I visited with Elsie today but I learned absolutely nothing. All she wanted to talk about was the latest fashions that the ladies in Tulsa were wearing. She never used to care about things like that. She has changed so much in the last few months. It’s like I don’t even know this Elsie anymore.
I asked her how her teacher friend was doing and she vaguely said that he was doing fine. Anytime I brought him up, she would change the topic. When I told her people have been seeing her walking out of town each night when the sun began to set she just told me people need to mind their own business.
I know that was directed at me but I’m just trying to look after her. We have been friends since we were young girls and right now she doesn’t seem to be capable of making good decisions. Well, after the failure to learn anything with our visit today I have come to a decision. Tonight I am going to follow her and see where she goes every evening. Perhaps when I find out what draws her away I can then begin to help her see the follies of what she is doing to her reputation. I will tell you all tomorrow dear diary.
Ella could feel her sister’s frustration in not being able to reach out to Elsie. She could see that her friend was going down a bad path but there seemed to be little she could do to stop it. How do you help a friend who didn’t think they needed any help? Maybe Anna learned something after following her, Ella thought, but then, in the end, Elsie had been beyond help at that point from what the articles and Miss Patty had told her.
My Dearest Diary,
What horrible things I have to write about tonight. I did as I said and followed Elsie out of town tonight. It was difficult to sneak out with Mama and Papa keeping such a close watch on me and Ella always wants to follow me but I managed to sneak out without her knowing it. When I set out to follow Elsie, I had no idea we would be walking so far. If I had known, I would have worn more sturdy shoes to be sure.
We must have walked a good two miles before Elsie came to a large building set deep into the woods. I thought surely she was not meeting Mr. Rogers in this setting but when she knocked on the door it opened and Mr. Rogers took her by the hand and led her inside. I crept closer to see if I could hear anything as there was no windows at all in this building but I could only hear faint voices. There seemed to be far too many for just the two of them.
The whole thing seemed strange so when I found a knothole in the building I decided to see if I could see anything inside. The room was dimly lit with very few candles and from what I could tell all the corners were dark.
I could hear more clearly at the knothole so I put my ear to it. I heard a lot of giggling and men whispering. When I put my eye back to the hole’ a man walked in front of it. He was wearing a mask so I couldn’t see who he was but it definitely wasn’t Mr. Rogers. This man was short and round while Mr. Rogers is tall and lanky.
Then suddenly a woman pranced by and I can only call it prance because she seemed to be skipping like a child. She also had a mask on but it was what she was wearing that was scandalous. She barely had anything on!
Oh Diary, I don’t know what kind of mess Elsie has gotten into but this is definitely not good. Now I have more questions than ever and the only word I can describe about what I saw was debauchery. Who are those people and how can I help Elsie escape them? I’m afraid I’m at a loss my friend.
Ella closed the diary. It seemed as though Elsie was involved in a lot more than a clandestine meeting with an older man. She truly had been in terrible danger and seemed blind to it but how did it go from this to her death? She would talk to Johnny about it tomorrow evening when he came by. Together they will figure this out.
She awoke the next morning feeling as though she hadn’t slept at all. Anna’s last diary entry she had read had bothered her all night long. What exactly did Anna stumble upon?
Was this the secret of Mineral Creek and if it was, who all was involved or knew of it’s existence? Could this thing still be going on today, ten years later? She wasn’t sure where her next step should be or who to talk to.
Anyone in this town could have been a part of this. She was now sure that Anna must have asked the wrong questions to the wrong people and it ended up with her death. Maybe if she found where this building was she would be able to find out more about what went on inside of it. Maybe finding out who owned the property would also help her find answers.
She knew from Anna’s diary entries that Elsie left town at dusk and walked about two miles. So she needed to find out who owned what property in a two mile radius.
Also, she could ask Miss Patty which direction Elsie always went. That would help narrow down the search. Feeling she had a destination in mind finally, she got up and quickly got dressed. Her first stop was the library and Miss Patty.
* * *
“Case dismissed. We will take a one hour break for lunch and reconvene at one o’clock,” Judge Fisher declared to the court, hammering his gavel loudly.
Johnny shook hands of the man that had just won his court case. He saw the judge start towards the door leading to his offices in the back of the courthouse. “Judge Fisher, may I have a word with you please?”
“By all means, Johnny, come on in to my office. Would you care for some stew. My wife sends me enough food to feed an army.”
“No thank you Judge but it smells delicious.”
“Thank you and you can call me George outside of the courtroom. Now what can I do for you?”
“I am helping a friend look into something that happened in Mineral Creek a few years ago and I know that the case came up in your court. I know you can’t confide all the details for me but I was hoping you could shed some light on the situation.”
“I’ll tell you anything I can, Johnny. Who would this be about?”
“Doctor Edward Henderson.”
“Oh yes, the illegal operation case I assume?”
“Yes, that’s it. It was on Miss Elsie Potter. My friend and I have been doing some research but when we looked at the newspaper articles they suddenly stopped. Rumor has it he was cleared of all charges but it had seemed from the clippings that it was pretty clear that he had done something very illegal.”
“Yes, I was the one that granted the petition to exhume her body but I wasn’t the one who presided over the case. I was called out of town and they had brought in another judge. He claimed that there wasn’t enough evidence and threw the case out. Never thought that was right because it seemed pretty cut and dry to me.”
“May I ask who brought in the other judge?”
“It was the mayor at the time but you won’t get any information out of him. He died in a hunting accident some eight years ago. The funny thing is, the call I got to go out of town was fake. When I got to Tulsa, the person I was supposed to see wasn’t even expecting me.”
“That answers a lot of questions. Now I will let you get to that stew. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.”
“Oh, Johnny, before you go I want to give you a word of advice. I can’t tell you not to go around asking questions but please be careful. I’m not sure about everything that happened ten years ago but even these old eyes can see that something was covered up. I don’t want a repeat of what happened back then. I will have no deaths on my watch again.”
“Yes of course, you have been most helpful and I will keep your words in mind.”
* * *
Ella entered the library as a couple of kids came running out. “Hello Miss Patty!”
“Ella dear, how goes the research?”
She looked around to make sure no one was in ear shot. “I have discovered what may be this secret you talk about. I’m still not exactly sure what it is but I think I know approximately where it takes place. In Anna’s diary she had decided to follow Elsie one evening to see where she was going. She followed her a couple of miles outside of town to a large, old building set in the woods. She said the building had no windows so she couldn’t see inside but when Elsie knocked on the door Mr. Rogers opened it and led her inside. Do you happen to know a building that fits that description?”
“It sounds like the old Stillwell homestead. They were a strange family, always kept to themselves, wouldn’t let their kids go to school. I’m not sure what happened to them or who owns that property now.”
“Would the Stillwell place be in the direction that Elsie gone every night?”
“I only saw her leaving town one time and when I questioned her about where she had went she was very vague but it seems to me that was the direction she went in. I should have been harder on her. I just thought she already had such a rough life losing her parents and all that I wanted her to have a little freedom. I didn’t realize that freedom would lead to her death.”
Ella patted her on the back to comfort the older woman. “You couldn’t have known, Miss Patty. I think when Johnny comes over this evening we may go out to the Stillwell homestead and see what we can find.”
“You and Johnny seem to be spending a lot of time together. Anything I need to know about?”
“We’re just friends and he is helping me find some answers.”
“I want you to know that just because you don’t have any family left doesn’t mean people don’t care. If you ever need to talk, I am here for you and if Johnny breaks your heart let me know and I’ll take care of him for you.”
Ella laughed and gave her a hug. “Thank you, Miss Patty. It’s nice to know that I still have friends in Mineral Creek. I haven’t seen any of my old friends since I’ve been back.”
“Unfortunately, most of them have moved away. They thought they could find more options out of this small town. Dorcus is still here though. As a matter of fact, she is married to Nathan Henderson. He is Doctor Henderson’s son.”