As I walked up the gravel driveway to the house, I had some time to look around. The oak trees lining the drive were huge, craggy, and ancient. They were draped in Spanish moss, the long gray tendrils hanging down from outstretched branches like thick spiderwebs, in some places so long that they touched the ground. It gave the trees a majestic grace, but also looked a little creepy. Like they should be a graveyard somewhere. This late in the fall, most of the leaves were gone, littering the ground. They had not been raked, even from the gravel driveway, and in some places they covered it so thickly it was hard to see gravel at all.
Although the trees looked mostly untrimmed, none of the branches that hung over the driveway drooped lower than twelve or fifteen feet. Plenty of clearance for a car, or even a UPS truck to make it up the driveway without a problem.
Between the thick tree trunks, the hedgerow that obscured the front of the house continued, lining the driveway all the way to the house. The bushes must have been some kind of evergreen, because they were still thick and green, completely blocking any sight of what might be beyond the driveway in the…yard? It seemed a little odd to refer to this as a front yard. It was easily big enough to be a city park. Maybe I should call it an estate? And that sounded pretentious as all hell.
The house looked as old as the trees. It was big, but I had seen bigger. I live in DC, after all. It was two stories, although there might be a basement, except for one corner where there was an honest-to-god tower that was a solid three stories. It was at least twenty feet across, round, and had a tall pointy roof topped some kind of decoration. In fact, the whole roof was covered in decorative spires and points, with all sorts of strange decorations. The roof itself was a dark gray, like slate. I was not sure if the roof itself was just slate-colored shingles, or actual slate, but I would not have been surprised by either.
It looked like the house might have been white once, but the paint had faded to a light gray, stained darker in streaks where it looked like mildew had started to form. As I got closer, I notices that the paint was flaking off in places.
The house itself looked like it was made of wood. At least, the outside of it was, wood siding that seemed to be what the modern vinyl siding on all the new McMansions was trying to imitate. There was a huge overhang in front of the door. A few years ago I would have called it a fancy carport, but I had heard something like it called a porte-cochere, somewhere to park your car, or carriage, I suppose, to get out without getting rained on. It was beautiful, with two fluted columns in the front, and scroll work all along the roof edge. And it definitely made the house look more majestic. Although the paint was flaking there too, and it was stained the same gray as the rest of the house.
There were windows everywhere, beautiful old windows with arched tops, large sills, and many panes. They were all dirty, which given the state of the rest of the house I expected, But I could see curtains inside through them. At least the house was furnished that much.
The fountain was dry, which did not surprise me. The statue in the middle did. It was simple, a plain pipe rising up from the round basin, which clearly was supposed to hold water but was currently bone dry. The pipe rose straight up to what looked almost like a really big shower head. And standing under the shower head, as though actually taking a shower, was the statue of a naked woman. She was just standing, with her arms at her sides and her shoulders slumped, her head bowed so that her long, straight hair hung down, completely covering her face.
The statue was marble, and impressively realistic. That being said, it was odd. Most statues I had seen were somewhat idealized. After all, if someone was going to put all the time into carving a statue, it made sense for them to make something beautiful. Or at least interesting. There was none of that here. The statue was not standing in an interesting pose. It was not even of a very attractive woman. She was pretty enough, but not like a model. It was very, very detailed, but the artist had not bothered to carve the face, instead carving the hair covering it.
I gave a mental shrug. It was an interesting concept, a statue of someone in the shower. Interesting, but weird.
There was a scratchy caw, and I glanced up at the roof of the porte-cochere. There was a huge crow, sitting on a little ornament on the roof over the porte-cochere, looking down at me. I had no real way of telling this crow from any other, but I was pretty sure it was the same one that had been following me around for the last day or two.
The same one that had saved my life last night.
I raised an eyebrow at it, and said “Hey, thanks for last night.”
I shivered. This was getting a little too weird. There was no way it had actually cawed a “you’re welcome”. Right? No, I must just still be feeling a little loopy from the kick to my head last night. After all, here I was saying “thanks” to a crow.
I shook my head, and walked under the porte-cochere and up to the front door. It was a normal sized, single door, but set in such a huge house it looked dwarfed. It was made of some kind of hardwood, all one piece, with no windows, and no decoration except for a life-sized embossed carving of a single crow in flight.
*Okay, seriously, what is with my life and crows recently?
There was a simple brass doorknob with and old fashioned keyhole. I glanced at it, and then at the key to the gate that Johnson had given me. It looked like it would work. I slid the key in, and turned. There was a clicking noise.
I was moving my hand to the doorknob when the door opened by itself, rather suddenly, and I jumped.
There was a young man standing just inside the door, holding it open and smiling at me.
I stood in the doorway and stared at the man holding the door open. He was average height and slim, with pale skin and dark eyes. His face was narrow and angular, with a slightly pointed nose. His hair was so black it was almost blue, combed straight back from his face. It looked like he had gelled it, but little pieces were poking straight up in a few places. He was wearing a simple black suit, with a little embroidered bird above the breast pocket. It was black, a slightly different shade than the fabric of the suit, and I guessed it was a crow. It just seemed to fit.
Johnson had not said anything about a butler. Then again, I suppose I should not have been surprised by Johnson failing to mention something. I just stood there and stared at him for a couple of seconds, at a loss for words. He looked back at me, smiling slightly.
“Uh, hi.” Witty, that’s me.
“Benjamin Cooper, I presume?” He spoke quietly, with a slight British accent.
“Um, yeah.” This was awkward. I definitely had not been expecting for there to be someone in the house. I had been prepared to spend the day sorting through old junk, and looking paperwork about my family, and I had prepared to be doing it alone. The fact that this guy was here put a whole new spin on things, and I was at a loss at how to react. “So, ah, who are you?”
“I come with the house.”
He stepped out of the doorway, and swept his arm back, welcoming me inside. It felt awkward as hell, but I stepped past him into the house. “Um, okay.”
He smiled a little more as I stepped past him. It was kind of creepy, actually.
I took a moment to look around. The door opened into a little entryway or coat room, but beyond that was a much larger…I guess I would call it a hall. Or something. It was two stories, and had a huge arched ceiling above, with a few skylights. Stained glass skylights. There was a balcony along the far wall, which led off to what looked like hallways in both directions. There were two curving staircases that came down from the balcony, swept along each wall, and met rather near each other in the middle of the big room. The room was painted in muted colors, white with a little blue or green, and there were a few tastefully placed paintings. There were a lot of doors, at least three that I could see downstairs, and several more off of the balcony upstairs.
The young man closed the front door and turned back to me. “May I take your coat, sir?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.” I was only wearing a light jacket, and it felt way too weird to give it to him.
“Very well,” he said, and without another word he walked past me, through a nearby door, and disappeared.
What. The. Hell.
What was this guy, a butler or something? I had never even seen a butler in real life. How was I supposed to deal with this now?
Let me just say, I grew up with a single mother. I was never really deprived or anything, and I am not complaining, but growing up my idea of a luxury was ordering pizza. Even now, I had a good job, with a good salary. But I was definitely not rich. And having a butler? That was rich.
Was I supposed to pay this guy’s salary now? I did not get any money in the will, just the house, and I definitely could not afford a butler. Definitely, definitely not. So what, I had to fire him?
This added a whole other level of crap to this already complicated situation, and I was definitely not ready to deal with it now. I sighed out loud, and decided to worry about it later. First things first, I was here to try and learn something about my Great-Uncle, and get a feel for this house. I needed to focus on one thing at a time. I would deal with this butler situation later.
I sighed out loud, and looked around.
I could see eight doors from where I was standing, all of them closed. I had absolutely no idea where to start. It was a much bigger house than I had really expected, and I had no experience with this sort of thing anyway. For some reason I had pictured a closet with a little shoebox of old photographs and letters, stuff that would tell me more about my family. But I had no idea where the bedroom – er, bedrooms, rather – were, much less which one might have a closet with a special shoebox.
On the other hand, I had also been expecting to have to do this completely on my own. I definitely did not want Johnson to help me, that was for sure. But…there was this butler guy. If he was a butler.
No matter what he was, it seemed like he lived here, or something. Okay, I really had no idea what his deal was, and assuming he was a bulter was just that – an assumption.
“Well,” I muttered, “He definitely knows this place better than I do.” At least he would be able to point me in the right direction.
I glanced at the door he had gone through, and sighed again.
I headed off to find the butler.
I pushed open the door the butler had gone through, and into a dining room. It was big, of course, like everything in this house, but the long table and the chairs were all covered by a white cloth, probably to keep the dust off. So was all the other furniture along the walls, what I guessed were other side tables and such. The lights were off, but there were a row of huge windows along two of the walls, so there was pleanty of light. But I was not really paying attention to the decor. I would look at that more later, maybe, but for now I wanted to find that butler and get some answers.
There were two doors out of the dining room, but one of them looked like it went back into the lobby I had just come from. I went through the other.
Inside was the kitchen, which made sense. It was big, of course, with commercial kitchen appliances and stainless steel counters. But here too, nothing looked like it had been used in years, except for a single small stove and the countertops around it.
Again there were three doors, but from the size of the kitchen and the location of doors in the lobby, I guessed that one of the doors went there. I opened the other one.
I had expected a pantry or closet of some kind. It seemed like that would make sense to be next to a kitchen. I was not sure why the butler would be hiding in a pantry, but you never know.
Instead, the door opened to reveal an office, or study. Unlike what I had seen so far of the rest of the house, this room was downright small. It was only about ten feet square, and the walls were covered by shelves, packed with books. There were a wide variety, but they all looked old. A large wooden L-shaped desk sat with one section against a wall and the other sticking out into the room. The was an old desk chair behind it. There was no computer, but it was covered with papers and books in small piles.
There was a big, well-worn but comfortable-looking leather chair in the corner opposite the desk, with a small wooden table and an old lamp next to it. There was a newspaper on the chair, folded open. I walked over and glanced at it. It was open to the international news section, and the date on it was a week ago.
This place, this was exactly what I had been looking for. This was where my great-uncle spent his time, where he lived his life, where any information about my family would be. Forget the butler, this is where I would find what I wanted.
I spent nearly an hour sorting through the paperwork on and in the desk, but I did not learn anything really significant. Certainly nothing that told me anything about who my Great-Uncle was, or how he might have died. It told me a lot about his stock portfolio, which explained the size of this house. I found his electric bills, which made me quite sure I could not afford to keep the house.
But nothing about him.
Finally, I stood up in frustration, and started pacing. “Dammit,” I muttered to myself. “There’s got to be something.”
I paced some more. It helped me think.
Well, what did I know? Not much, really. I knew that this lawyer told me he was dead, I knew I was in his will. I knew that at least one person thought that there might be foul play involved, and that some one had definitely tried to kill me last night. God, I hadn’t even been thinking about that.
I stopped, suddenly. There was something…off. It was the bookshelf. I was not sure what it was, but something had caught my eye.
I moved closer to the shelf. It was a heavy oak thing that looked like it was built into the wall. Definitely custom made. The books were old, all of them hardcover. There was a thesaurus, a dictionary. A series of books by Poe and Lovecraft that I did not recognize. Several books by Anne Rice, a book on local edible plants, one on the medicinal properties of mushrooms, some kind of weird bestiary, a book by Darwin…
Wait a minute.
I looked at the bestiary.
“‘The Mating Habits of the Common Grue’? Seriously?” I looked closer. There was no dust on the bookshelf itself, it had obviously been cleaned frequently, but there was a very fine layer of dust on the top of the books, on some more than others. And there were faint, but recognizable imprints in the dust on top of that particular book. It looked like someone had put their finger on top of the book, but no where else.
“There’s no way it’s this simple.” I put my finger on top of the book, and pulled. It tilted out toward me with a clicking sound, and with a whirring and clicking sound like a huge old clock, the book case swung out toward me.
Behind the bookcase was a small stone doorway in the wall, and past that…there was a small passage, leading to the left, following the wall. It was dark.
“A secret door behind a bookcase. What the fuck? Who ever designed this watched too many movies.” I shook my head. On the other had, I almost had not noticed it, so clearly it worked pretty well. I would not have noticed at all, probably, if I had not recognized the word “Grue”. It was a fictional monster from a text-based computer game I had played once as a kid. That game had caught on in nerd-culture since, so the phrase “You are likely to be eaten by a grue” had been floating around the Internet for years. Some part of my subconscious must have noticed it.
Well, this had some definite potential. I did not had a flashlight, but I took out my phone and turned it on. It did not give me much light, but hopefully enough to prevent me from running into things. I took a deep breath, and walked into the passageway.
I stepped carefully into the corridor. It was a space about three feet wide between the interior wall, with the office on the other side, and what I assumed was the outside wall of the house. Not too wide. Enough to space to walk, but still easy to conceal. I was actually impressed. I had never seen a secret passageway before.
I took another careful step, the light from my cell phone and some reflected light coming in through the door letting me see enough to know I was not going to step into a hole, but not much else.
I took one more step, and suddenly there was a loud whirring and clicking sound that reverberated through the passageway. It sounded like it was coming from all around me. And then the door started to close.
I panicked, and dashed for the doorway, but the door moved quickly. Or I was too slow. I got to the door in time to push against it as it closed, but it ignored my efforts with an implacable ease, and closed with a click. I was glad my fingers had not been in the crack, it seemed like it might have taken them off.
Now it was even darker, and at that thought my phone screen shut off, and I was in complete and utter darkness.
Actually, not complete darkness. I blinked to make sure I was not imagining it.
Nope, it was really there, a faint blue-green glow, a faint phosphorescence. It looked like…a weird switch? I think it was called a knife switch, the kind that mad scientists use to close the circuit to wake up Frankenstein or whatever. Smaller though. Only about an inch long. It was just to my left, at shoulder height, on the wall.
I shrugged, and flipped it.
With a series of clicks, and a quiet fwoosh, a row of old-fashioned, wall-mounted gas lanterns lit up in a row along one wall of the corridor, and suddenly I could see again.
Now that was cool.
The passageway went about fifteen feet, and ended in a little room, maybe six or seven feet square. In the center of it was a wrought iron spiral staircase, big enough to take up the whole room. I started walking down the stairs.
When I first saw them, I assumed they went to the basement, but the stairs were much too long for that. They spiraled around five times, and by the time I reached the bottom, I was sure I was at least twenty or thirty feet below ground. The stairs ended in a little foyer-like room. There were two more of the gas lanterns on the wall, one on each side of a big wooden door. The room was otherwise empty.
I looked at the door for a moment before tried to open it. It was made of a heavy reddish wood, with a polished brass doorknob and keyhole that shined in the light of the burning lanterns. In the center of the door was the same life-sized embossing of a crow in flight, but this one was layered with brass, and the flickering light of the gas lamps reflecting from the polished yellow surface made it almost look alive.
I tried the doorknob, but it was locked. Damn. I had a key to the front door, but I did not think that it would work in this hidden door as well. But on the other hand, it was the same style of lock. It was worth a shot. I dug the key out of my pocket, and slid it into the keyhole.
There was a little spark of static electricity when the key touched the keyhole, but it went it with no problems, and it turned easily. There was a strange whirring sound when the key turned, and a few clicks, and then I heard the bolt of the lock slide open.
Sweet. I pulled the key out, slipped it into my pocket, and took a deep breath. I had no idea what I would find on the other side of the door, but it was almost certain to be interesting. And it probably held the family secrets I was hoping to find. After all, why would you build a secret room in your house if not to keep secrets in it? I grinned, and opened the door.
I could spend hours talking about what I found behind that door. To be honest, the things in that room are more of a testament to the burden that I am under than anything that I could write here. That room, and the secrets it holds, even from me, even now, are the heart of it all, the origin and the solution to a nightmare that reaches far beyond me and my family. But this is my story, not the story of the house.
So, suffice to say that although I was nearly overwhelmed by the things I saw that first time in my Great Uncle’s laboratory, I did not even scratch the surface of what was there to be found.
How should I describe that room, that all-important room? Well, let’s start with the physical. It was large, but not huge, and it looked like it was carved from the stone under the house by some very precise machinery. That is to say the walls were natural stone, but completely smooth, except for a few places where there were carvings. Although it was hard to see most of the walls or the floor…there were shelves covering nearly every inch of wall space, heavy, wooden freestanding shelves of a variety of designs, and the floor was mostly covered by a patchwork of rugs, wildly varying in style. There was a long table in the middle of the room, almost like a workbench. Pushed against one wall was a large wooden desk, with a chair.
At the far end of the room was a wide area that was clear of everything, rugs and shelves included. In the center of that space was a circle of metal, inlaid in the floor. Other than that clear space, the room was absolutely cluttered. Every square inch of shelf and table space was covered by an assortment of objects so random that my mind had trouble picking out what exactly each thing was.
There some rather normal things, like books, and sheets of paper scattered around, covered in notes, and even some things I could recognize as lab equipment from my college chemistry classes, little vials and beakers and such. There were a lot of little, and some not so little, machines, but I was definitely not able to pick out a purpose for each one. There was a lot of brass, copper, and wood, and there was nothing that looked like it had been made after 1900. And there were lots of…well, goth or hippie stuff. I would have called it Wiccan, but one of my co-workers was a rather outspoken Wiccan so I knew better. Bones, and crystals, and sticks covered in carvings. Some of the books had strange symbols on them.
The rest…well, there was a shelf with a row of animals in glass jars, but the animals were not familiar to me. I looked at one – a cobra in formaldehyde, only the cobra had a scorpion stinger at the end of its tail, and dozens of little feet in a row along its body. There was a bleached white human skull with four eye sockets. There was something that looked like an electric hand-powered generator, from the 1800’s, but…well, I was not sure I wanted to know why the wire leads from it were connected to the base of a tiny bonsai tree. There was a jar overflowing with marble-sized crystals, each a different color and all shaped like tiny toy soldiers. There was something that looked like a flintlock pistol, but made brass, and covered in some kind of intricate clockwork and tiny bits of blue glass.
And all that was just my first glance around the room. There was…all kinds of weird shit.
I just stared around the room for a while, taking some time to adjust. I had not expected my search for my family history to be easy, exactly. I had expected to find family photos, journals, letters, that sort of thing. I was quite sure that I had some seriously repressed emotions around the whole issue of my father, what with him leaving my mom and never being a part of my life, so I had expected anything having to do with that side of my family to be difficult, emotionally. I had expected to find some photos with my father in them, and that it would bring up all sorts of emotions that a psychiatrist would really love to talk with me about. I had expected a weekend of pensive catharsis, looking at pictures of my father as a child.
I had also hoped that perhaps there would be some information about where my father was now, and maybe some explanation of where he had been for the last thirty years. Letters, or something. I knew that would probably be even harder than seeing pictures of him as a child. Did he have another family? It seemed kind of likely at this point. I hardly expected for him to have spent the last thirty years celibate. Did I have siblings somewhere that I had never met?
I had even thought that maybe there would be something that might point me in the direction of what happened to my great-uncle, and if there was some link to the weird gunman last night. I knew I was no detective, but at this point I was not even sure if he had been killed, or just died of a heart attack or something. In retrospect, I probably should have asked that attorney, Mr. Johnson, to see a death certificate or something else that listed cause of death. Oh well. I could always call him later.
I sighed out loud and looked around the room again. All that annoying emotional stuff I had been prepared for, but this was a little overwhelming. He wasn’t a regular guy with a heart condition. He wasn’t a high rolling gambler who had gotten mixed up with the mob or something. Well, maybe he was that too.
But one thing was for sure. Michael Cooper was mixed up in some weird shit. Really, really weird shit. I thought about last night, about zombie-face and his crumbling nose. About the weird echoing words he’d said like they would do something to me. About the big crow that kept following me around. And now this room. I felt like I was in the twilight zone.
How was I even going to make sense of all this? Ever time I looked around, it seemed like there was more weird shit. Was that a barbie doll with an octopus for a head? I closed my eyes.
I took a deep breath and opened my eyes again. “Come on, Ben, stop being a pussy. It’s just a bunch of stuff. Very, very weird stuff, but just stuff. Yeah, it’s messy, but start small and it will work itself out.”
As I talked to myself I looked around for a good place to start. Well, there was a desk…it had a bunch of old books all over it, but it was somewhere to start.
I walked over, shoved a Cthulhu plushy off of the deck chair, and sat down. What the hell? All the books were in some Asian language. At least, it looked Asian. A bunch of characters I did not recognize. And pictures of statues.
I closed the books one at a time, and put them on the shelf. On the third one, I stopped. All two of them had been open to a page with a picture, and the pictures were the same. Huh. I pulled another one from the pile. Same picture. Or rather, a different picture, but of the same thing.
I looked closer. It was a picture of a statue, kind of like a Buddha statue. But where Buddha was usually a short, fat, happy guy, this was of a skinny old man, with the ribs showing. He was sitting cross-legged, with his hands in his lap, but he had a whole other set of arms as well, weirdly jointed and reaching over his shoulders and out in front of him. The second set of arms ended in hands that were longer than they should be, with long fingernails that looked almost like claws. It looked like they were reaching out to grab something.
And his face…well, it looked mostly human, but his eyes were much to big, wide and slitted like a reptile. And he was grinning, but his mouth was too big for his face, and full of sharp teeth.
And then the picture moved.
I shouted, and dropped the book, standing up and knocking over the chair. What the fuck??
I looked at the picture again, but it wasn’t moving. Clearly it had been my imagination. I mean, of course it had been. I was in a creepy room, looking at a creepy picture in a creepy book. Underground, no less. Of course it was just my mind playing tricks on me.
Still, I closed the book with my foot, from where it lay on the floor, before I picked it up and put it on the shelf. I closed the other books on the desk quickly. They did not have pictures, and were all in that same language, so I just put them on the shelf next to the others. I had to move some kind of clockwork fountain thing from the shelf to the table to make room, but it seemed to make sense to have books on a shelf and clockwork thingies on the table.
The last book, however, was in English. Interesting.
I skimmed I quickly flipped to the cover of the book. It said “The Fall of Saigon: American Policies and Politics at the End of the Vietnam War”. Huh. It was a history book, obviously, and the chapter that it had been open to was called “Operation Frequent Wind”.
I could not really be sure of the timing, but it definitely seemed like this was something my Great-Uncle had been working on before he died. Maybe it was important. I sat down to read. It took a few minutes to get the just of what was going on, since I did not want to start at the beginning of the book, but like most history books it was pretty dry, and mostly just a series of facts. Apparently, “Operation Frequent Wind” was the name of the helicopter evacuation of Americans and some “at-risk” South Vietnamese from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. The book made it sound pretty heroic, a bunch of helicopters taking terrified civilians out of a city that was literally being invaded as they were doing it, rockets and bombs going off all around them. Then they flew out of the city, and landed on American ships in the South China Sea.
There were two lines highlighted. The first one was in a paragraph that was talking about who was evacuated, and said “In addition to such notables were the “beautiful people” of Saigon, including those young men of military age whose wealthy parents had paid large bribes to keep them out of the Army, and now were paying even more to evacuate them.” The second said “Other helicopters dropped off their passengers and were ditched into the sea by their pilots, close to the ships, their pilots bailing out at the last moment to be picked up by rescue boats.”
Okay, so at some point my Great-Uncle had been reading about the Vietnam War. That did not really tell me anything, except since it was on the desk with several books that were written in a Asian-looking language, maybe the language was Vietnamese. That is, if Vietnamese actually was a language. I honestly had no idea.
I let out a sigh, and leaned back in the chair. I really had not learned anything.
There was a polite cough behind me, and I nearly toppled over backwards in the chair. I staggered up and out of the chair, turning frantically to see who it was.
The butler was standing a few feet away, clearly trying not to smile. “Christ, you scared the crap out of me.”
His lips twitched, just a little. “I am…very sneaky.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Are you quoting an Adam Sandler movie?”
“I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about.”
I looked at him for another few seconds, not sure if he was messing with me or not. He was honestly kind of creeping me out. “Okay, what’s up? How did you even find me? You know, here?” I gestured at our surroundings. “Crazy hidden lab or whatever.”
“Yes, I am quite familiar with this house. Which is, actually, why I wanted to talk with you, as you are clearly not.” He leaned back against the table, and folded his arms across his chest.
I stared at him for another second, then said “Dude, seriously, who are you? Are you, like, a butler or something?”
His eyes widened, and he barked a little surprised laugh, which sounded disconcertingly like a squawk. “Butler. I should think not.”
He looked down at his jacket, and then back at me with a thoughtful expression. “Although I can see why you might think that. I loose track of fashion so easily. And I suppose that some of my roles could be considered…” He shook his head. “No, I am not a butler. I did work for your uncle, in a way. And perhaps I will work for you.”
“Um…do you have a name?”
His lips twitched again in that almost-smile. “You can call me Sam. And you are Benjamin Cooper, I know. Please, sit down. I only have a few minutes, but there are some things that you need to know. It is unfortunate that you don’t have the time to…but it has already happened. Please, sit.”
I sat back down in the desk chair, feeling suddenly nervous. “What is it?”
“It seems you are aware of Mr. Cooper’s death, and that he bequeathed this house to you in his will. Well-”
I cut him off. “Do you know how he died?”
He frowned. “No, I do not. I know that he is dead, but I do not know how.”
“I got a phone call from someone who said he might have been killed, but I would think that if he got killed and I inherited this house, the police would have talked to me, or something. I mean, I don’t really know, it just seems…I don’t know, odd.”
“Mr. Cooper had a great many enemies, and I very much doubt he had an accident.”
“So you think he might have been killed too. Why aren’t the police doing anything? Or are they and I just haven’t heard anything?”
“I do not know. My knowledge of things outside this house are…limited. But please, there is something that you must know before you…ah. Too late. You should answer that.”
“Wha-” My phone rang.
“How did you know…” I pulled out my phone and looked at the number. It was a DC area code, but I did not recognize the number.
“Answer it, it is important.”
I looked at him, wondering how on earth he had known my phone was going to ring before it did. “Okay, but hold that thought, I want to hear what you were going to say.”
I touched the “accept call” button, and pressed the phone to my ear. “Hello?”