He stood beneath a dripping oak, feeling tired suddenly, older than he ever had.
    An early dusk gave the rain an even colder feel now, and put lights on in the windows of the small white houses on the small respectable street where Griff and his family lived.
    He could see Griff in the window now, bending to turn up the wick in a kerosene lamp. He wondered if Griff had any sense that his two companions were dead.
    Septemus Ryan hefted the Winchester and started walking down the block to where the alley began. Getting into Griff’s house would not be easy. Going in through the rear would probably be best.
    He passed picket fences and flower beds, neatly trimmed shrubs and tidy green lawns.
    Griff’s barn dominated the alley. The other buildings were small white garages. He did not have to worry about being seen because it had been raining so long and so steadily that nobody would be looking out the window. Or so he told himself.
    As he strode over the wet cinders of the alley, he heard the voices, faintly. There was Clarice, thanking him for his brave actions today. And then the chorus of dead men-relatives and friends who’d gone on before-telling him that they were waiting for him, that the other side was good and he would like it and there was nothing to fear.
    An uncle spoke to him, and then a brother dead early of consumption, and then a schoolmate killed in the war, and then an old muttonchopped mentor who’d advised him in the ways of business…
    All these people whispered to Septemus Ryan, and said that Clarice was with them, and that like them, she awaited sight of her father as he crossed over.
    And as he walked, there in the rain, the unrelenting hissing rain a curtain that lent everything a spectral cast, he had the sense that he was already walking the land of the dead, all humanity fading, fading behind the curtain of rain, alone in a curious and endless realm of phantoms and whispered voices.
    He reached the barn and went in through the back door. He stood in the center of the dark, dusty place smelling the hay and the lubricating oils Griff used on his buggies and the sweet tart tang of horseshit from the stall where they kept the gelding.
    He felt tired again, exhausted.
    He looked enviously at the gelding. He wanted to go over and lay down next to it in the straw and hay, share the colorful threadbare horse blanket, and sleep with his arm thrown across the fleshy warm side of the animal, the way he’d once slept with his wife.
    He went to the front sliding door and stood watching the rain fall in big silver drops from the roof. He could see nightcrawlers and worms swimming in the clear puddles around his feet; he could smell rusted iron tangy from the rain; he could see mist rising like ghosts from the slanting roof of the Griff house, and hear faintly, the way he once heard Clarice, the clear pure laughter of a little girl.
    I remember you sleeping between your mother and I remember your soft pink cheeks so warm when you kissed me your eyes so lovely and blue how you made little snoring sounds in the middle of the night and kept your doll pulled so tight to you.
    He saw her in the window now, just her head, the little girl.
    He hefted his Winchester and started across the soggy grass.
    There was a screened-in back porch with chairs for sitting. He eased open the back door and went inside. He could smell dampness on the stone floor and dinner from the kitchen just behind the door. It smelled good and warm and he realized how hungry he was.
    There were no voices. From his glimpse in the window a minute ago he’d been able to see that the little girl was probably alone in the kitchen. That would make it easier.
    We used to swing till dark in the summertime on the rope swing in the backyard, your hair shining gold even in the dusk and the firefly darkness and your mother calling lemonades ready, lemonade's ready and the way you'd giggle and writhe as I’d tickle you on the way inside and your mother and I reading to you in the lamp-glow of your room as you fell asleep.
    The door was open.
    He went up two steps and found himself in the kitchen. It was about what he’d expected, modest but quite orderly. A girl of six or seven stood at the sink, drying dishes and then stacking them neatly on the sideboard.
    He went straight up to her.
    Just as she heard him, just as she started to turn to see what the noise was, he brought his hand around to the front of her face and covered her mouth.
    With the other hand, he put the Winchester to her head.
    “I want you to call out for your papa, you understand?”
    Against the palm of his hand, he could feel the girl’s hot breath and her saliva and the tiny edges of her teeth.
    The girl nodded.
    “Go ahead now,” he said.
    Before she called out, the girl twisted her neck so she could get a quick glimpse of him.
    She looked terrified.
    She said, “Papa. It’s Eloise. Could you come out here, please?”
    “Couldn’t I finish my pipe first, hon?” he said.
    Ryan nudged the little girl.
    “I need you to come here now, Papa.”
    This time when she talked her voice broke with tension.
    This time her papa came right away.
    He came to the doorway of the kitchen and saw them.
    He surprised Ryan by not saying anything.
    He just stood there gawking, as if he could not believe it.
    Finally, Griff said, “She doesn’t have any part in this.”
    By now, his wife, apparently curious, came to the kitchen doorway, too.
    She immediately made a noise that resembled mewling. “Oh, Eloise,” she said.
    “She doesn’t have any part in this,” Griff said again.
    “My little girl didn’t have any part in your robbery, either.”
    “Please, mister, please let her go,” Griff’s wife said.
    Her mother’s tone was scaring the girl even more. She strained against Ryan’s hard grasp.
    “I’m taking her,” Ryan said.
    “Oh, no!” her mother said and tried to lunge through the door to take her daughter.
    Her husband put out a strong arm and stopped her. He said, “Go in the other room and make sure Tess is all right. I’ll take care of this.”
    “Why would he want Eloise?” the woman said. She was becoming so distraught she sounded crazed.
    “Go take care of Tess,” he said.
    Then, his wife gone, Griff said, “Take me, Ryan. You let Eloise walk over to me and you can take me anywhere you want. And do whatever you want. Just don’t take it out on my daughter, you understand?”
    Helping you with your homework at the dining room table how you always had the tiny pink corner of your tongue sticking out of your mouth when you were stumped by a problem and how you always had ink stains on the index finger of your right hand and worried that boys wouldn't think you were pretty because of the stains.
    Ryan said, “I wanted you to know that I’m taking her. I wanted you to see it, Griff. To fear for it.”
    Eloise started crying.
    Griff said, “I’m sorry for what happened to your daughter, Ryan.”
    It was then that he dived across the small kitchen to try and snatch Eloise away from Ryan, and it was then that Ryan shot Griff-two quick explosions of the Winchester-directly in the arm and leg.
Jack Dwyer #07 - What the Dead Men Say
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