The sound of every hundred raindrops hitting the car was quickly drowned out by the sound of the next hundred. I could barely see the road ahead of me. I kept driving in search of a place to stop. Ten minutes may not seem like a long time but in this storm every second holds the potential for a wreck. So in a long ten minutes, I came by a somewhat nice looking hotel in the midst of all these open fields. Of course, considering the current visibility, my “nice looking” observation did not mean much. I parked in what I hoped was only one parking space and rushed to the front door. I paused to push the wet hair off my face before ringing the doorbell. I took a step back and waited. I started thinking, how many hotels have a doorbell? But how many houses have a parking lot? Just then the door opened to reveal tall man dressed in a navy blue suit and an unnaturally large smile.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes, I’d like a room please.” I answered.
“A room?” and he began laughing.
Confused, I asked “Is something funny? You have to have at least one room open. I need some place to wait out the storm.”
The overly joyous man responded, “You’re the third person to make that mistake today! This is not a hotel. This is my private residence.”
“Oh, my mistake.” I said. I was a little unsure of what to do next. I still needed a place to stay, but I didn’t want to intrude. Not only that, but with every passing second this man seemed stranger and stranger. He must have sensed my uncertainty. His enormous smile somehow became even larger as if his smile was smiling. Then he said, “You are welcome to stay here until the storm clears up. Like I said, you are not the first person. Two other guests are already inside.” I glanced over at the parking lot and sure enough, there were two other cars parked there. I decided I was better off taking my chances with the overly joyous man than with the storm.
“Thank you so much,” I said as he stepped aside to let me in. I stood on the entrance mat reluctant to move. The floors were well-kept and I did not want to get rainwater on them.
“Allow me to take your coat,” said the man. I handed him my coat and responded “Thank you mister um…”
“Barnaby is the name! And who do I have the pleasure of meeting today?”
“My name’s Quinn. Nice to meet you too.”
He looked at me still smiling, “Right this way young man.”
Young man? I hadn’t been called that in a few years. I vigorously wiped my shoes on the entrance mat and followed him down the hallway into an elaborately furnished room where two other guests had made themselves comfortable on the couches. The house was kept scrupulously tidy. The only thing I could see that was out of place was the unnaturally large set of keys placed on the side table next to the lamp. The key ring held more keys than I could count and in fact had several rings attached to each other with more keys on each ring. Why would anyone other than a medieval dungeon master need so many keys? He offered me a variety of refreshments that were readily available, as though he had been expecting company. As the night progressed, the other visitors and I used the time to get to know each other. Meanwhile our gracious host observed silently, interrupting only periodically to ensure we were all comfortable. There was the African American police officer named Finn who had taken some time off to visit his relatives in the next town over. Then there was the young college guy named Seth who was on his way back to school. Seth didn’t talk too much either except to make the occasional joke. Like most young people, he spent most of his time on his phone.
As the night progressed, Barnaby stood up and said “Gentlemen, it does not look as though the storm will come to an end any time soon. It appears as though you will need to stay the night. The guest rooms down the east hall are ready for you. Please select whichever you like and do make yourselves at home. I only have one request; down the west hall passed the furnace room is another room with a lock on the door. Please stay away from that room as I do have some personal effects stored in it. With that I bid you good night.” He then rushed off as though he had some important business to attend to.
I stood up. “Well I should be getting to bed as well.” The other two followed my lead. We all said good night to each other and headed into the separate rooms. I took the farthest room, Finn took the next farthest, and Seth took the first room in the hallway. It was a simple yet nice room. Across from the queen sized bed I noticed that the fire place had already been started. I noticed the fireplace in the previous room but I didn’t think much of it. Many houses have a fireplace, but who has a fireplace in each room? Especially in the modern day? The construction did not appear to be old at all. In fact, I would guess it was a new construction not more than ten years old. I laid down on the bed. I wasn’t ready to sleep yet. The place wasn’t sitting well with me. I stared out the window into the darkness. I couldn’t see the storm in the dark, but I could still hear the raindrops hurtling down with all the vigor in the world. I needed a way to pass the time. My mind wandered to the one place it was not supposed to go; the locked door passed the furnace room. I remembered the keys on the lamp table. I waited a few minutes to ensure that everyone would be asleep. Then I slowly opened the door, peeking out to make sure the hallway was clear. I could hear Seth snoring as I walked passed his door. In the center room, the light from the fireplace gave me enough light to see the keys still next to the lamp. I walked over and picked them up. I used the light from my phone to guide me down the west hall. I went passed the furnace room and to the end of the hallway where a massive lock was placed on a small door. One by one, I tried all the keys until one of them opened the lock. I stepped inside the room and pulled the string above my head and the lights turned on. It was a closet. There were rows of shelves on the right and left and straight in front of me was a mop and bucket. I quickly began looking through the shelves for anything interesting but all I found was cleaning supplies, towels, soap, detergent, cleaners, sprays etc. I did notice one semi-interesting thing. On the top shelf on the right side I found a large very carefully crafted dagger. The blade was approximately 16 inches long and very sharp. I could almost see my reflection in the steel. That’s when I heard footsteps. I turned off the light. I put the dagger back where I found it and quickly shut the door. I fumbled with the lock. It wouldn’t lock. The footsteps kept getting closer. I struggled with the lock a bit more until it finally locked. I rushed over to the furnace room and twisted the doorknob only to find that it was locked. Now I could see the small light emanating from the phone in the hands of a man who was making his way over. As he got closer I breathed a sigh of relief as I noticed it was Finn.
“Finn you scared the hell out of me!” I whispered.
“Sorry man, but you’re the one who is some place he’s not supposed to be.” He responded.
“Well that brings me to the question, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Same thing you’re doing here my friend. So did you take a look in the room?” he asked curiously. I took a minute to explain to him that there were only cleaning supplies. He didn’t believe me. I showed him the closet and although we both found the dagger intriguing, we were still disappointed in the whole “adventure”. I placed the keys next to the lamp and we headed back into my room. We began talking about what could have been in that room. In the end, we were just bored and trying to pass the time. While the man and his “private residence” did seem strange, we were both adults. As adults we both knew that more often than not, strange just meant strange. There was probably nothing crazy or news-worthy going on. Finn did say one thing to me that made me think. It was something his grandfather told him, “Sometimes, when we want to find something, we see it even when it isn’t there.” I suppose, maybe that’s what happened to us tonight, or maybe we really were just that bored.
At some point I fell asleep. When I woke up, I noticed the sun was shining through the window and Finn had fallen asleep in the corner.
“Hey Finn, wake up, the storm is over.” As he woke up and rubbed his eyes; it became obvious to me that he hadn’t gotten much sleep.
We headed out of the room and down the hall back into the central room. That is where I saw Seth standing over a dead body in a navy blue suit. The dagger from the cleaning closet had been relocated into Barnaby’s neck. Blood was spilling out in every direction from wound site. I made eye contact with Finn and then looked over at Seth.
“I didn’t do it. I found him like this. I swear! I know what it looks like but it wasn’t me.” The words spilled from his mouth like vomit.
I turned to Finn, “Do something. You’re a police officer!”
He looked back at me, “I lied. I’m not a police officer. I just said that to make this a safer environment. Nobody tries anything with a police officer around.”
I looked back at the body, “You sure about that?”
Finn stared at the body for a minute before he said, “Nobody move, I’m calling 911.”
While we waited for the police to arrive I looked over at the lamp and noticed that the keys were gone. I looked around the room but I didn’t see them anywhere. I noticed a cut on Seth’s arm. When I asked him about it, he claimed it was from playing basketball earlier in the week but tossing and turning in his sleep had caused it to open up again.
When the police finally arrived they took all of our statements and information. They allowed Finn and I to leave but took Seth with them. I reached into my pocket to get my phone and noticed it was not there. I notified one of the officers who allowed me to go back into my room to look for it. On my way to the room, I wondered what really happened. Why would Barnaby kill himself? Just because a man has a secret cleaning room doesn’t make him suicidal. But why would Seth kill Barnaby? It made no sense. Then again, I really didn’t know anything about Seth. But what about the cut on his arm? Then something strange hit me. The fireplace in every room was always on. So why was there a furnace room and why was it locked? Perhaps the furnace was broken? Whatever it was, the police would figure it out. I walked back into the room and noticed my phone on the night stand. As I passed the window on the way out I saw something that was hidden in the dark rain. Outside my window, a sign had fallen on the grass. It was still attached to its post which was weathered and broken from the storm. The sign read, “The Countryside Hotel. Visitors welcome” …
Upon opening the newspaper, the following week, I found all the answers I was looking for. There was a note found on the inside pocket of the navy blue suit.
“I did it. I killed the owner of this hotel and hid his body in the furnace room. I had no choice. The man was hiding dangerous chemicals under the guise of cleaning supplies; chemicals with which he made and sold drugs. You see, I am a heating repair man. An employee of the hotel had called me to work on the heater. As a result of the storm, only the owner was present that day. When I arrived, I informed him that I was there to look at the furnace. He must have had me confused with one of his drug-trafficking associates because he took me right to the furnace room which to my surprise was actually a miniature laboratory. It became very clear that I was not who he thought I was. He was ready to kill me when the doorbell rang. Using the distraction, I grabbed the dagger located on the table and killed him. I quickly changed into my navy blue suit which I had brought with me. I intended to change into it at the hotel after my work was done to attend a dinner party afterwards. I answered the door and it was a young man seeking shelter from the storm. I could tell from his eyes that he knew something was amiss. He suspected me. I thought if I told him it was my private residence; it would deter him from staying but the storm was fierce enough that he stayed anyway. I remember turning on all the fireplaces so that the place would stay warm and no one would attempt to go to the furnace room. When an African American police officer arrived claiming to seek shelter from the storm, I knew the young man had turned me in. He was on his phone all day and now a police officer has shown up. As soon as the storm ends, I know he will search the area and arrest me. A third young man arrived and I sincerely hope he does not get involved in any of this. I attempted to keep my composure for as long as I could but as night approached, I found that I was no longer able to sit with the guests. In the night I heard noises down by the furnace hallway and I knew they had figured me out. So now, regrettably, I see no other option for myself. I have done a terrible thing and from this there is no escape. I will do this out in the open so that they will all walk out and see me at once and no one will be accused of my murder should this letter not suffice.”