Henry’s belly was full of eggs and bacon. His body ached from the encounter with Tommy ‘The Knife’s’ worker bees. Several of his ribs could still feel their sting. He sat behind the wheel looking blankly down the street. Not a soul in site. All along the avenue were cars, some covered in snow, some cleaned off, but all of them resting and waiting for the day to begin. The sun was up, but the sky was too grey and depressing for anyone to know it. He pulled out and headed to see Miss Culberson.
He had talked to her on the phone. With most of his ‘updates’ being a load of bull. Henry didn’t believe she was on the up and up. Something about the way she dressed, which was intoxicating, and the way she described her father’s death, just didn’t ring true. He couldn’t sense any grieving. Her line about worrying if her father’s good name might be tarnished made him think she was hiding her real motive. Henry wanted to see her in her home. Read her on her turf. And maybe snoop around a bit.
He pulled into the drive. Opulence is usually wasted on Henry, but in this instance, he was impressed. He pulled his car up to the front door, parked behind the 34’ Bentley 3.5 Darby. It was a black and cream colored beauty. He rapped the knocker against the massive door. Footsteps could be heard approaching and then a stately gentleman opened the door and invited him in.
“Good Morning Sir, are you expected?” the man said in a proper British accent.
“No, but I believe Miss Culberson will see me.” Henry said politely. He watched him head up the massive front stairs. Henry thought about some of the great houses he had seen, Mansion House in London, The Breakers, and The Elms in Newport. This wasn’t quite in their league, but not far off either. He guessed that it could be quite a while before she returned; depending upon which wing she was in. Henry loved art and immediately noticed the Hiram Powers ‘The Greek Slave’ displayed prominently in the center of the entryway.
His feet echoed down the halls as he wondered around the corner. The hallway ran up to a set of giant mahogany doors. There were doors flanking the hall, each of them closed. Between each door there was a huge portrait. Normally one would expect to see family portraits, but Henry recognized two paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, the Lord and Lady of Dunstansville from the end of the 18th century. He was confident that they were not distant relatives of the Culbersons. When he spied the John Singer Sargent portrait of Madame Edouard Paileron, he knew that the Culbersons were new money, trying to buy their way into respectable society; And from the looks of it, doing a pretty good job.
The sound of distant feet approaching sent Henry back to his spot by the door. It was a good ten seconds before Miss Culberson appeared at the top of the steps. She flashed a big smile upon recognizing Henry, but quickly composed herself and replaced the smile with a more proper, albeit blank, expression. She seemed to float down the stairs. Each step was precise and refine, though it felt a bit forced.
“Good Morning, Mr. Wood, how are you today?” She said.
“I am well, thank-you.” Henry said with an equally refined and overtly forced expression.
Seeing this and knowing that he wasn’t buying her routine, she relaxed a bit.
“Oh Henry, you see right through me, don’t you?” She said, while putting her arm through his and leading him down the hall towards the giant doors. “Now tell me, have you made any progress finding the journal?”
Henry wanted to get a read on her and she seemed to be relaxing, so he decided to see what he could learn. “I have been working your case, and yesterday, I got worked over by some of Tommy ‘The Knife’s men. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” He said, trying to push her buttons. He was surprised by her answer.
“No. Who is that?” She said innocently. So innocently, in fact, that Henry believed her. So he brushed off her question by saying, “Oh nobody really, just another interested party. I thought you might have heard your father speak about him.”
“I didn’t really know any of my father’s friends. The only person who visited him regularly was that accountant Mr. Alexander. They would disappear into father’s office and talk in hushed voices.” She said, opening the giant doors.
The door led to a massive office, or was it a library, Henry wasn’t sure. There desk in the center made him think office. She let go of his arm and said, “This is daddy’s office. “, in a voice that rang true for the first time, since she had walked into his office.
“This is very impressive Miss Culberson.” Henry said, his eyes scanning the walls, taking in as much as he could.
“Please Henry, call me Sylvia.”
“Sylvia, how did your father die?” Henry said, trying not to sound insensitive.
“It was an explosion in his lab.” She said, showing genuine remorse. Something Henry hadn’t noticed in his office.
“His lab?” Henry asked.
“Yes he was an inventor. He had all sorts of patents. I can’t even explain what all of his stuff does; I just know that he loved his work.”
“You said that you suspected that he may have been cooking the books with Mr. Alexander, what makes you say that?”
“Look at this place.” She said waving her arms over her head slowly, and then sat down in her father’s desk chair and continued, “We moved here 3 years ago. Before that we lived in a small brownstone, and barely had enough to eat. I worked at a department store downtown. After mother died, he threw himself into his research and one day, he came home and said he had sold one of his patents. Two months later he sold another one, and then two more. It seems that companies were lining up at the door to get their hands on his inventions.”
“So what makes you think he was up to something?”
“Well, he was so secretive, and two weeks before the explosion, he told me about the journal Mr. Alexander was keeping and that it could be dangerous for us. That is when he told me about you.”
“Excuse me?” Henry said, trying not to sound startled, though he clearly was taken aback.
“Yes, we had dinner, just like most nights, and then he brought me in here and told me about the journal and said that if anything happened to him, I should hire you to find the journal. He gave me your card.”
She opened the top drawer on the right side and pulled out a business card. She handed it to Henry and said, “Oh and I had a bit of a hard time finding you, it must have your old address. I went there first and the office was empty, so I asked the bellman and he found out your current address for me.”
Henry took the card and looked at it. He looked at it again. The address was not his, nor was it his previous address, as he had always been in the same building. He turned the card over and the back was blank. He thought to himself, “That is so odd, I have never had another office, but that address looks very familiar. This is just two blocks from my office.”
Sylvia said, “What’s wrong Henry, isn’t that your card? You look like you have never seen it before.”
“It does look like my card, but I have never…” He stopped mid sentence. He took out his wallet and removed Bobby’s card. A chill ran up and down his spine. He slowly turned it over and read the back. The addresses were the same, right down to the office number, 309. Sylvia had just handed him a business cards, with what appeared to be his next address.
-- Brian Meeks, http://extremelyaverage.com