Authors: Robert Reeves
THE CONVERSATION IN
the car was short. Cole insisted that he stay at his parents’ home. Things were getting way too real and time was running out. If Agent Leas was correct, the bugle of this fox hunt had been sounded for the chase and he didn’t want Jackie or Billy anywhere near that. Cop or not, she was still his sister and if someone was going to die, it wasn’t going to be either of them. Jackie protested and it was only when a call to Agent Leas and her captain affirmed the decision was best did she agree. In exchange, Cole was to have a twenty-four-seven hidden escort starting that night, no arguing.
Cole arrived at his parents’ home and opened their cabinets for something to satisfy the heavy grumbling in his stomach. Finding nothing, he zeroed in on the remaining half of the hummingbird cake on the counter.
Fuck it. I can run in the morning
. Cole ran out to his Granny’s apartment and raided her beer stash, grabbing all available from the small, white refrigerator to complement his meal. Back in the house, he put all but one in the main home’s brushed-steel refrigerator and moved to the living room, switching on the TV as background noise while he read. He opened the file Agent Leas had given him the night before and flipped to the police report as he shoved a forkful of cake in his mouth. He began to read.
3/21/82 – 20:14. RESPONDED TO A CALL AT THE OLD ACADEMY. MOUZON AND CALHOUN BOY FOUND. MOTHER MOUZON D.O.A. UPON ARRIVING AT SCENE, MET BY OF.S HAMMOND AND RANDAL WHO LED ME TO BACK OF SCHOOL. TIDE WAS OUT. LED BY FLASHLIGHT TO MARSH TREES DIRECTLY BEHIND PLAYGROUND SWINGS, WHERE OFFICER BECKER WAS WAITING.
WALKING UP, A SMALL OPENING VISIBLE, THOUGH COVERED BY THICK BRUSH IN THE MIDDLE OF HAMMOCK. BODY STILL ON SCENE. OBVIOUS CONTUSIONS, LACERATIONS, AND BLEEDING. HANDCUFFS PRESENT ON LEFT ARM, POSSIBLY NEW. NO RUST. JOSEPH FRANKLIN – SON OF MOUZON BOY’S SITTER – FOUND THE CHILDREN / MOTHER IN MARSH. NO INDICATION HOW LONG THE CHILDREN WERE PRESENT AROUND BODY, POSSIBLY DAYS.
CHILDREN TRANSPORTED TO ROPER HOSPITAL PRIOR TO ARRIVAL. ADVISED MOUZON UNRESPONSIVE, APPARENT DEHYDRATION AND MALNUTRITION. CRITICAL. DRUGS POSSIBLE. CALHOUN STABLE, ALERT. MEDICAL NOTED BURNS – BRANDING ON BOTH. INCH IN SIZE SQUARE WITH P INSIDE BOX.
AREA TAPED OFF UNTIL INVESTIGATION WAS COMPLETE.
It was one of the shorter reports in the file, but the one that gave the clearest picture of the scene.
I was marked, marked like cattle
. Cole could see the place. The report had filled in the space left by his dream. When darkness descended on his dream, it had hidden just what happened to him in that hammock of trees. Again, his mind had been protecting him, withholding the full truth that would have likely changed his life in a way not unlike Mark Calhoun’s.
Cole glanced at the TV screen and took a deep swig of the Bud. Cole set aside the now empty plate and stood to walk back to the kitchen.
I need another beer
. His cell phone rang on the kitchen counter where he had left it to charge when first coming in.
Unknown number. 843
. Someone from Charleston.
Cautiously picking it up, Cole answered, “Hello?”
“Cole, this is Cash Calhoun from earlier today. I would like to take you up on that offer, if you’re still interested.” Cash’s words came out rushed, like he had brewed on the decision to call and decided to act before the courage was lost.
Cole was surprised, but excited at the same time. “By all means…when are you free?”
“Are you available now?”
“I’m kinda under house arrest for the night. Killer out for me and all, you know…”
“Ah, I bet. You’re probably as tense as the Charlestonians when Blackbeard blockaded the port and held the city hostage.” Realizing his historic joke had landed with a heavy thud, he added, “I can come there.”
Cole attempted to ignore the slip of intellect, but a small hiccup of a laugh escaped. Looking around to check the cleanliness of the living room, he said, “Uhmm, sure. Let me give you the address. Under one condition though. Well…actually two.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“That you don’t kill me. And, and this is the important one. You grab some decent beer on your way. I can’t deal with this Bud Light.”
Cash laughed and spoke in a more relaxed tone. “The beer is a done deal. On the first request, we shall see.”
“Ha, fair enough.” Cole smiled to himself before ending the call.
CASH ARRIVED AN
hour later, at almost midnight, to the Mouzon marsh-side home. Cole had previously warned his police escort and bribed him with a slice of the hummingbird cake and a beer. He had declined the beer, but the cake was accepted with gusto.
“Come in!” Cole shouted as he was placing the officer’s plate in the dishwasher. “The door’s unlocked.” The futility of his security came to mind in hearing himself say that.
Cash walked in with the same navy shorts but now paired with a heathered grey t-shirt. His leather sandals clapped behind him as he shut the door. “Someone ordered beer?” From behind his back he revealed a six-pack of HopArt IPA.
“Thank god! I’m parched.” Cole threw the bottle opener to Cash. “Open a couple of those bad boys, pronto.” Cash grinned and obliged. “Uhm, you know it’s probably not best to leave your door unlocked if someone is trying to kill you.”
“Yeah, yeah. I just unlocked it for you. I figure if someone wants to kill me though, that flimsy glass door isn’t really going to stop them.”
Cash bowed in acquiescence. “Fair enough. Here is your beer, sir.”
In the living room Cole introduced himself, his history, his life. He told him about the last couple of days, the note, the revelation of his childhood. Cash took it all in silence, absorbing the information like he was at a seminar.
Finally, Cole asked, “What was Mark like?”
Cash’s face went grave as he spoke. “He was broken. That about sums it up…just broken. No amount of therapy, love, holding could piece him together. Sure, there were times that he seemed fine, but those were pretty rare, especially when we were young. In the last few years before his death, it seemed better. He didn’t mention it. He had a steady job as a bartender and a part-time girlfriend. But, looking back. Well, I think he was just holding it in. And, then it popped. The sad fact is, it was kinda like watching an elderly parent sick in bed, out of it, just waiting to die… There was a good bit of relief by my parents and me when he died. The way, jumping off the bridge, was rough to take. But he was no longer in pain, troubled by it all.” Cash’s eyes were moist with tears fighting for release.
The statement ‘holding it all in’ stuck in Cole’s head. He wondered if he was doing the same thing in always trying to keep up the wall…in not wanting to feel. The thought scared him.
Shaking off the thought, Cole said, “I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for that second beer.” Cole was again attempting to diffuse the serious mood.
“Deal.” Relief filled Cash’s voice.
Returning to the living room with two fresh beers, Cole plopped on the couch next to Cash. “Would you like to see the file? I know they gave you a report, but this has a good bit more.”
“Uhm, I guess…actually yes.”
COLE FLIPPED THE
file open and proceeded to point out documents and pictures he found important. Cash listened intently, asking questions as they arose, though clearly uncomfortable with learning more. After about another forty minutes, “I think I need a break.” Cash was overwhelmed by all this new information on his brother, his kidnapping and just what he went through. He had experienced the effect, sure. But according to him his knowledge of what had actually happened was limited by his parents’ fears that if they probed too much they would injure Mark even more. So the event wasn’t discussed, only Mark’s behavior and thoughts about it.
Cole walked to the kitchen and returned with a bottle opener and two fresh beers. Without a word, he pointed to the screened porch on the back of the house, as if to say, “Join me?” Cash got up from his place on the couch and followed, collapsing into a patio chair overlooking the marsh.
The damp air took a moment of adjustment. Cole closed his eyes for a second before looking on the marsh being lit by an almost-full moon with the occasional cloud from the impending storm dimming its light. The dark butterfly shadows of bats chasing dragonflies and marsh gnats crisscrossed the air in their muffled flutters.
“Why do you think this is happening now…again, Cole?” Cash spoke without turning away from the marsh.
Cole took a deep breath. It was a question that had already passed through his mind many times.
What triggered this? Why now?
His kidnapping had been thirty years earlier; could it be that the kidnapper saw the end of his days coming and decided to act while he still physically or mentally could? Not likely since all the evidence was saying a younger woman was the one killing. So far he had been unable to come up with any plausible reason other than ‘just because.’ Cole finally responded. “You know, I really just don’t know. All of this is so new to me. I haven’t had time to digest it all. Hell, even the FBI is stumped at this point.”
Cash nodded his head as a long howl was heard in the distance. A second one followed, as if they were saying, “Where are you?” “I’m here.”
“Do you hear that? You know what that is, right?” Cole was full of worthless information and he knew he was about to show it.
Cash twisted his head in Cole’s direction. “You mean those dogs?”
“Yeah, but those are wolves, not dogs. Red wolves. They were reintroduced back in the 1980s, but Hurricane Hugo all but killed them. They have just started trying it again. Pretty cool, huh? Wolves in Charleston.”
“Yeah, I think I read about that in the
Post and Courier
. I am sure you wouldn’t appreciate running across those in Francis Marion.” Cole laughed and thought to himself,
No running into them in the national forest would not be fun.
But he had the feeling he was nonetheless being hunted by a wolf that he could not escape.
THE SIX PACK
and the remaining Buds had all been drunk by the time the first yawn struck just past three a.m. “Thanks for coming over. I really enjoyed this. Just sorry it was under these conditions.”
“Same here. I don’t know who is doing this or why, but from a personal stance, it helps to understand what my brother went through. And, from what I know so far, Mark would have liked you, a lot.” It was obvious Cash meant his words.
“Yeah, if I had gone to Bishop England, or ya’ll lived over here to go to Wando, we would have probably stayed in each other’s lives. I’d like to think so, at least.” Cole stood up and yawned again. “So listen, we have drunk enough beers that you shouldn’t drive back, especially with the po-po sitting outside my door. I’m in this house all alone and there are ample beds. So, you are crashing here for the night. Got it?”
Cash tried to wave off the invite. “Man, I am fine.”
Interrupting before he could get another word out, Cole added, “Yeah, I know you are, but nonetheless, you’re staying. I cook a mean breakfast Hot Pocket.” A large grin crossed Cole’s face.
“Well, when you put it that way, put me down for two.” Cash stood up. “So where to, Captain?”
Walking inside the house together Cole filled him in on the sleeping arrangements. “You can stay in my sister’s old room upstairs. Hope you like pink. Lots of pink.”
“Ha. How did you know? That is ‘like…totally me.’” Cash said the last three words in ‘valley girl’ talk and made Cole laugh.
“Okay, Regina George. Let me show you where the clean towels are and such before you get hit by that bus.” Cole had seen
one too many times with Ann and it had stuck. From the loud laugh he released, the reference was clearly not lost on Cash.
Cash settled upstairs, Cole crawled into his parents’ bed. The silence of the house was unnerving and made all the emotions held back from the day crash through his mental wall. Anger, fear, and pain poured into his body and he wondered if he would survive this week.
Who was this Poinsett and why?
He knew, felt, that he would learn soon. Too soon. Jackie was here to help as she had always been. Standing strong against anything that threatened her brother. But he was still feeling alone in the threat of his impending death. There was comfort that night in Cash being in the house. Perhaps he wasn’t alone in this after all.
Day Six Ninety-Three
COLE WAS BUSY
with the electric griddle, pouring his second batch of pancakes, when he heard the shower start upstairs.
Ain’t no Hot Pocket being served in this house
. The morning was cool enough to have the windows and doors to the screen porch open, letting the sounds of the marsh flood into the house, interrupted only by Etta James singing about needing a Sunday kind of love. Fifteen minutes later Cash came down wearing the same clothes as the night before, his hair still wet, slicked back, to be greeted to a pile of pancakes sitting in the middle of back porch’s glass table. Cole took in the sight of him for a second. “Mornin’. How did you sleep?”
Cash responded as he grabbed the cup of coffee Cole had offered. “Well, if you discount the pink boogie monsters in my dreams, pretty well. Man you weren’t kidding about all the pink.”
Cole laughed, “No, I warned you. Ever since Jackie was little it was like one of those pink boogie monsters vomited in the room. Apparently Mom couldn’t bring herself to paint over it when they turned it into a guest room.”
Both men sat down at the table and admired the marsh view for a few moments. A red-winged black bird sung somewhere off in the distance as Cole noticed a morning dove cooing above the house. “You know, Granny always said it was bad luck to have a dove land on your house, it means someone’s about to die.” The statement caught Cash off guard as he reached in for a pancake. He retreated back into his seat with a puzzled look on his unshaven face, without his prize.
“Cole, you know that isn’t going to happen. We’re going to stop him, Cole. You’ll see.” The ‘we’ stuck out to Cole. How did it all of a sudden became a ‘we?’
Cash continued, “Do you believe every old wives’ tale you hear, Grandpa?” His wide smile crossed his face to reveal a perfect set of bleached teeth. Cole’s random-fire brain sparked; he clearly did not grow up in Mount Pleasant, where the excess of natural fluoride stained children’s teeth with white and brown lines for generations.
Rolling his eyes to exaggerate his response, Cole said, “No, Mr. Cash, I don’t believe them all. But you know…the local hoodoo people seem to get it right most of the time. Whether it’s throwing bones or what, I don’t know. But I’ve seen my share of the unexplained and I’m not about to question centuries of African insight at this point in my life.” He was playing devil’s advocate, though he did tend to agree with his current stand.
“Lord, no wonder someone is after you. Sick in the head you are if you listen to all that mumbo-jumbo. Want me to pour some tea and you read the leaves, Miss Cleo?”
Cole playfully cut his eyes. “No, you can’t afford my services, sir.” They laughed at the game they were playing.
Reaching for a couple pancakes, Cole started again. “So, a buddy of mine called this morning. That’s what woke me up so early. I let him know the other day someone is running around with the name Poinsett and I needed any insight to see if there was a connection. He has apparently found something and wants to meet to show me.”
Cash sat up in excitement. “That is great news! When are we meeting him?”
Cole silently registered what Cash had just said.
There’s that ‘we’ again
“Where does he want to meet?”
Cole responded, “Actually, he said he can come here. He lives in Snee Farm just down the road. So he’ll stop by on a lunch break. Must be nice to work from home, huh?”
“Can I attend? I mean… I’d like to know what’s going on there. If this is in any way related to my brother, I want to know.”
“Are you kidding? Of course! I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see what he has to say.” With that, Cole wolfed down his third pancake and stared off into the distance.
We are on to you, Poinsett.