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Authors: Rett MacPherson

The Blood Ballad

BOOK: The Blood Ballad
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Title Page

Copyright Notice



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Also by Rett MacPherson




Lawrence Allen (1892–1976), who gave the gift of music to his children, and whom I adored unconditionally


The author would like to thank the following people:

My agent, Merrilee Heifetz; her assistant, Claire Reilly Shapiro; and all the people at Writers House. Also, my editor, Kelley Ragland, and her assistant, Matt Martz, for all of their hard work.

My writing group: Tom Drennan, Martha Kneib, Laurell K. Hamilton, Debbie Millitello, Sharon Shinn, and Mark Sumner. Also, a big thank you to Jonathan Green and Darla Cook.

And to all of my uncles who played music with my father and helped to make all of those special childhood memories of “the boys playing.” Music is a spiritual experience, an expression of life and the history of a people.

Thank you, as usual, to my husband, Joe, and my kids for not kicking me out of the house, for not getting too angry when I racked up all of those overdue charges at the library, and for allowing me to listen to the most obscure music at all times of the day without a revolution.


“Eighty-two years ago, Isabelle Mercer was a girl like many other girls of the day. She was about to be married. Her father had just become mayor of New Kassel and she read the St. Louis society pages every day. Faithfully,” Rachel said. She stood in my living room, wrapped in a shower curtain and wearing her hair piled on top of her head in a big loose bun. “Her fiancé came from the glitzy world of Westmoreland and Portland in St. Louis, and Isabelle Mercer wanted to fit in terribly. Then one night after she had spent the evening at her friend Verna's house, Isabelle disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.”

When my daughter had finished her little spiel, she looked at me with a mixture of triumph and hope. That is until her younger sister, Mary, rolled her eyes and said, “Loser.”

“Mom!” Rachel screeched. “Don't listen to her.”

“I'm not listening to her,” I said.

“You know as well as I that I did good. I did good, didn't I? Say it?”

“Yes, you did good.”

“Good enough to get the job?” she asked. If possible, she made her big brown eyes even bigger. That works on her dad, but since my mom has the same brown eyes, I've been immune for a while.

I was in the middle of trying to find somebody to give tours of the historical homes of our native New Kassel, Missouri. It's a nice, very small tourist town located on the Mississippi River, and people come from miles around for our festivals, food, and antiques. I am the owner of two historical landmarks, the Gaheimer House and the Kendall House, and I'm also head of the historical society. It's my job to hire people for this sort of thing, and Rachel desperately wanted to be hired.

“So do I get the job?” she asked. “You know I can do it. I even did all that research on my own.”

“What?” Mary screeched. “You liar. I helped!”

“Did you even know about Isabelle Mercer?” Rachel asked, ignoring Mary's indignant cries. “Huh?”

“No, actually,” I admitted. Rachel acted as if I knew the name of every single person who had ever lived in this town. It was nice to know that she still thought of me as being nearly supernatural. I had thought of my mother as having supernatural powers until I was about twenty.

Another look of triumph swept across Rachel's face.

“Rachel,” I said. “You're wearing my shower curtain.”

“It was the only thing I could find that was long.”

“You are the biggest loser,” Mary said again. Mary, however, had never thought I possessed those “secret” superpowers that parents seem to have. She'd pretty much realized on the way out of the birth canal that I was just human.

“I needed something that looked like a long dress. You know, like the costumes that you use when you give tours,” Rachel said to me.

“You never thought of a sheet?” I asked.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, you can't hold that against me.”

“Rachel—” I began.

“No, no, no. Anytime you start a sentence with my name in that tone of voice, it means I'm about to be disappointed,” she said, holding up one of her hands, while the other one clutched at the curtain. “I can do this job. It'll be like I'm following in your footsteps. Come on. I graduate in May, and I need some extra cash for college.”

This would be the exact reason I didn't want her to have the job. I didn't want her to have
job. I didn't want her to be seventeen and ready to leave the nest. I mean, I did want her to grow up and leave the nest and get married and have babies and become like, I don't know, a leading scientist in the search for cures of horrible diseases, but … Not. Yet. Not yet, not yet, not yet! She may have been ready, but I wasn't.

Where had the time gone? I still needed to be her mom. I know, I was being selfish. I realized that. I figured I earned brownie points for at least admitting it—but I still felt it.

“Mom?” she asked.

“You're not seriously going to give her this job,” Mary said. Mary, my second child, who was in that horrible age of not being a child anymore but not quite comfortable in her newfound skin and her C cup, could be quite a challenge to her siblings—and her parents. And, well, anybody, really. She was at that age of not being able to drive, work, vote, or do anything, but yet physiologically and intellectually she was so beyond Barbie and cartoons that it was nearly painful to watch. I always thought Rachel was like seventeen going on thirty. With Mary, it was like she was fourteen going on four, some days, and twenty-five the next—then back to four. It was enough to give me a nosebleed. “You can't give her this job.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because, she'll, like, embarrass us all. Not to mention I helped her with that research and she didn't give me any credit!”

“She won't embarrass us,” I said.

“She's a doofus. You're wearing a shower curtain, you doofus,” Mary pointed out.

“Well, at least I care about
” Rachel countered.

Oh, here we go, I thought. An all-out catfight. Teenagers do not need reasons to be hateful to one another or have a big knock-down-drag-out fight. I've seen my daughters fight over who sits on what side of the car, who got more mashed potatoes, and even who would be least likely to eat a cockroach. I kid you not. They'd argue for three hours over a hypothetical situation that would never happen. But then, there were times they fought over real things, too. Mary had recently become more withdrawn and full of angst—I write that off as hormones, and please don't tell me any different, because I'm all right with it being hormones, because that means that someday she'll grow out of it—and she resented her older sister's perfectness with a passion, not that I could blame her.

I stood up, trying to stop this fight before it started. “Okay, stop. Mary, go brush down the horses.”

“I just did it!”

“That was yesterday. Go do it again.”

“Ugh,” she said, and threw the couch pillow at Rachel, catching her square in the face.

“God, I hate her,” Rachel said as Mary stormed past her and out of the house.

“Rachel,” I said.

“Fine, I'll take off the shower curtain and go see if Pierre is hiring at the bakery,” she said with a crestfallen expression.

“No,” I said. “You can have the job.”


“Really, but you have to listen to me better at work than you do at home, or I'll fire you within the first week.”

“Whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You won't be disappointed.” Then she headed upstairs to her room.

“And hang the shower curtain back up!” I yelled after her.

My son, Matthew, came in then with my binoculars in one hand and a dead squirrel in the other. “Look what Fritz brought me!” Fritz, our wiener dog, likes to bring us dead rodents. And he won't drop the rodent on the ground. No, he must place it in our hands. I was about ready to have a panic attack then and there, since there was a dead and oozing rodent in my house. More so, because there was a dead and oozing rodent in
my son's hand
! Matthew must have noticed that the blood had drained from my face, because he said, “You don't look very good.” He's a very observant six-year-old.


“Oh, okay. I just wanted you to see what Fritz caught!” And off he ran.

“Get back in here. No, wait. Take that squirrel outside, then get back in here so I can disinfect your hands!”

There were days I wasn't sure how I got anything else done. As I was looking for the bleach to disinfect Matthew, the phone rang. It was one of my good friends, Helen Wickland. Helen served on the events committee of New Kassel, helping me schedule festivals and the like, and she was on the board of officers at the historical society, too. If that weren't enough, she was a chocolatier and gave me free chocolate.

“Hi, Helen,” I said.

“Torie,” she said. “I just wanted to nail down the dates for the Christmas stuff. We're having the Santa parade the weekend before Christmas and the choir festival the first weekend of December, right?”

“Right,” I said. “And don't forget, we need to get bell ringers.”

“Bell ringers?”

“Yeah, you know. Those people who stand on the corner and ring bells in different pitches, so that they play a song.”

“Oh, bell ringers,” she said.

“Isn't that what I said?”

“All right, what about the bird Olympics?” she asked.

Yes, you heard right. Eleanore Murdoch had somehow convinced the events committee to allow her to host a birding Olympics. “It's this coming weekend, isn't it?”

“Oh, I haven't done any advertising for it,” she said with a worried tone.

“I don't think you have to,” I said. “Eleanore sent out word via her bird people. We've got like fifty-something people coming, and I really don't want any more than that, so don't worry that you didn't get it out on the wire.”

“I hear you're participating,” she said.

I could hear the laughter in her voice, even though she wasn't actually laughing. “Do you value our friendship?”

She couldn't hold it in any longer, and she began to laugh. “How did you ever get roped into such a thing?”

“We needed at least five people from the events committee to participate. Sort of like chaperones, and she kept coming up short. So, I…”

BOOK: The Blood Ballad
2.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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