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Authors: Anne Sweazy-kulju

Tags: #FICTION / Historical, #FICTION / Sagas

Thing With Feathers (9781616634704)

BOOK: Thing With Feathers (9781616634704)
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Dedication

T
his novel is for my daughter, Laura—thanks, Cornflake, for always being my champion; and for my husband and best friend, Steve. Without you, this book simply would not be.

Acknowledgements

I wish to say thank you to my husband, Steve, who, as it turns out, is the best amateur editor ever.

Thank you Vivian Woods, for listening and for your encouragement.

A special thanks to Amanda at Tate Publishing for believing in this story.

And of course, my heartfelt gratitude to James Bare, my very talented editor, for leading me through this rough country.

I wish to thank Glenn Beck, whose December 2010 “Challenge” is responsible for my knocking the dust off this manuscript and giving it a chance to be.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12 (
niv
)

Prologue

O
n that May afternoon in 1945, Cloverdale was headed for hell in a hand basket. Nature had gone haywire. Day was night, and Rebecca Tjaden knew she might be losing her dearest friend that day.

“Only time I ever saw her happy was when she was with you. Sean, do you know what happened to her to make her leave?” Rebecca’s soft question broke through the hush in the room.

He was able to turn his head and look Rebecca’s way only with greatest difficulty. “A blind
un-
luck of birth,” he rasped. Then, a hoarse, bitter chuckle followed, full of the promise that Rebecca would finally hear the whole story.

He lay there quietly, staring at the ceiling, seeming to wrestle with some turmoil inside. He’d always been like that, the strong, silent type. Sean Marshall could be counted on to keep a confidence, and because people recognized that integrity in him, he was the keeper of many dark secrets.

Did he just say something?
Rebecca looked up again from the book she was reading, thinking that maybe it was just a cough; but he had his arm outstretched, and he was pointing to the armoire in the corner.

She rose from her chair and walked over to the closet and opened the door. She looked his way and saw that he was shaking his head no. She opened the other side. His finger was shaking downward, to a sliding drawer in the bottom of the compaction armoire. She pulled out the drawer marked “Sundries.” There was his old box camera, still his favorite after all those years, and an old wooden box about five inches across and deep and maybe eighteen or so inches long. It was locked with a sturdy brass hasp.

Rebecca looked at him questioningly. “Is this what you want?”

“The key,” he said, hacking, “is on my key ring…little…brass…”

Rebecca rummaged through the top drawer of his dresser, where Sean kept his wallet, keys, and loose change. She found the small brass key and unlocked the box. Then she brought it over to the bed and sat back down in her chair with the box on her lap.

“Open it.”

She did. The first thing she saw was the money. She raised her eyebrows at him. He shook his head no again. That wasn’t what he wanted. Then she found an envelope folded in half. It was pale pink, badly faded, and worn from handling. She took the letter out, and her eyes went immediately to the bottom of the single sheet of paper with the beautiful penmanship. It read, “All my heart, Cindy.” Rebecca was both curious and a trace jealous. She read the letter and looked up at the man in the bed.

“Sean…?”

His arm wavered again, pointing to the box. There was more. Rebecca looked again at the contents. There was a photograph, quite old from the looks of it, probably worth a fortune if it was one of Sean’s earlier photos. She took it gingerly by the edges and brought it up close to her face so she could see it clearly.

“Oh!” She put the photograph back in the box as though it could bite her. She looked at Sean somberly, tears brimming in her eyes. “I never…oh, Lord, Sean.” Her voice cracked.

“Beck-wheat, once I knew, what could I do? But I should have burned that photo years ago. And I would have, but it was the only proof I had. That doesn’t matter any more. I don’t want Victor to see it. Please take care of that for me.” He stopped to catch his breath and stem off a coughing fit. “I want him to have the letter, though. He has so little to remember his mother by. Please see that Blair’s portrait goes to him, too. And the watch—he should have the watch. It was Blair’s most prized possession.”

“I’ll see to it, Sean.”

The photograph explained everything. She took hold of his hand to calm him and squeezed it. She loved that man. She always had. But fate had other plans for the two of them. Together, they had tried to save a young girl’s life. Rebecca was only now learning of the role she had played all those years ago. She remembered it like it was yesterday. So did Sean, and he began telling her the things she hadn’t known. His voice came bursting out between coughs like the spat of machine gun fire. It would be a long and difficult story for him to tell, but it was time he told it to someone. It was only right that the someone be Rebecca.

As it turned out, it was the ugliest photograph he had ever taken over his long and successful career. It was the one picture Sean Marshall promised he would never show to anyone, at least not intentionally. He hadn’t meant to snap the photo, hadn’t given the action any thought at all. It just occurred to him, and his hands had done the rest. He could not even bring himself to look at the picture once he had seen to its development. He had buried it among other photos in a handmade wooden box secured with a brass lock.

“And that”—Sean exhaled and wiped his hands against the denim of his trousers as though the photo had dirtied them—“is the end of that.”

And it was, for at
least
a decade or so.

Chapter 1

T
he mule labored beneath the large man’s bulk as it trudged across the Idaho desert. The moon’s glow was thin and spare and his dark, retreating shape was growing less distinguishable to the woman walking many yards behind him. She did not appear to care. She had been walking for a very long time, quite swollen and struggling mightily with her intensifying labor pains. She stumbled again, but that time, she did not push on.

“Get up!” the mule rider hollered over his shoulder at the woman. He did not stop.

The young mother-to-be glared holes in the backside of the shadowy wayfarer. Her hatred of the man was nearly a tangible thing. Slowly, she reached down to the desert floor and grabbed up a scrap of wood, a bleached and splintered discard from wagon wheel spoke, left over from the heydays of the Oregon Trail. Still boring daggers at the distant rider, she jammed the wood in her mouth and bit down hard. Then she hiked up her dusty skirt, none too dainty, and laid herself down in the dirt.

A scream split the night. Other screams followed, of course, all of which seemed capable of tearing the very fabric of time with their tortured piercing. Two men were within a hundred miles of hearing those awful wails. One man, a good Samaritan by the name of Milton Blair, held the hand of the stricken woman and cried for her agony, not knowing what else to do for her. The other man, far less good, supposed the Oregon Trail had claimed yet another pitiful traveler. He held no anguish, though it was his wife who was dying.

While the young stranger ministered to Bowman’s wife, Bowman greedily surveyed the other man’s belongings through the filthy windows of his jalopy.

“Are you a Bible salesman then?” Bowman asked, noting the stacks on the backseat.

“I retired as my congregation’s minister last year. Now I travel and spread the good word. You may help yourself to one of those smaller Bibles, sir.”

“How does one become a minister, if I may? How much study is there, and is there a seminary near?”

Bowman would need a profession when he reached the end of his travels, and he did not hanker for manual labor. In fact, he romanticized that he would achieve a position of greatness and respect in his future. Julius grew up angry at his circumstances in life; he’d been robbed. His father had failed to pass on the respect his name should have garnered because he’d been a mean drunk who was poor with money. But it was Julius to whom life was unfair.

This good Samaritan looked to have more than his fair share of blind luck, Julius noted. He wore nice clothing and owned a three year-old Model-T. And the man was already retired and traveling the country. The more Julius thought of it, the angrier he grew.

“In fact, I have no formal seminary training myself, sir. Mine was a Baptist congregation.”

“I don’t understand.” Bowman scratched at the lice in his hair.

“Well, sir, the congregation simply voted to ordain me as their pastor, and it was done. Many Baptist congregations do it, as I understand it.”

The stranger turned his attention from the suffering woman and observed the hungry manner in which Bowman was eyeing his property. Milton Blair was growing uncomfortable in the man’s presence.

“Can I ask you to pour some more water from that canteen onto this handkerchief for me?” Milton asked.

Bowman was presently lost in thought. He absently took the cloth and dampened it more with the canteen of water, which the man kept on the front seat of his auto. Bowman was thinking that if the stranger were to become stricken by, say, putrid throat, while on travels through the Idaho desert, Bowman would inherit the man’s abandoned property. That is desert law. If a passerby should come upon two fresh mounds in the great arid plains of Eastern Idaho, and if those mounds were to have the legend of diphtheria marked upon them, Bowman guessed that no man’s curiosity was enough to want to investigate the tragedy further. Bowman’s warped mind quickly conceived of a plan, a plan wherein one man’s course, in a fluke chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, would soon be marked by tragedy and death. The other’s was soon to offer excitement, providence, perhaps even a little pleasure.

Julius Bowman approached the grieving stranger from his back side and was upon him, his razor knife doing fatal damage before the traveler knew what happened. Julius let the body drop into the dirt. He stooped over his wife. She’d been a beauty. She was perfectly silent and still, with glazed eyes and a mouth poised in eternal agony. His eyes traveled lower. The mound was still present. She had not succeeded in pushing it out.

BOOK: Thing With Feathers (9781616634704)
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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