“I figured if Simon was ever coming back here,” Chief Porter said, “he would’ve done it four months ago, when he was released from Folsom. We ran special patrols in the Jessup neighborhood during October and November.”
“Danny said they were taking precautions at the house. Better door locks. An upgraded security system.”
“So Simon was smart enough to wait. Gradually everyone let down their guard. Fact is, though, when the cancer took Carol, I didn’t expect Simon would come back to Pico Mundo.”
Seventeen years previously, jealous to the point of obsession, Simon Makepeace had become convinced that his young wife had been having an affair. He’d been wrong.
Certain that assignations had occurred in his own home, when he had been at work, Simon tried to coax the name of any male visitor from his then four-year-old son. Because there had been no visitor to identify, Danny had not been able to oblige. So Simon picked up the boy by the shoulders and tried to shake the name out of him.
Danny’s brittle bones snapped. He suffered fractures of two ribs, the left clavicle, the right humerus, the left humerus, the right radius, the right ulna, three metacarpals in his right hand.
When he couldn’t shake a name out of his son, Simon threw the boy down in disgust, breaking his right femur, his right tibia, and every tarsal in his right foot.
Carol had been grocery shopping at the time. Returning home, she found Danny alone, unconscious, bleeding, a shattered humerus protruding through the flesh of his right arm.
Aware that charges of child abuse would be filed against him, Simon had fled. He understood that his freedom might be measured in hours.
With less to lose and therefore with less to constrain him, he set out to take vengeance on the man whom he most suspected of being his wife’s lover. Because no lover existed, he merely perpetrated a second act of mindless violence.
Lewis Hallman, whom Carol had dated a few times before her marriage, was Simon’s prime suspect. Driving his Ford Explorer, he stalked Hallman until he caught him on foot, then ran him down and killed him.
In court, he claimed that his intention had been to frighten Lewis, not to murder him. This assertion seemed to be contradicted by the fact that after running down his victim, Simon had turned and driven over him a second time.
He expressed remorse. And self-loathing. He wept. He offered no defense except emotional immaturity. More than once, sitting at the defendant’s table, he prayed.
The prosecution failed to get him on second-degree murder. He was convicted of manslaughter.
If that particular jury could be reconstituted and polled, no doubt it would unanimously support the change from Braves to Gila Monsters.
“Turn right at the next corner,” I advised the chief.
As the consequence of a conviction for assault involving a violent altercation in prison, Simon Makepeace had served his full sentence for manslaughter and a shorter term for the second offense. He had not been paroled; therefore, on release, he had been free to consort with whomever he wished and to go wherever he wanted.
If he had returned to Pico Mundo, he was now holding his son captive.
In letters he had written from prison, Simon had judged Carol’s divorce and second marriage to be infidelity and betrayal. Men with his psychological profile frequently concluded that if they couldn’t have the women they wanted, then no one would have them.
Cancer had taken Carol from Wilbur Jessup and from Simon; but Simon might still have felt a need to punish the man who had taken his role as her lover.
Wherever Danny might be, he was in a desperate place.
Although neither as psychologically nor as physically vulnerable as he had been seventeen years ago, Danny was no match for Simon Makepeace. He could not protect himself.
“Let’s drive through Camp’s End,” I suggested.
Camp’s End is a ragged, burnt-out neighborhood where bright dreams go to die and dark dreams are too often born. Other trouble had more than once led me to those streets.
As the chief accelerated and drove with greater purpose, I said, “If it’s Simon, he won’t put up with Danny very long. I’m surprised he didn’t kill him at the house, when he killed Dr. Jessup.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Simon never quite believed he could have produced a son with a birth defect. The osteogenesis imperfecta suggested to him that Carol had cheated on him.”
“So every time he looks at Danny…” The chief didn’t need to finish the thought. “The boy’s a wise-ass, but I’ve always liked him.”
Descending toward the west, the moon had yellowed. Soon it might be orange, a jack-o’-lantern out of season.
EVEN STREET LAMPS WITH TIME-OCHERED glass, even moonlight failed to smooth a layer of romance over the crumbling stucco, the warped clapboard, and the peeling paint of the houses in Camp’s End. A porch roof swagged. A zigzag of tape bandaged a wound in window glass.
While I waited for inspiration, Chief Porter cruised the streets as if conducting a standard patrol.
“Since you’ve not been working at the Grille, how do you fill the hours these days?”
“I read quite a bit.”
“Books are a blessing.”
“And I think a lot more than I used to.”
“I wouldn’t recommend thinking too much.”
“I don’t carry it so far as brooding.”
“Even pondering is sometimes too far.”
Next door to an unweeded lawn lay a dead lawn, which itself lay next door to a lawn in which grass had long ago been replaced by pea gravel.
Skilled landscapers had rarely touched the trees in this neighborhood. What had not been permanently misshapen by bad pruning had instead been allowed to grow unchecked.
“I wish I could believe in reincarnation,” I said.
“Not me. Once down the track is enough of a test. Pass me or fail me, Dear Lord, but don’t make me go through high school again.”
I said, “If there’s something we want so bad in this life but we can’t have it, maybe we could get it the next time around.”
“Or maybe not getting it, accepting less without bitterness, and being grateful for what we have is a part of what we’re here to learn.”
“You once told me that we’re here to eat all the good Mexican food we can,” I reminded him, “and when we’ve had our fill, it’s time to move on.”
“I don’t recollect being taught that in Sunday school,” Chief Porter said. “So it’s possible I’d consumed two or three bottles of Negra Modelo before that theological insight occurred to me.”
“It would be hard to accept a life here in Camp’s End without some bitterness,” I said.
Pico Mundo is a prosperous town. But no degree of prosperity can be sufficient to eliminate all misfortune, and sloth is impervious to opportunity.
Where an owner showed pride in his home, the fresh paint, the upright picket fence, the well-barbered shrubs only emphasized the debris, decay, and dilapidation that characterized the surrounding properties. Each island of order did not offer hope of a community-wide transformation, but instead seemed to be a dike that could not long hold back an inevitably rising tide of chaos.
These mean streets made me uneasy, but though we cruised them for some time, I didn’t feel that we were close to Danny and Simon.
At my suggestion, we headed for a more welcoming neighborhood, and the chief said, “There’s worse lives than those in Camp’s End. Some are even content here. Probably some Camp Enders could teach us a thing or two about happiness.”
“I’m happy,” I assured him.
For a block or so, he didn’t say anything. Then: “You’re at peace, son. There’s a big difference.”
“Which would be what?”
“If you’re still, and if you don’t hope too much, peace will come to you. It’s a grace. But you have to choose happiness.”
“It’s that easy, is it? Just choose?”
/> “Making the decision to choose isn’t always easy.”
I said, “This sounds like you’ve been thinking too much.”
“We sometimes take refuge in misery, a strange kind of comfort.”
Although he paused, I said nothing.
He continued: “But no matter what happens in life, happiness is there for us, waiting to be embraced.”
“Sir, did this come to you after three bottles of Negra Modelo, or was it four?”
“It must have been three. I never drink as many as four.”
By the time we were circling through the heart of town, I had decided that for whatever reason, psychic magnetism wasn’t working. Maybe I needed to be driving. Maybe the shock from the Taser had temporarily shorted my psychic circuits.