Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mystery of the Mysterious Boat, Chapter Two, Part Two

Begin with the beginning.

The next morning, Parker got behind the wheel of the Mustang, while Jennifer and Traynor jumped into the back. The onramp of the Harbor Freeway was just next to the hotel. Off they went on the maze of Los Angeles freeways to find a way to Malibu.

As expected, the sky was sparkling with an immaculate blue, the sun was burning, and the palm trees along the freeway were swaying in the airstream of passing trucks. Jennifer's long gold-blond hair was flying in the wind. Traynor bent over, ran his right hand through her hair, looked her deep into her blue eyes, pulled her closer, brushed his lips over hers, and proceeded to nibble and kiss.

At the cloverleaf next to the convention center, Parker pulled the mobile make-out session onto the Santa Monica Freeway. About a dozen miles and a gazillion kisses later, the Mustang emerged from a short underpass near the Santa Monica Municipal Pier. The freeway had changed its name to Palisades Beach Road and was running parallel to the Pacific Ocean. They were now on the famous Highway 1.

Parker's nerves were wearing thin. "Don't you two ever need to come up for air? Why not have a look at the Pacific? You can always neck at home, can't you?"

Soon, the highway changed its name once more, to Pacific Coast Highway. The four-lane highway doubled as the Main Street of Malibu. Lined by low-rise buildings, the highway ran between brownish-green hills and the blue of the ocean. Some stretches of beach were no wider than a towel, the homes between beach and highway precariously perched on piles and rocks. Anyways, the beaches were as awash with sunbathers as the surf was awash with surfers. The threesome thought they heard the happy shouts of children splashing in the water through the noise of the traffic.

All lucky folks who did not have to work on a beautiful day like this. But Traynor and Parker would get their free vacation out of this one when their job was done. Perks. Besides, First American was getting Jennifer's services for free, so that would be only fair.

In the hills that made up the backwoods of Malibu loomed a rather short but extremely skinny tower. Into its narrow whitish facade a Christian cross had been burned, probably by fire and brimstone. What the hell could that mean? The three sinners in the Mustang beheld the meaning ahead. To the right of the highway a billboard proselytized: "Pepperdine University: Freely Ye Received — Freely Give."

The house they were looking for was located on the western outskirts of Malibu, south of Pacific Coast Highway, on a spit of rock above the beach. Parker U-turned and pulled over. A new crimson pearl colored Cadillac DTS was parked on the drive.

"The Caddy sure looks out of place," Parker commented after looking over the property.

They got out and followed the drive through a garden overgrown by lush subtropical vegetation. At the end of the drive lurked a not very large house, Spanish Colonial Revival style, with a red tile roof. Dirty, formerly white paint was peeling away from its walls.

"Yep — looks positively haunted," grinned Traynor.

A rustle came from to the left of the drive, from the rampant jungle. When they looked, there was a pale face staring down at them. Its grotesque, contorted features were covered with green slime and mold.

Jennifer frowned, walked over, stood on her tiptoes, and stretched her hands up to touch the lurid face. She parted the leaves, revealing the weathered, eroded head of a copy of a Greek marble statue. Its body, limbs, and pedestal remained unseen, veiled by the leaves of trees and bushes. The statue had probably once been white, but now it was covered with moss and algae. A sea gull that had preened its feathers sitting atop the statue took wing and soared into the sky. Now they saw that the whole garden was littered with loads of such statues, overgrown by out-of-control vegetation.

As they walked up to the door, they saw that there was no doorbell. Traynor knocked. No answer. He knocked again and again.

Finally, the door opened a crack. Slowly, gingerly, like a rabbit ready to retreat into its burrow, a clean-shaven face approached the crack. Below curly black hair, wire-framed glasses shielded the man's dark eyes darting right to left, left to right, as if he was more afraid of the room behind him than of the gang. Was it possible for a rabbit to be afraid of its own burrow?

Traynor tried to reassure him with a smile. "Hi, I assume you're Ted Wheelwright?"

An affirmative nod.

"I called ahead. I'm Kevin Traynor, First American Corporation, Vice President for Safety, Security, and Special Assignments. This is my colleague Nick Parker — and the lovely lady here is Jennifer Jordan, C… I mean, she works for just another government agency."

"A Virginia farm girl, huh?"

"Whatever." Traynor handed his business card through the crack.

Wheelwright looked at the card, removed the door chain, opened the door, and motioned them to come in. The short, slim man led them through the spacious living room. The curtains were drawn and the furniture was covered. Heavy beams supported the mahogany ceiling. There were many paintings on the walls, but it was too dim to see any details.

They entered a studio in the back of the house, fronting a deck overlooking the Pacific. The south and west walls consisted of tinted French windows. The two other walls were covered with paintings; there was not a blank spot. In the light streaming in from the ocean, the dazzling colors looked breathtaking.

In the northwest corner of the studio stood an empty bookcase. Paint drippings proved it had held not books, but art supplies. The door next to it looked like a closet door. In the middle of the room stood an empty H-frame easel. On a corner of the otherwise empty table next to it some paintbrushes and a palette remained. A thin layer of dust covered the table and the art supplies. Whoever had been tidying up or cleaning out the house had suddenly stopped for some reason.

Read on…

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