I decided that it would probably be best for me to be away from home for most of the day. I pedaled over to Harlan’s and we played a game of Monopoly. Harlan always won because I hardly ever kept my mind on board games.
Charlie rode up, jumped off her bike, and banged on the door.
She was breathless and excited. “My mother heard some really good gossip from one of the neighbors,” she said gleefully. “The rumor is that some gambler came through town and cheated her husband and some other men. Apparently, they were out at the old Martin farm.
“They caught the gambler cheating and there was a big fight. She seemed to think that the gambler wound up dead. Who knows, they were all drunk. Maybe they just beat him to death. I overheard my mom and the neighbor talking about it. Mrs. Welborn was really upset and told my mother that they could never breathe a word to anyone. I think she was afraid that the men might get arrested, maybe even for murder.”
My blood ran cold. I knew who the other men were. I knew what had happened. I pretended to be surprised and asked a few stupid questions.
Charlie made us swear that we would carry that juicy secret to our graves. That was an easy promise for me. I had no desire for anyone to find out that my own father and the town Marshal was involved in the man’s death. No need complicating things any more than they already were.
I made a quick excuse to go home. It was time to visit Aunt Vi again.
Aunt Vi was tending her new plants when I got there. She wore a scarf over her hair and an old pair of overalls that were way too big for her. She wore work gloves and had on a pair of old worn-out shoes.
I knew that she could be trusted and I also knew that I had my fingers crossed when I swore not to tell anyone about the gambler. I told her the story and she nodded her head briefly.
“I’ve heard about that guy who comes through and cheats the farmers. He’s a no good drifter who steals from men who can’t afford to lose a dime. He got what he deserves whether it was an accident or not.”
She poked at the ground with her trowel for a minute.
“I’ve got an idea. I think we could use this to our advantage. Run out to the barn and look under the first hay bale on the right. Karl’s old shirt is there.”
While I did that, she saddled up the horses. We rode off down the road toward the old Martin place. It was way off the road and in serious disrepair. In fact, it looked as if it might tumble down with the smallest puff of wind. We hopped off Lee and Grant and, then Aunt Vi took something wrapped up in a dish towel from her saddle bag. We made our way through the weed filled yard and climbed the rickety steps of that old tumbledown house. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere. It was really creepy. We edged our way through a dark little hallway, avoiding rotten boards as best we could and then stepped gingerly into the front room.
This was obviously where they had played poker. White lightning bottles were on the floor and a kerosene lantern sat atop a rickety table in the corner. Chairs were scattered about on the dusty floor, fallen like trees in a windstorm. Playing cards littered the dusty table and some had even wound up on the floor.
Aunt Vi signaled me to stop. We could see a man’s feet protruding out from the other side of the table. I couldn’t see the rest of the body but there was a deep, red stain on the floor.
“You stay here. Just be calm. That sorry bastard is never going to cheat anyone else. Hand me that shirt.”
I was shaking all over just like it might have been freezing cold. I’d never seen a dead body before. Well, this one might not count since I only saw the feet. I stepped back into the hallway and didn’t dare ask what she might be going to do.
I could hear muffled sounds and a couple of loud thumps. Next, I heard a loud popping sound. When she came out of the room, her headscarf was askew and she was panting like she’d run a race. She carried a wadded up shirt, a man’s billfold, and a couple of empty white lightning bottles.
I glanced into the room and saw that the table was now sitting straight and that the old chairs were arranged around it, except for one. It was still on the floor. The cards were gone and the scene looked totally different.
She caught her breath and continued, “I didn’t take time to check his wounds but there was blood everywhere. I took off the dead man’s shirt and, then, I smeared some of the blood on Karl’s shirt and managed to put it on the dead man. That, my boy, was not an easy task.”
I was stunned. That popping sound had been a gunshot.
She pretended not to notice my shock. “Sometimes, it’s just better not to know too much. Let’s just assume that he took his own life while in a drunken stupor.”
“Look what I found up his sleeve.” She held out her hand to me.
“Throw all this stuff down the well. Make sure that you replace the top afterwards. We’ve just found an escaped German prisoner.” She winked at me conspiratorially and I had to smile, regardless of the circumstances.
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