Can a dead man reach out from the grave to exact revenge against those responsible for his death? Welcome to the eleventh installment of a story that explores that possibility. If you've not done so, read the story from the beginning HERE.
Steve was still trying to digest the cop's last words to him as he neared the unpaved road that would take him to the Nolan residence. He'd seen the reaction to his presence from the townsfolk, and that had only been fortified by Jack's comments back at the gas station. If all that weren't enough, the police officer had told him to watch his back.
He turned onto the gravel road and slowed down to cross the narrow bridge that spanned a small brook. The timbers creaked in protest as the car slowly inched its way to the other side. He was not surprised that the structure was still in need of repair after all the years of neglect.
His thoughts were beckoned back through the mists of time and he could see youthful versions of Eddie and himself at play beneath that old bridge. In its shadow their bare feet were tickled by the cool waters of the brook. The shade provided by the bridge offered asylum from the hot July and August rays of the sun. Sometimes they would turn over submerged rocks looking for the small crayfish that called the brook home. He smiled for a moment, fondly remembering that they used to call the small crustaceans "crawl dabbers."
There were three houses nestled among a stand of tall sycamores, each dwelling a hundred yards or so from its nearest neighbor. The Nolan's house lie at the terminus of the bumpy road. The house and surrounding property appeared unchanged since he'd last been there.
He was climbing the brick stairs, wary of the crumbling mortar when the front door swung open. Agnes Nolan, looking well preserved for her eighty-odd years, stood in the shadow of the entrance with outstretched arms.
"Steven Cooper, as I live and breathe!" He surrendered to her impassioned hug and returned her gesture by gently patting her back and shoulder. Despite her teary demeanor she steered him inside and unceremoniously led him to the dining room table. His eyes widened in wonder as he looked upon a still steaming apple pie, place settings for two and a pot of piping hot coffee neatly placed as if in anticipation of expected company.
"I just finished setting the table when I saw you pull up in front of the house," she said cheerfully as she motioned for him to sit. "You were always on time when it came to my fresh baked apple pies."
"That's because you bake the best apple pies in all of Tennessee," Steve responded trying to suppress his troubled thoughts. How could she have possibly known he'd be there at that precise time? His decision to come there at that particular time had been a last minute, spur of the moment decision.
There wasn't much said until after she had placed generous slices of the pie on each of their plates. While pouring coffee into their cups she asked if he had started a family of his own. When he shook his head she seemed disappointed, but quickly changed her questions to that of his his career.
"I'm a software engineer for a large computer company," Steve answered.
"I always knew you'd be successful. You always liked all that electronic stuff," she beamed. "Eddie too..." her voice trailed off and she tried to hide her fading smile by raising the coffee cup to her lips. Little else was said until they finished their pie and coffee. Though she mildly protested, she relented and allowed Steve to clear the table and put everything into the sink. As he did this she busied herself by covering the pie and placing it on the counter.
Steve was growing uncomfortable for there were too many memories resonating within that house. Like many elderly people, his own mother no exception, Agnes Nolan's house was a veritable museum paying tribute to the past. Each wall, every shelf and table were shrines of yesteryear. Many of the old photographs were of Eddie and of his sister Marjorie. He was unnerved at just how prominent his own likenesses were displayed throughout the house.
Anxiety began to come over him as she guided him into Eddie's old bedroom. He had spent many hours in there with his late best friend. They had planned their futures and had shared their darkest secrets and fears within those four walls. Both had envisioned themselves as the next Steven Jobs or Bill Gates. Steve had managed to pursue his interest in computers but without the success he had envisioned. Eddie ... Eddie was never given the chance to realize his dreams.
"Now, that's odd!" Mrs. Nolan exclaimed breaking his train of thought. She was standing before an open closet. "It was hanging right there next to his red sweater."
Steve moved next to her and asked, "What's that, Mrs. Nolan?" He was uncomfortable looking upon the remnants of Eddie's old wardrobe.
She looked at him, a bewildered look to her countenance. "His favorite suit, the powder blue one he loved so much ... It's missing."
Steve's head began to throb. He felt a sudden dizziness and his legs seemed barely able to support his own weight. The blurred blue images he had been imagining earlier popped into the forefront of his thoughts. He shook his head trying to dismiss any possible connection to Mrs. Nolan's troubling discovery.
"Oh, silly me. Please excuse this feeble old lady, Steven," she said placing her hand on his arm. "Marjorie, dear Marjorie, she must have moved it. She's been telling me for the longest time that we should put Eddie's old clothes in storage bags."
The telephone rang at the moment. Steve did not want to hear any more about that blue suit. He let out a sigh of relief as she answered the phone. "Hello?" she said to the caller. "Yes. Yes, dear. He's right here. Hold on, I'll put him on the line."
She motioned for him to take the receiver, "It's that sweet sister of yours, Catherine. She wants to talk to you."
As he took the receiver from her hand he was puzzled. How did Catherine know he was over at the Nolan house? "Cath, is everything all right?" There was a foreboding air about the pause that ensued before she replied. Regardless of how she knew where to locate him, she would not have been calling unless something was wrong.
"Steve, you better get over here. It's mama. The doctor's here and he just called for an ambulance. Hurry, please!"
( To be continued... Echoes of Eddie -12 .)