|Lady Justice and the Raven
Lady Justice and the Raven
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Walt discovers a manuscript hidden in the false bottom of a
cabinet Maggie bought at a craft fair.
The manuscript, written by a woman named Lenore, tells the tragic story
of a life filled with abuse, incest, and finally --- murder.
Drawn in by the story, Walt becomes entangled with members of the family
whose lives mirror characters in many of Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic novels.
Accompanying Walt on this curious journey is a Raven that guides Walt
through the terrifying and often dangerous encounters with this family
whose lives are filled with tragedy and remorse.
Will Walt prevail or will he succumb to the evil curse that
has plagued this troubled family for four generations?
It was a quiet Friday evening.
My wife, Maggie, and I, had just finished our evening meal and had settled in front of the TV to watch two of our favorite shows, Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods, when the phone rang.
I urged Maggie to let it ring, but she just couldn’t do it.
“Walt! It might be your dad or Bernice. Someone might be sick.”
Women are like that.
I could tell from listening to Maggie’s end of the conversation that our caller was Mary Murphy, our good friend and the housemother at my Three Trails Hotel. The hotel is actually a flop house with twenty sleeping rooms that share four hall baths. I always hold my breath when Mary calls because more times than not, she’s calling to tell me that something is stopped up, broken, or that one of the tenants has done something stupid.
Maggie listened for a few minutes, and her last statement was like a punch in the gut.
“Thanks for letting me know, Mary. I’m sure Walt will be excited about taking us. We’ll pick you up at eight-thirty.”
“What was that all about?” I asked as she hung up, fearing what she was about to tell me.
“That was Mary, reminding me that tomorrow is the annual craft fair at the old Bingham-Waggoner estate in Independence. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it, but it just slipped my mind.”
“So I guess that means we’re going.”
She gave me that pitiful, doe-faced look that I can never say no to. “I was hoping we could make a day of it. It will be lots of fun. There are dozens of booths that sell everything imaginable. We can eat there. I hear they even have home-churned ice cream. Plus, I’ve always wanted to see that beautiful old mansion. What do you say?”
What else could I say?
“Sounds like a blast.”
It was ten o’clock when our shows were over. Maggie wanted to turn in early, saying she wanted to be ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ for our upcoming excursion.
I have nothing against ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’, but I just wasn’t sleepy yet. I went into the office and booted up the computer. I figured if I had to visit this old mansion, I should check it out.
I Googled ‘Bingham-Waggoner Estate’ and a beautiful photo filled the screen.
As I read the accompanying text, I was surprised to learn that the original owner of the property was George Caleb Bingham, the artist who had painted Order Number 11.
In 1863, Union general Thomas Ewing issued the order requiring everyone in Jackson County to leave their homes within fifteen days. Bingham was so incensed with the order that he appealed to Ewing’s superior officer, but to no avail. Bingham wrote, “If God spares my life, with pen and pencil, I will make this order infamous in history.”
His painting did just that.
I saw the painting, originally titled Martial Law, at the old 1859 Jail Museum when Maggie and I toured it a few years ago.
In the late eighteen hundred’s, Bingham sold the property to the Waggoners who had purchased the local flour mill. They prospered and developed a reputation for producing the best baking and cake flours, including the ‘Queen of the Pantry’ brand.
The Waggoners owned the property until 1979 when the 19.5 acre tract was purchased by the city for a public park and museum.
After reading about the mansion, I decided that our upcoming trip might not be too bad after all.
The craft fair was to open at nine o’clock. We picked Mary up at eight-thirty and headed east to Independence.
On the way over, I gleaned some information that Maggie had failed to mention the night before. She was looking for an old trunk or cabinet of some kind to store some keepsakes she had found in our basement.
Before we were married, Maggie lived in a small one-bedroom apartment near the Country Club Plaza. Since there wasn’t a lot of room for storage, she had rented a space nearby. After we got hitched, there was no reason to pay the monthly fee, so we moved everything into my musty old basement.
She had heard that many of the vendors at the fair had antiques, so this was as good a place as any to find just the thing she was looking for.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that we had embarked on a quest.
When we arrived, I discovered that the only parking was on the street --- and the street was already full. We finally found a spot three blocks away.
Great way to start the day.
As we approached, I could see that the grounds where the vendors had set up was already teeming with shoppers.
Vendors had set up tables and tents selling jewelry, knick-knacks, books, quilts, and antiques.
I spotted one problem right away. The sidewalk separating the vendor’s displays was no more than three feet wide, and many of the hundreds of shoppers were almost that wide themselves.
It was almost impossible to wade through the crowded sidewalk. Thankfully, we had Mary Murphy. She can part a crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea. Following in her footsteps, we stopped at each any every tent.
We found nothing of interest until we came upon a vendor selling jewelry made out of silverware. Something about those pieces grabbed Mary’s interest. She looked at each piece and finally declared, “That one! Just look at it! They made an octopus out of a fork! That’s the one I want!”
Just as she reached for it, another woman, maybe half her size, pushed her aside and grabbed the octopus.
“Hey!” Mary cried, grabbing the woman’s arm. “I was buying that!”
“Yeah, but I got it first!” the woman replied, trying to pull away from Mary’s firm grip.
That was the wrong thing to say. I saw the fire in Mary’s eyes. The unfortunate woman didn’t realize she had just pissed off a gal who had crushed the skull of a Russian hit man with her bat, and shot an intruder who had threatened her with a knife.
I was about to intervene when the vendor rushed over. “Don’t fight ladies. I have another one just like it.”
Mary released the woman’s arm, gave her the evil eye, and whispered, “Lucky for you!”
After completing their purchases, the woman turned to Mary. “Bitch!”
Mary would have had her way with her, but I stepped between them. “It’s awfully hot. How about we get some of that home-made ice cream?”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied. “I think I need to cool off.”
The food trucks and booths were behind the old mansion in front of the carriage house. Tables had been set up in the shade of huge oak trees, and a stage had been erected on the back porch of the mansion.
A trio of local ladies were singing songs by the Andrews sisters. They were singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B while we were buying huge cups of ice cream.
I found a shady spot at a table and the three of us pulled up a chair.
We had just taken the first spoonsful of the icy treat, when I heard a ‘SPLAT!” followed by a “Well damn!”
Mary was pointing into the tree overhead. “That damn crow pooped in my ice cream!”
I looked where she was pointing, and sure enough, a big black bird was perched right over her head.
It almost looked like he was laughing.
From the looks of the purple goo topping her ice cream, it was likely that the bird had just eaten a meal of mulberries.
There was no doubt in my mind that if Mary had been armed, she would have shot the beast.
An old man at the next table spoke up. “That ain’t no crow. That’s a raven.”
“I don’t give a damn what it is!” Mary declared. “He ruined my ice cream.”
“Here,” I said, handing her two dollars, “go get another cup.”
As she grabbed my money and huffed off, I turned to the old man. “What’s the difference between a crow and a raven?”
“They are a lot alike,” he replied, “except ravens are larger than crows. You can also tell by their tail feathers. A crow’s tail feathers are all the same size, but the middle tale feathers of the raven are longer. You can also tell by the way they call. Crows have a cawing sound. Ravens produce a lower croaking sound.”
“Good to know,” I replied, just as Mary returned.
She found a spot out of the bird’s line of fire and we finished our treats without further mishap.
Refreshed, we headed back to the vendor’s tents. Maggie was still intent on finding just the right receptacle for her keepsakes.
In one of the displays, I spotted an old trunk. “How about that one?”
She turned up her nose. “No, it just doesn’t feel right.”
I wasn’t sure how a trunk was supposed to feel, but we pushed on.
At the next booth I pointed to another one. “How does that one feel?”
She shook her head. “Too small.”
Three booths later, she pointed. “There! That’s the one! It just feels right.”
“Great!” I said, relieved that that our ordeal was finally over.
As I was paying the vendor, I heard a croaking sound. I looked up and spotted the raven perched directly above the chest we just purchased.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an omen of some kind.
The next day, Maggie and I were examining the chest.
“It’s just perfect!” she gushed, “except for one thing.”
I dreaded what she was about to say.
“It’s so dark. Is there any chance you could strip off the old finish and maybe stain it a light oak?”
“Really?” I asked, incredulously. “Don’t you think that would ruin its authenticity. Just look at that patina.”
“Patina? Give me a break. You probably just looked up that word to try to talk me out of refinishing it.”
She was right, of course. I had just looked it up. It’s hard to get something past Maggie.
Then she gave me that doe-eyed look again. “Please. If you strip the finish off of it, I just might strip something off for you.”
That got my attention.
“You drive a hard bargain, but it’s a deal.”
I took her by the hand, but she pulled away. “Nope, you first.”
She gave me a wink and walked away.
I turned to the chest. “Might as well get to it,” I muttered.
I started by pulling out the drawers. The bottom drawer seemed heavier than the others. I examined it more closely and discovered that it had a false bottom. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to access the space, but when I finally succeeded, my mouth dropped open.
Hidden in the false bottom of the chest was an old manuscript.
At first glance, I thought it might be an old diary, but on closer examination, it proved to be much more.
After reading a few paragraphs, I realized I was reading a confession to a murder.