“You going out?”
    “Thought I might take a walk,” Dennis Kittredge said.
    “You be gone long?”
    “Not too long.”
    “You thinking of stopping by the tavern?”
    He was by the front door, the lace covering the glass smelling of dry summer dust. In the trees near the curb he could see the dying day, flame and dusk and a half moon. “I might have me a glass or two is all.”
    She was in the rocker, knitting, a magazine in her lap. He’d seen the magazine earlier. It had a painting of a very pretty Jesus on it. Jesus was touching his glowing heart with long fingers. “You forgetting what night it is?”
    “I’m not forgetting.”
    “I don’t often ask that you pray with me but I don’t see how fifteen minutes one night a week is going to help.”
    “And just what is it we’re praying for?”
    She paused and looked down at her poor worn hands. She worked so hard and sometimes he felt terrible for resenting her prayerfulness. She looked up then. “I had the dream again last night.”
    “I see.”
    “Don’t you want to know which one?”
    “I know which one.”
    “The son we would’ve had. I saw him plain on a hill right at dawn. He was running right toward us. We were on a buckboard on a dusty road and we didn’t hear him or see him. He kept running and running and shouting and shouting but we didn’t see him or hear him. Finally, he fell down in the long grass and all the animals came to him at night and comforted him-because we wouldn’t comfort him.”
    Kittredge sighed. “I won’t be gone too long.”
    “Don’t you know what the dream could mean?”
    “No. I guess I don’t.”
    “Why, it could mean that He’s forgiven us, that the Lord has forgiven us for sinning before we were married, and that now He’s ready to let us have children.”
    “I see.”
    “Don’t you believe that, Dennis?”
    “I’m not sure just what I do believe,” he said, and pulled the door open. The sounds and smells of dusk-the robins and jays in the trees, a hard relentless chorus, the scent of flowers as they cooled in the dusk-he took all this in with great affection. He wanted to be out in the night, a part of all this.
    “I won’t be gone too long,” he said again, and before she could respond he was out the door and moving fast toward the sidewalk.


    He liked walking downtown at night. He liked the way the lamplight glowed and the way women in picture hats and bustles walked on the arms of their gentlemen to the opera house where shiny coaches and rigs stood outside waiting. He liked the sound of player pianos on the lonely midwestern darkness and he liked the smell of brewer’s yeast that you picked up as you passed tavern doors. He liked the sound of pinochle and poker hands being slapped down on the table, and the sweet high giggle of tavern maids. This was, by God, 1901 and this was, by God, civilized and he took a curious pride in this, as if he were personally responsible for it all.
    It was not quite eight o’clock, so he walked down to the roundhouse tavern where the railroad men drank. It was his favorite place unless there were too many Mexicans in there from some road crew. He hated the way Mexicans resorted to their knives so quickly; he’d seen it too many times. A man stabbed was much worse than a man shot-at least to the man watching it all.
    The place was nearly empty. At the far end of the plank bar two Mexes drank from a bucket of suds, and at the other a white man played blackjack with the bartender. In the corner a player piano rolled out the melody to “My Sweet Brown Eyes” while an old man, nodding off in his cups, lay facedown on the pianos keys, spittle running silver from his mouth to the floor. The bartender paid him no mind.
    A maid appeared from the back and served Kittredge his beer. He stood there with his schooner, enjoying the player piano. It was playing Stephen Foster songs now, a medley, and his toe tapped and in just a few swallows he felt buzzy, not drunk, but buzzy and blessedly so. He forgot that in an hour he would meet Griff and Carlyle and that together they would have to decide what to do about Septemus Ryan. That was the funny thing about the whole event: he did not feel responsible. It had been an accident, though obviously most people had chosen not to believe that, an accident because Dennis Kittredge was a good and responsible man and had been all his life.
    He felt that if he could open his heart and look inside he would find fine things-patience and courage and understanding. He was not the sort of man who cut up other men the way Mexes did and he was certainly not the sort of man who killed young girls. It all had a dreamy quality to it. He would always be, in his heart, the little kid making his first communion-why couldn’t people understand that?
    “Nice night for a walk.”
    Kittredge turned around and saw Sheriff Dodds standing there. The sheriff tossed a nickel on the bar plank. The maid brought him a schooner with a good foamy head on it.
    “Sure is,” Kittredge said.
    The sheriff sipped his beer, studying Kittredge as he did so. “You still think about the days when the wagon works was up and runnin’?”
    “Sure. Everybody does.”
    “Them was good times.”
    “Sure was.”
    “Hell,” Dodds said, “I remember seein’ you and Griff and Carlyle everywhere I went. You three was some friends.”
    “Some friends is right,” Kittredge said, then swigged some of his own beer. For some reason, his stomach was knotting and he had started having some problems swallowing, the way he did sometimes when he got nervous. Dodds came in there often enough, had a schooner or two a night, nothing to scandalize even church ladies, and often as not he spoke to Dennis, too. But there was something about his tone tonight, as if he were saying one thing but meaning quite another. Kittredge wondered what the hell Dodds was driving at.
    “You boys don’t hang around each other much anymore, do you?”
    “Guess we don’t, Sheriff.”
    “Too bad. You bein’ such good friends and all. At one time, I mean.” He said this over the rim of his schooner. He was still watching Kittredge very closely.
    Kittredge looked toward the door. “Well,” he said.
    Dodds followed his gaze to the front of the tavern. “Going on home now?”
    Kittredge met his glance. “Thought I might finish my walk.”
    “I’d be careful if I were you.”
    Dodds drained off his beer. “Hear there are some strangers in town.”
    “Why would strangers bother me?”
    “Well, you know how it is with strangers. You can never be sure what they want.”
    Now Kittredge finished his own beer. He belched a little because he’d put it down too fast. “Well, guess I’ll be saying goodnight, Sheriff.”
    But Dodds wasn’t done. Not quite. “Too bad you don’t have any children, Kittredge.”
    “Yep. I suppose it is.” What the hell was Dodds getting at, anyway?
    “Man who don’t have no children of his own don’t know what it means to lose one. Take this man a while back, this Ryan fella, over in Council Bluffs. His little girl got killed in the course of a bank robbery.”
    “I guess I heard about that. Don’t remember it all, quite.”
    “Little girl’s father went insane, some people said. Just couldn’t get over it. Hired an investigator fella to start backtrackin’ the robbers. Guess the investigator fella had some good luck.”
    Kittredge felt faint. Actually, literally faint, the way women got. He put a hand for steadiness on the plank bar. “Sure hope they catch those thieves.”
    And all the while, remorseless, Dodds staring at him. Staring.
    “If I was them boys, I’d be a lot more scared of Septemus Ryan than the law.”
    “Law’ll give them boys a fair hearing. If it was an accident that the little girl got killed, which some of the witnesses say it was, law’ll take that into account.”
    “But not the little girl’s father?”
    “Oh, not the little girl’s father at all. Put yourself in his place, Kittredge. Say you had a pretty little girl and one day she got killed like that. Wouldn’t make no difference to you if it was an accident or not. Least it wouldn’t to most fathers. All they’d want to do is kill the men who killed their pretty little girl. You ever think of it that way?”
    “Ain’t thought about it much one way or the other, Sheriff,” Kittredge said. His voice was so dry he could barely speak, but he didn’t want to order another schooner because then he’d have to stand there and drink it with Dodds.
    Dodds nodded. “Well, if you ever do sit down and start thinking it over, Kittredge, that’s just how I’d figure it-that I’d have me a much better chance with the lawn ’n I would a grief-crazy father. You might pass that along to Griff and Carlyle, too?”
    “Now why would they care about that, Sheriff?”
    Dodds made a face. “Carlyle, he’s too dumb and too shiftless to care. But Griff, well, he’s smart. You tell him what I told you and he’s likely to agree with me.”
    So he knew, Dodds did. There could be no mistaking. Somehow he’d found out about the robbery and the little girl and knew that it was the three of them who were involved.
    Dodds said, “You have yourself a nice walk, Kittredge.”
    “I will.”
    “And you say hello to Mae. She’s a fine woman; but I guess you know that.”
    “She is a fine woman, Sheriff, and I appreciate you sayin’ that.”
    Imagine what Mae would think of him if she ever found out he was involved in the robbery of that bank and the death of that little girl.
    “So long, Kittredge,” Dodds said, then swung back so that he was facing the tavern maid. He ordered himself another schooner. Kittredge left.
Jack Dwyer #07 - What the Dead Men Say
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