Jack didn’t talk about his sister much anymore. I had met Grady when a case I was working on had brought me to Fingerbone for the first time. She’d won me over but hadn’t been able to drag me back to her hometown for good … until she’d disappeared and I’d come looking for her. Jack and I had finally found her near Rhodes creek (her favorite fishing spot), with a .50 Caliber Maxi-Hunter Bullet in her brain. It had been open season for muzzleloading rifles, which required hunters to be closer than usual for accuracy. This meant mistakes were unlikely unless they involved dinged up trees or tracking a wounded animal for miles. We’d closed the case. But closure had never come for Jack and I. We missed her.
So it was odd that he chose this particular moment to bring her up. He was always careful with her memory, especially around me. This case must really have him worried for him to drop his guard.
“You only say that when you know I’m right you have to begrudgingly agree with me. You forget I know you pretty well by now, Jack. Damn, that pepperoni smells good. Just one piece, I’m starvin’ here. I had an IV in my arm no less than six hours ago and the doc said I should eat, remember?”
“Alright, pass me a piece too. It’ll be cold by time we get back up there anyway. Hen will understand.”
We were taking pizza up the treacherous roads to the “hilltop” community of Fingerbone, “Population 599 people, and one grouch.” Every year the small community of Fingerbone had “Gold Rush Days,” complete with parade (mostly people on their four-wheelers), bake sale, and fishing contest. The month prior a handful of residents would be nominated for town “grouch” and they’d have to run (like politicians). At the beginning of the Gold Rush Days parade, the winner would be announced. That was during the day.
At night it was a free-for-all when most the townsfolk, anxious for blowing off the steam of economic depression and unemployment, would drink themselves stupid and dance in the streets. The morning after always found the main street resplendent with every color of beer can, bottles, and whatever food was left on crumpled up paper plates after foraging animals had feasted. But a small contingency of people would get up early that morning and bag all the trash, sweep main street and the sidewalks, and make it all look nice again. That was the great thing about Fingerbone – not many people, but they all stuck together.
I’d listened to Hen complain about one of the guys in the bar one night. “He’s the lowest form of life in the universe. Janet finally got her mind right and divorced him. I just can’t believe gals in this town are desperate or stupid enough to fall for his crap!”
“Isn’t he the dude that fixed your generator last winter?”
“Well he must not be as evil as you’re making him out to be then, right?”
“Are you serious? You think just because someone does something nice that makes them nice? Who do you think is going to haul your butt out of the ditch when that golf cart you’re calling a vehicle slides off the road next winter? I’ll tell ya’. It’s gonna be any-old-body that sees ya’. Don’t matter if they’s all in a hurry to go sell some meth or gotta go slap around their wife … we are all just what we are up here and we do for each other. We might hate this one or that one, but we are smart enough to know that when the chips are down, we’re all we got. The preacher might be the one who’s gonna get you to work on time if your car breaks down; and he might need you to find loan him a cup o’ sugar for those brownies he’s making for Sunday dinner. He don’t care that you’re, misterly with the sisterly, you just need to get to work – just like he may need some sugar.”
I had laughed so hard that night. Looking back now, I felt bad. I had lived in Jack’s rent house for nearly two years. I hadn’t ever said much to those folks or to the little boy for that matter. Other than “Watch out you don’t hit my car with that ball please,” I’d never even asked him his name. What kind of a neighbor was I? Guess I still didn’t fit into the hilltop culture.