“There was a full moon that night,” Smith said, “so we didn’t go outside.”
# # #
By the time Jake had finished with his photographs and covered up the corpse with a couple of rubber sheets and weighted them down with river rocks—But how, he wondered, did river rocks get way up here?—the other deputy had arrived. Wakefield was a long way from the county seat, and it had taken him a couple of hours. It would take the coroner even longer.
Jake started the interviews next, nearly a dozen of them, but nobody had much to say, and he’d finished up by 11:00. Then, after filling in the other deputy, he’d just stood on the edge of the clearing, breathing in great breaths of the chill October air.
The way the body had looked was bizarre—so bizarre, in fact, that he was dismayed. The word had just popped into his head, a word he couldn’t remember using or even thinking before. But there it was: I’m dismayed.
And then he’d looked back over his shoulder, back down the barren valley.
# # #
A fire was smoldering in the stove in the general store, and most of the men Jake had interviewed earlier were sitting around the tables with their coffee and cigarettes. A couple had bottles of Pabst, and Jake was tempted, but he thought better of it and filled a cup from the urn on the counter and stuffed a dollar bill into the Mason jar beside it.
Then he took a chair at an unoccupied table and tasted his coffee. He’d had worse, but not recently, so he poured in some sugar and went back to the counter and filled up the cup from the pitcher of milk before he sat back down.
They were all watching him, the old man behind the counter and the customers, so he said, “Morning again, folks. I think I’ve taken all your statements, so I wonder if we could just talk for a few minutes, just talk informally?”
Several of the men shrugged and a couple more nodded, so he cleared his throat and went on.
“It turns out that our friend out there was carrying ID, so we hope to get ahold of his next of kin right away.”
As he also knew, but didn’t mention, the man had been carrying over a hundred dollars in cash in his wallet. The fact that it was there spoke well of the townspeople’s honesty and was an indication that he could trust them, up to a point.
“This wasn’t an accidental death,” he continued. “You all know that. We’ll learn more after the coroner has examined the remains, but right now I’d just like to … Well, I wonder, do many people pass through Wakefield on bikes?”
The place didn’t strike him as lying on any kind of picturesque route that might attract bicyclists. Or campers for that matter, although the man had been carrying a folded-up pup tent in one of his panniers.
The men glanced around at each other and shook their heads. “Never seen one before,” one of them said.
“Any tourists at all?”
The men shook their heads again.
“With luck,” Jake said, “we’ll figure out sooner or later why this fellow was here, and why he was here at night, but we need to understand something else, too.”
He started to pull out his notebook, but caught himself and took a sip of his coffee instead. He was used to people not wanting to get involved, but this felt different. He took another sip and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“The victim ended up practically on some of your front lawns, and judging by where we found most of the blood, that’s where he was attacked. Something that bad,” he went on, “there must have been a hell of a lot of noise. A lot of commotion. The man may have had time to scream. A lot of you may have heard it. So did you think about seeing what was going on, maybe … I don’t know …”
And that was when Les Smith—Jake had taken his statement earlier—made his comment: “There was a full moon that night, so we didn’t go outside.”
Jake looked from face to face, and several of the other men were nodding. One of them, maybe prompted to speak because he was sitting right beside Smith, said “Not when there’s a full moon.”
Jake took another sip, and several of the men stirred in their chairs.
“That’s right,” one of them said.
“Yeah,” another one said, “don’t none of us in Wakefield leave our houses at night when there’s a full moon.”
Another one said, “Yeah,” and then so did another.