The Simsville Inheritance
Copyright ©2006 Elizabeth G. Cox. All rights reserved.

Chapter 4 - Who Are You, Really?

Tea stains would come out, right? I tried to brush off the splatter from my jeans leg while covering up my laughter with a coughing fit, trying to catch my breath. Silver handed me several paper towels from a roll in his desk drawer and apologized profusely. Silver puttered around a bit wiping up dribbles of tea from the top of his desk, then sat back down in his swivel chair with an amused expression.

"I'm sorry, guess some lemon stuck in my throat or something," I muttered through a cough, rising from my chair, picking up my purse and setting down my tea glass at the same time. I had to get out of here.

"I'll check back another time, I'm so sorry for spilling the tea." Talking and walking around the counter, I was out of the door before Silver could get out of his chair. As I drove back to the house I considered various questioning methods that wouldn't cause a rift between me and my newly-acquired staff. One thing's for sure, I want some straight answers to this peculiar town.

I found Smith scraping carrots at the kitchen sink.

"The oddest things happened downtown, Smith. I need to ask Jones a couple of questions. Do you know where I might find him?" I tried to keep my voice light and upbeat.

"Probably down at the stable about now, I think he and Black were going over the current billings." She dried her hands on a dishtowel, turned her head and spotted the tea stains on my shirt. "Oh my, better pull that off and let me peroxide it for you. Tea, right?"

"Tea on shirt and jeans, but they're okay, I'll do it later." I left my purse on the counter and headed back outside. Jones and Black were sitting in the little stable office, an upturned nail keg between them serving as the base for a checkerboard.

With a grin Black moved his king plop, plop, plop across the board, collecting three red men. I might have guessed Black would be using black checkers. Jones glanced up when I paused in the doorway.

"Jones, I'd like to talk with you a minute when you have a chance," I said calmly. Nonchalantly. He excused himself from the game and walked with me over to the corral fence. We watched a young man I hadn't met brush down one of the boarded horses. He seemed very good at handling the lively colt, using a steady hand and a soft voice.

"I had the most interesting trip downtown." I paused a moment. "Everybody already knew who I was and I didn't know a hill of beans about anybody. Just what is this place? Who are you, really?"

Jones continued watching the young fellow and colt for a moment, then just said, "Let's go inside. Want a cup of coffee? I see you've already had tea..."

I clenched my jaw shut and turned toward the house. Stopping off in the kitchen, Jones asked Smith to brew a pot of fresh coffee and bring it up when ready, then suggested the office for our talk. In the office he pulled around an upholstered armchair for me, another one for himself and we sat facing each other over the coffee table.

"I planned to have this talk later this evening but now is as good a time as any. You met some of the townfolk?" I just nodded. "Must not have been as tactful as they should, first day." I didn't answer and he took a deep breath.

"Well, Simsville isn't exactly what it appears on the surface, you're right. It was just a small town dying on the vine when your Aunt Myrtle and Dave first arrived on the scene. He'd inherited the property, came to check it out and had every intention of just selling everything off. He didn't need the headache of trying to keep up with rents, maintenance, aggravation, all that, and Myrtle had her hands full herself. They just put everything up for sale and closed the house. A month or so later, their house in Atlanta went up in flames during a bad thunderstorm, everything either got burned up or water damaged so bad it wasn't livable. That was twenty-four years ago."

I was hearing this story for the first time. I couldn't believe Aunt Myrtle had never told me about her house burning down. Of course, I would have been about four years old at the time.

"So, while their Atlanta house was being rebuilt they came on back here and opened the house again. It was furnished, didn't take much to get some locals to come in and help out. They see-sawed back and forth, here a while and Atlanta a while, trying to juggle rebuilding, jobs, and run this place too."

I wondered what kind of jobs allowed them that sort of leeway.

"But then, well, they just fell in love with Simsville. It was so different from what they were used to. Small, but with potential. They had enough money to see to the streets, and the water, electric service, phones, all that stuff in the business section had been neglected for a long time. By the time their house in Atlanta was ready to move in, they'd made up their minds not to sell this place. They kept right on dividing their time between the two, right on up to the end."

Smith came in with a tray carrying coffee, cream, and a fresh-baked cinnamon coffeecake. I saw a glance pass between the two of them as she rose from setting down the tray. We helped ourselves and Jones continued his narrative.

"Thing is, this quiet little town was so attractive to Dave, Myrtle too, they invited some acquaintances to come visit. In the next four or five years, three of those acquaintances retired and relocated to Simsville. The next year or so, a few more came. Then it was time for Dave to retire and he and Myrtle lived here more or less permanently. They didn't use the Atlanta place much the last few years. She put in that fancy shower upstairs, said it helped keep her arthritis in check. She pretty much ran the stables and the house herself. Dave took care of most everything else, maintenance, security, all that until he got too sick. You know about his lung cancer."

"So a lot of people already knew each other when they moved here?" Similar tastes among friends I could understand. I began to relax.

"Oh yes, they knew each other, a lot of them. Then they talked the place up to other friends and it kind of mushroomed from there. By the time your aunt died there were dozens of these acquaintances, former co-workers a lot of them, all living here, fixing up the town. Course, by then most of them had found second careers working here in town or nearby. Running gift shops, the saloon, helping out in the stables, over at the bank. Silver down at the Cryer has been here the longest. Far as I know he's the oldest resident in town." He took a swig of coffee and a bite of coffeecake, looked over at me to see if I had any questions so far. I didn't, yet.

"About eight years ago, when Dave got really bad, he called me up. He knew I was piddling around, not doing much. Been retired a couple of years by then, Smith and me both. We came along to see what was what, made our decision before the day was out and we've been here ever since. After Dave was gone, I tried to help Myrtle out as much as I could, and since then well, you know."

I sipped the last of my coffee, thinking. Okay, that's a little unusual, so many friends all moving to same little town. But still... "Okay, why didn't anyone just let me know up front they were aware of who I was. It wasn't any secret."

"They didn't know if you were going to stay or go, maybe put the place up for sale. I expect they were trying to put their best foot forward but looks like they didn't pull it off very well. We've all gotten sort of settled, set in our ways here. Hate to see somebody upset our apple cart, so to speak." He was smiling a little, a twinkle in his eye as he spoke those last few words. He set his cup down, leaned back in the chair, and it looked like he was deciding on something, before he spoke again. The smile faded into a more serious expression.

"Is there more to this story, Jones?" I wiped my sticky fingers on a napkin and refilled my coffee mug.

"A bit more. It's well, it's what we all did for a living before we moved here. We've been pretty careful over the years, but we knew after Dave died that sooner or later Myrtle would be gone too. They were considerably older than most of us, you know. But Myrtle clued me in to your own occupation, Avery. That's the only reason I can tell you what I'm about to say."

"I've been an accountant for several years, what's that got to do with anything?" I said it with a calm voice.

"Yeah, sure. Your security clearance is nearly as high as mine. You're one of only three forensic accountants for Homeland Security in the State of Virginia." I didn't choke and spit out my coffee, I just shook my head a little and settled back in my chair. This was going to take longer than I'd thought.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 |