into anyone’s mind.

“Isaiah Wechsler?” Sam said. He hadn’t grown up in Bon Temps like the rest of us.

“Let’s go sit in the living room, and I’ll tell you about it,” I said. The little room suddenly felt hostile and confined, and I wanted to leave it.

The living room was pretty crowded with five adults and two babies. Tara was nursing Sara, a shawl thrown discreetly across her shoulder. Quiana was holding baby Robbie, rocking him to keep him content until his turn came.

“Back in the early thirties, Jacob and Sarah Jane Wechsler lived next door,” Tara told Sam. “In the house Andy and Halleigh Bellefleur live in now. The Summerlins, Daisy and Hiram, built this house. The Wechslers had a son, Isaiah, who was about fifteen. The Summerlins had two sons, one a little older than Isaiah, and one younger, I think thirteen. You would have thought the boys would be friends, but for some reason Isaiah, a big bull of a boy, got into a fight with the older Summerlin boy, whose name was . . .” She paused, looking doubtful.

“Albert,” I said. “Albert was a year older than Isaiah Wechsler, a husky kid with red hair and freckles, Gran told me. Albert’s little brother was Carter, and he was thirteen, I think. He was quiet, lots of curly red hair.”

“Surely your grandmother didn’t remember this,” Sam said. He’d been doing math in his head.

“No, she was too young when it all happened. But her mom knew both families. The fight and the estrangement caused a town scandal because the Wechslers and the Summerlins couldn’t get Isaiah and Albert to shake hands and make up. The boys wouldn’t tell anyone what the fight was about.”

Tara reached under the shawl to detach Sara, extricated her, and began burping her. Sara was a champion burper. I could feel the sadness in Tara’s thoughts. I figured the old story was rousing memories of her contentious family. “Anyway,” I said with energy, “the two Summerlin boys slept in the room in there.” I pointed to the wall Sam had just breached. “The parents had the bigger bedroom, and there was a baby; they kept the baby in with them. In the house across the driveway, Isaiah Wechsler slept in a bedroom whose window faced this house.” I pointed to the sunroom’s north window. “I think Andy and Halleigh use it as a den now. One summer night, two weeks after the big fight between Isaiah and Albert, someone went through Isaiah’s open window and killed him in his sleep. Beat him to death.”

“Ugh.” Sam looked a little sick, and I knew he was thinking of the dark-stained hammer.

Quiana’s slanting dark eyes were squinted almost shut with distress, disgust, some unpleasant emotion. She left the room with Sara to change her after handing Robbie to Tara.

I said, “The poor Wechslers found him in the morning in the bed, all bloody, and they sent for the police. There was one policeman in Bon Temps then, and he came right away. Back then, that meant within an hour.”

“You won’t believe who the policeman was, Sam,” Tara said. “It was a man named Fuller Compton, one of Bill’s descendants.”

I didn’t want to start talking about Bill, who was an ex of mine. I hastened on with the sad story. “The Wechslers told Fuller Compton that the Summerlins had killed their son. What could Fuller do but go next door? Of course, the Summerlins denied it, said their son Albert had been sleeping and hadn’t left the house. Fuller didn’t see anything bloody, and Carter Summerlin told the policeman that his brother had been in the bed the whole night.”

“No CSI then,” JB said wisely.

“That’s just sad,” Quiana said, returning with Sara, who was waving her arms in a sleepy way.

“So nothing happened? No one was arrested?” Sam asked.

“Well, I think Fuller arrested a vagrant and held him for a while in the jail, but there wasn’t any evidence against him, and Fuller finally let him go. The Summerlins sent Carter out of town the next week to stay with relatives. He was so young. They must have wanted to protect him from the backlash. Albert Summerlin was regarded with lots of suspicion by the whole town, but there wasn’t any evidence against him. And afterward, Albert never showed signs of a hot temper. He kept on going to church. People began speaking to Daisy and Hiram and Albert again. Albert never got into another fight.” I shook my head. “People were sure the Wechslers would move, but they said they weren’t gonna. They were going to stay and be a reminder to the Summerlins every day of their lives.”

“Are there Wechslers still here in Bon Temps?” Sam asked.

“Cathy Wechsler is about seventy, and she lives in a little house over close to Clarice,” JB said. “She’s nice. She’s the widow of the last Wechsler.”

“What happened to Albert?” Quiana asked. “And the baby?”

“Not much,” I said. “The older Summerlins passed away. Carter decided not to come back. The baby died of scarlet fever. Albert married and had kids. Raised them here in this house. Tara bought the house from Bucky Summerlin, right, Tara?”

“Yep,” she said. She was patting Robbie on the back now. Robbie was goggling around at everyone with that goofy baby look. Sara was asleep in Quiana’s arms, and I checked on the nanny automatically. Her thoughts were all about the baby, and I relaxed. Though I’d checked out Quiana thoroughly when Tara had told me she was thinking of hiring her, I still felt I didn’t know her well.

If JB, Tara, and I had been considered odd ducks, Quiana had received a double whammy of misfit mojo. Her mother had been half Chinese, half African American. Her dad, Coop Woods, had been all redneck. When Quiana was sixteen, they’d both been killed when their car stalled on the train tracks one night. Alcohol had been involved. There’d been rumors that Coop had planned a murder-suicide. Now Quiana was eighteen, staying with whatever relative would have her. I felt sorry for her precarious situation . . . and I knew there was something different about the girl. I’d given Tara the green light to hire her, though, because whatever her quirk was, it was not malignant.

Now Sam said, “You think we ought to call the police? After all, there’s a detective right next door.”

I noticed none of us hopped in to say Yes, that’s the ticket.

Sure, the hammer had stains, and Sam’s nose was telling him the stains were old blood.

Sure, the hammer had been concealed in the wall.

Sure, a murder had taken place next door. But there might not be any connection.

Right.

“I don’t think we have to,” Tara said, and JB nodded, relieved. It was their say as the homeowners, I figured. I looked at the hammer as it lay on an old newspaper on the coffee table. Hammers hadn’t changed much over the decades. The handle was worn, and when I picked it up and turned it over, I saw that the writing on it read FIRESTONE SUPREME. With the dark stains on it, the tool looked remarkably ugly in the sunny room. It could never be just a tool again.

Tara picked it up by folding the paper around it, and she carried it out of the room.

Tara’s action jogged us all into motion. We split in different directions to go to work: JB to the fitness club, where he cleaned and trained; Sam and I to Merlotte’s Bar; and Tara to check on her assistant, McKenna, who was running the store while Tara was on maternity leave. As I called good-bye, Quiana was putting the twins down for their nap on Tara and JB’s bed since the babies’ room was full of dust.

I FORCED MYSELF to go to Tara’s by nine in the morning the next day. I had to fight a deep reluctance. For the first time, the pretty little house with its neat front yard seemed gloomy. Even the sky was overcast. I tapped on the front door, opened it, and called, “Woo-hoo! I’m here!”

Quiana was already at work folding laundry, but her full mouth was turned down in a sullen pout and she only nodded when I spoke to her. JB was nowhere in sight. Of course, he could be at the fitness club already, but normally he worked in the afternoon and evening. Tara, too, didn’t show her face.

Sam trailed in right on my heels, and we got mugs of coffee in the kitchen. Quiana didn’t respond to our attempts at conversation, and she fixed a bottle for one of the twins in silence. Tara was having to supplement, apparently.

JB emerged from the bedroom looking groggy. My old friend was usually the most cheerful guy around, but this morning he had circles under his eyes and looked five years older. “Babies cried all night,” he said wearily. “I don’t know what got into them. They’re in the bed with Tara right now.” He downed his coffee in record time. Gradually he began to perk up, and when we set our mugs in the sink we all looked a little brighter.

I began to worry. This was a funny kind of day—in an ominous way.

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