When he returned to Sea Cliff, New York a couple weeks later, the rain had dissipated but the atmosphere was crisp and the skies a misty silver. The salt air whipped around his black Jeep as he drove away from the edge of the sea. He had hoped the mansion was closer to the beach, but his childhood memories failed to remind him of the proximity between the two.
This was definitely the second time he saw that gray house with the white trim on the corner. He checked the map spread out on the passenger seat a second at a time as he drove. Then he adjusted it with his right hand.
That straightened it out. Maybe that was why he made a left turn earlier instead of a right. Something about getting lost his first day living in New York made Zack keenly aware of how alone he was. His girlfriend Sonia moved from Hawaii back to Florida last year, and his parents were gone. And, of course, his grandfather, George Adams, was dead and had been buried two weeks ago.
He returned to the last street he knew to be correct and made the right turn he should have made earlier. This street was comprised of brick and stone mansions on massive estates with prim lawns. He darted his eyes between them and the road.
"None of these look familiar," Zack murmured as he drove. The street was a lengthy curve, close enough to the ocean to sense the salt in the atmosphere, but not close enough to see the sunlight on the waves through the pines to the left.
As he continued on, the estates became more sparse and the woods more dense. Gnarled branches reached around each other, barren of the leaves that assured that they were alive. Decayed leaves in ashen scarlet and bronze coated the earth beneath them.
Was this right? Could there be more estates after these?
As soon as this idea crossed his mind, he saw that to the right, at the end of the street, was a massive twisted wrought iron gate. There was a mud-tinged gold emblem of an A divided by the seam of the gate. It split when he typed the password into the keypad and the gate creaked open.
Zack crept the Jeep down the ivy-encroached dirt drive and stopped.
The mansion was massive. The steel blue trim was staunch against the coffee structure. The peaked roof was black. Ivy crawled across the earth and sneaked up the corners. Most of the windows were leaded diamond panels, but he could squint and see a couple that were stained glass.
He edged the Jeep up to the mansion and stopped when he was close to the cobblestone entry. He shoved open the door and reached across the passenger seat to grab his suitcase and duffle bag. He slung the bag over his head and across his shoulders and hauled the suitcase out beside him.
"Good morning, sir," Mr. Krane came outside to meet him.
"Good morning," Zack greeted him with a shake of his hand. "I appreciate you meeting me out here."
"That is my duty," the old butler peered at him with his right eye while his other was slightly lazy. It made Zack unsure whether to look him in both eyes or not. The man reached out to him. He looked at the hand, then at his suitcase and the bag at his side.
"Oh. Mahalo," Zack passed him the suitcase with wheels.
Mr. Krane returned inside the mansion with Zack behind him.
The parlor was papered with gold brocade decorated with ebony roses. Their shoes creaked on the rich mahogany wood and echoed in the mansion. To the left was a door to a grand library with dark shelves and a scarlet recliner chair, and to the right was a living room decorated similarly to the parlor. In addition, there was a black brick fireplace and a deep scarlet chair, sofa, and drapes. The trim around the doors and the crown molding was also black and textured with the occasional pencil-thin golden rose.
"Beautiful," Zack breathed. "I had forgotten."
He set down his luggage in the corner and meandered room to room. The kitchen cabinets were ebony and the counters were a red stone. The formal dining room possessed a grand mahogany rectangular table surrounded by seven staunch chairs with minimal red velvet cushions. The bathroom had a black on ruby brocade with a black clawfoot tub and a brass chandelier. The back bedroom was a dark sapphire brocade with similar covers.
"What is this?" Zack asked when he reached a locked door close to the back bedroom.
"That leads to the basement," answered Mr. Krane behind him. "Small area. Not much down there except cobwebs and spiders. Lost the key decades ago."
The last room to explore downstairs was the billiards room. It was a long room against the back of the house with a dense pool table and a bar in the back corner.
"May I offer you some tea, sir?"
Zack started with surprise and smiled. "Kind of you. Generally, I consider myself more a coffee person, but tea sounds perfect on such a cold morning."
The butler nodded. "Be right back with some Earl Grey, sir."
Minutes later, Zack seated himself at the head of the massive dining table. Mr. Krane set a dainty cup of steaming tea on a saucer ahead of him and dropped the newspaper beside him. He then stood back and clasped his hands.
"I am so used to the routine your grandfather maintained all this time. Any amendments can be made at your will."
"Routine might be nice right now," Zack raised the cup to his lips and breathed on the liquid before a cautious slurp. He winced at the heat of it and flicked open the newspaper with his other hand. Mr. Krane maintained his position and cleared his throat.
"May I ask, sir," he said tentatively, "whether or not you plan to stay in the house?"
"Sure do," Zack smiled and scraped back the chair beside him with some effort. "Come sit down. Get some tea and put your feet up, and we can chat about the house."
Mr. Krane pursed his lips with a curt nod. "Whatever you wish, sir."
He disappeared into the kitchen. Zack scanned the local headlines as he listened to the hollow clank of the metal kettle and the sharp clink of spoons. In the adjacent main room was the steady tick of a grandfather clock. The wood settled with the occasional creak.
When Mr. Krane returned with his own tea, he dropped in a sugar cube. "You mentioned previously that I may keep my position here?"
"Of course! This is as much your house as mine. We used to come to this house when I was a kid, you may remember. Always loved it. So beautiful. The land as well. Hawaii was great while I was in school, but there was no one there to put down roots with. But this place has family history."
Mr. Krane nodded. "Makes sense, sir."
"Perhaps I will take an entry level job for the time being," Zack continued as he eased back in the chair with a creak and considered his options. "Maybe at a book store or a restaurant. And in the meantime, I can search for opportunities in engineering. That was what I majored in, you know."
"And I want to explore the town," Zack continued after another sip of tea. "The shores, the coffee shops, and everything else. I remember very little, save for the emotions I had when I used to come here. I do remember that they were pretty good memories."
"Oh, sir, I almost forgot," Mr. Krane said suddenly as he removed an envelope from his suit pocket. "A letter came in the mail this morning."
Zack furrowed his brow and accepted the envelope. "Mail already?"
He ripped open the back of the envelope, unfolded the dense stationary, and started to read the inked cursive:
"Mr. Zackary Adams,
Welcome to the Adams estate. You will find Sea Cliff a much colder climate than Hawaii, but I am sure you'll adjust. You will need more winter clothes than I see you brought.
I have one more admonition for you: do not disturb the estate. Do not make changes and do not let her treasures rot in the attic. Dissent means incurring her wrath.
My grandfather was the watchman starting in the 1950s, and my father became a watchman in the 1970s. Now it is my turn. I guard her and I protect her. I watch those who cross her boundaries. I preserve her. Do not test these rules. You will not enjoy the consequences.
- The Watchman"