something. He was sure of it. And you were, werent you?
Yes, sir, Henry said in his colorless and somehow awful voice. As if all his emotions had flown away, like those things in Pandoras jar when she opened it. But there was no Elphis for Henry and me; our Elphis was dead in the well.
If he asks me, Ill tell him he was wrong, Sheriff Jones said. A company lawyer dont need to know that a boys mother put her hand to him while she was in drink. He groped under his seat, came up with a long S-shaped tool I knew well, and held it out to Henry. Would you save an old mans back and shoulder, son?
Yes, sir, happy to. Henry took the crank and went around to the front of the Maxwell.
Mind your wrist! Jones hollered. She kicks like a bull! Then he turned to me. The inquisitive glitter had gone out of his eyes. So had the green. They looked dull and gray and hard, like lakewater on a cloudy day. It was the face of a man who could beat a railroad bum within an inch of his life and never lose a minutes sleep over it. Mr. James, he said. I need to ask you something. Man to man.
All right, I said. I tried to brace myself for what I felt sure was coming next: Is there another cow in yonder well? One named Arlette? But I was wrong.
I can put her name and description out on the telegraph wire, if you want. She wont have gone no further than Omaha, will she? Not on just a hundred and eighty smackers. And a woman whos spent most of her life keepin house has no idea of how to hide out. Shell like as not be in a rooming house over on the east side, where they run cheap. I could have her brought back. Dragged back by the hair of the head, if you want.
Thats a generous offer, but-
The dull gray eyes surveyed me. Think it over before you say yea or nay. Sometimes a fee-male needs talking to by hand, if you take my meaning, and after that theyre all right. A good whacking has a way of sweetening some gals up. Think it over.
The Maxwells engine exploded into life. I stuck out my hand-the one that had cut her throat-but Sheriff Jones didnt notice. He was busy retarding the Maxwells spark and adjusting her throttle.
Two minutes later he was no more than a diminishing boil of dust on the farm road.
He never even wanted to look, Henry marveled.
And that turned out to be a very good thing.
We had shoveled hard and fast when we saw him coming, and nothing stuck up now but one of Elphiss lower legs. The hoof was about four feet below the lip of the well. Flies circled it in a cloud. The Sheriff would have marveled, all right, and he would have marveled even more when the dirt in front of that protruding hoof began to pulse up and down.
Henry dropped his shovel and grabbed my arm. The afternoon was hot, but his hand was ice-cold. Its her! he whispered. His face seemed to be nothing but eyes. Shes trying to get out!
Stop being such a God damned ninny, I said, but I couldnt take my eyes off that circle of heaving dirt. It was as if the well were alive, and we were seeing the beating of its hidden heart.
Then dirt and pebbles sprayed to either side and a rat surfaced. The eyes, black as beads of oil, blinked in the sunshine. It was almost as big as a full-grown cat. Caught in its whiskers was a shred of bloodstained brown burlap.
Oh you fuck! Henry screamed.
Something whistled inches past my ear and then the edge of Henrys shovel split the rats head in two as it looked up into the dazzle.
She sent it, Henry said. He was grinning. The rats are hers, now.
No such thing. Youre just upset.
He dropped his shovel and went to the pile of rocks with which we meant to finish the job once the well was mostly filled in. There he sat down and stared at me raptly. Are you sure? Are you positive she aint haunting us? People say someone whos murdered will come back to haunt whoever-
People say lots of things. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place, a broken mirror brings seven years bad luck, a whippoorwill calling at midnight means