I guess I should have seen that coming. I let Vann’s comment hang in the air while I looked past the shadowy supports of the water tower. It was darker now, past twilight and right at the cusp of the true night. A thin fraction of light remained, just enough to provide a murky contrast in my surroundings. The sky itself was brilliant as we were far enough from the city lights for the stars to be displayed in all their numbers, Orion hanging directly in my view as I looked west. I felt the need to relieve myself so I shuffled off into the darkness, trying to judge the proper distance for privacy in a situation like this. As I walked away I heard Vann get up and when I looked back I could see that he too was making his way into the night. Hopefully he had not been waiting for me. When I returned he was just sitting down again, after which he pulled out a black watch cap and put it on with the sides pulled down low over his ears. I was getting fairly cold also, however had little additional clothing to put on so I tucked my hands in my armpits and spoke.
“Your story gets more fantastic as it goes. How did the police ever make someone kill two women?”
“Well, it began on the night that Tom Sexton finally was able to get up and walk around again, having recovered as much as he was going to from that last beating he took. There was a doctor in the town who told him that he should stay in bed, however Tom had also been being seen by Mashkikiikwe, an Ojibway medicine woman who lived with Mok-qua Bennete. Mok-qua was also called John Beargrease by the way in case you ever want to look him up…it’s an interesting story. But anyway, Tom had more faith in the medicine woman and she told him that he was as healed as he was going to get, so he went out, walking all the way down to Whiskey Town. There’s a local legend that Mashkikiikwe followed him down there in secret, trailing behind him to see that he made it, keep him safe you know?” Vann’s arms had been moving again and were in full rhythm by the time he finished this part of the story. He tucked them under his legs as I began to pace around the area under the tower. My feet, barely protected by my favorite Melvin’s, were starting to get fairly cold at this point. I also had a question.
“Why the hell would she do that? I thought you said that she told him he was ok?”
“You’re getting pretty cold, huh my friend? Wish I had something to offer you. Maybe you should head off now, or go to your truck over there. It would be warmer.”
“I’ll be fine, I’ve got the blood flowing. So why?”
Vann was giving me a look, one of pity I guess and that made me feel ridiculous. Why was I not going to my truck? I shot him back my best ‘get on with the damn story’ look, which he accepted with a shake of his head.
“Hard to say. It’s all just legend but some people believe that there was more going on between Tom and the woman than spiritual healing.”
“You mean more than the usual amount of spiritual healing?”
“Never mind. So she followed him, and then what?” I stopped pacing as the tight circle I made was making me a little bit dizzy.
“I don’t know if she followed him, it’s just a local story.”
“Ok, ok, so then?”
Vann held up his hand. Apparently my impatience was wearing on him again. I watched with amusement crossed with fury as he removed a blue comb from his pack, took off the watch cap and carefully smoothed his ratty brown hair back, following each stroke with a look up at me. After placing the cap back on, and the comb into it’s pocket on the outside of the pack, he pulled another candle out to replace the one which had gone out some time ago. Once the flame was properly set he continued on.
“Tom had been out of commission like I said for ten days and really felt like showing his face in the town again. He never had been one to back down and I guess figured that he wanted the railroad to see that he was back in action. So, he walked all that way and once he was there wandered over to the Half Acre looking for a tug of whiskey. He knew the owner of course and liked checking up on things, sad as they were, in the businesses on what little remained of his property. Walked in, took a look around and sure enough, ze-bam!, those railroad thugs were sitting next to the bar just like they had been expecting him.”
I offered a muted chuckle and said, “go figure.”
“Indeed, indeed my friend. Tom hardly faltered a step, just walked up to the bar and asked for some whiskey. Then he sat down at a table and looked around at what was pretty much the usual scene. Small groups of men playing cards, telling dirty jokes and funny stories, women sitting on a lap or leaned up against a fella in the corner, a few odd lonely ducks tucked into dark spaces by themselves, muttering and rubbing their faces. He tapped his empty glass to get more whiskey and then stared hard at those railroad boys. I don’t know what might have been running around in Tom’s mind but he could not have felt good on the inside. He might be stubborn and brave but I don’t think he imagined he was going to survive another beating. But he waited, ordering a few more tugs and staring right at those boys. Finally, they both got up and went over to the bar, walking past Tom on the way but not looking at him. Both men stood at the bar and took out silver dollars, spinning them on the bar top and letting them ring down as they finished. This was a well-known custom at the Half Acre, a call for a girl if you will, and it brought several of them over to the bar quickly. They picked two and headed back behind the bar.”
“Jenny and Mary?”
“Who else my friend, who else?”
…to be continued