Winding Stair (9781101559239)

Winding Stair (9781101559239) by Douglas C. Jones Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Winding Stair (9781101559239) by Douglas C. Jones Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas C. Jones
overhead. The wind and rain and hail beat against the house, and once, I heard glass shattering. Joe Mountain was squatting beside me in the dark and he pressed something into my hand, round and hard.
    â€œApple,” he said, and I heard him bite into one of his own.
    There was a strange detachment from reality sitting there with no light. Like a vacuum in time and space, or an absence of gravity, where a man had to hold his hand to the floor beneath him now and again to keep from rolling over on his side like one of those ball-bottom dolls children play with. When Schiller and Moon began to talk, their voices came out of the void, disembodied, causing my mind to reshape the structure of their faces from the sounds alone. The sandstone rasp of Schiller’s voice made him seem larger than I knew he was, and George Moon’s slurred speech created the image in my mind of a flat, high-cheeked face, dark and with one milk white eye.
    â€œGeorge, this looks like more than just turning the wolf loose,” Schiller said. “Did Thrasher keep money here?”
    â€œNot that anyone around here ever heard of,” George Moon said. “He made a little each year contractin’, but mostly spent it as he made it. He traded a little corn each year with the store in Hatchet Hill, for tobacco and dress cloth. He may have made a little bettin’ on races. But I don’t think they were after money, except what was layin’ around loose.”
    â€œWhat was it, then?”
    â€œIt was the horse,” Moon said.
    From beside me, Joe Mountain spoke, his mouth full of apple. “There ain’t a horse left on the place now. There ain’t no stock. There’s a milk cow in the barn, been shot half a dozen times, and dead.”
    â€œHe had a few beef cattle,” Moon said. “They’d be up in the woods now, in some of those old clearings, out on spring graze.”
    â€œThey ain’t no cattle tracks out of here,” Joe Mountain said.
    â€œWhat horse are you talking about, George?” Schiller asked.
    â€œHe’s a black racer. A stallion Mr. Thrasher bought in Texas a few years back. All black except for stockings on the rear hocks. Thrasher had some ordinary farm stock, but the black was a racer. Never bred to harness, Cap’n. Just a racer. Mr. Thrasher branded him with a T on the left flank, but it was hid by the saddle fender when he was rigged up. Mr. Thrasher didn’t want no brand that showed on his hide in races, because I guess he didn’t want to mark up that black coat at all.”
    There was a long silence while the storm raged above us. Then Schiller spoke again.
    â€œAll right. The racer’s gone. And the two women. What about the women, George? Tell me about the women.”
    Once more, a long silence. Listening to the rattle of hail on the house, I wondered where the other Choctaw policemen and Blue Foot had taken refuge from the storm. Then George Moon spoke again.
    â€œWell, Cap’n, Mrs. Thrasher was a barren woman but a rich one. Not money rich, but land rich. She’s got family off down south of McAlester somewhere. But she owned this place, her and her first husband. They had no young’uns either. But she got this place when her daddy died, him as had come from Mississippi when he was a boy and took up this land.”
    â€œSure. When Mr. Thrasher married, he got hisself a well-to-do woman.”
    â€œDid she gad around?”
    â€œHell, no. She was a comely woman but a homebody. She visited a little here on the mountain, but that’s about all.”
    It suddenly occurred to me that they were speaking of this woman in the past tense, as though she were already gone. As I sat there in the dark, it was not a comforting thought.
    â€œAll right, George. Now about the girl.”
    â€œA real pretty little thing,” he said. “Blond hair and blue eyes. Jennie is what they called

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