For eighteen-year-old Will Hulst, life should have been relatively uncomplicated. Raised in a strictly religious home, he struggled with the usual questions of youth; seemingly unanswerable questions about life and faith. Now he stands accused of a murder he did not commit. Only one person truly believes in his innocence, Barb Prescott a bright young attorney assigned to his defense, she has been assigned a case that on the surface appears indefensible. As Barb begins her defense she uncovers mounting evidence pointing to a cover-up and is drawn deeper and deeper into a web that involves, the local Police Chief out to satisfy a vow of revenge made decades before, a prominent businessman who will do anything to protect his illegitimate empire, and her love for a young Deputy that could destroy her career. Will's only hope for acquittal lies with a former girl friend (Crystal Simpson) a girl he had shunned and embarrassed, a witness who has mysteriously disappeared.
The book is filled with a rich tapestry of characters, that struggle with their own emotions and feelings; interwoven with a series of twists and turns, that all lead to a stunning and unexpected conclusion, as they are inexplicably drawn into a tangled "Web Of Innocence"
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Web of Innocence
By Henry Klooster
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Henry Klooster
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFall had come early. It had been the last week of August, when the geese had begun their long flight south over the amber fields. They had been lucky to get the crops. Jacob Hulst had been ready. The combine had been tuned and greased, and when the first day of Indian summer, had called an uneasy truce with winter, they had worked around the clock. Winter had threatened on the last day, but the truce had held, and the bins had been filled.
Now winter, as unwelcome as it was had settled over the landscape.
Will Hulst turned up the collar on his worn wool suit, and shivered. At seventeen he had not fully come to grips with life, and now faced with death, he felt lonely, confused and empty.
"Dust to dust...." the preachers monotone voice droned, as he addressed the small group gathered at the graveside.
Will Hulst stood six feet tall. His mop of sandy brown hair, and broad shoulders had earned him more than a second glance from the girls at Hammond High. He stood in contrast to his stone-faced, somber father, suit bulging on his short stalky frame. He had staunchly refused to buy a new suit for the funeral.
Jacob Hulst was a deeply religious man not set on airs, and his word was law. "The Lord looks at the inside, not at any external trappings." He had firmly stated, and his frail wife had complied knowing better than to question his judgment. In keeping with his wishes she had donned her faded green coat, not willing to incur his wrath by asking for a new one.
"The Lord is my shepherd...." the preachers voice droned on, distant and hollow.
The morning had broken with a dull gray pallor, the clouds driving the thin red glow of sunrise from the sky. The wind that had for days lain whimpering beyond the horizon had suddenly pounced on the landscape, spitting ice needle sleet in its fury.
Will looked around at the small group of mourners that had braved the weather and gathered to pay their last respects to Oma Hulst. The gaping grave stared heavenward; it's cold darkness ready to envelop her lifeless body. He shivered. The cold gnawed at his ankles, left exposed by his too short suit pants. The wind cut through his thread-bare suit, cold as death.
His thoughts turned to Oma. He would miss her, her kind smile, and her quiet strength; the tender words of encouragement, his mother never gave. Oma had been his strength, his source of joy in another wise harsh world. Life at home was hard. Jacob Hulst was a gruff, unemotional, domineering man. Millie his mother lacked affection and emotion; diligently catering to Jacob's every need. She had been different once, before Will's older brother Jan had left home. Jan was her favorite. Now most of her attention seemed to be focused on Beth, Will's younger sister. But Oma had always been there. She understood. Although she had never said anything to discredit her son and his wife, Will knew she understood.
Life for Oma had not been easy. She had immigrated along with her husband, from the marshlands of Holland shortly after the end of the war. They had settled with their three children, one son and two daughters, on a homestead just outside the town of Hammond. The first years in a new land had proved difficult, and by the third year her husband had been forced to seek employment to supplement the meager income the homestead yielded. He had found a job with the railroad, and was gone for months at a time. With the help of her son, they had plowed and planted, the crop in the hand cleared meadow, south of the house. Word had come in the late summer that her husband had been killed working the trains. Despite the set back Oma had carried on.
In time the homestead had become productive, and when Jacob married, he had taken over.
The small group had begun to sing "Abide with Me". Jacob Hulst glowered at Will, silently chastising him for not singing along. Will joined in. When the song ended the small group began to disperse. Will stared at the gaping ground. Oma gone forever. Forever! He felt the firm grasp of his father's hand on his shoulder. As he turned to follow his father, the workmen began lowering the casket into the ground. He fought back the tears. The loneliness, the emptiness and the sudden realization of his loss turned in him like a dull knife. He could show no emotion. His father had said that Oma had gone to a better place, a place they could only hope for, a place of eternal joy and peace before the face of God. There was no room for sadness and tears. Although she would be missed the assurance of her eternal joy should bring joy and peace to those left behind. Sorrow had no place, only quiet reflection.
It puzzled Will. Did no one care? How could they not be sad? How could they not cry? Did they not feel the pain he felt? But for now there would be no tears, they would come later when he was alone.
"Come on son, its time for chores." Jacob took his wife's hand and made his way to the old Ford. The car sputtered and lurched as if it too was in grief.
As he sat in the backseat, Will's thoughts once more turned to Oma. He had been present when she died. He had gone to visit her as he did every day only that day had been different. She hadn't been feeling well for some time, but this day he had felt a cold shiver as he approached the house. On entering he had noticed that the stove had not been lit. Oma had been lying on the bed, her body racked with fever. He knew instantly he had come too late. He had thought of going for help, but realized it would be futile. She clasped his hand, her life slowly ebbing away. "I'm ready." She had whispered thickly, her eyes dull. He had clung to her then, hoping, praying, to no avail. She shuddered; her breath coming in short raspy bursts. Then she had gone limp. Will had let go, and as he did he saw a glow pass over her face, and a smile form on her lips. She had seen the gates of heaven opened, and he, Will had been there to see it. It had been her parting gift to him, a gift that left him confused and filled with questions.
Her death had left him empty and cheated. What loving God would take away someone so pure and sweet, someone so loving? Did God not know that she was his strength? What was he to do now? His father had been no help. He didn't have any answers for the questions either, just empty platitudes and vague explanations.
The old two-story farmhouse was almost invisible against the pale sky, as they drove up the narrow driveway. No one had spoken on the way home, each one seemed lost in his or her own private grief. Beth, who had earlier in the day been filled with questions, too was silent, staring blankly out of the car window.
Once inside, Millie dutifully put on the coffee, and Jacob disappeared into the bedroom to change his clothes, as did Will. Beth overwhelmed by the events of the day curled up on the couch and was soon sound asleep.
"I want you to bring a load of hay over to the main barn, we're almost out, and if it starts to snow, it could be a few days before we can get to the stack." Jacob Hulst poured his steaming coffee into his saucer and took a sip. "Make sure the horses have enough straw and hay down. It could get cold tonight." He continued. He turned his now empty cup over onto his saucer, signaling he wanted no more.
The sleet that had been falling earlier in the day had stopped and the wind had shifted to the northeast, as Will stepped outside. "Dad's right, it could get cold tonight." He thought to himself.
Chores seemed to take longer than usual, with the added duty of getting a load of hay, and his mind still on the events of the day. Will methodically went through the motions.
He trudged toward the lean-to barn where the horses were stabled for the winter. It was simple pole structure, enclosed on three sides for most of the year; however in winter the fourth side had been enclosed, to protect the horses from the wind and snow.
The wind had started to pick up, and small swirls of snow twirled in the air. He pushed open the make shift door, and stepped inside, the two horses, Red and Bill, stood comfortably at one end, taking no notice of him as he entered.
Will pulled a bale of hay from the stack in the corner, the aroma of clover and fescue filled the air. Methodically, he threw down several bales of straw and with the three-tined fork spread them around. The barn shook violently as a gust of wind tore by. "Better hurry." He muttered. He reached for the water tap and turned it. "Frozen!" he muttered. "Better get the torch."
Darkness had fallen and the wind had begun to gust as Will trudged toward the tool-shed to procure the torch. It was snowing heavier, he noted. Securing the torch he returned to the barn. Careful not to catch any of the straw on fire he trained the torch on the tap. The tap gurgled and spit, briefly, then sent a steady stream of water into the trough. It took all of ten minutes to fill the trough, he dare not leave until the trough was full, as there was no telling when he could return if a storm hit. The trough full he checked the tank heater took one last look around the shed and stepped outside.
The fury, with which the wind greeted him, sent Will reeling and gasping for breath. The driving snow had turned the darkness into a surreal gray world. He could barely see the light of the house. He focused his eyes on the light, fear welling inside him. They had not yet put up the rope for the winter. The rope, that ran from building to building in the winter, a lifeline, without which one could become hopelessly lost. The wind drove the snow in vicious circles, obscuring the house. Will braced himself and pushed on to where he had last seen the light, scolding himself for not having worn a heavier coat. The snow caked his eyelids, stinging his cheeks,
"The light? Where is the light?" He strained his eyes, only to see gray nothingness, like a blanket enveloping him. Panic welled inside him. It couldn't be that much further. If only he could find the light.
He trudged on, straining to see the light, any light. Thoughts of old Ed Bruce entered his mind. They had found him last winter only a few feet from his front porch, frozen, not knowing how close he had been. Now seized by panic he began to run, he couldn't die! Not now! His feet felt like lead, snow coated his jacket, and filled his eyes, his breath became short and labored, the cold air burning his lungs. Will stopped, he would have to turn around, make it back to the barn. Better to spend the night with the horses than to die here in the snow. He was so tired, he wanted to sit down, wait for it all to pass, but he knew that would be deadly. He pushed on, the will to survive driving away the urge to give in.
He felt the searing pain of the barbed wire as it tore at his leg. He looked down and saw the tear in his pants, and the jagged red tear in his leg. Blood ran from the wound and froze in small clumps on his leg. In horror he realized he had turned only half around, and was not heading back to the barn at all. No telling how far he was from the barn now. He grasped the wire in his hands. He would have to follow it.
Which way? The wire would either lead him to the shed or miles out into the open fields. He tried to think. The wrong decision would be fatal. It would mean certain death. He made up his mind and grasped the wire, the barbs cutting into his palms. Droplets of blood clung to his coat. "Dear God, if you can hear me, don't let me die." He prayed. But somehow his prayer seemed empty. Was this the punishment for his unbelief? For his doubts? For questioning Gods motives at Oma's death? Somehow his prayer seemed lost on the wings of the screaming wind. Suddenly his hand struck something hard. He fumbled at it. The barn! His heart leapt into his throat. He had made the right choice, he had guessed right, he had saved himself. He made his way around the shed until he found the door and pushed it open. Exhausted he collapsed.
Jacob found Will the next morning, cold and fevered; he carried the body of his son into the house. "Quick get some blankets," he ordered, as he laid Will on the bed. Millie scrambled to obey.
"He'll be okay." Jacob stated as Millie passed him the blankets. "I found him in the horse barn. He was lucky he stayed there. God was watching over him."
* * *
Will grimaced as he turned over under the warmth of the goose down quilt. The shelter from the wind, the barn had offered, and the warmth generated by the horses and tank heater had kept him from freezing to death. He had suffered only minor frostbite, and aside from the cuts on his palms and leg from the barbed wire fence, had suffered no major injuries. Exhausted he had slept most of the day.
He swung his legs out of bed and walked slowly over to the window. The moon cast a silvery glow over the landscape. The snow, which had descended with such fury, now lay shimmering placidly in the moonlight. Its light could be seen for miles across the prairie.
Will's thoughts turned once more to Oma. She had been so undying in her faith, so convinced. And here he stood in contrast, still questioning, still empty. He did not doubt that God existed, but he seemed so remote, so distant; a God of contrasts, taking the life of one, sparing the life of another. Playing with the dice, like some dealer at a crap table. A God of love? How could he be a God of love, when in the same breath his father professed him to be a God of judgment? The events of the past few days should have left him convinced; should have calmed his doubts, but they hadn't. It wasn't right to question God he chastised himself. It wasn't right to ask why. That only led to doubt, and doubt opened the door for the devil.
Will stared out of the window. With all the unanswered questions tumbling through his mind he marveled at Gods irony. The ground opening up frozen and cold to accept the body of someone warm and loving, then covering fit with a blanket of satiny silk, more beautiful than any blanket Oma ever owned, as if to say this is not the end but the beginning.
Exhausted he sought the warmth of the blankets, convinced that God was more than his father made him out to be, and yet full of questions.
Chapter TwoThe milk stool clattered across the concrete alley, and landed with a splat in the gutter.
"Fell asleep again?" Jacob Hulst stood frowning in the alley. Jacob and Will had just begun the morning milking. It was late spring and mornings were still chilly. Sitting on the milk stool leaning against the warm body of the cow; Will had dozed off, losing his balance. In an attempt to keep the stool from falling under the cow, he had swung at it. Instead of catching it he had knocked it across the alley, into the gutter on the other side. Sheepishly Will picked up the stool, without answering his father. He placed it back under the cow and resumed milking.
Spring like fall had come early. Old Man Winter had made one last valiant attempt to hang on with his icy grip, but spring had persisted, and Old Man Winter had relented, heading north for another season.
Almost six months had passed since the blizzard and Oma's passing. The Hulst household had returned to normal. With spring came the promise of a new beginning, and optimism was in the air. For Will it meant the last few weeks of school, before graduation.
Will had begun to miss his visits with Oma less and less, and although he still thought of her often, he had begun to accept her passing. He missed the talks, her quiet strength. Nonetheless a void still remained, as did the questions. He had asked many of those same questions of Oma, and she in her way had given him answers, but the answers only generated more questions, and now she wasn't there to answer them. He had tried to talk to his father, but he had just shrugged. "Someday you will understand." He said. "You have to learn to trust more and question less, it is called faith" The answer had not satisfied Will. He wondered if deep down his father struggled with the same questions and hid behind his vague and pat answers.
With the milking completed, Will headed toward the house for breakfast. The smell of fresh coffee and the aroma of fried bacon greeted him as he entered the kitchen. He washed his hands and took his place at the breakfast table.
"Beth! Breakfast!" Millie called from the foot of the staircase that led to Beth's room. Beth bounded down the stairs and seated herself across from Will. Once they were all seated Jacob Hulst cleared his throat, and bowed his head. Will followed suit, hardly listening to Jacob as he prayed aloud, the same prayer he had prayed since Will could remember.
"Jan called" Millie's voice broke the silence that followed Jacob's "Amen."
"Jan?" Jacob questioned, as he stared stonily at his wife. "What did he want this time? More money?"
"He didn't say." Millie ignored her husband's barb. "He's coming home for a few days. He'll be on the bus this afternoon."
Excerpted from Web of Innocence by Henry Klooster Copyright © 2012 by Henry Klooster. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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