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!
Peg thought that Brant was pale as he walked into Ma's Diner and ordered a cup of coffee. She smiled at him and he sort of smiled back but his heart wasn't in it. She prepared herself for a let-down.
All afternoon, all she could think about was tonight's dinner with Brant. She still didn't know what to make of John Duffy's resurrection but her brain had quit thinking about it, bombarding her instead with questions like, Should I mash some potatoes? and What if he hates creamed corn? She was a fluttery school girl again. Brant had brought back to life a part of her that had been dead. Chalk up another miracle resurrection in Anderson.
Now here Brant came dragging himself in like a whipped dog. He looked shifty. His eyes darted this way and that and he was jumpy. If he'd been a stranger Peg would've figured him for an escaped convict. He even asked if Deputy Haws had been in lately. Since he wasn't on the lam, he must have been planning to break their date and he was just waiting for the right moment to tell her. He kept ordering coffee and watching the people in the diner come and go.
She decided she had to talk to him.
"Cindy's filling in for me this evening," she said. He jumped at the sound of her voice, as if he hadn't seen her coming. In fact, he'd been staring into his coffee cup like a gypsy reading tea leaves for the past five minutes. "So I can get off early and fix us a nice dinner," she added.
He replied, "Oh. Good."
"It'll be a treat for Tom, too. He hasn't had a home-cooked meal in I-don't-know-how-long."
"Um," Brant said. He stirred his coffee, though Peg hadn't seen him put anything in it.
She felt like she'd just walked up to a boy at a high school cotillion and flirted with him and now she was standing there waiting for him to ask her to dance and instead he just looked at the floor and looked at the ceiling and made some comment about how hot it was. Obviously she had to take the bull by the horns.
"I figure about seven," she said.
"Dinner at seven. You're coming, right? You're coming to dinner?"
"Sure," Brant said flatly, "I'm looking forward to it."
"Well okay then," Peg said a bit snappishly.
"Okay," he replied.
She spun on her heels and marched away and became very busy with some little boxes of breakfast cereal. He would call her, she knew, about ten minutes 'til seven, after she'd bought groceries and cooked dinner and fretted and stewed and cleaned and made sure everything was just so, and tell her he couldn't come, that something had come up. She started preparing what she was going to say to him then to cut him down to size.
Brant hadn't completely forgotten about dinner with Peg but it wasn't uppermost on his mind anymore, either. The longer he thought about the day's events the more sinister they became. He remembered how, on Saturday morning, Jed Grimm and Deputy Haws had loaded the Ganger boy in Haws' police car. Was Grimm in on it, too? Had he had a stroke or something in the night and returned and nobody knew it?
Hell, people could be dying and coming back all over town and who'd know? How could he tell who he could trust and who he couldn't?
Paranoia is a terrible thing, especially when people are out to get you. If he wasn't careful, Brant could cut himself off from friends and foes alike.
Okay, Deputy Haws and John Duffy were definite Returns. What about Reverend Small? No hard evidence of it yet, but he was a maybe. Then again, everybody in town was a maybe. Jed Grimm was doing what anybody would have done in his place, he didn't necessarily know that he was putting the Ganger boy in the hands of the man he'd murdered. Tom Culler wouldn't have confided all his fears about Haws if he was a Return, so he was safe...unless he'd died after leaving Brant's office on Saturday night and come back.
Wasn't there some test Brant could perform to find out? In the movies, when people were under the control of aliens there was a parasite or little metal doohickey in the back of their necks. Or that other one, the terrifying one...Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The pod people didn't have emotions. But according to Madge Duffy, John had come back better than he was before.
What was he doing, basing life and death decisions on B-pictures? It was a sure sign that he'd lost the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction!
Time to return to Planet Earth. Drink his coffee. Have a nice dinner tonight with Peg.
He watched Peg busying herself behind the counter. She looked at him only once, and then he thought he could see Bowie knives hurtling at him from her eyes. He realized that she'd been flirting with him a few minutes ago and he'd been too busy piling stones over his own grave to notice. With typical male single-mindedness he had let a bunch of nonsensical and probably groundless fears sidetrack him from attending to the real business of life.
He imagined himself explaining it all to her. Even in his head it sounded absurd. Peg's affections were a locked room which she had opened the barest crack. If he came across sounding like a madman, it would slam shut in a heartbeat.
No, there would be no explaining. Apologizing. Groveling if needed. But no explaining. He'd confide in someone else, but not Peg, not yet.
He waited for her to glare balefully at him again. When she did, he smiled and gave her a wink. She glanced away before he could read the expression on her face.
He drained his coffee and walked over to the register. She was already ringing him up before he got there, as if she was anxious to see him go.
"I'm looking forward to tonight," he said.
"Oh?" she said. "That'll be a dollar."
He had a dollar bill but he dug for a five. If she had to make change, he'd have about ten more seconds to redeem himself. He leaned in and spoke with a voice he hoped was rich with sincerity.
"Listen, I was distracted there, a few minutes ago. Things on my mind. I'm sorry. I get too wrapped up in my own thoughts sometimes. If it happens again, it'd help if you'd call it to my attention. Any subtle hintpour coffee in my lap, slap me with a waffle...."
"I'll remember that," she said, handing him his change. Her gaze was encouragingly knifeless.
"I thought I'd stop by the hospital and have a chat with Doc," he said. "I'll look in on Annie and explain that you're at home whipping up a gourmet dinner, okay?"
"Okay," she replied. Warmly, this time.
He peeled a dollar bill out of the four she'd handed him and left it on the counter. "For the waitress," he explained. "You wouldn't know if she's seeing anyone...?"
"I think she is," Peg said. The way her lips curled into almost-a-smile gave him the shivers.
Brant was on his way out when he turned with an afterthought.
"Say...do you know where Tom would be about now?"
"Oh, are you two partners again?"
"In a way. Does he hang out anyplace particular on the weekends?"
"You might try the reservoir. Other than that...." Peg shrugged.
Brant thought for a moment, tapped his finger on the cash register, smiled. "Well, if I don't run into him before, I guess I'll see him tonight," he said, and Peg nodded.
Brant turned and nearly bumped into Madge Duffy. They exchanged greetings and Madge made a beeline for Peg.
Brant started across the street. He stopped in the middle and pretended to pick up a lucky penny, but actually he was sneaking a peek back at the diner. Madge still hadn't taken a seat. She and Peg were chatting about something, and the look on Peg's face told him it was serious. Peg nodded to Madge and then both women unexpectedly looked at Brant. He hurriedly pocketed the nonexistent penny and walked off with what he hoped was a jaunty air.
"He's damned lucky to be alive," Doc said, referring to Franz Klempner. "He's got some cuts and bruises and a few cracked ribs, probably some whiplash, but a wreck like that? I'd have expected worse. Much worse. He's got a guardian angel, that's for sure."
Brant nodded. "You never know. When I was...." He caught himself. He'd almost said, "When I was a reporter."
"I've seen people walk away from wrecks that should have killed them, and I've seen the opposite. Maybe the Reverend pulled some more strings."
Doc chuckled. "At this point I'm ready to believe anything. You saw Duffy at church, didn't you? The man hasn't looked that healthy in ten years."
Brant weighed his options carefully. Should he tell Doc about Deputy Haws or not? His paranoia urged him to proceed with caution.
"Maybe Duffy isn't the only one," he said. "Maybe there are others. Other Returns."
Doc seemed taken aback.
"Why would you think that?" he asked.
"Just thinking out loud. There doesn't seem to be any reason for Duffy to be picked for resurrection. Maybe the phenomenon is more widespread than that. Maybe Death's on a holiday or something."
"That would be my cue to retire," Doc offered. "But surely if there were others, we'd know, wouldn't we? If you came back from the dead, wouldn't you tell somebody about it?"
"I would, if I didn't mind sounding like a nut. Duffy's death was well documented. He couldn't come back quietly and go on about his business. But if I died, say, in my sleep one night, say I had a stroke, and I came back the next day, I might not even know it myself. Except for any changes, of course. And I wouldn't go buttonholing people and saying, 'Look at me! I died and came back!' They'd measure me for a strait jacket."
"I see your point. I think."
"I'm just saying...what if Madge Duffy hadn't phoned the police after killing her husband? What if she'd killed him and buried him under the petunias? Then he'd come back, claw his way out of the flower bed, and how would we have known? Madge wouldn't have broadcast the information, and even now, Duffy isn't saying a word."
"But she did call the police. We know he died."
"We know that about Duffy, but what about everybody else in town?"
"Such as everybody! You, me...everybody!"
"You think the entire population of Anderson's come back from the dead?"
"No! I'm just saying that they could! Christ, when I say it out loud, it sounds crazy."
Doc raised one eyebrow. "You said it, Brant, not me."
Brant leaned forward, propped his arms on Doc's desk. "What if I could cite a specific case, a person who died and came back, but for some reason kept the information to himself?"
"I'm speaking hypothetically. If I did find someone like that, what would it mean?"
"It would mean he didn't want his name in your newspaper."
"But it could mean a lot more, couldn't it? Like, a conspiracy."
Doc's patience seemed to reach its end. "Brant, for godsakes, listen to yourself! I'm tempted to sign your commitment papers myself, right now!"
Brant sighed. "Yeah, I know," he said. "But something in this town has changed. It's the air or the negative ions or something. Don't you feel it? The town just feels different."
"Maybe it's you who's changed," Doc said. "Maybe you need a rest. Take a week off and quit stewing about things you can't do anything about. If the Grim Reaper's taken Anderson off his rounds, we'll know soon enough, won't we? Here. I have some medicine for you."
"I don't want any medi--" Brant began, then he saw that Doc was reaching into his bottom desk drawer and pulling out a bottle of Maker's Mark and a couple of shot glasses.
"I keep this handy to steady my hands before surgery," Doc said. When he saw the look on Brant's face, he added, "I'm kidding."
"Don't kid like that around Merle Tippert," Brant advised. "He already thinks you're a drunk."
"Don't I know it," Doc said. He filled the glasses and handed one to Brant. "Cheers."
Brant drained his glass and set it on the edge of the desk. He waved off Doc's offer of a refill.
"I promised Peg I'd look in on Annie, and I think I'd like a word with Franz Klempner. Can I talk to him?"
"Out of my jurisdiction," Doc said. "He isn't with us any longer."
"Died?! But you said"
"He went home. Oh, I tried to keep him here, but the stubborn old goat wouldn't hear of it. He asked if he was going to die and I said 'Not today' and he said, 'Then I'm going home.' Against my better judgment, but...." Doc shrugged.
"Doc, you don't suppose...?"
"That Klempner didn't make it out of that wreck alive. That he died and came back."
Doc Milford reached across his desk for Brant's shot glass. "I'm cutting you off," he said, "You've bagged your limit. I'll walk with you to Annie's room."
During the walk along the corridor, Brant acknowledged that Doc was probably right about Klempner. "If Franz had come back, why didn't Irma and the Ganger boy? Say...the leg must be doing better."
Doc's limp had disappeared.
"What? Oh, you mean my hip. Never underestimate the power of a good whiskey," Doc said with a wink.
Brant explained to Annie that Peg wouldn't be in to see her because she was cooking a special meal for a special night. He told her he was sorry to take her mother away even for one evening but he hoped that she wouldn't hold it against him. He spoke to her just as if she could hear and understand, and he stroked her forehead and confided to her that he thought he was in love with Peg and he was going to try hard to be worthy of her. He said he had a lot to learn about love and faith and determination, and he figured that Peg was as good a teacher as he'd find anywhere.
For some reason none of this seemed foolish to him. Maybe he was buying into the myth that Annie was more than a human vegetable, and maybe she had come to symbolize something to him about his own life and the part of it that needed fixing. If he needed to find a miracle to believe in, the miracle of this little girl's recovery would suit him better than a hundred John Duffy's and Deputy Hawses.
As he walked to the parking lot he was unaware of Doc Milford standing at his office window watching him go. Doc's goldfish lay on the doctor's desk, asphyxiated. Doc had pulled it from its tank and plopped it on his desk blotter and watched it flip-flop around for the time it took it to die. He'd never sat back and watched something die before, not when there was something he could do to forestall that death. Life had always seemed so precious.
Now Doc was wondering what the fuss was all about. The fish swam around in its bowl, around and around, with no meaningful direction to its life. What did it matter if this one fish stopped swimming? He watched it die and felt no remorse. Did Seth watch over the little fishes in the sea as he did over humankind? Doc felt that he must. Would the fish know the blessing of Seth's love as Doc did? He felt it would.
He picked the fish up by the tail and dropped it back in its bowl where it floated on its side.
Doc picked up the telephone and dialed the Sheriff's Office. As he'd hoped, Deputy Haws answered.
"Harold?" Doc said, "it's me. Brant Kettering just stopped by. I think we have a situation." He recounted the conversation with Brant, particularly Brant's theory that the town could be secretly infested with Returns.
"I'll deal with it," Haws said.
Brant found Tom at the reservoir, all right, talking with the rest of the gangKent Fredericks, Buzzy Hayes, and Darren Coombs. They all seem subdued and for once it wasn't attributable to the joint that Kent tried to hide inside his cupped palm when Brant drove up.
"Hi, troops," Brant said. They mumbled their greetings back. "I guess you heard about the...about Galen Ganger."
"We heard," Tom said.
"I know how sorry you are," Darren said. Apparently he was taking over Galen's angry-young-man duties.
Brant blew out his cheeks and stared at the water.
"Well," he said, "Galen wouldn't win any popularity contests with most of the town, but it's hard when you lose a friend. So, Kent...."
Kent looked up as if he'd been called on in class.
"You going to Bogart that joint or pass it around?" Brant asked.
"Sixties talk," Tom translated. "It means he wants a hit."
Kent was baffled for a few moments, then he held the joint out to Brant. "It's out," he said.
"Got a light?"
Buzzy gave Brant the loan of his Bic and Brant lit up. He hadn't smoked marijuana for fifteen years and he'd heard that today's weed was a lot stronger than the homegrown he'd smoked in college, but he had to knock a hole in the wall between himself and these kids. Somehow he had to tap into their thoughts on the Deputy Haws matter without revealing what he knew about the murder. If the other boys learned that Tom had confided in him, they were likely to kick Tom out of the group and Brant would lose his "mole."
The stories about modern weed were correct. It was all Brant could do not to collapse into a coughing heap on the ground. He fought the constriction in his throat and held the smoke in his lungs as long as possible, then let it out slowly. He did what the boys did, just stared quietly at nothing for the time it took to smoke the joint down to a nub. Buzzy had a roach clip on his key chain that looked like a house key, Brant noticed.
Brant's head was spinning pretty good when Darren asked him, point blank, "Why'd you come out here?"
Brant studied the ground for an honest-enough answer.
"Something's bothered me about the accident," he said. "It struck me as odd."
"How so?" Tom asked. He knew why Brant had come to the reservoirhe'd come to see Tom. Brant had to appear more ignorant than he was in order to protect his source, and Tom could help by asking leading questions.
"Well, it's just that I always figured that Galen and Deputy Haws weren't exactly buddy-buddy," Brant said. "In fact, I pretty much figured they hated each other's guts."
Dark, worried looks circulated among the boys.
"So?" Kent asked.
"It just struck me funny," Brant said, "to see them together outside the church this morning." He told them about Galen's surprise appearance and his quick huddle with the deputy. "I guess Deputy Haws and myself were the last people to see Galen alive, except for the Klempners, of course. I wondered why Haws and Galen would be talking, is all."
"You said he was parked in front of a hydrant," Buzzy offered.
"That was another funny thing. Haws never wrote him a ticket. Didn't even pull out his book. The whole hydrant business sounded like, I don't know...."
"Like an excuse," Tom said. "Like he needed some reason to talk to him."
"Yeah," Brant said, as if the idea hadn't dawned on him before. "That's exactly what it was like. Then the...then Galen peeled out like, I don't know, like he'd just been given orders or something. Not that Haws told him to smash head-on into the Klempners and kill himself and them both. That'd be crazy. But it was like that. That's the kind of feel the whole thing had. Pretty strange, huh?"
"Pretty strange," Tom agreed. Looks shot around among the boys so fast it was like watching a juggling act.
The seed had been planted. Tom would do Brant's talking from this point on and report back to him at dinner. Brant, who'd been leaning against Darren's Satellite, stood up straight and stretched.
"So Haws knew you were watching?" Tom asked quickly. Brant noticed an urgency in his voice. Tom had something to tell him, but it was going to be awkward.
"Yeah. He saw."
The boys were all looking at Tom. What he wanted to say was, "Then you could be next," but he couldn't be so blunt.
"So?" Brant prodded.
"Nothing," Tom said. He looked around as if taking in the reservoir for the first time. "Warm today. Nice day to take a drive in the country or something. Spend the whole day away from the hassles of home."
"Yeah, I was thinking the same," Brant said, picking up on the veiled suggestion to make himself scarce. "Get out of the house. Stay as far away from the office as I can." He slapped Tom on the arm, said, "Hey, I may even check out the nudists' dock!"
He and Tom forced laughs and the other boys smiled. But nobody was laughing as Brant got back in his car and drove off. In the rear view mirror, he saw the boys talking and Buzzy pacing and Darren yelling about something to Tom. Kent just looked sick.
"Why would he do it? It doesn't make sense!"
That was Buzzy, talking and throwing his hands around as he paced back and forth in front of his Vega. He'd spent the morning getting it running again and was timing the engine when his dad came out to the garage and told him about Galen. A chill had gone up his spine then, and another one had appeared when Brant told them about Galen's meeting with Deputy Haws. The boys accepted as fact all that Brant had said and implied.
"Haws threatened him. Haws said he'd kill him if he didn't do it," Darren said.
"So he killed himself instead of getting killed? That's stupid," said Kent. "Either way he's dead."
"It makes sense," Tom said. He was teetering on the edge of the Blacklands, but he wasn't going to go over no matter how tempting it was. He wasn't going to space out.
"How?" Kent asked, almost pleaded.
"Because he plans to come back."
"Shit!" Buzzy said.
"Just because Haws came back doesn't mean Galen will," Darren stated.
"John Duffy came back, too."
"So what are you saying," Kent demanded, "that everybody that dies from now on is going to come back?"
"I don't know," Tom said. "But Galen wouldn't have killed himself if he didn't think so. Even if Haws threatened him with something. If he was that scared of Haws, he'd have just kept going. He'd have driven off and we'd never see him again."
"Maybe it was an accident," Buzzy suggested. "Maybe he didn't mean to kill himself at all. Maybe he was just fucking around with the old man and something happened."
"If you believe that, you wouldn't be peeing your pants right now."
"I'm not peeing my pants."
"Anyway, I guess we'll know soon enough."
"What do you mean?" Kent had gone a couple of shades whiter since Brant left. He looked like a little boy who'd been bedridden for a month and this was his first day in the sunshine.
"I mean we'll know soon enough if Galen's coming back. I figure it'll happen tonight or not at all."
The boys gathered around as Tom laid it out for them.
"From what I've heard about John Duffy's return, he came back around midnight. It was before midnight when we buried Haws. We don't know when he came back but if it was the same time as Duffy...."
"This kind of shit always happens at midnight," Buzzy said. "I mean, when it does happen, it's at midnight."
"What do you know about it?" Darren asked sarcastically.
"As much as you."
"You know what this means, don't you?" asked Tom.
"No, please tell us, O Wise One." Darren's attitude was grating on Tom's nerves. Tom made a point of looking at Darren when he told them:
"It means we have to be at the mortuary tonight at midnight to see for ourselves."
"Shit! If he comes back, I do not want to be there!"
"You'd rather sit around all day waiting for the phone to ring?" Buzzy asked. "'Hello, this is Galen, I'm back from the fucking dead, man!'"
"First, I want to see the corpse," Tom explained. "I want to see it now so I know he's really dead."
"The corpse is a fucking charcoal briquette."
"So they say. I want to see it for myself. And if it comes back, I want to see that, too. I've got to know, all right?"
"Then you're going alone, man," Darren declared, "because I am not getting anywhere near a mortuary at fucking midnight."
"I don't blame you," Tom said, "for being afraid. If you want to stay home in bed...."
Darren was up like a shot with a fist headed for Tom's chin. Tom was expecting it and sidestepped, holding his foot out so that Darren took a header as he went by. Darren got back on his feet and charged Tom again, head down, and Tom got him in a headlock and swung him around and into the side of Buzzy's Vega. He still had a hold on Darren's head when he swung him the other way and let go and Darren stumbled a few steps but didn't fall. He had his fists balled and charged again but this time Buzzy stepped between them and pretty soon Kent and Buzzy both had hold of Darren and were holding him back.
Darren let forth with a stream of obscenities and struggled against Kent and Buzzy for about a minute before running out of steam and dirty words. They were surprised when he fell limp and they almost dropped him to the ground. His head was down so they didn't notice right away that tears were running down his cheeks.
Darren fell to his knees. He wasn't able to hold it in any longer. He started sobbing. Tom felt sorry for him, not because he was crying but because he needed Galen more desperately than anyone, including Darren, would have guessed.
Come midnight, Tom knew, Darren would be there at the mortuary with him. And if Darren came, then Kent and Buzzy would, too.
Brant could almost believe, standing there on the dock in the sunlight with the occasional fish jumping in the water and the breeze caressing his face, that there was nothing at all wrong anywhere in the world, particularly in Anderson. It was so quiet, so peaceful.
Kind of amazing that he had the dock to himself. He'd expected to find a few naked bodies there, anyway, on a day that came like a present the way this one had. There were cars parked nearby, but they could belong to hikers or boaters. He recognized Merle Tippert's Studebaker. Merle wouldn't have been at the dock, though, not an old prude like Merle. Would he?
If Brant had seen anyone there he wouldn't have intruded. He didn't want to gawk. But the dock was empty and he had a day to kill. He wanted to clean up before dinner at Peg's, but Tom's thinly disguised warning had hit home. He'd had those same thoughts himself. Better to avoid the usual places. It seemed unlikely now, standing in the sun on the most perfect of autumn days, that Haws was stalking him, but you never know. You just never know.
The longer he stood on the dock the more secure he felt. He told himself that his imagination was working overtime. Maybe he just wanted so badly for something worth reporting on to happen that he'd built the whole thing up in his head. There was a rational explanation for everything that had happened. He just didn't know what it was. He was chasing ghosts. If he stayed on the dock long enough he'd talk himself out of everything.
He felt so comfortable that he considered getting naked after all. There was no one around to see, and if someone showed up, they were probably a nudist. What would it hurt? No, he couldn't do it. But he could take his shoes off. He could at least take his shoes and socks off.
He leaned down to unlace his shoes and that's when he noticed the stains under his feet. He'd visited enough crime scenes to recognize them. They were blood, and they were fresh.
Brant cast a quick look around and then strode back to his car. He drove off with his heart pumping a mile a minute, never discovering the four bodies Deputy Haws had pulled into the brush and covered with branches and leaves, waiting for midnight to work its magic.
Haws cruised the town several times looking for Brant's Toyota, but he didn't see it anywhere. Brant could usually be found at home or at the diner or at his office and he was at none of these places today. Haws figured that he might have gone to Junction City, the nearest town with a five-digit population, to pick up some things he couldn't find in Anderson.
He was tempted to drive back out to the reservoir and check on the bodies he'd left there. He'd been careful to cover them up but, since he didn't want any of them going through the ordeal he'd suffered upon his return, he didn't dig any earth or do any burying. He dragged them off to the side and covered them with debris and figured that was good enough to last until midnight. He wasn't too worried about anyone stumbling across themit was getting cooler as the sun headed for the horizon so the dock would see no more business todaythey just crossed his mind off-and-on the way things were prone to do.
He wondered about Seth's command to kill the nudists, but he didn't consider not doing it. Everyone would come to Seth sooner or later. He didn't see why they received such a high priority, that's all. Maybe it was a matter of opportunity, them being out there by themselves, easy targets, or maybe their nakedness was an offense to Seth in some way, a blasphemous celebration of the earthly flesh or life itself.
He didn't think of it as killing. He thought of it as introducing them to Seth, and dying was part of that process. When he'd drawn his gun and shot them one by one, he'd been puzzled by the terrified looks on their faces. But of course they didn't know that he was just sending them on a journey, that Haws was more of a conductor than an executioner. They thought they were really dying. Haws tried to see it from their perspective, but even with his newfound mental robustness he couldn't make that leap for more than a few moments at a time. There was only one way to see things, ultimately, and that was Seth's way.
Brant Kettering had gone to the head of the list of people who needed to meet Seth. The conversion process was at a critical point. As far as most of the people in town knew, John Duffy was the only person to come back. A few more knew about Deputy Haws, but the main troublemaker, Galen Ganger, would meet Seth tonight. He'd take care of the others.
Brant was a bit of a puzzle, though. Did he know about Haws or didn't he? Even Doc Milford wasn't sure and he was the one who'd talked to him. But it didn't really matter. Haws would introduce Brant to Seth and then everything would be all right.
Haws decided to park his car outside Brant's house. If he'd gone to Junction City, he'd be back shortly, and Haws could take care of him then.
It was warm inside the patrol vehicle so Haws rolled down the windows and let a breeze wander through. He scooted the seat back for more leg room and leaned his porky neck against the head rest. He decided to rest his eyes and listen for Brant's car to drive up. Five minutes later he was fast asleep.
He didn't see Brant ease his car through the intersection at the far end of the street, but Brant saw Haws and kept going. Maybe he'd just chosen Brant's street for an afternoon siesta, but Brant was taking no chances, not until he knew more. He was still operating on hearsay and conjecture and with an acute shortage of hard factsnot a comfortable spot to be in. Part of him wanted to leave town and never look back, but another part reminded him of the words of Edmund Burke, a sentence he'd once, in his younger, fiery days, typed out and pinned to his bulletin board: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
He couldn't go to the authoritieshe didn't trust Sheriff Clark, and anyone else would instantly write him off as a loonyand he couldn't go home. So he hit the highway and drove out to the Klempners' farm, thinking of Eloise. By all standards of decency (except those of television reporters, who had none) it was too soon to interview the grieving widower, but another day could be too late. If he had to err....
He knocked softly, figuring that Franz Klempner was probably in bed asleep. A dog barked inside, a fairly large one by the sound of him. Soon the old man appeared at the door. The dog scooted in between Brant and Franz and barked fiercely while his tail whipped the air, slapping against the old man's shins. Franz looked like he'd been beaten up but was remarkably hale for someone who'd been through such a serious accident. He should have been in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, with tubes in his arms and a beeping monitor at his bedside.
"I'm Brant Kettering," Brant said. "I run the Cooves County Times. I was hoping--"
"I don't want to talk to the papers," Franz said, and he started to shut the door. It might have closed in Brant's face but for the dog who was in the way, trapped between the big door and the screen.
Brant quickly added, "I'm not here on business. In fact, I'd rather talk to you 'out of school,' as it were."
"Come back later," Franz said, shoving at the dog with his foot.
"It was no accident that killed your wife."
The words popped out of his mouth before Brant had time to think about them. It was a cruel and careless thing to say, but it worked. Franz held the door open and peered out at him, sizing him up.
"Something very strange is going on in town," Brant said. "Your wife may be the only person who knew exactly what it was."
The old man stood in the doorway for several long seconds. Finally he unlatched the screen door and turned his back on Brant saying, "You'd best come in. The dog won't bite."
Franz hobbled into the living room, obviously in considerable pain. He walked hunched over and picked his way slowly. When he lowered himself into an overstuffed chair that should have been sitting outside waiting for the trash truck, he moaned and freefell the last few inches. He fingered his side, where Brant could see through a gap in Franz' shirt that Doc had wrapped the cracked ribs.
Elmer the dog gave Brant the once over and received a scratch behind the ears, then he curled up at Franz' feet, lay his head on his paws and proceeded to ignore the ensuing conversation.
Brant sat in the rocking chair, the only other chair in the room. He expressed his condolences and Franz waved them away and steered him back to the main topic. Now that Brant had the audience he'd wanted, he wasn't sure where to begin.
"You heard about John Duffy," Brant said, and Franz acknowledged that he had. "Do you believe it?"
"I don't know," Franz answered. "If I'd seen it with my own eyes, maybe I would."
Brant angled his chair to point more squarely toward Franz and leaned forward. "It's true. And what's more, John Duffy isn't the only one. There are others. I don't know how many, but there's at least one more. There was no way to keep Duffy's return a secret, but others could be dying and coming back and not telling anyone about it."
"Why would they do that?"
"That's the worrisome thing. One of them...well, it's Deputy Haws."
"I know him."
"He was shot the night John Duffy came back. He was shot and killed. The next day he was back, good as new, with a bullet hole in his shirt. He never said a word to anybody, not even to Sheriff Clark. Mr. Klempner, the boy who shot him was Galen Ganger."
Franz stiffened in his chair.
"I saw Haws talking to the Ganger boy shortly before your accident. I don't know for sure, but he may have ordered him to...do what he did. It may have had something to do with what Irma said at the church."
Brant became highly aware of the antique clock ticking loudly on the mantel. Either Franz or Irma had probably bought it new. The clocked ticked off a good three minutes before Franz said anything.
"I thought it was me," Franz said. "Because I drive slow, the boys have their fun with me."
"Mr. Klempner, who is Eloise?"
Franz shook his head. "I don't know anyone by that name."
"Did Irma know anyone named Eloise?"
"Not that I recall."
"Maybe someone from long ago."
"No, no. I don't remember anyone by that name. I'm sorry. My wife, she wasn't right, you know, in the belfry. But she was a good woman."
Brant nodded with a sympathy that he discovered, to his surprise, was genuine. Maybe two years in Anderson had softened him more than he knew.
They sat in silence for some time, Franz in his big stuffed chair, rigid as a statue, the dog at his feet. Brant noticed the Bible on the lamp table next to him, well worn. He jumped when Franz spoke, catching him by surprise.
"She had nightmares," Franz said. "Always had them, but they were worse as of late. It was the bell that set her off, though. Scared her half to death."
"The church bell. Some fool's taken to ringing it late at night. Midnight. It's that new preacher, I'd guess. It just set her off something awful."
Brant sat back and subconsciously began to rock. "Hm," he said, and he rocked slowly, back and forth, forward and back, while the mantel clock ticked and Elmer the dog chased a rabbit in his sleep, and Franz Klempner sat like a stone in his ratty old overstuffed chair, occasional tears running unashamedly down his cheeks.
As dusk fell in Anderson, Deputy Haws jerked in his sleep and his elbow honked the horn of his patrol vehicle and he woke with a start.
Tom Culler arrived home and helped his mother by peeling some potatoes.
Doc Milford called it a day.
And the roaches under Carl Tompkins' floor picked clean the skeleton of a cat who'd crawled under the house a few hours before, seeking someplace cool.