Carthage added more red pepper relish to his hot dog before taking another bite. He scrolled down the webpage of houses for sale in or near Henspence.
It’s been such a long time since I bought this house. I’ve forgotten how difficult house hunting could be. So many possibilities. So many amenities. What do I want? What do I actually need? I’m only one person. So, how much space do I need? How much land? How many bathrooms? Do I want a basement? Air conditioning is a must. But what the heck is a sunken living room?
He leaned forward and peered disbelievingly at the screen.
And why is a simple ranch-style house so much more expensive than a Tudor-style? Is everything in there made out of gold and diamonds?
He shut the computer lid down.
Maybe I should just stay here. I’d have to commute, but who doesn’t?
Carthage ate his hot dog and mulled over the question.
The house was quiet.
The phone didn’t ring. The tv was off. The radio wasn’t on.
No one came in the front door. No one walked around upstairs. No one came down the stairs.
There was just one plate on the table. One plate for only one person.
Carthage smiled. “Yes.” His voice seemed loud in the house’s silence. “I will stay here. It isn’t that long of a commute. I can handle it.” He took another bite of his hot dog.
If I can’t handle it, then I’ll think about moving. If I stay here, I stay close to my daughter. I’ll see her again. I’m bound by all laws of improbability to see her again. And maybe next time, she’ll change her mind.
She’ll come home to me.
His smile grew. “I wonder how much Mark Caten would pay me for her services.”
Some of the relish’s red juice trickled down his hand.
He licked it off.
Mark Caten checked the time on his computer. “Well, well, well! Look at that. Six o’clock already.” He logged off his computer and shut it down. “Six o’clock and I get to go out with my adoring client in one more hour.”
He smirked. “And my poor, poor cupcake will be so burnt about it. Hahahahahahaha! She’ll be so burnt she’ll be on fire. Hahahaha! She’ll be a pile of smoldering ashes. Hahahahahaha! Ah, but it can’t be helped. I do have a business to run. This dear, lovely client will be a very useful resource. And I might as well mix business with pleasure.”
He opened his desk’s middle drawer and put his pens away in a very precise order. Reds to the right. Blues in the middle. Blacks to the left. All neat and arranged. Perfect.
A black skeleton key lay amidst his black pens.
Mark Caten frowned. “That doesn’t…seem familiar to me?” He picked it up and examined it.
The key was made of cast iron. It was cold, like something that hadn’t been held in a long time. The top was a very simple and disappointingly basic three open hoops design. Nothing exciting. Nothing intricate. No gemstones anywhere on it. “Why is this in my desk?” He flipped the key over just in case there was some sort of clue on the back. There wasn’t. “It wasn’t in there this mor…”
He opened the drawer and pulled out his pens. The key was there. It was always there. Every morning it was there. Lying there.
His frown deepened. “Someone must have put it in there. I certainly didn’t do it. Why would I put something so plain and—”
He stuck the key into a locked door. He turned the key. He opened the door….
He opened the door.
Mark Caten shuddered. He dropped the key back into the drawer and slammed it shut.
The door led to a vault.
He dusted off his hands, even though they weren’t physically dirty. “I will not think about that right now.” He smirked. “I have better things to think about.”