Monday 26 – Wednesday 28 December 2011
Ben Tollard made his way up to Amber Carlson’s front door. The lumber he’d carried over his left shoulder had shifted as he’d walked, and was now sitting quite uncomfortably, and cutting into his neck. He transferred the four planks of wood clumsily to his right shoulder, before knocking on the door. Today, with Dylan Partridge in town, Ben Tollard was impatient and nervous, and waiting for Amber to answer the door was agonising.
‘AMBER,’ he yelled, ‘I gotcha lumber here. You wanna answer the door. This shit is heavy.’ He thought he could hear her footsteps through the house, but she didn’t appear. He knocked harder on the door, rattling the glass insert, and thought he picked up the sound of footsteps in the hallway again. Still, there was no answer. Frustrated by Amber’s disrespect of him, he dumped the four planks of wood at her front door. Fishing around in his top pocket, Ben pulled out a pencil and scribbled a note on the reverse of the invoice: You said you’d be home at 10. I came. You weren’t here. Nice one Carlson. I expect you to come in and pay right away. He lifted up two planks of wood and poked the invoice note under them.
‘Last time I do a delivery for her,’ he mumbled to himself as he stomped back to his truck, turning back to the house once, unable to shake the feeling that he was being watched. Ben Tollard was not a man who was easily spooked. When you grew up with Tollard blood running through your veins, scared and spooked were not words that fitted into your vocabulary. However, the silence and solitude that currently enveloped Amber Carlson’s house were unsettling to say the least.
Once he’d got back in his truck, Ben stared at the front of the house, almost willing something, someone to move. He was sure that he’d heard footsteps inside.
‘Damn Partridge’s got me on edge,’ he said to calm his nerves, but it didn’t work. His plans would have to be adapted now that Dylan Partridge in town, and he didn’t like the apparent advances that Sheriff Barber was making towards Amber, not to mention that John Hardy always seemed to be hanging around when Ben wanted to speak to Amber.
‘Yep, plans have gotta change now.’ He started the ignition, threw the truck into reverse, and sped out of Amber’s driveway, plotting a new approach as he drove back to the store.
It took Ben all of five minutes to drive from Amber’s house back to his hardware store. He sauntered in through the back service door, but stopped when he saw his elderly father dealing with a young female customer. The man had a way with women, always had, and from a young age, Ben had admired his father’s ability to entrance members of the opposite sex. He continued in to the store, making his entrance heard as he approached the old man.
‘Hey, pop. Nice to see you,’ Ben patted his father gently on the shoulder, unsure if the partially deaf man heard him.
Ben Tollard, Sr. turned to greet his only child.
‘Benny, Benny, Benny,’ he said after giving his young female customer a sly smile, and sending her to the service counter with a pink handled screwdriver. ‘Seems the ladies like these pink monstrosities, son,’ he waved an old, arthritic hand over the shelf which held the range of ladies tools.
‘Seems they do, pop. Either that or you’ve still got enough charm to sell ice to the Eskimos.’ Both men gave a similar snicker. Ben led his father to the back office room. He didn’t want anyone else overhearing the conversation.
Making sure that office door was securely closed, and that no one had followed them, Ben spoke quietly to his father.
‘I did as you said, I dropped the lumber off, made a bit of a fuss, wrote a note, and left. I don’t know if anyone saw me, but they’d just assume that I was making a delivery to her house.’
Ben, Sr. smiled. ‘Good boy. You set it up just fine. So, why are you so jumpy?’
‘I think there was someone in the house.’ Ben, Jr. absentmindedly ruffled his hair and then scratched his chin.
‘Why so?’ his father replied. He leaned against his son’s desk, his old legs were unable to hold him upright for any length of time these days.
‘I heard footsteps. After I knocked and called out, I’m sure I heard someone walking to the door, but they stopped before they got to close. Must have realised I’d get a pretty good look at them through the glass. But I swear to God, pop, there was someone in that house.’
Ben, Sr. slapped his son on the shoulder.
‘Okay, okay, so if there was someone in the house, they’re only going to think you were making a delivery. Nothing surprising there.’ He spoke with the confidence of a man who had been through a lot in his life.
‘I was wondering,’ the younger Ben hesitated, ‘what are the chances that Partridge has –’
‘Partridge doesn’t know shit, boy,’ Ben, Sr. interrupted his son’s thought. ‘He comes back every year hoping to find something about his missing sister. He hasn’t found a thing. Never will. There’s nothing to find. Stephanie Partridge disappeared, never to be seen again, no evidence left behind, no trace of anything whatsoever. Don’t concern yourself with him.’
His father’s words calmed Ben, Jr. a little, and the old man could see the relief in his boy’s eyes.
‘Benny, don’t worry. You’re doing fine,’ he held his son’s face in his hands as he spoke. ‘Things have a way of working out for the best for the Tollards. For as long as I can remember, nothing bad has ever fallen back our way. Stick to your plan, forget about Partridge, focus on what you want to achieve. I’ll start working on Sheriff Barber.’ He raised an eyebrow and smiled at his son. Months of planning would unfold over the next two days, and Dylan Partridge would be out of the town’s memory forever.
. . . To be continued . . .