conferences. Why would Jake and the reporters say such horrible things if they weren't true?' She covered her face with her hands, but her voice came through clear and bitter. 'They couldn't even wait until those boys were in the ground.'

I squeezed my sister's hand, but Janet no longer needed my solace; she was angry now, not grief-stricken; in some corner of her mind that wasn't flooded with tears, she had obviously been doing a lot of thinking. 'Did you ever find out where Tommy had been for that week, or why he'd gone?'

Janet shook her head. 'He called me once, just to say he was all right and not to worry. He said there were things he had to sort out in his mind before he made a decision.'

'Do you have any idea what he was talking about?'

'No.' She got to her feet and began to pace. The starched black material of her dress crackled like flames from a combustible mixture of rage, confusion, and grief. She abruptly stopped pacing and turned to me. I thought she would burst into tears again, but she didn't. 'Robby,' she said hoarsely, 'you know how to find out about things. Would it be possible for you…? Maybe…?'

'Janet, please sit down.' She did. I stroked her back, continued: 'Let me tell you what a private detective does; he runs up a big phone bill and he spends a lot of money for good shoes to walk around in. All the time he's talking to people he knows, contacts in important places like the police department, Motor Vehicle, the telephone company, and a dozen different licensing agencies. Private detectives need friends; if not friends, people who think they may be paid back someday in bits and pieces of information. You can move almost anything-certainly nations, and probably the planet itself-if you have a strong enough lever of information.'

'You really believe that, Robby?'

'I've learned it. I know a secret that nations would sacrifice tens of thousands of men in order to share.'


'What I'm saying is that I don't even have a license to operate here, and if I did it wouldn't be worth the match it would take to burn it. I don't have any contacts here, Janet, and the county sheriff isn't exactly an old boyhood chum. Do you understand? In Peru County I was, and always will be, a freak. When I'm here, I think of myself as a freak. I wouldn't exactly be taken seriously. I think you know I'd do anything for you and Tommy, but this is a situation where anything I might try to do would be counter productive. I don't mind these people laughing at me, but I wouldn't want them laughing at you and the rest of the family.'

'They're already laughing, Robby; snickering behind their hands. When school starts in September, don't you think it's going to be hell for the other kids?'

Having nothing to say, I folded my hands in my lap and stared at them. I felt shriveled inside, but I knew I was right; the situation was far too delicate and serious to tolerate token gestures.

'They take you pretty seriously in New York,' Janet persisted.

'That's because in New York you can't tell the freaks from the straights without a very detailed score card.'

Janet looked at me for a long time. 'Robby, I don't think I like your sense of humor,' she said at last.

'You'll get used to it,' I said with a smile. 'I intend to see a lot more of you after this.' I waited for a response. Janet, stony-faced, simply continued to stare at me. 'I'll tell you what can be done,' I continued quietly. 'You have serious questions about the scope of Jake Bolesh's investigation, and that's what I'm going to tell the State Police. I'm going to find you a good lawyer. He or she will know a competent P.I. who knows the territory and can work here.'

Janet slowly, sadly, shook her head. 'I can do that myself, and I don't want to bring in strangers until I've had more time to think about it. I have to talk it over with John.'

'Of course,' I said, feeling like a trapped animal gnawing on its own leg. No matter how hard I chewed, I knew I wasn't going to get free; if I went back to New York, I would just be carrying the trap with me.

'Are you and Garth leaving soon?'

'In an hour or so,' I said, glancing at my watch.'We have to catch a six-o'clock flight, and it's a three-hour drive to the airport.' Janet said nothing, and it didn't take me too long to realize what I was going to do. 'Janet, if you're certain it's what you want, I'll stick around for a few days and see what I can find out.'

Janet slowly raised her head. Tears filled her eyes, rolled down her cheeks. She smiled wanly, nodded.

'Mongo, you sure you don't want me to stay?'

I shook my head, leaned back on the car fender, and crossed my arms over my chest. 'There's no sense in both of us wasting our time, and I know you're anxious to get back on the Madden case. Besides, Jake Bolesh has your old job. He'll remember me as the dwarf he pounded on, but he'll remember you as the dwarfs big brother who pounded on him. He's a good man for you to stay away from.'

'He's a good man for you to stay away from.'

'Oh, I don't know,' I replied with a shrug. 'If Ben's Country Kitchen still caters for the county jail, how bad can the food be?'

'I'm not concerned about Bolesh putting you in jail, Mongo,' Garth said seriously, 'I'm worried that you'll kill the son-of-a-bitch if he hassles you. The kid he used to beat up didn't have a black belt in karate.'

'Your concern is touching.'

'Don't forget, Robby,' Garth said, pinching my cheek, 'I'm the one who loves you most.'

'Kiss my ass, Garth.'

My brother laughed. 'Very good. I'd say you're in the right frame of mind to do battle.'

'You think there's going to be a battle?'

'Not really,' Garth said evenly. 'If I thought so, I'd stick around. I'm glad you're staying, though. It will make Janet feel better.'

'You think Jake handled this properly?'

Garth took some time to consider his answer. 'Like it or not, I think you have to give Bolesh the benefit of the doubt. I've been back here a few times, and you haven't. You were born here, but you're a New Yorker through and through; for you, Peru County might as well be a foreign country. These are good people, Mongo. They keep on reelecting Bolesh, so he must be doing something right.'

'What about the speed of the investigation?'

Garth shrugged. 'Here things like that tend to go the way the county sheriff wants them to. As much as it twists my guts to say so, Bolesh may have been doing the family a favor. It was a messy scene out there, Mongo, and Bolesh had enough sensitivity to keep the news photographers away. Tommy took a shotgun slug through the chest; the Lugmor kid put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.'

'A shotgun?!'

'Guns-sometimes even shotguns-are as common with the kids out here as peashooters in New York. The gunstock had Rodney Lugmor's prints all over it, and there were the letters. It looks like the kids had something hot and heavy going, and they couldn't handle it. It had gotten completely out of hand. They were both afraid people were going to find out. At the end they got together to try and figure out what to do, and they decided that the answer was to die together. It's a bitch, Mongo, but it looks like the straight dope.'

'You seem to know a hell of a lot.'

'I made some phone calls, Mongo. Naturally, I had some questions of my own.'

'Thanks for telling me.'

'I spent maybe forty-five minutes on the phone yesterday afternoon, talking to people I trust. I didn't have a chance to get you alone, and I couldn't see the sense in stirring up any more emotion by questioning the investigation. I didn't know Janet had doubts.'

'Coop Lugmor has doubts.'

'Lugmor's a heavy drunk, Mongo, an alcoholic. He's been going downhill for a decade-just not fast enough to finally put himself out of his misery. The guy had nothing to begin with, and now he's gone out of his head worrying about people calling his dead brother queer. Our merry memories aside, I think Bolesh may have simply wanted to get it all out in the open fast so it could be done with.'

Annoyed, I pushed off the car and kicked at a clod of dirt. 'You knew what Janet and I had talked about earlier. Why didn't you tell her you were satisfied with the investigation? It would have put her mind at ease, and I'd be flying my ass out of Peru County.'

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