One -- Scene setting
Our house is a very nice house, to paraphrase the song. It's called Bourton Hall and it came into our possession in the will of my Uncle Charles. He was a widower and my mother's only brother. He died childless, so his estate was left to my sister, Laura and myself, Andy. Unlike my parents, who had both preceded him to the afterlife, Uncle Charles was a very rich man and like a lot of rich people he collected possessions. One of those possessions was this fine old nineteenth century mansion. After death duties and funeral costs there was precious little left apart from the old house and as a consequence, a family rift developed about what to do with it. Laura and her husband, Bernie wanted to sell it and split the proceeds, but my wife, Sonja and I had other plans! She was an experienced Hotel manager and I was a qualified chef with a good reputation locally and we saw an opportunity to become our own masters.
Sonja and I were employed straight from college to manage a modest country hotel business on the south coast. For many years it had been rather neglected and failing. Something had to be done, so the owners took a chance on the pair of us to allow us free rein to re-establish the business from what had been a rather run down establishment to an upmarket facility. It was not a large establishment, only twelve double rooms and a banqueting suite. We threw ourselves into it and Sonja persuaded the owners to part with some capital to upgrade the kitchens and public rooms first. Once the kitchen's reputation for excellent food and the refurbished dining facilities became successful locally, she started on the bedrooms. Over those first five or six years, the business returned to profit and the owners of the hotel were happy. Sonja renegotiated our remuneration package and got the owners to agree to a profit share deal, so we were rewarded for our hard work.
Sonja managed the front of house, web-site, office and customer contact, while I as a chef, ran the kitchen and housekeeping side. We had no kids as yet, but as we were only approaching thirty, we felt there was time enough for that yet. Sonja was a confident young woman and with her good looks and fabulous figure, she had no problem charming the customers to our business, much of which was of a repeat nature, referenced from local businesses. Soon after we started the business, she had approached some of the larger companies that operated in the town and convinced many of them that their visiting executives would be far more comfortable in a family run establishment rather than in a plastic hotel chain. She had put together a good presentation and we soon had a year round clientele and more importantly reduced our dependence on seasonal holiday traffic. OK, we had done well, but the lion's share of the profits were going to the owners. We held no resentment about that, they took the risk and were now benefitting from the rewards, but Sonja and I yearned to be our own masters. That is why we looked on the inheritance as an opportunity, but first, we had to persuade my sister and her waster husband!
My sister, Laura was five years older than me and married to a bit of a waster called Bernard or Bernie as he liked to be called. When he worked, it was usually as a barman until such times as his penchant for drinking just too much of the stock caught up with him. Somehow, he always managed to land on his feet, mainly due to his ability to be very charming and sociable when sober. Laura was the main breadwinner in their house. She was an accountant and had by some means managed to bring up their two kids and hold her family together.
Sorry it's taken so long to set the background to this tale but there is one other bit of information and that is a description of Our House! Laura and I used to play in the house during our many short breaks there. Uncle Charles and his wife liked us visit, often during the school holidays. We had many happy memories of the place. As I intimated earlier, our inheritance comprised of a Nineteenth Century mansion consisting of on the ground floor, four public rooms, a large hall, dining room, library, kitchen and snooker room. All these rooms were linked by a long corridor running the length of the house. In the centre was a grand staircase linking the ground and first floors. There was also a basement, with countless store rooms and even some rooms where staff used to be housed in the days that people could afford servants! The first floor had been modernised in the nineteen eighties, and some of the dressing rooms attached to the main bedrooms were converted into en-suite facilities. Uncle liked to entertain and have guests stay over. In all, there were sixteen bedrooms, all but four en-suite. The attic was something else. As a boy I remember the feeling of awe when we were allowed to enter this space. Access was via a back stair from running from the kitchen to the attic. It was the stair that the servants would have used on the old days. It was still there and useful for transporting bed linen and laundry direct to the laundry in the basement. The star attraction in the attic was the model train set! It was a huge layout, thirty feet long and at lease fifteen across. It had multiple tracks, scenery and landscapes, everything a boy could wish for. All things considered, the house was still in good order, but the running costs were massive. In addition to the main building, there was a coach house, now converted to garages and several small out buildings and around 3 acres of lawns and gardens.
Two -- The Search Quest 1
The family debate regarding the future was held in Laura's home. Sonja and I were too handy for our staff if we held it at the hotel where we resided in a small annexe. Sonja had prepared a full presentation explaining what she and I wanted to do with our inheritance. Laura and Bernie listened as she proposed converting it into a hotel. She had projections on cash flow and potential business growth. She would be the Manager, of course and I the Chef. Laura could see the potential, but was worried about the cost of setting it up as a hotel. Bernie's objection was purely mercenary, when would he and Laura get their half of the inheritance? Sonja handled the objections one by one, but the sticking point was as always cash. Bernie asked if we intended getting a mortgage to buy the whole place and pay them their fair share. There was no way we could do that, we had some money saved from our present employment, but that would soon be swallowed up in set up costs.
We were at an impasse! We didn't have the cash to buy out Laura and Bernie, we had barely enough to get the business up and running. It was Laura who came up with a solution. She and Bernie would sell their home and invest the profits in the hotel. Bernie would run the bar and restaurant and she would look after the back stairs accounting and house keeping service. She hastened to add that the profits from the sale of their house wouldn't be much, given the state of the house market, maybe £15K or so after the legal bills were paid. That pretty much matched what Sonja and I could contribute so we would be equal partners in the new company. Ever practical, Sonja asked her where they would live and Laura relied in the basement or in the flat in the old coach house! Well, Sonja and I had earmarked the coach house for ourselves, but with two small children, it would be a better proposition for them to live there, isolated from the guests. Sonja and I had no problem living in the basement apartments, they were ideal for us.
Laura and I knew that Uncle Charles was terminally ill and had spent a lot of time with him as he slowly deteriorated. I had talked to him about the possibility of converting the house and he had been happy to see it being used for entertaining once more. He told me that he had made some alterations to his will, 'just to protect you and Laura' he said.
During the next few weeks, the four of us spent a lot of time finalising the details and setting up the new company, all legal and above board. I was glad that Laura insisted on that and we agreed that the company had only four shareholders, Laura and myself sharing 95% and Sonja and Bernie with a nominal 2.5% each. This division was as a direct result of certain stipulations that Uncle Charles and our family solicitor had concocted. Uncle Charles was worried about what would happen if either Laura or myself got divorced. He wanted to ensure that the bulk of his estate remained within the control of his direct descendants or sold and the proceeds divided equally between us. He had even stipulated that in the event of the hotel proposal gaining favour, the shareholding would be split as we had agreed. Sonja had no issue with the contract, but Bernie was a bit disgruntled and was at pains to say so. Since there was not a lot he could do about it, he eventually came round and signed the partnership agreement.
Once the legalities had been settled, it was full steam ahead, getting the planning consents and change of use agreed and so on. The volume of red tape and hurdles we had to jump to get to the stage where we could open was nothing short of horrendous and our programme slipped and slithered. Both Sonja and I had packed up work rather foolishly as things worked out. The plan was to supervise the alterations, but six months down and the work had yet to be started. We were all living in the mansion now, Sonja and I because we had nowhere else to go and Laura and Bernie because they thought selling the house empty would be easier and an empty house meant savings in the community charges. We were rapidly running out of money. I looked around and got a job as a breakfast and lunchtime chef in a country pub, not ideal, but the income was essential. We were in a dire financial state, Laura and Bernie were having problems getting the profit they required from the sale of their house so they couldn't contribute much to the basic running costs of a property as large as the one we had inherited. All in all a bad situation!
One night the four of us sat around in the library discussing what we were going to do. Bernie said, "I don't understand, Uncle Charles was loaded, where did all his money go. I know death duties are high, but he was a canny old bird and he must have stashed some away somewhere." I had to agree with him on that point. How exactly how Uncle Charles had earned his money was a mystery, it was whispered that he wasn't slow about bending the law a little in his business dealings, but we had never figured out just what his business was!
It was just by chance that I was exploring what had used to be the dressing room in one of the bedrooms that had not been converted to en-suite. I was assessing what would be needed to make the conversion when I stumbled onto part of the answer. I had opened one of the built in wardrobes and found a pile of dusty old boxes. A quick check revealed them to old bank statements or some such. I didn't understand what they were, but I was sure that Laura would so I set them aside for her to check out. At the back of the cupboard was a lever and I pulled it down and a hidden door opened. My immediate thought was 'priest hole' but the house wasn't old enough for that and on closer examination the fitting was not that old. I peered inside and found a light switch and flicked it on. To my surprise, there was a view into the bedroom, next door. I recognised the room on view. It as the one that Uncle Charles used to put Sonja and I in every time we stopped over! That dirty old bastard, he must have been watching us as we made love on that big bed! I was so angry that I almost smashed the mirror glass in front of me, in fact I was looking for something to use to do just that when I spotted an envelope. I picked it up and opened it. Inside was a letter addressed to me and I recognised the handwriting straight away, so I started to read;
Dear Andy, If you're reading this now , I guess you have found my little pleasure palace and are feeling extremely angry. Please bear with me and take the time to read the books in the library on the top shelf next to the fire place. I think they will explain many of the questions you must have regarding my fortune and also why this room was built. I fit's any consolation to you, you have a beautiful and charming wife and watching you in bed made me feel quite young again! Laura and Bernie have also used the room, but their sex life was a bit boring to watch. If you found this, then I'm dead and it doesn't matter to me what they think about my little bit voyeurism, at one time I would have been embarrassed, but the only good thing about being old is you don't give a flying fuck about what people think! Us e the information you find in the library as you see fit, it may shock you and Sonja, it will certainly appal Laura, so break it to her gently.
Your loving Uncle, Charles
I rushed to the library and found the books he was talking about. There were five bound volumes and according to the spines, they were in chronological order. Each journal had a lock that required a tiny key to open it. I could have simply cut the leather strap, but that would ruin the book and I had too much respect for books to inflict wanton damage on them. The spine on the first journal told journal covered the year 1975 and as I picked it up the lock sprang open. Once more, Uncle Charles's spidery handwriting was on the fly page, but behind the fly page was a well disguised cut out and within it a DVD! I thought, 'and I was worried about damaging the books!' I started to read the fly page;
Dear Andy, I guess you are looking for explanations and I will start by telling you that the DVD inside this book covers only the year indicated. You may be shocked by what you find on it. It was originally recorded on Super 8, but, I converted it to digital myself. The originals have been destroyed, as have the intervening years until the next little conundrum I have set you becomes active!
I have indeed left you with a mystery and it will be up to you to decide how far you wish to go down the trail. Each quest you solve will provide you with access to some of my missing millions, but with each discovery, you will have to face some disturbing aspects of your life that you would rather avoid, that's why I said, only you can decide just how far you are willing to go. I would urge you strongly, not reveal any of this to your wife or sister, it will only serve to more pain..
First, watch the DVD all the way through for the first clue leading to part of my fortune is in there. This DVD only last 22 minutes! Solving the first mystery, will gain you access to the next journal. Good Luck!
My first thought was one of curiosity. Why had the old goat set me such an elaborate challenge and what was this about keeping it secret from my wife and sister? I considered my options and decided, I had to follow this through and decision made, I slipped the DVD into the player in the library, but not before locking both doors to ensure some privacy.
The picture quality was poor, but the opening scene was dated, 22nd June 1975, my parents wedding day! The picture was easily recognisable as my Mum and Dad coming out of the church and looking very happy as one would expect. There was no sound with the movie and I assumed either the camera didn't have the facility or the editor erased it! The usual family poses for photographs followed by a cut to the Reception where, also present were Uncle Charles and Aunt Mary, they made a happy looking foursome. The next clip was obviously shot in a a bedroom and featured a naked man on the bed, to indistinct in the poor lighting to be identified. Then, a blur as a naked female form moved between the camera and the recumbent man before refocusing and the woman was astride the man fucking him. The picture zoomed in and I was shocked to see that the man was Uncle Charles and the woman, was my Mother, his sister!
I had to pause at that point and collect myself. Incest! My mother and Uncle Charles fucking and on her wedding night as well! Where the fuck was my dad during all this? The cameraman, someone had to be operating the camera and this was confirmed when I restarted the DVD. There was a switch of scene and I watched as my father joined his wife and brother-in-law on the bed and watched as my mother took his erect prick into her mouth and started to fellate him. Something must have been said off camera, because she broke off from her bow job to smile into the camera and say something to the operator before returning to her task. The clip stopped there and a few seconds later the next clip started. Aunt Mary was also in this scene lying on top of my mother in a classic 69 position, and the two men were sitting by the bed watching their wives as they made love to one another. The camera must have been fixed, because shortly thereafter my dad could be seen approaching the camera, just before the image vanished.
A short pause and the DVD started once more, this time it was an image of a much older Uncle Charles who said, "I warned you that if you chose to run down the clues to my fortune, you would be disturbing to you. Just for clarification, we were invited into their honey moon suite that night and everything that took place was by mutual consent. I loved your mother all my life and we had been lovers since out teens. Your aunt was well aware of this and accepted the situation as did your father. Now, I promised you a clue, so here it is;"
The picture scrolled to a sheet of typing and it bore these cryptic words;
Where the roof touches the sky,
Where the trains run on high,
By the breast and the mould,
There you will find the clue to my gold!
I shut down the DVD and removed it from the player and replaced it in the journal. I pondered the clue and had it figured out quite quickly. Roof touches the sky, could only be the attic. The trains run on high confirmed it, but the breast bit eluded me until I was in the attic, of course the chimney breast, but which one? There were a about a dozen of the damned things. I checked each out in turn and I was about to give up for the night, I had dinner to prepare, when it struck me, mould! Where had I seen mould. I had been looking for signs of fungus, but the mould he was referring to was the mould for the scenery on the train set. The scenery was made of fibreglass and he had used moulds when constructing it!
I searched again and beside one of the chimney breasts was a modeller's mould! I turned it over and underneath was a heavy box. I struggled to lift it up and ended up hauling it across the floor to where there was a bit more light, near the model train set bench. Naturally, the box was locked with a combination lock comprising of four digits and I wracked my brains for the answer. I tried numbers at random with no success, then I remembered what my uncle had said, 'the clue is in the DVD'! Excitedly, I tried 1975 and the damned thing worked! I pulled open the box to find coins, hundreds of gold coins. Unable to contain myself, I let out a whoop and picked one up to examine it more closely. It was an American 1oz Gold Eagle and I started to stack then up in tens. I counted the stacks, 75 stacks! I had 750 US Gold Eagles Coins. I checked the box one last time before returning the coins and found a small key that similar to what I needed to open the lock on the journals and put it in my pocket. Then, I carefully locked the gold coins away and hid the box back where I found it.
The next step was to calculate what the find was worth, so I headed back down to the room we were using as a temporary site office. Sonja and Bernie were in there and sprang apart as I entered. I was too excited to notice the flushed look on their faces and they must have been in a similar state not to recognise my face flushed red with excitement. My valuation would have to wait and I muttered something about preparing the dinner and fled to my kitchen.