Death Vow | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share

Death Vow

Death Vow Dallas Releford On October 12th, 1938 as the world watched violence spread across the globe, 16 year-old Alicia Walters was impervious to what was happening in other parts of the world. Peeping through colorful bushes at the top of a hill, staring intently at a young man putting up a barbwire fence down below her, she didn’t care about the rest of the world. Her own world was the only thing important to her now. Fall had spread its wings across the West Virginia Mountains and left the countryside basked in a beautiful blanket of exhilarating colors that Alicia enjoyed being part of. Knowing that the sight of the leaves turning a dozen different colors signaled the onset of winter, she pledged herself to spending as much time in the woods as possible. Nothing gave her more fulfillment than a walk in the woods, unless it was the sight of the boy she loved. Watching Toby McDonald work gave her deep satisfaction. As he used a posthole digger to enlarge an existing hole in the ground, Alicia marveled at the strength in his well-muscled arms, loved his sandy blonde hair and wished she could taste his lips like she had the night before. Brushing her long auburn hair aside, pushing it out of her face so she could see more of her secret lover, she stared at him with eyes as green as emeralds, as radiant as the sun that would drop down on the western horizon in a few hours. After bright stars twinkling above had replaced the sun, she would meet him behind the barn after her parents were asleep. Hadn’t she promised him that last night? Perhaps she was the reason he worked so hard. She wondered if he were thinking of her as much as she was thinking of him. “I’ll love you until death parts us,” he had said only a few days ago. Now she silently repeated the Death Vow to herself hoping fate would not separate them for a long time. She didn’t know what she would do without Toby. He was her only reason for living. The coolness of the woods around her reminded her that the sun-drenched hot afternoon was taking its toll on Toby who had no shade at all to shield him from the inferno. Under the sun, it must be close to a hundred she guessed while contemplating rushing down to him, leaping into his strong arms like a frog skyrocketing into a pond, and shoving him under the nearest shade tree. Wishing she had brought him water to drink and food to eat, she knew that to do so would reveal her secret to her parents. They hated Toby. They hated the entire McDonald clan as much as the McDonalds hated the Walter family. Compelled by the disclosure, tears formed in her eyes and drifted down her cheeks. Toby was only a few yards away and yet, he might as well be a million miles away on another planet. That wouldn’t always be true she told herself. Toby was going to take her far away, where they would be safe from their families. The quietness of the forest, the silence caught her attention. The only sound she heard was the distant thud of the metal posthole digger striking hard stone and the occasional gust of hot wind that brushed across her face disappearing into the cool forest as if chasing a ghost. Something glistened on the other side of the gully—otherwise known as a holler to the hill people—and Alicia directed her attention toward the flash just as a flock of black birds flew up into the clear autumn sky. She heard a loud sound like distant thunder as a puff of blue smoke emanated from the shiny object. Toby grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. A large red spot appeared as if by magic on his light blue shirt. Pain gripped at her heart as cold hands held her feet so she couldn’t move. Paralyzed, she felt her body grow numb and felt as if her guts were entangled like grape vines in August. Thousands of minute needles, cold as ice, penetrated her body and she thought she would pass out at any moment. She had to stay alert and help Toby. He needed her. Toby wasn’t moving. Only the old mare, Star Face—who had been munching on sun-fried grass when the shot rang out—moved. With her bridle straps dragging along beside her, she walked toward Toby and stood looking down at her master wondering what was wrong with him. After a couple of minutes, she lost interest, walked away and began munching on grass again. Alicia forced herself to hunker down behind the bushes. She felt as if she were in danger although she wasn’t quite sure why. All she knew was that she had to help Toby. Something was wrong with him and she wasn’t even sure about what that something was. Recalling the flash, the sharp crack of thunder and Toby falling to the ground, she became convinced that he had been shot. But, who would shoot Toby? As she watched, too fearful to move because she didn’t know who the shooter was or where he was, she saw movement in the bushes on the other side of the small ravine. A small creek ran alongside the fence Toby had been putting up. A man dressed in a light green shirt, bib Overalls and wearing an old gray felt hat, stumbled down the incline stirring up dust behind him as he held a rifle out in front of him in case he fell. Living in the hills of West Virginia, Alicia had seen that type of gun many times. It was a Winchester lever action thirty-thirty used mostly to hunt deer. Her father, her two brothers and her uncle owned similar guns. She didn’t recognize the man. He was too far away for her to get a good look at him. Shadows beneath the brim of his hat prevented her from seeing his face. He walked with a limp and had to stop a couple of times before he managed to get across the creek. The marrow in her bones turned to ice when she realized that she would never see Toby alive, ever again. Stunned, she watched as the man did something that puzzled her. Pulling a flat bottle from his bib Overalls, he took three swift swigs from it, held it up to the sky and then leaning over Toby, he poured the contents on his body. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a cigar and lit it. Gagging, Alicia could smell the strong smoke from the cigar as the breeze carried its odor to her nostrils. She had hated the things since she was a kid when some of the neighborhood boys made her take a couple of puffs from an old stogie. The gagging she felt in her throat was soon forgotten when the man dropped the match on Toby’s body. Flames erupted from his clothing as the pungent odor of burning flesh reached her nostrils. The mare had been grazing peacefully in the dead grass, however the strong smell of burning flesh seemed to agitate her to no end. Turning, throwing up her head, she ran toward the man who was standing over her master. Terrified of the fire, she ran toward it rather than away from it. Hearing a noise behind him, the killer turned just as the horse rushed by him. Stumbling backwards, the killer fell onto the burning corpse and screamed as the fire caught his own clothes on fire. The killer ran toward the creek using his hat to fight the flames that were now erupting from his burning clothes. Alicia saw long red hair flying in the wind as the man fell into the creek and attempted to put out the flames. Feeling as if the red hair were familiar, she fought an urge to vomit as the reality of everything that had happened rushed through her mind. Clutching her throat, she turned and ran into the forest trying to stifle a scream that was locked in her throat with a padlock of fear and horror. * * * “Mother,” she screamed almost out of breath as she ran up the steps to the old weathered white house—that needed a paint job—where she lived. “Mother, where are you?” Fearing that the killer wasn’t far behind, she pulled the old ragged screen door open and launched her exhausted body across the threshold just as her mother came running from the kitchen with a towel in her hand. “Heavens, child, what is the matter?” Falling into her mother’s arms, almost exhausted and paralyzed by fear, she whispered, “Toby, somebody killed him.” Ignoring her protests, Emma Walters dragged her to an old couch and made her sit down. Turning around, she told her younger sister Mary Ann to bring a washcloth soaked in cold water and a glass of water for her to drink. Focusing her attention on Alicia, she rubbed her face with her rough hands and tried to calm her. “Just be quiet for a few minutes,” she said. “Catch your breath and calm down. When you are feeling better, you can tell me what happened. I’ll send Jed for your father. He’s down at the Stone place helping Mr. Stone with some chores. Neighbors help neighbors and each other around here, you know.” “Mother,” she whispered. “Somebody shot Toby. It … it was horrible. While I was walking in the woods, I heard a shot. When I got there, Toby was on the ground and a man with a rifle was standing over him. He poured whisky on Toby and set him on fire. Oh, Mother, why would someone do that?” “Just be quiet and take it easy,” she said. “Your father will know more about this than I do. Are you sure the sun didn’t get to you? It has been hot for the past couple of weeks, Alicia.” Mary Ann returned with the water and a wet towel. As Alicia sipped the cold water, her mother put the wet towel around her neck and forehead. “I sent Jed for your father. Until then, you should rest. He will take care of things. I’m supposin’ that you got too much sun. You should be fine after you git a little rest.” “No, Mom,” Alicia insisted. “No matter what you think, it really happened. Toby McDonald is dead and I saw him murdered.” Her mother dropped her hands to her side and walked over to an aging easy chair and sat down. Staring at her oldest daughter, she said, “Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. We’ll have to wait and see.” When her father, Dave Walters arrived, Alicia told him the same story with trembling lips, teary eyes and something in her stomach that felt as if it didn’t belong there. “Story won’t be hard to prove, child,” he proclaimed. Standing nearly six feet tall with an old flopped down felt hat covering forty-four years of weathered skin, two slightly used deep blue eyes and a beard that he hardly ever took time to shave away, Dave Walters had heard rumors about his daughter’s secret love affair, and he wasn’t too pleased with what he had heard. Only last month the government had taken his oldest son Sammy and sent him to an island he had never heard of somewhere in the Pacific. What was the name of the place? Hawaii or something like that, he repeated in his mind as his thoughts raced back to the day Sammy went away. Dave knew that Sammy had a job to do, except he didn’t hanker sending young men to fight somebody else’s wars. Now, he was having trouble with his oldest daughter and if he knew kids, trouble was just over the horizon. Had she really seen what she said, or was she playing some kind of game to distract him while she slipped away with that McDonald boy. Sure, he would check on the boy. He could do that and if he found out she was fooling with her own father, he’d remove several inches of her skin with a hickory switch. That was what he would do. “Alicia, I ain’t never heered of you lyin’ to nobody, but if I find out that’s the case, you can count on dealing with my anger. Do you want to change your story?” “No, Daddy,” she insisted. “Everything I said is the truth.” “Fine,” he replied. “Jed, you run over and get the sheriff. You bring’m to that holler. I’ll wait there for you.” Jed turned and hurried out the door. Spruce Falls was only two miles away and if he ran fast enough he could reach the sheriff in less than fifteen minutes. Sheriff Will Hodge was going to be pissed if he called him all the way out to the farm, for nothing. * * * Sheriff Will Hodge, a middle-aged man with way too much meat on his bones, too much hair on his face and too much time on his hands wasn’t angry because he had to drive out to the Walter place, however he was slightly upset because he had to walk three miles through briars, woods, stinging sweat bees and a sweltering ninety degree temperature to get to the crime scene. “Why couldn’t the bastard get shot in your back yard,” he complained to Jed who remained silent. He didn’t normally say much because he could never find words for anything anyone else said. Caring for the farm animals, watching the girls and dreaming about piloting a big boat down the Mississippi River were about all he cared about. They found Dave Walters standing over the boy with an old double barrel shotgun tucked under his left arm. “Not much left of him, Will,” he said when they walked up and stood looking at the McDonald boy. “It’s just like Alicia said. Someone hid up there on top of that hill and shot him. I checked and there are tracks all over the place. Looks like he was shot with a thirty or something just as big. Who would have done this?” Locking his big hand over his belt and resting his other hand on his hip, Sheriff Will Hodge glanced up at Walters. “I guess that’s always the big question, now isn’t it?” “The other question is why did they kill him?” “Too many questions,” Hodge admitted sighing as he wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Why did the killer pour whiskey over him and then set him on fire? Was he trying to burn the evidence?” “I don’t know any of those answers,” Walters said. “Alicia said the killer had a limp. Do you know anybody that walks with a limp, Sheriff?” “Not off hand,” he answered. “Except for Old Man Riley. He has a limp.” “For Pete’s sake,” Walters complained. “He’s eighty and has arthritis.” “Well, you asked—” Putting his hand on Hodges shoulder, Walters looked at Hodge and said, “Now look here, Sheriff Hodge. You don’t realize what’s going on here. You know that the McDonalds and the Walters don’t exactly get along very well. You know this boy died ten yards from my property. The first thing those McDonalds are going to believe when they hear about this is that we killed him. It won’t matter if Alicia says that we didn’t do it even though she saw the murderer. She’s a Walter and that won’t hold no stock with those McDonalds. You’re going to have a war on your hands.” Sheriff Hodge knew he was right. There had been isolated incidents in the past. Nobody had been actually killed, until now. Toby’s death could start a war that would be hard to stop. Both families had hundreds of cousins in the hills of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee. Realizing the implications of such a thing, Hodge swallowed hard and replied, “You’re absolutely right, Dave. What can I do to stop it? I have to find out who killed this boy and I have to do it real soon.” “That’s your problem,” Walter said. “I’m just tellin’ you what is gonna’ happen if you don’t do something.” “I guess I’m in a box, ain’t I?” “What you talking about, Hodge? Speak like you got some sense.” “I’ll make it clear for you,” Hodge said. “I don’t have any suspects.” “You got a witness,” Jed said. Hodge and Dave Walters turned and looked at Jed. Neither of them had heard him speak more than a few words at any one time. His sudden outburst surprised and startled them. “What are you talking about, boy?” Sheriff Hodge turned around so he could face Jed Walters. Most of his life, he had suspected with quite a bit of confidence that something bad was wrong with Jed. “What is your point?” “You have Alicia. She saw what happened. What would the real killer say or do if he found out that she saw him?” “That’s real smart,” Dave acknowledged. “Jed, son, sometimes you just surprise me. Are you saying that we should set your sister up as bait for a killer?” “Something like that,” he said with a silly grin on his face. “Of course, we’ll guard Alicia all the time. The killer will know who she is and where she is but Alicia won’t exactly be there.” “Then, where will she be?” “She’ll be guarded by the McDonalds and the Walters. We’ll keep her at one of our houses under constant guard. We know the killer has a limp and that he drinks whiskey. Why did he drink a toast to Toby’s death?” “A what?” Dave Walters looked at his son with a puzzled expression showing all over his face. Walters shook his head as he waited for an answer. “A toast. You know, he drank the whiskey as if he were showing respect for someone or like maybe he had gotten even with Toby for something he done.” “Oh, that kinda’ toast,” Walters said. “So, you think this is a revenge thing, huh?” “Yep, it could be. I don’t know what Toby did to anger the killer except he must have done something.” “Could it be that Toby was messing around with your daughter and somebody didn’t like that?” Sheriff Will Hodge asked turning his attention to Dave Walters. “I heard things, you know. Something was going on out here. Why was your daughter out in the woods in the first place, especially in this particular part of the woods?” “That is a good question,” Dave admitted. “I guess I’m going to have to have a little talk with that girl.” * * * Sheriff Will Hodge pulled the old dusty black Plymouth in front of the McDonald home on Simpson Road about an hour later. Hodge and Dave Walters were in the front seat. Jed Walters cowered in the back seat dreading what they must do. The Walters and the McDonalds hadn’t spoken a friendly word to each other in thirty years and here they were going to the enemy’s lair. Jed felt as if he were about to attend a war council. “The girl stuck to her story,” Hodge said as he shut the engine off and eyed the old white house suspiciously. “Her story about just being out in the woods enjoying nature didn’t cut it with me, nonetheless I suppose it could be true.” “More than likely,” Dave agreed. “I still think she was out there to see him. You don’t suppose these folks will shoot at us, do you?” “Nah,” Hodge assured him, “they wouldn’t dare shoot at the county sheriff. I don’t think so anyway.” With a shotgun in his hand, the barrel pointing toward the ground, a tall man with a grizzled beard stood on the front porch watching them. When he obviously saw the sheriff, he cautiously walked down the steps and stood in the front yard under the spreading limbs of a large maple tree. “I didn’t recognize you, Sheriff Hodge,” he said. His face was weathered and his skin looked as tough as leather. He wore an old flopped-down hat, a gray suit coat hanging open and Overall pants. “Haven’t seen you out this way for a long time. What can I do for you?” Dave followed the sheriff up the path and through a gate that led into the front yard. Facing an old enemy was the hardest thing he had ever had to do although he wasn’t scared of the man or any of the rest of the McDonald family either. Standing near the sheriff, he studied a man who had the same look of having had a hard life just as he had. Wrinkles covered his forehead and his skin had been tanned by years of working under its scorching rays. His mouth quivered slightly when he spoke. Dave thought they didn’t have much in common except hard work, a big family to feed and they hated each other. He couldn’t remember much about why they hated each other. His parents had told him that it had something to do with a tract of land that the McDonald’s claimed that was on the Walters land. Since he was a kid, he had only seen Benny McDonald a few times and they had never spoken even though they had been neighbors all their lives. “I’m afraid I have some bad news, Ben,” the sheriff said. “Why, what could that be? Has Markham gotten himself into trouble again? I told him to stay away from Silas Meeks fishing pond. The boy just won’t listen sometimes.” “Nothing like that,” Sheriff Hodge said with a stern look on his face. Stepping closer, he said, “Ben, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your son, Toby is dead. The Walters girl saw someone shoot him. She’s all upset about it and we had a hard time getting the story out of her. I brought Dave and Jed McDonald over so they can tell you they didn’t have anything to do with it. The girl described a man with a limp wearing a gray hat and she said that she couldn’t see his face because he wore his hat low. Do you know of anyone that looks like that, and has a limp?” Dave thought that Ben McDonald might pass out right there in his own front yard. “You better sit in the shade for a spell,” Dave told him. “Can I get you some water, or something?” Ben looked at Dave and he thought that he could see a lot of hate in those old gray eyes. Staggering backwards, Ben almost fell before the sheriff and Dave Walters caught him and helped him to a shady spot under the old maple tree. Ben leaned back against the tree and fanned his face with his hat. “I’ll be fine,” he said as the others hunkered down around him. Jed sat on the grass staring at someone he had thought was a monster for most of his life. “What in the world is going on out here?” They all turned to see Celia McDonald walk off the porch and approach the men. Her long brown hair blew across her face and she used the back of her hand to push it away. When she was only a few feet from them, she stopped realizing that something was terribly wrong. Putting her hands to her face, she stifled a scream that was building up in her throat. “What happened?” “It’s the boy, Celia,” Ben said. “They found Toby shot over on the Walters place. Alicia Walters saw the entire thing. You better sit down and take it easy. This is hard enough on me without you getting sick too.” “Ben, what does it all mean? I don’t understand. What do you mean—?” “We don’t know why, Celia,” Sheriff Hodge said. “All we know is what the McDonald girl told us. She said she saw a man shoot your son. All we can do is try and find out who did it.” Celia McDonald put her hands to her face and screamed. Before they could catch her, she was on the ground with her face as white as a cloud on a hot summer day. Jed ran to the well and pumped cold water into an old bucket. As he looked around, one of the McDonald girls, Marcy he thought, was holding a towel for him. Using water from the well, they soon had Mrs. McDonald back from some other world where she was visiting. When she fully recovered, Jed carried a straight back chair from the porch for her to sit in. Dave Walters sat on the grass facing the old man. “Mr. McDonald,” he said with a slight quiver in his voice, “I know we haven’t always gotten along as neighbors should, but I just want you to know that if we can do anything to help you, we will. I’ll talk to my daughter tonight and see if she can remember anything else about that man. She was pretty upset about the incident and she might be able to remember something else after she’s settled down a bit.” “You do that,” McDonald said. “I guess we haven’t been good neighbors. Maybe we can change that in the future. We got us another problem though. Have you heard about Toby and Alicia?” “I heard rumors,” Dave said. “But, that don’t necessarily mean that it’s true.” “It is true,” Celia replied. Her daughter washed her face with a cold cloth. Celia could barely speak as she stared at Dave Walters. “Her and Toby were planning to run off together. One of the girls, Jane heard them talking about it. Jane is only nine years old and we thought … well, that she was just making it up. However, when we heard these rumors, we sort of figured that it was true.” “Could be, I reckon,” Dave admitted. “Wouldn’t be the first time two young kids did that.” “Could there be a connection between them seeing each other and someone else being jealous of Alicia?” Sheriff Hodge asked. “Alicia is a might pretty girl and that might be a possibility.” “As far as I know, Alicia wasn’t interested in anyone else,” Dave said. “She stays around the house most of the time. Sometimes she wanders in the woods picking flowers and things like that. I guess that she’s been sneakin’ off and seeing Toby. Nothing we can do about that, especially now but try to make sure she doesn’t try to hurt herself, or something. There’s nothing we can do that will bring your son back, Mr. McDonald. I don’t reckon I know the proper words to say or what to do that will make you folks feel better. Whoever killed your son had a reason for doing it. You have to think about what he has been doing in the last few months. Did he have a quarrel with anyone or something like that?” “Toby was a hard working son of mine, Mr. Walters,” Celia said. Her face was still pale and her hands were shaking as she spoke, nonetheless, she had a mother’s intuition that told her that her son was innocent. That feeling prohibited her from condemning her son. “He was out there in that heat fixin’ that fence since early this morning. Only a few people knew where he was. Toby didn’t bother nobody and everybody liked him.” “I’m sure they did,” Dave said. “I wasn’t saying that Toby did anything wrong. I was just trying to find out if he had a quarrel with someone or maybe someone had something against him.” “I think I better ask the questions,” Sheriff Hodge said. “After all, that’s what I get paid to do.” “Sorry,” Dave Walters said removing his old flopped down hat and rubbing perspiration away from his forehead with his hand. “Sheriff, you ask all the questions you want to. I was just trying to help these folks out.” “No offense taken,” Hodge said. Pulling out an old pipe from his shirt pocket, he stuffed tobacco in it and looked at Ben McDonald. Sitting on the ground, he crossed his legs and lit the pipe. Blue smoke swirled up into the hot, muggy summer air. “Now, let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this. Ben, you said that Toby didn’t have any enemies. He must have gone somewhere. Didn’t he ever go into town or to visit any of the neighbors?” Ben rubbed his grizzled face and stared at the ground. “Sure, he went into town except most of the time we were with him. We have an old car, that’s it sitting over there, and Toby liked to tinker with it. I was teaching him to drive and he never missed a chance to go with us. I let him drive on country roads, but never in town. Toby spent some time over at the Asbury Farm. Joe Asbury has two daughters about Toby’s age and a boy. Phyllis and Marlene are a little younger than Toby, I reckon. Pete, their only son and Toby were good friends. Mr. Asbury let Toby drive his old tractor so Toby helped him every chance he got. Toby and Pete worked on Mr. Asbury’s old Ford. It sort of gave them something to do and they hunted a little together I guess. As far as I know, there were never any problems between them.” “How old are the Asbury girls, Ben?” The sheriff puffed on the pipe and another cloud of blue smoke cascaded into the air. Sheriff Hodge hadn’t seen the girls for a long time. Ben shook his head and looked at Celia. “I don’t rightly know,” he admitted. “They’re young.” “Marlene was seventeen and Phyllis must be about fifteen,” Mrs. McDonald replied. “Lord, I haven’t seen those girls since back in the summer. They were in town a couple of times we went there and Toby was happy to see them.” “Well, I guess I better go over and have a talk with Joe Asbury,” Sheriff Hodge said. “Maybe Toby said something to them that will shed a little light on this subject. Anyway, it will be better than doing nothing. Mr. McDonald, Jed over there had a brilliant idea about puttin’ the word out that Alicia really saw who the killer was. We were considering that. We were hopin’ that maybe the killer might try to get to her. Of course, we would protect her and be waiting for the killer. However, since I have been thinking about it, I don’t think it would do anything but cause her harm. Maybe we should keep this a secret between us until we can find out who killed him. I’ll have the coroner take your son to the funeral home after he finishes the investigation. We’ll try to keep as much of this to ourselves as possible. Don’t you agree?” “Sure,” McDonald said. “No need to spread it all over the country. There’s going to be some curious people asking questions. You know that, don’t you?” “Let me worry about that,” Hodge told him. “You just tell them that your son had a hunting accident.” “Fine,” Ben said. Sheriff Hodge stood up and dusted the rear of his khaki pants off. It wouldn’t do for the deputies to see grass stains on the seat of his pants. It wouldn’t do at all. “Dave, you and Jed can ride with me. Mr. McDonald, I’ll be getting back with you tonight or early tomorrow to let you know how the investigation is going. If you can think of anything else give me a call or come into town to see me.” As they got into the sheriff’s car and drove away, Dave watched with sadness in his heart as the family stood watching them. Toby McDonald would never be with them again and he knew that the McDonald family was suffering from the loss of their son. Glancing over his shoulder, he looked at Jed. What would he do about this if it were his son that was lying back there in that field with a bullet in his body? He wondered. He thought that he might just be looking for someone with a limp that he could use for target practice. Jed sensed what his father was thinking. The McDonald family had never really caused them any harm or bothered them. The problem had been with the generation of McDonalds before his time when his father was young. Jed remembered that he felt sorry for the McDonalds because they were poor just like his family was. He liked Toby and often wanted to talk to him. However, it seemed that the opportunity never presented itself. They had avoided each other because it was part of an established routine for both families. Now he wished that he had taken the time to get to know him. “Pa, do you think that someone killed Toby to get even with him for something he said or done?” “I don’t know,” Dave answered. “I doubt that we will ever know. There sure isn’t much to go on, is there Sheriff Hodge?” “Naw,” Hodge said. “We can only ask around and hope something comes up. We’re almost there. You boys let me do all the askin’ and things will be fine. It’s best you don’t get involved.” “I guess you’re right,” Dave said wondering how much more involved they could really be. His daughter had witnessed a murder. She was in love with Toby and had seen him shot down like you would shoot a polecat. How much more involved could they be, he wondered. The Asbury home was located about a mile off the main road. A graveled road with weeds growing in the center of it was the only access route. The Asbury home was the only house on the lonely country road. Sheriff Hodge drove the old black cruiser up to the house and parked in front of it. Nobody was in sight. He wondered if anyone was at home. An old mangy yellow-haired mutt with long ears and deep brown eyes raised its head and looked at them. Yawning, it saw no harm in three strangers walking up on the porch and went back to sleep ignoring their presence. Sheriff Hodge tapped on the torn screen door and wondered why they didn’t repair it to keep the flies out of the house. After a few minutes a woman with dark graying hair tied in a knot behind her head opened the door and pushed her head out. “Why sheriff, I haven’t seen you for quite a while,” May Asbury said smiling at him as if he were an old friend. “They keep me in town most of the time,” Hodge said. “Is Joe around? I’d like to talk to him, if I can?” “Of course, he’s around back mending the fence by the barn. I reckon the girls are out there watching or helping, depending on how you look at it.” “Fine,” Sheriff Hodge said. “If you don’t mind, we’ll walk around and have a few words with him.” “That’s okay. What is this about, Sheriff Hodge? Is there something wrong?” “Nothing, May. We just wanted to chat with him for a spell. You go about what you were doing and don’t let us interrupt anything.” “Fine,” she said. “It’s good to see you again. You folks take care now.” She closed the door and walked back into the house. Sheriff Hodge and the two Walters men walked off the porch and walked unhurriedly toward the barn. Joe Asbury was a big man with a pleasant face that had seen many hot summer days. His arms were well muscled by years of hard farm labor. He was nailing old gray lumber onto posts that looked as ancient as the lumber. Two girls, both of them young, stood nearby watching him work. One of them glanced in their direction as the sheriff and the Walters men approached. She said something to Asbury and he glanced up at them. At first, Dave thought he saw surprise on his face, except the astonished look quickly disappeared as he apparently recognized the sheriff. The two girls climbed up on an old wagon that was nearby and sat looking at them. Neither of them seemed alarmed at the sheriff’s visit. One of the girls—the youngest Dave guessed—had long blond hair, dancing dark blue eyes and was just beginning to blossom, so to speak. He knew she must be Phyllis. The other girl had fiery red hair, emerald eyes and creamy white skin that was sprinkled with a few freckles. They both were beautiful he thought. As they walked up to Asbury, Marlene smiled at him and he wondered if the smile was a greeting or an invitation. Country girls start early, he reasoned, except he had everything he wanted at home and besides that, she was too young for him. “Evening,” Asbury said greeting them. “What you folks doing out this way. We don’t get many visitors.” “Joe, you know who I am. I don’t know if you know them or not, but this is Dave Walters and his son, Jed. We came out to ask you a few questions. You might want to send the girls away for a little while. The questions concern a murder that happened a few hours ago.” “Oh? Well, I tell ye Sheriff Hodge. This is the way it is, these girls are almost young women now and they’re going to hear about it anyway so they may as well have you tell it to them.” “Okay,” Sheriff Hodge said with a deep sigh. Wrapping his thumb around his black belt, he told them about the murder, about what Alicia saw and asked them if Toby had said anything about any problems he might be having. “Toby came over here a lot,” Asbury admitted. “Pete and him were good friends. They did a lot of work on the farm for me. I don’t know what I would have done without Toby’s help. He was good at fixin’ things, I reckon. Him and Pete kept that old tractor over there running like a top. Toby was a good boy. I can’t see why anybody would kill him.” “Me neither,” Hodge admitted. “You don’t recollect him talking about any of his troubles or anything?” “Naw. He talked a lot with Pete and my oldest daughter. They all got along fine.” “Your oldest daughter?” Hodge looked at the two girls sitting on the wagon and smiled. “I reckon that would be Marlene. Is that her over there, the little lady with the red hair?” “Nope, that would be Lorraine. She’s not feeling well. I guess she’s in the house.” “Oh, what’s wrong with her?” “She went hunting yesterday and stuck a thorn in her foot. Doctor came all the way out here and took it out. She won’t be walking much for a while, I guess.” “I’m sorry,” Hodge said. “I thought you only have two daughters, and a son, Pete.” “I do only have two daughters,” Asbury replied. “Loraine is an adopted daughter. She’s just like my own daughter even if she is a tomboy. She went hunting with those boys just like she was one of them.” Hodge felt a scorpion with cold feet and a hot stinger crawl down his spine. The damn ants crawling up his arms weren’t doing him any good either. Red hair. Limp. She went hunting with those boys just like she was one of them. Was such an absurd thing really possible? “Mr. Asbury. You said that Loraine hunted. What kind of gun did she use?” “That old thirty-thirty of mine. It’s a piece of junk but Toby fixed it up for her. He blued the iron and refinished the stock and everything until it looked like new. Why the interest in Loraine, Sheriff. Surely you don’t think she could have done something like that?” “Naw, I reckon not, Joe,” Will Hodge said. “Was she here this afternoon?” “For a little while. Look here, Sheriff, if you got something to say, spit it out and quit beatin’ around the bush. Loraine is no killer. She wouldn’t hurt a flea.” “Okay, Joe. I’ll spit it out. According to the Walters girl, the killer walked with a limp and had red hair. Of course, Alicia thought the killer was a man. That don’t mean anything to me. The killer could have been a woman or a girl. Is there any reason she might want to kill the McDonald boy?” Joe Asbury dropped the hammer as his face turned an ashen white and his eyes grew wide. Small beads of sweat popped out on his face. Who was the sheriff trying to fool anyway? Loraine was no killer. He would stake his life on it. And yet, he knew he had to tell the sheriff the truth. He would find out eventually anyway. May as well tell him the truth and get it over with. “Toby was a good boy even though he had a temper worse than a mad bull,” Asbury said. “We tried to tell him that he should do the right thing by Loraine. He wouldn’t hear of it and got angry when I insisted that he marry her.” “Marry her? Do you mean that he got your daughter pregnant?” Sheriff Hodge stepped closer and leaned forward resting his heavy frame on his left leg to keep the pressure off his right leg. It was the one that arthritis seemed to attack every time it was going to rain. “Yep. At first we didn’t even know she was with child. Loraine wouldn’t tell us who it belonged to. Finally, we sort of figured things out for ourselves. I asked Toby about it one day out here in the barnyard and he denied it at first. After I told him we would have the doctor determine who the baby belonged to, he finally admitted that it was his. I only wanted him to do the right thing by my daughter, Sheriff Hodge. I thought that Toby would make a fine son-in-law. He was intelligent, cunning and a genius at fixing things. That was my opinion of him before he burned the baby clothes.” Sheriff Hodge backed away and almost cursed until he glanced at the two young girls sitting on the wagon listening to every word that was said. “Joe, for Pete’s Sake, can’t you send your daughters to the house. They don’t need to hear all this adult talk.” “Sheriff, they already know about birthin’ and things like that. Country girls get married at sixteen. That’s why I was willin’ to let bygones be bygones. I thought having another pair of strong hands in the family wouldn’t hurt. Now, you know the story, so why don’t you just leave us alone. You know my girl wouldn’t do anything like that.” “Joe, I don’t know anything, for sure, that is. What’s this about burning baby clothes? What the heck is that all about? God, this is getting more confusing by the minute.” “Mom went to town and bought baby clothes,” Phyllis said with a smile on her face. “You should have seen them. She bought the baby tiny dresses, pants and even a little pink cap to wear. She wanted another daughter and Marlene and me wanted one too.” “Yeah,” Marlene said cutting her sister off. “When we showed them to Toby, he got hot and stomped the clothes into the ground. He took kerosene and burned the clothes. Toby wouldn’t accept that a baby was really coming and he didn’t want to admit that it was his even though he told Paw that it was his. I guess when the reality sunk in, he couldn’t accept it.” “He got embarrassed about what he did and ran away,” Phyllis said. “He came back a few days later and apologized but the damage was already done. Daddy sat him down on the front porch and had a long talk with him. Marlene and me hid behind the house and heard every word. Daddy told Toby that he was going to have to be a man and marry Loraine. Toby said he couldn’t because he was engaged to someone else. Daddy finally got it out of him as to who the other woman was.” “Yeah,” Marlene chimed in, “Loraine had walked out on the porch when she heard Toby arguing with Daddy. She was sitting in the old rocker with her head in her hands crying when Toby told our father that he was engaged to that Walters girl, Alicia. They were going to leave and get married. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cry as much as Loraine did that day. I truly felt sorry for her. I hope no boy ever does me that way. I’d probably kill him.” Sheriff Hodge shuffled his feet shifting his weight from one leg to another before he finally spoke. “Well, what did Loraine say about that?” Nobody spoke. Hodge felt as if a blizzard had blown across the mountains and had frozen every living thing. “Well?” “She said she would kill him,” Phyllis said. Realizing that she had said something wrong, she clasped her hand to her mouth and looked at her father. Joe Asbury sighed and looked away. “Joe, you know I need to talk to your daughter and I’m probably going to have to take her in. I know she’s sick and pregnant and all that, except I just can’t see any way around it.” “You won’t have to take me in,” a soft voice said from behind them. “I didn’t kill him.” The sheriff and the Walters turned around at the same time to see a pretty young woman with skin the color of fresh snow and hair as red as the setting sun. She looked as if she were more than three months pregnant, however even her pregnancy hadn’t damaged her beautiful figure. She was one of the most beautiful women Hodge had ever seen. “I couldn’t kill him because I loved him,” she said. “I’m sorry,” Sheriff Hodge said. “I’m going to have to take you in. We’ll take into consideration your condition and the fact that you’re the first woman prisoner this county has ever had. The county will pay your doctor bills, we’ll put you up in a hotel room and one of the deputies will stay outside your door. The judge will decide what to do tomorrow. Until then, I have to take you into custody, Miss Asbury.” * * * “God, that was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do,” Sheriff Hodge admitted as they drove back toward the Walters place. True to his word, he had the doctor examine Loraine Asbury and they made her as comfortable as possible in a hotel room. “I guess Alicia will be relieved when we tell her we found the murderer. I’m sorry, Dave, but she’s going to have to testify in court. She’s the only one that can identify the killer and even her word might not be enough.” “That’s right,” Dave admitted solemnly. “She said that she didn’t get a good look at the person that did the killin’.” “True enough,” Hodge said. “Red hair, a limp and the killer burned Toby the same way he burned her baby clothes. Can all that be coincidental?” “Reckon not,” Dave agreed. “I guess we have to leave it up to a jury. Some folks around her might just side with the girl. It’ll be hard to find a jury to convict him.” “And, we’ll leave that up to the lawyers, judge and jury,” Hodge reminded him. “I just don’t know, Sheriff Hodge,” Dave said. “Something about this whole thing just don’t ring quite true.” Jed sat quietly in the back seat. When the sheriff didn’t respond, he leaned forward and said, “You’re right, Pa. It doesn’t sound anything like Loraine. I saw her a couple of times in town with the Asbury family. I didn’t know they had another daughter and thought she was just a friend of the girls. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about her that doesn’t fit into her being a killer. She loved Toby for one thing. I could see that in her eyes. I don’t think she would really do him harm.” “That’s part of it,” Dave said with a thoughtful look on his face. “But that still ain’t what I’m thinking. There’s something else and it’s naggin’ me like a squirrel going after a hickory nut.” Arriving at the Walters house, the sheriff got out and went into the house with the Walters men. He wanted to be the one to tell Alicia that she would not have to worry about anyone trying to harm her. He really liked the girl and he liked the Walters family. Sheriff Hodge could not believe that he had single-handedly solved the case in so little time. It was clearly a good piece of detective work and his timing wasn’t bad either. One question had led to another one and before he knew what happened, he had all the answers he needed. Loraine Asbury had murdered Toby McDonald in a fit of rage and jealously. Of course, he hoped the judge and jury would turn her loose because he probably would have done the same thing if he were in her shoes. Toby had gotten her pregnant, refused to marry her and had even burned her baby clothes. In retaliation, she had returned the favor, the only way she knew how. When they walked in the door, Alicia was sitting on the couch staring at the floor while her mother sat near her knitting. Alicia glanced up and then lowered her head with a sullen look on her face. Dave could tell she had been crying. Her face was tear streaked and her mouth was turned up at the corners. “About time you men got home,” Celia McDonald said with a frustrated look on her face. Supper’s been done for over twenty minutes. I figured you all would want something to eat.” “Later, Celia,” Dave said. “Right now, the sheriff wants to talk to Alicia.” “Why? Hasn’t he asked her enough questions?” “Now, honey, he’ll know when he has all the answers, besides we know who killed Toby.” “You do?” Celia let her hands drop down on her lap and looked up at Dave with a surprised look on her face. “Who did it?” “That was the big question, now wasn’t it?” Hodge walked over and sat down in a nearby chair where he could talk to Alicia without looking down on her. He wanted her to feel comfortable when he asked her questions that were on his mind. “Feeling any better, honey?” Alicia looked up at him and sighed. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel better,” she said. “Who did this terrible thing, Sheriff Hodge?” “Loraine Asbury,” he said. When Alicia looked at him with her big green eyes, the look on her face wasn’t a look of someone who was surprised, however it was one of complete disbelief. Confused, she looked at the sheriff and muttered, “It wasn’t Loraine. I’ve known her for several months and I don’t think it was her. It was somebody else, a man. I’m sure of it.” “What makes you so sure that it wasn’t Loraine and that it was a man?” Alicia leaned forward and hid her trembling hands between her knees. “I’m sure it wasn’t because the person I saw was a man. If it had been a woman I would have recognized that fact. A woman is not built like a man and Loraine most certainly has a good figure. Not only that, but she was several months pregnant. You said that yourself. Just because she has red hair doesn’t mean much. Many women around here have red hair. It was the way he acted and the way he walked that made me realize he was a man. Even if Loraine were wearing a shirt and pants, I still would have known it was a woman, Sheriff. Your idea has too many loopholes.” “Maybe you’re right,” Sheriff Hodge said. Disappointed, he looked at Dave and Dave thought he heard him groan as he stood up. “Well Alicia, are you sure it wasn’t Loraine, I mean, beyond a reasonable doubt?” “Sheriff Hodge, I’d swear to it in court.” “I agree with Alicia, Will,” Dave said. “Now I know what was bothering me. I don’t think Loraine did it because she was pregnant and she not only wasn’t physically able to do what we thought she did, but she wouldn’t have risked her baby just to get revenge against someone who did those terrible things to her.” “Maybe you’re right,” Hodge admitted. “Alicia, did you know that Toby was messing around with Loraine while he was going out with you? I know we told you about it, but did you suspicion that anything was amiss?” Alicia didn’t want to think about all the times she had kissed and hugged Toby unaware that he had another lover, a pregnant one. She wasn’t sure if he had gotten Loraine pregnant before he started going with her or if it happened during their affair. “Sheriff, did you say that Loraine was three or four months pregnant?” “Somewhere around that,” he answered. “Then Toby had to have been doing things with her. We have been interested in each other for over a year and a half. I want you and my parents to understand that nothing like that ever happened between us. He said he wanted to save the good things until after we were married. I was stupid enough to fall for his lies. Toby was going to go to Charleston and get a job where his uncle works. He was going to come and get me. We hadn’t decided whether to tell our parents before we went or after. Toby was such a talker and I loved him, still do actually, nonetheless he managed to get himself killed.” “He did do that,” Dave said. “You’ll just have to convince yourself that he is not worth worrying about and get on with your life, honey.” “I’ll try. There is something else that I’ve never told anyone. The only reason I’m telling you now is because of what happened to Toby.” Dave Walters walked over and sat down by his daughter, between his wife and the daughter that he wished he had taken more time to understand and love. “You can tell us anything that’s on your mind, darlin’. All of us are worried about you and want to help you. What is it that you want to tell us?” Sheriff Will Hodge felt defeat staring him in the face and he knew that anything he said now was futile. He would have to release the Asbury girl, apologize to her and hope he didn’t get sued. Desperate, he decided to keep trying to see if he could pry anything else out of Alicia that might reveal who the killer was. What do I have to lose, he wondered. “Yeah, just like your father said, Alicia you can tell us. What’s this all about?” The last thing he wanted was for Dave or anyone else to take over his investigation even if Alicia was his daughter. He was the sheriff and he intended to get all the credit for solving the crime that he could. If he could catch the killer, he might be able to recover some respect that he knew he would lose when the folks around town found out that he had arrested a pregnant woman. “The man that I saw kill Toby was the same man that tried to rape me in the woods one day. If I hadn’t had that old rifle with me, he probably would have succeeded. I was just plain lucky, I guess.” The sheriff leaned closer to her hoping that the answer he wanted was about to be delivered to him. Dave put his arm around her and kissed her on her cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me about that? You know that anyone that caused you harm would be in jail before the sun went down.” “I was afraid that you would kill him and then my entire secret would be out in the open for everyone to talk about.” “What are you talking about? Who tried to rape you, Alicia? Who did it?” Dave held her in his big arms when the tears came and whispered words of comfort into her ears. “Tell us who it was?” “Peter Asbury,” she finally said with a trembling voice. Her body trembled in his arms and Dave Walters wanted to cry right along with her. “He met me in the woods one day while I was hunting. He asked me if I wanted to mess around and I told him to get lost. I was going with Toby then and he knew it. Pete got more aggressive and started talking about how Toby was messing around with his sister, Loraine. I didn’t believe him and thought he was just trying to make me mad at Toby so I’d do those things with him. He put his arms around me and tried to kiss me. Struggling to get away from him, my shirt got ripped and I later told you and mother that I tore it on a bush. Pushing him away, I ran deeper into the woods with Pete chasing me. Desperate, I fired several warning shots at him, close enough to let him know that I meant business. Pete turned around and ran. I fell down on the ground and cried for a long time before finally going home. I think I hit Pete in his foot because the next time I saw him he was limping. It was his left foot. The killer had trouble walking on his left foot.” Stunned, the sheriff sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling before finally drawing in a fresh lungful of air. Letting the air escape from his lungs slowly, he looked at Alicia and smiled. “Well, honey, you sure showed him. You did the right thing. If you had called me, I would have had a long talk with that boy. One thing puzzles me though. You said the killer had long red hair. As I recall Pete Asbury has brown hair.” “He washed it in peroxide or something that bleached it,” Jed told them. “I saw him one time in town and he told me he liked the lighter color. His hair doesn’t hang down to his shoulders or anything like that. His father would kill him if he let it get that long. Pete reads a lot of fantasy books about the Norsemen and Vikings. Most of them had blonde hair and Pete fantasized that he had blonde hair too so he tried to bleach it until it was blonde. Actually, it does look red, especially under the sun. His father gave him orders to cut it, but I don’t think he ever did. He lives in a fantasy world and some of the other boys tease him about it. He told me that he hopes to be a writer and that he has to live out his fantasies so he can write about it.” Silence reined in the room for several minutes until Sheriff Will Hodge finally said, “Well, Alicia do you think you can testify in court—if you have to—that the person you saw kill Toby McDonald was indeed Pete Asbury? I mean, are you that sure that it was him?” Alicia thought about it for a moment. “Something kept bothering me after you left,” she said rubbing tears from her face with the back of her hand, “and after I thought about it a while, I remembered that I saw his face when he took his hat off and ran toward the creek. I only saw it for a moment, but that was enough for me to recognize him. I was so terrified, upset and confused by what had happened that I blocked everything out of my mind. Yeah, I know it was Pete. It couldn’t be anybody else. His face is as clear as day in my mind.” “That does make a lot of sense,” Jed agreed. “Pete knew that Toby was messing around with his sister and that he got her pregnant so he figured that he could take Alicia away from him. Pete once said that he needed a fair damsel to fit into his fantasies so he could understand how love and all that felt. He wanted to include his experiences in his stories. When Pete found out what Toby did to his sister—not wanting to marry her and burning the baby’s clothes—he decided to seek revenge against him. Maybe he wanted to know what killing someone felt like too. Pete was a strange boy.” “I’m beginning to see that,” Sheriff Hodge admitted. “Well, Mr. Walters, I think I’m going to drive back over to the Asbury Farm and have a little talk with Pete and his parents. After that, I suppose the next thing I’ll do is to take Loraine back home to her parents where she belongs. I do believe that she has had more than her fair share of suffering. Alicia, you take care and try not to worry too much. Someone else will come along and make you forget this ever happened. Trust me.” Alicia attempted to force a smile and couldn’t. Arising from the couch, she rushed across the living room and disappeared into her bedroom. It would be several months before she could commit herself to a meaningful conversation with her family or anyone else. The pain in her heart was as deep and somber as the Grand Canyon. Standing, the sheriff offered his hand to Dave Walters. “You take care of that girl,” he said as they shook hands. “I’ll be coming back over, probably tomorrow, to let you know what happened. I’m sure that we have the case solved. Now, the hardest part is getting those two girls back on their feet again. I’m just sorry that such a tragedy had to happen to good people like you and the McDonalds.” “Well, Sheriff, they say that every cloud has a silver lining or something like that, I reckon. Even though it’ll take Alicia and Loraine a long time to recover, they were lucky that Toby didn’t hurt or kill one or both of them. The tragedy brought the McDonalds and the Walters closer together. Hopefully, that old feud is history now and we can get on with our lives as good neighbors. The Asbury’s are gonna’ have a tough time dealing with the fact they have a son who murdered someone and attempted to rape my daughter, except maybe some good will come of that too. Pete will probably get a lighter sentence since he is underage, but he’s lucky he didn’t get killed. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but it’s the best I can do.” “Fair enough,” the sheriff said and forced a quick grin. “Well, you folks take it easy and do the best you can for them girls. I’ll be seein’ you.” After the sheriff left, Dave Walters walked over and hugged his son. “You make me proud,” he told him. “You have come out of that shell that you’ve been in for a long time. Maybe next year, if the crops all do well, we can see about getting you into a college somewhere.” Jed smiled. “I’ve never been much at reading and all that, but I’m willing to try,” he said. “The first thing we have to do is mend a lot of hearts around here.” “I reckon you’re right,” Dave agreed. Glancing at his wife, he reached out and took her hand in his. “Now, let’s all go see if we can’t take care of all that food your mother cooked up for us. Celia, do you suppose you can get Alicia to join us? She must be hungry after all she’s been through. I think from now on, we’re going to spend more time together and really get to know each other. Life’s too short and troublesome to let it slip away.” Celia smiled and walked toward the bedroom where her daughter needed her. She knew that time would heal her heart and she was going to do everything she could to help it all along. Glad that her family was back together again and everyone was safe, she smiled as she approached the bedroom door. Dave Walters stopped short of crossing into the kitchen as a shot rang out loud and as clear as a roar of summer thunder. Cold hands clasped his heart and he felt himself suddenly grow numb. His legs weak, his heart pounding, he turned toward the sound of the noise just as Celia screamed. Before he realized what was happening, he collapsed to the floor. With darkness attempting to close in on him, he felt Jed’s hands on his arms pulling him upward. As stars floated in front of his face he soon found himself sitting in a chair by the table. Jed was splashing water on his face. In the distance, somewhere far away, Celia was still screaming. “She’s killed herself,” Celia screamed. “The girl shot her head off.” “Sit here, Pa,” he heard Jed say. His vision was clearing now as he struggled to regain his strength and make the damn roaring sound disappear from his head. Must be a thousand bees in there he said to himself, and a million stars out there. Knowing he had to be strong for the rest of the family, he walked to the old water bucket they kept drinking water in and splashed more water on his face. I have to take control, he promised himself even though he wondered if he were able to do that. Mary Ann, his youngest daughter had been sleeping in an adjacent room. When the sound of gunfire erupted, she rushed from her room and stood in the hallway trying to figure out what was going on. Dave Walters turned and walked toward where Celia was standing in the doorway to his daughter’s bedroom, still screaming and shaking her hands around in the air as if she were swatting invisible flies. Mary Ann ran toward her mother. Jed caught her just in time to prevent her from entering the room. Taking her to the couch, he made her sit down. Talking soothingly to her, he tried to stop her from adding her screaming chorus to that of her mother. Dizzy, Dave took his wife in his arms and tried to comfort her. Nothing he said or did seemed to help. “Calm down,” he told her even though he knew his words were lost on her. She wasn’t in this world anymore. Neither was his beloved daughter. He knew just as Celia and the rest of the family knew. Alicia had taken the death vow never to be without her lover. Sighing a few times, not knowing exactly what to do, he led Celia to the couch and forced her to sit beside her daughter. “Better git the sheriff, Jed,” he said. “You be careful and drive slow. We don’t want any more trouble.” As Jed ran out the front door, Dave glanced at the bedroom where his daughter had taken her own life. So young, he thought. Something deep inside him told him that despite all the pain her family was suffering, that she was with Toby now and that they would be happy. He tried to fight back the tears as he attempted to make sense of why so many terrible things had happened. Somewhere out there in a place he could not even comprehend, he knew that Alicia was finally happy. The End
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