Chapter 14: What granddad knew
The face of the girl was there every time Alex closed his eyes. She had a very pretty face, but she was sad. Then there were her eyes. They held so much surprise and wonder yet so much pain. Alex so wanted to see her again. There was something about her. Something he needed to know. He felt he needed to help her, protect her. Shaking the thought from his head, he grumbled to himself, “Chauvinist much?” He had tried to get his father to tell more of the story on the drive home, but the older man wouldn’t give up any additional information.
“Granddad had some strange ideas. He was obsessed with that girl and that house” was all Alex could get from him. The conversation ended as they pulled into the drive. Once in the house, Alex tried to bring it up again. At this point Arthur told Alex. “If you want to know”—he pointed down the hall—“you’re more than welcome to go through his stuff.” Alex stared down the semidark passage to the closed door at the end. This had been his grandfather’s room. Since his death the room had become more and more of a storeroom. Alex nodded, unsure of how he wanted to proceed. He had fond memories of his granddad. He had come to live with them after Alex’s grandmother had died in the same car accident that had taken Alex’s mother. His granddad’s room was not somewhere he ventured often. A few times he remembered sitting at the desk in the corner while his granddad told him stories about World War II or the town’s history. Most times it felt as if he was intruding on a very special sanctuary when the old man lived there and more so since his death.
“Granddad was obsessed with her?” Alex found it odd that the girl in the gray coat was never mentioned by the older man. Alex found his hand on the door handle. Taking a deep breath, he turned the knob. Darkness stared back at him. The familiar smell of Old Spice and cigars sent memories chasing through Alex’s mind. Focusing on the task at hand, he flicked the light on. The atmosphere was immediately broken by the disarray of the room. Several boxes lay scattered where his grandfather’s bed had been. Since his granddad’s passing, that was the only piece of furniture that had been removed. Alex knew his father kept putting off cleaning out the room. Aaron was responsible for the scattered boxes. Even he seemed to feel he was intruding. Other than the missing bed and boxes, the room looked like it always had. One painting of a field on the wall, some old photos on the desk, but mostly it was very Spartan. Alex had never really paid attention to the photos before. He always assumed it was just pictures of the family. He sat wearily on the old, hard chair and began to really look at the faces in the old frames. Pictures of his father when he was young, his granddad and grandma in front of a house, and the usual things he expected. What he didn’t expect to see was Sterben Hall. Standing in front of the huge manor was a rather severe-looking couple with several children. The woman in the picture resembled his grandmother.
Alex began to go through the desk drawers. He found Christmas cards he and his brother had made when they were kids, old bank statements, and random documents that held no meaning or importance now. Next, he grabbed one of the boxes labeled Pictures from the floor. He felt almost like an archaeologist as he began to delve deeper into the box. Polaroids gave way to smaller reddened photos, then to black-and-white pictures of Granddad in his army uniform. Near the bottom he found pictures of children he did not recognize. It was on one of those large, long panoramic-type pictures of children that his eyes deceived him. He swore it moved toward his hand. He rubbed his eyes and watched the rolled up paper. Nothing happened. After an uncomfortable shrug, he unrolled the picture. Written on one corner was Lafayette High School 1932. Alex picked up a magnifying glass from the desk and began to study the faces. It took a few moments of scrutinizing before he found his granddad. With a gasp, Alex drew the picture and glass closer to his eye. Standing next to his grandfather, with a beautiful happy smile, was the girl he had seen at Sterben Hall. “Granddad did know her,” he whispered.
Box tops lay strewn around the room; papers lay piled one on top of the other ankle deep. It was getting near midnight when Alex found the artifact that lay open in his lap. It was a journal kept by his granddad about Chloe Miller, who had gone missing in their senior year. In the same box as the journal was a girl’s black-and-white leather shoe. It had a short heel and laces. Alex couldn’t believe it had been kept all this time.
Opening the journal carefully—the yellowing pages were brittle—Alex noticed the journal began before the disappearance.
September 26, 1932
It is the first day of school. The summer was rough, still not a lot of work to be had. What few jobs were available at the mill went fast at the end of last year. Mother didn’t want me working, but I know we could have used the extra money. I saw Chloe today. She was as pretty as ever. This might be the year I finally ask her out.
Alex flipped through several entries that spoke mostly of school, the few opportunities in town, and how his father had finally found a job at the mill after an accident had killed the previous employee. It wasn’t until October that Chloe was mentioned again.
October 21, 1932
I was walking with Chloe after school today when she asked if I was going to go to the Halloween parade next Saturday. When I said I was considering it, she told me she was going, and we should meet up. I think she might fancy me as I do her. I agreed, so I will have to see how it goes. It is going to be a long wait until next Saturday.
October 30, 1932
Yesterday was fantastic. Chloe and I spent time watching the parade and talking. We stopped in at the drugstore and had a soda. She was so pretty. I lay my hand on hers while we sat drinking, and it was perfect until that foul Edgar Davis walked in. He kept staring at us. Chloe was sure he was drunk. He comes from a well-respected family in town. His brother is well liked, but Edgar is cruel and always intoxicated. I wish I could find out where he got his liquor and get him arrested. I mentioned this to Chloe, but she told me to be careful since my dad works for Edgar’s family. I think this town would be better off without him. I wish his brother ran the mill. It wouldn’t be so dangerous there if he did.
November 18, 1932
There was an announcement today. Next month we are going to have a dance. They call it the Snow Ball. I asked Chloe if she wanted to go with me, and she said yes. I can’t believe it. She seemed really happy I asked. Tommy Kent was laughing at me when I did it. He didn’t laugh when she said yes.
November 30, 1932
Chloe was complaining about that Edgar Davis again. He had tried to pick her up on the way to school today. She was able to get away from that dirty drunk, but she was pretty upset. I wanted to walk her home, but I had to help Mother run some errands. I told her about Edgar, and all she could say was he came from a good family, and we shouldn’t look badly at him. He kept a lot of families working at the mill.
December 1, 1932
Chloe wasn’t at school today. I felt sick all day with worry. I went to her house after school, but she hadn’t come home the night before. They were worried something fierce. I retraced the path back to school and found some papers but no sign of her. I found skid marks and some weird marks on the ground but nothing else. Tomorrow I am going to go to Sterben Hall to see what I can find out.
December 2, 1932
I met Richard Davis today. He was very pleasant if not a bit aloof. I asked after Edgar and where he was yesterday. Richard mentioned Edgar offering Chloe a ride. He told me she had told Edgar she was thinking of leaving town to find work in the city. I did not believe him—Edgar that is. Richard then explained he had met his brother at the mill after 7:00 p.m., and they had been together there until after nine. The girl had been reported missing around 6:00 p.m., so Edgar couldn’t have had anything to do with it. When I asked about damage I saw to Edgar’s truck, Richard said he had hit a deer. I think he is covering for his no-good brother. Tommy says they don’t want a scandal.
December 10, 1932
Tommy’s family lives near Chloe’s family. I walked home with him yesterday. Today I took him to where I found the paper and the weird marks on the side of the road. We spent some time searching around. He found stains in the dirt that looked like blood, and somebody tried to cover it. I mentioned the deer, but Tommy didn’t know why Edgar would be out this way. He kicked a stone into the field; I don’t know why but I watched it fly; it was then I saw something. I found Chloe’s shoe. I know something happened to her.
December 11, 1932
I told the police what I found and about Edgar’s truck. They told me they had already talked to Edgar and his family. He had an alibi, but it was obvious Chloe had run off. She wasn’t the first, they said. I told them Chloe would never do that. Tommy’s uncle is a deputy, and he said I was just upset because I was sweet on her and she’d run off. I told him she would not leave her family; they were too close. They finally got mad and told me to leave.
December 27, 1932
I have been following Edgar whenever I can. I know Chloe must be dead by now. But I keep hoping that maybe Edgar just has her stashed somewhere. My parents are upset because I have missed school a lot lately, and Dad had seen me hanging around the mill.
January 26, 1933
Edgar threatened my dad today. He has seen me snooping around and asking questions. He told my dad that if I keep making trouble, then he would fire him. It isn’t fair. No one saw Edgar in his office. No one saw Richard come in. The front of Edgar’s truck was messed up. Then I found Chloe’s shoe and blood on the road. No one will believe me. I know Edgar killed her.
February 14, 1933
I miss Chloe. I haven’t found anything new to prove Edgar Davis killed her, but I know she must be dead. She never contacted her family or me. Edgar knows I know. Every time he sees me, he gets angry.
Alex flipped through the rest of the journal. There were mentions of other girls going missing and how his granddad had done more investigating and talking to the police to no avail. The journaling stopped in 1934 after his granddad left for college. It didn’t start again until 1939 when he joined the army. Alex was surprised to see a picture of his granddad standing with other soldiers in front of a B-17 bomber emblazoned with the name Chloe. He hadn’t even known his granddad had been a pilot.
Getting to his feet and stretching his aching back, Alex watched a news clipping flutter out of the back of the journal. The clipping was dated 1949. The story told of how Edgar Davis was found dead in Sterben Hall, apparently the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Edgar was shot in his bed. He was survived by his brother, Richard Davis, of Pittsburgh. Alex dismissed the thought that his grandfather may have had a hand in Edgar’s death. He turned off the light and closed the door to the room, the picture, clipping, and journal still tucked under his arm. He decided to find out whatever happened to Richard Davis and see if they ever found out who had killed Edgar. On top of that, he had to tell his father and brother that they had bought a murder house.