When I heard Daddy moving around behind the bar again, I made my way down the stairs and climbed onto one of the bar stools.
“Good morning, Daddy,” I chirped. His brow was still wrinkled and I wanted to say things that would bring a smile to his face. I liked his face much better when he smiled. He had a good face, and he rarely became angry with me, though I had seen his face change when customers tried to cause trouble. I would not want to be on the wrong side of Daddy.
Daddy was thinking. I remembered the word ‘preoccupied’ and that is what he seemed to be, but he finally realized I was there and he flashed me a grin. He knew the routine. I put my head down and began to count slowly, “1, 2, 3,…” Daddy always tried to have my breakfast in front of me before I reached 50.
“And, stop!” he called out when I made it to 41. I lifted my head and there before me was a glass of milk, a crusty roll, a hunk of the best cheddar cheese around, and half of an apple. He watched me as I slowly chewed a piece of the roll.
“Did you and Rummy have any problems during the storm last night?” Daddy handed me a napkin and motioned to one corner of my mouth. I dutifully wiped crumbs and continued eating, shaking my head in answer.
“I woke up once or twice, maybe, but Miss Marie was snoring louder than any noises from outside. Were you and Uncle Pete out in the storm?” I wasn’t supposed to ask Daddy about his nighttime comings and goings, but Mr. Rupert’s recent visit was still fresh in my mind and I was a big girl now. I wanted to know what was going on. They had talked about me, after all!
Daddy gave me a stern look. I looked down at my plate and began to tear my cheese and roll into small pieces; I wasn’t very good at being nonchalant.
“Genevieve, you know you’re not supposed to ask questions about what Uncle Pete and I do.”
Daddy sighed and tugged at his ear. This usually meant he was trying to think of the best way to explain something that was too grown up for me to understand. “The less you know, the less you have to tell. Does that make sense?”
I shook my head. It didn’t make any sense at all.
“You know I have told you to always tell the truth, right?” I nodded. “If you know about something and someone asks you about it, you have to tell the truth. If you don’t know anything, then you can’t tell about it. If I don’t tell you things, it’s because I don’t ever want you to feel like you have to lie about what you know.”
“Does that mean that you do things that I might need to lie about?”
Daddy reached over and gave me a pat on the head. “You ask right smart questions, missy. Why don’t you finish up and go outside for some fresh air? I need to set up for the afternoon; people will have cabin fever after that storm, so I expect brisk business today.”
He still had not answered my question, but I knew better than to ask anything else. I finished my milk, took the piece of apple, and headed back to my room to put on my play shoes and a sweater.
I climbed up on Rummy and rocked while I ate my apple. Daddy and Uncle Pete did things at night that they didn’t want me to know about. Mr. Rupert and Sheriff Davis seemed to know about these things, so they couldn’t be very bad. If they were, wouldn’t they arrest Daddy and Uncle Pete? Grownups could be very confusing.
As I dismounted, my apple slipped and rolled under Rummy. I knew better than to leave food on the floor. Daddy kept a very clean establishment, but it didn’t take much to attract bugs and mice. I had to get on my knees to reach under for the apple. I had one hand on Rummy’s belly as I stretched the other hand out to grab the core, and suddenly, I realized that my hand was touching something odd.
I flipped over on my back and edged under Rummy. It was most uncomfortable stretched out on the runner, but I wanted to know what I had touched. In all of my years with Rummy, I had never concerned myself with her underside. I was too busy riding or putting ribbons in mane and tail hair.
The thing I touched appeared to be some sort of latch. It was too hard to see, so all I could do was feel around. I ran my hands all over Rummy’s belly and then felt what seemed to be small hinges. How odd. I had seen caskets before in the tavern and never remembered seeing latches and hinges on the body. If there were hinges, then this was like a door. A door in Rummy’s belly. Why?
I knew where Daddy kept tools. If I hurried, I could borrow some pliers and a screwdriver to open the latch. I put on my play shoes and a sweater, grabbed a small cloth bag that I used for gathering shells and rocks, and headed downstairs. Daddy was still at the bar, so I gave him a wave as I crossed to the main door.
I spent a few minutes in the yard in case anyone was watching. Daddy had painted a hopscotch grid on the walk for me, so I played a few blocks. After that, I strolled to the tool shed and let myself in, glancing around to make sure the coast was clear. I found a pair of pliers and a small screwdriver, put them into my bag, and let myself out again. Not wanting to waste any more time, I made a beeline back to my room.
I put a blanket on the floor and slid under Rummy. I also put a large pillow on the floor next to me, as I knew the tummy door would be heavy when it opened and I didn’t want it to smash me in the head or chest. The latch was stubborn; years of disuse paralyzed it into its current position. After manipulating it with the pliers, I was finally able to turn it. I put the pillow into place on my chest and used the screwdriver to ply open the door. It dropped open quickly, and even though the pillow cushioned it, the weight momentarily knocked the breath out of my body.
I didn’t have a flashlight, but I was able to reach into Rummy’s belly and search. The cavity was empty. I was disappointed, but pleased that I had discovered this secret hiding place. I could use it to hide my own treasures!
I closed the panel carefully, moved the pillow off of my body, and scooted out from under Rummy. That was when I saw it.
There on the floor was a small package wrapped in cloth. It must have fallen out when the panel dropped open, hit me and took my breath away. The thick cloth wrapping kept the package from making noise as it moved around Rummy’s belly during my years of hard riding.
I picked it up and held it in both hands. I shook it and heard nothing. I carried it over to my bed, sat down, and started to unwrap the tightly bound cloth.
The first thing I saw was the note.