Well, not much to say. Been goofing off a bit, but I need to get back to writing again....
Here is the rest of Chapter 6:
Dinner was nearly ready when we walked into the Nesbille home. The dining room was similar in decor to the living room in style and structure. Abby, wearing an apron and looking like everyone’s favorite grandmother, bustled Donella and myself to our places at the table, then disappeared into what I thought was the kitchen.
Charlie Windicott was already sitting at the table, a glass of wine in front of him, looking at a folder filled with papers in his lap. He looked up when we sat at our assigned places. “How was your shopping trip?” He asked, closing the folder and putting it away in his briefcase, which was behind him on a sideboard.
“Successful,” I replied, sitting at one end of the table, the one farthest away from the kitchen. Donella sat on my left, while Charlie was on my right. The table was large enough for six, so there was plenty of room for the four of us.
“We ran into Myra Goldleaf at Wihite’s store,” Donella said darkly as she helped herself to some mashed potatoes.
“I take it she made a spectacle of herself?” Abby asked from the kitchen..
“She was trying to browbeat Brenna Kettler into changing the prices of items Myra was buying!”
“That’s Myra for you,” Charlie said, placing a couple of pieces of ham on his plate. “That woman wants everything she can get without paying for it.”
“Who?” Abby asked and she strode into the room, holding a bowl with two oven mitts.
“Myra Goldleaf,” Donella said.
Abby glowered and she put the bowl on an empty hotplate. “Oh. That woman. She’s bad news at the best of times.”
“I do feel sorry for her husband,” Charlie said.
“She’s married?” I said, taking the bowl of mash potatoes from Donella and spoon a healthy helping onto my plate.
“To a man half her size and opposite disposition,” Abby said. “She bullies him unmercifully. I don’t know how he stands it.”
“We also ran into Damien,” I said, passing the mashed potatoes onto Charlie.
Donella shot me a scathing look, and Abby frowned. “Damien Brackett?” the older Nesbille asked.
“Yes. Is he usually that arrogant?”
“He’s an arrogant punk. Speaking of which,” Abby shot her niece a disapproving look. “I got a call from Sandra McIntyre this morning,” she said. “She said Damien harassed you at work last night.”
“It’s nothing,” Donella replied.
“You can’t let it go on,” Charlie said. “What he’s doing is illegal.”
“He hasn't done anything.”
“Yet,” Abby said. “Boys like him think money will allow them to do anything.”
“I can handle him,” Donella said.
“For how long?” Abby asked, slicing into her ham with a little more force than necessary.
“We could sic Margaret Teague on Damien,” I said. “I’m sure she wouldn't tolerate his actions with Donella.”
This earned me two scowls, one from Donella and one from Abby. “You've met Margaret?” Abby asked, her tone flat and cool.
Charlie coughed. “I introduced them at the office.”
Abby shot him a look of annoyance, then said, “Margaret Teague is an amoral woman who should be barred from practicing law.”
“She’s an excellent legal mind,” Charlie said.
“I’m sure she is,” Abby said, sarcasm dripping from her words. “I’m sure they hang on every word she utters in the courtroom.”
“We ran into her at the hardware store,” I said. “She said she had some college brochures she wanted Donella to see.”
If looks could kill, the one Donella gave me would have left nothing of my body. Abby’s glare turned on Donella. “Oh?”
“She was just there,” Donella said. “I got away from her as fast as I could.”
“She did,” I said.
“That woman is trouble,” Abby said. “Mark my words.”
Donella sighed. “She isn't that bad,” she said. “She has never been anything but honest and straightforward with me.”
“I don’t trust her,” Abby said.
“She’s mentored half a dozen girls in town.”
As they continued back and forth, arguing the merits of Margaret Teague, I tuned them out. In the back of my mind, I had the strange feeling that I was being watched. I looked around and spotted Cachmawri sitting in the corner of the room to my right, watching me intently. I stared back, but the cat didn't look away. Instead, it laid down and continued staring at me, as if to say, “I’m going to be here all night.”
Cachmawri’s stare began to unnerve me, but despite that, I continued staring back, not wanting to lose to a cat. Something in these yellow eyes told me that Cachmawri wasn't a stupid cat.
I turned back to the table, startled by my name being shouted. “What?”
“What are you staring at?” Abby asked.
“Cachmawri,” I replied. “He’s—” I looked back, but the corner was empty. “Er, he was in this corner over here, staring at me.”
“Speaking of which,” Donella said. “What are we going to do with Cachmawri?”
“Do?” I asked.
“Cachmawri was Lucian’s cat,” Abby said. “We’re only taking care of it now because of Lucian’s death. Technically, he’s your cat.”
“To be honest,” I said, “I don’t know anything about taking care of a cat, and It’s going to take a few weeks for me to plow through Lucian’s estate and get that sorted out. So, why don’t you hold onto him for now? We can revisit the situation down the road.”
“Fair enough,” Charlie said. “But Lucian did state in the will that Cachmawri is your cat.”
“All right,” I said. “Once I’m organized and on top of things here, Cachmawri can live with me.”
The conversation turned to other subjects, including Pro Football (Both Nesbilles were die-hard Patriot fans, while I was a Ravens fan. Charlie deferred, as he wasn't really into sports), the cooler than average temperature (leading to the speculation of climate change), and the unusual happenings that had been going on. I listened as the three of them discussed the church break-ins and desecrations, the disappearing livestock, and Lucian’s murder.
“Lucian was very troubled by the break-ins and the missing livestock,” Abby said. “He thought it was all connected.”
“How?” I asked.
“He didn't go into detail. The county investigators think it’s teenagers flirting with Satanism, but Lucian wasn't convinced it was just kids.”
“Did Lucian go out much at night?” I asked.
“On occasions, I think, but Lucian could have easily left without us here knowing about it.”
“Where is this Table Rock?” I asked.
“About six or seven miles from here,” Charlie replied. “Northeast. “it’s a mass of granite about the size of a football field, sheer drops of about seventy feet or so on three sides, while the fourth side is a steep slope. There’s a spectacular view from the top, but it also has a reputation for being a teens hangout. The Sheriff’s broken several underage drinking parties up there over the years.”
“Why would Lucian be doing out there?” I asked. “And at night?”
Charlie frowned. “I had no idea he was out there at night. I thought he’d been killed earlier in the day.”
“According to the Sheriff, Lucian was seen in town during the early evening,” I said.”So he was killed later that night.”
“I see. The Sheriff hasn't discussed the case with me much.”
“He might have been investigating the area on his own,” Abby said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I believe they found the remains of a cow up there about a month ago,” Charlie said. “Enough was left to ID it as one of the missing livestock.”
“But why?” I asked again. “Was Lucian some sort of amateur detective, solving crimes all over the world?”
“Not that I know of,” Charlie said, spearing a few green beans on his plate then putting them into his mouth.
Abby was looking at me, frowning. “You didn't know your uncle very well, did you?”
“I didn't. And that’s something I wish I could change. But it’s too late now.”
“I think the two of you would have gotten along,” Charlie said. “Lucian was a great man.”
I picked up my wine glass. “Then, a toast to a man that, to my sorrow, I am finding out about too late to say thank you to. To Lucian Merlin.”
We stood and touched glasses.
After a desert of warm apple pie, I followed Charlie up to the main house, using my own car. Donella rode up with me, my purchases in the back seat. Charles frowned as he saw the stuff I was carrying into the house. “Is that stuff really necessary?”
“I don’t intend on sleeping tonight,” I replied.
As soon as we entered the main hall, I made a beeline to the library. “I’m going to spend the night in here,” I said, putting my supplies on a love seat.
“Surely the bedroom would be more comfortable,” Charlie said.
“The only finished bedroom in this home was Uncle Lucian’s,” I replied. “And the creepy factor is too strong right now.” I looked at the room, picked up a chair and carried it to a section of bookshelves between Lucian’s painting and the doors out to the main hall. “Donalla,” I said, could you please bring that side table over?”
Charlie watched us as Donella and I arranged a pair of chairs and the side table into a close grouping. “Well,” he said. “There are a few ground rules you must follow. First, you are to remain in this house, alone from nine pm to six am. Between those two times, I will make two phone calls. You will not know when those calls will come, and you must answer both of them.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then the inheritance will pass from your hands into a number of charities.”
I stopped and looked at him. “I lose the inheritance?”
“Now you tell me?”
Charlie exhaled slowly. “I was not allowed to mention that, until now.”
“That’s cruel!” Donella said angrily.
“Where’s the phone?” I asked.
Donella picked up an old-fashion rotary-dial phone. “Here it is.”
“Will the wire reach from there to the table here?”
“I think so.”
“Bring it over and make sure the ringer is on loud.”
Donella brought it over and placed it on the table next to the chair. I picked up the receiver and listened to the dial tone for a few seconds. “It works,” I said, placing the receiver back on the cradle. “Any other surprises I need to know about tonight?”
“No,” Charlie replied. “Those are the terms. Stay here, answer both phone calls, and in the morning, Lucian’s estate will be yours.”
“Okay.” I eyed the seating arraignment critically. “This looks good enough.” I looked at Charlie. “This place have an alarm?”
“Yes,” he replied, he removed a sealed envelope and handed it to me. “The codes to activate and deactivate the system. One control panel is behind the painting nearest the front door, and there’s a second one upstairs in Lucian’s bedroom.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking the envelope.
Charlie glanced at his large gold-colored wristwatch, which seems to be a bit large for his wrist. “We have about twenty minutes before the vigil begins.”
“Good,” I said. “Charlie, could I speak to Donella for a moment, alone?”
He smiled slightly, while Donella looked puzzled. “I’ll be out in hall,” he said, walking toward the doors.
I waited until the door, then motioned to Donella to walk over to the foot of the stairs. “What do you want to talk to me about?” she asked. “Before you ask, no I will not go out with you.”
I lost my train of thought for a few seconds. “That wasn't what I was going to ask you about that,” I said. “That wasn't even in the top five things I wanted to talk to you about. Top seven, maybe, but not top five.”
A smile pulled at her lips, but she folded her arms and looked at me. “All right, what?”
I inhaled, then exhaled, inhaled again, and said, “Until last week, I had a normal life. But sine then, I've been attacked twice by thugs who wanted to kill me, been notified that my great-uncle, who I hadn't seen or communicated with in ten years has made be the sole heir of an estate in the ten figure range, found out said great-uncle was murdered and now, I have to spend the night in an empty house in order to collect the inheritance. Does that make any sense to you?”
“When you put it like that, no.”
“Good. I thought I was the only one.”
Another smile tugged at her mouth. “Roger,” she said. “This place is a fortress. No one is getting in here tonight or any other night, unless you want them in here. This is probably the safest place in the area. You’re going to be all right.”
“Is that it?”
“If I inherit—”
“When you inherit.”
“All right, when I inherit, I’m going to need someone who knows what going on around here, who is trustworthy and who isn't.”
“Me,” Donella said.
“You,” I replied. “Everyone I've talked to so far about Lucian sees him as a near saint and they expect me to be the same. Only I’m not Lucian.”
“And you want someone to tell you what Lucian would do?”
“No, I need someone who knows who Lucian would trust and who he avoided. I need someone who knows the lay of the land around here.”
“Charlie could help you there.”
“But you saw Lucian nearly every day. You and your aunt probably know Lucian better than Charlie Windicott does. Hell, I know you know him better than I do!”
She nodded slowly. “And what do I get out of it?”
“Every time you help me, I take you and your aunt out to breakfast, lunch or dinner, my treat.”
She tilted her head to consider the proposal. “All right,’ she said. “you’re on.”
Thank you,” I said. “we’ll start tomorrow.”
“Good. Anything else you want to talk about?”
“Probably, but I’ll only think of them after you’re left.”
“I’ll be by in the morning,” she said.
“There’s one other thing you can do before you go.”
“Help me get a fire started in the fireplace?”
Twenty minutes later, I was alone.
After getting the fire started (With Charlie’s help), I saw them to the front door, bade them good night, closed the door after them, and locked it. Then taking the envelope with the security codes in it, I found the control panel right where Charlie said it would be, behind a painting of a local seascape that was attached to the wall by a hinge. Following the instruction, I set the alarm and replaced the painting.
I stopped and listed to the silence. It was complete stillness, the thick stone walls blocking all outside sounds. I listened for a few seconds, creeping myself out in the process, then walked swiftly into the library, shut the door behind me and started my vigil.
Besides the fire in the fireplace, which threw off gold light on the books around the room, the only other source of light was the lamp on the table next to my chair for the evening. I had chosen a large, overstuffed chair, and I slumped into it. I turned on the radio, and after a few minutes, found a radio station with a overnight talk show, and turned it up enough so I could hear it.
I spent the next twenty minutes searching the shelves for a book to read. I chose Lord of the Rings, because of it’s size and the fact I hadn't read it in a while. I returned to my chair, opened a bag of beef jerky, a can of soda and started reading.
I’m not aware of time or the place around me when I read. Instead, my time becomes the time of the characters, my place the land the characters are in. I read the words slowly, letting them sink in, taken to a time long ago, in Middle Earth. The radio and the strange calls became white noise, keeping me from hearing the silence.
So, when the phone rang when I deep into chapter seven, I had to tear myself away from Frodo, Samwise and the rest of the Fellowship and grab the receiver. “Hello,” I said.
I half-expected to hear a hideous voice snarl, “Get out!” Instead, I herd Charlie say, “Mister Merlin, this is Charlie Windicott. This is the first of two phone calls I’ve been instructed to make to you this evening. You are doing all right?”
“I’m fine,” I replied, looking at my watch. It read eleven fifteen. “How are you?”
“Still full from Abby’s dinner. I’m on the speakerphone here with my associates, Mister Raymond Blount and Miss—”
“Miz,” Margaret said. “You know better than that by now, Chuck.”
“Miz Margaret Teague,” Charlie said in a tone of resignation. “You are still in the house?”
“I am. Just me and J.R.R. Tolkien.”
“He’s an author, Chuck,” Margaret said. “Roger’s reading.”
“Oh.” There were a few seconds of silence, then Charlie said, “Sorry.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “I’m still in the house. I’m warm, dry, and I have enough reading material to last the night. But may I speak to you in private?”
“Of course. Just a moment.”
There were a few muffled sounds and a click, then Charlie was back. “I’m alone. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“How well did Lucian know me?”
“I’m a working stiff. My apartment could fit in this library and have room left over. Assuming everything goes right, I’m about to become a millionaire. There’s a half a dozen people whop have a closer blood tie than I do, including my father. But he chose me, a great-nephew that he saw maybe half a dozen times. So, how well did Lucian Merlin know me to make me his heir?”
Charlie was silent for a few seconds. “I can’t answer that question, Roger. But for as long as I knew Lucian, which was eight years, you were the only person listed as heir in his will. Whatever his reasons for choosing you, he didn't make the choice in haste or recently.”
“Really. Lucian knew you well enough to make you his heir, and he never made a decision without knowing the facts beforehand.”
I pursed my lips. “All right,” I said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now, back to business. I will call one more time before six am.”
“Question,” I said. “Did Lucian tell you when to call, or do you determine the time of the calls yourself?”
“Lucian spelled out the time of the calls quite clearly, and that I was to make both calls in the presence of witnesses.”
“I see. Again, thank you.”
“Again, you’re welcomed. Any other questions?”
“Not at this time.”
“Very well. Talk to you soon. Good-bye.”
I hung up and leaned back in my chair. “One down,” I muttered, “One to go.”
But despite the Hobbits’ journey, I couldn't get back into the story. After several pages of non-reading, I went back to the last page I remembered, Slipped in a bookmark, and laid it on the table. Then I got up, grabbed the baseball bat and went through the house, checking every room. Silence greeted me as I went through the house, but despite the stillness, I felt someone watching me. I didn't see or hear anyone, but the feeling was there, tickling my sixth sense.
When I entered the study, I looked out the window and saw lightning in the distance. Dark clouds were forming over the ocean, blocking out the stars. “Oh, joy,” I muttered. I vaguely recalled reports of a late-night thunderstorm on the radio, but was too involved in my book to really listen.
I finished my sweep through the house and returned to the library. As soon as I stepped into the room, thunder crackled over the house, though the thickness of the stone reduced it to a mild rumble. I threw another log on the fire and went back to my chair and settle in for another reading session.
It took a few minutes, but I was back into the grove and well immersed in the Fellowship when I heard a scratching loud enough to break through my reading mode. I looked up, trying to localize the sound. The scratching came again, coming from the door. I got up, picked up my baseball bat and crept to the doors. The scratching was low, near the bottom of the door. A rat? I thought. I gripped the bat with my right hand and the door handle with my left. The scratching came again, so I yanked the door open, raised by bat and prepared to smash —
The cat sat there, it’s unusually intelligence yellow eyes looking up at me as if to say, “What took you so long?”
I lowered the bat and leaned it against the door, then leaned down and picked up the cat. I held it up so I could look him in the face. “And why are you here?” I asked him. “It’s raining outside.”
The cat looked at me and said, “Roger Merlin, you have been called.”
I froze. “W-w-what?”
“I said," the cat replied, "Roger Merlin, you have been called.”
I saw the cat’s mouth move, heard the words, but my brain couldn't reconcile the two. I yelled, dropped the cat and backpedaled, only to trip over the bat. I fell, banged my head and saw stars.
I will get around to rewriting this one of these days.....