A Fresh Start
I saw the red against the white siding as I was driving up, but couldn't tell what it was for
sure. Paint was the first thing I thought of, but it wasn't paint.
They (whoever they were) left the chicken laying on the porch in front of the door. The
chicken's head was down on the sidewalk. The blood was dry.
You wouldn't think there'd be that much blood in one measly chicken.
Richard stopped by a little later with a basket of fried chicken and a bowl of potato salad
his wife sent with him.
"Look at that," he said when I turned on the porch light. "What'd you do that for?"
I gave him a push. "I didn't do it. What kinda nut would I have to be to spray
chicken blood on my own porch?"
"Oh, yeah. Well….why would anybody else wanna do it, either?"
"You know, if I was you, I think I'd throw that dead chicken in the garbage."
"Right……I was thinking maybe Herbert would wanna see it."
"Cause he's the sheriff. Usually the cops wanna see everything just like it was before you
start throwing things away. You know?"
"Yeah, I've seen that in the movies, but I don't think Herbert'll care one way or the other."
I thought about that for a minute. "You might be right." I picked it up and carried it to
the back of the house.
"In fact," Richard said, following me, "I don't think I'd bother Herbert with this. He doesn't
know who did it. What can he do about it?"
I looked at Richard. He looked back at me. "Right. Forgot where I was for a minute. Do
you think Herbert would care if I asked around, to see if anybody saw anything, if maybe I
can find out who did it?"
"I don't know why he would."
Do I have to explain why I don't think I'd ever fit in on the police force here?
Richard stayed and ate with me. His wife is a pretty good cook.
"Richard---you know last night, when we were in your car---"
"You asked me if I could introduce you to Marlene….."
"Yeah, she's dead, right?"
"Right…..But if she wouldn'ta been….would you go out on Nancy?"
"You mean tom-catting?"
"Oh, no, Nancy'd never go for that."
"'Cause it sounded like that's what you meant."
"That was for the Reverend. I like to give him something to chew on every once in a while.
You know, he needs to feel useful. 'Course, since you moved here, he hasn't been paying near
as much attention to me. I think I'm jealous." And he grinned.
I had to laugh. Richard slapped me on the back and said for me to come back to work as soon
as I could, and he went home.
It was real quiet in the house after he left. Kinda lonesome. I lived a lotta years by myself;
don't remember feeling this lonesome then.
After I tried to scrub the bloodstains off the siding and eventually gave up, I made up the
bed in the room I slept in when we first moved here, the bed I slept alone in.
Didn't sleep any better there this time.
"It seems like a strange set of circumstances," Graham said. "At your age, to conceive for
the first time, carry the child with no problem for sixteen weeks or possibly more, and then
a spontaneous abortion for no apparent reason. None of these factors out of the ordinary---but
for some reason, you put them together, and it just doesn't seem quite right."
"Well," Lynn said, "my sister and I were moving furniture into the baby's room…." That was
an out-and-out lie.
He looked at her pretty serious. "It doesn't matter……unless you're planning on trying again."
Lynn got that look on her face; the look that says she's seen it all and done it all and knows
better than to expect anything more than a kick in the pants. Hadn't seen that look in a long
time. I hated it.
"You don't have to if you don't want to, baby," I said. "We're fine the way we are."
She gave me a little smile, kinda sad. She ran her fingers down the side of my face that was
still swollen. "Are we?" She turned to the doctor and said, "I was pregnant once before, a
long time ago, and I had an abortion. And I haven't conceived since. A doctor in LA told me
I'd never have children."
Graham smiled. "Ah, a surprise, then, eh? This makes a little more sense now."
His reaction wasn't exactly what we were expecting. He acted like we told him we had apple
pie for lunch.
"Even though this pregnancy was unsuccessful, the fact that it occurred is a hopeful sign.
The body is a wonderful machine. It goes on about it's business at it's own speed. It sometimes
manages to repair itself. I'll want to examine you in due time, after you've recovered, to
rule out any obvious abnormalities, even though young Pierce did that already. It's possible
he, ah, missed something. Just routine-I don't expect to find anything."
He told Lynn she could probably go home in a couple of days, gave us the phone number for his
office and said he'd be back tomorrow.
Then he looked at me. "You look better today. How's that eye feel?"
"Mmm." He got out his little flashlight and tried to flash it in my swollen eye. "Don't
suppose you got an X-ray after he did this to you?"
"I talked to Donny, found out what he hit you with. It was only a 2x2, but with a cast bracket
of some sort on the end. You're lucky he didn't spill your brains out on the cement."
"You've got a scar up here. Been hit on the head before." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah, more than once. I guess I got a hard head."
"You need to watch that---you get hit like that too many times, and you're going to start
noticing it. Damage is cumulative."
"I don't do it on purpose." That seemed to amuse him a little.
I followed him out into the hall when he left. "When'd you talk to Donny?"
"Last night." He smiled. "He's not doing quite as well as you are. Going to be pissing
blood for a while." He clapped me on the shoulder. "It might not be the proper attitude for
a man of medicine, but it's somewhat refreshing to be treating Donny instead of the people he
"I need his address."
"Can't give it to you, son."
Son, huh. Another one.
"I need to ask him about a gift somebody left on my front porch yesterday."
"I can tell you right now it wasn't Donny that put it there, whatever it was. He's going to
be in bed for another couple of days at least, letting that mother of his take care of him.
And then I think he's going to be pretty careful about offending you." He chuckled. "He's
not used to being hurt like this. Scared the bejeezus out of him. He thought he was going
to die." He thought for a moment. "And if I were you, I think I'd stay out of Arbutus's way
for a while. His mother. Not a forgiving woman."
"What about that friend of his?"
"What, the Smith boy? I wouldn't worry about him. The rumor is Arbutus already chased him
off, back to Phoenix."
"That was quick."
"You haven't met her."
I ate lunch with Lynn, and told her I'd be back for supper. She was looking better all the
I asked around the neighborhood that afternoon, and nobody saw anything. A town like Bisbee,
where everybody knows everything about everybody else, and nobody noticed a chicken being
killed in broad daylight on my front porch. Hard to believe.
Didn't tell Lynn about it. Bought some paint instead.
Picked up a mattress at the furniture store. Went to Ned's Place and found out what I needed
to know about Donny---where he lived, what he did, who he was. Stopped by the house to pick
up Lynn's slippers and the book she was reading, and drop off the mattress, and found another
present. This one was laying inside the house on the living room floor.
No message or anything, just a brick. I swept up the glass before I went to the hospital;
stopped at Richard's on the way to borrow a board for the window until I could get another
"I think maybe I oughta tell Herbert about this now, don't you?"
"Yeah, it's turning into a wave."
"A wave of crime. He'll wanna know about that."
"Right…..OK…..Is Mrs. R. getting impatient? Are you gonna be in trouble if I'm not working
"Nah, me and Mrs. R. are getting to be real good friends. You know, you get her outta those
support hose and into the shower, and she's a pretty hot number."
I had to laugh. Nancy smacked Richard on the back of the head with a sock as she went by with
a basket of laundry.
"Quit that. Bud doesn't want to listen to your silly jokes."
"What jokes? She's a real tomato."
"Be nice," Nancy said. "She's a nice lady. Don't be making fun of her."
I stopped laughing.
"Yeah, she is a nice lady," Richard said. "I like her."
"So don't say anything that would hurt her feelings, even though she's not here to hear it."
"I think she might like being called a tomato!"
"Then call her that to her face, not joking behind her back," Nancy called from the other room.
"Maybe I will!"
"I hope you do."
"Bud, what do you think?"
I got off my chair. "I think I gotta go."
Richard just couldn't leave it. "And maybe I'll plant one right on her lips when I tell her
what a babe she is. How would that be?"
Nancy stuck her head around the doorframe. "I'd like to see that!"
I opened the front door. Richard said, "I could give you a preview…'course you'd have to
pretend you were Mrs. R. And she's so sexy, I don't know if I could stop with just one kiss…."
Yep, time for me to leave.
I didn't want to go to Donny's after supper; I didn't want to go home; I just wanted to stay
right where I was---on Lynn's bed, leaning back against her pillows, my arms around her waist,
and her leaning back against me. It was nice.
"We haven't been able to make love for a long time….."
Silence for a few minutes. Then she said, "And it's going to be awhile yet before we can."
Silence. More silence.
"What brought that up?"
She tipped her head back and said, "Kiss me," in a real funny kinda way.
So I did. After a minute or two, she said, "Don't promise never to lie to me."
"So you won't have to break your promise."
I thought about that. "You lost me, baby."
"You said if you ever went out on me, you wouldn't lie about it. But I don't think I want to
I had to think about that for a while, too. "I have to figure the reason you're talking like
this is because you're in the hospital, and you don't feel so good. Maybe lonesome a little
bit. And you're still thinking about this fucking hickey, aren't you? You want me to tell
you about it? I can tell you what happened."
She shook her head. Then I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what was going through
"What were you doing today?" she said. "Nancy called and she said Richard wasn't working."
OK, now I could see where this was going. "You don't think I was seeing another woman, do you?"
"It's been a long time. I offered to, you know, take care of it for you, but you said no."
"Honey, if all I need is 'to take care of it', I can do that myself."
"But it's my job……kind of."
"Yeah, that's what I keep you around for. To do your job. So since you can't have sex, I'm
gonna find somebody else? That's what you're saying, isn't it? Do you believe that?"
She got all teary again. I hate that. Especially when I don't have any idea what the hell's
going on. It was kinda like when she was pregnant at first. Tears and throwing things all the
time. I thought maybe she was over that.
In that high strangled voice women get when they're talking and crying at the same time, she
said, "So what were you doing today? I know I don't even have the right to ask---"
"OK, stop right there." I sighed. "I wasn't with another woman. I didn't want to tell you
'cause I didn't want you to worry. I thought maybe it'd be all over with by the time you came
home." I told her about the brick, and the chicken. "But I don't want you to worry about it.
I'll handle it."
"I know you will." She turned sideways, and snuggled her head against my shirt.
I guess I was trying to protect her for nothing. She wasn't even worried.
"Now you can tell me about the hickey."
I was sweating by the time I was done trying to explain it. I don't know how good of a job I
did. It was hard to remember, and hard to say. She had her eyes shut. "Honest to God, baby,
my brains were scrambled eggs. You can ask Richard about it. Seems like he knows more about
it than me, anyway."
"Tell me again who this woman was."
"A lady of the night who gets all excited about fighting, I guess. Richard knows her."
"And who did you think she was?"
"Marlene, a woman I used to know. A long time ago. I was just a kid."
"Were you in love with her?"
I sighed. "I guess I thought I was."
"And if the woman would have been Marlene, not some lady of the night you didn't know?"
"She's been dead a long time, you know?"
She raised herself up and looked me in the face.
"OK, yeah. I guess I wanted it to be her."
"You're trying not to lie to me, aren't you?"
No getting around it. "Ask me the question."
"I don't need to," she said, and kissed me. "Like you said, she's been dead a long time."
She laid her head back on my chest. "Tell me about her."
So I did. I told her what I told the Rev. And then I told her the rest of it.