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The Inheritance Part 1 - Presumed Dead

Posted by Max_Writer , in Call of Cthulhu, Campaign Log 21 September 2017 · 311 views

CoC 7e Jazz Age

Monday, September 18, 2017

 

(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “The Inheritance” by Padraic Barrett from the monograph Horror Stories from the Red Room on Sunday, Sept 17, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with John Leppard, Austin Davie, Jacob Marcus, Ambralyn Tucker, and Katelyn Hogan.)

 

On the morning of Monday, June 5, 1922, five people met in the law offices of Malone & O’Driscoll in Bristol, Connecticut. Three of the five had answered an advertisement in the local newspaper that had promised $100 plus expenses to investigate a house in Massachusetts. Another was there at the request of one of the lawyers at the firm. The last was tagging along with his friend.

 

James Cloverfield was an extremely rich, young dilettante of only 26 years old. He had brown hair, beard and mustache, and was very well groomed. His suit probably cost more than many of them made in a year. He was tall and slim, standing about 6’2”. He was not a very attractive man, but he was a very rich one. He also had a very nice pocket watch he’d inherited from his father that he cherished.

 

A great believer in astrology, Cloverfield had an adopted a nine-year old shortly after the Great War raged across Europe and left many children without fathers and sometimes without even families. A charitable man who called New York City his home, he most enjoyed his gentleman’s club in that city, a place where even prohibition couldn’t reach and where many of his rich male friends congregated on a daily basis.

 

He was in Bristol at the behest of the lawyer Thomas O’Driscoll, one of the firm’s senior partners, a tall, well-dressed, middle aged man with neatly combed black hair and a handsome face.

 

Deryl Wallin was a somewhat overweight, 32-year-old mechanic who was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and had a small motorcar garage and repair shop in Bristol. He had worked around motorcars and mechanical things most of his life. He had red hair and a thick mustache. He always wore a baseball cap, but it was usually too dirty to tell which team he supported. He was fair, friendly, and helpful in everything he did.

 

Wallin had served in the Great War as a mechanic, well behind the lines, and never actually saw any action. He had been honorably discharged at the end of the War as a private. He was a great believer in karma and thought how a man lived his life greatly determined what happened to him. He owned a husky named Sif and cherished a necklace his brother had given him that had a pendant in the shape of a wolf.

 

Wallin had brought a friend from the Great War who was visiting him from Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Marco Pavil.

 

Pavil was a very large, rugged, 35-year-old, powerfully built man of 6’8” tall. He towered over all other men with his brown hair and blue eyes. Once somewhat handsome, his face had been badly burned by a German flamethrower in the Great War. The War had left another scar on the man as well: he was an alcoholic who needed his liquor or the pain and the DTs would overwhelm him.

 

Pavil was originally born in Warsaw, Poland, but his family had immigrated to the United States when he was still a child. Of good Catholic upbringing, though he no longer went to church, Pavil had a large extended family in Poland, though he had not seen much of them since he had been in Europe with the American army during the War. He was still a corporal in the army and treasured his dog tags.

 

Another local from Bristol was Elaine Chatwick, a shopkeeper and milliner. Miss Chatwick was 30 years old, very pretty, well-dressed, and mild mannered. She had mid-length, curly brown hair and wore glasses when she worked, her craft being the construction of hats of all kinds.

 

A Christian, Miss Chatwick had lost her parents under mysterious circumstances she didn’t like to think about. She still cherished a necklace her mother had given her before they died, her mother having told her it would protect her. She loved her little haberdashery in Bristol and enjoyed visiting the park where her parents had met.

 

Finally, Edna Petrov was a rugged Russian nurse of 30 years old. She was tall and solid with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. She was quite intimidating though she cared well for her patients. She lived and worked in Bristol.

 

A communist and believer in the recently recognized Soviet Union, Nurse Petrov had been a nurse during the Great War. There, she met a small, weak-looking man who treated her like an actual woman. The two had been very close but then he had gone missing during the War. She treasured a shoddy heart carved out of wood from the man. The item had bloodstains upon it and was roughly made. He obviously wasn’t a very good carver.

 

O’Driscoll had been pleasantly surprised with the number of people interested in the advertisement. He told them he wanted them to visit a house and warned that any malicious damage done to the house would mean less pay and possibly a lawsuit.

 

“The reason for this meeting: there’s a gentleman named … well, there was a gentleman named Reginald Clarke, a wealthy recluse,” O’Driscoll said. “He disappeared in 1914. It’s been seven years. My father, Edward, was his lawyer and appointed trustee to his estate after his disappearance. My father has since passed away, just earlier this year. I’ve taken over his cases and clients and, after reviewing the Clarke file, determined the best course of action was to establish if Clarke had any other next of kin and declaring him legally dead now as he’s been missing for the last seven years.

 

“So far, I have not been able to identify any heirs. He was a widower, no surviving children. I’m not aware of the existence of a will either. I’ve begun inventorying his assets with the help of Mr. Cloverfield.”

 

He gestured to the richly dressed man. Cloverfield had come to Connecticut partly to aid Mr. O’Driscoll as his family had dealt with some of Clarke’s holdings.

 

“That includes bank accounts, an extensive portfolio of stocks and bonds, and a large property up in Sandisfield, Massachusetts,” O’Driscoll went on. “So, I want to discuss some of the outstanding issues that need to be resolved before I can have Mr. Clarke declared legally dead.

 

“I must show that he cannot be located by inquiry or diligent search. I need you to go up to Sandisfield, talk to the police, make an inquiry about the possibility that he’s still alive, see if they know anything. Then, I also need an inventory and evaluation of the Clarke house, its contents, surrounding property. I need that conducted. I understand that Miss … Miss Chatwick?”

 

“Yes sir!” Miss Chatwick said with a smile.

 

“Miss Chatwick owns her own business so she obviously knows something about numbers,” O’Driscoll went on. “Accounting and the like. She can be helpful with that. Same with Mr. Wallin.

 

“Finally, we have no record of Mr. Clarke drafting a will. If there’s one in the house or on the property, if you could find it, that would be great. If you can’t, that’s understandable.

 

“So, I want you to make the drive to Sandisfield this morning to begin the search for him and inventory of his house. While you’re there, if you can learn anything about Clarke’s disappearance or if there’s a will on the property, that would be great.

 

“He was a very private man. Little was known about him prior to his arrival in Boston in 1889. He had supposedly made his fortune in the Far East and was a gentleman of leisure. He married in 1891. That was Alice Gardiner, the widow of one Jeremiah Gardiner, a respected merchant captain from Boston. They moved to Sandisfield that same year and built a country house there.

 

“In 1891, his wife died of childbirth to their first child: Jeremiah. Their only child, actually. After the death of his wife, he retreated from society and little was heard from him until tragedy struck again in 1902 when Jeremiah died after swallowing lye.”

 

“Oh goodness,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

“From this point on, Clarke became a recluse, was rarely seen away from his home,” O’Driscoll continued. “I don’t’ know the specifics surrounding his disappearance. It’s not in the file.”

 

He opened a draw and took out a file, laying it on the desk for them.

 

“He was first reported missing on 9, August, 1914, by a local constable,” he went on. “Search of the house revealed no signs of foul play. Nothing was missing. The police canvassed the area for witnesses and a number of searches were conducted, to no avail. There was some talk that he might have run off with a local girl. Constable Chaney, was the name that was written in the file, with Sandisfield Police Department conducted the search. I wrote to Sandisfield Police Department, requesting a copy of the investigation file but I have not received any reply in two weeks. They might be more amiable if people show up at their front door.

 

“The mansion has been empty since the disappearance. After my father was assigned as trustee, they hired a local man named Jethro Brown to act as the mansion’s caretaker. I believe he’d been the gardener and his wife the cook there before the disappearance. I sent a letter to Brown, but I’ve received no reply on that either. But I did send a letter that I was coming up and to expect my representatives if I wasn’t there. His address is Bramble Cottage, West Street, Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

 

“I’ve called up there. There’s a hotel in Sandisfield called the Grand Hotel. I’ve already gotten rooms booked. I’ll telephone them this afternoon and tell them to book five rooms. That will be paid for by our offices. Just in case you need to spend the night.

 

“Do you have any questions?”

 

He looked them over and then gave them directions on how to get there by motorcar. He noted there were no trains that went into Sandisfield.

 

“I understand it’s a lot of information for you all to digest,” he finally said. “Basically, I want you to go up to Sandisfield, talk to the police, look at the house, see if you can figure out what happened to Clarke, see if there’s a will, and make an inventory of that property and any assets.”

 

“It’s such an unfortunate history,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

“Very strange,” O’Driscoll said. “Yes. Well. Poor man. So … we’re trying to declare him legally dead so if you can find out what happened to him, that would be great. If you can’t, that’s understandable. You’ll still get paid. Do you have vehicles?”

 

“I do,” Cloverfield said.

 

“Yeah, I’ve got my Harley,” Wallin said.

 

“I have a bicycle,” Miss Chatwick said. “Would that work?”

 

“Sandisfield is about an hour and a half by car from here,” O’Driscoll said. “So probably not.”

 

“I have an extra seat in my car,” Cloverfield said.

 

“There you go,” O’Driscoll said.

 

“You can throw my bike in the back of my truck,” Pavil said.

 

“Oh good sir, would you be willing?” Miss Chatwick said to Cloverfield.

 

“Of course,” Cloverfield said.

 

“Bless you,” she said.

 

“Can I bring my dog?” Wallin asked.

 

“As long as the dog doesn’t do any damage to the house, that’s fine,” O’Driscoll said. “If he makes a mess or anything in the house, just clean it up. That’s all I ask. But yes. Of course.”

 

They all left the office on that dreary, overcast day. A few introductions were made by those who didn’t know each other. Miss Chatwick knew Nurse Petrov as the woman had tended to her once when he had a broken leg from falling off her bicycle. She also knew Wallin, who did work on that same bicycle. He had also purchased a baseball cap from her store. When Nurse Petrov shook Wallin’s hand, he noted her very firm handshake.

 

Miss Chatwick got into Cloverfield’s sporty little red Stutz Model K Roadster. It even had an electric starter. He had put the top up as the weather did not look promising. Wallin donned leather helmet and goggles, petting his 7-year-old husky Sif, who sat in the sidecar of his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He put the cover on the sidecar and started up the machine with a roar. Pavil got started his Model T Ford pickup truck and waved Nurse Petrov to take the other seat. The vehicle had no doors. With Cloverfield in the lead, they drove north out of Bristol.

 

As they left the town, it started heavily raining.

 

* * *

 

The hour and a half drive over muddy roads through the pouring rain led them to the wilds of western Massachusetts by 11 a.m. The rainstorm had turned into a thunderstorm by the time they got there.

 

Highly embarrassed of being in a social situation with a man, Miss Chatwick was silent most of the ride. She was also a little embarrassed that Cloverfield, who focused on the road ahead of him while trying to remember the directions he’d been given, didn’t try anything.

 

Wallin was soaking wet after that time and glad he was wearing his riding leathers and helmet. He knew it could have been worse.

 

Both Pavil and Petrov were wet from the ride as well. The truck didn’t have any doors and the rain blew in the sides as they drove down the muddy roads. Both were dressed for the weather, however.

 

The sign on the town they drove into said New Boston and there wasn’t much to it. They spotted a building marked Sandisfield Police and Fire on the left and Cloverfield pulled in front of the building that appeared to be the police station. Wallin pulled in behind him, followed by Pavil.

 

Cloverfield quickly exited his sports car and ran over to open the passenger door for Miss Chatwick. He held his overcoat over her as she got out to attempt to keep her dry. The two entered the police station followed by Wallin leading his dog Sif in as the animal didn’t like thunder.

 

Pavil removed the flask from his jacket and tucked it under his seat. Nurse Petrov noticed but didn’t say anything. The two of them entered the police station.

 

The police station was a single-story timber building with a brick jailhouse at the back. Through the front door was a counter with a small office behind where a young constable was sitting and reading a magazine. He stood up as they entered, walking over to the counter to greet them in a friendly fashion. He was in his early 20s, built like a linebacker, with farm boy good looks, and an easy smile.

 

“Hello folks,” he said with a grin. “Can I help you?”

 

It said Dolthan on his nametag.

 

“Yes, good sir,” Cloverfield said. “We’re looking for information.”

 

“Okay,” Officer Dolthan said. “I’ll help you any way I can.”

 

“We’re looking for information on Reginald Clarke.”

 

“Um … don’t know that name. Wait, the Clarke House?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Oh, the Clarke House. We’ll I’ve heard some stories from Sgt. Lanford.”

 

“Is he in at the moment?” Wallin asked.

 

“No, he’s on his annual fishing trip,” Constable Dolthan said. “Won’t be back for a week.”

 

“Are we in the right town?” Cloverfield asked.

 

“This is New Boston in Sandisfield,” Constable Dolthan said.

 

“Is … how far are we from the Clarke House?”

 

“Oh man. I think Clarke House is on the other side of Sandisfield proper. You see Sandisfield is this whole area and there’s a bunch of towns that make up Sandisfield Proper. If you go up to the next road and take a left, that road will take you all the way to Sandisfield. It’ll probably be about the second little town on the way up there. It’s not really a town, it’s just a conglomeration of houses up there. New Boston is … where business takes place. The Grand Hotel’s here and the church, the church is here, and we have a couple shops downtown too.”

 

“I heard there was a police report about the investigation of the Clarke House. Do you know where we’d be able to find that?”

 

“It’d be here. This is the only police department in Sandisfield.”

 

“Do you have the records, then?”

 

“Yes sir, we do.”

 

“Can we look at it?”

 

“Yeah. What is you folks’ interest in the Clarke House?”

 

“We’re looking into his assets,” Wallin said. “We were sent by an attorney.”

 

“An attorney?” Constable Dolthan said. “From where?”

 

“Bristol, Connecticut.”

 

“Why sure! I can help you out. Hold on. Hold on. Let me …”

 

He went to the single filing cabinet in the office and soon returned with a very thin file with a few sheets of paper in it. They looked at the papers.

 

The facts were these:

 

On the evening of 8th, August, 1914, Madeline Werner, a scullery maid, failed to return home after work. When her family reported her missing the next morning, Constable Chaney visited Clarke Hall where she had recently entered service. He found the house empty with no signs of Madeline Werner or Reginald Clarke. He conducted a search of the mansion, but found no evidence of a disturbance or any wrongdoing. He also noted that there was no sign of any items being removed, and that Mr. Clarke’s Ford Model T automobile was still present. A subsequent search of the grounds also revealed nothing.

 

Constable Chaney established that the last person to see either Madeline Werner or Reginald Clarke was Judith Brown, the cook. Judith Brown had spoken with Mr. Clarke briefly after dinner, and then said goodbye to Madeline as she was leaving. She told Constable Chaney that Madeline was always the last to leave in the evenings, as one of her duties was to clean the kitchen range before the next day.

 

The file went on to list the other efforts made by Constable Chaney to locate Reginald Clarke and Madeline Werner, but to no avail, and the case remained unsolved. Madeline Werner’s family always insisted that Clarke had been responsible for her disappearance, however there was some local gossip that Clarke and Werner might have eloped together. Werner’s family left Sandisfield a few years later and moved to California.

 

“That’s all we got on that, folks,” Constable Dolthan said.

 

“Do you have any copies of this or is that the only copy you have?” Cloverfield asked.

 

“That’s the only copy of the police reports we have,” Constable Dolthan said. “If you want to write all that information down, you’re welcome to. We don’t have any kind of photostat machine.”

 

“Madeline’s family is conveniently absent,” Pavil said. “That is highly convenient. Is the cook still there? Miss Brown, I believe.”

 

“Miss Brown?” Constable Dolthan said. “I don’t know. I heard some stories about the Clarke house. It’s haunted or something.”

 

“Haunted?” Miss Chatwick said. “My dear, what do you mean?”

 

“People won’t go in there. Those people disappeared.”

 

“Well, disappearances, yes.”

 

“Well, we were kids. That’s what we talked about when we were kids.”

 

“Is this mansion near any wooded area?” Pavil asked. “Forest?” How big are the grounds?”

 

“The mansion is surrounded by forest,” Constable Dolthan said. “Not sure how big the grounds are.”

 

“Would we have permission to search through his house to try to find a will?” Wallin said.

 

“Well, yes sir,” Constable Dolthan said. “If his lawyer sent you, of course you can.”

 

“All right.”

 

“I appreciate you stopping by here first.”

 

“I just have one more question,” Pavil said.

 

“Of course,” Constable Dolthan said. “I’ve got plenty of time, sir.”

 

“How big is this mansion and how big are the grounds?”

 

“It’s a good-sized house. Two … three stories. It’s not like the White House or nothing. But it’s a good-sized house. There’s a windmill on the property. I think that runs the pump to the cistern, so it’s got running water. But it was never hooked up to the electricity, I believe. I don’t think there’s lines that go up to it. Country house. They use lanterns and that kind of thing. I was never out there. I just heard stories around school, that kind of stuff. You’re welcome to go out there if the lawyer sent you.”

 

“And you said Chaney was on his fishing trip?”

 

“Yes sir, Sergeant … no no no. Chaney … Constable Chaney died in France in 1918.”

 

“Shame.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“Did you ever receive the letter from the attorney that sent us?” Wallin asked.

 

Constable Dolthan looked sheepishly over at the other desk. There was a pile of mail there.

 

“Sgt. Lanford isn’t much for correspondence,” he said. “Sorry about that. He …”

 

“I understand,” Wallin said. “I’m not one for paperwork myself.”

 

“Yeah, I apologize. We don’t mean to cause any problems. I’m just a constable. I can’t say anything bad about my sergeant. He’s a good man. He’s a good man. Sorry he’s not around. He might be able to help you a little bit better.”

 

“That’s all right. If we’re still here within the week, we’ll probably talk to him.”

 

“Yeah. He should be back … uh … I believe he’s coming back Sunday or Monday a week.”

 

“All right.”

 

“He just left yesterday.”

 

They left the counter and Constable Dolthan went back to the office.

 

“I think the first step is to head for that house,” Pavil said.

 

“Which one?” Wallin said. “We could go to the Brown house.”

 

“I think we don’t have enough information to ask them any questions. But we don’t have keys to the house so … I believe we should visit the Brown house.”

 

“Better than breaking down the door.”

 

“I’d rather not damage the house.”

 

Pavil got directions to Bramble House, where the Browns lived from Constable Dolthan. They returned to their vehicles and headed out.

 

Sandisfield proved to be very rural. The towns only consisted of a dozen buildings each. Most were simply groups of houses with no sign of stores. They passed a post office at one point. They eventually found what they thought was Sandisfield proper the house they thought was Bramble House. Cloverfield pulled up onto the front lawn.

 

A small white timber cottage a little outside of Sandisfield, Bramble Cottage looked decrepit and unkempt. The garden was overgrown with weeds, paint was peeling off the walls, and there were shingles missing from the roof. The yard was overgrown as well.

 

“This place is awful,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

They disembarked from the motorcars, Pavil getting his flask, taking a swig, and then tucking it away.

 

“You going to give me a sip of that?” Nurse Petrov said.

 

He handed over the flask and she took a drink of the whiskey.

 

“Not good drink in America,” she said. “Russia is much better.”

 

“Hard to get good vodka in this neck of the woods,” he said.

 

There was no porch on the house and Wallin quickly knocked. It was almost a minute before the door was answered by a large, middle-aged woman with a piggish, fat-cheeked face, and long dark brown hair streaked with gray. She wore a stained green house dress, had a lit cigarette in one hand, and reeked of gin.

 

“Mind if we step inside, ma’am?” Walling asked.

 

“Who the hell are you?” the woman grunted.

 

Her voice was deep and grating as if she had been smoking all her life.

 

“We are attorneys looking into the disappearance of your former employer,” Wallin said.

 

“You’re an attorney?” the woman said in disbelief.

 

“Well, no.”

 

“I don’t believe it!”

 

“We’re sent on behalf of an attorney.”

 

The horrible woman stared at them and then staggered for no apparently reason in the doorway. She was obviously drunk.

 

“All right,” she finally said. “Come on in.”

 

The living room of the house was messy and had obviously not been cleaned in a very long time. There was a rotten smell. Bottles were piled in the corner and an ashtray sat on a table, almost overflowing with ashes and cigarette butts. They stood near the door, dripping from the soaking they’d taken in the rain.

 

“Well, close the door behind you,” the woman grunted.

 

Someone pushed the door close.

 

“What’s this attorney?” she growled. “What do you want?”

 

“We’re looking into the disappearance of Reginald Clarke,” Cloverfield said.

 

“Huh!” the woman replied. “Oh. You’re the people the lawyer wrote me about?”

 

“Yeah,” he said.

 

“Huh,” she said.

 

She turned and shuffled through an archway to a kitchen without another word. It felt like a long time went by before she returned with an old, rusty ring of keys. She threw it at Cloverfield and it struck him in the chest and fell to the floor. He looked shocked.

 

“Not very clean for a cook,” Nurse Petrov said to Miss Chatwick.

 

“No!” Miss Chatwick said.

 

The woman took a long drag on the cigarette.

 

“Ma’am, I know this is kind of a long shot and I’m sure it’s hard to remember a specific night, but could you tell me what Mr. Clarke was like on the night he disappeared?” Pavil said. “Was he saying anything weird? Doing anything weird?”

 

The terrible woman snickered.

 

“Clarke was a crazy old man,” she said. “He wasted his fortune hiring mediums to talk to his dead wife. That Madeline was a gold-digger.”

 

“Mediums?” Pavil said.

 

“I bet they ran away together.”

 

“Mediums? What do you mean?”

 

“Fortune tellers! Card readers! People that would come in and … and … and try to talk to his dead wife. Those séance people. They got that Ouija board and they’re talking to spirits and that got - they say there’s ectoplasm coming out of all of their places.”

 

“Oh dear,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

“How did Madelyn come into play with that?” Pavil said.

 

“She worked there,” the woman said. “I bet they were having an affair. Never liked that girl. Lazy! Lazy girl!”

 

She snubbed her cigarette butt out in the already filled ashtray and then removed another and lit it up, taking a drag.

 

“Is there anything we need from this … fine woman?” Cloverfield said.

 

“I do not believe so,” Pavil said.

 

“Where’s your husband at the moment?” Wallin asked.

 

“Jethro’s dead,” she said. “He killed himself. Six years ago, dead and buried.”

 

“Oh,” Miss Chatwick said. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“Hung himself out at that house!” the woman said. “I didn’t bother telling them lawyer folks. I didn’t figure they’d care who’s keeping an eye on the place so long as somebody was. So I took the job over myself.”

 

“Makes sense,” Wallin said. “All right, well thank you ma’am.”

 

“Uh-huh,” the woman said.

 

“And I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

“Yeah,” the woman grunted.

 

She went to the front door and opened it for them. She glared at all of them and they left, Cloverfield using his raincoat to shield Miss Chatwick again. The woman stared down Nurse Petrov as she walked by, the Russian woman returning her glare.

 

“If you have something to say, go ahead and say it,” the nurse said as she passed.

 

“Said all I need to say,” the woman said.

 

“Very well,” Nurse Petrov said. “Continue in your drinking and sad life.”

 

The woman sputtered and stuttered, seemingly ordering the nurse, who was already out the door, out of her house. She slammed the door behind the last of them.

 

“I like to spar words with people,” Nurse Petrov said.

 

They realized they were not sure where Clarke House was.

 

“She won’t remember,” Nurse Petrov said, nodding to the house. “Too drunk.”

 

They headed back to the police station in New Boston and Constable Dolthan gave them directions to the house from the Brown’s house. They headed back as thunder and lightning flickered across the sky.

 

It was after noon before they found the pair of tall stone pillars with chained and padlocked wrought iron gates which Constable Dolthan had told them was the entrance to the estate. The road was surrounded on all sides by woodlands and beyond the gate was a long, leaf strewn, overgrown gravel driveway that winded away from the road.

 

Wallin pulled his Harley Davidson motorcycle past Cloverfield’s motorcar and up to one of the pillars. He climbed off his bike as his dog stuck his head out of the sidecar cover, blinking in the rain. Wallin held up his hand and Cloverleaf rolled down his window and flung the keys at the man left-handed. It was not a good throw and went high over Wallin’s head and towards the gate. Wallin leapt into the air, deftly catching the keys in midair.

 

Cloverfield stuck his hands out of the window and did a light clapping for the man, like a spectator of golf.

 

Wallin worked on the padlock until he found the correct key, unlocking it, removing the chains, and then pushing open each gate. As he pushed open the second gate, Cloverfield pulled through right by him. Wallin just shook his head and headed for his motorcycle.

 

The driveway was long enough to hide the house from view. As they drove up the rutted, overgrown path, the house hove into sight. The mansion was an imposing three-story Victorian edifice with a mansard roof and dormer windows. It was decaying from years of neglect, however. It stood overgrown with ivy, shingles missing from the roof, gutters clogged with weeds and, where it could still be seen, the paint peeling from the wooden cladding. It was quite clear that no one had been tending to the house for many a year.

 

“Didn’t that woman say she was supposed to be taking care of this place?” Pavil asked Nurse Petrov as they pulled up.

 

Nurse Petrov just gave him a shake of the head and rolled her eyes.

 

“The woman seems too drunk to do much,” she said. “Not very good at sparring with words. Russia’s much more fun.”

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she opens up the door, says ‘meh,’ and just walks away every day,” Pavil said.

 

They pulled up to the front of the house. There was a deep front porch and all the windows seemed intact.

 

Wallin dismounted from his motorcycle, his dog Sif leaping out of the sidecar, and they went to the front door, which proved locked, as the others disembarked from their motorcars and headed up onto the porch, Cloverfield using his raincoat to protect with Chatwick from the rain. Wallin eventually found the key that opened the front door and pushed it open.

 

He expected Sif to trot into the house and was a little surprised when the dog stopped at the threshold, stiffened, and then growled, glaring into the foyer. His hackles rose up and he was shaking. Cloverfield put his hand in the jacket pocket where his gun was.

 

“You can go back to the bike whenever you want,” Wallin said.

 

The dog was growling as he looked into the foyer and then whining when he looked up at Wallin. When the man snapped his fingers towards the motorcycle, the dog bolted off the porch, leaping effortlessly into the sidecar.

 

“Poor thing,” Miss Chatwick said.

 

Nurse Petrov rolled her eyes at the cowardly animals.

 

“He also doesn’t really like the weather,” Wallin said.

 

“Do we have any flashlights?” Cloverfield said.

 

“I have a lighter,” Pavil said.

 

Wallin went to his sidecar and got into his toolbox. There was a flashlight and he pocketed it before going back to the porch. They entered the house, Nurse Petrov, determined to find candles, in the lead.

 

With its black and white marble checkerboard floor, impressing staircase, and stained oak woodwork, the foyer was dim and imposing with the only light coming from the front door and through archways to either side. Decorated with high paneled, carved wainscoting and floral wallpaper, the walls were adorned with ornately framed seascapes and set with paraffin lamp brackets. Dust covered every surface and cobwebs festooned the walls and hung from the ceiling.

 

“To answer your question, Marco, no, she does not take care of place,” Nurse Petrov said. “Momma Petrov does better than this.”

 

The archway on the left led to a parlor while the archway on the right led to a dining room. The foyer continued back towards the back of the house.

 

“Let’s see if I can find some matches,” Miss Chatwick said, heading into the dining room.

 

“Basement,” Pavil said.

 

He wondered if the house had some kind of gas lighting and figured the machinery would be in the basement.

 

“You come with me to basement,” Petrov said to him.

 

The two headed for the back of the house.

 

Cloverfield went into the parlor while Wallin headed up the steps. All of them left trails in the undisturbed dust, leaving footprints and filling the air with dust motes. Cloverfield covered his face with his handkerchief.

 

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