Issue 12: "The Third, More Mercurial..." Dec 15, 2008 5:47:37 GMT -5
Post by Admin on Dec 15, 2008 5:47:37 GMT -5
Weird Western Quarterly
Issue #12: "The Third, More Mercurial..."
Written by Susan Hillwig
Cover by Roy Flinchum
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #12: "The Third, More Mercurial..."
Written by Susan Hillwig
Cover by Roy Flinchum
Edited by Mark Bowers
“Sheriff! You’d better get out here right quick!”
It was the last thing Sheriff Farrell wanted to hear. It’d been such a quiet day that he was getting ready to close up and head on home. He didn’t see any harm in it: being Christmas Eve, most of the residents of Ebbinsville were at home already, and those few that were still out and about were probably thinking the same as him. But then that damn Hastings boy from the feed store just had to stick his head into the office and holler like that, so with a not-so-subtle grumble, Farrell tossed on his coat and went outside to see what the fuss was about.
Turned out to be a great deal of fuss. A pair of riders were coming down the main street, goading along a man trotting on foot in between them as the townsfolk looked on. As they got closer, Farrell saw that one of the riders was Cyrus Ebbins, the namesake of the town and owner of damn-near half of it. The second was one of Ebbins’s cowhands, a fella known as Whitey. Farrell wasn’t familiar with the man on foot, though he thought he’d seen him around town a few times, but then again, he was a Mexican, and they sometimes looked alike. At the moment, however, that was neither here nor there: Farrell’s concern was that the Mexican had his hands bound behind his back, as well as a good amount of bruises on his face. As the riders approached, Farrell stepped out into the street before them, saying, “What in blazes is going on?”
“It’s about you doing the job I hired you for,” Ebbins replied, a look of contempt on his aged face. “I told you weeks ago about the thefts happening on my ranch, and you haven’t done a thing about it. Luckily, one of my men caught the culprit red-handed.”
“Damn right I did. Stinkin’ greaser was tryin’ to make off with a goat, but I caught up with him ‘fore he even got off the property.” Whitey flashed a wicked grin and yanked at the other end of the rope binding the Mexican, which was wrapped around his saddle horn. “Lassoed you like a runaway steer, didn’t I, boy?”
Though obviously exhausted, the Mexican managed to keep his balance as Whitey continued to yank on the rope. “Senor, I beg...let me go. I am sorry for goat, but mi niñas...I must go...”
“You ain’t goin’ no place, boy!” Whitey snapped the rope upwards so it coiled around the Mexican’s neck, then jerked it tight, laughing all the while.
“That’s enough!” Farrell said, and stepped forward to take the rope away from Whitey before the man choked to death. But as he began to move, he felt something breeze right past him, and suddenly there was another man doing just what Farrell intended, much to Whitey’s surprise -- apparently, he’d snuck past everyone, and was now in the process of untying the Mexican. Farrell opened his mouth to question the newcomer, but decided to leave it for now, saying instead to Ebbins, “Okay, so you caught this man stealing a goat. So what? From what I recall, your thief’s been more interested in cattle.”
“My other men have attested to seeing him near the ranch for quite some time now. It must have been his intention to rob me of every piece of livestock I own.” Ebbins pointed a finger at the Mexican. “He claims to know nothing of it, but anyone who resorts to theft is very likely a liar as well....and I will abide by neither in my town. I want you to take care of him.”
He looked at the Mexican, who was beginning to tremble from both cold and fear. The newcomer put a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder, glaring up at the two riders as he did so. “What do you expect me to do with him? Beat him until he confesses?” Farrell said.
“I expect you to hang him.”
“For stealing a damn goat? One that is apparently still in your possession with no harm done? I’m sorry, Mr. Ebbins, but I refuse to do it. You hired me to be a lawman, not an executioner, and unless you have evidence that shows this man is responsible for the cattle thefts, I’m not about to punish him for it.” He started to turn his back to the rancher.
“Then perhaps I’ll just get rid of you and find someone who will punish him. I’m sure one of my men could fill your position nicely, and with much less disrespect.”
Farrell faced him again. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am quite serious. Either you hang him by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, or you’re out of a job.”
“But...but tomorrow’s Christmas Day! Bad enough you want me to hang a man who might be innocent, but on Christmas...”
Ebbins scowled at the sheriff. “Tomorrow is a day like any other, and the law does not go on hiatus every 25th of December simply because the church declares it sacred. If I had known that you’d let your judgment be clouded by such archaic sentimentality, I never would have hired you in the first place. Perhaps I should just relieve you of your duty right now, so that you and your family can spend your precious holy day packing.”
The words seemed to hang before Farrell like his puffs of breath in the icy air. It hadn’t occurred to him that, if he lost his job as sheriff, he’d lose his home as well...but since Ebbins held the mortgage for the place, just as he did for many of the buildings around town, it made perfect sense. He glanced at some of the townsfolk who’d come out to watch the commotion, all of whom had probably stilled their tongues at one time or another so as to not be in the same position he was in now.
Numbly, Farrell reached out and took hold of the Mexican’s arm, then started to lead him off to jail. As they walked away, Whitey called out, “Merry Christmas, ya little greaser! Be seein’ you at nine sharp!” He then caught sight of the newcomer, who was glaring at him even harder now. “And you’d best quit givin’ me the stinkeye, fella, or I’ll show you personally how handy I am with a rope.”
The newcomer didn’t reply, he simply watched as Ebbins and his hired hand turned their mounts around and rode out of sight. Once they were gone, he entered the sheriff’s office and headed for the back, where the cells were. Farrell was just throwing the lock on the cell door, while the Mexican pleaded with him for mercy, and the look on Farrell’s face showed just how hard he was trying to ignore the man’s voice. “Are you really going to hang him tomorrow?” the newcomer asked.
Farrell jumped, his hand going for his gun, then he sagged slightly. “I haven’t been given much choice in the matter. Don’t think this doesn’t pain me, mister...”
“Call me Maxwell.”
He nodded, saying, “Trust me, Maxwell, this is probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life.” He pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at it. “It’s nearly half-past five right now, which means I’ve got fifteen-and-a-half hours to decide if a stranger’s life is more important than keeping my family warm and fed. This isn’t the sort of thing I expected to deal with when I accepted this badge.”
“Despite the lack of evidence one way or another, do you think this man is a cattle thief?”
“Honestly, the way he’s acting, I’m surprised he had the gumption to steal the goat.” He looked into the cell at the Mexican, who was sitting hunched over on the cot and sobbing, then back at Maxwell. “Why you so concerned, anyhow? You from around here?”
He shook his head, saying, “Only passing through. I was heading through your town on my way home for Christmas, and just happened to see the commotion.”
“Where you headed?”
Farrell looked at him doubtfully. Ebbinsville was in East Texas, and there was no way anybody could travel the distance between there and Alabama before Christmas was over and done with. “Well, you’d best get on your way. There’s not much you can do here.”
“I could try and talk this Ebbins character out of the hanging.”
“You can try, but I doubt it. You saw the way he acted: he’s got a heart as black as coal, I swear. Only things he cares about is his money and himself...in that order, I think.”
“That may be so, but I can be very persuasive. There’s only one thing I need.”
“What’s that?” Before the words had fully left his mouth, Farrell was suddenly swept up in a whirlwind. When it passed, he found himself sitting on the cot inside the cell. The Mexican was sitting right next to him, staring in wide-eyed surprise and whispering prayers in Spanish as he crossed himself. Farrell offered a couple “Oh my Gods” of his own, then he saw Maxwell was inside the cell also, leaning back against the still-locked door quite casually.
“I need you two to tell me everything you can,” Maxwell said. “And remember, we’ve only got fifteen-and-a-half hours.”
* * * * * *
“Christmas...feh. Just another excuse for not fulfilling his duty,” Cyrus Ebbins said to himself as he stirred the embers in the fireplace with a poker. The flames leapt up with renewed vigor, satisfying the man enough for him to settle back down into his armchair with a glass of brandy. As shadows danced across the walls of his study, Ebbins pondered the decision of which of the workers on his ranch would best fill the soon-to-be-vacant sheriff’s position. He’d decided on the way home that, no matter if Farrell did his job tomorrow or not, the man was as good as gone. “To the Devil with him and his family,” Ebbins muttered. “I don’t want any man working for me that questions my orders.”
The grandfather clock in the corner of his study began to chime as the hands pointed to midnight...or rather, it started to: midway through the third chime, it inexplicably stopped. Ebbins looked over at the clock to see that the pendulum was apparently stuck in mid-swing. That’s odd, he thought...then noticed that the flames in the fireplace weren’t moving either -- even the shadows they’d been casting had gone stock-still. “Impossible,” he said aloud, his hands gripping the arms of his chair tightly. “I must have fallen asleep, and this is merely a dream.”
“This is no dream, Cyrus Ebbins,” a voice behind him said.
He whipped around to see a man standing behind him, his own hand on the back of the chair. The light still coming from the frozen flames illuminated his face enough for Ebbins to recognize him. “You...I saw you in town today,” he said quietly, then added with more conviction, “What are doing in my house?” He got up to confront the man, but the instant Ebbins let go of his chair, a strange sense of vertigo overtook him, and he fell to the carpet. He laid there for a moment, dazed, then he realized the clock was chiming again, the fireplace flickering once more, and the man he’d seen was gone. “Hmph...I was dreaming,” Ebbins muttered as he began to pick himself up. “Too much brandy, I suppose.”
Then a whirlwind seemed to form around him, lifting him off his feet and depositing him back in his chair. He cried out, more from shock than pain, and when the wind dissipated, he found himself face-to-face with the man from town again. He leaned over Ebbins, who could swear he saw a spark of lightning dance in the depths of the man’s blue eyes. “W-what do you want from me?” Ebbins asked. “Money? I can get you money, just don’t hurt me.”
“I’m not here for money,” the man called Maxwell said. “I’m here to make you see the error of your ways, before it’s too late.”
Ebbins narrowed his gaze at him. “This is about that damnable thief, isn’t it? Did Farrell send you up here to harass me? What are you, some hired gun?”
“My coming here isn’t Farrell’s doing...and to honest, I don’t even own a gun. Too slow for me.” He straightened up, saying, “I’m just someone who can’t abide by innocent people suffering for another man’s crimes.”
“Innocent? Feh. He admitted to stealing my property, and now he’ll pay the price.”
Maxwell didn’t respond, instead walking over to the fireplace. Above it hung an oil painting of a woman, and he regarded it for a minute before saying, “May I ask who she is?”
“My wife,” Ebbins replied. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“She’s quite beautiful. A rather kind face. Not the sort that would approve of your actions in town, I’m sure.”
“I will not be judged like this in my own home!” He started to get up from his chair, but in the blink of an eye, Maxwell zipped over and pushed him back down, then returned to the fireplace. The speed at which the man moved shocked Ebbins, and he decided it best to stay put.
“Does your wife know what you did?” Maxwell continued, as if there had been no interruption. “Because I’d be glad to tell her if you can’t bring yourself to do it.”
Ebbins hesitated, then told him, “She’s dead...seven years now.”
“I’m sorry.” There was a strong note of sincerity in Maxwell’s voice. “May I ask how?”
“It was a bad winter, a lot of people fell sick with fever. She was one of them.” Something inside him seemed to crumple as he said, “I prayed to God for days, begging Him to spare her, if not for my sake, then for our daughter...but He didn’t listen.”
“It must been a difficult time, for both you and your daughter.”
“I managed just fine, thank you very much. It was quite a blow, but it also showed me that the frontier is no place for the weak. I made arrangements the very next week for little Laura to live with her aunt in Boston, in order to spare her from the sort of dangers that had taken her mother.”
“You just had her whisked away, in the midst of grief?”
“I explained to her that it was for her own good, and she understood that very well for being so young. Besides, what choice did I have? I had invested a great deal of time and money into this town, and wasn’t about to simply walk away.” He sat up a little straighter in his chair. “Unlike some people I know, I cast aside my personal feelings and did what needed to be done. I’ve worked hard all my life to get where I am, and I did it without giving in to the sort of silly sentimentality that rules most people’s lives.”
“I can see that,” Maxwell replied, and cast his gaze around the room. “I imagine it must give you a great deal of satisfaction to just sit back in this big, empty house and enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
“Indeed it does...but I certainly don’t enjoy your condescending tone, sir. Is that how you intended to make me change my mind? By suggesting that someone of my standing can surely spare a few livestock without suffering any great loss?” His voice took a hard edge. “Don’t think I haven’t heard that speech before. Others have tried to appeal to my ‘Christian charity’ for larger causes, and I humored them for much less time than I have already given you.”
“Is that all you can think of? How much of your time I’m taking up?” Maxwell stepped forward and took hold of him, picking him up out of the chair. “If that’s the case, then let’s take time out of the equation.”
“What are you...” Ebbins started to say, then realized the clock had stopped ticking again. “It’s a trick. You rigged the clock somehow. You had to...”
“It’s no trick. So long as I’ve got a hold of you, time isn’t a factor.” He pulled Ebbins close to his face, and the sparks Ebbins thought he’d seen before in the man’s eyes had intensified. “You won’t lose one precious second without my say-so, understand?” Ebbins nodded quickly, and Maxwell smiled. “Good. Now, let’s go for a little stroll, shall we?”
With that, the room became lost in a blur of lightning. Ebbins cried out and clutched at Maxwell, who seemed not the least bit concerned about the energy that wrapped around himself and his passenger as he ran. Scant seconds later, they came to a stop, and Ebbins saw that they were now standing within the jail cell where Farrell had locked up his prisoner. The Mexican was kneeling on the floor in front of them, hands clasped and head bowed. Despite how unnerving the trip had been, Ebbins managed to say, “Do you expect me to forgive him simply because he’s begging for mercy?”
“He’s not begging; he’s praying,” Maxwell said. “He doesn’t even know we’re here: you and I are moving so fast, we’re invisible to everyone. But just because he can’t see us doesn’t mean you can’t see him.” He pushed Ebbins down so that he was kneeling in front of the Mexican, but never let go. “His name is Jorge Vasquez. He came to town six months ago with his family in search of work. Unfortunately, he’s found very little because his English isn’t very good, and what little he has found doesn’t pay well.”
“Are you suggesting this is somehow my fault?”
“I’m suggesting you actually look at the face of the man you want to die!” He pushed Ebbins closer, until he was only a few inches away from Jorge. He could see an expression of absolute sorrow stamped on the man’s face, tears frozen in place on his tanned cheeks. “The moment you found out he stole a goat, you played judge and jury, convicting him on the spot of stealing almost thirty head of cattle that have gone missing from your ranch,” Maxwell said. “Considering how convinced you were that he did it, I’m surprised you didn’t hang him yourself. But did you ever stop and ask yourself why a supposed cattle thief would bother to steal one measly goat? Or why he’d dare to return to your ranch without a gun for protection? Or even a damn horse?”
Ebbins took a while to answer. “That wasn’t my concern at the time,” he said finally, “nor is it now. A thief is a thief, simple as that.”
“It’s never that simple.” Maxwell knelt down as well. “Since I was a boy, I’d been taught to weigh all facts equally, not to just pick and choose the ones that fit the worldview I desire. I’m not denying that Jorge stole from you: he confessed that to me just as easily as he confessed it to you. But unlike you, I went beyond that fact, to look at the ones surrounding it.” With that, he tightened his grip on Ebbins and pulled him backward, the lightning sweeping over them once more. Then it faded away just as fast as it had appeared, revealing the interior of a one-room shack. Actually, “shack” seemed too generous a word, as the walls of the place were in desperate need of repair, having been shored up with random planks of wood and gaps pasted over with old newspapers. Even the front door hung askew on its single hinge.
“Why are we here?” Ebbins asked, looking around the room.
“To show you one of those other facts I was talking about.” One hand still holding tight to Ebbins, he pointed to a young girl wrapped in blankets, huddled next to the fire burning in the stone hearth. “This is Esmeralda, Jorge’s older daughter. She’s been waiting for him to come home all day now. He told her he’d only be gone a short while, just until he found some milk for the baby.”
“Baby? What baby?” Then he saw it cradled in the girl’s arms, its tiny, dark-haired head barely visible beneath the rags it was swaddled in. Though it was just as unmoving as everything else in the shack, its face was contorted in mid-cry. The girl looked upon her younger sibling, the need to bring comfort and the inability to give it plain to see in her eyes. “Where’s their mother?” he found himself asking.
“Dead. She gave birth in that same spot no more than a week ago, but the strain was too much for her, and she passed on not long after. She’s buried about forty feet from where we stand.” Maxwell looked at Ebbins and said, “Jorge prayed to God to spare his wife, but she died...and yet he still prays. He prays that their newborn daughter doesn’t die as well. He prays that his family will survive the winter, even though they can’t afford anything better than this rundown shack. And right now, back in his cell, he’s praying that he might see his children’s faces one last time before he dies at the end of a rope.”
“Stop this...stop tossing blame at me for things I didn’t do!” Ebbins said.
“Like the way you blamed Jorge for stealing your cattle, even though you had no proof?”
Ebbins flinched like he’d been slapped. He was silent for a moment, then said in an even tone, “You keep coming back to that, and yet you offer me no proof otherwise, just maudlin scenes intended to ply sympathy from me.” He sneered at Maxwell. “You seem to know so much...why don’t you tell me who the real culprit is?”
“Because I wanted to make an appeal to your heart first. I thought you couldn’t possibly be as cold as you appeared to be, but I’m beginning to think I was wrong.” He narrowed his gaze at the rancher, saying, “You really are a bitter, lonely old man, Cyrus Ebbins. It’s no wonder that your workers have no respect for you.”
Ebbins scoffed. “That just proves how little you really know. Except for that damnable Farrell, my men are as loyal as they come.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Before Ebbins could answer, the lightning wrapped around them, and when it parted, he saw that they were now standing in what appeared to be a box canyon, the stars above them sparkling in the chilly night air. “What are we doing out here?” Ebbins started to ask, but Maxwell put a finger to the man’s lips and shook his head, then let go of the rancher to point past the large boulder they were standing behind. Ebbins peered around to see a small campfire about fifteen feet away with two men sitting next to it...and a large herd of cattle milling about in the shadows beyond. Eyes wide, he pulled back and stared at Maxwell, who merely pointed towards the campfire again without a word. Ebbins obeyed, just as silent.
“Well, it’s midnight,” one of the men said, reading his pocket watch by the firelight. “Where the Hell is he?”
“Maybe the old codger finally got wind,” said the other. “We should cut an’ run while we can.”
“You do that, and you’ll be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your very brief lives.” A man on horseback made his way through the cattle and dismounted. When he approached the fire, Ebbins was shocked to see that it was Whitey. “Got good news and bad news,” Whitey told the men at the campfire. “Bad news is we’ve got to cool off on the rustlin’ for a while. Good news is I found a dope that’ll take the fall for what we’ve done so far.”
“How’d you swing that?” one of them asked.
“I caught some wetback tryin’ to make off with a goat this afternoon. Managed to convince Ebbins that he was the one who’s been stealin’ the beeves. Fella’s gonna hang tomorrow mornin’...figure that should give us a few months’ leeway before we start up business again.” Whitey pulled a cheroot out of his coat and lit a match, but as he went to touch it to the end of his smoke, his hand slowed, then stopped just inches away. Ebbins realized that the other men had gone still as well, along with the campfire. He turned to see that Maxwell had laid a hand on his shoulder, freezing the world once more.
“Why didn’t you show this to me first?” Ebbins asked him.
“It hadn’t happened yet,” he replied. “My gift lets me move so fast that time can’t touch me, but I can’t affect the flow of time itself -- it only looks that way. When I was searching your ranch for proof of Jorge’s innocence, I overheard Whitey talking to one of your other men about this meeting...and yes, that means some of them are in on it as well.” He gave Ebbins a moment to absorb that before continuing, “I’d hoped that I would have turned your heart before bringing you here to witness this, but obviously I hoped for too much.”
Ebbins said nothing, instead looking at the frozen tableau before him. He wasn’t the sort of man to admit a mistake, but this was one that he’d have a hard time denying.
“If I bring these men in, will you drop your charges against Senor Vasquez and levy them upon the real thieves?” Maxwell asked.
A heavy sigh, then the rancher said, “Yes...yes, I will.”
“Thank you.” Maxwell removed his hand, and Ebbins saw Whitey’s hand move that final inch to light the cheroot. Whitey only had a second to enjoy it, however, before Maxwell zipped forward and knocked him off his feet with one punch.
* * * * * *
It was a quarter-past midnight when Sheriff Farrell was woken up at his desk by Maxwell. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes to see five men -- including Whitey and two other workers from the Ebbins ranch -- trussed up in the middle of his office. He also saw Cyrus Ebbins himself standing in the doorway. “My God...you actually pulled it off?” the sheriff said to Maxwell.
Maxwell nodded, then hitched a thumb towards the cells. “Mind if I let Senor Vasquez join the party?”
“By all means,” Farrell said with a smile, then he went over to Ebbins. “I think you might owe someone an apology.”
Ebbins didn’t reply, and when Maxwell came back from the cells with Jorge in tow, he quietly said to Farrell, “If you don’t have any strong objections, I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon to discuss...to discuss new business.” With that, he turned and walked out of the office.
Farrell shook his head, muttering, “Bastard can’t even lower himself enough to say sorry.” He then walked over to Maxwell and Jorge, throwing an ugly look at his new prisoners on the floor as he passed them. “Wish there was a way I could punish Ebbins as well,” he said, “but I reckon I’ll have to be satisfied with this small humiliation.”
Jorge shook his head. “Do not hate him, senor. Christmas is time for love, not hate.”
“Are you joking? He wanted to kill you!”
“But he did not. I prayed, and was spared.” He turned to Maxwell and asked, “We go now? Bring mi niñas here?”
“Actually, I need to be heading out, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass that job over to Sheriff Farrell,” he said, nodding towards the man. “Figure you can take care of Senor Vasquez and his girls well enough by yourself.”
“Of course. They can all stay with my family until we can arrange better accommodations. Least I can do to make up for this mess.” He shook Maxwell’s hand and said, “You have a safe trip to Alabama.”
“I will...but I think I need to run one last errand before I go.”
* * * * * *
The December wind whipped up, chilling Ebbins to the bone. He still had another hour of walking ahead of him before he reached home -- with everything that had happened, he couldn’t bring himself to stop at one of the farms along the road to borrow a horse. So he plodded along, trying to wipe from his mind the events of the past...how long had it been? He’d seen time get stretched and warped in ways he’d never conceived that night. The experience had left him with a deep-seated ache in his brain, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and pretend it never happened.
The wind buffeted him again, only this time, it brought a familiar face with it: Maxwell appeared on the road before him, walking backwards so as to face Ebbins. “What in blazes do you want now?” the rancher growled. “Haven’t you haunted me enough for one night?”
“I thought I had, but something Jorge said struck a chord with me. Despite how you treated him, he bears you no ill will. I find that pretty amazing, don’t you?”
Ebbins bunched up his shoulders against the cold and kept walking.
“Peace on Earth, goodwill to men...that’s what this time of year is about. And that doesn’t apply only to the young or the innocent, but to everyone, even those who have a damn good reason not to like this time of year.” Maxwell stopped walking and blocked the man’s path. “Your wife died in wintertime...or more specifically, she died on Christmas Day. You asked God for a Christmas miracle and received none, so you decided to return God the favor by turning your back on Him.”
“And what of it?” Ebbins shot back. “You told me you can’t effect time, so there’s nothing you can do to change what happened seven years ago...and yet you insist on taunting me about it!” He lashed out at Maxwell, hands balled into fists, but Maxwell grabbed hold of him before he could strike. He yelled inarticulately and tried to tear away, but it did no good: the lightning swept over them, and when it was gone, Ebbins realized he was now standing in six inches of snow. The sight of it broke through his rage, and his eyes went from Maxwell to the snow and back again. “Where...I don’t...” He started to look around them, and saw colonial-style brick buildings lining a paved street.
“I called you a bitter, lonely old man before, and I had no right to do that,” Maxwell told him softly. “I let my own frustration get in the way, but luckily, Jorge’s words woke me up to my mistake. Christmas is a time for love...and a time for family.”
Ebbins blinked, then looked at the brownstone they were standing in front of. He could see a young woman sitting in the first-floor window, her face bearing a strong resemblance to the one in the portrait above his fireplace. “Is that...” He couldn’t complete the sentence.
“Laura Ebbins, your daughter,” Maxwell said with a nod. “Didn’t take long to find her, though I did feel bad about waking her up in the middle of the night. But once I explained things to her, she understood why.” He placed a hand on Ebbins’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “You’re right, I can’t change the last seven years. All I can do is give you the opportunity to lessen the damage those seven years have done to the both of you. It may have seemed wise at the time to send her away, but in doing so, you removed from your life the reason why you were working so hard. All the money in the world can’t replace the love of family.”
“I...I don’t understand why you’re doing this,” Ebbins said. “Why you’ve done any of this...or even how you’ve done it. Are you...are you an angel?”
“No, but I once went through a similar situation with my own family. Thought for a while there was no way to fix it, but once I put aside my anger and stopped laying blame, the road to reconciliation became a lot less bumpy. I won’t lie to you: walking up those steps is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve done in your life...but the reward you’ll receive once you do it will be priceless.”
Ebbins felt like his head was swimming, a mixture of confusion and elation churning around inside him. He looked up at the window again, and when he saw his daughter looking back at him this time, his breath caught in his throat. “I don’t deserve this,” he choked out.
“Yes you do.” Maxwell slowly turned Ebbins towards the brownstone’s steps. “If you can keep the lesson you’ve learned tonight alive in your heart, then you deserve this very much.”
He nodded, stepping forward, but then he hesitated and turned back to Maxwell. “Could you...can you go back and tell Sheriff Farrell to hold those men until I return? I see no need to rush into judgment against them.”
“Sure thing,” he replied, then chuckled. “But that’s the last errand for the night, I swear! I’m already late getting home as it is.”
For the first time in a long time, Cyrus Ebbins let out a chuckle of his own, then continued up the steps as Maxwell ran down the icy streets of Boston, snowflakes swirling in his wake.