Thursday, December 05, 2019

Poplar Mountain Part 53 by Dellani Oakes


The men find a letter in the bank which shows that someone had found coal on the Henry land, and they assume that's what had Earl upset the night he confronted them.
When they got outside, Luke pulled him close. "What was all that with Mr. Kelly?"
"You want him to think we got the papers or not? I don't think he's in on it, but we got to figure that anyone we know might be guilty."
"I don't like thinkin' our friends might've kilt our daddy," Luke said. "But you're right. We can't rule out any man we know."
"Or woman," Will countered.
"You think a woman shoved our daddy in the creek?"
"Not really, but we can't rule anyone out but us and the girls. They was with us when Daddy died."
"Besides, it wouldn't even occur to them to do such a thing."
"That's the God's truth. Let's go find that phone."
The two men made a show of driving out of town as if they were headed back to the school. Instead, they took the first available road to Cumberland. The whole way, they talked about what had happened and lined up their suspects. The sheriff was at the top of the list. The people who ran the school stacked up right under him.
"I don't like to think Bert would kill our daddy," Luke said. "But he was powerful angry with him at the party."
"He had a right to be," Will countered. "I was powerful angry with him myself. And you were pretty mad as well."
"Yeah, I was. Not enough to kill him."
"Well, no. But you'd have punched him given half a chance."
Luke had to agree, he would have. His father knew just how to get under his skin to make him furious.
They arrived in Cumberland and drove around a few minutes looking for a payphone. They found one near the courthouse. Parking down the street, they walked over to the phone, digging around in their pockets for change.
Will took up the phone and gave the number to the operator. A few clicks and buzzes later, he heard the phone ringing on the other end.
"Geological Society of Kentucky, 1939, " a man answered.
"Hello," Will said, doing his best to lose the country hick accent that came so naturally to him. "I'm calling regarding a letter you sent to Mr. Earl Henry about a survey you did of his land."
There was a pause.
"Who are you and why are you calling?"
"I'm Mr. Henry's heir."
"Earl's dead?" There was a tone of shock and horror in the other man's voice. "Is this Willem or Lucius?"
"I'm Willem," he said, a slight question in his voice.
"Where you calling from, son?"
"Payphone in Cumberland. Who's this?"
"Timothy McCleary. I need to talk to you boys. How can I reach you? Will you be in Cumberland long?"
"No, sir. We come up here to make our call. We have to head home soon."
"Dammit." McCleary cursed softly. "Can you meet me somewhere? Tonight. Preferably not in Harlan."
"Mr. McCleary, you're scarin' me a bit."
There was a short silence. "Phones aren't private," he said. "Anyone with a mind to can listen in. If you can't make it to me, I'll come to you. You do what you need to do and I'll meet up with you. Your daddy had a special spot he went to think. You ask your mama. I'll meet you there after supper."
"You sure, Mr. McCleary? That's a powerful long drive."
"Y'all ain't safe, Willem. Soon as I hang up, I'm on my way."
"We'll see you then, sir."
Willem hung up, sighing. It took a few minutes to tell Lucius everything because he kept interrupting. Finally, he had the entire story.
"So, what now?" Lucius asked.
"Now, we find out from Mama what the hell Timothy McCleary was talking about."
"Reckon so. I'm powerful worried about the girls. We need to get on back now."
Willem agreed. They hopped in the truck and drove back to the school as fast as they were able. It seemed that every possible delay met them. First, there'd been a wreck. A truck ran away on the narrow mountain road. Fortunately, the driver had been able to direct it into a soft bank. He was hurt, but alive. They saw him standing on the side of the road talking to a deputy.
Next, they got behind an overloaded bus. It was almost too long for the steep mountain road. More than once, the end of it hung over the edge of the road, its wheels barely on the pavement. Fortunately, they stopped at an overlook to check out the scenery and the men were able to get around.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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