Chapter 19


"No!" Arden whispered. "I'm all right! I can keep goin'!"

ce righ .Listen to me!" He had his la t up against hers. "I'm headin' into the swamp, just as deep as I can get! You've gone far enough with me!" He saw the flare-lit figures wading slowly and steadily nearer. In another minute the light would find them.

"I'm gain'with you," Arden said. "I'm too close to turn back."

She was out of her mind, he decided. Her eyes had taken on the shine of religious fervency, like those of the walking wounded who flocked, desperate for a healing miracle, to televi ion evangelists.

She had come to the end of her rope and found herself dangling, and now all she could think to do was hold on to him. "Stay here," he told her. "Just stay here, they'll get you out." He stood up and began sloshing southward, the water up to the middle of his thighs.

Arden saw the circle of green light approaching, and the two fipres at its center. Her distorted vision made, them out to be monsters. She tried to stand up, slipped, and fell again.

Dan looked briefly back at her and then continued on.

22a Arden got her feet planted in the mud and pushed herself up, and then she started fighting to reach Dan with the light glinting on the frothy water just behind her."

"He's tirin'out," Flint told Pelvis. "Hear him 't The splashing was over on the right, and Flint angled toward it.

Pelvis suddenly jumped and bellowed, "Oh Jesus!"

Flint whipped the flare around. "What the hell is it?"

"Somethin' swam by me!" Pelvis had almost dropped Mama in his jig of termr- "I think it was a snake!" Flint's gaze searched the water, his own skin [email protected] to crawl. The light showed something dark and about three feet long, sinuously moving with the current. He watched it Until it slithered beyond the light. "Just keep goin'," he said, as much to himself as to Pelvis, and he started wading ag 'nThe sound of splashing had quieted, but Lambert couldn't go on much longer. .

Dan looked back. Arden was still straining to catch up with him, but shed found her balance and her strides were careful and deliberate.

The water was almost at her waist.

to and go on, but like a flash of ock e He stww turn sh th moment took him spinning back in time.

He remembered a night patrol, and a wide, muddy that cut through the jungle. He remembered the crossing, and how almost all but the grunts guarding the rear-of which he was one-had climbed up a slippery bank when the first white flare had exploded over their heads. The enemy had gotten around behind them, or had come up from hidden snake holes. "Move it, move it, move it!"

somebody began yelling as the second white from Popped.

The rifles started up, Dan was standing in kn muck and tracers were zipping past him out of the jungle. Other grunts were running and falling, trying to scramble up the bank Within an instant the situation became as all combat did in that jungle: a confused, surrealistic montage of shadows fleeing from the flarelight, blurred motion, as bullets thunked into flesh. He couldn't move; his legs were frozen.

Figures were falling, some up, some thrashing in the mud. It seemed pointless to move because the others were getting cut down as they tried to climb up the bank, and if he stood still, if he stood very very still with the tracers passing on either side of him, he might make himself disappear from the face of this hellish earth.

Someone gripped his shirt and yanked him.

"Go, " a voice urged; it was not a shout, but it was more powerful than a shout.

Dan looked at the man. He had the gaunt, sunken-eyed face of a hard-core veteran, a man who had seen death and smelled it, who had killed after hours of silent stalking and escaped being killed by inches of miraculous grace. He had a blond beard and eyes of cornflower blue, only the eyes seemed ancient now and lifeless. They had been lifeless since that day months ago at the village.

"Go," Farrow said again. Farrow, who since that day had retreated into himself like a stony sphim, who suffered in silence, who always volunteered with a nod for the jobs no other grunt would dare take.

And now, in this little cell of time, Dan saw something glisten and surface from Farrow's eyes that he hardly recognized.

It might have been joy.

Farrow pushed him hard toward the bank, and the push got Dan moving. Dan reached the bank and started up it, clawing at vines and over the bodies of dying men. He dared to look over his shoulder, and he saw a sight that would stay with him all his days.

Farrow was walking to the other side, and he was sprayfiring his M 16 back and forth into the jungle. Dan saw the enemy's tracers start homing in on Farrow. The young man did not pause or cringe. One bullet hit him, then a second.

Farrow kept moving and firing. A third bullet knocked him to his knees. He got up. Somebody was shouting at him to come back, for the love of God come back. Farrow staggered on, his M 16 tearing down the foliage and scattering blackclad figures. Either the weapon choked or the clip was gone, because it ceased firing. There was a stretch of silence, broken by the cries of the wounded. The Cong had stopped shooting. Dan saw Farrow jerk the clip out and pop another one in. He took two more steps and his M 16 blazed again, and then maybe four or five tracers came out of the jungle and hit him at once and he was knocked backward and splashed down into the muddy water that rolled over him like a brown shroud.

All of it had taken only a span of seconds, but it had taken years for Dan to digest whilt he'd seen. Even so, it still sometimes came up to lodge in his throat.

He watched Arden pulling herself toward him, as resolute in her decision as Farrow had been in his. Or as crazy, Dan thought. There had been no doubt in his mind that Farrow had gone quietly insane after that day at the vine, and had been-whether he was aware of it or not-searching for a way to commit suicide. How the death of those children had weighed on Farrow was impossible to say, but it must've been a terrible burden that ultimately led him to choose a slow walk into a dozen VietCong rifles. If Farrow hadn't taken that @ Dan and at least three other men might have been cut to pieces. Dan's life had been spared, and for what reason? for him to be tainted by the Agent Orange and later pull the trigger that killed an innocent man? For him now to be standing in this swamp, watching a girl with a birthmarked face trying to reach him? Life made no sense to him; it was a maze construded by the most haphazard of hands and he, Arden, the bounty hunters, all humanity @, were blindly searching its corridors and banging into walls.

She was almost to him. The green flarelight was chasing her.

"Give it up, LamberLI" Murtaugh shouted. "It's no use!"

Maybe it wasn't. But the girl believed it was, enough to trust a killer. Enough to fight her way into the unknown.

Enough to make Dan think that if he had half of her desire, he might find his way through this wilderness to freedom.

He waded to meet her and caught her left hand. She looked at him with an expression of amazement and relief Then Dan started pulling her with him, racing against the oncoming light.

The Most Dangerous Place Though Flint still couldn't see Lambert or the girl, he knew they must not be more than fifteen or twenty yards beyond the light's edge.

He was moving as fast as he could, but the channel was hard going. The water had crept up toward his waist, and it had occurred to him that if it deepened to his chest, Clint would drown. He was dripping sweat in the hot and clammy air. In another moment he heard Pelvis's lungs wheezing like the pipes of an old church organ.

"Mr. Murtaugh!" Pelvis gasped. "I'm gonna have to ...

have to stop for a minute. Get my breath."

"Keep movin'!" Flint told him, and he didn't pause.

The wheezing only worsened. "Please ... Mr.

Murtaugh ... I gotta stop."

"Do what you want! I'm not stoppin'!"

Pelvis fell behind, his chest heaving. Oily beads of sweat were trickling down his blood-gorged face, his heart furiously pounding.

Flint glanced back and then continued on, step after careful step.

Pelvis tried to follow, but after a halfdozen more strides he had to stop again. Mama had sensed his distress and was frantically licking his chin. "Mr.

Murtaugh!" Pelvis called, but Flint was moving away and taking the light with him. Terror of the dark and of the things that slithered through it made Pelvis slog forward once more, the blood pulsing at his temples. He couldn't get his breath, it was as if the air itself were waterlogged. He wrenched one foot free from the mud and put it down in front of him, and he was pulling the other one up when his throat seemed to close, rkness rippled amss Ms vision, and he fell down into the water.

Flint heard splashing and looked back. He saw the mutt, paddling to keep her head up.

Pelvis was gone.

Flint's heart jumped. "Christ!" he said, and he struggled back toward the swirling water where Pelvis had submerged.

The dog was trying to reach him, her eyes wide with panic.

Bubbles burst from the surface to Flint's left, followed by a flailing arm, and then Pelvis's butt broached like a flabby whale.

Flint got hold of the arm, but it slipped away from him. "Stand up, stand up!" he was shouting. A dark, dripping mass came up from the water, and Flint realized it was Pelvis's hair. He grabbed it and pulled, but suddenly he -found himself gripping a pompadour with no head beneath it.

A wig. That's what it was. A cheap, soaked and sopping wigAnd then something white and vulnerable-looking with a few strands of dark hair plastered across it broke the surface, and Flint' dropped the wig and got his arm underneath the 'man's chin. Pelvis was a weight to be reckoned with. He coughed out a mouthful of water and let go a mournful groan that sounded like a freight train at midnight.

"Get your feet under you!" Flint told him. "Come on, stand up!"

Still sputtering, the baldheaded Pelvis got his muddy suedes planted. "Mama!" he cried out. "Where is she?"

She wasn't far, yapping against the current. Pelvis staggered to her and scooped her up, and then he almost fell down again and he had to lean his bulk against Flint. "I'll be all right," Pelvis said between coughs. "Just gotta rest. Few minutes. Lord, I thought ...

thought my ticker was givin' out." He lifted a hand to his head, and when his fingers found nothing there but pasty flesh he looked to Flint, his face contorted with abject horror, as if he indeed might be about to suffer heart failure. "My hair.' Where's my hair.?"

He started thrashing around again,. searching for it in the froth.

"It's gone, forget it!" Flint registered that Pelvis's naked head was pointed like a bullet at the crown. On the sides and back was a fringe of short, ratty hairs. Flint spotted the wig floating away like a lump of Spanish moss, and he sloshed the few feet to it and plucked it up. "Here," he said, offering Th( it to its master. Pelvis snatched it away from him and, holding Mama in the crook of an arm, began wringing the wig out. Flint might've laughed if he hadn't been thinking of how far Lambert was getting ahead of them. "You okay?"

Pelvis snorted and spat He was trembling. He wiped his nose on his forearm and then carefully, reverently, replaced the wet wig back on his skull. it sat crooked and some of its wavy peaks had flattened, but Flint saw relief flood into [email protected] the Pelvis like a soothing drug, the man's tormented face relaxing. "Can you go on, or not?" Flint asked.

chai "Gimme a minute. Heart's beatin' awful hard. See, I get wan dizzy spells. That's why I had to quit my stage show. Is it on cher!

straight?"

and wht "Crooked to the right-" Pelvis made the adjustment. "I passed out onstage last year. Oldie Goldie's Club in Little Rock.

They took me to hay the hospital, thought I was about to croak." He paused to draw a few slow, deep breaths. "Wasn't the first time. Word went 'round, and I couldn't get no more jobs. Gimme a Mu minute, I'll be fine. Can you breathe? I can't hardly breathe this air."

"You weigh too much, that's your trouble. Ought to give wei ly I up all that junk you eat." Flint was staring down the channel, gauging the distance that Lambert must be putting aft do: his between them.

The going had to be hard on Lambert, too, but he'd probably push himself and the girl until they both gave out. When he looked at Pelvis again, Flint thought that mi tai the wig resembled a big, spongy Bnllo pad stuck to the man's head. "I'll give you three minutes, then I'm goin' on.

Then You can either stay here or go back to the car."

on Pelvis didn't care to lose the protection of Flint's light. "I him! can make it if you just go a step or two slower."

"I told you it wasn't gonna be easy, didn't I? Don't fall down and drown on me, now, you hear?"

"Yes sir." His misshapen wig was dripping water down his face.

"I reckon this washes me up, huh? I mean, with Mr.

Smoates and the job and all?"

"I'd say it does. You should've told him about this, it would've saved everybody a hell of a lot of trouble." Flint narrowed his eyes and glanced quickly at the flare. Maybe they had fifteen minutes more light. Maybe. "You're not cut out for this work, Eisley. Just like I'm not cut out to ... to dress up like Elvis Presley and try to impersonate him."

"Not impersonate," Pelvis corrected him firmly. "I'm an interpemtor, not an impersonator.l.

"Whatever. You ought to cut out the junk food and go back to it."

ll'that's what the doctor told me, too. I've [email protected] but Lord lmows it ain't easy to pass up the peanut butter cooldes when you can't sleep at three in the mornin'."

"Yes, it is. You just don't buy the damn things in the first place. Haven't you ever heard of self-discipline?"

"Yes sir. It's something' other folks have got" "Well, it's what you need. A whole lot of it, too." He checked his watch, impatient to get after Lambert. But Pelvis's face was still flushed, and maybe he needed another minute. If Pelvis had a heart attack, it'd be hell dragging that bulk of a body out of the swamp. Flint had become acutely aware of the flare sizzling itself toward exhaustion.

He watched Mama licking Pelvis's chin her stubby tad wagging. A pang of what might have been envy hit him.

"How come you carry that mutt around everywhere? It just gets in the way."

Oh, I wouldn't leave Mama, no sir!" Pelvis paused, stroking Mama's wet back before he went on in a quieter voice. "I had another dog, kinda like Mama. Had Priss for goin' on six years. Left her at the vet one weekend when I went on the road. When I got back ... the place was gone.

Just bricks and ash and burned-up cages. Elwmcal fire, they said.

Started lhte at night, nobody was there to put it out.

They should've had sprinklers or something', but they didn't." He was silent for a moment, his hand stroking back and forth. "For a long time after that ... I had nightmares.

I could see Priss burnin' up in a cage, tryin' to get out but there wasn't no way out. And maybe she was thinkin' she'd done something' awful bad, that I didn't come to save her.

Seems to me that would be a terrible way to die, thinkin' there was nobody who gave a damn about you." He said his gaze to Flint's, his eyes sunken in the green glare. "That's why I wouldn't leave Mama. No sir."

Flint turned his attention to his watch again. "You ready to move?"

"I believe I am."

Flint started off, this time at a slower pace. Pelvis drew another deep breath, whooshed it out, and then began slogging after Flint.

Ahead, Dan stiff gripped Arden's hand as they followed the channel around a m"e. He glanced back; they'd outdislanced the light, and he thought the bounty hunters must've stopped for some reason. His eyes were getting used to the dark now. Up through the treetops he could see pieces of sky full of sparkling stars. The water was still deepening, the bottom's mud releasing bursts of gaseous bubbles beneath their feet. Sweat clung to Dan's face, his breath rasping, and he could hear Arden's lunp straining too in the steamy heat.

Something splashed in the water on their left-, it sounded heavy, and Dan prayed it was simply a large catfish that had jumped instead of a ptoes tail [email protected] a set ofjaws toward them. He braced for the unknown, but whatever it had been it left them alone for the moment.

Looking back once again, he could see the @n light flickering through the undergrowth. They were still coming.

Arden looked over her shoulder, too, then concentrated on getting through the water ahead. Her vision had cleared, but where she'd banged her skull against the dashboard was raw with pain. She was wearing out with every step; she felt her strength draining away, and soon she was going to have to stop to catch her breath. She wasn't on the run; it was Dan the bounty hunters were after, but when they'd take him away they'd take the man she had come to believe was her best hope of finding the Bright Girl. From a deep pla within her the voice of reason was speaking, trying tote her that it was pointless to go any farther into this swamp, that a wanted killer had her by the hand and was leading her away from civilization, that she probably had a concussion and needed a doctor, that her brain was scrambled and she wasn't thinking straight and she was in the most dangerous place she'd ever been in her life. She heard it, but she refused to - listen. In her right hand was clutched the small pink drawstring bag containing what had become her talisman over the years, and she fixed her mind on Jupiters voice saying that this was the man God had provided to take her to the Bright Girl. She had to believe it. She had to, or all hope would come crashing down around her, and she feared that more than death.

"I see a light," Dan suddenly said.

She could see it, too. A faint glow, off to the right. Not electricity. More like the light cast from a candle or oil lamp.

They kept going, the water at Dan's waist and above Arden's.

Shapes emerged from the darkness. On either side of the channel were two or three tarpaper shacks built up on wooden platforms over the water. The light was coming from a window covered with what looked like waxed paper.

The other shacks were dark, either empty or their inhabitants asleep. Dan had no desire to meet the kind of people who'd choose to live in such primitive arrangements, figuring they'd shoot an intruder on sight. But he made out something else in addition to the shacks: a few of them, including the one that showed a light, had small boatsfishing skiffs-tied up to their pilings.

They needed a boat in the worst way, he decided. He put his finger to his lips to tell Arden to remain silent, and she nodded.

Then he guided her past the shack where the light burned and across the channel to the next dwelling. The skiff there was secured by a chain and padlock, but a single paddle with a broken handle was lying down inside it. Dan eased the paddle out and went on to the third shack.

The boat that was tied there held about six inches of trash-filled water in its hull. There were no other paddles in sight, but the leaky craft was attached to a piling only by a plastic line.

In this case beggars couldn't be choosers. Dan spent a moment untying the line's slimy knot, then he pulled himself as quietly as he could over into the boat though his foot thumped against the side. He waited, holding his breath, but no one came out of the shack. He helped Arden in. She sat on the bench seat at the bow, while Dan sat in the stem and shoved them away from the platform. They glided out toward the channel's center, where the current flowed the strongest, and when they were a safe distance away from the shack, Dan slid the stubby paddle into the water and delivered the first stroke.

"Grave robbers!" a woman's voice shrilled, the sound of it startling Dan and making goose bumps rise on Arden's wet arms. "Go on and steal it, then, you donkey-dick suckers!"

Dan looked behind. A figure stood back at the first shack, where the light burned.

"Go on, then!" the woman said. "Lord's gonna fix your asses, you'll find out! I'll dance on your corms, you maggoteaters!" She began spitting curses that Dan hadn't heard since his days in boot camp, and some that would've curled a drill sergeant's ear hairs.

Another voice growled, "Shut up, Rona!" It belonged to a man who sounded very drunk "Shut your hole, I'm sleepen' over here!"

"I wouldn't piss on your face if it was on fire!" Rona hollered across the channel. "I'm gonna cook up a spell on you. Your balls gonna dry up like little bitty black raisins!" "Awwwww, shut up 'fore I come over there and knock your head out your ass!" A door whacked shut.

Dan's paddling had quickened. The woman continued to curse and rave, her voice rising and falling with lunatic cadence. Then she retreated into her hovel and slammed her own door so hard Dan was surprised the place hadn't collapsed. He saw the light move away from the window, and he could imagine a wizened, muttering crone in there stooped over a smoking stewpot with a goat's head in it.

Well, at least they had a boat though they were sitting in nasty water. The phrase up Shil Creek came to him, but they did have a paddle. When he glanced back again, he no longer saw the green flare's glow. Maybe the bounty hunters had given up and turned away.

If so, good riddance to them.

Now all he could do was guide this boat down the center of the bayou and hope it would lead them eventually out to the Gulf. From there he could find somewhere safe to leave the girl and strike out on his own again.

He didn't like being responsible for her, and worrying about that knock she'd suffered, and feeling her hand clutch his so hard his knucides cracked. He was a lone wolf by nature, that's how thinp were, so just as soon as he could, he was @ rid of her. Anyway, she was crazy. Her obsession with the Bright Girl made Dan think of something he'd seen on the news once: hundreds of people had converged from across the country to camp out day after day in an Oklahoma oomfield where a farmer's wife swore the Virgin Mary had materialized. He remembered thmiang how desperately those people had wanted to believe in the wisdom of a higher power, and how they'd believed that the Virgin Mary would appear again at that same place with a message for mankind.

Only she'd never showed up, and the really amazing thing was that none of those hundreds of people had regretted coming there, or felt betrayed or bitter. They'd simply felt that the time wasn't right for the Virgin Mary to appear again, but they were certain that sometime and somewhere she would. Dan couldn't understand that kind of blind faith; it flew in the face of the wanton death and destruction he'd witnessed in 'Nam. He wondered if any of that multitude had ever put a bullet between the eyes of a sixteen-year-old boy and felt a rush of exultation that the boy's AK-47 had jammed. He wondered if any of them had ever smelled the odor of burning flesh, or seen flames chewing on the small skulls. If any of them had in his boots, had stood in the duty silver ram and seen the sights that were seared in his mind, he doubted they would put much faith in waiting for the return of Mary, Jesus, or the Holy GhosL Dan paddled a few strokes and then let the boat drift.

Arden faced southward, the warm breeze of motion blowing past her.

The water made a soft, chuckling sound at the bow, and the bittersweet swamp was alive with the hums and clicks and clacks of insects, the occasional sharp keening of a night bird, the bass thumping of frogs and other fainter noises that were not so identifiable. The only light now came from the stars that shone through spaces in the thick canopy of branches overhead.

Dan started to look back, but he decided not to. He knew where he'd been; it was where he was going that concerned him now. The moment of Emory Blanchard's death was still a bleeding wound in his mind, and maybe for the rest of his days it would torture him, but the swamp's silken darkness gave him comfort. He felt a long way from the law and prison walls. If he could find food, fresh water, and a shelter over his head-even the sagging roof of a tarpaper shackhe thought he could live and die here, under these stars. It was a big swamp, and maybe it would accept a man who wanted to disappear. An ember of hope reawakened and began to burn inside him. Maybe it was an illusion, he thought, but it was something to nurture and cling to, just as Arden clung to her Bright Girl. His first task, though, was getting her out, then he could decide on his own tion.

The boat drifted slowly onward, embraced by the current flowing to the sea.

Pelvis held Mama with one arm and his other hand gripped the back of Flint's soggy suit jacket. The gin flarelight had burned out several minutes before, and the night had closed in on them. Pelvis had been asidngbegging was the more correct term-Flint to turn back when they'd heard a woman's voice hollering and cursing ahead. As they'd slogged on through the stomach-deep water, Flint's left hand slid under his shirt and supported Clint's head; their eyes had started acclimating to the dark.

In another moment they could make out the shapes of the tarpaper shacks, a Uot moving around inside the nearest one on the right. Flint saw a boat tied up to the platform the shack stood on, and as they got closer he made out that it had a scabrous-looking outboard motor. It occurred to him that Lambert might be hiding in one of the darkened shacks, waiting for them to move past. He guided Pelvis toward the flickering light they could see through a waxed-paper window, and at the platform's edge Flint said, "Stay here" and pulled himself up on the splintery boards. He paused to remove the derringer, then he pushed Clint's arm under his shirt and buttoned up his dripping jacket. He held the derringer behind his back and knocked at the shack's flimsy door.

He heard somebody scuttling around inside, but the knock wasn't answered. "Hey, in there!" he called. "Would you open up?" He reached out, his fist balled, to knock a second time.

A latch slammed back. The door swung open on creaking hinges, and @from it thrust the business end of a sawed-off shotgun that pressed hard against Flint's forehead.

"I'll open you up, you dog-ass lickin' sonofabitch!" the woman behind the gun snarled, and her finger clicked back the trigger.

Flint didn't move; it swept through his mind that at this range the shotgun would blast his brains into the trees on the other side of the bayou. By the smoky light from within the shack, Flint saw that the woman was at least six feet tall and built as solidly as a truck.

She wore a pair of dirty overalls, a gray and sweat-stained T-shirt, and on her head was a battered dark green football helmet. Behind the helmet's protective face bar was a forbidding visage with burning, red-rimmed eyes and skin like saddle leather.

"Easy," Flint managed to say. "Take it easy, all I want to do is ask-" "I know what you want, you scum-sucker!" she yelled.

"You ain't takin' me back to that damn shithole! Ain't getting' me in a rubber room again and stickin' my head full of pins and needles!"

Crazy as a three-legged grasshopper, he thought. His heart was galloping, and the inside of his mouth would've made the Sahara feel tropical. He stared at the woman's ' grimynailed finger on the trigger in front of his face. "Listen," he croaked. "I didn't come to take you anywhere. I just want to-I, "Satan's got a silver tongue!" she thundered. "Now I'm gonna send you back to hell, where you belong!"

Flint saw her finger twitch on the trigger. His breath froze.

"Ma'am?" There was the sound of muddy shoes squeaking on the timbers. "Can I talk to you a minute, ma'am?"

The woman's insane eyes blinked. "Who is that?" she hissed.

"Who said that?"

"I did, ma'am." Pelvis walked into the range of the light, Mama cradled in his arms. "Can I have a word with you, please?"

Flint saw the woman stare past him at Eisley. Her finger was still on the trigger, the barrel pressing a ring into his forehead. He was terrified to move even an inch.

Pelvis offered up the best smile he could find. "Ain't nobody wants to hurt you, ma'am. Honest we don't."

Flint heard the woman draw a long, stunned gasp. Her eyes had widened, her thin-lipped mouth starting to tremble.

"You can put that gun down if you like," Pelvis said.

"Might better, 'fore somebody gets hurt."

"Oh, " the woman whispered. "Oh my Jesus!" Flint saw tears shine in her eyes. "They ... they told me ... you died."

"Huh?" Pelvis frowned.

"They told her you died!" Flint spoke up, understanding what the madwoman meant. "Tell her you didn't die, Elvis!"

"Shut your mouth, you Satan's asshole!" the woman ranted at him.

"I'm not talkin' to you!" Her finger twitched on the trigger again.

"I do wish you'd at least uncock that gun, ma'am," Pelvis said.

"It'd make an awful mess if it was to go off."

She stared at him, her tongue flicking out to wet her lips.

"They told me you died!" Her voice was softer now, and there was something terribly wounded in it. "I was up there in Baton Rouge, when I was livin' with Billy and that bitch wife he had. They said you died, that you took drugs and 2a slid off the toilet and died right there, wasn't a thing nobody could do to save you but I prayed for you I cried and I lit the candles in my room and that bitch said I wanted to burn down the house but Billy, Billy he's been a good brother he said I'm all right I ain't gonna hurt nobody."

"Oh." Pelvis caught her drift. "Oh ... ma'am, I ain't really-I, "Yes you are!" Flint yelped. "Help me out here, Elvis!"

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