Hugo Trench braced himself against the back of his chair, and his fingers hovered over his laptop keys when he heard banging on his windows. He stared across the room, wondering who would be foolish or desperate enough to be traveling at night during a blizzard?
Ten hours ago, Hugo reluctantly drove upstate from New York City. He nearly slid off the snow-covered roads few times. Although he didn’t want to drive up, he had no choice. His agent and his publisher were pressuring him to rewrite the last few chapters of his book. They complained that the description of the murder scene lacked realism. Hugo struggled for months, trying to write a plausible ending to his mystery. Perhaps the critics were right when they reported that his last three books were predictable and unimaginative. The rumors spread throughout the publishing industry that the once master of the murder mystery genre had lost his touch.
Exiling himself to his secluded cabin, away from the city’s distractions, usually settled his mind. But this time was different. Writer’s block grabbed his mind, and it wouldn’t let go.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Hugo squinted at the window.
“Who in God’s name is that?”
No one knew the cabin’s location except his agent, Linda, and she wouldn’t reveal its whereabouts. She emphasized no interruptions. The success of this novel was too crucial to both their careers.
Hugo reached inside his desk for his gun. Tip-toeing across the hardwood floor, he never took his eyes off the windows.
“ I warn you, I have a gun! You better move on!”
Hugo placed his eye against the peephole.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
What he saw disturbed him. A man covered in ice and snow used his forehead to bang against the window.
Hugo’s hand shook as he reached for the lock. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and upper lip. Taking a deep breath, he yanked open the door.
“Are you crazy? Stop doing that!”
Hugo reached out and pulled the stranger inside. The half-frozen the young man shuffled in. While brushing off the snow and ice, Hugo noticed the stranger’s red hands and crooked fingers.
“Who are you?”
The stranger’s brow furrowed, his speech slurred.
“Hudson? Well, Hudson, let’s remove your clothes before you become frostbitten.”
As Hugo removed Hudson’s clothes, he studied him. He looked to be in his early twenties, with brown eyes and hair. His enlarged pupils, rapid breathing, and cool and clammy skin told Hugo that Hudson was going into shock.
“Let’s get you warmed up, Hudson.”
The two men walked arm in arm until Hugo plopped Hudson onto the couch across from the fireplace.
“I’ll wrap you in this blanket, then I’ll make us a cup of tea.”
Hudson stared vacantly at the fireplace. When Hugo returned with the teacups, a little color had returned to Hudson’s face.
“Let me put your feet up.”
Hugo picked up the overstuffed pillow from the end of the coach and paused. For a moment, he imagined pressing the pillow against Hudson’s face. Afterward, he’d fling Hudson’s lifeless body down the ravine. The authorities would think Hudson lost his footing and slipped down the gorge, and froze to death. He’d be just one of many frozen bodies they’d find after the Spring thaw. Hugo would know what it was like to commit a murder. He’d have personal experience and could write what he knew. Would that help him write his final chapters?
Hugo slapped his forehead. “That’s insane,” he said, shaking his head.
Hugo sighed. An hour near the fire’s warmth, Hudson stopped shivering, his teeth stopped chattering, and his breathing returned to normal. He coughed and sat up. Hudson shook his head, looked around. His eyes widened when he noticed Hugo.
“W-What am I doing here?”
Hudson blinked and squinted, trying to bring Hugo into focus.
“That’s what I’ve been waiting to ask you. What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t you bring me –”
“No, I mean, how did you find this cabin?” Hugo walked over to the bar. “This place is miles away from any main road and deep in the woods. How did you manage to find it?”
“Hey, where are my clothes?” Hudson asked as he tucked in the blanket edges. “You’re not funny or nothing, are you?”
“I took no pleasure in removing your clothing. Mr.Hudson, I tried to keep you from getting frostbite.”
Hudson fell back against the couch.”Phew, thanks, Mr…Mr?”
“Hugo. Hugo Trench.”
“Well, Mr. Trench, what are you doing alone in a cabin in the woods?”
“I’m a writer. Hudson, this is my retreat. Sometimes, I need solitude to clear my head, so I can write. Tell me, what brings you to this out-of-the-way place?”
Hudson stretched and rubbed his hands as he leaned closer to the fireplace. “I was driving to Buffalo when my car got stuck in the snow. I got out and started walking. I got lost. I saw the lights from this cabin, so I took a chance and walked over.”
Hugo held up his glass. “You want one?”
“No. sir. I don’t drink.”
“Too bad. It’ll warm you up..”
“Not like hot chocolate, Mr. Trench.”
“That’s funny, sir?”
“Nah, it’s just that I knew someone who’d say the same thing. I haven’t heard it in a long time, that’s all.”
Hudson nodded. ” Got any hot chocolate?”
Hugo took a sip from his drink. “You say you drove up here? Where did you drive from?”
“West Hartford, Connecticut.”
“Nice town. I stopped there on a book tour many years ago.” Hugo smiled fondly. “But, Hudson, it’s been snowing all day. How did you think you could drive in this weather?”
“My Jeep did pretty okay until about an hour ago.”
“I thought you said you drove a car?”
“Oh, did I say car? I meant a Jeep. A person would have to be pretty crazy to drive a car in this kind of weather.” Hudson chuckled nervously.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. By the way, where were you headed?”
“Buffalo, New York.”
“Okay, Mr. Trance. I know you’re a writer and all, and I appreciate you taking me in, but that’s my business.”
Hugo lifted his glass. “You’re absolutely right, Mr.Hudson. It is your business. But I’d bet you dollars for donuts a young lady involved.”
Hudson smiled. “Yeah, well, I better be going,” He said as he stood.
“Going? Going where? You can’t go anywhere in this storm.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to accept my hospitality until daylight.”.
Hudson looked at Hugo and nodded.
“All my clothes are in my ca-jeep.”
“No worries. In this establishment, we don’t put on airs. I’m sure I have a pair of pants and a shirt to fit you. I‘ll give you a washcloth and a towel. In the meantime, let’s see if we can rustle up some hot chocolate. I think instant will have to do, though. Come with me into the kitchen. I’ll grill us some steaks.”
. “Man. I am starving. I have eaten nothing all day, Mr. Trench.”
As Hugo offered the mashed potatoes, he said, ” That’s not good. Even twenty-year-olds need to eat. You can’t live off of love, Hudson.”
Hudson chuckled. As he spooned out the peas, he asked, “Do you still think you need that gun, Mr.Trench?”
Hugo instinctively touched his pocket. “How did you know?”
“I can see its imprint in your pocket.”
“Do I need the protection?” Hugo asked.
“Not from me, Mr. Trench,” Hudson chuckled. “Besides, you couldn’t get it out of your pocket fast enough if I meant to hurt you.”
They stared at each other. “Let’s eat,” Hugo said.
After dinner, the two men sat in the living room. Hugo offered Hudson a Cohiba Black Supremo cigar as he sipped his snifter of brandy.
“You know, Mr. Trench, scientists say that smoking after dinner increases your chances of getting bowel or lung cancer.’
Hugo took a puff, then looked at the cigar and smiled. “Thanks for the information, Hudson. But no one lives forever.”
“Yeah, I guess so. May I use your bathroom?”
“Of course. Down the hall.second door on the left.”
Hugo added another log to the fireplace. He walked over to Hudson’s pile of clothes. Picking them up, a folded piece of paper dropped out. Hugo read the note, then stuffed it into his pocket.
“Is there anything else I can get for you, Hudson?”
“No, I just want to talk.”
“That’s good. Earlier, you said you found my cabin by accident?”
“Yes, I had to abandon my car and walked.”
As Hugo removed the paper from his pocket, he asked, “ Then how do you explain this. A detailed map from the main road to my house?”
Hudson stood up.” What did you do, search my pockets?”
“No. the paper fell out when I went to pick up your clothes.”
Hugo stood up and drew his gun. “Who in the Hell are you?”
“I’m your son. Don’t you know what the name Hudson means, Mr. Writer?”
Not waiting for an answer, Hudson continued. The son of Hugh.”
“My son? No way. No one ever told me I had a son.”
“No? During that stopover in West Hartford during your book tour, you had a one-night stand, didn’t you?”
Hugo thought for a moment. ”Sabrina,” he whispered.
“Yes, that was my mother.”
“What do you mean, ’was’?”
Hudson’s eyes filled with tears. “My Mom died a year ago. I found this letter while going through her things.”
Hudson handed Hugo a letter addressed to him postmarked January 9, 2000.
“She wrote it but never sent it to you.”
As Hugo read it. Hugo’s shoulders slumped as he read the letter.
“I take it, you’ve read this?”
“Yes, I debated whether to find you. As you can see, Mom wanted me to.”
“May I keep this letter?”
“Why not. I wrote it to you.”
“Thanks,” Hugo said, putting the letter in his flannel shirt pocket.
Hugo placed his arm around Hudson’s shoulder.
“Let’s talk, son.”