Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Faded Photographs: in which Elmore revisits the scene of Kelly’s crime

Elmore looked in on Will and Mary. He could make out two distinct lumps under a thin white bedsheet. The children looked like sleeping figures covered by snow in storybooks.

They shared a bed, and Elmore didn’t make it a big deal, didn’t buy bunk beds to separate them. He’d let the twins be twins for now. They could curl up together in the same little bed another year or two. After all, they slept together nine months inside Kelly.

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Chapter 16

Chapter 16

A Little Dead Thing: in which mama disappears.

Will materialized in front of Elmore, a jumping jack. 

“Daddy! Come look! It’s something horrible!”

Elmore wore a wilted white towel, just out of the bathtub. Self-consciously, he made sure the ratty old Cannon covered the worst of his scars, the ones on the right abdomen, the right thigh. A noisy box fan, full power, blew his wet hair straight back. He smelled like Right Guard.

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Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Skaters Away: in which Mr. Wood develops his tastes.

Mr. Wood loved figure skaters.

On the May morning he moved into the Castle, Mr. Wood programmed his six satellite dishes to find and record any broadcasts anywhere in the world of that graceful winter sport. Ice-rink events funneled out of the sky from Japan and Norway and Steamboat Springs. Unlike Alabama, those distant places always seemed to have snow and cold. 
 

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Blue Christmas: in which we meet Santa’s elves, dressed in blue.

The squad car braked hard in the Rogers’s driveway, blue lights blazing, tires cracking crusted snow.

Two policemen in heavy jackets emerged from the vehicle. They trudged like mountain climbers through the snowy yard and onto the slick little concrete front porch slab in front of Elmore Rogers’s front door.

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Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Champions: in which Mr. Wood places a hot special barbecue order.

Mr. Wood switched off his white Chevy pickup. 

Hank Williams Jr. died with the engine.

The truck cooled down in front of a wooden shack not much bigger than an outhouse. Orange coals glowed in the dark interior of the splintery structure, and gray smoke puffed from a small tin chimney.

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Sav-More: in which we learn the truth about holidays and bicycles.

Two summers earlier, Elmore Rogers and the children spent a Saturday afternoon with heads bowed and necks burning. 

lmore owned a pickup then, a clunker paid off with the I.V. trickle of green the Army gives a wounded warrior. He drove the truck out to a hard red field off the Montgomery Highway where Choctaw arrowheads washed up after big rains, gleaming like bone among sandspurs and scabs of grass. Sometimes, an actual human bone, brown as honeycomb after centuries in the cakey clay, rose to the surface of Alabama.

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Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Night Shift: in which Kelly’s phonograph plays until it can’t.

Kelly carefully Scotch-taped a nickel to the top of the cheap plastic stylus of a 20-year-old turntable. 

There. Play now.

Without the added ounces of weight, the stylus drifted free of the grooves of the 33⅓  Firestone Christmas album, its diamond needle randomly floating from song to song. Perry Como suddenly joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer jumped gracelessly into the midst of The Hallelujah Chorus.

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Chapter 6

Chapter 6

The Morning After: in which Elmore lets his twins play in a wonderland.

Bang! Bangbangbang!

Morning.

Loud morning.

The fisted blows on the thin front door cruelly woke Elmore. Startled, he suddenly relived for the hundredth time a rooftop tumble, a long fall, and a moment his body slammed hard against the ground. All night long, he’d fallen from a roof and broken, over and over and over. The bad re-runs and his throbbing rib had left him mostly sleepless.

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Mr. Wood: in which a rich man entertains a well-dressed guest.

The desk phone rang once.  

Mr. Wood knew the signal. He’d waited for hours, working very late in his office, passing the time.  

The fringed arm of his jacket stretched across a vast executive desk, its surface a polished mirror. The reflection of a gold-nugget button on his sleeve flashed somewhere deep in the dark walnut.  

The glint of a firefly.

His huge right hand pressed a button.  

Her voice sounded odd, distant, on this snowy night. A wasp trapped in a bottle.

“Why, Mr. Wood. What a nice surprise on this cold, snowy evening…”

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Kelly: in which the Black Warrior River sirens a song

Kelly Rogers – she had kept his name – guided the green Volkswagen Beetle foot by slippery foot up the driveway. What a ragged noise the engine made on such a still, strange night. Like a giant sewing machine under a turtle shell.

The VW wheels slurred in the snow and lost purchase at the very top of the unpaved steep place that crested out onto the county road. She pressed the accelerator sharply. After a moment, the little vehicle valiantly eased ahead, tires catching on what should have been blacktop. Tonight, it was whitetop. An unblemished carpet of snow completely covered County Road 11.

It crossed Kelly’s mind to turn back, just reverse down the drive, kill the engine, yank the parking brake, retrace her path to the concrete-block steps, and reenter the cheap metal mobile home. That would be easy, safe. She could put something in the toaster. She could listen to the record player. She could take a pill and go to sleep. 

Again. 

But tonight she wanted to see the river. 
 

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