~ the raven chronicles ~ 37

1 Jan

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Fr. Michael Leavell, OP.
Sacred Heart Church
Raven, Ohio

November 22, 1932

With my hand clasped in commitment with his nemesis, I pondered Wallace’s possible reactions to my compact with Sheriff Blackwell; though their mutual antipathy is long-lived, the origin is a complete mystery to me.

Wallace and Blackwell appear to be men cut from the same cloth; men ready to deal with life on their own terms; men who regard destiny and fate nothing more than self-fulfilling aspects of existence.

On the few occasions that I have pressed Wallace about his relationship with the Sheriff, he merely emitted some guttural sounds and said that he didn’t care to discuss the “lop-eared jackass”.

My consideration was interrupted by the telephone in Sheriff Blackwell’s office; he glanced over at his desk and said, Infernal thing; Always seems to ring just before Thelma gets here. The telephone sounded again; the Sheriff gave no indication that he was inclined to answer it. On the third ring, unease flickered through me; I judged the sensation as just another physical manifestation of the ceaseless foreboding that is my constant companion of late.

raven BO-Depot2The phone rang once more, then stopped mid-chime.
Moments later a knock sounded at the office door.
What is it, Paul, Sheriff Blackwell said.

Stationmaster on Page Street; Wants to speak with you.

Without further ado, the lawman stepped over to his desk, picked up the receiver, and spoke with authority; Blackwell here.

After a listening pause, the Sheriff launched into a verbal reprimand aimed squarely at the person on the other end of the line.

When was that; And you waited till this morning; You’ve must got lanterns over there; And probably a gun; No, don’t touch a thing now; Just keep that man standing watch; I’ll be right over.

Blackwell placed the receiver back on the cradle. Cretins and morons abound, he said; There’s a body over by the tracks near Page Street; A woman; Engineer on a freight train spotted her down in a cluster of brush sometime just before sundown; Called at the next stop but the night porter didn’t even go out and check until an hour or so ago; Said he read about the ‘mauling mystery’ in the newspapers and didn’t want to go off into the woods at dark. Managed to convince himself it was a deer killed by feral dogs, until he finally went out and discovered different.

At the mention of  ‘mauling mystery’  I pictured Kendree Sinclair discovered by the roadside torn to pieces and my unease morphed into a crushing sense of inevitability. I’ll go with you, I said.

Sheriff Blackwell simply nodded at me; I followed as he strode from his office back out into the bullpen.

Ethel McCutcheon still sat in the wooden chair, now pulled close to the iron stove, no longer sobbing, but deathly still and staring off to some distant place that only she could see.

She glanced up, searched my eyes for some glimmer of salvation, and saw that none resided there. Whatever hopeful flame of motherly passion still burned in the woman’s breast, I knew that it was for naught; dead or alive, the young girl that once was her beloved daughter, was now lost to her forever.

Paul, Sheriff Blackwell said to his Deputy, Father and I are going over to the Station; Stay with Mrs. McCutcheon until Thelma gets here; She’ll know what to do.

The Deputy merely nodded assent.846-02793369

Sheriff Blackwell donned his heavy coat; I wrapped my scarf around my neck; Ethel McCutcheon returned her attention to the iron stove, and the pathetic creature gazed into the miniature inferno raging just beyond the little vent wheel; a mirror of the miniature hell that now ravaged her, body and soul.

*****

We exited the office into a dawn that ran a long yellow-grey streak across the horizon; I judged by the time we reached the station that the sun would be above the tree line, yet still below the gray shroud that covered the rest of the firmament; no matter how muted, I did not relish the prospect of viewing in daylight what I knew awaited us.

The Sheriff and I climbed into his cold car; the recent dream of my Grandmother came upon me and her caution echoed in my mind; “Be on guard, Michael, even when ye do not believe in my fairy tales any longer. Be vigilant, and you will be well served.

My preoccupation with the details of that vision filled my mind during our short, wordless journey; I was barely aware of my surroundings until we pulled up at to the rarely used hitching rail next to the small terminal.

mod b&omap82aThe Baltimore and Ohio runs through Raven, east to west, on through Indiana to Chicago. The tracks are well traveled, both with commercial and passenger trains, but there is a lull here in the traffic each day beginning late afternoon that can stretch far into the night. Persons changing trains during that interval, or persons waiting on a train, with nowhere else to stay, often face a lengthy sit in the station, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning; a pang struck my conscience at the prospect that, by my selfish actions, I had driven someone I professed to care for to seek refuge in that lonely place.

The Sheriff and I disembarked his car and entered the provincial terminal. A man stood in conversation with the clerk behind the ticket window; noticing our arrival, he stepped hurriedly toward us.

Sheriff, glad you’re here, the man said with hand extended.

Sheriff Blackwell declined the offered greeting and said to me, Father, this is Bob Craddock, Stationmaster here at Page Street; For what that’s worth.

Craddock slowly wiped his untaken hand on his trousers, swallowed hard and said, Glad you’ve come along, Father.

A priest might be just what you need up here, Sheriff Blackwell interjected; though I don’t know if prayer will protect half-wits from gumming up the works.

Blackwell’s craggy personality combined with these latest harsh comments, triggered the tipping point where I began to share Wallace’s sentiments toward the County Sheriff.

Anyone here able to identify the body, I asked.

We’ve all taken a look this morning, Craddock began, then hesitated, as if suffering embarrassment; I mean, not out of any prurient interest you understand, just trying to be helpful.

Well that’s good to know, Sheriff Blackwell said; But I damn well wish someone could have been helpful before that body laid out on the ground all night.

Craddock had no reply; he glanced nervously behind him at the man in the ticket window.

You want to show us the way, or just stand here and feel guilty for whatever it is you and your men did or didn’t do, the Sheriff asked.

Craddock set his jaw, looked at the Sheriff and said, Please, follow me,

Our party walked out onto the Waiting Platform, then down a short set of steps, over a low brick wall onto the tracks. We quickly trestlereached a trestle that spans a small ravine and our progress slowed. As we carefully negotiated our way across the chasm, a bitter breeze swirled gently over the cold steel rails and up the legs of my trousers, as if the cold hands of the Devil were reaching for us from the depths of Hell; it occurred to me that the Arctic wind will burn human skin just as rapidly as flame; perhaps our notion of Hell as a place of conflagration is mistaken; perhaps Hell consists of cold desolation that is beyond our imagining.

After a trek westward of about 30 yards with our heads bowed into the wind, a figure with a lantern appeared out of the trees up ahead and crested the rail bed. 20 more yards and our party came face-to-face with the watchman.
Blackwell looked the man up and down then launched into another accusatory assault.

You’ve been drinking again, Huffaker.
I’ve not.
Got the look of wop gin about you.
I’ve not at all.
I’ll lay there’s an empty bottle down there where you been.
Have a look, you’ll not find one.
The Stationmaster broke in; Let’s finish the business at hand.
When you send a toper to do your business, Craddock, there is no finish.
Now see here, the Stationmaster replied, you’ve no right to speak to me that way.

As the Sheriff continued bickering with Huffaker and Craddock, I peered over the rail bed. Some 40 feet down the slope, I discerned the sole of a shoe protruding from beneath a blanket spread on the ground.

The petty conversation between the three men rambled on behind me, and grew into an annoyance. I glanced around at the disputants, turned away from them again and peered over the precipice once more. I faltered a moment, gathered my resolve, then stepped off the tracks onto the slope; I immediately lost my footing on the loose rock, but managed to grab hold of a low hanging limb and break my impending fall.

I quickly regained a semblance of balance and continued on down the hill, staying upright on the icy ground by clinging to trees and brush that adjoined the barren corridor that led to the blanket; Sheriff Blackwell called repeatedly for me to wait. After I negotiated the slope to my destination, I planted my feet and just stared at the protruding shoe.

You should’a waited, Father, the Sheriff said as the three men came to a staggered halt beside me; You could break your neck easy doing that.

I didn’t answer, I just kept my eyes riveted on that shoe.

Alright, Sheriff Blackwell finally said, let’s see what we got.

The watchman lifted the blanket and exposed the body.

My first thought was that a child had thrown a broken doll from a passing train.
That notion soon gave way to the realization that I was gazing upon the body of the woman I had known in life as Sadie Faire.

Sweet Jesus, the watchman whispered.
What, you ain’t seen this yet, the Sheriff asked.
No; Blake found the body and covered it up; I didn’t want to see.
Huffaker gagged, thrust the lantern on Craddock, staggered a few feet to a nearby tree and retched.
He’ll need a drink after this, the Sheriff said.

I set down here the exact details of what we saw for no salacious reason—it pains me beyond description—I do it in order that I may remember what was done by the beasts of this world to a fellow human being, to a child born of mother, and for however fleetingly, a woman for whom my affections were out of proportion to time and circumstances.

Sadie Faire lay face down and splayed on the ground; her dress and overcoat had been torn away from her body and twisted into a great cord that entangled her right arm and trailed above and beyond her head onto the ground—I believe the bundle had been used as an ersatz rope to drag her to this spot; her right foot lacked a shoe; a pair of silky tap pants tangled her left ankle; stockings without garters still covered both legs and ended just above her knees; her thighs and lower back were severely bruised; dried blood crusted the cleft of her buttocks; she was completely naked from the waist up; her left arm was akimbo; the hand swollen and broken, fingers posed in directions all against the laws of anatomy; her once beautiful face lay on right cheek; the upturned left was covered in matted blood, from the scalp above her ear down to her neck; her skull had a plainly visible tubular indentation that ran perpendicular to her jaw line; a gruesome tattoo that told the tale of what had probably been her death blow; how much torture and degradation she had endured prior, was left to the wild imaginings engendered by the defiled state of her corpse.

Overwhelmed by images of the horror that must have been visited upon the delicate beauty that now lay on the ground despoiled, I closed my eyes and prayed in an attempt to banish the evil tableaux from my mind. When my eyes came open, I caught sight of a glint in the light dusting of snow. I knelt and gently brushed away some leaves near her mangled left hand; I discovered the clutch of a rosary of crystal, adorned with a silver crucifix.

What you got there, Father, Sheriff Blackwell said.
A rosary; I didn’t realize that she was Catholic.
You knew her then.

To this day, I regret that I answered like a Judas, and in so doing, gave her tormentors a small, vile victory. I didn’t really know her, I replied; Encountered her once at the Grand Hotel.

Sheriff Blackwell held his eyes on me, and I felt him weigh the obvious discomfort in my reply as he tried to measure if it indicated some type of culpability on my part.

Alright, Huffaker, he finally said to the watchman, cover her back up; I’ll call the Coroner’s Office to send someone as soon as they can; That alright with you, Father; Anything else you need to do here.

I just looked at Sheriff Blackwell; I was loathe to leave Sadie there any longer amid the brambles and frost, but I told myself twas not my place to carry her away; In reality, I feared that given the opportunity, a compulsion to hold her lifeless body might be as great as my urge to hold her in life had been; and as a result of such action, I would be misjudged, and disgrace her further in the process.

I’m afraid that’s the best we can do, I replied.

*****

raven bo-0126-Summit_800The climb back up the slope seemed interminable, the weight upon me like a barrow of bricks.

As our party breached the top of the slope and gathered, I looked eastward, directly up the tracks into the muted, risen sun.

I saw a figure standing at the edge of the platform, gazing our direction. I shielded my eyes and traced the shape of an elderly woman, short and rotund in her large wool coat, a small carpet bag suspended from her tucked arms. From the looks of her, any rational person would have judged her to be just another traveler, curious about the goings on up the tracks from where she patiently waited for her train, but my sixth sense nudged me and whispered that she was a harbinger.

Sheriff Blackwell, bringing up the rear, finally joined the rest of our party and we proceeded to carefully make our way up the tracks and over the trestle’s cross ties.

The woman on the platform stood watching us until we had traversed about half of the distance back to the station, then she abruptly broke off her vigil and walked inside. Her sudden departure caused me to hasten onward. I did not realize the distance placed between myself and my comrades until Sheriff Blackwell called to me and I glanced back over my shoulder.

Father, you’ve suddenly got somewhere to get to?

Without reply I plowed ahead, jumped the small retaining wall, vaulted up the steps and into the station; I looked around the waiting room; the woman was nowhere to be seen; I walked the length of the front windows and did not espy her anywhere outside; I went to the ticket window and inquired of the man behind the bars; he said he had not seen the woman or sold a ticket to anyone since the Sheriff and I had arrived.

As I stood perplexed, my three companions entered; Sheriff Blackwell stomped the snow from his boots and eyed me suspiciously; Huffaker walked to the stove, set down his lantern, and thrust out his hands to warm them; Craddock, seemingly eager to end this matter quickly as possible offered Blackwell the immediate use of the station phone to call the coroner.

I’ll take care of that at my office, Blackwell replied, without moving his gaze from me; I’ve got to make a few notes before I call the Coroner; You ready to go, Father.

Yes, I said; I’m ready.

*****

We sat silently together in the Sheriff’s car for several minutes; he spoke as he finally started the engine; Mind telling me what that was all about, there at the end, running back to the Station like that.

I’m not really sure, I said.

The woman on the platform, Blackwell said.

I have no idea who she is, I replied; But I do know that the Tavish thugs are responsible for butchering that young woman.

I figure it that way too, Blackwell said; One of their whores; Some kind of revenge, the way they killed her; I’ll get a warrant and go out to the Hotel before the day is over; I’m going to need some help; Extra guns.

I own a revolver, I said; And Wallace will go with us; If I ask him.

After a moment of consideration, the Sheriff said, I guess that’ll be alright, can’t be too choosy in this; Let’s not kid ourselves, they’ll be armed and not likely to welcome us with cake and flowers.

I wouldn’t want that, I said.

Well don’t get too bloody-minded, Blackwell replied, you’ll be going along as a County Deputy, not a vigilante; And press the matter on Wallace if he decides to come along; I’ll not be party to any unnecessary shooting.

We’re not killers, I said; Neither one of us.

Sheriff Blackwell studied me for a moment, then said, Good enough; I’ll drop you at the church; Round up Wallace; The two of you meet me at my office by noon if you can, and I’ll swear you both in.

And with that, Sheriff Blackwell put the car in gear and drove off.

©2013 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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