The cab drove off as soon as the trunk was closed, kicking driveway dust and gravel in its wake. Donny had to sidestep a little with the last suitcase still aloft and was on the verge of keeling over when Tina rushed and put both hands on his shoulders to anchor him.
“When you have to go you have to go, I guess,” she said, letting go once she was sure Donny was stable. She flicked a wisp of loose red hair from her forehead and looked at the well-kept Victorian. “But here we are, finally.”
The setup was simple. A brick and mortar façade with a thick red door in the center held the front of a relatively square affair; to each side a very standard bay window. Up above, two gables bore darkened dormers that appeared to be eyeing the newcomers.
“Crazy son of a bitch. Did you see how he looked at us?” Donny asked, ramming the case into the floor. “Like we stank.”
Tina peeled her sight from the dark-windowed homestead. “Careful, baby, that’s mine. If I can’t look pretty because you’ve gone and broken something…”
He let go of the handle and hugged her. “Sorry. So sorry. It’s just this stupid situation that has my nerves on edge.”
She could feel his breath on her neck. It was nice. She reminded herself of how little time they had been spending together during the last couple of years and of how badly they both needed for this to happen. Her supportiveness was stretching thin, but she figured he could give it one last shot. A creepy, weird shot.
“It will be alright, baby,” she said, not entirely convinced.
Donny kissed her on the nose. “We’ll make it alright, I suppose. Now, let’s go over it one more time.”
Tina and Donny observed the two-gabled venerable with shared apprehension, picked their suitcases and started walking. At the edge of the azure October sky, an assembly of fat gray clouds was beginning to conspire.
“First, you don’t meet Mr. Goldman,” Tina said, repeating what she had read a dozen times already. “Mr. Goldman meets you.”
There is a doorbell next to the front door. Directly below it, on an eagle-shaped corbel, you will find a white silken glove. The lady is to wear it on her left hand and pull the bell cord with said hand, one time only, then wait for the door to open. The glove is to remain on the lady’s hand at all times while on the estate.
“This is ridiculous,” he complained.
She put a gloved index finger to his lips and smiled. It was hard, getting caught up in these Chaucerian proceedings and not discovering at least one bit of delicious intrigue. Tina was thinking she might actually enjoy the circus, despite her best efforts to the contrary.
With a mechanical clang, the door slid inwards an inch or two. As foretold, there was no one to greet them when Donny pushed it open with utmost caution.
“Come on, let’s get on with it,” she said and nudged him inside.
Your first stop will be the upper floor, where the gentleman will make use of the room to the left of the staircase. He is to say his good-byes and attune himself to his apartment for the remainder of the day of arrival. Amenities such as scotch and cigars are available for consumption. Supper will be provided at an appropriate time. The lady is to continue down the hallway and make her choice of one from three rooms. While the gentleman’s accommodations include a washroom, the lady must make use of the toilet at the end of the corridor if the need arises.
They kissed one last time. Donny finally seemed to be giving in to the fact that the smell of polished wood, the sight of a myriad lavish and tasteful decorations, and in general every other minute detail of this so far deserted house had a certain peregrine affectation that managed to wax his libido.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to sneak out at night?” he asked in a come-hither way. “Pay you a little house visit?”
“Oh, is the gentleman trying to see if I’ve been naughty or good?” she played along, stress on ‘gentleman’.
She was certain the instructions they had been following had been written by the very Queen of Goldman’s Precious Rocks and Metals, Miss Charlotte Alden. The answer to how long had she been a Miss (along with Mr. Goldman’s GM and a stuck-up bitch) was probably in the ballpark of the age of the house itself, which would account for the stiff language.
“I already know how naughty you can be,” he said, and pressed her warm body against his.
“Tomorrow, maybe,” she said, breaking the embrace and twirling away towards the hallway. “If no new instructions come along.”
“At least tell me which room you’ll choose.”
She no-no’ed with her index finger and blew him a kiss.
Each room has unique features and has been decorated to please the senses of its previous tenant. Mr. Goldman is certain that, whatever room the lady settles upon, she will find her stay comfortable and pleasing. Be cautioned: the choice she makes tonight will play a large part in the outcome of the endeavor that brings you both to Mr. Goldman’s house. His advice is for her to close her eyes and let her heart be the guide.
Only after hearing Donny’s door close did she set upon the task of examining the ones on her candidate list. The space between each entrance was large, which meant the rooms were spacious, but other than an inlaid brass letter on each sheet of mahogany, they all looked the same. K, S, and L was all she had to base her decision upon.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe?”
She craned her head back and looked at Donny’s still closed door. He would play by the rules. They both had to.
“Let’s see what you’re about, S,” she said, and opened the door. She felt around for the light switch, flicked it, and plunged in.
As with the gentleman, all the lady has to do is wait until Mr. Goldman is ready. Supper will be brought as well, together with a gift. This concludes the basic set of instructions. Feel at home, relax, and good fortune.
They had been woken up by an insistent chime downstairs, which they later found was the call for breakfast. They had shared the kitchen table exclusively with each other, and saw no one doing service work. They ate in a silence that none dared break.
Until they went outside.
“Show me, I want to see it,” he demanded.
They were sitting on a stone bench that played central point to a small cobbled terrace. In the sky beyond a semicircular balustrade, Tina could see birds in their goings about over a thick pine grove that marked the edge of Mr. Goldman’s estate. To the east, the morning sun tore jewels from a small pond.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Don’t do this to me, baby, come on.”
She smiled and fished something out from a pocket in her jeans. She slid the something into her right ring finger and lifted that hand towards her husband. The sunlight did its job on a huge diamond that sent sparkles everywhere, illuminating Donny’s face.
“Holy, shit,” he exclaimed. “I won’t even ask if it’s real.”
“You would know more,” she said, the smile fading. “Why do you think he’s doing it, Donald?”
Donny tenderly helped her naked hand back onto her lap, next to the gloved one.
“They all do that, honey. I would do that, if I were old and dying and rich,” he said with confidence.
“And cooky,” she added.
“Yeah, that. In his own way, I guess he has to make sure that whoever carries on with his business is the right man for the job.”
Tina looked up at the house behind her. The windows belonging to the three mysterious rooms were still coated with raindrops from last night’s storm. For a moment she thought she could see two shadows retreating from the glass in rooms A and K, but she attributed it to a trick of the light.
“So far it feels like I’m the one being tested, though.”
“Are you kidding?” Donny said, a bit hurt. “Perhaps you also had a nice dinner tray dropped outside your door, just like I did. But was yours punctuated by a note asking you to write a treatise on trade routes and ways to get around import and export regulations? Was your door locked afterwards?”
“He locked you up?” Tina asked, looking aggrieved.
“Someone did,” he said, and slumped onto her shoulder. “I wanted to step out, clear my mind. Thunder was driving me crazy. But nope.”
“I’m sorry, babe.” She stroked his short blond hair with straightfoward warmth.
It was not being as hard as she had initially thought, getting back into the lovey-dovey married couple routine. He was still young and hot. She loved him. Plus, if they played their cards right, he was about to become the chairman of a very lucrative and prestigious company.
“It’s fine,” he said, straightening up. “But now I have to go back to my self-locking room and finish the damn thing. He will be expecting it tonight at dinnertime.”
“Is he finally showing his Jewish face?” she asked.
“That’s what the note said.”
“And so Mr. Goldman meets us,” she said, looking longingly at the stretches of emerald and sapphire countryside.
Photo by Karen Roe.