“They think,” Henry nodded in the direction of the cop at the sidewalk, “the killer’s headed to Santa Fe.”
“Nah, I bet he went north.” Joe drew hard on his cigarette, taking the smoke deep then let it out in plumes. “They’re warning people to watch out… whoever he is, he’s a dangerous man.”
Henry shook his head slightly. Joe was one of those men who always sounded, with dead-solid certainty, like he was right. But was always mostly wrong, and sensationalized everything when he passed it on to others. “What makes you think it’s a man, Joe?” He wanted to wind him up a bit and see where he spun.
“Bud Carson’s my wife’s nephew… he works with Tom Flint’s cousin. Tom’s the deputy who found the body on Old Mill Road. He told his cousin the killer caved the man’s ribs in–someone beat the shit out of him. And get this,” he took a last drag from the cigarette butt in in his hand and flipped it to the ground, “the head had been twisted so it was turned around backward.” He shook his head. “The poor bastard was belly down but looking up.” He pinched a piece of tobacco off his tongue and spat. “Ain’t no woman strong enough to do that.”
“You haven’t been here but a year, Joe. And haven’t seen Bill Stoudemire’s wife, Maggie, then.” Henry shook his head and winced remembering his single date with her when they were young. “She’d go 200 pounds… and none of it fat.” He shuddered again at the thought of when he told her he wouldn’t go out with her again. “And she’s a mean bitch. That’s probably why Bill disappeared a couple of years ago.” He looked thoughtful. “Maggie, she doesn’t come to town much… stays on her place ten miles east of town.”
“Well, I don’t think no woman could do it.” Joe turned away. “See you later.”
Henry watched him walk towards Mabel’s Diner and thought, Old Mill Road runs east-west…. right by Maggie’s land. He let the idle thought slip away. It was time to pick up that load of lumber from Granger’s and get to work.
The hatless man near the bus depot window stood shoulders hunched and faced away from the others waiting for the bus. They never should have come to Taos, he thought. But they’d heard there might be work. There was. But he and Johnny never should have taken that laborer job. Poor Johnny. He had to flirt with that woman… and then actually tap it. He’d grinned and said, “In the dark there’s more of her to grab. And man, she can squeeze that thing tight.” But something about her had bothered him. The way she looked at them. He had slept in the barn but after the first night, Johnny was in the farmhouse with her. The fourth day, yesterday, he had come to breakfast to find that Johnny was gone. She had smiled at him—a big gap-toothed invitation—and came close enough to brush his arm with the largest set of tits he’d ever seen. “Your friend took off… you can sleep in the house tonight.” She had put her hand on his shoulder and given it a crushing pinch.
At sundown, he had headed to town to catch the next bus out. He didn’t want the kind of trouble she seemed capable of dishing. He had spent the night just outside of town and walked in at daylight. And waited. The bus for Santa Fe was late. He had heard from the newsboy about the body found that morning and now a cop was checking things at the depot. Maybe I should tell the police what happened, he thought. But that arrest warrant in Los Angeles was waiting to land on him like a ton of brick. They’d send him away for a long time on that one. Where was that bus?
* * *
Twenty Years Later
Maggie Stoudemire was dead and had no kin. The county took the land and farm for taxes and sold it at auction. The new owners, working the land, found 20 bodies… the ones that hadn’t gotten away. They were all transients but one: Bill Stoudemire.