Once Marie had served the meal, however, everything went quiet. Angela and Eudorra Frank hadn't said a word since they were introduced, although Eudorra kept looking across the table at Gilbert who was so consumed by his phone that he hadn't touched his soup by the time the entrees were served. Marie had outdone herself preparing a large roast, garlic mashed potatoes with white gravy, steamed asparagus, and three fresh pies for dessert!
Once everyone had set down their forks and wiped the bits of berry and apple from their mouths. Mr. Henson consulted his notes and knew the time had come to reveal the real reason they had been brought together, via the reading of Simon's will.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention please." he announced, although he didn't really need to as no one was talking, and the room was so quiet, they all may as well have been sleeping.
"As the executor of Mr. Hunter's estate, I have been asked to conduct this week's activities which are, if unusual, not without precedent." Here he paused to pick up the first of many documents spread out in front of him. He heard a stifled yawn from somewhere in the room but did not look up. "We shall begin with the reading of the late Mr. Hunter's will. Once the will has been read in its entirety, each family will be provided with copies which, for reasons which will be made known shortly, you will need in your possession."
Annabel sat up a little straighter, her husband sank lower in his chair, and Gilbert... well... The Franks on the other hand all looked at him with rapt attention. He held up the will and began to read.
I, Simon Hunter, being of sound mind and knowing that I am about to pass from this life, do set forth in this document my last will and testament.
Having never married and owing to the closeness of my relationship with my sisters children, I have opted to set forth one last quest for their entertainment and instruction. In the past my little riddles and puzzles have, I admit, been somewhat divisive, and I have been quite troubled by this in recent years. So, to make amends I encourage and fully endorse their working together to solve this one last riddle."
At this point Annabel unsuccessfully stifled a snigger. Mortimer looked at her incredulously, then returned his gaze to the lawyer.
"To prove my sincerity in this matter I begin by giving my nephew, Mortimer Frank, and his family, a total of two million dollars for my past behavior to help amend any hardships they may have encountered as a result of my shortsightedness."
Annabel stood up at this pronouncement, her jaw slack. Mortimer looked at her in shock, apparently her letter had not included an endowment of money. Terrence shot up in his chair, and even Gilbert looked up as if in a daze.
"To prove my earnestness I leave my niece, Annabel Hawk, this parting advice: 'As great as it is to win, a victory alone is no victory at all.' If you do not heed this advice, you will find yourself falling further and further from the things that matter most."
Annabel sat down and folded her arms over her chest. Her brow was furrowed and she would not make eye contact with anyone. Terrence looked from her to Mortimer in disbelief.
"The rules of the game are simple:
1- Each day both families will be given an envelope with a puzzle or clue.
2- Solve all the puzzles to get the pieces to the final answer.
3- Discover my last hidden message, and reveal it to Mr. Henson before midnight on Saturday.
4- Families may choose to share clues, or to keep them private.
5- If the answer is not received by Mr. Henson by the deadline, the estate will be sold and the proceeds will be given to the Home for Unusually Gifted Singers.
6- Answers may be submitted each day after dinner.
7- Each family may claim one room in the Manor for their home base to work out of. However, if the other family needs to look in that room to recover a clue, the family in that room must give them adequate time to search the room. If the families choose to work together this rule is of course unnecessary.
8- If you have questions about the Manor, or the intent of a certain clue, Jared and Marie are at your disposal.
The first puzzles will be handed out now. The next clues will be handed out at lunch tomorrow. Until then, happy hunting!"
Mr. Henson set down the will and picked up two envelopes marked: "Clue 1- Hawk" and "Clue 1- Frank" and handed them to Annabel and Mortimer.
"That's it for now." Mr. Henson said. "I have further instructions tomorrow. What room or rooms would you like to use for your home base?"
"We'll take this room," Annabel immediately said without looking up.
"But Anna, we really should work this out together," said Mort.
"What if I don't WANT to work it out with YOU? What if I just figure out the whole thing myself? Huh? What then?" Annabel stood up, knocking over her chair, her face was bright red and her eyes shone dangerously.
"Annabel, please..." started Terrence, but one look from her silenced him.
"We will use the dinning room as our home base," Annabel said, turning to the lawyer once again.
Mr. Henson scribbled down a note then turned to Mortimer. "And what room would you like to use?"
Mortimer looked Annabel over in disbelief at her stubbornness, then said, "The sitting room on the second floor has a nice large table, we will use that as our home base, unless Annabel would like to reconsider of course."
Annabel turned from the table and faced the wall in utter defiance. Mortimer stared at Annabel's back in disbelief . He looked at Terrence and Gilbert questioningly but Terrence only shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Gilbert who had been wearing his earbuds and staring at his phone the entire time said nothing, but continued staring at the screen with a glazed look on his face.
Mr. Hansen picked up his briefcase and walked out of the room back to his guest room. He shook his head in wonder as he thought about Simon's instructions. Had he really meant for the two families to work together? It certainly seemed so but it looked like Annabel was still not going to bend. Why had he left Mortimer so large a sum of money and only a piece of feeble advice for Annabel? It didn't make any sense. The Frank family followed him out of the room and up the stairs to the sitting room their envelope in hand. Eudorra gave one final look at Gilbert as they left the room, but he had shown no signs of having even seen her during the entire course of dinner.
Well everyone else had left the room Annabel turned triumphantly to Terrance and tore open the letter that was laying on the table beside him.
"Well, that's over!" She said, "Now we can get down to business."
"You really think so?" asked Terence.
"Yes," said Annabel, "This is about solving the clues first and winning the estate. It is supposed to be a competition between the two of us. Not some make up and kiss ceremony."
"I'm not so sure, it really sounded like Simon wanted you to work together for a change."
"No, that was probably to get me riled up just so that we wouldn't. Besides he did leave me a cent, just for showing up. That sealed the deal. If he's going to be so nice to Mort, I'm going to play dirty and win everything else. This estate has to be worth upwards of 20 million dollars! If he's going to give two million to Mort right off the top, I'm going to win everything else!"
Terrence's mouth went slack. Was this his wife talking this way? Why was she so determined to undermine the whole week? Where was all the bitterness coming from? He knew she was headstrong, but the bitterness was not something he was accustomed to. Glancing to his left, he saw that Gilbert was still not paying any attention, completely absorbed by that Mars Blaster game. Terrence felt uncomfortably like he was sitting between a bomb that was about to explode and a stone wall. By this time Annabel had the letter open and was reading it furiously.
"I still think we should try to work with them, even if it is only on the clues we get stumped by."
Anna rolled her eyes. "You still don't get it do you? I beat Mort, that's what I do. He only won a handful of puzzles when we were kids, and now that we are adults, I will not let him beat me even once. Especially with a prize like this Manor on the line. We are going to beat them to the solution, just like I always have, and you are going to help me!"
"Anna, be reasonable. The quickest way to solve this thing is to get everyone's heads together, if we just hole ourselves up in here and isolate ourselves from them, we're only hurting ourselves."
"Quiet, Terrence! I'm trying to get through this clue!"
Terrence and quietly while his wife read through the clue. He was still mystified why they were not working together with Mortimer and his family. It seemed delusional to think that they could solve the entire puzzle themselves when there was so much help so close at hand. Annabel begin muttering to herself as she paced the room reading the letter over and over again. Terrence began to drum the table with his fingers. It was going to be a long week if this is how they were getting started.
Gilbert leaned back in his chair holding the phone close to his face he pounded on the screen with his thumb and the stared at the screen intently. It looked like he was fighting another monster on his video game. His headphones were jammed tightly in his ears and with the phone that close to his face, Terrence doubted he could see anything but the screen. How had Gilbert come to be this way? He had once been a bright boy who loved the outdoors and was always climbing some tree or other in search of adventure. Now all he does is sit on the couch with his headphones on, his attention buried in Mars Blaster.
Marie entered the room with a small wheeled cart to clear the table. She stacked the plates carefully and set the nearly empty food platters on top of the cart, while the dirty dishes were placed in a bin underneath. As she walked around the table she picked up the chair that was laying on the floor and set it right again. Once the place settings were removed, she pulled the table cloth and wiped down the table before placing a fresh table cloth over the table. Through all of this Annabel continued to pace and mutter. Occasionally she would look at the letter, read something, then continue pacing. Marie refreshed the snack bar with a bowl of fruit and fresh pitchers of water, as well as a tidy selection of chips and crackers.
As Marie wheeled the cart out of the room and closed the door quietly behind her. Annabel collapsed into her chair and gave a loud huff.
"I give up. I'm only one clue in and already Simon has me stumped!"
So how was it?
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