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Authors: Tristan Egolf

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BOOK: Kornwolf
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Now it was simply a matter of finding it.

By mid-afternoon, their efforts had paid off. An Orderly vendor
downtown, at the market, on reading the article Tulk had presented them, pointed them west toward an athletic center.

Ten minutes later, Cleon Stoltzfus, the idiot, had set the building on fire. No one had seen him produce the gas can. Everyone else had been ramming the door. By dousing a patch of the outside wall, then lighting it, he had set them back hours. And, seeing how The Devil hadn't been in the building, their time in confinement had served no purpose.

Reviewing it now, while driving east on 342, getting closer to home, Benedictus was seeing the gravel-strewn shoulder ahead through a blood-red tint.

He was furious above all with Davin Stutz, who had shown up to represent them (late) unprepared, disheveled and oddly spooked. He looked as though he'd been beaten up. The Minister didn't know what to make of it. In fifteen years' worth of dealings, he'd never seen his attorney in such a state. Normally, Stutz would've been on a roll. He would've been storming the floor at a clip …

But not this evening, it seemed. Effectively worthless throughout the proceedings to follow, he never
once
consulted his clients. He never made eye contact with the judge. It seemed to be all he could summon to qualify three of the five men in question for bail.

In the end, he argued (without conviction)—and, once more, forgoing their consultation—that Cleon Stoltzfus and Ivan Grabers had succumbed to a “momentary loss of reason.” His logic, by force of deduction, being: through placing the blame for the less circumstantially clear—and thus, more easily contested—charge of attempted arson on
two
of them, the others might be released for the evening. And somebody had to get back to the mill. It was now under the insufficient guard of the younger Stoltzfi, James and Ezekiel.

The three of them might have thanked their attorney for posting bail with his own money—as, otherwise, all of them could have remained in jail overnight, if not through the week. Benedictus understood that part. What he
didn't
get was why Stutz had been so ineffective, so utterly worthless in court: watching him mumble
his way through their plea, frequently trailing off in midsentence, engendering awkward vacuums of silence while fumbling over his notes, had been torture.

He was sitting in a town car, parked across the street from the precinct, upon their release. Slowly, he got out and motioned them over. They waited for traffic, then crossed in a pack.

As they gathered around him, huddled in the shadows of the parking garage, Benedictus demanded: “What in the hell is
wrong
with you, Davin?”

Stutz, looking less than impressed, explained.

Then, after fifteen years, he dropped them.

Veering into the driveway now, the Minister stewed on his parting remarks. “If it weren't for the video footage, we might have a chance. My condolences, gentlemen. Good luck.”

Their bail had been part of a “severance” package—a parting gift, an attorney's farewell.

Trying to piece it together was maddening.

Apparently, the boy had gotten himself into serious trouble that afternoon. And that atheist lawyer, that renegade Mennonite hippy, Yoder, had jumped right in. And so had Sister Grizelda, the trollop. And Bishop Schnaeder, to complicate matters. They had all gone before Talmud Percy, Lord deliver, early that evening. Foreseeably, Ephraim had been pronounced a “victim” of too much corrective zeal.

The irony there may have lay in the fact that, of late, the boy had been
under
disciplined. True, a proper thrashing had followed the superstore incident, naturally enough, but no further measures, aside from a public shaming in church, had been implemented. Aside from that, the Minister hadn't laid eyes on Ephraim for over a week. The boy had vanished. His obligations around the house had gone unperformed. The hinny had wandered into the forest. The tobacco that hung in the shed was ruined. The mail had been piling up for days, during which there had been no sign of Ephraim. And the Minister hadn't bothered to look for him, either. His time had been spent otherwise. By day, he'd been occupied
guarding the mill, and by night, he'd been out on the road patrols. Surely, whatever condition the boy may have been in, at present, was self-inflicted.

But Percy, the bleeding heart, wouldn't have known that. And, as the arraignment that evening had played out, his vision might have been clouded the more.

Nothing was clear, as of yet—no clearer than Davin Stutz's report on the case, which included a felony bribery charge purportedly backed up by video footage.

Although, as the Minister understood it, Davin hadn't
viewed
that footage—hadn't verified its admissibility—he had, nonetheless, withdrawn in the face of the mere allegations presented by Yoder: namely, that Rudolf had taken a payoff in “cornhome” and District Seven's offerings.

Benedictus would never have thought to imagine that someone might catch them on film. The idea was so far removed from his scope of conjecture, he didn't know how to consider it … Someone (or something) had caught them on camera from one of the hotel windows. Was that it? The possibility dawned with increasing alarm on the Minister: it would've been easy. Those windows were twenty-five yards from the porch. That building had shadowed his house for so long that he often forgot it was even there. But it was. Assuredly. Anyone could have checked in and recorded their whole exchange.

But who in the world would have done so? And why?

The list of possibilities rolled.

Bishop Schnaeder was the first one who came to mind. There was simply no telling the measures to which he might opt to resort in “cleansing” the church. And again, according to Stutz, he
had
attended Ephraim's arraignment that evening.

Yet, supposing that he might have disregarded the Ordnung's stance on graven images, he still wouldn't know how to operate a camera. He wouldn't have known how to turn on the power. Years in Schnaeder's company told Benedictus it had to be someone else.

Grizelda, more likely. Yes: his sister. Deception had always been her greatest asset. In that, Benedictus himself had conditioned her: back in the years when he'd shown up to work in his parents' barn every Saturday morning—before he had fallen out of grace with them, back when Grizelda was only a child and could never remember—(
could
she?)—or attempt to resist though he might picture it now—she had followed him into the stables, and down through a hatch in the floor to the lower pens, through the shadows—he'd never forgotten—and into the corner, and down on her knees in the straw to where not crying out was rewarded with candy, and keeping her mouth shut was bartered in shame.

Thus, he had taught her the fundamentals of telling and thinking and living the lie.

And now she was using them all against him.

Was that it?

She certainly loathed him enough. As well, there was nothing she wouldn't have done for the boy. And she wasn't hung up, technologically.

No, he wouldn't have put it past her. But he wouldn't have put her
up
to it, either. Grizelda, beyond all the bluster, was not that resourceful. In truth, she was palpably dense. She wouldn't have thought to stake out the house with an English camera. Not as described. She might have
done
it, upon suggestion—but she wouldn't have thought of it. That much was certain. It had to be somebody else.

Beaumont?

No.

Unless
he had been undercover for years, Rudolf was out of the question.

It might have been somebody out for his badge, though. Another policeman. Or maybe an activist.

Either prospect was bad enough—as Beaumont had never maintained any loyalties: one sign of trouble, and he would've cracked. He would have turned them all in on a dime—even though turning them in, in this case, wouldn't have cleared him
of his own involvement. No, he wouldn't be able to worm his way out of this mess: not before Percy … It had to be somebody other than Rudolf. And probably not a cop, for that matter. The cops would never have handled it thus. He wouldn't be coming up, now, as an accessory—and not in a pending domestic case. At this point, Rudolf was one more culprit snared in a widely expanding net. He would pay, dearly, along with the rest of them, once his role in this matter was public. But Counselor Yoder would never allow him to cloud the prosecution's objective. Yoder was after the Minister, first and foremost.

Yoder was after him.

Why?

No matter how he stacked it, the picture still didn't fall together logically.

For one thing, Yoder had never gone after the mill. He may have done battle with Stutz, on occasion, but never with Benedictus. No grudge, to speak of, existed between them. Even though Yoder had grown up Plain, the two men were unacquainted personally. After all, Yoder had been raised as a Mennonite—and not only that, but a
Beachy
Mennonite … The Beachies drove cars. They used electricity. Their sons became English hippy lawyers … He would've been out of touch with most of the larger, more fundamental Old Order.

So somebody had to be working with him: someone who had it in for the mill. Yoder had claimed to have in his possession, with every intention of submitting them to Percy, highly incriminating photos of the premises.

Again, the “evidence” hadn't been cleared. Furthermore, as with the videotape, the source had gone undisclosed, as of yet.

At once, Benedictus remembered the odd disturbance at the compound two weeks earlier. Could someone (or something) have infiltrated the building and taken photos then?

Again, it couldn't have been Grizelda: she wouldn't have made it over the fence. And as much as the Minister would have preferred to believe that Ephraim was somehow to blame, he couldn't
accept the idea that the boy had been able to breach their alarms undetected. No. The boy wasn't smart enough. No.

It had to be someone incredibly fast—someone skilled: someone clearly intent on riding the Minister's back as a personal curse …

The Devil.

Yes. That would account for it.

Just as the damage incurred on his homestead—the waterwheel torn from its axis, the fence in tatters, the property scattered with refuse—loomed on either side of the lane in the moonlight, as though in confirmation, Benedictus began to understand. After all this time, it was clear.

Thus, his only remaining option presented itself in direct appeal: he would have to find and kill it himself. Alone. Tonight. At once. With a gun … There wasn't much time left to settle the matter. Minister Bontrager's dealings with Beaumont, as captured on film and presented to Percy, would open a can of worms that would implicate all but the slickest of fish in The Basin. Benedictus would never survive, in community standing, the days to come. First, he would be excommunicated. Then run out of business. Then, possibly, jailed.

Likewise, The Devil's hours were numbered. With most of the township out for its hide—twenty patrols, by the latest count—and acknowledging claims by an English farmer to have shot and wounded it the night before, there was no way the killing would outlive this season. It probably wouldn't survive the evening.

The Devil and Benedictus stood to gain by naught but the other's demise.

With that in mind, the Minister trained his focus on hastening matters along. Beginning now: he would go inside, load his Mossberg and start walking north. In the fields between Welsh-town Road and the mill, where most of the recent attacks had occurred, it would surely appear to him—
some
where, unable to balk at his challenge. And so, it would die.

He got out of the buggy and tethered the pacer to one of the only standing fence posts. He managed to kick in the front gate,
which hung by a thread, then walk up the cobblestone path, surrounded by garbage and rotting vegetables.

Even before he climbed the stairs, he noticed a light in the sitting room window. A lantern was burning behind the shade. Someone had been in the house in his absence.

It couldn't have been the boy—not if what Davin Stutz had maintained was true. Ephraim had been confined to house arrest, with the Hostlers, pending inquiry. No one but Tulk had the keys to this house, and Tulk was en route to the mill, as agreed upon.

Benedictus paused on the porch. Standing between two holes in the floorboards, he gazed at a swipe of paint on the wall that had dried in the form of a question mark.

Straightening up, he opened the door to be met with an out-pouring draft of rot. There must have been something dead in the house—a possum or groundhog that might have dropped in through the shattered windows and choked on a mothball. Benedictus hadn't smelled anything worse since their final congregation. Instead of triggering caution or fear, the smell just succeeded in fueling his rage.

He pulled out a handkerchief, buried his face in it. He jammed the door with an open palm. It swung in, banging the wall. A wave of rancid heat blew over and past him. A deep, soundless hum made the inside walls of his ear canals quiver and itch. Around him, as though in the path of a coming tornado: a static-charged calm hung heavy. Once he was inside, the sensation intensified. Here, the entire scale was off. The ceiling and floor looked out of perspective. The hallway's dimensions had shifted, it seemed. The walls appeared vaguely ephemeral, shrouded, as though bleeding through from a parallel vortex. The light spilling out of the sitting room, down the hall to the left, was an off-shade of burgundy—
un
like the glow of an oil lamp. There seemed to be something missing, as well … A coat rack? … A mantel? … Then,
added
, perhaps? He couldn't tell what, but something was different.

His head felt dizzy. He started to spin.

Again, he buried his face in the handkerchief. Squinting, he moved down the hall toward the light. His footsteps echoed ahead of him. A creak in the floorboards echoed all through the house. He was sweating. The back of his throat was parched and dry. His lungs felt tight and congested … There was something intensely familiar to all of this—every instant, a bygone whisper, every movement, a revisitation.

BOOK: Kornwolf
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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