I guess that I was not exactly surprised when he said that, although the concept of stealing an exhibit or any items kept by a historical society of any kind would not have been something I could have done. Maybe it was just my own reverential viewpoint on history, its facts and tales, the lessons it can teach us, that would have kept me from doing such a thing. Or perhaps it would have been my belief in karma that would have stopped me. Vann apparently had no such limitations even though he did seem to share my historical bent. That was a lesson for me on the relative inconsistencies of how people’s similar beliefs or interests translate in the real world. At least I could clarify that.
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Not really. I spent a lot of time in the area and I used some of their resources when I was picking through this story, trying to put it together. I guess that I feel badly that I went behind old Jim Stover’s back to take them, but overall it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think they really understood the magnificence of this tale, or the real impact it could have on framing the history of that area. The candlesticks were just random items collected up in a box and labeled ‘Tom Sexton Property Box 3’. There is no appreciation in that. I looked at every item in all of those boxes, read the notes on how they were found, checked the provenance details. I gave them some much needed attention, and those candlesticks, well they just seemed to draw me in, so I kept them.” He paused for a moment then held up his hand as I started to form a question. “And before you ask, Jim Stover is the curator of the society.” I took a deep breath and asked the actual question I had been beginning when he interrupted.
“Don’t you think that you could have helped them understand it? You seem to have done quite a bit of research. Maybe they just never got around to all of this info on Tom Sexton.”
Vann scoffed. “They never got around to the details of the life of what was basically the main pioneer of the area? Shabby if you ask me, a shabby excuse.”
“I’m sure there is much to tell about the area, and really how big is this historical society anyway? It doesn’t exactly sound like a major population area. It’s probably two guys working out of their garage.”
“True, close to correct actually, but still, shabby.”
I waved that argument off and prompted a return to the story.
“So, he actually ended up in a shipwreck? Was that in the same boat he had purchased after the railroad had all of his land except for those four acres?”
Vann winked at me and got up, starting to walk off into the night again, muttering, “such an impatient one,” over his shoulder as he went. I did jumping jacks until he returned to warm back up and when he did we both sat down.
“Yes, getting back to the story. Once Tom saw that blood on his cuffs, and considering that those two murdered women were most definitely dead and mutilated on his property, he knew that he had to act fast. I guess some people might say that he should have stuck around and fought it, should have kept standing up to the railroad, but I just don’t think he had one ounce of energy left for that. Plus, he had to have been in a state of some shock and panic, and it certainly had been a rough couple of weeks since that terrible beating he took that almost killed him. Now, Tom did leave info on how he found things when he got to the cabin, however he never wrote anything about exactly what he did at the point when he realized it was over for him in Two Harbors. A few things can be surmised. The dog was never found and it wasn’t not on the boat so either Tom put it down or, as unlikely as it may be, it jumped off the boat when it wrecked and sank or swam from memory. Also, the bodies of both women were found inside the cabin, lying next to each other on the floor and each covered with a blanket. The fire never touched either of them although pretty much everything else was at least charred. He must have spent at least a few minutes gathering up items he wanted to take, personal items and the things from the pit that were found with the wreck. The boat was pretty well provisioned when it was searched, one of the reasons some people, including me, think he had been planning to take off anyway. Still, I don’t think he ever got to the point where he really thought he was going to be forced to leave, especially not on his own terms, so he must have had some last minute gathering to do. And then, of course he set fire to his shack, imperfectly as it turned out.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
“It’s hard to tell for sure, and he never left a clue about it. It may have been to try to disguise what happened to those women, maybe to burn the bodies so they wouldn’t be seen in such a horrible state. Maybe it was panic. Or spite, to make sure that he left them nothing he couldn’t take with him. He obviously did it in a rush, as at that point he probably figured the railroad had sent someone out to innocently discover what a terrible crime he had committed and arrest him. And they must have shown up not long after he left because the first reports are dated that same day.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s hard to tell at this distance from the whole thing. So, he takes off on the boat and?”
Vann held up a hand. “One more thing, and I tell you only in the interest of providing the complete information. There is an Ojibwa tale that says Mashkikiikwe met him down by the water and asked him to stay, to come back with her to her tribal area and live there. He refused her, saying that he had to go and make his place in a totally new area. It’s hard to know if that is true or not of course.”
“And then he left?”
“Yep. He walked down to the part of his property that touched the lake and cast off in Castle, headed out into the water and away from Two Harbors.”
“Castle is the boat?”
“Yes, I guess I forgot to tell that part of the story. He named it…,” but I interrupted him, smiling as I did so.
“He thought it was a safe place?”
Vann of course was irritated but played along. “No.”
“It looked like a castle?” That was out of my mouth before I could stop it. Vann at least let it go without comment. I had to pause to think and then continued with, “because he thought he was the king of Two Harbors?”
“Damn. Well, how about it was because it was something he had wished for? Dreamed about? You know, the whole castle in the air thing?”
“Fine. Then what?”
“It was a chess reference, to the rook.” He of course left it momentarily at that, probably as some twisted punishment for my impatience. I dug into my mind to figure out what he meant but five minutes later had nothing but was not about to admit it. Vann finally had mercy.
“It’s not anymore complicated than that. He was a keen student of chess and named his boat after the rook. Actually, if you ask me he probably thought its name was Rook, however the folks that found the shipwreck obviously did not appreciate the game of chess.”
I gave Vann my best ‘what the hell are you talking about face’ and waited for him to stop blowing his nose into some rag he had pulled from inside the Army coat.
“There wasn’t a name painted on the boat. Just a drawn picture of a chess piece, the rook.”
…to be continued