Though retired, Stan Rutmeyer still worked hard. He’d had three jobs before getting the gold watch, the longest and most enjoyable being his last, working as a handwriting analyst for the Secret Service, a position he took in the early seventies. It was a desk job reviewing whatever was brought to him, but there had been travel—a fair amount of it outside the country. It wasn’t glamorous; he didn’t profile ransom-note writers or murderers’ confessions. Instead, he spent his time reviewing the day-to-day correspondence of those best positioned to threaten the US dollar—counterfeiters. He’d been excellent at thwarting forgers, but at the height of his skills, wonky 90s “governmental re-visioning” promoted him beyond his skill set where he languished in middle management until his retirement as a G15 in 2011.
However droll his later career might have been, the straight-eight government hours allowed him time to pursue his passions, which ranged from the ordinary (golf: 16 handicap) to the eclectic (collecting handmade bobbers), but the love of his life, besides his wife, was US history. Chiefly a Civil War buff, he’d turned his passion for nineteenth-century ink and paper into an encore career as a boutique graphologist. He was very good, winning beer bets by determining the authorship—Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, for instance—of any ten-word writing sample composed before the advent of the ball point pen.
Stan was currently authenticating a five-volume set of horse-trading ledgers he’d received from a woman in Kentucky. He’d been engrossed in it since reading the first ledger entry dated September 30, 1835: “Palomino 2-year mare, 13 hands, good teeth.” He was halfway through the second ledger, comparing entries to handwriting samples provided by his client. She wanted to know if a branch of her family tree had at one time owned a stallion named King David, a horse purported to have sired a generation of exceptional racehorses, including the 1903 Kentucky Derby winner, Judge Himes.
Stan had just sat down in front of the second ledger when his phone buzzed. It was a text from his wife. Engrossed as he was, Stan dutifully returned her texts, but as the day wore on, an I love you but I’m busy tone crept into his responses:
What came in today’s mail?_
Remember to pick me up from the from the airport this time._
Meanwhile, Mr. Peebles entered the den, depositing himself underneath Stan’s large mahogany desk. Stan unconsciously rubbed the dog’s belly with his loafer, causing one of Peebles’s rear legs gyrated slowly.
The work was intriguing, but the big stone Kahuna competed for his attention. Twenty minutes in, while examining ledger entries underneath the title “Draft Horses Purchased for the City of New York Department of Sanitation,” he remembered something suddenly which ended Peebles’s rubdown.
“No, it can’t be,” he said aloud.
Peebles yawned, waiting for the foot-rubbing to recommence, but it didn’t. Stan stood up, returning to the kitchen. The dog reluctantly followed, watching his master, the Man, stare through the window over the neighbor’s wall before the Man said, “I guess it is, Peebles, would you believe it?” Instead of looking toward Buchanan’s vanity arch as it usually did, the Big Kahuna now faced Buchanan’s house—at least it looked that way form here.
He turned to his dog, looking thoughtful. “Well, Peebles, we’ve got a mystery to solve on our evening walk. Are you up for it?” Peebles wagged his tail at the word walk, hoping for the even better word, treat. “We’ll go when it cools off. Say, how about a treat, Peebles?” Stan reached into the cupboard, retrieving a Milk Bone, tossing it to the dog without looking, assured by experience the canine would catch it in mid-air. Peebles did not disappoint. Stan heard the snap of small but powerful jaws behind him as he returned to the den.
Across the way, cold eyes looked over Dick Buchanan’s wall, straight into Stan’s kitchen. Like Billy earlier, Stan had no idea that the statue, too far away to be seen clearly, had been pivoting, bit by bit.
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Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road