The Crossword Puzzle (#3)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
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The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

Part 3 – LEGAL ADVICE OBTAINED & A FLY IN THE SOUP

 

Nola sat on a bed in a motel room, crying in humiliation and trying to understand what had just happened.  Thought requires a mood and the distraught emotions she felt did not conduce to it. Exhausted, she finally retreated into her religion; and resorting to years of training got herself into deep meditation. There is a condition that is worse than guilt and that is wishful-guilt.  Nola had never slept with Spence, but she had wanted to; the accusations, therefore, were true in thought if not in deed.

In Zen there is a principle based on the Lex Talionis that the Bible and  Karl Menninger disclosed to the world: the law of like punishment.  In his clinical experience Menninger observed that there were rules that the conscience followed.  The most surprising one was that a person’s ego suffered in direct proportion to the sin or ill fortune it wished would happen to someone else. The instinct to destroy stays inside the ego and ultimately connives to harm the ego with some kind of self-caused adversity that was akin to the ill wish it had against someone else. This he regarded as a form of the Lex Talionis, the law that makes the punishment equal to the crime. It extends to thoughts as well as deeds. The punishment may bear no obvious relation to the “crime.”  We easily forget that we have harshly considered someone’s conduct as sinful or were unkind to someone in our home or workplace; but oddly, though we may have driven a section of the freeway a thousand times, keeping within the posted limits, we suddenly find ourselves accelerating through an area and getting stopped by the police.  We may have stepped over the edge of a carpet a thousand times, but suddenly one day it becomes an obstacle that causes us to stumble and fall. We may also become inexplicably ill. Yes, there may be other reasons for our adversity, but they do not easily lend themselves to differentiation. However much we may have cheated or secretly sought harm to come to someone, we don’t connect the events.  This, explains Menninger, is the self-destructive act that has followed our act or wish that someone would make a mistake or get sick or injured. The law also bears a resemblance to the doctrine of Karma.

There was no doubt that Nola had mocked her sister and had secret;y wished that something would happen to provoke a divorce between Paige and Spence.  She wanted him for herself; and this could only mean – regardless of Paige’s scandalous conduct – that it would cause her sister’s unhappiness.

Guilt, professional as well as sisterly, had to be dealt with; and this required some rather difficult Zen cogitation. Nola was torn between being innocent of illicit behavior and knowing that she wanted to commit it; and further, that although she and Spencer had been misquoted, they had, in fact, laughed at Paige’s expense.  She had accomplished what she had been hired to do – help to restore Spencer’s health.  There really was no reason for her to stay on at her sister’s house – certainly creating crossword puzzles was not within her nursing duties.  She should have made arrangements to leave the residence weeks before and not waited to be thrown out simply because she wanted to be near a patient to whom she felt attracted.  It was a problem that only a Zen adept could even begin to examine and that only a saint could completely solve.  Nola was no saint but she did proceed accordingly to accept her responsibility in the debacle. She had reached the guilty stage, which, she knew, that Zen or no Zen, would precede a resentful phase and a desire to distance herself from the entire problem.  In short, to flee from it.   Alaska entered her mind.  She had always wanted to see it. She knew that she should have persisted in her Zen program, but she was exhausted and could not concentrate.

She lay back on her bed and grieved the two things that still remained unresolved: Spencer’s failure to defend her morally and her exclusion as co-author of the crossword puzzle series, which had begun to be a regular Sunday feature in the local newspaper.

“Ah, well,” she said, unable to think constructively by so much self-examination, “Spence is still coming back from a serious disease.  Let’s not expect too much gallantry from him.”  She went into the shower, hoping that the water would help to wash away the last vestiges of the disagreeable experience.

As she closed the drapes against the outside world’s darkness, she decided to lay on her bed and chant quietly until she fell asleep, but before she could finish the first chant, she slipped into a fitful sleep.

 

In the morning a strange irritation – not one normally associated with low blood sugar or the unexpected announcement of bad news – seized her, and her nerves sizzled inside her like so many lit fuses.  How had she become the victim of such injustice?  She had left a good job to come and live with her sister.  Through her professional care, her patient had regained his health.  Was she to be terminated as an incompetent servant?  No.  She showered and as her hair dried, she looked under “Attorneys at law” in the Yellow Pages of the slim phone directory and saw that there was a law office less than a block away that had hours on Saturday.  And, it was near a coffee shop.

She walked to the coffee shop, had a muffin and coffee for breakfast, and then headed for the lawyer’s office.

It was a shabby store-front office and she almost decided not to enter when she reminded herself that she only wanted to ask if she had a case against Paige for such an undeserved dismissal.  Painted on the door were the flaking letters that spelled Graham Corbin, Esq.  Were it any day but Saturday, she would not have entered.

Inside, sitting at a battered receptionist’s desk, she encountered a man of about forty, wearing denim shirt and pants and hiking boots which he casually propped on the only visitor’s chair in the small room.  He looked up and said, “Come in. Graham’s with a client.  I’m Ellis Foyle, his gumshoe… you know…  his private investigator.”  He took his feet off the chair and wiped the seat cushion.  “It’s clean.  You can make yourself comfortable while you wait.”

Nola pulled the chair to the front of the desk.  “I don’t have an appointment.”  She sat down.

“I can tell from the way your eyebrows are trying to touch each other that you’ve got a problem.  I’m covered by the laws of agency. I work exclusively for Graham.  Anything you tell me is confidential.  What’s your problem?”

“I don’t need a private investigator, and Mr. Corbin is not my attorney so there is no privileged communication.  I was only hoping to get some legal advice.”

“I’m a licensed attorney, too; but I don’t like practicing law.  I prefer to be Paul Drake to Perry Mason, if you know what I mean.  I like the excitement of the chase not the roasting of the venison.”

Nola stood up.  “Just the same, I think I’ll wait until Mr. Corbin is free.”

“I can tell you that you may not be given interview time until Monday.”

“Then I’ll call and make an appointment for Monday.”

“No,” Ellis Foyle said emphatically.  “If you wait until Monday, everything will seem to be all right again.  You’ll feel that you can cope with the problem and make some kind of half-assed decision and leave town.  But you’ll take the problem with you.  It won’t go away.  So tell me now what the trouble is while you’re still steeped in the emotion of it;” and, he added, ”give me a penny for my thoughts and to make our relationship legal.”

Nola searched the bottom of her purse for a coin until she found a quarter.  She placed it on Ellis’s desk and then blurted out, “This is crazy,” and for a reason she would never be able to articulate, she sat down and burst out crying. In painful detail – which included her own culpability in the problem – she gave a complete history of the situation to Ellis Foyle.

“Let’s restate it as this,” he said.  “You left a good job because your sister Paige literally begged you to come.  You’ve disposed of your possessions because she assured you that you could use her furniture and appliances. Now you’ve no place to go.  If you leave you won’t have a job and you can hardly expect glowing references from them.  You did not have a sexual relationship with your employer so if anyone says that you have, they are adding slanderous insult to your injury.  This is your professional reputation we’re talking about… a reputation you are obliged to protect.  You cannot afford to be dismissed like a thieving, oversexed servant.   You’ve worked all day, been on call all night – even weekends – and the proof of your efforts is in Spencer’s obvious recovery. Everyone in town knows how close to death he was. When you next talk to your sister, tell her that you have been unjustly treated.  She isn’t going to get rid of you that easily.”

Nola wiped her eyes.  “I wish I wrote this all down,” she said.

“Don’t worry.  You’ll recall the points because they’re true and you don’t have to worry about deviating from or omitting anything.  Oh…  for your trouble demand an increase in salary if you return.  Also demand punitive remuneration.  And insist on getting your share of the credit for the crossword puzzles which, as it happens, I do and like very much, particularly the theme aspect.   And if things don’t work out this way, I know lots of medical people who would gladly give you a nursing position.”

“What makes you think it will be so easy?”

“I went to school with Spence.  He may have gotten twenty years older, but otherwise he hasn’t changed. I know Paige, too.  Around here, who doesn’t.”

“And suppose she says, “‘Sue me!”  Then what?”

“Well, that is the reason why you should stay on here to threaten them, but I don’t advise you to sue.  That can be only a lose-lose situation for you.  First of all, you’re not technically a tenant.  Eviction laws don’t apply.  So you’ll be asking for slander’s big money.  You don’t have much in the way of damages to show. More importantly, what you need to remember is that Paige has no money and anything you’d get in settlement would be Spence’s money.  Now think about it.  If he tells the truth, that you never had sexual relations with him, he loses the case and a big chunk of his money.  If he lies and says he did have sexual relations with you, your reputation is ruined and he has given Paige the right to increase an alimony demand.  I know Spence and despite all this, he will lie.  It will make him seem like a macho man since, as everybody in town knows, Paige screws anything that ain’t nailed down, as we say.  You will restore his manly honor.  And don’t think he regards perjury as perjury.  No. No.  Spence comes from an old aristocratic family and unless he’s tried by his peers, to him it doesn’t count.  He’s expected to lie in such an over-reaching peasant assembly, a comical version of a court to him.  He may not yet have shown you this side of his nature.  He’s been too busy coming back from the dead.”

“And when do you expect all this drama to occur?  Next week?  Next month?  I’d like to go back to work sooner than later.”

Ellis Foyle stood up.  “I’ll make a deal with you.  They know it was through your skill that he regained his health.  They know it is through your contributions to the crossword puzzles that have made them so popular. Paige will call you and apologize.  Here’s my deal.  I’ll give her one week. If she doesn’t call by next Saturday, I’ll pay for your entire motel bill.”

Nola laughed.  “You are crazy.  A lumberjack with a law degree.  A social peer of Spencer Morton Ghent who derides his own class. Ok.  I’ll pull myself together and see about moving to Alaska which is one of those impetuous moves you think will get me nowhere. And I’ll try to rest and put faith in your judgment.  My Buddha Self led me here.  Surely, there’s a reason for that.”  She paused, “How much do I owe you, Brother Foyle?”

“Next week when we’re discussing how much you should require in a lump sum from them to return to your position there… discussing this at lunch time, wherever I take you, you will have paid me in full.”

Nola laughed at him as she left the building and returned to her motel room.

 

The week passed quickly.  Nola had forgotten that she had lent her bib-like Zen rakusu to a friend in Philadelphia along with her cushion and mat.  She went to a fabric shop and bought enough material to make a rakusu completely by hand (as it is supposed to be done) and also a kapok filled cushion and foam-rubber sheet to cover as a mat.  She watched television and washed, repaired, and ironed all her old nursing uniforms.  She also laundered and starched all her old nursing caps.   She bought new white shoes and white panty-hose.  She checked the want-ads for nurses, but, as expected, the hospitals used employment agencies to get their new employees.

It was on a windy Saturday morning that Nola – not knowing whether or not the lunch bet was still good – exited the bathroom wearing only a bathrobe and a towel turban and lay upon the bed.

As she considered her options, Paige called, begging to be forgiven and blaming an unladylike tendency to listen to the servants’ gossip which, she later learned, had been modified to cause her even more pain. As far as Spencer was concerned, he had become incommunicado – only Hines, the male secretary she had just hired, gained access to him and they spent most of their time in the master’s bedroom.   “If that’s the way he wants to be, fine.  I’m not going to kiss his ass. On one hand he seems indispensable to Spence but on the other, judging from remarks made by Hines Spencer regards him as a fly in the soup.  It’s all for my discomfort, I know.”

Again, Nola vehemently denied that she had had any sexual relations with Spencer and thanked her sister for having taken the trouble to call.  “I should tell you,” she added, “that I have consulted an attorney.” There was a pause in the conversation and Nola assumed that it was over and wished Paige good luck and said that she’d be in touch to let her know the address where she could send her W2 form for income tax purposes. Since Paige did not immediately respond, Nola disconnected the call.  Much relieved, she lay back on her bed and grieved the two things that still remained unresolved: Spencer’s failure to defend her and her exclusion as co-author of the crossword puzzles. Thirty minutes later, a knock at the door roused her.  It was a tearful Paige who had come, determined to confess the true state of her marital affairs.

The two women sat on the bed, and, as a transfixed Nola listened, Paige launched a confession which began with Jules’ playful distortion of the comments and went on to Spencer’s refusal to meet her ever increasing sexual needs – which, she mentioned, had become sort of masochistic in the last few years or so – and which she recommended that Nola try before condemning what she couldn’t understand.  She invited Nola to attend a friend’s “swinging” style of party life which was far more exciting, she assured Nola, than Nola could possibly imagine.  She finally ended by explaining that her own jittery nerves caused her outburst – since she had been late with her period but, “Thank God,” it had finally arrived, saving all those “nasty trips to the abortion doctor.”

Nola, literally wide eyed and open mouthed, offered no comment; and Paige concluded her astonishing remarks with a plea that Nola return to the house.  Spencer, who was not only experiencing diarrhea again, demanded that she do whatever it took to bring Nola back.  But more, she had need of someone she could trust – things were getting so complicated at home that she needed a sounding-board for her decisions.  Spencer had mentioned returning to Zen and she would even try to give that religious business some attention.  Also, she would increase Nola’s salary and make sure that she would have more time for herself and her own “needs.” Lastly, she apologized for Spencer’s attitude towards ownership of the house. “Primogeniture is some dynastic thing with him.  We joke about his aristocratic pretensions.  Jules will call himself, ‘The Lord Chamberlain.’ and someone told Eggie that the word ‘cook’ is a blending of two words, ‘bend’ and ‘stoop.’ So she refers to herself as the ‘Royal bender and stooper,’ and always clarifies the double entendre title as ‘in the kitchen, that is.’   And Gladys… the poor girl who was jealous – if you could believe that – about my fun with Gregor since she’s got quite a crush on him – but who doesn’t? –  never knew if she should be a ‘scullery maid’ or ‘Maid in Waiting.’”

“So I’m the Royal Physician’s Assistant,” Nola said, adding, not too deftly,“You know, I am co-author of those puzzles. Maybe I’m some kind of court jester, but whatever I am, I deserve half of the recognition for them. I put a lot of work into their creation. Many nights I’d be in my room at midnight scrounging for words.”

“Of course,” Paige said.  “You deserve co-authorship and in addition you should get some sort of remuneration for any inconvenience or damage done to your reputation.  I’ll set everything up and call you again. Spence needs help again. Can you plan on coming back… say… Monday?”

Nola stood up and walked around the motel room from bureau to Tv to window drape and back again, trying to think of what to say.  Paige watched her and said, “Of course you’ll be given evenings off so that you can have your own private life – or stay in your bedroom – whatever you want – and naturally you’ll be given the recognition you deserve.  The puzzles are so successful that Spencer’s attorney is seeing about some syndication deal.  I don’t know much about it but you can ask him.

“Dr. Boyer took Spence to some upscale Swiss clinic in Media to meet with other doctors there. It’s a small place but it’s related to the spa he went to in Lucerne. There was a doctor visiting there who is supposed to be really knowledgeable about Spence’s type of colitis. She approved your regimen 100%. But he’s still not getting better.  I think he misses you and the fun you two had with those puzzles. As I told you, I did ask an employment agency to send young men who could type and knew foreign languages… French and German preferably… and to help care for a somewhat incapacitated person. I hired the first man they sent, a young man named Hines Whitman, which ought to show you how desperate I am. I mean… I wasn’t about to hire some pretty young gold-digger! At least he should help to lessen my load and maybe help Spencer who has been going downhill since you left.  Sis, please… do it for me.  I need you badly.”

“Type? You mean you hired a secretary?” Nola asked, wondering if the new man was being groomed to take her place with the puzzlecreation.

“Yes. For bill-paying and correspondence. And the kids are getting social and that means idiotic announcements I’m supposed to respond to. Frankly, I’m too upset to bother about any of it. And naturally,” she added, “it never hurts to be able to read foreign correspondence. Hines has been staying in your bedroom. I wanted him to move into the turret but he had a fit when he and Gladys went up there.  He’s the nosy type and should enjoy seeing a 360 view of the grounds. I’ll have Gladys clean it out.  Jules will attend to the major renovations. I think Hines already has a crush on Greg.”  She suddenly stopped speaking.  After a long pause she said, “You know… he’ll be able to look down into Greg’s apartment from up there. I’d better tend to the carriage house window treatments.’’ Then her mind returned to the Ghent house as Nola waited patiently for Paige to remember where she was.

Presently, Paige sighed and exclaimed, “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Jules’s conscience for forcing him to be honest with me.”  In fact, Jules had not really started to be uncomfortable about his distortion of the remarks he overheard until he saw that Paige had selected a flighty young man who made ludicrously strict conditions about his employment. (“My morning toast must be on stone ground whole wheat bread buttered with salt-free creamery butter.  I prefer Kenyan coffee and can give you the name and address of the grocery in town where you can purchase it.”)  And so on for an endless list.  It was not until the new man insisted that all house personnel refer to him as Mr. Ghent’s factotum that Jules decided to tell Paige the truth.  Also, for years there had been rumors that Spencer intended to enlarge his bequests to the servants, and then, when he got sick and irritable, to eliminate bequests to his servants entirely.  Since Spencer had not died within the anticipated time and was showing a definite preference for Hines’ opinions, Jules had given up hope of any posthumous gifts and was rather hoping Paige would dismiss him so that he could collect unemployment compensation; but instead he confessed and set in motion Nola’s return. Jules wanted her back as the lesser of two evils: If she did agree to return, she would come back to her bedroom, and, as he happily told Hines, that would mandate the factotum’s move into the turret room.

 

While Paige and Nola were still speaking in the motel and Hines was in the basement looking over some useable Civil War antiques that had been stored there, Gladys entered the master’s bedroom expecting to collect dirty clothes and to change the bed linens.  Instead, she gasped to find Spencer lying in blood and groaning.  She screamed for Mrs. Eglington to come. The cook immediately called Dr. Boyer on the bedroom’s landline.  She tried to call Paige, but since Paige had her cell phone turned off at the time, she could only leave a breathless voice mail message.  Doctor Boyer came to the house within minutes.  He checked Spencer and then called for a private ambulance from the Swiss clinic to come to the Ghent house.

Paige, knowing none of this, had not checked her phone while she joyfully went shopping after she left Nola’s motel.  When she returned home she was reduced to a state of shock to discover that Spencer was now critically ill.  Mrs. Eglington nervously tried to establish a degree of innocence and explained, “In the week that Nola was gone, Hines had asked for milk shakes and scoops of ice cream along with the food and, we assumed that Mr. Ghent had been taking his medicine or maybe was cured, so we sent up everything Hines asked for. ‘It was a triple whammy,’ Dr Boyer told us.  ‘Milk and other indigestibles, no medication, and distress about some kind of gossip.’  Thank God Nola’s coming back.’”

Hines who knew nothing until the ambulance para-medics made noise on the floor above him, became hysterical immediately and had not succeeded in calming himself by the time that Paige returned.  Jules drove her immediately to the clinic; but, seeing Paige’s hysteria, the nurses in charge asked that she postpone her visit until the next day.  They returned home in silence. As Jules put her car away, Paige went into the kitchen to review again the morning’s events with Gladys and Mrs. Eglington and to admonish them for not following the successful routine that her sister had instituted.  Jules joined them and tried not to look guilty of anything.

He did not succeed.  “Why didn’t you use some of your valuable time to look in on my husband when you carried up the food?” she asked him sarcastically  “Do you leave everything to Hines?”

Jules, miffed by the presence of Hines Whitman in the house, decided to speak candidly.  “First of all,” he said, pulling out a kitchen chair to sit opposite her, “I told the absolute truth as it existed to my knowledge. I did not eavesdrop on the entire conversation about putting the last groundsman on the front lawn as a sexual ornament.  My retelling part of It had been a joke – a poor one, I confess. I admitted my exaggeration and would have said more to correct the impression I had given, but bringing Hines into this house inhibited me.  He has been an insult to all of us.  He intimated that the money Mr. Ghent had promised to leave us was now going to be diverted to some charity or other.  The three of us counted on those funds for our retirement.  But his influence over Mr. Ghent has been both sudden and great and we are extremely worried.  Before Nola came it seemed obvious that Mr. Ghent would not live the year out.  But after Nola restored his health, she was fired and Hines was brought in. It took him only two days to destroy Nola’s good work.  He restricted our access to Mr. Ghent and what could we do about it? It was Hines who ordered the milk shakes as though they were for himself. He restored the practice of eating meals in the master’s bedroom.  Hines was never supposed to occupy Nola’s bedroom and share Samantha’s bathroom, but that is what he did.  I objected and Mr. Ghent informed me that Hines could use his bathroom.  I tried to be more assertive about diets and was told to mind my own business. Hines had taken Nola’s position and with it, her authority. So if I was less attentive it was because I didn’t feel wanted or needed and because I was extremely disappointed about losing the bequest. Frankly, I had assumed that Hines was hired to replace me and I hoped to collect unemployment compensation.”

Paige slammed down her teacup.  “You have an imaginative mind and fear of fools.  I have an appointment now so I can’t waste any more time on this fantasy of yours. My sister’s routine will be completely reinstated.  Do you all understand?”  She checked her fingernails and then stood up and prepared to leave the room, presumably to get ready for her appointment.  “Let’s not bother Nola about Mr. Ghent’s condition.  I don’t want her to get so furious with the lot of you for breaking the diet she imposed that she decides not to come back.  You’ve all been working against her since she first came here.”  She turned to Gladys. “Is the turret habitable?”

“Hines is looking through some of the antiques we took to the basement when we moved into the attic.  We can go up there and see what else is needed,” Gladys said sheepishly.

“Yes.  Take care of that turret room and give me an honest opinion.”  Paige ended the discussion.

 

Beyond expecting to return to work on Monday, Nola knew nothing of the trouble in the Ghent house when she told the motel desk clerk she’d be leaving on Monday morning. She then began to ply her way down the windy avenue to Corbin’s office to tell Ellis about the latest development.

No one was in the front office, but she could hear Ellis speaking with a definite urgency to someone on the phone in the inner office.

When he finally concluded the call and came into the front office, Nola was prepared to say brightly, “I lost the bet. Paige came to see me and everything’s fine.”  But the expression on Ellis’s face let her voice dwindle down to a whisper that had something to do with a bet.

“Bad news,” Ellis said.  “This morning Spencer was taken to the hospital.  He relapsed.  I’m trying to find out which place he went to right now.”  The phone rang in the inner office and he ran to answer it.  “Got it,” he said, “and I won’t forget I owe you one.”  He turned to Nola.  “They took him to a private clinic… a small branch of a Swiss spa or sanatorium, the Lucerne Clinic in Media.  You wanna go see him?”

Nola mumbled, “Sure.”  Ellis locked the office and escorted her to his new Lincoln.

Nola deliberately tried to avoid giving any indication that she was pleased that it had taken only eight days without her care to fell Spence. “P.I. pays well,” she said as she buckled her seat belt.

“My salary wouldn’t buy you lunch at a fast-food joint,” he countered.  “I inherited the dough.”

They drove to the clinic but were not permitted to enter since they were not on anyone’s list and were not members of the immediate family.  “Come on,” Ellis said, “I’ll take you to a classy joint.”

“But we’re not dressed!  You’re in denim – no jacket or tie – and I’m a mess.”

“I own the place.  Who’s gonna object?”

The lunch lasted four hours.  It was the crush of dinner reservations that finally made them leave.

As if they did have more than just privileged communication, they talked about Spencer and Paige and various groundsmen.  Ellis also revealed his unfortunate marital situation – his wife and four kids that he loved and missed and who lived in Philadelphia – and Nola admitted her bad taste and worse luck with prospective mates. Strangers, especially when they see no future social contact with each other, are usually more candid than they are with close relatives or friends whose interest usually ends in their own entanglement in the subject.

 

On Sunday Nola left a voice-mail message with Paige, saying that she’d be at the house around noon.  She looked forward to seeing everyone again.  Paige did not return the call.

At noon on Monday, when she arrived, Paige presented her with a Certificate of Deposit of $10,000, a “small token of repentance.”  Nola thanked her and went directly to her bedroom where she found that Hines Whitman was refusing to move from the room he had decorated to suit himself. Jules had told him about Nola’s return, but Hines was adamant.  “I’m not going up to that god-forsaken tower. I did look at it, but it just won’t do.  A winding stairway runs straight down the inside all the way to the cellar and a draught runs right up it. There’s no privacy since every floor has an entrance to the stairway.  Furthermore, the room was cold and will no doubt be too hot in the summer and the iron steps are difficult to climb and descend.  I intend to use the room that had been assigned to Nola and Mr. Ghent supports my intention.  She may have shared Samantha’s bathroom but I share Mr. Ghent’s.” And then he added smugly, “If you have no objection to that, of course.”

“Mr. Ghent is not here and you do not have the right to waltz in and out of his private bedroom,” Jules said emphatically.  “Now get your shit out of Nola’s room!”

Nola did not want to hear any more arguments and told everyone that she’d be going to her bank.  “Just have the problem resolved by the time I get back.”

Hines Whitman sauntered down to the kitchen for his one o’clock sharp lunch.  As Jules and Gladys glowered at him, Mrs. Eglington tried to calm the agitated atmosphere.  “Never any room! The barn’s gone now.  It burnt down in l932.  My grandfather worked for Mr. Ghent’s grandfather in those days.  I’ll tell you an old story because there might be a solution for you in it.  Lightning struck a pine tree beside the barn and the fire spread to the barn.  My grandfather was seriously burned rescuing the dray horses that were stabled in the building but he was a tough old bird and Mr. Ghent was deeply appreciative.  He asked him for advice, ‘Tom, do you think we should start rebuilding right away?’  My grandfather – who knew how Mrs. Ghent hated the smell of that old barn – had a better idea.  ‘Horses and buggies are no longer used by the well-to-do.  We don’t do any farming up here, but you own a half dozen farms down in the valley.  Give the Clydesdale horses to the farmers.  Now, as far as the carriage house and stables are concerned, you don’t need six thoroughbreds to ride.  Two of the mares are ready for the glue factory anyway. Four horses are enough.  Buy yourself one of those new Fords.  You can give your farmers the carriages – they still like those horse and buggies – and use the empty stables for storing hay.  And you’ll be able to empty out those rooms on the second floor that you keep all those spare buggy parts in.’  In those days they needed replacement wheels, isinglass, yokes, reins and God knows what else. There used to be a way to enter the back rooms by a separate staircase…. an old wooden thing that was falling apart.  One good push and the whole stairway would have fallen away from the wall it was nailed to.  The door is still there, but the outline of the stairs has long been painted over.  The insurance people were glad to see it go. A bad staircase is just a liability,” she advised.  “Well, old Mrs. Ghent was all for the idea and they got rid of the barn and all the horse and buggy paraphernalia.

“Gregor has already had his lunch or else we could ask him if the back rooms of the carriage house apartment are still empty.  We could fix them up nicely, though you would probably have to share a bathroom with him.”

Hines, hoping that his fluttering heart had not been noticed, thanked her for the suggestion and left to go to the carriage house to discuss the possibility with Gregor.  He climbed the exterior stairs and was just about to knock on the door when surreptitiously, through a parting in the curtain on the door window, he saw Gregor giving Paige a punishment session. Both, fortunately, had their backs to him.  He also noted a surveyor’s tripod propped against the wall, a camera that hung from a strap, and the recognizable old yellow boxes of Kodak film sitting on a shelf.  He quickly and quietly retreated, annoyed that none of the servants had apprised him of the kind of relationship Gregor had with Paige Ghent.

Gregor, naked to the waist, displayed his muscles as he used a leather belt to spank Paige; and his well developed physique and machismo had thrilled the young assistant.  “Things will change,” Hines assured himself and, grousing under his breath, he returned to the main house and removed a series of framed travel posters from the walls of the disputed bedroom.  As what he considered a compromise, he temporarily moved into Roland’s bedroom, but he brooded about the sexual adventure he had witnessed. He knew enough of life to know that a person who has nothing does not willingly serve someone who has everything – and in his experience, Paige Ghent had everything.  Gregor was poor and uneducated.  He had to get more than sexual satisfaction from his efforts.  Hines lacked access to the household accounts, but, he imagined, it would be a small thing – barely noticed except to one who specifically looked for it – to hide extra payments to him.  Gregor was also handsome and while he was certainly not the type to escort someone to a social function, he had to be compensated for his role in some way or other.  Maybe, he thought, it was not beyond the possibility that the groundsman was actually in love with her.  What, then would the future hold for him if Spencer Ghent again became healthy?  Or worse, if he died from his disease and Gregor married into the family?  ”Ah!” he stopped speculating.  Gregor as master of the Ghent hilltop was too ludicrous to consider.

Mrs. Eglington was hopeful that her suggestion of using the two rear carriage house rooms would be adopted, but Gladys did not want Hines or any other person except herself living so closely, so intimately, with Gregor.  Visions of the two of them using the same bathroom  jolted her into action and she smiled and saw an opportunity to sabotage one or her competitors.  As soon as she saw Paige emerge from the groundsman’s apartment, she suggested that Paige and Mrs. Eglington might like to visit a new high-end vegetarian grocery in a nearby town to select a few “welcoming” meals for her sister. It seemed like a very good idea and as soon as the two women left, Gladys went to the carriage house to look at those two back rooms.

Gregor had just finished taking a shower.  “I came to tell you that you may be having company,“ she said as she pulled the sheet off Gregor’s bed and gathered his socks from the floor.

“Who?” Gregor asked.

“Hines wants to clean out the two back rooms and move into them.  He can share your bathroom or so Mrs. E. suggested.

“I don’t want that Hines fellow in here,” Gregor told her emphatically.  “This is my place.  Tell the old woman to keep suggestion to herself.

“You can count on me to talk them out of it,” Gladys said sweetly.   “He’s supposed to live in the turret chamber.  But it needs a lot of work.”

“I’ll do anything I can.  Fix woodwork.  Plaster walls.  Put in new light fixture.  But he don’t live here with me.”

“I don’t blame you one bit,” Gladys said.  “You have a right to your privacy and he is one big busy-body.  I’ll take a look at the room up there and tell you what I think.”

Gladys had her arms in front of her as if she were embracing the soiled linens. Gregor gathered the rest of his dirty clothes and rolled them into a ball which he pushed down against her breasts into the bundle.  Leaving his hand linger there more than a moment longer than necessary, he said, “You do that.  Make things easier for me.”  He winked and she giggled as he opened the door that led out onto the landing.

In the laundry room she sorted the items into bleach and non-bleach piles and went to look for Hines.  Finding him in the kitchen, she picked up a cookie and happily said to Hines, “Come on, let’s at least see if the room has potential.”  Mrs. Eglington took an old-fashioned bronze skeleton key from a panel of house keys and handed it to her.

Gladys led Hines out of the kitchen, down the hall and foyer, and into the study.  “We can go up to the top from here.”  The tower door, a solid walnut panel built into the corner of the room, matched the walls and was virtually invisible.  It had not been unlocked or opened in years and Hines had to help her push it open.  Carefully, they ascended to the turret, noting each floor’s entrance, and opening the door, as they went.  “Old medieval houses always had a series of hidden passageways.  I guess this turret stairwell is a Civil War version of the secret stairway.”

When they reached the third “attic” level, she pointed out a room that had plumbing fixtures that dated from the 1930’s installed.  “We haven’t turned on the water to the pipes up here,” Gladys explained, “but you can see you’ll have a toilet, tub, and sink to yourself.  I’ll see to it that you’re well stocked with towels and such.”

They climbed another storey and reached the famed turret room. Now that her attitude had changed, the room seemed bigger than before.  It was dirty and filled with cob webs.  The windows had not been cleaned in many years and when Gladys looked down from the window that had Summer leaded-in as its upper frame, she could see the iridescent sheen on the lower clear glass pane.

Summer gave a view of the woods and the bridal paths that led into them.  The Fall window looked over the house top and gave a view of distant hills; but Winter showed the front and left side of the estate, while Spring looked down upon the carriage house, paddock, and, in the distance beyond the steep decline at the edge of the property, the town of Morton.  Hines and Gladys each blew their breath on the clear glass of the Spring window and wiped the circular haze clean with handkerchief and apron. Neither of them said anything nor gave the slightest indication that even at a distance, they could look down into Gregor’s apartment or that they saw Gregor put a metal box under a pile of clothes in one of the back rooms.  Gladys wondered what was in the box, but Hines, who had already noted the camera equipment Gregor kept, was certain that it contained pornographic pictures of Paige Ghent.  So, he thought, if I am right, this is what Greg thinks will compensate him in the future.  He also wondered whether Paige knew that the hidden cache of photo existed.

His attitude towards the turret chamber changed.  Yes, he could now see the possibilities, he assured Gladys.  “But it will be awfully cold in the winter and hot in the summer”  Besides, with the photographs in his possession he had as much control over Gregor as he would have over Paige.

“Don’t worry,” Gladys assured him.   The electricity’s been disconnected, but when we re-connect it, you can get a good space heater and even one of those portable air conditioning units.  Meanwhile you’ve got room for a bed, a desk and dresser, a Tv and all kinds of things.”

She could hardly wait to tell Gregor that she had solved the problem.  Hines would no longer pester anyone to be allowed to live in the carriage house.  That he could arrange for himself.

Hines continued to pretend to gripe about the room’s limitations but he was wondering if the pawn shop carried a telephoto lens that would fit his camera.  It was one thing to watch perversion and something else entirely to record it.

In time of great decision when there is little time allowed for concentration and consideration, thoughts instinctively arise without opposition. The following morning, when Paige and Nola went into Media to visit Spencer in the clinic, Gregor drove into town to buy more animal feed, and Jules was bringing the household account journals and ledgers up to date, Gladys, pretending to deliver fresh linens to the carriage house, went directly to the rear room to find out what was hidden in the metal box.  She carefully opened it and found scandalous photographs of Paige Ghent, strips of negatives, and a few VCR cassettes.  None of the TVs in the main house played VCR tapes so she had to return to Gregor’s bedroom to watch the tapes.  Fearing that at any moment someone would walk into the unlocked apartment, she had to content her curiosity with a few fast-forward glimpses; but what she saw was sufficient.  She made note of the static angles and easily found two hidden videocameras, old ones that recorded onto a tape attachment.  She removed the tape cartridges and checked his old Canon camera for any spools of film and finding none, took the tapes, negatives, and photographs, hid them in her laundry bag, and left the apartment.  Gregor would soon miss his treasure trove of photographs and he’d look for someone to blame.  No one had seen her enter the apartment, but she could ask Hines to go to Gregor’s apartment to ask him if he knew a good house painter and floor finisher in town.  She’d see to it that Hines would be blamed.  After all, why would anyone suspect her of taking them?  She had just severed the future connection between Gregor and Paige.  An anonymous note left in Paige’s bedroom, warning her that Greg was filming her, would cool off that relationship in record time.

As she descended the carriage house’s exterior stairs, she quickly calculated the probable future.  Mrs. Eglington would retire but not as far away has they had often joked they’d go.  The old cook had too many relatives in town and would probably buy herself a small condo or stay with relatives – depending on the inheritance if Mr.Ghent didn’t pull through.  But Mrs. Eglington, in either case, would be available for special events.  Meanwhile Gladys could do the cooking – such as it was – by herself and see to it that Gregor’s responsibilities were increased so that he could replace Jules.  Hines would have to go.  Or, better yet, since Gregor knew so much about “glamour” photography, he could go into business with her help.  He was not supposed to get any money from the Will, but she was.  She could set him up in business and run the clerical end of things while he photographed women for them to give sexy photographs to uninterested husbands.

 

Although there was a basket incinerator beside the carriage house, she decided not to use it.  She found a small depression in the crest of the steep incline behind the carriage house and put a few fuel-impregnated charcoal briquets and dried sticks into it and then, as the fire started, put the negatives and photos on the flames as she pulled yard-by-yard of tape from the cassettes and committed the long twisted strands to the glowing briquets.  She could not see the main house and could not see that Mrs. Eglington had pulled back a kitchen curtain and was wondering whether someone was burning debris on the crest of the steep hill behind the carriage house or whether the wind had kicked up some dust.

Gladys entered the kitchen and said that she had not noticed any smoke.  “It’s windy,” she said and then changed the subject. “We’re going to need the walls painted and wall to wall carpeting installed in the turret room,” she said.  “And it will be necessary to cover the bottom windows. “I like the bamboo slats,” she said, “or those narrow venetian blinds, and these have to be ordered ahead of time; but Hines will be doing the choosing.  I don’t know what will go best with them.”

“Ask him at dinner,” Mrs. Eglington advised.  “He’ll tell you want he wants.”