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Authors: Rett MacPherson

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BOOK: Thicker than Water
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“Holy Jesus,” I heard one of them say. I wasn't sure, but I thought it was Rudy. Colin only needed one hand to pick up the people who had fallen on me. He barked some orders to the people who were within hearing distance, and they scattered like birds on the wind.

“Hang on,” he said to me. “We've got a stretcher coming.”

“Torie?” Rudy said. “You'll be all right, honey.”

“Stay calm,” Chuck said.

I have no idea why, but a vision of Moe, Larry, and Curly came into my mind as I looked up at the three of them with strawberries all down their fronts and globs of pie hanging off of eyebrows and noses.

“Somebody … hit me.”

“I know, I know,” Colin said. “Accidents like this happen at these kinds of events. Just be still. We'll get you looked at.”

But there were two things I was aware of as I heard the paramedics coming with the stretcher: This was no accident. And my assailant was gone.


“I want my mother!” I barely remembered saying that over and over. After I'd spent six hours in the ER suffering various injustices to my bruised and battered body, the debate turned to where to take the now extremely drugged, swollen, and hysterical person of Torie O'Shea. I wanted my mother. Rudy wanted me to go home.

But all I could see was my mother-in-law cackling at the chance to be left alone with me. She turned into Kathy Bates in my imaginings, and I was not about to play the part of James Caan, thank you very much.

Eventually, Colin convinced Rudy that I would never calm down, so I got my way and Colin took me to their house in Wisteria.

My mother is a beautiful woman. She could easily have been a model for Raphael with that oval face and perfect skin. Polio at the age of ten had left her confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It was difficult for me to grasp that she had been in a wheelchair since Bill Haley and the Comets were all the rage. But she'd managed to feed me and clothe me, and there was nobody I trusted more to tend to my wounds than my mother. Even if she didn't physically do anything, I believed that she would save me if something dreadful happened. She sat by the couch in her wheelchair, gazing down at me with that concerned look that I had come to detest. Usually that look meant that I had done something incredibly stupid, but this time I had just been minding my own business.

“You'll be happy to know that you're going to live,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks.”

“You want something to drink?”

“Yes,” I said. “Caffeine. Sugar. As quickly as possible.”

She rolled into the kitchen. I heard her open the refrigerator and pull out a soda, then heard the tab pop. She came back in and handed the can to me. “You can't stay.”

“What?” I said, taking the soda from her.

“Everybody knows Priscilla is staying with you. If you don't go home, people will talk.”

“People talk anyway, like I care.”

“You'll hurt her feelings,” Mom said.

“In that case, I'm moving in with you,” I said.

She smiled, but it didn't really reach her eyes.

“So what happened?” Colin asked as he came in the front door. “I waited until you got home to question you.” He sat down in the big recliner across from me.

“Somebody attacked me.”

“So you said,” he began. “But how can you be sure? There were dozens of people standing around the tables.”

“Somebody hit me from behind and knocked the wind out of me. When I turned around they hit my stomach. I saw the object. It wasn't just somebody bumping into me too hard.”

Colin's brow creased, and he and my mother exchanged worried glances.

“This could be bad for the town, you know,” he said.

“Oh, good God. We've had dead bodies in this town! How is one little accosting going to do any more damage than that?” I said.

“Well, for one thing, none of the dead bodies have ever been innocent tourists.”

“I'm not a tourist.”

“No, but one person over and it could have been. So the attacker picked at random and got a townsperson instead of a tourist,” he said. “It could have all too easily been an out-of-towner. Plus, we've never really had anybody get hurt during a festival. A body in an abandoned building, a body at the bottom of the stairs—well, tourists don't feel threatened by those types of things. Somebody gets physically attacked at a family festival, tourists will run.”

“So what do you want me to do? Lie?” I asked. “All right, Colin. The tourists decided to start slam dancing and turn the pie-eating tables into a mosh pit. It was all an accident.”

“Nobody said you had to get huffy.”

“For crying out loud, Colin. Look at me! I have a purple bruise on my back in the shape of South America, my stomach hurts so badly I can barely sit up, and the fat lady who sat on my shoulder gave my chiropractor enough work to keep him busy for the next two years!”

“Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't be upset. I'm just saying, why don't we take this slow and see if anybody else saw anything before we start coming out and saying you were mugged.”

“Fine, whatever. Did anybody find my camera?”

“Rachel did,” he said. “She's pretty shook up.”

“Poor kid. So I really can't stay here?” I asked and tried my best to look pitiful.

“You can stay a day or two,” Mom said. “Anything more than that and it will look like you're avoiding your mother-in-law.”

avoiding my mother-in-law,” I said. “But it's more than that. It's self-preservation.”

My mother
me as mothers do.

“Fine, I'll go home tomorrow,” I said. “Can I just lie here on the couch and wallow in misery for one night? Just one night? Huh?”

“Sure, go ahead,” Colin said.

He and my mother both headed out of the living room, and I grabbed for the television remote. I never had control of the remote at home. “I know what I saw,” I said to Colin as he left.

That night, for the first time in weeks, I slept really well. That was the painkillers at work. I didn't care what it was; the fact was, I had gotten my first good night's sleep in a long time, and that was all that mattered. At about nine o'clock in the morning somebody knocked on my mother's front door. Colin had gone to work, and my mother was in the bathroom, so I shuffled to the front door, ooching and ouching all the way.

The man at the door extended his hand. “Paul Rossini,” he said.

“Not today,” I said. “I'll reschedule. Have a good day.” I shut the door and headed back to the couch.

He resumed knocking, and I threw the pillow across the room. Like that was going to help. He just kept knocking and asking to speak to Torie O'Shea. I tried to imagine that he was a woodpecker, but it wasn't working. Finally I went to the door again, cussing all the way.

“Forgive me, but I really can't do this today,” I said as I opened the door. “How did you know where I was, anyway?”

“Your sister said you were under the weather and staying with your mother. It wasn't hard to find out who your mother was.”

“Look, I had a really bad day yesterday,” I said, “and I don't much feel like talking. In fact, I wouldn't talk to God right now if he knocked on the front door. It hurts to breathe, it hurts not to breathe. My head hurts. And my medication is making everybody sound like they're in a tin can. I really need to reschedule.”

“But I need to do this interview today if you want the article to run before next weekend.”

“Well, then I'll just pass.”

“You're right,” he said. “An article about crime in a small midwestern town would probably go over much better than an article about peace and prosperity.”

“You…” I sputtered. “Fine, come in. But you're going to have to use a stock photo. I'll give you one.”

He held his hands up. “I just want the story.”

“Have a seat,” I said, and struggled to sit down with as little pain as possible.

“So tell me your background.”

“You don't have time for my background, but suffice it to say I grew up here, went to school here, married here, and settled here. My parents weren't natives, though. They moved here when I was born.”

“How long did you know the Pershing sisters?”

“All of my life.”

“What made you decide to go to work for them?”

“Well, my major was history, and I'm a genealogist. Sylvia offered me a job with flexible hours, a job where I could do what I loved. She was also a friend of my mother's. I took it.”

“How do you account for the success of this town?” he asked. “I mean, it's in a depressed area.”

“It is not a depressed area,” I said, thinking that the next person who said the word “depression” or any variation of it would find his teeth in his stomach. Or hers.

“Recently Granite County has been coming into its own,” he said, “but even five years ago it was mostly farms and trailer parks.”

“What are you insinuating?” I said.

“Nothing,” he said. “It's just that somehow, in the middle of all of this, there is this town, New Kassel. A little gem. A tourist attraction. And it's been making money since 1990. There's never a weekend that is not packed with people. The true sign of success is the fact that there are tourists here during the week as well. How do you account for that?” he said.

“Well, first of all, New Kassel is not the only decent place in Granite County. Wisteria is a very fine city,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” he answered. “But people don't say, ‘I'm going to Wisteria this weekend.' They say, ‘I'm going to New Kassel.' Why do you think that is?” he asked.

“Two words,” I said. “Sylvia Pershing.”

He wrote something down on his pad of paper and then looked at me for more.

“Sylvia loved New Kassel. And she loved it for lots of reasons. Part of it was, she knew how important the town had been in the nineteenth century. It was a major stopping point along the Mississippi, especially between Memphis and Minnesota. I think she remembered the New Kassel of her youth as a magical place, and she wanted to keep that going. But it was her shrewd sense of business that made her realize that there was money to be made here,” I said. “You see, in the seventies especially, around the Bicentennial, a new interest in our past came alive. Prior to that you had the whole thing going on in the sixties that said everything that was old was bad. But the Bicentennial really raised an awareness of who we were and what we were born of. A newfound interest in antiques emerged. Things like quilting, which had been looked at as something old ladies did on Sundays, suddenly took on a new meaning. People under forty started quilting. Sylvia saw that and cashed in on it.”

“How exactly do you think she ‘cashed in' on it?” he said.

“Well,” I said. I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet, and I found the physical act of talking very taxing. Yes, Torie O'Shea was tired of talking. There was also an aching in my joints that was telling me it was time for my medicine. Still, this was my chance to tell Sylvia's story, so I took a deep breath and did what I do best: talk. “It began with her buying real estate. She realized that the only way to get the town to be presentable for tourists was to give all the buildings face-lifts. I mean, there were homes where people had derelict cars in the front yard, and mud ponds for lawns, and paint peeling off of the clapboards. Not all of the houses were like that, but too many for the town to ever go over as a center for tourism. Now, she couldn't exactly go up to these home owners and say, ‘Clean up your yard.' Those were their houses, and they could do what they wanted. So she began buying buildings along River Pointe Road and then selling them as commercial. If they were businesses, they'd be kept up.”

“Ah,” he said as he wrote furiously.

“Then she began buying homes, and instead of selling those, she rented them. That way, she
say, ‘Clean up your yard,' and they'd have to do it. Pretty soon the main part of town was either Sylvia's or had been Sylvia's, and everything was presentable.”

He looked at me expectantly.

“That's it, really. I mean, she invested everything she had and made money and made the town what it is today. She then began the historical projects, which were accumulating and preserving the history of all the buildings in town, and then all the families. We began cataloguing the cemeteries. So when you come to New Kassel, it's not just for the fudge, or the pastries at Pierre's, or even the music. You come because it's an old town that's been preserved, a place where you can stay at the Murdoch Inn, look out on the river, and get a glimpse of life in another time.”

“I see,” he said. “Back when things were slower.”

“Simpler,” I said.

“Are the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts often full?”

“There are no hotels. You'd have to come here to Wisteria for a hotel. But there are several B-and-B's, and yes, they are often full, especially when we have festivals and the like. I think people also come from out of town to visit St. Louis, and they stay down here and just commute to all the activities. It's not that much of a drive.”

He made some more notes, and I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to leave.

“Now, what is your part in all of this?” he asked.

“My part?”

“Yes. You inherited the title of president of the historical society, correct?”

“Well, no, not exactly. It's not a title that can be inherited. Things are in disarray right now, with Sylvia just having passed away. Soon, we'll gather the members of the historical society and have a vote on it. I do own the Gaheimer House, which is where the historical society is housed.”

BOOK: Thicker than Water
4.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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