Each week 1000 words or more, of a continuing story, will be posted Friday.
(equivalent to approximately 3 paperback pages).
If you looked last week, I missed it due to the Independence Holiday.
Part One - Chapter Seven. This is the last chapter in Part One.
Does anyone have a suggestion for a title yet?
(Saga began with original story post one / chapter one - on May 23rd- see archives on this blog)
Early Morning Start
My feet shuffled about until they found my slippers. I pulled on my robe, half twisted, and padded my way to the kitchen cupboard. I rummaged through the shelves and grabbed the coffee, and managed to make a pot that tasted good enough to drink. It was strong, and the aroma woke me more than the caffeine. I gripped the circumference of the mug, which I made years ago in the ceramic class that I hated, and I felt the warmth from the hot coffee on my hands. It was soothing, and welcomed on this damp cool morning. I moved the curtain and gazed out of the window. The street was still dark but the lamp post gleamed light on the wet pavement. I wondered if the rain was going to last all day.
Images of that poor girl popped in my head. I wanted so much to figure out what happened to her. The list from Keaton Hakes jumped at me too. A question nagged at me, why was Mr. Simpson on the list? He was an old man, a small store keeper, how was he involved with role playing games?
My curiosity was piqued, and I couldn’t wait for Rory. I decided to stop by the general store this morning on the way to the office. Maybe I could give Rory some good news first thing this morning, if I got the right answers at Sal’s.
Rejuvenated with the new prospect, I went straight to my room, lingered a few moments in a hot shower, and dressed in record time. I pulled my hair back and put on my hat, then grabbed my gear, threw it into the front seat, and headed my truck to Sal’s General for some more fine coffee and local gossip.
Every morning, all the old timers met on the cement steps of the old store. The building needed paint and the windows were still filled with old signage from a few decades back. The only signs taken down lately were of the cigarette ads. The old men who gathered were farmers, local tradesmen, a couple of guys unemployed by the mills that were shut down ten years back, the local preacher, and a few others from time to time. They talked about hunting, their gardens, and the weather, and anything else that was local news, like Jennifer Taylor’s murder.
My mind was positive they all had their own theory. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to listen to them, I figured I could get some information just by being one of the locals. So another cup of Jo this morning. I didn’t want to mess up anything for Rory, so I planned on being just the concerned local Ranger, and neighbor. Besides, I could use another cup of coffee, it was going to be a long day.
I parked my truck up front and jumped out of my seat. There were three men loitering on the front steps under the canopy with a few tears from wear. I tipped my hat to them as I walked past.
“Howdy.” one of them said.
It was a man who lived down the street from me, but I couldn’t recall his name. He was an electrician who moved here not long ago.
“Good morning Karen.” another voice chorused as I walked by.
His voice was well known to me, I used to take piano lessons from his wife, Mrs. Roberts. I went into the store, rubbing my hands together to warm them, and gave a hearty hello.
“Good morning Mr. Simpson. Looks like a nice day, if you like rain. How’s the coffee today?” I said.
He was at the counter as usual, ready for any paying customer. He folded up the paper and turned his attention to me.
“Coffee is strong and fresh like usual. Help yourself Karen. Are you planning on getting the rest of your groceries now, because my produce man won’t be here until this afternoon, after he makes his stops in Glen Falls.” he said.
I filled my cup, and added some creamer, and then topped it with a lid. I answered him while I walked towards the register.
“No, just coffee right now. I have a lot of work to do today, so I need an early start. You know me, I need the caffeine to wake me up.” I laughed.
The old man gave a faint smile. He looked even weaker than the other day.
“Don’t you worry Mr. Simpson, I will be back later to get more things. It won’t be until after the produce gets here though.”
I laughed a little, but he didn’t seem to notice. His mind was definitely elsewhere, as he stared off someplace past me, like he was still in his sleep’s dream.
“Are you all right Mr. Simpson?” I asked.
He pulled at a loose thread of yarn on his old worn sweater. I noticed that it’s the same sweater he has been wearing for years. It was almost as if it was part of his skin instead of clothing. The blue color had faded, and was more of a gray. It had become part of his image, and fraying with age, just like the man. I knew something was wrong, but not sure how to get such a reserved man to talk frankly, when he obviously was uncomfortable, or just didn’t trust me with his affairs. I felt sad for him. He always had people milling about his store, but he was still so lonely. I tried to remember if he had a wife, but I couldn’t recall. So I added that to a list of things I had to look up when I got back to my desk.
“So the veggies are due in this afternoon after the Glen Falls route. What else do you get from there? Anything else get delivered from the city?”
I ventured a prod. His eyes seemed to react, but I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it. I wondered why he dealt with Mr. Hakes. Maybe Sal sold his products here in the store. My eyes started roaming over the shelves, looking for any games that he might sell.
“Sure I get other stuff from the city. Not much though.” he said.
He grabbed the paper back up from the counter, unfolded it and started reading again.
“Hey, Mr. Simpson, I have a kid that I mentor, you know the big sister thing, and he’s into those electronic games. Do you by any chance sell them here?” I asked.
“Sure, I sell a few. They’re over there.”
He pointed to the other side of the store. I walked over and looked at his inventory. I took my time picking up games and putting them back on the shelf, like a real shopper, comparing the goods. I knew he was watching me from the corner of his eye, and I wondered why. Was it so crazy for a girl to look at electronic games? Mr. Simpson had quite a few displayed, most were military type hero games, a few about monsters, some truck and car racing games, and one called “Real Horror Games”.
I stopped cold, literally, I froze. Chills ran down my spine. It was like something evil and sinister just breezed past me. The store was quiet except for the thumping of my heart. I felt like I needed help.
I glanced outside to the steps to see if anyone was there, but they were gone already. It was just me and old Mr. Simpson, and for some reason that thought scared the bejeezus out of me.
I heard him behind me, folding his paper, placing it on the counter, and then he started walking towards me. The old wood floor creaked under his feet as he walked closer to me. I heard his foot dragging, sweeping against the grain with his shoe. It swept across the dirty wood floor, swish, swish, beating a pattern to a horrid song. No reason existed to fear this man, he was after all an old fixture in the town, known all my life, but I still felt myself expand with anxiety.
Sweat shimmered on my forehead, and my face flushed. The trail of heat rippled through my body. I caught myself praying. Then a bell jingled. Someone entered the store. A breeze of relief filled me, and I turned my head and saw Rory, stepping into the isle. My body deflated.
“How’s the coffee this morning Mr. Simpson?” he said.
Mr. Simpson went back to the counter, and I followed with the game in my hands. I placed it on the counter.
“Please ring me up. I’ll take this game, and I’ll pay for both coffees.” I nodded at Rory, who was pouring his coffee into a reusable traveling cup.
“Okay. That’ll be fifty two.”
He took my money, but kept his eyes averted down at the counter. He deliberately avoided looking at me. It was odd. A lot more was going on with Mr. Simpson and Sal’s General than anyone could have imagined, but my hunch was not going to get us very far. We needed to get back to the office and start digging into more files. There was an answer to all this strangeness, it lingered at our finger tips.
Rory and I both left, tipping our heads as we exited the store.
“My, you’re up early Karen.”
“I know, I couldn’t sleep.”
“You couldn’t sleep? Is the pope still Catholic?”
He knew me so well. There wasn’t much I could get passed him.
“Okay, so I set the alarm on purpose. I want to get back to my office and dig into a few things. I have a weird feeling about old man Simpson.”
I nodded my head towards the door. Rory turned around, and then leaned back against my truck.
“Oh boy, this coffee hits the spot. It’s cold this morning.” he said.
The drizzling rain stopped for the moment, but the mountain air was still damp. A memory of my Dad flashed in my thoughts, an old memory, of us conspiring to stay warm on an early morning, when he declared it a fishing day. My father had taught me how to appreciate nature. We hiked and fished together, and he taught me all the signs the forest revealed. Unfortunately as the years went by I became more his designated driver than student. He was not perfect, and died after drinking too much and getting behind the wheel. Those were hard days, sadness after losing him, but a corner of my mind was relieved that he left before he hurt someone else, an innocent bystander. I missed him, especially on damp days like today, good fishing weather.
My feet kicked the dirt as I looked at the ground. There was no time for daydreaming. I shot my face up and looked at the road ahead. Everything was foggy. A few quiet moments passed, and then I turned to get into my truck. Rory held my arm, and stopped me.
“His name was on the list. That’s what’s bugging you and me. So let’s pull up some information. I’ll follow you to and we can sign into the police data base too.”
I shook my head, and we both drove to the cabin at the park reserve.