29th October 1996
obert McCall sat down in one of the fine leather chairs in the spacious library. As he looked around the room once again, he could hardly believe that he was inside the house that had loomed so large in his childhood. Brantford Hall, home of the McCall family, was the site that had cast a shadow over his life. It was the place that had broken his father, Captain William McCallís heart.
It had been a scarcely a week ago when the letter from the solicitors had arrived at his home. The letter had been sent on behalf of James McCall, his father's younger brother and the last of his family's line in Great Britain.
It seemed that James McCall had lost his son and grandchildren in an accident in 1990 when their private plane went down, and James, now eighty-three, had been searching for his disowned brother William's progeny ever since.
Robert had wanted to refuse Jamesí invitation to visit the family estate in Suffolk. He had a knee-jerk reaction of hatred towards any of the family who had disinherited his father solely because they deemed the woman he loved as being too far beneath them. That act had placed a permanent pall of sadness over his father's life, and although his parents were devoted to each other, it had been a source of unhappiness in Robert's life as well.
But, after a day or so, remembering some of the stories his father had told him about his younger brother James, Robertís heart began to soften. His father had always spoken with great affection and sadness about young James. William had euphemistically used the terms sweet-natured and meek whenever he spoke of his younger brotherís inclinations. His father always said that he could only guess at James's torment at what his life had become as he subverted his own true nature to marry a woman and beget children to live up to their grandfatherís strict requirements.
Robert looked at the sepia tinted photographic portrait that looked out over the library, much as other painted portraits with the same subject loomed large in every important room in the house. It was Robertís great grandfather, Archibald McCall, the founder of the McCall dynasty and the man who managed to squeeze the joy of life from his progeny for three generations.
"My Lord," McCall sighed, the problems between fathers and sons never fade away, do they? Trouble between his father and grandfather, and his troubles with Scott. Things might fluctuate, there might be a moment of calm, but then life interferes and emotions crash again. He truly didn't know if he and his son would even get over this latest tumult.
He shifted in the chair. Scott becoming a father was a thought that weighed him down with equal parts happiness and frustrated anger. How the blazes could Scott permit himself to be separated from his own child by allowing Trisha, his ex-fiancée, to take off with his unborn son?
It was the child who would suffer by not being surrounded by family as he grew up. He and Scott were both older when they lost the presence of a father and Robert still felt the scars that his lonely childhood had burned into his heart. Scott still harped on his own miserable fatherless state because Robert had left the marriage when he was so young. How in the world could Scott be so selfish as to simply resign himself to the end of the relationship?
Robert stopped for a moment and felt his face heat up as he realized how hypocritical he was. Didn't he himself give up on his marriage when eight year-old Scott needed him, and before that, hadn't he walked away from Manon before she could even tell him that his first child was to be born?
It never got easier, did it?
He had been lucky that Mickey was finishing up a mission in Europe when the letter came with the news of the McCall family in Great Britain. That made it easier to call upon his colleague as backup when the reconciliation with his relatives combined with his problems with Scott to bring Robert to the end of his tether.
Mickey had made arrangements to travel to Suffolk and was to arrive at Brantford Hall today. Robert hoped, as he was closer to Scott's age and a friend to his son, that Mickey's counsel would be invaluable to them both.
To pass some time as he waited for Mickey to arrive, he turned the first page of the family photograph album that he had placed on his lap. The pictures of the relatives who had been absent from his life fascinated him.
ickey followed the tall, fancy butler into the library and heard clipped tones announce, "Mr. Kostmayer is here to see you Mister Robert."
"Thank you, Rogers, that will be all." McCall was sitting at a table in the middle of the room with a large book in front on him. He got up and came over to shake his hand, "Iím so pleased to see you, my friend. How was your trip?"
"It was okay." Mickey looked around to make sure that Rogers had left the room. "Sorry Iím so late, my flight out of Moscow was delayed. I saw Lovchev and, like you said, he could be really useful to us. He has the right ideas and, more important, is a greedy son of a bitch. He wants to get rich and thinks the Company is a safer ally than the organized crime families that are springing up in Russia now."
"Good, good." McCall smiled but Mickey could see that it was only a ghost of the expression he knew so well. McCall was worried about something. The bags under his eyes looked even bigger and darker than usual. In fact, McCall didnít look so good at all.
"So McCall, you didnít get a message to me to drag me all this way for nothing. Why am I here? I thought this trip was supposed to be a way for you and Scott to make up with the family."
"That was the main reason." McCall gave another half smile, "It was supposed to be a chance for a reconciliation with my fatherís family. Itís more than forty years too late for him and my mother but reconciliation nonetheless. I thought it would be good for Scott to learn more about his roots. After all, he is going to be a father himself soonÖ" His shoulders slumped.
So that was bothering McCall. Mickey spotted a whiskey decanter on one of the side tables, walked over and poured two glasses of what looked and smelled a good malt. He took them back and handed one to McCall, he looked like he needed a drink. Mickey took a sip from his glass and sat down, "Tell me the rest."
McCallís expression was bleak when he replied, "Trishaís left Scott. Sheís quit the band and has taken off somewhere. Either Scott wonít tell me or doesnít know what her plans are."
"What?" Mickey was surprised at the news, "But their kid must be due in a couple of months." Heíd only met Scottís girlfriend a few times and they hadnít hit it off at all. She was one of those controlling, self-centered women that made Mickeyís skin itch. He once invited Scott to a ball game and then theyíd hit a sports bar for a quick drink. When Trisha found out, she actually forbid Scott to go anywhere with Mickey again. What a bitch!
He sipped the whisky, "Whyíd she split?"
"I have no idea as he wonít talk to me. He just gets petulant and tells me that he supposes heís going to go one better than me and never see his child at all. Heís using our past history as a way to punish me once again." McCall gave another small smile, "I was hoping he would speak to you."
Mickey shook his head, "Jeez, I donít know. Heís never talked much about himself. Weíre friendly enough but weíre not that close."
"But youíre younger Ė nearer his age."
"Thatís never cut much ice with Scott. Sometimes I think he just sees you when he looks at me, besides, how can I talk to him about fatherhood? My dad died a long time ago, and Iíve tried to make damn sure there arenít any kids with my genes running around out there."
Robertís shoulders sagged and for a moment he looked every one of his sixty something years. To make him feel better Mickey said, "Hey, Iíll try to talk to him. Iíve come all this way, and I want to help. You never know, he might tell me why she left," he shrugged, "She hated me so, who knows, we might have something in common."
Robert muttered a small thank you, and it was a little uncomfortable to see his old friend so miserable. Trying to find something to change the subject, Mickey looked around the library. Apart from the windows which were covered with thick drapes, all of the walls were lined with books. The room smelled musty and Mickey found it claustrophobic. Despite the log fire blazing in the fireplace, it still felt cold. A huge chandelier illuminated only the center of the room, leaving pools of impenetrable darkness in the corners.
An urge to make some noise drove him to ask, "Is the rest of the house like this?"
Robert looked around the room, "Iíd say so. The house has been in the McCall family for three generations. My great grandfather, Archibald McCall, bought the house in the 1890ís when he married into the family that built it in the seventeenth century. This house has seen the birth of generations, including my father. Itís too big for modern living and most of it has been shut up for years but Uncle James has had the servants open up a wing of the house for us to use, so we will be comfortable enough."
Mickey shivered; there was something about the house that made him feel very uncomfortable. He constantly had the impression of almost seeing a silhouette that kept moving just out of the corner of his eye.
"Are you all right?" Robert asked staring.
Mickey shook himself, he had never had an overactive imagination before. "Yeah, Iím fine Ė just tired I guess. So, whereís Scott now?"
"Heís in his room. He went to bed after dinner because he felt under the weather."
Dinner! Mickey felt his stomach rumble, he hadnít eaten since the bad airline food earlier. Heíd gotten lost on the drive from the airport and hadnít stopped for food. McCall had made it sound like he was needed here as soon as possible. "Hey, any chance I could get something to eat? Iím starving."
Robert smiled and shook his head, "Of course, I should have known that youíd be hungry." McCall went back to the desk and pushed a button. "Iíll ask Rogers to get you something, although it is rather late. Will a sandwich be okay until the morning?"
"Why not just point me in the direction of the kitchen. I can make something for myself."
Robert smiled, "No, Mickey, thatís not how itís done in a house like this."
So thatís how it was? Very upper crust and all.
"OK, McCall, Iíll take a sandwich, as long as itís American style, not one of those typical British ones Ė theyíre always a big disappointment."
Rogers suddenly materialized inside the door of the library. For an old guy, that butler moved as quick and quiet as a mouse. Mickey decided to have a word with McCall to tell the guy to make more noise in future. Creeping up on him could seriously limit Rogersís life expectancy.
"Yes sir?" Rogers said. Again, Mickey noted that he was really tall, and he held his bald head and gray eyebrows up in the air, kinda snooty like.
"Mr. Kostmayer has been traveling all day. Is there any possibility that Mrs. Rogers could make him a sandwich?" Robert seemed very comfortable giving orders to servants. No getting around it, McCall was made for this fancy lifestyle. "One of the special ones she made for Scott yesterday?"
"Of course, sir." Rogers turned to Mickey, "Will roast beef be suitable?"
Mickey was still trying to get used to the idea of having someone wait on him. Hell, he really would have preferred to go into the kitchen and make his own sandwich. "Yeah, sure Ė roast beef will be fine Ė with lots of mustard. Oh and," he might as well go for broke, "can I have a beer or two to go with it?"
"Of course, sir. Will you be eating in here? Or would you like me to re-light the fire in the dining room?"
McCall interrupted, "Itís all right, Mr. Kostmayer will eat in here."
With a look that Mickey was sure was disapproving, Rogers went on his way.
Mickey couldnít help but chuckle, "Looks like he thinks Iím a crude American and canít be trusted. You want to tell him that I wonít use pages from one of the books to wipe my mouth?"
"Iím sure he didnít think that."
"Donít bet on it." A shudder ran up his spine, "Oh and while youíre at it, get him to make more noise when he enters a room. I wonít be held responsible if he creeps up on me."
McCall laughed at that, and Mickey felt better for hearing the sound.
Robert shook his head, "I canít believe I didnít offer you food when you arrived. Where in hell are my manners? I know youíve been traveling a distance, and you probably need to refresh yourself before the food comes." He walked to the door of the library and pointed down the hallway. "The bathroom is the last room on the left."
Mickey nodded, "Thanks. Iíll be right back."
As he walked down the hallway Mickey took a look at the staircases and passages that went on for what seemed like a mile and whistled, the place was a big as a castle.
When Mickey got back to the library he went straight to stand in front of the fireplace to let the flames warm him. Robert joined him at the hearth and Mickey turned to face him, "So come on, give, whatís really bothering you?"
Without looking at him, Robert answered, "What makes you think anything is bothering me?"
"Iíve known you for too long. You donít make a habit of inviting people into your personal family problems. So, whatís going on?"
McCall took off his glasses and twisted an earpiece in his fingers, "Thatís just it, there isnít anything particularly unusual going on. Scott and I had an uneventful flight over, we picked up a car and drove here. Nothing else happened." He looked into the fire and put his glasses back on. "Weíre not getting on terribly well right now so Scott was quiet and withdrawn for the journey. Heís upset about Trisha Ė I can understand that. But since we spent the first night at the Hall, heís been tired all the time. He says he is sleeping well, but every morning he looks worse than he did the night before. My intuition is telling me that something is very wrong. I am thinking of getting him to see a doctor in the morning."
A quiet knock sounded on the library door and Rogers came in carrying a large tray. McCall gestured for him to set it down on the desk.
Mickey took in the moisture-covered bottles and the thick sandwich, bursting at the seams with beef, lettuce and tomato and his mouth began to water. There were also small bowls filled with what looked like mustard and horseradish.
"Thank you, Rogers, that looks splendid."
"Thank your wife for me," Mickey said, "It looks great."
Rogers didnít even glance at him, but turned to McCall, "Iíve taken Mr. Kostmayerís bags up to his room, sir. Will that be all for tonight?"
Mickey saw McCall raise an eyebrow at him in question. Mickey shook his head and said, "The beer, sandwich and a good night's sleep will do the trick for me."
"No, that will be all, thank you. Good night."
As quietly as he had entered the room, the butler left.
Mickey sat down by the food, picked up a beer and took a deep drink. It was ice cold! He drank some more and began to feel a little better toward Rogers. The butler certainly knew how Americans like their beer. He looked at the fancy sandwich, opened it up and slathered it with mustard and a bit of the horseradish. He gathered it up and took a huge bite. Yow, the horseradish had a hell of a kick. "This is great, it sure does hit the spot." He chewed and swallowed it with another mouthful of beer. "Being waited on by Lurch gives me the creeps." He picked up the food again, "I can get used to it, but it still feels wrong." He took another bite and sighed happily.
Robert was watching him stuff his face with the amused expression he usually wore whenever he and Mickey ate together. "Youíll get used to him. His wife is the cook and they have worked for my uncle for years. They are the only live-in servants left. Others, like the gardener and a maid come in during the day.
"While I take Scott to the doctor tomorrow, you should have a look around. The house was built during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. My family hasnít changed it much, or so James told me. It has always been much bigger than the family needed but my great-grandfather Archibald had delusions of grandeur and wanted an impressive home."
"Iím not much into architecture, you know that. But the size of this place impresses the hell out of me. Now if there was a good trout stream nearby and I could borrow some fishing gearÖ"
Robert looked a little less stressed thinking about fishing. "Iím sure we can do something about that. Perhaps a day on the water will pick up Scottís mood. When does Control need you back in New York?"
"I was debriefed in Moscow and I have a couple of weeks vacation coming. He knows where to find me in an emergency."
A few bites later, Mickey finished up the last of the sandwich and stifled a yawn. "I need to hit the sack, McCall. Iíll talk to Scott in the morning."
"Fine. Let me just turn everything out here and I can show you to your room." Robert picked up the tray and set it on a table in the corridor. "I got Rogers to put you in the room next door to Scott. Iím a way along the hall." He became quiet as he reached into the library to turn off the lights, "James asked if I wanted to use my fatherís old room."
For a moment Mickey thought he could see tears in McCallís eyes. "That must bring back some heavy memories, huh?"
"Yes, it does." McCall answered softly.
McCall led him up a huge staircase, showed him along a long hallway and pushed open a door, "This is your room." He pointed to the next door, "Scott is in there and the bathroom is the door at the end. Do you need anything else tonight?"
"Nah, a good nightís sleep and Iíll be fine."
McCall was about to walk away but he stopped and became serious, "I do appreciate you being here, Mickey. I have no idea why, but I get the feeling Iím going to need your help."
Mickey leaned against his doorway. "We both know that we gotta follow our instincts, and yours are usually right on the money." He extended his hand and they shook. "Donít mention it. Anytime, you know that. Night."
"Night," Robert answered.
Before stepping into his room, Mickey watched a very tired McCall walk away.
After a quick shower, Mickey walked from the communal bathroom and went back into his room where a fire had been lit. It was warm and cozy. He stepped over to the window and pulled back the drape. There was nothing but blackness outside. It was cloudy and no moon shone to light any of the grounds.
The wood of the headboard was oak and dark with age, but the mattress was firm and Mickey slid between the sheets with a sigh of relief.
Sometime later, something woke him.
He sat up and looked around the room. The fire was still glowing, so he hadnít been asleep for very long. He heard noises coming from the room next door Ė Scottís room. So thatís what woke him.
To him, it sounded like a woman whispering and a guy groaning. Sheesh, he realized, it sounded like people making love. Mickey turned over and closed his eyes. It looks like old Scott has found himself some feminine company.
As he drifted back to sleep, Mickey wondered if this was Scott on the rebound. Who would have thought the kid had it in him to hook up with some entertainment so soon? He promised himself that he would tease him in the morning.
30th October 1996
unger woke Mickey. He got out of bed and noticed at once how cold the room was. Pulling on the first clean clothes he could get out of his duffel bag, he stuck his feet into his shoes and pulled open the bedroom door.
Once in the hallway, he walked past Scottís room to get to the head. The door stood open and the bed was empty. Mickey looked at the rumpled bedding with more than a tinge of jealousy. Lucky stiff! He had to remember to ask the younger McCall where he had found a woman in such an out of the way place, and more importantly, if she had a friend.
After finishing up in the head, he retraced his steps of last night and found his way downstairs. Once again he was stuck by the size of the house Ė actually the word house didnít do justice to the place. It was a mansion.
He followed his nose. There were smells of food coming from somewhere and he was looking forward to more than a sandwich this time.
Finally after a number of false starts he found the right place. He walked into a dark wood-paneled room with large French windows that looked out over green fields. Robert, Scott and a much older man with thin white hair were sitting round a huge rectangular table and they all looked up as he came into the room.
"Good morning, did you sleep well?" Robert asked. The he stood then and moved over to the older man, "Uncle James, Iíd like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Mickey Kostmayer. Mickey and I worked together a number of years ago and do on occasion now." He turned to Mickey, "Mickey this is my fatherís brother, James McCall."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Kostmayer." The old man shook Mickeyís hand with a firm grip.
"Call me Mickey."
Before the older man could reply, Scott mumbled, "Wheníd you get here?"
"Nice to see you again too, kid," Mickey tried to hold his temper, "I got in after youíd gone to bed." Mickey took a seat at the table and looked at the old man, he was shorter and than Robert but there was a strong family resemblance.
"I slept fine thanks, McCall," He decided it was time to make Scott, the little pip-squeak, squirm, "I did have some trouble though. I heard some interesting noises in the night, but nothing much to keep me awake for too long." Mickey snuck a look at Scott but the kid seemed oblivious. Mickey decided to drop the remark he had been going to make about female company. Scott did look sick. He could see why Robert was so concerned about him.
James pointed over to a long wooden cupboard against the wall, covered in silver dishes, "Help yourself to some breakfast from the sideboard, young man and Iíll get Rogers to bring you some fresh tea, or would you prefer coffee like Scott?"
"Coffee, thanks." Going to the sideboard, he took a plate, studied the dishes and helped himself to large portions of everything. The food in Eastern Europe had been as bad as usual and he hadnít consumed much of the slop. But this was more like it!
He carried the plate back to the table and began to eat, just as the coffee arrived Ė a whole pot for him. Rogers also brought in fresh toast. For the next minutes Mickey concentrated on filling his face and listening to the conversations going on around the table.
"Iím most terribly sorry that we will have to rough it for the next couple of days." James was saying. "For a number of years now the servants have refused to stay in the house over Halloween. They claim to have heard noises and seen strange things, I put it down to local vandals myself."
McCall laughed, "Mickey, Scott and I have roughed it in far worse places in the past, Uncle."
"Good, good." He stood and set his napkin down on the table and spoke in a hushed voice. "Dr. Evans is expecting you and Scott this morning."
Mickey saw Scottís head come up at that. He waited for the argument he knew would come.
As Scott worked up his anger, patches of pink showed themselves high on his cheekbones in stark contrast to his pale complexion. "I told you thereís nothing wrong with me! I just need to get some rest."
"Now then, Scott, humor me." Robert answered, "Weíll see what Dr. Evans has to say."
Scott fell silent and that alone made Mickey think he was sick. He wasnít one to walk away from an argument with his dad Ė ever.
Mickey and Robert decided to meet in the villageís pub later that day following the doctorís appointment. After Robert and Scott left, Mickey spent the first part of the morning looking around the grounds. Then he decided to take a look around the house.
He found James in what looked like his study. Mickey knocked on the door. "Hi, I was planning on taking a look around the house. Is there anywhere I shouldnít go? I wouldnít want to rattle some old ghosts from their closets."
James seemed to jump. "No! Donít be ridiculous. Not at all dear chap." He regained his composure, "Itís rather nice that someone is showing an interest in this moldy old pile." James stood up and buttoned his jacket. It was made from dark red velvet and was the sort of thing that Mickey had only seen on people in shows like ĎMasterpiece Theatreí. "If youíd like some company, Iíd be happy to show you around. If an old man wouldnít be too slow for you?"
"Thatíd be great. Maybe you can tell me something spicy about the McCall family?"
"Be pleased to, dear boy, but the shame of it is, we are a rather boring old lot Ė not much to tell about us at all really. Grandfather Archie kept everyone under his thumb, making certain we behaved ourselves, for a very long time."
They started on the first floor, James leading Mickey off along a long dimly lit hallway. He stopped at a portrait of a fierce looking man. There was hell of a strong family resemblance. The guy in the portrait looked just like Robert.
"This is my grandfather, Archibald McCall. He was born in 1856 and continued all the way to 1943. He outlived both of his children."
Mickey didnít answer, he just studied the picture. Archie looked like a man you didnít cross. "Wasnít he the one who bought this house?"
"Yes, he made a lot of money from the railway. Ever yearning for respectability, he married into a recently impoverished family, name of DeVere. They were a very old name, had been here since the time of the Conquest."
Mickey didnít listen too closely to James's words; he was more interested in studying the man in the picture. Archie McCall was setting off some real bad vibes inside him.
There were several more portraits of the same man as he grew older. The harsh cast to his face grew more pronounced each time. At the end of the row there was a picture of a family group. Archie sat in the center with a woman at his side. His wife, Mickey guessed. She looked much younger than her husband and also very unhappy.
James pointed, "Thatís the last picture ever painted of my grandmother, Ursula. She, um, disappeared soon after."
Mickey raised his eyebrows in interest, "Disappeared?"
"The scandal of the McCall family." He turned to Mickey, and held his fingers over his mouth the way a child might when divulging a big secret. "Her arranged marriage to grandfather wasnít much to her taste. She ran away with an American railroad engineer that grandfather brought over here to help build his section of the British railway."
James began to speak quickly, "That was the reason grandfather hated Americans so much. It was the reason William was disinherited you know." He pointed at Archie. "He had a notion that William had demeaned the family by associating with an American and an entertainer at that."
"Robert mentioned it to me." It seemed like a great waste of family to Mickey, but then he never understood how the British aristocracy worked
"Grandfather was a cunning man. He became terribly rich and persuaded grandmotherís family to agree to the match. As I heard it, grandfather didnít give them much choice. Ursulaís father had made some bad investments and rather than admit it to his wife and children, he blew his brains out. His wife couldnít manage and when grandfather arrived offering to buy this house and take the teenaged daughter off her hands without a dowry, she couldnít agree fast enough."
Mickey felt a shudder run up and down his spine. "Sounds like a nice guy."
"You made an enemy of Archibald McCall at you peril was how I understood it!" James declared.
James said that a little too proudly, Mickey thought.
After an hour and a half of family portraits and wandering up and down staircases, Mickeyís head was spinning and James was showing signs of weariness.
"Say, James, you look tired. Why donít you take a rest and Iíll look around for a while longer, I might go outside. I donít have to meet Robert for an hour or so yet."
"I am rather tired, if you are sure. I donít want to be a poor host."
"No, itís fine. Iíll be okay by myself."
Leaving James to make his own way back to the part of the house in use, Mickey continued to look around. Now that he was alone he didnít bother to try to hide his discomfort. James hadnít seemed to notice anything strange, but the whole time Mickey had been aware of the growing feeling that someone or something was looking over his shoulder. He had stopped himself from turning around a couple of times when he was with James, hoping to spot something. But somehow he knew he wouldnít have seen anything if he had tried.
Mickey took one more look at some pictures of the dead members of Robertís family and decided to hightail it outside. He didnít want to admit it, but there was just something about the house that made him uneasy.