As they approach the large wooden door it slowly glides open and is held by a well dressed older gentleman. He is a tall, thin man with thick white hair. His face is a soft rosy color and he seems to be very refined and proper. He tips his head slightly and steps back revealing a dazzling candlelit room with a warming fire crackling in the large stone fireplace. “Good evening, Quinn,” says Crispin in a very courteous manner as he steps aside to allow Lyla to enter first. “Good evening, Sir,” states the elderly gentleman. He tips his head down slightly then continues with “Ma’am” as he nods to Lyla and says, “Please do come in.”
“What a lovely place,” says Lyla as she steps through the threshold and looks around in amazement at the cozy room. “I never knew this cottage was here. How on earth did you find it?” she questions as she looks around the room. Each nook of the place is lit by white candles in stained glass and sparkling crystal holders. The flickering glow of the lighting against the shiny wooden floor and furniture makes it appear as if it’s all made of gold. A beautifully dressed table for two has been set up near the fireplace. On top of the emerald-green tablecloth is an overlay of very delicate lace and the dinnerware is sparkling as it catches hints of light from the array of candles.
“I’m glad you like it,” states Crispin as he pulls the chair out for Lyla to sit. “Apparently we have similar tastes and tonight you shall enjoy a true Irish meal with all the trimmings.” He then looks toward Quinn and says, “Quinn here is a master chef, or he believes himself to be, that is.” says Crispin with a laugh as he gently pats Quinn on his shoulder. Quinn’s lips rise just a little on the right side as he nods in agreement and slowly pours wine in their glasses.
“Well hello there,” says Crispin happily as Lyla steps into the lighting of the porch. “Good evening to you too,” replies Lyla with a beaming smile on her face. “Oh, I have a file to bring . . .”
“Oh no you don’t!” says Crispin as he reaches out and grabs her hand stopping her where she stands. “This dinner is simply that, dinner. Let’s make a deal right now that we will not, in any way shape or form, discuss work.” states Crispin as if giving a direct order. “Um, okay.” says Lyla a bit hesitant yet relieved at the same time. She then realizes every time they have been together it has to do with business and it might be fun to simply be out as friends. After all, she does enjoy his company and she would like to know more about him on a personal level. “Actually, you are right. It will be nice to leave work at the house for a bit.” With that said Lyla pulls the door shut.
With the dense cloudbank drifting in from the west hiding the sun as it sets, it gives the impression of being much later in the evening than it actually is. Down near the horizon the clouds are a deep purple and the last streaks of sunlight are shooting up behind the dark expanding mass. Little yellow and white bursts of light here and there cause the tip-top of the clouds to be trimmed in a fine sliver of bright silver. The entire storm seems to be rumbling and tumbling slowly in their direction as they walk to the parked car. Crispin opens the door for Lyla and she slides into the passenger seat of his sedan.
As Marcus is working on the painting for Crispin, his mind begins to wander back to the conversation he and Lyla had earlier about ghosts and doppelgängers. Lyla is a very down to earth practical person so he finds it difficult to think that she is making this up. She has to be experiencing something in the house, but what? He puts his brush down and begins to research the term doppelgänger on the internet and finds a site devoted to just that. He reads aloud;
“In folklore, doppelgänger means double-walker of a living person. It represents evil or bad-luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person’s friends or relatives indicates illness or danger, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger is a warning of death.”
“Whoa, if that is real it sure doesn’t sound good,” says Marcus to himself. He continues to read aloud. “In Irish and British folklore this type of supernatural double of a living person is referred to as a Fetch. The sighting of a Fetch is generally taken as a forerunner of its targets looming death. This definition is derived from the verb “fetch” or to “fetch-life” as one who “fetches” the souls of the dying.” Marcus’ voice fades to a mumble as he finishes the sentence. He then looks up at his favorite painting that he must now, ironically duplicate.
“I was just going to pop in and see if you wanted to go grab a bite to eat.” he replies. “What, your phone stopped working?” she teases. “No, I simply wanted to see you and it’s a very nice day, thought a stroll would be good for the soul ya know.” He holds out his hand, palm up. ”You pick the place.”
“Oh I’m sorry Marcus, I have to take a rain check on that.” Lyla says as she reaches out and gently holds his hand. “I have several things to push through this afternoon and then Crispin is taking me to dinner.”
“Again?” asks Marcus. “You two sure seem to be spending a lot of time together. “It’s all business.” replies Lyla as she pulls her hand away. “Is it?” quizzes Marcus. He is not happy with sharing Lyla’s attention with Crispin Duff and is not sure why this bothers him so. After all, Marcus and Lyla have never been romantically involved with each other. But he can’t help the feelings that are so powerful now. There is something about Crispin that bothers him. He doesn’t really act arrogant, is it because he’s rich? Is it because Lyla wants to talk about him all the time? Marcus comes out of his deep thought process when Lyla speaks.
“I have to admit, I find him interesting and it’s exciting to be working with such a powerful person.” says Lyla followed by another short moment of silence. “So, is that where you got the flowers?” asks Marcus as he takes a sniff of the blooms. “Crispin brought them by when he stopped in. It’s no big deal,” she says as she stands up to look down the hall again.
“What’s up with you and the hall?” asks Marcus as he walks over for a better view of what she is looking at. He stands very close to her and says, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Lyla shivers at Marcus’ words. “I don’t know, I’ve been so jumpy lately and feel like I’m seeing things that I shouldn’t be seeing.” she says softly as if someone might hear. She is very focused on the hall.
“Like what?” asks Marcus. “Maybe this old house is haunted!” he says in a joking tone as he leans against her to get a reaction. She just pushes back at him. “Reflections or something, I’ve been seeing things out of the corner of my eye, Smokey is even a bit touchy and I could have sworn there was someone in the house the other night.” she says quietly as she turns to look at him. “I feel like I’m being watched. Then today, right before you knocked at the door I could have sworn I saw Penny standing in the foyer!”
“Okay, so that explains it, maybe she forgot something and popped back in and I happened to meet her as she was leaving.” says Marcus. “Mystery solved!” he says as he claps his hands together startling Lyla causing her to jump. “No!” says Lyla forcefully. “It was only seconds from when I thought I saw her to the time you banged on the door! Even on a dead run she would have still met up with you in the back yard. I even called out to her asking if she forgot something. It’s really odd.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a Doppelganger,” says Marcus jokingly as he turns to sit down.
“I know just about everybody who’s anybody in this town and I remember seeing you for sure. So where did you go?” asks Penny now challenging Crispin and trying to solve the puzzle she witnessed earlier in the day. “Penny, don’t be rude.” Says Lyla embarrassed and irritated at this uncouth exchange. She looks back at Crispin who seems perfectly fine with the questioning. Remarkably, he seems to be very calm about it all. Maybe it’s because he is approached often that he has learned to stay cool under pressure. It is an attractive quality to say the least.
“I saw you, talking to Randall Weston.” says Penny directly to Crispin. She then quickly turns toward Lyla. “You know he ended up purchasing all that land out off Hickman Road!” continues Penny. “They said he walked up as soon as the meeting adjourned this morning and placed the money on the table. I didn’t know he had that kind of stash, he must be a millionaire!” she exclaims as she spins back to face Crispin. “You couldn’t have just disappeared in that alley!”
Penny looks toward Lyla, making eye contact and acting as if Lyla should be agreeing with her. With a frown on her face Penny is clearly frustrated. She holds her left arm out pointing in the air as she speaks loudly. “We all know that alley next to the courthouse is a dead end!” Penny then glances back at Crispin who remains silent and very composed.
“I’m sorry, Crispin.” starts Lyla. Crispin raises his hand stopping Lyla as he holds his gaze with Penny. He is silent for a moment then says, “I was indeed in town earlier, running a few errands, and I spoke to several people. Sorry but I do not recall the incident you are referring to. Could you have possibly been busy and lost track of my whereabouts?” says Crispin as he stares at Penny who is now clearly upset. She’s always nervous, but she seems a bit more frazzled than usual today, you can almost feel the energy rising in the room.
“I. . . I don’t know,” says Penny with a breathy stutter while looking around her feet. She looks left, then right, behind her and in front as if a dog were nipping at her ankles. “I. . . I think I need to sit down.” she says in a weak tone. Leaning on Lyla for support Penny finds her way to a large soft chair. “That’s better, oh, I don’t know what came over me. I felt a little faint there for a moment.” She mutters as the pace of her breathing begins to sound like a pug nosed dog gasping for air after a hard run. Sweat begins to glisten on her forehead as her chest moves in and out rapidly, she is hyperventilating.
Penny sees Crispin, whom she’s never met, talking with Randall Weston a local businessman. As she waddle’s along in the direction of the courthouse, she watches as both men step into a short alleyway between two buildings. Not thinking anything of it she continues along her path. As she approaches the alley only one man steps out onto the sidewalk and he almost knocks her down.
“Oh I am so sorry, Ma’am,” he says as he steadies the tray to make sure she has a good hold of the baked goods. “Ma’am? It’s me Randall, Penny! You’ve never referred to me as Ma’am.” she replies as she laughs at him loudly. They both start-up the steps to the courthouse. “Are you going to the meeting?” she asks and he replies with a yes. “Oh that’s great, what about your friend?”
“What friend?” he asks. “Well I saw you and another man step into the alley, and since it’s one way in and one way out, I thought he would be with you.” She says in a matter of fact way. “No, it’s just me” he replies. “Oh, okay I must have missed something then,” says Penny as she shakes her multicolored hair as if dazed. “I’m always busy! Would you mind taking these inside while I remove the sign from the front doors?” Penny hands him the tray before he even has a chance to answer then steps back and pulls the sign off the door announcing the meeting.
As she turns to place the flyer in the trash she runs into Randall again, the same man she just sent inside with the muffins! “Wow, you must be really fast!” she says “Looks like we are trying to make this bumping into each other a habit aren’t we?” Penny laughs loudly again but Randall does not respond as expected. Instead he gives Penny a confused quizzical glance and proceeds down the street at a quick pace.
Penny thinks this is odd but doesn’t have time to worry about it. She enters the courthouse and starts placing the muffins on a serving tray when she notices Randall is now sitting at a table near the front of the conference room. “What on earth?” she says to herself as she looks back at the entrance doors.
“I’ll be with you in just a minute,” Marcus announces from the back room. No one replies so he quickly sticks down the last piece of packing tape and steps out into the gallery. “May I help you?” he questions to a man in a black suit who is peering out the glass door onto the street. He has his hands clasped behind his back and is standing very still. To acknowledge Marcus’ questions the man turns around. It is Crispin Duff. “Oh, hello,” says Marcus slightly nervous. “You weren’t kidding when you said you’d be by to take a look.”
“I am a man of my word,” Crispin replies calmly and then smiles slightly. “I like what I see here, you do have talent that’s for sure. May I ask, what is your inspiration?” states Crispin as he turns toward the wall of massive works. Many paintings, large to small are hung very close together. The first row starts at about three feet and they are stacked taking in the full height of the building on the front and east walls. It’s a very impressive display of work indeed.
“Well, really about anything can inspire me.” says Marcus as he looks at his own art. His paintings are rich in color, thick with texture, and each one is very unique as if it’s telling its own story. “I like to look deep into people, places and things, to find their inner core and share the beauty that I find.”
“What about those that are not filled with beauty, what then do you reveal?” asks Crispin without turning toward Marcus.
“What are you doing out and about at this time of night?” says Lyla as she pops the veranda door open. “Stop lurking in my garden!” she grabs Marcus by the arm pulling him into the sunroom. “I simply want to make sure you are alright and to find out how things went at dinner. You seemed to be having a good time.” says Marcus as he plops down on the settee.
“Yes, I did have a good time. Crispin is very easy to talk to and I think it will be great working with him. I’m excited.” She says as she smiles. “He seems to be interested in your work as well so you may make a few sales in the future.” continues Lyla in a happy tone. Marcus is sitting quietly watching her. “What?” asks Lyla. “I don’t know. I just don’t want you to get hurt.” says Marcus calmly. “Hurt, now why on earth do you think I’ll get hurt? Crispin is very nice, I really like him.” states Lyla.
“I’m worried because I did a lot of research on the guy and found some things I think you should know about.” says Marcus in a very serious tone. “I had to dig and dig but found several stories about him and his business where people have gone missing and some even went to jail or mental hospitals due to their strange behavior after starting negotiations with Duff Industries.” continues Marcus. “Doesn’t that all sound odd to you?”
Lyla flips the lamp off and walks over to the staircase taking a quick look around before starting up the steps. She is on edge and a little nervous after being frightened by her cat. With her first step she catches a glimpse of herself in the tall mirror that rests on the wall at the base of the steps. Startled she jumps in fear. After realizing this is only her reflection she starts to laugh at herself for being so nervous. Lyla steps on the first step and looks back at the mirror still smiling from her foolishness.
She doesn’t notice it at first, but there appears to be something or someone behind her. It’s a dark shadowy form! Shocked Lyla quickly turns around expecting to see an intruder standing behind her. Her heart is pounding loudly in her ears as her breathing becomes heavy. To her surprise, nothing is there. She swiftly looks back at the mirror and sees that everything appears to be normal. Goosebumps have formed on her arms and she feels as if there is electricity in the air. Still very frightened, Lyla slowly looks behind her once again to see the room as it should be, no one is there.
Her breathing slows and she comes to the conclusion that she probably had too much wine and is incredibly tired. But the fear is still with her. “Well now Lyla, you need to get to bed, you’re starting to see things.” she says to herself as she quickly starts to walk up the staircase backwards so she can see what may try to follow. Halfway up the stairs she turns, moving forward. As she approaches the second floor landing she has an overwhelming feeling of someone behind her and it becomes so intense that it causes her to move a little faster than normal. With her fear level growing again she rushes to get to the landing where she quickly turns around expecting someone to be right there!
The restaurant is gorgeous with large saltwater fish tanks full of bright coral, lush sea plants, and vividly colored fish swimming about. Deep blue lighting accentuates every table as well as the various levels of the ceiling with inset and ornate fixtures. “I believe someone’s been doing their homework.” says Crispin. “Not that I’m at all surprised, you’re very detailed, I can tell by the way you gathered your notes at the last minute.” He waves his hand across the stack of folders Lyla brought with her.
Smiling Lyla says, “As soon as we ended our online interview I started pulling in all the data that I could find on you. I was very impressed with the kindness you show to people you’ve never met before. It was amazing to read about this big company known as Duff Industries, coming in to rescue simple little shop owners from certain financial doom.” states Lyla with excitement. Crispin is swirling the wine in his glass listening intently to her as she speaks. “Now those individuals are retired, off somewhere living it up, traveling and without another day of work on the calendar. Do you know how amazing that is? How thankful they must be to you?”
Grinning, Crispin sets his glass down and says, “Now most people probably don’t look at it quite like that. Some may think I’m a tyrant scooping up the entire world for myself. I find you very intuitive to my purpose, Lyla. It’s as if you truly understand me.” Crispin keeps eye contact with her and the conversation stops. Candlelight is dancing in both of their eyes and after a few seconds Lyla glances away, a little nervous with how long they were looking at each other. Crispin then touches the top of her hand with his. His fingers feel warm and soft and she does not pull away as her eyes meet his once again. He says, “So tell me inquisitive beauty, have we met before, possibly in a past life?”