Ethan stood in the middle of the millinery store, trying to make a decision between two silk scarves. Mildred, the owner of the store, looked on in amusement as he’d been standing there for twenty minutes. Unfortunately the other ladies in the store weren’t as amused. It wasn’t so much that their deputy sheriff was debating scarves in the women’s clothing store. It was who he was buying the scarf for that they disapproved of. He was buying it for his ma, who, to their utter horror and dismay, was a working girl.
With a groan of frustration Ethan lay the deep blue scarf back on the table rand picked up an emerald green one. He didn’t think it’d be this hard to pick a gift for Rose but it was more of a struggle than he realized. A woman’s high-pitched scream broke his concentration and he found himself headed out the door at a run before he’d made a conscious decision. Hitting the boardwalk he looked for the source of the cry, turning left when it came again.
His stomach lurched as he ran down the boardwalk towards Miss Hattie’s large white house on the edge of town. He barely glanced up when Ezra fell in step with him, long strides eating up the ground. Miss Hattie stood on the porch along with the other girls of the house. When she saw Ethan her already pale face lost all remaining color. She reached out a hand to stop him.
“You shouldn’t go in there Ethan. Let Sheriff Hanes handle it.”
Ethan pulled himself from her grip and walked into the house. This was where Rose lived and he was immediately concerned that he hadn’t seen her out on the porch with the other girls. He barely registered the fact that the town Mayor sat on a settee in the sitting room, watched over by the house bouncer. He took the stairs two at a time, intimately familiar with this house. After all it was where he was born and raised. His stomach flipped when he saw the Sheriff standing in the door of Rose’s room. Joe turned and stopped him before he could enter.
“Stay out here Ethan. You don’t need to see this.” Ethan hesitated, looking into the Sheriff’s sympathetic brown eyes. Then he wrenched his arm free, stepping into Rose’s room, Ezra a silent shadow behind him. Ethan stumbled to a halt at the sight in front of him, Rose lying on her back on the bed, light brown hair spread around her head. Her mouth hung open, as if in mid-scream and her green eyes were open, sightless. Angry red bruises stood out against the pale skin of her neck. She was obviously dead. Murdered.
A broken cry came from Ethan and Ezra caught him as his knees buckled. “Mama” Ethan whimpered so softly Ezra was the only one to hear. Ezra helped Ethan out into the hallway, followed closely by Sheriff Hanes. “That’s why I wanted you to wait out in the hallway. You didn’t need to see her like that.”
Ethan leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths and trying to regain control. Ezra stood close by in silent support. “Who would do something like that? Who would hurt her?” Ethan choked out through suppressed tears. He didn’t miss the look that passed between the Sherriff and Ezra. “What?” he growled.
The Sheriff sighed. “We have who did it in custody. But I don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep him.” Sheriff Hanes confessed.
“Why?” Ethan demanded, incensed. “Why wouldn’t you be able to keep him. He killed her, strangled her to death! Who is it!”
When the Sheriff didn’t answer immediately Ezra answered for him. “It’s the Mayor. He claims I was an accident, a game that went too far.”
“I don’t have a way to disprove that. There are no witnesses and he is the Mayor. We’ll hold an inquest but I don’t know that any charges will be filed.” Sheriff Hanes tried to explain but Ethan didn’t want to hear it. He moved jerkily away from them and stared blindly at the doorway of the room that held his dead mother. Suddenly he whirled around and took the stairs down two at a time, barely keeping his balance, blinded by grief and fury.
Ethan reached the sitting room and launched himself at the Mayor. The two of them crashed into the settee which tipped over, spilling them onto the floor. Ethan’s hands tightened around the fleshy neck, the Mayor’s face slowly purpling as the life was squeezed out of him, much as he’d just done to the whore upstairs. Pudgy hands pushed ineffectively at Ethan’s broad shoulders.
Strong arms wrapped around his chest and Ethan was pulled, fighting and cursing, away from the barely conscious Mayor. He whirled in anger on the man who denied him his satisfaction and came face to face with Ezra. Dark brown eyes bore into his own light grey ones, filled with compassion and understanding. The look in those eyes took all the fight out of Ethan and he slumped against his friend. Ezra accepted the weight easily and helped him from the room, out onto the front porch where he could get some air. The two men stood in silence, Ethan averting his eyes when the blanket shrouded form of his mother passed by.
He silently followed the men carrying her body to the undertakers. The undertaker was a short, slender man with longish hair and a thin pencil mustache. Ethan watched as they lay his mothers body on one of the long wooden tables that filled the room. When the man started to undress his mother he fled the room. Outside he watched in muted anger as the Mayor left the hotel, very obviously still upset over Ethan’s attack on him and just as obviously not under arrest. He watched Sherriff Hanes head back toward the jail and he started to follow.
As he passed the millinery shop he abruptly stopped, reminded of his happy mission of just a few hours ago. He pushed the door open, noticing all the heads that turned his way and the raised voices that suddenly dropped to a whisper at his arrival. He knew what they were whispering about. It wasn’t about the man in the woman’s dress goods store, looking at silk scarves. It was about the deputy Sheriff whose whore mother had been strangled by to death by the town mayor. While a large piece of him wanted to yell at them to mind their own business, the small piece there on a mission kept it under control. He was here to buy a dress to bury his mother. That was all that mattered.
He picked out a beautiful emerald green dress with a high neck. The collar stood up and would help mask the bruises on her neck. The green would be a good complement to her auburn hair. Ethan wanted his mother to look beautiful when they buried her. As he carried the dress to the undertakers he couldn’t help but remember the first day he met Rose. He was only three years old and newly orphaned. His mama had been a working girl in the same house as Rose although Rose was new. She’d only been there for a week when his mama had died. She was young, barely eighteen, and knew nothing about being a mother. But she knew that he needed someone now with his mama gone. The madam of the house didn’t care when Rose took him on, as long as it didn’t interfere with her ability to entertain the customers.
For Ethan she was a savior, a steady rock in a stormy sea of confusion and loss. Never knowing who his father was, left behind by his mama, he clung to Rose and her kindness like a leech, glad to not lose the only home he’d ever known. Now that home was gone. He’d never cared what Rose had done to support them. She loved him, that was all that mattered. As far as he was concerned she was a saint. Now he was all alone again. He dropped the dress off with the undertaker and continued on his earlier mission to speak with the Sheriff.
His boss was waiting for him when he entered the jail. Just as he’d figured the two holding cells were empty. He whirled around to face the Sheriff. “Why ain’t he in one of these cells?” he demanded. Sheriff Hanes met his gaze head on. “Just be glad it isn’t you in one of those cells for assault.” he countered. “Have a seat and we’ll discuss this like two rational men.” He waited until Ethan reluctantly sat in one of the straight back chairs. “Well?”
Sheriff Hanes sighed. “I know you are not going to like this but we can’t prove it was murder. The Mayor claimed it was a consensual sex game that just got out of hand.” He held up a hand before Ethan could interrupt. “Now we’re going to have an inquest on this matter and let the judge decide if the incident warrants an arrest.”
Ethan snorted “You mean the judge who is the Mayor’s brother-in-law. Gee I can’t even begin to guess what he’ll decide. Basically that man is going to get away with my mother’s murder.” Ethan jumped out of the chair and whirled around, heading for the door.
“Now don’t be going and doing anything foolish boy! You hear me?! I don’t want to have to arrest you!” But Ethan was already gone. He had a funeral to plan.
Early the next morning, a small somber group gathered around an open grave. The simple pine box that lay next to it held Ethan’s attention. He was barely conscious of Ezra standing right next to him, let alone the ladies from the house where his mama had worked. The minister officiated the service keeping it simple. While Katie hadn’t attended church on a regular basis, not welcome to sit with the good, Christian folk, she had spoken with the minister on numerous occasions. While raising Ethan she’d often sought out the man’s advice, wanting to raise her son to be the best man he could be. He’d turned out to be a good one.
Ethan didn’t know how he kept to his feet during the service, but when they lowered the coffin into the ground and the first handful of dirt thudded on the top, his legs failed him. Collapsing to his knees in the dirt he sobbed unashamedly for his loss. Ezra stayed a quiet, comforting presence beside him, familiar with the pain the loss of a mother caused. Especially when she was lost to the violence of another.
Two days after Katie’s funeral the inquest was held. As many people as could fit filled the Grange Hall, eager to hear the sordid details about the death of the whore at the hands of their Mayor. He did not disappoint. The testimony was lurid as the Mayor described what he claimed was a consensual sex act that went wrong. The only thing that kept Ethan in his seat was Ezra’s restraining hand on his arm.
Only two people testified, the madam and the Mayor. When Miss Hattie recounted finding Katie dead Ethan felt tears well up in his eyes. He knew that the memory of his mother’s lifeless eyes would never leave him. The judge called a recess for lunch so he could deliberate but Ethan couldn’t force himself to eat anything. The Mayors words ran a continual loop through his mind. ‘I didn’t mean to kill her. We were just playing a game. She liked me to choke her while we had sex. She said it made the experience more enjoyable for her. I didn’t know I’d gone too far until I couldn’t wake her up. I called for help but it was too late.’
Ethan knew in his heart the man was lying through his teeth. He’d murdered Katie but Ethan didn’t know why. What could Katie have done to make the man so angry he choked her to death. Now one man deliberated what should be done with the Mayor. It was up to him to decide if it was murder of just a horrible accident. His faith in justice lay with just one man. Would it be strengthened or leave him completely?
Less than thirty minutes later he got his answer. An accident. Ethan sat in shocked disbelief, Ezra a quiet presence next to him. An accident. Ethan would never forget the look on the Mayors face at that pronouncement. An accident. Ethan would not believe that the horrible, violent death of his mother was anything less than murder. Climbing slowly to his feet he came to a decision. With Ezra at his side Ethan made his way to the Sheriffs office. He found Sheriff Hanes inside, clearly waiting for him.
“I’m sorry Ethan. I know nothing I say can help but I am truly sorry about the death of Katie. I know how special she was to you.” The hollow words of sympathy meant nothing to Ethan so he ignored them.
“I quit.” he simply said. He pulled the badge from his shirt and tossed it onto the desk. Turning on his heel he strode out into the afternoon sun. Ethan stepped up beside him. “Where do you want to go?” he asked quietly.
Ethan looked at the town which had been his home for so long and now betrayed him by letting his mother’s killer go free. “Anywhere but here.” he replied.