So what would you’ve done? No, I didn’t have any proof, and I didn’t think we’d find any. Unless the boys could find some trace of him or his car out at her place, all I had were suspicions. Arbutus said she fell; and that was all I was gonna get outta her for a while, until the doctors were done working on her and she woke up again, and that coulda been a coupla days.
I didn’t have to talk to her; I knew it. Knew it. In my car in front of the hospital, I let myself think about how it musta been…..“Bill” going out to Arbutus’s place, talking, threatening….and Arbutus back-talking him. Telling him to go fuck himself. Telling him if he didn’t get the hell off her place, she was gonna let him have it with her new bat.
I shoulda stopped right there, but I went ahead and imagined him taking the bat away from her, imagined him hitting her with it. Watching her fall into the ravine, and then driving away, leaving her there; or maybe he pushed her in, thinking she’d be dead by the time anybody found her.
I knew just what it had to cost her to get up that slope so Mrs. Logan could find her. Thank God Arbutus ain’t a tender flower.
It was tough for me to sit still in the hospital waiting room, waiting to talk to the doc to make sure Arbutus was gonna be ok. It was time for me to do something. Time and past time. I shoulda listened to my gut in the first place, maybe Arbutus wouldn’t be in the hospital now.
No more waiting for Lynn to figure out what she was gonna do. No more waiting for Lois’s plans, whatever they were, to come about.
I warned him.
I’d been trying to be what everybody wanted me to be, trying to fit into this quiet little town, trying to do things the way Herbert wanted them done……but not anymore. Herbert was wrong and I was right. Something had to be done, somebody had to do it.
And sometimes…..you can’t do things by the book. Sometimes, for justice, you have to take care of it yourself.
Toots tried to tell me I couldn’t go in to see Arbutus yet, but I didn’t listen to her. She got outta my way.
There’s something about laying in a hospital bed that makes a person look like she’s half dead whether she is or not. Or maybe it was because I don’t usually see Arbutus asleep. She was cleaner than when I saw her before; her hair was washed and combed, and spread out over the pillow. It looked grayer than I remembered.
She looked like the undertaker had laid her out.
But Pierce said she’d be fine. Eventually. She had a cast on her arm, her ribs would heal. No bandages over the stitches on her face, 17 of ‘em. I couldn’t see the stitches on her leg, cause she was covered up with a sheet from the waist down, but the doc said 29 there. That was the place the doc said would need the most watching, ‘cause it was the biggest and the dirtiest wound.
She was pale, so pale….except for the places that were purple.
If “Bill” woulda been there right then, he woulda been dead already.
She was sleeping, I didn’t mean to wake her up, I just……I don’t know, I meant to just look in on her before I got my other pistol and went hunting, I didn’t intend to do any more than that. But I needed to touch her, I guess. Yeah, I touched her before she got to the hospital, I talked to her, I knew she wasn’t anywhere near dead…..so maybe I wanted to let her know I was there. Even though she was asleep. Don’t know, sometimes I don’t know why I do things, and don’t worry about it too much. If I need to do something, I just do it. This was one a’ those times.
So I walked all the way in, and leaned over the rail, and kissed her on the cheek, the one that wasn’t purple, like she’s always doing to me. Her eyes fluttered, she sighed. She wasn’t awake, her eyes never opened up and stayed open, so I couldn’t tell if she was gonna remember it later or not…..
She said something to me then, a whisper under her breath. She said that thing we never said to each other. Mighta been true, but we didn’t say it. No reason to, and a lotta reasons not to. Except this time she said it……and so I said it back.
I could see the white tear trail on her face, from her eye down to her ear. Had she been crying in her sleep, and nobody there to hold her hand? Some of the urgency to find the sonuvabitch right now and put him down left me. I took her hand, squeezed it. She whispered again, I couldn’t make out for sure what she said, it sounded to me like something about ponies. So probably she was dreaming, or I just didn’t get it. And then she seemed to settle. Sleep.
I was standing next to the bed, holding her hand, when the door opened.
Toots said, “Mrs. White, I’m not supposed to let--“ Lynn stood in the doorway and looked at me. Toots muttered, “Why do I waste my breath?” Lynn looked at Arbutus, back at me. Didn’t say anything. I don’t know what she was thinking for sure. I know what I woulda been thinking if I was in her shoes…..but I also know what women think about and what men think about ain’t always the same thing.
And then she turned around and left. The door stood open until Toots shut it.
Talked to Lucius on the phone before I left the hospital, calmed him down. He was in Wisconsin visiting his grandchildren; said he’d come back if I thought Arbutus needed him. I didn’t know whether he meant he wanted to come back, but not if Arbutus didn’t want him; or whether he didn’t wanna come back, but thought he should. I told him to call back in a couple of days and talk to her himself. I guess that wasn’t the answer he wanted; he sounded insulted, and said he was gonna talk to Pierce and get the story from him.
Good idea. I don’t know why he wanted to talk to me anyway.
Lynn’s car wasn’t at the house when I stopped back there to get my other pistol. Norma’s was. I could hear Norma and Patty talking and laughing in the kitchen before I opened the back door.
“How is she?” Patty asked when I walked in.
“She’s sleeping. Where’s Lynn?”
“That’s an awful thing to happen to an older person,” Norma said. “It takes them so long to recover.”
“She’s not that old,” I said. “She’s gonna be fine. Where’s Lynn?”
“She said she was going to the hospital. Didn’t you see her?”
“Yeah, I saw her. She didn’t come back here?”
They shook their heads. I could hear the kids upstairs playing. Giggling, feet stomping, a warwhoop now and then.
“You mind watching the kids a while longer?” I asked.
Patty said, “Sure. That’s the reason I took a vacation, so I could babysit.” I think that was supposed to be sarcasm.
Norma put her hand on Patty’s arm. “I’ll stay, if you want me to. We could go to the Dairy Dreme for supper. Have some ice cream. Come back and watch Ed Sullivan.”
I went out to the garage to get the other pistol, not the one I wore to work, the one I picked up outta the snow after Blonde Hair dropped it, in the mountains. I never used it, but I kept it. You never know when you might want an anonymous shooter. Found the adhesive tape and taped up the grip and the trigger, loaded it, and wiped it down good before shoving it in my waistband, in the back, under my jacket.
Turned around, and Patty was standing there. She looked scared.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing. Go back inside. Take the kids to the Dairy Dreme. Here,” I pulled out my wallet, found a couple of bills, and handed them to her. “For supper.”
“Bud….” She took the money. “I hate it that I never know what’s going on.”
“You’d hate it more if you knew. I don’t know when Lynn will be back. Or me either. We appreciate you watching the kids.”
She nodded. Stood and watched me drive away, shading her eyes with her hand against the rays of the setting sun.
I was only five blocks away when Norma came roaring up behind me in her big shark, honking the horn. I pulled over, she pulled over behind me, got out and ran up to my car just as I was opening my door.
“Bud! Betty called! She said it’s really important!”
“I’m kinda busy right now. You tell her I’ll--“
“No, Bud, it’s really important. She missed you at the hospital, she’s been trying to find you for half an hour. She said you have to go over to Mrs. Hansen’s house right now. Albert’s waiting for you there.”
You can probably guess what I thought I was gonna find. I figured Lois changed her tune and he beat the crap outta her. Something like that. That’s what a person would naturally think, right? After what happened to Arbutus.
Albert was outside, leaning against his car. I slammed the brake on and jumped outta the car. “Is she ok?”
“Betty didn’t tell you?” Albert didn’t look good. Looked sick.
I shook my head.
“There’s no hurry. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t go back in with you.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “She’s in the kitchen. I didn’t want to call anybody else till you got here so……she’s still there. She…..left you a note. So….I’m gonna…..go over to the neighbor’s and call Betty again, tell her to send the ambulance.”
She left me a note. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I shoulda seen it coming. A blind man coulda seen it. Dammit. She left me a fucking note.
I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I guess I was thinking pills, or oven, or maybe she slit her wrists…….
I used to wonder---if people who hanged themselves really knew what their bodies would look like when they were found, would they still do it? I figure most people have never seen a hanging, hell, I guess most people have never seen a body of any kind until after it’s been at the funeral home for a while. I ain’t gonna tell you about it, but you can take my word for it, it ain’t something you ever wanna see.
It’s possible the person thinking about hanging themselves doesn’t realize what it’s gonna be like for the person who finds the body.
Or I guess it could be they just don’t care about that.
On the counter, next to her apron, was the note. I was still thinking there was a small chance it was murder, but the note took care a’ that idea.
“Deputy White, it’s all done, everything has been taken care of, this is just the last thing. Now there’s nothing he can do to hurt me, or my Nora. You didn’t get to eat any pie. and I promised you the recipe to give your wife, so here it is. Lois”
Followed by the recipe. I didn’t plan on giving it to Lynn, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t appreciate it.
There was no sign of the stupid mutt; if he was hiding under the bed, he could just stay there. Somebody else could rescue him this time.
I knew Lois meant for me to eat a piece of the pie sitting on the counter next to the note.……dammit, it’d been sitting all day in a room with a dead woman. Just not appetizing, you know? But she made it for me. Her last act. So after the boys left with her body, I opened all the doors and windows, and got a fork outta the drawer.
It looked lots better than the piece of pie at the picnic; not so green, not so watery. I still didn’t like coconut, but it was ok. It was ok.