Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Puzzle of Hunter Manor- Chapter 4: Preparing for the Hunt

Annabel Hawk danced around the white tiled kitchen waving a letter in her hands. Terrence, her husband sat at the table reading the newspaper and didn't even look up.

"I can't believe it after all these years! We're going back to Hunter Manor!" Terrence gave this an indiscriminate grunt and continued reading. From another room the tell tale beep of a video game could be heard, marking their son Gilbert's present location.

"You don't understand, I was AMAZING at solving Simon's puzzles, and he's left me another one as a parting gift. You have no idea how much fun this will be. Did I ever tell you how I outran my cousin Mortimer to the gazebo during the last puzzle Simon made for us? Or the time I found the secret panel in Simon's Den and found a porcelain elephant figurine? He always had the most amazing prizes at the end of his puzzles!"

Terrence continued reading his newspaper, and the sounds of trumpets and shouting from the other room indicated that Gilbert had won some kind of award on his game. Annabel hadn't even noticed that no one was paying any attention to her and continued to congratulate herself on going back to Hunter Manor, cutting the air with her invitation as she spoke.

"We get to go boating together, and have a family dinner! Oh, I can't wait to see Marie and Jared again. I hope they are as excited to see me! We'll have to get matching outfits for the game, that way it will be more like a uniform, or team jersey!"

"And just when is all of this supposed to take place?" asked Terrence without emotion. By now he had learned that whatever Annabel was, she wasn't tactful nor did she care what anyone else thought or had to say.

"In a week or two, I have to reply to the lawyer right away so they will have a head count." She said as she grabbed the phone. "Gilbert! Pack your bags! We're going on vacation!" She shouted while the phone rang.

Terrence, who had jumped a full foot out of his chair, picked up his paper and left the room. Annabel really couldn't let something go when she got a hold of it. He knew this having been married to her for ten years. Most of the time she was quite amiable, but when she got stuck on something, it was best to give her plenty of space. He passed through the living room where Gilbert had his headphones plugged into his phone and was completely focused on the game he was playing. He entered his office and closed the door behind him. Annabel's loud voice was muffled by the solid wood door, and for a few minutes he knew he would have peace.

Annabel hung up the phone. It was all too good! The following week they would be at the Manor and the puzzle would begin! If only Mortimer would be there, it would seem so odd without him, but the invitation and the lawyer hadn't said anything about other guests. That was very uncharacteristic of Simon, usually he was completely open about who was going to come to his parties. No matter, it was time to pack!

She ran up two flights of stairs and into the master bedroom. In the closet she found a set of matching luggage and set them out on the bed. Into the smallest of these she started throwing puzzle books, a compass, a Scrabble Dictionary, and a tape measure. Into the larger cases she neatly stacked matching outfits for herself and Terrence. Gilbert had long since refused to wear matching outfits, so she would pack whatever he had lying around later.

She dug around on her desk and found her second laptop, she had purchased a new one earlier that year, and plugged it in to charge. She would need all the fire power she could bring to crack this puzzle. She knew Simon would save his greatest puzzle for his last! How many times had he almost tricked her, and made her stop and puzzle it out? Too many to count for sure, but this time it would be different! She was no longer a young teenage girl, she was a fully grown woman with a college degree and a successful business! Nothing Simon threw at her this time was going to make her stop and scratch her head.

After packing what she could, she ran back downstairs with the final suitcase in hand and walked into Gilbert's room. Clothes lay draped all over the desk, bed and floor, and computer monitors.  On top of this, wires seemed to be crawling out of everything making it appear like a robotic parasite was attacking the room and doing quite well. Annabel glared out the door at the back of Gilbert's hands which were holding his phone up close to his face. 'How can he live in this mess?' she wondered. She almost shrieked when she found a half-eaten sandwich under his bed while she was looking for the lost half of a pair of shoes. When was that boy ever going to learn? And where was Terrence? Shouldn't he be here helping her pack?

Gilbert had an entirely normal afternoon. He knew nothing of Simon, or the phone call his mother had made, or why she was stomping out of his room pulling a wheeled suitcase after her. Maybe she was going to kick him out. That wouldn't offend him, he could move in with his best friend Kevin who currently had the high score on Mars Blaster, their favorite online game. He had just beaten Kevin to the top of the Alabaster Temple and won a free armor upgrade that Kevin would have to work for weeks to get anything even remotely as good as. That was victory enough for him! He may not have the best score, but he certainly had the best armor!

Just then he heard a familiar "beep beep" in his headset, and he let out a low groan. The battery icon was flashing, and he knew he was going to have to quit for the day, at least for a few hours while his phone recharged. He dashed off a quick message to Kevin in chat.

"GG, my phone is dead."

"Bummer Dude! Who will help me battle those monsters on Galloway Bridge to get out of here?"

"LOL. Let me know, I'll have to do it myself when I get back on."

"Real supportive G. Thanx!"

"I'll txt you when I get back on."

"C U"

With that Gilbert left the game and turned off his phone. He pulled his headset off and rubbed his ears. They always ached after playing as long as he did today. But at least he didn't have to listen to his mom ramble on and on about nothing in particular. She did run her mouth off at times. He thought she might have been on the phone earlier, her voice always got louder when she was on the phone.

He stood up and went to his room to charge his phone. He started walking toward his desk where he usually kept his phone charger, then stopped mid-stride. The desk was completely bare. He looked at the floor, it too was devoid of the pants, shirts and dirty socks that usually littered it. He glanced at his bed which had been made afresh, then at the laundry basket that was completely full of the clothes he had strewn everywhere. He started digging frantically through the drawers of the desk, then the laundry basket.

"Mom! What did you do to my room?" He yelled. When no reply came he yelled again, "How am I supposed to find anything when I don't know where you put it?"

The following week they found themselves on an airplane back to Annabel's home town. Gilbert graciously took the seat on the opposite side of the aisle so that his parents could sit together. He got on to the airplane's WiFi as soon as they were at cruising altitude and logged back into Mars Blaster. He had only gotten part way back out of the Alabaster Temple during the week because of his mom insisting that he get ready for the trip, and to get his homework in early so he would be caught up when they got back. What did she care? She never once looked at his grades, not that they were bad. He had almost straight "A"s, so what if his room was a bit messy? He wasn't stupid! Besides, he liked to think of his room as being, "worn in."

He plugged his headphones into his phone and started playing. He came to a particularly difficult part of the Temple, and was surprised to find Kevin's avatar peeking around a corner where three trolls were guarding a large chest.

"What up Kev?" he typed into the chat.

"What kept you? I've been stuck here for two days trying to get past these guys!"

"Sorry, had to pack for a trip to visit some dead uncle of my mom's"

"You ready to do this?" Kevin asked.


They discussed a plan of attack then ran into the room.

Meanwhile across the aisle, Terrence was reading a hefty book on cryptology and deciphering that his wife had pressed upon him to prepare for Simon's riddle. She had her nose deep in a book called, "Puzzles, Riddles, and Other Hi-jinks." After a half-hour of the flight had passed Terrence closed his book and stared off into space.

"Keep reading dear," Annabel prodded, "We don't want to lose the inheritance just because we didn't know how to solve a particular coded clue."

"I don't see what difference this is going to make whether I read it now, or wait until we get the clues. We have the books with us, we can just look it up when we get the clue."

"You don't know Simon."

"What's that supposed to mean? I never met Simon, of course I don't know him!"

Anna set down her book, still fanned open to the page she was reading and looked at him.

"Simon's puzzles are brutal! He hands you a clue and no additional information, either you know what to do or you don't and you lose valuable time trying to figure it out. The more we have in our heads before the puzzle starts, the better off we will be. So pick up your book and keep reading. I won't let this money get away from us simply because we didn't prepare while we still could."

With that she picked up her book and kept reading.

Terrence bit his lip and continued staring into space for a few moments before grudgingly opening the book and continuing to read. What did it matter, all this theory, he wouldn't remember any of what he was reading past a day. It was like cramming for a test in college all over again. Sure you may get a good grade, but none of it stuck longer than a few days at best. Besides, half of what he was reading required a computer to give you answers in any kind of reasonable time. Decoding things by hand always took longer, and it wasn't like they had all the time in the world to work out a single clue. They were only going to be there a week. One week, what if it took them the entire week to solve the first clue only to find out it led to another puzzle, then another? It really did seem hopeless!

The plane landed and taxied up to the terminal while the Hawk family carefully stowed their belongings in their carry on bags. After exiting the plane they waited patiently at the baggage claim where the driver for the transport service met them. Gilbert didn't even have time to switch to the airport WiFi before they were on the road in a large black SUV. They got on the freeway and drove north for a half-hour before exiting onto a state highway that led to the entrance of Hunter Manor. Annabel squealed with delight as they passed through the gate onto the grounds that surrounded the manor, Terrence however could not look entirely pleased with how things were progressing. Gilbert meanwhile had logged into Mars Blaster using his data connection and could care less about the whole trip.

So how was it?

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