The words of Mr. Smythe echoed in Charles’ ears as he struggled to find someone that would tell him where he could find Connell McNeil, something he’d been doing for the last day and a half. What was it about this man that kept everyone from even speaking to him? Charles would say the name, and people would clam up.
“That isn’t a good sign, old man,” he muttered to himself as he came to a stop outside a small building. The shingle beside the door declared this as the doctor’s office. He growled, wondering to himself why he hadn’t thought to find the doctor when he’d first arrived. Shaking it off, he hoped that maybe, just maybe, now that he’d found the doctor, he could get the man to answer his questions.
“Hello,” he called as he entered and found an empty office. “Anyone here?”
“Aye! Just a moment!”
Charles waited with his hat in his hand and was surprised to see a man come shuffling into the room with snow white hair and a slightly hunched back.
“Ye be new here, Son. What can I do for ye?”
It had been a number of years since Charles had heard someone call him son, but he instantly felt at ease with this man, and felt hope rise within him again. “I’m only visiting. I’m actually looking for a friend.”
“Aye. And what be the name of the friend?”
“She was Elsie Hughes. I’m told she’s now Elsie McNeil.” Charles watched the old man’s face drain of color.
“Ye don’t know what kind of man he is.”
“No, I don’t. I need to. I need to know if she’s okay. It’s my fault she’s in this mess, fool that I am.”
“He’s a mean one. No good. He owns the shop just down the way from here. The Lass,” the old man shook his head. “She’s a wee thing and no match for him. Ye be a good sturdy man. Ye’ll need to be if ye’ve come to take her away. It will’na be easy as the law be on his side.”
Charles was desperately trying to control his anger and the urge to rush out the door and run to the shop. “How many times has she been here?” he asked, barely containing the boom of his voice.
“Too many times and not enough.”
Swallowing down his rage, Charles took a deep breath. “How much longer will you be here?”
“I live in back. I’m always here.”
Charles nodded. “Thank you, Doctor,”
“Thank you, Dr. Shannon. You’re the first person that has been kind enough to tell me the truth.”
“No, Son. Not kind enough. Brave enough. And, Son…”
“Money might do ye good.”
“You whore!” Connell shouted as he backhanded Elsie sending her sprawling to the floor. “Why have you come out here? And dressed like that? Do you realize what people will think of me? I have tried to make a decent woman out of you, but you refuse!” Stalking toward her, he reached down and grabbed her hair to pull her up. “I will make you a submissive wife.”
Elsie, even if she’d wanted to, couldn’t have told him she’d come out to the store dressed as she was because she’d been told to. The blow to her face had broke her jaw, but, she didn’t care anymore. Maybe if he was angry enough, he would kill her and end this hell she woke up to every day. Feeling herself falling from another blow, she cried out when her head hit a shelf just before she collapsed in a heap on the floor. She heard ringing and yelling even as blackness moved in.
And just before she lost all consciousness, she heard a voice from her past.
“How dare you!” Charles roared as he rushed Connell, his large hand wrapping around the other man’s neck as he shoved him against the wall, Connell’s feet lifting off the floor.
Connell struggled against the giant of a man, his own hands tugging at the hand around his neck making it difficult for him to breathe. “Unhand me,” he finally managed to grunt out as he tried to swing his leg to kick his attacker.
Charles had anticipated the defensive action and pressed his own legs against Connell’s, pinning him so he couldn’t move. “Don’t think of grabbing me with your hands,” his voice lowered an octave making it sound as though he were growling. “You won’t like the consequences.” Staring up at the man, Charles relished in his pale face, his eyes nearly bulging from their sockets, and his gasping for air.
Then he realized what he was doing and let go.
Connell tried to take a swing at Charles even as he gasped for air. “Who are you? I’ll have you arrested. Coming into my shop and attacking me for no reason!”
“No reason?” Charles roared, having to practically stand on his own foot to keep himself from lunging at the man again. As it was, he was sure his eyes were black with the rage surging through him which would account for the other man’s quickly inching his way away from Charles. “You hit her, that’s reason enough,” he hissed as he turned and made his way over to Elsie.
Kneeling down next to the prone figure on the floor, Charles felt bile rise in his throat. The way she was dressed, the cuts and bruises, her split lip and swelling face, the pool of blood under her head, were all enough to make Charles want to rise and pummel Elsie’s so called husband into nothing but a pile of dust.
“Dear god, Elsie,” he breathed as he took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at the blood on her face. Realizing he had to get her out of here and to the doctor, he stood and turned to face Connell who still stood behind the shop’s counter, his eyes plastered to Charles and following his every movement. “I’m taking her with me. Where are her things?”
“You can’t take her! She’s mine.”
“She is no man’s property!”
“That ring on her finger says otherwise. The law is on my side. If you take her, it will be kidnapping and you’ll be charged.” Connell responded with a smirk, some of his bravery coming back.
Charles scowled as he leaned down and pulled the ring from Elsie’s finger. Straightening back up, he flipped the ring across the room, hitting Connell square in the head. “No longer. Now where are her things?”
“You can’t take my wife!”
Charles took a deep breath and stalked over to Connell. Bending down, his hot breath fanned across Connell’s face as he spoke. “How much? I’ll pay you to let me take her.”
“You don’t have enough.”
“How much?” Charles asked again, the bit of patience he’d managed to regain slowly slipping away again.
Connell rattled off a number and Charles nodded. “You can’t possibly have that much money,” he blinked at Charles in surprise when there was no argument.
“You’d be surprised, Mr. McNeil.” Charles answered. “Now, where are her things?”
“Through there.” Connell pointed and watched as Charles stormed through to their private quarters. He’d never met a man like this one before. None of the men in the village were brave enough to tell him what to do or threaten him, but this one didn’t seem to be afraid of anything.
Being big as an ox, and then some, played a huge part in it, Connell was sure.