Friday, August 28, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Five

            After a somewhat restless night’s sleep, Karen determined on a course of action to the best of her ability. Her curiosity wouldn’t let her completely trust the Wellbrooke’s, despite Miles’ specific instructions. But she also knew she would need their help in order to do whatever it was that she was supposed to do here in Kentucky. The smell of coffee floated upstairs at around 6:00am, and because she wasn’t sleeping anyway, she headed down to try to get some energy for the day ahead. She had decided that she wouldn’t need to change the locks or worry about the Kentucky property, but she was still wondering why Miles had sent her all this way.
            Over steaming cups of black coffee, she chatted with Marybelle, but couldn’t determine much from her. She could tell Marybelle was very positive and friendly, but there were times when the conversation would repeat itself, or something strange would come out of her mouth and Karen wondered about dementia. When she had eaten as many bites of the plain oatmeal as she could stand, she headed out to the barn to see if she could find Eli.
            At the door of the barn, she stopped in her tracks when she heard two distinct male voices, with very strident tones.
            “I don’t know that I like strangers on this property. I told you already that I don’t feel like you two need to be staying here for very long and I mean that. Now you’re coming around poking in my business, and all you are is a friend of a stranger. She may have a right to be on this property, but you don’t!”
“I wasn’t poking in your business; I don’t know what you’re so paranoid about! I only was asking about the sale price, trying to help my “friend” out with her job. She didn’t even know this dude; much less you and your wife, so I don’t know what problem you can have, because it’s not your property.”
            Eli’s voice lowered, but Karen could just make out the next part. “Maybe it should be.” He mumbled as he scraped the tines of the metal fork along the concrete walkway.
            She stepped through the doorway, having calmed a bit, knowing who the voices were. Maybe she couldn’t trust Eli with any details of the estate or finances, but she could hopefully learn something about Miles. “Hey Eli. Sorry to cause you so much trouble, I couldn’t help overhead a part of your conversation. Justin can be a pain sometimes, but I know he was only trying to help. He is right that I don’t, didn’t know Miles very well. Do you think you could tell me more about his family and what he did when he visited the farm? Especially during that last visit?”
            Eli looked a bit sheepish to be caught arguing with someone only a third his age, but he nodded his head. He still glanced untrustingly toward Justin as he said, “We can speak privately, I have an office in the sunroom on the back of the house. I’ll meet you there in about 15 minutes.”
            “Sounds good.” Karen said, as Eli limped off toward the storage room in the barn. Then she turned to Justin, “What are you doing in my business anyway? I know you’re bored, but I didn’t even know you were up yet, and you’re out here bothering our hosts?”
            “Whatever.” Justin shrugged it off with his usual grin. “You must think I sleep more than I do. I was up and had breakfast before you quit snoring.”
            “I do not snore.” Karen hid a smile as she headed in to find another cup of coffee. She had the feeling it was going to be a long day.

When Karen reached the office area in the back of the house, coffee mug in hand, she found a surprisingly dark room despite the many windows. The huge shade trees at the back of the house blocked most of the light. The thick curtains and blinds seemed to shut out whatever remained. She certainly wouldn’t call this a sunroom, or want to do much work either. She shivered at a blast of cool air as she passed a window air conditioner.
Eli hadn’t arrived yet, so she took a few moments to look around the room. One wall held several bookshelves, piled haphazardly with an eclectic mix of new and old books. The shelves held everything from fiction, to farm equipment, to what looked like ancient accounting ledgers. There was a desk against the main wall of windows, and one set of curtains was open, looking towards the barn area behind the house. There was an 1970’s style wooden chair pulled up to the desk and a soft armchair between the bookshelves. Karen settled into the bookshelves, hoping that the piles of books on the shelves above her would stay in their places.
Eli came in directly from the outdoors, through the sunroom door, scraping his feet on an industrial strength entry mat. He took off his jacket and settled into the old wooden chair with relatively few squeaks. Karen wasn’t entirely sure if the squeaking was from the old wood or his old bones. “Did you have a specific question in mind about Miles, or do you just want an old man’s opinion of what’s important?”
Karen smiled, if there was anything she knew in her relatively short life, she knew the answer to that question. “I’ll hear your story, if you don’t mind sharing it?”
Eli settled back in the chair and then crossed his ankles, looking up at a cobweb on the ceiling. “My story may not be as interesting as you think, but I hope you listen carefully.” He sighed, and rubbed his swollen knuckles.
We first met Miles’ father, Marcus Tanner, when he was only about 30 years old. He wasn’t married and Miles wasn’t born yet. This was many years ago, as I’m sure you can tell, so I won’t tell you how old I am, although my wife and I have been married 48 years last March.”
“Congratulations.” Karen murmured, wondering how long of a story she had gotten herself into.
“Marcus had just bought this property, house and all, and wasn’t planning on staying here, so he came into town, that’s London, if you’re wondering, and found me and Marybelle reading the local want ads at a café. That may not be exactly how it went, but this was many years ago, and that’s the way I always tell the story.” He narrowed his eyes, daring Karen to make a comment on interrupt.
“So he hired you to work the farm?”
“I guess so. At first we were only supposed to come twice a week, but then the animals came, and he left, and before we knew it, we had to move in to keep up with everything. He paid us a fair wage, and never minded us taking over the property. I used to wonder what he was doing with the place, until he started visiting regularly. Whenever he visited, he would have Ellen Fisher come over. It wasn’t long before they were married and Miles was on the way.”
“So Ellen was from around here, but Marcus wasn’t?” Karen asked.
“Well, as far as we know at least. The thing is, that Ellen disappeared about 3 years after Miles was born, and Marybelle and I stepped in and raised Miles on our own.”
“You mean with his father?”
“Nope. Marcus Tanner went right back to wherever he came from. I don’t even know for sure where that was, because all we had to contact him were a phone number and a PO Box, and they were in different cities. As best I could tell, the area code was in North Carolina, and the PO Box was in Chatanooga, Tennessee.”
“Okay. I really hate to keep interrupting you, but I want to understand. Are you telling me that Miles never saw his father again? That you raised him as your son?”
“I guess we did. I never thought about it like that, but he needed someone to love him.” At this point the old man finally broke down in tears. “We never had any kids of our own, and didn’t know what else to do. The authorities would have just taken him away. All I had was a piece of paper from his dad, and the phone number and post office box.” The silent tears were swiped away angrily, “Marcus only visited one more time after that. Miles was 10 years old and hadn’t seen his dad in over 6 years. I took Marcus aside and told him if he wasn’t planning on staying, or taking his son with him, he should never come back.”
Now the sobbing became violent, and Marybelle rushed in from the kitchen, putting her arms around her husband and narrowing her eyes at Karen. “Give us a few minutes, dear. You can continue your conversation later. His heart, you know, we don’t want to overtax him.”

Karen left the room, having learned something new about Miles, but nothing to solve the mystery of his death, or her supposed danger.

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