Chapter II of With
Let her go. In his whole life he’d known only a few dogs as good as she was, but damned if she was worth the bother of chasing after her or trying to find her. Driving the truck back down the mountain, bouncing over the twisting, unbearable trail or what was left of it, he thought he caught a glimpse of her in his headlights, and he stopped and turned off the engine and called to her. “Bitch!” he hollered and only then for the first time regretted that he’d never bothered to give her a real name. It sounded like he was cursing her and defying her to show her head. He tried sounding gentler. “Bitchie old girl,” he called. “Come on back.” He took his flashlight from the glove compartment and shined it around through the deep, dark woods. “Poochie-wooch,” he called, pleadingly, but already he was debating with himself whether to get another dog or try to do without. It would really be stupid not to have a dog, just as a watchdog in case anybody ever found the old Madewell place, which wasn’t likely, since nobody but himself had ever found the place in many a year. In fact the first time he’d gone up there with Bitch to reconnoiter the place, he was surprised to discover in the dust on the floor his own footprints and nobody else’s, and yet it had to be nearly twenty years since he’d last set foot there, that time he’d been out searching for that kidnapper Montross that he’d finally found and killed, not there anywhere near that place but far down below it, in a glen by a waterfall.
That had been his first accomplishment as a state trooper, and now, twenty years later, still only a sergeant in highway patrol although he’d tried for years to get into the criminal investigation division, he had done his last accomplishment, which had made possible this fulfillment of his dream, as well as his retirement. He wasn’t even concerned about the possibility that somebody still held a title to the old Madewell place or leastways to the hundreds of acres of forest that it was on. He doubted that old Gabe Madewell had actually sold it to anybody when he pulled up stakes after the war and headed for California. Gabe had been a barrel-maker all his life – he tried to remember what name the trade was called, something like somebody’s family name, Carver or Turner or Cutter or somebody – but the market dried up on Madewell and he took his wife and kid and just left everything there like it was, resting on top of one of the highest mountains in Newton County and practically impossible nowadays to get to.
“Well, just you stay out there, Bitch, and see if I care!” he hollered, starting the engine again. “I hope you starve to death!” He went on down the mountain, jouncing over the ledges in the road as if he were driving down steep steps. The poor truck was probably not going to hold up for more than a couple more trips, and he began to think about what he’d bring with him on those last trips. He was putting off bringing the crates of chickens, and he still wasn’t certain about trying to bring the davenport, but knew the time was coming when he’d have to make up his mind whether or not to try to bring it. How in hell was he going to get the davenport down into those ravines and back up and especially across that goddamn ledge? He could carry it over his back much of the way, and maybe use ropes to raise and lower it in the roughest places, but any way you sliced it there was going to be hell to pay. But by God he’d sat or laid on that davenport since he was just a kid, and his mother had loved it, and he sure wasn’t going to put it into the yard sale he was planning on having next Saturday “before going to California.” He laughed. That was a good one. And everybody believed it. Or anybody who gave a rat’s fart what he did or where he went. He had told so many people he was pushing off for California that he halfway believed it himself.
He knew Bitch wouldn’t starve to death in the woods. She was a smart dog and could probably catch something to eat, coons or possums or squirrels. He thought of the three fifty-pound bags of Purina Dog Chow that he had taken the trouble to tote up to the Madewell place, one hundred and fifty pounds of doggie nuggets just to feed Bitch with. Hell, if she was so damn smart she’d probably get it into her head to go on back up to Madewell place and get in there somehow and chew open one of those bags of Purina. He wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find her there with a big grin on her face the next time he came back.
But more’n likely she’d just keep on a-walking until she came to somebody’s house who would feed her. The nearest house in this direction was a mile or more, down towards Parthenon, and he didn’t even know for sure who lived there, it was an old farmhouse some ways beyond where this trail met up with the dirt road from Wayton to Parthenon. He rarely saw them; he’d waved at the woman once or twice as he went by. If the woman had happened to notice him driving the truck up the road so many times loaded up with stuff, the woman might have wondered and wondered. But once he got that davenport and those chickens up there, assuming the poor truck could make that next-to-last trip, she’d never see him go by again, because the last trip would be made in the dark of the wee hours, with his passenger.
He’d be “gone to California.” Which is where near about everybody from this part of the country had gone anyhow. His mother and dad had gone out there, and died out there. His sister Betty June wrote him once or twice a year from some place called Santa Monica, where she was doing real well. He figured he’d probably have to answer her latest letter, which he hardly ever did, just to let her know that he didn’t live in Stay More any more and not to write him there any more. He wouldn’t tell her he was “gone to California” or she’d expect him to come visit her.
But now he could go spend a couple more nights at home and get ready for that yard sale and experimentally heft that davenport up onto his back just to see if it would fit and how heavy it was. He knew he didn’t need to have the yard sale, not for the money anyhow. The only reason he was having it was to make it look a little more convincing that he was really leaving for good. He’d had a realtor’s FOR SALE sign in his yard for weeks now, and might not ever find a buyer for such a rundown old place, but he didn’t need that money either. He didn’t need any money. He’d bought himself a steel fireproof Sentry® security chest and put all the money in it, except for what he thought he’d need to buy whatever he needed to stock his new home, and he’d buried it under the front porch up there at the Madewell place, and he didn’t expect he’d have to dig it up for a good long while. It was dirty money anyhow, probably collected from all kinds of poor folks addicted to the dope that they’d had to buy with it.
His CID buddies – not friends because he didn’t have a one but good old acquaintances from way back, Lieutenant Morrow’s men in Company E of the Criminal Investigation Division at Harrison – had been puzzled about what had become of the money, but they hadn’t suspected him, or even questioned him about it. His twenty years of service were spotless, and made him eligible for the retirement he’d taken, and nobody thought to make any connection between his retirement and his shooting of that drug runner, except that, as he’d put it, he was damned tired of being shot at, and it was time to hang it up.
But they assumed that if the DOA perp had made a delivery in Tulsa and was on his way back to Memphis, the perp must have had a huge amount of cash on him, which maybe he could have dropped off somewhere or laundered it or something. Why had the guy been so far off course, not taking I-40 but US 65? Maybe he’d taken the money to Branson and delivered it to one of the mob who hung out there. The case was closed, although some shady-looking characters had been reported sniffing around Harrison to see if they couldn’t find the money.
The buried security chest had about four hundred thousand still left in it; he hadn’t counted, but he’d spent only about forty or fifty. He’d bought everything he could possibly want, including a real fine set of the best firearms with enough ammo to last forever, but he had the sense not to do any conspicuous spending, like getting a new truck, which is why he hoped this old crate would hold out for just a few more trips, a couple more shopping trips and then a trip to take the davenport and chickens and a final trip to take the girl.
And of course during those last shopping trips he’d also be shopping for the girl herself. Tomorrow he planned to park the truck alongside one or more of the elementary schools and maybe visit some of the playgrounds and parks. He thought about what he had just thought, and realized the ambiguity: no, he wasn’t fixing to shop for the girl, meaning do some shopping on her behalf, which he had already finished. He was fixing to shop the available display of eligible girls and pick out one: shopping for a girl.
He’d already got her whatever she’d be a-needing at the Harrison Wal-Mart, where he’d bought her a whole bunch of some clothes and shoes and stuff, telling the saleslady they were for his daughter and not knowing her exact sizes but only able to say what you’d expect a girl of seven or eight to wear, summer, fall, winter, spring. The saleslady had helped him load up three carts and just said, “Your girl is sure going to be thrilled with all this.” And he’d said, “I hope she will.” Then he’d gone to the toy department and filled three more carts with enough dolls and toys and games and stuffed animals to serve as birthday and Christmas presents for years to come.
Sog Alan went on home to spend the night, had all the good bourbon he could handle, went to put Bitch out and realized she wasn’t in anymore, then went to sleep. Next day fairly late he took his truck and headed for one more shopping trip to Harrison, reflecting that one more ought to do it, and he’d better avoid visiting any of the places he’d already shopped, although he’d tried to spread his shopping out among as many different stores as possible. He’d already used almost all the various supermarkets in Harrison, Berryville, Huntsville, and driven down to Russellville for others, gone all the way to Eureka Springs for his huge hoard of good liquor, and picked up odds and ends at small stores all over creation, buying several cartons of cigarettes at each of maybe a dozen different places. He had enough smokes to last at least a couple of years, and then he’d just have to plant some tobacco and grow his own. He had seeds enough to grow anything in creation.
Now this time he pulled into a certain discount supermarket up over on the east side of Harrison where he hadn’t been before, and, as usual, loaded up a couple of carts with all kinds of stuff he was buying by the case load or carton or gross.
The check-out clerk, a real pretty but saucy gal, rang up his stuff and said, “Twenty-four quart jars of pickled pigs’ feet? You must really hanker after this stuff.”
“I’m partial to it,” he admitted, and it was truly one of his concerns, that he might some day run out of them, which he liked on occasion, not every week or even every month but he liked them.
“Are you going into hibernation in the early spring?” she asked. “Or do you have a family of thirty-seven to feed?”
He smiled. “Something like that,” he said.
She studied him. “Say,” she said. “Aren’t you Sergeant Allen? I know who you are. You stopped me in Valley Springs and gave me a ticket that wiped out all my savings!”
“What was that name?” he asked.
“Karen Kerr,” she said.
“Yeah, I do believe I remember you, on account of that name that sounds phony. I reckoned as how it might just be a alias, but it’s sure-enough your real name, aint it?”
“It’s not my maiden name,” she said.
“I seem to recollect you was doing fifty or so in a thirty-five mile zone.”
“I was late for work, and I nearly got fired.”
“Well, I reckon you told the judge that, but the law is the law. Aint my fault you broke it.”
“I’ll get a boy to help you bag and load all this stuff.”
“I can do it.”
Only after driving away he reached for a cigarette and found the slip of paper with a list of a whole bunch of other stuff he’d meant to buy at that market, and he looked it over and swore at the items he’d have to go back for, or get somewheres else: Vienna sausages, canned orange juice, Pet milk, and coffee, for godsakes: he already had several cases of big-can coffee but it was something he couldn’t grow and he drank his share of it and was bound to run out by and by.
He stopped, turned around, and drove back to the big parking lot of the supermarket, where he parked inconspicuously and turned off the motor and just sat and waited patiently for a long, long time to see when Karen Kerr might leave work. Whenever she took off, he could go back in that store for the rest of the stuff on his list, including beef jerky: somebody had told him that beef jerky would keep forever. He wouldn’t take a chance with her seeing him load up a lot of other stuff.
For a while as he waited he entertained himself by watching an occasional youngster go by. School had let out and kids were either going grocery-shopping with their moms or in some cases by themselves or with their friends, and ever now and again he’d see a pretty cute one, and imagine in his mind what it would be like if she was the one. But not one of those he saw really grabbed him. He knew that when he found the girl of his dreams he would know it on the instant.
He went around to the back of the truck to fish in one of the sacks for the new issue of Police Gazette he’d just bought. He reached to give Bitch a little pat on the head and found her missing and realized she wasn’t his dog any more. Then he sat and read through Police Gazette, a lively tabloid which was his favorite reading-matter, shoot, practically his only reading matter, and he knew that he was going to miss it in the months and years ahead. It was always a real pleasure to come across the articles with lots of photographs on the disappearance of kids. He knew backwards and forwards what made up the profile of a so-called child molester, which he wasn’t, because he hadn’t never in his life molested nobody. Sure, he’d done a couple of naughty things with a couple of little bitty old gals, but not against their will, and he was hoping that the companion of his coming months and years would never once have any occasion to feel that what he was doing was against her will. He had for several years assisted his buddy Jack Samples in the CID’s pedo squad, helping Jack make collars and interrogations, and in their time they had nabbed dozens of fellers who were genuine pure-dee pervert molesters, old boys who raped and even killed tykes and even tots. Jack had once said to him, “Sog, I be damned if you aint got a nose on you that can smell out pedos where I’d never of found ‘em.” He hadn’t told Jack the reason he could find pedos so easy was because he really felt a kind of…not brotherhood or nothing but a real understanding of the way their minds worked and their hearts felt and their dicks stood. Your typical straight-up-and-down pedo generally had in his house a huge assortment of dirty pictures of kids, and unprintable printed matter that showed photos of ‘em naked and even doing things to each other, and over the years him and Jack had confiscated such a heap of this stuff that Jack hadn’t even noticed that Sog had “borrowed” a good little bit of it. His favorite, which he’d looked at so often it was falling apart, was a book called Nudist Moppets, and he was planning on keeping that up there at the Madewell place, although he hoped he wouldn’t really need it because his truelove would want to romp and play without a stitch.
He decided that the next little gal who came along would get herself undressed by him in his mind, right then and there. And then here she came. Walking right in front of his truck, as he quickly stripped off her dress, was not just a girl but the girl of his dreams. He knew it so surely he put her dress right back on her, to be nice. The cutest thing you ever did see. Blonde and blue-eyed and full-lipped – oh, those lips were something else! And she turned her head and saw him and smiled at him with all kinds of eagerness and readiness. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen any child with a smile like that. And her skin! Her skin was so soft and fresh and touchable that Sog had to restrain himself from getting out right then and there and giving her a big squeeze. His heart swole within his shirt and his dick swole within his pants; it was the first spontaneous hard-on he’d had in God knows when. But he could only sit and watch as she went on walking by and strolled over to the part of the parking lot where the employees kept their cars, and she went up to this blue Camaro and tried the door and then just stood there beside it, for a long little while, as Sog wracked his brain for a sure-fire way to grab her and take her away right there in broad daylight. Finally it dawned on him, maybe because he recognized that Camaro, that this lovely little lady, his intended, might be waiting on that selfsame Karen Kerr that he was waiting to see come out of the store.
A bright idea hit him. He could just start up the truck and drive right up beside her and say, “Your mother’s in the hospital, and I’ve been sent to take you there!” It wasn’t an original ruse, he’d heard variations of it used by other abductors that he and Jack Samples had caught, but it might just work. The problem was, he hadn’t finished all his shopping, and he didn’t intend to get the girl until everything was ready for her. While he was pondering this quandary, Karen Kerr came out of the supermarket and sure enough walked right over to that Camaro. He nearly perished with envy when the girl gave her mom a big hug, both of those soft arms reaching around her mother’s waist. And then the girl commenced a-talking, and never stopped. She got in the car with her mother and they drove off, and Sog waited just a bit and followed them, keeping at a distance but close enough that he could tell the girl just went on talking and a-talking.
They didn’t drive too awful far. He found out where they lived, on the east side of Harrison not far from the Fairgrounds, on just a old country road with no neighbors in view. It wasn’t much of a house.
And then he drove on back to that supermarket to finish his shopping. By the time he got the load up the mountain it would be too dark to tote any of it to the house but he might just sleep there in the truck and get a early start the next day transporting it on foot the terrible mile of ravines and the rocky ledge along the bluff and a godforsaken forest trail. Who knows? Tonight or any time tomorrow he might even get a visit from old Bitch with her tail betwixt her legs and a shiteating grin on her face.
(photo by Clay Garrett)