Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Poplar Mountain Part 55 by Dellani Oakes

Before leaving for their appointment with McCleary, Luke draws a map so the women know where they will be.

His lips silenced her before someone overheard them. "I promise. I'll come back hale and hardy. You stay safe."
They exchanged a furtive kiss.
Dinner was pleasant, though somewhat subdued. Rachel knew something was in the wind and didn't protest when her sons said they were going out.
"You mind yourselves up there," she said calmly. "And you take this poke with you." She pulled a burlap bag from a cupboard. It was bulky and heavy. She handed it to Will. "You find them sheep and come on home." Her eyes held more than she could say aloud.
If the men had any doubt about their mother's understanding of the situation, that one look cleared it. Rachel Henry knew much more than she'd said. With the children around, she wasn't in a position to say much, but Dollie vowed she'd find out what she could when the young'uns went to bed.
The Belloit women saw Will and Luke off, kissing them as passionately as they dared.
"You be safe," they said, over and over.
"We will," the brothers assured them.
"Go on inside, before Mama gets riled," Lucius cautioned.
The girls waited on the porch, waiting until the truck was out of sight. Inside, a cheerful fire and soft light from a lamp, greeted them. The children said their goodnights and went to their rooms. Wilt said he had some things to tend to, but Dolly suspected he was going out to check with the other menfolk, who were positioned around the property.
Once everything was quiet, Rachel patted the couch beside her. "You girls come sit down a spell. I reckon you know all that my boys do."
"Yes, ma'am," the chorused.
"Precious little, mind you. Earl was real tight lipped, but I think I got a thing or two I can tell you."
"Who is McCleary?" Dollie asked, apologizing for her outburst.
"He's an old Army buddy of Earl's. He's a geologist now, works for the state. He's a good man. This all started when they dug out the new pool—right before you got here."
"What new pool?" Dollie asked.
"Exactly," Rachel said. "They was building it on the other side, not far from Doc's place. They found something that caught their interest."
"Coal," Patty whispered.
"Coal." Rachel nodded. "They contacted McCleary's office asking for a survey. He didn't come out hisself, but he contacted Earl and told him what was happening. Well, you can imagine Earl...."
"Mad as a wet hen," Dollie said, nodding.
"Madder. Specially when the folks from down to the school come up and asked if he'd consider selling the land to a mining company."
"Someone was dumb enough to suggest that to Earl?" Dollie was appalled.
"This land has been in the Henry family over a hundred years. The school sits on land that his great-grandfather tilled. His grandfather loaned the land to the school."
"They don't own it?" Patty was surprised.
"They pay us rent every year," Rachel said. "It ain't much, but it tides us over. They come to Earl with a real fine offer from the mining company."
"But he said no," Dollie concluded.
"Damn right he did. This is our home. And you seen what a mining company would do. Come in here, dig up this good bottom land, tear down the trees, make this place not fit for man or beast. He told 'em he'd rather die than see them rape his land. They said they were patient. If he wouldn't sell, maybe his boys would. Every man's got a price, one of 'em said. Earl told 'em Reckon you don't know my boys. They can't be bought."
"And you think this is what got Earl killed?"
"I know it. When they couldn't convince him to sell, they kilt him. Now, they want to kill my boys. They're gonna have to work extra hard if they want to stop Luke and Will. Their daddy might not have been good for much, but he taught 'em to shoot and he made them tough. My boys are survivors."

The sun was getting low when Luke and Will pulled up to the narrow gap that led to their father's thinking spot. There were no other cars in sight, but that meant nothing. There could be another way in they didn't know, or McCleary could have arrived on foot.
"What's in the poke?" Will asked Luke before they got out of the truck.
Luke smiled when he opened the bag. "Remember Grandaddy Nation's pearl handled Colts?"
"The matching set Granny gave him for a wedding gift?"
"Yup!" He lifted the guns from the tote bag along with a box of shells.
They checked the guns, finding them loaded and in perfect working order. Granny Nation was ninety, she'd married at sixteen. At seventy-four years old, these guns were like new. Chuckling, they each took a gun, sliding it in their belts. They divided the shells and headed into the narrow way leading to the secret holler where their father's still was located. They took a few steps when they heard the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked. Three more joined the first.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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