Chapter 2: 1932
Edgar Davies drove along the dusty country lane in the crisp fall sunshine. He had been traveling for a little while. The distance of home from town annoyed him. He barely noticed the morning dew still glistening on the tall grass along the side of the road. He felt nothing but contempt for the smaller farms and the people who lived in them as he passed. Cresting a hill, he spied a young woman walking alone, her school books held tightly against her gray wool coat. Edgar slowed as he approached, taking in her gray suede shoes, the nice-fitting coat, and the green ribbon in her hair. He slowed more, coming level to her. She glanced at the truck but kept walking. Edgar leaned over, rolling down the window with some difficulty. Trying to keep pace with her, he leaned across the seat. His grip on the wheel caused him to swerve toward the girl. She stutter-stepped sideways to avoid collision. Frowning, she glared into the cab and kept walking, increasing her pace.
Edgar cursed the mistake. “Hey,” he called. “You’re the Miller girl, right?” She nodded but kept walking, head down, not looking in his direction. “I’m Edgar Davies,” he said proudly, waiting for recognition. “You know, of the Sterben Davieses,” he stated pompously. Now it was his turn to frown. She simply nodded but kept walking. Edgar decided to change tact. “Hey! Karen, right? How ’bout I give you a ride? It is cold out there.”
Finally, she paused slightly. “My name is Chloe,” she corrected as she continued forward. “Thank you for the offer, but I prefer to walk.” Her reply was polite but firm. She had heard the stories about Edgar and his offers. Chloe did not wish to find out their validity.
Edgar’s fist balled on the seat; anger blazed in his eyes. The engine revved; the wheels turned then screeched to a halt. Chloe, shocked, stumbled back off the curb in fear. The anger on his face and the fear on hers stared at each other. Chloe held her breath. A tear began to form in the corner of her eye. Edgar enjoyed the fear he had caused. A smile appeared on his face. He shrugged as if nothing had happened. “Suit yourself. Have a fine day, Chloe Miller.”
“You as well, Mr. Davies.” She nodded, trying to smile back. The truck sped away, leaving Chloe breathing hard with relief as she swiped at the tear that still threatened to fall. She’d heard about a girl from school who had accepted a ride from Edgar. He had made many advances and many demands, even threatening to impugn her character if she did not do what he asked. She stopped, calming her breathing. Shaking off the shiver that had nothing to do with the cold, she continued on her way, pondering what she should tell her friends.
The smile slid from Edgar’s face as he drove away, replaced by the ugly scowl he wore whenever he thought about this place. Slamming a fist onto the steering wheel, he shouted at the empty road ahead. “Who does she think she is?” A squirrel scurried from the brush. Edgar sped up. The creature flew back to safety. “Damn it. Who cares? She’s just a silly farm girl.” Edgar often thought this way. His family owned half the county. “She should have been flattered I stopped to offer her a ride,” he grumbled. He’d had enough of the simple girls of this town. Ever since they had moved here, buying the Sterben estate, the people of the town had been crass and standoffish. “It’s pathetic how they envy the wealthy and powerful.” His knuckles were white on the wheel; red rimmed his vision as he cursed Chloe and the town. Women back in the city had finally started to take notice when his family had achieved their high status. They never would have refused his offer. He knew none had refused his brother, so why would they refuse him? Not that he had had the guts to ask when he lived there. There were so many other distractions, he assured himself. “But now”—he frowned—“we live here.”
As soon as Chloe arrived, she asked her friend, Charlie, if she should say anything to the teacher. His reply was noncommittal. The Davies were very influential as well as a large employer. The day wore on, and Chloe tried to put the morning further and further from her mind. By lunch it was simply an interaction with creepy Edgar that she shared with her friends. By the time the final bell rang, no one thought any more about it. She laughed as her friends told her to not accept rides from “strange” men. As the group walking home together from the school dwindled and the houses became sparser, the humor evaporated, becoming as bare as the landscape. Darkness was coming fast with the overcast skies. The temperature had fallen throughout the day. With the last good-bye said several minutes earlier in her travel, it was not the cold that caused Chloe to wrap her coat tighter while quickening her pace but the low growl of an engine.
Edgar’s day was spent as many of his days were. He arrived in town to oversee operations at his father’s mill. Being the supervisor meant sitting in his office drinking coffee till noon, smoking with his favorite slacker employees, then a few card games and drinking whiskey after 2:00 p.m. Today Edgar was bored and angry. His afternoon had not gone according to routine. There had been problems that needed to be addressed, employees that needed managing, and paperwork to be done. Through it all, the thought of the girl from the morning kept interfering. By four o’clock, the bottle held no more than a swallow, and he’d had enough of work. He decided to sneak out for the day. Announcing he had to concentrate on work, he slammed his door. The staff barely registered the outburst other than to grumble doubts of his “working.” Feeling he had fooled them, he left through the window.
Cursing the empty fields, the dirt roads, and the mill, Edgar began the only pastime he felt was open to him, drinking. His family had visited this tiny town a few times in the past. His brother had always liked the Sterben Hall. Edgar never understood why, but as his family’s fortunes grew, that of the Holt family declined. Then came the collapse. The Holts lost almost everything through a scandalous scheme that bankrupted the mill. Many people lost their jobs and would have lost their homes if Edgar’s family had not swooped in and bought the mill and the Sterben Hall, saving the town. “So that little hussy owes me her very existence,” Edgar grumbled as he tossed an empty bottle out the window.