Forged in Fear: Abit confronts Nigel
FORGED IN FEAR
I flew through the front door of Coburn’s so fast it banged hard against the wall. I headed straight for Nigel, who was on his knees stocking some fool thing in the canned goods section. I didn’t even speak to Della—who was standing behind the counter with her jaw hanging open. (A rare sight to catch her at a loss for words.)
I grabbed Nigel by his jacket, raising him up to my six-foot-three eye level. He looked so scared that some of the steam went out of my fury. I was an awful lot bigger than him. But I wasn't through with him, yet.
“What have you brought onto my family, Nigel? I came home yesterday evening, and Fiona was screaming at me like a banshee. Conor was in his room, sick with a stomachache. He’d been off his food and acting all nervous-like. When I went in to talk with him, the little feller burst into tears. He told me about that lowlife coming to our farm and threatening you. Right in front of our boy. Did you let that happen?”
By then I’d lowered Nigel so his feet were firmly on the ground, but he kinda staggered over to a chair by the wood stove and sat. Even oncet he'd caught his breath, he couldn't seem to find his words. I guessed I’d scared them right out of him. Della came over and made some soothing sounds, and eventually I felt calm enough to sit in one of the other chairs across from Nigel. I looked round the store and noticed no one else there.
“Well, I’m glad nobody was here for that,” I offered.
“Oh, they were," Della told me. "They left. In a hurry.” I could tell she wasn’t put out with me, though I felt my face burning as my shame crept up on me. But then I remembered how hard my boy had cried, and I got mad all over again.
Della turned to Nigel. "You never mentioned that Conor was witness to that crook. Was Conor there when Lewis was threatening you?”
Nigel nodded. He looked so woebegone, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
Della went in back and came out with some tea and teacups. “I’d just made a pot. What is it you Brits always say about a nice hot cuppa? It cures all ills? Well, I doubt this is strong enough to do that, but it's a start.”
We sat there not saying a word, sipping our tea. I felt like a damned fool—the cup handle was so small I had to hold it with my little finger sticking straight up, just to make room for the rest of my hand.
“I’m sorry, Abit. I never thought it would turn out like this.” That was Della. Nigel still hadn’t made a peep.
“I’m not mad at you, Della—we wanted Nigel to stay with us.” I looked over at him, but he was studying his shoes. “He’s our friend. But this can’t go on.”
Nigel nodded again, lookin' real sad-like. I reckoned we were all sad. Thing was, we didn’t want Nigel to leave; we just wanted Johnny Ray Lewis to get out of our lives.
After a time, Nigel started talking. While he and my boy were having a grand ol' time making scones, Lewis had barged in. Nigel tried to keep him at bay, but Lewis got rough and things went downhill from there.
As Nigel went on about that day, l could feel the terror little Conor must have felt, sure as if I'd been there. I started glaring at Nigel, which made him clam up, and we were at a dead end again. Finally, Della stepped in and got us back to talking with one another. Della and I kept saying we could help with a plan to get Lewis offa his back, but Nigel shook his head. "I can fix this," was all he'd say.
We didn’t know it then, but that was the last time we’d see Nigel in Laurel Falls. After the store closed that evening, Della drove him back to our place. Truth be told, I wasn't much in the mood to give him a lift. But by the next morning, I was ready to make amends. After breakfast, I walked over to his room to tell him I was sorry--but he was nowhere to be found. At first I worried he’d left for good, but then I noticed his belongings still there. The only thing missing was the suit he’d been wearing when he arrived months ago. (Fiona had gotten it dry cleaned for him over in Newland.) His flannel shirts and jeans were neatly hanging up, and some books and underwears and such were in the dresser.
We expected him to show up any minute, but a coupla days later he was still missing. I stopped by Coburn's several times to check with Della, who was worried sick.
“Nigel just isn’t the type to go off without leaving a note," she said as she shredded a tissue in her hands. "And to leave his mess for you to clean up. I’ve known him for decades, and that isn’t the Nigel I know.”
“Well, you didn’t really know him when he was a full-fledged forger, did you? Maybe this is another side of him.”
“Point taken—but even back in the day, he was known as one of those gentlemen crooks. Always polite. This just isn’t like him. And he knows how much I need his help at the store, so I’d at least expect a phone message from the road.” She started biting her nails and added, “Something is very wrong.”
Look for Chapter Eleven in a couple of weeks.