1966 Thomas Engelhart sat on chair in front of Lt. Taylor's desk, waiting for him to speak. All he really wanted to do was get back to his children, who were being watched by another police officer at the moment.
"Mr. Engelhart, I'm having trouble coming to any real conclusions as to what exactly happened at your farm last night. No one seems to know anything other than what you have already told me."
"I haven't withheld anything from you Lieutenant, if that's what you're asking," replied Thomas.
"I believe you, Mr. Engelhart. That's what's awkward for me. I really do believe you." To Thomas, he actually sounded like he meant it.
"Two and two aren't exactly equaling four right now, Mr. Engelhart. Can I call you Thomas?"
"And of course there are the tests that Fichtler needs to run yet. But I just have this gut feeling that they aren't going to show me much either."
Thomas waited for the other foot to drop, saying nothing, knowing that the lieutenant was heading in some particular direction.
"Thomas, what can you tell me about Edward?"
"What would you like to know?" answered Thomas, not at all surprised that the question had been asked. Lt. Taylor didn't seem to be lacking in the brains department, and he obviously wasn't blind either.
"He seems to be a different sort of boy. Not at all affected by the death of Miss Neumann. I take it that they weren't close?"
"That's true enough, I guess."
"You guess, Thomas?"
"Look Lt. Taylor . . ."
"Bill, please call me Bill."
"Look Bill, it's like this," Thomas was definitely at the end of his rope. "I got a farm to run. It might not be much, but it's all I got to keep this family's head above water. It takes all of my time, that's why Louise was there. I can't even remember their birthdays, well, except for Edward's of course. That would be the day that Edwina died. But Louise handled all of the household bullshit. Unfortunately, that basically included raising the children."
"I see," replied Taylor.
"Do you? Do you really see? Do you have any children of your own, Bill?"
"Kids today are different. You can't just give them a list of chores and the threat of a good whuppin' and turn them loose to go about being little angels. Their heads are full of all kinds of things that they see and hear on television, and I wouldn't bet a nickel on the prospect of any one of them becoming farmers. They're just different than you or I was when we were at that age."
"That's true enough. I know that just from the things I see around the station," said Taylor.
"So what do you want me to tell you?"
"Edward seems a little more different than the others. Has he ever shown any signs of violence, or unruliness towards Louise or any other member of your family?"
"You think Edward had anything to do with this?" asked Thomas, wondering the same thing himself but being to close to the situation to admit it.
"Do you, Thomas?"
There was a short pause as Thomas considered what he would say in return. He felt some kind of loyalty to his own child, but he was too tired and stressed out to fabricate anything plausible.
"Bill, with God as my witness, I really don't know."
"Thanks Thomas, I believe you more than ever. I have to ask you and your family not to go anywhere too far until this is settled, you understand don't you?"
"Of course," said Thomas.
"I'll give you a ride back home now. You've got a good couple of kids there in Jonathan and Janice, and Thomas…"
"Keep an eye on Edward. Here's my card. Call me any time of day or night. I'll write my home phone on the back. I'm serious Thomas, anytime."
"Thank-you," said Thomas. They stood and exchanged handshakes, and then headed out of the small office.
No one spoke much on the ride back to the farm; even Eddie had remained quiet, still sitting in the front seat. Thomas wondered what Lt. Taylor and Edward had talked about during their time alone together in his office, they had been in there longer than the rest of the children. It obviously hadn't made them any closer.
Taylor pulled up to the Engelhart place, and watched as everyone got out. He called to Thomas, who had already started walking towards the house.
"Jonathan, here's the keys. You go on inside and wait for me in the front room. I don't want anyone going upstairs until I've had a chance to go through the house. I'll be right in."
"Thanks Jonathan," said Thomas, as he turned back towards Taylor's sedan.
"I really need to get inside Lieutenant."
"I know, just one more thing. Your daughter seems to be especially fearful of Edward. I just thought you should know."
"Why didn't you say anything earlier, when we were in your office?" asked Thomas.
"I guess I just wasn't sure that I should. Children have little on-going wars between themselves sometimes, and I'm sure that's perfectly natural in most cases."
"I thought you said that you didn't have any children, Mr. Taylor." Thomas realized he was on the defensive again, and it was back to 'Mr. Taylor'. Taylor noticed the same thing.
"I had two sisters, Thomas," replied the lieutenant, ignoring the change in status.
"So what are you getting at?"
"Janice seems to really have a deep rooted fear of Edward, and when we talked, you said that you really didn't have much of a feel for what goes on in the house."
"So I just want you to be aware of that also. It's probably nothing, but just the same, forewarned is forearmed."
"Sounds like some kind of police motto," replied Thomas, just wanting to go inside and be done with it all for one day.
"I'm sure it goes back a lot farther than that Thomas. You try and have a decent evening, and I'll get back to you as soon as anything changes, for better or for worse. You still got my card?"
Thomas watched as the car drove out of the yard and down the access road to the main highway. He turned towards the house realizing that he really didn't want to go inside. But it was his lot in life, and it stank, and he would.
He looked towards the sky, but no answer came. He looked down at his worn out work boots, and found himself on the verge of tears.
"What a fucking mess you've left me in Edwina."
He started back towards the house and picked up rock, which he threw with all his might at one of the cat's on the end of the porch. He missed by a good three feet, but it still sent the cat scurrying over the edge, giving Thomas a small bit of satisfaction.
"Fucking cats. I need a drink." And up the stairs he went, still thinking about what Lt. Taylor had said just before he left.
The children were all sitting in the front room as instructed, Jonathan and Janice on the love seat, and Edward sprawled out on the couch, looking at a magazine. Thomas was making his way towards the staircase when he noticed that Edward had his feet on the sofa, a definite taboo in the Engelhart household. He stopped in his tracks.
"Edward Eugene Engelhart!" he yelled, making the two older children jump in their seats, but having little effect on Edward. He slowly lowered the magazine he had been looking at and stared up at his father.
"Yes father," he replied, in a tone of that would have made Mother Teresa become a child beater.
"Get your hoofs off the furniture before I make you sit on the floor. You know the rules of this house!" shouted Thomas.
"Okay, you don't have to yell," returned Edward, sounding a little too much the smart mouth for Thomas to tolerate at the moment, not that he would of on a good day.
"Now boy. I don't have the time or the patience for this right now."
Thomas' voice was low and carried the message that the other two children instantly recognized as the five second warning. Edward slowly, ever so slowly, placed his feet on the floor, not once looking up at his father.
"Don't fuck with me son," said Thomas, as Jonathan and Janice watched on, eyes beginning to dry out from neither one of them blinking since the confrontation had started. They had never heard their father say the 'f word' in front of them before.
"There off the couch, okay?" said Edward, still sounding like the spoiled brat that had got caught with his hand in the cookie jar but was trying to get to keep one of the cookies.
"No, it's not okay. You can just march your ass off to your room right now. And I don't want to see your face again until I come up and say it's okay, and that means that you've had a big change in attitude."
You could have heard a pin drop at that moment, even Thomas had stopped blinking. Finally Edward got up and headed for the stairs. Although no one was about to make a sound, inside everyone was heaving a sigh of relief as Edward started climbing the stairs, including Thomas. He turned towards the remaining children. His voice now warm and tender.
"I know that you two have been through a lot today, me too. Things are going to be a little rough around here for a while again, so try and bear with me. What I really need is some help around the house, starting with getting dinner made."
"I'm not really hungry, Dad," said Jonathan, adding, "but I'll help make what ever you want."
"Me either," said Janice.
"Me either," said Thomas. "Go on in and make a salad up anyways, and if we change our minds we can have a sandwich too."
The children went off into the kitchen, seemingly glad to have something to do.
Thomas went to the cabinet where he kept his bottle of scotch, and grabbed one of the glasses out of the china cabinet. They hadn't been used since Easter and were coated with a fine layer of dust, but he poured two fingers into one of them anyway, and drank it down in a single swallow. Then he poured another. And another. And another.
The booze was starting to finally hit him, so he put the bottle back in its place. There was still too much of the day left, and he still had to deal with Edward. He looked into the kitchen and saw that the two older children were busy at making dinner, talking quietly to each other. He decided to go out on the front porch and have a cigarette. Perhaps the scotch would settle in more and calm his ragged nerves, he thought to himself. God knows he needed something before he dealt with Edward again. He was ready to beat him as it was.
About an hour after stepping out on the porch, Thomas decided he had cooled down enough to talk to Edward. The other two children had finished making the salad, but had politely opted to skip dinner, which he agreed to. They had gone off to do the evening chores, which left Thomas alone in the big farmhouse with nothing else to do but confront Edward. He had tried to figure out what he would say ahead of time, since there was so much more to talk about than feet on the furniture. But nothing had come to mind that he thought might work, except the direct approach. He realized he really didn't have any idea on how to deal with his own children. Especially Edward.
He walked up the stairs and knocked on Edward's door. There was no answer, so he let himself in. Edward was asleep on top of his bed, looking as peaceful as could be. Thomas watched him there for several minutes, suspecting that he might be faking it. But the breathing was steady and the eyelashes never once fluttered, so he left the room.
This could be dealt with in the morning, he thought to himself, glad for the reprieve. He walked back down the stairs to the china cabinet, and started back in on the scotch. He had finished off the bottle and buried it in the bottom of the trash by the time the children came back from milking the cows and doing the other evening chores.
Jonathan had grabbed a sandwich, and then both he and Janice had gone into the front room to watch television. Neither one of them spoke much, which seemed natural enough to Thomas, as he too went into the kitchen to make a sandwich. He wondered just what in the hell he was going to do now, with no one to help him with the kids and a bumper crop of corn just a couple of months away from being harvested.
Then he remembered that he hadn't even taken care of today, let alone the endless tomorrows that would follow. The sandwich could wait; he wasn't really hungry anyway. He still needed to go up to Louise's room and look around. For what, he really didn't know, but he had to at least check it out now that the body had been removed.
As he walked to the base of the stairs, he could see that the kids were still watching television. The Monkees were on. Now there was a show he would never figure out. He had only watched enough one time to see that he had lost all touch with the 'younger generation' as they called themselves. There was no generation gap as far as he was concerned. It was more like the Grand Canyon. They just didn't have anything in common at all.
He walked up the stairs and stopped at Louise's bedroom door. Whoever had finished up there had at least the common courtesy to close the door. He opened the door, and flipped on the light. It looked pretty much the same as before, but the covers were messed up from them removing her body. There were spots where someone had evidently dusted for fingerprints, mostly on the headboard and the end tables on each side of the bed. He really doubted that they would find anyone's prints up there but Louise's. He bent over the bed, and looked at the large crack in the headboard that had so fascinated Fichtner. It obviously was new, he admitted, knowing darn well that there hadn't been anything there when he had moved the furniture up there himself a few years ago.
A few years ago, hah! More like a decade ago, he thought to himself. Time was blowing by Thomas like the topsoil he tilled every year. He was growing older, his children were growing up, the world was changing, and he was just plowing the fields, like his father had done before him. Nothing short of a nuclear blast was going to stop him from following in his father's footsteps it seemed, unless maybe a murder on the homestead came along.
There was no way he could buy into that. Sure, there were some things unexplained, but he had walked his pastures and found cattle dead before, for no known reason. Death was a part of life. Especially on a farm, where you raised animals just so you could kill them, and eat them, or better yet, sell them. And Edward, he was acting strange, but it didn't make him a murderer, did it? He's only ten years old for Pete's sake, and Louise must have outweighed him by a hundred pounds. Nothing made any sense, and Thomas began to believe that was just the way God intended it to be.
As the next few days wore on, things seemed to settle back down to almost normal. Or so it seemed to Thomas, who really didn't have a clue what normal really was around the house. There were no more acts of defiance from Edward, who he had never really talked to after that first night. Everyone seemed to be chipping in around the house with making the meals and doing the laundry, and he came to find out that Louise had been making them do most of it anyway. That was good, as it had only prepared them for the future, although a bit premature even by Louise's timetable he was sure. He developed a newfound respect for Louise, only to feel deep remorse for never having given her enough credit before it was to late to do so.
Word had gotten out soon enough amongst the few neighbors they had about Louise's death, and the Columbus paper had said that the cause of death was still unknown, and under investigation. There were no secrets in Platte County, or anywhere else in the Midwest for that matter. That was enough to send the rumor mills into full production, and before long, stories of Thomas and Louise's love affair gone bad were floating around the county. All of a sudden people were dropping by that Thomas hadn't seen in years. Most of them brought some food or something to disguise their true reason for being there, which was to snoop, but a few of them were just real friends trying to help one of their own.
Thomas knew which was which, and dealt with them accordingly, when he wasn't out in the fields attending to business. He never knew what to expect when he drove the tractor back to the barn, but on day four after Louise's death he was actually glad to see Lt. Taylor's sedan in the driveway. He didn't bother to put the tractor under the shed, but instead drove it right up to where Bill Taylor was standing. He set the hand brake and shut off the ignition.
"Mr. Taylor," he said as the sound of the tractor died away, jumping down from the rig.
"I mean Bill, sorry about that. What kind of news do you have for me today? I hope it's good, the gossip has been a little bit on the down side lately."
"I understand what you mean, Thomas. It goes that way in a case like this sometime," said Bill Taylor.
"I guess it's to be expected. The papers haven't helped much, but they're just reporting the facts as they see them I suppose."
"Well, those facts are about to change, at least as far as the media goes," said Taylor.
"How's that?" Thomas asked.
"Rudy finished his tests."
"There's not enough evidence to support a murder investigation at this time," Taylor said.
"I guess that's good news, but what do you mean by 'at this time'?"
"The cause of death based on the autopsy is a broken neck, self inflicted. There isn't enough evidence to prove otherwise."
"But you still believe that there's more to this?" asked Thomas, knowing damn well that both he and Lt. Taylor had suspicions that went beyond the coroner's final report.
"I'd bet my job on it."
"So am I free to run off to the Bahamas, or what ever it is that us unconvicted criminals do?" asked Thomas.
"Don't get coy with me Thomas. I know, and I think that you know, that something happened here last week that can't be explained by a coroner's report. I could have this place torn apart nail by nail and still not know any more than I do now. And that's the only reason that I don't."
"I'm sorry Bill. It's just that lately I've been accused of sleeping with Louise, and things even more incredible than that."
"The truth will stand on it's own Thomas, if it's ever to be found," said a solemn Lt. Taylor.
"Look Bill, I appreciate your concern in this matter, both professionally and as someone that I think cares. But I haven't got an answer for you. Hell, I don't even have an answer for myself."
"That's good enough for me, Thomas. The case is officially closed. But if you ever find out anything else…"
"I know who to call," returned Thomas.
"Thomas," asked Taylor, in a voice so gentle that Thomas couldn't believe it was coming from such a big man.
"I know this might sound strange to you, and it's totally out of my range of jurisdiction, but… please get help with Edward. There's something wrong with the boy, I'm sure of it. I'd bet my life on it."
"Bill, I'll be the first to admit that Edward is a little different. Maybe it's just growing up without a mother, not having a tit to suck on, I don't know. Sometimes, I just want to beat the living shit out of him, you know what I mean? But I can't, or I won't. Take it any way that you want. I can't explain the way he acts sometimes, but I don't think it's time to call out the guys with the little white suits."
"Listen Thomas, and listen good. I've been doing what I'm doing for a lot of years now. Are there people that are better experts than myself? You bet. But you won't find many of them in the State of Nebraska. I guess the guys down in Lincoln have a jump on me in some ways. They have to deal with the dopers from the college all of the time. But, in the long run, I'd bet they've never run across anything like your Edward."
"You make him sound like some kind of a freak," said Thomas.
"Now you're starting to get the picture."
"Oh come on lieutenant, he's only a boy, barely ten years old."
"He's more than that," said Taylor. "When I talked to him in my office, all he could do was rant about how glad he was to have Louise out of his hair. Remorse is not a word you will find in Edward's vocabulary. When I began to inquire further about his problems with Louise, he clammed up and basically refused to answer any of my questions."
"So what does that prove? That he didn't get along with his surrogate mother?"
"Edward is unlike any ten year old I've ever met. He's cold and brutal, something I'm far more used to seeing in teenagers. But he's actually gone a step beyond them."
"And what might that be?" asked Thomas.
"He's got that look in his eyes, I've seen it before. If Edward ever threatens you in any way, be prepared for him to follow through with it. It's an intangible thing, something that you just pick up after having to deal with it from time to time."
"Do you get this feeling a lot?" asked Thomas, beginning to re-evaluate Lt. Taylor.
"I used to work in downtown Omaha, they even have a heroin problem there; do you know that? They have stabbings, shootings, rape and child beatings every day. I transferred out here because I couldn't handle that anymore. But do you wanna know what? I never seen anything as scary as your son in my three years on the Omaha Police Force."
"You've got to be kidding," answered Thomas.
"I kid you not. I'd have Edward doing a one on one with the best psychiatrist I could find if I had the power to do it. But I don't, not the way things are now."
Thomas looked Bill in the eyes, and realized that he was being honest. "Bill, I'll be watching Edward like a hawk from now on, and if he even gets one hair out of line, I'll give you a call. I promise you that."
"Chances are, you'll never get to make that call Thomas, but I guess I can't ask for anything more. Just do me a favor, and never turn your back on Edward."
"You can take that one to the bank, Bill."
"Okay, then I'm down the road."
"See you again, Thomas."
Eddie leaned back as far as he could in the seat of the little Cessna and opened his eyes and ears for the first time in ten minutes. He took in the scene in front of him while Joe Mangione talked to Sara, who had the control wheel in her hands and seemed to actually be steering the aircraft. After a few seconds he was sure she was, because all of the movements of the plane seemed to correspond to her movements of the controls. They weren't nearly as smooth as that of an experienced pilot, but weren't uncomfortable as one would expect from a first timer. He debated whether to chastise Magione again about taking up valuable time, but decided against it.
He was tired. Totally drained would be a more accurate statement, he told himself. Let those two have their fun. He needed to build up his strength again, and that always happened a lot faster when he didn't have any distractions. He closed his eyes again and began to breathe calmly yet deeply, much as a yoga student would do. He tried to focus on just his own rebuilding, but couldn't quite shut off the conversations in his brain. He had so much to do, and not much time to do it in. Yet he knew that Jonathan would be a handful, and he needed to be up to speed when that time came.
He told himself he would take a quick inventory of the situation at hand, and then spend the rest of the time resting up.
First of all, he had gotten a hold of Jonathan, and hopefully stopped him from contacting the ol' man. In trade for that, he had exposed himself to Jonathan also. That was something he hadn't planned on, and wasn't really ready for. He had toyed with the idea of how he would do it, and when, before now. But he had planned that to be in the future quite a ways, definitely after they were secure in their position in Washington D.C. And done more slowly and gently, he reminded himself. Oh well, the best made plans of mice and men….
Second, he wanted to take care of this Mangione thing once and for all. Today. Without any open ends. But they needed him to get back to Olympia in time to take advantage of the present situation. That all depended on Jonathan's state of mind though, he reminded himself. It might be better to keep him on ice for a while until he got everything back under control. His control.
Third, a small matter in deed, he would also have to arrange a way to get Jonathan's car back to Olympia. It wouldn't do to leave it by the side of the airstrip and have it found by some local policeman, who would surely track it down to Jonathan with a quick call to the station. He could have it towed, but that would take time waiting around for some clown from Long Beach, and that was time he didn't want to spend.
Then it hit him. How could he have been so slow in seeing the obvious? He must be more weakened than he thought. All he had to do was have Jonathan drive them back to Olympia, and arrange for Mangione to have a little accident on the flight back. Jesus! How simple!
That would take some doing of course, but his powers seemed to recharge faster every day. He was definitely growing stronger, in leaps and bounds, even though at the moment he still felt very weak, and had a tremendous headache. He must concentrate on relaxing now, he told himself, that and nothing else.
He soon drifted off into nothingness, the steady drone of the Cessna's engine helping him along.