by Grasshopper

Chapter 15

"You found the body and called it in?" Sheriff Nolan asked Cole.

"Yes sir," Cole kept his eyes straight ahead, overcoming the urge to stare at the little silver-gray bead lying across the room by the oil drums.

"What time did you get here?" the sheriff asked, pulling a notebook out of his back pocket. "Ed, turn that damn radio off so I can think. Marty, put on gloves and switch off the tractor. Jackie, start dusting the tractor for prints."

Cole thought frantically. He had gone to the 8:35 movie across the street and had watched maybe a quarter of the dumb thing when he went out to get popcorn and saw Wes' car. "About 9:00, I think."

"Why did you come to the garage?"

Shit! He decided he'd better stick close to the truth. "I was looking for a friend of mine."

"Wes Straihan?"

"Yes," Cole answered, surprised.

"Was he here?"


"Did you touch anything?"

Cole thought his head was gonna explode. "No."

"There's blood on your hands."

Cole looked down quickly and turned his hands over. Blood smeared both hands from picking the beads up out of the dark red pool. "I uh, I did touch Karl. He wasn't dead when I first got here."

"So, when you got here at 9:00, you found Straihan like this, but he was still alive? Did he say anything?" The sheriff stared hard into Cole's face.

Cole commanded his eyes to not jerk around. "No", he replied steadily.

The sheriff was silent for what seemed like an hour, but was only a few seconds. "Did you see anyone leaving or on the street outside when you came in?"


"You're just full of 'Nos' tonight, aren't you boy?"

One of the paramedics spoke out, "He's only been dead about ten minutes, Sheriff."

"Ed, take shots of the tractor, the ramps, the blocks, and the body from all angles. We want to see exactly how that spike entered and exited."

"Can I go?" Cole asked.

Sheriff Nolan turned his head. A heavy man, once a fullback on his college football team; now the toned abs were a bit more of a pot belly, but his mind was just as quick as ever. His eyes, sharp and thoughtful, focused on Cole. "Sure, you behave yourself now, you hear. Oh, and when you do find Wesley, tell him I want to see him." He turned back to the body as one of the deputies said, "Sheriff, I looks like he was in a heck of a good fight before this happened."

As Cole moved toward the door, he heard the sheriff say, "I knew this Straihan kid wasn't gonna make it to thirty."

As Cole got level with the oil drums, he dropped to one knee, he jerked the lace on his sneaker loose. His right foot was touching the bead and, as he laced his left sneaker quickly, he pretended to check the right one too, scooping the little bead into his fingers and dropping it into his shoe.

Cole walked to his truck, unlocked it, climbed into the cab and sat staring out the windshield at the neon sign above Collom's Garage. He got this far and, all of a sudden, his entire body shut down. Karl was dead! The image of his body impaled on that spike. My God! What was he gonna say to Wes? He had lied about everything to the sheriff. He had the beads. Wes was never there. He had to get to Wes first. Turning the key, he pushed down hard on the gas and took the backway out of town heading for the Straihan place.

Mercy glanced out the front window and frowned when she saw the ambulance and the sheriff's cars outside the garage. It was a block down on the corner of Laredo and Maylor. 'Maybe Karl got squished by a truck falling on him', she muttered. Then, thinking about Wes and how tender hearted he was, she called to the back of the store, "Mr. Leoni, there's something going on down at the garage where my brother works. May I go find out what's happened?"

Mr. Leoni came out from behind the counter and peered out the window. "Go, Mercy. We'll be fine." She walked quickly, crossing the street, and opening the garage door.

"No one is allowed," one of the deputies called out hearing the door slam. "Oh, it's you," Jackie said softly. "Sheriff, this is Mercy Straihan, the vic..., um .... I mean, Karl Straihan's sister."

Sheriff Nolan took off his cap and walked over to Mercy. "I know Mercy."

"What's happened? Who is that?" She pointed a shaking finger toward the body still suspended on the spike.

"Come away now, Mercy. Come outside." The sheriff lead her out onto the sidewalk and put his arm around her shoulders. "Your brother's been in a really bad accident. Looks like the tractor he was working on slipped into gear and rolled down, killing him with the hay baler spear."

"Karl Jr.?" She felt the world flip over. Karl Jr. was dead. "Has anyone told Father yet?"

"I'm about to head out that way. Let me take you home. I know what an awful shock this is." He was watching her carefully.

"Yes, yes, I'd like that. I'd like you to tell him please."

"Of course, oh, and Mercy, do you know where Wesley is right now?"

"Wes? No, probably at home or over at the Hewetts."

"He and Cole are pretty tight friends, aren't they?"


Mercy had to go back to the shop and tell Mr. Leoni what had happened. "Sheriff Nolan is taking me home. When Wesley comes for me, will you just say that I went home early. I don't know where he is right now to tell him what's happened."

The ride home was quiet, both Mercy and Sheriff Nolan deep in their own private thoughts. He was sorting out what he remembered about the Straihans, especially about the youngest boy and Cole Hewett. He'd had many run-ins with the good Reverend and didn't look forward to this meeting either. Karl Jr. wasn't exactly a loss to the world, but there was still something off about that "accident".

Cole pulled up at the Straihan place, jumped out and banged on the front door. No more avoiding. This was too important! The door opened a crack and Reverend Straihan peered out. "What do you want? It is too late in the day."

"I'm Cole Hewett and I'm looking for Wesley, sir. Do you know where he is?"

"Wesley? Of course I know. I know where all my children are. I take care of them and nourish their immortal souls. I have to punish them for their sins. I have three children, you know. Wesley hurt me, beat me. Karl is his mother's child. He needs to be punished for what he has done. Hewett, did you say? You are Cole Hewett? Mercy is broken. Her fault.....always her fault. Little whore. What has Wesley done? I will have to punish him if he has been bad."

Cole stared wide-eyed at this man, Wes' father. He was as crazy as a loon.

Cole shouted into the open door, "Wes? Wes, are you here?" Only silence answered him.

"Do not yell in my house. You will not find Wesley that way, young man. I will punish him for you. Go away!" He slammed the door in Cole's face.

Cole decided to go look at the cave. Just as he started his truck, he heard the sound of another truck gunning its engine behind the house. He watched as an old Ford pickup barreled out from behind the house and down the driveway. He could see the outline of the old man's head in his headlights. 'What if I kicked something off and he's going to 'punish' Wes?'

Following, Cole slowed down when the reverend pulled out into the yard beside the Church of Redemptive Suffering. He flicked off his lights as he pulled in a few yards back and watched Reverend Straihan run to a thick copse of trees at the back of the property. Crouching down, Cole ran quickly, and saw the old man opening the rusted padlock on the door of a small brick building. He heard the eerie sound of Reverend Straihan crooning, "Wesley, Father is here! Wesley, you need to learn your lesson!"

Sneaking over to the little building, Cole tried to peer into the darkness, but could see nothing. He couldn't make out whether Wes was in there or not. Stepping one foot into the dank room, he felt a hard shove and then a splitting pain at the back of his head. He tumbled down, heels over head, down into the blackness to lay silent in the dirt.

Wes sat at the entrance to the cave going over and over what Karl had said tonight. Why should he believe anything Karl said? He'd lied all his life. Wes was so confused about Callie and this whole mess. All he wanted was to be with Cole; to live a simple life in the country and be together. People just seemed to make trouble. Callie had been so different lately. Sometimes, he felt like she didn't even like him much. Why come to him with this? Why not Cole? Surely she wasn't worried about what Cole would do to Karl? Why would she care? She was good friends with Lily Campbell. Why didn't she tell Lily? Wes just knew that Lily had needed the services of an abortion doctor at least once or twice by now. He reached his hand to his other wrist to touch his bracelet. It always calmed him down. Jerking his hand up, he saw immediately that the bracelet Cole had given him was gone from his arm. Where the hell....? Suddenly, he saw, in his mind's eye, the bracelet snapping and flying off, beads flying, in the garage as Karl and he had fought. Damn it!

He jumped up and ran down the hill, starting the car and heading toward town. He wanted those beads.

"Come on, Callie," her mom called when she heard the kitchen door slam, "We waited for you. Callie threw her jacket over the back of a chair and went into the den, walking quickly over to the sofa. Lying down, she nestled her head in her mother's lap. Her dad was sitting in his usual spot in the recliner. He had the big bowl of popcorn Sarah had popped resting in his lap. Snap lay on the floor staring at Albert, waiting for popcorn to fall into his mouth. Albert pushed the remote button and the three of them started watching an old Cary Grant movie, North By Northwest. Her mom loved Cary Grant.

Her mom's fingers felt so good stroking through her hair. It eased the constant headache she seemed to have. Callie had to figure out how to keep her life just like this. If she could just convince Wesley to marry her and claim the baby, she knew she could change him. Dad would be mad and Mom would cry, but they'd get over it. She could make the baby go away after she convinced Wes. She always got what she wanted. This was no different; more complicated, but no different. Slowly, but surely, everything was working out like it always did.

As Wes turned the corner at north Maylor, he saw flashing lights and a small crowd standing in the street. Coming close, he realized they were all outside Collom's Garage. Pulling along the curb, he jumped out of the camero and ran toward the crowd. "What's going on?" he asked, trying to see into the garage.

"There's a dead guy in there," Phil Rydecker whispered loudly.

"Shhh! That's Straihan's brother," Mr. Scmidlin, the pharmacist, said urgently. Wes felt the older man's hand on his shoulder.

"What? Something happened to Karl?" Wes asked, now trying to push to the door. "Where's my brother?" He pulled loose and ran into the light, stopping dead when he saw the paramedics pulling his brother's body off the long spike. "What the .........?" He tried to take it all in, but he had just been here. He had just seen Karl. How did this happen? He looked around frantically, trying to find a familiar face.

"Wes." He saw Jackie Trehon walking towards him. She had graduated about four years ahead of him and was the newest deputy for McLaren County.

"Jackie, what happened? I just saw him. He was working on this tractor."

"You were here?" In the garage?"

"Yes," Wes couldn't get his head around this. "What happened? The tractor rolled?"

"Yeah, as far as we can tell, the tractor was running; it somehow clicked into gear and rolled down the ramps. It looks like he turned just in time to see the spear, but too late to get out of the way. Now, What time were you here?"

Wes thought back, "After eight, probably more like 8:30."

"Why did you come to see your brother?"

Wes thought quickly. He couldn't tell Callie's secret. "I was angry with Karl."

"What about?" Deputy Trehon was watching him closely.

"It's kinda private."

"And he's kinda dead. You'll have to tell Sheriff Nolan when he gets back."

"Where is the sheriff?"

"He took your sister home so he could tell your father. Did you and Karl fight?"

"Yeah, but then I left. He was okay when I left, I swear."

"Did you see anyone around the building?"


"Have you seen Cole Hewett tonight?"

"What? No." Why is she asking about Cole? Wes kept looking around on the floor. Where were the beads? He had to have lost them here. His eyes swept the dirty floor, trying not to look at the blood. "Cole? Was Cole here?"

"Yep, he found the body and called 911."

"But, he ......"


"Nothing, I'm kinda confused right now. I'm gonna go home and see if Mercy is all right."

"Just don't leave town."

Wes pushed back out through the crowd and ran to the car. Taking the backway, he headed for home.

Slamming in the kitchen door, he yelled, "Mercy!" She heard and ran to meet his open arms.

"Oh, Wes, what happened? You should have seen Father when Sheriff Nolan told him. He ranted and raved stuff like god will punish all sinners and how Karl was evil and that hell was opening its doors tonight. He said something about Karl being punished now."

"What did the sheriff do?"

"He shook his head and asked me if I wanted to stay with a friend tonight. Was I safe here? I almost laughed. First time anyone's cared about that in seventeen years."

"Since Mother left."


"Have you seen Cole? The deputy told me that he was the one who found Karl and called 911. He was supposed to be at the movies with Lily. Mercy, what in hell happened tonight?"

"I'm hoping it was just an accident, so we can just forget about him, unless he had enemies from jail or something. I think it just rolled down and killed him. Wes ....?"

"What, sweetie?" He rocked her in his strong arms.

"The only thing I felt when I saw him and they told me was happiness. I was so glad he was gone. Does that make me a bad person?"

"No, it makes you honest. I felt the same way. What goes around, comes around. I kinda feel like he was getting paid back for all the crap he did; you, me, poor Mr. Cogswell."

"I can't cry."

"Don't pretend to be anyone but who you are. He hurt you and you're glad he's gone. We'll just let the past die now, right? You okay here? I need to talk to Cole, then I better go back into town and see the sheriff."

"Yeah, I'm okay. For the first time in forever, I'm not afraid to go to sleep."

Wes went to the cave. He checked the bluffs, the Harrelson's rail fence and barn roof. Finally, he drove out to the Hewett's and tapped on Cole's bedroom window. He couldn't find Cole. Where else could he be? Wes closed his eyes softly and pictured Cole. Biting his bottom lip, he saw nothing. Not a glimpse of where he was. All his eyes told him was that wherever Cole had gone, it was dark ..... bible black.

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