Perhaps she wasn’t a witch in the strictest sense of the term, as she had no malignant supernatural powers (so far as anyone knew), she practiced no witchcraft per se (so far as anyone knew), but to all the children of Hartsgrove, Edna Harriger was nevertheless known as the old witch who lived on Taylor Street. She and her spooky old house were to be avoided. Even the adults of the town gave her place a wide berth, but that was more likely because of the witch’s companion, Smokey Bowersox, a man who could lay legitimate claim to the dual titles of town bully and town drunk, a man whose drinking and nastiness were legend, a legend that only swelled with his increasingly bizarre behavior as the years and the beers went by.
Edna, for a witch, was an exceptional cook. Before she’d become known as a witch, she’d been modestly renowned for her culinary craftings, her flavorful brauts, sauerkraut, pickled pigs’ knuckles, honey cakes, and particularly for her leberkäse, a spicy German meatloaf of sorts comprised of eclectic ingredients. At the Grace Lutheran potluck suppers (before she’d become known as a witch), they were prized. She’d been raised bone poor, and had learned to make do; to more than make do, to triumph over need.
On a morning not long before Christmas, Edna stepped outside to greet God, leaving behind the old house, which was gaunt, weathered, and unadorned, like her. She prayed every morning, and every morning she preferred to pray outside, that her words might rise directly to the ear of God. What an almighty waste it would be to have her utterances go unheard, and to Edna, having seen the bloated belly of want, waste was perhaps the greatest sin of all. For the same reason she also prayed aloud, in reverent chanting mumbles, ignoring her neighbors and passersby, to whom the chanted mumbles no doubt resembled a witch’s incantations more than spoken prayers.
This morning her prayers were particularly fervent and animated, her soul soaring inside her body, pounding at the temples of her skeletal face, the blacks of her eyes rolling back in their hollow caverns. She prayed first and foremost for Smokey Bowersox, the large, rough man with the large, rough appetites, thanking God for all that he had provided her, how he’d kept her from want, with the blessing of food: of meat in particular—venison, bear, fowl, rabbit, squirrel, possum, groundhog, anything that roamed the fields and woods. And she thanked God, as she always did, for the ability with which He’d blessed her—the ability to survive, to transform dead flesh with knife and fire into something sustaining and palatable.
Reaching the end of the long dirt drive, Edna prayed on. On down the street she prayed, passing bare-bone trees and hedges, modest bungalows and ranches, plastic Santas and plywood reindeer. She thanked God that Smokey had never beaten her too badly, except when he was very drunk. And she thanked Him for giving her the ability to heal and survive this as well, and for granting her the blessings of her little revenges: the mysterious shortages of toilet paper, the unfortunate shrinkings of his favorite long johns, the odd taintings of his chosen beers, the unaccountable television interferences during Steelers games, and for the fleas of her old dog Gabriel, and their curious infestations of the trousers of the unwitting Smokey. How those fleas feasted. God’s gentle creatures. At this she was reminded to ask God again to watch over Gabriel, and to forgive her, if forgiveness was necessary: It had been one of the saddest days of her life, the day she’d had to put the old dog down, after he’d gotten too old and mean, having nipped at a child on her bike. Too old and too mean. She prayed to God that she would never grow too old and too mean.
Praying, walking up the hill, Edna ignored the greeting of Mrs. Sayers out chopping ice from her sidewalk, a bit miffed at the nerve of the woman for interrupting a body in prayer. Turning right again, she headed down the little path beside the Clovers’ place, her galoshes crunching the crust of the snow. At the end of the Clovers’ lawn, she stepped over the low border of rocks and rubble to the back of the overgrown field that her papa had tried for years to farm. She had circled the block to come in toward her place from above. Down across the field, through the scraggly bushes, stalks, and stems frozen upright and dead, she could see the roof of her house below amidst the gnarly tangle of leafless branches. Then she noticed the footprints in the snow, fresh and big, heading down across the field toward her house.
Smokey’s. Of course. It made sense. The old cat would be the Clovers’. She knew she’d seen the old cat before. She shook her head and sighed; Edna Harriger stood tall and straight and still, stark and skinny in her long shapeless coat, her earth shades of gray and black and brown like the gnarled ruins of the fence posts dotting the field. She said another prayer for Smokey.
Then she set off, following Smokey’s footsteps toward her house, her kitchen. There was work to do. She was preparing her leberkäse, from the old family recipe, a special Christmas treat, an annual obligation. The blood from the meat she sliced and ground for her leberkäse took her past the Nativity, to the Crucifixion, the glorious blood sacrifice for all mankind. Soul stirring again in her temples, she pictured the blood of Christ flowing into the grass at the foot of the cross—wasn’t that, after all, why the colors of Christmas were red and green?
It might have been the crunching of Edna’s galoshes through the snow crust that awoke Jenny Clover, or it might have been the sound of chimes, an odd rippling rhythm. Jenny was one of the children of Hartsgrove who regarded Edna Harriger as a witch, and the proximity of the witch’s house to her own—just down across the field from her backyard—was a cause of constant, lovely dread, with the same magnetic attraction as that of a loose tooth probed in her gum. When other kids came over to play, they would venture as close as they dared toward the old witch’s house, to see who would be first to turn back in fits of shrieks and giggles.
Awaking this morning she reached for Molly to cuddle but her cat wasn’t there, and the chiming, tinkling sound grew clearer. Climbing from her bed, she made her way over the carpeted hallway and down the stairs as quietly as she could, Mom and Dad still asleep in their room. The draft was like icy breath on the back of her neck. Goosebumps cluttered her skin. The banister, big and cold, she clung to like holding a hand, following the trail of the sound like a bird following a trail of seed, lightly, quickly hopping through the early-morning shadows dark as the inside of the closet where she supposed the monster lived. Was it a Christmas sound? Had Santa come early? Could it be Molly somehow? She needed her cat to cuddle, to suck her thumb with. Rocky Raccoon wouldn’t do. He didn’t purr. He wasn’t alive.
At the bottom of the stairs, she paused with a blink, startled to see the front door ajar. A gust of breeze pushed at the storm door, like someone—something—huffing and puffing to blow their house down. In the living room, the Christmas tree stood shimmering tall and tinsel-laden in the shadows. The tinkling sound was coming from the tree, where the draft was clinking two glass ornaments together like chimes in the wind.
Molly. Molly? Her cat was nowhere to be seen.
Peering out through the storm door. Shivering in the flannel that held her heart, she saw dead leaves skittering like rodents across the frozen snow crust of the yard. She saw no trace of Molly and there, behind the twisted black branches, a streak of red dawn on the scowling sky like a monster’s bloody grin.
Alexander Fiscus, on the other hand, was unaware of the witch. Having lived in Hartsgrove for only twenty or so of his sixty-some years, he’d yet to become immersed in the nuances of the history shared by the natives. Though unaware of the witch, he was well aware of her companion, Howard Bowersox (though unaware that Howard Bowersox was, in fact, her companion): Bowersox had turned out to be a bad risk. Fiscus was president of Hartsgrove National Bank—he’d come to the town from West Virginia to take a position as a senior loan officer, and had quickly climbed the ladder—and it was his bank that had granted the loan with which Mr. Bowersox had purchased his Ford pickup; it was his bank as well that had recently repossessed the vehicle upon Mr. Bowersox’s repeated failure to come up with the monthly payments, quite reasonable monthly payments in Fiscus’s estimation. Against all reason and logic, Bowersox blamed the bank, not his own default, and he blamed the bank loudly. Having witnessed Bowersox’s failure at paying his debts (the financial kind), Fiscus had since been inundated with innuendo, rumor, gossip, and legend concerning Bowersox’s utter reliability in paying his debts of the vengeful kind. With terrible interest.
Minnie Oliver, a junior loan officer with black curly hair and an overbite, had still been trembling when she’d described to Mr. Fiscus Mr. Bowersox’s outburst in her cubicle. Though Fiscus had remained calm and reassuring, he did find it troubling that apparently the Bowersox threats were directed not toward Ms. Oliver, a farmer’s daughter who should never have been promoted from her teller position in the first place, and therefore should never have approved the Bowersox loan. The threats were directed toward the face of the bank itself: Alexander Fiscus.
This was the knowledge that sat curdling in his stomach, causing him to rise so early on this morning a few days before Christmas. Of course he seldom slept in anymore, that ability having abandoned him over the years, like so many other abilities, like rats from a sinking ship. Sitting in his silk pajamas in his breakfast nook overlooking the town, Fiscus considered the ever-dwindling distinction between sleeping and waking, how the older he got, the more indistinct the boundary between the two became, wondering if his ninety-year-old mother at the Home of the Good Shepherd back in Clear Creek, West Virginia, was able to distinguish one from the other at all. In the Gospel according to Fiscus, there were three Great Natural Comforters; of these, Sleep was shot and so was Sex. But the third had only improved with age: He placed the last bite of blueberry pie carefully upon his tongue, savoring slowly each of the subtle flavors, munching artfully, relishing each morsel, thumbing the remaining crumbs from his plate. Eating he’d perfected to an art form; age had only served to ameliorate his taste buds.
If fat was the price, he’d pay it. What was life but debts to pay?
For a few precious moments he’d forgotten about Bowersox. Behold the transcendent power of taste! He considered a third piece of pie, hesitated, uncomfortable in his indecision. An unpleasant rumbling of acid disrupted the tranquillity of his stomach; the Bowersox affair was back. How he envied his sweet Elizabeth, his wife, still slumbering like an infant up in their four-poster, canopied bed. Envied. Envied, a more noble sentiment than resented.
Alexander Fiscus took his cane, levering his arthritic corpulence up and across his floor of imported Spanish tiles. From his window high on Rose Hill he could see the rooftops of the town, chimney smoke dancing in the early light above each. In time to the solitary thumping of his heart, his gaze fell from rooftop to rooftop amid the skeleton trees, imagining all the sweet dreams and pleasant slumbers beneath. The solitary thumping reached up to his throat, and out to tremble the curtain in his bloated fingers. Beneath one of those roofs would be Howard Bowersox, the reputed Rasputin of Hartsgrove, Pennsylvania. Dreaming his sweet dreams of Christmas revenge.
A slow shudder. He was unfamiliar with fear, unsure how to react. Had he ever before felt physically afraid? Instinct told him that honor—the same honor synonymous with payment of honest debt—demanded that he refuse to be intimidated. It had not been his fault that he’d been unable to answer the call of World War II; it wasn’t as though he’d purposefully flattened his feet before setting off for college. The sensible thing to do, he supposed, the only thing to do, would be to take his fears—nay, his concerns—to the police. Straight to Chief Toole personally. He knew the man, having rubbed elbows with him from time to time at the country club, and considered him honest and capable. Chief Toole would have sound advice.
In the meantime, Alexander Fiscus helped himself to another piece of blueberry pie. Damn the expense.
Where was Smokey Bowersox? The question on everyone’s mind, including that of Buster Clover, Jenny’s father, who worked at the town newspaper, the Hartsgrove Herald. Deciding to inspect the damage for himself, he walked down Main Street from the newspaper office to Jum’s Bar and Grill, where sheets of plywood covered the shattered front window. Across the street, just down from the courthouse, the sign in front of the Hartsgrove National Bank said thirty-six degrees at 11:38. While he was there, Clover figured he might as well grab an early lunch.
Inside Jum’s, the darkness was disorienting. Even at night, and Clover had spent his share of time there after dark, some light from the streetlamps outside filtered in through the big front window, where now there was only the bland, dark face of the plywood. Under Jum’s dim interior lights, the cluster of regular customers at the bar looked up at the opening door when Clover came in, like miners trapped at the bottom of a shaft.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Clover said.
“Yeah,” said Jum from behind the bar. Stout and solid in his starched white apron, he polished a glass to perfection. “Next time you see my decorator, be sure to thank him for me.”
“You’ll probably be able to thank him yourself soon enough.” When Clover said that, a dozen eyes glanced nervously toward the door. After he’d settled himself upon a bar stool, Clover nodded toward the missing window. “So talk to me—what happened? How’d it start?”
Jum tapped the bar desultorily and shook his head. “I didn’t see it. Had my head in the beer cooler when I heard the crash. It was Smokey.”
“All Charlie done was ask him if he needed a lift anywheres,” said a regular by the name of Bullers.
“Yeah, well, you know what a wiseass Charlie Waters can be,” said Eddie Mackins.
“How is he?” Clover said.
“Busted jaw, cuts, couple of busted ribs,” said Jum. “They kept him overnight and released him this morning.”
“Guess Smokey’s sense of humor ain’t what it used to be,” said an old man named Kroh.
“Never was much,” Bullers said. “Less it was his joke.”
Clover ordered his lunch, two pickled eggs and an Iron City. Around his long, lanky frame, the middle-age spread was beginning, exaggerated by his hunkering slouch upon the bar stool. “Don’t seem like a very balanced lunch,” observed Jum.
“Yeah. Better gimme one of those Polish sausages too.” Jum’s white apron waddled, unscrewing the gallon-sized sausage jar. There was a moment of silence as they watched with something like awe Clover eating. “Let me have another egg, Jum,” he said.
“You know, I never seen anybody eat one of them in one bite before.”
“It’s a gift,” said Clover, stabbing a beet.
“One ol’ Charlie ain’t going to be enjoying for a while.” Another moment of silence.
“What’s got into Smokey anyways?” Bullers wondered. He had a solemn face and clear eyes, black locks of hair forever troubling his forehead. “Never was a barrel of laughs, but . . .”
Jum rubbed his jowls. “Always was mean, but lately he’s been crazy too.”
“Not a good combination.”
“Losing his job. Losing his truck. Getting old.”
“Charlie pressing charges?”
“Hell no, and I ain’t neither—I gotta cover that window.” Jum nodded toward the plywood. A scrawny string of tinsel that had decorated the window rambled askew, crucified on the splinters. “I don’t want him coming back in here with a baseball bat—or worse.”
“Yeah, it’s the worse that would worry me,” said Clover.
“He ain’t got nothing against you, does he, Buster?”
“Claimed I stole his buck this year.”
“Hell no. I had a clean shot and Smokey comes along five minutes later and says he was trailing him. Said he shot him first.”
“Was there two wounds?”
“Not that you could see, so Smokey says I must have shot him in the same spot. That was scary. I was glad I was carrying my gun.”
The door opened and the chatter ceased, eyes glancing in unison toward the front; a collective exhaling. It was only Pete Johns in his mailman’s uniform.
“Remember Doodle O’Hanlon?” said Kroh. “Smokey told me Doodle stole a buck on him one time too, and look what happened to him.”
“Old Doodle? He just drank himself to death, didn’t he?”
“Did he?” said Bullers.
Though it did little to diminish the considerable presence of the absence of Smokey Bowersox, Clover for his part doubted the man had been involved in the death of Doodle O’Hanlon. Though who could know for sure? Doodle must have had an inkling last Christmas Eve—nearly a year gone by now, where did the time go?—that he was checking out, as he’d bequeathed his beloved old cat, Molly, to Clover’s daughter before he’d died. Personally delivered her himself, big red bow and all. And now Molly, along with Smokey, was missing. Clover found himself scratching his head sometimes at the invisible webs that entangle us all.
Jenny Clover stamped her foot. She’d searched the whole house high and low and Molly was nowhere to be found. She’d even looked down in the cellar where all the spiders live.
Mom was no help at all, and neither was her dad when she’d called him at his office where he went every day. They just said she’d turn up. Jenny supposed she’d have to search outside now, even though Mom might not like it too much. Her mother didn’t care for her going out of the yard alone, particularly not toward the back of the backyard, toward the witch’s house.
But first, she had one more trick to try. Jenny climbed up and sat in the middle of the sofa, feet pointing straight toward the Christmas tree, and smoothed the pink corduroy of her pants. Lap ready, she listened. Molly loved her lap—maybe she would come from wherever she was napping, hiding, and hop up.
Nothing. She patted her lap again, louder, just in case.
Nothing. Stupid cat. Jenny felt angry. Then she felt lonely. Then she began to feel a little bit afraid. The stupid Christmas lights twinkling on the stupid Christmas tree. It was dark and quiet and the sky was gloomy through the window, where the monster had been grinning. Jenny heard steps on the carpet, but it was just her mother, not her cat. Stupid mother.
Peggy Clover sat on the sofa beside her daughter. “Still no sign of her?” she said. She didn’t tell Jenny that she’d been looking too, up and down the street out front, with no luck too.
Jenny shook her head. She didn’t look up, just stared at the tree.
“Well, she’ll probably turn up,” Peggy said. “Probably. But sometimes . . .”
Now Jenny looked up, with a frown too big for her face. “Sometimes what?”
“Well, sometimes when cats get old, they die. And Molly was getting pretty old. Just like your grandma Byerly, remember? She got old and died too.”
“Like Doodle did?”
“Yes. Like Doodle. Maybe Doodle missed her, and maybe Molly heard him calling, and decided to go and be with him again.”
“He better not have,” Jenny said. “That would make him a stupid Indian giver.”
Edna Harriger worked in a fever. There was a humming in her ears, a cacophony of disparate sounds blending somehow into a soothing, soulful melody, a merciful melody, for it kept her focused, kept her mind from wandering beyond the confines of her ancient kitchen all aglow in the warmth of the fire from the stove. It was always hard work, cooking, Christmas cooking, the preparation of her leberkäse and honey cakes, the trimmings, but this year it was an even heavier chore—God help her, she was getting older too, but not meaner, no, not meaner. The hum, the cacophony, held the sound of her father’s voice from years ago, and Smokey was there as well, his bellow, his rage, the sound that had so often preceded a beating, but in harmony with the other sounds and voices it was held harmless. Edna felt a tingling sensation, not a brief one, a lasting, lingering feeling that was trying to lift her toward ecstasy—for the voice of God was in it too. And the voice of the robin, the Christmas robin, that had sung to her only this morning, though the caw of the black, angry crow persisted. Her eyes misted over with tears. She worked in a fever, humming in her ears, heat in her face, and she imagined the dampness there, the sweat, was blood. A pall of smoke hung low in her kitchen, a dreamlike haze making all the familiar objects, all the things that had lived with her through all the years—the low ceiling rafters, the tin chimney, the cement sink, hulking butcher block and icebox—seem like a roomful of strangers, surrounding her, looking over her shoulder, staring at her with cocked heads. Edna worked, and prayed, and hummed along with the sound.
Tidying up helped, cleaning her counters and tools, washing up, closer and closer to cleanliness, Godliness. The melodic splash of running water intermingled with the medley in her head as she rinsed the blood from her grinder, staring, fascinated, transported by the vision of the shiny clean metal teeth emerging from out of the bloody, gristly mess, by the sight of the red residue swirling in the sink, lessening, dissipating, vanishing finally down the drain. She could see every single molecule, perfectly.
With a heavy sharp knife, handle worn to fit her hand, she sliced the onions for her leberkäse, deftly making quick work of them. Then the nuts, which she diced with a smaller knife. Then, towel in hand, she stooped to see how her honey cakes were coming in the oven. Nearly done. The aroma was rich, living in the pall of smoke, the breathing cloud that lingered. She’d been sure to bake in all seven spices, an old tradition—seven spices were included in the Christmas honey cakes for the seven days in which God created the world. On St. Nicholas Day in early December her papa would bring in armfuls of wonderful, fresh-smelling greens to decorate the musty house. And for Christmas he’d always give them something special, something he’d carved. Poor Smokey; he’d never in all his life received a Christmas gift, not until 1952 when Edna had given him his first, a fine, sharp, twelve-inch hunting knife. Of course, in the thirty years since, he’d still never given one. Greens—of course, greens! Later she would go outside and gather some greens for her kitchen. She smiled at the old expression of Papa: Meat is the best vegetable. Ambidextrously she administered the marjoram and nutmeg, humming “O Holy Night,” though her tune was hit and miss because of the other noises filling her head. She had already outlived her papa, by nearly twice as long. Unlike Smokey, she’d taken the best of the blood from her forebears, not the worst. She’d learned what she had to from her mother, taken what she could from her papa. In some ways she was even stronger than Smokey. She was indebted to no one. No banker could foreclose on her life.
The image of Alexander Fiscus came to her, fat man on bent cane, double chins held high, in front of his bank on Main Street, the only place she’d ever seen him. With the image came a moment’s despair, fluttering in her stomach, and she wondered: Had she put the rosemary on the mantel to ward away the evil spirits? Another of her papa’s traditions. Perhaps it would ward away the evil of Smokey Bowersox as well.
Suddenly weary, Edna felt her knees tremble beneath the weight of the terrible things he made her do. She took a ladle of cool water and sipped. Fresh air, another prayer.
Though no matter how many times she asked Him, Edna suspected not even God could erase the awful image that had stained her memory: the sight of Smokey the drunken warrior, massive, muscled, mean, intoxicated by booze and battle, standing triumphant and wobbly in her kitchen doorway, righteousness flaring in his eyes as he thrust up to Edna and his gods another trophy of meat brought home to the hearth: a wriggling old cat.
She’d used groundhog before and squirrel, venison, possum, and rabbit, whatever Smokey and the good earth might offer. But a cat for her Christmas leberkäse? A child’s pet?
The evil that man made her do.
Alexander Fiscus stood in front of his bank on Main Street, tapping his cane on the sidewalk impatiently. Indecision. Twice today. Damnable. His wife Elizabeth had just dropped him off after a superb lunch of lobster bisque and bruschetta with olive oil and prosciutto, and any other day he’d have been content to take the air for a few minutes before going into his office, enjoy the bustle of the little town’s Main Street, perhaps stretch his legs up and down the block a bit. Main Street, nearing Christmas, was even more bustling than usual, a parade of pickups grumbling by at a crawl, all manner of flannel-and-wool clad denizens with rosy cheeks cheerfully popping in and out of stores, greenery on the streetlamps lending an air of festivity to the scurrying snow flurries. Fiscus liked the little town. Everyone seemed to know him, by sight and name at least, and many were the waves that came his way, the occasional called greeting: Afternoon, Mr. Fiscus! Merry Christmas! There was, however, the matter of the white elephant just across Main Street, the venerable Hartsgrove institution into which he had never set foot, and never would, an establishment of dubious repute known as Jum’s Bar and Grill. Where the window had darkly gleamed for years were now ugly slabs of plywood. Everyone knew what had happened. And at any moment, one Howard Bowersox might turn out to be among the jolly passersby. The sight of the plywood, the thought of Bowersox, caused the acid to return to his stomach. All morning long, Ms. Oliver had remained jittery. In fact, a nervous air seemed to have permeated the bank, subdued tones of conversation, nervous glances too often toward the door. Fiscus inhaled the chilly air of the Hartsgrove afternoon, puffed out his chest, and filled himself with resolve: He would not be intimidated by a bully, perhaps the lowest form of life in the universe.
Many were the transactions he’d handled. A personal visit was called for, given the gravity of the situation, not an easily dismissed phone call. The courthouse, the red brick edifice with the high white dome that dominated Main Street, was less than half a block down. In the ground level of the courthouse was the Hartsgrove police station. In the station was the office of the police chief, Delbert Toole. No less an authority would do.
Toole looked up from behind his battered desk as the fat man in the five-hundred-dollar suit was escorted into his office. Toole did not stand up. He knew the man, Fiscus, having been required to associate with him upon this social occasion or that—the price of rising to high office in a small borough, a price he was not pleased to pay—and he did not regard that association as anything akin to friendship. This was his first official visit from Fiscus. It was not, however, their first official business together.
“Nice to see you again, Chief,” Fiscus said, settling himself in the little chair in front of the desk, a chair which was quickly rendered invisible.
Toole nodded, running a thoughtful finger over the scraggly mustache beneath his long nose. “Mr. Fiscus.”
“Please,” said Fiscus. “Alexander.”
Toole nodded again, noncommittally, bracing himself in case the word Delbert should emerge from the man’s mouth. “What can I do for you?”
Fiscus took a deep breath, exhaling the words: “You can arrest this fellow, this raging lunatic, Howard Bowersox. You get him off the streets, and make this a safer community.”
Howard Bowersox. Howard. That was it right there. Smokey Bowersox had been on Toole’s mind all morning long, but the first thing he thought was not what new information Fiscus might be bringing, but the fact that he was so far removed from the workings of the town as to be unaware that not one in a hundred of Bowersox’s victims could tell you his real name was Howard. Fiscus never bothered to get to know the people whose lives he manipulated from his ivory tower, whimsically (it seemed to Toole) granting them financial favors at exorbitant costs, or withholding them at even higher costs, at the costs of their dreams. Toole would never forget the new loan officer twenty-odd years ago who’d rejected a mortgage for a young policeman. He was sure Fiscus did not share the memory.
“Easier said than done,” Toole said.
“Oh?” said Fiscus.
“I suppose he’s broken about every law in the books, except for maybe sodomy and treason—no, I take back the sodomy part. Trouble is, every time we bring him in, there’s all of a sudden a rash of amnesia going around. Nobody’ll press any charges.”
“Rest assured,” said Fiscus, “that is no longer at issue.” Fiscus assured the chief that Bowersox’s outburst at the bank, the threats, the property destruction—for he had swept objects off Ms. Oliver’s desk, shattering her porcelain unicorn in the process—must constitute any number of crimes, and the employees of Hartsgrove National Bank, himself included, would be more than happy to pursue charges, and see this thing through to conclusion.
“Is that so?” said Toole, when Fiscus had finished. He squinted his eyes, ran a finger over his mustache, nodded his head. He was impressed. He was excited. He was as anxious as Fiscus, or anybody else—more anxious—to eliminate this malignancy, to give his town the nice Christmas present of a gift-wrapped Smokey Bowersox. And here was Fiscus offering him the opportunity to do just that. Toole nodded again, rose, shook the hand of the banker—a gesture he’d not intended five minutes before—assured him helook into the matter, and saw the fat man to the door. He supposed he had to give him credit. It was not easy facing down a madman, a brutal madman at that; it took courage. In his eyes, Fiscus had earned a measure of redemption.
Now then. Where the hell was Bowersox? . . .
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