The following is a fictional story that will be published through the McNicholas Milestone in installments. All characters, settings, and dialogue are purely figments of the imagination.
PART FIVE: THE SMUGGLER
Jillian’s eyes caught mine from the entrance of the tent before I could avert my gaze. A half-smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she made her way towards me.
“Long time no see,” she chuckled. “I’m glad this wretched gathering hasn’t swayed your sobriety.”
I forced a laugh. Jillian carried herself in a way that told my gut she was always three or four steps ahead of everyone else, shoulders pushed back and chin jutting out as if to announce her presence in silence, as words did not do her justice.
“You as well,” I managed to say. She looked, for a second, as if she was going to sit down beside me at the table, but it was replaced by that sense of superiority once again.
“Walk with me?” she asked.
“You don’t know me,” I raised an eyebrow. Her sheer boredom was beginning to get the best of her, forcing the all-knowing walls down a few inches, just enough for me to see someone who was tired of being alone in this place.
“You’re a stranger,” she shrugged with that same small smile.
“The stranger the better, sweetheart,” Jillian quipped. “Strangers have a story, and I’ve seen you prancing around, interrogating that Reverend. He’s an important man, and I over-heard someone talking about a certain Mr. Conners’ niece in that horrifically fitting green dress. I happen to know Mary quite well, and I happen to know that green dress has to be you.”
“So?” I asked, trying not to sound defensive.
“What’s you deal, Josey?”
“You’re crazy,” I laughed.
“Possibly,” she said. “But I have a feeling you are too.”
I pushed myself out of my chair, with a nonchalant sigh, presenting an unfazed façade, but the rising heartbeat in my chest indicated otherwise.
“Relax, Josey,” Jillian said, turning on her heel and walking back toward the canvas entrance. She didn’t wait to make sure I would follow. “I know this is about Andrews. Normally I wouldn’t care, but I may have something that could help you.”
“You don’t seem too fond of that man,” I said, rushing to catch up as we exited the tent and became lost in the crowd.
“I’m not,” she said. “He and I have a history that is difficult to be particularly fond of.”
I studied her features as she spoke, searching for any sort of remorse or hesitation. Jillian presented herself as nothing less than cold and unfeeling. It would take someone cold and unfeeling to commit homicide, wouldn’t it?
“Oh please,” she scoffed. “Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t kill him… I didn’t like him, but I didn’t kill him.”
“Then why do you care who I’m talking to?” I asked.
“Because I know someone who could have,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I work for one of the bars Mr. Andrews used to frequent,” Jillian explained.
“Not quite,” Jillian laughed. “I buy goods from somewhere, and sell them to somewhere else.”
“And those goods happen to be of an alcoholic nature?” I squinted my eyes at her.
“Perhaps,” she studied her fingernails.
“So you’re a smuggler?” I asked, though it was less of a question and more of an observation. I had stopped walking, the bustling people reducing to a dull roar as I surveyed the woman in front of me.
“My boss is the owner of the bar, I’m just a link in a chain. When I’m not doing buying and selling, I clean the tables for a few extra cents.”
“And Mr. Andrews?” I leaned in.
“I knew a man who spent too much time at the bar. He pressed charges against Andrews for the wrongful death of his brother at one of Andrews’ factories. You know the trial?”
“I know the trial,” I said.
“Well the man who pressed charges, Henry Jones… He was an alcoholic, had been for years. I spoke to him a few times, never for longer than twenty minutes at a time, but that was enough for Andrews,” she said.
“Enough for him how?” I hung on every word she said, dissecting the scenarios and marking my mind with the ink of memory.
“I was asked to testify in court during the trial,” she explained. “Andrews’ case against him was rooted in the fact that Jones had been under the influence of Alcohol to the extent that his arguments were unreasonable… But I knew Jones.”
Jillian grabbed my arm and pulled me off to the side away from the people. Under the cover a great oak tree draped in lights, she sucked in a breath.
“Jones’ wife died two years ago, and after that he went straight to the bottle. The man had a little girl at home he was taking care of… his daughter. I never saw her, but he always talked about her. He never spoke about her with anything less than adoration, and when his brother passed, he sobered up instantly. I didn’t see him after that. That had been months before the trial,” Jillian pursed her lips.
“So Andrews’ defense was almost void,” I reasoned, tucking a loose hair behind my ear and crossing my arms over my chest.
“Except it wasn’t,” Jillian lowered her voice. “Andrews came to find me a few weeks before the trial.”
Jillian dove into a story, painting a picture of that night with her words.
Jillian tossed a dingy white rag over her shoulder and rested her hands on her hips. The tables were squeaky clean, and the last of the patrons were moments away from staggering out onto the streets to be someone else’s problem… Everyone except for one man.
He sat at the counter, drink in hand and expensive, silk hat resting on his head like it was half a moment from falling off, but something about the man made her think that even the hat wouldn’t dare drop a pebble into the waters and cause a ripple. He looked up from his drink, eyes locating her in the room instantly. His gaze was heavy, bogged down with the weight of contemplation. Jillian’s stomach dropped.
“Can I help you, Sir?” she asked, taking one step and then two towards the man.
“Jillian Smith?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” she said hesitantly. She had seen the man more than once in this place, but they were unfamiliar with each other beyond that. “And… you are?”
“Forgive me,” the man said, resting a hand over his heart before extending it her direction. “Johnathan Andrews.”
Johnathan Andrews. She knew that name, had heard it in passing. Suddenly his hat was the probably the least expensive article of clothing he owned. She allowed him to take her hand in greeting for a moment before pulling it back.
“I’m sure you’re confused as to how I know you, so allow me to explain,” he said. “In the next few days you will be called as a witness in a court case that I happen to be caught up in at the moment.”
“Me?” she asked taken back “Why me? You don’t even know me?”
“You don’t need to know me. It has to do with that Jones fellow.”
“Jones’ brother,” Jillian said.
“What about him?” Jillian fought the urge to curl in on herself and shrink away from the man.
“Your employer informed me that he stops by on occasion and that you have a history of interacting with him,” Mr. Andrews shrugged.
“What about it?” Jillian asked sharply.
“He was a drunkard, was he not?”
“He’s better now,” Jillian said.
“Ah,” Mr. Andrews let a cold smile creep onto his face. “See, I don’t particularly care that he’s supposedly getting better. You don’t need to mention that in court.”
“My apologies, allow me to clarify,” Mr. Andrews folded his hands behind his back and pushed his shoulders back. “You won’t mention his improvement in court, in fact, you will deny it. As far as you are concerned, he’s too much of a drunk to be trusted.”
“And why would I do that?” Jillian was defensive now, eyebrows drawn together in a slight scowl.
“Because I have the means to ensure that your particular occupation and day to day life is made much more difficult, seeing as there isn’t much that people can’t be persuaded to do for a price,” Mr. Andrews said.
“The trial was far worse then I could’ve imagined,” Jillian shook her head. “In the aftermath there were concerns about Jones’ ability to be an adequate father, and within a few months his daughter was removed from his custody.”
“A man who lost everything,” I said to myself.
“Jones has been going to the bar again, and he’s different now… angrier,” Jillian said. “He’s here tonight… I saw him a little while ago. Once I figured out what you were doing, I thought you might be interested.”
“Thank you, Jillian,” I said. “Have a good evening.”
With that, I lowered my head, slipped back into the crowd, and began inquiring after a certain Henry Jones.