by Philip Johnson
It wasn't totally unexpected and yet, Lee still couldn't believe it. His sweet aunt had died. Aunt Amalie Hansen was born in Norway and came to the U.S. as a child, and she was a long legged beautiful blonde her whole life. Even as her health left her, he couldn't help but admire her regal fair skinned beauty. He was the only nephew, but she did have a niece, Anna Grierson. Aunt Amalie had a claim to fame of sorts. Many years ago she and Uncle Mathias had bought a very large and stately home just north of Davis, North Carolina on North Harbor Road. They were within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean, and could easily see the Cape Lookout National Seashore. It was nearly ideal for them. Uncle Mathias had been a very successful businessman, so when he died unexpectedly Aunt Amalie turned the huge home into a bed and breakfast that she named the Sand Castle. She was successful almost from the beginning, adding two more bedrooms and bathrooms along the way. She now had six bedrooms to rent, all with their own bathrooms, a real rarity in those days. Word spread and she would occasionally get very well known people staying there, and people wanting to hide from prying eyes, or just savoring the sweet quiet and home like atmosphere that she was noted for.
Four of the six bedrooms faced the ocean and there was a long second floor porch that ran the length of the house. People staying in any of those four bedrooms had ocean views and could walk out onto the porch, and if it wasn't too hot, bask in the North Carolina sunshine and feel the ocean breezes. Aunt Amalie's bedroom was on the ground floor, not far from the main kitchen and there was a smaller servant's bedroom down the hall from hers, but that was seldom occupied.
Grace was her maid, friend, and helper and she came to her when she was still in her teens, staying in the bedroom for a time until she got married and moved into a house about three miles inland. Aunt Amalie paid her better than any maid in the
area and Grace was devoted to her. Of course, there was always the off season, but even then, there was rarely a time that more than four of the six bedrooms were empty. In season, if you didn't have reservations well in advance, you were out of luck. Aunt Amalie ran the B&B as much for fun as anything else, but it was truly profitable because she could charge outlandish rates and still keep the rooms full.
It was a combination of her social skills, Grace's wonderful breakfasts, and all that the Hansen estate had to offer. Not long before he died, Uncle Mathias had added a small swimming pool and a double tennis court. Curt Jenkins was the groundskeeper and had been with Aunt Amalie for some ten years.
It was all of those details that filtered through Lee's mind as he walked the grounds the day he moved into Aunt Amalie's bedroom to take over the bed and breakfast. It was in the will. It was his to run as he saw fit for ten years. After that it would be his free and clear the same year he turned forty eight. She had endowed him with fifty thousand dollars as a reserve fund as well, but beyond that it was up to Lee to succeed or fail. She knew her nephew. He was the only one in the family that had the drive and the steady, happy, and outgoing personality, which would be required to succeed.
The main floor of the home was a typical large show home for its day, with tall ceilings, and a number of modest sized rooms. Off of the south end, Uncle Mathias had built a solarium that soon became a combination solarium and sitting room, where people loved to gather, sip a brandy, or whatever, and talk or read. Against the wall between the solarium and the house, was a bar of about twelve feet long and guests were welcome to bring a bottle of their favorite libation or a six pack of beer. Lee even took to keeping a case of Michelob in the cooler. There was also a computer at the end of the bar for the guests to use. The front driveway curved up to the front door and then on around to connect to the drive to the parking area in front of the carriage house. Now the carriage house was another matter. It had been made into a very plush three bedroom home complete with stocked bar that would rent for two thousand a night in season.
At least sixty percent of Lee's guests were regulars that he could count on to return again and again. Maybe not every year, but rarely did two years pass without him seeing each and every one of them. It took him a long time and a good computer to learn and memorize the names of his regulars, but he managed. For Aunt Amalie, it had been natural, but Lee had to work at it. He learned that if he had guests that were too demanding, he would be sure to be slow about seeing to their needs and they just wouldn't come back again. Regulars that stayed at the Sand Castle knew that it was somewhat isolated, and very slow paced and their only bet for lunch or an evening meal was one of three restaurants within ten miles of there. Of course, they were welcome to buy things and put them in the refrigerator and even use the kitchen as long as they cleaned up after themselves. The butler's kitchen and pantry were off limits to the guests however.
Grace or her sister Eunice were there every morning by six thirty to prepare breakfast, and then stayed until three making beds and cleaning rooms as needed. It things got too busy, they could call on Irene to help out as well. It went to Lee to work the desk, visit with the guests, and do general light maintenance. It was a good, but somewhat lonely life for Lee. He had people around him, but it was unusual to have guests his age, and he was usually too busy to stray too far from home. Morehead City was about twenty two miles northeast of the Sand Castle, and that was the closest true town for him. If he wanted a large city, Wilmington was a one hundred and sixteen mile drive.
Lee had his favorite guests. There was Max and Wanda, for example. He was a little stuffy and full of himself, and he had to be certain that his cell phone would work at the Sand Castle before he would agree to stay. He also had to have access to high speed Internet which Lee provided via satellite. But Wanda was as sweet as they came and easy to look at even though, she was a good ten years older than Lee. Wanda spent a lot of time at or in the pool or sunning in her bikini as she read, and Max pretended to be busy. Then there was Grant and Edna. They were in their fifties, but both of them acted like they were still in their thirties and kept Lee laughing. Grant and Edna always requested the south bedroom, and often as not, she would slip out and sun on the deck topless. That was one thing that would get Max off of his ass and out onto the deck.
Each person came with their own set of needs and hopes, but if they had been there more than once, they knew that when they left, they would feel rested and glad they had come. Don Blake came with his son and they would spend days in the Croatan National Forest or out at the National Seashore exploring. Every year without fail, a group of six younger couples would take over the place and it was bedlam, and Lee loved every minute of it. The six couples were still older than he was, but not by a lot, and after five years of having them around, he almost felt like one of the group. Most of them would end up just shy of drunk, some of them would end up in the pool with their clothes, on and on several occasions, the women ended up in the pool with nothing on. It was almost expected that there would be a lot of skin showing with that whole group. Watching the women play tennis topless would keep Lee from getting anything done for hours and the women loved knowing they were teasing him. With the six couples holding the keys to all the bedrooms, they didn't have to worry about offending other guests and they sure didn't offend Lee. Even mild mannered Grace got used to them and enjoyed having them come.
There were a lot of couples that Lee considered among his favorites, but his one very favorite couple was Gil and Kala Armstrong. They were his age and were an effervescent couple. It always seemed incongruous that such an outgoing and cosmopolitan couple would find it enjoyable to do very little beyond loafing, reading and visiting with the other guests. Gil was a successful business man as was Kala, but they made it a point to spend at least a week or ten days a year at the Sand Castle. Gil was prone to spending time on the computer as he continued to conduct business, but Kala said if she was on vacation, she wasn't going near a computer. Gil was also prone to leaving in the morning and be gone all day, not to be seen until late in the evening, and he'd do that two or three times during their stay. When that happened, Lee broke the rules and invited Kala to have lunch and dinner with him so she wouldn't have to go to town and eat alone. She was a good looking woman, very conversant on a number of topics, and she seemed to enjoy his company. Times like that were about the closest thing he had to a social life.
When Lee went into the front room where the receiving desk was, he looked at the reservation book and noticed that both Max and Wanda and Grant and Edna were arriving Saturday afternoon. This would be the first time that the four of them had been at the Sand Castle at the same time. There was no real significance to that other than Lee was sure the four of them would enjoy each other's company, plus Lee knew that it was going to be a good week for him. Lee wandered into the dining room and made the rounds of the four couples having breakfast before they
checked out. "Good morning Lou, Martha, how's breakfast this morning?"
"Wonderful as always, Lee."
"And how was your stay with us this time?"
"No complaints at all, but I have a suggestion", Lou added."
"I'm all ears."
"How about having a shuttle to the ocean? You know, maybe one of those electric six seaters. Take us down to the ocean and pick us up say four hours later."
"That has potential Lou, let me think about it." Lee patted him on the back and moved on to talk to the other guests before going to the kitchen for coffee. "Morning, Grace."
"Grace, could you stay a couple of hours extra tomorrow. We have four of our best guests arriving and I'd like to give them that extra touch."
"Of course," he told her who was coming and she smiled.
"Yes I'd be glad to; they all leave very good tips."
"And you deserve them."
As Lee waited for the arrival of his guests Saturday afternoon he took a call. "Sand Castle, this is Lee."
"Hi Lee, this is Kala Adler."
"Well hi Kala, how is my favorite guest?"
"Doing well thank you, Lee, we have reservations for the end of August. Well, in two weeks actually."
"Yes, I remember." That wasn't exactly right. He only knew they were coming so he had flipped the reservation book until he found them.
"Lee, I know I'm asking a lot but...is there any way you could add a week to our reservation?"
"Let me see what we can do, Kala." He knew that they had openings, but he wanted the world to think that they were very busy.
"Gil just informed me that he is going to have to do more work than usual during our stay, and wants some extra time to make up for it." Lee quickly flipped pages back and forth and then said, "Thanks to a cancellation, I think we can cover that."
"My pleasure, I'm glad we could help."
"We'll see you soon then, Lee."
"I'm looking forward to it." If he had to, he was even considering giving them his room to have an extra week of his favorite guests. He could always move into the unused maid's room down the hall, but now that wouldn't be necessary.
Grant and Edna Exeter arrived first and since Lee didn't have a license to sell alcohol, gave them the royal treatment complete with a complimentary glass of wine in the solarium. Before Lee could even sit down with the Exeters, he went to sign in Grant and Edna Lockland. Before long, they too were in the solarium having a glass of wine and the five of them talked for the next hour. Before Max and Wanda went to their room, Wanda said, "Max has worked so hard over the last few weeks that rest is what he needs."
"Then he's come to the right place. If we do our job right we'll send both of you home well rested and refreshed." Wanda smiled and with Max in tow, went up to their room where Grace had deposited their luggage and opened the windows to let some fresh air in. There was a soft breeze coming in off the ocean and the thin lacy curtains at each end of the windows drifted and rolled gently as though to wave a welcome to them. Then with Grant and Edna going to their rooms as well, Lee went back to see that Grace was going home to her family. There was one couple staying in one of the non ocean view rooms, and they came in from Morehead city about seven o'clock deposited some leftovers from their dinner in the fridge, and went to the lower back porch to rest and read as they enjoyed the rocking chairs, shade, and ocean breezes.
The next couple of days went smoothly as people checked in and checked out. Lee was having a good season. Not a record year, but a good year just the same. About mid day Sunday, Lee was walking around the grounds as he often did and found Wanda sunning herself at the pool. Wanda was a number of years older than Lee, but she still looked great. After availing himself of her good looks he retrieved a glass of iced tea and walked out to her. As he latched the gate behind him she
looked up and he said, "I took the liberty of bringing you some refreshments."
"Oh Lee, you darling thank you."
"Don't tell the other guests or they'll all expect the same treatment."
"You are such a sweetheart."
"I'm selfish, I want to make certain that you are contented so you'll be sure to come back."
"Oh you needn't worry about that, Max and I will be back."
"Where is Max by the way?"
"You know him, swimming pools don't interest him. I'll bet he's up on the deck asleep with his book across his belly."
"Good, then both of you are relaxed. Well, I'll leave you to your sunning then."
"Thank you again, Lee."
"My pleasure," and with one last admiring look at her Lee went back to the house.
On Monday, Lee was presented with a problem he had never had before. Grant came to Lee and said, "I have a complaint about one of your guests."
"Oh I'm sorry to hear that."
"That Max guy keeps ogling Edna. It's so bad that it's spoiling her tanning at the pool."
"Have you or Edna talked to him?"
"No, I was hoping you would see to that."
"Grant, Edna is a very attractive woman and you should be proud of her, but this puts me in an awkward situation. If I don't talk to Max, you'll be upset with me. But if I do talk to Max he'll be very upset with me. Remember that it's going to be a he said this, and he or they said that, and I've not witnessed any inappropriate behavior. Perhaps you should mention your concerns to him, Grant."
"I was rather hoping you would see to it."
"I can't unless I witness Max acting poorly, I'm sorry." Grant just made a grunting sound, turned on his heel and headed toward his room. Lee was pretty certain that Grant was over reacting and that Edna hadn't said a thing to him.
Lee heard no more complaints from Grant and by Tuesday he was sure there was no gawking issue. Lee would soon find out what the real problem was when Edna called down and Lee answered, "Front desk."
"Lee, this is Edna in five. Our sliding door to the deck has been sticking a little."
"I can fix that, when could I come up?"
"Now if you'd like. Just come in, I'll be on the deck and Grant is out and about somewhere."
"I'm on my way then." Lee picked up his spray lubricant and a rag and went up to room five. The sliders could cause a problem once in a while, but he was almost certain he had cleaned and lubricated them earlier in the season. He opened the door and called in, "It's Lee" and closed the door behind him. Going straight to the sliding door he tested it and it seemed fine, but he knelt down and gave the rollers a shot of silicone and tried it again. Then stepping outside to see if Edna was out there and tell her he had fixed it, he stopped and stared a moment.
"Oh Lee, I hope you don't mind." Edna was lying in the lounger with no more on than a tiny bikini bottom. Lee made no pretense to look away and said, "Now how can I mind seeing as beautiful a sight as you are?"
"Oh thank you, Lee. I just love to lie out here like this. It's something that just isn't possible at home."
"I understand." Lee casually sat down near her and asked, "Now Edna, you aren't teasing poor Max next door are you?"
She just smiled and said, "Well, maybe a little bit."
"Edna my love, you'll give the poor man a heart attack."
"Oh, he's much younger than I am."
"I'm much younger than you are too, but I can't help but stare and get flutters."
"You are such a sweetheart." Standing up he said, "I'll leave you to your pleasures, but take pity on poor Max and only let him see you in small doses." Edna smiled and Lee headed back through the sliding door and escaped. Edna was showing her years, but it seemed to please her immensely to have Lee look at her and flatter her. That had to be Grant's problem. Edna was showing herself to Max and Grant didn't appreciate it. Or perhaps, he did appreciate it, but it was his way of bragging that men might still stare at his good looking, but aging wife. The next time Lee saw Grant he said, "Lee, Edna said she called you about the sliding door."
"Yes, I went up and cleaned and lubricated it, I hope it isn't acting up again."
"Uh no, it seems fine now."
"I'm glad. I told Edna that I thought I had it fixed."
"Oh, so you saw her then."
"Yes, she was sunning on the deck actually." Grant didn't mention the fact that his wife was almost nude and Lee didn't mention it either, but both now knew that Lee had seen Grant's nearly naked wife. Edna got to flash herself, Lee got to look at her and Grant could puff out his chest knowing his sexy wife had showed Lee she was still good looking. That made three happy people.
Wednesday afternoon Lee was on the front porch watering the plants when Wanda appeared. "Lee, have you seen Max?"
Shutting off the hose he said, "No...no, I don't believe I have."
"I was out on the deck outside of our room reading and I guess I nodded off for awhile. When I woke he was gone and I can't seem to find him."
"He can't be far. Have you looked out by the pool?"
"Oh, you know he never goes out there." Lee smiled and said, "He might if Edna is out there."
"Oh, so you know about that."
Lee smiled in acknowledgement and said, "You go check by the pool and I'll take a walk around the south side of the house. He might be down there in one of those shaded chairs." Lee went out the backdoor and around the small porch and went toward the small stone patio at the far south corner of the house. Sure enough he could see Max leaning back and it appeared he was asleep. As he approached he put his hand on Max's shoulder and said, "Wanda is looking for..." and stopped. Max was as cold as stone to the touch, and as Lee moved in front of him he could see that Max's complexion had a definite blue cast...and he could tell that Max had soiled himself. Lee shook him just to make certain, but Max was dead and had been that way for some time.
Lee moved quickly and after calling the ambulance ran in and caught Wanda coming through the house. Stopping her he quickly pulled her into the butler's kitchen and let the door close. "Wanda, I found Max."
"Oh good where is he?"