The George Washington Investments firm occupied a sprawling, converted plantation mansion. Joel’s first-floor office, with its high ceiling and Persian rug floor, had at one time been one of the mansion’s multiple parlors, Tucker supposed. It wasn’t like any corporate office that Tucker had ever seen.
But then, neither was the rest of the building.
The doorway of Joel’s office was just a wide open space, with no physical barrier. Tucker stepped across the threshold, off the Persian rug, and onto the hardwood floor of the main hallway of the mansion.
He came immediately upon a large staircase with an ornate balustrade. He had briefly noticed both on his way in.
He was about to walk past the stairs, when the sound of footfalls came from directly above him, on the second floor.
Two distinct thumps. Then silence.
Tucker paused, feeling a slight chill in the stuffy air.
He glanced up the staircase. He could see only to the first landing, where a large antique mirror permitted a partial view of the next landing up.
Tucker looked in the mirror for any sign of movement. He held his breath. All he could hear, though, was Joel talking to a client in his office across the hall.
Seeing nothing and hearing no more, Tucker continued on toward the main exit.
The main foyer of the house had been converted to a small lobby. There was no receptionist or security guard. There were two chairs and a sofa for visitors. A glass-topped coffee table was covered with recent copies of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated, arranged in a fan pattern.
Tucker heard a creaking sound, and looked up. High above his head was a large crystal chandelier.
The chandelier was moving, just a little, from one side to the other.
A house this size would have drafts, Tucker thought, its own interior weather patterns, practically.
There was a rational explanation.
Without lingering any further, Tucker hurried out the main exit of the building.
On the other side of the front door, Tucker found himself on a long covered portico. A series of four doric columns supported a white wooden awning, two stories above his head.
The air out here was humid in the late May sunshine. Also thick with the scent of pollen.
No wonder. A row of blooming magnolia trees lined the front perimeter of the main yard, just before the rural highway that connected the old plantation with the present century. Blooming rose bushes rimmed the front porch. Bees and wasps buzzed everywhere.
Hay fever weather.
Tucker started as something thumped against the front door, from the inside of the house.
Joel, perhaps? Had the general manager followed him out, for some reason?
Tucker stood still, waiting for the doorknob to turn, waiting for another thump.
It was just the old architecture settling, he decided. Nothing more.
The parking lot was a cleared and blacktopped rectangle beside the mansion. It didn’t take much suggestibility to imagine this space being used as a parking area for horse-drawn carriages in another era. From the carriages there would have emerged men in frock coats and top hats, women in crinoline dresses and whalebone corsets.
Attended by slaves, of course. This had once been a plantation, and Virginia had been the heart of the old Confederacy.
A lost world, Tucker thought. He started his car, and reached for the knob that controlled the air conditioning.
Although he would be back here in two weeks, he had had enough of George Washington Investments—and this plantation house—for a single day.