I never did take advice very seriously. Especially when they were issued by old man Taggard, a man of some mystery that we all, adults and children alike wanted to know about.
Everyone in the street knew him as he had lived in the almost derelict mansion at the end of the cul-de-sac forever, way longer than anyone else in the neighbourhood had. In fact, it was rumoured he had owned all the land around and sold it off bit by bit over time, the reason why there were so many houses of varying age in the estate.
Ours was one of the older houses, a few doors up from it. We were close enough to observe Taggard’s habit, like sitting on the porch on an old swing chair in the afternoons, to the late-night wanderings in the street. Some said he was accompanied by the ghost of his long-dead wife, which led to stories being told of the house he lived in being haunted.
As children, we had been brought up on a diet of TV shows such as ‘The Munsters’ and ‘The Addams Family’, and had invented our own make-believe show called ‘The Taggard Mansion’, the house with ghosts, and the neighborhood center for strange goings-on.
And as children were wont to do, we had to ‘investigate’.
There was a ‘gang’ even though we didn’t refer to it as such, about seven of us who lived in nearby houses, and all of whom had very active imaginations. We also met in the cubby house out the back of our house to plan forays to find out whether the rumours were true. The thing is we never got very far as he seemed to know when we were sneaking in and scared us off, so for years, the rumours remained just that, rumours.
But as grown-ups, and by that I mean, middle teens, our plans became bolder and more sophisticated, based on a whole new breed of TV shows, where the seemingly impossible was no longer that. And Andy Boswell, my older brother’s best friend, his father was a private detective, or so he told us, and he had managed to ‘secure’ some of his father’s tools of the trade; a camera on the end of a wire that could connect to a cell phone, a listening device that could hear through walls, and in-ear communicators. We could now, if we were close enough, see under doors, and hear if anyone was in. We could all keep in touch, though I couldn’t see how this would help.
But a plan was formulated. All seven of us had a role to play. My brother Ron and Delilah, his girlfriend, were taking point, whatever that meant, Andy and I were going to take point, while Jack, Jill, and Kim were going to run distraction. The theory was, they’d make enough noise to keep the old man occupied chasing them. No one had been inside the house, ever. Andy and I were going to be the first.
Andy had drawn up a plan and it was up on the wall. He had charted the house, and had a very accurate picture of the house’s footprint, where doors and windows were, likely entrance points, including a hatchway down into what he assumed was a basement, though he preferred to call it the dungeon, and a layout of the grounds. Apparently under the undergrowth were paths and gardens, even a large fountain that once graced the grounds of the three-story mansion made of sandstone, and built sometime during the middle of the 1800s.
Andy had done some research, mostly from old newspapers, and also discovered that the old man had once been married, they had a half dozen children, three of whom had died, the others scattered around the world. It explained why no one ever visited the place.
The distraction team would be going in through the front gate, easy enough because it had come off its hinges and just needed a shove to open. The old man usually emerged from the house via the driveway, or what was once a drive where cars could enter one side of the property, stop under a huge canopy, and emerge onto the road further along. But it’s overgrown stare, the width of the pathway was now about six feet. The fact it was once an amazing feature was the roadside lights, now all but disappearing behind the undergrowth.
Andy had found a photograph in the paper of it, and it had looked magnificent, as had the gardens, the overhanging canopy, and all the lights. To think such magnificence was now lost. And having seen it for what it once was, it was not hard to imagine any number of scenarios, my favourite, rescuing a damsel in distress from the tower. Yes, it even had a tower, two, in fact, at each end of the house. My brother always said I had an overactive imagination.
Andy and I would be going in by the less-used car exit, and heading for the left side of the building where Andy said were several floor-to-ceiling windows that looked to him like French doors. Of course, none of us knew what French doors were, and my brother cut Andy short when he tried to explain.
Failing that, there was a door at the rear that seemed to be open, and we’d try that next. We would get into position, advise the distraction team, and the operation would be a go. The only debate was about what time of the day were we going to do it. My brother preferred late in the afternoon. Andy said it was better at dawn, or soon after if we were looking for maximum confusion about the target.
Dawn, confusion, tactics, target, Andy was in his element. He was going to be a spy when he grew up. My brother said he would never grow up, but then, my brother said I was a dreamer and would never amount to anything. We ignored his advice, well, we pretty much ignored everything he said.
We were going in at dawn.
At 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, we gathered at the cubby house ready for action. We all took a communicator and put it in our ears, and then had fun saying stupid stuff, and hearing it through the earpieces. It was weird but added an exciting element to the adventure. I know my heart was beating faster in anticipation. Andy was pretending to be cool and failing. I suspected my brother and Delilah had other plans when we left them alone in the cubby house. The distraction team was ready to go.
Shortly after the sun came up, it was cool and the air still. It was going to be a hot day, and in that first hour, everything was almost perfect. It seemed a waste to do anything but let the early morning serenity settle over us. Not today. Andy and I went to our position, slowly feeling our way through the bushes, taking bearings from the light poles, and every now and then seeing the guttering and what looked to be a concrete path. Beyond that was once a garden, and I tried, more than once, to imagine what it was like.
In my ear I could hear the others in the distraction team setting up at the start of the driveway, ready to go. We reached our position, about twenty feet from the so-called French windows, the view into the house blocked by curtains, but beyond that, what we could see was darkness inside the house. Taking in the whole side of the house, there were no lights on behind any of the windows. If we didn’t know better, we could have assumed the house was empty.
I heard Andy say, “Ready. Start making noise.”
A minute later we could both hear the distraction team in the distance and through the communicators. It took two minutes before we heard the old man, yelling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Their job done, getting him out of the house, all they had to do was retreat.
Time for Andy and I to go.
Working on the basis that no one else was at the house, and the fact we had no evidence there was, we were not overly worried about making a stealthy approach. I could hear in my earpiece, the gasping of those in the distraction team, having just made it outside the gate, and to tell us the old man had stopped them at the gate. I doubt he had been running, but his yelling was just as effective.
That had stopped, and a sort of silence fell over the area.
We were now at the French doors, and Andy produced another tool that he’d forgotten to tell us about, a lock pick. The fact it didn’t take long to unlock the door told me he was either very talented, or the lock was old and presented no problems. Either way, he opened the door and ushered me in.
I brushed the curtains aside for him to follow, then moved in as he followed, closing the door behind him.
I’d taken five steps before I heard a woman’s voice say. “Uncanny good luck shines upon me. My knights in shining armour. You’ve come to rescue me, no?”
© Charles Heath 2020-2023