The Crossword Puzzle (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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



Meanwhile, the Thanksgiving Day holiday had ended and there was no need for Mrs. Eglington to keep trudging up and down the old attic steps or for Gladys to stay in her upstairs room, either.  They stayed in the house to serve Paige for whom they had no affection or respect.  They agreed to stay on until the probate procedure was concluded; “I’m going to see about moving into the master bedroom,” Mrs. Eglington confided to Gladys, “and you can see about taking Nola’s bedroom.   I’ve got enough money of my own saved to buy a new mattress… and besides, he wasn’t killed in that room.  Master Roland is a kind man.  He’ll understand.”

The two women approached Paige who definitely did not want her servants going around town telling tales about life at Ghent house, and she was also lonely living alone on the second floor.  At first she seemed reluctant and didn’t quite know what to say.  “You can’t use my room or the children’s rooms; and I don’t know what to do if one of them brings a friend home to spend the night. And I miss my sister,” she began to cry.  ”When she returns she will be given her choice of bedroom so one of you will have to leave the room immediately.”

Mrs. Eglington allayed her fear.  “If you ever require the rooms, we’ll move back into the attic in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  Have no fear, Madam.  And no one in town will know that we’ve come down to the second floor.  You have our word.  It’s just that the stair to the attic is so difficult for me,” she pleaded.

“All right,” Paige agreed.  “But tell no one.”

Telling no one did not include Gregor, Jules, or Hines.  Jules waited for his inheritance, but Gregor and Hines had no specific reason to stay.  Jules knew only that he had been named as a beneficiary.  He did not know to what extent Hines had lied to him.  The atmosphere in the house did not conduce to contentment in any form.  Often the servants did not reply normally, but snapped or snarled, or said something sarcastic in response to each other’s questions or comments.

Hines Whitman was furious when he heard that Mrs. Eglington was moving her things into the master’s bedroom.  “I wanted that room for myself!” he announced as if what he said had any significance.

No matter how he grumbled about having to live in the turret, the others each had a remark that sealed him in the uncomfortable quarters.   Gladys said, “When Nola comes back, I’ll have to move out of her room and I’d just as soon stay in the carriage house as go back to the attic.”  Gregor grunted but did not voice an objection.

“Carriage house?  You can live there but I can’t?” Hines complained.

“Maybe you have attic to yourself,” Gregor grinned malevolently.

“You can continue to live with Jules over the Four-car garage,” Gladys noted.

“I’d leave today but I have to think about references,” Hines countered.  Since he had been needed to stay on to help with the unusual paperwork associated with a death in the family, Paige had asked Roland to let Hines use his room, but Roland declined saying that he did not want his privacy violated.  Gregor had not wanted his privacy invaded either and so he had drapes hung on the windows that faced the turret.


At the beginning of December, Paige called Nola and asked to meet with her to get some needed advice, and despite Ellis’s advice not to meet with her, she agreed.  “Let me do a little more investigating,” he insisted.

“I can be investigating at the same time,” Nola said.   Paige came to the house.

“After the funeral but before the kids left for school after Thanksgiving,” Paige anguished, “all hell broke loose.  Previously Pierre had blamed you for causing trouble between Spence and me.  And then the Will was just read and he found out that I control all the assets except the house.  Spence assigned a huge amount of our liquid assets to furnish that clinic.  We’re far from broke, but nowhere near where we used to be.  The house is now Roland’s – but we all have the right to live there as long as we stay single.  Pierre didn’t know this.  He thought he’d get a big chunk of cash and wanted an expensive Italian sports car for Christmas. He told all his friends who laughed at what they considered his fantasy.  So he asked me for money to buy the car and I refused.  It’s outrageous.  He’s not even a freshman in college!”

“What was his reaction?”

“He called me every name in the book.”  Paige began to cry.  “He says he doesn’t care who knows what a tramp I am.  One of the servants must have told him about Gregor and me. He keeps referring to the pain I must have caused his father by carrying on with Greg right under his nose.”

“You brought me on board,” Nola said.  “You’re responsible for Spence’s recovery. Prior to my coming there Spence was being killed slowly by his well-meaning servants.”

Ellis’s car pulled into the driveway and Paige, not wanting to talk to anyone else, decided to leave.  “Pray for me,” she said as she left the house and gave a nod to Ellis who met her in the doorway.


Later that day, Pierre Ghent went to the police station to recant his earlier statement.  Dave Rowan called Ellis to tell him.  “He now wants to be truthful and reveal that it was his mother’s sexual relationship with numerous other men that caused the trouble.  Nola was innocent.  She actually helped his dad.”  Rowan chuckled. “We’ve taken his statement.  You can drop by and read it whenever you want.”   He paused, “Listen, do you have any idea why he reversed himself so completely?”

“My guess would be that the kids knew that originally their mother was going to control the purse strings, and they regarded that as history from back in the days that Spence loved her and she was honorable and they were little.  Spence did a lot of talking to his attorney recently and the kids probably thought he’d rectify that outdated provision and let them inherit the money directly.  I doubt that they were aware of just how much money Spence had spent lately.  He let his partners buy him out and didn’t have a personal income from his investment company for years. But while he worked, the family could have lived on his salary alone.  Without it, they dipped into their considerable portfolio. He lost a lot in the last recession, too, and didn’t have the wherewithal to recoup his losses.  Then in the last year, Nola and Hines were hired and Spence went flying first class around the world and made a Swiss Spa his home away from home and committed a fortune to the new clinic addition… and the woman who went with it.  Big bucks, all told.”

“So Pierre thinks that by discrediting his mother he can have her removed as executrix.  Nice kid.”

“What’s flesh and blood compared to money?”

“Why am I surprised?”  Rowan grimly chuckled.  “Listen, Ellis, in some of Spence’s papers there were other puzzles – normal ones – that he seems to have started just before he died.  They don’t have themes listed, but there are clues.  I’m stymied but maybe Nola can give us some answers. I’m gonna see about bringing her back here to have a look at them.  Is that ok with you?”

“Sure… just let us know. I’ve got to go out again to Corbin’s office.  You can reach me there if you need me.”  Ellis disconnected the call.  He felt good about Rowan’s attitude. Clearly, Nola was not seriously considered the prime suspect any longer, despite the legal machinery that was still chugging away.


Nola called Paige to tell her about Pierre’s recantation.  “He’s just a kid,” she said, “looking out for his own interests in the only way he can figure.”

Paige cried and blew her nose. “They have no respect for me.  Spencer poisoned them.”

Nola switched to another related topic.  “I’ve been thinking about the study. There are ground-level windows on two sides of the room.  At the far end there are drapes between the windows and Spencer always used to keep a loaded rifle behind one of the drapes.  Tell me about that.”

“There are lots of feral dogs and coyotes that come out of the woods and attack our goats.  While Spence was sick in bed, Jules would sometimes check the area and if he saw the goats being threatened, he’d lower a window and ask Gregor to shoot the dog and then dispose of the dead animal.”

“Did you say, ‘Lower a window?’” Nola asked. “Why not raise it?”

“Because they’re all near ground level.  If you lower the top, you can lean on both window frames for stability when you take a shot. Since the windows are so easy to raise and lower, anybody could have climbed in and out without the rest of the house knowing it. i just thought I’d mention it.”

“So,” Nola noted, “any servant could have climbed in to help carry Spence into the bathroom.”

“It needn’t have been a servant,” Paige said.  “The windows at the far end are close to the rocky hill that was too steep for us to use.  But the workmen did rig a rope at the side.  They pounded down a few posts and strung a rope to help them get up.  They’d often throw stuff down that side to save them the extra steps of going all the way around the estate to approach it from the front.   Anybody could have climbed up without being seen on the driveway.”

“Jesus,” Nola said.  “We have to start someplace and the sooner, the better.  Paige… talk to whichever one of the servants is still on good terms with you.”

“That’s probably Mrs. Eglington,” Paige said.  “I’ll see what I can learn.”


“Give me an honest answer.  How do your children care for you and Spence?” Nola asked with Incredulous concern. “There doesn’t seem to be much mourning for his loss or sympathy for you.”

Paige sighed as tears filled her voice,“There was a time when we were a loving family… a unit.  But kids have a way of taking their own path.  They want to create their own personality and make themselves appear to be independent. They don’t want to walk beside you anymore.  They separate themselves by letting the only things they have, love and loyalty, convert to disloyalty and hate.”

“Do you believe that Spence killed himself because Ingrid Hesse died in a car crash? Between losing her and investing all that construction money, I think he believed life was over for him, and that it’s possible one of your servants took the gun.  I don’t believe that someone entered the study and just shot him.”

Paige sighed. “It’s always a mistake to think that because you pay someone, they feel love for you. Sure… all of them were capable of such mischief.  Everybody looks out for Number One, even people who cash a paycheck you signed.  It might help if we found out what plans Spence had for him and Ingrid. They must have had domestic plans… respectable ones. He never asked me for a divorce, but maybe that was one of the things he talked to his attorney about. They’ve been waiting for the Lucerne execs to return from Europe to question them. And as far as moving Spence’s body into the bathroom to wash the gun shot residue from his hands and arms, I might as well admit that Gregor is my candidate for the job.  He used to think that he had some sort of power over me… well… I might as well specify it… photos and videos.  But miraculously he seems to have lost the pictures.  He accused me of stealing them, but I didn’t do it.  I have a guardian angel someplace. I’m so sorry I started seeing that bastard.  Gregor thought that with Spencer out of the way, he’d have me to himself.”  Paige shuddered.  “Or even since I was in control of the money…” she hesitated and then sighed again.  “It’s not worth talking about.”

“All along I’ve thought that he must be taking photos or videos of you – whether or not you knew it. I don’t know why he’s sticking around unless he’s waiting for a payoff for helping one or more of the servants who got an inheritance.  He’s the type who would stoop to gaining control over someone no matter what it took.”

Paige began to cry.  “Yes,” she whispered, “he had many photos and videos of me.  Some of the photos I knew about, but not until he accused me of stealing them did I learn about the videos. He wasn’t above blackmailing me about them. How would my children ever have lived it down?  He won’t speak to me now.  I’m so alone.”  She began to sob.

Nola tried to redirect her emotions. “Then you better stop whining and start taking control of that house.  I’m willing to bet that the turret hasn’t been renovated.  Even if Hines doesn’t live in it, the house will belong to Roland and you might as well not incur his displeasure by leaving it in any shabby way.  People say it was once the pride of the estate.   And notice what your servants are doing.”

“All right!  All right! I know that Gladys has a crush on Gregor.  Ever since he first came here she looks at him with those kewpie-doll eyes.  I’ve seen her staring at him when he works in the patio or garden with his shirt off.  If the men are working outside in the heat and Mrs. E. makes a pitcher of lemonade for them, Gladys will squeeze an extra half lemon into the glass she hands him. She gets a thrill out of changing his bed linens and picking up his dirty clothing.  It’s sickening.  And Hines is the same way.  Any excuse to talk to Greg is a good excuse.”

Nola grinned. “That’s the kind of thing you need to notice… special friendships between any two of them. So toughen up!  Start running things properly; and if you find anything about Spencer’s future plans with ingrid, let Ellis or me know.  How he defends me will depend on all this little stuff that’s in his lawyer’s head.”



Ellis sat with Dave in the cafeteria.  “I expect that you’ll not be filing any charges against Nola. That house was a real snake pit. None of them appreciated the good work that Nola did nursing him.  I think everyone of them expected him to die within a matter of weeks or a few months at most.”  Before picking up his cup, he asked, “Have you looked into this Doctor Hesse?  Did anyone around her stand to gain or lose, financially or romantically, with Spencer Ghent in or out of the picture?”

“Yes, we looked.” Dave got out his notebook.  “We even ran her through Interpol.  She was forty, a widow of a poor poet who, for some reason, she stuck with for 16 years.  A hard worker.  No scandal whatsoever. She worked for the Lucerne people for five years.  The investigator over there said people wept when they found out she died.  Years ago she inherited some money from a patient, but she donated it all to the clinic.   The Minister of Health plus a bunch of other bigwigs attended her memorial.  She was related to Austrian aristocracy but didn’t acknowledge it. She liked to ski and ice skate.  Beyond that there was her job as an officer at the clinic.   Nothing… you will find nothing in her past.  After ten years doing hands-on medicine, she went to college at night or on the net, studying economics. She had a few office positions and then became Chief Financial Operator and you don’t deal in other people’s money in Switzerland but that you are vetted with a capital V.”

“Nola also reeks of competence.  If Paige didn’t like Spence’s improvement under her care, she’d have found a way to get rid of her.  She gave Paige complete control whenever she was out of the house.  She didn’t want him dead and I don’t think she killed him.”

“Ok,” Ellis finished half of his coffee.  “What about that Japanese kid who was released early?”

”He’s been in federal custody waiting to be deported but I don’t know when that will be. He was here on a Japanese student visa which expired when he was incarcerated.  I’ll have to check with Immigration.”

“The guy from India might have wanted to get Spence out of the way.  When Nola didn’t come up with the money, he faced fraud charges.  Spencer wouldn’t have given him a nickel but Paige might have saved him.  We need to find out if he crossed the border and returned to the U.S.”

“I still want Nola to look at those partially done crosswords.  Let’s go to your place and I’ll release her ankle bracelet and let the sergeant know.”

Nola was delighted to get the bracelet removed.  “When I walk I often bang it with my other ankle and I can’t get my skinny jeans over it.  What a relief!”

They left in Rowan’s unmarked police car.

Nola and Paige greeted each other as though they hadn’t seen each other in years.  They began to babble and Rowan had to step in and remind Nola that she had a job to do.  She and Paige went to the dining room where all of Spence’s loose papers had been boxed once Mrs. Eglington moved into his room.  Paige summoned Mrs. Eglington and told her to prepare an extra special afternoon tea for all her guests.

After tea, everyone attended to other chores or business.  Detective DeFazio and Jules went into the Four-car garage to inspect the vehicles; Rowan and Ellis were examining the windows in the study; Mrs. Eglington put the “good” tea service away in a special cabinet; Gladys put a clean apron on and went to build a fire in the living room fireplace; and Hines and Gregor were out of sight somewhere on the premises.  The presence of the pickup-truck and cars indicated that no one had left the area. It had begun to rain and low clouds shrouded the hilltop in mist.  The temperature had also dropped.  In the study, Rowan looked at his watch. It was after four o’clock. “I’ll call my wife and tell her I’m running late.  We have to check to see if Nola’s gotten anywhere.”

Paige and Nola had been in the dining room, but a member of Paige’s “Fun Lovers Club” (as it was unofficially called) called and was driving up to the house to pick her up for an “impromptu.”  Paige began the conversation with a solemn reticence but her caller seemed to be somewhat intoxicated and insisted that he was going to make her cease mourning; and rather than have him come to the house and encounter the police, she agreed to meet him down on the road at the base of the steep incline.  “I’ll try to get back within two hours,” she said to Nola and slipped out of the kitchen door.

Nola was working on a puzzle and read a clue that referred to a “Logo of farrier’s major equipment” and went to see if an old blacksmith’s anvil or hammer was stored in the farrier’s shed.

As Rowan and Ellis left the study, expecting to find Nola and Paige in the dining room, they saw that the room was empty but before they could even comment on the absence of the women, a shriek came from outside the house, a shriek that kept repeating.  The two men ran out of the house towards the source of the noise.  Hines was screaming.  Nola came out of the farrier’s shed to see what the commotion was about.  Gladys scrambled down from the attic where she had gone to get some personal things she had left there when she prepared to move into Nola’s room.

On the ground under the turret’s corner Gregor Nikolov’s body lay crushed from having fallen four storeys.  The back of his head had stuck an upright edging stone and had split his head almost into two parts.  The sight was hideous and the man who had seemed so sturdy and solid, now seemed like a bloody heap of blood and skin covered by a denim shirt and pants.

DeFazio was calling for additional police detail as he ran to the fallen man.  When he reached Rowan and Ellis, who could barely look at the body, he announced, “So Gregor Nikolov has just committed suicide. Think it was guilt?”

“Suicide?” Rowan asked with anger and incredulity.

“What else?” DeFazio answered.  “The roof of the turret is conical.  He wasn’t sun-bathing up there.”

“You stupid ass,” Rowan said, walking back towards the house as the other servants began to appear.

“What’s wrong with him?” DeFazio asked Ellis.

Ellis pointed up at the turret.  “Suicides do not usually stop to shut the windows after they’ve defenestrated.”

“Oh, Jesus,” DeFazio whispered.  “I didn’t notice that they were all shut.”

“Live and learn,” Ellis said and began to follow Rowan.  He turned and saw Nola standing in the doorway of the farrier’s shed.  “What are you doing out here?” he shouted.

“I’m trying to find a clue that Spence left in one of the puzzles.  ‘Name of smith’s important tool.’  I thought it might be the anvil.”  Her eyes immediately followed the direction of the screaming. “Is that Gregor on the ground?”

Ellis spoke harshly. “Yes. You were not supposed to leave the dining room.  Gregor’s been killed and you have no alibi.  What the hell is wrong with you?” Ellis pulled her from the shed and told her not to look at the bloody heap on the ground beside the main house.

“I’m sorry,” Nola whispered.

“Don’t go near the body,” Ellis hissed, “and just give yes and no answers. It looks like somebody pushed him out of a turret window. Where’s Paige?”

“She went out on one of her Fun Lovers prowls. She didn’t want to go, but he was drunk and on his way.  He apparently picked her up about half an hour ago. She’s supposed to be back within another hour and a half.”

“You shouldn’t have been left alone,” Ellis snapped. He looked at the clouds, “It’s going to rain.”

Inside the house, Rowan did a head-count.  “Where’s Paige Ghent?”

Ellis answered.  “Some friend picked her up about thirty minutes ago.  I didn’t see the car so she must have… I don’t know… is it possible to descend that steep hill.  She could have met them down there.”

“Let’s go see,” Rowan said, before the rain or other police vehicles destroy any tracks.  DeFazio!” he shouted, “call the coroner and forensics and when the uniforms come have them secure the scene… from down on the road all the way up here.  I’m gonna check the hill in back.”

Paige’s heel marks were clearly evident as she held the rope and descended the sharp decline. “Well, that’s how she left without us seeing her,” Rowan said.  There were fresh tire marks in the road.  He took off his trench coat and laid it over one set of tire prints.  Ellis did the same for another.

In a few minutes two police cars with flashing red and blue lights came up the road and were stopped by Rowan.  “Wait here until forensics can take tire impressions.”  In another minute the forensics van arrived and took the needed tire impressions.

Rowan herded everyone into the living room. “Am I missing anybody besides Mrs. Ghent?”

“Pierre,” Hines said meekly.

“Good Christ! I forgot about him.  Who’s the last person to have seen him?”

“You… probably,” Hines offered.

“Brilliant!  Where are the other two kids?”

“They went back to school.  Pierre was too upset to travel, he said,” Jules answered.

“Call him and Mrs. Ghent and tell them both to get the hell home now!  Does anybody know why Gregor was up there in the tower?”  He looked at Gladys whose red eyes and nose indicated that she had been crying.

“I know,” Mrs. Eglington said.  “Gladys said that he was going to tighten the leaded glass to the window frame.  The trim that held it came loose. I think Gregor must have tried to hold onto one window frame while he stood on the sill and worked on the upper frame. Upper or down, who knows?”

“Was Gladys there when he fell?” Dave asked her, ignoring Gladys.

“No.  As far as I know she was alone in the attic.  Gladys came scrambling down when she heard the shouting.  She started screaming, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ I was a bit confused because of the smoke I had just seen.  I didn’t know which way to turn.”  Mrs. Eglington tried to comfort Gladys.  “And in case you’re interested, Nola wasn’t here and neither was Mrs. Ghent.  Pierre was home but he drove away this morning to see you. I saw Hines on the stairs leading up to Gregor’s apartment.”

“That was early,” Hines snapped. “Then I thought that before I bothered him I ought to check the turret to see if it really would be fit to live in once the renovations were made. Gladys was with me and I approved of the changes. And then I went to my space in the Four-car apartment. I don’t know about anybody else. I was looking out the window and saw Gregor with a screwdriver standing on the sill outside the stained glass window he was trying to fix… tighten the screws that held the panel to the frame.”

“Was the clear glass window open or closed?”

“I don’t know.  He had to open one to get outside so I guess I just assumed the window he came through was open.  But then I saw him fall.”

“Describe his actions,” Rowan asked gently.

“He fell backwards… the way a person looks when he goes to sit on a chair and it isn’t there. Then his arms started flailing. So I screamed and ran down the side stairs and kept screaming.”


“Detective DeFazio and I were in the garage when we heard Hines shout,” Jules said and DeFazio nodded affirmatively.

Mrs. Eglington thought for a moment.  “I was in the kitchen and Gladys came down from the attic when we both heard the screams.”

“People around here like to die mysteriously,” Ellis said.

The forensics’ and the coroner’s van both arrived.  Dave Rowan looked at DeFazio.  “Stay with the uniforms and get statements from everybody.  Think you can do that?”

Ellis touched his arm.  “I could use a Jack Daniels along about now,” he said.

“I saw some in the study,” Rowan whispered.  “It’s after 5 p.m.  I’m off duty.  Let’s go.”

Dave Rowan poured a couple of inches in each glass.  “Every one of those sons-of-bitches, including the son and the widow, could have killed that man.”

As they stood in the study, a car pulled up to the portico and a sleepy, staggering Pierre got out His eyes were half closed and he had to hold onto the wall as he climbed up to the entrance.

“He’s wearing the same clothes he wore when he came to my office this morning,” Dave Rowan said.  “But he’s not feigning being swacked.  The kid is stoned… or loaded.”

“Maybe both,” Ellis said.




Two new detectives appeared in the parking spaces beside the portico.  “Yeah,” Rowan said,

“I’m officially off.   I’ll go talk to one of them and tell them all that I know which ought to take me

about four seconds.”

DeFazio stayed to guard the servants in the living rooms.  “No talking!” he kept repeating.

Paige got out of a car and stomped up the portico steps.  She went directly into the living room and sat beside Pierre on a Victorian love-seat.  Until she and Pierre arrived, DeFazio did not want to start the interview process which proved to be as pointless as the previous one.  This time, however, the servants did not want to disrupt the probate process by finding Paige guilty.  If the Will was voided what would happen?  Would Pierre, Roland, and Samantha get the money as natural heirs and just discard the provision that gave them their bequest?  They didn’t know.

One after the other they gave their statements.  Everyone was someplace else and didn’t know anything about the incident.  Paige and Pierre, though embarrassed enough to try to be vague about their whereabouts, finally named names and their alibis were verified.  Pierre had been smoking marijuana and drinking with his friends and his clothing had carried the smell of marijuana and beer into the living room.

Dave Rowan, calmer and more disposed to be logical, re-entered the living room. He called Ellis Foyle aside and said, I’m trusting you to keep Nola in your house without the use of phones or visitors. We’ve got her driver’s license and passport but please, for Christ’s sake, don’t make things any more difficult.”   Ellis agreed and Nola left the house with them.


Before Dave Rowan left the scene he ordered the carriage house; the main house; the steep hill behind the house; the farrier shed; and the garage wrapped in yellow crime scene tape.  “I’d put you each in your goddamned rooms and put yellow tape on the door,” he hissed.  “Fucking death house. So you’ll stay incommunicado.  It’s either that or I’ll let you spend the next forty-eight hours at the police station writing your alibis in detail.”

Ellis was still angry with Nola.  “Why the hell didn’t you two stay put?  This is a murder investigation.  If you had to leave the dining room you should have called one of the uniforms who were on duty not that far from here… or called me or Dave.  Jesus, now you’re a suspect in two murders.”

All the cell phones in the house were collected and despite the protests the land lines were disconnected. Leading Detective Rowan was definitely disgusted.

Nola did not try to offer an explanation.  She remained silent and wondered when she would be able to speak to Paige again.

Ellis cancelled several appointments so that he could stay home and verify her movements.  He went so far as to ask Rowan for a spare set of handcuffs to secure her to a bed at night.  Rowan thought it was a great idea and gave him his own cuffs to use.  “Let’s see what the D.A. says,” Rowan responded. “He may want her back in a cell.”

Ellis kept Nola handcuffed during the day… re-securing her to the bed during the night.  “You brought this on yourself,” he said, still angry as he snapped the second cuff around a headboard post

“Ooh,” Nola teased, “bondage.”   Ellis was still smiling as he left the room.


Dave Rowan lent Paige his phone to make funeral arrangements for Gregor once the coroner had finished with the body. “You can do everything you need to do from home.  You’re not under arrest so you don’t need lawyers, but if you want one, now’s the time to call.  We have to straighten out some if this mess before one of you kills somebody else.”

Court was back in session and the District Attorney was no longer so friendly.  He said that he intended to order Nola to return to the county correction facility but, at Rowan’s request, he held off 24 hours before signing he order.

Ellis Foyle was depressed.  With Nola, her right wrist handcuffed to Ellis’s left, sitting silently beside them as if she were not there at all, Ellis and Dave Rowan sat in a cafeteria and grumbled about ungrateful people… people whose self-interest takes precedence over promises. “God damn it!” Ellis said. “All she had to do was stay put.  I put myself out for someone and get crapped on.”

Nola said nothing as she stirred her coffee with her left hand,

“People!” Rowan agreed as his cellphone rang.  He listened to the call and shook his head and smiled.  “Hold on,” he said to his caller, an expression of amazement on his face.  “You cannot guess just what happened,” he said to Ellis. Paige was asked to go to the coroner’s office and pick up Soencer’s unneeded personal effects… clothes, watch, chain he wore around his neck. But because she was so susceptible to hysterics, Gladys was asked to go with her.  Naturally, a uniform was with them.  They opened the paper bag and Gladys says, “This isn’t Mr. Ghent’s stuff.’

“The tech pulls out a shirt and looks at the identity tag and says,’Yes it is.’ Gladys says, ‘Mr. Ghent wouldn’t be caught dead in this shirt.  All his shirts had tails.  This is one of those casual shirts…and it’s an ugly shade of green. I know his preferences because I do his laundry.’  So the tech looks at the label again and it was purchased in France.” Rowan grinned mischievously.  “Do you know what this means?”

Ellis yelped and hit himself on the head to indicate that he had just realized his mistake. “Yes I do! Tell the uniform cop with them to tell Paige to sign for the stuff and for both of them to come back to the Ghent’s house immediately. We’ve just solved this stupid case… both deaths,” Ellis said. ”I’ve always wanted to do one of those ‘Get all the suspects in the parlor’ scenes.  While you call the coroner’s office, I’ve got to make a few phone calls.”  He unlocked Nola’s handcuffs with the warning that Nola was not to move or speak unless she had something valuable to contribute to him… in private.


With two uniformed officers guarding the exit, everyone gathered in the Ghent’s living room.  Ellis and Dave Rowan both leaned an elbow on the mantlepiece.

“This is just like Hercule Poirot,” Hines said. “Will you be using an accent?”

“Shut up and sit down,” Rowan snapped.

Ellis looked at everyone who sat in the room. “We’ve got a few questions and need a few answers. I’ll let Detective Rowan do the honors.”

Rowan opened the paper bag and withdrew the green shirt.  “First we’re going to consider Mr. Ghent’s death.  This paper bag contains his personal effects that were not needed as evidence.  His watch, underwear, jewelry and so on.  Who did Mr. Ghent’s laundry?”

“I did,” Gladys said.

“Is this his shirt?” Rowan asked.

“‘He wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a shirt like that… not even on vacation.”

“Whose shirt is it.. this shirt that was purchased in Marseilles?”

“Mine,” Hines said.  “It came from one of the best shops in Marseilles. I guess Mr. Ghent liked it so much that he borrowed it. I still have a few garments hanging in his closet.  He would know that I wouldn’t object.”

“No. No,” Ellis said.  “The reason it was on Spencer Ghent’s body is that the shirt he was wearing got wet when you washed the gun shot residue from his hand and arm. And you feared the GSR would also be on his shirt in the wrong place. So you exchanged shirts.”

“Ridiculous!” Hines sneered.

“I don’t know police procedures,” Gladys said, “but I do know Mr. Ghent’s wardrobe.  And there is nothing like that ugly shirt in his wardrobe; but there is one in yours.”

Rowan continued, directing his comments to Hines.  “My guess is that you and your accomplices intended to kill Spence and blame it on the Japanese kid. – as a home invasion or revenge.  We called the Immigration Service and learned that they had just taken the kid in custody on Tuesday.  So he had an alibi.  You had to find someone else to blame.  But then you saw that such plans were worthless.  You entered the study and found Spence loading that old 22 from the collection.  You knew how depressed he was so you quietly left and called Jules who called Gregor.  At any moment there would be a gunshot… which would have invalidated the insurance policies; so you called Jules to help you make the suicide look like a murder.  You knew that there would be gun shot residue on his hand, arm and shirt and you knew that to wash it off, he’d have to be taken to the bathroom  You couldn’t carry him and Jules has a bad back and can’t carry anything heavier than a food tray and you probably couldn’t even carry that.  So, since Jules thought he was going to collect a lot of money from the Will and needed Ghent dead sooner than later and knew that Gregor needed money, he offered to pay him well just to move a body back and forth to the bath room. Gregor never signed on for a murder even though he did involve himself in that letter business.”

Jules and Gregor protested the scenario Rowan had given, but Detective DeFazio silenced them.

“Nola,” Rowan continued, “was taking a shower and Mrs. Eglington was back in the kitchen with Gladys.  So you, Hines, ran out to where Jules and Gregor were doing yard work and told them of the change in plans and asked them to move closer to the study.  As soon as they heard the gunshot, Gregor was going to enter the study through a window. Jules would act as though he were continuing the yard work and maybe even say that he hadn’t heard any shot… while Gregor moved the body.  After you cleaned Spence’s hand and arm, you’d go back to your room and then come back running to investigate the shot. You entered through the foyer while Gregor left through the window.  Jules didn’t have anything to do but fix that letter of Nola’s in order to make her look guilty.  He changed the date and Gregor gave it to Detective DeFazio during his interview.”

Ellis picked up the charge. “Gregor carried Spence’s body into the bathroom and you and he washed his arms and hands and then you saw that Spence’s shirt was wet and so you exchanged shirts with him.  Mrs. Eglington and Gladys had already seen Jules that morning and knew what he was wearing. But no one had seen you. So you took Spencer’s shirt and put a little cold water on the blood stains, washing them out of the collar, and tucked Spence’s shirt into your jeans and maybe put a sweater on.  Nola walked in while you had Spence in the bathroom.  You answered, ‘Left.’ She took the wrong envelope to the newspaper and you two put Spencer’s body back and went your separate ways.

“Gregor probably disposed of the gun.  It will have to be here on the property.  The police will find it along with a few sets of fingerprints I hope.”

Rowan asked, “And why is Gregor hanging around?  Why was he suddenly in need of money? Why did our inspection of his apartment reveal so much camera equipment?  Why does the drug store in town comment on the old-fashioned film that they still keep in stock for him?  Who was he photographing that made him feel so secure?”  He looked at Paige.  “Whose photos were being developed in the farrier’s shed?”

“It’s true,” Paige admitted, wiping her eyes.  “He had some embarrassing photos of me and intended to blackmail me into marrying him.  He didn’t know that the house would belong to Roland or that Spence committed so much money to the new building.  And then somebody stole the photos and, I hope, destroyed them.”

“How did any of the servants find out about the photos?” Ellis asked rhetorically.  “No one really appreciated the view from the turret until Hines was slated to move into it.  Then Hines and Gladys got that unexpected view of the interior of the rear rooms of the carriage house and saw Gregor’s hiding place for the photos.  You all had seen his camera equipment and you all knew he wasn’t photographing goats or sunsets.  Maybe you also saw him developing photos in the farrier’s shed.  You all knew he was carrying on with Paige Ghent.  You all knew that Spence had a new woman in his life and that he was about to fund an extension of the clinic for her… a very expensive building project.  What you didn’t know were the terms in Spence’s last Will.  None of you knew whether he had dropped the old $15,000 bequest in favor of a more up-to-date life-insurance policy – one that wouldn’t be paid if he killed himself. Paige was incontrovertibly alibied by the hairdresser. Also, Spencer was so in love he might have given all that was available to Ingrid Hesse where it was stashed in some Swiss bank.  You didn’t know anything except it was better for you to have Spencer dead than alive,  sooner than later, and by someone else’s hand than his own.

“So while some of you knew about the secret cache of photos, those pictures were particularly valuable to only one of you, one who was in love with him… Gladys or Hines.  Who could get them first?  Hines tried but Paige was in the apartment.  So it was Gladys who got the photos and destroyed them and effectively severed Gregor’s connection to Paige.  The police found the ashes in the barbecue pit… Mrs. Eglington got a whiff of the smoke, but Gladys knew that ultimately Gregor would blame Hines.

“And Hines?” he turned to him, “You wanted Gregor and saw a way that you could kill Spencer, make the bond even stronger between you two since he’d then be able to blackmail Paige or marry her and you’d be able to force Gregor to pay you for your copies of the pictures. When he got enough out of her you’d plan a more private future with him. So you told Jules about those imaginary bequests, money that would not come if Spencer killed himself.  Jules believed your lies and more, he wanted Nola blamed so that she wouldn’t get such a large bequest from the will and jeopardize the money intended for him.  Hines knew how Spencer was carrying on with Ingrid.  Jules also knew about the phone traffic between Spence and his attorney.  Money was getting tight.  He didn’t want Spencer to short-change him or cut him out of the will completely.  The three of you made a suicide look like a murder.”

Detective Rowan moved on to the second death.  “Then we come to Gregor and the turret. It wouldn’t have taken long for Gregor to learn that Paige would never own the house and couldn’t live in it romantically with anyone.  But she would get money, but when he tried to check his photos, they were gone.  He probably looked up and could see that from the turret window it was possible to look down into the carriage house apartment.  Both Gladys and Hines could see what was in those empty rooms… the junk Gregor stored there, among them a mysterious box he hid there.  But Gregpr didn’t particularly like Hines, and he didn’t want him living with him. Yes, Gladys did have a crush on him and he knew it… but every woman he knew was vulnerable to him.  He didn’t take Gladys seriously.  She went to his apartment pretending to pick up his laundry, but she went right to the hidden box and took the contents and burned them. Now Paige was free of Gregor.  The small amount of smoke Mrs. Eglington had seen coming from behind the carriage house was what confused her when Gladys told her to call 9-1-1 when Gregor fell. Hines was still staying in Jules’s apartment and when Gregor hit the ground, Detective DeFazio could give him and Jules alibis.

But Gladys surely had no intention to kill Gregor.  When she asked him to tighten the screws that held the stained glass panel, he was happy to oblige because he was happy to remove any obstacle that prevented Hines from pressing him to move into the carriage house.

“But where was everybody when he fell? Paige and Pierre were away from the premises.  Nola was in the farrier’s shed. Hines was doing his chores in Jules’ place in the presence of Detective DeFazio. Mrs. Eglington was in the kitchen.  That leaves Gladys to be the one in the turret who foolishly closed the window.  No doubt Gregor was standing on the outside of the sill, tightening some screws, and the bottom window was up high enough for him to slide in and out of. Did Gladys proposition him?  Did she say that there now was no profit to be had from a relationship with Paige?  Did he tell her that she just wasn’t his type or laugh at her when she told him about how she’d share her inheritance with him which was peanuts to him? Or, go into the glamour shot business as partners?  He didn’t need her for that.  So it was all for nothing.  And maybe he laughed at her love.  And all she had to do was reach out and pull on his ankles and down he went.  And then she shut the window and ran down the circular staircase to the attic floor, came through to the staircase and scrambled down it as if she were responding to the screams.

Gladys sat there and stiffly said, “And none of that fantasy can you prove.  Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall and know what happened?”

“I’d like to know,” Rowan said,  “and it looks like we’ll have to take a trip to the station for a little interrogation.  I’m placing you under arrest.”

While he handcuffed Gladys, charged her with murder, and read her her rights, he asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the gun?”

Detective Martin DeFazio said, “If there’s a deal to be had, now’s the time to make it.”

“Cuff Mr. Whitman, charge him with obstruction of justice – we’ll add the rest later… and read him his rights.”  Again he asked, “The gun?”

Hines whimpered.  “If I tell you will I get a break with the D.A.?”

“All I can do is put a good word in for you,” Rowan replied. He turned to DeFazio. “Hook up Jules, too.  He’s part of the conspiracy.”

“It’s buried under one of the rocks on the steep slope behind the house,” Hines said.  “I saw Gregor put it there.  Just remember, I didn’t kill anyone!”

The police left and Pierre went to bed while Mrs. Eglington served more tea and pastry to Ellis, Nola, and Paige.

“This is the time for Church,” Mrs. Eglington said, as she began her return to the kitchen.

“Or to go to a Zen Center and have a talk with a qualified master.  We could always start a new group,” Ellis said.

Nora put down her tea and looked at him sternly.  “Maybe they need one in the outskirts of Anchorage.”

“Look,” Paige said, “I need religion… something significant in my life.  I’ve made a mess of things.  I want to get away from here… to get a job, maybe as a salesgirl.  I know shoes… clothes.   I could be a receptionist at a hair salon or a restaurant.  Roland will marry.  It’s only a question of time.  And then we’ll have family squabbles… historically it has happened that way with every generation.”  She began to cry.  “Pierre has turned on me and Samantha acts like she’s the only one who has a right to miss Spencer.  I’m an embarrassment to her and I don’t blame her.”  She sighed deeply.  “So while I do have enough cash to start a little mission someplace… I could also work as a receptionist or an assistant to a doctor.  Maybe the tropics.  Yes, maybe taking care of poor people or animals in some distant outpost of the Amazon.”

Nola sighed.  “Heaven and hell exist and they exist here and now and in your own head; and you can live in one place or the other.  But wherever you go, unless you’ve been decapitated, you carry your heaven and hell with you.  So if you’re truly inclined to ‘pick up the cloth’ even in a layman’s capacity, you can start right here in town.  In the outskirts, there are a few abandoned churches.  You can buy one of them cheaply and turn it into a little Buddhist temple. You’ll have to do a lot of studying and learning to love living the austere life.”

“I can do that,” Paige said without knowing what the austere life entailed.

“What about in Schuylkill County?” Ellis suggested.  As Spence’s widow, you may have a claim on the other sixty acres. Maybe Roland will see to it that you get clear title to them.  You’ve got a good case since they were obtained before the marriage.  He’ll be cooperative.  You can go ahead and build those retreats.

Nola interjected, “But the real thing, real Wabi Sabi and not this fashionable nonsense.  Elegant simplicity, loyal useage.  No more meretricious displays of wealth.   Spencer committed himself to half a dozen pre-fab cabins.  It could be a wonderful place to change attitudes and habits. Maybe people can conquer addictions there or just deepen their religious beliefs… some place that’s their own that they can get away to whenever life gets rough. Or just stay their forever, contented with his or her own self and the simple life.”

“Well,” Ellis said, “Paige has funeral arrangements to make.  Probably Gregor didn’t have any relatives who’d care to furnish a coffin or plot.  Cremation may be the answer after she looks for them.”

Rowan added, “And then Paige should pay back those depositors.  Vikram is a lost cause in my opinion. He’ll get in trouble in Mexico and get what’s coming to him.  But, hey… I’d like to have one of those cabins.  Put me down for one.”

Ellis asked, “Will you allow a wife and kids to visit?  Think about it.  It’ll be like going to camp for the kids.  It’ll be like going to prison for my wife… but what the hell…”

“You can give her a few conjugal visits and then let her escape, Rowan teased.  “Just please… none of her boyfriends.  You gals have a lot of work to do.  I’ll get the list of depositors from Patricia Mahoney.  Say… you could also make it a yoga retreat. My wife and I are both out of shape.”

“We could put in a weight room,” Paige contributed.

“So many choices,” Nola said.  “God works in mysterious ways… but I still like the thought of Alaska.

(solution to the “theme given only”) puzzle

Theme: Nothing…  nothing left at all.



The Crossword Puzzle (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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



The Grand Jury had no choice but to indict Nola.  The D.A. convinced them that she was having a torrid love affair with Spencer Ghent and had gotten pregnant, as evidenced by the letter, and by her sister’s fury. Also, Nola had been cheated out of her share of the syndication money and wanted revenge. There was a relatively strong rumor that she was going to get a large Certificate of Deposit held in trust for her by Spencer.  He could, of course, had cashed that CD in himself if he had ever gotten short of money and she didn’t want to risk that because of his impending expenses on the new clinic addition.  A house employee, Hines Whitman, had seen her leave the scene of the crime moments after a gunshot had been heard.  Everyone else in the house had an unassailable alibi. Finally, she and another foreign lover had cheated local citizens out of $155,000 in a phony land deal.  She had betrayed every person who had ever shown her kindness.

On November 25th, Nola Harriman was arrested and placed in a county holding cell.   Ellis Foyle met with her.  “Unless they can find a hard-up magistrate, you’re not due to be formally arraigned until next Monday because of the Thanksgiving Day schedule.  I’m willing to pay your bail, but I just can’t get in touch with my broker. So sit tight for a day or a week and don’t worry. I’ll get you out.  Meanwhile, do not talk to anyone about anything.   Don’t make friends.  You have no friends in the joint.  I’m working on two separate cases with Graham, so my time isn’t exactly my own.  But I won’t let you down.  Meanwhile, try to figure out that goofy crossword puzzle.  He wrote, ‘There’s nothing left’ or something on the back and maybe the squares will amplify what could be a suicide note. And take care of yourself. Don’t let anybody get to you.”

“Don’t worry.  I can get into a Zen zone and nothing can touch me there.”

Ellis Foyle, looking around and startled by Nola’s casual yet indomitable attitude to jail, laughed.  “How did you get a power like that?”

Nola grinned. “Once I had an apartment in a building that burned down and idiot that I am, I didn’t have renter’s insurance.  I lost everything. I had no place to live so my master put me in a temple guest room and gave me a koan to meditate on. For a week I sat and worked on the Koan and I suddenly understood it.  It was like magic.  Everything was fine again.  Life was incredibly beautiful.”

“What was the Koan?”

Nola laughed.  “All things return to the One.  To where does the One return?”

“What was the answer?”

“You can’t be told the answer.  You have to find it for yourself.  And by the way, you look really nice in a business suit. Why don’t you wear one more often?”

“Is that a Koan?”


Ellis was signing out of the facility when Nola suddenly remembered where Vikram’s letter was. She called to him, “Ellis!  I remember.  I put it inside a reference book in the study.“  Immediately Ellis reversed his logout and hurried back to the holding cell.  “I had picked the theme, ‘con men’ and was looking up the histories of some Ponzi scheme operators when I saw it was the time I was supposed to call the pension in Mexico City.  They don’t take calls 24/7.  The operator said that the person who could help me had to be called the next day. I had written a lot of Spanish stuff on the envelope and did call and learn Vik was no one they knew.  So I continued with the puzzle and stuck the letter inside that book about con men. I forget the name of the book, but it’s on the top shelf nearest the door to the foyer.  It’s a kind of yellow book.”

Ellis immediately called Rowan and together they went to the Ghent house.  They found the missing letter which left no doubt that Nola had nothing to do with the missing money.  Dave Rowan, who had thought the case against her was extremely weak, spoke to the District Attorney.  The decision was made to wait another week for arraignment which would give them more time to obtain more dispositive information.  Meanwhile, Nola having no “roots” in the community, would be moved into the county jail. By rights she could be held only 48 hours, but Ellis, afraid for her safety, waived the requirement and for the first time he saw a small candle lit in a very dark universe.

There is a certain deportment, a protocol one should follow in any specific environment.  Nola, unfortunately ignorant of holding-cell decorum, entered the strange room awkwardly. She took mincing steps to a metal slab that was held to the wall with chains.  Passively, she sat on the edge of the slab and waited for others to act. But they simply sat on the floor propped against the wall.  She could tell from the court proceedings that she had just experienced, that in the same room a murder suspect was sitting side by side with the wretched kind of citizen who doesn’t pay traffic fines on time; but what was lacked in security was compensated by brevity.  Of the dozen or so women who were with her in the cell, four of them, including the murder suspect, had their names called and the bailiff extracted them from confinement even as more women were added.  Nola could only wait in the holding cell for other unknown people to act.

The county’s holding cells were part of the police station and there were only a few such cells.  Two small ones for the mentally ill, and two large cells, one for men and the other for women who were mostly held for prostitution, shop lifting, and domestic abuse.  The women held as prostitutes waited for their pimps; those held for domestic abuse were oddly fragile and Nola wondered what kind of threat they posed to their husbands. Soon she tired of hearing all the chatter and decided that it was time to meditate. “I’ve been a life-long friend of adversity,” she told herself.  The surroundings, however, were not amenable to any friendly settling of her mind.  She continued to sit and merely listen.

Unnaturally nervous, the street-walkers were dressed in cheap provocative clothing.  Nola tried to guess their age: they looked older than they were, she thought.  They were just worn-out, distorted like over-played video tapes. Every other word they uttered was an obscene expletive in the vocabulary of a ten year old street urchin.  The only grammatically correct phrases she could associate with them were inked on their bodies.  One of the women watched Nola squint to read in full a line that had been tattooed on another woman’s back.  “Hey!” she cried out. “You gots a reader.”

The tattooed woman, in a kind of teasing dance, backed up to Nola to let her read the entire message. “Cowards die many time before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

“It’s Shakespeare,” the woman said.

“Yes. I know,” Nola replied. “Julius Caesar.  A great line. It’s a nice job of tattooing.  Well-centered and spaced.  Uniform lettering.  Beautiful work.”

“You ok.  I’m gonna remember that.”  With unaccustomed girlish pride she returned to the others.  “Didja’ hear that? Uniform letterin’! That’s why it cost so much.”

Nola lay back on the metal slab that was supposed to function as a bed.  She could not sleep and neither could the others who talked, cursed, and wept the entire night.

In the morning light, they were led into a courtroom over which a visiting magistrate presided.  The skimpy, garish garments the prostitutes wore seemed pathetic in the natural wood courtroom’s staid business atmosphere.  Graham Corbin, the lawyer Nola had never seen before, represented her in Ellis’s absence.  The judge, who was personally aware of Nola’s “miraculous” cure of Spencer Ghent was glad to accommodate the seeming indifference of the prosecutor. He asked Nola if she were released on bail would she have someone to live with – with an ankle bracelet of course so that she could not leave the immediate area.   He gave her an hour to locate someone.  Graham Corbin, who had neither money nor credit, handed her his phone and she immediately called Sri Bashumitsu and asked her if she would help both with the relatively small percentage to be paid on the bond if there were one, and also if she would let her use a closet-sized bedroom that had been considered too small to rent.  This would make the Norris-Giles House an official but temporary address. “I’ll pay you back the bond percentage as soon as this mess is resolved.”  Nola waited for an answer and then repeated the request.

Sri Bashumitsu chuckled.  “Were you under the impression that we’re a bank?  We don’t lend bail money; and as far as making this temple your home when we’re just now trying to repair the damage to our reputation that you… you and you alone… have done, all I can say is, ‘Forget it.’ You should have come to me when you suspected our Tenzo of stealing medicine.  You did it your way with him just as you did it your sleazy way with our Abbot.  There is no room for you here and please do not call again.”  She disconnected the call.

Stone-faced, Nola turned to Corbin.  “I’ve got no one to help me. I’ll have to wait for Ellis to get back.”

When informed of this, the magistrate said that he did not want her returned to the holding cell. “Very well then,” he said.  “Would you mind being a guest of the county at our new jail? The food is better and so are the beds… or so I’m told. On Monday they can drop the charges or file them.”

Nola nodded and said, “Yes. Thank you, Your Honor.”  The gavel struck. A bailiff came and handcuffed her, and she was led away to a van that waited outside.

Officially in limbo, Nola was placed into the custody of women guards who were inured to the awkwardness of strip searching.  They put gloved fingers into her vagina and rectum and made sure that there was nothing hidden in her hair.  Once they were certain that she had no contraband on her, they pushed her into a warm shower and gave her prison garb to wear, along with bed linens and blanket. She was now #28956 but she was still technically in a holding cell.  The jail, she learned, held both convicted prisoners and those who were awaiting trial.  She had been moved out of the big cell and placed in a two-person cell.  The other woman who occupied it seemed mentally deranged since all she did was brush her hair and sing repeatedly, Cow-Cow Boogie in its entirety.

Now ensconced in a cellblock, Nola’s prison life was different from her holding cell experience.  The other woman, Nora supposed, was losing hair due to stress, so much that it became impossible to eat the food that was delivered through a slot in the barred side of the small room. Long black hairs were on her slim pillow and in her shoes and blanket. When Nola found several hairs on her toothbrush, she gagged and literally got down on her knees and prayed that Monday would come quickly.

As disgusting as the loose hair and song that the woman endlessly sang were, it was night that was far worse to tolerate. The jail had several tiers. At night the lower lights were extinguished and only a few ceiling lights remained, their dim light creating a kind of smothering fog – not of mist, but rather of hopeless sighs that lay over the lower floors.  It gave her a disheartening sense of permanence that drifted down into the darkness; and it seemed necessary for every one of the inmates to let the others know that she was still alive there, hidden in the dense air by shouting a version of, “I’m here.  Don’t forget me!”  Curses hurled at betraying friends and lovers; excuses and reasons for doing what the police had caught them doing; charges of incompetent lawyers, jealous relatives, and racial hatred filled the large cellblock.  On and on it went stopped only briefly by the curiosity aroused by vomiting or by everyone’s exhaustion. Nola had listened to each intelligible yell.  Morning came and it was as if night had skipped its turn. She thought of the “Fasting Buddha” whose ribs showed the terrible effects of starvation and told herself that she had already lost so much that she would hold on to her religion.  Ingratitude, betrayal, lies, pain – both psychological and physical – all these “came with the territory.”  She chanted to herself as many chants as she could remember.

Almost as an afterthought, she remembered the blank page puzzle… those twenty x twenty blank squares that had to do with having nothing left that needed to be at least partially filled.  The theme had to have been given on the back flap.  The envelope was ready to be mailed.  She knew that from the way it had been inserted into the side fold of Spencer’s desk blotter. “How do you say, ‘nothing… there’s nothing left?’  She had a notepad and a pencil stub in the cell with her and she began to write down words that signified nothing. None; no; nada; naught; empty; bereft; cipher; tapped ; dearth; zip; zilch; bupkis; null; blank;  void; zero; extinct; deplete; busted; nil; eradicated; squat; dick; diddly; and from tennis not only ‘bagel’ but “love”; from math she got Origin; and then she couldn’t think of any more words that signified nothing.

A guard was watching her.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Writing down words that mean nothing.”  Nola read the list to her.

“You could add ‘zot,’” the guard suggested.  “It’s legal talk that means ‘It’s nothing significant.’”

Nola added “zot” to 0the list

While the guard stayed to watch, Nola explained, “There are only two words that contain ‘K’ – blank and bupkis.  They probably intersect.  I’ll start there.”  She began to fill the white boxes in.  That was it.  After three hours of trial and error, she completed the puzzle.


On Monday, before she had a chance to show Ellis Foyle the completed puzzle, he had managed to obtain her release and vouched personally for her presence.  At a formal arraignment proceeding, the judge, following the recommendation of the visiting magistrate, released her into Ellis’ care, pending a formal charge. The prosecution did not object since by then, they, too, were having doubts about the case. Ellis moved to have the non-specified charges dismissed, but the judge asked for patience in this convoluted matter.

The telephone company verified the numbers Nola had called and one of the detectives personally talked to the English speaking landlady who supported Nola’s version.  Also, Nola had not been cheated out of any syndication money since there was no contract whatsoever to syndicate the puzzles.  Dr. Boyle’s description of the state Spencer was in when Nola came to the house made it clear that the patient was hardly in a lovable condition.  And Paige regarded it as an insult that her husband would have preferred her sister to her. Forgetting her previous tirade, she announced,  “If I thought for one moment that there was anything between them, I would have sent her packing.  No, my husband was enamored with that Swiss doctor.  Check it out for yourselves.”  They did and witness testimony at the clinic verified the liaison. But in the normal fashion of pit bulls and assistant district attorneys Nola was still the number one candidate, the “prime suspect.”

Ellis took her to his house to live, explaining that his wife and children had once occupied the house and Nola had a whole section of it to herself.  He gave her a key to the front door and retrieved her Explorer from the police impound station.

She cleaned the house and washed and ironed his shirts and did everything she could do to pay him back for his kindness.  She also cooked dinner which, considering his restaurant ownership, she profusely apologized for.  Luckily, his wife, he alleged, was an even worse cook.  They had pleasant conversations over dinner and she told him about the woman who had Shakespeare’s line tattooed on her back.

Ellis repeated,‘Cowards die many times before their death.  The valiant never taste of death but once.’ It’s sort of appropriate for a whore.  She risks her life every night.”

His remark touched Nola and she felt an additional admiration for the man.  “It’s funny,” she said, “but people need a concise creed to live by.  It can be a phrase or a word that gives them some kind of comfort… like Masha in The Three Sisters.  They may not know exactly what it means, but it’s significant to them in a more important way.  It’s strange that it’s a complete distortion of the singing horse story.  It’s which song he sings or how well he sings it that’s important.  It’s not that he sings at all.  When I complimented the gal in the cell she was so proud of the uniformity of the script and its spacing that she changed for a moment into an innocent little girl… a girl who didn’t know anything about Julius Caesar or what the quotation meant. Religion works in the same way.  I learned a lot from studying Zen.”

“Is that where you got your special koan?”

She looked surprised.  “No. Not at all.  It’s true that I devoted my spiritual life to Zen Buddhism but it’s not the motto that I use whenever I’m in a worrisome situation.”

“Are you allowed to tell me what it is?”

She laughed.  “Sure.  Honi soit qui mal y pense.”

Ellis put his head back and laughed.  “That’s the Order of the Garter’s motto.  ‘Evil to him who evil thinks.’ The Queen allows special people to use it when she knights them.”

“Nobody knighted me but I learned that if a person has faith, adversity becomes an opportunity – within reason, of course. But the faith has to be real. And if you think harshly about someone you suppose is your enemy, you’re the one who ends up suffering.”

“I should adopt the motto for myself.   You can call me Sir Ellis.”

“Meanwhile, let’s change the subject. How am I going to exonerate myself?”

“First, tell me the extent to which you were involved with Spencer.  I need to know the truth if I’m going to counter it.”

“It’s so hard to explain.  I don’t understand it myself.  At first he was just a patient I liked and felt sorry for.  And then he began to get better under my regimen and I was proud of him… and myself, too, for the improvement.  We started to work on the puzzles and it gave us something besides sickness to think about. We’d laugh and laugh. But he was such a strange guy.  There were days in a row that we kept the same routine.  But then, with no explanation, he’d take his medicine and then ask me to leave and just lock me out of the room.   Same thing when he got better.  He’d take his medicine and then suddenly leave the house.  And never an explanation.  Like… it was none of my business. I’d sit and worry all day.  And I guess I began to really fall for him… but then we went to the cabin and – I admit it – I’d have had sex with him except I caught the expression on his face and I could see that there was no love there, no desire… no thought of me.  So I went out and slept in the truck.  That’s as far as it went.”

Ellis laughed.  “Have you ever heard of the Razzle Game?”

“Yes.  It’s a carnival game that’s been outlawed or something.”

“In its own extreme way, it’s based on the addictive principle.  Aside from getting money, if you played a game in which you won every time you played it, you’d soon lose interest. Even with money, it’s human nature to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by dispensing with common sense protocols.  In games of chance, drugs, love, or anything risky, something mysterious happens in the brain.  It’s the whole principle behind gambling.  To keep a person playing, you’ve got to make him lose – I don’t know what the ratio is… maybe you’ve got to lose two or three times to winning once.  But whatever it is, something snaps inside your brain and you fall victim to a euphoric optimism and keep thinking that you can beat the odds… that you can win.  Love works on the same addictive principle.  A man and woman meet and really get along. They happily date and then, to initiate that infatuated desire or need, one suddenly cools while remaining friendly. Control and ego become the driving force, not love. The intention of winning, or gaining control, keeps the union functioning. They reunite and then the same one cools again. The fear of loss and jealousy replaces true love.  But the union rarely ends well. It’s rigged by the brain. It ends in murder or divorce.

“But as things begin, the way that one person can get another person into that vulnerable zone is like the Razzle Game.  Let him win a little and think that he or she can easily master the challenge. But the game… like life… is rigged against the vulnerable player.  They’re addicted to the game and try even harder to win.

“I remember lending a kid in Spence’s frat some of my notes and I needed them back.  So as he separated my stuff from his, we sat in the living room and drank beer.  Spence was there and we began to talk about Razzle.  One of the Frats had a big fund raising carnival and they hired a professional outfit to run the games.  Small but crooked stuff… throwing unbalanced balls and shooting ducks with skewed gun-sights. But in a back room they included Razzle by a different name… a football scoring game.  They made big money from the suckers who played.  And our conversation turned to sex and I remember him saying how you could get any woman you wanted to love you if you applied the gaming addiction ploy.  Treat them nice for a certain period of time and then when they thought they had you, disappear or turn cold without explanation… and this would turn on that snapping mechanism in the woman’s brain.  ‘It never failed,’ he said.”

“Jesus.  Are you telling me that I fell for that?  Lao Tzu said, ‘If you want to attract someone, take a step back.’ I guess I ought to be proud of myself that I… or maybe Ingrid…  finally freed me from such a stupid manipulation – and I didn’t even have to change my environment.  You know, during the Viet Nam war the Viet Cong flooded the market with really cheap heroin.  Hospitals and police department in the U.S. prepared for a crime wave when these soldiers got home and couldn’t afford the expensive stuff here.  But it never happened.  The guys went back to the farm were without that jungle atmosphere and just had no desire.  The only ones who reverted to drug addiction were the ones who used and were from the mean streets before they went into the service.  They were given the choice between the Army and prison. When they got home, the mean street allurements were waiting for them.”

“So you’re saying you no longer have feelings for Spence because there’s a big difference in our houses,” he joked.

“Yes.  His has nicer furniture and a built-in cook.”

“Ok.  You win.  Alcoholics should avoid bar rooms and smokers should avoid stairwells.  I get it.”

Ellis leaned back in his chair. “That, however, is of no consequence.  We have two choices: Spence committed suicide and a person or persons took the gun.  Or, Spence was murdered by a person or persons unknown.”

“Paige has the only watertight alibi.  They can stretch the time of death, but not that far to accommodate her appointment with Andre.  The other servants alibi each other.”

“What about the kids?” Ellis asked.

“Mid-terms.  Samantha lost enough time shopping and on top of that they all lost time for the funeral.  No, the servants either made his suicide look like murder or they actually did kill him.”

“But not all the servants, surely.”

“No, Mrs. Eglington can be a bitch, but she’s quite above murder or conspiracy.”

“Gregor, Jules, Hines and Gladys.  Which ones?  I doubt that all four were involved,” Ellis mumbled.

“Look… the only reason Spence was in the bathroom was to wash GSR off his hands and arms.  Now, as a nurse I’ve had to lift bodies.  Dead weight is more than a figure of speech.  Hines could never lift Spencer two feet not the needed twenty.   And Jules either has a cervical spine problem or he’s gold-bricking.”

“He’s not gold-bricking.  I remember when he was injured.  He’s lucky to be able to use his right hand at all. And Gladys?  She weighs less than Hines.  Only Gregor could have moved the body to and from the bathroom. And the Coroner said that there were no bruises on the body.  If a couple of the lightweights tried to do it, they’d make a mess of it.”

“Let’s talk motive,” Nola said.  Gregor didn’t know about that primogeniture stipulation.  He no doubt thought that he could get Paige to marry him and then he’d be master of the house.   He also strikes me as the kind of man who would take obscene photos of Paige… with or without her knowledge.  That would be his insurance in case she refused to marry him. So the sooner she became a widow, the sooner he could ride those thoroughbreds in the stable.”

“Don’t forget the money angle.  Paige was convinced… or hoped at least… that the reason Spencer was talking to his attorney so much was because of the syndication contract.   And then it became the addition to the clinic.  The sooner he died, the less he’d be spending – especially on his new lady-love – and the more they’d all inherit. She knew that things were happening fast with the addition.  And the kids, except Roland, figured they’d inherit right away.  I talked to Spence’s attorney.  That clause about making her executrix until all his children were of age was not such an unusual provision.  In a way, an insecure man would kind of guarantee his own life against being murdered for his money by his offspring.  They’d have to bump off both parents and then they couldn’t be sure whether someone else was named as executor.  So we can forget Roland.  There was enough real estate for him to sell just one property and get more than enough money to keep him for years.  Or, looked at another way, he could make life easy or hard for Paige who any day now will be living in his house as a guest. So even if she had plenty of cash, he still held the trump cards.  Still, she could have talked Gregor into helping whoever it was who changed your letter.  To me, it looks like Hines and Gregor.”



Nola sighed. “They feared that he’d change his Will and leave everything to Ingrid; but now they know that the Will was unchanged except for the insurance policy to the Clinic.  All the other rumors were just so much nonsense. And separately, he had already signed contracts for doing a land survey, buying the land, doing the excavation, and with the architect and engineering firms plus, of course, the general contractor. The kids didn’t know that the contracts were executed, but they did think they’d all be richer if he died before he could execute the documents.   How long will it take for them to get their money?”

“Pierre will be eighteen before probate is concluded and then it’s still up to Paige.  Probate,” Ellis explained in layman’s terms, “is just the period where all the bills incurred by the deceased come in and get paid.  Spencer spent time in Europe and Japan.  If he ran up any debts in these places, they have to be paid.  Taxes, too, take time.  Throwing Ingrid into the mix didn’t help. Now they fear she squirreled away a huge chunk of their cash in some Swiss bank account where they will never get it.

“They all had to be worried about his appointments with his attorney. And not only that,” he added, “but then Gregor accused Hines of stealing something from him.  They had a terrible row Mrs. Eglington told me. Hines stuck around because he wanted a good reference from Jules and, I suppose, Paige. We need to find out what the argument was about.

“Meanwhile, we’ve added nothing to your defense.”  Emphatically, he said, “Your solution to the puzzle makes it seem like a weird kind of suicide note.  I got stuck with the word ‘bereft’ – bereavement.  It’s a suicide note, all right. Think about it!”

“I have been! This puzzle may have been intended for the Japanese guy he was teaching English to. The reason that the envelope had no address was probably that he photocopied his friend’s address which had been written in Kanji.  He would have taped the address to the envelope. He said he had been fooling around with some new ways to write a puzzle to teach this guy colloquial English.  If you wanted to teach someone the different ways we say something…  you could direct him to a thesaurus – which is no puzzle or game of any kind, or you could make the puzzle a learning exercise by fitting the words into the white squares.

“He always gave the puzzle’s theme,” Nola said, “so his line on the back flap makes sense. “Nothing… Nothing left at all.’  It’s the theme of the puzzle… and a suicide note.  Spence had hit bottom.  The kids were grown and all he had to look forward to was a life with Paige and those greedy kids. He found love and purpose with Ingrid, and that was worth an investment.  But he lost her and, therefore, the purpose of the investment.  He did feel as though he had nothing left.”

Ellis immediately called Dave Rowan and explained the solution to one puzzling part of Spencer’s death.  Rowan was impressed. “In his desk we found a bunch of small papers that had identical Japanese writing on them. An address in Akita. Could be this guy’s address.”

Ellis knew that Rowan would contact the man in Japan to verify the puzzle game.  “Let’s hope he can be located.”

“It still proves nothing,” Rowan said, “no pun intended.”


The Crossword Puzzle (#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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



The Council had only to decide which of the ladies would escort the old man to the airport in Philadelphia, give him another tranquilizer, and continue on to Cairo.  The date and time were fixed and reservations made. They were delighted with the solution to their most pressing problem. Paige was happy, too, since Spence assured her he’d come home to live in Pennsylvania, not Lucerne.

Nola still was waiting for the syndication contracts to be produced and signed.  Yet, she feared that by making an issue of it, she’d antagonize Spencer and he’d end her employment in the house – which would not have helped Paige who was becoming increasingly nervous and insecure. Every day she made some kind of secret gesture or remark to Nola about needing her to stay.  The children had come home briefly for the summer.  Samantha and Pierre left immediately to vacation with friends in Canada and Roland took a long Asiatic cruise.

Spencer, despite his promise, did not return to Pennsylvania.  He reversed his route to Japan and in July stopped in Lucerne for an indefinite time.  Paige clicked off the phone and trembled.  She asked Nola to drive her to an attorney’s office in Morton and to wait in the car until she finished talking to him.  Although curious, Nola did not ask why she was seeing an attorney.  She sat in Paige’s new Jaguar and worked on the theme, “Breaking up.”

Since Paige was obviously taking steps to protect her own interests, Nola wrote another note to Spencer asking when she could expect the syndication documents and why he was showing so little interest in the hermitage land.  In a separate note she told him that despite his absence, people were visiting the site and giving her and Victoru Roshi deposits on the different plots of land and cabin construction.  She added that she deposited the few down-payments she had received directly into the Abbot’s account since he, in Spencer’s absence, had taken charge of the project.

Spencer did not respond to Nola’s notes; but he did call Paige and tell her he’d return when he felt better.  He told her he had had a minor relapse while he was in Japan.  “I’ll be seeing you soon,” he encouraged her.  “Keep the home fires burning!”

Paige told Nola about the call.  “If I didn’t know my own boy would be getting this place, I’d keep the home fires burning by burning this goddamned house down… antiques and all.”


Gregor, it seemed, had been spending an excessive amount of time driving the old pickup truck to feed stores to buy food for the goats and to various plant nurseries to buy potting soil, fertilizer, and rose bushes.  The few times he came face to face with Paige, he invented a chore he had to do.  She no longer cared and was beginning to wonder how she could get rid of him without any unpleasant repercussions.


Paige immediately began to attend services at the zendo and flirt with Vikram who was busy with the Schuylkill Buddhist Retreat – as he called it.  She praised his business acumen for selling so many plots and adding an “Indian touch” to the design of the rustic dwellings.  She had, herself, showed him the way to the site the first time he went, and let it be known through the town’s tangled grapevine that he was marvelous in bed.

The members of ZBA who gave deposits wanted to see progress of the buildings. August and September seemed the perfect time to show their relatives and friends at least the beginning of their charming getaways. Vikram began to take several trips a week to the land with a variety of prospective hermits – unmarried women mostly.  He’d sleep with them in the cabin and then he’d accept their building deposits, speak of love, and put the money in his own personal checking account.

One afternoon Paige remembered something about the wedding gift of the land and called the county recorder.  She had visions of Dr. Hesse living in Wabi Sabi splendor in Schuylkill County.  Sure enough, the county recorder told her that her sixty acres – transferred while she was still single – contained the trail that led from the highway. She decided that If Spencer had any ideas about leaving her to live in another county with Ingrid Hesse, he had better return from Switzerland without delay. Victoru Roshi was no businessman for the hermitages and the extension to the Lucerne Clinic required Spencer’s Wharton School background. Contracts needed to be signed.

In late August the Ghent family was united.  At Spencer’s suggestion they all piled into the Lexus and drove to the First Methodist Church for Sunday morning service.  They were all well-dressed which may have impressed others but did not seem to be noticed by the Pastor who was shocked to see the five of them appear at the entrance door. Dumbfounded, he shook hands with Spencer and said without thinking, “In Christ all things are possible.”

The big dinner that was prepared for them in the decorated dining room was a disaster.  The fancy ham that Mrs. Eglington had baked all morning, sat like a clove-decorated stone in the center of the table.  Paige and Samantha were on diets;  Nola and Roland were vegetarians; Spencer was angry when he learned that the hearts of palm the cook had taken such trouble to prepare were served with neufchatel cheese that had tried to disguise itself under parsley as it wormed its way into the innocent leaves.  He, having a Monday therapy session in Media, feared the inevitable results of the cheese and refused to eat anything.  Pierre had wolfed down two cheeseburgers and fries when he left the group after services to “see an old friend.”

Paige summoned Mrs. Eglington and told her to serve the 90% meal remains to the rest of the servants.  Then she went to her room and locked the door and cried into her pillow.

Paige and Nola had considered so many explanations to account for Spencer’s behavior in recent months that neither woman was surprised to read in the Sunday newspaper that there was a planned addition to the Lucerne Clinic addition in Media, Pennsylvania, that Spencer would be investing in it, and that Dr. Ingrid Hesse of Switzerland was slated to be its new CEO.  The two women were not even surprised when Spencer announced that since he’d be overseeing the construction, he’d probably be spending many nights there at the site in Media, Pennsylvania.  “I need a little more time to think about the hermitages,” he said, adding, “I’m tired and do not care to discuss anything further.”


At the Zen Assembly, which was now thriving, talk centered on the hermitage land.  Vikram’s natural charm enticed people of every age and sex to want to experience spiritual isolation with him, and he was able to collect $155,000.  Citing his “ecclesiastical position,” he held to secrecy every person who gave him a deposit. People began to collect rustic things… buckets, brooms, copper pots with handles that could be hung on the fireplace’s swing-out arms, Torii-gate toilet paper holders, pagoda shaped outhouses, and hand-made ceramic dishes.  Producing Wabi Sabi things became a nearly full-time occupation.

At home, Spencer’s charm returned.  In the morning, while Paige slept, he and Nola rode around the estate.  “It’s great exercise for my legs,” he said.  Then he added, “I owe you an apology for that first night in the cabin.  My only excuse is that I hadn’t had sex with a woman for so long that I wasn’t sure I’d go about it correctly.  It’s one thing when you’re a kid.  Then, anything goes.  But when you find yourself naked with a with a woman whose had all sorts of … well… respectable continental experience, you don’t want to come off as a clumsy ass. It wasn’t as though you and I were romantically involved.  I just needed re-assurance and went about it in all the wrong ways.  I’m sorry for that.”

Nola appreciated the apology even though it was somewhat “left-handed” since she was hardly the woman who had all that daunting continental experience.  She remembered that “practice” was one of the theories Paige considered to explain his sudden interest in having sex with her.   Paige, Nola concluded, was right on target. She decided not to tell her sister about the conversation since it would have only have humiliated her further.


On the Labor Day weekend, Spencer took Ingrid Hesse to the mountain for a day’s jaunt. Seeing an area that would have functioned well as a “beginning to Intermediate” ski slope, she suggested,“Instead of leasing the land to wanna-be recluses, why don’t we keep it as our own private hideaway? You have your own home in Morton and the clinic just won’t do as our own private place.”  Spencer gave the suggestion serious thought.

Paige knew that her land had been used to access the possible sites. When Spencer announced that he had decided on another use for the land, she laughed at him and said, “You and Ingrid can build your own road, and be prepared to make it a regular Champs de Elysee. what with the cost of getting grading equipment up there and meeting the new county specs for roadways.”  The Hermitage Project, as it was then called, met an untimely death.

Sri Bashumitsu, showed her omniscient bent when she learned that the project had suddenly been cancelled.  When Victoru Roshi quietly closed his bank account and left town, she suggested to The Council that she knew why Nola had been so eager to ingratiate herself with The Council.  “We were scammed by that phony land deal and her Wog lover.”  That Nola was still in town seemed to contradict her revelation; but it did add a new subject for conjecture.

Spencer, in a rare weekend interview, said that Nola committed a bit of pre-ejaculation by announcing to the Sangha the possibility of hermitages before he had the opportunity to discuss it with his wife and sign a proper joint-venture contract. And Paige, publicly at least, blamed Nola for inspiring Spencer’s interest in the land without consulting her first. “After all,” she said nervously, “if you hadn’t started him on that hermitage business, I wouldn’t have to visualize him roasting marshmallows with that femme fatale physician.”

Nola felt it pointless to protest to anyone except Ellis Foyle.  “The criticism I’m receiving is both harsh and confusing.  Yes, I encouraged Vikram to look at the land; but I felt sorry for him because he had been rejected by every hospital that cared to respond to his inquiry.  Where on earth did I get the idea that a gesture of mine could turn a loser into a winner?  Last week I got a letter from him from Mexico City asking me to pay back the deposits.  He said that he had gotten a position as a surgical resident and intended to reimburse me – with interest – on the installment plan, of course.  I tried to telephone him at the boarding house address on the envelope but the landlady, who did speak English, didn’t know who he was.  And where on earth did he get the idea that I’d simply pick up his $155,000 debt?”

Ellis offered a possible reason for the request.  “Between knowing that you had paid for the new roof and visiting you at the Ghent house, he probably assumed you had money… that maybe the house was yours.  You did introduce him to your sister and he put that together…”

Nola laughed at the idea, wondering how much farther her life’s spiral would go down before she hit bottom.

She decided to surrender to the cosmos and place her faith in her religion and let everything happen without any interference from herself.  She no longer danced, taught yoga, meditated in the ZBA room, or attended the book club.  Nearly every evening she would go to her bedroom and work on a koan or crossword.  She would go on as before in stolid Zen passivity. The world would turn without her help in any case.


Shortly after the summer vacation period had ended and the children returned to their schools, It was time for Hines to be given a permanent room. He had been sleeping on a cot in Jules’ apartment over the Four-car; and although, surprisingly, the two men became friends, this arrangement suited no one as a permanent solution.

Spencer ordered Hines to prepare to move into “the tower.”  He summoned Jules also and berated him for his tardiness in not ordering painting and carpeting for the new living space.  “There! This will be the last week you’re without your own space,” he said to Hines with commanding finality, “and you’ll be fine in the turret room.  Go get an idea of the kind of covering you want for the four clear window panes.  Jules will order whatever you want.  Give me a progress report.” he said.  “Right now I have to make a few calls.”

As Jules left the bedroom, Hines pretended that he wanted to get a book of his from the shelf and surreptitiously switched on Spence’s baby monitor.  He shut the bedroom door as he left. Then as Jules went down the rear servant’s stairs, Hines, knowing that Nola was riding with her sister and wouldn’t be back for at least another hour, went into Nola’s bedroom, and closed the door, switched on her monitor and listened to Spence’s side of his phone conversation. At first, he heard much incomprehensible talk about land and architects and a contract with Paige about rights-of-way, and then the subject changed to the household bequests in his will.  “To hell with my sister-in-law and Hines who is a royal pain in my ass. Increase Eglington, Gladys, and Jules by an additional $30,000.  They’ve been loyal and useful. Roland still gets all the Ghent real estate and since I’m divesting myself of much of my portfolio to pay for the new clinic, the rest of the money, assuming there’s any left over, will go to Paige and the kids. Roland is studying Economics at the university and after he gets his MBA he’ll be given a job I used to have.  It won’t be at the top, but he’ll make out well.  I’ve already laid the ground work for him.

“For a long time I considered replacing Paige as executrix, but she’s settled down now and say what you will, she’s still a good mother and does love those kids.  Frankly, they’re far more juvenile than I was at their age so the old stipulations remain. If I’ve got to trust somebody, I’d just as soon trust her.  It’s a modest proposal and as Swift says in defense of his strategy, “My wife is past the child-bearing age.” Get the papers ready and I’ll sign them next week.”

And that was it.  Hines heard himself described in such unflattering terms that he could barely move after he switched the monitor off.  There was no expression of appreciation for all the hard work he had done and all the nasty treatment he had had to put up with for the past half year. So, the truth came out, and he, the royal pain, knew what was in the Will.  Nobody else knew.  But what could he do with this precious information?  As he walked to the garage to meet with Jules, he mumbled, “I’m supposed to be the factotum, not the stupid chauffeur.  And I’m starting to forget all the French I knew.  Nobody in this madhouse has any refinement.” He thought about all the jobs the agency had listed as possibilities and each began to attain admirable properties in his mind.   There was nothing negative about what might have been just as there was nothing positive about what he had. A wave of contempt for Spencer Ghent rose up from his toes and he could not spit nor breathe it out.


Jules was in the midst of compounding Spencer’s Lexus and the car would not be ready for another couple of hours. Spencer had been to the garage earlier.  He had marched out in a foul mood.  He admonished Jules as though he were a child, calling him an incompetent ingrate.  Gruffly he called Paige and asked her if she minded if he borrowed her new Jaguar for the day.

Hines, serpent-like, spoke to Jules.  “I’ve got news,” he said.  “I know what’s in the Will.  You’re due to get a considerable amount.  You, Gladys, and Mrs. Egllington.”

Jules was in no mood to be toyed with.  “You’re full of crap,” he said. “Nobody knows what’s in that Will… not even Mrs. Ghent.”

For the second time in twenty minutes Hines had been insulted.  As a defensive instinct over which he had no control, he whispered that he had turned on the baby monitors and while in Nola’s room had heard Spencer’s conversation with his attorney.  Jules stopped rubbing the compound paste and started to take Hines seriously.  “Yes,” Hines said, “you, Gladys, and Mrs. Eglington are each going to be beneficiaries of a quarter million dollar life insurance policy… he’s already taken them out.  He took out policies for the same amount for each of the kids.   Your old bequest increased to $45,000.  Jules, happy to learn that he had not been removed from the Will and also that upon Spencer Ghent’s death he would become financially secure immediately revived his dream of soothing his cervical back problems by retiring in the tropics.

“Look,” said Hines, “I get nothing.  I’ve not been here long enough to count.  But I’ve got an employment contract.   So I get paid… in full… until next spring.  And it’s iron clad.  I get paid whether he dies tomorrow or lives another ten years. I like you, Jules. You’ve been decent to me.  I’ve heard his conversations with that woman he’s in love with. He intends to live another fifty years. Those treatments he supposedly gets are bullshit. The two of them make love like a couple of teenagers; and when they’re not in bed, they’re having lunch at some really posh restaurant. She’s smart and will get every nickel he’s got – and if he dies after dipping into his liquid assets, his accounts will be too short to cover the money allocated as bequests.  Are you getting my drift?”

“Sure I am.  And I know too that the hospital extension he’s planning to build will cost more money than he figures.  Builders bid low and then hit you with ‘change orders’ or ‘contract addenda’ and the final cost is double the original bid.  I know that.  So what you’re saying is that the servants named in the Will will find that the premiums on their policies weren’t paid and that their money has been spent on some spa for the rich.”

“Or as diamond rings for his new lady love.”

Jules, still angry at the way Spencer had chastised him, let his guard down. “He’s been a rotten boss.  I’ve worked here for thirty years.  For Christmas he gives us a $25.00 saving’s bond.  I loved his old man.  And his grandfather.  They were men.  He’s been a cheapskate roach since the day he became master of the place. And I’ve had to be his nursemaid for the last five years.  How much is he giving Nola?”

Hines lied again. “He plans to take out a $100,000 Certificate of Deposit and hold it in trust for her. He says, ‘After all, she saved my life.’  As if that wasn’t what she was paid to do.”

“The three of us have had to put up with him for years.  Always, he’s held that goddamned Will over our heads.”

“I sympathize with you. And don’t forget that if he stops paying those insurance premiums, you can kiss that $250K goodbye.  He’s talking about cutting back here and renting some space in Media. And he’ll be signing the documents in a week or so.”

“I know.  He’ll be back here only to see the kids when they’re home… after he squanders his money on that Swiss project.  And Mrs. E., Gladys and I can be terminated without cause or severance pay.  And we won’t get any inheritance until his other debts are paid.  I’ve been sick about it, so’s Mrs. E.  We’re too old to find other employment.”

“Please don’t let me shock you… and if I’m out of line, I apologize.  The only suggestion I can offer is the statistic about highway fatalities on the road to Media. The quick demise of Spencer Ghent doesn’t affect me financially, but it’s something for you to think about.” He had not realized how often servants think about fatal accidents.

“You’re the one who drives him to Media,” Jules huffed.  “And an accident in one of his high-end cars isn’t likely to kill anybody.  There isn’t even a river big enough to crash into.  You’ll have to come up with something better than that… something that won’t get yourself killed in the process.”

Hines suddenly felt like the puppet master.  Here he was, standing in the garage, and the butler was appealing to him.  His position in the conspiracy became the superior one.

Gladys called to Hines from the portico.  “I’ll be there in a minute,” Hines replied pleasantly.

Jules was worried. “One way or another I’m going to be let go once he moves down to the new clinic’s residence.  All my years of service won’t matter.  I’ll end up in Scranton living in one of my sister’s bedrooms.”

“He’d never give me a good reference – that’s how spiteful he is; but If you’d promise to give me good… really good references,” Hines said, trying to make his efforts seem more legitimate by getting something for himself.  “Ah,” he said with feigned disgust, “what’s the use. You know me.  All brains and no brawn.  I’d need a second person to help with any plan. He’s going to sign the documents soon, and then he’s going to start spending money like a drunken sailor. We don’t have weeks to make a plan and get the wrinkles out.  He may not come back here for months. A project like getting rid of him takes thought.”

Jules was impatient.  “Weeks? I just got word of a house in the tropics I could buy at a bargain price – cash only – and while a down payment would hold it, I’d need the money sooner than later.  We’ll have to think of a good way.  How about a home invasion of some kind?   In town recently there have been a few.  And did I tell you that the Japanese guy who stole Ghent’s medicine – the kid who’s been in prison – is going to be let out on good behavior.  The ZBA sangha in town is really worried that he’ll come to them to make them fulfill the contract obligation about letting him reside in the old Norris-Giles house they call their monastery.”

Paige and Nola could be seen coming towards the paddock.   “After I finish the car,” Jules said, “I’ll go into town and try to find out exactly when that kid is due to come back. Then we’ll work out the details.”

“Roger,” Hines nodded creating a military kind of precision, and left to join Gladys.  Hines could hardly believe that Jules had so easily become his ally.  It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he was going to be set-up for the attempted crime. He decided to be extra careful.

Hines and Gladys entered the turret staircase from the study. Gladys lugged a bucket of water and a mop up the stairs. A net bag of cleaning supplies hung from her waist.  He did not offer to help her carry the water.  “You’ll need more than that pine smelling stuff and water to make this place livable,” he groused.  “Look at the windows.  Once they must have been beautiful… all that leaded-in stained glass in the top frames.   But now you can’t even tell what season the design is meant to convey.”

Gladys, delighted to learn that Hines would not be sleeping near Gregor, laughed at the thought that cleaning them would present a problem.  “It all depends on whether the sash cords still work well,” she explained as she unlocked one window and pulled down the top and then pulled up the bottom.   She tested all four windows.  “One needs some work, but the others are good as new,” she pronounced.  “As a matter of fact, I think Mrs. E. told me that Mr. Ghent’s father had the sash cords replaced.”

“We’re too high up for you to do the outside where the dirt has mostly collected,” Hines griped.

Gladys had already brought glass-cleaning liquid and paper towels to the turret.  “It’s old fashioned, I admit,” she said.  “You hardly ever see windows washed this way any more for some reason.”  With that she pulled up the lower clear window, sat herself on the sill with her behind sticking outside the structure, and lowered the upper window so that the stained glass window’s exterior was completely in her reach.  She sprayed the glass several times until it the paper towels gave no indication of dirt, and then she raised and lowered the windows until she had thoroughly cleaned the clear glass window.  She slipped back into the room and, standing on a small step ladder she cleaned the inside of both frames.  The effect was startling.

“My God!” Hines exclaimed.  “I never would have believed it possible.  It’s beautiful! Go ahead and do the others.  I’m amazed.”

She completed the others, saying that Gregor would have to bring a screw driver and tighten the screws on the fourth window. The trim that held the leaded-in glass to the frame was loose. But Hines barely heard her.  The colorful light that shone through the stained glass was mesmerizing him.

“It’s going to be lunch time soon,” Gladys said.  “You can get Gregor to help you bring your bed up here after the painting and carpet guys are finished.  You’ll be warmer with a good carpet under your feet.”

Hines thought he’d choose the cheapest window treatment to please Spencer and Paige.  “Those bamboo slatted windows shades will do nicely,” he said.


Hines drove Spencer into Media and on the return trip they saw Jules come out of a drug store.  Jules saw them and gave a quick thumb’s up sign to Hines.  Yes, Hines thought, the Japanese kid could be blamed for the crime. There would be no difficulty.

And so it was that Hines and Jules learned that the tenzo had already been released but that he might be deported to Japan shortly. But ‘shortly’ to the government did not mean swirt.  “It would probably take them another matter of weeks to type up the paperwork. We’ll have to act quickly nevertheless,” Jules said when he and Hines were finally able to speak.  “I’ve already called the agent in Antigua.  The house is still available.  I’ll forward the deposit as soon as we set our plan in motion.”


Except for the crossword puzzles, Spencer had ceased to speak to Nola or Paige or anyone else except Hines. He kept to himself so much that no one could tell the difference between “Spencer the indifferent” and “Spencer the depressed.”

The children, especially Samantha, worried about Spence’s strange absences from home.  She called regularly, wanting her father to take her to New York to buy her a new winter wardrobe.  (Her mother was not nearly so liberal a spender as her father.) Paige assured her that she’d talk Spencer into taking her to New York when her school had a long mid-term break.

Although Spencer was not at first agreeable, Paige casually mentioned how the girl could use some decent jewelry and that a trip to Tiffany’s was definitely in order.  She could see his pupils change as he imagined buying a few “trinkets” from Tiffany’s for his new girl friend.  Feigning reluctance, Spencer acquiesced and said he’d escort his daughter to New York the following week. “We’ll only be gone a few days – a week at most,” he said.  “You can lose a few days of school. We can visit your great aunt Helena in her house on the Hudson.”   Since Ingrid had several important meetings scheduled, he decided the time for her to get close to his daughter was propitious.  As they drove home from the trip, he’d introduce Samantha to Ingrid during a posh Friday lunch.

Spence left to pick up Samantha on a Monday, planning to return in five days.  Although he had promised his daughter that he would not give a “smidgeon” of his attention to anyone else, he did try to call Ingrid on Tuesday and left a voice mail message that she did not return.

Wednesday morning Paige read on Page 6 of the newspaper the uplifting news that Doctor Ingrid Hesse had been killed on Tuesday in a car accident when she hit a bridge support on a back road. Paige anonymously called the clinic and asked how long they expected Ingrid’s body to remain in the U.S.  She learned that the doctor’s remains were scheduled to be flown back to Switzerland on Thursday.  She did not know if Spence had tried to call the doctor again but if he had called, he could leave only a voice mail.

Wednesday Spence called home and asked, “What’s new?”

Paige answered, “Nothing. Everything’s under control.  We all miss you.” When she ended the call she confided to Nola, “With a little luck, Dr. Ingrid Hesse will be six feet under in Switzerland, pushing up Edelweiss, before Spence even knows about the accident.”

When he stopped at the clinic as they drove home on Friday, he learned about her death. He collapsed and could not drive.  The confusion was so great that Samantha, bewildered by this unknown facet of Ghent life, frantically called Paige who sent Jules and Hines down to Media to drive them home.

At the Ghent house, Spence locked himself in his bedroom and listened to a sequence of dirges.  Judging from his wet pillows, he wept constantly.  Nola finally succeeded in getting him to let her in so that she could make sure he took his medicine.  “You want to be in good condition if you decide to visit a certain grave in Lucerne,” she said.  He, holding her to privacy, wept in her arms and Saturday, at his suggestion, they worked on a puzzle that he themed, La Belle Dame Sans Merci.  He was not much help, but at least he was roused from his depression long enough to come down to his study to check references of a few individuals who had met an untimely death.  It was his habit to hand-address the envelopes to complete the illusion that he was the sole author of the work.


And this is what preceded Nola’s trouble that began on Wednesday, October 22nd, the day that she called out, “Is the envelope the one on the right side of the blotter or the left?”

The Crossword Puzzle (#4)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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


For several days Paige and Nola visited Spencer at the clinic; but he barely acknowledged their presence.  And then one day as they were leaving, a nurse told Paige that her visits upset him and it would be better if she let him rest and digest his meals without stress.  Paige, shocked but still in control of her ability to scheme, said she understood completely, but began to walk back to Spencer’s room, “to get my watch,” she explained.  “I left it there until I could get his repaired.”  She had a way of sliding past all opposition.

Paige saw that an attractive blonde doctor was taking his pulse and immediately sensed that something was going on between her husband and the Swiss doctor whose name, she learned, was Ingrid Hesse. “This Dr.Hesse has the hots for my husband,” she muttered to Nola.  “I can see it in her eyes.”

Nola tried to remove such thoughts from Paige’s mind, but she was not particularly convincing.  There was little concern for alarm, she insisted, since Dr. Boyer had assured her that Spencer would be home within the week.

Paige found the printed note on her vanity.  “Gregor intends to film you in the carriage house. Beware.”  She gasped and then made sure that In the several additional days that her husband was gone, she stayed away from Gregor. Nola had reclaimed her bedroom and aside from being annoyed by the little holes in the walls that Hines had made by hanging so many of his framed posters, she was able to resume her daily schedule with Spence when he returned. She refused, however, to be on call during evening hours since gossip made it impossible for her to remain in the house after hours.  Although Spence thought the nightly flights entirely unnecessary, he agreed.

Several days had passed and at every meal eaten in the servant’s kitchen, Gregor expected Hines to beg him to allow him to stay in the two back rooms. Mrs. Ellington persisted in presenting the case for such a purpose, but Hines claimed to be content with the turret room provided it was renovated as promised. Gregor was puzzled by Hines’ new enthusiasm for the tower chamber and when he discovered that his photos and tapes had been stolen, he believed he now knew why: Hines had taken the photos and would somehow, someway try to use them to get even with Gregor for refusing to allow him to live in the back rooms.

Gladys, meanwhile, began to wonder how Gregor had gotten the photographs developed.  They were too pornographic for him to take into town for processing.  Gregor had no friends in town – at least none that she knew of – so where were they processed?  The kids all had digital cameras and there were few places that still had dark-rooms.  On a hunch she went to the old farrier’s shed and even though the thick curtains were open, she found red bulbs in a string of sockets.  “So this is where he does it!” she said, and her admiration for the man she had regarded only as a stableman and groundskeeper grew.  She thought of glamorous movie star posters and imagined herself, hair styled and face made up, wearing sexy lingerie.  “Yes, he and I could go into business together doing glamor shots,” she murmured. Her inheritance would be enough to get the business started.

With Spence’s approval, Hines had an entertainment unit installed in the master bedroom along with two reclining chairs and a small refrigerator.  He used satellite feed to bring in all possible channels and In the evenings, he would build a fire in the fireplace and the two men would sit in the room and enjoy the “henless” evenings.

Nola’a new evening schedule began as dinner ended.  Forlornly, she’d watch Spencer as they ate and kept remembering the evenings they spent laughing and exchanging ideas; but she knew how volatile Paige was and that it was best for her to keep herself out of harm’s way. The relief she had experienced doing Zen meditation put visiting the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton at the top of her list of things to do. She did not know that The Council had already decided to end their operation on the last day of July; yet when she entered their office in February and asked to become a member, they said nothing and simply charged her a full year’s membership.

It was a cold night when, carrying her own zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat), she entered the shabby meditation room and was appalled by its condition – the scraped and blistered clashing paint schemes, the faulty hinges that prevented doors from being shut, the holes and stained areas of what was once a beautiful walnut floor – she nearly left without saying a word.  There were only eight shivering people sitting facing a dark or multicolored wall in the meditation room and yet a Council member walked around like a drill sergeant carrying a kyoasaku (hitting stock) ready to whack them on the shoulder should anyone slump into dreamland. Hypothermia and not lack of sleep, Nola thought, would soon have them all verging on unconsciousness.  She turned and looked at the fireplace. The room was so cold and so much cold draft came down the chimney that she again wanted to leave; but then she thought of Paige, who had expressed a desire to include religion in her life, and especially Spencer, who had actually expressed a desire to join the Assembly, and kept her place.

At the first fifty-minute break, she asked the woman sitting next to her, “Is it possible to close the flue?”

“No,” the woman replied, “it’s broken and they have no more money to repair the zillion things that are broken in his house.”  Then she added, “The roof leaks so bad that the snow turns the attic into a kind of mini-Alps.”

After services, Nola approached the council and offered to pay for the roof’s repair.  Over the years she had accumulated government saving bonds and she still had the Certificate of Deposit that Paige had given her.

The initial ecstatic response could hardly be put into words.  If or when, the ZBA sold the building, a good roof would raise the asking price.  But then, the intrusion of divinity into their dilemma occurred to them.  Nola was surely divinely sent and, accordingly, the council blessed her and wondered how, as Buddhists, they could properly thank her while still respecting the mandate of humility.  The roof, after all, would cost $20,000 to repair or replace.  And she was willing to pay this amount? Yes, she could just about afford it.  To her it was an investment in her social future.

But as the roofing contractor proceeded with the work, the ardor of the council cooled and the role of divinity lessened. They began to wonder why Nola was being so generous.  What was in it for her?

Roofers seize whatever opportunity the weather affords them, and in a matter of cold but dry and windless days, the work was completed. The repairs took all of Nola’s savings, but she did not regret the expense.  Fate or Faith had delivered her from alienation with her sister and the charges of scandalous behavior from which she might never recover.  She also did not want to be ashamed of the assembly that she expected both Spencer and Paige to join.  In its present state the building was an embarrassment.

In Mid-February, Nola stopped into the Council’s office to announce, “Since the roof is finished, I’d like to undertake an immediate renovation of the meditation room.  I’d like to make it suitable for two evening classes of yoga a week, which I, as a certified teacher, would conduct if you agree to it.  The Council would, of course, fix the fees, collect and keep the money. As you know, in Soto Zen the practitioners face the wall, so walls must be painted a very light color.”

“And why is that?” Sri Bashumitsu (Patrician Mahoney) the Council president obtusely asked.

Nola, who after all was going to do the work and spend her own money on the project, did not feel like a supplicant. In a tone that was somewhat less than obsequious, she said, “Because it all depends on the Ganzfeld principle.  When we stare into a bright, featureless space, the light bounces back from the space and has a salubrious effect on the eye.  Psychologically, it conduces to the meditative state.  As the wall is now, it is a dark jumble of color and stickers and some graffiti and is not anything that will induce the mind to relax.” Then she turned and added,

 “When the building’s repaired, you’ll attract more Zen people.  You could fix the bedrooms and rent out the rooms to paying guests.  Some of them may want to study to become lay-ordained monks or nuns.  You could even open a shop to sell home-make religious articles and garments!”

Someone murmured, “What excellent ideas!”  Eyes furtively glanced at other eyes as the council secretly smirked.  “Why didn’t we think of that?” one asked as she looked around at the others and snickered.

Sri Bashumitsu dismissed her with a tart, “Thank you so much.”

Undaunted, she paid a carpenter to repair the flue, windows, and doors, and hired a local painter to cover the ceiling and walls in a neutral cream-color paint. She rented a sanding machine and with a few male members spent evenings grinding away years of abuse from the parquet floors. A coating of spar-varnish was applied and the room began to hint of its former beauty.  Paige donated several brass candlesticks and an old wind-up clock for the mantlepiece and supplied a banzai tree and an ikebana floral piece for the plaster statue of the Buddha (the only one she could find) on an old walnut table she had to the room’s decoration.  The result of the renovation was startling and everyone marveled at the change.  More than a dozen new members joined the sangha. The Council decided to postpone ending their monastic venture.

Though the Council members felt renewed hope that they could create a monastic center, they still couldn’t understand Nola’s desire to help. The more renovation she did and was praised for, the more they resented her interference.  When she was present, they regarded her with polite distain, but when she was not present, they referred to her as “LB” which stood for Lady Bountiful, and, as beggars inevitably do, they assumed further entitlements.  In front of the congregation, Shi Bashumitsu pointedly asked, “Do you intend to use the same cream color paint for the bedrooms?”  Nola said that she regretted that she could not afford to pay for more than the meditation hall. The president expressed regret, and thus began in earnest the denigration of Nola and her gifts.  Yes, the Council conceded amongst themselves, it was nice to have a polished wood floor in the meditation hall for her to use for yoga classes; but it surely was not the salvific boon that Nola was undoubtedly boasting about.   What was she up to giving yoga classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings?  Was she trying to secure the good opinion of others in order to exploit them for some ulterior commercial purpose?  Who knew where she would take her yoga devotees once they helped to establish it?  Yes, Nola had to be up to something.  Despite many theories, they had not come close to guessing Nola’s motive.

At the Ghent house nothing had been done to the turret to accommodate Hines. Since Gregor adamantly refused to allow Hines to live in the two unused rooms – a decision Paige wholeheartedly supported, Hines still used Roland’s room – without the wall posters – and would have been content to make the arrangement permanent were it not for the upcoming Easter holiday when Roland was expected to return.  The few times that Roland called the house, he spoke to Jules who gave his uninhibited opinions about Hines.  Roland, a natural peacemaker, responded, “Let him stay with you. You have plenty of room and he can sleep on a cot.  It won’t kill either of you. Keep my bedroom locked.”

At the Zen Center, membership immediately increased; but news from the Ghent house was not nearly so encouraging. Spencer Ghent, secretly indulging in coconut cream candy, relapsed and needed to be taken to the clinic in Media.  After a few days he announced that he was transferring to the main clinic in Lucerne, Switzerland, for additional treatment which he said he needed.  Although he was able to use a computer for one hour a day to contact Nola about the puzzles, he still had no phone capability and could be reached otherwise only by mail. Isolation was considered part of the cure and Paige and all other family members and friends were not welcome in or near the sanatorium.  Ghent was to have a stressless period in which to recover from his dietary rule-breaking during the Easter holiday.

The children, who spent most of their home visit with their friends, returned to school, and life for Nola returned to its unusual normal.  Paige, at first, showed a kind of defiance and spent nights and even a several days at a time away from home.  She was jittery and uncommunicative; and when Nola pleaded with her to spend some time doing Zen meditation, she expressed a reluctance to join the Zen Assembly, saying that she needed a little more time to consider what such a move would do to her position in society.  She did attend yoga classes as did Ellis Foyle, a man Paige found strangely exciting.  She decided that she would attend at least until the kids and, she expected, Spencer, came home for the summer vacation in June. Meanwhile, having been told by one of the local dilettantes that she had a talent for art, she began to take lessons in town twice a week.

The time Spencer had spent in the clinic seemed to improve his health and good humor. He gained nearly ten pounds and although he still wore “safety” underpants, his libido benefitted greatly by the absence of unexpected bowel movements.  The Lucerne “spa” as he called it had an interfaith chapel and he had been able to meditate sitting on a cushion for an hour each week.  He had Jules mail to him his old Buddhist robes and were it not for his thick, wavy hair he would have looked like a true abbot and not one of the numerous candidates the Council was testing to replace the old man they were still stuck with.  Spencer’s executive poise returned to him and he began to give Dharma talks whenever other Buddhists were present in the Chapel.  He found in the sanatorium’s library several books on Buddhism that he regularly consulted.  That they were in both the Pali (old school) and Prajnaparamitra (reform school) Canons did not seem to matter much to him or to his audience.  There was an ego.  There was no such thing as an ego.  There was reincarnation.  There was no such thing as reincarnation.  In true professorial style he seemed to make sense no matter what he taught; and he naturally relied on the universal diversities of the Buddha’s Message to support any position he took.  Aside from all this, he had become more handsome, albeit in a more mature way.  He had sent photographs of himself; and while Paige showed them to anyone who would look, Nola spent hours alone in her bedroom praying to dislodge the man from her mind. Just before Memorial Day in May, he returned to his home in Morton, Pennsylvania.

The crossword puzzles continued to pour out of his and Nola’s bubbling imaginations, but this time Paige made no comment about their teamwork. Nola, determined to establish a “non-Spence” social life for herself, had joined a book club that met on Friday evenings.  On Saturday night she had joined the local Square Dance Society and learned old forms of folk dancing as well as modern Texas line dancing.  On Sunday, after riding horses around the estate with Paige, she’d return to her room to write her own diary, embellishing it with the intention to someday write a novel that would be at least as good as the books she reviewed at the club on Friday evenings. Unfortunately, she used fictitious names when referring to real people, and the servants who in secret regularly read the private pages all tended to assume that she had somehow learned about their more colorful histories.  Contempt for Nola rose concomitantly.

Paige, along with oil paint and charcoal, had found the solace of leather once again – but not with Gregor – and all seemed to be well at the Ghent house. When Gregor told her that he missed their sessions together, she explained that she and Spence had entered a new phase in their lives here and she could no longer be the cause of jealousy or embarrassment to her husband. Claiming that their insurance agent should clean out the two back rooms lest the debris there catch fire, she asked him to remove everything that he kept there and to record for insurance purposes the serial numbers of any equipment and to list all personal property he considered valuable. When he submitted only his television’s serial number to Jules.  She believed that she was no longer vulnerable to blackmail images of herself and never ascended the steps to his apartment again.

Spencer was a completely different man when he returned.  He spoke on the phone frequently with his children, but otherwise kept to himself and Hines. Since Mrs. Eglington was now thoroughly convinced about dietary matters, she kept his colitis under control.  He did require “maintenance” treatments and twice a week Hines drove him into Media to the Clinic’s branch for day-long hydrotherapy and massage sessions. Hines would go to the library or the movies while he waited.  Spencer would return from his treatment so enthusiastic about the procedures that he expressed a need to share the Lucerne’s methods with the world.  An architect was summoned and a large addition to the small clinic was planned.  The project took so much of his time that for many weeks Nola had to create one-hundred percent of the Chat R. Box puzzles.

Spencer did find time to attend a few evening meditation sessions at ZBA’s renovated “temple” and he and Hines practiced yoga at home in private, using the instructions offered on a DVD.  Whenever he went to the temple, he’d be asked to speak; and, invariably, he testified glowingly to everyman’s need to spend at least a few hours of his week in contemplation of the really important things in life.

He also accompanied the entire sangha when they went to the Masonic Temple’s auditorium to watch a showing of the film, Amongst White Clouds.

“You know,” Spence privately said to Nola as an appreciative comment on the film, “For twenty years we’ve had a hundred-twenty acres of reclaimed land in Schuylkill County.  I bet the trees have grown back in all that time.  It would make a great place to establish a colony of hermitages for folks who just want to get away from this irritating so-called civilized life. Let’s go up this weekend and have a look at it.  I want a woman’s opinion.”

Paige had made other plans and insisted that the two of them should go and report on the condition of the area.   Since the land had been given to them as wedding presents by an eccentric uncle of Spencer’s, the parcels were separate. Paige owned the sixty acre half of the property that contained the trail into the land; and Spencer owned the other half, the hilltop that contained an old cabin.  “There’s probably bears and mountain lions to contend with,” Paige warned, “and maybe a few snakes and spiders, but otherwise you might have good shelter there.  It should require only one night to decide whether or not the place is fit for hermitages.”

Nola, also enthusiastic about living in an isolated hermitage, agreed to go.  She discussed the possibilities with Ellis Foyle who, since his wife had not returned as planned, was also interested in joining the independent group of people who lived alone without distractions.

Also joining them in their expectation of the un-interfered with life, was the latest candidate for the abbacy, a handsome young man from Kerala, India, Vikram Chaudan, whose purpose in coming to the U.S. was actually to find a hospital to accept him as a surgical resident.  But he needed a permanent and respectable place to stay and a Zen monastery that charged him nothing was certainly that.  He read a few books about Soto Zen on the evening before he came to the ZBA to apply.

The Council found him to be an acceptable candidate and had even adjusted his name to sound more Japanese, calling him Victoru Roshi.  Vikram was a graduate of a third rate medical school in India in which he had finished at the bottom of his class.  Nevertheless, his good looks and charm carried him along the waters of social refinement, “like Shiva’s seed on the leaf,” as The Council ladies put it, and delivered him to them. When Vikram learned that Nola was a registered nurse who could also type, he asked her to help him to write to the various medical institutions – of which there were hundreds – in the United States and Canada to ask to be considered for a position as a surgical resident.  Included in his resumé was a copy of his academic record which, Nola thought but did not express, should have resulted in paroxysms of laughter in the various Admission’s offices. The photograph he chose to submit with the requests failed to convey his good looks.  To Nola, he looked rather sleepy in the photos. To Paige, it was providential that most of the work they did was done in the Ghent house.  Seeing him banished the ugly thoughts she had about her own husband and gave Gregor some needed competition.

Spencer decided, “We can go to the land this weekend. We’ll go in our old Ford truck that Gregor uses. “It’s a great idea for a puzzle theme.  We can call it Roughing It.  What do you think?”

Nola did not know what to think. Without approaching erotomania, there is a state in which lonely people tend to magnify or even transmute the meaning of a simple statement or gesture made by someone whom the lonely person considers a potential lover. “Nice jacket!” said casually by someone passing, is examined for all possible meanings, none of which has anything to do with garments.  “You look really nice today,” is practically a proposal of marriage. At the very least, the conclusion will be reached that not only were such statements an overture to an affair, but that an overt admiration of the figure wearing the garment was a public announcement of romantic interest.  People in a normal love affair hear many such remarks. They tend to smile automatically in response and forget the compliment.  But lonely people are like starving beggars – though they do not realize this.  A crumb thrown to them is devoured with desperate hopes for more. Another response to such a remark may be had by more sober persons.  The compliment then flits around the mind like a mayfly, titillating it briefly with possibilities.

Knowing this did not prevent Nola from giggling to herself about Spencer Ghent’s frequent shows of sexual desire and his intended week-end jaunt.  Perhaps some kind of priapic medicine had been prescribed for him in Switzerland.  “What if?” began to play its tantalizing game in her mind as she got into bed that night and pulled the covers up.

Nola looked forward anxiously to spending a night in an isolated cabin with Spence. How would he react to her when they were alone?  She remembered what Ellis Foyle had said about Razzle games and wondered how Spence was responding to her absences from home in the evening.  One night at dinner he had said to her in a joking manner, “Go ahead and go do your vampire things or whatever you do when the sun goes down.  I only know it gets pretty lonely around here.”  Paige immediately changed the subject.

Perhaps it was those unproductive years that gave him such a proprietary attitude toward the puzzles, but, increasingly he realized that he no longer needed an in-home registered nurse and that that the larger salary Paige had given Nola could justifiably be considered payment for her contribution to the puzzles. Though he had promised that the syndication would be in their names jointly, he now decided that Nola had already been paid for her part of the work.  “Oh,” he responded when she mentioned the syndication of the puzzles, “my attorney’s working on it.  It’s more complicated than we thought.”  He went to his gun collection and selected a revolver and a rifle. “Who knows what we’ll find, on the land,” he said. “Gregor can do without the truck for a few days.  If bears bother us in the cabin, we can always move and sleep in the truck bed.” He found an old tarp and two of the kids new sleeping bags and tossed them it in the back of the truck.

As they drove to Schuylkill County, Nola decided against bringing up the issue of syndication in fear that she’d start some kind of argument.  She knew that Spencer had been talking to his lawyer quite frequently in recent days, and she was content to believe that the subject of their conversation was, as Spencer had said, the syndication problem.

It began to rain, and having been told that the cabin was old and run-down, she noticed on the map that there was a motel and gas station just before the turn-off to the land.  “According to your map,” she said, “this is the last point of civilization for miles.  Why don’t we check in here?  There’s a cafeteria of some sort attached to the station.  They’re open and maybe the owner can give us some news about the place.”

Spencer responded harshly.  “Whose investigation is this?  Yours or mine? Our one chance to sleep together in privacy and you want to check into a motel.  What do we get? Two rooms?” he asked sarcastically.  “One for smokers and one on the other end of the place for non-smokers?Or were you planning to register as my wife?  Proof? Is that what you’re looking for? Some kind of sexual harassment?” He drove past the station and made a sharp left onto the dirt trail that led onto the land.

Nola, stunned by his outburst, said nothing.

The land was beautiful.  The deciduous trees were still bright green and the pines stood like sentries every fifty feet or so.  “I’m sorry,” Spence said.  “I don’t know what’s gotten under my skin. I know the bears have stopped hibernating and anything with fur on it is protecting its young.  But Nola! I’ve missed you so much at night.  And this is my first big outing.  I was really looking forward to being alone with you.”  He reached across and mussed her hair.  “Please forgive me.  I’m an old crank who’s nuts about a beautiful young thing.  It’s hell sitting home alone watching Tv.  Hines gets on my nerves.  A little of him goes a long way, indispensable as he has become.”

 “There are times I just don’t understand you,” Nola forced herself to reply.  She changed the subject to the land.  “The place looks perfect for hermitages.”  Someone had planted fruit trees as part of the reclamation project after strip mining had all but destroyed the land. “I see peach trees and apple… and cherry, too; but the fruit’s tiny and hardly ripe enough to pick.  And there are blackberry bushes all over the place.”

The trail led up to the cabin.  “Well, lookie here!” Spence said affecting delight.  “Hunters or visitors of some kind have repaired the cabin, or so a real estate agent in the county has told me.”  This was a lie, of course. Spencer had ordered immediate repairs.  “Bully for them that they’ve made the cabin more livable.  A key to the front door is supposed to be in a geranium pot on the left side of the door.”

Nola looked around and said, “There doesn’t seem to be another thing that needs doing to this place.  It will furnish a great headquarters while the smaller hermitages are being built.”  Spencer agreed. He even tested the water from a nearby stream and found it to be pure and delicious.  There were chamberpots under the beds and an outhouse, but these, he allowed, were part of rustic living.

As Nola unassembled the camping gear she had brought, Spencer suddenly said, “Zip the two sleeping bags together.  We’ll need each other to keep warm.  It gets cold as hell up here at night.” There was an odd subtlety in the way he made the request that made her hesitate.  Clearly, his intention was to make love to her, but his request lacked even a hint of romance.  Yet, she acquiesced and joined the two sleeping bags.  Regardless of his crude approach, she had wanted to make love to him for a long time.  And that time had come.

After dinner they sat before the fireplace and talked about the rustic life and then he simply said, “It’s bedtime now. Let’s have at it.”

He followed her into the sleeping bag and roughly tried to remove her nightgown.  In the flickering light of the fireplace, she could see the expression on his face.  He did not try to kiss her or make even a tender gesture.  He rubbed himself a few times against her thigh, and then lifting himself up he shifted his weight until he was on top of her.  Nola suddenly pushed him away and began to scramble out of the sleeping bag. “If this is your idea of love making, buy yourself one of those plastic blow-up dolls.”  She finally got free of the bag and began to change into her outdoor clothing.

Nola did not even try to make sense of his performance.  She began to unzip her half of the sleeping bag while he cursed her for being a “cock teaser.”

“Is the truck locked?” she asked.  “I’ll go sleep in it.”  She saw the keys on the table and quickly picked them up.  “I’ll see you in the morning when maybe your sanity has returned.”  She retreated to the truck still hearing Spencer curse her for having deceived him.  The truck was old and did not have bucket seats.  “Thank God!” she said as she wiggled into the sleeping bag and curled up on the seat.  “A blow up doll!” she whined; and then she began to cry.

In the morning, Spencer took the truck to check the property for more streams that could be used by the hermitages.  The smell of coffee and bacon filled the hill top as Nola made breakfast; but an hour passed and Spencer did not return.  Fearing that he had had an accident with the truck, she took the rifle and some extra rounds and went to look for him.  There were the usual bird sounds as she trudged down the trail and suddenly she detected the sound of laughter.  She stepped carefully to get closer and saw Spencer speaking on a cell phone to someone in an excited voice.  She listened and could tell he was speaking to a woman.  She retreated, walking up the trail until she came to the cabin.   She drank some coffee and ate a few pieces of “fireside toast.”  Then she walked outside the cabin in a circle some hundred feet in diameter.  From what she could see, the lower land looked fit for vegetable gardens.  To be sure, they’d need a geologist’s opinion.

Spencer’s opinion differed.  He returned ebullient, “I’ve given the place a good going over,” he said, and I figure we can charge $30,000 per leased unit.  Everything’s pre-fab and it wouldn’t be Wabi Sabi unless the floor was dirt.The walls have to be strong because of the bears.  And they will all need fresh water. We’ll build cisterns and outhouses. Some may want hothouses attached.  We’ll have to get prices for those.”

After they had eaten he announced that regardless of what he had promised Paige, they’d have to stay another night.  “We need to experience life here on the mountain before we subject greenhorns to the dangers of the wild.”  Knowing how Paige would react, Nola objected.  Spence silenced her by telling her that he was still her boss.  “My wife is my responsibility,” he said.  “You can miss square dancing or whatever it is you do with those farmers.”

There was a small waterfall near the cabin. Nola, trying to be conciliatory, suggested, “After we clean up the kitchen let’s take some photographs of it.”

Spencer grunted and said simply, “Maybe. First I want to bathe there.” Nola cleaned the breakfast and lunch dishes while Spencer went to the falls to bathe and dress. Feeling that she was being punished for not capitulating to him the previous night, she was awkward and confused.  The guilt for hoping to use the weekend as a romantic getaway mixed with the anger she felt at his behavior towards her.  Nothing was happening the way she assumed it would; and she didn’t know how to approach him to regain some semblance of the friendship or teamwork that they had for so long enjoyed.  They were antagonists in the cabin and she was hurt and bewildered by the situation.

After Spencer dressed he checked the truck.  Nola came out of the cabin and joined him, using the excuse that she wanted to make sure she had removed all of her things. “Listen,” he said, I saw some interesting rocks – colorful ones – throughout the upper areas of the site. They’ll make a nice fireplace or entrance adornment.  I’ll recheck and photograph the waterfall while you gather the stones.”

Nola said that she would and then added, hoping to continue the conversation, “I don’t know how the others feel about killing deer, but I did see deer scat all over the place.”

“Hmm,” he said as he checked his watch and got into the truck.  “You keep looking for rocks but make sure you take the rifle with you… not for the deer, but for the bears.  I don’t think you’ll see any snakes.”

He drove away, but she could see in the damp clearing that the truck had not taken the trail to the falls, and his distinctive hiking boots had left no marks on the damp ground, either.  Suspicion spurred her to clarify the confusion.  She walked down to the lower part of the hill that was more level and with a long hundred-foot measuring tape she did mark with orange tags good places for cabins and gardens to be built.  She wrote a number on each tag and recorded it in a notebook.  She saw no colored rocks anywhere and continued to go down the trail.

Noon had come and he had not returned and she could hear no sound of an engine.  She continued to follow his tire tracks to the road and the motel came into view.  His truck was parked outside one of the rooms and beside the truck was a new Volvo that had a sticker bearing a medical insignia of some kind on the windshield.  Staying as far back as she could, she recorded the Volvo’s license plate’s number. Slowly, and letting her suspicions fill in all the gaps that had been blank, she returned to the cabin.  She marked a few more hermitage sites and then went into the cabin and found a tattered book on camping in a cabinet and, tucked inside her sleeping bag, tried to read it, but she was crying and could not concentrate on anything except her overwhelming disappointment and childishness. Soon darkness fell and the light from a single kerosene lamp was the only light in the cabin.  Finally, she fell asleep.

It was late in the morning when Spencer returned. She had remained in bed, trying to read. “Come on!” he said gruffly.  “Let’s go!  Paige is gonna have a fit.”

Nola dressed quickly and got into the truck.  She did not ask him where he had been all night, but he volunteered that he had gotten stuck in a ditch and had to go down to the motel to ask some men there if they’d help him.  Naturally, they couldn’t do anything until morning.  Nola pretended that she believed him and asked routinely curious questions. “How deep in the mud were you?”  “Did they pull you back out with a chain?”  “I guess that we ought to stay on the trail until we can lay gravel down.”

After thirty minutes of silence, he began to talk about Paige’s sexual preferences. “What does she say Gregor does to her?” he asked in the most innocent voice he could create. Nola refused to comment about Paige, saying that she didn’t know and wouldn’t discuss it if she did.  Spencer revealed in sordid detail what the last groundsman had told him.  “Yes, rough.  My lady likes the rough stuff.”

Nola wondered, “How did I ever let myself get romantically involved with him?” She repeatedly asked herself this as she tried to forget how witty and charming he usually was.  She thought about the car parked next to his at the motel.  It probably belonged to that blonde Swiss physician.  It had to be a torrid love affair for him to get her to drive an hour and a half all the way up there.

They drove in silence, stopping only to get gas.  Nola felt both the tension of fearing what Paige would say about their being a day late in returning and more, she felt the bewildering disappointment that is created by realistic expectations that somehow go awry.  She had every reason to assume that it would be a romantic weekend or, at least, a “fun” weekend; what she did not take into consideration was what Spencer was anticipating. Projecting thoughts and desires onto someone else and then making assumptions about results is invariably a mistake. Nola knew that – a fact which made her feel even worse. Now she was sure to be admonished for having taken an extra day with Spencer. Oh yes, she thought, it would be her fault.  She prepared for the inevitable scene as they pulled up to the portico at two o’clock.

Paige did not disappoint.  “I guess you two love birds had quite a nice time nesting in that broken down cabin.”

Spencer answered.  “I drove the truck into a ditch and needed help to get out.  The muscles between my shoulder blades are in some kind of spasm.  Instead of making things worse by your ridiculous imagination, could you try to get the knots out of my back?”  With that Paige followed him into the master’s bedroom; and after hearing maudlin pleas that Nola could not quite understand, she heard the bed begin to thump.  For an hour she watched the illuminated hands of her clock measure out the grunts and groans and yelps of an old ritual before she finally took a shower and prepared for dinner.

At dinner, without explanation, Spencer announced that he intended to return to Switzerland to complete his therapy.  “Also,” he casually added, “I just got an email from a man I forgot to mention – a fellow patient I made friends with in the Clinic who runs a home in Akita on the Sea of Japan side of the island.  He had said that the home had been created to care for the homeless people who lost everything after the Fukushima disaster.  Little by little the home’s population had dwindled as the people found residences closer to their work places or went to live with relatives.  He has room, he assures me, to accommodate the old Abbot at ZBA. My friend’s term of therapy is expiring In Lucerne, and if we want to bring the old demented Abbot to him, he’ll happily accept him. Caring for the sick, he explained to me, was his way of expressing gratitude for having been spared in the nuclear catastrophe.  What do you think?”

Nola, surprised that this was the first she was hearing about such a plan, thought that The Council would be delighted.

“I’ve been teaching my friend – his name is Yoshi – colloquial English.   As one of my teaching tools I’ve gotten him interested in crossword puzzles.  I’ve developed variations on the puzzle theme which have proven to be very instructive to him.  I’ve promised to continue the exercises – much like people used to play chess.  I’m speaking, of course, before the electronic age.”

“How is the Abbot supposed to get there?” Paige asked.

“If all goes well, someone from the council has to bring the old man to meet me and him at the Cairo Airport and then I’ll personally escort him to his new home in Akita.  I’ve already checked with the Japanese authorities and there should be no problem.”

That evening, as Nola was sorting the garments she’d ask to be laundered, Paige came to her room.  “Is it true that he had car trouble?” she whispered.

“That’s what he told me.  I didn’t see it, myself.”  Nola did not tell her about the Volvo and the motel. “And for the record, this is the first I’ve heard about returning to Lucerne or going to Japan.”

“I could tell you were surprised. Did you have sex with my husband?”


“I believe you.  I checked your two sleeping bags.  Yours was absolutely clean and his was full of semen.  He’s too lazy to get up and clean himself.”

“It was so cold up there at night.  I can’t fault him for not wanting to get up and clean himself in icy water.”

“He tried so many new positions with me this afternoon.  Why is he so interested in sex lately? I have the feeling that he’s practicing on me.”

“Maybe somebody is inspiring him.”

“That doctor from the clinic?”

“I don’t know.  As you can tell from the important things he “forgot” to tell us, I don’t know too much about his private life.  I do know that I think it’s time that we considered him to be as cured as he’s ever going to be of colitis.  Really, Paige… I’m no longer needed around here.  We can compose the crossword puzzles by email, text, or phone.”

“No! I don’t want you here for him.  I need you.”  She began to cry.  “My life is falling apart.  Things that I was so sure of have not come to pass; and things I never expected are deluging me. Things are so upside-down that I don’t want Spence to know that I’m personally asking you to stay.  If he thinks that, he’ll fire you for sure. He’s been seeing his attorney lately and I hope and pray it’s about your puzzle stuff.”

All Nola could say was, “I know exactly how you feel about the upside-down business.  But I’ll stay awhile longer if you think you really need me.”

The Crossword Puzzle (#3)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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



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.”

The Crossword Puzzle (#2)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

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




Their first meal together was not without both problems and pleasure.  Mrs. Eglington assured her that she knew how to feed Mr. Ghent.  She’d been doing it since he was a child.  “Milk never hurt a human being.  We probably wouldn’t have survived without it.”

“Just the same,” Nola said, “there will be no more dairy products served to Mr. Ghent.  You can give him soup – just so it is not soup with a creamy base.  And green tea and sherbets.  Later he may have steamed vegetables.  Do you have a steamer?”

“Oh, it’s probably down in the basement with all of the other junk we have no use for.”

“You’ve got a use for it now.  So please locate it and thoroughly clean it.  We’ll have our meals – you can just duplicate his tray for me – at the regular time.”

Nearly an hour later Jules came to the room carrying one large tray.  “Where do you want this?” he asked.

There was a card table in the room that was covered with the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle.  He pushed the pieces into a box, and covered the table with a linen cloth.  He also placed a centerpiece of chrysanthemums on the table.  “I hope they’re as you ordered,” he said to Spencer.

Spencer Ghent looked at the soup Jules served.  “No more milk-toast?”

“Consider it a thing of the past,” Nola said as Jules stood in the doorway, waiting for an opportunity to speak.  Nola and Spencer looked at him expectantly.

“I know that the tray should be taken downstairs,” Jules said, “but I’ve sustained a serious but manageable cervical spine injury and if you don’t mind I’ll leave the tray here outside the door.  It’ll save me from having to carry it down and back to collect the dishes.”

“That’s fine,” Nola said.  “And if you’re ever in any particular distress and could use my help, please don’t hesitate to ask.” Jules bowed his head, closed the door, and turned down the hall.

She helped Spencer to sit at the table. “That,” he said, referring to Jules, “is his way of discouraging you from asking to be sent up anything other than the three meals he’s obliged to carry. They all have their little tricks.  You’ll get used to them.” He looked up at her coquettishly.  “Would you do a sick man a favor and close the drapes and then take those candles on the mantlepiece and put them here on the table.”  He reached across to a book shelf and pushed the play switch of an old CD player.  “I hope you like Errol Garner.  It’s his Concert By The Sea. I haven’t listened to it in months.”

“I love Garner,” she said.  “Play on.”

With the drapes closed and the candles lit, everything became soft and lovely in the room.  Spence smiled. “This is such a pleasure… eating without stuff dripping down my cheeks into my collar and pillow.”

“We aim to please,” Nola said, noticing how pale his blue eyes were in the candlelight.  He once must have been extremely handsome.  “Who is your favorite composer?” she asked.

“I know that one,” he said, grinning.  “I’m supposed to say, ‘You mean… after Mozart?”

They laughed and talked about music and the things they liked and disliked.  For dinner, they decided, they would play the Garner disc again only this time they would listen to the music.  When Spencer finished dessert, Nola helped him back into bed and sat quietly with him while he listened to the end of the CD and fell asleep. Then she went to her own room and called the kitchen to tell Mrs. Eglington that though Mr. Ghent was sleeping, if the procedure could be quietly done, Jules could collect the dishes.


Spencer Morton Ghent, 42, had suffered for more than five years with ulcerative colitis, a condition which caused him to experience frequent bouts of diarrhea.  He was the head of a firm of financial consultants and, since his position afforded him his own private bathroom, he stubbornly thought he could manage the disease.  And then, after one particularly nasty episode which caused him to be hospitalized, a proctologist whistled ominously at the condition of his anus and suggested that the removal of his rectum would soon be necessary.  At that point, Ghent accepted an alternate solution offered by his physician, which was to resign his position in his high tension work environment and stay home until rest and decompression could assist the medicines prescribed for him and help him to rid himself of this affliction.

Paige Ghent was not, however, appreciative of having her husband at home with her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Ghent was physically weak: over a period of several years his weight had dropped from one hundred eighty pounds to one hundred twenty pounds.  A gradual weigh loss is not much noticed by those who see the person every day, and so it was generally assumed by those who saw him when he weighed close to one hundred fifty pounds, that he worked out by choice in this private weight room, swam in his private pool, and hiked or rode horses through his wooded estate.  Retired, he became much thinner and few people knew that he owed his thinness to a disease of his digestive system – not even Paige who slept in the opposite side of the house.  She remained indifferent to his condition until he called out to her in anguish one evening; and when she came to help discovered the extent of the debilitating episode.  The work she was forced to do embarrassed her and she lived in terror that their servants would spread the news of his infirmity – and her part in it – around town.  For a week she tried valiantly to keep the patient, his underwear, pajamas, and the bed linens clean without anyone else being aware of such laundry, but it became too much for a woman who had had full-time nannies diaper her three children.  The stench and the filth encountered when diapering a husband, impinged seriously upon her sense of self-worth and were he not already so worn-out by the problem, would have adversely affected his, too.

Candidly, she explained her problem as she saw it to her sister.  “I know I’m a spoiled brat of a woman.  But I’m simply typical of my circle of friends.”  Though this group regarded themselves as independent, they limited their existences to sex, beauty parlors, fashion shows, luncheons, charitable committees, and the places to which they brought art and its refinements to those in the community who were in dire need of them.  And none of this was compatible with putting her hands or nose near the former contents of her husband’s bowels.  Not without reason did Paige fear that if news of his disease and her part in it ever became publicly known, she’d become a laughing-stock.  Her class simply did not dabble in such things.  She was comforted by the ethical requirement that bound Nola, a registered nurse, to a certain confidentiality.  Her friends were not unlike the ladies who formed the Zen council.

It wasn’t that these ladies who were in the same economic class as the Zen Council were uneducated. No, like the others, they had unfortunately majored in French Literature, Art History, or Philosophy, subjects which rendered them virtually unemployable, which was a fact of no consequence since they always seemed to marry Wharton School of Business graduates who went into Philadelphia regularly to their offices and made enough money to keep fat portfolios and summer homes.  At cocktail parties and other obligatory functions, French Literature, Art History, and Philosophy were considered meritorious achievements. Otherwise, they maintained a coffee-klatch mentality and contented themselves by doing the things that prosperous wives were supposed to do, including unrestrained sex.

Perhaps it was an exercise in psychological compensation that let The Council decide that Christianity lacked a certain patrician cachet, and one and all they happily turned to the more exclusive Zen, which, after all, provided better opportunities for meeting new friends.


Once Spencer was asleep, Nola got her coat and purse and went to the kitchen to tell the cook that she was going to an organic vegetable store she had seen on her way to the house.

“What peculiar vegetables are you planning to buy?” Mrs. Eglington asked with more accusation than curiosity.

Nora, offended by the cook’s attitude, saw Jules’ laptop on the kitchen table.  “If I buy something you’re unfamiliar with, I’m sure Mr. Grover will do a net search to provide you with instruction.  I suspect that Mr. Ghent is lactose intolerant so I’ll be getting special milk for him and also some probiotic pills that I regard as most effective.  Don’t forget to scrub that steamer.”  She pulled on her driving gloves, “Now if Jules will see to getting the other things from the drug store, I’ll leave – with your permission, of course.”

The departure was not tearful.

Nola became a regular customer of the health food grocery store.  On her first visit in September she chatted with the clerk who managed to get more information than she gave.  But on the check-out counter was a stack of flyers announcing the presence in town of the new Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton.  She read that meditation services were held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  The clerk watched her read and then gushed, “If you’re interested in Zen you really ought to go.  They’re wonderful people!”

“Soto or Rinzai?” Nola asked.

The clerk did not know what she was talking about and simply shrugged. They’re the kind that just sit there for fifty minutes and then take a break and sit another fifty minutes.  Somebody told me that they try not to think.”

“That sounds like Soto Zen,” Nola said as she noted the address of the Zendo.

When she returned home she told Spencer about the new facility.  He had not heard about it.  “So,” he said pleasantly, “you’re a Zen person.  I used to go regularly to a temple in Philadelphia.  I miss the quiet contemplation… the peace and that great sandalwood incense they use.”

“When you’re strong enough,” Nola promised, “I’ll take you to one of their Tuesday or Thursday meditation sessions.  She did not mention that she followed Rinzai Zen and did not care to spend hours sitting on a cushion trying to erase thoughts from her mind.


In the weeks that followed, Spencer’s health improved remarkably.  He gained weight, ate more and slept less. His depression vanished and he began to avail himself of a stack of books that contained crossword puzzles, formerly his favorite pass-time. Nola was happy to compete with him in solving the puzzles.  Since Spencer did not like electronic equipment, he would also get daily exercise going up and down stairs to his study to consult his many reference books. Soon the two of them got so good at solving the puzzles that they began to create their own.  This challenge created much good will and they began to act as old and trusted friends.  Spencer liked to follow a single theme, one that would be appreciated by members of his economic class… equestrian, nautical, social dances and events, and such.  Eventually, he had to expand the theme to include names and terms people of every class would appreciate.

His moods and his adherence to routine also began to change.  He asked Jules to air-out clothing he wore when he weighed one hundred fifty pounds.  The garments were of course too large for him, but he explained that he didn’t like to go downstairs in pajamas and robe.  This was understandable, but what was beyond Nola’s comprehension was that on some days he would take his medicine, eat his breakfast, and then dismiss her, locking his bedroom door.  When Nola would ask, he’d say he had private phone calls to make.  He would never explain and some days Nola was frantic wondering what she had done to cause him to exclude her from his bedroom.

It became so troublesome that she asked her sister why Spencer behaved in such a way.

Paige laughed and said, “Look at the phone bill when it comes in.  There won’t be any calls made.  At the rate he’s improving, he’ll fit into those clothes and then he’ll say that he had personal business to attend to and he’ll leave the house.  Usually, he won’t say anything. He’ll just leave.  You’ll wonder where the hell he went or what he’s doing, but he’ll nicely say that his private life is no concern of yours.  Then you’ll see new garments… shirts, ties, pants, suits…  and they didn’t just materialize out of thin air.  So all his personal business was visiting men’s shops, and if you take the trouble to look, you’ll find a few movie ticket stubs in his car or pants’ pockets.  Same thing with his moods.  Usually he’ll want to do thepuzzles.  But you’ll find that some days he just locks his bedroom door without any explanation.”

“Paige… That’s exactly what he does.  Not often, but enough to concern me. He’ll say, ‘I took my medicine.  I’ll see you later.’   I go back to my room and worry about him.”

“Do yourself a favor and don’t worry.”  With that advice, Paige ended the discussion and announced that she needed to buy a new pair of heels to go with a dress she had just purchased.


The three kids came home for the Christmas holiday early, and Jules took them into town to buy a siamese kitten for Paige and a boxer puppy for Spencer. Nola did not spend enough time with them to form an opinion about any one of them.  But, she did assure herself, they certainly looked and acted like normal teenagers… even better behaved than most.

At Christmas dinner, as dessert was being served, Roland looked at a collection of puzzles.  “These are really great, Dad,” he said.  You ought to have them published.”

“Surely,” Paige said sourly, “not under the Ghent name.”

“Let’s make up a name!” Samantha gushed.

Nola secretly had been thinking about a joint name for them to use.  “Spenola” she had decided on and was just about to blurt it out when Paige shouted, “Chat R. Box!”  Chat for my Christmas cat and box for Daddy’s new puppy!”

Every one squealed in approval and the name “Splenola” stuck in Nola’s throat, nearly choking her.

Although she was responsible for at least half of each created puzzle, Spencer was being given full credit.  It was a small thing, but so, she reasoned, was a mosquito bite. It itched her psyche, but with discipline, she almost overcame it.  “What the hell was I thinking?” she asked herself when she went to bed that night.  She wondered why she was so upset by Spencer taking – no… being given – the whole credit for the puzzles.  The problem disturbed her far more than it should have.  First of all, it was only natural that at a celebratory moment he was not going to stop and correct his son.  Well, then, what was it?

As Nola lay on her bed and pondered the problem, applying the harsh self-defacing requirement of a Zen inquiry into one’s mind, it soon became clear that what disturbed her was that she wanted to link her name with his.  It wasn’t love, she told herself, although she had to admit that she felt years younger when she was with Spencer.  In fact, she felt a little high… like a good marijuana high… when they worked on the puzzles.  Yet she still did not realize that she had eradicated boundaries.  They were neither nurse and patient nor sister and brother-in-law. In either case, he was off-limits to her.  She had allowed herself to cross a forbidden line.

Before the New Year, the family left for a ski trip to Gstaad, Switzerland.  Everyone except Spencer returned in a few days.  Friends had advised him to get a kind of make-over in a spa in Lucerne.  The regimen was strict, but guaranteed to clean old unpleasant memories from his mind.  He’d be a new man.  Communication with the outside world was limited.  There was one public-use computer that functioned for one hour each day and phones and visitors were not permitted. He could get and receive mail though this was not encouraged.  Nola, wanting to keep her dispute with him out of the Ghent house, wrote a brief note to him asking that he include her as co-author of the crossword puzzles.  She received no answer.

In the middle of January he returned and did seem much more pleasant.  In addition, Editor John Daly began to relay the compliments the newspaper received about the puzzles. Everyone loved the name Chat R. Box and perhaps, Nola thought, the euphoria of such a clever name and enterprise drew Spencer even closer to her.  Whatever the reason, the two of them began to discuss family secrets in a critical way.  It was on Ground Hog day, she would later remember, that they were in the study, at ground level, watching Paige return from the carriage house, her hair and clothes disheveled, Spencer said, “It’s getting worse with Paige.  Rougher.  You do realize that she’s sexually insatiable. She’s bopping the Bulgarian now.” He nodded quizzically.  “Gregor looks strong.  I hope he can handle her. The last groundsman we had sent up a white flag after three months.” Then he added impishly, “I was afraid we’d  have to bury him in the front lawn.  Or…” he began to laugh and could not complete the statement.

Nola finished it for him.  “Or have him stuffed and put on display in the game room.”  They laughed so hard that Jules came to the study doorway to hear what it was that had made them laugh.

“No,” Spencer wheezed, “not the game room.. the front lawn  We cold play quoits with his Johnson.” They laughed again and he assured her that they had, ”A meeting of the minds.”

Jules then turned around and went back to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Eglington and Gladys that Spencer and Nola wanted to stuff Gregor and put him on the lawn for Paige to play with his penis.  Gladys told Gregor who naturally told Paige.

The following day, Friday, near noon, as Nola and Spencer sat on his bed surrounded by reference books on the theme of “Horses,” they were laughing and could not think of an “across” word that had an “s” “t” and “u” in the spaces that would meet the same letters required in three “down” slots.  Suddenly Nola shouted the obvious, “Stirrups!” and they laughed more as they felt the excitement of solving a puzzle.  Spencer offered the “across” clue:  “audio and sole.”  They were howling triumphantly at the word and the clue as Paige burst into the room.

“How cozy!” she snarled.  “You,” she indicated Nola, “no doubt found something else about me that amuses you!  Well you can just pack your things and get the hell out of my house.  Go find your own man to have a good laugh and fuck with.  This one’s taken!”

Nola stood up.  “What has gotten into you?  We’ve been laughing about a puzzle word.”

“Don’t bullshit me!  You can just get your spinster lust out of my house!  My husband?  You lay there in bed with my husband!  My own sister! I brought you here to care for my husband not have an affair with him.  And then you mock me? Oh, no. Get out of my house, and get out now!”

Spencer was indignant.  “Where do you get off calling this ‘your’ house.  We have a prenuptial agreement and no part of this estate will ever belong to you.  It’s Ghent property and lady, you’re no Ghent. “

That he spoke no word in her defense against such a licentious charge, stunned Nola.  Dazed, she realized that he was more worried about his property than he was about her reputation; and she was not only innocent, she was the woman who had restored his health. She went into her bedroom and packed her suitcases.  She carried everything she owned without assistance to the garage, and with no idea about where she was going, she began to drive towards town.

Driving down main street she noticed that she needed gas and pulled into a station. She fretted with disconnected thoughts.  Finally, the gas pump clicked off when the tank had filled.  In a state that was purely automatic she withdrew the nozzle, hung it up, put on the gas tank cap, and withdrew her credit card.

She got into her car and for the first time experienced a clarity of mind that made her feel appalled by the rejection she had received.  A car behind her beeped and she roused herself, immediately deciding that she would not drive aimlessly.  Instead she’d check into a motel at the edge of town and try to figure out how she should respond to Paige’s tirade.


The Crossword Puzzle (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)




It is one of the more peculiar acts of human nature that among adult acquaintances a gift is rarely received in the same spirit as the giver had assumed it would be.  No matter how sincere the giver is and how genuinely he desires to help or to please, his generosity is bound to cause him to suffer a loss of esteem.  It should come as no surprise that this sudden loss of status may puzzle the giver, and if so, he may find himself drawing the wrong conclusions about the origins of his social demotion.

What he, or in this case, Nola Harriman, failed to understand is that the giver of a gift automatically places himself in a superior position which can only mean that he places the receiver in an inferior one – a shift which the latter usually finds intolerable.  However subtle the shift, it evokes feelings of resentment in the receiver who is expected to thank the giver and praise the gift, though he may personally wish to do neither.  A much needed utilitarian gift that is given to, say, the governing council of a small religious organization, is practically an accusation of incompetence  The members will make the giver pay dearly for the public imputation.

Few things in life are as difficult to sustain as being grateful.

The circumstances that brought Nola Harriman to the uncomfortable edge of a fold-out metal bed in a Morton, Pennsylvania holding cell, could not possibly have been imagined a day or even a year before the event.  No one had given her a clue that the faults she had found in Spencer Ghent could be lethal in nature. Nola was an important person in her society, not a particularly well-liked one; and people who conceal personal dislikes are often loathe to inform others of their secret contempt for fear that they may be blamed for any misfortune that befalls the object of their scorn.

It was in the last week of August, 2013, that Nola was working as a registered nurse in a hospital in Philadelphia.  All summer she had chaffed under new regulations imposed by a recently hired Director of Nursing.  She had just reached the Flight or Fight stage of the dispute when, fortuitously, her sister Paige Harriman Ghent called, begging her to come to live and work in her home in Morton, Pennsylvania, some eighty miles distant. Paige’s ailing husband, Spencer, was afflicted with ulcerative colitis; and since the nature of the disease involved certain intimacies, rather than hire a stranger to live in the house and see things that Paige thought should be kept private, she sought her sister’s help.

Though their past history might, in an excess of kindness, be considered sibling rivalry (they had spoken only briefly to each other twice in the last fifteen years), both women believed that people could change and, certainly, to Nola, hearing her sister weep and beg her to come and stay at her house and pay her well to do so, was proof that Paige had indeed changed.  Prior to that call she had regarded Paige as the most stubbornly self-centered and irredeemably uncaring person she had ever met.  But now her older sister was pleading piteously in obvious distress.  Nola accepted the offer.


A few months earlier, in February, 2013, the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton, Pennsylvania was and had been for years an ad hoc, but self-supporting assembly that met weekly in each other’s homes for tea and at least the semblance of meditation.  The members wished that they had their own temple and a qualified teacher with whom they could regularly interact; but renting or purchasing such a facility was, given their loose confederation, impractical.

And then, miraculously, someone donated an old, once-grand house to them, a house that had originally been the residence of the prominent Norris-Giles family.

On a pleasant morning in March, 2013, six of the regular hostesses of the Zen Assembly inspected the building that would be theirs if they wanted it.  Of course they could see that it needed extensive repair, but desire, tending always to diminish disadvantage, let them quickly glance at the problems and focus instead on the advantages – a paved parking lot; stained glass windows; a fenced half-acre of arable land on which they could grow their own flowers and vegetables and turn the building into a real monastic center.  No-less than seven upstairs bedrooms could be rented out as guest or novice facilities.  As housewives they had often been confronted by dirt and disorder which they corrected by calmly ordering their servants to clean, discard, sew, pr paint.  But for devotion’s sake, they decided to do most of the original cleaning of the “temple,” themselves.  They saw the dust and disarray as a challenge and looked forward to conquering them with their own humble and devoted “elbow grease.”

The giver of the gift, having chosen to remain anonymous, allowed his attorney to convey his hope that Morton’s ‘Bodhisattvas” – though he did not quite know what a Bodhisattva was he did seem to mean them – would make his humble gift of the Norris-Giles House a permanent home for Lord Buddha.

Not one of the council cared to question his largesse.  They had been faithful to the religion and deserved such approbation and a house, too.

They also did not inquire about his motives when he included a condition precedent to the transfer of deed which obliged them to provide living accommodations for five years to two Japanese men: an elderly gentleman who had formerly been an abbot of a Zen monastery in Kyoto; and a younger man who had for years functioned as a handyman and a tenzo(cook.)  The thought of having a real Japanese abbot to lead their group and an authentic Japanese cook made the strange condition irresistible.  In their euphoria, costly repairs would be done by contractors they would hire; while trivial repairs would be relegated to the less enthusiastic. With a flick of a down-turned palm they dispensed with a hundred or more trifles that bore to them no connection to the word “habitable.”

The worst decision they made was to decline to seek legal advice.  The donor had an attorney and the women reasoned that retaining an additional one for themselves would appear to be “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Also, the saving of a legal fee would increase the sum they planned to spend on decorating the new headquarters of the Zen Buddhist Association (ZBA) of Morton. They obtained six copies of the contract and each, at her leisure, perused its contents.  Having applied the same criteria of inspection to the document’s contents as they had applied to the building, they accepted the gift and conditions, providing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would grant their articles to incorporate as an eleemosynary organization.  This, the Commonwealth did, and by July, armed with a non-profit charter and six duly elected officers, they met again with the donor’s attorney.  Legally empowered and filled with irrational hope, they accepted the deed and signed the two-man support contract.

Everyone knew that the Norris-Giles House had once been proud and beautiful, but time and the de-gentrification of the neighborhood had changed its zoning so that the heirs were able to rent out sections of it to people who would use it as professional offices.  Unfortunately, the most respectable of the professionals were two young related attorneys who shared the same waiting room and insisted that they were trying to steal each other’s clients.  The disagreements soon passed the misdemeanor stage and the family disputants became the only clients the young attorneys had.  They abandoned their leases ( a not unreasonable act since the air-conditioning and running water were not always reliable) and moved out.

The tenants descended in respectability until a transvestite seamstress had been robbed twice and a shoemaker’s equipment had been critically damaged by vandals. There remained only a tap dance instructor and persons who engaged in after hours entertainments. It was regrettable that each tenant jury-rigged its plumbing and electrical needs to suit individual requirements. Some had removed non-load bearing walls that managed to gouge holes in a once-flawless walnut parquet floor.  The last group of tenants included two psychics who competed with each other, arguing fiercely and often in a language no one understood.

Despite all this business trouble, in the gamesmanship of selling, sentiment held the higher hand; and the owners, each having his own Utopian solution about the building’s future, disagreed about every solution proposed.  Not until an assortment of condoms clogged the drain, did the cost of repair trump the power hand and everyone surrendered to the inevitable and offered the entire lot to anyone who would pay for the dilapidated building and the taxes due on it.  A Japanese businessman was the first to hear of the proposition; and he immediately instructed his attorney to procure the property under the conditions he imposed.

This businessman, though not being a Zen Buddhist himself, claimed to have seen the wisdom of having a Zen Buddhist Center in town and, with the condition that his father-in law and nephew – the old abbot and the new cook – be given living quarters for five years in the Norris-Giles House or any equivalent accommodation that was at least fifty miles from his personal residence, purchased the building and presented it as a gift to these sincere followers of the Buddha.

The council ladies did not discover that by this act of generosity the donor had gained his own domestic tranquility.  Even his wife so enjoyed her new fatherless and nephew-less environment that she insisted that the house her husband had purchased would have been cheap at twice the price.  She did not fully understand what her husband knew and the new owners would soon learn: the contrariness and unaccustomed slovenly habits that her father had been demonstrating during the last few years were symptoms of untreated dementia.  She also did not know that her ill-tempered nephew had become a drug user and often stole items from her house to pay for cocaine.  Naturally he would blame the old man for the thefts; and she was all too willing to accept The Spitefulness Of The Aging – an article she had read in a hair salon – as the old man’s deliberate attempt to ruin her married life.  He had never liked her husband.

With great excitement the new owners – who called themselves, “The Council,” became officers and directors of the new corporation.  As such they made immediate and somewhat quixotic plans to convert the dwelling into a monastic center   They immediately founded a new order of American Zen priests, selected Japanese names for themselves from the list of Patriarchs and then, after ordaining themselves, informed others that as soon as the bedrooms were renovated, they would rent the rooms at bargain rates to anyone who was desirous of becoming lay-ordained.  As part of their spiritual training such persons would then be obliged to oversee household maintenance, laundry, and kitchen policing.

An industrious lot, they assumed that they could pay for the repairs by selling hand-made wooden bead necklaces, bracelets, and made-to-order bib-like rakusus, robes, cushions, mats, and sundry items.  Incomprehensibly, although they made prototypes of these items to display, they failed to grasp the not altogether obscure fact that the seller completes only half of the commercial transaction.  New members were the targeted buyers, but for so long as the building was in such deplorable condition, they could not attract new members.  They also could gain no income from rented bedrooms since the leaking roof permitted rain to accumulate on the attic floor from which it would seep through the wooden floorboards and create ugly brown stains in the second floor’s plaster ceilings.  From there, rain or melted snow would drip into the many buckets and pans set out to capture it and halt the water’s course.  The lowest estimate to replace the roof was a prohibitive $20,000.

Meanwhile, in addition to the costly re-wiring and heating and other plumbing necessities, they were obliged to support the two men who came as a condition of the gift, and The Council was unprepared to cope with the unique set of problems this condition entailed.

They set to work making the house’s original solarium and morning room into suitable quarters for him and the handyman.  They painted the suite and put wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the several rooms.  Beds and rudimentary furniture were acquired from Thrift Shops; and dishes, flatware, hot plates, microwave, refrigerator, and dishwasher were brought from their own homes.  Less than a block away were an all-night laundromat which, the ladies assumed, the handyman could use, and half a dozen fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.

The ZBA sangha,(congregation) followed the northern Soto Zen “sitting” school.  Although they lined up, kneeling at his doorway for dokusan (personal advice), the language problem reduced his utterances to subjects for them each to solve.  They tended to hail the old man as a holy man who walked around, chanting incessantly.  They learned the chants but were baffled by the way he occasionally smiled, raised a finger, and pronounced some kind of admonition in Japanese.  They purchased new red and gold master’s robes for him and, since he seemed always desirous to perform kin hin (walking meditation) outside, they pulled out the weeds from the fenced side of the house, planted shrubbery, and laid flagstone pathways for him to use.  Regrettably, he extended the range of his meditation path to include neighboring sidewalks, and the police notified them that the barefoot old man was following children to school.  The ladies had assumed that his strange mumblings were somehow oracular, and a secretary of Japanese descent at the nearby police substation did indeed confirm that the mumblings were of a spiritual nature.  She was a follower of the Rinzai Southern school of Zen and the lines the old man repeated were from the Dun Huang version of the Platform Sutra, a scripture particularly dear to the Southern school. And so they learned that not only was their new master from a rival school of Zen, but the mystery of the raised finger and its accompanying advice was also disconcertingly solved.  The secretary translated what he was saying as, “You can make a mirror polishing a brick sooner than you can make a Buddha sitting on a cushion.”  This presented a serious theological problem.

They could read the koans associated with the Southern School, but they could not understand them; and they knew no other Zen but the kind that required hours of sitting and striving to stay awake while not thinking. No one knew how to respond to this apostasy or to the Abbot’s refusal to remove any of his clothing for laundering.  The handyman, who was supposed to be a college student, owned no books at all and disappeared for days at a time. A visiting physician told them he suspected that the Abbot had Alzheimer’s Disease. This, he allowed, might be troublesome: hospitalization would be expensive, if, of course, they could get past the problem of not being blood relatives of his. He advised them to speak to the attorney who had handled the “gift.”  They called him and were informed that they were obliged to provide for the two religious men.  As officers and signatories to the transfer documents, they were individually and severely liable to fulfill the accompanying contract’s terms.

As to the nephew, they learned quickly to keep their purses under lock and key; but this did not, unfortunately, prevent the young man from making house calls to solicit funds for a variety of non-existent projects.  He invariably had to relieve himself and while doing so raided the medicine chests for salable pharmaceuticals and an occasional piece of jewelry.  The sangha compared notes about missing things and all their homes were quickly closed to him.

It was during an October, 2013, visit to a suburban home, the Ghent residence into which Nola Harriman had recently moved, that he attempted to steal several prescription bottles of tranquilizers and Nola happened to notice a bulge in his jacket pocket that had not been there before he went to the bathroom.  She positioned herself so that she could look down into the pocket and, seeing the tops of prescription bottles, checked the bathroom and then quietly called the police. He was driving away from the residence when the police apprehended him.  Convicted and sentenced to a term of not less than two years, he did remove one of ZBA’s more serious irritants; but his absence did not, however, overcome the other insoluble problems, and the Council planned their exit strategy.  Embarrassing newspaper articles about the incident mentioned the ZBA’s address and executives along with the information that Tuesday and Thursday evening meditation sessions were held at the old Norris-Giles House. The Council voted to “ride out the storm” and extend their termination date. They also resented Nola (who claimed to be a Zen Buddhist) for the way she handled what they thought should be an ecclesiastical matter.

By the spring of 2014, several month’s before Spencer Ghent’s death, the ZBA council, having waited for the legal sturm und drang to subside, accepted defeat and tried to find the easiest way to undo what they had done. Clearly, they needed to dissolve the charter, abandon the building, and sue the donor for having failed to disclose pertinent facts in the negotiation.  However gracefully they could accomplish these goals, they decided that the thirtieth day of July  2014, would be their last official day.

Patricia Monahan, (Shi Bashumitsu) the Council president, had learned the address of the Japanese donor. She met with no resistance when she suggested that on the eve of their last day, they drive to the donor’s home and, like kids leaving a burning bag of dog turds on the step, would ring the door bell and run, leaving the old man standing there alone to be figuratively stomped on.  It was not exactly a Zen thing to do, but they were in debt, nagged constantly by their husbands, and desperate. They certainly did not expect that Nola Harriman, whose respect for the law had exposed so many of their problems, would be the one who would rescue them from such an ignominious end.



It was in late September, 2013, that Nola first drove the winding rocky road to the hilltop Ghent house, an old Civil War mansion that was smaller than she had expected. During their long conversation Paige had described her home in detail and Nola had converted every brick into a Hampton Court.  She laughed at herself for having seen too many Bridesheadtype television shows.  Her sister wasn’t British royalty.  “It’s still a pretty place,” she said aloud.  But as houses of the period went, this was not a good example. The dominant feature was a turret that stood as an attachment to one front corner of the house.  The towering top floor, which actually rose only one storey higher than the attic, contained, according to Paige, stained-glass windows that had come all the way from Venice.  Each window faced a standard geographical direction and its leaded-in design depicted the season that supposedly went with the direction. Paige had said that they must not get a lot of snow in Venice. Fortunately, given the comprehensive view of the entire area that the turret provided, only the top panel of each window bore the colored lead-seamed glass.

At the house’s ground level there were four windows on either side of the portico’s columned entrance.  The portico, itself, was the façade of the foyer, one side of which was her husband’s large study, and the other being part of the family’s living quarters.  A second storey contained five and a half bedrooms – the peculiar slicing having been done when modern plumbing was installed. Paige had also said there was a “finished” cellar and an attic.

Smaller buildings stood near the main house:  a carriage house which had living quarters above a six-stall stable;  an all-purpose tack and farrier shed also used tor storage; a modern four-car garage with a curtained-window apartment as its second floor; a pool house and patio; and a marble building that was obviously a mausoleum.

Where, she wondered, did Paige intend that she should sleep? Paige had promised her her own space. She had casually mentioned that the kitchen staff lived in apartments in the attic, the groundsman occupied the carriage house, and the houseboy lived in the new garage apartment.  She had said that she slept in her own bedroom and that her three children – a boy Roland, nineteen; a girl Samantha, seventeen; and a boy, Pierre, sixteen; each had his own bedroom.  Five bedrooms then had already been accounted for.  The house did not look big enough for six – except for that fishy half-bedroom, and although there was an additional space in the turret, it surely was never intended to be anything but decoration or a protected place to view the countryside. Running straight down the inside wall of the turret was a circular stairway that led from the top down to the cellar and had an exit at each level. It must, Nola thought, afford the privacy of a lighthouse and she hoped her sister did not plan to install her in it.  Later, she would learn, that the top semi-room would be occupied by Hines Whitman, Spencer Ghent’s secretary, a location Hines was not happy about. The turret room was cold in the winter and hot in the summer and the circular staircase was iron and difficult to climb and descend.  Hines wanted the room that had been assigned to Nola – the “half” guest room next to Spencer’s Master bedroom, the half-bedroom which had been the main plumbing sacrifice to the modernizing effort.  But Nola found the room pleasant and more than adequate for her needs.  She was to share a bathroom with Samantha.


On that September day, as Nola first approached the house she could see that the garage doors were open, but since the sun was behind the building, she could see only four dark squares and the suggestion of cars inside.  On the other side of the main house, quieted now with autumn chill, the pool waited to be covered and the patio to be relieved of its furniture.

Suddenly a flock of goats came up from a small arroyo and stopped in front of her.  Paige had told her that they kept goats to act as lawn mowers and had instructed her that if the animals wandered into her path she should just blow the horn and they would move away.  Nola beeped her horn and the goats disappeared again into one of the many deep rills in the lawn.

Paige stood on the portico and waved to her.  The wind swirled around her, whipping blonde strands of hair across her face, and as Paige pulled them away and smiled broadly, Nola could see her teeth glitter in the morning sun.  Until that moment she had not realized how much she missed her sister. Nola smiled back and waved.  A connection had been made and she felt a thrill.  Considering that this was the first time she had seen her sister’s house, it was odd that she felt as if she had finally come home.

After the standard yelps, air-kisses, hugs, and arm-in-arm conviviality, they entered the house that was surprisingly well furnished.  The Ghent family had invested in beautiful antiques.

Nola was led into the kitchen to meet Mrs. Eglington, the cook; Gladys Jones, the chambermaid and kitchen assistant; Jules Grover, the houseboy; and Gregor Nikolov, the groundsman, who kissed her hand.  Two “cleaning ladies” who lived in town and came to work only three days a week, passed through the kitchen and acknowledged Nola with a wave and nod.

Inexplicably, Paige made the stern announcement that in her absence her sister was in charge of the house and all who lived and worked in it – a remark that made Nola uncomfortable and did not endear her to the staff. Additionally, Nola’s disposition had a sharp edge to it and Paige’s decree had not served to soften it.  Her personality invited criticism: she was casually generous which inspired ingratitude; she was well-built and attractive which inspired jealousy; but what was worse was that she was also an outsider, educated, and forthright – a woman who possessed none of the slickness of con artists who could become anyone’s best friend in a matter of minutes.  She also tended to be somewhat bossy and, especially when surrounded by what she considered “air-headed” women, she tended to flaunt her license as a registered nurse along with the knowledge of many classical books she had read as giving her some lofty hierarchical rank. She was also an avid Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai School.

Still, as the servants looked at one another with expressions of disdain, Nola smiled and tried to think of something to say that would mitigate the announcement’s severity, when suddenly Gregor, a man of about thirty – for whom the word swarthy could have been coined – stepped forward and, using a feather duster as a plumed hat, made a grand obeisance to Paige. “Your vish is our law,” he said humorously.  While his head was deeply bowed, Paige reached out to ruffle his long black wavy hair, and then to run her long acrylic fingernails through it to comb what she had disturbed. He looked up at her. “Is not how is said ve vill behave?”

“Isn’t he the limit?” Paige asked as she winked at him.  Gladys smiled at his little joke, but no one else acknowledged it. Paige turned and playfully sashayed to the foyer, pausing at the foot of a wide staircase.  “Now we go up,” she said portentously, “to meet the star of the show.”  Nola and Jules followed.

They walked down the hallway’s tufted runner, stopping as Paige opened the door to a guest room.  “This is yours, Sis,” she said.  “You’ll like it.  The mattress is brand new and very comfortable.” Despite all its odd angles, the room was large and sunny.

They continued on and stopped outside the next room, the master bedroom.  Paige made a quick toss of her head to Jules.  As he stepped forward, she asked Nola, “Are your keys in the car?”

“Yes,” Nola murmured.  ‘I didn’t know where it should be parked.”

“The Four-car – that’s what we call the new garage – is full now, I’m afraid… what with Roland’s new birthday sports car.”  She brightened and turned to Jules.  “After you put my sister’s luggage in her room, take my car out of the Four-car and put it in the carriage house carport.  Then put her car in the Four-car and be careful you don’t scrape the sides when you squeeze it in.”  As he murmured some remark of obedience and turned back down the corridor, Paige confided, “”Before we had the new garage built we’d often have to stick the cars in a kind of overhang or in the stable.  What a nuisance.  And the horses didn’t like it either.”

Nola wasn’t paying attention to Paige’s words. It was the unmistakable undercurrent of intimacy with Gregor that intrigued her.  Realizing that she was expected to comment, she asked, apropos of nothing, “What do you do with the goats in bad weather?”

Paige was not surprised by Nola’s non sequitur.  Her mind was equally on the subject that underlay her casual speech.  “Under the stairs in the carriage house is a pot-bellied stove – a small one – that keeps the stables from smelling like a morgue.  Horse sweat, shit and piss mixed with dampness.  Ugh! We’d never be able to keep Greg or any other groundsman for long.  The goats are herded into the room where the stove is. We keep food and water there.  They’re happy when it snows.

“And here,” she whispered as they approached the closed door of the master bedroom, “is Spence’s room.”  She lowered her voice even more.  “Look,” she said, “you didn’t know Spence before, and you’re a nurse and understand how emaciated this illness can make a person, so I know you’re not expecting to see an NFL lineman in there.  But you may not be expecting to see a skeleton… and Nola, my dear, prepare yourself to see one.”

She rapped and then immediately opened the door to a smoke-filled room.  She had not exaggerated.  Spencer Ghent turned his head and smiled weakly at Nola.  In a hoarse voice, he said, “Come in.  Come in.  And sit on my bed here so that I can get a good look at you.”

“Well,” Nola said brightly, “I’m disappointed.  I expected to see someone who would challenge my nursing skills.  But you, as we say in nursing jargon, are gonna be a piece of cake.”

He managed to free his hand from the comforters and tentatively held it out. He hesitated.  “Maybe you’d rather not.. not without a surgical glove… you know… eat that piece of cake.”

The remark was odd and lent itself to so many meanings that Nola was startled by it; but in her career patients often made bizarre statements, and she concealed her confusion. “Nonsense,” she said, shaking his hand and giving no indication that it felt like skinless chicken bones.   “As long as I’m at it,” she said in a switch of demeanor, “I’ll take your pulse.  So, quiet!”  His pulse was only slightly elevated.

“Since you two seem to be getting on so well,” Paige smiled, “you don’t need me.”  She returned to the doorway. “Is there anything you want me to get?”

“I don’t see a baby monitor.  If you don’t have one, could you get a pair and put one in my room and one in here?”  She picked up the large bed pan that was on the foot of the bed.  “And could you ask someone to go down to a drug store and get a smaller pan… one that’s easier to mount.  And I don’t see a walker.”  She picked up a prescription bottle that lay beside an overflowing ashtray and read, “Mesalamine.  It’s an effective medicine,” she said.  “There should be more.”

“Oh,” Paige said, returning to the bedside, speaking as though she were talking about a child, “but he refuses to take them. Then he lies to Doctor Boyer.  He’s written a dozen different types of medicines for him, and Spence doesn’t take any of them.”

They don’t help!,” Ghent said emphatically.

“What do you take them with?” Nola asked.

Paige answered.  “A nice cold glass of milk.”

Surprised, Nola responded critically.  “Surely his doctor didn’t recommend that.”

“No, water.  But Spence prefers cold milk.  He’s a very fussy patient, you’ll find. He’s supposed to quit smoking, but he won’t.” She returned to the topic of the walker.  “You don’t mean one of those things old ladies use?”

“Yes. Lightweight aluminum with good rubber tips. And yes, we’ll have to cut back on those cigarettes and then eliminate them altogether.   And does this phone connect to the kitchen?”

“Yes.  But Mrs. Eglington knows what to make for Spencer.”

“Fine.  But I’d like to approve of it first.  I have strict dietary rules.”

“Call her,” Paige said, pointing to an old-fashioned house phone.  “She knows you’re the boss.”  She turned, waved her fingertips, and without explanation left the room.  As she scampered down the stairs, she called.  “I’m running late.  See you at dinner.”

Nola left the room to put her coat and purse into her bedroom.  She glanced out her bedroom window and saw Jules strolling back from the carriage house and Paige marching towards it.  When she returned to Spencer’s room, he was sitting up, looking stronger than he had looked before.  “I think,” he said, “that I have to go to the bathroom.”

Nola helped him to get his feet over the side of the bed and then she bent forward, put her arms around him and pulled him to his feet.  His body was flat against hers and she could tell that he had an erection.  “You naughty boy,” she said, smiling.

“Sorry about that,” he whispered; and with Nola supporting him as if they were doing a macabre dance, she led him all the way into the bathroom.  She tugged on his pajama bottom and when it was low enough, she guided him down onto the seat.  “I’ll ring the bell when I’m done,” he said, indicating a cow bell that was on the sink.

“I’ll be in my room,” she said.  “Have fun.”

When the bell rang she rushed to his bathroom and found him standing, supporting himself by holding onto the shower door.  “Just help me to get back into bed,” he said.  “I sometimes get dizzy walking.”  He still had an erection and saw that she noticed it.  “You’re such a pretty woman, that I wouldn’t insult you by having just a piss hard-on.”

Nola raised her eyebrows.  The job was going to be more difficult than she had assumed.