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ISSUE:  Spring 1995

Les felt eyes. Even sitting alone and not lifting a hand. Or lying nights in the third-story bedroom of what Tobaccoton people referred to as a mansion, he imagined shapes gathered in the orchard and drifted upward from windy darkness to his gabled window. Vacant, spectral irises peered above the sill. He yanked covers over his face.

A sun-blasted Virginia Fourth of July, and Hector, the aged black owner of the grocery shanty beside the Norfolk-Southern tracks, sold fireworks illegally from beneath a wooden counter grooved a sandy tinge by the drag of Negro fingers. The cherry-bomb special: 25 cents.

Les meant to bury the bomb under blue regimented lead soldiers in a fringe of vegetable garden between the house and the frame stable swaybacked from the pull of creeper and honeysuckle. John would plow the red-clay soil later anyway for a fall seeding of turnip salad, collards, and mustards.

Once Les hollered to his mother, grandmother, and Aunt Clara to stand on the latticed veranda, he’d wave the small Stars and Bars bought at the Howell County Fair, give a rebel yell, and fire the cherry bomb.

The women had carried fried chicken and potato salad to the Mount Olivet Presbyterian Church picnic. He stuffed himself before he hurried home and pinched up the quarter from the top drawer of his mother’s rosewood chiffonnier.

She kept change in a porcelain saucer that had three white lilies painted at the bottom. His plan secret, he intended to pay the money back from the allowance he earned weekly for painting fences and trimming edges of the turtle-back front walk.

He changed clothes and hurried to the battlefield. As he redeployed soldiers behind wind-downed oak branches split and zigzagged to look like rail fences, the women returned, and his mother called from a window of her white bedroom.

They waited for him. The top chiffonnier drawer had been pulled out, and his mother held the porcelain saucer in her palms.

“Leslie, anything you wish to tell us?” she asked, a tall woman, erect, her dark hair graying, her eyes large and pale lavender. She rarely blinked, and when she did, the act itself seemed an utterance.

“For god’s sake it’ only—” Aunt Clara said, younger than his mother, her sister. Aunt Clara had what his grandmother termed a weak chin—in fact hardly any chin at all. She often cupped a hand over it. Never married, she worked in the commissioner’s office at the courthouse and smoked Lucky Strikes right down to nicotined knuckles.

“Let him speak,” his mother said. She raised the saucer slightly. She had on no jewelry, not a single ring. She did wear a small gold watch on a black silk cord looped around her neck. The watch had belonged to her maternal grandmother, whose husband had been a circuit-court judge. Portraits hung in the parlor.

“Nobody home and I—” Les said.

“Took the money,” his grandmother said. Age had shortened her, but she still held her back straight. As a child she’d worn a brace passed down to women in the family to insure good posture. She had grayish white hair and grape-blue eyes recessed under thick brows. She sat in the window seat, her black-shod feet drawn tightly together.

“I got a show for you in the garden,” Les said.

“You came into my room, opened my drawer, and took my money,” his mother said.

“—a quarter,” Aunt Clara said, lighting another unfiltered Lucky. She dragged on a cigarette like a man, inhaling deep and shooting smoke through her nose. The grandmother couldn’t object to tobacco in the house because the family’s wealth had been made on the planting and sale of dark-fired leaf to the Scandinavians.

Les’s great Uncle Benjamin had operated the brick warehouse at the south end of River Street where parallel rows of baskets got auctioned off in the midst of tawny, aroused dust. These days most local farmers carried their crop to Black-stone, and Uncle Benjamin’s warehouse had been sold out of the family.

“Stealing’s not quantity,” Les’ mother said. “It’s an act of character.”

“But I honest mean to—” Les said.

“You must never, never do such a thing again,” his mother said. She was still holding the saucer in her palms—like an offering before the altar at Mt. Olivet.

He left the room feeling hot-faced and eyes crawly on his back. He walked to the garden, dug up the cherry bomb, and carried it and the soldiers to the Staunton River. He threw them into the brown, sluggish flow. The soldiers sank, and the cherry bomb floated away unlit. The folded flag he stuck in his closet. He paid the money back, no more said.

Each fall he walked the lane at the front of the house to school. Burgundy leaves of over-arching boughs dropped a feelable shade. They were called the Victoria oaks because planted in 1837, the first year of that queen’s reign. From a limb his father had hung a swing made by tying a length of raw hemp rope to a bald Goodrich tire. John, his grandmother ‘s yard man, had been ordered to bring it down.

When left alone at the house, Les searched. There were seven bedrooms and many more closets, most unused, yet still containing musty silk dresses, hats, and shoes the leather of which had dried and lost its luster. He wondered what’d happened to the brace.

He discovered ivory-handled straight razors, spurs, a cane that had a bone head carved like a fox, a rusted .32 cal. Iver Johnson pistol, the cylinder empty of bullets, and a heavy calvary sword, the hilt battered, the blade deeply nicked.

No vestige of his father, not a snapshot, tie, or hairbrush. Disjointed impressions recurred—the tire swing and on the second-story veranda a brawny man laughing and naked to the waist, his arms raised to hold Les up to sunlight piercing thick foliage of the white oaks.

“He left,” was the explanation, the words pronounced emphatically, Les’ mother’s face rigid in the pained, stricken manner assumed while she sat in the music room. She no longer played the Chickering, which she kept closed so the western sun would not further yellow the keys. A peacock’s fan covered the fireplace, and Ramona often failed to wind the Seth Thomas clock on the marble mantel.

His tight-lipped grandmother told Les, “He squandered her money.” Nothing more.

Les questioned Ramona, the black maid herself slim daughter of a maid, young when she’d arrived to work at the house, and he’d watched her raise her arms to hang clothes on the line, an act which hoisted astonishingly out-of-proportion breasts, which shifted mysteriously and appeared to have their own secret, exciting life. He felt guilt, but the stirring did not quiet.

Now Ramona had mothered babies and become heavy in hips and thighs. She no longer walked lightly. He sat at the kitchen table while she rolled out pie dough on the floured counter. John, bent and aching, had managed to pick a quart of red cherries in the orchard before crows and grackles raided the tree.

“Don’t ask me nothing,” Ramona lowered her voice to say and glanced toward the front of the house where Les’ grandmother talked with Mr. Eugene Waters from the Planters Bank. Grandfather Edgar had been a founder, and Mr. Waters, now president, personally brought the monthly check. The grandmother served him tea in her second-best china.

“But you seen,” Les whispered to Ramona, who kept her back to him. She wore a green uniform that had a white collar.

“I seen and that’s all,” she whispered. “Your mamma kill me if she knew I talking. Be smoke and blood all over this place. How I remember? He just another man gone.”

A blazing, June afternoon, school let out for the summer and a day sweet with freedom. While Les and Skeeter Tuck fished for crappie, Buck Mosley stopped his bronze Cougar above the river-bank. The Cougar had mag rims, dual carburetors, and a pounding tape deck. Buck worked at the Brookneal chenille plant and kept that mean machine shiny as a spit-rubbed penny.

Lou Brightwell stepped out to stand beside him. She wore tight red shorts and a yellow tank top. Les and Skeeter were obliged to accept an offered Bud from the iced sixpack or have their manhood shamed in front of bold, blond Lou. She’d been a cheerleader high-stepping it in golden boots and flashing the white insides of her thighs. Half the boys in Tobaccoton lusted after Lou, whose father and mother had jobs at the shoe factory.

Carl Whitlock, a county deputy, happened to be driving over the one-lane plank bridge and saw the beer-can glint. He parked among sycamores to sneak to the riverbank. Carl, a Baptist, asked Les and Skeeter their ages. Skeeter had turned 18 and was all right. Les fell short.

“Could write a ticket but I’ll just let your folks know what you up to,” Carl said.

Eyes again, this time in the dusky front parlor with its heavy damask curtains and stern murky portraits. His mother and grandmother sat him before them on a pink velvet chair that had polished brass knobs for feet.

“I hardly swallowed,” Les said. “I just held the can.”

“And the girl, Lou Brightwell, you know her reputation in this town,” his mother said.

“They drove up after Skeeter and me were fishing,” Les said. “She’s Buck’s girl.”

“What we hear she’s everybody’s,” his grandmother said, seated in a winged leather chair set under the portrait of great-grandfather Boyd dressed in black judicial robes.

“I hated the taste,” Les said. “I spit it out.”

“Spat,” his mother said and clasped her hands. “We’ll consider your punishment.”

His punishment was Moultrie Military Academy down in Georgia. Exile denied him his sophomore, junior, and senior year at John Randolph High School. He didn’t mind the rigid life and hazing much as he was used to obeying rules. His flesh quickly absorbed bruises from cadet officers’ saber-eanings.

Lots of city boys from the North, more worldly and street wise, a few scary bad, like a leering weasel from East Orange who poured gasoline on a cat and set it afire. The big things Les learned had nothing to do with books and discipline.

Vacations he wore his uniform home and found himself invited to parties. After the Toetappers Cotillion he caught Aunt Clara. He’d been allowed to drive his mother’s Chrysler to carry Betsy Anne Bowser to the dance. Not even a belly rub from yakking, giggly Betsy and only a single tight-mouth goodnight kiss at her lighted doorway.

Instead of heading straight home, Les wound back through the still, silent town where electric Christmas candles burned in windows and spotlights jabbed darkness to illuminate eerie creches before spired ghostly churches. He cruised along what locals called the Hanging Tree Road. He realized he’d better not have an accident or he’d need to explain what he was doing out in the sticks. What he was doing was thinking of Lou Brightwell and feeling himself up.

He pulled into a fire trail dividing a two-hundred acre stand of loblollies belonging to the Georgia-Pacific company, and the sweeping headlights uncovered Aunt Clara and Mr. Douglas Gaffney. Mr. Gaffney, the county commissioner, hopped around jerking at his trousers as Aunt Clara slid from the Chevette’s hood to shove down her skirt. Their faces gleamed white as peeled onions.

Les drove home where he lay in bed and heard Aunt Clara’s car roll in slow and soft along the lane. He figured they’d used the hood because they found the interior of her Chevette too cramped for maneuvering. Mr. Douglas Gaffney’s wife Lavania Tilly sang in the Mt. Olivet choir and had borne him three daughters.

Aunt Clara slipped through the side entrance and up the back stairs. Les cracked his bedroom door and leaned out to listen to fading, swishing footsteps on the hall carpet. The house still smelled of cedar from the decorated tree John had taken down and hauled out to burn.

Saturday morning Aunt Clara ate no breakfast, and he didn’t see her again till that night when she sat across from him at the oak table that’d belonged to great-grandfather Paulson. With all its leaves in place the table seated a dozen people and still allowed room for elbow flapping. Aunt Clara knew he sneaked looks at her as she spooned her rice soup. She reddened but never glanced at Les.

He knocked on her door later. She rarely joined his mother and grandmother in the upstairs den. Her bedroom, like his, was in the rear, though on the second floor. She’d propped herself among pillows on her yellow chaise to read Mademoiselle. The table radio played staticy jazz from Danville. He caught the quick dip of her hand to the far side of the chaise. She kept a washed highball glass in her room. She hid her vodka on the bookshelf behind a copy of Miss Manners” Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. Her hand cupped her chin, and again she blushed.

“You ratting on me?” she asked, smoke coiling angrily around her words. She switched off the radio.

“Trade you,” he said. She’d arranged her antique doll collection on the window seat that covered an iron radiator. All were smiling and colorful beneath panes blackened by night and rapped by sleet.

“Trade what?” she asked. Despite her lack of chin, she had lustrous short brown hair and gentle brown eyes. She looked real nice when she took time to primp. She must’ ve gussied up to attract Mr. Douglas Gaffney, who wouldn’t’ve needed to think about her chin out there under the loblollies.

“Don’t just tell me he left,” Les said.

She closed her magazine, swung her feet to the floor, and snubbed out her Lucky in a seashell. Though her fingernails had no polish, she’d painted her toenails purple. She pushed back her hair and ran fingers down her throat before flipping her lemon-colored negligee over plump knees. Her lips clamped, she shook her head.

“What’d he do so bad I can’t find out?” Les asked.

She bowed her head and looked up at him from tops of her eye sockets.

“Some things are better not found,” she said.

“I guess you’d know about that,” he said.

“All right, damn you for being a brat, he walked out on a Boyd,” she said. “Nobody in the entire history of this illustrious family had ever before done such a despicable thing.”

“Why’d he do the walking?”

“Wasn’t born in Tobaccoton or even Virginia. Rolled down here from the West Virginia mountains, used the wrong fork, and you know how an act of such world-shaking importance is received around here. Your father stole your mother, swept her off her feet at the Tobacco Festival. He was passing through on his way to a construction job in Tennessee and attracted by the colored lanterns and street-dancing music.”

Aunt Clara stood and crossed to her dresser mirror. She edged her face sideways to inspect herself but still kept the chin covered. She again brushed back her hair.

“Your mother suffered a moment of weakness,” she said. “He was terrible handsome in a rawbone fashion. Black hair, big shoulders, slab-faced. They didn’t get married in church but a roadside chapel by a quickie preacher up in Maryland. Drove her car and used her money to pay that preacher. Good thing Daddy lay in the grave. He’d have shot Morgan. Mamma like to died.”

Morgan, his father’s given name not spoken in the house. It jarred the air of the perfumed room.

“Got to be more,” he said.

“Your daddy was about as popular around here as a coon in the corn crib,” she said and returned to the chaise where she sat and stared at her feet. “Didn’t set any records for working hard at Uncle Benjamin’s warehouse. Liked a drink or two. I’ll say this—he brought this place alive.”

“Keep going,” Les said.

“Your sure you want to hear everything?” she asked.

“Plenty sure.”

She lit a Lucky, took a drag deep enough to reach and stain her purple toenails, and snorted smoke. A corner of her mouth twisted up.

“You were already on the way,” she said. “Before the trip to Maryland.”

Les had to think a second before he understood. Then shame pumped hot as his mother’s words act of character took shape in his mind. That was why they’d been eyeing him over the years, to see his father in him, fearing or expecting conduct from him exposing a taint of genes?

“They ran him off?” Les asked.

“More like Morgan was a leper. People in the house and around town looking down on him. He got to drinking heavy and became sick.”

“Sick how?” Les asked, hope rising because there’d been much infirmity in the family and sickness was acceptable and required no repentance.

Aunt Clara hesitated. She drew on the Lucky, sighed, shook her head.

“Tell it!” Les said.

“Kind men catch from women they shouldn’t be out with.”

She closed her eyes, and he pictured colored illustrations bright as intestines on pages of the hygiene chapter in the ROTC Manual at Moultrie Military. He recalled dirty, snickering remarks made by fellow cadets.

“I didn’t want to,” Aunt Clara said, and she’d started crying.

“Where’d he go?” Les asked.

“Back to the mountains I think. A little coal town. Bear Paw as I remember.” She dropped the hand from her chin. “Oh, Leslie, lonely, unwanted people do odd and curious things. Try to understand and forgive.”

* * *

During Christmas break his third year at Moultrie Military, Les’s grandmother gave him a new 50 dollar bill in a Planters Bank envelope decorated with red-berried holly leaves. He also saved a cut of weekly allowance. By April he had 87 dollars.

His mother expected him home for Easter. He chanced she wouldn’t know exactly what day the vacation started. He lopped off the first two of ten and wrote to tell her he’d be coming on Monday, the 17th.

Instead of taking Amtrak from Atlanta to Richmond and the bus to Tobaccoton, he carried his bag to the Greyhound depot in Moultrie, rode it first to Charlotte, then Roanoke, and finally through the night to Bear Paw in southern West Virginia.

Day dawned as the Greyhound stopped before a peeling white clapboard store that had two self-service gasoline pumps in front and an overhang porch with a bench three old men sat on. The driver handed Les his bag and pulled away fast, leaving oily blue diesel fumes strung along the shadowed valley.

Snow patched wooded slopes, which rose on each side of Bear Paw. Roads branching off the one paved street were cindered. A stream ran through town, sluicing full from melting snow. A coal drag banged, clanged, and rattled past, the hopper cars empty. Dogs barked. On the mountainside a narrow, grim church had suffered fire, its steeple smudged.

Toting his bag, Les climbed the porch steps. The store also served as the post office, and a flag hung over the entrance. On one side of the screened double door an Honest Snuff sign had been tacked to siding, at the other a tin Orange Crush bottle which had a thermometer at its center. It read 67 degrees.

Legs crossed, the three men on the bench had stopped chewing to watch him from flinty probing eyes. Two moss-backs were bearded, and all wore high-top shoes, leather jackets, khaki shirts buttoned to the collar, and clean billed caps.

“Morning,” Les said. They continued to gaze as if they hadn’t heard. Maybe it was his uniform. He sidled into the store.

Open wooden shelves stretched back into dimness where a single light bulb burned. A few salt-cured hams dangled from rafters, their scent sharp. Mounted deer looked down, eyes sad and shocked. A set of antlers cradled a lever-action rifle, the price tag attached to the trigger guard. A white-haired man wearing an apron and black bow tie stood behind a crank type cash register.

“Looking for somebody who might live” round here,” Les said.

“Might covers lots of territory,” the man said. He was toothless, gums anemic pink, his accent different from Virginia or Georgia, higher in the nose, the words bitten off.

“Name of Sharp. Hoping you know of him.”

“Hope don’t cost a dime,” the man answered. He reset his glasses.The three who’d been sitting on the porch bench filed in. They’d come to watch. “They’s always Sharps.”

“Morgan Sharp,” Les said. “From hereabouts.”

“Chances if he be, he was and gone,” the storekeeper said. “And gone means ain’t.”

“Maybe you heard of him,” Les said.

“Maybe covers big territory too,” the storekeeper said and spit—spat—aside into a five-gallon lard can partly filled with black soil.

“You gentlemen able to help?” Les asked, turning to the men at the door.

“Son, this is a dying town,” the storekeeper said, tearing open a carton of Brown’s Mule to arrange plugs in a glass-front case that needed dusting. “Most coal’s mined out, and most people is too. Just a few left up-holier. Soon won’t be nothing left but crows and cockroaches.”

Les still held his bag. He stood uncertain what to do next. He hadn’t eaten breakfast and looked at candy bars in the display case. He bought a Hershey almond. He’d walk through town. Possibly somebody remembered. As he passed the three men and opened the door, one spoke:

“Sheila Ackers,” he said. “She knew Morgan.”

“Who she didn’t?” a second man said.

“How do I find Miss Ackers?” Les asked.

“Miss hal” the first said and spat out the door.

“Up the street,” the second man said.

“That old bank,” the third said. “Steps at the side.”

Les thanked them, left, and changing hands on his bag walked into town. The wan sunlight shone through haze. Weeds flourished from cracks in the broken concrete sidewalk.

Buildings had been boarded up or displayed empty windows. A furniture outlet offered a mattress sale. A sign soaped across glass of a grocery store advertised a rib special. A man wearing rubber boots hosed off used cars in a lot strung with motionless red-white-and-blue whirligigs. Everywhere the alien, lingering reek of coal.

Les ate his Hershey as he walked. A skinny tow-headed young boy bumped his bicycle across railroad tracks. Men wearing miners” helmets passed in a grimy Ford pickup, their faces blackened except for mask-like whiteness around the eyes.

The keystone of the brick two-story bank had a date on it—1972.Cinderblock had been used to mortar up the windows. The steps at the side were a rusted iron fire escape.

Les climbed to a studded metal door which had a dried Christmas wreath hanging from a knocker shaped like a miner’s pick. It was hinged at the handle end. He heard music.

When he raised and let the knocker fall, the wreath dropped to bars of the deck. The door opened as he lifted the wreath, and he faced a hefty woman dressed in a flowered housecoat and carpet slippers. She had frizzy red hair. She held a calico cat and saucer of cream. The cat struggled to reach the saucer.

“You not Wayne,” she said and set the cat and saucer inside on the floor. The cat lapped milk but watched Les.

“No’m,” he said and rehung her shedding wreath. “My name’s Leslie Sharp, and I rode the bus to Bear Paw to find my father Morgan of the same name.”

Her eyes were pale green, the lids faintly blue. On her fingers she wore rings, many with stones, others ordinary, one made from a bent horseshoe nail. She settled a hand on her poked-out hip and looked him up and down. She gave off a whiff of perfume.

“Well don’t it beat all?” she said. “You sure God got to be the calling card he left.”

“They told me at the store you knew him,” Les said, and his tightened stomach pressed upward a vomity almond taste.

“They done did, did they?” she said. “Well they right for once. Come on in, boy. Coffee on the stove.”

Despite the building’s sooty, forsaken exterior, the room he entered was bright, neat and warm—a pearl-colored sofa with a patch quilt draped over the back, a LA-Z-BOY chair, matching ottoman, a color TV, phantom figures dancing on the screen.

Her rear window looked out to the mountainside and a collapsing black tipple. Snapshots had been tacked to walls. A large painting on black satin of Willie Nelson holding a banjo, giving off sunbeams, and favoring Jesus hung above an oil heater piped into a bricked-up fireplace.

Les set down his bag. Behind a multi-colored beaded curtain a kitchen held a modern GE stove and refrigerator. Coffee boiled in a darkened pot that had no lid.

“Hobo style,” she said, taking from the shelf a heavy white mug, the kind used at Moultrie Military. “Way real men like it.”

“I’m hoping you can tell me where to find Morgan,” Les said, his father’s name still unwieldy on his tongue. The cat continued to lap and watch.

“You asking the wrong person about that,” she said, poured the coffee, and handed him the mug. She led him from the kitchen and turned down the TV before she sat on the sofa by releasing her body the last few feet so that it toppled backwards. Her slippers rose an instant from a floor partly covered by a circular rag rug. “Morgan ain’t been” round here since I last wore a miniskirt. Sit yourself.”

Les did, on a cane rocking chair that squeaked and crackled under him. The mug’s hotness burned his palms.

“My you nice looking in that uniform,” she said. “Morgan wore a uniform too and was about as handsome as any soldier who ever walked the streets. Had all the gals in heat, including me. War ruined him. Made him such a hell raiser. Couldn’t hold a job. Couldn’t hold nothing much but a bottle and, well, a couple of other things.”

“Appreciate it if you’d tell me more about him,” Les said. The building trembled as another empty coal drag passed on rails behind the building.

“I can tell you I was likely his last friend” round here,” she said. “After the fight that knocked out a side at the Red Dog Tavern, he had to make tracks. Left so fast the trees pulled after him. Went west somewheres. Got a card from Colorado a long time ago. Picture of cliff dwellers and caves.”

“He talk about me?” Les asked and despite the mug’s heat gripped it hard.

“Sure did. Wanted to go back and see you, but law and lawyers was after him. Tried to call on the phone. Nobody at the house let you talk. They used him bad down in Virginia.”

“You think he’s alive?” Les asked, and his breath came short as he waited for an answer.

“Might could be out”er,” she said. The cat finished its milk and jumped to her. She stroked it. “Had lots of life in him. Then again it’s been a spell,and he was living 90 miles an hour.”

Les stood, set the cup on an end table which held fanned TV Guides, and thanked her. She heaved up off the sofa, the cat limp over an arm. He looked at snapshots along the wall.

“None of your daddy,” she said. “But like to see how pretty I was a hundred years ago?”

She pointed a scarlet fingernail at a misty picture of a young woman wearing a pink bathing suit and standing by a ivy-covered sundial in a rose garden. She was stout even then, but pretty, smiling, her knee bent in the way women will, a friendly hand lifted. Les forced a smile and moved on toward the door.

“One thing I might still got,” she said. She waddled into a windowless room where she switched on a ceiling light and rooted around in dresser drawers. The double bed’s comforter gave off an amber sheen.

“Ah yeah!” she said and crossed out to him. He recognized the combat infantryman’s badge. It’d been fused to a rectangular strip of steel and linked with a catch to make a crude bracelet. “Morgan pounded, drilled, and welded it hisself.”

She laid it on Les’ palm. The metal felt cool and substantial. All but a speck of bluish paint around the tarnished emblematic musket had worn or flaked away.

“Went kind of crazy when he came back but was a brave man,” she said. “Had his name in the Beckley paper. Before he met your mamma. You keep it. Don’t mean nothing to me now, and my wrist’s too thick. But, listen, I always liked your daddy. Even after he turned wild, I knew he had good in him.”

Les stood holding the bracelet and felt as if a hand had squeezed his heart. He thanked her, and she leaned to and kissed his cheek before opening the door. She called to him he’d forgotten his bag.

Lightheaded, he walked down the chiming steps and back along the street empty of people to the store where the three old men again sat on the bench.

“Find anything?” one asked.

“Something,” Les said and lowered himself to an upended Nehi crate at the other end of the porch. He relaxed his fingers to view the bracelet.

He rode the bus to Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Tobaccoton. It was past midnight when he lugged his bag up the lane under the rustling oaks. Lights burned in the house, and eyes waited in the parlor—his mother’s, grandmother’s, the sheriff’s, the preacher’s, and silver-haired Colonel Evers”, commandant at Moultrie Military.

Les lowered his eyes and again leveled them. He didn’t touch but sensed the slight tugging heft of the bracelet carried in the right-hand pocket of his uniform jacket.

Somewhere in the west. . . .


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