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The Night of the Dance

The Night of the Dance

On the morning he learns about the Sheriff's boys finding Sissy Fletcher's body, the smoke is worse than ever, has worked its way through the window unit into his bedroom, its smell factoring into his dreams like sounds sometimes do, waking him up. His subconscious mind registers it, tells him get up, something's on fire.

But once he's awake he knows nothing's on fire, leastwise not in these parts. He lies there, thinking it's too early to get up.

He listens to Martha's breathing, deep and steady, not quite a snore but almost, in the twin bed on the other side of the room. It's a sound he's listened to in the predawn for a lot of years, and he tries to follow the memory of it backward in time, tries to get it to carry him to thoughts of a day when Martha and he were younger and life hadn't used them up so much, thoughts so pleasant they might settle him down some, help him sleep.

In the end it's no use, his mind has gotten going on matters from this time right here. He decides that if he's going down that road he might as well do it over a cigarette.

That thought gets him up.

Soft as a big man can, trusting in the darkness to feel and memory, Jeremiah Spur fetches his work clothes hanging organized and handy in the closet where he had left them the night before. Knowing when he hung them there that even if he were to sleep all night he's probably need to get dressed before Martha turned over for the first time.

He picks his way to the kitchen, starts the coffee machine. He strips out of his pajamas, folds them, lays them in the bottom of a kitchen chair, pulls on his khakis, buttons his work shirt. He taps his package of Camels in the palm of his hand until the coffee is done, then tucks the cigarettes into his shirt pocket, pours himself some black, takes his boots in one hand, mug in the other.

He pads his way across the family room in his stocking feet, has to clamp the boots between his elbow and his rib cage to free a hand, open the back door and keep it from banging, waking Martha up.

He drops into his straw-bottomed rocker that sits out on his back porch, pulls on his boots, drinks his coffee, rubs his eyes.

Duke gets up from the other side of the porch, stretches his body, its color that of a Zulu potentate, walks over head low, tail going from side to side. Duke plants himself next to the rocker, his back to Jeremiah, offering his head up to get scratched.

Jeremiah drains the coffee, hawks and spits, lights a cigarette. Sits there smoking, scratching Duke behind the ears, below the jaw, down his old black neck. Directly he can tell from the way the world is stirring out beyond the rail fence, birds calling some, chickens starting to make a racket, it's fixing to be light.

There'd been many a time, working some case or other as a Ranger, when he had been up and about this time of day, or even earlier. He had been partial to the predawn in those days, liked being up before the rest of the world got going. Bad guys still snoring away, dreaming their bad guy dreams, him wide-awake, tending relentlessly to the business of reeling them in.

But those days have been over for some months now. Giving up that life had been like having an arm sawed off. Not that he had any choice in it if he was to have any hope of managing all the forces that have him in their grip. ...