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The home was something out of a Vincent Price movie. A turret on one side gave it the aura of a castle. Three high peaks cascaded down the other side before plunging into the bushes below. The exterior was all white, gray and black stones and seemed to disappear into the morning mist as it went on. I was guessing four stories plus a basement based on the windows.

“Do you think they’ll put us in the dungeon to conduct our work?” I asked.

“If we’re lucky.”

The Focus was like a big red zit sitting in the driveway of the magnificent house. Bert was more of an embarrassment as he nailed on the front door with the knocker then belched out half his breakfast. I guess he was saving it up so he didn’t rock the Super 8 off its foundation in front of Missy.

“Jesus, Bert,” I muttered. “I hope you got that all out at once.”

Bert chuckled, his Santa belly shaking under his fat brown coat. He started to reach for the knocker again when the door swung open. A late forties man in a conservative ash colored sweater and khakis stood there, staring.

“Mr. Cristobal?” Bert said, extending his hand.

The man made no move to shake Bert’s hand.

“No,” he said. “I’m Brenden, assistant to the new owner.”

Brenden had no accent—probably not a local.

“Ah, the nephew. What’s his name again?”

“I’m Noelle Parrish,” I interrupted, almost pushing Bert’s huge humiliating ass out of the way to extend my own hand. “We’re here from the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Cristobal is expecting us.”

“Certainly, Ms. Parrish,” Brenden said, shaking my gloved hand. “Please come in and I’ll let Antonio know you are here.”

Bert and I entered the foyer. The ceiling extended two stories, presenting a magnificent crystal and gold chandelier and revealing the second story balcony above. The staircase circled down in breathtaking mahogany grandeur to the gray marbled floor. I stepped onto the Asian area rug and stomped off the few bits of snow that clung to my boots. Brenden disappeared through two giant carved dark wood doors off to our right. I glanced to the left and saw a long hallway lined with windows and plants like an oblong terrarium. It almost reminded me of the mirrored hall in my dream.

“Well,” Bert said, a sure sign that something asinine was about to come out of his mouth. “All the butler needs is a British accent and a broom up his ass and the world will be complete.”

Sometimes I hated being right.

“And Antonio Cristobal,” Bert continued, “we’ve hit the big time shit now, sweetheart.”

How I hated it when he called me that. I inhaled deeply and calmed myself. I was stuck with him all week.

“I’m sure he’s just a regular kind of guy,” I said.

Bert made the disgusted “hmph” noise again and set his laptop case down. I held on to mine, as it made me feel like I had a purpose there besides visiting to view the tapestries.

The sound of a door closing on the second level caught our attention and we looked upward. A dark figure moved down the hall and turned to descend the stairs. After I caught my breath I took time to notice the details of Antonio Cristobal.

He looked about thirty, every bit of his Spanish ancestry showing through. His olive skin was smooth and clean shaven. His black hair was pulled back tightly into a tiny ponytail at the base of his head. He wore a dark blue silk shirt and black pants. His black dress shoes were polished to a high shine. As he got closer, his brown eyes gleamed with passion and intelligence…and something else that I couldn’t quite place. At first it hit me as the kind of look the very elderly get when they have lived out all their days and are still stuck on Earth until they die; a look of the weight of years and experience. Was it sadness? Regret? It definitely wasn’t fear, which is what I’m used to seeing when I show up at someone’s home or business for an audit.

His uncle just died, I reminded myself. The man is in mourning. My inner dialogue carried on until I realized he was staring. At me. No wonder I had so much time to think about his eyes. I was looking straight into them. I opened my mouth to do my rote and well-practiced standard introduction when Bert opened his.

“Bert Hall, IRS,” he said, suddenly standing tall and official.

“Antonio Cristobal. Pleased to meet you,” Antonio said, extending his hand. His voice had hints of a Spanish accent, like he had deliberately chosen which inflections to keep and which to reject. Bert shook his hand strong and quick then released it abruptly.

“Noelle Parrish,” I said, removing my gloves. Antonio turned toward me and reached for my hand. I raised it and our skin met in a tingling flash of heat. It’s cold outside, I thought to myself, of course his hand is warm to me. I tried to hold that thought as the prickly hot shivers moved through my arm and down my spine. I felt my heart begin to pound in my throat. Antonio held onto my hand and I almost expected him to raise it to his lips. The thought was not unpleasant, but he slowly pumped my hand up and down a few times then released it.

“A pleasure,” he said, still staring. Watching his lips move made me forget about the frigid cold outside.







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