Authors: Patricia Rice
A Family Genius Mystery
Book View Café Publishing Cooperative
February 11, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Patricia Rice
Carrying a stack of library research material, I didn’t
see the nose-high spider web covering the mansion’s front door until it
plastered my face.
Startled, I juggled my loot and swatted at the tickly silk
strands. Luckily for the web’s perpetrator, my reflexes were quick, and I
didn’t drop anything. The brisk October breeze blew me inside as I shouted
into the towering foyer’s pristine
Mallard, our spy cum butler, would never have allowed a
spider within the property’s perimeters. I knew who to blame for the sudden
acquisition of sticky Halloween decorations.
“I suggest you repair to the turret with a broom,” a dry
voice pronounced from the Waterford chandelier overhead.
“I’m still not a witch, Graham,” I countered our host’s
insult, carrying my treasure toward the basement door. “You may call me
Princess Anastasia, if you’re into Disney characters.” The Anastasia part is
actually my name. Magda, our mother — who claims to be a Hungarian
princess — has delusions of grandeur and named all of her children after
Amadeus Graham is our invisible landlord. He thinks he owns
our grandfather’s house. Maybe he does legally, but morally, we have the higher
ground. Thankfully, he lives in the attic where we never see him. We still suffer
daily from his annoying commands.
Ignoring my commentary, Graham intoned in that irritatingly
unperturbed deep voice of his, “Live bats appear to be involved.”
one of my half-brother Tudor’s imprecations, I dropped my reference material on
the priceless Sheraton side table and dashed for the imposing mahogany
staircase. Apparently Graham wasn’t commenting on my witchy appearance for a
change, but on my half-sister’s behavior. EG must be testing Graham’s
boundaries to see what it would take to get thrown out of the first real home
we’d ever known.
I have spent the better part of my life as a doormat for my
evilly inventive, peripatetic mother and host of half-siblings. Under Magda’s
auspices, we’ve been dragged around the world to live in huts and palaces, but
we’ve never had a place to call our own.
I liked to think, since I moved into my late grandfather’s
Victorian home, that I was now in control of my life. Not seeing a lot of
difference some days, except now I had the house’s current owner breathing fire
down my neck whenever my half siblings got a little too creative.
Live bats in the belfry would qualify as too creative, on
the verge of dangerously destructive.
I had no idea where Mallard hid the cleaning equipment.
Since our nit-picky butler wasn’t here leading the bucket brigade, I had to
assume EG had either chased him to the Irish pub he liked on the corner, or she
had waited for him to leave on errands before populating the tower haunt she
called her room.
Elizabeth Georgiana, my youngest half sibling, is the reason
I ended up here in D.C. I was determined to give her the stable home I’d never
had. Some days, it seemed I should have chosen a Bedouin tent rather than a
mansion crammed with antiques. But I still had foolish hopes of suing for our
inheritance, so I was claiming squatter’s rights for the nonce. EG had to learn
to live like a civilized human being sometime.
“EG,” I said warningly, in my best Ruler of the Palace tone,
testing the knob on her door. At the tender age of nine, EG had deliberately
chosen the only chamber with an operating lock. I could dismantle it or take a
hatchet to the door, but I was trying to respect her privacy, as no one had
ever respected mine. The knob wasn’t locked — not necessarily a good sign.
“Round up the bats. I want to come in.”
The door cracked open to creepy Halloween music, and my
little Goth peered out. A black net blocked sight of most of the room. “They’re
a science project,” she announced. “Bats are good for the environment. They’re
not hurting anything.”
“Except insects and Graham’s patience. Where did you find
live bats and should I ask?”
“They’re in the tower attic. I just opened the trap door.
They’re my pets!” If she’d wear her black hair in braids, she’d resemble
Wednesday in the Addams family, except prettier. She has our mother’s slanted
cheekbones and long-lashed eyes. Today, she’d cut her hair in ragged spikes in
front and colored them purple.
“You can’t take bats to school, and you can’t create your
own haunted house until you own one. Get them out of there and close the trap
door, or I won’t tell you when Nick arrives.”
“He’s almost home?” she asked excitedly, forgetting to be a
sullen brat. “Did he tear out the turd’s eyes yet?”
Not a good visual. Yuck. “Bats, out,” I said firmly,
shutting the door before the creatures could take it as an invitation.
Having accomplished my parental duty, I trotted downstairs
to return to my professional tasks. I’m a virtual assistant, an invisible
researcher, and ghost writer for a number of professors and corporations, Amadeus
Graham currently being my primary client. It’s the perfect job for a
In addition to my normal duties, I was on a mission to save
my family’s fortune. Nick was about to return with the key part of the puzzle.
The business office I’d set up for myself in a previously
unused corner of the cellar can nowhere compare to the electronic paradise
Graham inhabited on the spacious third floor, but my needs were simpler than
his. I did not know, and didn’t care to guess, what our resident spook did that
required equipment rivaling the CIA’s. But as much as I appreciated his
allowing us to live here, I really wanted to pry him out of our lives before
his enemies dropped a bomb on us.
To that goal, I turned on my computer to check Nick’s
progress. I’m the eldest of the Hungarian Princess’s brood. At twenty-five, Nick
is next oldest. As a result of Magda’s numerous marriages and affairs, we all
have different fathers.
Nick currently works in a congressional office with EG’s
senator father, but he’s taken a leave of absence for a family matter, i.e.:
capturing Reginald Brashton the Snake — the executor who sold our
inheritance to Graham and absconded with all our funds.
Using GPS, I’d tracked the yacht that Reggie the Snake
bought with our money. We’d located the coke-sniffing bastard in the Caribbean
with his off shore bank account. Nick had flown down to retrieve what he could.
I didn’t know the full story of how he’d bagged Reggie — Nick is a lousy
communicator — but I doubt it involved law officers. That’s not how we
Self-sufficient is the politest word for Magda’s brood. Our
mother calls herself a journalist, but I’m pretty sure she’s a spy who likes
hooking up with power magnates. The result is that no two of us have the same
father, and there are a lot of us. Until recently, being the eldest, I’d been
the one taking care of my half-siblings.
No messages from Nick were in my box, but the GPS showed the
yacht had almost reached the Chesapeake. I had no notion of where one parked
yachts — I didn’t even drive a car. Licenses are hard to come by in the
deserts where I’d taught myself to drive in jeeps “borrowed” when the owners
I set my latest new toy on the desk — a smart phone in
which I’d disabled the tracking device to annoy Graham. I had lots of plans for
the money Reggie had better be coughing up, and I was hoping Nick would call soon.
And then I returned to work researching Broderick Media, a
conglomerate that Graham had taken an interest in, or a dislike to. I was deep
in the bowels — bad image for a corporation called BM — of corporate
infrastructure when the doorbell rang over my head. Since I wasn’t expecting
anyone and this was the reason we employed a butler, I ignored it.
“I’m inclined to turn her away,” the desk lamp said dryly.
“We have enough trouble without asking for more.”
I smacked the lamp in hopes of ringing Graham’s ears. He
wasn’t supposed to have his limitless supply of bugs in my office. “We have an
intercom, you know.” But I was already on my feet.
“You turned it off,” Graham reminded me.
Oh yeah, well, if he had to be technical about it… I hate
intrusion while I’m working. So I wasn’t predisposed to appreciate whoever had
dared the doorstep.
I didn’t linger to have words with a lamp and was already
half way up the stairs.
Graham must have used the intercom to inform our visitor
that someone was coming since they weren’t battering on the door or bell by the
time I reached the main floor. Or maybe they were admiring the trailing pothos
vine in the sphinx head that was our speaker. Graham scared off quite a few
solicitors with the talking plant. If his presence didn’t irritate me so much,
I’d have had to admit that his eccentric habits occasionally amused me.
I opened the door. I was tempted to slam it again — just
because I could and because sibling rivalry thrived — but I maturely
refrained. Someone in this family had to be the adult.
“Ana, it’s you! Looking lovely as ever,” Patra chirped on
the doorstep, before rolling her suitcase over my toe and pushing inside
without invitation. Her head swiveled as she tried to gobble up all the riches
that were our foyer. “And Magda grew up here? She gave this up why?”
“You could have called to ask,” I said, shutting the door
after noting with suppressed delight that the spider web was a little more
tattered. Strands of fake silk adorned Patra’s unnaturally gorgeous mop of
chestnut hair. “Obviously you talked to
to find the address.” It just hadn’t been me.
My half-sister, Cleopatra Llewellyn, had not only inherited
the tall, buxom good looks, but the gregariousness and extroverted personality
of our mother. Patra is also seven years younger than I am. I’d changed her
diapers, so we’re not exactly pals. I could admire her educated sophistication
now, but she’d always been one more task on my overflowing list.
“Tudor said we all own part of this place, so I thought I’d
check it out.” She peered into the stuffy horsehair parlor that was actually
neat without Nick here to trash it.
Since Graham had the whole house bugged, I could almost hear
him growling, and I hurried to correct her assumption. “We don’t own a thing.
The estate executor legally sold everything before absconding with the funds. We’re
taking the deal to court.” I threw that in with a large dollop of accusation
just to keep Graham on his toes, if he was listening. “Is that all that brings
you to DC?”
Sunny Patra didn’t do irony or sarcasm like the rest of us.
Not recognizing mine, she merely headed for the stairs. “No, I have a job offer
and an interview and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Is there room for
me or do I have to sleep with EG?”
For a very brief instant I enjoyed the image of bouncy Patra
moving in with cynical EG and her bats, but that was the old Ana — the
hermit who ran for cover because she knew a family arrival meant trouble.
I’m still a work in progress, but the mature, newly domestic
Ana bit the bullet and replied, “We have room. EG has the turret, Nick the
queen mother room. I sleep in the upstairs study. Beyond that, the choice is
Well, except the third floor, but Patra is a newly hatched
journalist. She’d figure it out.
“The place is a mausoleum!” she cried, peering into every
chamber on the second floor. I couldn’t wait until she reached EG’s. “Oh, look,
this one’s in rose and green, how 70’s! Do you think this belonged to Magda?”
She rolled her suitcase inside.
“In her teen years, maybe,” I acknowledged. Of course, Magda
had only been eighteen when she’d married Brody Devlin. Would she and my father
have taken another room, or maybe the third floor? I’d spent the first four
years of my life in this opulence. None of my half-siblings had a memory of our
grandfather. I was the only one with vague recollections of a stiff,
cigar-smoking man with a mustache.