“Well. Here it is.” The uncertainty showing through the realtor’s thick Ukranian accent was justified.
“It’s not much is it? Ms. Staro…” I looked down at the meaningless name on the business card I’d been fidgeting with.
“Americans usually call me, Yena.” She shook her head. “Only part of my name they can pronounce. No. Is not much.”
I stepped out of the car and I heard her close her door behind me. I’d never seen anything so run down. Wooden planks formed a walkway to and from the ricketiest wooden bridge I’d ever seen. The only building on the tiny island looked more like an old barn than a house. Hard to believe anyone had ever lived there.
“Has been no one here since 1918,” Yena said as we walked out to the island. “Was soldier, I think, who never came home from war.”
I caught her arm as one of her heels pushed through the slats on the bridge and she lost her balance. “Better watch your step,” I said, grateful for my faithful Boks. “1918, huh? That’s almost 100 years. What about the owner?”
“Current owner never been to Republic of Karelia before.”
“Wow,” I mused. “I couldn’t imagine buying land I’d never seen.”
When we reached the grey shambles, Yena pulled out an ancient looking key, unlocked an equally ancient lock, and swung open the door. A pungent musty odor seeped out, thick on my nose and lungs. I coughed and pulled my sweater up over mouth.
There wasn’t much in the place. A table stood curiously in the middle of the main room, devoid of any other furniture. I walked over to it and tugged at it. Just as I suspected, it was anchored securely to the floor. A quick check of the notebook in my pocket told me what I needed. I walked around to the window side of the table and felt beneath it, shuddering at the cobwebs that probably hadn’t seen a spider in more than ninety years.
“Perhaps you could tell me what is your interest to buy this place?” Yena said, watching my actions intently.
“Oh, I’m not interested in buying it,” I said.
A flip of a catch and I pulled the lever that had been fashioned to look like the side of the table. Two giant deadbolts slid beneath the floor with a hollow clack as they locked into place. Yena’s mouth dropped open and her eyes went wide.
“I’m selling it.” I smiled. “Give me a hand please.”
Together we lifted the table, a struggle at first, but as soon as the hinges moved, it opened pretty easily. A set of stairs folded down and touched the basement floor beneath us as the table rested on its side. I pulled a pen light from another pocket and ventured down, Yena at my heels.
“You are current owner?” she asked, her voice now full of mystery.
“Not yet,” I said. “My father is, but I will be by the time you sell it.”
At the bottom of the stairs, a small door opened into a radio room. A large hand-crank generator stood in one corner. Two huge boxes filled with vacuum tubes stood side by side with a small table and chair in front of them. Knobs and dials everywhere. I couldn’t imagine they all had a purpose. A lamp, a keypad, and what was probably a crude microphone of some kind were the only things on the table. A clumsy headset hung on a hook from one of the boxes.
“How can this be?” Yena asked. “How did you know of this?”
“The man who never came back from the war? That was my great-grandfather.”
“Is true? You are part Russian?”
“No,” I said. I looked at all the radio equipment and then back at her. “Neither was my great-grandfather.”
She stared at me in silence as it sank in. I winked and started back up the stairs.
“Make sure you show the secret room when you show the place,” I said. “It should make a big difference in the price.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde