Friday, October 30, 2015

The Trout Pond

The Trout Pond

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By: Hubert C. Crowell
Jim makes a find in a pond that tears a small Kentucky coal mining town apart. Ron, a stranger in town carrying a secret of the largest crime of the century becomes snared in the Union wars of the 1950’s.

Fiction by Hubert C. Crowell © 11/27/2015

The morning was cool with a slight breeze coming out of the northwest, as Jim picked up his fly rod, kissed Allie bye and headed down the lane to his favorite fishing hole. It was about a mile walk and he liked to be in the pond before the sun came up. The fish would be more active early in the morning and he hoped to catch enough for breakfast. Allie would have her morning chores done and biscuits ready by the time he caught some fish.

The pond was shallow around the sides, he could wade out about twenty feet with his waders, which he kept in a bucket on the bank. Zip, zip went the line as he placed the fly on the exact spot where the fish were making a ripple on the surface of the water. He loved the outdoors and the time spent on the pond fishing, watching all the wildlife, especially a large eagle that would sometimes beat him to the spot where the fish were stirring up the water.

 Jim had his bag half full in no time at all and was prepared to head home, when he slipped on an underwater log, fell and hit his shoulder on another log. Managing to change back into his walking shoes Jim started for home as the pain increased.

“Jim, are you OK?”

“I may have broken my shoulder; I slipped and hit my shoulder on a log in the pond.”

          “Sit down; while I call the doctor and take care of the fish, you’re not going to try and go to the station, are you?”

Jim enjoyed the fish for breakfast and the pain subsided quite a bit.

          “The doctor is on a house call on this side of town and will stop by later this morning and take a look at that shoulder.” Allie said as she laid her hand on his shoulder and said a prayer.

Jim settled in by the fire and the heat felt good on his shoulder as he turned it toward the fireplace. Allie shoveled up the coal ashes and put a fresh lump of coal on the fire, when she heard the knock at the door.

          “That was fast.” As she let Doctor Boyles in.

          “I was just finishing up my last call when you called the office, good thing I checked in while I was on this side of town, now what’s going on with that shoulder?”

          “I fell in the trout pond and hit a log, however is seems much better now.”

          “Well let me have a look. Raise your arm up, this may hurt a little, I am going to pull and see if it is out of place.”

          “Ouch, that’s a relief it feels like something moved.”

          “I think you will be better now, watch out for those slippery logs in the pond.”

          “Would you like some fresh fish, I have several Bass left?”

          “Allie, put some ice on those fish for the doc and let him take them home. What do I owe you?”

          “The fish will be payment enough, I was already out this way, and I’ll get a few gallons of gas from you next time I am by the station.”

Allie packed Jim a lunch and he rode into town with the Doc and filled his tank at the station.

“You know Doc, I believe that prayer Allie said over my shoulder sure worked, you coming by so soon and all.”

“Your right Jim that was the easiest house call I’ve made in a long time. Have a good day and don’t work too late.”

That evening Jim thought about the long walk home last week in the cold rain and getting hit on the head, then decided that he would close a little earlier this afternoon and go by the trout pond again. Business was slower than usual for a Friday afternoon, and it was not raining. Over the hill and by the Ice plant where Sam was sitting waiting for customers. “Going fishing?”

“Yea, Sam, things are really slow at the station, don’t expect anyone will want gas with the weekend starting.”

“Same here but I guess I will hang around a little longer. Hear you had some trouble last week along the tracks.”

“I got my money back, and don’t think I will be walking this way home after dark again.”

“What’s biting at the pond?”

“Bluegill and Bass mostly, I caught four nice size ones this morning, thought I would see what biting this evening. Put us down for another block of ice in the morning just in case I catch more than we can eat.”

“Will do, I will be by around seven with the truck.”

The barber shop looked empty, so Jim decided to get a trim and shave for the weekend. “Evening John, can I get a trim?”

“I don’t see anyone else waiting for one. Have a seat.”

“Go easy on the back of the head, I still have a bump back there. I was telling Sam, down at the ice plant that I won’t be taking the walk along the tracks after dark again.”

“Yea, I heard about you getting mugged last week on the way home in the rain. I am sure glad you’re alright. Someone needs to clean up that stretch along the tracks.”

School was letting out, and a string of kids were passing by the window. “They are growing up fast, I wonder how many of them will go to work at the mines?” Jim commented.

“If they want to make good money, they will. I understand that Stoney Point Mine is hiring.”

“Yes, my son says they will be working around the clock until they get the coal out from under the river, if they slow down the mine will fill up with water, so they have decided the only way to get that coal out is to mine it fast.”

“There goes Lew Oldom with his wagon and lawnmower, Wonder how many yards he will mow today, he knows more about this town than anyone and talks less than anyone. How long has he been mowing lawns around town?”

“Nobody knows much about him, he just showed up about ten years ago and started mowing lawns for a living, he also collects bottles and scrap iron and sells them to the scrap man up on the hill.”

After his haircut, Jim continued on to the pond. The kids were playing baseball in the field next to the pond and Jim stood and watched for a while, thinking about the times he watched his boys play on the same field. They were all grown now with families of their own. He missed all the excitement of having three boys and a girl running around the house. Allie and He look forward to having them all home on Christmas. As Jim opened the bucket and pulled out his waders, he noticed something odd floating on the pond.

Wadding out to the middle of the pond, Jim could see what looked like someone floating, head down, with no clothes. The body was cold and still as Jim rolled it over, a young man in his twenties and no sign of life. Jim slowly pulled him to the bank, went back to the game and ask one of the boys to run to the nearest house and have them call the sheriff. “Tell them that there has been a drowning out at the pond and to come quickly!”

The ball game ended abruptly, they all started to head for the pond. “Hold on! Stop!” Shouted Jim, “We need to wait for the sheriff to get here. I don’t think it is anyone we know, I know most everyone in town and I did not recognize him.” Jim gathered the boys around in a circle. “I know you boys and I need you to join me in a prayer for the family of this young man.” As Jim was praying, sirens could be heard in the distance, growing louder by the minute.

The sheriff pulled onto the ball field along with two other police cars.

“Jim, what’s this about a drowning?”

“Stay here boys while I show Officer Brown what I found.”

“Are you sure it was a drowning?”

“It looks like he may have been swimming, he doesn’t have any clothes on and I didn’t see any marks on his body.”

“The water is too cold for swimming. Did you recognize him?”

“Never seen him before, Joe, I was fishing here just this morning and did not see a thing. Here he is, I pulled him up here on the bank.”

The sheriff examined the body and rolled him over, checking for any sign of force or injuries. “He looks clean enough, but we’ll know more after the doctor looks at him.”  

The other officers were circling the pond looking for any clues. Another siren interrupted them as the ambulance arrived and two men carrying a stretcher joined them at the edge of the pond.

“Jim, bring the boys down here one at a time and let’s see if any of them have seen this guy before.”

“Ok Joe, be right back.”

One at a time the boys looked at the face of the body now covered to the neck and on a stretcher, as Joe studied their faces for any sign of recognition or fear. None of them had seen him before. They loaded him into the ambulance left with the stranger.

“Jim, we are going to circle the pond again before it gets dark and look for tracks and find out where he might have entered the pond, want to join us?”

“I’ve got waders on, I can go around the edge in the water and see the bank better, and also I will not disturb any tracks.”

“Fine, we’re going to stay back about twenty feet from the bank and look, yell if you see anything.”

Jim started out, as a water snake took off in front of him. The water was clear in front and he could see the bottom clearly. Three turtles and two snakes later, Jim froze in his tracks. “Joe! Come over here, but watch where you step, I have boot tracks, but no bare foot tracks.”

“Jim I can see two sets of deep boot tracks going down to the water and two light sets coming back up from the water. Looks like they were carrying something heavy. Can you see any tracks on the bottom under the water?”

“No tracks, but something has disturbed the mud there.”

“Yea, looks like someone may have thrown his body out into the pond, this pond is not deep enough for someone to swim in anyway. I will have the guys make a cast of the prints.”

Back at the sheriffs’ car, he got a call on the radio, Jim overheard the dispatcher telling him that the doctor did not find any water in his lungs, it was not a drowning! So far they could not determine the cause of death. Joe gave Jim a ride home, surprising Allie when she saw the police bringing Jim home.

“What on earth has happen now Jim, are you alright?”

“I’m ok.” As Joe pulled off. “It’s a long story, I'll tell you all about it over dinner, sorry, I don’t have any fish tonight.”

That night they stayed up late by the fire, listening to the radio, hoping to learn if anyone had turned up missing.

The rooster was louder than usual, or at least it seemed that way after staying up late.

“Sam will be bringing a block of ice by around seven, better fix him a cup of coffee and some eggs, I’m sure he will want to hear about the pond.”

“What are we going to do with the ice? You going to catch some fish today?”

“I was planning on that yesterday, and asked Sam for the ice. I'm sure you can find a good use for it.”

Sam stopped and had breakfast, staying over an hour, wanting all the details from the evening before. “I see quite a few young men coming through town on the train, maybe I had better go down the station and see if he looks like any of them that went through recently. They like to stop and talk while they get some ice to suck on.”

Before Sam left, the local newspaper reporter was knocking on the door. “Morning Jim, could you give me some information for the paper. Hi Sam, did you see anything?”

“No, but I’m going down to look at his face, it may have been one of those hobo’s. Got your headlines for tomorrow’s paper?”

“Yea, we will sell a lot of papers tomorrow, I may be up late tonight running off extra copies.”

“Ray, I can’t give you all the information, the sheriff said to keep some of the information quiet while the investigation was going on. Come on in and have a seat. Sam, thanks for the ice, see you Monday.”

“Jim, so, this was Friday afternoon when you found the young man in the pond, tell me all you can.” As he pulled out his notebook and started writing.

Jim shared with Ray all the details except for the tracks on the bank, the sheriff was getting plaster cast of the two sets of boot prints for evidence and they were still searching the area.

“Do you think it may have been a drifter, Jim, we may never know who he was or what happened. By now I’m sure the whole town knows about the body being found and everyone will be waiting on the paper to find out more. Can you describe him for me?”

“He was about five foot ten with shaggy brown hair. Light complexion, I believe he also had brown eyes, you had better check with the sheriff about that.”

“I'll stop by the station on my way back to the paper and talk with them about it, maybe I can get a picture for the paper while I am there."

 “See you at church tomorrow.”

As they walked out on the front porch, Ray asked Jim about the robbery last week and if he could do a story for the paper on it.

“Sure, sit back down on the swing and I will fill you in”

Ray got his notebook back out and flipped to a clean page, across the top he wrote, ‘The Long Walk Home.’

“Thanks Jim, that’s a great story I am going to also tell about what you do and dress it up a little like a short story, will that be alright?”

“Write whatever you like Ray, I always enjoy the stories you include each week.”

“There may even be a connection between the two events, look for the story on page two, the headlines will be the body found in the pond. I had better go, have a lot of work to get the paper out!”


Page 2 of the Providence Journal


The little gas station was quiet as Jim leaned back in his chair, letting it rest against the stucco wall, and waited for a customer needing gas. The station was small, with room for only two people to stand. Shelves on the back wall displayed oil and parts. Jim only pumped gas and sold just a few other items. He did not repair flats or do oil changes. Even though there was an old car ramp where cars used to be serviced, it was not used anymore. 

          During his seventy-five years Jim had seen a lot, and his customers enjoyed hearing his stories, including the adventures he had during his coal mining days before he ran the small gas station. He enjoyed hearing their latest news as they stopped by for gas, and the conversations helped time pass on a back road of a small town.

The glass above the pump showed one gallon, ready to be pumped up to the amount requested by the next customer. A local farmer soon drove up on his tractor.

“Evening, Jim,” he said. “Five gallons will be all I need today.”

Jim turned the hand crank and pumped four more gallons up into the glass above the pump, then let the five gallons drain down through the hose into the gas tank.

“We may be able to get the hay in before the rain comes,” the farmer said.

Jim looked up to check the clouds moving in from the west. “It does look like we may get wet tonight. I may be late for supper.” Jim knew his wife of fifty-five years would have dinner on the table waiting for him at the end of a long day. Hopefully it wouldn’t be cold by the time he got home.

          Jim and the farmer chatted a bit, then Jim went back inside as the farmer drove off.

          When the daylight began to fade, Jim drained all the pumps and locked them, then removed the cash from the old cash register. He had no outdoor lights at the pumps, so closing time was at dark each day. With everything secure, he put on his raincoat and started home just as a light rain started to fall.

The small town was quiet, and the streets were empty. He was normally home before the sky grew totally dark, but this evening the clouds were bringing on the darkness earlier than usual. He quickly walked over the small hill and past the ice plant, then along the railroad tracks for his shortcut around the center of town. The quarter mile along the tracks was darker than usual, and Jim did not notice the hobo waiting next to the empty rail car.

“Got any change?” The voice seemed to come out of nowhere.

Jim spun around and felt the knife pushing against his belt buckle. The money bag from the station was hidden in his shirt. As Jim reached for his billfold and began to pull it out, everything suddenly went black.

When he woke up, his head was hurting. He was soaking wet and cold. He felt around in the dark and found his empty billfold, then felt his shirt for the money bag. It was still there! Finding his hat, he pulled his aching body up out of the mud and stumbled down the tracks.

As he walked back onto Main Street, he noticed the barber shop and store were closed. He must have been out a long time. The school on the hill reminded him of his boys, two now living in California and one that lived nearby, where he planned to stop.

He walked toward his son’s house, crossing a long hill before seeing the welcome sight of their lamp shining in the window. He climbed the steps to the front porch and collapsed, feeling like he could not go any further. The door opened and his son, Bob, came rushing out with his wife, Helen, behind him.

“Dad! Are you alright?”

“I think so. Give me a hand.”

“It’s two a.m. What happened? Mom called and said you had not come home. I was getting ready to come down to the station to check on you!”

“I was robbed. They got my wallet money, but not the station cash I had in my shirt. My head is sore, but I think I will be alright.”

“Sit down. I’ll get you some water.”

Helen pulled up a chair for him and put a cushion behind his head.

Bob was already on the phone, reassuring his mom that Jim was okay.

“Dad, maybe you should close up a little earlier,” Bob said when he rejoined them.

“That’s a good idea. Maybe I will go through town and avoid walking along the tracks, too.”

Bob grabbed his gun and started for the door. “Where did it happen?” he asked as he loaded the shotgun.

“About halfway down the tracks to the ice plant.”

Helen called the sheriff, and several officers met Bob alongside the tracks near the ice plant. Together they slowly searched the bushes along the tracks. Hobos often rode the train in and spent the night here. A wet box shelter was found where someone had been sleeping, but no one was nearby.

“They could have jumped that midnight train that came through,” said one of the police officers. “I will call the sheriff in the next county and ask him to keep watch for drifters.”

Back home, Bob helped his father into his truck and took him the rest of the way home.

At six a.m. the next morning, Jim was making the long walk back to the small station on the far side of town as though nothing had happened. He was disappointed that he had lost his one hundred dollar bill with his initials; he had been carrying the bill for years. Altogether he lost a hundred and fifty dollars.

Two days later the sheriff of Hopkins County called to tell Jim they had picked up two drifters trying to jump an eastbound freight. They had a lot of cash on them, including the hundred dollar bill with Jim’s initials. Jim just smiled and squinted his eyes, took off his black felt hat and rubbed the back of his head. He had a new story to share at the station. 

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