A Family Matter by Marsha Briscoe by Marsha Briscoe - Read Online

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The Midwest Book Review Recommended Read Salina Graves, recently married to a man twice her age, faces an agonizing truth--the criminal betrayal of her father by her husband, Lyman. But the truth of that betrayal lies in her deceased father's journal. Her mother's posthumous cry for family vindication leads Salina on a desperate search for the mysteriously missing journal, but her search is thwarted when her tyrannical husband is critically injured. When her attractive, but errant stepson, Mick Graves, returns home to tend his comatose father, Salina and Mick are drawn to one another. Warring with her illicit feelings for her stepson who now shares the ancestral home in eastern Kentucky is Salina's determination to carry out her plan of vindication. Will she be able to find her father's journal, absolve her family name, and survive the metaphorical storm surrounding her relationship with her stepson?
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781593742010
List price: $3.99
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A Family Matter - Marsha Briscoe

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Chapter 1

Salina Faye Graves stared in shock at the letter from her mother she found just this morning. Her throat constricting, she read it again, trying to absorb the letter’s full impact:

My dearest Salina,

I’m writing this to you and to you only. Your father’s guilt over his 14 miners killed in that horrible mine cave-in drove him to suicide. But you must know he was not responsible. It was that conniving Lyman Graves who framed him. He made your father take the rap. Lyman Graves was hell-bent on forcing out all his competitors so he could be king of the coal business in eastern Kentucky. Your father, Minos Drummond, was a good man, an honest man. But Lyman, in his scheme to get revenge on your father, set him up. His revenge was born out of hate. You see, I left Lyman Graves at the altar two years before I married your father. Even though that was long before you were born, I always shielded you and your sister from any knowledge of my former relationship with Lyman Graves. Only your father knew of it.

Her throat dry, Salina dropped the letter on the bed and gasped for air. Lyman Graves? Her mother and Lyman? But that was impossible!

Her thoughts swirled. No, it wasn’t impossible. Lyman and her father Minos Drummond were about the same age. Reeling, she nearly fell from the bed.

She sat up straight and tried to absorb the full impact of her mother’s letter. She did not want to believe what she’d just read. The man who drove her beloved father to suicide was none other than her husband—Lyman Graves!

Feeling suddenly nauseated, Salina curled into a fetal position on the bed and began to cry.

She remembered how deeply she had loved her parents, and she felt so alone now. Her tears moistened the pillowcase and she rubbed her cheeks with the back of her hands. She picked the letter back up, raised herself to a sitting position, and read on:

Two days ago I had a nurse mail to you, at that new address you left with this nursing home, a journal of your fathers that will prove how Lyman framed him, ruined his coal business, and wrecked his life. I asked the nurse to alert you about watching for the journal’s arrival, but she said you weren’t home when she phoned. The journal reveals every crooked shenanigan Lyman Graves perpetrated not only upon your father, but also on other coal operators and his miners as well. My mind is deteriorating so fast, I cannot try to vindicate your dead father’s name. You must do it for me, Salina. If it takes all of your life, vindicate his name. Free Minos Drummond of the stain he carried to his grave. I appeal to you because I don’t think your sister Ari Ann could handle this. You have always been the stronger of my two daughters. Absolve your father from his guilt so that he might rest peacefully in the grave. Vindicate the family name.

Your loving Mother, Patsy

Salina stood and clutched the moist paper in her hand, then laid it on the bed. Waves of nausea swept over her. She swayed on her feet, then began pacing the floor. Damn Lyman! If she’d only known this before, she would never have agreed to marry him fourteen months ago. Never! She dug her nails into her palms and gritted her teeth. To learn he had been the agent of her father’s destruction was...devastating.

She swallowed back a bitter taste that coated her tongue. Worse, to know that Lyman had once been her own mother’s fiancé made her blood boil.

Stopping at the antique dresser, Salina stared at her reflection in the mirror. What have you done, you foolish woman? How could you have been so stupid? You should have seen Lyman’s deceit before now. You’re scarce half Lyman’s sixty-six years and here you are faced with this...

Clenching her hands at her sides, she whirled and paced back across the room. Was the reason for Lyman’s courtship and marriage proposal to me some perverse revenge scheme to get back at my mother because she jilted him at the altar?

Summer rain splashed against the windowpanes as Salina fought the rage and hurt welling inside her.

Through all of her anger and tears, a pleasant thought suddenly emerged. She had not told her mother about her marriage to Lyman. So Lyman did not get the chance to really hurt her mother back. Her mother’s mind was soon lost to the shadows of Alzheimer’s after she wrote the letter. So her mother, Patsy Drummond, never knew about the marriage. The news, Salina realized, would have crushed her.

Salina returned to the dresser and squinted at the mirror. Pressing her hand to her forehead, she shoved back her disheveled hair. Was it really possible, she asked her reflection, that Lyman married her to get revenge on her own mother? But revenge made no sense. After all, Lyman had offered to foot all the bills for her mother’s expensive care in a nursing home. And that, she reminded herself, was the deciding factor in her acceptance of his marriage offer. Plus, he seemed such a kind, caring man. Could he really have put on that persuasive an act?

She turned and moved toward the bed.

A new realization hit her. She stopped dead still, moving her fingers through the air as if performing a complex mathematical task. By consenting to marry Lyman in return for his paying for her mother’s health care, she had become totally dependent on the man. She sold not only herself into Lyman’s bondage, but her mother as well, God rest her soul. Lyman, for a time, held both their fates in his hands. What a sick satisfaction that must have given him. The bastard.

Her stomach knotted and burned.

She jerked her mother’s letter off the bed and reread it, choking back the brackish taste in her mouth.

A disquieting notion crept across her mind like a fungus around a pine branch. Lyman was not what she thought he was. She’d been a fool to marry a man she’d known so little about. A fool. She sank back onto the bed, curled her body into a ball, and lost track of time.

When Salina recovered enough to gather her thoughts, she could still hear the rain against the window. She sat bolt upright as a new realization struck her. She’d never received her father’s journal like her mother promised in the letter! Her mind raced over the last time she’d seen her mother—a week before she’d died eight months ago. She’d visited her in the nursing home in one of her mother’s rare but brief lucid moments. Her mother had asked Salina to bring home a box containing old picture albums and special mementos. The box where she’d found this letter, which was addressed and stamped but never mailed.

Salina tried to re-trace where she’d been about the time her mother wrote the letter. She’d been right here in Whitestown, Kentucky. At this mausoleum of a house Lyman called home. She’d... No! She was at her sister Ari’s house for ten days. When Ari’s third baby was born, she’d gone to Hazard to stay with her and help take care of the older children.

Lyman! Lyman must have received the mailed journal and opened it! She fingered the envelope, figuring it never got mailed because her mother’s Alzheimer’s very likely closed in again right after she wrote it.

Salina shot to her feet. If Lyman stole the journal out of the mailbox, the journal must be at home somewhere. She would find it! And as soon as she had it in her hands, she was getting out. She would not spend one more night under the same roof with that deceitful Lyman.

Where would Lyman have put it?

Remembering where he kept the key to the locked drawer of his desk, she raced down the stairs.

Moving through the big rambling house’s center hall toward Lyman’s study, Salina heard the screen door on the back porch slam shut. She whirled to face the tall figure of Lyman who strode into the kitchen, his muddy boots clacking on the black-and-white checkered tile floor.

I want you to cook a fancy Kentucky Burgoo for supper tonight, Salina. I’m bringing those federal mine inspectors here to eat after they finish their tour of my mines.

She planted her hands on her hips, her anger fueling her courage to confront him about the journal. No, I won’t, she snapped. You can’t just march in here at eleven in the morning and tell me to cook tonight for company. She watched as a look of shocked surprise grazed Lyman’s face.

That’s your job, lady girl and don’t you forget it. Frowning, he smoothed back his mane of silver-white hair and hooked his thumbs inside his belt.

Not any more, it’s not. I’ve just found out my mother, before she died, mailed a journal of my father’s to me here. You’ve got it, haven’t you? You’ve got it hidden because it implicates you, because it’s proof you destroyed my father’s good name, his dignity, his life—

Lyman erupted in harsh laughter.

He took a step toward her. You mean all that garbage about me yore daddy scribbled in his little black book? His diary? He sneered and leveled a gloating look at her.

Let me have it. All too aware of his explosive temper, she backed away from him. If she provoked him too much, he might—

Good luck. You’ll never get it.

Damn you, Lyman, where is it? she demanded, surprised at the harshness of her words. She’d never before spoken to him in this manner. But the knowledge that he’d brought about her family’s ruin and ultimately drove her father to suicide was reason enough now.

Anything that comes to this house is my property, he barked. Just like you are. What’s mine is mine.

I’ll turn this house upside down. If I don’t find it here, I’ll get the police involved—

Lotta good that’ll do you. I own the Whitestown police department. Besides, you got no proof the journal was even mailed. All I have to say is I never saw no journal.

Then how do you know what he said in it? I have a letter my mother wrote— She stopped, clamping her mouth together. If she said anymore, he might destroy the letter.

Lyman reared his head back and laughed again. You surely to God don’t think anyone would believe the rantings of a crazy old woman like your mother, do you?

Salina felt like an icicle had stabbed through her heart. Just let me have the journal. I know you’ve got it some where.

And you think I would tell you! You’re crazier than your Ma.

Where is it, Lyman? It’s mine.

He took two steps, grabbed her arm and jerked her to his side, wrenching her arm behind her back. Forget it. Now, I’m hungry, so get dinner cooked, why don’t cha?

She felt his hot breath on her hair and shuddered. I want the journal, she said, enunciating each word with precision. And then I want a divorce.

Ha! You just try that, he snorted. You’re talking awful high and mighty. Just don’t you forget where you came from, lady girl. Without me, you’d still be waitin’ tables in some cheap roadside eatin’ place.

Salina winced as his grip on her arm tightened so much she feared her circulation was being cut off.

I married you, gave you my name. Gave you this fine place to live in. A fancy car to drive. How many women you know live like this? You’re livin’ pretty high on the hog, gal.

She saw his menacing glare as she tried to wrest away her arm.

Have you forgot how I remodeled that room upstairs for your art studio? Footed all the bills for your mother’s care in that ritzy nursing home? Is this how you express your gratitude? Talking to me in that uppity little voice? He jerked her head up with his other hand. How long do you think you could make it out there in the world alone? Ain’t nobody in these parts gonna hire you to teach school if they know you was Minos Drummond’s kinfolk. They’d be afraid his craziness was in you, too. He sneered. Maybe you’re planning on selling your paintings here in eastern Kentucky to them dumb, lazy bastards who work in my mines?

Turn loose of me, Lyman. You’re hurting me. She pulled away from him, fighting back the fear surging within her, hearing his words that were forged in the iron-clad will of one used to giving orders to his miners. She well knew the violence he was capable of.

He released her arm and she felt his large hand circle her left breast.

Anyhow, you don’t need to be frettin’ that young head of yours over such matters. Yore daddy’s been dead and gone a long time. What difference does it make? Nobody would believe what’s in the journal. Ever body knows Minos Drummond was crazy when he wrote that garbage. He shot hisself right after that. He glared at her again and stepped back, adding, Only a crazy man would shoot hisself in the head.

Salina shrank away from Lyman. A sickening feeling clawed at her memory. Her father’s depression. Her own guilt over not being able to help him in his final days. His sudden and rapid deterioration after—

Lyman bent his head toward her neck and she heard the sound of his rushed breathing. Her stomach coiled in revulsion at the thought of his hands sliding over her. Groping hands she’d managed to tolerate now seemed like rough animal paws, invading her.

She stiffened as she felt his hand move across the small of her back. She rued the day she’d sold her soul to this man. Though she’d had no choice at the time because her family was financially destitute, she should have made an effort to find out more about him before accepting his favors. Before giving herself to him. But she could not have let her mother go into a state facility. Not ever! She’d wanted the best care for her. Plus, she’d initially found him...worldly. She sure never knew he’d once been jilted at the altar by her own mother—

The phone’s ring shrilled through the kitchen.

Lyman swore under his breath, moved away from her and grabbed the phone.

Salina let out a long, slow breath of relief as she heard his words bark.

Yeah, yeah, tell ’em I’m on my way. I’ll meet ’em outside the entrance to the Number 4 mine. He slammed the phone onto the receiver, grabbed a hat from a peg hanging inside the back porch, and started out the door. Mine inspectors always was an impatient bunch. Pausing at the screen door, he ducked his head around the corner. It ain’t natural for a woman to get involved in business matters. You just forget what you believe was in that diary. Yore daddy went broke on account of his own investments. His suicide had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Don’t think of stirring up no trouble, if you know what’s good for you.

I want the journal, Lyman, she said in a lowered voice. She hated herself for backing off, but she knew deep down inside there was no way Lyman would voluntarily turn it over to her. He knew the journal would incriminate him.

With sudden clarity, she now realized how mean the man actually was. She’d been living a lie.

Her life would never again be the same. Perhaps she was once enticed by his money, but she would no longer be blinded by Lyman’s lies—

Forgot to tell you... Lyman’s silhouette reappeared on the porch. I’ve got one of my contacts up in New York working on a showing of your paintings. Says you’ll need to send him some photographs of what you want hanging in an art gallery.

Salina bit her lower lip. The way he was always dangling the gallery lure in front of her...it hadn’t happened yet. And likely never would.

You just go on and get that Burgoo cooked. Them men’ll be back here with me at six tonight. I want the table set with the good china and silver.

He paused and she was conscious he was studying her.

And do something with your hair. Braid it into them coils you wind around your head, kinda like a crown. Never did like it hanging down loose like it is now.

Salina closed her eyes as she listened to the screen door slam. She heard him gun his big white Cadillac out of the driveway. Breathing deeply, she told herself to stay calm. She would find that diary if it were the last thing she ever did. She’d turn this house upside down looking for it. And if she didn’t find it in this house, she’d search through Lyman’s car tonight after he was asleep.

Then she was getting out.

But not before she had the proof of her mother’s words in her possession.

The journal would vindicate her father’s name. It would restore his reputation.

And it would ruin Lyman.

What if Lyman had destroyed the journal? That thought brought her up short. For safekeeping, she’d better hide her mother’s letter she’d left on the bed upstairs so he wouldn’t rip it to shreds. Even the letter itself might serve as evidence in helping vindicate her father’s name.

Carrying the letter, she moved into the room housing her art studio. The studio was Lyman’s wedding gift to her, she recalled. She needed solitude, she’d once told him, to enhance her creativity.

A sense of deprecation swept through her as she cast her eyes about the art studio, surveying it from a new perspective. She thought of the high personal price she’d paid for all this.

She groaned. What a fool she’d been to let herself be lured by Lyman’s big talk...like getting her paintings shown in a New York gallery. Hah!

She stashed her mother’s letter beneath a stack of blank canvases.

Moving around the room, she studied her sketches. Many were half-finished portraits in which she’d tried to capture the suffering of the miners’ grimed faces, the abject poverty and misery reflected in their gaunt eyes.

She picked up one of her oils and held the canvas in her hands. Ari’s children, the twins and the baby. She intended to send it to Ari for her birthday. How she wished her sister Ari were still here in Kentucky. With both her parents dead, she needed moral support for what she was about to undertake. She needed a shoulder to lean on. But Ari was in Florida—six hundred miles away.

Silently chiding her sister’s husband for taking the job in Tampa, she wondered what Ari was doing now. Probably about the same thing she’d done here in eastern Kentucky, Salina reflected. Sewing for people. Weaving her threads. Pulling at her strings she tatted for customers. Making macramé slings for hanging plants.

She returned the oil to its easel.

Vindicate your father’s name. The words rang in her ears with the resonance of a curse.

Her dear father so rankly abused—

She would ferret out the proof. Disclose all the evidence.

She had to start searching for the journal now.

Worrying her lip, she headed toward Lyman’s study.

* * * *

The light on the miner’s cap perched on Lyman’s head flickered as the jitney lumbered over the rails through the last few feet of darkness before nearing the mine entrance. Lyman poked the motorman’s shoulder. Can’t you hurry this jitney up? I got a big dinner waitin’ at home for me and these mine inspectors. Didn’t have no idea we’d be down in the mines this long.

The mine inspector sitting behind Lyman nudged his arm and spoke in a gravelly voice. We don’t have to eat with you, tonight, Mr. Graves. It’s awful late and we need to get back to Ashland.

Lyman turned around and spoke to the inspector. My wife’s a fixin’ Kentucky burgoo. It’s worth waitin’ for. You liked it last time you ate with us. He tried jiggling the light on his cap.

The foreman seated next to the mine inspector grinned. Yore light’s been a flickering, boss. Better see to that purty young wife when you get home. You know what these ol’ miners say about a man’s light goin’ out. The foreman guffawed.

You making an observation, bud? Lyman shouted in a threatening voice. He smiled as he tried to imagine the foreman’s squirm. No man, no matter what his position, would insinuate something to Lyman Graves. No sirree. Everybody in the mines knows that if a man’s light goes out, it’s supposed to mean he’s being cuckolded. But I put the fear of God in Salina. Plus, she knows she’s beholden to me. So them old superstitions don’t mean nothing. Besides, my light’s back on now. More ’en likely just a faulty battery pack. He squared his shoulders and fingered the object clamped to his belt. But I’m sure gonna have to squelch, pronto, that rebellious little mouth of Salina’s I heard this morning. Ordering me to give her that diary of her daddy’s... Tonight I’ll—

Lookout, boss! Lyman heard the motorman yell. She’s gonna break!

The jitney lurched and derailed. Lyman heard his own scream mingle with the other screams that pierced the heavy darkness.

* * * *

Frustrated by her fruitless search in Lyman’s study for the journal, Salina tapped her nails on the harvest-gold Formica countertop. The clock above the sink said eight-thirty. Lyman told her to have the dinner ready by six. Despite her resolve not to, she’d gone ahead and cooked the Burgoo. Now she wished she hadn’t. But it was her last time. No more entertaining Lyman’s business associates. Tomorrow she’d be out of here.

She tapped her nails again.

She hated waiting like this. It’d be just like Lyman to take those mine inspectors by a bar across the county line. She wanted to get this dinner party over with, shoo the guests out the door, and lay down the law to Lyman about telling her where he’d hidden the journal.

She looked out the dining room window to see a flashing blue light turning into the driveway. Moments later, a knock sounded on the front door.

A uniformed man stood on the porch, his hat clutched in his hands. I’m Sheriff Mason, Miz Graves. There’s been an accident at Neptune Number Four mine. I’m afraid Mr. Graves has been hurt. If you’ll get in the car, ma’am, I’ll take you out there.

Woodenly, Salina followed the sheriff and slid into his car’s passenger seat. His words flitted in and out of her ears as he sped over the rutted county road. They think a support beam jolted loose and fell on the rail car, he said as the squad car rounded a curve. Mr. Graves and the other men riding in that jitney was almost back at the entrance when it fell.

How bad is he hurt? she heard herself ask as she tried to still her trembling hands.

He’s alive, at least. He was unconscious when they pulled him out, though. He must’uv been sitting in the rear. Lucky for him, he didn’t take the full force of the beam like them others. They’s four or five dead.

The sheriff jerked the steering wheel to the left as the car bumped on a gravel road. When the car stopped near a large crowd, he helped her out and led her toward a stretcher. Ambulances were everywhere.

Salina stood rigid as she stared at Lyman who lay motionless on the stretcher. Pieces of bone protruded through his torn, grimed slacks. His steel-toed boots, blood smeared now, were smashed. Her gaze jerked to his face where a paramedic was checking an oxygen mask. Beside Lyman, an IV hung from a stand. Salina saw a line running from the IV into Lyman’s arm.

The July heat was heavy and humid, and she wiped sweat from her face. She lifted her eyes to the canopy of clouds that hung low in the sky, enveloping the mountain peaks in a haze that obscured the growing darkness. The smell of dank sulfur filled her nostrils.

Lights from the tipple looming above the mine, silent now as if in respect for the wasted lives, cast a yellowish glow. Salina glanced around at the string of worried-looking women, miners’ wives and mothers who’d gathered when the siren’s wail pierced the air, the siren signaling a mine accident. The women had come, she knew, to learn the fate of their men, their sons, hoping not this time, praying their kin were not among the dead. Salina moved away from Lyman and looked at the carnage of men who had been in the rail car with him, wondering if these were the mine inspectors whose dinner still simmered in her kitchen. Were they the guests she was to have entertained—these broken, lifeless bodies?

News reporters milled about. Salina heard one ask a sooty-faced man wearing a hard hat if he was the foreman. The man’s nervous answer ricocheted through the air. No, he’s there on the ground. Dead. But I told Boss Graves last week we needed to shore up that beam afore somebody gits hurt.

Salina felt sick and she looked away. A thought swirled in the back of her mind—if Lyman didn’t come around and she hadn’t found where he hid her father’s journal, what would she do?

Shame over her selfishness swept through her and she fought back a vinegary taste in her mouth.

Off to the side, she saw what was left of the rail car that had ferried the men from deep inside the mountain back to the mine’s entrance. The Chariots, Lyman had called those cars.

The man wearing a hard hat faced a reporter who held up a microphone.

Salina listened as the man spoke. "...the best we can piece