Ethan had harbored hope of finding the man who had shot Billy for no other reason than self-preservation. He had no memory of what led to Billy’s shooting, but if he was to make contact with Katherine Hawley, he wanted to know who to watch out for. Now he knew that the albino had a connection to the Hawleys. And for that man – Hulse – Ethan felt nothing but hatred. Ethan remembered the coldness of the ground against his back as it shook from the approaching horses. He remembered those pink eyes staring down at him as Cole’s body died.
And something else had lurked in those bunny eyes. Why had Hulse been so happy to murder a stranger? He had said that Ethan had been dropped on him from heaven. Ethan wanted to bring him a message from hell.
Animal urges rose in Ethan. He wanted revenge on Hulse for killing Cole and on the other nameless Hawley employee for trying to kill Billy. What had more priority? Killing Hawley’s minions or getting away with Beth? The answer came easy: Beth. But how to reach her? He couldn’t go anywhere near the Hawley house with a nameless psychopath there.
Ethan cursed his crippled body. He cursed the fates that had taken his wife. The frustration of his quest, the pains he had suffered – still suffered – welled up in a thick bile of anger. To have to skulk around the place he knew Beth to be was a lash across his soul, but skulking was all he could do at the moment.
Ethan remembered the Watson nurse, Helen, who had delivered his note. Could he approach her again? What could he say to her that wouldn’t make her think him insane?
An idea began to form. Hobbling back to the general store, Ethan got paper and an envelope. First, he would write a message and then figure out how to get it delivered.
Ethan racked his brain for a way to communicate with Beth that would be indecipherable by anyone else. Then he wrote.
Your thirty-fourth birthday. Same date, same time, add five months and look under the trees at the side of your house. Obviously, very different year. Ethan.
Today was March fifth. Beth’s birthday was October fifteenth. He prayed she would understand his coded message about that magical night and meet him in ten days at .
Then he remembered that her birthday was also the day of the lightning.
It took several inquiries, but Ethan eventually found the Watson house, a modest brick structure in the center of Sharpsburg. Furls of black crepe fluttered between the columns of the front porch.
Ethan knocked on the formidable front door, his mouth dry, his right hand clutching a sealed envelope. Just as Ethan had decided this a bad idea and was turning to leave, he heard the rattle of the brass doorknob. The heavy oak swung back and he saw a face he recognized. He had last seen it hovering over him in his last moments as Charles Watson.
“Yes, may I help you?” The nurse looked him up and down.
Her young face squinted into a preview of what she would look like in twenty years. “I don’t know you. What’s your business here? We’re in mourning or can’t you see too well?”
“Helen, I know you’re a kind person. You took very good care of Mr. Watson. I’m sorry to bother you now, but I’ve come to ask you for a favor.”
She tilted her head, suspicious.
First, Ethan showed her the two-bit silver piece he had taken from the store’s till. Her eyes widened at the sight of hard currency. “Helen, how did you get the notes to Katherine Hawley?”
The nurse’s eyebrows came down and she stepped back a pace. Ethan sensed she was about to slam the door in his face. “It’s okay, Helen. I just want some information. I need to get a message to Katherine.”
“Jes walk up to the house, then.” The door started to close. Ethan did something he never thought he would do. He darted his left foot between the door and the jamb. This sudden move shrieked pain up his back and through his shoulder, but he stood his ground.
The door opened wide enough for Helen’s panicked face to protrude. “I can’t take messages there no more. Mrs. Hawley chased me off. Go away.”
Ethan held up the silver and said, “Just tell me her maid’s name. I know you know her.”
“It’s Emily.” A hand snaked out and made the silver vanish. Ethan felt a painful impact on his left toes as Helen stomped his foot. Reflexively, he pulled back and the door slammed shut.
Mrs. Nichols rummaged through bolts of cloth at the rear of her store, humming to herself, lost in thought.
She whirled and clutched at her chest. “My word, Billy Anspach, don’t sneak up on a person like that.”
“Sorry, ma’am. I just wanted to ask you something. Do you know the Hawley maid, Emily?”
Mrs. Nichols’s look of consternation quickly remolded into a sly, knowing grin. She saw a possibly juicy piece to add to the cauldron of gossip that stewed in her shop. “Ah, now I see why you were acting so skittish about the Hawley house. Emily is an attractive young woman, no doubt.”
“No, no, Mrs. Nichols. I wondered if you had seen Emily lately? How often does she come in here?”
“Oh, maybe once or twice a week. Do you want to meet her?”
Ethan looked at his feet, stuttered as he said, “Well, yeah.”
Mrs. Nichols had heard some whispers about Katherine Hawley. Had there been some sparking between her and Billy? But looking at the gawky young man before her, Mrs. Nichols couldn’t see how the refined Hawley beauty could ever be interested in this specimen. No, the rumors were close, but wrong. The maid was the more likely match for Billy. But why did he act as if they had never met? Rumor had it that someone in the Hawley house was pregnant. Only momentarily slowed as her mind sifted this new information into her never-ending skein of personal intrigues, Mrs. Nichols smiled.
“Billy, I’m sure she’ll pop in here any day now. I’ll see to it you two talk.” Mrs. Nichols gave Ethan a knowing nod and shooed him toward the door. “Now, off with you. I have work to do.”
Gossip was one thing, but being able to actually influence events, be a matchmaker? Mrs. Nichols floated through her chores in heavenly bliss for the rest of the day.