My late afternoon drive took me about twenty miles outside the city. The road was bumpy and dusty for most of the drive, although the air became very humid and the ground soggy as I neared Drake Manor. The signs just off the major interchange suggest that construction is underway, and boy did the roads need it. However, my trained eye notes that the signs are rusting and pitted as though years of exposure to the elements. I guess a rough road it will be.
Bound by wetlands to the north, a forest to the south, and an inland waterway to the east, Drake Manor is a sprawling estate. The road leading to the manor are a mixture of gravel and dirt. The house itself is a sprawling two-story Mediterranean style mansion with striking architectural lines. It reminds me of some of the places I saw during the war when on leave. Even in the fading light, it is clear that the manor has seen better days, the Manor’s fading yellow paint and dirt-stained windows suggest that its best years are behind it.
About an hour after sundown, I hear a car. I catch sight of Jonathon’s car. He is alone in the car and drives by oblivious to me. So now the question. Do I follow or risk poking around the manor?
My leg was already aching after the rough ride out of the city and Jonathon looked like a real devil behind the wheel. My gut told me the quiet house held more than met the eye. Hugging the dark to me like armor, I made my way slowly toward the house, just to recon, naturally.
The humid night provided very little reprieve from the sweltering heat of the day. Proximity to the swamp resulted in cacophony of sounds. I slowly picked my way towards Drake Manor, catching glimpses of the estate here and there. The one thing I could see was a spire that rose above the manor. It did not appear all that big. Occasionally, I would see a small light emanating from the top of the spire, but it would go out after a few minutes and stay dark for a time.
The final cutback led to the grounds of the Manor. The building appears two stories plus an attic. There is a carriage house out front. A couple of lights are on in the first level of the Manor, as well as light in the carriage house. There are lamps outside the front door and the main door of the carriage house. Finally, there was an old light just inside the iron gate. These provide meager light in the humid night.
The immediate estate is surrounded by a rather imposing fence. It appears to be the only thing in this estate that has been kept in good repair. The fence is brick and mortar up to about waist height, then wrought iron up to at least 12’. The rising moon than the sickly lights through the fence created disturbing shadows. The wrought iron gates are closed and locked with a chain. I noticed that the ironwork of the gates contained a pattern the appeared to be a highly decorative dragon clutching an orb.
The area beyond the gravel road was very rough and at times marshy. The uneven ground and poor lighting dissuaded me from working around the compound from the outside. Finding a somewhat solid tree stump off the road, I sat down to wait. Nobody realizes that when people pay me to find someone or something, they are mostly paying me to wait. I wait pretty good. I don’t light up a smoke, no matter how bad I want to. I keep to the shadows and let my eyes adjust to the dark. And I don’t move or make a sound unless I have to.
But then I thought about the girl, a girl who could be in trouble right now waiting for someone to rescue her. Waiting could get her killed. I got up again and looked at the gate. I looked for some way to alert the house that they had a visitor…
Stepping into the sickly light by the gate, I noticed a pull cord. Figuring that would alert someone, I pulled it and waited. The sounds of the frogs from the swamp was the only sounds for a moment. I was about to pull the handle again when I heard a door open from the direction of the Carriage House. It was not the main doors, so it must have been a side door that faced the house.
I hear the sound of a large dog running to the gate. Odd, no barking, just the sound of padded feet on the stone drive. Moments later, the dog appeared. It was a Rottweiler, and big one. It padded back and forth across the gate, almost as if taking a measure of me. Its movements were almost feline in nature. I had tried boxing once or twice back in the Army, but it was not my thing. The good boxers sized others up in the same way the dog was looking me over. The only sound he made was a low growl.
“Fanden does not like you.” All my attention had been on the dog, who’s name appears to be Fanden. I had just caught movement in the corner of my before the man spoke. Given his looks, he matched the description of Samson from the police files. He was pointing a shotgun my way. “If Fanden does not like you, I do not like you. Vat do you vant here?”
Some guys get real slick when a gun gets put in their face. I’m not one of those guys.
“Uh, well, I was told… that Marianne Silvers was in service here.” I thought feverishly of how I was going to get this brute to let me past.
Samson’s eyes narrowed at the mention of Marianne Silvers’ name.
“She’s gone. I am thinking zat you should be gone, too. Speaking of which, how did you get out here? I don’t see a car and I did not hear anyone drive up.” Samson adjusted his grip on the shotgun slightly as he spoke.
I was feeling real uncomfortable right now. I was on the business end of the shotgun and Samson looked like he knew how to use it. The dog’s pacing changed, as if it had made a decision about me. By its body language, I did not like whatever decision it had made.
“Well, I wasn’t asking you to think,” I growled, my hackles getting up. “I’ve got very important information about Marianne Silvers that he’s going to want to hear. Now you can point your thunder-maker anywhere you like, but it’s your head if you don’t take me to the main house.”
He lowers the gun to a more respectful level. “Master Drake does not like to be disturbed at night. That is vhen he does his verk. Young Master Drake vill not be in until very late. Provide me vith the information and I’ll see if Master Drake has time to see you.”
“I don’t discuss business with the hired help,” I snapped. Guess my leg was aching more than I thought after that jaunt from my car. “This directly affects his work and if he’ll be able to continue the work much longer. That should be of sufficient interest for he and I to have a chat. Nothing more and I’ll let him get back to his work.”
At first, I was making headway with Samson. But he seemed to recover his surly tone when I dismissed him as “hired help.” Samson raised the gun back up…
“First you say you have information about Ms. Silvers. Then you say Master Drake may not be able to complete his work. Confusing, eh Fanden?” Fanden growls as if answering Samson. “If you vant to talk to Master Drake, you vill tell me vho you are, how you got here, and vhat is this information on Ms. Silvers.”
“I know he doesn’t tell you much, Samson,” I said, trying to look like I was being reasonable. “But if you don’t realize how Miss Silvers applies to Master Drake’s work, then I don’t think you’re quite the person to judge if the information I have is of worth to your Master.”
Samson stood there matching my stare. “Alright, stranger. You best not be wasting Master Drake’s time.” He looked me over. “Are you, as they say, packing heat? If so, you must leave your veapon with me at the Carriage House. You can pick it up when your business ez done.”
‘Crap,’ I thought to myself. ‘Now what do I do?’
Samson looked pretty firm on the no-gats policy so I surrendered my pistol and allowed him to lead me toward the house. I eyeballed the Carriage House as best I could, figuring I’d have to grab my gun fast as I ran out of the place.
I followed the gun-toting manservant toward the House, watching him and the dog.
Samson lead me to the grand entryway of the manor. Prominent above the doors was the crest of the Drake Family which appears to be a highly decorative dragon clutching an orb, similiar to the pattern in the wrought iron gate. Inside, the foyer was open to the second floor with a winding staircase on the right. There were closed double doors on my left, a door and open archway up ahead.
An attractive lady in her early thirties in a maid uniform greeted us. From the low grumblings of Samson, I picked up that her name is Claudette. By the worried look on her face, she was not keen on the idea of disturbing Master Drake for the likes of me.
Samson turned and said “I’ll be in the Carriage House when you are done. You can claim your firearm when you leave.” Samson left that house and I could see him walk to the Carriage house through the windows by the stairs.
“May I take your coat?” asked Claudette.
“No, I don’t think I’ll be long.” I said as I lit up a cigarette. Claudette frowned but did not say anything.
She led me through the archway, past a bar and into a sitting room. There were several victorian style chairs and a couches. I chose a chair.
“I’ll go fetch Master Drake. Make yourself comfortable. I am not sure how quickly he will come down to see you.