Actually, I was hoping a lot of things at the moment, one of which was that we would all get back home alive, tonight. I had my doubts.
“How far is it?” Rosie asked, her solemn gaze fixed on the windshield.
“Four miles east of town,” Lewis said. “In the Hollow.”
Great, I thought. The Hollow was a place very few people went, unless they lived there. And no white people, ever. The residents of the thirty square miles of hills and fields called Walker’s Hollow were, according to our late father, darker than the rich black dirt of its bottomlands, and the invisible line that divided our culture and theirs was as real as a perimeter fence. If you believed the news media, attitudes in Mississippi had progressed a lot since the fifties and sixties—but not those in this part of Farrell County. Around here, 21st Century or not, progress or not, white folks didn’t go into the Hollow, and black folks didn’t want them to.
But we were going there tonight, as fast as our rusted pickup would take us. Why? Because we had no choice. Our cousin Bobby Earl Barnett, who lived three houses down from ours, had been beaten senseless and then dumped in his front yard about an hour ago from a car belonging to Jedediah Miller, a proud and stubborn black man who worked for the railroad. Truth be known, I sort of liked Jed Miller, and none of us liked Bobby Earl—he was a loudmouth with the aroma of a sweaty mule and the brains of a chipmunk. But he was our pa’s deceased brother’s only child, and family was family. When my aunt Earline saw Jed Miller’s old red Ford pull up to the curb in front of her house and then saw the battered and bruised face of her unconscious son as he spilled out onto her overgrown lawn, she called our ma, and after she and Ma hauled Bobby Earl’s sorry carcass into the house and finally coaxed a few groggy answers out of him, Ma sent her own three kids to set things right.
What that would involve was a little vague. I was hoping it would all turn out to be an unfortunate misunderstanding—but I knew my brother and sister had a more violent outcome in mind. Bobby Earl’s mumbled explanation, before he’d passed out again, was that he’d gone to Jed Miller’s place to discuss a financial matter and that Jed’s nephew Alonzo had insulted Bobby Earl and punched him in the nose and then the rest of them had beaten him up. I was a little skeptical of that, especially about the ganging-up-on-him part. And the story about a business matter made no sense. Bobby Earl knew as much about finance as he did about interstellar travel, and even if he did have money on his mind, what deal would he be trying to make with someone from the Hollow? All we knew for sure was that one of our kin had been assaulted and humiliated by a bunch of ignorant black folks, which in our redneck world meant they had also, by extension, humiliated our whole family. And so here we were, the three of us, tearing through the dark woods on a cold night like avenging angels to confront the forces of evil and regain our honor. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. We thought they were ignorant?
I found myself wishing, for the tenth time, that I hadn’t been home tonight when all this happened. No one, including me, considered me a fighter—I was seventeen and nerdy and five-foot-six and 130 pounds—but I’d been told to come along on this part-investigative and part-retaliatory mission because the whole Barnett family knew I could shoot the eye out of a gnat at fifty yards, and a good shot is welcome in any armed endeavor. My only positive feeling about this trip was that the weapon I’d chosen to bring along was of a smaller caliber than what Lewis would’ve preferred. If I was forced to exact revenge tonight on some poor soul, my plan—if I could stop shaking long enough—was to shoot an arm or a leg instead of something vital.
My siblings weren’t that picky. They were both hunters but not very good marksmen (hence the shotguns), and I doubted that firing a few loads into a few of our African American neighbors would cause either of them to lose much sleep. Lewis was big and strong and mean, and Rosie was the toughest girl I’d ever known. They were twins, both of them twenty-two years old that winter. Surprisingly, both were smart in some ways—Lewis had taught me to play chess and Rosie had tutored me in high-school algebra. Unsurprisingly, both of them shared our ma’s primitive views on race relations. I didn’t. But before you think that’s admirable, you should also know I was cowardly enough to keep my liberal feelings to myself.
“How much further?” Rosie growled.
Lewis didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.
We saw lights up ahead.
We were bumping down a long hill on a rutted dirt road that had become a driveway, of sorts. We’d already passed a mailbox with the word MILLER painted on the side. Above us we could see a full moon, a floating white beacon in a sky that was mostly stars and partly clouds, with more clouds blowing in from the west. The woods seemed to have thinned out a bit. Ahead was another hill; the distant lights we’d seen were the tiny yellow squares of windows, shining through the trees halfway up the next slope.
Then Lewis slowed down. Three men stood in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill, facing us. All three were holding guns.
Our truck eased to a stop twenty feet from the human roadblock. As we sat there waiting, the man in the center took a step closer and motioned to us to pull off to the left. I saw a muddy turnaround there, sliced into the edge of the forest. Lewis steered the truck off the road and into the cleared space, cut the engine, and switched off the lights. When our eyes had adjusted, we opened the doors and climbed out. My heart was in my throat but my gun was where it was supposed to be, in my right jacket pocket, and Rosie had tucked hers underneath her long coat. Lewis held onto his shotgun but kept it pointed at the ground. The three of us lined up in the road facing the others. The moon lit up the scene almost as bright as day. Just behind the three men was a car I recognized as Bobby Earl’s ancient Chevrolet, pulled off on the side of the road where he’d apparently left it, and pointing the other way.
The men facing us were big and black and probably in their forties, and although it was hard to make out faces I recognized the one in the middle, the one who had waved us to a stop. Jedediah Miller. He sometimes dropped in at the hardware store in town, where I worked every Saturday, and his wife Annie had been a housemaid for my ma a few years ago—a job that had ended, fast, when Ma accused her of stealing a brooch from her dresser drawer. (I later found out the real thief was none other than cousin Bobby Earl, but Aunt Earline vouched for him and Ma believed her. What a family we have.) Anyhow, Jed was now standing in front of us and holding a shotgun like the one Lewis had, also pointed—at least for the moment—at the ground in front of him. I didn’t know the other two men, but they looked familiar. Jed’s brothers, maybe.
“We been expecting you,” he said.
Lewis took a slow breath and replied, “I bet you have. You beat up my cousin. He looked half dead, to me.”
Jed nodded. “He oughta be all the way dead, after what he done.”
“What’d he do?”
“He shot my nephew.”
That hung there in the air for several seconds.
“What do you mean, shot him?” Lewis asked.
“Just what I said. Your cousin and my nephew Alonzo was arguing, bout them ten acres your grandpa sold my pa years ago, down by the river. Pa still owns it, but Alonzo and his wife been farming it awhile now. Bobby Earl come here tonight and said he wanted to buy it back. Alonzo said it wasn’t for sale. Bobby Earl said some mean things then, about our family. Alonzo took a step toward him, and Bobby Earl pulled a pistol and shot him. Almost shot me too. Would have, if I hadn’t grabbed his gun.”
Jed took a small revolver from his pocket and tossed it to the ground between us.
“That beating I gave him wasn’t enough,” he said, “but it at least satisfied me he wasn’t gonna shoot nobody else tonight. While my missus and niece carried Alonzo into the house back there to patch him up, my brothers and me loaded Bobby Earl into my car and I drove him to his mama’s place in Farrellton and dumped him in her front yard. But I suppose you know that.”
“How’d you know where they live?” Lewis said.
“You knew where I live, didn’t you? This ain’t a big town.”
Lewis stood there awhile, glowering. “You coulda called us to come pick him up. You didn’t have to throw him out of your car that way.” “He shot my nephew, Lewis. Tried to shoot me. What would you have done?”
It might’ve been interesting, if I had stopped to think about it, that neither Jed nor Lewis had mentioned—and probably hadn’t even considered—calling the sheriff about all this. In many ways we were still living in the previous century, around here. Maybe even the one before that.
A silence passed, as both sides stood there looking at the other. The wind whooshed and moaned in the pines and the leaf-bare trees beside the road. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted.
“What do you mean, Bobby Earl wanted to buy that land?” Lewis asked.
“He wanted it back. Said it shouldn’t of been in our family in the first place, even though my pa bought it fair and square, from your pa’s daddy.”
Lewis frowned and shook his head. “This don’t sound right, Jed. Saying he wanted to buy something’s one thing, paying for it’s another. Did Bobby Earl say what he was gonna use for money? He don’t have ten bucks to his name.”
“He had money,” Jed replied. “A bag of it, he said, in his car.”
We looked past Jed at the back of Bobby Earl’s battered old Chevy. It sat there in the moonlight like a dirty frog.
“Bag?” Lewis asked.
“That’s what he told me.” “Did you look? Afterwards?”
“Yeah, we looked, after I drove him to his house and come back. There’s a grocery sack on the front seat of his car, filled with bills wrapped up in neat little stacks. Tens and twenties, at least the ones on top. Not that I seen much cash in my life, but I can count and I can multiply. Must be thirty, forty thousand dollars in that bag.”
For a long time Lewis said nothing. I glanced at Rosie, who looked deep in thought.
“Go see for yourself,” Jed said.
Lewis didn’t move. “You take any of it?”
“We ain’t thieves, Lewis. It’s all there.”
“Where’d it come from?”
“How am I supposed to know that? He ain’t my cousin. Thank God.”
Rosie and Lewis looked at each other. Nobody looked at me, which suited me just fine. But I could think as quick as anybody, and my first thought was that Bobby Earl must’ve robbed the bank. But that couldn’t be. Not that he wasn’t dumb enough to try something like that, and he was apparently carrying a gun, but his ma had told my ma that when he left the house it was already dark, sometime past six, and the banks close at four. The only other place in our little town with that much cash around—
Oh Lord, I thought. Surely Bobby Earl hadn’t done that.
I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Jed, glaring at us as a group, said, “Question is, what are we gonna do about all this? I doubt y’all drove all the way out here just to fetch his car.”
I saw Lewis raise his chin. Better that than his shotgun, I thought. Maybe we could just talk this out, like civilized human beings. But I should’ve known that wouldn’t happen.
“You’re right,” Lewis said. “It ain’t a social call, either. We came here to settle things.”
“We can’t have you beatin’ up members of our family, Jed. No matter what happened, no matter who got shot.”
Jed snorted. “What you mean is, you can’t have black boys beatin’ up white boys.”
“What I mean is, there’s a price to be paid for what you did.”
“Oh there is, you say?”
“Damn right there is.”
So much for peace and harmony. Both Lewis and Jed had narrowed their eyes and straightened their backs.
Sweet Mother Mary, I said to myself. This is how my short, meaningless life’s going to end. Fighting somebody I don’t want to fight, on a dirt road at night in the middle of the woods, because of an idiot cousin I don’t even like. I saw Jed Miller’s shoulders tense up, saw his fingers tighten on his gun—and sensed that the two big men standing alongside him were doing the same. So were my brother and sister, off to my left. I felt a bead of sweat run down my forehead and into my eye. Time seemed to grind to a halt.
We were so still, I don’t think any of us were even breathing. Except for the wind in the trees around us, It was dead quiet.
And then it wasn’t.
“Everybody stay where you are,” a deep voice bellowed, from somewhere on the road behind us. And suddenly everything went bright. I turned and squinted up the hill at two blinding white side-by-side circles. A pair of headlights had been switched on, on a less-steep stretch of the downsloping road above us and about thirty yards away—effectively lighting us up. With all our talking and the tension and the sound of the wind, we hadn’t heard the approaching car, or cars. Whoever this was—I wondered if they’d followed us here—had come up behind us in the dark with lights off and engines off, rolling slowly down the hill toward us.
As we watched, car doors opened and half a dozen men approached us on foot, all of them carefully spread out in the road to—presumably—give each a clear line of fire. They walked downhill slowly, ahead of and underneath the headlights’ beam. We could barely see them in the glare.
Without a word, my brother and sister and I had backed away from them, and were now lined up beside the three Millers. I was on one end, then Rosie, then Lewis, then Jed and his brothers, all of us lit up as if on a stage.
Something, at that moment, made me look at Lewis, and I found him staring back at me. Moving his head slightly, he glanced up into the newcomers’ headlights, and then back at me again. He was obviously giving me a silent message. Then he bent his arm at the wrist, so the palm was flat down and his fingers spread, like he was pushing down on something. The meaning of that, at least, was clear: wait for my signal.
Signal for what?
I didn’t take time to worry about it. Three of the six new arrivals had stepped out in front of the others and stood close together in a line of their own, the outside two with automatic rifles held ready. The remaining three took up positions behind them and to both sides. The front man in the middle was tall and wide, and in the wash of the headlights I’d caught a glimpse of a dark circle of cloth on a diagonal strap across his face. When he spoke, it was the same voice that had issued the earlier warning. It said, “Where’s my money?”
I recognized him. Hamilton Grogan—the only person I knew who wore an eyepatch—owned the lumberyard west of town, and several businesses on Main Street. Most of these were fronts; Ham Grogan made his living on opportunities behind the scenes. Gambling, loans, dogfighting, moonshine, prostitution, drugs. Everyone seemed to know about it, but no one—except those who partook of his services—seemed to care. Welcome to Farrell County.
More to the point, my earlier fear was confirmed: the loot Bobby Earl had stolen had come from the most dangerous source possible.
“Is everybody deaf? Where is my money?”
I glanced at Jed Miller, whose face was blank and unreadable. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward Bobby Earl’s car. “It’s right there behind us. In a bag on the front seat.”
“And whose car is that?” Grogan asked.
“It belongs to my cousin,” Lewis said.
“Bobby Earl Barnett. He’s not here,” Jed said. “None of us—nobody here—knew anything about what he did. Us nor them neither.”
For a moment Grogan said nothing. Then: “And all the money’s there?”
“We ain’t thieves,” Jed said, for the second time tonight. He paused, then added, “If it’s yours, just take it and go.”
I could no longer see Grogan’s face. The high-beamed headlights were still behind and above him, blazing into our eyes, and the moon had given up and hidden behind the scurrying clouds. But I could hear the menace in what he said next, as he looked back and forth between Jed and Lewis.
“It don’t work that way. This cousin, or whoever it was, broke into my office with a mask on, made me give him all the cash from my safe. I can’t allow that kind of thing to happen.”
Where had I heard that before? But the shoe was now on the other foot. I glanced again at Lewis, who seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“How’d you know to come here?” Jed asked. I didn’t expect Grogan to answer, but he did.
“Signal from a tracker device. Tucked in there with the bills.”
Which made me wonder why it had taken him so long to get here. Then it hit me: he’d needed time to recruit some extra firepower. I didn’t recognize any of his five goons, but that didn’t surprise me. I probably wouldn’t have known them in broad daylight.
“Look,” Lewis said. “You’ve found your money. It’s here for you to take back, right now.” I detected, for the first time, a tremor in his voice, and didn’t blame him a bit. “We told you who stole it—you can go to the Law.”
“The Law don’t come into play, here.”
“They will if you kill us,” Jed said.
Grogan shook his head. “Not out here in the Hollow. They won’t care.”
“What about my family?”
“Way I see it,” Grogan said, “You were all in on it. I got a dozen gasoline cans in them cars back there, and after we’re done with you and your three visitors here, I plan to burn this whole worthless place to the ground. Then we’ll go find this cousin and take care a him too.” He paused, probably studying our faces in the light. “Y’all poked the wrong hornet’s nest, tonight.”
Jed held up a hand. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Something you should know. It ain’t just us, here. Behind us, in the road back there in the dark, is my three boys. They all play baseball. Two of ’em’s pitchers. Good pitchers.”
“And why should I care about that?” Grogan asked.
“Because we use dynamite to clear our land. The bigger stumps and such. Long time ago we used mules and chains, and tractors when we could borry ’em. Now we use explosives.”
“So each of my sons got a stick of dynamite in his hand, and a matchbook. At the first sign anything’s gone wrong, I told ’em to light the fuses and throw the sticks over our heads. You say you got gas cans with you, in the cars? That’s even better. You’ll get blown into so many pieces we’ll get tired a lookin’ for you.”
A long pause. Finally Grogan said, “You’re lying. You had no time to plan all this—we just now arrived.”
“I planned it before you got here.”
“How’d you know we were coming?”
“I didn’t,” Jed said. “I knew they was coming.” He glanced sideways, at me and Rosie and Lewis. “At the time, I thought they was my enemies.”
Grogan chuckled. “I know these three. I knew their daddy. They are your enemies.”
Slowly, Jed shook his head. “Not right now, they ain’t.”
Grogan was quiet a moment, his huge chest rising and falling. Too huge, I thought. A Kevlar vest, probably.
Finally he shook his head again. “Enough talk.” With his good eye he glanced to his right and left, at the two men flanking him, then looked at Jed and Lewis. “Time for all of you to die.”
Jed raised his gun. “And all a you, too.” In a louder voice, he said, “Are you men sure you want to get shot up, and blowed up, along with your boss?”
I thought I saw a quick look pass between the front two henchmen. I hoped they were having doubts.
“They’ll do what I tell ’em to do,” Grogan said.
He was right. They would. And it would be buckshot against assault weapons. I remembered what I’d heard would happen at times like this, that my life’s memories should be flashing before my eyes. Mine weren’t. I was just scared. I thought I might pee in my pants.
But I did find myself wondering what it was that Lewis had wanted me to do.
Then something unexpected happened. My sister Rosie, standing just to my left, stepped forward. As calmly as if strolling a city sidewalk, she marched the ten paces that separated her and Grogan and stopped three feet from him, looking up at his face. “Let me get this straight,” she said. “After all this is over, you’re going to go kill our cousin?”
“And his mama and anybody else at his house. After we burn it, we’ll go to your house, for your ma. If you got a dog, he’ll get roasted too.”
Rosie nodded, as if to herself. “One more question. Do your big bosses know what you’re about to do, here?”
“My bosses?” “The people you report to. Your business partners.” Grogan smiled. He studied her, then looked past her at us, then back again. “I report to nobody, Little Girl. I’m the only one left, the last of the family. I am the big boss.”
As soon as he said that, Rosie pulled her stubby shotgun from beneath her coat, stepped in close, and jammed the muzzle up under his chin. It was fast; Grogan looked too shocked to move. So were his henchmen. I saw her push the gun higher, saw him raise up onto his tiptoes.
And at that moment, as I stood there in the glare of the headlights, two thoughts popped into my head. The first was the meaning of Lewis’s silent “message” to me, earlier—what he wanted me to do, when I got his signal—and the second was that my sister, not my brother, was about to give me the only signal I was going to get.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” she said to Grogan, and pulled the trigger.
I saw it, and heard the blast, but I was already moving. Lightning-quick, I drew my pistol and shot out both headlights, POP-POP. Before Grogan’s body hit the ground the whole scene went pitch black.
Instinctively I went down on one knee, my little gun still ready but with no one to aim at. Everything was dark now, and as quiet as Tut’s tomb. Even the wind seemed to have died down. I heard several bumps and thumps as something landed on the roof of one of the gunmen’s cars, and realized it was probably pieces of Ham Grogan’s head. All I could do was crouch there and wait for the blaze of gunfire that would be coming at us now.
But it didn’t. Maybe because no one could see anything. I strained my eyes and my ears, trying to watch and listen. I heard no shots, no footsteps, no voices. At last one of Grogan’s men, one of the two on either side of him, said, “Everybody hold steady.” And then: “Cliffy? Go get the money.”
I saw a flashlight blink to life, and watched as Henchman Two—Cliffy?—inched his way toward us and then past us to the car Jed had identified as my cousin’s. Rosie, though I couldn’t see her, must’ve crept back into position beside me. I could hear her breathing. We heard Cliffy open the front door of Bobby Earl’s Chevy. The dome light winked on. Seconds later he shut the door again and retraced his steps. When he’d rejoined Henchman One, they opened the grocery bag and used the flashlight to look inside. Then Henchman One turned to us and said, “We’re done, here.”
The moon picked that moment to emerge from the clouds. All of a sudden we could see them again, and they could see us, and everyone stood there staring at each other, six of us and five of them. For several seconds all weapons stayed at the ready, and then, one by one, were lowered. Cliffy called something to the other three men, and one of them came over and took hold of Ham Grogan’s arms—Cliffy took the feet—and they hauled their boss’s headless body away toward the cars.
Before Henchman One could follow them, Lewis said to him, “What about my family? What about Bobby Earl and his ma, and our ma?”
He turned in our direction. “We got no problem with them. Or with any of you, anymore. We’re splitting this five ways, and Grogan already paid us for tonight. Everybody just stay cool.” Having said that, and holding eye contact with Lewis, he reached into the bag, scooped out three or four bound stacks of cash, and dropped them on the ground. “Oops,” he said. Then he turned, bag in hand, and headed toward the cars.
Within seconds we heard motors cranking, and the two vehicles backed slowly up the hill. When they reached a spot wide enough to turn around in they reversed direction and growled away into the night, the one without headlights following closely behind the other.
Jed Miller stepped forward and picked the money up off the ground. The thick packets looked like greenish-white bricks in the moonlight. Then he looked up at Rosie. “You saved us,” he said. “Nobody coulda seen that coming, what you did. You saved us all.”
She didn’t reply. The moon was dipping in and out of the clouds now, but there was enough light to see her stark, pale face.
“Here,” he said, holding the cash out to the three of us. “This ain’t mine.”
“It ain’t ours either,” Lewis said. “Use it to buy more dynamite.”
Jed let out a laugh. It sounded strange, considering what we’d just been through. “I got no dynamite. I don’t even have a son—just two daughters, and they don’t play baseball. You think it made a difference?”
“I think it did. Made ’em have second thoughts, anyway.” Lewis paused. “So, what do you use to clear them tree stumps you were talking about?”
“Mules and chains, like always.”
We all stayed quiet a minute. Clouds kept moving across the moon, light and then dark. Even down here between the hills, I could again feel the cold wind in my face. My knees were still shaking.
“One more question,” Lewis said. “Why were you so quick to side with us against him, instead of with him against us? You coulda told him you had nothing to do with the robbery.”
“I did tell him that.”
“You didn’t try very hard.”
“He wouldn’t have believed me.” Jed sighed, his breath a puff of white swept away by the wind. “They was gonna take us out anyway, Lewis, sooner or later—me and my family. This thing tonight just gave him an excuse. Ham Grogan and me go way back.”
“Tell me you didn’t ever work for him.”
Another laugh. “No. I’m the wrong color, for that.”
“How, then? How do you know him?”
Jed’s smile vanished. “I’m the one who put his eye out.” I saw Lewis’s jaw drop. “We always heard Grogan’s eye was cut out in a knife fight,” he said. “In a Jackson bar.”
Jed shook his head. “He lost that eye behind the Farrellton post office, when we was teenagers. I had an old Bullseye slingshot back then, and was about as good with it as Willy there is with that twenty-two.” He looked at me and added, “That was fine shootin’, young man.” Before I could respond, he turned again to Lewis. “Otis Randall had done something Grogan didn’t like, and Grogan cornered him behind the P.O. and knifed him. Right in the gut. He was about to stab Otis again, had a switchblade held up high and ready, and me and my slingshot put a half-inch ball-bearing into his left eye, from my hiding place in the bushes across the street. Otis Randall lived, and Grogan wound up half blind. He never knew who did it, and I never volunteered the information. I think he figured it was me, though.” Jed paused again. “I meant what I said—if Bobby Earl hadn’t brought all this down on us tonight, it woulda been something else, one of these days. Grogan’s hated me a long time.”
Jed fell silent awhile, after that, and then something seemed to catch his eye. “Miss Rosemary,” he said, “I believe you got some blood on your face, there.”
Rosie blinked as if jarred awake. Dully she wiped at her cheek and forehead with a sleeve. “Guess I do. Buck and Cliffy probably got some on them too.”
“Who?” “The two fellas standing there beside Grogan.”
“You knew ’em?”
Rosie didn’t reply. She had zoned out again, staring dully into the distance.
“Buck Harris and Clifton Lowe,” Lewis answered. “Both just got out of prison. Rosie dated Buck a couple times, in high school.”
Jed gave Rosie a thoughtful look. “That explains some things.”
“Maybe it’s like that dynamite you dreamed up,” Lewis said. “It made ’em stop and think for a bit. And during that time I guess they realized that not everybody had to die, tonight.”
Jed nodded. “The only one who did, deserved it.”
“I hope the sheriff takes that view,” Rosie murmured.
“The sheriff won’t find out about it. Grogan’s group won’t talk, and me and my family sure won’t. It’s like that peckerwood said a while ago: we’re done.” He paused. “I expect they already dumped what’s left of Grogan’s body in the swamp between here and town.”
Everyone fell silent then, and I knew why. No one knew what to do next. We were like strangers who’d survived a terrible accident, and now whatever had happened beforehand . . . well, it just didn’t seem all that important.
Lewis cleared his throat and said, “Your nephew—Alonzo. Will he be all right?”
“Yeah.” Jed touched a shoulder. “Upper arm, straight through. He’ll be fine.”
Lewis nodded. “Bobby Earl will too. Well, he won’t be fine—he’ll still be an asshole. But he’ll recover.”
After an awkward silence, Jed said, “I’m not sorry I beat up on him.”
“And I’m glad he’s not a good shot.”
Lewis almost smiled, at that. “None of us is, except Willy.”
I barely heard this. I was watching Rosie, who was still looking a little shellshocked. Brave or not, tough or not, she’d just killed a man, and it was getting to her.
“So we’re all square, you and us?” Jed looked at me before focusing again on Lewis.
“Yeah,” Lewis said. “Truth is, if Grogan had caught any of my family alone, tonight, without you guys, he’d a killed us. Same goes for you, if we hadn’t showed up. Right?”
I decided I’d had enough of this. I looked at Lewis, nodded toward my sister, and said, “It’s time to go.”
He caught my meaning. Pausing only to pick up Bobby Earl’s revolver off the ground, he looked at Jed and said, “Can we leave his car here till tomorrow?”
“That’d be fine.”
Then Lewis did something I never would’ve dreamed I would live to see: he stepped forward and shook hands with each of the Millers. He waited till last for Jed, and their gazes held a moment as they clasped hands.
We were halfway to our truck, the others watching us leave, when Lewis stopped and turned to face them.
“About them stumps,” he said. “If you ever need to borrow a tractor . . .”
Jed smiled, and nodded.
The trip back home was considerably slower, and calmer too. Twice Lewis asked Rosie if she was okay, and both times she mumbled that she was, though I’m not sure any of us was really okay. We’d been through a lot tonight, and learned a lot. Certainly none of us would ever again see Walker’s Hollow the same way.
“What’ll we tell Ma?” I asked.
“We’ll say the matter’s settled,” Lewis said. “And we’ll never talk about it again. Ever.” He turned, his face greenish in the glow from the dashboard lights, and looked at us both. “Understood?”
“Understood,” I said. Rosie nodded.
Outside, the clouds were gone and the moon was out. It sailed along just above the trees south of the road, keeping pace with us all the way home.