Underneath the Triple Tree there is a man who waits for me and should I go or should I stay my fate’s the same either way.
The words faded back into the ether and I awoke with a start. Jimmy Prescott was lounging against the wall near the door, an amused yet disapproving look on his face.
“Shit, sorry Mr. Prescott. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“You know, I worked here when I was a kid, too. I installed the bell on the door for this very reason. Didn’t seem to wake you up, though,“ he laughed. I mumbled another apology and idly straightened a stack of business cards in front of me.
“I hope you weren’t out at the bonfires with all the other underage drinkers.”
“No, sir.” Yep.
“Good. Anyway, I’m just here for my lunch. I’ll take a parmesan chicken with avocado on rye.”
“Yes, sir.” Happy that the conversation was over, I walked over to the sandwich counter and unwound the twisty tie from the rye bread.
Jimmy Prescott stepped back from the counter and idly studied that pictures on the wall, though he’d seen them a thousand times before. More of the photos were of the Prescott family, taken over the last century. I’d always though it odd décor but then, the shop was named after them after all.
“Is Meera here?” Prescott asked as I wrapped up his sandwich.
“She’s in the back.”
“Ah, I thought she’d still be in St. Louis. Well, when you’re finished would you mind getting her for me?”
I handed him his sandwich and went to the back to find Meera. She was in the office, furiously punching the keys on her accounting calculator.
“Uh, Meera? Jimmy Prescott is out front. He wants to talk to you.”
She turned and gave me a dubious look. “Did he say what about?” I shook my head.
“Okay,” she sighed. “You can go home for the day, Sam.”
”But…are you sure?” I still had three hours on the clock.
“He’s the only customer we’ve had since we opened. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you for a whole day, kiddo.”
“Thanks, Meera. Um, good luck I guess.”
I gave her a sympathetic shrug and she patted my arm. I didn’t know how she did it. Meera was perhaps the most burdened and stressed out woman in all of Drisking but she never failed to be unbelievably kind. There was a hopelessness about her, a sadness that she hid very well.
I left the store out the backdoor so I wouldn’t have to see Jimmy Prescott again. His weird, yellowed amber eyes always set me on edge. Not to mention he was a total tool.
I hopped in my car and texted Kyle that I was off work. He answered immediately and told me to come meet him. I happily whipped my apron off over my head and threw the car into reverse. Crystal Lake was my favorite place in all of Drisking.
I had to park almost a mile away since the lake was so packed. I eventually found Kyle and Kimber sitting on a rock that jutted out over the beach.
Kimber was sunbathing in a blue, floral bikini and Kyle was wearing his ‘no one can tell where my eyes are looking’ sunglasses.
“What’d I miss?” I asked, sitting down next to Kimber.
“Not much,” she answered, stretching and sitting up. “Just more beer.” She dug into the cooler behind her and tried to hand me a Blue Moon.
“Ugh, no.” I waved it away. “Got any Excedrin?”
“Oh no,” Kimber gave me her ‘I’m sorry’ pout.
“Okay, then I’ll just take those sunglasses.” I held my hand out to Kyle who looked back at it in horror.
“What? No, fuck off!”
“Oh, come on, Kyle, give him your sunglasses. Sam didn’t get to sleep off his hangover like we did!”
I smiled at Kyle and he tightened his lips. We both knew exactly what I was doing. Kimber stroked Kyle’s arm in encouragement. ”Please?” she asked.
“Fine,” he said and shoved his BluBlockers at me. I put them on and sat back, turning my head to watch the girls on the beach below. Phoebe Dranger – Dark-Haired girl – was there lying on a towel next to Round Face and giggling. It still seemed unnatural to me to see the two off them without Rude-Nose. The three had been inseparable, working as fluidly together as the gears in a watch until Kristy had fallen in love with some college kid and run away.
“So why’d you get out of work early anyway?” Kyle asked.
“Prescott came in.”
“Ew,” Kimber squirmed. “He totally freaks me out. He’s been staring at me since like 5th grade.”
“Next time he stares at you let me know and I’ll knock him the fuck out.” Kyle had always been protective over Kimber but ever since they’d started dating it’d gotten 10 times more unbearable.
Kimber winked at him. “So what did he want, Sam?”
“He wanted to talk to Meera. Probably about the sandwich shop.”
“You mean about how no one goes there and the business should have closed years ago but it won’t because the Prescott’s are stubborn and vain?” Kyle said.
“Yeah, probably, I mean she looked pretty worried. I can count on one hand how many sandwiches I’ve sold in the past month. “
“Ouch.” Kimber grimaced.
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure she’s going to get chewed out. I really don’t like that guy.” I thought about the squirmy, yellow-eyed freak yelling at sweet, little Meera and it made my blood boil.
“You should have met his dad,” Kyle snorted. “He was a piece of work.”
“Yeah, Tom Prescott.,” Kimber said. “The family put him in a home a few towns over.” “Why is he in a home?”
“I heard he got dementia and he was embarrassing the family in public.” Kyle said.
“I heard that, too,” Kimber brushed her long curls off of her shoulders. “I always liked Tom Prescott. It was a pretty shitty thing to do.”
“Hey kids!” We turned in unison so see Phil Saunders come stomping out of the bushes behind us with Mike Sutton following behind. “So this is where the cool people hang out. High above the kingdom on Pride Rock.”
“Sup Mike,” Kyle said ignoring Phil, whom he‘d disliked ever since Phil had briefly dated Kimber. Phil was either unaware of or uninterested in Kyle’s feelings. Of course, that may also have been because Phil was stoned out of his mind most of the time, and now was no exception.
They sat down next to us and Mike offered me his pipe.
“Wanna hit this?”
I did want to hit it, and pretty badly too. I reached up to grab it but Phil swatted my hand away.
“Careful, guy, you don’t want to get the Sheriff’s son high. For fucks sake, Mike.” Mike nodded knowingly and shoved the pipe back into his pocket.
I scowled. “Really?”
“Sorry, Sammy. Hell the only reason I’m even smoking around you is because today is my cousin’s deathiversary and I don’t give a shit about anything else.”
“Your cousin Hannah?” Kimber asked with a sympathetic look.
“Yep. 5 years she’s been gone.”
“Too many people disappear in these woods, man,” Mike said as he exhaled a cloud of smoke.
“Yeah, man,” Phil nodded. “You know sometimes, when I’m high, I can see them all. And I feel like I know the answer to the mystery, man. Like I’m so close to solving it. It’s just something I can see. Like they’re all puzzle pieces and in my mind I see the puzzle put together but I can’t tell what the picture is of, you know?”
“You’re fuckin’ high, Saunders.” Kyle said.
“We all are, man. We all are. Everyone in this town is drinking the fuckin’ kool aid.”
Kimber raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing.
“Everyone except the dead ones. I can see what they looked like before they went into the ground. Or is it the grounder?”
“Shit, I dunno, man.” Mike said to the space in front of him.
“Yeah. I see all those people. Hannah. Paige. Jason Metley. Hell, I ever see your sister, Walker.”
Kyle, who I knew had been monitoring the conversation for mention of this very thing, sprang to his feet and opened his mouth to yell at Phil.
“Nah, Whitney Walker ran away to St. Louis. Remember?” Mike said.
I saw Kyle and Kimber exchange a quick look as I tried to remain impassive from behind the BluBlockers.
“That true, man?” Phil asked. And there it was.
I knew Kyle and Kimber had always wondered what I thought about Whitney and if I’d ever accepted the official statement that she and Jay had run away together. They were kind enough not bring it up but I knew they wanted to know what I believed, what I thought had really happened.
I loved them both and I wanted to talk to them about it but I just couldn’t. Everyone thought that I had spent the last seven years quietly grieving and that I’d put the incident behind me. At least, that’s what I’d tried to show them.
The truth was that I’d never given up on Whitney. I’d waited years for Jay to show up on social media and when I finally found him last year, I’d been devastated. I’d always hoped the official report was right and that Whitney was somewhere far away from here, alive and happy with Jay Bower. But his Myspace page showed a thriving teenager, still living at home with his parents, his ex-girlfriend Whitney the furthest thing from his mind.
When I’d brought the evidence to my dad he read the pages I’d printed off and then shut the door to his office with me on the other side. I heard him crying in there for hours as I waited for him to reopen the case and bring the smackdown on the Butler County sheriff’s department. But justice had never come and we never mentioned Jay Bower again.
For whatever reason, I never told Kyle and Kimber about any of that. Maybe it was because I was worried they’d blow it off like my dad had or maybe, and far more likely, I didn’t want them to know how obsessed I’d become with the Borrasca and the Skinned Men. I knew, as assuredly as the sun would rise tomorrow, that Whitney’s death had happened at there; just like all the others who’d gone to the Triple Tree.
I was suddenly very aware of 4 pairs of eyes staring at me.
“Yeah, it’s true. She ran off with this guy Jay from our hometown.” I answered. That was enough for Kyle.
“Alright, guys, seriously, he’s the sheriff’s kid. What do you think’s gonna happen if he gets caught with weed?”
“The little man is right, Phil, let’s bounce. I don’t need any more trouble with the cops around here.” Mike said.
“Later, Walker. Kimber. Little man.” Phil stood up, brushed off his pants, and jumped from the boulder onto the sandy beach below. He sprayed sand all over a couple of freshmen girls who squealed and called him an unthoughtful ass. Phil tipped his invisible hat to them and said “Ladies” before walking off.
Mike followed him down and as I watched them make their way down the beach I became aware of the conversation going on behind me.
“I didn’t say I wanted to go, I said I had to go.” Kimber said.
“It’s only 2 o’clock! And it’s Sunday.”
“I know but my parents have been fighting a lot lately and I don’t want to leave my mom alone too long.”
“I thought she was doing better?”
“A little, but she’s still depressed, Kyle.”
“Do you wanna stay over at my place tonight?” Kimber’s voice dropped into a whisper. “I just don’t…I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
“What- no, wait, that’s not what I meant! I’d sleep on the pullout in the basement and you would have my room.” Very awkward silence. “My parents love you, you know,” he added.
Kimber laughed. “I know. I just want to be there for my mom right now. But thank you, sweetie.” And then the absolutely disgusting sound of my best friends kissing. I would never get used to it.
“Ugh, on that note, I’m outta here, too.” I stood up and gave them both a shaming look.
“Oh, come on Sam, don’t be jealous, we’ll find you a girlfriend someday,” Kyle joked.
“I really don’t need your help with that,” I muttered, glancing down the beach to where Emmaline Addler was sunbathing. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” “Last week of school!” Kimber yelled at my retreating back. Thank god.
Tomorrow was the last Monday of the school year and while I should have been thankful my sophomore year was ending, I wasn’t. The summer meant no distractions, more time to think and even more hours of boredom at Prescott Artisan Sandwiches.
But I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow for another reason: besides it being Monday it was also Sophomore Ditch Day. My dad had caught on to that several weeks ago and warned me to “set a good example” and go to school that day. Sometimes I really hated being the son of a cop.
Kimber and Kyle were sympathetic and had offered to share in my misery. I had, of course, said yes, much to Kyle’s sadness.
As I’d expected my dad was waiting for me when I got home. We shared a brief, strained conversation about our respective days and then he finally got to it.
“Remember, Sammy, we’re cracking down on truancy this year. I want to see you at school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I got it Dad.”
“And I hope I won’t have to write a ticket to Kyle either.”
I sighed. “It’s just a tradition, even the teachers sort of encourage it. On Friday they said-“
“I don’t care what they said, Sam; besides the fact that I’m the sheriff, I’m also your father and I want my son in school.”
I laughed and shook my head. What a joke. “I can’t control what Kyle does.” “Fair enough but you can control what you do.”
I said nothing and Dad sighed.
“It’s almost over, Sam. Just get through these last five days and you can be done with school for a few months.”
“Fine.” I walked out of the kitchen rudely ending the conversation. I climbed the stairs and passed by Whitney’s door on the way to my room. The light was on and silence was behind it. I knew my mother was in there. She was always in there, doing god knows what.
I walked to my own room, shut the door behind me and locked it. The next day at school ended up being more embarrassing than anything else. There were a few other people that hadn’t skipped, maybe a total of ten of us, and the looks they shot at me made it clear that my dad was the reason they were there.
Kimber, great friend that she was, happily went to her classes like it was a normal day. Kyle attended all of my classes with me. The teachers, who had been looking forward to an easy day, couldn’t have cared less.
Just before lunch an officer came around to all the class rooms and asked for copies of the attendance sheets. Dad really wasn’t kidding about cracking down this year. I was going to get shit from people all summer.
At lunch Kyle and I went out to my car to smoke. Usually we were hidden by dozens of large pick-up trucks but today we were out in the open and vulnerable. I moved the car back to a shady corner of the parking lot and Kyle pulled out his bowl.
“Did you text Kimber?” I asked him while he hit it.
“Yep,” he said through tight lips as he let the smoke sit in his lungs and then blew it out all over my dashboard. “She went home around 4th period. She said her mom called her and she was going home to take care of her. I don’t know, man.”
“Doesn’t her mom hate you?” I asked, taking my turn with the bowl.
“Yeah. I mean that’s a fairly new development, ever since Kimber and I started dating. But I’m pretty sure she’s always hated me and just hid it better before. Now that she’s all depressed and whatever she doesn’t give a shit.”
It was hard to picture anyone hating Kyle. “Why can’t Kimber’s dad take care of her?”
“I don’t know.”
I hit the pipe again.
“Hey man, let’s not even go back today.” Kyle said.
“You think?” I asked.
“Yeah, I mean you put in 4 periods, you’ve been a good son. And Officer Dick Ass already came around and collected the attendance sheets.”
“Dick Ass? Really? You’re better than that, man.”
“You’re fuckin’ baked, Kyle.”
“Seriously, man, let’s go.”
I thought about it a second. Kyle was right, I’d done my duty as a son and if I left now I’d have enough time to go to Gamestop before work.
“Fuck it.” I turned on the ignition.
Kyle sat up in his chair and rolled down the window to clear out the smoke. “Hey man, can you drop me by Kimber’s?”
“Sure but how’re you gonna get home?”
“Can you come get me after work?”
“What if her mom throws you out again?”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “That was one time.”
“Why can’t I just drop you at home and you can take your own car?”
“It needs new tires.”
New tires, of course. What Kyle really meant was that his insurance had lapsed and he didn’t have any money for gas, anyway. He’d bought the car last summer after working double shifts at the convenience store for half a year. It was an okay car, newer, but I knew he’d only wanted it to impress Kimber, something he’d vehemently denied. Had it worked? Not in my opinion.
They’d started dating in the fall and Kyle quit his job to spend more time with her. Kimber didn’t seem like the kind of girl to be impressed by a Pontiac Bonneville but Kyle was convinced that was how he’d won her over. I was sure all the car had really done was give him the confidence to ask her out. And now that its part in their romance ended, the car sat in the garage of the Landy home collecting dust instead of memories.
Gamestop didn’t have what I wanted and neither did Drisking Games and Media. Since I had nothing else to do I decided to show up to work early and hope that Meera would let me leave early too.
I parked in front and walked in the door, unsurprised to see no one at the front counter. There were only three of us that worked at the shop and sadly I never got to see the other girl, Emmaline, who worked on the days I didn’t. This was disappointing to me since she was half the reason I’d applied there in the first place.
I went into the back to tell Meera I was there and found her slumped over her desk on a pile of receipts and paperwork. This wasn’t an unusual way to find Meera but something seemed different today. I immediately felt a disturbance in the force but before I could run away she turned toward me and I saw I was right to flee; Meera was crying.
“Are you, um….um, are you-“
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said quickly, wiping her eyes. “Is it four already?”
“No, it’s 2:15. I just thought maybe if I came in early-“
“Oh right, it’s your ditch day.” Meera wiped her eyes only to have them fill with tears again. “I don’t understand, Sam, this store had been operating in the red ever since I was hired to manage it. What am I doing wrong?”
“I don’t…know,” I offered lamely, the instinct to escape never stronger.
“No one comes in here – ever – and Mr. Prescott refuses to let me put signs up to advertise! He says they’re unsightly, but how does he expect me to pull in business! I need this job, Sam, god, I just…”
I must have looked like a frightened deer because when Meera glanced over at me she seemed to subtly collect herself. “Go ahead and go out to the front. I’ll do your timecard.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. I really liked Meera and I hated seeing her like this.
The front didn’t end up being much better. I could hear Meera crying over the store’s dated music track. Her sobs went from painfully audible to muffled whimpers. After half an hour I decided I had to do something. Since I was entirely unequipped to deal with an adult woman’s emotions I decided to call Meera’s husband Owen. He was thankfully at home and answered on the second ring. “I’ll be right there.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard a car pull up outside and saw the tall, girthy Owen get out of it. He walked in during a quiet lull in his wife’s breakdown.
“I’m sorry to call you at home, Mr. Daley, I just didn’t know what else to do…”
“That’s okay, Sam, you did the right thing.” He looked tired and I could tell this situation wasn’t new to him.
“Is she ok? I mean like, will she be ok?”
“Oh…yeah.” He nodded. “We’re just going through some things.”
“Oh. Meera said the store is going bankrupt, too.” I winced as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
“Yeah,” Owen ran a hand through his hair. “That’s part of it, although I don’t think Jim is going to let that happen. Meera is more upset about…” he sighed. “Has Meera told you about her, ah, appointments?” “Ah…no.”
“Well, we’ve been trying to get pregnant for years. Long, painful years. It’s just so goddamn important for her to have a baby. And you know she blames me for our problems?”
He walked around the room, staring at the pictures, not really talking to me anymore.
“I understand why it’s important to her, I just don’t understand the obsession with it, you know? Because she’s the last one in her family? Because she’s the last McCaskey on the planet? I mean, does she even realize that our baby wouldn’t be a McCaskey? He’d be a Daley! I tell you Sam, never marry a woman with a crazy father and four dead uncles. They develop these obsessions with lineage and-“
“Four dead uncles?”
“What? Oh, yeah. The famous ones. You know the four brothers who died in the Drisking mines? Well that only left her dad. And her parents were only able to conceive her. Which leaves her as the last McCaskey and hope for the family line. So of course you see how this is all my fault.”
I looked at him blankly and he sighed.
“I’m sorry, kid. These aren’t your problems and they’re way over your paygrade anyway. I’m just very stressed out these days. Our fertility issues and Meera’s absolute abhorrence to our only other option, it’s-“
“But how did they die?” I was desperate to talk about anything else and the story of Meera’s uncles interested me.
“The McCaskey boys? I don’t really know. They died on the mountain somewhere.”
“Oh. Well, um, have you heard of the Skinned Men?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What about Borrasca?”
Owen Daley squeezed his eyes shut and pushed in on his temples with his fingers. “What? What does a borrasca have to do with anything?”
“Owen?” Meera voice squeaked from the doorway.
“Oh, baby, are you okay? Sam called the house-“
“I want to do it.”
“You do?” Owen asked dubiously.
“I called him.”
His eyes flicked over to me and I immediately looked away. Another conversation I didn’t want to be a part of.
“Sam, why don’t you take off for the day? Meera and I will handle things here.”
“Okay,” I mumbled and bolted for the door. Once I was in my car and backing away I called Kyle.
“Dude, fucking weird shit is going down in this town.”
“I can’t explain it over the phone. Where are you at?”
“I’m at Kimber’s. Are you off work?”
“Yeah, I’m coming to get you.”
By ‘at Kimber’s’ Kyle meant sitting on the curb in front of the house, kicked off the property again. When I pulled up Kimber came out and met us at the curb.
“I’m so sorry, Kyle,” she said. “She’s really upset today, she wouldn’t even let me leave the house to sit with you.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t worry about me I just want to make sure you and your mom are okay.”
“We’re okay. And my dad will be home soon.”
“Text us when he gets home and we’ll come get you.” I said.
“I wish I could, I’m babysitting tonight until 7:30. Maybe after that?” “Sure.”
Kyle and Kimber hugged goodbye and then Kimber rushed back to her house as something crashed inside.
“So what’s going on?” Kyle asked, taking a drink of a warm Dr. Pepper sitting in my cup holder. “You’re still wearing your apron, you know.”
“Meera had a breakdown,” I said, peeling it off.
“Really? What happened?”
I told Kyle the full story giving particular attention to the four uncles.
“Yeah the McCaskeys. I’ve heard of them. Didn’t know Meera was one, though, I thought they were all dead.”
“Yeah, she’s the last one. So like…do you think the McCaskey deaths have anything to do with the other disappearances?” It had been awhile since I’d mentioned anything about Borrasca and Kyle choked a little on the Dr. Pepper.
“I don’t…I don’t know, man. I mean maybe if the disappearances started around the same time?”
“How can we find that out?”
“Maybe the cops? There have to be police reports.”
“Okay, but what if I couldn’t ask my dad?”
Kyle shook his head. “I don’t know then.”
“What about like records? The historical society people, maybe?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, nodding. “We can try them. They’re over on 2nd. They share an office with Drisking Arts and Antiques.”
I made a u-turn and started back toward town.
“Hey, ah…why are we doing this?”
I’d known the question was coming. I’d hoped to have more answers myself before I had to give him one.
“Just…Whitney,” was all I could say. Kyle didn’t ask anything more. The Historic Preservation Society of Drisking was at the back of the building and we had to walk through the Antiquities shop as the owner, Mr. Dranger, eyed us warily. At the end of a short hallway we found a small room with two desks pushed together. One was empty and the other was stacked high with books and folders of loose paper. We could hear someone typing behind the stacks.
I cleared my throat. “Hello?” A small woman popped up from behind the desk. I recognized her as the same woman who had given the us a lecture in 5th grade. “Hello. How can I help you boys?” She asked, walking out to greet us.
“Um, yeah, I have a few questions about Drisking’s…history, I guess?”
“Oh great! Is this for an end of year report? Have a seat, boys.” She gestured to the empty chair sitting behind the other desk. I nodded at Kyle and he sat down, looking uneasy.
“Yeah, it’s for an essay we have to write. Hey, I think you gave a lecture to us like seven years ago. At school.”
“Oh yes! I give that lecture every year with Mr. Prescott,” she smiled.
“Yeah it was you and one other guy, too. A bald guy.” Kyle said, shifting uncomfortably in the wooden chair.
“Yes, that was my fiancé Wyatt Dowding. He passed several years ago.”
“Oh.” Kyle said.
“So, ah, Miss- Miss-“
“Scanlon. But you can call me Kathryn.” She said.
“Kathryn,” I tried. I hated calling adults by their first names. “Um, we want to know about the McCaskey kids.”
“Ooh,” Kathryn said shaking her head. “A dark part of history there but still history nonetheless.”
“Yeah, so when did that happen?”
“And how did they die?” Kyle added.
“Well they didn’t die. I mean, they certainly perished in the mines but their bodies were never recovered so we don’t know the answer to that. I would think dehydration, starvation and exhaustion killed them within days of getting lost down there. And to your second question that was…1953, I believe.”
“And the mines closed that year?”
“Well actually the mines officially closed the year after. There was a legal spat between the city and the Prescott family who wanted to leave the mines open until the bodies were found. The city won and the mines were condemned.”
“Wait, why did the Prescott’s care?”
“Don’t you want to write this down?” Kathryn asked.
Kyle tapped his head twice with his finger. Kathryn shrugged and continued.
“Well, the Prescott and the McCaskey family were closely related. Tom Prescott was paying teams of unemployed miners to go down in the mines and search for the bodies. The city had had enough of it, the mountain was unstable and they didn’t want any more deaths. The mines had been abandoned years before and were structurally unsafe. After the city banned the Recovery teams from the mines, members of the Prescott family started going down there themselves. Finally the city had had enough and they had the mines collapsed.”
“With bombs?” Kyle asked.
“Well, with explosives. And that’s what led to the ‘incident’. By this time the mines had been unprofitable for a few years and the city was quite broke. They hired a less than reputable company to collapse the mines and, well, when they set off the explosives, they accidentally broke into Drisking’s water table. The city went into debt trying to purify the water of silt and iron ore. It wasn’t until two years later that things started getting better, thanks to the Prescott’s who truly did revitalize Drisking.”
Kyle’s phone chirped and he pulled it out of his pocket. “It’s Kimber. She wants us to come over.”
“Okay. Thanks Ms. Scanlon. I mean, Kathryn”
“Sure! If you have any other questions feel free to come by. We’re almost always open during the day. Oh! Or you can email me.” She dug into her jacket pocket and pulled out a loose business card. It was creased and had a dusty smudge on it.
“So what do you think?” Kyle asked when we got in the car.
“I don’t know. It’s weird isn’t it? I mean why would the Prescott’s give a shit if the town suffers after they refused to help him find their family and were actively working against them?”
“Maybe they forgave and forgot.” Kyle shrugged.
“Does Jimmy Prescott seem like a guy to forgive and forget to you?”
“Ugh…no. And his dad is even worse.”
“Exactly. Maybe we should-“
“Turn here! Sorry, Kimber’s still babysitting and she’s over on Amhurst.” When we pulled up Kimber was out in the front yard with two young boys who were playing in the driveway. She was holding a sleeping baby and waving to us. We parked in the driveway and she introduced us to the two older kids. They gave us shy hellos and then ran off to continue their game.
Once they’d left we explained everything that had happened to Kimber while she listened and rocked the baby in her arms.
“Sam is right, that doesn’t make sense. But why are we even concerned about something that happened decades ago?”
“Whitney.” Kyle said so I didn’t have to. A flash of surprise crossed Kimber’s face and she walked over to put the baby down in his playpen. Then she walked back and pulled me into one of her famous Super-Comforting-Not-At-All-Awkward hugs. When she released me she began to pace around the driveway. “Okay, so we think Whitney somehow got involved in all of this and, you’re right, if we want to figure this out we need to start at the beginning. Phil is right: every mystery in this town is one piece of a larger puzzle, it’s all related…” She stopped and looked over at us. “We need to go to the source if we want answers.”
“Yeah that’s not a bad idea,” Kyle agreed. “I know he likes to hang out in the Hide-away and get drunk with ex-Sheriff Clery.”
“Ah, no Kyle. Not Jimmy – his dad.”
“Tom? He’s so crazy they put him in a home!”
“He’s the horse’s mouth, though, isn’t he? Jimmy isn’t likely to know half as much as his dad.”
As Kyle and Kimber argued I watched the kids chase each other around the tree in their front yard. There seemed to be something carved in the bark, words, not unlike the Triple Tree at Ambercot Fort. I was too far away to read what it said.
“He got you, he got you!” I heard the youngest one call to his brother. “The Skinned Man got you, now you have to die.”
“Na-uh, Peter, I was touching the tree.”
“No you weren’t! You’re a liar! One of them got you and now you have to meet the Shiny Gentleman!”
“No I don’t!”
“Kimber, Josh is cheating!”
I shuddered and turned away from them. “Where’s the nut house?” I interrupted them. “Is it close?”
“It’s not a nut house, it’s more like a hospice,” Kimber chided. “The rumor I’ve heard is that he’s at Golden Elm and that’s in Cape Girardeau.”
“That’s about 40 minutes away,” Kyle said and pull out his phone. “I’ll check the visiting hours for Tuesdays. Sam, do you work tomorrow?”
“I work every day but I’ll get out of it.” I promised.
“Ok cool. Let’s plan to leave after school.”
The following day dragged on like any last Tuesday of the school year. Most people talked about what they did with their ditch day or complained about a cop showing up at their house to issue them a ticket while sliding less than pleased looks at me.
When the final bell rang at 3:30 I grabbed my bag and booked it out to my car. Kyle and Kimber were already waiting for me.
The drive took longer than we expected when I got lost in Cape Girardeau. The town was bigger than Drisking and the streets weren’t laid out with any sort of planning or logic. By the time we arrived at Golden Elm we only had 20 minutes left for visiting hours.
“We’re here to see Mr. Thomas Prescott,” Kimber told the nurse at the front desk. We let her do the talking since she had a disarming, old-fashioned charm about her that put people in a friendly mood.
“Old Tom? Wow, he hasn’t had a visitor since Christmas when his son came up. Sign the check-in sheet and take a visitor sticker. You’re family then? Do you know where his room is?” The nurse arched a thin, suspicious eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, we don’t.” Kimber apologized. “My mother has been asking me to check in on my great uncle while she’s away doing Doctors without Borders. I should have gotten more information from her but you know, she only has so many minutes to call home.”
“Oh, of course dear! Let me get someone to escort you.”
An orderly led us to Tom Prescott’s room which we found empty. He pointed down the hall and said “He likes to read in the sunroom.”
We walked down the hall and found an old, thin man with sitting alone and whispering to himself. He was sitting at a table in front of a backgammon board moving chess pieces around it.
“Tom Prescott?” Kimber said, smiling.
He didn’t look up and I wondered if he’d heard her at all. Kimber took a deep breath to try again but the old man suddenly slammed his fist on the table.
“I’m him, goddammit, I’m Mr. Thomas Prescott. Don’t call me Tom; people’s kids used to have more respect.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Kimber said gently as she sat down in the chair opposite him.
“You kids have no respect. Do you even know who I am? It’s my son that’s done it. That boy’s momma shoulda whipped him but she was soft and now he’s runnin’ around my town spreading his vulgarity and disrespect.”
“Our apologies, Mr. Prescott, we never meant to be disrespectful. We greatly admire you. You’re the man who built our town into what it is today! Everyone remembers that. Drisking was suffering and the town was dying and then you fixed it. We know that.”
“I did what I had to do,” the old man grumbled. “It was my town. It still is. Who are you, little girl, to come in here and suggest otherwise?”
“Ah, no, no that’s not what I said.” Kimber changed tactics. “And as for who we are, we’re Meera McCaskey’s kids. Do you remember the McCaskeys?”
“Huh. So you’re Aida’s granddaughter. That explains why you’re not there.” We exchanged puzzled looks. “We’re right here, Mr. Prescott.” Kimber said.
“You know what I meant, young lady! They all know. They know I rescued the town, that’s my town. Of course they were going to let me do anything I wanted as long as the money kept coming in. That’s why it’s my town.”
“Is the money still coming in?” Kimber tested.
“Well, you’re here aren’t you? They didn’t like it but they took the money. They didn’t know. Not everything, they didn’t, but they suspected some. And they must have been okay with it because they kept electing Clery and they kept taking the money.”
Prescott picked up a pawn and ran his fingers over it as he talked. “It’s just a powder, you know, so unassuming. A fine, soft powder. The powder doesn’t know what it is, it doesn’t know it’s bad. It’s the people who say it’s bad. But it needed to be done. You know that, Aida, you know we had to do it.” Kimber hooked him in. “I know. I know we had to it but it’s your son. I don’t think he’s doing it right.”
“Well of course he isn’t!” The elderly Prescott slammed his fist on the table again and two rooks tumbled to the floor. “They were mine! He took them from me. He thought he could do it better but he took mine and he ruined my legacy. Decades of work and now it’s all run by the powder. It’s the dust of the crumbled empire!”
“What about the Skinned Men?” I asked, caught up in the moment.
“What are you talking about, boy?” He growled.
“And the treehouse! The Triple Tree, what is it? What is it for?”
“Triple Tree? I didn’t authorize that. We paid triple the price but it was only for a short while, when things were slow. We certainly never charged triple, that’s bad business.”
“Where is Bor-“
“Has my idiot boy been telling you that? Did he offer you triple for them? He’s ruining my town, isn’t he? Goddamn it, Jimmy, you get him in here! Aida, get my boy on the phone, you tell Jimmy I wanna talk him! You tell him they’re still mine! Aida! Aida, get Jimmy on the phone!”
Kimber jumped up and Kyle pushed her behind him as the old man rose to his feet, tall and imposing. We were backing toward the door when the orderly came in with a disapproving look on his face and shooed us out. Long after we’d made it to the lobby we could still hear Tom Prescott yelling for his son.
The ride home was quiet and I spent it trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The Skinned Men, the Triple Tree, the Shiny Gentleman, the powder. These things seemed to have been pulled blindly from the ether, random and meaningless. The veil over my eyes was thick and heavy but I was closer to Borrasca than I’d ever been before. I could feel it all around me but I couldn’t see it. I could almost touch it but I couldn’t yet comprehend it.
I suddenly realized that Kyle was pulling over off the road and I snapped out of my contemplation. He put the car in park and turned around to look at me in the backseat.
“Is this really about Whitney, Sam?”
Kimber watched us with worried eyes.
“Why do you think that? The cops, I mean even your father confirmed that Whitney ran away.”
“I don’t believe them.” I said through clenched teeth.
“Look, Sam, we’re getting pretty deep in here and I am with you every step but I have to know that there’s a reason we’re doing this. And pulling Kimber in too…I have to know this is important to you for the right reasons and not just an…obsession.”
I looked out the window and realized he’d pulled over near the West Rim Prescott Ore Trailhead. He was right to worry and even more so to be protective of Kimber. Kyle was thinking it and so was I: the powder…if Borrasca really did involve moving mass amounts of drugs did I want to involve my friends any further? This wasn’t their fight. I loved these people, could I really risk their safety for my own curiosities and vendettas? But as hard as I wished I could let them go I knew I needed them.
“I have to know what really happened to Whitney.” I whispered.
Kyle turned back around without a word and Kimber placed her hand on mine. I jerked my hand away and crossed my arms and then immediately apologized. Kimber just smiled in a forgiving sort of way.
Kyle sighed. “Sam…“
He was interrupted by the piercing ring of Kimber’s phone. She scrambled for her cell to silence it but when she saw the name on the screen she quickly answered.
“What? Wait, what- what do you mean?”
“No, wait, slow down. Hello?” She took the phone away from her ear. “Something happened to my mom and she’s at the hospital!” Tears filled Kimber’s soft, green eyes.
Kyle threw the car in gear and screeched of the parking lot. We made the 10 mile trip to the hospital in as many minutes, which was criminally fast on surface streets. Kyle stopped the car at the emergency entrance and Kimber and I ran inside.
A deputy was there waiting. He refused to answer Kimber’s desperate questions as he led us to her father. When the deputy swung open the doors I saw my dad standing next to Kimber’s and I braced myself for the worst.
Kimber’s dad took her in one direction and my dad took me in the other. Before he said a word I saw Kimber crumble to the floor on the other side of the room. I looked at my dad helplessly and he gave me a sympathetic nod and pulled me into a hug.
We sat down in a corner and I stared at my hands as he quietly explained that Mrs. Destaro had gone grocery shopping at around 1 o’clock, come home, put the groceries away, made two lasagnas and a meatloaf and put them in the freezer. Then she got in her car, drove to the hospital, parked in the shade, took the stairs up seven floors to the roof and jumped off of it. She lived long enough to apologize to the EMT who found her.
I watched Kimber fall apart as her mother’s body slowly grew cold in the morgue one floor beneath us.