Saturday, March 13, 2021

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Old Mrs. Kimble's Mansion by George T. Arnold - Book Tour + Giveaway


Suspenseful Drama

Date Published January 2021

Publisher: Speaking Volumes


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Forty-four-year-old Forrest Alderson isn’t at all sure of his motives for returning from self-imposed exile to Asher Heights, West Virginia, to see his hometown for the first time since he graduated from college. All he knows for certain is it’s something he has to do if he is to find out whether he can break free from the tragedy that compelled him to flee or whether he is forever doomed to be imprisoned by it.

He has spent the intervening twenty-three years in sacrificial preparation, striving obsessively to become enormously wealthy with one exclusive goal: to at long last take possession of Old Mrs. Kimble’s mansion, no matter the cost, and let that magnificent structure he has coveted since he was a poor boy stand as proof to one and all that native son Forrest Walker Alderson has done himself proud.

Or could it be his return is motivated – as his attorney, Olivia Fillmore, fears – by revenge, an evil desire to rub his great wealth and success into the face of the one person who caused him to hermit himself away all those years without a wife, children, or even a close friend?

To have any chance of finding the answers he so desperately needs, Forrest will have to struggle through a challenging new romance, an addiction to a perilous old love, a sensational murder trial, and the inevitable decision about what to do with the rest of his life.


Excerpt

Chapter One

A Curious Request

1985

“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that,” Mr. Vermillion utters as he hangs up his phone and steps into the outer office to share the news with Cassandra Pierce, his partner at their law firm on Stanford Avenue in downtown Asher Heights, West Virginia.

“Not expecting what, John?” Cassandra mumbles, her mind focused on her day’s work schedule.

“A call with a curious request from a big-shot attorney at one of Chi-cago’s most prestigious outfits.”

“Oh?” Cassandra responds with a little more enthusiasm, sensing she could be about to hear something that might provide a break from the monotony in the daily routine of a couple of small-town lawyers.

“Get this, Cassandra. It seems someone who doesn’t want us to know his identity is hiring us to buy the old Kimble mansion for him, and never anybody mind that it may not even be on the market.”

“Fine with me,” Cassandra answers without looking up from her pa-pers, “but what if it’s not for sale? What makes that Chicago lawyer representing ‘Mr. Anonymous’ think we, of all people, can buy it? We’re not even in the real estate business.”

“To me, that’s the challenging part, my friend. That and the mysteri-ous nature of the request. ‘Money’s no object!’ ” she said. “In fact, she said it twice.

“The guy is so dead set on having that mansion, its condition is no barrier either. And what’s more, he’s sending us a five-thousand-dollar retainer this afternoon!” 

“Well, whoop-de-doo,” Cassandra responds sarcastically. “Five thou-sand whole dollars? C’mon, John, there’s no way you’d be this giddy over that amount of money. What gives?”

“Oh, just a fifty-thousand-dollar bonus if we can persuade the owners to sell within the next two weeks. Tell me that’s not enough to get even your skeptical little heart pumping, Cassandra. So, you as ready as I am to get this adventure started?”

“Five figures does have a way of getting a gal’s attention!” she con-cedes, dropping the papers she had been carefully organizing as if they were so many used napkins. “How ’bout doing a drive by right now? We have an hour before we have to be in court.”

“I’m game. Your car or mine?”

***

Unknown to John Vermillion, the offbeat phone call was set in mo-tion by an old acquaintance from his high school graduation class of 1959. Someone he has not seen or even thought about in more than twenty years.

“I knew I had my surrogate as soon as I checked out the list of Asher Heights lawyers and saw John’s name,” Forrest Alderson explains, sitting in the Chicago office of his primary attorney, Olivia Fillmore, who possesses a law degree from Yale, a Phi Beta Kappa key, and head-turner beauty.

“John wasn’t one of my run-around friends, but he was one of the best of the good guys I grew up with,” Forrest assures Olivia. “And I picked you to handle things for me because I trust you more than any-body else in this overpriced law empire I’ve been paying a fortune in retainer fees all these years.” 

“Appreciate that, Forrest,” the fashionably slender Olivia responds, uncrossing her pretty long legs and leaning forward in her chair, touching his forearm to indicate she is personally concerned about Forrest and his astonishing lifestyle change.

“But what I don’t get is why at forty-four you’ve sold one of the most successful real estate firms in Chicago to retire back to your home town of Nowheresville when you haven’t stepped foot in the place since you were shaving fuzz off your face.

“And what in the hell do you want with an old mansion that, for all you know, may be dilapidated and overrun with raccoons and squirrels and Lord knows what all else you West Virginians have lurking in those hills you hold so precious?

“In the three years I’ve known you, Forrest, you’ve never once men-tioned that old place.”

“Well, seeing as how you brought it up—and considering I’m not paying one thin dime for this conversation—I’ll tell you about it. And I want you to know,” he winks, “you can feel privileged because you’ll be the first to hear something I’ve never said out loud even to myself.”

“I’m all ears,” she retorts, more annoyed than amused by his cavalier attitude, and once again irritated by his apparent inability to notice her subtle attempts to flirt with him. She scoots to the back of her chair and crosses her legs again, showing a bit more thigh than she otherwise would if she were not attracted to him.

Oblivious as usual, Forrest begins his explanation. “Olivia, as far back as I can remember, that big mansion on Rhododendron Ridge belonged to a woman known as Old Mrs. Kimble. And I don’t say that disrespectfully; that’s what everybody called her. I never knew her first name, and neither did any of my buddies. We figured it wasn’t ‘Old,’ but we never heard anything else. 

“Funny thing, none of us actually ever saw her either. We were told she’d become a very young widow when her husband was killed during the Spanish-American War. Folks say that forever after that, she secluded herself in that huge house, sometime around the turn of the century.”

“As young and as rich as she was, she never got married again, For-rest?”

“Nope. Never so much as looked romantically at another man, or so I’m told, Olivia. And there must have been all kinds of suitors—sincere ones, as well as fortune hunters. But she spurned every one of them.

“I sort of got acquainted with the mansion and the stories about Old Mrs. Kimble because her next-door neighbors were the Rutherfords, and their son Whitney was one of my best friends. Actually, I was lucky to have him for a friend because the Rutherfords had money, unlike my family and most of the other guys Whitney and I ran around with.

“His dad could afford to build a hard-surface basketball court near the long line of hedges that separated their property from the mansion. And Whitney’s parents didn’t seem to mind having a bunch of us boys hang-ing around playing ball four or five days out of the week.

“We practically lived on that court from the fourth grade through high school. Except when it snowed, and it did a lot of that in Asher Heights, West Virginia.”

“Got it, Forrest. You had a friend who had a basketball court, and it snows a lot in West Virginia. Think you might get around to telling me about the house anytime in the near future?”

“Well, don’t you get surly when you’re not getting paid, Olivia! Nev-er noticed you being so antsy when I’m forking over hundreds of dollars an hour for you to listen. Keep your drawers on, as we West Virginians say; I’m getting to it.

“I couldn’t miss looking at the house because the basketball goal faced its east side. And it was so big and fancy I couldn’t help being impressed. So, if you can quit squirming long enough, I’ll describe it to you in some detail.”

“I’m listening. See!” she exclaims, pushing her ears out horizontally with the palms of her hands.

“Then picture this, Miss Impatient: The mansion sat about a hundred yards from the street, and the big woods in back stretched all the way to McDowell Road, which runs parallel to Rhododendron Ridge. Not counting the full-sized underground basement, it stood two tall stories high with the first floor about ten feet above street level.

“What I liked best by far were the massive round white columns that started at the base of the wrap-around porch and peaked at the level of the attic. I felt like a pygmy the first time I saw them!

“The rest consisted of walls formed from thousands of white bricks with squishy mortar of the same color bulging out between them. The bricks surrounded giant oak double doors and a bunch of tall windows and shutters.

“You couldn’t see through them though, and believe me we tried. They were mostly hidden by telephone-pole-tall juniper trees. And Old Mrs. Kimble kept all of her draperies and curtains closed to keep us and everybody else from peeking in on her. So, obviously, we never got inside either, which led us boys to imagine the house possessed every-thing from secret treasures to some other really creepy stuff.

“You following me so far, Olivia?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m almost getting curious. Get on with it before I turn middle-aged.”

Forrest was tempted to remind her that forty is middle-aged. But you just don’t say that sort of thing to any woman, particularly a good-looking one who has the self-image of a twenty-something.

“Anyway, Oliva, even though I was pretty young, that vision of a rich person’s home found a permanent place in my memory. You see, my family lived from paycheck to paycheck, so all I could do was daydream about a lot of the things I wanted but couldn’t have, even imagining someday being master of that awesome house.

“But the thought was so foolish, I kept it to myself until today. I mean, what could I envision as a boy that I could do short of robbery to put enough money together to buy an estate so fine? It wasn’t like I could count on inheriting a family fortune or becoming a big movie star, or anything as unlikely as that.

“Anyhow, it became an obsession never far from my thoughts, even now, more than three decades later.”

“OK, I understand the attraction, Forrest; it sounds both fabulous and a little mysterious. But, for Heaven’s sake, you’ve been filthy rich for quite a while. Why haven’t you been back home to see it and to visit your old friends? You could have bought that place a long time ago, hired a caretaker and visited whenever you had the time or the inclination. Doesn’t make sense to me.”

“I suppose it doesn’t, Olivia. But the reasons are painfully personal. Something else I’ve kept to myself.”

“I’m a good listener Forrest; that is, when I’m interested. And now that you finally have my full attention, I’d almost pay you to find out. Almost that is,” she says with a cute mock smile that usually works wonders on the male gender but doesn’t seem to faze Forrest.

“Seriously, I’m willing to step back into the attorney-client privilege relationship—off the clock, of course—if you want to confide in me. Goes without saying, I’ll keep the information confidential.”

“I’m tempted to tell you, Olivia. It’s not something I’d ever feel com-fortable talking about with a man, or not even with many women for that matter. But you’re smart and you’re insightful and a good enough friend, I think, to put yourself in my place and see all the complexities from my point of view. 

“Sure you want to hear this?”

“Truthfully, Forrest, I’m damned eager. Talk all you want. I’m turn-ing off my phones, and I promise I’ll keep my mouth shut until you make it crystal clear you want to hear from me. Cross my heart.”

“OK, Olivia,” Forrest begins, a troubled expression overtaking the features of his usually pleasant face. “It started with a personal tragedy that happened when I was twenty-one. That put an abrupt end to my daydreaming about the kind of life I wanted and forced me to face the hard fact that a person makes his or her own future.

“So, I set a goal of earning as much money as I could as fast as I could, and I dedicated myself totally and solely to that end. Believe me, the road I’ve traveled all these years is paved with money. Nothing else.”

Judging a look of earnest interest from Olivia, Forrest plunges on while the gate to his secret past is still ajar. “In the twenty-three years since then, I’ve become enormously wealthy. But you know all of that. All of my finances are recorded in your company’s books.

“You know I made my fortune in Chicago real estate by buying and selling so many expensive houses and high-rise buildings that I can’t remember half of them. And I invested almost everything I cleared. Spent damned little on myself, such as places to live, cars, clothes, vacations—any of the things rich people usually splurge on.

“Anyway, a couple of years ago, I decided I had made more than enough money to let me liquidate a bunch of my holdings, move back home and buy that mansion I’ve been set on having all these years.

“I kept that decision to myself, and, honestly, that was a hard thing to do because the time between then and now has dragged out like the poky period between Thanksgiving and Christmas does when you’re a kid. But, finally, with the phone call you made to John Vermillion this morn-ing, my goal is in sight, and I’m itching to get it done.” 

“Forrest, I know I promised just to listen, but you seem to have for-gotten I have no clue what ‘The Tragedy’ is. How do you expect me to understand until you tell me what happened to get all this started? And you haven’t told me whether you know for sure that old mansion is even still there.”

“You’re right; I’m presuming too much. Sorry. Let me explain it this way. I have my own reasons for not knowing for sure whether it’s still standing or it’s a pile of bricks. I know how weird that sounds, but the truth is I did not want to know because that would have taken away the second biggest driving force I had for building my fortune. The other reason is the tragedy—the most tormenting experience in my life, and an even bigger motivator.

“You see, I haven’t been back to my hometown since right after I graduated from college. My family moved to the West Coast during my junior year, and the last time I was in Asher Heights was to get married.

“Yeah, Olivia, you can shut your mouth now and get that shocked look off your face. You heard right; I did say married. Hard to believe coming from a middle-aged bachelor who runs like hell anytime any woman even hints she is romantically interested.”

“As if I didn’t know!” Olivia wanted to say out loud but clamped down on her tongue.

“Anyway, Maggie McDaniel Mullens and I had been engaged unoffi-cially since high school and officially since the Christmas before I finished college. She was gorgeous, Olivia, and sexy as hell. I was so hopelessly, helplessly, achingly in love with her, it was like being hooked on a narcotic.

“She came from a good family, too, although I was a little put off by her somewhat goofy mother who had a bunch of silly hangups like giving all of her children names that started with the same letter: Maggie McDaniel, Mason McGeorge, and Millicent Marie. All of their clothes  had three capital M’s monogrammed glaringly on them, and her mother couldn’t understand why each of my names, Forrest Walker Alderson, started with a different letter. I told her to blame it on my parents who apparently liked trees.

“I hadn’t seen much of Maggie and her family during my final Spring semester. I was too busy trying to graduate with honors while working part time and sending out resumes to companies I hoped would hire me. Maggie already had graduated from another university in December and was busy planning our wedding . . . .”

When his voice unexpectedly breaks, betraying the matter-of-fact manner in which he was forcing himself to tell his tale, he hesitates, coughs a couple of times, struggling to regain control.

After an embarrassing interval, he manages to continue. “Or so I be-lieved. Until exactly one week before the wedding when she abruptly threw me over and, like some kind of traitor, deserted me and our plans for a future together. We’d already sent out invitations, made all the arrangements, and spent a lot a of non-refundable money.

“Worse, everyone in town including all my boyhood and college friends and their families became aware of the scandalous details. Believe me, Olivia, it would have been kinder of Maggie if she had shot bullets into me instead of words that permanently scarred my heart and screwed me up where romance is concerned.”

“Oh, I am so very sorry, Forrest,” Olivia interjects, unable to keep herself from interrupting, but gaining some insight into why he has never acted on her implied advances.

“I don’t want you to be sorry, Olivia. I want you to understand.

“Maggie’s reason enraged even her own family and deeply embar-rassed them before the entire community. The hell of it is, Maggie didn’t simply get cold feet; she tossed me aside for one of those edgy bad-boy types so many otherwise sensible females at one time or another in their lives go nuts over; intoxicated, I suppose, by their misguided notions of sex appeal and excited by the potential danger these no-goods represent. But foolishly blind to these perpetual adolescents’ lack of responsibility, ambition, and conscience.

“LeRoy Bottoms, that dimwit Maggie fell for, dropped out of school so unscathed by education he couldn’t tell a double negative in a sentence from a double dribble on a basketball court. His underfed brain was so empty, he couldn’t form a sentence that didn’t start with ‘OK’ and end with ‘yuh know what I’m sayin’?’ ”

Forrest shakes his head like a dog flinging water off its coat, appar-ently still unable to grasp why Maggie, or any other female with a lick of sense, could fall for such a loser.

“Some gullible females, like Maggie, even marry these predators,” Forrest says with palpable bitterness. “More often than not after becom-ing pregnant, as she did. About which time, Mr. Edgy loses interest and preys on some other dreamy-eyed female convinced beyond all reason he loves only her, and she is The One who can change him.”

“Did you confront them?” Olivia interrupts.

“Hell no. She made it clear there was nothing I could do to change her mind. So, I slinked out of Asher Heights after dark that same night and never looked back. Never went back. Not even for a high school class reunion. I cut off contact with everyone, including my lifelong best friends.

“Olivia, can you understand it wasn’t simply that I was embarrassed; I was so heartsick and humiliated, I seriously considered suicide. Or murder. Or both.

“I truly believed for a time I’d go crazy trying to force out of my mind the vision of my Maggie eagerly giving her beautiful body to someone so undeserving and so unappreciative. That image was—and all these years later remains—torturous.” 

Olivia’s disciplined attention is redirected by a couple of tears that manage to escape her eyes, slowly trickling past her mouth before she can turn sideways and wipe them away. Fortunately, Forrest doesn’t see them. The shame he has felt all these years has kept him from looking directly at Olivia.

“But somehow, after agonizing for several days, I managed to create a purpose for going on. I convinced myself I would live to someday show Maggie she’d made the biggest mistake of her life. Call it revenge; call it getting even; call it whatever you like. I just knew I wanted Maggie to feel the depth of suffering she put me through.

“How? I did not know. When? I had no clue. But sometime.

“To this day, as you know, Olivia, I have never married. No woman, I am convinced, is worth the risk of going through such excruciating pain again. Instead, I substituted work for love. That’s all I existed for. I lived cheaply and invested my money wisely. Extraordinarily wisely, I can say now without boasting.”

Olivia does know how he has lived. And for the first time, she is be-ginning to understand why.

“Except for a little hiking by myself on weekends, all I did was work. But my work and my investments paid off. And, by damn, I made it big. After all those years dedicated almost exclusively to making money, I’m worth millions upon millions!

“I think I can go back home almost anonymously now because I doubt anyone in Asher Heights knows anything about my adult life or my wealth. Why should they? Not even my parents and my two siblings suspect I have more than a few million dollars, although I’ve treated them very generously.”

“If you’ve treated them so ‘generously,’ ” Olivia silently asks herself, “why haven’t they somehow intervened in your lonely, tortured life? Guess you wouldn’t let them,” she concedes.

“Chances are no one in my hometown will even recognize me. After all, I’m middle-aged, what used to be my dark brown hair is at least half gray, and, as you can see, I’ve recently grown a short beard, and I like it. On top of that, I’ve bought an old Chevrolet sedan no one would look at twice. I’m betting nobody will notice me.

“So, until I have John Vermillion working through you to purchase the mansion for me, I’ll be incognito in Asher Heights. By then, my investigators and I should have discovered everything I want to know: Who’s who, who’s where, and who’s doing what. Including Maggie McDaniel Mullens whatever-the-hell-her-last-name-is-now.”

“Oh, Forrest, what a perfectly horrid experience. I mean, I’ve been through a divorce and a couple of other painful breakups in my time, but nothing that affected me like yours has. But, please, because you’ve trusted me enough to confide in me, I’ll intrude on your privacy just enough to ask you a couple of questions I pray you’ve already carefully considered.”

“Go ahead, Olivia. I’d like to know what you’re thinking.”

“First, Forrest, are you willing to spend perhaps several million dol-lars to buy and restore that old mansion because you really want to live in it? Or is it because you want to rub your great wealth and success in Maggie’s face and show her what a terrible mistake she made? If revenge is your reason, I fear for you, my friend. I truly do.”

“Obvious questions, Olivia, and of course, I’ve considered them. Many times. The raw truth is I do not know for sure. I’m aware of the possible consequences and all that. But it’s something I’ve got to do, and I’ll only find out the truth by actually doing it.”

“Then God go with you,” Olivia says, rising from her chair and sur-prising Forrest with a hug so intimate that even he couldn’t mistake its meaning.


About The Author

George T. Arnold, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus in the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University where he taught news and feature writing, language skills, ethics, and media law for 36 years. He worked full-time for seven years as a newspaper reporter to finance bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Marshall, and he has a doctorate in journalism and mass communications from Ohio University.

His textbook/resource book, Media Writer’s Handbook, a Guide to Common Writing and Editing Problems, is in its seventh edition and third decade of continuous publication. It has been purchased at more than 300 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Arnold is the author of more than 50 professional and academic articles and has written a short story, One Minute Past Christmas, and two novels, Wyandotte Bound, and Old Mrs. Kimble’s Mansion.


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