Note: This story and the characters are mine. A loving relationship between two women is implied.
This story contains a violent scene. Also, a rape is referred to but nothing graphic is described.
Once again, I would like to thank Mavis Applewater, Goddess of the PWP, for hosting her annual Birthday Challenge. You gave me a reason to write this.
If you would like to provide any comments or feedback, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The extend cab pickup truck was traveling down the highway at a fair clip. It was late morning and the bright midwestern sun was shining out of a clear blue sky. The blonde driver was relaxed, watching for other vehicles or Highway Patrol cars laying in wait. She was lightly tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the Shania Twain song playing on the radio. As she glanced over at her passenger watching the passing rows of corn, she noticed Casey’s short dark hair was mussed from the breeze coming through the air-conditioning vents.
Tina smiled to herself. I bet she’s daydreaming about her combine or some other large piece of farm equipment. Tina and Casey were returning from a little vacation in the city. They had spent a few days shopping, going to movies, eating out, and shopping some more. Tina loved living out in the country with Casey, but every once in a while she appreciated going to the big city and having some fun. In Tina’s opinion, what made it extra special was the fact that it had been Casey’s idea for the vacation.
I guess she could tell I needed a break. I love my job, but the people I work with drive me crazy. I’ll have to remember to thank her later, especially after this morning. Tina blushed at the memory of Casey’s wake up service. Her thoughts were interrupted by muffled musical notes issuing from a backpack in the rear seat.
“What?” Tina glanced to the back of the cab piled with luggage and shopping bags. “Is that the William Tell Overture?”
Casey reached back, grabbed the John Deere green backpack, and started to frantically dig through the main compartment. She mumbled something as she searched.
“Casey, why is your phone playing that annoying tune?” Tina reached over and turned down the radio.
Casey looked up from her search. “The guy at the store programmed it that way. He asked if I liked the Lone Ranger,” she answered sheepishly.
“Why haven’t you changed it?”
Casey continued searching for the buried device. “If I could figure out the damn manual I would. Of course if I don’t find the freakin’ thing, I’m going to chuck it and this bag out the window.” Just then her fingers closed on the elusive electronic and she grinned in triumph.
“Morgan here.” As Casey listened, her eyes grew wide. “What?” She started turning red and sat up straight in the seat. “He Did What! When? Yesterday?” she shouted. “Hank, you tell that little dipshit he had better run. I swear I’m going to hunt him down and neuter him.” Casey waited for Hank’s response. “He called the Sheriff? Damn moronic, low life, son of a . . .” Evidently, Hank interrupted the string of obscenities. “Yeah, we’re on our way. We should be there in a couple of hours.” Casey ended the call and slumped back into the car seat.
“Tina, honey, can we hurry this up a bit.” Casey’s tone was flat.
“Yeah, I can push it a little more. Can you tell me what’s going on or do I really want to know?”
“Hell, Billy started digging the foundation for the new barn.”
“Okay. Did he hit something? I didn’t think there were any utilities or anything over that way.” Tina couldn’t imagine what was worth this kind of commotion.
“Oh, he hit something all right. But the twerp wasn’t digging where I told him. He decided the new barn should be on the east side of the old barn.”
“He started digging in the paddock? But there’s nothing there.”
“Yes there is and now the sheriff and half the damn county are going to know about it.”
Tina glanced over at Casey. What on earth did she mean by that? Unsure of how to respond, Tina gave Casey a puzzled glance and looked back to the highway. Tina could tell Casey was angry and upset. After so many years together, Tina knew she couldn’t push Casey. Whenever she was upset, Casey would pull back and ponder whatever caused the distress. Once the situation had been thoroughly examined and a plan made, Casey would open up again. Tina knew that her partner would tell her everything in her own sweet time. So she reached over and took Casey’s hand and gently rubbed her thumb over Casey’s knuckles.
Casey turned her gaze away from the passing corn and watched Tina’s hand holding her own. She appreciated Tina’s attention but she couldn’t bring herself to talk yet. She was remembering her family history and trying to figure out how to diffuse the potential public scandal.
Two hours later, Tina drove down the gravel lane towards the big farmhouse. She loved the feeling of being home. Since the first day she had moved in, she felt comfortable, like she belonged. The house had been home to the Morgan family for well over a hundred years. It had been remodeled and added to so often, it was hard to imagine the simple four-room cabin that originally occupied the site. Tina admired the new roof and white siding. She remembered how Casey had traveled over half the state looking for the exact shade of blue gray shingles she wanted. Tina pulled the truck up in front of the detached garage and looked over at the Sheriff’s car parked next to her.
Glad to be home and relieved to be finally doing something, Casey jumped out of the truck and started for the barnyard. “Honey, it looks like Jack is in the house. Could you do me a favor and entertain him while I go talk to Hank?” She tossed the words out as she hurried away.
“Sure, Casey. Do you think he likes show tunes or is he into hip hop?”
Casey stopped as if she plowed into a brick wall. Her shoulders slumped as she hung her head and turned. She slowly made her way back to the truck and opened her partner’s door. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled to her feet. Casey mentally kicked herself. First I don’t say anything and then I order her to take care of our guest.
Tina looked at her lover and let her sweat a few moments. “I don’t know what’s going on, Casey. I can’t help you if I don’t know how,” she said quietly. Tina ran her fingers through Casey’s hair bringing a little order to the disarray and letting her know she wasn’t really angry.
Casey looked up into Tina’s hazel eyes. In the afternoon sun they were more green than blue. Her blonde hair caught the light and shone. She reached up and gently cupped Tina’s face with her hand. “I really am sorry. I promise to explain everything.”
Tina relented and leaned down to kiss Casey’s cheek. “I’ll stall the Sheriff. You see Hank and then get your butt inside.”
Casey was grateful for her partner’s understanding. “I do love you, you know.”
“I know. Now go. I have a man to charm.”
“Humph. Don’t charm him too much. I’d like to get him out of here as soon as possible.” Casey gave Tina a quick peck on the lips and turned back towards the barnyard.
As she crossed the lawn and entered the barn lot, Casey could see Hank standing next to a backhoe talking to a short slender man. Hank was punctuating his comments with hand gestures and pacing back and forth. His broad muscular frame dwarfed the smaller man who seemed to be arguing his case by waving his arms about wildly. Casey watched Hank take off his cap and smack Billy in the chest with it. “Talk about ironic,” she muttered. “That’s his Co-Op hat.” Casey smiled briefly at the sight. At 6’4”, Hank looked like a giant compared to Billy. He’s a lot better looking than Billy too, she decided. If I wasn’t gay and he wasn’t my cousin, I might be interested. Not! One short, feisty blonde is more my speed. Besides, who else would put up with my sorry ass?
Casey turned her attention to the little man arguing with Hank. I swear whatever Billy lacks in height, he more than makes up with attitude. If Aunt Jean hadn’t called and personally asked me to find a place for him, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Next time I’ll know better. Damn fool has pissed off the entire family. It was only a matter of time before it was my turn. Casey stopped for a second and took a deep breath. I will not kill the little S.O.B. I Will Not Kill The S.O.B! Damn it! The Sheriff is here, I can’t kill him yet. Maybe I can just mangle him a little.
“Hank,” she shouted as she strode towards the men, “why is that idiot still here?” Hank moved around Billy to intercept Casey.
“Now, Casey. He didn’t mean anything by it. He didn’t understand.” Hank held both hands out as if to block Casey’s progress.
“Understand my ass!” Casey veered around Hank and pointed at Billy as she moved towards him. “I told you where I wanted the footers. What the hell were you thinking?” she yelled.
“But, the east side is better. There’s more room. I thought . . .” Billy didn’t get a chance to finish his thoughts because Casey chose that moment to lunge at him. Lucky for Billy, Hank anticipated Casey’s move and grabbed her from behind in a bear hug.
“Let me go, Hank! I’m going to rearrange his body parts!” Casey continued to lunge and reach out for Billy.
Billy, seeing he wasn’t going to talk his way out of trouble, started backing up. It dawned on him that this time was different. He was not going to just slide out of this mess. His eyes widen and he jumped back another step when it looked like Hank was going to lose his grip.
“Casey, settle down.” Hank grunted as an elbow hit him in the ribs. “You can’t kill him, his mama would miss him.”
Casey continued to squirm and fight to get loose. “I’ll get Aunt Jean a puppy. It’ll be cuter and a whole lot less trouble, I swear.” Casey almost broke free.
Hank tightened his grip and turned his body and Casey away from Billy. “Get out of here, kid. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on.” He glanced over his shoulder to see Billy frozen in fear. “Go! Now!”
Billy’s frozen limbs broke free and he turned and sprinted for the pickup truck parked by the machine shed.
Hank watched the truck peel out and speed down the gravel lane. His captive had stopped struggling with Billy’s flight.
“Is he gone?” the now quiet Casey asked.
“Yeah, he’s gone around the corner.” Hank gently set Casey back on the ground. He turned and watched the dust from Billy’s escape waft up through the air. “I went to Beeson yesterday to check on that equipment. I had just gotten back and saw the mess when I called you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to keep an eye on him.”
Casey just shook her head. “No. It’s not your fault he’s as useless as the tits on a boar. I should never have let him play with the big toys. Do me a favor and call Lori. Tell her to go ahead and get Billy’s last check ready.”
“Okay. Do you want me to call Aunt Jean?”
“No, I’ll call her. First, I have to get the Sheriff out of here.” Casey looked over at the hole dug in the enclosure. Yellow police tape was looped over the backhoe’s shovel and stretched to the fence and back outlining the mound of dirt and hole in the ground. “Is it still there?” she asked, stone faced. She made no effort to go over and investigate the cause of the day’s commotion.
“Yeah. There’s a tarp over it. Billy broke through and tore off the lid. It’s over next to the dirt.”
“Great,” she grumped. “Keep an eye on things. Don’t let any of the other guys near it. As soon as the Sheriff says it’s okay, everything goes back and we fill it in.”
Hank shrugged and nodded. He wasn’t sure how Casey was going to convince the Sheriff. She hadn’t seen him strutting around earlier. The Sheriff didn’t like the Morgan family and took every opportunity to hold them to the letter of the law. Hank was sure the Sheriff had big plans for this incident. He overheard the Sheriff telling one of his deputies he would finally “get that rich pervert.” It took all of Hank’s self control to keep from knocking the Sheriff to the ground.
“I better get up to the house and see what I can do.” Casey turned to make good on her words.
“Casey,” Hank put his hand on her shoulder, “he brought someone from the University with him. He wanted an outside expert to have a look. She’s up there with him. I didn’t get a chance to meet her. She was awfully busy in that hole and every time I tried to get over to her, the Sheriff cut me off. He didn’t seem to want me too close.”
“Oh, that is just peachy. When were you going to give me that little news tidbit?” Casey huffed. I just can’t get a break. Things just keep getting better and better.
“Now. When was I supposed to tell you? Before or after you removed Billy’s arms and beat him with them.”
“Oh. Good point.” Casey paused and looked up at the big man and lightly punched his arm. “Sorry.”
“No problem. Go talk nice to the Sheriff and try not to get arrested.” He gently pushed her towards the house.
“Talk nice he says,” Casey grumbled to herself. She was still trying to figure out what she could and could not say to the Sheriff.
Casey entered the house through the kitchen door. She could hear voices coming from the living room as she paused and gathered her thoughts. From the doorway, she watched the Sheriff tug his pants up over his gut while talking to her partner and a woman in a baggy sweatshirt. Jack’s been taking more than just a bite out of crime. Casey mentally shook her head. I’ll bet Pat has him on a diet too. He’s going to be a bigger grouch than usual.
Casey looked at the woman from the University. She was about Casey’s height, 5’8” or 5’9”, slender build, with wavy dark hair. She was wearing blue jeans and hiking boots that bore evidence of time spent in the dirt pile outside. The gray sweatshirt had seen better days and had a faded USC on the front.
Sheriff Townsend finally noticed Casey standing in the doorway. “Morgan, ‘bout time you showed up.”
“Sheriff. We were on our way back from the Capital when we got the call.” Casey pushed off the doorframe and moved towards her partner.
“Yeah, Hank said you took a vacation,” he sneered. “Let me introduce Dr. Melissa Frazier. She just moved to O’town to teach anthropology at the University. She’s also worked as a consultant with the FBI. I asked her to look at the find. But before she tells us what she deduced, why don’t you tell me why you have a body buried in your backyard?”
“Sheriff, it’s not my backyard, it’s the east paddock. I didn’t bury the body, it’s been there for almost 140 years.” Casey continued into the living room and offered her hand to Dr. Frazier. “Doctor, pleasure to meet you. Welcome to our home. You’ve met my partner, Tina.” Casey and the Doctor shook hands while the Sheriff looked on with a scowl. Casey turned towards Tina and took her hand.
“Yes, we’ve already introduced ourselves, thank you. You have a lovely home.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry I didn’t come straight in. I had a couple of things to deal with first.”
Sheriff Townsend stood a little straighter and narrowed his eyes at Casey. “You better not be messing with a crime scene, Morgan.”
“Sheriff, it is not a crime scene and I wasn’t messing with anything. I talked to Hank and fired Billy.”
“Fired Billy?” The Sheriff cast a suspicious look at Casey. “Did you fire the boy because he dug up a body? A body you wanted to stay buried?”
“Good Lord, Sheriff. I fired Billy because he couldn’t pour water out of a boot with the directions written on the heel. I’ve taken my turn; it’s time for another relative to give him a job.” Casey paused and smiled. “Hey, he hasn’t worked for you yet. How about it, Sheriff Jack, need a new deputy?”
The Sheriff blanched at the thought of Billy Morgan with a badge and a gun. “No, I do not need another deputy. Besides, he would have to get through the academy first.” The Sheriff calmed down when he realized there was no way Billy could pass the battery of tests.
“Academy, huh. You mean the Police Academy over in Waynesboro? The one run by Commander Arthur Morgan? That Academy?” Casey gave him an evil grin and watched the Sheriff go pasty white. He forgot the breadth of the family’s influence.
“Doesn’t matter,” he stammered. “I still don’t need another deputy. Now tell me about the body.” Sheriff Townsend was determined to regain control of the conversation.
“Fine. Why don’t we all have a seat. This shouldn’t take too long.” As everyone chose between the couch, loveseat, and easy chairs, Casey offered to get drinks. Even though she was anxious to get the Sheriff off of her property, she knew her Mother would kick her ass if she heard Casey wasn’t a proper hostess. Once ice tea had been provided and everyone was comfortable, Casey started her story.
“The body Billy dug up is John Warlock. He died in 1867 here on the farm and was buried by my ancestors. The fact that he died and was buried here was never publicized. Only the family knew, no one else.” Casey paused and reached for Tina’s hand. She knew nobody was going to be satisfied with the bare bones of the story. But she didn’t want to explain more than she needed to either.
Sheriff Townsend obliged her by asking the first question. “Okay. How did he die and why wasn’t anyone informed?”
Casey sat up a little straighter. Tina squeezed her hand in silent support. “Warlock died of a fever. My ancestors didn’t want to tell anyone because they were afraid it would look bad. Warlock didn’t get along with the Morgan family. But after a lot of bad blood, Warlock sold his property to Alex Morgan. He was all packed up and ready to leave the county when he took sick. He was here when he died.
“The family was afraid the town’s people would get suspicious and start all sorts of rumors. The sale of the land had been finalized only the week before. They were afraid that people would think they helped Warlock along. So he was buried out in what is now the east paddock.” Casey stopped and took a drink of her iced tea.
“Why were they so concerned about what people would say?” asked Tina. She knew some of the Morgan history, but she had never heard this story.
“The family was relatively new to the area. They moved here from Pennsylvania and bought the original farmstead from an older couple. People here bouts thought the couple’s kids should have taken over the farm. They didn’t think the old people should have sold out for money. The son sort of played up the situation and got a lot of sympathy from friends and neighbors.” Casey looked over to the Sheriff. His expression was dark.
“How do you know all this? You could be making it up as you go along.” The Sheriff was not ready to concede that no crime had been committed.
“Benjamin Morgan, son of Rachel and Alex, kept a journal,” Casey responded. “The journals have been passed down with the property and I’ve read them all.”
“Okay, let me see them to verify your story.”
“No. I’m sorry Sheriff, but the journals are very old and not up to being handled by just anybody. I keep them in a climate-controlled vault and I’m working on having them preserved. You’ll just have to take my word.”
The Sheriff wasn’t happy about being turned down. He looked to the Doctor. “Dr. Frazier, can you confirm or deny that story?” the Sheriff asked.
“Well, that story is as good as any,” the Doctor replied nonchalantly.
“What? You spent enough time with the body to do better than that, Doctor. I want to know when and how that man died.” The Sheriff was shocked and more than a little pissed off. He thought his expert witness would help him get him the evidence he wanted. He was sure a crime had been committed and a Morgan was at the bottom of it.
“Sheriff, without a lot of tests, the best I can say is that person died between 100 and 150 years ago. If you want, I can take the remains back to the University lab, run some tests, and get you a complete report in, say, two or three weeks. At that point, I will be able to give you as complete an answer as is scientifically possible. Of course, my standard fee for such a service is $250 per hour plus expenses. I estimate it will take about 60 hours total. Half payable when I start, the balance payable on delivery of the report.” The Doctor smiled calmly as she relaxed in the corner of the couch.
The Sheriff’s face started turning red. “The county doesn’t have that kind of money.” He glared at Casey. This was all her fault. She should be the one to pay the Doctor’s fee.
Casey calmly returned the Sheriff’s stare. “Don’t look at me, Jack. I’m not paying good money to find out what I already know.” She was not going to get into a debate about funding the ridiculous study. “Besides Sheriff, what are you going to prove? Warlock has been dead a long time. The original family members passed away a long time ago. You can’t throw me in jail for having a body buried on my property. Shoot, the family cemetery is just over the hill west of here. There are a whole bunch of bodies buried there too. Give it up, Sheriff. There is no crime for you to pursue.” Casey waited to see if her logic would seep into the Sheriff’s brain. She didn’t have to wait too long.
“Fine. I’ll have the County Health Inspector out here to look things over. Then we can move the body to your family cemetery.” The Sheriff started to stand up.
The Sheriff stopped his motion, halfway between seated and upright. “What do you mean, no?” He was getting tired of that word. “Doesn’t anyone realize I’m the Sheriff here?” he muttered under his breath.
“I mean, no. He goes back into the grave he came out of. He does not belong in the family cemetery. If you want to call Cousin Jimmy, go ahead. The County Health Department doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
“Damn it, Morgan. Bodies should be buried in cemeteries, not barn lots.” The Sheriff straightened up to his full height and looked down on the seated Casey.
“He is in a cemetery, Sheriff. That paddock has been a county registered cemetery for years. He goes back into that hole.”
“Cemetery?” The Sheriff scowled. “For one body? What hell are you talking about?”
“Sheriff, most of the family has always known where Warlock was buried. Back when the county started registering old family cemeteries, we listed the east paddock and the west knoll. If you want to arrest someone, see Billy about disturbing a grave site.” Casey stood and stared at the Sheriff. Tina also stood and put a hand on her lover’s back hoping she would remain calm.
“Fine, I’m out of here. Doctor, I’ll take you back to the University.” The Sheriff started to walk towards the front door.”
“If you don’t mind Sheriff and Ms. Morgan, I’d like to hang around and observe the re-internment.” Dr. Frazier was still seated comfortably on the couch, drinking her ice tea.
“Morgan?” the Sheriff looked at Casey.
“It’s okay, Sheriff. Someone will run the good Doctor back to the school,” Casey glanced at said Doctor.
“Doctor, Morgan, Ms. Sims. I’ll see myself out.” The Sheriff nodded to the women and continued out the door, heading for the patrol car.
“Whew,” Casey blew out a breath and sat back down. Tina still stood, looking first at Casey and then Dr. Frazier. She didn’t understand how Casey could be so calm while some stranger made herself at home and took advantage of their hospitality.
Everyone was quiet while they listened to the sound of the patrol car driving away.
“Okey, dokey, then.” The Doctor stretched out her jean-covered legs. “Now you can tell me the real story.” She smiled at Tina’s stunned expression and Casey’s resigned one.
“What makes you think there is more to the story than what I said before,” Casey asked tiredly.
“Oh, I don’t know. Could it be because whose ever body that was, that person did not die from a fever. Maybe the Sheriff was right. I’m just guessing, but it looks like a crime was committed here a long time ago.”
Casey groaned and dropped her head into her hands. “Tina?” The sound was muffled.
“Yes, dear?” Tina dropped her hand on the back of Casey’s neck and started a light massage.
“I don’t want to play this game no more,” Casey whined.
“I know, dear. But I would really like to know what is going on. First though, what’s up with the Sheriff’s attitude?” Tina was worried the Sheriff would try something under handed to get back at Casey.
“Oh, hell. As near as I can figure, he’s just nuts. He didn’t come from a big family and he doesn’t know how to deal with this one. He met and married Patricia Morgan in Atlanta years ago. After a while, Pat convinced him to move back to her hometown.”
Casey raised her head and looked at Tina. “From the first day he set foot in the county, Jack thought the law turned a blind eye to Morgan mischief. He decided to take matters into his own hands and run for Sheriff. He won because he was a Morgan by marriage and no other Morgan ran against him.
“I have no idea why, but he has always hated me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m gay, well off, the fact that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one of my kin, or that I’m a double Morgan. The possibilities are endless.”
“Wait. Back up. What was that last part? What is a double Morgan?” Tina realized she didn’t know her lover as well as she thought she did.
“A double Morgan is someone who can trace their lineage back to the Alex and Rachel Morgan on the paternal or maternal side and Stephen and Mary Morgan on the other. Until World War II, the family pretty much kept to this and the surrounding counties. People were careful not to get involved with anyone too closely related. When distant cousins did marry, their offspring were called double Morgans. There were usually a few every generation or so. My father can trace his descent back to Benjamin Morgan; Mom goes back to Michael, son of Stephen and Mary. In our generation, there are three double Morgans; my twin brother, me, and one other cousin.”
“Why aren’t there more? Wouldn’t every child of a double Morgan also be a double Morgan?” Tina was trying to wrap her mind around Casey’s lesson in genealogy.
“Well, that’s a curious thing. Unlike other members of the family, double Morgans are not prolific. If there is a child, that child usually does not have children. There was one instance of a grandchild of a double Morgan. That was Great Uncle Herschel and he didn’t have any kids. And no, he wasn’t really my Great Uncle. That’s just what everyone called him.”
“So why does the Sheriff hate you for that?” Tina asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that one time we were arguing about something and he said ‘Just because you’re a damned double Morgan you think you run this county.’ Like I said, I think he’s just nuts.” Casey shrugged and hoped Tina would be satisfied and not ask any more questions. But she knew Tina was dying of curiosity. Dr. Frazier was seated comfortably on the couch, her presence reminding them of the unwelcome guest in the barn lot.
“Now can we get to the good part?” Dr. Frazier interjected. She looked like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning. “I want to hear the whole sordid story.” She bounced a little on the couch getting comfortable again and looked expectantly at Casey.
Casey looked at Tina and could see her lover was also waiting for the story. Tina’s stare was intent and her expression expectant.
“Oh, fudge.” Casey flopped back on the loveseat. “Fine! You want a story; I’ll give you a story. The whole story was written down by Benjamin. Variations of the story have been handed down through different branches of the family, but what I’m about to tell you is the truth. No one outside of the family must ever know,” Casey instructed her audience.
“Fine, fine, whatever. Just tell us the bloody story, already.” Dr. Frazier’s impatience was starting to bubble up.
Casey shot Dr. Frazier a dark look. “Fine. Once upon a time . . .”
1867, Greene County
The dark haired man wiped the sweat from his forehand with one hand, while holding the reins of the matched grays pulling his wagon. He debated taking off his coat when he noticed the buildings a little ways down the road. He was glad to see the end of his journey come into sight. He wasn’t used to riding in a wagon and he was looking forward to getting down and stretching his legs. The horses acted as if they were also glad to glimpse the town. They tossed their heads and increased their pace. The driver let the horses set the speed. Now that he had arrived, he had plans to put in place, people to harass, and revenge to satisfy.
The first building the driver saw as he entered the town was the livery stable. He turned the horses towards the building.
A young man exited the barn as the stranger pulled up. He walked up and took hold of a halter as the stranger climbed down out of the wagon. “Good day to you, sir. Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to board the horses for a day or two. Do you have room?” He glanced at the corral to the side of the barn and saw three other horses milling about. The rest of the vicinity was very quiet.
“Sure, plenty of room.” The young man tilted his head back to look up at the stranger. “We can even move your wagon around back. My name is Paul and this is my father’s stable. Come on inside and I’ll introduce you, Mr. ?”
“Warlock, John Warlock. Thanks, it should just be for a few days. I’m thinking of settling down around here and I want to find the right place.” Warlock followed Paul as he led the horses over to a trough and tied them to a hitching post.
“Well, Sir, you’ve come to the right place. We got some mighty pretty land around here.” Paul led Warlock into the barn.
Later that day, Warlock left the bank after a very productive meeting with the bank president. He had a short list of properties for sale and just needed to check out a few more details before picking one. To get his information, he made his way to the Sheriff’s office.
At the same time John Warlock was talking to the Sheriff, Alex and Rachel Morgan were working in their garden. They were weeding and hoeing the tender vegetables and enjoying the early summer day. The sun was shining and a light breeze was keeping the temperature comfortable.
Rachel finished the little area she was working on and looked up at the love of her life. She visually traced a line from the solid work boots, up long sturdy legs, to narrow hips and on to the broad shoulders. She briefly admired the strong hands gripping the hoe handle before continuing on to the handsome face framed by dark unruly hair. About due for a haircut, Love, she thought. The blue gray eyes she loved so much were focused on the garden task. Rachel reached up and pushed a lock of her own blonde hair behind an ear. She hated wearing a bonnet but it would have helped keep the long hair out of her face. “Alex?”
Alex kept working the hoe. “Yes, dear?” Alex was enjoying the relatively light work and the agreeable weather. The planting was finally finished and now was the time to catch up on all the chores that had been pushed aside in order to get the crops in. The work in the garden, although necessary, was relaxing in its mindless rhythms.
“How long was Stephen going to be gone?” Rachel gathered her pile of weeds and stood up. She glanced over at Alex, waiting for an answer.
“I don’t know exactly. He said something about stopping by the Clemens place. He’ll probably be back by supper, unless Mary Clemens convinces him to stay for the meal.” Alex turned and leaned on the long handle. “Why, need something taken care of?” Alex had an idea what that something might be.
“Well, yes actually. So why don’t you and I go inside and you take care of it for me now.” Rachel dropped the weeds in a pile near the garden’s edge and started walking towards the small house, swinging her hips just a little.
Alex swallowed and dropped the hoe. “Oh yeah. I’m right behind you.” Alex followed Rachel into the house. As Rachel continued into the bedroom, Alex carefully locked the door. The windows were open to allow the breeze to blow through, but the curtains were all drawn to block anyone from easily looking in. Alex knew that the nearest neighbor was miles away, but old habits were hard to break. Satisfied that all was secure, Alex moved to the bedroom.
Rachel was waiting, wearing only a smile. She reached for Alex’s shirt as Alex glanced at the curtained windows. “I checked, Love. We’re all alone.” Rachel continued to unbutton Alex’s shirt and push it back from the smooth strong shoulders. She then started on the bindings around Alex’s chest. Rachel slowly unwrapped them and watched, as Alex Morgan became Alexis. As the last strip of cloth floated to the floor, the lovers came together.
The next day Stephen, Alex, and Rachel went to town. Stephen rode their saddle horse while Alex drove the wagon pulled by the draft horses. Rachel was enjoying the day as a passenger. They needed to pick up a few things at the general store and decided to make a day of it. The road into town meandered along the edges of fields and through patches of woods. Stephen had just finished telling the couple about his dinner with the Clemens family the night before, when they finally rolled into town and made their way to the livery.
“I’ll take care of the horses,” Stephen offered as he dismounted. “You go on over to the store.”
Alex jumped down out of the wagon and turned to lift Rachel down. “We’ll meet you there unless you had other plans?” Alex raised an eyebrow and looked at her brother.
“Nope, no plans. I need to stop at the blacksmith to check on those shoes. Then I’ll be right over.”
Alex nodded and turned, offering her arm to Rachel. Stephen watched the two of them walk off. “Maybe one day I’ll be as lucky,” Stephen smiled and went into the stable.
Stephen made arrangements with Paul to have the horses tended to while he and his family were in town. Next, he visited the blacksmith shop next door. The shoes were ready to be picked up and Stephen promised to get them before leaving town. He was crossing the street when he looked down the block and saw a tall broad shouldered man crossing the street in the opposite direction heading towards the Sheriff’s office. Stephen froze. “No,” he whispered. “No, no, no, no,” he kept repeating to himself. He started hurrying towards the general store. He had to find Alex and warn her.
He leapt to the raised walk outside the store, not taking the time to use the steps provided a few feet further down. He rushed to the door and pushed through without hesitating. His eyes hadn’t adjusted to the interior dimness and he was desperately looking around, trying to find Rachel and Alex. He finally heard Rachel’s laugh from the back of the store. He hurried towards the sound. His only thoughts were to gather everyone and get back to the farm just as soon as possible.
He found Rachel and Alex looking at some lanterns and lamps. Rachel was holding a delicate little oil lamp and looking up at Alex with an expression of pleading.
“Please, Alex. It’s just so pretty. We can use it in the front room on the mantle.” Rachel wanted the lamp because it reminded her of one her mother use to have in her parlor. Rachel didn’t have many things from home and this would be a pleasant reminder.
“Fine. If you really want it, we’ll get it. I don’t see how that little thing is going to put out enough light to make any kind of difference. But if you really want it, I suppose we could afford it.” Alex had every intention in the world of buying the lamp for Rachel. She just wanted to tease Rachel about wanting the silly thing. She looked up as her brother came around a display case. He was white as a sheet and trembling. Alex’s first thought was that something had happened to the horses.
“Stephen? Are you okay? What’s the matter?” Alex moved towards her brother, grabbed his arm, and looked into his eyes. He’s terrified. My God, what could have scared him so?
“We have to get out of here. Now. We have to go now.” Stephen took Alex’s arm and started pulling her towards the front of the store. “Rachel, come on. We have to leave.”
Alex grabbed Stephen’s shoulders and gave him a little shake. “What is wrong with you? We just got here.”
“He’s here, Alex. I saw him. He’s here and we have to go.” Stephen tried pulling her towards the door again.
“Stephen, that’s enough. Stop that and tell me what’s going on. You’re scaring Rachel and making me mad.” Alex watched Rachel gently put the little lamp back on the table and come towards them.
“Alex, . . .” Stephen didn’t get a chance to finish as the Sheriff and another man came around the corner.
“Ahh, there you Alex. Just the folks I wanted to see. I have someone I would like to introduce to you.” The Sheriff gestured to the big man at his side. “Mr. Warlock, may I introduce Alex Morgan, his wife Rachel and his brother Stephen. Alex, this is John Warlock. He bought the Smith farm, so he’s your new neighbor.”
Alex just stared. She remembered an expression about blood running cold. It was not a meaningless phrase any longer.
“Well, don’t just stand there man. Shake his hand. He insisted on meeting you folks at the first opportunity.” The Sheriff didn’t understand why the normally warm and polite farmer just stood like statue.
Alex shook her head and automatically stuck out her hand. “Mr. Warlock?” She swallowed trying to moisten her dry throat.
“Mr. Morgan, a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you and your family.” The solicitous words did not match the cold hardness of the man’s eyes. Finally, he thought.
“Well, you all get to know one another. I have to get back to work. No rest for the weary you know.” The Sheriff laughed, slapped Warlock on the back, and left the group.
“Why?” Alex croaked. She realized she was still holding Warlock’s hand and she quickly let go and pulled her hand back.
“Why? When does a big brother need a reason to look in on his family? I was lucky enough to meet old lady Carson when I did. She was able to point me in the right direction. Otherwise, I might never have caught up with you.” The smile on Warlock’s face still did not reach his eyes. His dark brown, almost black, eyes bore into Alex’s.
Alex started to regain her senses. She had the feeling that time had stopped and was just now crawling forward. “Yes. Lucky for you.”
Warlock was enjoying his sister’s discomfort. He narrowed his eyes and looked her over. She looked very much like her late twin Alexander. Same dark wavy hair, same blue gray eyes, same physical presence. They had both been tall and slender. Lex looks a bit broader through the shoulders. Probably from grubbing in the dirt all day, he sneered to himself. Warlock was looking forward to putting his plan in motion.
Alex kept her eyes on Warlock and said, “Stephen, take Rachel and pick up our order from Mr. Wallace. I’ll meet you at the stable.”
Stephen started, jarred out of his shock. He took Rachel by the arm and led her around the two adversaries and towards the front of the store.
Rachel didn’t understand what was going on, but realized this was not the time to ask questions. Her eyes were wide and wondering as she looked back over her shoulder. Warlock and Alex were still a few feet apart, staring intently at each other.
“Well, now that the little lady and the runt are gone, maybe we can get somewhere.”
“What do you want Jonathan? The last any of us heard, you were First Mate on the ‘Lady of Savannah’. When the war broke out we lost track of you.”
“Yes, the war. It was a most fortuitous engagement, just the thing for an ambitious businessman such as myself. When the war broke out, I had just purchased my first ship. I made a lot of money with that little sloop. I was able to provide much needed material to the Confederacy.”
“You fought for the South?”
“No, dear Lex, I fought for myself. I’m a businessman. I provided commodities to whichever party was able to meet my price. Most of the time, it was the South. Many times, it was the North. Gold is gold, no matter which side of the Mason Dixon line it comes from.”
“You were a privateer? You profited from the blood spilt by both sides!” Alex was disgusted at the callous disregard her brother displayed in his confession.
“Oh, please. Don’t go getting sanctimonious on me. I had no loyalty to one side or the other. Because of you, Father sent me off to sea. I made the best of a bad situation.”
“Because of me? Now who’s being sanctimonious?” Alex hissed as she looked to see if any of the store’s patrons were close. “You tried to rape me, you bastard. If Alexander hadn’t gotten Father, you would have. I was only ten. I was your sister.”
“Was is correct, Lex. From the day Father banished me, I had a family no more.”
“So why are you here? What do you want?”
“I want what I deserve. I heard about Xander’s death and the sale of the farm. I want half of the proceeds from the sale.”
“Are you insane? You hardly worked on that farm. You were always too busy in town, so Father never pushed you to be a farmer. He hoped you would find an honest trade.” Alex couldn’t believe that the excitement came down to money. I shouldn’t be surprised. He profited from the war, why not his own family. “Besides, we don’t have that much. We bought a farm, animals, seed for planting, and tools. You say you’re a business man, you should understand.”
“Of course I understand. But I’ve suffered a minor setback myself. So I guess I’ll be sticking around. Because one way or another, I’m going to get what I came for. I’m sure folks in this wonderful little town would be most interested in learning all about you.”
The look he gave Alex chilled her to the bone. Alex roughly pushed past him and went on through the store. Once outside, she paused to allow her eyes time to adjust to the bright sunlight. After a few deep breaths, she started towards the livery stable.
Stephen was loading a package in the back of the wagon, while Rachel paced beside the horses. She glanced up and saw Alex coming down the side street towards her. Not caring whether anyone was watching, Rachel ran towards Alex and leapt into her arms.
“Easy there, Love,” whispered Alex as she gently set Rachel back on the ground. “Let’s go home.” Alex walked Rachel back to the wagon and helped her up into the seat. As she climbed in, she watched her brother mount his horse. “Let’s go home,” she repeated.
Alex was quiet as they rode out of town. Something was wrong. Well, something other than the fact that her bastard of a brother had shown up. Something from their conversation was teasing her thoughts. She felt that she was missing something very important. “Damn it!” she barked.
Rachel jumped and looked at Alex’s stormy expression. “Alex? Alex, who was that man? Why are you so upset?” Rachel was afraid, but she didn’t know why. All she knew was Alex and Stephen were acting very odd and it was that stranger’s fault.
“That was no ordinary man, Rachel, that was the Devil himself. That was Jonathan Morgan, my older half-brother.”
Stephen urged his horse up Rachel’s side of the wagon. “He was sent away from home when he was fifteen. Father prevailed on one of his friends to get him a position on a ship. We haven’t seen him in years.”
Alex was still going over what Warlock had said. She felt like the final piece of the puzzle was just outside of her grasp. Then she remembered. ‘I heard about Xander's death . . .’
“Oh, my God.” Alex pulled the horses to a stop and looked over to Stephen. “He said he heard about Xander’s death,” she whispered.
Stephen turned white and jerked back on his reins. His horse protested the rough treatment but came to a stop.
Rachel, with her eyes wide, looking back and forth between the siblings understood a little of their terror. “Alex? What do you mean?”
Alex’s eyes narrowed and she clenched her jaw. “Jonathan always called me Lex and Alexander, Xander. It means he knew who died that night.” Alex turned back to the horses and flicked the reins.
Stephen and Alex unloaded most of the day’s purchases at the house and then took the horses and wagon and the balance of the goods to the barn. Neither spoke as they unharnessed, unsaddled, brushed, watered, and fed the animals. Just as silent, they made their way back to the little house. Inside, Rachel had just finished putting things away. She had a stew cooking on the stove. After Alex and Stephen finished washing, they all sat down at the small table.
Alex put her hands flat on the table and glared at her brother. “You know what this means? He was there. He had to be there to know that Alexander died that night.”
“We don’t know that for sure, Alex.” Stephen reached out and laid his hand on top of Alex’s.
“The hell we don’t. He said he heard about XANDER’s death. Nobody outside of the three of us knows Alexander died that night. Everyone thinks I did. Jonathan was the only person to refer to our brother as Xander.”
Rachel reached out and took Alex’s other hand. “Alex, maybe he misspoke. He saw you in the store, so he knew that Alexander died in the fire.”
“No.” Alex grimaced and paused. “Maybe. No, I’m sure he knew what he was saying. He knew Alexander died in the fire and he heard that Alexander and Stephen moved away. He’s been looking for us.”
“My God, Alex. What if he did start that fire? Maybe he didn’t know that Alexander was staying in your house.” Stephen paused and shook his head. “No, then he wouldn’t have known that Alexander died.” Stephen looked at his sister. “I don’t like where this is going.”
“Me neither, little brother. Me neither.”
Rachel looked at the two siblings and squeezed Alex’s hand. “Tell me about Jonathan. Until today I’ve never laid eyes on him and you’ve barely said two words about him.” Rachel looked at Stephen, “How did you recognize him after all these years?”
“Except for the eyes, he’s the spitting image of our Father. He even walks the same way.” Stephen looked at Alex to see if she wanted him to continue.
Alex just nodded her head at Stephen and turned her face to the open window and the late afternoon sky.
“Jonathan’s mother was our father’s first wife,” Stephen explained. “She died when Jonathan was a toddler. Father met and married our mother a year later and a year after that Alexander and Alexis were born. I came along a couple of years later.” Stephen paused and looked down at the tabletop. “As far back as I can remember, Jonathan hated us. He was always picking on us, making our lives miserable. Father and Mother tried to watch out for us and discipline Jonathan, but nothing helped. After Mother passed away, I guess I was about seven, it got even worse. Father was busy with the farm and we all helped as best we could. Father could barely keep up with all he had to do, let alone keep an eye on Jonathan.
“Alexander, Alexis, and I always made sure we knew where each other was. We stayed together as much as possible. Jonathan may have been a big bully but he knew he couldn’t stand up against the three of us.” Stephen paused and got up to pour himself a cup of water from the pitcher on the counter.
“I wasn’t there the afternoon Jonathan attacked Alexis.” Stephen drank his water and returned to his seat. “I was with Father cutting hay in the east field. I remember sitting on the broad back of the horse enjoying the sunshine when I saw Alexander running towards us through the field. He told Father that Jonathan had Alexis in the barn and had bolted the door. Father didn’t even bother unhitching one of the horses. He just took off running. Alexander and I climbed into the wagon and drove it back to the barn as fast as we could. Father got there first because he was able to go over the fences and we had to drive through the gates.
“By the time we got to the barn, Father had busted through the door and was beating Jonathan with a buggy whip. Alexis was in one of the stalls trying not to cry. Her clothes were ripped and she had the makings of a black eye. When Father took Jonathan and locked him in the old woodshed, Alexander and I took Alexis to the house.
“We didn’t know what to do or say. Alexis just paced the parlor floor.” Stephen looked at Alex and smiled a little. “Well, maybe paced wasn’t right. She stomped back and forth cussing Jonathan and her own foolishness for not watching out for him. Father came in about that time and took her into his study. After a little while, Father came out and left. Alexis told us that Father was going to take care of Jonathan once and for all. The next day, Mr. Winslow came and picked up Jonathan and took him to New York. He signed him onto his brother’s ship as a deck hand.
“We would occasionally get word about Jonathan through Mr. Winslow, but never any direct contact. Father never spoke his name again. We tried to notify Jonathan when Father died, but the war had just broken out and we were never sure if he heard.”
“The bastard tried to rape me,” Alex was still looking out the window as her quiet words continued the story. “He told me it was all our fault that Father didn’t love him anymore. He said he was going to get even. I don’t think he expected me to fight or to fight so well. I’m lucky Alexander heard me yelling. I’m not sure how much longer I could have held him off.” Alex looked into Rachel’s eyes. “I was really scared. I kept wondering what I had done to deserve that. I didn’t like Jonathan, none of us did, but until then I didn’t hate him.”
Rachel reached over and gently whipped a couple of tears from Alex’s cheek. “It wasn’t your fault, Love. It sounds like Jonathan just wasn’t right. Was that why you two were so agitated when you saw Jonathan? Because of something that happened seventeen years ago?”
“That’s a big part of it. The other reason is what he said when Mr. Winslow took him away. He swore to get even with us. He said he would see us all dead.” Alex closed her eyes, remembering that afternoon.
“Okay, I understand a little better now. But to actually be involved in the fire? He was an angry boy when he made those threats. Was there something about that night that made you suspicious? Tell me about it again. Maybe you’ll remember something or something will jog your memory.”
“I don’t know.” Alex bowed her head and rubbed her forehead trying to make the pain go away. “Maybe he wasn’t involved. Maybe I am just imagining things. I really don’t want to think about that night again.”
“It’s not a bad idea, Alex,” Stephen offered.
Alex just sat at the table cradling her head in her hands. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked up. “All right. On the afternoon of the fire, I was visiting Rachel. Her family had gone to the market at Chilton and left her at home. We were making plans to run away together. Alexander agreed to give me some of his clothes and some papers identifying me as Alex Marshall.”
Stephen nodded. “I was checking the cows in the far pasture. Some were about ready to calve and I wanted to see how they were. It was just starting to get dark when I started back to the house.”
Alex swallowed and closed her eyes. “It was dark by the time I got home and finished stabling my horse. I heard something and came out of the barn to investigate. That’s when I saw you,” she nodded at Stephen, “running from the main house to my little house out back. I could see the flames shooting out the windows and through a couple of holes in the roof. I remember running. I don’t know why, maybe I thought you were going to run into the flames. I didn’t realize you were worried about me. When I caught up to you, you called me Alexander before you realized it was me. I was still wearing his clothes. I had worn them when I visited Rachel, so she could see what I looked like in men’s clothes.”
Alex stared at the mantle on the far wall. Her voiced dropped to just above a whisper. “We tried to get close to the front of the house but the flames were too intense. We went around to the back and saw that the back door was open. The kitchen was fully engulfed and smoke was pouring out the window. I could just make out the form of a body on the kitchen floor and I realized it was Alexander. We were supposed to meet when I came back from Rachel’s house. He wanted to know what she thought of my new look. I tried to go in, but you held me back. I remember screaming and fighting you, but you wouldn’t let go.” Alex looked at Stephen and saw tears running down his cheeks. She realized she too was crying.
Stephen let go of Alex’s hand and dashed the tears from his eyes. “By the time any of the neighbors arrived, there was nothing to save. You were kneeling on the ground crying and old man Warren said it was a shame that Alexis died that way. I realized then that they all thought you were Alexander crying for the death of his twin sister. I thanked them all and sent them away. I told them we would take care of our own. When they protested, I told them we had seen worse during the war. They didn’t argue and finally left.”
“That’s why you were able to handle the remains.” Rachel shuddered at the thought of placing the burnt remains of Alexander in the homemade coffin.
“Yes. It helped that the town no longer had an undertaker. He never came home from the war. The local authorities ruled the fire an accident. They thought it probably started in the stove flue and, since Alexis was a woman, it wasn’t noticed until it was too late. Afterwards, I took care of all the arrangements. We had a simple service at the church. Alex stayed off by herself, which was easy to explain as the grief of losing a twin. We sold the farm, packed a wagon with what we didn’t sell, and started west. We picked you up outside of town and just kept going.”
“I don’t think my parents will ever forgive me running off with Alexander Morgan. They thought Alexis must have been the go between for us.” Rachel remembered the wedding by a Justice of the Peace in a little Ohio town. The JP was sure that the young lovers were running from irate parents. He was partially right. Her parents would never know that she had been in love with Alex for years. They also would never know how Alex and Rachel had planned and schemed to go west to start a new life. Alexis would become Alex and Rachel, her wife. Although the result of the fire was heart breaking, it provided the perfect cover for their escape. Stephen didn’t want to stay with Alexander gone, so he joined them on their journey.
“I could never figure out how that fire started. There were only three or four lamps in the whole house. Alexander mentioned the day before that he was running low on oil. I never had the chance to take him more. It was too warm for a fire and he wasn’t much for cooking. Something wasn’t right. Why was that back door open? We had to keep quiet during the Sheriff’s investigation. We couldn’t draw any attention for fear someone would realize I wasn’t Alexander. I keep thinking that if I had been home, none of this would have happened,” Alex whispered.
“No, Alex. It wasn’t your fault.” Rachel was surprised that her lover would be thinking that way.
“Alex, even if you hadn’t been at Rachel’s house, you probably would have been with me checking on those cows. The war changed Alexander. He moved into your house and you moved back into your old rooms. He would have been in that house, by himself, just like always. You would not have been able to change that or anything else.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Alex conceded. “But if Jonathan was involved . . .” Alex didn’t finish her words out loud, but her eyes flashed and her expression hardened.
The next morning, after finishing the morning chores and breakfast, Alex decided to pay her older brother a visit.
“What are you thinking?” Stephen was angry that Alex would even consider meeting with Jonathan.
“We have to find a way to deal with him sooner or later, Stephen. He’s here now and I don’t think he’s just going to disappear.”
Stephen held the horse’s bridle while Alex tightened the cinch on the saddle. “Then let me go. I’ll talk to him and let you know what he said. I don’t trust him. You remember the last thing he said before he was sent away.”
“No, I think it has to be me. I promise I’ll be careful. Besides, I really doubt that he’ll shoot me on sight. I’m sure he’s here for a reason and the only way we’ll find out is if we ask.” Alex swung up onto the horse and urged her down the lane.
Alex rode and considered what she would say, how she would approach this man. Even though he was her half brother, he was a stranger. A hard, cruel stranger from the look in his eyes, she mused.
The Smith place was a smaller homestead than Alex and Stephen’s place. As she rode up the lane, Alex noticed that the house was in dire need of repairs. The prior owners must have fallen on hard times, if the condition of the house was any indication. Alex could see Jonathan near one of the outbuildings talking to another shorter man. As she got closer, she recognized Lucas Roberts. That does it, she thought, God does hate me. She stopped her horse and dismounted.
Jonathan saw Alex approach and waved Lucas away. “Good morning, Mr. Morgan. Come to negotiate, have you?”
“Why would I negotiate with you, Mr. Warlock?” Alex was agreeable to keeping their identities secret from witnesses.
“Because, Mr. Morgan, we both want something only the other can provide.” Warlock was smug as he slipped one hand into his coat pocket.
“Right, you want all of our money and I want you gone. Seems like we have our work cut out for us.”
Warlock chuckled and walked towards the house. “Mr. Roberts was telling me some interesting things about you. I don’t think that man likes you very much.”
“No. I don’t suppose he does. It’s not my fault his parents sold their farm to us rather than give it to their drunken son.”
“Now, now. I find Mr. Roberts most interesting. He seems to think you had some nefarious scheme to separate him from his birthright.”
“Yeah, I showed up with cash. Why all this interest in prior real estate deals?”
“Nothing in particular. I just like to know what side people prefer during a conflict.”
“Are you expecting a conflict?” Alex watched Warlock sit on a bench on the tiny front porch.
“I always expect conflict. For instance, right now I believe we are in conflict. But as soon as you provide the requested funds, our conflict will be over and I will be on my way.” Warlock leaned back against the wall and stretched out his booted feet.
“There is no way I can come up with that kind of cash. I’ll have to borrow it from the bank.”
“Fine, then do so.”
“It won’t be easy. They’ll want to know why I’m giving you the money.”
“So make something up. It really isn’t my concern. As soon as I have the money, I will be on my way to New Orleans. I want to procure a new ship and I need funds to do so.”
“Okay. Let’s say I come up with the money. What kind of guarantee do I get that you will leave without disclosing my secret? How can I trust you?”
Warlock stared impassively at Alex. “You can’t. No matter what I say, neither of us will trust the other. The only inducement I can offer is my own self interest. Some day I may need to come back here and ‘borrow’ more money.” Warlock offered a half smile. “If I spill the beans, I doubt that you will hang around. Then I’d have to go searching for you again.”
Alex narrowed her eyes as she stared at Warlock and considered his offer. She believed his claim of self-interest. Jonathan had always thought of himself first and foremost. “What about this place? You just bought it. It was on the market over a year the last time. Are you planning on staying until it sells again?”
Warlock frowned and looked around at his holdings. “I hadn’t planned on you giving in so easily. I was going to stay long enough to convince you to give me what I wanted and then be on my way. I didn’t give that much for it. I suppose I’ll just have stay until I find a buyer.”
“What if I buy it from you? I can go to the bank for the loan and tell them I’m buying you out. That way, they’ll be more agreeable.”
“It’s a deal, Lex. You can just add to what you owe me to cover my expenses relating to this property. How soon do you think you can have the money to me?”
Alex rubbed her chin and looked into her brother’s eyes. A familiar chill ran down her spine. She shook her head a little. “It will probably take me a couple of weeks to make the deal. I’ll have to convince the bank that this useless piece of property is actually worth the amount of the loan. I’ll get back to you.” Alex turned to leave but stopped after taking two steps. She turned back towards Warlock. “How did you know it was Alexander that died and not me?”
Warlock gave a half smile and looked Alex up and down. “It was obvious Lex. As soon as I saw you, I realized what you must have done. The fire was very convenient, wasn’t it? Pity about Xander, but then I always did think he was the weakest of you three.”
Alex clenched her fists but kept her arms firmly at her sides as she turned on her heel and went to her horse.
As she was riding away, Lucas came up to the house. “Everything okay, Mr. Warlock?”
“Yes, Roberts. Everything is just fine. Plans are coming to fruition and it won’t be long before all my dreams come true.”
Lucas gave Warlock a puzzled look. “That’s great, Mr. Warlock. I’ll just be on my way home then, unless you need anything else?”
“No, nothing today. Thank you for your assistance. I’m sure I’ll be quite comfortable.”
“I tell you, I don’t understand it, Stephen. It doesn’t make sense for Jonathan to buy the property next door to us just to take our money and run.” Alex was unsaddling the horse as she talked to her brother.
“I don’t know either, Alex. Maybe he was telling the truth when he said he didn’t expect you to give in so soon. I’ll bet he had some kind of a plan in mind. So, what do we do next? Do you think Jonathan knows about the inheritance?”
“I don’t see how. Grandfather Curtis didn’t pass away until Jonathan had been gone a long time. None of the neighbors knew, so Jonathan would have no way of learning that Grandfather left everything to you and me. Grandfather always expected Alexander to inherit the farm and just wanted to provide for us.”
“So why don’t we just pay Jonathan off and get rid of him?”
“I don’t think Jonathan will be satisfied with just the money. If all we had were the proceeds from the farm sale, giving that money to Jonathan would put us in a very risky position. If the crops don’t come in as expected or some illness sweeps through the herd, it would break us. I think Jonathan is trying to set us up to fail. I don’t want him to know that we have a financial reserve.” Alex finished taking care of the horse and stepped out of the stall. “We’ll have to be extra careful while he’s around. I don’t want any surprises. Let’s go eat and talk to Rachel, she might have some ideas. Besides, I think I owe her an apology. Jonathan said he knew Alexander died when he recognized me.”
“Well, that makes me feel a little better.” Stephen closed the barn doors as they left. “I didn’t even want to consider Jonathan’s involvement that night. No matter what, he is still our brother.”
The next day Alex dressed in her one good suit and rode into town to make arrangements to buy out Jonathan. As she rode past his property, she could see smoke curling out of the cabin’s chimney. His matched grays were cropping grass in the front pasture. Alex considered the fine horseflesh as she continued on to town.
As Alex was riding past, Jonathan watched unseen from his kitchen window. He sipped his coffee as he plotted his next move.
Alex left her horse at the livery stable and made her way to the bank. Not many people were out and about so Alex exchanged greetings with only two or three people. She entered the bank and noticed one teller was busy with a customer. The other teller was watching her expectantly.
“Miss Peterson, would Mr. Peterson be available for a meeting?” Alex removed her hat as she addressed the young woman.
“I’ll check, Mr. Morgan.” Sarah Peterson smiled prettily and made her way to her father’s office towards the rear of the bank. She returned just a few minutes later. “He’s finishing up some paperwork and then he’ll be right with you. Would you care to have a seat? We have some water if you’re thirsty from your long ride into town?” Sarah batted her eyes and continued to smile at the large farmer.
“No, I’m fine. Thank you very much.” Alex backed away from the teller cage and waited in the lobby to meet with the bank president. Alex regretted not bringing Rachel with her. I don’t think she would be very happy with the way Sarah is looking me over. I feel like a chicken before Sunday dinner. Alex backed up a couple more steps and glanced towards the rear of the bank willing Michael Peterson to hurry up with his paperwork. When Sarah licked her lips and smiled again, Alex loosened her collar and considered stepping outside for a moment or two. Just then, Michael came out of his office and waved for Alex to join him.
“Alex, good to see you again. Come in, come in. Have a seat. Can I get you anything? You look warm? Are you feeling well?” Michael gestured towards a chair as he continued on around the desk to his seat.
“No, I’m fine, thank you. Thank you for seeing me this morning.”
“No problem. We’re always happy to help our customers. What’s on you mind?”
“I need to make a substantial withdrawal, cash. I’ll need it as soon as you can have the funds available.” Alex unbuttoned her coat and settled in the chair.
“Is there a problem? Are you dissatisfied with the service?” Michael was concerned. “You know I’ll do just about anything to keep your business here. You’re not thinking of going to the new bank in Beeson, are you?”
“No, no, I don’t have any problems with the service here. I’m in the market for some property and the seller wants cash.”
“Oh, well in that case, if you let me know how much you need, I’ll make all the arrangements.”
Alex told the banker how much she wanted and watched as his eyes widened in disbelief.
“Are you sure, Alex? That’s a substantial amount of money. How much property are you buying? I can’t think of any one parcel worth that much.”
“I’m buying the Smith place from the new owner, lock, stock and barrel. I know it’s a little steep, but I think it’s a good investment. Stephen is going to need his own place soon and this will be ideal. I should have made a bid before, but things moved quicker than I expected.”
Michael shook his head. “Well, if you’re sure. It’s a little over priced considering no one has lived there until Mr. Warlock purchased the place.”
“I realize that. I’ve talked to Mr. Warlock and he’s having second thoughts about the property.”
“I’m not surprised. He acted very strangely both times we met. He was interested in buying something in the area, but he didn’t seem as concerned with the property as he was with the nearest neighbors. He must have asked a hundred questions about the families that live around here. It was all very odd.”
“Well, Mr. Warlock does seem odd. He’s decided that maybe he really doesn’t want to be a farmer. The property was under priced to begin with, so I don’t consider it that bad of a deal.” Alex didn’t enjoy lying to Michael since she really like him. He and his family had been the first to welcome her family to the county. Sarah made her nervous, but only when Rachel wasn’t there to claim her territory.
After finalizing her business at the bank, Alex made a quick stop at the general store and purchased the little oil lamp Rachel had admired days ago. Alex carefully placed her package in the saddlebag before mounting her horse and leaving town. As she guided her horse home, her mind wandered back to the time before the war.
She and her brothers had loved farming almost as much as they loved the family farm. Generations of Morgans had been raised in those rolling hills, tending crops and animals. Alex felt lucky that the old farm was so large. Her father needed every available hand to work the land. Alex enjoyed working outside and her father never pressed her to take care of the more traditional female chores. After her mother passed away, a local widow was hired to handle the cooking and cleaning. Alex and her brothers expected to carry on as their ancestors had before them. Then their father passed away and war was declared. Everything changed when the call went out for volunteers. Her brothers had been proud to step up and serve their country. They knew Alex would be able to handle the farm in their absence.
Those years had been rough. With hard work and luck, she was able to take good care of the farm. She even found time to fall in love. Rachel and her family moved into the area to escape the war. They became neighbors, friends, and then lovers.
How strange that tragedy can lead to happiness, Alex mused. The tragedy of war brought me Rachel. We would never have met if the fighting had not driven her family from their home. As soon as I saw her, my life changed. I thought I would live out the rest of my days with a secret yearning in my heart. The day I realized she felt the same was the day my life really began.
But the fates don’t bargain fairly. The war that gave me love took Alexander and changed him. I saw the changes the first time he came home on leave. There was a deep pain in his eyes. The only time I didn’t see that pain was when Rachel visited us. He was almost like his old self then. Later, even Rachel’s visits couldn’t help. Alexander served courageously and honorably, but the man that returned from war was not the brother that left. Even though he survived the fighting, parts of him died on every battlefield.
Alex’s somber mood followed her all the way home. It only lifted as she turned onto the lane leading up to the small cabin. Her heart beat faster when she saw Rachel hanging clothes out on the line to dry. There was enough of a breeze to catch the clothes and make them flutter and snap. It also caught Rachel’s long blonde hair and whipped it around. Alex could see Rachel stop and move locks of hair from her face to behind her ear. So beautiful, she thought.
Alex kneed her horse to a trot and hurried towards Rachel. All this thinking about the past reminds me of how Mother use to say ‘It is an ill wind that blows no good.’ I pray all of life’s winds bring us something good.
Rachel finished hanging the laundry as Alex approached. She picked up her basket and moved it to the porch as she waited. Alex guided the horse close to Rachel and leaned down to kiss her wife. “Hello, Love. Miss me?”
Rachel smiled up at Alex and waited for her to dismount. Once Alex was on the ground, Rachel put her arms around her neck and pulled her head down for a proper kiss. Once breathing became necessary again, Rachel leaned back and gazed into Alex’s eyes. “Does that answer your question?”
“Oh, yes,” Alex murmured. “Where’s Stephen?”
“Right behind you,” her brother answered.
Alex jumped and glared at Stephen. “Do you have to do that?”
“Do what?” Stephen asked with an air of innocence.
“Sneak up on me. Make some noise, man. Stomp your feet, cough, just do something.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’ll whistle. I’ll whistle all day long so that you always know where to find me.” Stephen grinned and started to whistle tunelessly as he led the horse to the barn.
“I swear, that boy is going to send me to an early grave.” Alex shot Stephen a glare and then turned back to Rachel still wrapped in her arms. “Now, where were we?”
“Oh, right about here.” Rachel pulled Alex’s head down for another long and satisfying kiss.
“Stephen, did you ever finish cutting the weeds on the east side of the barn?” Alex was finishing her breakfast and planning the day’s chores.
Stephen looked up from his eggs, “Nope, I started but then I got side tracked when I checked the fence in the back forty. There are some sections that really need to be fixed before we move the herd into that pasture.”
“You’re right, the fence is more important than the weeds. I don’t want to be chasing a bunch of pregnant cows all over the county. I’m going to ride into town today. Michael should have the cash ready. He said it should only take a week to transfer the funds in to cover our withdrawal.” Alex got up from the table and handed her plate to Rachel. “I’ll see you both later this afternoon.” Alex kissed Rachel and left the house.
As promised, Michael Peterson had the funds on hand to cover the substantial withdrawal. Alex made plans to meet at the bank in two days with Warlock and complete the sale of the property. On the ride home, Alex decided to pay Jonathan a visit and let him know the arrangements. Alex turned into the lane leading up to Warlock’s house and looked the property over with a different eye. She mentally listed what areas would need to be addressed first and what could wait until after the harvest. She saw Warlock sitting in practically the same position she left him on her last visit. Alex looked around but did not see anyone else. I guess Lucas found someone else to bother.
“Afternoon, Lex. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” Warlock smiled and squinted into the sun as he looked up at Alex.
Alex swung down off her horse and looped the reins around a convenient fence post. “Just thought I would stop by and let you know the money is ready. We have an appointment at the bank day after tomorrow. We can complete our business and you can be on your way.”
“My, my. Are you trying to get rid of me? What’s the rush, Lex? It’s not like I’ve done anything to you recently. I’ve stayed out of your way, just minding my own business.” Jonathan stood and stretched while rolling his shoulders.
“I just want to get this over with, Jonathan. You get what you want, I get what I want. Remember? Conflict.”
“Oh, I plan on getting what I want, Lex.”
“I have no doubt. How long after the sale will you need to pack up and move on?” Alex was hoping it wouldn’t take Jonathan long.
“Oh, no more than a week. I’m waiting on responses to some inquires I’ve made.”
“A week? That should be fine. Do you have to take a wagon? I really like those horses you came with. Any chance they could stay?”
“Well, I have a rather large trunk. There is no way a horse will be able to handle all my gear.”
“What all do you have? I thought sailors traveled light.”
Jonathan got calculating look in his eye. “Why don’t you step inside and I’ll show you what I have.”
Alex’s expression hardened. “I fell for that once, Jonathan. Never again.”
Jonathan laughed. “Lex, you should see your face. Very well, stay here and I’ll bring it out to you.” Jonathan slipped into the house. After a few minutes, he returned holding a wooden box. He sat down on the bench and placed the box on his lap. “This is my most prized possession.” He opened the box and drew out a folded rectangle of black fabric. He carefully held the corners and allowed the fabric to unfold in front of his chest.
Alex frowned as she looked at the black flag with the white design. “A Jolly Roger? That’s a pirate flag.”
“Yes, I had it made a long time ago. I used it during my ‘business engagements’ for the Confederacy. This brings back happy memories.” Jonathan looked down at the flag and smiled. “I do believe I was born two hundred years too late, Lex. I was always meant to go to sea.”
Alex looked at her brother as if he was mad. “You wanted to be a pirate? You can’t be serious.” Alex realized then she would never understand her half brother. It was as if he came from another country or even the moon. The blood they shared was the only thing they would ever have in common.
“You don’t understand. It’s a constant test of your abilities and your ship against all others. If you prevail, you earn whatever spoils you can carry away. If you’re not the best, you lose. It is the ultimate expression of survival of the fittest.” Jonathan carefully folded his flag and gently placed it back in the special box. “This is just one of my many possessions that I carry with me at all times. So yes, I need a wagon. If you want the horses, you have to come up with a way for me to transport myself and luggage to the river. Once there, I can take a boat down to New Orleans.”
Alex continued to stare at Jonathan in disbelief. Finally, she said, “I have a young mule and smaller wagon you can have. Once you get to the river, you can sell them. The mule is harness broke and shouldn’t give you any trouble. I’ll see you in town day after tomorrow.” Alex turned and slowly walked back to her horse. As she mounted, she glanced at Jonathan still seated on the porch. His hands cradled the box against his chest. Alex rode away still disbelieving what she had seen and heard.
Oh, Lex, you looked so shocked at my little prize. You think you have me all figured out. You think you’ll pay me off and I’ll just ride out of your life. Well, guess what. I have plans. When I ride off, it will be on my terms. Horses, mules, wagons, none of it matter. You just sit back in your illusion of safety. I knew buying the farm next to yours would force your hand. Just like before, you can’t wait to see me leave. This time I’ll get what I came for and nothing you do will matter ever again. Jonathan continued to caress the wooden box and stare down the lane long after Alex was no longer in sight.
The next morning Alex was rooting through the tool shed behind the house. “Damn it.” She leaned out the door and yelled, “Stephen! Get your ass out here!”
Stephen came around the back of the cabin eating a slice of bread. “What? Can’t a man finish his breakfast before you start yelling?” He brushed the crumbs off his shirt and waited for Alex to tell him what had her so riled.
Alex stuck her head out of the shed doorway. “Where is the hammer?”
Stephen’s eyes widened. “Hammer? Which hammer?”
Alex stepped fully out of the shed and glared at her brother. “The good hammer, the one with the new handle. Where is it?”
“Oh, I’m still working on that fence. And, well, it’s not convenient to keep carrying the tools back and forth. So, umm, it’s still out back where I left it.” Stephen’s words trailed off as the look on his sister’s face darkened.
“I should have known. Don’t you ever pick up your tools and put them away? What if we need something up here at the house?”
“I could ride out there and get them now if you want.” Stephen started edging towards the barn.
“No, just go work on the fence. Hell, you might as well. All of the tools are there waiting for you.” Alex watched her brother sprint towards the barn and yelled, “You’re lucky it hasn’t rained!” If Stephen hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave, he would have noticed the twinkle in Alex’s eyes.
Alex walked round the front of the house and met Rachel on the porch.
“Is he gone?” Rachel asked.
“Yes. I figure he’ll be out there until lunch time, at least.” Alex grinned and took Rachel’s hand and led her back into the house. “We’re lucky he’s so predictable.”
“You are evil. I bet you scared ten years off him.” Rachel smiled as she willingly followed Alex.
“He deserves it. Between leaving tools all over creation and that blasted whistling, he’s lucky I don’t lock him in the root cellar.”
Rachel laughed as she closed the bedroom door.
Alex was standing in the bedroom trying to straighten the collar of her good shirt. “Sweetheart, can you help me?”
“In a moment, I just need to find the belt for this dress.” Rachel looked through the drawers in the wardrobe.
“I’ll make you a deal. You fix this blasted collar and I’ll find your blasted belt.” Alex grinned as she watched Rachel lean over to check a bottom drawer.
“Thanks, Alex, but I found the belt.” Rachel stood and turned, catching Alex’s appreciative gaze. As she fastened the belt, she walked towards Alex taking in the dark blue suit and white shirt. “You look quite handsome, my dear.” Rachel reached up and brushed some lint off of Alex’s shoulder. After fixing Alex’s collar and then her tie, she reached up and kissed her.
“Thank you.” Alex offered Rachel her arm and the couple met Stephen in the living room.
Stephen, looking dashing in his black suit, was admiring the decorative oil lamp on the fireplace mantle. He turned and smiled as his sister and sister-in-law entered the room.
“Are we ready to go then? The buggy is hitched up and waiting.”
Alex locked the front door and followed Rachel and Stephen to the buggy. Stephen offered to sit up front and drive. Alex handed Rachel up into the rear seat and then joined her. “We’re set back here, Stephen. Let’s go buy a farm.”
Stephen snapped the reins and started the horse down the lane. As they passed Jonathan’s house they did not see any activity and guessed that their older brother had already left for town. Once in town, the horse and buggy were given over to Paul’s care at the livery stable. As the family walked the few blocks to the bank, Alex and Stephen continued discussing their plans for the new property.
Stephen arrived at the bank door first and opened and held it for Rachel and Alex. Once inside, the family waited on Michael Peterson to finish his business with another customer. Alex noticed that Sarah Peterson did not seem too happy. Ha, didn’t think I’d bring the wife did you. She put her arm around Rachel and drew her closer. Rachel looked up at her with a questioning look, but Alex just smiled.
Alex watched Michael stand and come around his desk to escort an elderly gentleman to the front of the bank and to the door. Michael then turned and gestured for the Morgan Family to precede him back to his office. “You’re the first to arrive, Alex.”
“Good. I prefer being early rather than late.” Alex placed her hand on Rachel’s back to guide her into the office and to one of the chairs arranged in front of Michael’s desk. “Thank you for allowing us to use your office, Michael.” Alex seated Rachel before taking the next chair. Stephen took a seat leaving the two chairs closest to the door available.
“You’re entirely welcome, Alex. Once Mr. Warlock and Ralph Gummer get here, we can get on with it. And speaking of the devil, there is Mr. Warlock. Now all we need is Ralph.”
Alex smirked and silently shook her head. Speak of the devil, indeed. You have no idea, Michael. No idea at all. She watched as Jonathan made his way to the office and took a seat near the door.
“Mr. Warlock, welcome to my bank. May I offer you anything? We have water and I believe there is still coffee in the back. How about you, Rachel? Alex? Stephen?”
Warlock made himself as comfortable as he could in the wooden straight back chair. “Thank you, I’m fine.”
The Morgans also expressed their thanks and declined refreshments. Michael arranged some papers on his desk. “As soon as Ralph Gummer gets here, we can proceed.”
“May I ask who Mr. Gummer is? How does he relate to our business?” asked Warlock.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think, Mr. Warlock. Mr. Gummer is an attorney and the County Recorder. He will see that the new deed showing the change in ownership of the farm is properly registered. It’s merely a formality. Since Alex asked to use my office for the transaction, we decided Mr. Gummer might as well be involved also.”
“That makes sense. Sort of like killing two birds with one stone.” Warlock smiled as he looked at Alex.
Once again, Alex felt a sense of unease and dread from seeing that smile.
“So what have you all been up to since I last saw you?” Michael sensed some tension between his guests and tried to inject some harmless small talk.
Stephen, seated between Alex and Jonathan, decided Michael had the right idea. “Well, I’ve spent the last few days fixing fence. I hope to finish that in a day or two and move on to repairing the barn roof with Alex.”
“I know the prior owners weren’t able to keep things up for some years,” Michael sympathized.
“It’s not that bad, really. A lot of the work is normal maintenance and upkeep.” Alex didn’t want Michael to get the impression that they were unhappy with the property’s condition. Lord knows, I don’t want Lucas Roberts to hear that we were disparaging his family’s former home.
Warlock sat back observing the conversation. His eyes narrowed as he watched Alex and Stephen chat with Michael. He watched Rachel sitting quietly in the chair nearest the wall, acting the perfect little wife. How on earth did Lex get you, little one? Why waste yourself on that bitch? Warlock’s musing were interrupted by Ralph Gummer’s arrival.
Once the county recorder arrived, the business moved quickly. Michael handed the funds to Alex. She quickly counted the bills and replaced them in the satchel provided by Michael. Warlock signed the offered paperwork and took the satchel from Alex. Mr. Gummer witnessed and signed in the appropriate places and took copies to file at the courthouse. In under an hour, the entire transaction was complete.
“Thank you, Mr. Warlock. Do you know how soon you will be leaving us?” Alex was anxious to see her brother gone.
“I should be out of the house by the end of the week, Mr. Morgan.” Of course, it won’t matter to you at that point. Warlock smiled to himself.
“Excellent, it was good doing business with you.” Alex stood and hesitated briefly before offering Jonathan her hand. Warlock smiled and shook hands with his sister, squeezing a little harder than necessary.
“My pleasure, Mr. Morgan.” Well, it will be my pleasure soon enough. Jonathan bade the group good-bye and left.
Mr. Gummer excused himself and left also. Michael Peterson watched the two men leave the bank. “Well, that went better than expected,” he murmured. Michael smiled and shook hands with Stephen and Alex and escorted the family to the door.
Alex decided to treat her family to lunch at the local restaurant. She figured they were due a small celebration. She didn’t notice the figure standing in the alley across the street watching.
Alex came out of the bedroom tucking her work shirt into her pants. “Morning, Stephen. Just finishing breakfast?” Alex walked over to the stove to pour herself a cup of coffee.
“Well, I figured I better fend for myself this morning since Rachel seemed to be busy.” Stephen grinned as he picked up his plate and cup and took them over to the counter.
Alex blushed as she sipped the hot coffee before setting the cup on the table. “Yeah, well sorry about that.” She looked up as Rachel came into the kitchen and smiled. Rachel walked straight into Alex’s arms and pulled her head down for a proper kiss. “Good morning again, Love.” Alex murmured as she came up for air.
“Morning, Alex.” Rachel continued to gaze into Alex’s eyes.
Stephen coughed and stamped his foot on the floor. “Is this where you want me to start whistling?” he inquired jokingly.
Alex glared at her brother. “Smart ass.” She gave Rachel one last peck on the lips before letting her go. She went to the counter and sliced some bread from the loaf and picked up the butter.
“Do you want me to cook you some eggs for breakfast?” Rachel offered.
“No, this will do for now. Stephen, did you finish up that section of fence yesterday? I could really use your help on that barn roof.”
“Yeah, I finished that section. But as I was coming back yesterday, I noticed another section further down that needs work. I could have sworn that it was fine before. I’m almost sure I checked it a few days ago.”
“How bad is the damage? If the top rails are down, maybe deer took them out when they crossed.”
“Well, the top rails are down and a couple of posts are broken. I should be able to finish up this morning. I can start on the roof with you after lunch.” Stephen picked up his hat and started to leave.
“That will work.” Alex gave her brother a short wave. She moved towards the window and watched her brother go to the barn. Stephen took one of the draft horses from the corral and hitched it to a wagon containing his tools, fence rails, and posts. Alex waited until Stephen drove the wagon out of sight before she turned back to Rachel.
“He’s gone. I’m going to ride into town and see Mr. Gummer.”
“Stephen is going to be so surprised,” Rachel smiled as she walked towards Alex.
“He deserves this. Once the new property is in his name, he can think about settling down. I know the only reason he hasn’t said anything to Mary is because he wants to be able to offer her a home of her own.”
“It will be wonderful having them so close. I’m glad everything worked out.”
“So am I. Frankly, I’m surprised everything went as well as it did. I didn’t think Jonathan would give up so easily. Well, if I’m going to be back by lunch, I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you in a while.” Alex kissed Rachel good-bye and left for the barn.
Alex rode past Jonathan’s former homestead. Stephen had delivered the wagon and mule the day before and Jonathan had promised to be gone by the next morning. The house appeared deserted and the area was quiet. The rain the night before softened the dirt road enough that wagon tracks were clearly visible winding their way down the lane and on towards town. Alex was uneasy and tried to figure out why as she too traveled towards town. Her comment to Rachel about Jonathan giving in so easily reverberated in her head. The further she was from home, the greater her unease grew. Finally, about half way to town, Alex noticed the wagon tracks she had been following had disappeared. She pulled the reins and wheeled her horse about. Her eyes searched the ground frantically trying to locate the tracks. She started back the way she had just come. A few dozen yards back, she found evidence that the wagon had turned off the main road. This winding track would eventually lead to the eastern boundary of her property.
Alex felt as if someone kicked her in the gut. She turned her horse back to the main road and galloped for home.
Jonathan slipped past the shed and silently approached the house. He could hear the sound of one person moving about the kitchen. He quietly stepped up onto the porch and listened a little longer. He was hoping to catch Alex alone, but if she wasn’t available, there was always the pretty little Rachel. Satisfied that there was only one person inside, Warlock opened the door and stepped into the cabin. Rachel, startled, dropped the plate she was holding. “Hello, my dear. Seems like Lex has run off and left you.”
“What are you doing here, Mr. Warlock? You better go. Alex and Stephen won’t like you being here.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll get over it.” Warlock took off his coat as he walked towards Rachel.
Alex drove her horse hard. Her sense of unease had turned into outright terror. When her little house came into sight, some of her terror abated. As she came closer, she could see the front door standing open. She rode the horse straight to the porch and leapt from its back. She charged into the house and stopped to take in the sight of broken plates and overturned chairs. “Rachel! Rachel, where are you?” Alex ran towards the bedroom. Once she entered the room, chaos greeted her. The bed clothes were pulled to the floor, a small chest was laying on its side. Alex stopped and heard quiet sobbing coming from the corner of the room. She slowly approached what at first glance she thought was a pile of clothes. “Rachel, honey. What happened? Are you okay? Rachel?” As Alex reached for her wife, Rachel pulled her torn dress around her and drew back. “Rachel? It’s me, honey. It’s Alex. Let me see, sweetheart.” Alex slowly reached for Rachel again.
“Alex?” Rachel’s blank expression dissolved and she dove into Alex’s arms. “Alex, he was here,” Rachel hiccupped as she cried. “I tried to stop him, but he was too strong. He said he was going to get even and since you weren’t here, I would do.” Rachel clutched at Alex’s shirt and buried her face in her lover’s chest.
“Where is he now, Rachel? Do you know where he went?” Alex gently stroked Rachel’s back. She was doing her best to keep calm even though she wanted to gather Rachel in her arms and howl with remorse and rage. She hadn’t been here to protect Rachel. It was her fault that Rachel had been hurt and violated. Once again, she had underestimated her brother and this time Rachel paid the price.
“He said he was going to burn us out. He said he would leave the cabin for last. That way I could decide whether to crawl away or stay here and end it all. He laughed when he said it was my choice.” Rachel gripped Alex’s shirt and burrowed deeper into her embrace.
“Rachel, I know you’re hurt but I need you to go get Stephen. He’s in the back forty fixing fence. Please, I need you to ride and get Stephen. Can you do that for me?” Alex slowly stood bringing Rachel to her feet also.
“I can try. What are you going to do? I don’t want you to get hurt. Come with me to get Stephen.”
“No. You take the horse. I promise to be careful but I have to stop him. He’s not going to get away with hurting you and burning us out. I’ll hold him up until Stephen gets here. Then together we can take care of Jonathan once and for all.”
“Okay. Promise me you’ll wait for Stephen.” Rachel pulled the ruined dress from her body and dressed herself from the pile of clothes in the corner. Before she pulled the dress over her head, she looked in Alex’s eyes. She shivered at the expression.
“I’ll do my best,” Alex promised. “Now, you need to go. Don’t push the horse too hard. She ran all the way home.” Alex walked Rachel outside and helped her mount up. She winced in sympathy when Rachel settled in the saddle.
Rachel gathered the reins and looked again into Alex’s stormy eyes. Fury had darkened them to a midnight blue. She leaned down, kissed Alex’s forehead, and then turned the horse to go search for her brother-in-law.
Alex watched the horse and rider disappear into the orchard. Then she turned and went in search of Warlock. She decided he was no longer Jonathan Morgan. He was born a Morgan but he’ll die a Warlock. Alex pushed her rage back. Now was not the time to give in to the white-hot anger.
Alex slipped around the back of the cabin and made her way towards the barn lot. She looked in the hen house and pigsty but did not see any evidence that Warlock had been there. The corncrib and calf shed were also empty. As she made her way to the barn, she could hear a voice softly singing. She slipped up to west side of the barn and peeked in the window. Warlock was forking some loose hay into a pile in the middle of the barn. A can of lamp oil was at his feet. Alex decided she couldn’t wait for Stephen. The oil and the lit lamp hanging nearby meant time was running out.
As she watched Warlock, her anger flared when she thought of pain he had caused Rachel. She stepped into the barn. “That’s enough, Warlock.”
Warlock stopped and slowly turned around. He smiled at Alex as he leaned on the hayfork. “Well, now. I wondered when you would show up. I just have the darnedest time catching you at home.”
“Listen, you Bastard, it ends now. You will never hurt my family again.” Alex balled her fists and stepped further into the barn.
“Why, Lex, you look so intimidating when you’re angry. What did you have in mind?”
“I’m going to beat you to a bloody pulp,” she snarled as she hurled herself at Warlock. The suddenness of Alex’s move caught Warlock by surprise. He felt Alex’s solid body slam into his as he dropped the hayfork and fell flat on his back. Alex continued her attack even as they were falling by punching Warlock in the face and chest.
Warlock was dazed momentarily but quickly pushed Alex back and threw a punch that grazed Alex’s chin. They continued to punch and wrestle in the hay. Soon they both found their feet and stood, continuing to trade punches. Alex’s quickness allowed her to dodge some of the blows but she was beginning to tire. Warlock was slightly larger and was able to shake off the effects of most of the hits. At one point, Alex was able to grab Warlock’s arm and slam him into a support post. Warlock returned the favor by grabbing Alex and pitching her out the door on east side of the barn into the overgrown corral. Warlock followed and, as Alex stood, landed another glancing blow to Alex’s head opening a cut above her brow. Momentarily dazed, she wiped the blood from her eyes. Before she could recover, Warlock landed an uppercut that hurled Alex backwards.
Alex threw her arms back in an attempt to arrest her fall. Her back hit the ground hard and knocked the breath out of her. As she labored to pull in some air, she felt something in the tall grass. Dear Lord, I will never again say anything to Stephen about leaving things laying around. She was breathing a little easier now that she had her hand wrapped around the handle of Stephen’s long handled sickle. She sat up but kept her hand and the tool hidden in the tall grass. Warlock stood a few feet away enjoying the sight of Alex on the ground at his mercy.
“Pity you didn’t put up a better fight. I’m a little disappointed.” Warlock wiped his mouth and examined the blood on his fingers. A brief scowl crossed his face as he drew a pistol that had somehow remained tucked into his belt. “I must say your wife is a fighter too. She fought me the whole time. It’s too bad I won’t have time for a second round. I figure as soon as Stephen sees the smoke he’ll show up. After I take care of him, I’ll just be on my way.”
As Warlock spoke, Alex drew her feet back towards her body and tensed her muscles. She slowly pulled herself into a crouch. She thought she might have one chance in a million to make her move before he fired the pistol. At this range, there was no way he could miss his target. She needed time that obviously wasn’t available.
“Wait,” Alex gasped. “Just tell me why.”
Warlock lowered the pistol slightly but kept it pointed in Alex’s direction. “Why? You stole my Father from me,” Warlock spat. “You poisoned him against me by being just like him. You and your brothers followed him around the farm like a litter of puppies. You had to be farmers just like him. I hated farming, I hated the land, and I hated the three of you. I dreamed about this day for years. Every night before I went to sleep on that ship, I promised myself I would get my revenge.
“I guess this is where I tell you to say your prayers, Lex. Tell Xander ‘Hi’ for me. He wasn’t much of a fighter either. But then, he didn’t have much of chance with a knife in his gut.” Warlock raised the pistol as he laughed.
Just as Warlock sighted in on Alex’s chest, Stephen came barreling around the corner of the barn. His sudden appearance distracted Warlock for a brief moment. In that moment, Alex exploded from the ground gripping the sickle handle in her right hand. While still in motion, she brought her other hand to the handle and swung with every ounce of strength she had left. The shock was still on Warlock’s face as his head separated from his shoulders. His knees buckled, the pistol fell from his lifeless hand, and his body crashed to the ground. Stephen stopped his headlong rush and stood panting. He watched the blood flow from Warlock’s neck and turn the tall grass a dark red. He turned from the gruesome sight to see Alex bent over, retching. He went to her and steadied her until the spasms were done.
“It’s over Alex. It’s finally over.” Stephen just kept repeating the words as he rubbed his sister’s back.
When Alex was done, she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her mouth. “Rachel?”
“She’s in the orchard with the horses. I told her if I didn’t come back, she was to go get the Sheriff.” Stephen took the sickle from Alex’s hands and threw it down. “Come on, she’ll be worried.”
Alex and Stephen turned and left their late brother’s body, still bleeding in the grass.
“Are you sure about this?” Alex asked for the tenth time.
“Yes. It will be easier this way. Warlock sold us the property and was leaving town. As far as everyone is concerned, he’s half way to New Orleans by now.” Stephen was digging the grave as Alex was building a coffin. She had prepared a stack of lumber some months ago with the idea of making a table for Rachel. The boards were thicker and heavier than what a normal coffin would be made of. They were also stained and treated. Alex regretted all the wasted effort. She wouldn’t be doing this if it hadn’t been for Stephen’s insistence that everyone deserved a proper burial.
After the hole was sufficiently deep, Stephen and Alex laid Warlock in his coffin and nailed shut the lid. Rachel stood back, hugging herself and watching. Occasionally, a tear would make its way down her cheek. Stephen and Alex looped ropes around the coffin and lowered it into the hole. Stephen started filling it in as Alex went to Rachel and wrapped her arms around the small body.
Rachel started crying in earnest and buried her face in Alex’s chest. Alex let her cry and alternated between rubbing her back and whispering loving words into her ear. By the time the grave was filled, Rachel was out of tears.
Stephen walked over to the couple and looked out towards the lane. “He had to park his wagon somewhere. I’ll find it and bring it here. We’ll turn the mule out in the pasture and put the wagon in the shed. Just to be safe, I’ll take it apart. We can use the hardware and wood to repair the other wagons.”
Alex nodded. “We’ll be up at the house.” She gently led Rachel towards the house as Stephen went in search of the wagon.
Once inside the little cabin, Rachel started crying again. Alex pulled her to her chest and wrapped comforting arms around the shaking body.
“Rachel, darling, I am so sorry I wasn’t here.”
Rachel raised her eyes to Alex’s. “No. If you had been here, he would have killed you before you had a chance to defend yourself.”
Alex couldn’t let go of her guilt that easily. “Maybe, but we’ll never know. He hurt you and I wasn’t here to stop it.” The two lovers stood together, arms wrapped around each other, giving what solace they could.
A thought flashed through Rachel’s mind. Oh, Lord. No. She stiffened and started shivering.
Alex felt the change in her lover but didn’t know what to say or do. There was no way she could go back in time and undo what had been done.
“Alex, what if? What if?” Rachel turned her head as her eyes again filled with tears.
“What if what, sweetheart?”
“What if I’m pregnant?” Rachel shuddered and the tears started again.
Alex gently took Rachel’s face in her hands. “Then I would be deeply honored if you would allow me to help you raise your child.”
Rachel put a finger to Alex’s lips. “Our child,” she gently corrected with a faint watery smile.
“Our child,” Alex agreed. “I promise you, if there is a child, I will be one loud and proud papa. We will teach the child what love truly means.”
Casey sat up and reached for her iced tea. She was not accustomed to talking for any length of time and she felt parched. “Nine months later, Rachel gave birth to fraternal twins, Benjamin and Rebecca. Benjamin’s journals describe Alex as the loud and proud papa she promised to be.” She looked at her audience. Tina’s mouth hung open and her eyes were glazed over.
Dr. Frazier was still sitting on the couch but she began pumping her fist in the air. “I knew it! I knew it!” She was ecstatic at having the last piece to her puzzle. She loved her field but she also loved knowing the truth about what happened in the past. Educated guesses were for wusses. She knew something was wrong when she saw the placement of the skull in the coffin. Marks on the bones indicated that a sharp object had cut the neck between the C-5 and C-6 vertebra. It appeared as if someone cut off Warlock’s head and handed it to him. The Doctor smiled at her little joke.
Shaking her head, Casey stood and reached for Tina’s hand to help her up. “Come on, we still have some light left and I want him in the ground.”
Tina finally roused from her daze. “Wow. That’s why you didn’t want him in the family cemetery.” Tina frowned and started slapping Casey’s arm. “Why haven’t I heard this story before?”
“Oww. Cut that out.” Casey grabbed Tina’ hand. “It’s not something that just comes up in everyday conversation. I heard some stories when I was a kid but I didn’t find out the truth until I got hold of the journals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my family. My ancestors did a lot of good here and helped to build up this county. They were farmers, bankers, lawyers, and shopkeepers. They were good and decent people. Even today, most of my relatives are very understanding when it comes to my orientation. I just don’t think the world needs to know that Alex Morgan was really Alexis Morgan and that Benjamin and Rebecca were fathered by a pirate. Call me selfish, but I don’t want to deal with that circus.”
“You lied to the Sheriff,” Tina added.
“Well, sort of,” Casey hedged.
“Sort of?” Dr. Frazier failed to muffle a laugh.
“I gave the Sheriff the Reader’s Digest condensed and sanitized version that most members of the family know.” Casey stuck her tongue out at Dr. Frazier.
“Oh, that’s mature,” she responded. “But come on, a fever?”
“Well, I suppose he was a little feverish from the fight,” Casey defended her interpretation.
“Yeah, I guess he was just out of his head with that fever.” Dr. Frazier grinned and winked.
“How many know the truth?” Tina wondered.
“A few. Anyone who has read Benjamin’s journals, of course.”
Casey looked into Tina’s eyes, pleading with her to let it go. When Tina nodded, Casey knew she was off the hook for now. “Okay, all questions answered, lets go fill in a hole.” Casey started towards the kitchen, hoping that was the end.
“Now just a cotton pickin’ minute there, Sparky.” Tina was standing in the middle of the living room with her hands on her hips, tapping her foot. “What about her?” She pointed to Dr. Frazier sitting on the couch, benignly watching Casey and Tina.
Casey stopped and turned. “Tina, may I introduce you to Dr. Melissa Frazier. Mel‘s father is descended from Rebecca, daughter of Alex and Rachel, and her mother is descended from Lucille, daughter of Stephen and Mary. Mel is the third double Morgan of the present generation.” Casey steeled herself and waited for her partner to explode.
Instead of berating Casey, Tina turned and smiled at Mel. “That explains it then. I take it the Sheriff didn’t know he was bringing in a Morgan as an outside expert?”
“Nope, he never asked. He just called the University’s public relations department and they referred him to me. He muttered something about being lucky that I had just moved here from California. He never asked me why I moved.” Mel stood and tugged her sweatshirt down.
“Can we get this show on the road?” Casey was impatient to have Warlock planted again before it got dark.
“Yes, dear. Let’s go.” Tina took Casey’s hand and beckoned Mel to follow them out to the barn.
Half way to their destination, Casey stopped. “I forgot something, you go on. I’ll be right there.” She turned and sprinted back to the house. Tina and Mel shrugged their shoulders at each other and continued on. By the time they reached the paddock, Casey was racing towards them. She had a package in her hand.
Casey slowed to a walk, as she got closer to the enclosure and the pile of dirt. “Mel, could you?” She gestured toward the tarp-covered mound.
Mel nodded. “No problem. Everything is on top of another tarp. I’ll just wrap it up and we can slip him back in.” She opened the gate and entered the paddock. Mel worked quickly, but carefully, to make sure everything that belonged in the deteriorating coffin was returned. Just as she was about to set the lid with Hank’s help, Casey called her.
“Mel, could you put this inside?” Casey handed her a flat package.
Mel raised an eyebrow but took the brown paper wrapped package that was about the size of a large book and tucked it inside the coffin. After the lid was closed, the tarp was brought up and around the coffin and the whole package was tied up like an oversized Christmas package, without the bows. Additional ropes were looped around the coffin and, with Hank operating the backhoe shovel like a crane, the remains of John Warlock were returned to the ground.
Casey, Tina, and Mel stood to the side as Hank unhooked the ropes and let them drop into the hole. He then climbed onto the backhoe and proceeded to fill in the grave. After awhile, all that was left was a slightly raised mound. Hank pulled up the braces and drove the backhoe to the machine shed.
Casey stepped up to the mound and looked down at the dirt. “You know, you were a real bastard, you hurt a lot of people.” Casey kicked at a large dirt clod. “About a month after . . .” Casey waggled her hand, “the Sheriff stopped by to ask if Alex and Stephen knew where in New Orleans you were going. It seems the law was looking for you and there were a couple of warrants out for your arrest. Some questions popped up about how your first ship sank with all hands.”
Casey paused and cleared her throat. “They say God works in mysterious ways and I guess this would qualify. You provided the raw material that started half my family. But that’s all it was. For a long time, I felt ashamed that I was related to you. But after telling Mel and Tina the story today, I remembered some other stories.
“Alex Morgan loved Benjamin and Rebecca and raised them to be decent, caring, wonderful people. She loved and cherished Rachel for the rest of her life. She taught her children and grandchildren to look beyond the outer wrappings of a person. She taught them to look at a person’s heart. Alex gave more to this family than you ever could. She gave her heart and her spirit. I hope I can be the kind of Morgan that would have made Alex proud.
“I know it’s not right, but I sincerely hope you are rotting in hell.” With that, Casey turned and walked quietly to the house with Mel and Tina trailing behind.
Casey leaned over the hospital bed watching Tina breast-feed their daughter. The tiny infant grasped Casey’s finger as she fed. “Sweetheart, she’s beautiful,” Casey whispered as she kissed Tina’s head.
“Of course, she is. She’s a Morgan. Look at all this fuzzy black hair. She looks just like you in the morning.” Tina smoothed the hair down, but it sprang back up again.
“Well, I think she looks like you. I think she has your appetite too.” Casey couldn’t take her eyes off the baby. She was so proud of Tina. They had talked and planned for so long to finally reach this point. Her brother had been glad to help since he wanted his own children to have lots of Morgan cousins to grow up with.
“Funny. If I were you, I’d watch it. Your daughter and I are going to have a lot of time together. I’ll teach her all sorts of ways to get to you.” Tina gave Casey an evil grin.
“Too late, you already get to me. And I hope for a lot more of the same.” Casey leaned down and gave Tina a soft kiss.
The baby finished suckling and Casey gently picked her up and placed her in the nearby bassinet. She just stood over the baby’s bed and watched as she sucked her tiny fist and drifted off to sleep.
Tina finished closing the buttons on her top and looked at her lover. “We still need to name her. I don’t want to be yelling ‘Baby’ out the back door when the kid is twelve years old.”
Casey grinned and turned back towards Tina. “I don’t know. It works for me.” She wiggled her eyebrows.
Tina smiled but overlooked Casey’s attempt at humor. “Actually, I was thinking of a name. It came to me the other day. It’s not one of the ones we already discussed though.” Tina bit her lip and glanced up at Casey through her lashes.
“That’s okay.” Casey came over and sat on the side of the bed. “What was it?” Casey was curious. They had spent the last nine months considering and discarding names, one after the other. The two names they settled on, one boy and one girl, were fine as far as she was concerned.
“I was thinking of Alexis.” Tina waited expectantly.
Casey just looked at Tina stunned. She started to speak and then stopped. She shook her head and just smiled. “It’s perfect.”
Tina grinned back. “I figure that we can save the other names for when you have the next one.”
Casey just laughed. “You’re pretty sure of yourself. I told you double Morgans aren’t prolific.”
“Yeah, well tell that to your brother and Melissa. He has two and he helped with this one. She had her little boy two years ago and will pop out number two in a month or so. I don’t know what you slipped into Warlock’s coffin, but I think the curse is broken.”
“What curse? I never said there was a curse. I vaguely remember mentioning a curiosity. Why would Warlock care to curse only double Morgans?” Casey was intrigued. She wondered what logic Tina would offer.
“Well, I think it was a curse and I haven’t figured out the why yet. But it really doesn’t matter. He no longer casts a shadow over this family. I think you should let everyone know what happened back then.”
“Honey, no one would believe it. It’s too far fetched.”
“Well, I think you ought to try. Maybe you could write it up and put it on the Internet.” Tina was not about to let Casey hide the family history any longer. When little Alex grew up, Tina wanted her to be proud of who she was.
“Okay, I’ll consider it.” Casey didn’t think there was a chance in hell that anyone would be interested. But to keep peace in the family, she would make an attempt. “Shoot. Tina, what I am I going to call the damn thing?”
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