Monday, May 14, 2012

The Haunting

Back in 05' I was working for this company based out of Ft. Lauderdale Fl and they had a contract with the city and several private investors to operate a restaurant, cabaret and catering facility in an historical landmark called The River House. It was one of the oldest buildings in Ft. Lauderdale, which is to say; one of the oldest structures in South Florida. The River House was actually two houses built around the end of the Nineteenth Century by the Philmont Bryant's, a wealthy pioneering family who worked with Henry Flagler to push the railroad through, down to Key West. Now when I say the River House was two houses, it was actually two separate houses built by old man Bryant for his two sons (His own was just down the road and is now a museum) to live in with their families, which they did. The last family member to live in the house was Babara Estelle who passed away sometime in the 1970's where upon the property was taken over by the Chart House, a restaurant company which built a kitchen section in the middle to join the two houses. The result? A charming and beautiful though cranky restaurant on two floors with a covered terrace wrapped around each, boasting views of the extensive patios and gardens leading down to the New River and the Intercoastel.
I had worked for the company for about a year when I was offered the General Manager's spot at this magical location. Problem was haunted.
It was sometime during my first week in the place that Sal one of my waiters, came up to me during service to let me know; "J.R., table 101 wants to see you."
"Why? What's up?" I asked because its always better to know going in.
"I'm not too sure, I don't think its anything bad." Was Sal's response.
Now table 101, was a corner table on the second floor terrace over looking the river on one side and overlooked by a window from one of the inner dining rooms (Barbara Estelle's Room) on the other. Table 71 inside Barbara Estelle's Room was right up against the window and had a view of table 101 which could prove awkward, but wasn't usually an issue because aside from banquets or pharmeceutical parties we rarely used the room at all. Anyway I approached table 101 and from a distance saw about what you'd expect on a Wednesday night at an expensive restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale near where they keep the yachts. That is a tan, well dressed silver fox who kept fit and had a long legged honey about twenty years his junior seated across from him, holding hands in the candle light.
I strode right up to the table and thrust out a firm hand, he stood politely and shook with me. "My name's J.R.," I said, "I'm the manager, I was told you wanted to see me?" I spread my hands out before myself indicating my openness to oblige.
The Silver Fox put an arm confidentially around my shoulders as if we needed to create a circle of privacy, "I don't like to complain, J.R.," he explained, "it's just that we're out trying to enjoy an anniversary dinner," he spread a hand to indicate the table and the woman seated there, I took note of the vintage bottle of Chateau Haute Brion (about $250) and the goose neck decanter. "Thing is," he continued, "I just can't, not with her staring at us."
I looked over, he was pointing through the window into Barbara Estelle's room, he was pointing at table 71, table 71 was empty, in fact the entire room was empty. "Well..." I said a little doubtfully, "there's no one there now, I'll certainly look into...." I broke off because he was staring hard at me, I waited.
"You don't see her?" His voice was tense, "she's staring at us right now!"
Now the man didn't look crazy, but I was certainly beginning to entertain the thought that he might be. "Of course," I said (The customer is always right), "I'll speak with her directly, in the meantime I have a lovely table just on the other side, perhaps we can relocate you?"
This seemed to mollify him and we resolved the situation, or so it seemed. Later, toward the end of the evening I was at the Maitre D' stand checking the reservations for the following night and wishing the guests good bye when the Silver Fox and his bride came down the stairs on their way out. I called out an eager good night and he waved a distant hand and was almost out the door when he stopped to look at a picture on the wall. Now I've told you that the place was an historical landmark and the walls were covered with pictures of old Florida as well as portraits of the Philoment Bryant family and it was at one of these that he was staring. He waved me over and I could see him white beneath his tan, the picture was of a young woman from the Nineteen Twenties, a flapper, the plaque underneath read "Barbara Estelle".
"That's her," he said in a soft voice.
I felt a chill creep up my spine, "She's been dead since 1975." I heard myself say.
The man nodded and left.
It was about two AM that night when the dishwashers knocked on the door of the office where I was reviewing P&L's to tell me they were leaving. I wished them a good night, locked them out and returned to my spread sheets, I was alone. It was very quiet with only the whistling of a high wind outside and the creaking of the old Florida Pine boards from which the house was built to break the silence, and then I began to hear the faint buzz of inaudible conversation coming from below the office. There shouldn't have been anyone there but me so I picked up a flashlight and left the office to investigate but the closer I got to where I thought the noise had come from the fainter the sound became till when I got there all was quiet. I shook myself and decided it must have been my imagination, residual nerves from the "Barbara Estelle incident" I started back upstairs to retrieve my briefcase and call it a night and that's when the music started, loud, swing style music and I'm pretty sure, Billy Holiday vocals. But the music should have been turned off. Once in the office I opened the door to the music control panel and it was all dark, not only was it off, but it didn't seem to even have electricity on. I decided to leave, picked up my briefcase and the music stopped. I descended the steps in silence. At the back door in the kitchen I set the alarm and opened the door to the parking lot as a big gust of wind rushed at me and seemed to hurl me out, slamming the door behind me.
The next day I related all this to the chef, who had worked there for a number of years and he didn't seem at all surprised claiming that many people experienced unusual events there before and particularly susceptible were new managers.

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