“Hi, you’ve reached the voice mail of Carolyn Wilkowski. Leave me a message, and I’ll call you back!” Her voice sounded cheerful and chipper, quite different from how it had sounded on the message she left me.
“Darn,” I muttered, and waited for the beep.
“Hi Carolyn, this is Ben Cooper. You left me a message last night, something about needing my help. I’m sorry I missed you, but if you can give me a call back…well, maybe I can help.” I left my number, and hung up.
The cab driver looked at me in the rear view mirror, and said “Girl troubles, eh?”
I smiled. “Something like that.”
I had woken up at around eight in the morning, still sore but a little less tired. I was supposed to meet Johnson, the lawyer, at my Great Uncle’s house at nine, so I had take a quick shower, grabbed a granola bar, and hailed a cab.
I was a little disappointed that Carolyn had not answered the phone. I had some serious questions for her about what she had said about my Great Uncle’s death, and it would have been nice to get some more information from her before I talked to Johnson. Oh well. I would just have to find out what I could from Johnson now, and learn more from Carolyn later.
The cab stopped, and the driver said “This is it.”
I looked out the window.
The road where we had stopped was lined by a thick hedgerow, untrimmed and huge, standing taller than me. We had stopped in front of a gravel driveway through a break in the hedges, leading up to a pair of huge wrought-iron gates. The gates were closed, but I could see through them, where the gravel driveway continued for several hundred more feet, lined with huge oak trees that reached over the driveway to shade almost the entire length of it. The driveway ended in a loop around a small stone fountain, at the front of the house.
The house itself…well, it was not really a house. It seemed better to call it a small mansion. I could not see very much of the house, because the trees were in the way, but it looked big. And old. I was hardly an expert in architecture, but it looked like it was built in what I had heard called a Victorian style.
I paid the driver, and got out. There was a car parked in the driveway leading up to the rusty iron gate, a black luxury model, rather nondescript. As I got out of the cab, the driver door opened, and Johnson stepped out.
He smiled, and I immediately felt uneasy, without knowing why.
“Ben, good morning. I trust you slept well.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He glanced at the gate, and reached in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “Well, lets see the house, shall we?”
He turned toward the gate, but I said “Mr. Johnson?”
“You never mentioned how my great-uncle died.”
“Ah. Natural causes. He was a very old man.” I looked at him. There was something about the way he said it that sounded a little too smooth, as if it had been practiced.
But maybe I was just being paranoid. I had still not talked to this Carolyn person, and I had no idea what she wanted, or why she though my Great-Uncle had been killed. Maybe I had misunderstood what she meant entirely. I had no real reason not trust Johnson. And even if my Great-Uncle had been killed, maybe Johnson did not know anything about it. Clearly there was no murder investigation, so if he had been killed, then whoever did it definitely made it look like it was not murder. So, no reason to press Johnson for anything more now.
“Okay, thanks.” He smiled, and turned back to the gate. I took the opportunity to look a little more at the gate. It was big, at least twenty feet wide, and split down the middle into two sections that looked like they swung inward on iron hinges. The gate was attached to a wrought iron fence that continued on both sides, behind the row of bushes. The fence was about ten feet high, and the gate was the same height where they met, but curved up in a gentle arch to be at least fifteen feet high in the middle. The bars of the gate were mostly straight up and down, a few inches apart, with a single strut running across the middle at about chest height.
In the center of the gate, bisected by the connection between the two swinging parts, there was a rather strange decoration. The iron bars had been molded into a huge circle, at least ten feet across, with another, smaller circle inside it, with perhaps ten inches between them. The space between the circles was filled with symbols I had never seen before, connecting the two circles. They almost looked like Hebrew letters, but I did not recognize any of them. Within the inner circle was a huge seven pointed star. In the middle of the star, the entire thing was repeated on a smaller scale, and in the middle of the smaller star was an old iron lock that was built into the gate.
Johnson had unlocked a padlock on a new-looking chain that had been run through the gate. Next he took an old iron key out, and moved to put it in the gate’s keyhole, but as he moved the key close there was a tiny spark, like static, and he stopped. I smiled. He probably should have expected that, with the air so cool and dry, and he had just gotten out of his car. I got shocked getting out of cars all the time.
He turned to me, looking thoughtful, and held out the key. “Here. This is the key to the gate. It also opens the front door.”
I took it, but I did not move to open the gate. “Is there anything I need to sign or whatever?”
He blinked at me. “Yes, but don’t you want to go inside?”
“I kind of want to check it out by myself. No offense, but this is kind of personal.” Not to mention that there was something about him that was making me feel strange. I had not noticed anything like that the last time I had seen him, in his office, but this time there was…something. Something off.
He smiled. “Of course.” He open the car door again, and pulled out a briefcase. He slipped some papers out, laid them on the hood of the car and handed me a pen. “This just states that I have given you the keys to the property, and along with the deed and other paperwork I gave you yesterday, my official obligations listed in the will are complete.”
I read over the paper quickly, and signed it.
“That’s not to say, Ben, that you cannot still call me with any questions. I knew Michael for a long time, and I considered him a friend, and you are his family. If you need anything, just call.”
I smiled. I still has the strange feeling that something was off, but he sounded sincere enough. “Thanks, I will.”
He nodded, and got in the car. I watched as he pulled out of the drive and drove off, then I turned back to the gate.
I slid the key into the lock. No spark this time; I must not have built up a charge in the taxi. I turned the key. It turned smoothly, and I heard tumblers turning and clicking, and then a solid click as it unlocked. I pulled the key out, slipped it into my pocket, and pushed the gate open.