An Unfortunate Assignment Part 1

An Unfortunate Assignment Part 1

I am writing this, hoping that the next person charged with handling this case will read these notes before doing any research or work with this estate. I beg of you, leave this now. In trying to right the wrongs contained herein, you will only seal your inevitable demise, as I have done. I will provide a full account of my findings, which I hope, will satisfy your curiosity enough and give an adequate amount of evidence to bury this case file so deep that it never again sees the light of day. Let this file fall away and be forgotten. Let the house which it suggests fall to ruin and be claimed by the earth. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to contact poor Agatha.

My name is Jonathan Crown, and I have worked for this firm these last five years with the intent of one day becoming a full partner. I've given my best efforts to every client and case file that has come across my desk. I have done so happily and without any complaints. After graduating at the head of my class, I came to the firm with many recommendations from professors and firms, of which I had interned for during my years as a student. Billings and Lafayette hired me under advisement from several noteworthy sources. I have been told many times that I am in line to be made a full partner. I tell you this not to prop myself up but to assure whoever reads this that I do not put forth this assessment due to dissatisfaction with the firm or my employment. The following is not the ranting of a disgruntled or abused man who wants to disparage the good name of Billings and Lafayette. No, I write this as a warning to the one who will come after me. Do not dig deeper, do not read the journals; do not go to that cursed house.

I found this file waiting for me on my desk, just four days ago, February 13th, 1922. I saw the client's name and, from research I had done before taking my position with the firm, knew it to be the first and most advantageous acquisition the firm held. In fact, the money paid to handle this estate opened the doors of Billings and Lafayette and has kept them open for many years. The McGinley estate was taken on by the firm with an initial fee that far exceeded any other for its time. Even today, the sum initially put forward would be considered extravagant. From my initial research, it was clear that Mr. Stewart Billings and Mr. Bernard Lafayette were the college friends of Mr. Colton McGinley. It was perceived that this friendship prompted such an exorbitant initial infusion of capital into what was yet to be a law firm. Nevertheless, the McGinley estate became the first in a long line of real estate and financial holdings the firm would base its practice and be the foundation of which the firm would stand. Knowing how vital this client was, it was of the utmost importance that I handle this estate with care and expertise.

Before delving too deeply into the files, I thought I would do a bit of research on the men who began this all those years ago. I knew that Billings, Lafayette and McGinley were old school chums and so I decided to start there. All three attended Harvard University. It was not at all difficult to find information from the school's archives to corroborate their friendship. They graduated in 1852, Billings and Lafayette in law, and McGinley in history. I found it interesting to note that two other men were frequently mentioned and featured in photographs. Mr. Wesley Lawton, a student of medicine and a Mr. Abram Penkin, a student of philosophy. I was able to divulge from old yearbook photos, student newspaper articles, and local papers that the men were part of a club of sorts documented in the school's archives. From all accounts, the men were inseparable. Three weeks after graduation, an incident involving Mr. Lawton and Mr. Penkin would break apart the group. The event would prompt Mr. McGinley to offer a large sum of money to the two law students to handle his estate. Lawton and Penkin were lost in an accident while spelunking caverns in northern Massachusetts, buried alive with no hope of rescue. The other three men who were with them gave statements that a cave-in had separated the two men from the others, and they were presumed to be dead.

This event took its toll on the three men. McGinley became reclusive and guarded, spending most of his time in the large house that he purchased before graduation. Located several miles outside of Boston, nestled in rural Massachusetts forests, this large three-story dwelling was his last connection to the group of friends that he cherished so dearly before the accident. McGinley was the only son of a prominent manufacturing tycoon who had died before his last year at Harvard, leaving the business and all the family holdings to Mr. McGinley. After setting up the estate with Billings and Lafayette, very little was done with the family assets. After what would appear to be a grieving period, Mr. McGinley began to take an active role in the family business. He embarked on many trips abroad, presumably striking new partnerships overseas. After some years, McGinley married and fathered two sons, Charles and Christopher. It seemed as though the sadness that had consumed him after his friends' deaths was finally lifted. He moved his wife and two children into the house outside of Boston. With the business doing well, they lived without incident for some time.

During the winter of 1864, an unfortunate accident took the life of Mr. McGinley's wife, Bethany. She was found at the foot of the basement stairs with her neck broken. The police report states that she slipped on a frozen step while going down into the basement early in the morning. It was her husband who found her after coming down to breakfast and noticing the basement door ajar. Mr. McGinley told police that the basement stairs freeze on cold nights because of improperly sealed windows that he grieved over not having had time to fix. The death was deemed accidental, and the funeral services were held a week after. Mr. McGinley hired a small staff to take care of the house and his two children, ages two and four. It was noted in various journals and within the estate's documents that McGinley became an almost complete recluse at this point. He spent most of his time locked in his study or taking trips abroad for what appeared to be no reasonable goal. Several newspaper articles from this period speak of unease from investors, as the company's figurehead seemed to be in a downward spiral.

Three years later, in the summer of 1867, the youngest boy Charles went missing and was found dead in an exposed well five days later. The boy was reported missing on a Sunday when he did not come in for lunch; he had been playing in the fields behind the home and did not return with his brother when called for dinner. Mr. McGinley was frantic and immediately put together a search party. The local police advised McGinley to wait and see if the boy would turn up. Still, he would not be dissuaded and immediately formed a search party. A five-thousand-dollar reward was put up, and the locals were stirred into a frenzy looking for the boy. After an exhaustive search, they found a hole in the ground behind the house, covered mostly in leaves and branches. When investigated, they discovered that the tunnel opened up into an old dry well buried for years. Noticing an odor coming from the within, the search party found the boy's body broken and twisted fifty feet down.

Mr. McGinley continued in his strange and eccentric ways for years following the death of his youngest child. It did not seem to create a closer bond with the older boy, however. On the contrary, it only served to make them drift further apart. In 1878, the oldest son Christopher left home for college at the nearby Miskatonic University. It was a year later in 1879 that Colton McGinley, standing in front of the large bay window that fronted the house, with the curtains open for all to see, used his thirty-eight-caliber revolver to take his own life.

I was taken aback by the amount of tragedy that had befallen the McGinley family over the years since Colton McGinley inherited the family estate. In my years at Billings and Lafayette, I had seen much tragedy and loss in the cases I worked. After a thorough examination of the estate's holdings, assets, and stipulations, I was ready to begin the estate's transition to its new beneficiary. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the documentation, with the exception of two stipulations listed as the most stringent of the requests. The first, which did not strike me as odd, knowing Mr. McGinley's college friends' tragic tale, was the order of inheritance. The estate would be passed on to the last surviving and capable dependent of the McGinley family. If there were no surviving descendants, the estate and all holdings and assets would be transferred to the last surviving and capable descendants of Wesley Lawton. If none could be found in the Lawton line, all would be passed on to the descendants of Abram Penkin. If no surviving person could claim the inheritance, the entire estate would be liquidated and donated to the Miskatonic University. I found it strange that the money should go to the small mystery shrouded university in Arkham; instead of McGinley's Alma matter Harvard. The other stipulation, which was worded so strongly that it made me take pause. The house outside of Boston at 1747 Waverley Oaks Road in Waltham, where all of the family's tragedy had taken place, and the very house in which Colton McGinley took his own life, was never to be sold or torn down. It was emphatically stated that the house must never be sold outside of the three families who would be beneficiaries of the estate. Even then, it was never to be torn down or otherwise demolished except by its decay over the years. This stipulation was the one worry I had in being the executor of this estate. I was worried that it would be challenging to keep whoever was to take it over from simply selling or tearing down the house to rebuild it.

I made arrangements to hire an accountant to look through the business's books and take a look at the family's assets to determine what could be sold and what could be salvaged. The company's ledgers were sent to my office, along with several other boxes of paperwork accumulated over the years. The sum of which invaded nearly half of the space provided by my cramped corner office. I hired an old friend, Stanley Brooks, who I knew from school and worked with several times in the past. Stanley was a no-nonsense type of man with a strong work ethic and keen attention to detail. I felt comfortable that Mr. Brooks would make the correct recommendations and afford the estate's investments' best return. He was to meet me at my office the next morning and begin to wade through the sea of disorganized paperwork that had been dropped off earlier. I also took the liberty of acquiring the services of Ms. Agnes Waterford, a local antiquarian whose eye for expensive antiques and amassed knowledge of local history were unmatched. She would be invaluable in appraising the various items that would undoubtedly be uncovered once we evaluated the McGinley home. With all of that squared away, I settled in for a long night of research into the family line, to find a surviving descendant.

I worked into the night accompanied only by the ticking of my wall clock and the streetlamp's glow outside the office window. It seemed that the McGinley family's tragedy did not end with the death of Colton McGinley. His son Christopher went abroad for the following four years, after graduating with a master's in Linguistics. It was within the estate records where I found traces of his adventures. Transfers of money into foreign bank accounts, passage on ships and trains throughout Europe and the African continent. Christopher returned to the states in 1888, and it seemed a transformation had taken place. He began taking an active hand in the family business, and for the first time in many years, it began to make more than it was losing. Two years later, in 1890, he was married to Ms. Claudette Morrow. Their firstborn daughter, Agatha McGinley was born in 1892 and a son Peter in 1894, it looked as though the family was shrugging off the weight of their rocky past. Things changed in 1896. It is recorded in the estate's file that Claudette McGinley requested the key to a safe deposit box that Christopher's father had acquired at the bank. The contents of the safe deposit box were not recorded anywhere in the files. There only remained a key and a number within the estate's records. In the winter of 1897, Mrs. Claudette McGinley fell from a second-story window, landing poorly and breaking her neck. A groundskeeper found her body in front of the large bay window that fronts the house. Mr. McGinley was away at the time of the accident, traveling for business purposes in Russia. Neighbors found the McGinley's four-year-old daughter Agatha walking down the road holding her two-year-old brother murmuring about a beast that had thrown her mother from the window. The house was thoroughly searched, and nothing could be found that resembled the young girl's ramblings. The description in the police report, which I found later, was as such. Agatha described a giant creature that had to stoop down to fit in the confines of the house. It had dark green skin that glistened as if covered with some sort of mucus or slime. She saw it from behind and so did not get a look at the face of the thing but noted that it walked on two legs and had multiple appendages coming off the torso, which she took for arms. However, these arms did not appear to be jointed as she described them as waving like hair in the wind. The thing had her mother tangled in its multiple appendages and was pulling her close to its body. She described a loud sucking sound, and finally, the sound of something ripping open. After that, she explained that the thing flung her mother out the window, and she had run before it could turn to see her behind it. Grabbing the baby, she ran from the house. Agatha was institutionalized after this incident. A trust was formed as part of the estate to pay for her continued care. I noted that Agatha was still alive and jotted down the hospital's location so that I could visit her to establish if she was in a good enough mental state.

Like his father before him, Christopher was rocked by his wife's loss and became more withdrawn and reclusive. He hired some staff to help him with the day-to-day management of the house and two-year-old Peter's care. Again, a pattern emerged of unsubstantiated trips to various exotic locales. Among the notable locations that both his father and Christopher visited included Egypt, Italian North Africa, multiple locations in Central and South America, and Russia. In 1913 his son Peter left home for college at the Miskatonic University, which his father also attended. After returning home from Arkhangelsk, Russia, Christopher McGinley added a sealed letter to the estate's documents, returned the safe deposit box key, and then proceeded to hang himself during Peter's sophomore year. Two days later, neighbors found his corpse, prominently displayed in the large bay window, which dominates the front of the home. The letter is oddly enough missing from the current file. Peter McGinley inherited the estate at that point and completed his degree in anthropology. After which he traveled abroad for several years. The company fell to ruin as Peter completely ignored it. The family's assets were being slowly siphoned off by his frequent and extravagant trips around the globe. After a trip to the last place his father had visited, Arkhangelsk, Russia, Peter McGinley returned home. Like his father before him, he requested the safe deposit box key and was not seen or heard from for the next two months. After two months, he resurfaced, added a folded note to the estate's documents, returned the key, and hung himself in the exact spot his father had eight years prior. That was only four weeks ago. It is the singular incident that brought me to write this testament for the next unfortunate soul to wade through the McGinley estate's tragic history.

Peter's note remained in the file; it was a single small sheet of paper folded in half and written in a cramped, disorganized hand. The message read as follows "It won't be dismissed, let the Penkin line take on this burden, it was Penkin who cursed us, to begin with." I did not understand what this could mean, but judging from the state of mind Peter must have been in before his suicide, It could only be deemed the writings of a man whose mind was on the brink of collapse. The night's research had taken its toll. I was to meet Mr. Brooks early the next day, so I decided to sleep in the office on a small but reasonably comfortable couch that I had acquired to accommodate larger groups of clients if the need arose. I woke in the morning to the sound of Mrs. Lampton opening up the office and getting things ready for the start of the business day. As prompt, as ever Mr. Brooks entered my office at the exact agreed upon time. He began to dig through the unorganized pile of paperwork provided by McGinley Manufacturing with a slightly disguised sigh. I asked Mr. Brooks if I could help knowing full well that I would not be let me anywhere near the documents as he worked. After setting the man up with what he needed for a day's work, I excused myself to head off to my meeting with Ms. Waterford. We would be meeting at the bank to check on the state of any accounts held and examine the safe deposit box's contents. I decided to take Ms. Waterford along if there were any items of importance within that she could identify and appraise.

As planned, I met Ms. Waterford at the bank at 10 am, and we quickly set to the task at hand. After speaking with the bank manager and getting the information about the various accounts attached to the estate, I was pleased to find that a respectable sum remained. The inheritor of these funds would be pleased indeed. With the accounts in order, we then proceeded to investigate the contents of the safe deposit box. Ms. Waterford and I were escorted to a private room to unlock the twelve by twelve metal box containing the McGinley family's treasured possessions. To our surprise, there were only three items in the box. Inside we found a thin leather-bound journal that seemed unremarkable, a key that looked old and a smooth white stone with a symbol carved into it. The stone was the size of a fist, glossy, and stark white. Chiseled onto one side and filled with some dark ink was an unknown symbol. It was an oddly asymmetric five-pointed star with a flaming eye in its center. The symbol looked like the pentacles depicted on various pagan artifacts. My initial thought was that this might have been some religious relic that held value. Ms. Waterford could not offer any more in-depth information about the stone but dated the key and journal at around seventy or more years old. The journal contained mostly illegible text, which seemed to be in many different languages. The only legible text appeared on the first page, it was written in the same hand as the rest of the book, but this was in English and was short but coherent.

The text read as follows;

"Dear Colton, Everything has been set in motion, and we are close to embarking on a fabulous journey. All is in place. There is nothing to stop us now. I only hope that the others will be willing to embrace the transformation and can see it for the genuinely astounding achievement that it is. I know there is apprehension, but I believe that there will be no question of the importance of our endeavor after the coming weekend. This book is the key; without it, nothing would be possible. Your contributions have been significant and will not go unrewarded. Keep this safe, for it took great effort to create it. This weekend everything will change; the anticipation is overwhelming. Our work over this last year has now come to its triumphant conclusion. To the great beyond, A.P.

I could only assume that the "A.P" must be the initials of Abram Penkin. The weekend he was referring to must have been the tragic weekend in which Mr. Penkin and Mr. Lawton lost their lives. I could not fathom what this book would have to do with cave exploration, but it seemed to be connected somehow. It had no bearing on the estate's finances or assets, and I shrugged it off as a footnote in the McGinley estate's strange story. Ms. Waterford seemed interested in the peculiar stone, and so I gave it to her for further study. She could not make anything of the book but did verify its age and apparent authenticity. I arranged to have Ms. Waterford meet me at the home on Waverley Oaks road the next day and bid her good-day. Before returning to the office, I wanted to take the opportunity to research the family lines of Lawton and Penkin. Lawton would be the next in line for inheritance if Agatha McGinley were not of sound mind. I thought it prudent to find the Penkin family's descendant as well, in case there was trouble transferring the estate to the Lawton's.

I ran the usual gambit of newspaper morgues, libraries, and police files. I turned up the last descendants of each family. The Lawton's were simple to track down, and in fact, the last descendants still lived in Boston. Mr. Gerald Lawton, an Alienist of some repute, and Mrs. Colleen Lawton, a nurse at Boston General Hospital. I would contact them that night and see if they were available to meet at the property outside of Boston the following day. I hoped that it would not be too short of notice, but I needed to get the home appraised, and the paperwork started for the transfer of assets to the Lawton family.

The Penkin line was a bit more challenging. Abram Penkin had two older sisters and one younger brother. The oldest sister was never married, and the other sister was married but could never bear children. The younger brother married and had three children. Of the three children, only one survived to adulthood. The other two died in a tragic fire that took the lives of the mother, father, and two other siblings. The middle son, Sergei Penkin, survived the fire and was a crucial witness in the murder trial of Langford Potts. Potts was convicted of setting the fire that killed the family based on the testimony of Sergei. After the sentencing, Mr. Potts's last words were, "I put them down in the name of God; my only failure is that I didn't get them all." Sergei Penkin married and had a son and daughter. The only living descendant of the Penkin line is Maxim Penkin. Maxim Penkin was the sole survivor of the family after his father murdered his mother and sister with a wood ax before taking his own life with a double-barreled shotgun. Martin was found in the house hiding, which saved his life. He had spent several years in a sanitarium after. The boy then lived in a Boston orphanage until he was of age. Maxim now lives in Waltham, Massachusetts. The same town where the McGinley house is located.

Now that I had detailed information about the two persons who could lay claim to the inheritance, I needed to take a trip to the Roxbury Sanitarium. I had to interview Agatha McGinley and determine if she would be fit to claim the estate. Before heading back to the office to find out how Mr. Brooks was coming along with the company's books, I made a trip to the sanitarium to interview Agatha.

Agatha McGinley was now thirty years old, having lived twenty-five years in the institution. I met with Agatha in her room, escorted by an orderly who remained while we spoke. It was for my safety, the attending doctor insisted. Agatha was drawing at a desk when I entered the room. I called to her quietly at first and more loudly when she did not respond. I moved over to get a closer look at what she was drawing and was taken back by what I saw. The drawing depicted a black spiral design, which seemed like the mad scrawling of a lunatic. Upon closer scrutiny, I was able to see smaller patterns in the spiral lines, which made up the whole design. I could see that she had been wholly focused on the drawing and didn't notice me until I got closer to inspect it. She looked up from her work, and I asked her what it was she was drawing.

She responded, "This is the end."

To which I asked, "The end of what Agatha?"

She paused at that and looked me in the eyes. I could see it then, and I knew that I need not interview her any further. There was a vacancy behind those eyes as if she was looking right through me into some other dimension that I could not fathom. I could see an unending terror in those eyes as if she could see some terrible cataclysmic events occurring as we spoke.

She paused for a time and said, "The end of us."

"Can you tell me about the night your mother died?" I probed, more from curiosity than to determine her mental well-being.

"She let it out, it called to her, we weren't supposed to go in there, but she did, and it made her do It," she said dryly through quivering lips.

"How did she let it out?" I pressed on.

"She used the magics it taught us. It always wants out. It calls to you until you can't resist. Daddy was going to fix it, but he was too late. I don't think it can be fixed, I know, it will devour the world, it won't stop." as she spoke the last words, I could see a change in her eyes, as if some force not her own had taken residence there. In an instant, she lunged at me, swinging the pencil toward my neck. The orderly stepped in immediately and restrained her; I took one last look and saw rage and hatred in her eyes. She looked as a woman possessed, and as I stumbled fearfully from the room, I could hear her scream, "You'll be the next, it will call to you, don't let it out."

Shaken by my meeting with Ms. McGinley, I collected myself and made my leave of the sanitarium. On the ride back to my office, I could not stop thinking of those last tormented words that Agatha spoke to me. "You'll be next," she said, which ran shivers up my spine. At the time, I took solace in believing these to be the words of an utterly insane woman, whose traumatic experience as a child and a life spent in an institution had warped her sense of reality so severely that she could no longer form any rational thoughts. Still, the encounter had pierced my resolve, and I was looking forward to the hidden bottle of brandy I had tucked away in my office.

When I returned to my cramped seventh-floor corner office on Washington Street, Mr. Brooks was still there finishing up for the night. The disorganized pile of boxes containing the company's books was smaller than before. A new collection of neat boxes had appeared on the other side of the room. It seemed as though Mr. Brooks had made it through a fourth or so of the boxes and files, which made up the entirety of the company's financial history. I asked about his progress and was relieved to hear that nothing odd or inappropriate had been discovered. Mr. Brooks informed me that he had been through much of the company's early years and was beginning the era when Colton McGinley took over as its head. I bid the stoic accountant farewell and set an early start for the next day. I assumed I would be spending another night in the office and would welcome the early wakeup, as I knew his punctuality was second to none.

After Mr. Brooks departed, I had a bit of brandy to settle my nerves, ensuring there was no one else in the office to see my indiscretion. Since it was apparent that Agatha McGinley was completely unstable, the estate would move to the Lawton family. Having tracked down the appropriate descendants of Wesley Lawton, I set about calling the Lawton's to let them know the good news. Mr. Gerald Lawton answered the phone. I explained to him the circumstances that had transpired to facilitate the transfer of the McGinley estate to the Lawton family. Mr. Lawton did not know any of the history connected with the McGinley family. He was aware of the tragic cave-in that claimed the life of his great grand uncle, however. The Lawton's had not maintained any connection to the other families involved in the estate's odd history, and I saw no reason to convey any of the unsavory facts surrounding it. I set up a time to meet at the property in Waltham, and Mr. Lawton agreed to the meeting. He seemed excited about the inheritance and the idea of acquiring the property. He let me know that he would be procuring the services of an architect and a contractor who he wanted to assess the cost of any repairs that would be needed.

When I ended the call, I felt relieved that this assignment would soon be coming to a close. There was a strange sense of foreboding settling in, and I wanted to be done with it as quickly as possible. It was the words of Agatha McGinley that repeated in my mind over and over. I am not a man easily shaken, but Agatha's encounter mixed with the tragic and strange history of the McGinley family set some seed of malignant malevolence in my mind regarding the estate. I sat at my desk, staring at the safe deposit box contents which I had laid out on the desk in front of me. The key could not be for the doors as I had a set of keys for the property already. None of which were similar to this one in age or style. The completely illegible journal, could not be studied to extract its contents. I thought that I might show it to Mr. Brooks to see what he could make of it. Some pages had what seemed to be mathematical formulas, and so being a man of numbers, maybe he could glean something from them. Finally, the strange stone, which Ms. Waterford took for further study. I was hoping that she would have more information for me when we met at the house the next day.

The next morning, I woke when Mrs. Lampton opened the office for the day, receiving an odd look from the stalwart office assistant, but she said nothing. Mr. Brooks showed up promptly as expected and got right down to work on the remaining mountain of paperwork. I showed Mr. Brooks the strange journal to which he took a cursory glance and concluded that it was some sort of cipher. I was astonished to hear this since Penkin had referred to the book as a key; it seemed like a logical conclusion. Brooks also divulged that without the corresponding encrypted text, it was virtually useless. Putting this to the back of my mind, I set out for the trip to the house to get to the location before any of the others in case there were issues getting into the home.

I arrived at the house at nine am, just a half-hour before I met the others. The place looked to be in decent shape if a bit overgrown where the landscaping was concerned. It would probably need a fresh coat of paint, but there didn't appear to be any significant structural damage. I climbed the four wooden steps onto the porch and tried the key in the front door. The key easily slid into the lock and turned without protest. As I entered the home, I had the slightest anticipation of some horrible scene that would be displayed before me. When the door opened on the mundane, quiet abode, I smiled slightly, thinking myself silly for falling prey to the house's macabre stories. It was a home like any other, unfortunate events had transpired here, but this could be said of many old houses. I walked into the foyer and then on into the main house. The place was kept tidy if a bit dusty for the last few weeks of disuse. The furniture was sparse but well maintained, and things appeared to be in order. I turned to the right and on into the great room of the house. I paused for a moment as I gazed upon the often-mentioned large bay window, which was the focal point for so many of the tragic endings to which this house bared witness. Against my irrational desire to avoid this portion of the house, I stepped slowly to the window and drew back the curtains to let in light.

I believed at the time that there must have been some subconscious reaction to the cursed and sinister window, but indeed my stomach turned, as I got close enough to draw back the window treatments. Dizziness and dryness of mouth came upon me, which I could not explain. Thinking myself silly for engaging in such flights of fancy, I quickly moved through the rest of the house. I opened the curtains and shades so that the house had a bright, cheery quality to it. As I went back out of the front door to get some paperwork from my auto, I glanced above the doorway. There, carved perfectly and almost decoratively in the wooden framing, was the same symbol that appeared on the strange rock of which Ms. Waterford had been so interested. I then began to believe that it must be some family crest or religious symbol that I was unfamiliar with. In any case, it was carved into the wood with evident care and was an excellent conversation piece.

The others arrived soon after. I greeted them all in-kind and showed them into the house. Mr. Lawton was impressed by the size of the home. He could not believe his fortune at having been attached to this inheritance. He brought his architect friend and a contractor as promised. The architect, Mr. Carl Stark, was impressed by the home's condition and was conveying to Mr. Lawton how fortunate he was that the house had not fallen into disrepair, while the contractor, Nathanial Elliot began to take measurements and inspect the home. Ms. Waterford got right to work cataloging the various pieces of furniture and the other items in the house. After an hour of this, Ms. Waterford called me into the master bedroom upstairs, insisting that I must see something, which she had found there.

When I entered the room, she stood to the left side of a large canopy bed just before the heating register. I asked what was so exciting, and without answering, she crouched down and reached a finger into the heating grate. I could see her fiddle with something inside the duct that hung down from above just barely noticeable if one were to crouch down and look in. She pulled back on the small lever. With a quiet click, a two-foot by two-foot section of the wall opened slightly, the seam of which was so cleverly disguised in the wood paneling that it would never have been noticed. Amazed, I went to the wall and pulled the door the rest of the way open. Beyond the door was another flat metal door with a small handle and a keyhole. I was excited to see the keyhole as I had tried the strange old key that we found in the safe deposit box everywhere throughout the house to no avail. I cautiously inserted the key into the hole and turned it. I almost called out with excitement when I heard the audible click of the tumblers. Then, pulling the handle, the door easily opened. At that moment, a loud crash as if something substantial had smashed into the house's side caused both Ms. Waterford and me to call out in shock. Before I rushed out of the room and downstairs to see what caused the racket, I spied beyond the small curiously hidden door what looked to be three small books or journals. I left Agnes to the books and rushed downstairs.

As I reached the foot of the stairs, I saw Mr. Lawton standing with Mr. Stark, gesturing to the wall north of the bay window in the great room. When I asked what had happened, they did not have an answer but relayed that Mr. Elliot had gone around the house's side to investigate. Glancing around for damage, I hurried out the front door and left around the north side of the house. To my utter amazement, when I rounded the corner, it was unquestionably apparent what had caused the horrible crash. An old elm tree had fallen onto the side of the house. Luckily it was close enough to the home that the fall did not allow the bulk of the tree to pick up momentum. It didn't seem to have done any significant structural damage. Only cosmetic and one of the upstairs windows had been broken. Mr. Elliot was examining the tree when I reached it, and I asked his opinion on the situation. In his assessment, it was strange that the tree had fallen since it appeared healthy. However, he believed that it might have been a shifting of the sediment that caused the root system to dislodge and allow the weight of the tree to topple it. It was plain to see that the earth around the base of the tree was significantly disturbed.

After checking that everyone was all right and informing the others what had happened, we took a look into the basement to see if the displacement of earth had caused any damage. Unfortunately, we found that the brick wall on the north side, where the tree had been uprooted, was cracked and bulging. There seemed to be an undetermined amount of damage to the wall and possibly the house's foundation. Mr. Elliot assured me that, though the damage may be significant, it would not be difficult to repair. It opened up possibilities for remodeling if the Lawton's desired.

Once the excitement had died down, I returned to the master bedroom to investigate the secret wall nook that I had left Ms. Waterford investigating. When I returned to the room, she had the books displayed on the bed and was scrutinizing other objects in the room. I asked about the books. She let me know the three journals were of no real value, the oldest being seventy or more years old, and the most recent dating within the last ten years. I was eager to take these volumes back to the office for further study.

Mr. Elliot and I set up a time to meet the next day, and I gave him a spare key so that he could get to work before I arrived. Mr. Lawton did not seem concerned about the tree and was consulting with his architect about changes that he would like to make to the house's layout. I left them to lock up as they were still taking measurements and discussing potential renovations heading back to my office in Boston. I was eager to begin looking into the journals that were now beside me in the front seat of my auto as I drove through the sleepy forested two-lane roads that eventually gave way to the city's lights and bustle.

Continue to An Unfortunate Assignment Part 2
By: David Pitzel Nov. 13, 2016, midnight
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