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Please note: This Internet publication of Risen is © 2000 by Jan S. Strnad. It is not public domain and may not be duplicated without permission!

Risen
by Jan Strnad

 

Day Three

Sunday

Eleven

"Do you know Seth?" Deputy Haws asked Clyde Dunwiddey.

Clyde's mind was muddled. Not from alcohol, for once, but from having made the journey through death. Waking up in the field with no recollection of getting there had been a shock. He was used to waking in a jail cell without remembering the trek from Captain Humphrey's Tavern to the Sheriff's Office, but the field was something new.

He was becoming aware of memories that he didn't know he had. Sorting through them was like looking at photos of a family vacation you took when you were a child. That's you feeding the okapi at the zoo or holding up one end of the balancing rock or sitting on top of the stuffed bronco, but you don't really remember doing any of those things.

Clyde didn't remember dying and he didn't have any specific memories of what it was like on the other side. But he did remember meeting Seth and he remembered an impression of transcendent wisdom, of life's truths revealed, of his own inadequacies laid out before him like a Sunday brunch. He remembered an offer of redemption and guidance. Of course he had accepted. Anyone would've.

"Yes," he said with an uncharacteristic clarity that Galen found disturbing, "I do. I do know Seth."

Haws nodded his approval.

"Who's Seth?" Galen asked.

"Seth is the answer," Haws replied.

"The answer to what?"

"The answer, that's all. You'll see, once you've met Seth."

Galen looked at Haws and at Clyde, two men he'd seen die and return from the dead. He studied the floor of the patrol car.

"I suppose that means I have to die," Galen said.

Both men answered simultaneously. "Yes," they said.

They looked at each other and smiled. Galen recalled something Haws had said earlier, about being buried alive. He'd said that Galen would never understand the horror of it unless he experienced it himself. He'd feared, as Haws marched him out behind the windbreak, that he was going to be forced to dig his own grave. He wasn't free of that dread even now.

"How?" Galen asked.

Haws answered, "Seth hasn't said. Maybe he hasn't decided."

Galen mentally breathed a sigh of relief but kept his eyes glued to the floor. He was afraid, yes, but he was exhilarated as well. Something big had come to Anderson, and he was in the middle of it, and there was a chance that it was not intent on destroying him.

"You should feel privileged," Haws said. "Seth has revealed his work to you. I could've just shot you like I did Clyde, but it wasn't Seth's will. I don't know why, but Seth's chosen you."

"For what?"

Haws shrugged.

"You'll find out," he said, "when it's time."

***

Madge Duffy did not expect to have to clean up after her own suicide. If she had, she'd have done it in the bathroom, in the tub, where she'd just have to wipe down the tile walls with a wet sponge and some Fantastik. She might even have chosen a different method. She might have cut her wrists or stuck her head inside a dry cleaning bag. Now that she thought of it, just about anything would've been better than blowing her brains out all over her expensive pillow--the one with the well in the middle so she didn't get a stiff neck--and her mother's handmade quilt and the sheets and that's not to mention the bedroom wallpaper (though she'd wanted to replace that ugly stuff ever since they'd moved in). She'd chosen the gun because she expected it to be sudden and painless, and it was, and it gratified her that she'd been right about something she'd never done before.

The cleaning up gave her something to do while she sorted through the whole life-after-death experience. John had offered to help but she'd said, "No, it's my mess. I guess you'll have to sleep on the sofa tonight." He'd bid her good-night and left her alone with her thoughts, confident that everything would sift out to his benefit.

And it was doing exactly that. Now that she knew Seth she realized how unguided and random her first life had been. She'd just reacted to one thing and another, like one of those toys that turns around every time it bangs into somebody's foot and eventually ends up in some corner banging banging banging and going nowhere. Knowing Seth meant that she'd found direction. Seth would guide her. All she had to do was let Seth take her by the hand and lead her around life's numberless obstacles, and she'd be fine.

It was very strange, picking up bits of bone and flesh and hair and, she supposed, brain, and knowing they were hers. She didn't seem to miss them. Her skull had repaired itself and her body worked--not like old Mrs. Crenshak whose brain stroke had left her partially paralyzed--and she couldn't even tell, looking in the mirror, where the old skin met the new. She'd seen pictures of the boy who'd shot off his face with a shotgun and even after plastic surgery he looked, well, kind of like Popeye, his features all sunken in. She'd have expected the back of her head to look like that, but it was as round and full as ever. This was truly a miracle.

She'd thought that John had bled a lot when she slit his throat, but his mess was nothing compared to hers. His blood had flowed down onto the sofa and soaked the carpet, but hers had blown all over the place. The bedroom looked like an explosion in an Italian kitchen. Her mother's quilt was ruined and probably the blanket and sheets and everything, clear down to the mattress. It would all have to be replaced, and considering the cost of a new mattress and the sentimental value of the quilt, that was a darned shame. Maybe the quilt could be saved, but she didn't know if the hand stitching would stand up to a vigorous cleaning. Maybe Seth knew a good way to remove bloodstains, since he seemed to know everything else.

It did not bother her anymore that she was trapped in her life with John. Getting beaten up now and again didn't hold as much terror for her as it used to, though she didn't quite understand why. She guessed that dying and coming back had broadened her perspective, letting her see that Madge Duffy was just a tiny cog in a vast machine that existed to serve Seth's will. If she broke, Seth would make her whole. And John was not the powerful machine that she'd always imagined him to be, but another cog like herself. They would work together from now on to do Seth's bidding.

She understood John's personal struggle better, too. Like her, John was okay as long as things went smoothly, but as soon as life took one of its inevitable turns for the worse, he lacked the internal compass that would guide him back to the good times. He would get angry and lash out and look for someone to blame. Madge, on the other hand, would curl up like an armadillo and trust trouble to wear itself out beating against her shell. You could say that she and John were made for each other. He was the some-kind-of force and she was the something-or-other object.

But now they had Seth as their compass. Whatever trouble they faced in the future, Madge knew they could turn to Seth and he'd lead them out of it. She didn't know why she felt that way but she did. She supposed it was a matter of faith.

Well, she and John would work it out. She smiled as she wrung out the bloody sponge into a pail of water. After all these years, she and her husband finally had something to talk about over breakfast.

***

Doc Milford knew intellectually that it could have been the surge of chemicals into his brain that caused him to see a brilliant white light and to feel as if he were flying at immeasurable speed over a vast distance toward an inevitable destiny. He'd felt very much this way at the dentist, once, when the nitrous oxide was turned up too high. But this time it was much more.

He felt at peace, pervaded by a sense of well-being that was unprecedented in his experience, as if he'd finally shaken off some kind of flu that had poisoned his cells for sixty-odd years. He had no body, but he had no need of one. He felt like a child again, like a small boy hurtling downhill on roller skates and then glancing down to see that his skates had vanished and he was flying over the sidewalk on a cushion of air.

He heard his deceased wife Ellen calling his name and he sensed her presence. She was beckoning to him, welcoming him and telling him not to worry, as if worry were even a remote possibility in this swooping, gliding, transcendental moment. Time had no meaning here so he couldn't say how long his journey took him or where, but suddenly he was there and Ellen was with him and his joy was literally boundless. He felt them moving together toward an even greater fulfillment, nothing he would personify as God, but an energy of such overwhelming rightness that it held no terror for him. Once more he had to reach to his childhood to remember any moment one-millionth as lovely...images of a birthday cake and singing and presents and a loving family and the feeling that he was the center of the most benign universe imaginable. All of that he was feeling now, and so much more.

Then it all went horribly wrong.

The headlong rush ended as if he'd crashed into a wall. Ellen flew away from his being, her soul ripped from his, and spiraled into infinity wailing in desolation at his loss. The glorious light flashed and winked out and he was no longer flying but plummeting, falling helplessly through a dark well whose sides he could not see, but he could feel them closing on him, threatening to crush him like palms around an insect. He heard the moans of the lost and the shrieks of the tortured. But worst of all, he could feel himself forgetting....

Forgetting the light....

Forgetting the joy....

Forgetting it all as if it had never existed.

And when it was forgotten and he stopped falling and he stood forsaken and bewildered in the dark void of nothingness, wondering if this truly was death and this truly was his fate for all eternity, to wander blind over a dark, featureless plain with the cries of the damned in his ears, he became aware of Seth.

Seth would lead him out of the void. Seth would be his guide. All he had to do was follow Seth and everything would be all right....

Doc scrubbed at the blood on the hardwood floor. His blood. He should have felt weak and dizzy from losing so much blood, but he didn't. In fact, he didn't remember ever feeling better in his life.

He didn't remember.

***

Without knowing Seth, they obeyed him.

It was an instinct they had, like the instinct to mate or to seek food and water or to flee the light or to run along the floor with the press of the wall on their backs, the instinct to seek the crevices and secret places of the earth, to nest in the houses of the sloppy giants who fed and sheltered and reviled them.

They wanted to roam now, but Seth told them to remain still. They wanted to explore, but Seth told them to hide. They wanted to swarm, but Seth told them to conceal their number. Seth spoke with a voice louder than their own inner voices. He spoke to calm them and make them wait. Their hour would come, he promised, but it was not yet.

Until then, the resurrected roaches beneath Carl Tompkins' floors would cling to the joists and water pipes and electrical wires. They would huddle in masses in the dirt of the crawl space. They would wait in the walls, silent as the darkness. They would wait, unthinking and uncaring and voracious, for Seth to tell them it was time.

***

Clyde Dunwiddey, Town Drunk.

He'd lived with the title for so long, he'd thought about having business cards printed that way. Then he figured out that the cards would cost as much as an evening at Captain Humphrey's and common sense won out over whimsy.

When Clyde was sober, which was from about ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, the time when he was on what he called a "maintenance dose" of spirits, people sometimes asked him why he drank. He supposed they were looking for some tragedy in his life, and Clyde wished he had one to offer. But he didn't, unless it was a tragedy to be born with a gift that set you apart from others when all you ever wanted was to be one of the gang.

Clyde was cursed with intelligence and a prodigious skill at mathematics. Neither of these attributes earned him any friends in Anderson. The young people in town were more impressed by the size of a person's baseball card collection than the size of his intellect, and Clyde was smart enough to realize this fact early.

In school, his grades, except in math, were never more than adequate because he studiously avoiding studying. His parents accused him of goldbricking and his teachers accused him of under-achieving. In truth, Clyde was achieving his own goals quite nicely. He turned his intelligence to memorizing and making up jokes, a skill that diverted more beatings and won him many more friends than knowing how to diagram a sentence. When it comes to surviving any place as hostile as a school ground, shortish, fattish, too-smart boys like Clyde Dunwiddey would do well to follow his example.

When he was a few years shy of doing it legally, he started drinking. Alcohol was the great equalizer, making idiots of smart and dumb alike. He occasionally made use of his mathematical prowess to win free drinks by adding long columns of numbers in his head, but he was careful to dismiss the ability as a bar trick.

Clyde felt good when he drank and not so good when he didn't. He enjoyed the camaraderie of drunkenness. He fed on it as a plant feeds on sunshine. The dark basements where young men gathered to drink were like wide, grassy meadows bathed in sunlight to Clyde. They were his element. As the years wore on and Clyde watched his high school chums get married and settle down with a passel of kids and a ton of responsibilities, he often found himself drinking in the company of strangers. Alcohol had been the mortar that bound him with others, and Clyde learned in his twenties what every schoolchild knows, that alcohol evaporates.

As he entered his thirties, Clyde thought it might be nice to be married, but he knew that no woman he'd settle for would put up with a drunk. He might've been able to join a program and stop drinking, but when he thought about it a little longer he always came to the conclusion that drinking was nearly the only pleasure he got out of life--there surely wasn't anything he enjoyed more--and why sacrifice his greatest joy for the uncertain and very mixed pleasures of marriage?

Clyde lived with his mother until he was old enough to start thinking about it the other way around, that she lived with him. She tolerated his drinking. She'd tolerated her husband's drinking, too, until the night he'd wandered over the center line and into the path of an Exxon tanker truck.

His father's incendiary death and that of an innocent truck driver shook Clyde to the bone. He never drove after that, not even when he was relatively sober, not trusting himself to make the judgment call. He'd tried walking home after Captain Humphrey kicked him out of the Tavern each night, but navigating the dark residential streets of Anderson was more of a challenge than he liked to face in that condition. Once or twice he'd made himself unpopular by pounding loudly on the wrong door, baffled why his mother wouldn't let him in.

When Sheriff Clark offered him nightly lodging in cell B, Clyde took him up on it. The Sheriff even drew a line from the tavern to the jail to make it easier for Clyde to find his way. He got Stig Evans, the local handyman, to rub a length of mason's string with blue chalk and snap it on the concrete so the line would be nice and straight, then he darkened the line by hand. By the time the chalk line wore away, Clyde's clever brain had memorized the route and could call it up under any level of inebriation that didn't knock him clean off his feet.

Clyde made his drinking money as a freelance mathematician. Most of the work arrived in the mail. Sometimes it was delivered personally by men in dark suits and dark sedans. Exactly what the work might be was a topic of speculation in Anderson, but most of it came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration so that seemed all right. Still, people could not imagine what sort of problems Clyde Dunwiddey was able to solve that NASA with all its computers couldn't, and Clyde refused to give them a clue even when thoroughly drunk. Even the government agents who periodically infiltrated Captain Humphrey's Tavern to evaluate Clyde's security clearance couldn't finagle so much as a stray algorithm out of him. Clyde maintained a clear separation between his thinking life and his drinking life, toeing that line as carefully as he'd once towed the chalk mark between tavern and jail.

Now Clyde was in his forties, approaching his fifties. The alcohol had made a road map of his nose and his color was that of a man dying of slow poison. Doc Milford said his liver must look like a lace doily, that most likely Clyde's mother would see Clyde buried. Deputy Haws' bullet had cut Clyde's life short, but it hadn't cut it by much.

This morning, looking at his face in the mirror after a night of sober repose, Clyde asked himself, Who is that young man? The face that stared back at him sported a healthy, rosy complexion that he hadn't seen in ages. His eyes were clear, his nose seemed actually to have shrunk. The veins that had wormed their way to the surface had submerged. He felt vibrant and strong.

Clyde was healthy again.

He had been granted a chance to start over. He could begin anew with a robust liver and a fresh outlook and all past physiological sins wiped out. Some beneficent, Clyde-loving force had graced him with nothing less than a miracle and Clyde appreciated that fact and vowed that it would not go unrecognized.

This called for a bender.

But first it was his duty to acknowledge the miracle, as Seth instructed. Seth had given and Seth could taketh away. It would not do to seem ungrateful to his benefactor.

So Clyde admired his face in the mirror as shaved, as he combed his hair, as he fumbled with the necktie he'd dug out of the bottom of his bottom drawer. He splashed on a sprinkle of Old Spice, buffed his shoes with an old rag, and headed off to church.

***

A hole must have opened into another universe while Peg slept. She'd rolled over and fallen through it in her sleep, and that's why she was now living in an alternate reality. There was no other explanation for the words that had just spilled out of Tom's mouth.

"What?" she said, dumbfounded.

"I want to go with you to church this morning," he repeated. Tom looked uncomfortable in the suit they'd bought him for his father's funeral, a tie fixed with a crooked knot, his leather shoes, and he'd shaved the patchy stubble that passed as his beard. He added, "And please don't give me any shit about it, okay?"

"Okay," Peg replied, and while she wondered if John Lennon was still alive, if pudgy women were now considered sexier than skinny ones, if there was still such a thing as rap music and if Ma was serving haute cuisine down at the diner, she helped her son adjust his tie.

***

Franz Klempner brushed his crazy wife Irma's hair.

It had been another bad night. He'd heard the midnight bell again, and again Irma had rushed from the room in a terrified frenzy. She'd made it as far as the living room before Franz caught up with her and held her and reassured her as he had done so many times before. Eventually she'd let him lead her back to bed where she fell into a deep, sheltering sleep.

Franz debated taking her to church today. These spells were nothing new but they'd become too frequent and too severe. He didn't want her making a scene before half the town, not because he would be personally embarrassed but because he'd be embarrassed for her. He thought about not telling her it was Sunday, but she had set out her church dress first thing upon rising that morning so she knew what day of the week it was.

Resigned, Franz ironed the dress and brushed Irma's hair and they seated themselves in Franz' Chevy station wagon and made the drive into town. Rumor had it that the new preacher was going to address this fool notion that John Duffy had come back from the dead.

***

The bell of the First Methodist Church was ringing in the faithful as Brant Kettering pulled into the parking lot. He worried that regular members of the congregation might have their own parking spots, unmarked but honored by everyone else as a matter of courtesy. If he took the wrong space, it might force someone else to take someone else's spot, setting off a domino effect that would resonate through Anderson's entire church-going community. To play it safe he took the furthest spot from the church that he could find, one in the corner where the asphalt was buckling and cracking, and then worried as he made the long trek churchward that he was, perhaps, being too ostentatiously humble.

He noticed raised eyebrows and heads tilting together as he walked along, as if he'd forgotten to put on pants. His worries about being chucked out on his rear dissipated as he was descended upon like the prodigal son by enthusiastic well-wishers. He exchanged greetings and accepted welcomes, promised one or two wags that his appearance wasn't just to drum up subscribers for the Times, and then escaped thanks to the miraculous appearance of Clyde Dunwiddey, a son even more prodigal than himself.

Brant slid as quietly as possible into a pew in the back of the sanctuary.

He saw Tom Culler walk in with Peg and knew that Tom was there for the same reason as everyone else, to hear Reverend Small's analysis of Duffy's trip to the Other Side. Brant caught a glimpse of Small and could tell from his beaming face that this was a capacity crowd, surely the biggest since Small had taken over from Reverend Paulsen three weeks ago.

Tom and Brant had another agenda, though. Only they, among all those gathered, knew that Duffy wasn't the only "return" in town. They wondered if Small's comments would reveal any knowledge on his part about Deputy Haws.

Brant scanned the crowd for familiar faces. There was Haws, in uniform but for his hat, sitting on the outside aisle. Brant didn't know if Haws was a church regular or not. While he was thinking about it, a hand clamped onto his shoulder and Brant jumped six inches.

"Got you, too, I see," said Doc Milford.

Brant put his hand to his chest and said, "Christ, Doc, you nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought I was busted."

"Some crowd," Doc said, "bigger than Easter. That's usually when all the borderline cases turn out. I suppose you're here for the same reason I am, to hear the Reverend's official stance on the Duffy business."

"You've got it. Look--there's the town deputy. He's never struck me as the religious sort."

"You can't always tell. Maybe I'll go have a few words with him. Enjoy the sermon."

"I'm sure I will."

Doc walked over to Deputy Haws and they put their heads together for a minute or so, then Doc took a seat elsewhere. Brant continued scanning the crowd. While he was picking out familiar faces a silence fell over the room, washing over the congregation like a wave. Row by row the heads turned to see who had just now walked in the door.

It was John and Madge Duffy.

John wore the suit he'd pulled out of the mothballs the day before. Madge had mended the jacket with a button off the vest that she assured him he didn't need to wear, and she'd let out the pants a little. John was ill at ease, uncomfortable as the center of attention, but Madge marched with her head high as if she owned the mortgage on the church and everything in it. She didn't care what people thought. She walked with Seth's spirit, as everyone in this room would do, one day soon.

They took seats in the middle of the sanctuary. For all the buzzing that had been going on about John, no one seemed particularly eager to talk to him. Cindy Robertson was there with her mother and sister, and she ended up sitting next to John. He caught her staring at him and nodded a polite greeting, and she smiled back at him nervously and said, "How are you?" "Tolerable," he said, then he sat down and stared straight ahead and so did Cindy.

Ruth Smart took her seat at the organ and played "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Come, Thou Almighty King" and "The Way of the Cross Leads Home," and then Reverend Small made his appearance and led the congregation in the opening prayer. Choir master Jimmy Troost stepped up and directed the choir in "Are You Washed in the Blood," and after that everyone rose and gave voice to "Abide With Me" and "O God, Our Help In Ages Past." A kid Brant recognized from the grade school, Josh Lunger, gave a prayer. Then Jimmy Troost took center stage again to lead the choir in "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power." Either Jimmy had a thing about blood or he was working a theme, Brant decided. Finally it looked to Brant as if they were closing in on the sermon.

To Brant's relief, Reverend Small was not one of those pulpit-pounding orators who mouthed every word as if God had His hand up the preacher's backside like some kind of cosmic ventriloquist act. Small spoke warmly but intimately, as if in consideration for those who might be sleeping in the pews. He welcomed the crowd and made a couple of announcements concerning the Youth Group. Then he got down to business.

"There lives among us--and I'm delighted to see him in our congregation this morning--one who has made the ultimate journey. No trip to Yellowstone Park or Greece or even to the moon can compare with the incredible odyssey of John Duffy. For he has been to infinity. To death. And he has come back again.

"What are we to make of this journey, this miracle? Some have suggested that it's the work of a new preacher trying to impress his congregation."

There was some scattered laughter.

"Well," he continued, "as much as it would please me to take credit for John Duffy's resurrection, I can not. Such powers are not granted to ordinary men like myself. And besides, I wouldn't want Jed Grimm accusing me of stealing his business!"

Jed Grimm called out, "Just don't make a habit of it, Reverend!" and the congregation laughed again.

Brant hadn't noticed Grimm in the crowd before. It made sense that he'd be a church-goer, though. The work of a preacher and that of a mortician are intimately bound.

"We think of miracles as something that happened long ago and far away," Small said. "We don't really believe that they happen anymore, and that's sad. For the work of the Lord is all around us. We witness the miracle of each new spring, of each baby born, the miracle of the breeze in our hair and the sunshine on our backs. We take these miracles for granted.

"But when it comes to miracles of a less-common variety--the multiplying of the loaves or resurrection of the dead--we assume that those miracles belong to the distant past. If they were to happen today, they wouldn't happen here, they wouldn't happen to us.

"Now why would we think such things? Do we truly believe that the Good Lord watches over us and protects us and keeps us in His Love, or do we not? Is it pessimism that makes us think such thoughts? Or is it fear? Fear that maybe God is dead after all, and we are on our own.

"I still believe in the Lord, and I still believe in miracles. And to any of you who don't, I say, Look over there. Look at John Duffy. Living, breathing, hale and hearty after a fine doctor and every scientific principle in the world had declared him dead. Look at him. Look at him and tell me that miracles don't happen anymore, that they don't happen here, that the Good Lord isn't watching over every one of us.

"Look at John Duffy and tell me that God is dead. If you can do that, then I'll say to you that none are so blind as those who will not see. Because miracles are there for the seeing, if we but open our eyes."

Brant had to admit that Small was getting to him. Even as a boy, Brant had wondered why all the magic happened two thousand years ago. Why, if there was a Lord and He gave a fig about mankind, did He appear for one brief show, like a Las Vegas act, then hustle everyone off to the casino leaving later generations nothing but a tattered program to describe the wonders their ancestors had beheld? Shouldn't He be making occasional reappearances to keep the material fresh in people's minds?

Maybe Duffy was the modern miracle that Brant had needed for so long, if he'd just choose to believe it.

He might have had something like a revelation if Irma Klempner hadn't suddenly leaped out of her seat and aimed a craggy finger at Reverend Small as if to smite him with a thunderbolt and yelled out, "Devil! Satan!" The congregation gasped. Heads turned and bodies swiveled to get a good look.

Franz tugged at Irma's dress and hissed, "Irma! Sit down!" but he might as well have been a mouse pulling at the tail of a tiger. Irma was incensed, every synapse in her poor, mad brain firing at once.

"You think nobody remembers, but I do!" she screamed. Her body shook with emotion, the finger waved. "I remember Eloise! You think everybody's forgot, but I remember! I remember!"

Franz was on his feet now and trying to escort Irma out. His look of chagrin was apology enough to the Reverend, he didn't try to say a word. Irma was doing plenty of talking for the both of them.

"Devil!" Irma shouted as her husband ushered her to the back of the sanctuary, down the aisle under the stares of two hundred pair of eyes. "Satan!" she cried. "I remember! Eloise! Eloise!"

All eyes were on Irma Klempner as Franz took her by the shoulders and, shushing soothingly in her ear, walked her out of the church. All eyes but two.

Brant scanned the murmuring crowd with the scrutinizing gaze of a reporter. He saw the hateful stare creep unbidden onto Small's face and then vanish, subdued by a master actor, suppressed for the sake of appearances.

"If God can resurrect, then God can surely heal," Small said. "Let us pray for those who need His healing touch." As two hundred heads bowed in prayer, Brant saw Deputy Haws steal toward the exit. After a few moments, Brant followed.

He stood on the steps of the church and looked around. Haws seemed to have melted into the earth.

Brant went around to the parking lot and watched the Klempners make the contentious journey to their car. Irma was quiet now, but sullen. She'd take a few steps and then stop and glare balefully at Franz. He'd pretend to ignore her, then he'd walk back and grab her hand and pull her along for a few steps. She'd shake her hand loose and seem to follow and then stand stock still again and wait for him to come back for her. If he hadn't, she'd have stood there for days, it seemed to Brant.

It took them several minutes to reach the car, long enough for the congregation to sing two mournful choruses of "The Little Brown Church in the Vale." Franz opened the door for Irma and she slid in and sat there staring straight ahead. The frost from her icy demeanor threatened to crack the windshield. Franz walked around to the driver's side and got in, and then he leaned over and fiddled with something on Irma's side of the car. She slapped his hands away. He seemed to argue with her for a bit and then gave up. Brant guessed that he was trying to buckle her seat belt but that Irma was having none of it out of pure cussedness.

Franz backed out of the parking space and drove through the lot and into the street. The right rear tire of the Chevy bounced over the curb as Franz cut the corner a little tight. Brant watched until the Klempners' car was out of sight.

"Shouldn't let the old fool on the road," Deputy Haws said a few inches behind Brant's ear. Brant jumped. Haws noticed.

"Didn't mean to scare you," Haws said, hauling his bulk alongside Brant.

"You took me by surprise," Brant said. "I thought you'd left."

"Had to make a phone call. You probably walked right by me." Haws nodded in the direction Franz Klempner had taken. "Ought to yank his license, I suppose, but everybody around here knows to give Franz a wide berth."

"There's always room in law enforcement for compassion," Brant said.

"You got to know when to be tough, too," Haws replied as Galen Ganger's Charger pulled into view and parked across the street. "That boy knows better than to park in front of a hydrant."

Apparently the Ganger boy didn't know he was parked illegally because he sat right there as Haws sauntered up. Maybe Ganger was picking his mother up from church--Brant had caught her heavily painted face when she'd turn to watch Irma Klempner's exit--but if that was the case, why didn't he pull into the lot? Maybe because Brant was there, but what difference could that make?

It occurred to Brant that Haws may have phoned Ganger from the church and commanded his immediate appearance. The Gangers didn't live far away--nowhere in Anderson was far from anywhere else in Anderson--but even so Ganger must've hauled some hasty butt to get there so soon. Was Haws blackmailing him? That seemed logical, given the circumstances. But what could the Ganger boy have that Haws wanted?

Theirs was a short conversation. Without writing a ticket, Haws stepped away from the Charger as Galen Ganger started the engine. He made a fast three-point turn and tore off in the wake of Franz Klempner.

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