|Posted by Paul McCall on April 16, 2019 at 4:30 AM|
Paul J. McCall
Another freshly printed page of dialog, reviewed and found guilty of crimes against prose, crushed into a small tight ball followed the pages before it. Rejected and receiving the same judgment and the same verdict, the sentence now carried out; a long toss to the far side of the office, going for yet another three points, an air ball, straight into the wire wastebasket Paul had placed a month ago on top of Miss Moneypenny’s desk.
“Ho, what do you say to that Miss Moneypenny? I’m getting good at something.” Paul leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face with both hands. He dropped his arms as though his brain cut a switch and dangle them by his sides, his knuckles brushing the floor like an Ape. “Damn, I’ve got to crack this.” He said aloud.
Paul had recently turned fifty-five and though he’d managed to make a living writing columns and short stories, the success he expected when he launched his writing career never grew. You can a good writer but if you don’t have connections in this business it’s you against the world. Nine years ago, his wife, Irene, divorced him; the divorce hit him hard and certainly holds responsibility for his staying single all these years. Even now, he keeps her picture on his desk, where it’s been since the day they were married. He tried to stay positive and focus on the benefits of single life, such as having the time and freedom to write without restrictions.
Whether he was a good writer or not wasn’t the question, he had been at it too long to give up now. There had been many times he considered quitting, but he knew he would never stop writing. All he could do was keep banging away on the keyboard.
He was in too deep now, it had cost him his marriage and was part of the list of reasons his former wife, Irene had used in court as grounds for divorce.
“He never made a serious effort to find time for our marriage; I just can’t live like that,” Irene testified as she wept during the proceedings. Paul wept as well, for he had no defense. He wanted to succeed and he knew he could not change.
Paul suffered countless rejections and felt his age was constantly gaining on the final chapter in his life. He was becoming more depressed.
He felt all those down the drain years of living in Boston, busting his ass, losing his marriage and receiving unfair offers. Paul concluded he must make a drastic change in his life.
Boston wasn’t serving him. Determined a change of environment might spark some form of fresh inspiration, he decided to move out of Boston and head for the country, out in the Berkshires somewhere betting all his chips on a change of environment.
Out where writers like, Nathaniel Hawthorne, W. E.B. Du Bois, Herman Melville, William Cullen Bryant and Edith Wharton found inspiration. He hoped to tap into whatever it was they found out there. It was a gamble, but it may transfer that spark, that inspiration he needed.
The realtor he had recruited and employed to find this oasis was Mrs. Janet Hendricks of Lavish homes and properties. Since she first began the job, she had been keeping in contacted with Paul every couple of weeks or when she found a new prospect, letting him know she was on the job.
Paul worked out of his apartment; “Miss. Moneypenny, I’m gonna fire you if you don’t start helping out around here!” Paul said addressing the mannequin his buddies snuck into his office four years ago as a prank. They set her up behind the desk near the entrance to Paul’s office. When asked about the empty desk, Paul always joked how he needed a secretary but could not afford one.
As a prank, his friends provided one in the form of a mannequin. Paul named her Miss. Moneypenny after Ian Fleming’s James Bond secretary in the movies. Paul would toss his hat on to Miss Moneypenny’s head using her as a hat and coat rack, claiming, “Miss. Moneypenny has to do something around here! “Miss. Moneypenny’s left arm was outstretched as though she were gesturing toward the door. Paul used the arm as a coat hanger. She had become an official part of Paul’s office décor.
One late sunny morning while sitting at his desk, scribbling on his yellow legal notepad, a shadow shot across the top of Paul’s desk it was the shadow of a passing bird from outside the window and it drew his attention to the large window. He spun around and looked up from the large swivel chair. He saw a perfectly beautiful sunny afternoon wasting away before his eyes. Like hypnosis, it drew him out of his chair and to the window. First, he looked up at the blue sky; slowly he scanned lower to the top of the buildings and down to the tops of the few trees and finally to the ground. He began watching the people buzzing about their busy lives. He picked out one and focused, trying to figure out what might be going on in that head at that moment.
A heavy knock on the door snapped him out of his hypnotic daze. Turning and dropping his notepad on his desk then passing Miss. Moneypenny on his way to the front door. Opening the door an instant smile came to his face.
“Jack”! How the hell are you?” Jack Webster and Paul grew up together as kids and neighbors and had been close childhood friends. Paul swung the door open with a big smile and a welcome look on his face.
“That’s what I came to ask you, you, old buzzard, you haven’t called, you haven’t been to the club. I thought you might have croaked on me or something?” Jack said as he entered.
“You couldn’t have come at a better time; I was just about to hang myself!” Paul said laughingly as he led Jack to the backroom, he called his office.
“Hey, you’re funny,” Jack said with a scornful smile.
“No, no such luck, I’m not dead, I’ve just been so damned busy trying to find a house” Paul replied.
“Yeah, I heard about that, any luck?” Paul shook his head as he held out his left-hand palm up gesturing for Jack to sit down as he walked around his desk to his chair, “No, No, nothing yet” Paul said as he sat down, sounding like he didn’t want to talk about it.
“You sure you’re doing the right thing, moving way out there?” Jack said as he took a seat across from Paul, his eyebrows morphing into a concerned V shape.
“No doubt about it, Jack, I need to do this!” Paul said with confidence.
“You’re going to be away from all the action way out there, and alone!”
Paul laughed, “What action? The last time I sold a good money maker I had hair. All I got here is Miss. Moneypenny!”
Jack laughed, “You auto to write more humor.”
“Hey, how’s Elizabeth?” Paul asked trying to change the subject. “Great, in fact, she was asking about you, and made me promise to check in on you.”
“Ah, she’s a sweetheart.” Paul paused as he reminisced the last time they all got together.
“So?” … Jack said.
Paul tried to read his implication, “So, what?” Paul replied, snapping out a momentary drift into the past.
“So - how are you doing?” Jack said leaning forward in his chair, his forearms on his thighs.
“I’m good, you know writers Jack. I’m a keyboard Hermit when I’m writing.”
“Hum…” Jack looked over at Miss. Moneypenny while Paul was pretending to be looking for something on his desk.
“Listen, Paul, why don’t you forget this house stuff for awhile?” Jack said with true concern. Paul looked up at Jack.
“You know, the thought has occurred to me to call it off, for a while at least, I’m beginning to burn out over it!” Paul said.
“Paul listen, I’m on my way to the Sticky Wicket for some lunch, why don’t you take a break and join me, get out of here for awhile? I’ll buy the drinks.” The Sticky Wicket is the Pub and restaurant where he and Paul often went to relax. They knew waitresses and many of the regulars and the place served great food and drinks and it’s within walking distance from Paul’s apartment. Paul knew Jack was right.
“Yeah…yeah, let me put this stuff away”. Paul stuffed things in draws and put a freshly edited manuscript in his lower desks compartment and locked it. Getting up he went to grab his notebook.
“No! Put that down” Jack demanded. Paul paused a moment, looked at Jack with a smirk and dropped the notebook back down on the desk.
“You’re hard!” Paul said. As they were going through the door the phone rang.
“Leave it!” Commanded Jack, Paul thought for a second,
“Nah I can’t it might be about the house” he walked over and picked up the phone while Jack stood impatiently rolling his eyes.
“Hello… ah, Mrs. Hendricks, I’ve been meaning to call you, listen, Mrs. Hendricks, I appreciate all you have done and those two places you showed me were very nice but its been three months now and I think it’s time I rethink this …”
Paul stopped and listened. “You did, yes that’s right, the more secluded the better, god no, that’s fine I need some piece and quiet, when can you show me? … This Sunday would work great for me.” Paul said as he looked at his empty appointment book. “Excellent, what time, nope, one o’clock would work great; your office, right, I’ll see you then… I will, thank you, Mrs. Hendricks, you too, bye now.”
Paul returned the phone to its receiver and looked at Jack with a conquering grin.
“She found an old Victorian out in the boondocks. Now I’m going to enjoy those drinks you promised. I haven’t been to the club for a while and if I get drunk I got you to blame for it!” Jack laughed.
“Hey, I’ll be glad to take the blame besides I have to look out for the elderly, right!” Jack said as the door slammed behind them.
The fallowing Sunday was another bright, sunny day with occasional popcorn clouds in a blue sky. Paul hopped into his aged 1992 blue Dodge Grand Caravan. He had removed all the seats so he could use it like covered pickup truck. He drove to Mrs. Hendricks’s realty office arriving promptly at 1:00pm.
She saw Paul pull up the driveway from her office window and hurried out to meet him. When she got outside Paul was getting out of his van.
“Good afternoon Paul,” she said as she walked toward him with her hand outstretched to engage in a handshake.
“Good afternoon yourself, nice day huh?” he said as they shook hands.
Mrs. Hendricks had a slight look of anguish under her smile as she spoke, her head cocked to one side thanks to the bright sun.
“I hope you don’t mind my rush, I know I told you I would drive you out there but I got a call and I have a meeting at 6:00pm, so we really should get started so we have time for you to give the place a thorough inspection, unless you would like to reschedule?”
Paul did not hesitate.
“No, that’s fine the sooner the better for me, let's go!” Paul was eager to see the place. “You can follow me, oh and please, call me Jan.”
“Lead on Jan, I can’t wait to see the place.” He followed Jan’s car, the drive was a long one and Paul became aware that buildings seemed to be growing further apart. Homes had more yard space and soon buildings and homes had become minutes from each other. It had been an hour and forty minutes since they left the real estate office and Paul’s seat was beginning to bother him.
Mrs. Hendricks’s car took a sudden right turn off the road; Paul followed and found himself on a narrow gravel road flanked by two waist-high stone walls that looked to be protecting two rows of neatly spaced Oak trees. Mrs. Hendricks’s car was stirring up dust, to the point where Paul could hardly see her car. Then he began to catch short glimpses of the house through the dust and the trees. Mrs. Hendricks’s car came to an abrupt stop in a large cloud of dust. She hopped out of her car without waiting for the dust cloud to dissipate and suffered the consequences.
She began to stretch her stiffened body back into shape after the long ride. The dust cloud-driven on a calm breeze consumed her, she got dust in her hair; eyes, nose, mouth and her clothes received a powdering. She pulled a hanky from her purse and whipped her eyes and face and then. Paul pulled up behind her car, stirring up another dusty cloud.
He leaned forward over the steering wheel to glimpse up at the house through the windshield as he wrenched his van into park. He couldn’t help laughing as the dust cloud his van created now consumed Mrs. Hendricks. The breeze finally escorted the cloud of dust away as though it were a huge ball of cotton candy. When Mrs. Hendricks’s image became clear, she was standing like a statue glaring at him.
Hopping out of his van, he couldn’t take his eyes off what he had just caused. Struggling not to laugh,
“I am so sorry Mrs. Hendricks, I wasn’t thinking, I was looking at the house I’m so sorry!” Paul had all he could do to keep his face straight. He quickly changed the subject.
“Wow, this looks great!” Her glare vanishing as she turned her attention to the old three-story Victorian home.
“Wait till you see the inside” Mrs. Hendricks replied with a performed smile. Paul couldn’t help making an ill attempt at a bit of humor,
“can I still call you Jan?” she glared at him curiously.
Paul stood for a moment to admire the façade. Both corners of the house had rectangular three-story towers set at forty-five-degree angles from the face of the front facade. Their roofs were pyramid style roofs and were topped with and artistic four-foot dowel wooden spikes. A broad stairway of ten stairs leads to an elevated crescent-shaped porch enclosed with a waist high wall upon which were two pillars supporting the porch roof.
“Would you like to go inside?” Mrs. Hendricks held an outstretched arm in a jester offering the stairway to Paul.
“I’d like to walk around the outside first if you don’t mind?” He answered.
“Not at all, here, let me show you around,” she said as she hurried to take the lead around the left side of the house. Once near the rear of the house,
“It looks like it’s in pretty good shape!” Paul said.
“It is it’s in very good shape.” She replied. At the rear corner of the house, Paul saw a set of stairs that led to a small porch with a roof housing a single door.
“What’s this, the back door?” Paul asked.
“No, this was used as the servant’s entrance.” She replied. Paul chuckled,
“Well I’m not going to have to worry about that, I’m looking for peace and quiet!”
Mrs. Hendricks paused “well to tell you the truth that’s why it’s selling so low, it’s so secluded,” she said as she brushed the toe of her right shoe through some overgrown grass to remove some dust as she spoke.
Behind the house, next to the barn Paul spotted an old green 1949 Oldsmobile Club Coupe; complete with a windshield visor that made the old car look like it was wearing a baseball cap. Apart from the weathering, the car looked to be in pretty good shape.
“What the hell is this?” Paul remarked.
“Don’t worry about that, I can have that hauled out of here by Wednesday, no problem if you think you might buy.” Mrs. Hendricks assured.
“Oh no, no way, are you kidding me?” Paul said as he pressed his nose against the passenger’s window, his hands cupped to shield his eyes from the sun as he looked through the glass at the interior of the old car.
“Is it open,” he said as he tugged on the door handle, it opened. He crouched down and inspected the inside. “Not bad,” he said as he poked his head inside and looked around, there were dozens of dead bees lying on the hot dashboard. Backing out he stood up and closed the door. “Wow, you could bake cookies in there.” Then he looked at Mrs. Hendricks. “No Jen, this stays,” he ordered. Mrs. Hendricks giggled,
“Great then, no extra charge” she laughed shaking her head.
“Oh yeah this is a keeper,” Paul said unable to take his eyes off the old car.
“Well how about we go inside” Jen suggested. Now, Paul was like a boy hunting for treasure.
“Not just yet, I wanna check out the barn first, have you been in here?” he asked as he approached the small door built into the larger closed sliding door.
“Well actually, yes I have but it’s pretty much empty.” Paul opened the door and stepped in. immediately to his right from the entrance and against the front wall was a door. Paul opened it and found a stairway cluttered in cobwebs leading up, he gazed up and saw that it turned left at a landing about six steps up. He looked back at Mrs. Hendricks and with a tilt of his head he said, “Common up”. Staying close to the front door she said,
“I’ll wait right here thank you,”
“What, no sense of adventure?”
“None what so ever” she replied. He turned back and climbed the staircase to the next level. Above a small third level was a small lookout tower at the very top of the barn.
Unable to resist he climbed up into the tower. It had windows on all four sides and he could see green fields, old stone walls, hedgerows, and treelines and far in the distance he could make out a lake or a pond. “You don’t know what you’re missing Mrs. Hendricks!” Paul hollered down. “You really ought to take a look.”
No thanks, I’m fine.”
Paul came back down talking to himself all the way, “
This place is beautiful, perfect dam I can’t wait.”
Left of the barns entrance and next to a front window was a door that led to an add on addition housing a lower level that looked like a sort of a repair shop for farm equipment. Back in the main section of the barn along the left wall toward the rear of the building two stalls for horses and at the far end, a tack shed complete with workbench and tools. Across from there on the right wall were three more horse stalls and up next to the stairs going up to the loft was a glass office space.
“Wow, look at this, I can’t believe you didn’t want to come in here!” Paul said.
“Too many spiders, I hate bugs!” Mrs. Hendricks replied, her face twisted in a, get me outta here look. She was still standing within jumping distance from the exit.
“Common, there’s not that many bugs,” Paul said as he peered through a dusty old window complete with spiders webbed.
“Only has to be one.” Mrs. Hendrix replied. “Well, that does it for me I’ll wait for you outside.” Mrs. Hendricks said as she bolted for the door at the double quick.
“Alright, I can check it out later,” Paul said, reluctantly flowing Mrs. Hendricks out of the barn. “Now, can I show you the inside of the house?” she pleaded.
“Lead the way” he resigned and flowed. He turned briefly walking backward as he gave the old car next to the barn one more anticipating look while thoughts of restoration danced in his head.
Mrs. Hendricks led him through the ground floor rear entrance. “Where would you like to start first Mr. Hollander?” She asked politely,
“How about the bathroom.” Paul replied. Mrs. Hendrix’s surprise was apparent on her face. Paul then added, “It was a long drive.” He had a look of anguish on his face.
“Oh sure, it’s this way.” She led him to a hallway. “That door on the right” she motioned.
Paul couldn’t help slamming the door behind him. He tore at his jeans as he rushed to the toilet, struggling with the zipper. There was no way he could hold back any longer and when he finally managed to free himself; like a runaway garden hose pee went everywhere. When he got things under control, he stood inspecting the damage as he finished emptying his bladder. After a couple shakes and a zip up, he looked for toilet paper. There was none! He couldn’t leave the place like that! He thought with horror,
“Damn, what if Mrs. Hendricks had to use the bathroom too?” He searched his pockets for a handkerchief, but he had none.
Then innovation struck, he put the seat down, sat and took off one shoe and removed his sock then he put his shoe back on. He proceeded to use his sock to wipe up the pee. Rinsing the sock and ringing it out in the sink, he kept glancing anxiously toward the door. Then he folded the precious forty-dollar sock neatly and put it in his jacket pocket. Those were forty-dollar socks and there was no way he was going to throw them away!
When he came out Mrs. Hendricks got right back to work, “The kitchen is right here, we might as well see that first.”
“Lead the way!” Paul said relieved in more ways than one that she did not need to use the bathroom. The kitchen was located on the ground floor in the rear of the house. Paul had never been in a kitchen like this before. It was large; it had a long table island in the center of the room. Above the table island was a pot and pan rack hanging from the ceiling.
On the left wall as you faced toward the left side of the house was glassed in cupboards that ran the entire length of the room, beneath them was a long work counter. Below the work counter were panel wooden cupboard doors. On the right side of the room stood an old cast iron wood stove that had been converted to gas. A table was against the front wall with four chairs. The wall had what looked like a window to nowhere but was instead a dumbwaiter.
On the back wall was a long soapstone sink sectioned off into three large tubs each with its own set of faucets. A large empty wicker birdcage hung from a hook on a tall stand that stood against the wall near the sinks. Next to the cage stand a chest of draws with various books on birds, mostly pictures of yellow Canneries.
Near the wooden cupboards and next to the rear exit pushed back in the corner, a large green leather easy chair, next to the chair and within arm's length, stood an end table. It had an ashtray designed for pipes and cigars placed upon it.
Two small clotheslines were strung in the kitchen, one strung over the sinks and another off to the side of the stove; to Paul they seemed out of place.
“What are these for?” asked Paul.
“I was told they were used to hang hand towels for the cook’s and maids to use to wipe their hands.”
“Man, I never saw anything like this, this is great!” Paul said in awe. In the front left corner of the kitchen was the hallway entrance that led to a door on its right it opened to a good size room that looked like it was a break room the service people used when relaxing. Against the left wall of the narrow hall was a stairway leading to the first floor, at the foot of the stairway the door that lead to the boiler room in the cellar.
“The main floor upstairs is next, I’m sure you’re going to love it.” Mrs. Hendricks said as she climbed the stairs ahead of Paul. Paul nodded and flowed, his eyes and head constantly checking out walls, ceiling, and floors. Until he returned his attention to where he was going and he looked up to find his face uncomfortably close to Mrs. Hendricks’s behind, prompting him to stop a moment.
“Be careful it’s hard to see, the light switch is at the top of the stairs.”
“I’m right behind you,” Paul said grinning from ear to ear. At the top of the stairs was a long hallway that ran all the way to the rear of the house. Mrs. Hendricks paused with a smirk, “Ah if you need to use the bathroom up here, it’s at the end on the left.” Paul returned her smirk,
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Okay then, this way to the den” she turned left, Paul flowed. Unlike in the kitchen, the ceilings were high. Entering the den there was a grand fireplace of dark marble with a carved wooden mantle supported by scrolled carved pillars on each side. “Nice!” Paul remarked as he looked around.
The living room was accessed from the den through two French doors. They opened to a spacious living room with a chandelier hang from the center of the ceiling. At the very front of the room was the interior of the tower section he had seen from the outside. As Paul glanced around the living room Mrs. Hendricks gestured with her left arm toward the opposite side of the house. “There are two large mirror image style rooms like these on the opposite side of the house.” Mrs. Hendricks was beginning to show some anxiety as time crept closer toward four o’clock.
As she led the way she spoke; “This first room was used as the library by the previous owner.” She explained. The library was empty of furniture but surprisingly many of its books were still on their shelves. “Oh, I’m going to have a ball in here going through all this stuff,” Paul said as his eyes scanned the shelves checking out the spines. Mrs. Hendrix diapered into the study. When he noticed, Paul hurried after her, there, against an outside wall to the left was an upright 19th century piano. “Hey, this place is full of surprises!” he said as he examined yet another pleasant bonus.
“Do you play?” asked Mrs. Hendricks.
“Well… no, but with this, I just may try to learn.” He replied.
Mrs. Hendricks was becoming confident that she had just about closed a deal. Paul looked up at the piano; where a prominent rectangular light spot was present upon the wall. “Looks like there must have been a picture or mirror hanging there huh?”
“A little paint or wallpaper will cover that.” Mrs. Hendricks assured him. “Na… I love it just as it is, that’s no problem.” To the right of the piano, in the far front of the room where the three windows, one facing front, one facing right and one facing left. Paul checked out the views. “This could be a great place for my desk. I can see anyone approaching from here!” he said as he checked out each window.
“Yes, it would.” Mrs. Hendricks agreed. “No one could sneak up on you here!”
“Will you be living here alone?” she asked.
“Just me and Miss. Moneypenny!” he said turning back and looking at her. “Is she your girlfriend?” She looked confused.
“She’s my secretary.”
“Your secretary is going to live with you?”
“Oh, it’s not what you think, Miss. Moneypenny’s not alive.
“What!” Mrs. Hendrix looked extremely confused now. Paul laughed when he saw her face. “She’s is a mannequin Jan.” He explained.
“She was a prank a couple friends of mine pulled on me years ago when I complained about not having any office help, weird huh?” Mrs. Hendrix shook her head,
“I was curious about why you would want such a big place if you’re going to be living alone, is all?” She said as the color returned to her face.
“Well, it’s not really that big, after all, those years living in that cramped apartment in the city I need space. Just Miss. Moneypenny and me; we need a change from the city life. My apartment is like living on a small boat, no space, you know what I mean?” He said looking back at her over his left shoulder.
“Yes, well you two will have plenty of space here.
“Okay, we still have the second and third floors to see, you ready?”
“Yeah, let’s do it, lead the way!” Paul said. A pair of double doors opened to another hall that brought them to the front main entrance. The entrance had two large double doors. The stairway up to the second floor was against the left wall as you faced the entrance. They climbed the stairs as Mrs. Hendricks described what he was about to see, Paul noticed the echoing of their voices throughout the empty hallway. When he looked up, he once again found his face a bit close to Mrs. Hendricks’s behind.
“A little hollow sounding isn’t it?” Paul said as he ascended the staircase and having to remind himself that, Mrs. Hendricks was a married woman.
“I think once you have some furniture and some carpeting covering these stairs that will dissipate.
The second floor had a wide hallway and at the end was a bathroom. Off the bathroom a door that leads to a screened-in porch. “This is nice, what a view.” Then Paul pointed, “Look at that, that looks like the lake or a pond I saw from up in the Barn tower over there?” He said as he placed his palms on top of the waist-high wall and leaned his face almost against the screen.
“I think it’s called Hays Pond?” Mrs. Hendricks replied. Paul soaked up the view.
Paul looked out above the treetops and green fields, enjoying a moment of silence. “You know living in the city; I forgot places like this still exist.” Turning his head to glimpse Mrs. Hendrix’s response and expression he found she had gone back inside.
Finding her back in the hallway nervously looking at her watch, it was obvious that she was growing anxious about the time. Her anxiety insidiously increased with every minute that ticked by. Leading Paul the next room, she tries to conceal her urgency.
“This left side of the second floor has two good size room which mimicked the library and study directly below on the first floor.” She said as she led the way. Paul was checking out the high ceilings. “These two rooms were used as bedrooms by the last occupants.” Mrs. Hendrix explained as she made a sudden u-turn and returned to the hall.
Crossing the hall, the rooms on the opposite side of the house had the same floor plan in reverse. Two features however were unique on this side, the first was a kitchenette the other was a door that Paul just had to open. The door was stuck, and Paul had to tug a couple of times until it sprung open.
Dust particles swirled in the beams of sunlight coming in through the openings in the Curtains from the window next to the door. Paul looked down the repelling cobwebbed and very dusty old stairway. “Where does this go?” Paul asked as he held the door open and peered down the flight of stairs.
“Well, I’m told…” Paul interrupted her,
“I thought you said this place wasn’t occupied?” Mrs. Hendrix looked puzzled. “It’s not; no one has lived here for over a year or more, why?” Paul was still holding the door open wide with his left hand high on the edge of the door, his right foot placed behind his left leg and resting on the toe of his right shoe exposing his sockless ankle. Mrs. Hendrix took notice as Paul nodded his head toward the stairway inviting her to take a look.
Mrs. Hendrix cautiously moved closer and timidly looked down the dusty staircase. After a moment, “I don’t get it, what?” she looked at Paul with a dumbfounded look.
“Well, if those aren’t rat or mouse tracks and droppings in the dust, then we got some mighty small ghost’s in this place!”
Mrs. Hendrix jumped back; her head snapped toward him as though it was spring loaded, locking eyes with Paul. Paul was surprised by her reaction sensing something odd. They stared at each other momentarily, “What?” Paul said with a smirk,
“You don’t like Rat’s?” She backed away from the open door collected herself. “You got that right.” She said as she continued to regain her composer, quickly changed the subject.
“I was told this was the staff quarters and those stairs lead to the door you saw outside on the side of the house; they continue all the way down to the basement behind the main kitchen.”
Paul closed the door and thought to himself, what a cool house. He could hardly control his excitement. “This place is perfect.” Mrs. Hendrix was standing out in the hall.
” Okay what’s up on the third floor?” Paul said eager to see more. Returning to the hall he followed her to the front of the house where, yet another flight of stairs led upward.
“I really appreciate you showing me around today!” Paul said, as he once again found his nose where it doesn’t belong.
“My pleasure, it’s what I do for a living.”
At the top of the stairs on opposite sides of the landing were large single rooms one on the right also had a kitchenette. “These were also used as bedrooms but you could use them for anything, storage may be?” She commented. “I don’t know, this might make a cool office, god, look at the view, you can see for miles from up here!” He said as he gazed out the top of the tower window. Both rooms had slanted ceilings because of the roofs.
“I could put a couple of telescopes up here, one for each side of these tower spaces.” “You look like you would be very happy here.” Mrs. Hendricks said. Paul was leaning against the windowsill over an old chair that was blocking him. I can’t imagine what it would be like sleeping in this place without sirens wailing all night.
He said as he leaned forward a better look, exposing the ankle with the missing sock. Finally, she asked, “What happen to your other sock?” Paul stammered,
“Oh… I … ah, guess I was in such a hurry this morning I, ah, must have forgotten it!” Paul clumsily explained.
“Uh-ha, so… ah what do you think?” she said. “Well, I guess I just wasn’t thinking, I….” “No! I mean what do you think of the house?”
“Oh… it’s great, I’ll take it.”
They went back downstairs and went out onto the front porch. “I’m glad you like the place, I have the history of ownership here,” she said as she dug in her shoulder bag,
“It’s pretty much been one owner since it was built in 1848.” She said as she rummaged through her bag. She pulled out a manila envelope and handed it to Paul.
“Thanks, great, I’ll look it over, I’m curious about its history.” Paul said, “Okay then.” Mrs. Hendricks said looking at her watch. “You sure you don’t need to follow me back?”
“No that’s okay. I know the way.” They shook hands. “Thanks for everything.”
“Great I should have the paperwork by Wednesday, is that too soon or do you need more time?”
“No Wednesday is fine; I’ll talk to you then.” “Great, here take the keys I have another set, hang around a while if you like and be sure to lock up before you leave?”
“Yeah, okay thanks again.” Paul smiled.
“I hope you find your other sock.” Mrs. Hendricks said with a smirk as she descended the front porch stairway, Paul detecting her giggling.
“Yeah… thanks” Paul’s embarrassment made his voice weaken as he spoke.
He watched Mrs. Hendricks’s car stirring up the dust until it was out of the gravel driveway and out onto the paved road.
He went back into the house and look around a bit more wanting to check for any overlooked details he was sure he must have missed when Mrs. Hendricks was rushing him through the house. He went into the study to take a second look at where he planned to do his writing. Looking around the room he felt drawn to the old piano. He wondered why the previous owners would leave a nice piano like this behind. Lifting the keyboard cover he began taping some random keys with one finger checking out its tone. The sound seemed loud as the hollow house that acted like an amplifier.
Using two fingers like a pair of miniature legs he walked them down the ivory keys to hear if the piano was tuned. He was about two-thirds down the keys when he heard a woman’s voice! He abruptly stopped! Lifting his head to listen for any further sound, after a moment of dead silence he called out,
“Mrs. Hendricks… did you forget something?” There was no answer, he closed the keyboard cover and hurried to the front door. Pausing at the threshold he looked out. Seeing and hearing nothing, he ventured out onto the porch. Placing his hands on the top of the waist-high partition he leaned forward to look down in front of the house. Mrs. Hendricks’s car was not there; Paul called once again, “Mrs. Hendricks!” after a moment of looking around, he shrugged it off and went back inside. Stopping in the main hall he called out, “Is somebody here?” there was no answer.
It was now almost five o’clock. And he wanted to get back to Boston before dark. He closed the place up; as he locked the front door, he paused momentarily to listen one last time. Hearing nothing, he descended the porch stairs and walked to his van. He opened the drivers’ door, tossing the manila envelope that Mrs. Hendricks had given him onto the passenger’s seat. Standing with the door open his right elbow on the roof his left on the top of the door he took one last look at the house that soon would be his home. He felt good about this place. Hopping in his van he turned the key started the engine. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the place. Finally, he put the old Dodge van in drive and headed back to Boston.
On the drive back he began thinking about the possible changes this could make in his life. First! He was sure this was the right move. Even now all sorts of new book ideas were flooding into his mind, he was overcome with anticipation.
When Paul got to his apartment he got on the computer and began looking for moving companies. He found himself nodding out; he leaned back in his high back swivel chair and spun himself around facing his desk. He rubbed his tired pollen filled eyes and felt ready for an early night. He let out a yawned that cracked the sides of his jaw. Scanning the top of his desk, there lay the manila envelope Mrs. Hendricks had given him with the information on the house and its previous owners. Though he was tired, his curiosity wide awake! He sat up and reached across the desk letting out a groan as he grabbed the envelope then fell back in his chair, holding the envelope up in front of his face, flipping it from front to back, he opened it and pulled out its contents. Looking over the first page the information began to lure him in.
It listed the first owner who commissioned the building as a man named, Joseph, Paul, Castle, or as he was known, J. P. Castle. Mr. Castle bought the land and built the house in 1848. Mr. Castle was an actor and singer by profession and became very successful. It noted, along with some newspaper clippings from the time, which showed Mr. Castle had shared the stage with such famous actors as, Junius Brutus Booth who died in 1852. Booth was a very famous Shakespearian actor of the time, Mr. Booth was also known to be a violent drunkard, especially when on the stage. What's more, Booth was the father of infamous, John Wilkes Booth, who was Abraham Lincoln’s assassin!
Paul could not stop reading as he learned; Mr. Castle became very rich through his acting career and commissioned the building of the house for his growing family. In a note from the construction, company manager, he asked Castle, why he would build so far from Boston after all, Boston was his main place of employment? Castle replied humorously that, building out in the Berkshires would keep his family safely away from his haunting fans and the press in Boston. There was a small side note in the margin where Castle had scratched in an additional comment, “and my womanizing.”
Paul read quietly in silence until the silence was broken when Paul could not restrain verbalizing, “why, you… old… bastard!” this was the first hint of Mr. J. P. Castle’s skullduggery, Paul laughed. Getting up out of his chair he dropped the papers on his desk.
“I got to get something to eat,” he said as though Miss. Moneypenny could hear. Scooping his keys off the hook near the door he left. He walked to the Sticky Wicket and enjoyed a quick dinner. Returning back home he took a shower and went to bed. While he lay in bed he began thinking about the woman’s voice, he swore he heard while he was messing with the piano. He agonized trying to analyze who it could have been? Then he concluded that he would call Mrs. Hendricks in the morning to ask her if she had returned to the house for any reason and then left before he had a chance to catch her? He rolled over and went to sleep.
The next morning Paul anxiously forced himself to wait until nine o’clock before calling Mrs. Hendricks. At nine he picked up the phone and dialed the number. After several rings, “Lavish Homes and Property’s this is Jan Hendricks?” “Hey… Jan this is Paul Hollander.” “Oh, hi Paul, I’m sorry but I haven’t had time to …”
“Oh no, I’m not calling to rush you, I have a question.”
“Sure?” Jan said. “What is it?”
“Well, yesterday when we were at the house and after you left, did you come back for anything?”
“Why no, I drove straight to my office, why is there a problem?”
“Not really, it’s just, after you left, I was poking around the house. I began messing with that old piano and I swear I heard someone call out! It was a woman’s voice; I couldn’t make out what she said. I thought it was you but when I went to the front door, of course, you were not there!”
“Well that’s weird but like I said I came straight here after I left.”
Did you show the house to anyone else on Saturday?” Paul asked,
“Why no Paul, you’re the only one and I stopped showing it after you said you had a strong interest in the house.”
“Okay, that’s all I called for, sorry to bother you,” Paul said.
“Would you like me to call the Outlook Ridge, police department and ask them if they could check the property for any signs of burglary or unlawful tenant, It has been empty for a while, someone could be staying there?”
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt; do you mind?”
“No, it's no bother at all Paul, I’ll give you a call when I hear from them, and don’t hesitate to call anytime you have any questions.”
“Okay Jan, thanks, I will.”
“I should have that paperwork for you on Wednesday if all goes smooth, all okay?” “Yeah, perfect Jan thanks again, I’ll see you later.”
“All right then, till Wednesday?”
“Bye.” Paul hung up and shook his head in doubt and thought out loud, “I d-no, maybe I’m starting to go senile?”
He went back to work on one of his novels, his pattern was to have a number of manuscripts going at the same time and leapfrogging from one to another. It helped him avoid writer's block. The Snow People was a novel he was testing, a story basted on the plight of a group of elderly people who are way beyond child-bearing age who ended up being the last people left alive on earth after a war where chemical weapons were used but for reasons unknown, this group survived!
After only three hours Paul found himself nodding out at the keyboard. When he snapped his head up, he saw a whole paragraph of semicolons. He leaned back in his chair and stretched as he looked up at the clock, it was, 12:45pm. “Miss. Moneypenny, the old man is ready for his old man nap! I’m going to lie down. Paul saved his work but left the computer running. He shut off the monitor and unplugged the phone and headed for his bedroom.
As soon as his head hits his pillow and he was out. Three hours and fifteen minutes later he woke, half asleep he looked over at the red blurry display that gradually came into focus to form the hour of, four o’clock. “Well! That took a good chunk out of the day.” He sat up and heard his stomach growl, lacing up his sneakers he looked over at Miss. Moneypenny. He got up and grabbed his keys. “I’m locking you in, keep an eye on the place,” he said, addressing the mannequin on his way out. “If anyone calls, I’ll be at the Sticky Wicket getting a bite and a beer, maybe two! The door closed.
Early Wednesday morning Paul’s phone rang, “Yell-low!” he answered. “Hi Paul, this is Jan.” “Hey Jan, you’re up early.” “I am I wanted to tell you that if you like we could close on the house this afternoon.” “Wow, you’re a fast worker.” “Actually, the house has been on the market for a while and the bank wants to close as soon as possible. So, what do you think?”
“Hell yea, I can’t wait to get out of the city.”
“Okay then, the bank reps said they could be here by 2:00pm. Is that alright for you?” “I’ll be there Jan; in fact, I’m calling the moving guy as soon as I hang up!” Jan laughed, “Well I’m happy you’re happy.” Jan giggle.
“Oh, I am, living out there will be like being on permanent vacation! If all goes smoothly, I would like to begin moving out of the city by Friday.
Everything did go smoothly and early that Friday morning the movers arrived at Paul’s apartment. Paul had already begun packing boxing with things that he would take himself. One of the movers asked, “Mr. Hollander, what about this?”
“That’s my friend, Miss. Money Penny and she goe’s with me but you guys can take her desk and chair!” Paul walked over to the mannequin.
“Miss Moneypenny you, are coming with me!” he picked her up and as he walked by a mover he asked, “can you get the door, she has a tough time walking you know.” Two of the workers stared at each other. Paul went down the elevator and out to the old beat up van. He put the mannequin in the passenger’s seat and began strapping her in. “Hey, this is going to be our first ride together. You’re gonna love it I-!”
A couple walking by stopped on the sidewalk and gawk with perplexity. After getting Miss. Moneypenny all strapped in, he backed out of the door and was about to close it when he spotted the couple glaring at him.
“Oh, hi, ha, she’s… a… a mannequin, I was just strapping her in… it’s a long… ride. We’re…a… moving!” The couple shook their heads and then continued, taking turns looking back at Paul until they rounded the corner. Paul closed the door of the van and ran back up to get more things. The movers were hard at work. When Paul walked in the man in charge told Paul, “We’ll have this wrapped up in no time this is a small place!
When will you be at the house?” Paul asked. “I have a few stops to make but I should be there sometime early this afternoon.”
When Paul arrived at the house the movers were already working. The moving truck was in front of the house, so Paul pulled around back and parked near the old green 1949 Oldsmobile Club Coupe. He got out of his van and took a closer look at the old Olds. He knocked on the hood and stood back waiting to see if any bees came flooding out from under the hood. All was clear he opened the hood and razed it inspecting the underside of the hood for bees. The motor in the old car was completely original; a smile appeared on his face.
A voice startled him, “Mr. Hollander!” Paul turned around to see one of the moving men approaching him. “Yeah, what’s up?” Mr. Hollander, I wonder if you could come in and show us how you want your office set up in there. “Sure,” he said as he turned to close the hood.
Paul showed them where to place his office furniture and Miss. Moneypenny’s desk. “What about this piano? It would probably look a lot better against this wall over here.” Paul shook his head, “No, leave it.” Paul could tell the old piano had been in the same spot, probably forever, and felt moving it would desecrate it in some way.
He went to his desk and sat down. His desk was facing the center window and the other two flanked him. Sitting there he felt like a captain on the bridge of his ship. He pressed the power button on his vintage tower computer that was set on the floor on the right of the desk. Nothing! Paul swing around in his chair “Is the power turned on?”
“Yes, it is, the man said, just a second I’ll check the plug” he hurried over “yeah, it’s not plugged in, hold on” he plugged in the surge suppressor. “Try it now.” Paul hit the button and the computer began to wine. “Thanks” “no problem sir,” the worker said and went back to what he was doing. Paul turned to his monitor.
“Oh, by the way Mr. Hollander, you won’t be able to get online right now; the phone guy hasn’t got here yet.” “Oh, okay,” Paul said. He shut down the computer got up from his chair and left the room to check out the progress the movers were making.
After inspecting, each room Paul went out onto the porch and sat in one of the rocking chairs and relaxed for a bit. It was another nice sunny day as he gently rocked and looked out over the veranda. He propped his feet up on shelf-like top of the veranda and leaning back. He studied the white ceiling of the porch. Soon his eyes closed, and he nodded off to sleep.
“Excuse me, Mr. Hollander… Mr. Hollander, sir!” Paul jerked awake. “Sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to tell you, you're all set sir, were done. We put the dummy in your office just like you said, with the desk and all.”
“Miss. Moneypenny” Paul corrected.
“Yeah, sure, well ah, she’s all set up in there. So, if there is nothing else were going to hit the road? Oh, and ah, the phone guy is here, I think he wants to talk with you, probably about the phone on the dummies desk.”
“Yah okay thanks.”
The nap seemed like seconds, but it must have been closer to an hour when the moving man came out onto the porch and woke him.
Looking in the direction of the blurred figure he strained to see who was speaking to him, slowly a man came into focus. Paul blindly answered the ghost-like figure as he pulled his painfully stiffened legs off the top of the veranda rail; the backs of his knees hurt the most. “Ah, great, let me take a look before you shove off, okay?” Paul said painfully as he agonized to work out all the kinks, he had developed from sitting in one position so long with his legs up.
“I’ll be right in,” he said to the man. The man nodded and went back inside. Rising out of the chair he tried stretching and twisted his torso back and forth, but his knees were far too painful, he found himself almost unable to walk as he hobbled more like the Frankenstein monster as he approached the front door.
By the time he got to the living room he had pretty much worked out the kinks in his legs and slowly his normal stride returned. “Hey, this looks great!” He said as he looked around, still suffering a slight limp from that awkward sleeping position.
“The phone guy is in your office; he wants to talk to you.” The moving man said as he jerked his thumb in the direction of Paul’s office.
“Oh right, thanks, I’ll be right back.” He headed for his office; the phone technician was busy connecting the computer to the Internet. “How yah doing? I’m Paul Hollander; you wanted to talk to me?”
“Oh yeah, this room is pretty much all set, I wanted to ask if you need any phones placed anywhere else in the house?” Paul picked up the phone on Miss. Moneypenny’s desk and put it to his ear, there was a dial tone. “Nope!” he said as he returned the phone back down. “The fewer phones the better, besides, I have a cell.”
“Okay then, I guess I’m done!”
“Yep, hey, thanks a lot, out here a phone could prove to be an important piece of equipment!” he shook the guys’ hand.
“If you think of anything ells just give us a call!”
“I will, thanks.”
Paul walked through the rest of the house and was pleased. As he signed the sheet on the moving man's clipboard, confirming he approved of the job,
“Looks like you will have to buy some more furniture to fill the place up?” the workmen said.
“Yeah, I know, my apartment was small,” Paul said as he handed the clipboard to the man. They shook hands and the crew left.
Paul decided to choose the upstairs room with the kitchenette for his bedroom, anytime he felt a quick snack everything would be just a few steps away plus he wouldn’t have to run up and down stairs. Now that the house had some furniture it didn’t sound empty and it no longer had that echoing sound. Paul didn’t allow the phone guy to put a phone in his bedroom. His thought was if you want to get some sleep, why the hell would you put a phone in your bedroom? He was not the kind to jump up like a fireman to answer a the phone. His mother was like that, she could be in the shower and if the phone rang, she would wrap a towel around herself and try to catch the phone. Paul would let it ring until it burst into flames before he would rush to answer a call.
He was going to spend his first evening in his new house and it felt great. The first thing he noticed was the absence of the sounds of sirens, honking horns and traffic. When he went to bed, he could not believe how peaceful it was. There was nothing but sweet quiet. For the first time, Paul had no trouble sleeping through the night. It felt great to wake up feeling well rested.
Saturday morning was the start of Paul’s first full day in his new home. The morning view from the three windows was a beautiful sight as he stood and absorbed the quiet. He opens the window and placed his hands on the windowsill and thrust his head out. The air smelled fresh and clean with the scent of morning due. He could smell fresh cut hay and figured it must be coming from somewhere nearby. There were no exhaust fumes or the sounds of morning rush hour traffic.
“Oh… yea, this is the way to go,” he mumbled to himself as he took another deep fragrant lung full of fresh country air. It was a really nice mild day. Pulling his head back inside, he left the window open.
He went to the kitchenette to prepare breakfast. His customary one broken fried egg on a toasted cinnamon raisin English muffin and a decaf coffee, cream no sugar. He brought his breakfast to the small dining table next to the window. He was amazed to see five Deer grazing not far from the house. From the second storey vantage point, he could see for quite a distance across a field that was enclosed by waist high, loose stone walls. They seemed to be holding back the encroaching forest. He envisioned horses frolicking in its interior. Then realized, “Yeah… I could get a couple horses!”
He returned to the kitchenette and cleaned the dish and frying pan he had used. Excited to take advantage of the peace and quiet and begin work.
He went downstairs to his office. “Good morning Miss. Moneypenny!” He said as he entered. Then stopped and was drawn to the piano. He walked over and lifted the keyboard cover. As he looked down at the keys, he noticed marks on the floor where the movers had moved the piano to bring in his leather sofa. He pushed the piano back to its original position, but something was stopping it. Crouching down and reached behind the piano he felt something. He tried to look behind to see what it was but could not, he muscled it away from the wall and took another look. Behind the piano was a large, elaborately carved and very dusty old gilded picture frame. He reached in and took hold and removed it.
Carrying it to a part of the room with the better light he leaning the picture against the wall for a moment while he pushed the piano back where it belonged and closed the keyboard cover he then placed the picture up upon the keyboard cover and gently leaned the picture against the piano employing it as if it were an easel.
It was an exquisite oil portrait of a beautiful young girl from the mid to late nineteenth-century judging by her dress; the mark on the wall just over the piano seemed to be where the portrait had hung? He went over to where he had his art supplies and easel set up and grabbed a large dry brush and used it to dust off the painting.
As the layers of dust were brushed away from the portrait his eyes widened, “My god!” was all he could say. The painting was so well done and the girl so beautiful, he began to work a bit quicker and soon had cleaned all the dust from the painting and frame. He backed up across the room and placed his brush down without taking his eyes off the painting, it was captivating!
He hurried to his desk and opened a drawer and grabbed a magnifying glass and went back to the painting and began to study it more closely. He searched for a signature but could not find one. “You are going right back up where you belong, young lady!” he said addressing the portrait. He moved the piano bench to use as a footstool, hopped up and carefully placed the portrait back on its original hook above the piano.
When he got down, he crossed the room to view the painting. “Ah yes, you belong there,” Paul said pleasingly. Miss. Moneypenny is going to get jealous.
He wondered who the young girl in the painting could be. Surely, she must have been a family member who once lived in the house. Maybe one of the original Castles?
Then the inspiration came to begin a new novel based on the girl in the painting! Using her image as inspiration and create the rest! The idea grew so quickly and became so strong that he went to his desk cranked up his computer and began work before he lost his initial ideas.
For the time being, he would call it, “The Girl in The Portrait”! He always found it helpful to have a title to launch his imagination. By lunchtime, he had worked out a rough first twenty pages. I mean he was cooking, he got out of his chair he stretched, sounding like a lion roaring as he stretched out the kinks in his tired body. He kept going to the painting for further study. He became aware the girl seemed to have a smile; he hadn’t noticed before. As he stood quite still, his eyeballs shifted from left to right, up and down covering every inch of the work.
It was difficult to leave it but he went downstairs to the main kitchen to make some lunch. He was so eager to get back to work on his new title he decided on a quick toasted tuna fish sandwich. Popping two slices of bread into the toaster he slammed the knob down. A brief spark flashed from the cord, but the toaster seemed to work okay after that.