716 Teldile Street, Chapel River, Connecticut
Night was falling as Lily drove to Harte’s house on the outskirts of campus. She had left the radio on the last time she was in the car; it had been prattling away beneath her notice until part of a news report caught her attention.
“...And in news of the weird, an Australian merchant ship in the Southern Pacific has reported the sudden appearance of a previously uncharted island. The mysterious island is located near the so-called ‘pole of inaccessibility,’ the point in the Pacific farthest from any land. At least until now. Sailors on the Australian vessel claim to have seen a city on the island, but the United Nations Security Council has declared the entire region off-limits to landing until a team led by researchers from Miskaton...”
Lily jabbed at the off switch. Every time something odd occurred lately, she had the sickening feeling that it was her fault.
She slowed to a halt when she neared the street number Harte had given her. In the months she had worked with Harte, he had never invited her or any of his other grad students to his home; it wasn’t the sort of thing he’d think of doing. She looked up at the gables and trim work on the Victorian mansion that matched Harte’s address. Who knew that books about the psychological ramifications of applied information theory were so popular, she thought.
She walked up an intricately inlaid stone path to the front door, a work of art in carved oak and cut crystal. Looking for the doorbell, she found instead a panel of multiple buttons, each with a neat calligraphic label beside it. At first she thought that this must be a subdivided home with multiple residents, but then she read the labels:
“I am expected by Dr. Harte, and I am requesting entry.”
“I am not expected by Dr. Harte, but he knows me and I am requesting entry.”
“I am not expected by Dr. Harte, and he does not know me, but I am requesting to speak with him. (Salespersons/evangelists please select this option.)”
“I am here to meet with Dr. Harte for a secret and possibly illegal purpose.”
The last was written in ballpoint on a piece of bright white tape stuck over an older label. Lily shook her head. Of course Harte wouldn’t feel that a simple doorbell could provide enough information. She tore the new label off (underneath it, the older label read “I am here to burglarize these premises”), and pushed the last button. A complex series of chimes and bells rang behind the door, and a moment later it opened to reveal Harte in a flannel shirt and faded jeans.
“Come in, come in,” he urged, and she stepped into the front hall.
She handed him the label from the doorbell. “Advertising what you’re doing probably isn’t the best way to keep it secret.”
“I just wanted to be sure you knew which button to press. I was intending to remove it after your arrival.” He closed the door behind her.
“It could just have said, ‘I am Lily Breckenridge.’”
“I did not think that the fact that I was expecting you should be a matter of public knowledge.”
Lily tried to wrap her mind around that, gave up, and looked around her. The opulence of the exterior of the house was matched by the decor inside. “Nice place you’ve got.”
Harte turned and beckoned her to follow. “Actually, if you mean ‘got’ in the traditional sense of ‘own’ or ‘possess,’ it would be more accurate to say that this residence is owned and maintained by the Harte Family Trust, which permits me to live here. I am of the opinion that the benefits of having assets are outweighed by the tedium of looking after them, so I have someone else do both for me. But as to the primary intent of your comment, thank you.” He led her up a grand stair with elaborately carved banisters, and opened a door leading into a book-lined study.
A sunny-faced woman who looked to be in her late forties or early fifties was shelving books on the other side of the room. She turned at their entry and raised an eyebrow at Harte.
“What?” Harte said, sounding slightly startled. “Oh, yes, Ms. Breckenridge, this is Nina, who acts in various capacities in my home, including but not limited to...”
Nina interrupted him, and extended a hand to Lily. “Nina Rodgers. Housekeeper, librarian and translator for the general public.”
“She has an MLS, so she is actually a librarian,” interjected Harte. “I wouldn’t let anyone else touch my books and files.”
Lily smiled and took the hand. “Lily Breckenridge. I serve pretty much the same function at the lab, but I’m still working on the degree. Good to meet you.”
Nina nodded. “Nice to meet you too. Glad to know he’s got someone looking after him out there as well.”
Harte coughed. “Yes. Well. If you’ll excuse us, Ms. Breckenridge and I need to talk about a patient matter.”
“As you like, Doctor. It’s about time for me to head home anyway.” She moved toward the door. “Just remember to eat tonight, all right? I don’t want to get here tomorrow and find your dinner cold on the counter again.”
“Oh, yes, about that. I will most likely be going away for a few days, possibly a week or two, starting tomorrow.” Lily looked at Harte in surprise.
“You could have told me about that before I stocked the refrigerator, Doctor,” Nina said. “Ah, well, it won’t be the first time that we’ve made an impromptu donation to the soup kitchen. Do you have contact information for where you’ll be staying?”
Harte rummaged around in a drawer of his desk and came up with a blocky cellular phone, which Lily estimated to be at least ten years out of date. “Does this still work?” Harte asked.
Nina sighed. “Yes, we still pay the bills on it, though heaven knows why.”
“All right, you can reach me on this then.”
Nina reached into her pocket and pulled out a slimline cell. Flipping it open, she said, “Yes, I’ve got the number here. But I’m sure the battery in that brick of yours is dead by now. Be sure to charge it and take the adapter with you.”
“Whatever he’s doing, look after him,” Nina said to Lily. She turned to Harte. “Take care, Doctor. I hope you have a good trip.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 7.3]