-1-

Dietrich Freyhaph slammed his fist on his desk, causing the small bust of Andrew Jackson to fall over. The delicate glass decanter of ice water teetered precariously, and his wife’s cats scattered out the door and down the hall.

“I will not accept defeat,” he roared. “Those Harper’s Landing bitches! That Charity woman. She’ll learn not to oppose me!”

His face was a mottled shade of deep red. With every word he flung spittle all over his desk. His bodyguard and assistant, Rafe Jenkins, was deeply concerned about his boss’s health, especially when Freyhaph lapsed back into his chair, consumed with a coughing fit.

Freyhaph was in his early 70s, overweight, and pasty-skinned. His head was covered by an ill-maintained wig of bright yellow hair. His clothing was wrinkled and poorly fitted, which was strange considering he could have afforded the finest tailors. He usually wore a tie which was tied too close to the short end and hung down below his waist. At the moment, he looked as if he might drop dead over his desk at any moment.

Ever since their return from Harper’s Landing, Rafe had remained in daily contact with Freyhaph’s personal physician. His boss had frequent bouts of rage over his failure to force the deal. Rafe stepped into the hall and called the doctor.

“I think you should come and check him. He’s coughing up a storm, and I don’t like his color at all.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes. I was already on my way for a weekly exam.”

Rafe returned to the office, reassured by the prospect of the doctor’s imminent arrival. Freyhaph was a bit calmer but still quite red in the face. Rafe knew it would be impossible to distract him from the Harper’s Landing deal. Instead, he chose another approach.

“Why don’t we turn the lawyers loose on them, Boss? Let the legal beagles handle it for now.”

“You’re probably right. That woman.” He snorted. “Women used to know their place. Nasty, uppity woman.”

He leaned back in his chair, hands clasped over his bulging belly.

“Did you order some of that pie like I asked?”

“Yes, I did. Do you want some now, maybe with some ice cream?”

Rafe knew that nothing distracted Freyhaph quite like food, especially greasy fried food or sweets.

“A large piece of pie, please; slightly warmed, and of course with vanilla ice cream.”

Rafe put in the order. He got Freyhaph a diet coke, and after receiving a nod poured himself a small shot of brandy. Freyhaph never drank, but he always had a supply of the finest liquor on hand to impress guests and cajole potential partners.

The doctor and the pie arrived at the same time. Steven Mayfield, MD, was a tall, imposing man with dark brown skin and close cropped curly black hair. He was impeccably dressed in a dark grey silk Armani suit, with a cobalt blue tie, white shirt, and highly polished shoes. He knew better than to express his disapproval over Freyhaph’s choice of a midday snack. Instead he took the man’s pulse, listened briefly to his lungs and heart between bites, and then asked if he could take his blood pressure. Freyhaph grudgingly agreed, rolling up his sleeve to allow for the band to be slipped over his lower arm.

“Dietrich, I’ve been your doctor now for going on twenty years. Your blood pressure has always been on the high side, but now it is approaching stroke level. You must either stop with these fits of rage and lose some weight or take the drugs I prescribe regularly. I guarantee you aren’t doing any of these given your current BP.”

He waited for the expected explosion of anger. Instead, Freyhaph leaned back in his chair, the plate of pie balanced on his stomach, and took a bite, chewing with a pensive look on his face.

“Rafe, go get the doc a piece of this pie.”

He raised his hand at Mayfield’s objection.

“You won’t understand until you’ve had a bite.”

“That I can confirm,” said Frieda from her corner. “Makes me want to go live there now. And I don’t like sweets.”

Rafe returned with the small piece of pie. Mayfield sat on one of the chairs opposite Freyhaph, took a sip of excellent brandy from the snifter placed on the side table, and picked up the pie. He took a bite and nearly dropped the plate.

“See what I mean?” said Freyhaph. “I’ve got to have that recipe.”

He sat up straighter, looking somewhat better.

“The Harper’s Landing Golf Club and Game Resort will be the finest I’ve ever built.”

Mayfield was lost in the joy of eating the best piece of pie he had ever tasted. He simply nodded as Freyhaph waxed poetic about Harper’s Landing.

“And the fishing! Steven, they have an amazing river running right next to the town. And the forests are full of deer. Can you imagine the hunting?”

Freyhaph sat up suddenly and slapped his hand on his desk.

“Rafe, send in the hounds. Every lawyer we can spare. And get that PI firm we use on them. I want dirt, anything that can be used to leverage them.”

He pounded his fist on the desk.

“I will have that Grove. I may even make that my second home. Send out the hounds now.”

He resumed eating his pie and ice cream, chatting with Mayfield about his practice and about the world in general. He had the greatest confidence in Rafe’s ability to put things in motion. Afterall, he had enough leverage on him to keep him in thrall for the rest of his life.

 

-2-

John Hartley, the sheriff of Middlewood County, sat in his office on Main Street in Harper’s Landing, sipping coffee and watching the flock of private investigators who arrived early in the morning. They tried in vain to mingle with the locals and the few tourists still in town.

The PIs had arrived in three different cars, which they parked in the lot over next to Harper’s Landing Combined School. They looked profoundly uncomfortable in shabby jeans, work boots, plaid shirts, and denim jackets. There is a way in which clothing you are used to looks right when you wear it. It hangs comfortably and moves in amiable waves as you stroll, walk, or trot down the street. These guys had all the right clothing, but they wore them like fancy Hong Kong silk suits. No one was fooled, but since it was Harper’s Landing, everyone pretended not to notice them.

The men were currently ensconced in a window booth at Morrie’s, consuming large quantities of coffee, cinnamon rolls, and scrambled eggs. John strolled over just in time to hear one of them inquiring of Jen as to the best fishing holes in the area.

“I reckon you should ask Zack about that,” said John. “Hi. I’m the sheriff here. Zack is our resident fishing guide. One of the best, according to the people who’ve used him. Want me to call him for you?”

They knew they’d been made. They could see it in John’s eyes, in his manner. The one nearest him, sitting at the end of the booth in a chair, told him they’d rather just wander around for the day.

“Maybe tomorrow, Sheriff. Do you have the guy’s phone number?”

John wrote it on the back of a napkin.

“You fellas be careful about going into the woods,” he said casually. “It’s deer season, and sometimes we get people up here who can’t tell a red shirt from a brown hide.”

“We’ll keep that in mind. Doubt we’ll have much luck anyway, this late in the season.”

“Oh, it’s just the beginning of deer hunting season around here. Just don’t get between two stags. It’s rutting season.”

John was taking great pleasure in letting them know that he knew they didn’t have the slightest intention of going hunting. He did wonder what they were here for.

“Did you fellas register with Linda over there at the Gazette office? We like to have hunters and fishermen sign in, just in case someone gets lost. And we like to know who’s carrying loaded rifles around in the woods.”

“We’ll do that now. Do we all have to go, or can a couple of the guys put all our names down?”

“That’ll be fine. I reckon you’re anxious to look at the fishing holes on Martin’s Way. Pick up one of those maps in the stand in front of Morey’s and look for Big Bass Pond.”

As soon as they left, John called Linda.

“Couple of guys headed your way to “register” as hunters. Get IDs on the two who come in and take the names of all six of them. I want you to look them up after they’ve left.”

“Sure thing. Who do you think they are?”

“Not sure, but I do know they aren’t hunters—or fishermen either. I’m gonna try to get Zack to come down from the mill, follow them around a bit.”

First, John called his deputy, Harry Randle.

“Harry, would you mind going up to visit Miss Charity for the day? You’d be there for protection, but I don’t want her to know that. I just want someone to keep an eye on her.”

“Of course, boss. Is she in any danger?”

“I don’t think so, but I don’t want these fellas who came into town to be harassing her without someone else there. I suspect at some point one or two of them will show up at her place asking questions.”

“Should I chase them off?”

“No, just be imposing. And keep the recorder on your cell phone turned on while they are there.”

“On my way now. I’ll think of a reason on my way up. Maybe I can offer to help with the final apple harvest.”

“That’s a great idea.”

John walked out of his office and stood on the walkway as the first SUV drove past, two of the men inside. From his vantage point he could see surveying equipment inside.

“It’s that damned Freyhaph guy, I just know it,” he muttered. “Guess I better tell Maggie.”

John had no proof that Maggie, Jen, and Charity had done anything to the pie the last time Freyhaph was in town. But he had his suspicions. On each visit Freyhaph and his entourage had left town in a hurry, shortly after consuming some of Maggie’s pie. Obviously, they did not suspect the pie, as they always took some home with them. But John wasn’t fooled by Maggie’s innocent demeanor.

He felt the need to alert them to the present situation. He knew if he told Maggie and Jen, they would in turn tell Charity. He was positive the six unwelcome visitors were doing Freyhaph’s business, whatever that might be.

The men returned to town in the early afternoon. They went into the diner and chose a banquette toward the back, where they could talk in private. They ordered coffee and pie, each asking for ice cream on the pie. Freyhaph had told them they shouldn’t miss tasting the wonderful apple pie.

Maggie brought the entire pie, cut into six pieces. Jen provided a pie lifter, six plates, and a scoop with a quart of homemade vanilla ice cream. The men dug in, exclaiming loudly about the incredible taste of the pie. Approximately ten minutes after they had finished their pie, as they were working on second cups of coffee, the men became restless and a bit confused.

“I need to get out of here. Back to Chicago and file this report.”

“Yeah, me too. The wife will wonder if I’m not back by dinner time.”

“Let’s go. It’s a three-hour drive to Hannibal and then chopper back. We should be home by six or seven at the latest.”

All six left as quickly as possible, one of them pausing long enough to hand Jen a $50 bill and mutter, “keep the change.” They got into their vehicles and roared out of town, headed for the county road that joined up with the highway north to Hannibal.

John watched them go, a broad smile on his face. That pie. It always made him want to go live in the diner, but it seemed to affect any unwelcome visitors the opposite way. He hurried over to the Gazette. Linda was waiting for him. She looked unhappy, as she stared at the screen waiting for the printer to finish spitting out the pages of information she had found.

All six men were employees of Blackfish Investigations. Four of them were former special ops guys, with few specifics as to what kind of special ops they had done or for whom. Blackfish was owned by Harrison Markwell, who just happened to be the father of Freyhaph’s son-in-law.

“Bloody Hell,” exclaimed John. “The bastard won’t give up, will he?”

Linda stared at him in shock. She had never heard John curse.

“He’s a bit of a con man,” she said. “And claims to be rich, although he keeps going bankrupt.”

“He’s bad news for us, I can tell you that,” said John. “I expect the lawyers will be next. And here I thought we’d gotten rid of him.”

He pulled out his phone and called Harry Randle.

“Well, they didn’t come up here and talk to us,” said Harry, “but I spied them out in the woods behind Miss Charity’s cottage here, with surveying equipment. I got pictures.”

“Does Charity know?”

Harry snorted.

“Like you can keep anything from that woman?”

Charity came on the phone.

“Thank you, John. I know you were looking out for me, and I’m grateful. I expect the lawyers next.”

“That’s just what I was saying to Linda here. Mark my words, this is gonna get unpleasant.”

“More so for him than us,” replied Charity. “You go on home, have a nice dinner and a good sleep, Harry. John, would you please ask Jen to come up here, and Maggie too? Thanks.”

She hung up.

“That woman has something up her sleeve, I’m sure of it.”

“She generally knows what she’s doing,” said Linda. “I think Freyhaph will find he has finally met his match.”

“I hope so. I don’t want him or his fancy hotel here. This town is just fine as is.”

“Amen to that.”

 

-3-

Sure enough the following day, Tuesday, September 12, a helicopter landed on the pad out behind the sheriff’s office. It was moderately large, and Freyhaph exited first, followed by Rafe Jenkins and three men in expensive suits carrying large briefcases. They walked over to the office where John was sipping his morning coffee.

One of the men handed John a subpoena, requesting that he and the county recorder provide all records pertaining to the ownership, sale, testamentary transfer, or any other form of ownership of the properties described therein. They further ordered that said papers be delivered to the county courthouse the following day to be examined before the district court judge, who would arrive tomorrow for a hearing regarding the ownership of said real property. Freyhaph stood watching as John and Linda read the subpoena.

A second man asked if Charity Farmington was in town or still at her residence in the Grove. John called Harry Randle and asked him to pick her up and bring her to his office. He then called Morrie. When he arrived, John and introduced him as the town’s Mayor and Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors. The man who inquired about Charity reached into his briefcase and pulled out a subpoena, which he handed to Morrie.

“You and your wife, also named in this subpoena, are hereby served and required to appear in court tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. to provide testimony in the matter of the ownership of real property described in this subpoena.”

Harry pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office about ten minutes later, and Charity climbed out slowly. John was startled at how frail and old she looked. Then he realized that it was an astonishingly convincing act on her part, one that would escape detection by those who didn’t know her. The attorneys were looking decided concerned, while Freyhaph was grinning from ear to ear. He was practically salivating over his anticipated acquisition of lands this frail old woman couldn’t possibly own. It was obvious to him that she would be no trouble in a courtroom battle.

“Lastly, we will need the presence of one Harve Sanders, the purported owner of some of the real property in question. As an officer of the court, you could be required to serve him yourself. But perhaps it would be easier for you to call him and request that he come to your office?”

John was happy to oblige, and Harve arrived fifteen minutes later, smelling of old leaves and steer manure.

“Sorry, was putting beds to sleep for the winter. Didn’t want to keep you waiting while I cleaned up.”

John barely smothered a snicker.

The attorney held out the subpoena at arm’s length, trying not to breathe as he handed it to Harve.

“We will see you all in court tomorrow morning then,” said the third man, who spoke for the first time. “Really, this won’t take more than a couple of hours to settle. Mr. Freyhaph will be in court, prepared to take possession of what we will prove to be unowned real property, fraudulently held for years as inherited property.”

“In the meantime,” said Freyhaph, “my attorneys will remain here at the courthouse. They have employment contracts for anyone in town who wishes to work for Freyhaph and Sons once the sale goes through.”

The three lawyers went to the courthouse and made themselves comfortable in one of the attorney-client meeting rooms, preparing blank contracts to be filled in with names for various described positions. Rafe and Freyhaph went to the diner, where they sat by the window and ordered cheeseburgers, French fries, and milkshakes.

Maggie approached the table.

“I would like to send pies home with you. I wanted to make one for your wife and son. That is if you would like to have them.”

“Oh my yes. That would be delightful. You could just put a big D on mine.”

“Of course,” said Maggie. “That will be easy. A big D made from crust, brushed with a cinnamon sugar glaze.”

“Fine, fine,” said Freyhaph, waving her off. “Please have them ready by two this afternoon. We will be going back to Chicago.”

 

-4-

Maggie and Jen took Charity back to the Grove in Jen’s car. The three women then huddled over the book Charity kept wrapped in a shawl. On Freyhaph’s earlier visits they had chosen three spells, each more powerful than the last, in the hope of driving him away. It had worked for a while, but it was obvious they needed a more permanent solution.

Charity read the description of the spell. It was powerful, dangerous, and would likely do the trick. The idea was to keep Freyhaph from ever coming back. This spell had the added potential to ensure he never hurt anyone else. Charity wrote, and then re-wrote, an addition to the spell that she hoped would bring him to end the legal actions before they started.

“Give the lawyers a nice dose of ‘go away and stay away’ pie. Make sure they all eat it.”

“It’s already been baked and is ready for them. They put in their lunch order and specified they wanted pie with cheese for dessert. Morrie knows to serve it if I don’t get back in time for lunch.”

“Good. Now, did you bring the two pies, unbaked, for Freyhaph to take back?”

“Yes. They are in the basket there.”

“I think we should do something nice for that poor woman and the boy, don’t you?”

“How about a nice big ‘you are loved’ spell, strengthened with every bite?”

“Perfect. Maggie, you get to work on that spell. Jen and I will work on this one. And I think we should do it in the other room. If it backfires, Jen can help me; you haven’t had enough training for this potent working.”

“I’m happy to be as far away from it as I can be.”

Freyhaph showed up at the diner at 1:00 p.m., with Rafe Jenkins in tow. The lawyers arrived shortly thereafter. The five of them holed up in the private dining room in the back. They waved off Morrie’s apologies for the room being unfinished. They wanted privacy more than ambience. Morrie had anticipated Freyhaph’s order of a well-done cheeseburger with fries. Rafe asked for the same, except medium rare for the burger. The three lawyers opted for the meatloaf special.

Maggie and Jen arrived shortly before the men were seated. The two served them efficiently and quietly. They kept an eye on them through the glass panes at the side of the door. When the men were finished the two women removed the dishes and set the pieces of pie out for all of them.

“Mr. Freyhaph,” said Maggie, “I have your two pies boxed up for you when you are ready to leave.”

“Thank you. Gentlemen, you are in for a treat. You’ve never had pie like this before, I guarantee it.”

The five men dug in, all of them having ordered ice cream on the side. Shortly after they finished, they began to squirm. They were overcome with a feeling of profound discomfort and wanted nothing more than to leave as soon as possible. One of the lawyers almost ran across the street, where he gathered up the papers and documents they had been pouring over all day. He hastily stuffed them in a briefcase and hustled out toward the helicopter. The others were right behind him, stopping just long enough to grab their own briefcases. Freyhaph and Rafe were right behind them, after taking care of the bill and gathering up the two pie boxes.

“What the hell?” asked one of the lawyers. “It’s almost like that town wanted us out of there.”

“Yeah, we had a similar experience last time we were here,” said Rafe.

Freyhaph glared at him.

“It has nothing to do with the town. Probably some kind of afternoon pollen. Once we own this miserable little backwater, we will make it into the grand retreat we all know it can be. Chop down all the trees close by and create a great golf course.”

He sat back in his seat, his lap belt in place as the chopper headed north toward Chicago.

“How many were you able to sign up to work for us?” he asked the lawyers.

“None. Not a single person would sign, even when shown the generous payment package. They all seemed certain that nothing was going to change. They’ll find out tomorrow just how wrong they are. We have all the documents proving that no one currently living could possibly own any of that land.”

“Good. I will leave it in your capable hands. Also, I want to read the reports from those Blackfish boys, see what kind of dirt they found.”

Rafe had not yet informed him that the Blackfish investigators came up empty-handed. It was a discussion he didn’t look forward to.

“Tonight,” said Freyhaph, “I want to go over the eviction notices for those condos in Chicago. The sooner we get those leeches out, the sooner we can start work on the new Freyhaph Apartment and Office Towers.”

“Also, Sir,” said one of the attorneys, “we have that hearing next week on the lawsuit from those painters who did that botched job in New Orleans.”

“Just paper them to death,” said Freyhaph. “We have all the time and money in the world; they don’t.”

As an after-thought, he said, “Make sure that none of those people who said no today are hired, once we own the town. None of them, except Miss Maggie and her husband, Morrie. And Rafe, you better be working on finding something we can hold over them to force them to work for us.”

The chopper set down at the Hannibal Regional Airport, where the party boarded Freyhaph’s private jet for the final leg home to Chicago. They landed in the private boarding area at O’Hare, where the three lawyers shared a hired limo to their homes. Freyhaph’s driver was waiting with his gold Cadillac, the motor running and the inside nicely warmed. Rafe put the pies in the front compartment, just behind the passenger seat, for safe storage. They rode home in silence.

It was dinner time when the two arrived at the Freyhaph penthouse. As usual, Rafe retired to the kitchen to eat with the rest of the staff, while Freyhaph, his wife Miriam, and their son Bradley ate in the large ornate dining room. There was no conversation. Once the meal was done, Freyhaph retired to his office overlooking Lake Michigan, where he asked for his dessert to be delivered, along with a Diet Coke. Miriam was delighted to learn that a pie had been sent especially for her and Bradley. They went to the kitchen, where there would be laughter and conversation. Miriam declared that all four of the staff should have a piece too.

The cook delivered Freyhaph’s pie and ice cream, and he insisted that she return with his entire pie.

“Tell Rafe to come up. We’ll enjoy it together. And leave the ice cream too; there should be some ice in the refrigerator over there.”

She got the ice, put it in a bucket and sat the ice cream container on top of it. She pulled an extra plate and fork from the dish cupboard he kept in his office and placed it on the side table. She then left, without a word.

Freyhaph had just finished his first piece of pie when he heard the soft, tentative knock. That would be Bradley, who was instructed to report to his father every evening before bed.

“Come in, come in,” he said impatiently.

The boy came and stood in front of his father’s desk, hands clasped deferentially in front of him. He looked at the desk rather than at his father.

“Did you learn anything important today?”

“No sir, just the usual stuff. Mathematics, geography, and music. We listened to a symphony orchestra. It was beautiful.”

“What utter nonsense. I cannot believe I am paying for an education that includes such hogwash as music. It dulls the mind, drives your attention away from the important things. I will talk with your teachers at the end of this session about starting you on economics.”

“Yes, Father. I am sorry.”

Suddenly, Freyhaph felt a strange sensation in his chest. It was an ache of some kind, but nothing like anything he had felt before. It certainly was not the same as the pain with that heart attack last year. This was an ache, deep inside; and a feeling utterly foreign to him. He looked closely at the boy. It seemed to emanate from him.

“Get out of here, now. I have work to do.”

Bradley left. As soon as the door shut, the ache began to recede.

Probably from that cheeseburger. It was huge. But good. It’s nothing, and it’s gone.

Rafe knocked and entered. He took a seat next to the side table and picked up his piece of pie, declining the ice cream. He ate slowly, savoring every bite.

“Those people are fools not to have signed. Surely they understand that they will lose everything when you take over.”

Freyhaph started to respond but stopped when he saw Rafe’s expression. The man appeared to be in pain.

“Are you okay? Should we call Dr. Mayfield?”

“No. I don’t know what’s wrong. I just got an overwhelming wave of grief, kind of like when my dad died.”

Freyhaph had been with Rafe when he got the news of his father’s sudden death. He knew they were close, and he had observed Rafe’s grief with curiosity. He had not been close to his parents, and his father’s death had blessed him with a giant fortune. So, he saw it as a good thing. Since Rafe was the closest thing he had to a friend, he continued to observe him for a while, concerned about his obvious distress.

Finally, Rafe sat up straight, a look of relief on his face.

“Thank goodness that’s over. It was like hearing a hundred voices all screaming ‘no’ at the same time.”

“Hard on the hearing for sure. If you’re okay now, let’s go over these eviction notices. I’m going to have another piece of pie. What about you?”

Rafe declined, instead picking up the first list of occupants slated for eviction. Only he knew that the cockroaches had been imported just before the health department inspected. And the overloaded electrical circuits had been arranged just before the fire department inspection. It was a stroke of genius, having them all sign personal responsibility clauses in exchange for reduced rent, just before the “infractions” were uncovered.

Suddenly Rafe was gripped with a massive stomach ache, one that doubled him over. Simultaneously, he heard the voices of children crying in fear, parents crying in disbelief. He felt their anguish as if it were his own, and barely staggered to the bathroom in time to empty the entire contents of his stomach.

“You go to bed. Now,” said Freyhaph. “You must be coming down with something. I’ll finish all of this. I can’t sleep anyway.”

Rafe couldn’t leave the room fast enough. As he walked swiftly down the hall toward his private suite, he felt better. The farther away from Freyhaph’s office, the better he felt. By the time he reached his own rooms, his stomachache was entirely gone, and the gut-wrenching nausea and fear had dissipated.

What the hell? he thought. Am I going crazy?

He sat in his room, reading a Jesse Stone novel, slowly relaxing and tossing off the cares of the day. He was nearly asleep when Freyhaph’s screams brought him wide awake and running down the hall, his weapon in his hand. He burst into the office and stopped, staring in shock.

Freyhaph had eaten approximately half of the pie. There were pieces of crust and crumbs everywhere on his desk. The papers he had been studying were wadded into balls, stuffed into the large waste can Dietrich kept by his desk.

The paunchy old man had pulled off his outer clothing. He had thrown his ridiculous wig into the corner and was now pulling what few hairs remained out of his skull. He was screaming, “make them stop; make them stop.”

Rafe grabbed him and pulled him out of the office. He slammed the door shut and forcibly pushed Freyhaph down the hall. The further the got from his office, the calmer the old man became. Rafe led him into his private suite and called his doctor, once he got Freyhaph into one of his favorite chairs.

“Just try to relax, Boss,” he said. “The doc’s on his way.”

“It was horrible, Rafe. Just utterly horrible.”

“What happened?”

“You know the new Freyhaph Towers project?”

Rafe nodded.

“I was reading over the notes of the people who had not left. We’ve sent them all notices that they will be forcibly removed.”

“Yeah. It’s tough, but it’s gotta be done.”

“Well, that’s what I think too. But I picked up the folder for the Ramirez family, and I got the worst feeling ever. It was fear, I think. I mean, I never . . .”

He let his words trail off. Sweat was pouring off his face. He wiped it with a clean handkerchief, which he threw into the nearest wastebasket. Rafe hastily handed him a fresh one from the basketful by the door. Freyhaph was a germaphobe. There were handkerchiefs and bleach wipes stored in every room.

“You probably just need sleep,” said Rafe. “But let’s see what Doc Mayfield says.”

There was a discreet knock at the door, and the doctor entered. He looked at Freyhaph in alarm and immediately began a thorough examination, including reflexes, blood pressure, and mental status. He went through the standard tests for stroke, too.

“What happened?”

“I felt something, and it was awful.”

“What? Something crawling on you?”

“No. A feeling, inside. Like something was coming for me.”

“You experienced an emotion? Like fear?”

“I guess that’s what it was. You know I don’t have time for emotions. But if there were such a thing, then yes, this was it.”

The doctor and Rafe helped Freyhaph change into pajamas, and once he was safely in bed, Mayfield gave him an injection. The florid, fat, old man fell asleep immediately.

“That should keep him out for at least ten hours,” said Mayfield. “I’m going to sleep here tonight. Wife’s out of town anyway. I might as well. Unless you think I should call a nurse.”

“No, better it’s you. He hates nurses. You’re the first doctor he’s tolerated in the fifteen years I’ve worked for him.”

“What happened?”

“I left him about ten, was just about to go to bed, when I heard him screaming. I ran to his office. He had thrown the papers he was reading, torn off some of his clothing, and was pulling at his hair.”

“Screaming?”

“Yeah, ‘make them stop’ was all he said. Kept screaming it over and over. I grabbed him, pulled him out of the office and into his bedroom here.”

“Why not just leave him there?”

“That’s the weird part. Something similar happened to me in the office earlier. I got a real bad feeling. But when I left, the further away I got, the better I felt. Trust me, he calmed down a lot once I got him out of there.”

Mayfield got up and walked to the office. The place was a mess, with crumpled balls of paper overflowing the basket and pie crust crumbs all over the desk. He called the cook on the intercom and asked her to come pick up the remaining pie and put it in the fridge in the kitchen. When she arrived, he told her to have someone come and clean up the mess.

After she left, he picked up one of the wadded-up papers and smoothed it out. It was the report from the PI who had served the Ortiz family with their eviction notice. He found the other pages of that report and stapled them together. He continued his search, discovering five reports on families who had been similarly served. He read one of the entire reports. It told how the family begged them not to evict, how they had no money for a new place. The report was heartbreaking—to anyone who had a heart.

He couldn’t imagine Freyhaph caring one whit about these families or their stories of hardship. But what made him behave so strangely? He needed to talk to Rafe some more. But for now, he needed sleep. He called Freyhaph’s personal man and asked that a cot be brought for him to Freyhaph’s suite. The man showed up and instead of a cot, pulled out the sofa bed in the sitting area of Freyhaph’s personal suite. The door to the bedroom was left open.

Dr. Mayfield woke early in the morning to the smell of coffee. His patient was still asleep though beginning to make the small movements that signaled awakening soon. Mayfield stepped into the bathroom and showered quickly. By the time Freyhaph was awake, the doctor had donned his impeccable suit and was seated at the small dining table in the parlor of Freyhaph’s suite. A buzzer summoned Freyhaph’s man servant, and soon he appeared, casually dressed in a jumpsuit. He joined Mayfield at the table, sipped at his coffee, and waited for breakfast.

“Do you remember what happened last night, Dieter?”

“Vaguely. It must have been bad, or you wouldn’t be here.”

Mayfield nodded.

“Am I going to go like Mother?”

Freyhaph’s mother had descended into madness and dementia during the last five years of her life.

“No. Her troubles were not hereditary. She drank too much. Her liver was destroyed.”

“So, what was it? I heard voices, screaming and crying. In my head. And I felt a strange ache.”

“Was it heart pain?”

“No. This was not physical. Oh hell, it was probably just heartburn. I ate two burgers.”

Steven frowned. The symptoms were not heartburn, but he wasn’t in a mood to disagree.

“I’ve stopped trying to tell you how to eat, Dieter. You know what is good and what isn’t.”

“I like what I like. But I don’t want to go through that again.”

“Can you describe it any better? Did you have physical pain?”

“No. Not really. Just heard those voices. And I felt like crying! Me? Crying?”

Freyhaph snorted. He put down his empty coffee cup and leaned back.

“I felt lost. I felt like I was going to lose everything. I want you to run every test you can. Something must be wrong in my brain.”

“Have Rafe bring you to St. Martin’s this afternoon, at 4:00. We’ll do an MRI. But honestly, Dieter, I don’t think we’ll find anything.”

“Do it anyway.”

“Okay. I’m leaving now. Have two senators to see this morning, and several other patients. I’ll see you at 4:00.”

As predicted, the MRI was negative, as was the blood work Dr. Mayfield had insisted upon. Dieter’s full physical examination revealed no abnormalities other than his obesity and general deconditioning. Mayfield was unsuccessful in tempting him to do any exercise, other than climb in and out of a golf cart.

“Look, Doc. Everyone dies. I’m going to enjoy every minute until I do. And that means cheeseburgers, fried chicken, milkshakes, and apple pie.”

Mayfield watched him leave, wondering if perhaps Freyhaph was right. He had all too many patients who labored through the day eating food they hated, going to exercise classes they despised, and then collapsing at home in front of the television. Freyhaph was an ass and a blowhard, but he did appear to enjoy his life.

Steven Mayfield was a contemplative man. His wife often complained that he thought too much and spoke too little. He decided to go home early and have a chatty dinner with her. And he had a secret. Miriam had given him two small pieces of pie from the one Maggie had prepared for her and Bradley. They would enjoy dessert over a glass of good port.

“He seems happy enough.”

Steven put down his port and began piling the dishes from dinner to take into the kitchen.

“He’s not though,” said Angelica. “He’s lonely and bereft of human kindness or decency. He has no idea what it means to be loved. And no realization that most of the world hates him.”

Angelica was a stately black woman with elegant cheekbones, a killer smile, and more brains than any woman Steven had ever known. They had been married for thirty-four years, had three grown children, and two grandkids. Even though they had more than enough money to hire help, they had always done the work of keeping the house themselves. Their abundant philanthropy was well known.

“He despises us for giving away our money you know. Thinks we’re stupid. Miriam told me that once after a dinner party.”

Steven rarely told Angelica about his patients. He considered it a violation of their privacy. But he felt compelled to tell her about the events of the previous evening.

“That is strange,” she said when he finished his narrative. “It almost sounds as if he felt something for once.”

“Rafe said something similar happened to him. But it didn’t nearly drive him insane.”

“Rafe is a kind and gentle man. I don’t know why he stays with that monster. Nor do I understand why he willingly does his dirty work.”

“I would imagine Dieter has something on him. He does on just about everyone he wants to keep around.”

“And you?”

Steven shrugged. “It’s simple. I like the money. And I kinda like him. He can be charming at times.”

“Yeah, lions can be charming too, until they get their claws into you.”

“Come on. Time for bed.”

 

-5-

Dieter Freyhaph’s two-floor apartment was at the top of Freyhaph Towers in Chicago, seventy-five floors above the Loop. Rafe’s small suite was twenty-five feet down the hall from Freyhaph’s luxurious quarters, close enough to get there quickly when summoned; far enough to afford privacy for both men. Miriam and Bradley resided in a suite of rooms on the floor below, which also held the kitchen and storage for the family. Miriam rarely ventured upstairs, especially after one memorable encounter with one of Freyhaph’s more nubile “visitors.”

Rafe Jenkins loathed his job and his boss. He would have left long ago, but Freyhaph had a secret, a big one. Rafe knew he would not hesitate to use it against him, so he stayed. The pay was good, the living quarters were perfect, and Rafe wanted for nothing. Except his freedom and his self-respect. There was a time when he had felt some sympathy for Dieter. The man was lonely, and his life was empty of all human compassion and connection. But he had witnessed too much cruelty, too much venality, and too much outright criminality to ever care for the man. He did his job and nothing more.

All of this led him to ignore the screams coming from Dieter’s suite. He assumed the man was indulging his penchant for brutality towards his sex partners. However, as the screams continued and grew louder, Rafe realized that it was Dieter who was screaming, not some one-night doxy. He threw on a robe and ran down the hall to the suite. He opened the door and ducked just in time to avoid being hit by a ledger his boss hurled in his direction. Dieter had pie crumbs all over his face. Crust littered his desk. He had thrown his idiotic wig into a corner, and now seized what remaining hair he had and was pulling on it. Tears poured down his florid cheeks, and he gazed at Rafe wildly.

“Make it stop, Rafe. Please, make it stop.”

Rafe approached the desk, where he saw the tenant folders for the building they were tearing down. Freyhaph had been reading about the progress in removing the families, while he consumed the remaining half pie Rafe had asked the cook to store in the refrigerator in the suite. Dieter’s morning coffee was spilled everywhere, including on the folders. The open one was for the Cortez family. Raphael Cortez worked for Freyhaph as a janitor in the public areas of Freyhaph Tower. Despite his long years of service, having never taken a sick day, been late, or written up for any infraction, Cortez and his family were given very little notice of their impending eviction and no compensation for moving expenses. Cortez’s wife was being treated for breast cancer, and the children were terrified both of losing their home and their mother.

“My chest hurts, Rafe. My back hurts, like it’s on fire. And I’m scared. I’ve never been afraid of anything. Make it stop, please.”

Rafe stared at him open-mouthed. His boss never laughed, and certainly never cried. Emotion was a stranger to Dieter Freyhaph. And yet there he sat, tears pouring down his cheeks, his hands shaking, and his face twisted in a grimace of pain.

Rafe attempted to move the papers and clean up the desk, but Dieter seized the folders.

“Are they all like this?” he asked.

“Yes. None of them have much. And with all the other rent-controlled buildings in the city fully occupied, they will likely be homeless.”

Dieter grabbed the remaining pie and the fresh cup of coffee Rafe had poured for him. He allowed Rafe to set aside the folders. Once Rafe had put them back into the filing cabinet, Dieter began to obviously relax.

“Give me the file on the Texas hunting resort, would you? I want to see how we are doing. The lions were delivered a month ago, and the number of visitors has doubled according to Martin. I want to see if he is telling the truth. That should be a huge money maker. Maybe we can add some tigers or other exotics.”

He sipped his coffee and took a huge bite of the pie. He then opened the Texas Exotic Adventures file. On the first page was a photograph of a smiling man and woman, each with a foot on the head of a magnificent male lion they had just shot.

Freyhaph dropped his coffee cup, grabbing at his stomach and moaning in pain.

“Oh. God. Oh, God,” he gasped. “It hurts. I can’t catch my breath. Oh, God, it hurts.”

He grabbed the decanter of whiskey he kept on his desk for visitors and took a huge gulp. Rafe had never seen him drink liquor and was shocked. However, the booze seemed to ease his pain.

“Call Steven, please. Something is obviously dreadfully wrong. The pain is bad enough, but what is this other stuff? Is this emotion, Rafe? If so, I want nothing to do with it. Call. Now!”

While Rafe punched in the number, Dieter picked up the Texas file again, careful not to look at the front pages. Instead he opened it to the spreadsheet which kept a tally of guests, as well as which game they had bagged and whether or not they had made future reservations. Before he began studying the figures, he took another very large bite of pie. He turned his attention to the sheets.

Dr. Mayfield answered on the second ring. Rafe started to tell him to come immediately, when an ungodly squeal came from the direction of Freyhaph’s desk. Dieter was staring at the pictures of the trophy kills Martin had included in the file.

“Jesus,” said Mayfield, “what was that? Sounded like an animal being tortured.”

“It’s Dieter. Please hurry.”

“Be right there.”

Dieter had dropped the file onto his desk. He grabbed the remaining papers and brochures that were in the envelope Martin had messengered to him. Then he poured half a bottle of Napoleon brandy on the pile. Before Rafe could intercede, Freyhaph grabbed the lighter he kept on his desk and set the papers on fire. He threw the bottle and its remaining contents on the fire. The flames roared up, igniting the desk and rug beside it. Before Rafe could stop him, Dietrich pour the last remnants of the bottle of whiskey on himself and ignited it with a piece of burning paper. Rafe attempted to put out the flames engulfing his screaming boss.

“Make it stop! Make them be quiet! The pain, the pain. My God, what is this? What is this? I can’t stand it! I don’t want to feel this!”

While Rafe tried to save his boss, the big man fought him back, pushing him away, screaming.

“I don’t deserve this! It’s that woman! It’s those people! Make them stop!. Make them stop, Rafe!” he screamed. “Make it all stop. Why am I crying? The children, the children. Oh, my God, the screaming children. Did I really do this? How can it not be their fault?”

Freyhaph grabbed a large heavy crystal paperweight and threw it at the windows. Rafe expected it to bounce off, but the corner of the crystal landed with deadly precision, and the glass cracked, splintered, and shattered. Before Rafe could grab him, his screaming employer leaped through the window, plunging seventy-five stories to a ghastly, fiery death.

 

-6-

It took hours to make certain things were secure. The police closed off Freyhaph’s office, more for the safety of the remaining inhabitants than any investigation that might ensue. Freyhaph’s paranoia had led him to keep a constant recording of everything that transpired in that office. The discs were stored in a safe room, one story down. Rafe’s accounting of the incidents of the morning was consistent with everything they saw and heard on the tapes.

The forensics guys scooped up the crumbs and other remnants of the pie for testing, just in case there was some kind of exotic poison in the pastry. They found nothing. In the meantime, Mrs. Freyhaph, Bradley, and the kitchen crew kept the other pie hidden away. They had all had small pieces and were still feeling the euphoria of the tasting. There was as much love in the kitchen as there was horror in the office above.

What little was left of Freyhaph revealed no poison, drugs, or other foreign substances to explain his behavior. Rafe was certain it was the pie, but he knew that a bunch of hard-boiled Chicago cops wouldn’t be open to the possibility of spells. Nor was he for that matter. It was just that there was something about that pie. He was certain of it.

Rafe was taken to the hospital where his burns were treated and he was released, mostly at his own insistence. He returned to Freyhaph Towers, went to his suite, and closed the door. He then made a number of phone calls, mostly to Freyhaph’s attorneys. He then called his own personal attorney.

“I’m free of him. The police didn’t find the safe. I’m going to crack it, take the evidence, and destroy it. And I think I’m going to go live in Harper’s Landing. If they’ll have me.”

The following day, the judge and all the subpoenaed residents of Harper’s Landing showed up in court. When Freyhaph and his bevvy of lawyers failed to arrive, John Hartley placed a call to the Chicago offices of Freyhaph & Sons, where he learned of the man’s demise. He relayed the information to the judge, who declared that the matter closed, at least for the time being. It was remotely possible that Freyhaph’s heirs might take up the case, though no one really thought they would.

John looked long and hard at Maggie, Charity, and Jen as they left the courthouse.

“We were here the whole time, John Hartley,” said Charity. “You know we were.”

“And yet you don’t seem surprised that this happened.”

“Oh, don’t be so sure about that. I was sure he wouldn’t be back. I just didn’t know he would choose such a final solution.”

“I swear, I don’t know how you women do it. But I know you keep this town just as it should be. So, I’m not going to rock the boat. But I sure would like to know your secret.”

“It’s easy,” said Maggie. “Easy as Pie.”

****