The Second Garden
It was a new school year. He had an untraceable gun, and he had a duffel bag of cocaine stashed safely away that he would make a killing on.
He stood outside Sam's, the decrepit bar for serious drinkers, just off the town square. He smiled. It was Friday night and he had a good buzz going that he had not paid a penny for. There was plenty of money in his pocket, but he chose to drink free. The barman was a bore about it, but it didn't matter.
He looked up and spun around until he could see the moon. One more person to see before meeting the new female freshman class at the frat house. First party weekend of the year. He was dressed in the regulation uniform for it. Jacket, sweater vest, shirt, and tie, all marked with the emblems of the brotherhood.
He looked around at a smattering of students making their way around the square. One more year and he was set for life. No one could touch him then. No one. No more kowtowing to the ancients, and no more pretense of schoolwork. He laughed out loud.
He pressed his left elbow against the bulge at his waistband and straightened his tie. Better get going. Don't want to be late.
The bell tower began to chime midnight as Ted Entwistle stepped off the curb into nothingness.
Thursday, May 14, 1992
She stood in the middle of the gravel driveway, frozen to the spot. The spring wind buffeted her and shoved her hair first one way, then another, stopping for a second, and then whooshing again. When it came from her left, she could hear the pattering roar of leaves and branches from the trees on the front lawn. When it blew from the right, she could hear the sound of a diesel engine revving and the metallic clunk of heavy equipment in the gardens behind the house.
She clasped a book tightly to her chest, her knuckles white in a vise-like grip. She stared at the garish yellow tape to her right by the old front door of the mansion. There were cars parked all over Uncle Bradford's lawn, including a truck with an empty trailer behind it.
She angled her body a little to the left to help keep her footing in the gusting wind. She stared at the tall dank exterior of the brown-grey building peeking through sparse, straggly ivy that was still alive after years of neglect. But her eyes kept going back to the yellow tape.
This was a mansion on postcards sold at local shops, but up close, it didn’t seem so elegant. The two massive parts of the building were added fifty years apart, the newer intended to mirror the older, but years of weathering had taken its toll. The one on the right looked like black rot was dissolving the stones.
The vehicles sat in front of a gate cut into the massive red brick garden wall that ran between the house and the garage. She sighed and closed her eyes, wishing them away.
She always had known it was a place of secrets. There had been a mansion here for over two hundred years, so some of them were ancient. Not many were forgotten by this family.
"Hey, you there, what are you doing?"
She turned around to look at him. A bulky guy with a baby face and thinning hair was striding toward her. His polo shirt had FPD embroidered on it with a little shield, and "Macklin" above that.
"I asked you a question. What are you doing here?" He took an aggressive stance and rested his hand on the butt of his gun.
"I live here."
He threw his head back and narrowed his eyes. "What's your name?"
"Lexi. Lexi Cushman."
He tilted his head sideways and waited.
She sighed. "I'm the roomer."
His intense look was replaced with a smirk as his eyes did a slow elevator ride over her wispy blond hair and down her tall, thin figure in Kmart t-shirt and jeans. "You don't look like an Entwistle."
She looked back at the yellow tape. "I get that a lot."
"Well, come on then. Detective's gonna wanna talk to you."
She nodded and started after him. Her mind could not take in the blemishes on the lawn under the cars. It was always a smooth, even, fiercely-protected tabletop. This became just another house, just another place where the police had business.
Two of her three uncles, her great-uncles Bradford and Clarence, sat in matching wingback chairs by the fireplace with a lawyer behind each of them. The whole group glanced over as Macklin brought her in and told her to sit in the chair by the desk. It was her first visit to the study since she'd moved in ten months ago.
Uncle Clarence said hello when she came in and she nodded. He was the only one who spoke.
Uncle Sebastian was missing, but she did not expect to see him. He lived here, but just barely.
Uncles Bradford and Clarence were heads and tails of the Entwistle coin, both in their seventies but fighting it. Bradford was the kind of guy who would never go outside on a day like this. The wind would mess up his moussed, thinning grey hair. She knew from photographs in the hallway that he had been tall, but the years had scrunched him to ordinary size. He had a notebook propped on his right leg, ribbon marker hanging down over his knee, already back to writing down something important. He was in uniform—dark suit, white shirt, navy blue tie. Elegant and expensive.
Clarence had spiky gelled hair and a smiley face that matched his Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals. He was reading the paper and humming. She saw his picture in print or on TV at least once a week, selling the latest Entwistle snake oil. He spent most of his time at the country club or on someone else’s yacht when not attending ribbon-cuttings and award ceremonies.
A stranger came in and strode over to the desk, throwing a file onto the papers already covering most of it. He sat down heavily and tossed a pack of cigarettes on top of the pile.
He was about forty, and looked rough. Hungover rough. He had on a tie, but it was loose, and his suit was rumpled. His short hair pointed in all directions. His face had the set-in slump of a long-term drinker, grey and white with bloodshot eyes. His badge flapped over the handkerchief pocket. It looked like the starch of his shirt was holding him up.
He pushed around the papers and pulled out a form, then patted his pockets for a lighter and started a cigarette. He moved around the papers until he found a pen. Lexi thought smoking wasn't allowed in the house. There was no ashtray.
"I'm Detective Jones. I just have a few questions for you, standard stuff."
He squinted through the smoke as he wrote. "Age?"
"You live here?"
He looked up at her and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth.
"I'm the roomer." That did not change his expression. She could feel the eyes of her uncles and their lawyers boring through her back. "I live here and go to school on a family scholarship."
"My grandmother is Daphne Entwistle Sanderson."
"Really?" He looked over at the brothers, as if looking for a resemblance. “From Philly?”
“And how is she related?”
"Their sister." She nodded in the direction of her uncles.
He scribbled it down and underlined it.
"How long you lived here?"
"Since last fall. Graduated in spring of '91 and started here in August."
"Where did you live before?"
"Got your ID?"
She pulled her wallet out of her backpack and handed him her driver's license.
He studied it like he knew where it was. "Hmmm. Who can confirm this address?"
She shifted in her chair. Her voice cracked a little as she said, "I went to West Scranton High. They can confirm it."
She looked down at her hands. "My parents are at the same address."
He looked up sharply at her. "Ever been arrested?"
Her face twitched a little. He ignored it.
He pulled over a teacup and saucer and put down the cigarette on the edge of the plate. "Don't lie. I'm going to check."
"I have never been arrested."
His eyes narrowed. "Okay."
He went back to writing, filling in blanks. He looked up once when there was shouting outside and the equipment went silent.
He threw down his pen, looked at his watch, and leaned back in his chair. He pinched her license between his thumb and forefinger and tapped it on the arm of the chair. "Don't you want to know what's going on here?"
"I guess you'd tell me if I needed to know."
He stopped tapping as he saw her face go blank the way a gang member did when he started denying everything. "Looking for the body of a man who lived here twenty years ago. Ted Entwistle. Heard of him?"
She laughed. "You're not from around here, are you?"
He frowned and shifted in his chair. "What do you mean?"
"Everybody knows about Ted. Left a bar one night and just disappeared. You can make book down at Sam's on where he will turn up."
He forced a grin. "What do people think happened to him?"
"I guess that he ran away."
"I see." He had gone back to drumming with her license, staring at her.
"You think he's in the garden?" She heard one of the lawyers cough to cover a laugh.
The cop looked over to see who it was. "We have information that he might be."
Must be good information if they're digging up an Entwistle garden.
"And I guess you don't care one way or the other?"
She shrugged. "Way before my time."
"Heard anything around here about it?"
"Like someone asking if anyone remembered where they buried the body?" This time Uncle Clarence laughed out loud.
He looked down at the paper. "Yeah, something like that."
"I have never heard his name mentioned in this house. All I've heard about him are rumors from town."
"Okay." He leaned forward and turned over the paper to write on the back. "How did you become the roomer?"
"I applied for it through my grandmother."
She watched him nod and write it down. The interrogation and the mention of her grandmother made her think of sitting in a similar study a year ago, answering many of the same questions.
"How about the room you live in? Was it Ted's?"
"What was in it when you moved in?" She was used to being invisible and answering questions in front of this crowd made the skin of her back crawl.
"Nothing. It was bare. I had to get all the stuff from the housekeeper."
"Who might know which room was his?"
She shrugged and relaxed. "One of them." She knew it wasn't Ted's—he'd been an up roomer and had the better one.
"How about the other room? What's in it?"
"Never seen it. It's locked."
His radio squawked. "Get back here, Jones."
He acknowledged the call and stood up, handing her the license. "Don't leave until we say so."
"Can I get my stuff for this afternoon? And eat some lunch?" She grabbed her book from the desk and glanced at her uncles as she turned toward the door.
He looked at her and then at the four men who were disinterested again. "Sure. Just don't leave the premises until we tell you."
He pushed her form into the mess on the desk and picked up his cigarettes.
She slung her backpack over her shoulder. He followed her into the great hall to the bottom of the main staircase, straight out of a Hollywood movie, all white marble and plasterwork. A large clock stood next to the corridor that led to the study.
The cop went past the stairs and out the French doors to the garden. Lexi turned right at the back into the hallway that ran between the old wing and the colonial house. The kitchen doorway was to the left and farther down the corridor was a dingy, narrow staircase.
At the end of two winding flights, the hallway had peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet with more tape than fiber and lights that worked most of the time. There were only two rooms on this end of the house in use—two roomer apartments that used to be servant quarters. The first one was at the top of the stairs. There was another room left of the first one with a dusty door that looked hermetically sealed. When she turned left in the hallway, she faced the doorway to her room. From there the hallway turned right into complete darkness.
The roof leaked and it was a furnace up here in summer. It reminded her that a year ago she thought she was going to live in a gorgeous mansion full of rich, beautiful people.
She opened her door and threw her bag and book onto the bed and looked around. Nothing looked out of place.
She walked back down the hallway and listened to the stairwell, but no one ever came up here. It was out of the way because that's how they wanted it.
When she first moved in, the quiet bothered her. But she discovered that an old house is never completely silent. It moves in the wind. Timbers creak and pop. Sometimes it sounds like someone is on the stairs but no one is there. It took her several months to believe that she was completely alone in this part of the house.
Even so, she closed her door and shoved a chair under the knob before moving the rickety desk away from the wall. She touched a spot just above eye level in the middle of a wallpaper pattern, and a crack appeared on the edge of the trim at the corner. She got a fingernail under it and pulled out a section of the wall about twelve inches square, revealing a cubbyhole. It was surprisingly deep—almost like it had been a cupboard at one time—and almost two feet wide. She pulled out an orange cotton duffel bag that she set on the desk and unzipped. The wallet was still there, along with the gun and a packet of crisp bills. The printing on the driver's license had faded, but you could still read, "Theodore Entwistle."
She replaced the wall section and the desk, scrunched up the bag and put it in her backpack, went into the bathroom.
She came out a minute later and sat down on the bed and pulled it all out again. She looked at the wallet. The license expired in August, 1974. There was a photograph in the wallet of three people—two men and a woman—which had gone yellow over the years. It was labeled, "Mick, Joan, Ringo" on the back. They were sitting at a table and looked about twenty. The man on the left stared directly at the camera, his expression smug. The woman sat between them, but was looking at ‘Mick’ and her face was a little blurry. The other man had a full scraggly beard and thick, black-rimmed glasses.
She put it all back in the bag and zipped it again. When she had found it months ago, Ted was a mysterious story. Now there are earth movers digging for him in the garden. The family would not help her. She needed to keep her mouth shut and mind her own business. She rolled up the bag and put it back into hiding.
She looked out the window at the one little bit of the lawn she could see and tried to think her way through it. She could not give it to the cops. She had run away from home to this place with so much hope.
I didn’t run far enough.