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Authors: Michael Koryta

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BOOK: The Silent Hour
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    I
stopped in the gym long enough to say hello to Grace, my gym manager, and then
I got into my truck and headed south for Hinckley. The Cantrell house was
supposed to be just off 606, which was a winding two-lane highway that cut
through small towns and farm country. I came onto it too far south and had to
backtrack. Ten minutes and one more turnaround later, I located 3730, a beat-up
metal box on a weathered wood pole, the painted numerals chipped and peeling.
The pole sat at an unnatural angle that suggested previous contact with a car.
I wasn't surprised. Winter storms came in fast and hard out here, and the rural
communities always had more roads than they had snowplows.

    The
mailbox was on the opposite side of the highway from the driveway, which was identified,
as Harrison had promised, by a stone post calling it Whisper Ridge. I turned
off the highway and drove past the sign onto the rutted gravel lane. Well, it
had
been a gravel lane, at least. Most of the stone had either washed away
or been beaten into the dirt, and grass was beginning to reclaim the drive. I
made it about fifty teeth-rattling feet before I saw the gate.

    Parker
Harrison hadn't mentioned the set of steel bars at least eight feet tall
blocking the rest of the driveway, outfitted with an electronic lock. On either
side of the gate was a metal fence with barbed wire at the top.

    I
turned the engine off, climbed out of my truck, and studied the obstacle ahead.
There was no need to risk setting off an alarm or angering a neighbor with an
attempt at trespassing, but now that I was all the way out here I wanted to
actually see the damn house. There had to be a way down to it; it just wasn't
going to be as easy as I'd hoped.

    My
first choice was to walk the fence line to the left, and that was a mistake.
After battling through the undergrowth for about thirty feet, I ran into water.
The fence went all the way to the edge of a creek that was maybe fifteen feet
wide and at least a few feet deep. Wetter than I wanted to be, that was for
sure. I backtracked and walked in the opposite direction only to find that on
this side the fence ran into thickets of thorns and tangled brush. On second
thought, the creek might not be that bad. It was closer to the drive, and
Harrison had talked about the house looking out onto a pond and fountain,
right— Well, the creek must feed the pond.

    I
clung to that belief as I set to work ruining a good pair of shoes. Originally
I'd had hopes of jumping from stone to stone, but it turned out ol' Lincoln
wasn't as nimble-footed as he remembered. I splashed my way around the fence,
grumbling and cursing, and then battled through more of the brambles until I
came back to the driveway, this time inside the gate.

    From
there it was an easy walk. It was a long driveway, at least a half mile, and it
curved through a border of pine trees so that my truck was quickly hidden from
sight. At one point a dirt offshoot led to the right, but I figured that
probably led to some sort of outbuilding, so I stayed with the gravel, tramping
along down the middle of the drive, stepping around the occasional hole or
downed branch until it came to an end in a stone semicircle.

    At
first I couldn't see anything but trees and ivy. It was very overgrown, and
even though the sun was out, all the shade left it dark and gloomy back here.
Then I saw the hill rising steeply in front of me, and the door in the middle
of it.

    Harrison's
description was dead-on. The door was a massive piece of oak encased in an arch
of rough stone, and everything was so weathered and unused that it just blended
right into the hillside.

    There
was one wide, flat stone inlaid beside the arched door frame, with words carved
into it. I walked closer, pushed ivy aside, and read the words.

    

Whisper Ridge

    

Home to Dreams

    

October 2, 1992-April 12, 1996

    

    An
epitaph for a house— I ran my fingertips over the carved stone, then across the
heavy wood of the door, and let out a breath that I hadn't realized I was
holding.

    "Unreal,"
I said, and it was. I'd never seen anything else like it. There was nothing
here but a hill covered in ivy and groundcover and this single, solitary door
with the words carved beside it. On a second read, I decided I was wrong—the
epitaph wasn't for the house, which, still standing, lived on. It was for the
dreams.

    I
stepped away and looked around at the empty trees and the drive I'd just walked
up. All right, the house was here, and he'd been honest about the door. Let's
see about the rest of it.

    I
walked up the side of the hill, which flattened out on top. A stone path was
barely visible in the tall weeds, and I followed that until I came to the well
house. It, like the door casing, seemed to be built out of hand-laid creek
stone, and Harrison was right—it looked like it was two hundred years old. As I
walked past I felt a strange, powerful need
not
to peer down into the
well, as if something might come snarling out. I forced a laugh and shook my
head and then went up to the edge and looked over, ignoring the prickle that
climbed my spine.

    The
bottom was covered with plywood that was rotted and broken, weeds and mud
caking the jagged edges of the boards. I leaned back and surveyed the hilltop.
It looked like hell now, all the thickets and tall weeds threatening to take
over, but I could imagine how beautiful it had been when Parker Harrison tended
the grounds and kept the woods at bay. It was a solitary place, that was for
damn sure. I couldn't hear a sound except wind and birds. Even though the
highway was less than a mile away, I couldn't hear any traffic. That seemed
impossible to me, so I listened harder and still couldn't hear a car. Finally I
gave up and walked away from the well.

    At
the far end of the hill there was a little ridge of stone, and once I got up to
it I realized it was the top edge of the back of the house. I walked along it
until I came to the end, and there I found a little path that led back down the
side of the hill and emptied out behind the house.

    It
was just as Harrison had said—two stories of almost sheer glass looking out on
the water. There was no fountain now, and the pond was covered with a skim of
algae and leaves and hidden behind a cluster of dried, broken reeds, but I
hardly cared about the water. The house held all my attention. It should have
been gorgeous, but instead it was buried under a heavy layer of grime and
disrepair. The windows were broken in several places and covered with dirt, but
even so you could see what it must have been, what it could
still
be if
only someone had taken care of it.

    I
walked up to the lower-level window and used my shirtsleeve to rub away some of
the filth, then pressed my face to the glass, shielding my eyes with my hands
like someone window-shopping at a store that had closed for the night.

    A
swimming pool was just inside, long and deep. A lap pool. Empty, of course,
with stains and corrosion lining the cracked tank. Around the pool was a floor
of Italian tile, many of the pieces broken, and behind that the thick plaster
walls were bare. I could see two ornate columns rising behind the door that led
into the next room, and a curving stone wall with a fireplace.

    I
stood there for a long time. Didn't move until my breath began to fog the glass
and I could no longer see. Then I stepped away and looked from the house to the
silent pond and back again, suddenly feeling very ill at ease.

    This
was not normal. The housing market in Medina County wasn't booming, but some
people were willing to trade a long commute for a little country living, and
the price tag on a place like this would have been mighty. So why not sell it—
Why did you let a home like this sit empty and exposed to the elements for
twelve years—

    I
walked away from the back of the house and up the other side of the hill. I
found an angle that allowed me to look in at the second story, in at more
beautiful but empty rooms. All the way around the hill was another entrance, a
sunporch with almost all the glass broken out. I stepped over the jagged shards
and walked to this door and repeated my face-to-the-window act. This time I saw
a hallway bordered by a short partition that had recessed floodlights and doors
opening to hidden rooms beyond. Back through the broken glass and into the
woods, and now I was walking away from the house faster than I'd walked toward
it, returning to my truck with a strange tightness In the middle of my back and
sweat-dampened hair clinging to my forehead.

    I
splashed back through the creek without a single muttered curse or a thought about
my shoes and climbed up to the driveway.

    People
did not leave homes like this. I'd never seen anything like it, and maybe that
was why it was affecting me in this way, why I felt almost relieved when I was
back in the driver's seat and had the engine going. It was just something…
different, that was all. Felt a little off because, well, it
was
a
little off. Abnormal. Still, I could figure out what had happened, and I could
tell Harrison, and I could be done with it. I owed him that much, because his
request certainly seemed genuine, convicted murderer or not. This much of the
truth he had told me: The door was there in the earth, and the house beyond it
was empty.

    

Chapter Four

    

    My
shoes forced a return home. I was tempted to head straight for the Medina
County Recorder's Office, find out who held the deed on the property and
whether there was a mortgage, and then continue on to the auditor's office to
see whether the taxes were truly paid up and who the hell was paying them. My
shoes and the lower third of my pants were soaked and coated with a slimy creek
mud, though, and I didn't want to go tramping into the county offices looking
like I'd just emerged from a swamp.

    I was
back in the city, only a few blocks from my building, when Amy called.

    "Guess
who visited today—" I said in place of a hello.

    "Who—"

    "Parker
Harrison."

    Amy
Ambrose, friend-turned-girlfriend—a process not without its humps—was well
aware of the letters I'd received from Harrison.

    "The
psycho—"

    "The
rehabilitated murderer, Amy."

    "Fava
beans," she said. "Tell me he talked about fava beans."

    "Sadly,
no."

    "Well,
what the hell did he want— How was it— Is he crazy— I bet he's charming. Those
guys always are. Or did he get angry— I could see him getting—"

    "Amy."

    "Sorry.
Got carried away."

    "Indeed."
I turned left across traffic and bounced into the alley beside my building.

    "So—"
she prompted.

    "He
is unique," I said. "More toward the charming side, definitely."

    "Please
don't tell me he
charmed
you into working on his case. From what I read,
the guy couldn't be any guiltier."

    "That
isn't in dispute." I parked and shut off the engine. "He candidly
admitted his guilt."

    "What
did he want with you, then—"

    "Help
with the most minor of investigations. I mean, it's odd that he went through
all the dramatics of the letters, because this is something that shouldn't take
much time—"

    "Oh,
no. You agreed to do it, didn't you—"

    "Why
do you say that—"

    "Because
you're trying to explain it in that rational, matter-of-fact tone you always
use to justify something stupid."

    I
smiled and didn't answer.

    "Speak,"
she said. "Tell me I'm wrong."

    More
silence.

    "Lincoln!"

    I
explained it to her then, told her about Harrison's story as quickly as
possible and went on to describe the house. I knew the house would pacify her.
Amy's natural curiosity well exceeds my own.

    "How
much do you think the place is worth—" she asked when I was done, her
voice softer.

    "I'm
not good with real estate, but I'd have to say a few million with all that
property involved. The house is incredible, but it's also been ignored for a
long time. It would take someone willing to invest in rehabilitation."

BOOK: The Silent Hour
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