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THE AWFUL ANSWER % later that day Howard decided to inspect the grounds outside the auction barn. Nothing back there but a tarp that he’d seen before. Look under the tarp. He pulled up a corner of the tarp. Ah-hah! The snow machine that Critter had promised his son. Been sitting here all along. Where did Critter get the money to buy it? Wonder if Billy had the pleasure of at least one ride before his demise. Back in Critter’s apartment in the auction barn, Howard rummaged around in search for the keys to the snowmobile, which he found in a sneaker in Billy’s room. Now he had the means to visit Tess Jordan on the Trust land. Plus he could have some fun running the machine over the magnificent trails that the Darby snowmobile club kept groomed. He went through Critter’s file cabinet for the umpteenth time and found a receipt for the snowmobile. Critter had paid cash. Did he get that much dough blackmailing perverts? While he was screwing around in the files Howard happened upon a green paper with the Trust logo. The page had been ripped out of a book. Critter must have been burgling in the Salmon library and made off with this page. Howard peered through his reading glasses and puckered his lips. The words seemed to tremble as he read them one by one. Raphael Salmon didn’t say outright that he had shot and killed Ike Jordan, but that was the conclusion any reasonable person would come to. From the Squire’s scrawl and limited info, Howard couldn’t figure what exactly had gone on, but this much was clear: Ike had been blackmailing Raphael Salmon for a couple of reasons, one of which was the Squire had been carrying on an affair with Estelle Jordan, though there must have been another reason. Do you get it, Howie? 164 Yeah, I do. If Ike were murdered, the Squire would be rid of a nuisance while at the same time he could blame Ike’s death on the company that had wanted to build a shopping mall in Darby. The Squire had believed that the death of a lowlife like Ike Jordan would be beneficial to the Trust, to the town, to the world. This new information supplies the awful answer to a question that you and others asked yourselves a long time ago. Howard recalled the town meeting when the Squire had made a dramatic appearance on behalf of the Trust and against the company that wanted to build that shopping mall. He had invoked Ike’s name, had told the town that he had information that Ike was murdered. The Squire had accused the company of taking Ike out for his opposition to the mall, and then the Squire had collapsed. The Squire’s theatrics and later untimely timely death worked to defeat the mall. Constable Godfrey Perkins had pursued Ike’s son, Critter, as a suspect in his father’s death, instead of pursuing the mall company. What was crazy was that Critter acted as if he’d done the deed, but Perkins couldn’t prove anything and eventually the case went into a deep freeze file. With his discovery, Howard understood that Critter had a motive for a vendetta against Birch as the Squire’s heir and against the Trust. But what does he have against you, Howie? Hard to believe that Critter would go through the trouble of cutting down and hauling off a single tree on the Trust just to harass Birch, and he probably was not even aware of your tall tale about naming yourself after that tree. Tall tale? Never mind—what about Birch? Birch, if he knew the truth revealed in the Squire’s Journal, would have wanted to protect the memory of his grandfather Raphael. Something happened and is still happening between Critter and Birch. The Squire was capable of murder, we know that. But . . . No, not Birch. Not Birch. Not Birch. All this thinking was wearing on Howard, so he reduced it to one conviction: he had to protect Birch. From that thought he concocted a plan to do One Great Thing before his inevitable farewell. If had continued to think, he would have realized that the idea, though spectacular , was not a good one. But instead of continuing to think, he did what he’d always done over his lifetime. He followed a course set by 165...


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MARC Record
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