Each of the two deputies stood by a white picket fence and both were attached to Elmore by a handcuff. Elmore was medium height and had muscles. His face was grimy because he had set fire to the house inside the picket fence.
The sheriff, Bud Duncan, stubbed out his cigar on the ground and said, ‘All this smoke, I can’t taste my cigar.’
The two deputies grinned. Elmore nodded his head. His face had a broken nose and old scars.
Bud looked around.
‘It sure is lonely out here,’ he said.
He could see houses but the few that existed were remote and looked tiny. On the horizon, dykes pumped oil without rest.
Elmore bounced up and down on his toes and jerked the handcuffs.
‘I saw you fight a couple of times, said Bud. ‘You threw a lot of punches.’
‘They hit me once,’ said Elmore. ‘I hit them ten times.’
The two deputies attached to the handcuffs did not listen. Leroy was young, tall and slim. He liked being a deputy and wanted to be the next sheriff after Bud. Merle was old, tall like Leroy but heavier. Merle liked the job when it was quiet and he could sneak to the diner and take a free beef burger. The daily beef burger did him no good but nowhere near the damage caused by the unlimited coffee. Before this, Leroy and Merle had liked Elmore. Sometimes they bought him a coffee, and occasionally they worked him a free one.
Bud walked around the white picket fence until he found the new fire chief sent out by County Hall. The two men watched firemen tidy the wreckage.
‘This is a crime scene,’ said Bud.
‘We carried two bodies out of here,’ said the fire chief. ‘Go back to town and you say hello to the witnesses who saw him kill his wife and Joe Thurman while they were having apple pie and cream in the diner. This is Texas, Sheriff. He won’t be as charred as what we drive to the morgue but Elmore will fry. What more do you want, Sheriff?’
‘Ain’t much left, is there?’ said Bud.
‘We saved the picket fence,’ said the fire chief.
Bud drove into town, followed the deputies and Elmore who were in a separate car with a driver. He parked his Buick opposite the station in the town square instead of behind the building. Bud liked the good folks of Edabares to see a police car on display. Leroy and Merle took Elmore to the cells. They locked the cell and handcuffed him to one of the bars in the door.
Later, Bud brought a chair and sat down opposite Elmore in his cell. Bud had turned the chair around so the back of the chair faced his chest. He lit two cigars and gave one to Elmore. Behind Bud, the two deputies said nothing and stared at the floor.
‘One don’t make much difference, I suppose,’ said Elmore. ‘I’m not a smoker, Bud. I’m a fighter.’
‘I wouldn’t want to start you off with bad habits,’ said Bud. ‘You wouldn’t want to finish like old Merle, here.’
Merle lifted his trouser belt so it finished higher on his swollen stomach.
‘Merle,’ said Bud, ‘ why is this man handcuffed to a bar?’
Merle and Leroy waited for Bud to answer his own question, which he often did.
‘Because,’ said Bud, ‘ that looks like a lock in the door and if I am not mistaken this is a State approved jail.’
Leroy unlocked the handcuff. Elmore lifted his shoulders and moved around the cell.
‘If you let me shadow box, I’ll give you back the cigar,’ said Elmore.
Bud pushed the Stetson towards the back of his head and rested his elbows on the top of the chair.
‘Hand it over nice and polite, Elmore,’ said Bud. ‘Give it to Merle. I wouldn’t want you to tempt Leroy.’
Elmore stubbed the cigar out and gave it to Merle.
‘Tastes even better with a free coffee,’ said Bud.
Elmore threw punches into the fresh air and danced around his cell. Merle put the cigar in the pocket of his shirt. He thought about being in the diner with Mae Ellen and taking a whole afternoon to eat a cheeseburger.
‘I saw you a fight a couple of times,’ said Bud.
Elmore threw a right cross and a left uppercut. He kept moving and punching.
‘What have you done with the heads of Emma and Joe?’ said Bud.
‘I threw them in the fire,’ said Elmore.
He threw a combination of punches.
‘I knew that new fire chief was dumb,’ said Bud. ‘Get on the phone, Leroy.’
Elmore kept punching the air and dancing on his toes. His breathing made noise. The punches against the fresh air were silent. Leroy returned from making the phone call.
‘They set me up, Bud,’ said Elmore without resting. ‘Emma came to see me in prison and acted like she had been living all the time some place outside Texas. Joe took my wife, and the two of them took my money. All I took was the punches. I said to Emma, once I’m out I’ll kill you both and burn down the house you stole from me.’
Elmore moved around the cell, his footsteps and punches were fast.
‘Ain’t he something?’ said Leroy.
‘I sure am,’ said Elmore. ‘They hit me but I always hit back with more. I was fast, Bud.’
‘You ain’t slow now, Elmore,’ said Bud.
‘If I was going to get even, I had to be fast, understand me, Bud? I’m a fighter. Fighters get even or they ain’t a fighter no more.’
‘Elmore,’ said Bud, ‘I ain’t an educated man like Leroy here. But I have been called an understanding man.’
‘Best sheriff this town ever had. Not just me talks that way, Bud.’
‘Elmore,’ said Bud, ‘I want to understand why you burnt down a house that Joe and Emma sold before you left prison.’
‘That was the house I said I’d burn to the ground. I built that house, Sheriff Bud. My Pa helped me but I built it.’
‘It is , it was, a fine house.’
‘I ain’t going to burn down another if that’s the one I said I’d burn.’
‘A family lived in that house, Elmore.’
‘Ain’t much I can do about that,’ said Elmore.
Behind Bud, Merle and Leroy giggled. Elmore shadowboxed and breathed heavy.
‘Ain’t he something?’ said Leroy.
‘There was a family in the house when you set fire to it,’ said Bud. ‘Elmore, just stop boxing a second.’
Elmore slowed down but he still boxed.
‘I said I would and I did,’ he said. ‘I get even. I’m a fighter.’
‘Elmore, you burned an innocent family to death.’
‘I had no mind to do that. I didn’t put those folks in there. I said I would and I did just as I said. I’m a fighter and if you don’t get even, Bud, you ain’t no fighter no more.’
Much later that evening, Bud parked his pale sand coloured police car in front of his home. He threw his Stetson on the hat stand in the hall, said hello to the labrador and walked into the kitchen. Sheryl sat behind the table. The food he had left her for the day had been ignored. Her face was unwashed and the tearstains were obvious. Her body was arched because her arm was stretched to the sink and the tap where Bud had handcuffed her right hand.
‘You ain’t eaten, Sheryl,’ said Bud.
Sheryl said nothing.
‘If you don’t talk, you ain’t ever going to be free.’
Sheryl said nothing.
‘You betrayed me, darling, and, honey, I ain’t going to stand for that. I’m going to get even because that’s my nature. I’m a tough guy, darling, and that’s why you loved me.’
‘Loved,’ said Sheryl. ‘You’re an animal.
‘I’ll free you when I know you’re sorry and want to make it up to me.’
‘It’ll be a cold day in hell,’ said Sheryl.
‘I’m a fighter. It‘s why you picked me, darling.’
‘You’re a monster, Bud Duncan.’
‘I’ve known worse,’ said the Sheriff.
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