Josh refolded the map, placed it back in the manila envelope, and with the mailing envelope, put both back into the plastic bag and sealed it as he had found it. He was utterly baffled as to what all of this meant, and he slid the crate back into its recess, now empty, as he sat upright against the wall of the room and just stared at the plastic bag with its enigmatic contents. Since he had been a kid, Josh had had a wild and often uncontrollable imagination. On more than one occasion it had gotten him in trouble with his teachers in school as well as his parents. It was not that he was not paying attention or ignoring anyone, but more that his thoughts took over and brought him along for the ride.
His mother, concerned that Josh might have some sort of learning disability or other mental health issue, had taken him to see a therapist when he was just nine or ten. To her great relief, it was discovered that there was nothing more wrong with Josh other than he simply had an overly creative and vivid imagination. The therapist, to her credit, recommended an outlet for this gift as opposed to stifling or trying to shut this down. And therein was how Josh’s talent for art was discovered and nurtured and refined. At the moment, Josh was experiencing a rerun of this phase of his life as he could not take his eyes off the plastic bag. It was only with a conscious effort that he was able to break the spell the bag had gotten on him as his mind was running wild with a myriad of possibilities as to what this was all about.
A simple previously unseen door had led Josh to a passageway that he assumed was just some old root cellar. But as he sat in the room that had dead-ended off the tunnel, Josh was really beginning to wonder what it was he had stumbled upon. He had no proof, but there seemed to be a high degree of likelihood that the previous owners of the house must have been tied to all of this. Despite having a stronger right brain that was responsible for his creativity, Josh was sure that logically there had to be a connection. The old couple had been here since the 1920’s, so there were any number of issues, historically, that might tie into what he had found. None of this was making Josh any clearer on his discovery, nor was it making him feel any more at ease.
No one on the neighborhood knew anything. Or at least anything that they were willing to reveal. Only the colorful Herbert Tannerman had offered anything. Josh had considered him a lost cause, but now maybe, he thought, maybe old Herb might be worth another visit. In the meantime, however, he needed to see if he could figure out what exactly all of this writing and symbology meant. It was so bizarre and cryptic that Josh had no idea where to go. After all, he did not even have any idea where to start…what language was it…what country had it originated from…were the symbols and the script related or were they disparate communication?
Then, like a bolt from nowhere, it dawned on Josh exactly where he needed to begin. Dr. Benjamin Harper. Josh could not believe he had not thought of Dr. Harper when he had first come across all of these papers. He had gotten so caught up in the excitement and wonder of the discovery that he had completely blocked out his old professor from his undergraduate days. Josh had begun his undergraduate program at about the same time that Dan Brown’s books such as “The Da Vinci Code”, and “Angels & Demons” had been published. Josh had loved the books, and had continued to snatch up anything by Brown as soon as it was released. However, despite the meticulous background and research that was obvious in the novels, Josh realized they were just stories. They did, however, fuel his interest in the subject matter and were primarily responsible for him looking into the courses that Dr. Harper offered on the genre.
It had been both academically and personally intriguing to Josh to get a deeper picture of what Dan Brown had opened his mind to. It might be a long shot, Josh thought, as he looked again at the plastic bag, but a quick visit to see his old professor again could not hurt. Feeling invigorated at a possible solution, Josh repacked his daypack, with all the gear he had unloaded in the room, strapped on his headlamp and began his exit back down the passage. He was afraid that the old map might get damaged if he tried to just throw it in with all his gear, so Josh began the now much more tedious crawl out, pushing the plastic bag inch by inch over the rough tunnel floor just ahead of his pack.
He was fighting his excitement at getting out as soon as he could so he could take the map and paper to Dr. Harper to see if he had any answers. But at the same time, Josh made himself slow down and take his time as he made his way back out. It would serve no purpose if he damaged the stuff before he could get over to the university. It seemed like it was taking forever to get back out, but in the end, Josh knew this was just his perception as his heart raced with anticipation. He eventually came through the low tunnel and back to where he could strap on his pack. Josh cradled the plastic bag and soon he was out of the passageway and back in the basement.
When he first came out and closed the door behind him once again, Josh was afraid that he had lost power in the house again, as the basement seemed to be quite dark relative to how it had seemed when he had begun his return trip into the passage. However, when he glanced at his watch, he saw it was not electricity, but simply the time of day. The whole day had just elapsed since he had entered the passageway…he had gotten so caught up in his day, that he had lost track of time and the sun had fully set. Disappointed that his talk with Dr. Harper would have to wait until at least tomorrow, Josh sighed with regret and returned upstairs, carrying his cache with all the care of a father carrying a newborn infant.
Josh arose the next day hardly able to contain himself as he dialed up Dr. Harper’s office. He was not real sure how to even approach why it was he was calling, so Josh decided to just approach it from the angle of dropping by to chat without a lot of details.
“Dr. Harper? It’s Joshua Redmond…not sure if you remember me or not?”
“Josh! Sure do…how are you these days?”
“Pretty good…pretty good…yourself?”
“Same old…what can I help you with?”
“Well, I just left my job at this graphics art firm to give my art another shot. Came across these odd symbols this week and was thinking of incorporating them into a painting. Was wondering if you had a few minutes in the next few days to take a look and see if you had any idea what they are about.”
“Sure…I’d be happy to. How about this afternoon?”
“Would around 3:30 work for you?”
“Absolutely! The great thing of being self-employed is I am the only one to answer to now.”
Harper laughed along with him.
“I remember your shows when you were a student. Glad you are giving it another go. See you then.”
Josh hung up, thrilled that the professor was able to see him so soon. He was not real proud of himself having presented his visit somewhat dishonestly, but he wanted to get a completely unbiased opinion of what he had found before launching into anything more. Maybe it was nothing…just some old leftover relics from the old couple. In that case he did not want to look like he was suggesting something that was not there. But in his heart, Josh was pretty sure there was something else in the works…was just this gut feeling he had.
While his coffee was brewing, Josh made a list of contractors he wanted to interview for various projects on renovations for the house and a mental note to go talk again to his realtor to see if she had known about the secret passageway that he had found in the basement. His indirect approach had not unearthed anything his last time around with her, so he figured maybe coming right out and asking directly might be worth a shot. Even if she denied knowing anything, to possibly ward off having omitted a disclosure that should have been done with the listing, Josh was sure he could pick up on her nonverbal clues and body language regardless. He could not have cared less about the disclosure situation…he just was curious to see if anyone in town was aware.
Josh decided to drop by the real estate office on his way back from campus, as he wanted to get Dr. Harper’s input before making any more inquiries in town. If it was nothing, then there was no real point in looking further as to the origin or use of the old tunnel. He carefully bundled the plastic bag into several extra layers of plastic and then secured the whole thing in a small valise that he had once used for transporting small pieces of his art when he was first out of school. He laid the valise carefully into the back of his car and locked the trunk. At this point, Josh was taking no chances. At least until he found his concerns and suspicions were unfounded.
Josh backed out of his driveway and drove slowly out of the cul-de-sac to hit the main drag in town that would cut through all the side streets for the most direct route to campus. As he turned off his street and headed across Emerald Lane and then Mackey Road, Josh had nothing on his mind except his meeting with Dr. Harper and what the good professor might confirm or possibly rule out in regards to his find. If he had been more observant, Josh might have noticed the black SUV that was parked just across the road from where he turned off his own street. Or maybe he might not have, seeing as how he was new to the neighborhood and was not keenly aware of vehicles that belonged there and did not. The man seated at the wheel of the SUV pulled the brim of his baseball cap down lower as Josh passed by and his partner in the passenger seat sank lower watching carefully as Josh went by.
“Think he knows anything?” the driver asked as he lit yet another cigarette.
“He might. Hard to say for sure.”
“No relation to the Mastersons, though, right?”
“None. They had no children and no living relations that I know of. They were the last in their line.”
“Redmond was it?”
“Yeah…Joshua Redmond. Just a simple artist so I hear. Burned out from corporate life. Apparently thinks he can make it doing his own art now.”
“OK…let’s keep an eye on him, though. We have stayed on this for too long now to just walk away. Mr. Richards would be very upset if we come up empty again.”
The man in the passenger seat felt a brief shudder at the inflection his partner gave to the word “upset”. He knew very well how their boss dealt with lack of success. They had gotten a couple of passes already, and it was unlikely this would continue if they did not come through now.
“We should move along, though. Small town like this will notice our vehicle and that it does not belong here. Maybe even change up transportation choices if we have to keep up our surveillance of Redmond.”
“Good idea. Think he has found the map?”
“Probably not. Just moved in to the house a few days ago. My guess is he has no idea what he is sitting on. Unless we get a reason to move on him personally, our best bet might be to get an idea of his patterns and habits and go through the house when he is not around. Better to go at this low key, you know?”
“Sure…sure…what if that is not an option?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…he’s an artist. Maybe he will be using part of the house for a studio. Maybe he will not be away much.”
“Good point. For his sake, let’s hope that is not correct.”
The man behind the wheel flicked the butt of his smoke out the window and watched it bounce before he started the SUV and they drove off.