It would be wrong to say that the Freedoms live in Port Huron, but that’s the closest thing to city were their home is. They lived in one of the rich communities around that area, where a million dollar home is considered a cabin. It took an hour to drive from my place to the place where their property started, and when I got there it looked like it might be another hour to get to the house.
It wasn’t that the house was set that far back, only an acre or so from the gate. It wasn’t that I was unwelcome at the house, or at least unexpected. The main problem was the frog faced imbecile that was entrusted with the task of turning the switch that would open the gate. This problem was increased by the fish faced moron who he was conversing with. It was a little like watching a German and a Japanese man trying to converse in Chinese because they’ve some how come to the conclusion that it’s the other man’s native tongue despite not speaking a word of it themselves.
The guard had left his booth, a bad mistake, and the driver had left his truck, another mistake. If either of them had half a brain, they could have shot the other one and taken over their station. Of course I’m not sure what the guard would have wanted in the small yellow delivery van, but if I decided to take the guard out I could just go right through the gate. Eventually the man who should have been in the van gave the man who should have been in the booth a package. Then they actually bowed to each other, bumping their heads as they did so. I watched the fish faced man get back into his truck and turn around, driving away before pulling up to the booth.
“Jack Collier.” I said. “I have an appointment to see Major and Mrs. Freedom.”
He looked dumbly at me for a full five seconds like I was supposed to tell him what to do next. Before I could tell him to open the gate he turned away and picked up a clip board. He scrutinized it closely for nearly a minute before he looked back up at me.
“You’re here to see Mister and Mrs. Freedom?” He asked, his big froggy eyes blinking dully at me.
“That’s right.” I nodded, wondering who the hell else I would be here to see.
“And your name is Jack Collier?” He asked, the corners of his lips turning down to give him even more of a frogish look.
“You’re doing very well so far.” I said, hoping that the sarcasm would slip past him.
“Thanks.” He nodded, but didn’t smile because that might harm his frog like look. He looked at the clipboard again, which I suspected had instructions on it that said ‘pretend to read this so they’ll think you have half a brain’ but I rejected that as being unhelpful. Eventually he looked back up at me and blinked three times before he spoke. “You the private eye?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“Oh.” He tossed the clipboard aside and looked at the controls for the gate as if trying to remember which way to turn the single knob. “They want to see you right away!”
He twisted the knob one way, and nothing happened. I had a vision of him sitting down at the gate and looking up into the sky trying to whistle for a moment. I was suddenly feeling angry about this man being allowed to have a job. The market in Michigan is quite tough, and this idiot was able to waste our time like this. Hundreds of people who want to work and are smart enough to work a simple gate on the first try would love to have the thirty bucks and hour he was pulling down for this job. I was mostly annoyed because I remember which young guy just starting out made the suggestion that a gate would help increase security. It’s always a pain to see that one of your off handed suggestions has been taken.
He eventually managed to twist the knob in the right direction and the gate slid open. I nodded to him and resisted the urge to jam on the gas and squeal my tires, which would have been ungallant at best. I drove up the small road that separated the house from the gate, which was made of highly compacted gravel. It was like driving across some old roman road that’s lasted the last two thousand years. It was smooth and gentle, but you knew that it was made up of a million particles that could become dislodged even though they never did.
When I came around the corner to the circular drive, an interesting site was there to greet me. The old Hudson Super Six was sitting in front of the house, like a big large sign. That the Major had large garage full of classic cars was no secret, and the old Hudson was well known to me. There was a problem with this particular car being in front of the house though. If the Major had told Jensen to put it out front I was in for a great deal of annoyance, if Liberty told him to do it then I was in for an annoyance of a different kind.
I pulled up to the old beauty, which had been built the year after the war ended and looked lovingly at it. I loved driving that car back when I was a green and callow youth, playing detective and guarding the wife and child of a famous industrialist. The car had other memories too of course, but driving it had always been like having sex with an experienced woman a few years older than you. The steering seemed to know where you wanted to go and would help you get there in the best way possible. It was responsive, gentle and supple. Driving this car would make you a better driver in all cars, because it helped you understand them. It was with a slight sense of shame that I made that comparison of course, since it was the generous back seat of the car where I’d formed the connection in my mind.
I looked up at the house, and tried to recall how long it’s been since I’d been here last. It was at least before I quit with Bascom since I didn’t come back here after I left the firm, so that would be at least five years, almost six. That would mean that Jenicia would be about eleven or twelve now, and I would have to ask myself that stupid question again. I decided not to let that bother me if I could manage it. I looked back at the Hudson, and noticed that I’d managed to get a car that was almost the exact same shade of blue as it was. Not that there was anything to be said about that, I liked blue, but it did seem to suggest something to me.
It made me wonder again though, who had the car put out front? Jensen would know, and it was possible he would tell me. I liked Jensen, he and I had come to an understanding over the summers that I’d worked at the house, playing bodyguard. Jensen looked at me as just another part of the help that was wasting the major’s money. After that weekend when Riley did that stupid thing he did that I said we’d never talk about, Jensen looked at me a little differently. After that, there was respect as one professional to another. Of course after that, I was acting a bit more like a professional too.
I walked up the steps and to the door, pressing the bell button. I could hear the sound of the buzzer going as I hit the button. Not the normal ding-dong one might expect but an old fashioned buzzer that went as long as you held the button down. I didn’t over do it because I knew Jensen would come to the door on the quick since I was expected.
When the door opened though, it wasn’t Jensen. It was a man that was about the age Jensen had been twelve years ago when I first came here. He was dignified and smart looking in his tuxedo, but he wasn’t Jensen. This was another man, someone else.
“Jensen sick?” I asked as looked in at him, “I can’t imagine him letting someone else get the door.”
“Mister Jensen passed away two years ago sir.” The new butler said, and I felt some air puff out of me. “I’m Bendis sir.”
“Oh.” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“Quite alright sir.” Bendis said. “You weren’t to know. You are correct though, he never would have let someone else answer the door in his time. You are Mister Collier?”
“Yes.” I nodded and took off my hat. “Didn’t the guy at the gate call in?”
“Gerald is often confused about things sir.” Bendis said, without a hint of a smirk and stepped aside to allow me to enter.
I walked into the main hall and Bendis closed the door behind me. He started to walk around me to lead me to the major’s office, but I held out my hand to stop him. I didn’t actually come in contact with him because he stopped an inch from me. He looked at me and I looked at him for a moment, and then I turned to him and leaned in a bit.
“Who had you put the Hudson out there?” I asked.
“Sir?” He asked, and I could see that there was something in his eyes. He’d been told something, I just didn’t know what.
“The Hudson.” I asked and I could see wheels moving in his head. “It’s important for me to know which of them wanted it.”
“Mrs. Freedom sir.” He said, and I could tell that he’d reached some sort of decision about me. He leaned closer and his voice became consistorial. “She said she might want you to drive her somewhere later.”
“Do I speak to her first or the major?”
“Major Freedom is this way sir.” He waved a deferential hand.