Frost Harrow Book 3 – GHOULS – Ch.1

Welcome to FROST HARROW Book 3.  (No previous reading required.)  Please support my work via Patreon at www.PaySteve.com.  Enjoy!

NOVEMBER 1997

ONE – DESIGNS

Nancy Stapleton pressed her lips together to distribute the lipstick evenly and looked at herself in the rearview mirror of her Mercedes. She’d carefully selected the shade of red for this assignment: not so deep as to seem whorish, nor so pale as to look virginal. Whatever else she might be, Nancy was no virgin.

Nancy adjusted the fit of her carefully tailored maroon jacket. She pushed her breasts together, making sure the underwires of her purple lace bra kept everything in the right place. She looked down, decided she wasn’t showing enough cleavage, and undid the top button of her pink silk blouse.

Her charm bracelet rattled on her wrist as she reached for the door handle. She paused a moment and stroked the heart-shaped charm for good luck. Then she took a deep breath, tucked her notebook under her arm, and steeled herself to step outside.

Even this early in November, the weather was wintry in northern Wisconsin. Still, Nancy reminded herself, one must sometimes suffer to achieve one’s goals. This meeting was important, and Nancy wanted to look her alluring best.

She shook her dyed blond hair to give it just the right carefree appearance, then pushed the handle and opened the car door.

The cold blast of air from the autumn day sent a shiver down her spine and made her nipples stand up. A small smile of satisfaction played across Nancy’s face. She strode confidently across the construction site toward Grant Winslow.

Grant stood on the far side of the woodland clearing near a piece of large earth-moving equipment. Tracks from bulldozers marked the frozen earth of the site with long, zipper-like scars. Nancy placed her high heels around the ruts, deftly avoiding tripping while carefully maintaining the walk she’d perfected by watching old Marilyn Monroe movies. Construction at the site slowed in her wake as the eyes of Grant’s workers followed her as she strolled past.

Nancy noticed the admiration, but kept her attention focused on Grant. He was tall, young, and gloriously handsome. His Green Bay Packers sweatshirt and jeans clung to his lithe frame, silhouetting his powerful body against the morning sky. His light-brown work boots gave him an added touch of manliness that made Nancy feel all warm inside, despite the chill of the day. The afternoon sun made Grant’s dusty-blond hair shine and his green eyes gleam.

Nancy licked her lips.

Grant leaned casually against an unmoving bulldozer as he talked to two women, one of whom had an elaborate camcorder perched on her shoulder. TV news, Nancy quickly decided. She recognized Janelle White’s handsome, dark brown face from the reporter’s on-camera work at WFST. The camerawoman with Janelle was thin and casually dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt (with the hood rolled back) and a down vest. She had short dark hair and intense grey eyes. The woman focused her camera on Grant as he spoke.

Nancy wondered briefly why the reporters were there. Shouldn’t Grant have notified her they were coming? Dealing with the media was part of her job, after all. Then she shrugged, adjusted her coat (which gave her nipples another thrill), and strode toward the center of attention.

Grant smiled when he saw her. “Hey, Ms. Stapleton. Nice to see you. You didn’t have to come all the way out here.”

Nancy smiled back, a practiced smile that seldom failed to get a rise out of a gentleman. “I wanted to get a look at the development site before our next meeting. I assume that’s why the media are here as well?”

Grant lightly slapped his palm to his forehead. “Sorry! I should have told you. What good is an advertising and publicity agent if you don’t keep her informed, eh?”

You’d be surprised what I’m else I’m good for, thought Nancy. But she said, “Well, good thing I dropped by when I did.”

Grant nodded and introduced the reporters to Nancy. “Nancy Stapleton, this is Janelle White and Zelda Baker from WFST. Janelle, Zelda—Nancy. Her firm’s working up some advertising ideas for the development.”

The two women nodded at Nancy. Zelda had dropped her camera to her side, waiting for the next newsworthy moment. Nancy nodded back.

“Aren’t you cold, Ms. Stapleton?” Zelda asked, glancing at the businesswoman’s attire. “You look a bit… chilly.”

Nancy shook her head, causing her blonde hair to bounce pleasingly. “Oh, no. I’m fine.”

“Let me get you something,” said Grant. He motioned to his secretary, a thin redhead with a clipboard, as she walked past the group. “Kay, could you fetch Ms. Stapleton a cup of coffee?”

Kay Bailey nodded and veered toward a door set into the side of a nearby hill. She opened the door and went inside.

“Is that an office?” asked Janelle, looking curiously toward where Kay had gone. “I thought it was just a storage shed.”

Grant smiled. “Well, looks can be deceiving. That door leads to a fully-equipped earth-sheltered office space. We’ve got most of the essentials for running the Green Hills project in there, including electricity—and a coffee maker.”

Janelle pointed to the top of the hill. “So that’s what the solar panels are for? Zelda, get a shot of that.” Zelda hoisted the camera again and did as her co-worker asked.

Grant stepped away from the bulldozer and motioned the others toward the structure. “C’mon. Let’s take a look,” he said. The three women fell in behind him as he walked past.

“This office was the first thing we put up here in Green Hills.” he noted, turning and walking backwards as he spoke. He gestured with his hands, encompassing the whole site. Green Hills was a beautiful, rolling section of woodlands, dotted with small pastures. The office looked as if it were part of the unspoiled, natural surroundings. “It took the workmen only a couple of days to build it using straw bale construction techniques,” he said. “It’s based on a plan developed by Michael Reynolds—an innovative earth-friendly architect. The office is not terribly roomy, but it’s very serviceable and could be incorporated into a larger structure later on.”

“Straw bale?” asked Janelle. “What’s that?”

Nancy straightened her collar and stepped in. “A method of construction using huge straw blocks to form massive, insulated walls. It utilizes materials that are usually burned or land-filled. With proper insulation and earth sheltering, it’s very energy efficient.” She grinned, her research for the account having paid off nicely.

Grant smiled back at her, impressed. “I think you can see why I hired Nancy’s firm,” he told Janelle. The reporter nodded.

“I take my job very seriously,” added Nancy, the thrill of recognition dancing down her spine.

“Building houses of straw! The three little pigs got nothing on you, Mr. Winslow,” Zelda quipped.

*

Grant laughed, pleased that the impromptu news conference seemed to be going so smoothly. He’d had trouble convincing his workers to try these new, “green” construction techniques, but maybe now it was beginning to pay off. A good review on the local news could bring him both the investors and the buyers he needed to make the project really bloom.

He smiled again, this time to himself. Not that investors or buyers really mattered. He remained determined to carry on with Green Hills with or without bankers. He’d finance the whole thing out of his own pocket if necessary. Even if the project lost every penny, Green Hills would hardly make a dent in the Winslow family fortune. And what else was Grant going to do with the money? He already had far more wealth than he could spend in his lifetime.

Now, more than anything else, he wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and the way humanity lived on the planet. Why else would fate—which Grant didn’t much believe in—have unexpectedly put the money in his hands? He’d certainly done little to earn or deserve it. In fact, he’d consciously abandoned his Winslow birthright just a few years before.

Grant wondered briefly what his uncle, the late Abner Winslow, had been hoarding the money for. He certainly hadn’t been able to take it with him when he died. Nor had Abner been generous to humanitarian causes while he lived.

Perhaps the old man just wanted the money to shore up his considerable power. Power was something Abner Winslow never seemed to tire of. Maybe the wealth had been some kind of measuring stick in Abner’s ongoing competition with Frosthaven’s other leading family, the Frosts. Or maybe Grant’s uncle had just seen accumulation of money as an end unto itself.

Grant felt differently. His years working abroad with Greenpeace had convinced him that the wealthy had a responsibility to give back to their communities—and humanity as a whole. Far too many people trod upon the earth without thinking about their part in it. Grant Winslow was not one of those people.

As Grant walked the reporters and Nancy through the inside of the office, pointing out the building’s construction techniques and energy innovations, he chuckled silently to himself. He felt sure that whatever Abner had in mind, Green Hills would not have been it.

Uncle Abner had favored quick, cheap construction with little regard to ecological impact or energy consumption. He liked to get in and get out quickly, and with the largest possible financial rewards. Pulling up the standards and raising the consciousness of his late uncle’s construction company continued to be one of Grant’s most difficult tasks.

Though he knew his decision probably sent his uncle spinning in his tomb, Grant had vowed that Winslow Construction, Inc. would make no more flimsy stick houses.

While they were inside, Kay gave Nancy her coffee. She offered drinks to Grant and the reporters, but all of them demurred. Zelda kept the film rolling during the office tour and continued shooting when the four of them returned outdoors once more.

“If what you’re saying is true, Mr. Winslow,” Janelle said as they exited the office, “Green Hills is quite a departure from the kind of development Winslow Construction has done in the past.”

“That’s right. It’s a new kind of development for a new era of humanity,” Grant replied. “I’m really trying to make a difference here, show people the way we could—and should be going.”

“Green construction for the twenty-first century,” added Nancy, taking a sip of her coffee. “That’s why the development’s called Green Hills.”

“Kind of a big step after just returning home to assume the company’s leadership, isn’t it, Mr. Winslow?” asked Janelle. “You were away from Frosthaven for how long… two years?”

Grant nodded his head thoughtfully. “More like four, actually. But while Green Hills may be a departure from my uncle’s way of doing business, this is just a logical extension of where I’ve been headed all my life. I hope that other people, other companies, will be able to look at Green Hills and see ways they could do things better.”

“And save themselves some money while doing it,” put in Nancy.

“There was quite a hubbub when the heir-apparent to the Winslow fortune left town,” Janelle continued. “The official story said you’d joined the Navy. But my sources say that you actually ran off to join a radical environmental organization. Is that true?”

Grant laughed warmly and shook his head. “I don’t think I’d call Greenpeace radical, though some people may feel that way. My uncle certainly did. But I see Greenpeace as the world’s environmental conscience. Because my uncle and my parents didn’t agree with my decision to work with the group, they put out the story that I’d joined the armed forces.”

Nancy stepped in. “While Mr. Winslow has enormous respect for the military, he needed to follow his own path. He’s happy to set the record straight on where he’s been the past years. Remember, the ‘peace’ part of Greenpeace is just as important as the ‘green’ part. They’re a nonviolent organization dedicated to environmental change through grass-roots political action. I can provide you with more information on them if you’d like.”

Grant nodded at Nancy. Her years of working in advertising and spin control were obvious and, at this point, appreciated. He was glad she’d shown up unexpectedly to help him handle the reporters. Though he felt comfortable with the technology and what his company was doing, he didn’t have much experience dealing with the press. Nancy, on the other hand, was like a shark among guppies.

It’s better to be with a shark when swimming among them, Grant reminded himself.

Nancy nodded back at him and her pale blue eyes flashed her pleasure at how well they were doing.

“So,” Janelle said to Grant, “did your experience with Greenpeace influence this project in any way?”

High hanger over the plate, Grant thought, more than a little pleased. He led the three women toward the center of the construction site, a small grassy hill. “Working around the world with many different peoples reinforced my understanding that we must respect the earth and take care of it,” he explained. “We have to use our resources wisely if we are to pass on to our children the same high standards of living that we enjoy ourselves.”

He stopped atop the rise and indicated the breadth of the Green Hills development area with his arms. “Look around. When our construction is finished, these hills will look as alive and green as they do now. The people of Green Hills will be living with the earth, not on it. All the buildings in the development will utilize energy efficient, environmentally friendly materials and passive solar construction. The housing we’re helping pioneer will require little energy from the outside world. The wind, sun, and rain will provide most—if not all—of the development’s power needs.

“In fact, we hope—one day—to be selling excess electricity to the power company.” Grant beamed, caught up in the vision he believed with all his heart. He folded his arms across his chest and gazed over the site like a benevolent ruler. Though earth-movers chugged and belched nearby, in his mind Grant could already see the future: homes and business carefully hidden by the warm earth, solar panels and windmills dotting the landscape but not ruining the view.

It would take time, but he knew his people—and the rest of the world—would adapt. Then he pursed his lips and looked down toward his boots. God, you’re getting full of yourself, he thought. Watch it, Winslow.

“This all sounds very nice, Mr. Winslow,” said Janelle. “But dreams cost money. Aren’t you afraid you’ll build just another dream that’s unaffordable for most Americans?”

Grant snapped back to reality. “No,” he replied. “We’re setting aside areas of Green Hills for low-to-moderate income housing and apartments, as well as business and upscale dwellings. We expect that many of the people who live here will have ‘sweat equity’ in their homes, too. Houses that require little energy input or maintenance are inexpensive to live in. This will be a community joined together by a desire to live with the planet rather than one separated by socio-economic factors.”

“Mr. Winslow is committed to making this community a model for the rest of the United States,” Nancy elaborated. “The rest of the world, really. If you’d like to see what it will look like, I have a detailed map, architect’s plans, and a diorama of the project in my office.”

Janelle nodded, but her eyes remained skeptical. “Whenever’s convenient.”

“Call my secretary and we’ll set something up,” Nancy said brightly.

“Well,” Grant said, “that seems to be as good a place as any to stop for today.” His eyes lit on a sapphire blue Saturn as it turned up the road and into the site parking area. A broad grin crept across his handsome face. “If you need anything else, call my office and Kay will arrange it.”

“Thanks, Mr. Winslow,” said Janelle. “We’ll be in touch.” She hooked her thumb toward the news van. Zelda started to trot downhill.

*

Nancy beamed at Grant, her pale blue eyes flashing with pleasure. “So…” she began, exhaling pointedly, “I think that went well.”

Grant nodded. “Yeah. Thanks for helping out. I probably should have called you when I found out they were coming. It was good luck you showing up when you did. Why did you come out anyway?”

Nancy stepped next to him to shield herself from the wind. Now that the excitement of the interview was over, she realized just how cold the November day actually was. She shivered slightly under her suit and silk blouse. She pulled her maroon notebook out from under her arm and flipped back pages with her red-painted nails.

“I had a few preliminary concept sketches for the development logo,” she said, showing him what she’d brought.

Grant glanced at them, but only in a cursory way. “Mmm. They look good,” he replied, but his attention remained focused downhill.

Nancy looked in that direction and saw Ivy Frost ambling up the slope. Ivy had dressed more sensibly than Nancy. She wore a heavy coat over what Nancy assumed must be a business dress. A pair of old boots covered her feet and the dark nylons on her legs. She must have put the boots over her work shoes.

Practical, thought Nancy, but hardly alluring.

Ivy smiled at them and waved as she trudged uphill. The breeze tossed her wavy black hair back from her face, and a glint of sunlight flashed off her blue-grey eyes. She had the handle of a fairly large carpet bag wrapped around one elbow.

Nancy frowned. She knew she wasn’t going to get any further with Grant this afternoon. Turning her attention back to the notebook, she asked, “So, which one do you want to pursue?”

Grant glanced down again and stabbed one of the concepts with his finger. “This,” he said. “But try to make it look a little less nineteen-seventies. We don’t want people to think we’re all hippies out here.”

Nancy chuckled. “Perish the thought. This one here, you’re sure?” she asked, leaning forward to give him a better view down her blouse.

But if Grant noticed, he gave no sign. “Mm hmm,” he said. “Thanks, Nancy. I’ll call you soon.” He began to walk down the hill toward Ivy.

Nancy sighed and followed him down, being careful not to lose her balance in her high heels. They’d been ruined by the muddy ground, of course, but they showed off her calves nicely. Maybe the sacrifice would pay off one day.

*

“Hey, Ivy,” Grant called. “What brings you out here?”

Ivy grinned. “As if you didn’t know,” she said. The two of them stopped side by side and gazed into each other’s eyes.

Nancy nodded at them as she wobbled past, and Grant gave her a perfunctory wave.

Ivy leaned up and kissed him. He put his arm around her shoulders, and she turned downhill to face the development. “Well?” he asked. “What do you think?”

“Looks like an awful lot of mud.”

“Mud now,” he said, “but next spring a new kind of housing.”

“Seems like a bad time of year to start,” she said, “especially up here in the wild, woolly north country.”

“Well, I wanted to get going before the snow got bad. Once we get a couple of the foundations in, we’ll have plenty to do until it gets warm again. I’d like to have the restaurant/inn up by summer tourist season.”

Ivy gave him a quick hug. “I’m sure you will—but I still think you’re a mad dreamer.”

He hugged her back. “I must be mad, because I only dream of you.”

She blushed. “I brought lunch,” she said, digging into her carpet bag.

“Ah, I thought that smelled better than your average purse.”

“After all the picnics you’ve taken me on over the last couple of months,” Ivy replied, “I figured I owed you one.”

“This is from the kitchens of chez Frost, then?”

She shook her head. “Nope. Chez Ivy.”

Grant looked at her, with mock surprise. “Ivy Silver Frost!” he gasped, “I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I’ve been practicing to keep up with you,” she said, handing him a steaming thermos. “Chicken soup for starters—my mother’s recipe, then some good Brooklyn-style deli sandwiches.”

He pecked her on the cheek. “Mm. Thanks. You’ve brightened this cold November afternoon.”

Ivy glanced downhill. At the bottom, Nancy almost slipped on some mud, but caught herself in time and headed, with Monroe-like grace, for her Mercedes. Again, construction slowed as the workers watched her go.

“What do you think’s keeping her warm?” Ivy asked.

Grant chuckled. “Pure thoughts and good intentions, I’m sure.”

Nancy chatted briefly with the news crew, hopped into her car, and sped down the dirt road toward town. The news crew lingered behind, doing some wrap-up work.

“I think she likes you, Grant,” Ivy mused.

“Nancy? Ivy, she’s almost twice my age.”

“I don’t think she’s quite that old. But look at the way she’s dressed. A bit chilly for just a business trip, wouldn’t you say?”

“Maybe,” said Grant, “but she’s always struck me as a bit of a fashion plate: more interested in style than comfort. She’s dressed that way as long as I can remember—even when I was in high school.”

“You know,” Ivy said, “I kind of remember her from when I was a kid—before my parents moved us east. She used to hang around with Uncle Daniel, I think. She doesn’t look much different.”

Grant nodded. “She takes good care of herself, I suppose.”

Ivy looked up at him. “Will you love me if I don’t look half that good when I’m forty?”

He smiled back at her. “Ivy, I can’t imagine you looking any different than you do right now.” He was about to lean down and kiss her, but a commotion from near the tree line caught his attention.

“Hey, boss, come quick!” Bobbi Weis called from downhill. She jogged uphill toward him, her blonde hair bouncing under her hard-hat, waving her gloved hand for him to follow.

“Bobbi, what is it?” Grant asked. He handed his thermos back to Ivy and headed downhill. She tucked it in her bag and followed.

“José found something I think you ought to see,” said Bobbi. She turned and headed back down, angling in the direction of one of the big earth movers.

Grant and Ivy followed after her. Work at the site had stopped completely now and the other workers were gathering around the machine.

José Martinez met them halfway. He was a short, stocky man with wiry black hair and a small mustache. He tipped his hard-hat back on his forehead.

“I was just pushing the dirt like you told me, boss, being real careful of the tree roots,” he told Grant, “when I spotted something strange in the shovel.”

“What is it?” Grant asked.

“See for yourself,” said José.

Grant pushed his way through the news crew and the gathering crowd of his workers to where the Caterpillar sat idling.

Randolph Byrd, Grant’s foreman, shook his head as the Winslow heir passed. “It’s bad luck,” he said gruffly. “This is gonna cost us time and money.”

Several long, white sticks protruded from the dark earth filling the earth-mover’s scoop.

For a moment, Grant wondered what the commotion was about. Then he realized the white objects weren’t sticks, they were bones—human bones.

CONTINUED…

Read the FREE Frost Harrow Halloween stories, too!
The Weeping Ghost” (2012), “A Trace of Violet” (2013),  “Lunchroom Zombies” (2014), “Omens & Visitations” (2015), “Fata Morgana” (2016), and “At the Appointed Hour” (2017), and “Devil’s Lake” (2018), “A Walk on Witches’ Hill” (2019), “The Beast of Bay Road” (2020), “Cat Burglars” (2021)

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