Handyman Wanted. Part 5

I know, I know, don’t nag me 😀

This was intended to be a one or two part short story but seems to have taken on a life of its own. If you’ve been following, you’ll know that a young handyman responded to a peculiar advert to utilise his skills and renovate a remote property. The condition was he would have no contact with the outside world for three months. As usual I can’t stick to one genre so this has a smidgen of romance, a bit of mystery, murder and anything else you want to throw into the mix.

My first thoughts were anger at being left in this position by someone who I believed had let jealousy take over until his mind had become twisted. Bill, his biological father had been a true friend to me, and in normal circumstances Arnold could have been the equivalent of step-family. How did Judy fit into all this? The maniac had mentioned her as a relation through marriage but this was the woman I had grown to love. Somehow I felt Bill would be delighted if his daughter agreed to become my wife, but she was away and I was incarcerated in a cellar in her house at the mercy of a crazy man.

When the light from the basement above flickered out, I realised I would need to conserve the battery in my torch if I was to have any chance of finding a way out and escaping. I made my way back to the lift area in the forlorn hope it could take me to freedom but was disappointed. The tiny glowing buttons showed it was stuck at basement level for the floor above, and I assumed by simply blocking the doors from closing, Arnold had made sure it couldn’t descend to where I was held captive.

Would anyone think to sound the alarm if I wasn’t seen for a few days? Would Judy assume I’d upped and left now most of the work was finished? When I first came down to the sub- basement I remembered thinking no one had been down here for years, so they wouldn’t think to look here anyway. What would happen when she came back and found Arnold there? Meanwhile I was stuck without food, light or water and had no idea how long the battery in my torch would last. My watch showed me it was past ten o’clock at night. I had been working almost non-stop since around six that morning and as I slumped against the wall, unbelievably, I dozed off.

I woke a few hours later with a stiff neck and it took me a few minutes to remember where I was and what had happened. Then the fog in my brain lifted and I cursed myself for being all kinds of a fool. Switching on the torch, I made my way back across the cellar to where I had left my toolbox. I always kept a small bottle of water in there which would slake my thirst, and then I could get on and solve the problem. I was a handyman, and had come down here to fix the lights.

I worked steadily for a while by torchlight then came the moment of truth. Throwing the master switch the whole sub-basement was flooded with electric light. Not only that, but the small hole in the ceiling about me showed the lift wasn’t the only possible exit. Using the broom handle I poked away until I was covered with fragments of plaster and splintered wood, but had made the hole big enough to squeeze through. There was nothing to stand on, but plenty of wire which I hoped would be strong enough to hold my weight. Throwing an end over the exposed joist I gave a sharp tug and was relieved when it held firm. Fortunately this was one area of the basement where I’d had to replace some floorboards, so they were strong and secure.

Taking a deep breath I leapt up, and then climbed monkey-like into the opening above. It was a wiggle but I managed to pull myself through the space and drag my toolbox up after me until I was lying on the floor with a means of escape only a few feet away. As I approached the door, I heard voices coming from the other side.

‘Let go of me, Arnold or I’ll have you locked up for the rest of your life. Fraud is one thing, but kidnap is something else. You won’t get away with it.’

It was Judy’s voice. She sounded more angry than in pain, and with nothing to hide behind I worried I would lose the element of surprise, and risk both of us ending up as captives. Suddenly I remembered the secret passage where I had driven the trucks through when we were originally clearing out the basement. I sprinted to the corner, found the switch and just managed to duck out of sight when the doors opened. Peering through a crack I could see Judy with her hands tied in front of her, and the loathsome Arnold pushing her forward.

‘You sign everything over to me, or you stay down here until you do.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. You know Bill changed his Will when he found out you’d been cheating him. You broke his heart after all he did for you. You were adopted but he couldn’t have been fairer if you had been his own blood. If you’d been a man and apologised, he would probably have forgiven you. He’d turn in his grave if he thought I was handing it all over to you. Now undo these cuffs before you make things worse for yourself.’

‘No one will find you. If you don’t want to do it the easy way, you can stay here until you do and I’ll forge your signature anyway.’

‘The staff will be looking for me. They know I was due back today. And Frank will be here too. Now for the last time, undo these ropes and let me go.’

‘The staff have been taken care of, and don’t expect any help from that imposter. He’s already locked up underground – in fact I don’t think I’ll bother with you anymore. Such a shame you had an unfortunate accident snooping around in the dark. Pity I was too late to save you so I happened to inherit everything.’

As Judy’s scream rent the darkness I acted instinctively and shone my torch directly into Arnold’s eyes, temporarily blinding him. Pulling Judy to the side I turned back to face him, just in time to see the glint of metal from the knife he was thrusting towards me. Backing away I tried to reason with him but the madness in his eyes showed there was no chance of normality as he continued to try and stab me.

I had nothing to defend myself, and my toolbox was way out of reach as he backed me into a corner. All I had was my torch but his eyes had adjusted so it was guiding him rather than hindering.

‘Look out.’ Judy’s voice made me spin round, just as he lunged towards me. The knife nicked my arm and I jumped to the side to protect it as he threw his full bodyweight at me. Another scream split the darkness, followed by an almighty crash as Arnold plunged through the hole in the floor which had provided my escape route from the sub-basement. For a moment there was an eerie silence.

Once I’d released Judy’s hands she accompanied me down to the lower basement and I threw the switch to light up the area. A gruesome sight met our eyes. Apart from a few scrapes and bruises, Arnold might have escaped serious injury had he not impaled himself onto the upright prongs of a pitchfork. It looked as if he had died instantly. I wasn’t sure how Judy would react, but after looking for a few seconds at the horrific scene, she buried her head in my shoulder, and asked me to phone the police.

‘Are you sure, Judy? I know he’s caused you problems but won’t that make your situation worse?’

‘This last trip had everything sorted, Frank. Perhaps Arnold had arranged to meet me here so we could discuss the final court ruling. He must have been wandering around waiting for my return, and didn’t realise there were areas which were still being renovated. I came down to see how you were getting on and we saw him lose his footing and fall through the gap. Isn’t that what happened?’

I looked at her for a moment, and there were a million thoughts going through my mind.

‘I was to blame, Judy,’ I said. ‘It was probably me unexpectedly switching on the lights which startled him and made him fall. He wouldn’t have known I had repaired the fuse box. It can be dangerous being near a handyman. Come upstairs and I’ll make that call.’

© Val Portelli September 2021

Well, we got there in the end. Hope you enjoyed it, and don’t forget you can find all my books here if you want to read more: https://author.to/ValPortelli

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