Manuscript, chapter 8

From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the eighth chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel.  (Reformatted for web presentation).  This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.

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The narrow drive leading from State Highway 49 to the hotel erupts unexpectedly into an idyllic wide-open vista. Lake Potisesse leaps into view behind the structure itself. Anyone making the journey from the main road to this spot feels transported to a different world. Sure, trees surround the highway, but they rest far enough from the thoroughfare to make it open, unobstructed. My private road on the other hand creates a magical aura that metamorphoses a jaunt through East Texas woods into a carriage ride through Sherwood Forest. Bandits riding into the path on horseback wearing Renaissance clothing and brandishing bows and arrows would seem an impeccable fit.

Shadowy woodlands of pine, cypress, various oaks, and hickory speed by near passing cars, Ents protecting their flocks and slowing passers-by wending the narrow path too hastily. Branches reach in strangling holds on traffic. Foliage threatens to blanket travelers in overpowering embraces should they not tread carefully along the sacred route. One cannot deny the hush of trees marching peacefully over rolling hills while making that spellbinding quarter-mile drive to the hotel.

Traveling from civilization’s highway to my remote sanctuary is accented by a sudden change from 1500s forest to 1800s haven. The entrance opens abruptly into the space surrounding Carr Beholden, a gaping mouth spilling its mobile contents onto a plate of crushed stone. A bend in the road surrounded by trees hides the spot until the last moment. Cars tumble into the open around the house and face a life-size Asher Durand painting.

The commodious wood-and-stone structure blends perfectly with the sylvan landscape, extending with equal calm toward the open shoreline. Lake Potisesse’s 2,100 acres stretch out before it, a welcoming bath prepared by dutiful attendants. Enough space cleared next to the screened-in porch on the west side of the structure accommodates several dozen cars if militaristically parked. To the left—to the north—the wooden tongue of the pier sticks out in front of the house and into the water; it beseeches swimmers and sunbathers to enjoy its company. City life cannot compete with the splendor of my new home and its location.

I park the Lexus in the garage next to the old Chevy Blazer, a large canopy of foliage near the back of the house blanketing the area in dappled light. Taking a deep breath as though leaving the vehicle means stepping into some toxic environment where one must survive with the air already in the lungs, I shut off the car and get out, grabbing the two twelve-packs and bag from the back seat before making my way to the kitchen door.

The Blazer catches my attention when I pause on the steps to find the right key. More than ten years old, its once cherry red carapace faded by sunlight bleaching and time’s inexorable ability to wear things down, the stalwart SUV remains a necessity. King’s Hope has about two dozen named streets near the center of town, but outside that enclave of concrete rests a menagerie of rural routes, farm-to-market roads, county roads and dirt lanes, most of which receive minimal care. They have an unkind tendency to hammer an automobile’s solidity and suspension. So I keep the Blazer for navigating those less civilized paths and use the IS 350 for those times when I drive on modern—not to mention maintained—throughways.

A zephyr hits me with the unforgiving heat and discomfort of a blast furnace. It rustles through the trees and past the house as it moves toward the lake. With it comes overbearing humidity, a cloak of sodden cottony air that sticks to my skin and makes my clothes do the same.

Jostling my load so I can reach the keys in my pocket forces me to pause for a few seconds. Beads of sweat begin taking shape on my forehead. Despite the lack of comfort, I glance out the open garage door and take in the forested surroundings. Regardless of the pastoral location, this place has grown on me, has become home.

Perhaps the time has come to sell the old house in Dallas. That shell overflows with ghosts. I have not returned to it for a few years. Renters occupy it; the same lovely family who first rented it still maintains their life in its embrace. Despite their residency however, it sits dead and derelict in my mind.

Four years have passed since Beth died. Keeping the house feels saccharine. The rental income amounts to inconsequential pocket change, the associated expenses nothing more than tedious details to manage now and then. Yes, the time has come to discard the old homestead. I make a mental note to call my attorney so she can get the process started on my behalf, though I make an addendum to the note to tell her I will finance a purchase by the current renters if they wish to buy it. They have been too reliable and too responsible for me to kick them to the curb with a FOR SALE sign.

Keys grappled with and subdued, the kitchen door unlocks and opens. A quick hit to the wall control closes the garage door. With the two twelve-packs of beer and a supply of confections pulling my arms in unnatural ways, I step inside.

A most welcome rush of cool air embraces me. The Lexus said the outside temperature had climbed to 102 degrees though the day remains moderately young.

I kick the door shut behind me and make my way to the kitchen island. Momentary struggling does not lead to dropped goodies, a satisfactory performance for someone who never learned to juggle.

Each twelve-pack yields its contents to the refrigerator, one bottle even making it into the freezer where it can cool off more quickly. Immediate consumption of alcohol glares blazingly bright in my mind despite knowing I will indulge in far too many processed desserts.

Grabbing the bag of sugary goodies, I dump it on the island countertop. With clear view of the sweets spread out, I chastise myself for going overboard preparing for my end-of-book fix. But going overboard is immaterial since I am prepared.

A package of Hostess Chocolate CupCakes held greedily in my hand, I sweep the remaining confections—a not too inconsiderable mass—into a pile that I heave in handfuls into a wicker basket pulled from beneath the counter. After locking the garage door, shedding my tee shirt and tossing it on the island, and kicking off my shoes into a pile next to one of the stools, the affront to diabetics everywhere goes with me down the hall to the sunroom.

With sugar coma-inducing afters and computer within easy reach, that familiar cozy spot in the northeast corner welcomes me. A quick glance outside gives an unimpeded view of the eastern end of the lake and the woodlands around the house. This part of the original wraparound porch faces east, the screened-in portion west, and the open deck north where it has an unobstructed view of the lake.

The sun already moves over the other end of the house and does not hit my cloister. Avoiding undue heating from the simmering onslaught outside strikes me as important. Given the plethora of trees, direct sunlight does not infiltrate the sunroom from noon onward; the screened-in porch enjoys that honor throughout the morning. The open section of the northern deck never receives unwelcome sunlight except indirectly in the late afternoon before the sun falls behind thick foliage.

Three walls of floor-to-ceiling glass leave me stupefied by the sunroom’s coolness. It has rheostat control of the window tint, but it remains unused because the dappled morning sunshine never unpleasantly heats the room. Air conditioning and four ceiling fans do a fine job handling what little warmth the windows allow inside.

Stretching my legs on the couch provides a convenient and natural platform for the laptop. Even as it settles warmly on my shorts, panic seizes me. I have naught to slake my thirst!

The laptop goes back on the table. A quick jog to the kitchen allows me to fetch a large glass of ice water. By the time I reach the hall, the glass has returned to its empty state, the whole of its contents guzzled. I had not realized how hot and thirsty I had become. So I spin around, make another full glass, and finally head back to the sunroom where I make myself comfortable, this time after an inventory confirms no immediate needs.

The laptop hums. The battery meter shows a filled charge, so I unplug it. Exercising rechargeable batteries now constitutes a habit as unconscious as breathing.

OpenOffice makes short work of opening the manuscript for Compassion in Annihilation’s Caress. Jumping to the end of the document, I grab the chocolate goodies from the table and open the package with much crinkling of cellophane, retrieve one of the cholesterol-increasing cupcakes, and take an ambitious bite from it before putting it to rest on top of the other one.

Gosh, and all that in preparation for completing a single book.

Vices be damned! my mind shouts in response.

Were it not for my bizarre habits, I wonder if my writing in its various forms would have remained unpublished. My curiosity in such matters generally impels me to wonder what Shakespeare did to get through his mental unloading.


Rereading the last few pages of the novel regains my position in the story. The unwitting and unheroic rogue William has discovered the nature of the alien visitors invading his world. He rests on the verge of realizing a great truth—they masquerade as the gods our species has worshiped throughout history. In fact, as he will discover, the mental images projected by them as their names resemble in disconcerting ways the names of humankind’s major deities past and present. William will find this dubiously convenient and will determine it is covertly Machiavellian.

He will also discover the aliens exist in a place disparate from his universe yet attached to the infinitesimal corner of the cosmos he inhabits. Thought is as intelligible to them as is space and time and life itself. On rare occasions humans tap into that bizarre plain where these living deities reside. The experience often translates in a person’s feeble mind as precognition and retrocognition, prophecy, visions, and spiritual experiences. For the most engulfed, such visits lead to manifestations in humanity’s world, things such as healing, clairsentience, levitation, telekinesis, clairvoyance, astral projection, telepathy and—the religious will shudder to think—mediumship. In the aliens’ reality, they view other realities as worlds they can see and visit, and death is such a world.

Despite the aliens’ semi-incorporeal life, their tangible half deals heavy-handedly with the physical realm, colonizing worlds, wiping out civilizations, consuming natural resources and subjugating native inhabitants until they too can be consumed. And for this they have specific reasons, unusual reasons in fact. William needs to discover those reasons before he feels vindicated for killing his wife and causing his children to desert him, and most notably before his unintentional heroism can manifest.

My fingers rest easily on the keyboard and find the rhythm to complete the story. William will make his discovery. He and those around him will experience a great realization about the nature of life, of humanity, and of religion. The aliens will offer an ultimatum to mankind, a choice between discarding the ways of the past in order to reach the future, or seeing their destruction insured. An armada of diaphanous ships will surround Earth, vessels impervious to the weapons of that time, crafts invisible to human technology and bearing unimaginable power—at least unimaginable by anyone alive since William’s wife had imagined it. Hysteria will grip every corner of the globe. Mass suicides will occur across a spectrum of faiths.

The Hobson’s choice will be unavoidable. People will either drop to their knees and beg for mercy from aliens who demand their worship, or they will suffer catastrophic annihilation that will last forever. William will understand this all-or-nothing option really boils down to a nothing-or-nothing option since the final outcome remains the same no matter what his people do. Because in the end the aliens intend to destroy his world by one of two means—consumption or obliteration.

My protagonist will finally regret the murder of his wife as he realizes the futility of the act. The children he lost because of it will fall prey to the influence of the invaders. His total manipulation at the hands of the alien incursion will make him the tool the aliens use to annihilate his species. He will finish by weeping beneath the knowledge of the aliens’ true identities and why they do what they do. And there it will end … sort of, with the whisper of a hinted question that might mean the fight continues.


Tappety-tappety-tappety. Fingers flying on autopilot controlled by stream-of-consciousness command, approximately 45 minutes pass before I brake in a state of anxious discovery. Both cupcakes have vanished and the glass of water has emptied.

“I need more fuel. William’s in danger of petering out before his time.”

Laptop returns to table. Discarded confection packaging and water glass return to the kitchen. The sun drifts toward the western horizon and light outside slowly dims, although hours remain before sunset. The deception comes from trees blocking sunshine from the west side of the house. The darkened hallway gratifies me as I amble along; the murky transit fits the mood of my tale.

The wasteful plastic container from the cupcakes drops in the trash. I guzzle a refill of water, giggle about the instant replay, and prepare another helping to take to the sunroom.

“What’s missing?” I glance around the kitchen as though I misplaced something, the feeling clear that something is amiss. “Beer!”

Inside the freezer my first planned alcoholic conquest has frozen to its core. Thankfully the bottle of Negra Modelo did not explode during that process. No harm or foul since those in the refrigerator have cooled.

I put the frozen bottle on the counter beside the fridge, retrieve one that has not transformed into a solid, grab one of the Mrs. Baird’s Fruity Apple Pies from the basket, then saunter—perhaps I skip a little—to the sunroom. I feel good, the book advances rapidly, I have the wherewithal to get ‘er done, and besides, William would not be happy if I left him in limbo for too long.

The man’s a maniac. I have to deal with him right now.

More importantly, it could force Brody to contact me and solicit the manuscript if he does not receive it tomorrow morning. As firsts go, I have no desire to experience that one. Delivering it a day late does not worry me of course, but I do not wish to incite unnecessary concern for my agent by missing the late deadline.


Ensconced on the sofa, feverish work alternates heavy loads of writing with bathroom breaks, refill visits to the kitchen, and get-away-for-a-minute-and-stretch breaks. Meanwhile the sun continues its never-ending journey toward nightfall. When at last the damnable fire hangs its summer heat below the horizon, vermilion to the west and indigo to the east drape both ends of the sky with curtains woven by a setting star. A magenta weave joins the two extremes in that place directly above where diametric realms merge.

Only in passing do I appreciate the spectacular show. Shame on me. With barely a glance at nature’s presentation and murmuring something about how pretty it looks, the story unfolding before me holds my unwavering attention. I should have enjoyed a bit of time letting the vista enrapture me and allowing my eyes to take their fill of a sky riven by vivid pigments drawn from light and dark. But neither did wishes become horses nor beggars ride, and wanting to stop does not mean I can stop. Unfinished work remains, William’s adventure rushes headlong toward its powerful climax, and my deadline grows closer.

So with absent dismissal the feast beyond the windows passes without appreciation. My eyes and heart will hunger anew. I enter a trance when writing that often means losing touch with the splendor surrounding the house. The nearer I come to the end of a manuscript, the more fixated I grow until becoming unaware save for the most violative disruptions. I wonder how much life I have missed in that near-unconscious place I travel to when my fingers and mind decide to spin a yarn.

Tracking the hours during such episodes does not occur. Consciously the creative process takes over. Words spill from my brain and translate through my hands into digital form. Beer and water mix in constant drinks, and the beverages wash down enough sweets to induce acute diabetic shock in the healthiest of people.


In the blackness of night without knowledge of the precise hour it occurred, William’s journey draws to a close and completes his transition from nescient primitive to flummoxed yet informed hominid facing the dissolution of what he knows, a lonely person standing at the edge of oblivion trying to disavow the blood on his hands.

Sunset came and went hours before. Somewhat drunk and terribly high on an unbelievable quantity of sugar, my mind and body cannot decide whether to plummet to the ground or run laps around the house. The basket of confections in the kitchen lacks half its original load. Ten empty beer bottles sit atop the kitchen island, one half-consumed sits on the table in the sunroom, and a thawed yet undrinkable ale sits on the counter, leaving one lonely survivor in the fridge to mark the end of a plundered twelve-pack.

Finding dinner thankfully does not require driving. But the idea of eating elicits vehement complaint from my stomach. Given how much junk food I already stuffed down my gullet, my tummy threatens to rebel should my mouth attempt to chew or swallow more calories.

Open letter to Yahoo!

I have worked in the technology industry since 1988—starting at the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce and including the likes of the USPS, Stream International, XO Communications, FNF, Bank of America and Blockbuster Entertainment, many of them for whom I spent decades managing IT personnel.

Marissa Mayer thinks she’s above reproach—but she’s not.  Telecommuting isn’t Yahoo!’s problem.  Bad management is the problem, and that can’t be fixed by screwing real workers by taking away flexibility.

Telecommuting shows employees that they are valued, that work-life balance is important to a company, that workers deserve consideration from a company destined to keep more than they give.

Why isn’t Yahoo! willing to say “on the record” how often Mayer works from home now just weeks after giving birth to her first child?  Why are they willing to sacrifice benefits for their employees while not cutting back on her hundred-million-dollar-plus salary contract?

As with the rest of America’s class warfare, why are those who have so willing to take away from those who don’t have?

I’m sorry, Yahoo!, but this decision is a bad one.  Take that from someone who has more work, life and management experience than your CEO.

Not a good idea

Mom shouted from one of the storage sheds.  Her voice came strident and immediate.  So I rushed to her side, interested both in what she’d discovered and—more importantly—about her safety.  For her to be so adamant about getting my attention, I knew she was facing something she’d rather not face alone.

In the unlit equipment shed, early afternoon sunlight not penetrating the dark, she stood some distance from a rather large creature moving casually from one wall to another.  It was a creature I’d never seen before, and its size gave me pause because the play of shadow upon shadow made it look like a very large spider.

Oh, you know, with a body about 1.5 in/25 mm in length, its long legs making it twice that size.

Not that I’m scared of spiders, but if I don’t know what it is, I’m no fool.

But after I gave it a quick taste of light from the camera’s flash, the flavor of the beast became obvious.  Well, obvious only insofar as I could tell it wasn’t a spider, but not obvious insofar as I didn’t have a clue what it was other than looking like a giant brown katydid.

So I snapped a natural-light picture when it paused mid stride—after the flash, of course, which lit up the shed like fireworks.

A male southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) walking across sandy ground (IMG_2793)

Having never seen this kind of insect before, imagine my surprise when I found several more throughout the same day.  That was in May 2012.

And for months afterward?  Let’s just say they represented a regular part of the natural world, found around the house and around the farm.

A female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) walking across sandy ground (IMG_0019)

Some, like the female above, were at least 2.5 in/45 mm from ovipositor to mandibles—not including legs.  As far as katydids go, these represented some of the largest and most robust I’d ever seen

A female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) standing on metal roofing (IMG_0054)

With their abundance and size and general appearance, I came to understand Mom’s initial trepidation.  She’s a go-getter when it comes to wildlife—except when it comes to crickets.

Consider this story: Whilst lying in bed one night watching a scorpion crawl along the ceiling above her, she casually asked of my father, “Honey, is that what I think it is?”

She handles arthropods with the skill of an entomologist.  And with the requisite aplomb.

But this?  In the dark?  And considering it looked like a giant cricket?  (Like every human who has ever lived, my mother has her Achilles heel: crickets.  They are her kryptonite.  Thus a giant cricket wandering about in the dark with her would certainly push her buttons.)

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) on metal roofing (IMG_0087)

But these weren’t crickets.  They weren’t even scorpions.  So why be worried?

Well, her initial apprehension aside, research quickly identified these as southern protean shieldbacks (Atlanticus pachymerus).  Shieldbacks have every reason to give you pause.  You see, they’re omnivorous.  More importantly, they’re predators of other insects.

But lacking a poisonous bite or a venomous sting, why be worried?

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) (IMG_0106)

Like the hardwood stump borer I mentioned previously, shieldbacks are large and powerful.  Even lacking toxic weapons, they nevertheless have power on their side.

Here’s the clue: BugGuide specifically states that shieldbacks are said “to be strong biters.”

After our first encounter in the equipment shed, I tested that theory—after having identified the critters.

Close-up of a female southern protean shieldback (Atlanticus pachymerus) in sunshine (IMG_0105)

Trust me when I say this: They hunt other insects, not to mention feeding on anything they find appealing, like plants and detritus and whatever.

But—Yo!—they eat other insects no matter if those insects are dead or alive.  And how do they do that?

By chomping down on whatever looks tasty.

And given their general size, when a shieldback chomps down on something, it’s a potent bite indeed.

Again, trust me on this.  I tested that theory.  The little bugger taught me never to test it again.

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This is the fourth entry in my intermittent series of posts focused on arthropods that can be dangerous if mishandled.  The first entry—about wheel bugs—is here, the second entry—about black widow spiders—is here, and the third entry—about hardwood stump borer beetles—is here.

Manuscript, chapter 7

From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the seventh chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel.  (Reformatted for web presentation).  This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.

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Pulling onto Allen Camp Road leaving Perenson’s behind, I hardly touch the gas before braking at Main Street—FM 727 outside King’s Hope proper and colloquially named Potisesse Path from the north end of town to the state highway. A smattering of vehicles traverses the north-south road, typical small-town fare such as pickups hauling trailers, pickups with hay in the beds, pickups with dogs in the beds, and pickups squeaking their rusty complaints about having to move. One or two cars sneak in amongst the pickups.

My eyes automatically scan to the left where Mr. Hat walked around the corner of the convenience store. That direction would take him south along Main Street toward the center of town. Though I will not see him, I let my gaze wander with futile hope they will catch a glimpse of a strangely dressed man winding his way along the sidewalks toward Town Square. Normal foot traffic and vehicles move through the scene, but not Mr. Hat.

When the light changes I turn right and head for home. Hitting the radio button, I throw some entertainment into the three-mile drive back to State Highway 49 and the mile-long drive from there to my private lane. Shreveport’s KDAQ offers up Sonny Fortune’s “Five Four Trane.” The jazz created from his incomparable saxophone playing offers the perfect stimulus to get me in the mood to finish William’s adventure and earthshaking discovery, so I crank up the volume. My fingers play the rhythm on the steering wheel as my head bops from side to side. Nothing can convince me to care that I look completely out of touch with the world outside the car.

At the intersection of SH 49 and FM 727 with Sonny Fortune blaring inside the car, I turn left heading west. It takes a few minutes to cover the mile that separates me from Carr Beholden’s entrance. The small private drive runs from the highway to the lakeside hotel-turned-residence. My brick mailbox sits ten feet from the state’s blacktop ribbon, the expanded opening of my crushed-stone driveway giving the postman a chance to get off the highway while delivering mail. There I turn right toward the lake.

This small private lane stretches beneath trees and along undergrowth that transport me to a different world. Driving the quarter mile from SH 49 to the house represents a joy not suited for the claustrophobic. As sylvan as the rutted carriageway that birthed it, the road of crushed stone has a width barely sufficient to accommodate two vehicles if both drive mostly in brush on either side, a hazardously yet delightfully narrow path, more a tunnel than a road. Thick foliage and branches reach out as forest sentinels try to capture invaders attempting this brief journey to isolation. The magical path winds over hills and through East Texas woodlands until it abruptly opens to a majestic view of Lake Potisesse tucked behind the wood-and-stone edifice I call home and which carries the name Carr Beholden.


Following the decision to move to the vicinity in 2009 after Beth’s accident, obtainable housing didn’t exist. Available purchases included some farms tucked away in the hills and forest along with a few derelict businesses scattered throughout the area. Surprisingly a few homes on small lots stood on the market. In addition, King’s Hope has an apartment complex in town. The diligent searcher could even locate an isolated plot of open land where one might build something from scratch.

But when it came to my wants and requirements, King’s Hope offered little. Too many of the existing options lacked size and room for expansion, already had occupants, huddled amidst surrounding farms with bellowing cows and busy tractors, or sat in town where I had no desire to establish a home. My search came up empty, so I spread the word through my parents about what I wanted to buy in the area: a private home, secluded would be nice, something larger than three bedrooms if possible, price not an issue, not in King’s Hope proper if you please.

The speed of light can’t compete with the speed at which news spreads in a small town. Deprive people of phones and internet access and you’ll still receive word of your big announcement almost simultaneously as you tell the first person.

Making the situation more interesting, tell a diminutive community that two of its residents have a famous son with a lot of money, and then tell them that said son wishes to establish a permanent address in their cozy hamlet. Before you know it that little colony of civilization explodes with a thunderous susurration generated by every pair of able lips gabbing the news into the nearest ear, whether or not that ear can hear.

Just think of this exciting opportunity! Just think of it, why don’t you. It could boost the local reputation. It could bring jobs and—far more important than work—it could bring money into the town. It would be a claim to fame that might finally one-up that village of vicious vipers over yonder—here there is much pointing in the direction of whichever little nearby town this little town wishes to knock down a peg or two.

And of course in this case, despite their sincere love for the rustic life they so enjoy, the residents of King’s Hope had one other reason to make my announcement a community crusade: to steal a big-name writer from the clutches of that urban den of iniquity Dallas. Talk about needing to get knocked down a peg or two.

The search burst to life. Everybody knew somebody and everybody’s somebody had a place to sell or knew of a place for sale or could steal a place to sell you, please pay no attention to the police tape thank you very much.

Two days after engaging Mom and Dad, thereby engaging the whole town, I received a message from Dick Weston, my publishing rep at Penguin. He informed me that an attorney in King’s Hope had contacted the company hoping to reach me.

Most people in the modern world contact me via my web site. Those messages first go to Brody, my literary agent, who—probably with help—sifts through the riffraff and forwards to me the legitimate notes. Despite the volume, I spend time each day acknowledging fans and placating critics. Always the steadfast e-mail bulwark, Brody spends his share of time filtering out stalkers and whackos and aspiring authors wanting me to read their manuscripts and any other rubbish that arrives. He also reroutes legal, publishing and other matters best left to experts.

Despite more immediate satisfaction offered by electronic avenues now employed by many writers, some people continue to utilize the more archaic route of contacting an author through their publisher. The attorney from King’s Hope chose that method. I presumed the contact related to my search for real estate, so I told Dick to forward my contact details to the gentleman.


The next morning I received a call from one Clement Doubleday, Esquire, attorney at law, senior partner at the esteemed and revered respectability of Doubleday and Associates, law firm, offices not far from Town Square right here in King’s Hope, Texas, located on McCreary Way next door to the bank, licensed and in good standing with the State Bar of Texas with staff attorneys certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, at your service.

He sounded older than me but not decrepit, perhaps late 50s or early 60s, with a refined southern accent either nurtured from years of education and the need for civility in his work, or affected for the job and dropped for a syrupy twang the moment he left the office. Either way, his resonant, silky voice appealed to me. It would serve him well in his line of work.

With a grin I asked, “How can I help you, Mr. Doubleday?”

“Please call me Clement, Mr. Crichton, and perhaps it is I who can help you.”

“Call me Dave. And how can you help me, Clement?”

“I understand you might presently be seeking property in the vicinity of King’s Hope, Texas, property upon which you hope to establish your residence and make your abode. Am I informed correctly, Dave?”


“Before I continue, if I may save us both from wasting time better spent on more promising endeavors, may I take a moment to confirm your predilections and qualifications?”


A sound came through the phone—the rustling of a sheet of paper. I had the impression he held a neatly bulleted list entitled “David A. Crichton’s King’s Hope Home Search Constraints.” I stifled a laugh.

“Let me see now. You intend to move to King’s Hope—to be closer to your parents, a rationale of the finest caliber if I do say so myself. You intend to live in King’s Hope, to make the town your home. You are seeking a private residence, not a shared space or business opportunity. You prefer some measure of privacy and seclusion as opposed to something in town, something not crowded by neighbors if you will. You seek a property of reasonable size, not just measured in land but also the home itself, to wit something larger than three bedrooms if available. You as yet have placed no financial limitations on the purchase, though reasonable men would not assume a limitless budget.”

I chuckled in amazement and confirmation.

“Did I say something funny, Dave?”

“No, of course not. You listed the legal representation of precisely what I mentioned to my parents. When I asked them to spread the word, I hadn’t realized how accurately and expeditiously the word would spread.”

“King’s Hope is a small town, Dave, and in small towns news travels fast. And here at Doubleday and Associates we pride ourselves on accuracy of information.”

“Yes, of course. I’ve been a city boy my whole life, so forgive me if I offended you by finding humor in it.”

“No offense at all!” he said with honesty, the smile in his voice pouring through the phone in a torrent. He seemed pleased to know I felt enchanted by the expediency with which the news traveled and the precision it maintained.

He continued, “But back to the question at hand, if we could. Are these indeed your search parameters, Dave?”

“A resounding yes, Clement.” Talking to this chap had become more fun than I ever thought possible when conversing with a lawyer, Lydia notwithstanding. Clement Doubleday’s genteel yet affable nature oozed warmth.

Once more a whisper came through the phone—a sheet of paper returned to its right and proper place.

“Very good then. Fantastic, in fact!” He sounded positively elated, perhaps because he saw an opportunity to make a profit or perhaps he loved to be correctly informed. Take your pick. “Dave, I’m contacting you because our esteemed law office, right here in King’s Hope, may have just the thing you want. Shall I tell you about it?”

“Yes, please do.”

“Are you familiar with Lake Potisesse?”


“Fine. That’s a fine thing. Now Dave—”

By that time in the conversation I pictured him an older gentleman, reed thin, white as paper, perfect silver hair exquisitely trimmed and combed back smooth with military precision, a fine three-piece classic-cut suit of dusky color snug on his frame with tailored seams, a bright white shirt pressed and starched just so, a handsome yet conservative silk tie with an inoffensive and subdued pattern of dark colors. I could see him sitting in an office paneled in dark wood and filled with antique furniture, his posture resolute yet comfortable, his buttocks resting on an overly-large chair made of supple dark leather, his mahogany desk leviathan and imposing and obsessively ordered to neatness, a file in front of him holding my contact details along with the property information he wished to share. I stuck with that image because it tickled me. Old fashion small-town lawyer looks according to the archetype.

“—the property I want to discuss with you is over twelve hundred acres located on the shore of Lake Potisesse surrounded by fine second-growth woods. The land is accessed from a small private lane extending from State Highway 49, and the acreage and structures rest in the northwestern corner of the King’s Hope town limits.”

“I see,” I offered into his momentary pause. I wanted him to know he continued enjoying my attention and I had not yet decided this property did not interest me.

“Our firm, right here in the heart of King’s Hope where my great-grandfather put down roots and set to work back in 1843, is in possession of this parcel of land and its associated structures. The property, most notably the main building, is called Carr Beholden, the late estate and prior business venture of the dear departed Carr family.”

The name rang a bell. I knew little about King’s Hope’s history, but I knew one of the town’s streets carried the name Carr Avenue. During my initial and failed attempt to locate property in the area, I had driven every street, rural route and dirt road that did not have a chain or a PRIVATE PROPERTY sign blocking ingress and egress, staring and taking measure of and noting. I came up with zilch.

“I recognize the name Carr,” I admitted.

“That’s delightful to hear, Dave. Are you familiar with King’s Hope’s fine history then?”

I almost stammered, feeling caught, but stayed my voice and said stoically, “No, not thoroughly, albeit sufficient to know the Carr name has deep roots there.”

“That’s it exactly, Dave, deep roots indeed. Dabney Carr, the son of Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson’s nephew, arrived in Texas in 1840, though Texas was not yet a state at that time—I’m sure you already know that, Dave, so my apologies. I should say rather that Dabney Carr arrived in our area in 1840.

“Now he was in the money as the sole heir of a generous fortune, unrelated to Thomas Jefferson I should point out, yet Dabney was dissatisfied with his life in Virginia and found the trials of the expanding frontier both exhilarating and financially viable. In 1837 or thereabouts he packed up his fortune and spent two years roaming the Wild West looking for opportunities. He made his way to our western neighbor, Jefferson, at the behest of its founders, Allen Urquhart and Daniel Alley. They felt Dabney Carr would lend a certain air of legitimacy to the new town named after his great-uncle—that would be Thomas Jefferson as I previously mentioned. But Alley and Urquhart wanted more than the legitimacy Carr’s presence might bestow upon Jefferson; they also wanted to tap his wealth as means to buttress and grow the area.

“Dabney Carr arrived in Jefferson in 1840, as I said, and that was eight years before it became an official city. Being pleased with the surroundings and the rough-and-tumble of establishing a new town, he proceeded to invest time and money into the developme—”

“While I’m fascinated with this, Clement,” I interrupted, “and am now hooked on learning more about the history of the area, I have a busy day ahead. Would it be possible to discuss the property itself?”

He never skipped a beat, maintaining a professional detachment coupled with pride in his—and the area’s—heritage.

“I do sometimes become garrulous when I let my passions get the best of me, Dave. My apologies for wandering off course.”

“No need to apologize. I enjoy both your knowledge of the area’s history and your obvious pleasure in sharing what you know, but my schedule is hectic and I want to hear about the lakeside acreage.”

“Of course, Dave.” I sensed a brief change of gears as he shifted back to the matter at hand. “The property in question is called Carr Beholden, as I mentioned, and though that officially refers to the main building, what once was a lakeside hotel for waterway workers and travelers, most King’s Hope citizens use the name to refer to the entire patch of land.

“The property consists of 1,239 acres of prime East Texas second-growth woodlands north of Texas’s right-of-way surrounding the state highway—that’s State Highway 49, mind you. The land stretches along the shores of Lake Potisesse for about three-quarters of a mile and meanders back from there through the gentle hills and woods until it abuts the state’s property.

“The nearest neighbor is to the east about a mile—that would be Abner Dougherty’s place—and the next nearest neighbor is to the northwest on the obverse side of the lake—that would be the Nacimiento home.

“There are four structures on the Carr property: the longshoremen’s cabin, the stables and carriage house in the woods behind the main edifice, the boathouse on the lake, and of course the hotel itself, Carr Beholden, two floors with a basement and an attic.

“The shoreline has two piers, one at the boathouse and the main tender’s pier near the old hotel.

“I must disclose, Dave, the property has been derelict for approximately thirty years following the death of Walter Carr, the last of the Carr family. The buildings and piers have fallen into a state of disrepair.”

“I don’t understand,” I interjected, very much paying attention. I feared I had wasted ten minutes hearing about a property that for decades no one had purchased—for one or more reasons. “If a lakeside house is deserted and the land not used, why has it remained on the market for three decades? You understand how that sounds.”

“Naturally it raises questions and misgivings, Dave.”

The smile in his voice told of glee in his eyes, this moment defining the essence of our conversation. Hook, line and sinker. Despite agitation regarding secluded lakeside property no one seemed to want, now thirty years snubbed and no doubt ramshackle from three decades of dereliction, the attorney’s unfailing confidence intrigued me, as did the sense that he now had me right where he wanted me.

There’s something to this story.

He continued, “You must understand that when Walter Carr passed on in 1976, he took the Carr name with him. But he did not take the Carr fortune. He made provisions in his will to ensure his intentions for Carr Beholden remained enforced until such time as either the estate funds dried up, leading to an auction or sale of convenience, or until the estate’s requirements for sale were satisfied and the deed changed hands lawfully, whichever came first, barring of course eminent domain or other government meddling.

“As lifetime legal counsel for King’s Hope’s Carr family, not to mention a sizable portion of King’s Hope’s other residents including the Kings themselves, Doubleday and Associates serves as executor of Walter Carr’s will and guardians-post-obit of the Carr estate. You, Dave, represent the first opportunity to sell the property right and clear under the auspices of Walter Carr’s last will and testament.”

Both suspicion and excitement bubbled inside me. How incongruous, bequeathing to oblivion an impressive estate unless its sale fits within the confines of willed specifications that ultimately left it empty for more than thirty years. I had never heard of such a thing, though admittedly I do not spend a great deal of time rummaging through wills and estate plans looking for anomalous dispositions.

“You’re good.” My admiration carried through the phone along with the smile on my face. “Clement, you have my undivided attention.”

He chuckled warmly. “You’re a clever man, Dave. As an accomplished author who specializes in exploring the unorthodox aspects of humanity and how ordinary people respond to extraordinary circumstances, I did indeed suspect you might be intrigued by the irregular—Dare I say eccentric?—criterion of this sale. And I am most intrigued to realize you so adroitly saw through my pretense.”

I laughed contentedly. This smart man enchanted me. He did his homework and knew me and my work, yet not too conspicuous about being smart and doing his homework, instead making it just a day’s work. I found him likable, even for an attorney.

“Your secret is safe with me,” I offered through my chuckle, “and next time I’m in King’s Hope or you’re in Dallas, or at a time and place of mutual convenience, Clement, please let me buy you a drink.”

“I will graciously accept that drink, Dave.”

“So tell me why it’s taken thirty years to find a potential buyer for Carr Beholden.”

He cleared his throat and replied, “Walter Carr, great-great-grandson of Dabney Carr and sole remaining heir to the Carr estate and fortune, followed in the footsteps of his father, Dabney Jefferson Carr Jr., by willing that should it not pass by inheritance to a rightful heir from the King’s Hope Carr family, Carr Beholden and its related land and structures should stand in abeyance until such time as the imperatives of sale could be met or the estate funds could no longer pay the guardian-post-obit. These are the edicts of conveyance by sale fettered by the will.

“First, the sale must result in Carr Beholden remaining noncommercial property.

“Second, the sale must be to a King’s Hope resident and not as, to or for a resident-by-proxy arrangement.

“Third, Carr Beholden in toto, including acreage and structures, must be sold intact and whole.

“Fourth, the purchaser of Carr Beholden must in good faith plan to live on the property and in the residence

“Fifth, Carr Beholden itself, the structure, must not be razed by the purchaser unless the building cannot be salvaged and repaired.

“Sixth, assuming the structure remains standing pursuant to item five, the purchaser must agree to restore Carr Beholden should it fall into disrepair, and must in good faith affirm to maintain the building and grounds.

“And finally seventh, the purchaser must provide for similar bequeathal and disposition of Carr Beholden in toto.”


“I agree, Dave. Walter Carr and his father before him, who converted the hotel to a home, seemed intent on ensuring consistency for the property, most notably Carr Beholden itself and less specifically the status of the outbuildings and land, aside from keeping it intact.”

“But I’m not a resident of King’s Hope yet. Is that not a deal breaker?”

“I cannot argue against the former but I respectfully disagree on the latter. You do intend to move to and live in King’s Hope, do you not?”

“Of course. Yes.”

“Becoming a citizen of our delightful hamlet need not be any more onerous than ensuring the process is underway in a legal sense before a sale is finalized. As executor of the estate and guardian-post-obit of the property, our firm concludes jurisprudence allows us to interpret the will in a manner consistent with that methodology. You needn’t provide anything more complicated than an updated driver license or a change of address duly filed with the United States Postal Service, after which we would judge the spirit of the requirement satisfied.”

My suspicions blossomed into a bouquet. Something more than the will seemed afoot in this deal, and I did not know if I wanted to participate. “Over the course of thirty-plus years you never saw a prior opportunity to do that?”

“That is a judicious observation and legitimate question. And of course the answer is no. Carr Beholden was a cornerstone in the foundation upon which King’s Hope was built; therefore it behooves us, the town leaders and remaining Founding Families, to ensure the Carr legacy is respected. Subsequently, we here at Doubleday and Associates are compelled to adhere to Walter Carr’s will and are compelled to respect the spirit of the Carr legacy while upholding the interests of King’s Hope.”

“Meaning what exactly?”

“Meaning, Dave, Carr Beholden was meant to be yours.”

“Not in the literal sense, of course; that would be silly. You mean in the metaphorical sense.”

“I meant what I said. Carr Beholden was meant to be yours.”

Realizing the weirdness of his statement whilst simultaneously realizing the bizarre nature of the situation, I said bluntly, “It’s too strange, Clement.”

“Might I point out that we are not committing some great crime or savagely violating Walter Carr’s mandate. Your parents are citizens in good standing, they are neighbors and friends within the King’s Hope community, and they clearly say you are moving here. Similarly, you assure me you are moving here. And should we conclude this transaction, you will be legally bound to live here in accordance with the obligations from Walter Carr’s will which will be part and parcel of any contract on the property.”

“I see.” My initial apprehension already had cooled from boil to simmer because one of the will’s major stipulations mandated the buyer had to live on the property, so working a little legal footwork on the citizenship requirement based on my parents being citizens hardly seemed noteworthy. As for the property being meant for me, I took that as metaphorical, an admission that I represented the first real and secure opportunity to sell an expensive property that had legal prerequisites limiting potential buyers.

So I continued after a breath or two, “I’m assuming you have paperwork, photos, the typical realty package that will give me an overview of the property?”

He responded with clear enthusiasm, “I most certainly do. Can I then presume, Dave, you intend to consider Carr Beholden?”

“Sure, Clement, that’s a safe presumption. Given the limited information in my possession—lot size and some building synopses—I can’t promise more than consideration, but this is a viable option on the table right now.”

“Very good, Dave. Fine. Fine. I’m glad to hear it. And given the somewhat—as I said—eccentric legal bindings on the property from the will, shall I also send along that information, possibly for review by your attorney? You do have an attorney, do you not?”

I chuckled anew. He ribbed me, the snarky condescension delivered in a paternal way that carried with it a humorous advertisement: If you don’t have an attorney already, or if you do and want to upgrade, I’m right here, already in business and in residence in your new hometown, so think about it.

“Yes, that’s a wise move. Let me give you my attorney’s information so you can contact her directly. Got a pen?”


Clement Doubleday, Esquire, attorney at law, so on and so forth ad infinitum, seemed eager to provide a realty package and the legal information regarding Carr Beholden. He contacted Lydia Hagerup within minutes of finishing our phone call, and the following day overnight packets arrived for both of us.

Lydia expressed the barest amusement with the sale parameters outlined in Walter Carr’s will, what she called “postmortem assignation.” She explained that similar byzantine provisos, though often more torturous, were not just frequent with larger estates, but they often served as posthumous catalysts for the most egregious family wars and will disputes imaginable. “In fact,” she confessed, “within the sanctums of the legal profession, many attorneys admit the more convoluted examples serve as post obitum mail bombs designed by the recently departed and their legal counsel as means to inflict as much injury as possible in a family that deserves a share of misery.” Which of course made me laugh.

Though the realty package included photos, history, background on the area and similar marketing material, it failed to give a true impression of Carr Beholden, a large part of which stemmed from the property’s disuse for three decades plus change. Clement left me with the impression that the whole purchase, should it take place, represented a fixer-upper opportunity at best.

After discussing it with Lydia, whose legal advice boiled down to “it wouldn’t hurt to take a look,” I shared the information with Rogélio Dias, my friend who has a successful career as an architectural and interior designer. Our close friendship began in college. If Carr Beholden embodied a fixer-upper ordeal, I would want Rogélio involved. After looking through the real estate information and the pictures, he offered his sage advice: “It wouldn’t hurt to take a look.”

It wouldn’t hurt to take a look had been my response. I expected more from them. So as retribution for noncommittal guidance when I needed them most, I dragged them along a few weeks later to view the property with Clement Doubleday. Carr Beholden remained the unknown quantity, other options shuffled off the table after evaluation and rejection. Laying eyes on this property became the next logical step.

Little more than seven months after Beth died, the nip in the air of a cool October day invigorated my impression that the time had come to move. The idea had taken shape a few months before and had become real only a month before, but already it represented the right path for my life.

Following Clement’s directions and winding from State Highway 49 through the woods toward the lakeside retreat, the impression of untended and overgrown wilderness that condensed around our car did little to dissuade me that seeing the property felt right, that relocating made sense. If Carr Beholden disappointed in every way and joined the other options brushed from the table of opportunity, seeking a place and assessing options still felt timely and appropriate, a wiping away of the old to make room for the new.

Clement stood in the clearing at the end of the private lane looking precisely as I imagined him, though a touch shorter than envisioned during our initial phone conversation. Perhaps five-feet-eight-inches in height, an older gentleman—sixtyish, not so much reed thin as average with no extra baggage, his skin pale with age yet highlighted with the rouges of a biting north wind, he had perfectly cut and combed hair the color of nickel. Beneath the long navy overcoat he wore a tailored charcoal three-piece suit with a classic cut, a white shirt so bright it looked unnatural, and a nondescript silk tie simultaneously stylish and inoffensive.

He waved as our car rounded the final bend in the driveway. We stopped not too far from him and the three of us stepped out into the brutal lake wind.

“Clement,” I greeted while shaking his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.” Then turning toward Lydia on my left: “This is Lydia Hagerup, whom I believe you’ve spoken with before.” I waited for them to shake hands and exchange brief pleasantries, then I turned right toward Rogélio and added, “And this is Rogélio Dias, my design guy I told you about.” They too exchanged handshakes and pleasantries.

With a sweep of his arm covering the woods around us and the lake beside us and the large structure to his back, Clement offered, “Lydia, Dave, Rogélio, welcome to Carr Beholden.”

He provided a tour, though the outside portion we conducted at a speedy clip given the chilly drizzle that had begun falling and the gusty north wind bringing across the lake a violent slap of discomfort. We briefly viewed the longshoremen’s cabin, glanced through the woods toward the stables and carriage house, and quickly looked through lakeside brambles and reeds toward the boathouse.

When finally we made our way into Carr Beholden itself, I feared imminent structural collapse, but the large rough-hewn granite and wood framing held. We gingerly made our way from musty room to musty room. We walked the upstairs area after navigating the main stairway that appeared ready to creak, cave and crumple, swallowing the four of us in the process. Due to that possibility we did not tour the garret or the widow’s walks on the roof after seeing the access stairwells had become rickety and partially disengaged from the walls, one having bowed down sagging beneath its own weight.

To call the building dilapidated would represent an understatement of historic proportions. The interior’s state of moldering disrepair resembled bomb damage more than age, and abundant varieties of decay and forest critters had invaded. Sitting empty and without upkeep for thirty-something years definitely equated to a disaster. The woods had overgrown everything except the hotel, the antebellum structure seemed on the verge of falling down, more than half the main pier had already dissolved into the water and the other half looked friable, and broken windows and doors left the interior almost as bitter and uncomfortable as outside.

Thankfully the building dated from a time when they constructed things to last. The old hotel’s appearance belied a sturdy frame that undoubtedly would withstand another century or two if shown a bit of care and maintenance. And it certainly offered enough bounteous space for any ideas I might have, including moving my parents in as they grew older and less able to live separately. They hated that idea when I gave it as my reason for wanting something larger than a bungalow, but they understood the love involved in my plan.

I remember considering at the time, They think they’ll live forever and will never need any charity or assistance. Everyone wishes the same as far I’m concerned, but wishing for a thing doesn’t make it so.

Clement reiterated the twenty-room hotel-turned-private home offered approximately 30,000 square feet from basement to attic, not including porches, patios and balconies or the outbuildings—which, he added, had essentially imploded over the decades of disuse anyway.

“That’s a lot of space, Dave,” Rogélio said. “And I mean a lot of space.”

“True. Probably too much. I’m sure someone will reiterate that,” I replied with a smirk-marked roll of my eyes toward Lydia. She mocked me back with an affected look of insulted shock. I continued, “But it’s better to have too much than too little. Besides, these past few months I’ve thought diligently about what I want. The space won’t go unused.”

“You can finally have a proper library,” Rogélio offered with a smile and a congenial pat on my shoulder, still looking around and mentally calculating the possibilities. “A gym to keep you buff, a real master suite, a wine cellar … Plenty of possibilities and potential, my friend.”

Lydia pointed out, “Given the work needed to make it livable—let me correct myself—given the work needed to make it accessible, necessary before you can begin to make it livable … Let me say the price seems high. Not prohibitive, not if you’re intent, but seemingly disproportionate.”

“The house isn’t the only thing that needs work, either,” Rogélio added. He turned and glanced back at the door through which we had entered as though surveying the property around the hotel, then he explained, “You’ll have to do something with the other buildings, the piers, the private road, the overgrown trails if you intend to use them, the plant growth around this building if you neglect the rest … A lot of work, and work doesn’t come without cost.”

As he stopped talking, he let his eyes roam carefully through the dimly lit interior where we stood, the original main entrance for the hotel that became a large combination sitting/living room when the Carrs converted it to their home. The spark in his eyes came from mental fires burning with ferocity, measuring, planning, seeing not what existed but instead what could exist.

Out-of-pocket expenses to acquire the land and buildings came to almost six million dollars not including extraneous costs such as taxes. That represented a steal in my favor if measured against acreage and square feet, but it became highway robbery against my person when measured against the work needed to make the place inhabitable. Unable to deem it a business investment with future revenue over the horizon, with “flipping” it disallowed by the will as Clement pointed out, sane people must see the purchase price as the first large chunk of change burned atop the homestead pyre that would require several million more—at minimum—before you could warm you feet at the hearth. At least according to my plans.

I had more than enough funds, yes, but wealth had not transformed me into a spendthrift. Sensibility demanded an assessment of the property on its inclusive merits, which meant visiting, for seeing a place in person allows us to see a place’s potential. And though originally I felt this property offered too much land and too much square footage and too many obligations relative to cost, standing in the tumbledown disarray and having a sense of the location and size of the lot had convinced me of the promise Carr Beholden offered.

I had already decided I would purchase the property. I loved it: the land, the buildings—dangerously disused—the lake, the whole of it. Threatening to bombard us with falling beams and dropping staircases, it still felt like home. So many possibilities, such a delightful setting, so far removed from the ghosts I wished to escape.

Lydia and Rogélio looked woozy, but neither crumbled. Perhaps a bit of fear seeped into both of them, for the house did give the sense of impending doom—swallowed by the floor and spit into the basement below, attacked by an invading army of forest denizens, sheer inability to reopen the door and reach the outside world. Structural failure represented the beginning of the threats.

No one spoke for a minute. My two friends and counselors awaited my response. Everyone had said their respective pieces and thereby lobbed the conversational ball into my court. And I waited for my mind to stop rambling ideas about what this place could become.

Finally slowing my breathing and allowing my heartbeat to normalize, I wiped away the envious look on my face and replaced it with one of dispassion, logical evaluation rather than emotional desire, and I asked Clement, “How much wiggle room on the price?” Everything’s negotiable, Dad always reminds, and never buy without haggling.

“There is a great deal of work to do before it’s livable, Dave,” Clement offered in response. “The structures, the grounds, the utilities. You no doubt have surmised that the initial cost is only the beginning. King’s Hope’s Founding Families and we here at Doubleday and Associates feel it equitable and reasonable to apply the remaining Carr estate funds to the purchase price to offset incurred financial liabilities by the purchaser.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning if you intend to buy Carr Beholden, we can reduce the price to just over three million dollars.”

“That’s cutting it in half. That can’t be possible.”

“I assure you, Dave, it’s possible. We have been rather sagacious in our management of the Carr funds and have extended them for decades. We take our responsibilities quite seriously, you understand. Thus minus legal fees almost three million dollars remain in the Carr trust. Though not equipoising the assumed burden, it will help reduce the load of the sale’s hefty price tag and the work to follow.”

“What about other Carrs? The King’s Hope Carrs ended with Walter. You’ve told me that before. But surely there are other Carrs who might have some claim to that money.”

Lydia replied before Clement could open his mouth, “On the contrary, distant relations are secondary concerns in such a matter. The most apt source for a valid will contestation would come from local relatives, those with a vested interest in the estate and a potential claim against it. As I understand it, there are no such family members.”

Gesturing toward Lydia Clement added, “My lovely and estimable confrère is right. Walter Carr was generations removed from the country’s Jefferson and Carr dynasties. He had no children. No Carrs or Jeffersons closely related to him lived in the area. It’s doubtful remote relations knew about him, forgotten a hundred years prior along with the entire Dabney Carr lineage. No legal maneuvering after that much time could justify probate consideration of the will. The idea would have been laughed at by lawyers and judges alike had it been suggested, and the most avaricious ambulance chaser would have been embarrassed to entertain such a thought.”

Looking directly at me my attorney said, “I concur.” She paused for a heartbeat then turned to Clement and continued, “Prudence requires that we see the financial records and a copy of the will with related documents.” Then back to me she added, “Assuming the will is solid, no familial claims can be made. Capital the Carr estate still has is subject to Walter Carr’s last wishes and by proxy the management decisions of the Doubleday law firm.”

She paused for the blink of an eye and switched mental gears. A smile crossed her lips as she offered, “If it pans out and that sum can be applied to the sale price of this property—” She grabbed my shoulders with both hands, turned me full toward her, and looked me clearly in the face. “—you, my dear friend, find yourself twice unexpectedly gifted.”

“Not that you have to pinch pennies,” Rogélio joked as he patted me on the shoulder before squeezing the back of my neck in a strong show of support and affection, “but I do think this qualifies as a major point in favor of the purchase.”

Tension broken, we laughed and agreed and silently wondered about the quirky reality in which we found ourselves. Afterward I spent more time exploring the old place, always with one or more of the others. None of us wished to become an accidental death or dismemberment, though Clement teasingly assured us the property had full insurance coverage come what may.

That afternoon following lunch at the Main Street Diner in King’s Hope, we sat in an office paneled with dark wood and filled with antique furniture, Clement Doubleday’s posture resolute yet comfortable, his buttocks resting on an overly-large chair made of supple dark leather, his mahogany desk leviathan and imposing and obsessively ordered to neatness, a file in front of him holding contracts, statements and letters of intent. And I put the foot of my signature on the first few steps toward acquisition.

Though we would take the remaining contracts and paperwork to Dallas for thorough review, processing them as quickly as possible, the overwhelming oddity and excitement of the situation struck me fully as I wrote a deposit check and handed it across the desk to a smiling attorney whose gentle and wise features never betrayed more than sincere pleasure at handling enjoyable business with good people.

On the way to the car later I mumbled, “I just purchased Carr Beholden.”

Rogélio smiled and responded, “I can’t wait to start drawing.” He looked positively giddy, nearly as excited as I felt.


By the middle of December 2009 we had completed the legal paperwork, I had paid the entire purchase price, my official move to King’s Hope had manifested by a temporary relocation from Dallas to the King’s Hope Bed and Breakfast at the end of Rural Route 121 near the bayou, and work on Carr Beholden had begun. I held the title free and clear, though subject to the contractual provisions willed by the Carrs.

Locals needing work found themselves engaged with initial clean up of the grounds to make room for real work. Contractors made the longshoremen’s cabin livable so I could reside there while the remainder of the work continued. Living in the small structure meant living on my new property, a major step toward living in Carr Beholden.

First we shored up the edifice itself by gutting the interior and adding framing, reinforcing the foundation and building with structural supplements, and fixing the prominent risks such as sagging porch roofs and the staircases to the garret and widow’s walks, stairwells ready to consume anyone attempting to climb above the second floor. It took four months of constant work to complete initial repairs.

Rogélio Dias visited often. I hired him officially, never once thinking of asking for a favor of this magnitude. As a success in architectural and interior design with named projects around the globe, his endless supply of contacts became people I knew by first name. In addition, his unquenchable thirst for perfection and his obvious love affair with the old antebellum structure and its potential resulted in an impressive restoration plan for the outside and a magical transformation for the inside.

Because King’s Hope rests in Texas and Texas gets more than a few tornadoes, not to mention other kinds of severe weather, we decided some of the basement’s generous space would make a nice storm shelter. We added it to the plan.

No one thinks King’s Hope rates inclusion on anyone’s list of potential terrorism targets, but the purchase took place in a post-9/11 world and as the crow flies, Carr Beholden lies fifty miles from Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport. Also, the house’s isolated and remote location engendered worry for potential criminal misconduct, although no one thinks of State Highway 49 as a major thoroughfare. Nevertheless the property’s seclusion did raise concerns about potential break-ins and thefts and other unsavory activity that would go unnoticed by people in the area. So we agreed to make the storm shelter part of an overall panic room and safety shelter. We added it to the plan.

“In the intelligence community” as he puts it because he cannot discuss his real work or mention what organization he works for, Devin Rallo has been my dear friend for nearly a decade. He has provided more than a friendship’s worth of reference material for my books. When he proposed a self-contained digital system for home management and security, I offered him a paid consulting gig to manage its design. His idea included perimeter and home cameras, infrared and thermostatic sensors, motion sensors, electronic window and door locks, and a plethora of cool gadgets more associated with a government office complex than a home. But he based some of his ideas on my childhood fantasies. Presented with the opportunity to make some of those youthful dreams a reality, we added it to the plan.

During structural work and interior work, as the dead Carr Beholden stepped aside for the resurrected Carr Beholden, contractors made an unexpected discovery, though after seeing it I found it neither strange nor surprising. From top to bottom, the hotel contained hidden passages, including underground tunnels from the main building to each of the outbuildings. Somehow the whole of what we found struck me as both nefarious and innocent. So I called Clement Doubleday.


“I’ve been expecting this call, Dave.”

“I hoped as much. So what can you tell me, Clement?”

“The use for the tunnels was twofold: to allow the Carrs and possibly their kith to move about unseen if the need arose, and also to aid in moving items of interest that might draw the attentions of would-be robbers, hijackers and others engaged in skullduggery of one kind or another.”

“‘Items of interest.’ Meaning what?”

“Since the hotel formed the major entry and exit for King’s Hope back in the day, and since King’s Hope served as the rest stop for shipments moving toward Jefferson, which was known as the ‘Riverport to the Southwest’ during the 1800s, the Carrs quietly offered secure movement and temporary storage of goods that might make a moored vessel a target. That included gold, cash, jewels, arms, tobacco, and the occasional person wishing to move about with some measure of impunity.”

“Interesting …” None of it sounded terrible. None of it surprised me.

“In time,” Clement offered, “the tunnels enjoyed a new and more admirable use—as part of the Underground Railroad, literally and figuratively. Slaves could be moved into and out of the hotel sans notice, and the waterway made Carr Beholden a strategic station on the network. The Carrs never owned slaves; they paid their help regardless of ethnicity and social status. They already had the tunnels in place and their relationship with colored folks was in good standing, so they were recruited and gladly helped, the existing tunnels and passages making it simpler.”

“Now that makes for a good tale, Clement.”

“You know, Dave, your career as an accomplished author makes me appreciate our nondisclosure agreements apropos the house,” he said with a joshing tone.

“I’m not here to sully anyone’s name, and the Carrs have been good to me. Besides, I write fiction, not truth. And I relish privacy. Mine and everyone else’s.”

He laughed, a little relieved but mostly a happy laugh. “One of the many things I like about you, Dave,” he finally said.

“Thanks. I’m glad I have a few good traits. Now tell me about the secret passages if you can.”

“A not too dissimilar explanation from the tunnels. The passages could be used for the same purposes of course. They also allowed the Carrs to move people through the hotel should they be endangered, sometimes good people and sometimes not. I’ve said the Carrs had many business endeavors, not all of them honorable I do admit, and unsavory characters sometimes found themselves caught in the hotel. The passages enabled furtive movement and unseen ingress and egress. If the Carrs felt a person deserved protection, they had ways to make it happen.

“The Carrs may have used both the tunnels and passages for reasons they did not share with Doubleday and Associates. Our history as their legal counsel goes back to the 1840s, and that relationship was close. But people never tell all their secrets, and they never tell them all at once, and they absolutely never tell them all to the same person. I doubt my predecessors knew the whole truth of what happened out there, though I do not fear we could hear anything to make us regret our relationship, personal and professional, with the Carr family.”

“You said something earlier I want to go back to if you don’t mind. About the nondisclosure agreements. I understand their use from my point of view—when it comes to discussing the Carrs and their personal and business endeavors. What I’m curious about is the attorney-client privilege and how that applies to what you can and can’t tell me. I meant it when I told you I’m interested in sitting down with you sometime to hear more of the history of Carr Beholden and of King’s Hope, yet as an attorney I would think your hands are tied in a way I’ll never experience.”

He took a deep breath, not loud or exasperated, not histrionic or affected, but brief and intentional, and in that sound and in that moment, perhaps for the first time consciously, I realized Clement Doubleday was a secretive man and that he knew more than he would ever tell. That sound explained he knew more of Carr Beholden’s secrets than he had revealed, probably more than he would ever reveal. In fact, he knew some secrets I would forever hate knowing should I come to possess them.

“The nondisclosure agreements cover quite a bit, Dave,” he replied, “but yes, I’m constrained by different principles, some pressed upon me by law, some pressed upon me by individual clients. There are many things I can never disclose. Carr Beholden is a special case, however, because the Carrs, most notably Walter and his father Dabney Jr., knew the site could land in the hands of a stranger. They included addendums to their letters of retention that provide the legal framework I need to skirt their attorney-client privilege in order to answer your questions about the property, hence the nondisclosure agreements.

“That is to say they knew they couldn’t hide the passages and tunnels and whatnot after they were gone, and they smartly deduced that not providing a means to convey some answers would result in conjecture or release, neither of which would do anyone any good, not even the repute of men long dead. So with forethought bordering on prescience, a sound anticipatory move, both men redefined the Carr family’s relationship with Doubleday and Associates in such a way that would allow us to reveal information otherwise strictly protected.”

“That makes perfect sense, Clement. It was a curiosity for me. Lydia has from time to time mentioned how throwing a blizzard of snow over the facts to hide the truth sometimes slips into a violation of privilege, so I wondered about you given our somewhat unique relationship. I appreciate you taking the take to talk to me about it.”

“It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Dave. I’m glad I could be of some help.”

“You certainly have been. Thanks for answering my questions about the tunnels and passages.”

“Don’t hesitate to call if you have other inquiries.”

“I will do that. Thanks, Clement. Goodbye.”

“Bye now.”

As I hung up the phone, I found myself going back to his statement: the Carrs “knew they couldn’t hide the passages and tunnels and whatnot after they were gone.” Throughout the remainder of Carr Beholden’s rejuvenation and ever since, I have wondered about whatnot.


After finding the tunnels and passages, Rogélio and I made changes to Carr Beholden’s storm/emergency shelter, and we also played fast and loose with some of the internal layout from the basement to the second floor and to the outbuildings.

The rejuvenated longshoremen’s cabin proved an enjoyable temporary abode, sizable for its original barracks-like structure used to house several dockworkers at the same time. Rustic and charming, sitting at the edge of the clearing beside the main house, it offered a beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding woods. It also provided a front-row seat for observing and managing the incessant activity around, on and in the old hotel and grounds.

After two months of preparation and moving and after living in the bed and breakfast for two months, I lived in the cabin for another 14 months. Eighteen months following the deposit check, Carr Beholden passed inspection and received the coveted word from everyone involved—finished.

We rebuilt the boathouse, replaced both piers, and swept away the imploded stables-cum-carriage house and erected a woodland cabin. We also added a five-car garage and storage extension to the main building. Following constant construction, noise, mess and wait, I felt overjoyed when time came to appreciate my new home as a resident instead of a spectator. Finally I could just live for a while.

Though the exterior resembles its humble beginnings save the added windows and doors, not to mention the modern sunroom hanging off the east end of the structure, no one can confuse the interior with the original hotel or the adapted Carr estate it later become. That pleases me. Subsequent to everything it witnessed as a hotel and then as the last stronghold for a once powerful and wealthy dynasty, Carr Beholden’s tastefully modernized antebellum exterior shelters a spacious contemporary home on the inside. And it is my home.

Manuscript, chapter 6

From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the sixth chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel.  (Reformatted for web presentation).  This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.

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Wading into smothering sunshine, unbearable heat and humidity pour over me with sledgehammer weight. Sauntering to the car a dozen paces away leaves me miserable and dripping sweat.

The sooner air conditioning embraces me, the sooner I can feel more human and less a stuffed turkey broiled under an aluminum blanket. Groceries go in the back seat and Dave gets thrown in the front seat. After I press the button and the car comes to life, I sit back while the vents blow stagnant air. Hot and icky at first, sure, but it cools down quickly enough.

Sudden laughter explodes out of me. My strategic exit from Perenson’s may have come prematurely. I did not call my parents to check if they needed anything from Eli.

Will I be forced to go back inside for something? I hope not. I’ve had my fill of local culture and gab, thank you very much. I just want to get home and get to work.

The husky voice that answers my call proffers a simple “Hello?”

“Hey, Dad, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling. I’m not feelin’ swell is all.”

That shocks no one. Over the course of many years my father left the fast lane and nudged into the slow lane. Not surprisingly a great deal of the change comes from age and a body incapable of handling the scurrying about and heavy lifting it once coasted through with ease. A great deal of that stems from a hip injury from his college football days. It degenerates with time, worsens in heat, and does not take kindly to strenuous farm work. Thus he has his off days, increasingly as each year passes from the calendar.

This signifies a major reason King’s Hope became the focus of my relocation efforts. Beth’s job had kept us in Dallas, so divested of that fetter—albeit brutally—living nearer my parents became a huge desire. I want to take care of them as they get older.

My father continues, “But I’m still kickin’ and can’t grouse about it. What’re you up to today, son?”

“I’m at Perenson’s. I thought I’d call to see if you have a grocery list. If so, I can run by your place on my way home.”

Technically I cannot run by their place on my way home unless I start at their place. The Crichton Farm sits in the southeastern corner of town near the bayou while Carr Beholden lounges in the northwestern corner near the lake. Our homes park at polar opposite ends of King’s Hope. Nonetheless he knows my sentiment comes from the heart. I would travel to the ends of the world for them, even if only to deliver something as trivial as a cup of sugar.

“You’re already in your car, aren’t you? About to leave?” How I lovingly abhor that he knows me so well.

I stutter, “Um, no … Damn it, yes, I’m already in the car.” Then I laugh at the silliness of being caught and add, “I’m about to leave though.”

“Last minute thought, huh?” The faintest intimation of a chuckle follows that question.

“Yes, I’ve been caught being forgetful.”

We both laugh then. I am notorious for not forgetting, not big things or little things. My faux pas makes us chuckle because it happens so rarely.

When his chortle ends he shouts over his shoulder to my mother, “Honey? Dave’s up to Perenson’s and wants to know if we need somethin’.” Silence contains her response from somewhere in the house. His attention turns back to me. “Nope, we don’t need nothin’. She says she’s gettin’ groceries up to The Food Bin in the mornin’.”

“I thought I should check before I head home.”

“We appreciate it, son. By the way, your mom wants to know if you want to come over for dinner tonight. She said she’s makin’ Mexican food. Or maybe she said she would if you were comin’.”

He knows I love Mom’s cooking and thoroughly enjoy her twist on Latin American food, though calling it Mexican food does it an injustice. She prepares a selection of piquant dishes taken from a menagerie of favorite recipes. She has treated us to the delectable satisfaction of spicy chicken enchiladas, tortilla soup, aguachile made from fresh seafood and vegetables, beef and chicken and pork tamales, jalapeƱo black bean soup, and build-your-own tacos and burritos with bountiful garnishings. Each meal comes accompanied by fresh homemade ceviche and salsa. I regret that I must decline such a tempting offer.

“No, I can’t make it this evening, Dad. I’m finishing a book so I can send it to my agent in the morning. I’ll need most of the evening. I appreciate the offer though, and you’ll save some for me, right?”

“No promises, son,” he responds with a hearty laugh. “No promises at all. In fact, you best not count on it.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Because you know how the world works, that’s why. You’ll be by tomorrow then?”

“I’ll be there. I’ll call before I head over since I don’t know how late I’ll be this evening and don’t know how late I’ll start tomorrow. We’ll touch base when I’m functional.”

His smile clearly translates through the phone. “Sounds good. I’ll let your mother know to expect you tomorrow, and we’ll both want to hear about your latest.”

“It’s a deal,” I say, and then I add, “I’ll let you go. Enjoy your evening and don’t eat all the Mexican food!”

He chuckles before responding, “Don’t hold your breath. You take care of yourself and get that book done. We’ll see you tomorrow.


“I love you, son.

“I love you too, Dad. Give Mom my love.”

“Will do. Bye-bye now.”


I flip the phone shut and slip it into my pocket. Stu and Eli stand at the counter inside Perenson’s chatting as they watch me through the overly placarded windows. Despite feeling welcome and accepted in King’s Hope, I remain a curiosity with a successful public career while living in solitude in Texas’s Timbuktu. Being eyeballed does not bother me. Yet the two men in the convenience store have an atypical gravitas in their demeanor, and their collective gaze falls with solemn intensity.


“Mr. Hat!” I exclaim, reminded of the encounter as my mind equates that experience with Stu’s and Eli’s collective regard. And Stu’s reaction when asked about Mr. Hat …

Though my parents have owned land in King’s Hope since before my birth, we lived in Dallas until I graduated high school and moved out on my own. During those years we used the land for hunting and camping, a private vacation spot in the feral woods. We had few encounters with King’s Hope save to grab groceries or gas, to pass through to or from the state highway, to stop in from time to time at one of the restaurants, or to visit the hunting supply store.

Over those decades I saw Mr. Hat six times and never in close proximity, perhaps across the street as we fueled the car or along a road upon which we traveled. Yet the man intrigued me. I asked about him, pointing him out more than once, and in response an uncertain hush would envelop my parents. One of them would say something about that being the town hermit, or the town eccentric, or a vagabond, or some other vague and uncertain statement. Their responses on the subject of Mr. Hat represented confusion, maybe avoidance, possibly some of both. They did not know him and did not know how to answer my questions, that much seems clear.

If one considers his clothes, one would label Mr. Hat an anachronism, an old-fashioned goth in modern times. He dresses in black from head to toe. In fact, he always dresses in the same black clothes: an ebony fedora with stiff rolled brim and glossy ribbon, pressed cotton shirt and pants darker than night, ebony socks hidden inside polished wingtips that show no scuff or speck of dust, and a thick duster-length overcoat with wide lapels and a hem that dangles about his ankles. Were The Matrix filmed in 1900 or thereabouts, Mr. Hat’s ensemble would have debuted as Neo’s preferred outfit. And the weather does not change his clothes; he seems indifferent—No, he seems impervious to the temperature.

If one considers what little skin shows from beneath his excessive attire, one would label Mr. Hat an everlasting vampire. He has skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom, no blemish or wrinkle in evidence, with tone as pale as a baby’s bottom too, though not sickly but rather abnormally healthy, vital, young. His impeccable complexion indicates he has never seen sunlight.

If one considers the shape of the body beneath the concealing get-up, one would label Mr. Hat a healthy man. He stands six-feet-three-inches tall, same as me, and he has solidity under the cloak of his garb, neither fat nor thin, nether overweight nor undernourished. He has broad solid shoulders and straight posture. He weighs perhaps 180, maybe 185 pounds.

If one considers his face, one would label Mr. Hat an old soul with young features. Despite ageless skin making it difficult to judge years, he has a knowing face that centuries might impart to a person. His forehead broad, his brow firm, his cheekbones unpronounced and not too high, his chin marked with a cleft yet broad and strong, his ears close to the black hair on his head, his face remains unremarkable, an everyman’s face, at least until you look close enough to recognize wisdom lurks there, an old wisdom, something ancient. And he has the palest gray eyes, eyes that pierce to the quick yet enfold when he looks at you, engendering a sense of being seen and being understood.

If one considers his comings and goings, one would label Mr. Hat a teleporter, an apparition, a specter that takes shape and dissolves at will. I doubt anyone believes that, but he has a way of appearing and disappearing without notice. Amble by an empty alley and suddenly he steps out of it; drive by a deserted building and magically he strolls around the corner. There one minute and gone the next, I doubt anyone has ever seen him in a car or on a bike. He simply manifests and vanishes with the ease of a ninja.

But in every way, a consideration of Mr. Hat leads one to label him an enigma. Now having seen him up close and personal, spoken to him, he represents a greater mystery than ever before.

Since moving to King’s Hope four years ago, I have seen him as many times—six—as I did over the first thirty-plus years of my life. After today’s meeting and the fog of intervening years notwithstanding, my memories of him from childhood and the man seen today characterize the same period of time. Mr. Hat has not aged, and his clothes—if they are the same clothes—show not a scuff or wrinkle or the slightest bit of dirt.

He has fascinated me since the first time I saw him. During my early years I thought of him as The Man in Black, a secret agent working for some shadowy government organization, maybe good or bad, but definitely dangerous. A few years later he became The Crazy Man, a recluse who lived in a rundown shack in the woods and hunted children for sport. After that he became The Dark Ghost, a spirit cursed to haunt King’s Hope, the specter of a forgotten soul wrongfully killed in town and eternally damned to roam its streets seeking justice. In my adulthood he became a near obsession insofar as he remains so mystifying. He would make an interesting literary figure, but my interest goes beyond that. He’s so cool and eccentric and puzzling.

Having spoken to him today however—having been spoken to by him I should say, the world seems to hush in his presence. He has a mellifluous voice that carries a deep yet warm resonance, smooth and devoid of invasive or overbearing qualities. He could read the dinner menu and people would hear ageless wisdom.

Where he lives, where he comes from or where he goes, and what he does for a living remain unknown, at least to me. But everyone in King’s Hope stops breathing so they can listen to him speak. And Stu’s reaction to my question demonstrates how people respond to the mention of Mr. Hat—with a mix of apprehension and reverence. That throws fuel on the fire of my interest in the guy.

Obviously “Mr. Hat” is a pseudonym of some kind, though it would not surprise me to learn he thinks it his real name. Perhaps an eccentric, perhaps an irrational man roaming the world, he nevertheless fascinates and mesmerizes people.

But now … But after experiencing him personally, I know Mr. Hat does not originate from parents and does not have a name and does not live in the world we know. For like the disembodied coin-flipping voice in my nightmares, Mr. Hat tends to matters far beyond the ken of mortals. My eyes see what others see but my mind sees something else. Mr. Hat symbolizes something, an idea rather than a person, a shadow of knowledge we do not learn but nevertheless contain. Or at least that I contain.