Are You Haunted: part three
Are You Haunted
“Same place you started out this morning.”
He crowded Isobel into the corner on their side of the booth, and answered Powell with his mouth full. He leaned low over his plate as he forked at his hash browns. He sat up straighter. “That’s the house we’re talking about.”
“I meant—” Powell wished he had money of his own. He’d finished eating first; his plate was clean down to the last pickle seed, and he was still hungry. “Or, I was going to say, where does Mrs. Drybrook live? I don’t see anything wrong with the house.”
“Oh, she must be near eighty, my old auntie. Is she my aunt?” Sly, Tovey bumped Isobel with his forearm.
“Drybrook had only the one son, but it was his second wife who came into the family already cursed…” Isobel gave Powell her closed-mouthed smile, and Tovey bumped her arm again.
“My old granny, then. We’ll just say. Lives in town…got no use for the car.”
“Well,” said Isobel, “we can’t let Mr. Guy see us driving it.”
Tovey led them up High Street, striding past the barber shop and the bank building on the corner. Where Canal Street angled away from the center of town, he stopped and pointed.
“There you go, Kenzie, take a look! Think you can drive that?”
The car was unmistakable. Powell would have bet all the locals knew it. She probably had a garage where they changed the oil and kept the battery charged. A pre-war Buick, twenty years old at least, wouldn’t run at all otherwise. And everyone in town would be used to seeing Mrs. Drybrook on the days she took the car out. Sundays, Powell guessed.
“I can drive it,” he said. “It’s not so different from the car I learned on.”
Tovey, it seemed, had heard nothing in his voice, neither hesitation nor doubt. He nodded, satisfied, and walked again briskly ahead, crossing in front of a city bus, leaving so little leeway that Isobel and Powell were forcibly separated from him, left to scuttle back to the curb. Before they’d caught up, Tovey had got inside, and propped himself against the passenger door, an ankle on his knee. He twirled his hand in the air.
“Get in, Bel. Kenzie’s driving.”
With three of them sharing the seat, Powell found himself jammed tight against Isobel. He hoped he didn’t stink too much. The hamburger she’d bought for Rodhl―asked the waitress to wrap it up, and now held a paper bundle on her lap, along with a bottle of root beer―smelled like ketchup and onions. Tovey’s after-shave smelled like wintergreen. Powell thought he was picking up also, despite the open windows, traces of an undercurrent. But the rule…the one that said you couldn’t tell these things about yourself, held true. He’d been in the army, and he knew it. Isobel’s tolerance might be only for Tovey’s sake.
“I came out with the Chief last time,” Powell said to her, keeping his eyes on the Canal Street traffic, waiting for an opening. “I’m not sure where I’m going.”
“Just head out Canal Street.”
He heard Tovey’s “uh, huh” cut in from the background. Isobel shifted her knees. “When you get to the edge of town, it turns into route seven. You don’t do anything…”
“When I see the sign come up for Mill Road, I’ll holler at you,” Tovey interrupted.
Powell drove, at a grandmotherly pace, and thought about Lloyd Guy’s grapevine. Unless Guy had caught the bus out of town himself, he would certainly know by now what they were up to. But maybe…
He realized he’d formed a jealous impression of Tovey. He looked across the seat. Isobel, her arms folded around the things she carried, cocked her head at him. Tovey, keeping his watch on the sign-posts, noticed this movement.
“Eyes on the road, Kenzie,” he said. “Trust me.”
Tovey was dapper, his speech jaunty, he got around in a hurry…none of which qualities made Powell trust him. These things by themselves, though, didn’t account for his notion that Tovey was from someplace else. The Big Chief knew who belonged here. He hadn’t known about Isobel being here. But Tovey was known to the old lady, trusted by Mrs. Drybrook…well enough she’d let him inside her house, given him the car. Maybe she was his granny. The two years Powell had spent hoboing, moving from town to town, had colored his point of view, he guessed. Because she’d spoken to him at all, already he’d gone soft on Isobel.
(copyright 2015, 2017 Stephanie Foster)