Benjamin Stanton had a headache that simply wouldn’t leave him be. He made the decision to go to bed early in hopes that lying down in the darkness might bring some relief to his discomfort. As he climbed the staircase to the second floor, he was shoved from the back so hard that he fell flat on his face six steps from the top.
He jerked his head around to see who pushed him and found no one there. As he stood up and began to climb once again, he was shoved a second time. This time he didn’t bother getting up but scrambled the few steps on hands and knees and ran to the far wall. With his back against a solid surface, he stood looking nervously toward the stairs. He couldn’t see anyone or anything that looked out of the ordinary.
Stanton’s pulse raced, and there was a ball of ice in the pit of his stomach. It was happening again. The terror that had periodically haunted him had returned.
He pushed away from the wall and went quickly to his bedroom, collapsing against the door once he was safely inside. He tried to calm his racing heart as a cold sweat broke out all over his body, but he couldn’t shake the intense feeling that he was being watched—that he wasn’t alone, even though he could see no one. His hand dropped behind him to turn the thumb lock, and he walked over to the fireplace to throw more wood on the fire.
I’ve got to get a grip on myself! It’s not like this is the first time this has happened, he thought as he stared into the flames. After a few moments watching the fire, he undressed and got into bed. As he began to calm down, he hoped for a night of peace without unseen visitors. His eyelids were getting heavy when thunder abruptly cracked the silence, rolling across the sky outside Stanton Hall, quickly followed by streaks of lighting and torrential rain. So much for Stanton’s hopes.
Six Months Later
The rain was still falling in sheets, pounding against the windows and creating a dreary atmosphere inside the law offices of Mark W. Salisbury. Mr. Salisbury’s expertise was in the civil area of the law, and in particular, wills, trusts, and estates. His chosen specialty was mundane but provided steady business for the firm. His father had been a successful real estate lawyer and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Mark could easily see the amount of money to be made in that area of the law, but it lacked personal interaction with the clients. Mark wanted to be involved on a more personal level with those who put their trust in him when requirements of a legal nature arose. He considered the family law area much more fulfilling than his father’s chosen path.
At twenty-eight, Mark was determined to make his reputation based on a solid foundation of reliability and honesty. He didn’t mind working hard, and he never used his natural good looks to get ahead in any opportunity that life brought him. As he finished drying his hands in his office bathroom, he looked at himself in the mirror. As he scanned his coal black hair for any signs that an infiltration of silver had begun, he was pleased by what he saw. His green eyes were the feature the most often commented upon by those desiring to become personal with him. He’d never had any trouble attracting the attention of the ladies or a fair share of gay men.
More than once, he found himself in a situation where he encountered an advance from an admiring man, both the overt as well as the more subtle kind. Mark always declined these overtures with the utmost sensitivity in order not to bruise the egos of those seeking his attentions.
In the town of Audubon, Pennsylvania, those men were more than likely at least twenty years his senior. While he found the attention from a couple of the older men very complimentary, he was searching for that one man who could speed up the beat of his heart merely by walking into the room. He’d had no luck thus far.
“Come in,” said Mark in response to a knock.
“Excuse me, Mr. Salisbury,” said the shapely secretary. ”There’s a lady by the name of Rosemary on line three. She says she’s Benjamin Stanton’s housekeeper.”
“Thank you, Gloria.” Mark picked up the phone. “Hello, this is Mark Salisbury.”
“Mr. Salisbury, this is Rosemary Leflore, I’m Mr. Benjamin Stanton’s housekeeper, and I have instructions to call you if he dies or is ever taken to the hospital. Well, Mr. Stanton was taken by ambulance to Memorial Hospital two hours ago, and I can’t get any update from them because of the HIPPA laws.”
Mark was well acquainted with the HIPPA laws that prohibited the hospital from releasing information to anyone who was not a relative. “I see. All right, I’ll phone the hospital and see if I can find out what’s going on. I have Mr. Stanton’s house number on my phone list, and I’ll call you back when I find out something.”
After hanging up, he called his secretary. “Gloria, would you get me Memorial Hospital Emergency Room on the phone, please?”
After a minute, his phone buzzed. “Hello? Yes, this is Mark Salisbury, Attorney at Law. I represent Benjamin Stanton. His housekeeper informs me that he has been taken to your hospital by ambulance. May I inquire as to his condition, please?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t give out that information without authorization from the patient or his family,” the officious-sounding nurse stated with authority.
“Well, if we fax over a power of attorney, will that suffice?”
“Yes, sir, do you have the number?”
“Yes, I do. Please stand by and come back to the phone when you receive the fax.”
He requested that his secretary fax over the power of attorney and when it arrived, the nurse came back onto the phone.
“Yes, Mr. Salisbury, we’ve received it. I hate to tell you, but Mr. Stanton was dead on arrival. There was nothing the doctors could do for the poor man. Will you be notifying the family?”
“Yes, and I believe I’m to make all the arrangements according to his will. I’ll check on that and be back in touch with hospital administration.” He hung up, sorry with the knowledge that an old client of the firm had passed away.
“Gloria, would you pull the will for Benjamin Stanton please, and open a probate file for it as well?” he asked.
A moment later, the secretary brought in Stanton’s last will and testament for Mark to read so he could begin to implement its provisions. It was pretty much a standard will, and the deceased had left most of his estate, which was not inconsiderable by any means, to his nephew, Ryan Belcrest. There was contact information for the beneficiary, and Mark requested that Gloria locate Mr. Belcrest so that he could inform him of his uncle’s passing.
Mark put the will aside and picked up the phone to contact the local funeral home. When he had arranged to have the deceased retrieved from the hospital, he felt he had done all he could for the moment. Since he was due in court, he put his jacket on, grabbed his briefcase and umbrella, and left the office with a wave to Gloria.
As he exited his building, Mark put up his umbrella and walked toward the courthouse, a little over a block away. As he walked, he ran the process for probating a will through his head. It was usually quite simple as long as no one contested the will. He put the matter from his mind for now, and the rest of his day was spent on a complicated trust case in court.
Upon arriving at his office the next morning, as he was getting his first cup of coffee, Gloria informed him that she had located Ryan Belcrest. Mark asked her to get Belcrest on the line and waited until the phone buzzed.
“Mr. Belcrest, this is Mark Salisbury, Attorney at Law. I’m afraid I have some sad news for you.”
“Oh, what is it?” Ryan asked.
“I represented your uncle, Benjamin Stanton, and I’m sorry to tell you that he passed away yesterday here in Audubon.”
“Uncle Benjamin, dead? How did it happen?”
“The hospital believes he had a massive stroke, but we’ll have to wait for the autopsy to define the cause of death. According to his will, I am to execute the instructions contained therein. This means that I’m making the arrangements for his burial according to his wishes and also informing you that with minor exceptions you’re the sole beneficiary of his estate. When can we meet for a reading of the will?”
“This is all so distressing. There isn’t much left of our family, I’m afraid. Now that he’s gone, that leaves me and two cousins. Everyone else has died. Let me think… I can be in your office in a couple of days; will that do?”
“Yes, that’ll be fine. Say ten o’clock on Friday morning? Here at my office?”
“Yes, I can make that. You’re on Main Street in Audubon, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. Suite 212. Mr. Belcrest, I’d like to assure you that I’m here to help you in your time of grief. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ll get you through it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Salisbury. I’ll see you on Friday.”
Mark hung the phone up and reflected on how the passing of life is an everyday occurrence for thousands and thousands of people. One day it would be his turn, and he hoped he was ready for it.
Ryan Belcrest walked into the den of his very modest rented home, pulled out the family photo album, and sat down on the sofa. At the ripe old age of twenty-four, he was the senior member of the family now that his uncle was dead. He opened up the album and flipped through the pages—mostly of dead relatives—and paused to study the ones with his Uncle Benjamin in them. The photos brought back memories of happy times when he was a small child visiting his uncle’s great home, Stanton Hall. Now Uncle Benjamin was gone, and the house would sit empty or be sold, according to his uncle’s wishes.
He closed the album with extreme sadness at the thought of being almost completely alone in the world. He rarely saw his cousins in Florida, and now no one was left in the entire Northeast. Reminded of a sad duty, he went to his computer and sent his cousins an e-mail telling them the news. He decided not to notify his ex-lover of his uncle’s death, as he wanted nothing to do with him ever again.
He would have to move quickly to get a ticket for the plane, pack a suitcase, and arrange transportation in Pennsylvania. He made several phone calls to friends to tell them that he’d be gone for a bit in order to take care of business.
The next day, he took the morning flight from Los Angeles and flew into Newark Airport in New Jersey. From there he rented a car and headed into Northeast Pennsylvania to one of the four hotels in Audubon. He wanted to get in, have dinner, relax and then go to bed early. He had no idea what he was in store for and wanted to be ready for anything.
The next morning, he arrived promptly at ten o’clock at the law offices of his uncle’s attorney. He told the secretary who he was and took a seat. After a couple of minutes’ wait, the secretary showed him into Mr. Salisbury’s office.
“Good morning, Mr. Belcrest, how was your trip from the West Coast?” Mark asked.
“Not bad really. I landed at Newark and drove in from there. The hotel is decent, and I had a good night,” Ryan replied. “I’ll have to get used to the colder weather again, though.”
“Good, glad to hear that you had a good night. This is pretty typical weather for February in Pennsylvania, as you’ll recall, and frankly, I don’t think it’s that bad. Of course, I’m used to it,” Mark said. “I’m sorry again for the reason that brought you back to Audubon. I’ve reviewed your uncle’s will, and he appointed me as the executor of the estate. That simply means that I will be the legal representative and will see that his wishes are carried out. He also tasked me with the funeral arrangements and seeing to his proper burial.”
“When is the funeral, Mr. Salisbury?”
“Tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock. He requested that Father Rinehart celebrate the funeral Mass, but he has since been reassigned and St. John’s has a new young pastor by the name of Father Kenneth Wilmot.”
“Thank you for taking care of all the arrangements. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back here, but I did speak with my uncle frequently on the phone. He seemed rather uneasy for the past couple of years, and I’m not sure why. I often asked him if there was a problem of some sort, but he just laughed it off and said pay no attention to it. Do you know if he had problems with someone, by chance?” Ryan asked.
“Problems? None that your uncle ever mentioned. As far as I know, he had no problems with anyone or anything. Even so, we didn’t talk often, only when he had a minor legal matter for the firm to take care of.”
“Well, I thought I’d ask just in case you might know something. What is there to do besides the funeral?”
“We can go over your uncle’s will now, if you like,” Mark offered.
“I suppose we could get that done. You said on the phone that he left most of the estate to me?”
“Yes, in fact, you’ve been left the following: Just over four million dollars in cash, stocks, and gold, as well as Stanton Hall. Real estate estimates of the worth of Stanton Hall are placed at around seven million dollars. I take it you’re going to sell it?”
“How much? Oh, my God! I had no idea Uncle Benjamin was worth that much. And it’s all mine? He didn’t leave anything to anyone else?”
“Yes, most of the estate is yours. Your uncle also provided money to several charities that he supported when he was alive. After these amounts are deducted from the estate, the amounts left to you are as I’ve mentioned. You’re a wealthy young man now, and you can be even wealthier if you choose to sell Stanton Hall.” Continuing, Mark said, “The money that’s invested makes money itself each and every month. You’ll be earning a little less than two hundred thousand a year in interest and premiums.
“Yes, but I’m not sure if I want to sell,” Ryan said. “Stanton Hall is a remarkable family home that was built with the blood, sweat, and tears of the generation before my uncle’s. My family made money in the funeral business and in banking. The house played a prime role in my childhood and was where all family reunions occurred. I suppose I could stay there for the next few days and think about it. Is there any problem with that?”
“No, in fact, there’s a housekeeper that you’ll have to decide whether or not to keep. Rosemary’s been in your uncle’s employ for about two years now, and she’ll be at the funeral, of course. So if you want to stay there, you’ll at least have your meals cooked.”
“That’s settled then. Would you contact her and tell her I’ll be coming by today and ask her to prepare a room for me?”
“I’d be happy to do that,” Mark replied.
“Are you getting paid for all this somehow?” Ryan lowered his voice.
“Yes, I am. Your uncle provided for payment of the firm’s fees for my services as executor, so everything is taken care of in that regard. Is there anything else I can do for you, Ryan?”
“Not that I can think of at the moment. I guess you’ll do all the court stuff to transfer title and deed of Stanton Hall to me, right?”
“Yes, we do all that. You don’t have to do anything at all but sit back and enjoy your childhood memories,” Mark answered.
“Good. Then if there’s nothing else, I’ll get my things together and check out of the hotel. Thank you, Mr. Salisbury, for everything.”
“I’m glad I can be of help. I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the funeral. Try and have a good night,” Mark said with a smile.
As Ryan left the office, Mark wondered how the man would look out of his clothes. Even wearing a suit, young Mr. Belcrest had a beautifully curved ass that begged for attention. Mark wished all his clients looked like this man, the type of guy who turned heads when he walked into a room.
Ryan got out of the rental car and looked up at Stanton Hall with its massive white columns, brick façade, and heavy oak doors that guarded the entrance to the house. He walked up to the door, picked up the heavy lion head knocker, and let it strike the plate on the door with a loud bang.
After a moment, the porch light came on even though it was barely dusk. When the door opened, Ryan found himself staring at a woman who looked to be in late middle-age.
“Hello. I’m Ryan Belcrest. I believe Mr. Salisbury phoned you to tell you that I was coming?”
“Yes, sir, please, come in and make yourself at home,” the woman said with a slight smile. “I’m Rosemary, but you already know that, don’t you?”
“Thank you,” was all he could manage as he put his bags down on the floor and a tidal wave of memories washed over him. Ryan’s eyes followed the spiral staircase that wound upward, disappearing into the ceiling, and then glanced to either side. Off the foyer on the right was a beautiful sitting room for guests who called on the occupants of the house. To his left was a hallway that led into the main family living room, complete with a massive stone fireplace with comfortable furniture placed before it.
“Would you like me to show you the way to your room, sir?” Rosemary asked.
“No, that won’t be necessary. Just tell me which room you have me in, and I can remember how to get to it.”
“Very good, sir. You’re in the large bedroom across from what was your uncle’s room. It’s clean, and you’ll find fresh towels and linens in the bathroom. Would you like to dine this evening?”
“Yes, I would. What time do you think you can have it ready?” Ryan asked with a hungry look in his blue eyes.
“Would eight o’clock be all right for this evening?”
“That would be great. I’ll be down just before then. I wanna unpack and relax for a bit first,” Ryan said as he picked up his bags and walked to the staircase.
He was in outstanding shape and had no problem bounding up the steps with his baggage. He had been a champion swimmer in college and continued to swim for health and fitness reasons. When he reached the second floor, he looked up and down the large hallway that ran the length of the house to give access to a variety of bedrooms and bathrooms. At the other end, he knew that the hallway bent left and then right, leading to other rooms on the second floor. Farther on, there was another staircase that led back down to the first floor.
Ryan turned left and found the room that had been designated for him. As he switched on the light, more memories of playing in the large bedroom as a child flooded him. He put his bags down and walked around looking at artwork that had been placed on the walls. He flicked on the bathroom light and saw that it was as spotless as the rest of the house that he had seen so far. Rosemary was obviously a top-notch housekeeper.
He unpacked his clothes and dressed for dinner. Sitting down in an overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace, he became lost in memories of his uncle. He thought back to when the family had gathered in this great house during the summer and the fun and food that filled the lives of the family in those early days. He was filled with warmth at remembering the happiness of those times. A knock on the door startled Ryan back to the present day as he got up to answer.
“Sorry to disturb you sir, but it’s past eight o’clock,” said Rosemary.
Ryan looked down at his watch and saw that he had been lost in time for longer than he’d thought. “I’m sorry, Rosemary; I got lost in my memories. I’ll be right down.”
Ryan walked into his bathroom, ran some water, and splashed it on his face. After drying his sand-colored hair, he quickly combed it and gave himself the once over. Satisfied, he left his bedroom for the dining room. There he found a sixteen-foot mahogany Duncan Fife table with matching chairs. One end had a dinner place set for Ryan, and he took his place at the head of the table. The candles were lit, and Rosemary brought out Ryan’s dinner. When she left the dining room, Ryan felt lonely sitting in this large house, eating dinner by himself. How did his uncle live day in and day out like this? This would take getting used to, Ryan thought.
The food was simple but delicious. Baked boneless breast of chicken, potatoes Lyonnaise, green beans, butter biscuits, and iced tea. Ryan didn’t realize how hungry he was until he began to eat. When he was finished, he started to get up, and Rosemary glided into the dining room.
“Would you like dessert, sir?”
“Not tonight, thank you. That was incredible. My uncle was very fortunate to have you for a housekeeper. How long did you work for him?” Ryan asked.
“I’ve worked here for the past two years now, sir,” she replied.
“Oh please, call me Ryan. I’m far too young for you to be calling me ‘sir’,” Ryan said with a laugh.
“Thank you, Ryan. Will there be anything else tonight?”
“Would it be possible to have a pitcher of this iced tea? I drink a lot, and this was really well done.”
“Why of course, sir, err, Ryan. I’ll put it in the refrigerator.”
As he left the table, he paused to ask another question. “I don’t know if you live here or just come in for meals and cleaning.”
“I have a room that I used on occasions when your uncle requested me to stay overnight for a party or special dinner. Since you arrived so late, I’ll probably stay tonight. My eyes aren’t what they use to be, and I don’t like to drive this late.”
“Fine, I’ll see you in the morning. What time do you usually make breakfast?”
“Oh, I’m up at five-thirty usually, so whenever you get up, just holler, and I’ll make you whatever you’d like.”
“Okay, goodnight then,” he said as went to the staircase that would take him to the bedrooms.
On the second floor, he entered his uncle’s bedroom instead of his own. Curiously, he wandered around opening drawers, looking in closets and moving curtains aside. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for—if anything—but he felt a strong desire to explore that bedroom. The only thing of any interest was a large, heavy black book with a lock. He looked for a key, but was unable to find one, so he took the book with him to examine it at his leisure.