Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unreal Estate V

The kitchen was everything the ballroom was not: dark, grim, crowded with the hulking shapes of antique stoves and ovens, obscured by hanging racks of cooking utensils. Adelle found the light switch, but half the overheads were burned out, and the other half flickered and buzzed with the complaints of elderly florescent bulbs. They obscured as much as they revealed.

"I'm pretty sure this was where we lost the young couple," she said. "They were the ones I mentioned earlier, the ones who loved the idea of living in a haunted house, and found this one. They stayed the night, and then they... vanished. Didn't call us back, didn't answer their phone, didn't anything. Steven eventually tracked them out California, but they wouldn't say what had happened. Wouldn't speak to us at all, in fact."

"I see," said Damon Petrovich. He was barely tall enough to see over the stoves, but he stood straight and looked around, assessing but not afraid.

"I'm not sure you do," said Adelle. "Steve sent me back out here to see what had become of them. I checked through the house, by myself, and found nobody. There were a few things in one of the bedrooms -- a sleeping bag, a tooth brush, and a battery-powered alarm clock -- but no people. I was absolutely certain they'd left, and I was alone... except for the house, of course. So I kept looking, and I came down here to the kitchen. And right there..." She pointed to one of the islands, not so much a counter as a heavy wooden chopping block with cabinets underneath. "...I found..." She shrugged. "I don't know. Parts of it were covered with black fur. Parts of it were smooth, hard but flexible, like an insect. Chitin. I looked it up, later.

"...My boss wouldn't let me report it. He told me to haul it up to the fire pit out back and burn it." She shook her head. "So there's no record of it. I can't prove what I saw. But it was right there."

Damon Petrovich blinked. "Are you loyal to your boss, Ms. Terfield?"

Adelle shook her head, confused by the change of subject. What was he asking? "Steve... he isn't a nice guy. He thinks he is, but he isn't." That was too honest, but she couldn't seem to stop. She'd committed herself to telling everything about the house, and somehow that had grown into a willingness to tell everything. "He's calculating and manipulative, and I'm sure that that's why he gave me a job eight years ago. My husband had just left me, I didn't have any kids to look after, and I'm sure he took one look at me and knew that I'd throw everything I had into my work." She looked away, into the shadows of the empty kitchen. "I still owe him for it."

Damon Petrovich nodded gravely. "I see. Ms. Terfield, I know this is going to seem a very odd question, but... did you do it? Did you burn the body, here on this ground?"

Still frowning, Adelle met his eyes. Grief, confusion, worry -- she couldn't seem to sort out the tangle of emotions behind her sternum. "Yes," she said. "I did."

Damon Petrovich closed his eyes and lowered his head. "It is well," he said. "It is well."

"What?" asked Adelle. "What is well? What do you know about... about all this?"

"Miss Adelle," he said. "I told you that I was interested in seeing a haunted house. That was... not entirely true. I have been looking for a house -- this house. I have been looking for it for a very long time." He paused considering her for a long moment: she nearly twice his height, with dark skin and black hair carefully and thoroughly tamed to look professional. "Miss Adelle, can you keep a secret? As a condition of my agreement to purchase this place?"

"Of course," she said.

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