بخش 07کتاب: جایی برای پیرمردها نیست / فصل 7
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Bell dried his hands and came back to the table and sat. He looked at his uncle. Did you ever do anything you was ashamed of to the point where you never would tell nobody?
His uncle thought about that. I’d say I have, he said. I’d say about anybody has. What is it you’ve found out about me?
I mean somethin bad.
I dont know. Where it stuck with you.
Like somethin you could go to jail for?
Well, it could be somethin like that I reckon. It wouldnt have to be.
I’d have to think about that.
No you wouldnt.
What’s got into you? I aint goin to invite you out here no more.
You didnt invite me this time.
Well. That’s true.
Bell sat with his elbows on the table and his hands folded together. His uncle watched him. I hope you aint fixin to make some terrible confession, he said. I might not want to hear it.
Do you want to hear it?
Yeah. Go ahead.
It aint of a sexual nature is it?
That’s all right. Go ahead and tell it anyways.
It’s about bein a war hero.
All right. Would that be you?
Yeah. That’d be me.
I’m tryin to. This is actually what happened. What got me that commendation.
We was in a forward position monitorin radio signals and we was holed up in a farmhouse. Just a two room stone house. We’d been there two days and it never did quit rainin. Rained like all get-out. Somewhere about the middle of the second day the radio operator had took his headset off and he said: Listen. Well, we did. When somebody said listen you listened. And we didnt hear nothin. And I said: What is it? And he said: Nothin.
I said What the hell are you talkin about, nothin? What did you hear? And he said: I mean you cant hear nothin. Listen. And he was right. There was not a sound nowheres. No field-piece or nothin. All you could hear was the rain. And that was about the last thing I remember. When I woke up I was layin outside in the rain and I dont know how long I’d been layin there. I was wet and cold and my ears was ringin and whenever I set up and looked the house was gone. Just part of the wall at one end was standin was all. A mortarshell had come through the wall and just blowed it all to hell. Well, I couldnt hear a thing. I couldnt hear the rain or nothin. If I said somethin I could hear it inside my head but that was all. I got up and walked over to where the house was and there was sections of the roof layin over a good part of it and I seen one of our men buried in them rocks and timbers and I tried to move some stuff to see if I couldnt get to him. My whole head just felt numb. And while I was doin that I raised up and looked out and here come these German riflemen across this field. They was comin out of a patch of woods about two hundred yards off and comin across this field. I still didnt know exactly what had happened. I was kindly in a daze. I crouched down there by the side of the wall and the first thing I seen was Wallace’s .30 caliber stickin out from under some timbers. That thing was aircooled and it was belt fed out of a metal box and I figured if I let em run up a little more on me I could operate on em out there in the open and they wouldnt call in another round cause they’d be too close. I scratched around and finally got that thing dug out, it and the tripod, and I dug around some more and come up with the ammo box for it and I got set up behind the section of wall there and jacked back the slide and pushed off the safety and here we went.
It was hard to tell where the rounds was hittin on account of the ground bein wet but I knew I was doin some good. I emptied out about two feet of belt and I kept watchin out there and after it’d been quiet two or three minutes one of them krauts jumped up and tried to make a run for the woods but I was ready for that. I kept the rest of em pinned down and all the while I could hear some of our men groanin and I sure didnt know what I was goin to do come dark. And that’s what they give me the Bronze Star for. The major that put me in for it was named McAllister and he was from Georgia. And I told him I didnt want it. And he just set there lookin at me and directly he said: I’m waitin on you to tell me your reasons for wantin to refuse a military commendation. So I told him. And when I got done he said: Sergeant, you will accept the commendation. I guess they had to make it look good. Look like it counted for somethin. Losin the position. He said you will accept it and if you tell it around what you told me it will get back to me and when it does you are goin to wish you was in hell with your back broke. Is that clear? And I said yessir. Said that was about as clear as you could make it. So that was it.
So now you’re fixin to tell me what you done.
When it got dark.
When it got dark. Yessir.
What did you do?
I cut and run.
The old man thought about that. After a while he said: I got to assume that it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.
Yeah, Bell said. It did.
What would of happened if you’d stayed there?
They’d of come up in the dark and lobbed grenades in on me. Or maybe gone back up in the woods and called in another round.
Bell sat there with his hands crossed on the oilcloth. He looked at his uncle. The old man said: I aint sure what it is you’re askin me.
I aint either.
You left your buddies behind.
You didnt have no choice.
I had a choice. I could of stayed.
You couldnt of helped em.
Probably not. I thought about takin that .30 caliber off about a hundred feet or so and waitin till they throwed their grenades or whatever. Lettin em come on up. I could of killed a few more. Even in the dark. I dont know. I set there and watched it come night. Pretty sunset. It had done cleared up by then. Had finally quit rainin. That field had been sowed in oats and there was just the stalks. Fall of the year. I watched it get dark and I had not heard nothin from anybody that was in the wreckage there for a while. They might could of all been dead by then. But I didnt know that. And quick as it got dark I got up and I left out of there. I didnt even have a gun. I dang sure wasnt haulin that .30 caliber with me. My head had quit hurtin some and I could even hear a little. It had quit rainin but I was wet through and I was cold to where my teeth was chatterin. I could make out the dipper and I headed due west as near as I could make it and I just kept goin. I passed a house or two but there wasnt nobody around. It was a battle-zone, that country. People had just left out. Come daylight I laid up in a patch of woods. What woods it was. That whole country looked like a burn. Just the treetrunks was all that was left. And sometime that next night I come to an American position and that was pretty much it. I thought after so many years it would go away. I dont know why I thought that. Then I thought that maybe I could make up for it and I reckon that’s what I have tried to do.
They sat. After a while the old man said: Well, in all honesty I cant see it bein all that bad. Maybe you ought to ease up on yourself some.
Maybe. But you go into battle it’s a blood oath to look after the men with you and I dont know why I didnt. I wanted to. When you’re called on like that you have to make up your mind that you’ll live with the consequences. But you dont know what the consequences will be. You end up layin a lot of things at your own door that you didnt plan on. If I was supposed to die over there doin what I’d give my word to do then that’s what I should of done. You can tell it any way you want but that’s the way it is. I should of done it and I didnt. And some part of me has never quit wishin I could go back. And I cant. I didnt know you could steal your own life. And I didnt know that it would bring you no more benefit than about anything else you might steal. I think I done the best with it I knew how but it still wasnt mine. It never has been.
The old man sat for a long time. He was bent slightly forward looking at the floor. After a while he nodded. I think I know where this is goin, he said.
What do you think he would of done?
I know what he would of done.
Yeah. I guess I do too.
He’d of set there till hell froze over and then stayed a while on the ice.
Do you think that makes him a better man than you?
Yessir. I do.
I might could tell you some things about him that would change your mind. I knew him pretty good.
Well sir, I doubt that you could. With all due respect. Besides which I doubt that you would.
I aint. But then I might say that he lived in different times. Had Jack of been born fifty years later he might of had a different view of things.
You might. But nobody in this room would believe it.
Yeah, I expect that’s true. He looked up at Bell. What did you tell me for?
I think I just needed to unload my wagon.
You waited long enough about doin it.
Yessir. Maybe I needed to hear it myself. I’m not the man of an older time they say I am. I wish I was. I’m a man of this time.
Or maybe this was just a practice run.
You aim to tell her?
Yessir, I guess I do.
What do you think she’ll say?
Well, I expect you might come out of it a little better than what you think.
Yessir, Bell said. I surely hope so.
He said I was bein hard on myself Said it was a sign of old age. Tryin to set things right. I guess there’s some truth to that. But it aint the whole truth. I agreed with him that there wasnt a whole lot good you could say about old age and he said he knew one thing and I said what is that. And he said it dont last long. I waited for him to smile but he didnt. I said well, that’s pretty cold. And he said it was no colder than what the facts called for. So that was all there was about that. I knew what he’d say anyways, bless his heart. You care about people you try and lighten their load for em. Even when it’s self-ordained. The other thing that was on my mind I never even got around to but I believe it to be related because I believe that whatever you do in your life it will get back to you. If you live long enough it will. And I can think of no reason in the world for that no-good to of killed that girl. What did she ever do to him? The truth is I never should of gone up there in the first place. Now they got that Mexican up here in Huntsville for killin that state trooper that he shot him and set his car afire and him in it and I dont believe he done it. But that’s what he’s goin to get the death penalty for. So what is my obligation there? I think I have sort of waited for all of this to go away somehow or another and of course it aint. I think I knew that when it started. It had that feel to it. Like I was fixin to get drug into somethin where the road back was goin to be a pretty long one.
When he asked me why this come up now after so many years I said that it had always been there. That I had just ignored it for the most part. But he’s right, it did come up. I think sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all. When I told it, well it took a shape I would not have guessed it to have and in that way he was right too. It was like a ballplayer told me one time he said that if he had some slight injury and it bothered him a little bit, nagged at him, he generally played better. It kept his mind focused on one thing instead of a hundred. I can understand that. Not that it changes anything.
I thought if I lived my life in the strictest way I knew how then I would not ever again have a thing that would eat on me thataway. I said that I was twenty-one years old and I was entitled to one mistake, particularly if I could learn from it and become the sort of man I had it in my mind to be. Well, I was wrong about all of that. Now I aim to quit and a good part of it is just knowin that I wont be called on to hunt this man. I reckon he’s a man. So you could say to me that I aint changed a bit and I dont know that I would even have a argument about that. Thirty-six years. That’s a painful thing to know.
One other thing he said. You’d think a man that had waited eighty some odd years on God to come into his life, well, you’d think he’d come. If he didnt you’d still have to figure that he knew what he was doin. I dont know what other description of God you could have. So what you end up with is that those he has spoke to are the ones that must of needed it the worst. That’s not a easy thing to accept. Particularly as it might apply to someone like Loretta. But then maybe we are all of us lookin through the wrong end of the glass. Always have been.
Aunt Carolyn’s letters to Harold. The reason she had them letters was that he had saved em. She was the one raised him and she was the same as his mother. Them letters was dogeared and tore and covered with mud and I dont know what all. The thing about them letters. Well for one thing you could tell they were just country people. I dont think he’d ever been out of Irion County, let alone the State of Texas. But the thing about them letters was you could tell that the world she was plannin on him comin back to was not ever goin to be here. Easy to see now. Sixty some years on. But they just had no notion at all. You can say you like it or you dont like it but it dont change nothin. I’ve told my deputies more than once that you fix what you can fix and you let the rest go. If there aint nothin to be done about it it aint even a problem. It’s just a aggravation. And the truth is I dont have no more idea of the world that is brewin out there than what Harold did.
Of course as it turned out he never come home at all. There was not nothin in them letters to suggest that she had reckoned on that possibility.
Well, you know she did. She just wouldnt of said nothin about it to him.
I’ve still got that medal of course. It come in a fancy purple box with a ribbon and all. It was in my bureau for years and then one day I took it out and put it in the drawer in the livin room table where I wouldnt have to look at it. Not that I ever looked at it, but it was there. Harold didnt get no medal. He just come home in a wooden box. And I dont believe they had Gold Star mothers in the First World War but if they had of Aunt Carolyn would not of got one of them either since he was not her natural son. But she should of. She never got his war pension neither.
So. I went back out there one more time. I walked over that ground and there was very little sign that anything had ever took place there. I picked up a shellcasin or two. That was about it. I stood out there a long time and I thought about things. It was one of them warm days you get in the winter sometimes. A little wind. I still keep thinkin maybe it is somethin about the country. Sort of the way Ellis said. I thought about my family and about him out there in his wheelchair in the old house and it just seemed to me that this country has got a strange kind of history and a damned bloody one too. About anywhere you care to look. I could stand back off and smile about such thoughts as them but I still have em. I dont make excuses for the way I think. Not no more. I talk to my daughter. She would be thirty now. That’s all right. I dont care how that sounds. I like talkin to her. Call it superstition or whatever you want. I know that over the years I have give her the heart I always wanted for myself and that’s all right. That’s why I listen to her. I know I’ll always get the best from her. It dont get mixed up with my own ignorance or my own meanness. I know how that sounds and I guess I’d have to say that I dont care. I never even told my wife and we dont have a whole lot of secrets from one another. I dont think she’d say I’m crazy, but some might. Ed Tom? Yeah, they had to swear out a lunacy warrant. I hear they’re feedin him under the door. That’s all right. I listen to what she says and what she says makes good sense. I wish she’d say more of it. I can use all the help I can get. Well, that’s enough of that.
When he walked in the house the phone was ringing. Sheriff Bell, he said. He made his way to the sideboard and picked up the phone. Sheriff Bell, he said.
Sheriff this is Detective Cook with the Odessa police.
There’s a report we have here that is flagged with your name. It has to do with a woman named Carla Jean Moss that was murdered here back in March.
Yessir. I appreciate you callin.
They picked up the murder weapon off of the FBI ballistics database and they traced it down to a boy here in Midland. The boy says he got the gun out of a truck at a accident scene. Just seen it and took it. And I expect that’s right. I talked to him. He sold it and it turned up in a convenience store robbery in Shreveport Louisiana. Now the accident where he got the gun, it took place on the same day as the murder did. The man that owned the gun left it in the truck and disappeared and he aint been heard from since. So you can see where this is goin. We dont get a lot of unsolved homicides up here and we damn sure dont like em. Can I ask you what was your interest in the case, Sheriff?
Bell told him. Cook listened. Then he gave him a number. It was the investigator of the accident. Roger Catron. Let me call him first. He’ll talk to you.
That’s all right, Bell said. He’ll talk to me. I’ve known him for years.
He called the number and Catron answered.
How’re you doin Ed Tom.
I aint braggin.
What can I do you for.
Bell told him about the wreck. Yessir, Catron said. Sure I remember it. There was two boys killed in that wreck. We still aint found the driver of the other vehicle.
Boys’d been smokin dope. They run a stopsign and hit a brand new Dodge pickup broadside. Totaled it out. The old boy in the pickup he climbed out and just took off up the street. Fore we got there. Truck had been bought in Mexico. Illegal. No EPA or nothin. No registration.
What about the other vehicle.
There was three boys in it. Nineteen, twenty years old. All of em Mexican. The only one lived was the one in the back seat. Apparently they was passin around a doober and they went through this intersection probably about sixty mile a hour and just T-boned the old boy in the truck. The one in the passenger side of the car, he come through the windscreen head first and crossed the street and landed on a woman’s porch. She was out puttin some mail in her box and he didnt miss her by much. She set off down the street in her housewrapper and haircurlers just a hollerin. I dont think she’s right yet.
What did you all do with the boy that took the gun?
We cut him loose.
If I come up there you reckon I could talk to him?
I’d say you could. I’m lookin at him on the screen right now.
What’s his name?
Is he Mexican?
No. The boys in the car was. Not him.
Will he talk to me?
One way to find out.
I’ll be there in the mornin.
I look forward to seein you.
Catron had called the boy and talked to him and when the boy walked into the cafe he didnt seem particularly worried about anything. He slid into the booth and propped up one foot and sucked at his teeth and looked at Bell.
You want some coffee?
Yeah. I’ll take some coffee.
Bell raised a finger and the waitress came over and took his order. He looked at the boy.
What I wanted to talk to you about was the man that walked away from that wreck. I wonder if there’s anything that comes to mind about him. Anything you might remember.
The boy shook his head. Naw, he said. He looked around the room.
How bad was he hurt?
I dont know. It looked like his arm was broke.
Had a cut on his head. I couldnt say how bad he was hurt. He could walk.
Bell watched him. How old a man would you say he was?
Hell, Sheriff. I dont know. He was pretty bloody and all.
On the report you said he was maybe in his late thirties.
Yeah. Somethin like that.
Who were you with.
Who were you with.
Wasnt with nobody.
The neighbor there who called in the report, he said there was two of you.
Well, he’s full of it.
Yeah? I talked to him this mornin and he seemed to me to be about as unfull of it as they come.
The waitress brought the coffee. DeMarco poured about a quarter cup of sugar into his and sat stirring it.
You know this man had just got done killin a woman two blocks away when he got in that wreck.
Yeah. I didnt know it at the time.
You know how many people he’s killed?
I dont know nothin about him.
How tall was he would you say?
Not real tall. Sort of medium.
Was he wearin boots.
Yeah. I think he was wearin boots.
What kind of boots.
I think they might of been ostrich.
How badly was he bleedin?
I dont know. He was bleedin. He had a cut on his head.
What did he say?
He didnt say nothin.
What did you say to him?
Nothin. I asked him was he all right.
You think he might of died?
I got no idea.
Bell leaned back. He turned the saltcellar a half turn on the tabletop. Then he turned it back again.
Tell me who you were with.
Wasnt with nobody.
Bell studied him. The boy sucked his teeth. He picked up the coffee mug and sipped the coffee and set it down again.
You aint goin to help me, are you?
I done told you all I know to tell. You seen the report. That’s all I know to tell you.
Bell sat watching him. Then he got up and put on his hat and left.
In the morning he went to the high school and got some names from DeMarco’s teacher. The first one he talked to wanted to know how he’d found him. He was a big kid and he sat with his hands folded and looked down at his tennis shoes. They were about a size fourteen and had Left and Right written on the toecaps in purple ink.
There’s somethin you all aint tellin me.
The boy shook his head.
Did he threaten you?
What did he look like? Was he Mexican?
I dont think so. He was kindly dark complected is all.
Were you afraid of him?
I wasnt till you showed up. Hell, Sheriff, I knew we shouldnt of took the damn thing. It was a dumb-ass thing to do. I aint goin to set here and say it was David’s idea even if it was. I’m big enough to say no.
Yes you are.
It was all just weird. Them boys in the car was dead. Am I in trouble over this?
What else did he say to you.
The boy looked around the lunchroom. He looked almost in tears. If I had it to do over again I’d do it different. I know that.
What did he say.
He said that we didnt know what he looked like. He give David a hundred dollar bill.
A hundred dollars.
Yeah. David give him his shirt. To make a sling for his arm.
Bell nodded. All right. What did he look like.
He was medium height. Medium build. Looked like he was in shape. In his mid thirties maybe. Dark hair. Dark brown, I think. I dont know, Sheriff. He looked like anybody.
The kid looked at his shoes. He looked up at Bell. He didnt look like anybody. I mean there wasnt nothin unusual lookin about him. But he didnt look like anybody you’d want to mess with. When he said somethin you damn sure listened. There was a bone stickin out under the skin on his arm and he didnt pay no more attention to it than nothin.
Am I in trouble over this?
I appreciate it.
You dont know where things will take you, do you?
No sir, you dont. I think I learned somethin from it. If that’s any use to you.
It is. Do you think DeMarco learned anything?
The boy shook his head. I dont know, he said. I cant speak for David.
I got Molly to run down his relatives and we finally found his dad in San Saba. I left to go up there on a Friday evenin and I remember thinkin to myself when I left that this was probably another dumb thing I was fixin to do but I went anyways. I’d done talked to him on the phone. He didnt sound like he was waitin to see me or he wasnt waitin but he said to come on so here I went. Checked in a motel when I got there and drove out to his house in the mornin.
His wife had died some years back. We set out on the porch and drunk iced tea and I guess we’d of set
there from now on if I hadnt of said somethin. He was a bit oldern me. Ten years maybe. I told him what I’d come to tell him. About his boy. Told him the facts. He just set there and nodded. He was settin in a swing and he just rocked back and forth a little and held that glass of tea in his lap. I didnt know what else to say so I just shut up and we set
there for quite some time. And then he said, and he didnt look at me, he just looked out across the yard, and he said: He was the best rifleshot I ever saw. Bar none. I didnt know what to say. I said: Yessir.
He was a sniper in Vietnam you know.
I said I didnt know that.
He was not in no drug deals.
No sir. He was not.
He nodded. He wasnt raised that way, he said.
Was you in the war?
Yes I was. European theatre.
He nodded. Llewelyn when he come home he went to visit several families of buddies of his that had not made it back. He give it up. He didnt know what to say to em. He said he could see em settin there lookin at him and wishin he was dead. You could see it in their faces. In the place of their own loved one, you understand.
Yessir. I can understand that.
I can too. But aside from that they’d all done things over there that they’d just as soon left over there. We didnt have nothin like that in the war. Or very little of it. He smacked the tar out of one or two of them hippies. Spittin on him. Callin him a babykiller. A lot of them boys that come back, they’re still havin problems. I thought it was because they didnt have the country behind em. But I think it might be worse than that even. The country they did have was in pieces. It still is. It wasnt the hippies’ fault. It wasnt the fault of them boys that got sent over there neither. Eighteen, nineteen year old.
He turned and looked at me. And then I thought he looked a lot older. His eyes looked old. He said: People will tell you it was Vietnam brought this country to its knees. But I never believed that. It was already in bad shape. Vietnam was just the icin on the cake. We didnt have nothin to give to em to take over there. If we’d sent em without rifles I dont know as they’d of been all that much worse off. You cant go to war like that. You cant go to war without God. I dont know what is goin to happen when the next one comes. I surely dont.
And that was pretty much all that was said. I thanked him for his time. The next day was goin to be my last day in the office and I had a good deal to think about. I drove back to I-10 along the back roads. Drove down to Cherokee and took 501. I tried to put things in perspective but sometimes you’re just too close to it. It’s a life’s work to see yourself for what you really are and even then you might be wrong. And that is somethin I dont want to be wrong about. I’ve thought about why it was I wanted to be a lawman. There was always some part of me that wanted to be in charge. Pretty much insisted on it. Wanted people to listen to what I had to say. But there was apart of me too that just wanted to pull everbody back in the boat. If I’ve tried to cultivate anything it’s been that. I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come and I dont care what shape it takes. And whatever comes my guess is that it will have small power to sustain us. These old people I talk to, if you could of told em that there would be people on the streets of our Texas towns with green hair and bones in their noses speakin a language they couldnt even understand, well, they just flat out wouldnt of believed you. But what if you’d of told em it was their own grandchildren? Well, all of that is signs and wonders but it dont tell you how it got that way. And it dont tell you nothin about how it’s fixin to get, neither. Part of it was I always thought I could at least someway put things right and I guess I just dont feel that way no more. I dont know what I do feel like. I feel like them old people I was talkin about. Which aint goin to get better neither. I’m bein asked to stand for somethin that I dont have the same belief in it I once did. Asked to believe in somethin I might not hold with the way I once did. That’s the problem. I failed at it even when I did. Now I’ve seen it held to the light. Seen any number of believers fall away. I’ve been forced to look at it again and I’ve been forced to look at myself. For better or for worse I do not know. I dont know that I would even advise you to throw in with me, and I never had them sorts of doubts before. If I’m wiser in the ways of the world it come at a price. Pretty good price too. When I told her I was quittin she at first didnt take me to mean it literally but I told her I did so mean it. I told her I hoped the people of this county would have better sense than to even vote for me. I told her I didnt feel right takin their money. She said well you dont mean that and I told her I meant it ever word. We’re six thousand dollars in debt over this job too and I dont know what I’m goin to do about that either. Well we just set
there for a time. I didnt think it would upset her like it done. Finally I just said: Loretta, I cant do it no more. And she smiled and she said: You aim to quit while you’re ahead? And I said no mam I just aim to quit. I aint ahead by a damn sight. I never will be. One other thing and then I’ll shut up. I would just as soon that it hadnt of got told but they put it in the papers. I went up to Ozona and talked to the district attorney up there and they said I could talk to that Mexicans lawyer if I wanted and maybe testify at the trial but that was all they would do. Meanin that they wouldnt do nothin. So I
wound up doin that and of course it didnt come to nothin and the old boy got the death penalty. So I went up to Huntsville to see him and here is what happened. I walked in there and set down and he of course knew who I was as he had seen me at the trial and all and he said: What did you bring me? And I said I didnt bring him nothin and he said well he thought I must of brung him somethin. Some candy or somethin. Said he figured I was sweet on him. I looked at the guard and the guard looked away. I looked at this man. Mexican, maybe thirty-five, forty year old. Spoke good english. I said to him that I didnt come up there to be insulted but I just wanted him to know that I done the best I could for him and that I was sorry because I didnt think he done it and he just rared back and laughed and he said: Where do they find somebody like you? Have they got you in diapers yet? I shot that son of a bitch right between the eyes and drug him back to his car by the hair of the head and set the car on fire and burned him to grease.
Well. These people can read you pretty good. If I had of smacked him in the mouth that guard would not of said word one. And he knew that. He knew that.
I seen that county prosecutor comin out of there and I knowed him just a little to talk to and we stopped and visited some. I didnt tell him what had happened but he knew about me tryin to help that man and he might could of put two and two together. I dont know. He didnt ask me nothin about him. Didnt ask me what I was doin up there or nothin. There’s two kinds of people that dont ask a lot of questions. One is too dumb to and the other dont need to. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one I figure him to be. He was just standin there in the hall with his briefcase. Like he had all the time in the world. He told me that when he got out of law school he had been a defense attorney for a while. He said it made his life too complicated. He didnt want to spend the rest of his life bein lied to on a daily basis just as a matter of course. I told him that a lawyer one time told me that in law school they try and teach you not to worry about right and wrong but just follow the law and I said I wasnt so sure about that. He thought about that and he nodded and he said that he pretty much had to agree with that lawyer. He said that if you dont follow the law right and wrong wont save you. Which I guess I can see the sense of But it dont change the way I think. Finally I asked him if he knew who Mammon was. And he said: Mammon?
You mean like in God and Mammon?
Well, he said, I cant say as I do. I know it’s in the bible. Is it the devil?
I dont know. I’m goin to look it up. I got a feelin I ought to know who it is.
He kindly smiled and he said: You sound like he might be getting ready to take up the spare bedroom.
Well, I said, that would be one concern. In any case I feel I need to familiarize myself with his habits.
He nodded. Kind of smiled. Then he did ask me a question. He said: This mystery man you think killed that trooper and burned him up in his car. What do you know about him?
I dont know nothin. I wish I did. Or I think I wish it.
He’s pretty much a ghost.
Is he pretty much or is he one?
No, he’s out there. I wish he wasnt. But he is.
He nodded. I guess if he was a ghost you wouldnt have to worry about him.
I said that was right, but I’ve thought about it since and I think the answer to his question is that when you encounter certain things in the world, the evidence for certain things, you realize that you have come upon somethin that you may very well not be equal to and I think that this is one of them things. When you’ve said that it’s real and not just in your head I’m not all that sure what it is you have said.
Loretta did say one thing. She said somethin to the effect that it wasnt my fault and I said it was. And I had thought about that too. I told her that if you got a bad enough dog in your yard people will stay out of it. And they didnt.
When he got home she wasnt there but her car was. He walked out to the barn and her horse was gone. He started to go back to the house but then he stopped and he thought about her maybe being hurt and he went to the tackroom and got his saddle down and carried it out into the bay and whistled at his horse and watched his head come up over the stall door down at the end of the barn with his ears scissoring.
He rode out with the reins in one hand, patting the horse. He talked to the horse as he went. Feels good to be out, dont it. You know where they went? That’s all right. Dont you worry about it. We’ll find em.
Forty minutes later he saw her and stopped and sat the horse and watched. She was riding along a red dirt ridge to the south sitting with her hands crossed on the pommel, looking toward the last of the sun, the horse slogging slowly through the loose sandy dirt, the red stain of it following them in the still air. That’s my heart yonder, he told the horse. It always was.
They rode together out to Warner’s Well and dismounted and sat under the cottonwoods while the horses grazed. Doves coming in to the tanks. Late in the year. We wont be seein them much longer.
She smiled. Late in the year, she said.
You hate it.
I’m all right.
Because of me though, aint it?
She smiled. Well, she said, past a certain age I dont guess there is any such thing as good change.
I guess we’re in trouble then.
We’ll be all right. I think I’m goin to like havin you home for dinner.
I like bein home any time.
I remember when Daddy retired Mama told him: I said for better or for worse but I didnt say nothin about lunch.
Bell smiled. I’ll bet she wishes he could come home now.
I’ll bet she does too. I’ll bet I do, for that matter.
I shouldnt ought to of said that.
You didnt say nothin wrong.
You’d say that anyways.
That’s my job.
Bell smiled. You wouldnt tell me if I was in the wrong?
What if I wanted you to?
He watched the little brindled desert doves come stooping in under the dull rose light. Is that true? he said.
Pretty much. Not altogether.
Is that a good idea?
Well, she said. Whatever it was I expect you’d get it figured out with no help from me. And if it was somethin we just disagreed about I reckon I’d get over it.
Where I might not.
She smiled and put her hand on his. Put it up, she said. It’s nice just to be here.
Yes mam. It is indeed.
I’ll wake Loretta up
just bein awake myself. Be layin there and she’ll say my name. Like askin me if I’m there. Sometimes I’ll go in the kitchen and get her a ginger ale and we’ll set there in the dark. I wish I had her ease about things. The world I’ve seen has not made me a spiritual person. Not like her. She worries about me, too. I see it. I reckon I thought that because I was older and the man that she would learn from me and in many respects she has. But I know where the debt lies.
I think I know where we’re headed. We’re bein bought with our own money. And it aint just the drugs. There is fortunes bein accumulated out there that they dont nobody even know about. What do we think is goin to come of that money? Money that can buy whole countries. It done has. Can it buy this one? I dont think so. But it will put you in bed with people you ought not to be there with. It’s not even a law enforcement problem. I doubt that it ever was. There’s always been narcotics. But people dont just up and decide to dope theirselves for no reason. By the millions. I dont have no answer about that. In particular I dont have no answer to take heart from. I told a reporter here a while back — young girl, seemed nice enough. She was just tryin to be a reporter. She said: Sheriff how come you to let crime get so out of hand in your county? Sounded like a fair question I reckon. Maybe it was a fair question. Anyway I told her, I said: It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight. I told her, I said: It reaches into ever strata. You’ve heard about that aint you? Ever strata? You finally get into the sort of breakdown in mercantile ethics that leaves people settin around out in the desert dead in their vehicles and by then it’s just too late.
She give me kindly a funny look. So the last thing I told her, and maybe I shouldnt of said it, I told her that you cant have a dope business without dopers. A lot of em are well dressed and holdin down goodpayin jobs too. I said: You might even know some yourself
The other thing is the old people, and I keep comin back to them. They look at me it’s always a question. Years back I dont remember that. I dont remember it when I was sheriff back in the fifties. You see em and they dont even look confused. They just look crazy. That bothers me. It’s like they woke up and they dont know how they got where they’re at. Well, in a manner of speakin they dont.
At supper this evenin she told me she’d been readin St John. The Revelations. Any time I get to talkin about how things are she’ll find somethin in the bible so I asked her if Revelations had anything to say about the shape things was takin and she said she’d let me know. I asked her if there was anything in there about green hair and nosebones and she said not in so many words there wasnt. I dont know if that’s a good sign or not. Then she come around behind my chair and put her arms around my neck and bit me on the ear. She’s a very young woman in a lot of ways. If I didnt have her I dont know what I would have. Well, yes I do. You wouldnt need a box to put it in, neither.
It was a cold blustery day when he walked out of the courthouse for the last time. Some men could put their arms around a crying woman but it never felt natural to him. He walked down the steps and out the back door and got in his truck and sat there. He couldnt name the feeling. It was sadness but it was something else besides. And the something else besides was what had him sitting there instead of starting the truck. He’d felt like this before but not in a long time and when he said that, then he knew what it was. It was defeat. It was being beaten. More bitter to him than death. You need to get over that, he said. Then he started the truck.
Where you went out the back door of that house there was a stone water trough in the weeds by the side of the house. A galvanized pipe come off the roof and the trough stayed pretty much full and I remember stoppin there one time and squattin down and lookin at it and I got to thinkin about it. I dont know how long it had been there. A hundred years. Two hundred. You could see the chisel marks in the stone. It was hewed out of solid rock and it was about six foot long and maybe a foot and a half wide and about that deep. Just chiseled out of the rock. And I got to thinkin about the man that done that. That country had not had a time of peace much of any length at all that I knew of. I’ve read a little of the history of it since and I aint sure it ever had one. But this man had set down with a hammer and chisel and carved out a stone water trough to last ten thousand years. Why was that? What was it that he had faith in? It wasnt that nothin would change. Which is what you might think, I suppose. He had to know bettern that. I’ve thought about it a good deal. I thought about it after I left there with that house blown to pieces. I’m goin to say that water trough is there yet. It would of took somethin to move it, I can tell you that. So I think about him settin there with his hammer and his chisel, maybe just a hour or two after supper, I dont know. And I have to say that the only thing I can think is that there was some sort of promise in his heart. And I dont have no intentions of carvin a stone water trough. But I would like to be able to make that kind of promise. I think that’s what I would like most of all.
The other thing is that I have not said much about my father and I know I have not done him justice. I’ve been older now than he ever was for almost twenty years so in a sense I’m lookin back at a younger man. He went on the road tradin horses when he was not much more than a boy. He told me the first time or two he got skinned pretty good but he learned. He said this trader one time he put his arm around him and he looked down at him and he told him, said: Son, I’m goin to trade with you like you didnt even have a horse. Point bein some people will actually tell you what it is they aim to do to you and whenever they do you might want to listen. That stuck with me. He knew about horses and he was good with em. I’ve seen him break a few and he knew what he was doin. Very easy on the horse. Talked to em a lot. He never broke nothin in me and I owe him more than I would of thought. As the world might look at it I suppose I was a better man. Bad as that sounds to say. Bad as that is to say. That has got to of been hard to live with. Let alone his daddy. He would never of made a lawman. He went to college I think two years but he never did finish. I’ve thought about him a lot less than I should of and I know that aint right neither. I had two dreams about him after he died. I dont remember the first one all that well but it was about meetin him in town somewheres and he give me some money and I think I lost it. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make afire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.
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