Scene from Price of Truth, Chapter 9
Something very wrong is happening.
For a house servant like me, most days that I work for the prestigious banker, Mr. Wilson, and his family of Fresno, CA, are rather ordinary. I spend the hours fetching items, running errands, and making myself useful around my employer’s spacious house.
But today was NOT an ordinary day.
This particular afternoon, I was making my way through the house when I heard the loud, distinct sound of knocking. When I opened the heavy wooden door, I saw Sherriff Tate, along with another man I recognized as Justin Carter, a lawyer in town, and Mr. Carter’s sister, Andi. Their faces were grim, yet they also held uneasiness. The girl, especially, looked nervous. She hung back and pressed close to her brother, who stood near her.
“Good evening, Sheriff.” I bowed respectfully and led the visitors into the wide foyer. “Please wait here.” I slipped away and went in search of Mr. Wilson, whom I found in the library.
My employer sat at his desk, engrossed. A mountain of paperwork rose from the desk and loomed beside him. As I waited, Mr. Wilson snatched a piece of paper from the stack and scrutinized it closely.
I coughed politely to gain his attention and bowed. “Sir? The sheriff to see you.”
Mr. Wilson shuffled papers. “Not now, Li. I am very busy . . .” His voice trailed off as he scribbled feverishly. Then he glanced up. “What did you say? The sheriff? Why, what a wonderful surprise for this dull afternoon!” He pushed back his chair, stood up quickly, and moved eagerly past me out the door.
Beaming, Mr. Wilson greeted the guests with a hearty handshake and an invitation to supper. “Can you stay? I’ll tell Alice to put on—”
“Charles,” the sheriff began uneasily, clutching his hat.
My employer looked around at the grim faces. When his gaze fell on Andi, his smile faded. “I guess this isn’t a social call, after all. What has Jonathan done now? Whatever it is, I promise I’ll straighten it out.” He nodded to me. “Li, find Jonathan and ask him to join us.”
I moved to find the Wilson’s braggart, bully of a son, who had a dark reputation of troublemaking around town. But the sheriff held me back. I moved to the side of the room and waited politely.
“We’re not here about Jonathan,” Sherriff Tate said.
“Really?” Mr. Wilson shoved his spectacles higher on his nose and chuckled. “That’s the best news I’ve had all day.”
“Is Peter home?” Sheriff Tate asked.
“Of course. He’s upstairs, packing for a trip to Yosemite that he and Mitch planned. I gave him a few days off. Wouldn’t want it said that I worked the lad to death.”
“May we speak with him?” Mr. Carter asked.
Mr. Wilson frowned. “Is this an official visit, Sheriff?”
The sheriff shuffled uncomfortably. “I’m afraid so. Ben Decker was found dead in an alley over in the warehouse district. Peter was seen scuffling with him moments before his death.”
From the side of the room, I frowned. So this was why our unexpected guests had showed up. My brow wrinkled. What would Mr. Wilson’s reaction be?
My employer stiffened. “Peter? In the company of that drunk? Impossible.” He narrowed his eyes. “I resent what you’re implying.”
“I’m sorry, charles,” the Sherriff said. “I find it incredibly hard to believe too. However”—he cleared his throat and nervously fingered his hat—“there’s an eyewitness.”
Mr. Wilson’s eyebrows shot up. “An eyewitness from the warehouse district? I’m surprised at you, Russ. You’d actually believe a witness from that part of town? It’s obvious someone is playing a cruel joke on us all—slandering my son’s good name. I’ll put a stop to that quickly enough. Who is this eyewitness?”
“You’re not making this any easier,” Sheriff Tate said. “Andi saw the whole thing.”
The banker gaped at Andi. His spectacles slid down his nose. “Go get Peter,” he snapped to me. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”
I bowed, but my expression of courtesy went unnoticed. My employer was clearly agitated, and he paced the floor rapidly. I glided out of the room and headed up the staircase to summon Peter. I found him in his bedroom with his best friend, Mitch Carter. They were busy packing for their upcoming trip to Yosemite.
Peter glanced up as I entered. “Yes, Li?” He yanked a jacket from his wardrobe and flung it onto the bed.
I bowed. “Your father wants to see you.”
“I wonder what he wants.” Peter rummaged through his saddlebag. “I’ll be right there.” He hoisted up several saddlebags and grabbed his jacket. Then he strode towards the top of the staircase. I followed at a distance.
Peter slung the set of saddlebags and a jacket over his shoulder and descended the stairs two at a time. He shook hands with the adults and grinned at Andi. “Hi, Andi.”
The girl started.
Peter began talking. “Li said you wanted to see me, Father. I hope it won’t take long. Mitch and I want to eat and be on our way.” He glanced up the stairs at the tall, sandy-haired young man who appeared at the banister. “Yosemite, here we come! Right, Mitch?”
His friend echoed Peter’s enthusiasm. “You bet!” He gave his brother and sister a careless wave. “Howdy, sis. Hi, Justin. What’re you doing here?” He hurried down the stairs.
“They’re not here for supper,” my employer said tightly. He glared at Andi.
Peter set his jacket and saddlebags aside and faced the sheriff. “So, what’s going on?”
“About an hour ago, Ben Decker was found dead,” Sheriff Tate said.
Peter’s eyes widened. “Ben Decker? Really? That’s too bad, but I doubt many folks will mourn the old drunk’s passing.” He frowned. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Have you seen Ben Decker today?”
Peter snorted. “No, Sherriff, I have not. Besides the fact that Ben Decker and I don’t travel in the same circle, I was at the bank most of the day.” He glanced from the Sherriff to Justin. “What’s all this about, Justin?”
“You were seen involved in a scuffle with Ben that led to his death,” Sheriff Tate explained before Justin could speak.
“I haven’t been anywhere near Ben,” Peter insisted.
My employer let out a relieved breath. “That should clear things up for you, Russ.”
I was also relieved. Hopefully, Mr. Wilson should be able to clear these unjust charges against Peter. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I thought about my headstrong employer. He was a very determined man, and when he had his mind set on something, he usually got it. Deciding I didn’t need to be listening to this conversation, I moved out of the room and into the kitchen.
Another house servant, Min Lu, stood over a large pot, stirring busily. Thick steam swirled above the pot and caused perspiration to bead on her forehead. She raked a thin hand across her brow and squinted at me through narrow eyes. “Out of my kitchen, please,” she said in a tight, high voice.
I leaned against the doorway. “I have news that concerns Peter Wilson.”
Min Lu eyed me briefly, then turned her attention to the stove. “I think . . . the doings of Mr. Wilson’s son are not for us to know.”
“You may be right.” I smiled at her. “But still, listen to this: Peter Wilson has been accused of murder.”
Min Lu almost dropped her spoon in surprise, but she recovered quickly. “I do not believe.”
“It is true. The sheriff himself is in the foyer right now.”
“I do not understand.”
“From what I heard”—I moved closer and lowered my voice—“supposedly Peter was in the warehouse district and was seen scuffling with a man.”
Min Lu was shaking her head. “I do not believe,” she repeated
“Nor I. However, there is no need to worry. I think our employer is settling this right now.” I motioned to the foyer. “For now . . . goodbye.” Confident, I left the kitchen and entered the front room, where I waited near the side. It was then that my hopes were dashed.
Peter Wilson was standing in the middle of the room, looking helplessly at his father. Despair was written all over his face.
Quickly I glanced at my employer. His face was a mask of stone. “All right, if that’s the way you want it. I’ll get the best lawyer in the state. We’ll get to the bottom of this foolishness if it’s the last—”
“That’s enough, Charles,” Sheriff Tate broke in. “Justin, you’d better take Andi home.”
I stared at Mr. Wilson. Will Peter be arrested? My confidence fizzled away like bubbles in the champagne that my wealthy, banker employer enjoyed drinking. Confused thoughts raced in circles in my head as I numbly showed the Carters out.
As soon as the door shut, Mr. Wilson began to pace the floor. Deep lines creased his forehead as he walked. Then his endurance snapped and he whirled, scanning the room through bloodshot eyes. He spotted me. “Li,” he frowned, his voice hard and sharp. “Surely there is something you can do to make yourself useful!”
“Y-yes, sir.” I bowed hastily and left the room to obey my employer’s wishes. Turmoil pounded in my head with every step I took. Many unanswered questions hurtled through my brain as I went about my work, but there was one question that kept returning.
What does all this mean?