Monday, December 13, 2010

Colored Heat-Chapter 39 (End)

Chapter Thirty-Nine

                I stayed in Ransom that summer for about another month, seeing Sally Ann off and on.  We never made love again, and we drifted apart slowly without a murder investigation to hold us together.  It turned out that we didn’t have an awful lot in common, and by the time I was ready to go back to New Jersey, our parting was not too difficult.  She got married a few years after that and moved to a Dallas suburb where, as far as I know, she still lives today.
Her father is still the sheriff in town, but I haven’t heard about anything there in quite a while.
                Francis Tompkins never went to jail.  My grandmother told me that Lester Jr. went to bat for him and he got off on probation.  He still works for the Macaboos and I think his son is just starting to help out with the lawn work.         Earl Pernell was convicted of the murders of Lulabelle Mackenzie and her brother and sentenced to death.  He has spent the last six years on death row in the Texas penitentiary, and one day I fully expect to read about his execution in the papers.
                Lester Macaboo Jr. is semi-retired from the bakery business now; it has been taken over and expanded by his son, Lester III, who has turned out to be an astute Texas businessman.  I get a Christmas card each year from him and his wife.  They now have two sons.
                Momma Millie died three years after I left that summer.  I heard the funeral was quite a show.
                I don’t know what ever happened to Coralee or Horace Monroe.  My grandmother got sicker about five years after that and began to lose her mind.  It was tough to deal with her long distance, and I went down to Ransom a few times to try to help straighten things out.  On one visit she threw Coralee out of her apartment and they never spoke again.  My grandmother died soon after that, and I didn’t make it to the funeral.  I had my own family to take care of by then and I didn’t really want to see her in a coffin.
                My time in Ransom is at an end now, I know, and the week or two I spent playing private detective that summer was more than a lark to me.  I went back to New Jersey and finished college, then a few years out in the world of work left me hungry for something more than a nine-to-five job.  I now have my own business, investigating, of course, and I’ve had a lot of unusual cases since that of Lulabelle Mackenzie.  I’ll have to tell you about them sometime.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Colored Heat-Chapter 38

Chapter Thirty-Eight

                Things moved pretty slowly from then on.  Sally Ann came back from Dallas the next night and I saw her Monday at the store.  We had another picnic lunch but this time we just ate and talked.
                “So how was Lester involved?” she asked me between bites.
                “Lester III?” I asked.
                “Yes, and his father,” she replied.
                “Strange as it may seem, Lester III wasn’t involved at all.  He’s just as dumb as I always thought he was--there was nothing hidden or malicious about him.”
                “He didn’t break into your grandmother’s apartment?”
                “Nope.  That was Earl.  He confessed to everything at the station.  He had heard from Tyrone Johnson that I was asking questions about Raymond and he got scared.  He came over that day and pretended to be a handyman and looked around, but he didn’t find anything.  It was my imagination that the boxes in the closet had been disturbed.”
        “Are you sure?” said Sally Ann.
                “Pretty sure,” I said.  “The only other person who might have been in there is Coralee, and I can’t imagine why she would care.”
                I took a swig of Dr. Pepper.  “Lester Jr. was another story entirely,” I went on.  “He had nothing to do with any of the crimes or the cover up, but I’ll bet you he suspected Francis was up to something.  I think he was protecting Francis out of love for him and his father.  That relationship goes a lot deeper than we really understand.”
                “Funny,” Sally Ann said, “I would never have thought a rich man like Lester Macaboo would have such emotional ties to one of his servants.”
                “It is funny,” I said.  “Living up north most of my life, I’ve always thought I understood the South.  I thought it was pretty clear, the relations between blacks and whites.  But this makes me think it isn’t, at least not all the time.  I can’t explain exactly what I mean, but it sure isn’t as simple as they told us up north in school.”
        “Life never is,” Sally said.
                We finished up our lunch and packed the napkins, cups and silverware away.  Sally sat on the blanket, her red hair moving lightly in the breeze as she looked out across the field where we had decided to sit.
        “Carey,” she began.
        “Yes?” I answered, wondering what was coming next.
        “What about Peter Crane?”
        “Didn’t I tell you?” I said.
        “No,” she replied.
                “Hattie Crane--Momma Hattie to you--was Francis Tompkins’s great aunt.”  Sally Ann laughed.  “I know, everyone here is related in one way or another.  Anyway, the best I can figure is that she may have known about the bet between Senior Tompkins and Lester Macaboo a long time ago, but she doesn’t seem to have been connected to anything in particular.
                “Peter Crane probably never knew or cared either way.
                Earl Pernell told us that he saw Lulabelle talking to Crane as she walked to the Juneteenth parade.  Earl went
back to Crane’s house later on out of fear or confusion and got angry at him.  According to Earl, Crane had a heart attack and died on the spot, right in his wheelchair.  Earl, who I don’t think is the brightest guy in the world, had the idea of putting him on the toilet to make it appear he died there.  So the one death we thought was a murder wasn’t really one at all.”
                Sally Ann thought for a moment.  “If Crane hadn’t died like he did, would you have figured all the rest of it out?”
                I looked at her and we both smiled.  I didn’t have to tell her that we would never know the answer to that question.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Colored Heat-Chapter 37

Chapter Thirty-Seven

                It was pretty late in the day when Sheriff Martin and I drove over to Maple Avenue to take a look in the old ice house across the street from Lulabelle Mackenzie’s house.  Francis Tompkins was safe in the care of Lucas Barber at the Ransom City Jail, in a cell next to that of Earl Pernell.  Lester Macaboo had gone home, probably for a stiff drink.  I hadn’t called my grandmother yet but I had a gut feeling that she was doing fine without me.  I hadn’t heard about Sally Ann and asked her father about her.
                “I told you, Carey,” he said, “she went up to Dallas for the weekend to see her cousins.  She’ll be back tomorrow.”
                I didn’t pursue it any further and soon we were on Maple Avenue.
                There were kids playing out in the street again and they followed us as we got out of the car and walked over to the ice house.  It was a squat, wooden frame building that, on close inspection, looked as if it hadn’t been touched in years.  I was too young to recall the days when ice wagons brought blocks of ice around to everyone’s house, but the sheriff remembered.
                “When I was a kid,” he told me, “none of us ever came over to this part of town.  White and colored folks just didn’t mix.  I never saw this place until it was all boarded up, the way it is now.  But I sure remember that horse that used to pull the ice wagon.  Twice a week, old man Barnes would bring a block around the back with his big tongs.  He was always smiling and I thought he was the strongest man I’d ever seen.  Black as night and always sweating.”
                We walked around the perimeter of the ice house together, and I was glad that the heat had let up somewhat in the early evening.  The kids, about seven of them I guess and all black, followed us at a short distance, curious about what we were doing but afraid to ask.
                “We’ll need a crowbar for this board,” he said, finally, looking at a board that had been nailed over the door in front.  He gave me the keys to his trunk and I walked over to the car and got the crowbar out.
                He pried the board off and we pulled it off its last, rusty nails together.  The kids stood back and we tossed it aside.  The dry old wood weighed less than I thought it would.  Under the board was a large set of double doors that swung open.  The inside of the ice house was very dark but with both of the big doors open the outside light slowly filtered in and our eyes quickly adjusted.  There, on the dusty floor off to the right of the door, was the body of a black man.  There were no flies and I don’t recall noticing a bad smell; I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back I wonder if the dry wood and the sawdust in the old ice house preserved Raymond Mackenzie’s body until we could find it.
                I blocked the kids from seeing and Sheriff Martin came out and pulled the doors shut.  “Hate to say this,” he said, looking across the street, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to have someone identify the body.  Want to bet Mrs. Mackenzie is watching us from inside her house over there?”
                I looked over and thought I saw movement of a curtain in the window.  I stood guard in front of the ice house while the sheriff walked slowly across the street and up onto the porch where I had stood several days before.  Moments later, he and Mrs. Mackenzie came walking back across the street.  She didn’t even look at me as they went in.  “Stay there,” the sheriff said to me, and I remained outside, keeping the kids at bay.
                A minute later they came out, and she was crying and holding onto the sheriff.  “Go on home, now,” he said to the kids, and they obeyed quietly.  Mrs. Mackenzie had finally found her missing son.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Colored Heat-Chapter 36

Chapter Thirty-Six

                Sheriff Martin and I left Earl Pernell there in Dr.  Merkelson’s care and walked out of the emergency room together.  We stood in the lobby for a few moments, thinking, then he said: “Shoot.”
        “What is it?” I asked.
                “Lester Macaboo,” he replied.  “In all the excitement I have no idea where he got to.  Do you?”
                I thought back to Ruby’s Palace of Beauty and the three of us standing outside, just before Earl Pernell took off running.  “Last I saw him was in front of Ruby’s,” I told him.
                There were two pay phones on the front wall of the hospital lobby.  Sheriff Martin picked up one and dialed the operator.  “This is Sheriff Martin,” he said.  “Put me through to Lester Macaboo’s house.”  He paused for a few moments, then got an answer.  “Yes, this is Sheriff Martin.  Lester around?”  He listened.  “I see.  Well, tell him I’m on my way over with Carey Lovett.”  He hung up and we walked out into the late afternoon sun of the parking lot.
                “That was one of the help,” he said.  “A woman.  She said Lester just got back but wasn’t taking any calls.  I want to get over there to find out what’s going on. You game?”
                I nodded in agreement and we got in the patrol car and took off, a little above the speed limit, for the Macaboo house on the other side of Ransom.
                We were there in ten minutes or less.  Sheriff Martin parked his car at the curb and we got out and went to the back door, which I knew led into the kitchen.  I had never seen anyone go in or out of the ornate front door of the Macaboo house.
                The sheriff knocked and a young black woman answered.  “Sheriff Martin to see Lester Macaboo,” he said.  Before she could reply, I heard Lester’s voice come from behind the wall that encircled the pool area.
“Just hold your horses, Jimmy, I’m coming,” he said.
                We walked back around to the carport and there was Lester, dressed in the same casual clothes we’d seen him
in earlier but wearing sandals.  “Didn’t mean to run out on you before, but I didn’t see any reason for me to
stay.  How’d everything go?”
                “Let’s just say we’ve had a busy few hours of it,” the sheriff replied.  “How’d you get home, Lester?”
                Lester gave him a brief look that I couldn’t read, then answered.  “Funny thing, Jimmy,” he said.  “I was standing there in the middle of South 12th Street watching you fellas run when up pulled one of my houseboys and gave me a ride home.  Strange coincidence, don’t you think?”
                “Very strange,” I said.  “Like everything else around here lately.”
        They both looked at me and I didn’t say anything.
        “Who picked you up, Lester?” asked the sheriff.
        “My houseboy Francis,” he replied.
        “Francis Tompkins?”
        “That’s the one.”
        “Where is he now?”
                “Can’t say.  He has the afternoon off and he was on his way somewhere when he dropped me off here.”
                “Lester,” said Sheriff Martin, “something’s come up.” He looked across the street at Aunt Millie’s house and paused for a moment.  “Francis is involved in this thing.”
        “What do you mean?” asked Lester, calmly.
                Sheriff Martin told my cousin about what had happened with Earl Pernell, and about what he had said.  Lester looked at me, and for the first time that I had ever seen there was a crack in his facade.  He looked older to me then, and a little bit scared.  “Is this true, Carey?” he said.
        “Yes,” I said, quietly.
        “You’ve known Francis a long time,” he continued.   “Can you believe any of this?”  His tone was hopeful.
                “I don’t know what to believe today,” I replied.  “I’ve never seen dead people before, I’ve never seen anyone get shot before.  I’m learning lots of new things today.  I kind of wish I’d stayed out of it all.”
                Sheriff Martin gave me an angry look.  “It’s too late for that, Carey,” he said.  “You’re in it as much as anyone now.”  He turned to Lester.  “Lester, we have to find Francis.  How can we do that?”
                “Well, Bessie Lee might know,” he said, looking over at Aunt Millie’s.
        “Bessie Lee?” the sheriff replied.
                “Bessie Lee Jenkins,” Lester said.  “Momma’s housegirl.  She’s Francis’s cousin, I think.  She might know.”
        “Is she there now?”  Sheriff Martin asked.
        “I reckon so,” Lester replied.  “Let’s go find out.”
                We walked across the street, side by side.  Lester didn’t bother to ring the doorbell; he just opened the back door and poked his head in.  “Momma?”  he yelled.  “Bessie Lee?”  A loud, high-pitched voice replied from somewhere in the house, and I knew we had found Bessie Lee.
                Lester let me and the sheriff in and we stood in the kitchen.  Bessie Lee came bustling in and stopped when she saw the sheriff.  She had been about to greet us but she remained quiet.
        “Hello, Bessie Lee,” said Lester.
        “Mr. Lester,” she replied, ducking her head slightly.
                “Bessie Lee, something serious has come up.  Sheriff Martin here needs to find Francis.  Do you know where he is.”
        “Francis?” she questioned.
        “Tompkins,” the sheriff added.
        “He ain’t at your place, is he, Mr. Lester?” she said.
        “No, Bessie Lee, if he were we wouldn’t be here.”
                “Stands to reason,” she said.  “Sunday afternoon, four-thirty or so, where could he be?” she said to herself.  “Have you tried his place out to Levens?”
        “Where is that?” the sheriff asked.
                She described a path out the country highway through old roads where I’d never been before.  We followed it in the sheriff’s car and found Francis Tompkins at a house that looked a lot like the one where I’d visited Horace Monroe.  Francis was in his undershirt and was sweating and drinking a beer on the porch with two other young black men.  He jumped up fast when the car pulled up, and he put the beer down in a hurry when he saw Lester get out.  His friends actually ran away down the road, but no one watched them go.
                “How do, Mister Lester, what brings you out here?” Francis said in his loud, happy voice.  His face didn’t look so happy but he was trying.
                “Sheriff Martin wants to talk to you, Francis,” Lester said, and looked at the sheriff.  Francis looked at me for a moment, then at the sheriff.
        “Yessir?” he asked, hopefully.
                “Francis, I have to ask you some questions,” the sheriff began.  “Would you like to sit down?”
                Francis looked back inside his house and shook his head.  He mopped sweat off his forehead with a bandanna he pulled from his hip pocket.  “Nosir, sheriff, I don’t think y’all’d want to come inside my house right now.  It’s a mess.  I reckon it’s hotter in there than it is out here anyway,” he added.  “Us po’ colored folks don’t got air conditioning, most of the time.
                “Why don’t we just talk out here on the porch?  Got some shade,” he said.
                I sat down on the steps and the sheriff and Lester sat in the aluminum porch chairs.  Francis remained standing before them, like a little boy called to the principal’s office.
                “Francis, it’s hard to know where to start,” said Sheriff Martin.  “I guess the best place is with Earl Pernell.”
        Francis looked shaken at the mention of Earl’s name.
                “I see you know him,” said the sheriff.  Lester just looked sadly down at the peeling paint on the porch.
                “We had a run in with Earl today, Francis,” said the sheriff, “and he took a shot at me.”
        “You don’t mean it,” said Francis in a low voice.
                “Sure enough,” said the sheriff.  “My deputy had to take him down with a bullet to the leg.”  Francis gave a low whistle.  “Do you know what Earl told me?”
        “I reckon you’re about to tell me,” replied Francis.
                “Just a bit,” the sheriff said.  “He told me about what happened with Raymond Mackenzie and his sister.  He confessed to killing Lulabelle and beating Raymond to death, though Raymond’s death may have been an accident and I’m not sure he meant to kill Lulabelle, either.  I think Earl was drunk the whole time.  What do you think about all of that?”
                Francis looked at me, imploringly.  I looked away.  “Don’t know right what I should be thinkin’ at this point, sir,” he told the sheriff.
                “Earl told me something else, too, Francis,” the sheriff said.  “He told me you paid him to beat up Raymond for some information.  Do you know anything about that?”
                Francis looked mighty scared just then and started talking fast.  His voice was as loud as ever but the register got a little higher than usual.  This is what he said:
                “Sheriff, I may have given Earl a few dollars to find out somethin’ for me, but I never told him to hurt Tootsie, you can be sure of that.  I swear to almighty God I never told him to do that.  I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout Tootsie’s sister, neither.  Earl never tol’ me that.”
        “What did you want to find out?” Lester asked.
                “Tootsie was shootin’ off his mouth ‘bout somethin’ that wasn’t none of his business, that’s what.  Somethin’ that concerns me and nobody else.”
                “Is this about the bet, Francis?” I asked.  The three of them turned and looked at me.  Francis looked shocked.  Lester looked surprised.  Sheriff Martin just looked annoyed.
                “How’d you know ‘bout that, Mister Carey?” Francis asked.
        “It’s a long story,” I told him.
                “Francis, is that what this is all about?” Lester asked, and Francis nodded.
                “Kinda,” he said.  “You see, you and I is good ‘bout this and understand everything.  We’s just fine.  But Tootsie done found an old file when he was cleanin’ up some stuff from the old buildin’, and he got a bee in his bonnet.”
                “Shit,” said Lester.  I looked at Sheriff Martin and he asked the next question.
                “What did Raymond find, Francis?”
                “He found some papers drawn up by my father and Mr.  Lester’s father a long time ago.  These papers don’t mean nothin’ to me, and me and Mr. Lester have an arrangement that’s just fine.”
                “In other words,” Lester said, “Francis has a job with me for life.  My daddy did some foolish things in his day, but that bet was about the damnedest one.”
                “So it’s true?” I said.  “About the horse race and the bet?”
                “Yessir, Mister Carey,” said Francis.  “It’s the God’s honest truth.  My daddy and Mr. Lester’s daddy was thick as thieves.”  Lester shot Francis a look.  “Pardon the expression,” said Francis.  “The race and the bet was for real alright, but my daddy never intended to hold anyone to it.  He was happy workin’ for Mr. Lester’s daddy just as it was.  But Mr. Lester’s daddy, he was an honest man, and while he wasn’t about to turn the bakery over to a colored man, he did promise to take care of Daddy and me for the rest of our lives.
                “I done left it at that and Mr. Lester here has always been good as his daddy’s word.  But when Tootsie was cleanin’ up and doin’ what he shouldn’t have been doin’, which was sittin’ there readin’ through them old papers, he found a letter ‘bout the bet that made it look like the bakery should belong to my daddy and to me.
                “Tootsie came to me ‘bout it and I tol’ him it wasn’t nothin’ and wasn’t none of his business, anyway.  But he wouldn’t shut up.  He just kept on talkin’ ‘bout how the white man had gone and done it again, takin’ away from the black man what was rightfully his.
                “Tootsie liked to drink, and he started talkin’ it up at the roadhouse and whisperin’ to people that he knew somethin’ and the black man was gonna get what was comin’ to him.  People started thinkin’ Tootsie had somethin’ when actually he had a big bunch of nothin’.  And it was just drivin’ me crazy.  Tootsie started to make stuff up, far as I know, and I had to find out what he was aimin’ to do.  I didn’t want to mess things up for me and my boy with Mr. Lester here by Tootsie shootin’ off his mouth and embarrasin’ everyone.”
                “I understand, Francis,” Lester said gently.  He shook his head and looked off across the fields.  Sheriff Martin stood up and said:
                “Francis, I believe I’m going to have to take you in for awhile.  I don’t know what we’re going to do about all of this.”
                “That’s okay, sheriff,” Francis said.  “Jes’ as long as it don’t hurt my boy.”
                “I don’t know what we’ll do about that, either,” Sheriff Martin said.  The four of us walked slowly over to the police car and drove back to Ransom.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Colored Heat-Chapter 35

Chapter Thirty-Five

                From the hospital’s main waiting room I called my grandmother.  The phone range several times and my heart skipped a beat, but then she answered.  “What you doin’ there, baby?” she asked me, with amused concern.  She was probably just as glad as I was that I wasn’t there to visit her.
                “It’s a long story,” I told her.  “I’ll be home later.  Don’t make dinner and don’t wait up for me.  I’m with Sheriff Martin and everything’s okay.”
                “Well, that’s good.  Don’t forget to tell me all about it,” she said, and we hung up.
I asked Sheriff Martin where Sally Ann was.  “She’s off visiting her cousins in Dallas,” he told me.  “We
thought it might be a good idea for her to get out of town for a couple of days and get this whole thing off her mind,” he said.  “She was getting too involved.”
                I said that was a good idea, and I really meant it.  I didn’t know what would have happened if Sally Ann had come with us to Ruby’s, but I was happy she wasn’t in any danger.
                After about an hour, a nurse came out and ushered us into a patient area of the emergency room.  She told us a doctor would be there in a minute. When the doctor arrived I saw that he was young and, like Dr. Barnaby, wore cowboy boots under his lab coat.  Sheriff Martin introduced us.
                “How’s it look, Bill?” he asked, and I saw that the nametag on the doctor’s coat lapel said “Merkelson.”
                “He’ll be okay, sheriff,” Dr. Merkelson replied.  “You make that shot?”
        “No, Lucas.”
                “Nice work.  Just grazed the muscle in the leg but didn’t hurt the blood supply.  We wrapped him up and gave him a shot.  He’ll be fine to take away in another hour.”
                “When can we talk to him?”
                “Right now, if you like. He’s had some painkiller and might be a little groggy, but talking to him won’t hurt him any.  See the girl at the desk around five and she’ll take care of the discharge papers.”
                “Thanks,” said Sheriff Martin, and shook the doctor’s hand.  Dr. Merkelson nodded to me and left to tend to another patient.
        “Let’s go talk to Earl,” said Sheriff Martin.
                We walked out of the patient area we had been standing in and headed across the emergency room to a similar area where Earl Pernell lay on a bed, surrounded by white curtains that separated him from other patients.  There was no security but then he didn’t look like he was going anywhere soon.  His leg was propped up with a rolled up towel and heavily bandaged; his pants leg was cut off above the knee.
        “How ya’ doin’, Earl,” the sheriff began.
        Pernell grunted in reply.
                “This here’s Carey Lovett,” he continued.  “He’s helping me out on a case you may have heard about.  Mind if we sit down?”  Pernell didn’t reply, but the sheriff and I sat in uncomfortable chairs set up for visitors.  The low din outside the curtains kept our conversation relatively private.
                “Why did you run out of Ruby’s like that, Earl?” the sheriff asked.  Earl just looked at him.  Sheriff Martin smiled, and slapped Earl’s calf in a jovial way, like one man slapping a buddy on the back.  His other hand moved quickly to cover Earl’s yelp of pain.  Earl’s eyes were wide.
                “Now, let’s try this again.  Why did you run?”
                Pernell’s voice was deep, with a southern cadence and roughness that told me he came from a long line of field workers.  “I run ‘cause I saw your car,” he explained.
        “Do you always run whenever you see a police car?”
                Sheriff Martin asked.
                “No,” he replied, “only I was kinda worried right about then.”
                “Why were you worried, Earl?”
        “’Cause a what’s been happenin’ ‘round here,” he said.
                “Earl, I’m confused,” said the sheriff.  “What has been happening that had you so jumpy?”
                Earl looked at the sheriff’s hand, which was poised above his leg, ready to strike.  “Might’s well tell ya’ now,” he muttered to himself.  “Gonna come out anyway.” Sheriff Martin looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
        “’T’all started last week, on Juneteenth,” he began.
                “Does this have anything to do with what happened at the parade?” I asked, and he nodded.
                “Got everything to do with that,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to hurt that girl, but I got scared.  Just wasn’t thinkin’, I guess.  Shot her without even hardly knowin’ what I was doin’.  I was just real afraid that she saw what was goin’ on that mornin’.”
                Sheriff Martin and I looked at each other, trying to hide our surprise.
                “Do you mean Lulabelle Mackenzie?” the sheriff asked him.
                “That’s the one.  I knew she was Tootsie’s kid sister but I never knew her first name.”
                “Tootsie was Raymond Mackenzie,” I said, as much for the sheriff’s benefit as my own.
                “That’s right, Raymond,” added Pernell.  “See, Raymond had been talkin’ ‘bout comin’ into some big money, and he done told some of the wrong people, if you know what I mean.  Way I think is that he was braggin’ ‘bout it too much and somebody decided they wanted a piece of it, or somethin’ like that.
                “Anyway, they told me to bring him down there and get it out of him, what he was talkin’ ‘bout.  So I figured Juneteenth was a good day for that, ‘cause all the folks in town would be down watchin’ the parade and no one would know Tootsie was missin’ for a while.  Didn’t mean to do too much to him, ya see, just wanted to find out some information so I could make my fifty bucks.”
                “Someone paid you fifty dollars to beat up Raymond Mackenzie?” Sheriff Martin asked, taking notes all the while.
                “Yeah, but don’t ask me who.  Anyway, I got Tootsie down there and Ruby’s was closed for the holiday, of course.  So I started workin’ on him, but he wasn’t sayin’ much.  Don’t know if he was stupid or just didn’t feel like talkin’ yet, but in any case, there it was.  I was takin’ a little break to let him think it over when I was lookin’ out the window and there was his kid sister, lookin’ in at the screen door.  It was locked, but I got down fast.
                “Ya see, I didn’t know if she seen me or Tootsie or both, or why she was there.”
        “Were you drinking, Earl?” I asked.
                “Yeah, I guess I was.  Man don’t want to be involved in somethin’ like that without a few drinks inside him, and I had at least that much before I even started.  I reckon I had another drink or two while I was workin’ on Tootsie.”
        “So what happened next?” the sheriff asked.
                “Well, I got pretty worked up when I seen the girl, and I took it out on Tootsie.  Whacked him in the head pretty good with the bottle I was drinkin’ from, and he went out.  Guess he’d been out for a while already, by then, but I didn’t stop to check.
                “I watched the girl walk away on down the street and when she was a little ways gone I went out to my car and followed her.
                “I stayed a block or two behind her and while I was drivin’ I realized I had my gun in the glove compartment.  I was mad as hell and half drunk and I wasn’t thinkin’ too straight.  I guess I just didn’t want to get caught.  I drove near to downtown and parked the car, and then I walked the last block to the parade route and waited there for her to be by herself.
                “I was standin’ in back of the crowd mindin’ my own business and all of a sudden I saw her, out off the curb by herself, and everyone was lookin’ down the street at the parade comin’ on.  I just pulled out my gun and shot in her direction and, damn, if I didn’t get her on the first try.  I was pretty scared and worked up at that point, but I reckon the noise of the parade covered it up and everyone was rushin’ over to her and no one paid any attention to old Earl.
                “So I just walked around the corner and got back in my car and drove home.  I stayed there for a good long while, lookin’ out of the window, startin’ to sober up, afeared that the police would be comin’ after me.  But no one came after me.  I didn’t know what to do.
                “And then I recalled leavin’ Tootsie behind and I had to go see him.  By then I was feelin’ kinda sorry ‘bout the whole thing and was ready to let him loose and say forget about it all.  But when I got to Ruby’s it was quiet.  It was really quiet.  I wasn’t so drunk no more and when I went in there was Tootsie,, still sittin’ on the chair with his hands tied, just like I left him.”
        “He was dead, wasn’t he, Earl,” said the sheriff.
                “Yeah, he was dead alright,” he said.  “Now I had two problems.  It was the middle of the day and the sun was shinin’ bright and I didn’t know what the hell to do.  So I just pulled my car up behind Ruby’s and tossed him in back and drove off, again trustin’ in divine providence that no one would see me.  And again nobody did.
                “I drove out of town and there was Tootsie, lyin’ in the back seat of the car like he was sleepin’ one off.  I drove up and down the old highway thinkin’, even pulled over and sat there for a few minutes till I got too nervous.  Then it came to me what to do with Tootsie.”
        “What did you do?” I asked.
                “There’s this old icehouse across the street from where he grew up,” Earl said.  “I knew everybody would be busy worryin’ ‘bout his sister, and that night, after it was dark and everyone went to bed, I went there and pried off a few boards and left him inside.  I had a hell of a time puttin’ those boards back in place without makin’ a lot of noise, but I managed.  I haven’t been back there since,” Earl said, “so I don’t know how it all came out in the daylight.”  Earl winced in pain and the sheriff told me to get the doctor.
                After I returned and told him the doctor was on his way, Sheriff Martin told Earl, “Earl, you know this is big trouble for you.”
                “I know, sheriff.  There ain’t much a man won’t do for a few bucks, especially when he’s had a few drinks too many.”
                “There’s one thing I have to know, Earl, and if you tell me it might help you down the road.  Who was going to pay you to beat up Raymond Mackenzie, and why?”
                “I done told you all the why I know, sheriff,” Earl replied.  “The who is Francis Tompkins.”