Never is Now

Chapter Four

Not long before dawn on Saturday morning a ’54 Chevy pickup took the turn at Garner onto McKenney hard, almost balancing itself on two wheels. The 3,100 half ton went about hundred yards north and glided to a stop on the grassy shoulder. When the passenger door opened no light shone inside. The song by the Police, Spirits in the Material World, came out of the cab along with a modestly built man with a severely hooked nose. He tugged on his ‘Pride in Tobacco’ billed cap. Although the man pushed the squeaky door closed, it didn’t shut. Unconcerned, he went to the back, letting his open hand ride the fat, flared fender. He dropped the tailgate by unhooking inner-tube coated chains. Before he made another move, he put on a pair of leather gloves. He reached in and removed the bricks that held down the army blanket. He grabbed the exposed running shoes on the body lying on its back in the warped plywood bed. He yanked as he stepped back. He took no notice of how hard the shoulders and head smack the ground.
“Need any help?” came from the open driver-side window.
“I got it.”
The man had his reason for wanting to do this job alone. He dragged the body down and up a shallow ditch, at the top of which he stopped to adjust the blanket. It had gathered around the corpse’s head. As he entered the well-spaced corn rows, he had to yank and tug from time to time because the arms got caught on stalks. He stopped at the third row. The sky was beginning to lighten; even so, the dark mustered among the tasseled corn. But the man didn’t need the light. He dropped to his knees, the head between his thighs. He removed his gloves and tossed aside the annoying blanket, most of which had collected about her neck. He stretched out his arms and cupped his hands on her breasts. He just had to have one last feel. He pressed and pushed and squeezed, his eyes closed. He released a soft moan. As he reached over to lick and suckle her nipples he was aware his crotch was right over her once supple lips.
“Let’s go, man. We ain’t got all night.”
He cursed. “Lost the blanket. I can’t—“
“Forget it. Let’s go.”
The hooked nose man snatched up the blanket and ran back to the idling truck.
Not long after first light buzzards found the body of the girl and they pointed the way for Shine Walker to make the discovery. While on his way to his Quonset hut, he felt compelled to adjust how his glasses sat on the bridge of his nose and. He squinted through the thick lenses. At last he came to a stop because in all his years he had never seen so many vultures in one place and most of them on the ground and hopping mad at each other. The way some hooded their wings as they charged each other reminded him of Lon Chaney when he spread his Dracula cape.
When he went to see what caused the commotion the birds turned ornery, refusing to make way. He hissed and hollered at them but only when he went to kick them did they make room for him. He smelled the decay before he ever saw what caused it. The sight of the corpse made him drop to a knee and hold his fingers to his temples in an effort to stop a dizzy spell. It took a moment to regain his balance; by then his composure was a lost cause. Shine staggered back to his truck. With two hands gripping the wheel, his bony chin jutting out close to the windshield, he still struggled to steer. He drove up to the store, half the time in the wrong lane. Breathless, he stumbled inside and told Sam to call Tinnin.
Deputy Tinnin, just home from third shift, missed Sam’s call but he did answer the call to report back to work because a body had been dumped in his territory while he had been on patrol. Excuses were easy to make but impossible to articulate. An even greater weight than his remorse was that no one, not the sergeant nor the lieutenant, blamed him. They were well aware that the community of Random was the largest area the department patrolled. Because it was the least populated, the sheriff assigned only one car and he didn’t expect his deputies to cover every rural mile of road. All the sheriff asked for was that his men maintain a presence. And that was what Tinnin did last night. Still he felt a suffocating responsibility for the girl’s death although the sergeant said she was dead long before she was tossed.
Buzzards still hovered overhead as Tinnin stood at the far end of the ten-acre field. He, along with ten others, had been told to look for evidence. Since no one told him what exactly to look for he looked without really seeing. In a cornfield such as this, so beguilingly still on the surface, a man was liable to come across anything. Tinnin remembered driving his daddy’s combine and how it seemed as if Noah had just opened the doors. The field was a veritable back-alley of critters on the tear; snakes, rats, birds, cats, sometimes deer and coon, although the deer and coon were partial to silver queen corn rather than the silage corn his daddy grew. But often as not Tinnin never saw enough of a shape to say whether it was a rat or cat, just dark dartings without legs or fur, no bigger than the moment it took to run from the six-row swath he cut. To search for something in particular in this underworld seemed downright foolish, so Tinnin relied on his eyes in a general, unthinking way, hoping they would alight on something meaningful to the solution of this, the second murder in the county in four days.
Tinnin was grateful that this crop was of the kitchen table variety; otherwise, the rows would be so dense that he would have to sidle with his chin and gut tucked tight. Beholden as he was to this silver queen crop, he didn’t like the looks of it; in fact, it chastened his appetite for corn. And he possessed a hunger capable of consuming a half dozen ears at a sitting. Although never one to complain about corn once it was on the table, all swaddled and steamy, he certainly didn’t like the looks of this crop. It looked buggy and the silk was reddish, which could be the result of some hybrid seeds mixed in at sowing. Gray tracks etched on the leaves told him flea beetles had dined there—and God knows what else.
The sight reminded him of Coonie’s son, Loonie, and of the story told about the bugs. Red-eyed and clear-eyed witnesses told of how stink bugs and beetles had found their way up to Loonie’s shoulders, there to fornicate without regard to the onlookers. Since the boy smelled no better or worse than the next person, the reason why his skinny shoulders made for satin sheets drew a big crowd, but one not given to sober reflection. At first meals at the Pride homestead were the culprits because Mrs. Pride was legend for pickling everything from plain cucumbers to wild weeds. Then it became known that the family ate much like a pride of lions. They didn’t use plates because the sight of dirty dishes made the misses vomit, so she simply slung the food on the table. Soap was the next suspect, but all eleven family members used the same bar. At the close of the second summer of her son’s affliction Mrs. Pride became hysterical. She insisted it wasn’t Christian for her boy to walk under the eyes of the Lord with a veritable brothel on his shoulders. To assuage her Coonie reached for the one thing that was usually within reach, Shine’s white. The boy gulped down a Mason jar. The next day he was hung-over but healed. From then on father and son stayed about half drunk, referring to the lightning as the Cure. Loonie tippled constantly until the Army drafted him. He was sent to Vietnam where he died in a place no one in Random could pronounce, much less point it out on a map. Ostensibly he was the only one from Random to die in that war, and Random had actually produced a bona fide hero in Gurney Liddle who returned with a chest full of medals and ribbons and hidden scars. During the parade the Legion held for Gurney he wore a black armband to honor his friend, Will Blake’s boy whose fate was somewhere between dead on paper and dead in the ground. Tinnin couldn’t recall ever hearing stories about the Blake boy like the one still told about Loonie and the love bugs. For the life of him Tinnin couldn’t even remember the boy’s first name. He knew for a fact that the Blake boy was never declared dead, still missing somewhere—either in Washington or Vietnam.
To declare death struck Tinnin as odd. Either a person was dead or he wasn’t. Not to be dead and at the same time not to be alive posed an impossible fate. It was as if the Blake boy had never been, so he couldn’t die and he couldn’t live the way Loonie still did. At least Billy Blake would be remembered, and so too would be the girl they found in this field this morning. His self reproach was unbounded because this was the second killing in four days in Random, his territory that he guarded as if he were the law that brought the order. What he could have done to prevent either one he didn’t know but somewhere under the brooding was the judgment that he was responsible.
They found her body not two hours ago. She lay among purple and white morning-glories. They said all manner of bugs had infested her open mouth. They said she was still wearing her peppermint jogging britches. The medical examiner said that she had been raped, that it looked like the work of a long gun, not a person. She was torn but not shot. He said there was the usual amount of blood, although Tinnin didn’t know what usual meant. He had seen only two dead men in his life; one crushed by an overturned tractor and Billy, burned beyond recognition. Aside from vaginal blood, there was bullet blood too. No one wondered why her hands were in the shape of claws after seeing how rope-restraints had bruised her wrists. After remarking on the neck and ankles contusions, no one had much else to say about anything; either out of respect for womankind or out of guilt for mankind or out of a sense of place. Because the girl came from a rich family. And they didn’t talk about the rich the way they did about the poor, those poorer and commoner than they were. The only time they said anything about the rich was when a person stooped to the practices of the poor. Even then, they didn’t talk about a white woman the way they talked about a black.
They said this girl, the one they had been looking for ever since she disappeared three days ago, was the daughter of Dr. Allen. He was the last man to serve as county coroner, back in the day when there weren’t so many doctors and lawyers, back when there wasn’t a need but for less than a handful of each. Because she was Allen’s daughter they didn’t say anything about catching the man or men who raped and killed her. They knew they had to catch someone or else people would have their say. It would be far harsher than the current criticism about the department’s incompetence in stopping sex and sin, in the vice squad’s inability, its numerous arrests notwithstanding, to interdict drug trafficking.
They said the girl was beautiful. They said she died with her blue eyes open. Tinnin wondered if they thought to look into her eyes on the chance the image of the killer was still there, fixed in the dark sphere of the distended pupil.
Baby blue eyes. Peppermint short shorts. For Tinnin it had been a while. Only now and again, and there were few “agains”. Not since high school six years ago had he a steady girl whom he lost when her graduation gown couldn’t hide the belly bump. She left the ceremony with the father of her baby. There was talk now because Tinnin was twenty-four years old and not married, not even having a piece to knock on every now and then. Tinnin didn’t mind the japes unless they were within earshot. Then he was forced to stand and challenge. After the first few violent encounters, the jokesters left him in peace. And peace and quiet summed up his life’s ambitions. But these killings demolished his well-established routine. He remembered—and it seemed strange that he should at a time like this—when he was ten and his mother dismantled his bed, coated the boards with vinegar and burned the mattress out back behind the work shed. She had to use a chunk of an old tire to keep the mattress and bed bugs burning and she had to buy on time a new mattress, one in which he could sleep in peace.
Here lately there was no peace. No sooner had he finished third shift and settled into bed than the lieutenant called and ordered him to this field; not only him but the entire shift. Tinnin knew that if there was any evidence in the cracked clay it would be the only thing not to up and run, and it would probably be the one thing to elude them. As Shufflin’ Sam said, a man is apt to find all sorts of things he wasn’t looking for. But then Sam was talking about hunting around the house, not in a cornfield in whose rows prevailed a silence and shame of a story only half told.
The other night Sam had told Tinnin and Shine about killing, not about Billy Blake’s but killing in general. He said the life you took somehow became the life you led. He explained how the old you died with the killing and how the world you knew was never the same. The world was different because you saw it from different eyes; the world came closer and watched you just as carefully as you watched it. Tinnin considered the man who killed the girl, wondering how he could ever live out his life, let alone hers. Two lives, a new life, seemed too much to bear. But if the man murdered again and again, he might lose himself in the many lives he took; until there was no longer any semblance of the original man; until he was neither one man nor many but everybody, and everybody’s burden; until he was killed, as he surely would be, and then a new man in a new world arose. The progression, the burden, seemed endless.
Tinnin reached the end of the row. He looked up for buzzards. Seeing none, he checked on either side. No deputies were in sight. Rustling leaves told him the others had proceeded on down a new row. He absently snapped off the horn of a trumpet vine. He curled the red cone in the fat of his hand. He felt a buzz. Upon opening his fingers a bee stung him.

Chapter Five

A breeze approached like a stranger. It hit the very foundation of the now rising heat with a low, sloughing blow. It died, all at once. The dry spell, establishing itself ten days ago and claiming more and more ground ever since, produced an identical cycle of blazing white haze in which nothing but buzzards stirred and stagnant night in which the dark stood as thick as water. Though there was no relief to be gotten, Will and Agnes took to the ends of the tattered couch on the front porch. Bugs butted against the screen door in their senseless desperation to reach the kitchen light. There were no lights on the porch to attract them, only Will’s Camel which crackled as he pulled on it.
The static and stillness worked against Agnes. She was helpless not to stare at the twin ponds. Their flat, oily surface captured the first quarter moon, which rendered a seemingly true picture of reptilian eyes such as those glinting things in her commode. Those eyes, so charged with evil, refused to quit; their steady, slimy beads drew down on her so that her skin crept and bubbled. At the sound of Will gulping a beer she turned and slowly released the breath she had held back. The beer drinking was a reprieve, but in more than one sense.
Will’s switch to beer signaled an end to his heavy drinking. For three days he had laid up drunk while Agnes bided her time, letting even her understanding steer clear of his destructive path. Will sought to destroy himself. The guilt consuming him was not hers. It was his alone. There was nothing she could do to share its crushing weight. So she continued as she knew Will eventually would. From the chicken feed at dawn to the dog scrapes at night she hadn’t a moment’s rest. It was better that way. Idleness would have set her to thinking. Under such a maddening sky liquor made it harder on Will; fevered him so that he took a shotgun to the buzzards. They soared too high, escaping range without as much as a flutter. Will flung the rifle and stormed back to the porch. “Won’t even come down. Like we ain’t fit for’em.”
Three days was a long time to be idle. The seventeen cows Will bought in the spring needed to be moved to a new pasture; the chicken house needed a new layer of litter, the waterer and feeder need to be cleaned, the light bulbs need to be inspected. The irrigation pipes needed to be fitted between the north pond and the 30 acres of corn. And that was just the more urgent matters. But Will had just walked off leaving an unrepaired fuel line to the tractor on the ground. If not for Coonie the tractor wouldn’t have been ready for tomorrow.
Coonie had called about dinner time two days ago and had stayed the afternoon, fixing not only the tractor but the commode. The only thing Agnes ever asked him was to sit and eat Will’s dinner; and not because she was lonely and in need of conversation. At her table there was always more than anyone could ever eat. Coonie ate as quickly as a bachelor and then went to work seeking no more approval than when he helped himself to more butter beans. While Coonie worked Will drank. His binge was a godsend for Agnes because it gave her something in the here-and-now to worry about.
“Now quit,” said Agnes quietly, looking down on the ponds.
Will clipped a jet of smoke short. “What?”
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking.”
“About what?”
Agnes didn’t have an answer. About the time Will walked off to sit and drink she discovered that behind any comment, no matter how simple or matter-of-fact, resided a question mark. Asked the time she said, “I believe it’s near four …?” That dreadfully silent mark popped up out of nowhere to taunt and bedevil her so that the only thing she was really sure about was that she could be wrong. Chances were that she was wrong. She was wrong to think she was right about David Trollinger, she was wrong to think Will was right about the sheriff. It was wrong to be right. A person wasn’t entitled to be right anymore.
After a time she asked, “You reckon the people what stopped for the funeral cars pulling up long side the road out of respect, and them not even knowing Billy or us … or even them what brought all the food by way of respect to us, you reckon they could kill another?”
Will flicked the butt. “Spect so. It’s got to where it don’t take much.” Will padded the .38 revolver on the ragged seat between them.
“You believe Jesus—There is a Jesus?”
Will folded his hands over the rivulet of hair on his belly and stretched. “Hard tellin’.”
“I don’t believe,” Agnes said flatly.
“In Jesus?”
“In none of it.” After a moment she added, “Leastways not like I done.”
“Just as well. Jesus only get in the way round here.”
Will fell silent as the V-line between his eyes deepened to crags. He had no quarrel with Jesus and fully intended to argue his case on judgment day. For now, though, he carried a flesh-for-blood grudge against—against whom? The local draft board? Andy’s lieutenant? The Pentagon? President Johnson? Nixon? David Trollinger? Sheriff Harris? His deputies? His detectives …? To avenge one son’s death required a target. Will had so many he couldn’t decide where to aim.
Agnes said, “See where the sheriff’s got hisself another murder.”
“That doctor’s daughter,” said Will.
“Paper said she was raped and throwed up long side Leland Jackson’s land.” After a while she said, “Got no clues, paper says.”
“Spect they’ll leave off Trollinger seeing as how Billy ain’t no doctor’s boy.” Will flicked a stick match with his thumb nail and lighted a cigarette. He smoked it half way down.
Agnes said, “Maybe we ought to get a Rockford?”
“The guy on TV?”
“Somebody like ’im …. Maybe? That Rockford’s all the time solvin’ murders.”
“This ain’t no TV. Ain’t no solvin’ going on round here.”
“Got nothing to lose, do we?”
“That’s the truth.”
Agnes glanced back at the ponds and the oily eyes stared back at her. Without Will ever noticing, she took the revolver, aimed it at the snake-eye on the pond and fired. The dimple and then the ripple in the white surface told her she hit it square.
“You aimin’ at that?”
“Yep.”
“Damn. That’s fifty yards or better. You’re not spost to do that with a .38.” He drew on a cigarette. “Good shootin’.”
“It still ain’t dead yet,” she said referring to the snake-eye.

Chapter Six

When the phone rang private detective Boggs was in his Greensburg office on the Tabb Street side which overlooked the new courthouse complex. He had the answering machine on to allow him so quiet time to put together the parts of the night-before. He awoke to find his wife asleep beside him. The moment he raised his head he dropped back as if kicked by a heavy boot. Later he tossed a coin to decide which was worse—the sight of his wife or the hangover. He fumbled the catch, and the quarter fell to the floor. Because of the pressure in his head he couldn’t bend down to see if it was heads or tails. It wasn’t important by then because he had forgotten to whom he had assigned heads.
Boggs rested his forehead in the cool of his palms. He scarcely listened to the caller announce how he wanted a first-rate detective, one as sharp as that “feller Rockford on the television.” Boggs split his fingers covering his eyes and peered at the answering machine. The caller said he wanted him to investigate his son’s murder and left a number. There was a click. No good-byes or thanks. Just a disconnect. After ingesting four aspirins Boggs returned the call.
Will pressed for assurances that Boggs was as capable as Rockford. He drilled all the way down to what kind of car he drove.
“A ’78 Malibu, Landau Coupe.” He added, sensing the caller wasn’t impressed, “A V-8.”
“What, don’t like the Firebird?”
“I’m a big man, Mr. Blake. Be like sitting in my bath tub.”
There was a moment of silence before Blake asked, “You ain’t black, are ya?”
The question confirmed what Boggs already knew: that Blake was from the country because townsfolk would never have the nerve to ask such a question, even though everyone, the Realtors in particular, would sell their souls to be able to ask it.
“Last time I was black was when I slopped tar on roofs for a summer.”
That apparently satisfied Will, who went into the details of Billy’s murder.
Normally Boggs would have balked at a murder investigation since it took too much time and brought in too little cash. But Will’s remarks amused him so he agreed at least to discuss the matter that afternoon.
When Boggs first set eyes on Will, he developed serious reservations. The Blake murder was gruesome enough to capture the front page of The Herald Chronicle for three days. As reliable as the newspaper was, he usually gained better insight around the courthouse. The unofficial word circulating through the corridors of crime and justice was one of bafflement; no clues, no motive, just slaughter. If that wasn’t enough to dissuade him, one look at Will told him he faced a closed door, one bolted from the inside. A different narrative haunted Blake’s wife, a tender story that spoke of considerable injury. She was such a tiny woman. Boggs was helpless before her, before that expression that rose from inside where something unchecked and intractable tormented her. The moment he met her blue eyes he agreed to take the case out of some fool notion of endearment to a look. He was even reluctant to take the $200 retainer which she counted out on the kitchen table. So deliberate was she that he thought the twenties weighted twenty pounds. Will grabbed the cash and thrust the ball toward him, saying, “C’mon I’ll show you.”
When Will stood, Boggs was surprised by his height. The farmer was only an inch or two shorter than his 6’3” frame. The contrast between the two occurred in their weight; Will a wiry 170, and he, a stout 236. Their faces were different too; Will lean and sunburned, and Boggs thick and washed-out. Their attire clashed as well; Will shirtless in overalls and brogans, and the detective in khaki trousers and dress shirt.
They walked down the drive between the ponds, crossed the paved road and tramped into the woods. The click of the cicadas was so forceful it seemed a malefic presence prevailing over the land. Will was far more agile than Boggs in negotiating thickets of pine limbs, spider webs and prickly vines. He stayed a step ahead, mentioning buzzard so often that Boggs assumed he was talking about the killer.
At a glance the case seemed simple enough, requiring Boggs to find that one person. Nine times out of ten a murderer confessed to someone, and with a teenage girl involved finding the confidante seemed that much easier. Boggs staked his less-than prestigious 17 years as a cop and PI that maybe not Trollinger but certainly this Mary Jane Henson had talked to someone, maybe not about the murder but certainly her whereabouts and maybe his on the night of the killing. Somewhere in Dinwoodie County or in Greensburg was a person just as frightened as Henson. All Boggs had to do was pass around some cash, maybe a drink or two, maybe a little reefer, and that person would have a name, then a place and then an appointed time. No, finding that someone wasn’t what made this case difficult. What made it difficult was Will. Boggs had no use for guns, not since a lunatic stripped him of his and fired one shot into his ankle and four shots into his partner’s gut. Guns were for events as big as war, and from the looks of it Will had already made his declaration.
Near the intense light of a clearing Will slammed his arm against Boggs’ chest. “Wait here, Rockford.”
As Will moved off, Boggs objected.”What’re you—“
“And hush.”
With a 30.06 held almost as if a balancing pole, Will crept toward the light, carefully determining where and when to set down or pick up his boots. To Boggs it seemed to take an interminable time before the man reached the border of the field. In the shadows of the tree line, Will settled slowly on his right knee, eased the rifle into position and scanned the brownish field and then the white sky. His whipsaw smiled vanished. “Durn buzzards,” he said to himself and waved for Boggs to come.
As they crossed the field, Boggs was startled to see a dog staked to the ground spread-eagle on its back; the legs had been rent from their joints so they lay flat. Its maggot infested innards oozed out from a belly-slit in its yellow hide. Will walked past it as if it weren’t there baking a stench.
“Yours?” asked Boggs, unable to stop staring.
“Was.”
“What ya kill it for?”
“Buzzards.”
“Got something against them?”
“Actin’ like we’re none too good.” Without warning Will swung the rifle causing Boggs to flinch and duck. Boggs next saw the barrel when it rested on Will’s shoulder.
“Careful now.”
Will’s whipsaw smile emerged. He had never seen anyone quite like Boggs. Everything about the man said big. Despite the great bulk, he looked sturdy. His hands were large enough to palm a pumpkin. His face was wider than the blade of a shovel. Certain features were downright memorable: such as the hunk of a nose that had enough dents to appear chewed or the ears whose lobes crinkled like a leaves of lettuce. What really amused Will was the sweat staining not only the Sunday shirt but the pants along the waist and in the seat.
Squinting, Will said, “Safe’s on.”
“Don’t like guns.” Boggs took out a folded white handkerchief and dried his pocked neck and pitted face.
They walked through a line of trees that served as a wind break and into another field. “That there’s it,” said Will, pointing to the lower end of the field by the road.
As they approached Boggs said, “Ain’t much, is it?”
“Wanted you to see it.”
The only thing Boggs could see with any clarity was the dead dog. He had heard stories of cruelty and abuse, but none ever described killing your pet just to lure buzzards. Had he not set eyes on Agnes and her quiet sorrow, he would have tossed the money down and left. But he had seen her, and he could see her now. Looking at nothing in particular, he said, “Reckon the fire marshal went over it good.” He turned to let his squinting eyes follow the rutted road through the field and a break of pines. “That the only way in?”
“By car.”
“Any houses nearby?”
“Ours.”
“Down the road?”
Will pointed east over a hill with the barrel. “Yonder’s Shine Walker.”
“Nothing in between?”
“The sky.” Sensing a lack of interest in the ruins, he said, “Ain’t ya gonna look around?”
“What might could’ve been here ain’t here now.” Boggs added, “What the fire didn’t get, the law contaminated.” He pointed to the charred recliner ten yards away from the wreckage. “This place has been sifted through, trampled on and tossed about so what evidence might have been here is gone, long gone.”
“What you trying to say?”
“Look, Mr. Blake, I’m going to have to look at the fire marshal’s report and the sheriff’s.”
“Shit …”
Will moved off toward the dirt drive. Boggs fell in behind him. Every so often Will stopped short to survey the relentless sky, causing an unsuspecting Boggs to bump into him. They followed the S of the lane to the hard-surface road. Boggs stopped abruptly, exhaling as if exhausted and moping his face with the handkerchief. After a moment he said, “Ya know, you could use table scraps or bad meat. It would work just as good as anything else.”
Squinting fiercely, the farmer said, “The dog was running ‘um off.”
“Why not tie it up, ‘stead of killing it?”
“You want to see anything else, Mr. Boggs?”
Boggs dried the back of his neck. “Yeah, there any place where a man could park and the car not be seen?”
“None ‘cept for the old wagon road thisaway.”
In the mid-afternoon sun, the burning road almost adhered to their shoes. The heat was a haze of drunken air through which they seemed to wade, not walk. After a quarter of a mile they turned onto a wide path which was soft on the feet and the trees pushed back the spreading sun. In the mottled shade gnats buzzed their ears and lunged for their eyes.
Boggs didn’t need to inspect the foot-tall grass for tire impressions. He was standing in one; the bent-back grass was a clear indication a vehicle had been down this path.
Boggs asked, “Who uses this?”
“Don’t know anyone did.”
“Well, someone drove down here.” He added, “And not too long ago.”
Both men knelt for a closer look. The dry ground dashed Boggs’ hope of lifting a print of the tire tread.
“Judging from the width, I’d say it was a Jeep or a pickup.”
“I’d say so too.” Will added, “Might could be those knobby things the kids like.”
Boggs asked, “You show this to the deputies?”
“Didn’t know to.”
“Bet they didn’t find it.” He stood. “Let’s look around and see what we see?”
Each took a track and inspected the ground, hunched over and parsing the groundcover with sticks.
“Hey, what’s—Well, lookee here.” He picked up a quarter, holding it high for Will to admire.
“What’s it tell us?”
“Someone’s missin’ a quarter.”
They resumed the search. Within a minute Will discovered a square of foil, the kind used in a cigarette hard pack. He smelled it. “Menthol. Don’t women mostly smoke menthols?”
“Shit, I used to smoke’em.”
The tire impressions stopped after fifteen yards. They found nothing else.
“Damn,” said Boggs. “I was sure we’d find a cigarette butt.”
“Doubt there would be, if they had gas cans.”
“You—Don’t ever underestimate the stupidity of a criminal.”
“Ain’t so stupid what the sheriff can find him.”
Boggs looked down the path. “How far back it go?”
“A ways.”
They trekked a half mile finding nothing out of the ordinary, only the simple order of nature making her quitclaim on lost ground.
On the way back Boggs, speaking more for Agnes’ sake, said he planned to set up surveillance on Trollinger’s trailer. “Say it’s—What, about a mile down the road?”
“Better than a mile cuz it’s about a mile past the Store.” He added, “But it ain’t much more than a mile. It’s set off same way Billy’s is and it don’t look much better than Billy’s does now. He rents it … from Milt Allison.”
Boggs nodded. “Well, we know someone was down here, someone who had to know this part of the county because that road ain’t easy to see. And we know this person is a smoker, and—“
“Everybody round here smokes.”
“I just got to get that girl to talk. Where’s she from?”
“Mary Jane Henson?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Ain’t from round here.” He added after a moment, “Far as I know.”
Boggs told him that in a week he should have something positive to report.
At the house Will invited him in for tea. They stepped up on the front porch but found the screen door locked. Will hollered and kicked the baseboard. Agnes plodded down the hall and unfastened the latch.
“Trouble round here?” asked Boggs.
“Naw, she just took to locking everything up.”

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