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

Chapter 10 - Council Reports

"Hey, Avery. Any calls?" Jones glanced in my direction as I came into the room. It looked like the whole council was here but the Dunstons weren't. They were waiting by the phone back at home, I was sure.

"I've been out so I guess the machine would have picked up." I didn't offer to check the answering machine, just headed to a large armchair beside the fireplace. Somebody else can be your gopher, I thought to myself, putting on my most innocent, noncommital face.

"There weren't any. I checked when I came back in awhile ago." Smith answered the question. "Coffee's about ready. Anybody want a cup besides me?" She counted hands, then headed to the kitchen.

The group settled down on sofas and chairs around the large coffee table. Jones didn't ask any follow-up questions to my comment about being out, just started taking reports from members of the group. Everybody seemed to have had a job to do during the afternoon.

"Charlie did have a new friend, y'all. Some boy from over in Paxton, supposedly worked at the ranch where she got her horse. First name's Jamie but nobody knows his last name. That's the only person her folks didn't mention. As it turns out, he doesn't work at the ranch over there and the Jacksons have no idea who he was. They thought he might have been one of the show people, maybe just a horse lover there for the show. You know."

Green had eventually talked to all of Charlie's friends, close or not, and that's the only person in Charlotte's life nobody knew anything about.

"According to one of the stable hands some guy they didn't know was here a while helping Charlie with her chores yesterday morning. That could have been him." No-one had seen either this guy or Charlotte when they left. A vague description could have fit half of the male teen population in Simsville.

Silver had spent his time on the computer checking out houses, farms, empty commercial buildings, any place Charlotte might be held without attracting attention. There weren't many rental houses close into town; all were occupied by long-term tenants.

"Several county locations will need further scrutiny I think, seem to be unoccupied at the present, owners dead or moved away. We'll need to take a discreet look up close, Jones. Perhaps someone knows something about these?" He described several places in detail, answering questions as he checked off each one in his pocket notebook. As he read out the locations everyone shook their head. "No." "Uh uh." "Fraid not."

I noted that a couple of his likely spots coincided with those I'd found. I didn't add anything to the conversation, just rose to help Smith bring in a tray with coffee mugs, offered to pour and kept my mouth shut otherwise.

"The phone's set up for all the good it'll do," reported Jones, taking a mug of coffee from my hand with a nod of thanks. I took a mug for myself and settled back down. No-one was taking any note of me, not even Smith. Just like always, I thought.

I'd come up the hard way in Virginia. Ex-military father, stay-at-home mother, one younger brother who was "brilliant, destined for great things." Every small accomplishment I'd had was smiled over and immediately forgotten by my parents. Every small accomplishment of Davie's was gushed over, recounted to anyone who would listen, and remembered ad nauseum forever. Or at least until I left home at eighteen for college in Richmond.

"A pretty girl doesn't need to be smart," mama told me. She never understood why I wanted to go to college. "With your looks, Evelyn, you can marry well, maybe a doctor, maybe even a banker. Wouldn't that be wonderful, a banker in the family!" She'd fluff up a sofa pillow, dust off another knick knack and tut tut every time I tried to talk to her about college. Since I was a slender five feet four inches tall, had naturally curly light brown hair, blue eyes and a few freckles, I guess you could say I was pretty. Not a knock-out like Davie, but okay. To mama's mind that meant a successful marriage and three or four children, no need for higher education unless it was for new recipes or home decorating tips.

Daddy was always busy with Davie's basketball games or with his own friends at the local gun club. His philosophy marched lock-step with mama's. "Go to college if you want, good place to find a husband, just don't expect me to pay for it." Davie, now, that was different Davie was going places! My tall, easy-going blond brother didn't condescend to me, I'm glad to say. He didn't know what he could do about my college dilemma but he knew I'd figure it out.

My high school guidance counselor helped me apply for every possible scholarship. We sat around her desk after school, pored over catalogs and completed application forms. "I know you can do it, Evelyn, you can be anything you want to be. Keep your chin up." And so I did, earning acceptance at several good schools.

I decided on Richmond University. It was one place I couldn't commute to from home. Sharing an off-campus apartment with four other women gave me a way to earn extra spending money. They didn't like housework, I didn't like starving. I worked after school and during every holiday break to finish my undergraduate business degree early, then took the best job offer I received. Mama and daddy came to graduation, spending most of the time telling me about Davie's sports awards, his plans to join the Navy and his latest girlfriend. It was a relief to see them drive away. Davie had sent me a graduation card with the sweetest note, congratulating me on my accomplishments and admonishing me to never come back home if I could help it.

After graduation I moved into a three-room apartment all my own, decorated it with finds from local yard sales and flea markets, and settled down to climbing the first steps on my ladder to a successful career. Six months in the state Auditor's Office, however, taught me first-hand how the promotions system worked. The better jobs went to less qualified males instead of the first-rate females in the department. "Women just get married and have babies and married women move away when their husbands get transferred." Extra training opportunities were offered to the men, seldom to the women. Extra bonuses for overtime went to the men, too. They needed it, they were supporting their family after all.

When a transfer to the new Virginia Homeland Security accounting office became available, I grabbed it up. An equal number of woman as men worked in my new environment, successful career women, most of whom had more education than I did. They encouraged me to begin work on a graduate degree. I did most of the coursework online, took vacation time and a leave of absence to finish it up, and within seven years of leaving home I had a master's in forensic accounting.

Several setbacks had occurred since then, of course. Old habits die hard in the "good old boy system." Promotions were hard earned. I learned to keep my mouth shut until it was absolutely necessary to defend my training, my qualifications and expertise in my chosen field. Sometimes grudgingly, slowly I was accepted as part of the financial forensics team. I loved my work, it was important work, I'd fought hard for the privilege of doing it, and I couldn't wait to get back to it.

Now as I sat there, quietly sipped my coffee and listened to the Simsville City Council iron out their plans, I ironed out a few of my own. Before daylight I'd be scouting out those three likely locations. The sooner Charlotte Dunston was back at home, the sooner I could be out of Simsville and back in Richmond where I belonged.

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 |