Townsend woke when the carriage he was riding in hit a rock and became airborne. It crashed down hard on its wooden wheels, and kept right on going. He nearly fell out of his seat. He rubbed his eyes and saw he had spilled the file on Mrs. Blackwater’s account all over the floor of the carriage. He bent over and began picking them up, one by one, looking each over as he did in an attempt to keep them in order. But a gust of wind and rain came crashing through the curtains of the carriage and caught up several sheets of parchment. They quickly rustled straight out the window. He promptly shoved what he had into his messenger and leapt to his feet. He stuck his head out of the window and screamed head first into the wind and rain.
“Stop the carriage! Stop the carriage!”
The driver didn’t hesitate and brought the carriage to a halt. Townsend flung the door of the carriage open and ran out into the rain, chasing papers through the weeds. One document lodged in with some weeds, and he snatched it up into his messenger. Another stuck to a tree trunk, which he promptly recovered. But a third kept picking up pace with the wind and began to be carried into the forest. He ran at it full speed, but shortly into the woods his foot caught a tree root and he fell face first into the mud. He looked up as the wind carried the document higher up to the tops of the trees and further away from him.
Rising to his feet, he gathered his surroundings for the first time and found himself among the ugliest patch of plantation he’d ever seen. The trees were old, bending and twisting around each other. They reached towards the heavens in curves and wrinkles. Not one limb carried a leaf, and all appeared to be dead. The rain beat against their bark, and some of it broke off and fell to the ground. He could hear the sounds of bending wood and noticed that the forest moved about to and fro with the wind. The noise was akin to the rocking and creaking of a ship at sea. He took note that he saw no signs of life in these woods. It was as if when the forest died, the animals gave up and moved somewhere else like a human might do when the local economy runs dry.
His driver yelled at him from the carriage. “We should be moving, Mr. Townsend!”
“Right!” He yelled back and returned to his bumpy ride.
“We shouldn’t be out here after dark.” The driver told him. “Wolves.”
Townsend took one more look at the desolate forest and doubted even wolves could live in such an environment. They’re predators, which means they need prey, and it didn’t appear any prey could exist in this harsh climate. He ignored the old man’s superstitious ways and climbed into the carriage once more. He tapped the wall behind the driver, and feeling the vibration he set the horses in motion.
Townsend opened his luggage bag and dug around for a rag he had brought. He found it and began to wipe the mud from his face. The front of his clothes were a disaster, with mud from head to toe. He took off his boots and decided to make his change now, so that when he arrived in Wolfedale he could look respectable. Or, at least as respectable as he could. He only owned two suits. One was brown and one was gray, both were older than him and looked it as well. The style of the suits gave the age away, as did the worn appearance. By the time his father had outgrown and given them to him, they were already overused.
It was a daunting and frustrating task trying to change attire on the bumpy road leading into Wolfedale. He had been surprised to learn there was only one road in and out of Wolfedale, as he’d never heard of such a thing for a village that was this far inland. He wondered why no one had ever bothered to continue the road past Wolfedale, and that instead it simply stopped. Like a one way ticket on a train, the road reached its destination and called it a day.
His mind began recounting some of the information he had learned about Mrs. Blackwater. She was indeed rich, filthily so as Manchester had described her. It was none of her own accord or making, but through several inheritances. It was the number of inheritances that caught his eye early on, and sent his left eyebrow upward. Mrs. Blackwater had been married seven times. She had borne eight names in total since her birth, and Blackwater had finally remained her last. She was a Lankford at birth; but then married a Kinsman by age 14, Pennyworth at 18, Whittle at 21, Einstein at 23, Hansford at 27, and Frankfurt at 31. She had married her final husband, Frederick Blackwater, at age 36 and he had died when she was 40. There had been no letters of divorcement, each and every last of her husbands had died and left her a widow. And each suitor she had married left her a small fortune. She had more money than she would have ever been able to spend.
In the file, he had not found a certificate of birth, but had done the math and figured she was roughly 60 years old when she passed away. He still couldn’t determine the connection between her and Manchester, as it had seemed to him there was something personal involved by the way he had spoken of her. Based on her age, she likely would have been a proper age for marrying several times for Manchester, who had remained a bachelor his whole life and now had no one in his family to continue his name or take over the firm after he died. And knowing Manchester’s pension for greed, he could only imagine how desperate he may have been to vie for the affections of such a wealthy widow.
Perhaps Mrs. Blackwater considered herself in too high a station for the likes of Manchester, a working a man. True, he was a lawyer, but that only gained him so much status in life. And based on the amount of wealth Mrs. Blackwater had accumulated over the years, he was hardly in her circle.
Townsend had just zipped his pants, when the carriage arrived in Wolfedale. His driver knocked on the wall behind him, letting him know they had arrived. Townsend pulled back the curtains to take in a view of the village. The rain had let up some, but the damages were showing by way of flooded streets and running guttering along the rooftops of houses and buildings. There was a blacksmith, doctor, and oddly enough a well-established looking mortician’s office. He saw the courthouse and made a note of where it was as he’d be visiting it shortly.
The carriage pulled up outside Wolfe’s Howling, an Inn and tavern. This was where he’d be resting his head during his stay at Wolfedale. It looked old and dilapidated, a wooden sign hanging by a thread. The sign had the picture of a wolf standing on two legs, howling at a moon, and the name of the establishment was written in red beside the creature of the night.
He stepped out of the carriage and handed his driver the agreed upon payment. Immediately, the driver turned his carriage around and headed back from whence he had come. Townsend shook his head at the man’s superstitious attitude, and stepped into Wolfe’s Howling.
Immediately his senses were overwhelmed with the smell of smoke, alcohol and something rotten. His throat wanted to choke at the intensity of the smells, but he held it back and swallowed dry. He looked around and saw that there were several men already well wetted, and the bartender was cleaning shot glasses. There was a roaring fire in the oversized fireplace with carved wolves of stone on either side of it. An older woman stood in front of it, stoking the fire, and added another log. He nearly dried completely to the bone just by entering the doors.
He approached the bar. “Good evening, sir. I believe I have a room, reserved by a Luke Manchester.”