber.” Both men laughed hysterically. Then Sam said, “Are you going to live there now.”

“No, and I need you to do another contract for 5 million. I sold it. I’ll give you the man’s name before I leave.”

“Wasn’t it appraised at 5.2?”

“Yeah, I gave the guy a break, so what?”

What are you going to do with all that money, Fred?”

One thing I’m going to do is hire you to represent Lester. He was arrested somewhere up north not two days after he came by.”

“Why help him? The guy stole your money.”

“By the time he took money from my friends he was in so much trouble he had to find money anywhere he could to keep the ball rolling. He told me something else interesting.”


“Said the only reason he started stealing investor money was because Janet threatened to leave him if he didn’t figure a way to make money. Of course, that didn’t surprise me. Janet loves only one person…herself. Now…you asked me what I’m going to do with the money. Well…I’ll just tell you. I’ll use a lot of it to replace the money those 6 men lost.”

“Are you serious, Fred?”

“You bet I am.”

Sam smiled, “I’ll be son-of-a-gun! You’re really going to do that, aren’t you?”

“Wouldn’t you, Sam?”

Sam rubbed a finger against his lips, as if thinking about the question. “I don’t know if I would or not, but I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll take Lester’s case without charging you a dime. I’ll do it free.”

“You don’t have to do that, Sam. Even after I pay those fellows I’ll have plenty of money left. So…you don’t have to do that.”

Sam stood up, shook Fred’s hand. “Yes…I do.” He then sat back down, leaned forward. “Now, let’s talk about Lester’s case. I don’t know if I can help him. Every judge I know will most likely send him to prison a long time for what he did.”

“I know you, Sam…you’re a master at negotiating with prosecutors.”

“But in Lester’s case I have no leverage.”

“Yes…you do.”

“What leverage could I possibly have?”

“Lester has 1.2 million hidden. I know where it is. Surely you can negotiate a reduced sentence by him giving up that money?”

“Well…I don’t know…but…it’s a start.” Sam gazed down his nose at Fred. “Is that money also yours?”


“Are you being square with me?”

“It’s not my money. It’s some of the money he stole from investors.”

Sam leaned back in his chair. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’ve gotta go,” said Fred, then he handed Sam a card. “This is the fellow buying the mansion. Call me when the contracts are ready.” Fred then handed him a necklace, loaded with diamonds. “Here, give this to you wife.”

“Where’d you get this?”

“It was my mom’s.” Fred headed out, but at the door he turned and said, “You know something, Sam. I told Dad about my friends investing with Lester. I wonder now if that’s why he left me the mansion.”

“You’re father always spoke highly of you, Fred. I wouldn’t be surprised. He’d be very proud of you today.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“No, Fred. Thank you.”

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