The Disappearance of Grisham McCoy, Part 4

“You were talking about the bookcase,” I said after a moment of silence broken only by the cawing of a murder of crows outside the dirt-streaked window.

“You are fully aware of the history of the house, but you might not be aware of the secret passages.”

“I’ve heard the stories. At the time of the murder, I searched for hours to find the entrance to a secret passage. I continued my search over the next few years, but without success. Eventually, I dismissed the idea as absurd flights of fantasy and neighborhood myths and legends.”

She tapped her long, thick fingers on the desk.

“That’s a myth. There are no secret passages,” I said.

Walters’s face morphed from a blank stare to a wry smile.

“The bookcase covered a secret passage,” she whispered.

“Impossible! I would have discovered it. How did it open?”

“Nothing as simple as moving a few books, then pulling a lever or pushing on a knothole.”

“How? Tell me or I am leaving.” I tried to think of anything that would act as the trigger for a mechanism to open the bookcase.

“Actually, it was a three step process. You have to stand on the left side of the bookcase and listen for the creak of the floor. After that sound, you have only three seconds to press on the piece of wood supporting the fourth shelf. The third step is to remove the Bible. Voila! The bookcase will release and you can pull it open just enough to slip into the space behind it.”

“Where does it lead?”

“There is a narrow staircase leading to the room directly above the study.”

I recalled a passage from a Sherlock Holmes story. When you exhaust every other possibility, the only one remaining, no matter how absurd, is the correct explanation… or something along those lines.

“I don’t believe you,” I stated emphatically. “I have searched every inch of the study for a secret passage or opening without ever finding one.”

“Trust me. It’s there, and Father and Miss Suellen knew it,” she whispered.

Now that Walters disclosed the process for revealing it, I longed to return to the scene of the crime and test her revelation.

“Are you certain Grisham McCoy murdered his brother?” Walters asked.

I told her about the argument between the brothers and how Miss Emporia, God rest her soul, overheard the shouting match. I explained how the late Frank Engle discovered the crime.

“It would have been impossible for the murderer to have been anyone else but Grisham McCoy,” I reiterated.

“What if I told you there was one other person in the room at the time…”

“That’s impossible!” I shouted. I stood and paced in front of the desk. I remembered the rose- scented aroma.

“You know I’m right.”

I stared at Walters and clenched my jaw. “Who? There were no visitors to the house that day, and certainly not late at night.”

Walters nodded.

“The argument was between brothers, but no one knows why they argued.”

“You are wrong. Three people know the reason.”

I stared at Walters. “Obviously, Chester and Grisham knew. Who else?”

“Miss Suellen.”

I collapsed onto the hard chair, closed my eyes, and recreated the incident in my mind according to the known facts. The perpetrator stood behind Chester McCoy to deliver the fatal blow. A single blow with the bronze bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

I opened my eyes. “Why are you telling me this? How could you possibly know?”

“I am dying of throat cancer, and thought you should know.”

“Who are you, and when did you come to Clantonville?”

Walters stood and moved to the window. I swear the temperature of the room dropped ten degrees in an instant. She stared out the window without responding for a moment. She glanced over her shoulder at me, and I heard a sigh.

“I’m leaving. You are a fraud and a coward.” I knocked over the chair as I stood.

“I’m not a fraud, and you know it. You are afraid to face the truth. You’ve always known it, and were too afraid to face the realization of who killed Chester. I was too much of a coward to stay, so I left and thus placed the guilt on my shoulders.”

“Am I to believe you came across Grisham McCoy at some point, and he told you the details of the murder? Did his conscience finally compel him to confess? What do you expect to gain by telling me this fiction now?”

“It’s not fiction,” Walters said.

“Do you know where Grisham McCoy is now? Is he still alive?” I asked trying to control my rising temper.

Brennan Walters walked away from the window as the crows returned and faced me.

My knees grew weak as I looked into her eyes and saw a reflection of myself. In that moment, I realized the truth.

“I am right here, Hassie.”

I left her/him there ten minutes later. I didn’t know what to with, or how to think of, Brennan Walters, but the cancer would render the point mute. I slowly descended the stairs, returned to my car, and drove the three blocks to my home. I climbed the front steps, opened the front door, and walked down the hall to the last room on the right. I glanced at the transom window as I entered and walked to the bookcase to the left of my desk. I stared at the bronze bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the large, dusty Bible for a split-second before noticing the squirrels on the birdbath again. I grabbed the Franklin County Gazette. I stared at the photo and read the headline on the front page.

Miss Suellen McCoy Passed Away After a Long Illness.

She Is Survived By Her Daughter, Hassie McCoy.

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