Chapter 32

Chapter 32

The Yule Logs … in which Elmore reaches the corner of Smith and Wesson

Elmore slowed the rumbling panel truck as he entered bustling, green-and-gold, downtown Lafayette. In back of the truck, among piled cabinetry tools and padded blankets, grazed a small, bewildered herd of plywood reindeer. Elmore had milled them himself the past week at Rankin Cabinets. Each little Rudolph sported a blinking battery-powered red nose that flashed happily in the darkness as Elmore pulled open the truck’s rear doors. The deer radiated good cheer, and they cheered Elmore too. He would deliver his herd to Lafayette Courthouse, where Boy Scouts and other volunteer holiday elves would distribute them to stores and city parks for the big night ahead.

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Chapter 29

Chapter 29

The Jolly Holidays … in which Mr. Wood plans the menu.

Mr. Wood opened his hooded eyes.He slept nights in the heart of the castle, a labyrinth of 100 rooms on five floors — meeting rooms and ballrooms, bedrooms and smoking rooms, grand rooms and intimate rooms. Secret rooms. Dozens of stairways and hallways and passageways connected the levels and wings and spaces like a huge honeycomb. A man could get lost. 
 

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Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Lafayette General… in which the black shadow falls
 

Mary lay still on a white stiff sheet, small as a doll. A swift pulse beat visibly in her neck, a little blue wink. In nervous hands, Elmore rolled and unrolled a hospital admission form. He waited in a metal chair by Mary’s hospital gurney. Two hours had passed since her admission. Two hours. Mary was stable, the doctors said. They waited on antivenom.

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Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Snake Creek … in which the fangs come out

Elmore drove home the next hot afternoon. He’d eaten another day of sawdust. He never let on to the Rankin crew about the sporadic searing pains on either side of his spine or the gnawing animal under his right ribcage. He kept his eyes closed tight on bathroom breaks. He did not want to see what left him, trickling weakly into the bowl.

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Chapter 24

Chapter 24

The Rock 'n' Roll Regiment: in which Elmore gets some warnings from his friends.

Elmore woke on top of his bedsheets, sweating and sticky. The little one-horse window unit in the kitchen didn’t have a prayer of cooling the whole house in June. 

The outside light told Elmore that he’d slept till mid-afternoon. 

He thought for a moment he smelled burned white bread in a toaster oven. That turned out to be the odor of his own body, sick and sweating out alcohol.

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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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