As he follows the trail of the works from Maine all the way to the Folger Library in Washington, DC, he quickly realizes that others-some dangerously violent-are also on the trail of the mysterious treasure. As he tracks down the truth behind the clues that Shakespeare left behind, he realizes that he is on the trail of a mystery that dates back to the Elizabethan Era. As he gets closer to the truth, his life and the lives of those who hold the keys to the truths that Shakespeare encoded in his works hang precariously in the balance.
Locating the drafts becomes a matter of life and death; he races to be the first to locate Shakespeare's works, not just for fame and glory, but to keep himself alive.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
By John O'Shea
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 John O'Shea
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe minivan's wheels were twenty feet from his back tire.
"Goddamn lunatic!" Tanner Cook muttered. His shins and forearms shook as his bike soared across the back road's surface.
The minivan closed the gap. Tanner curled his six-foot frame, his legs crunching through rotations on the pedals. The minivan's front bumper grinned, ready to crunch Tanner's rear tire.
"No!" Tanner jerked left, and the minivan cut through the image of where Tanner had been. Tanner lifted the entire bike—back and front—and sailed over a wide dip. The minivan dropped into the pit, scraped its front bumper, and spasmed up and down.
Tanner's ankles blurred around the pedals' center. As he approached a sharp turn, he heard the minivan's engine snarl in pursuit. He plowed forward at an all-out sprint—up off the seat, over the handle bars, and leaning full forward. When he hit the turn, he squeezed his rear brake and leaned into the left armpit of the turn. He exhaled and leaned lower and lower until he was inches from searing his left leg on the unpaved road. He had done this before, but not for ten years.
Nearly flat to the ground, he rubber-banded around the curve. A simple pebble under one of the tires at the wrong angle could topple him and scatter him across the road. The minivan sailed wide, and its wheels locked up, sliding it across the road. Tanner righted himself and jumped back up on the pedals, punishing them. He put distance between himself and the shaken minivan.
The house sat an eighth of a mile up on the right. Tanner's brakes hissed as he skidded to a stop in front of the house. A dust storm swirled around him and stuck to his lathered body. He dismounted and let his bike down gently, the way a lead dancer might dip his partner. The tall, dry grass swallowed the bike. He unstrapped his helmet and put his gloves into it. He knew the goofball would be along shortly.
Across the wide lawn of tall, uncut grass stood an ancient colonial. It leaned hard to its right as if it were nursing an old bullet wound. The Maine September air smelled clean. He wiped his brow and took in the house.
The owner here had died tragically in the woods upstate, his body discovered fully clothed in the basin of a river. The autopsy revealed he had drowned. Without a will, the house had been turned over to the state to dispense with as part of its unclaimed property program. Tanner's role was to ready the property for public auction since neither the town nor the county viewed this out-of-the-way lot a potential strategic asset. During his preparations, Tanner was also supposed to see if any connections to relatives were left undiscovered by the county's brief search process. Perhaps there was something telling in the house, or maybe a neighbor was aware of distant relations. Judging by the decrepit shape of this home, he had his work cut out for him. There was something odd about this house, even beyond its tilt.
From behind him, Tanner heard the growl of the minivan. It pulled to the side of the road in front of Tanner's bike. A round man stepped from the driver's side. He was Tanner's long-time friend, Rack Manning.
"It's a shit hole," Rack said. His blubbery arm shielded the last of the day's sun from his eyes.
"How about a little appreciation for the speed, my man," Tanner said.
An attractive young woman popped out of the van's passenger side.
"Hi," she said. "Awesome speed back there."
"Hi," Tanner said. It was all he could think to say. Her smile illuminated her face. She was tan and seemed full of energy.
She waved as she approached. "Kyle Murray."
Rack came around the minivan. "Kyle and I met last night. Just after you went to bed, Grandma."
"Ahh," Tanner said.
"Kyle is new in town, from California. She wanted to tag along today and see what a real-life estate coroner does for a living."
Tanner enjoyed the opportunity the introduction gave him to view Kyle. He couldn't find a flaw—athletic body, no fat, a beautiful face, and a healthy tan. She's definitely not from around here. "Welcome."
Tanner turned to Rack. "Coroner, huh?"
"Dude, you clean out homes of dead people."
"I work for the state—more like a paralegal with a broom. I get a call as soon as the corner's office can't locate any next of kin."
Kyle nodded and dipped her chin in the direction of the house. "How long has he been ... you know ...?"
"Coming up on four weeks. He drowned hiking in the woods upstate. System can work pretty quickly sometimes. The state traced him through the library card in his wallet. Public notice was listed in the newspapers two weeks ago. I got the call two days ago. Sorry you had to drive with Rackles, here. What was it for you guys, an hour and a half before you caught me?"
"Exactly." Rack produced a can of Miller Lite beer from his shirt pocket. "How's the kicker?"
Tanner looked down at his right leg and flexed it. His thigh felt as if someone was tenderizing him with an ice pick, but he didn't want to appear weak. "It's fine. So, why'd you want to come all the way out here?"
Rack glanced over at Kyle. "Can't a friend check in on his buddy? Haven't seen you pedaling, in, what, five weeks now?"
"Six, I think." Tanner turned toward the old house.
"You think we might see you training soon?"
Tanner turned sharply back toward Rack and gave him a death glare. When he saw Kyle and her high-energy grin, he relented.
Rack gestured toward the house, clearly trying to transfer the conversation in another direction. "I can't believe you got stuck with this outhouse."
Tanner started high-stepping through the forest of grass. "Let's see what we've got."
"I'm probably picking up a good dozen chiggers in here," Rack said as he waded to the house. He cracked the beer. "My horticulturist says they usually travel in packs of ten."
"Then carry me." Kyle hopped up on Rack's back.
"Jeez." Careful not to spill his beer, he caught her legs and bent forward to support her weight.
Tanner watched the antics over his shoulder. Where does she get her energy? Does she know who she's dealing with? Tanner's foot klunked against something in the tall grass. "Shit!" He reached for his stinging toe.
"Big-ass chigger?" Rack asked and laughed. His rider giggled too. Even Tanner cracked a smile.
"No." He lifted the rusty skull of a mailbox. It was attached to a rotted wooden pole.
"Hats off to the postman who can find that sucker," Rack said. With Kyle still on his back, he marched past Tanner.
Tanner pulled a handful of envelopes out of the box. "Your hair, nails, and bills all continue to grow after death." He stuffed the letters into his pocket. "Wait up!"
"Remember the place in Manorsville I told you about?" Tanner asked. He stepped ahead of Rack and Kyle as they neared the porch. He thought the house looked dehydrated with the rotten peels of paint chips curling down its sides. "Let me go first."
"Manorsville?" Kyle asked.
Rack approached with Kyle on his back. "His foot went through a rotted floorboard."
On the front stoop, Tanner eased increasing amounts of pressure on the first step, like a four-year-old testing a diving board for the first time. He covered the remaining steps just as gingerly. He fished a key out of his knapsack. A thin string connected the key to a punctured paper tab with the word, "Dreavor" scribbled on it. Frank Dreavor was the name of the deceased owner. Tanner had picked up the key in Portland the day before. As Tanner turned it in the lock, the key clicked clockwise to 4 pm.
Even out in this secluded area of the county, Tanner thought folks six miles back in Kargil could hear the door's squeal as he swung it open. Were those the original hinges? Had they ever been oiled?
"So are you just responsible for cleaning these houses?" Kyle asked.
Tanner tugged a digital camera from his knapsack and snapped a picture of the front hall. "And for finding any relatives not known to the state."
"Smells like socks," Rack said and then slugged his beer. "Old socks."
"You can make the distinction?" Tanner asked.
Kyle laughed with her chin on Rack's shoulder.
Tanner walked down a short front hall to the kitchen. "Electric company said there hasn't been live voltage inside for twelve years."
Rack followed with Kyle on his back. "How do you live without electricity for twelve minutes, let alone twelve years? How would you get ice?"
Kyle popped off Rack's back, her flip-flops slapping on the warped wooden kitchen floor. "Or run the hair dryer?"
"I guess you'd have to learn to drink everything neat, and towel dry." Tanner snapped a picture of the kitchen.
Rack ran a hand over the curved, metallic fridge door and whistled. "Man, I actually think this looks kinda cool. What do you think, 1950? Can you imagine what the original owners' faces would look like if they saw today's models—you know, an ice dispenser or flat screen TV on the door?"
A lone dish, spoon, butter knife, and fork stood in a drying rack, looking like storybook rejects. Above the sink, a grimy window opened on the backyard and the woods beyond. Tanner opened all four slim kitchen drawers, each empty. "He had one spoon, knife, and fork?"
Rack hopped up on a counter and gulped his beer. "Easy to keep track of, nothing piles up."
"Classy," Kyle said.
Tanner smiled and looked at her, quickly. Her jeans had to have been custom made for her legs ... like moonlight on water, they were the perfect highlight. He opened an upper cupboard—it housed five Campbell's Tomato Soup cans.
Tanner put a hand around the refrigerator door handle. "Okay, brace yourself. Remember what I told you about that house in Falmouth."
"Gnarly?" Kyle asked.
Tanner smiled at her. "Rancid would've been an upgrade."
Rack put the open crack of his beer can under his nostrils. "Ready."
Kyle cupped her nose.
Tanner tugged the refrigerator door, and it opened with a mumph. Inside, the refrigerator was dry and empty. "At least it doesn't need to be cleaned out," Tanner said.
"Guess this guy knew he wouldn't be home for a while," Rack said. He put his can on the counter, and it denked, empty. He tugged a new one out of his left shirt pocket.
"I wonder if he ever used the fridge," Tanner said. "The eccentrics keep it interesting."
"I'm going to see if the plumbing works." Kyle disappeared into the powder room off the hallway they had entered.
Tanner saw Rack look over at him with a devilish smile. Rack leaned close and whispered, "Don't talk about your biking, your scholarships, cum laude, nothing! Got it? She's mine. You left early! Early bird, baby."
"You don't mean early bird?"
"She was there last night?" Tanner asked.
"She knocked into me just after you left."
"She went home with you?"
"I picked her up at her place a few hours ago."
Tanner smiled. "So she knew she was going to be here today with me."
Rack crushed his empty beer can. "I'm warning you."
"Relax, I've got work—"
At the sound of a dying flush, Tanner glanced over his shoulder to see Kyle slip out of the powder room. "Works," she said, smiling at the two of them.
"Excellent." Rack slid past her into the bathroom.
Tanner stepped into the adjoining room, a dining room. He saw the circle of the sun shrinking into the treetops behind the house. He ran a finger through a layer of dust on the table in the center of the room. He snapped a photo.
"How much do you get per house?" Kyle asked.
These Californians are direct. Tanner didn't mind. "Two hundred and fifty bucks," Tanner said from behind his camera. How obvious would it be if he spun around and took her picture?
"How many do you do in a week?"
"Depends on the complications. Sometimes finding a next of kin is as easy as looking in the phone book." He photographed the aged mustard curtains that dripped across the rear windows of the house. Unconnected shards of twine sketched the bare remains of rattan chairs in the sitting room. Tanner walked out onto the porch and looked around, up, and down.
"Rack told me about your brother," she said. "I know that's why you like to move fast."
"I guess." Very direct, he thought. Again, he didn't mind. Somehow it felt good to have her know, and to be reminded.
Tanner photographed the empty porch, but the image was overlaid with another of his twenty-six-year-old brother Jimmy sitting on an iron bench, smiling and staring at a jungle gym while fellow inmates zombie-wandered around the playground. All of them were like Jimmy, severely mentally challenged in one way or another. Tanner's heart began sinking in on itself as the details of the scene began to fill in: a Thorazine-derivative soaking through Jimmy's bloodstream, and one $7.50-per-hour attendant for the sixteen of them, doodling on her Maine Tribune front page with one hand while supporting her cheek with her other as she spoke on a cell phone to one of a dozen of her friends at similar observational jobs. It was one of the finest institutions of its kind that the state, let alone Tanner, could provide. And it was closing four days from now as the state consolidated its homes for the handicapped. Jimmy would be moved two hours away, north of where Tanner lived. Since their mom's death seven years ago, Jimmy was all Tanner had for family. One day Tanner hoped to be able to provide a private home for Jimmy, one that was closer. But that would take money Tanner didn't have just now.
Rack emerged from the bathroom and called to Tanner and Kyle out on the porch. "What do you think the upstairs is like?"
The comment shook Tanner from his thoughts. "I don't know. Probably glamorous. Let's check it out."
They regrouped on the house's only stairwell.
"Go slow on these suckers." Rack narrowed his shoulders and started up. The stairs groaned individually. "Thomas Jefferson didn't build this place with me in mind."
"Don't be too sure," Tanner said and laughed. Smiling, Kyle tiptoed up the stairs in Rack's wake.
The light in the house had slowly faded to gray. At the upstairs landing, Tanner took the Maglite from his knapsack and followed its beam. He used the flashlight's head to edge open the door on the left, revealing a bed caught in full stretch, with rumpled sheets and comforter. The bureau stood with its drawers open. Clothes spilled over the edges, and some items lay on the floor. Tanner poked his nose in the open closet. There were a few hanging flannel shirts and as many rusted wire hangers scattered on the floor.
"He is either a super slob ..." Kyle said.
Rack arched his eyebrows. "Slob? Isn't that being a little—"
"Or he left in a hurry," she finished. "Or maybe vandals?"
Tanner shrugged his shoulders. "Probably. All it takes is one mention in the paper." He led the way across the hall to the other empty bedroom, which stood vacant—no bed, no bureau, no lamp, just a galaxy of dust motes floating in the last of the afternoon's sun coming through the window. Tanner captured the emptiness with his camera.
"T, you have to clean this up?" Rack asked.
Rack smiled. "Later. Good." He shook his beer can between thumb and index finger. "I'm hungry and low, you want one?" He started backing out of the bedroom.
"I'll take a Green Delite," Kyle said.
"Green Delite?" Tanner asked, a bit absent-mindedly, as he continued to take in the room.
Rack shook his head in disgust. "Some healthy wheatgrass soup. California, remember?"
Kyle held her index finger and thumb an inch apart in Rack's face as he passed her and headed toward the stairs. "Slightly more healthy for you than Miller Lite. Just a touch."
Tanner turned in place. Something bothered him about the room.
"We'll come with you," Kyle said.
Tanner followed Kyle, who followed Rack toward the narrow stairway.
"You know," Kyle said, "even before the mess or vandals, this place is ... lacking."
"Yeah, how's that?" Again, Tanner spoke as if hardly present. He checked over his shoulder back up the stairway. What was it?
"You think anyone could live like this?" Kyle asked.
"No photographs, no memories, no hobbies, no ... no dreams."
"Minimalist," Tanner said. "Some people like it."
"Fine for some people, but a seventy-year-old?" Kyle asked.
When they stepped outside, Tanner felt early fall's evening chill beginning to settle on the land. "Would it surprise you if I said many of the houses I work on are similar?"
Excerpted from Shakespeare's Revenge by John O'Shea Copyright © 2010 by John O'Shea. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.