Eloy Franklin limped into his two-story house. He closed the door behind him then dropped his cane into a brass umbrella stand. He winced as he straightened his back and squared his shoulders to regain his rigid military posture. Wringing his hands, cramped from holding their gnarled position for so long, he thought about the sheriff’s accusatory words.
He wondered if he held the clue the officer sought. He had witnessed little girl Riley earlier the day in question. She rode her bike right past him. Didn’t bother to lift her hand in return to his greeting. She hadn’t even looked his way. Typical. Young or old, no one ever did. That was fine with Eloy. He preferred it that way—invisible in plain sight.
The West Point graduate of class 1950 hated slipping into the hick monosyllables the man in charge of the investigation expected. If hotshot Sheriff Bryan had been one of his soldiers he’d have given him a stern dressing down, based solely on the look of disgust the cop had settled on “full bird” Colonel Eloy Templeton Franklin. But the retired regimental commander needed to keep up the guise. Had to appear stupid, feeble, clueless.
Eloy had spotted everyone who lived in the cul-de-sac at some point yesterday. First, the sullen teenager who wore a leather jacket embossed with skull and crossbones, a sneer plastered on his face as he rubbed the piece of leather attached to his wrist. Eloy had frowned as that kid disappeared into the side yard of Riley’s house. That psychologist who often “analyzed” Eloy up and down from afar, obviously curious about him but too spooked or standoffish to approach. He figured, surely, even Riley’s parents would be suspects.
And a vehicle he had never seen before had stopped right in front of Riley’s house. No one got out of the black sedan Eloy figured to be a few years old. He replayed the vision. The windows were tinted so dark he couldn’t tell if a man, woman or teenager sat behind the wheel.
Although Eloy’s house’s exterior and yard needed care, the interior was neat as a pin. Newspapers in a tidy fold, not a piece of discarded clothing in sight, no dirty dishes in a kitchen that always smelled of pine scented cleanser. Books were aligned in tight rows, spines assorted by author, all standing straight as men at attention. Melanie Gray would have been surprised to see the book by her husband tucked on the third shelf of the bookcase. His first thought when he recognized her with the sheriff was to hurry inside, pull the coffee table volume filled with dazzling photographs and have her sign his treasured copy. But no, he had to remain in his rocker, do his best not to slosh his glass of tea, look the fool.
Three folded flags, encased in shadowbox frames, were prominently showcased in a cabinet beside the staircase. A spot of light bathed the triangles, their dark blue background dotted with white stitched stars every bit as vibrant as the day they had draped his sons’ caskets during their military funerals.
Only one son remained. The youngest. Eloy never spoke his name. Tried to forget his face and the voice that haunted his dreams. The outcast hadn’t dared to set foot in the colonel’s house for a decade. And yet, Eloy watched for him. And watched out on his neighbors’ behalf in case The Boy—though now forty-five—ever returned.
Sheriff Bryan’s words rambled in his mind as Eloy approached the staircase and took the steps two at a time. Once he reached the hall that led to the bedrooms he frowned at an open door. Hand on the knob, he looked over his weight machines and dumbbells in the room where he followed a strict one hour workout every day. His mind had been slipping lately, forgetting the simplest of things. He closed the door, chiding himself for the carelessness in leaving the room exposed.
He took a few more strides and tugged on a length of twine attached to a panel on the ceiling. Steps dropped down and he ascended these more carefully, not only because of the treacherous slope, but because of what awaited him in the attic.
Eloy spotted the army-issue footlocker stenciled with COL. E. T. FRANKLIN. Unease tapped at his chest. His heart stuttered, knowing the secrets that khaki wooden container with its metal trim held. The Boy’s secrets: well-worn photographs of children being forced to do unspeakable acts, terror frozen on tear-streaked little faces Eloy knew would never again be innocent or carefree.
The Boy had hidden his other stash of shame in Eloy’s closet. They were The Boy’s secrets, but everyone had assumed they were Eloy’s. The old man’s fingerprints, left when he first discovered the abominations, had been enough evidence to charge the former military man with pedophilia. That night two detectives entered his house twenty years ago still gave him nightmares. He could still see SEARCH WARRANT printed on a document as it was thrust into his hands before a squadron of cops stormed his house.
After his thirty day release from county jail he had been allowed to move to a different location within the same state. He had hoped fleeing to a new area every other year would throw The Boy off. Each time, to start anew, so Eloy thought. But, as always, the son somehow found the father. So Eloy decided his latest home would be his last.
And yes, he had been caught peeing in the bushes five months after moving to his new house in Rubicon Ranch, but that was only because of the phone call The Boy chanced earlier that day. His son had threatened to visit if the father didn’t agree to wire two thousand dollars. Eloy hadn’t dared to move from his self-appointed post and go inside to relieve himself. Apparently, he was being watched as much as he played the watcher. Again, he was led away in handcuffs, his scowling face appeared in the newspaper, shunned double-time by his neighbors, again having to notify everyone of his sex offender status.
The authorities hadn’t found the evidence hidden in the footlocker he now approached. That had been added insult The Boy had thrust upon his father. He opened the chest and the musty smell of photographic chemicals, old paper and ancient wool filled his nostrils. He used a sleeve of the trench coat he hadn’t worn in thirty years to brush aside the pornography and dug to the bottom. His hands grasped the cold handle of a short saber. He took out the weapon, relinquished to him from a captured Korean officer, and tugged the blade from its sheath. The outline of his Makarov pistol caught his attention. A full box of ammunition would be in there, too. He thought of taking them out as well, but settled on the short sword instead. The Boy wouldn’t expect that.
And if The Boy in fact had brought harm to little girl Riley, Eloy would need a confession. A bullet fired from his 9mm would surely be fatal. Eloy knew how to use a blade. Was well trained as to what areas of the body to nick, knew full well how long it took for a full grown man to bleed out.
He went to his spot at the dormer window, slid a three-legged stool close to the spotted glass, took up a pair of field glasses from the floor, laid the saber on his lap, and waited.