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Excerpt for Welcome to Ordinary by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



An Ordinary Mystery

Welcome To Ordinary



By

D.D. Drew



Copyright © 2019 Bret H Lambert

All rights reserved.

Distributed by Smashwords

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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To my mother,

Who taught me to love reading,

And from that,

To love writing.

Thank you.


CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two



ONE

“I hate you!” she screamed through the tears that flowed from her gold-flecked green eyes. “You brought us here! I hate it! I hate you, Father!” With that, Anne Hambaugh fled the sunlit living room.

Her father stood still, straight and rigid, his face void of emotion. His wife touched his arm to get his attention. “She doesn’t mean anything by it, Nathan,” said Emma Hambaugh in a soft voice. “She’s just upset.”

“Oh, she meant it,” he murmured, resignedly. “Whenever she calls me ‘father’, I know she’s really angry.” He pursed his lips in momentary thought. A long sad sigh escaped. “It was to be expected, though.”

Emma Hambaugh led her husband to his well-loved leather recliner and forcibly sat him down. “We’ve been here less than a week,” she said in her refined British voice. “Change is hard, as well you know, but she will come around in time.”

“Oh, I know,” he acknowledged, with an outbreath, “but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

“Well,” agreed his wife, as she took her usual place on the plush brown leather sofa, “we uprooted the children at an age when uprooting can be difficult and plopped them down in a strange place.”

He grunted. “You got the ‘strange’ part right.”

• • •

Anne Hambaugh fled the centuries-old stone country house in a rage. Blinded by tears that flowed freely, the sixteen-year-old ran up the gravel drive to the two-lane Old Mill Road. Nothing was familiar. This was not her home. England was her home: London, Holland Park, and the country estate of her grandparents in England’s beautiful Cotswolds. This was all foreign to her. Wiping her eyes, she started walking toward town, which was a mile south on the winding blacktop. Her mind raced with a million thoughts and rants, none of which stayed with her, but it made the time pass quickly. The tears had stopped by the time she rounded the last turn in the road, and she found herself at the northern edge of town. Colorful, quaint, small houses built of locally quarried stone lined the road to the Common in the center of the small town.

She crossed to the east side of the road and started into the woods. She wanted nothing to do with any of ‘the locals’. Her off-road trek took her mind off things that had infuriated her earlier. Branches tugged at her naturally wavy golden-red shoulder length hair and left innumerable scratches on the fair skin of her exposed arms. She was not sure how long she had been making her own way through the woods when she came upon the faint remains of a trail. Wiping the perspiration from her brow, she looked up and down the overgrown trail. To her right, she assumed, would be town, which was not where she wanted to be. To her left she could just make out the trail as it weaved further into the semi-dense foliage. With a deep breath of the forest’s musty air, the ever-curious teenager set out along the shadow of a path, away from town.

Anne guessed that she had been walking, and stumbling, for the better part of an hour when she came upon the remains of a small log cabin. The roof had long since given way and fallen within the dilapidated structure. Moss grew on the decaying log walls. The smell of decomposition enveloped the remnants of the two-room cabin. Curious, she approached, wrinkling her freckled nose the closer she got. The remains of the wooden door hung askew by a single rusted hinge. Her natural curiosity further piqued, she made her way through the foliage until she stood outside the door. With a nervous hand, she reached out and touched the damp, rotting wood.

The sensation that ran up her spine was electrifying.

She could not explain the feeling that swept through her. There was excitement, fear, awe, and uncertainty. There was a history here within these decaying walls; a story that had long since been forgotten about the people who had lived here. An overwhelming sense of curiosity gripped her with such intensity that she found herself short of breath. The thrill enveloped her. Startled by the unexpected tidal wave of emotions, Anne stepped back quickly. In the process of doing so, she stumbled over the uneven terrain and landed quite solidly on the soft ground with her breath momentarily knocked from her. She was captivated by the complete silence that surrounded her.

Anne took in her surroundings. The woods were eerily quiet. She could not explain what had just happened. The feeling came and went in a moment, though it seemed to last so much longer. There was a niggling in the back of her mind. She knew that something had happened here, long ago, something that was not good. She wiped her damp, dirt-covered palms on her pants, and then slowly picked herself up. Anne could not help but wonder about what had just happened. What she had sensed. As she came to her senses, she realized that her breathing had become shallow and quick. It took her several focused minutes to regain control of herself, during which her mind raced to understand what had just happened. Rallying her courage, she nervously approached the cabin and, tentatively, reached out with a shaking hand to touch the moss-covered logs. She braced herself for another inexplicable episode.

Nothing.

Encouraged, but still not completely sure, she reached out with both hands. Again, there was nothing. She breathed easier. Standing back from the rotting remains of the log cabin, she glanced about the immediate area. She walked slowly around the ruin, but nothing appeared unusual. It was just an old, dilapidated, moss-covered remnant from a distant past. Carefully, she stepped just inside without disturbing the askew door. It was a sad place, with the roof littering the interior, and a rotted timber across a corner of the trap door to, she assumed, the root cellar. As she exited the ruin, she could not help but wonder about the family who had lived here. What had become of them? What was this feeling she had experienced?

Anne looked at the shadow of the trail that had brought her to this place but was not keen on returning that way. She wondered how far she was from town, or the road leading to town. A faint sound reached her ears. It was a gurgling sound, and gradually it came to her that it might be the stream that paralleled the only road that linked the small town to, in her way of thinking, civilization. Knowing that it was her best chance for returning to her new home, whether she was keen on the place or not, she settled on a direction and began moving toward the sound. Her shoulder length wavy red hair was a mass of knots, complete with twigs and leaves, and her attire was the worse for wear when she finally emerged from the woods.

She was tired, winded from her adventure through the woods, and desperate for a hot bath. It was then that she realized that she was on the wrong side of the fast-moving stream. She glanced up and down the stream in search of a place to ford. She had noticed, on the trip of almost a week ago, that the stream varied from as little as a few yards to as much as twenty-odd feet wide, and it seemed to average about half dozen feet below the road, with some areas of the embankment being steeper than others. Where she currently found herself was probably as good a place to cross as any, she decided, and then she would scramble up the embankment to the road above her. She looked skeptically at the stream, then at the embankment, frowned slightly, then threw back her slender shoulders and moved forward. Gingerly, she stepped from slippery stone to slippery stone, on more than one occasion almost losing her footing, until she was successfully across. Encouraged by that accomplishment, she began scrambling up the embankment, using jutting stones and thick roots and branches to aid in her ascent. At last, she pulled herself up on to the gravel shoulder of the road where she sat for several minutes, recovering. Her gold-flecked green eyes gradually traveled to the marker that identified the edge of town.

Welcome to Ordinary. Founded 1793.

It was an immense, rough-hewn block of dark granite with the legend deeply chiseled into its polished face.

With a tired sigh, she got to her feet and walked the few yards to the massive weathered block, from there she gazed rather despondently upon the town. There was only one road leading into Ordinary from the outside world. It wound its way along the swift-moving stream, through a mix of old growth trees, through the quaint town center, and ended at the boardwalk at the lake’s edge on the southwest end of town. It was a boring two-lane blacktop, nothing out of the ordinary really. Patches of sunlight slipped through the branches. A light breeze coming off the lake moved silently through the woods, causing her wavy red hair to dance about her freckled face. It was very peaceful at the edge of Ordinary.

The soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old, as she was wanting to remind people, chewed absentmindedly on her lower lip. “A Norman Rockwell painting,” she murmured in her noticeably English accent.

“Do you always talk to yourself?” queried a voice from behind.

Anne spun about with a startled gasp to face the speaker. She was about Anne’s age, her dark brown skin was smooth, and her black hair was uncontrollably attractive. “Sorry to frighten you,” she said, with a sparkling toothy smile. She extended her hand, adding, “I’m Constance Bascomb, Connie to my friends.”

Anne hesitated, eyeing the girl with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. Finally, she accepted the offered hand after wiping hers on her jeans. “Anne. Anne Hambaugh.”

“Your family just moved into that old place on the lake?” Connie Bascomb asked as she dismounted her neon green mountain bike.

“Yes.”

“There are rumors going around that you are royalty.”

“Indeed?” was the curt response.

Connie burst into laughter to the extent that her soft brown eyes became teary. “Well, small towns, you know, it doesn’t take much time for juicy stories to get around.”

“Quite,” was the clipped English reply.

“So, what’re you complaining about?”

“Ordinary,” was the unhappy response.

“You’ve been here all of a week, girlfriend!” laughed Connie. “After gallivanting all over the world, of course life in Ordinary is going to seem a bit slower.”

Anne gave the girl a slow sidelong look. “A bit? Surely, thou dost jest! While it is true that I’ve spent all my life in merry old England, and have traveled extensively throughout the Continent, I certainly did not gallivant all over the world. This,” she said, as she gave the town a dramatic sweeping gesture with her arm, “goes far beyond ‘a bit slower.’”

“Oh, I think you might be surprised at some of the goings on around here,” said Connie, with a mischievous little smile. After a moment of silence, she suddenly asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Anne looked at her with a shocked expression. After the briefest of pauses, she blurted, “What kind of question is that? Of course, I don’t believe in ghosts!”

“What about the paranormal?”

“Not likely!”

“The supernatural?”

Anne narrowed her gold-flecked green eyes. “Now you’re getting creepy. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason,” was the lofty reply. “I was just curious.”

“Daft is more like it,” murmured the red-head. Gazing out over the secluded town, Anne felt an unexpected shiver run up and down her spine. “Connie,” she said in a quiet voice, “you have a bizarrely vivid imagination.”

“So I’ve been told!” she laughed. “I was just wondering, that’s all, you being from that part of the world, you know, I thought maybe you’d run across some in a creepy old castle.”

“Ghosts? Oh, my!” sputtered Anne, in mock disbelief. “They’re make-believe! Things of the imagination! Oh Connie, do you think they exist?” After yet another briefest of pauses, she added, “And here of all places?”

Connie gave a small shrug to go with her small smile. “It was just a strange thought that passed through my mind.”

“‘Strange’ is not the word for it,” was Anne’s retort. Her eyes wandered to the woods from where she had emerged. “Connie, how long have you lived here?”

“All my life. My family is one of the original thirteen founding families. Why?”

Anne hesitated a moment. “There are the remains of an old cabin in the woods,” she murmured, nodding in the direction from whence she had come. “What do you know about it?”

Connie Bascomb looked in the direction Anne indicated and hesitated. “Really? I don’t go into the woods.”

Anne turned her head to stare at her new-found friend. “Why?”

With a shrug, Connie replied, “I don’t know; I just don’t.” Quickly changing the subject, she asked, excitedly, “So, what’s it like to be royalty?”

“I am not royalty!” replied Anne haughtily, bringing herself to her full height of five-feet-three-inches. “My father worked for the State Department in the diplomatic corps; that would be the U.S. State Department, by the by. My mum, well, her parents are of lesser nobility. Grandfather is an earl.”

“Is that like a duke?” Connie queried.

“Two steps down.”

“Ah,” acknowledged Connie, with a small nod. Then, with a sly smile, she added, “So, your mom married a commoner.”

Anne could hardly suppress a chuckle. “Grandfather was absolutely livid at the time, as I understand it. Not only did mum marry a commoner, but she married an American!”

“And your grandmother?”

“Well, Grandmother wasn’t too keen on the idea either, but she took an early liking to my father, so it was all right. Poor Grandfather, though, it took him a good long while to get used to the idea of an American in the family tree, as mum tells it. Apparently, he softened up a bit when the first wee bairn, that would be me, came along.”

“Your dad’s folks must’ve been thrilled at their son marrying into royalty!” declared Connie.

There was rather a lengthy pause, and then Anne said quietly, “I don’t know what my paternal grandparents thought of it. I never knew them, and my father would never speak of them.”

“That’s weird. Did they have a falling out, or something?”

“I suppose they must have had.” She paused again for a moment, returning her gaze to the town below. With a forlorn sigh, she added, “I must say that deciding to retire here did not make any points with Grandfather. And I think Grandmother was hoping my parents would retire to the old family estate near Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire County, though she never came out and said.”

“Hey, it’s not all bad; you met me!” exclaimed Connie, with a broad white toothy smile.

A smile tugged at the corners of Anne’s mouth. “You just might be the silver lining,” she murmured, with a little nod.

Silence descended upon the new-found friends as they became lost in their own thoughts on that beautiful summer day.

• • •

Ordinary seemed just as its name implied, ordinary. Founded in 1793, by people seeking respite from persecution in Europe, it reminded her, somewhat, of an old English town. In the center of town was the Common, an elongated stretch of thick, rich lawn, where the townsfolk would picnic on warm spring days. It came complete with a magnificent Victorian-era gazebo, which served as the centerpiece of all public celebrations. At the northwest corner of the Common were the playground and picnic tables with colorful shades. At the west end of the Common, and across the appropriately named West Street, was City Hall. The two-story building, built of locally quarried stone, also included the volunteer fire department, the small police department, and, in the basement, the local weekly news journal. Along the streets that bordered the three other sides of the Common were a variety of small businesses. Taking up the entire east end, on East Street, was the Only Ordinary Bed-and-Breakfast, and its various outbuildings, such as the now-unused Ordinary Livery. Carter’s Ordinary Clothiers, Marvin’s Ordinary Market (commonly referred to as ‘MOM’s’), The Ordinary Theater, and other such businesses were found along the entire length of South Street. The various dining establishments occupied the entire length of North Street, what the local citizenry affectionately referred to as Restaurant Row.

The four one-way streets which surrounded the Common were known, collectively, as the Circus Maximus; it was a nickname given in the late 1930s by the youth of that era. When the town was founded in early 1793, the thirteen elders who made up the first Council had written into the Charter that all businesses would have the town’s name included. The Charter, along with its other little idiosyncrasies, had never been amended.

The road that led into town from the northeast became Main Street upon leaving the woods, just at the ever-present baseball diamond, where children and adults played during the long summer days. Coming in at the northeast corner of the Common, the road cut diagonally through the Common, and it exited halfway through South Street, ending at the Ordinary Boardwalk at the southwest end of town. A dozen miles to the south of town, on the reedy shores of an unnamed marsh, was the 1930’s-era Ordinary Aerodrome, unused since the end of the Second World War. Not too far from there, in an easterly direction, was the mid-twentieth century Ordinary Hospital, which was separated from the Ordinary Cemetery by a thick wall of trees. A low wall of locally quarried stone completed the cemetery’s enclosure. The recently overhauled 19th century Ordinary Microbrewery was half a dozen miles to the north of town, along the Old Mill Road. Several miles further along from that, at the end of the road, was the relatively recently abandoned 18th century Ordinary Mill and Quarry. It was, to the townsfolk, the quintessence of the small town, which was just the way they liked it.

It was quaint and picturesque. Day visitors took endless photographs and went from ‘Shoppe to Shoppe’. To them, it was anything but ordinary.

For Anne Hambaugh and her younger brother George, however, this was now home. With a shrug and a sigh, Anne tried to reconcile her fate in that there could have been worse places to which her parents could have chosen to retire. Of course, she thought angrily, there were better places, too!

Everything would be new: a new home, a new school, and new friends. It occurred to her, at that moment, that she had not really had any friends back in the Old Country, back in England. She had acquaintances, of course, other kids she would hang out with on occasion, but no real friends. No one shared her interest in journalism, in seeking truth, separating fact from fiction, the adventure in solving a mystery. Everyone she knew was wrapped up in the latest gadgets, gizmos, and fads. Their parents were also further up the chain of nobility. Here in the boondocks, population well less than three thousand, life was going to be very, very different.

Anne sighed again. She would miss the hustle and bustle of city life.

Suddenly, the tranquility of their world was shattered by the roar of a powerful engine, and the squeal of rubber on the black asphalt. Leaves and dirt were whipped up in a dervish swirl around them.

It was a cherry-red convertible that raced along the final stretch of road toward Ordinary, a late model Jaguar, with its black top down. The white-walled tires gripped the road with unerring determination. The vehicle cornered well, never crossing the broken center yellow line that separated the two lanes. It vanished from their sight in the blink of an eye, only to reappear at the bottom of the hill moments later, where it slowed upon entering Ordinary.

Picking leaves from her black curls, Connie asked, in an exasperated tone, “Who the heck was that?”

Brushing dirt from her tan blouse, Anne replied, “Some nut practicing for the Grand Prix, I expect.”

“We don’t have a Grand Prix,” explained Connie, as she kicked up her bicycle’s kickstand.

“Well, won’t he be surprised by that, then,” Anne said, with a wink and a smile.

With that, the new friends began the downhill journey into town; Connie walked her bike. They passed the weathered wooden sign for the MacLeod Manor House, an imposing structure of sixteenth century Scottish architecture. Connie recalled the story behind the manor and shared it with a fascinated Anne. It was the ancestral home of a very wealthy, and, reputedly, a very cantankerous Scottish sea captain named Angus MacLeod. Legend had it that, in the mid-1800’s, he had the massive structure shipped, piece by piece, to a remote location on a bluff overlooking beautiful Lake Ordinary. Legend also had it that he had chosen this particular location because it reminded him of his homeland. Why he had left Scotland was shrouded in mystery, though there were plenty of theories. To add further to the legend, upon the mysterious disappearance of Captain Angus and his young bride, the manor house was abandoned, and the restoration never completed.

• • •

Across the Common from City Hall was the bed-and-breakfast. It was a mid-19th century Victorian-style two-story brick house with a deep, open verandah across its front. It had been converted into Desmond’s Ordinary Hotel in 1901. In 1992, ownership changed, and so did the name. It was the only place in town for overnight visitors to stay if they were not staying with friends or family. That was the destination of the Jaguar’s driver. Ordinary was a quiet paradise only occasionally visited by overnight visitors, which was just the way the townsfolk liked it; so, when this convertible came to a tire-squealing stop in front of the Only Ordinary Bed-and-Breakfast, the townsfolk watched. The rumors began immediately thereafter.

The driver slipped from behind the steering wheel, looked at the people who looked at him, and smiled slightly, though not necessarily benignly. He stood at just over six feet, with a lean, solid build. His neatly trimmed hair was dark and thick, as were the eyebrows above his brown eyes. He sported several days’ growth of beard that gave him a charmingly rogue-like appearance. He was casually dressed in tan slacks and blue short-sleeved shirt. Taking a soft-sided, well-used brown leather travel bag from the passenger seat, he went up the dozen steps, through the open double doors, and disappeared inside. He rang the small bell on the counter and patiently waited for service. His wait was not long.

A gentleman in his mid-sixties emerged from a back room attired in black slacks and red-and-yellow checkered vest, with a white shirt and an impressive multi-colored bowtie. The manager ran a hand over his thinning gray hair as he approached the counter. Placing both hands on the counter, he smiled and said, “Welcome to Ordinary, young man. The name’s Clyde Bigelow, manager of this quaint little establishment. What can I do for you?”

The dark-haired stranger returned the smile. With a British accent, he said, “A room, my good man, at the back if possible, away from street noise. I do enjoy the peace and quiet.”

Glancing briefly at the six keys hanging on the pegboard behind him, Bigelow nodded. “It just so happens I can accommodate you.” He placed a registration card in front of the guest and handed him the quill pen after dipping it into the inkwell. “If you would fill this card out, please, I’ll see what we have.” He waited patiently as the card was completed. “You’ll be in room five,” he said, handing his guest a large brass key. “It’s at the top of the stairs, at the end of the hall, on the left. The bathroom is right across the hall from your room.”

“Thank you so much,” said the dark-haired stranger, accepting the room key with his left hand. He picked up his bag and went up to his room.

Bigelow watched his only guest disappear from his sight, and then turned his attention to the registration card. He raised a quizzical brow and muttered, “Mr. Sansnom? That doesn’t sound very English to me.”

The stranger stood in the open doorway and perused his room. With a slight nod, he decided that it would suffice, then entered and locked the door with the large brass key. He placed his bag on the bed and glanced about the room. It was of a comfortable size, with a full-size four-poster bed near the only window, an overstuffed armchair in an adjacent corner, and a small desk with a rather uncomfortable-looking straight-back chair near the door. There was a small banker’s lamp on the desk and a colorful Tiffany-style lamp on the nightstand. It was a knock-off, he noticed, bemused. Having originally been a home, there was no private bathroom, but rather a communal bathroom which just happened to be across the hall from his room. Being the only guest, he thought, it might as well be a private bath. He sat down on the edge of the bed, picked up the telephone receiver, and dialed a local number from memory.

“I’m here,” he said in a quiet voice to the person on the other end, and then he hung up.


TWO

It was six o’clock in the morning when her gold-flecked green eyes popped opened. It never fails, she thought with a sigh. No matter where she was, no matter what time zone she was in, she always woke up at six o’clock in the morning. She had found that it never mattered how late she stayed up the night before, she always woke up at six o’clock in the morning. It had been that way for as long as she could remember: her unfailing internal alarm clock.

The familiar aroma of brewing coffee from the automatic coffee maker wafted through their new home and enticingly assailed her nostrils. She emerged from beneath her warm blankets, slipped her feet into fuzzy bunny slippers, and pulled on her plush full-length robe with its adorable daisy pattern. Minutes later, she was standing at the huge bay window, in the comfortably appointed family room, with her hands wrapped about a steaming cup of coffee, to which she had generously added cream and sugar. Anne sipped her coffee, a recently acquired taste to the dismay of her grandmother, as she watched the night surrender to the day. It dawned on her at that moment that she had quickly grown to love the lake in the early morning, a contrast to her explosive announcement to her father just the day before. As the air warmed, steam ascended from the lake’s surface creating an ethereal, almost primeval, world. Then, as if on cue, a light breeze came across the lake causing the steam to dance a captivating series of pirouettes.

While she had not grown up in this new house, there was something about it that assured her, as if instinctively, that this would be a refuge from the insanity of the world. Never before had she felt bonded to a house, not even to the one in which she had, until recently, grown up. This house was different. There was a feeling of inner peace, of comfort and safety, in this old house. She took solace in that.

Nathan Hambaugh, clad in a blue silk Oriental floor-length robe he had picked up in Singapore years before during one of his diplomatic jaunts, sauntered into the living room with his over-sized mug in hand. “Good morning, sunshine,” he yawned.

Anne turned to face her father. “Good morning, Pater,” she said softly, using the informal British word for father, which is what she had always called him for as long as she could remember. “I am sorry about my behavior yesterday,” she continued.

“Not to worry.”

“Even so, it was unacceptable.”

He kissed her forehead. “How’d you sleep?”

She thought a moment, and then replied, “Surprisingly well, actually. Slept like a rock and still woke up at six on the dot.”

“You get that from me.”

“Gee, thanks, Pater,” she said. “Will I ever know what it is like to sleep in?”

“Probably not,” he said with a grin. “Here in a few minutes we’ll roust the rest of the household, so we can get to church on time. Your Aunt Andrea and Uncle Ray have graciously offered to take us.”

“Rub elbows with our new neighbors?”

“Well, I don’t know about neighbors,” chuckled her father. “We’re about the only folks out here, aside from your aunt and uncle down the road. Well, and the Bascombs up the road a bit, but it’ll give us the opportunity to meet people who live in town.”

After a momentary pause, Anne asked, “Pater, now that you and Mum are retired, what is it you plan to do? I mean, you’ve both worked all your lives, I just don’t see either of you sitting around watching the grass grow and the paint peel.”

“Oh, for a few days, maybe,” her father joked. “You’re right, though, eventually we’ll find something to keep us out of the billiard halls. Until then, there’s plenty to do right here making this place our very own.”

“About that, Pater; it would seem we were quite fortunate finding a place just up the road from Uncle Raymond and Aunt Andrea.” She finished her coffee, and then added, “How ever did you manage that?”

There was a somewhat lengthy pause. “Well,” her father finally said, in a quiet voice, “you have your Uncle Ray to thank; I had nothing to do with it. This old place was a rental property for quite a number of years. When we told your Uncle Ray last year that we were going to retire and would be looking for a place to settle down, well, he made mention that he had just the place for us.”

“So, we’re renting from Uncle Ray?” she asked, incredulously.

“Oh, no,” he said with a chuckle, and then he added, “This is . . . our home, free and clear.”

Reflectively, she said, “It feels like home, too.” She glanced up at him. “I feel as though this house, and I, are in some way connected.”

She saw the momentary hesitation in his face, which was immediately replaced by his warm smile. “I’m glad,” he murmured.

Anne hesitated a moment before speaking again, this time in a soft, quiet voice. “There’s something about this old house, something I cannot explain . . .” She looked into his blue eyes; a feeling of uncertainty enveloped her, “. . . but that I think you can,” she said, softly.

Her father stared out across the lake for several moments before finally replying. “You’re very perceptive, Anne, you always have been.” There was a moment of silence, and then he spoke. “You may feel a connection,” he told her quietly, “because this is our family’s ancestral home.”

“We have an ancestral home? Here? In America? Here? In Ordinary? Here? Of all places?”

“Yes, here of all places.”

“But, of all the places in the entire world, why here?”

He took a long sip from his mug, and then he said, “My side of the family has lived in this area for a very long time.” After a brief pause, he added, reflectively, “It’s interesting, though you’ve never been here before now, that you feel a connection to this old house.” He pursed his lips in thought. “I’ve been away from here for more than forty years,” he murmured, as if to himself contemplatively.

She started to ask about her paternal grandparents, but something in his expression told her that now was not the time to pursue this discovery any further. She used her empty coffee cup as an excuse to change the subject. “Do I have time for one more cup before waking George? I need the fortification.”

Her father smiled and nodded. “He takes after your mother, you know.”

“I heard that!” came a distinctly British voice from behind them.

Father and daughter turned simultaneously to face the speaker. Emma Hambaugh, clad in a shimmering green silk Oriental floor-length robe, with disheveled curly red hair and a steaming cup of coffee in hand, approached the duo. “Takes after me, does he?”

“I meant that in the nicest possible way, dear!” stammered Nathan, suppressing a grin.

“I’m sure you did, dear.” She kissed her husband’s stubbly cheek.

“Methinks you’ve been had, Pater!” laughed Anne.

• • •

Services at God’s Ordinary Church let out at eleven o’clock. Reverend Archibald Peabody stood at the thick, iron-banded, weathered oak doors to share a few words with the faithful as they exited. “It’s so nice to have some fresh faces in the flock,” he said to the Hambaughs, shaking Nathan’s hand as he spoke.

“Well, that was quite a nice sermon you gave, Reverend,” Nathan Hambaugh said. “Your choir did a wonderful job.”

“Perhaps you’d like to join the choir?” inquired Reverend Peabody, eyebrows hopefully raised.

“Not I!” laughed Nathan. “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! My wife, on the other hand,” he continued, giving Emma a squeeze around the shoulders, “well, she has the voice of an angel.”

“I’ll get you for that!” his wife said under her breath, all the while smiling sweetly.

“Oh! There’s Connie,” said Anne to her parents, during the microsecond lull in the conversation, “I’ll be home in time for dinner.” And with that, she was gone.

“Who’s Connie?” asked Nathan.

“Apparently, she’s a new friend,” replied his wife.

“That’s all right, then,” he nodded.

The Bascomb family was in the church yard mingling with others when Anne approached. William Bascomb, Connie’s father, turned toward his daughter’s new-found friend and smiled broadly. Against his very dark face, his teeth appeared impossibly white. “So, you’re Anne!” he greeted her in a booming baritone. “Hope you don’t mind me calling you Anne. Connie tells me that you’re a journalist.”

“No, and yes,” she stammered, caught somewhat off her guard. “I mean, no, I don’t mind; and, yes, I worked on the paper at my last school.”

“That’s good enough for me!” the towering African American declared. “I own and operate The Ordinary Outlook, that’s the local weekly news journal. Now, every year I usually have a couple of kids from the high school working for me; kids like you, who are interested in journalism. The last of them have graduated and moved on to bigger and better things, so I’m in search of a new hotshot reporter. Would you be interested?”

Anne’s gold-flecked green eyes grew in proportion to her smile. “Would I ever!” she exclaimed in a voice loud enough to attract almost everyone’s attention. Suddenly blushing, she lowered her voice and vigorously shook his massive hand. “Oh, thank you, thank you! You have no idea what this means to me. When Connie told me that the school had no paper, well, I just didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I’ll be your best journalist ever! And I won’t stop asking questions until I get to the truth!”

With a laugh, he said, “Oh, I have no doubt. Just keep in mind that things are a bit slower around here, which is why it’s a weekly publication and not a daily paper. Stop by Monday and look over some of the back issues so you’ll have an idea of what it is you’re getting yourself into.” He gave his daughter a hug and kissed her forehead. “I’m off to do some fishing with Ralph Hale. I’ll be home for dinner. You two stay out of trouble.”

“You sure know how to take the fun out of being a teenager, Dad,” grumbled Connie, jokingly.

Anne was still smiling after he had left. “Thank you, Connie. You’ve saved me from a fate worse than death: boredom!”

With a shrug and a smile, Connie replied, “What are friends for? I just hope you don’t get too bored working on the paper. Dad isn’t kidding when he said life is a bit slower in Ordinary.”

Anne suddenly became very quiet. Her eyes took on an inquiring manifestation. Grabbing Connie’s arm with one hand and squeezing with enough emphasis to get her friend’s attention, she nodded nonchalantly to a young man standing alone beside an ancient oak in the church yard. “Who is that?” she queried urgently, her voice barely audible.

Glancing in the direction of Anne’s attention, her best friend prefixed her answer with an all-knowing “Ah!” Unable to keep from smiling, Connie continued, “If you’re referring to the tall, blond, handsome hunk standing by the tree and looking in your direction, well, that would be the one and only Harvey Freeman.”

“Continue.”

“Well, let’s see. A relative new-comer to town, he’s a cadet with the police department, and is considered, by every female between the ages of thirteen and thirty, and many even older, as the most eligible bachelor in town.” She paused for moment in thought. “Or is that ‘most desirable bachelor’?”

“That bad, eh?”

Connie laughed lightly. “Well, he is a hunk.”

“He looks like a nice enough chap,” murmured Anne, still watching Freeman.

“Oh, he’s a very nice guy,” agreed Connie, looking from Anne to Harvey and back again. “And I’d say you’ve attracted his attention.”

“Time to go!” declared Anne as she spun on her heel and walked briskly away from the church with a laughing Connie in tow.


THREE

As the antique Victorian grandfather clock in the family room chimed the six o’clock hour, Anne swung her feet out from the under the covers and slipped them into her fuzzy bunny slippers. She stretched and yawned as she tugged on her plush daisy-print robe. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee beckoned to her from the kitchen; she had to obey. She was in the process of pouring up two cups of the steaming brew when her father sauntered in, yawning, stretching, and scratching.

“Good morning, Pater,” she greeted him with a smile.

“Good morning, my dear,” he responded as he gratefully accepted the hot cup. “So, what are your big plans for today?”

As they went to the family room, she said, “Well, after church yesterday, Mr. Bascomb, he would be Connie’s father, offered me a position on the weekly journal,” reminding him between grateful sips. “He had suggested that I pop by to peruse the back issues; you know, to get an idea of the sort of thing that’s written.”

“That is a very good idea,” he father said with a nod. “It would also give you a better understanding of this old town. I don’t recall how far back the journal goes, though I do know that it was around when I was a kid growing up here.”

“That far back?” With a twinkle in her eye, she asked, “Might there be something in the back issues about you as a mischievous boy?”

He shook his head and sighed. “No, sorry, I was the perfect child.”

“Makes one wonder what happened, then,” Emma Hambaugh quipped, as she sauntered into the family room, a steaming cup in hand.

Nathan turned and gave her his very best, though entirely ineffective, look of scorn. This was immediately followed by a kiss. “Good morning, my dear. You’re up earlier than usual.”

“Am I? Well, I suppose I am.” She looked out over the mist-covered lake. “Quite nice, isn’t it? Yes, quite nice.” She smiled at her daughter and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead. “I thought I heard you saying something about rummaging through back issues of the local paper.”

“It’s a weekly journal,” corrected Anne with a smile, “and yes, I am. I intend to learn all I can about this place.” She added, somewhat wistfully, “Since it appears that we will be here for quite some time.”

• • •

At eight o’clock that morning, Anne Hambaugh, novice journalist, coasted her lavender bicycle to a stop at the rear of City Hall. Hopping off, she placed it in the bicycle rack that was provided, locked the steel anti-theft cable around the frame, through the front wheel, and to the rack, and then strode purposefully in through the back door. She found herself, quite naturally, at the rear of the building, in a long corridor that went straight to the double doors at the front of the building. Drawing herself to her full five-foot-three, she walked toward the lobby where she knew she would find Mrs. Maude Raynes, the City Hall secretary and records clerk, as well as, among other things, the daytime emergency services dispatcher.

“Good morning, Miss Hambaugh,” said the sixty-seven-year-old woman. It was one of her idiosyncrasies: addressing everyone formally, regardless of age. Her graying hair was pulled back in rather a severe bun, and her pale blue eyes peered at the teenager over reading spectacles. “Mr. Bascomb said you would be coming by this morning. His office is downstairs; he is there now.” She smiled tightly. “Happy reading.”

Anne eyed her askance as she thanked her, and then she headed toward the stairs that would take her to the building’s basement. The older woman had returned to her game of solitaire, having dismissed the girl. Anne hurried down the stairs to find herself in a large, well-lit basement. There were several offices along one entire side of the single hall, one of which was emblazoned with the sign: “WILLIAM BASCOMB: EDITOR-IN-CHIEF.” Along the opposite wall, there were several doors labeled variously as CUSTODIAN, PROPERTY ROOM, STORAGE, and such. And at the end, there were the three jail cells, empty, and with the doors open; save one. It was in the farthest most corner and affixed to its door was a sign that read RECORDS, and that door was shut.

“Come on in here!” boomed William Bascomb cheerfully. He had a huge smile on his face as he reached over his desk to shake Anne’s hand in greeting. “I’m glad you came, Anne, I really am. To be honest, the last couple of youngsters I had interning as journalists were, ah, well, you know . . .”

She smiled back at him, and, with a knowing wink, she tapped the side of her nose with her right forefinger. “Oh, aye, I know what you mean!”

Bascomb laughed out loud, which was rather amplified in the confined space of the basement. “I don’t get that impression from you. And having worked for a school paper, you have a better idea of what is expected. Now, as I said before, the pace in Ordinary is a bit slower than what you’re used to, but I believe you’ll find things interesting nonetheless. Now, I want you to spend today going through the back issues. Go as far back as you want. This journal was founded not too long after the town was, so, it’s, oh, more than two hundred years old, you know, which means there’s a lot of local history in those old pages.”

“I look forward to reading up on the history of this town, sir,” she told him with a nod.

“Don’t expect to find much,” he laughed. “Just focus on the last year or so; that should be plenty of information to let you know what’s going on around here.” He handed her a brass key, adding, “This is to the records cell. I’ll be leaving soon to interview our local flower show organizer, Joan Rosenberg. She’s a very nice lady, but she’s all about flowers! So, if you’ll lock up when you’re done I’d appreciate it.”

“Of course!” she replied, accepting the responsibility.

The city’s official archives, birth and death certificates, and the like, were stored for posterity in the corner jail cell, separate from the other two cells, which were nearer the stairs. It was a dismally lit cell, with a single bare, low-wattage compact fluorescent bulb doing its best to fend off the darkness. Against one wall of the six-by-nine-foot cell, there was a library table, which was showing its age. The dried-out wood was cracked in places, and it showed stains from wet glasses going back many decades. With it, there was an antiquated straight-backed wooden chair, solidly built, which was most uninviting. Across from the long narrow table, spanning the entire length of the six-foot wall, were several antiquated four-drawer metal filing cabinets, each with a yellowing piece of paper identifying the contents; with the exception of one. It was a battered, but sturdy, old cabinet that was in the darkest corner. Naturally, that was the one to which Anne was drawn.

There were four drawers, each one locked. She gave each a good tug, then a few more for good measure. None budged. Resigned, temporarily, to the fact that she could not access the cabinet, she turned her attention to the other filing cabinets. As she went through those, she found herself repeatedly glancing toward the locked cabinet.

Focusing on the task at hand, she started her review with the most current editions—preferring paper-in-hand to a computer screen—and worked her way back. Some of what she read she found quite amusing, as the antics of various citizens made the press. Often, it turned out to be the same repeat offenders. There were the family feuds, various cats up a tree, boisterous bingo at the church hall resulting in a police response, and tall fishing tales, interspersed among occasional burglaries and brawls. The latter of which actually occurred with some frequency at O’Brien’s Ordinary Rock Chapel, the local pub. Sean O’Brien, the owner/operator, was the current mayor, which made for some interesting reading. Ordinary is definitely small time, she thought to herself with a sigh, as she perused further into its past.

Much of what she read were mundane tidbits, but one thing she found interesting was the make-up of the town’s council. It was the eldest member of the thirteen founding families, regardless of gender, who made up the council. To sit on the council, she quickly learned, was a requirement, not a right, nor a privilege. Each person had to be the eldest direct descendent of the thirteen founding families, not a spouse, cousin, nephew or niece, and as such it was imperative that the founding families have a direct lineage. The position of mayor rotated annually. It was always filled by a council member. She found this intriguing.

The day progressed quite quickly as she found herself engrossed in learning what there was written about this obscure little town. One thing she had learned of this town, with fewer than three thousand residents, was that the term ‘news’ was most definitely relative. Laughing to herself, she had to admit that she had been forewarned not to expect much. She had learned that the previous week’s big news item had been Mrs. Martel’s twenty-five-pound orange tabby cat, Dundee, refusing to leave the church’s bell tower, and, in so doing, preventing the ringing of the bell on Sunday morning. That, apparently, resulted in Reverend Pettigrew being late to his own service.

Such was life in today’s Ordinary.

One thing she noticed was, over the last year or so, mention of numerous jewelry heists in the neighboring communities. While there was the occasional, in fact, rare, burglary in Ordinary, the town was effectively crime-free, as far as major crime went.

Finally, she put away the first edition in its appropriate place. A tiny voice at the back of her mind, the one that made its presence known to her only rarely, whispered to her subconscious that there was more to discover. Her eyes gradually settled on the locked cabinet tucked away in the darkened corner. She pursed her lips in thought. Where there was a will . . .

Taking her shoulder bag in hand, she began to rifle through it on her quest for a key, of sorts. She found it at the bottom, naturally, amongst the lint. She extracted the rather well-used metal nail file and held it up to the light. It would have to do. She sauntered casually over to the filing cabinet, glancing nonchalantly over her shoulder as she did. At the cabinet, she took some time to analyze the offending lock. It was an old filing cabinet, with an equally old lock. She surmised that, in its day, it fit the needs of those who put it here, but that was a long time ago. She touched the key hole gently, almost a caress, then introduced the nail file. The process seemed so much easier in the movies, she grumbled to herself, as she repeatedly attacked the keyhole. In the end, there was a faint noise, as though something had broken. She frowned slightly as it was not quite the end result she had fancied.

With a firm tug, she pulled the top drawer open. It protested loudly on rusted sliders. She froze guiltily, and quickly glanced toward the cell door. If Mr. Bascomb was still in his office, there was no indication that he heard the offending racket. Letting out her breath slowly, she peered inside; the drawer was empty. She frowned at that, and then repeated the process on the second drawer. Again, there were the nerve-jangling protestations of rusted sliders. Again, she paused to listen for any sound from her new boss; there was nothing. Peering into the second drawer, she found, again, that the drawer was empty. The third drawer was a repeat of the previous two: noisy and empty.

Anne pursed her lips in thought. One more drawer, and if it was anything like the others then her inquisitiveness would have been for naught. The difference here, she noticed, was that, unlike the top three drawers which shared a single lock, the fourth drawer had its own lock. That, in and of itself, piqued her curiosity. She got down on her knees and began to manipulate the lock with her now-warped nail file. Her patience was nearing frustration when she heard a faint click from within the lock. Setting aside the now completely mutilated nail file, she took hold of the drawer’s handle. Expecting it to put up a fight, as had the previous three, she drew in her breath and held it, then gave a strong tug. The drawer slid out soundlessly on well-oiled sliders, and she fell back with enough velocity to give her tailbone a good jarring.

Anne stood up carefully, gingerly rubbing her traumatized backside. “Very funny,” she muttered.

She settled onto her knees and looked into the drawer. There lay a book, about thirteen inches in height by seven inches in width, and slightly more than an inch thick. It was leather-bound, weathered, and stained from much handling by oily fingers, and it screamed for her to lift it out. With her heart racing with excitement, and her breathing shallow, Anne reached into the drawer and carefully lifted out the book with both hands. She laid it upon the library table with unexplained reverence. At first, all she could do was look at it. There was nothing on the leather cover to indicate what it might be, though she suspected it was a journal of some kind.

With a delicate touch, Anne opened the cover to reveal the first yellowed page. There, written in a strong hand was: Journal of Malachi Somerfield, Esq. She felt lightheaded and realized that she had been holding her breath. Nervously, she turned the first page very carefully and found a series of four columns. In the first column, there was a list of surnames in alphabetical order. In the second column, there were listed the first names of husbands, wives, and children in conjunction with the surnames. Dates of birth were in the third column, which were identified with a lower case ‘b’’. Dates of death were in the fourth column, which were identified with a lower case ‘d’’.

In the dim light proffered by the single bulb, she also noticed that there were two surnames which had been struck, each with a single heavy, dark line. Gazing upon the manner of the striking with her natural inquisitiveness, she thought that there had been much anger involved. Only one surname was associated with a wife and children, whereas the other name stood alone, unattached. It was as if the owners of those names had been excluded from the township with abhorrence. Then she saw past the dark, heavy lines to the names which were all but obliterated. One name, that of Emil Caftani, she did not recognize. The other, however, gave her quite a start: Nathaniel Hambaugh.

It was as if her breath was knocked from her. She felt herself go very pale and light headed. She sat back heavily and stared for what seemed an eternity. When she regained control of her senses, it was as if an endless stream of questions suddenly assaulted her. It took her several minutes to calm her racing mind and steady her rapidly beating heart. There must be a perfectly good explanation, she told herself. Or perhaps even two unrelated explanations, she added without much conviction. She turned the page and began to read. It was slow going as the ink was faded and the language antiquated. As best she could make out, the first several pages relayed the accomplishments of the travelers from the time they set sail, from a tiny harbor on the southern tip of Ireland, to the time they settled in this current location. There had been vague mentionings of things she did not understand, spellings of words she could not translate into today’s English, and she got the distinct impression that things were not as they seemed.

It was quite obvious that Malachi Somerfield, who would become the town’s first High Sheriff, had no love for either Emil Caftani, or Nathaniel Hambaugh, during the journey, and that his hatred of the two men grew after the settlement was founded. She had to wonder if his hatred was shared by others or was his alone. All Somerfield had to say about Caftani, repeatedly, was that he was evil; there was no explanation, no proffered evidence to support such a claim. What she was able to garner from the yellowed pages was that something truly horrendous had happened not long after the settlement was founded. It had involved Nathaniel Hambaugh and Emil Caftani, and it resulted in the disappearance of the latter, and the exile from the community of the former. But there were no decipherable details, which frustrated her.

It dawned on her then that her Uncle Roy, the current sheriff, was a Somerfield. The corners of her lips curled up slightly in a smile at the thought. Perhaps Uncle Roy would be able to answer at least some of her questions. Her fingers gently caressed the pages as her mind wandered. There’s a story in these old pages, she thought excitedly, a story that has not been told in more than two hundred years. Her smile broadened. It’s a story of which most of the town’s residents were probably unaware, and that others, who may have known at one time, had long since forgotten. She knew that it would take time to do the necessary research and put it all together, but what a story it would be!

As she gently closed the Somerfield journal, and returned it to the drawer from which she had extracted it, the clock in Mr. Bascomb’s office chimed the five o’clock hour. Maude Raynes called down that it was time to call it a day and head for home. Silently, she tidied up the dimly lit cell and gathered up her belongings. She made her way upstairs where she found Mrs. Raynes waiting at the back door.

“A productive day, Miss Hambaugh?” the older woman asked, kindly.

“Oh, very!” replied a happy Anne Hambaugh.

“That’s good. Now, off you go and enjoy your evening.”

Anne went out the back of the building with Mrs. Raynes—the door closing and automatically locking behind them—and headed home on her bicycle. I will definitely have to follow up on this little unexpected find, she thought, with the hint of a smile. There was a nice local history lesson in that old journal that could be of interest to the good townsfolk. What she did know was that she could not just ask someone about her discovery, not considering how she learned it, so she would have to come up with some creative journalistic investigating.


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