Are You Haunted: part ten
“Shut up,” Guy had told him, Powell grateful for the excuse to do so. “Don’t take nothin’ to run you around, Kenzie. I won’t say for you to lock the door on the Toveys…’cause you won’t never, I know that much. But I want you to look at how they do, and pay attention.”
He’d enumerated the faults of which Powell was already aware. The Toveys had taken his money. They’d thrown him a party in Mrs. Drybrook’s house, an entertainment forbidden by a contract clause of which Powell had just admitted knowing. They’d inveigled him, therefore, into a conspiracy against his employer.
And did he expect he’d be getting more money for gas and groceries, any time before the month’s end? No, sir…not no matter what.
“You know where the Toveys live? No, son, you don’t. You gon’ get ’em to loan you a buck when you’re starving? No, son, you ain’t.”
And here he was, still at it, keeping his appointment with Dennis.
But Alfin hadn’t really taken the money…he’d returned of it in change a little less than half, and with that Powell had bought at the thrift shop the underwear and socks he’d needed, also a second hand percolator. At the grocer’s he’d bought coffee, butter, a jar of applesauce, two loaves of bread. When Powell walked up from the barn, he saw Guy’s Ford was gone. The Keegans were gone, the lawn appeared trim, and Mrs. Keegan had stacked the folding chairs in a corner of the parlor…with disdain, Powell could almost believe, seeing how she’d placed them leaning with their backs to the room.
When he’d bathed and dressed, and had come down the stairs tightening someone’s unwanted belt under the waistband of Drybrook’s over-large trousers, Tovey was there. He’d disengaged a chair from the stack, set his hat on the floor at his feet, tossed his jacket loosely over the remaining chairs. He was looking at his watch. Powell, with Guy’s warning in mind, hadn’t thought he would explain everything to Tovey all at once.
He’d said, “I’ve got something to show you.”
“I’ll tell you what.”
Tovey watched the leaves tear away in Powell’s hand, and Powell, losing his balance, throw his other hand back to brace himself. “You let me do the work, and you can be the first one down. Makes sense. One of us has to stay on the outside, anyhow.”
“Do you want to know…” Powell repeated.
“I heard you,” Tovey said. “Howlin’ Fritz.”
“Nuh-uh. Rohdl knew about this vent, but he didn’t tell me about it.”
Tovey was jimmying the chisel against one of the bolts. He swung the mallet back, connected. The metal rang. Tovey wedged the chisel deeper into the cut, banged the mallet a second time, and the bolt head flew.
“This won’t be too bad.” He grinned, sitting back on his heels. “I only need three of ’em. Don’t hurt my head, Kenzie. What’s the secret?”
“Well…” He’d looked for any encouraging sign Tovey might, like his grandfather-in-law, accept Lettie as a natural phenomenon. Tovey made an exasperated noise, and raised the mallet.
He would have to plunge into it. “It was Lettie told me to look here. She said there was an easier way in.”
In silence, Powell’s partner-in-crime plied his tools, knocking away all but the last bolt.
“That one oughta snap. You take hold of the other side, and heft ’er up with me.”
Rather than snap the head, the grate detached itself, leaving the intact bolt behind; the two of them, their movements thrown out of harmony, dancing into the stream bed. Tovey swore and yelled at Powell: “Christ fuck! Let go, dumbass…it ain’t that heavy!”
It was, and anger hadn’t given Tovey greater strength. Trying to swing the grate wide of the opening, he let it fall, scooting back in a panic that made Powell laugh.
And while Tovey played the flashlight over the tunnel’s interior, Powell, mumbling in an undertone, “Just go to hell”, scrabbled back to the path, done with it. But he thought he’d felt a dome of cool air feather outwards along the frontier between underground and sunlight, to probe his face.
Tovey, perhaps, had felt it too.
He did not feel apologetic, but shoving the flashlight under his belt, pushed himself to his feet. “We’ll do this after a while. There’s a place you should have a look at. Anyways, it’s lunch time.”
He leapt up, and smacked Powell on the arm. Not mollified, Powell watched him jog downhill. He followed, counseling himself against it, and without surprise found Tovey at the Buick’s wheel. He’d come out in Alfin’s truck. Probably ran him out of gas.
Powell saw the mill gate pass; a few seconds later, the sign pointing the way to route seven. As Tovey jammed the accelerator, Powell saw him ticketed for speeding, himself answering to Lloyd Guy—why was it, after promising he wouldn’t give way to the Toveys, he had done so immediately? Not that Guy would ask.
After gliding to his favored place on Canal, Tovey banged shut the driver’s door, and lit off up the street. I’m driving back now, Powell told himself, moving neither to exit nor to take the wheel.
What have I got to do with Tovey? he asked himself, trailing Tovey just in time to see him dart inside the Crown café. The blind on the door made its customary racket, and Powell, looking across to the lunch counter, saw why Tovey’s mood had once again become jaunty. Isobel was there, in the uniform of a waitress. She smiled in answer to Powell’s stare.
“Go burn us a couple burgers, Bel,” Tovey told her, and winked.
“I’m not on the grill.”
“Make friends with the chef, then. Powell says a dollar seventy cents is all he’s got. Slide that plate down here.” Tovey jerked his head at a departing diner’s scraps―half a biscuit, one or two peaks of mashed potato, a streak of gravy, a spoonful of peas.
“Dennis…” Isobel hunched over the counter, so unsuccessful in suppressing her laughter that she smiled with her teeth showing, and in avoiding Tovey’s eye, she met Powell’s. “Well, why not? If there’s a rule against it, they haven’t told me.” She picked up the plate and presented it to her husband, who set to work quartering the half.
Where the church property ended, a stone wall, leveled so that it rose in height as the slope descended, paralleled the abandoned foundation. Powell estimated the old parish meeting-house to have been twenty-five to thirty square feet altogether; for this length, the blocks running alongside the wall framed a trough of washed out earth. Needles showered from pines overhead, soft layers of dry bedding, cinnamon in color. The pines had reached that size where their stripped trunks shot far overhead. Leaning back, Powell saw limbs of long-lived crowns, conical, black against the sky. The church had burned decades earlier, Tovey said.
“Yeah, it’s always been this way, sort of a camping-out spot. Come on up.” He waited on the cemetery’s knoll, beside a winged marker, a tablet of grimed stone; stone also enclosing the grave to mark its border. This practice of early days necessitated tidying with garden shears, rather than mowing, and the old Drybrook resting places were unkempt. Papa Drybrook, as Summers had referred to him, might be the Elias Drybrook who’d died in 1910, born 1830. Three nineteenth century Drybrooks had died in childhood. Perhaps they’d known so little of life, they hadn’t felt deprived of it, as Lettie did.
Are You Haunted
(2016, Stephanie Foster)