Friday, October 17, 2014

The Key

“I’ll see if Tina has some cleaning supplies that we can use to clean this place up,” Sean said, turning to leave.

Mary stifled a sneeze and looked at what had once been Emily’s studio. “Very humble, just the minimum needed to create art,” thought Mary. She closed her eyes and instantly  a vision of Emily working filled her field of view. Emily working on a painting, with her baby cooing alongside her in a bassinet.  The sensation gradually grew more intense; it seemed to Mary that she was seeing the room through Emily’s eyes—as if she was inhabited by Emily’s thoughts. When Mary opened her eyes the vision faded, as well as the eerie feeling of possession.

“A half dozen old towels and a pail of warm, soapy water,” said Sean, walking back into the studio, “Where do we start?”

“I’ll take the commode,” said Mary, not mentioning her vision, “why don’t you do the trunk?”

“If there was anything of value, Tina wanted us to bring it down for the auction.”

“Certainly. That wheel might be a little awkward to handle, but otherwise, there isn't anything in here that looks to be very heavy.”

Mary began to clear a layer of dust from the commode.

“This is a nice piece: walnut, brass pulls, marble top. Has some paint on it, but it should clean right up. The drawers are locked. Sean, would you be a dear and go down and see if Tina has any old barrel keys?”

“Barrel keys?”

“A key that looks like the barrel of a pistol—hollow, with a tab on the end. It would be pointless to force these drawers open and ruin the finish. Is the trunk locked?”

“No. It’s hasp is gone. I’ll go see what Tina has in the way of keys. Be right back.”

Mary found herself alone again and, in a way, she was glad that Sean had left. She closed her eyes in an effort to reconnect with the spirit of Emily but saw nothing. Mary then directed her attention to the trunk. After wiping it off, it was nondescript except for a couple of old shipping labels. Although she was tempted to open it, Mary decided against it, thinking that Sean should be there as well. Leaning against the wall behind the trunk was what appeared to be an old style wagon wheel. It was about five feet high, with a wooden band for the rim. As she began to clean it, she realized that it wasn’t a wagon wheel at all. Its construction suggested that it had been a clothes-drying rack. Supporting that notion were pieces of what appeared to a stand on the floor beneath it.  The rim was decorated with chipped, yellowed decals of flowers.

Sean returned with a ring of old keys.

“Tina told me that Uncle Henry never threw anything away. She found these keys in a drawer in the garage. She told me that he used to buy a lot of stuff from old estate sales. One of these might fit, or maybe none of them will.” Sean said.

“My mother had an old dresser with locks like these. She always kept one drawer locked. I was fascinated by it and by the fact that she wanted to keep some things secret from me. Once I tried to pick it with a bent paper clip but I couldn’t manage to do it,” Mary said, “Let's see what we can do with a proper key.”

“Nancy Drew,” Sean said, laughing at the sight of Mary fiddling with the keys.

Mary returned Sean’s laughter as she began trying keys in the top drawer.  “Today’s episode is ‘The Mystery in the Old Attic… ’  Here… I think this is the one… it fits but the lock is pretty tight…. it won’t open… the bolt is frozen."

“Try it in another lock,” said Sean.

Mary tested the two lower drawer locks and the result was the same. When she tried it in the nightstand’s door lock, however, it opened easily. Inside were several glass bottles and tins with paper labels: turpentine, thinner, acetone, and containers of various artist’s materials. The bottles’ corks had disintegrated with age and were empty.

“No treasure yet,” Sean said, as he picked a small oil can out from inside the nightstand, “This oil might do the trick on those drawer locks.”

He squirted oil into the top drawer’s lock then Mary worked it with the key. This time, the bolt did move and they were able to open the drawer. Inside the drawer were miscellaneous drawing tools as well as several pencil sketches. They depicted various scenes, most of them had been overdrawn in ink. Sean began leafing through the pile but stopped when he came upon a rendering of the entrance to the Ice Cave.

“One of Emily’s power spots?” said Sean.

“There are markings on the back of some of these,” Mary said as she looked at the pile of overturned drawings, “Hold them up to the light.”

Sean went through the pile again, holding each drawing so that it was illuminated from behind. Most had markings on the back which aligned with some feature on the front.

“Look, there are those rocks in the pasture again.” Mary said, “And the mark on the back of the drawing is right behind the spot where I saw her standing.  Emily did leave clues! First the code book, now this. There must be some underlying logic to this.”

“It’ll be tough to match up the other drawings with the area, a lot has changed around here in seventy years,” said Sean as he went through the pictures again. He pulled out another drawing from the stack and looked at it closely: “This one, I know where this is. It’s under the bridge that goes over the creek,” He held it up to the light. The drawing showed the bridge and the creek clearly with the mark on the back centered on one of the limestone footing blocks, “This one we can find, it’s just down the road a bit. It might be a key.”

“Let's see what’s in the other drawers,” said Mary.

The second drawer contained several trays of oil paints in tubes and a couple of well-used palettes. A variety of brushes were neatly wrapped in a leather sheath.

“Tools of the trade,” said Sean, “Those paints look as if they had been expensive. Are there any collectors of vintage pigments?”

“There are collectors for almost anything. Those labels are all in French, certainly prewar, I imagine that they would fetch some serious money in the right auction. I know a dealer in Seattle who would be most interested in these,” Mary said.

The bottom drawer held a paint-spattered drop cloth covering a pile of old newspapers.

“No treasure here,” said Sean as he emptied it, “We should box up these paints and put the drawings in a portfolio. The rest we can toss—those newspapers are mostly want-ads. This is a nice commode, even if it’s not in the ‘Seattle Moderne’ style. If you don’t want it we’ll put it in with the rest of the stuff for the auction. I’ll go get some boxes.”


By Professor Batty