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Authors: Joe Sharp

Dead Willow (8 page)

BOOK: Dead Willow
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Jessilyn, October 8th

 

“You goddamn fucking piece of shit!”

Patrick flinched a little. “You said
that
?”

Jess shrugged. “It made me mad.”

They stood in the parking lot of the
Rusty Gate
. Jess had called Patrick because she only knew two people in this town, and he seemed the logical choice. He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow like Spock.

“Is that when you kicked it?”

She looked idly down at her shoes , her lower lip stuck out a bit.

“Maybe,” she muttered guiltily.

Patrick inspected the toe-sized ding in the driver’s side door panel of her 2005
Chevy Cavalier
and shook his head.

“You do know that kicking a car because the door won’t open is counterproductive.”

“Well, I know that
now
!” she exclaimed sarcastically, feeling properly chastised. “Can you fix it?”

“People with anger issues should not drive,” he replied with a smirk.

“And people in the business of fixing cars should not piss off customers with anger issues.”

He held up his hands in surrender. “Point taken.”

Patrick swung the door back and forth on its squeaky hinges and then slammed it closed. It popped back open defiantly. He stood and rubbed the back of his neck as he let out a deep breath through his pursed lips.

He walked to his truck while Jess admired the view. When he came back he had a large rubber mallet in one hand and a tool box in the other. Jess eyed the mallet suspiciously.

“Is that for me or the car?”

“Too soon to tell.”

Jess took a step back as Patrick got to work removing the inside door panels and other mechanical magic that Jess knew little about and could care even less.

She remembered how he had been back at the cemetery, all earnest anxiety and genuine concern. Did he really want to take care of her, she wondered? Would that be such a bad thing? For some reason she always bristled at the notion of charity headed her way. But a little emotional charity, now that wouldn’t be so terrible, she thought, not when it came in such a spectacular package.

“So, where were you headed in such a hurry?”

“Huh?” she said as the fantasy slipped through her fingers. “Oh, um … I’m going to Jackson for the day.”

“Jackson?” He crinkled his nose in disgust. “What’s in Jackson?”

“A library,” she replied. “Apparently, Willow Tree doesn’t have one.”

He stopped working and thought for a second. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“It also doesn’t have a city hall or an office of town records.”

Jess was probing him, seeing how much he already had thought about this. She didn’t know how much to tell him about why she was here. She had let on to Doctor Crispin, who had provided more questions than answers.

She was the one who had pointed her in the direction of Jackson. She didn’t seem to want to get her hands dirty dishing out the information herself. The Doctor was a hard one to get a handle on. Who knows; maybe she just wanted Jess to work for it.

“They also don’t have a church,” he offered, pounding on the dent with his mallet and … a spoon? “Or a school.”

Doctor Crispin had failed to mention those little tidbits. He had her attention.

“What do you mean no school? Not even a one room, log cabin schoolhouse complete with schoolmarm?”

He leaned back from the door, the dent already smoothed to a near perfection. “Well, think about it. How many kids have you seen since you’ve been here?”

“I’ve seen kids,” she said unsure.

“Willow Tree kids?”

Jess had to think on that one. She wasn’t exactly a connoisseur. She probably wouldn’t know a Willow Tree kid from a generic kid if she backed over one with her car. She reflected on her trip down Main Street the other day. Most of the kids she had seen looked like every other kid she had ever seen. Jess wondered if Willow Tree kids would have gnarled veins on their arms.

“Are you telling me there are no kids in Willow Tree?”

Patrick rested an elbow against his propped up knee, the mallet still gripped in his strong hand. Jess’ eyes lingered over a well-muscled forearm sporting the normal amount of veins. It occurred to her that she hadn’t yet asked him for his life’s story.

He looked up at her with a weariness in his eyes.

“What I am telling you is, there are questions I do not ask.”

“Those are my specialty,” she said with a twinkle in
her
eyes. “Sometimes, I ask them twice.”

He shook his head with a frustrated resignation. He glanced at her bandaged finger.

“I should have let you bleed out in the graveyard.”

Patrick put a hand on the door frame and pulled himself to his feet. He tossed the mallet on the front seat and walked passed Jess.

“Let’s take a walk, you and me.”

She fell in next to him and he led them into the
Rusty Gate
lobby. Patrick scanned the front desk regulars as if he were looking for a particular face. Jess had the eerie feeling she knew which face he had on his mind. When he didn’t see
her
, he headed for a quiet alcove off the main lobby. Jess followed.

The alcove was a cozy little nook with a large bay window overlooking a stunningly beautiful flower garden. Jess marveled at how fertile everything was in this town. Maybe it was Doc Crispin’s green thumb.

“There.” Patrick stood before a portrait that was recessed into the wall inside the alcove. It was handsomely framed, with small, soft lights illuminating the image of a man in his forties or fifties. It was an obvious reproduction, as the grainy antique photography and outmoded military uniform depicted an officer in the Union army, circa Civil War.

The name plate on the bottom of the frame read:

 

Josiah Jacob Pembry

1818-1864

 

“Pembry,” said Jess, ruminating on the name. “That’s the name from the commendation in the lobby.”

“Eunice.” The way Patrick said it left a bad taste in Jess’ mouth.

“Yeah. I met her great, great … whatever, at the front desk. She … leaves an impression.” Jess leaned around the corner of his eyesight until she caught his attention. “I take it you two haven’t kissed and made up yet.”

Some of the scowl loosened from his face. “Eunice isn’t much of a kisser.”

“So, who’s the guy? Husband? Brother?”

“Stories around the watercolor say he’s the husband. Apparently, he and Eunice were childhood sweethearts. He grew up in
Greensfork about thirty miles from here. They got married. Never had kids. Then, he joined up with General Burnside’s militia. Even got himself a battlefield commission. Eunice becomes a nurse. He ends up eating a musket ball for his trouble. Brought him back here and buried him in what is now
Weeping Gardens
. There were many tears.”

“Okay,” she said, eyebrows curling. “It’s a sad story; war stories usually are. But what am I missing?”

Patrick looked out the big bay window, passed the lush flowers, and his gaze followed the stone walkway winding down to the cemetery with the rusty gate.

“I’ve seen every headstone in that cemetery at one time or another,” said Patrick wistfully. “Josiah Pembry is tucked down in the dirt just a little south of the big tree. He was planted in 1864.”

“Yeah … so?” Jess was getting a little impatient waiting for the punchline.

“So, where’s Eunice?”

Jess blinked. “You mean she’s not buried in
Weeping Gardens
?”

“There is no other Pembry buried in that cemetery.”

Jess mentally scratched her head.

“Well, she’s probably buried somewhere else,” she reasoned. “I mean, there are other cemeteries.”

Patrick shook his head. “Supposedly ‘sweet’ Eunice and her family all grew up around here.
Weeping Gardens
is the closest cemetery to their hometown, and her dearly departed husband is buried there. Why would she go somewhere else?”

“I don’t know!” exclaimed Jess, frustrated. “But I don’t really see the story here.”

“Oh, that’s not the story,” said Patrick, taking her hand and pulling her from the alcove. “That’s the teaser.”

They slipped out of the
Rusty Gate
through a side door, perhaps to avoid running into ‘she who shall not be named’. By the time they reached the street, shop owners and vendors could be seen carting their wares out onto the sidewalks, preparing for another day of antiquated consumerism. Pretty soon throngs of festival goers would start clamoring for the newest Civil War tchotchkes, not realizing that they weren’t really buying a piece of history. They were buying something that Jethro had carved last night down by the cement pond.

Jess had hoped to avoid all this by being well on her way to Jackson. Goddamn car! The one saving grace that made it worth enduring was the feel of five rugged fingers wrapped around hers. She didn’t know where they were going, but she hoped he didn’t let go.

He turned them down Main and did a slow pass through the harried vendors, heads nodding and smiling respectfully. Patrick had apparently achieved some kind of status among the natives, even though he didn’t wear a sweaty wool uniform and a funky blue or gray cap. He was like her personal tour guide, telling her interesting facts like, ‘don’t drink the water’, or ‘don’t look Eunice directly in the eye’. She could have used that one the other day.

“What do you see when you look at these people?” he asked, and Jess wondered if there would be a quiz at the end.

“I see a bunch of people who got lost on their way to reality.”

His grumbling made her think she wasn't taking this seriously enough. She took a deep breath in and tried to exhale out all the cynical bullshit which normally filtered her thinking. Then, she looked for a long moment at the figures on the street.

“They don’t have much of a color palette,” she remarked. “All drab greens and browns.”

“Don’t you find that a little odd?”

She took from his question that this was more significant than odd.

“It’s like they’re in uniform,” she noted.

“And what do uniforms signify?”

“They designate a particular rank … or group,” she replied.

“What was Eunice wearing when you first saw her?” he asked. She could see he was leading her to a conclusion.

“Blue,” she answered, thinking back. “In fact, all of the desk clerks were wearing some shade of blue.”

“Blue, green and brown. Three distinct colors … ”

“Three distinct groups. But groups of what?” she asked bewildered. “What’s the connection?”

“Who said there was a connection? Maybe it’s just a big fat coincidence.”

“You dragged me out here for a coincidence?” Jess was starting to fume a little on the inside.

“No,” said Patrick, looking across the street, “I dragged you out here for an ice cream.”

He tugged her arm … and her along with it, onto Main Street, where the green and brown swarm of worker bees parted for them obediently. Her legs kept her upright, but her brain was still at the curb.

This was, what? A date? The whole ‘Josiah Pembry’, green, brown and blue, “What do you see?” horseshit had just been a ruse to get her to an ice cream shop? She couldn’t believe her bullshit-meter was that far out of whack! To think she was starting to get sucked into his vortex! She didn’t know whether to be pissed or relieved.

Why did gorgeous always have to come with a side of crazy?

She shook off the surprise and tried to focus on what was in front of her. There was a familiar feel to the two dozen or so townsfolk milling around in their green or brown period costumes. The air was thick with
deja vu
and Jess shrugged it off as everyone dressing alike and the buildings looking alike.

Then, she saw someone she knew she had seen before.

“Crystal?”

The young woman turned her head in response, but when she locked eyes with Jess, she froze. It was a momentary stutter, like a fleeting glitch on a computer screen. For an instant Jess thought she saw recognition. Then, the woman turned back to the sidewalk and continued on her way, a little faster this time.

“Crystal? Remember me?” Jess yelled, anchoring her feet and forcing Patrick to stop with her.

The object of Jess’ recollection apparently did not recollect her, and darted down Main Street like a woman in fear for her life. Jess put her free hand on her hip and watched the girl turn onto Shiloh, disappearing into a crowd of similar brown skirts and tan blouses. She turned back to Patrick with a scowl on her face.

“Her name’s Crystal!” she whined frustratedly. “I met her when I first got to town! We shared a moment!”

“I think the moment’s over,” remarked Patrick.

Jess followed limply as Patrick resumed pulling her across the street and up onto the curb in front of
Pembry’s Confectionery and Cream
. Jess forgot all about Crystal when she saw the name painted on the window.

BOOK: Dead Willow
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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