“So, what did Tom do? Follow them in?” I gave Vann a leering smile and raised my eyebrows.
“No, not at all. Actually he just sat there. I figure that the effects were already starting to set in, but of course it’s hard to tell since he never mentioned the details of that himself.”
“The details of what? And effects of what?”
Vann shrugged his shoulders up and then cracked his neck, a sigh of satisfaction escaping his lips as he did so. He rubbed his nose and continued.
“Now part of what I’m about to tell you is partly my own speculation, from what I learned and putting some things together in my head. Anyway, what is known for sure is this. Those railroad boys came back out with the girls about thirty minutes later and Tom Sexton was throwing up, violently, in the corner by the wood stove. He had stood up about three minutes before that, knocked over a couple of chairs with a staggering lurch once he was on his feet, and then stumbled over to the corner. My opinion, well I think that bar owner, who was the one pouring drinks that night, I think he slipped something into Tom’s whiskey. I think he was working with the railroad or doing them a favor. Maybe they blackmailed him, scared him, who knows? But I definitely think he slipped Tom something.”
“Just because he got sick? Maybe he shouldn’t have been up and about so soon?”
“Maybe true, maybe but,” and here Vann paused with his index finger held up in the air, “I do know that two weeks after the murders that owner had enough extra money to fix up the inside of the Half-Acre and his was also the only business allowed to stay open after the railroad took over the land.”
“So, they did end up with all the land.”
Vann looked up at me with his exasperated look as I was obviously skipping ahead in the story. He did however give me this one. “They did, and kicked everyone out so they could build over it, everyone except the Half-Acre which was allowed to stay open for another six months to service the crew building the coal storage buildings. They kept a few of the buildings actually, moved them to other places in the town, but the land, they took it over.”
“Interesting. So, then Tom was sick and…?” I figured I had better get back to the correct place in the story after being allowed this skip ahead moment.
“Yes, very ill, and like I said I believe that was done by the owner of the Acre, and that Tom had probably been starting to feel its effects earlier in the night. So, out come the ladies with their customers and Tom is spewing in the corner. The owner tells Jenny and Mary to carry him to one of the rooms in the back and put him into bed until he felt better. Those two were pretty tough ladies and they hauled him up like the proverbial sack of potatoes and took him back. Along the way Tom managed to throw up right at the feet of one of those railroad boys, which I guess may have been the only revenge he ever exacted on them. Back he went with the girls and they disappeared into the rooms behind the bar. And that was the last time those two ladies were ever seen alive by the way. Last seen alive with Tom Sexton. “
I had returned to tapping my feet up and down to try to get some additional blood flowing into them as my toes were right at that point where they are so cold they begin to hurt. As it was not working very well I took off my Melvin’s and began massaging my feet. After a few minutes I looked back at Vann, who had paused when my shoes came off, and asked, “They never came back out of the rooms?”
“They did not, at least not that anyone saw. As soon as they were out of sight those two railroad thugs departed, the taller one cursing the owner for the vomit on his boots, and then they walked out the front door. The owner did not think much of Jenny and Mary not coming right back, and by the time he did all he found was Tom passed out in one of the beds and the girls gone. He looked around a little for them, didn’t find them and then turned to other things as both girls were prone to disappearing without notice anyway.”
At this point I wanted to guess what happened next, however I held my tongue and waited for the story to continue.
“Nobody thinks much of any of this in the moment of course. It may have been weird for Tom to be sick and passed out, however as things went at the Acre, it wasn’t that unusual. So Tom wakes up the next morning, not remembering the last few minutes before he blacked out, in fact not one hundred percent sure how he even ended up in the bed. He also in not feeling much better but also is not throwing up anymore, so he starts walking home. Almost right away he hears a dog howling in the distance and thinks it might be his, however he also knows that his dog never howls unless something is wrong or really bothering it. As he gets closer he realizes it is his dog and he starts running, not sure what may have set it off. He finds the dog sitting under the maple tree on the east side of his shack, almost directly under the strung up and gutted body of Mary Flynn. That gets him to throwing up again, and then he hauls the dog away and ties it up at the front door. Inside he finds Jenny, tied up to a chair and her throat slit, horrible marks of torture on her body, burn marks, a skinned left forearm, nasty stuff.” Vann looked away toward the night and shuddered. I had my own sense of revulsion at his description and the story paused for several long moments. I could hear an insect that I could not readily identify making clicking sounds in the cold night and off to the west the occasional hum of a vehicle on the highway gave a little background noise to the darkness. Finally Vann turned back.
“I’m not sure that Tom realized exactly what had happened to him in those first few moments. He was horrified of course by the condition of the girls and he paced around aimlessly for almost ten minutes, going back and forth between the two bodies. It was when he finally decided to take some action that he realized the true depth of the problem. He took off his jacket, which he had slept in at the bar, and when he did that, he realized that the cuffs were soaked in blood and there was additional blood on the front. The implication was obvious to him. He knows that he doesn’t remember a few things about the night before but also knows he would never have killed Jenny and Mary. And that’s when he knows he has been set up.
“He didn’t realize his coat had blood all over it?”
“I figure he was pretty hazy from the whiskey and whatever else they gave him, probably had that blurry headed nonchalance you get after a good night out ya know? That after-buzz that makes the details of the following morning a little less important?”
I had to admit I knew all about that so I nodded and asked another question. “The blood was probably dry too, huh? Makes it less noticeable especially if the cuffs were that soaked.”
Vann nodded back at me and rubbed his nose on his jacket again before speaking. “Interesting side fact by the way, nobody saw those railroad boys for a few days and when they did, the tall one had twenty-five stitches across his cheek from a deep cut and the other one had his hand wrapped up.”
“Those ladies must have put up quite a fight. I mean, you are saying that the railroad guys are the ones that really killed Jenny and Mary right?”
“Indeed, indeed on both my friend.”
…to be continued