Authors: Castle Freeman
C A S T L E F R E E M A N
D U C K W O R T H O V E R L O O K
© 2008 by Castle Freeman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication
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The right of Castle Freeman to be identified as the Author of
the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
A catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
ebook ISBN 978 0 7156 3940 5
“Marvel have I,” said the damsel, “what manner of man ye be, for it may never be other but that ye be come of gentle blood, for so foully and shamefully did never woman revile a knight as I have done you, and ever courteously ye have suffered me, and that comes never but of gentle blood.”
Le Morte d’Arthur,
“The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney”
Midsummer: The long days begin in bright, rising mist and never end. Their hours stretch, they stretch. They stretch to hold everything you can shove into them; they’ll take whatever you’ve got. Action, no action, good ideas, bad ideas, talk, love, trouble, every kind of lie — they’ll hold them all. Work? No. Nobody works any longer. To be sure, they did. The farmers worked. The midsummer days were the best working time of the year for the farmers, but the farmers are gone. They worked, they built, but they’re gone. Who’s next?
Sheriff Ripley Wingate, an early riser, turned off the road and into the lot behind the courthouse. Not yet seven. The morning fog still hung to the ground, a heavy gray curtain. It shifted, wavered, passed in woolly swags and swirls, parted. Nearly hidden in the mist, in a corner of the lot, another vehicle, a little car, empty.
The sheriff parked his truck in his spot near the court building and walked across the lot to the car, an Escort with its rear window partly broken out and covered with a plastic sheet and tape. He approached the passenger’s side and bent to look inside the car. Not empty. A young woman was curled up in the driver’s seat, asleep. Her knees were pulled up behind the steering wheel; her head rested against the window. On the passenger’s seat beside her was a kitchen knife with a blade maybe four inches long, and in the rear seat a furry bundle the sheriff couldn’t quite make out. He tapped lightly on the window.
The sleeping woman opened her eyes. She looked around her, then saw the sheriff at the window. She started. She drew back against her door, watching him. Her right hand went to the little knife on the seat beside her.
“Help you?” Sheriff Wingate asked her.
“I’m waiting for the sheriff,” the young woman said.
“I’m waiting for the sheriff,” the young woman said again, louder, to be heard through the closed windows of the little car.
“I’m the sheriff.”
“Why don’t you come on inside?” the sheriff said. He nodded toward the courthouse.
The young woman made no move to leave the car, but she leaned across the seat and rolled the passenger’s window down a couple of inches.
“You don’t have a uniform,” she said.
“No,” the sheriff said. He straightened and turned to start back to the courthouse.
“How do I know you’re the sheriff?”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” the sheriff said. “You can sit out here long as you want. Maybe another sheriff will come along.”
“Wait,” said the young woman. She uncurled herself from the seat, opened the door, and stood beside her car. She was tall and wore her brown hair long, very long, in a soft fall that hung down her back past her shoulder blades. The sheriff watched her. She didn’t look drunk, she didn’t act drunk, she didn’t smell drunk. She closed the car door and looked across its roof at him.
“All right,” she said.
The sheriff waited for her, letting her go ahead of him.
“You first,” said the young woman.
The sheriff shook his head. “I ain’t the one with the knife,” he said. “You are. You go in front.”
“Oh,” said the young woman. The kitchen knife lay on the seat of her car. She left it and started toward the courthouse, with the sheriff following her.
In his tiny office in the basement of the courthouse Sheriff Wingate pointed to a chair in front of his desk, and the young woman sat. He let her sit for a minute, let her settle, while he fussed. He started the coffee machine, he tore yesterday’s page from his calendar and tossed it into the wastepaper basket. He turned the volume on the radio scanner up, then down. Then he sat behind his desk, facing the young woman.
“What can we do for you?” the sheriff asked her.
“I need help,” the young woman said.
“Help with what?”
“He’s after me,” she said. “A man. He wants to hurt me.”
“That’s right. He watches me. He follows me. He won’t let me alone.”
“Blackway,” the sheriff said.
“You know about this?”
“I know Blackway,” the sheriff said. “Most around here do. Coffee?” He rose and went to the coffee machine.
The young woman shook her head.
The sheriff poured himself a cup of coffee and returned to his chair.
“Blackway’s following you?” he asked.
“That’s what I said.”
“For how long?”
“A week, ten days,” the young woman said. “He watches me. Like one time, I was coming out of a lot. He pulled in front of me, cut me off. He just sat there, in that big truck he has. Looking at me. Letting me see him looking at me. Then he went away. He’d done that before. Then he smashed in the window of my car.”
“You were there when he did that?” the sheriff asked her. “You saw him?”
“No. It happened at night. I was asleep, the car was parked.”
“Anybody else see him, you know about?”
“So you can’t say for sure he did it.”
“He did it,” the young woman said. “Who else would?”
“Maybe nobody,” said the sheriff.“Maybe a lot of people. What else?”
Now the young woman swallowed hard. She looked at the floor, shook her head. She tried to answer, swallowed again.
“Take it easy,” said the sheriff.
“Annabelle,” the young woman said at last. “He got Annabelle. He came to my place and he got her.”
“My cat. He killed her.”
The sheriff nodded. “You had her in the backseat,” he said.
“Last night,” the young woman said. “I found her on my front steps. Her throat was cut. Her head was almost cut off.”
“Take it easy,” said the sheriff.
The young woman swallowed, looked at the floor. She nodded.
“Have a cup of coffee,” the sheriff said.
The young woman nodded again.
The sheriff got up from his chair and went to the coffee machine. He poured out a cup for the young woman.
“Milk and sugar?”
The sheriff put a spoonful of sugar into her cup and stirred her coffee. He brought the cup to the desk and set it down in front of her. The young woman picked it up and held it in both her hands, as though her hands were cold. Long, slim hands.
The sheriff returned to his chair. He sat.
“So you packed up the cat and came over here in the middle of the night,” he said.
“If Blackway showed up, you were going to stick him with your fruit knife.”
“It’s better than nothing,” said the young woman.
“Is it?” the sheriff asked her. “You been waiting out there all night?”
The young woman looked at him.
“Why?” she said. “What do you mean, why? I told you why. I’m scared. I’m being threatened. Stalked. I’m being stalked. You’re the law. I need protection. I need you to help me. I need you to do something.”
“What?” the young woman said. “I don’t know. Something. Look, you’re the law, not me. And no, I can’t prove he killed Annabelle. I didn’t see him do it. I know he did it.”
“I ain’t saying he didn’t.”
“All right, then,” said the young woman. “What can you do?”
“I could go see him, I guess,” the sheriff said. “Blackway. I could have a talk with him, I guess. I don’t know if that would make things better, though. Do you? I expect it would make them worse. Knowing Blackway.”
“He wants to hurt me,” said the young woman. “He’s going to hurt me. That’s where he’s going with this.”
Sheriff Wingate looked at her levelly. He nodded.
“I can’t arrest him for what he wants to do,” he said. “That ain’t the way it works. That ain’t the law. You know it ain’t.”
“Don’t tell me what I know,” said the young woman.