Ella held her breath as she waited for Johnny to reply. She hoped he would help her and didn’t think her theory was too far fetched. She believed with every ounce of her being that Elsie and her sister’s death are somehow related.
“Ok Ella, I can see that this is important to you so I will help you do some research. What do you suggest we do first?”
“I think we need to look into this teacher that Elsie was seeing. Find out if he’s still in town and if he’s not, when did he leave and how was his reputation around Mineral Creek.”
“That sounds like a good place to start. What was this guy’s name again?”
“His name is Mathew Rogers. He was a bit older than Elsie so he would be about 35 now. He was new in town. He got the teaching job after he moved here from Guthrie.”
“That’s some good information to go on. I’m friends with the superintendent so I should be able to ask him anything we will need to know.”
“I think I’m going to talk to Miss Patty again. She acted strange earlier when I told her I was digging into the death of Anna. She was the one who told me to visit her grave. She must know something but she’s too afraid to talk about it and then she closed up the library early. She had to know that I would be back with more questions after seeing the engraving on Anna’s headstone.”
“Miss Patty was Elsie’s aunt, too. You would think that if something bad had happened to Elsie or your sister, she would do everything in her power to bring any guilty people to justice.”
“Unless the guilty people had good connections in this town. It’s just a guess, but I wouldn’t doubt that if someone did do something to them both they had high up friends to ensure that nothing would happen to them.”
“There you go on your wild theories again. Now you have the whole town conspiring against two eighteen year old girls.”
“It’s not that wild of a theory Johnny and you know it. How else could they have gone ten years without getting into trouble and why is everyone in town afraid to talk about it? Then there is the fact that any information on any investigations that may have taken place have conveniently gone missing.”
“I can tell that I can’t stop you from spinning your tales but can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, you can ask me anything.”
“Good, when do we get to eat?” Johnny asked with a smile.
“Oh dear, I’m not a very good host. I get caught up in this and tend to forget everything else. Now the food is probably cold.”
“It’s ok. I can understand your need to find out what happened to your sister. I would want to do the same thing if I was in your place.”
“Do you have any family?” she asked, as she motioned for him to have a seat at the table while she brought the food over.
“I have two sisters and three brothers. All of them are happily married and producing children faster than I can keep up.”
“It must be nice to have such a large family. My father was all that I had left and now that he’s gone there is only me. Sometimes I think back to when I was little and it was Mama, Papa, Anna and me and wish I was back there with them. We were a small family but we were happy,” she said, tears filling her eyes at the memory.
Johnny reached out and gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze. “I am the last of the litter so to speak and considered the black sheep of the family. So even though I have a large family it has been years since I have seen them.”
“Why would you be the black sheep? You have a perfectly respectable job and from what I have noticed you have no major flaws to your character.”
“I come from an old and proud Cherokee family. My grandmother and grandfather came over on the Trail of Tears and settled on a farm just outside of Tahlequah. The land and its animals are important to my family and to their livelihood. They don’t understand that even though I had the respect of what nature gives us, I didn’t particularly want to work the land for the rest of my life unlike the rest of my family. I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to help people and that’s why I became a district attorney. In my own small way I am helping people find justice. People just like you who are looking for answers.”
“Everyone should have a right to do what they want to do and be what they want to be. That’s exactly why I became a teacher. I wanted to inspire my students to reach for the stars and not just settle into a role that someone else wanted for them.”
“So, after you find the truth about Anna do you plan to settle here and become a school teacher once more?”
“That is my hope. I have been gone from Mineral Creek too long. This town is my home, I have roots here but I guess it will all depend on what we learn. If the townspeople can’t accept the truth and help mete out justice where it needs to be then I couldn’t stay here. It would feel too much like a betrayal of my sister and my family.”
“If there was anything illegal done, we will make sure that punishment is dealt out where it needs to be. It doesn’t matter what the townspeople say.”
“And if it’s someone with a lot of influence? What then? How can we compete with that kind of power?”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that but if it does I have some favors to call in from some people I know. They will be able to help us out.”
They ate the rest of their meal talking about their interests and how much they have in common. By the time the meal was over and Johnny had taken his leave, Ella was feeling lighthearted. She hadn’t felt that way in a long time and she was worried it had a lot to do with Johnny. He was being such a good friend that she was worried she was seeing more into their friendship than was there. After all, he was really the only friendly person she had met since coming back to Mineral Creek. Even her dear friend, Miss Patty, was acting standoffish. She needed to make sure in this little adventure that not only did she find the answers she sought but that she protected her heart from being broken as well.
* * *
“Thanks for meeting with me Harold. I know you’re a busy man,” Johnny said, shaking the man’s hand.
“No problem, Johnny, you know I’ll help you in any way I can.”
“I hope so. So far there seems to be some resistance where this topic is concerned.”
“Oh dear, this sounds ominous indeed.”
“Without going into details of my investigation, could you tell me about a teacher you employed some years ago. He may even be one of your current teachers.”
“I will tell you all I can but other than their educational qualifications I really don’t delve into their private lives.”
“I understand. The teacher in question is Mr. Mathew Rogers.” Johnny immediately noticed a distance in the other man’s eyes when the teacher’s name was mentioned.
“There is not much to tell about Mr. Rogers I’m afraid. He came into my employ some eleven years ago. Moved here from Guthrie I believe. He taught at our school for less than a year then decided to move on.”
“Do you know where he moved when he left Mineral Creek? I would like to locate him and ask him a few questions.”
“I’m afraid I do not remember. That was quite a few years ago after all.”
“Do you know why he suddenly wanted to relocate?”
“As I said, I try not to get involved in the dealings of my teachers when it is after hours. What they do on their own time is their own business unless it reflects poorly on my school. If that is all the questions you have for me, Johnny, I really must be going.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you for your help, Harold.”
The superintendent quickly stood and left his office.
“Well that was strange,” he said to himself as he walked to his office door. “Mrs. Vanderpool, can you come in a moment please?”
“Of course, Mr. Moore.”
He motioned for her to have a seat. “Mrs. Vanderpool, how long have you lived in Mineral Creek?”
“My husband and I moved here about ten years ago I would say. I remember because there was quite the scandal happening when we moved to town and it was hard to get to know anyone because everyone tended to keep to themselves.”
“Do you know what kind of scandal?”
“All I know is that it concerned that nice Elsie Potter. She was our neighbor and such a sweet girl. It was such a tragedy what happened to her.”
“What happened to her?”
“Her sudden passing, of course. One day she was out shopping and the next day we heard she had succumbed from pneumonia. I never understood that though, because she was perfectly healthy the day before. Then there were those dreadful rumors about surgeries gone wrong. It was in the papers for months afterwards. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t let her rest in peace but had to keep making up horrible stories.”
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Vanderpool. You have given me all the information I needed.”
“Well, you’re welcome Mr. Moore. Even though I don’t exactly know what I did.” His secretary left his office. He grabbed his hat and coat and headed for the door. He had to tell Ella what he had learned.
* * *
Ella knew she had to talk to Miss Patty again. She hoped she would be more forthcoming this time but she was worried she wouldn’t even want to speak to her. When she rounded the corner and saw the library, she was happy to see that it was open. At least Miss Patty hadn’t closed the library to avoid her this time. When she entered, she expected to see her at the front desk where she usually sat to watch the patrons but she wasn’t there. Instead, she found her in the very back looking at the newspapers.
She looked up from the article she was reading. Ella could tell she had been crying. “Miss Patty are you ok?” she asked, rushing to her side.
“I’m fine dear. I was just reading an article from a long time ago and it brought back some painful memories.” Ella glanced over Patty’s shoulder and caught a glimpse of the article heading, “Body to be Exhumed.”
She wanted to ask what the article was about but the stricken look on her friend’s face made her pause. “Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Patty?”
“There is only one thing you can do for me Ella. Find the truth. You want to put the ghost of Anna at rest and I want Elsie’s ghost put to rest, too. If anyone can do it I know you can.”