FROM Down River by John Hart
We rode back to the farm, and I listened to the hard slap of wipers on the old truck. He killed the engine and we sat in the drive. Rain beat itself to mist on the roof. “Are you sure about this, son?”
I didn’t answer the question; I was thinking of Danny. Not only had I refused his request, but I’d doubted him, too. It was the ring found with Grace. It made everything so clear. He’d changed, gone dark for the money. His father wanted mine to sell and Danny had played along. Damn! I was so ready to believe it. I forgot the times that he’d stood up for me, forgot the man I knew him to be. In all of the ways that mattered, that was the greatest injustice I had done to him. But he was dead. I had to think of the living.
“This is going to kill Grace,” I said.
“Nobody’s that strong. You should call the hospital. It’ll hit the papers. Maybe they can keep it from her, at least for a day or two. She should hear about this from us.”
He seemed uncertain. “Maybe until she’s better.” He nodded. “A day or two.”
“I’ve got to go,” I said, but my father stopped me with a hand on my arm. My door was open and water cascaded into the cab of the truck. He didn’t care.
“Dolf is my best friend, Adam. He’s been that for longer than you’ve been alive; since before I met your mother, since we were kids. Don’t think that this is easy for me.”
“Then you should feel like I do. We need to get him out.”
“Friendship is also about trust.”
I waited for a long second. “So is family,” I finally said.
“Adam . . .”
I climbed out, leaned in as water thrummed on my back. “Do you think I killed Gray Wilson? Right here, right now . . . do you think I did it?”
He leaned forward and the dome light struck his face. “No, son. I don’t think you did it.”
Something snapped in my chest, a strap loosened. “Saying that doesn’t mean that I forgive you. We have a long way to go, you and me.”
“Yes, we do.”
I didn’t plan to say what came next; it just welled out of me. “I want to come home,” I said. “That’s the real reason I’m back.” His eyes widened, but I wasn’t ready to talk further. I slammed the door, splashed through puddles, and slipped into my car. My father climbed onto his porch and turned to face me. His clothes hung wetly from his frame. Water ran down his face. He raised a hand above shadow-filled eyes, and kept it up until I pulled away.
I went to Dolf’s house; it was empty and dark. I stripped off wet clothes and flung myself down onto his couch. Thoughts churned through my mind; speculation, theories, despair. Fifteen miles away Dolf would be lying on a hard, narrow bunk. Probably awake. Probably afraid. The cancer would be chewing through him, looking for that last vital bit. How long until it took him? Six months? Two months? One? I had no idea. But when my mother died, and my father, for years, had been lost to me in mourning, it was Dolf Shepherd who made the difference. I could still feel the strength of that heavy hand on my shoulder. Long years. Hard years. And it was Dolf Shepherd who got me through.
If he was going to die, it should be with sunlight on his face.
I thought of the postcard in my glove compartment. If I was right, and Dolf had not killed Danny, then the card could possibly set him free. But who might it implicate? Someone with a reason to want Danny dead. Someone strong enough to conceal his body in the crack at the top of the knob. Maybe it was time to give it to Robin. But Dad was right about one thing: Dolf must have his reasons, and we had no idea what they might be. I closed my eyes and tried to not think of what Parks had said. Maybe he wanted the body found. And then Dolf’s voice, again: Sinners usually pay for their sins. Dark thoughts came with the sound of thunder. If Dolf killed Danny, he would have needed a damn good reason. But could he have? Was it even possible? I’d been gone for a long time. What things had changed in five years? What people?
I chewed on that thought until I fell asleep, and for once, I did not dream of my mother or of blood. Instead, I dreamt of teeth, of the cancer that was eating a good man down.
I woke before six, feeling as if I had not slept at all. Coffee was in the cupboard, so I set it to brew and walked outside to watery, gray light. It was thirty minutes before dawn, silent, still. Leaves drooped under dark beads and the grass was beaten flat. Puddles shone on the drive, as black and smooth as poured oil.
It was a perfect, quiet morning; and then I heard it, the multithroated wail of dogs on the hunt. The ululation of the pack. It was a primal sound that made my skin prickle. It rose above the hills and then faded. Rose and fell, like crazy men speaking in tongues. Then shots crashed out in quick succession, and I knew that my father, too, was restless.