I Found A Knife

A Story site from EldonHughes

Chapter Twelve --
The Gardener's Tale

You know,” I said, “If you’d just given me the knife back that day I brought it to you? I’d have gone away, screwed around with it awhile… probably broken it myself. It would have ended up in my trash and I wouldn’t even remember it by next week.”

Yeah,” Tulley replied. “And if frogs had wings?”

I nodded and finished it for him. “They wouldn’t bump their ass when they hopped.”

Tulley smiled softly and leaned back in his chair. We were in his office. The door was closed. He had his legs stretched out, his feet resting on the open bottom drawer of his desk. His fingers were cupped gingerly around a steaming coffee cup. But, it wasn’t coffee. The gentle, airy scent of chamomile filled the room. In amongst the stacks of files, note pads and assorted other stuff on his desk I saw a family sized bottle of antacid tablets, the generic brand from the big box store. The cap was off. I looked around, but I couldn’t see it anywhere on the desk.

I’m not a frog,” he said. “And I sure as hell don’t have any wings, but I do have a pain in my ass that’s just about your size.”

I looked at him and shrugged. After all the hours and energy I’d put into this little mystery, that was as close as he was getting to an apology.

He gazed at me steadily for what felt like a week. Then he took a slow sip of his tea and set it on the desk in front of him.

Ok,” he said to himself. Then, he repeated it, more firmly.“Ok. You going down to Glory’s birthday party tonight?”

I nodded and he looked at the clock on the wall. “We’ve got some time before we have to be down there. Tell me what you know… or what you think you know. I’ll tell you where you’re wrong.”

Why?”

He looked as surprised as I felt.“Why what?” he asked.

Why would you tell me the truth now?”

If I don’t, are you going to stop going to the library, digging through the old newspapers? Stop running around the state asking old men questions?”

I shrugged again. “Probably not.”

Then that’s why,” he said.“You keep pushing and poking and, somewhere down the road, you’re going to run into the truth. But, along the way, you are going to run over good people who don’t deserve to be hurt by your ignorance.”

I thought about that for a moment. “No.”

I had to hand it to him. He didn’t jump up and smack his hands on the desktop. His feet didn’t even come off the drawer. He didn’t raise his voice or wave his gun, or any other big showy thing to try and intimidate me.

Why not?”he asked me.

Because what you’re offering isn’t enough.”

It took him a moment, but then he nodded. I could tell he got it. I said it anyway, just to be sure. “Tulley, I’m just a nosy guy who tends scratch around a thing until I've seen all of it I can. I don’t want to see anybody hurt, and I’m not planning on telling anybody about anything. But apparently everybody in town knows I’m digging around, and one of them is bound to come asking me questions, and wanting to tell me whatever wild rumor they’ve got in their heads.”

He nodded again.“Fair enough. But just so you understand?You’re not from here.”

The puzzled look must have been plain enough on my face.

You disappear?” he said. “The only one who’d look for you is me, and I’d look everywhere except where I left you.”

Hmpf, I had it backward. Turns out he could intimidate me without trying much at all.

So, what do you think you know?” Tulley asked.

I took a deep breath.“I know that Madelyn didn’t fall through that window. Boone said she was stabbed in the middle of a family fight. If that’s true, then I know that you helped cover up how she died to protect Lawrence McColley…”

And the girl,” Tulley added.

And the girl,” I nodded.“The girl, Riley, was pregnant and they wanted it fixed. They wanted the child aborted. Boone set it up and told you to take care of it. But he knows you didn’t. He had somebody at the clinic, or alley, or where ever it was that got back to him. You took her somewhere all right, but it wasn’t to get an abortion.”

Tulley had picked up his tea cup again. He looked over it at me and said, “They didn’t know whose kid it was, and they didn’t give a damn. Just so long as it went away. She was a sweet young girl, and they used her like a common street whore.”

I went on.“When I was out at Boone’s house he told me about their after hours parties and their little private club. I couldn’t believe it. He still doesn’t get that what they were doing was wrong. ‘Captains of Industry deserve their treasures,’ he said. Tulley that is one sick, sad old man.”

They all were,” he nodded.“But you’re the one working for him.”

I looked at him, surprised.

My town, remember? He hired you to find her. It’s my job to know the secrets, even the new ones.”

Yeah, well, you’ve got this one wrong. I didn’t take Singer’s money, and I’m not going to. I said I’d try to find Riley, but I’m not telling him a damn thing. I’ll tell her about the inheritance. If she wants to talk to him, it’s up to her.”

Tulley looked up at me.“Inheritance?”

All his money," I answered. "Or, at least whatever is left from the divorce and the last 50 years. Riley, or her descendants if she’s dead, are the sole heirs to his estate.”

He shook his head. “Son of a gun. I hadn’t heard that.”He gave it some thought. “The old bastard is trying to buy forgiveness,... he's a bit late,” he said, finally.“Riley’s dead and buried, and there isn’t anyone left who is ever going to forgive him.”

Riley is dead?” I asked.

He nodded.“A few years back. I’m glad you didn’t see her. You wouldn’t have liked it.”

I sat still, waiting.

Son, there was no way I was gonna to take her to St. Louis. If she’d survived they wouldn’t even have waited for her to heal up before they were back at her again. You have to understand. They had her so whipped, you got near her and she’d whimper and vibrate like a puppy somebody beat for the fun of it. Her mother made arrangements for her to go to one of those homes for unwed mothers back east. She was supposed to be on the bus that night. She missed the bus, but I made sure she got where her mother wanted her to go. We drove all night to get there, and I drove like a bat out of hell to get back.”

Had it been me,” I said quietly, “I’d have come back and shot every one of those guys.”

His feet hit the floor.“Don’t even try to judge me, boy,” he said.“That was a long time ago. Things weren’t like they are now.”He shifted back in his chair a bit.

I was still new to the job. I didn’t know all the secrets, yet. She didn’t talk much on the drive there, but what she did say turned my stomach. I was angry and sick… and more than a bit scared. I worked for these people. This was my first job as a Sheriff. Hell, what if this was all in her head?”

But it wasn’t,” I said.

He nodded.“But it wasn’t, and by the time I knew for sure, I’d already covered it up, and they had me in the bear trap with them. All I could do was wait to see which of those assholes would jump up and down first.”

I leaned forward in my chair. “And…Which one was it?”

Tulley got up and walked to the window. He stood there, looking down the hill at the comings and goings of the Hollow.

None of them. It was Riley. After I left her in Carolina I’d write to her, send her a little money. I had to drive over to the next county to mail the letters. It was almost two years later I got an envelope in the mail, from that home. It had the last couple of letters I sent in it, along with a note saying that Riley’d been gone for several weeks, that they didn’t know where to.

It was raining like hell the night she called me. She sounded strange… spacey.. like she was on something. She was at the house. When I got there the front door was open, but it was dark inside. The only light was coming from the second floor. I went up the stairs, slow and careful, quiet as I could be. McColley’s office was in the middle bedroom. There was a lamp on, on his desk. That’s all the light there was. It was enough. Riley was back against the wall in the corner, sitting on the floor. She was,.. She was watching the baby… her baby, playing with grandpa. But grandpa wasn’t playing back. Grandpa was laying on the floor, just inside the lamp light. He had bled out hard, and the blood was pooled around his stomach and arms, thick and deep and soaking into the carpet. And the baby was covered with it.She was just playing… hands flat and splashing in the blood like she was outside in the rain, splashing a mud puddle.. a dark red, sticky mud puddle, and all her mother was doing was watching. Just sitting and watching.”

He came back and sat down.“I think that’s what broke her head. It sure as hell almost broke mine.”

It took me awhile to ask what happened next.

I got her and the baby out of there. Got them stashed and came back and made it all look like a suicide. Everybody knew he’d been depressed since Madelyn died. Nobody asked any questions… Well, except about the knife. I had to do some quick work on that one.”
He looked at me and laughed. It was a thin, high laugh. It scared the hell out of me. But, he reached for his tea, took a long drink, and seemed to pull himself together.

Tell you what, son. I almost dropped a load when I couldn’t find that damn knife. I looked all over that house. Never did find it. Then you showed up with it here.”

Didn’t Riley tell you where it was?”

Sure, over and over again. She said it had gone off to visit her Aunt. Said she put it on a bus ride. You know how you ask a five year old something they think is important, and they sound all serious and solemn when they answer you. That was Riley. She’d nod her head, real big and slow, like she was swearing it was true. ‘I put it in the bus.’ And ‘It went to visit my Aunt.’ Riley didn’t tell anybody much of anything that made any sense for over a year. I got her into a place over in Indiana, a mental health center. But, she never was all right again. It took me years to piece together what happened. She came home to confront her father. She brought the baby, the bus ticket her momma had given her, and that knife. She had to have gotten in close. Maybe offering to let him hold the baby, maybe offering him a hug. She stabbed him in the heart and watched him die, Then she started to cover it up. She must have left the baby in the room when she went to hide the knife, but she never remembered that part. All she remembered was coming up the stairs with the knife… that and seeing her baby playing in the blood.”

I shivered at the image. “That explains why Lawrence never got rid of it before,” I said.“He didn’t have it.”

Well, he got it in the end, didn’t he?” Tulley said.“Anyway, I couldn’t kill the others. God knows I wanted to. I was actually on my way to find Austin when somebody did it for me. Seeing him there, on the sidewalk, after the robbery, I knew I couldn’t kill them. But I did what I could… for her sake.”

You ran Singer and Conroy out of town.”

He nodded.“Sure. I told them that I had Riley. Singer already knew she wasn’t dead. I told them that if they didn’t sell out and get out, I’d make sure they went to jail, or worse.”

Or worse?” I asked.

I kind of hinted that, after the criminal trial was over, Riley would probably sue them for damages and mental cruelty and such. The idea of losing his freedom was one thing, but the idea of losing his money was more than old Singer could bear.”

And now, he wants to give all his money to her, anyway.” I said.“Or, to Kelsey, anyway.”

Tulley looked at me.

Hey,” I said. “You said ‘she’ earlier. After that it was easy to figure out.”

Tulley shrugged.“So, you going to tell her?” he asked.

I don’t know,” I said.“I’m thinking it would be better off left up to you.”

I appreciate that.”

I waited the proper beats.“So, you going to tell her?” I asked.

He smiled.“How the hell should I know?" We sat there, in silence, while he thought about it for a bit.

Finally, he said, "It’s not the money that makes the difference, you know? She only has vague memories of her mother, and I’m the only father she’s ever known.”

But shouldn’t she know who her real father is?” I asked.

That’s the difference,” he said.“If Boone Singer was your father, would you want to know it?”

Good point.”

Tulley looked up at the clock.“We’d better be getting down to the Morning Glory, while there's still some cake left.”

Up Next:  No More Secrets 

 

 

 


 

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.

Available NOW at:
Kobo
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks

 

 Other Available Tales

--"Willie & Frank"

~~~~

I Found a Knife

More stories on the web:

CHValentino

Strange Horizons

Yours, Mine, Ours

Shadow Unit

Software for Starving Authors --

Tech4Writers.net

Sites of (Writing) interest--

Absolutewrite

AuthorScoop

KillerNashville