Chapter 25

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Nobody Barlow showed the photo to could identify the mystery man. Feeling discouraged, he wondered if he should just drop the whole thing. Except something inside wouldn't allow him to do that. He had to know. All these years he had blamed his father for killing Neil Mantener and stealing the cash.

Those thoughts plagued him as he drove to his meeting with Les Cunningham and his crew. Caroline sat in the passenger seat, gazing out the side window, brooding. Since their meeting with Pet last night, she had been acting moody.

He understood. She felt threatened by his history with Pet and their ease and familiarity with each other. Barlow reached across the console and took her hand. She let him, but he could tell her heart wasn't in it. He figured once they returned to Ohio and Caroline was back on her home turf, she'd snap out of her funk.

He eased his van onto the gravel lot of his father's construction office, his  construction office now. That concept was still hard to get used to. His former boss, Irv Washington, now his partner--another hard concept to get used to--had already arrived. His pickup sat in the lot near the door. They had arranged an orientation meeting with his father's crew to bring everyone up to speed on the merger. Irv had arrived late last night but opted to stay in more comfortable accommodations in one of the chain hotels at the Carlisle turnpike exit.

He and Caroline walked across the gravel lot and entered the modular office.

A half-dozen sets of men's eyes inspected them as they entered. They gave Barlow a quick glance before settling on Caroline.

"Les already introduced me to the crew," Irv said.

"What's left of the crew," Les added. "Sam, Tom, Frank, and Allen are the only ones remaining."

The four employees shook hands with Barlow.

"This is my girlfriend, Caroline," Barlow put an arm around her waist.

"Pleased to meet you, Caroline," Les said. "Would you and Barlow like coffee?"

Barlow waved him off. "No thanks, I had plenty of coffee at the inn this morning."

Caroline eyed the Keurig machine. "I'll have coffee, but I'll get it myself. You men have things to discuss."

They all watched her as she selected a K-cup and popped it into the hopper.

Barlow cleared his throat. When they refocused on him, he said, "Thank you all for sticking with the company. I came here to assure you that everything is going to proceed as usual. You will continue to get paid. Les Cunningham has been your foreman under my father, and he will continue in that role along with taking on some additional responsibilities." He went on to explain how a contingent of workers from Ohio would fill in over the winter until new local labor could be hired in the spring.

After a short Q & A session, everyone seemed satisfied.

Les grabbed his car keys from the desk. "Barlow, Caroline, and Irv are going to follow us to our housing project in New Bloomfield where I'll give them a tour. The rest of you guys can get to work. You all know what to do."

As the men started shuffling toward the door, Barlow suddenly remembered. "Oh, wait." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the photo. "Do any of you recognize these guys?"

The men passed it around, all of them shaking their heads. They headed out. Barlow heard them start their vehicles and drive off.

Les Cunningham gave the photo a good look and also shook his head. "What's this about?"

Barlow took the photo back from him. "Never mind."

"Let me see," Irv said and extended his hand to take it.

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