Harry and Max were in Maine. It had been a quick decision to do some bird watching up in the grand wilderness, but not far removed from Franklin. They'd make it a double-barreled occasion, and would get to Franklin for another visit. Business could get a calling.
They were in the Gray Birches Motel just above Ellsworth, on the southbound side of Route 1 north. It was just after nine o'clock in the morning. It was cold-early. The sounds outside said it was cold-early. Like axes touching. Tongs. Every sound crisp and echoing.
Max the Most slipped out of her sleep, from a dream. It was a slow dream. Exotic in a way, but more of mystery than of sexuality. She listened for the sound of Harry's breathing. It did not come to her. But he was there. On the same plane with her. She could feel his eyes on her body.
"What are you looking at?" she said. Her back was to him. She did not roll over, thinking she ought not to spoil whatever he was at, her gyrfalcon.
"You have this beautiful indentation on your back, running down the length of your spine, like a valley. It's graceful and lovely," he said, "and very erotic. It's like a line on a road map, to who knows where."
"Should I move or not move?" she said.
"Stay the way you are as long as you want, and whatever makes you move, let it make you move."
His finger began to trace down the indentation. His hand went under the blanket, which partly covered her.
"It's a little different come-on than that ruffed grouse we saw yesterday." She said Bonasa umbellus as if it were a dirty word she was playing with. "He was really drumming up business, beating his wings like that, wasn't he?"
His finger continued its likely path, but slower. "I don't think he was doing that for his chick," Harry said. "I think he saves that for the spring romance."
"What was it for then?" She still had not moved.
"He probably got a gander at your boobs. Thought it would be a great place to roost for a while."
She rolled over on his arm that stayed under her, stayed in place. Her breasts jiggled at themselves.
"Are you up to roosting?" she said, "but don't move that other hand."
It was an order of sorts that bedeviled him.
When they were checking out of Number 16, Gray Birches Motel, two men were moving parts of a bed up the porch steps and into the room next door. One man, red-faced, leathery looking, wearing a thin blue jersey and old-time coveralls and a Scottish tam at a jaunty air, looked down at the Massachusetts registration plate on Max's Honda and said, "Leaving us now, are you?"
"Yes," replied Harry Krisman.
"Glad to get rid of you," replied the leathery-faced man hefting his load up another step. He half smiled and said, "Did you have a good time up here?"
"I did until I met you, asshole," Harry Krisman shot back.
Max The Most was smiling even before the leathery-faced man smiled back and said, "What brings you up here in the first place this dead time of October? You're not huntin' I can see." He only casually looked at Max the Most who was standing in the doorway of Number 16. Stunning in her yellow slacks and pale green blouse open at the collar, she looked out-of-country, but Maine-ish for some reason. Hybrid fit her. And she knew full well how some people were apt to talk to folks from away. And Harry, they knew, was from away.
"I'm doing a little investigation up in the Franklin area." Harry Krisman let the edge come off his voice.
"They had some more excitement up there last night," the man said.
"What kind of excitement?" said Harry, looking suddenly alert, past the joking and the banter.
"Feller got hisself shot, he did. Feller by the name of Carlton Evers. He was tendin' farm for a neighbor, from what I hear. Shot with a rifle from outside a winder."
"Plumb dead he was and they don't know for how long either. Appears the oil and the water is gettin' mixed up for you, if'n that's the kind of investigatin' you're at. Wish you the best at it. Don't like no winder shooters like that. Plain would scare the widder right out of town. And we don't want that. Can't afford no widders leavin' town, can we?"
He and his companion went about their business.
Harry went back into the motel room and put a call through to his office number. A message was on the machine from Kell Thorn. "Harry. Clockburn called. Unknown shot the caretaker you know where. I'm on my way up. Starting at seven oh five. Lunch at Audrey's, if you can take it. Say hi to Max."
Harry Krisman and Max The Most had corralled James Wasshaye Clockburn at his home a few miles from the Gray Birches Motel. When they pulled up the long driveway, the retired sheriff of Hancock County was on the wide porch as if ready for work.
"Knowed someone was comin' for me today, Harry. Glad to see it's you. Pleased to meet your lady." He tipped his wide, pearl-gray Stetson. It'd do him in a storm. If winter came in a hurry, he'd be ready for it. Along with the Stetson he wore a large, tan-colored sheepskin jacket, fleeced, with a heavy collar and deep pockets. His pants were still the same green pair with a thin red stripe down the side.
Max the Most got his smile. "You been birdin'? Harry told me a bit 'bout you, and the bird thing." He seemed to have meant That's all he told me.
He carried on as if it were expected of him. "Sheriff Cal Holender's on the job. I called up there this morning. He'll be settin' on us."
Turning to the house just before he got in Max's Honda Prelude, he yelled back to the house. "Mel. Don't hold me lunch. If we're due company, I'll give you a ring."
"How much have you heard, Sheriff?" Max the Most spoke from the rider's seat. She twisted around so she could look directly at the sheriff.
Harry eased the Honda down the driveway
"Cal told me they found a shell, .30-.30, outside the kitchen window. Like who did it did it at close range."
"Like perhaps he couldn't find it when expended because it was dark?" Harry Krisman said, looking at the sheriff in the rear view mirror.
"Or like he left it there for us to find it," the retired sheriff said, holding the Stetson in his lap. "Right beside the wood pile which runs at a right angle to the house, Cal tells me."
"And provides good cover for approach," Harry added. "Whoever did it could practically walk up to the window without being seen.'
"You checked the place out pretty good, son," Jim Clockburn twirled the hat in his hands. He smiled again at Max the Most who had turned around again to look at him. The green of her blouse had parted for the second time. She seemed oblivious of it. Harry wasn't. Neither was the sheriff.
"I looked around a bit," Harry Krisman said. The old sheriff and him were of a like eye in the rear view mirror.
"All his suspicions and his suppositions seem to be at meld, don't they, Maxine? Is that judge friend of yours comin' up this way again? Might as well keep it all in the family. I'll have to tell my nephew Dickie I do like his new friends. Brought somethin' new and old back into my life. Get tired arockin' some days, a body does."
"Judge Thorn said he'd meet us at Audrey's Place for lunch." Max The Most had liberated any uneasiness the sheriff might have harbored. Her smile was dazzling. It made the small ache in his leg go away in a hurry.
"Nobody's perfect," laughed the sheriff. "Judge's made a poor decision. Audrey's most rightly fit for those who carry the local germs. Only if their bacteria count is right. Audrey's okay in her own way, though. Sort of a social service operation she runs. She's awful good to this widower and that widower. Been alone a long time, but not alone, if you can catch that. Good for business too. If you're set for scratchin' backs. You get what business you can up here. There's not a whole lot goin' on at times 'cept shakin' the bones ever' now and then and drinkin' a night away if you've a mind."
Pausing, feeling as if he had done some tattling out of school, he waited a bit before he went on.
"N'other funny thing Cal give me," he continued. "He found two expended shells in the front room of the house. Near a front window. Looks out acrost the road and fields. Not from the same gun. From an old Hawking .44 hangin' on the rack in the front hall. It's hangin' there right now. Was old Greg Maltby's huntin' rifle. I 'member seein' it long time ago. If it's probably the same one. Anyways, the old caretaker was gunned clean through the chest from the backside. Had his back to the window when he got it. Plumb dead on through glass and him and right up against the bricks in the chimney in the kitchen. Bushwhacked, like the television fellers say."
Little traffic rode against them on Route 182 at ten in the morning. The sun beat its hard angle against the growing cold earth of Franklin, Maine. Except for the green push of stretches of pine and fir trees along the road, everything looked acorn brown, and getting numb. The crows were still noisy, rode the gray air like mercenaries, and threw shadows against the sky.
At Audrey's Place a half dozen vehicles were parked in front. One was a TV van, one was a county police car, the others were pick-up trucks almost beaten to within an inch of their lives. Doors and fenders were often not the same color of the chassis of the vehicle. Much of Maine's transportation, it could be seen, was grabbed on the run, patched together with parts of those vehicles that had dropped out on the way by.
Harry Krisman drove on past Audrey's Place to the Maltby farmhouse and went up the driveway. A county sheriff's car was parked beside the barn. An old black Ford was parked behind the barn. Harry surmised it was older than half the people of Franklin, the lines rugged, the steel of it thicker than new cars.
A slim, good looking man in uniform came out of the house. His Stetson was just like Jim Clockburn's. Appearing to be about thirty-eight or forty and in decent shape, he had long arms where leather traces might find the proper strain.
Waving a hand at Jim Clockburn he said, "Howdy, Sheriff. Brought your friends along I see." He shook hands with Harry Krisman and Max the Most as Jim Clockburn made the introductions.
"Thing about this, Cal, is Harry here is convinced this shootin' from a bushwhacker and the murder of the old Professor George Hinckler, away there at the college in Massachusetts, are both connected to that old hit and run 'bout fifteen years ago that got Miriam Maltby. Only she was married to the professor then. Miriam Hinckler."
They discussed the shells he'd found and they looked at the body. Max refused to stay in the car.
"If all this gets back to finding who killed Professor Hinckler, I want to be part of it. I'm sure each of you is going to do his part, but I'm the one who put Harry up to all of this. He's dug up a lot already. I'm sure he'll get more."
She threw a most gracious smile at Sheriff Cal Holender and former Sheriff Jim Clockburn, but Harry Krisman thought the look she gave him burned kindred through his soul.
"Where you from originally, Miss Humdroph?" Cal Holender asked.
They were standing in the front hall of the old Maltby farmhouse. Max the Most was measuring the energies that had passed through the rooms of the house and up and down the stairs. The bustle and the bristle and the doing came at her from where they were now long quiet. She was in half repose when the sheriff had spoken to her, and in the grip of sadness. She knew how much had passed through the house.
"I'm from Wallagrass, up the road from Eagle Lake."
"That's 'bout as fer as you kin go, ain't it?" The twinkle was in Jim Clockburn's eyes. It was the same twinkle that had been in the eye of the man moving the bed at the motel.
"You're right, Sheriff. A ways there's Fort Kent. And then you're gone."
"That makes you real country, Miss Humdroph," Sheriff Holender said. "Real country."
"A real Mainiac, Sheriff? Sometimes, like now," and she gestured to all that had gone on about the farmhouse, "it makes me kind of sad. I was fond of George Hinckler. I didn't know his wife. I didn't know the man who was killed here. But anything that can be done to get whoever did all this, will make me grateful forever."
For a moment she was a Down East girl saddened by loss and the passage of time, then she was for moments a cosmopolitan lady in her sexy, yellow, butt-packed slacks and the equally packed green blouse. When she moved, she moved sensually, and everything about her was all so quick and evident.
It was eleven thirty-five, and a horn tooted. The Bentley came up the driveway crunching on the stones and the gravel. Judge Kell Thorn slid out of the car as much alien and from the outside as one could imagine. He was dressed well and neatly, a bit overdone, but hardly warm enough. With his black cape swung over his shoulders, he looked like a young Raymond Burr playing a young Perry Mason. He was, as they said, definitely from away.
Jim Clockburn made the introduction to Sheriff Holender. The two men shook hands, sizing each other up.
Old-time honesty surfaced and was read. Harry saw it and decided he liked the younger sheriff.
They all went into the house through the side door, which lead them into the kitchen. The chalked outline of Carlton Evers' last position was drawn on the floor of the kitchen. A yellow circle of chalk was scribed on the brickwork of the chimney rising behind the old Clarion stove.
The retired sheriff turned to Kell Thorn and said, "If you 'bide to wear your city street clothes up here, Judge, you're goin' to freeze your little round things so small you'll never find them again. That's the worst warnin' I can cut acrost to you. If it don't do, you won't git done, simple as that."
They all laughed, including Max the Most.
Then Kell Thorn said, "I had a visit with your student, Maxine. David's feeling low, as you can expect." He explained to the old and new about young Crestwood. "They're going to proceed with the indictment. I told him all they have, which seems a fair amount, is nevertheless clearly circumstantial." He paused a moment and then said, "I picked up a few odd points, Harry, but I don't know where they're going."
"What's that, Judge?"
"A little digging and I found both David and Professor Hinckler were color blind."
Max the Most jumped in. "That's one of the reasons he only drove up here three times a year, and hardly any at all back home. He was really concerned with the traffic light situation."
"It did lead me to something else, Maxine, and this, I'm sorry to say, is going to bother you. It bothered me. Still does."
"What's that, Judge."
"I studied the rank books we took out of the prof's office. Every entry is made with the same color ink, except two. Two entries are made with green ink. Every other mark in the three years is in blue ink."
"Which takes you where, Judge?" Harry asked.
"The two entries were marks for David Crestwood. A close eye can tell you that the marks were changed. One C to a B, one B to an A."
"I can't believe that." Max The Most had her hands on her hips. "It sounds as if you're saying our honor student, my honor student, is a cheat. A plain old cheat."
"No doubts about it, Kell?" Harry's voice did not carry the question with any authority in it.
"None at all. I'm sure of it. And the old prof, unless he was looking for it, would never have seen the difference. Not in a hundred years."
"Which tells us that he had reason for not giving us an alibi," Harry had pursed his lips. "He couldn't. While he was gaining entry to the prof's office, and doing the dirty deed on the rank book, our erstwhile honor student, the prof was down the hall getting his ass whacked good and proper."
He turned to look directly at Max the Most. "Is something in this out of order, Max?"
"You're right, Harry. The rank books were one of the professor's idiosyncrasies. He'd kept rank books forever and couldn't get away from them. As much as he believed in the computer, as much a tool as he knew it had become, he still kept his rank books. I can recall him saying one time, today's students are so smart they can crack computer codes if they are industrious enough. He just wouldn't put all his eggs in one basket."
"So he had a back-up or parallel system standing by, and if you wanted to tamper with it, you had to pick the lock on the door to his office or shinny up three flights on the outside of the building."
"Which is a lot easier, it appears," both sheriffs said in unison.
"No," Max The Most vouched. "Whoever changed the rank books would have to break into the computer also. It is not unknown, you know. It's been done."
"We have cheats in all walks of life, Maxine," Judge Kell Thorn said, the authority coming through in his voice. "And murderers too, as I have heard. Who's going to walk me through this, just so I can say I'm up to speed."
Sheriff Cal Holender took him by the arm and lead him to the front of the house. It wasn't the blind leading the blind by any means, thought Harry Krisman; they'd come away with something.
Max the Most said she wanted to look around the entire house.
Harry took her into the hallway. The rack where the Hawking rifle had been cradled for years was empty. It was on its way to the lab. The stairs leading to the second floor beckoned. She climbed the stairs, Harry right behind her.
There were four bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. On a bureau in the largest bedroom was another copy of Miriam Hinckler's picture, with the same inscription. An Afghan of a hundred or more pieces covered the bed. Most of the pieces were shades of blue. They made the room sad and cool. Two small scatter rugs touched each other beside the bed. Heels of a pair of slippers showed under the edge of the Afghan.
A dormer, cut into the slanting roof, had one window in it. A white shade was halfway drawn. The window looked out across the fields, a small piece of the swampy area, and up the inclined land running off to the south. A window seat in front of the window had pillows on it with the same blue theme as the Afghan.
Max the Most looked at the bed and then at Harry. "They must have cemented a lot of their life right here, Harry. I feel like I know her. The room purrs with her. I bet he felt it every time he was up here."
She started to shake for no apparent reason. Harry held her.
"He was so good to me, Harry. So good I want you to do me a favor."
She looked him in they eye. "When you get him, whoever did it," she said, "string him up where it's going to hurt him the most."
Harry Krisman flinched, and then nodded.
Downstairs, Kell Thorn and Sheriff Holender stood by the front window where the Hawking shell cases were found.
The sheriff said, "We'll check the rifle to see if these shells match, and I'm sure they will." He looked at the judge, as if giving him an opening.
Kell Thorn said, "And check the victim's hands to see if he's fired a rifle recently."
"We have a note to do that. Now let's see if you and I can put together some kind of scenario of what went on here, Judge. How do you line it up?"
The two men looked out the window, out across the acorn-colored land. The judge thought the whole countryside was a shade off freezing. The sheriff saw winter being held off by the clutch of autumn.
"Think he could have been shooting at a deer or some other animal?" the judge asked. "We don't know when the shots were fired, do we?"
"Truth is we don't. Might never know. Could be he was taking shots at a deer. Got a good line of sight from here. But it doesn't go with the man from what I've put together from others and what I've known of him over the years. There was a mightsome bit of respect in him for laws and rules and regulations. Not that he wouldn't jack a deer now and then. Hell, we've all had venison staple much of our lives. Nothing new to that."
Kell Thorn tossed his cape over the arm of a big easy chair. "If he wasn't shooting at a deer, and he wasn't at target practice, which we'll strike out because it would be plain stupid to shoot across the road with all the room around here, then he was aiming at something. If he was aiming at something, it had to be human. If it was human, it either had to be in error, had to be to kill, or had to be a warning. There's a ton of options. Do you think the man was a killer?"
"Absolutely not," Sheriff Holender nodded firmly. There was no question in his mind. His face said the same thing.
"He was not defending himself in any way?"
"From what? I don't think he thought someone would walk up to within twenty or so feet and put a bullet through a window at him. It just doesn't happen up here. I don't think, if he was alive now, he'd expect it any more than he did then." The sheriff kept shaking his head.
"Just think of what we have, Sheriff," Kell Thorn said. "In this quiet little town we now have two unanswered deaths in fifteen or so years, and another death, from away as you say, and quite macabre to say the least, that is definitely linked to the deaths up here. We have husband, wife, caretaker, all dead. We have hit and run. We have unbounded savagery with a knife. We have a cold-blooded murderer who walks up to within twenty feet or so of a man who obviously has not done anybody any harm and puts a rifle slug right through his heart."
He leveled his best young Perry Mason eyes at the sheriff.
"You saying we got a serial killer up here in Franklin, Judge?"
"Not only that, Sheriff. We have a serial killer who gets around. A killer who can track a man from up here to a gents' room in Bandley College four hours away in Waltham, Massachusetts. Four hours if he pushes it!"
James Wasshaye Clockburn, standing alone in the kitchen while the others went about their work, kept staring out the window. His mind kept buzzing on him. Loudly it carried on, like an insect caught in a bottle. Pieces of intelligence came and went. They were like flags or pennants run up and down a pole. Sometimes the wind hit them. Sometimes not. Ideas came loaded, then fell away. He thought about Alzheimer's Disease. He knew it was not the first time. Things were being forgotten. He used to be able to do the crosswords and the cryptoquotes and the jumble puzzles in the paper so easily. Now that ease went out the window.
Things, he thought, were hard to come by. It was more than words.
He had lined up the mark on the chimney and the grazed bullet mark on the mullion of the window. It went to a spot some twenty-two feet out along the woodpile. It was where a man would have to have been kneeling to get the shot off.
He noted the woodpile closing against the second of the Maltby barns, the one with the SCHOOLHOUSE sign on it. The left side of the barn had a break in the trees, and the horizon out over a nearby sandpit was pale blue, clear, unobstructed. The area to the right of the barn was thick with pines and shrubs. It was dense enough that a small herd of animals could hide in it. The growth, circling the house in a great arc, swung all the way around to where it intersected the edge of Route 182, some one hundred and fifty feet to the west of the house was hunter's cover, he thought. It was killer's cover, he knew. He'd been too long at the game not to think about it. The cover was almost complete. If someone, even now as he was looking out there, were to pass through, he might not be able to see a movement. Come and go, they could. As you please, they could. With a rifle, they could. Intent on murder, they could. And get clean away, they could.
For the time being anyway.
It came on him quick as the green-apple-quick-step, the bile in his gut, the awful taste in his mouth, the plaintive roll in his stomach.
"I'll bust your ass, boy, soon as I learn your name," he promised himself, he promised J Troop, he promised the whole world in no particular order. Then, as if it were due him, he thought of Miriam Maltby one night a long time ago. She'd been in white, all the way through. They'd been in the meadow. Her hair had been as black as a bat at midnight. He remembered the sounds caught in her throat. She had a way of saying nothing that a man could remember an awful long time.
He put his Stetson on the kitchen table. It was pearl gray and clean and shaped by a sculptor, the crease in its crown as permanent as stone. It carried no feathers, no knots, no pins. The band was a plain and simple blackness that had no end. He sighted down over the crease in the crown with his index finger. He lined it up with a spot about twenty-two feet out along the lengthy woodpile.
"Bang!" he said. He blew the dreamy smoke off the top of his finger. "Gotcha!"
Harland Grovers strolled into Audrey's Place about two-thirty in the afternoon. It was that same Thursday and colder than it had been a day earlier, a socked down cold that was coming across the face of Maine. It had body to it. Pinch a mouth it could in a hurry.
Harland's face was red and the beer smell of his breath reached across the room. A green Dunham Shoe hat, plain out worse for the wear, tilted on his head, but was not worn rakishly. The logo was barely legible across the front of the cap. Things that had any life left in them, or any use, were not let go easily.
Audrey Lightizer scanned him from fifteen feet away. He was past the wine, she thought. He was past an invitation. He was past bathing.
Walking in behind him came Merchant Blore. His nose was red. His eyes were red. The bell over the top of the door continued to jingle for a while.
As he often did, Merchant wore his jacket practically open all the way, as if he had a thing against buttons or zippers. A black mass of chest hair showed over the frazzled top of a definitely off-white undershirt that was closing fast on unnatural gray.
"Some days it don't friggin' pay to git up!" Audrey Lightizer talked to no one in particular. Least of all to her two customers.
A piece of the cold day had come into the store with the men and danced across the room to touch at Audrey behind the counter.
She shivered in her sweater.
Harland turned to Merchant, just standing inside the door, and said, "Outta spit agin, Merchant? Y'oughtta buy yerself a cuspidor and name your own brand. Heap a savin' to it."
He turned and threw a smile at Audrey and waited for no response.
"I swear, Harlan"," Merchant Blore said, his lips bluish, "someone'll have yer ass in a store window before yer in yer grave. Might just get yer to hollerin' some."
Merchant Blore was about the seediest man Audrey Lightizer had ever seen come into her place of business. This day he was plain all out dirty from top to bottom. Not the kind of dirt you get from honest labor, like logging deep in the woods or weeding the potatoes, or sweeping down the barn and such. It was like dirt growth had sprung on him, taking him for its own. Like all-out homegrown mold, at whatever name you'd give it. Scaly and scabrous all at once, he might just have come up from a long stay in a root cellar. The red and black lumberjack shirt was littered with stains, and was buttoned wrong to begin with, with only the single button hooked up. It made Merchant Blore all atilt.
And white particles of food, hanging on his beard, miniature ornaments on a small Christmas tree, looked like week-old breadcrumbs.
She suddenly realized, in contrast, how attractive Harland Grovers really was and she smiled at Harland. She could fair feel his thrust. He did have outlandish energy that was for sure.
"Them's threatenin' words, Merchant, from a man too long adrift from water," Harland Grovers said. At the spout of his own words he began to chuckle. He looked down at himself and saw that his pants and shirt were half decently clean. At measurements he was. Holding his hands out in front of him, so that Audrey could see, he added, "Got my nails plumb clean t'day. Got a good ol' rasp out'n the tool box and unplugged the good earth been buried there six weeks to Sunday. Did a little celebratin' at it too!"
His voice had risen and he knew the beer was at his tongue. It didn't really matter with this audience, he thought. The one didn't care and the other would soon forget.
"What the hell, Merchant," he said a little louder, "this is dead man's country anyways. Never knows what's gonna hit you from yon winder. Or where it might come from, being so dark out there it appears. My mother, rest her pore soul, always said to be ready for your Maker and have clean drawers on, case'n someone else's lookin' on."
He furled his brow under the Dunham Shoe cap. " Might's well as live it up. Ain't that right, Aud?"
He swung around on the stool and looked at her.
She smelled the beer, but he was decently clean, she decided again. His weight was recalled, the full length of it, and the way of his rough hands, like Number 2 sandpaper, when and where it counted.
When Harland turned away from Merchant Blore, she saw a strange look pass across Merchant's face. It was a sort of concession she'd not seen before in the man. It was a concession she had not seen in him even when he was a child and they were in school together. Behind the beard and behind the dark eyes, he was suddenly passive.
Merchant Blore might have gotten off his angry horse. Sometimes he rode that horse into the very ground.
He simply said, "Perhaps yore right, Harlan'. Perhaps yore right."
Without buying a cigar or a package of cigarettes, he turned and walked out of the store. Behind him the bell over the door tingled its notes.
Audrey decided the sound of the bell was sad, and a bit final.
Harland took her out of a minute reverie.
"You got wine left over, Aud?" he said, leaning forward over the counter. His smile was full of teeth. On the countertop his hands were large and the fingernails were clean. With his head tilted forward, he looked at her through his dark eyebrows. They were moons coming through the limbs of trees when the leaves had gone.
She fixed her hair with a half-hearted sweep of one hand. The move swelled one large breast so that it spilled hard against the buttons of her blouse. Time has enough trouble with today, she said to herself.
"I shore do, Harlan'," she said, "I got enough for a binge. Now what do you think's goin' on with Merchant? He's never gone off and plumb forgot his cigar and smokes like that. I swear, if that ain't adifferent with him, why I'm a friggin' virgin."
"Somethin' shore different 'bout Merchant then, Aud," he laughed. "Shore different."
They laughed together as Merchant Blore drove off on Route 182 in his four or five-tone Chevie pick-up truck with some of the same load of hay it had in it way back at the head end of August. Even some of the cream-colored primer, long a part of its finish, was falling away from minor but older repairs about the body of the truck.
That evening, at the Gray Birches Motel, Max the Most was in pale green pajamas. They were elegant in taste, as she had said to herself, and elegant against the skin. She knew she could be wanton in a moment's breath, if it were breathed properly. Propped up against two pillows and the headboard of the bed, the laptop computer sent its hazy blue glare back at her lovely eyes.
Harry Krisman, at the small desk, pored over details of the Hinckler case. Lamplight glowed on his skin. He wore only a pair of pajama bottoms. They were plaid, predominantly gray-green. He had very little body hair on his chest.
Max the Most said, "If I can butt in for a few minutes, Gyrfalcon, I'll give you a run-down on what we saw over in New Brunswick on the last two trips. I just can't believe the list has grown so much. I knew, the minute I laid eyes on you outside my office, that you would bring me new places and new things."
She touched the collar of her pajama top and flipped it saucily.
"It was mutual, love, all the way around." He sat back in his chair, trying to look comfortable.
"Well, that trip down to First Eel River Lake was a bounty, and that run up to see the covered bridge at Hartland was too. Going through Lakeville and Centerville, out there in the open potato country, was an added boost. And that absolutely gorgeous ride all along the St. John's going toward the ferry. We came away with a junco, sandhill crane, rough-legged hawk, yellow-rumped warbler, Harlequin duck, yellow-tailed flicker, blue heron, immature black-crowned night heron, black poll warbler, belted kingfisher, lesser yellow legs, evening grosbeak, marsh hawk, bald eagle, catbird, cedar waxwing, kingfisher, pure white mourning dove, ovenbird, thrush, chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, flicker, Swainson's thrush, mockingbird, northern cardinal, Canada goose, northern bobwhite, brown thrasher, house finch, northern oriole, common yellowthroat, greater shearwater, storm-petrel, puffin, razorbill, Arctic tern, savanna sparrow, Bohemian waxwing, northern flicker woodpecker, palm warbler, common snipe, great crested flycatcher, ruffed grouse, white-throated sparrow, boreal chickadee, American redstart, gold finch, tree swallow, blue-wing teal, pied-billed grebe, sandpiper, swan, turkey vulture, American bittern, peregrine falcon, great egret, eastern bluebird, semi-palmated plover, American woodcock, marbled godwit, magnolia warbler, vireo, piping plover, ruby-throated hummingbird, downy woodpecker, black-and-white warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, chipping sparrow, sora, northern water thrush, Segg wren, Gray jay, red-breasted grosbeak, black-throated green warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, northern parula warbler, and the plaintive, lonesome-calling loons that share First Eel River Lake right out there in front of Anna Galavan's cabin."
In one breath she might have said all the names, her face colorful, her eyes lit.
She paused. He knew an announcement was at hand. It was the tone of her voice, the slight catch in her throat. She was lovely and readable. She hid nothing. That was one of the remarkable things about her. The lamplight on her face fell on lovely territory, on a country of his own. He could see the computer screen's gray-blue film in her eyes. God, how he loved this country girl in the land of opportunity, in the high-tech glare of a computer bird-sight listing. This, he thought, was not an aberration by any means.
He tasted the goodness of the earth.
"My Latin is gone for the night," he said.
She ignored the remark. "The one night at that lake was so remedial for people who have nothing wrong in their lives, except unsolved murder cases."
She tittered. The titter was muffled in her throat. It was warm and full of understanding.
"Tell me the Bay State sightings of the last few weeks you have locked up in your little machine. If the birds knew things have gotten so technical they might revolt or go on a long migration and not come back."
"What they don't know, Gyrfalcon, won't hurt them. And sometime, when everything else in our lives is just as perfect, I want to go to Africa to see all the birds there, and then I want to sit at the end of the Mediterranean, on the hot sands, and watch the migration paths at the right time of the year. I think it would be thrilling to see another major route."
She shrugged her shoulders and punched up a new listing on the screen, the Bay State listing.
"Immature scissor-tailed flycatcher, eared grebe, horned grebe, red-necked grebe, American white pelican, cattle egret, red-headed woodpecker, tree swallow, lark sparrow, Northern gannet, harlequin duck, black-legged kittiwake, dovekie, razorbill, black guillemot, fox sparrow, dickcissel, pine siskin, yellow-bellied sapsucker, bald eagle, ruddy duck, American coot, brant, winter wren, long-eared owl, snowy owl, Northern saw-whet owl, boreal owl, bufflehead, double-crested cormorant, purple finch, Northern goshawk, pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, American widgeon, black scooter, ruddy duck, snow goose, green-winged teal, wood duck, old-squaw, ring-necked duck, hooded merganser, common merganser, common loon, Iceland gull, Northern pintail, gadwall, killdeer, Bonaparte's gull, lesser black-backed gull."
She paused to catch her breath.
"Is that in alphabetical order, Max, or would the Latin order, family, genus or species cover them A to Z?" he said.
"If you were to breathe right," she said, "you might get to nesting in the middle of this migratory scene." She flipped the edge of the blanket that lay across her thighs.
He pretended a poor imitation of a bird call.
On the following morning, her lap top computer put away in its case, his little book of crime facts out of sight, still at the Gray Birches Motel on Route 1, Max the Most and Harry Krisman listened to the song and chatter of birds. They heard the put-on tones of a cardinal that called from high above them in a clutch of branches. A dozen crows screeched. They sounded black and hungry and angry. Over or under the din some unidentifiable songs came winging their way.
They listened intently.
There was a music around them. It was not cataclysmic, but it had extension.
It caught at Max. She was reading a large book on birds, their habits, their worlds, their migratory patterns, their food sources. Opened, it stood tall on her stomach as she lay on her side of the bed. Not too successfully, she was wearing the silky light green pajama top. And no bottoms.
Harry, lying beside her, his head also propped on a pillow, pretended to read the book over her shoulder. In that vein her wearing of the pale green pajama top was successful.
"That almost-laughing call we hear, Harry, is a woodpecker. But I'm not sure which one. Some of them hang around all year and some cut out for the nicer climes."
"It might be the red-headed woodpecker," he said, "Melanerpes erythrocephalus. If there's enough mast around, they'll hang around. Otherwise they might take off on weekend trips. I've heard him before. Could be him."
"Just hanging around for the goodies?" she said, and a smile crossed her face. She scrunched down in the bed and turned to face him.
"Can't blame him for that, can we." Her eyes were enormous. Her lips were bright red. The redness counted. They both knew it, that she continued to send him signals. Her hand moved, under the blanket, slowly. It was all magic, the subtle, the direct, their being together.
Even murder could bring them to this.
Overhead a woodpecker continued to call out a laughing call. Then they heard the high, distant rapping-knocking at wood, as if a small drum was being beaten, a message being sent. There was a quick hollow ring to the sound. It seemed cloud-high, away.
They were drifting.
The other sound was heavy and almost on top of them. Another bang came at them. It came from the door. James Wasshaye Clockburn's voice hammered at them.
"Hate to disturb you folks, but we got us another killin' down in Franklin. Obliged you come along, Harry. I'll set on you out here in the car."
Then he added, almost apologetically but not quite, "Mornin', Maxine. Hope the birds didn't waken you."
His voice was full of intelligence.
Harry promised Max the Most he'd be back to get her before noon as he left the room. He'd leave the car. Down under the covers she slipped. She thought she could still hear the music of the birds.
The pale green pajama bottoms were still on the chair beside the bed.
She smiled at the sight of them. Or at their displacement.
Jim Clockburn's black Blazer cut down out of the parking area and sped north. He had his neat gray Stetson on, the heavy fleece-lined jacket, the green pants with a red stripe down the legs.
"You be warm enough, Harry?" he said, noting Harry's Celtic jacket. The jacket was too thin and too shiny for anything due north of Kittery.
"I've got a sweat shirt on, my socks are dry, and I'm wearing a hat," said Harry. Then he told the old sheriff what an old scoutmaster from years back had advised him of concerning survival, and had continuously pointed out to the troop: If you want to keep your feet warm, wear a hat. He adjusted his visored Red Sox cap as if the Pole could be taken.
Clockburn smiled at him in the rear view mirror. His teeth were large and mostly white and were fairly even. Harry wondered if they were dentures.
"Sounds like the old boy knew what he was at," Jim Clockburn said. And he nodded and continued, "Cal Holender called me just b'fore Melba was puttin' out breakfast. Feller got shot in his doorway only couple of miles from where we were at the Maltby place the other day. Maybe two miles from Audrey's Place. One of her regular customers, both ways if you know what I mean. Harland Grovers. Lived alone. Had a piece of land in the family since Washington coulda slept here. Shot with a rifle at close range. Right through the chest and it went right on through his house and wound up in a small pantry door."
"No witnesses? Nobody hear a shot? No suspicions?" said Harry, feeling quickly uncomfortable that things were going to fall into the same kind of place much too early.
"Like b'fore, with Carlton Evers at the Maltby place." Jim Clockburn's eyes were wide. "Nothin' heard. Nothin' seen. And you and the judge both said somethin' about a serial killer on the loose in good ol' Franklin and down at the college."
"He have any enemies, Sheriff? Any spats or long drawn out festerings with him and any neighbor?"
"Nothin' out'n the ordinary, Harry. He could poke a mean bit o' fun now and then, and rile the airs somewhat, but hell, most folks down here kin do that without really tryin'. Comes with the territory. Comes with the long winter. Comes with the long roads between straight talkin' some times. Comes with the land and bein' a survivor on it. Hell, it comes outta rock and gravel pits and a country dotted with dead cars leadin' right up to some front doors 's'if they was put out to get you home."
The Blazer rolled into the parking area at Audrey's Place. Jim Clockburn pointed at the parking area. Part way to the landscape death he had spoken of, a few of the four- or five-toned pick-up trucks sat in the parking area not knowing they were dying.
"Uh huh," he muttered, in a kind of self-effacement, and then said, "best to bring some of Audrey's coffee up to the boys at Harlan's place. Besides, I got to say some words to her b'fore I go on by. Step in with me. We can errand together."
Audrey Lightizer was a more unsightly than ever. Her eyes were red and her face was pinched-pink and if she had little desire to dress well previously, even that little had now disappeared. She could have spent the night in a mow or in the sleeper of an eighteen wheeler. It mostly her eyes which said otherwise.
She looked up at Sheriff Clockburn as he entered the store.
"You get thet sonofabitch, Sheriff, and I'll shoot him where it's gonna do the most good, right down there 'tween the little round things."
"I'm real sorry, Aud," Jim Clockburn put his hand out. "Harlan' was a good ol' boy and I know you'll miss him. Come here a long time he did after his lady went. That's two ol' friends of yours in a short time, Aud. Don't feel right, does it, to lose them so close together?"
"Expectin' it to be more, Sheriff," said Audrey. Her voice was hard and steely in its delivery. And carried a lot of cold determination.
"Why's that, Aud?"
"Well, I expect the one did it both times comes in here too. That'll be three, if'n there's no more 'tween now and when you catch him."
She walked off shaking her head.
"You be takin' coffee up there to Cal and the boys?" She was speaking from the back of the room.
Harry Krisman could hear her pouring coffee even before the sheriff answered her.
A cardboard tray with half a dozen cups with plastic covers was put on the counter. She added packets of sugar and creamer, pushed it at the sheriff and waved off the costs. "Jest get the sonofabitch, Sheriff."
In the car Jim Clockburn said, "Don't bother tryin' to smell the coffee, Harry. She puts more body in it than aroma, that's for sure. She's spent a lot of time on the river and in the huntin' lodges makin' coffee that was as much food as it was drink. I suspect she's kept some bodies alive in her time.'
"She keep Harland Grovers happy, Sheriff?"
"Kept him civil, if nothin' else," the sheriff replied, as he turned the Blazer into a long looping driveway leading to Harland Grovers' home.
Harry took in the sights as the Blazer moved along. A split rail fence lined the way on one side of the driveway. Dead viny tendrils still clung to the rails in places. They looked like spider webs or cracks in old china or cracks in a sheet of ice. An old pick-up truck with no body on the rack, but headed with a small plow blade set up on a log, was parked under a large, double-trunk maple tree. The tree had enormously long limbs. From one of the limbs a chain-fall and four lines of rope hung limp and idle over the closed hood of the truck.
It might have been lunchtime frozen in a scene.
Harry Krisman felt the immediate passage of energy. The demand for energy. The necessity of energy. He could also sense the draining away of something formidable, but very mortal.
The house was a small cape with unpainted shingles and a heavy red stain for trim color. The house appeared to be two or three different shades of brown where shade and sun fell apart. Two county sheriff cars were parked beside the house. A hound of unknown breeding lay beside the side door. His head drooped sadly over his forepaws, his eyes large and brown, his ears big, his tail still. The front door, with a board nailed across the face of it, had no steps rising from the ground level. Near the front door, on a patch of grass, was an obviously ancient piece of farm equipment that had long since gone to rust. It looked as if it had grown right up out of the ground.
Sheriff Cal Holender and a Hancock County deputy came to the side door of the house.
"Knew Audrey wouldn't let you forget us," Sheriff Holender said looking at the tray with coffee cups on it. He nodded to Harry Krisman and said, "We're getting to be kind of regular, Harry. It's the good and the bad news at seeing you again." He nodded them into the house. "C'mon in and see the scene."
Harland Grovers was on his back on the floor with his feet about three feet into his kitchen from the door. He was wearing a blue denim shirt with a hole right where his heart was. Not much blood visible at first sight. His dungarees, faded and worn, were clean. He had no shoes on, but was wearing a pair of thick gray socks. A dog's pan and a dish sat in one corner of the room. They were empty. In front of a white and black stove was a scatter rug of unknown original colors. The room was cool. The small kitchen table, with three chairs drawn up to it, was clear except for one empty No.10 can with a corn label on it.
Cal Holender pointed to the can and said, "We found it beside the door. We're going to check it for prints."
"How's that, Cal?" Jim Clockburn said.
"Might be, Sheriff, that that's how the killer got old Harland to open the door to get himself shot. Might have been heaved to make a noise. If he was standing in the door when he got hit, and there's no reason to think he wasn't, then the one who shot him was standing right there beside the barn."
He pointed at the edge of the barn. "You can line up the slug in the door of that pantry over there and poor Harland's bullet hole about this high," and he held his hand out at that level, "and it lines up right out there."
Harry Krisman said, "Have you checked for spent shells yet, Sheriff, because I'm betting you'll find the one that belongs to the slug in that door."
"What brings that on, Harry?" Cal Holender was more than puzzled at Harry's words.
"I just think he wants us to find it. Like he wanted us to find the one that killed Carlton Evers. Took no trouble in picking up the spent shells. And that means the rifle or rifles that fired the slugs might never be found. Perhaps disposed of forever."
"To what end, Harry?" Jim Clockburn said.
Might be the killer had a rifle, used the rifle, got rid of the rifle, still has a rifle on hand, like he always had one on hand."
"Displacement," Cal Holender said.
"How would you get rid of a rifle, Harry?" Jim Clockburn's eyes were not as puzzled as Sheriff Holender's a bit earlier.
"Why, I'd just bury it," Harry Krisman said. "You could bury a rifle up here in Hancock County only six inches down and it might not show up for a hundred years, if then."
"Can I speak a piece, Cal?" Jim Clockburn's Stetson was tilted on his head.
"C'mon, Jim, don't get too formal on me now. What's on your mind?"
"I just think that we ought to lock ourselves up somewheres tonight with a few beers and talk our way through this thing. Somethin's right on top of us and we ain't seen it yet, I'm willin' to wager."
"And your place is available, I bet, Jim?"
"And I got the beer too," The old sheriff smiled his answer. "Can you stay around, Harry?"
Harry Krisman said, "I think that's a good idea. I have to send Max on her way because she has classes to take care of. But the judge is coming back today, I'm sure. He'd be happy to join us."
"Be damn glad to have him," Cal Holender said. "That is, if we can catch up to him.
"Ain't that boy got a nose on him!"
The old sheriff had made a pronouncement worth its salt.
Just before noontime, at the Gray Birches Motel, Harry got out of Jim Clockburn's Blazer he was driving.
Max the Most waved to him from the office doorway, her driving Levi's snugged against her long legs. She was wearing tan boat shoes and a short tan jacket that tucked in at her hips. A dark blue cap with a visor tipped on her head. She looked formidable and mortal and lovely, and Harry Krisman felt the surge of time. And its demand.
"I was going to put your bags in here until you got back. I didn't think for a moment you'd be going back with me."
She looked at her watch. There was a way with her in every thing she did, and the simple movement caught at him. Now she looked like she was studying a coin. Was it her wrist that demanded attention? He was not sure. Again she had warmed him.
"I do have to be back by five. I was going off and leaving you, Gyrfalcon, to your wiles and your ways. Which reminds me," she added, "the custodian of the golf course heard about our second hobby and volunteered to show me something."
Her eyes lit up for the briefest moment. "He pointed out a square hole, about four inches wide, in a tree over by the fifth tee. He said if we waited a bit we'd get to see a pileated woodpecker, Drycopus pileatus. And would you believe it, he showed up like clockwork. Four-claws on his black black feet, and red-headed so much it reminded me of Woody Woodpecker. It was a nice gesture on the man's part. His name is Robert Skrudland. You'd like him."
She stopped talking for a moment, looked at Harry and said, "You look like your attention span has been drained. What's happening?" Her face was intent on his answer, her eyes deepening in color.
He told her at length about Harland Grovers' death, the skull meeting planned for the evening. She filled him in on her morning. Six more sightings, including the pileated woodpecker, were now on her computer. The blueberry pancakes at the motel were excellent, which he ought to try; the coffee was tolerable, which he ought to pass; the conversation interesting, if he could gin any up. She had missed him terribly, by the way. "But not necessarily in that ardor," she finished.
Sometimes she tickled him so much it could make him scream.
He helped her load her luggage into the Honda and kissed her goodbye.
Edging out on Route 1 southbound, she caught him for a split second in the rearview mirror, threw him an unseen kiss, and headed toward Ellsworth. She was driving her own car, alone, to her own apartment in Waltham, alone. High in the blue sky she caught a hawk tipped on one wing. It made her smile. She felt comfortable, even alone.
Poor George. It's so rotten to end up this way. I'm glad Harry's on the case. I'll be so happy if he can get the son of a bitch that killed him. I think Harry's right; it must have something to do with Miriam's death, it's got something to do with Down Here, but I've known that since the first. I can't remember what it was that made me say that. Must have been something George said one time or another. I do remember that time I went in his office and he was looking at her picture and I know there were tears in his eyes. He looked like he was making some kind of an oath. That's the way he was, of course. Never mentioned her but those few times early on before I even got to know him, how she was the first woman he'd ever known who under stood the magic in him for the magic in numbers, and how lucky some men get in their lifetimes to end up with the only woman on the face of the earth who was made entirely for him and he for her, 'and just think of the odds on that, Maxine, and you'll spend a lifetime getting to compile them, they're so huge.' Must be something to this magic, and it must be contagious in the Accounting Department of Bandley College because I sure have received my share of such luck. Harry looked so nice this morning, but I saw the challenge riding in his eyes and he wants to solve this case so much, and I know he will do it for me. If George was looking for something with that rod of his, and it's obvious that he was, it sure wasn't gold or silver or some kind of treasure trove, that's for sure. And if it's not for gold or such, it's got to be for something that does not belong in the earth in the first place. So it's not rock or wood, and it's not water, but it's got too hard. He hoped to hit it with the point of the rod. What could he be looking for all over the top of that hill across from his farm that would not be on his own property? Oh, but it could be rock. It could be an old foundation. The base of an old barn or an old house, a filled in hole in the ground with field stones still sitting on each other's laps the way they were first piled up. But why an old house or barn? It would have nothing to do with Miriam, would it? Perhaps she knew of something buried there on that piece of property, maybe something she buried as a child and he felt bound to rediscover it. Perhaps she made a wish for him, or commissioned him, or challenged him, to retrieve whatever it is or was. But, no, that doesn't sound like the kind of woman he has shown her to be. She wouldn't leave a weight like that on him. 'Go on, George,' she had written on her picture. What a beautiful way to give something to someone. I hope, if my time comes, I can do that for Harry. So succinct, so close to the heart, so much freedom and flight in her thoughts, and so awfully sad. But it is with Miriam. It is all with Miriam, I am convinced of that. I'll have to tell my Gyrfalcon that it all must come down to Miriam at the end. It was her in the beginning and it is her at the end, and poor old George, bleeding the way he was and full of not only pain but still full of the loss of her, finding enough energy and strength to write that F under the urinal in his own blood. But even before that, before we knew it was an F for Franklin, I knew it was Down Here where all the answers were.
She did not even remember driving through Ellsworth. The roadway of Route 1 spun out ahead of her. The antique autos at a roadside dealer dropped past her left shoulder. An old army truck, a 'six-by' Harry had called it, sat hunched at the edge of the lot. An old Ford flivver seemed high and dry on its thin wheels. A 1938 Chevie caught her eye, with its real chrome that was like bank silver, and she remembered one just like it back in Fort Kent that had gone in a raffle.
But she did not remember driving through Ellsworth.
It was, she realized, part of her intensity. And Harry, her Gyrfalcon, nester of the first ardor, as she thought vividly, was delivering that same intensity to solve the murder of George Hinckler.
But it will be the solution to the death of Miriam Maltby Hinckler that will bring everything to light. I wonder if she had known her death was coming, if she was into cards or fortune telling or something. Perhaps she had a premonition in numbers and it told her that she had been so happy for her time that her share was used up. Oh, what a horrible thought. But she had said, 'Go on, George.' and no person can leave a message like that and not have it understood. George must have known it. It must be what drove him on. So relentless, so persevering! I can vaguely remember the early times when he was out of the school like a shot to get up here, and I thought it was to get back to where they were the happiest. Oh, I admired that so much in him, so romantic, so real, not worrying about what people thought from the word go. He'd stuff his briefcase with papers and be on the way when his last class was barely over. Sometimes he beat the students out of class, but some of them must have understood what was driving him on. They all knew what he gave to the school, and to them, with his energy and his devotion and his utter disregard of time. Except, of course, his time that was expected to be spent down here with that rod in his hands.
And in her mind a host of ideas and phantasmic pictures, all seemingly unconnected, went their sprung-wire way. George Hinckler came to her in a hundred rapidly appearing and rapidly disappearing visions, at school, at the farm, driving on the very road she was driving on and having thoughts much like the ones she was having now herself, thoughts keeping her steady company.
Her mind groped to pull some of the pictures and ideas together. George came and went. Harry came and went. Miriam Hinckler came and went. The land of Franklin, Maine came spinning into her mind. It was Wallagrass all over again, the same kind of land and earth formation she had grown up on, the same spread, the same vastness of silence that could cut at you, the unyielding expanse of trees and pines thick as the core of the earth itself, the same run of brush and acres upon acres of blueberry bushes coming not even to the knee, the same sudden clutch of rock and granite and veins of the underground letting themselves be known across the face of cold Maine, the same depth to light and air and the cold of winter and the frigid reach for stars, the same beauty in the quick songs of birds and the vast colors they carried and their art in the air and their enormous numbers sometimes in flights so thick they were like clouds and their too-quick flights to the southern climes, the same surge of spring overtaking the very heart of your body, the clamp that winter socked down on it.
Then she thought of the long deep cold nights under the press of stars and the shining planets and the numbers burning in her head, and the formulas, and the mystic elements of equations, and the magic squares she made for hours on end where all the totals came out the same when added in every column and even on the diagonals after she had discovered the formula for their structure, squares by the threes or the fives or the sevens or the nines and on and on through all the odd numbers, sometimes the square being so big she could not write all the numbers on it, but she'd get the answers if it was the last thing she'd do. And now here was poor George Hinckler who had been so good to her and had given her the first big break in her life and he was dead and someone had killed him in a horrible fashion and one of her students was being blamed for it and why didn't she have the ability to pull all the ideas and all the pictures together in her mind and see what had happened and who had done it and why was Miriam's death so tied up in it and how was it so tied up and would Harry be so clever that he'd be able to do all of this that she now found herself unable to do.
She remembered the frustrations which originally had come at her trying to do the great math problems she had tackled, and how there was sometimes a total darkness, and nervousness, and self-doubt and intrigues of the mind so mystical she wondered what might become of her socked away in the old farmhouse at the end of a long unpaved road with an endless forest at her back, and then one day there was a flash of light in her mind so bright it was as if all intelligence had exploded above her head
And the thought of Harry warmed her and she immediately thought of Allen Waitte out behind the barn and the first time she had done it and how ungainly it had all been even under the spell of stars flickering down through a blossoming apple tree and how it was so right with Harry now after all the years and how lucky she was and if there was a contagion from George and Miriam she hoped it would be forever with her and Harry as it had been for them, even in death.
'Go on, George,' Miriam had written. "How marvelous, how beautiful, she must have been, they must have been together. "Oh, Harry," she said and the old abandonment came back again from wherever it had hidden itself.
She slipped her hand down in the warmth between her thighs and squeezed a little and thought of Harry and saw eighteen-wheelers on the road ahead of her and behind her and said, aloud, to no one in particular and to the world in general, "I best wait until I get home."
To be continued...