In The Walls: Business Secrets
One day, Matthew took his e-reader out and read a book under the willow tree found in the middle of the garden. The willow tree is old, and its branches form a curtain that touches the ground, supplying excellent cover for anyone who wants to hide behind them. Leading to this willow tree is a stone path. Matthew walks this path, one hand dragging along the many flowers his mother loves and the other clutching the e-reader close to his chest. On his back is a small backpack containing a blanket, some snacks, and a flashlight in case he loses himself in fiction and finds night has fallen just as he makes his way back. The sun is high in the sky as Matthew parts the willow’s branches, places down his backpack, lays out the blanket, and sits at the base of the tree. He turns on his e-reader just as he hears some voices from beyond the branches of the willow.
“Where should we start? The roses or the tulips?” One familiar voice says. It’s the voice of Tom Wellings, an old, wiry man Matthew’s father had hired to take care of the grounds and enormous garden.
“I was told to gather roses for the library. Which library do I take them too?” Another voice says. It’s the younger groundskeeper, whose name Matthew can’t seem to remember. He knows he’s a new hire, that much he remembers.
“The library chambers.”
Library chambers? Matthew and his family have lived in this house for thirteen years. There’s no such thing as a library chamber in the massive mansion. The young groundkeeper says as much, too.
“Oh, right. Right. I forgot,” Tom says. Matthew imagines he is scratching his head. “You’re new. You don’t know about the secret staircase, hidden beneath the tool shed. They led to a massive full of business records and business-related books. Quite a boring place, but I don’t run the place. I just work here. Get those roses quickly, and I’ll show you how to open it. But you cannot tell anyone you hear? I mean that. It stays between you and me.”
Secret… staircase? Matthew sat frozen under the tree until they were gone. He searches his memory, trying to think up a time when either of his parents mentioned the fact there was a staircase hidden under the groundkeeper’s tool shed. As far as his memory recalled, they never did.
As silently as he could, Matthew got up, laying his e-reader on top of his backpack, and crept through the branches of the willow trees. He followed the groundkeepers from a distance, being sure not to make any noise that would give him away. He watched the younger groundkeeper pick roses, wearing leather gloves, and tie them together using a thick blue ribbon. At the back of the property, towards the edge of the garden, the tool shed stood. Calling it a tool shed was a vast underrepresentation of what it looked like. It wasn’t a mere shed; it was a large rectangular building filled with gardening tools and giant equipment. Also contained within this shed was a small, one-person plane. Tom Wellington moved to the building’s side door. His thin, short body moved through it with ease. The younger groundkeeper- Matthew was still trying to figure out his name- looked behind him before going through the door. Matthew ran a hand through his thick brown hair and heaved a sigh. Why was he doing this?
Thinking about it, it made sense that his parents would have secret rooms. His father, John, was the CEO of a financial enterprise, and his mother, Karen, was the co-chair on the board of a trendy fashion company. If they had secret rooms, it likely contained important documents and industry secrets, just as the groundkeeper said. But why would the gardeners have access? Were they in on it too? But if they were in on it, why wasn’t Matthew?
John clarified that he wanted his son to take over his business someday. Discussions over John’s plan to integrate his teenage son into the business were prevalent over the dinner table. Matthew tried once to tell him he had no interest in the business, that he was more interested in fashion, but his father wouldn’t listen. If his father wanted him in this business, why didn’t he know about the staircase?
Whatever Matthew’s parents were hiding, it was underneath that building. Matthew took a breath to steady his nerves. With a thousand questions and no answers, he went inside.