Frienemies

Chapter Three

Senator Jeb Browning raked his right hand through his graying black hair. His household ledger lay open before him on the roll-top desk. “Angel, have you learned nothing of finances? I have had you educated in the best school. If you were ambitious enough I would send you to college.” He sighed and picked up the quill pen. “This is the last time. Do you understand me?” He wrote out the check.

Angel smiled. “Yes, father.” If he could be so generous with the likes of the Jacksons then he should not be so reluctant to help his own flesh and blood.

***

The scent of pine and juniper mingled with the new blossoms of rhododendron as Fawn approached the embankment. This would have been a lovely day of solitude and reminiscence had it not been for the nagging feeling that something was amiss. There had to be a reason why the horse went down the embankment. There had to be a reason for the hornets swarming.

Keeping her feet sideways to avoid slipping she made her way down the embankment. Something was glistening on the rocks near the broken harness. Closer inspection revealed clear fishing twine. That would not be unusual if the twine had not been tangled in the harness. She looked behind her and to the left where the hornets’ nest hung. The same color twine was dangling from the nest. Following the line she saw that it led across the road. She found the end tied to a sturdy pine sapling. Who wanted Mom dead? Why? If only she had found the line before the rain yesterday, perhaps she would have seen footprints. Then again, everyone wore shoes or boots. The likelihood of identifying the culprit by footprints hardly seemed likely.

***

Doctor Henry arrived with a new crutch for Nana. No one answered the door when he knocked so he let himself in. “Miss Jenny?” he called as he waited by the door.

“Doc Henry, is that you? I’ll be out in just a minute. You can have a seat on the couch.” Her one crutch tapped across the floor in alternate rhythm to her other foot as Nana hobbled across the bedroom floor. By the time she sat down on the couch next to the doctor, her heart was racing and her left leg muscles were dancing a jig from hip to toes. She nearly fell back against the back of the couch, leaned her head toward the corner and closed her eyes for just a moment.

“Excuse me, Doc, but that was a chore getting across that floor to come out here. I’ll be fine in a minute.”

Doc Henry patted her hand. “No hurry. I brought you a new crutch. Have you been getting enough rest?”

Nana’s breathing slowed as her heart settled into its normal rhythm. She slowly sat upright and answered him. “Yes. Thanks. Woke up a few times, thinkin’ I heard prowlers. Prob’ly just the wind or something. Can I get you a drink of water?”

“No, thanks. If I want water I’ll get it. You need to recover your strength. Sit still a mite while I check your vitals.” He held her wrist to check her pulse. Normal. He checked the wound on the side of her head. The blood had clotted and begun to form a scab. “Everything looks good. Can I get you anything?”

Nana tilted her head in thought. “Reckon I could use some quinine water. Feels like I got worms crawlin’ inside my leg from hip to toes. Sometimes it hurts.”

“I got some in the wagon. You sit tight. I’ll go get it.”

“How much is it gonna cost me?”

“An invite to dinner. Rumor is you’re a mighty fine cook and my wife could use a break.”

“You got it. Y’all be here Friday around five. Thanks, Doc. I appreciate it.”

***

Fawn crossed the road back to the embankment. She again made her way to the creek and retrieved the broken, mangled harness. Still jumpy from the break-in the day before, her nerves were tense, on edge. A twig snapped behind her. She whirled with her arm in the air, slashing the harness across the face of her would-be attacker. His left hand went to the bloody welt on his face while his right grabbed for Fawn. She ducked away from his grasp and rammed her head into his abdomen, knocking him to the ground. She rammed the heel of her booted foot into his groin and ran for the house.

She hadn’t heard the doctor come up the road. Perhaps the combined singing of birds and rush of the water over the rocks in the creek drowned out the noise of the wagon. Not to mention her mind was focused on other matters.

Panting and gasping for breath, she yanked open the door and bolted it from the inside.

“What on earth?” Nana said.

Doctor Henry took one look at Fawn, looked out the window, and said, “Where’s the shotgun?”

“Propped against the wall next to my bed,” Nana said. “What’s going on, Fawn?”

“Doc, is he coming?” Fawn choked out the words between gasps.

“Didn’t see anyone but you’re white as a new flour sack. Where is the varmint?”

“Out by the creek. I went out to try to figure out why the horse went over the embankment. The rain washed away the wagon tracks but I remembered where they were when we came back from the funeral.”

“Did you recognize him?”

“No. Never saw him before, but he may be in need of your services. I got him pretty good before he could get me.”

“Fawn Jackson, I’m asking you for the last time,” Nana yelled, “what is going on?”

Finally Fawn was able to sit down and tell Nana the whole episode.

Doc went out the door with the shotgun in hand. “You ladies stay here. I’ll be back directly.”

When the doctor arrived at the scene he could see where the man had fallen, but there was no one there now. There was no sign of hoof-prints or wagon wheels either. The man must have hidden his horse or other conveyance some distance away where there would be no evidence and he could sneak up on someone. That would mean he had been watching the house. For how long? And why? He went back to the house.

“You two ladies are not safe here. There has obviously been someone watching. . .”

“That’s right,” Fawn interrupted. “Mom’s death was no accident.” She realized that she was still holding the piece of harness. “Look at this. See this twine here? It was wrapped around the hornet’s nest in that tree that overhangs the bank. It had been strawed across the road and attached to a pine sapling. Obviously someone was waiting and watching for an opportunity to cause the horse to bolt. There must be a connection between that and our house being ransacked.” She gulped as memory suddenly dawned. “Oh, no. I never did go check the upstairs rooms.”

“You let me go up ahead of you, Fawn. I don’t want anything happening to you two.” Doc was insistent.

The upstairs rooms had also been thoroughly ransacked. Fawn sank to the floor and moaned. “Will this ever end? What are they after? Who is doing this?” She looked up at the doctor.

“I don’t know yet, but you better believe I’m going to try to find out,” he answered. I’m going to the police before I go home. Can you shoot that gun?” He asked Fawn.

“Yes, sir. My dad and brother said we womenfolk needed to be able to defend ourselves while they were off soldiering. I was only nine at the time but they taught me how to aim and shoot, same as they did Mom and Nana. Of course, with Nana’s arthritis we were hoping we wouldn’t have to depend on her. But we learned.”

“Good. You keep the door locked after me and keep that shotgun ready. If anybody you don’t recognize comes to the door you point that gun at them and tell them to get off your property or get shot. You hear?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, Dr. Henry.”

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