So many friendly, and familiar faces gone in 2017 . . . God speed to all. And thanks for the memories . . .
By the time I found the address, it was near on to full darkness. The house, a rather stately brown-stone Victorian, was nearly buried in the trees and bushes. I couldn’t make out a house number in the gathering gloom—but I could clearly read the name on the mailbox—Rees.
Maggie and I made our way toward the front door.
It was a lovely Summer evening in Shreveport. Old-fashioned lamps were just coming to life, lighting the picturesque street with their friendly glow. A warm gentle breeze caressed our skin. The sweet music of crickets and frogs emanated from a nearby pond. It was, all-in-all, a tableau of the South. The name of the street was Greenwood. And it was—both green and beautifully wooded. It was a friendly feeling street, one that a person could see themselves living on, even without squinting their eyes very much.
Shreveport was off to a good start in my book.
A bit earlier, I didn’t think that was going to be the case. Maggie and I had beat a hasty path to the DA’s office just as soon as we had landed, and I arranged for a rental car. I had started to reach for Holman’s credit card at the desk, but for some reason at the last second hesitated, and then produced my own. That completed, we quick-stepped our way out of the airport. It was getting late in the afternoon, but I still thought we could make it to Rees’ office with plenty of time to spare.
And we did—only to find that Mr. Rees had already departed for the day.
A big surprise—no. What was though, was the fact that the receptionist produced a sealed plain white business sized envelope with my name on it, as soon as I had identified myself.
I hadn’t expected the cloak-and-dagger (or what I like to call the fun stuff) to begin quite so soon.
The enclosed paper bore a simple handwritten note.
“Mr. O’Brien: I think it better if we speak outside the office. My address is enclosed. Anytime this evening would be fine.”
He ended it by simply scrawling his last name, along with the address on Greenwood, at the bottom of the page. I wondered three things. I wondered if he thought his own office was bugged. And I wondered why he thought it made any difference. Unless of course he knew what I was there to talk about. I certainly hadn’t mentioned it in my call to his secretary. I actually hadn’t even told the sec that I intended to visit the very same day. Thirdly, if he did know the subject of my visit, and the timing—just how the hell did he know it.
I intended to find out as I pressed the doorbell to his house.
I didn’t have long to wait, as I immediately hear a shuffling on the other side of the door, and a moment later it opened. A male figure, silhouetted in the living room light, motioned me in. Another male, dressed in a business suit, was seated on the other side of the well-appointed room. He eyed me warily. The quick response to my ring, and the almost staged scene in the living room made me wonder if they had been pensively waiting for me to appear.
I turned slightly to my right to meet the person who had opened the door. Already his hand was extending to me. I guessed him to be Mr. Rees—and I was correct as he introduced himself, and I confirmed my identity.
“Mr. O’Brien,” he said. “How very good to meet you. Mrs. O’Brien as well. Thank you for coming.”
“Just Johnny and Maggie. Way less formal that way.”
“Sabe will work for me as well.”
I sized him up. And I have to tell you, he came as something of a surprise. Like the man across the room, Rees was also dressed in a business suit. Dark blue, and very stylish. I guessed that he had probably not changed since leaving his office. Mr. Rees was very young, much more so than the person I had expected to meet and had hoped to. I also guessed that the events I had to speak with him about were very likely to have taken place before his birth. His companion, still silent and seated across the room, looked equally young.
The mystery was deepening.
I sallied forth. “You seem to have been expecting me.”
“I was,” he replied.
“May I ask how?”
“A call from Henry Homan’s office.”
“When was that?” I enquired.
“First thing this morning,” Rees replied. “I’d barely opened my office door.”
“You know Holman then?”
I’ve made my living reading faces, for a very long time now. Didn’t have to be much of an expert, or very experienced either, to see the slight bit of distaste register on his though, as he answered.
“Yes.” Was his simple, one-word reply. It spoke volumes.
Mr. Sabe Rees looked like a school-boy in the shadowy room. A nice-looking kid, pushing six-feet in height, and a body weight to match it. Trim. A full head of neatly cut and combed hair—dark brown. Far from an ADA, though, I would have figured him for a computer geek of some kind. It didn’t add up.
“How old are you, Sabe?” I asked.
“You don’t beat around the bush very much, Johnny.”
Maggie jumped in. “You’re not from Louisiana either.”
Rees smiled. “Guilty on both counts. No gray hairs yet, and no accent to go along with them. Not what you were expecting, I’ll bet.”
“Not exactly,” I confirmed.
Rees continued. “I’m thirty-years old, Mr. O’Brien—and I’m from the West. When the murders you’re investigating occurred down here, I was a five-year-old kid in Salem, Utah.”
“Mormon?” I asked.
“Not even slightly,” I smiled.
Motioning to the seated man, he went on.
“This is my friend and associate, Mr. Parker Muller. Parker is a year younger than me, but unlike myself, he is a native-born Louisianan.”
Mr. Muller nodded his head toward us, and Maggie and I returned it. Apparently, a man of few words—although I expected to hear a lot more from him as the evening wore on.
“So, what brought you to Louisiana all the way from Utah?”
“A job. The one I have now, as a matter of fact. The former District Attorney was a man named Reggie Smith. He was a sort of legend in these parts. He was also the father of my best friend in law-school. After his son Dan and I graduated, Reggie offered me a job in his office, if I didn’t mind moving out-of-state.”
“Why you and not the son?”
“Well, Dan had some pretty strong views about what would constitute a satisfying law career for him, and unfortunately for Reggie, that meant not following in the old man’s shoes. Reggie accepted that well enough, and offered me the job instead. He always did kind of like me, and in a lot of ways, I think, considered me to almost be an additional offspring.”
“What happened to Dan?” I asked, mildly curious.
Rees grinned. “Went into divorce law, and became one of the richest men in the State in very short-order.”
I grinned too. “Providing a service that will always be needed.”
“That’s for sure,” Rees agreed. “Anyway, Johnny, that’s how I got to be where I am. Reggie was the DA when the Old Church murders took place. He died of a heart attack a few years ago, but he and I shared enough time talking about the case, that I feel I almost know it as well as him.”
“What about the current DA?”
“A lady DA now. A woman I work for, but not a person I closely associate with off the clock. She has no special knowledge of the case, and had absolutely no part in it what-so-ever.”
“Yes.” He hesitated a few seconds, and then added, “Professionally.”
I guessed that was enough said on that subject. Sometimes you just don’t need to know all the details. It was time to cut to the chase. I turned to Rees’ companion. “What’s your part in this case, Mr. Muller?”
“Direct, Mr. O’Brien—I like that.”
“You have to have a scorecard to know the players.”
“Like Sabe, I’m not a player. But my father was.”
“Steven Muller. You’re his son, and an attorney too.”
“Right, Mr. O’Brien. You’ve done your homework.”
“I took the crash-course. A week ago, I’d never heard of any of this.”
“I’m surprised. These murders were a really big-deal. Movies and everything.”
“I’m not a movie-buff,” I replied. Making that statement was getting to be a routine.
“I’m glad to hear that, O’Brien. You don’t come with pre-conceived ideas.”
“I was hired to find the truth.”
“You sure about that?”
“Maybe,” I hedged. “There’s a lot about Holman that makes me wonder.”
“What about his sidekick?”
“That’d be the one.”
“Him, I don’t wonder about.”
“Why are you here, Muller?”
“Parker, if you don’t mind, O’Brien.”
“Johnny, if you don’t mind either. Why are you here, Parker?”
“Because my father can’t be, Johnny. He’s retired, and in poor health. Moderate early on-set dementia. Most the time he has trouble remembering yesterday, much less twenty-five years ago.”
“Sorry to hear that, Parker. Still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
“Let’s just say I’m looking for the truth too.”
“You don’t think they found it the first time around?”
“You father defended one of the three. The ringleader, if I recall correctly.”
“He did. He was court appointed. Still, he did his best, although they were all convicted anyhow.”
“Why do you two even care?” I addressed the question to them both.
Rees spoke up. “People around here still care. For a lot of them, it might as well have happened last week. It was a bad deal all-round. It should have been done and over a long time ago, but something always comes along to stir things up again. This time it’s you. It’s like an old wound that just won’t ever completely heal.”
“Twenty-five years is a long time,” I said.
“Not in Old Church,” Rees replied. “Hell, not in Louisiana. This is still the South. Child killing doesn’t go over well down here.”
“Amen to that,” Muller added. “Why are you here, Johnny?”
“I’m a hired-hand, that’s all. Paid for by Holman. I do know what he wants though.”
Muller cocked his head.
“He wants these men proven not-guilty.”
“Why. They aren’t in prison anymore.”
“Out on an Alford plea,” I replied. “Worthless to Holman. He wants the world to know they didn’t do it. Another movie deal, I expect. And another big pay-day. Hell, maybe even another gold statue for Dalgetty.”
“That guy creeps me out,” Rees said.
“I’ll bet that’ll make four of us then,” I replied. Everyone smiled, confirming it. “You guys interested in righting an old wrong? Just for the fun of it. There’s nothing in it for anyone—except for Holman and me, that is.”
“I’ve known you ten minutes now, and already you’re lying to me, Johnny.”
I looked Rees square in the eye. “How so?”
“Holman mentioned the little factoid to me that you already donated your rather substantial fee to charity. The recipient called him to authenticate the check. Along with the million dollars, you also got a carte blanche no-limit gold card. Not to mention the possibility of another Jack McGuire novel for you.
I simply smiled. “You do your home-work too.”
“I do. Why, Johnny?”
“Personal reasons. Perhaps I’ll be able to tell you at some point. But I do promise you there won’t be a book.”
“Good enough,” he allowed. “I’d love to help. This is a mystery of long standing. I’d like to know the truth myself.”
“I’m in too,” Muller chimed in.
We all nodded our heads affirmatively, sealing the verbal contract.
“Where do we start?” I said.
“How about a road-trip?” Rees replied.
“You got it, Johnny. The four of us. Tomorrow morning. We’ll get an early start. It’s a fair drive, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk.”
“You know a good place to stay nearby?”
“I do, Johnny. It’s called my guest-room.”
“Can’t get much more nearby than that,” I admitted.
“You mind spending your own money from here on out, Johnny?” Muller asked.
“Not at all.”
“Good. I’d leave Holman’s plastic in my wallet then, if I were you, and go off the grid.”
“Oddly, I’ve had that very same feeling myself,” I replied.
With that, and handshakes all around, we parted company for the night. Muller off to his own house, wife, and family—and Rees, a single guy, showing us to our room. Saying he’d call for us at six in the morning, we said our goodnights.
I was plenty tired, and intended to sleep well. Before I did though, I carefully slid a hard back wooden chair firmly under the doorknob.
“Needed?” Maggie asked.
“Who knows?” I confessed. “Better safe than sorry. After all, as we’ve been told—we are in the still old South.”
We slept like babies, the rest of the night. And the chair, along with the door, never rattled a bit.
Thanks for reading! And a most Happy and Safe New Year’s Eve to all. We’ll see you again in the New Year, with more installments of INNOCENCE, and a lot of other fun stuff. Take care now . . .
My head lolled lightly from one side to the other, almost, but not quite waking me. It was a pleasant dream, and as such, starred Maggie in the leading role. We worked together, side-by-side, in our garden. Never mind that we didn’t have a garden in real life. Mag and I had talked of it many times, and I always agreed, never actually getting around to starting one however. In the dream, I was a green-thumb; again, in real life—not so much. We spoke of little pleasant and precious things, there in our sunny garden. And I knew, with one-hundred percent clarity, that I was the luckiest man on the planet.
The pilot’s announcement finally brought me out of my brief slumber. I smiled at the best thing that had ever happened to me, and told her that I loved her. Maggie smiled wordlessly back at me, she being one of those that do not seem to be able to sleep on an airplane whatsoever. Me—I manage it in fits and bursts. It’s not a restful sleep however.
This time was no exception. By now, Maggie and I had spent enough time in the air to begin to be sick of it. The good news was that our destination was now not far off. The regional airport in Shreveport, Louisiana, to be precise. We had started our journey in a small private jet, and then a smaller yet single-engine prop. Now we were back to the other end of the spectrum—a Boeing 757-200. A good-sized aircraft in anybody’s book.
The plane was a charter, and was designed to hold a couple of hundred people. Today, it carried just two—Maggie and me—along with a flight crew of three. A pilot, co-pilot, and a hostess named Amelia. She looked around the right age to be working her way through college. Nice kid—friendly, and she did a wonderful job of keeping our coffee cups filled. She was well on her way toward a generous end-of-flight gratuity.
The plane looked like a flying cavern with its row upon row of empty seats. Maggie and I were settled in on the starboard side, in the roomier first-class section. The curtain into coach was wide open, but not a sound came from that area of the jet. It was an odd sensation—kind of like the feeling, I imagined, that a couple of survivors of some weird otherworldly thing would have, in the middle of a Stephen King horror novel.
Holman had chartered the plane, just for us. I’m a guy that doesn’t mind throwing around a bunch of money on occasion, but even I shuddered to think what it must have cost him. His own private jet was grounded in LA—the pilot a victim of an apparent case of stomach flu. Holman didn’t want to hold up my investigation, he explained. I also suspected that, once again, he didn’t mind passing up a chance to show that he was loaded.
It was what the man was made of—bravado—and big bucks.
And perhaps more than a few ulterior motives, as well.
I was learning more about him and strange sidekick as the countryside rolled by beneath us, courtesy of Wikipedia. There was plenty to read.
My initial assessment of Holman’s rise to fame was largely correct, just a bit out-of-date. He had made his rather sizable fortune in potty-humor teen comedies all right, but of late had upped his game to more substantial fare. Documentaries and historical pieces. The impetus for the late career quality upgrade was Mr. Vincent Dalgetty, the much peer-honored film star. He had met Dalgetty a few years before, and the friendship had been instant, he explained. I didn’t doubt it—where else would two egos that big have to go, but to each other.
Dalgetty had begun his acting career after just barely clearing the womb, starring first in baby product commercials, and then moving on to cute-kid cereal spots. Mom and dad—both parents and agents—were the driving force in his ascendency. Next up was a stint as a Disney kid. It was short lived however. Dalgetty might have been a darling little shaver, but apparently wasn’t aging well, and by the time he hit his late teens, the pretty-boy child actor was turning into a guy that was unlikely to snag the gal at the end of the movie. The big problemo?—he was ugly. So, he completed a sharp U-turn, and created a new career of not getting the girl—ever. What he got instead, was wildly successful, and incredibly wealthy.
In short—the guy could act, despite the stage-fright. He loved the camera’s eye, but shrunk before a live audience, turning to jelly every time. The theater was out for Mr. Dalgetty.
Now in his early fifties, he had amassed a resume of repute, and sprinkled with gold—Oscar gold. Dalgetty was known for turning down roles that were supposedly fail-proof, to take lesser parts that simply interested him. It paid off. Playing gangsters, crooked-cops, pirates, pimps, and other assorted odd-balls in everything from fantasy to docudramas. And occasionally, just for good measure—a hero—although good guys were not especially his forte. I glanced down the list of his films. I wasn’t particularly surprised to note that I had not seen any of them.
I made a mental note to try to get out to the movies more.
For a movie star, Dalgetty had engendered little scandal—another oddity.
The man we were on our way to meet in Shreveport was most decidedly not a movie star. Mr. Sabe Rees. It was a first name that I had not encountered before. I had messed it up pretty good when I spoke with his secretary earlier in the day. She had chuckled when I stumbled over it, pronouncing it “say-bee.” She corrected me immediately, even as she told me not to worry; absolutely everyone, she assured me, did exactly the same thing.
The actual pronunciation was just like “Gabe,” or “Abe,” only with a “S.” Unusual names always interest me, and as I had the Google-machine up and running, I plugged it in. An English/Welsh name, same as the surname Rees. Sabe, as it turned out, meant “Black,” and Rees, “Fiery-Warrior.” Didn’t sound much like the individual his secretary described to me. She might as well have been his professional agent and personal booster, as she told me that Mr. Rees was, “the human form of sunshine.”
I’ve known a lot of people in my life. Very few of them I would describe in such terms. Especially one that was, as Mr. Rees was, the Assistant District Attorney for the Northern District of the State of Louisiana. I’ve dealt with many a man that held that title, and putting it, along with “nice-guy,” in the same sentence was just a little bit more than oxymoronic.
His secretarial cheering section was my first surprise. The second was when she told me that Mr. Rees would be more than happy to meet with me at my convenience. “Just drop by anytime, Mr. O’Brien,” she had said. Amazing, I thought. At most District Attorney’s offices, private-investigator is a dirty word. Most times when I had dropped it, I was told to go somewhere all right, but not generally their office door.
Might turn out to be an interesting meeting, I thought.
The plane began a sharp descent in its final approach to the airport. The sky was clear and sunny, and offered a nice view of the countryside just outside Shreveport. Farms, homes, and a lot more gravel side-roads than are present in my neck of the woods. It had a friendly look to it, if such a thing can be said about scenery. Lots of bodies of water. Large, small, and long and narrow. Again, restful to the eye.
Plenty of green.
My mind drifted back to a motion picture that I had seen many years before. It was called Blue Velvet, an example of the neo-noir genre, an incredibly scary psychological horror film, and a perfect vehicle for the late, famous scenery chewing actor Dennis Hopper. The thing kept me awake for half the night after I saw it, and I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. It was set in a little fictitious burg called Lumberton, North Carolina. It’s a sweet looking place. Probably a lot of folk’s idea of the perfect spot to retire and settle down to some well-earned peace and quiet. Far from it. The opening credits roll over such bucolic scenes as the ones I watched below the belly of the plane. It’s all a façade, of course. Just under the surface of all that small-town sweetness and light, there lurks complete and utter turmoil. Not to mention a lot of pain, agony—and death.
I remembered my reading material of the night before, and the three thick dossiers enclosed in my briefcase.
I knew all is rarely ever as it seems at first glance. I knew we needed to be very careful here. I knew we were a long, long way from home.
And, I knew very well, that this place, might just be exactly like that one in the movie.
Thanks so much for reading. See you in a few days with Chapter Seven of INNOCENCE, by Lee Capp.
The day turned out to be a complete surprise. Over the years, I have often reflected on the fact that I am no mystic. This day had turned out to not be an exception to that rule. Only difference this time around was the way I was wrong. After our little stunt in Holman’s back yard, I was expecting a quick dissolution of our employer/employee relationship, and I can’t really say that would have broken my heart. Truth of the matter is that I’m a whole lot more comfortable working a case for an indigent for free, than I am taking a pile of money from a rich guy.
The fact that Holman had a big pile of it was again made manifest by his digs. They were grand indeed. A living room best described as majestic, up to the standards of a rather large commercial ski-lodge. Complete with mounted game-heads, bear and lion skin rugs, and cavernous fireplaces. Three of them to be exact. Holman was a big-game hunter, and apparently good at it. There were many corpus delicti. For sure, and despite what I had said, I had not expected in the morning to be sitting in his living room by evening, but that was just exactly where I was at the moment.
Meeting Hollywood Hank for the first time in a “little” group of eight was hardly what I would have imagined the way to an ideal working relationship. I had fully expected to make him a “every last cent” refund of his million dollars out there on his tarmac, and had even brought along my checkbook just for that purpose. As it turned out, the only thing that got signed away that day was my life for the next several weeks.
Turned out too that Holman knew almost as little about me as I did about him. I had least had a working idea of what the dude looked like, being a very public figure, as he was. He, on the other hand, really didn’t have a clue as to who it was that had buzzed his house and landed virtually on his back patio. Holman had hired me by reputation alone—and on the advice of one of his attorneys. I guess word of me had spread in legal, as well as law-enforcement circles.
Following the first few moments after I had announced who I was, Holman had just continued to stare at me. Then, mentally assembling all the jigsaw puzzle pieces, threw back his head and roared with laughter. For like a good solid half minute or so.
Finally bringing himself under control, he strode forward to shake my hand. Hard enough to darn near pull my arm out of its socket.
“O’Brien—I’ll be damned if that’s not the coolest entrance I’ve seen in a long, long time. Sure as hell got my attention!”
“Thanks,” I responded. “I felt a little put-off by Gerald back at the hotel, and I decided to do something about it. I needed to find out if I wanted to work for you or not.”
Holman cocked his head expectantly. “So—what do you say, O’Brien?”
“Looking good so far, Holman,” I smiled.
He pumped my arm a couple more times. “Excellent!” he thundered. “Just Hank, if you don’t mind, O’Brien. Surnames are way too formal for me.”
“Same here,” I replied. “Just Johnny—to my friends.”
“Excellent!” he roared once more, waving off the two security guards. “Friends it is then.” Holman raised his right hand to just above shoulder level and motioned to the odd-looking man standing behind him to come forward. The small man did so, obediently and immediately, just like a well-trained puppy dog.
The little guy was some piece of work—an assessment I reached even before he opened his mouth to speak for the first time. He stood motionless before me. I stuck out my hand. Reluctantly he took it. It was a sensation somewhat akin to picking up a dead wet fish. I had never much liked the experience. That was why I had given up fishing after only my first try. I still didn’t like it, and I made up my mind on the spot to avoid future hand shaking with this person at all costs.
We stared at each other for what seemed a long time. He refused to speak. After what seemed an eternity of silence, I sallied forth. Perhaps, I thought, he hadn’t heard my name clearly just a few minutes earlier.
“Very nice to meet you . . .” I ventured. Silence. “I’m Johnny O’Brien,” I tried again. Again—nothing. I went in for the third attempt. “I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name, Mister . . .” At last something seemed to register in his rather pale and at the same time insipid looking dark eyes.
“That’s because I didn’t throw it to you, Mr. O’Brien,” the odd creature said in a low-toned and somewhat sultry voice. He almost slurred his words, although I could detect no hint of alcohol. I decided it was most likely an intentional speech affectation. A thin smile formed on his lips.
I guessed that was what passed for humor with this rather unique individual. I was at a loss as to how to proceed, and simply stood there in silence blankly staring at him. Finally, Holman stepped in.
“Vincent,” he said with impatience. “Please play nice with our guests.”
“Very well,” he said, throwing back his head and rolling his eyes as he simply turned and walked away—again with the dainty, mincing, and almost lady-like steps. This time he raised both of his hands to shoulder lever—as though to increase his balance. Again, almost lady-like. I simply watched his retreat, as I mildly shook my head.
“Vincent can be an odd duck,” Holman explained, watching the creature’s retreat, a hint of distain in his voice. “I had to accept his last Academy Award for him. Total stage fright, incredibly enough.”
“What does he do?” I innocently asked. I had him figured for a best-boy, key-grip, or something like that. Holman looked surprised.
“You don’t know who he is?” Holman asked with amazement.
“Sorry,” I explained. “I’m not a movie-buff.”
It was Holman’s turn to shake his head. “Vincent Dalgetty, Johnny. Perhaps the best known and hottest superstar in the motion picture industry today. Two Academy Awards and two more Golden Globes, and several more nominations. His last film was a Cannes favorite. It’s already being talked about as his likely third Oscar.”
“What’s it called?” I asked, trying my best to focus.
“Love me to Death,” he replied.
“Murder mystery?” I asked—beginning to get a little interested.
“Hardly, Mr. O’Brien,” he said, slipping back into surnames, and sounding a bit peeved. “An examination, and an indictment of mainstream Christianity’s abhorrent treatment of women, people of color, and gays.”
I wanted to take my turn at head shaking and opinion making, but in fact I hadn’t come here to debate the “merit” of modern American film production—so I mentally bit my tongue and changed the subject.
“Sound interesting,” I faked. “But let’s get down to business, shall we, Hank? I still don’t have the slightest idea of why I’m here, or what it is you were so willing to part with a million dollars for. Frankly, I’d like to hear about it before I make my final decision as to whether I can help you or not.”
“Sounds fair, Johnny. Please, you and your companions come inside for some refreshment, and then we’ll meet—just you and I in private. Let me assure you of one thing though, before we even begin. I’m an extremely wealthy man, Mr. O’Brien. A million dollars really means nothing at all to me. But the fact of the matter is that I’m also an extremely practical man. If I’m going to spend a million dollars, it’s because of one really, very, simple fact.”
“What’s that, Mr. Holman?” I said, observing the latest surname rule.
“Because I expect to make it back well over a hundred-fold.”
“And that sounds fair to me,” I agreed. “Let’s get to work then.”
Smiling and nodding his head in agreement, complete introductions were made all around, and we headed en-masse off toward the house.
We were treated to a sumptuous lunch and later on, a dinner as well. Old Hollywood Holman, as it turned out, was quite a loquacious host—never tiring of telling us of all the rich and famous swells that had been guests in his house before us. By the time evening rolled around, Maggie had had enough, and begged off further entertainment by claiming a splitting headache, leaving me to converse with Holman by myself. Instead of that however, he just piled a mountain of reading material into my arms and wished me a good night. Morning, he said, would be soon enough for our meeting.
Vincent minced his way in and out throughout the day, but never stopped anywhere long enough to engage in conversation again. I was happy about that. The guy, quite frankly, freaked me out just a little. All in all, I reasoned, I’d rather have a pet ferret.
Now, sitting in Holman’s living room alone—the others had retired for the night, Matt and Linh having decided to return in the morning—I was reading three amazingly thick criminal court case files, one for each of three different individuals.
At last, I felt just a bit more in my natural element.
The crime was murder.
Thanks for reading! See you again in a few days . . .
|In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of Saint Nicholas, there lies a small market town which is generally known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given by the good housewives of the adjacent country from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley among high hills which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook murmurs through it and, with the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks the uniform tranquillity.
From the listless repose of the place, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow. Some say that the place was bewitched during the early days of the Dutch settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power that holds a spell over the minds of the descendants of the original settlers. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions.
The dominant spirit that haunts this enchanted region is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannonball in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever seen by the countryfolk, hurrying along in the gloom of the night as if on the wings of the wind. Historians of those parts allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the yard of a church at no great distance, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow is owing to his being in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak. The specter is known, at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that this visionary propensity is not confined to native inhabitants of this little retired Dutch valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by everyone who resides there for a time. However wide-awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
In this by-place of nature there abode, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, a native of Connecticut, who “tarried” in Sleepy Hollow for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity. He was tall and exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, and feet that might have served for shovels. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.
His schoolhouse was a low building of one large room, rudely constructed of logs. It stood in a rather lonely but pleasant situation, just at the foot of a woody hill, with a brook running close by, and a formidable birch tree growing at one end of it. From hence the low murmur of his pupils’ voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard on a drowsy summer’s day, interrupted now and then by the voice of the master in a tone of menace or command; or by the appalling sound of the birch as he urged some wrongheaded Dutch urchin along the flowery path of knowledge. All this he called “doing his duty,” and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin, that “he would remember it, and thank him for it the longest day he had to live.”
When school hours were over, Ichabod was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. Indeed it behooved him to keep on good terms with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda. To help out his maintenance he was, according to custom in those parts, boarded and lodged at the homes of his pupils a week at a time; thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly effects tied up in a cotton handkerchief.
That this might not be too onerous for his rustic patrons, he assisted the farmers occasionally by helping to make hay, mending the fences, and driving the cows from pasture. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity with which he lorded it in the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest, and he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.
In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing master of the neighborhood, and picked up many bright shillings by instructing the young folks in psalmody. Thus, by divers little makeshifts, the worthy pedagogue got on tolerably enough and was thought, by all who understood nothing of the labor of headwork, to have a wonderfully easy life of it.
The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood, being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains. How he would figure among the country damsels in the churchyard, between services on Sundays! – gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; while the more bashful bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s ‘History of New England Witchcraft’. His appetite for the marvelous was extraordinary. It was often his delight, after his school was dismissed, to stretch himself on the clover bordering the little brook and there con over old Mather’s direful tales in the gathering dusk. Then, as he wended his way to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, the boding cry of the tree toad, the dreary hooting of the screech owl, fluttered his excited imagination. His only resource on such occasions was to sing psalm tunes; and the good people of Sleepy Hollow were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody floating along the dusky road.
Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvelous tales of ghosts and goblins, haunted bridges and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman. But if there was a pleasure in all this while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner, it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homeward. How often did he shrink with curdling awe at some rushing blast, howling among the trees of a snowy night, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian of the Hollow!
All these, however, were mere phantoms of the dark. Daylight put mend to all these evils. He would have passed a pleasant life of it if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was — a woman.
Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in psalmody was Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen, plump as a partridge, ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived in her dress. She wore ornaments of pure yellow gold to set off her charms, and a provokingly short petticoat to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.
Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart toward the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy, and abundant.
The Van Tassel stronghold was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm tree spread its broad branches over it, at the foot of which bubbled up a spring of the softest and sweetest water. Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm. Rows of pigeons were enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard.
The pedagogue’s mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye he pictured to himself every roasting pig running about with an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust.
As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadowlands, the rich fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard, burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness. His busy fancy already presented to him the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where.
When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete. It was one of those spacious farmhouses, with high-ridged but low-sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first Dutch settlers, the projecting eaves forming a piazza along the front. From the piazza the wondering Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the center of the mansion. Here, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge bag of wool ready to be spun; ears of Indian corn and strings of dried apples and peaches hung in gay festoons along the walls; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors. Mock oranges and conch shells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various colored birds’ eggs were suspended above it, and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to win the heart of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had to encounter a host of rustic admirers, who kept a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but were ready to fly out in the common cause against any new competitor. Among these the most formidable was a burly, roaring, roistering blade of the name of Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered, with short curly black hair, and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance. From his Herculean frame, he had received the nickname of “Brom Bones.” He was famed for great skill in horsemanship; he was foremost at all races and cockfights; and, with the ascendancy which bodily strength acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes. He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic, but had more mischief and good humor than ill will in his composition. He had three or four boon companions who regarded him as their model, and at the head of whom he scoured the country, attending every scene of feud or merriment for miles round. Sometimes his crew would be heard dashing along past the farmhouses at midnight, with whoop and halloo, and the old dames would exclaim, “Aye, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!”
This hero had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gallantries; and though his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses of a bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether discourage his hopes. Certain it is, his advances were signals for rival candidates to retire; insomuch that, when his horse was seen tied to Van Tassel’s paling on a Sunday night, all other suitors passed by in despair.
Such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod Crane had to contend. Considering all things, a stouter man than he would have shrunk from the competition. Ichabod had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like a supplejack – though he bent, he never broke.
To have taken the field openly against his rival would have been madness. Ichabod, therefore, made his advances in a quiet and gently insinuating manner. Under cover of his character of singing master, he had made frequent visits at the farmhouse, carrying on his suit with the daughter by the side of the spring under the great elm, while Balt Van Tassel sat smoking his evening pipe at one end of the piazza and his little wife plied her spinning wheel at the other.
I profess not to know how women’s hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration. But certain it is that from the moment Ichabod Crane made his advances, the interests of Brom Bones declined; his horse was no longer seen tied at the paiings on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the schoolmaster of Sleepy Hollow. Brom would fain have carried matters to open warfare, and Ichabod had overheard a boast by Bones that he would “double the schoolmaster up, and lay him on a shelf of his own schoolhouse”; but Ichabod was too wary to give him an opportunity. Brom had no alternative but to play off boorish practical jokes upon his rival. Bones and his gang of rough riders smoked out Ichabod’s singing school by stopping up the chimney; broke into the schoolhouse at night and turned everything topsy-turvy. But what was still more annoying, Brom took opportunities of turning him to ridicule in presence of his mistress, and had a scoundrel dog whom he taught to whine in the most ludicrous manner, and introduced as a rival of Ichabod’s to instruct Katrina in psalmody.
In this way matters went on for some time. On a fine autumnal afternoon, Ichabod, in pensive mood, sat enthroned on the lofty stool whence he usually watched all the concerns of his little schoolroom. His scholars were all busily intent upon their books, or slyly whispering behind them with one eye kept upon the master; and a kind of buzzing stillness reigned. It was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a Negro, mounted on the back of a ragged colt. He came clattering up to the school door with an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merrymaking to be held that evening at Mynheer Van Tassel’s.
All was now bustle and hubbub in the lately quiet schoolroom. The scholars were hurried through their lessons, without stopping at trifles; those who were tardy had a smart application now and then in the rear to quicken their speed, and the whole school was turned loose an hour before the usual time.
The gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing up his only suit, of rusty black. That he might make his appearance in the true style ofa cavalier, he borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was staying. The animal was a broken-down plow horse that had outlived almost everything but his viciousness. He was gaunt and shaggy, with a ewe neck and a head like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burrs; one eye had lost its pupil, and was glaring and spectral, but the other had the gleam of a genuine devil. In his day he must have had fire and mettle, if we may judge from the name he bore of Gunpowder.
Ichabod was a suitable figure for such a steed. He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers’; he carried his whip perpendicularly in his hand, like a scepter, and, as his horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. A small wool hat rested nearly on the top of his nose, and the skirts of his black coat fluttered out almost to the horse’s tail.
Around him nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. As he jogged slowly on his way, his eye ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast stores of apples gathered into baskets and barrels for the market, others heaped up in rich piles for the cider press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun. He passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered and garnished with honey by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel. It was toward evening that Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Eleer Van Tassel, which he found thronged with the pride and flower of the adjacent country. Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk withered little dames, in close crimped caps, longwaisted short gowns, homespun petticoats, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated in dress as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock gave symptoms of city innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued with an eelskin in the fashion of the times, eelskins being esteemed as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair. Brom Bones, however, was the hero of the scene, having come to the gathering on his favorite steed, Daredevil, a creature, like himself, full of mettle and mischief, and which no one but himself could manage.
Ichabod was a kind and thankful creature, whose spirits rose with eating as some men’s do with drink. He could not help rolling his large eyes round him on the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table in the sumptuous time of autumn. Such heaped-up platters of cakes and crullers of various kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! And then there were apple pies and peach pies and pumpkin pies, besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and, moreover, delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces, not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, with the motherly teapot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst. Ichabod chuckled with the possibility that he might one day be lord of all this scene of almost unimaginable luxury and splendor. Then, he thought, how soon he’d turn his back upon the old schoolhouse and snap his fingers in the face of every niggardly patron!
And now the sound of the music from the hall summoned to the dance. The musician was an old gray-headed Negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. He accompanied every movement of the bow with a motion of the head, bowing almost to the ground and stamping with his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start.
Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers. Not a limb, not a fiber about him was idle as his loosely hung frame in full motion went clattering about the room. How could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous! The lady of his heart was his partner in the dance, and smiling graciously in reply to all his amorous oglings; while Brom Bones, sorely smitten with love and jealousy, sat brooding by himself in one corner.
When the dance was at an end, Ichabod was attracted to a knot of the sager folks, who, with old Van Tassel, sat smoking at one end of the piazza, gossiping over former times, and drawing out long stories about ghosts and apparitions, mourning cries and wailings, seen and heard in the neighborhood. Some mention was made of the woman in white, who haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite specter of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late near the bridge that crossed the brook in the woody dell next to the church; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.
The tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the horseman returning from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over hill and swamp until they reached the church bridge. There the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the treetops with a clap of thunder.
This story was matched by Brom Bones, who made light of the Galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey. He affirmed that, on returning one night from a neighboring village, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch, and should have won it, too; but just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.
The revel now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and were heard for some time rattling along over the distant hills. Some of the damsels mounted behind their favorite swains, and their lighthearted laughter, mingling with the clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands. Ichabod only lingered behind, according to the custom of country lovers, to have a tete-a-tete with the heiress, fully convinced that he was now on the high road to success. Something, however, I fear me, must have gone wrong, for he sallied forth, after no very great interval, with an air quite desolate and chopfallen. Oh, these women! these women! Was Katrina’s encouragement of the poor pedagogue all a mere trick to secure her conquest of his rival! Let it suffice to say, Ichabod stole forth with the air of one who had been sacking a henroost, rather than a fair lady’s heart. Without looking to the right or left, he went straight to the stable, and with several hearty cuffs and kicks, roused his steed most uncourteously.
It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travel homeward. Far below, the Tappan Zee spread its dusky waters. In the dead hush of midnight he could hear the faint barking of a watchdog from the opposite shore. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal.
All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard earlier now came crowding upon his recollection. He would, moreover, soon be approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid.
Just ahead, where a small brook crossed the road, a few rough logs lying side by side served for a bridge. A group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it. Ichabod gave Gunpowder half a score of kicks in his starveling ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal only plunged to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles. He came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment, in the dark shadow on the margin of the brook, Ichabod beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler.
The hair of the affrighted schoolteacher rose upon his head, but, summoning up a show of courage, he demanded in stammering accents, “Who are you!” He received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more agitated voice. Still there was no answer. Once more he cudgeled the sides of the inflexible Gunpowder and, shutting his eyes, broke forth with involuntary fervor into a psalm tune. Just then the shadowy object of alarm put itself in motion and, with a scramble and a bound, stood at once in the middle of the road. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame. He kept aloof on one side of the road, jogging along on the blind side of old Gunpowder, who had now got over his waywardness.
Ichabod quickened his steed, in hopes of leaving this midnight companion behind. The stranger, however, quickened his horse to an equal pace. Ichabod pulled up, and fell into a walk, thinking to lag behind – the other did the same. His heart began to sink within him. There was something in the stranger’s moody silence that was appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow traveler in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horrorstruck on perceiving that he was headless! But his horror was still more increased on observing that the stranger’s head was carried before him on the pommel of the saddle.
Ichabod’s terror rose to desperation; he rained a shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping to give his companion the slip, but the specter started full jump with him. Away then they dashed, stones flying and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod’s flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse’s head in the eagerness of his flight.
They had now reached that stretch of the road which descends to Sleepy Hollow, shaded by trees for about a quarter of a mile, where it crosses the famous church bridge just before the green knoll on which stands the church.
Gunpowder, who seemed possessed with a demon, plunged headlong downhill. As yet his panic had given his unskillful rider an apparent advantage in the chase; but just as he had got halfway through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and Ichabod felt it slipping from under him. He had just time to save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck when the saddle fell to the earth. He had much ado to maintain his seat, sometimes slipping on one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse’s backbone, with a violence that he feared would cleave him asunder.
An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand. He saw the whitewashed walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convuisive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash – he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider passed by like a whirlwind.
The next morning old Gunpowder was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass at his master’s gate. Ichabod did not make his appearance at breakfast; dinner hour came, but no Ichabod. The boys assembled at the schoolhouse, and strolled idly about the banks of the brook; but no schoolmaster. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon the saddle trampled in the dirt. The tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin. The brook was searched, but the body of the schoolmaster was not to be discovered.
The mysterious event caused much speculation at the church on the following Sunday. Knots of gazers were collected in the churchyard, at the bridge, and at the spot where the hat and pumpkin had been found. They shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the Galloping Hessian. As he was a bachelor, and in nobody’s debt, nobody troubled his head anymore about him. It is true, an old farmer who had been down to New York on a visit several years after brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had only changed his quarters to a distant part of the country, had kept school and studied law at the same time, had turned politician, and finally had been made a justice of the Ten Pound Court. Brom Bones too, who shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin, which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.
The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means. The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious awe, and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse, being deserted, soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the the ghost of the unfortunate teacher; and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied Ichabod’s voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.
Thanks so much for reading. Have an enjoyable, safe Halloween . . . and happy hauntings!