The next morning Chase rose early at 7.00. After taking a shower and a brush up he got dressed, checked his emails and messages, used the hotel phone to check breakfast times, put all his personal stuff in one of the wardrobes and locked the door. He felt tempted to text his aunt but thought better of it, he could never be sure that it was she who would read it and besides, until he knew and understood the full situation up at the Lodge, a certain degree of secrecy and discretion was required. He double checked that he had safely stashed all his belongings away then headed out of his room and downstairs for breakfast. The time was 8.00 when Chase passed through the lobby into the dining room, he glanced over at reception but didn’t see any signs of Ingrid, instead, there stood a middle-aged man. Putting two and two together Chase concluded that Ingrid must be on a different shift and probably started later on during the day? He felt a bit crafty, so he stopped in his tracks to the dining room and went over to reception. The middle-aged man looked at him and smiled, Chase smiled back with intent.
“Good morning!” Chase said, enthusiastically. “I was wondering if I have any messages? My name is Henry Chase.”
“Good morning Mr. Chase. Please wait a moment and I will check.” The receptionist, a smartly clad, white haired, and slightly red faced man went over to the inbox and hovered while he sifted through the mail. “No Mr. Chase, I have nothing here. Were you expecting an arrival by any chance?”
Chase shook his head.
“No. Last night when I arrived there was someone else here, a young woman called. . . erm. . .sorry I can’t seem to recall her name, but she gave me a letter I wasn’t expecting so I was just checking again. I wanted to ask her what time it arrived. I didn’t think to ask last night.”
“That would be Ingrid, sir,” confirmed the receptionist. “We don’t usually log mail arrival times but she comes in at five O’clock, perhaps you can ask her then or anytime during the evening up until twelve – that’s when her shift finishes.”
“Ok. Thanks, that’s helpful. I’ll catch up later.”
Chase smiled once again at the receptionist, pleased with himself at getting the info he wanted. Now all he needed was a hearty breakfast before setting out to meet with aunt Celine.
The dining room was huge and filled with tables. It had a very high ceiling, very tall windows which trailed around the entirety of the outer walls – each draped with plush red velvet curtains. The walls themselves were wooden panelled and were adorned with heraldic symbols dating back hundreds of years. An array of chandeliers hung from the ceiling illuminating the room brilliantly. The carpeting was of thick pile and coloured beige; Chase expected the room to echo with every footstep but to his surprise each step was muted and dull.
Late October is never a profitable time for tourism, most definitely off-peak, but in thinking that, Chase found the dining room relatively busy for the time of year. There must have been at least 30 guests attending breakfast – slightly less than half capacity of a 70 roomed hotel. Chase found a quiet table in a corner and sat down, no sooner had he done so when a waiter came over with a white cloth draped over one arm. After the usual pleasantries he ordered his breakfast.
With the satisfying feeling of a belly full of eggs, sausage, bacon and fried bread, two cups of coffee, Chase left a tip and exited the dining room. He was tempted to go back to his room to get his coat but decided not to, his car would be plenty warm enough on the hour or so drive down to meet with his aunt. He glanced at his watch: 09.15. Time to get his skates on.
He checked that he had everything he needed in his jacket pockets, then strolled out through the lobby and the main doors. Walter was there in his usual place, waiting on people.
“Good morning Mr. Chase! Have a good day,” he said brightly. “The car park is to your right and round the corner.”
“Thanks Walter, and I will.”
The morning air was stiff and cold as Chase ventured out, a stark comparison to the warmth inside. Although the rain storm had passed leaving behind it large puddles, damp patches, and the fresh smell associated with the aftermath of such a tempestuous rainfall, the skies remained overcast and threatening. He looked up at the towering structure of the hotel looming over him, and as it was now daylight he could see it properly for the first time. Without doubt, it was a fine looking historic building – seventeenth century according to the brochure. He turned the corner and found himself in a tarmacked field of cars all neatly parked. Because of his late arrival the previous night he found his car at the front of the line and pressed the remote button on his key fob. The car responded with a “beep beep.” Chase got in the car, belted up, started the engine, drove down the ramp and joined the main road.
It wasn’t long before he found the turning which would take him all the way, through winding country roads, to the village his aunt suggested they meet. Now there was only time between him and Celine, plenty of opportunity to play past events in his mind and think back to the carefree days of his childhood and family.
Chase came from a wealthy family and being an only child had the best of everything growing up. He was never spoilt but made to appreciate the value of what he had. His father owned and ran an insurance company right up until his untimely death four years ago. Being the sole heir Chase naturally took over control of his father’s business, a business he already worked for as an underling. His mother, also deceased for two years, was the elder sister to Celine. He had one other aunt and uncle, an aunt from his father’s side, and an uncle from his mother’s side. The aunt had immigrated to Australia with her family in 1996, and his other uncle currently lived in southern France running a vineyard. Celine was always the closest relative to Chase both geographically and emotionally. He had nothing but fond memories of Celine – especially those when he spent the long summer vacations from school with her here in Wales. But through all the joyous times there existed a darkness which, as a child, Chase could not have known about until much later on in his life.
Celine got married aged twenty-two to a solicitor of high standing. Edward Petherton seemed a perfect husband for her, but that’s not how it turned out to be. The marriage was barren, childless and loveless. Celine always wanted to have children but Petherton did everything he could to deny her this most basic of feminine rights. And through the years this soul destroying situation remained the same for Celine and inevitably her mental health suffered because of it. She ended up having to take medication to suppress her anguish, an ideal state for Petherton to keep her in simply because it suited his needs and made a fitting excuse, among others, as to why they couldn’t have children. Petherton had one intention, his eyes where firmly fixed on his goal, the prize of winning the wealth and family fortune of the Chase estate, namely, Granley Lodge. The Lodge itself, a moderately sized stately home, with grounds, was given to Celine as a wedding present by her father, William Chase. This fortuitous present seeded the idea in the calculating mind of Petherton to eventually become the sole beneficiary of it all.
Marriage has consequences in a legal sense and Petherton, as a solicitor, made sure that everything was tied up in such a way to be advantageous to him should anything happen to Celine or their marriage. Divorce was never an option for Celine, the family estate and its historic reputation meant the world to her, she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise its future as part of the Chase franchise and this, in effect, led her down the path of fear that she never really recovered from. That’s not to say that Celine’s family didn’t try to help her, all they wanted was to see Petherton out of the picture, but ultimately there was nothing they could do legally speaking to assist, Petherton had been far too clever to ever allow that to happen. He even claimed at one time, regarding having children, that he had a sperm count done and the results were poor meaning his count was too low, so the prospect of having children was totally out of the question. But everyone knew they weren’t having sex at all, and that’s how he was found out to be a consummate liar. Petherton was as slippery as an eel, he would charm himself out of any difficult situation with clever anecdotes and metaphors which related and expressed his views inarguably. There was even suggestion that Celine could choose to adopt a child if she wanted to, but as it turned out and, fortunately for Petherton, Celine did not want to do that and so resigned herself to her terrible fate.
The one single joy in her life was, each year during school summer break, Henry came to stay for a month. It was in these times that Celine’s life and mental health improved for the better. She would mother him like he was her own and showered him with love and adoration. It was because of this annual meeting between aunt and nephew that an unbreakable bond was forged. Henry became the child she never had and all the pent up love and emotion was released on him which in turn, briefly allowed Celine to be a mother. And now in the present, Celine had become just that, Henry’s second mother. They would go for walks and talk for hours on end, visiting farms and generally enjoying the Welsh rustic countryside. She would take him on long bus rides here and there and once a week they would go to the nearest village to have cream cakes at the coffee shop – the very same coffee shop he was currently heading for. There was a fleet of cars resident at the Lodge and on extra special occasions Celine would have them chauffeur driven in a vintage Bentley. They would go anywhere and everywhere in that old car and Henry loved each and every minute of it. His favourite trips involved going to the Bay and going on boat rides pretending he was a pirate and Celine was his female counterpart. The fun they had was boundless, limitless, and at times Celine seemed to be having more fun than Henry at their maritime role playing. His time with his aunt was both magical and adventurous – a veritable fairy tale, and each day they spent together became a wonderment to be cherished and forever remembered. Petherton was always around of course, but apart from his politeness and breeding, he never engaged much with Henry apart from mealtimes when he had no choice. During those years Henry, as a child, was oblivious to the real Petherton and the anguish he had maliciously inflicted on his beloved aunt Celine.
The fact that Celine had other family members around acted as a restraint to Petherton, they held him in check and prevented him from turning the thumb screws on her. But with the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, Petherton was now free to implement his endgame. He had no knowledge of the constant, secretive communication between Chase and Celine, so as far he was concerned he had free licence to do what he chose. In truth, Chase knew much but not his ultimate plan. The one thing he did know for sure was that Celine’s well-being, perhaps her very life was now in great danger under Petherton’s influence. His aunt had no one else to look out for her and Chase was going to make damn sure that nothing bad, nothing lethal would become of it; the love for his aunt was all encompassing and no way would he allow this terrorism to continue. Then there was the legend! A legend of a ghostly spectre roaming the grounds of Granley Lodge. A ghostly apparition appearing annually around Halloween time which reportedly had been seen by many previous inhabitants of the Lodge. Was this just a silly local fantasy or is there any truth in it? Was Petherton using the legend to concoct some elaborate scheme to finally push Celine over the edge and drive her completely mad only to end up institutionalised in a asylum, or worse case scenario get her to commit suicide? Petherton was too much a coward to ever murder someone, besides, the last thing he would want is a police investigation. Whatever the reasons, Chase was here to get to the bottom of it once and for all and rid Celine of that self serving bastard Petherton.
A few years back before both his parents died, Chase had attended a new year’s party up at the Lodge, the whole family was there engaging in the annual merriment. It was on that occasion when Chase had actually decked Petherton after punching him in the face and calling him a total, self serving bastard! He wanted to kill him now that he knew all that was to be known about his snot-nosed uncle, but it was Celine who stepped in to prevent Henry from ruining his life, and it was only his love for Celine that stopped him from parting Petherton’s head from his body. He hated Petherton, and Petherton knew it. This was one, just one of the reasons why Chase would never return to Granley Lodge all the while Petherton was there, if he ever saw him again the red mist would descend and he couldn’t be held responsible for his own actions. He would just kill him and be damned.
As those thoughts, dark and otherwise from the past swirled around Chase’s head, his grip on the steering wheel became so tight that his knuckles turned white. He immediately lessened his grip when he realised and made himself calm down, the last thing he wanted was to see Celine while dealing with his own anger at Petherton. Celine needed his normally calm demeanour, not a raging bull. He chastised himself for allowing his anger to best him, and at thirty-five years old he should know better.
With his temper – tempered, Chase arrived at the village and drove to the nearby car park. He left the car and made the downhill walk to the coffee shop. The time was now 10.43. From his memories as a child, the village in general, had a quiet and sleepy air to it with not much happening at any given time, and he found it to be just the same as his memory of it. He turned the corner and saw the sign above the coffee shop. He wondered if Celine was already there waiting with a plate of fresh cream cakes?
disclaimer: any similarities in names to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and are fictitious characters invented by the author.