“What? So you can kill me like you did my sister and that preacher down in West Virginia?”
Arvin’s hand began to tremble a little when he heard the sheriff mention Teagardin. He thought for a second. “I got a snapshot in my pocket of her hugging on some dead guy. You turn loose of that gun, and I’ll show it to you.” He saw the lawman’s back stiffen, and he tightened his grip on the Luger.
“You little sonofabitch,” Bodecker said under his breath. He looked down at his likeness again in the newspaper. It had been taken right after he was elected. Sworn to uphold the law. He almost had to laugh. Then he raised the Ithaca and started to whirl around. The boy fired.
Bodecker’s gun went off, the buckshot tearing a ragged hole in the wild roses to Arvin’s right. The boy flinched and pulled the trigger again. The sheriff gave out a sharp cry and fell forward into the leaves. Arvin waited a minute or two, then cautiously approached. Bodecker was lying on his side looking at the ground. One bullet had shattered his wrist, and the other had gone in under his arm. From the looks of it, at least one of his lungs was pierced. With every heaving breath the man took, another spurt of bright red blood soaked the front of his shirt. When Bodecker saw the boy’s worn boots, he attempted to pull his pistol out of his holster, but Arvin bent down and grabbed hold of it, tossed it a few feet away.
He set the Luger on top of the log and, as gently as he could, pushed Bodecker over onto his back. “I know she was your sister, but look here,” Arvin said. He took the photograph out of his wallet and held it for the sheriff to see. “I didn’t have no choice. I swear, I begged her to put the gun down.” Bodecker looked up at the boy’s face, then moved his eyes to Sandy and the dead man she held in her arms. He grimaced and tried to grab the picture with his good arm, but he was too weak to make anything but a halfhearted effort. Then he lay back and began to cough up blood, just like she had.
Though it seemed to Arvin as if hours went by while he listened to the sheriff fight to stay alive, it really took the man only a few minutes to die. There’s no way to turn back now, he thought. But he couldn’t go on like this, either. He imagined the door to a sad, empty room closing with a faint click, never to be opened again, and that calmed him a little. When he heard Bodecker expel his last, soggy breath, he made a decision. He picked the Luger up and walked around to the hole he had dug for Jack. Getting on his knees in the damp dirt, he rubbed his hand slowly over the gray metal barrel, thought about his father bringing the gun home all those years ago. Then he laid it in the hole alongside the animal’s bones. He shoved all the dirt back in the hole with his hands and patted it down flat. With dead leaves and a few branches, he covered all traces of the grave. He took down the picture of the Savior and wrapped it and put it in his gym bag. Maybe someday he’d have a place to hang it. His father would have liked that. He stuck the photograph of Sandy and the two rolls of film in Bodecker’s shirt pocket.
Arvin looked around one more time at the moss-covered log and the rotting gray crosses. He would never see this place again; probably never see Emma or Earskell either, for that matter. He turned and started up the deer path. When he came to the top of the hill, he brushed aside a spiderweb and stepped out of the dim woods. The cloudless sky was the deepest blue he’d ever seen, and the field seemed to be blazing with light. It looked as if it went on forever. He began walking north toward Paint Creek. If he hurried, he could be on Route 50 in an hour. If he was lucky, someone would give him a ride.
I am extremely grateful to the following people and organizations, without which this book would not have been possible: Joan Bingham and PEN for the 2009 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship; the Ohio Arts Council for a 2010 Individual Excellence Award; Ohio State University for a 2008 Presidential Fellowship; my friend Mick Rothgeb for advice on firearms; Dr. John Gabis for answering my questions about blood; and James E. Talbert at the Greenbrier Historical Society for information about Lewisburg, West Virginia. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my agents and readers, Richard Pine and Nathaniel Jacks at Inkwell Management; and lastly, for his faith, patience, and guidance, I want to thank my editor, Gerry Howard, along with all the other wonderful people at Doubleday.