Chapter 11: Suspicion
Caleb stepped away from the porch as Wren finished the last of his lunch. Caleb was at a near-complete loss as to how to deliver on a date when they were both closeted to almost the whole county. If word got out about them, it could mean nobody would purchase anything raised by Wren's farm. It could be their undoing.
He made a call, standing out beside the pole where they had installed the camera next to the house. "Caleb!" Tracy's voice was upbeat and happy. "What's goin' on?" Caleb heard Oliver making little airplane noises in the background. She must have him up in her arms as she spoke.
"Hey, Tracy." Caleb leaned against the pole and looked over his shoulder at Wren. He wanted to make sure he wouldn't be overheard. Wren waved from his spot on the porch, and he grinned at Caleb. Caleb smiled at Wren, then went back to his conversation with his sister-in-law, secure in knowing Wren was too far to hear him. "Well, I need some help." He sighed. "I, uh, I want to take Wren on a date, and I don't know how to go about it."
"Awww!" Before Caleb could swear her to secrecy, Tracy loudly proclaimed, "a date! Okay, you came to the right girl, Caleb! What kinda date do ya want?"
Caleb heard Charles say something in the background, and he inwardly groaned. He shook his head but continued. "Well, you know… food, candles, all that romantic stuff." He scuffed his toe in the dirt. "I don't know where to take him without, ah, without people knowing."
Tracy laughed, her voice alive with happiness. "Oh, we can get this done!" She said something to Charles, then came back to the phone. "When did you want to do this?"
"Uh, would… do you think Saturday is possible?" Caleb grimaced. "Err, where are you thinking we'll go?"
"Saturday will be fine. Gives us a few days. Don't you worry about where let me handle all that." There was a shuffling sound as she shifted the phone to her other ear. "Okay." Caleb heard the click of a pen. "Tell me, what sorta stuff do you think you guys will wanna eat?"
After Caleb finished with his call, he and Wren stood in Beecher's empty living room, examining the area. "It's a shame to waste those." Caleb pointed at the handsome, walnut-wood built-ins. They were sturdy shelves in two corners of the room. Despite the advanced age of the shelves, they were still beautiful pieces, darkened by age and the stain used to protect the wood.
They had already emptied the built-ins. The books that used to be there were all carefully wrapped in plastic bags and placed in the barn. There were old volumes of history, hardbound versions of the Farmer's Almanac from years past, and much more. Wren envisioned many nights sitting by a warm fire, paging through those paper treasures. He hadn't really thought about the built-ins qualifying as treasures themselves.
Wren contemplated and slowly nodded. "Yeah. I wonder what it'd take to remove them." He bent down and stuck his head in to look at the way they were fastened to the wall. "Ah, heavy screws in the back, seated flush with the wood."
Caleb was on his knees, his face low, and he looked through the gap between the bottom of the built-in and the floor. "A long strip of wood supporting beneath." Caleb examined the bottom of the shelving. "No screws tying the strip to the wood. It's just resting on it." He smiled at Wren. "We have the time. Let's save 'em."
Wren and Caleb got busy with the removal. The shelves were well-connected with many long, strong screws. It took some time, but they got the first one down. It lay in one solid piece on the floor, then they began to remove the second one.
The final screw came out of the back, and Caleb grinned as they gripped the heavy shelf. "There we…" as it came free, a sliding sound interrupted him, and both of the men looked down at their feet.
A manila envelope with old duct tape attached slid out into view as the built-in moved. It appeared that the tape failed when the furniture shifted, and now the envelope lay in sight at their feet.
"That's weird," Wren said. He and Caleb squatted beside the newly exposed envelope, and Wren picked it up. It was dusty and covered in cobwebs with a piece of old duct tape on each end. "It must have been stuck to the underside of the built-in."
Caleb frowned as Wren undid the two-pronged metal clasp which held it closed. "That was a great spot to hide something." He shook his head. "It had to be hard for Beecher to get up and down. Why would he do that?"
"I don't know." Wren stood by the removed built-in, and he gently dumped the contents on top. There were various pieces of paper inside, and on most of it, Wren recognized his grandfather's writing. There was also a spiral-bound notebook, and Wren slid it over so that it was right-side up. With Caleb at his elbow, he opened it to the first page. Inside was the cramped writing Wren recognized as his papaw's and they began to read.
02 Feb 2009
I wanted to start documenting because I just don't know what the hell my boys will do nowadays.
That fellow from the EPA came by Wade's place again today. Someone tipped off the feds that Wade was using so much nitrate that it was washing into the stream and killing the fish and crawdads. Wade was sure it was Casey who ratted him out. He just made sheriff, and he's the eager sort.
Wade, Jason, and Kyle are all getting investigated, and it doesn't look good for any of them. I'd never call the law on my own boys, but I'm happy that someone did. I hope it wasn't Casey though. That boy doesn't need my three oldest after him, badge or not.
Caleb made a sound as he thought back. "I remember that!" He nodded and tapped the page. "Yeah. Your dad told us some about it."
"Yeah, same. I remember it too." Wren frowned in concentration. "Something happened though. For some reason, the feds dropped the case." He made a disgusted noise. "A lot of bad crap happened that spring, so I had forgotten about the case against them."
Wren spoke of his father's disappearance. Caleb gave him a sympathetic look and a pat on his shoulder. "Yeah. I know."
Wren smiled at his friend. "Thanks. I'm fine." He turned the page, and there were additional entries written. He continued turning them and scanned the topics quickly. "Wow. Papaw kept a journal. There's more in here about the EPA and their investigation." He kept going, then Wren saw a date that he recognized and stopped cold. Caleb noticed Wren's expression, and he read along with his friend.
06 May 2009
Adam is missing. Rachel just called and said he didn't make it home after leaving to repair some fence today on their property. Wren and her have gone out looking for him. His truck is still parked so he couldn't have gotten far. I hope he's all right. I asked his brothers to help her look, and Kyle was the only one to go. I don't know what is wrong with those other two boys. Their brother is missing, for fuck's sake.
I'm going to go take a look at where I can get to. These old knees won't let me hike the hills anymore, but I can go walking by the creek. Maybe he ended up down here at my place for some reason. I have to at least look.
Be alright, son. Please.
Wren blinked. He still remembered that night. They were so worried, and they had yelled themselves hoarse as they stumbled around in the dark. They found his work done on the fence at the far limit of their property, and they tracked him until they lost his trail near the creek. That was one of the few times Wren saw his uncle Kyle concerned for anybody but himself. Kyle had kept going back and forth, looking for where the trail of his little brother might have restarted. Though he was an excellent tracker, Kyle lost the trail and Wren's father seemed to disappear completely.
The next day Kyle was out again with them. By this point, Wade and Jason were concerned enough to bother themselves, and they too showed up.
Wren remembered Jason and Wade's slightly concerned frowns as they stood near the creek and watched Kyle try and track Adam. Adam had been gone more than twenty-four hours, and that meant Rachel could report him missing. She did, and that same day, some folks from the sheriff's office showed up.
Everyone had at least a passing knowledge of one another, and the sheriff assured the family that they'd find Adam. Sheriff Keen brought dogs, but even they lost the trail, right around the same spot that Kyle did.
He was gone. Just, gone. His disappearance was reported as suspicious, but Adam was an expert woodsman. If anybody could disappear in the hills of Kentucky, it would have been him.
Kyle continued to go back to the property, searching for his brother. Wren, Charles, Caleb, and Rachel all did as well. As the weeks passed hope died, and instead they all began to realize that they would never see him again.
There were additional entries in Beecher's notebook. Caleb and Wren lost themselves for a time, reading. Most of the entries concerned Beecher's sadness at the disappearance of Adam, and his growing suspicion that something had happened to his son. Beecher couldn't accept that he would simply run away.
Wren turned to the final page.
30 September 2009
I think I know something awful. I believe that it was Adam. I believe that it was Adam who went to the feds, and I think he turned in his brothers for wrecking the stream and the fields with fertilizer. I've been thinking about this for a real long time, and as soon as Adam disappeared, the case against my boys fell apart.
Rachel doesn't know anything. I asked if Adam might have been involved with the EPA and the investigators who came by. If he was, he kept it quiet. Smart of him to keep her out of it. I tried to talk to someone from the agency, but they refused to give up their source.
I don't have proof of anything. I can't go to anybody with my suspicions, Lord help me. I think one, or more of them killed their own brother.
They both stared down at the entry, stunned into silence as their minds churned. Caleb exhaled and looked over at Wren.
Wren swallowed, then he wet his lips, his eyes blank as he thought. "Casey is coming tomorrow." He slowly nodded, and somehow managed to keep the vast upwelling of emotion out of his voice. "Papaw could have been wrong." His eyes locked on to Caleb's. "But, if dad were the one to report them, then that'd be a hell of a motive."
Caleb nodded. "Maybe Sheriff Keen can find out."
"Yeah. Maybe." Wren put the notebook and the other various items back inside the manila envelope. He felt raw and barely controlled. "Caleb, don't say anything to anybody about this." Wren turned a haunted gaze on him. "If they're capable of this, then there's nothing to keep them from doing it again. We can't endanger anyone else."
Caleb set his jaw and nodded. "Okay." He stepped into Wren and pulled his friend in for a hug. He rubbed Wren's back. "I'm sorry," Caleb whispered as he held Wren.
Wren closed his eyes, and his brain felt like it was going to seize up from all of the thoughts and emotions. "I… I don't know what to even think right now."
"I know." Caleb squeezed him. "Let's wait until Casey comes by. We can see what he thinks."
Wren nodded against Caleb's neck. The two men stood for some time in the quiet space of the old house. As he clung to Caleb, Wren looked down at the envelope. Unfortunately, an old farmer's worst fears made far too much sense to disregard.
Caleb and Wren moved the built-ins out to the barn. They also combed through the entire house, looking for additional clues or notes Beecher may have left. Wren even crawled under the place, just in case Beecher managed to hide something there. They didn't find anything else.
Now Caleb understood why Beecher hid the envelope. The suspicion alone could ruin a man, and since he had no proof, Beecher kept it to himself. Though, he never threw away the notebook and other documents. He kept them, which meant Beecher still suspected, even until the day that he died.
By now it was mid-afternoon. Royally filthy, and covered in dust Wren and Caleb went out to the creek and peeled off their dirty clothes. The water was cold but clear, and they quickly washed the worst of the day's efforts off of themselves.
Wren shivered, and Caleb admired his naked body. Wren noticed and smiled a little at him. Caleb knew Wren still struggled with the information in the notebook. Though, Caleb was impressed by Wren. He was handling matters well, all things considered.
They put on their underwear and shoes and carried their dirty clothes with them over to the tent. The envelope was hidden under Wren's sleeping pad, and he checked to ensure it was safe.
"Wren, you're going to know if someone comes onto the property from the road." Caleb put a warm hand on his back as Wren replaced the sleeping pad and straightened. "Relax."
Wren nodded. "Yeah. I know, I just had to check."
Caleb eyed him. Wren looked exhausted. Both the physical work and the anguish around his father had taken their toll. "Hey. Why don't we take a nap?" He smiled. "We've done a lot today. We could use a break."
Wren sighed. "Yeah." He nodded. "Okay." They both kicked off their shoes, and now wore only their underwear.
This time, Caleb had no assumptions. He lay on his cot while Wren closed up the flap to the tent. Without a word, Wren returned, slipped in beside him on the cot and turned his back toward Caleb.
Caleb smiled and pulled Wren to his chest. "Rest," Caleb murmured.
Wren made a small noise. "Thanks, Caleb." Wren's voice was low, and Caleb heard the fatigue in the tone.
Wren relaxed, and soon he slept. Caleb lay thinking as he held Wren. There was much to consider, and a lot to worry over. He knew Wren was vulnerable, and that he needed closeness. Caleb tried to avoid the expectation that Wren would continue to need him the way he did at the moment.
After a half-hour, Caleb finally allowed his mind to quiet. He was warm and comfortable, and as he fell to sleep, he could pretend that all was well.
Early the next morning, Sheriff Casey Keen drove up the holler in his patrol car. He passed both Jason and Kyle Hambrick's farms on the way, and he idly looked over at Kyle's nearest fields. They were mostly bare this early into the season, but already the neat rows of newly sprouting tobacco greeted Casey's eye. It was the third year for most of those fields. Casey knew Kyle would abandon them, and that he'd move on to yet another plot.
He shook his head. Like many others, he had no great love of Beecher's three eldest. They were not folks Casey enjoyed. He drove on past Rachel's road, and Casey sighed. He still remembered searching for Adam with the worried woman, Kyle, and her son, Wren. 'Maybe I'll stop in, check on Rachel on the way back.'
As he turned down the gravel drive leading to Beecher's farm, Casey's pale green eyes flicked to the little black box mounted about eight feet up on a tree. Surrounded by metal flanges, he caught the glint of glass as he drove.
'Hrm.' Casey slowly continued. He was almost sure that it was a camera. He knew Beecher had left the farm to Wren, the community was small, and word got around. It was a known fact that Beecher's sons expected to inherit the place, so sheriff Keen knew there would be problems from the situation. Additionally, when Casey got the message, Wren needed to make a police report he knew where the source of trouble lays.
He pulled up behind Caleb's truck and got out. Casey noticed another camera on a tall fence post, up safely out of reach. 'Yep, definitely family trouble.'
Wren and Caleb walked toward him from the barn. Wren was putting his phone into his pocket, and he nodded at Casey as they neared. "Hello, Sheriff Keen." Caleb also nodded in greeting.
"Howdy, boys." Casey smiled, his perpetual five o'clock shadow glittered with gray here and there as he did. "So, I hear you wanted to report some mischief on the farm?"
The two young guys glanced at one another, and Casey felt something unsaid pass between them. "Yeah. That's true. But I need to fetch something first." Wren jerked his chin toward the big tent set up on the property, and his manner was serious. "I'll need to get something for you to see. Sheriff, it concerns my dad."
Casey frowned. "Adam?" He scratched the brown hair under his hat. "Well, by all means. Go on."
Wren nodded, and he moved toward the tent. Casey watched him, then focused on Caleb. “You’re pitchin’ in down here? Even knowin’ Wren’s uncles?”
Caleb straightened to his full height. “Yep. Wren can use the help. And I’m not afraid of those boys.”
The barest of smiles rested on Casey's lips. He didn’t want to tip too much toward one party or the other in disputes, but it was tough to stay neutral when it came to that lot.
Wren returned with a thick, manila envelope. Judging by the look in Wren’s eyes as he handed it over, Casey realized that his day had gotten far more interesting than he had planned.
They spent the next half hour going over the documents with the sheriff. “Wren, I’m goin' to do a little diggin’.” Casey carefully put all of the papers and the notebook back into the envelope. He looked seriously at Wren and Caleb. "Boys, you know this isn't proof of anythin'. You can't go tellin' folks those boys had anythin’ to do with Adam's disappearance."
Wren nodded. "I know. But if you could find out who the EPA worked with, and if it was my dad, then that might make for a bigger argument. It might mean things need another look, right?"
The sheriff pursed his lips and nodded. "Maybe." He put the envelope under an arm. "Boys," he sighed, "y'all be careful, all right?"
"Yeah. We will be." Wren had to resist the urge to put an arm around Caleb's shoulders. Instead, he reached and patted the big Shaw boy. "You've got our list of incidents too. I know you've just got our word on those, but I wanted to get it on the record book, in case there's more." Wren grunted as he remembered. "Oh, and Ragan helped us with the fence out near the road. We can get him to back us up if you need."
Sheriff Keen smiled. "I believe you. But, you still can't prove any of those three were the ones to do it." He patted the envelope under his arm. "Same with this. But, I will check into things."
Wren waved as the sheriff left with their police report and the documents written in Beecher's hand. Sheriff Keen was right, none of it proved anything. Yet, Wren couldn't stop thinking about what might have happened between his father and the uncles.
Caleb could sense Wren's unsettled manner. "Hey," he smiled. Caleb seemed unsure what to do with his hands, so he awkwardly put them into his pockets. "So, I guess we can hold off on the whole date thing." He shrugged. "Doesn't seem like it'd be high on your list right now."
Wren laughed. "Honestly, I need something to look forward to." He pushed Caleb's chest a bit playfully, trying to lighten the mood. "You're not getting out of it."
Caleb grinned. "I don't want out of it."
They gazed at one another, and Wren bit his bottom lip. Caleb looked so damnably handsome standing there in the early morning sun. Caleb wore a half-buttoned flannel shirt with a white t-shirt beneath, jeans, and his worn work boots. A pair of leather gloves poked out of his back pocket. Caleb was ready for their planned work of tearing down the house today, and it showed. Wren had the urge to feel his skin under his hands, and he reached out for Caleb.
Wren put a hand on the side of Caleb's face. His big friend smiled under that touch. Just as Wren was about to pull him in for a kiss, his phone vibrated. Wren chuckled. "Hang on," Caleb smirked as Wren pulled the phone out of his pocket. Their camera had taken a picture of a flatbed truck with a big excavator on the back. "Oh!" He stepped back from Caleb. "Matt's here."
Caleb nodded. "Ah, okay." By now they could hear the engine of the flatbed, but the camera had given them a few more seconds of warning. Caleb made a face and pushed at his groin. "Damn it. Matt will think I've got a thing for heavy equipment."
Wren snickered. The two guys walked out to meet Matt as the big truck appeared around the curve in the gravel road. As the vehicle pulled up, Wren looked at the excavator.
The truck stopped in a hiss of hydraulics and the crunch of tires on gravel. "Well," Caleb smiled at Wren. "Are you ready?"
Wren looked at his grandfather's home and tried to etch it into his mind. The profile, colors, and the features of the place - all of it mattered to him. Matt's door opened, and his boots hit the ground just as Wren sighed. Wren looked up at Caleb. "Yeah. It's time for the next chapter."
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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