My mouth went dry and I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. Had I walked into a trap? Would I be John Leech’s latest victim?
“I don’t like trespassers. What are you doing here?” his deep voice boomed through the small space.
I swallowed hard. I’d put the pistol back in my jeans. I’d be dead before I had the chance to pull it out and use it. Think! I glanced around the room. Casey. He hadn’t killed her along with his parents. Maybe he cared about her. “I’m trying to help your sister, Casey,” I stammered.
The man lowered the gun, “I’m not John Leech.”
I sighed in relief. My brain started to function again, “I’m a social worker trying to help Casey. I didn’t mean to intrude. I thought the house was deserted.”
“My farm joins this property. I like to keep an eye on things. I don’t want squatters or drug addicts finding this place and moving in,” the man said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” He held out his hand, “I’m Roger Hathaway.”
“Cheryl Jones,” I replied as I took his hand. The lie slipped from me so easily I was stunned for a second. “Has John Leech been here recently?”
Roger motioned me to follow him, “Not that I know of. He came back right after he was released but he didn’t stay long.” He opened the front door, “Let’s go back outside. I don’t like being in the house.” He shuddered as if the place made him nervous.
I understood. I could almost sense the evil pouring out from the walls. John Leech had left his presence embedded on the house.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in ghosts,” Roger shook his head, “but the place gives me the creeps.” He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead with a red handkerchief. “I guess it’s the fact of two innocent people being murdered there. I can’t ever forget that.”
I nodded, “So you knew the parents personally?” Maybe he was older than he looked.
“I was fifteen when they were killed,” he said, putting the handkerchief back in the pocket of his faded jeans. “They were good people.”
“Then the abuse charges weren’t true?” I asked.
He spat on the ground, “John made that up. He had to. His father was one of the gentlest men I’d ever met. He never even took a belt to him when he set half the woods on fire one summer.”
“Maybe it was abuse of a different nature?”
Roger glared at me angrily, “I don’t believe that, either.” He stared in the distance for a moment, “If that had been going on, John would have killed him long before then. John never let anything go. He was the meanest person I’ve ever met in my life. When I was younger, we were friends of sorts, being neighbors and all. He was a bully when he was small and it just got worse as he got older.” He picked up a small tree limb that had fallen in the gravel driveway and tossed it into the woods.
“He could be fun sometimes, though. I remember skipping school with him and smoking behind the gym.” Roger’s eyes clouded. “But then there was one afternoon I’ll never forget. We’d found a cat and her kittens in the old barn behind his house. He ran to get a grass sack and I asked him what he was doing.”
Roger shivered despite the fact the sun was beating down on both of us. “He put all the kittens and the cat in the sack and tied it up and started for the pond. I yelled at him to stop but he just kept going. I finally started to chase him but he was faster than I was. He pitched the sack into the pond and then turned around to smile at me.”
“I love the sounds they make as they’re drowning,” he told me. Roger met my eyes, “I knew then there was something bad wrong with him.” He glanced back at the house, “But I never expected him to do that.”
He sounded as if he felt guilty. “They obviously didn’t realize the extent of his illness, either,” I said, hoping to ease his conscience. My stomach clenched in fear though at the thought of this man holding my sweet little son.
“Illness!” Roger spewed out at me angrily. “He isn’t ill. He’s evil.” He grew quiet after the outburst, “Do you think some people are just born bad?”
“I don’t know,” I stumbled out. “What about Casey? What was she like back then?”
“She was a quiet thing. She never got into trouble but of course she was only a little girl at the time.” A thought seemed to suddenly occur to him, “I hope that monster wasn’t hurting her.” He turned toward me again, “You say you’re trying to help Casey?”
“I am,” I replied. “She obviously has many unresolved issues from her past and is reluctant to talk about what happened. I thought coming here and looking around might help my perspective.” It sounded convincing and Roger seemed to buy my story.
“She needs someone to help her,” he said. He kicked at a rock in the drive, “I stopped hanging around John after what he did to those cats. That was only a couple of months before the shooting.” He sighed heavily, “If only I’d told someone…” He left the sentence unfinished.
“Do you know where John may have gone?” I asked.
Roger swung around, “No and I wouldn’t go looking for him if I were you. When he came back here right after he was released from Gravely, I saw him one afternoon. I’m not scared of much but I’m not ashamed to admit he scared the hell out of me. He looks even more demented now than back then. There’s something in his eyes that I couldn’t even stand to look at.”
“Could he have been admitted to another mental health facility?” I asked. I wanted to believe this man was nowhere near my husband and child.
“I sure hope so. He doesn’t belong out,” Roger replied.
“But if he wasn’t…was there anywhere else you can think of that