“No, I reckon not,” Cal said. “Why?”

“Why, there might be something about Sewell and you’d miss it. Ain’t people depending on you to spread the news as fast as it comes in?”

Cal got to his feet. “Look,” he began.

Prentiss stood up hurriedly and moved between them. ”We better be going, Cal,” he said anxiously. “We got to get to town and back before feeding time. We better get started.” Cal scowled at Mitch, and shrugged.

They went around the corner and got in the car. Mitch followed them and stood there in the rain outside the window. Cal rolled it down.

“You know where your old man is right now?” he asked. “He’s up at our house listening to the radio. He likes to hear about it.”

“You boys are crowding your luck around here,” Mitch said. They drove off and he walked back around to the porch.

Jessie’s eyes snapped at him indignantly. “What did you talk that way to the Jimersons for, Mitch? You hurt their feelings.”

Joy sat in a chair next to the door going back into the house. She stared at him frigidly and went on sulking.

“Now, what’s that you’re making?” he asked Jessie.

“It’s a sun suit. Like Joy’s.”

“Well, when you get out in the kitchen you can throw it in the stove and burn it.”

“I will not! I never heard of such a thing!” She clasped it to her, outraged. “Joy’s got one. Why can’t I?”

“Burn it,” Mitch said. “I don’t care what Joy’s got.”

“Well, I don’t see why I can’t wear one if she does.”

Mitch turned to leave, then he paused and looked at Joy.

“Joy is married, and her husband is in the pen,” he said. “Mebbe she wears it because she’s in mourning.”

* * *

At supper Cass said, “Wasn’t no news about Sewell. I told Jud and Cora, though, that we prob’ly wouldn’t have to depend on their radio much longer, now that Joy’s going to win one in the beauty show.”

It only takes one day for something to grow into a fact now, Mitch thought. He does it in one day.

* * *

It was shortly after nine p.m. when the Chevrolet sedan with the three men in it pulled up at the gasoline pump in front of a country store. It was raining again, and the man called George, who was driving, stopped under the roof that extended out over the driveway between the front of the store and the pump, The wide double doors of the store were open and they could see the piled and disordered jumble of merchandise on the counters and shelves and hear music coming from a juke box somewhere in the rear. The interior of the store was lighted by big unshaded bulbs hanging from the naked rafters, and moths fluttered around the hot lamps in a senseless and suicidal dance that sent shadows jumping along the walls. Light spilled out into the driveway and they could see rain falling through the darkness just beyond the edge of the roof.

A boy with long, slicked-down hair came out of the store and looked at them questioningly.

“Put in ten gallons,” George said. He was heavy-faced and very smoothly shaven, with a snap-brim hat that bent sharply down in front. When he took the hat off he was always very careful to put it down on the edge of a chair or table so the brim could hang over.

“Yessir,” the boy said. “It’s wet, ain’t it?”

“You hear that, Harve?” George asked, turning around to the back seat, “He says it’s wet.”

Harve wore the white hat that is the badge of the southern law officer. He had a long-jawed, bony face with eyes the color of brown swamp water and two gold teeth that showed only when he grinned. He looked at the boy, who was trying to put on an air of worldliness.

“You know, maybe we better agree with him, George,” he said. “He looks like a tough bastard.”

“What would happen if we didn’t think it was wet?” George asked. “We’re strangers around here and don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Well, heck,” the boy said, still trying to look offhand and smart. “It’s just something you say, like it’s a fine morning.”

“You see, George,” Harve said. “I told you he was tough. He’s trying to make suckers out of us. He’s got us to say it’s a wet night and now he tells us it’s a fine morning.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” George said. “If he tells you lube oil is sorghum sirup, just pretend like you believe him. I’ve seen guys like him before. All they want to do is start something so they can beat you up.”

When the boy leaned over to put the cap back on the gasoline tank he looked in the rear seat and saw the handcuff connecting Harve to Sewell Neely and his eyes grew big. Harve saw the glance and winked at George.

“You see what happens to tough guys?” he asked the boy. “I killed an old lady because she kept beating up me and my pappy, and now they’re taking me to the pen.”

The boy looked respectfully at Sewell Neely, who had been listening boredly.

“Are you a deputy shurf?” he asked.

“No,” Sewell said without interest. “I’m a prisoner. This loud-mouthed pimp I’m tied to is a deputy.”

Well,” Harve said. “The Mad Dog’s talking again. You hear him, George? Maybe he wants us to vote for him or something.”

George was counting out money for the gasoline and trying to explain to the boy why he should put fifteen gallons on the receipt instead of ten.

“Way he talks, maybe he wants some of the gun barrel,” he said thinly.

“You just don’t understand the Mad Dog,” Harve said. “He’s a big man in the news.”

“Well, I could take some of that out of him,” George said. He turned around and looked directly at Sewell Neely. “Maybe I will, Neely.”

Sewell stared at him coldly. “You won’t get no cherry. I been pistol-whipped before.”

“Maybe you never had a real good job.”

Inside the store, under the hard lights, a girl came up from somewhere in the rear and stopped near the door at one of the counters. She was drinking a Coke and weaving slightly in time to the music from the juke box. She was a big, dark-haired girl with wide hips and heavy thighs that swelled against the sleazy dress when she moved. Harve looked at her hungrily and gestured with the manacled left hand.”Better take a good look, Mad Dog,” he said, grinning. “That’s probably the last of it you’ll ever see.”

Sewell Neely ignored him. Harve warmed up to his subject.

“Mad Dog’s having a good look, George, so twenty years from now he can remember what they look like. He’s laying in a supply. Maybe we better stick around a while so he can fill up good. We wouldn’t want the Mad Dog up there at the pen twenty, thirty years from now blaming us because he’d forgotten what a woman looks like.”

Neely listened to him with acute boredom and wished he had a cigarette. A smoke would taste good, and there was no use thinking about the girl. He didn’t look at her.

He was a big man, and even as he sat in the car handcuffed to the deputy and outwardly relaxed, there was about him the faintly signaled warning of poised and latent power, still, unruffled, but forever coiled. He had a large head with thinning red hair, and across the backs of his hands and neck and face there were large, splotched reddish-brown freckles faintly seen through the skin. The rugged, wide-mouthed face was possessed of the type of unsymmetrical homeliness usually suggestive of warmth, but there was no warmth in it and any illusion of friendliness was instantly dispelled by the eyes, marble-hard, eternally watching, and cold. He was being transported to the state penitentiary to begin serving a life sentence for armed robbery, and his name had been much in the news the past few months because of his capture in a running gun battle with police leading half across the state and a sensational trial in which he had been convicted on two out of five counts of armed robbery.

If I’m going to wish for a smoke, though, he thought, I might as well go whole hog and wish I had a gun. I wonder if these two-for-a-nickel clowns really think they can get a rise out of me. They must think I’m some kid who’s never been worked on before. Next thing, they’ll be offering me a Coke and then taking it away when I reach for it. They’d probably think something like that was new and pat theirselves on the back for thinking it up. They’d

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