With shuffling on either side of us, Walter fires a few shots into the air, and the silence returns, and with the trail opening up in front of us and the taller trees leaning in around our group of three the distance to William, is made in record time.
From my vantage point in the rear of the group, I see Walter drop his gear and run up to where his brother’s body still lays; motionless and solemn. He quickly pulls off William’s hat and checks for the fatal wound and then examines the knife that rests securely in the chest of his brother. Luke takes a few more steps further and watches intently as his investigative skills kick in.
“Do you recognize this knife, Joseph?”
“I can’t say that I do Walter.” Is all that I can get out before Luke pulls his hat off and rubs his scalp as if he knows the answer.
“I do,” Luke says to my amazement.
“Whose is it?” comes from Walter like fire from a pit.
Luke, placing his hat back on and taking a few steps again says blankly and strangely calm that the knife is Caleb’s. “I made it for him a few years back as a Christmas gift.”
“If this is Caleb’s knife Luke what in the hell is it doing in my brother’s chest?”
“You know I can’t answer that Walter I can’t imagine that it was placed there by Caleb, someone must have stolen it.” He says with the look of a hopeful child about to jump from a higher place he has ever tried before.
Just then, a rustle of leaves behind me sent Luke into action with pistol drawn and cocked pointing it directly at me but a little off to the left it seems. Without even turning I know who it is.
“Damn it, Joseph; this isn’t the time to be rustling around out of know where?” Luke gets out as he lowers his pistol and slowly pulls the trigger while easing the tension off the hammer.
“I saw you three headin’ out of town and figured something must be wrong so I thought I would come to take a look see and try and help, although I must admit I was wasn’t expecting anything like this.” Gesturing toward William’s body.
Looking at Orville look over William’s body the realness of the moment finally hits me. Four men are looking down upon a dead body that was used as a signpost for my eyes alone. It was me that brought this upon William and brought these four men to this very spot even if they don’t know it yet. Should I let loose the information about the note on William’s body, the message on my door, the hat in my chair, and now this package from Elizabeth? Did the killer expect me to go to Walter and then Luke? Did he intend for me to bury the body and not speak a word of this to anyone? Was he trying to draw attention to Caleb? Any way one looks at it I’m still at that crossroads and the rope tied to the stake is getting tighter.
“Well, between all of us we can manage to get William back into town and rested in the ground before nightfall.” Walter was beginning to look a little out of sorts with himself and who could blame him. As he was moving William’s body off of the tree, he was propped against I could tell something caught his eye, and I was instantly fearful of what it was.
“Tell me, Joseph, what haven’t you told me about finding William?” Asked Walter as he pulled a small sliver of paper from where the knife entered his brother’s chest. “There was a note wasn’t there? What did it say, Joseph?” His eyes were boring a hole through the air between us. A look most men only see right before their departure from this world.
Hesitantly I pulled the note out of my shirt pocket and unfolded it and handed it to Walter. I could see his eyes reading and rereading the warning that graced the small piece of paper. No emotion expressed itself on his face; he merely looked up at me with a confused look. “Stop looking for what…..” His voice trailed off. He stood silent for what seemed like forever and then crumpled the small piece of paper and threw it at my feet. “My brother died because of you! Because you can’t stop looking for your father!”
The words stung harder than what I thought they would. Maybe because they were right or perhaps because my actions had led to an innocent man’s death. Either way, all I could do was nod my head and turn away. As I did, I noticed Top sitting by a tree no more than twenty feet away; watching, overlooking just in case I needed his help. Turning back to Walter and the others, I tell them a tale of mysterious notes and long lost objects that belonged to my father and have recently come into my possession. I could tell that Walter was at a crossroads of his own by the look in his eyes: blame me or help me. Either way, my truth was out, and it felt damn good to get it out of the constraints of my head.
He watches as the group passes by not knowing they are being studied like an impossible mystery. He cannot believe that Joseph let loose the secrets he was supposed to keep. A break in his plan had presented itself. Wondering how this new development would affect what he had thought was coming to an end, he turned and disappeared into the forest leaving the three to figure out the unique situation that had enveloped them.