Monday, March 5, 2012
On the way home from Virginia, Reggie was very quiet. Josie didn't notice because she was lost in her own thoughts. She had felt a little queasy when she woke up this morning and the horse back ride to the train station hadn't helped. She knew Reggie was worried about the lumber order and how the inferior lumber had shown up at the job site in Camden Corners. Josie excused herself to visit the ladies room where she promptly lost the wonderful breakfast Effie Dalton had prepared before they left Dalton's Mountain. She rinsed her mouth out as best she could.
“Are you feeling alright Miss?” Josie heard someone say.
“I'm going to be fine” replied Josie “I must have picked up a virus on my visit to Virginia. Thank you for asking.”
“Oh dear, I have seen the signs before and I think you may have something a little more than a virus. Are you sure you aren't expecting.”
“Expecting? Certainly not, we have only been married for a few weeks. It's much too soon to be experiencing morning sickness.”
“I have five children and had morning sickness for the full nine months with each and every one of them. It does happen. If I were a betting woman, I would guess you will be feeling better by this afternoon. In the meantime, I have some soda crackers that might do the trick. I make sure I don't leave home without a fresh supply.”
She winked at Josie as she handed her several crackers. It was then Josie noticed the woman definitely had an expanding waistline.
“Thank you for the crackers and good luck with number six.”
“They tell me it's going to be number six and seven this time.” The stranger grinned widely and was out the door.
By the time Josie returned to her seat she had nibbled on three of the saltines and was feeling much better. She wondered if she should mention her conversation with the woman in the ladies room and decided against it. Reggie was so preoccupied she wanted his full attention before she talked of the possibility of a new baby.
Ernie Black was anxious for Reggie's return. He didn't have a clue as to what happened to the order that was suppose to go to Zeke Dalton for the lumber. He went over it in his mind. He had taken the order with him to the post office and remembered having a conversation with Jackson Parker, the postmaster. Somewhere between his office and the post office the order had been changed and had been sent to an outfit just over the border that had a reputation for cheap, shoddy workmanship. Did he stop somewhere along the way? He tried but couldn't remember.
The train pulled into the station and Ernie was there to meet it. Josie told Reggie to go along, she would walk over to the McMillan house and say hello to her mother. She would find a way home and see him later. She wanted talk to her mother about her suspicions.
Dusty Blanchard was working on the tracks on the north side of the train depot. It was one of the jobs the crew had been reassigned to while they waited for the Dalton lumber to arrive. He noticed Reggie as he and his wife stepped off the train and were greeted by Ernie Black. Dusty swore they were looking directly at him but maybe it was simply his imagination due to his guilty conscience.
Dusty's life had taken a dramatic turn eighteen months ago. He had just graduated from Greensboro High and had taken a job with the construction company his pa worked with. He was proud to be working with Al Blanchard. Al was respected by the entire crew and the owners of the company alike. Seemingly overnight, Al's attitude began to change. He was curt with the crew and with Dusty. He walked around with a scowl on his face most of the day. Even his ma noticed the change in Al. Two months later Al fell to his death from the third floor of the new bank building being constructed on Main.
Dusty stayed on with the crew but the job was never the same. He had a hard time believing his father would have ever been so careless as to slip on the scaffolding as it appeared that he did. Al Blanchard always stressed the importance of safety. Dusty's ma retreated into herself after her husband's death.
After a few months, Leo Carlisle knocked on Connie Blanchard's front door. Leo was a charmer and Connie was charmed. He claimed to have come by to offer his condolences for her loss.
As he walked into the parlor, he looked around the room and said “What a lovely home you have Mrs. Blanchard. May I call you Connie? Al spoke of you so often I feel as though I know you.”
Connie was surprised that this gentleman was such a close friend to Al since she had never heard his name before.
“Would you care for a cup of tea Mr. Carlisle?”
“Connie dear, please call me Leo. Yes, I would love to have some tea. Don't bother with the sugar, there is enough sweetness in the room already.”
Connie giggled. Al never said things like that to her. She felt like a school girl and after months of mourning, it felt good to be able to laugh again.
It didn't take Leo long to ingratiate himself into the Blanchard home. Dusty didn't find him nearly as charming as his mother did. He remembered seeing him around the job site. He knew he wasn't part of the crew but he would appear at various times. Dusty remembered seeing him behind the counter of a coffee and doughnut stand he'd set up by the side of the road near the site where the workers would take their morning breaks.
Leo had taken up going to church with Connie and Dusty. One Sunday on the way back to the Blanchard home, Leo suggested they go through Al's clothes and give them to the poor.
“The Al I knew was generous to a fault and I know he would want his things to go to a good cause.”
Connie hadn't been able to face that task but with dear Leo at her side she thought she was ready. Dusty wasn't sure he wanted Leo going through his pa's things and made sure he got to his dresser before Leo did.
Dusty opened the top drawer. He knew right away that it wasn't going to be easy to sort through all these things of his pa's. He found the pen knife he'd had since he was a boy. A pair of cuff links he remembered seeing pa wear every Sunday. A journal filled with entries in Pa's handwriting. Dusty had to blink away some tears and put the journal in his pocket to read when he was by himself.
Just then Leo came up behind him. He hadn't seen Dusty put the journal into his pocket but he started rummaging through the drawer himself. Dusty picked up some papers that looked like receipts. Leo grabbed them out of his hand and without saying a word stuffed them in his pocket and continued searching through the drawer. After he was satisfied he had seen everything in the drawer, he shut it abruptly and went on to the next. Dusty found another receipt tucked between two handkerchiefs. Something was not right. He saw his father's name on the bottom but it didn't look anything like his signature.
Suddenly Leo grabbed the receipt out of his hand.
“Unless you want the same fate for your mother as was your fathers, you will forget you saw this.”
Dusty looked into Leo's eyes and saw pure evil. He knew at that moment that his father's death was not accidental and he knew who was responsible for it.
The days went on and Leo became more and more important in Connie's life. One day he mentioned at the dinner table that there was a big construction project beginning in Camden Corners.
“Dusty wouldn't it be a good idea for you to sign on to the crew there. I would be sure your mother remained safe here in Greensboro if you were to do that.”
Dusty knew a threat when he heard it. He didn't want to leave his mother in the hands of Leo Carlisle but he also knew he had no choice.
As Dusty was packing his bag, he came across his father's journal. He had blanked it out of his mind. He dropped it in his bag. At the train station he gave his mother a big hug. She cried as he boarded the train and Leo whispered “I'll be in touch”. Dusty was still shaking as the train pulled away from the station.
Dusty opened the journal and began reading his father's entries. Al's concern showed through on the first few pages of the journal. He had been aware that the materials they received for the project were not up to the usual standards of any of the companies the outfit had always dealt with. Al mentioned finding receipts with his name in the signature line but not signed by him. According to the journal, Al hadn't mentioned his suspicions to any of the crew. He had started his own investigation and was close to finding the answer. He went on to mention Leo Carlisle. Leo appeared on the job site one morning. He told Al he was in the insurance business and was inquiring about the project. Al informed him the job's insurance needs were covered and his services weren't required. He mentioned the look of pure evil in the man's eyes as he said “We'll see about that”.
Al wired each and every company where original material orders had been placed. No recent orders had been received by any one of them. The same procedure was followed every time an order was placed. After writing the order and checking it for errors, he would give the paperwork to one of the crew members to take to the post office to be mailed to the supply company. He did remember asking Emmett Larson to take the order for steel girders. He called Emmett into his office and asked him to remember everything he could about the time between when he was given the envelope and when he delivered it to the post office. Emmett couldn't remember anything unusual but after a few minutes, he did recall something that was hardly worth mentioning. On his way across the street, a fellow bumped into him almost knocking him over. He dropped the envelope and the man picked it up and handed it back to him.
“Do you remember what the fellow looked like?”
“Yes sir. I have seen him around here before. He has been selling doughnuts from a stand across the street. Some of the fellows go there every morning during break. It is almost break time now and I think he might be out there sir.”
Al followed Emmett out the door and across to the coffee stand. He wasn't too surprised to see Leo Carlisle grinning at him.
“Good morning Mr. Blanchard. How nice to see you at my little coffee stand this morning.”
“Insurance business not going too well these days Leo?”
“On the contrary sir, on the contrary.” Leo's maniacal laugh sent chills down Al's spine.
Al spoke with several other workers who had delivered orders. In each instance they recalled a similar experience getting the envelope to the post office and each one of them remembered someone who looked like Leo Carlisle was involved.
The last entry in the journal was dated the day before Al died. He was going to report his suspicions to the sheriff first thing in the morning.