With five Mormon gold coins and various silvers still in his pockets and a full breakfast under his belt, Jasper felt right with the world as he rode into Sharpsburg with the rising sun over his left shoulder. Residents glanced at him, but after more than a year of war, they had gotten used to strangers passing through and paid no particular notice to the man they had almost hanged.
Not far into town, Jasper found the sign heralding Anspach’s general store. He hitched his horse and entered the large, barn-like establishment. Jasper acted like any other customer. He selected a wide range of items he would need on the trail: dried beef, a mess kit, a cook pot, a coffee pot, flour, beans, lard, and blankets. He treated himself to two pounds of real coffee, a supreme luxury. Jasper had drunk enough chicory to last the rest of his life.
As he settled his bill, Jasper examined the man behind the counter. From the man’s hands, Jasper judged him to be roughly his own age, but the man’s face seemed much older. The burst blood vessels on the man’s nose and the watery eyes signaled the ravages of drink.
A matronly woman bundled up like a pigeon waddled into the store. “Mornin’ Calvin.”
“Mornin’, Mrs. Pushcar.”
Calvin, Billy’s father, just the man Jasper wanted to see. As he waited for his change, Jasper said, “So, how’s that boy of yours doin’?”
Calvin squinted at his customer. “You know Billy?”
“Met him once or twice.”
“Boy ran off. He’s actin’ crazy lately.”
Jasper watched Calvin’s hands shake as he counted out change, noted the alcohol smell coming off the man. “Have a bender last night?”
“Hate getting’ up this early. Billy usually opens the store.”
“Young’uns is like that. Gonna take the strap to him when you find ’im?”
Calvin chuckled. “Kinda big for that. He might jes’ take the strap to me.”
Jasper laughed too. “Couple times I been in here, he always seemed like a good worker. When you ’spect him back?”
“Where ya think he run off to?”
Calvin’s wrinkles shifted into a sour expression. “Heared he chased after a girl. Never knew the boy was even interested. He just up and takes off after her.”
Jasper shook his head. “Makes ya wish ya was young, don’t it?”
“No. Didn’t have shit when I was young.”
“Which way’d he go? I might run into him.”
“Unless you take the canal, not much chance of that. I heared that’s where the girl went. You want some help gettin’ this stuff outside?”
With Calvin bringing out armfuls of supplies, Jasper had time to properly pack his saddlebags and distribute the weight evenly.
“That’s the last of it. Where you off to with all that?”
“Driftin’ north and west.”
“Well, good luck to you.” Calvin slapped his hands against his arms and ran back into the warmth of the store like a man on a mission.
Jasper leaped into his saddle and tapped the horse’s flanks with his heels. Ethan was chasing after some girl? It could only mean he had found his wife. For an instant he thought how crazy that sounded. Before yesterday’s ride he could never have had such notions. But he had seen Ethan as Cole and as Billy and he knew both times he saw the same man. So why couldn’t the same be true for Ethan’s wife?
We’re all crazy, he thought, as he began whistling Lorena.