Stacks and Collins abruptly spun to look behind them. Candace was standing in a dark corner of the room; the lighting was casting her features in wickedly dark shadows. Both men looked as if they would run if she said boo, when Tommy Collins started to back up and tripped over the arm of one of the luxurious reading chairs that were in the room. Falling back into the chair, he sat down, only to hear a loud screech coming from under him, and sharp claws and teeth that did their best to tear him apart.
Throwing himself out of the chair and onto the floor, Collins started yelling at the top of his lungs, “What the hell.”
At the same time as Collins hit the floor, his foot slammed into the back of Stacks right knee, and he went sprawling down to land on top of Collins.
With both men cursing and trying to disentangle themselves on the library floor, Candace burst out laughing. Gloria and Sheila were standing behind Candace laughing so much, that they had tears in their eyes.
Looking up to see them laughing and standing in a doorway that had not previously been there, Stacks looked over their heads and groaned. “Where the hell did that door come from? I know, for a fact, it was not there earlier.”
Standing behind them, staring with disbelieving looks on their faces, was Blaster, Rothman and Mead. To make matters worse, the three of then burst into laughter, at the sight of the two men, their limbs entangled, then their laughter mingling with the laughter of the three women. Stacks batted his eyes and looked over at Collins who was now rubbing his bottom and asking what the heck had just clawed his bottom to shreds.
“I see you found Fancy Cat for me,” Candace said, as she walked over and picked up the huge over weight cat. Fancy Cat gave Collins another indignant glare, mewed pitifully then leaned into Candace to rub his head on her chin.
“Poor baby did that big man try to squash you,” Candace cooed to the cat.
Stacks grinned as he saw the twinkle in her eye as she successfully squelched down another round of laughter that threatened to burst forth.
Looking up at Candace, Collins tried to sound pitiful when he said, “What about me, first you scare the bejesus out of me, then that big old mean cat tried to tear me a new one.”
At this point, everyone, including Collins burst into a boisterous round of laughter.
“Come on you two big scaredy-cats, I think you two will be just fine, when and if you decide to get up off the floor,” Candace told him and Stacks as they untangled and stood up.
“Candace, sweetheart, if you would be so kind as to explain why you did not mention the hidden door, before now, we may decide to be generous with you and let you live,” Stacks said as he stalked towards her.
“Oh, sorry about that, guys, but when I walked into the dining room, I simply looked over, saw the secret passage, and decided to show you so that you would have an easy way back and forth, between the kitchen and the library. The rest of this was your fault, for saying I may be a ghost. I simply could not resist,” Candace said with a smile.
“Yeah, I can see how that would be tempting, and I suppose if the shoe was on the other foot and I would have been in your place… Ok, you I forgive, but as for that monster you call a cat, I don’t know if I will be able to forgive her,” Collins said point his finger at the cat, and trying to look stern and angry.
Fancy Cat chose that moment to roll over on her back, in Candace’s arm’s, then playfully batted at Collins’s finger, and sweetly meow at him.
Collins reached over and scratched Fancy Cat’s stomach and said, “Alright, you’re forgiven. It was partly my fault after all.”
“Tough guy isn’t he, “Candace cooed to Fancy Cat.
“So just how do we open these secret doors Candace?” Stacks asked.
“It is set to open when you turn the wall sconces,” Candace demonstrated by closing the door, turning the sconce and then moving back a bit, so the hidden door would swing soundlessly open.
“How many of these secret passages are there?” Stacks asked her, his brows knitting together in thought.
“Not sure, but I found this one last spring when I was polishing the sconce. My grandmother never told me about any secret passages or anything else strange about the house. Well… except for the one that goes into the root cellar from the kitchen, and I don’t think of that being a secret, as I have used it since I was eight years old.”
“You have a root cellar also,” Gloria said, with what sounded like childish glee.
“Sure, let me check on the sauce, and I imagine the yeast bread has raised enough to punch down for its second rise,” Candace said as she headed, back through the secret entrance, to the kitchen. Gloria and Sheila followed her, leaving the men in the library.
“You know, I think we need to check out more than these papers,” Stacks said as he handed down the first chest to Mead.
“Where to start, will be our biggest problem I would think,” Rothman remarked as he reached up to take the next chest, full of papers, from Stacks.
“Candace will show us to our rooms tonight, and I am thinking that would be our best starting points. Just remember that if you find one, don’t walk into anyone else’s room, or you may get shot,” Blaster commented.
“Also, be careful or you may accidentally step on Fancy Cat, and I believe that cat’s claws hurts as bad as being shot,” Collins said as he rubbed his backside.
Laughing, they brought down four of the old trunks to take into the living room, so that they could get started going through them after dinner.
“You know, I was wondering why Francois Dubois never came into the house to search for whatever he was looking for,” Blaster said as he picked up one of the trunks.
“I guess he figured it had to be buried, for some reason. Still, if that’s the reason, then maybe it is too large to keep in a house,” Mead said.
“If that was his reasoning, then how was he planning on taking it out of here? Their SUV was not even as large as one of these rooms. No, I don’t believe that was it. Whatever he wanted, he had some reason to believe it had been buried. I think he was hoping none of Candace’s people had found it, or if they had, had kept it hidden,” Stacks said, as he picked up the last small trunk and headed through the passage and into the living room.
“Sure hope there is something in these papers that will tell us what Dubois was looking for,” Collins remarked when he walked into the room.
“Well, I suppose only time will tell, or one of those clichés or other,” Blaster said, “But for now, have you ever smelled anything as wonderful as that sauce? If it tastes as good as it smells, I just may ask Candace to marry me.”
“Not if you want to continue living,” Stacks said with a mock scowl on his face.
“Come on boys, let’s see how long it will be till dinner, then do some reconnaissance. I can’t wait to see that snake you two fought,” Blaster told them.
“Come to think of it, we will probably need to do something about cleaning it up, that is unless wolves eat snakes,” Stacks told them as they headed into the kitchen.
“Wolves are around here also? In that case, I am bringing my gun. I am not about to fight snakes or wolves in hand to hand combat,” Rothman said indignantly.
“I agree, but I think we should also keep our weapons handy, just in case Dubois is sneaking around out there,” Stacks whispered as they headed into the kitchen.
Candace was just coming through the root cellar door, when they walked into the room. When she shut the door, it blended in with the woodwork so well, that if Stacks would not have seen her close it, he would have never know it was there.
“How do you open the door,” he asked her while looking around for something to turn, to gain entrance.
“This way,” Candace said as she reached up and twisted the paper towel holder that hung on the wall.
“My grandfather said that my great-grandfather was set in his ways, and did not like the root cellar entrance in the kitchen. He wanted to close it up and have another one outside dug for my great-grandmother, but she would not agree. This house being her inheritance, he finally compromised with her and made it look as though it was not here. According to granddaddy, great-grandma would never go down into the root cellar if great-grandpa was anywhere near or in the house.”
“Did you ever think about writing all this down for future generations,” Sheila asked Candace,
“I was adopted; therefore, I have no idea about my heritage. I would give anything if I had old family stories that I could write about,” Sheila said wistfully.
Gloria hugged her, saying, “You could always write about your adopted family and us. You could fill volumes with all you have experienced as part of our family sweetheart.”
“That is so true,” Sheila said smiling.
“That being the case Sheila, what do you think about adding me to your family. You are more than welcome to share my family background and their stories. Come to think of it, perhaps we can join forces and write as sisters telling about our ancestral past, together,” Candace told her.
“I think that would be fun. By the time we solve this mystery, we will probably all be extremely knowledgeable about you and your family,” Sheila said as she reached over with her one good arm and lightly hugged Candace.
“Enough of the mushy stuff ladies, what the men of this extended family want to know is, how long before dinner?” Blaster asked them.
Candace looked over at the now half way risen bread and said, “About one hour till the bread is cooked, and another ten minutes till we can cut it. But don’t worry, if you guys want to go play for a while, I will ring the dinner bell, right after we take the bread out of the oven. That should give you enough time to get back in time for dinner.”
“All this and a dinner bell too? Wow, I can’t wait to see what we will discover next. I feel like we are in a real life game of clue, and we are taking turns to find out who done it in which room, and with what weapon,” Stacks said, as they walked out the kitchen door and headed for the woods.
Once in the woods, Stacks and Mead led the way to where they had killed the snake, late Saturday night. The snake was gone, as Stacks had surmised, and after a few minutes of looking around, they found quite a few animal tracks coming and leaving the area where the snake had been.
“Nothing to do here,” Mead said aloud.
“Ok then, lets split up, so we can cover a larger area, quickly. Candace said that her land was fenced, so as long as we stay on this side of the fence, we should be alright.”
“What exactly are we looking for,” Blaster asked Stacks.
“Foot prints, which are not from combat boots, for one thing Blaster. The other is not so easy to put a name to. I suppose you are looking for anything out of the ordinary, such as big rocks that could mark a hiding place for Dubois, or whatever he is searching for. Hell, I don’t know, just search as if you are looking for hiding places for the enemy. Make no mistake about it guys, Francois Dubois is the enemy,” Stacks said with anger in his voice.
“Gotcha Boss, we are in search of the enemy and/ or, a hiding place, for man or objects, now just how hard could that be,” Rothman said as he checked his gun, once again, then saluted Stacks, and headed off into the woods to the north-west, from where they were standing.
“Can’t be too hard,” Blaster said as he saluted and headed out in a different direction.
Each man headed in a different direction, in hopes that they would find something that would help, but not expecting to find much, if anything this soon.
Candace rang the dinner bell and within twenty minutes they were sitting in the formal dining room, enjoying a wonderful dinner.
“Oh man is this good,” Rothman said between bites.
“Mom, you have made homemade bread forever, but it has never tasted as good as this,” Stacks said as he reached over for another slice of bread.
“It’s the wood oven that gives it that wonderful extra flavor. I am telling you right now Stacks, I want one of those ovens for Christmas. As my son, and someone who eats my cooking, often, you may want to give this serious thought,” Gloria said grinning at him.
“I will see what I can do, but only if Candace cooks the Spaghetti sauce. I always thought you made the best spaghetti sauce, but now…”
Looking at Candace, Stacks said, “Who taught you to make this sauce, or did you just come up with it yourself?”
“My great-grandmother inherited the Italian recipes, somewhere down the family line, and she wrote them down in one of her many journals, which I am proud to say I own,” Candace replied.
“Thank the Lord for great-grandmother’s who were smart enough to keep journals,” Blaster said as he headed back into the kitchen to fix himself a third helping.
“You know Candace, I have never heard of an oven like yours, which has a food warmer attached. Do you have any idea where that idea came from?” Gloria asked.
“No, I am sorry to say that I never thought of it as an oddity, therefore I never asked about it. Although, all the women in the family kept journals religiously, so if we go through those, while we are searching for answers to what is going on, we may come across the answer, to this also, in one of them.”
“With so many papers to go through, Candace, you would think everyone in your family were bookkeepers and authors only,” Sheila remarked.
“Enough about me,” Candace said laughing, “Were you guys successful in finding anything in the woods today?”
“I found a large stack of rocks that looked as if they were placed there with some forethought. It may be worth checking out, but I would not put that at the top of our to-do list, they appeared to have been there for quit some time,” Rothman said as he picked up his plate and headed to the kitchen for his third plateful of food.
Everyone else at the table was finished eating dinner, and was politely waiting for Blaster and Rothman to finish eating also.
“I told you these guys could eat,” Gloria said as she leaned over and pretended to whisper to Candace.
“Let them eat all they want. I enjoyed cooking the family size meal tonight. You cannot imagine how lonely it gets always cooking for one, and then eating alone every night,” Candace said with a contented sigh and a smile.
There was a lot of small talk as everyone helped to clean up the dining room and kitchen after dinner. Candace was looking in the dining room, for anything they might have forgotten, when she looked under the table and saw Fancy Cat lying on her back, feet in the air, in-between the chairs where Collins and Stacks had been seated at dinner.
“I suppose you are too full of meatballs and buttered bread, to want your dinner tonight. I do believe you have at least two of the men trained to do your bidding. Now how long do you think it will be before you train the others, I wonder,” Candace mused aloud.
“I would give her two days before she has everyone trained,” Stacks said as he walked up behind Candace.
“You know, sometimes I think she knows things about this house that I still do not know. When I found the secret door into the library, she walked through the hall that connects the two rooms and did not stop to inspect the area. For her to do that, it would have to be that she was aware of it already. I wish she was like a dog, and would point things like that out to me.”
“Have you tried to find any more secret passages in the house?” Stacks asked.
“Sure, but I haven’t found another one as of yet. Maybe, if everyone helps, we may find other secret doors or passages,” Candace said thoughtfully.