101 Bell Whistle
Chapter 9: Proposal
Copyright© 2010 by JimWar
By the time we made it back to the house it was six o'clock. It was hard to believe we had spent over six hours exploring the tunnel without finding its origin. Hector seemed sure that the tunnel ended somewhere in the bay. Hector and Camilla agreed that they would say nothing to anyone about our discovery and remained with us for a hastily thrown together supper. Hector and I both expected a busy week as banks repossessed even more houses. Both Hector and I had to stay on the job so others wouldn't be put out of work, many of whom were related to Hector. We all agreed to wait until next Saturday morning to explore the locked room. Our second goal was to accurately measure and map the tunnel to try to determine where it entered the bay.
No sooner had Hector and Camilla driven off than the doorbell rang again. My first thought was that perhaps Hector had forgotten something. I was surprised when I opened the door to find Elise smiling at me. I invited her in and as I led her into the living room she asked, "Been busy?"
Before I could answer Audra met us coming from the kitchen, where she had been loading the dishwasher, and warmly greeted our neighbor. I finally answered, "A bit. We have been moving stuff around and exploring a bit."
Elise said, "Ah, I wondered why nobody answered the door all afternoon."
I answered, "You could have called my cell. I had it with me all afternoon."
Elise frowned and said, "I could have, I suppose, but I didn't think of it."
Trying to make small talk I asked, "How have you and Edward been?"
Elise answered, "Same as always."
When I gave her a look that conveyed some confusion she smiled and added, "Bored as hell. I'm more curious than ever about this house and wondered what else you had discovered. Edward is still embarrassed about those two snobs he brought out last weekend. He told me that we'll be lucky if you even speak to us after that."
I laughed. "Tell Edward I don't hold last weekend against him. He tried and he's definitely not responsible that the dean sent over a couple of elitist academics."
I was somewhat troubled that the number of people that knew about at least some of the secrets of the house was growing. I had asked Lenora Wells, the president of the town's historical society, back to see the passageways and tunnels some time in the near future but didn't want her present for the opening of the locked room. I had no idea what was in that room and certainly didn't want someone from the outside to share in that discovery. Elise was another matter and for some reason I felt she could be trusted. I was surprised that I felt that way given my initial impression that she was a curious busybody. I caught Audra's eyes with a questioning glance. Her nod and smile led me to believe that she agreed with what I was going to say next.
Elise noticed the silent interchange and adroitly remarked, "Things certainly seem to have changed between you two."
Audra surprised me when she spoke up. She glowed as she answered, "They certainly have. I need to thank you for your part in that."
Elise said, "It was only a matter of time."
I quickly said, "Yes, but you certainly sped things up and for that we're grateful. Not to change the subject but how well do you know Lenora Wells?"
Elise answered, "I only know her by reputation. She has been president of the historical society for several years. She seems to have a genuine interest in local history even though her family is not from this area. She serves on the board at the club and so we have chatted several times at the annual board dinner. Beyond that I don't know much about her. Oh yes, she's divorced, although I must say she's not the type that makes married women nervous."
I laughed at her assessment. Audra looked at Elise and asked, "How about girl friends?"
Elise said, "I haven't seen her show any interest in any men at the club. I probably shouldn't say this but from what I've heard she might be more apt to try to steal you away from Joe." Elise then almost fell off the couch laughing when she saw the shocked look on Audra's face.
Elise was still chuckling when she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh but the look on your face, it was priceless."
I cleared my throat and said, "Well, hopefully we don't have to worry about that, although..."
Audra punched my arm and asked, "Although what?"
"I was just going to say that you are irresistible."
Audra smiled and blushed lightly.
I turned to Elise and asked, "What are you and Edward doing next Saturday?"
Elise answered, "Nothing that we can't get out of, why?"
I went on to explain to Elise about our exploration of the tunnel today and in a few words told her what we had found. She was curious but refrained from asking questions even though I could see that she wanted to. In the end I invited her and Edward over to see the tunnel and to be present along with Hector and Camilla when the room was opened the following Saturday. I explained that in the interim I planned to use my compass and tape measure to map out the tunnels and passageways. I hoped that by laying the route of the tunnel over a topographic map of the area I would have a clearer idea of where it really ended up.
After work, during that next week, Hector and I spent the evenings measuring and laying out the contours of all of the passageways and tunnels on graph paper. We made many mistakes but by the end of the week we thought we had an accurate depiction of the entire system. I found a topographic map of the area on topozone. com on the internet. Along with the topographic maps I also found detailed aerial maps. As suspected the dry end of the tunnel was at the edge of the bay. I didn't know how far into the bay the tunnel extended nor why the entrance was under water. After reading as much as I could find on the history of the area I thought that it was likely that the shoreline of the bay had shifted some from when the tunnel was constructed. To prove this I was going to need some early maps of the area and these were not available online.
Life with Audra during the week settled into something of a routine. Audra was evidently comfortable enough with our relationship that the bed in her own bedroom remained untouched during the week. Like many new lovers we occasionally showered together and her toothbrush and toiletries competed for counter space with mine in the master bath. Our lives seemed to have merged although she held off moving her clothes into my dresser and closet. I was somewhat ambivalent in my own feelings about our relationship. For the most part I was confident enough to allow things to move forward at their own pace but I had occasional bouts of insecurity when I wondered how someone so wonderful could be attracted to me. My only answer was that somehow she was.
Work on the other hand was more of the same. Although I no longer needed to bid many of the projects I still had to expend almost the same effort planning and setting up each job site. There was no way that I could standardize things without either having too many unnecessary expenses on one job site or not having enough resources on another. The jobs that I had one time managed to avoid with my deliberate overbids ended up taking much longer than the others. It was enough additional work that I ended up adding Jorge's cousin, Manuel, as a third sub-contractor.
Having three subs meant that there were always more jobs going on at any one time. Not knowing Manuel that well also meant that I spent more time checking his jobs. It all added up to me arriving home much later on some evenings than I was used to. Audra was very understanding after I explained why. She patiently held up the final preparations of supper until she heard the sound of my truck pull into the driveway. This meant that her days were longer and with the house empty most of the time she had a lot of free time, free time she spent either on the phone with Camilla or next door with Elise.
The bright side of all of this was that the money continued to flow in. The bank was never slow with the checks and the checks were always good. Of course since some whole subdivisions had almost been completely repossessed by the banks, I couldn't look for this to continue forever. I felt empathy for those who had lost their jobs and homes, especially since many had to leave the area. The only bright side was that I was employing 23 men that would have been out of work otherwise.
The bank was actively trying to sell off the houses that were being foreclosed but at the moment there were no buyers. Vandalism and burglaries at the repossessed houses meant that the bank also had to hire security guards to patrol the neighborhoods. Lately I was also being asked to look at reworking some of the vandalized homes.
The week slowly wound down, even though Friday was one of those hectic days. Friday was not the most productive day of the week. Even with Hector, Jorge, and Manuel's constant urging, men, especially the young bucks, seemed to spend more time on Friday anticipating their paycheck and talking about weekend plans than working. All of that added to me arriving home sometime south of seven Friday evening. I had called Audra early in the day and explained the likelihood I would be late. I told her not to cook; I would take her out so we could celebrate the end of our first week together.
Audra could see how exhausted I was from my day and insisted that we stay in and order take-out. Dragon Express was a small Vietnamese / Chinese restaurant halfway across town that made the best General Tso's Chicken I had ever eaten. Mrs. Li, the owner, was a Vietnamese expatriate of Chinese descent who was the hardest working woman I had ever met. She ran the small restaurant with the help of her daughter Kelli and an occasional part-time waitress. Mrs. Li was always teasing me, trying to get me to order something different but, I loved that chicken and why mess with success? Audra said she had loved Chinese cuisine the few times she had sampled it. She also told me she enjoyed hot and spicy dishes but also loved sesame chicken and so I ordered a double portion of the General Tso's Chicken, a single order of sesame chicken, several Shanghai eggrolls and two orders of Wonton soup.