A cog in a wheel

tree growing through tractor cog

The story so far… Old Wives’ Tale

I don’t know what Casper promised his men, but they came back to work despite their unease, and the renovations were near completion in record time.

Where piles of building materials once laid, new hardwood floors were awaiting a final cleaning and sealing. Walls were up and ready for paint, and new windows flooded the house with sunlight.

“Everything looks great, Casper.” I walked through the house, not recognizing anything from my childhood, or even from two weeks before. “I was afraid the crew wouldn’t come back.”
“They almost didn’t,” he said. “I had to tell them you’d pay them a bonus for finishing early.”

“They’ve earned it,” I said.

As we wandered from room to room, Casper pointed out details in the wainscoting and crown molding in the dining room. An ornate, but tasteful chandelier hung from the raised ceiling. He showed off the vintage crystal door knobs, correct to the period when the house was first built.

After going through his checklist, we sat on the back porch steps, where the light was best for studying paint swatches.

“You should be able to start moving in furniture within the week,” Casper said once we decided on colors.

“That’s great,” I said. “I love my mom, but I’ll be glad to finally get into my own place. I have work to do, and it’s hard while at her place.”

“Do you miss the bright lights and big city?”

“For the first week I was home, I couldn’t sleep at night because it was so quite,” I said. “The nice thing about being a writer is that you can do that anywhere, but somewhere quite is gold.”

We sat out on the porch a while longer, and talked about life in a small town. Then Casper just couldn’t hold out any longer and asked that one question.

“Anything new on the babies?”

“Not really,” I said. “Doc Simon wasn’t able to make any definite rulings except that the babies were strangled, and had been dead for a while before they were left behind the wall.”

“Do you even know who they were?”

“We think they were the children of an itinerant couple who came through the valley when the house was built. The mother even lived with my Grams and Granddaddy for several years. The father worked for Russell Branch and died in some sort of farming accident. The woman eventually married one of Branch’s sons.”

“You don’t know for sure though?” Casper seemed distracted.

“There was a locket with the girls, the cameos inside were of this couple.” I said. “I remembered them from a family photo album my mother still has. I showed all that to Marshall.”

He fell quiet, then rummaged around in his jacket pocket, pulling out a large, rusted bolt.

“I don’t know if this is connected, but I found this later, in the same place we found the babies.”

I held the piece of metal in my hand.

“What is this?”

“I can’t say for sure, but it looks like an old tractor hitch pin.”

I studied it, turning it over.

“Marshall is picking me up here soon, and we’re driving over to the Branch farm to talk to Roger, Russell’s grandson,” I said. “I’ll show this to him, he’ll know if it’s important.”

“I might have watched too many television crime shows, but if a hitch pin was pulled from a tractor, it wouldn’t take much to roll it,” Casper said. “Do you know what sort of accident killed the alleged daddy?”

The bolt in my hand suddenly felt very cold.

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