If Onions Could Spring Leeks (8 page)

BOOK: If Onions Could Spring Leeks
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He blinked. “Yes, I do. A letter. Grace, you sent me a letter to tell me that you would be coming to Broken Rope, and in the letter you wrote the date you would arrive.”

“Yes.”

And then I saw some hesitation in Grace. Suddenly, I had
a huge realization. Neither of these ghosts was being completely truthful, or at least, that's what I sensed.

“Do you remember something different, Grace?” I asked as I stepped around the corner of the table and a little closer to the ghosts. I needed to see them better. “Jake, can we dim or turn off the light?”

“Sure.” He put down the camera and hurried to the switch. He turned the lights down enough that I didn't feel like I had to squint to see the ghosts better.

Grace looked at me. “I don't know . . .”

“What? You're remembering something. I can tell,” I said.

“Well.” Grace looked at Robert. “I did tell you a date I would arrive, my love, but I was late.”

“No, you weren't late. You never even made it,” Robert corrected.

“I don't know exactly. It's confusing. I do think something happened to me, but I also know I was late leaving Mississippi, but only by two days. I meant to send a letter or a telegram to let you know, but I was just so anxious to get to you that I didn't take the time.”

“Why were you late?” Robert asked.

“I had to take care of something before I left.”

“What?” Robert and I asked.

“Oh, dear,” Grace said as she wrung her hands. “I suppose none of it matters now, but it's something I should have told you about then. I just couldn't.”

“Grace, what? You know you can tell me anything,” Robert said.

I knew that that statement usually preceded something that one shouldn't ever tell anyone. I held my breath.

“Robert, I was married. When you and I met, I was married.”

Given the passing of time, that might not have been too huge a hurdle to overcome emotionally. Placed in context back in 1888, the fact that Grace was married and that she was running off to be with another man, not even taking their skin colors into account, was a big deal. Divorce was almost unheard of. Grace probably hadn't even bothered with trying to obtain one.

“Back up just a little. Where did the two of you meet?” I said.

“I was in Vicksburg, Mississippi, for business. We met there,” Robert said. I'd have to let Jake know later that he'd managed to find the correct Mississippi station. “I went back three times and we saw each other each time.”

“It was love at first sight,” Grace said.

“Got that, but, Robert, you never knew Grace was married?” I asked.

“No.”

“I didn't tell him.”

“Grace, I don't understand. You fell in love with Robert but were married to someone else?” I said.

“Yes. I didn't want him to know. And I . . . well, I couldn't get away from my husband at first. That's why I was delayed. I escaped when I could.”

“You escaped? Was your husband a bad man?” I said.

“Yes, he was a horrible man.” She looked away from Robert and down at the ground. Her hands came together and her index fingers met worriedly. “He hurt me frequently.”

My reaction began with a hollow pit in my stomach. Anger at Grace's husband and at the prevailing attitudes of the time buzzed inside me. The shame she felt was wrong.
I wanted to take her by her shoulders and explain at least that part of feminism to her, but it wouldn't have helped at this point. I might tell her about it, but not right now.

I knew Robert's reaction wouldn't be the same as mine. He was a product of Grace's time, too.

“You belonged to another?” he said.

I cringed. I'd been correct. No sympathy there.

“I did,” Grace said, bowing her head even more deeply.

It was too much.

“Grace, Robert, the times have changed,” I interjected. “People can easily—well, for the most part—leave their spouse and obtain a divorce with little hassle. Robert, if a woman is being brutalized, nowadays we cheer her on when she escapes. And, I believe
escape
is the exact word that Grace just used.”

“But we were going to be married. Along with whatever else was wrong with what we were doing, we would have been committing bigamy,” Robert said.

“Robert,” Grace began, “I would have risked it. And if I'd ever been caught, I would have made sure the authorities knew that you'd been kept in the dark about my past. You wouldn't have been in trouble.”

Robert seemed to suddenly better understand what was important here. He stepped closer to Grace and studied her. He ran the tips of his finger over her jaw and chin. I could see the decades of history shift. He hadn't lived through the changes that had occurred over time, but that didn't matter. What mattered was his love for Grace. He would have gotten there eventually on his own, but I was glad to have helped. I held back a fist pump.

“Grace, there's something I need to tell you, too,” Robert said.

“Uh-oh,” I said again.

“More kissing?” Jake asked.

“Nope. Keep filming. Hopefully we can look at it later.”

“Anything, Robert,” she said.

“Grace, I was late to the station, too. I mean, when you didn't show when you were supposed to, I left and then didn't return for at least three days. If only I'd gone there those days and you'd made it to Broken Rope, I might have found you.”

I leaned over and said quietly to Jake, “In their own ways, they were both late.”

“That could cause some problems,” he said.

“Were you angry at me for not being there that day?” Grace said.

“No. I became ill,” Robert said. “Very ill. I didn't even make it home that first day. I was put up in the back of the saloon by the barkeep himself.

“I collapsed inside the bar. He thought I was drunk, but when he found I was ill, he put me in a bed and let me get well. I'd planned to go back to the station, but I became so sick. I didn't return for days.” Robert paused as his eyebrows came together. “I'm trying to remember the time in between coming to the station the first time and then days later, when I started going every day. Some things are suddenly becoming so clear, but others aren't. I'm missing some memories.” He looked at me. “Betts, I think something important must have happened, but it's as if I have a giant hole in my memories.”

“That's normal. All the ghosts' memories are a little vague for a while,” I said, but I didn't think that's really what
he was saying. His memories seemed pretty darn clear, except for the blank spot. The normal ghost Swiss-cheese memory was spotty, not distinctly broken in only one spot. At least, that's not how it had worked up until now.

“I'm sorry you were ill, Robert. That's terrible,” Grace said.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. I turned to Jake. “Is the legend that Robert went to the train station every day for the rest of his life because he was hoping Grace would still arrive?”

“Yes.”

“Does that help at all?” I said to Robert.

“No,” he said firmly. “I knew she wasn't coming.” He blinked. “Oh, dear. Until this very moment I didn't remember that. I knew Grace wasn't coming. That's part of my missing memory. How did I know that?” Confusion pulled at Robert's handsome face. “I went to the station every day to punish myself.”

“Why? Why would you punish yourself?” I asked.

“I don't know.”

I bit my lip as I looked at the ghosts and then at Jake. I didn't know if there was any way Jake could figure out the facts from that long ago. The legend was apparently incorrect. He knew his Broken Rope history, but I suspected the only people who would really have the answers were Grace and Robert. “The legend was wrong,” I said to Jake.

“What? I don't understand,” Jake said.

“It wasn't about sadness, it was about guilt.” I looked at each of the ghosts. “Something tells me Robert knows much more than he's remembering about what happened to Grace.”

“You think Robert killed Grace?” Jake asked, his words sending the ghosts into genuine surprise and confusion.

“I don't know exactly. But we're missing something,” I said. “Robert's missing a chunk of memory.”

“We all are, apparently,” Jake said.

“I would like to know what happened,” Robert said, but, of course, Jake didn't hear that part.

“Keep filming,” I said. I literally pushed up my sleeves. “Let's see what I can get out of them.”

“All right.”

But the ghosts' confusion caused them to want to retreat to wherever they retreat when they're visiting Broken Rope. They were polite but distant as they told me they needed to go, despite my pleas for them to stay just a little longer. They even stepped away from each other before they disappeared. Their sudden strange behavior and departure made me wonder if their time here was shortened, as if their batteries were running out. But I did not sense that they were gone for good. I hoped not.

“Never mind, Jake. They're gone.”

The best we could do was hope for another
chance.

Chapter 8

We played back the recording from Jake's camera but all we got was fuzzy nothingness. It was disappointing for us both.

I relayed as best I could everything that Robert and Grace had said. Jake said he'd try to pursue new avenues of research even if he couldn't quite figure out how to readily find those avenues. I left as he was cussing the camera and searching for either a sledgehammer to destroy it or a screwdriver to attempt to fix it.

As I walked to the Nova I called Gram to tell her I was on the way over but she didn't answer her phone. I'd forgotten to thank Jake for rounding up a sketch artist and I hoped they'd still be there when I arrived. My rush to get to her, however, was diverted when I noticed a few women making their way into the nail salon.

The salon was located in a bad spot, at the end of the
block and around the corner from the main tourist attractions. A nail salon didn't fit with the Old West theme of Main Street.
Unless it was a horseshoe nail salon—
I remembered the town councilmember's joke during the meeting in which the nail salon's location was discussed.

No one had laughed much.

But despite the poor location, Broken Nails? nail salon did a booming business. They were the only nail game in town, unless of course you did consider the horseshoeing activity done in the livery. Locals and tourists alike enjoyed a good manicure or pedicure. I'd indulged a couple of times, but I was far from a regular.

Teddy had mentioned that one of Derek's ex-wives, Wendy, worked at the salon. I thought I knew who Wendy was, but I wasn't sure. I was overly curious about Derek and his numerous wives. Maybe it wasn't all that complicated but it still seemed odd, him being married so many times. On impulse, I decided it wouldn't hurt to take a few more minutes and introduce myself to Wendy, maybe see where the conversation went from there.

“Help you?” a bright eyed and friendly teenager greeted me at the tall, narrow front counter. She had to speak up because the hum of conversation, foot whirlpools, and battery-powered nail implements kept the noise level high. As was usual, Broken Nails? was doing a brisk business.

“Is Wendy here and available?” I asked.

The teenager looked over her shoulder. “Wendy! You available?”

“Mani or pedi or both?” Wendy, I presumed, said from the second manicure table in. I couldn't see what she was
doing, but the woman across from her had her hands on the table.

The teenager looked at me with lifted eyebrows.

“Actually, neither, I just want to talk to her,” I said. I should have agreed to a nail treatment, but I didn't want to take the time. I pulled out a five-dollar bill—that was all I had in my pocket. “Just for a second or two.”

The teenager fought a laugh, and her eyebrows rose higher.

“Just a question, Wendy,” she said over her shoulder.

“Sure, give me a minute,” Wendy said.

I realized I'd probably just made a service industry faux pas but I was in too deep to back out now.

“Have a seat,” the teenager said.

The black plastic chairs weren't inviting, but I sat nonetheless and then picked up a gossip magazine, perusing it only for show.

“Can I help you?” Wendy said a moment later. She was clearly over fifty, but was still petite and cute, in a wholesome way. Her short brown hair and makeup-free ivory skin made it difficult to determine exactly how far past fifty she was.

“I'm Betts Winston.” I stood and extended my hand.

Wendy laughed. “Everyone knows who you and Missouri are, Betts. I'm Wendy Miller. Nice to meet you.”

“Thanks,” I said. I looked around. “I know you're busy, but any chance you'd like to go for a cup of coffee?”

Wendy looked back toward the salon's depths. “Oh gosh, I don't have time and I don't have a break for another couple hours. I have about five minutes while my client dries. Do you want to step outside? We've got a bench.”

“That'd be great,” I said. I followed Wendy as she pushed through the door and took a seat on the bench that was to the side of the front window.

“You found Derek's body?” she said before I sat down all the way.

“I did. I'm sorry for your loss,” I said.

“I appreciate that. Did you come here just for condolences?” She didn't seem sad.

“No. I was curious and I hoped I could ask you a couple questions.” I cringed inwardly but hoped I kept my face neutral. This wasn't exactly the right way to handle things, but, again, I was now in too deep.

“You're dating Officer Sebastian, right?”

“Yes, but this . . . this isn't police business.”

“Are you asking because you were interested in dating Derek?”

“Oh. No, not at all,” I said.

“Okay, then I'll do what I can to answer,” she said.

“What wife were you? I mean, what number?” I cleared my throat. “When were you two married?”

“Why do you want to know that?” she said, her tone suddenly becoming less friendly.

I turned a few mental summersaults, thinking I should have been better prepared for this conversation, thinking maybe I shouldn't have even started it in the first place.

“Wendy, I'm curious about Derek. He was married five times. I don't know anyone else who's so prolific, marriage-wise—and divorce-wise, too. Though Derek and I weren't dating, I got to know him a little better because he and his mother participated in one of our night cooking classes. He was great
with green beans. Anyway, I wonder how in the world anyone can go through marriage and divorce five times. It seems like most people would quit trying at about two or three.”

Wendy's mouth made a straight, tight line.

“You mean, how could five people be so attracted to someone who isn't attractive?” she said.

“Actually, the sheer number of times would be unusual for anyone. And, I was mostly thinking he wasn't all that outgoing, and a . . . shy person would have an even more difficult time. Anyway, I hope I don't sound mean. Perhaps he and I just never connected.”

Wendy scratched a spot under her ear as she looked at the sidewalk. Since this area of town wasn't part of our main attractions, it received the luxury of cement sidewalks instead of wooden boardwalks. She looked back at me. “Derek wasn't the best-looking person, but he was a nice guy. Nobody's a supermodel, Betts.”

I wondered what I'd said to make her think I was talking about his looks. But then I realized that her response was practiced, a script she'd read from before. I must not have been the only one curious enough about the attraction to ask. My other fleeting thought was that this was just her defensive way to make someone sorry they brought up the subject in the first place and end any chance to delve deeper into the conversation. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you,” I said.

“Right.” Wendy stood up and marched to the door. “Next time you'd like to give condolences, just say you're sorry. You don't need to know so much.”

“Of course,” I said.

Wendy opened the door with much more force than necessary and went inside.

I glanced around at the pockets of tourists making their way to Main Street.

“That didn't go quite as planned,” I said aloud to myself.

•   •   •

I hoped things would go better with Gram at the cooking school, but my hopes deflated when I saw not only Gram's Volvo in the parking lot, but an old Honda, too. It was Paul's car. There were no other vehicles, so I assumed that the sketch artist has already come and gone. Why would Paul be there? I had all but forgotten that we had a vegetable class scheduled for that evening. Considering the circumstances, I guess I thought it must have been canceled, but maybe Gram hadn't thought the same, or she'd forgotten to make the phone calls.

I didn't get a chance to ask, though, because the next surprise was even bigger than the first. Paul was the sketch artist.

“Betts, come see what Paul has done,” Gram said enthusiastically as I came through the front swinging doors.

“You're an artist?” I said as I approached.

“Yeah, sort of,” Paul said.

“There's no sort of about it,” Gram said. “He's really, really good.”

Both Paul and Gram were sitting on stools. Large pieces of paper were spread across the center butcher block. Paul balanced a large sketchpad on his thighs and held a charcoal pencil.

“Thanks, Miz,” Paul said.

I glanced over the sketches on the table and then moved to a spot behind Paul and looked over his shoulder.

“Wow, I had no idea,” I said. “You really are good.”

“Thanks,” he said as humbly as possible.

The fact that he seemed to have moved beyond our recent uncomfortable moments helped me do the same.

“Uh-oh,” I said as I looked closely at a couple of the pictures.

From the pieces of paper spread on the table, it was clear that he had been working to create the likenesses of two different men; a couple of the sketches were complete or close to it.

“What?” Gram and Paul both said.

“This is Robert. This is the man Grace was supposed to meet.” I looked at Gram.

Paul had captured Robert's features, though they weren't the same gentle though somewhat grumpy features I'd seen. Instead of questioning eyes, these eyes were squinted in anger. The mouth was a mix between a frown and a grimace. The Robert I'd met had short, neatly groomed hair. In the pictures, a tuft had come loose and fallen over his forehead.

“Oh. That's not good,” Gram said.

“I don't understand. You know this man—Robert? Who is he and who is Grace?” Paul asked.

I didn't know what Jake and Gram had told Paul to get him to sketch the pictures. I looked at Gram again. Did Paul think this was about nightmares?

“Interestingly,” Gram began, “this man is a person from Broken Rope's past. Betts has recently learned his story. He was in love with a woman but they were never able to be together. I wonder if Betts's recent education has contributed to the nightmares I've been having. Perhaps that's why I've
been ‘seeing' this man.” Gram lifted her eyebrows and sent me a tiny shrug.

“That
is
interesting,” Paul said. “Your nightmares are showing you someone from Broken Rope's past. Actually, it's more than interesting. It's pretty amazing.”

“That might be it,” I interjected, hoping Paul didn't spend too much time thinking about it. “Tell me more about the nightmares.” I said.

“It's all very brutal and not pleasant to think or talk about,” Gram said. “No one needs the details except to know that these men, in my nightmares, are vicious killers.”

“Do you see their victim?” I asked.

“No, never.” Gram paused. “Instead, I feel like I'm their victim.”

“Oh, Gram, I'm so sorry,” I said.

“It's okay. We're going to understand it all better and they will go away. That's what will happen, I'm sure,” she said, not sounding sure at all.

“How about this man?” I picked up the rendition of the other killer.

He was also a white man, not old, but it was difficult to tell his age because he had a round face with heavy jowls. His nose was sharp, contrasting with his fleshy cheeks. Despite how the individual features shouldn't fit together, he wasn't an unpleasant man to look at.

“The two of them are different from each other. That man is silent and focused, but not as frightening. The other one, the one who looks like Robert, is loud. He's in a rage and he's yelling. I can hear his yells, but I can't understand the words.”

“That's not good,” I said, repeating what Gram had said a moment earlier.

The realization that Robert might have contributed to Grace's murder was more of a surprise than it should have been. I had thought it was a possibility but I hadn't seriously considered it. It was also deeply bothersome. The ghost I'd come to briefly know had tricked me—and Grace and Jake. If he proved to be a killer, his potentially deep-seated betrayal would be hard to accept.

There was also the “why?” Why in the world would he have killed Grace? What had happened that had caused his love to change so drastically? If I had to guess at this point, I'd probably say that he learned of her husband. I was convinced that in his current form he had no memory of knowing when he was alive that Grace had been married. His surprise had been too genuine. Either that, or he was a great actor.

Putting aside my thoughts about Robert, I wondered who the other man was. Would Robert and Grace recognize him? Had he killed or helped Robert kill Grace?

There was a chance I was jumping to all the wrong conclusions, or that Gram's nightmares were deceiving, but it was a challenge to put the elements together any other way.

“Not good?” Paul asked.

“Well, it's good news to have the faces. You really are talented, Paul. Thank you, but no, having these men haunt Gram's dreams is not a good thing. Any nightmares are scary.”

BOOK: If Onions Could Spring Leeks
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Long March by William Styron
Student Bodies by Sean Cummings
Queenie by Hortense Calisher
Practically Perfect by Dale Brawn
Watson's Case by F.C. Shaw
Lulu's Loves by Barbara S. Stewart