Friday, January 25, 2013
She had left
Falls three weeks ago, right after the funeral, car
filled with stacks and stacks of her husband's notes. It seemed natural that
she would return to the district Jim and she knew best, on the edge of the Pine
Ridge Reservation. Jim's work had started here; here she would find the
solitude it would take to finish it. She would herself complete his book, the
culmination of his vast and brilliant study of Native American culture, a work
that would keep him alive. Doris, alone,
understood his message well enough to give his book real form and meaning. She
knew she must publish it at once while the memory of the young professor still
glowed brightly in the minds of his colleagues.
The knock became louder, a pounding. Total return to reality brought with it the familiar headache, the stiffness caused from long hours at the computer. Probably a stranded motorist wanting to use the phone, she thought.
Almost midnight‑‑she wasn't surprised; often she lost track of time. She switched on the porch light and lifted the heavy gray drape from the glass panel.
Eyes, close to the glass, frantic, glazed, bored into hers. Blood, all over him, sprang from a deep, jagged gash on his head. Blood flowed into the sandy hair, drenched the white shirt. He raised a large, imploring hand, leaving splotches of blood on the pane.
The pounding started again. The erratic banging of fists frightened her more than the silent phone.
“You must... ” he gasped. “You must help me!”
Even since her last glimpse of him, he had grown weaker. What if he died and she had not even tried to assist him? No matter how she felt about it, no matter how frightened she was, she must open the door. She had to admit him, attempt to stop the flow of blood that if not quelled soon would surely kill him.
With stiff, nervous motions, she whirled, slammed the door shut and clicked the lock. Turning back to him, she spoke with voice as muffled as his. “Who's out there?
His answer was impossible to comprehend. Plaintively, like a child, he stretched out his hand to her. The effort seemed to exhaust him. As his arm dropped, his eyes fell shut.
The cold water momentarily revived him. “I stopped to change a tire.” Ragged intakes of breath cut into his words. “When he stopped, I thought he was going to help me. He hit me with the tire iron.” A gurgling sounded deep in his throat. “My wife started screaming. He struck her down right in front of me. He killed her.”
“She's dead? Are you sure?”
His moan and the word, “Yes,” ran together.
“How did you get away?”
gave him no time to answer. “Did he follow you?”
“I'm on foot. This is the only house anywhere around. He knows that. He has to kill me.” His voice shook with pain. “I can identify... ”
You had better not try to talk.”
“Janet's dead!” His hands clutching at her possessed overwhelming strength. He clung to her, desperate sobs racking his body.
“No matter what's happened,” she said, “you must be strong. Janet would expect that of you.” She continued talking to him softly, her words comforting, but untrue, the way she had talked to Jim. After a while his raspy breathing began to grow calmer, more rhythmic. She eased him back against the carpet, wiping at damp blood on her blouse.
His eyes opened again, helpless, entreating. “Do you have a gun?”
Jim and she had spent many an afternoon at target practice competing for first place. She had become as good a shot as he, and she had stuffed the revolver that they shared into her suitcase before leaving the university. Obediently, she went into the bedroom and with trembling hands placed shells into the cylinder before returning to the front room.
Had his breathing become dangerously faint? She knelt beside him, listening. His breath was barely audible, but steady.
Doris laid down the gun and searched his clothing for
some clue to who he was. Her fingers shook as she opened his billfold‑‑a
picture of a pretty, dark‑haired woman, lots of cash, a South
Dakota driver’s license: Gordon Litel, born l959, . She didn't know much more about him than she
had before, except that the picture of the sweet‑faced wife made her hear the
screams and envision the brutal blows. Mission, South
A sharp rapping sounded at the door. The gun felt icy as she gripped it, rising. She could sense the presence of the person who stood on the other side. She felt her heart begin to beat irregularly and the strength drained from her legs. “Who's there? Who are you?”
“You must let me in!”
“I know he's in there! There's blood all over the porch.”
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