Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008 - , 12 comments

Portrait of Words-1

This is a great fiction writing challenge organized by Jeff B where a story is created based on a set of photos. To see the guidelines, CLICK HERE.

And now, on with the show ...

Secrets in the Walls

The alarm went off, and Jonathan groaned feeling too tired to move a muscle.

Sarah, so attached to the bed, she could have grown roots said, “Turn it off. Will you? It can’t be time yet. Can it?”

He reached out with his left arm blindly hitting the nightstand in an attempt to stop the incessant buzzing.

They’d had a late night, not getting home until well after two in the morning. Then there was always the time needed to unwind after opening night. You see Jonathan and Sarah were musicians at the Rochester Philharmonic in Upstate New York. He played the cello and she, the flute. They lived in an old rundown house about 30 minutes out of the city. They had bought it a couple of years earlier with the idea to fix it up.

Jonathan and Sarah could hardly believe the low price of the palatial place, until they walked through it. It had been sitting vacant for many years, and the damage was extensive. Hunks of plaster littered the floors from the walls and the ceilings. That revealed the water damage from the leaking roof, among other things. However, there was one thing that made the place irresistible to them. There was a huge ballroom, and the acoustics were magnificent. They thought that it would make a wonderful rehearsal hall.

In the two years that they worked on it, the married couple managed to make several rooms habitable including their bedroom, a guestroom that they used as a living room, a very modest bathroom, and a small part of the kitchen. Unfortunately, they could only work on it during off-season.

It was ten o’clock in the morning. That might not seem terribly early, but when you work the equivalent of the night shift, it was like getting up at five in the morning for folks who work nine to five.

Jonathan tried to move, but every muscle in his body ached. Then there was his head. He didn’t think that he drank that much champagne, but if it made him feel like this, he might have to give it up altogether.

You can’t lay here all day, he thought. He forced himself to turn over and get himself vertical. In fifteen minutes, the coffee pot was emitting a wonderful aroma that got the wheels in his brain turning. He looked out of the windows and saw it was going to be a beautiful day.

He walked back into the bedroom and set his cup on the nightstand next to his still sleeping spouse. She looked so adorable curled up there in a ball.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Time to get up Honey Girl.”

She murmured a little and said, “It’s too early. I just want to sleep.”

Jonathan’s response was to kiss her on the ear, then to place one hand on either side of her near her shoulders and to shake the bed. Then making his voice a deep as he could he said, “Time to Get UP!”

Her head popped up, and she said, “I’m up! I’m up!”

“Come on. Let’s get you sitting, two feet on the floor,” he said as he maneuvered her. “It’s a beautiful day. I thought we could take a walk and go see Willie.”

Her face lit up. “Oh yes, let’s go see Willie!” He was the prize stud of the horse farm next door.

Even if it hadn’t been for the rehearsal hall, Sarah might have insisted that they buy the house once she met Willie. That wasn’t his real name, of course, “real” being defined as the name on his paperwork. He had some crazy name like Black Cloud Mister of the Western Slope or some such nonsense. Sarah could never remember.

Jonathan and Sarah had been walking the property lines when they met Willie. He was quite striking. He had the look of a Clydesdale, but he was black and white instead of the more familiar brown. He stuck his head over the fence and let Sarah rub his nose. From that time on, she was in love. She would bring him apples, and he would reach his head over for a scratch. She had been afraid at first, but now they were good friends. She would never ride him, of course. He was too big! Jonathan just laughed at her.

When they returned from their morning walk, he said, “Come into the rehearsal hall. I’ve got something to show you.”

Sarah prepared herself to be “excited.” She felt sure that she already knew what it was.

He had spread it out on top of the piano. She was right. It was another manuscript. The house had once been owned by one of the former conductors of the Philharmonic, Eugène Goossens. It was long before Jonathan and Sarah’s time, but that was the way that they found out about the house in the first place. As they began renovating it, they kept finding hidden compartments and secret rooms all over the place. Often times, they would come across caches of manuscripts by all sorts of composers from Bach to Mozart to Mahler. The couple figured that Goossens had been a little absent-minded professorish the way he had his papers scattered everywhere. Apparently, Jonathan had found some more music.

“No, you don’t understand,” Jonathan said in an excited tone. “It looks like this one was written by Old Man Goossens himself! And it’s good!”



Just at that moment, the shutter of a high-powered camera was clicking in a stand of trees about fifty feet from the house.

Something sure has those lovebirds excited, Roy thought. A retired cop, he had been hired to conduct surveillance on the house for the past week. He found the whole thing rather boring, but as long as he was being paid in American dollars, he was happy to be bored. Besides, there were compensations. The young couple had left the lights on one evening during one of their “romantic encounters.” Now, Roy made a notation on his log and kept watching.

A couple of hours later Roy got a call from his client. “What’s been going on?” The voice asked in a brusque tone.

“They sure got excited about something in that dancehall they got in front of the house.”

“That’s a ballroom, you idiot. What was it?” Came the terse response.

“Some kinda papers. He had ‘em spread all across the piano.”

“Damn,” the client muttered under his breath. Next, he ordered, “If you see anything else like that, or they leave the house, call me immediately.”

“Yes, Mr. Peterson,” Roy said as he heard the phone click in his ear. A mighty excitable fellow, he thought.


“I don’t understand what the big deal is!” Sarah said. They’d been arguing for the last fifteen minutes. She had been patient through all of his craziness of finding hidden rooms and old manuscripts, but this was simply too much.

“He was a two-bit conductor in a mid-sized city. Who should know better than us? It’s not like he was the conductor at the Met in New York City or something,” she continued.

“Bach started at an out of the way church. Besides, he wasn’t a ‘two-bit conductor!’ What difference does it make? It’s good! Just look at it!” Jonathan said. He felt himself getting out of control. Why couldn’t she see?

Sarah was too angry to listen. She wouldn’t be bullied. She stormed off saying something about breakfast. Maybe trying to talk to her while they both had hangovers had been a mistake he thought wryly. He would try again later. What could be more perfect with solos for cello and flute.

While he let Sarah cool off in the kitchen, Jonathan got out his cello and began to play the piece. It wasn’t easy, to be sure, but there was a hypnotic quality about it that immediately captured one’s attention. He had to get Seaman, their conductor, to hear it.

Sarah sat listening to her husband play while she sipped her juice. I guess it’s not terrible, she thought. She found herself being carried away by the music in spite of herself. He continued to practice as she took care of the morning dishes and got herself ready for the day. At about two o’clock, she brought him a sandwich. They had to be at the theater by three for rehearsal.

“I’m sorry, My Love, that I didn’t listen to you before. It is lovely. Do you want to bring it to Seaman today to look at it?” Sarah said.

He took her hand and brought her fingers to his lips. “No, I want us to play it for him together.”

His tenderness brought tears to her eyes. Why did he have to be like this after she had been so horrid this morning?

She grabbed his hand and said, “Come on, we have to get ready to go if we’re going to be there by three,” and she pulled him up to his feet.


At 2:30, Roy watched the couple leave in their little black car. True to his orders, he called Mr. Peterson.

“Are you sure they’re gone?” Roy’s employer said.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I watched ‘em drive away.”

“And there’s no one else there?”

“No, they haven’t had any visitors in the last week if you don’t count that horse next door.” Roy was getting a little concerned about where this was going.

“Stay there. I’ll be right over,” Peterson said and ended the conversation with a click.

Roy had no idea where the man was, but it sounded like it must be close if he was going to be ‘right over.’ The minutes began to pile up. Fifteen minutes turned into thirty, then thirty into an hour. It was an hour and a half before he showed up in his Hummer with the requisite smoked windows. Roy shook his head with resignation and contempt. This guy was trying to prove something to someone, but Roy had no idea who.

Peterson got out of the vehicle and walked over to Roy. Peterson was dressed in all black, Roy noted. Not a terrible thing really, but he thought the man had seen too many movies. What did the guy think he was going to do? Besides, at four in the afternoon, it was still broad daylight.

“What’s the status?” Peterson ordered.

“No change. Still nobody there.” Roy was feeling worse and worse about this all the time.

“Look, we have to get into that place.”

“Hey, I know you’re payin’ me, but I didn’t sign up for no ‘breaking and entering’,” Roy said self-righteously.

“I’ll double your fee, but I have to get into that house. One of the old owners, a conductor named Goossens, hid an original work in there, and I must have it for my collection. They must have found it.”

“Shit,” the old cop muttered to himself. “Okay, we’ll take a quick look around.” He knew this couple didn’t have a security system. Besides, they didn’t have anything worth stealing that he knew of. He started towards the house when Peterson caught his arm.

“Where are you going?” Peterson asked.

“To look around the house, like you said.”

“But it’s still light!”

Roy’s patience had run out. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it to be much easier to look for stuff when it’s light,” he said in a slightly sarcastic tone.

The sarcasm went right over Peterson’s head. “But someone might see us,” he said starting to sound a bit panicked.

“Out here? Not likely,” and Roy began to walk towards the house again.

“No, no, stop. We can’t do this now just like that. It’s not right.”

“Mr. Peterson,” Roy began in a very calming reassuring voice. “You hired a professional to give you expert advice, and I’m giving it to you. If you want to go in, you should do it now. The risk goes way up if you wait ‘til after dark.” No amount of money was worth this.

“It’s no good. It has to be after dark.”

“Okay, if that’s the way you want it, but you’re doing this without me.” Roy still had some self-respect left, and he started packing up his camera.

“You won’t even help me get in?”

“I’d lay odds that the door isn’t even locked. You don’t need me for that.”

“I’ll triple your fee,” Peterson pleaded.

“No thanks Mister,” Roy said as he walked to his SUV. He put his camera in the back, got in, and drove off leaving Peterson in the trees with a sense of bewilderment.

I can’t believe that bastard wouldn’t take the money, Peterson thought. What is this world coming to?

He waited in the trees until it got dark, then he crept to the back door of the house. That old bastard was right, he thought as the back door opened silently. He turned on his flashlight thinking that he felt very much like James Bond. Search in the daylight. James Bond would never have done that. What was that bastard thinking?

Peterson looked all over the house. He knew about the secret rooms, but he didn’t start there. If that couple had already found it, it would be in their living quarters. He combed the living room, the kitchen, and the bedroom. Then he remembered something. Roy said that the couple was in the ‘dance hall.’

He chuckled and said, “Idiot.”

He made his way to the ballroom and scanned over it with his flashlight. The gigantic room was at least fifty feet across, but it was pretty barren with only a piano, two hard backed wooden chairs a couple of music stands, a cello, and a flute. Even the walls were empty with all the plaster stripped off to the bare brick. He saw the music on the piano and the music stands, but he went right by it.

“They must have put it back where they found it,” Peterson said aloud. Now, he would have to look in all the secret hiding places, and Lord, there were at least one hundred and one of them!


At ten o’clock, Jonathan and Sarah drove up their driveway. They were determined to have an early night tonight. They parked the car in an old barn that served as their garage. As they were walking towards the house, Sarah stopped suddenly.

“Did you hear that?” She said.

“What?” Jonathan said.

“That was Willie. I’m sure of it. There it is again.”

Then Jonathan heard the horse’s whinny too. “Yes, you’re right. I wonder …” He didn’t finish as he saw a flashlight tracing in one of the upstairs windows of the house. He grabbed Sarah’s arm. “Wait,” he said in a whisper. “Someone’s in the house. Go back to the car. I’m going inside.”

Sarah said with a terrified look on her face, “You can’t do that. We have to call the police.”

“The hell I can’t.” All the years of teasing and being called a wimp as a child because he played the cello haunted him now. He couldn’t back down. He had to protect his wife and his home. What if they were after the manuscript? “Go call the police, but I’m going in there,” and he stalked toward the house.

Peterson was oblivious to all that was going on outside. He was flipping through the pages of his prize like a child, but this was something that no child would appreciate. He was shocked when the light suddenly came on to see Jonathan standing in the doorway.

Just at that time, Jonathan saw police lights in the driveway. In their own way both Peterson and Jonathan looked horror-stricken. Within thirty seconds, two officers joined them to see Peterson with some antique erotica, or pornography depending on one’s religious affiliation.


At the end of their shift, the officers were still talking about it in amazement.

“Can you believe that guy breaking into that house just for some old porno?” The first officer said.

“Yeah, and the Captain said that first edition book he had sitting next to him that he didn’t even care about was worth about half a year’s salary. Then, that kid all exercised about some dusty old sheet music. Good thing Roy called it in. Who knows what those crazies would have done if we hadn’t shown up.”

“You can say that again.”


You had me sitting on the edge of my seat! Great build up - great twist at the end.

I played too - come visit me here.

Wow! I did not expect the twist at the end!

"Black Cloud Mister of the Western Slope or some such nonsense. Sarah could never remember." This was one of my favorite lines of the story... a touch of humor laced into a dramatic story.

Great read!

Great story with a twist, I love it.

I played too.

Thank you so much ladies for your kind words. I've had a chance to read your work, and I'm even more complimented.

The funny thing about the twist is that it is based on something really happened. Goossens was the first conductor of that orchestra, and his career was effectively ruined when he was caught years later with elicit material, probably stuff we wouldn't even bat an eye at now. ;)

I just read your comment about Goossens. How cool that you intertwined fact and fiction into a well written and suspenseful story.

So glad you joined in.

Thanks so much Jeff for organizing this and choosing such great pictures!

I'm amazed at the variety of ways that the pictures can be interpreted.

I agree it is amazing to read the different stories the same pictures bring out.

I enjoyed reading yours very much.

A really great story with a great surprise ending. Who could ask for more.

Thanks so much Katherine & Dr. John!

Great, well-written story. Nice that you mixed fact and fiction. Love the horse's names... both of them.

I agree with everything all the others have said - I also loved the way the photos were woven into the paragraphs, great idea.

and Willie was a touching addition.

really fun to read!!

I'm wiped from days at the fair but your story kept my attention. I enjoyed the cops' parts. Looking forward to reading your participation in future POWs.

I like your idea of having a blog just for your fiction. After Iget some sleep I'll drop in at your other places

Again, a captivating story.

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