Chapter 12: Murders and Such
on the rickety bench at the ball field, Ginny stared across the
street to the old foreman's house. They were waiting on Becky to
arrive; she was always the last to get there because she tended to
have more chores to complete than the rest of them. Baseball was out
for the day, they knew, but they had seemed to gravitate to the field
anyway out of habit. The sun hadn't been up long and already the air
seemed heavy. It was sure to be another sweltering day, and their
best bet would most certainly be to head down to the river as soon as
Becky joined them. Tommy looked over at Ginny and read her thoughts.
"You can forget it," he said.
She didn't say a word, but just kept staring at that house. He kept looking at her, waiting. "Huh?" she finally said, when she'd felt his eyes on her.
"I said you can forget it."
"I'm not going back in there." There was a sense of finality in the way he said it.
She turned her gaze back to the house and thought another minute. "But dontcha wonder?"
"Tommy, you saw inside that house. Don't tell me you don't wonder why them folks just up and left all their stuff, and why it's still empty."
"It don't really bother me."
"The foreman hung himself in the basement," J.D. said. "A couple other families moved in and moved out real fast 'cause he haunted 'em."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "If ya ask twenty people, you're gonna get twenty different stories about that house."
"I always heard the Widow Lester cursed it after the foreman shot her ol' man in that poker game," Danny added.
Becky's carrot top came into their view now. She crossed the street and trotted across the dirt patch to join them on the bench. "Morning, y all."
The boys mumbled a greeting, but Ginny was eager to prove her point and asked, "Hey, Becky, how come that ol' house by your uncle's is always empty?"
Becky cocked her head to the side. "I thought everybody knew."
"Well," Becky began, "There was this creature or demon or something that possessed the foreman and made him kill his wife. He tried to tell the judge that the creature made him do it, and they ended up carting him off to the asylum. Reckon the demon's still in the house, waiting for its next host."
"And now ya know," Ginny said, smirking at Tommy.
"Still," he insisted, "What does any of it have to do with me? Nothing, that's what. I don't need to know."
"None of those stories sounds very likely," Danny offered, in his shy, unsure way of saying most everything
"They're not," Tommy agreed. "It's all just a bunch of hearsay."
"Exactly!" Ginny chimed, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. "But even hearsay has to have some fact to be based on, wouldn't you agree?"
"Well, yeah but-"
"And if there's facts, there's probably record of those facts..." she said, as if only to herself. Maybe she could find out what she wanted to know without actually entering the house again.
"This is foolish," said Tommy, standing up. "And it's hot. Let's get down to the river."
Ginny stood, too, and set off walking across the dirt patch. "Y'all have fun."
"Where you going?" J.D. called from behind her.
"Across the mountain."
"And how you gonna get there before tomorrow?"
"I got my ways."
A moment later Tommy was walking by her side. She looked at him, a quizzical look upon her face. "What?" he said. "I ain't ever been to the other side of the mountain. What's over there you wanna see anyhow?"
"Alright. How're we getting there?"
"Aw, Ginny, you ain't gonna hot wire it again, are ya?"
"Course not. My brother'll take us."
"He don't mind?"
"If there's one thing he won't say no to, it's a trip to the library."
"You want to go to the library. You and Tommy," Kody said, attempting to clarify what he'd just heard.
"Yep," Ginny affirmed.
He watched her, silently, for any signs of trickery as he finished his cereal. "What do you two wanna go to the library for?"
"To read, of course. Besides, it's hot out and we're about sick of swimming."
He looked at Tommy, then back at Ginny, still suspicious. "I dunno."
"We might run into somebody from church."
She gave him a withering look. "You really think anybody we go to church with is gonna be hanging out at the library? They already got the only book any of 'em will ever need right at home."
He gave it some thought before somewhat reluctantly agreeing. When he finished his cereal, he grabbed the truck keys and the past-due copy ofCrime and Punishmentand headed out the door. He got in the truck as Ginny slid in the passenger's side and Tommy climbed up into the bed.
"What's he do - " Kody started, looking out the back window, brows furrowed. "Tommy, what are you doing? Get in the truck."
Tommy looked confused. He was in the truck.
"With us. In the cab."
Tommy timidly crawled out of the bed and slid in the passenger's side next to Ginny. No one mentioned the fact that Tommy had never been in an automobile before, and not much was said at all on the ride across the mountain road. Ginny made sure to keep quiet when they got off the mountain and intotown town, so that Tommy could take in the sights undisturbed.
Kody parked outside the library, across from the statue of the mountaineer that seemed to be the center of Tommy's attention. They got out and followed Kody to the big, oak double doors. He stopped, blocking their entry.
"Don't mess anything up. If you need help, ask the librarian...politely. You got that?"
"Yeah. We may have to be here a while, if that's OK," Ginny replied.
His face had remained serious, but she was pretty sure she'd caught a glint in his eye that told her she'd said just the words he wanted to hear.
He opened the heavy door and they followed him into the little vestibule with the bulletin board, and then on into the library itself. Once inside, Kody abandoned them to go tend to his own literary desires. Ginny looked at Tommy, standing in awe of the rows and rows of book-packed shelves. She knew he couldn't read very well, but she could certainly understand how he could be so enamored by the vast multitude of written works all in one place.
"You can go look around if ya want," she offered.
He shook his head. "Nah, I came here with you and you came with a mission."
She smiled and nodded, then led him to the librarian's desk. The middle-aged lady behind the desk, her graying hair in a tight bun, pushed her horn-rimmed glasses up on her beak-like nose when she looked up from her book to acknowledge them. "How may I help you children?"
"We'd like to look at some old newspapers," Ginny replied. "Stuff about Mabry's Ridge."
"So you're needing the local paper, The Coopersville Chronicle?"
"Is there anything specific I may be able to help you find?"
"Well, we're looking for anything on murders, suicides, murder-suicides..."
"Lynchings," Tommy added.
"Lynchings," Ginny repeated.
The librarian's eyes momentarily widened and she nervously adjusted her glasses. She cleared her throat. "This way."
They followed her to the part of the Reference section that contained periodicals. "They're on this side of this one," she said, gesturing at the tall shelf stacked with volume upon volume of bound newspapers. "They date back to 1908."
"Thank you, ma'am," Tommy said with his most polite smile.
The librarian nodded then hurried off without a word, shaking her head as she went.
"OK," said Ginny. "My uncle said the folks that left all their stuff lived there when Jack and Kody were babies. That means we can rule out everything that's not around" - she stopped to count off years with her fingers - "1923 or '24."
Tommy sighed, shaking his head. "Just because they left sometime after that year don't mean that whatever made 'em leave didn't happen a long time before that. Ya know, if it's haunted or hexed or something."
He was right. Though Ginny didn't want to believe in ghosts or curses or demons, the stories were there and couldn't be ignored. She looked up at the massive shelf and sighed herself. One paper a week, times 16 or more years, times 52 weeks in a year was...a lot. "So, we'll start with March 15, 1908..."
Two hours later, they'd begun to make a dent in the collection, but had yet to find anything related to the house. Violent crimes were few and far between in Mabry's Ridge, aside from the occasional rowdy behavior of pro-union miners. Once in a while, they stumbled across something of interest in one of the surrounding communities, and kept the volume opened to that page on the table. Maybe if they went back over those articles with a fine-tooth comb, they could make some connection to the house.
Ginny closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. All the tiny words were making her head ache, but she was certain they would find some answers or at least a clue. She continued scanning the pages filled with stories about mine activity, moonshine raids, the Great War, obituaries, marriage announcements, and ads for sales on livestock feed. But nothing that pointed to the abandonment of the old gray house.
Another hour passed and several more volumes were pulled from the shelf and replaced, no relevant stories having been found. Tommy brought a volume from 1930 to the table and began looking through the pages, but stopped when he got to the front page from a July issue. The headline read, "Three Killed in Mine Collapse". He looked over at Ginny, diligently searching through newspapers in the seat next to him, and promptly closed the volume. "Nothin' in this one."
Tommy returned the volume to the shelf and came back to the table empty-handed. "What year have you got?"
"1931," said Ginny.
"Don't ya think that's late enough? Jack and Kody woulda been seven years old then, not exactly babies"
With a tired sigh, she closed the volume in front of her. "Yeah, you're right. I was just really hoping to find something, ya know?"
"Well, we can look again at these others we left open. Just because none of the crimes actually happened at the house don't mean they couldn't somehow be connected to it," Tommy said, hopefully.
"Yeah." She put the 1931 volume back up and returned to the table to begin reexamining the stories on violent crimes they had previously found. The words were all running together at this point and her head was pounding, but she was determined to find something.
Kody glanced up at the clock; they had been there four hours and he hadn't heard a peep out of Ginny and Tommy. He had been perfectly content to start devouring the books he'd selected while waiting on them, but having not heard from them in so long had him worried they might be up to no good. He closed the biography he was already half finished with and placed it atop the stack of books he intended to check out. When he stood up, he had to stretch to loosen the stiffness in his muscles; he hadn't realized how long he'd been sitting there.
He looked in the Juvenile Fiction section, Adult-Fiction, and even Children's, but they weren't there. He crossed the library back to the Non-Fiction section, where he'd selected a few books for himself today, but there wasn't a soul to be found. It was where he least expected them to be that he found them, pouring over newspapers in the Reference section. He walked up behind them and looked over Ginny's shoulder at the articles they were reading; they had titles like, "A Crime of Passion", "Tragic Accident Ruled Murder", and "Two Bodies Discovered - Foul Play Suspected".
"Pretty serious stuff y'all are looking at there," he noted, frowning.
"Reckon so," Ginny said, never looking up from the article she seemed to be picking apart.
"Whatcha looking for?"
"We're trying to figure out whatever we can about that old, empty house next to the boarding house," Tommy replied.
"Oh, I see," Kody said, a smile appearing on his face as he thought of the countless ridiculous stories he'd heard about that old place. "Be done soon?"
"Yeah," Ginny said, still glued to the article in front of her.
Kody looked again at their table with the numerous volumes of newspapers strewn about, but didn't see any actual books. "Not gonna check out any books today?"
" 'S not what we came here for," Ginny mumbled. "We'll just be a few more minutes.
Like the librarian, he walked away shaking his head. On his way back to retrieve his stack of books, he swung through the Juvenile Fiction section and grabbed the first Nancy Drew book he saw. He added it to his stack and headed to the librarian's desk to check out. The librarian looked up from her book of crossword puzzles when she heard the heavy thud of the stack of books on the counter.
"Why, Mr. Paserella," she said, smiling at her best patron. "It's been a little while since I last saw you."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, removing a book from the sizable stack. "As a matter of fact, I have an overdue book. It was due back last week, so how much will that be?"
She took Crime and Punishment from him and placed it on the cart behind the desk. "I think we can let one late return slide."
"Are you sure? I've got money."
"Keep your money, dear. It'll be perfectly fine."
"Well, thank you, ma'am."
"My pleasure." She picked up theNancy Drew book, pulled the slip from the inside of the back cover, stamped the return date on it, and returned it to its pocket. When she closed it, she did a double-take. "Not really your style, this one."
He raised an eyebrow and looked at his stack of books, ranging in genres from philosophy to fantasy. "I have a style?"
"Well, you don't normally check out books written for young girls."
He smiled. "That one's for my sister."
"That little girl in the Reference section, researching murders and suicides and lynchings?"
He looked down and sighed. "That would be her, yes."