“They took one bend in a mountain road too fast and went three hundred feet down into a ravine. Burned.
“I was just back from college. I had just started teaching a month before. Susyn and I were dating. She was nineteen, and wild. Really wild. When she got word that Deke was dead, I thought she was going to lose her mind. It just tore her up. Old Man Davis wasn’t any help. Jim and Alan raged around with a big load of mean and no one to aim it at. Finally, she came to me and by the time I had finished comforting her, we were married.”
“When was this?”
“Nine years ago November.”
Johnson was almost pathetically eager to tell his story. I had sympathy for him, within limits. He wore his wounds too much like medals for my taste, but the pain was genuine.
“It didn’t last. She wanted more that I could offer. But she was all I ever wanted.”
“And now you’re her business partner.”
“No, not really. Old Man Davis owns all that property. He just uses my name, and pays me some rent.”
“According to the deed, you own it.”
Johnson shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that. Cameron likes me because I was good to his daughter, but if I tried to take away anything he considers his, he would have me killed.”
He said it with no particular inflection, like he might say, “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
It was getting too dark to see Johnson. He fumbled for the makings and put together another joint. He shoved the bundle across the coffee table toward me. It was a test. Was I his enemy, or just another guy like him? I reached for the makings, and said, “Tell me about Cameron Davis.”
I don’t know how I got back to the motel. After a certain point, Johnson got hazy, his whole house slid south, and I found myself hallucinating my way back to where I grew up in Wisconsin. Vague images of Donal and Sharon stayed around until morning, and when I found rationality returning, I was on the floor of the shower in my motel room with the water running hard and warm on my face. I had spent the night with shades of my brother and sister, begging Donal to tell me why he ran away when I was young and needed him, and praying forgiveness from my sister for the hell I put her through the year Dad abandoned us. And for abandoning her in turn, when neither of us could stand the other any more.
I turned off the shower and toweled dry. My skin was red and wrinkled. My head was a hot air balloon. I looked out through the curtain and winced at the sunlight. The Pinto was parked neatly between the lines in the space outside. Thank God for reflexes.
It was past ten o’clock. I called Wilkes. He was out. I lay on the bed while I waited for him to return the call, because the room still had a tendency to move. The phone woke me up again three hours later. It was Ed. Through gritted teeth, with a pounding head, I told him what I had learned and what I wanted. more tomorrow