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Authors: Rett MacPherson

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BOOK: The Blood Ballad
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Eight

Seeing our bird-watching place by daylight made no impression on me one way or the other. I stood next to Sheriff Mort on the side of the hill, overlooking the river, where Eleanore and I had been the night before when somebody had, apparently, tried to kill us. The wind was a little brisk, whistling through the bare branches of the trees. “This is the tree Eleanore was sitting in,” I said.

If I had realized that the tree was a redbud, I might have suggested to Eleanore to sit in a more secure one. The redbud wasn't very big or very old, and Eleanore had put her butt square on one of the smaller branches. I hadn't really been paying attention to the tree. There was no reason for me to have paid attention to it. I had been counting down the hours until the whole event would be over and I could go home. However, I suppose it was a good thing that Eleanore had chosen that tree, because if it had been a sturdier one, the branch wouldn't have given way and she might have been shot.

I must have been under a lot of stress, because at any other point in my life, getting rid of Eleanore once and for all would have sounded like a good thing. No, honestly, I'm not a murderer, I just wish sometimes that I could magically make her disappear. It had worked with the old mayor. Of course, a lot of people got hurt in the process of getting our old mayor out of town. So I figure maybe I should just grin and bear Eleanore's existence.

Sheriff Mort examined the marks in the tree left by the gunshots. He clicked on his walkie-talkie. “Send Darla down from CSU.” Then he smiled at me. “I want to check ballistics on these bullets and see if they match the one found in Weaver's body.”

“You found a bullet?”

“Weaver was shot twice; one of the bullets lodged in a bone. We got lucky. If it matches the bullet right here in this tree,” he said, pointing to a hole in the bark, “then I'd say my theory is correct.”

He glanced up to the ridge above and then looked south. “If these bullets are from the same gun, and you said they came from a southerly direction,” he said, “then I think we'll find evidence of Weaver's murder and beating somewhere down that way.”

“Evidence?” I asked.

“Blood from his gunshot wounds. He was most likely shot outside. No point in getting the inside of your car dirty if you don't have to. So he had to have dripped blood somewhere,” he said. “And we might get lucky and even find the first bullet that went through him. And maybe his tooth.”

“His tooth?”

“During the beating, they knocked a tooth out. It wasn't on his clothes or in the chest they shoved him in, so I'm laying bets it's still at the crime scene.”

“Oh,” I said and swallowed. My gag reflex gave a nice little jerk. “God, that's just gross.”

“That's why I try not to eat before going to work.”

“You don't eat all day?” I asked.

“If I've got a crime scene to investigate, I don't eat until I go home. It was especially true when I worked in New Orleans.”

“You used to work in New Orleans? I didn't know that.”

“Five years,” he said. “Worked two years in Billings.”

“Montana?”

“Yeah. Did you know the population of the whole state of Montana is less than St. Louis? Well, if you count St. Louis County, as well.”

“Not much crime up there?”

“Billings is a good-size town. It has its share.”

“You surprise me.”

“Because you didn't know these things?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

“People talk every day. They have no idea what little snippets of personal information they give away. It's just a matter of if you're paying attention.”

“Right.”

“What?” he asked.

“What, what?”

“You got that faraway look in your eyes.”

“Oh, it's nothing.”

“Nothing is never ‘nothing' with you. That much, I learned within the first week I knew you.”

“It's just what you said can be applied to other things, not just criminals and investigations. I'm wondering if I need to listen to a certain CD again.”

“New music?” he asked.

“New old music. A recording of my grandpa that somebody gave me. I need to really listen to it to get the ‘snippets' of personal information that you were just talking about.”

“Glad I could be of help,” he said and glanced up at a hawk flying overhead. “You can go now. But I want you to go straight to Wisteria and have Fletcher show you the headlight book.”

“All right,” I said. “I will.”

A few minutes later, I was walking through town and noticed that the holiday decorations were coming along quite nicely. White string lights were wound around the lampposts and looped along the chain that kept tourists from sliding down a large hill to the river. Garlands were strewn around every shop doorway, and single battery-operated candles were placed in the windows. Some shop owners had taken it upon themselves to add further to the decorations, like putting that fake snow in the windows and signs that boasted of holiday cheer.

Large groups of people milled about everywhere and it seemed to me that the town was bulging at the seams with people. Then I realized they were there for the choir festival. I'd completely forgotten.

My cell phone rang. “Hello?”

It was Mary. “Mom, Alexa wants to know if I can come over and help her paint her room?”

“Have you returned your sister's earrings?”

“I don't have her stupid earrings. Mom, seriously. Have you seen those earrings? They are butt-ugly. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing them.”

“That doesn't mean you didn't take them.”

“Why would I take them if they're too ugly to wear?”

“To make your sister crazy.”

Silence. I'd either hit the nail on the head or she was having trouble believing that her mother could think this deviously. Honestly, I'd had much more devious thoughts in my life, so this shouldn't have surprised her.

“Whatever,” she said finally.

“No, listen,” I said. “I know you think you're really proving something to your sister, but you're actually proving a lot more to your father and me.”

“Oh, like either one of you cares.”

“We do care.”

“No you don't. All you care about is your perfect little angel, Rachel.”

“That is not true!”

“Fine, whatever, can I go over to Alexa's or not?”

“Not until those earrings are returned.”

“But I don't have them! Ugh, never mind. Just, just don't talk to me.”

With that, she hung up. I noticed then that there were people staring at me. The reason would be because I was standing in the middle of the street holding up traffic with one finger in my ear and speaking quite loudly. I moved over to the side of the road and stopped in at the Gaheimer House.

Helen Wickland was there, giving tours and showing Rachel the ropes. Helen waved, dressed in her blue-and-white-striped Civil War–era dress. I motioned for Rachel, and she came quietly, trying not to disturb the tourists. “Hi, Mom!” she said. “This is so awesome. I am learning so much!”

“Great,” I said.

“When do I get neat costumes to wear?”

“They're being made as we speak,” I said.

She couldn't help herself. She squealed—and all the tourists turned to look in our direction. I just smiled.

“I cannot wait to see them! What time era did you pick for me? What color are they? Oh, what kinds of patterns? You know, I really like those dresses that are like tight around the waist but then it looks like somebody stuck a bucket under the dress, right in the back, where your butt is. Oh, and all that lace, and oh, my gosh. Although, Helen's dress is really neat as well. I'm hoping mine is purple. Or blue.”

“Rachel, shut up.”

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry, I'm just so excited. And the great part is, I get paid for this! I mean, it's the bomb. How did you ever luck out on such a great gig?”

“Rachel, shut up.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I had to speak quickly because I could tell she was going to burst if I took too long to get out what I had to say. I could almost see her skull popping as I opened my mouth. “Are you sure Mary took your earrings?” I asked.

“What? Why?”

“Just because. I want to know, is there any other way those earrings could have gone missing?”

“You mean other than her sneaking into my room while I was at school and putting her grimy little hands all over my dresser and then
stealing
them? No.”

I rubbed my eyes. I have done many things in my life. I have hosted music festivals with twenty bands and hundreds of patrons. I've moved thousands of jars of strawberry jam from one house to another without breaking or losing any. I've solved hundred-year-old crimes and faced dangerous criminals, thinking I was about to take my last breath. I've traced family trees that people thought were untraceable. For years I kept the town of New Kassel from eating Sylvia alive. I've nursed my husband's tummy after every pie-eating contest he's ever been in, and believe me, he's been in every single one.
But I can't get my children to live peacefully!
What is wrong with me?

I was a complete failure.

“Mom?” Rachel said. “Are you all right?”

“Why?”

“You look like your head is about to burst.”

Funny, I'd just been thinking the same thing about her. “Look, I'm going to Wisteria to identify headlights.”

“Huh?”

“Don't worry about it. I'll be home later. Tell your dad not to cook. We're going to Chuck's for pizza.”

“Cool. Can Riley come along?”

Riley, her boyfriend. He'd proven himself worthy, so I had no complaints.

“Uh … sure,” I said.

She kissed me on the cheek and I left for Wisteria, wondering if I'd accomplished anything at all with that conversation. By the time I'd reached the sheriff's department, I had pretty much concluded that no, I hadn't achieved anything at all this morning, except to correctly identify a tree for Sheriff Mort.

Nine

I'd arrived home before Rudy, which wasn't unusual. Riley was standing at the corral, looking at the newly discovered horse, and he waved to me as I pulled in the driveway. Matthew ran up to me, full of verve, with his arms waving about wildly. “Mom, that horse is
big
!”

“Yes, he is.”

“I think the Incredible Hulk could ride him!”

I laughed. “Probably.”

“So, nobody's claimed him yet?” Riley asked.

“Nope,” I said.

Riley was an all-around good kid, I have to admit. He had dreamy blue eyes and dark hair, and he was completely infatuated with my daughter though not in a serial-killer-stalker type of way. For now, it was cute and sweet. I just hoped that it wouldn't become suffocating and controlling later. And I have to admit that I was a bit concerned about how he was going to take Rachel going off to college. As if he'd read my mind, he said, “Has Rachel made up her mind about which college she's going to attend?”

“She hasn't told you?”

“No.”

“I think she'd tell you before she told me,” I said. I understood where he was coming from, though. He was worried that she was going to go far away to another state and that she'd either forget about him or just plain old never move back home. I worried about the same thing. It was selfish, and neither of us was going to say a word to her about it, but we felt it all the same. It was natural.

“This is the weirdest thing,” he said and glanced back out at the Percheron.

“Yup,” I said, because there was nothing else I could say. I headed into the house and Matthew followed me, talking the whole way about some creature he'd drawn that had a wingspan the size of the Empire State Building. He'd never actually seen the Empire State Building. He'd just seen King Kong. Either way, the Empire State Building had become his new measurement of exactly what big was.

“I'm going upstairs to listen to music,” I said to him. “You want to come with me?”

“Yeah,” he said. He trotted up behind me and sat himself on the floor with an action figure that had been secured in the back pocket of his jeans. I put the CD that Morgan had given me into the CD player and pushed the play button. I glanced over at Matthew and saw that his head was keeping time with the music.

“You like this?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “It's fun-sounding.”

“It's my grandpa and your great-grandpa,” I said.

“Great-grandpa?” he asked. “He must be
old.
Like old, old. Was he after the dinosaurs?”

It was really difficult to explain history to a person who could only remember three or four years of his own life, max. We'd had this history discussion before. For Matthew, there was before dinosaurs, after dinosaurs, and then the knights with their swords. Then he went straight to the here and now.

“After the dinosaurs,” I said. “And after the knights.”

“Still,” he said, his eyes huge. “If he's
your
grandpa, he must be, like, really old.”

“Actually, he's dead.”

“See, told you he's old.”

“Right,” I said. I went back to listening to the music. The whole CD had played and I still hadn't found anything that stood out, aside from my earlier discovery. I played it again while Matthew bounced his action figure off of every bookcase in the room. Every now and then, he'd stop to dance a little jig when my grandpa would play a particularly fast breakdown on the fiddle. I can't explain the feeling that overcame me. My grandpa had been dead for years. And here was the next generation of our family enjoying his music. It was a connection linking the generations, separated by decades, yet … the connection had been made. John Robert's music was really his legacy, even if he'd never been famous or made a million dollars, and he deserved the credit.

BOOK: The Blood Ballad
11.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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