by Steve Joos
A menacing figure arrives in a small town and the local chief of police wants to know why
|Stranger in the rain
A steady, cold rain fell on the town as the afternoon bus pulled into the local Greyhound terminal.
An old woman visiting her relatives was the first to disembark. Several other less menacing travelers followed, and then him.
The grim one-eyed stranger was polite, but far from friendly as he picked up his luggage and headed for a boarding house on the fringe of the local business district. He carried a canvass suitcase and a black briefcase.
What was in that case was not the type of thing a visiting businessman would carry with him. Nor would the local chief of police take out a cruiser and shadow a travelling salesman as he made his way to the boarding house.
“My name? John Franks,” the stranger told the chief when confronted.
“Why are you here?” the middle-aged man in uniform demanded.
“I have some business to attend to.”
“What’s in the case?”
“Do I ha have to open it?”
Reluctantly, Franks snapped open his case and gave the chief a glimpse of its contents.
The chief looked inside the case, flashed an embarrassed grin, and snapped it shut.
“What did you think was in there?” Franks asked.
“That is none of your concern,” was the reply. “Now, I don’t know who you are Mr. uh,”
“Mr. Franks. I don’t care who you are, but you have until Sunday to clear out of here.”
The chief pulled a newspaper clipping from the case.
“Why are you so interested in what happened to those kids at that old motel headed to Newmansville?”
“Why not?” Franks said with a deceptively businesslike tone. “There were two kids who were going together and apparently some misguided individuals didn’t like it, or robbed them, or something. I didn’t like reading about what happened to them.”
“And I don’t like the way you’re talking!” the chief declared. “I don’t know who you are, or where you’ve come from, I just want you to do whatever legal business you have in this town and then you get out as soon as you can! Without any trouble!”
Franks showed no emotion as he looked up at the chief from his chair.
“Fair enough,” he said. “I’ll take care of my business and leave.”
“See that you do. I will have somebody watching to make sure of it.”
“Hey chief,” Franks said as the chief rose to leave the room,
“I saw coming into town that one of the churches is having revival services this week.”
“I just hope it’s successful.”
The chief just shrugged.
"I just wish their choir knew something other than 'Almost Persuaded.'"
As the chief returned to his police cruiser, he faced an excited--and very nervous--colleague.
"Who is he?" the officer asked.
"Said his name was John Franks," the chief replied. "didn't say where he came from, just said he was here on "business."
"What kind of business?"
"What'd he have on him?"
"Didn't check his clothes case," the chief sighed. "Maybe I should have. All he had in that case was some paperwork and a newspaper write-up about that thing at the old Newmansville motel."
The officer cringed.
"You mean where those two kids....?"
The chief nodded.
"What do you have to worry about, Marv?"
"Oh, nothing," the officer replied, his hand nervously shaking. "Nothing."
"Keep an eye on him," he chief said with a suspicious look. "He shouldn't be too hard to pick out, seeing he has only one eye. Make sure he's not doing anything too suspicious."
"Sure," Marv replied nervously. "Sure. Didn't you hear about Joe Blundy?"
"He moved away, got drunk. tried to drive and his car hit a tree," the chief muttered. "He was just like he was when we were in school."
John went about his business quietly over the next few days, but his presence seemed to leave many of the townspeople uneasy.
"Maybe it's the eye patch," he joked with a waitress in the diner as he ate lunch one day after arriving. "It makes me look menacing."
"It not just your looks," a nearby voice growled.
"What are you doing?"
"Right now getting ready to eat a cheeseburger and fries."
"Well, you eat your burger and fries, then do your business and move along. Mercersburg is a nice, quiet town, and you're going to keep it that way!"
"By taking the earliest bus you can find out of it!"
"Well, okay, but I have to make sure everything's just right for Matt and Patty."
Suddenly, the temperature dropped to almost zero in the diner. The server's face dropped, while the chief flared angrily at his coffee.
"What did I say?" John asked.
"Matt Dickinson and Patty Ellis!" Marv declared as the chief met with a group of men later that afternoon. "How did know about those kids back at that old motel?"
"Marv, would you get off that high horse and settle down?" the chief implored."This Franks had an old newspaper article about that incident, that's how!"
"Well then, what are we going to do about it?"
"What can we do? Nothing, except wait until he does something illegal, or gets on the bus and leaves."
Marv looked down at his coffee cup and jerked his head a bit.
"You know what happened to Joe Blundy," he said.
"Yes Marv, we know what happened to Joe Blundy," one of the other men said. "We know he put us up to it."
"Him and Kenny Taylor," Marv snarled. "Don't forget Doug Lundmark."
"You mean our esteemed pastor?"
The men looked around and exchanged glances which almost appeared fearful, as if some long-past evil had come back to haunt them.
"We were just a bunch of kids having fun," one said.
"That Dickinson boy wasn't right," added another. "What was he doing with girl like Patty Ellis anyway?"
"Now, she wasn't no looker either," Marv joked.
The chief looked at the group.
"Let's just be careful for the next few days," he warned.
As the group went their separate ways, the chief looked out from their meeting place and his mood became more uneasy as he saw the brown-haired man with patch over his right eye.
There was John, calmly sitting on a bench in the village square, sipping a soft drink.
"Good afternoon chief," was all he said.
The chief flashed an angry look at John as the one-eyed sat on the village square been.
"How long have you been here?" he demanded.
"Just a while," John calmly replied. "I went to the library, the clerk's office, places like that. I went to see somebody about an old car."
"Who was that?"
"The man who owns the Buick garage. Showed me this really nice 1958 hardtop."
"Talked to this one man over at the coffee shop."
"You went back over there?"
"Why not? It seems like a nice place."
The chief released an exasperated sigh and walked away.
"I spoke to man named Dickinson," John said, causing the chief to stop in his tracks. "He'd just been to visit his boy's grave."
That Dickinson boy.
That Ellis girl.
Why was this sinister-looking man with a polite manner so concerned about them?
Curiosity began to give way to agony as the chief watched the boarding house late that evening, giving the place a quick as he slowed down to watch the house and then resume his patrol.
Curiosity, agony and guilt.
As the chief watched the boarding house and agonized over his past, John tossed back and forth in another feeble attempt at sleep.
An agonized cry rolled from John's mouth as he saw the horrible incident flashing before him again, as it had so many other times since that fateful Saturday night in the old Newman Grove motel.
There were seven boys, big boys, and they had grabbed another boy and girl. John closed his eyes and bit down as he tried to put the screams and the harsh laughter out of his mind.
Finally, he bolted upright in his bed and screamed.
"You stop it!" was the blood-curdling cry as John began to rise out of bed and charge into the hallway. "You leave Matt and Patty alone!"
The chief pulled up by the boarding house just as John burst out of the boarding house.
"Morgan Dawes!" John sternly called out.
The chief reached for his gun, but stopped.
"Who are you?" he demanded of John.
"My name is John Franks. Twenty years ago, you and some other misguided individuals attacked and tortured two friends of mine!"
"It was just a joke that went sour. We didn't mean any harm. really, we didn't!"
Suddenly, the chief became outraged.
"Oh, Matt Dickinson?" he said with a sneer."That boy just wasn't right. What Patty Ellis saw in him I'll never know. None of us ever will. So some of us guys on the football team decided to let her see what real men were like and make him watch!"
The chief began to laugh and then collapsed, a look of terror on his face.
"A heart attack?" the coffee shop server said "But the chief was so young. I went so school with him and I'm only thirty-four."
"Well, everybody hopes they caught it in time," reverand Lundmark said. "He had a good night, but it will be touch and go for a few days. Keep praying for him."
The temperature dropped as John entered the coffee shop.
"How much longer are you staying?" the server asked.
"I'm leaving tonight," John replied.
"Will you be staying for our revival services?"the reverend asked.
"Sorry, won't be able to."
The reverend sat down at John's table.
"I was one of those boys," he said regretfully. "I don't know, well I do know what got into us. There was something about that Dickinson boy that Joe and Kenny just loved to torment. The rest of us just went along. Just part of growing up, I guess."
John shot a sad grin and sipped his coffee.
"But why are you so interested in that story?"
"I'm from Newmansville," he said. "My grandparents ran that motel. In fact, I saw some of what happened."
The reverend looked at John, and mentioned that the server was Patty's best friend when she was a schoolgirl.
"She also went to school in Newmansville," John said. "That's where I knew her from."
As he departed the coffee shop, Rev. Lundmark was met by Marv, who wanted to know when services started.He didn't look at the stranger.
It started to rain by the time the stranger’s bus left town.