Friday, November 4, 2016

The Puzzle of Hunter Manor- Chapter 3: Invitations

"Mom, I'm home!" Eudorra shouted as she slammed the front door of their apartment. She locked the deadbolt and dropped her backpack on the couch as she headed for the kitchen. Her phone buzzed as she opened the refrigerator looking for a snack, and she held it open with her elbow as she read the text and started typing off a quick reply. Her ratty blond hair peeked out from all sides of her baseball cap and ran down her back in long, thin wisps. She wore blue "skinny jeans" and her black t-shirt proclaimed in bold white letters: "State High School Robotics Team Champions."

She set a glass on the counter and poured a cup of juice with one hand while the other kept up the conversation on her phone. When the juice was back in the fridge, she moved down the counter to the snack bar where a disheveled pile of mail was sitting. She sorted through the bills and envelopes until a bright blue one caught her eye.

The seal had been broken, and the letter had been shoved hastily back into the envelope so that it stuck out at an odd angle. It was addressed to her father Mortimer Frank by someone named Archibald Henson. She had never heard of him, but her father kept mostly to himself, so that was no surprise. What was a surprise was that the letter had been opened. Her father was a very private person, and he wouldn't be home from work for another two hours at least. Had her mother opened the letter in his absence? She glanced around to see if her mother was anywhere in sight, then quietly opened the letter and flattened it back out so she could read it.

Eudorra read the first few paragraphs and almost dropped her phone. Could this be real? She set her phone on the counter and picked up the letter with both hands.

"Dear Mr. Mortimer Frank

If you are reading this letter it is because your uncle Simon Hunter has died. I assure you this is not a joke and that you will want to continue reading.

Mr. Hunter left you a large sum of money in his will totaling some two million dollars, however its receipt is contingent on your presence at Hunter Manor for a final test of your wits. Mr. Hunter was as you know very fond of puzzles, and felt it would only be fitting to include one last riddle which, should you accept, would result in additional compensation for your time above and beyond the original amount left to you.

Once again, I assure you that this is not a joke, and that you will find the particulars of your stay on the enclosed itinerary. We await your confirmation no later than one week after the arrival of this letter.

Please direct any further inquiries to the office of Archibald Henson, Attorney at Law.

Archibald Henson
Attorney at Law
1123 Oakridge Road Ste 23

Eudorra couldn't believe what she was reading. HER father an heir to two million dollars and possibly more? Why hadn't he said anything before? And why were they living in this run down apartment if he was that well connected?

A floorboard creaked and she spun around to see her mother standing at the end of the hallway. She wouldn't call her mother, Angela Frank, a looker, but she kept herself in shape and wore make up when occasion permitted. And on the spare occasion was known to dress up for a formal date with her father. At those times she definitely shone! Today, however, she was wearing a fitted shirt and slacks, and her hair was pulled into a low ponytail to keep it out of the way while she worked around the house. She grew starts for a local nursery here at home for a little extra money to help make ends meet.

"So you read it too?" her mother said as she brushed dirt off her hands.

Caught between reading her father's mail and obviously lying, Eudorra chose to speak the truth.

"Yeah, why didn't I know anything about this?"

"Your father... had a falling out with Simon Hunter years ago, when he was about your age. Something happened on a weekend stay and he never went back."

"Never went back? Did he know this letter might be coming someday?"

"No. But I did."

Eudorra stared blankly at her mother. "Mom, how did you know?"

Angela sat down on the couch and heaved a heavy sigh. "Your father has gotten regular letters from this Mr. Hunter for years, and every time one comes he tears it up and throws it away without reading it. He never would explain what happened exactly, but I finally got curious and read one of the letters before he got home. It was about five years ago. The letter stated that he was sorry for what had happened and that he had a big surprise in store for your father, if he would just come to the Manor and see him."

"What did Dad say when he found out you read the letter?"

"He didn't. I held on to it and started gleaning a letter here and there, trying to make some sense of it all. With what fragments of the story that were contained in the letters I figured out when it happened and that it had something to do with his cousin Annabel."

Eudorra's jaw went slack. "I didn't even know he HAD a cousin! Do they live around here?"

"I don't know. You father speaks even less of Annabel than he does Simon. Something must have really gotten under his skin for him to have been silent all these years. Even the few times he spoke to me about it, I had to bring it up."

"What would it take to get Dad to talk?" Eudorra asked. Her phone, which had been left on the counter, vibrated occasionally as her friends continued to text her, but she wasn't paying them any attention with this skeleton finally out of the closet.

"I don't know."

"How about two million dollars?" she said with a mischievous smile.

Angela looked at her daughter sternly. "I don't think that is the right approach to take, honey. Even if he did know about it, I doubt it would change his mind."

"What are you going to do when he asks how you know about Simon?" Eudorra asked quietly.

Angela sighed again. "Tell him the truth. I wanted to know what had happened, and I read some of the letters to try and figure it out since he wasn't talking. I opened this letter because it was from a law firm and the envelope said 'Return Service Requested'. I wanted to make sure your father wasn't in some kind of legal trouble."

They stood in silence for several minutes, then Angela said, "You'd better get your homework done before your father gets home and whatever happens happens."

Eudorra moaned and picked up her bag, rolling her eyes heavily as she walked past her mother to her room.

She tried to focus on homework. She really did! But with the thought of two million dollars running through her head, and the inevitable fight that was probably going to break out when her dad got home, it was too much for her 15 year old brain to handle. So instead she put in her ear buds and laid down on the bed while the latest Skidcar album blared in her ears. Skidcar was a local band that some of her older friends played in. They had a unique sound that was composed of a cross between ska and dubstep, if that was even possible. But she liked it and listened to them every chance she got, which wasn't often on their income.

'I wonder if anyone else's families have hidden relations that no one talks about who are rich?' she thought to herself.

Another text buzzed in on her phone, but she ignored it. Not that she would have been able to give a normal response right now with all the things she had bouncing around in her head. When the album ended, Eudorra looked at the clock. 'Dad should be getting home any time now,' she thought. Better get some kind of homework out, just in case Mom came in to check on her before things got heated. She pulled out her Algebra homework and started working on some story problems involving distance, rate, and time. She left her ear buds in so she could listen without appearing to. This was a trick she had learned at school that let her discover what people were up to without looking like she was paying attention. All she had to do was bob her head once in a while like a chorus was starting up again.

A few minutes later she heard the front door rattle open and the heavy foot falls of her father. He worked as a copy machine repairman for a local shop, and spent most of his days clearing paper jams, replacing toner, and fixing network issues. By the time he got home he was usually pretty tired, and just sat on the couch until Mom called him for supper. Today however, she seriously doubted he would be sitting down for very long.

Eudorra loosened one of her ear buds so she could hear better. She had intentionally left her bedroom door open, and in an apartment this size that was all it took to hear every word anyone else said.

"How was work today, dear?" She heard her mother say.

"Fine I guess," came her father's baritone reply. "You know that dinosaur of a copy machine they have down at the Copy Spot? It broke down again, and I keep telling the owner he needs to buy a replacement because they don't make parts for it any more. I guess he likes me too much to do that though." He let out a sigh, "Oh well, I guess that's job security for you. How are things around here?"

"Good. The tomato starts are coming along nicely, another week and I think they will be ready for sale. I also planted a fresh batch of lettuce and spinach, which they said is selling like crazy."

"Excellent! That's wonderful news, will they be wanting more pretty soon then?"

"I think so, they said they would let me know next time I came by." Eudorra could hear her mother's breath catch, and she knew the hammer was about to fall. "Mort, a letter came for you today from a Mr. Archibald Henson... It's about Simon."

The weight of those words landed like an F on a report card. She could imagine the look on her father's face at this revelation. She quietly got off her bed and tiptoed to the door to get a peek at them. Her father was sitting on the couch, his face slightly flushed, not looking at her mother who stood right behind him.

"What about him?" he said evenly, though Eudorra knew he could have just as easily blown his top with that twisted look on his face.

"He's dead." Her mother looked quite pale as she said this. "They would like you to go to the Manor, they said you needed to attend if you want to receive your inheritance."

"Inheritance?" There was no mistaking the look of surprise that now adorned her father's face. Apparently he hadn't known anything about the money. "Where's the letter?" he demanded, leaping up from the couch.

Eudorra watched as her mother picked the envelope up from where she had left it and handed it to her father. He read the letter twice over before looking at the itinerary on the second page. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were wide. He was definitely confused and possibly shocked at finding he had been left anything, let alone two million dollars.

"This is for real?" he asked looking at her mother, "This isn't some joke that he cooked up to get me to come back to that ridiculous house and play one of his outlandish games?"

"I don't think it's a joke, it came with a legal envelope and it has the lawyer's letter head at the top. Wouldn't the letter have come from Simon himself if he were trying to trick you into coming for a visit?"

Her father stroked his chin and looked at the first page of the letter once again.

"I suppose so... two MILLION dollars..." he shook his head. "Why on earth would he leave me that?"

"I don't know but the lawyer needs to receive a response from you within a week. Are you going to go?"

"According to the itinerary we are all supposed to go."

"All of us?" her eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Yes, it says 'Dinner, family of three' on Monday, and crikey! Family Boat Trip on Wednesday, he's booked a whole week's stay for us at Hunter Manor!"

"What are we going to do then?" she asked tentatively. She glanced down the hall as she said this and saw Eudorra peeking around the door.

"I guess we have to go." He said finally, his shoulders sagged, and he put his head in his hands.

"Mort, are you alright?"

He paused a moment before responding.

"I guess I never realized he still cared about me. I thought all he wanted was to get me to play another one of his stupid puzzle games with Annabel. She was always faster at solving them than I was."

"You just always seemed to not want anything to do with him when his letters came."

"Because I thought he was trying to get me to compete against Annabel. My problem is with her more than it is with Simon really. But every time I went over he would have some other game cooked up for us to try and solve. But this seems genuine. Just showing up guarantees us the two million, and if the puzzle isn't too ridiculous we could end up with more! Just think, we could pay off our student loans, the credit cards, and get a REAL house. You could have a greenhouse all to yourself and grow whatever you wanted! Where's the phone?"

He reached around the fridge and picked up the cordless phone. He dialed the number at the bottom of the letter and waited for someone to pick up on the other end. Eudorra locked eyes with her mother and shrugged, then looked back to her father's excited face.

"Hello? Yes, I need to speak to Mr. Archibald Henson... Yes, I'll hold." As he waited a sudden flush came to his cheeks and his countenance dropped. He looked at his wife and said, "I only hope Annabel isn't there..."

So how was it?

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