Greetings WD Family:
Please accept my heartfelt apology for the time lapse between posting Chapter Four and Chapter Five of 'What's True.' This summer has been a bit crazed for many of us on the WD, including my family and myself. I will try to post the remaining Chapters of 'What's True' in a timelier manner.
A major THANK YOU goes out to everyone reading this story, especially those who took the time to comment and/or send a private message. Your kind words, encouragement and interest in my BV work on the WD is truly humbling. I am deeply grateful to one and all.
Please read the Assumptions for this story in the Prologue. Thank you!
XXXXX Chapter Five XXXXX
"If I'm being too personal, Victoria, please ..."
"No, Arthur, your questions aren't too personal." She smiled, adding, "If our family expects your expert assistance in this matter, the least you should expect from us is the truth. Or, more specifically, the truth as we know it to be at this point in time."
The Attorney nodded his gratitude while sipping his coffee. He sensed they both needed a moment to think through where their conversation was leading.
Arthur Cuisart had been involved with Family Law, specifically Inheritance matters, for more than forty years. He was a Senior Partner in one of California's most prestigious and successful Law Firms.
It wasn't unusual for their Firm to be retained in matters of this nature. But, for some unknown reason, the pain he saw in his client's eyes this morning felt too real ... Too personal ... And it wasn't a feeling he enjoyed.
"Thank you for your consideration, Arthur, but I know we need to continue. The information you've provided today appears to reinforce the Simmons' claims."
"But, as you and Jarrod have pointed out, their case is highly circumstantial."
"It is that."
"In answer to your questions regarding Tom and my marriage before and after his stay in Strawberry, I'm not trying to evade the issue behind your inquiry. In fact, I've been wracking my brain night and day, since the Simmons' visit, in an effort to find answers to those same questions for myself.
"As I've tried to explain before, when Tom returned to Stockton, I asked few questions and he offered few explanations for his behavior. Normally, I wouldn't have stood for his silence, but it is difficult to explain the fear, the paralyzing terror, that gripped my heart and soul when he finally came home.
"For years, we had worked long and hard to make our dreams come true together. We made a good team and loved what we were building for our family's future. But, the loss of two small children left us both adrift in rather dark places. Sadly, instead of holding on to each other, we allowed our confusion to push us apart.
"After more than six months devoted to self-reflection, I had made up my mind to do anything, whatever it took, to pull our family back together. We still had two small children; young boys, who were as lost and confused as their mother regarding Tom's absence. So, when he walked back into our world, Jarrod, Nick and I held him close with all of our combined might.
"Later, when Tom and I had successfully renewed our dedication to our family and our marriage, I feared the divide might reappear between us if I asked questions about his time in the mining camps, including Strawberry. Upon reflection, I honestly believe he felt the same ... That bringing up his time away from us might drive the boys and I from his side."
"Yes, I can understand how you came to that conclusion, Victoria."
"And now, knowing my worst fears regarding his time in Strawberry appear to have been true, I don't know what my reaction to Tom's confession to having a relationship with Leah Thomson might have been twenty-five years ago."
"None of us would react today as we would have when we were twenty-five years younger. You can't worry about the 'what might have beens,' Victoria. It is impossible to go back and change anything."
"That is true, Arthur, but their time together wasn't a mistake, a drunken moment or even a temporary loss of sanity. I have to accept the fact my husband was in a relationship with another woman ... A relationship that lasted for months and resulted in the birth of a child. Knowing Tom, as I still believe I do, this was no mere dalliance; he cared, and cared deeply, for Leah Thomson."
Victoria used her napkin to brush at a few tears escaping down her cheeks despite her ongoing efforts not to allow her emotions to show outside of the privacy of the Master Suite.
"If this young man ... If my husband's son's future wasn't at risk here, I suppose my questions for this investigation would center on trying to ascertain why Tom did indeed come back to Stockton. But, he did and he provided us an incredibly Blessed life. As his wife, his widow, and dare I say, Tom's best friend, I am determined to ferret out the truth.
"Adding the information your Firm and the Pinkerton Agency have provided thus far to the evidence presented by the Simmons, I believe Heath Thomson is indeed a Barkley. Do you agree?"
"Yes, Victoria, I believe it is reasonable to assume the young man in question is Leah Thomson and Thomas Barkley's son."
She nodded and his words seemed to have given Victoria a second wind. Taking a moment to contemplate her next move on behalf of herself and her family, Victoria stood and walked to the open French Doors to gaze out at the ranch.
Taking in the majesty of the land she and her husband loved together, her spine stiffened and her renewed resolve became evident in every inch of her small frame. With a smile on her face, Victoria swung around and watched as her surprised Attorney gladly returned her uplifting gesture.
"Arthur, taking the evidence and our conversation into account, I would like it to be known that I fully intend to treat Heath Thomson with the same dignity and respect any son of my husband's deserves. In addition, our family will offer him everything a man bearing Thomas Barkley's name has a right to claim as his birthright, including a seat at our family's table."
On his ride toward San Andreas to catch a westbound train for his return to Stockton, Jarrod kept reviewing the brief exchange he had with Heath Thomson earlier that morning. At first, each man's nerves had shown, but somehow they had managed to plod through those rough initial moments together.
"This is fine, Heath."
Jarrod smiled as he sat on the bench Heath pointed out. It was on one side of the long table in the Crew's outdoor Mess, which was shaded by a grove of trees behind the barn. While Heath settled on the bench across the table from him, Jarrod nodded his approval of the area; not only did it provide a respite from the morning's building heat, but it was out of earshot of the people working around them.
"Is okay for me to call you by your first name? I'm not certain what is proper in this type of circumstance."
Heath chuckled, which broke the skyrocketing tension that had been building between them since Jarrod introduced himself.
"That's fine, Mr. Barkley ..."
Heath dipped his head to thank Jarrod for the friendly gesture.
"I have no idea what 'circumstance' you are referring to, Jarrod, but I figure you're about to explain yourself."
"Well, Mr. Robertson seems to feel this conversation is worth his giving me a free morning; so, let's have at it."
Jarrod sat returning the stare of the younger man across from him. He quickly deduced Heath was one Hell of a poker player since his body language, demeanor and facial expressions weren't giving anything away in an obviously tense situation. But, his eyes ... Those familiar crystal blue orbs ... Jarrod saw something there and instantly knew he was going to appreciate the measure of the man before him.
"I'll start at the beginning."
A brief nod was his reply.
"Recently, your aunt and uncle paid an unexpected visit to my mother, Victoria Barkley, and ..."
"Did you say, 'my aunt and uncle?'"
"Yes, a Mrs. and Mr. Simmons."
Jarrod noted the flash of anger as it crossed Heath's eyes while a red tinge rose instantaneously up his neck to cover his face and ears.
"I'm afraid your trip here to San Andreas may have been a waste of time, Jarrod. I'm not on speaking terms with my Aunt Martha and Uncle Matt; I wouldn't want anything to do with any conversations they had with Mrs. Barkley. Frankly, they aren't to be trusted and your mother should stay away from them."
"That is interesting information, Heath, since they arrived under the pretext of speaking for you in regard to your possible relationship to my father, Thomas Barkley."
Heath's eyes held Jarrod's ... The younger man didn't blink, but his struggle to keep his breathing under control was easily noted.
Jarrod gave himself a moment to take in the information Heath had offered, too. As he expected, Heath knew nothing of the Simmons actions. On the one hand, Jarrod felt vindicated by this fact, but that brief positive sensation was quickly overwhelmed with worry as his mind struggled to decide what his next move should be.
"Since I know the story of the Simmons visit and you don't ..."
Jarrod kept his eyes riveted on Heath's as he gave the slightest nod agreeing with his statement.
"... Why don't I review the events that brought me here today? When I've finished, we can talk the Simmons' actions over."
Again, the slightest nod was his only answer.
"First, please accept my entire family's condolences regarding the recent loss of your mother, Leah."
"As I started to say, the Simmons unexpectedly arrived in Stockton nearly two weeks ago and asked to speak with my mother, Victoria. She agreed to see them, listened to their account of your birth circumstances and was able to personally review the evidence they brought with them to back up their claims."
"Yes, they brought quite a few items with them from Strawberry."
"Their Hotel's Registration Books from twenty-five years ago with the valid signatures of Thomas Barkley, my Father, along with the dates of his stays. These matched with our family's records of when he was to have been in Strawberry on business."
"Twenty-five years ago, the mines in Strawberry were open and the town was booming. Those books are filled with the names of men who traveled through the area on business at that time."
"True, but they also had other items to back their claims."
Heath waited. He was again fully in control and Jarrod found it nearly impossible to read what he might be thinking.
"There was a picture of you as a child, which is nearly identical to those we own showing Barkley children of the same age, along with a copy of the Sacramento Daily Bee's obituary for Father."
Heath's shoulders gave the slightest shrug.
"In truth, Mother was the most taken by two of the other items the Simmons presented. One was a locket, within which was the photograph of you as a child, and the other was a well worn Bible. The Bible had been personalized with an exacting chronicle of dates, names and many more details which are highly relevant to this situation."
Heath said nothing, but stood
from the bench and stared down at Jarrod in disbelief. His mind reeled at the
thought of his aunt and uncle being in procession of not only his mother's
locket, but also his Aunt Rachel's Bible.
What Jarrod had shared made no sense ... His heart and mind refused to accept what he had just been told.
With utmost certainly, Heath knew his Aunt Rachel
would never betray him. In addition, she would never, ever, give those animals permission to leave Strawberry with her Bible ...
"I don't believe you!"
Jarrod watched his brother's eyes and saw only pain.
"It's all true, Heath."
"She wouldn't allow them to have those things; not my Ma's locket, plus those snakes would never be allowed anywhere near her Bible! She wouldn't ... She just wouldn't."
"Who are we talking about, Heath?"
"No, my Aunt Rachel."
Heath nodded while the fear and worry he felt began to take over his being.
"I'm sorry, Heath, but your aunt and uncle had those items with them when they visited Mother. Evidently, Mrs. Caulfield asked the Simmons to care for the locket and the Bible on your behalf just before her recent death."
"You awake, Mister?"
The Livery Boy stirred Jarrod from his thoughts. He had been so deep in a review of that morning's conversation, he hadn't realized his horse had stopped when they arrived back at the Livery in San Andreas.
"Why, yes, Young Fellow, I'm awake."
Jarrod dismounted and stood aside as the boy lead his horse into the building. The earlier conversation had suddenly ended when Heath ran across the barnyard, mounted his horse, and rode away from the Robertson's at a full gallop. He said not one word to Jarrod; instead, he simply left.
The Robertson's had insisted Jarrod stay for a cup of coffee, but he had been terrible company. His mind remained focused on Heath's face when they discussed his Aunt's passing. After excusing himself far too early for it to have been polite, Jarrod had gone over and over the time he'd spent with ... With his brother.
"Oh my goodness! How did I miss it?"
Jarrod jogged down the street to the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office to ask for help. A short time later, he was joined by one of the Sheriff's Deputies as they sped out of San Andreas on two of the Sheriff Office's best mounts.
While they rode as fast as possible toward Strawberry, the Sheriff planned to send a telegram to the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office in Sonora. Perhaps, they would be able to send riders toward Strawberry, too.
Jarrod rode hard while his
heart and mind were tumbling through a mix of emotions. How did he miss it? Why
hadn't it occurred to him sooner? Would they be in time? How could he have such
strong feelings for a young man he'd only met that morning ... A man Jarrod had
no doubt was in fact his brother?
And, was this man, this brother he had barely come to know, capable of murder?
XXXXX End Chapter Five XXXXX
Thank you for reading this Chapter. Please forgive typos and/or Barkley errors.