Behind the Walls

Behind the Walls by Merry Jones Page A

Book: Behind the Walls by Merry Jones Read Free Book Online
Authors: Merry Jones
Ninja and plowed through ankle deep fallen leaves toward the house.
    Climbing the front steps, she reached into her bag for the house key, found her cell phone instead, thought briefly of calling Hank, decided that there was no reason to; she’d be on her way home in a few minutes. Finding the key, she unlocked the elaborately carved double door, stepped inside. And sneezed.
    Dust was everywhere. Clouds of it. Specks as large as snowflakes. She saw it floating around her, illuminated by light beaming from the windows. Harper looked around the foyer, saw a high, rounded dome with a heavy crystal chandelier, a spiral staircase, marble floor, ragged Oriental rug.
    Harper noted the worn carpet leading to the second floor. The faded wallpaper, curling at the corners. To her right, walnut panels and closed doors. Corridors leading to various wings of the house. To her left, another corridor, and the entrance to a cluttered living room, the surfaces of sofas and chairs buried beneath journals and publications. A large marble fireplace gaped from the opposite wall, filled with burned wood and ashes, surrounded by stacks of firewood.
    Harper was tempted to explore the publications – the professor probably had a treasure trove of archeology literature. But that was his personal property; besides, she couldn’t wait to get a look at the collection, which her instructions said was on the third floor, at the east end of the building. In seconds, she’d gone up the spiral staircase to the landing, then up another flight of steps to the floor above. Then down a long hallway, passing door after door until she came to an arch that divided the east wing from the core of the house. On the other side of the arch, she confronted the collection.
    No one had prepared her for what she saw. Not Professor Schmerling, not Zina. No one. When she entered the east wing, Harper stopped, gaping at the dozens of pine crates stacked in the hall. She stepped around them, looked into the first room she passed. Saw a few worktables, a computer. Shelves of small cases, notebooks and more boxes.
    The next two rooms were loaded wall to wall with various-sized containers and boxes. Harper gaped, overwhelmed. The collection was huge – far larger than she’d imagined. She stepped into the last room, squeezing between rows of mid-sized cartons, noticing that each had a note taped to it. She stooped to read one:
    Early/Middle Mohica, Loma Negra, 300 BC–300 AD. 6 ¾ inches high. Copper warrior mask, slight damage. Est. $5000–$7000 .
    Really? She had to see it. Box cutters were all over the place. Harper took one and slit the seal of the package. Opened it. Began removing the packing material wadded up inside—
    ‘Excuse me!’
    Harper jumped, sent the box cutter clattering to the floor.
    ‘You want to tell me what you’re doing in there?’
    A man stood in the doorway, glaring. At first she thought it was Angus. His hairline was receding like Angus’, and he was thin and tall. Same prominent cheekbones. But this man had a ponytail. Wasn’t Angus. Another of the professor’s sons?
    Harper’s heart was still somersaulting. She took a breath. ‘Sorry if I startled you.’ Actually, she was the one who’d been startled. ‘I’m here from the university.’
    ‘The what? You’re fucking kidding me.’ He shook his head. ‘Those sons of bitches don’t waste any time, do they? That last one isn’t even buried yet.’
    Actually, Zina was going to be cremated. But Harper didn’t explain that; she got his point.
    ‘Well, go ahead. Knock yourself out – make all the lists and labels you want. But you’re wasting your time.’ He watched her for a moment, must have realized he’d been acting belligerently. Backed down a notch, nodded at her. ‘I’m Jake Langston.’
    Harper breathed. ‘Harper Jennings.’
    ‘So you’re a grad student like the last one – like Zina?’
    ‘Yes. Same department.’
    Jake reached into his vest, pulled out a pack of

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