“Sure. Listen, Jim, I got to get this kid.”
“My name’s John,” Mr. John said. “John Packard. Come on in back and have a drink. You want to get to know this other character. His name is Crut-Face Evans. We used to call him Turd-Face. I just changed it now out of kindness.”
“Mr. John,” said Mr. Evans. “Why don’t you be friendly and cooperative.”
“I just changed your name, didn’t I?” said Mr. John. “What kind of cooperation do you boys want?”
In the back of the store Mr. John took a bottle off a low shelf in the corner and handed it to the down-state man.
“Drink up, Splayzey,” he said. “You look like you need it.”
They each took a drink and then Mr. John asked, “What are you after this kid for?”
“Violation of the game laws,” the down-state man said.
“What particular violation?”
“He killed a buck deer the twelfth of last month.”
“Two men with guns out after a boy because he killed a deer the twelfth of last month,” Mr. John said.
“There’ve been other violations.”
“But this is the one you’ve got proof of.”
“That’s about it.”
“What were the other violations?”
“But you haven’t got proof.”
“I didn’t say that,” Evans said. “But we’ve got proof on this.”
“And the date was the twelfth?”
“That’s right,” said Evans.
“Why don’t you ask some questions instead of answering them?” the down-state man said to his partner. Mr. John laughed. “Let him alone, Splayzey,” he said. “I like to see that great brain work.”
“How well do you know the boy?” the down-state man asked.
“Ever do any business with him?”
“He buys a little stuff here once in a while. Pays cash.”
“Do you have any idea where he’d head for?”
“He’s got folks in Oklahoma.”
“When did you see him last?” Evans asked.
“Come on, Evans,” the down-state man said. “You’re wasting our time. Thanks for the drink, Jim.”
“John” Mr. John said. “What’s your name, Splayzey?”
“Porter. Henry J. Porter.”
“Splayzey, you’re not going to do any shooting at that boy.”
“I’m going to bring him in.”
“You always were a murderous bastard.”
“Come on, Evans,” the down-state man said. “We’re wasting time in here.”
“You remember what I said about the shooting,” Mr. John said very quietly.
“I heard you,” the down-state man said.
The two men went out through the store and unhitched their light wagon and drove off. Mr. John watched them go up the road. Evans was driving and the down-state man was talking to him.
“Henry J. Porter,” Mr. John thought. “The only name I can remember for him is Splayzey. He had such big feet he had to have made-to-order boots. Splayfoot they called him. Then Splayzey. It was his tracks by the spring where that Nester’s boy was shot that they hung Tom for. Splayzey. Splayzey what? Maybe I never did know. Splayfoot Splayzey. Splayfoot Porter? No it wasn’t Porter.”
“I’m sorry about those baskets, Mrs. Tabeshaw,” he said. “It’s too late in the season now and they don’t carry over. But if you’d be patient with them down at the hotel you’d get rid of them.”
“You buy them, sell at the hotel,” Mrs. Tabeshaw suggested.
“No. They’d buy them better from you,” Mr. John told her. “You’re a fine-looking woman.”
“Long time ago,” Mrs. Tabeshaw said.
“Suzy, I’d like to see you,” Mr. John said.
In the back of the store he said, “Tell me about it.”
“I told you already. They came for Nickie and they waited for him to come home. His youngest sister let him know they were waiting for him. When they were sleeping drunk Nickie got his stuff and pulled out. He’s got grub for two weeks easy and he’s got his rifle and young Littless went with him.”
“Why did she go?”
“I don’t know, Mr. John. I guess she wanted to look after him and keep him from doing anything bad. You know him.”
“You live up by Evans’s. How much do you think he knows about the country Nick uses?”
“All he can. But I don’t know how much.”
“Where do you think they went?”