Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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

Begin with the beginning.

Most of the paintings on the walls depicted the sea and the beach. Others showed different kinds of palm trees. Many of the seascapes featured the California sun setting into the Pacific. To the observer it was immediately obvious that these were no ordinary sunsets, but that the artist had tried again and again to capture the perfect, the ideal sunset: Not the sun as it would look on any odd day, but as it looked on a perfect day. All the paintings were signed "Will Wheelwright."

"Yes, dad was a great artist. He lived for his paintings only. You must have seen that from the condition the garden is in."

"Indeed," answered Traynor. "If you could bear to part with some of these treasures, I'm sure my company would be happy to buy some for the lobby of our LA headquarters. But that's actually another business. First, we need to acquire this lot for our new marina. The spit of rock would be ideal foundations for the mall and the apartment building on top, plus we'd get great views from the eateries of the mall."

"Sure, Mr. Traynor…"


"Sure, Kevin, of course I'd like to sell, otherwise I wouldn't have negotiated with your company. Really, I could never make myself spend just one night in here. I was this close to signing the contract — but I just can't take it on my conscience to saddle you with a haunted house. What if the ghosts or… creatures that ride in that… boat exact revenge on your patrons? I don't want to be responsible for that. It's not a question of money: When dad passed away last year, he left me enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my days."

"Ted, there is no such thing as ghosts."

"Great, and if you can prove that, and find an explanation for what's going on here, I'll be happy to sell you the house. But I don't see how you could solve this mystery. Dad couldn't for all his life. Lemme tell you something: If you can find a rational explanation for what has become kind of our family curse, I'll give each of you a painting."

"That's very generous," remarked Jennifer, who had been studying the artworks. She turned around from the pictures. "Then tell us about that strange boat."

Wheelwright motioned them out onto the deck, where they sat down in white metal chairs. Beyond, a crumbling wall separated the garden from the cliff dropping to the beach. The decorative pillars of the wall were crowned with deteriorating statues as well.

"Well, you see, my grandparents, dad's parents, were in the oil business — until they sold their company to Standard Oil of California. So they left dad quite a fortune when they died — that was before I was born. Dad bought this house so he'd be able to paint each day what he loved most: the sunset. He lived here quietly and happily for some years, married mom, and I was born.

"However, one foggy night, long after my bedtime, mom and dad thought they heard a strange sound from the ocean. When it wouldn't stop, but was even growing louder and closer, they went to a window and strained their eyes. Finally, when the noise seemed to be right at the foot of the cliff, they saw that there was a ghostly boat coming in from the Pacific. It was blurred by the fog, but it looked like a large old canoe. It seemed to be much too large for a canoe, but there were figures paddling, and someone was beating time on a drum. The boat came ashore. Ghostly figures climbed up from the beach and sneaked around the house.

"Dad called the cops, but when they finally arrived, the ghosts and the boat were long gone. The emergency dispatcher had not really believed the story. The officers didn't, either. They gave dad sly glances and asked some funny questions. Every foggy night, the boat and the phantoms would come back — but dad would not allow mom to call the cops. He was not a man to provide free entertainment to cops by becoming the butt of their jokes."

"Excuse me, but do you actually have any recollection of seeing that boat yourself?" interrupted Traynor.

"You think my parents were just hallucinating? No, unfortunately, it's not that simple. True, the phantom boat would only appear long after bedtime, but once I waked up in the middle of the night. I heard the drum, got out of bed, sneaked to the window… saw the boat landing, and the ghostly figures moving through the mist, up to the house. I probably don't have to tell you that I spent the rest of that night with my pillow over my head.

"The next morning, I must have been very distraught and asked my parents questions they could not answer to themselves. Anyway, when the haunting continued, mom wanted to get out of here, sell the house or just abandon it, just get the hell out of it. She was afraid of those creatures, even more afraid of what they might do to me, and probably most afraid of me becoming traumatized by those apparitions."

"If your mom was afraid for your sanity, why did your parents tell you all that?" Jennifer asked for the record.

"They didn't, at first. Most of what I know about that mysterious boat, dad told me over the years." It was the answer she had expected.

Wheelwright nodded. "Yes, dad was stubborn. Too stubborn to listen to mom. He was not to be forced from his land. Besides, it was the ideal location for his studio. As you may have observed, from this point one has the best view of the sunset in all Malibu. The ghost boat was driving him crazy, but running away from it was not an option. So mom one day simply had had enough, packed our stuff into her station wagon, took me by the hand, and off we drove to her parents in Pasadena. Dad gave her money, so she was able to buy a gift shop on Olvera Street. You know El Pueblo, the tourist trap?"

Collective nods.

"We got to live in a loft in a converted industrial building Downtown. Downtown was quite different back then. Fewer skyscrapers — and much more dangerous. You should have seen my high school. Anyways, despite their separation, dad kept visiting us Downtown. He'd take us to Disneyland or to a picnic. Dad always wanted mom to leave Downtown and move closer to Malibu, at least to Santa Monica or so. But mom would not go near the ocean anymore if she could help it.

"At first, dad tried to investigate the mystery. He even called in private investigators once. That is, he was on the verge of doing it. He'd read in a local newspaper about some upstart PI outfit that he trusted would be ready to deal with his… well, unusual assignment. They promised him they'd investigate his case. Then, one of the investigators called him back, kind of freaked out like, told dad that they had to look for a lost cat and therefore couldn't help him. After that humiliating experience, dad wanted no part of any private eyes. Really, those guys shouldn't have added insult to injury."

"Yeah, I read about them guys. They were quite well-known in their day. What's become of them? I think one of them is a reporter, another a lawman, and the third?" mused Traynor.

Wheelwright frowned. "I think I heard he's a typewriter salesman in Fresno."

"Do they still use typewriters in Fresno?" wondered Jennifer.

"Well, maybe it wasn't Fresno… Maybe… Fr… France. Yes, I think there was something about Europe to it. Do they still have typewriters in France, what do you think?"

"They eat frog's legs, you know," Traynor observed. "I know that. I've been there."

"Well, if they eat frog's legs, anything goes…"

Read on…

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