The burnings

Corn

The fires started slow, he said. Not impulsive. Probably sat on a nearby stump and threw branches into the flames. Watched. Smoked himself a few cigarettes, and then drove off when the smoke overtook. They were old properties, he said.

Then Sheriff Dunn leaned on the door frame, looked through the screen for a good while, then folded his arms. “I’m sorry for your loss, Charlotte,” he said. “Jeremiah was a good man. Kept to himself, kept a good clean life.”

He did, I said.

Son of a bitch was probably hiding in the corn. Man like that… well, you never know.”

I looked down at his boots. Buffed black boots, chicken shit on the toes. Fresh pressed uniform, polished belt buckle, and chicken shit on his boots. It told me a lot about Sheriff Dunn. Presentment above all else. He’d get back in his car, see the mess on his boots, and then call me a bitch. And then he’d smile and wave as he went up the drive.

Four fires in the past month,” he said. “Three of them abandoned homesteads. The last one had a drifter living in the storm cellar. Dead, I’m sorry to tell you, all that smoke. You best be careful, Charlotte. Man like that, he doesn’t care.

Found a piece of paper at one of the houses,” he said. “An old liquor receipt, so he’s not from around here. I don’t guess, anyway.” He winked. “Name printed on the back, a schoolboy scrawl. Name of Croy. That ring a bell for you, Charlotte?”

No, sir.

You sure? Man with a grudge against Jeremiah?”

Lord, no. Everyone loved Jeremiah.

He bowed his head, but it was no more important than waving a bug away from his ear. “Yes, ma’am, everyone surely did.”

Chicken shit on your boots, I thought. You’ll be cursing Jeremiah’s name before you get half a mile down the road because you saw me noticing. Goddamn farmers, you’ll say. And if you’re married, you’ll have your wife kill a pullet for your dinner tonight. Probably make her shine your boots, too.

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