I Found A Knife

A Story site from EldonHughes

Chapter Nine --
1956, again.

I’ll tell you where it all went to hell, boy.  There, in that house.  That Lawrence was a weak fool.” 

Boone Singer rolled his wheelchair away from the table. I followed him out to the low stone wall overlooking the back lawn.

You mean for letting his wife die like that?”  I didn’t understand him.  The scathing look on his face told me I was more right than I thought.  I really didn’t understand him.

Hell, no, boy.  For killing himself.  We had it good.  The years after the war were good to all of us.  The town was ours to run as we saw fit; to grow and shape.  We decided who prospered, who succeeded and who got the hell out.  Sure, the night Madelyn died was inconvenient, but we were getting past that.  Things settled down. Business as usual was back to being business as usual.  Then that fool had to go and kill himself, and in such an ugly, bloody fashion that everyone had to talk about it.  He cost me a great deal of position and money, and a lot of nice young bits, I might add.”

Near as I could tell, the only difference between this conversation and going over the falls in a barrel is that you don’t have to fight the urge to scream when you’re going over the falls.  What the….?

“… young bits?”  I started.

Girls, boy!  Fine young healthy bits of fun and nonsense.  That’s what all this was about.  Sweet young things at the beginning of womanhood…. And the end of any good thing I ever had.  All because that damn Lawrence couldn’t control his own women.”

My daughter Victoria, worked for Lawrence at The Progress.  She was interning for a year, before leaving for Smith College.  Newspaper people work odd hours.  There were a number of late nights. Lawrence sweet talked her into the sack.  They were at it for months before I found out.  Oh, the look on his face…  The surprise.  The shame.”

Singer’s own face had this nasty little smile on it.  He was talking to me, but whatever he was seeing was far, far away.

We had this little club room, upstairs at the bank.  A select few of us would gather there, where we could work out business arrangements in private.  Most of the time it was just a place to unwind, have a few cigars, some good brandy.  It was just he and I that night.  Have to give him credit, though.  He didn’t try to deny it.  He stood up to it.  Asked me what he could do to make amends.  And lived up to the terms like a good businessman should.”

The terms?” I asked quietly. Shut up, my brain said.

Most equitable, I assure you,” Singer said looking at me.  “One good turn deserves another, after all.”

I don’t….” Should have listened to my head. 

It didn’t matter.  Singer was in his story, rolling it out whether I wanted to listen or not.

Hell, boy.  He had my daughter.  It was only fair that I should, in turn, have his.  And that is what we did.  It took a little arranging, some prodding and priming of the pump, as it were, but well worth it…  Lawrence made sure the girl was appropriately quiet about things, of course.  From there things just naturally progressed.  There were four of us in our little group, and the other two came along readily enough.  They didn’t have daughters of their own, but they were adept enough at finding appropriate young women to fulfill their end of the agreement.  After all, men must have their releases, yes?  We were captains of industry, yes?  And a good captain deserves his treasure.  It all went along well enough until that Riley turned up pregnant.  Lawrence should have seen it first, but he didn’t.  And he showed no ability to control the girl after that.   

"She told her mother.  Surprisingly, her mother didn’t immediately go to Lawrence.  Oh no, she made plans of her own.  She made arrangements for the girl to leave town and go to her sister’s until the child was born.  Charleston, South Carolina, I believe.  Yes.   A bus ticket, I think.   She had her daughter’s suitcase packed and they were on their way out the door when Lawrence came home. There was an argument, of course.  Lawrence insisted that the girl should stay with them, after going out of state for a procedure to deal with the child, that is.  Lawrence related later that he and Madelyn were in their bedroom, arguing when the girl came in.  She was holding a knife.  She tried to stab him with it, and missed.  He slapped her, quite hard, and she ran.  Lawrence followed her and caught up with her on the stair landing.  Apparently Madelyn followed the two of them and attempted to separate them.  The knife must have slashed her then.  No idea who was holding it at the time.  I doubt that they knew.  But the damage was done.  The cut was deep, and fatal.

Lawrence was in a panic when he phoned me.  I, of course, rushed right over.  The girl was crouched in the far corner of the living room, her eyes wild and frightened.  She looked like a cornered animal, poor thing.  There was nothing to be done for Madelyn.  She was dead before I got there, blood staining the stairs, gathered in small pools on each step.  I took charge immediately.  Braced Lawrence and forced him to gather his wits.  I sent him off to his office, told him to await my call.   After he was gone I broke the window on the landing.  A large shard fell into the house.  I took it and dipped it into Madelyn’s blood, then dropped it onto the landing.  After that, I phoned Sheriff Sinclair.  While we waited for his arrival I had a strong conversation with young Miss Riley.  I explained to her just what we would be telling the good Sheriff… and what we would NOT be telling him.  Events from that point forward went very much as the Sheriff described them to you.”

And then he paused.  In the pause I discovered I had been holding my breath.  The better to help you keep your mouth shut, my brain explained. Singer moved his hand and the chair turned to face me.  He had been making a decision, I guess.

Perhaps not so much as Sheriff  Sinclair told you.  After all, we are being truthful here.”  Singer looked back out across the lawn. 

The girl stayed in my home until after the mother’s funeral.  Afterward Sheriff Sinclair took her to St. Louis for an abortion.  She never came back.  Sinclair told us that she had expired there… from complications.” 

The old man looked back at me.  “Lawrence was persuaded to tell anyone who inquired that she had gone to live with her mother’s family for an indeterminate time.  The rest of us helped to intervene when anyone became curious, implying that they should give Lawrence time and privacy to work through his grief.”

Max appeared out of the woods at the lake’s edge.  He was walking back toward the house.  Singer turned his chair and rolled into the house.  I followed him to the table and waited as he drank some of his leftover tea.

Gaa,” he grimaced.  “How awful.”  And then he raised the cup and finished it.

Life moved on from that point.  Not the same, certainly, but we were moving forward.  And then that awful night when Lawrence took his own life.  And with that same stupid knife!  The fool.

Construction on this house, and the grounds had begun almost a year before Lawrence.. died.  You see, Miss Riley wasn’t able to keep up her end of the arrangement.  During the week she was in our home, she confided in my now very ex-wife.  Perhaps she thought she had found a savior in my Elizabeth.  She couldn’t have been more wrong.  Elizabeth didn’t care what happened to that poor girl.  But she did care about the information, and how she could use it.  She wanted an estate, a manor house, if you will… this place.  I was all set to move her in here, and commute to the bank during the week.  She had it all in mind, of course.  Large parties on the grounds, all the right people.. the Governor, Senators, perhaps even the President during an election year.  But Lawrence’s death changed our plans.  It was too ghastly, too sensational.  People were asking questions.  No one talked, of course.  But the questions were enough.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I sold the bank, and we moved here permanently.  Things fell apart for me shortly thereafter. My business contacts began to dry up, and with them, any political ambitions.  Shortly afterward Elizabeth, how did the kids say?  ‘Took the money and ran.’  Her lawyers put up a good fight.  She and the children are well fixed for the rest of their lives.  At least, I would guess they still are.  I haven’t heard from any of them since.”

There were footsteps behind me and I turned to see Max coming up the steps to the patio.  I turned back to Singer.  “How much does Max know about this?” I asked.

Singer gave me a stern look.  “As much as he should,” he answered.

And, why are you telling me about all this?”

Singer looked up at Max.  “Young Marshall and I were just discussing the terms of my divorce,” he announced.

Max looked around him, saying, “At least she left you this hovel.”

I repeated my question to Singer.  “Why tell me?”

Singer gave me a small smile.  “I would like to hire you to find Riley, or if she is no longer living, her child.”

What?”  I stammered.  “You just told me she died in 1956.”

No,” he replied.  “I told you that Sheriff Sinclair said she died.  However, I know that to be untrue.  I’m not sure why he told such a foolish and easily detectable lie.  But, lie he did.  You see, it was I who made the arrangements for her procedure. It only stands to reason that I would have had some mechanism in place to ensure that I got what I paid for.”

Then why not confront him with the lie at the time?” I asked.

Because, dear boy, the good Sheriff told us that she was dead and gone.  He had no desire for us to look for her, and therefore, no intention of ever letting her come back to Joshua’s Hollow.  The end result was the same.  And, it gave me an advantage over Sinclair that, at the time I considered might prove useful some day.  It didn’t work out in the way I expected, but the information is proving useful in a different way.  You see, I have reason to believe that I may indeed be the father of that girl’s child.”

And, now you want someone to find them?”

As I indicated, my ex-wife did not get all of my money, and I intend to ensure that she never does… her or her ungrateful children.  They took all they could get and abandoned me.  They’ll not get any more.  My will is airtight.  Riley, or her descendants, shall inherit all of it.  Provided that is, that you find her.”

Why me?  I’m a writer, not a private investigator.”

Singer nodded to Max.  “My old friend here assures me that you are the right man for the job.  That you have the unique research experience to accomplish the task, and in an expedient manner.  I trust him.  In fact, he is the only person on the face of this earth that I can trust.” 

From somewhere down beside his lap Singer produced an envelope.  It was one of those big manila ones, with the top wrapped around some kind of bundle in the bottom of it.  I couldn’t believe it. For just a moment I was an actor in a bad 80’s TV show.  It was that kind of envelope. 

I barely heard him say, “You shall be well compensated for your efforts.  Five thousand now, five thousand when you find her, and tell her of her good fortune.  There is a business card in the envelope.  It has the contact information for my lawyers.  They have been instructed to forward the balance to you when either Riley, or her descendants, make contact with them.”

I picked up the envelope and opened it.  I’m sure Singer thought it was crass of me, that I was counting the money or something, but screw him.  I had to see.  Sure as shit, an inch high stack of hundred dollar bills.  Just like on TV.

I reached in and lifted out the business card; crème colored, linen card stock, raised lettering. Nice. 

I thought about it for a moment before I put the card in my pocket.  I hesitated again, looking down at the envelope.  Five thousand dollars; son of a gun. Five Grand.  Five large.  Fifty big o… I dropped the money back on the table.

Maybe I can find her, or whoever.  Maybe I can’t.  I’m not sure what makes Max so sure, but I’ll give it a try.  But not for the money; and certainly not for your money.”

He looked up at me and nodded, satisfied somehow.  Something inside me cringed, like I had just crossed over to the dark side.  “Fair enough,” he said.

You’re taking an interesting chance here, Mr. Singer.” I said.

As in; you’re going to leave here and tell the police everything?  Oh, dear.  What shall I do?”  He shook his head.  “Boy, take a close look at this chair, then look around you. I am 94 years old, and I can still afford the finest legal sharks in the country.  I shall be dust in the ground long before anything could ever get to trial.  Hell, money and lawyers are all I have left. Tell whoever you want. Just find that girl.”

Up Next:  Oh Goody, A Quest...

 


 

Book One of the Poison and Wine series by C.H. Valentino and Eldon Hughes.

    There's a battle underway in New Orleans. It's a game being played between the voodoo Barons Samedi and LaCroix.

    Danni Toussaint has a nail in her chest, the mark of her debt to The Baron Samedi. To repay him, she steals souls.

   Michael Belew works for the Sisters of New Orleans. Nuns in the 9th Ward are missing, and he suspects voodoo is the cause.  He's desperate.

    He drafts Danni to help find them. Now they are pawns in the Baron's game.

There is no winning the game. There's only survival. But even that could cost Michael his soul.

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--"Willie & Frank"

~~~~

I Found a Knife

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