Moving along our trail, my mind wanders back to the black wolf as if he was some omen, some prelude to all of this. Was he warning me? Was he wishing me luck or telling me to turn back at that very moment? Who’s to tell us all the hints and suggestions that pass us by every day? No man, no woman can be expected to understand all the subtleties of their life and take meaning in the smallest of occurrences or even the largest of them. As I mentioned before coincidences are for fools and cowards willing to turn a blind eye to either reason or the obvious. Which one was the black wolf communicating? Could he have known about Levi and his presence so near to my cabin? Was he merely a symbol of the dark things to come and that now had passed?
Before I realized it, I found myself coming to the end of the trail. I’d been walking in such a haze that I didn’t even remember if the dogs had been following me. I must have made good time because the sun seemed nearly in the same part of the sky as when I left. I should have brought my half-empty jug along with me because now my haze was clearing, and that was something I didn’t want. The haze helps me concentrate, helps me see, and helps me believe.
After splitting off from the trail, I hit the main trail and head for town. Only a few steps down the trail I hear the clang and clang of metal coming from behind me. As I turn to await the appearance of the racket coming around the turn, I’m shocked to see a traveling salesman’s cart being pulled by one black horse and the salesman himself riding proudly on the bench seat holding the reins to his well-groomed steed. I step to the side of the trail to let the clamoring contraption pass only to have the man stop right beside me and ask my name.
“Joseph Tooley” I reply.
“Joseph Tooley is it? I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Ogden Meed seller of fine goods and traveler of all parts far and near” he said with an exuberance that caught me off guard.
Not only was this man highly round-up but the last name struck a chord deep within my bones. Meed. Levi Meed. The man buried not far from my cabin, a man whose body was probably still warm with the lifeblood quickly oozing out and into the earth. With my mind retreating to its darkest of hiding places, I can’t catch my breath. The black wolf, the black horse, and the blackness of death so close at my fingertips I feel my legs weaken and stumble a little towards the nearest lean-to.
“Whoa, their Joseph, you ok sonny?”
Sonny? Hadn’t Levi called me that? This salesman, this man perched high in his cart must somehow be related to the man I just shot. Levi was an old man; however, Ogden was maybe no more than ten years older than me. Then the thought hit me—father and son. No, it couldn’t be, it can’t be, and most of all it shouldn’t be. “I’m fine,” I finally get out. “Just the air getting to me I guess,” or lack thereof.
“Well, I got just the thing for that Sonny. If you can spare twenty-five cents, I’ve got the cure for the Wobblies. Not only will it cool you down but it will calm those brain nerves we all have that give us the sweats now and then.” He rambled off in a blur of enthusiasm.
Feeling stunned and caught in a web, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the price to be paid and handed it to the driver of goods. Setting the break on his cart, Ogden stepped down and motioned me to the back of his four-wheeled storefront and swung open the back door and stepped inside. With the sound of rustling first to the left and then further back to the right, he appeared with a medium-sized vial of clear liquid and handed it to me. “This will do you up right sonny just be careful it can be strong on some people. And to help you out a little more, why don’t you step on up and I’ll give you a ride into the next town, Hopesburg I believe they call it.”
“Hapsburg is its name.” Wanting more information from this new stranger, I accepted his invitation for a ride and climbed aboard and sat down looking at my purchase.
“Hapsburg, of course, it is. When you travel as much as I do, the names all seem to blend, and sometimes the mind just seems to rename them for its own pleasure if you get my meaning.”
As he retook his seat and the reigns, I uncorked my vile and took a swig that consumed about half the liquid in the vial. What seemed like poison going down my throat hit my insides like a tree crashing to the ground, and I immediately began coughing.
“Warned you that it hits some people strong but give it a minute and it’ll do its job.”
The clear liquid left in the small bottle shifted from side to side, and as I stared at it, I noticed my skin beginning to cool and my thoughts turning to happier times. “What exactly did I drink?” I asked.
“The first rule of business Sonny, always keep them guessing.” He said with a sly smile that seemed too familiar to me. Could this possibly be the son of a man freshly buried, a man newly dead from my hands? I couldn’t bear to look the man in the eyes for fear of recognition. I took one last swig from the vial, and the memories came flooding in from all directions — good memories of my mom and my dad and a childhood filled with laughter. I needed more of this elixir.
“Can I get two dollars’ worth of what’s in this vile?” I asked Ogden. He just smiled and said he only had two bottles left, and they were for a friend in Hapsburg that made the best whiskey around. “Walter’s local 88?” Ogden just smiled and shook his head in confirmation.
As the cart came around the last turn and Hapsburg came into view we almost passed the graveyard before I realized it and told Ogden to let me off here and told him thanks for the ride and that maybe we would meet again at the tavern.
“Hope to see you there,” he said as he continued on.
Passing through the ornate opening of the graveyard I followed the stones like I always do to the one gravestone that meant the most to me, my mothers. I kissed my hand and laid it upon the top of the smooth granite and whispered my new secret to her. If she heard me, I don’t know. If she did she surely hated her son at this moment, I hated myself at this moment but moments change as quickly as the shadows across the ground and my shadow was now headed out of Orville’s Eden towards town. My first interview was to be with Mrs. Beatina, but the tavern was calling too loudly to pass up, so I slipped inside and gave Walter my usual nod, and he looked surprised to see me back so quickly. I noticed that at the end of the bar sat Ogden Meed drinking a whiskey and smiling in the mirror as he noticed me walking to my corner table. Crouching in my usual chair, I wait for Walter to bring me my whiskey and half clean shot glass. Looking around I notice William sitting in the opposite corner seemingly nervous now that I’ve noticed him. His eyes bounce around the room never making any real eye contact with me. Maybe William should be bumped up on my list. As I’m about to get up and walk over to his table, Walter shows up with my whiskey and asks what the special occasion Hapsburg is to be honored with my presence two days in a row.
“Shut up Walter” I snap back and ask him where his brother was yesterday.
Looking surprised at my shortness, “Hell if I know I’m not his mother.”
“Well, if you happen to come across that information I would appreciate,” I tell him.
Walking back behind the bar he stops to talk to Ogden, and I see them exchange the two small bottles and then Ogden rises from his stool and heads my way, taking a seat across from mine he hands me a small bottle of the magic liquid and tells me he was saving this one for himself but can’t help passing up a sale. “It’s all yours Joseph hope you enjoy it.”
I hand my money to him and place the bottle in my jacket pocket next to my pistol; this will come in handy when all of hell is rising up around me. “So, you say your last name is Meed huh?”
“Yep, same as my daddies and his daddy before him.” That smile never stops.
“Where’s your dad at these days? He’s probably all settled in someplace with your mother I bet.” I grimaced hoping for a yes.
“Not by a long shot Joseph. You see my dad went lost a few years ago, and no one that I know of has seen him since. It’s a strange thing him going missing like that out there in those woods considering that’s where he spent most his time.”
My heart sank. My stomach rumbled, and I’m sure I turned white as a ghost. Here I am looking for my very own father who went missing and wondering the whole time if he was dead or alive and this poor soul in front of me is going thru the same thing only the person sitting right in front of him knows exactly where his father, dead father lies. What was it that Levi said—people that you know already have your answers or something to that effect. I felt for this poor soul in front of now. The look Top gave me after taking a swing at him instantly popped into my mind, and I’m sure that very look was on my face.
“What’s the matter Joseph you look like you’ve seen a ghost? I told you to take it easy with that stuff it can really hit some people hard.”
“Yeah, that must be it” I came back with sinking lower in my seat I hated myself for ever losing control with that damn hat and that damn note. Then it struck me, the note. Levi had never given it back to me. Was it lying on my porch at this very moment or did he pocket it?
Slamming a few more shots, I stood and wished Ogden good luck with his travels and headed for the door.
“Hey, Tooley! You were going to pay for those drinks?” Walter screamed obviously still turned off by my shortness with him earlier.
“Sure, why not, don’t I always. I’d like to talk as well with your brother a little later,” I said, and the look in Walter’s eyes quickly went shallow. I noticed his change in mood and stance immediately, and it was yet another instance over the past two days that caught me off guard. What the hell is going on in this town I nearly blurted out?