The guilt set in as soon as I returned home and got into bed. Who else had I to turn to but myself? To exact a kind of justice for Mama. Sheriff Anderson was of no use. Would he only come to our aid if Mama was dead? That eventuality was beginning to loom larger everyday. I had discovered something from old Alfie Tressler prior to the robbery. Trenchard’s first wife had fallen down the stairs while pregnant. Rumour circulated in Chattanooga, where he had lived before. Trenchard, in a fit of anger and drunkenness, had pushed her. His wealth and status had succeeded in acquitting him when the finger of suspicion had travelled in his direction. How long before the same happened to Mama? With the money we could get out. The trouble was I had had to commit a crime to exact that justice.
The house was quiet, and I knew Trenchard had gone to bed. I lay awake, my heart beating erratically when I considered the night’s events. I hoped that Billy was wrong in his assumption that Alfie might have set us up for his own ends. I’d stuffed my share of the cash into a drawer. All two and a half thousand dollars of it. Mama had a sister in Huntsville. Maybe we could go there, out of his clutches, and Mama could have her op.
When the strident raps on the outer door issued, a crazy sense of lightheadedness washed over me. I couldn’t sleep, so I was up, listening at my door. I heard Trenchard curse and warn Mama to stay there. “Who in God’s name is it at this time of the night? Disturbing decent folks peace.”
Cracking the door ajar, I watched him fasten the belt of his robe.
The anxiety increased when I heard Mort Anderson’s voice, followed by Trenchard inviting him into the hallway. From there I had a clear view.
“What is it, Mort?” Trenchard demanded. “Has something happened at the bank?”
‘”I think there might have been a robbery, Ike.”
“What do you mean, ‘think’? Well, has there been a robbery or not? I’m in no damned mood for guessing games at this time of night.”
“I was doing my rounds and I saw a light in your office. The door was unlocked. I found old Alfie Tressler bound and gagged.”
“What?” Trenchard spluttered. He held his chest as if he were about to collapse. “What… what did Alfie say?”
“He wasn’t saying much. First off, he reckoned that his eyes ain’t what they was. He couldn’t see what they was doing, or what was stolen. Only that they was masked. He didn’t even know how many of ’em they’re were. The poor old boy is practically blind.”
“Only when it suits him.” Trenchard bunched a fist. “It must have been my safe.” He spoke as if to himself.
‘Good old Alfie, I knew you wouldn’t let us down,’ I thought with a smile.
It was a smile that was short-lived however, when Anderson said, “I do have a witness though.”
A witness? But I had seen no one.
“Yeah. Seems they saw a coupla guys run across the street from the bank and get into Billy Parker’s pick-up.”
Momentarily Trenchard said nothing, but I saw his leaned-out frame visibly stiffen. Both fists clench against his robe.
“Did you hear what I said, Ike? You okay?”
“Yes I heard.”
“Look, I’ll go and talk to Parker. I ain’t saying it was Billy. Someone might have stolen his vehicle. Though he ain’t reported it missing.”
“And he won’t either.” Trenchard’s face was now an angry mass of vengeance.
“You want to get dressed and come to your office, Ike? Ike?”
“Later. I have something to deal with first. You go ahead. I’ll join you.”
“I can wait. I got the car outside. What you gonna do?”
“I said wait outside,” Trenchard hissed. “Remember who elected you, Sheriff. You answer to me.”
“Look, Ike, I ain’t called that in…” Anderson had removed his hat. Now he twirled it in his hand nervously.
So Trenchard was responsible for pulling Mort Anderson’s strings too, but I was in far too much trouble to even dwell on that fact.
“What’s goin’ on, Luke?” Johnny appeared from his room, rubbing at his eyes.
“Get back into your room, and stay there,” I hissed at him. The last thing I needed was for him to witness whatever might occur. I repeated the order at his hesitation and he dived back into his room.
He wasn’t the only one. I closed the door, and hoped to make it back to bed. I had undressed and was wearing my pyjamas. For a man of Ike Trenchard’s years, he bounded up the stairs pretty agilely and burst into my room before I could prevent him.
“What is it, Ike?” I pretended nonchalance, but the cold grey eyes that bore into mine were filled with an hatred I had never occasioned to ever witness on a human being. If that’s what he was.
“Don’t play the innocent with me, boy. I know it was you and that Parker kid that broke into my office. Masking your faces like a coupla hoodlums. The old man musta told you about the safe. How much did you take?”
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I protested, when pushing me back onto the bed, he towered above me. ” I…I don’t know nothin’ about no safe.”
His robe slipped open, revealing his sinuous frame. His breathing issued raspy and dry. A bony hand shot out and his fingers wrapped around my neck, I knew in that terrible moment of realisation, that he intended to kill me. “I always knew you was a bad ‘un. Beyond hope now.”
I was aware that his free hand had also grabbed the guitar that rested against my night cabinet.
” Wh-what you gonna do with that?” I thought, please, not that
“How much money did you take from my safe?”
“I…told you I didn’t…”
“Wrong answer, boy.” He released the stranglehold on my windpipe. My throat was sore, and I was gasping for breath when raising the guitar above his head, I knew what he was going to do.
“Okay, okay, it… it was me,” I gasped.
“What you doing to my son?” Mama burst into the room. My brother, white and scared, trembled behind her. “Leave him alone. If he says he didn’t steal any money…”
She attempted to wrest the guitar she knew I loved so much from his grasp when Trenchard, flinging out an arm, hurled her so belligerently against a sideboard, that both Johnny and I screamed her name. Relief shot through me when she roused herself, and my brother helped her to rise.
It all came out then. Why I had stolen the money.
Mama stared, half collapsing against Johnny, with disbelief.
“This is the man who foreclosed on our farm, Mama. On other folks farms so he could steal their money.”
“Oh you’d say anything wouldn’t you, boy? Because I’m gonna see you sent down for ten.” His thin lips twisted ugly around the words. “What will your precious Mama and that snivelling brother do if you ain’t around? I can do it too. I practically own this town.”
“You’re a bad man, Isaac Trenchard.” Mama stood there, her hair dishevelled and greying before her time. “My son doesn’t have a criminal bone in his body. It’s what you’ve driven him to. There was no one else who would help me, because they were all so scared of you. All the folk around town.”
“Yeah, you’re such a goddamned big shot in this town ain’t you, Trenchard?” I taunted. The stinging blow he cracked across my face was expected. Though I held a hand to my cheek, I continued to hold my ground. “Such a big man that you kicked a little dog, then shot him in the head for good measure.”
“You bastard! You bastard!” Johnny was crying, about to charge into Trenchard until Mama restrained him. He buried his head in her nightie, her arms coming around him.
“That damned critter was always whinin’.”
“And my sister? She had the courage to stand up to you and you killed her baby.”
” Wh-what’s that gotta do with me?” Guilty colour flowered Trenchard’s face but he continued to maintain that it wasn’t his fault.
“Lorrie lost her baby?” Mama echoed in a trembling voice.
“Yes, Mama, the night he pushed her out of the chair. Billy told me.”
I really believed Mama was about to pass out, for she teetered, and almost fell against the door. Then recovering her composure, dragging Johnny with her, she exited the room.
“Now it’s just you and me, boy,” Trenchard sneered. “You can tell me why you’ve been doing these wicked things.”
” For Mama. Because I figured I needed some kind of… of justice for what you’ve done to her.” I allowed my words to falter, when Mama appeared again. Gripped in both hands was the double barrelled shotgun Trenchard kept in their bedroom. Before he managed to turn around, Mama fired. Trenchard was catapulted back against the wall with a surprised expression on his face when he dropped onto the bed, blood flowering up through his robe a river of crimson.
“What’s going on? I thought I heard a shot.” Sheriff Anderson burst into the room. In the aftermath of the shotgun’s reverberation, a terrible, infinite silence reigned. My pyjamas were splashed with Trenchard’s blood. Johnny was crying quietly. Only Mama was strangely calm when she held her hands outstretched to Anderson for him to cuff her.