Chapter 16: 1947
“Oh look, the big war hero come to visit the lesser relations, huh?” Edgar slurred. Richard stood in the middle of the filthy front room, his tidy appearance and pressed dress uniform in distinct contrast to Edgar’s disheveled one.
“I have heard the mill is not being very productive. That is not acceptable.” Richard spoke calmly.
“Not acceptable!” Edgar shouted. “Not acceptable! You want to know what is not acceptable?” He struggled to rise off the tall wingback chair, the same chair his father used to sit in and look at his son with contempt. “What is not acceptable is Father left everything to you.” He shook his head knowing he wasn’t making the most sense. “All I got was that failing mill and this tired old house. And that”—he pointed an accusing finger at Richard—“is probably because you couldn’t be bothered with it. I’ve heard all about your fine house in Pittsburgh, though I have never been invited.” Edgar grabbed an empty crystal glass, put it to his lips, noticed it was empty, and threw it across the room. Richard just sighed as the glass shattered. Then he spared Edgar a look of disappointment, so reminiscent of their father that Edgar shouted, “Don’t! Don’t you dare look at me like that!” He grabbed a bottle from the sideboard. Taking a long pull on the bottle, he turned back to his brother. “Why the hell are you still wearing that?” He pointed to the uniform.
“Because I am still in the army.” Richard rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, I came here to tell you I have hired a manager for you.” He ignored Edgar’s look of disgust. “I know you can handle things.” He raised a hand to halt the brewing protest. “I just want to help you get through this rough patch. He will be here on Monday.” He grabbed a glass from the sideboard, took the bottle from Edgar, and poured a generous amount of the amber liquid. He ignored the murderous look on his brother’s face. Handing back the bottle, he continued, “I hope you haven’t had any more…troubles since I have been gone.” The color drained from Edgar’s face.
“No.” Edgar slowly placed the bottle next to Richard’s still half-full glass. “I don’t go out much anymore.”
“Ah, keep close to home then. Good.”
“I don’t want any more troubles.” Edgar ran his hand over his face. “I can still see their faces.” His trembling hand was reaching for the bottle. He closed his eyes. “The girl on the road, the one in the woods, the one by the lake. I’m haunted by them every day. I swear I see the one in the woods some nights. She is just standing there pointing at the house.” He was swallowing large gulps of whiskey. “I was at the lake, and I swear I could see her face under the water. They are after me.”
Richard laid a hand on Edgar’s shoulder. “That is just your imagination. No one is after you.”
“I don’t know how much longer I can do it.” Tears ran down Edgar’s face. “They are always there, day and night. I have to get away from them.” He took another drink. “Sometimes I think I should just go to the police, tell them everything.” He turned to look into Richard’s eyes. “Should I do that?”
“Now, now, brother of mine, you know you can’t do that. If you tell anyone, it will be the ruin of the family name. Plus, you will get me into trouble for helping you,” Richard explained.
“But I just can’t take the guilt.” Edgar wept.
“Listen, I have to leave the country for a while,” Richard explained soothingly, his hands on Edgar’s shoulders. “I have been deployed to someplace in Asia—Korea, I think it’s called.” Releasing his brother, he opened another bottle and handed it over. Edgar drank greedily. “Just wait until I get back, and we will go to the police together. We’ll explain what happened.” He sipped his drink. “I mean the one walked in front of the car, the other was in the woods, and then the last one drowned on her own. Accidents. We just say you panicked or found them dead. It’s not like”—he finished the glass—“you even remember killing them.” Edgar moaned and wept harder, sinking down into the high back chair. “I ship out tomorrow, and Lawrence will be here on Monday to learn the ropes at the mill. Make sure he knows everything he needs to. OK?” Richard placed his cap smartly on his head. Edgar sniffed softly. He took another drink. Richard wasn’t sure Edgar would even remember their talk.
Edgar spent the rest of the weekend in a haze of booze and guilt. Monday found him red-rimmed-eyed and shaky in his office. A knock at the door drew his attention. “Good morning, Edgar. My name is Lawrence Snowden; I believe Richard told you I was coming.”
Edgar eyed the stranger with disgust. “My name is Mr. Davis. I don’t care how friendly of terms you are on with my brother. I demand the respect of my employees.” The look Lawrence returned was one of pleasantness, but his eyes were full of malevolence.
“Yes, sir. My apologies.” Lawrence gave a short bow. “The last organization I worked for was a bit less formal, see.”
Edgar snorted his disapproval. Shouting over Lawrence, he called for a weasel-faced man named Carl to show Lawrence around. Carl made no effort to show his contempt. As far as he was concerned, Edgar already had an assistant, and it was him. He played cards with Edgar and drank with him almost every afternoon. The other workers at the mill were more than happy to tell Lawrence about it after the second week he was there.
Carl and Edgar made it evident they did not like the new interloper or his ideas for the mill. After a month of—what Edgar deemed unnecessary—costly improvements, he had had it with the amount of money being spent. He was sitting in his office fretting over the numbers when shouting interrupted his thoughts. The bottle in his fist slowly sank to the desk as he rose to his feet. His anger was building with each step toward the door. He swung it wide to be greeted by Lawrence and Carl shouting at each other. Many of the workers had stopped to watch the altercation. Edgar was ready to let the shouting run its course until Carl threw a punch. It missed Lawrence, barely. Immediately people intervened, and Edgar had to do something. He hated having to do things.
“That is enough! Both of you, in my office now!” he bellowed. “As for the rest of you”—he pointed an accusing finger—“get back to work.” He turned running almost nose to nose with Lawrence. Carl was already in Edgar’s office.
“I think this turn of events would make your brother very unhappy. Very unhappy indeed, especially if I were to tell him how you and your little friend there liked to spend so much time alone together.” Lawrence smiled. Edgar had taken a step back. The intonation was clear.
“There is nothing of that sort going—” Edgar began.
“Oh, good to know. I’m sure Richard will be happy to hear that. He is ever so concerned about his brother.” The smile turned cruel. “He hopes that your—how should we put this?—indiscretions have not moved on to more…unnatural desires,” Lawrence whispered. Several eyes watched from behind machinery. Edgar grabbed Lawrence by the arm, hauling him to the office. He slammed the door so hard the glass cracked.
“I don’t know what started it, but it is done,” Edgar shouted at the two men. Carl cowered under the rage; Lawrence looked bored. Edgar dropped his voice to what he hoped was a deadly calm. Staring right into Lawrence’s cold gray eyes, he spoke very clearly. “Carl is my floor manager, not you. That is all he is.”
Lawrence looked over at Carl’s sneering face and shrugged. “Good to know. I mean what two never-married men carrying on alone in this office get up to? Well, you can see how that causes rumors.” The effect this had on Carl was as Lawrence had hoped.
“I…I…What? No, I was married. She died before the war,” Carl choked out.
“Died, did she? I heard she ran off with a soldier and is living happily in Cleveland.” Lawrence smiled at the pain he had just caused. “And as we know from Edgar’s luck, women are just dying”—he emphasized the word—“to meet him. Or was it to get away from him?”
Edgar stumbled around his desk, nearly falling into his chair. His hands shook. It took a couple of attempts to speak through his cracking voice. Carl looked confused. “I think we should continue this discussion later. Over dinner perhaps? Yes, you both will come to my home at seven tonight, and we will figure out how to make this arrangement work for all parties involved.” Edgar finished puffing himself up, trying to recapture the stature of the man in charge. “Right. So, out!” He pointed to the door. “Get back to work, and don’t let me catch you two fighting,” he shouted as Carl slunk from the room. Lawrence gave that short bow and smiled as he left, closing the door behind him. Edgar wiped the sweat from his forehead. He slowly opened the desk drawer, pulling the thick cloth-wrapped item out, putting it in his empty lunch box. The bottle it had previously contained lay empty under the desk.
Edgar made a call to the housekeeper. She was to prepare an elegant meal for him and his guests. When the appointed time rolled around, he was not disappointed. Nervously he had waited, so he had already had a few calming drinks before his guests arrived. Each one brought a bottle for their host, and they had wine with dinner. After the plates had been cleared away, Edgar sent the housekeeper home. He sat in the parlor drinking scotch and smoking cigars with his guests discussing how they could all work together. That was what he remembered they were talking about.
Now the room was dark. He was still in his clothes, but he was no longer in the parlor. Cold sweat broke out across his face. “No, no, not again,” he whimpered. Two voices talking low and quickly caught his attention. A light from the hall was flickering. Through his stupor he could make out Lawrence and Carl having an intense discussion. “Waz…wazgone on?” he slurred. Lawrence quickly hushed Carl.
“Had a bit too much, I’m afraid. We had to put you to bed. Last place they’ll look, I’m sure,” Lawrence explained. Carl sniggered. “Was awfully nice of you to bring along this fine weapon.” Lawrence was showing the gun Edgar had brought home from the office. He had intended to use it on Lawrence, letting Carl take the blame. His drinking had ruined that plan. Edgar tried desperately to recall whether he had told them of the plan. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure you had plans for this, and I did bring my own but when an opportunity presents itself.” Lawrence was aiming the weapon at Edgar. Carl was easing backward away. “I had planned to have this look like a suicide, but after conferring with dear Carl, I think we have a better plan.”
Edgar tried to raise himself, tried to protest, barter, beg, but all he could do is mutter, “Why?”
Lawrence laughed. “Because you are a liability, ole boy.” His smile was barely hidden in the shadows. “A problem that needs to be fixed, a loose end to tie up.”
Looking past Lawrence, Edgar blinked, trying to bring the picture into focus. He smiled weakly. Behind the shooter stood Carl, his longtime confidant and pal. Carl held a gun of his own. Edgar smiled; his head swiveled as he tried to stay awake. They’ll tell the police it was self-defense, and it was. Edgar laughed. He pointed and laughed until the laugh died in his throat. It seemed more like a pop than a bang. Edgar had expected louder. It hurt to breathe. His shirt was wet. He looked up at Lawrence silhouetted in the door. A louder bang, and Lawrence crumpled to the floor. Now Edgar could see Carl. In the hall a blue haze of smoke lingered.
“Looks like you’ll be gone soon enough,” Carl sneered as he wiped the gun clean. He was at Lawrence’s body. Edgar couldn’t see what Carl was doing. He was weak and cold. Carl reappeared holding Edgar’s gun. He was at Edgar’s side now. Edgar’s blurry vision was dimming. “I have put up with you too long,” Carl whispered. “Oh, the things I know and the money I am being paid to keep it quiet.” He leaned closer to Edgar’s ear. “I know who actually killed those girls.” He giggled. “You are such a patsy.” Edgar felt something cold, metal, and heavy in his hand. Carl was at the door, his face half-illuminated from the hall. “God, I have hated your sorry drunken ass for so long. I am finally rid of you.”
Edgar was dying. Lawrence had shot him, and then Carl had shot Lawrence. Edgar’s mind was spinning. What did Carl mean he knew who killed the girls? The tunnels were closing in on his vision. Didn’t Edgar kill them? He was going to hell now. The light faded.