".....do you know what happened to him?" Jon asked eagerly. Forty, fifty years ago.....and Jon himself was only somewhere around thirty in age, at least he finally knew that.
A father? An uncle? A family friend? Or sheer coincidence? His memory of a farmhouse that no longer existed argued that he had some connection to the person whose name had been scratched, in idleness, into that shingle.
"Oh, I wouldn't know that, sir," Aubrey replied. "If I am remembering correctly, and I might be entirely mistaken about this, I seem to remember hearing that he disappeared....went west, California, it might have been, to make his fortune, or something like that, which is the only reason I remember his name at all. I don't think anyone ever knew what happened to him, so, well, sir, you know how people talk. Apparently it was a nine-day mystery, at the time." He shrugged.
"Do you know the family's last name? I guess from the way you described it, it wasn't the Wellborne family."
"No, sir, these would be the people who built the house in the first place, the Wellbornes bought it from the original owners. No, I wouldn't know their name, but old man Wellborne, he'd know, for certain."
"Thank you," Jon smiled happily at the farmer, stuck out his hand for a good-bye handshake, blissfully ignoring the farmer's hesitation.
He retraced his steps, found the broken shingle he'd dropped.
And walked back to the opening in Salamanca's outer wall, striding through the early morning chill, unmindful of the Fir Bolg and Tuatha that he strode past.
He would have been whistling, if he knew how to whistle.
He sat on the steps of the train station, thinking, feeling, watching the stars twirl in the heavens. This far from the big city, with no zone walls, and no city lights, only the pale glow of the ancient street lamps and the greenish glow from the cemetery, the stars shone with a glory unmatched even in his beloved Steel Canyon.
He could hardly sit still.
Hours later, as mist still clung to the damp pavement even in the face of the early morning sun, he got up, walked the short way to the University, intending to ask about the campus library.
And found the buildings still locked.
Another hour or so, and he caught up with a man in a tweed jacket unlocking a side door into one of the campus buildings.
"....sorry, mister," the man told him. "Today's Saturday. No classes today, and I'm just picking up some papers I forgot to take home with me."
"....oh...." Jon stood, mouth agape, momentarily at a loss.
He walked to the town's administrative building, hoping that they might at least open, thinking that he might be able to look up the property records or tax records for the Wellborne and Henderson farms. He hung around the locked doors for another hour or two, before his growling stomach reminded him that he hadn't even eaten supper the previous evening, let alone breakfast.
Apparently, Salamanca was enough of a back-water town that nothing much was open on the weekends.
He went back to the farmhouse now identified as "the Wellborne farm", knocked on the door, and when he got no answer, dared to peer into the windows. Lace curtains revealed as much as they hid; he could make out a neat-as-a-pin interior, antique-looking furnishings, which, Jon mused, were probably not "antiques" at all, but the real thing.
Apparently, the Wellborne family were out of town for the weekend.
Now thoroughly depressed again, he trudged back to the train station, caught a train back to Steel.
Stopping in a convenience store along the way, he grabbed the first wrapped sandwich he saw in the cold case without bothering to read the label, bought it, peeled the plastic open as he walked toward his apartment, his precious shingle clutched under one arm, then found himself biting into a pimento cheese sandwich.
He hated pimento.
He started to toss it into a garbage can he saw by the side of the street, then stopped. Turning to his left, he wove his way between buildings, coming to a halt in one of the alleys he knew so well.
A mangy dog lifted his muzzle from an overturned garbage can, looked up at him, and whined.
Jon crouched down, tore the sandwich into pieces and laid them out on the pavement, then backed away slowly.
Keeping a wary eye on the scrapper, the mongrel slunk forward, snapped up a bit of the sandwich, and quickly backed up, growling and snapping as he wolfed the food down.
"It's okay, buddy," Jon told him, his voice soft and low. "It'll be okay."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012